Devil in Winter Page 37

St. Vincent’s eyes narrowed. “Why would he leave money to Bullard?”

Cam shrugged. “I couldn’t say. But if I were you, I wouldn’t gainsay Jenner’s last wish.”

“If I do, there isn’t much that he or anyone else can do about it.”

“Then you’ll take the risk of having his ghost haunt the club because of unfinished business.”

“Ghost?” St. Vincent shot him an incredulous glance. “Christ. You’re not serious, are you?”

“I’m a Gypsy,” Cam replied matter-of-factly. “Of course I believe in ghosts.”

“Only half Gypsy. Which led me to assume that the rest of you was at least marginally sane and rational.”

“The other half is Irish,” Cam said, a touch apologetically.

“Christ,” St. Vincent said again, shaking his head as he strode away.

With the funeral to be arranged, and the club’s business in disarray, and the building itself in dire need of restoration, Sebastian should have been far too busy to take notice of Evie and her condition. However, she soon realized that he was demanding frequent reports from the housemaids about how much she had slept, and whether she had eaten, and her activities in general. Upon learning that Evie had gone without breakfast or lunch, Sebastian had a supper tray sent upstairs, accompanied by a terse note.

My lady,

This tray will be returned for my inspection within the hour. If everything on it is not eaten, I will personally force-feed it to you.

Bon appetit,S.

To Sebastian’s satisfaction, Evie obeyed the edict. She wondered with annoyance if his orders were motivated by concern or by a desire to browbeat her. However, soon after that, Sebastian did something very considerate, by paying a dressmaker double her usual commission to have three mourning frocks run up for Evie at remarkable speed. Unfortunately, the fabric selection was entirely inappropriate.

Women in their first year of mourning were obliged to dress only in crepe, a dull, stiff, scratchy fabric made of gummed threads. No one considered this a pleasant choice, as crepe was dangerously flammable, and it tended to shrivel and nearly fall to pieces in the rain. Sebastian, however, had ordered one gown made of rich black velvet, one of soft cambric, and one of cashmere.

“I can’t wear these,” Evie told him with a frown, smoothing her hands over the gowns. She had put them on the counterpane of her bed, where the garments lay heaped like midnight flowers.

Sebastian had brought the gowns upstairs himself, as soon as they had been delivered to the club. He stood at the corner of the bed, casually leaning back against the heavy carved post. With the exception of his snowy white shirt and collar, he was dressed in black from head to toe. As one would expect, he was astonishingly handsome in the severe clothes, their darkness providing an exotic contrast to his glowing golden skin and hair. Not for the first time, Evie wondered wryly if any man with such remarkable looks could possess a decent character—no doubt he had been spoiled since infancy.

“What is your objection to the clothes?” Sebastian asked, glancing at the gowns. “They’re black, aren’t they?”

“Well, yes, but they’re not made of crepe.”

“Do you want to wear crepe?”

“Of course not—no one does. But if people saw me wearing anything else, there would be terrible gossip.”

One of Sebastian’s brows arched. “Evie,” he said dryly, “you eloped against your family’s wishes, you married a notorious rake, and you’re living in a gaming club. How much more damned gossip do you think you could cause?”

She cast an uncertain glance over the dress she was wearing, one of the three that she had taken with her the night that she had escaped the Maybricks. Although she and the maids had done their best to clean it, the brown wool was travel-stained, and shrunken in the places where it had gotten wet and muddy. And it was itchy. She wanted to wear something fresh and soft and clean. Reaching out to the folds of the black velvet, she stroked it gently, her fingertips leaving sleek trails in the soft nap.

“You must learn to ignore what people say,” Sebastian murmured, coming to her. Standing behind her, he rested his fingers lightly on her shoulders, causing her to start a little. “You’ll be much happier that way.” Suddenly his voice was tipped with amusement. “I’ve learned that while gossip about others is often true, it’s never true when it is about oneself.”

Evie stiffened nervously when she felt his hands moving along the line of fasteners on the back of her brown wool. “What are you doing?”

“Helping you to change your gown.”

“I don’t want to. Not now. I…oh, please don’t!”

But he persisted, sliding one hand around her front to keep her in place, while his other continued to release the row of buttons. Rather than resort to an undignified struggle, Evie flushed and held still, goose bumps rising on her exposed skin. “I w-wish you wouldn’t handle me in such a cavalier manner!”

“The word ‘cavalier’ implies indifference,” he replied, pushing the gown over her hips. It fell in a scratchy heap to the floor. “And there is nothing indifferent about my reaction to you, love.”

“One could wish for a bit of respect,” Evie exclaimed, shivering before him in her underclothes. “Especially after…after…”

“You don’t need respect. You need comfort, and holding, and possibly a good long tumble in bed with me. But since you won’t allow that, you’ll get a shoulder rub and a few words of advice.” Sebastian settled his warm hands over her shoulders, which were bare except for the tapes of her chemise straps. He began to rub her stiff muscles, his thumbs fanning in strong arcs across her upper back. Evie made a little sound and tried to step away, but he hushed her and continued to massage her with infinite skill.

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