Never in her life had Whitney witnessed such controlled, menacing fury, nor had anyone ever looked at her with such scathing contempt, not even her father. She had hoped so much to see laughter, or warmth, or affection in those penetrating, soul-searching gray eyes of his tonight; she had never imagined he could look at her with this alarming, malicious hatred. Her shock faded to hurt, and very slowly, the first glimmerings of fear were born in her heart. Silently, she stared out the window until the lights of the city began to glimmer less frequently and the long stretches of lonely darkness lengthened. "Where are you taking me?" she asked unsteadily. He was coldly silent. "Clayton?" she almost begged. "Where are we going?"
Clayton turned and stared down at her beautiful, frightened face. He wanted to put his hands around her slender white throat and strangle her for defiling her body with other men, for betraying his own love and trust, and for finally calling him "Clayton" now, when he knew her for what she was-a "lying, deceiving liitle bitch who had freely shared her lush, ripe body with any rutting pig who asked her to. He tore his mind from thoughts of her coupling with other men and, without answering her question, pointedly looked away.
Whitney tried to combat her mounting alarm by concentrating on where they were and in which direction they were travelling. North! she realized as they turned off the main road. They were heading north. Now she was frantic. Drawing a quick breath, she swallowed what was left of her pride and said, "I was going to tell you that I’m willing to marry you. It isn’t necessary to take me to Scotland to marry me. I’ll-"
"Not necessary to marry you?" Clayton interrupted with a short, bitter laugh. "So I have heard. However, I have no desire to elope, nor have I any intention of pushing my horses much further. They’ve already chased across half of England today in pursuit of you."
Abruptly, the coach turned west onto a smooth, but less traveled road, at the same moment the full import of his words slammed into her. If he’d been on the road all day "in pursuit" of her, then he must have returned to the village today and heard the gossip about her betrothal to Paul. Pleadingly, Whitney laid her hand on his arm. "I can explain about Paul. You see-"
His fingers clamped down on her slim hand, wringing a gasp of pain from her. "I’m delighted that you’re so eager to touch me," he drawled sarcastically, "because in a short while, you are going to have an opportunity to do exactly that." Distastefully he removed her hand from his arm and dropped it into her lap. "However, since this is not the place for you to demonstrate your affection, you will have to control your passions until then."
"Control my-?" Whitney gasped, and then hopefully she blurted, "Are you foxed?"
His lips twisted with cynical amusement "I am not drunk, so you needn’t worry that I will be unable to perform …" He emphasized the last word, making it sound ominous. Then almost pleasantly he added, "You should sleep now. You’ve a long and exhausting night ahead of you."
Frightened by his taunting and hurt by the disgusted revulsion in his eyes whenever he looked at her, Whitney tore her gaze from his. She had no idea what he was talking about. She was on the verge of hysterical terror, and he was sitting here telling her to control her passions, assuring her that he would be able to "perform." In the darkness of the coach, the vulgar crudity of his remark finally penetrated the turbulent agitation of her mind, and her eyes grew huge with fear. Now she understood his plans!
Whitney searched the starlit night for sign of a village, a house, anywhere she could seek refuge. There were a few lights up ahead on her side of the road-a posting house or an inn, she thought. She didn’t know what kind of injury she would sustain by jumping from the coach and she didn’t care, so long as she would be able to get up and run . . . run to the lights beside the road.
Biting her trembling lower lip, Whitney inched her hand cautiously along her skirts toward the handle that would open the door. She stole a final, parting look at the granite profile of the man beside her and felt as if something were dying within her.
Squeezing her eyes closed, she tried to clear them of the burning tears that would blind her when she hurtled from the coach. She edged her fingertips along the padded leather of the door until they closed around the hard, cold metal of the handle. A few more seconds until they were even with the open gates of the inn yard, and the horses slowed against the strain of the incline. Whitney’s fingers tightened . . . She screamed as Clayton’s hand clamped around her arm, jerking her away from the door.
"Don’t be so impatient, my sweet. A common roadside inn is hardly the proper setting for our first coupling. Or do you prefer inns for your little trysts?" With a sharp twist of his arm, he flung her onto the seat across from him. "Do you?" he repeated savagely.
With pounding heart, Whitney watched the distance widen between the coach and the inn, and with it went her hope of escape. She couldn’t possibly take him by surprise again, nor could she overpower him.
"Personally," Clayton continued almost sociably, "I have always preferred the comforts of my ‘dingy’ home to the questionable cleanliness and worn bed linen one usually finds in these places."
His cool mockery finally snapped her fragile self-control. "You-you are a bastard!" she burst out.
"If you say so," he agreed indifferently. "And if I am, that makes me eminently well suited to spend the night in bed with a bitch!"
Whitney squeezed her eyes closed and leaned her head back against the seat, trying desperately to bring her emotions under control. Clayton was infuriated about Paul, and somehow she had to explain. Swallowing convulsively, she whispered into the darkness, "Mrs. Sevarin is to blame for the gossip you heard. Despite what you think, as soon as Paul came home, I told him that I couldn’t marry him. I couldn’t stop the gossip at home, so I went to London-"
"The gossip followed you there, my sweet," he informed her in a silky tone. "Now stop boring me with your explanations."
"Shut up," Clayton warned with deadly calm, "or I will change my mind about waiting until we nave a comfortable bed, and I’ll take you right here."
Tendrils of fresh terror wrapped themselves around Whitney’s heart.
They had been travelling for nearly two hours when the coach slowed and passed through gates of some sort. The dazed exhaustion which had blessedly numbed her mind vanished, and Whitney stiffened, staring out the window at the lights of a large house looming in the far distance.