Devil in Winter Page 26

Sebastian ran his hand along the balcony railing experimentally, regarded the smudge of dust on his palm, and brushed it off. His expression was contemplative rather than critical as he replied, “It looks different now that it’s mine.”

“It’s not yours yet,” Evie replied darkly, realizing that he must be assessing the value of the place for its future sale. How like him to think of money while her father lay on his deathbed. “Do you ever think of anyone other than yourself?”

The question seemed to pull him out of his absorption, and his face became inscrutable. “Rarely, my love.”

They stared at each other, Evie’s eyes accusing, Sebastian’s opaque, and she understood that to expect any decency from him was to invite recurring disappointment. His ruined soul could not be repaired by her kindness and understanding. He would never become one of the reformed rakes that were featured in Daisy Bowman’s trove of scandalous novels.

“I expect that you’ll get everything you want quite soon,” she said coldly. “In the meantime, I’m going to my father’s room.” She started off along the gallery without him, and in a few long strides he fell into step beside her.

By the time they reached the private apartments that Ivo Jenner occupied, Evie’s blood was rustling madly in her ears. Equal parts of fear and longing caused her palms to dampen and her stomach to turn hollow. As she reached for the doorknob to the suite of rooms, her palm slipped on the tarnished brass.

“Allow me,” Sebastian said brusquely, brushing her hand aside. He opened the door and held it for her, and followed her into the dark receiving room. The only light came from the open doorway of the bedroom, where a small lamp gave off an indifferent glow. Evie went through the next threshold and paused, blinking until her eyes adjusted to the shadowy atmosphere. Barely aware of the presence of the man beside her, she approached the bed.

Her father was sleeping, mouth slightly open, his skin pale and glowing with a peculiar delicacy, as if he were a wax figure. Deep lines crossed his face, giving his cheeks the appearance of window shutters. He was half the size he had once been, his arms astonishingly thin, his form shrunken. Evie struggled to reconcile the unfamiliar, slight form on the bed with the big, burly father she had always known. Grief-stricken tenderness flooded her as she saw his red hair, now heavily mixed with silver, standing up in places on his head as if it were a baby bird’s ruffled feathers.

The room smelled of burned candle wicks, medicine, and unwashed skin. It smelled of sickness and approaching death. She saw a pile of dirty bedclothes in the corner, and a litter of crumpled bloodstained handkerchiefs on the floor. The night table was covered with a collection of dirty spoons and colored glass medicine bottles. Evie bent to pick up some of the soiled articles on the floor, but Sebastian caught her by the arm. “You don’t have to do that,” he muttered. “One of the housemaids can see to it.”

“Yes,” Evie whispered bitterly. “I see what a fine job they’ve been doing.” Jerking her arm away from his, she snatched up the dirty handkerchiefs and went to drop them into the pile of discarded bed linens.

Sebastian wandered to the bedside and glanced down at Jenner’s wasted form. He picked up one of the medicine bottles, passed it beneath his nose, and murmured, “Morphine.”

For some reason it provoked Evie to see him standing near her helpless father and examining his medicine. “I have things in hand,” she said in a low voice. “I wish you would leave now.”

“What do you intend to do?”

“I’m going to straighten the room and change the bed linens. And then I’m going to sit by him.”

The pale blue eyes narrowed. “Let the poor devil sleep. You need to eat, and change from your traveling clothes. What good do you think it will do him, for you to sit in the dark and—” He broke off with a muttered curse as he saw her obstinate expression. “Very well. I’ll give you one hour, and then you will share a meal with me.”

“I intend to stay with my father,” she said flatly.

“Evie.” His voice was soft, but it contained an inflexible note that caused her nerves to prickle in warning. Approaching her, he turned her rigid body to face him, and gave her the slightest hint of a shake, forcing her to look up at him. “When I send for you, you’ll come. Is that understood?”

Evie felt herself quiver with outrage. He issued the command as if he owned her. Good God, she had spent her entire life so far having to obey the edicts of her aunts and uncles, and now she would have to submit to her husband.

However…to give him his due, Sebastian still had a long way to go before he could equal the combined efforts of the Maybricks and Stubbinses to make Evie’s life miserable. And he was hardly being unreasonable or cruel in demanding that she take a meal with him. Swallowing back her anger, Evie managed a nod. As his gaze moved over her strained features, there was an odd gleam in his eyes, like the sparks struck from a blacksmith’s hammer as it met a sheet of molten metal.

“Good girl,” he murmured with a mocking smile, and left the room.


Sebastian was briefly tempted to leave Evie at the club and go to his own household, which was walking distance of St. James. The lure of his quiet home, with its modern plumbing and well-stocked pantry and larder, was difficult to resist. He wanted to eat at his own table, and relax before the hearth dressed in one of the velvet-lined silk robes that hung in his bedroom armoire. To hell with his stubborn wife—she could make her own decisions and learn to live with the consequences.

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