Mr. Scott remained onstage for most of the first act, manipulating, bargaining, driving wedges between the two lovers until it seemed that true love would never have its way. “What happens in the end?” Madeline couldn't help whispering to a scene-mover who had stopped next to her. “Does Mr. Scott marry her, or does he let her go to the other man?”

The sceneshifter grinned as he saw the rapt attention Madeline paid to the action onstage. “I can't tell you,” he informed her. “Wouldn't dream of spoiling the surprise.”

Before she could entreat him again, the first act concluded and it was time for intermission. Madeline skittered to the side as the curtain was dropped. A troupe of dancers filed onstage to entertain the audience until the second half of the play began.

Wistfully Madeline waited in the semidarkness, hidden behind the edge of velvet curtain. It would seem an eternity until the play resumed. Anticipation filled her, and she was conscious of a tingle of happiness. There was no other place she would rather be than here, breathing in the scents of sweat and paint, and the acrid smell of calcium lights.

A large, dark shape moved past her, a man striding from the stage to the cluster of dressing rooms. Their shoulders brushed as he walked by, and his steps slowed. He stopped and lifted his hand to the place where they had touched. Slowly he turned to look at her. Their gazes met, and Madeline felt a throb of alarm in the pit of her stomach. It was Mr. Scott.

A shimmer of perspiration highlighted every angle of his face. Although the color of his eyes was muted in the shadows, the glitter of dawning anger was unmistakable. “You…” he said. “What the hell are you doing in my theater?”

No one had ever cursed at her before. Surprise made her slow to reply. “Mr. Scott…I can see that Her Grace hasn't yet spoken to you about me.…”

“I told you there was nothing for you here.”

“Yes, sir, but the duchess didn't agree. She hired me as her assistant—”

“You're dismissed,” he snapped, coming forward until he loomed over her.

She could smell the sweat on his skin and the damp linen of his shirt. It was not at all unpleasant…it was fascinating. He made the other men she had known in her life seem like soft, tame creatures.

“No, sir,” she said, hardly believing she had dared to refuse him.

There was a brief silence. “No?” he repeated in a thick voice, as if the word had never been said to him before.

“The duchess said that she could hire me if she pleased, and that if you objected, I should come to her.”

An unpleasant laugh came from his throat. “Did she? I'd like to know who owns this damned theater! Come with me.” He took her upper arm in a punishing grip.

Stumbling, gasping, Madeline was pulled toward his dressing room. Her ears were assaulted by his muttered curses. “Sir…I would appreciate it if you wouldn't use such words in my presence.”

“You come to my theater uninvited, cause an accident in the wings, go behind my back to plead for a job…and now give me a lecture on my manners?”

The door slammed shut, and they stood staring at each other—he with palpable fury, she with quiet stubbornness. She would not let him send her away from the Capital.

“I would have thought such language beneath a man like you,” Madeline said with extreme dignity.

Mr. Scott opened his mouth to reply, then muttered something under his breath.

In the small, brilliantly lit room, every detail of Mr. Scott's face was vivid. The bronze of his complexion made stage paint unnecessary. His gaze was so piercing that it almost hurt to look at him, and his wide jaw was granite-hard. “You've made a mistake, Miss Ridley. There's no room for you here.”

“Mr. Scott, if you're still offended by my clumsiness earlier, I'm sorry for that. I'll be quite careful from now on. Won't you give me another chance?”

Logan was infuriated by his own reaction to her. The memory of her had distracted him all day. The girl's appealing speech would have melted a glacier, but it only strengthened Logan's resolve. “It has nothing to do with this morning,” he said brusquely. “The fact is, you're not needed here.”

“But the duchess said there were many things I could help with…the costumes, the theater library—”

“Julia has a soft heart,” he interrupted. “You managed to take advantage of her. I'm not so easily manipulated.”

“I haven't manipulated anyone,” she protested.

A manservant arrived to help Logan change for the second act, bearing in his arms a fresh white linen shirt and vest. “George,” Logan acknowledged him curtly and began to unfasten his damp shirt. There were only a few minutes left before the second act commenced.

Madeline had never seen a man undressing before. As each button was released, more gleaming muscle was revealed. Shocked, she edged toward the door. “Mr. Scott, I…believe I should go now.…”

“You're going to leave the Capital?” he inquired coldly, shrugging out of the limp garment.

Hastily Madeline lowered her eyes, but the image of his broad, na*ed chest was permanently seared into her brain. “I will stay if the duchess allows it.”

“Then stay if you choose, but you'll pay for it. I'm going to make your life hell. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mr. Scott,” she whispered, fleeing the dressing room as he began to unfasten his trousers.

Logan paused as the door closed, willing his fierce arousal to recede. Tactfully George averted his eyes, scooping up the discarded shirt. “Will there be anything else you require, sir?” he murmured.

A bucket of ice-cold water would have been useful, not to mention a drink. But Logan shook his head and turned away, continuing to undress. The manservant straightened a few articles in the dressing room and left quietly.

Facing the mirror, Logan sighed, trying to bring his thoughts to the work ahead…but his mind was filled with the girl. Madeline.

Who was she, and why in God's name did she want to work at the Capital? She was obviously too well-bred for such a place—she had no business associating with the rough theater crowd. What had Julia been thinking to hire her? He dearly wished he could corner his comanager and wring an explanation from her, but there was no time. He had a performance to finish, and nothing was more important than giving the audience at the Capital exactly what it wanted.

Somehow Madeline made her way back to her vantage place in the wings. She put her hands to her hot cheeks, certain they had been branded a permanent scarlet. Had she been wrong to insist on remaining at the Capital in spite of Mr. Scott's displeasure? She was certain this was not the way to go about seducing a man.

Why did he dislike her? She had always found it easy to make friends. She supposed she was not the kind of woman Mr. Scott preferred. How difficult would it be to change his feelings toward her?…how long would it take? Troubled, she stared into the darkened backstage area, where actors waited patiently amidst the set pieces.

The curtain rose, and the story of the beleaguered young lovers resumed. It was a testament to Mr. Scott's talent that Madeline soon forgot everything but the character he played.

After an intricate maze of plot twists, the villain finally realized that even if he succeeded in marrying the beautiful girl, he would never win her love. Assuming the part of an anonymous benefactor, he helped them elope with each other, never letting them know that he was the one responsible for their happiness. Mr. Scott played the role without a touch of self-pity, never letting down the cynical mask he wore, but somehow his rigid control let the audience know that his heart was broken. The play's ending was satisfyingly bittersweet.

Hearty shouts and claps of enthusiasm filled the theater, persisting until the actors had returned to the stage to receive their due. Scott was greeted with the most applause, which he accepted with a faint smile and bow. The program for the next night was announced, and the curtain closed for the last time, despite the fact that the audience clamored for more.

Madeline took care to slip away before Mr. Scott saw her again. She caught sight of his dark head backstage just as he was surrounded by a crowd of admirers. They all wanted to be near him. Sighing, Madeline went to retrieve her coat from the duchess's office.

“Madeline.” She looked up to see the Duchess of Leeds. “Did you enjoy the play?”

Madeline struggled to find the right words. “Oh, it was the most wonderful thing I've ever experienced!”

“My goodness,” the duchess said, laughing at her enthusiasm.

“No wonder they call Mr. Scott a living legend. He…he…” Madeline paused, not knowing how to describe her reaction to him.

“Yes, I know,” the duchess replied, a smile remaining or her lips.

Madeline's exhilaration faded suddenly. “I'm afraid Mr. Scott saw me backstage tonight. He still objects to me. He made that very clear.”

Julia's brows lifted in surprise. “That isn't like him. He's never taken issue with anyone I've hired. I don't see why—” She broke off, staring at Madeline with a perplexed expression. “Don't worry, my dear. I'll meet with him tomorrow morning before rehearsal, and everything will be resolved.”

“I hope so, Your Grace.” Madeline paused. “I want to work at the Capital very badly.”

“Then you shall,” the duchess assured her. “Unless Mr. Scott can produce a very good reason to the contrary—and I expect that will be very unlikely.”

Two

Logan stood at the back of the Capital Theatre's carpentry shop and regarded the double flats critically. The newly constructed stage pieces, made of canvas stretched over ribbed timber frames, would soon be sent to the scene painters.

