She really ought to stay here and face the results of her wretched conduct. Would they bring Clayton back on a litter? If so, she must remain to lend whatever assistance she could.
She turned Khan back toward the stable, then brought him up short again. Could Clayton possibly remain on Dangerous Crossing and bring him back? She hoped so, but if that should be the case, Whitney had no desire to be present when he did return. Just imagining his righteous wrath made her hands tremble with fear. "Coward!" she hissed at herself, turning Khan and starting for the Sevarin house where she could inquire about the location of the picnic.
Khan tossed his head, tugging at the reins, eager for a run, but Whitney had no heart for speed, and she kept him at a sedate walk. Never had she felt so thoroughly obnoxious. Why, she wondered miserably, had she made a mess of her life the moment she set foot in England? How she hated herself for lapsing into the childish tempers she’d indulged in as a girl. After several minutes of harsh self-recrimination, her present predicament again intruded on her thoughts. How to atone for this calamity? Would the horse hurt himself and have to be destroyed? Whether the animal was injured or not, her father would never forgive her for her actions.
Her father! For the first time in her life, she’d seen approbation in his eyes when he looked at her, and now everything would be ruined. He would despise her for mistreating the horse, and if she tried to explain that she had meant to hit the man, he’d be even more furious. Somehow, she had to keep the tale from him. None of the servants would tell him, of that Whitney was reasonably certain. Clayton Westland might, but perhaps if she begged him not to, pleaded with him not to …
Her unhappy reflections were interrupted by the sound of hooves beating a quick staccato behind her, and Whitney looked over her right shoulder, gaping at the sight of Clayton atop a lathered Dangerous Crossing who was closing rapidly on her.
Out of pure reflex, Whitney raised her crop to send Khan bolting ahead, then checked herself and dropped her arm.
She would stay here and face the man, admit her fault-a lot of good it would do to deny it anyway!
As Clayton drew abreast, Whitney beheld a face of such dark, menacing rage that she shuddered. In one fluid motion, Clayton swooped down, grabbed Khan’s right rein, end hauled both horses to a sharp stop. "You can let go of my rein," Whitney said softly. "I’m not going to run."
"Shut up!" he hissed. Since he maintained his hold on Khan’s rein, Whitney had no choice but to ride quietly beside him while he let Dangerous Crossing cool. In the oppressive silence, she tried to think cf something to say to break the tension, but the only thing she could think of was to comment on how well Clayton had managed the stallion. Under the circumstances, however, she didn’t think this was an appropriate time to say, "Well done, Mr. Westland!"
At the remains of an old stone wall a few yards from where they’d first met beside the stream, Clayton halted the horses and dismounted. He tied the stallion with swift, precise movements then strode to Whitney, jerked Khan’s left rein from her hand, and tied him on the opposite side of the wall from the stallion. He tamed on his heel, snapped, "Get down!" to Whitney, and stalked toward the old sycamore tree atop the knoll.
Whitney took judicious note of the taut set of his jaw, his long, purposeful strides, and felt the first tendril of fear coil in the pit of her stomach. "I prefer to stay here," she said unsteadily, watching him over her shoulder.
As if he didn’t hear her, he flung his riding gloves to the grass and jerked off his jacket. He sat down with his back against the tree and drew one leg up at the knee, resting his arm across it. In a voice like the crack of a whiplash, he said, "I told you to get down off that horse."
Whitney reluctantly did as she was bidden and slid awkwardly down from Khan, stepped onto the boulder next to her, then gingerly to the ground. She waited there beside her horse, enduring the icy blast of his gaze. It dawned on her that he was striving for control of his anger, and Whitney prayed be would gain it. His eyes raked over her, riveting on a spot just below her right hand. Following his stare, Whitney realized she still held the crop, it slid from her numbed fingers.
"I believe there are several things which you enjoy as much as riding," he remarked with scathing sarcasm.
Whitney nervously clenched and unclenched her hands.
"Come, come, don’t be shy," he prodded in a soft, menacing voice. "You’re a young woman of many pleasures -you enjoyed humbling me into an apology, did you not?"
Whitney nodded, then winced at the blaze of fury her answer ignited in his hard features. Quickly she tried to shake her head to cover the admission she’d just made.
"No, don’t deny it. You enjoyed it tremendously. And I think we can assume that besides riding and apologies, you also enjoy using the crop. Correct?"
How could she answer these questions? Whitney thought frantically. She flicked a glance at Khan, longing to flee.
In a silky, dangerous voice, he warned, "Don’t try it."
Whitney stayed where she was. She didn’t think she could get away, knew, in fact, that if she tried, she’d only enrage him further. Besides, if she didn’t let him vent his wrath now, he’d undoubtedly go to her father. She steeled herself to endure the rest of his verbal assault.
"You wanted us to have something in common if we were going to be friends. You wanted us to enjoy the same things, didn’t you?"
Whitney swallowed convulsively and nodded.
"Pick up the crop!" he clipped.
Cold fear raced down Whitney’s spine, and her pulse accelerated wildly. In all her life, she’d never encountered such controlled, purposeful rage. She bent down and picked up the crop with shaking fingers.
"Bring it to me," he rapped. Whitney froze at the sudden, blinding realization of what he intended, and he said in a terrifyingly pleasant tone, "Which will you have, your father or me? Do we settle this between us now, or would you prefer that I take it up with him?"
Whitney frantically considered her choice: physical punishment meted out by this man whom she despised, or the mental anguish of reopening old hostilities with her father. Her choice was really no choice at all.
Rather than give her tormentor the satisfaction of seeing her quaking fear, Whitney reverted to an old girlhood habit of putting her chin up and assuming an appearance of remote indifference. Haughtily, she walked over and held the crop out to him like a queen bestowing the sword of knighthood, her disdainful green eyes clashing with his icy gray ones.
"Now we are both going to share your favorite amusements: Riding, using the crop, and apologizing. You will ‘ride’ my knee, I will use the crop, and you are going to apologize. Do you understand the rules of our little game?"