“Nothing,” she murmured, holding a hand over her mouth as the suggestions elicited a pang of nausea. Logan's eyes narrowed at the gesture, but he kept silent, his gaze sharp and speculative.

Someone else entered the room, and Logan moved aside. “She's all right,” he said curtly.

Julia glanced up at her husband's dark, implacable face, and her mouth wobbled with a smile. Damon didn't return the smile as he sank to his haunches before her. His warm hand slid beneath her chin, and he surveyed her face. “What happened?” he asked.

“I fainted,” Julia said, at once surprised and sheepish. “I was dizzy. I…I'm much better now.” She risked a glance at Logan. “I'm well enough to finish the play.”

Before Logan could reply, Damon interrupted quietly. “You're going home with me.”

“Isn't that a decision for Julia to make?” Logan asked.

Damon's gaze locked with Julia's, and his hand fell away from her chin. “Let your understudy finish it. Or do you want to risk fainting again?”

“I've never left a performance before it was over,” she murmured, shocked at the idea.

“You've probably never collapsed in the middle of a scene either.” Although Damon's manner was controlled, Julia sensed the mixture of anger and concern beneath his facade. “Come with me, Julia. You don't look well.”

Slowly Julia stood to glance in the mirror, discovering that she was still unsteady on her feet. Damon was right—she looked sick and clammy. The thought of finishing the play, and the emotional and physical exertion it would require, seemed an impossible notion.

Apparently Logan realized that she was incapable of going on. He dragged both hands through his hair. “Go,” he muttered. “I'll take care of things here.” He paused and added to Damon, “Send word about her condition in the morning.”

In spite of Julia's protests, Damon carried her out to the back of the theater, where he had instructed the driver to bring the vehicle. She leaned against him as they went home, taking comfort in the support of his arm around her. “I don't know what's wrong with me,” she murmured. “I'm just exhausted, I suppose…the role is very draining.”

Damon didn't reply, stroking her hair and blotting her moist face with his handkerchief.

The doctor left the room and paused to speak briefly to Damon, who had been waiting just outside the door. Sitting up in bed, Julia watched as a comical array of expressions crossed her husband's face, joy and concern among them. She managed a smile as he came into the bedroom and sat beside her on the mattress. He took her hand as if it were too frail to bear more than the lightest pressure.

“You didn't suspect anything?” he asked, his voice hoarse.

“I wasn't certain,” she admitted with a faltering smile. “I thought I would wait another few weeks before mentioning anything. Are you pleased about the baby?”

“God, Julia…that you should even ask…” Damon leaned forward and captured her mouth in a reverent kiss. Julia responded eagerly, tangling her fingers in his black hair.

Withdrawing, Damon stared into her eyes. Julia sensed the questions that hovered on his lips, knowing it required all his restraint to keep them locked inside.

“I've been considering some things lately,” she told him, drawing her hands over his chest.

Damon was silent, waiting for her to continue. It was important for her to choose the right words, to make him understand the revelations that had come to her.

Because she had never known the security of her father's affection and approval, she had never been able to completely trust anyone, to rest secure in the knowledge that their love would not fade or be withdrawn. But Damon had changed that. He had made her believe that his feelings for her were everlasting…and that would give her the courage to loosen her tight grip on her acting career. She wanted to explore other sides of herself. She wanted to give herself to love as freely as she had given herself to ambition.

She had always been so self-protective, avoiding everything that posed a threat to her independence. In a way she had built a prison around herself, and now the walls were crumbling to reveal a view she had never considered before.

It filled Julia with a sense of adventure, the thought of what might await her if she finally dared to let go of the past. Tentatively she pulled Damon's hand to her flat stomach, pressing it over the tiny life beginning within her. She imagined Damon as a father, and the thought brought a smile to her face. How strange that the things she had once feared would rob her of her precious freedom, a husband and a child, had given her more freedom than she had ever dreamed of. They would be her source of strength. And she would be theirs.

“I've decided that I would like to leave acting for a while,” she said. “I've come up with an alternative that I believe will suit me better…at least for now. I would like to make a financial investment in the Capital Theatre, a substantial one, in order to have my name put on the company's charter. That would make me a partner of Mr. Scott's…a minor partner, but one with some influence nonetheless.”

“What purpose would that serve?”

“I would be able to help manage the Capital, consult with writers who are developing plays; oversee the painters, musicians, and carpenters; work in the business office and assist in scheduling, casting, costuming…oh, there are a thousand things I could attend to that Mr. Scott never has enough time for! It would allow me to do as much or as little as I wished, and yet I wouldn't have the burden of being in the public eye. Don't you see what a perfect compromise it would be? I would still have the theater, but I would also have more time to spend with you and the baby. I would be here every evening instead of returning home late after a performance.”

“You'll want to act again,” Damon said, looking down at her hand as he played with the diamond ring on her finger.

“Perhaps every once in a while…if a role proves to be irresistible.”

“How do you think Scott will react to the idea? Could he tolerate the idea of a woman as a business partner?”

“For enough money, he'll tolerate anything,” Julia assured him with a sudden grin.

They stared at each other for a long while, until a reluctant smile spread over Damon's face. Carefully he pulled her down to the mattress and lay beside her. His hand played over her body and lingered on her stomach. “I want you to be happy,” he said, his lips brushing her cheek.

Julia tangled her legs with his. “How could I not be? You've given me so many things I never thought I would have…love, a home, a family…”

“Tell me what else you want.” Damon cupped her face in his hands and pressed a fierce kiss on her lips. “Tell me, and I'll get it for you.”

“All I want is you,” she said, her eyes gleaming. “Forever.”

“You've had that since the beginning,” he whispered, pulling her close and kissing her once again.


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