“We've never made ones this large before,” Logan commented to the pair of carpenters who had propped up the hinged flats for his inspection. “How will they be supported?”

“We thought it best to weight the braces in back,” the main carpenter, Robbie Cleary, replied. “That should keep them steady during the performances.”

Logan reached out with a broad hand to grasp a timber beam and test its sturdiness. “You'd better hook the back flat to a wooden rod and screw it to the floor. I don't want any chance of it falling on anyone. It's a damned heavy piece.”

Robbie nodded in agreement and walked behind the flat, surveying it closely. The double flats had been constructed so that the front piece could be collapsed under its own weight to provide a quick scene change, revealing the second painted flat just behind it. It was a tricky bit of work, requiring the right combination of skill and timing to avoid errors.

Standing back from the set of hinged flats, Logan rugged absently at the front of his hair. “Let's see how the first one collapses,” he said.

“All right, Mr. Scott,” Robbie said doubtfully. “Though I should warn ye, I've yet to test the procedure.”

“Now's as good a time as any.”

Jeff, the shopboy, darted forward to assist the carpenters, lending his slight weight to help hold the double flats in place.

“Let the front down,” Robbie instructed, and his assistants began to collapse the first scene.

Out of the corner of his eye, Logan saw someone enter the shop, a slender girl carrying a broom, a dustpan, and an armload of cleaning rags. The new girl, Logan realized with a pang of irritation. She seemed to be unaware of the demonstration taking place—and she was walking directly into the path of the collapsing flat. “Watch out, damn you!” Logan said sharply. She paused and looked at him with the inquiring eyes of a newborn fawn, while the timber frame toppled toward her.

Automatically Logan rushed forward and seized her, turning to shield her with his own body. The heavy flat landed on his injured shoulder, resulting in an explosion of pain that made him curse and stagger. For a moment he couldn't breathe. Somehow he managed to remain on his feet. He was dimly aware of Robbie and the others scurrying to lift the flat and drag it away, while the girl stepped back from him.

“Mr. Scott?” she asked in confusion. “Are you all right? I'm so terribly sorry.”

Logan shook his head slightly, his face white, his every bit of strength devoted to fighting back a tide of nausea. He would not disgrace himself by losing his breakfast in the middle of the carpentry shop. Always conscious of maintaining his authoritative image, he was never sick, never weak, and never indecisive in front of his employees.

“Oh, your shoulder,” Madeline exclaimed, staring at his shirt, where a few spots of blood from the reopened wound had begun to appear. “What can I do?”

“Stay away from me,” Logan muttered, finally winning his battle against the nausea. He took a deep, reviving breath. “Why in God's name are you here?”

“I was going to sweep up the wood scraps and shavings, and clean the carpenters' tools, and…is there something you would like me to do, sir?”

“Get out!” Logan snapped, a scowl pulling his face into harsh lines. “Before I throttle you.”

“Yes, sir,” she said in a subdued tone.

Any other girl in her position would probably have burst into tears. Grudgingly he gave her credit for keeping her composure. Everyone else at the Capital was terrified of his temper. Even Julia took care to give him a wide berth when he was in a foul mood.

Madeline glanced apologetically at Robbie. “I'm sorry, Mr. Cleary. I'll come back later to sweep the floor.”

“That's all right, lass.” The head carpenter waited until Madeline had left before turning to Logan. “Mr. Scott,” he said chidingly, “surely there was no need for ye to speak to the lass that way. She was trying to help.”

“She's a walking disaster.”

“But Mr. Scott,” Jeff, the shopboy, said, “Maddy only seems to have accidents when you're around. The rest of the time, she's just fine.”

“I don't care.” Logan held a hand to his shoulder, which burned like fire. His head throbbed and ached. “I want her out of here,” he muttered, and left the shop with determined strides.

He went to Julia's office, intending to vent his annoyance. It was her fault for insisting on hiring the girl—therefore it would be her responsibility to dismiss her. He found Julia at her desk, her face wreathed in a frown of concentration as she revised the weekly schedule. She glanced up at him, and her face turned blank with surprise.

“Logan, what happened? You look as though you'd just been trampled beneath a team of six.”

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