Mrs. Beecham went to the desk and finished the task for her. “I will have it sent at once,” she remarked, and left the room as if she couldn't stay a moment longer.
As midnight approached, a new doctor arrived, the personal physician to the Duke and Duchess of Leeds. He was a kindly older man with an air of competence that gave Madeline a flicker of hope. “With your permission, the duchess sent me to examine the patient,” he said to Madeline. “Perhaps there is something I can do for him.”
“I hope so,” Madeline replied, welcoming him into the room. She stayed as the doctor conducted his examination. By now she had become so familiar with Logan's body that she was beyond embarrassment. She knew every line of the long bones, the curves of muscle so close beneath the skin, the latent power that reminded her of a slumbering lion.
Madeline's hopes died quickly as she realized that there was nothing the doctor could recommend beyond what was already being done. Before departing, he left his own elixirs, but Madeline sensed that he didn't have much hope for their efficacy.
“Miss Ridley,” Mrs. Beecham said, approaching her, “you've been with Mr. Scott all day. I'll watch him for a while, and then Denis will have a turn.”
Madeline smiled at the housekeeper, who looked exhausted. “I'm not tired,” Madeline replied, though she ached with weariness. Her eyes felt swollen and gritty, and her arms were raw to the elbow from exposure to ice and poultices. “I'll stay a little longer.”
“Are you certain?” Mrs. Beecham asked.
Madeline nodded. “I would like to be alone with him.”
“Very well. Ring for me or Denis if you need help.”
The door closed, and the room was lit only by a lamp flame and the coals in the grate. The glow touched Logan's face, glazing his profile with burgundy light. Madeline pressed an ice-filled cloth over his forehead, but he dislodged it, his movements increasingly violent.
“Hush,” she said repeatedly, stroking his hot skin.
Unguarded in his delirium, he uttered garbled lines from plays and spoke to unseen people. Madeline sat with him in the near-darkness, her face turning crimson. He used words she had never heard before, saying things that shocked and aroused her, until the hair prickled on her arms. He filled the air with obscenities until Madeline felt she would do anything to make him stop. “Please,” she murmured, laying a cool cloth on his forehead, “you must be quiet—”
She gasped as he caught her wrist, his hand closing until the fragile bones threatened to snap. At the sound of her soft cry, his grip relaxed, and he seemed confused. He said a woman's name…Olivia…his voice turned venomous. He wanted to kill her, he said. She had taken everything from him. He wept and cursed, his suffering so acute that Madeline was wrenched with jealousy.
Haven't you ever been in love with anyone? she had asked him not long ago.
Once, he had replied. It didn't work.
It was clear that Olivia was the woman he had loved, and that she had betrayed him. Madeline stroked Logan's hair and murmured to him, using her slight weight to subdue him until his body relaxed beneath her. “I would never leave you if I had a choice,” she whispered, her heart pressed to his. “I would never hurt you. I love you.” Passionately she kissed his hot face and dry lips. “I love you,” she repeated, wishing desperately that she could pour her strength into him.
He made an incoherent sound and went still, sinking further into the fever.
Madeline lifted herself away and rested her hand on his chest. His breath was only a weak stirring beneath his ribs. She felt the vitality draining from him, and she was terrified to sleep. He was going to die in her arms, she thought, and a knot of cold despair formed in her stomach.
Slowly Madeline knelt on the floor. Despite a lifetime of regular church attendance and weekly religious instruction at school, she had never been a person of strong faith. She was too rebellious in nature, too resentful of what her mother had assured her was “God's plan” for her to marry Lord Clifton. It had always seemed that God's wishes were to make her life as joyless as possible. But if He were truly merciful, He would accept her bargain…and she would never again dare to ask Him for anything.
Carefully she folded her hands together and prayed, investing her soul in each word. It was an unexpected relief to pour out her fear and longing. For the first time in her life, it seemed that prayer was not just a useless ritual, but a confession told to a loving friend. “…I ask forgiveness for my sins,” she whispered in the dim light. “I'll be an obedient daughter and do everything my parents wish. I'll marry Lord Clifton and serve him in every way I must without complaining…as long as You make him well. I don't care what happens to me anymore. All I want is for him to live. He doesn't deserve to die so young. You must let him live…”
She wasn't aware of how long she prayed. When she finally arose, her knees were numb and cramped from the floor, and she was slightly dizzy. When she returned to Logan's side, she packed fresh ice bags and placed them around his body.
