Devil in Winter Page 9

“So you say,” St. Vincent replied lazily, tucking the quilt more tightly around them both. “However, during the past quarter hour you’ve been fondling parts of my anatomy that no one’s ever dared to touch before.”

“I v-very much doubt that.” She burrowed even further into the depths of his coat, and added in a muffled voice, “You’ve probably been h-handled more than a hamper at Fortnum and Mason.”

“And I can be had at a far more reasonable price.” He winced suddenly, and moved to arrange her on his lap. “Don’t put your knee there, darling, or your plans of consummating the marriage may be thrown very much into doubt.”

She dozed until their next stop, and just as she found herself relaxing into a deep sleep, St. Vincent gently shook her awake. “Evangeline,” he murmured, smoothing back her straggling hair. “Open your eyes. We’re at the next coaching stop. Time to go inside for a few minutes.”

“Don’t want to,” she mumbled, pushing at him irritably.

“You must,” he insisted gently. “We’re coming to a long stretch after this. You’ll have to use the convenience now, as it will be your last opportunity for a while.”

Evie was about to protest that she had no need of a convenience, when suddenly she realized that she did. The thought of getting up and walking out into the freezing gray rain again nearly brought tears to her eyes. Bending over, she tugged on her clammy, filthy shoes and fumbled miserably with the laces. St. Vincent brushed her hands away and tied them himself. He helped her from the carriage, and Evie gritted her teeth as a bitter gust of wind struck her. It was perishing cold outside. After tugging the hood of her cloak farther over her face, St. Vincent clamped a supportive arm around her shoulders and helped her across the inn yard. “Believe me,” he said, “you’d rather spend a few minutes here than have to stop by the side of the road later. Knowing what I do about women and their plumbing—”

“I know about my own plumbing,” Evie said testily. “There’s no need to explain it to me.”

“Of course. Forgive me if I’m talking excessively—I’m trying to keep myself awake. And you too, for that matter.”

Holding on to his lean waist, Evie trudged through the icy mud and distracted herself by thinking about cousin Eustace, and how glad she was not to have to marry him. She would never again have to live under the Maybricks’ roof. The thought gave her strength. Once she married, they would have no more power over her. Good Lord, it could not happen soon enough.

After arranging for the temporary use of a room, St. Vincent took Evie by the shoulders and evaluated her with a thorough glance. “You look ready to faint,” he said frankly. “Sweet, there’s time enough for you to rest here an hour or two. Why don’t you—”

“No,” she interrupted stonily. “I want to keep going.”

St. Vincent regarded her with obvious annoyance, but asked without rancor, “Are you always so stubborn?” Taking her up to the room, he reminded her to lock the door when he left. “Try not to fall asleep on the chamber pot,” he advised helpfully.

When they returned to the carriage, Evie followed their by-now familiar pattern, removing her shoes and allowing St. Vincent to tuck the hot brick at her feet. He settled her between his spread legs, resting one of his own stockinged feet near the brick, while his other foot remained on the floor to secure their balance. Evie’s heartbeat quickened, her veins dilated with a rush of tingling blood as St. Vincent took one of her hands in his and began to toy with her cold fingers. His hand was so warm, his fingertips velvety, the nails short and smoothly filed. A strong hand, but one that unquestionably belonged to a man of leisure.

St. Vincent laced their fingers together lightly, drew a small circle in her palm with his thumb, then slid his fingers up to match them against hers. Although his complexion was fair, his skin was warm-toned, the kind that absorbed the sun easily. Eventually St. Vincent ceased his playing and kept her fingers folded in his.

Surely this couldn’t be she…the wallflower Evangeline Jenner…alone in a carriage with a dangerous rake, racing madly to Gretna Green. Look what I’ve started, she thought dizzily. Turning her head on his chest, she rested her cheek against the fine linen of his shirt and asked drowsily, “What is your family like? Do you have brothers and sisters?”

His lips played among her curls for a moment, and then he lifted his mouth to reply. “There’s no one left, save for my father and myself. I have no memories of my mother—she died of cholera when I was still an infant. I had four older sisters. Being the youngest, and the only boy, I was spoiled beyond reason. But when I was a child, I lost three of my sisters to scarlet fever…I remember being sent to our country estate when they fell ill, and when I was brought back, they were gone. The one that was left—my eldest sister—married, but like your mother, she died in labor. The babe didn’t survive.”

Evie was very still during the matter-of-fact recitation, forcing herself to remain relaxed against him. But inside she felt a stirring of pity for the little boy he had been. A mother and four doting sisters, all vanishing from his life. It would have been difficult for any adult to comprehend such loss, much less a child. “Do you ever wonder what your life might have been like,” she found herself asking, “if you’d had a mother?”


“I do. I often wonder what advice she’d have given me.”

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