Logan took his gaze from the empty doorway and sent Andrew a glance rife with hatred. “If you laid one filthy finger on her—”

“My God,” Andrew said, shaking his head, “you can't possibly think I'm capable of seducing your wife—or any woman, for that matter—in this condition. I have more pressing matters to worry about. Besides, she wouldn't tolerate my advances. She's not like Olivia.”

“I'll kill you if I ever find you alone with her again.”

“You're a bigger fool than I am,” Andrew observed, sitting and rubbing his aching head. “I didn't think it possible, but you are. You've actually found a woman who loves you, though I can't fathom how or why, and you have no damn idea of how to react.”

Logan regarded him icily. “You're drunk, Andrew.”

“Of course I am. It's the only time I can bring myself to tell the truth.”

“I'll be damned if I'll discuss my wife with you.”

“You're damned anyway, brother—you're a Drake. Eventually you'll manage to drive away everyone who cares about you. The Drakes are solitary creatures. We destroy anyone who dares to get too close. We have contempt for the poor idiots who try to love us. It happened to your mother, and it's happening now to your wife.”

Logan stared at his half brother in stunned silence. Denial seethed inside him. “I'm not like him,” he said in a raw whisper.

“How many people have you sacrificed because of your ambition? How many have you kept at arm's length until they drifted away? You've convinced yourself that you're more comfortable alone. Life is damned safe and convenient that way, isn't it? You've been cursed with an amazing autonomy, Jimmy—just like Rochester and me.” He smiled bleakly at whatever it was he saw in Logan's eyes. “Do you want to hear something strange? She asked me to help you.”

“Help me?” Logan heard himself ask incredulously. “I'm not the one who needs help.”

“That's a debatable point,” Andrew mocked, laboring to produce a smile. “Let's talk in the morning, brother…I'm damned exhausted and drunk. In the meanwhile, you might consider going to your wife and begging her not to leave you.”

Fifteen

Logan wandered to his private suite in a daze, feeling as if his safe, comfortable world had been turned upside down. There had been too many surprises of late…the news of his own impending fatherhood, the discovery that he was Rochester's bastard, Andrew's death and subsequent reappearance. Nothing but such an onslaught would have been able to break his defenses. In the middle of it all, only one thing had remained steady and unchanging. Madeline…generous, affectionate, resilient, showing him in every way possible that she loved him.

He needed her, but he could hardly bear to admit it, even to himself. Madeline would have to content herself with what he could give, and not ask for more. Summoning his reserves of weary determination, he entered the bedroom. He found his wife sitting on the edge of the mattress, her small hand clasped to her stomach. The odd expression on her face made his heart lurch in sudden panic.

“What is it?” he asked, coming to her swiftly.

“I felt the baby move,” she said in wonder.

Startled, Logan could only stand and stare at her. His fingers twitched at his side, and suddenly he wanted badly to touch her, to feel the minute vibrations of his child moving within her. The effort of holding back caused a tremor to run through him, a barely perceptible shiver.

The softness left Madeline's face, and she rose from the bed. She went to the armoire, and it was then that he saw the valise she had pulled from the lower shelf.

“What is that for?” he asked sharply.

Her voice was taut and low. “I've decided I don't want to live here anymore.”

Incredulous anger surged through him, and he replied with jeering softness. “You don't have a choice, madam.”

“Yes, I do. Unless you physically restrain me, you have no way of keeping me here.”

“I had no idea this was so unpleasant for you,” he said, gesturing to their luxurious surroundings. “If you haven't been happy, you've given a damned convincing imitation.”

“You seem to have a way of making me happy and miserable at the same time.” Madeline pulled out a pair of gloves, an armload of linens, and a lace scarf, jamming the articles into the valise. “Obviously I've been a terrible inconvenience to you. However, once I learn to stop loving you, everything will be much easier for both of us.”

Logan strode to her and stood in front of the armoire. “Maddy,” he said gruffly, “I shouldn't have snapped at you earlier. I was worried about you. Now set that thing aside and come to bed.”

She shook her head, her eyes prickling with impatient tears. “I've finally given up, Logan. You'll never stop punishing me for having hurt you. You wait for every opportunity to show me that you can walk away without a backward glance—you've made your point often enough. I admit I've been a fool for hoping you might change. Now all I want is to get away from you and find some peace.”

