Bea raised a hand to her throbbing brow, realising she was not quite as indifferent to cruel gossip as she’d believed herself to be. If a rumour started, and travelled to London, that shortly after being jilted she’d tried to charm Hugh Kendrick, she’d be mortified...especially if he got to hear of it...
‘I’m setting off in a moment. Do you fancy a lift back to town? You can tether your mount to the curricle.’ Alex had given a cough to herald his arrival before fully entering the morning room and addressing his friend. Behind him came his wife, using a knuckle between Adam’s soft lips to pacify him.
‘He is hungry, and wet too. I shall take him upstairs.’ Elise gazed into her husband’s face. ‘Promise you will come and say goodbye before leaving.’
Alex cupped his wife’s cheek with a loving hand. It was answer enough for Elise and she went off, content.
‘So...you are still here, Mr Kendrick.’ Walter limped into the room. ‘I believe I mistook the reason for your arrival, sir. I’ve learned you have done my son-in-law a good deed and for that I’m grateful.’
Hugh bowed, accepting the oblique apology for his host’s earlier brusqueness.
‘Drink your tea, then, and stay to dine if you wish. I can see that Beatrice has been keeping you company and holds no argument with you. So I cannot either, I suppose,’ Walter grumpily concluded.
‘Thank you, but I am setting on the road again.’ Hugh graciously declined Walter’s off-hand invitation.
Walter shrugged and ambled off towards his study.
‘I shall also take my leave,’ Beatrice said. ‘I wish you both a safe journey, and please give the dowager my best wishes for a speedy recovery.’
Her brother-in-law received a spontaneous hug, Hugh a formal bob. A moment later she was slipping from the room, only fleetingly hesitating at the door to discover if Hugh was watching her.
He was. And it hadn’t gone unnoticed by Alex either.
‘Don’t even think of a dalliance there, or you’ll have me to answer to this time, not her father.’
Hugh dispassionately met his friend’s steady gaze. ‘I get the distinct impression that Miss Dewey finds it difficult to tolerate my company. There’ll be no repeat of what went on, trust me.’ He hesitated, then strolled to the window. ‘Does she know about my life in India?’
‘I’ve not had reason to tell my wife all of it, so I doubt Bea knows much at all other than that you’re now rich from your Indian mines. Neither, I hope, is she interested in any of it.’
Hugh nodded slowly, lips thinning in a grim smile.
‘Are you thinking of cutting off your ties abroad?’
Hugh’s sharp glance answered Alex before he heard his friend’s reply. ‘My ties in India are permanent and non-negotiable.’
‘That’s what I thought...’ Alex said deceptively mildly. ‘So I repeat...stay away from my sister-in-law or suffer the consequences...’
A moment later it was as though no tense exchange had taken place between them.
Alex said, ‘I want to get going. Norman Francis will bring your horse round from the stable and we can be on the road in ten minutes...’
‘Why don’t you come with me to London?’
While speaking Elise continued folding a lawn petticoat, then packed it away in readiness for departure later that morning. Her maid was attending to the baby’s things, neatly piling them alongside her mistress’s garments in the travelling trunk.
When Beatrice continued cooing at Adam, Elise renewed her effort to persuade her sister to have a sojourn in town. ‘You’ll enjoy the shops in Oxford Street and I’ll introduce you to some nice people.’ She waved aside Bea’s dubious frown. ‘There are some nice ladies, I swear. In fact I’d say some of the matrons in this neighbourhood are worse tattlers...’
‘I can’t think who you might mean,’ Beatrice replied drolly.
‘In any case it is high time you said hello to the Chapmans. Verity would love to see you. She’ll tell you all about the babe she is expecting...’ Elise bit her lip, realising it was insensitive to enthuse over another woman’s marital bliss to a dear sister who had recently been jilted. ‘Fiona is naturally still at home with Mr and Mrs Chapman, and I’m sure she’d adore having your company.’
‘There’s no need to fuss over me, Elise.’ Beatrice raised her eyes from the baby’s rosy face to give her sister a serene smile. ‘I’m better now, honestly, and will bear up here with Papa.’ She held the baby aloft, rolling him to and fro and making him giggle. ‘The shock of it all has been short lived, I assure you. Isn’t that so, Master Adam?’