‘Ask me why I could not accept him.’ Boldly Bea touched his abrasive chin with a finger to make him look at her when he would have turned away.
‘Are you again about to tell me that you’d sooner be Burnett’s mistress than my wife?’
‘Of course not! I regret that I ever made such a daft and dishonest statement.’ With dawning enlightenment she choked out, ‘Did you really believe I meant what I said?’
Hugh stared at her, then stepped forward purposefully, as though intending to take her in his arms. Instead he gripped her wrist, tugging her behind a stout tree trunk. Before they were completely out of sight his mouth swooped on hers, brutally passionate, soothingly wooing. His fingers cradled her skull, protecting it from the rough bark as the pressure of his mouth forced back her head. The texture of timber was at her back, and his hard muscular body moulded about her softly curving silhouette, keeping her trapped to him. Inside her cloak, a hand stroked her hip...and Bea could sense the tremor in his caress...
Hugh suddenly spun away from her and Bea, sensually dazed, clutched behind her at the bole of the tree to steady herself. The second time a cultured baritone boomed Hugh’s name Bea heard it through the blood pounding in her ears. Hastily she stepped into view, her heart in her mouth.
Cursing beneath his breath, Hugh began to prowl casually over the grass, his raging frustration masked by an indolent expression.
The approaching barouche slowed to a halt and Lord Whitley affably doffed his hat. The two women seated in the vehicle made no attempt to inject sincerity into their smiles.
Maggie Monk resented Lord Whitley for having alerted the couple to their having been spotted. Another moment and she reckoned that refined Miss Dewey might have allowed the gentleman to sully her virtue beyond repair. Of course once the spinster knew about Hugh Kendrick’s brat she might no longer want to be taken down the aisle—or to bed—by him. Maggie was still determined her daughter would get the diamond magnate, but Whitley was first reserve so she was keen to keep him sweet.
‘Mr Kendrick...and Miss Dewey too! What a surprise to see you...together like that...’ Maggie slyly exchanged a knowing look with her daughter. Despite his mild manner Maggie could tell Hugh was enraged, and his conquest was rosy with embarrassment.
‘Fancy a nip of brandy, Kendrick?’ Lord Whitley held out his silver flask, hoping to lighten the heavy atmosphere. ‘Getting chilly now at this time of the day...’
A lazy hand-flick was Hugh’s response. Unconcerned that his hospitality had been rejected, Lord Whitley took a swallow himself. Ordinarily he might have been on better behaviour in mixed company; but recently he’d had confirmed his idea that his female passengers were no ladies. And his suspicions about Miss Dewey’s character were growing.
Yesterday Maggie Monk had accosted him as he emerged from his club. Whitley had not been surprised at her audacity, nor to learn that Burnett had jumped ship on marrying Miss Rawlings. It was plain that the girl was fashioned in looks and character to be a wench rather than a wife. Whitley was still mulling over Mrs Monk’s list of requirements. Before getting down to serious negotiation with the bawd he had brought the chit out to test her enthusiasm for it all.
It seemed he’d interrupted Hugh Kendrick auditioning Beatrice Dewey for a similar role. Whitley was surprised such a proficient philanderer hadn’t headed to a more secluded spot for the seduction.
Not long ago people had speculated about the reason for the animosity between Hugh Kendrick and Alex Blackthorne, but they no longer did so. All had become clear when Kendrick had rescued the viscount’s sister-in-law in that card game.
Little wonder that Blackthorne was livid with his best chum for sullying Beatrice before she had a husband’s name to shield her reputation. It was the girl’s father that Whitley felt sorry for. The poor old fellow would be distraught if he heard that the wanton had been spotted kissing Kendrick behind a tree in Hyde Park.
‘Would you help me down, sir?’ Stella imperiously extended a hand to Hugh, eyes flashing challengingly at Beatrice. ‘I should like to rest on that pretty bench.’ Angry colour lit her cheeks when he appeared not to have heard her demand, and continued strolling to and fro, frowning into the distance.
Having regained composure, Bea stepped forward, a wavering smile curving lips that still pulsed from being kissed. ‘I’m sure Mr Kendrick will escort you.’ She hoped Hugh would conquer his exasperation and play his part in smoothing over the situation. ‘You are quite right, Lord Whitley, the weather is cooler now.’ Bea rubbed together her gloved palms.