“Orsini will agree to any arrangements you would care to make. There are a score of others in the Society who feel as strongly as I that you must allow this artist the chance to paint you. Good God, man, will you make us all beg?”
Logan regarded him with mock alarm and took another swallow of coffee. While Beauchamp waited tensely for an answer, Logan considered the possibilities. After a moment, he smiled slightly and spoke. “I have an alternate proposition. Tell Orsini that I'll allow him to paint my wife.”
“Your wife…” Beauchamp sputtered in confusion. “That's right, I'd heard that you were married recently…but I'm positive that Orsini would much prefer you as a subject—”
“A portrait of Mrs. Scott will be a suitable centerpiece for an exhibition. If Orsini is able to capture what I see in her, I'll ensure that he is amply rewarded.”
Beauchamp regarded him doubtfully. “Well…Mrs. Scott is reputed to be a very attractive woman—”
“She's damned beautiful.” Logan stared into the silken dark surface of his coffee. “There's a quality of innocence about her that won't change even if she lives to be a hundred…” Abruptly he recalled himself from the brief reverie. “To my knowledge, she's never been painted before. Orsini is fortunate to have the opportunity.”
Lord Beauchamp regarded him with gathering amusement. “I'll inform Mr. Orsini that he must paint her, as everyone will be avidly curious about the woman who's made you so besotted.”
“I wouldn't use that word,” Logan replied, scowling faintly.
“Dear fellow, no other word will do. The look on your face as you described her…” Chuckling, Lord Beauchamp stood and nodded good-bye to him, returning to his own table.
“‘Besotted,’ my arse,” Logan grumbled, leafing through the play folio. “I only said she was beautiful.”
Orsini accepted the proposal without hesitation, forwarding a letter of gratitude that arrived at the Scotts' London home in the morning. Upon being informed of the plans for a portrait, Madeline reacted with dismay.
“I'll be showing before the portrait is done,” she protested, standing before Logan in the library, nervously crumpling and smoothing a sheet of paper in her hands.
Logan closed an account book and turned in his chair to face her. “An appropriate gown will disguise your condition, and Orsini will trim your waistline with a few brush strokes. Besides, it will give you something to do during confinement.”
“I can think of many other things worth doing.”
“I want a portrait of you. After Orsini uses the work in his exhibition, I intend to purchase it.”
“Exhibition!” Madeline exclaimed, flushing. “Logan, I have no wish to be displayed as if I were some object, or a trophy—”
“But you are,” he countered. The devilish light in his eyes gave her a chill of apprehension. “You're mine, and I'll flaunt you when and where I choose.”
Madeline stared at him with wide eyes, too flustered to speak.
“What is that?” Logan asked, his gaze flickering to the paper in her hand.
“It's a list…a-an estimate of the expenses for the ball. Obviously some things must be eliminated, and I would like your advice—”
“Come here and show it to me.” He moved his chair back from the desk and patted his knee, wearing an expression that made her uneasy.
Approaching him with caution, Madeline sat gingerly on his lap, her spine held straight. “Perhaps you would be more comfortable if I sat over there—”
“I'm perfectly comfortable,” he said, his arm tightening until she reclined against his chest. Taking the paper from her, he glanced down the list of numbers. To Madeline's amazement, he seemed to find nothing untoward. “It's more or less what I expected,” he said calmly.
“It's going to cost a fortune,” Madeline replied. “I kept telling the duchess there was no need to be so extravagant, but she kept ordering the best of everything, and doubling the amounts I asked for, and…why are you smiling like that?”
“I had no idea you were so reluctant to spend my I money, sweet.” Logan discarded the list and resettled Madeline on his chest. “Prudence is a fine thing, but you're hardly a fiddler's wife.”
“Of course not, but…what will we live on for the rest of the year?”
He toyed with the lace at the neckline of her bodice and pulled gently at the gauzy scarf that covered her throat and collarbone. A smile touched the corners of his mouth. “You can set your mind at ease, Maddy. We could comfortably afford a ball like this every week for the rest of our lives.”
Perplexed, she stared at him, her brow wrinkling. “You…we…have as much as all that?”
