For the past several years Logan had acquired knowledge diligently, asking questions of artists and collectors, frequently traveling the Continent with virtuosi until he had developed his own sense of taste. The art gallery in his country mansion had become recognized as an important collection. Not only had he befriended most of the leading artists in London, but he was a patron of lesser-known painters who showed promise.
“I suppose you think that owning the Van Dyck makes you a cultured man,” Rochester had said the previous year, after Logan had outbid him at the auction.
“No, my lord,” Logan had replied, smiling at the earl's frosty annoyance. “Just a fortunate one.”
Rochester had struggled to find a scathing reply. “You've done quite well for someone who makes a spectacle of himself to entertain the masses.”
“It's called ‘acting,’” Logan had said gently, his smile remaining. Nothing had been able to diminish his triumph at acquiring the painting Rochester had wanted so badly.
The old man had snorted. “Actors, singers, circus performers…they're all the same to me.”
“Just why does my profession gall you so?” Logan had asked. “Would you prefer that I'd stayed on your land and become a farmer like my father?”
“Farming is a far more honorable occupation than performing on stage like a trained monkey.”
“But not nearly as profitable,” Logan had replied, going to collect his painting.
There had been few satisfactions in his life to compare with the knowledge that he had finally become a thorn in Rochester's side. It had been a long uphill climb, using his theater earnings to make some risky investments, some of which had paid off handsomely. Logan had educated himself about financial matters just as he had about art, though it had been considerably less interesting. The pursuit of money was unquestionably vulgar, bourgeois, but there was no other choice. The kind of life he wanted required a great deal of money, and he had steeled himself to ignore the disdain of aristocrats who had inherited their fortunes rather than earned them. Let Rochester sneer and call him a parvenu…the fact was, Logan owned the Van Dyck and any other damn painting he wanted.
Bringing his thoughts to the present, Logan rubbed the back of his neck and wandered out of the office. He headed toward the painter's shop, intending to inspect the latest work on a set of flats. The sound of voices drifted into the hallway, making him pause. One of them was unmistakably Andrew's, while the other…the feminine tone sent a ripple of sensation down his spine.
Logan felt his fingers curling until his fists were balled at his sides. He should have known that Andrew would take notice of Madeline Ridley if she were anywhere in the vicinity. It doesn't matter, he tried to tell himself, but suddenly he felt close to exploding. Following the sound of their voices to the library, he entered without knocking.
Andrew was leaning against a bookcase, talking affably while Madeline sorted through stacks of volumes on the library table. She looked very small in comparison to Andrew's height. Wisps of her golden-brown hair had come loose from their pins, falling against her face and throat. Standing before the worn books and dusty shelves, she seemed like a ray of light in the windowless room.
“Mr. Scott,” Madeline said with a smile, “I decided to begin an inventory of the library collection.”
Logan ignored her and focused a level gaze on Andrew. “I thought you were leaving.”
“I was…but then I happened upon this charming creature.” Andrew paused before adding, “She's not an actress, by the way.” It was a pointed reminder that Logan's edict had been to stay away from the Capital Theatre's actresses—not any of the other employees.
The desire to wrap his hands around Andrew's fleshy throat was very strong. “Let me make it clear. Don't go near anyone who works for me in any capacity. Do you understand?”
“Oh, I understand very well.” Andrew grinned at Logan. “Excuse me, I believe my presence is de trop.” As he made his exit, he murmured to Logan, “She's not in your usual style, is she?”
Logan didn't reply, only kept his gaze on Madeline. When Andrew had gone and all sound had faded, he spoke in a soft growl. “Go home, Miss Ridley.”
Madeline was puzzled and defensive. It seemed that once again she had unwittingly displeased him. “Mr. Scott, I didn't invite Lord Drake's attentions. He happened to see me as he passed the library, and he was Very courteous. His only intention was to assist me.”
A bright, cold flare appeared in Scott's blue eyes. “He was trying to assist you out of your clothes and into his bed. If you're too simpleminded to realize that, let me explain further. Lord Drake devours pretty young girls like you on a regular basis. You'll get nothing from him except a session of slap and tickle, and most likely a belly swollen with his bastard. If that's your desire, pursue it by all means—but you won't do so at my theater.”
