Devil in Winter Page 86

“My lord?” Evie questioned with a half smile, as Sebastian noticed her presence and began to make his way over to her.

Haldane seemed lost in a memory of days long past. “In all my years, I’ve seen only one other man who walked through a gaming club that way. As if it was his personal hunting ground, and he the most charming of predators.”

“Are you referring to my father?” Evie asked, confused.

Haldane smiled and shook his head. “Bless me, no. Not your father.”

“Who—” Evie began, but her question was lost as Sebastian reached them.

“My lady,” Sebastian murmured, resting one hand at the small of her corseted back. Regarding Haldane with a slight smile, he continued to speak to Evie. “It seems I’ll have to warn you, my love…this gentleman is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Although Evie would have expected the elderly man to take offense at such a remark, Haldane chuckled with pleasure, his vanity flattered. “If I were twenty years younger, my impudent fellow, I would steal her away from you. Despite your much-vaunted charm, you are no match for what I was then.”

“Age hasn’t tamed you a whit,” Sebastian replied with a grin, drawing Evie away from him. “Pardon us, my lord, while I remove my wife to safer territory.”

“It is obvious that this elusive fellow has been caught firmly in your snare,” Haldane told Evie. “Go, then, and pacify his jealous temperament.”

“I…I will try,” Evie said uncertainly. For some reason both men laughed, and Sebastian kept his hand on Evie’s back as they left the main room.

His head bent to hers as they walked. “Is everything all right, sweet?”

“Yes. I…” She paused, smiled, and said lamely, “I just wanted to see you.”

Stopping with her behind a column, Sebastian ducked his head to steal a kiss. He looked down at her, his eyes sparkling. “Shall we go play a game of billiards?” he whispered, and laughed huskily as she blushed.

The popularity of the club increased further when newspapers began to commend it in overblown prose:

At last Jenner’s may assume a place among the elite gentlemen’s resorts in London, distinguishing itself as a venerated pavilion in which every sprig and stripling of the aristocracy aspires to be one of the select. The cuisine satisfies the most discerning palates, and the expanded selection of wines appeals to the most fastidious tastes…

And in another editorial:

Too much cannot be said about the quality of the newly refurbished surroundings, which provide an ornate backdrop to the gatherings of patrons characterized by intellectual and personal superiority. It is no surprise that the number of candidates for membership far exceeds the number of vacancies…

In yet another:

Many have suggested, and few disagree, that the renaissance of Jenner’s could only have been brought about by one gentleman, who, with devilish charm, manages to be conversant with all the worlds of fashion, politics, literature, and the aristocracy. It is, of course, the infamous Lord St. Vincent, now the owner of a beau-ideal club that promises to be an important institution in West End life…

Sitting in the office one evening, Evie read the editorials. She had not expected the amount of public attention that Sebastian and the club were receiving. While she was glad that he was making it a success, she could not help but wonder what it would be like when she eventually came out of mourning, and they began to take part in London society. She had no doubt that they would be invited to many places. And the fact was, being a wallflower did not afford one many opportunities to practice social skills. She would have to overcome her awkwardness and shyness. She must learn the art of making repartee…She must learn to be charming and confident—

“Why are you frowning, sweet?” Sebastian came to sit on the desk, glancing down at her with a quizzical smile. “Did you read something unpleasant?”

“Just the opposite,” Evie said glumly. “Everyone is waxing ecstatic about the club.”

“I see.” A gentle forefinger stroked the edge of her jaw. “And that gives you concern because…”

Her explanation came out in a rush. “Because you’re b-becoming very well-known—that is, for something other than skirt chasing—and therefore you will be sought-after, and someday I’ll come out of mourning which means that we’ll go to balls and soirees, and I don’t think I’ll be able to st-stop myself from hiding in the corners. I’m still a wallflower, you know. I must learn how to be witty and poised and talk to people, or else you’ll be vexed with me, or even worse, ashamed, and I—”

“Evie. Hush. Good God…” Sebastian hooked a foot around a nearby chair, dragged it against hers, and sat with his knees braced around hers. Taking both her hands, he smiled into her eyes. “You can’t go twenty minutes without finding something to worry about, can you? You won’t have to be anything other than what you are.” He bent to kiss her hands, and when he lifted his head, his smile had faded and his eyes smoldered. His thumb came to the surface of her wedding band, rubbing gently over the engraved words.

“How could I be ashamed of you?” he continued. “I’m the one who’s been an utter villain. You’ve never done a blameworthy thing in your life. And as far as drawing room airs and graces are concerned…I hope you never become like those shallow fools who chatter endlessly without managing to say anything of interest.” Tugging her closer, he nuzzled into her neck, where the corded-silk edge of her gown lay against her pale skin. His mouth tasted her lightly, and then he whispered against the moist spot he had made, causing her to shiver. “You’re not a wallflower. But you have my permission to hide in corners, my sweet—so long as you take me with you. In fact, I’ll insist on it. I warn you, I’m very badly behaved at such affairs—I’ll probably debauch you in gazebos, on balconies, beneath staircases, and behind assorted potted plants. And if you complain, I’ll simply remind you that you should have known better than to marry a conscienceless rake.”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies