‘I don’t believe you wish we’d never met when we had such a delightful time.’
‘Then you should curb your conceit, because it is the truth,’ Beatrice snapped, avoiding the sultry glint in his eyes. ‘Once again I must ask you what you want. I cannot believe you have simply come to see me and reminisce—’
‘I won’t keep you long from your friends,’ Hugh interrupted smoothly. ‘Nice as it is to see you, my dear, it’s a far more vital matter that brings me here uninvited.’
Bea was aware of the arrogance in his tone and felt her hackles rise. No doubt now he had increased his prospects he felt she should feel flattered by his attention. Before she could step away from him he’d strolled back towards the door as though he might leave.
‘I have some urgent news for Alex. Would you fetch him, please, so I might speak to him?’ Hugh’s exasperating thoughts made him sound harsh and domineering. Beneath his breath he was cursing himself for finding her country freshness sweetly appealing after Gwen’s cloying presence. Once he’d touched and caressed Beatrice often, and with her full consent. Any sudden move from him now was sure to result in a swift slap, so he’d distanced himself to avoid temptation.
‘Alex?’ A small frown crinkled Bea’s brow. ‘Why, I cannot get him, sir...he is not here. Elise arrived a few days ago with baby Adam but we have not seen Alex. Is he on his way, then?’
‘I imagined he would have arrived by now. He left before me. His butler said he’d travelled into Hertfordshire so I came directly here, assuming he’d be with Elise.’
On the long hard ride towards St Albans he’d been wondering how he’d feel again when he saw Beatrice. In his youth he’d been infatuated plenty of times, impoverished just as frequently, by pert beauties with expensive tastes. But he’d put all of them from his mind. Beatrice Dewey he’d not been able to forget. He’d explained it away by blaming mutual friends for keeping the winsome blonde haunting his thoughts. But Hugh suspected that what presently occupied Beatrice’s mind was her brother-in-law’s safety. She was no doubt imagining that Alex had come a cropper on the road, and Hugh naturally wanted to soothe her fears on that score.
‘If he’d broken an axle, or one of his horses had gone lame, I would have passed him en route,’ Hugh softly reassured her. ‘Alex might have taken a break at a tavern.’
A furrow appeared in Beatrice’s smooth brow, testament to the fact she was not entirely convinced by that argument. ‘I shall let Elise know you are here; she’ll want to speak to you if you’ve come on her husband’s account.’
Swiftly Hugh moved to apprehend her, catching her wrist in a firm grip. ‘It might be best not to tell her anything till I locate Alex. I don’t want to unduly upset Elise if there is an easy explanation for the viscount’s absence.’
‘Yes...I understand...’ Beatrice croaked, her skin heating beneath his clasp. She’d proof now that Hugh Kendrick had kindly sought to allay her fears over her brother-in-law’s tardiness, despite suspecting all might not be well. But it was the sensation of Hugh’s touch—far more assertive than she remembered it to be—rather than anxiety for Alex that was making her captured flesh quiver.
Slowly Hugh withdrew his hand, and this time Bea heard a syllable of the oath he emitted as he jammed his hands in his pockets and walked off.
‘Oh, there you are, Bea...I wondered where you had got to...’
It was too late to prevent Elise knowing the truth: Bea’s prolonged absence had prompted her sister to nip out of the front parlour in search of her. With Adam cradled against a shoulder, obscuring her view, Elise hadn’t at first noticed the gentleman by the door.
‘Hugh!’ Elise hurried towards him. ‘What a lovely surprise to see you! Why have you not joined us in the parlour?’ she burst out. Elise’s sparkling gaze veered between the couple, lingered on Bea, wordlessly enquiring what had brought about this unexpected and exciting turn of events.
‘Mr Kendrick has come here with important news for Alex.’ Beatrice didn’t want to worry Elise, but knew her sister would eventually discover the reason behind Hugh’s visit. ‘We expect he’ll turn up soon, having stopped for a drink.’
‘Alex didn’t say he would come after me but I won’t be surprised if he does.’ Elise smiled contentedly. ‘He’s probably at the Red Lion. He doesn’t like Papa to fiddle and fuss and spend his money on unnecessary comforts just so he might bed down here for a night or two.’