Madeline flushed. “Why isn't it possible that he was merely being polite?”
“Because a girl like you doesn't inspire politeness in a man.” He put a stinging emphasis on the word.
Madeline stiffened and walked away from the library table, brushing by him as she headed to the door. “If you're saying that I've behaved in an improper manner—” She stopped with a gasp as he reached for her, his large hands seeming to burn through her sleeves. Roughly he pulled her to face him.
“I'm saying that when a man looks at you, he can't help thinking…”
He fell silent, staring at her for a long moment. Madeline swallowed, and his gaze flickered to the tiny movement. She wondered if he desired her, and what she should do to encourage him. Her heart skipped several beats as she realized that he was staring at her as if he intended to devour her just as he had accused Lord Drake of doing.
Her fingers trembled with the urge to touch his face, to explore the scratchy surface where his beard had begun to grow…the bold shape of his nose, the arches of his brows…the hard, wide mouth. She wanted to coax his lips to soften and press against hers…she wanted to lose herself in his arms.
Scott let go of her with a suddenness that nearly caused her to fall backward. His face turned blank. “Forgive me,” he said in a monotone. “My behavior was uncalled for.”
Madeline's knees were weak. There was a throbbing sensation in the pit of her stomach. She inched toward the table and gripped the side to keep herself steady. “I…” Her lips were strangely dry, and she moistened them before trying again. “I won't speak to Lord Drake again, Mr. Scott.”
“Do what you like,” he said flatly. “I have no right to object to your choice of companions.”
Bewildered, Madeline stared at his profile. One moment he had been in a fury, and the next he was completely indifferent. She must have done something wrong, missed some opportunity that a woman of more experience would have taken advantage of. As a seductress, she was an utter failure.
She waited for him to leave the room, but he was silent and unmoving. It appeared that every muscle of his body was tightly bunched. It seemed as if he were fighting some tremendous inner battle.
“Mr. Scott?” she asked softly. “If you don't mind…would you finish what you were going to say?”
His head turned. His searing blue eyes stared into hers.
“You said that when a man looks at me,” Madeline prompted, “he can't help thinking…”
The tension grew until Mr. Scott shook his head with a muffled laugh. “My God,” he muttered, striding from the room. “I'd like to know what I've done to deserve this.”
For the next two weeks Logan discovered himself to be the object of the strangest persecution he had ever experienced. Every time he turned a corner, Madeline was there, unrelentingly helpful, nearly driving him mad with her attentions. When he entered his office in the morning, she had already been there, leaving a napkin filled with iced buns or a steaming pot of tea on his desk. She ran to fetch things before he was even aware that he needed them…she studied his habits—how much sugar he liked in his tea, how much starch he preferred in his shirts.
Madeline's eager devotion both annoyed and embarrassed Logan, but at the same time…he couldn't remember when, or if, anyone had ever been so quick to meet his needs. She made certain that his costumes were always clean, mended, and pressed; brought reference books from the theater library when he needed them; and kept his office and his dressing room organized.
It was constantly on the tip of Logan's tongue to tell her to leave him alone, yet he couldn't seem to get the words out. It was convenient to have her close at hand…and oddly pleasant to watch her small, expressive face as she took dictation or sorted stacks of notices freshly arrived from the printer's shop. On the odd days when she was too busy to come straight to his office, he found himself watching the clock for her arrival.
“You took your time,” he said when she came to help with his correspondence one morning. “I've been waiting for you.”
“I'm sorry, sir,” she said breathlessly, “but Mrs. Lyttleton needed my assistance with some costume fittings—”
“You spend too much time at the costume shop. If Mrs. Lyttleton is overburdened, tell her to hire another seamstress. I have mail that needs to be answered.”
“Yes, sir,” she said obediently, a small smile touching her lips.
Realizing that he had sounded jealous and possessive, Logan scowled. “My correspondence is a damned sight more important than Mrs. Lyttleton's fripperies,” he said, feeling the need to justify himself. Madeline smiled and sat beside him in her accustomed place.
