Logan stood there with a grim expression, his mahogany hair in wild disarray. Rapidly his gaze moved over the scene; Julia's bedraggled condition, the discarded coat and key on the floor, Damon's open shirt. A contemptuous snarl distorted Logan's wide mouth. “You'll learn to stay away from her after I'm finished with you.”

Dark pleasure cast a frightening shadow over Damon's face. “She's not yours yet.”

“I'm perfectly all right,” Julia said to Logan, breathless from the aura of hatred that filled the room. “Please take me away from here, and we'll settle this later like adults—”

“The only place you're going is to my bed,” Damon said thickly. “Right after I throw your fiance out of my home.”

That was clearly the last straw for Logan. He launched himself forward with lightning speed, his broad fist swinging in a wide arc, impacting with a sickening thud against Damon's face.

“No,” Julia gasped, darting toward them, then stopping short as Damon hurled himself on his rival. The two men fought violently, pummeling each other in spite of Julia's shrieks for them to stop. With a grunt of effort, Damon shoved Logan back several steps, and they faced each other with murderous gazes.

Immediately Julia took the opportunity to rush between the two men. After one glance at the unreasoning fury on Damon's face, she went instead to Logan and placed a restraining hand on the center of his chest. He looked down at her with hot blue eyes, his nostrils flaring with each breath he took.

“Please,” she said quietly, “this isn't necessary.”

“Leave with me now,” Logan muttered.

Julia thought of complying, but something inside her resisted the idea. She could only manage a stammer. “I…c-can't.”

“After what he's done?” Logan asked sharply. “One of the scene movers saw you being abducted from backstage. I knew at once that it was Savage. God knows I wasn't surprised by his behavior.” He took hold of her shoulders, his fingers digging into her soft flesh. “He believes he owns you, Julia. Walk away from him now, and finish this damned mess.”

Her gaze dropped. She couldn't look into his face any longer. “Not yet,” she said under her breath. “Things aren't settled. Please try to understand.”

“Oh, I understand,” Logan replied coolly. Julia felt his fingers loosen, and then his hands fell away. “Shall I wait downstairs for you?”

“No, but…thank you for coming here. It means a great deal that you would want to protect me.”

“If only I could protect you from yourself,” he said with an ironic edge to his voice. Exchanging a glance of loathing with Damon, Logan turned and left the room, making a mocking show of closing the ruined door behind him.

Julia turned to face Damon, only to find that he had apparently lost all desire for her company. “Get out,” he said, using his shirt sleeve to blot his bloodied nose, ruining the exquisite white linen.

Her mouth tightened with exasperation. Going to the washstand, she found a linen towel and moistened it with water from the porcelain pitcher. Damon sat on the edge of the bed and jerked his head back as she tried to dab at his face.

“Is your nose broken?” Julia asked, persisting until she had removing the blood from his upper lip.

“No.” He took the cloth from her. “You can stop playing the ministering angel. I don't need you.”

Julia shook her head slowly, feeling an overwhelming rush of love for him…the obstinate, arrogant, foul-tempered man. She pushed back the skeins of hair that had fallen across her face, and sat beside him. Gently she slid her hand over his smooth-shaven cheek and urged him to look at her. His face .was like granite.

“I need you,” she said softly.

Damon didn't move, but she felt the hardening of his cheek beneath her hand. “You were right,” she continued. “I am afraid to trust you. But if I don't, then I'll never be able to trust anyone. It scares me to death to think that you'll want more than I can give. However, if you're willing to accept what I'm able to offer…”

Damon battled silently with the remnants of his jealous rage. The madness that had possessed him ever since he had discovered that she intended to become Logan Scott's wife began to ebb a little. As he looked at Julia, he saw the signs of strain about her face.

Her hand was soft on his cheek, and her blue-green eyes were filled with an emotion that made his heart constrict painfully. He wanted her so badly he was suffocated with it, wanted her any way he could have her. There were still too many words left unsaid, sorely needed explanations, issues to resolve…but he ignored them all and reached for Julia in a move that took her by surprise.

