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He touched his tongue to her lips, coaxing them to part, and when they did, his tongue slid gently between them, sending wild jolts through Whitney’s body. She reached her arms around his neck, clinging to him for support. His arm tightened protectively around her, and his tongue fully invaded the soft recesses of her mouth, tasting and exploring, filling her, until her whole body was a rioting mass of dizzying sensations.

He deepened the kiss, and his hand moved from her back to her midriff, sliding upward to her breast, boldly cupping its soft, enticing fullness.

Outrage at that intimate fondling banished every other emotion in a blinding flash of fury. With a strength she didn’t know she possessed, Whitney tore free, flinging his arms furiously away. "How dare you!" she hissed at the same time that she lifted her hand and slapped him as hard as she could.

In utter disbelief, Whitney watched a slow, satisfied grin sweep across his face. So incensed that she could scarcely draw enough air to speak, she said, "If you ever, ever touch me again, I’ll kill you!"

Her threat only seemed to please him more, and there was no mistaking the silent chuckle that preceded his next words. "That won’t be necessary, my lady. I already have the answer I sought."

"Answers!" Whitney gasped. "If I were a man, I’d give you an answer at the point of a pistol."

"If you were a man, you’d have no reason to."

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Whitney stood there, shaking with thwarted outrage, yearning to do or say something that would penetrate his cool, imperturbable exterior. The tears filling her eyes were tears of fury, but the moment he saw them he was contrite. "Dry your eyes, little one, and I’ll return you to your friends inside." So saying, he produced a white handkerchief and held it toward her. Whitney thought she would splinter apart from the turbulence of her hatred and animosity. She snatched the handkerchief from his hand and flung it to the ground, spinning on her heel with every intention of stalking into the ballroom alone.

"Excuse us," Paul said with a curt nod as he escorted Elizabeth past them, toward the doors into the ballroom.

"How long has Paul been there?" Whitney demanded wrathfully, facing Clayton with her fists clenched. "You vile, contemptible . . . you did all that deliberately, for his benefit, didn’t you? So that he would see it. You wanted him to see it!"

"I did it deliberately, for my benefit," Clayton corrected her blandly, placing his hand under Whitney’s elbow and guiding her toward the French doors

They stepped into the safety of the brightly lit house, and Whitney jerked her arm away, her voice a furious whisper. "You must be Satan’s own son!"

"My father would have been disappointed to think so," Clayton replied with an infuriating chuckle.

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"Your father?" Whitney scoffed, stepping away from him. "If you think your mother even knew his name, you deceive yourself!"

There was a moment of stunned silence white it registered on Clayton that he had just been called a bastard, followed by a shout of laughter as her ladylike slur on his legitimacy sank in. He was still grinning as he strolled along in her indignant wake, admiring the sway of her slender hips.

Blind with anger, Whitney stormed up to a group of middle-aged guests, which included her aunt, and stared past them, oblivious to their conversation. How she loathed and despised Clayton Westland! If it was the last thing she ever did, she would repay him for this night, for putting his filthy, debauched hands on her, for causing her to appear a harlot in front of Paul.

It was at least an hour later when Paul’s deep voice said very quietly near her ear, "Come and dance with me." His hand had already taken possession of her elbow, and Whitney walked beside him. She was so afraid of seeing condemnation on his face that even when they were dancing she couldn’t bring herself to look at him. "Does a man have to take you out to the balcony to get your attention, Miss Stone?" he taunted.

Whitney’s gaze flew to his, and she discovered to her intense relief that the scene he had witnessed on the balcony had obviously annoyed him, but there was no disgust in his expression.

"Would you prefer a stroll in the night air?" he mocked.

"Please don’t tease me about that," she half pleaded, half sighed. "It’s been a long evening, and I’m exhausted."

"I’m not surprised," he said with heavy irony, but when Whitney flushed with embarrassment, he relented. "Do you think you could recover from your ‘exhaustion’ by tomorrow morning-in time for a picnic with, say, ten people, in your honor?"

Lady Eubank and Aunt Anne had been right! Whitney realized jubilantly. "I would love it," she admitted with a bright, happy smile.

When the dance ended, Paul led her to a relatively quiet corner of the room. He stopped a footman bearing a tray of champagne, took two glasses, and gave one to Whitney. Leaning his shoulder against a pillar, he grinned down at her. "Shall I invite Westland?"

Whitney’s first instinct was to grab his lapels and scream no! But one look at that confident grin of his, and she chose a wiser course. She shrugged and even managed to smile. "By all means, invite him if you wish."

"You wouldn’t object?"

Whitney gave him an innocent stare. "I can’t think why I should. He’s, well, very handsome . . ." She looked down at her glass to hide her grimace of revulsion. "And charming, and.. ."

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"Miss Stone," Paul said, subjecting her to an amused scrutiny, "you wouldn’t by any chance be trying to make me jealous, would you?"

"Are you?" Whitney countered with a mutinous smile.

He didn’t answer, but Whitney was almost certain that he was. Either way, the balance of the evening was the way she used to dream it would be. Paul remained at her side most of the time, and when he did leave her, it wasn’t to return to Elizabeth.

Dismissing his valet, Clayton poured himself a light brandy. Inwardly, he smiled at the bizarre turn his courtship had taken tonight. Never in his wildest imaginings had he visualized anything quite like this! Nevertheless, he was extremely pleased by what he had learned on Amelia Eubank’s balcony a few hours ago. None of Whitney’s suitors in France had been permitted the liberties he had taken; she had been shocked by his intimate kiss and outraged when his hand touched her breast.

God, what an enchanting creature she was-part angel, part spitfire; artlessly sophisticated, with a ripe, opulent beauty that made his blood stir hotly.

Lifting his glass, he frowned into the contents. He had treated her badly tonight. Tomorrow, he would have to find a way to make amends.

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