‘I need two hundred pounds urgently,’ Toby blurted as soon as the door was closed behind him.
‘Is that a request for a loan?’
‘You know damn well it is,’ Toby spat. He swiped a hand about his mouth, aware he’d need to control his temper if he was to get the cash and keep the duns at bay. Hugh might be open-handed where his mother and sister were concerned, but his generosity to Toby was a different matter.
Hugh leaned on the library table that almost spanned from one end of the oak-panelled room to the other. He drummed his long fingers in slow rhythm on the leather-topped furniture. ‘I’ve already handed over a thousand pounds in less than six months.’ Hugh watched his brother’s lips whiten in anger at that reminder.
‘I didn’t realise you were keeping a tally of the paltry sums.’ Toby flung himself down in a chair, affecting ennui.
‘As I recall, one thousand pounds wasn’t a paltry amount when I came to you many years ago and begged for your help in securing Sarah’s future.’
Then Toby’s meanness had run so deep that he’d denied his only sister the cash she desperately needed after she’d been compromised during her debut. With their father gone it had fallen to Hugh, impecunious at that time, to rescue Sarah’s reputation. He’d managed to scrape together a dowry—the majority of the cash borrowed from Alex Blackthorne—thus tempting a decent chap, lacking prospects, to put a ring on his disgraced sister’s finger.
Inwardly Toby railed at himself; he’d laid himself wide open to that barb. ‘The little madam deserved to be taught a lesson for acting like a strumpet.’
‘Our sister did nothing wrong other than to trust one of your friends to act as a gentleman. She was seventeen and not worldly-wise,’ Hugh coldly reminded him.
Toby snorted derision. ‘Well, she was worldly-wise after her folly...so a lesson well learned about promenading after dark with randy men. You—and she—should thank me rather than criticising.’
Hugh moved his head in disgust. ‘I wonder sometimes if we are related. You really are the most obnoxious character.’
‘Are you questioning our dear mama’s virtue?’ Toby guffawed. ‘She’ll not thank you for hearing that repeated. Perhaps I might tell her.’
He eyed his sibling calculatingly, feeling confident that Hugh would relent rather than risk upsetting their widowed mother. The dowager was approaching sixty-five and would be distraught to know her elder son risked a spell in the Fleet because his debts were out of control.
‘I’ve had enough of you...take yourself off...’ Hugh snapped in exasperation, turning for the door.
‘What’s wrong? No money left? Sent too much out to India, have you? Toby’s voice was low and sly and he concealed a smirk at the look of intense hatred he’d brought to his brother’s face.
‘I’ll arrange for a bank draft later in the day,’ Hugh said, just before quitting the room. ‘Now, if you don’t mind, I need to be elsewhere...’
Toby strutted after him, looking exceedingly pleased with himself.
‘If you come again demanding me to bail you out of gambling debts you’ll be wasting your time. I won’t care what you say...’
‘Won’t you, now...?’ Toby drawled provocatively. ‘Gambling debts?’ He smoothly changed the subject. ‘It’s nothing so vulgar, my dear fellow. Serena has expensive tastes in jewellery, if you must have the details...’
Toby wasn’t referring to his prospective fiancée’s taste but to that of his mistress. Hugh knew his brother had set up Serena Worthing in a smart apartment, and even with a marriage contract under discussion it seemed Toby had no intention of putting her off to concentrate on his future wife.
‘Well, whatever it is...whoring, drinking, gambling...you’ll pay for it yourself in future.’
‘If ever our positions return to what they were...what they should be...I’ll remember this conversation and all those others where you’ve had the damnable cheek to moralise.’ Toby pointed a stout finger at his brother. ‘Before you got rich and Blackthorne got married the two of you were constant petticoat-chasers. Blackthorne might have eased off now, but you’re worse than ever since you got back from India.’ Toby thrust his face close to Hugh’s jaw. ‘Tell me...what it is about an exotic beauty that fires a man’s blood so...?’
‘You sound jealous of my popularity with the ladies.’ Hugh shoved his brother away and strode on along the corridor. ‘Show yourself out.’