Devil in Winter Page 34

“I don’t believe your silly theory. I could find a d-dozen doctors who would hold it up to ridicule—”

“I can’t let you take the chance. Bloody hell, do you want to find yourself in that bed six months from now with your lungs rotting away?”

“If th-th-that happens, it’s no concern of yours.”

As they confronted each other in the anger-snarled silence that followed, Evie had a fleeting sense that her bitter words had pierced deeper than she would have expected.

“You’re right,” Sebastian said savagely. “If you want to turn yourself into a consumptive, go right ahead. But don’t be surprised when I decline to sit wringing my hands at your bedside. I won’t do a thing to help you. And as you lie there coughing your lungs out, I’ll take the devil’s own delight in reminding you that it was your own damned fault for being such a stubborn idiot!” He concluded the speech with an irritated motion of his hands.

Unfortunately, Evie had been conditioned by too many encounters with Uncle Peregrine to discern between angry gestures and the beginnings of a physical attack. She flinched instinctively, her own arms flying up to shield her head. When the expected pain of a blow did not come, she let out a breath and tentatively lowered her arms to find Sebastian staring at her with blank astonishment.

Then his face went dark.

“Evie,” he said, his voice containing a bladelike ferocity that frightened her. “Did you think I was about to…Christ. Someone hit you. Someone hit you in the past—who the hell was it?” He reached for her suddenly—too suddenly—and she stumbled backward, coming up hard against the wall. Sebastian went very still. “Goddamn,” he whispered. Appearing to struggle with some powerful emotion, he stared at her intently. After a long moment, he spoke softly. “I would never strike a woman. I would never harm you. You know that, don’t you?”

Transfixed by the light, glittering eyes that held hers with such intensity, Evie couldn’t move or make a sound. She started as he approached her slowly. “It’s all right,” he murmured. “Let me come to you. It’s all right. Easy.” One of his arms slid around her, while he used his free hand to smooth her hair, and then she was breathing, sighing, as relief flowed through her. Sebastian brought her closer against him, his mouth brushing her temple. “Who was it?” he asked.

“M-my uncle,” she managed to say. The motion of his hand on her back paused as he heard her stammer.

“Maybrick?” he asked patiently.

“No, th-the other one.”


“Yes.” Evie closed her eyes in pleasure as his other arm slid around her. Clasped against Sebastian’s hard chest, with her cheek tucked against his shoulder, she inhaled the scent of clean male skin, and the subtle touch of sandalwood cologne.

“How often?” she heard him ask. “More than once?”

“I…i-it’s not important now.”

“How often, Evie?”

Realizing that he was going to persist until she answered, Evie muttered, “Not t-terribly often, but…sometimes when I displeased him, or Aunt Fl-Florence, he would lose his temper. The l-last time I tr-tried to run away, he blackened my eye and spl-split my lip.”

“Did he?” Sebastian was silent for a long moment, and then he spoke with chilling softness. “I’m going to tear him limb from limb.”

“I don’t want that,” Evie said earnestly. “I-I just want to be safe from him. From all of them.”

Sebastian drew his head back to look down into her flushed face. “You are safe,” he said in a low voice. He lifted one of his hands to her face, caressing the plane of her cheekbone, letting his fingertip follow the trail of pale golden freckles across the bridge of her nose. As her lashes fluttered downward, he stroked the slender arcs of her brows, and cradled the side of her face in his palm. “Evie,” he murmured. “I swear on my life, you will never feel pain from my hands. I may prove a devil of a husband in every other regard…but I wouldn’t hurt you that way. You must believe that.”

The delicate nerves of her skin drank in sensations thirstily…his touch, the erotic waft of his breath against her lips. Evie was afraid to open her eyes, or to do anything that might interrupt the moment. “Yes,” she managed to whisper. “Yes…I—”

There was the sweet shock of a probing kiss against her lips…another…She opened to him with a slight gasp. His mouth was hot silk and tender fire, invading her with gently questing pressure. His fingertips traced over her face, tenderly adjusting the angle between them.

As Sebastian felt her sway, her equilibrium unraveling, he took one of her hands and drew it gently up to the back of his neck. She brought the other up as well, clinging to his hard nape as she responded to the sweetly nuzzling kisses. He was breathing fast, the movements of his chest a beguiling friction against her br**sts. Suddenly his kisses were deeper, more forceful, bringing the passion to a burning urgency that made her twist against him, desperate for more closeness with his hard masculine form.

A sound of pained desire came from low in Sebastian’s throat, and he lifted his mouth from hers. “No,” he whispered raggedly. “No, wait…love…I didn’t mean to start this. I just…hell.”

Evie’s fingers curled tightly into the fabric of his coat, and she buried her face against the slick gray silk of his necktie. Sebastian’s hand cupped the back of her head, his body supporting her unsteady weight. “I still mean what I said before,” he said into her hair. “If you want to care for your father, you’ll have to follow my rules. Keep the room ventilated—I want the door and window open at all times. And don’t sit too close to him. Furthermore, whenever you’re with him, I want you to tie a handkerchief over your mouth and nose.”

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