She stood like a statue, except for the small shake of her head, as if she were trying to deny her father's presence. “I…was coming to you today.”
“You should have come to me a month ago,” Matthews retorted. Attempting to gather his self-control, he turned to Logan. “Mr. Scott, it appears that explanations are in order. You have no idea how sorely I regret meeting under these circumstances.”
“I have some idea,” Logan murmured.
“I am Lord Matthews, of Hampton Bishop. Two days ago I learned that my daughter Madeline has been missing from school for almost a month. I—” He stopped briefly, his face contorting as he glanced at Maddy. “I should have expected something like this. She is the youngest of my three children, and by far the most willful. Although she is betrothed to Lord Clifton, she had refused to accept my judgment that he is an appropriate husband for her—”
“He's an old man!” Madeline burst out, and her father turned toward her with a thunderous face.
“Refusing to accept my judgment,” Matthews resumed, his tone raw, “Madeline came up with just the sort of foolish scheme that I should have anticipated. One of her friends at school, a Miss Eleanor Sinclair, was forced under threat of expulsion to confess the details of the plot.”
“What plot?” Logan asked softly.
Disgust and condemnation shadowed Matthews's face as he glanced at his daughter. “Perhaps Madeline would care to explain.”
Logan forced himself to look at the girl who stood nearby…the innocent who had managed to give him back the hopes and dreams he had relinquished so long ago. Her face was mottled with guilty color, her eyes round with protest. Whatever she had done, she regretted it now. Or perhaps it was merely sleeping with him that she was sorry for. He wanted the truth, wanted to choke it out of her. His gaze remained locked on her as he waited.
Finally she managed to speak. “I never wanted to marry Clifton. I was desperately opposed to the match, a fact that everyone—even Clifton himself—is aware of. While I was at school, I realized that short of suicide, there was only one way to stop the wedding from taking place.” She began to stammer, but her gaze begged him to understand. “S-so I decided to r-…ruin myself.”
Logan's stomach roiled unpleasantly. He heard Lord Matthews's cold, agitated voice as if it came from far away. “Apparently you, Mr. Scott, were my daughter's chosen target. Tell me…is there any chance…have I, by the grace of God, managed to arrive in time?”
Logan waited for Maddy to reply. Tell him, damn you! he snarled inside, but she remained silent. “You're too late,” he said flatly.
Matthews rubbed his forehead and eyes as if they ached intolerably.
Logan was surrounded by a red mist as the truth sank in.
It had been a game to her. While he had been tormented with longing and love, she had been winding him around her dainty little finger, making a fool of him. He flushed with humiliation, but that was the least of the emotions that shredded his innards. Again, he thought sickly. Once again a woman had betrayed him. But this was much worse than the last time.
He glanced at Madeline, hating her for looking so pale and forlorn. She was nothing more than a high-priced broodmare whose sole purpose in life was to produce thoroughbreds. It wasn't her place to demand more than that. To her kind, marriage had nothing to do with love; it was an arrangement of economics and social advancement. And in a fit of rebellion, Madeline Matthews had used him to avoid her responsibilities.
“Why me?” he asked her, his voice a mere scrape of sound.
She moved toward him, one slender hand turned upward beseechingly. Logan stepped backward instinctively. God help him, he would crumble if she touched him.
Madeline stopped, realizing that he wanted to preserve the distance between them. Nothing about the scene seemed real—not her father's presence, not Logan's controlled expression, not her own sickening sense of loss. If only words could make everything right. If only Logan would understand that what had begun as a schoolgirl's rebellion had turned into love. She would do anything to take away the pain she knew he must be feeling. Anything to spare him one moment of suffering.
“Eleanor had shown me a colored print of you,” she said, staring at his beloved face. “I thought you were…dashing.” She flushed as she realized how shallow she sounded. “No, that's not the right word. I…I began to fall in love with you even then, and I wanted…” She stopped and shook her head impatiently. There was no way to put her actions in a good light.
“Flattering,” Logan said hoarsely, sounding anything but pleased.
“You don't understand how it was.” No matter what she said, he would only regard it as insult added to injury. I love you, she longed to cry out, but she hadn't the right to tell him that. And he would despise her more for saying it. She turned away as her father approached Logan.
