Devil in Winter Page 64

Sebastian’s thoughts exploded as he saw the gleam of reflected light off the barrel of a pistol in Bullard’s hand. Even at this angle, the object of his aim was clear. The target was Evie, who was still approximately a half-dozen yards away from Cam.

Driven by raw instinct, Sebastian leaped forward with lightning speed, while hideous fear burned through him. Evie’s form became so sharp and detailed in his panicked vision that even the velvet nap of her gown was distinct. Every nerve and muscle strained to reach her, every thundering beat of his heart laboring to feed blood to his fast-moving limbs. Seizing her with frantic hands, Sebastian turned his own body to shield her, and used the momentum of his speed to bring them both to the floor.

The report of a pistol echoed through the cavernous room. Sebastian felt an impact in his side, as if someone had punched him with a fist, and a burst of fiery pain as a lead slug tore through muscle and soft tissue, severing a network of arteries in its path. The hard collision of the floor stunned Sebastian momentarily. He lay partly over Evie, trying to cover her head with his arms, while she struggled beneath him. “Be still,” he gasped, holding her to the floor, fearing that Bullard might shoot again. “Wait, Evie.”

She subsided obediently, while the air was filled with a surfeit of noise…shouts and cries…thundering footsteps…

Levering himself over Evie’s prone body, Sebastian risked a glance upward at the second-floor balcony. Bullard was gone. With a grunt of pain, Sebastian rolled to his side and searched his wife for injuries, terrified that the bullet might have struck her as well. “Evie…sweetheart…are you hurt?”

“Why did you push me like that?” she asked in a muffled voice. “No, I’m not hurt. What was that noise?”

His shaking hand brushed over her face, pushing back a tumble of hair that had fallen across her eyes.

Bemused, Evie wriggled out from beneath him and sat up. Sebastian remained on his side, panting for breath, while he felt a hot slide of blood over his chest and waist.

People were crowding to flee the building, threatening to trample the couple on the floor. Suddenly a man came to crouch over them, having fought his way through the rushing horde. He used his body as a bulwark to keep them from being overrun. Blinking, Sebastian realized that it was Westcliff. Dizzily Sebastian reached up to clutch at his coat.

“He aimed for Evie,” Sebastian said hoarsely. His lips had gone numb, and he licked at them before continuing. “Keep her safe…keep her…”

Evie let out a shaken cry as she saw the bright crimson that spread over Sebastian’s shirtfront and realized he had been wounded. She attacked the buttons of his coat and waistcoat, ripping the plackets in her sudden frenzy. Wordlessly Westcliff stripped off his own coat and wadded his waistcoat into a tight bundle. Evie tore open Sebastian’s blood-soaked shirt and found the gushing wound in his side. Her face turned very white, and her eyes began to glitter, but she managed to control her alarm as she took the makeshift pad from Westcliff and held it firmly against the wound to slow the bleeding.

The pressure caused such agony that Sebastian could not prevent a low groan. His hand remained suspended in the air, fingers half curled. The scent of fresh blood saturated the air. Westcliff bent over him and examined the exit wound. “Through and through,” Sebastian heard him say to Evie. “No major vessel damage, from the looks of it.”

While Westcliff maintained the pressure on the wound, Evie moved to cradle Sebastian’s head on her lap, cushioning him in a soft mass of black velvet. Taking his hand, she gripped his fingers firmly. The clasp of her hand seemed to anchor him, providing a counterbalance to the gnawing pain in his lower torso. Sebastian stared into her downbent face, unable to read her expression. There was a strange, deep glow in her eyes, something like tenderness or sorrow…something rare and infinite. He didn’t know what it was. No one had ever looked at him that way before.

He struggled to say something to banish the disturbing emotion in her gaze. “This is what comes of tr…” He was forced to pause as thrills of pain stole his breath away. “…trying to appear heroic,” he finished. “I think I’ll stick with villainy from now on. Much…safer.”

Westcliff’s black eyes glinted briefly at the attempt at humor. “The shot originated from the upper gallery,” he said.

“Former employee…Bullard…dismissed recently.”

“Are you certain that he aimed for Lady St.Vincent?”


“Perhaps he thought that harming her was the best way to revenge himself against you.”

Sebastian’s head was swimming, making it difficult to think clearly. “No…” he muttered. “Could only be true if…he thought I cared for her…but everyone knows…not a love match.”

Westcliff gave him an odd look but refrained from replying. Sebastian had no means of knowing how he and Evie appeared at that moment, as he gripped her hand and let her cradle him as tenderly as a mother with a hurt child. All he knew was that the wound in his side ached unbearably. Relentless tremors ran through him until his teeth began to chatter. He was vaguely aware of Westcliff leaving them for a moment, and barking out orders, and returning with an armload of coats, though it was unclear whether their owners had donated them willingly or not. The coats were settled over him, and Westcliff continued to apply pressure on the wound.

Sebastian lost consciousness for a moment, and when he came back to his senses, he felt Evie’s warm hand caressing the cold, sweaty surface of his face. “The doctor is coming,” she murmured. “Once the bleeding slows, we’ll take you upstairs.”

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