Hearing Julia approach the stage, Logan turned to face her, seeming unsurprised by her early arrival. He helped her up to the boards easily, his grip hard and reassuring before he released her hand. “You look like hell,” he said.

“I couldn't sleep.” Julia forced a tired smile to her lips. “My conscience was troubled.”

“You'd do well to dispense with your conscience altogether,” Logan advised. “I did years ago, and I've slept like a babe every night since.”

“You must tell me how you did it,” she said, only half-jesting.

“Some other time. I have some news.” His expression was inscrutable. “A message was sent to the Capital for you and forwarded here. Apparently there's an illness in your family.”

“My mother,” Julia said automatically, while her heart beat out a worried staccato.

“Your father, I believe. I'm not aware of the particulars.”

“My father…” Julia shook her head in confusion. “That can't be true. He's never ill, he…” She fell silent, staring blankly ahead, all words sputtering into silence. There must be something terribly wrong. Eva would never have sent for her otherwise. It was impossible to imagine her father ill, confined to his bed. Throughout her childhood, she had never seen him afflicted with so much as a head cold.

“Are you planning to go to him?” Logan asked without inflection.

“I can't…there's no time…not with the play opening tomorrow night…”

“I'll cancel tomorrow night's performance. We'll open the following Tuesday evening.”

Bewildered, Julia looked into his vivid blue eyes. Logan never canceled a performance—it was one of his strictest codes. “Why?” she asked softly.

He ignored the question. “Will you be able to return by Tuesday?”

“Yes, I think so.” She was touched by his unexpected kindness. “Most managers in your position wouldn't let me go. I never would have expected this.”

Logan shrugged casually. “If I forced you to stay, you'd be in no condition to give a decent performance.”

“You could give the part to Arlyss,” Julia suggested. “She knows all of my lines. There's no need to cancel the play tomorrow night.”

“The role is yours. No one else could play it as you do.”

“Thank you, but—”

“Go to your father. Try to make peace with him. And come back soon…or I'll dock your salary.”

“Yes, sir,” Julia said obediently, though she wasn't deceived by Logan's attempted callousness. She gave him a small, grateful smile. “I've just realized that underneath everything you're a kind man. But don't worry—I won't ruin your reputation by telling anyone.”

Chapter 10

As Julia undertook the half-day journey to the Hargate estate in Logan Scott's wine-red lacquered carriage, she debated with herself about whether she should have informed Damon that she was leaving Bath. She was troubled by the nagging feeling that she should have confided in him. Was it wrong of her to want his comfort? More than anyone else, Damon would understand her complicated feelings toward her father.

The recollection of their bitter parting made Julia wince and set her jaw stubbornly. Damon wouldn't offer comfort; he would probably make some scornful remark and tell her she was welcome to shoulder her burdens alone. It would be hypocritical of her to make grand statements about her freedom and independence, and then turn to him for help at the first sign of trouble.

As the carriage and accompanying outriders traveled across the hilly countryside and approached the Hargate estate, Julia's urgency changed to apprehension. She realized she was afraid of what she might find at her childhood home, afraid of seeing her father ill, and certain that he would order her off the estate as soon as he saw her. The tall house perched among the hills like a hawk, dark and magnificent with its towers stretching toward the sky.

The vehicle stopped before the front entrance. A pair of footmen helped Julia from the carriage, while other servants came to take the horses and show the driver to the stables and carriage house. Before Julia had reached the top step, the massive door opened and the butler was there to welcome her inside.

In a matter of moments Eva appeared, wordlessly enfolding Julia in her arms.

“Mama,” Julia said in surprise, her cheek crushed against the pleated blue linen of her mother's gown. Although Eva's health had always varied greatly, she had never appeared as well as this. Somehow her mother had summoned a strength and sense of purpose she hadn't displayed in years. She was still far too thin, but the bones were no longer starkly prominent in her face, and there was a gleam of tranquillity in her brown eyes. It appeared that Eva took well to the unusual situation of being needed by her husband. For once he was the invalid and she was the head of the household.