“Mr. Scott, I'm not certain how much responsibility, if any, to ascribe to you, since you were apparently an unwitting dupe in the whole business. I suppose one could have hoped that you wouldn't have touched Madeline, but debauching innocent young girls is no less than I'd expect of a man like you.” Matthews closed his eyes wearily. “It is too much to ask for reparations, I suppose.”
“What kind of reparation would you like?” Logan asked coldly.
“I'd like her to be made suitable for Lord Clifton once again. Since that is an impossibility, I will have to settle for your silence. I, and my family, will handle the disgrace with as much discretion as possible. We will see to Madeline's future, whatever form it may take. All I ask is that you deny the rumors if you are confronted with them.”
“Gladly.” Logan didn't look at Maddy. She no longer existed to him.
“Logan, please,” she whispered. “I can't bear for things to be left like this.”
“Mrs. Beecham will see you out,” he said in a monotone. “Good day, Lord Matthews.” He walked from the room, not conscious of where he was going, only aware that he had to leave at once.
Soon he found himself in his private rooms, fumbling with the door as he locked himself in solitude. He felt as if he were moving underwater. He stood in the center of the room for a long time, not even daring to think. But Madeline's voice echoed through his mind, saying I love you, Logan…love you…
She was a better actress than he'd ever suspected. She had sounded absolutely sincere. And he had allowed himself to believe it.
His eyes ached in their sockets. Reaching up to clear away an infuriating blur, he felt an insistent trickle down his cheeks. “Christ,” he muttered, while self-hatred washed over him.
He heard a despairing groan, felt the exquisitely textured surface of a Tang-dynasty vase in his hands, and hurled it in no particular direction. His ears were assaulted by the shattering of priceless porcelain. It seemed that the sound unleashed a destructive demon within him. Barely conscious of his actions, he tore a painting from the wall, ripped the fragile creation of canvas and oil, and moved to other objects nearby, his hands demolishing works of glass, wood, and porcelain until he had sunk to his knees, his bloody fists resting on his thighs.
The muffled knocking at the door underscored the vicious pounding in his head. “Mr. Scott! Please won't you answer? Mr. Scott—”
A key grated in the lock, and Logan turned with his features twisted in fury to view the worried faces of Mrs. Beecham and Denis. “Get out,” he said hoarsely.
Shocked and frightened by what they beheld, they retreated at once, leaving him alone with the ruins of his beloved artwork. Logan dropped his head and stared at the floor. He felt something dying inside…all the potential warmth and tenderness that could have transformed his life. He would never be the same. He would never let anyone hurt him again.
“Loagan!” Julia exclaimed in delight, standing up from the long velvet sofa. Her cheeks were slightly fuller than usual, the remaining vestiges of her pregnancy, but with Julia's active lifestyle, the added pounds would come off soon. The extra weight actually enhanced her beauty, giving her a soft and wholesome appeal that would have affected any man under the age of ninety.
As Julia welcomed him into the Leeds family's parlor, there was a flash of concern on her face, but it was quickly buried in an extravagant smile.
Since the birth of the Leedses' son, two months passed before Logan made the journey from London to the duke's luxurious Warwickshire castle. The ancient honey-colored building had been modified to make it light-filled and comfortable. It was a perfect place to display a magnificent collection of tapestries, paintings, and sculpture that Logan greatly admired. However, the duke's greatest treasures were his wife and two beautiful children…Victoria, the golden-haired daughter who had been born four years earlier, and Christopher, the latest arrival.
“You took your time coming to see the baby,” Julia reproved, gripping his hands firmly.
“I've had to attend to the small matter of running the Capital,” Logan replied, returning the pressure of her hands and letting go at once. He strode to a mahogany cradle ornamented with mountains of embroidered cream linen, and peered at the small occupant. Christopher William, the current Marquess of Savage and future Duke of Leeds, lay sleeping with a miniature thumb tucked in his mouth, his features a near-perfect replica of his father's imposing ones.
Seating herself on the velvet sofa, Julia smiled with pride. “It was thoughtful of you to send so many gifts, and especially to include one for Victoria. Most people never think of the first child in all the fuss over a new baby.”
