“Am I supposed to thank you?” Logan wiped his hands on his coat as if they had been soiled.
“I have no doubt you feel you deserved more from me,” the old man said icily. “Indeed, at one time I had plans for you, until you insisted on taking to the stage. I would have done a great deal for you, had you chosen any other profession.”
“Now I understand why you've always hated the theater,” Logan muttered. “It reminds you of my mother.”
Rochester's eyes flashed with anger. “I gave Elizabeth a better life than she'd ever known before. And she would still be alive today if not for you. You were too large for her—she died because of your confounded size, gluttonous brat that you were.”
The accusation rang like a gunshot in the room. Logan nearly reeled backward from the impact. “Christ,” he said, feeling ill.
Although Rochester's demeanor was as callous as before, his tone softened as he remarked, “You couldn't help it, I suppose.”
Groping for the edge of the table, Logan leaned I against it once more, his blank gaze locked on the old man's face. “Have you ever told Andrew about me?” he heard himself ask.
Rochester shook his head. “I never saw the need. And considering his recent round of indulgences, I think it would do him harm to find out now. I haven't seen him sober in months. This could be just the thing to finish him off.”
“I don't blame Andrew for drinking. When Mrs. Florence told me that you were my father, I reached for the nearest bottle myself.”
“Nell…that interfering old cat,” Rochester said, stroking his chin and scowling. “I always knew she would make trouble someday. Why did she choose to approach you now?”
Logan wasn't about to explain anything about the situation with Madeline or his impending marriage. He would let Rochester find out from someone else. “I don't know.”
“Well…what will your next move be? Do you plan to stage some sort of reunion with Andrew and inform him that you're his half brother?”
Logan shook his head. “As far as I'm concerned, that will never come to light.”
Rochester seemed surprised. “I hope you're aware that even if I choose to acknowledge you, there is no legal right of inheritance for illegitimate issue—”
“I want nothing to do with you—not one bloody shilling.”
“If that's how you want things to be—”
“It's what you've wanted since the day I was born,” Logan said bitterly. “I'll be happy to honor your wishes. You have only one son. God spare him from your fatherly attentions.”
“I've done perfectly well by Andrew,” the old man retorted. “It's you who have made him into the drunken spendthrift he is today.”
Logan stared at him in stunned belief. “Me?”
“Don't think I'm not aware of all the times you've given money to Andrew. In your misguided attempts to help him, you've made the problem worse. He'll drink and gamble as long as he has someone to assume his debts.”
“You'd rather have him crippled by the sharps he owes money to? They'll send someone to break every bone in his body…and that's if he's lucky.”
“Andrew will have to face the consequences of his actions. Otherwise he'll land in debtor's prison when I'm gone. I'll thank you not to interfere in his life again.”
“Gladly.” Somewhat dazed, Logan pushed away from the table and headed to the door.
“Scott,” the old man murmured.
Logan stopped at the door without looking back. He waited until he heard Rochester speak once more, sounding reflective. “I always wondered why you chose the stage. You would have been successful in anything—you have a great deal of me in you.”
“You're right,” Logan said, his voice thick with self-hatred. He turned toward his father. To his horror, he realized that he shared more than superficial similarities with Rochester. Self-centered and manipulative, both of them, choosing to invest their time in art and business rather than take the risk of caring for someone. “Given enough time, I'll probably turn out to be a ruthless bastard just like you. And the reason I took to the stage was that I had no other choice. It was in my blood.”
“Like your mother.” Rochester studied him intently. “I'll admit, you've always resembled Elizabeth too damned closely for my comfort. I can only guess what it does to Nell to look at you.”
Logan left without replying, feeling as if the hounds of hell were chasing him.
Madeline sat on the corner of the canopied bed in her room amid piles of neatly folded clothes, surveying stacks of trunks and boxes that lined the walls. Most of her belongings were being packed and sent to Logan's London home before the ceremony. The wedding would take place in a week's time, in the drawing room of Logan's London estate. Despite the Matthewses' assertions that it would be more proper for the ceremony to be conducted in the chapel of their own estate, Logan had refused. Madeline knew that he intended to control every detail of the wedding, with no interference allowed.
