Devil in Winter Page 40

But Bullard didn’t move to help her, only watched from the doorway with hate-filled eyes. She didn’t understand what she had done to make him despise her so. Why was there no one to help her? Why was no one answering her cries? Fighting for her life, Evie clawed and elbowed her uncle, her struggles hampered by her heavy skirts. She was hopelessly outmatched. Infuriated by her resistance, Peregrine growled, “Submit, you damned little hellion!”

From the corner of her eye, Evie saw a boy coming from the stable yard, pausing uncertainly at the sight of the conflict in the alley. She screamed to him, “Get Cam—” Her shout was stifled by Peregrine’s crushing palm as it covered her mouth and nose. She bit into his dusty-tasting flesh, and he jerked his hand away with an enraged howl. “Cam!” Evie shrieked again, before she was silenced by a hard cuff to the ear.

Peregrine shoved her at Uncle Brook, whose lean face swam in her blurring vision. “Put her in the carriage,” Peregrine commanded, reaching inside his coat for a handkerchief to bind his bleeding hand.

Evie writhed in Brook’s grip. As he pushed her roughly toward the vehicle, Evie twisted and managed to deliver a glancing blow to the front of his throat. The impact caused Brook to choke for breath and release her.

Peregrine seized Evie with his plate-sized hands. He slammed her against the side of the carriage. Her head hit the hard lacquered paneling, and there was an explosion of sparks before her eyes, and a piercing pain in her skull. Dazed by the impact, Evie could only grapple feebly as she was thrust into the vehicle.

To Evie’s astonishment, her cousin Eustace was waiting inside, pale and corpulent, appearing like a baby whale that had been loaded into the seat. He locked her against the massive, stale-smelling folds of his body, exhibiting surprising strength as he plumped a fleshy forearm over her throat. “Got you,” he said, panting with effort. “Troublesome bitch—you broke your promise to marry me. But my parents said that I’m to have your fortune, and they’ll get it for me no matter what must be done.”

“Already married—” Evie wheezed, smothering in the mountain of human flesh that seemed to surround her, as if she were being swallowed whole by some exotic undersea creature.

“The marriage won’t stand. We’re going to have it annulled. So you see, your plan to ruin things for me hasn’t worked.” Eustace sounded like a petulant boy as he continued. “You had better not annoy me, cousin. My father has said I may do whatever I like with you after we’re married. How would you like to be locked in a closet for a week?”

Evie couldn’t summon enough air to reply. His ponderous arms compressed her into the huge doughy mass of his chest and stomach. Tears of pain and despair prickled at the corners of her eyes as she pried frantically at the clench-hold around her neck.

Through the buzzing in her ears, she heard new sounds from outside, shouting and cursing. All of a sudden the carriage door was wrenched open and someone vaulted inside. Evie squirmed to see who it was. Her remaining breath was expelled in a faint sob as she saw a familiar glitter of dark golden hair.

It was Sebastian as she had never seen him before, no longer detached and self-possessed, but in the grip of bone-shaking rage. His eyes were pale and reptilian as his murderous gaze fastened on Eustace, whose breath began to rattle nervously behind the pudgy ladder of his chin.

“Give her to me,” Sebastian said, his voice hoarse with fury. “Now, you pile of gutter sludge, or I’ll rip your throat out.”

Seeming to realize that Sebastian was eager to carry out the threat, Eustace released his chokehold on Evie. She scrambled toward Sebastian and took in desperate pulls of air. He caught her with a low murmur, his hold gentle but secure. “Easy, love. You’re safe now.” She felt the tremors of rage that ran in continuous thrills through his body.

Sebastian sent a lethal glance to Eustace, who was trying to gather his jellylike mass into the far end of the seat. “The next time I see you,” Sebastian said viciously, “no matter what the circumstances, I’m going to kill you. No law, nor weapon, nor God Himself will be able to stop it from happening. So if you value your life, don’t let your path cross mine again.”

Leaving Eustace in a quivering heap of speechless fear, Sebastian hauled Evie from the vehicle. She clung to him, still trying to regain her breath as she glanced apprehensively around the scene. It appeared that Cam had been alerted to the fracas, and was keeping her two uncles at bay. Brook was on the ground, while Peregrine was staggering backward from some kind of assault, his beefy countenance turning ruddy from enraged surprise.

Swaying as her feet touched the ground, Evie turned her face into her husband’s shoulder. Sebastian was literally steaming, the chilly air striking off his flushed skin and turning his breath into puffs of white. He subjected her to a brief but thorough inspection, his hands running lightly over her, his gaze searching her pale face. His voice was astonishingly tender. “Are you hurt, Evie? Look up at me, love. Yes. Sweetheart…did they do you any injury?”

“N-no.” Evie stared at him dazedly. “My uncle Peregrine,” she whispered, “he’s very p-powerful—”

“I’ll handle him,” he assured her, and called out to Cam. “Rohan! Come fetch her.”

The young man obeyed instantly, approaching Evie with long, fluid strides. He spoke to her with a few foreign-sounding words, his voice soothing her overwrought nerves.

She hesitated before going with him, casting a worried glance at Sebastian.

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