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"So do I," Whitney whispered. "I constantly defied him. I would have shamed him in front of his friends by eloping with Paul. I never stopped lying to him." She closed her eyes and turned her head away. "If you don’t mind," she said in a suffocated voice, "I’d like to go to bed now."

Emily went to bed too, but after lying awake for hours, she finally gave up trying to sleep. Propping up the pillows, she sat back, watching Michael as he slept peacefully beside her. "Could I still love you if you’d done that to me?" she whispered to his sleeping form. "Yes," she answered, tenderly smoothing the hair at his temple. "I could forgive you almost anything." But if Michael had done that, he would have an opportunity to make amends. They were married, and no matter how battered or angry she felt in spirit, they would still be forced to be in each other’s company, in order to keep up appearances. Before long, matters would inevitably come to a head, and then the breach could be healed. But Whitney wasn’t married to Claymore. They were both avoiding each other, and they would continue to do so. Whitney’s pride and hurt would prevent her from making the first move, and the duke would continue to believe that she hated him and wanted nothing to do with him. Unless something brought them face to face-and soon-this breach could never be healed.

Torn between interfering in a highly explosive situation, or politely staying out of it, Emily pulled up her knees and perched her chin on them. After several minutes’ contemplation, she slowly shoved the bedcovers aside. Trembling with guilt and uncertainty, she crept out of bed. Downstairs she groped in the darkness for a tinder and lit a candle, then she tiptoed into the yellow salon and put the candle on the desk while she searched through the drawers for one of the unused wedding invitations she’d helped Elizabeth address.

She slid into the chair and nibbled on the end of a quill, trying to think of what she could say. It was imperative that the duke not mistakenly believe she was acting on Whitney’s instructions, for there was every likelihood that when Whitney first saw him she would turn on him in hurt outrage. The important thing was bringing them face to face and leaving the rest to fate.

Hastily, before she lost her courage and changed her mind, Emily wrote on the bottom of the invitation, "Someone we both care very much for will be in attendance on the bride this day." She signed it simply, "Emily Archibald."

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A footman wearing vaguely familiar livery was shown into Clayton’s library on Upper Brook Street. "I have an invitation which my mistress instructed be given directly to you, your grace," he explained.

Clayton was deeply engrossed in his morning correspondence. "Are you to await a response?" he asked absently.

"No, my lord."

"Then leave it there." Clayton nodded at a small table near the door.

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He was getting dressed to go out for the evening when he recollected the envelope left lying in his library that morning. "Send someone for it, Armstrong," he murmured to his valet without looking away from the mirror which reflected the success of the intricate folds he was putting into his snowy neckcloth.

Clayton shrugged into the jacket Armstrong held for him, then he took the envelope a footman had just brought up. Opening it, he extracted what appeared to be yet another invitation for his secretary to attend to.

The name "Ashton" leapt out at him and his heart instantly contracted with painful memories. "Tell my secretary to decline, but to send an appropriate gift in my name," he said quietly, handing the invitation back to the footman.

As he passed it across, however, a tiny handwritten message along the bottom caught his eye. Clayton read it, then read it again, his pulse beginning to hammer. What in God’s name was Emily trying to tell him? That Whitney wished to see him? Or that Emily wanted him to see her? Impatiently waving his valet and the footman away, he carried the invitation into his bedchamber and reread Emily’s words three more times, growing more agitated with each reading. Futilely he tried to find something in the brief note to indicate that Whitney had forgiven him. But there was nothing.

That evening, Clayton sat through the play at the Crown Theatre paying no more attention to the raven-haired beauty beside him than he did to the performances on the stage. His emotions veered back and forth between hope and despair. There was nothing about Emily’s note to give him any encouragement except that she had sent it to him. Emily Archibald and Whitney had been fast friends since childhood. If Whitney hated him, Emily would have discovered that by now, and she would never have sent him the invitation. On the other hand, if Whitney had forgiven him, she would have sent it to him herself.

Suppose Whitney didn’t want to see him. Suppose she took one look at him in the church and fainted? A sad smile touched Clayton’s eyes. Whitney might hurl her bouquet in his face, but she wouldn’t faint. Not his brave, courageous girl.

Chapter Twenty-seven

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Al THE BACK OF THE CROWDED CHURCH, ELIZABETH ASHTON stood with her father, watching her third bridal attendant drift slowly down the carpeted aisle, then she turned to Whitney who would be next. "You’re going to steal the day from me," she smiled, surveying the yellow and white roses entwined in Whitney’s lustrous hair and the flowing yellow velvet bridesmaid gown she wore. "You look like a jonquil in springtime."

Whitney laughed. "You look like an angel, and don’t you dare try to begin another flattery contest with me. Besides, as a bride, you’re supposed to be nervous. Isn’t she, Emily?" Whitney whispered, looking over her shoulder at her friend, who would follow her down the aisle.

"I believe so," Emily said absently. This morning she had, confessed to Michael that Whitney and the duke had had a dreadful rift (which was certainly the truth) and that she had invited the duke to the wedding in hopes of bringing them back together. Michael’s reaction had been alarmingly unencouraging. He told her that she should not have interfered, that she might be doing both parties an injustice, and that, in the end, they might both despise her for her well-intentioned interference.

Now, Elizabeth was also involved in Emily’s scheme. When the guest list was originally prepared, "Mr. Clayton Westland" had been on it, but at Whitney’s panicked insistence, Elizabeth had removed his name. Three days ago, Emily told Elizabeth that a secret romance had been blossoming between Whitney and Mr. Westland, but that the couple had quarreled (which was also the truth). Elizabeth had delightedly agreed that sending him a secret invitation was a splendid way to effect a reconciliation. She still did not realize, of course, that Mr. Westland was actually the duke of Claymore, for despite her weeks spent in London, she moved in very different circles from the duke.

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