“I have my own opinions on the matter,” he replied, his gaze caressing.

Dessert was brought in, a dish of pears poached in a sauce of red wine and topped with English cream. In between spoonfuls of the sweet, tart confection, Madeline drank from a tiny glass of liqueur. Feeling drowsy from the alcohol, she blinked as she stared at Logan through the veil of candlelight.

“It's late,” Logan said. “Would you like to retire now?”

Madeline shook her head. She was filled with the bittersweet awareness that this was their last night together.

“What do you want, then?” There was a teasing edge to Logan's voice. He was relaxed and handsome with the golden light playing over his dark hair, bringing out the rich glints of fire.

“Perhaps you could read to me,” Madeline suggested. They shared a love of literature and philosophy, having previously discussed subjects as diverse as the superiority of Keats over Shelley, and the theories of Plato. To Madeline's delight, she had discovered many rare and unique books in the mansion's library, many of them acquired at private auction or presented as gifts from powerful friends.

Logan helped Madeline from her chair and rang for the servants to clear the dishes. He led her to an adjoining room, a private area filled with amber cushions, works of Chinese porcelain, and paintings and bronze moldings on the walls. Sitting before the marble fireplace, Madeline shivered from the pleasant warmth of the blaze. Logan lounged on the floor beside her, leaning an elbow on a velvet pillow as he read from Henry the Fifth, his voice a quiet rumble. Mesmerized, Madeline only half-heard the words.

She tried to fill her mind with every detail of his face: the shadows of his lashes as he looked down at the volume in his hand, the elegant planes of his cheeks, the shape of his wide mouth. At times he quoted from memory rather than reading, reciting the romantic passages in which Henry wooed Katharine, the daughter of the French king. The words were wry, tender, touched with ironic humor. Suddenly Madeline felt as if she couldn't stand another moment, listening to entreaties that made her heart ache. The setting was too intimate, the words too close to her own longings.

“Please, no more,” she said breathlessly, just as he reached the line “You have witchcraft in your lips, Kate…”

Logan set down the book. “Why not?”

Madeline shook her head, beginning to rise from the cushions, but he reached out and caught her. He drew her down beside him, running a hand along her stiff body. “Don't go,” he murmured.

Madeline gasped as Logan pressed her against him. They were matched length to length, and he was so large and solid, his shoulders looming over her. She couldn't see his face, but she felt the brush of his lips as he whispered close to her ear.

“Sleep in my arms tonight, Maddy.”

The words she had worked for, waited for. Madeline nearly choked on a sudden rush of tears. “I can't,” she managed to say.

“You told me this was what you wanted the first time we met.”

“It was…but nothing's turned out the way I thought it would.”

“What a puzzle you are,” Logan said, wiping the wet corners of her eyes with his thumbs. “Tell me what you want, then.”

He was so gentle, so tender, that for a wild moment Madeline thought of confessing everything to him. But if he knew the truth, he would hate her for it, for lying to him and planning to use him, and making him the unwitting target of her ridiculous scheme. She had no choice but to leave him and hope that he would never guess what she had tried to do.

“Logan,” she said, her voice blotted against his silk robe, “I can't stay with you any longer. I'm leaving tomorrow.”

Easing her head away from his chest, he stared at her with penetrating blue eyes. “Why?”

“The past two weeks have been like something from a dream. I've been very happy here…with you…but I have another life to return to. It's time I went home.”

His hand moved over her back in a slow, repeated stroke. “Where is home, Maddy?”

“Another world away,” she said, thinking bleakly of the remote country estate where she would spend the rest of her life as Lord Clifton's wife, giving birth to his children and striving to please him.

“Is there another man?” he asked, as if he could read her thoughts.

The image of Lord Clifton's smug face rose before her, and she closed her eyes while tears squeezed from beneath her lashes. “Yes.”

Logan showed no surprise at her answer, but Madeline sensed a powerful emotion…anger?…jealousy?…stirring beneath the stillness.

“Tell me who he is. I'll take care of everything.”

She became alarmed at the steely purpose in his voice. “No, you can't—”

“You're going to stay here, Maddy.” He pulled the pins from her hair and smoothed the rippling locks over his arm. “I've needed someone like you for a long time. Now that I have you, no one is going to take you from me.”