Her quiet stubbornness infuriated him. “Dammit, you're not going anywhere.” He took hold of her shoulders and was shocked to feel the quick sting of her hand on his cheek. She had slapped him.

“Let go of me,” she said, breathing fast and glaring at him.

It was as unexpected as being bitten by a butterfly. Bewildered, outraged, Logan bent his head to kiss her, trying to soften her the only way he knew how. Instead of offering her usual sweet response, she was stiff in his arms, her mouth cold beneath his. For the first time he discovered the streak of iron that Madeline hadn't revealed until now. Staring at the small, unyielding stranger before him, he let his hands fall away.

“What the hell do you want from me?” he asked roughly.

“I would like the answers to a few questions.” Her amber eyes searched his. “Was it true, what you said this afternoon? That my only value is the baby I'm carrying?”

He felt his face darken with a flush. “I was angry with you for putting yourself in danger.”

“Did you marry me only because of the baby?” she persisted.

Logan felt as if she were systematically chipping away at him, weakening his foundations with the intention of making him crumble. “Yes, I…no. I still wanted you.”

“And still loved me?” she half-whispered.

Logan scrubbed his hands through his hair until it was in wild disarray. “Dammit, I won't discuss this.”

“All right.” Calmly she turned away and resumed packing.

Logan made an infuriated sound and took hold of her from behind, ignoring the way she stiffened. He breathed in her scent, rubbing his mouth at the nape of her neck. His raw voice was muffled in her flowing hair. “I don't want to lose you, Maddy.”

She strained to break free. “But you don't want to love me, either.”

He released her abruptly and paced in the room like a caged wild animal.

“You said it to me once,” Madeline burst out angrily. “Why is it so impossible now? Are you really so cold and unforgiving?”

He stopped, facing away from her, and replied in a tortured voice. “I forgave you a long time ago. I understood why you did what you did. Part of me even admired you for it.”

“Then why are there still walls between us?” she asked with incredulous despair.

A shudder moved across his shoulders. Madeline bit her lip, waiting, sensing that if she were quiet she might hear the words that would bring her understanding.

“You know that I love you,” he said hoarsely. “Everyone knows it. No matter what I do, I can't stop it.” He went to the window and flattened his hands on the cold, icy glass, staring fiercely at the wintry garden outside. “But I can't let it happen again. There will be nothing left of me if I lose you this time.”

“But you won't lose me,” she said in pained confusion. “Logan, you must believe that!”

Logan shook his head. “Rochester told me…” He paused and swallowed convulsively. “My mother died while giving birth to me. I was too large—her death was my fault.”

Madeline made a sound of protest. “My God, how can you believe that?”

“It's a fact,” he said doggedly. “It was my fault. And I can't take any joy in our baby when I think about how it might…” He couldn't finish the sentence. There was no need.

“You're afraid that I won't survive the birth,” Madeline said, her features wiped clean with astonishment. “Is that what you're trying to say?”

“Any child of mine is bound to be large…and you…”

“I'm not so frail as that,” she said, staring up at his shadowed face. “Logan, look at me! I promise that nothing will happen to me or the babe.”

“You can't make such a promise,” he said roughly.

Madeline opened her mouth to argue but suddenly recalled that her own mother had experienced many problems with childbirth. Logan was right—she couldn't guarantee that everything would be all right. “What if your fears are justified and the worst happens?” she asked. “Will it be any easier, having kept yourself apart from me?”

He turned to look at her then, his face tormented, his blue eyes shimmering with moisture. “Damn you, I don't know.”

“Aren't you ever tired of keeping yourself separate from everyone?” she murmured, staring at him with love and compassion. “Come to me, Logan. We have each other. There's no need for either of us to be lonely.”

The words were his undoing. His stiff jaw trembled, and he reached her in a few strides, wrapping her in a painfully tight embrace. “I can't live without you,” he said, his voice muffled.

“You won't have to.” She clenched her fingers in his hair and kissed his damp cheek, while her body went weak with overwhelming relief.

Logan shuddered, and his hard mouth found hers in a bruising kiss that seemed to last forever. “You'll stay?” he asked.

