Hugh had complied with her signal to help Stella onto the grass, but Bea knew she was in grave trouble if this excruciating episode wasn’t properly defused. She couldn’t be sure what the trio had witnessed, but was praying they’d seen no more than a couple standing close together in the shade of a tree.
Stella dimpled up at Hugh. She’d yearned to bump into him by chance but had not wanted to see him embracing another woman. Her mother had made an attempt yesterday to waylay him and hint at her willingness to be his mistress. Stella had peeked from behind the window blind of a Hackney, but Hugh had barely stopped to talk to Maggie before striding impatiently on towards his house. Her mother had been grumpy on her return, insisting they waste no time in transferring their efforts to Lord Whitley as their little kitty was almost run through. Then today her mother had bucked up and, intriguingly, said she might have found a way to hook Hugh. But Maggie would give no more details of her plan to snare the gentleman Stella wanted above all others.
‘I’ll stretch my legs too, I think.’ Lord Whitley alighted in quite a sprightly hop, then offered to help Mrs Monk down.
‘I was saying to Mr Kendrick that I should love a drive in his racing curricle.’ Stella turned excitedly to her mother.
‘I’m sure the charming gentleman will oblige you with your wish, my dear.’ Maggie’s lips knotted in satisfaction. Her daughter was playing her part well, with no rehearsal.
‘Unfortunately I have no time,’ Hugh began coldly, removing Stella’s clutch from his elbow. ‘We were just leaving as Miss Dewey is expected home shortly.’
‘Oh...I can run that errand for you, Kendrick. Why not take Miss Rawlings for a spin? Do you object, my dear, to me taking you home?’ Lord Whitley turned gleaming eyes on Beatrice, confident she’d snatch at his proposal to avoid further embarrassment. Beatrice might be older than Stella, but she had a rare classic beauty and a figure that Whitley would pay handsomely to see naked. If Kendrick tired of her, Whitley would, with alacrity, take his cast-off.
‘It would be kind of you to drop me off, my lord.’
Bea ignored her sinking heart; she and Hugh had no option but to appear nonchalant on parting but there was so much left to say to him, she thought wistfully as she allowed her elderly escort to help her climb aboard the barouche. With a wave they set off, and she noticed that neither Hugh nor Stella glanced at the departing vehicle.
But Mrs Monk did, and it seemed to Beatrice that there was something vilely triumphant in her smile.
‘I told you Kendrick was a good fellow.’ Walter beamed at his daughter, picking over the IOUs spread on his lap. ‘It’s my lucky day...I received Burnett’s bank draft while you were out.’
Bea smiled on hearing that Colin had eventually paid her father. ‘You don’t mind that a gentleman has settled my gambling debts, Papa?’
On reaching home, Bea had immediately gone to see her father to ease his worries—and hers. She wanted his reassurance that he had not yet brokered his pension but had kept it safe.
‘Kendrick isn’t any gentleman—is he, my dear? He’s the scoundrel’s brother, so his family’s honour is at stake. I shouldn’t like kin of mine to act in such a despicable way. I’ll wager he gave Sir Toby a cracking facer before parting with his cash.’ Walter chortled, neatening the notes into a stack. ‘Of course Kendrick should have dealt with me when handing them over...but that’s a minor peccadillo compared to all those that have gone before.’
That bald fact brought a remorseful blush to his daughter’s wan cheeks so he gave her a smile.
‘I shall write and thank him, but not too enthusiastically.’ Walter rifled in a desk drawer for a parchment and dipped his quill in ink.
Beatrice rose from her kneeling position by Walter’s armchair, her relief at his attitude slightly dampened by twinges of guilt. Her father was unaware there was yet another misdeed, committed that afternoon, and she hoped he would remain in blissful ignorance of it.
It was early evening, and Elise was still out at an afternoon salon with her friends. Alex was no doubt ensconced at one of his clubs. The house seemed unusually quiet, and the family would not dine for over an hour, but Bea didn’t have any appetite for company or food. She felt exhausted from the day’s events, and from constantly reflecting on what might have passed between them if she and Hugh had not been interrupted in the park. For one bittersweet moment earlier that afternoon she’d sensed that her wounded heart was finally healing...
‘I’m going to rest in my room for a while, Papa.’