"I’m not certain I believe you. Why should you suddenly decide to let me go?"
"Let’s say that these last few . . . unrewarding . . . minutes have convinced me of the wisdom of the idea. On the other hand"-he shrugged indifferently-"my generosity is not without a price."
A price? Whitney thought joyously. Why, it was no price at all! To be free of this betrothal she’d be willing to kiss his horse! "I am to kiss you goodbye, nothing more?" she said, watching him very, very closely, while she restated the terms of the bargain. "And you are giving me your word that in return, you will let me go?"
He nodded curtly. "Yes. In fact, I won’t even accompany you home. I’ll have my man drive you." Impatiently, he added, "Well, have we a bargain?"
"Yes!" Whitney said quickly, lest he change his mind.
They were standing almost within arm’s reach, but instead of reaching for her, as Whitney expected, he leaned his shoulder against the pavilion wall, folded his arms across his chest, and said, "As you can see, I am completely at your disposal."
Whitney blinked at him. "What do you mean?"
"I-mean that the next move is yours."
"Mine?" she gasped. Dear God! Did he intend for her to take the initiative? She stared uncertainly at his arrogant features and mocking gray eyes. That was precisely what he meant for her to do. And how tike him to take this last, final, petty revenge! The breeze ruffled his dark brown hair as he glanced tranquilly up at the trees overhead, then serenely contemplated the azure sky. Leaning lazily against the pavilion with his arms crossed over his chest, he looked so insufferably arrogant that she positively yearned to give him a swift kick in the shin, and the devil fly with his bargain!
Without warning, he straightened as if he were tired of waiting and were about to call the bargain off.
"Wait!" Whitney stammered quickly. "I-I-" She gaped at him in angry consternation, feeling unutterably self-conscious. "It’s just that I-"
"-don’t know how to begin?" he finished sardonically. "Permit me to suggest that you take a step closer."
Drowning in resentful embarrassment, Whitney complied.
"Very good," he mocked. "Now, if you will put your lips on mine, you can get it over with."
Whitney expelled her breath in a long, humiliated rush, glowered at him, and clutching his rust-colored jacket by the lapels, she levered herself up high enough to reach his mouth and pressed a chaste kiss on his tips. Then she stepped back, poised for flight to blissful freedom.
"If that’s the way you kiss Sevarin, I can understand why it’s taken you all this time to bring him to the point of offering," he remarked with lazy cynicism. "If that maidenly peck is your best effort, I’m afraid the bargain is off."
"Well!" Whitney burst out indignantly, plunking her hands on her hips and giving him a murderous look. "I can’t help it when you just stand there without so much as moving a muscle to cooperate."
"Perhaps you’re right. On the other hand, you’re supposed to inspire me to cooperate."
"Oh shut up!" she snapped with blazing eyes. "You just do your part. I’ll do mine!"
"I’ll do no more than follow your lead," he warned coolly. "And I have no intention of trying to teach you what you should have learned already. I have better things to do with my time than play tutor to a tiresomely naive schoolroom miss."
Whitney felt as if he’d hit her across the face. With an effort, she bit back a vengeful retort, and forced herself to concentrate on finding some way to "inspire" this cold, withdrawn man into participating. And while she was about it, she wouldn’t mind throwing his taunts about "tutoring a schoolgirl" and "maidenly pecks" right in his teeth! Bending her head, she tried to imagine herself as a bold temptress, a courtesan, as wise in the ways of passion and seduction as he was. Very slowly, she raised jade-green eyes so full of promise and warmth that when they met Clayton’s she witnessed a momentary crack in his aloof composure.
Emboldened by her success thus far, Whitney slid her hands inside his jacket, upward along his silk shirt. Beneath her fingertips, she felt his chest muscles leap reflexively, then draw taut and hard. He was trying to resist her! Some primeval female instinct told her that if he had to try to resist her, she must have struck a very responsive chord, and the realization brought a knowingly seductive half smile to her lips as her hands glided over his shoulders and up behind his neck. Keeping her eyes locked to his, she slid her fingers through the soft hair at his nape, inexorably drawing his face nearer to hers. Tenderly, she brushed her lips over his mouth … his smiling mouth! Damn him, he was grinning! And even though her arms were locked around his neck, his arms were still diffidently at his sides.
"A definite improvement," he congratulated her impersonally, "but hardly-"
Outraged pride made Whitney silence this final rejection with her parted lips. She found him blindly, and lingered endlessly, trying to force him to respond. His warm breath mingled with hers, his mouth followed her lead, but the moment she began to draw back, he did the same. Slowly, her fear of retreating too soon was surpassed by her greater fear of continuing too long. Her heart was beating in unsteady lurches, and her body was stirring to life in a most alarming way. Dropping her arms, she stepped back, and for the first time she realized that Clayton’s arms had never been around her. He hadn’t been the least bit affected by the kiss. "I hate you for this," she whispered, too humiliated to look at his face, which she was certain would be gleaming with sarcastic amusement.
Clayton was not amused, he was furious. For the first time in his adult life he had not been able to control his own body’s responses. Her innocent kiss and light caress had sent a tidal wave of instantaneous lust surging through him, very nearly sweeping away his restraint. And while he was still struggling for control, she was declaring her hatred of him.
His jaw tightened and he tipped her chin up. "That was much better," he said smoothly. "This time will be goodbye."
Goodbye? Whitney thought, immediately forgetting she hated him. They were saying goodbye. This would be the last time they ever saw each other.
Whitney gazed up into his recklessly handsome male face with a nostalgic sensation that bordered on sadness. His was such a compelling face. A face that could seem almost boyish when the firm jawline and finely carved mouth were transformed by one of his lazy, devastating smiles. She liked the aura of calm authority that always surrounded him, that vibrated in his deep voice and lent purpose to his long, agile strides. She admired his ability to seem forever at ease and relaxed. He was, she thought with an inward sigh of regret, all the things a man ought to be.