Reluctantly, Clayton turned his attention toward a less pleasant direction. "There are some things between us that need to be settled, and I would sooner do that now, so that the past can be buried and forgotten."
Whitney turned her head away, and he added quietly, "I think you already know what I want to ask-"
Whitney knew he wanted an explanation for her actions the day of Elizabeth's wedding, and she nodded, drawing a long breath. "You see, when I saw you at the church, I thought we were still betrothed, and I had no idea that you'd received an invitation to the wedding. I thought you'd come there to try to see me ..." She told him the whole story, simply, without trying to hide the hurt and anger she'd felt toward him.
Clayton listened without interrupting. When she was finished, he asked, "What made you decide to come here last night, after hating me as you have for all these weeks?"
"Emily made me realize that I was misjudging you."
"What," Clayton said on a note of alarm, "does Emily Archibald know about us?"
In a small voice, Whitney admitted, "Everything." She saw him flinch and hesitantly said, "Now may I ask you something?"
"Anything," Clayton said gravely.
"Anything," Whitney teased, "within your power, and within reason?"
"Anything!" he declared firmly, but with a grin.
"Why did you do that awful thing to me? What made you think I had-had given myself to Paul?"
With self-disgust filling his voice, Clayton answered her question.
"But how could you have believed Margaret, knowing how much she hates me?" Whitney gave him a hurt, accusing look, realized that she was only adding more pain to his memory of that night, and quickly pressed a kiss on his mouth. "It doesn't matter."
"It matters," Clayton said harshly. "But some day, I'D make it up to you." A smile softened his voice. "Let's see if you can handle my favorite mare-we'll race up to that ridge."
The view from the top of the ridge was spectacular. While
Clayton tied their horses, Whitney stood, gazing out across the wooded valleys, trying to imagine how they would look in the lush greens of summer or the vibrant red-gold of autumn.
"There is more to be enjoyed here than the view, my lady," a husky, laughing voice announced from behind her. "Come here, and I'll show you."
Whitney turned around and discovered Clayton sitting with one knee drawn up, his shoulders propped against a tree trunk behind him. She saw the warm sensuality in his gray eyes, and she felt a small tremor of dread. She wanted very much to be in his arms, to be kissed and held, but she suspected Clayton had more than that in mind. Because he had already lam with her, he might feel that marriage was no longer a necessary prerequisite for the two of them. Whitney not only felt that marriage was still a prerequisite to the sexual act, she wished she could avoid the sexual intimacy forever. She couldn't, of course, but she had eight weeks before she would be obliged, as his wife, to endure that painful, embarrassing act, and she wanted this eight-week reprieve. Reluctant to tell Clayton that unless it was absolutely necessary, she turned back to the valleys below and tried to divert him from thoughts of lovemaking. "The view is breathtaking," she rhapsodized. "Could we ride down there?"
"We could," he said agreeably, then he added, "another day."
"Why don't we do it now?" Whitney suggested with pleading determination.
"Because I want to kiss you," he replied simply.
Whitney spun around in relieved disbelief. "You only want to kiss me? I mean you won't try to-to-"
"Oh darling, come here," Clayton laughed softly, noting her flaring color. "That's all I want to do." That's all I'm going to do, he amended silently.
With a sigh of joyous relief, Whitney went to him. She started to sit down beside him, but Clayton caught her arms and drew her down onto his lap. "The view will be better if you're up higher," he teased.
Sliding his arms around her, he moved her tighter against him. Without urging she turned her face up for his kiss. Clayton brushed his lips against her temple; he kissed her smooth forehead and her cheek. He closed her eyes with his lips, avoiding her mouth lest he frighten her with his ardor, but he drew back in surprise at her muffled laugh.
"Unless your aim improves, my lord duke," she warned, her eyes aglow with laughter, "I shall be forced to buy you a quizzing glass after all."
"You will, will you?" Clayton growled huskily as his mouth crushed down on hers. He felt her hands glide up his chest and go around his neck, and his heart began to hammer. As her lips parted beneath his, desire began to heat his blood, and when her tongue crept timidly into his mouth, a jolt slammed through Clayton's entire nervous system, exploding his control. He kissed her deeply, his mouth moving with half-fierce, half-gentle urgency, and she moaned, kissing him back with desire and passion exquisite on her lips. He tormented her with his tongue, retreating, then thrusting deep until she instinctively responded in the way he wanted.
His hand moved of its own accord, opening her jacket to cup her breasts, his thumb circling her hardened nipples. Under her silken shirt, her thrusting breasts came to life in his hand, thrilling and warning him at the same time. Her soft moan of pleasure raced through him, throbbing in his ears. He forced his hand away, only to have it slide downward, lightly grazing her flat stomach, then her shapely thigh, instinctively seeking the place where, without the barrier of her skirts, he could part her silken thighs and gently, tenderly, tease his beautiful trembling girl until she was melting with desire for him, wanting him as badly as he wanted her. His mouth began to plunder hers more urgently, more hungrily now, and he started to reach for the hem of her skirt.
With the last vestige of control he possessed, Clayton tore his mouth away from hers, and firmly pulled her arms down from around his neck. His breathing was hard and fast, his blood was roaring in his ears, and a fire was raging wildly through his veins. He moved Whitney up against his chest, off his lap, to avoid shocking or frightening her with the rigid evidence of his desire, and he looked down at her, still desperate to join his body with hers. He wanted to pour his life into her, to be able to look at her across a room and know that his seed was deep inside of her, to see her slender body swell with his child . . .
Clayton drew a long breath and slowly expelled it. Whitney was watching him, her beautiful upturned face mirroring puzzlement and concern. He grinned at her, feeling slightly betrayed by his own body's uncontrollable reaction to her. "Little one," he explained ruefully, "unless it is your wish to see me driven to madness, I'm afraid we can't do very much of this."