His eyes narrowed, then he leaned toward her, his weight supported on an elbow, his free hand gliding over her bare arm to boldly cup her breast. "Show me," he invited, teasing her nipple with his thumb. "Show me how sorry you are."

Overriding the shrieking protest of her conscience, Whitney complied, letting his fingers send shooting sensations from her breast to the pit of her stomach. She didn’t struggle She was prepared to show him she was sorry-she was prepared to let him do this to her.

His mouth came down on hers, parting her lips in a deep, languorous kiss, and Whitney tried to kiss him back with all the love and contrition in her aching heart. "You’re very lovely, my sweet," he murmured as his hands began boldly to explore her body. "But then I suppose you’ve heard that before." His mouth burned a hot trail down her throat to the pink tips of her full breasts, his tongue teasing, flicking and then circling. Suddenly his lips closed tightly around her nipple, drawing hard, and Whitney gasped with startled pleasure. Instantly his hand moved down her thighs, then up between them to cover the soft mound of hair and she gave a leap of instinctive shock. He ignored her, his questing fingers parting her and then intimately exploring her, sending melting, tingling sensations racing along her raw nerve endings.

Nuzzling her neck, he continued the arousing movement of his hand against her most sensitive place, his skillful fingers moving with unerring certainty to linger and teasingly caress the precise places where his touch could send shock waves of desire shooting through her.

Whitney yielded helplessly to the hot, searing need he was expertly building within her, while a nameless panic slowly began to grip her. Something was different, wrong, in the way he was kissing her, touching her! For a man driven by possessive, unrequited love, his kisses lacked his usual smoldering ardor, his caresses were without tender urgency . . .

His fingers moved within her and she moaned in her throat.

"So you like that, do you?" he taunted in a low whisper, then he stopped. "I don’t want you to enjoy this too much, my love," he explained abruptly and shifted his weight on top of her, wedging his knee between her legs. He grasped her hips, lifting them, at the same moment the cynical inflection in his voice pierced the thick, sensual haze engulfing her. Her eyes flew open. She saw his harsh, bitter expression just as Clayton drew back and then rammed himself full-length into her tight, virginal passage. Searing pain ripped through her and she screamed, burying her face in her hands, her back arching. Above her a savage curse exploded from Clayton’s chest. He withdrew, and she stiffened hysterically, trying to brace herself for the next agonizing pain that would come when he entered her again . . .

But the pain never came; he remained withdrawn, motionless.

Whitney’s hands fell limply from her face. Through a blurring haze of tears, she saw him above her. Clayton’s head was thrown back, his eyes clenched shut, his features a mask of tortured anguish. As she stared at his ravaged face, her body jerked with suppressed sobs until the burden of holding them back was more than she could bear. She wanted to be held, to be comforted, and irrationally, she sought this comfort from her own tormentor. Shuddering on a lonely, convulsive cry, Whitney reached her arms up around Clay-ton’s powerful shoulders and drew him down against her.

With aching gentleness, Clayton gathered her into his arms, and shifted to lie beside her. Without a word, she turned her face into his bare chest and wept, cried her heart out in harsh, racking sobs that shook her slender body with such violence that Clayton thought they would surely tear her apart. He lay there, holding her defiled, naked body cradled against him, stroking the rumpled silk of her hair, while he punished himself with the sound of her muffled weeping, lashed himself with the tears that poured from her eyes and drenched his chest.

"I-I told Paul I-I wouldn’t marry him," Whitney cried brokenly. "The gossip w-wasn’t my fault."

"It wasn’t that, little one," Clayton whispered, his voice raw with emotion. "I’d never have done this to you for that."

"Then why did you?" she choked.

Clayton expelled a ragged breath. "I thought you’d lain with him. And with others."

Abruptly Whitney’s crying subsided. Clutching the sheet to her naked breasts, she reared up on an elbow and stared at him with scornful green eyes. "Oh you did, did you!" she hissed, and tore herself from his embrace, rolling over onto her other side to face the wall. The bewildered terror that had seized her in the coach evaporated, along with her belief that he loved her. In a blinding flash of sick humiliation, she understood that he had done this to degrade her; his monstrous pride had demanded this unspeakable revenge for some imagined crime. Bile rose in her throat as she realized that she had submitted to him without struggling. He hadn’t deceived her, she had deceived herself. He hadn’t stolen her virtue, she had given it to him! She had given it to him. Drowning in shame and self-loathing, she struggled to pull the heavy bedcovers up to cover herself.

Clayton saw her and reached across to draw them tenderly over her lovely, naked body. Realizing too late that he had just added insult to her injury, he put his hand on her shoulder, gently trying to turn her toward him. "If you’ll let me," he implored, "I’d like to explain-"

Furiously, she shrugged his hand off. "I’d like to see you try! But do it by letter, because if you ever come near me or my family again, I’ll kill you, I swear I will!" The substance of this brave threat was diminished by the muffled sobs that followed it and seemed to go on forever until she sank into an exhausted slumber.

His grace, Clayton Robert Westmoreland, Duke of Claymore, descendent of five hundred years of nobility, possessor of estates and wealth so vast as to defy comprehension, lay beside the only woman he had ever loved, helpless either to comfort her or regain her.

He stared at the ceiling, seeing her as she had been only hours before, conducting a group of merry, would-be musicians.

How could he have done this to her, when all he had ever wanted to do was pamper and cherish and protect her? Instead he had coldly and deliberately taken her innocence. And in doing so, he had lost more than she had, for he had managed to lose the only thing he had ever really wanted to possess-this one headstrong, beautiful girl lying beside him. Loathing him.

He remembered all the coarse, vulgar things he’d said to her in the coach and in this room. Each degrading word he had spoken, each touch that had hurt her, paraded across his mind bringing a sharp agonizing pain, so he punished himself by going over and over every vicious thing he had said and done to her.