Bea coughed a startled laugh. ‘I do not think of myself as second fiddle, and I am not indulging in a fit of the sulks because of wounded pride.’
She stepped to a sofa, using its back as support as the magnitude of what she’d heard sank in. She knew her family—waiting patiently in another room to hear the outcome of this meeting—would be shocked to learn that there had been no reason after all for Colin to jilt her. And yet, in a way, it had been right that the wedding had been cancelled, Bea realised. She’d since come to accept that her feelings for Hugh Kendrick had never completely died, and now had rekindled to a passion that threatened to overwhelm her. Every waking moment and every restless night were disturbed by thoughts of him. When she tried to force her mind to other, pressing matters she could not concentrate on them for longer than a minute before his dark sardonic features were before her eyes.
‘I’m not sure you understand all the advantages to be had from marrying me, Beatrice.’
Colin’s stern words startled Bea into focussing on him. He looked taken aback at her rejection.
‘I’m sure you will again admit to loving me in time.’ In renewed agitation he strode to and fro before the chimneypiece. ‘I’m prepared to make you my wife as soon as possible and would naturally accept the responsibility of your debts.’ He grimaced. ‘I know that Sir Toby Kendrick took advantage of your trust and innocence during that card game. It is being bandied about that he did so more to spite his brother than to spite you, but your reputation will be salvaged when you take my name—’
‘What do you mean by that?’ Beatrice interrupted. It had never occurred to her that she might be a pawn in a battle of egos between the two Kendrick brothers.
‘Hugh Kendrick’s interest in you had been noted even before his inappropriate intervention during that card game. The two brothers are at loggerheads, and what better way for the elder to get at the younger than through a matter of the heart?’ Colin’s eyes narrowed on her. ‘Is it a matter of the heart for you, also, Beatrice?’
‘I...I think it is none of your business, sir, and impertinent of you to ask.’
Tilting his head, Colin assessed Beatrice’s flushed countenance and blazing blue eyes. ‘When I say Sir Toby might attack his brother through a matter of the heart of course I am assuming that Hugh Kendrick is capable of finer feelings where the fairer sex is concerned. I have no liking for the arrogance of the fellow, and I’ve heard rumours he is a callous suitor.’
‘And I have heard similar things said about you,’ Beatrice spontaneously retorted.
‘You champion him...’ Colin swung away angrily from Beatrice. ‘Kendrick might flirt with you but he will not protect you in the way your father would want. I’m optimistic his calculated flattery has not turned your head...am I to be disappointed in that, Beatrice?’
Blood prickled beneath Beatrice’s cheeks. She should have guarded her tongue when Hugh’s name cropped up rather than readily betray herself.
‘Has he proposed? I mean marriage rather than an informal arrangement.’ Colin smiled sourly at the telling reaction he got. ‘I vow to be a steadfast husband to you. If you choose him you must be prepared to face disgrace and share him with his other women.’ Colin barked a laugh. ‘It is common knowledge that Kendrick has a mistress set up either end of town; where he might position another paramour is anybody’s guess.’
‘I think you should go now, sir,’ Bea said icily, though burning with ire. ‘There is nothing more to discuss. I’m sorry for your problems and wish them quickly resolved.’ She moved towards the door and held it open in a significant way.
‘I shall speak to your father before leaving and have his opinion on the matter.’ Colin jerked a bow, then strode past into the hallway.
‘He will be pleased to grant you an audience, sir,’ Bea returned with admirable aplomb to his retreating back. ‘Some time has elapsed since our aborted wedding. There will be no marriage between us, therefore it is high time my father received all the repayment he was promised.’
Colin spun about, his ruddy complexion white about the mouth. ‘I imagine your father might sooner I took you off his hands than reimbursed him.’ His expression was as severe as his voice as he continued. ‘I came to know Mr Dewey as his physician and his future son-in-law during my time in Hertfordshire. I am certain he regrets that a child of his has acted in the manner you have. A gentleman’s daughter of your age should know better, and act with some decency and decorum.’