“I doubt it would have made him better,” Westcliff interrupted. “It may well have finished him off.”
Lillian drew closer, wincing as she glanced down at the foul wound and then at Sebastian’s unnatural pallor. “What is to be done for him, then?”
“Mr. Rohan suggested flooding the wound with a saltwater solution,” Evie said, gently covering the bullet hole and pulling the bedclothes from Sebastian’s h*ps to his chest. “And he knew of a plant that might help to reduce the fever—he’s trying to find some, as we speak.”
“We might swab it with raw garlic juice,” Lillian suggested. “My nanny used to do that for scrapes and cuts, and it made them heal much faster.”
“My old housekeeper, Mrs. Faircloth, used vinegar,” Westcliff murmured. “It burned like the devil—but it worked. I think we’ll try a combination of the three, and add some spirit of turpentine.”
Lillian regarded him doubtfully. “Pine tree resin?”
“In a distilled form,” Westcliff replied. “I’ve seen it cure gangrene.” Turning Lillian to face him, he pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I’ll procure the necessary items, and work out the proportions,” he said. His expression was sober, but his dark eyes were warm as they gazed into hers. “In the meanwhile, I will leave the situation in your capable hands.”
Tenderly Lillian traced the edge of his shirt collar, letting her fingertip touch the tanned skin of his throat. “You’d better hurry. If St. Vincent wakes to find himself at my mercy, he’ll probably expire on the spot.”
They exchanged a brief grin and Westcliff left the room.
“Arrogant, high-handed creature,” Lillian remarked, her smile lingering as she watched the earl’s departure. “God, I adore him.”
Evie swayed on her feet. “How did you—”
“There is far too much for us to talk about, dear,” Lillian interrupted briskly. “Which is why we’ll have to leave it all for later. You’re half dead with exhaustion. And frankly, you could do with a bath.” Hunting for the bellpull, she located it in the corner, and tugged on it. “We’re going to have a tub filled, and you can wash, and then you’re going to have some tea and toast.”
Evie shook her head and opened her mouth to argue, but Lillian overrode her objections firmly. “I will look after St. Vincent.”
Wondering how and why her friend would volunteer to nurse a man who had abducted her, Evie stared at her warily. Lillian was hardly known as a forgiving sort, and although Evie was certain her friend would never harm a helpless man in a sickbed, she did have a few trepidations about abandoning Sebastian to her mercy.
“I can’t believe that you would be willing…after what he did…”
Lillian smiled wryly. “I’m not doing it for his sake. I’m doing it for yours. And for Westcliff, who for some reason can’t seem to give him up as a lost cause.” She rolled her eyes impatiently at Evie’s lingering hesitation. “For heaven’s sake, go and bathe. And do something about your hair. You needn’t worry about St. Vincent. I’ll be as kind to him as I would be to my own husband.”
“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 mor**ine 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 mor**ine 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.
“Sebastian,” Evie said tenderly, “I have some medicine for you.”
He tried to turn away, but the effort caused pressure against his injured side, and the pain caused a violent reaction. Evie and Lillian both found themselves cleared from the bed with a swipe of his powerful arm. “Ouch!” Lillian muttered as they were knocked to the floor in a heap, with Evie just barely managing to preserve the contents of the glass.
Panting, groaning in delirium, Sebastian subsided on the bed, his large frame wracked with tremors. Although Evie was dismayed by his resistance, she was glad of the sign of remaining strength, which was far preferable to the deathlike stillness of before.
Lillian, however, did not seem to share her sentiments. “We’ll have to tie him down,” she said curtly. “We’ll never be able to hold him still while we treat the wound.”
“I don’t want—” Evie began, but Cam astonished her by agreeing.
“Lady Westcliff is right.”
Evie was silent as she struggled up from the floor. She reached down to Lillian, helped her to her feet, and stood looking at Sebastian’s trembling form. His eyes were closed once more, his fingers twitching convulsively, as if wanting to clench something other than air. It was incredible that such a vital man could have been reduced to this colorless, spare figure, his lips cracked, his eyes black-circled.
