Devil in Winter Page 56

Daisy frowned and tugged at her skirts to straighten them. “It is certain that St. Vincent has made an enemy of Lord Westcliff. Which makes things difficult for the rest of us.”

The conversation was interrupted as tea was brought in by a housemaid. Evie poured some of the delicate amber brew for herself and Annabelle. Daisy declined to have tea, preferring to wander about the room and browse among the shelves of books. She peered closely at the titles that had been engraved on the colored vellum spines. “There’s a layer of dust on most of these books,” she exclaimed. “One would think that they hadn’t been read in ages!”

Annabelle looked up from her tea with a droll smile. “I’ll wager that few, if any, have ever been read, dear. It’s not likely that the gentlemen who frequent this club would choose to occupy themselves with books when there are so many more stimulating pursuits available.”

“Why have a reading room, if no one ever reads in it?” Daisy said, sounding outraged. “I can’t imagine any activity that could be more stimulating than reading. Why, sometimes during a particularly engaging story, I can feel my heart racing!”

“There is one thing…” Annabelle murmured with an unladylike grin. The words were lost on Daisy, however, who drifted farther away along the rows of books. Glancing at Evie’s face, Annabelle kept her voice low as she said, “While we’re on that subject, Evie…it troubles me that you had no one to talk to before your wedding night. Was St. Vincent considerate of you?”

Evie felt her cheeks burn as she responded with a quick nod. “As one would expect, he was very accomplished.”

“But was he kind?”

“Yes…I think so.”

Annabelle smiled at her. “It’s an awkward subject, is it not?” she asked softly. “However, if there are any questions that you might have about such matters, I hope that you will bring yourself to ask me. I feel very much like your older sister, you know.”

“I feel that way too,” Evie returned, reaching out to squeeze her hand. “I suppose I do have a few things that I would like to ask, but they’re so terribly—”

“Zounds!” came Daisy’s exclamation from the other side of the room. They both looked up to see her tugging at one of the mahogany bookshelves. “When I leaned on this bookshelf, I heard a sort of clicking noise, and then the whole thing started to swing out.”

“It’s a secret door,” Evie explained. “There are several hidden doors and passageways in the club, for hiding things if there’s a police raid, or if one needs to leave in haste—”

“Where does this one lead to?”

Fearing that to explain any more would encourage the adventurous Daisy to go exploring, Evie murmured vaguely, “Oh, nowhere that you would wish to go. A storage room, I’m sure. You’d better close it, dear.”


While Daisy continued to examine the bookshelves, Evie and Annabelle resumed their whispered conversation. “The truth is,” Evie said, “that L-Lord St. Vincent has agreed to undergo a period of celibacy, for my sake. And if he succeeds, he and I will then recommence our marital relations.”

“He what?” Annabelle whispered, her pretty blue eyes widening. “Good God. I don’t believe St. Vincent and the word ‘celibacy’ have ever been mentioned in the same sentence before. How on earth did you manage to persuade him to agree to such a thing?”

“He said…he indicated…that he desires me enough to try.”

Annabelle shook her head with an odd, bemused smile. “That doesn’t sound like him. Not at all. He’ll cheat, of course.”

“Yes. But I do think his intentions are sincere.”

“St. Vincent is never sincere,” Annabelle said wryly.

Evie could not help but remember the desperate urgency of St. Vincent’s embrace, in this very room. The way his breath had shivered in his throat. The consuming tenderness of his mouth on her skin. And the raw passion in his voice as he had murmured “I want you more than I’ve ever wanted anything on this earth…”

How could she explain any of that to Annabelle? How could mere words justify her instinct to believe him? It was ludicrous to believe that she, awkward Evie Jennings, had suddenly become the ultimate desire of a man like Sebastian, who had his pick of the most beautiful and accomplished women in England.

And yet Sebastian wasn’t precisely the same man who had sauntered so arrogantly through Westcliff’s Hampshire mansion. Something in him had altered, and was altering still. Had the catalyst been his failed attempt to kidnap Lillian? Or had it started later, during the miserable journey to Gretna Green? Perhaps it was something about the club. He had behaved oddly since the moment they had set foot in it. He was striving for something, a nameless thing that he couldn’t explain even to himself—

“Oh no,” Annabelle said ruefully, looking over Evie’s shoulder.

“What is it?” Evie turned to follow Annabelle’s gaze.

There was no need for Annabelle to explain. The room was empty save for the two of them. One of the bookcases had been left out of alignment with the others. Daisy, predictably, had followed the urges of her own insatiable curiosity, and had gone through the secret door.

“Where does it lead?” Annabelle asked with a sigh, reluctantly setting aside her half-finished tea.

“It depends on which way she went,” Evie replied with a frown. “It’s rather like a maze—one passage branches off into two directions, and there are secret stairs that lead to the second floor. Thank heaven the club isn’t open—that minimizes the amount of trouble she could get into.”

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