She didn't protest as he covered her mouth with his, kissing her hungrily. Her lips parted, and her arms slid beneath his open shirt, her hands coming to rest on his back. How many nights had he dreamed of Julia this way, soft and willing in his arms, pressing close against him.

He turned her, pushed her back onto the mattress until her hair spilled behind her head in a golden torrent. Bending over her, he kissed her throat and chest, moving down to her breasts. The tips hardened and rose against the fabric of her costume, and she made a soft sound in her throat as Damon bit gently through the bodice.

It seemed miraculous, Julia's lack of resistance, the way she accepted his touch…he realized that tonight she would allow whatever he wanted, and his heart hammered in a furious rhythm of need. With unsteady fingers he unlaced her bodice and pulled the dress from her shoulders and down to her waist. She lifted her h*ps and helped him strip away the costume completely, leaving only her linen undergarments. In a lithe movement she rose to her knees and pulled the chemise over her head, revealing the enticing curves and shadows of her body. Damon touched the delicate roundness of one breast, brushing his knuckles over the taut crest. Raising his gaze to Julia's luminous face, he saw a tenderness that devastated him.

“Do as you promised,” she said, her voice hushed. “Make love to me tonight…and let me tell you how much I love you.”

“And in the morning?” he couldn't help asking.

She smiled as if the question were foolish, and leaned forward to kiss his mouth. “Turn down the lights,” she whispered.

Damon went to extinguish the lamps, leaving only a small flame burning in one of them, and returned to the bed. Julia's body was almost ghostly in the dimness, sleek and silvery as she stretched across the bed. The silken sheen of her stockings and the ridges of her garters were all that remained to cover her. Damon removed his clothes and lowered, himself onto the mattress, his senses reeling as he pulled her na*ed body against his, fire igniting everywhere their skin touched.

Julia's teasing hands moved over his back and hips, traveling down to his taut buttocks. She was bolder than she had ever been before, her mouth and fingers maddeningly inventive as she explored him, a playful nymph bent on torture.

Damon fought to keep from taking her immediately, wanting to make the pleasure last. He removed one of her garters and unrolled her stocking, kissing each inch of newly revealed skin until he had worked his way from her inner thigh to the arch of her foot. Julia purred in response and offered him her other leg, wantonly drawing her silk-covered toes across his midriff. He removed that stocking as well, making her squirm at the tickling sensation of his mouth behind her knee. When the task was completed, he rolled her beneath him.

“Tell me,” he commanded, nuzzling the curve of her jaw.

Julia's eyes opened, and he saw the coquettish gleam that betrayed her utter enjoyment. “Tell you what?”

“What you promised to say to me.”

“Later,” she said, and clasped his stiff erection in her hand, guiding him between her thighs. Damon resisted and frowned down at her, wanting the words she withheld. Artfully Julia tried to coax him closer, murmuring erotic promises, clasping her slender thighs around him. An unwilling laugh was torn from his throat. He stroked and kissed her, savoring her response…the rush of her breathing, the trembling that took hold of her. “Take me now,” she said breathlessly. “Now, now…”

“Do you love me?” he asked, smoothing his hand over her stomach, dipping his finger into her navel.

“Yes,” Julia finally gasped, opening her thighs. “Don't make me wait any longer.” She scalded his ears with a litany of love and threats and pleading, until at last he relented and slipped his fingers inside her, sliding them in a rhythmic motion that brought her quickly to release. She arched upward, pressing the thatch of soft curls into his hand, and cl**axed with a groan and an endless shiver.

A long time later her lashes stirred, and she responded to his kiss, her tongue twining with his. He brought his h*ps to hers and fused their bodies in a thrust that made her whimper in pleasure. He pushed inside her, his movements long and unhurried, and she clutched at his back and h*ps to draw him even deeper. Catching her wrists in his hand, he pulled them over her head, pinning her heavily against the mattress.

Julia felt his mouth at her throat, lips moving with unspoken words. His hands slid from her br**sts to the place of their joining, softly tormenting until she could no longer breathe. Just as she thought she would faint, the sensations flowed over her, inundating every nerve. She trembled violently, her h*ps tilting upward to receive him as he released a flood of lust and longing inside her body.

