Devil in Winter Page 15

St. Vincent was more efficient than any lady’s maid, dressing Evie swiftly in the white flannel nightgown he had found in her valise. He used the towel to wring the water from her hair, then guided her to the washstand. Evie registered incuriously that he had found her toothbrush in the valise and had sprinkled the bristles with tooth powder. Brushing and rinsing with jerky movements, she spit into the creamware washbowl. The toothbrush dropped from her nerveless fingers, clattering to the floor. “Where’s the bed?” she whispered, her eyes closed.

“Here, sweetheart. Take my hand.” St. Vincent led her to the bed, and she crawled onto the mattress like a wounded animal. The bed was dry and warm, the mattress soft, the weight of the sheets and wool blankets exquisite on her aching limbs. Burying her head in the pillow, she let out a sighing groan. There was a slight tugging at her scalp, and she comprehended that St. Vincent was combing the snarls from her damp hair. Passively accepting his ministrations, she let him turn her over to reach the other side. When the task was finished, St. Vincent left the bedside to attend to his own bath. Evie managed to stay awake just long enough to crack her swollen lids open for a view of his lean, gold-tinted body in the firelight. Her eyes closed as he stepped into the tub…and by the time he had sat down, she was fast asleep.

No dreams leavened her slumber. There was nothing but sweet, heavy darkness, and the soft bed, and the quietness of a Scottish village on a cold autumn night. The only time she stirred was at daybreak, when noises from outside filtered into the room…the cheerful cries of the muffin seller, a rag man, the sounds of animals pulling carts through the street. Her eyes slitted open, and in the diluted light that shone through the rough-woven fawn-colored curtains, she registered the surprising sight of another person in bed with her.

St. Vincent. Her husband. He was naked, or at least the upper half of him was. He slept on his stomach, his smoothly muscled arms curved around the pillow beneath his head. The broad lines of his shoulders and back were so perfect that they seemed to have been carved from pale Baltic amber and sanded to a glossy finish. His face was much softer in repose than it was in wakefulness…the calculating eyes were closed, and his mouth was relaxed into gentle, innocently sensuous lines.

Closing her own eyes, Evie dwelled on the thought that she was now a married woman, and would be able to see her father soon and stay with him for as long as she wished. And as it was likely that St. Vincent would care little about what she did or where she went, she would have some freedom. Despite the worries that lurked in the back of her mind, a feeling that resembled happiness crept through her, and she sighed and drifted to sleep once more.

This time, she dreamed. She was walking along a sun-drenched lane lined with purple asters and swaying spikes of goldenrod. It was a path in Hampshire that she had traversed many times before, past wet fields filled with yellow meadowsweet and tall late-summer grasses. She strolled alone in the sunken lane until she approached the wishing well where she and the other wallflowers had once tossed pins into the churning water and made wishes. Having learned of the local superstition about the well spirit who lived deep in the ground, Evie had been nervous about standing too close to the edge. According to legend, the spirit was waiting to capture an innocent maiden and pull her down with him into the well, to live as his consort. In her dream, however, Evie was fearless, even daring to remove her shoes and dip her toes into the sloshing water. To her surprise, it was not cool, but deliciously warm.

Lowering herself to the edge of the well, Evie dangled her bare legs in the soothing water and lifted her face to the sun. She felt a soft touch on her ankles. She held very still, feeling no fear even as she sensed something moving beneath the surface of the water. Another touch…a hand…long fingers smoothed over her feet and massaged tenderly, rubbing over the sore insteps until she sighed in pleasure. The big masculine hands slid higher, caressing her calves and knees, while a large, sleek body emerged from the depths of the well. The spirit had taken the form of a man to court her. His arms slipped around her, and the feel of him was strange but so lovely that she kept her eyes closed, fearing that if she tried to look at him, he might vanish. His skin was hot and silken, the muscles of his back rippling beneath her fingers.

Her dream lover whispered endearments as he embraced her, his mouth playing over her throat. Everywhere he touched, she felt a glow of sensation. “Shall I take you?” he whispered, carefully drawing away her clothes, baring her skin to the light and air and water. “Don’t be afraid, little love, don’t…” And as she shivered and held him blindly, he kissed her throat and br**sts, and touched her ni**les with his tongue. His hands coasted over her front, slipping down to cradle her br**sts while his half-parted lips brushed over a budded peak. His tongue darted out to flick the sweetly aching flesh again and again, until a moan rose in her throat and she slid her fingers into his thick hair. Opening his mouth, he covered her nipple and drew on it with a gentle tug, then stroked with his tongue and pulled again…licking and suckling in a soft, clever rhythm. She arched and gasped, helplessly widening her thighs as he moved more tightly between them…and then…

Evie’s eyes flew open. Her mind reeled as she awoke in a tangle of confusion and desire, her lungs laboring wildly. The dream faded, and she comprehended that she was not in Hampshire but in the rented room at the Gretna inn, and the sounds of water were not from a wishing well but from a heavy rain outside. There was no sunlight, but instead the blaze of a newly lit fire in the hearth. And the body over hers was not that of a well spirit, but of a warm, living man…his head over her stomach, his mouth wandering lazily over her skin. Evie stiffened and whimpered in surprise at the realization that she was naked…that St. Vincent was making love to her and had been for some minutes.

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