Devil in Winter Page 50

As one might have expected, Sebastian was the kind of man that the club employees had contempt for, at first regarding him as nothing more than one of the “pigeons” or “culls” who came to the club. A spoiled, self-indulgent aristocrat who had no conception of what it was like to be a workingman. It was likely they all assumed, as Evie had, that Sebastian would quickly tire of the responsibilities that running the club entailed. However, no one dared to challenge him when it was clear that he was entirely willing to fire anyone who failed to heed his commands. There could have been no more effective statement of authority than the way he had summarily dismissed Clive Egan.

Furthermore, Sebastian’s sincere passion for the club could not be ignored. He had a keen interest in everything from the kitchen cuisine to the specific costs of running the hazard room. Recognizing that he had a great deal to learn about the operation of the games, Sebastian undertook to understand the mathematics of gambling. Evie ventured into the hazard room one evening to find Sebastian and Cam standing at the central table, while Cam explained his system of odds.

“…there are only thirty-six possible combinations of two dice, and of course each die has six sides. When you cast two dice simultaneously, whatever combination you end up with is called an ‘accumulated chance’ and the odds of achieving it are thirty-five to one.” Cam paused, giving Sebastian an assessing glance.

Sebastian nodded. “Go on.”

“As anyone who plays hazard knows, the sum of the two face-up sides is called a point. Two ones added together are a point of two. Two sixes added together are a point of twelve. But the odds of throwing any particular number vary, since there is only one way to throw a two, but there are six ways to throw a point of seven.”

“Seven being a natural,” Sebastian murmured, frowning in concentration. “And since the greatest number of combinations will result in a natural, the probability of throwing a seven with one cast is…”

“Sixteen percent,” Cam supplied, picking up the dice. The gold rings on his dark fingers caught the light as he sent the dice tumbling to the end of the table. Rebounded off the back edge of the table, the ivory cubes settled on the green baize. The faces were both sixes. “Throwing a twelve, on the other hand, has a probability of only two point seven percent. And of course, the more you throw, the more the probability increases…so that by the time you’ve cast the dice one hundred and sixty-six times, the probability of having thrown a twelve point by then is ninety-nine percent. Of course, with other points, the probability is going to be different. I can show you on paper—it’s easier to understand that way. You’ll have a great advantage once you learn how to figure the odds. Few players ever do, and it’s what separates the rooks from the pigeons. Hazard is a prejudiced game, even when played honestly, with the advantage going to the banker in most—” Cam paused respectfully as Evie came to the table. A smile glowed in his dark eyes. “Good evening, milady.”

Sebastian frowned as he saw the air of friendly ease between them

“Good evening,” Evie murmured, taking a place at the table beside Sebastian. She smiled as she glanced up at him. “Are you clever with numbers, my lord?”

“I’ve always thought so,” Sebastian replied ruefully, “until now. Rohan…are the other croupiers adept with probability calculations?”

“Adept enough, my lord. They are well-trained. They all know how to tempt a player to make wagers to the house’s advantage, how to identify a good player from a bad one…”

“Trained by whom?” Evie asked.

Cam’s grin was a flash of startling white in his honey-skinned face. “By me, of course. No one understands gaming as well as I.”

Smiling, Evie glanced up at her husband. “All he lacks is confidence,” she remarked dryly.

Sebastian, however, did not react to the jest. Instead he said abruptly to Cam, “I want a list, in descending order, of all outstanding loans and their due dates. The account book is on the top shelf in the office. Why don’t you go start on it now?”

“Yes, my lord.” Giving a shallow bow to Evie, Cam left with his usual loose-limbed grace.

Standing with her husband in the cavernous, semi-darkened hazard room, Evie felt a prickle of nervousness in her stomach. Over the past few days their interactions had been frequent but impersonal, and it was seldom that they ever found themselves alone together. She leaned over the table and reached for the discarded dice, depositing them in a small leather dice box. As she straightened, she felt Sebastian’s hand skim gently over her corseted back, and the hairs on her nape lifted in response. “The hour is late,” he said, his tone far softer than the one he had used with Cam. “You should go to bed—you must be exhausted after all you’ve done today.”

“I haven’t done all that much.” She shrugged uneasily, and his hand made another slow, unnerving pass along her spine.

“Oh yes, you have. You’re pushing yourself a bit too hard, pet. You need to rest.”

She shook her head, finding it difficult to think clearly when he was touching her. “I’ve been glad of the chance to work a bit,” she managed to say. “It keeps me from dwelling on…on…”

“Yes, I know. That’s why I’ve allowed it.” His long fingers curved around the back of her neck.

Her breath shortened as the warmth of his hand transferred to her skin.

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