A Dash of Scandal(2)

“Aunt Beatrice, if Lord and Lady Heathecoute are such dear friends, why can’t they write the column for you?”

She rolled her puffy eyes upward and sighed heavily. “Oh, the viscountess would like nothing better. She absolutely loves gossip. I fear if I allow her to do the job it will never be mine again. She has recently suggested it might be time for me to hand the column over to her. She is a bit younger than me, you understand. But, not only do I enjoy what I do, I must have that income.”

Millicent felt her resolve wavering. Writing a gossip column? Would it be like an adventure after living quietly in the country all her life?

Shaking those intrusive thoughts away, she tried to boost her argument by saying, “But Mama and I thought I was coming to London to be your companion and help you while you recover from your accident.”

“Goodness. What foolishness. What could you do for me? I have Emery and Phillips to take care of my physical needs. What I need from you is your eyes and your ears. You, dearie, have the most important job. Keeping me out of the poorhouse.”

“But scandal sheets?” Millicent whispered more to herself than her aunt. She shook her head, wondering how she would ever explain this to her mother should she find out. “I never dreamed you wrote tittle-tattle or that you would want to engage me in your profession.”

“Don’t make it sound so contemptible, Millicent. Heavens, someone has to do it and it has to be someone who’s accepted by the ton. Take my word for it, if Society didn’t want to read gossip, the newspapers wouldn’t print it.” Beatrice looked past Millicent to her maid. “Now, Emery, please ask the viscount and his lady to join us.”

“Oh, Aunt Beatrice, I didn’t mean any disrespect to you or what you do.”

“It’s truly no more than writing down a few facts and making them sound much more fascinating than they are.”

“Facts? I thought most of what was written was considered rumor and speculation.”

“Well, maybe sometimes, but enough of that. Remember, what is most important is that what you are doing has to be kept a secret. No one can know that you are listening to their conversations.” With puffy slits for eyes, she looked at Millicent’s dress, her face, and her hair. Her aunt slowly shook her head. “Oh heavens, you are too beautiful. All the beaux will want to dance with you. We must do something.”

Millicent looked down at her gown. Her father had provided well for her and her mother before his death and twice a year they had new clothes made that were suitable for the county social affairs held in Nottinghamshire. Her gown was the latest fashion and the unadorned, high-waisted design suited her well. The delicate flowers in her headpiece were chosen especially to show off her golden hair and light brown eyes.

Beatrice had told her she must not stand out at the parties. “You mustn’t appear so pretty that the young bachelors seek your attention, or so unattractive you are singled out and talked about as a wallflower.”

“What should I do?” she asked, not wanting to displease her aunt further.

“I have just the thing. Look over there on my desk and you will find my spectacles.”

Millicent’s shoulders reared back and her eyes rounded in rebellion. “No, Aunt Beatrice, that’s going too far. I don’t need spectacles.”

“Of course you don’t need them, but they will help keep the young bucks from falling over themselves to dance with you and come calling. Place them in your reticule and put them on when you get there. These are wonderful parties and there is no reason you can’t enjoy yourself while you’re there, but remember, you are attending the parties to obtain information. Not to be pursued. And do smooth those lovely curls away from your face, dearie. You must try to look a little plainer.”

Millicent brushed the sides of her hair and for the first time admitted to herself that she was not going to get out of doing this for her aunt. She picked up the spectacles and tucked them into her lacy drawstring purse but never expected to actually use them.

“What a delight you would be to all the bachelors if you could attend the Season as a debutante,” Beatrice said proudly. “You would be a diamond of the first water.”

“Thank you, Aunt Beatrice.”

For a moment Millicent thought she might blush over her aunt’s unsolicited praise, but she quickly reminded herself that she was far too sensible for something like that.

Millicent shook her head in disbelief. Was she truly going to do this for her aunt? Surely there was some way she could get out of it. She had to think of her mother and what she had been through years ago.

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