She reached to the floor, where her daughter played with the gift Logan had sent, a toy theater commissioned to resemble the Capital, complete with little velvet curtains and an elaborate proscenium. A set of tiny dolls had been costumed as the actors, while a collection of backdrops and set pieces had been included.
“Darling,” Julia said to her daughter, “this is Mr. Scott. You remember him, don't you? You must thank him for the lovely gift he sent you.”
Victoria remained on the floor near her mother's skirts, half-hidden in the heavy silk folds as she peered out at Logan.
Having no natural affinity for children, Logan regarded the girl with polite interest but made no attempt to approach her. “Hello, Victoria,” he said with a faint smile.
She was a beautiful child with a mass of blond curls and large blue eyes, her small hands filled with dolls. “Thank you for my toy,” she said shyly, returning his smile with a wary one of her own.
At that moment the Duke of Leeds entered the room. As always, it struck Logan that the man was completely different in private than in public situations. To the outside world Damon presented an aloof mask, while at home with his family he was warm and smiling, cavorting with his daughter in a manner that no one would have believed.
“Papa!” Victoria cried, darting across the room to him, and Damon scooped her up with a soft laugh.
“Hush, imp, or you'll wake the baby. And then I'll have to take you outside and roll you in the snow as punishment.”
The child giggled at the idea and looped her arms around her father's neck. “I'll put a snowball down your collar, Papa.”
“I'll bet you would,” Damon replied ruefully, grinning at his daughter's demure threat. He turned to Logan, his smile fading a degree. “Scott,” he acknowledged in a polite tone. They had never been close and probably never would be. They moved in some of the same social circles, yet they occupied very different worlds. Julia was the only bridge between them, serving as a wife to Damon and a colleague to Logan.
It was no secret that Damon would be pleased if his wife never set foot onstage again, but he tolerated her profession because it made her happy. Logan respected the duke for that, knowing that only a rare man of his position would allow his wife to mix in the disreputable world of the theater.
“A handsome child,” Logan said, nodding toward the sleeping infant. “My congratulations.” Before Damon could acknowledge the compliment, Logan turned to Julia. “When are you coming back to the Capital?”
“When I'm able,” Julia replied, smiling at his abruptness.
Logan glanced at her speculatively. “You look healthy enough to me.”
“Regardless of my wife's condition,” Damon interceded, “the babe is still too young for her to return to London.”
Victoria spoke up with childish curiosity, her expression anxious. “Is he going to take Mama away from us, Papa?”
“Of course not, Tory,” Damon replied, his expression gentling as he regarded the small face so close to his own. “Come, let's visit the new horse in the stables, while Mama explains to Mr. Scott that his theater is not the center of the universe.”
“Don't forget her coat,” Julia called after them, laughing as the pair exited. Her smiling regard turned to Logan, and she indicated a seat nearby. “Old friend,” she said, half in jest, half in earnest, “I was beginning to think you'd forgotten my existence.”
“I told you I've been busy.” Logan sat and stretched out his long legs, casually regarding the tips of his polished shoes. “It's not easy managing the theater without you, much as I hate to admit it.”
Julia bent to gather up the discarded dolls, each of them no longer than one of her fingers. “I'm sorry I couldn't come to you when you had the fever—”
“I wouldn't have wanted you,” he assured her swiftly. “Not at the risk of harming the babe.”
“At any rate, it seemed that you were in capable hands.”
They both fell silent while the subject of Madeline hung between them like a silent specter.
“I've been reading the Times,” Julia commented. “The reviews haven't been flattering of late.”
“The critics can go hang themselves,” Logan said. “The theater seats are filled every night. That's all that matters.”
The papers had taken to complaining about what they called a series of blank-souled performances on Logan's part, technically proficient but emotionally bereft. Unfortunately, even he couldn't disagree with their collective opinion. The knack he had always taken for granted—of connecting with the audience, of making them see a play through his eyes—had vanished. He didn't care. He couldn't seem to care about anything now.
Even his keen interest in the company had evaporated, replaced with a sour attitude that seemed to antagonize everyone. The Capital players were resentful of his directions, his sharp manner…for God's sake, even his acting.