Devil in Winter Page 19

She glanced at Sebastian to observe his reaction to the chambermaids’ dazzled admiration, but he seemed oblivious. Clearly, their behavior was so commonplace as to go unnoticed. A man of his looks and position would always be sought after by women. Evie had no doubt that it would be devastating to a wife who loved him. However, she would never allow herself to suffer the bite of jealousy or the fear of betrayal.

Coming to seat Evie at the table, Sebastian served her first. There was porridge flavored with salt and butter, as the Scots considered it a sacrilege to sweeten it with treacle. There were also yeast rolls called bannocks, rashers of cold boiled bacon, smoked haddock, and a large bowl of smoked oysters, and broad slices of toasted bread heaped with marmalade. Evie devoured her food hungrily, washing it down with strong tea. The meal was a simple one, hardly comparable to the spectacular English breakfasts at Lord Westcliff’s Hampshire estate, but it was hot and plentiful, and Evie was far too ravenous to find fault with anything.

She lingered over breakfast while Sebastian shaved and finished dressing. Dropping a leather roll of shaving implements into his trunk, he closed the lid and spoke casually to Evie. “Pack your belongings, pet. I’m going downstairs to see that the carriage is made ready.”

“The marriage certificate from Mr. MacPhee—”

“I’ll take care of that as well. Lock the door behind me.”

In approximately an hour he returned to collect Evie, while a brawny lad carried the trunk and valise to the waiting carriage. A faint smile touched Sebastian’s lips as he saw that Evie had used one of his silk cravats to tie her hair at the back of her neck. Evie had lost most of her hairpins during the journey from England, and she had not had the foresight to tuck an extra rack of them into her valise. “With your hair like that, you look too young to marry,” he murmured. “It adds a piquant note of debauchery to the situation. I like it.”

Becoming accustomed by now to his indecent remarks, Evie gave him a look of resigned forbearance and followed him from the room. They descended to the first floor and exchanged farewells with Mr. Findley, the innkeeper. As Evie accompanied Sebastian to the entrance, Findley called out sunnily, “I bid ye a safe juirney, Lady St. Vincent!”

Startled to realize that she was now a viscountess, Evie managed to stammer out her thanks.

Sebastian helped her to the waiting carriage, while the horses stomped and shifted and blew white breath from their flared nostrils. “Yes,” he commented sardonically, “besmirched though it is, the title is now yours to share.” He helped her up the movable step and into the vehicle. “Moreover,” he continued as he swung in to sit beside her, “we will someday rise to even greater heights, as I’m first in line for the dukedom…though I advise you not to hold your breath until it happens. The men in my family are regrettably long-lived, which means you and I probably won’t inherit until we’re both too decrepit to enjoy it.”

“If you—” Evie began, and stopped in surprise as she saw a bulky object on the floor. It was a large pottery container of some sort, with a stoppered opening at one end. Its shape was round, but it was flat on one side to ensure its stability on the floor. She threw a glance of bewilderment at Sebastian, tentatively touched the sole of her shoe to the object and was rewarded with a strong waft of heat that went right up her skirts. “A foot warmer,” she exclaimed. The heat from the boiling water that was contained in the pottery casing would last much longer than the hot brick she had used before. “Where did you manage to find it?”

“I bought it from MacPhee when I saw it in his cottage,” Sebastian replied, seeming amused by her giddy excitement. “Naturally he was overjoyed at the prospect of charging me for something else.”

Impulsively Evie half rose from her seat to kiss his cheek, which was smooth and cool against her lips. “Thank you. It was very kind of you.”

His hands came to her waist, preventing her retreat. He exerted just enough force to bring her onto his lap, until their faces were so close that their noses were nearly touching. His breath caressed her mouth as he murmured, “Surely I deserve more thanks than that.”

“It’s only a foot warmer,” she protested mildly.

He grinned. “I should point out, darling, that the thing is going to cool eventually…and then, once again, I will be your only source of available warmth. And I don’t share my body heat indiscriminately.”

“According to rumor you do.” Evie was discovering an unfamiliar delight in the exchange. She had never bantered with a man like this, nor had she ever experienced the fun of withholding something he wanted, teasing him with it. She saw from the glimmer in his eyes that he was enjoying it as well. He looked as if he wanted to pounce on her.

“I’ll bide my time,” he said. “The damned bottle can’t last forever.”

He let her scramble off his lap, and watched as she settled the fall of the skirts over the foot warmer. Leaning back blissfully as the carriage began to roll forward, Evie felt gooseflesh rise on her thighs at the delicious drafts of heat that drifted through the legs of her drawers and sank into the weave of her stockings. “My lord…that is…Sebastian…”

His eyes were as bright and reflective as a looking glass. “Yes, sweet?”

“If your father is a duke, then why are you a viscount? Shouldn’t you be a marquess, or at least an earl?”

“Not necessarily. It’s a relatively modern practice to add a number of lesser titles when a new one is created. As a rule, the older the dukedom, the less likely that the eldest son is a marquess. My father chooses to make a virtue of it, of course. Don’t ever start him on the subject, especially when he’s in his cups, or you’ll receive a mind-numbing discourse on how foreign and feminine-sounding the word ‘marquess’ is, and how the rank itself is nothing but an embarrassing half step beneath a dukedom.”

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