“Worse. I just had another encounter with your little protégée.”
“Madeline?” Julia frowned in concern. “What happened?”
Grimly he told her about the scene in the carpentry shop. Instead of reacting with the concern and dismay he expected, Julia seemed to find the story vastly entertaining.
“Poor Logan,” she said, laughing. “No wonder you're in an ill temper. Well, you can't blame Maddy.”
“Can't I?” he asked sourly.
“It's only her first day. It will take some time for her to find her footing around here.”
“Her first day,” Logan said, “and her last. I want her gone, Julia. I mean it.”
“I simply don't understand why you find Madeline Ridley so objectionable.” Julia settled back in her chair with a speculative expression that infuriated Logan.
“She's a green girl who knows nothing about the theater.”
“We were all green at one time,” Julia replied, and gave him a glance of gentle mockery. “Everyone except you, of course. You must have sprung from the womb knowing everything about the stage—”
“She doesn't belong here,” Logan interrupted. “Even you can't argue that point.”
“Perhaps not,” she conceded. “But Madeline is a sweet, intelligent young woman who has obviously landed in some sort of trouble. I want to help her.”
“The only way to help her is to send her back where she came from.”
“What if she's run away from a dangerous situation? Aren't you the least bit concerned? Even curious?”
Julia sighed in exasperation. “If Madeline doesn't work here, who knows what circumstances she'll find herself in? I'll pay her salary out of my own pocket, if you prefer.”
“We're not running a charity, damn you!”
“I need an assistant,” Julia said. “I have needed one for quite some time. Madeline is exactly what I require. Why does that pose such a problem for you?”
“Because she…” Logan closed his mouth abruptly. The problem was, the girl bothered him for reasons he didn't understand. Perhaps it was because she was so ridiculously open and unguarded…the antithesis of his own nature. She made him damned uncomfortable, reminding him of everything he didn't want to be, of all the things he had struggled to change in himself. However, he wasn't about to provide such information for Julia's entertainment. It had always irked her that he managed his life and his emotions with apparent ease.
“Logan,” Julia said impatiently, failing to read his thoughts in the silence, “you must be able to offer some explanation.”
“The fact that she's a clumsy fool should be enough.”
Julia's mouth fell open. “Everyone has an occasional accident. It's not like you to be so petty!”
“I say she goes, and I'll hear no more about it.”
“Then you be the one to dismiss her. I'm sure I would choke on the words.”
“I'll have no such problem,” Logan informed her. “Where is she?”
“I sent her to help Mrs. Lyttleton with the costumes,” Julia snapped, turning away from him to riffle through a pile of papers on her desk.
Logan left Julia's office, determined to find the girl immediately. The costume shop was located in a building set a small distance from the others, as it constituted more of a fire hazard than any other part of the theater. There was a better chance of containing a fire there and preventing the rest of the Capital from burning.
Mrs. Lyttleton was a cheerful mountain of a woman topped with a pile of brown curls. Her massive hands moved with dexterity as she created the most exquisite costumes seen on any stage. She employed a half-dozen girls to help in the task of sewing and maintaining the huge collection of garments that filled rack after rack. The look of a production at the Capital Theatre was uniquely lavish, and the actors and audience alike were aware that no expense had been spared to create the effect.
“Mr. Scott,” the seamstress said jovially, “what may I do for you? Is the shirt you wore last night still too short in the sleeves? I'll let them out again if necessary.”
Logan didn't want to bother with small talk. “There's a new girl—Miss Ridley. I want to see her.”
“Ah, she's a pretty slip of a thing, isn't she? I sent her out to the back with some baskets of costumes to be specially laundered. The silk on the gowns is too delicate to hang in the city air with all its soot, so the baskets will be taken to the country, and the washing and drying done there—”
“Thank you,” Logan interrupted, having little interest in the intricacies of laundry. “Good day, Mrs. Lyttleton—”
“After she takes the baskets to the laundry cart,” the seamstress said, “she's to go to your office with the costume sketches for Othello.”
