“I'm not hungry,” Madeline protested.
“You've lost weight, Maddy…and that isn't healthy for a girl in your predicament.”
They shared a gaze of mutual understanding. “How did you know?” Madeline asked.
“How could I not know?” Mrs. Florence rejoined with a touch of wry sadness. “Nothing else could put that look in your eyes. I gather your family isn't yet aware?”
“No,” Madeline said, her voice strained. “And I don't think I'm strong enough to tell them. I feel…very much alone, Mrs. Florence.”
“Come inside, my dear, and we'll talk.”
Enthusiastic cries and applause followed Logan as he strode offstage. It had been a successful performance, though he hadn't played the part to his satisfaction. He had tried to summon the depths of feeling required for the part, but all he had been able to dredge up was a halfhearted effort.
Scowling, Logan ignored the cast and crew members who tried to gain his attention. He entered his dressing room and pulled off his damp open-necked shirt, dropping it to the floor. As he headed to the washstand, a flicker in the mirrored dressing table caught his attention. He turned quickly, startled to see an old woman seated in the corner.
She regarded him calmly, as if she had every right to be there. Although she was a small woman, she had an outsized presence and wore her age with regal pride. One veined hand, laden with jeweled rings, was clasped around an elaborate silver cane. Although her hair was a soft shade of peach, it was clear that at one time it had been a flamboyant red. Her hazel eyes gleamed with keen interest as she stared at him.
“They told me I could wait for you in here,” she said.
“I don't receive visitors in my dressing room.”
“An adequate performance,” she commented, ignoring his brusque statement. “Polished and fairly well-paced.”
Logan smiled ruefully, wondering who the hell she was. “This isn't the first time of late that I've been damned with faint praise.”
“Oh, you were quite satisfactory as Othello,” she assured him. “Any other actor would have called it the performance of his career. It's just that several years ago I was privileged to see you in the same play, in the role of Iago. I must say I preferred your interpretation of that part…magnificent. You have a singular talent, when you wish to use it. I've often thought it a pity that you and I couldn't have acted together, but my time was long past when your career was just beginning.”
Logan stared at her intently. Her red hair, her vaguely familiar face, her reference to the theater…“Mrs. Florence,” he said questioningly. She nodded, and his brow cleared. This wasn't the first time that a colleague had desired to meet him, although no one had ever been quite as forward as this particular lady. Taking her hand, he raised it to his lips. “It is a great honor to make your acquaintance, madam.”
“You are aware, of course, that we have a mutual friend in the Duchess of Leeds. A delightful woman, is she not? When she started in the theater, she was a protégée of mine.”
“Yes, I know,” Logan said, pulling a striped brocade robe over his bare chest. He reached for a jar of salve and a towel, and began to wash off the sheen of bronze paint that had given him the necessary swarthiness for Othello. “Mrs. Florence, I'm accustomed to a few minutes of privacy after a performance. If you wouldn't mind waiting for me in the greenroom—”
“I will stay here,” she said firmly. “I've come to speak to you about an urgent personal matter. There's no need to be modest on my account. After all, I've been in many men's dressing rooms before.”
Logan suppressed an admiring laugh. She was a brassy old woman, to barge into his dressing room and demand his attention. He half-sat, half-leaned against the heavy mirrored table. “Very well, madam,” he said dryly, continuing to wipe his face and throat. “Speak your piece. I'll try to overcome any fits of modesty.”
She ignored his sarcasm and spoke incisively. “Mr. Scott, you may not be aware that during her brief tenure as a Capital Theatre employee, Miss Madeline Matthews leased a room at my home.”
The name, spoken so unexpectedly, sent a shaft of pain through Logan's chest. He felt his face harden. “If that's all you've come to discuss, I suggest that you leave.”
“Miss Matthews came to me this evening from her family's estate in Gloucestershire,” Mrs. Florence continued. “She is sleeping at my house as we speak. I might add that she is quite unaware of my decision to visit you—”
“Enough!” Logan dropped the face towel and headed to the door. “When I return, I want to find my dressing room empty.”
