Ruined by Rumor
Breathless, Roxana threw open the front door, bounded up two flights of stairs and burst into the nursery. There she discovered her mother kneeling on the floor, pinning up her little brother's sleeves as he fidgeted in his new coat.
"Mama, the most amazing news! Wait until you hear!"
The May sunlight slanting through the window painted the room and all its contentsRoxana's mother, Harry, his battered rocking horse, his blocks and toy soldiers, the whitewashed walls, the polished oak floorsa cheerful butter color.
Lady Langley glanced to where Roxana stood, still wearing her bonnet, and the frown of concentration she'd been wearing deepened. "I heard this morning. And for heaven's sake, Roxana, I don't know which is worse, the unladylike way in which you came thundering up the stairs, or your eagerness to spread gossip."
"Gossip?" Roxana was used to being criticized for chattering when she should be still or for breaking into giggles when a lady would only smile demurely. She'd expected a reproving glance for pelting up the stairs. But to call news of her fiancé's return to Derbyshire after five long years mere gossip? That seemed unduly harsh.
"Yes, gossip." Lady Langley gave an emphatic bob of her head. "I can't imagine who would divulge such a shocking rumor to an unmarried young lady, but I sincerely hope you haven't told anyone else."
Roxana doffed her bonnet, blond curls falling loose despite the countless pins she'd put in her hair that morning. "But what's so shocking about George coming home? It's the most wonderful news I've heard in ages."
Lady Langley rocked back to sit on her heels, pursing her lips and tilting her head to one side. "George is coming home?"
Harry looked up, though he was too young to remember meeting George in the flesh. "Major Wyatt?"
Roxana clasped her hands to her heart, hitting herself with her bonnet in the process. "Yes, finally! He's finished settling those business affairs poor dying Lieutenant Hoke entrusted to him"
"More likely he was carousing in Town," her mother said under her breath, straightening again and making another adjustment to Harry's sleeve.
"George does not carouse. I met his sister Sophie in the village and she says he should arrive before the week is out." Roxana suppressed an unladylike urge to squeal and do an ecstatic jig. "He's really coming back. I'm finally getting married!"
Lady Langley sighed. "Then I'm happy for you, Roxana."
She didn't look happy. She looked as if someone had just told her there were flies in the dining room. It made no sense, for George was the handsomest, bravest, most dashing man Roxana had ever met, six feet tall and a major in the Fifth Dragoon Guards. They'd remained devoted to each other through every minute of the five years he'd been away fighting on the Peninsula.
Roxana did her best to sidestep the usual quarrel that arose whenever George's name came up. "But you weren't talking about my news, were you? What rumor did you mean?"
Her mother busied herself with starting on Harry's other sleeve. "Never mind."
"What's happened? It has to be something truly shocking if you're convinced it's not even fit for me to hear. Has one of the gentlemen of the neighborhood taken a mistress?"
Lady Langley scowled and covered her little boy's ears with her hands. "Roxana, really. And in front of Harry."
But Roxana sensed a juicy scandal in the offing. "Has someone eloped? Is someone in the family way?"
Lady Langley's stony expression gave a telltale quiver.
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Title: Ruined by Rumor
Author: Alyssa Everett