"Don’t," he commanded in a throbbing whisper, deepening the wildly consuming kiss while his hand fondled her breasts, pushing them upward, teasing the sensitive nipples until they stood erect and proud against his palm.
And then, without warning, he stopped.
Kissed and caressed into dazed insensibility, Whitney watched his smoldering gaze lift from her ivory breasts to her face. "If we don’t stop now, little one," he murmured in an odd, strained voice, "I’m going to be too caught up in finishing what I began, to turn back." Bending his head, he kissed the top of each soft breast before reluctantly drawing up her chemise.
Lying beside her, propped up on an elbow, Clayton touched her cheek with a forefinger, lightly tracing the elegant curve of her cheekbone. He adored her spirit, her freshness; she was warmth and awakening passion, ready to be taken-as the throbbing ache in his loins reminded him. She was everything he had known she would be and much, much more: Headstrong, sweet, fiery-tempered, impertinent and witty … a treasure of exciting contrasts. His treasure!
Whitney basked in the warmth of his slow, lazy smile and reached up, laying her hand against his hard chest. He covered her hand with his, holding it pressed against his shirt over the steady thudding of his heart.
Dreamily, she heard the sounds of the early fall day drifting about them. A squirrel skittered up a tree with a nut to be stored for the winter. Crickets serenaded in hoarse harmony. One of the horses stamped fitfully. Whitney lay there, wondering why she’d never really noticed how extraordinarily handsome he was.
His next words brought her floating spirit plummeting back to earth: "It’s time to go-there’ll be explanations due everyone as it is." He chuckled at the look of disappointment that crossed her lovely forehead and pressed a bold kiss on the peak of her breast. "Brazen little hussy!" he teased.
Whitney lurched to a sitting position, her face flushed, and he began smoothing her hair. "Of course," she said, surging to her feet. "We-we should have left long ago."
Clayton reached for her but she turned on her heel and walked swiftly away. As she started to climb on her horse, he caught her at the waist and drew her back against his chest, wrapping his arms around her from behind. "Little one," he chuckled, nuzzling her neck, "there will be many times to come when I will hold you much longer, and much closer." Soothingly, he added, "I promise."
Whitney could hardly believe her ears! After calling her a brazen hussy, he had sympathetically promised to provide further intimacies to satiate her lust! How could she have forgotten how utterly amoral, how supremely conceited he was? She pulled away and glanced at him over her shoulder. With as much disdain as she could muster in her humiliated confusion, she said, "Do you think so?"
Clayton’s grin was tigerish. "Indeed I do."
"Don’t depend on it," she said, turning her face away and gathering Khan’s reins. He lifted her effortlessly into the sidesaddle and let his hand boldly rest on her thigh. Whitney’s voice shook as she asked, "Where is the picnic?"
"At the little clearing between Sevarin’s place and mine," he replied, swinging up onto Dangerous Crossing’s back.
More than anything, Whitney wanted to gallop Khan away, to put as much distance between herself and Clayton Westland as possible. At the same tune, she wanted to conceal how deeply she was hurt. So, with brittle gaiety, she called, "See you there," and turned Khan into a tight circle, urging him into a hinging gallop. She rode with her hair tossing wildly behind her, letting the wind cool her flushed face.
She could have wept with shame. "Brazen little hussy" he’d called her, and hussy she’d been! Letting him kiss her in such a way-and oh, God, touch her like that. And that bastard thought he was rewarding her by promising to hold her much closer and much longer in the future! Where was her pride, her sense of right and wrong, to have allowed him such liberties? She fete like such a horrid fool for lying there desiring him. And he had known exactly how she felt. He was undoubtedly an expert at making women desire him.
In the distance ahead the picnickers came into view, their gaily-colored garments dotting the gently rolling hillside behind them. Even from so far away, Whitney could almost pick out Paul’s silhouette. Paul! She groaned aloud thinking of how he would despise her if he ever learned what had just happened at the stream. She’d be ruined in Paul’s eyes. In everyone’s eyes.
Whitney glanced behind her and saw that Clayton was about ten lengths away. In a sudden frenzy to get to the picnic as quickly as possible, without appearing to be fleeing in panic, Whitney raised her crop in a gesture of challenge and called over her shoulder, "Shall we?"
"If you think you have a chance," Clayton laughed, then shouted, "I’ll give you ten lengths. Go ahead." Whitney considered rejecting his offer of a handicap, but decided that where he was concerned, winning by any means available was acceptable. Leaning forward over Khan’s neck, she tapped him with her heel, and he bolted forward. His strides lengthened out, and the ground flew by beneath her.
As she neared the picnickers, Whitney looked over her shoulder to see what kind of a lead she was holding. Disgust mingled with surprise, for the stallion had gained back nine of the ten paces. For a few seconds, Whitney thought she was still going to win, but at the very last moment, the stallion closed the gap and finished a nose in front of Khan.
The horses leapt about beneath them as a groom ran forward to take the reins, then help them dismount. Whitney settled her skirts and, pretending complete indifference to Clayton’s existence, started to walk past him.
He leaned down from his horse and chucked her familiarly under the chin. "I won." He grinned.
The groom, who had bent to examine Khan’s right front foot, glanced up and politely said, "The lady’s horse was running with a stone in his hoof, sir."
Whitney was about to pounce on that excuse, but Paul’s arrival interrupted her. "Where the deuce have you two been?"
"We had some trouble with the stallion," Clayton calmly replied as he dismounted.
Paul glanced skeptically from the docile black horse to Whitney’s flushed, angry face. "I was worried about you," he said.
"Were you? There was no need," Whitney murmured, positive she looked as guilty as she felt.
He led her over to a light blue blanket, seated her beside Emily and Michael Archibald, then sat down next to her, with Elizabeth and Peter across from them.
Clayton accepted a glass of wine from a servant and sauntered over to the blanket directly across from theirs, seating himself beside Margaret Merryton and another couple. Whitney saw the bright smile that Margaret beamed on him as he settled beside her. If Margaret’s eyes weren’t perpetually narrowed with malice, Whitney thought, she would be a very pretty girl. Right now, however, the hazel eyes were slits of hatred as they turned toward Whitney. "If you were racing, you lost, Whitney." She smirked.