Thrown into consternation, Madeline stared blankly at the calling card. Sharp curiosity mingled with worry. What could the earl possibly have to say to Her? Silently she thanked God that Logan was still sleeping soundly upstairs. There was no predicting how he would react if he learned that Rochester was here. “I…I'll speak to him briefly,” she said, replacing her pen in its engraved silver holder with undue care. “I'll go to the entrance hall.”
“Yes, Mrs. Scott.”
Her heart pounded heavily as she walked to the entrance hall. All through the night she had wondered what kind of man Rochester was to manipulate his own sons and lie to them for years…to deny Logan and allow him to suffer abuse at the hands of a brutish tenant farmer. Without even knowing the earl, she despised him…and yet there was a part of her that felt a trace of sympathy. After all, Andrew had been his acknowledged son, and his death must cause the earl no small amount of pain.
Her steps slowed as she saw the iron-haired elderly man standing in the hall, his tall frame slightly stooped, his face hard-angled and utterly devoid of warmth or humor. Although there was no great likeness between him and Logan, Madeline could well believe that the earl was his father. Like Logan, the earl seemed solitary, invincible, full of banked intensity. He wore the evidence of his recent grief: a gray cast to his skin and a certain deadness of the eyes.
“Lord Rochester,” Madeline said, declining to extend a hand, merely nodding cautiously.
The earl seemed vaguely amused by her lack of deference. “Mrs. Scott,” he said in a rusty voice, “it is gracious of you to receive me.”
“I'm sorry for your loss,” she murmured.
They studied each other in the following silence. “You know about me,” he said. “I can see it in your face.”
Madeline nodded. “Yes, he told me.”
One haughty brow arched inquisitively. “I suppose he painted me as a black-hearted monster?”
“He merely relayed the facts, my lord.”
“You're a cut above what I would have expected Scott to marry,” Rochester observed. “A young woman of obvious breeding. What must it have taken to persuade your family to allow such a match?”
“They were quite pleased at the prospect of having such an accomplished gentleman in the family,” Madeline lied coolly.
Rochester's sharp gaze rested on her, and he seemed to detect the falsehood, but he smiled in grudging admiration. “My son is fortunate in his choice of a wife.”
“Your son?” Madeline repeated. “I was under the impression that you had declined to acknowledge him.”
“That is something I intend to discuss with him.”
Before Madeline could question him further, they heard someone approaching, and they turned in unison. Logan's face was emotionless as he came to stand beside Madeline, his cold blue eyes fastened on the elderly man.
Logan seemed to have benefitted from the long night's sleep. His hair was still damp from a fresh washing, his face gleamed from a shave, and he was dressed in a white shirt, dark trousers, and a patterned green-and-gray vest. In spite of his well-groomed appearance, there were shadows beneath his eyes and a pallor beneath his tan.
He spoke to Rochester in a dry monotone. “I can't imagine what brings you here.”
“You're all I have left,” Rochester said simply.
A venomous smile touched Logan's mouth. “I hope to hell you're not suggesting that I serve as a second-rate replacement for Andrew?”
The elderly man flinched visibly. “I made many mistakes with Andrew—I won't deny it. Perhaps I wasn't an ideal parent—”
'Perhaps?” Logan repeated with a harsh laugh.
“—but I did have hopes for Andrew. Plans for him. I…”Rochester swallowed hard and finished with difficulty. “…I did love him, no matter what you may think.”
“You might have told him,” Logan muttered.
Rochester shook his head as if the conversation were becoming too painful, yet he was driven to continue. “I had high expectations for Andrew. His mother was a woman of refinement, with a delicate nature and the bluest of blood. I chose her to ensure that my son would have impeccable lineage.”
“Unlike your first one,” Logan said.
“Yes,” Rochester admitted readily. “You didn't fit in with my plans. I convinced myself that it was best if I set you aside and started afresh. I intended that my son—the legitimate one—should have the best of everything. I gave him a fortune, the best schools, entry to the highest social circles. There was no reason Andrew shouldn't have been a great success…but he failed miserably at everything he attempted. No discipline, no ambition, no talent, no interest in anything but drinking and gambling. Whereas you…” He cracked an ironic laugh. “I gave you nothing. Your bloodlines are those of a mongrel. Yet somehow you managed to amass a fortune and establish a place for yourself in society. You've even managed to marry the kind of woman Andrew should have had.”
