‘I believe you owe me an apology, sir.’ Colin had had ample time to brood on his dressing down by this man. The opportunity to salve his wounded pride and subdue his bubbling resentment had presented itself this evening and he’d been unable to ignore it.
‘I owe you nothing, Burnett. However, if you would like to take this up with me somewhere more appropriate do call round to Grosvenor Square tomorrow. I’ll be pleased to see you.’ Hugh made to pass, a curl to his lips.
‘You may address me by my title if you speak to me or about me,’ Colin enunciated. ‘I have taken my birthright and am Sir Colin Burnett.’
Hugh’s mouth slanted in a mirthless smile. ‘Yes...I realise you’ve improved your lot.’ His tawny stare slewed to Stella, now watching them from beneath her lashes. ‘Or have you...?’
Colin understood the sarcastic remark. He’d noticed that his future wife had been shadowing Hugh Kendrick’s movements. It was bad enough watching her flatter and tease other gentlemen with her batting lashes and soppy smiles, but to have her take such an interest in this fellow was galling. Contrarily, Colin also felt injured because Kendrick seemed to find Stella contemptible rather than alluring.
‘Perhaps I will call on you,’ he snarled beneath his breath. ‘I don’t like you paying such attention to my fiancée.’
Hugh grinned, genuinely amused. ‘I’ve not a shred of interest in the girl and I find it pitiable that you do...’
Jago had observed the exchange between the two men from a distance. Seeing he might kill two birds with one stone—defuse the situation between two of Miss Dewey’s past loves and keep some interesting male company for a while longer—he strolled up.
‘Lord Whitley would like you to roll dice with him, Hugh. You’ll oblige the old fellow, won’t you? A couple of games won’t delay you by more than fifteen minutes or so.’
With a muted oath Hugh allowed himself to be once again steered towards the centre of the drawing room.
The sound of Mrs Monk’s voice close to his ear transformed Colin’s moodiness to annoyance. He had guessed what had prompted Maggie to suggest they leave even before he’d glanced in his fiancée’s direction. He realised that in polite society it was considered de trop for a gentleman to object to his lady’s circle of admirers so up to now he had bitten his tongue—apart from earlier, when confronting Hugh Kendrick. But Colin’s patience with Stella’s behaviour was almost expired. She had four fawning gallants dancing attendance on her, and from her aunt’s stern expression it was obvious Maggie was also at the end of her tether where the girl was concerned.
Two of Stella’s lapdogs were army officers in redcoats—eager and fresh-faced, perhaps not yet turned twenty-one. The other two gentlemen were older but apparently equally ensnared.
Colin cursed beneath his breath. If only his damnable uncle hadn’t meddled in his life he’d have married the woman he wanted. He had been observing Bea since he’d arrived, and before the evening was out he hoped to have a proper conversation with her. She was everything a man could want in a genteel wife, whereas Stella...was not.
He had noticed the way Kendrick circled Bea and suspected his nemesis had come to a similar conclusion about Beatrice’s charms and was about to take advantage of her availability. To his shame, Colin knew that Stella fired his blood in a way that Bea had never done. The flame-haired vixen made his hands itch to rip off her clothes. But he’d come to understand that Stella purposely teased other fellows in the same way she did him. His fiancée was making a fool of him, prompting people to snigger that he’d be a cuckold before he’d taken his vows.
Maggie Monk had been nagging at him to name the day but, having got to know the woman’s niece better, Colin was no longer in a rush to do so. Why should he? He had his birthright, and as long as he wed no other but Stella he would keep it. He had a feeling that the little wanton would lie with him for a few baubles whether he walked her down the aisle or not...
So he wasn’t about to leave this party early. He hadn’t given up on the idea of having a talk with Beatrice and perhaps confiding his feelings on all sorts of matters... They might never be able to marry, because of his dratted uncle, but Colin was confident Bea might appreciate an invitation to come back into his life in a less formal role than that of wife...
* * *
‘I’m so proud of you...’
The moment Lady Groves drew Dolly Pearson away for a chat Fiona snatched the opportunity to speak privately to Beatrice.