“Yes, my lord.”
Lord Matthews turned to his daughter with a forbidding glare. “Not you, however. You may go to your room, where you will be dealt with later.”
Madeline began to stutter in protest, and Logan interrupted quietly. “Madeline will stay with us, my lord. Her presence is necessary, as the matter of her future will be discussed.”
“As I once told you, Scott, I will see to my daughter's future. You are possessed of rather amazing effrontery to come here and interfere with a situation in which you are no longer involved.”
“I'm afraid it's not that simple, my lord.” Keeping his arm around Madeline, Logan followed the Matthewses into a small parlor filled with straight-backed English furniture made of “plum-pudding” mahogany with swirling yellow and brown wood, and gold upholstery. The only painting in the room was a nondescript English landscape.
Lady Matthews seated herself and indicated for the rest of them to do the same. “Madeline, you may sit over there,” she said crisply, indicating a chair set away from the main grouping of furniture.
Logan felt Madeline stiffen. He caught her cold hand and drew her to a place beside him on a small settee. Glancing at Lady Matthews, he silently challenged her to object. Her nostrils flared, and she gave him an icy glare.
Some would have called Lady Matthews a handsome woman, but she was utterly devoid of warmth, with no softening laugh lines around her eyes or mouth. There were two faint but distinct horizontal creases on her forehead, giving her a pinched and resolute appearance. He guessed that once Lady Matthews made a decision, nothing would cause her to change her mind.
No wonder Madeline had run away from school against their wishes. No wonder she had conceived such a ridiculous plan to thwart the match they had made for her. He could only imagine what sort of man Lord Clifton was. Old, Madeline had said…and no doubt very, very respectable.
“Now, Mr. Scott,” Lord Matthews said, unconsciously smoothing the top of his balding head and the graying hair in the back, “if you would care to enlighten me—how is it that you've come here with our daughter? I would ask Madeline herself, but I doubt she is capable of telling the truth.”
Deliberately Logan brushed his thumb over the burning crest of Madeline's cheek. He took pleasure in Lady Matthews's gasp of outrage. “Madeline came to inform me of a very significant fact. She felt it was her obligation to let me know before anyone else did.”
“That fact being?” Lord Matthews asked, suddenly sounding suffocated.
Logan fingered a loose curl at Madeline's temple. “She…we…are expecting a child, sir. According to the doctor, it will be born in June.” He paused to take in their stunned reactions and continued at a measured pace. “Naturally my sense of honor demands that I do the right thing by Madeline and the baby. Therefore I've come to ask your blessing—”
“Your sense of honor?” Lady Matthews broke in, each syllable crackling with outrage. He guessed that if there were a knife in her hand, she would gladly stab him. “After what you've done to our daughter, you have the gall to claim that you have a sense of honor?”
“It wasn't his fault,” Madeline broke in impetuously. She would have said more, but Logan's hand settled on the back of her neck, squeezing her into silence.
Logan kept his gaze on Lord Matthews while the atmosphere swirled with hostility. “My lord…I believe the situation can be salvaged to everyone's satisfaction. I give you my word that your daughter will be well taken care of. With your permission, I'll arrange for an expedient wedding—”
“You're not fit to marry her,” Lady Matthews burst out. “I spent years training her to be the wife of a man like Lord Clifton, only to have her ruined by a theatrical performer. Now her descent is complete, and she's nothing more than a—”
“Agnes,” Lord Matthews interrupted brusquely. His wife clamped her mouth shut and regarded Logan with outrage.
Lord Matthews returned his attention to Logan. “Mr. Scott, I appreciate your willingness to do your duty. However, I must give the matter very serious thought. Despite Madeline's unfortunate condition, we must also consider what is in the family's best interest. If my daughter marries you, we will face years of unbearable notoriety. I'm sure that a man like you would not be able to understand the effects this would have on the Matthewses, but our good reputation is central to our very existence. I believe the matter would be better handled more quietly, without your involvement.”
A contemptuous smile tugged at Logan's lips as he realized what Matthews was saying. They would rather give the baby away and send their daughter into exile than see her enter into a marriage with a public figure like him. He would go to hell before letting them dispose of Madeline and the baby like some sordid secret.
