Devil in Winter Page 59

Feeling called upon to say something, Daisy muttered, “Good-bye, Mr. Rohan. We shall probably never meet again.” She could only hope so—because it was a certainty that she would never be able to face him.

He leaned over her shoulder, until his mouth was at her tingling ear. “Perhaps I’ll appear at your window one midnight,” he whispered, “to tempt you for a ride across earth and ocean.”

And with that, he opened the door, pushed Daisy gently into the reading room, and closed it again. Blinking in confusion, she stared at Annabelle and Evie.

Annabelle spoke wryly. “I should have known you couldn’t resist something like a secret door. Where did you go?”

“Evie was right,” Daisy said, as flags of bright color burned at the tops of her cheeks. “It led to no place that I wanted to go.”


Although the clothes that Annabelle Hunt had brought were far more appropriate for half mourning than full mourning, Evie decided to wear them. She had already gone against the dictates of propriety by wearing fabrics other than crepe, and there was hardly anyone in the club who would dare to criticize her; so it didn’t make much difference whether she wore black, brown, or gray. Moreover, she felt certain that her father would not have minded.

Picking up the note that Annabelle had included with the clothes, Evie read it once more, a smile touching her lips. “I had these made in Paris,” Annabelle had written impishly, “without taking into consideration the consequences of Mr. Hunt’s virility. By the time I am able to wear them again, they will be out of fashion. My gift to you, dearest friend.”

Trying on the soft gray wool, which was lined with silk, Evie discovered that it fit nicely. However, her pleasure in the new gown was swamped in a wave of melancholy as she thought of her father. Wandering disconsolately down to the main hazard room, she saw Sebastian speaking to a pair of dust-covered masons. He was much taller than either of them, and inclined his head as they replied. Then he made some quip that drew laughter.

A glint of humor lingered in Sebastian’s eyes as he happened to glance in Evie’s direction. His gaze softened, and he took leave of the masons, coming toward her with unhurried strides. Evie fought to contain a rush of eagerness, afraid of appearing foolishly infatuated with him. However, no matter how sternly she tamped her feelings down beneath the surface, they seemed to sift out like diamond dust, sparkling visibly in the air around her. The odd thing was, he seemed similarly glad to be in her presence, for once discarding the guise of a jaded rake, and smiling at her with genuine warmth.

“Evie…” His golden head bent over her upturned face. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, I…no.” She rubbed her temples fretfully. “I’m weary. And bored, and hungry.”

His quiet chuckle seemed to cut through her gloom. “I can do something about that.”

“I have no wish to interrupt your work—” she said diffidently.

“Rohan will manage things for a while. Come, let’s see if the billiards room is empty.”

“Billiards?” Evie repeated reluctantly. “Why should we go there?”

He slid her a provocative glance. “To play, of course.”

“But women don’t play billiards.”

“They do in France.”

“From what Annabelle says,” Evie said, “women do many things in France that they don’t do here.”

“Yes. A very forward-thinking race, the French. Whereas we English tend to view pleasure with deep suspicion.”

The billiards room was indeed unoccupied. Sebastian sent for a luncheon tray from the kitchen, sat with Evie at a small table at the corner, and diverted her with conversation as she ate. She couldn’t quite understand why he would take the time to entertain her, when there were many responsibilities that required his attention. And years of seeing the glazed-over boredom on men’s faces when she talked to them had reduced Evie’s self-confidence to a crumb of what it should have been. However, Sebastian listened closely to everything she said, as if he found her endlessly interesting. He encouraged her to say daring things, and he seemed to delight in her attempts to spar with him.

After Evie had finished her plate, Sebastian tugged her to the billiards table and handed her a cue stick with a leather tip. Ignoring her attempts to refuse him, he proceeded to instruct her in the basics of the game. “Don’t try to claim this is too scandalous for you,” he told her with mock severity. “After running off with me to Gretna Green, nothing is beyond you. Certainly not one little billiards game. Bend over the table.”

She complied awkwardly, flushing as she felt him lean over her, his body forming an exciting masculine cage as his hands arranged hers on the cue stick. “Now,” she heard him say, “curl your index finger around the tip of the shaft. That’s right. Don’t grip so tightly, sweet…let your hand relax. Perfect.” His head was close to hers, the light scent of sandalwood cologne rising from his warm skin. “Try to imagine a path between the cue ball—that’s the white one—and the colored ball. You’ll want to strike right about there”—he pointed to a place just above center on the cue ball—“to send the object ball into the side pocket. It’s a straight-on shot, you see? Lower your head a bit. Draw the cue stick back and try to strike in a smooth motion.”

Attempting the shot, Evie felt the tip of the cue stick fail to make proper contact with the white ball, sending it spinning clumsily off to the side of the table.

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