“What?” Startled by the statement, Evie drew away to look at him. “The one in Mayfair?”
“It’s well-appointed, and fully staffed. If it doesn’t please you, we’ll find something else. In the meantime, however, you’ll have to stay there.”
“Are you planning to…to live there with me?”
“No. I will continue to live at the club. It’s far more convenient to manage everything that way.”
Evie struggled to cope with his indifference. What was the reason for his sudden coolness? She had been no trouble to him…she had made few demands of him, even in her grief. Bewildered and angry, she stared down at her hands and made a knot of her gloved fingers.
“I want to stay,” she said in a low voice.
Sebastian shook his head. “There is no reason for you to remain there. You’re not needed. It will be better for all concerned if you live in a proper home, where you can receive your friends, and not be awakened at all hours of the night by the commotion downstairs.”
“I am a sound sleeper. That doesn’t bother me. And I can receive my friends at the club—”
It made no difference that he was right. Evie was silent, while the phrase “you’re not needed” caused an ugly echo in her head.
“I want you to live in safe and respectable surroundings,” Sebastian continued. “The club is no place for a lady.”
“I’m not a lady,” Evie countered, striving for a tone of light irony. “I’m a gambler’s daughter and a scoundrel’s wife.”
“All the more reason to remove you from my influence.”
“I don’t think I’ll leave, just the same. Perhaps we can discuss it in the spring, but until then—”
“Evie,” he said quietly, “I’m not giving you a choice.”
She stiffened and inched away from him. An entire room filled with foot warmers couldn’t have banished the frost that lined her veins. Her mind searched frantically for arguments to dissuade him…but he was right…there was no reason for her to stay at the club.
Her throat became very tight and she thought with despair that by now she should be used to this…being unwanted, being alone…why in God’s name did it still hurt? Oh, how she wished she could be like Sebastian, with a wall of protective ice around her heart. “What about our bargain?” she asked dully. “Do you intend to ignore it, or—”
“Oh no. I’m going to live as chastely as a monk until the time comes for me to collect my reward. But it will be easier for me to resist temptation with you out of reach.”
“Perhaps I won’t resist temptation,” Evie heard herself murmur. “I may find some accommodating gentleman to keep me company. You wouldn’t mind, would you?”
Until the words had left her lips, she would never have believed herself capable of saying such a thing. However, the desperate need to wound him, anger him, break through to his emotions, was overpowering. Her attempt failed. After a short silence, she heard his silken reply.
“Not at all, pet. It would be selfish of me to deny you such amusement in your private hours. Do as you wish…just as long as you’re available when I have need of you.”
Behind the fashionable streets and respectable squares of the affluent areas of London, there was a hidden world of dark alleys and decaying rookeries, where humanity lived in unspeakable squalor. Crime and prostitution were the only means of survival in these places. The air was thick with the odors of refuse and sewage, and the buildings were crammed so close together that in some places a man could only pass between them if he moved sideways.
Cam ventured into the intricate maze of streets with great care, mindful of the infinite traps and dangers that awaited an unwary visitor. He entered a courtyard through dark archway, forty yards long, ten feet wide. It was lined with tall wooden structures, their overhead abutments shutting out the winter sky above. The buildings were padding kens, or common lodging houses, where the homeless slept in piles like so many corpses in a mass graveyard. Hangings of putrid matter, two and three feet in length, extended downward from the abutments. Rats wriggled and scuttled along sides of walls, and disappeared into the cracks of the buildings’ foundations. The court was empty save for a pair of girls sitting together on a doorstep, and a few scrawny children who searched for refuse bones or stray rags. Throwing Cam suspicious glances, the children vanished at the far end of the court.
One of the fuzzy-haired young prostitutes grinned to reveal a few broken stumps of teeth and said, “Whot’s a big ‘and some cull like you come to ‘Angman’s Court for?”
“I’m looking for a man, about so tall”—Cam gestured to indicate a man of five feet and eight inches—“with black hair. Has he come through the court in the past minute?”
The girls cackled as he spoke. “Listen to ‘im talk,” one of them exclaimed in delight.
“Lovely,” the other girl agreed. “Come, dearie, you don’t want a man, when you could lay atop Lushing Lou.” She tugged down her blouse to reveal a scrawny chest and meager, drooping breasts. “‘Ave a little crack-the-crib wiv me. I’ll bet you does it ‘andsomelike, don’t you?”
