Devil in Winter Page 3

“Not to look a gift horse in the mouth,” Sebastian said casually, “but how close is your father to dying? Some people linger for years on their deathbeds. Very bad form, I’ve always thought, to keep people waiting.”

“You won’t have to wait for long,” came her brittle reply. “I’ve been told he’ll die in a fortnight, perhaps.”

“What guarantee do I have that you won’t change your mind before we reach Gretna Green? You know what kind of man I am, Miss Jenner. Need I remind you that I tried to abduct and ravish one of your friends last week?”

Evangeline’s gaze shot to his. Unlike his own eyes, which were a pale shade of blue, hers were dark sapphire. “Did you try to rape Lillian?” she asked tautly.

“I threatened to.”

“Would you have carried out your threat?”

“I don’t know. I never have before, but as you said, I am desperate. And while we’re on the subject…are you proposing a marriage of convenience, or are we to sleep together on occasion?”

Evangeline ignored the question, persisting, “Would you have f-forced yourself on her, or not?”

Sebastian stared at her with patent mockery. “If I say no, Miss Jenner, how would you know if I were lying or not? No. I would not have raped her. Is that the answer you want? Believe it, then, if it makes you feel safer. Now as for my question…”

“I will sl-sleep with you once,” she said, “to make the marriage legal. Never again after that.”

“Lovely,” he murmured. “I rarely like to bed a woman more than once. A crashing bore, after the novelty is gone. Besides, I would never be so bourgeois as to lust after my own wife. It implies that one hasn’t the means to keep a mistress. Of course, there is the issue of providing me with an heir…but as long as you’re discreet, I don’t expect I’ll give a damn whose child it is.”

She didn’t even blink. “I will want a p-portion of the inheritance to be set aside for me in a trust. A generous one. The interest will be mine alone, and I will spend it as I see fit—without answering to you for my actions.”

Sebastian comprehended that she was not dull-witted by any means, though the stammer would cause many to assume otherwise. She was accustomed to being underestimated, ignored, overlooked…and he sensed that she would turn it to her advantage whenever possible. That interested him.

“I’d be a fool to trust you,” he said. “You could back out of our agreement at any moment. And you’d be an even greater one to trust me. Because once we’re married, I could play far greater hell with you than your mother’s family ever dreamed of doing.”

“I would r-rather have it be from someone I chose,” she returned grimly. “Better you than Eustace.”

Sebastian grinned at that. “That doesn’t say much for Eustace.”

She did not return his smile, only slumped a little in her chair, as if a great tension had left her, and stared at him with dogged resignation. Their gazes held, and Sebastian experienced a strange shock of awareness that went from his head to his toes.

It was nothing new for him to be easily aroused by a woman. He had long ago realized that he was a more physical man than most, and that some women set off sparks in him, ignited his sensuality, to an unusual degree. For some reason this awkward, stammering girl was one of them. He wanted to bed her.

Visions darted from his seething imagination, of her body, the limbs and curves and skin he had not yet seen, the swell of her bottom as he cupped it in his hands. He wanted the scent of her in his nostrils, and on his own skin…the drag of her long hair over his throat and chest…He wanted to do unspeakable things with her mouth, and with his own.

“It’s decided, then,” he murmured. “I accept your proposition. There’s much more to discuss, of course, but we’ll have two days until we reach Gretna Green.” He rose from the chair and stretched, his smile lingering as he noticed the way her gaze slid quickly over his body. “I’ll have the carriage readied and have the valet pack my clothes. We’ll leave within the hour. Incidentally, if you decide to back out of our agreement at any time during our journey, I will strangle you.”

She shot him a sardonic glance. “You w-wouldn’t be so nervous about that if you hadn’t tried this with an unwilling victim l-last week.”

“Touche. Then we may describe you as a willing victim?”

“An eager one,” Evangeline said shortly, looking as though she wanted to be off at once.

“My favorite kind,” he remarked, and bowed politely before he strode from the library.


As Lord St. Vincent left the room, Evie let out a shaky sigh and closed her eyes. St. Vincent needn’t worry that she might change her mind. Now that the agreement had been made, she was a hundred times more impatient than he to start on their journey. The knowledge that Uncle Brook and Uncle Peregrine were most likely searching for her this very moment filled her with fear.

When she had escaped the house near the end of summer, she had been caught at the entrance to her father’s club. By the time Uncle Peregrine had brought her home, he had knocked her about in the carriage until her lip was split, one eye was blackened, and her back and arms were covered with bruises. Two weeks of being locked in her room had followed, with little more than bread and water being thrust past her door.

No one, not even her friends Annabelle, Lillian, and Daisy, knew the full extent of what she had undergone. Life in the Maybrick household had been a nightmare. The Maybricks, her mother’s family, and the Stubbinses—her mother’s sister Florence and her husband, Peregrine—had joined in a collective effort to break Evie’s will. They were angered and puzzled as to why it had been so difficult…and Evie was no less puzzled than they. She wouldn’t have ever thought that she could endure harsh punishment, indifference, and even hatred, without crumbling. Perhaps she had more of her father in her than anyone had guessed. Ivo Jenner had been a bare-knuckle bruiser, and the secret to his success, within the rope ring and outside it, was not talent but tenacity. She had inherited the same stubbornness.

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