His mouth was slowly moving closer to hers. "Shall we continue where you left off?" he suggested softly.

Drawing a long, ragged breath, Whitney lifted her trembling lips to within an inch of his. Then a half-inch. Her mind screamed a warning as her emotions reeled crazily and sudden shock waves of longing racked her.

His mouth came down hard, silencing Whitney’s objection with a demanding insistence that sent a jolt rocketing through her, exploding along every nerve until she was clinging to him, her arms wrapped fiercely around his neck.

"Am I boring you?" he taunted, kissing her harder, more deliberately than before. His tongue plunged suggestively into her mouth. "Would you describe this as sordid?"

Rage burst in Whitney’s breast, enclosing her in a mist of blind fury. He was lashing her with her own words, coldly and deliberately humbling her. She dug her fingernails into his wrists, trying futilely to pry his hands away from her head.

His kiss deepened, devouring her and sending silky tendrils of desire curling down her spine.

"Are you pretending I’m Sevarin?" he jeered. "Are you?"

Stunned, Whitney let her hands slide from his wrists. She had actually hurt him with those things she’d said. Somehow Clayton had always seemed so utterly invulnerable, so completely self-assured, that she’d never dreamed anything she ever said or did could hurt him. But evidently she had.

"Tell me how much you hate my touch," he ordered furiously. Pulling his mouth from hers, he stared down at her with biting gray eyes. "You despise my touch," he hissed. "Say it now, or don’t ever, ever say it to me again."

Whitney’s chest tightened around an aching lump of poignant contrition and shattering tenderness. She swallowed painfully, tears filling her eyes. "I-I can’t."

"You can’t tell me you despise my touch?" he jeered in a silky, ominous voice. "Why can’t you?"

"Because," she whispered, attempting a trembly smile, "you warned me not five minutes ago, never to lie to you again." Whitney watched his features harden into a mask of cynical incredulity and, before he could say anything else to hurt them both, she leaned up to silence his retort with her lips.

Swearing savagely, he grabbed her arms and started to pull them down from around his neck. "Clayton, don’t!" she cried out brokenly, locking her fingers tightly behind his nape. "Oh please, please don’t!" Tears slipped down her cheeks as she ignored his painful grip on her arms and kissed this angry, unyielding man, this powerful, dynamic man, who had endured her hostility and outbursts with patience and humor . . . until now, when she had hurt him.

His hands went to her waist to shove her away, but Whitney pressed closer. Timidly, she touched her tongue to his tips, hoping he would like it if she kissed him that way. He went rigid. Every muscle in his body drew taut, hardening against her. Her tongue slid between his barely parted lips, encountered his, recoiled in wild alarm-and then crept back for one more sweet, forbidden touch. And her world exploded with the violence of his response. His arms went around her, crushing her to him as his mouth opened over hers, slanting fiercely back and forth. His tongue plunged boldly into her mouth, probing, as if to verify its welcome there.

Dazed with passion and longing, Whitney gloried in the wild excitement of his mouth moving with hungry urgency against hers. She kissed him back while his hands shifted possessively across her back and down her spine, then lower to cup her buttocks, molding her closer against his hard legs and thighs, forging their two bodies into one.

An eternity later, he lifted his mouth from hers and cradled her face between his hands, his thumbs gentry stroking her flushed cheeks. Tenderness and desire smoldered in his gray eyes as he gazed down into her languorous green ones. "You beautiful, infuriating, wonderful little fool," he whispered thickly, and then he slowly buried his lips in hers again, deepening the kiss until flames were shooting through Whitney’s veins and she was straining to be closer to him. His hands cupped and caressed her breasts, branding them with his touch, then stroking downward, fitting her hips against his rigid thighs.

Without warning, it was over. He tore his mouth from hers and kissed her eyes and forehead, then rested his jaw against her head. Whitney stirred and his arms tightened around her. "Don’t move, little one," he whispered. "Stay close to me a while longer." Leaves rustled in the breeze and birds fluttered overhead, while loneliness and despair began invading the bliss of the moment. Longing to feel his lips covering hers again, to have him drive away this aching sadness creeping over her, Whitney leaned her head back, her gaze lingering on his firmly molded lips.

Automatically, Clayton bent his head to accept her shy invitation, but an instant before his mouth touched hers, he checked himself. "No," he said with a throaty chuckle.

Bewildered by his refusal to kiss her when he obviously wanted to, Whitney looked at him, her wide, questioning eyes shadowed with hurt confusion.

"If you continue to look at me like that," he teased huskily, "you’re going to find yourself being thoroughly kissed once more. And if that happens, there’s ah excellent chance that I’ll not be able to keep my promise."

"Why?" Whitney whispered, still shamelessly yearning for his kiss.

"Why?" he repeated, his mouth hovering so near hers that their breaths were mingling. "I’ll be happy to show you why . . ." he offered in a lusty whisper.

Reason at last returned, cooling her ardor and restoring her sense. She shook her head. "No, for it would only make our parting more difficult." With a weak smile, she stepped back and away from him. "Goodbye, your grace," she whispered, gravely offering him her hand. Her heart gave a lurch when he took it and turned it palm up.

"So formal?" he grinned, rubbing his thumb over her palm, then boldly raising it to his lips and touching his tongue to the sensitive center.

Whitney snatched it away, tucking her tingling hand safely behind her back. For a long moment, she simply gazed at him, unconsciously memorizing his face, then she said, "I’m sorry, truly sorry that I’ve put you to so much trouble."

Clayton’s eyes glinted wickedly. "I hope you’ll feel free to trouble’ me like that whenever you like."

"You know that’s not what I mean." There were things she wanted to say to him, nice things, and things she wanted to explain, but how could she be serious when he was treating their parting so lightly? Perhaps he wanted no explanations, no apologies; perhaps this was the best way to say goodbye. Even so, her voice shook as she said, "I shall miss you, I really will." Before she crumbled in front of him, which she was positive she would do if he continued to look at her with gentle understanding, she picked up her skirts and stepped away, intending to leave him there at the pavilion. Two steps further away, she turned and said hesitantly over her shoulder. "About my father-"