‘Did you tell Mrs Monk that Colin had again proposed to me?’
Bea moistened her mouth. She hadn’t anticipated such a concise response, nor that he would follow the single word with a steady, low-lashed stare. She waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t.
‘I see...’ she blurted. ‘And did you kiss Stella this afternoon?’
Again Beatrice shifted beneath his ruthless regard as the silence lengthened.
‘Are you accusing me of such behaviour?’
Bea hesitated just a moment too long before shaking her head so vigorously that her bonnet loosened on its ribbons, hanging at her nape on flaxen waves. Before she could carry on her interrogation masterful fingers manacled her wrist. Hugh forced her with him towards the nearest doorway, propelling her inside when she seemed unwilling to step over the threshold.
‘Sit down,’ he growled, standing with his back against the door.
‘Please don’t order me about,’ Bea returned haughtily. Nevertheless she perched obediently on the edge of a fireside chair in what appeared to be a small reading room. Newspapers were on a table and ceiling-high bookshelves flanked one wall.
‘Now I have some questions to ask,’ Hugh dulcetly drawled as he strolled to ram a foot against the fender. ‘Did you have a tête-à-tête with Mrs Monk or Stella after you left me?’
‘Not by choice!’ Bea answered hotly, shooting to her feet. She could tell from his attitude that he thought she’d been secretly checking up on him. ‘I’ve no wish for anything to do with either woman.’
‘No more have I.’
‘That’s not what Mrs Monk says!’ Bea retorted frostily.
‘So...tell me what Mrs Monk says...’ Hugh quit the fireplace, stationing himself in front of her. ‘Come, I answered you a moment ago—I’d like the courtesy returned, Beatrice,’ he needled her, his expression impenetrable. ‘If I’m to be charged with something at least provide your evidence.’
‘Mrs Monk loitered outside the viscount’s house till I went out to speak to her.’
Bea nibbled her lower lip, sensing that behind Hugh’s cool exterior lay a simmering fury...directed at her. Of the two of them, Bea judged she had more right to feel angry and ill-used. Fearing she was within a hair’s breadth of shouting that opinion at him, she took a deep, calming breath.
‘Mrs Monk said you’d told her that Colin had returned to me with his tail between his legs after Stella jilted him.’ She glanced up to find a pair of tawny eyes preying on her face. ‘The woman warned me to stay away from you because you and your brother were competing for Stella’s favours and Stella had chosen you. She said if I didn’t heed her she’d broadcast that I’d been caught kissing you in broad daylight.’
‘That’s it?’ Hugh asked with an amount of ennui.
‘No...indeed it is not!’ Bea exploded. She’d not expected a fulsome denial, but had anticipated more of a reaction than she’d just got. ‘Mrs Monk added that you’d all had a fine time this afternoon and hinted that you and Stella had flirted and kissed.’
‘Was anything else mentioned about my lecherous intentions towards that damned minx?’
‘What more might have been said?’ Bea stormed, dreading to hear the answer, yet desperate to have it too.
‘The meddlesome witch might have told you that I took them home immediately and declined an invitation to take refreshment; she might have told you that I refused the girl’s services as a paramour when they were offered to me...for the second time,’ Hugh clipped out.
‘What?’ Bea asked faintly. She’d imagined that Mrs Monk was after a husband for Stella.
‘So have you anything else to say to me?’ Hugh asked, taking her chin in strong fingers and tilting her face up to his so she couldn’t avoid his black-eyed stare.
Bea felt the words jumbling in her mind before clogging her throat. During the journey to his house she had rehearsed how she’d demand to know if he’d fathered a child with an Indian woman and then left them both behind when he’d returned to England. Now, when she needed them most, she realised her impetuous nature and quick tongue seemed to have deserted her.
‘Perhaps you might like to apologise and admit you were wrong to accuse me of having designs on that chit’s virtue.’
Bea bristled beneath his arrogant drawl. It spurred her on, firing her indignation. ‘I accused you of nothing. I merely asked questions. Even had I assumed you guilty it would have been an easy mistake to make.’ She stepped back from him, her blue gaze adopting a glacial hardness. ‘When trying to warn me about your womanising, Colin said you had a mistress at either end of town and wondered where you might position another.’ Bea tilted her head to a challenging angle, forcing her eyes to meet his squarely. ‘If only I had known then what I know now I might have been able to tell him. India is the answer, is it not?’