"I don't think it does," Whitney mused thoughtfully. "In France and even here, it is all the rage for ladies to receive gentlemen en dishabille, but I'm certain they must be wearing more than this." Then Whitney realized with a rosy blush that Clayton undoubtedly knew a good deal more about that particular "rage" than she did, and the thought made her feel a little forlorn.
Everyone knew that Clayton had had mistresses before, and married men frequently kept mistresses discreetly tucked away, too. It crushed her to think of him doing the things he had just done with her, with another woman, too. Emboldened by her distress and ashamed of her shocking effrontery, Whitney said hesitantly, "Clayton, I think I would have a very difficult time pretending not to notice . . . no, passively accepting... accepting . . ."
"Accepting what?" Clayton whispered, his lips against her temple.
"A mistress!" Whitney blurted.
Clayton's head jerked up. For a moment he stared blankly at her, then he wrapped his arms around her and burst out laughing. But because he knew she was genuinely distressed, he made his face more appropriately solemn-as befitted the lifetime renunciation he was about to make. Then, gazing into her glorious eyes, he said in quiet earnest, "I will not take a mistress."
"Thank you," Whitney whispered. "I'm afraid I would feel very strongly about it."
"I'm sure you would," he said, striving to keep his face straight.
A few minutes later, Clayton remembered the velvet box tucked away in the table beside the bed. Reluctantly easing his arm from beneath her shoulders, he explained, "I have a gift for you."
Whitney remembered that she had one for him, too, and was out of the bed in a flurry of long, shapely limbs and creamy curves. "I asked Clarissa to put yours in my room," she explained as she started away from the bed. Clayton was devouring the sight of her exquisite naked form when she noticed his look, then hurtled herself toward the discarded lace robe.
He presented her with a necklace of square-cut emeralds, each surrounded with a row of glittering diamonds, and a matching bracelet and ear drops. "Fit for a duchess," he whispered as he kissed her.
Whitney laughed as she handed him his gift. "Fit for a duke," she said, sitting beside him with her legs curled beneath her, watching him open it. Clayton snapped the lid up, then threw back his head and shouted with laughter at the sight of the gorgeously made, solid-gold quizzing glass she had given him. In exactly the same tone she had used at the Armands' masquerade, she said, "A quizzing glass is an indispensable affectation of royalty." Then she reached behind her and produced another gift in a small velvet box. As she handed it to him, the laughter vanished from her face, and her whole expression changed.
Clayton looked at her for a long moment before opening the box, wondering why she suddenly seemed almost shy. Puzzled, he opened the lid and beheld a magnificent ruby set in a heavy gold ring. He took the ring from its bed of Mack velvet and it glittered in the dim light. Holding it closer to the candles to admire it, he was about to ask her sentimentally if she would like to put the ring on his finger, as he had placed her wedding band on hers, when he caught sight of a small inscription on the inside of the band. In handsome scroll were two words, the first of which was underlined. "My lord."
He groaned and pulled her almost roughly down onto his chest. "God, how I love you!" he whispered hoarsely as his mouth captured hers.
When the kiss ended, Whitney remained in his arms, and her long fingers lightly stroked the hair at his temple. Between the touch of her hand and the feel of her breasts against his naked chest as she half lay atop him, Clayton was acutely aware that his body was stirring to life with alarming intensity. His senses were alive to every inch of her form languorously stretched across him, but he didn't want to risk frightening her with too much lovemaking their first night. He stirred and Whitney raised herself up on her forearms, bracing them against his chest, affording him a view of bet swelling breasts that made desire pour like boiling lava through his veins.
"Am I too heavy?" she asked him softly.
"No, but I think you ought to get some sleep, my love," he suggested with a tinge of regret.
"I'm not in the least sleepy," his wife said.
She looked like an innocent goddess draped across him, her softly tousled hair spilling over his shoulders. "You're certain you don't want to sleep?" Clayton asked absently, brushing his knuckles over her smooth cheek, marvelling at her vivid beauty. "Then what would you like to do?"
In answer, Whitney looked at him and blushed, then she quickly hid her overheated face against his shoulder.
A chuckle rumbled deep in his chest as he shifted her fully atop his aroused length and wrapped his arms around her. "I suppose we could do that," he laughed huskily.
A WEEK LATER THEY LEFT FOR FRANCE ON THEIR WEDDING TRIP.
They stayed one month. When they returned to London the couple did not, as everyone expected they would, repair to the duke's handsome mansion in Upper Brook Street. Instead they seemed to prefer the seclusion and serenity of Claymore. They did, however, appear regularly at social functions in town, sometimes arriving back at Claymore just as dawn broke.
In a society where it was considered unfashionable for a husband and wife to be too much in each other's company when they were out together, the Duke and Duchess of Claymore created a fashion of their own. For the duke and his duchess were rarely far from each other's side, and one could scarcely fail to notice how desirable they made being together appear. They were a striking couple, of course, the duke splendidly tall and elegantly masculine, grinning that lazy, approving grin at his beautiful young wife who seemed to be able to make him laugh with a joy that no one had ever before observed. But it was more than what one saw, it was a feeling that one had when watching them-as if the couple were joined together by more than just affection or even wedlock. It was, the ton remarked with collective sighs of surprise and occasional envy, a most unusual marriage by modern standards. A few members of the haughty elite quite forgot to be brittly sophisticated and even went so far as to muse aloud that it was quite, quite obvious that the duke and duchess were in love with each other.
Clayton harbored not the slightest doubt of the correct term for what he felt. He loved Whitney with a passion and devotion that were rooted deeply in his soul. He could not see, or hear, or touch her enough to satisfy his craving for her. At night he would feel that hot need rising within him that seemed to increase, instead of diminish each time he exploded inside of her; and she would press herself against him as if she, too, could not be near enough to him, for long enough. In bed she was a passionate, irresistible mistress intent on pleasing him. Clayton taught her in the first weeks of their marriage that there was no place for embarrassment or shyness between them, and Whitney responded by abandoning herself to his caresses. He allowed her to hold nothing back from him and, after a few feeble attempts to hide her passionate responses to his lovemaking, she surrendered herself willingly to the wild and stormy tides that he caused to rise and crash until she cried out. And then he held her in his arms, tracing the curves of her body, whispering until they both slept, happy, peaceful, and sated.