"It wouldn't have mattered if it did rain. It still would have been a beautiful, wonderful day."
God! he wished she wouldn't look at him with those glowing green eyes and smile at him in that entrancing way. Not tonight. There was a discreet knocking upon his door, and also hers. "Who in the hell would-?"
"I imagine it's Clarissa," Whitney said, already rising and looking about her for the connecting door which would lead into her bedchambers. Clayton went to the door that led into the hall, pulled it open and stared irritably at his valet, who said blandly, "Good evening, your grace," and automatically came in. Damn! He'd forgotten about his valet and Whitney's maid. For his part, Clayton thought it would be less trying on his aroused senses if they both slept in their clothes. Mentally cursing all servants in general, Clayton showed Whitney to the connecting door, then turned on his heel and strode into the study adjoining his bedchambers, already having forgotten his valet's presence somewhere in his suite.
Staring at the shelves of books lining the study walls, he tried to decide what to read. What to read, for God's sake! On his wedding night! After eight weeks of the barely restrained passion they had shared, why was she still so frightened? And what insanity had possessed him to make her that promise?
As he reached for a book, Armstrong padded silently into the study behind him. "May I assist you, your grace?" Jerking his hand self-consciously away from the bookshelf, Clayton rounded on his hapless valet. "I'll ring if I need you!" he said curtly, trying to keep his annoyance hidden. The servants would say he was as nervous as a boy on his wedding night, if he snapped and growled. "That will be all, Armstrong. Good night," he added, then he personally escorted the surprised valet to the door of the suite, thrust him out into the hallway, and locked the door behind him.
Clayton strode back to his study, stripped off his jacket and neckcloth, and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt. Pulling the stopper out of the decanter on his desk, he poured a liberal amount of brandy in a glass, then he took a book off one of the shelves, sat down, and stretched out his long legs. Intending to relax, he sipped his brandy and read the same paragraph four times before he finally gave up and slammed the book shut.
He was genuinely annoyed with himself, and a little surprised, at being so unnerved by what was, after all, only one more night of celibacy. After eight weeks of celibacy, why did this one extra night matter so much? It mattered, he realized ruefully, because he couldn't shake the conviction that a wedding night automatically, irrevocably, meant lovemaking-because that was the way it was supposed to be. Considering that in his entire adult life, he'd never paid much heed to the way things were "supposed to be," Clayton couldn't imagine why he should be doing so tonight. Unless it was because his wife's (he liked the sound of that-his wife's) intoxicating body was his now, by marital right. And it was also tantalizingly near his own starved body.
He allowed Whitney twice the amount of time she could possibly need before he finally got up and reentered his bedroom. She wasn't there. The connecting door was ajar, and he went through her dressing room into her bedroom. She wasn't there either. His heart began to hammer even though he told himself she could not have, would not have, actually fled from him. Surely she had more faith in his word than that!
With quickened pace, Clayton retraced his footsteps, drawing to a relieved halt in the doorway of his bedroom. Whitney was at the opposite end of it, standing near the dais, staring at the huge four-poster bed upon it. In the glow of candlelight, he could see the memories, the fear in her expression. He moved into the room and his shadow lengthened down the long wall.
Whitney looked up at him, and Clayton saw her quickly hide her fear behind an enchanting smile. "Who are you- really?" she asked in the same conspiratorial tone she'd used at the Armands' masquerade so long ago.
"A duke," he offered, smiling as he remembered the way they had bantered that night. "Also your husband. Who are you?"
"A duchess!" she exclaimed with a mixture of joy and disbelief.
"Also my wife?"
She nodded, slowly, her smile widening delightfully. In his mind, Clayton saw the provocative goddess she had been that night with yellow and purple flowers entwined in her hair. At the same time, he beheld her standing there near his bed, and suddenly it didn't matter that he couldn't make love to her tonight. All that mattered was that he had finally made her his! He had done it-she really was his wife! He felt exhilarated and triumphant. "My 'obedient1 wife?" he teased, emphasizing the word obedient.
Whitney nodded again and he could almost see the laughter in her eyes.
"Then come here, my obedient wife," he commanded huskily.
A shadow of apprehension crossed her vivid features, but she turned fully toward him and began walking to him with that natural, fluid motion of hers. That was when Clayton realized what she was wearing, and he almost groaned aloud. Her dressing robe was made entirely of fragile white lace, revealing glimpses of skin along her arms, her breasts, and even her long legs; and there was enough soft flesh swelling above her bodice to send him into fresh agonies of desire and regret.
She stopped a few steps away from him, gazing at him in fear and confusion, as if she wanted to come the rest of the way but couldn't make herself. "About. . . about your promise," she said in a hesitant voice. "Remember?"
Did he remember his promise! "I remember it, little one," Clayton said quietly. He went to her and gently enfolded her in his arms, trying to ignore the incredible feel of her almost naked breasts softly crushed against his thin shirt. He wanted to kiss her but she was trembling so violently that he was afraid to, so he just held her with her face cradled against his chest and slowly stroked her long, lustrous hair.
"When I was a little girl," she whispered unsteadily against his heart, "lying in bed at night, I used to imagine that there were things-in the closets."
She fell silent and Clayton urged her, "There were toy soldiers in my closets. What were in yours?"
"Monsters!" she whispered. "Huge, ugly ones with claws for feet and enormous, bulging eyes." She drew a shaky breath and said, "There are monsters in this room too- hideous memories lurking in the shadows and coiners."
Clayton flinched with pained remorse. "I know there are. But you've nothing to be afraid of; I'll not ask anything of you tonight. I gave you my word."
She leaned back a little and looked up at him, her face so lovely and vulnerable that Clayton wondered for the thousandth time how he ever, ever could have hurt her that night. She tried to say something and couldn't; instead she rested her cheek against his chest, sliding her arms around his waist.