Devil in Winter Page 30

Sebastian responded with a bland smile and the slightest arch of one brow. Before he could open his mouth to reply, she clapped her hands over her ears. “Oh, don’t say it, don’t!” When she saw that he was obligingly holding his silence—though a devilish gleam remained in his eyes—she lowered her hands cautiously. “If you ran the club, where would you sleep?”

“Here, of course,” came his prosaic reply.

“I’ve taken the only available guest room,” she said. “All the others are occupied. And I’m not going to share a bed with you.”

“There will be rooms aplenty tomorrow. I’m getting rid of the house wenches.”

The situation was changing too rapidly for her staggering brain to follow. Sebastian’s assumption of authority over her father’s business and all his employees was alarming in its speed. She had the unnerving feeling of having brought a tame cat into the club and seeing it transform into a rampaging tiger. And all she could do was watch helplessly as he proceeded to slaughter at will. Perhaps, she thought desperately, if she indulged him for a few days, he would tire of the novelty. In the meantime, she could only try to minimize the damage.

“You’re just going to throw the h-house wenches out into the streets?” she asked with forced calm.

“They’ll be dismissed with generous parting sums as a reward for their labors on the club’s behalf.”

“Do you intend to hire new ones?”

Sebastian shook his head. “While I have no moral aversion to the concept of prostitution—in fact, I’m all for it—I’m damned if I’ll become known as a pimp.”

“A what?”

“A pimp. A c**k bawd. A male procurer. For God’s sake, did you have cotton wool stuffed in your ears as a child? Did you never hear anything, or wonder why badly dressed women were parading up and down the club staircase at all hours?”

“I always visited in the daytime,” Evie said with great dignity. “I rarely saw them working. And later, when I was old enough to understand what they were doing, my father began to curtail my visits.”

“That was probably one of the few kind things he ever did for you.” Sebastian waved away the subject impatiently. “Back to the subject at hand…not only do I not want the responsibility of maintaining mediocre whores, but we don’t have the room to accommodate them. On any given night, when all the beds are occupied, the club members are forced to take their pleasures out in the stables.”

“They are? They do?”

“And it’s damned scratchy and drafty in that stable. Take my word for it.”


“However, there is an excellent brothel two streets over. I have every expectation that we can come to an arrangement with its proprietress, Madame Bradshaw. When one of our club members desires female companionship, he can walk to Bradshaw’s, receive their services at a discounted price, and return here when he’s refreshed.” He raised his brows significantly, as if he expected her to praise the idea. “What do you think?”

“I think you would still be a c**k bawd,” Evie said. “Only by stealth.”

“Morality is only for the middle classes, sweet. The lower class can’t afford it, and the upper classes have entirely too much leisure time to fill.”

Evie shook her head slowly, staring at him with huge eyes, not moving even when he leaned forward to press a grape between her slack lips. “There’s no need to say anything,” he murmured, smiling. “Clearly you’re speechless with gratitude at the prospect of having me here to keep an eye on you.”

Her ruddy brows lowered in a scowl, and he laughed softly. “If your concern is that I may be overcome with manly ardor and ravish you in a moment of weakness…I may. If you ask nicely.”

Evie clamped her teeth on the sweet, pulpy grape and maneuvered the seeds out with her teeth and tongue. As he watched her mouth working on the fruit, Sebastian’s smile faded slightly, and he leaned back. “At the moment you’re too much of a novice to be worth the bother,” he continued coolly. “Perhaps I’ll seduce you in the future, after some other men have taken the trouble to educate you.”

“I doubt it,” she said sullenly. “I would never be so bourgeois as to sleep with my own husband.”

A catch of laughter escaped him. “My God. You must have been waiting for days to use that one. Congratulations, child. We haven’t yet been married a week, and you’re already learning how to fight.”


Evie never knew where her husband had slept that first night, but she suspected that it had been someplace uncomfortable. Her own sleep had been far from restful, as worry had awakened her with clocklike regularity. She had gone to check on her father several times, giving him sips of water, straightening the bedclothes, administering more medicine when the coughing worsened. Each time he awakened, Jenner regarded his daughter with renewed surprise. “Am I dreaming you’re ‘ere, tibby?” he had asked her, and she had murmured softly and stroked his hair.

At the first sign of daylight, Evie washed and dressed, and pinned her damp hair into a braided coil at the back of her neck. Ringing for a chambermaid, she ordered mulled eggs, broth, tea, and any other sickroom food she could think of to tempt her father’s failing appetite. Mornings at the club were quiet and still, as most of the employees were sleeping after having worked into the wee hours of the morning. However, there was always a skeleton staff, who were available for light tasks. A cook-maid stayed in the kitchen while the chef was gone, preparing simple fare for those who required it.

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