He’d made no move to leave the group and Bea fumed. If her wordless plea for an audience wasn’t plain enough for him to act on he could forgo having her father’s apology and her farewell before he left for London!
‘Are you still hungry, Beatrice?’ Hugh’s eyes skimmed over her slender figure swathed in black silk. ‘You certainly look as though a little more sustenance might benefit you.’
‘You...you think I am too thin?’ Beatrice stammered. His comment had irked, and his swift approach had startled her. Her gaze dropped to the intricate folds of his cravat, pinned with a sizeable diamond. Sourly she wondered whether he’d dug it up himself.
‘You seem less...buxom than I remember.’
Bea’s soft lips parted in a mixture of astonishment and indignation. She’d never realised he’d thought her fat.
‘Well, I’m happy with my appetite!’ she breathed. ‘I never eat too much, and I think it impertinent of you to make such a comment.’
‘Am I to pretend I know nothing of your body when I can recall it quite clearly within my embrace and pressed to mine?’
‘Please say no more!’ Bea hissed. ‘I find that remark even more unmannerly,’ she spluttered, blushing scarlet.
‘I apologise, then; I merely intended a passing observation that your figure appeared more curvaceous when you were younger.’
He was quelling his humour with a frown, and she guessed he was deliberately riling her because of their prickly parting at the chapel earlier. ‘Please do not explain and add insult to injury. Your opinion of my looks is of no consequence to me in any case.’
Beatrice turned to the pastries and began loading a plate with them while her cheeks continued to burn.
‘If you are about to accuse me of being a glutton, this food is for my papa.’ In her agitation, it had slipped her mind that Walter desired just one fruit tart. Swishing about with a laden plate she moved on.
‘Did you want to speak to me on a matter?’
Beatrice halted, moistening her lips. She’d also forgotten she’d drawn him to her side with a come-hither glance.
‘I...I did want to have a word with you. My father would like you to join him for a chat before you go.’
‘Of course I’ll speak to him.’ Hugh glanced back towards the drawing room, locating the sofa on which Walter was ensconced. ‘It would be my pleasure.’
‘Thank you,’ Bea replied stiltedly.
‘Shall I accompany you now?’ Hugh suggested mildly.
‘If you wish to, sir.’
Hugh’s heavy sigh brought Bea’s eyes darting to his bronzed face.
‘I beg you will not put yourself out for us, though,’ she said acidly. ‘My father would not want that.
‘It is you putting me out, my dear. Have you forgotten my name that you continue calling me sir?’
‘Indeed I have not, Mr Kendrick,’ Bea returned sweetly on passing him.
‘Will you let me know what Mr Dewey wants to talk about so I might prepare my defence?’ Hugh asked wryly, falling into step with Bea as they wound a path around knots of people.
‘You are not about to be ticked off, I assure you.’ Bea was unable to repress a smile at his ironic tone. ‘I believe Papa wishes to apologise to you.’
‘And how have I redeemed myself in his eyes?’ Hugh politely led the way past a long sofa encircled by chattering ladies. A few yards on, at a quieter spot, he turned back to Bea. His hand was idly planted against the wall, completing her casual entrapment by his powerful body.
‘Papa was most grateful to you for coming to Hertfordshire to convey the news about the dowager’s ill health. I expect he wants to impress that on you.’
‘I recall he said something similar to me at the time,’ Hugh murmured, his eyes lingering on Bea’s mouth as her pearly teeth attacked her lower lip. ‘I doubt he’d make an issue of repeating it. So what else is on his mind?’
‘If we carry on to him I’m sure he will tell you,’ Bea returned.
Barely were the words out when a sudden clap of thunder made her gasp and stumble. She would have dropped her pastries but for Hugh’s steadying hand on her shoulder. Beatrice felt her heart thudding unevenly and the silk of her sleeve seemed to grow unbearably hot beneath his palm. She gave an embarrassed laugh.
‘Heavens! That frightened the life out of me.’ She glanced about to see that she hadn’t been the only lady startled by the storm. Fans were whizzing and a few smelling salts bottles were being wafted amidst nervous giggling. A small crowd had gathered at the windows to watch lightning zigzagging across the heavens.
Bea’s gaze was captured by eyes that had lost their golden tint and now burned like coal embers. His fingers began moving in a slow caress, increasing pressure, as though he would feel her skin beneath the barrier of fabric. Her eyelids became weighty, slowly falling beneath the narcotic effect of his secret seduction.