The only other alternative was for Uncle Edward to demand justice through the courts, but a trial and the public scandal attached to it would ruin Whitney for as long as she lived.

And so, here she was, forced to bear her hurt and shame alone, with no way of avenging herself on that devil! But she would think of something, she told herself bracingly. The next time he came near her, she would be ready. The next time he came near her? Whitney’s hands grew clammy, and perspiration broke out on her forehead. She would the if he ever came near her again. She would kill herself before she ever let him touch her! If he tried to speak to her, if he touched her, she would start screaming and never be able to stop!

Every servant in the Archibald household seemed to be hovering in the hallways, watching her with secret condemnation when Whitney entered the house. She marched bravely past the butler, three footmen, and a half dozen housemaids with her chin up and her head high. But when she closed the bedroom door behind her, she collapsed against it, her body shaking and her chin quivering. Clarissa descended on her a moment later, bristled up like a maddened porcupine, slamming drawers, muttering under her breath about "shameless hussies" and "slurs on the family name."

Whitney hid her mortification behind a stony expression and jerked off the hated ivory satin gown, self-consciously snatching on a dressing robe when Clarissa’s eyes raked suspiciously over her naked body.

"Your poor sweet mother must be spinning in her grave," Clarissa announced, plunking her hands on her ample hips.

"Don’t say such ghoulish things," Whitney said wretchedly. "My mother is resting in peace because she knows I’ve done nothing to be ashamed of."

"Well, it’s just too bad the servants in this house don’t know that," replied Clarissa, puffing up with ire. "As hoity-toity as royalty they are here. And every one of them is whispering about you!"

Whitney’s interview with Emily late that afternoon was even more humiliating. Emily simply sat there, listening attentively to Whitney’s lame tale of how the duke had escorted her to another party across town and when the hour had grown too late to return, her unnamed hostess had insisted that Whitney spend the night. At the end of the explanation, Emily nodded her complete, unqualified understanding, but her pretty, honest face reflected a stunned shock that was worse than any accusation she could have made.

Emily went directly to her husband’s study and repeated the story to him. "So you see," she said in a determinedly confident voice while anxiously scanning Michael’s face, "it was all perfectly innocent and not in the least scandalous. You do believe her explanation, don’t you, Michael?" she pleaded.

Michael leaned back in his chair and regarded his young wife levelly. "No," he said quietly, "I don’t." He reached out and drew Emily down onto his lap. For a long moment he studied her distraught features, then he said gentry, "But I do believe in you. If you tell me she’s innocent, I will believe that."

"I love you, Michael," Emily said simply, her body sagging with relief. Whitney would never do anything indecent, I know it!"

Whitney had dreaded the evening meal, but Emily and her husband seemed perfectly relaxed and natural. In fact, Michael even urged her to remain with them until after Elizabeth’s wedding, which was slightly more than a month away. He seemed so sincere, and Emily so eager for her to stay, that Whitney gratefully and happily accepted their invitation. The last thing in the world she wanted to do was to go home to her father and face the rumors of her betrothal to Paul.

But that night, as she lay in bed, loneliness and despair washed over her in a tidal wave. She wished her aunt were here to tell her what to do, but she knew in her heart there was nothing Anne or anyone else could do to help her. She was going to have to bear this alone.

From this day forward, she would always be alone. She could never have a husband or children because no decent man would want her. She was soiled, dirtied, used by another. She had always wanted to have children, but now she couldn’t. A painful lump of desolation swelled in her throat.

She didn’t want a husband though, she told herself bitterly. She could never care for another man or bear to be touched by his hands. In her whole life, there had been only two men she had wanted to marry: Paul, who was shallow and weak, and Clayton who was-an animal. Paul had only disappointed her, but Clayton had destroyed her, He had insinuated his way into her heart, and then he had used her and thrown her away, sent her home without even an apology!

Tears trickled down Whitney’s cheeks and she furiously brushed them away. Clayton Westmoreland had made her cry for the last time! When next they met, she would be hardened and calm. She was through thinking about him; she would never think about last night again.

Despite her resolve, the following days were the most harrowing of Whitney’s life. Every time the butler appeared to announce a caller, Whitney’s heart leapt with terror that the "caller" was the Duke of Claymore. She longed to tell Emily that she would not be at home to him when he called.

But how could she, when he was an acquaintance of Michael’s, and she was a guest in Michael’s home? Besides, Emily would want to know why, and that would reopen the topic of Clayton, a topic which Emily had already tried to reopen several times. Which left Whitney with no choice but to cringe and try to steady her nerves every time a visitor arrived at the Archibald residence.

She rarely accompanied Emily out of the house because she was obsessed with the morbid certainty that she could come face to face with Clayton if she did. With each passing day her tension steadily mounted until she felt as if she would go mad with the helpless waiting, the fear and dread.

But she kept the promises she had made to herself almost a week ago. She meticulously refused to think of that hideous, fateful night. And she did not cry.

Chapter Twenty-five

TWO SLEEK, WELL-SPRUNG TRAVELLING CHAISES WAITED IN front of Claymore, the vast three-story stone structure that was Clayton’s principal residence. The grandeur of the house and grounds was the result of loving restoration and extensive additions which had been carried out by Clayton, his father, his grandfather, and all of the Dukes of Claymore who had preceded them.

To visitors and guests, Claymore was a place in which to wander admiringly, from domed-glass rooms where one could see the sky, to rooms of breathtaking splendor where vaulted ceilings rose three stories in height, supported by graceful Gothic pillars. Looking up, one could behold the master genius of Rubens, who had lavishly embellished the ceilings with rich, exuberant scenes.