“Madeline!” Her older sister Justine appeared in the doorway, her eyes sparkling with excitement. Justine had come to help with the wedding preparations. Althea had sent a warm note of congratulations, but unfortunately wouldn't be able to attend the wedding, as she was in Scotland with her husband, awaiting at any day the birth of their first child.
“He's here!” Justine exclaimed. “His carriage is coming up the drive.”
Madeline felt a pang of nerves in her stomach. Although Logan had corresponded with her parents during the past week, she had not been permitted to see the letters. She had found it difficult to eat and sleep, wondering if he would change his mind about marrying her.
“You must finish your supper,” her mother had said to her the previous evening. “If you lose any more weight, I believe your fiancé might actually attempt to upbraid us for it—and if he does, I shall certainly set him in his place.”
Madeline went to the mirror and checked her appearance, smoothing her skirts and jerking her bodice into place. In spite of her weight loss, her br**sts pushed against the material of her gown until the stitches strained to contain them.
“Do something with your hair,” Justine advised impatiently. “It looks like a bird's nest.”
Pulling the pins from her hair, Madeline brushed and braided it mechanically, and fastened a coiled knot at her nape. Justine joined her at the mirror, delicately smoothing her own golden locks, sticking a few tiny curls to her forehead and temples with touches of saliva. Admiring her own flawless reflection, Justine smiled in satisfaction.
Even in childhood, Justine had amazed people with her porcelain white-and-gold beauty and her remarkable poise. She had been the kind of little girl who never behaved badly, broke a toy, or got her shoes muddy. During her season, she had been pursued by the most eligible men in London, and even a few French noblemen, and had landed Lord Bagworth, a wealthy viscount. Justine was, and always would be, the pride of the Matthewses—whereas she, Madeline, was the shame of the family.
As Justine urged her to hurry, Madeline inserted the last pin in her hair and pinched her cheeks to impart some color. By the time they went downstairs, Logan had already been shown to the parlor, where Agnes had received him with a minimum of cordiality.
Logan stood as the two young women entered the room. He looked exceptionally large in the confines of the parlor, his shoulders broad beneath a perfectly cut black coat, his body lean and taut in a gray brocade waistcoat and charcoal trousers. His hair had been freshly cut, and a subtle glitter of mahogany showed in the dark locks.
“Mr. Scott,” Madeline said, uncertain whether or not to approach him. Logan solved the dilemma immediately, coming to her in a few strides and taking her hand. Rather than kiss the back of it, he turned her palm upward and pressed his lips into the soft hollow, making the gesture tender and intimate. It was done for the benefit of her mother and sister, of course. Even so, Madeline felt her heart jolt at the warmth of his mouth on her skin.
Logan straightened and looked down at her, surveying every detail of her appearance. A frown worked between his thick brows. “You haven't been eating,” he muttered, too softly for the others to hear.
“Neither have you,” Madeline replied. It wasn't lost on her that his body had been honed to a new spareness, with no trace of softness to conceal its raw power.
Logan smiled wryly at her comment, and turned for an introduction to Justine, who waited close by. Dutifully Madeline presented him to her older sister and waited for the look of awestruck admiration that would appear on his face. Men always reacted to Justine that way. Strangely, Justine's incandescent beauty seemed to make little impression on Logan.
“A pleasure,” he murmured indifferently.
A touch of pique flashed in Justine's luminous gaze. “Welcome to the family, Mr. Scott. I do hope you'll be kind to my dear little sister.”
“I intend to, Lady Bagworth.” Logan regarded Justine with a sardonic quirk of his left brow. Obviously the chit expected him to be taken with her. She was attractive, although Madeline was actually the more beautiful of the two, her features more refined, her eyes filled with a warmth and intelligence that her sister lacked.
His attention switched to Madeline's mother, Agnes, who sat at the other side of the room. “Lady Matthews, I'm afraid I won't be able to stay long. I'd hoped that you would allow me a few minutes alone with Madeline.”
Agnes looked affronted at the request. “As you must know, Mr. Scott, it is unseemly for the two of you to speak without a chaperone present.”
