“Won't you stay for dinner?” Madeline asked.
He shook his head immediately. “I have no desire to put anyone—least of all myself—through the trial of making small talk at the Matthews table.”
“That's probably wise,” Justine remarked with sly amusement. “Our mother's disapproval of you is hardly a secret. It's a pity, though…I've a feeling you would be a most entertaining dinner companion, Mr. Scott.”
“That's for your sister to say,” Logan replied, looking at Madeline in a way that reminded her of the last time they had shared dinner together…and the night of passion that had followed. He seemed to take grim enjoyment in her discomfort.
Thankfully the conversation turned to more mundane matters, but Madeline couldn't keep her mind focused on the subject of their wedding. Thoughts swarmed in her head. One week from now she would become Logan's wife, and if he desired her, they would share a bed again. He had warned her that it wouldn't be as pleasant as before. She supposed that meant he would no longer care about her pleasure. Or perhaps he would even cause her pain—although she couldn't quite believe that of him. Logan was not a cruel man, despite his temper.
Agnes returned to participate in the discussion of wedding details, offering few objections to Logan's plans except when it came to her daughter's attire. There was no way on God's earth, she assured him, that she would allow Madeline to wear white. “It would be the height of hypocrisy,” Agnes said firmly. “Madeline has forfeited that right.”
Logan met her gaze without blinking. “Madeline was innocent when I met her. She's entitled to wear white during our wedding.”
“Not when you take your vows before God, with Madeline dressed in the color of purity. It would be blasphemous. I wouldn't be surprised if a bolt of lightning pierced the roof!”
Logan's mouth twisted sardonically. “Although I don't claim to be a religious man, I suspect that the Lord has other things to worry about besides the color of Maddy's gown.”
“Maddy,” Agnes repeated, shaking her head in distaste at the nickname. “I'll thank you not to call my daughter by a name that sounds appropriate for a barmaid—”
“Mother,” Justine interrupted, placing a restraining hand on Agnes's narrow shoulder. Agnes subsided, her expression as dark as a thundercloud.
Madeline gathered her nerve and touched Logan's shoulder lightly. “Please,” she said, her voice soft. “Mother is right…I shouldn't wear white.”
Although it was clear that Logan would have liked to argue, he scowled and made no reply, letting his silence serve as assent.
“Thank you,” Madeline said, relief washing over her.
“I don't give a damn if you go through the ceremony stark naked,” he muttered. “I'd like the damned thing to be over with, so I can get on with my work.”
Overhearing the comment, Agnes stiffened and glared at Logan, while Justine sought to calm her yet again.
Madeline's gaze fell to her lap. She understood Logan's impatience, knowing that the Capital would always take precedence over everything else in his life. No mere person would ever surpass his beloved theater.
With the matter of the wedding attire agreed upon, the conversation was quickly resolved, and Logan took his leave. After his departure, the mixture of nerves and exhilaration that had seized Madeline began to fade. Feeling slightly depressed, she returned to her room to continue packing, and Justine accompanied her.
“What an extraordinary man!” Justine exclaimed as soon as the bedroom door was closed. “Such a presence—and those blue eyes! However, it's the voice that I find most remarkable. I think he could seduce any woman with that voice—even if he were reciting mathematical equations!”
As she listened to her sister's admiring comments, Madeline was aware of an inward flicker of pride. Justine had always treated her with a mixture of affection and condescension. Now, for the first time, there was an envious tone in Justine's voice.
“What a little minx you turned out to be,” Justine said. “Neither Althea nor I could believe it when we heard that you'd run away from school and had an affair with Logan Scott. I think it's delicious. Of course, it is a pity that you're marrying a man so far beneath you.”
Madeline stiffened. “I don't consider him beneath me in any way.”
“That's the right spirit. You must go on as if you're not even aware of his low birth.” Justine leaned forward, her eyes filled with keen interest. “Scott seems a very virile man. I suppose he was very masterful? Do tell me what it was like, Madeline!”
“I couldn't,” Madeline protested, startled by the request. “That's private.”
“But I'm your sister—you can confide anything in me. Now tell me about Mr. Scott, and in return I'll tell you anything you wish to know about Lord Bagworth.”
