"Are you going to Lady Eubank’s affair tomorrow?" he repeated.
Whitney nodded, her heart doubling its tempo.
"Fine. I’ll see you there." Without another word, he flicked the reins, and the phaeton bowled off down the road. Emily turned, watching the vehicle until it vanished from view. "If that wasn’t the most extraordinary encounter I have ever had in my Me, I can’t imagine what was!" she said. A slow smile dawned across her features as she looked at Whitney. "Paul Sevarin just went to great pains to completely ignore you. Whitney!" she said excitedly, "doesn’t that strike you as rather odd?"
"Not at all," Whitney said with a disheartened sigh. "If you remember, Paul always used to ignore me."
"Yes, I know." Emily said, laughing softly. "But back then, he wasn’t watching you the entire time he did it. The whole time he was talking to me just now, he was watching you. And at your party the other night, he watched you constantly when you weren’t looking."
Whitney jerked Khan to a halt. "Did he truly? Are you certain?"
"Of course I’m certain, silly, I was watching him, watching you."
"Oh, Emily," Whitney laughed shakily. "I wish you didn’t have to go back to London next week. When you’re gone, who will tell me the things I want to hear?"
BY THE NIGHT OF LADY EUBANK’S PARTY, Whitney had worked herself into a knot of anticipation and foreboding. She was ready early, waiting for her aunt in the hall in a gown of midnight-blue chiffon spangled with glittering silver flecks. Diamonds and sapphires twinkled at her ears and throat, and winked from her elegant Grecian curb.
"Aunt Anne," she said in the carriage on the way to Lady Eubank’s, "do you think Paul truly loves Elizabeth?"
"If he did, I believe he would have offered for her long ago," Anne replied, pulling on her gloves as their carriage turned into the long drive at Lady Eubank’s great old mausoleum of a house. "And your friend Emily is absolutely correct-he watched you constantly the night of your party, when he thought no one was looking."
"Then why is he taking go long to do something about it?"
"Darling, only consider the awkward position he is in. Four years ago, everyone knew that he barely tolerated your devotion. Now he is faced with the problem of reversing himself completely and openly courting you." She smiled at Whitney’s glum look. "If you want to speed things up, I think you ought to take Lady Eubank’s advice and give him some competition."
Three hours later, Whitney was beginning to agree. She was popular and sought after by every eligible man present … except the one who mattered.
Across the room from Whitney, surrounded by several of the local girls, Clayton bent his head toward Margaret Merryton, smiling to conceal his impatience with her ceaseless chatter.
After spending the past few days in London on an emergency business matter, he’d returned just in time tonight to change and come to this little gathering of Amelia Eubank’s. And that outrageous old harridan had greeted him in the entryway and announced that she would appreciate it if he would be especially attentive to Miss Stone tonight, and thus provide some romantic competition for Sevarin. As a result, Clayton was not in the best of moods.
Rudely turning her back on the woman who was talking to her, Amelia Eubank raised her monocle and scanned the knots of guests until her gaze fell upon the Duke of Claymore, who was surrounded by several of the local girls, all vying for his attention. Claymore, she noted, was treating them with amused tolerance, but his attention was on the only female in the room who seemed immune to his magnetism-Whitney Stone.
Amelia dropped her monocle, letting it dangle from its black ribbon over her ample bosom. Through a distant connection of her deceased husband, Amelia could claim a slight kinship with the duke, and when Claymore had arrived at her home several weeks ago, announcing his intention to take up residence five miles from her under the name Westland "in order to take a much needed rest," she had immediately assured him of her discretion.
Now, however, an intriguing idea occurred to her, and her eyes took on a speculative gleam as she watched the duke watching Miss Stone. She paused a moment to contemplate how utterly unethical and devious her scheme was, and then, with a pleased little smile, she leaned back and instructed a footman to bring Miss Stone to her immediately, and then to ask Mr. Westland to join them.
Whitney was dancing with Emily’s husband when a footman appeared at her elbow and said that Lady Eubank wished to see her at once. Excusing herself to Lord Archibald, Whitney obeyed Lady Eubank’s imperative summons with feelings of distinct apprehension, an apprehension which immediately turned to alarm when the dowager hoisted herself out of her chair and said irritably, "I told you competition is what Sevarin needs, and your best friend’s husband is not competition. I want you to make up to Mr. Westland. Bat your eyes at him, or whatever it is you young gels do to attract a man."
"No, I can’t. Really, Lady Eubank, I’d rather-"
"Young woman," she interrupted, "I will have you know that I’m giving this party for the sole purpose of helping you secure Sevarin. Since you seem so foolish about how to go about it, you’ve left me no choice but to step in. Clayton Westland is the only man here whom Sevarin will consider a rival, and I’ve sent a footman for him." Whitney blanched, and Lady Eubank glowered at her. "Now, when Mr. West-land comes, you can either look at him the way you’re looking at me-in which case, he will probably offer to take you to a physician-or you can smile at him, so that he will offer to take you out on the balcony instead."
"I don’t want to go out on the balcony!" Whitney hissed desperately.
"You will," her ladyship predicted, "when you turn around and observe how charmingly Elizabeth Ashton is strolling in that direction on Sevarin’s arm."
Whitney turned and saw that Paul and Elizabeth were indeed strolling toward the balcony doors. Discouraged, Whitney recognized the sense in what Lady Eubank was trying to force her to do, but she was reluctant to stoop to outright scheming. Not that her hesitancy mattered, because Lady Eubank had neatly taken the choice out of her hands and was already saying to a faintly smiling Clayton, "Miss Stone was just mentioning that she is excessively overheated from all her dancing, and that she would enjoy a stroll on the balcony."
Clayton Westland glanced toward the balcony doors, and in the space of an instant, Whitney watched his lazy smile harden into a mask of ironic amusement. "I’m sure she would," he said sarcastically.