If she hadn't worn that damned gown and taken off her betrothal ring, if her hair weren't so thick and lustrous with that shining gold chain entwined in it, if she hadn't looked so heart-breakingly beautiful and desirable, he'd never have accepted Marie's silent invitation to join her on the terrace in the first place.

Chapter Thirty-five

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CIAYTON DID NOT RETURN TO CLAYMORE THE NEXT DAY OK THE day after, or the day after that. Nor did he spend the three days entwined in naked splendor with Marie St. Allermain as Whitney's feverish, tortured imaginings told her. He spent the three days in London, in alternating states of righteous fury and quiet thoughtfulness. He spent the nights at his club with his friends.

Very late on the third night, as he sat staring out the window of his bedroom overlooking a fog-shrouded courtyard, Clayton arrived at a few conclusions. In the first place, he did not see why the hell he should have to go to the inconvenience of choosing a mistress and setting her up in a discreet home of her own, which he would have to do now that he was married. He was married to a shit, but she had a ripe, tantalizing body that intoxicated his mind and fitted his own body to perfection. So why should he take a mistress when he had Whitney? And he was not going to continue living like a damned monk, nor was he going to remain living like a guest in the east wing of his own house, either.

He was going home and he was moving back into his own bedroom. And when his body had need of her, Whitney would service him. She would be a servant, nothing more, a well-dressed servant whose duties were to act as his hostess on the occasions when he required one, and as his unpaid whore when he needed one. It was almost what she was anyway, he thought with a fresh surge of boiling wrath. Except that her price had been very high-a fortune in money, and his name, to boot! But he owned her. Permanently.

With those tender thoughts and several more of a similar nature, Clayton ordered his town carriage around on the morning of the fourth day and impatiently endured the hour and a half drive through an English countryside decked out in all its lush, summer glory. He scarcely noticed the passing landscape as he contemplated the scene that was going to take place as soon as he arrived at Claymore. First he was going to explain to Whitney her future status and duties in the crudest possible terms. Then he intended to tell her what he thought of her treachery and deceit, her outrageous temper, and her rebellion against his authority. And when he was done with that, he was going to cram that note down her lovely throat-figuratively speaking.

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The carriage had scarcely pulled to a stop in the drive in front of the house before Clayton was striding swiftly up the steps, through the front doors and up the staircase to Whitney's rooms. He flung the door to her bedchambers open with a force that sent it crashing against the wall and brought Mary flying around in surprised alarm. Without a word to the staring servant, he strode quickly through the adjoining dressing room into his old chambers. But Whitney wasn't there. Because the duchess, as Mary tearfully explained, had left. Yesterday.

"Left for where?" Clayton snapped impatiently.

"S-she wouldn't say, your grace. She said she left a note for you in her desk." His formerly loyal housekeeper began to sniffle, but Clayton ignored her as he strode stiffly to Whitney's desk. It was empty, save for a single crumpled ball of blue writing paper in the top drawer. Clayton hated even to touch it, but he smoothed it out and made himself look at it in case she had written something else. She hadn't. It was just her way of telling him she had discovered the reason for his anger. He crammed the despised note into his pocket and turned in the doorway.

"I'm moving back into my own rooms," he said in a soft snarl to Mary. "Get her things out of there."

"And where shall I put them next?" Mary asked in a mutinous tone.

"Back in here, dammit!" Clayton was aware that the Irish housekeeper found something to smile about in his reply, but he was too furious at being cheated of his true prey to bother chastising a servant for her impertinence. Besides, he was in the mood for murder, and little gratification would be had in murdering Mary.

He was halfway down the hall on the way to the east wing when it dawned on him what had seemed vaguely different about the note in his pocket. It was stained now as if droplets of water had splashed on it. Tears! he thought with a mixture of disgust and an uncomfortable feeling of guilt. A great many tears.

For the next four days, Clayton waited like a caged tiger for his errant wife to return. He was positive she would come back when she realized he was not going to pursue her in a frenzied state of alarm over the danger to her delicate condition. She would have to come back. After all, who would shelter her from her own husband, in violation of the law of England? Her father was much too sensible a man not to order Whitney back to her husband's side where she belonged, Clayton decided in an abrupt change of attitude toward Martin Stone.

When she wasn't back by the fifth day, Clayton knew a wrath that was beyond anything he had ever felt in his life. She couldn't be visiting anyone for this length of time. By God! She had actually left him! He could scarcely contain his fury; it was one thing for him to have considered leaving her or sending her away-he was the injured party, after all. Besides, he hadn't actually done it. But Whitney had! She had obviously gone home to her father, and that stupid bastard was letting her remain.

He ordered the travelling chaise made ready and the horses put to and snapped at McRea, "I want to be at Martin Stone's house in six hours. Not one minute more!" Based on McRea's knowing grin, Clayton almost wondered if his driver had been lying about not knowing where Whitney had gone. It was McRea's story that Whitney had had him take her to the first posting house on the way back to London, where she had, according to the proprietor of the posting house, rented a hack. What in the hell was she doing traipsing all over the countryside, alone and pregnant with his child? The little fool! Obstinate, infuriating little fool! Beautiful little fool.

Martin Stone came out to greet Clayton himself, smiling openly as Clayton alighted. "Welcome, welcome," he said expansively, looking expectantly toward the open door of the coach. "How is my daughter? Where is she?"

Clayton tasted bitter defeat. "Whitney is fine, Martin. She wanted me to come and tell you that we are expecting a child," Clayton said, improvising quickly. After all, Martin Stone was a decent sort, and Clayton didn't want to worry him by admitting that he had driven his daughter away with Ms surly temper.

"The Hodges place," Clayton snapped at McRae a half hour later, which was the earliest possible moment he could escape from Martin without either looking ridiculous or nosing the man's suspicions. Whitney was not staying in seclusion at the Hodges place. And McRea was not smiling when Clayton acidly ordered the chaise back to Claymore.

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