Devil in Winter Page 18

“Evie,” she murmured, reaching down to pull the covers up to her chest. “That’s what my father and my friends call me.”

“Are we finally ready for first names?” A teasing smile lurked in the corners of his lips. “Sebastian,” he said softly.

Evie reached out slowly, as if he were a wild animal that might bolt if startled, and her fingers laced through his front locks with careful lightness. Brushing aside the swath of stray hair, she said in a low voice, “We’re truly married now.”

“Yes. God help you.” He inclined his head, enjoying the stroke of her fingers in his hair. “Shall we depart for London today?”

Evie nodded. “I want to see my father.”

“You’d better choose your words with care when you explain that I’m his son-in-law,” he said. “Otherwise the news will finish him off.”

She drew her hand back. “I want to hurry. If the weather improves, perhaps we can better our time. I want to go straight to my father’s club and—”

“We’ll get there soon,” Sebastian said evenly, “but we won’t be traveling at the full-bore speed we maintained all the way to Scotland. We’ll spend at least one night at a coaching inn.” As she opened her mouth to object, he said in an inexorable manner, “It will do your father no good for you to arrive at his club half dead with exhaustion.”

Now it began—the exercise of husbandly authority, and the obligation of the wife to obey him. It was clear that Evie longed to argue, but instead she stared at him with a frown notched between her eyes. Softening his voice, he murmured, “You’re in for a difficult time of it, Evie. Having me for a husband will be trial enough. But caring for a consumptive during the last stage of his illness…you’ll need all your strength. No use in depleting it before you even get there.”

Evie stared at him with a renewed intensity that made him uncomfortable. What eyes she had, as if someone had collected layers of blue glass and shone the brightest sunlight through it. “Are you concerned about my welfare?” she asked.

He made his voice mocking, his gaze cool. “Of course, pet. It’s in my best interest to keep you alive and healthy until I can collect your dowry.”

Evie soon discovered that St. Vincent—Sebastian—was as comfortable na**d as fully dressed. She tried to react nonchalantly to the sight of a man moving about the room without a stitch of clothing. But she stole discreet glances whenever possible, until he extracted a suit of clothes from the trunk. He was long-limbed and lean, with sleek expanses of flesh that must have been toned by gentlemanly exercise like riding, pugilism, and fencing. His back and shoulders were well-developed, with muscles flexing beneath the taut skin. More fascinating still was his front view, including a chest that was not bare, as one usually saw with marble or bronze statues, but lightly covered with hair. The hair on his chest—and in other places—had surprised her. It was yet another of the many mysteries of the opposite gender that were now—literally—being revealed to her.

Unable to bring herself to stride across the room in a similarly exposed fashion, Evie tugged one of the bed linens around herself before going to her valise. She unearthed a clean gown made of heavy brown broadcloth and a fresh set of undergarments, and best of all a pair of clean shoes. Her other pair were so soiled and clammy that she shuddered at the thought of putting them on. In the midst of dressing, she felt Sebastian’s gaze on her. Hastily she yanked her chemise down to conceal her pinkening torso.

“You’re beautiful, Evie,” came his soft comment.

Having been raised by relations who had always lamented the garish color of her hair and the proliferation of freckles, Evie gave him a skeptical smile. “Aunt Florence has always given me a bleaching lotion to make my freckles vanish. But there’s no getting rid of them.”

Sebastian smiled lazily as he came to her. Taking her shoulders in his hands, he slid an appraising glance along her half-clad body. “Don’t remove a single freckle, sweet. I found some in the most enchanting places. I already have my favorites…shall I tell you where they are?”

Disarmed and discomfited, Evie shook her head and made a movement to twist away from him. He wouldn’t let her, however. Pulling her closer, he bent his golden head and kissed the side of her neck. “Little spoilsport,” he whispered, smiling. “I’m going to tell you anyway.” His fingers closed around a handful of the chemise and eased the hem slowly upward. Her breath caught as she felt his fingers nuzzling tenderly between her bare legs. “As I discovered earlier,” he said against her sensitive throat, “there’s a trail inside your right thigh that leads to—”

A knock at the door interrupted them, and Sebastian lifted his head with a grumble of annoyance. “Breakfast,” he muttered. “And I wouldn’t care to make you choose between my lovemaking or a hot meal, as the answer would likely be unflattering. Put on your gown, while I go to the door.”

After Evie obeyed with fumbling haste, he opened the door to reveal a pair of chambermaids bearing trays of covered dishes. As soon as they got a glance at the handsome guest with the seraphic face and hair the color of ripe wheat, the two women gasped and giggled uncontrollably. It hardly improved their composure to see that he was only partially dressed, his feet bare beneath his trousers, his white shirt and collar left open at the throat, and a silk cravat hanging loose on either side of his neck. The infatuated maids nearly overturned the trays twice before they had managed to set the breakfast dishes on the table. Noticing the rumpled bed, they found it difficult to contain their squeals of delight as they speculated on what had taken place there during the night. Annoyed, Evie shooed the chambermaids from the room and closed the door firmly behind them.

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