‘I’m sorry Papa worried you enough to bring you racing to Hertfordshire yesterday. I had no idea he’d summoned you home just because the wedding is off.’ Beatrice bounced her baby nephew on her knee. ‘Of course it is wonderful to have you visit, Elise, and this little chap has grown so big since I last saw him.’
Elise had been pouring tea into bone china, but on hearing the quaver in her sister’s voice she put down the pot and crouched down by the side of Bea’s armchair. ‘You don’t need to be brave with me, my dear. I know how dreadfully hurt you are.’ She pressed Bea’s fingers in comfort.
Beatrice avoided Elise’s astute gaze, blinking rapidly at the window to one side of her. ‘It is all right...really it is...it has been nearly a week now since...’ She tried to name the person who’d caused her heartbreak but found his name stuck to her tongue.
As her nephew gurgled, giving her a gummy smile, Bea fondled his soft pink cheek with a forefinger.
‘Another few days and I will be right as rain—won’t I, Master Adam?’
‘Well, I know I would not be, if it were me who’d been so cruelly jilted,’ Elise announced pithily. She shook her head in disbelief. ‘I’d never have imagined Dr Burnett to be a callous or a fickle fellow.’
‘I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who mistook his character.’ Beatrice sighed. ‘I can’t forgive him for abandoning me in favour of family duty, yet since I’ve had time to calm down I understand why he did so.’
‘Then I think you exceedingly over-obliging!’ Elise exclaimed. ‘Love should override all else in my book.’
‘In a perfect world...perhaps...’ Beatrice returned philosophically. ‘I think matrimony and Beatrice Dewey are destined to remain strangers.’
‘Never say so! There is a husband for you...he just has not shown himself yet.’ Elise attempted to draw her sister from her glums with a provocative comment. ‘As I recall, there was nobody more determined to be a wife and mother than you.’
Beatrice chuckled wryly at that reminder. Indeed, there had been a time when she’d driven her poor sister to distraction, so keen had she been to settle down with a nice fellow and raise a little family of her own. After several false starts she’d met Colin and finally thought her ambition was within her grasp. Now, for some reason, she felt tired of struggling towards that particular dream...
‘You girls are up early.’ Walter Dewey entered the sunny front parlour, supported by his stick. He gave his daughters an affectionate smile, thinking it nice to have them both together again at home, and with the added bonus of his handsome little grandson.
In Walter’s opinion the child was a perfect blend of his parents: he had the viscount’s brown eyes and sturdy build and his mother’s sharp chin and fair hair.
‘Did you sleep well?’ he asked Elise. ‘I heard young Adam having a grizzle just before dawn broke.’
‘He was wet so I changed his nappy,’ Viscountess Blackthorne said, as though it were the most natural thing in the world to tend to her baby herself rather than give Adam to his nurse.
Following their parents’ acrimonious divorce, Elise and Bea had been reared by their papa in straitened circumstances, so were accustomed to being useful and practical in mundane matters. Both young women were quite happy to dress themselves and knew how to cook and clean. When younger, the sisters had taken to painting their bedrooms and made a capable job of it, much to their papa’s surprise and delight.
‘Don’t look at me like that, miss,’ Walter mildly reproved, having caught Beatrice frowning at him. ‘I know you believe I’m at fault because your sister has better things to do than commiserate with us that you’ve been put back on the shelf—’
‘I certainly do not!’ Elise cut across her father. ‘There’s nothing more important to me than being here with you, although the reason for it is upsetting.’ She gave her sister’s cheek an affectionate stroke. ‘Bea is certainly not on the shelf, Papa! How can she be when she is so pretty and looks not a day over eighteen...?’
‘Oh...Elise!’ Beatrice choked. ‘A very nice compliment but it really is too much.’
‘Perhaps I exaggerated just a little. You could pass easily for twenty-one and that is certainly not over-egging it.’ Elise cocked her head to assess her sister’s countenance. Beatrice was still one of the loveliest young women of her acquaintance, and in the haut monde Viscountess Blackthorne certainly came into contact with some vaunted beauties.