The Rake's Ruined Lady - Page 68

Involuntarily Bea’s eyes travelled to his dark fingers, tangled in leather as they capably mastered the sinuous greys to a pace he liked.

‘Goodness! I have a migraine.’ Fiona put the back of her hand to her head in a theatrical pose, drawing glances from both her companions.

‘I’ll take you home,’ Hugh said easily, and turned right at the next crossroads.

Beatrice was sure Fiona gave her a wink...or perhaps a genuine headache was making her squint...

‘I should return home too.’ The words tumbled out of Bea.

Colin Burnett’s criticism of her had suddenly refused to cease thudding at the forefront of her mind. A gentleman’s daughter should indeed, at her age, act with some decency and decorum. What was she thinking of, running after a notorious womaniser to tell him she’d chosen to lose the wager they’d made and become one of his mistresses? Being in thrall to unrequited love was no excuse for acting like a dullard or a doxy...

Fiona’s elbow dug Bea’s side and her friend gave her a fiercely encouraging look. A moment later Hugh handed Fiona down from the carriage and she set off towards her front door with a cheery wave.

In an easy leap Hugh was again aboard, taking the reins. In quick succession Beatrice darted several anxious glances at his shady concave cheek, hoping he’d sense she wanted him to talk to her. Any chitchat would do, she thought wistfully. But he remained uncommunicative as he wove in and out of traffic, then gave the horses their head on a clear stretch of road.

‘Are you feeling pleased with yourself?’ Bea burst out, unable to stand the silence any longer.

‘Should I be?’ There was no hint of either lust or mockery roughening his tone.

‘You’ve won our wager, as you said you would.’ A tremor had crept into her voice.

‘Forget about that stupid game.’

Hugh’s words were so quiet that Bea had to strain to hear them. ‘It was a game to you?’ she demanded in a suffocated voice.

He ejected a low expletive that was more unsettling to Bea than hearing him acknowledge his victory. But he said no more and set the greys to a faster pace.

‘Will you take me home, please?’ Bea’s hand flew to her bonnet as the breeze lifted it from her shimmering fair hair to droop at her nape.

‘Eventually.’

It was difficult for Beatrice to discern his mood from his abrupt conversation. ‘What does that mean?’ She strove for composure while removing the bonnet and laying it on her lap.

‘It means I’m not yet ready to do so.’

Hugh turned in through the park gates and within a few moments had brought the curricle to a halt beneath a canopy of undulating tree branches. He rested back into the seat, easing a muscular leg out in front of him.

Bea again forced her eyes to meet his, moistening her mouth. She saw he was watching from under long black lashes as her tongue trailed to and fro, so sank small teeth on her lower lip to still its quiver.

‘I sent that note to you on the spur of the moment,’ she blurted.

‘Do you regret doing so?’

‘I’m not sure,’ she answered honestly. ‘I’ve been told time and again that I am far too impetuous, and I admit it’s true.’

‘It sounds as though your sister has been dispensing pearls of wisdom.’

‘It wasn’t Elise...although she always does try to set me straight on such things.’

‘I recall she tried to talk sense into you years ago, when we first met. She told you not to waste your time on me, didn’t she?’

‘Indeed she did...’ Bea’s mouth slanted wryly. ‘And after all this time it has still not sunk in.’

Hugh barked a short laugh, frowning into the distance. ‘I’ll admit I’m glad of that, sweetheart, even if you are not.’

‘My papa called me impetuous today.’ Beatrice avoided his eyes.

‘And did he warn you to stay away from me too?’ Hugh asked quietly.

Bea noticed his thick dark brows drawing together in a wordless demand for some details. But she wasn’t prepared to be distracted into telling him about Colin Burnett’s visit. There were far more pressing matters to deal with.

‘Any number of people, concerned for my reputation, might advise me to avoid a notorious rake—as well you know.’

‘Notorious rakes can reform,’ Hugh pointed out with dulcet mockery. ‘Your sister could vouch for that...’

‘Alex told Elise that he grew up when he fell in love with her,’ Bea remarked, sounding wistfully reflective.

‘Are you hinting I’m immature?’ Vague amusement modulated his voice to a velvety huskiness.

‘If the cap fits...’ Bea started sourly, before biting back the rest of the phrase. But there was never likely to be a better moment to condemn his philandering. And he had asked for it! ‘Actually...I do think that in certain ways your behaviour is immature,’ she said.

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