“I don't have time,” he said brusquely. “I have guests to attend to.”
“And their needs are more important than those of your family?”
Logan regarded her with a cool gaze, knowing exactly what kind of game Justine was attempting to play. In his life there had been no end of married women who had pursued him for various reasons. “What do you want?” he asked curtly, making no attempt at politeness.
His terse manner didn't seem to bother her. Justine smiled provocatively and came toward him with a slow, suggestive walk. “I want to know if you are making my sister happy. It's a matter of great concern to me.”
“You'll have to ask her, Lady Bagworth.”
“She wouldn't tell me the truth, I fear. To Madeline, the facade is everything.”
“Do you have reason to suspect that my wife is discontented?”
“Only the obvious fact that you're a mismatch, Mr. Scott. A man like you…and my little sister…I'm sure she has no idea how to handle you. Why, she must be absolutely terrified of you.”
“She doesn't give me that impression,” Logan replied sardonically, concealing his growing contempt. “Tell me, Lady Bagworth, what kind of woman do you envision as a suitable match for a man like me?”
“Someone beautiful…confident…experienced…” Justine shrugged her shoulders in a practiced manner, letting her puffed sleeves drop to her elbows, the front of her blue silk gown drooping over her br**sts until the tips were nearly exposed. She leaned back against a table, pushing her cl**vage together, and slanted a look from beneath her lashes.
The pose was so blatant that Logan nearly laughed. “A charming invitation,” he said, his dry tone implying the opposite. “However, I have no interest in any woman but my wife.”
Justine's eyes glinted with jealous fury. “That can't be true,” she said baldly. “You can't prefer that timid, plain mouse over me!”
Logan stared at her with a mocking smile. Of all the words that could be used to describe the rebellious girl who had enthusiastically invaded his life and changed everything, “timid” and “plain” were not among them. “I suggest that you pull up your dress, Lady Bagworth, and return to the ball.”
His flat refusal only seemed to fuel her determination. “I can make you want me,” she said, and launched herself at him.
Logan's mockery evaporated as he tried to separate himself from the woman who was suddenly tangled around him. The box fell to the floor, perfect blended cigars spilling over the carpet. Logan let out a breath of mingled amusement and disbelief. It was like performing in a bad farce. In the brief struggle, he barely heard the opening of the library door. All of a sudden he heard his wife's voice, and he felt a stab of dismay. Bloody hell, he thought, glancing in Madeline's direction.
“I've been looking for you, Justine,” Madeline said, staring at her sister rather than Logan. For once it was impossible to see what she was thinking, her face still and guarded.
Logan's jaw bunched tightly. With Justine's dress in disarray, the proximity of their bodies…he was well aware of how it looked. If there was anything he couldn't stand, it was being manipulated by a woman.
Shooting Justine a murderous glance, he shoved her away and turned to face Madeline. One part of his mind suggested slyly that he should have made use of the opportunity to humble Madeline once and for all. But he instantly rejected the idea. Whatever else Madeline thought of him, it was paramount that she know he had no designs on her sister. He had no desire to be unfaithful to her.
“Maddy…” he started, and for the first time in his life realized that he was at a loss for words. Sweating, furious, he thought of a dozen ways to explain the situation but couldn't seem to produce a sound.
Justine gave Madeline a defiant glance, her lips curving triumphantly. “Your husband couldn't seem to help himself,” she said. “All I wanted was to talk to him, but he—”
“I know what happened,” Madeline said calmly. “And I would appreciate it if in the future you would refrain from throwing yourself at my husband. It's a nuisance he doesn't deserve…and neither do I.”
Justine straightened her dress and pulled up her sleeves. “Tell her whatever you like,” she said to Logan, her voice turning shrill. “I'm sure you'll paint yourself as the innocent victim—she may even be naive enough to believe you.” Angrily she swept from the room, the door slamming in her wake.
Logan stared at his wife, feeling as awkward as he had in his boyhood years, when he had been caught in a bit of mischief. “Maddy, I didn't invite her—”
“I know,” she said matter-of-factly. “You would never try to seduce your wife's sister, even if you were attracted to her.”