“Do you think you're the only one who's been hurt?” she asked crisply. “You're an arrogant young cur!”
“And you're a meddling old bitch,” he responded evenly. “Good evening, madam.”
Mrs. Florence seemed amused rather than outraged by the insult. “I have information that is of great significance to you, Scott. Refuse to hear me out, and you'll regret it someday.”
Logan stopped at the door with a sneer. “I'll take my chances.”
Mrs. Florence folded both hands over the head of her cane and regarded him with blinking eyes. “Madeline is expecting your child. Does that mean anything to you?” She watched him keenly in the ensuing silence, seeming to relish the upheaval she had caused.
Logan fixed his gaze on the wall. The beating of his heart became unnaturally loud. It must be a lie, something Madeline had concocted to manipulate him further.
He shook his head blindly. “No. It means nothing.”
“I see.” The elderly woman regarded him with piercing eyes. “You know what will happen to Maddy. In a family such as hers, the only recourse is for her to have the baby in secret, and give it away to strangers. Either that, or she'll have to leave her parents and make her own way in the world, providing for herself and the child as best she can. I can't think you would be pleased by either option.”
He forced himself to shrug. “Let her do as she wishes.”
Mrs. Florence clucked softly. “You would deny all responsibility to Maddy and her baby?”
Her expression took on an edge of contempt. “It seems you're no different from your father.”
Logan's shock gave way to a spurt of baffled rage. “How the hell do you know Paul Jennings?”
One of her hands lifted from the cane, and she gestured to him. “Come here, Scott. I wish to show you something.”
“Go to hell!”
Shaking her head over his stubbornness, she opened her reticule and unearthed a small green-lacquered box. “It's a gift…a piece of your past. I assure you, I have no reason to deceive you. Come take a look. Aren't you the least bit curious?”
“You have nothing to do with my bloody past.”
“I have everything to do with it,” she replied. “The Jennings weren't your real parents, you see. You were given to them because your mother died in childbirth, and your father disclaimed responsibility for you.”
He stared at her as if she were mad.
“There's no need to look at me that way,” Mrs. Florence said with a slight smile. “I'm in full possession of my senses.”
Slowly he walked toward her, while uneasiness spread inside him. “Show me your damned trinket.”
Carefully she extracted a pair of gold-framed miniatures and placed one in his palm. The subject was a little girl not much older than Julia's daughter Victoria. She was a pretty child with a pink bonnet tied over her long red curls. Logan stared stonily at the tiny painting and gave it back without comment.
“You don't see it?” the elderly woman asked, and gave him the next one. “Perhaps this will prove more illuminating.”
Logan stared at a lovely young woman, her features strong but finely proportioned, her luxuriant hair darkened to auburn and pulled to the crown of her head in a mass of curls. Her expression was confident and flirtatious, with intense blue eyes that seemed to stare directly into his. As he examined the miniature, he realized that it was a feminine version of his own face.
“You want me to admit there's a resemblance,” Logan muttered. “Very well, I see it.”
“She was your mother,” Mrs. Florence said gently, taking back the miniature. “Her name was Elizabeth.”
“My mother was—is—Mary Jennings.”
“Then tell me which of your so-called parents you favor. Tell me which of your siblings is most like you. None of them, I'll wager. Dear boy, you don't belong in that family. You were never a part of it. You are my daughter's illegitimate child—my grandson. Perhaps you don't want to accept the truth, but in your heart you must recognize it.”
He reacted with a contemptuous laugh. “I'll need a hell of a lot more proof than a set of miniatures, madam.”
“Ask me anything you like,” she said calmly.
Folding his arms over his chest, Logan leaned back against the closed door. “All right. Tell me why I've never laid eyes on you before…Grandmother.”
“For a long time I didn't know of your existence. Your father claimed that you had died along with your mother. He kept you a secret and gave you to the Jennings to raise. Your father and I have always despised each other, and he wanted to make certain I had no influence on you. I'm certain he feared that if you knew me, you might be lured into the theater, and he wished to prevent that at all cost. Your mother was an actress, you see.”