“I'm glad you came,” Eva murmured. “I was afraid your schedule wouldn't allow a visit.”

“How is he?” Julia asked, walking with her through the entrance hall to the stairs. It seemed that a shroud had been pulled over the house; everything was unnaturally quiet and still.

Eva replied calmly, her face tense with worry. “Your father took to his bed with a fever several days ago. It was a very bad one—the doctor says it weakened all his organs. We weren't certain he would live, but now it seems the worst has passed.”

“Will he recover fully?”

“The doctor says he'll never be quite the same. The fever was enough to have killed a lesser man. It will take some time for Edward to regain his strength.”

“He won't want to see me,” Julia said, her insides drawn as tightly as violin strings.

“That's not true. He's been asking for you.”

“Why?” she asked warily. “If he wants to express his opinion that I've ruined my life and disgraced the family, I'm already aware—”

“Give him a chance,” Eva murmured. “He's been through an ordeal, Julia, and he wants to see his only child. I don't know what he wishes to say to you, but I entreat you to go to him in the spirit of forgiveness.”

Julia hesitated before replying. “I'll try.”

Eva shook her head ruefully. “If you only knew how like him you are. I believe you love him in spite of everything, but you won't set aside your pride long enough to admit it.”

“I do love him,” Julia admitted defiantly, “but that doesn't erase the things that have been said and done. Love doesn't keep people from hurting each other.”

They were both silent as they ascended the stairs together. “Would you like to freshen up in your room?” Eva asked.

“I'd prefer to see him right away,” Julia replied. She was too nervous to wait, and her tension built with each minute that passed. “That is, if Father is strong enough.”

Eva accompanied her to Edward's room. “Julia…” she said gently, “you must allow for the fact that people can change. Even your father. It's frightening to come so close to dying. I believe it made Edward face some events in his past that he has tried to ignore for years. Please be kind to him, and listen to what he has to say.”

“Of course. I'm hardly going to rush into his sickroom and start hurling accusations, Mama.”

Julia stopped at the doorway, waiting as Eva entered the room. Her mother's slender form was silhouetted against the strip of sunlight that had managed to slip through the lemon-colored window curtains. Bending over the lean form stretched out on the bed, Eva touched Edward's hair and murmured quietly.

As she watched the scene, Julia was troubled by her own lack of emotion. Her heart was blank and numb, unmarked by grief or even anger. She couldn't seem to summon any feeling for her father, and it bothered her profoundly.

Eva looked up and gestured for Julia to enter. Slowly she crossed the threshold and approached the bed, where her father lay shadowed beneath the chintz canopy. All at once a rush of feeling came, a tide of remorse and sympathy that overwhelmed her. Edward had always been a powerful figure, but he seemed small and solitary as he lay in bed with the covers pulled to his shoulders. The robust quality he had possessed in abundance had fled, leaving him immeasurably older. There was a waxen look about his skin, the result of having recently been bled by the physician.

Carefully Julia sat on the edge of the mattress. She took his hand, feeling the skin move too easily over the long bones. He had lost weight. She pressed his hand as hard as she dared, wishing she could impart some of her vitality to him.

“Father,” she said softly. “It's Julia.”

A long time passed, and his pale lashes lifted His eyes were as bright and acute as always as they took measure of her. Julia had never known her father to experience a single moment of awkwardness—he was always in command of any situation. Strangely, however, he seemed to share her uncertainty, searching in vain for words.

“Thank you,” he said, his voice alarmingly thready. His hand twitched, and for a split second Julia thought he meant to draw it away. Instead his fingers closed more firmly over hers. It was the most affection he had shown to her in years.

“I thought you might have me ejected from the house,” Julia said with a self-conscious smile.

“I thought you might not come.” Edward sighed, his chest moving in a shallow rise and fall. “I wouldn't have blamed you.”

“Mama told me how ill you've been,” Julia murmured, retaining his hand. “I could have told her and the doctor that you were too stubborn to let a mere fever get the best of you.”

Laboriously her father tried to prop himself up in bed. Eva moved forward to assist him, but Julia was already pushing a nearby pillow behind him. Edward gave his wife an enigmatic glance. “My dear…I would like to speak to Julia alone.”