“At this point, it hardly matters, does it?” he asked softly, making Madeline flush and Justine giggle.
Agnes frowned at the shameless comment. “While you are under my roof, Mr. Scott, I insist that you abide by my standards of decency—even if you do find them too exacting. You may indeed speak with Madeline, but Justine will serve as chaperone.” Calmly she swept from the room, giving a meaningful look to her eldest daughter.
The three of them were left in silence. Justine made a face and threw them both a rueful grin as she retreated to the far side of the room. She stood at the window and feigned interest in the view outside, while Logan pulled Madeline to the corner.
“I'm sorry—” Madeline began unhappily, wanting to apologize for her mother's coldness, but Logan held a finger to her lips. Madeline fell silent, spellbound by his nearness. His scent was exquisitely familiar, a masculine blend of linen, wool, and skin, laced with tobacco.
“How do you feel?” he asked, glancing down at her prim, high-necked dress and back to her face.
Madeline colored slightly. “Very well, thank you.”
“Still having morning sickness?”
“It should last only another month or two. In the meantime, try to keep something in your stomach.”
“Why are you so well-informed on the subject?” she dared to whisper.
Logan smiled at the flash of impudence. “My comanager was often absent because of the same malady.”
“Then you haven't ever…” Madeline asked, unable to conceal her worry.
“No,” Logan said, his voice suddenly gentle. “You're the first woman I've ever gotten with child.” He reached into his pocket and extracted a small object. “Give me your hand.”
She felt him slide a cool, heavy ring over the fourth finger of her left hand, and her gaze fell to the object. It was a canary-yellow diamond at least five carats in weight, surrounded by a row of round white diamonds that glittered with brilliant fire. Stunned by the extravagance of the ring, Madeline looked up at Logan with wide eyes.
“Good heavens,” came Justine's exclamation from across the room. “It's as big as an egg!”
“Thank you,” Madeline said to Logan with a catch in her voice. “I've never had anything so beautiful.”
Logan's shoulders moved in an indifferent shrug. “If you wish, we'll exchange it for something else.”
“Oh, no…it's perfect.” She stared at the sparkling diamond, searching for the right words to thank him, but nothing seemed appropriate.
Unable to suppress her curiosity, Justine hurried over to them. “Do let me see it, Madeline! Dear heavens, what a magnificent stone. May I try it on?” Before the request had even passed her lips, she had tugged the ring from Madeline's finger and was inspecting it with an admiring gaze. “Flawless, and such a spectacular color!” She threw the two of them a sly glance. “I should think a gift like this deserves more than a paltry ‘thank-you,’ Madeline. Shouldn't you reward Mr. Scott with a kiss? Mama's not here, after all…and I would never tell.”
Madeline glanced at Logan in consternation, unable to read his expression. “Mr. Scott is very private—” she said, but Logan interrupted with a roguish smile.
“Not that private, sweet.” His hands slid gently over her cheeks, holding her still as his lips descended to hers. She quivered at the light brush of his mouth, the way he tasted her as if she were a delicacy to be savored. It was merely a display, she reminded herself, to convince Justine that they were in love…but she couldn't prevent the glow of pleasure that spread through her. Her knees wobbled, and she swayed against him, disoriented by the sheer delight of his mouth on hers.
Logan finished the kiss with a soft nudge of his lips and drew back to stare at her.
“Well,” came Justine's speculative voice, “you seem quite taken with my little sister, Mr. Scott. One can't help but wonder what a man of your sophistication sees in a girl like her.”
Logan's mouth twisted sardonically. It was clear that Justine harbored more than a touch of jealousy. “Madeline has the qualities I've always desired in a wife,” he replied evenly.
“She's willful,” Justine said. “One can only hope you'll have better luck than my parents at restraining her.”
“Justine,” Madeline said, glaring at her sister from beneath her lashes, “you needn't talk about me as if I were a disobedient household pet.”
Logan laughed suddenly, and there was a flash of approval in his gaze as he guided Madeline to the settee. “Save your squabbling for later,” he murmured. “I don't have much time, and there are details about the wedding that I'd like to discuss.”