“Four estates, not including a hunting lodge in Wiltshire.” Noting her interest, he continued casually. “We also own a yacht, a brewery, a building yard and tilery, and holdings in a colonial mining company. In addition, I've invested in railroad and shipping stocks, which are producing excellent revenue. Then, of course, there is the art collection and the theater, as well as other assorted properties.” He seemed amused by her thunderstruck expression. “You may open accounts wherever you choose, madam. I have no doubt that I have the means to afford you.”
It took a moment for Madeline to gather her wits. It appeared that she had married into a fortune greater than that of her parents or either of her sisters, and larger by far than Lord Clifton's.
Logan watched her expression and laughed suddenly, as if he could read her thoughts. “Before you get too high for your buttons, madam, remember that I'm not a member of the peerage, and none of your children will have titles.”
“That doesn't matter to me,” Madeline replied, while her heart quickened at the implication that they would have more children.
“It may to them.”
“They won't need titles to distinguish them. They'll learn to stand on their own accomplishments, as you have.”
“Why, Mrs. Scott.” His mouth curved in a mocking smile. “I believe you're trying to flatter me.”
As he shifted her on his lap, Madeline felt the hard ridge of his sex straining beneath her, and she flushed. Although his advances were hardly unwelcome, it was improper behavior for the middle of the day. One of the servants might walk in, or someone might pay a call. “Logan,” she said faintly as his mouth slid along her throat, “I…have so many things to do…”
“So do I.” He began to unfasten the front of her gown, brushing away her hands as she tried to deter him.
“What if one of the maids comes in?” Madeline asked, quivering as he slid his hand inside her bodice to fondle her breast.
“I'll tell her to leave.” He reached beneath her skirts, his fingers delving inside her linen undergarments and searching the most sensitive parts of her body. His eyes narrowed in excitement as he pulled her to straddle him, and there was a rending sound as he tore the delicate fabric of her drawers.
“Not here…let's go upstairs,” Madeline begged, turning scarlet with distress. His body was hard and powerful between her thighs, sleek muscles flexing as he positioned her to ride him.
“Here,” Logan countered, reaching down to unfasten his trousers. A short, breathless laugh escaped him as she squirmed on his lap. “Stop watching the damned door.”
“I can't help it.” She gasped as she felt him enter her, a hard pressure that slid easily within her moist depths. “Oh, we shouldn't—”
“Put your arms around me,” he said, his voice guttural. Muttering instructions, he guided her with his hands as she rode up and down his swollen length.
Madeline's eyes closed with pleasure, her hands clawing over his waistcoat and shirt, groping blindly for his solid shoulders. They strained and arched together, while Logan muffled her soft groans with his mouth. She would never have believed herself capable of it…wantonly straddling him, thrusting herself on him, discarding every scrap of propriety that had been instilled in her every day of her adult life. But Logan encouraged, demanded, that she abandon all shame in his arms. He filled her with each downward push, the current of pleasure rising higher and faster, until she shook with spasms of ecstasy. Logan's body went taut beneath her. The crescent of his teeth pressed into her shoulder, the hint of pain somehow intensifying her shivering delight.
Afterward, while Madeline collapsed against his chest, Logan smiled into her disheveled hair. “All those mornings at the Capital, when you helped me with those piles of correspondence…I wanted to do this with you.”
“This?” Madeline repeated, lifting her head to look at him drowsily. She felt disoriented, giddy, as if she had been drinking. “I had no idea.”
“If you would have looked in the right place, madam, you would have seen ample evidence.”
“Oh.” Raising herself on her elbows, she smiled at him. “In that case, I insist that you have no female secretaries.”
“You're the only woman I want,” Logan said gruffly, fighting the urge to cuddle her like a kitten and give voice to the endearments that filled his mind. His face hardened, and he heard himself add…“For now.”
Logan kept his expression blank as he watched the glow fade from her eyes. Carefully Madeline disentangled herself from him and began to straighten her clothes. Although Logan regretted the hurtful words, they had been necessary. Better to spoil the moment between them than to let her think she was important to him. He had made the mistake of trusting her once. There would not be a second time.
On the evening of the ball, Madeline stood before the mirror in her private dressing room while a maid fastened the row of buttons at the back of her gown.