“Give it all the consideration you like,” he said softly. “But I assure you, Lord Matthews, the child is going to be born with a name—my name.” He stood up from the settee, indicating that the conversation was over. “It's late,” he said abruptly. “I'll take my leave now and return in a few days to inform you of the arrangements I've made. Madeline will be my wife in a fortnight.”
The couple shot to their feet, both of them spluttering with threats and refusals. Logan interrupted calmly, all pretense of courtesy vanished. “I warn you not to upset her while I'm away. I expect Madeline to be well rested when I return.” He glanced into her upturned face as she stood beside him. “Send for me if you have any difficulties,” he said.
“Yes…Logan.” She summoned a tremulous smile.
“Very good,” he said softly.
“Mr. Scott,” Lord Matthews broke in, his round face burnished with scarlet, “I'll have to ask you not to set foot on my estate again.”
“Very well,” Logan replied. “After I've come to collect Madeline.”
“Do you think to defy me?” Matthews blustered. “I could ruin you at will, Scott. I have very powerful and influential friends—”
“So do I.” They faced each other in a silent standoff, and then Logan spoke in a quiet, almost conciliatory tone. “Don't be a fool, Matthews. You have more to gain than to lose by this marriage. In spite of my background, I think you'll find that there are certain benefits to having me as a son-in-law.”
“And what are those?” Lady Matthews asked haughtily. “Theater tickets whenever we desire?”
Logan smiled sardonically and kept his gaze on Madeline's father. “I trust you'll want what's best for your daughter, my lord.”
Lord Matthews nodded reluctantly and turned to hush his protesting wife.
Nodding a businesslike good-bye, Logan began to leave the room. Madeline followed him, reaching his side in a few steps. “Logan…where are you going?”
He stopped and looked down at her impatiently. “To pay a visit to my family.”
“Are you going to tell them about me?”
“Among other things.” He hadn't yet discussed Mrs. Florence's claims about his parentage with Madeline. There was no point in saying anything until the story was confirmed—which he intended to do this very evening.
Madeline bit her lip nervously. “You…you'll come back?”
A mocking smile crossed Logan's face. “All too soon,” he promised, and then he was gone.
It was half past ten when Logan finally reached Buckinghamshire on the way back to London, but he was certain that Rochester would not yet have retired. The earl never required more than a few hours of sleep. He was like a busy old spider, spinning his webs far into the night in hope of snaring some unlucky prey on the morrow.
Rochester had a knack for discovering people's vulnerabilities and taking advantage of them, such as the time he convinced a new widow to sell him her home and property at a fraction of its true value, or sat at a relative's deathbed and badgered him into signing a new will—with Rochester as the principal beneficiary, of course. Andrew had told Logan of those and many other instances, and the two of them had laughed in companionable disgust at the old man's greed.
The carriage drove through the village next to Rochester's estate, passing the churchyard filled with stone monuments and historic landmarks paying tribute to the Drakes' achievements. The thought of being one of the Drakes…God, of being Rochester's son…made Logan ill. He had always hated the earl for being a calculating, predatory bastard. It couldn't be true that the same tainted blood ran through his veins. It was even more distasteful than being Paul Jennings's son. Jennings was merely a self-indulgent brute. Rochester was far more calculating, using people to serve his purposes, then discarding them when they had outlasted their convenience.
The carriage passed a large cottage surrounded by curved stone walls, the house he'd had built for the Jenningses several years before. Mary, Paul, and their three children resided there in comfort. Paul still had his allotted land on Rochester's estate to tend. Now, however, he enjoyed the assistance of a hired hand, who saw to his duties while Paul spent the better part of each morning in a drunken stupor. Logan supported the entire Jennings family on the condition that they never attempt to visit him in London. He considered it a small price to pay.
They reached the great country house, its familiar outline barely visible in the darkness. The hall had been built by the Drakes three generations earlier, with an elegant stone exterior and acres of carved oak paneling inside. Like its present occupant, Rochester Hall possessed a stern dignity, seeming unassailable and utterly impenetrable. Even the windows were small and narrow, as if to guard against any intrusions.
Having known most of the servants at Rochester Hall since childhood, Logan entered the place unannounced, forestalling the housekeeper's attempts to alert the master to his arrival. He went to the library, where the earl was engrossed in a book of art engravings.