Logan regarded him sardonically. “Tell me what you want, Rochester; then leave.”
“Very well. I want to end the war between us.”
“There is no war,” Logan said flatly. “Now that Andrew is gone, I don't give a damn about what happens to you. You'll have nothing to do with me, my wife, or my children. As far as I'm concerned, you don't exist.”
The earl seemed unsurprised by Logan's coldness. “That is, of course, your decision. But there is much I could do for your family if you would allow it. To begin with, I could use my influence to have you created a peer, especially in light of the property and land you have amassed. And although there are a few restrictions on what I am able to bequeath to illegitimate issue, there is still a generous patrimony I can leave you.”
“I don't want a shilling of your money. It should have been Andrew's.”
“Then don't accept it for yourself. However, you might consider your children's interests. I want to make them my heirs. Would you deny them their birthright?”
“I won't take—” Logan began, but the earl interrupted.
“I've never asked you for anything until now. All I want is for you to consider what I've said. You needn't give me an answer right away. These days it seems I have nothing to do but wait.”
“You'll wait a long time,” Logan said grimly.
Rochester smiled in bitter understanding. “Of course. I'm aware of how stubborn you are.”
Logan was silent, watching with a granite-hard face as Rochester bid them good-bye and took his leave.
Unfortunately, either Rochester or one of his associates must have confided the secret of Logan's parentage to someone, for in the space of a few days, the news was all over London. Their home was beseiged with callers and letters, all inquiring if it was true, while the Capital was also inundated.
Logan's performances, always heavily attended, became so popular that there were wild fights over tickets outside the theater. It seemed that the public was fascinated by the romantic notion of a celebrated commoner discovering that he was actually the by-blow of a wealthy aristocrat. The peerage was also shocked and enthralled with every detail of the scandalous story.
Logan had become the most talked-about figure in London, a position he neither wanted nor enjoyed. He grieved over Andrew's death, working himself to exhaustion each day, then taking solace in Madeline's arms at night. His lovemaking was different than before—gentle and prolonged, as if he wanted to lose himself, stay inside her forever. He wasn't satisfied until he had brought them both to piercing ecstasy that left them limp and satiated.
“If never expected to feel such things,” Madeline whispered to him one evening. “I didn't know I would find such pleasure in the marriage bed.”
Logan laughed quietly, smoothing his large hand over her body. “Neither did I. With my former penchant for women of experience, I never expected to be so captivated by an innocent.”
“I'm not an innocent,” Madeline said, her breath catching as he settled between her thighs. “After all we've done—”
“There's much more you have to learn, sweet,” he said, positioning himself and sliding gently inside her.
“There couldn't be,” she protested, gasping as he filled her completely.
“Then we'll continue with your next lesson,” Logan murmured with a smile, proceeding to make love to her until she was consumed in a blaze of passion.
Visiting the theater after the day's rehearsal had concluded, Madeline found Logan alone onstage, making notes as he paced through some blocking that had been arranged earlier. At first he was too absorbed to notice her standing in the wings, but soon he turned to look at her. A smile flickered in his blue eyes. “Come here,” he said, and Madeline complied gladly.
Logan set his notes aside on a nearby set piece. His hands slid to Madeline's thickening waist, and his gaze traveled over her soft amber-hued gown. “You look like a drop of honey,” he murmured, urging her up to her toes. “Give me a taste.”
Madeline blushed and glanced around the empty stage, wondering if their embrace would be witnessed by a stray employee or two.
Logan laughed. “No one is going to object, madam,” he mocked, and lowered his head. He stole a kiss from her, and then another, his mouth warm and searching.
Smiling and breathless, Madeline drew away from him. “Are you almost finished here?”
“Yes.” Logan pulled her back against him and fondled her hips. “I'll require only five more minutes. Why don't you wait for me in my office? We'll have a private meeting there—with the door closed.”
