Devil in Winter Page 8

On and on and on…the carriage bounced on rough patches of road, at times nearly pitching Evie from the seat to the floor. The pattern of fitful dozing and forced awakenings continued. Every time the carriage door opened, with St. Vincent leaping down to check on a new team, a blast of freezing air came into the vehicle. Cold and aching and stiff, Evie huddled in the corner.

Night was followed by a day of biting temperatures and drizzling rain that soaked through Evie’s cloak as St. Vincent shepherded her across an inn yard. He took Evie to a private room, where she ate a lukewarm bowl of soup and made use of the chamber pot while he went to oversee yet another change of horses and driver. The sight of the bed nearly made Evie ill with longing. But sleep could come later, after she had gone to Gretna Green and permanently removed herself from her family’s reach.

All totaled, the duration of the stay was less than a half hour. Returning to the carriage, Evie tried to remove her wet shoes without smearing mud onto the velvet upholstery. St. Vincent climbed in after her and bent to help. While he untied her shoes and drew them from her cramped feet, Evie wordlessly removed the rain-soaked hat from his head and tossed it to the opposite seat. His hair looked thick and soft, the locks containing every shade between amber and champagne.

Moving to sit beside her, St. Vincent contemplated her pinched-looking face and reached out to touch the chilled curve of her cheek. “I’ll say this for you,” he murmured. “Any other woman would be howling with complaints by now.”

“I c-c-can hardly complain,” Evie said, shivering violently, “when I’m the one who asked to go straight thr-through to Scotland.”

“We’re halfway there. One more night, and a day, and we’ll be married by tomorrow evening.” His lips quirked with the wry suggestion of a smile. “No doubt there’s never been a bride more eager for the marital bed.”

Evie’s trembling lips curved in an answering smile as she understood his implicit meaning—that she was eager for sleep, not for love play. As she stared into his face, so close to hers, she wondered absently how the signs of weariness on his face and the shadows beneath his eyes could make him look so appealing. Perhaps it was because he seemed human now, rather than like some heartless and beautiful Roman god. Much of his aristocratic hauteur had melted away, no doubt to reappear later when he was fully rested. For now, however, he was relaxed and approachable. It seemed as if some frail bond had been established between them during this hellish journey.

The moment was interrupted by a knock on the carriage door. St. Vincent opened it to reveal a bedraggled chambermaid standing in the rain. “‘Ere you are, milor’,” she said, peering from beneath the hood of her dripping cloak as she handed two objects to him. “An ‘ot pot an’ a brick, just as you asked.”

St. Vincent fished a coin from his waistcoat and gave it to her, and she beamed at him before dashing back to the shelter of the inn. Evie blinked in surprise as St. Vincent handed her a tin-glazed earthenware cup filled with steaming liquid. “What is this?”

“Something to warm your insides.” He hefted a brick wrapped in layers of gray flannel. “And this is for your feet. Lift your legs onto the seat.”

Under any other circumstances Evie might have objected to his casual handling of her legs. However, she made no demur as he arranged her skirts and tucked the hot brick at her feet. “Ohhhhh…” She shuddered with comfort as the delicious heat wafted around her frozen toes. “Oh…n-nothing has ever felt so good…”

“Women say that to me all the time,” he said with a smile in his voice. “Here, lean back against me.”

Evie obeyed, half lying on him with his arms curved around her. His chest was solid and very hard, but it cushioned the back of her head perfectly. Bringing the earthenware cup to her lips, she took a tentative sip of the hot drink. It was spirits of some kind, mixed with water and flavored with sugar and lemon. As she drank slowly, it filled her body with warmth. A long, contented sigh escaped her. The carriage lurched forward, but St. Vincent immediately adjusted his hold, keeping her tucked comfortably against his chest. Evie could scarcely conceive how hell could have turned so abruptly into heaven.

She had never experienced this physical closeness with a man before. It seemed terribly wrong to enjoy it. On the other hand, she would have to be unconscious not to. Nature had squandered an unreasonable quantity of male beauty on this undeserving creature. Better yet, he was incredibly warm. She fought the urge to squirm deeper against him. His clothes were made of exquisite fabrics; a coat of fine wool, a waistcoat of heavy silk, a shirt of butter-soft linen. The hints of starch and expensive cologne mingled with the salty-clean scent of his skin.

Fearing that he might want to set her apart from him after the hot pot was finished, Evie tried to make it last as long as possible. To her regret, she finally drained the last sweet drops at the bottom of the cup. Taking the earthenware vessel from her, St. Vincent set it on the floor. Evie was profoundly relieved as she felt him settle back with her in his arms once more. She heard him yawn over her head. “Go to sleep,” he murmured. “You have three hours before the next team change.”

Wedging her toes more tightly against the hot brick, Evie half turned and nestled deeper against him, and let herself drift into the inviting depths of slumber.

The rest of the journey became a great blur of movement and weariness and rude awakenings. As Evie’s exhaustion deepened, she became increasingly dependent on St. Vincent. With each new relay, he managed to bring her a mug of tea or broth, and he reheated the brick in every available hearth. He even found a quilted blanket from somewhere, dryly advising Evie not to question how he had acquired it. Convinced that she would have been frozen solid by now without him, Evie quickly lost all reservations about attaching herself to him whenever he was in the carriage. “I-I’m not making advances,” she told him as she flattened herself against his chest. “You’re just an available s-source of heat.”

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