The Rake's Ruined Lady - Page 17

In a brief courtship Hugh Kendrick had done those things and more before it had all turned to ashes.

But he was different now, and she must be too. Behind the screen of his long lashes amusement was competing with lust in his hazel eyes. He might still desire her but he no doubt found his younger self—and hers—risible in hindsight. He now possessed riches...and power and influence. She could tell that from his every mannerism and utterance. He was no longer a man used to being denied what he wanted, whereas once everything...even she as his wife...had been out of his reach. Now, of course, he could pick and choose from society debutantes for a bride.

Well, she wouldn’t want him as a husband now! Beatrice inwardly exhorted herself. Her papa was right: even had he raced here on hearing she was free, to beg her to accept his proposal, she’d not have him! He’d had his chance and could go away, back to his fine life, and leave her in peace. She had earlier said to her father and sister that she’d done with men and marriage and she’d meant it. The idea of living out her days as a spinster, doting on her nephew rather than her own offspring, was not a vastly depressing future.

She moistened her lips, feeling calmer and ready to force out a little more conversation. ‘I shall no doubt hear Betty approaching.’ Beatrice returned to her chair and sat down. ‘There is no need to leave you alone again.’

‘Thank you...’

Beatrice shot him a look, noting his ironic tone, but if he wanted to interrogate her, let him. She now felt prepared for any challenge he might throw down.

‘The weather is cool for the time of the year.’ Bea again broke the silence, irked that she was the one making all the effort to be sociable. ‘Have you a little conversation about your journey?’ she suggested with faux sweetness. ‘For instance...did you drive here or come on horseback?’ She again glanced at the snugly fitting dusty jacket encasing his broad shoulders. She imagined his valet would be horrified to see the state of it.

‘Horseback; it seemed the quickest way to travel with urgent news.’

‘And did it rain during the journey?’ Beatrice asked, causing him to smile.

‘Just a few spots...’

‘Oh...well, I’m glad you kept dry at least.’

‘I appreciate your concern.’

Again Beatrice flicked an acid look at him from beneath her lashes, then glanced at the clock. Fifteen minutes had passed. She hoped Betty was not deliberately hanging things out because she had taken to Hugh Kendrick and wanted him to stay a while...

‘Do I make you nervous, Beatrice?’

Bea snapped her sapphire eyes to his watching gaze. ‘Of course not! What makes you think that, sir?’

‘I fear you are about to wrench apart that handkerchief.’ He jerked a nod at the scrap of linen, taut between her rigid fingers.

She’d unconsciously been twisting it for minutes. Quickly she tossed aside the thing that had betrayed her.

‘I should leave and let you get back to your guests.’ Hugh stood up.

‘No!’ Beatrice jumped to her feet, instinctively stepping towards him. ‘Please—’ She broke off, unsure of what she had been about to say but realising that she honestly did not want him to go yet. ‘I could not in all conscience allow you to journey home without something to drink. Would you prefer a glass of port? You have come a very long way with unpleasant tidings.’

‘I believe you were already dealing with an unpleasant matter and I’ve made things worse.’ He drove his hands into his pockets, tilting his head to watch her averted expression. ‘Were you, Beatrice, dealing with a family crisis when I turned up?’

‘No...’ She swung a beautifully poised mien towards him. ‘I am no longer marrying Dr Burnett, so there has been something for us, as a family, to discuss, but it’s done now.’ She fluttered a gesture. ‘No crisis at all...far too strong a word for the situation...’

Hugh stared out of the large casement at the garden. ‘The man’s a damnable fool.’

Beatrice moistened her lips, mortified that from her casual explanation he’d easily deduced that she’d been jilted rather than the other way around.

He pivoted on a heel, gave a self-deprecating laugh. ‘You seem unlucky enough to attract such types and I’m sure you don’t deserve to, my dear.’

‘You know nothing about me now. Please do not feel obliged to embroider your condolences.’

Beatrice realised it was high time to show him out before the annoying lump in her throat choked her. Why was she feeling close to tears because he’d said something nice about her and offered his sympathy?