Mrs. Beecham, wearing an elegant black dress with a snowy white apron, had come upstairs to assist in the final preparations. “Splendid,” the housekeeper exclaimed, standing back to view her. “You'll be the loveliest woman here tonight, Mrs. Scott. The master won't be able to take his eyes from you.”
Madeline smiled, though her heart was beating anxiously. “Have all the flowers been delivered? Has anyone visited the kitchens recently?”
“Everything has been taken care of,” Mrs. Beecham assured her. “The house is filled with heavenly flowers, and Cook appears to have outdone herself. The guests will think they're visiting paradise—and when you appear to greet them, Mr. Scott will be the most envied man in London.”
Nervously Madeline held a hand to her midriff. The flat surface of her stomach had swelled to a gentle curve, but her scarlet velvet gown had been designed to conceal her condition. A tightly fitted bodice followed the slender outline of her body before flowing into an array of rustling skirts. The gown was startlingly simple, its only adornment three ruby clasps that held the front of the bodice together, above which her br**sts rose in creamy white splendor.
The scarlet hue of the ball gown became her, making her skin look like porcelain and complementing the amber color of her eyes. Her golden-brown hair had been pinned at the crown of her head in heavy loops and curls, displaying the slim length of her neck.
Logan entered the room in a few strides and stopped abruptly. He was a magnificent sight in black-and-white formal wear, with a blue-gray waistcoat of richly textured silk. His eyes, the most striking shade of blue Madeline had ever seen, flickered with some disquieting emotion as he stared at her. When he spoke, his voice held a deeper timbre than usual.
“I hope these are to your liking.” He held out a black jeweler's box to her. Pleased and surprised by the unexpected gift, Madeline moved forward to receive it.
Smiling, Mrs. Beecham ushered the maid from the room and closed the door, leaving them in privacy.
Madeline gasped in amazement as she opened the box, discovering a ruby-and-gold necklace strung in glittering loops, and matching pendants for her ears. “How beautiful! I didn't expect…” Her gaze lifted to his. “You're very generous. Thank you, Logan.”
A touch of color burnished his high cheekbones. Taking the necklace from the box, he stood behind Madeline and fastened the heavy creation around her neck. She watched their reflection in the mirror, holding still as she felt his warm fingers brush her nape. It took Logan a long time to fasten the necklace; he fumbled with the intricate catch, his breath filtering through her carefully arranged curls.
Madeline attached the ruby pendants to her ears, enjoying their jaunty swinging as she turned her head. “What do you think of my gown?” she asked, facing Logan.
To her disappointment, he showed neither admiration nor approval. “It's cut too low.”
Madeline frowned slightly. “Julia has seen it, and she said it was perfect.”
“Only if you're planning to start a riot,” he muttered, his gaze pinned on her breasts.
“If you don't approve, I can change into something else—”
“No, wear the bloody thing,” he said, attempting an indifferent tone and succeeding only at sounding sullen.
Madeline bit the insides of her lips to suppress a smile. Patiently she waited as Logan continued to stare at her. “You're going to catch cold, dressed like that,” he said curtly.
“The house is very warm,” she pointed out. “I'll be perfectly fine.” She saw his fingers twitch at his side, as if he were struggling to keep from touching her. “Shall we go downstairs?”
Logan responded with a surly grunt and gave her his arm, escorting her to the ballroom as if attending the lavish party were an odious duty rather than something to enjoy.
Thankfully, their guests seemed to have no reservations about taking pleasure in the event. Hundreds of people milled through the house, chattering excitedly about Logan's art collection, the sumptuous buffet tables laden with superb cuisine, the lilting music drifting from the ballroom. Massive arrangements of orchids and tiger lilies in Oriental lacquered vases filled the air with exotic perfume.
Inspired by the inescapably romantic atmosphere, couples stole away for hasty rendezvous in the mansion's many private nooks, while gossiping women clustered like flocks of animated hens. Julia had apparently selected a perfect cross section of the different worlds Logan had traversed: peers, wealthy commoners, artists, writers, and even a few politicians. It made for a lively mix—in one evening, enough scandal was being created to fill the papers and entertain the public for weeks. Gentlemen enjoyed the host's endless supply of fine liquor and cigars, and occasionally erupted into minor squabbles over the favors of an elusive female. However, no woman attracted attention more than Madeline.