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Whitney’s eyes flew to Emily’s face, then slid away, in a small voice she answered, "I mocked him when he said he loved me."

"You mocked him?" Emily gasped. "Why in heaven’s name would you do such a thing after standing in his arms on the church steps?"

"Please!" Whitney cried in agitation, leaping to her feet. "I told you why. Because I had just gotten the documents and his note and his wretched bank draft. Because I thought he had merely been attending Elizabeth’s wedding and I had practically thrown myself at his feet!"

"And now I suppose you think he’ll come crawling to you?"

Whitney shook her head and stared at the floor. "No. When he sees me he acts as if I don’t exist."

"What else would you expect him to do? He loved you enough to want to marry you and he gave your father a fortune. He loved you so much he committed a terrible act out of jealousy, so much that he gave you up, hoping to make you happy, so much that he came to Elizabeth’s wedding to be near you. But believe me, he will not come near you

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A kaleidoscope of disbelief, misery, loneliness, and despair hurtled through Whitney’s mind-but the fragile hope Emily had given her burst like white sunshine in the midst of it all. She bent her head and her hair tumbled forward over her shoulders, concealing her face. In a pained, choked voice, she said, "However will I get him back without crawling to him?"

A smile of joyous relief flashed across Emily’s features. "Actually, I’m afraid that’s the only way. You trampled his pride every time you had the opportunity. Your pride is going to have to suffer now."

"I’ll-I’ll think about it," Whitney whispered.

"You do that," Emily applauded, cautiously laying down her trump card. "And while you’re thinking about it, consider how you’re going to feel when he marries Vanessa Stand-field. The gossips say he already has-but they are never entirely accurate. Probably, he is about to marry her."

Whitney leapt to her feet. "What can I do? I can’t think where to begin."

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Emily hid her smile as she walked to the door. "You will have to go to him and explain why you behaved in such a freakish way at the banquet."

"No," Whitney said, frantically shaking her head. "I’ll send him a note and ask him to come here."

"You can. But he won’t do it. Which will only make it doubly embarrassing when you have to go to him anyway. Provided, of course, that in the meantime he doesn’t marry Miss Standfield."

Whitney Sew to the desk and snatched up her notepaper, but after Emily left she paused to think. There had to be some way to make Clayton come to her, some ruse she could use. It was too humiliating to crawl to him, particularly when he was on the verge of marrying Vanessa Standfield. After several thoughtful minutes, her eyes widened with inspiration and her cheeks pinkened with embarrassment. There was a way-it was a horrid deception, but she was in no position to quibble over niceties now. Clayton had taken her to his bed and if-if he believed he had gotten her with child, then he couldn’t possibly refuse to come to see her. And what’s more, he certainly couldn’t marry Miss Vanessa Standfield! Not only that, he would also have to marry Whitney immediately! But if he loved her as much as Emily thought he did, then surely after they were married, he would forgive her far deceiving him.

Whitney wrote the date on the note, then paused. What sort of salutation was appropriate to use when addressing a man who never wanted to hear from her again, but who was to be informed he was the father of her forthcoming baby? "Dear Sir?" Hardly! "Your grace?" Ridiculous. "Clayton?" Not under these circumstances. Whitney decided to omit the salutation completely. She thought for another minute and then wrote: "To my very great mortification, I find I am with child. Therefore, I ask that you call upon me here at once." She signed it "Whitney," then reread it.

Her faced burned with shame. It was degrading and, because it wasn’t true, it was contemptible as well. It was also nearly impossible for Clayton to have fathered a child in the incomplete act, but Whitney was blissfully unaware of that.

She called Emily and, blushing to the roots of her hair, she showed the note to her. "I-I’m not certain I could send it, even if it were true," Whitney said with a shudder, shoving the hateful thing in a box of unused stationery to prevent its discovery by a servant.

"Whitney," Emily said firmly, "send a note saying that you wish to speak to him and would prefer to do it in the privacy of his home, rather than in the busy confines of this one. Tell him that you will come there tomorrow. It’s as simple as that"

"It isn’t ‘as simple as that,’" Whitney argued, staring apprehensively at the blank piece of notepaper. "Even if Clayton agrees to see me, there’s every chance he’ll let me apologize and then send me away. You can’t imagine how awesome he is when he’s angry."

"Then don’t even try to see him. He’ll marry Vanessa Standfield, and if Michael and I are invited to the wedding, I’ll tell you all about it."

With that motivation, Whitney’s quill fairly flew across the paper, and the note was dispatched to Number 10 Upper Brook Street with a footman who was instructed to learn from one Mr. Hudgins, the Duke of Claymore’s secretary, where the duke was and then to deliver the note to that place.

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The footman returned within the hour. The duke, he said, had been away from home visiting Lord and Lady Standfield, however his grace was returning to his estate at Claymore late this evening. Mr. Hudgins, who was leaving to join him there, had taken the note and promised to give it to the duke as soon as he saw him tonight.

In the note Whitney had told Clayton that if she didn’t hear from him by noon the next day, she would assume that he was willing to see her at five o’clock in the afternoon. Now there was nothing for her to do but wait out the torturous hours until noon tomorrow.

Chapter Twenty-nine

AT PRECISELY ELEVEN O’CLOCK THE FOLLOWING MORNING, FOUR elegant travelling chaises swept through the gates of Claymore. The first was occupied by the Dowager Duchess of Claymore and her son Stephen. The second by Stephen’s valet and the duchess’s personal maids. The remaining two were filled to capacity with trunks of clothing and accessories which the dowager duchess deemed absolutely essential for any extended visit-particularly when one expected to meet one’s new daughter-in-law, i.e., the future mother of one’s grandchildren.

"It’s always been so lovely here," her grace sighed, letting her gaze roam appreciatively over the vast estate’s manicured lawns and formal parks which paraded majestically on both sides of the curving, paved road. Pulling her gaze from the familiar scenery, she gave her son a penetrating look. "You’re quite certain that your brother is bringing me a daughter-in-law to meet tonight?"

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