Logan kept her working in his office a good deal of the time, rationalizing that it was the safest place for an accident-prone girl like Madeline to be. She had a fearlessness that provoked him mightily, as he found her engaged in activities that ranged from hammering nails in the carpenter's shop to crawling across the fly-floor built high above the ground. This last instance was too much for Logan, as he walked onto the stage one day and discovered a small group of stagehands watching Madeline work far above them. She held a rope in one hand and was busily threading it through a pulley that was nailed to the grid ten feet below the roof of the theater. “Good work, lass!” one of the men called, while another laughed admiringly. “Agile as a monkey, that girl.”
Logan's breath seemed to leave his body. One misstep, and Madeline would plummet to the boards far below. He clenched his jaw to keep from shouting, which might startle her and result in a fatal accident. Breaking out in a heavy sweat, Logan swore silently and strode to a spiral staircase built behind the proscenium. He ascended rapidly, taking the narrow steps three at a time, until he had reached the catwalk, a two-foot-wide bridge suspended just below the fly-floor and slung on iron stirrups from the iron grid.
“I've finished,” Madeline called, swaying slightly as she looked over the edge of the fly-floor. “My goodness, it's a long way down!” She started as she saw Logan beneath her. “Mr. Scott,” she said in surprise, “what are you doing up here?”
“What are you doing,” he countered grimly, “aside from letting everyone have a glimpse up your skirts? No wonder you're so damned popular around here.”
For the first time she looked at him with anger, her mouth tightening. “That's unfair, Mr. Scott. I'm only doing my job, which is to help wherever I'm needed—”
“Not at the risk of your life,” he snapped. “Although at the moment I'm tempted to break your pretty neck myself and save you the trouble. Now give me your hand.”
“I can climb down myself—”
“Now,” he said between his teeth. She complied reluctantly, and his hand closed around her wrist in a bruising vise, hauling her off the fly-floor and into his arms. The catwalk vibrated from the force of the motion.
Madeline yelped at the indignity of being slung over his shoulder like a sack of flour. “Put me down,” she scolded as Logan made his way down the spiral staircase. “I don't need your help!” Ignoring her protests, he continued to carry her until they had reached the stage, and he deposited her roughly on her feet.
Glaring at the sheepish stagehands standing nearby, Logan spoke with ominous softness. “I'd like someone to explain why Miss Ridley was performing a job that I pay my stagehands to do.”
“Miss Ridley volunteered,” one of them said abashedly. “She pointed out that as she is so small and spry, she could get it done in half the time—”
“From now on,” Logan interrupted, “if anyone asks Miss Ridley to set one finger on a rope, scaffold, or set piece, I'll dismiss him on the spot.” His forbidding gaze moved to Madeline, who was flushed and furious, one small hand rubbing her sore wrist where he had gripped her too hard. “I won't apologize for that,” he said curtly. “I was tempted to do something far worse, believe me.”
Mr. Scott's unaccountable anger seemed to last long into the day, continuing through the rehearsal of the Capital's newest production, Haunted. Madeline fumed silently as she prompted the actors during their line readings. She avoided looking at Mr. Scott, thinking angrily that in spite of all she had done for him, he snapped at her more frequently than he did anyone else. It was obvious to the entire company. In fact, the stagehands, crew members, and actors all went out of their way to show their friendly sympathy. They murmured words of encouragement as she passed by, and made great shows of thanking her for helping with the rehearsal.
“Maddy knows my lines better than I do,” Arlyss remarked to everyone in general, standing in the middle of the stage. “She's the best prompter I've ever had.”
“She is,” Stephen Maitland agreed loudly. “And it's a wonder that Maddy has time to study the play, considering the way she's always running errands for everyone.”
Julia smiled indulgently and patted Madeline's shoulder as they sat together in the first row of theater seats. “Maddy has enough energy for ten people.”
Madeline blushed uncomfortably.
“Pardon me,” came Logan Scott's cutting voice from the stage, “but I was under the impression that we were conducting a rehearsal.” He sat in an armchair in front of a set of flats, rolling a whiskey bottle between his large hands. “Shall we get on with it?” he asked acidly.
“As soon as I find out what my line is,” Arlyss replied sweetly.
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