Devil in Winter Page 48

“Not openly.”

It made no difference that he was right. Evie was silent, while the phrase “you’re not needed” caused an ugly echo in her head.

“I want you to live in safe and respectable surroundings,” Sebastian continued. “The club is no place for a lady.”

“I’m not a lady,” Evie countered, striving for a tone of light irony. “I’m a gambler’s daughter and a scoundrel’s wife.”

“All the more reason to remove you from my influence.”

“I don’t think I’ll leave, just the same. Perhaps we can discuss it in the spring, but until then—”

“Evie,” he said quietly, “I’m not giving you a choice.”

She stiffened and inched away from him. An entire room filled with foot warmers couldn’t have banished the frost that lined her veins. Her mind searched frantically for arguments to dissuade him…but he was right…there was no reason for her to stay at the club.

Her throat became very tight and she thought with despair that by now she should be used to this…being unwanted, being alone…why in God’s name did it still hurt? Oh, how she wished she could be like Sebastian, with a wall of protective ice around her heart. “What about our bargain?” she asked dully. “Do you intend to ignore it, or—”

“Oh no. I’m going to live as chastely as a monk until the time comes for me to collect my reward. But it will be easier for me to resist temptation with you out of reach.”

“Perhaps I won’t resist temptation,” Evie heard herself murmur. “I may find some accommodating gentleman to keep me company. You wouldn’t mind, would you?”

Until the words had left her lips, she would never have believed herself capable of saying such a thing. However, the desperate need to wound him, anger him, break through to his emotions, was overpowering. Her attempt failed. After a short silence, she heard his silken reply.

“Not at all, pet. It would be selfish of me to deny you such amusement in your private hours. Do as you wish…just as long as you’re available when I have need of you.”

Behind the fashionable streets and respectable squares of the affluent areas of London, there was a hidden world of dark alleys and decaying rookeries, where humanity lived in unspeakable squalor. Crime and prostitution were the only means of survival in these places. The air was thick with the odors of refuse and sewage, and the buildings were crammed so close together that in some places a man could only pass between them if he moved sideways.

Cam ventured into the intricate maze of streets with great care, mindful of the infinite traps and dangers that awaited an unwary visitor. He entered a courtyard through dark archway, forty yards long, ten feet wide. It was lined with tall wooden structures, their overhead abutments shutting out the winter sky above. The buildings were padding kens, or common lodging houses, where the homeless slept in piles like so many corpses in a mass graveyard. Hangings of putrid matter, two and three feet in length, extended downward from the abutments. Rats wriggled and scuttled along sides of walls, and disappeared into the cracks of the buildings’ foundations. The court was empty save for a pair of girls sitting together on a doorstep, and a few scrawny children who searched for refuse bones or stray rags. Throwing Cam suspicious glances, the children vanished at the far end of the court.

One of the fuzzy-haired young prostitutes grinned to reveal a few broken stumps of teeth and said, “Whot’s a big ‘and some cull like you come to ‘Angman’s Court for?”

“I’m looking for a man, about so tall”—Cam gestured to indicate a man of five feet and eight inches—“with black hair. Has he come through the court in the past minute?”

The girls cackled as he spoke. “Listen to ‘im talk,” one of them exclaimed in delight.

“Lovely,” the other girl agreed. “Come, dearie, you don’t want a man, when you could lay atop Lushing Lou.” She tugged down her blouse to reveal a scrawny chest and meager, drooping br**sts. “‘Ave a little crack-the-crib wiv me. I’ll bet you does it ‘andsomelike, don’t you?”

Cam withdrew a silver coin from his pocket, and her gaze followed it hungrily. “Tell me where he went,” he said.

“I’ll tell you for sixpence an’ a tup,” she said. “You ‘as pretty eyes, you does. I newer ‘ad a knock from a boy with such a lovely—”

A low, harsh laugh echoed across the court, and then came Joss Bullard’s mocking voice. “You won’t find me, you filthy ‘alf bred!”

Cam swung around, scanning the buildings, where scores of soot-smeared faces stared out of doorways and windows and peered over the tile-less rooftops. Not one of them was recognizable. “Bullard,” he said cautiously, turning slowly as his glance swept the scene. “What do you want with Jenner’s daughter?”

Another ugly laugh, seeming to come from a different direction this time. Cam ventured farther into the court, unable to identify Bullard’s location. “I wants to snuff ‘er!”


“Because she’s a bloody leech what’s taken ewery-fing from me. I wants ‘er dead. I wants to throw ‘er to the rats until there’s nofing but bones left.”

“Why?” Cam asked in bewilderment. “She’s asked me to help you, Joss, even after you betrayed her. She wants to honor her father’s request, to leave you enough to—”

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