“I'm not,” Logan muttered, raking his hands through his hair until it stood up wildly.
“Here…don't do that.” Madeline approached him and reached up to smooth the dark locks with her gloved hand. Her gentle touch soothed his aggravated temper. “Justine wouldn't have gone through with it, in any event. She just wanted some attention.”
“She nearly got more than she bargained for. I was ready to kill her.”
“I'm sorry you were put in such a situation.”
He caught at her stroking hand and held it, staring into her small face. “You have every reason to be suspicious, Maddy.”
“I'm not,” she said softly, making him shake his head in frustration.
“If our positions had been reversed, I would have believed the worst of you.”
A faint, wry smile came to her lips. “I've no doubt you would have.”
Her words seemed to inflame him. “Then how the hell can you stand there and claim you trust me, when you know I wouldn't have done as much for you?”
“Why shouldn't I trust you?” she asked calmly. “You've been nothing but honorable and generous to me.”
“Honorable?” Logan repeated, staring at her as if she had lost her wits. “I took your virginity, got you with child out of wedlock—”
“When I first started work at the Capital, you made every effort to avoid me, despite the way I threw myself at you. You made love to me only when it was clear that I was more than willing, and when I became pregnant, you married me in spite of your resentment. I deceived you, and in return you've been honest and fair—”
“That's enough.” His face was taut with annoyance.“I've been a bastard to you, and I don't intend to stop any time soon, so I'd advise you to dispense with the flattery and the doe-eyed glances, because they're not going to work. Do you understand?” He didn't realize he had seized her until he felt the tender skin of her upper arms beneath his hands, the tantalizing strip of bareness between the short sleeves of her grown and the top edge of her gloves.
“I understand,” Madeline said. Her soft mouth was close to his, and Logan longed violently to kiss the hint of a smile from her lips and plunge his hands into the velvet sheath of her bodice. All he wanted from her was physical pleasure. Not her trust. Not affection.
He reached over the back of her dress, found the outline of her buttocks, and pulled her h*ps hard against his. “I want you,” he muttered, staring into the valley of her cleavage, nuzzling his mouth and nose into the fragrant hollow at the base of her throat. “Come upstairs with me.”
“Now?” she asked, her breath catching as he urged his aroused loins against hers.
“But our guests…”
“Let them take care of themselves.”
Madeline laughed shakily. “Later,” she said. “They'll notice we're gone, and they'll talk—”
“I want them to talk.” Every rational thought had left Logan's head. He no longer cared about Andrew's problems, his guests' well-being, or social appearances. “I want them to know that I'm taking my pleasure of you upstairs while they're all down here…that you're mine.” Hungrily he crushed her mouth beneath his, drinking in her taste, driven wild by the scent and feel of her. His fingers tangled in her carefully arranged coiffure, beginning to pull the pins from the golden-brown curls, and Madeline pulled back with a gasp.
“All right,” she said unsteadily, her face pink and glowing. “I'll be more than happy to…accommodate you…but the guests will stop us before we ever reach the stairs.”
Logan smiled and stole a short, hard kiss from her. “I pity anyone who gets in my way,” he said, and pulled her toward the door.
As the next month progressed, Madeline's condition became more obvious, making it necessary for her to limit her outings. When she went shopping or drove or walked through the park, she was always escorted by at least two servants, to whom Logan had given specific instructions. She was not to overtire herself, he had said, or venture into less than safe areas, and she was to eat regularly.
“I can't stand being treated like a child,” Madeline told Logan one morning as she sat at her dressing table. She couldn't help resenting her loss of freedom. Having once experienced what it was like to do as she pleased and go anywhere she liked, it was difficult to lead the sheltered life of the usual woman in her position. “No matter what I do, there's always someone trying to help me or take care of me…or feed me something.”
Rather than mock or belittle her, Logan listened with apparent seriousness. “You're not being treated like a child,” he replied, “but as someone whose well-being I value above all else.”
