Walter raised a hand to his daughter while continuing to scratch on parchment.
Bea was sure she’d never settle into a snooze with her mind so muddled, but she drifted off almost immediately. When she woke over an hour later the brightness at the window had dimmed and just a hint of strawberry sunset streaked the ceiling.
Rubbing her eyes, she swung her toes to the floor, then pattered to the sash to peer at the sky. The vividly painted horizon was a wonderful sight and, sighing, Bea rested her warm forehead against the cool glass as fraught memories of the day caught up with her.
Glancing down into the street, Bea blinked, her eyes bolting back to a familiar figure huddled on the opposite pavement. Mrs Monk stared back at her, then nodded slowly in such a significant way that Bea’s lips parted in surprise. A moment later the woman repeated the signal.
Frowning, Bea let the curtain drop into place. Daft as it was to suppose that Mrs Monk had been awaiting an opportunity to accost her, Bea could see no other reason for Mrs Monk’s loitering outside. If the woman desired an audience it seemed odd she’d not knocked at the door...unless her news was too sensitive to be conveyed other than very privately...
Bea twitched the curtain an inch and peeped down; she was still there, chin lowered into her collar as she fidgeted around a lamppost, glancing, at intervals, at her window. With a sense of foreboding Bea wondered whether Mrs Monk’s presence had something to do with their meeting that afternoon in Hyde Park. Bea realised it was highly probable she had been observed kissing Hugh in broad daylight.
With a tingle of alarm hurrying her, Bea straightened her clothes, grabbed her cloak, then went downstairs.
‘Have you something to say to me, Mrs Monk?’ Bea kept her voice level despite the butterflies in her stomach.
‘Indeed I have, my dear.’
The woman’s friendly tone increased rather than lessened Bea’s uneasiness.
Maggie gestured at the street corner. ‘Shall we take a walk?
‘If you wish...’
‘No point in beating about the bush,’ Maggie announced abruptly as they set off. ‘I saw you disgrace yourself with Mr Kendrick, and I know Lord Whitley’s eyes aren’t blind either.’
Beatrice’s complexion grew hot but she gave no other outward sign that the woman’s accusation disturbed her. If Mrs Monk had come to blackmail her in some way let her voice her threat rather than hide behind innuendo.
‘Don’t fret. I’m not about to gossip and cause trouble for you...unless I have to.’ Maggie’s piercing dark eyes assessed Beatrice. ‘I reckon a lady of quality like yourself will choose to be sensible. If such a tale got out it would put you beyond the pale, and your poor papa with you. Quite a risk you took, letting Mr Kendrick do that to you out in the open—but then he’s an irresistible charmer, isn’t he? My Stella could vouch for that.’
‘Is there a point to this?’ Beatrice demanded coldly, although she’d already guessed the gist of it. Now that Colin had dropped Stella like a stone Maggie Monk had turned her sights on Hugh, but she was concerned about her charge having an interfering rival.
And indeed the woman was right to be worried!
Bea wasn’t about to be intimidated by other females’ jealousies and ambitions. Had they not been driven apart earlier that day, she believed that Hugh would have told her his feelings for her ran deeper than mere lust.
‘I know what you’re thinking, my dear,’ Maggie purred. ‘You’re thinking he wants you, not Stella. Hugh Kendrick is a fellow who wants lots of girls. The one he wants in particular, though, is my Stella. Do you know why that is?’
Instead of telling the woman she was talking rot, Beatrice heard herself murmur, ‘No...tell me...’
‘Sir Toby’s after Stella too. When warring brothers clash heads the victor takes all the spoils, even those he might once have overlooked.’ She grinned at Bea’s involuntary intake of breath. ‘My Stella wants Hugh and he wants her—that’s plain to see.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ Bea whispered, abruptly turning for home.
‘So you thought you were the only one worth kissing, did you, Miss High and Mighty?’ Maggie chuckled coarsely, hurrying after Bea. ‘You’ll never match up to my girl and get a Kendrick diamond on your finger; you’re too old, my dear, and sullied by scandal. Why not take Sir Colin after all?’
‘What do you know about Sir Colin and me?’ Bea demanded on swinging around.
‘I know he abandoned you for Stella and she broke his heart because she wanted more than he could offer. Burnett came back to you with his tail between his legs, didn’t he? Hugh Kendrick told us all about it. We had a fine time once you’d gone. Of course I had to leave the lovebirds alone for a while,’ Maggie lied slickly, without a hint of conscience.