Devil in Winter Page 71

“Yes, I love him, and I’m going to lose him just as I did my father. I can’t bear it…I’ll go mad.”

Lillian sighed and muttered, “Only you could love such a vile, selfish peacock, Evie. Oh, I’ll admit, he has his attractions…but you would do better to fix your affections on someone who could actually love you back.”

“Lillian,” came Evie’s watery protest.

“Oh, all right, I suppose it’s not sporting to disparage a man when he’s bedridden. I’ll hold my tongue for the time being.” She drew back and looked into Evie’s splotched face. “The others wanted to come, of course. But Daisy is unmarried and therefore can’t even sneeze without a chaperone, and Annabelle tires easily because of her condition. Westcliff and I are here, however, and we’re going to make everything all right.”

“You can’t,” Evie sniffled. “His wound…he’s soill…he’s fallen into a c-coma, I think…”

Keeping her arm around Evie, Lillian turned to the earl and asked in a strong voice that was entirely inappropriate for a sickroom, “Is he in a coma, Westcliff?”

The earl, who was bending over Sebastian’s prone form, threw her a wry glance. “I doubt anyone could be, with the noise the pair of you are making. No, if it were a coma, he couldn’t be roused. And he definitely stirred just now when you shouted.”

“I didn’t shout, I called out,” Lillian corrected. “There is a difference.”

“Is there?” Westcliff asked mildly, pulling the covers down to Sebastian’s hips. “You raise your voice so often, I can’t tell.”

A laugh rustled in Lillian’s throat, and she released Evie. “Being married to you, my lord, any woman would…Good God, that’s horrid.” This last exclamation had come as Westcliff peeled back the wound dressing.

“Yes,” the earl said grimly, staring at the draining, festering flesh, with its rays of red creeping outward.

Instantly Evie went to the bedside, wiping her wet cheeks. Westcliff, capable as always, extracted a clean handkerchief from his coat and gave it to her. She blotted her eyes and blew her nose as she looked down at her husband. “He’s been insensible since yesterday afternoon,” she told Westcliff unsteadily. “I wouldn’t let Dr. Hammond bleed him…Sebastian didn’t want it. But now I wish I had. It might have made him better. It’s just…I couldn’t let anything be done to him against his will. The way he looked at me—”

“I doubt it would have made him better,” Westcliff interrupted. “It may well have finished him off.”

Lillian drew closer, wincing as she glanced down at the foul wound and then at Sebastian’s unnatural pallor. “What is to be done for him, then?”

“Mr. Rohan suggested flooding the wound with a saltwater solution,” Evie said, gently covering the bullet hole and pulling the bedclothes from Sebastian’s h*ps to his chest. “And he knew of a plant that might help to reduce the fever—he’s trying to find some, as we speak.”

“We might swab it with raw garlic juice,” Lillian suggested. “My nanny used to do that for scrapes and cuts, and it made them heal much faster.”

“My old housekeeper, Mrs. Faircloth, used vinegar,” Westcliff murmured. “It burned like the devil—but it worked. I think we’ll try a combination of the three, and add some spirit of turpentine.”

Lillian regarded him doubtfully. “Pine tree resin?”

“In a distilled form,” Westcliff replied. “I’ve seen it cure gangrene.” Turning Lillian to face him, he pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I’ll procure the necessary items, and work out the proportions,” he said. His expression was sober, but his dark eyes were warm as they gazed into hers. “In the meanwhile, I will leave the situation in your capable hands.”

Tenderly Lillian traced the edge of his shirt collar, letting her fingertip touch the tanned skin of his throat. “You’d better hurry. If St. Vincent wakes to find himself at my mercy, he’ll probably expire on the spot.”

They exchanged a brief grin and Westcliff left the room.

“Arrogant, high-handed creature,” Lillian remarked, her smile lingering as she watched the earl’s departure. “God, I adore him.”

Evie swayed on her feet. “How did you—”

“There is far too much for us to talk about, dear,” Lillian interrupted briskly. “Which is why we’ll have to leave it all for later. You’re half dead with exhaustion. And frankly, you could do with a bath.” Hunting for the bellpull, she located it in the corner, and tugged on it. “We’re going to have a tub filled, and you can wash, and then you’re going to have some tea and toast.”

Evie shook her head and opened her mouth to argue, but Lillian overrode her objections firmly. “I will look after St. Vincent.”

Wondering how and why her friend would volunteer to nurse a man who had abducted her, Evie stared at her warily. Lillian was hardly known as a forgiving sort, and although Evie was certain her friend would never harm a helpless man in a sickbed, she did have a few trepidations about abandoning Sebastian to her mercy.

“I can’t believe that you would be willing…after what he did…”

Lillian smiled wryly. “I’m not doing it for his sake. I’m doing it for yours. And for Westcliff, who for some reason can’t seem to give him up as a lost cause.” She rolled her eyes impatiently at Evie’s lingering hesitation. “For heaven’s sake, go and bathe. And do something about your hair. You needn’t worry about St. Vincent. I’ll be as kind to him as I would be to my own husband.”

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