Madeline pictured Justine's short, round-faced husband and began to smile. “Justine…forgive me, but that's hardly an inducement.”
“Well.” Her older sister sat back and gave her a look of annoyance. “Lord Bagworth may not be as dashing as Mr. Scott, but he has entrees in society that far surpass your husband's.”
“I'm sure you're right,” Madeline replied, suppressing a laugh. She had not expected such a reaction from her sister. Justine had always been so satisfied, even smug, about landing a titled husband with an expansive country estate, a fine London home, and a score of servants to attend her. But Logan Scott had even greater wealth—and as Justine had admitted, he was very dashing. Madeline didn't care that he hadn't even a drop of blue blood in his veins. Logan was the most fascinating and accomplished man she had ever met, and she could ask for no worthier husband. In fact, she only hoped that she could become worthy of him.
They were married a week later in Logan's drawing room, with its richly colored paintings and shining parquet floor. Madeline was vaguely conscious of her family standing behind them: her parents, her sister Justine, and Lord Bagworth.
The only people Logan had invited to the ceremony were the Duke and Duchess of Leeds, and, strangely, Mrs. Florence. It puzzled Madeline that Logan had desired the elderly woman's presence at his wedding, when he had never met her until recently. They treated each other with polite wariness, but Madeline sensed that they shared some secret that no one else was privileged to know. Perhaps she would find out later what confidence had occurred between them, and why they each seemed to have some greater knowledge of the situation than anyone else present.
In response to the clergyman's inquiries, Logan spoke in monosyllables. His face was hard, yet composed—the look of an actor expertly masking his emotions. Madeline was certain that Logan's pride was revolted by the entire situation. He had never dreamed that he would someday be compelled to marry a woman he actively resented—but she had inadvertently forced him to this. Truly, she had intended to bear the responsibility for the baby alone…but in some part of her heart, she had known that Logan wouldn't be able to ignore his child's existence, once he found out. Regret and shame made her eyes sting with unshed tears.
As the clergyman exhorted them to love and honor each other and guided them through the vows that would bind them eternally, Logan glanced at Madeline's face, and he saw her tears. His jaw tautened until the muscles twitched. They were pronounced man and wife, and he pressed a cool kiss against her lips to seal the ceremony.
Afterward, the guests sat down to an eight-course meal in the spectacular dining hall, a circular room lined with marble and gilded Corinthian columns. The ceiling was painted with a scene from The Tempest, with ornate sheaves of Italian plasterwork trailing down the walls.
Seated at the opposite end of the long table, Madeline could barely see her husband through the crystal and gold candelabra between them. It was clear that her relatives were amazed by the luxury and beauty of their surroundings. The atmosphere lightened considerably as expensive wines flowed into crystal glasses and platters of French cuisine were brought around.
Justine's husband, Lord Bagworth, exclaimed with pleasure over the selection of exquisite vintages. “I must say, Scott, for a man who never entertains at his own home, you play the role of host to perfection.”
Before Logan could reply, Madeline's mother chose that moment to look up from her gold-rimmed plate and comment acerbically, “One can only hope that Mr. Scott will perform the role of dutiful husband with equal skill.”
Spoken in a lighter tone, the remark could easily have been taken as a friendly jest—but Agnes's disapproval couldn't have been more clear.
Madeline tensed as she waited for Logan's reply. To her relief, he answered evenly. “I trust you'll have no complaints on that score, Lady Matthews—and neither will my wife.”
“No, indeed,” Madeline said. Since she had been quiet for most of the day, her remark caused many at the table to look at her in surprise. She continued in a meaningful tone. “I'm certain my mother meant that she believes her high expectations of you will be entirely justified, Mr. Scott.”
“I know what she meant,” Logan assured her, his blue eyes touched with a flicker of amusement, the first she had seen from him that day.
The meal concluded with a course of cheese, wine, and fruit, and then the men enjoyed glasses of port and thick cigars while the ladies withdrew for tea and conversation. The Duchess of Leeds took the opportunity to speak to Madeline privately, as they occupied chairs slightly removed from the others. It was the first time they had seen each other since Madeline had left the Capital.