“I'm not at all what you want,” Madeline said, rubbing the heels of her hands over her wet eyes. “We're as different as two people can possibly be.”

Logan smiled in wry agreement. “I doubt we're anyone's idea of a perfect match, but I don't give a damn. I'd forgotten how it felt to want someone this badly. After the last time, I swore never to go through it again.”

“You mean when you fell in love with Olivia,” she said.

His smile vanished, and he stared at her quizzically. “How did you know her name?”

“You called out to her during the fever. You were angry…you called her things I never…” Madeline stopped and turned scarlet, remembering the words he had used.

“Yes,” he said wryly. “That was because Olivia slept with Andrew while she was engaged to me.”

“Lord Drake? Your friend…but why would she do that?”

“Olivia was impressed with his titles and social position, far above anything I'll ever aspire to. I was a fool for thinking I loved her—but she was beautiful and sophisticated, the kind of woman I thought I would never have.” He paused, his expression becoming remote. “I don't know what you've heard about my past. It's not exactly an illustrious one.”

Madeline was silent and curious, waiting for him to continue.

“My father is a tenant on Lord Rochester's estate. Andrew is Rochester's only heir. I grew up with Andrew, and for a while I was allowed to take lessons with him, until I became so unruly that Rochester deemed me a bad influence.”

“I don't believe that.”

Logan smiled wryly. “You didn't know me then. I was a petty thief, a vandal…I prided myself on being the village bully.”

“Why?”

“Youthful rebellion…anger. I resented the fact that there was never enough to eat, that we lived in a hovel…mostly I was angry that no matter what I did, my lot in life was already determined.”

“Yes,” Maddy said softly. “I've felt that way too.”

He gave her a penetrating glance. “I believe you have.”

“How did you become an actor?” Maddy asked, uncomfortable at his scrutiny.

“When I was sixteen, I left home and became an apprentice to a wine merchant in London. I did well enough in that trade and might have continued in it, except that I saw a play at Drury Lane on the night of my eighteenth birthday. That changed everything. I joined a group of traveling players, taking bit parts and learning the rudiments of the craft. Two years later I returned to London to start the Capital. I met Olivia around the same time.” He smiled bitterly. “I thought that marrying her would make up for all the things I'd been deprived of.”

“I see.” Jealousy stung her, and she lowered her eyes to keep it from showing.

“While I was occupied in assembling the theater company,” Logan continued, “I made the mistake of introducing Olivia to Andrew. Evidently she decided that Andrew's title and inheritance were preferable to the uncertain future I offered her. She set her cap for him, not knowing that Andrew had no intention of marrying anyone.”

“How did you find out that they were…” Madeline stopped in consternation, trying to find an appropriate word.

“I found them in bed together.”

“How wicked of them,” she exclaimed, coloring with embarrassment and indignation.

“I thought so too,” he said dryly.

“I don't understand how you could have forgiven them.”

Logan shrugged. “As time passed, I realized that Andrew had done me a favor by showing me what kind of woman Olivia really was. And ultimately I couldn't blame Olivia for wanting more than what I could offer her.”

“She should have been proud and grateful to have won your heart—”

“She saw me for what I was,” he said flatly. “My fortune has been built on entertaining people…exhibiting myself like a trained monkey, as Rochester says. An actor is the servant of everyone who pays for a ticket to see him, wastrels and merchants and nobility alike. Olivia understood that, and she didn't like it.”

He lifted his large hand from her hair and held it before her. “No matter how often I play kings and princes on stage, I'll always be a Jennings. I have the hands and feet of a laborer. A back meant for hauling and ploughing. For that matter, even my face—”

“No,” Madeline said swiftly, her fingers going to his mouth, temporarily silencing him.

He caught at her hand, pressing a kiss into her palm before pulling it away. “You deserve someone better than me. Someone young and idealistic…someone who can experience things for the first time along with you. I'm not always kind, and I have more faults than I'd care to name. All I can promise is that I'll want you until my last breath.”

