Devil in Winter Page 6

Feeling the tremor, St. Vincent tightened his arm around her as they reached the last step. “Are you cold?” he asked, “or is it nerves?”

“I w-want to be away from London,” she replied, “before my relations find me.”

“Is there any reason for them to suspect that you’ve come to me?”

“Oh n-no,” she said. “No one would ever believe I could be so demented.”

Had she not already been somewhat light-headed, his brilliant grin would have made her so. “It’s a good thing my vanity is so well developed. Otherwise you’d have demolished it by now.”

“I’m certain you already have many women to f-fortify your vanity. You don’t need one more.”

“I always need one more, darling. That’s my problem.”

He took her back to the library, where she sat before the fire for a few more minutes. Just as she began to doze in the chair, St. Vincent returned to take her outside. Groggily she went with him to a gleaming black-lacquered carriage in front of the house, and St. Vincent handed her inside the vehicle deftly. The plush cream-colored velvet upholstery inside was supremely impractical but magnificent, glowing in the soft light of a tiny carriage lamp. Evie experienced an unfamiliar sense of well-being as she settled back against a silk-fringed cushion. Her mother’s family lived according to a narrow set of rules governing good taste, and they distrusted anything that smacked of excess. For St. Vincent, however, she suspected that excess was commonplace, especially when it came to matters of bodily comfort.

A basket made of thin woven strips of leather had been set on the floor. Searching it tentatively, Evie found several napkin-wrapped sandwiches made of thick slices of buttermilk bread and filled with thin-sliced meats and cheeses. The scent of the smoked meat aroused a sudden overwhelming hunger, and she ate two of the sandwiches in rapid succession, nearly choking with ravenous eagerness.

Entering the carriage, St. Vincent folded his long, lean body into the opposite seat. He smiled slightly at the sight of Evie finishing the last few crumbs of a sandwich. “Feeling better?”

“Yes, thank you.”

St. Vincent opened the door of a compartment that had been cleverly built into the inner wall of the carriage and extracted a small crystal glass and a bottle of white wine that had been placed there by a servant. He filled the glass and gave it to her. After a cautious sip of the sweet, ice-cold vintage, Evie drank thirstily. Young women were seldom allowed to have full-strength wine…it was usually heavily watered. Finishing the glass, she barely had time to wish for another before it was replenished. The carriage started with a gentle lurch, and the edge of Evie’s teeth clicked lightly against the rim of the glass as the vehicle jostled along the street. Fearing that she might spill the wine on the cream velvet upholstery, she took a deep swallow, and heard St. Vincent’s quiet laugh.

“Drink slowly, pet. We’ve a long journey ahead of us.” Relaxing back against the cushions, he looked like an idle pasha in one of the torrid novels that Daisy Bowman adored. “Tell me, what would you have done had I not agreed to your proposition? Where would you have gone?”

“I suppose I would have gone to st-st-stay with Annabelle and Mr. Hunt.” Fleeing to Lillian and Lord Westcliff had not been an option, as they were on their month-long honeymoon. And it would have been futile to approach the Bowmans…although Daisy would have argued passionately in her favor, her parents would have wanted nothing to do with the situation.

“Why wasn’t that your first choice?”

Evie frowned. “It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the Hunts to keep my uncles from taking me back. I am far s-safer as your wife than as someone else’s house guest.” The wine made her pleasantly dizzy, and she sank lower in her seat.

Regarding her thoughtfully, St.Vincent leaned down to remove her shoes. “You’ll be more comfortable without these,” he said. “For God’s sake, don’t shy away. I’m not going to molest you in the carriage.” Untying the laces, he continued in a silken tone, “And if I were so inclined it’s of little consequence, since we’re going to be married soon.” He grinned as she jerked her stocking-clad foot away from him, and he reached for the other.

Allowing him to remove her remaining shoe, Evie forced herself to relax, though the brush of his fingers against her ankle sent a strange hot ripple through her.

“You might loosen your corset strings,” he advised. “It will make your journey more pleasant.”

“I’m not wearing a c-corset,” she said without looking at him.

“You aren’t? My God.” His gaze slid over her with expert assessment. “What a happily proportioned wench you are.”

“I don’t like that word.”

“Wench? Forgive me…a force of habit. I always treat ladies like wenches, and wenches like ladies.”

“And that approach is successful for you?” Evie asked skeptically.

“Oh yes,” he replied with such cheerful arrogance that she couldn’t help smiling.

“You’re a dr-dreadful man.”

“True. But it’s a fact of life that dreadful people usually end up getting far better than they deserve. Whereas nice ones, such as you…” He gestured to Evie and her surroundings, as if her current situation was a perfect case in point.

“Perhaps I’m not as n-n-nice as you might think.”

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