“I don't feel like working,” she said provocatively, making him grin.
“You won't be, madam.” Patting her familiarly on the buttocks, he gave her a gentle push toward the wing.
As Madeline departed, Logan picked up his notes and returned his attention to the final points of choreography. A rueful smile pulled at his lips as he found it difficult to pick up his former train of thought. The only thing on his mind was to get to his office as quickly as possible and seduce his wife. Forcing himself to concentrate, he scribbled a few sentences, using the set piece as a makeshift table.
As he worked, he was aware of a shadowy figure moving through the rows of seats along the side of the theater, gradually approaching the proscenium. “Who is that?” he asked, squinting in the stage light, unable to recognize the intruder. There was no reply. Suspecting that the stranger was a curiosity-seeker who had barged into the theater, Logan sighed shortly. “The Capital is closed to the public. There will be a performance tonight if you wish to return later.”
The visitor moved closer, seeming hesitant to leave the shadows.
Logan straightened and continued to stare at the stranger's dark outline. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded abruptly.
The man answered in a drunken, familiar voice that sent Logan's world reeling. “Don't say you've already forgotten me…brother.”
Andrew emerged from the shadows, his face bloated and brilliant with hatred, cheeks burning with a high flush. Logan stared at him uncomprehendingly. He wasn't aware of moving until he felt the edge of the set piece pressing hard against his spine and realized he had staggered backward a step or two. His lips formed Andrew's name, and for an insane moment he thought he was seeing a ghost…until he saw the pistol in Andrew's hand.
“I thought you were dead,” Logan said hoarsely, trying to gather his wits.
“You must be disappointed,” Andrew replied. “All set to take my place, were you?”
“No, I…” Logan shook his head, inhaling a few deep breaths to restore himself. “Damn you, Andrew, what in God's name happened? Everyone thinks you drowned during that bloody water-party—”
“That's what I wanted them to think. I had to do something. I had sharks from a gambling-hell following my every footstep, with every intention of ending my miserable life if I couldn't repay my debts. I had to have some time…had to fool them, until I could get my hands on some money.”
“You put me through hell,” Logan snapped, his shock fading.
“It didn't last long, did it?” Andrew asked softly. “You recovered sufficiently to announce to the world that you're my half brother. A fact that no one bothered to tell me.”
“I didn't know about it until recently.” Logan's gaze fell to the gun in Andrew's wavering hand. “You're drunk, Andrew. Put that damn thing aside, and we'll talk.”
“I intend to use it,” came the unsteady reply. “On you, or myself…perhaps both of us. My life isn't worth a shilling. And only think how your career would benefit. You would become the greatest legend in theater history.”
Logan showed no reaction, but his heart beat unpleasantly fast. Andrew had always been an unpredictable drunk. He could very well carry out his threat.
“I've never ended someone's life before,” Andrew muttered, shaking like a tree in a storm—only the storm wasn't from outside; it was his own inner upheaval. “But you deserve it, Jimmy.”
Andrew's mouth twisted in a spasm of bitterness. “I always knew what to expect from you. Even though the rest of the world was filled with liars, I could depend on you. Now it turns out you're the worst of them all. Keeping Rochester's dirty secret, stepping into my shoes when you thought I was gone…well, you can't have what's mine. I'll kill you first.”
As Andrew spoke, he ventured closer, waving the gun agitatedly. Rapidly Logan considered making a grab for the weapon and forcing it from him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Madeline standing in the nearby wing, and his heart skipped several beats. Dammit, he thought in sudden terror. Leave, Maddy. Get out of here! But she didn't move. It was incomprehensible that she would place herself in such danger. She could be hit by a stray shot…she could unwittingly provoke Andrew into a fit of deadly rage. Logan broke out into a sweat, not daring to look at her.
“I don't want anything of yours,” Logan said to Andrew, finding it hard to speak. “All I want is to help you.” His throat felt as if it had been lined with barrel stays. He realized that Madeline was moving, walking noiselessly behind the set piece and flats for God knew what purpose. Locked in agony, he waited for her to stumble, to bump into something. Pregnancy had made her clumsy of late.