‘Dolly Pearson is my aunt.’
Beatrice could think of nothing more to say at that point. She knew she should feel grateful that the argument between Hugh and Colin had been very discreet, and few people yet knew the details of it. But preying on her mind was the scandal concerning Hugh to which Lady Groves had referred but had refused to explain.
‘I do recall, now you mention it, that you are related to Dolly.’ Lady Groves beamed, having fully recovered from her shock at Miss Dewey’s audacity a moment ago. ‘My brother, Lord Mornington, told me that your sister was Dolly’s niece. I’ve always found Mrs Pearson a charming woman,’ she added graciously. Glancing at Mary for a comment, Gloria found the woman peering beneath her pale lashes at the group of gentlemen. ‘What’s the matter with you, Mary?’ she asked.
‘Do you think Mr Kendrick overheard us talking about him?’ Mary whispered, aghast. ‘He seems to be staring at us rather too frequently, Gloria.’
Lady Groves frowned thoughtfully, then looked at Beatrice. ‘You were talking to him earlier, weren’t you, my dear?’
‘Yes...I was...’ Bea avoided looking his way, although she felt the side of her face burning and wondered if he’d guessed that she’d just heard an intriguing hint about his sordid way of life.
‘He is your brother-in-law’s good friend, is he not?’ Mary Woodley picked up on her ladyship’s unspoken thought that Miss Dewey might have caught Hugh Kendrick’s interest.
‘I believe they’ve known each other since their schooldays,’ Bea answered with a neutral smile.
‘Do you have a beau, my dear?’ Lady Groves had already taken a surreptitious look at the young woman’s pretty white fingers and noted they lacked any rings. ‘A sweet gel like you must have admirers buzzing around like bees about a honeypot.’
Mary discreetly nudged her companion in the ribs, having just brought to mind a stunning titbit. Dolly Pearson had told her recently that a swine of a country doctor had jilted her niece. No names had been mentioned, and Mary had taken little interest in the tale as she’d doubted she’d know such provincial folk. But it seemed she did! Obviously the niece in question could not be the viscount’s wife, and that only left...
‘I am not being courted,’ Bea answered as cheerfully as she could. ‘Well, I did promise Elise I would visit the nursery and see baby Adam before he goes to bed.’ She rose gracefully. ‘Apparently we are all to be given dinner soon.’
‘Such charming hosts,’ Lady Groves murmured. ‘I hope Mr Kendrick changes his mind and stays. I should like to have a chat with him.’
‘I’m afraid I’m hoping he will disappoint you,’ Beatrice murmured beneath her breath, walking away. She had seen the sudden intelligence on Mary Woodley’s face and knew that Dolly hadn’t after all kept the news of her jilting to herself. Philosophically, Bea realised people would soon know—and besides, what occupied her now was imagining how debauched Hugh might have become in the years since she’d last known him.
The two ladies exchanged a look as soon as they judged Miss Dewey was at a safe distance.
Lady Groves shook her head. ‘I doubt it, Mary. She might be his friend’s sister-in-law, and a beauty too, I must add, but rather mature to seriously catch the eye of such an eligible gentleman. She is the senior of the two gels and it must be galling for her to have nothing when her sister has done so well. Miss Dewey could pass for twenty with that perfect complexion...but she must learn to control that forward nature.’
Mary nodded vigorously. ‘She is twenty-five; Dolly told me her niece’s age and said she’d be lucky to come so close again to her wedding day. I expect the doctor has found someone younger and more demure and that’s why he jilted her!’
‘Jilted?’ Lady Groves sounded horrified. ‘Poor child! That is a setback. Gentlemen like to think they’ve won a prize with a wife, not a cast-off—’
‘Hugh Kendrick has just watched Miss Dewey leaving the room, Gloria,’ Mrs Woodley interrupted excitedly. ‘I think he likes her...’
A ghostly shroud appeared to be hovering over the sodden ground as Bea stepped out of a side door onto shingle. Following yesterday’s downpour a thick early-morning mist had formed and cool droplets tickled her complexion as she crunched over gravel towards the stable block. While surveying the pearly landscape she drew in a deep breath, savouring its earthy effervescence. It was barely seven o’clock and, apart from the servants, nobody else was yet up at Blackthorne Hall.