Devil in Winter Page 25

Evie touched the surface of Cam’s coat sleeve. “Is my father awake now?” she asked anxiously. “May I go up to see him?”

“Of course.” The Gypsy took both her hands in a light grip, the gold rings warmed by the liberal heat of his fingers. “I will see to it that no one interferes.”

“Thank you.”

Suddenly Sebastian reached between them and plucked one of Evie’s hands away, pulling it decisively to his own arm. Though his manner was casual, the firm pressure of his fingers ensured that she would not try to pull away.

Puzzled by the display of possessiveness, Evie frowned. “I have known Cam since childhood,” she said pointedly. “He has always been quite kind to me.”

“A husband always likes to hear of kindnesses done for his wife,” Sebastian replied coolly. “Within limits, of course.”

“Of course,” Cam said softly. His attention returned to Evie. “Shall I show you upstairs, milady?”

She shook her head. “No, I know the way. Please r-return to what you were doing.”

Cam bowed again and exchanged a swift glance with Evie, both of them acknowledging tacitly that they would find an opportunity to talk later.

“Do you dislike him because he’s a Rom?” Evie asked her husband as they went to the stairs.

“I rarely dislike people for things they can’t change,” Sebastian replied sardonically. “They usually give me sufficient cause to dislike them for other reasons.”

Her hand fell away from his arm as she picked up her skirts.

“Where is the factotum, I wonder?” Sebastian continued, setting a palm at the small of her back as they ascended the stairs. “It’s early evening. The hazard room and the dining room are open—he should be busy.”

“He drinks,” Evie commented.

“That explains a great deal about the way this club is run.”

Sensitive to any insult about her father’s club, and uncomfortably aware of the gentle pressure of his hand on her back, Evie had to bite her tongue to hold back a stinging reply. How easy it was for a pampered nobleman to criticize the way professional men did things. If he had to run a place like this himself—perish the thought—he might have a great deal more respect for what her father had accomplished.

They climbed to the second level and proceeded along a second-floor gallery that wrapped completely around the upper part of the room. One had only to look over the balcony railings to view all the action of the main floor. This, the largest area of the club, was devoted entirely to hazard. Three oval tables covered with green baize cloth and yellow markings were surrounded by dozens of men. The sounds that floated upward—the constant rattle of dice, the quiet but intense exclamations of the casters and the croupiers, the soft drag of the little wooden rakes as they pulled money from the table into the croupier’s hands—they were among some of Evie’s earliest childhood recollections. She glanced at the magnificent carved desk in the corner of the room where her father had sat, approving credit, granting temporary memberships, and raising the hazard bank if the play had been too deep. At the moment the desk was occupied by a man of rather seedy appearance whom she did not know. Her gaze moved to the opposite corner of the room, where another stranger acted as general supervisor, regulating payments and overseeing the pace of the play.

Pausing at the railing, Sebastian looked down at the main floor with an oddly intent expression. Wanting to go to her father at once, Evie gave an impatient tug at his arm. However, Sebastian did not budge. In fact, he barely seemed to notice her, so absorbed was he in the activities taking place downstairs. “What is it?” Evie asked. “Do you see something unusual? Something wrong?”

Sebastian shook his head slightly and dragged his attention from the main floor. His gaze moved around them, taking in the faded painted panels on the walls, the chipped molding, the threadbare piling of the carpeting. Jenner’s had once been splendidly decorated, but as the years had passed, it had lost much of its luster. “How many members of the club are there?” he asked. “Excluding temporary memberships.”

“There used to be something like two thousand,” Evie replied. “I don’t know what the current figures are.” She tugged at his arm again. “I want to see my father. If I must go unaccompanied—”

“You’re not to go anywhere unaccompanied,” Sebastian said, focusing on her with an bright immediacy that startled her. His eyes were like polished moonstones. “You could be pulled into one of the bawdy rooms by some top-heavy drunkard—or an employee, for that matter—and raped before anyone realizes you’re missing.”

“I’m perfectly safe here,” she countered with annoyance. “I am still acquainted with many of the employees, and I know my way around the club better than you do.”

“Not for long,” Sebastian murmured, and his gaze returned almost compulsively to the main floor. “I’m going to go over every inch of this place. I’m going to know all its secrets.”

Taken aback by the statement, Evie gave him a perplexed glance. She realized that subtle changes had taken place in him from the moment they had entered the club…she was at a loss to account for his strange reaction. His customary languid manner had been replaced by a new alertness, as if he were absorbing the restless energy of the club’s atmosphere.

“You are staring at the club as if you’d never seen it before,” she murmured.

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