Mrs. Florence paused, and a grim smile crossed her face. “My pleasure in your success is indescribable, dear boy. In a way, it's a perfect revenge. After all your father did to prevent it, you still found your way to the theater…and you've become one of the greatest actors of your time.”
Logan's arms unfolded, and he pushed away from the doorjamb. Although he still didn't believe a word she said, he felt the sudden need for a drink. He went to the battered wooden cabinet in the corner and rummaged in a drawer until he located a bottle of brandy.
“What an excellent idea,” came the elderly woman's voice behind him. “A drop of spirits would take the chill from my bones.”
Logan's mouth twisted, and he managed to locate a clean glass. He poured a brandy, brought it to her, and took a swig directly from the bottle. The comforting glow spread down his throat and into his chest. “Go on,” he said gruffly. “I may as well hear the end of your entertaining story. How exactly did you come to the conclusion that I was your daughter's long-lost bastard?”
She shot him a cold look for his choice of words, but continued calmly. “I didn't suspect anything until I saw you on stage, when you were about twenty or so. I was stunned by your remarkable resemblance to my daughter. When I began asking questions about your background, my suspicions were further aroused. I went to your father and accused him of keeping the knowledge of your existence from me. He admitted everything. By then, he didn't care if I knew about you or not. You had already made the decision to become an actor, and there was nothing he could do to reverse it.”
“Why didn't you tell me?”
“You had no need of me then,” Mrs. Florence replied. “You had a family, and you did not doubt your identity as their son. I saw no reason to put you through turmoil, and especially not to do something that might affect your acting career.” She smiled at him over the rim of her glass and took another sip of brandy. “I always kept abreast of your activities through Julia. Privately I've worried over you, taken pride in your success, and entertained the same hopes for you that any grandmother would have.”
“Did you ever tell Julia?”
“No,” she said immediately. “It wasn't necessary for her to know. I believe the only people who are aware of your true identity are me, the Jennings, and of course your father.”
Logan smiled with pure sarcasm. “I can't wait to find out who he's supposed to be.”
“Don't you know?” she returned softly. “I should think you'd have guessed by now. You're rather like him in some ways.” Her voice remained gentle in the face of his hostility. “It's the Earl of Rochester, dear boy. That's why you spent your childhood on his estate, living in the shadow of his mansion. If you don't believe what I've told you, go to Rochester and ask him.”
Logan turned away from her, stumbling against the dressing-table chair. Clumsily he set the bottle of brandy on the table and braced his hands on the flat surface. Rochester, his father…the idea was obscene.
It couldn't be true. If it were, then Andrew was his half brother. Even Rochester couldn't be that cruel, watching his two sons grow up side by side, never allowing them to know they were related. One brought up with wealth, luxury, and privilege, the other with hunger and abuse. “It couldn't be…” Logan was unaware that he had spoken until Mrs. Florence, answered.
“It's the truth, dear boy. I'm sorry if I've destroyed your illusions. I only hope that the Jennings were good parents to you. At the very least, Rochester cared enough to ensure that you lived close by him.”
Bitterness welled up in his throat until he nearly choked. All of a sudden he wanted to tell her what kind of life it had been, the fear and pain he had suffered at the hands of Paul Jennings, the indifference of his so-called mother. And Rochester had been aware of all of it. Logan kept his mouth shut, gritting his teeth with the effort. Unfortunately, it seemed that he wasn't able to keep all his feelings hidden.
“Well,” Mrs. Florence said, staring at him, “I can see that you had far from a pleasant time of it. That's partly my fault. I should never have taken Rochester at face value—I should have demanded proof that you had died. I was too absorbed in my grief over Elizabeth's death to pursue the issue.”
Logan's head was spinning. He fumbled for a chair and lowered himself into it. He heard a knocking at the door and the voice of an employee who had come to collect his costume for washing and mending. “I'm busy,” he said in response. “Come back later.”
“Mr. Scott, there are some admirers who wish to meet you—”
“I'll kill the first person who comes through that door. Leave me in peace.”
“Yes, Mr. Scott.” The employee left, and the dressing room was silent once more.