True, he hadn't seemed overly eager to bed her…but she wasn't finished yet. She would wear him down with her persistence. She would devote every minute of every day to making herself indispensable to him. She would become whatever he wanted in a woman.

Thoughtfully Madeline went toward the wing, where broken china lay scattered next to the overturned prop table. There was probably endless work to be done at the Capital Theatre. She wondered if there was someone else she could approach about a job. After straightening the table, she began to pick up a few shards of china.

A woman's light, melodious voice drifted to her from a few yards away. “Be careful, child. You'll cut yourself. I'll have someone sweep that up later.”

Madeline placed the china on the table and turned to behold a golden-haired woman several years older than herself. The woman was stunningly beautiful, with an aristocratic face, blue-green eyes, and a warm smile. She was also several months pregnant. “Hello,” Madeline said, approaching her curiously. “Are you an actress?”

“I have been in the past,” the woman admitted readily. “However, I'm currently limited to the position of comanager, until after the baby's birth.”

“Oh…” Madeline's eyes widened as she realized that the woman could only be the Duchess of Leeds, the well-known actress who had been paired on stage with Mr. Scott in everything from lighthearted comedy to Shakespearean tragedy. Although the Duke of Leeds was reputedly quite wealthy, he apparently did not choose to stand in the way of his wife's love of the theater and her flourishing career. “Your Grace, it's an honor to make your acquaintance. Please forgive the trouble I've caused—”

“I wouldn't worry,” the duchess reassured her. “Accidents happen all the time around here.” She stared at Madeline speculatively. “I believe I overheard you asking Mr. Scott for employment.”

“Yes, Your Grace.” Madeline blushed, wondering what else the woman had overheard, but her expression was bland and guileless.

“Come with me to my office…what is your name?”

“Madeline Ridley.”

“Well, Madeline, you're not the usual kind of girl who comes looking for work in the theater district. Well-dressed, obviously educated…have you run away from home, child?”

“Oh, no,” Madeline said. It wasn't strictly a lie, since she had run away from school, not home, but she still felt uncomfortable at the deception. She struggled to word her reply carefully. “Circumstances have made it necessary for me to find work somewhere…and I hoped it could be here.”

“Why the Capital?” the duchess asked, leading her backstage to the administrative offices.

“I've always had an interest in the theater, and I've heard and read a great deal about the Capital. I've never actually attended a play.”

“Never?” The woman seemed astonished by the idea.

“Only amateur productions at school.”

“Have you aspirations to be an actress?”

Madeline shook her head. “I'm certain I have no theatrical talent, and I wouldn't like to perform in front of anyone. The very thought makes my knees weak.”

“A pity,” the duchess commented, entering a small office containing a gleaming mahogany desk piled high with folios and notices. Boxes filled with books and papers lined the wall. “A girl with a face like yours would be quite a draw for the Capital.”

Madeline blinked in confusion at the compliment. She had always considered herself to be moderately attractive, but nothing more. There were many girls with better figures than her slender, modestly endowed one…girls with far more striking features than her light-brown eyes and honey-brown hair. Her mother, Agnes, had always said that her eldest daughter, Justine, was the beauty of the family, whereas Althea was the most clever. Madeline, the youngest, had no special distinction.

Madeline had always been aware that she should have been a boy. Childbirth was difficult for Agnes, and the doctor had made it clear that her third baby would be her last. In spite of willing the child to be a son, Agnes had experienced the greatest disappointment of her life when a third daughter had appeared. Madeline had always felt that it was her fault. If only she had possessed some extraordinary gift that might have made her parents glad to have her…but so far she had been very ordinary.

The duchess gestured for Madeline to sit in a chair near hers. “Tell me what skills you possess, and I'll consider the matter of your employment.”

They talked for a few minutes while a tea tray was brought from the greenroom. The duchess spoke quickly and smiled often, her boundless energy contagious. It would have been easy for a woman of her celebrity to intimidate others, but instead she was warm and unaffected. In Madeline's sheltered life, she had never met a woman like the Duchess of Leeds. There had only been her mother, and the teachers at school with their lectures on propriety, and her friends who knew no more of the world than she.

