Devil in Winter Page 31

The sound of cruel hacking came from her father’s room. Hurrying to the bedside, Evie found him coughing spasmodically into a handkerchief. It made her own lungs hurt as she heard the harrowing convulsions of his chest. Rummaging through the bottles on the night table, she found the morphine syrup and poured it into a spoon. She wedged an arm behind her father’s damp, hot head and neck, lifting him into a half-sitting position. Once again shocked by how light he was, she felt his body tense as he tried to hold back another cough. The resulting shudders jolted the spoon in her hand, and the medicine dribbled onto the bedclothes.

“I’m sorry,” Evie murmured, quickly moving to blot the sticky syrup and refill the spoon. “Let’s try again, Papa.” He managed to take the medicine, his veined throat moving as he swallowed. Then, sputtering with a few residual coughs, he waited as she wedged supportive pillows behind him.

Evie eased him back and pressed a folded handkerchief into his hand. Staring into his gaunt face with its grizzled beard, she searched for any sign of her father in this unrecognizable stranger. He had always been full-faced, robust, ruddy…he had never been able to hold a conversation without the expressive use of his hands, making fists and punching the air in gesticulations that seemed particular to ex-boxers. Now he was a pale shadow of that man, the skin on his face gray and sagging from rapid weight loss. However, the blue eyes were the same…round and dark, the shade of the Irish sea. Finding reassurance in the familiarity of those eyes, Evie smiled.

“I’ve sent for breakfast,” she murmured. “I expect it will be here soon.”

Jenner shook his head slightly, indicating that he did not want food.

“Oh yes,” Evie insisted, half sitting beside him on the bed. “You’ll have to eat something, Papa.” Taking a corner of a blotting cloth, she dabbed at a drop of blood at the bristly corner of his mouth.

A frown insinuated itself between his graying brows. “The Maybricks,” he said raspily. “Will they come for you, Evie?”

Her smile was infused with grim satisfaction. “I’ve left them for good. A few days ago I ran off to Gretna Green and got m-married. They have no power over me now.”

Jenner’s eyes widened. “Who?” he asked succinctly.

“Lord St. Vincent.”

A tap came at the door, and the housemaid entered, bearing a tray laden with dishes. Evie rose to help her, clearing some articles from the night table. She saw her father recoil from the smell of the food, bland though it was, and she winced sympathetically. “I’m sorry, Papa. You must take a little broth, at least.” She draped a napkin over his chest and brought a cup of warm broth to his lips. He drank a few sips and leaned back, studying her as she blotted his mouth. Knowing that he was waiting for her to explain the situation, Evie smiled ruefully. Having given some previous thought to the matter, she had decided that there was no need to counterfeit a romance for his benefit. Her father was a practical man, and it had probably never occurred to him to hope that his daughter might marry for love. In his view, one took life as it came, doing whatever was necessary to survive. If one found a bit of enjoyment along the way, one should take advantage of it, and not complain afterward when the price had to be paid.

“Hardly anyone knows about the marriage yet,” she said. “It’s not a bad match, actually. We get on well enough, and I have no illusions about him.”

Jenner opened his mouth as she slipped a bite of mulled eggs inside. He contemplated the information, swallowed, and ventured, “His father, the duke, is a paper skull what doesn’t know ‘is arse from an axe ‘andle.”

“Lord St. Vincent is quite intelligent, however.”

“A cold sort,” Jenner remarked.

“Yes. But not always. That is—” She stopped suddenly, her cheeks reddening as she remembered Sebastian rising over her in bed, his body hard and warm, his back muscles flexing beneath her fingers.

“A muff chaser, ‘e is,” Jenner commented in a matter-of-fact tone.

“That doesn’t matter to me,” Evie replied with equal frankness. “I would never ask fidelity of him. I’ve gotten what I wanted from the marriage. As for what he wants…”

“Aye, I’ll post the cole,” her father said amicably, using the cockney term for paying money that was owed. “Where is ‘e now?”

She gave him another bite of mulled egg. “No doubt he is still abed.”

The chambermaid, who had been leaving the room, paused at the doorway. “Pardon, but ‘e’s not abed, miss…er, milady. Lord St. Vincent woke Mr. Rohan at first light, and is dragging him to an’ fro, asking questions and giving ‘im lists. Put Mr. Rohan in the devil’s own mood, ‘e ‘as.”

“Lord St. Vincent has that effect on people,” Evie said dryly.

“Lists for what?” Jenner asked.

Evie did not dare admit that Sebastian had taken it upon himself to interfere with the running of the club. That would likely upset her father. News of his daughter’s loveless marriage was something he could take in stride, but anything that affected his business would be a source of grave concern. “Oh,” she said vaguely, “I believe he saw a patch of carpeting that wanted replacing. And he thought of an improvement to the sideboard menu. That sort of thing.”

“Hmm.” Jenner scowled as she brought the cup of broth to his mouth once again. “Tell ‘im ‘e’s not to touch anyfing wivout Egan’s leave.”

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