When they could both move, they turned to their sides. Julia smiled drowsily as she felt his long legs tuck up beneath hers, his chest pressed against her back. “I like being abducted,” she murmured, drawing his hand over her waist and up to her breast.

“I didn't know what else to do. I've been insane ever since this morning.” His fingers traced her nipple in gentle circles. “Julia…are you going to marry Scott tomorrow?”

“Are you offering an alternative?”

Damon's hand cupped her breast until he could feel the rapid beating of her heart. He was silent for a long time, until she thought he wasn't going to reply. “Marry me,” he said gruffly. “This time for real.”

Julia closed her eyes and took an unsteady breath. “And your conditions?”

“No conditions. I won't ask you to leave the theater.”

“What if people mock you for marrying a notorious actress?” she asked softly.

“To hell with them.”

So it had finally come to this. He loved her enough to make the greatest concession of all. She had never imagined that Damon, the proudest and most demanding man she had ever met, would put aside his own desires in deference to her own. She knew that she owed him the same unselfish consideration. “I could limit my involvement with the theater,” she said hesitantly. “I'll choose only the roles that interest me most…and I'll stop touring.”

“Will Scott allow that?”

“He'll have to, if he wants me to stay at the Capital.”

“Your career won't ever be the same.”

“That won't matter as long as I have you.”

Carefully he turned her to face him. Although Julia was brimming with hope and happiness, there was no answering smile on Damon's face. “I'll want children, Julia.” His voice was low and scratchy, and she could only guess at the emotions that moved him.

“Yes, so will I.” She shrugged helplessly. “I don't know how we'll manage, but…we'll find a way. It won't be easy.”

“Easier than living apart.”

Julia nodded and kissed him gently.

“What of your feelings for Scott?” Damon asked when their lips had parted.

“There is no love between us. He'll understand why I can't marry him. Besides, I was never meant to be anyone's wife but yours.”

“Good. Because I've been your husband for too long to imagine anything else.”

She smiled and stroked his chest. “How strange that we both wanted to be free of each other for so long…and just when we are, all we want is to be together again.”

“Then you'll take the ring back.”

“The ring, and all that comes with it.”

Damon caught her hand and held it so tightly that she winced from the pressure. Bringing her palm to his mouth, he crushed a kiss within the soft cove. Emotion left him wordless…love and joy that mingled inside him…fear that this was a dream, and that the woman beside him was a fantasy spun from the loneliness and longing he had felt his entire life.

Slipping a hand behind his head, Julia pulled him over her once more, inviting his kiss and returning it without restraint.

As Logan welcomed Julia into his Bath villa early the following morning, there was no expression on his face, save for a slight crease between his auburn brows. His gaze searched her face, taking note of the flush on her cheeks and the gleam of happiness in her eyes.

“Good morning,” she said breathlessly. He nodded, understanding at once that there would be no wedding that day. The plans they had made would never be mentioned again.

Sitting with Julia in the parlor, Logan seemed relaxed as a servant poured coffee into gold china cups arid brought it to them. Logan motioned for the servant to leave, and threw Julia a resigned glance. “You're making a mistake,” he said flatly.

A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Perhaps I am. Marrying Damon could prove to be a disaster. But I would never forgive myself if I didn't try.”

“I wish you luck.”

“Aren't you going to warn me about what I'm doing? Aren't you going to point out all the sensible reasons that the marriage won't work, and tell me—”

“You already know my opinion on the subject of marrying for love. My only concern is how your actions will affect my acting company. It's obvious things will have to change.”

“Yes,” Julia said, trying to match his matter-of-fact tone. “I would like to remain as one of the Capital players. However, I won't be able to tour…and I'll have to limit the number of plays I'll be able to perform in.”

“You can stay with the Capital as long as you like. Only a fool would refuse to have an actress like you in the company, even in a limited capacity.”

“Thank you.”

“I wanted more for you than this,” he said abruptly. “You haven't even begun to reach the limits of your skill. You could have been the most acclaimed actress of the English stage—”

“Instead I'll be happy,” Julia interrupted. “All the acclaim and fortune in the world wouldn't keep me from being lonely. I want to be loved, I want laughter and companionship…I want more than the pretend life I've had in the theater.”

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