“Thank you,” Logan said through his teeth, experiencing a stab of annoyance—or perhaps alarm—at the notion of Madeline Ridley visiting his office. With the disasters that seemed to occur whenever she was in the vicinity, he would be fortunate if his office hadn't been reduced to a pile of rubble by the time she left.
However, when he reached the small room he considered his sacred territory, he found it empty—and considerably cleaner than it had been in years. Books and stacks of paper had been consolidated into neat piles, shelves and furniture had been dusted, and his chaotically cluttered desk had been straightened and wiped clean. Logan entered the office and looked around bemusedly. “How the hell am I going to find anything now?” he muttered. His attention was caught by a spot of color in the room, a half-opened red rose that had been placed in a glass of water on his desk.
Taken aback, Logan touched the velvety hothouse blossom.
“It's a peace offering,” came Madeline's voice from behind him. He swiveled around to find her peeking around the door frame with a friendly smile. “Along with my promise not to cause you any further injuries.”
Perplexed and silent, Logan stared at her. The curt dismissal he had been so eager to give her faded on his lips. He had thought himself far beyond any twinges of guilt by now, but the girl's sweet, hopeful face made him distinctly uncomfortable. Moreover, there was no way he could fire her without appearing to be an ogre in front of the entire company. He wondered if she were really as innocent as she appeared, or if she were a clever manipulator. Her large brown eyes gave no clue.
For the first time Logan realized that Madeline Ridley was pretty—no, beautiful—with delicate features, skin like porcelain, and a mouth that was both innocent and sensuous. Her figure was slender and trim, without the voluptuous sleekness that he preferred in a woman, but attractive nonetheless.
Logan sat in his chair and stared at her steadily. “Where did you get this?” he asked, gesturing to the rose.
“At the Covent Garden flower market. I went there early this morning. It's the most remarkable place, with all the puppeteers and bird dealers, and such an amazing selection of fruits and vegetables—”
“It's not safe for you to go there alone, Miss Ridley. The thieves and Gypsies would make short work of a pigeon like you.”
“I had no trouble at all, Mr. Scott.” Her smile brightened. “It's very kind of you to be concerned about me.”
“I'm not concerned,” he said flatly, tapping his fingers on the desk. “It's just that I've witnessed how trouble seems to follow you.”
“That's not true,” she replied without rancor. “Until now, I daresay I've never caused any trouble for anyone. I've led a very quiet life.”
“Then tell me why an apparently well-bred girl like you would seek a job at the Capital Theatre.”
“To be near you,” she said.
Logan shook his head at the shameless statement. Coming from a girl like her, it made no sense. Her innocence, her inexperience, couldn't be more obvious. Why did she want to have an affair with him?
“Does your family know where you are?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, a touch too quickly.
His lips twisted skeptically. “Who is your father? What is his occupation?”
“He's a…farmer,” came her careful reply.
“Evidently a successful one.” His dubious gaze swept over the soft wool fabric and the fine cut of her gown. “Why aren't you at home with your family, Miss Ridley?”
Her replies became increasingly hesitant, and he sensed her sudden uneasiness. “I've had a falling-out with them.”
“Of what kind?” he asked, not missing the blush of deception that crept over her cheeks.
“I'd rather not say—”
“Does it involve a man?” He saw from the flicker of surprise in her brown eyes that the guess was accurate. Leaning back in his chair, he surveyed her coolly. “We'll leave it at that, Miss Ridley. I don't need—or care—to know anything about your personal life. However, let me advise you once again that if you are somehow harboring hopes that you and I will ever—”
“I understand,” she said matter-of-factly. “You don't want an affair with me.” She retreated from his office, pausing at the door to add, “People change their minds, though.”
“I don't,” he said, scowling as she disappeared from sight. For God's sake, didn't she understand the meaning of the word “no”?
Madeline was busy all day, mending tears and snags in a multitude of costumes, cleaning the clutter from the actors' dressing rooms, sorting stacks of freshly printed handbills, and copying the duchess's scheduling notes for Mr. Scott and other members of the company.
