"Wasn’t that what you wanted me to do?" he asked with mock innocence, and before she could answer, he added, "If I had only realized that you prefer to do the asking, I’d not have wasted my other two attempts."
"Of all the conceited, rude-" Whitney caught her father’s anxious stare and smiled brilliantly at him, to show what a marvellous time she was having. The moment he looked away, she glared murderously at her dancing partner and continued, "-unspeakable, insufferable-" Clayton West-land’s shoulders began to rock with laughter, and Whitney choked on her ire.
"Go on," he urged with a broad grin. "I haven’t had such a trimming since I was a small boy. Now, where were you? I am ‘unspeakable, insufferable’-?"
"Outrageously bold," Whitney provided furiously, and then for want of anything better, "-and ungentlemanly!"
"Now that puts me in a very difficult position," he mocked lightly. "Because you’ve left me no alternative except to defend myself by pointing out that your behavior to me tonight has been anything but ladylike."
"Smile, please. My father is watching us," Whitney warned, forcing her mouth into a smile.
Clayton complied immediately. His teeth flashed white in a lazy grin, but his gaze dipped lingeringly to her soft tips.
The focal point of his gaze did not escape Whitney, who stiffened in his arms. "Mr. Westland, I think this brief, unpleasant encounter has gone on long enough!"
She jerked back, but his arm tightened sharply, preventing her from puffing free. "I haven’t any intention of either of us becoming a spectacle, little one," he warned. Since Whitney had no choice except to move where he led her, she ignored his improper endearment, shrugged, and looked away. "Lovely evening, isn’t it?" he drawled, and then in a stage whisper, he added. "Your father is watching us again."
"It was a lovely evening," Whitney retorted. She waited for Clayton’s rejoinder and when, after several seconds, there was none, she glanced uncertainly at him. He was watching her intently, but without a trace of rancor over her jibe. Suddenly Whitney felt foolish and bad-tempered. True, he had behaved outrageously this afternoon at the stream but, considering the things she had done and said to him tonight, she had not behaved any better. A rueful smile tit her eyes to glowing jade as she looked at him. "I think it is your turn to be rude to me now," she offered fairly. "Or have I lost count?"
His eyes smiled his approval at her sudden change of attitude. "I think we’re about even," he said quietly.
Something about his deep voice and gray eyes, about the effortless ease with which he danced the waltz, stirred the ashes of some vague memory. Forgetting that his eyes were locked to hers, Whitney gazed at him, trying to grasp what was niggling at the back of her mind. "Mr. Westland, have we ever met before?"
"If we had, I hate to think that you could forget it."
"I’m certain that if we had, I would remember," Whitney said politely, and dismissed the idea.
True to his promise, Paul brought Elizabeth over when Clayton and Whitney strolled off the dance floor. Elizabeth Ashton, Whitney thought despairingly, looked like a beautiful, fragile china doll. She was wrapped in a gown of ice-blue satin that complemented the pink of her cheeks and the shining gold of her curls, and her voice was soft with amazed admiration as she said, "1 can’t believe it’s you, Whitney."
There was the implication, of course, that Whitney had been so unpresentable before that Elizabeth couldn’t believe the change, but watching her stroll away on Clayton’s arm, Whitney didn’t think Elizabeth had meant to be insulting.
Since Elizabeth was dancing with Clayton Westland, Whitney waited, hoping that Paul would ask her to dance again. Instead he frowned and said abruptly, "Is it the custom in Paris for a man and woman who have just been introduced to gaze into one another’s eyes while they dance?"
Whitney looked at him in startled surprise. "I-I wasn’t gazing into Mr. Westland’s eyes. It was just that he seemed familiar to me, and yet, I don’t know him at all. Hasn’t that ever happened to you?"
"It happened to me tonight," Paul said curtly. "I thought you were someone I knew. Now I’m not certain I know you at all." He turned on his heel and walked away, leaving Whitney staring after him. In the old days, Whitney would have run after him to reassure him that it was him she wanted, only nun, and not Clayton Westland. But these weren’t the old days and she was much wiser, so she smiled to herself and turned in the opposite direction.
Even though Paul never approached her again, she was perfectly happy to dance the night away with the local swains. Given a choice between an overconfident Paul and an aloof, jealous one, Whitney definitely preferred the latter. Lady Eubank was right, Whitney decided. Competition was what Paul needed.
It was nearly noon when Whitney awoke the following day. She threw back the covers and jumped out of bed, positively certain that Paul would come to call.
Paul didn’t come, but several of her other neighbors did, and she spent the afternoon trying to be charming and gay while her spirits sank along with the setting sun.
When she went to bed that night she told herself that Paul would surely come tomorrow. But tomorrow came and went without a sign of him.
It was not until the day after, that Whitney saw nun, and then it was purely by chance. She and Emily were riding back from the village, their horses kicking up little puffs of dust as they walked along the road. "Did you know that Mr. West-tend was called away to London the day after your party?" Emily asked.
"My father said something about it," Whitney said, her mind on Paul "I think he is expected back tomorrow. Why?"
"Because Margaret’s mama told mine that Margaret has been counting the hours until he returns. Apparently, Margaret’s affections are absolutely fixed on him and-" Emily stopped talking and squinted down the road. "Unless I mistake my eyes," she said with a teasing glance at Whitney, "we are about to encounter your prey."
Leaning forward, Whitney made out an elegant phaeton tearing along at a spanking pace in their direction. There was scarcely time for her to smooth the skirt of her riding habit before Paul was upon them. He pulled up, greeted Whitney politely, and then devoted his complete attention to Emily, flattering her with teasing gallantries until she laughingly ordered him to desist because she was now a married woman.
Khan had taken an instant aversion to Paul’s showy black horse, and Whitney listened to their conversation while trying to keep Khan under control. "Are you going to Lady Eubank’s affair tomorrow?" she heard him ask. When there was a lengthening moment of silence, she looked up to find Paul’s attention on her.