"Whitney, shall I have your new challis pressed?" Anne persisted.
Whitney glanced bleakly out the window. Half the sky promised a bright, sunny day, while the other half was dark and overcast. The wind was up and the trees were swaying fitfully. She didn’t think this was the time to look her best; in fact, since she didn’t want Clayton Westmoreland’s admiration, she ought to look her worst! She would wear something drab and, more important, something he hadn’t paid for. "No, not the challis. I’ll think of something else."
By the time Clarissa came in, Whitney had decided what to wear, and the idea filled her with grim, perverse satisfaction. "Clarissa, do you remember the black dress Haversham used to wear when she scrubbed the stairs? Will you see if you can find it."
Clarissa’s kindly face was furrowed with bewildered sympathy. "Lady Gilbert told me what happened last night, child," she said. "But if you mean to antagonize the man, you may be making a terrible mistake."
The compassion Whitney saw in her faithful maid’s plump face almost reduced her to tears again. "Oh, Clarissa, please don’t argue with me," Whitney begged. "Just say you’ll help me. If I look ugly enough, and if I’m very strong and very clever, I may be able to make him decide to give up and go away."
Clarissa nodded, her voice gruff with repressed tears. "I’ve never failed to stand by you, and I have the white hairs to prove it. I’ll not abandon you now."
"Thank you, Clarissa," she whispered humbly. "Now I know I have at least two friends to stand by me. Three with Paul."
An hour and fifteen minutes later, bathed and seated at her dressing table, Whitney flashed an approving smile in the mirror as Clarissa twisted her heavy hair into a thick knot and secured it with a slender black ribbon. The severe hairdo accented Whitney’s classically sculpted features and high cheekbones. Her wide green eyes, with their heavy fringe of sooty lashes, seemed enormous in her pale face and added to the overall effect of fragile, ethereal beauty. Whitney, however, thought she looked ghastly. "That’s perfect!" she said. "And you needn’t rush so-his grace can cool his heels and wait for me. That’s part of my plan. I intend to teach him some distasteful lessons about me, and the first one is that I’m not the least impressed by his illustrious name and title, nor have I any intention of leaping to his commands."
At one-thirty, Whitney went down to the small salon where she had deliberately instructed the butler to install Mr. Westland when he arrived. Pausing with her hand on the brass door handle, she lifted her chin and swept silently inside.
Clayton was standing with his back partially to her, impatiently slapping his tan gloves against his muscular thigh, while be gazed out the windows overlooking the front lawns. His broad shoulders were squared, his jaw set with implacable determination, and even in this pensive pose, he seemed to emanate the restrained power and unyielding authority she had always sensed-and feared-in him.
Drop by precious drop, Whitney felt her confidence draining away. How could she have deluded herself into believing she could sway him from his purpose? He was no foppish, romantic young gallant to be put off with a cool smile or polite indifference. Not once since she’d met him had she ever emerged the victor in any conflict with him. Bracingly, Whitney reminded herself that she only had to cope with him alone until Paul came back.
She dosed the door behind her, and the latch clicked into place. "You sent for me?" she said in a flat, emotionless voice.
For the past twenty minutes, Clayton had been struggling with his mounting annoyance at being made to wait in a small stuffy room like a beggar hoping for a handout. He had told himself a dozen times that Whitney had been hurt and humiliated last night, and that today she would undoubtedly demonstrate her rebellion against him by doing whatever she could to defy and provoke him.
As he turned at the sound of her voice, he reminded himself that no matter what she said or did, he would be patient and understanding. But when he looked at her, it was all he could do to bridle his temper. Her chin held defiantly high, she stood before him, decked out like a servant in a long, shapeless, threadbare black dress. A white apron was tied around her slender waist, and her lustrous, hair was hidden beneath a mob cap. "You’ve made your point, Whitney," he told her curtly. "Now I’ll make mine. I will not have you dressed like that ever again!"
Whitney bristled at his tone. "We are all your servants in this house. And I am the lowliest servant of all, for I’m nothing but a bondservant whom you purchased from the debtor’s block."
"Don’t use that tone of voice with me," he warned. "I’m not your father."
"Of course you aren’t," she mocked. "You’re my owner."
In three long strides, Clayton closed the distance separating them. Furious that her anger was ricocheting off her stupid father onto him, he grasped her hard by the upper arms, longing to shake her until her teeth rattled. Beneath the harsh grip of his hands, he could feel her body tense, bracing for violence.
She lifted her head, and his anger slowly drained away. Although her glorious green eyes were glaring defiance at him, they were sparkling with suppressed tears, shining with pain that he had caused. The translucent skin beneath them was smudged with dark shadows, and her normally glowing complexion was drained of color. Gazing down at her lovely, rebellious face, he asked quietly, "Does the mere thought of being my wife bring you such misery, little one?"
Whitney was shocked by his unexpected gentleness and, worse, completely at a loss as to how to answer. She wanted to appear haughty, coldly remote-anything but "miserable," tot that was tantamount to "weak" and "helpless." On the other hand, she could scarcely say No, the idea doesn’t make me miserable.
A discordant note of laughter echoed through the hall, followed by footsteps and chattering voices as three of the Stones’ houseguests passed the salon on their way to the dining room. "I want you to come outside with me," Clayton said.
He didn’t ask, he stated, Whitney noted angrily. Outside, they crossed the drive and walked across the sloping front lawn toward the pond in the center. Beneath a graceful old elm near the edge of the pond, Clayton stopped. "At least we can hope for some privacy out here," he said.
It was on the tip of Whitney’s tongue to retort that the last thing in the world she wanted was privacy with him, but she was in such an emotional turmoil that she couldn’t trust herself to speak.
Stripping off his jacket, he placed it on the grass beneath the tree. "I think we could discuss this better if we sat down," he said, inclining his head toward the jacket. "I prefer to stand," Whitney said with cold hauteur. "Sit!"