She was nothing short of a revelation, chatting and smiling, drawing conversation from those around her with surprising skill. It was impossible that she could be as relaxed as she seemed. On the other hand, Logan reflected with private irony, this was what she had been trained for her entire life: to act as an accomplished society hostess. Granted, her family had not planned for their daughter to marry a man like him—but Madeline seemed to have no proper embarrassment about being the wife of an actor.
Logan felt a flicker of pride in her performance, mingled with the bitter awareness that he should have been able to offer her better than this. No matter how competent a hostess Madeline was, she would never ascend the social heights that she would have as Lord Clifton's bride. Logan didn't blame her parents for wanting a brilliant marriage for her. In fact, he felt a strange empathy with the Matthewses, especially as he watched them that night.
Madeline's parents had come to the ball with pleasant, polite facades, but underneath they must also be experiencing mingled pride and bitterness. It was obvious that Madeline was far too refined to be the wife of a man with Logan's debauched past. She was impeccably pedigreed, and she was married to a commoner. He was wealthy, to be sure, but he was no thoroughbred.
It came time for them to lead off the dancing, and Logan offered his arm to Madeline, escorting her toward the center of the room. She was more animated than he had ever seen her, her amber eyes glittering with excitement, her cheeks flushed. It was her first ball, Logan realized with a touch of surprise. Madeline had never been taken on the rounds of social events at which she would be introduced to eligible men.
“I've never really danced with a man before,” she said breathlessly, tilting her head to look up at him as he settled one hand at her waist and clasped her fingers with the other. “I had lessons at school. An instructor came once a week. I learned with another girl as a partner, and we took turns leading.”
Logan smiled at the revelation. “Why don't I lead?” he suggested dryly and nodded to the musicians. They began a lovely waltz, the melody sweeping them across the floor before Madeline realized what was happening. Logan danced as superbly as he did everything else, knowing how to display his partner to her best advantage, expertly guiding her so there was no opportunity for her to hesitate or stumble.
Madeline knew that she danced stiffly at first. She concentrated intently on following him, on not making a misstep, until Logan laughed at her absorbed expression.
“Relax,” he murmured.
“I can't—I'm too busy dancing.”
“Look up at me.”
Obeying, Madeline discovered that everything became much easier. She no longer knew or cared where he was leading her, only that his blue eyes were warm and his arms were strong. He was so powerful, his thighs brushing hers, the muscles of his shoulder hard beneath her fingers. The room dissolved in a giddy rush, and her hand tightened convulsively on his. She knew a moment of exhilaration, and her entire being was consumed with the wish that tonight would last forever.
Other couples joined in the waltz, eager to display their own facility, until the floor became crowded. As the piece concluded and a quadrille began, Logan took Madeline aside and regarded her with a faint smile. “My compliments to your instructor, madam.”
“That was wonderful,” she exclaimed, reluctant to release his hand. “Please couldn't we—”
“Would you like to—” Logan said at the same time, but they were both interrupted by a coterie of eager men of varying ages, all of whom besieged Madeline for dances. Madeline threw Logan a glance of consternation.
“It would be selfish of me to monopolize you, Mrs. Scott,” Logan said, stepping back with a forced smile as his wife was led to the floor and drawn into the quadrille pattern. It was unfashionable for a man to pay too much attention to his wife. Furthermore, it was his duty as host to dance with some of the other women present.
Logan had always enjoyed the company of women, their complexity, their intriguing variety of shapes, scents, movements…but somehow they were all lacking now. All he wanted was Madeline. His wife's sensuous appeal in that damned scarlet dress was causing him to unravel. He had never before experienced the taste of jealousy, and suddenly he was wallowing in it. If one more friend offered him meaningful congratulations, he would commit murder. Every man in the place wanted her. They were all leering at her, at her face and figure, and most of all her half-covered breasts.
Grimly Logan recalled why he had never entertained at his home before now. There was no polite way a host could make his guests leave when he wished, and no means of escaping them. If this were someone else's ball he was attending, he would have left by now. He wanted to be alone somewhere, anywhere, with Madeline. Torrid fantasies seethed in his mind. He thought of pulling up her velvet skirts and having her on one of the long tables, of undressing her in the middle of the ballroom floor and watching their reflection in the massive column-framed mirrors.
