Emily turned to Whitney without seeming to notice that Clayton was standing shockingly close behind her friend, with his arm around her waist. "They’re signalling us to go now," she said.
Whitney nodded but Clayton sensed her reluctance to leave him and he had to fight down the impulse to tighten his hand. Finally she stepped away, and without a backward glance, she melted swiftly into a flurry of bridesmaids.
Emily hesitated before climbing into the carriage behind Whitney. Turning, she looked for the duke and found his inscrutable gray eyes levelled on her. She smiled with shy uncertainty. He returned her hesitant greeting with a deep, formal bow, then he grinned at her, a broad, devastating grin filled with boyish gratitude.
"He was there!" Whitney blurted, twisting around in the carriage, her gaze fastened on the waning vision of Clayton who was still standing on the church steps, watching the Archibalds’ carriage pull into traffic. "Did you see him?"
Laughter trembled on Emily’s lips. "Indeed I did. He was standing right behind you with his arm around your waist."
"Please don’t hate him for what he did," Whitney whispered. "I couldn’t bear it if you hated him. Emily, I love him so much."
"I know you do," Emily said gently.
Clayton watched her carriage until it had disappeared from view, his heart filled to bursting. He knew why Whitney had never turned to face him. It was for the same reason he’d not told her that he loved her just now. Neither of them wanted to begin again, surrounded by a group of strangers.
Although some of the guests weren’t strangers at all, Clayton finally noted, glancing around nun. There were several people here whom he knew from London. Simultaneously, it dawned on him that the murmurings of the crowd were rising to a fever-pitch. He walked down the steps, past women who were beginning to curtsy to him and men who were respectfully murmuring, "Your grace . . ."
Clayton stopped in his tracks, staring at his coach which was pulled up smartly at the curb. The coach! In his agitated preoccupation with seeing Whitney again, he’d forgotten to tell McRea to use the plain black one which he’d purchased to use as Whitney’s "neighbor."
Clayton turned to face his gaping former neighbors who had known him as "Mr. Westland." He looked at them ruefully, with a faint smile of wry apology for his deception. Then he climbed into a magnificent midnight-blue coach with his ducal seal emblazoned in shining silver on the door panel.
Whitney had arranged to spend the time between the wedding and the banquet with her aunt at the Archibalds’ so that she could tell her aunt of the permanent estrangement between Clayton and herself. She had dreaded this meeting for weeks, but now she could scarcely wait to see her aunt. |
"You are positively glowing!" Aunt Anne smiled, coming into the salon and hugging Whitney tightly. She stripped off her gloves and pulled Whitney down on the settee beside her. "Really, darling," she said with laughing severity, "I began to wonder if the two of you were going to be able to tear your eyes from one another in that church."
Whitney beamed. "I could never hide anything from you, could I?"
"Darling, you didn’t manage to hide it from anyone. Half the people there were craning their necks to watch the two of you outside, after the wedding." Whitney looked so horrified that her aunt burst out laughing. "And you may as well know that there were at least two dozen people from London at the wedding who recognized him. The crowd started buzzing with his name the moment he walked into church. By the tune I left, everybody knew who he was, including all your neighbors from home. I’m afraid ‘Mr. Westland’ has been unmasked."
Whitney heard that with an inward burst of pride. She wanted everybody to know who he was, and she wanted all of them to know she was betrothed to him. She wanted to shout it to the world!
They chatted gaily for an hour and a half before Whitney remembered to inquire about Uncle Edward.
"He’s in Spain," her aunt said with a tolerant smile. "His two letters were almost as uninformative as yours are, but I gathered that there was some calamity brewing there, and he was dispatched with haste and secrecy to try to smooth matters before they got out of hand. He promised to be here in six weeks. Apparently none of my letters ever reached him."
After a moment, she said, "Would you mind very much if I didn’t attend the banquet tonight? I only came to the wedding because you never mentioned Claymore in your letters, and I wanted to see for myself how the two of you were getting on. Since it’s obvious that you’re both in perfect accord, I would like to start back to Lincolnshire at once. My cousin is a sweet, helpless creature, and she’s become quite dependent on me for company. As soon as you and his grace decide to put London out of its suspense and announce your betrothal, I’ll return and we can start preparing for your wedding."
The day fled so quickly that Whitney could hardly believe it when it was time to hug her aunt goodbye. "By the way," Aunt Anne said, lingering at the front door. "Your father brought two more trunks of your clothes. I sent them upstairs and Clarissa is unpacking them. Oh-and your father said there’s some mail for you, too."
Whitney flew upstairs and slid into the chair at the dressing table. While Clarissa fussed with the roses in her hair, Whitney joyously imagined her reunion with Clayton tomorrow. He would come to see her early, of course, and they . . . She noticed the thick packet propped against her mirror. She picked it up and opened it, dreamily extracting some official-looking documents. At first glance they were filled with so many "parties of the first part" and "parties of the second part," and "whereas’s" and "wherefore’s," that Whitney thought the packet must have been intended for Lord Archibald and put in her room by mistake. She flipped to the last page and a signature leapt out at her: Clayton Robert Westmoreland, Ninth Duke of Claymore. Dismissing Clarissa, she slowly began to read the documents.
They set out in cold legal terms that she was no longer betrothed to the Duke of Claymore, that his offer of marriage was herewith withdrawn, and that whatever "monies, jewels, considerations, tokens, etc.," the Stone family had received from the duke were to be retained by them and considered as gifts.
Whitney’s hand shook violently as she unfolded a note in Clayton’s bold handwriting enclosed with the documents: "Please accept my sincere wishes for your happiness and convey them to Paul. The enclosed bank draft is intended as a present." A bank draft for ï¿½10,000 slid from Whitney’s numb fingers onto the floor white nausea surged in her throat. Clayton had used her to satisfy his vengeance and lust. Now he was paying her off with a generous check as if she were a common trollop or one of his mistresses, and suggesting that she give her soiled body to Paul in marriage. "Oh my God!" Whitney whispered. "Oh my God!"