She whispered into his palm, curling his loose fingers as if to contain the precious words within his hand.
She would leave the minute his fever broke. She would not insult him, or coarsen her own feelings, by using him for the purpose she had originally intended. All at once she was glad that they had not made love, that she hadn't hurt or betrayed him. She wouldn't have been able to live with herself if she had.
There was a tap at the door, and a maid came in bearing a tray with tea and milk toast. Following Madeline's directions, she left the tray on the bedside table and helped prop Logan up with extra pillows. Madeline thanked the maid and bid her to leave, and sat beside Logan as he awakened. His lashes lifted, and he gazed at Madeline for a long moment. It seemed he didn't recognize her at first. After a while his lips formed her name.
“Maddy…the Capital…” The velvet-and-wine voice had been reduced to an arid rasp.
“Mr. Bennett is managing the company,” Madeline replied, hesitating before she pulled up the sheet that had ridden low on his hips. He didn't seem to be aware of his state of undress. “I'm certain he has everything under control.”
Logan didn't reply, but Madeline could see the torment in his eyes. She doubted that he had ever entrusted his theater to someone else's keeping before. “Shall I request that he send a daily report until you return?”
Logan nodded, leaning against the stack of pillows, his eyes closing.
“You mustn't fall asleep yet,” Madeline said, placing a hand on his bare shoulder to shake him slightly. His skin seemed to scorch her hand. “First you must eat.”
“No.” He began to turn onto his side, gasping with the effort.
“Then I won't give you any news from Mr. Bennett,” she said evenly.
All movement stopped, and his eyes slitted open. He glared at her like a baleful cat.
“Just some tea and a few bites of breakfast,” Madeline coaxed, repressing the sudden urge to laugh. If not for her worry, she would have enjoyed having him in her power. Carefully she held the cup of hot tea to his lips, encouraging him to sip the sweet liquid. He complied, seeming to enjoy the warmth of the tea as it trickled down his throat. However, the first bite of buttered toast soaked in hot milk—classic sickroom fare—caused him to turn his head with a sound of disgust.
“Milk,” he muttered with scratchy loathing.
“I'm not fond of it myself,” she admitted, carving out another spoonful of mush. “However, you're in no position to argue. Here, try another bite.”
He refused with an incomprehensible mutter, his face twisting.
“Mr. Bennett's report,” she reminded him, and he responded with a hostile glare. “Please,” she murmured, changing her tactic. “I promise, someday when I'm sick, you can travel to wherever I am and personally feed me bowls full of milk toast.”
The idea seemed to inspire him enough to choke down a few more bites. “Thank you,” she finally said, setting aside the bowl. She leaned over him to remove the extra pillows and smoothed his hair. “You'll be well soon, and you can choose your revenge.”
He turned his face into the coolness of her hand and promptly fell asleep, his breath coming in rattling surges. Continuing to lean over him, Madeline traced the fine curve of his ear…small ears for such a large man…and kissed the indentation where his jaw met his throat. For an instant she knew an absurd rush of happiness, being near the man she loved, having the freedom to touch him. She would do anything, go to any lengths to please him. Eagerly she went to ring for a servant, and sat at the writing desk to dash off a missive to Mr. Bennett.
Mrs. Beecham, Denis, and two other servants came in shifts to help Madeline nurse Logan. It was difficult work, constantly sponging and cooling his body until her sleeves were soaked to the elbow and the front of her gown was damp. At first the sight of his nakedness had startled and fascinated her, but there was little enjoyment in staring at his body, no matter how attractive, when he was suffering with fever.
Madeline worked ceaselessly in the darkened room, forcing liquid between Logan's lips, cooling his skin until her shoulders and back ached from bending over him. Stains from beef broth, water, and herbal infusions covered her gown from neck to hem. Occasionally Mrs. Beecham came to urge her to take a bath or nap, but Madeline couldn't bring herself to leave Logan.
Iced sheets and frozen compresses had no effect on the fever, which raged out of control. By early afternoon, Logan had descended into a delirium from which he couldn't be roused. Anxious servants came to the door of the private suite, volunteering folk remedies and family recipes, even bringing powders and amulets that they swore would be effective.