“Yes, yes…” Her lips sought his, clinging sweetly, and he groaned with aching desire.

He would take the risk of loving her. It wasn't as if he had a choice, anyway. Carrying her to the bed, he undressed them both and made love to her with wild tenderness, trembling with the effort to be gentle.

Afterward, Madeline lay replete in his arms, too weary to move as she felt Logan rise on his elbow to look down at her. He bent and pressed his mouth to her stomach, a gesture of hard-won hope that made her eyes sting with the piercing joy she felt. “It will be all right,” Madeline whispered, pulling his head to hers. “Trust me.” And she kissed him while her heart brimmed with love.

Epilogue

The labor had lasted ten hours so far. Having been banished from the bedroom where Madeline was giving birth to their child, Logan sat in the private family parlor nearby, gripping his skull more tightly with each indistinct sound that came through the door. He took some comfort in the fact that Julia was in there with Madeline, lending encouragement and friendship, as well as being available to assist the doctor and midwife. But nothing pierced the haze of worry that surrounded him.

He had stayed with Madeline for the first few hours, the sight of her pain unnerving him unbearably, until Dr. Brooke had ordered him from the room. “I suggest that you find a bottle of brandy,” Brooke had told him with a reassuring smile. “This may take several hours yet.”

Logan had downed half a bottle so far, and there was no relief from the gnawing fear inside him. He couldn't stand the memory of his wife in pain, the way she gripped a knotted rag during each contraction, the way she had bitten her lips until they were bruised—

“Good God, Jimmy.” Andrew walked into the parlor and sat beside him, smiling quizzically. “You're not holding up very well, are you?”

Logan sent him a wretched glare.

“How strange,” Andrew commented lightly, “that for once I'm the sober one, while you're half-seas under.” During the past few months Andrew had curtailed his drinking to an occasional glass of wine. The alcoholic ruddiness had left his cheeks, and he had dropped a great deal of weight, looking fit and lean for the first time since his teenaged years. He had also given up gambling and had arranged to pay back his debts, with interest. It even seemed that he had managed to build a new, closer relationship with Rochester, who had softened a bit since the scare of his son's “death.”

“I'm not drunk enough yet,” Logan muttered, flinching as he heard a smothered cry from within the room.

Andrew looked uncomfortably at the door. “You're wound as tight as a watch,” he said. “Cheer up, Jimmy. Women survive this sort of thing every day. Why don't you come downstairs with me? I don't mind telling you that I'm tired of trying to make small talk with your in-laws, respectable souls that they are. You should distract yourself by playing host for a little while.”

“I'd rather crawl through an acre of broken glass.”

A wry, wondering smile crossed Andrew's face. “The great Logan Scott, wearing his heart on his sleeve. That's a sight I never expected to see.”

Logan was too miserable to reply. He lifted his gaze to the portrait on the wall, the Orsini painting of Madeline that had earned adulation and rapturous reviews from every notable critic in London. The artist had portrayed her seated before a window, an elbow resting lightly on a walnut table as she stared dreamily into the distance. The white gown she wore was circumspect, except for a sleeve that dipped coyly to reveal the curve of one pale shoulder.

By painting Madeline in profile, Orsini had revealed the delicate purity of her features, yet he had given the bare length of her throat, arms, and shoulder a lush quality that made the viewer aware of the velvety texture of her skin. The portrait was a disturbing study in contrasts: innocent yet sensuous, her face serene and her eye touched with a mischievous glint…Madeline as a fallen angel.

“Lovely,” Andrew remarked, following Logan's gaze. “One would never suspect from looking at this painting that she can be as stubborn as a goat.” He smiled at Logan. “She'll pull through this in good form, Jimmy. If I were still a betting man, I'd put all my chips on it.”

Logan nodded slightly, his gaze locked on the painting. The past few months had been filled with the most intense happiness he had ever known. Madeline had become everything to him, filling every empty space in his life, banishing all the bitterness and pain and replacing them with joy. As much as he had loved her before, it was nothing compared to now. He would have walked through hell to spare her one moment's suffering. The knowledge that she had to endure the agony of childbirth alone, that he could do nothing for her, was driving him mad.

***

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

***