Devil in Winter Page 63

“He doesn’t love her,” Sebastian snarled, pushing Evie away from him. Suddenly it felt as if the room was shrinking, the walls drawing closer until they threatened to crush him in a fatal vise. Damn her for trying to apologize for him! And damn her for putting up a sham pretense of affection between them. “He doesn’t believe in love any more than I do.” He glared at Westcliff. “How many times have you told me that love is a delusion of men who wished to make the necessity of marriage more palatable?”

“I was wrong,” Westcliff said. “Why are you so irate?”

“I’m not—” Sebastian broke off as he realized that he was unraveling. He glanced at Evie and felt the startling reverse of their positions…she, the stammering wallflower, now serene and steady…and he, always so cool and self-possessed, now reduced to an impassioned idiot. And all in front of Westcliff, who observed the pair of them with keen scrutiny.

“What does it take to be rid of you?” Sebastian asked Evie abruptly. “Go with Westcliff, if you won’t go to the town house. I don’t give a damn so long as you’re out of my sight.”

Her eyes widened, and she flinched as if she had been struck by a metal dart. She remained composed, however, taking a deep breath and releasing it in a controlled flow. As Sebastian watched her, he was nearly overcome by the urge to fall to his knees before her and beg for forgiveness. Instead he remained frozen while she went to the door.

“Evie—” he muttered.

She ignored him and left, squaring her shoulders as she walked away from the office.

Sebastian clenched his hands into aching fists while his gaze followed her. After several seconds, he forced himself to glance at Westcliff. His old friend was staring at him not with hatred, but with something like reluctant compassion. “This isn’t what I expected to find,” Westcliff said quietly. “You’re not yourself, Sebastian.”

It had been years since Westcliff had addressed him by his first name. Men, even siblings or the closest of friends, almost always called each other by their family or title names.

“Go to hell,” Sebastian muttered. “No doubt that was what you came to tell me tonight. If so, you’re about a month too late.”

“That was my intention,” Westcliff admitted. “Now, however, I’ve decided to stay and have a snifter of brandy while you tell me what in God’s name you’re doing. To start with, you can explain why you’ve taken it upon yourself to manage a gaming club.”

It was the worst possible time to sit and talk with the club so crowded—but suddenly Sebastian didn’t give a damn. It had been an eternity since he’d conversed with someone who knew him well. Although Sebastian had no illusion that their former friendship was anything but a shambles, the prospect of discussing things with Westcliff, even an unsympathetic Westcliff, seemed an unutterable relief. “All right,” he muttered. “Yes, we’ll talk. Don’t leave. I’ll return in a moment—I can’t allow my wife to go through the club unescorted.”

He left the office with long strides and went to the entrance hall. Seeing no sign of Evie’s black-gowned figure, he deduced that she had gone an alternate route, perhaps through the central room. He paused in one of the arched doorways and glanced across the sea of heads. Evie’s brilliant hair made it easy to locate her quickly. She was heading to the corner where Cam sat. As she passed, several club members moved to make way for her.

Sebastian pursued her slowly at first, then with increasing urgency. He was in a peculiar state, struggling to understand himself. He had always been so adept at handling women. Why, then, had it become impossible to remain detached where Evie was concerned? He was separated from what he wanted most, not by real distance but by a past tainted with debauchery. To let himself have a relationship with her…no, it was impossible. His own iniquity would saturate her like dark ink spreading over pristine white parchment, until every inch of clean space was obliterated. She would become cynical, bitter…and as she came to know him, she would despise him.

Cam, who was seated on a tall stool overlooking the hazard tables, noticed Evie’s approach. He turned on the stool to face her, lowering one foot to the ground. His dark head lifted, and he let his gaze whisk quickly across the room, alert as always to the scene around him. Catching sight of Sebastian, Cam gave a short nod to indicate that he would keep her with him until Sebastian could reach them.

Cam surveyed the room once more, a frown tugging between his dark brows. His shoulders hitched slightly, as if the hair on his nape was prickling uncomfortably, and he twisted to glance over his shoulder. Seeing that no one was behind him, he began to settle back onto the stool. However, it seemed that some nagging instinct caused him to scrutinize the crowd, as if his gaze were being drawn by a magnet…He happened to glance upward to the second-floor galleries…and Sebastian saw the boy focus with sudden knifelike intensity.

Breaking free of the crowd, Sebastian followed Cam’s stunned gaze, and saw a dark, stocky man standing at the east balcony that overlooked the main floor. He was disheveled and dirty, his black hair plastered over the distinctive bullet shape of his skull. Joss Bullard, Sebastian realized in an instant…but how had he entered the club without being noticed? It must have been through a hidden entrance. The club had more openings and passages than a rabbit warren. And no one knew the place better than Bullard or Cam, both of whom had lived here since childhood—

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