“How is he?”
“Oh, very well, miss! Sleeping most o' the time. When 'e's awake, 'e rings for someone every few minutes, wanting food, liquor, books, an' such, but Mrs. Beecham said not to bring anything like that.”
Madeline smiled, reflecting that it wasn't in Logan's nature to be a good sickroom patient. She wanted to go to him at once. Self-consciously she put her hands to her unwashed hair.
“We'll pour a bath for you in the dressing room,” the maid said. “And I'll bring a breakfast tray. Mrs. Beecham said you were to have anything you wanted.” She went to the armoire and opened it to reveal some garments. “These came for you last evening.”
The new gowns…Mrs. Florence must have sent them from Somerset Street as soon as they were delivered. Murmuring her thanks, Madeline approached the armoire and lifted out the yellow corded silk, grimacing at the ache in her shoulder. Noticing her expression, the maid quickly deduced the reason. “I'll 'urry with the bath, miss. May'ap the warm water will ease your pains a bit.”
Two maids helped Madeline to bathe and wash her long hair, rinsing it with violet-scented water until it gleamed. They wrapped her in warmed towels and brushed her hair before the fire, brought a tray of ham, souffl´e, and fruit, and pressed every last wrinkle from her gown.
They arranged her hair in a neat braided coil on top of her head, letting a few waving strands fall on either side of her face, and helped her to dress. The yellow gown was cut with a simplicity that suited her, giving her an appearance that was neither too young nor too sophisticated. She enjoyed the rustle of the scalloped hem around her feet, and the crisp fabric that flowed down to a cuffed wrist. As the maids exclaimed admiringly, Madeline felt a blush rising from the scooped neckline.
“Quite lovely,” Mrs. Beecham said, coming into the room with an approving smile. “Are you feeling better this morning, Miss Ridley?”
“Yes, thank you. About Mr. Scott—”
“He's been asking about you every five minutes,” the housekeeper replied. “In fact, I've come to tell you that he requires your presence immediately.”
Madeline smiled. “It sounds as if he's nearly back to his old self.”
“It won't be long,” the housekeeper agreed.
Madeline followed Mrs. Beecham to the suite's main bedroom. As they approached, there was a stream of clearly audible complaints.
“…I don't want any more broth,” Logan said, lecturing a hapless servant who had brought him a tray from the kitchen. “I want meat, bread, coffee—how the hell am I supposed to live on paste and broth? And if you bring me anything else with milk in it, I'm going to—”
He stopped abruptly as his gaze fell on Madeline. “Maddy,” he said, his voice still raspy.
Like her, he had bathed recently. His hair was still damp, his face gleaming from a precise shave. He was dressed in white flannels that had been buttoned up to the neck, but the memory of what was beneath them, every inch of smooth skin and hard muscle, was forever imprinted in her mind. Now, seeing him fully alert and commanding, it already seemed impossible that she had seen and touched him so intimately.
Discreetly Mrs. Beecham and the servant departed, leaving them alone together.
“You're not a very accommodating patient,” Madeline said, coming to the bedside.
“I'm going mad,” he said. “I want you to find out from Bennett what the hell is going on at my theater, and bring me something to do—”
“You're supposed to rest,” she replied, enjoying his enforced helplessness as well as the signs of his returning temper. “I'm certain the doctor must have told you not to strain yourself.”
“It's a strain to sit here and be treated like a bloody invalid.”
Smiling, Madeline leaned over until their noses were nearly touching. She stared directly into his eyes, her own gleaming with challenge. “You are an invalid, Mr. Scott.”
His gaze dropped to her mouth, and time seemed to stop for a moment. “I won't be for long,” he said softly.
There was something new between them, a flow of awareness and intimacy that made Madeline breathless. “For now you must stay in bed.”
He glanced at the valley of her cleavage, the curves of her br**sts barely contained in yellow silk. When his gaze returned to her face, blue flame danced in his eyes. “Make me.”
Madeline backed away hastily. “I'll fetch some books and papers, a-and I'll read Mr. Bennett's report to you.”
“That's a start,” he said. “You can also bring me some decent food.”
