Whitney, My Love (Westmoreland Saga #2) - Page 147

Whitney, My Love (Westmoreland Saga #2) - Page 147

put to and be out in front in five minutes," he called over his shoulder.

Two hours later, Emily Archibald received a smoothly worded invitation from Clayton, which she correctly construed as an "order" to accompany his servant down to the coach which would carry her to his house in Upper Brook Street She obeyed the summons with a mixture of concern and trepidation.

The butler showed her into a spacious, panelled library at the side of the house where the Duke of Claymore was tending, staring out the windows with his back to her. H.o Emily's surprise, he didn't greet her with any of his usual open friendliness, nor did he turn around and face her as he said in a cool, remote voice, "Shall we indulge in polite trivialities for the next five minutes, or shall I come directly to the point?"

A shiver of fear danced up her spine as he slowly turned and studied her. Never before had Emily seen this Clayton Westmoreland. He was, as always, implacably calm, but now he positively emanated ruthless determination. She stood there, staring at him.

With a brief, almost curt inclination of his head toward the chair beside her, he told her to sit down. Emily sank into the chair, trying to equate this man with the one she had known.

"Since you seem to have no preference, I win come directly to the point. I presume you know why I have asked you here?"

"Whitney?" Emily guessed in a whisper. She gave her head a slight shake and cleared her parched throat.

"Where is she?" he demanded abruptly. And then with a touch of his former gentleness, he added, "I have not approached you before this because I did not want to put you in the position of betraying her confidence, and because I had every reason to believe I could find her through my own sources. Since that hasn't been the case, I am going to have to insist that you tell me."

"But I-I don't know where she is. I never thought to ask her where she was going. I never dreamt she would stay away so long."

A pair of cool gray eyes held hers captive, measuring her response, judging it for truth.

"Please believe me. Now that I've seen you I'd never be so unkind as to keep her from you, if I knew where to find her."

He drew a long breath and nodded slightly, his expression no longer coldly forbidding. "Thank you for that," he said simply, "I'll have my driver take you home."

Emily hesitated, still vaguely intimidated by his aura of command, and yet grateful that he had trusted her enough to accept what she said as truth. "Whitney said you found that awful note." With a whimsical smile she shook her head. "You know, she couldn't quite decide at the time whether to send it to you as 'dear sir* or . . ."

N.a.k.e.d pain flashed across his handsome features, and Emily trailed off into silence. "I beg your pardon-I shouldn't have mentioned it."

"Since we seem to have no secrets from one another," he said quietly, "do you mind telling me why Whitney wrote the note in the first place?"

"Well, it was her pride she was trying to save. She hoped, no, preferred, to bring you to her, if possible. And she thought that with a note like that-I suppose it was really terrible of her even to consider it, but. . ."

"The only 'terrible' thing Whitney has ever done in her life was marrying me," Clayton interrupted.

Tears sprang into Emily's hazel eyes as she arose to leave. "That's not true. Whitney adored. . . adores you, your grace.

"Thank you again," he said humbly.

For a long time after Emily left, Clayton stood there, feeling the minutes ticking by and knowing that, as each moment passed, Whitney's hurt and anger would be hardening into hatred.

The Dowager Duchess of Claymore dined quietly with her daughter-in-law that evening, mentally berating her eldest son for his tardiness in coming to fetch his wife, who was growing more lost and forlorn with each day. When Whitney had arrived eight days ago and asked if she could stay here until Clayton had time to think things through and come for her, Alicia Westmorland had considered urging her to return at once to her rightful place beside her husband, insisting upon it, in fact And yet, there was something about Whitney's hurt, determined look that had reminded the dowager duchess of herself, many years before-of Clayton's father striding across her parents' drawing room, where he had found his wife after an absence of four days: "Get into that carriage immediately," he had ordered her. And then, "Please, Alicia." Having thus made her point, Alicia Westmoreland had dutifully and obediently done as she was bidden.

But Whitney had been here for eight days, and Clayton had not made the slightest effort to come for her. Lady Westmoreland wanted grandchildren, and she could not see how she was likely to have any if these two willful, stubborn young people were living miles apart. Really, the entire thing was preposterous! Never had two people loved each other more than they did.

It was over dessert that evening that a thought occurred to the dowager duchess that brought her half out of her chair. Accordingly, she sent word to Stephen in London that very night to present himself to her at the first possible hour the next morning.

"The thing is," she told a frowning, but faintly amused Stephen the next day in a very private meeting with him, "I'm not certain it has occurred to Clayton to come for Whitney here. Assuming he wants to come for her."

Stephen, who had been completely unaware of the arrangement, flashed a wicked grin at his mother. "Darling, this reminds me of some of the tales I've heard about you and Father."

The dowager duchess bent a quelling look upon her completely impervious son and continued, "I want you to find Clayton. I rather imagine he'll be staying at his London house. But find him tonight if you can. Then drop a 'hint' that she is with me-as if you automatically assumed he would know that. Do not let him think he is being urged to come for her. Under those circumstances, I'm certain Whitney would reject any half-hearted effort of his at reconciliation."

"Why don't I just take Whitney back to London with me now and have it whispered about that I'm madly in love with her? That'll draw Clay's fire," Stephen grinned.

"Stephen, don't be flippant; this is serious. Here is what I want you to say . . ."

At seven o'clock that evening, as Clayton lounged in a chair at his club, he was only faintly surprised to look up from his cards and find his brother sitting down across the table from him and stacking his chips as he prepared to join the play. Clayton eyed Stephen with wary friendliness. He didn't want him to ask about Whitney because he couldn't very well explain that he'd "misplaced" his wife, any more than he could ever bear to tell Stephen of the estrangement itself. So it was with a sense of relief that he heard Stephen open the conversation with, "Are you losing or winning tonight, your grace?"

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