Twelve of the fourteen days had passed and the guests were due to leave the following morning. They were gathered that evening in the drawing room and Stephen’s watchful gaze slid with increasing, concerned frequency to his brother.
"I think your brother is bored with us," Janet Cambridge told Stephen, nodding playfully toward Clayton who was standing alone, his shoulder propped against the window frame, staring out into the darkness.
Clayton heard her, as she intended that he should, but he did not bother to gallantly reassure her that he wasn’t bored, nor did he turn to pay her the flattering attention that Janet was seeking with her remark. Raising his glass, he took a long swallow of his drink, watching the tow-hanging mist swirling and advancing in the night. He yearned to have it close over him and blot out his thoughts, his memory, as it did everything else in its path.
He saw Janet Cambridge’s reflection in the window glass and heard her low, throaty laugh behind him. Until a few months ago, he had enjoyed her sensuous beauty and seductive voice. But now she lacked something. Her eyes weren’t the green of India jade; she didn’t took at him with that teasing, appraising, impudent sidewise glance; she didn’t tremble in his arms with shy, awakening emotions that she couldn’t identify. She was too available, too eager to please him, but then other women always were. They didn’t spar with him or stubbornly defy him. They weren’t fresh and alive and witty and wonderful. They weren’t. . . Whitney.
He took another long swallow of his drink to dull the ache that came with just her name. He wondered what she was doing. Was she planning to marry Sevarin? Or was she with DuVille instead? DuVille was in London; he would be able to comfort her and tease her, to help her forget. DuVille would suit her better, Clayton decided with a wrenching pain. Sevarin was dull and weak, but DuVille was sophisticated and urbane. Clayton hoped with all his heart that she would choose the Frenchman. Well, with half his heart; the other half twisted in agony at the image of Whitney as another man’s wife.
He tortured himself by thinking of the way she had said, "I was going to tell you that I would marry you." And bastard that he was, he had mocked her! Viciously, deliberately, coldly stolen her innocence! And when he had finished, she had put her arms around him and cried. Oh Christ! he had all but raped her and she had cried in his arms.
Clayton dragged his thoughts from that night. He preferred the more refined torture of thinking about the joy of her: the jaunty way she had looked at him at the starting line of their race, just before the pistol fired. "If you would care to follow me, I shall be happy to show you the way."
He could still visualize her exactly as she was that night La the garden at the Armands’ masquerade, her beautiful face aglow with irreverent merriment because he had told her he was a duke. "You are no duke," she had laughed. "You have no quizzing glass, you don’t wheeze and snort, and I doubt you have even a mild case of gout. Tm afraid you’ll have to aspire to some other title, my lord."
He thought of the way she had melted against nun and kissed him with sweet passion that day beside the pavilion. God, what a warm, fiery, loving creature she could be-when she wasn’t being stubborn and rebellious . . . and wonderful.
Clayton closed his eyes, cursing himself for letting Whitney leave Claymore at all. He should have demanded that she marry him as soon as he could summon a cleric to the house. And when she put up a fight, he could have bluntly pointed out that since he had already taken her virginity, she had no choice in the matter. Then, in the months that followed, he could have found some way to make up for what happened.
Clayton slammed his glass down and strode past the guests and out of the room. There was nothing he could ever do to atone for the profane act he had committed against her. Nothing!
The guests departed early the following morning and the brothers celebrated their last evening together by getting purposely, thoroughly, blindly drunk. They reminisced about their boyhood misdemeanors and when they ran out of those, they began telling each other bawdy stories, laughing uproariously at the tavern jokes, and drinking all the while.
Clayton reached for the decanter of brandy and spilled the last drop of it into his empty glass. "Migawd!" Stephen rasped admiringly, watching him. "You drinked . . . drunked . . . finished the whole damned bottle." He grabbed another crystal decanter and pushed it across the table toward Clayton. "Here, see what you can do to the whiskey."
Clayton shrugged indifferently and pulled the top from the decanter.
Through slightly bleary eyes, Stephen watched him fill the glass to the brim. "What the hell are you trying to do, drown yerself?"
"I am trying," Clayton informed him in a proud, drunken tone, "to beat you to the finish line of oblivion."
"Probably you will, too." Stephen nodded jerkily. "But I was always the better man. It was unkind in you to be born, Big Brudder."
"Right. Never should’ve done it. Wisht I hadn’t, but she’s . . . she’s paid me back for it tenfold."
Although the words were slurred, they were filled with such Weak pain and despair that Stephen snapped his head up and stared, as alert as his sodden wits would permit. "Who paid you back for being born?"
Stephen shook his head, desperately trying to clear the alcohol euphoria from his hazy senses and concentrate. "Which . . . she?"
"The one with the green eyes," Clayton whispered in an agonized voice. "She’s making me pay."
"Whad you do to make her want to pay you back?"
"Offered for her," Clayton announced thickly. "Gave her stupid father ï¿½100,000. Whitney wouldn’t have me though." He grimaced, taking a long swallow of whiskey. "Betrothed herself to somebody else. Errybody’s talking about it. No," he corrected himself, "she din’t get betrothed. But I thought she had and I… and I…"
"And you . . . ?" Stephen rasped softly.
Clayton’s features twisted into a mask of anguish. He lifted nis palm to Stephen as if asking nun to understand, then let it fall onto the table. "I didn’t believe she was still a virgin," he grated. "Didn’t know … till I took her … and .. ."
The tense silence that followed was suddenly shattered by a terrible sound that ripped from Clayton’s chest. "Oh, God, I hurt her," he groaned agonizingly. "I hurt her so damned much!" He covered his face with his hands, his voice a hoarse, ravaged whisper. "I hurt her and she . . . she put her arms around me because . . . because she wanted me to hold her. Stephen," he choked brokenly, "she wanted me to hold her while she cried!"