Devil in Winter Page 20

“Is he an arrogant man, your father?”

The hint of a bitter smile curved his lips. “I used to think it was arrogance. But I’ve come to realize that it’s more an obliviousness to the world outside his own. To my knowledge, he’s never put on his own stockings, or put powder on his own toothbrush. I doubt he could survive a life without privilege. In fact, I believe he would starve in a room filled with food if there were no servants to bring it to the table where he sat. He thinks nothing of using a priceless vase as a target for shooting practice or putting out a fire in the hearth by throwing a fox-fur coat on it. He even keeps the forests around the estate perpetually lit with torches and lamps in case he should ever take it in his mind to go walking through them at night.”

“No wonder you’re poor,” Evie said, appalled by such waste. “I hope you’re not a spendthrift as well.”

He shook his head. “I have yet to be accused of unreasonable financial excess. I rarely gamble, and I don’t keep a mistress. Even so, I have my share of creditors nipping at my heels.”

“Have you ever considered going into a profession?”

He gave her a blank look. “What for?”

“To earn money.”

“Lord, no, child. Work would be an inconvenient distraction from my personal life. And I’m seldom disposed to rise before noon.”

“My father is not going to like you.”

“If my ambition in life were to earn other peoples’ liking, I would be most distressed to hear that. Fortunately it’s not.”

As the journey continued in a companionable vein, Evie was aware of a contradictory mixture of feelings toward her husband. Although he possessed a large measure of charm, she found little in him that was worthy of respect. It was obvious that he had a keen mind, but it was employed for no good purpose. Furthermore, the knowledge that he had kidnapped Lillian, and betrayed his own best friend in the bargain, made it clear that he was not to be trusted. However…he was capable of an occasional cavalier kindness that she appreciated.

With every stop between relays Sebastian saw to Evie’s needs, and despite his threats about letting the foot warmer cool, he had it refilled with boiling water. When she grew tired he allowed her to nap against his chest, anchoring her as the carriage wheels bounced over broken stretches of road. As she drowsed in his arms, it occurred to her that he provided the illusion of something she had never had before. Sanctuary. His hand passed repeatedly over her hair in the gentlest of caresses, and she heard him murmur in his dark-angel voice, “Rest, my love. I’m watching over you.”


Although Sebastian was eager to reach London and take stock of his new circumstances, he did not regret his decision to travel more slowly on their return route. Evie had become pale and uncommunicative by nightfall, her reserves of strength depleted after the ardors of the past few days. She needed rest.

Finding a suitable coaching inn at which they could spend the night, Sebastian paid for the best room available and requested food and a hot bath to be sent up immediately. Evie bathed in a small slipper tub, while Sebastian made arrangements for a change of horses in the morning and saw to it that the driver received lodging. Returning to the room, which was small but clean, with somewhat threadbare blue curtain panels covering the windows, Sebastian discovered that his wife had finished her bath and was dressed in her nightgown.

He wandered to the table, lifted the napkin that covered his plate, and discovered a portion of roast chicken, a few wilted root vegetables, and a small pudding. Noting that Evie’s plate was empty, he glanced at her with a wry smile. “How was it?”

“Better than no supper at all.”

“I will confess to having a new appreciation for the talents of my London chef.” He sat at the rickety table and draped a fresh napkin over his lap. “I think you will find his creations to your liking.”

“I don’t expect that I will have many meals at your home,” Evie said guardedly.

Sebastian paused with his fork poised halfway to his mouth.

“I will be staying at my father’s club,” Evie continued. “As I told you before, I intend to take care of him.”

“During the day, yes. But you won’t stay there at night. You’ll return in the evenings to my…our…house.”

She regarded him with an unblinking stare. “His illness won’t go away at nightfall and resume at daybreak. He will need constant care.”

Sebastian shoved a bite of food into his mouth as he replied irritably. “That’s what servants are for. You may hire a woman to care for him.”

Evie shook her head with a stubborn firmness that further annoyed him. “That isn’t the same as being nursed by a loving relative.”

“Why should you give a damn about the quality of his care? Precious little he’s done for you. You hardly know the bastard—”

“I don’t like that word.”

“That’s a pity. Because it’s one of my favorites, and I intend to keep using it whenever it applies.”

“Then it is fortunate we will see each other so seldom after we return to London.”

Glaring at his wife, whose sweet face concealed an unexpectedly mulish disposition, Sebastian was reminded that she was willing to take drastic measures to get what she wanted. The devil knew what she would do if he pushed her too hard. Forcing his hands to relax on the handles of his knife and fork, he resumed eating. It didn’t matter that the chicken was tasteless. Had it been swathed in the most delectable French sauce, he still wouldn’t have noticed it. His crafty mind was busy sorting through strategies to deal with her.

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