‘In what ways?’
‘I think you can guess at them.’ Hungry as Bea was to know more about his other women, she backed away from letting him glimpse her jealousy.
‘If my memory serves...you’ve called me disgusting and a degenerate in the past, and now you’ve added being immature to the list of my faults... Yet still you wanted to meet me today. Why was that?’
‘I had little choice but to contact you,’ Bea retorted. ‘If I’ve been drawn into a feud between you and your brother and suffered for it then I think you owe me an apology and your assistance.’
‘I gave you assistance when I made plain my opinion of my brother, yet still you trusted him, gambled with him and accepted his loan.’
Bea felt her cheeks burn. The comment had been idly made, yet she recognised the reprimand and the truth in it.
‘Why did you do that, Beatrice? To annoy me?’
‘Perhaps.’ Her mouth slanted mutinously
‘And your reason for wanting to annoy me...?’
‘Do I need a reason other than that you constantly annoy me and insult me and...?’ She gestured impatiently.
‘Such an explanation makes you sound immature,’ he said, straight-faced.
‘Oh...this was a mistake!’ Beatrice fumed. ‘I might have known we would do nothing but bicker.’
‘We could go somewhere private and do something far more pleasant.’ Hugh’s suggestion was coupled with a sultry look before he turned his head, watching the paths becoming more populated as the fashionable hour approached, bringing strollers and carriages into Hyde Park.
‘As you seem to want to make light of it all,’ Beatrice hissed, blushing furiously, ‘I’m sorry I wasted my time and asked you to meet me. Would you take me home?’
‘I wasn’t making light of it, sweetheart,’ Hugh said quietly. ‘I was being very serious.’ His eyes swept over her, burning like coal embers.
‘In that case,’ Bea whispered, ‘you have your answer on why I think you immature; simply reflect on what you have just said and your obsession with—’
‘Please carry on,’ Hugh invited with studied gravity.
‘Your obsession with womanising...’ Bea rattled off.
‘There’s only one woman I’m obsessed with, Beatrice.’ He paused. ‘If wanting you, thinking about you day and night, makes me immature, then I admit to the fault.’
Bea blinked, then her large luminous eyes began searching his face for signs of irony. But she could see none. He returned her stare quite openly and calmly.
‘When have I insulted you?’
‘What?’ Beatrice breathed.
‘You said a moment ago that I had insulted you.’
‘I think you know very well the answer to that.’
‘You think that offering you anything your heart desires is an insult?’
‘My heart desires more than I think you are able to give, sir,’ Bea murmured poignantly.
‘Ah...you are still pining for the good doctor, are you?’
‘No! I am not! And I have today impressed the fact on him too.’ Bea had spoken hotly, without due consideration for the interrogation that was sure to follow such a declaration.
‘Have you seen Burnett?’
There was no reason not to recount that Sir Colin had called on her and reissued his proposal but Bea twisted together her fingers in her lap in indecision. Such information would beg the question of why she had rebuffed a man she had recently been sure she loved and wanted as her husband.
‘He paid us a visit earlier.’
‘And his reason for that...?’
‘He came to tell me that he had been tricked into believing he must marry Miss Rawlings to get his inheritance. He said he’d broken their engagement and wanted to marry me instead.’
Bea watched the surprise in Hugh’s eyes being overtaken by another darker emotion.
‘As you’re here with me, I am guessing that you turned him down?’
‘My reason is none of your concern.’
‘You know that’s not true.’ Hugh unfolded an arm along the back of the seat. ‘I thought Burnett was the love of your life.’
‘So did I...’ Bea stifled a mournful giggle.
‘What has changed your mind?’
‘Sir Colin aired some unpleasant views and now my father and I have seen him in a different light.’
‘What did he say?’ There was an abrupt hardening in Hugh’s tone.
‘He told me that a gentleman’s daughter of my age should act with some decency and decorum.’ The admission trickled out of Bea as she gazed at the leaves fluttering overhead. In her opinion her former fiancé was a hypocrite to voice his disapproval when—whether in error or not—he’d abandoned her to better himself.