Devil in Winter Page 22

“I’m all agog to hear it.”

“Self-protection.” With obvious effort, Evie brought her gaze to his. “I have no objection if you choose to have paramours. It’s just that I don’t want to be one of them. The sexual act means nothing to you, but it does mean something to me. I have no desire to be hurt by you, and I think that would be inevitable if I agreed to keep sleeping with you.”

As he struggled to maintain his surface calm, Sebastian’s insides stewed with a mixture of desire and resentment. “I won’t apologize for my past. A man is supposed to have experience.”

“From all indications, you’ve acquired enough for ten men.”

“Why should that matter to you?”

“Because your…your romantic history, to put it politely, is like that of a dog who goes to every back door on the street, collecting scraps at every threshold. And I won’t be one more door. You can’t be faithful to one woman—you’ve proven that.”

“Just because I’ve never tried doesn’t mean that I can’t, you judgmental bitch! It simply means that I haven’t wanted to.”

The word “bitch” caused Evie to stiffen. “I wish you wouldn’t use such foul language.”

“It seemed appropriate, given the proliferation of dog analogies,” Sebastian snapped. “Which, by the way, is an inaccurate characterization in my case, because women beg me for it, and not the other way around.”

“Then you should go to one of them.”

“Oh, I will,” he said savagely. “When we return to London, I’m going to embark on a spree of orgiastic debauchery that won’t end until someone is arrested for it. But in the meanwhile…do you truly expect that the two of us are going to share a bed tonight—and tomorrow night—as chastely as a pair of nuns on holiday?”

“That will pose no difficulty for me,” Evie said gingerly, conscious that she was delivering an insult of the highest order.

His incredulous glare should have burned a hole in the bed linens. Muttering a string of words that extended her forbidden-profanity list to a considerable degree, Sebastian dropped the towel and went to turn down the lamp. Aware of her uneasy gaze straying to his rampant arousal, Sebastian shot her a scornful glance. “Pay it no mind,” he said, climbing into bed with her. “From now on, I have every expectation that proximity to you will affect my private parts like a prolonged swim in a Siberian lake.”


The weather improved substantially during their journey back to London, with the rain finally disappearing. However, the warming temperatures outside the coach were offset by the degree of frostiness that had developed between the newlyweds inside. Although Sebastian grudgingly kept the foot warmer filled, there were no more invitations for Evie to snuggle in his arms or sleep against his chest. She knew it was for the best. The more she became acquainted with him, the more convinced Evie was that any closeness between them would result in disaster. He was dangerous to her in ways that even he wasn’t aware of.

She reassured herself with the knowledge that as soon as they arrived in town, they would more or less part company. She would stay at the club, and he would go to his house and continue his usual pursuits until he received word of her father’s death. At that time, it was likely that he would want to sell the club and use the proceeds, along with the rest of her inheritance, to replenish his family’s empty coffers.

The thought of selling Jenner’s, which had been the center of her father’s life, gave Evie a feeling of melancholy. However, it would be the most sensible course of action. Few men possessed the ability to run a gaming club successfully. Its owner had to possess the magnetism to lure people into the club, and the artful shrewdness to find ways to make them stay and spend great quantities of money. Not to mention the business sense to invest the profits wisely.

Ivo Jenner had possessed the first two qualities in moderation, but the third not at all. In the recent past he had lost a fortune at Newmarket, having become susceptible in his old age to the glib-tongued rogues who populated the racing world. Fortunately the club was such a powerful financial engine that it was able to absorb the heavy losses.

Sebastian’s unkind taunt that Jenner’s was a second-rate gambling palace was only partially correct. Evie knew from past conversations with her father, who had never bothered to mince words, that although his club was successful by anyone’s standards, it had never reached the heights to which he had aspired. He had wanted it to equal Craven’s, the rival club that had burned down so long ago. But Ivo Jenner had never been able to match the flair and devilish guile of Derek Craven. It was said that Craven had won the money of an entire generation of Englishmen. That Craven’s had disappeared at its zenith had solidified its legendary status in the collective memory of British society.

And while Jenner’s had not come close to the glory of Craven’s, it had not been for a lack of trying. Ivo Jenner had moved his own club from Covent Garden to King Street, which had once been a mere passageway into the fashionable shopping and residential area of St. James, but was now a regular roadway. After purchasing a large portion of the street and razing four buildings, Jenner had built a large and handsome club and advertised it as having the largest hazard bank in London. When gentlemen wished to play deep, they went to Jenner’s.

Evie remembered the club from her childhood, on the occasions when she had been allowed to visit her father for the day. It had been a well-appointed, if somewhat overelaborate place, and she had delighted in standing with him on the second-floor interior balcony and watching the action on the main floor. Grinning indulgently, Jenner would walk his daughter to St. James Street, where they would go to any shop she cared to visit. They went to the perfumer, the hatter’s, the book and print seller, and the bread and biscuit baker, who gave Evie a hot cross bun so fresh that the white piping of icing was half melting from the surface of the warm bread.

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