“Julia was right about you,” Mrs. Florence finally remarked, finishing her brandy. “She once told me that you are not a happy man. That's one of the reasons I encouraged Madeline to seduce you.” She met his stunned, accusing glare without flinching. “Yes, I knew about her scheme, though I wasn't aware of her precise reasons for it. I wanted you to have her. I thought you might fall in love with her—I fail to see how the most hardened man could resist her. I thought a girl like Madeline would make you happy.”
“Damn you for meddling in my life!” he said savagely.
Mrs. Florence appeared to be unimpressed by his fury. “Save your passion for the stage,” she advised. “I may have made a mistake, but all your snarling and snapping won't change anything.”
Somehow he managed to gain control of his temper. “Why now?” he asked through his teeth. “If anything you've said is true—and I don't believe a word of it—why did you come to me now?”
She gave him a smile that held more than a hint of challenge. “History has a way of repeating itself. I find it ironic that you're about to behave exactly as your father did and condemn your child to the same life you had, with no one to protect him or provide for his needs. I thought I should at least make you aware of the truth about your past, and allow you the chance to do the honorable thing by Maddy.”
“And if I don't?” he sneered, a flush creeping over his face. “There's not much you can do about it, is there?”
“If you won't take Maddy in, I will. I have the means to ensure that she and her child will lead a comfortable life. That baby is my great-grandchild, and I will do everything in my power to help him…or her.”
Logan shook his head as he stared at the elderly woman. Frail and small she might be, but she I possessed an amazing force of will. “You're a tough old hen,” he said gruffly. “I can almost believe we're related.”
Mrs. Florence seemed to read his thoughts. Another smile curved her lips. “When you know me a little better, dear boy, you'll have no doubt of it.” She rose from her chair, leaning on her cane, and Logan automatically moved to assist her. “I'm going home now. Will you be coming with me, Scott?…Or shall you conveniently ignore the mess you've helped to create?”
He let go of her with a scowl. The honorable thing, of course, would be to marry Madeline and legitimize the baby. But it was galling—no, outrageous—to be forced into this position. Besides, he had never been a particularly honorable man.
He looked longingly at the brandy bottle, tempted to drink himself into a stupor.
“You'll have a bald patch if you don't stop that tugging,” Mrs. Florence said, her voice touched with amusement.
Logan realized that he had reverted to his habit of pulling the front of his hair when distracted. He let go of it with a muttered curse.
“Your pride is hurt because Maddy deceived you,” Mrs. Florence said. “I'm certain it will take a long time for your wounded feelings to heal. But if you could manage to look beyond your own concerns, you would realize that there is a frightened girl who needs your support—”
“I know what my duty is,” he said tersely. “I just don't know if I can stand to look at her again.”
Mrs. Florence frowned, impatiently tapping her cane on the floor while he went to the dressing table and took a long pull on the brandy bottle. He was filled with the urge to punish Madeline, humiliate her as she had him…and yet the prospect of going to her now nearly made him tremble with anticipation.
“Will you come with me?” Mrs. Florence asked.
He set down the bottle, nodding briefly.
“And will you offer for her?”
“I won't know until I talk to her,” he growled, fumbling for a fresh shirt. “Now if you don't mind, I'd like to change my clothes…without an audience.”
A clock chimed as they entered Mrs. Florence's house, signaling the arrival of midnight. “Where is she?” Logan asked.
“She needs to rest,” the elderly woman said. “I'll have the maid show you to another room until a decent hour of the morning—”
“Where is she?” he repeated grimly, preparing to go through the house room by room until he found Madeline.
Mrs. Florence sighed. “Upstairs. The room at the end of the hallway. But I warn you, if you disturb her in any way—”
“I'll do what I like with her,” he said coolly. “And I don't expect to be interrupted.”
Rather than look distressed, she rolled her eyes at the bit of theatrics and waved him on his way.
Logan strode alone through the house, which seemed to be filled from floor to ceiling with antique clutter and theater mementos. He ascended the stairs and located Madeline's room. His chest was taut with anticipation as he clasped the brass doorknob. He felt his blood pumping fast in his veins. The power of his reaction alarmed him…he was tempted to turn and flee…but he couldn't seem to make himself let go of the doorknob. His hand clenched around the polished metal until it turned hot from his skin.