Eva smiled faintly. “I understand.” She disappeared from the room with wraithlike grace, leaving father and daughter to confront each other.

Withdrawing to a nearby chair, Julia stared at Edward with a perplexed frown. She couldn't imagine what he wanted to tell her, after all the arguments and bitter feelings between them. “What is it?” she asked quietly. “Do you wish to talk about my professional life or my personal one?”

“Neither,” her father said with an effort. “It's about me.” He reached for a glass, and Julia filled it with fresh water from a small porcelain pitcher. Carefully he sipped the cool liquid. “I've never told you about my past. There were…details about the Hargates that I failed to mention.”

“Details,” Julia repeated, her fine brows quirking. The history of the Hargates was basic and uncomplicated. It was a family of moderate prestige and considerable wealth, ambitious to gain the high social status that could only be gained by intermarriage with blood even bluer than their own.

“I told myself it was necessary to protect you from the truth,” Edward said, “but that was pure cowardice on my part.”

“No. There are many qualities I would ascribe to you, Father, but cowardice is not one of them.”

Edward continued resolutely. “There are things I've never been able to talk about because I find them painful…and I've punished you because of them.” His rusty voice contained a poignant regret that astonished Julia. It was a revelation, albeit a discomforting one, to see that her father was capable of such emotion.

“What things?” she asked softly. “What is it you want to tell me?”

“You've never known about…Anna.” The name seemed to leave a bittersweet taste on his lips.

“Who is she, Father?”

“She was your aunt…my sister.”

Julia was amazed. She had never known anyone in her father's family except a pair of uncles who had each married and chosen to live quietly in the country. “Why has no one ever mentioned her? Where is she now, and what—”

Edward lifted his hand to stop the flow of questions. Slowly he began to explain. “Anna was my older sister. She was the most beautiful creature on earth. If not for Anna, I would have had the most barren childhood imaginable. She made up games and stories to entertain me…she was a mother, a sister, a friend…she was…” Failing to find an appropriate word, he paused helplessly.

Julia listened intently. Her father had never spoken to her like this before, his face softening in reflection, his steely eyes turning hazy with memories.

“Neither of our parents was fond of children,” he said. “Not even their own. They had little to do with us until we had reached maturity, and even then we held little interest for them. Their only concern was that they had fostered a sense of discipline and duty in us. I can't say I had a fondness for them either. But I loved Anna…and I knew she was the only person in the world who truly loved me.”

“What was she like?” Julia asked in the silent interlude that followed. It seemed that Edward found it difficult to continue the narrative, memories entangling him in their fragile threads.

His gaze was unfocused, as if he were staring across a great distance. “She was wild and fanciful, very different from my brothers and I. Anna didn't care about rules or responsibilities. She was a creature of emotion, completely unpredictable. Our parents never understood her—she drove them mad at times.”

“What happened to her?”

“When Anna was eighteen, she made the acquaintance of a foreign diplomat who held a position at an embassy in London. He must have seemed the embodiment of all Anna's dreams. My father disapproved of the man and forbade Anna to see him. Naturally she rebelled and took every opportunity to sneak away and be with him. She fell in love as she did everything else…wholeheartedly, committing herself to him body and soul. But she had chosen unwisely. She…” A shadow came over Edward's face, and it seemed that he wanted to stop. He had said too much, however. Having come this far, he would follow the narrative to its painful conclusion.

“Anna conceived a child,” he said, strangling briefly on the words. “Her lover abandoned her after explaining that he was already married and had nothing to offer. My family abhorred any kind of scandal, and cast her out of our midst. It was as if she had suddenly ceased to exist. My father disinherited Anna, leaving her nearly destitute. She decided to leave for Europe to bear the consequences of her shame alone.

“Before she departed, she came to me. She didn't ask for money or any kind of help…only my reassurance that I still loved her. And I couldn't give it to her. I turned my back on her. I wouldn't even speak to her. And when she persisted in calling my name and trying to put her arms around me, I…called her a whore and walked away.”

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