The Rake's Ruined Lady - Page 43

Bea nodded, despite her friend having got the wrong end of the stick. She couldn’t blame Fiona for misunderstanding the root cause of her agitation. She’d not realised herself until a moment ago just how she’d be affected when again in Hugh Kendrick’s vicinity.

The memory of his dark silhouette against the storm-washed sky was behind her eyelids. His final words to her again spun in her mind: ‘My offer of carte blanche still stands...perhaps in the circumstances you should consider it...’

And she’d told him to go to hell...

But Fiona knew none of this and believed Hugh Kendrick was just a mutual friend of the family—as had Bea until a short while ago, when he’d turned up out of the blue, heightening the turmoil in her life.

‘Ah, there you both are!’ Verity Clemence emerged through the curtains. ‘I was wondering where you had disappeared to.’ She approached Bea and took her hands. ‘It is very brave of you, Bea, to turn out like this. But quite the right thing to do.’ She added, ‘Never fear, you have plenty of good friends here tonight and Colin Burnett and Miss Rawlings have very few—if any.’

‘That seems rather pitiable...’ Bea said, stepping away from the balustrade to link arms with her friends. ‘Well, I’m ready to join the fray...are you?’

Chapter Twelve

‘Ah...Jago’s over there with Hugh.’ Having spotted her husband in the throng, Verity set off to join him.

Instinctively Bea dug in her heels, then covered her cowardly lapse by needlessly adjusting her satin slipper. Smiling, she allowed her friends to lead her on, having bought a few seconds to boost her courage.

‘I’ve not seen you in an age, Bea!’ Jago Clemence was glancing appreciatively at his wife’s friend. ‘You look exceedingly well—and how is your father? Did he not fancy a game of Faro tonight?’ Jago diplomatically avoided mentioning anything sensitive in his welcome.

‘Papa is well, thank you, but he rarely socialises now as he is not very sprightly.’ Bea felt relieved to have kept her voice level, despite the blood pounding in her ears.

‘I doubt Mr Dewey would have wanted to be in the same room as that odious man!’ Fiona’s eyes targeted the doctor, stationed some yards away.

‘We must all show Sir Colin that Bea has our support and he has our disgust.’ Verity gave her verdict. ‘The man is a fool!’ She admired the sleek blue gown swathing Beatrice’s figure, emphasising her tiny waist and creamy décolletage. ‘Bea looks exceedingly young and beautiful this evening, don’t you think, Hugh?’

‘Indeed...she always does...’ Hugh replied, far too seriously. ‘And Burnett already has my opinion of him.’

Beatrice felt a tingle of heat in the profile she’d presented to him. She knew without glancing up to find out that the faint irony in his voice would be mirrored in his eyes. She bit back a spontaneous reminder that she’d no interest in his opinion of her looks and she’d sooner he didn’t meddle in her affairs.

‘Hugh took Burnett to task before anybody else knew of his hateful behaviour,’ Fiona praised. ‘He did you a service, Bea, on the evening he sent Sir Colin packing from Verity’s soirée.’

Beatrice realised the ensuing quiet was to allow her to thank her gallant. ‘I’ve told Mr Kendrick my thoughts on it,’ she said huskily. ‘I’m hoping he’s heeded them...’

‘I always listen to what you say, Beatrice.’

‘Good...’ Bea breathed. ‘Because I meant every word...’

‘As did I,’ Hugh returned silkily. ‘And will repeat it all if necessary.’

Verity cleared her throat, aware—as were the others—of a tense atmosphere developing. They were all saddened that Hugh and Alex had fallen out over some unknown matter, fearing it might result in divided loyalties. ‘Shall we mingle, then play cards?’ Verity slipped a hand onto Jago’s elbow, urging him forward.

Fiona took Hugh’s arm a fraction before a dark sleeve appeared in Bea’s line of vision. Wordlessly Hugh had offered her his escort and she raised solemn blue eyes to him, looking at him properly for the first time that evening. Lady Groves had commented on his distinguished appearance not one hour ago, yet Bea was unprepared for the full effect of his raw masculine appeal.

He turned away first, but behind his lazy glance had been an emotion that momentarily stopped her heart. If she’d harboured a tiny hope that he might signal remorse for having treated her like one of his doxies, she was to be disappointed. She feared that his veiled threat, issued moments ago, referred to his readiness to again insult her with a proposition rather than to renew his attack on Colin Burnett.