Devil in Winter Page 67

He opened his eyes and focused on her with difficulty. “If I need divine grace,” he whispered, “I’m in trouble…unless we can find some corrupt angel to bribe.”

A startled laugh escaped her. “Don’t be blasphemous.” She opened the syrup, poured a spoonful, and slipped an arm behind his neck. “Take this.”

He swallowed the medicine, made a face, and cursed.

Keeping her arm behind him, Evie reached for a cup of water with her free hand, and pressed it to his lips, until his teeth chattered at the edge. “Drink,” she murmured.

Sebastian obeyed and settled back against the pillows. “Bullard—”

“Cam couldn’t catch him,” Evie replied, reaching for a tiny pot of salve. She smoothed some on his chapped lips with gentle fingertips. “He and Lord Westcliff are downstairs, talking to the constable who was dispatched to investigate.”

“Was anyone else hurt?” Sebastian asked, trying to sit up. A bolt of pain caused his face to whiten, and he fell back with a gasp.

“Don’t move,” Evie said sharply, “you’ll start bleeding again.” She rested a hand on his chest, and traced the thin, glinting chain that draped across his upper chest, following it to the wedding band. “No one else was hurt,” she said in answer to his question. “And as soon as the club members were informed that the assailant had fled, they all came swarming back in, and appeared quite entertained by the evening’s events.”

The ghost of a smile touched his lips. “Bit more entertainment than…I had planned on providing.”

“Cam says it won’t hurt business in the least.”

“Safety measures,” Sebastian whispered, exhausted by the effort of talking. “Tell Cam—”

“Yes, he’s hiring more men. Don’t think about any of that right now. Your only concern is to get well.”

“Evie…” His shaking hand fumbled for hers, feebly trapping her fingers on his bare chest. Under their joined hands, the wedding band on the chain pressed against his unsteady heartbeat. “Go with Westcliff,” he murmured, his eyes closing. “After.”

After what? Evie stared into his face, his gray complexion, and realized that he was referring to his own death. As she felt his hand slide away from hers, she gripped it firmly. His hand had changed…no longer smooth and manicured, but harder, callused, the nails cut ruthlessly short. “No,” she said with soft intensity, “there will be no ‘after.’ I will stay with you every moment. I will keep you with me. I won’t let you go.” Suddenly her breath was coming hard, and she felt the pressure of panic against the inner wall of her chest. Continuing to lean over him, she turned her hand so that their palms matched, their pulses pressed together…one weak, one strong. “If my love can hold you, I’ll keep you with me.”

Sebastian awakened in a haze of pain, not only in his wound, but in his head and bones and joints. He was dry and burning, as if fire had been trapped beneath his skin, and he twisted in a useless attempt to escape the heat. Suddenly a pair of gentle hands descended on him and a wet cloth passed over his face. A hiss of relief escaped his lips, and he reached out for the source of coolness, seizing, his fingers digging desperately into softness.

“No…Sebastian, no…lie still. Let me help you.” It was Evie’s voice, breaking through the writhing madness. Gasping, he forced himself to release her and fell back against the mattress. The cold cloth moved over him in long strokes, a temporary ease from the torment. Each soothing pass served to calm him until he was able to lie quietly beneath her ministrations. “Evie,” he said hoarsely.

She paused to slip a few shards of crushed ice between his cracked lips. “Yes, darling. I’m here.”

His lashes lifted. Puzzled by the endearment, he watched her as she leaned over him. The ice dissolved quickly against his parched inner cheeks. Before he had to ask her for another, she fed him more. Freshening and wringing out the cloth, she wiped his chest and sides and beneath his arms. The room was darkened except for the daylight that came from a partly shrouded window, and a chilling breeze swept through the half-open casement.

Noticing the direction of his gaze, Evie murmured, “The doctor said I should keep the window closed. But you seem to rest more comfortably when it’s open.”

Sebastian lay steeped in gratitude as Evie continued to bathe him with the cool cloth. Her white dressing gown and fair skin gave her the appearance of some pristine, benevolent spirit, weaving a spell over him in the darkness.

“How long?” he whispered.

“This is the third day. Dearest love, if you can turn a little on your good side…let me tuck a pillow there…yes.” With his back partly exposed, Evie bathed his aching shoulders and down his spine, and he groaned softly. He vaguely recalled the other times she had done this…her light hands…her serene face in the lamplight. Somewhere amid the nightmare of confusion and pain, he had been aware of her tending him, seeing to his needs with astonishing intimacy. When he shook with fever chills, she covered him with blankets and held his shivering body in her arms. She was always there before he even needed to call for her…she comprehended everything as if she could see inside his tangled thoughts. His worst fear had always been to depend on someone this way. And he was growing weaker by the hour, as the wound became more inflamed and the fever raged higher. He sensed death hovering like a impatient specter, ready to claim him when all his defenses were gone. It retreated whenever Evie was with him…still waiting, but far less imminent.

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