Devil in Winter Page 69

“Lady St. Vincent,” came Dr. Hammond’s steady, kind voice, “your husband’s anxiety is quite understandable. However, his judgment is impaired by illness. At this time, you are the one who is best able to make decisions for his benefit. I would not recommend this procedure if I did not believe in its efficacy. You must allow me to proceed. I doubt Lord St. Vincent will even remember this conversation.”

Sebastian closed his eyes and let out a groan of despair. If only Hammond were some obvious lunatic with a maniacal laugh…someone Evie would instinctively mistrust. But Hammond was a respectable man, with all the conviction of someone who believed he was doing the right thing. The executioner, it seemed, could come in many guises.

Evie was his only hope, his only champion. Sebastian would never have believed it would come to this…his life depending on the decision of an unworldly young woman who would probably allow herself to be persuaded by the Hammond’s authority. There was no one else for Sebastian to appeal to.

He felt her gentle fingers at the side of his fevered face, and he stared up at her pleadingly, unable to form a word. Oh God, Evie, don’t let him—

“All right,” Evie said softly, staring at him. Sebastian’s heart stopped as he thought she was speaking to the doctor…giving permission to bleed him. But she moved to the chair and deftly untied Sebastian’s wrist, and began to massage the reddened skin with her fingertips.

She stammered a little as she spoke. “Dr. H-Hammond…Lord St. Vincent does not w-want the procedure. I must defer to his wishes.”

To Sebastian’s eternal humiliation, his breath caught in a shallow sob of relief.

“My lady,” Hammond countered with grave anxiety, “I beg you to reconsider. Your deference to the wishes of a man who is out of his head with fever may prove to be the death of him. Let me help him. You must trust my judgment, as I have infinitely more experience in such matters.”

Evie sat carefully on the side of the bed and rested Sebastian’s hand in her lap. “I do respect your j-j—” She stopped and shook her head impatiently at the sound of her own stammer. “My husband has the right to make the decision for himself.”

Sebastian curled his fingers into the folds of her skirts. The stammer was a clear sign of her inner anxiety, but she would not yield. She would stand by him. He sighed unsteadily and relaxed, feeling as if his tarnished soul had been delivered into her keeping.

Hammond shook his head and began collecting his implements. “If you will not allow me to use my skills,” he said with quiet dignity, “and you refuse to heed my professional opinion, I’m afraid I cannot do either of you any good. I can predict nothing but an unfortunate outcome for this situation, if proper treatment is not rendered. May God help you both.”

The doctor left the room, an air of heavy disapproval lingering in his wake.

Relieved beyond measure, Sebastian spread his long fingers over the shape of Evie’s thigh. “Riddance,” he managed to mutter, as the door closed behind Hammond.

Evie was obviously torn between laughter and tears as she looked down at him. “You stubborn ass,” she said, her eyes wet. “We’ve just managed to drive off one of the most renowned doctors in London. Anyone else we find is going to want to bleed you as well. Who should I send for now? A white witch? A shaman? A Covent Garden fortune-teller?”

Using the last of his strength, Sebastian managed to drag her hand up to his mouth. “You,” he whispered, holding her fingers to his lips. “Just you.”


Evie experienced a multitude of doubts about her decision not to let Dr. Hammond care for Sebastian. After the doctor’s departure, Sebastian’s condition worsened steadily, his wound became more swollen and angry by the hour, and his fever kept climbing. By midnight, he was no longer lucid. His eyes were demon-bright in his flushed face, and he stared at Evie without recognition as he rambled incoherently in words she could not always understand, with dark revelations that wrenched her with pity.

“Hush,” Evie whispered at times, “Hush. Sebastian, you’re not…” But he persisted with terrible desperation, his tormented mind dredging up more, and more, until she finally stopped trying to quiet him, and she gripped his clenching hands in hers as she listened patiently to the bitter litany. Never in his conscious moments would he have permitted anyone a glimpse of his unprotected inner self. But Evie knew perhaps better than anyone what it was like to live in desperate solitude…yearning for connection, for completeness. And she understood, too, the depths that his loneliness had driven him to.

After a while, when his hoarse voice had faded to broken whispers, Evie gently changed the cold cloth on his forehead and smoothed salve on his cracked lips. She kept her hand at the side of his face, the golden bristle scratching her fingers. In his delirium, Sebastian turned his cheek into the softness of her palm with a wordless murmur. Beautiful, sinful, tormented creature. Some would argue that it was wrong to care for such a man. But as Evie stared at his helpless form, she knew that no man would ever mean to her what he had…because in spite of everything, he had been willing to give his life for hers.

Climbing onto the bed beside him, Evie found the chain amid the soft curling hair on his chest, and she covered the wedding ring with her palm, and let herself sleep beside him for a few hours.

When daylight came, she found him utterly still, lost in a stupor. “Sebastian?” She felt his face and neck. The fever was blazing. It seemed impossible that human skin could burn so hot. Flinging herself out of bed, she stumbled to the bellpull and tugged it violently.

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