Careful not to offend the givers' dignity, Mrs. Beecham accepted the offerings and deposited them in a box to be discarded later. “Powdered bone dust,” she said with a rueful smile, showing Madeline a handkerchief that had been given by one of the footmen. It was filled with a handful of fine gray crumbs. “He bought it at a shop in London—they told him it was ground from a unicorn's horn and would cure any illness. Dear man, to sacrifice his ‘magic remedy’ for the master's sake.”
“They have great affection for him, don't they?” Madeline asked from her position at the bedside, her gaze fastened on Logan's face.
“Mr. Scott is a unique man,” the housekeeper replied, filling linen bags with crushed ice and piling them on a tray. “He prides himself on never being ruled by his emotions, yet he can't bear the sound of a child crying or the sight of someone frightened or in trouble. The things he's done for his own servants…why, it would amaze you.” She paused in her task, looking thoughtful. “Mr. Scott has a way of drawing people close, making them depend on him…and yet at the same time he manages to hold them at a distance.”
“It's because he has absolute control that way,” Madeline said, picking up the ice bags and packing them around the still form. “He's protecting himself.”
The housekeeper looked at Madeline with some surprise. “You seem to understand him quite well.”
“Not really. I just know that he would choose to deny himself something he wants rather than risk being hurt.”
“I see.” Realization dawned in Mrs. Beecham's face, and new interest appeared in her gaze. “You are the ‘something’ he wants, aren't you? And yet he turned you away.”
Perhaps it was the mixture of weariness and worry that made Madeline admit the truth. “He said that any involvement would hurt us both,” she said, lowering her face until a few strands of hair dangled over her cheeks.
The housekeeper rubbed her chilled hands together as she contemplated Madeline's statement. “He was probably right, Miss Ridley. If I were you, I would accept his word on that.”
“I have. The only reason I'm here is that I can't walk away from him while he's sick…without saying good-bye.”
“Miss Ridley.” The housekeeper's tone was gentle. She waited until Madeline looked at her with glittering eyes. “In his heart, I believe he knows that you truly care for him. It's a fine gift you've given him.”
Madeline set her jaw to stop its trembling, blinking hard against her tears as she took her place in the bedside chair once more.
The following day there was an unexpected visit from Lord Drake, who had learned of his old friend's illness and had come to the estate without delay. He was standing in the entrance hall, asking questions of Mrs. Beecham, when he happened to catch sight of Madeline passing by with an armload of soiled linens.
“Ah, the little wench from the theater,” Lord Drake exclaimed, gesturing for Madeline to approach him. A grin crossed his face, but it didn't reach his worried eyes. “Trust Jimmy to have a pretty nurse to attend him!”
“Jimmy?” Madeline asked in confusion.
Lord Drake smiled faintly. “He wasn't always Logan Scott, you know.”
Mrs. Beecham took the linens from Madeline. “I'll dispense with these, Miss Ridley,” she murmured, glancing at Madeline's disheveled appearance. “You might try resting for a little while.”
“Yes, I might,” Madeline replied, rubbing her aching temples. “If you'll excuse me, Lord Drake—”
“Wait,” he said, his cocky demeanor dropping away. As Madeline stared into his face, puffy and pale from too much alcohol and not enough sleep, she sensed that underneath his reprobate exterior, there was sincere worry for his friend. “I came to offer my services…to ask if there is something I can do for Jimmy. He's my oldest friend, you know. Never been sick a day in his life. I knew it was serious if it kept him from his bloody theater. Tell me what he needs—anything—and I'll get it for him.”
“Thank you,” Madeline replied, touched by the earnest note in his voice, “but I don't think there is much that anyone can do for him.” She felt her throat tighten, and she couldn't go on, only looking at him with helpless desperation.
It seemed that from her expression, Lord Drake understood the seriousness of the situation. “It's that bad?” he asked, and swore quietly. “I want to talk to him.”
Madeline shook her head. “He's delirious, Lord Drake.”
“I have to see him.”
“But you may catch his fever—”
“I don't give a damn. Jimmy's like a brother to me. Take me to him…please.”
After a long hesitation, she led him upstairs. The lamp had been turned low in Logan's room. Robbed of all expression, his face was masklike, with fitful breaths passing through his dry lips. He hardly resembled himself, his body lax and helpless.
