Devil in Winter Page 38

“You’re not the same as you were a few days ago,” he murmured. “You’re no longer a wallflower, nor a virgin, nor the helpless child who had to endure life with the Maybricks. You’re a viscountess with a sizable fortune, and a scoundrel of a husband. Whose rules will you adhere to now?”

Evie shook her head in weary confusion. She discovered that as Sebastian worked the tension out of her back, her control over her emotions seemed to dissolve at an equal rate. She was afraid that if she tried to speak, she might cry. Instead she remained silent, squeezing her eyes shut and fighting to keep her breathing even. “So far you’ve spent your life striving to please others,” she heard him say. “With a rather poor rate of success. Why don’t you try pleasing yourself for a change? Why not live by your own rules? What has obeying the conventions ever gotten you?”

Evie pondered the questions, and her breath hissed in pleasure as he found a particularly sore spot. “I like the conventions,” she said after a moment. “There is nothing wrong with being an ordinary person, is there?”

“No. But you’re not ordinary—or you never would have come to me instead of marrying cousin Eustace.”

“I was desperate.”

“That wasn’t the entire reason.” His low voice sounded like a purr. “You also had a taste for the devil.”

“I didn’t! I don’t!”

“You enjoyed cornering me, an infamous rake, in my own home with an offer I couldn’t afford to refuse. Don’t try to deny it—I know you well enough by now.”

Incredibly, despite her grief and worry, Evie felt a smile working up to her lips. “Perhaps I did enjoy it, for a moment,” she admitted. “And I certainly enjoyed thinking about how furious my family would be when they learned of it.” The trace of a smile vanished as she added morosely, “How I hated living with them! If only my father had kept me with him. He could have paid someone to look after me…”

“Good Lord,” Sebastian said, not sounding at all sympathetic, “why should he have wanted a young child in his sphere?”

“Because I was his family. Because I was all that he had!”

That earned a decisive shake of his head. “Men don’t think that way, sweet. Your father assumed—and rightly so—that you would be better off living away from him. He knew you would never marry well unless you were brought up in a respectable manner.”

“But if he had known how the Maybricks would treat me…the way I was abused—”

“What makes you assume that your father wouldn’t have done the same?” Sebastian shocked her by asking. “He was an ex-boxer, for God’s sake. He was hardly known for his self-restraint. You may have become entirely familiar with the back of his hand, had you seen him more often.”

“I don’t believe that!” Evie said hotly.

“Settle your feathers,” Sebastian murmured, reaching for the velvet gown on the bed. “As I told you, I would never condone striking a woman for any reason. But the world is full of men who don’t have that particular scruple, and it’s likely your father was one of them. Argue if you like—but don’t be so naive as to put Jenner on a pedestal, love. In the context of his world—the rookeries, the gaming hells, the rogues, criminals, and confidence tricksters—he was a decent enough man. I’m sure he would think that a fitting eulogy. Lift your arms.” Expertly he pulled the velvet over her head, tugged the skirts into a soft, heavy fall over her hips, and helped her to push her arms through the sleeves. “This life isn’t for you,” he said, not unkindly. “You belong on some country estate, sitting on a blanket spread over green lawn, eating a dish of strawberries and cream. Going for carriage drives. Calling on your friends. Someday you should probably let me give you a baby. It would be something to occupy you. And it would give you something in common with your friends, who have doubtless have already begun breeding.”

Startled by the casualness with which the suggestion had been delivered, Evie stared into the handsome face so close to hers. One might have thought he had just proposed to buy her a puppy. Was he really as callous as he seemed?

“Would you take any interest in a baby?” Evie managed to ask after several hard swallows.

“No, pet. I’m no more meant for a wife and family than your father was. But I would see to it that you were handsomely provided for.” A wicked spark entered his eyes. “And I would participate enthusiastically in the begetting of children, if not their rearing.” He moved behind her to fasten the gown. “Think about what you want,” he advised. “There’s very little you can’t have…so long as you dare to reach for it.”


Any friendly feeling that Evie had for her husband promptly vanished the next morning when Sebastian left the club just before noon, ostensibly on an errand to Madame Bradshaw’s. He had finished making arrangements for Ivo Jenner’s funeral, which would be held the following day, and was now turning his attention to business matters involving the club. Jenner’s would be closed for a fortnight, during which there would be a massive invasion of carpenters, masons, painters, all employed to refurbish the building.

Sebastian had also begun to make decisive changes in the club’s procedures, including promoting Cam to the position of factotum. In light of the boy’s mixed heritage, it was certain to be a controversial decision. Gypsies were universally believed to be a light-fingered and deceptive lot. For Cam to be responsible for collecting and paying large sums of money, and arbitrating whenever the legality of a play was in question, would be viewed by some as asking a cat to watch over a nest of baby chicks. The power of the position was such that no one, not even Sebastian, could question his judgments on the games. However, Cam was a familiar and well-liked figure, and Sebastian was willing to gamble that his popularity would induce the club members to accept him in this new position. Besides, none of the other thirty club employees was remotely qualified to run the hazard room.

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