Devil in Winter Page 74

Even after a heavy dose of morphine, the pain caused Sebastian to arch and twist, his face contorting, while incoherent protests came from low in his throat. Cam helped to pin him down so that even minimal movement wasn’t possible. The real difficulty came, however, when Westcliff began to flush out the wound with salt water. Sebastian cried out harshly, fighting in earnest while the syringe was deployed repeatedly until the saline solution that soaked the towels beneath him ran pink with fresh, clean blood. Westcliff was steady and precise, working with a brisk efficiency that any surgeon would have admired. Somehow Evie managed to conquer her own anguish, pushing it far down beneath layers of numbness as she worked with the same outward detachment that Westcliff and Cam displayed. Methodically she snatched away the filthy towels and tucked new ones against her husband’s side. To her vast relief, Sebastian soon fainted and went slack, now oblivious to the treatment of his injury.

Once the raw flesh was cleaned to Westcliff’s satisfaction, he soaked a swab with the turpentine mixture and saturated the wound thoroughly. Moving aside, he watched intently as Cam wrapped some bog moss in a clean square of muslin, soaked the bundle in honey, and carefully packed the area. “That’s it,” the boy said with satisfaction. He untied the rags that had tethered Sebastian’s hands and foot as he spoke. “The healing will start deep within. We’ll keep packing it for a few days, and then we’ll dispense with the moss and let the skin come together.” It took their combined efforts to wrap a linen bandage completely around Sebastian’s lean waist and to change the damp sheets so that the bed was clean and dry.

When it was over, Evie felt the ruthless self-discipline leave her limbs, and she began to shake from head to toe with strain. She saw with surprise that even Westcliff seemed fatigued, letting out a long sigh as he used a clean rag to blot the abundant sweat on his face. Lillian came to him at once, her arms going around him in a quick hug as she murmured an endearment in his ear.

“We should change the packing and dressing about twice a day, I think,” Cam commented to no one in particular, washing his hands with soap and water. “If the fever doesn’t improve by nightfall, we’ll double the dose of four o’clock plant.” Gesturing for Evie to come to him, he washed her hands and arms as well. “He’ll be all right, sweetheart,” he said. “When the earl was draining the wound it didn’t look as bad as I thought it would.”

Evie shook her head wearily, standing with childlike passivity as he blotted her wet hands. “I can’t let myself hope for anything. I can’t let myself believe…” Her voice trailed off as the floor seemed to tilt beneath her feet, and she jerked clumsily in an attempt to correct her balance. Cam caught her swiftly and scooped her up against his hard young chest. “Bed for you,” he announced, carrying her toward the door.

“Sebastian…” she mumbled.

“We’ll take care of him while you rest.”

She had little choice, as her sleep-deprived body refused to function any longer. Her last memory was of Cam laying her on her own bed, drawing the covers over her and tucking them at her sides as if she were a little girl. As soon as her body heat began to collect beneath the slick, icy-cold sheets, she plummeted into a dreamless slumber.

Evie awoke to the cheerful glow of a tiny flame. A candle sat on the bedside table. Someone was sitting on the edge of the bed…Lillian…looking rumpled and tired, with her hair tied at the nape of her neck.

Slowly Evie sat up, rubbing her eyes. “Is it evening?” she croaked. “I must have slept all afternoon.”

Lillian smiled wryly. “You’ve slept for a day and a half, dear. Westcliff and I have looked after St. Vincent, while Mr. Rohan has been running the club.”

Evie ran her tongue inside her pasty mouth and sat up straighter. Her heart began to thud with dread as she struggled to ask, “Sebastian…is he…”

Lillian took Evie’s chapped hand in hers and asked gently, “Which do you want first—the good news, or the bad news?”

Evie shook her head, unable to speak. She stared at her friend without blinking, her lips trembling.

“The good news,” Lillian said, “is that his fever has broken, and his wound is no longer putrid.” She grinned as she added, “The bad news is that you may have to endure being married to him for the rest of your life.”

Evie burst into tears. She put her free hand over her eyes, while her shoulders shook with sobs. She felt Lillian’s fingers wrap more firmly around hers.

“Yes,” came Lillian’s dry voice, “I’d weep too, if he were my husband—though for entirely different reasons.”

That caused a hiccupping giggle to break through Evie’s muffled sobs, and she shook her head, still covering her streaming eyes. “Is he conscious? Is he speaking?”

“Yes, he has asked for you repeatedly and was quite annoyed when I refused to awaken you before now.”

Lowering her hand, Evie stared at her through a film of moisture. “I’m certain he didn’t mean to sound ungr-grateful,” she said hastily. “After all you’ve done—”

“There’s no need to make excuses for him,” Lillian said sardonically. “I know him fairly well. Which is why I still don’t believe he cares about anyone but himself…and perhaps a little—very little—bit for you. But if he makes you happy, I suppose he shall have to be tolerated.” Her nose wrinkled, and she appeared to hunt for an unappealing scent before detecting it on the sleeves of her gown. “Ugh…it’s a good thing my family owns a soap company. Because I’ll need a hundred bricks of it to remove the smell of that blasted poultice.”

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