After a long time, Logan entered the room. The only sound he made was the click of the key turning in the lock. He saw the outline of Madeline's body on the bed, the loosely braided rope of her hair on the pillow. Her br**sts moved in a deep, regular rhythm. Suddenly he was shocked by the vivid memory of how it had felt to have her breathing against him, her na*ed body clasped to his.
He sat in a chair by the bed, unable to take his eyes from her. After two months of drowning in numbness, it seemed that life was returning to his body. He thought of taking her now, stripping off her gown and entering her before she was fully I awake, burying himself in her tender flesh.
For hours he sat with her in the darkness, Watching her sleep. The smallest movement she made fascinated him—the way her fingers curled and twitched, the turn of her head on the pillow. There had been so many women in his life—erotic, talented, passionate women…and yet none of them had ever affected him as she did.
He was glad that her condition made it necessary for an expedient wedding. Having her at his convenience would be worth the mockery he would have to endure once all of London became aware that he had been “caught.” No doubt he would be the subject of many a caricaturist, portrayed as a meek bull with a ring through his nose, being led by a pregnant shepherdess…no, the jeers would be even more fiendish than that. People loved to poke fun at public figures, and he was a highly visible target.
He thought of what his friends would say, especially Andrew, and made an involuntary sound of discomfort. Andrew would take great amusement in the situation, merciless bastard that he was. Before Logan could dwell on the subject of Andrew, Rochester, and the question of his parentage, the small figure on the bed began to move. It was morning.
Although Logan remained silent, Maddy quickly became aware that someone was in the room with her. Her breathing changed, and she rolled toward him with, a sleepy murmur. The kitten-sound reverberated through him, making him hard and excited, and most of all resentful. He had discounted his love for her as a temporary madness…but it seemed that she still had the same power over him. He craved her physically and, what was worse, emotionally. She had made him lose the easy detachment that had always kept him safe. He would never again hold himself aloof and superior to others. Madeline had shown him that he was all too human, and therefore vulnerable. He intended to punish her for that, in ways too numerous to count.
Madeline's amber eyes opened, and she stared at him in bewilderment. He waited until he saw the recognition on her face, and only then did he move, crouching over her on the bed, pinning her in place.
Madeline caught her breath as she felt Logan strip back the sheets, revealing her meagerly clad body, the hem of her nightgown having crept to the tops of her thighs. His hot blue gaze moved over her shrinking body, and that, combined with the cold air in the room, made her ni**les harden. Her mind reeled, and she wondered frantically if she were dreaming. How had he known to come here? It must be that Mrs. Florence had told him.
His gaze raked over her breasts, noting the Shallow rise and fall of her breathing. His large hand moved to one gentle mound, fingertips plucking gently at the tender point, stimulating her through the thin cloth until she fought to suppress a moan. His fingers wrapped around her breast, tightening in a grip that was almost painful. Too stunned to speak, Madeline watched his blue eyes narrow to bright slashes.
Releasing her breast, Logan touched her stomach, flattening his hand on the surface. “As beautiful as I remembered,” he said in the low, rich voice she remembered so well. “I suppose that's some compensation for having to be shackled to you for eternity.”
His fingers drifted to the soft valley between her thighs, and Madeline's shaking hand caught at his. “Please,” she gasped. “Not here.”
Logan's hand jerked away from hers. “You're going to be examined by Dr. Brooke today,” he said flatly. “If he confirms your pregnancy, I'll take you back to your parents and inform them of our plans to marry. I'll get a special license and make the necessary arrangements. It should all be accomplished before the New Year.”
Madeline blinked in confusion. He wanted to marry her in just a fortnight. But it was all wrong…it was clear from his expression that he was revolted by the idea. “There's no need for that,” she said. “I have no intention of entrapping you into marriage.”
“Don't you?” he asked calmly. “Then why are you in London?”
“I…I wished to talk with Mrs. Florence.”
“And you never thought she would come to me,” he said with stinging skepticism.
“No, I didn't. She shouldn't have told you anything.”