Many more supplications passed through her lips as the night wore on. She felt as if she were in a dream that would never end. Mechanically she worked without stopping, forcing Logan to drink, calming his delirious ravings until at last he fell utterly silent. She scarcely noticed when the lavender light of dawn ventured through the French glass doors that opened onto a small balcony.
Madeline jerked and turned toward the voice.
Mrs. Beecham approached with the valet, their faces blank with dread. “How is he?” the housekeeper asked, coming to the bed and looking at Logan's still form. Madeline watched silently, her body swaying, a dripping rag clutched in her hand.
The housekeeper placed her palm on Logan's forehead. After a long moment she turned to Madeline, peace and relief spreading over her face. “Thank God. The fever has broken.” Gently she used a dry corner of the sheet to blot the beads of sweat on his skin.
Madeline watched without comprehending. The valet approached her, speaking with the trace of a French accent. “Everything is all right, mademoiselle. He'll be well again soon.”
Dizzily she turned toward him, not daring to believe the truth. She tried to remember his name. “Denis?…” she asked through dry lips, and the room seemed to tip sideways. She felt his wiry arms close around her, and for the first time in her life, she fainted.
As Logan awoke, it seemed that he drifted upward from heavy layers of water and darkness, his body becoming lighter until he finally broke through the surface. He felt sluggish and weak. It would have been easy to sink back into the mist of sleep, but one thought clattered through his brain, forcing him awake. Madeline. Opening his eyes, he waited until the blur had cleared. She wasn't there. His lips parted, but the only sound he made was a harsh croak.
“Ah, Mr. Scott.” The housekeeper's familiar face appeared. “We've all been quite worried for the past few days,” she said with a smile. “Thank heaven, you're much better now. You must want something to drink.” She lifted his head and offered him a few sips of tepid broth. Logan drank the liquid, which had a salty, faintly metallic taste.
He thought of asking about the Capital, but at the moment the subject paled in importance next to the other question in his mind. He remembered Madeline's presence all through the fever. He had felt her hands on him, her gentle breath on his face as she recalled him from torturous dreams. Maddy, he thought, wanting her, craving her. But she was gone. Had she been there at all, or had he merely imagined her?
He listened without interest to the housekeeper's chatter, vaguely registering that Dr. Brooke would be visiting later in the day, that the Leedses had been concerned enough to send their own doctor, that the entire household staff was rejoicing in his recovery. His fingers plucked at the freshly laundered bedclothes, and he focused on the rectangle of daylight that came in through the parted curtains at the French doors. Then Mrs. Beecham said something that captured his attention.
“…Perhaps Miss Ridley will come to see you later in the day, though I suspect tomorrow morning is more likely—”
“She's here?” He struggled to sit up, his gaze riveted on the housekeeper.
“Mr. Scott, you should not exert yourself—”
“Where?” he barked, levering himself upward, cursing as he discovered how weak he was.
“Miss Ridley is sleeping only a few doors away. I doubt I could wake her, sir. She insisted on caring for you the past three days and nights, hardly resting or eating. The poor lamb finally fainted this morning, after she learned that your fever had passed.” Mrs. Beecham paused as she saw the look on his face. “Oh, you needn't worry, sir,” she said hastily, “she's not ill. 'tis only exhaustion. I'm sure she'll be fine after several hours of sleep.”
Logan's mouth felt pinched and dry. He reached for a glass of water on the bedside table, unsteadily navigating it to his mouth. “Why didn't you make her rest?” he demanded scratchily. “There was no need to let her work herself into exhaustion.”
“There was no way to stop her. She insisted on taking care of you—”
“Bring me a robe.”
“Sir?” Mrs. Beecham seemed appalled as she realized that he intended to get out of bed. “Mr. Scott, you can't possibly mean to…why, it would be madness…”
“Ring for Denis,” Logan said, with no thought save that he had to see Maddy for himself. “And send for the doctor.”
“But sir, I told you he'll be calling later in the day—”
“I want—” He stopped as a harsh cough was torn from his chest. Gripping the glass of water, he took another swallow. “I want him to see Miss Ridley. Now.” He had to be certain that Maddy was well, that it was indeed exhaustion and not the beginning stage of illness that had brought about her collapse.
