“Are you certain Savage will allow you to continue with the Capital?”

“Oh, yes.” An impish smile crossed her face. “He may not like it, but he's willing to tolerate my career for the sake of having me as his wife.” She sipped the coffee, glancing at him over the rim of her cup, and her smile turned rueful. “You think I'm a fool, don't you? You can't imagine making any sort of compromise that would take you away from the theater.”

“No, I can't,” Logan said evenly, and for the first time there was a friendly glint in his blue eyes. “But I don't think you're a fool. In a way I almost envy you. And don't ask me why—God knows I can't explain it even to myself.”

Epilogue

They held a small wedding without fanfare at the castle chapel in Warwick, attended by family and a few close friends. Julia's mother, Eva, took an obvious delight in the fact that her daughter was marrying Damon. It was obvious from Lord Hargate's expression that he took a more ironic view of the proceedings, but he expressed his pleasure in the match regardless.

In the months that followed, Julia assumed her place as Damon's wife with an ease that surprised both of them. If there were any thoughts in Julia's mind that life as the Duchess of Leeds would prove dull and dignified, they quickly evaporated. Damon indulged Julia as no one ever had, spoiling her with extravagant gifts and stealing every possible moment of her time away from the theater.

Unlike her, Damon was an outdoors enthusiast, and she found herself accompanying him on long walks and rides through the countryside. Occasionally she participated in the shooting and fishing he enjoyed, and while she couldn't profess any great love of such sports, she admired his skill.

As Damon fished a trout stream on one of his estates, Julia lounged on a small bridge that crossed the water. Enjoying the sunshine, she hiked up her skirts and let her bare legs dangle over the edge. Silently she watched her husband cast toward the overhanging bank where a large brown trout hovered warily in the water. Standing on the opposite bank, Damon worked with the unhurried grace of an expert fisherman. Each cast rolled out in a steady rhythm, the line pulling back and flowing forward.

“Don't move,” Damon said in a low voice as he noticed the flash of Julia's pale legs, but it was too late. Alerted by the unfamiliar glimmer, the wily trout disappeared, too unnerved to feed near the surface of the water. Damon scowled. “Dammit!”

“Did I frighten him?” Julia asked apologetically. “I find it amazing that a mere fish could be so sensitive. You know I never can sit still for long.” Lifting her hands in a resigned gesture, she lay back on the bridge and sighed. “Very well, I won't come with you next time.”

Less than a minute later she sensed Damon standing over her. “You won't get out of it that easily.”

Julia smiled, keeping her eyes closed. “You'll fish better without distractions.”

Damon lowered himself beside her, his hand sliding over her bare knee. “I happen to like distractions,” he murmured, and pressed his lips to her sun-warmed throat.

To please Julia, Damon willingly escorted her to endless rounds of balls, soirées and musical evenings. She was delighted to discover that her husband was an excellent dancer and had the unflagging energy to stay up all night if she desired. Best of all were the dark evening hours after their social events, when he would dismiss the maid and undress her himself, and make love to her until she fell asleep in pleasurable exhaustion.

Damon was the companion Julia had never dared to dream of, listening to her opinions with interest, debating the points on which they didn't agree, taking pride in her intelligence whereas most men would have been threatened by it. Julia soon realized that she could turn to him with any problem, no matter how insignificant, and he would treat it seriously. When she needed comfort, she would crawl into his lap and rest her head on his shoulder until her troubles had assumed their proper perspective. Sometimes it almost frightened her to realize how quickly she had come to depend on him.

“I never expected to feel this way about anyone,” she told him one night as they lay together in bed and watched a fire burn in the grate. “Least of all a man like you.”

“A man like me?” Damon repeated, amused.

“Yes, with all your business speculations and investments and your talk of tenants and farming—”

“It must seem dull in comparison to the theater.”

“You must admit, we have very different interests.”

Damon laughed and pulled the covers down from her shoulders, until the cool air caused her ni**les to rise into points. Her skin was dappled with firelight and shadow, and he drew his hand slowly over the silken surface. “In some ways, yes,” he said, bending his head to her throat. “But we also have a few important things in common.” He smiled as he felt her shiver in response to his touch. “Would you like me to elaborate?” he asked, nibbling at the sensitive side of her neck.

