Devil in Winter Page 33

“Very well.” He glanced at Jenner. “With your permission, sir, I will visit later, after you’ve rested.”

“Yes,” her father agreed, his gaze unfocused. He closed his eyes and reclined with a sigh.

Evie straightened the room as Sebastian cleaned the razor, sharpened it once more on the strop, and closed it in its leather case. Walking with Sebastian to the threshold of the room, Evie stopped to face him, pressing her back against the doorjamb. Her worried gaze lifted to his face. “Have you dismissed Mr. Egan yet?”

Sebastian nodded, bracing one hand on the jamb above her head as he leaned over her. Although his posture was loose and easy, Evie still had a feeling of being subtly dominated. To her bemusement, it was not an altogether unpleasant sensation. “He was hostile at first,” Sebastian replied, “until I told him that I had looked through some of the account books. After that he was as docile as a lamb, knowing how bloody fortunate he is that we’ve decided not to bring charges against him. Rohan is helping him to pack, and ensuring that he will leave at once.”

“Why don’t you wish to bring charges against Mr. Egan?”

“It’s bad publicity. Any hint of financial trouble makes people nervous about the club’s stability. We’re better off to absorb the losses and go on from here.” His gaze slid over her strained features, and he stunned her by saying softly, “Turn around.”

Her eyes became huge. “Wh-what? Why?”

“Turn around,” Sebastian repeated, waiting until she complied slowly. Her heart pounded painfully hard as he reached around her, took her wrists, and brought her hands up to the doorjamb. “Take hold, sweet.”

Bewildered, she waited and wondered nervously what he was going to do. Her eyes closed, and she tensed as she felt his big hands settle on her shoulders. His fingers smoothed lightly over her upper back, as if he were searching for something…and then he began to knead her back with gentle, sure motions, easing the soreness of her tortured muscles. His artful fingertips probed places of aching tension, causing her to inhale sharply. The pressure of his hands intensified, his palms rolling over her back, his thumbs stroking deeply on either side of her spine. To Evie’s mortification, she found herself arching like a cat. Slowly working his way upward, Sebastian found the knotted muscles at the junctures of her shoulders and neck and concentrated on them, kneading and pressing until she felt a soft moan rise in her throat.

A woman could become a slave to those experienced hands. He touched her with perfect sensuality, drawing acute pleasure from her sore flesh. Leaning most of her weight against the doorjamb, Evie felt her breathing turn slow and deep. Her back softened, lengthened beneath the coaxing manipulation, and it felt so wonderful that she dreaded the moment when he would stop.

When at last Sebastian’s hands eased away from her body, Evie was surprised that she didn’t melt into a puddle on the floor. She turned around and glanced at his face, expecting a taunting smile or a sarcastic remark. Instead she saw that his color had heightened, and his expression was impassive. “I have something to tell you,” he muttered. “In private.” Taking her by the arm, Sebastian drew her out of her father’s apartments and into the next available room, which happened to be the one that she had occupied the previous night. Sebastian closed the door and loomed over her. His face was impassive. “Rohan was right,” he said bluntly. “Your father doesn’t have long. It will be a miracle if he lasts another day.”

“Yes. I…I think that is obvious to everyone.”

“This morning I talked with Rohan at length about your father’s condition, and he showed me a leaflet that the doctor had left upon the diagnosis.” Reaching into his coat, Sebastian extracted a small folded piece of paper covered with minute printing, and gave it to her.

Evie read the words A New Theory of Consumption at the top of the leaflet. Since the only light in the room came from the small window, and her eyes were tired, she shook her head. “May I read it later?”

“Yes. But I will tell you the gist of the theory—that consumption is caused by living organisms—so tiny that they are invisible to the na**d eye. They abide in the afflicted lungs. And the disease is transferred when a healthy person draws in part of a breath that the ill person emits from his lungs.”

“Tiny creatures in the lungs?” Evie repeated blankly. “That’s absurd. Consumption is caused by a natural predisposition to the ailment…or by staying out too long in the cold and damp…”

“Since neither of us are doctors or scientists, a debate on the issue would be rather pointless. However, to be safe…I’m afraid I’m going to have to limit the amount of time you spend with your father.”

The paper fell from her hand. Shocked by the statement, Evie felt her pulse beating at a furious tempo. After all she had gone through to be with her father, Sebastian was trying to deny her the last few days she would ever have with him—all because of some unproven medical theory printed on a leaflet? “No,” she said violently. Her throat constricted, and her words tumbled out too quickly for her mouth to accommodate them. “A-a-absolutely not. I will spend as long as I like with him. You d-don’t give a…a damn about me, or him…you just want to be cruel to show me that you have the p-power to—”

“I saw the bedclothes,” Sebastian said curtly. “He’s coughing up blood, mucus, and the devil knows what else…and the more time you spend with him, the greater the chance that you’ll inhale whatever the hell is killing him.”

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