The Rake's Ruined Lady - Page 51

Dolly had felt appalled at the idea of calling a Hackney, with no money to pay for it—and of course her niece now had not a penny on her either. All in all, Dolly deemed it a very bad ending to what had started as an enjoyable affair.

Wordlessly, Hugh extended a palm to Beatrice. For a moment their eyes tangled, and he could tell from her reticence in accepting his help that she suspected he might have an ulterior motive in offering her and her aunt a ride home. As indeed he did.

‘Do you want to walk back to Upper Brook Street?’ he suggested softly.

Beatrice nibbled her lower lip but finally placed her fingers in his. As she settled into the luxurious seat she kept her eyes averted from the man who’d leapt in and slammed the door then lounged opposite. She was alarmed by the thought that she was now unsure which Kendrick brother intended doing her reputation the most harm.

Chapter Fourteen

‘It is a bit late to make a fuss about etiquette, miss!’ Dolly snapped. ‘Your reputation has been patched up too many times for that. You are now beyond the pale and fortunate Mr Kendrick is willing to put himself out for you.’

Scooting forward on the seat, she profusely thanked Hugh for his assistance in helping her alight from his coach.

Turning to her niece, Dolly poked her head into the vehicle’s interior. ‘Don’t think your father shall remain in ignorance of this latest mischief. If you will not tell him that you have again added to his woes, then I shall.’

Beatrice had guessed her aunt had been simmering on the night’s shocking events on the way home to Marylebone. The journey had passed in virtual silence and every time Bea had tried to make a little conversation her aunt had barked at her. Even Bea’s quiet, stuttered apologies had been angrily flicked away by Dolly. As for the man ensconced opposite... Bea had tried to avoid looking his way, acutely conscious as she was of his powerful presence.

A few moments ago, when it had become clear from passing landmarks that Hugh had instructed his driver to head to her aunt’s house first, Bea had urgently whispered to Dolly that it would be seemly if she were the first to quit their Good Samaritan’s company. In response, her aunt had snappily overruled her.

‘Mrs Pearson is over-anxious; she’ll see things differently in the morning.’

Bea glanced at the pair of broad shoulders easing into the squabs as the coach once more set off. ‘I think you are being over-optimistic, sir,’ she murmured.

‘Do you? Why?’

‘Because in the morning things will be worse, not better, than they are now,’ Bea answered unsteadily. ‘And well you know it. So if you are trying to kindly make light of my folly...please do not bother. I must face the consequences of my actions. I am not a child.’

‘I know you’re not a child, Beatrice...far from it...’

There was an insinuation in his husky reply that put Bea on her guard as she peeked at him from beneath thick lashes. Ever since he’d helped her into his coach an idea had been circling her mind that he might try to take advantage of her predicament. He’d told her weeks ago to consider his offer of protection. Then she had been a jilted spinster, living with an ageing parent. Now her position—and her father’s—was even more precarious, due to her foolhardiness.

Bea hated the idea of her father taking on the burden of her debt; neither did she want to seek help from Viscount Blackthorne. Walter would be mortified to discover that money had been borrowed from his son-in-law to pay off his dependant daughter’s gambling debts.

Queasiness in her stomach—part excitement, part dread—made Beatrice fidget on the seat. She had a feeling that she’d given Hugh Kendrick an opportunity to remind her why she should become his mistress. And many women of her age and unfortunate position might listen to such a rich and charismatic man’s persuasion...

‘When we last spoke you seemed determined not to come to town. What changed your mind?’

The unexpected question jolted Bea from her reflection into stuttering a reply. ‘My father...well, both of us, actually...decided we would after all like to stay with Elise for a week or two.’

‘Did the fact that Burnett was in London have a bearing on that decision?’

‘I’m not sure it is any of your business either way,’ Bea returned stiltedly, her indignation rising as a flash of white teeth in the dusk demonstrated that her tartness hadn’t bothered him.

Hugh hauled his back from the upholstery to lean towards her. His eyes slanted up at her mutinous profile. ‘Are you expecting the good doctor to sort out this evening’s mess for you, Beatrice?’ he suggested.