“Madeline,” the duchess said, “you can see from my condition that I'll be limited in my activities during the coming months. I would like an assistant to fetch and deliver things for me, and keep my office neat…there are so many tasks that no one ever seems to have time for. Your skill at needlework may also be useful to Mrs. Lyttleton, the woman in charge of creating and maintaining costumes. And although Mr. Scott steadfastly denies it, we have needed someone to reorganize the theater library for years.”

“I could do all of that and more!”

The duchess laughed at her enthusiasm. “Very well. Consider yourself part of the company.”

Madeline's gasp of pleasure was cut short by the thought of Mr. Scott's reaction when he discovered her working there. “Won't Mr. Scott object?”

“I'll discuss the matter with him. I'm perfectly within my rights to hire anyone I like. If you encounter problems with Mr. Scott or anyone else, come to me.”

“Yes, ma'am. That is…Your Grace.”

There was a flicker of laughter in the duchess's blue-green eyes. “Don't let the title intimidate you, child. In spite of my position outside the Capital, here I'm only an assistant manager, and Mr. Scott reigns supreme.”

Madeline had never heard of such an unorthodox arrangement: a noblewoman actually working in the theater. The worlds of the aristocracy and the theater were irreconcilable. She wondered how the duchess managed to traverse them.

The duchess laughed, reading her thoughts. “Most of my peers believe I do an injustice to my rank by continuing my work here. The duke, bless him, would be quite happy for me to leave the theater, but he understands that I couldn't do without it.”

“If I may ask, Your Grace…how long have you worked at the Capital?”

“It's been five or six years now.” The duchess's face softened in reflection. “How elated I was when Logan hired me to be a member of the company! Every actor and actress in London wanted to be trained by him. He had developed a more natural style of acting than had ever been practiced before—now it's widely imitated, but then it was extraordinary.”

“Mr. Scott has quite a presence,” Madeline commented.

“And he knows it,” the other woman rejoined wryly. She poured more tea into Madeline's cup and gave her a speculative glance. “There is something I should warn you about. Most of the women who work at the Capital sooner or later imagine themselves in love with Logan. I advise you not to fall prey to the same temptation.”

Madeline's cheeks burned. “I suppose it would only be natural…a man with his looks…”

“It's not only his looks. There is a remoteness about him that excites women—each imagines that she can be the one to finally make him fall in love. However, the theater means more to Logan than any real person ever could. Of course, there is a constant parade of women through Logan's life. But never an affair of the heart.”

That would certainly make things convenient. If Madeline's plan succeeded, she could sleep with Mr. Scott and leave with no emotional entanglement.

“Enough about Logan,” the duchess said briskly, interrupting Madeline's thoughts. “Tell me, child…have you found lodgings yet? If not, I can recommend a place for you to stay.”

“I would appreciate that, Your Grace.”

“I have a friend, an elderly woman who was once a well-known actress. She lives alone in a fine house on Somerset Street, but she takes in boarders occasionally. She likes to have young people around her, and it is quite entertaining to hear her reminisce about the past. I'm certain she'll let a room to you for a small weekly sum.”

“That sounds perfect.” Madeline flashed her a smile. “Thank you.”

A troubled expression crossed the woman's face. “I try not to pry into other people's concerns, but it's clear that you don't belong here, Madeline.”

She was silent, uncertain how to reply. She lowered her gaze to avoid looking into the duchess's perceptive eyes.

“You're not very good at hiding your feelings,” the other woman remarked. “If you're in some kind of trouble, child…I hope you'll decide to confide in me. I may be able to help.”

“I can't think why you would be so kind to a stranger,” Madeline said.

“You seem so very alone,” the duchess murmured. “There were times in my past when I felt that way. No matter what you're running from, the situation may not be as dire as it seems.”

Madeline nodded, although she had no intention of confiding in anyone. After thanking the duchess sincerely, Madeline left the heater and summoned a hack to take her to Somerset Street.

Mrs. Nell Florence was an elderly woman with silvery-peach hair that must have been a vivid shade of red in her youth. Her skin was pale and gently worn by time, her bone structure elegant. She seemed warm and kind, with a charming touch of vanity.