Cam withdrew a silver coin from his pocket, and her gaze followed it hungrily. “Tell me where he went,” he said.
“I’ll tell you for sixpence an’ a tup,” she said. “You ‘as pretty eyes, you does. I newer ‘ad a knock from a boy with such a lovely—”
A low, harsh laugh echoed across the court, and then came Joss Bullard’s mocking voice. “You won’t find me, you filthy ‘alf bred!”
Cam swung around, scanning the buildings, where scores of soot-smeared faces stared out of doorways and windows and peered over the tile-less rooftops. Not one of them was recognizable. “Bullard,” he said cautiously, turning slowly as his glance swept the scene. “What do you want with Jenner’s daughter?”
Another ugly laugh, seeming to come from a different direction this time. Cam ventured farther into the court, unable to identify Bullard’s location. “I wants to snuff ‘er!”
“Because she’s a bloody leech what’s taken ewery-fing from me. I wants ‘er dead. I wants to throw ‘er to the rats until there’s nofing but bones left.”
“Why?” Cam asked in bewilderment. “She’s asked me to help you, Joss, even after you betrayed her. She wants to honor her father’s request, to leave you enough to—”
“Devil take the filthy bitch!”
Cam shook his head slightly, unable to understand where such hostility had come from, or why Bullard harbored such mad wrath toward Evie.
Hearing a scraping sound behind him, he ducked and turned, just as the whistling arc of a board swung through the air where his head had been. The attacker was not Bullard, but a tosher, a scavenger who had impulsively decided to try his luck at back-alley robbery. He had the peculiar young-old look of someone who had lived in the streets since birth. Cam dispatched him in a few efficient movements, sending him to the ground in a groaning heap. A few more toshers appeared at the other end of the court, apparently deciding it was best to attack in numbers. Realizing that he would soon be overrun, Cam retreated to the archway, while Bullard’s voice followed him.
“I’ll get ‘er, I will.”
“You’ll never touch her,” Cam retorted, filled with a flare of impotent anger as he cast a last glance into Hangman’s Court. “I’ll send you to hell before you ever lay a finger on her!”
“I’ll bring you with me, then,” came Bullard’s gloating reply, and he laughed again as Cam strode away from the court.
Later in the day, Cam sought out Evie. Sebastian was occupied with a group of carpenters who were repairing the intricate parquet work of the wooden flooring in the main dining room. Finding Evie in the empty hazard room, sorting absently through baskets of gaming chips and separating them into neat stacks, Cam approached her with a noiseless tread.
She started a little at the light touch on her arm, and smiled with quick relief as she looked up into his face. It was rare for him to appear visibly troubled. A young man of his prosaic nature was not given to hand wringing or anxiety. Cam met each moment as it came, living as much as possible in the present. However, the events of the day had left their mark, imparting a stark tension that temporarily aged him.
“I couldn’t reach him,” Cam said softly. “He disappeared into a rookery, and spoke to me from the shadows. Nothing he said made sense. He harbors an evil feeling against you, gadji, though I don’t understand why. He’s never been what anyone would call a cheerful sort, but this is different. A kind of madness. I have to tell St. Vincent.”
“No, don’t,” came Evie’s instant reply. “It would only worry and anger him. He has enough to deal with at present.”
“But if Bullard tries to harm you—”
“I’m safe here, am I not? He wouldn’t dare come to the club with the price that my husband has put on his head.”
“There are hidden ways into the building.”
“Can you seal them? Lock them?”
Cam considered the questions with a frown. “Most of them. But it’s not a matter of traipsing back and forth with a set of keys—”
“I understand. Do what you can.” She drew her fingers through a pile of discarded chips and added morosely, “It doesn’t really matter, since I’ll be gone soon. St. Vincent wants me to leave after next week. He doesn’t think I should live at the club, now that my father…” She trailed off into disconsolate silence.
“Perhaps he’s right,” Cam offered, his tone deftly stripped of pity. “This isn’t the safest place for you.”
“He’s not doing it for reasons of safety.” Her fingers curled around a black chip, and then she sent it spinning like a top on the surface of the hazard table. “He’s doing it to keep distance between us.” She was both frustrated and heartened by the faint smile that touched his lips.
“Patience,” Cam counseled in a soft murmur, and left her to watch the chip spinning until its momentum had dwindled to stillness.