“I feel as if I'm in prison,” she said sullenly. “I want to go somewhere, do something…”
Madeline sighed and picked up a brush, dragging it vigorously through her long, loose hair. “Since the ball, no one has come to the house. I have no friends except for Julia, and she's always busy at the theater, as you are. And even though we receive a dozen invitations every day, we never accept any of them.”
As Logan stared at her small, tense face, a frown settled on his own brow. He recognized that this was more or less what he had expected. His years of carefully maintained seclusion were coming to an end. Madeline was a young, vibrant woman who needed to be active in society, to have friends, to experience the varied amusements London offered.
“I understand,” he said, taking the brush from her and setting it aside. He sank to his haunches beside her, bringing their faces to the same level. “I've no desire to keep you like a bird in a golden cage, sweet. I'll see what I can do to enliven your days a bit.” His mouth quirked with a teasing smile. “I assume you have no complaints about the nights.”
“No,” she said, blushing and returning his smile, lifting her mouth willingly for his kiss.
True to his word, Logan began to escort Madeline to art exhibitions, auctions, suppers, and musical evenings. When they attended plays at Drury Lane or the Royal Opera House, they sat in an elegant private box. To Madeline's delight, they accepted invitations to weekend parties in the country, where she was able to meet other young matrons with whom she had much in common. She knew that Logan didn't relish such occasions, as he was constantly an object of attention, speculation, and excitement. The fact that he was willing to sacrifice his treasured privacy for her sake was both puzzling and flattering.
Madeline knew that many women envied her having Logan as a husband. He was charming, intelligent, generous, and dashing in a way that other husbands were not. She enjoyed being married to him, took pleasure in his companionship, his ready sense of humor, and of course his skilled lovemaking.
However, no matter how close or comfortable their relationship seemed, Madeline was aware that it was a far cry from the way it could be. Logan never looked at her now as he had once before, never kissed her with feverish love and longing. He maintained a small, crucial distance between them. It was clear that he did not trust her, and he intended they would never be emotionally intimate. Madeline tried to contain her own feelings for him, knowing that her love would only be thrown back in her face, no matter how much he might have wanted it.
As Julia had predicted, Madeline's appetite returned, and she gained back the weight she had lost, as well as a few more pounds. Any private anxiety she might have had about whether or not Logan approved of her altered figure was quickly allayed.
“You may as well sleep here from now on,” he said one evening after he had carried her to his bed and made love to her. Sweeping a hand over her na*ed hip, he added gruffly, “It's more convenient than sending for you every time I want you—or having to dash to your room when your legs cramp.”
Stirring in his arms, Madeline smiled sleepily. “I wouldn't want to bother you. I know how you like to sleep alone.”
“You don't take up that much room,” he observed, his hand drifting to her stomach. “Yet.”
Madeline turned on her side. “Soon I'll be wide enough to cover half the bed. Oh, how I wish I were taller! Women of my height don't carry children well—they look like ducks.”
Logan drew her back against his long body. “Madam,” he said, his voice warm and tickling in her ear, “I've spent every night demonstrating how desirable you are. By now I hardly think you have reason to doubt your attractiveness.”
“You've acquired a taste for women with large stomachs?” Madeline asked skeptically, and felt him smile against her neck.
“Only one in particular.” Logan pushed her to her back. “Now I suppose you'll want me to prove it. Again.”
She turned away from him with feigned reluctance. “If it's no trouble—”
“I insist,” he murmured, turning her over once more, and he covered her mouth with his.
He was an unpredictable man, sometimes indulging and teasing her, sometimes treating her with a maddening coolness. Most evenings after a theater performance, he rushed home to be with her, though when he strode through the door it was without the least appearance of haste. He was so adept at concealing his feelings that Madeline wondered if he loved her at all, or if he regarded her more as an amusing pet. There were times, however, when she had reason to hope.
Three afternoons a week Madeline sat for the portrait Logan had commissioned. The artist, Mr. Orsini, was a talented and pleasant man, without the wild temperament that she had expected of an artist.