“Congratulations, Maddy,” Julia said. “I hope you'll both find a great deal of happiness in your marriage.”
Madeline responded with a wan smile. “Considering how it began, I don't see how that will be possible.”
Julia clucked in sympathy. “Yours isn't the first marriage to begin under less-than-perfect circumstances—nor will it be the last. I believe that having a wife and child will benefit Logan in ways he doesn't begin to suspect.”
“He'll never forgive me for what I did,” Madeline said. “And I don't blame him.”
“Nonsense. I'm certain you must realize that Logan still loves you, Maddy. It's only that he's afraid to trust you again. I hope you'll be patient with him. I don't expect it will be easy. He's stubborn enough to try a saint, you know.” Her manner became brisk and encouraging as she continued. “I don't know if Logan has told you yet, but he has asked me to help you plan a ball, to be held no later than a month from now.”
“To show you off to all of London, of course.”
Madeline was dismayed, the blood draining from her face. “But everyone will be looking at me and whispering—”
“It doesn't matter what they say,” Julia assured her. “Believe me, I've been the subject of gossip and rumors for years, and now that you are married to a man as well-known as Logan, so will you. You'll become accustomed to it after a while.”
Mrs. Florence approached them and seated herself, declining Julia's offer of assistance. She looked queenly in a dark-blue gown trimmed in tiers of lace, with ropes of heavy pearls twined around her throat and wrists. They exchanged a few pleasant remarks about the service, as well as the splendor of Logan's estate.
“Actors are notoriously helpless when it comes to financial matters,” Mrs. Florence remarked, glancing at their luxurious surroundings with an inexplicable flash of pride. “It seems your husband is an exception to that rule, Maddy. You're a very fortunate woman.”
“I'm fortunate for many reasons,” Madeline replied with a forced smile that didn't deceive her two companions.
“Yes, you are,” Mrs. Florence said softly, the lines at the corners of her eyes deepening in affectionate amusement. “And this will all become easier in time, child. I promise you that.”
Madeline took a deep breath and relaxed a little. Strange, that the two were able to give her the comfort that her own mother and sister hadn't even attempted to offer. Impulsively her hand sought Mrs. Florence's. “Thank you for coming to my wedding, ma'am. Your presence has made the day easier for me.”
“I must say, I wouldn't have missed your wedding to Mr. Scott for all the world. You've opened many doors for me, child, ones I'm certain you can't even begin to guess.” Mrs. Florence seemed pleased by the younger women's puzzled expressions.
“What doors?” Julia asked, and laughed as she shook an admonishing finger at her friend. “You look like a cat who found the cream-pot. I must know why.”
“Perhaps someday,” came the placid reply. Mrs. Florence would say no more after that; she only drank a cup of tea and continued to glance around the room with obvious satisfaction.
Madeline wasn't conscious of when the guests departed, only that they seemed to drift away until there was no one left but servants efficiently whisking away all traces of the wedding…and Logan, who was disturbingly matter-of-fact about her presence in his home. Leisurely he sat at the dining table and finished a cigar, stretching out his legs. Madeline occupied a chair nearby, still dressed in her wedding attire, a pale pink gown adorned at the throat and waist with roses of a deeper shade.
Were it not for her strained nerves, she would have enjoyed sitting there with the earthy scent of his cigar drifting to her. The house was blessedly quiet now, and the ordeal of making small talk was over. However, there was another ordeal yet to come, and when or if it would happen was completely up to Logan.
His gaze moved over her with detached interest, in the same way he might regard a painting or sculpture. Madeline felt certain that Julia's assurance that he still loved her was completely untrue. No man could look at a woman he loved as if she were merely a belonging that he could pick up or set aside at will. She thought up a hundred different conversational openings and discarded each one. How odd, that the silences between them had once been so comfortable, when now they were so stiff and strained.
“A room has been prepared for you,” Logan finally said, flicking the tip of the cigar into a molded bronze dish. “Have one of the servants show you upstairs.”
“Then we won't be sharing—”
“No. We'll occupy separate rooms. As you know, I tend to come and go at unconventional hours. I won't disturb your rest if we sleep in different beds.”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com