Evie was glad of the constant activity in the club during the next fortnight, as it helped to distract her from her grief. When she told Sebastian that she wished to be of use, she was promptly assigned to the office, where correspondence and account books lay in great disorganized piles. She was also called upon to direct painters, decorators, carpenters, and masons to their various tasks, a responsibility that would have terrified her long ago. Speaking to so many strangers was a nerve-wracking effort at first, and for the first few days she struggled with her stammer. However, the more often she did it, the easier it became. It helped that the workers all listened to her with a mixture of patience and respect that had never been accorded her before.
The first thing that Sebastian did after Ivo Jenner’s funeral was to arrange a meeting with the commissioner of police regarding the recent tightening of gaming laws. With persuasive charm, Sebastian made the case that Jenner’s was a social club, as opposed to being specifically a gaming club. Therefore, it was not the kind of place that should be subjected to police raids, as its members were, as Sebastian solemnly put it, “men of the highest integrity.” Swayed by Sebastian’s artful reasoning, the commissioner promised that there would be no raids on Jenner’s, as long as it maintained an appearance of respectability.
Upon learning of Sebastian’s success with the commissioner, Cam Rohan remarked admiringly, “That was a spruce trick, my lord. I’m beginning to think you can persuade anyone to do nearly anything.”
Sebastian grinned and glanced at Evie, who was sitting nearby. “I should think Lady St. Vincent is proof of that,” he said.
It seemed that Sebastian and Cam had decided to form a tentative alliance for the purposes of getting the club back on its feet. Their interactions were not precisely friendly, but neither were they hostile. Cam had certainly taken note of Sebastian’s leadership abilities, which were greatly needed in the days after Ivo Jenner’s demise. Sebastian had discarded his air of upper-class indolence, and had taken over the running of the club with decisiveness and authority.
As one might have expected, Sebastian was the kind of man that the club employees had contempt for, at first regarding him as nothing more than one of the “pigeons” or “culls” who came to the club. A spoiled, self-indulgent aristocrat who had no conception of what it was like to be a workingman. It was likely they all assumed, as Evie had, that Sebastian would quickly tire of the responsibilities that running the club entailed. However, no one dared to challenge him when it was clear that he was entirely willing to fire anyone who failed to heed his commands. There could have been no more effective statement of authority than the way he had summarily dismissed Clive Egan.
Furthermore, Sebastian’s sincere passion for the club could not be ignored. He had a keen interest in everything from the kitchen cuisine to the specific costs of running the hazard room. Recognizing that he had a great deal to learn about the operation of the games, Sebastian undertook to understand the mathematics of gambling. Evie ventured into the hazard room one evening to find Sebastian and Cam standing at the central table, while Cam explained his system of odds.
“…there are only thirty-six possible combinations of two dice, and of course each die has six sides. When you cast two dice simultaneously, whatever combination you end up with is called an ‘accumulated chance’ and the odds of achieving it are thirty-five to one.” Cam paused, giving Sebastian an assessing glance.
Sebastian nodded. “Go on.”
“As anyone who plays hazard knows, the sum of the two face-up sides is called a point. Two ones added together are a point of two. Two sixes added together are a point of twelve. But the odds of throwing any particular number vary, since there is only one way to throw a two, but there are six ways to throw a point of seven.”
“Seven being a natural,” Sebastian murmured, frowning in concentration. “And since the greatest number of combinations will result in a natural, the probability of throwing a seven with one cast is…”
“Sixteen percent,” Cam supplied, picking up the dice. The gold rings on his dark fingers caught the light as he sent the dice tumbling to the end of the table. Rebounded off the back edge of the table, the ivory cubes settled on the green baize. The faces were both sixes. “Throwing a twelve, on the other hand, has a probability of only two point seven percent. And of course, the more you throw, the more the probability increases…so that by the time you’ve cast the dice one hundred and sixty-six times, the probability of having thrown a twelve point by then is ninety-nine percent. Of course, with other points, the probability is going to be different. I can show you on paper—it’s easier to understand that way. You’ll have a great advantage once you learn how to figure the odds. Few players ever do, and it’s what separates the rooks from the pigeons. Hazard is a prejudiced game, even when played honestly, with the advantage going to the banker in most—” Cam paused respectfully as Evie came to the table. A smile glowed in his dark eyes. “Good evening, milady.”