Near dawn, she turned onto her back. Clayton leaned over and tenderly brushed a wayward lock of mahogany hair from her smooth cheek, then he lay back to watch her sleep. Because he knew that this would be the last time Whitney would ever lie beside him.
She awoke the next morning, vaguely aware of a tenderness between her legs and at her waist and thighs. Her lashes fluttered open and she rolled onto her back. Her mind felt sluggish and fuzzy as she glanced with half-closed, sleepy eyes at her surroundings.
She was in a gigantic bed situated on a dais. The immense bedroom was ten times the size of her large bedroom at home, and splendidly furnished. She blinked dazedly at the thick moss-green carpet stretching luxuriously across the vast floor. The entire wall to her left was a sweeping expanse of mullioned glass, and the one across from her had a marble fireplace so large that she could easily have stood up in the opening. The two remaining walls were covered with wide, richly carved rosewood panels and hung with magnificent tapestries. Wearily, Whitney closed her eyes and started to drift back into the peace of slumber. Odd that she would be sleeping in a room that seemed so masculine.
Her eyes snapped open and she sat bolt upright in bed. His bed! His room! Someone opened the door and she cringed backward, clutching the silk sheets to her bare breasts. The diminutive red-haired maid Whitney had seen on the balcony the night before came in carrying Whitney’s mended ivory gown and chemise, which she carefully hung over a door that led into a dressing room. As she turned to go, she saw Whitney huddled watchfully in the bed and picked up an elegant lace dressing gown that was draped over a chair. "Good morning, Miss," she said as she approached the bed, and Whitney bitterly noted that the servant showed no surprise at finding a naked woman in her master’s bed- obviously, it was nothing out of the ordinary.
"My name is Mary," the maid said in a soft Irish brogue as she extended her arm over which was draped the lace dressing gown. "May I help you up?"
Shamed to the depths of her soul, Whitney took her outstretched hand and climbed unsteadily down from the bed. "Merciful God!" Mary gasped, her ayes riveted on the blood-stained silk sheets. "What did he do to you?"
Whitney smothered a trill of hysterical laughter at the idiocy of the question. "He ruined me!" she choked.
Mesmerized, Mary stared at the blood stains. "He’ll pay an awful price for this in the judgment. The Lord’ll not forgive this easily-the master being what he is, and knowing better, and you a virgin!" She dragged her eyes from the sheets and led Whitney to a sunken marble bath which adjoined the bedchambers.
"I hope God doesn’t forgive him!" Whitney hissed brokenly, stepping into the warm bathwater. "I hope he burns in hell! I wish I had a knife so that I could cut his heart out!" Mary started to soap her back, but Whitney took the cloth from her and began to scrub every part of her body that Clayton had touched. Suddenly her hand froze. What insanity possessed her to climb obediently into this tub when she should be dressed already and planning a way to escape? She clutched at the maid’s wrist, her green eyes wild with pleading. "I have to leave before he comes back, Mary. Please help me find some way out of here. You can’t believe how badly he hurt me, the things-awful things-he said to me. If I don’t get away, he’ll-he’ll make me do that again."
With confused, sorrowful blue eyes, the maid looked down at Whitney and gently shook her head. "His grace has no wish to enter this room or keep you here. He told me himself that only I am to look after you. The coach is already waiting for you around in front, and when you’re dressed, I’m to take you down myself."
Two stories above the main entrance to his house, Clayton stood at the window, waiting for a last glimpse of her. Waiting to make his final farewell. The trees bent and sighed in the wind, bowing deeply to her as she stepped out into a day as bleak and dreary as his soul. Her gown flew about her as she descended the long sweep of steps to the waiting coach, and the wind caught her hair, tumbling it wildly about her.
On the bottom step, Whitney paused and for one agonizing, soul-wrenching moment, Clayton thought that she was going to turn and look up at him. Helplessly he stretched his hand out, longing to slide his knuckles over her soft, silken cheek. But all he touched was a cold pane of glass. As if she sensed somehow that he was watching her, Whitney lifted her head in that regal way of hers, gave it a defiant toss, and without looking back, she stepped into the coach.
The brandy glass Clayton was holding shattered in his clenched hand, and he looked down at the bright red drops oozing from his fingers.
"I imagine you’ll be getting poison of the blood now," Mary, standing in the doorway, predicted with a certain amount of satisfaction.
"Unfortunately, I doubt it," Clayton replied flatly.
Whitney huddled in a corner of the coach, her thoughts marching dizzily in a tight circle of shame, misery, and anger. She thought of the vulgar things he had said to her, the businesslike way his hands had moved over her flesh, expertly evoking an unwilling response from her traitorous body.
Bitter bile rose up in her throat, choking her. She wished she were dead-no, she wished he were dead! Last night was only the beginning of the humiliating nightmare she would have to endure. Michael Archibald would undoubtedly insist that Emily send her home, for he would never permit a woman of questionable virtue to associate with his wife. Even if Whitney could convince him that she had been forced to spend the night with Clayton, she would still be just as soiled, just as unfit to be received in polite society.
Fighting down a surge of nausea, Whitney leaned her head back. Somehow, she had to think of a feasible excuse to give the Archibalds to explain why she had been gone all night. Otherwise, she’d be banished from her best friend’s company, banished from the company of decent people. She would spend her life in lonely shame with only her father for company.
After nearly an hour, Whitney finally settled on an excuse she could give Michael and Emily; it sounded a little lame, but it might suffice if they didn’t question her. Now she felt less afraid, but infinitely more alone, more vulnerable. There was no one to whom she could turn for comfort or understanding.
She could write to Aunt Anne who was staying with a cousin in Lincolnshire, and ask her to come to London. But what could Aunt Anne do except demand that Clayton marry her immediately? What a punishment that would be for him, Whitney thought sarcastically. He’d get precisely what he’d always wanted, and she would be condemned to marriage with a man she would hate for as long as she lived. If Whitney refused to marry Clayton, Aunt Anne would naturally turn to Uncle Edward for advice. When Uncle Edward learned what Clayton had done, he would probably demand that Clayton give him satisfaction, meaning a duel, which must at all cost be avoided. In the first place, duelling was illegal now; in the second, Whitney was terrifyingly certain that that bastard would kill her uncle.