Mrs. Beecham retreated to the door. “I'll send for the doctor,” she said crisply, “but it will be no service to Miss Ridley, waking her after all she's been through. And before you attempt to leave the bed, I suggest that you eat something. I'll have a maid bring up an egg custard and some toast.”
Logan subsided against the pillows as the housekeeper left, though it was hardly by choice. He was as unsteady as a colt. His unmanageable limbs hardly seemed to belong to him. For a man who had always enjoyed unusual health and agility, his weakness was maddening. Cursing beneath his breath, he leaned back until his head stopped spinning.
Despite Dr. Brooke's assurances that Madeline was not afflicted with the fever, Logan was not satisfied.
“My friend,” Dr. Brooke said with a laugh, “you needn't expend your energy worrying over Miss Ridley. I assure you, she's quite healthy, only a little tired. Tomorrow morning should see her back to her usual self. It's your own health you should concern yourself with. You mustn't go charging back to your usual schedule, or your recovery will take twice the time it should. Stay in bed for at least a fortnight, and refrain from any exertion.” He winked as he added, “That includes any amorous inclinations, though I'll admit I would be sorely tempted if I were in your place. Miss Ridley is a delightful creature.”
Logan was annoyed by the doctor's statement, experiencing a rare stab of jealousy. Scowling, he tapped his fingers on the counterpane, signaling his impatience for Brooke to leave.
“Very well,” Dr. Brooke murmured, “there's no need for me to return unless you bring about a relapse. Follow my advice, Scott, and try not to overdo.”
Logan grunted in assent, continuing to drum his fingers until the man was gone. Then he reached for the bellpull and rang for Denis.
Overriding the valet's objections, Logan commandeered his help to walk to Madeline's room. The amount of exertion it required amazed him. When he finally crossed the threshold, his lungs and heart were laboring to accommodate the demands he had made on his body. Releasing his hold on the valet's shoulder, Logan went to the bed alone. “Leave,” he said brusquely. “I'll ring if I want your help.”
“Oui, monsieur,” Denis replied, his tone littered with skepticism. “But I think with the two of you in such a condition, a rendez-vous is not such a good plan—”
The door closed behind him. Logan stared down at the still figure on the bed. Madeline lay on her side like a child, her hands loosely curled, her br**sts covered by a modest white gown that reached her throat. Logan sat beside her, touching a lock of golden-brown hair that streamed across the pillow. She stirred and resettled her face against the pillow, her breath resuming its deep rhythm.
He saw that her hands were reddened from the days of nursing him, and a flush warmed his face. The feeling was not one of embarrassment—he had no shame when it came to matters of nakedness and physical intimacy. Rather, it was the sense that she had claimed a part of him that he couldn't retrieve…he felt bound to her. While part of him resented the feeling, another part welcomed it.
He wondered what he would do with her. One thing was certain—he couldn't send her away now. She had launched into his life and wedged herself into every private comer, and it seemed that he had no choice but to accept her. Why not take the enjoyment she offered? She was young, beautiful, and fearless, possessing a resilient optimism that he had come to admire. His gaze moved over the outline of her body, cocooned in linen and wool blankets. Lightly he touched her breast, his fingers shaping over the soft mound until it nearly filled his hand, His thumb drew across the tip in a small circle, luring the nipple into a swelling point. Madeline murmured in her sleep, and the bet-clothes rustled as her knees drew up slightly.
Logan smiled, smoothing the silken hair on the pillow. For a moment he allowed himself to think of the things he would teach her, the pleasures they would share, until the heat of arousal began to fill him. Grimacing wryly, he stood up from the bed. Too soon for such thoughts. There would be time enough when they had both recuperated. Then he would indulge Madeline's every fantasy…and more than a few of his own.
Madeline awakened and lay still for a few minutes, slowly recollecting all that had happened. She began to rise from bed and winced at the ache of her muscles. The worst of it was in her back and shoulders. Cautiously she stretched, gasping as the pain brought smarting tears to her eyes.
A housemaid knocked at the door and entered with a bucket of coal to refresh the grate. “Miss Ridley,” she said, seeming gratified to find Madeline awake. “Mrs. Beecham says we should all thank you for what you done for the master.”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com