She realized what Logan was doing, laying bare his soul with a reckless honesty that broke her heart. He wanted her to understand who he was, so that she would have no illusions about him. But none of it mattered to her, not his past and certainly not his profession. He was an extraordinary man who deserved to be loved for himself. So few people had been given that chance. Miserably she thought that it was going to be the hardest thing she had ever done to walk away from him. “Olivia was a fool,” she sobbed. “But not half as much as I am.”

Gently he kissed away the tears on her cheeks. “I don't care who you are or what you've done. Just tell me why you want to leave. Are you in love with this other man?”

“Oh, no,” she said at once, wanting to laugh hysterically at the idea. “It's not that, it's…I promised God that I would go back home if you got well again.”

She felt him smile against her shoulder. “That's not my idea of a good bargain, sweet. Besides, I wasn't consulted.” He lifted his face, and his smile faded as he stared at her. There was an intensity, a hunger in his eyes that made her stiffen. It seemed that the situation had finally slipped from her control. He wanted her, intended to have her, and to her despair, she wanted him so badly that nothing else seemed to matter.

“I love you, Maddy.” His lips raked hungrily over her cheek. “It scares the hell out of me to say that; I've always thought of love as a weakness. I still do. But I can't be with you and not say it…and I can't let you go.” He cupped her head in his large hands and kissed her on the mouth, searching deeply, exploring with a rough tenderness that devastated her. “Let me love you,” he said, his voice turning hoarse. “Let me take care of you.” His mouth crushed hers in sweet, raw need, and he kissed her over and over, until every inch of her skin was suffused with heat.

She couldn't stop herself from responding, her arms locking around his long, hard back, her heart thundering with fear and reckless love. “I don't know what to do,” she gasped against his lips.

“You don't have to do anything. Just trust me.”

Trembling violently, she felt his hand work at the back of her gown until the cashmere loosened across her breasts. Her ni**les were tight and aching even before Logan pulled down her bodice and lifted her br**sts from the prison of ribbed silk stays.

One last warning shot through her mind, but she ignored it, living only for this moment, this night, no longer caring about what happened later. “Kiss me,” she said faintly, wanting his hot, drugging mouth on hers again. Instead his lips closed over her nipple, teasing, pulling, nudging with his tongue and teeth. She struggled upward, trying to push herself deeper into his mouth, and he subdued her easily. His hands slid over her body, undressing her, pulling at laces and hooks, stripping away every scrap that covered her until all that remained were her stockings and drawers.

In her adult life, Madeline had never been na*ed in front of anyone, not even at school, where the students had been admonished to bathe in their linen undergarments. “Don't,” she heard herself whisper, her face flaming as Logan untied her drawers and tugged them past her knees and ankles.

His face was taut with passion. “Sweet love,” he said as she tried to cover herself with her hands. “You've seen every inch of my body…it's my turn now.”

Madeline experienced a feeling of unreality as she let him push her hands away. It can't be me, she thought dazedly, laying na*ed amid a pile of velvet cushions while Logan stared at her and touched her intimately. His fingertips slid lightly over her br**sts and stomach and legs, causing shivers and twitches of pleasure to race across her skin. She sensed him studying her, as if he were learning things he needed to know, and she saw the flush of passion spreading across his face.

“Beautiful,” he whispered. “More beautiful than I'd imagined. I'm going to be your first and last, Maddy…forever.”

She quivered beneath him, unable to answer. His hand slid to her taut stomach, fingers stroking the crisp curls, searching the tender division of her thighs. Her heart beat hard in her chest, until she felt the echo of its pounding in every part of her. The effort of holding still made her shiver like a tightly drawn bow.

“Yes, that's right,” she heard him murmur, and he bent to brush his mouth over hers. “Let me touch you…love you…” He explored her with extreme gentleness while she moaned and arched upward, her body consumed with pleasure. Using his fingertip, he gave her the first hint of the invasion to come, pushing until his finger was buried in the moistness.

“Is this what you want?” he asked softly, repeating the question as he stroked inside her. With a stifled cry, she pulled away before the sensations became too intense. She rolled to her side and heard him undressing, the rustle of fine cloth, the raspiness of his breathing.

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***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

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