Devil in Winter Page 91

“Well,” Sebastian said unsteadily, “you may have a point about the billiards room.”

And she smiled as he lifted her in his arms and carried her to bed.


It was nearly the end of winter. Since Evie’s mourning period coincided with Annabelle’s confinement, the two of them had spent a great deal of time together. They were both precluded from attending social events such as balls or large suppers, but that suited the women quite well, as it had been bitterly cold since Christmas, and spring seemed reluctant to arrive. Instead of gadding about town, they huddled next to the great fireplace at the Hunts’ luxurious hotel suite, or more often they gathered with Lillian and Daisy in one of the cozy parlors at Westcliff’s Marsden Terrace. They read, chatted, and did handiwork while consuming endless cups of tea.

One afternoon Lillian sat at a writing desk in the corner, laboriously composing a letter to one of her sisters-in-law, while Daisy reclined on a settee with a novel, her slight frame bundled in a cashmere lap blanket. Annabelle had occupied a chair by the blazing fire, one of her hands resting on the burgeoning curve of her belly, while Evie sat on a stool before her, rubbing her aching feet. Wincing and sighing, Annabelle murmured, “Oh, that feels lovely. No one warned me that pregnancy makes one’s feet so sore. Though I should have expected it, with all the extra weight I’m obliged to carry. Thank you, Evie. You’re the dearest friend in the world.”

Lillian’s sardonic voice came from the corner. “She told me the same thing, Evie, when I last rubbed her feet. Her devotion lasts only until the next massage. Admit it, Annabelle—you’re a lightskirt.”

Annabelle grinned lazily. “Just wait until you conceive, dear. You’ll be begging for foot rubs from anyone who is willing to give them.”

Lillian opened her mouth to reply, seemed to think better of it, and took a sip of wine from a glass on the desk.

Without looking up from her novel, Daisy said, “Oh, go on and tell them.”

Both Annabelle and Evie turned to stare at Lillian. “Tell us what?” they both asked in tandem.

Lillian responded with a quick, embarrassed lift of her shoulders, and sent a bashful grin over her shoulder. “Come midsummer, Westcliff will finally have his heir.”

“Unless it’s a girl,” Daisy added.

“Congratulations,” Evie exclaimed, temporarily abandoning Annabelle. She went to hug Lillian exuberantly. “That is wonderful news!”

“Westcliff is beside himself with delight, though he tries not to show it,” Lillian said, returning the hug. “I’m certain he is telling St. Vincent and Mr. Hunt at this very moment. He seems to believe it is entirely his accomplishment.”

“Well, his contribution was essential, wasn’t it?” Annabelle pointed out in amusement.

“Yes,” Lillian replied, “but the greater part of the undertaking is clearly mine.”

Annabelle grinned at Lillian from across the room. “You’ll do splendidly, dear. Forgive me if I don’t leap across the room; just know that I am truly overjoyed. I hope you have the opposite of whatever I’m having and then we can arrange a marriage.” Her tone turned whiny and cajoling. “Evie…come back. You can’t leave me with just one foot done.”

Shaking her head with a smile, Evie returned to the stool at the hearth. She glanced at Daisy, noticing the fond, pensive gaze that was directed toward her older sister. Perceiving the girl’s wistfulness, Evie said as she resumed her place at Annabelle’s feet, “In the midst of all this talk about husbands and babies, we mustn’t forget about finding a gentleman for Daisy.”

The dark-haired girl sent her an affectionate grin. “You’re a dear, Evie. And I don’t mind having waited for my turn. After all, someone had to be the last wallflower. But I am beginning to wonder if I’ll ever find a suitable man to marry.”

“Of course you will,” Annabelle said reasonably. “I don’t foresee any difficulty, Daisy. We’ve all broadened our circle of acquaintances quite a bit, and we’ll do whatever is necessary to find the perfect husband for you.”

“Just keep in mind that I don’t want to marry a man like LordWestcliff,” Daisy said. “Too overbearing. And not one like Lord St.Vincent either. Too unpredictable.”

“What about one like Mr. Hunt?” Annabelle asked.

Daisy shook her head firmly. “Too tall.”

“You’re becoming a bit particular, aren’t you?” Annabelle pointed out mildly, her eyes twinkling.

“Not in the least! My expectations are quite reasonable. I want a nice man who likes long walks, and books, and is adored by dogs, children—”

“And all the superior forms of aquatic and plant life,” Lillian said dryly. “Tell me, dear, where are we to find this paragon?”

“Not at any of the balls I’ve been to so far,” came Daisy’s glum reply. “I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but the selection this year is even worse than last. I am beginning to believe that any man worth marrying is not to be found at such occasions.”

“I think you’re right,” Lillian said. “There’s too much competition at those affairs—and the best quarry has already been thinned out. Time to hunt in a new field.”

“The club’s office has files on all its patrons,” Evie volunteered. “Approximately twenty-five hundred gentlemen of means. Of course, a large number of them are married—but I’m certain that I could find the names of many eligible ones.”

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