“Scott,” Rochester said, looking up with a narrow-eyed glance. “Of all people to be calling at this hour, I wouldn't have expected you.”
Logan hesitated at the doorway, momentarily transfixed. Outwardly he and Rochester shared no likeness, save a similarity of size and build. But there was something about the old man's jaw, the unyielding jut formed as if by carpenter's tools, the aggressive slope of the nose, and the decisive slashes of his brows…dear God, were his own features really that different?
Ignoring the sudden hammering in his head, Logan advanced farther into the library. “I seem to be paying a great many unexpected visits these days,” he replied, and made his way to the book of engravings on the table. Noting an exceptionally fine plate by the English portrait engraver William Faithorne, he touched the edge of it.
Rochester jerked the book away with a snort. “Have you come to whine because I managed to acquire the Harris collection despite your oversized bid?”
“I never whine, my lord.”
“You did in that ridiculous production of Richard the Second that I had the misfortune to attend a few years ago. I hope never to see such a whining, sniveling performance again.”
“I played the part as it was written,” Logan replied evenly.
“I doubt Shakespeare ever had such intentions in mind when he set pen to paper,” Rochester remarked.
“Well acquainted with him, were you?” Logan asked, and the elderly man scowled at him.
“Insolent mongrel. Tell me what you've come about, and be on your way.”
Logan studied him for a long moment while he experienced an overwhelming urge to leave without saying another word.
“Well?” Rochester demanded, arching one brow.
Logan half-sat on the library table, casually pushing aside the engraving book to make room for himself. “I have a question for you. Tell me, my lord…have you ever made the acquaintance of a Mrs. Nell Florence?”
Rochester showed no reaction to the name except for a tightening of his fingers on a gold-rimmed magnifying glass. “Nell Florence,” he repeated slowly. “The name isn't familiar.”
“She was once a comic actress at Drury Lane.”
“Should I be expected to know such trivial information?” He looked at Logan without blinking, as if he had nothing to hide. His eyes held all the expression of a trout's.
Something crumbled inside as Logan began to understand that Mrs. Florence had told him the truth. He felt a painful hollowness in his chest, and he took a steadying breath. “You're an accomplished old liar,” he said hoarsely. “But you've had years of practice, haven't you?”
“Perhaps you should tell me what has caused you to throw a tantrum in my library. Some bit of gossip Mrs. Florence told you, eh?”
Logan clenched his hands to keep from tearing apart the table and everything else within reach. He knew that he had colored with fury, and he longed to have the same impassive expression that Rochester wore. What had happened to the self-possessed Logan Scott of a few months ago? He had always been able to save his emotions for the stage. Now it seemed that they were bleeding into every area of his life.
“How the hell are you able to live with yourself?” Logan asked, his voice unsteady. “How could you have given your own son away to a brute like Jennings?”
Rochester set the magnifying glass aside with undue care. His skin took on a gray pallor. “Have you gone mad, Scott? I haven't a clue as to what you're talking about.”
“Let me refresh your memory,” Logan said savagely. “Thirty years ago you gave your bastard son to Paul and Mary Jennings, to raise as their own. The problem was, they weren't fit to care for one of your dogs, much less a child. For the next sixteen years, I was beaten to a bloody pulp more times than I can count, by my ‘father.’ You knew what was happening all that time, and you did nothing to stop it.”
Rochester's gaze finally slid from his, and he pretended to inspect the magnifying-glass frame as he considered how best to answer. Logan found himself seizing the old man's shirtfront, half-lifting him out of the chair until they were practically nose-to-nose. “You owe me the truth, damn you,” he snarled. “Admit that I'm your son.”
Rochester's face turned forbidding. “Take your hands off me.”
They remained in a frozen tableau for an endless moment, and then Logan's hands loosened. Rochester settled back in his chair, pulling down his rumpled shirt. “Very well,” he said. “I'll admit it…you're the bastard I sired by Nell Florence's daughter. And I could have done worse than give you to the Jenningses. I could have sent you to an orphanage and never given you another thought. Furthermore, I did not stand by idly while you were being abused by that lout Jennings. When the episodes became too violent, I threatened him with the loss of his land and the annuity I had agreed to pay him—”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com