Sir Toby Kendrick had a particularly malicious glint beneath his dropped lashes. But Beatrice was no longer surprised at his meanness. That gentleman had minutes ago transformed from kindly advisor to debt collector.
‘Ah...my dear brother...come to rescue the fair lady,’ Toby drawled. ‘Indeed she needs somebody’s help as she now owes me...let me see...’ He made a show of counting on his fingers. ‘One hundred and fifteen pounds.’ He tapped a hand on baize. ‘Too late to be a hero, I’m afraid.’
Beatrice felt as though a knife had stabbed at her heart, making her physically wince. ‘No...it cannot be as much as that!’
She made to rise, but a cool hand on her shoulder stayed her, then withdrew slowly in a way only she might recognise as a subtle caress. She glanced up, her lovely face bloodless with strain. Following an infinitesimal wordless reassurance Hugh’s eyes were once more on his brother, his jaw tense with controlled fury.
‘Miss Dewey is retiring from the game and I’m taking her place,’ Hugh announced quietly. ‘Does anybody object?’ His gaze swept the remaining players at the Faro table, lingering for a moment on Jago, making his friend squirm beneath a blaze of wrathful accusation. Jago’s attempt at gesturing in explanation was ignored; Hugh’s attention had gone.
‘I object,’ Toby purred, smugly sprawling in his chair.
‘You’re outvoted,’ Hugh said.
‘Those aren’t the rules I play by,’ Toby returned defiantly.
‘They are now.’ Hugh stared at the banker, who in turn peeked at Lord Whitley, standing amidst the audience to this spectacle.
Their host inclined his head rather reluctantly, because the old fellow enjoyed a scandal and a scuffle and he thought that both were in the offing this evening. The fact that a newly jilted spinster now had two brothers fighting over her was quite piquant, and an air of horrified excitement was electrifying the atmosphere.
With a nod the banker indicated that Hugh could join the game in Miss Dewey’s stead.
‘In that case I shall withdraw my person and my winnings...and my IOUs stand.’ Toby knew that to act in such a callous way and prevent the young lady having a chance of cancelling a debt he’d deliberately led her into would brand him a cad. But he didn’t care what people thought; he was obsessed with feeding the envy and enmity he had for his brother.
Toby had always known that Hugh wanted Beatrice Dewey. He’d known it years ago when the couple had been inseparable for weeks. His suspicions that his brother still lusted after the blonde had been confirmed when Hugh had unexpectedly strolled into the Whitleys’ drawing room earlier. Miss Dewey had quite quickly distanced herself from his brother, enlightening Toby, if nobody else present, to the nature of the rift between Viscount Blackthorne and Hugh. Toby hadn’t imagined an opportunity would arise this evening to torment his brother, but the moment it had he’d happily made use of it.
He surged out of his chair as steadily as his inebriated state allowed, grabbing his cash and sneering as a murmur of disapproval grew in volume. Pushing his way through the hushed spectators, Sir Toby Kendrick quit the room, then the house. He chuckled as he sauntered along the pavement. He might have lost his fiancée tonight—Mr Lowell had taken his daughter off home a moment after Toby had asked the miser for a few sovereigns to use as stake money. But luckily, he’d had some pocket change with him, and he’d cleverly turned those few coins into a tidy sum...
‘Come...stand up, Beatrice...it’s time to go...’
Beatrice heard the quiet baritone commanding her, felt gentle fingers touching her arm to coax her out of her seat. But she was unable to move. Tears were burning her eyes, but she managed to keep them at bay until a shrill voice heralded her aunt’s approach.
‘What have you done?’ Dolly cried, thrusting her panic-stricken face close to the miscreant’s blurry vision.
When her niece seemed incapable of explaining herself she pulled out a chair next to Bea and collapsed into it. Just minutes ago Fiona had sidled up to warn her that Bea might be in a spot of trouble, interrupting Dolly mid-flow in singing her niece’s praises to her friends. A spot of trouble hardly did justice, in Dolly’s mind, to this latest disaster threatening the Dewey family.
‘My poor brother!’ Dolly whimpered. ‘How is he to repay the odious fellow that amount of cash? What were you thinking of, playing so freely, you stupid girl?’ Dolly clapped her hands in frustration.
It was the trigger that Beatrice had been dreading. She stiffened, attempting to control her inner quaking at her aunt’s fully deserved reprimand.