“I can't do that. Dr. Brooks wouldn't approve. You wouldn't be able to keep it down anyway.”
“Food, Maddy,” he said imperiously, watching as she left the room. “And come back quickly. I've never been so bloody bored in my life.”
Madeline remained at the mansion for two weeks, aware that she would always regard this time as the happiest of her life. Each day she considered leaving but decided to stay just a little longer. She knew her behavior was irresponsible, but it didn't matter. The knowledge that her time with Logan was limited made it even more precious. She had not forgotten her vow to God to return home and marry Lord Clifton. Her bargain had been made in good faith, and God had fulfilled His part. She intended to keep her half of it.
Even confined to a sickroom, Logan seemed to live at twice the pace of other people. He badgered Madeline and the rest of the staff until they relented and allowed him four hours a day to conduct his business. From his bed or a nearby chair, he dictated letters addressed to Mr. Bennett regarding the management of the Capital, and sent missives to stewards and estate agents regarding his properties. In between, he corresponded with aristocrats, artists, and public figures…proposing projects, reminding them of promised sponsorships and donations, and accepting or rejecting social invitations.
“You must be the busiest man in England,” Madeline exclaimed after a particularly long session. She set down the pen and flexed her aching fingers.
“I have been for a while,” Logan admitted, fitting his hands behind his head as he leaned back against the headboard. He was dressed in a robe of luxurious burgundy-and-brown-striped silk. A narrow French déjeuner table had been placed by the bed to hold books and other articles he wanted close at hand. “Having a full schedule has helped me keep my mind off other things.”
“What things?” Madeline asked without thinking.
His lips curved with a smile that flustered her. “Lack of a personal life, mostly. It's not easy to find balance, especially when you're as involved in a profession as I am.”
“It would be easy for you to find a partner,” Madeline said, switching her gaze to the desk. She occupied herself with arranging the blotter, paper, and silver inkstand, aligning them precisely. “I'm certain any woman would have you.”
“But I wouldn't have just any woman.”
“Of course…” She fiddled with a sheet of paper, repeatedly folding it until it was a small, thick square. “You want a woman of experience. Someone mature and sophisticated.”
“That's what I wanted in the past,” he said, and waited until she glanced at him. His blue eyes were piratical as he added, “Now I'm not so certain.”
Unnerved, Madeline stood and went to the door. “I'll consult with the chef about luncheon.”
“You can do that later.”
“Would you care for some soup, or some fresh vegetables and a slice of ham—”
“I don't want to talk about food. I want to know why you've stayed so long to take care of me.”
She remained at the doorway, keeping a safe distance between them. “There was no one else to do it.”
“I have an entire staff of servants who could have managed quite well.”
Madeline took a deep breath. “I'm sorry if you would have preferred that.”
“Regardless of what I would have preferred, you've been under no obligation to take care of me.” His hand moved in a gesture for her to come to him. “I'd like to hear your reasons for staying. God knows it hasn't been easy for you.”
Madeline covered her discomfort with a wry smile. “I don't know how this all happened. I started out trying to seduce you, and instead you nearly expired in my arms.”
“Did you stay out of pity, then?” he asked, his blue eyes locked on hers. “Or do you still harbor hopes of seducing me?”
“No,” she said immediately, flushing. “I wouldn't…I don't want that anymore.”
“I should probably feel relieved,” he reflected out loud, although his tone held a distinct shadow of regret. His gaze continued to pin her in place. “I never understood why you were so determined to climb into bed with me.”
Madeline shrugged and cast a desperate glance over her shoulder, longing to flee to the empty hallway behind her. She couldn't begin to think of how to answer him.
Her distress hardly failed to escape his notice. He stared at her contemplatively, while the silence simmered around them. “At times,” he said slowly, “women have approached me that way because they consider bedding a well-known actor a sort of…trophy. A conquest they could boast to their friends about.”
“Yes,” Madeline said, seizing on the excuse, though nothing could have been further from the truth. “That's why I wanted you.”
Logan regarded her with a puzzled frown. When he spoke, his voice was softer and more tender than she had ever heard him before. “Little one…don't you know you're worth more than that?”
