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The moment he walked through the archway, Whitney’s breath came out in a long rush of relief. Whirling around, she hurried across the lawn, entering the ballroom on the opposite side.

From that point on, her evening declined. She was tense and jumpy, half expecting the black-cloaked figure she would always think of as "Satan" to accost her in the ballroom, even though he remained well away from her, surrounded by a small group of people who were talking and laughing with him.

As she waited with her aunt and uncle to take leave of their host and hostess, Whitney surreptitiously watched Satan’s tall figure moving along the line of departing guests in front of them. His head was bent low as be listened attentively to the blond woman who was smiling up at him. He laughed at something she said, and Whitney flushed as she recalled the way he had laughed with her in the garden. Irritably, she wondered who the blond woman with him was. His mistress, she decided uncharitably, for he’d never waste a moment’s time with any female unless she was willing to {day that role, at feast for one night!

Without warning he turned, and for the second time that evening, Whitney was caught in the act of staring at him. His gaze captured hers, and Whitney raised her chin, trying to stare him out of countenance. A strange, unfathomable smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, and he slowly inclined Us head toward her. Angrily, Whitney jerked her gaze away. Arrogant, conceited-she couldn’t think of enough terrible things to call him in her mind.

"What in the world is the matter, darling?" Aunt Anne whispered beside her.

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Whitney started nervously, then cautiously tipped her head in the direction of the front door where Satan was now placing an elegant cape around the blonde’s shoulders. "Do you know who he is, Aunt Anne?"

Her aunt studied the couple for a moment, started to shake her head in the negative, then stopped abruptly as the blonde reached up and swept off her demi-mask. "That’s Marie St Allermain-the famous singer," Anne whispered. "I’m certain of it." Whitney saw an odd, awed expression cross her aunt’s face as she scrutinized the dark-haired man in the Mack cape. "And if she is St. Allermain, then he would have to be. .. my God! It is!"

Anne’s gaze swung sharply to her niece, but Whitney was watching Satan move his hand in a tight caress over the blonde’s back as he guided her out the front door. She remembered how those same hands had drawn her to him and flushed with outraged shame.

"Why do you ask?" Anne said tightly.

The last thing Whitney wanted to do was admit to anyone that she’d been foolish enough to go into the garden with a man whom she was now certain she’d never met before.

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"I-I thought he was someone I know, but I realize now he isn’t," Whitney answered and was greatly relieved when her aunt seemed willing to drop the subject.

As a matter of fact, Anne was delighted to drop the subject. She had planned and dreamed too long to see Whitney become just another conquest of the Duke of Claymore. Marie St. Allermain had been his mistress for nearly a year, and rumor had it that he had even accompanied her to Spain when she sang in a command performance before the king and queen two months ago.

For years, gossip had linked the man with every beautiful female of suitable lineage in Europe, but marriage was not among the things he offered. Behind that handsome nobleman there was a trail of young women’s broken hearts and shattered marital aspirations that would make any sensible woman with an unmarried female relation shudder! He was the last man on the continent in whom Anne wanted Whitney to show any interest.

The last man in the entire world!

Chapter Seven

EXACTLY FOUR WEEKS AFTER THE ARMANDS’ MASQUERADE, Matthew Bennett left his office and stepped into a splendid burgundy-lacquered coach with the Westmoreland ducal crest emblazoned in gold on the door panel. He placed his deerskin case containing the reports on Miss Whitney Allison Stone on the seat beside him, then stretched his long legs out in the duke’s luxurious coach.

For nearly a century, Matthew’s forebears had been entrusted with the private legal affairs of the Westmoreland family, but since Clayton Westmoreland’s principal residences were in England, it was Matthew’s father in the London office of the firm who was personally acquainted with the duke. Until now, Matthew’s only contact with the current Duke of Claymore had been in writing, and Matthew was especially anxious to make a good impression today.

The coach had been climbing steadily, winding gently around green sloping hills splashed with wildflowers, when the French country house of the duke finally came into view. Matthew gazed at it in wonder. Situated atop the verdant hills, the sweeping two-story stone-and-glass structure was surrounded by terraces overlooking the panorama that stretched below in every direction.

At the front of the house, the coach drew to a stop, and Matthew picked up his case and walked slowly up the terraced stone steps. He presented his card to the liveried butler and was shown into a spacious library lined with books which were recessed into shallow alcoves in the walls.

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Alone for the moment, Matthew looked with awe at the priceless artifacts reposing on gleaming rosewood tables. A magnificent Rembrandt hung above the marble fireplace, and part of one wall was covered with a glorious collection of Rembrandt’s etchings. One long wall was entirely constructed of huge panes of glass with French doors opening out onto a broad stone terrace that afforded a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside.

At the opposite end of the room, angled toward the windows, was a massive oak desk, intricately carved around the edges with leaves and vines. Mentally, Matthew placed the desk as late sixteenth century and, judging from the splendid craftsmanship, it had probably graced a royal palace. Walking across the thick Persian carpet, Matthew sat down in one of the high-backed leather chairs facing the desk, and placed the deerskin case on the floor beside him.

The library doors opened, and Matthew came swiftly to his feet, stealing a quick, appraising look at the dark-haired man upon whom his future depended. Clayton Westmoreland was in his early thirties, uncommonly tall, and decidedly handsome. There was a vigorous purposefulness in his long, quick strides that bespoke an active, athletic life, rather than the indolence and overindulgence that Matthew normally ascribed to wealthy gentlemen of the peerage. An aura of carefully restrained power, of forcefulness, emanated from him.

A pair of penetrating gray eyes leveled on him, and Matthew swallowed a little nervously as the duke came around behind the desk and took his seat. The duke nodded at the chair across the desk, inviting Matthew to be seated, and said with calm authority, "Shall we begin, Mr. Bennett?"

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