Julia slid her arms around him and arched upward, eager as always for the pleasure he offered.

Damon was a generous lover, sometimes lingering over her body for long, sweet hours, sometimes taking her with a rough passion that filled her with excitement. Julia gained the confidence to seduce him when it took her fancy, wearing provocative gowns and teasing him until he snatched her in his arms and gave her exactly what she asked for. When they were together, she could let the worries of her profession slip away, and she became a new person entirely, filled with contentment and ease.

As September drew near and rehearsals for the upcoming season increased, Julia traveled back and forth from the Savages' London residence to the Capital. At first the members of the company had seemed uncomfortable with her new status as the Duchess of Leeds, but that was all quickly forgotten in the work before them. Arlyss was clearly happy in her marriage to Michael Fiske and satisfied with her continuing popularity as a comic actress.

Logan Scott, for his part, was the same as ever—demanding, arrogant, and obsessed with making his theater the most spectacular draw in London. With each bit of renovation that was completed on the Capital's interior, his spirits seemed to rise.

“Your one great love,” Julia commented laughingly as she saw him inspecting the freshly gilded proscenium one day after rehearsal. “How many women would give anything to have you look at them that way! Just bear in mind that a mere building will never love you back.”

“You're wrong,” Logan informed her, throwing her a smiling sideways glance. His large hand drifted over the intricate carving of the proscenium. “She gives me far more than any flesh-and-blood woman ever could.”

“Can a theater be a she?”

“How could it be anything else?”

Julia folded her arms across her chest and regarded him in a speculative way, thankful to her very marrow that she hadn't married him. Logan was—and would probably always be—extremely limited when it came to matters of the heart. Something in him wouldn't allow the trust and intimacy that were necessary to love a real person, to surrender to the risk that a relationship required.

When the theater season began, Julia found herself inundated with hordes of admirers, some respectful, some intrusive. To ensure Julia's safety, Damon made certain that she was accompanied to and from the theater with outriders and armed footmen, and that she had a capable escort whenever she went to shop or pay calls. At first Julia thought the extra security measures were overdone, but she soon realized they were necessary. As she left the Capital after a performance, her ears were filled with screams of “Mrs. Wentworth!” or “Duchess!” and she was assailed by people trying to snatch a bit of lace from her gown or even a few hairs from her head.

Logan was openly pleased by Julia's popularity, knowing it was one of the reasons for the spectacular revenues being drawn in by the Capital. “Marrying Savage may not have been such a bad decision,” he said reflectively, after witnessing the crowds gathering to await Julia's exits and entrances to the Capital. “The public likes the idea of a duchess performing for their entertainment. It makes me wish I'd been born with a title—just think what heights I would reach.”

“I'm so glad you can find some benefit for your theater in all of this,” Julia replied sourly. “That makes this inconvenience worthwhile.”

Logan grinned at her sarcasm. “You're the one who chose to marry a duke over a mere thespian,” he pointed out. “It's not my fault if the Capital has profited through your actions.”

“Yes…but must you gloat over it?” Julia asked, her reproving look dissolving into a wry laugh.

Recently there had been some tension between the two of them. At a social gathering the previous week, Logan had tried to demonstrate that although Julia was the Duchess of Leeds, she was also an employee who was required at least part of the time to do his will. When called upon to entertain the guests, Logan had gestured to Julia, who was standing nearby with her husband. “Perhaps Her Grace would care to perform with me?” he suggested.

Julia gave Logan a discreet glare, having told him earlier that she would not help with any scenes that evening. She was there as Damon's wife, not as an actress Logan could trot out to solicit donations for his theater. The guests at the party urged her to come forward, but she stayed by Damon's side.

“I'm certain Mr. Scott can perform something with no assistance from me,” she said, a fixed smile on her lips.

Logan's gaze met hers in a battle of wills. “Come, Your Grace. Don't deprive everyone of the enjoyment your talent provides.”

Damon interrupted then, his face an expressionless mask. “My wife knows of my wish to have her exclusive company this evening. Perhaps you may prevail on her some other time.”

