Devil in Winter Page 21

Finally, adopting an expression of kind concern, he murmured, “My love, I can’t allow you to stay at a place filled with thieves, gamblers and drunkards. Surely you see the inherent dangers in such a situation.”

“I will make certain that you receive my dowry as quickly as possible. And then you won’t have to worry about me.”

His self-control, always so solid, evaporated like hot water on a stove plate. “I’m not worried about you, damn it! It’s just—holy hell, it’s not done, Evie. The Viscountess St. Vincent can’t live in a gaming club, even for a few days.”

“I didn’t realize you were so conventional,” she said, and for some reason the sight of his ferocious scowl elicited a twitch of amusement at the corners of her lips. Subtle as the twitch was, Sebastian saw it, and he was instantly thrown from anger to bemusement. He would be damned if he would be put through a wringer by a twenty-three-year-old virgin…near-virgin…who was so naive as to believe that she was any kind of match for him.

His gaze of icy contempt should have withered her. “In your fantasy of playing ministering angel, sweet, just who did you imagine would protect you in that place? Sleeping there alone at night is an invitation to be raped. And I’ll be damned if I stay there with you—I have better things to do than sit in a second-rate gambling palace and wait for old Jenner to turn up his toes.”

“I haven’t asked you to watch over me,” she replied in a level tone. “I’ll manage quite well without you.”

“Of course you will,” Sebastian muttered sarcastically, suddenly losing interest in the cold supper before him. Tossing his napkin over the half-finished plate, he stood from the table and removed his coat and waistcoat. He was dusty and travel-weary, and he intended to make use of the slipper bath. With any luck the water would still be warm.

As he undressed and threw each garment over the chair, he couldn’t help but think of all the women who had wanted to marry him over the years—beautiful and well endowed, both physically and financially—they would have done anything short of murder to please him. He had been far too busy with his rakish pursuits to consider offering for any of them. And now, through a combination of circumstances and bad timing, he had ended up wedded to a socially awkward creature with an unsavory bloodline and an obstinate temperament.

Noticing the way Evie had averted her gaze from the sight of his na**d body, Sebastian felt a sneer twist his lips. He went to the tiny folding tub and lowered himself into the lukewarm water, his long legs straddled on either side of it. Washing himself idly, sluicing his soapy chest and arms with great handfuls of water, he watched his wife with narrowed eyes. He was pleased to observe that some of her composure had vanished as he bathed. Her color heightened as she took an undue interest in the pattern of the quilted counterpane on the bed.

As she traced a pattern of stitches with her forefinger, the gleam of the Scottish-gold ring caught Sebastian’s eye. He experienced a strange reaction to the sight, a nearly overwhelming urge to go over to her, shove her back on the bed, and take her without preliminaries. To dominate her, and force her to admit his ownership. The rush of primal lust was more than a bit alarming to a man who had always considered himself civilized. Troubled and inflamed, he finished washing, snatched up the damp length of toweling that she had used, and dried himself efficiently. The sight of his arousal did not escape Evie’s notice—he heard her quick intake of breath from across the room. Casually he wrapped the toweling around his waist and tucked in the loose end as he went to his trunk.

He rummaged for a comb, took it to the washstand, and ruthlessly tugged the comb through his wet locks. The corner of the looking glass atop the washstand revealed a partial view of the bed, and he saw that Evie was watching him.

Without turning, he murmured, “Am I to be a butcher’s dog tonight?”

“Butcher’s dog?” Evie repeated in confusion.

“The dog who lies in the corner of the shop and is not allowed to have any meat.”

“That comparison is hardly a c-compliment to either of us.”

There was a nearly imperceptible pause in his combing as Sebastian registered the return of the stammer. Good, he thought callously. She was not nearly as composed as she pretended to be. “Are you going to answer my question?”

“I…I’m sorry, but I would pr-prefer not to have intimate relations with you again.”

Stunned and offended, Sebastian set down his comb and turned to face her. Women never refused him. And the fact that Evie could do so after the pleasures of this morning was difficult to comprehend.

“You told me that you didn’t like to bed a woman more than once,” Evie reminded him half apologetically. “You said it would be a crashing bore.”

“Do I look bored to you?” he demanded, the towel doing little to conceal the outline of a roaring erection.

“I suppose that depends on which part of you one is looking at,” Evie mumbled, dropping her gaze to the counterpane. “I needn’t remind you, my lord, that w-w-we had an agreement.”

“You’re allowed to change your mind.”

“I won’t, however.”

“Your refusal smacks of hypocrisy, pet. I’ve already had you once. Does it really make any difference to your virtue if we do it again?”

“I am not refusing you for the sake of virtue.” Her stammer disappeared as she regained her composure. “I have an entirely different reason.”

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