Beatrice noticed the faint colour rising in his cheeks at her wounding criticism.
‘It is because I refuse to act selfishly that I must give you up.’ Colin cleared his throat. ‘I have a family duty to uphold...’
‘What about your duty to me?’ Beatrice cried. But she knew it was too late. If he were to change his mind and refuse his birthright to marry her instead things would never be right between them. She could never recapture the person she’d been just twenty minutes ago, when excitedly smoothing her hair and gown before speeding down the stairs to joyfully welcome her fiancé and ask him to stay to dine with them.
He too would be different: outwardly Colin might claim to have forgiven her for making him forfeit his inheritance. Inwardly his bitter disappointment might fester and grow until it destroyed the love he professed to still have for her.
‘I made a mistake in giving you my heart, but in time I will appreciate you handing it back to me. The pain will pass now I have come to understand your character better.’ Beatrice paused, a part of her relishing the hurt she had brought to his eyes with that brutal comment. But she was not by nature spiteful and the feeling soon faded. ‘My father is in his study. Please call on him before leaving and do the honourable thing. He is not a wealthy man, as you know, and has scrimped to buy my trousseau.’
‘My uncle was fifty-five and if he knew he was not long for this world he kept it to himself. Had he been old and infirm I would have had more cause to check on the terms of my inheritance.’ Colin strode to block Beatrice’s path as she made to exit the room.
‘I’ve had explanations enough,’ Beatrice rebuffed coolly. ‘There is no need for you to tarry longer. I hope you find your new wealth and status make up for what you and I have lost.’ She withdrew a small garnet ring from her finger and held it out. ‘Yours, I believe. Now, please let me pass.’
Colin’s lips tightened at Beatrice’s frosty tone but he took the gem and pocketed it, standing aside. ‘I’ve suffered too...I’ll never forget you...’
Beatrice heard his plaintive farewell as she closed the parlour door. With her eyes filled with burning water she approached the stairs. She would wait in her bedchamber till Colin left, then go and see her father.
Beatrice knew her papa would need comforting over this calamity as much as she did. Walter Dewey had liked Dr Burnett as his physician and as his future son-in-law. Colin had promised financial reparation and she hoped her father would not be too proud or too angry to accept the cash.
Her sister, Elise, would be shocked to discover she was not shortly to be a matron of honour. Elise lived in Mayfair and had done her best to persuade her kin to join her as permanent house guests following her marriage to Viscount Blackthorne. Alex had a fabulous mansion on Upper Brook Street. But Walter Dewey had insisted a quiet pastoral life suited him. Beatrice had also been happy to remain in bucolic bliss in Hertfordshire as her physician fiancé was living and working in the vicinity of St Albans.
Now Beatrice wondered if Colin had always wished to improve his prospects from that of country doctor, and if so whether he might immediately move to town with his intended wife to enjoy what remained of the season.
At twenty-five, Beatrice accepted that in the eyes of the world she was past her marriageable prime. Most of the friends she’d made during her debut were now married with children. Colin’s future bride was not known to Beatrice—unsurprisingly, as she’d just learned her rival was some seven years her junior and had just made her come-out. Bea had digested that much about Stella Rawlings before shock had snatched away her senses, leaving her momentarily deaf to the horrible details of Colin’s visit.
* * *
The light tap on the door brought Bea’s head up off the pillow. She had been dozing on her bed’s coverlet while waiting for the sound of the doctor’s departure from her house, and her life. Beatrice knuckled her tired eyes as she went to the door, realising she’d cried herself into a deeper sleep than she’d wished to have.
‘Papa!’ Beatrice frowned in consternation. ‘You should not have come upstairs!’ She sent a searching glance over her father’s stooped shoulder. ‘Did Mr Francis help you with the climb?’
Walter Dewey waved away his daughter’s concern as he made slow progress into her bedchamber assisted by a wooden walking stick. ‘Norman is out hunting rabbits for our dinner.’ He explained the manservant’s absence. ‘My small struggle is nothing to the pain I know you must be suffering my dear.’
Walter eased himself down into the armchair by the window. Raising his tired eyes to his daughter’s wan face he shook his head to indicate he felt lost for words.