Logan addressed his next comment to the room in general. “Evidently the duke isn't aware that it's unfashionable for a man to be jealous of his own wife.”

Damon slid his arm around Julia's slender waist. “But it's entirely understandable with a wife like mine.” He glanced down at Julia's distressed face and smiled reassuringly. “Go play the scene, if you wish.”

She nodded briefly and returned his smile. “For you I will.”

Later that evening Julia had snuggled beside Damon in bed and kissed him gratefully. “Logan's behavior was appalling,” she said. “He never gives a thought to anything except what will profit his theater. You were very under-standing. Thank God you're not one of those possessive husbands who might have caused a scene!”

Carefully Damon turned her face toward his. “I want you all to myself,” he said, his eyes utterly serious. “I always will. I'm as jealous as hell of every minute Scott spends with you in that damned theater. It's only because I love you that I won't stand in the way of what you want. Don't ever make the mistake of thinking I'm not possessive.”

Julia nodded contritely. She leaned over to kiss him, trying to show him how little need there was for jealousy.

Jane Patrick was one of the plays that launched the new season at the Capital. The story was based on the life of a flamboyant writer and the many triumphs, failures, and disastrous love affairs that made her one of the most complex figures in the literary world. Logan had expressed his doubts about whether Julia was too delicate in appearance to play a woman who had been famed for her robust figure and masculine quality.

Gamely Julia tackled the role of Jane Patrick, making up for her lack of physical stature by adopting an outsize personality, until Logan was satisfied with the result. Logan played one of Jane's closest friends, a man who had been secretly in love with her for three decades but had never consummated the relationship. They found an agreeable balance onstage, with Julia emphasizing her character's bold arrogance and Logan giving a carefully restrained performance.

The production was both popular and critically acclaimed, and as the second week began, Julia was pleased to see the house filled to overflowing. She would be glad when the play finished its scheduled month-long run. It was exhausting playing a woman so different from herself. She returned home each night almost too weary to eat or make conversation, falling asleep as soon as she crawled into bed.

On the night that Damon attended Jane Patrick, Julia strove to give her best performance. She knew her husband was seated in a private box on the second tier, along with his brother, William, and a few friends. Filled with determination, Julia gave the part everything it required, as she delivered passionate tirades and quips of devastating wit, and swaggered across the stage as if she owned it. The audience reacted with laughter, gasps of surprise, and absorbed silences until the first act was nearly over. They reached a scene in which Julia and Logan erupted into a violent argument, as Jane's friend attempted to take her to task for her irresponsible life, and she reacted with a furious outburst.

A sweat of exertion broke out on Julia's face as she began one of her speeches. She was aware of feeling clammy beneath her costume, of cold trickles down her neck and bodice. Focusing on Logan's face, Julia continued the scene in spite of a wave of dizziness. Realizing that something wasn't right, she wished desperately for the scene to end soon. If they could finish the first act, she could sit somewhere and drink a glass of water, and calm the pounding in her head.

To Julia's horror, she felt the boards sway beneath her feet like the lurching of a ship. Logan's voice sounded far away, even though she knew he was standing right next to her. His face blurred, his blue eyes becoming distant points of color in the gray mist that hovered over her. Nothing like this had ever happened before. I'm going to faint, she thought in panicked wonder, even as she felt her legs crumple.

Instantly she was grasped and held upright in Logan's hard grip. She was vaguely aware that he was improvising lines, saying something about her character being intoxicated, and then he lifted her in his arms and carried her offstage. The audience, unaware that the faint had not been planned, burst into applause as the curtain fell.

Drenched with moisture, Julia was silent in Logan's arms, unable to answer his questions as he brought her to her dressing room. Sitting her carefully in a chair, Logan snapped out orders to the members of the company who hovered around them. “Bring some water,” he growled to one of them, “and the rest of you stop crowding.” Obediently the onlookers left the room. Logan stood before Julia, chafing her cold hands in his. “Tell me what's wrong,” he said, forcing her to look at him. “You're as white as a sheet. Have you eaten today? Would you like some tea? A drink?”

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