“Daphne, it's been two years!”

“And Lady Whistledown has only been publishing for three months, so I hardly see how we can lay the blame at her door.”

“I'll lay the blame wherever I choose,” Violet muttered.

Daphne's fingernails bit her palms as she willed herself not to make a retort. She knew her mother had only her best interests at heart, she knew her mother loved her. And she loved her mother, too. In fact, until Daphne had reached marriageable age, Violet had been positively the best of mothers. She still was, when she wasn't despairing over the fact that after Daphne she had three more daughters to marry off.

Violet pressed a delicate hand to her chest. “She cast aspersions on your parentage.”

“No,” Daphne said slowly. It was always wise to proceed with caution when contradicting her mother. “Actually, what she said was that there could be no doubt that we are all legitimate. Which is more than one can say for most large families of the ton.”

“She shouldn't have even brought it up,” Violet sniffed.

“Mother, she's the author of a scandal sheet. It's her job to bring such things up.”

“She isn't even a real person,” Violet added angrily. She planted her hands on her slim hips, then changed her mind and shook her finger in the air. “Whistledown, ha! I've never heard of any Whistledowns. Whoever this depraved woman is, I doubt she's one of us. As if anyone of breeding would write such wicked lies.”

“Of course she's one of us,” Daphne said, her brown eyes filling with amusement. “If she weren't a member of the ton, there is no way she'd be privy to the sort of news she reports. Did you think she was some sort of impostor, peeking in windows and listening at doors?”

“I don't like your tone, Daphne Bridgerton,” Violet said, her eyes narrowing.

Daphne bit back another smile. “I don't like your tone,” was Violet's standard answer when one of her children was winning an argument.

But it was too much fun to tease her mother. “I wouldn't be surprised,” she said, cocking her head to the side, “if Lady Whistledown was one of your friends.”

“Bite your tongue, Daphne. No friend of mine would ever stoop so low.”

“Very well,” Daphne allowed, “it's probably not one of your friends. But I'm certain it's someone we know. No interloper could ever obtain the information she reports.”

Violet crossed her arms. “I should like to put her out of business once and for all.”

“If you wish to put her out of business,” Daphne could not resist pointing out, “you shouldn't support her by buying her newspaper.”

“And what good would that do?” Violet demanded. “Everyone else is reading it. My puny little embargo would do nothing except make me look ignorant when everyone else is chuckling over her latest gossip.”

That much was true, Daphne silently agreed. Fashionable London was positively addicted to Lady Whistledown's Society Papers. The mysterious newspaper had arrived on the doorstep of every member of the ton three months earlier. For two weeks it was delivered unbidden every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. And then, on the third Monday, butlers across London waited in vain for the pack of paperboys who normally delivered Whistledown, only to discover that instead of free delivery, they were selling the gossip sheet for the outrageous price of five pennies a paper.

Daphne had to admire the fictitious Lady Whistledown's savvy. By the time she started forcing people to pay for their gossip, all the ton was addicted. Everyone forked over their pennies, and somewhere some meddlesome woman was getting very rich.

While Violet paced the room and huffed about this “hideous slight” against her family, Daphne looked up to make certain her mother wasn't paying her any attention, then let her eyes drop to peruse the rest of the scandal sheet. Whistledown—as it was now called—was a curious mix of commentary, social news, scathing insult, and the occasional compliment. What set it apart from any previous society news sheets was that the author actually listed her subjects' names in full. There was no hiding behind abbreviations such as Lord S——and Lady G——. If Lady Whistledown wanted to write about someone, she used his full name. The ton declared themselves scandalized, but they were secretly fascinated.

This most recent edition was typical Whistledown. Aside from the short piece on the Bridgertons—which was really no more than a description of the family—Lady Whistledown had recounted the events at the previous night's ball. Daphne hadn't attended, as it had been her younger sister's birthday, and the Bridgertons always made a big fuss about birthdays. And with eight children, there were a lot of birthdays to celebrate.

“You're reading that rubbish,” Violet accused.

Daphne looked up, refusing to feel the least bit guilty. “It's a rather good column today. Apparently Cecil Tumbley knocked over an entire tower of champagne glasses last night.”

“Really?” Violet asked, trying not to look interested.

“Mmm-hmm,” Daphne replied. “She gives quite a good account of the Middlethorpe ball. Mentions who was talking to whom, what everyone was wearing—”

“And I suppose she felt the need to offer her opinions on that point,” Violet cut in.

Daphne smiled wickedly. “Oh, come now, Mother. You know that Mrs. Featherington has always looked dreadful in purple.”

Violet tried not to smile. Daphne could see the corners of her mouth twitching as she tried to maintain the composure she deemed appropriate for a viscountess and mother. But within two seconds, she was grinning and sitting next to her daughter on the sofa. “Let me see that,” she said, snatching up the paper. “What else happened? Did we miss anything important?”



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