“My God,” Madeline heard Lord Drake mutter as he approached the bed. He stared at Logan's still form and shook his head, seeming bewildered. “Dammit, Jimmy,” he murmured, “you're not going to die.” He smiled crookedly. “For one thing, I owe you a bloody fortune, and it's going to take me years to pay you back. For another…you're the only anchor I've got.” He sighed and scrubbed his hands through his long dark locks in a gesture that struck Madeline as oddly familiar. She had seen Logan pull and tug at his own hair just that way, in moments of tension or distraction. “I'm warning you, old boy…make plans to recover, or you'll answer to me.”
Lord Drake turned and walked away from the bed. He paused by Madeline and spoke with difficulty. “If you're certain you don't need my services, I'm going out to get stinking drunk.”
“That won't help anyone,” she replied.
“It will help me, Miss Ridley, I assure you.” He rubbed his forehead. “I'll see myself out.”
Doctor Brooke visited in the evening, and Madeline waited outside the room with Mrs. Beecham as he tended to Logan. After a short time, the doctor emerged. “You appear to have done an excellent job of nursing,” he remarked, but his tone was one of consolation, not reassurance.
Although his face was composed and he had the same pleasant manner as the day before, Madeline sensed that something had changed. “Do you think the fever will break soon?” she asked. “It can't last much longer.”
“No, it can't, Miss Ridley. Not without killing him. He's in a bad way. You must prepare yourself for the possibility that he may not recover.”
It took a moment for Madeline to understand what he had said. She waited for Mrs. Beecham to respond, but the housekeeper was silent. On her face, Madeline saw the same frozen expression that must be on her own.
Madeline looked back at the doctor, while denial welled up inside her. “Prescribe something, then. Tell me what must be done.”
“He's beyond mine or anyone's help, Miss Ridley. At this point, I can suggest nothing other than prayer.”
“Prayer,” Madeline exclaimed bitterly, wanting something far more substantial.
“I'll come by tomorrow morning. Continue to give him liquids and cool him as best you can.”
“That's all?” Madeline asked incredulously. “They said you were the best doctor in London…they said you would cure him! You can't leave without doing something.”
Dr. Brooke sighed. “I don't work miracles, Miss Ridley, and I've far too many cases like this to attend to. Most of them have survived, but there are a few instances in which the fever cannot be overcome. I could try bleeding him, but it hasn't brought about a significant improvement in the patients I've already tried it on.”
“But…he was perfectly healthy only three days ago,” Madeline cried, bewildered and suddenly furious, as if the doctor were responsible for the life that ebbed from Logan's body.
Staring into her pale face, Dr. Brooke sought to give her comfort. “He's a young man with a great deal to live for. Sometimes that makes a difference.” He straightened his coat and nodded to the footman who had come to show him downstairs.
“What does he have to live for?” Madeline said scornfully, striding back into the sickroom with her fists clenched. “The theater?” It was only a building, a place where he could lose himself. He had no family, no lover, no one to whom he had given his heart.
She thought of the mountains of flowers and gifts that had accumulated in the receiving room, sent by friends and acquaintances to express their concern. There was even a basket of jellies from Mrs. Florence, tied with a jaunty blue bow. How could a man who knew so many people, a man so admired and celebrated, end up dying alone?
She wasn't aware that she had spoken her last thought aloud until she heard Mrs. Beecham's reply.
“It's what he wants, Miss Ridley. And he's not alone. He asked you to stay, didn't he?”
“I don't want to watch him die.”
“Are you going to leave, then?”
Madeline shook her head and wandered to the bedside. Logan twisted and murmured in a delirium, as if he were trying to escape an inferno. “Someone must inform the Duchess of Leeds,” she said. “She will want to know.” She went to the writing desk, extracted a sheet of paper, and dipped a pen in ink. Her fingers were chapped and stiff as she addressed the note. Mr. Scott's condition has worsened…she wrote. Her penmanship, usually so neat, was cramped. According to the doctor, he is not expected—
She stopped writing and stared down at the letters, which seemed to dance before her eyes. “I can't,” she said, and replaced the pen in its holder.