Aunt Dolly had arrived in high dudgeon just after luncheon, to complain to her brother that his elder daughter had learned nothing from her past mistakes and had cast a shadow over them all once more.
Beatrice hadn’t ducked any criticism, and simply wished to put matters right...but how? She dared not tell her father that the gentleman he lauded had made her an indecent proposal in order to clear her debt.
The idea of carrying out the forfeit both excited and appalled Bea. At the time, the wager had seemed too good to be true. As, of course, it was. Once the anxiety fogging her mind had lifted Beatrice had realised that she had shaken hands on a deal that she could never win. In the eyes of the ton she’d be damned if she did go to Hugh Kendrick and damned if she did not.
There was only one reason a gentleman would pay a young lady’s debts if she were unrelated to him, and everybody knew what it was. Toby Kendrick would reveal that his brother had paid off Miss Dewey’s IOUs and revel in seeing her suffer the dreadful consequences.
But what right had she to feel outraged? She had already come close to becoming Hugh’s paramour. The memory of the exquisite pleasure Hugh had aroused in her was preventing her focussing on finding a solution to this latest crisis. Even now she was conscious of the low throb in her belly caused by a need to see him. She felt restless enough to want to leave the house—even if it meant enduring stares and whispers—so she might meet Hugh by chance rather than by design.
‘I have some insurance policies that can be sold to pay off the rogue...’
Mr Dewey’s sighed declaration pierced Bea’s consciousness. ‘But...but those policies provide your pension, Papa,’ she stammered. ‘You cannot sell them and leave yourself without an income.’ Bea was coming to accept there was little option but to let her brother-in-law salvage her reputation by dealing with the matter.
‘So what else do you suggest I do, miss?’ Walter bellowed.
‘A gentleman caller, my lord,’ a liveried footman announced.
Viscount Blackthorne quirked an eyebrow at his manservant.
‘Sir Colin Burnett, my lord.’ The footman answered his master’s wordless enquiry.
‘Show him to my study.’
‘What in God’s name can he want?’ Walter muttered testily once the footman had withdrawn. ‘Mayhap he’s come to crow over our worsening misfortune. And he set the ball rolling, damn him!’
‘I’m sure he has not.’ Beatrice spoke up for the man who’d jilted her. Her father rarely used expletives with his daughters present so she knew how angry he was feeling. ‘Colin was pleasant to me at the Whitleys’.’
‘Was he, now? Well, perhaps he’ll be nice enough to hand over my expenses so I can put the cash towards those other costs you have dumped at my door.’
‘What do you think he wants?’ Elise whispered to Bea as they sat together on the sofa.
Alex had gone to meet his visitor and the two sisters had settled down, allowing their father to brood moodily in his armchair. Every so often Walter would thump down his stick on the rug as some private thought vexed him. But he’d directed no further reprimands at Beatrice.
‘I hope his purpose is to belatedly open his purse and hand over what he owes,’ Beatrice replied in an undertone. ‘Papa might then calm down while we sort out the other mess I’ve caused.’
Elise knew Bea was feeling very guilty indeed. ‘Perhaps Colin will ask to see you, if you are again friends,’ she suggested, giving her sister’s hand a comforting pat.
‘I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re friends.’ Bea sounded rueful. ‘I’ve nothing more to say to him. Papa is quite able to speak for himself about his expenses.’ She slipped a glance at their father, glowering into space. ‘He seems ready to do so, too.’
Bea cast her eyes heavenwards, acutely regretting having spoiled what might be her father’s final outing to town.
‘It is lovely staying with you, Elise, but I wish now I had remained in Hertfordshire. Every time I come to London I seem to bring problems with me.’
‘Indeed you do not!’ Elise again attempted to buck up her morose sister. ‘You don’t deserve the bad luck you get, Bea...’
‘Sir Colin would like to speak privately to Beatrice.’ Alex had re-entered the morning room and closed the door before making his announcement.
‘Would he, now?’ Walter used his stick to assist him to his feet. ‘Well, you can tell the turncoat that I am the one he ought to visit, and you can also tell him that my daughter sees no gentleman privately without my permission.’