“So my dear Julia sent you to me, did she?” Mrs. Florence asked, welcoming Madeline into her home. “I'm certain we'll get along famously. You're an actress, I take it? No? I can't imagine that, not with a face like yours. If I'd possessed half such beauty when I was your age…but then, I did quite well with what I had.”

Busily she showed Madeline around the two-story house, each room filled with mementos from her acting career. “I was the toast of London,” Mrs. Florence declared, taking her past a wall of portraits done some thirty years earlier. Each painting depicted her in a different pose or costume, some of them shockingly revealing. She seemed to take great satisfaction in Madeline's blush. “You're an easy one to read, aren't you? What a refreshing quality.”

Intrigued by the collection of memorabilia, Madeline inspected framed play notices, engravings, and colored fashion plates of old costumes. “How wonderful, to have led such a life!” she exclaimed.

“I've had my ups and downs,” Mrs. Florence said. “And I've enjoyed all of it. Never regret anything, that's my advice. Come, I'll show you the room you'll be staying in, and then we'll have a long talk. You must tell me everything about yourself.”

Madeline had never before realized how obvious her thoughts were. It seemed that Mrs. Florence could read them as easily as Julia did. “Ah,” she said, regarding Madeline's face. “You don't want to discuss your past, I see. Well, we can find other things to talk about.”

Madeline was gratified by the elderly woman's understanding. “Thank you, Mrs. Florence,” she said, accompanying her on the rest of the tour.

After unpacking her few belongings, Madeline changed into a dove-gray wool gown trimmed with plum cording. She was going to the theater tonight, to see Logan Scott on stage and decide for herself if he was as talented as everyone claimed. Standing before the mirror, she finished fastening her gown…and frowned at the result.

While the garment was well made, the style was all wrong, modest and practical with a primly high neckline. How was she going to seduce any man, least of all Mr. Scott, without some alluring clothes? Wistfully Madeline smoothed her hands over her figure. If only she had a beautiful gown made of silk and lace flounces, and slippers trimmed in pearls, and fresh flowers for her hair.…

After brushing out her long golden-brown hair, she coiled and pinned it carefully on top of her head. She wished she had curling irons, to make artful wisps dangle against her temples and cheeks. “Not even a drop of perfume,” she said, shaking her head ruefully.

After a few moments, however, her naturally high spirits asserted themselves. She would solve such problems later. Tonight she had only one thing to accomplish, and that was to see her first London play.

The Duchess of Leeds was kind enough to show Madeline to a place in the wings where she could stay and watch the play. “You'll be all right here,” she said to Madeline. “Just make certain you keep out of everyone's way. They'll be rushing through scene and costume changes—you wouldn't want anyone to trip over you.”

Obediently Madeline shrank to the side and found that she could see most of the action onstage, albeit from an odd angle. The play, called A Lover Denied, was preceded by a musical performance and a one-act farce that sent ripples of laughter rolling through the audience. The curtains were drawn, and set pieces, flats, and people flew across the stage in apparent chaos. Miraculously everything fell into place in less than a minute. Two young men near Madeline pulled expertly at ropes and pulleys, and the curtains opened to reveal the beautifully crafted interior of a London mansion.

Applause and exclamations of pleasure emanated from the audience at the sight of the display. Then two characters, a husband and wife, began to discuss a list of suitors for their marriageable daughter. Madeline was enthralled as she watched the story unfold. She felt acute sympathy for the heroine, an ingenue who was being prevented from marrying her childhood sweetheart and instead was betrothed to a villainous man who refused to relinquish her to the arms of her true love.

To Madeline's surprise, Logan Scott had not been cast as the girl's true love, but as the villain of the piece. The moment he strode onstage, an electric thrill shot through the audience. Like everyone else, Madeline was riveted by his self-assurance, the threatening charm of his character. He wanted the girl for himself, and not even her love for another man would stand in his way.

To Madeline, each minute that passed was a revelation. She stood silently in the wings, her fingers gripped in a fold of velvet curtain, her heart pounding so hard that she could feel it down to her toes. Each time Mr. Scott spoke, she could barely breathe. He inhabited the character with ease, conveying the man's selfishness and intense longing. Like the rest of the audience, Madeline began to hope that he might win the innocent girl's love.

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