His lurid thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of his comanager. Having briefly separated herself from her husband's company, Julia came to Logan and tapped him on the shoulder. She looked as pleased as a mother hen over the progress of her chick. “Congratulations,” she said brightly. “You were fortunate to acquire a wife like Madeline.”
“So I've been told,” he growled. “A hundred times, at least.”
Julia smiled, following his gaze to Madeline, who stood several yards away in a circle of admirers. “She has a quality that you and I lack, Logan. She likes people. She takes a genuine interest in them, and they can't help responding to her.”
“I like people,” Logan muttered defensively, making Julia laugh.
“Only if you think they can be of some use to you.”
A reluctant smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. “Why is it that you've always been able to see me exactly for what I am, Julia?”
“I would never make that claim,” she countered, her turquoise eyes gleaming with amusement. “After all these years you still manage to surprise me. Your behavior where Madeline is concerned, for example. It betrays a deeply buried romantic streak I hadn't suspected.”
“Romantic,” Logan scoffed, having always prided himself on being a cynic.
“Deny it all you like,” Julia said. “It's only a matter of time until you admit that Madeline has wrapped you around her little finger.”
“Only a hundred years or so.” He scowled as she walked away. His attention returned to his distant wife, who was still surrounded by a group of admirers. Logan began to stride in her direction when he was beset by a few of the partners in his investment trust. Fidgeting inwardly, he smiled at their effusive compliments and traded a few opinions on subjects of masculine interest.
To Logan's relief, rescue arrived in the form of Andrew, Lord Drake. Clapping a hand on one of Logan's tense shoulders, Andrew greeted him heartily and dragged him away from the group on the pretext of asking advice on an art acquisition.
“Good God, how do you stand those dullards?” Andrew asked sotto voce. “All that talk about interest rates and dividends is as exciting as a visit to the morgue.”
“Those ‘dullards,’ as you call them, are some of the most brilliant financial minds in England,” Logan said dryly. “You'd do well to spend time with them.” As he spoke, his glance returned to Madeline. She stood in the light cast by a chandelier, her pale shoulders like velvet, her piled-up hair containing every shade from gold to maple brown.
Following his gaze, Andrew grinned. “For shame, Jimmy. I thought you above such bourgeois behavior as lusting after your own wife…but as they say, blood will tell.”
Logan looked at him sharply, searching for some hidden meaning to the comment, but Andrew's blue eyes were devoid of guile. “I've never claimed to be anything but bourgeois,” Logan replied. “And one look at my wife is explanation enough.”
“I won't dispute that. After tonight, every amateur poet in London will be laboring on an ode to her. The face of an angel, the hint of scandal about your hasty nuptials…she has everything necessary to drive the public wild with curiosity.”
“And to drive me insane,” Logan muttered, making his friend chuckle.
“You've done well for yourself, Jimmy,” Andrew said, sipping from a crystal wine glass. Clearly it was not his first drink of the evening, nor would it be his last. “A most enviable life. Wealth, a fine home, a beautiful young wife—and you started out with nothing. Whereas I was given every advantage: a name, a fortune, land—and I've squandered most of it. Lately my chief occupation has been waiting for the old man to die and leave me with a nicely endowed title. With my unfortunate luck, he'll hang on 'til I'm too damned old to enjoy any of it.”
Logan arched his brow, surprised by the touch of bitterness in Andrew's tone. “What is the problem, Andrew?” he asked, in the blunt manner he would address a younger brother.
Andrew hesitated, and laughed. “Don't worry about me—just enjoy your bloody wonderful life and your little honeypot of a wife.”
Logan stared at him with a mixture of exasperation and concern. Obviously Andrew was in trouble again. The last thing Logan wanted to do tonight was wrest a confession from Andrew and solve his problems once again. However, it was an impulse he had never been—and would never be—free of, especially now that he knew about their secret kinship.
Casting a last longing glance at Madeline, Logan sighed inwardly and turned his full attention to Andrew. “I've been saving a box of exceptional cigars,” he said casually. “This seems like an occasion to enjoy them. Care to have a smoke?”