His mouth twisted derisively, and he let go of her. Sitting on the edge of the mattress, he watched as she drew a sheet over her body. “I wish you'd given someone else the good fortune of bedding you,” he jeered. “But since you picked me for that particular honor, and we're in this damnable mess, I have no choice but to marry you. If there is a child, it's the only way I can be certain of his welfare.”
“I can manage on my own. You won't have to worry about me or the baby—”
“You don't seem to understand, my sweet. I don't give a damn about what happens to you, but I do want the child. I'll go to hell before I cast him on the mercy of your family.”
“I don't want to marry you,” she said thickly. “I could never live with a man who hates me.”
“We won't be living together. I have several residences. After the babe is born, you may have your choice of them. In the meanwhile, I'll spend most of my time at the theater, as usual.”
Madeline tried to envision the businesslike arrangement he was describing. She was chilled by the realization that he was going to exact his revenge for the hurt she had given him. There would be no tenderness, no closeness or shared joy in the baby's birth. And if he knew that she still loved him, he would use it against her without mercy.
“The answer is no,” she said. “You don't have to marry someone you don't love merely to ensure the baby's welfare. I'll take good care of him, and I would never deny you the right to see him whenever—”
“I'm not asking you for anything, Maddy.” He was chillingly matter-of-fact. “I'm telling you what's going to happen. I'm going to have every right imaginable over you and the child—because I'm going to own you body and soul.”
“Nothing will change my mind,” she said, knowing that it would destroy her to live with his contempt. “You can't force me to become your wife—” She stopped with a gasp as he shoved her back onto the mattress and swung a muscled thigh over her, crouching astride her helpless body.
“Can't I?” he asked, looming over her. He let her feel the hard pressure of his arousal, while his fingers dug into her shoulders until she winced in pain. “You have no idea what I can do, my sweet. I'll get what I want no matter what it takes. You may as well make things easier for yourself and give in without a struggle.”
Outraged, Madeline twisted beneath him, but he was at least double her weight, his muscles as hard as iron. With each movement of her body, she felt the heavy ridge of his sex press deeper against her, until she relaxed with a defeated gasp.
“You may as well know that you're going to pay for the trouble you've caused me,” Logan said. “You're going to make free with your body whenever I want you. And don't expect it to be anything like before. You won't find it nearly as pleasant.”
Madeline kept silent, while all manner of wild schemes went through her mind. She would find a way to disappear before the wedding ever took place.
Logan read her thoughts easily, his mouth curving with a thin smile. “Don't even think about running from me. Because I'll find you, and when I do, you'll be sorry you were ever born.”
Her lashes lowered to hide her eyes. It was agony to face the prospect of a marriage that would be a mockery of what they could have had. “Everyone will know you were forced into it,” she said, hoping to change his mind.
“Yes, I've no doubt the gossips will flay us alive.”
And he would punish her for that as well, she thought bleakly. It was proof of his determination, the fact that a man who was so conscious of his public image was willing to look the fool in order to marry her.
He was gripping her shoulders, making them ache. She lifted her hands to push him away, her palms flattening against his chest. “You're too heavy,” she said, arching beneath him. “Please…let me go.”
Logan made a muffled sound as the movement of her h*ps set him on fire. He rolled to his side, intending to release her, but somehow his arms caught at her slender body, bringing her with him. One of his thighs nestled between hers, and the pulsing length of his arousal thrust along her stomach. Her breast was close to his mouth, and he could almost feel its delicate weight against his cheek, the velvety tip of it on his tongue.
His senses swam with pleasure. Now…now…his pulse was like a drumbeat, urging him to take her. The sweet elixir of her scent drove him insane. He wanted to taste and touch her everywhere. His hand trembled as it cupped her breast, so plump and firm, yielding deliriously to the pressure of his fingers.
He heard the sound of protest she made, felt the slight jerk of her body, and suddenly the temptation was too powerful to resist. He caught at her nipple with his lips and teeth, wet it through the thin fabric of her gown, sucked greedily as he savored the sweetness of her flesh. His fingers fanned over the side of her breast and slid over her ribs. She twisted and gave a soft cry, first trying to push his head away, then curling her fingers into his hair. They strained together hungrily, writhing in a wild search for satisfaction.