Devil in Winter Page 72

“Thank you,” Evie whispered, feeling the sting of tears in her eyes once more.

“Oh, Evie…” Lillian’s face softened with an expression of compassion that Evie had never seen on her before. She reached out and hugged Evie once more, and spoke into the wild tangles of her hair. “He’s not going to die, you know. It’s only nice, saintly people who suffer untimely deaths.” She gave a quiet laugh. “Whereas selfish bastards like St. Vincent live to torment other people for decades.”

With the help of a housemaid, Evie bathed and changed into a loose day gown that required no corset. She braided her clean, damp hair into a long plait that hung down her back, and stuck her feet into a pair of knit slippers. Venturing back into Sebastian’s room, she saw that Lillian had straightened the room and drawn the curtains open. A cloth had been tied around her waist as a makeshift apron, and it was splotched and stained, as was her bodice.

“I made him take some broth,” Lillian explained. “I had the devil of a time getting him to swallow—he wasn’t precisely what one would call conscious—but I persisted until I had poured a quarter cup or so down his throat. I think he relented in the hopes that I was a bad dream that might go away if he humored me.”

Evie had been unable to induce Sebastian to drink anything since the previous morning. “You are the most wonderful—”

“Yes, yes, I know.” Lillian airily waved away the words, uncomfortable as always with praise. “Your tray was just brought up—it’s there on the table by the window. Mulled eggs and toast. Eat every bite, dear. I should hate to have to use force on you too.”

As Evie sat obediently and sank her teeth into a slice of lightly buttered toast, Lillian changed the cloth on Sebastian’s forehead. “I must admit,” Lillian murmured, “it’s hard to despise him when he’s been brought so low. And it does count in his favor that he’s the one lying here wounded, instead of you.” Occupying the bedside chair, she glanced at Evie with frank curiosity. “Why did he do it, I wonder? He’s selfish to the core. Not at all the kind who would sacrifice himself for someone else.”

“He’s not completely selfish,” Evie mumbled, and washed down the toast with a swallow of hot tea.

“Westcliff thinks that St.Vincent is in love with you.”

Evie choked a little and didn’t dare look up from her tea. “Wh-why does he think that?”

“He’s known St. Vincent from childhood, and can read him fairly well. And Westcliff sees an odd sort of logic in why you would finally be the one to win St. Vincent’s heart. He says a girl like you would appeal to…hmm, how did he put it?…I can’t remember the exact words, but it was something like…you would appeal to St. Vincent’s deepest, most secret fantasy.”

Evie felt her cheeks flushing while a skirmish of pain and hope took place in the tired confines of her chest. She tried to respond sardonically. “I should think his fantasy is to consort with as many women as possible.”

A grin crossed Lillian’s lips. “Dear, that is not St. Vincent’s fantasy, it’s his reality. And you’re probably the first sweet, decent girl he’s ever had anything to do with.”

“He spent quite a lot of time with you and Daisy in Hampshire,” Evie countered.

That seemed to amuse Lillian further. “I’m not at all sweet, dear. And neither is my sister. Don’t say you have been laboring under that misconception all this time?”

Just as Evie finished the plate of eggs and toast, Lord Westcliff and Cam entered the room, bearing armloads of pots, bottles, potions, and assorted strange articles. A pair of housemaids accompanied them with steaming metal ewers and piles of folded toweling. Although Evie wanted to help, they bid her stand back as they arranged the objects at the bedside, and draped towels over Sebastian’s sides, legs, and hips, leaving only the wound exposed.

“It would be best if he could take some morphine first,” Westcliff said, using thread to wrap a wad of linen tightly around a wooden dowel to form a long-handled swab. “This procedure will likely pain him far more than the gunshot itself.”

“He can be made to swallow,” Lillian said decisively. “Evie, shall I?”

“No, I will.” Evie went to the bedside and measured a dose of morphine syrup into a glass. Cam appeared at her elbow and gave her a folded paper packet filled what appeared to be dark green ash.

“The four o’clock plant,” he said. “I found it at the first apothecary I visited. The bog moss was a bit more difficult to find…but I managed to get some of that too.”

Evie leaned her shoulder against him in wordless thanks. “How much of the powder should I give him?”

“For a man of St. Vincent’s size, I would think at least two teaspoons.”

Evie stirred two spoonfuls of the powder into the glass of amber medicine, turning it black. It undoubtedly tasted even worse than it looked. She only hoped that if Sebastian did consent to swallow it, he could somehow manage to keep the vile mixture down. Climbing beside him on the bed, she stroked the dull locks of his hair and the parched, blazing surface of his face. “Sebastian,” she whispered, “wake up. You must take some medicine…” He did not rouse even when she slipped her arm behind him and tried to lift his head.

“No, no, no,” came Lillian’s voice from behind her, “you’re being far too gentle, Evie. I had to shake him roughly before he awakened sufficiently to take some broth. Let me show you.” She climbed onto the bed beside Evie and jolted the semiconscious man a few times until he moaned and half opened his eyes, and stared at the pair of them without recognition.

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