The theater company was like a large family, with all the internal squabbling that could be expected of an extended group. Especially intriguing was the colorful assortment of contract players. It seemed to Madeline that actors were far more interesting and flamboyant than normal people, talking and joking with a frankness that shocked her. No matter what the subject of their conversation, it always seemed to include some mention of Mr. Scott. Clearly they all admired, even worshipped him, using him as the standard by which they measured everyone else.
As Madeline swept the floor of the greenroom and cleared away dirty teacups and plates, she listened to a discussion between some of the Capital's most popular players, about what made people fall in love.
“It's not what you project,” said Arlyss Barry, a petite, curly-haired comic actress. “It's what you don't show. Mr. Scott, for example. Watch him in any role he plays, and you'll see that he always holds something back. It's the mystery of a person that makes you want him, or her.”
“Are we talking about the stage or real life?” asked Stephen Maitland, the blond gentleman who had accidently stabbed Mr. Scott during the fencing match.
“There's a difference?” Charles Haversley, another young contract player, asked in pretend confusion, and they all laughed.
“In this case, no,” Arlyss Barry said. “People always want what they can't have. The audience falls in love with a leading man because he'll never belong to any of them. In real life, it's the same. There's not a man or woman alive who wouldn't fall in love with someone who is out of their reach.”
Madeline stopped nearby with the broom and dustpan in hand. “I'm not certain I agree,” she said thoughtfully. “I'm not very well-versed in such matters, but…if someone were very kind to you, and made you feel safe and loved…wouldn't one find that attractive?”
“I don't know,” Charles said with a rakish grin. “Perhaps you should test your theory on me, Maddy, and we'll see if it works.”
“I believe Maddy is already testing it on someone else,” Arlyss said slyly, laughing as she saw Madeline blush. “Forgive me, dear…we all like to tease each other. You'll have to get used to it, I'm afraid.”
Madeline returned her smile. “Of course, Miss Barry.”
“On whom are you testing your theory?” Charles asked with great interest. “Don't say it's Mr. Scott?” He pretended to be indignant as he saw Maddy's blush deepen. “Why him and not me? Granted, he's rich, handsome, and famous…but what does he have besides that?”
Searching for a way to escape his teasing, Madeline began to employ the broom vigorously, sweeping her way out of the room and along the hall.
“Poor thing,” she heard Stephen say in a low tone. “He'll never take notice of her…far too sweet for him, anyway…”
Troubled, Madeline stopped sweeping and leaned against the doorway of an empty rehearsal room. After listening to the actors talk—and they were far more worldly-wise than she—Madeline was beginning to realize that she had made a mistake. She had approached Mr. Scott the wrong way, boldly announcing her intentions, making herself entirely available, preserving not a shred of mystery to entice him. No wonder he showed so little interest in her. But it was too late to change things.
Sighing deeply, Madeline wished there were someone, some wise and experienced woman, who could give her some badly needed advice. The duchess…but she would never condone Madeline's plans. Suddenly an idea came to her, and her brow cleared. Perhaps there was someone she could ask.
The sky was filled with murky clouds as the hired hack delivered Madeline to the house on Somerset. Mrs. Florence sat by the fire in the parlor grate with a supper tray. “My dear, you've returned later than I expected. Did they keep you terribly busy at the theater? You must be hungry. I'll send for another tray.”
Madeline nodded in thanks and sat by her, shivering as the warmth of the fire sank into her wool gown. At the elderly woman's bidding, Madeline related the events of the day, then stared into the fire. “Mrs. Florence, I would like to ask your advice about something, but I think you'll be shocked.”
“It is impossible to shock me, child. I've lived too long to be surprised at anything.” The elderly woman leaned forward, her eyes bright in her softly lined face. “Well, you've piqued my curiosity—don't keep me waiting.”
“I thought that with your experience…that is, your past knowledge…I wanted to ask you how…” Madeline paused and forced the words out. “I want to seduce a man.”
The elderly woman sat back, her eyes unblinking.
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