Devil in Winter Page 68

He hadn’t comprehended her strength before now. Even when he had seen the loving care she had given her father, he hadn’t guessed what it would be like to rely on her, to need her. But nothing repelled her, nothing was too much to ask. She was his support, his shield…and at the same time she undermined him with a tender affection that he had begun to crave even as he shrank from it.

Evie’s slender, strong arms braced him as she eased him slowly back to the mattress. “A few sips of water,” she coaxed, supporting his head. Sebastian made a negative sound, for although his mouth was dry and sticky, it seemed that even a drop or two of water caused him nausea. “For me,” she insisted, pressing a cup to his mouth.

Sebastian slitted her a baleful glance and obeyed…and resented it when her praise gave him a ripple of pleasure. “You’re an angel,” she murmured, smiling. “Good, that’s it. Now rest, and I’ll cool you some more.” Sighing, he relaxed while the damp cloth slid lightly over his throat and face.

He sank into a thick, smothering ocean of darkness, into dreams that allowed him no peace. After what could have been minutes, hours, or days, he awoke in wretched pain, fumbling at his side, which burned and ached as if a poisoned spear had been lodged in it.

Evie’s calm voice stilled his frenzy. “Sebastian, please…Lie back. Dr. Hammond is here. Let him examine you.”

Sebastian discovered that he was too weak to move. It felt as if his arms and legs had been tied with lead weights. “Help—” he whispered raspily, unwilling to remain flat on his back. Understanding at once, Evie hastened to lift his head and prop a pillow behind him.

“Good afternoon, my lord,” came a baritone voice. The portly doctor appeared before him, a slight smile splitting his gray-and-silver beard and warming his florid face. “I had hoped for some improvement,” Hammond remarked to Evie. “Has the fever abated?”

She shook her head.

“Any sign of appetite or thirst?”

“He will take a little water at times,” Evie murmured, moving to slip her fingers around Sebastian’s. “But he can’t keep down any broth.”

“I will have a look at the wound.”

Sebastian felt the bedclothes being drawn down to his h*ps and the bandage being peeled away. As he tried to protest the indignity of being exposed so cavalierly, Evie rested her hand on his chest. “It’s all right,” she whispered. “He’s trying to help.”

Too feeble to lift his own head, Sebastian focused on Evie’s face as she and the doctor stared the exposed wound. There was no change in Evie’s expression, but he saw from the quick double blink of her lashes that his condition had not improved.

“As I feared,” Hammond said quietly, “it is festering. You see those red streaks extending toward the heart? I’ll have to remove some of the diseased blood from his body. Hopefully it will reduce some of the inflammation.”

“But he’s already lost so much blood…” Evie said uncertainly.

“I will take no more than four pints,” Hammond replied in a firm but reassuring manner. “It will not harm him, my lady, but rather will help release the constriction of vessels caused by an accumulation of poisons.”

Sebastian had always viewed the process of bloodletting dubiously, but never more so than when it was about to be practiced on him. He felt his pulse escalate to a weak but frantic tapping in his veins, and he tugged at Evie’s hand. “Don’t,” he whispered, his breath coming too quickly. A rush of dizziness overcame him and he fought to see through the showers of sparks that scattered across his vision. He was not aware of fainting, but when he opened his eyes again, he discovered that his left arm had been lightly bound to the back of a chair beside the bed, with a shallow bowl poised on the seat. There was no blood in the bowl—yet—but Hammond was approaching him with a small boxlike device.

“What is that?” came Evie’s voice. Sebastian summoned all his strength to turn his head on the pillow to look at her.

“It’s called a scarificator,” Hammond replied. “It is by far the most efficient method of bloodletting as opposed to an old-fashioned lancet.”

“Evie,” Sebastian whispered. She did not appear to hear him, her wary gaze fastened on the doctor as he continued to explain.

“…the box contains twelve blades attached to a spring-driven rotary. One push of the triggering mechanism, and the blades inflict a series of shallow cuts that induce the blood to flow.”


She glanced at Sebastian. Whatever she saw in his face caused her to walk around the bed to him. “Yes,” she said with a concerned frown. “Dearest, this is going to help you—”

“No.” It would kill him. It was difficult enough already to fight the fever and the pain. If he was further weakened by a long bloodletting he wouldn’t be able to hold on any longer. Frantically Sebastian tugged at his tautly stretched arm, but the binding held fast and the chair didn’t even wobble. Bloody hell. He stared up at his wife wretchedly, battling a wave of light-headedness. “No,” he rasped. “Don’t…let him…”

“Darling,” Evie whispered, bending over to kiss his shaking mouth. Her eyes were suddenly shiny with unshed tears. “This may be your best chance—your only chance—”

“I’ll die. Evie…” Rising fear caused blackness to streak across his vision, but he forced his eyes to stay open. Her face became a blur. “I’ll die,” he whispered again.

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