Whitney contemplated Stephen's attitude toward the woman at his side, who was smiling at him and talking animatedly. He was listening with a look of fixed courtesy, and Whitney had the impression he didn't know Georgette Porter was talking, or that she had a face, or that she was even in his box. Her gaze shifted inexorably to the seats below in the pits, scanning the rows of heads again. "She's here, I know she is. I mean, I have a feeling she is," she amended as Victoria glanced sharply at her.
"If I hadn't seen her arriving last week and been watching for her to come into the pit, I'd never have been able to point her out to you. We could never find her now, among all these rows of people."
"I know a way!" Whitney said on an inspired stroke. "Look for a head that is turned toward Stephen's box instead of the stage." A few minutes later, Victoria grabbed her arm in her excitement. "Right there!" she said. "The same bonnet too! She's practically beneath us, which is why we didn't see her."
Now that she'd spotted the other woman, Whitney observed her steadily, but not until she stood up to leave did she get a clear look at the other woman's wistful face. "It is her!" Whitney said fiercely, feeling a swift stab of helpless sympathy for the naked sorrow and longing she'd seen on Sheridan's face as she stood up to leave just before the opera's end.
Sympathy was not an emotion her husband was likely to share—at least not unless he too saw the way Sheridan Bromleigh had sat in silence, her gaze on Stephen. But if he were to see it, and if his attitude toward Sheridan were to soften, then Whitney thought he might be persuaded to talk to Stephen, to urge him to seek her out. Clayton was the only one, she knew, who had enough influence on Stephen to possibly sway him.
"We mustn't be late." Whitney cast an anxious look at the clock as her husband lingered over a glass of sherry. "I think we ought to leave now."
"How is it I never realized you were so inordinately fond of opera?" Clayton said, studying her curiously.
"Lately the… the performance has been quite riveting," she said. Bending down, she wrapped their son in a tight hug before he padded off sleepily between his governess and Charity Thornton.
"Riveting, really?" Clayton repeated, eyeing her with puzzled amusement over the top of his glass.
"Yes. Oh, and I exchanged our box for the Rutherfords' just for tonight."
"May I ask why?"
"The view from Stephen's side is much better."
"The view of what?"
When he tried to question her further about that baffling answer, Whitney said, "Please, just trust me and don't ask more questions until I can show you what I mean."
"Look," Whitney whispered, clutching Clayton's wrist in her agitation, "there she is. No—don't let her see you looking. Just turn your eyes, not your head."
He did not turn his head, but instead of looking in the direction she indicated, her husband slanted his gaze at her and said, "It would help immensely were I to have some slight idea whom I'm supposed to be looking for."
Nervous because so much could hinge on his reaction and his help, Whitney admitted, "It's Sheridan Bromleigh. I didn't want to tell you in advance for fear she wouldn't be here, or you wouldn't come."
His expression hardened instantly at the mention of the other woman's name, and she lifted beseeching green eyes to his cool gray ones. "Please, Clayton, do not condemn her out of hand. We have never heard her side in the matter."
"Because she ran off like the guilty little bitch she is. The fact that she likes opera, which we already knew, doesn't change that."
"Your loyalty to Stephen is clouding your judgment." When that didn't have any noticeable effect, Whitney persevered with gentle but firm determination. "She doesn't come here for the performances. She never even looks at the stage, she only looks at Stephen, and she always sits in rows behind his box so that he wouldn't see her if his attention wandered from the stage. Please, darling, just look for yourself."
He hesitated for an endless moment, then conceded with a curt, wordless nod, and slid a glance in the direction she'd indicated, off to their right. "Plain dark blue bonnet with a blue ribbon," Whitney added to help, "and a dark blue dress with a white collar."
She knew the moment Clayton found Sheridan in the crowd, because his jaw hardened, his gaze snapped back to the stage, and it remained there until the curtain went up. Disappointed, but not defeated, she watched him from the corner of her eye, waiting for the merest change in his posture that might indicate he was taking a second look. The moment she felt it, she stole a swift glance at him. He'd moved his head only a fraction of an inch to the right, away from the stage, but his gaze was far off to the right. Praying that this was not the only time in weeks that Sheridan Bromleigh had decided to watch the performance, Whitney leaned slightly forward to peer around Clayton's shoulders and smiled with relief.
For the next two hours, Whitney kept her husband and Sheridan Bromleigh under cautious surveillance, careful not to move her body in any way that would alert him. By the end of the evening, her eye sockets hurt, but she was feeling absolutely triumphant. Clayton's gaze had returned to Sheridan throughout the entire evening, but Whitney did not bring the topic up again until two days later, when she felt he'd had time to perhaps readjust his attitude toward Stephen's former fiancée.
"Do you recall the other night at the opera?" she began cautiously as the footmen cleared away their breakfast dishes.
"I thought it was a 'riveting' performance, just as you'd said," Clayton said straight-faced. "The tenor who—"
"You were not watching the performance," she interrupted firmly.
"You're right." He grinned. "I was watching you watch me."
"Clayton, please be serious. This is important."
His brows lifted inquiringly, and he gave her his fullest attention, but he looked amused, wary, and prepared.
"I want to do something to bring Stephen and Sheridan Bromleigh face to face. I discussed it yesterday with Victoria, and she agreed they ought to at least be forced to talk to each other."
She braced herself for an argument and ended up gaping at him as he said casually, "Actually, a similar thought occurred to me, so I discussed it with Stephen last night when I saw him at The Strathmore."
"Why didn't you tell me! What did you say? What did he say?"