He took her elbow in a none too gentle grasp, and said. "Shall we go, Miss Stone?" Whitney let him guide her through the throngs of chattering guests and around the perimeter of the buffet table. So lost was she in thoughts of Paul that she didn’t notice that she was being led toward the French doors that stood at right angles to the ones Paul and Elizabeth had used. If they went this way, Whitney realized that they would emerge around the corner-and out of sight-of Paul and Elizabeth.

"Where are we going?" Whitney asked quickly, starting to draw back.

"As you can see, we are going out onto the balcony," her escort said coolly. Tightening his hold on her elbow, he opened the French doors with his free hand, propelled her outside and closed them behind her. Without a word, he dropped her arm and strolled over to the stone balustrade. Perching his hip on it, he regarded her in silence.

Whitney stood there, miserable because Lady Eubank’s plan had failed, embarrassed because she had participated in it, and still determined to somehow carry it off if possible. "Perhaps we could stroll around to the other side?" she suggested.

"We could, but we aren’t going to," Clayton almost snapped. He gazed at her, knowing she was trying to use him as a decoy and growing more impatient and annoyed with her as each second passed. She looked like a wild young temptress with the moonlight gleaming on the silver spangles of her gown as it blew gently in the midnight breeze. And she was his, dammit! He had even paid for the gown she was wearing

After a few moments, an idea occurred to him. Leaning back, he looked around the corner of the balcony, ascertained that Sevarin and Elizabeth Ashton were standing at the balustrade, then returned his undivided attention to the lovely young woman who was now nervously fingering the folds of her gown. "Well, Miss Stone?" he drawled in a voice just raised enough to carry around the corner.

Whitney jumped at the sound of her name. "Well what?" she questioned, starting to move forward in the hope of peeking around the corner and seeing what Paul and Elizabeth were doing. In this she was instantly thwarted, because Clayton abruptly stood up and strolled toward her, effectively blocking her view of everything but his chest and shoulders. "Well what?" Whitney repeated, automatically stepping back in an effort to widen the space between them. Before she realized what was happening, she had backed into the shadowy stone wall of the house.

"Now that I’ve brought you out here," Clayton began conversationally, "what do you want me to do next?"

"Next?" Whitney repeated cautiously.

"Yes, next. I want to be certain I understand my part in this little game we’re playing. I imagine I’m supposed to kiss you, in order to make Sevarin jealous, is that it?"

"I wouldn’t let you touch me to save me from drowning!" Whitney retorted, too angry to be humiliated.

Ignoring that completely, he said thoughtfully, "I don’t mind playing my part, but I can’t help wondering if I’m going to enjoy it. Am I going to kiss an amateur, or have you been missed often enough to know how it’s supposed to be done? How may times have you been kissed?"

"I’ll wager you live in constant terror of being mistaken for 4 gentleman!" she snapped to cover her growing alarm. His hands locked on her arms and he began drawing her toward his chest. Giving up her futile struggle, she glared murderously at the laughter glinting in his eyes, "Take your hands off me!"

"Are the times you’ve been kissed too numerous to count? Or were they all so meaningless that you can’t recall them?"

Whitney thought she was going to explode. "I have been kissed often enough not to require lessons from the likes of you, if that’s what you have in mind!"   ‘

He chuckled as his arms encircled her rigid body. "So you’ve been kissed that often, have you, little one?"

Whitney stared at his chest, refusing to look up at him. Screaming was out of the question; her reputation would be destroyed if anyone saw her in such a compromising situation. She could not, could not believe this was actually happening to her. Torn between the urge to burst into tears, or hit him, she said as calmly as possible, "If you are quite through trying to frighten and humiliate me, please let me go."

"Not until I discover how much you’ve learned from all your ‘experience,’" he whispered.

Whitney snapped her head up, intending to launch into a tirade, only to have her words smothered by his mouth. She froze at the initial shock of the contact, then forced herself to be perfectly still beneath the pressure of his lips. Although she had little experience in kissing, she had considerable experience in avoiding it, and she knew that by neither struggling nor responding, a woman could reduce an over-ardent mate to a state of apologetic chagrin.

When Clayton finally drew back, however, he looked neither chagrined nor apologetic. Instead he regarded her with an infuriating grin. "Either you had very poor teachers, my lady, or you are sorely in need of more lessons."

His arms loosened, and Whitney stepped back. Pivoting on her heel, she vengefully fired a parting remark over her shoulder, "At least my lessons weren’t learned in a brothel!"

It happened so quickly, there was no time to react. A hand like a vice shot out and seized her wrist, spinning her around back into the shadows, and jerking her into his arms. "I think," he enunciated in an awful voice, "that your problem is purely a matter of inexperienced teachers."

His mouth crushed down on hers, mercilessly bruising her lips, forcing them to part from sheer, cruel pressure and when they did, his tongue plunged into her mouth, ravaging its softness.

Whitney writhed futilely in his iron embrace while tears of impotent rage raced down her cheeks. The more she struggled, the more insolent and punishing his mouth became, until she finally grew still, defeated and trembling in his arms. The moment she stopped fighting, he lifted his head and cradled her face between his two hands. Gazing into her stormy, tear-brightened eyes, he said quietly, "That was your first lesson, little one. Never, ever play games with me. I’ve played them all before, and you can’t win. This is the second lesson," he murmured as his mouth descended toward hers.

Whitney drew a sharp breath and started to scream, but his mouth throttled the scream to an hysterical whimper, and so gently this time that she was stunned into silent quiescence. His hand curved around her nape, his fingers stroking and soothing, while the other drifted over her back in a slow, restless caress, moving her closer to his length. And all the while, his lips were moving on hers with fierce tenderness, shaping and fitting their soft curves to his own.