Dawn was already streaking the sky as Whitney trailed quietly up the broad marble staircase to her room. She had missed Clayton terribly tonight; missed the feel of his hand lightly riding her waist, of his bold gaze capturing hers, and of the joy of knowing he was near. How could he have become so essential to her life in so short a time? She felt desolate without him, and it was an awful temptation to bring the note to his room and explain. But what would happen the next time if she couldn't find a clue like the note, to explain his fury? Then he would punish her again with his wrath, and she would be helpless to defend herself-and it was agony to have someone you loved furious with you, without knowing why. She did not in the least regret her open defiance of Clayton's command tonight, because she was hoping that when he discovered her disobedience, it would bring about the confrontation she wanted and needed.
In fact, she wondered if she ought to mention-quite casually-that she had had a lovely time at the Clifftons', when she saw Clayton at breakfast in the morning. Yes, Whitney decided, as she groped in the darkness of her room for the lamp, it would be an excellent idea.
On second thought, it was not a good idea at all, she realized with a lurch of fear as the room flared to light and from the corner of her eye, she glimpsed a gleaming, booted foot resting casually atop the other knee, a pair of dark blue gloves being idly slapped against a blue-clad thigh. From somewhere in the depths of her momentary panic, inspiration seized her, and Whitney pretended not to have seen him. She reached up behind her and began to unfasten her dress on the way into her dressing room. If she could just make him wait until she could change into one of her most seductive negligees, she might have a slight advantage-then desire might overcome anger, and-
"Keep it on!" his voice slashed out, "until I leave."
Whitney swung around, startled by his scathing tone.
Clayton came to his feet, advancing on her with the predatory grace of a stalking panther. Reflexively, Whitney started to back away, then checked herself and held her ground. He loomed over her, his gaze a frigid blast. In a silky, menacing voice, he said, "Do you remember what I told you would happen if you dared to disobey me again, Whitney?"
He had threatened to lock her in her rooms until her baby was born. Whitney was angry and frightened-and so much in love with him that even her voice throbbed with it. "Yes, I remember," she said in an aching whisper. "I remember all sorts of other things, too. I remember the words you have whispered to me when you are so deep inside of me that you have touched my heart. I remember . . ."
"Shut up!" he snapped furiously. "Or so help me God,
"I remember exactly the way your hands feet against my skin when you touch me and . . ."
He caught her shoulders ma bruising grip and shook her so hard that Whitney's head snapped back. "Damn you! I said stop!"
"I can't." Whitney shuddered from the pain his hands were inflicting. "I can't stop, because I love you. I love your eyes, and your smile, and your . . ."
With a vicious jerk, Clayton yanked her into his arms, his mouth capturing hers in a savage, punishing kiss that was meant to silence and hurt and retaliate. He was bruising her lips, and she was crushed so tightly against him that she couldn't breathe. But Whitney didn't care; she could feel the hardness of his need swelling rigidly against her, and when his mouth began to slant fiercely over hers with wild hunger and desperate urgency, she wrapped her arms around his neck and dung to him.
As abruptly as he had caught her to him, Clayton pushed her away. His breathing was harsh and ragged, his expression so incensed, so bleakly embittered that Whitney almost lost her resolve and brought up the note herself. Instead she raised her chin to its bravest angle and said in quiet defiance, "I wiD willingly commit myself to being locked in this room for as long as you wish-provided you are willing to stay locked in here with me. Otherwise, nothing-and no one-will beep me in here. If I have to set fire to the house to get out, then I will."
It took a moment for Clayton to react. She looked so unbearably beautiful, so young and vulnerable, facing him in this outrageous mutiny, that if he didn't hate her and hate himself, he would have grinned. He had to remind himself that she was a calculating schemer; even so, his earlier wrath was momentarily defused by her impertinent suggestion that he lock himself into her room with her. Lock himself in with her? Christ! He could barely stand to live in the same house with her, despising her with an uncontrollable virulence half the time, and wanting her until he ached with it the rest.
"If you ever again leave the grounds of this estate without my permission," he said in a low, savage voice, "you will yearn for the 'tenderness' I showed you the first time I brought you here."
Clayton had taught her to be proud of the power she held over his body, and that one brutal kiss had shown Whitney how badly he still wanted her. The knowledge gave her the courage to look at him and say with a faint blush, "I already do yearn for it, my lord." Then, reverting to her former air of proud rebellion, she added as she turned and walked into her dressing room, "However, I shall obey you to the extent of at least asking for your permission before I leave the grounds."
Whitney heard the outer door close and leaned weakly against the wall of her dressing room, more shaken by the confrontation than she had let him see. Her idle threat about setting fire to the house had not been what had stopped him from having her confined to her room. She knew, and he knew, that he could very easily have her kept there with a loyal servant acting as guard in her room to prevent her from doing anything harmful. But she had thrown him off balance by boldly inviting him to stay here with her.
She was playing with fire, Whitney knew. She couldn't risk angering him to the point where he might have her removed entirely from his presence. She had to be with him so that she could force him into accusing her of this nonsense he believed. She had to be near him so that she could continue to stoke the fire of his desire; one of them, either fury or desire, was going to drive him from his stony silence.
In the east wing, Clayton lay awake in his bed, coldly contemplating his past and his future. By now he had managed to find an explanation for every heretofore unexplainable word or action on Whitney's part. At long last, the reason for her behavior at Elizabeth's wedding banquet was crystal clear. She had meant every cold, vile word she had said to him as they danced. After the banquet, in the ensuing weeks, Whitney had discovered her pregnancy, or thought she was pregnant, and when the father couldn't or wouldn't offer her his name, she had concocted the scheme of coming here and renewing their dead betrothal. And he, like a goddamned fool, had, with great joy, allowed himself to be cuckolded.