Andrew's moodiness seemed to ease. “Yes, bring them to the billiards room, and we'll visit with some of the fellows.”
Logan made his way out of the ballroom, stopping several times to converse with clusters of guests who beckoned to him. As he finally reached the door, he noticed Madeline's sister Justine and her husband, Lord Bagworth. They appeared to be having some kind of spat, edging to the corner of the room and talking tensely. Justine's eyes were narrowed with fury.
Logan exited the ballroom, suppressing a pitying grin. He suspected that Justine must lead Bagworth on a merry dance. As the spoiled beauty of the Matthews family, Justine appeared to insist on being the center of attention at all times. The Matthewses had done no service to their eldest daughter by pampering and spoiling her to the exclusion of their other two children. Having made Justine's acquaintance, Logan wondered how it was that Madeline could have been so overlooked. An ironic smile touched his lips, and he shook his head as he went to the library in search of his private stock of cigars.
Pleading for respite from the dancing, Madeline extricated herself from the crowd of gentlemen surrounding her. She caught sight of her brother-in-law, Lord Bagworth, standing near the long windows that lined the room. He didn't seem to notice her approach, his attention focused on the formal garden outside, his round face shadowed with a frown. He was a kind, pleasant-looking gentleman, though short in stature and not possessed of an imposing physique.
“Mrs. Scott,” Lord Bagworth said, smiling as he took her hand and bowed over it. “Congratulations on a splendid evening. I must say I've never seen you look more lovely.”
“Thank you, my lord. I hope you and my sister are enjoying yourselves.”
“Indeed,” Bagworth said automatically, though his expression remained troubled. He paused for a long time, his thoughtful brown eyes staring into hers. “I must admit,” he said slowly, “that to my regret, your sister and I have just had a bit of a quarrel.”
Puzzled as to why he would make such a confession, Madeline frowned. “My lord…is there anything I can do?”
“Perhaps there is.” Uneasily he cupped one of his hands over the other and twisted them together. “I'm afraid, Mrs. Scott, that Justine is somewhat distressed by your success this evening.”
“By my—” Madeline said in astonishment. It was inconceivable that Justine should be jealous of her. Justine had always been the most beautiful, admired, and sought-after sister. “I'm sure I don't understand why, my lord.”
He looked distinctly embarrassed. “As we both are aware, Justine is possessed of a rather mercurial nature. She seems to fear that your triumph tonight will somehow detract from her accomplishments.”
“But that could never be true,” Madeline protested.
“Nevertheless, in her unhappiness I fear she may have taken it in mind to do something…drastic.”
Lord Bagworth cast a worried glance around the room. “Where is your husband, Mrs. Scott?”
Madeline's eyes widened. What could Logan have to do with this? Could it be that Justine, in a fit of envy, would actually try to throw herself at Logan, merely to assure herself of her own attractiveness? “Are you suggesting that I go in search of him?”
“I think that is an excellent idea,” Lord Bagworth replied at once.
Madeline shook her head with a disbelieving laugh. “But Justine would never try to…there's no reason for…”
“It is only a suspicion,” Lord Bagworth said quietly. “One that I trust will be quickly proven unfounded.”
“If Justine is worried that she will be eclipsed…there is no one capable of competing with her, least of all me.”
Lord Bagworth managed to smile through his worry. “From a long acquaintance with your family, Mrs. Scott, I've observed how you have always stood in the shadow of your older sisters. You deserve to be recognized as an attractive and accomplished woman in your own right.”
Madeline smiled distractedly, thinking only of Logan and where he might be. “Thank you, my lord. If you'll excuse me—”
“Yes, of course.” He bowed to her and remained at the windows, sighing deeply.
Logan went to the library and rummaged through the sideboard near his desk. He was unaware that someone had followed him until he heard a provocative voice ask, “What are you looking for, Mr. Scott? Or perhaps I should call you Logan. We're family now, after all.”
Logan straightened with the box of cigars in hand, watching sardonically as Madeline's sister Justine entered the room and closed the door. “Is there something I can help you with, Lady Bagworth?” he asked, his expression unreadable.
“I would like to have a private discussion with you.”