She dropped her gaze, unable to look at him anymore. If she didn't leave him now, she would weep and howl, and throw herself at him in a way that would embarrass them both. “But we didn't have an affair,” she said faintly. “There was nothing for either of us to be ashamed of. That's all that matters.”
Before he could reply, Madeline walked away quickly, pressing a hand to her hot cheek. She knew it was far too late for any kind of intimacy between them. She loved him too much to use him that way.
The only thing left to do now was go back to her former life and assume her position as the Honourable Madeline Matthews. Honourable, she reflected with shame, and sighed. She had failed everyone by embarking on this escapade. Worse, all she wanted was to stay with Logan forever and live as a fallen woman. She was certain that her sisters would never have entertained such wicked thoughts. On the other hand, they had probably never met a man like Logan Scott.
Through bullying persistence, Logan finally had his sickroom fare changed back to his usual fine cuisine. Furthermore, he insisted that Madeline share the evening meal in his suite. It was the first night that he felt well enough to keep his usual hours, instead of falling asleep early as he had done the previous two weeks. Madeline agreed reluctantly, deciding that sometime during the private dinner, she would bring herself to tell him that she was going to leave his estate the next day.
She dressed in her blue cashmere gown, the twilled fabric clinging to her body and making her skin look translucent. Her hair was pulled into a simple knot at the back of her neck, with loose strands curling at her cheeks and nape.
At eight o'clock Madeline entered Logan's bedroom. He waited for her beside a table laden with candles and silver dishes. Wearing another of his luxurious collection of robes and a pair of fawn-colored trousers, he seemed like a lion at rest in his den. The air was filled with a silken mixture of aromas: soup swirling with leeks and pepper, salmon simmered in wine, poultry dressed with herbs, truffles, and champagne.
Logan's attentive gaze swept over her as she stood in the pool of candlelight. “I hope you're hungry,” he said, seating her expertly.
The French dishes prepared by Logan's private chef were vastly different from the plain English fare Madeline had eaten all her life. She indulged in one heady flavor after another as the staff served them á la russe. In spite of Logan's amused warnings, Madeline overate during the first two courses, filling herself with the delicious offerings until she was unable to take more than a bite of the salads and desserts that came later in the meal.
“Slowly,” he advised her, his eyes twinkling as he watched her drink thirstily from a glass of French wine. “A hedonist would savor every drop.”
“Hedonist?” Madeline repeated curiously.
“A person devoted entirely to self-indulgence,” Logan said, refilling her glass. “Someone who regards pleasure as a way of life.”
“Is that what you are?” Madeline asked.
“I try to be.”
“But you work so much of the time.”
“For me that's a pleasure as well.”
Her brow wrinkled. “It seems an odd idea, life being centered around pleasure.”
“What is life supposed to be, then?”
“It's about duty, and sacrificing for others. And if we've been good, our pleasure comes later when we're rewarded in the hereafter.”
“I'll take my rewards now.”
“That's sacrilegious,” Madeline replied, frowning at him.
“Hedonists don't hold stock in religion. Suffering, self-sacrifice, humility…none of those things would have helped me in my career.”
She remained silent and puzzled, unable to find the flaw in his logic.
“Maddy,” he said softly, and an irresistible laugh was pulled from him as he stared at her. “You're so damned young.”
“You're laughing at me,” she chided.
“I'm not. It's just that you're a pleasant change from the crowd of degenerates I usually associate with. All your ideals are intact.”
“So are yours.”
“I never had ideals to begin with, sweet. I've never believed in pure honesty and kindness—I'd never seen it in anyone. Until you.”
Sickening guilt made Madeline's stomach turn over. She hadn't been honest in her dealings with him, and her every act of kindness had sprung from ulterior motives, until the moment she had recognized that she had fallen in love with him. And even then she would have carried out her original plans, except that she was afraid of hurting him and making him even more cynical than he already was.
“What is it?” Logan asked, staring at her keenly, and she realized that her misery was easy for him to read.
“I'm not a kind person, or a good one,” she said in a low voice. “It would be wrong of me to allow you to think otherwise.”