Devil in Winter Page 54

“You fault me for having standards?” Sebastian countered icily.

“Not at all. I fault you for having two sets of them. The Rom have a saying—‘With one behind, you cannot sit on two horses.’ If you want to survive here, you’ll have to change. You can’t pose as an aristocratic idler who’s above this sort of thing. Hell…you’re trying to assume a job that even I couldn’t manage. You’ll have to deal with gamblers, drunkards, thieves, liars, crime lords, lawyers, police, and more than thirty employees who all believe you’re going to fold up the wagon and depart within the month. Now that Jenner’s dead, you’ve taken his place as one of the greatest marks in London. Everyone will want favors, or try to take advantage of you, or prove themselves superior to you. And no one will ever tell you the complete truth. About anything. You have to sharpen your instincts. You have to make people afraid of crossing you. Otherwise, the odds of your success are so low as to be…” His voice trailed away. It was clear that Cam would have liked to say more, but one glance at Sebastian’s face seemed to indicate that further words were useless. Raking his lean hand roughly through the disordered layers of his jet-black hair, Cam strode from the room.

A long minute passed before Evie dared to approach her husband. He was staring fixedly at the blank wall in brooding contemplation. She noticed that whereas most people tended to look older when they were tired and strained, Sebastian tended to look younger. Staring up into his face, she murmured, “Why are you doing it? It’s not just for money. What are you hoping to find in this place?”

Unexpectedly, the questions kindled a gleam of sardonic amusement in his eyes. “When I figure it out…I’ll let you know.”


The following afternoon Sebastian came to the office to find Evie, who was totaling receipts and listing numbers in an account ledger. “You have a visitor,” Sebastian said without preamble. He met her gaze over the pile of paper slips. “Mrs. Hunt.”

Evie stared at him in astonishment, her heart leaping. She had struggled with the question of whether to write to Annabelle. She had been longing to see her friend, and yet there was a definite question about what her reception would be. Slowly she stood from her chair. “Are you certain it’s not another deception?”

“I’m certain,” Sebastian said sardonically. “My ears are still ringing with accusations and invectives. Neither Mrs. Hunt nor Miss Bowman will accept that you weren’t abducted, raped, and married at knifepoint.”

“Miss Bowman?” Evie repeated dumbly, reflecting in an instant that it couldn’t be Lillian. She was no longer Miss Bowman, and was still on her honeymoon with Lord Westcliff. “Daisy is here as well?”

“And as hot-tempered as a hornet,” he confirmed. “You might reassure them that you’ve acted of your own free will, as I believe they’re of a mind to send for the nearest constable to arrest me.”

Excitement caused Evie’s pulse to quicken, and her fingers tightened on his arm. “I can’t believe they’ve both dared to come here. I’m certain that Mr. Hunt can’t know what Annabelle is doing.”

“On that point we agree,” Sebastian said. “Hunt wouldn’t allow his wife within a ten-mile radius of me. And the Bowmans would never approve of their youngest daughter setting foot in a gaming club. However, knowing your friends, I have no doubt that they’ve concocted some elaborate ruse to cover their actions.”

“Where are they? Don’t say you’ve left them standing at the back entrance?”

“They’ve been shown to the reading room.”

Evie was so eager to see her friends that she had to restrain herself from breaking into a run as soon as she left the office. Hurrying to the reading room, with Sebastian following, she dashed across the threshold and stopped uncertainly.

There was Annabelle, with her honey-streaked hair curled into shining upswept ringlets, her complexion as fresh as that of the idealized dairymaids who were painted on tins of sweets. Upon first acquaintance, Annabelle’s exquisite English-rose beauty had been so intimidating that Evie had been afraid to talk to her, certain that she would receive a crushing snub from such an exquisite creature. However, she had eventually discovered that Annabelle was warm and kind, with a self-deprecating sense of humor.

Daisy Bowman, Lillian’s young sister, had an outsized personality that belied her small, slight frame. Idealistic and possessed of a decidedly whimsical bent, she devoured romantic novels populated with rogues and villains. However, Daisy’s elfin facade concealed a shrewd intelligence that most people tended to overlook. She was fair-skinned and dark-haired, with eyes the color of spiced gingerbread…mischievous eyes with long, spiky lashes.

Upon seeing Evie, her friends rushed toward her with unladylike squeals, and Evie let out her own laughing shriek as they collided in a circle of tightly hugging arms and exuberant kisses. In their shared excitement, the three young women continued to exclaim and scream, until someone burst into the room.

It was Cam, his eyes wide, his breathing fast, as if he had come at a dead run. His alert gaze flashed across the room, taking in the situation. Slowly his lean frame relaxed. “Damn,” he muttered. “I thought something was wrong.”

“Everything is fine, Cam,” Evie said with a smile, while Annabelle kept an arm around her shoulders. “My friends are here, that’s all.”

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