Till dawn light he’d lain with his hands pillowing his head, scowling at the ceiling, with the scent of her skin teasing his nostrils. So aroused had he felt following their passionate encounter in his coach that he’d almost flung off the silk sheets and got dressed. But he hadn’t set off for Gwen’s or Sophia’s, despite being charged with sexual frustration, because he knew it would have been pointless. Neither woman had the power to heal an ache that had started years ago in his loins and then spread to enclose his heart.
Bea was the one he desired above all others; she was also the woman with whom he wanted to grow old. He wanted her in his bed and at his table; he wanted to host parties with her by his side, dressed in satins and sumptuous jewels, then watch her blush in pleasure beneath his adoring gaze. He wanted her to mother his children...
Hugh knew that he loved Beatrice and wanted to marry her, and but for his damnable pride getting in the way he would by now have told her so—although he’d have some explaining to do about his time in India. But he trusted Bea to understand; she had an empathetic and kind and loving nature... He grimaced ruefulness. Obviously she’d held back on bestowing it on him recently...and with just cause.
He could have proposed last night and vowed to protect her as his wife from his foul brother. Instead he’d come very close to losing control and taking advantage of her while she was at a low ebb. From her startled response to his increasingly intimate seduction he’d learned that the doctor hadn’t bedded her. Hugh knew he’d come close to taking her virginity on the seat of the coach, and had he done so he would have deserved her loathing and disgust. He would certainly have had his own.
What point had there been in coercing her into a stupid wager? He could not remember taking more than a couple of shots of whisky at the soirée and yet he now believed he must have been drunk to act in such a way. Whether he won the wager or not, forcing Bea to surrender and come to him, he’d deal with Toby. He’d make certain his brother never again dared hurt Beatrice because he was too cowardly to pick a fight with him.
Hugh pushed away his coffee cup and stood up. He’d stop acting like a sulky youth and declare his feelings and his honourable intentions. If she refused him... He tossed back his head, frowning at the ceiling. What would he do if she refused him? Revert to trying to make her his mistress? Or would he give up gracefully? A mirthless laugh grazed his throat. He knew he couldn’t give her up...
‘Your brother is in the hallway, sir...’
Hugh snapped his face to the servant hovering on the threshold and his features, shaped by agonised indecision, began displaying his aversion to the imminent meeting. He had not been expecting Toby quite so soon, yet had guessed he’d be confronted by his gleeful brother, keen to rub salt into his wounds, at some point during the day.
‘Bring him in.’ Hugh resisted the urge to ask the footman to fetch him a brandy decanter at the same time. Instead he poured himself another cup of coffee from a silver pot.
‘I thought you’d be partaking of something stronger this morning.’ Toby swaggered over the threshold.
‘Why is that?’
‘Come...are we to pretend that you are not furious with me for putting Miss Dewey in a bad light?’
‘You showed yourself up more than you did her,’ Hugh responded contemptuously. ‘Could you not see that, you fool?’
Toby coloured as that barb hit home. He’d never been popular, but the few friends he did have had probably now deserted him...just as his fiancée had. He’d received a note from Katherine’s father that morning, advising him that he intended cancelling the marriage contract. Toby was incensed that an alternative source of income had been cut off and he must rely solely on his brother for hand-outs. He knew he had to tread carefully...yet press home his advantage.
‘I’m not fretting, but I think you are. You want the chit—you always have done. I know you don’t like seeing her at the gossips’ mercy...or at mine.’ Toby’s expression became calculating. ‘As you know, I’m not a callous chap. I’ve kept my mouth shut about your commitments in India, haven’t I?’ He sniggered as his comment strengthened Hugh’s acerbic smile. ‘But needs must when the devil drives, dear brother. You keep threatening to tighten your fist against me, so what am I to do but find another way to make a shilling?’
Toby sounded confident but in fact felt dubious. The amount he’d won from Miss Dewey would hardly keep him in women and cigars for a year, let alone keep a roof over his head. He pulled out the fistful of IOUs.