No doubt DuVille would set her up in a nice little house somewhere if she asked him prettily and pleased him in bed.
The redheaded sorceress was a born courtesan, if ever there'd been one.
Standing at the window of a guest suite in Nicholas DuVille's house, Sherry stared into the night, her forehead resting on the cold glass, her eyes aching with tears she couldn't let herself shed. In the six hours since she'd come up here at Nicholas's insistence, her mind had cleared, and with that clarity came the full realization of what she had almost had—and lost—and she didn't know how she was going to bear it.
Turning away, she walked listlessly over to the bed and lay down, too exhausted to fight down the memories. She closed her eyes, willing sleep to come, but all she saw was his lazy smile and the tender way he'd looked at her at the Rutherfords' ball. "Miss Lancaster… may I have the honor of this dance?" Swallowing convulsively, she squeezed her eyes tighter closed, but in her mind, she felt him kissing her the way he had in the coach. "This is why we are going to be married," he'd said in that husky voice he used when they'd been kissing. Surely, she thought achingly, he hadn't been pretending he liked to kiss her. Surely that had not been pretending. She needed to believe, had to believe, that much had been real. If she couldn't believe in that, she didn't know how she would go on after today.
The memory of that and the other times he'd kissed her were hers alone to cherish. They did not belong to "Charise Lancaster." They belonged to her. She rolled onto her stomach, holding the memories close, and she fell asleep to dream of strong arms crushing her tightly and demanding kisses that stole her breath… of caressing hands that gentled and tantalized her and made her forget it was wrong to let him touch her in that intimate way. She slept, dreaming of things she would never know again in reality.
Wrapped in a dressing gown, Whitney stood in the nursery, gazing down at her sleeping son's cherubic face. She looked up as the door opened, admitting a wedge of light, and her husband walked in, his face more grim than she'd seen it in years. "I couldn't sleep," she whispered, leaning down and smoothing the light blanket over Noel's shoulders. He already had his father's square chin and dark hair.
Behind her, Clayton slid his arms around her waist, silently offering her comfort. "Have I thanked you recently for my son?" he whispered near her ear, smiling down at the three-year-old.
"Not since this time last night," she said, tipping her face up to his and trying to smile.
He wasn't fooled by her smile any more than she was fooled by his careful avoidance of the discussion of today's aborted wedding. "I feel so terrible," she confided.
"I know you do," he said quietly.
"I will never forget the look on Stephen's face as it became later and later and he realized she wasn't coming back."
"Nor I," he said tersely.
"He kept the vicar there until after ten o'clock. How could she do a thing like that to him? How could she?"
"None of us really knew her."
"Stephen was insane about her. I could see it every time he looked at her and when he was trying not to look at her."
"I noticed," he said curtly.
Swallowing over the lump of sorrow in her throat, she said, "If it hadn't been for Stephen's intervention, you would be married to Vanessa and I'd be wed to someone else, and Noel wouldn't exist."
Clayton reached up and smoothed her tousled hair off her shoulder and pressed a reassuring kiss against her temple, as she continued in an aching voice, "I always wanted to repay him for that, but all I could do was wish and wish that he would find someone who would make him as happy as we are."
"Come to bed, darling," Clayton said, leaning down and lightly tousling his son's hair. "Stephen is a grown man," he said as he drew her firmly toward their own bedchamber. "He'll get over her because he wants to get over her."
"Did you get over me as easily as that when we were—" she hesitated, carefully refraining from any mention of the hideous night that had nearly destroyed all chances of a marriage between them, "when we were estranged?"
When they were both in bed and she had curled into his arms, he added, "However, I had known you longer than Stephen knew Ch—Sheridan Bromleigh."
She nodded, her soft cheek sliding against his arm, and he tightened his hold, drawing her tighter against him because he, too, remembered the event that had nearly torn them apart.
"Time has little to say to the matter. Do you remember how long after we met again in England it was before you loved me?" she said into the darkness.
Clayton smiled at the memory. "It was the night you confessed you used to pepper your music teacher's snuffbox."
"If memory serves me well, I told you that story only a week or two after I came home from France."
"Something like that."
"What?" he whispered.
"I do not think Stephen is going to get over this as easily as you think. He could have any woman he wants, and yet in all this time, she was the only woman he ever wanted—except for Emily, and look how cynical he became after that!"
"All Stephen has to do is crook his finger, and dozens of desirable women will line up to soothe him. This time, he'll let them because his pride and his heart both took a more serious beating than the last," Clayton predicted grimly. "In the meantime, he'll get completely foxed and stay that way for a while."
She tipped her face up to his. "Is that what you did?"
"That's what I did," he confirmed.
"How very typically male," she said primly.
Clayton smothered a laugh at her tone and tipped her soft mouth up to his. "Are you feeling superior, madam?" he asked, a brow quirked in amused inquiry.
"Very," she replied smugly.
"In that case," he said, rolling onto his back and taking her with him, "I suppose I'd better let you be on top."
Some time later, sleepy and sated, Clayton settled her more comfortably against his side and closed his eyes.
Something in her voice made him warily force his eyes open.
"I don't know if you noticed, but Charity Thornton was in tears today when Sheridan Bromleigh didn't return." When he didn't reply, but continued to watch her, she said, "Did you notice?"
"Yes," he said cautiously. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, she told me in the most—most heartbreaking way—that she'd felt truly useful for the first time in decades because she was needed to act as chaperone. And she said she felt a useless old failure because she hadn't found another husband for Miss Bromleigh, besides Stephen."