Until You (Westmoreland Saga 3) - Page 23

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The Duchess of Claymore rolled onto her side, studying her husband’s rugged features in the light of a single candle beside their bed, but her troubled thoughts were on Stephen’s “fiancée.”

“Clayton?” she whispered, absently trailing her fingertip down his arm. “Are you awake?”

His eyes remained closed, but his lips quirked in a lazy half smile as her finger traced a return path to his shoulder. “Do you want me to be?”

“I think so.”

“Let me know when you are certain,” he murmured.

“Did you notice anything odd about Stephen’s behavior tonight—I mean about the way he treated Miss Lancaster and their betrothal, and all that?”

His eyes opened just enough to slant her a wry glance. “What could possibly be considered ‘odd’ behavior in a man who is temporarily betrothed to a woman whom he does not know, does not love, and does not wish to wed . . . and who thinks he is someone else?”

Whitney gave a sighing laugh at his summation of the predicament, then lapsed into thought again. “What I meant is that I glimpsed a softening in him that I haven’t seen in years.” When he didn’t immediately reply, she continued to pursue her hazy line of thought. “Would you say that Miss Lancaster is extremely attractive?”

“I would say almost anything if it will entice you to either let me make love to you, or else go back to sleep.”

She leaned over and kissed him gently on the mouth, but when he started to turn toward her, she put her hand against his chest and said with a laugh, “Could you say that Miss Lancaster is extremely attractive—in an unconventional sort of way?”

“If I say yes, will you let me kiss you?” he teased, already tipping her chin up for his kiss.

When he finished, Whitney drew a steadying breath, determined to voice her thoughts before she inevitably sank into the sensual spell he could weave so easily around her. “Do you think Stephen could be developing a special fondness for her?” she whispered.

“I think,” he teased, his hand drifting down her collarbone to her breast, “that you are indulging in wishful thinking. DuVille is more likely to want her than Stephen—which would please me almost as much.”

“Why would that please you?”

“Because,” he said as he raised up on an elbow and forced her back onto the pillows, “if DuVille had a wife of his own, he’d stop longing for mine.”

“Nicki doesn’t ‘long’ for me in the least! He—”

Whitney forgot the rest of her protest as his mouth smothered her words and then her thoughts.


Standing on tiptoe, Sherry removed a book on America from one of the bookcases in the library, then she carried it to one of the polished mahogany tables scattered about the room and sat down. Looking for something to jog her memory, she flipped through the pages, searching for information that she might recognize. There were several intricate drawings of harbors teaming with ships and spacious city streets bustling with carriages, but nothing at all that seemed even remotely familiar. Since the heavy tome was arranged in alphabetical order, and since it seemed logical that pictures would jog her memory better than the written word, she went to the beginning of the book and began slowly turning the pages until she came to a drawing. Under “A” she found information on agriculture along with an illustration of verdant wheat fields against a backdrop of gentle hills. She’d started to turn the page when another picture flashed through her mind. Only the fleeting vision of fields that she saw had crops with fat white tufts on the top. The image faded instantly, but it made her hand begin to tremble as she reached for the next page and the next. The illustration of a coal mine triggered nothing, nor did anything else she saw, until she came to a picture of a man with a craggy face, prominent nose, and long, flowing dark hair. “American Indian,” the caption above the illustration read, and Sherry felt the blood begin to pound in her temples as she stared hard at that face. A familiar face . . . or was it? She clenched her eyes closed, trying to focus on the images dancing and fading in her mind. Fields . . . and wagons . . . and an old man with a missing tooth. An ugly man who was grinning at her.


Sherry stifled a startled yelp as she whirled around in her chair and stared at the handsome man whose voice normally soothed and excited her.

“What’s wrong?” Stephen demanded, his voice sharp with alarm as he noted her stricken, white face, and started forward.

“Nothing, my lord—” she lied with a nervous laugh, standing up. “You startled me.”


sp; Frowning, Stephen put his hands on her shoulders and scrutinized every feature on her pale face. “Is that all? What were you reading over there?”

“A book on America,” she said, revelling in the sensation of his strong hands gripping her shoulders and steadying her. Sometimes, she almost felt as if he truly cared for her. Another vision drifted through her mind, hazier by far than the others . . . but soothing and, oh, so sweet: Kneeling before her with flowers in his hand, a handsome, dark-haired man who may have been the earl proclaimed, I was nothing until you came into my life . . . nothing until you gave me your love . . . nothing until you . . . until you . . .

“Should I summon Whitticomb?” Stephen demanded, raising his voice and giving her a slight shake.

His tone snapped her out of her reverie, and she laughed, shaking her head. “No, of course not. I was only remembering something, or perhaps only imagining it happened.”

“What was it?” Stephen said, releasing his grip on her shoulders, but holding her pinned with his gaze.

“I’d rather not say,” she stated, flushing.

“What was it?” he repeated.

“You would only laugh.”

“Try me,” he said, his words clipped.

Rolling her eyes in helpless dismay, Sherry stepped back and perched her hip on the library table beside the open book. “I wish you would not insist on this.”

“But I do insist,” Stephen persisted, refusing to be swayed by the infectious smile trembling on her soft lips. “Perhaps it was a real memory, and not just your imagination.”

“You would be the only one to know that,” she admitted, becoming very preoccupied with the study of the cuticle on her thumb. Looking sideways at him from beneath her long lashes, she asked, “By any chance, when you asked me to marry you, did you happen to mention that you were nothing at all, until me?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Inasmuch as you look revolted by the thought,” Sherry said without rancor, “I don’t suppose you would have gone down on one knee when you did propose?”

Tags: Judith McNaught Westmoreland Saga Romance
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