She would do whatever was necessary to help him. Resolutely she took up some clean rags and handed them to Cam over Sebastian’s half-exposed body.
The boy looked grim as he moved to each corner of the bed, deftly tying both of Sebastian’s arms and one leg to the iron bedstead. “Shall I give him the medicine?” he asked, glancing at Evie.
“I can do it,” she replied, climbing beside Sebastian once more. After wedging a pillow beneath his head to raise it, she clamped her fingers on his nose. As soon as Sebastian gasped for air, she poured the thick febrifuge down his throat. He choked and gagged, but to her satisfaction the medicine was downed with a minimum of fuss. Cam raised his brows as if impressed by her efficiency, while Sebastian cursed and yanked helplessly at his bonds. Bending over him, Evie stroked and soothed him, whispering endearments as his opium-laden breath wafted feebly against her face.
When he had finally subsided, Evie glanced up to find Lillian staring at them oddly. Her brown eyes were narrowed, and she shook her head slightly, as if she were amazed by the situation. Evie supposed that since Lillian had known Sebastian only as the arrogant, sartorially splendid rake who had sauntered about Westcliff’s estate, it was no less than astonishing to see him in these circumstances.
In the meanwhile, Westcliff had removed his coat and rolled up his shirtsleeves. He was stirring a concoction that sent a caustic reek throughout the room. Lillian, who was especially sensitive to smell, grimaced and shuddered. “That is the most beastly combination of odors I’ve ever encountered.”
“Spirit of turpentine, garlic, vinegar—and some other ingredients that the apothecary suggested, including rose oil,” Cam explained. “He also said to apply a honey poultice afterward, as it keeps wounds from turning putrid.”
Evie’s eyes widened as Cam opened a wooden box and withdrew a brass funnel and a cylindrical object with a handle at one end and a needlelike projection at the other. “What is th-that?” she asked.
“Also from the apothecary,” Cam said, holding the device up to squint at it critically. “A syringe. When we described what we were planning, he said that with a wound this deep, the only way to irrigate it thoroughly was to use this.”
He laid out a row of implements, containers of chemicals and a pile of folded rags and towels, then Westcliff paused at the bedside and glanced at the two women. “This is going to be rather unpleasant,” he said. “Therefore, if anyone has a weak stomach…” His gaze lingered meaningfully on Lillian, who grimaced.
“I do, as you well know,” she admitted. “But I can overcome it if necessary.”
A sudden smile appeared on the earl’s impassive face. “We’ll spare you for now, love. Would you like to go to another room?”
“I’ll sit by the window,” Lillian said, and sped gratefully away from the bed.
Westcliff glanced at Evie, a silent question in his eyes.
“Where shall I stand?” she asked.
“On my left. We’ll need a great many towels and rags, so if you would be willing to replace the soiled ones when necessary—”
“Yes, of course.” She took her place beside him, while Cam stood on his right. As Evie looked up at Westcliff’s bold, purposeful profile, she suddenly found it hard to believe that this powerful man, whom she had always found so intimidating, was willing to go to this extent to help a friend who had betrayed him. A rush of gratitude came over her, and she could not stop herself from tugging lightly at his shirtsleeve. “My lord…before we begin, I must tell you…”
Westcliff inclined his dark head. “Yes?”
Since he wasn’t as tall as Sebastian, it was a relatively easy matter for Evie to stand on her toes and kiss his lean cheek. “Thank you for helping him,” she said, staring into his surprised black eyes. “You’re the most honorable man I’ve ever known.” Her words caused a flush to rise beneath the sun-bronzed tan of his face, and for the first time in their acquaintance the earl seemed at a loss for words.
Lillian smiled as she watched them from across the room. “His motives are not completely heroic,” she said to Evie. “I’m sure he’s relishing the opportunity to literally pour salt on St. Vincent’s wounds.” Despite the facetious remark, Lillian went deadly pale and gripped the chair arms as Westcliff took a thin, gleaming lancet in hand and proceeded to gently open and drain the wound.