Devil in Winter Page 13

“And the rest of it?”

“Thirty pounds for the rites, one pound for the use o’ my shop, one guinea for the marriage certificate, which I will have ready at the morrow, one crown apiece for the witnesses”—the blacksmith paused to gesture to his daughters, who giggled and bobbed in curtsies—“another crown for the flowers—”

“A crown for a handful of dried weeds?” St. Vincent asked in outrage.

“I’ll gi’ ye the song at no charge,” MacPhee conceded graciously. “Oh, an’ a shilling for the ribbon…which ye maun not untie till the marriage is consummated…or ill luck will follow ye from Gretna.”

St. Vincent opened his mouth to argue, but after one glance at Evie’s exhausted face, he reached into his coat for the money. His movements were awkward, for he was right-handed and his left was the only one available for use. Pulling out a wad of banknotes and a few coins, he tossed them onto the anvil. “There,” he said gruffly. “No, don’t return the change. Give it to your daughters”—a sardonic note entered his voice—“along with my gratitude for the song.”

A chorus of thanks erupted from MacPhee and the girls, who were inspired to follow them to the door of the building, singing an extra verse of the wedding song.

And I will love thee still, my dear

Till all the seas gang dry…


The rain had worsened by the time they left the blacksmith’s cottage, coming down in stinging sheets of silver and black. Evie quickened her pace, summoning the last of her strength to return to the shelter of the inn. She felt as if she were walking through a dream. Everything seemed out of proportion—it was difficult to focus her eyes, and the muddy ground seemed to shift capriciously beneath her feet. To her disgruntlement, St. Vincent stopped her by the side of the building under the shelter of a dripping eave.

“What is it?” she asked numbly.

He reached for their bound wrists and began to tug at the knotted ribbon. “I’m getting rid of this.”

“No. Wait.” The hood of her cloak fell back as she fumbled to stop him. Her hand covered his, temporarily stilling the motion of his fingers.

“Why?” St. Vincent asked impatiently. Water trickled from the edge of his hat as he looked down at her. Evening had fallen, and the only illumination was the feeble glow shed by the sputtering street lamps. Dim though the light was, it seemed to catch in his pale blue eyes, causing them to gleam as if with their own inner illumination.

“You heard what Mr. MacPhee said—it’s bad luck if we untie the ribbon.”

“You’re superstitious,” St. Vincent said in a disbelieving tone. Evie nodded apologetically.

It was not difficult to see that his temper was being held in check by a thread far more tenuous than the ribbon that connected their wrists. As they stood together in the dark and cold, their tethered arms held upward at an awkward angle, Evie felt the fingers of his imprisoned hand cupping over her fist. It was the only warm part of her body, the place where his hand covered hers.

St. Vincent spoke with an exaggerated patience that, had Evie been in full possession of her wits, would have warned her to withdraw her objections immediately. “Do you really want to go into the tavern like this?”

It was irrational, but Evie was too exhausted to make sense of her feelings. All she knew was that she’d had enough ill fortune to last a lifetime and she did not want to invite any more. “This is Gretna Green. No one will think anything of it. And I thought you didn’t care about appearances.”

“I’ve never had any objection to appearing depraved or villainous. But I draw the line at looking like a prize idiot.”

“No, don’t,” Evie said urgently as St. Vincent reached for the ties once more. She grappled with him, her fingers tangling with his. And then suddenly his mouth had caught hers, and he pushed her against the side of the building, anchoring her with his own body. His free hand caught the nape of her neck, beneath the weight of her damp hair. The lush pressure of his mouth caused a shock of response in every part of her body, all at once. She didn’t know how to kiss, what to do with her mouth. Bewildered and shaking, she urged her closed lips back against his, while her heart thumped wildly and her limbs went weak.

He wanted things that she didn’t know how to give. Sensing her confusion, he drew back and possessed her mouth with small, persistent kisses, the bristle on his face scraping gently against hers. His fingers came to the fragile structure of her jaw, tilting her chin, his thumb coaxing her lower lip apart from the upper. The instant he gained an opening, he sealed his mouth over hers. She could taste him, a subtle and alluring essence that affected her like some exotic drug. His tongue pushed inside her, exploring in caressing strokes…. sliding deeper as she offered no resistance.

After a luxuriously probing kiss, he eased back until their mouths were barely touching, their breath mingling in steamy puffs that were visible in the chilled night air. He brushed a half-open kiss against her lips, and another, his soft exhalations filling her mouth. The light kisses strayed across her cheek to the intricate hollow of her ear, and she gasped shakily as she felt his tongue trace the fragile rim, just before his teeth caught softly at the tiny lobe. She writhed in response, sensation streaking down to her br**sts and farther, gathering low in intimate places.

Straining against him, she searched blindly for his hot, teasing mouth, the silken stroke of his tongue. He gave it to her, his kiss gentle but sure. She curled her free arm around his neck to keep from falling, while he kept the other wrist pressed against the wall, their pulses throbbing hard together beneath the wrapping of white ribbon. Another deep kiss, somehow raw and soothing at the same time…he ate at her mouth, tasted and licked inside her…the pleasure of it threatened to blot out her consciousness. No wonder…she thought dizzily. No wonder so many women had succumbed to this man, had thrown away their reputations and their honor for him…had even, if rumor could be believed, threatened to kill themselves when he left them. He was sensuality incarnate.

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