‘Verity was worried when you approached the doctor, thinking you might be rudely rebuffed, but I knew you’d be fine. It was very brave, and quite the right thing to do,’ she enthusiastically praised.

‘I’m glad it is over with.’ Bea gave a heartfelt sigh.

‘Stella Rawlings has been flirting outrageously. Was she impolite to you?’

‘Nothing unpleasant occurred,’ Bea answered. ‘It was just a bit awkward, that’s all.’ She chuckled. ‘Now it is done, and I have escaped my aunt’s beady eye too, by the looks of things.’ She glanced at Dolly, in animated conversation with her cronies. ‘I think I deserve to enjoy myself for an hour or so before going home.’ She squeezed her friend’s fingers. ‘Shall we play cards? I have brought some money for a little flutter.’

‘Jago has lost five pounds already.’ Fiona grimaced a caution.

A pile of cash littered the green baize of the Faro table. Jago was seated beside his wife and looking rather glum. Verity was smiling, perhaps because she appeared to be doing rather better, judging by her stack of coins.

‘I think I might try my luck.’ Bea felt quite carefree now the burden of her meeting with Colin had been lifted. ‘Papa says I’m good at Faro, although I suspect when he’s banker he lets me win.’

‘My allowance is already overspent.’ Fiona glanced about. ‘I wonder where Hugh is? He was throwing dice earlier with our host. I hope he has not already gone...’

Bea frowned, her eyes darting to and fro for a glimpse of him. She too hoped he hadn’t left yet, which was odd considering she’d been dismayed when he’d turned up.

As a fellow threw in his hand and vacated the table Bea sat down opposite her friends.

Some time later she realised that the fellow slouched in a chair, with his chin sunk low on his chest, was Sir Toby Kendrick. Of his fiancée there was no sign. Bea had never before met Toby, but recalled Fiona pointing him out earlier. Hugh’s caustic remarks about his older brother were also still in Bea’s mind. She hadn’t noticed the two men exchange even the briefest of greetings during the evening.

In her buoyant mood she decided that Fiona had spoken wisely when observing that Sir Toby might not be as bad as Hugh would have them all believe. Sibling rivalry was often to blame for such animosity, she decided, having unexpectedly received a smile from Hugh’s brother.

‘You’re doing rather well, Miss Dewey.’

Beatrice smiled, flushed with pleasure and excitement. Her three shillings had won her over four pounds so far. Only a few gamesters remained at the table, the others had folded their hands on hearing the orchestra start up. Jago still toyed with a few chips, and a Hussar in splendidly brocaded uniform was staring intently at the cards in his hand.

It had been Toby Kendrick who’d congratulated Bea a moment ago. As the banker pushed her winnings her way Bea again considered that Hugh had been unfair about his brother; Sir Toby had been unfailingly pleasant. Perhaps Hugh had a tendency to deliberately rub Toby up the wrong way...just as he did her...

Despite his elevated status Sir Toby was not as charismatic or as handsome as his younger brother. Nevertheless his light brown hair and regular features were attractive, if somewhat marred by a complexion that was turning florid from the effects of the brandy he was steadily consuming.

‘If I had your luck I’d be tempted to up the ante.’ Toby placed his bet.

‘I must not!’ Bea lightly remonstrated. ‘I will be jinxed if I do and might lose my winnings.’

‘Superstition.’ Toby made a dismissive gesture. ‘Only the faint-hearted would hold back on such a run of luck—and you, Miss Dewey, are not a coward, are you?’ He held Bea’s gaze with a stare that mingled admiration and challenge.

‘Miss Dewey can make up her own mind on the state of play,’ Jago said, with an undercurrent to his voice.

Bea sensed Jago was warning her against betting heavily. She knew he was doing it kindly, to protect her, but she felt quite drunk with exhilaration, and flattered that Sir Toby had faith in her ability. Besides, if she netted a tidy amount she’d be able to reimburse her father for her wedding expenses. Not that Colin Burnett should be let off the hook; when an opportunity arose she would remind the doctor of the solemn promise he’d made to honour his debts on the day he jilted her.

It was the sense of a hand pressing on the rail of her chair that alerted Beatrice to Hugh’s presence...that and a faint familiar redolence of cigar smoke and sandalwood. If she had not been in shock at what she’d done she might also have guessed at someone being directly behind from people’s reactions: they were no longer pitying her with sly eyes but gawping over the top of her head.

Tags: Mary Brendan Billionaire Romance
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