Dark brows lifted over inscrutable gray eyes. "Did you accept?"
"Hardly!" Paul laughed, taking a long swallow of brandy. "She was barely out of the school room and determined to compete with Elizabeth Ashton. If Elizabeth came down with a case of mumps, Whitney wanted a worse case. God! She was a tangle-haired ruffian. Never conformed to a single rule of propriety in her life." Paul fell silent, remembering the day she had left for France, when he had brought her the little pendant. But / don’t want to be just your friend, she had pleaded desperately. The smile faded from his face. "For her father’s sake," he said with feeling, "I hope she’s changed." Clayton eyed Sevarin with amusement, but said absolutely nothing.
After his guest had left, Clayton relaxed back in his chair and thoughtfully swirled the brandy in his glass. At best, this masquerade of his was risky, and the more people he came into contact with, the greater his chances of being discovered.
Yesterday, he had received a jolt when he learned that the Emily Archibald he’d been hearing so much about was married to a remote acquaintance of his. That problem had been handled with a five-minute private meeting with Michael Archibald. Not for a moment had the baron believed his explanation about "needing a rest," Clayton knew, but Michael was too much of a gentleman to pry, and honorable enough to keep Clayton’s identity secret.
Lady Anne Gilbert’s arrival with Whitney today was another unforeseen complication, but according to Martin Stone’s note, Lady Anne had accepted the explanation that he was here for a rest. Clayton stood up and dismissed those incidents. If his identity was revealed, he would be deprived of the pleasure of pursuing Whitney as an ordinary country gentleman, but the legal agreement was already signed, and the money accepted by Stone who, from the looks of things, was busily spending as much of it as he could. Therefore, Clayton’s ultimate objective was absolutely secure.
WHITNEY THREW OPEN THE WINDOWS AND INHALED THE wonderful fresh country air. While Clarissa helped her into a chic turquoise riding habit, Whitney’s traitorous mind suggested again and again that she pay a morning call on Paul. Each time, she firmly thrust the notion aside. She would ride over and see Emily.
The stables where the horses were kept was situated down a path and off to the left, screened from view of the main house by a tall boxwood hedge. Twenty stalls ran the length of the building on both sides. A wide, overhanging roofline provided shade and protection to the building’s equine occupants. Halfway there, Whitney stopped to let her gaze rove appreciatively over the lovely, familiar landscape.
In the distance a newly whitewashed fence stretched in a broad oval, marking the boundary of the timing track where her grandfather used to test the speed of his horses before deciding which to take to the races. Behind the track, hills rolled gently at first, dotted with oak and sycamore trees, then became steeper, ending in a densely wooded rise along the northeast boundary of the property.
As Whitney approached the stable, she was amazed to see that every stall along this side was occupied. A brass name-plate was bolted to each door, and Whitney stopped at the last stall on the corner, glancing at the name on the plate.
"YOU must be Passing Fancy," she said to the beautiful bay mare as she stroked her satiny neck. "What a pretty name you have."
"Still talking to horses, I see," chuckled a voice behind her.
Whitney swung around, beaming at the ramrod-straight figure of Thomas, her father’s head groom. Thomas had been her girlhood confidant and a sympathetic witness to some of her most infamous outbursts of temper and unhappiness. "I can’t believe how full the stable is," she said after they had "What on earth do we do with all these horses?"
"Exercise them mostly. But don’t stand out here. I’ve something to show you." Wonderful smells of oil and leather welcomed Whitney as she stepped into the cool stable, bunking to adjust to the dim tight. At the end of the corridor, two men were attempting to soothe a magnificent Mack stallion who was crosstied, while a third tried to trim his hooves. The stallion was a flurry of movement, shaking and tossing his head, rearing the few inches off the ground that the slack in the ropes allowed. "Dangerous Crossing," announced Thomas proudly. "And a right fitting name for him, too."
Already Whitney could feel those splendid muscles flexing beneath her. "Is he broken to ride?"
"Sometimes," Thomas chuckled. "But most of the time he tries to break the rider. Moodiest animal in the world. One day you think he’s ready to give in and start responding, the next he’ll try to rub you off on the fences. Gets himself all worked up over something, and he’ll charge like he’s half bull." Thomas raised his crop to point to another stall and the frenzied horse tripled his efforts to break free.
"Whoa! Easy now. Easy," gasped one of the struggling stableboys. "Master Thomas, could you put that crop behind you?"
Quickly tucking the crop behind him with an apologetic look at the sweating stableboy, Thomas explained to Whitney, "This animal hates the sight of the crop. George there tried to back him off a fence with it last week and nearly
ended up making the acquaintance of his Creator. Never mind the stallion, I’ve got something else to show you." Thomas steered Whitney toward the opposite entrance to the stable where another stable boy was leading-or being led by-a magnificent chestnut gelding with four snowy white feet.
"Khan?" Whitney whispered. Before Thomas could answer, the chestnut nuzzled her at the hip, looking for the pocket where she used to hide his treats when he was a colt. "Why you beggar!" she laughed. She smiled over her shoulder at Thomas. "How does he go? He was much too little to saddle when I left."
"Why don’t you try him out and see for yourself?"
Whitney needed no more encouragement. With her crop clenched between her teeth, she reached up to tighten the turquoise ribbon that held her hair at the nape. Dangerous Crossing lunged backward, kicking out at the men, creating a furor. "Hide the crop!" Thomas warned sharply, and Whitney quickly complied.
Khan pranced sideways with anticipation as he was ted outdoors. Thomas gave Whitney a leg up, and she landed gracefully in the sidesaddle. Turning Khan toward the open gate, she said, "I’m a little out of practice. If he comes back without me, I’ll be between here and Lady Archibald’s father’s house."
As Khan trotted up the drive to Emily’s house, a curtain shifted at a wide bow window. A moment later the front door opened, and Emily came flying outside. "Whitney!" she cried joyously, flinging her arms around her and returning Whitney’s hug. "Oh Whitney, let me see you." Laughing, Emily backed up, still clasping both Whitney’s hands in hers. "You’re absolutely beautiful!"