Sebastian slitted his eyes open…a mistake. Her face was very close, her soft mouth only inches from his. “At the moment, all I want is some peace,” he grumbled. “So if you don’t mind—”
Her lips touched his, warm silk and sweetness, and he felt the dizzying brush of her tongue. A floodgate of desire opened, and he was drowning in undiluted pleasure, more powerful than anything he had known before. He lifted his hands as if to push her head away, but instead his trembling fingers curved around her skull, holding her to him. The fiery curls of her hair were compressed beneath his palms as he kissed her with ravenous urgency, his tongue searching the winsome delight of her mouth.
Sebastian was mortified to discover that he was gasping like an untried boy when Evie ended the kiss. Her lips were rosy and damp, her freckles gleaming like gold dust against the deep pink of her cheeks. “I also think,” she said unevenly, “that you’re going to lose our bet.”
Recalled to sanity by a flash of indignation, Sebastian scowled. “Do you think I’m in any condition to pursue other women? Unless you intend to bring someone to my bed, I’m hardly going to—”
“You’re not going to lose the bet by sleeping with another woman,” Evie said. There was a glitter of deviltry in her eyes as she reached up to the neckline of her gown and deliberately began to unfasten the row of buttons. Her hands trembled just a little. “You’re going to lose it with me.”
Sebastian watched incredulously as she stood and shed the dressing gown. She was naked, the tips of her br**sts pointed and rosy in the cool air. She had lost weight, but her br**sts were still round and lovely, and her h*ps still flared generously from the neat inward curves of her waist. As his gaze swept to the triangle of red hair between her thighs, a swell of acute lust rolled through him.
He sounded shaken, even to his own ears. “You can’t make me lose the bet. That’s cheating.”
“I never promised not to cheat,” Evie said cheerfully, shivering as she slipped beneath the covers with him.
“Damn it, I’m not going to cooperate. I—” His breath hissed between his teeth as he felt the tender length of her body press against his side, the springy brush of her private curls on his hip as she slid one of her legs between his. He jerked his head away as she tried to kiss him. “I can’t…Evie…” His mind searched cagily for a way to dissuade her. “I’m too weak.”
Ardent and determined, Evie grasped his head and turned his face to hers. “Poor darling,” she murmured, smiling. “Don’t worry. I’ll be gentle with you.”
“Evie,” he said hoarsely, aroused and infuriated and pleading, “I have to prove that I can last three months without—no, don’t do that. Damn you, Evie—”
She had disappeared beneath the covers, stringing kisses along the hard line of his chest down to his abdomen, taking care not to dislodge the bandage. Sebastian struggled to sit up, but a sharp sting in his half-healed wound caused him to fall back with a grunt of pain. And then he grunted for an altogether different reason as she reached the stiff, aching length of his cock, and delicately nuzzled the tip of it.
It was obvious that Evie had never done this before…she knew nothing of technique, and very little of male anatomy. But that didn’t stop her from proceeding with innocent ardor, pressing tiny kisses along the sensitive shaft and lingering when she heard him groan. Her warm hands played inexpertly with his testicles, while she experimented with her lips, her tongue, progressing all the way back to the throbbing head of his organ and then trying to discover how much of him she could fit into her mouth. Sebastian clutched great handfuls of the bedclothes, his body slightly arched as if he were stretched on a torture rack. Sensual pleasure raced from nerve to nerve, sending frantic messages to his brain, making it impossible to think clearly.
Any memories of other women were banished permanently from his mind…there was only Evie, her red hair streaming and curling over his stomach and thighs, her playful fingers and frolicsome mouth causing him an agony of pleasure like nothing he had ever felt before. When he could no longer hold back his groans, she climbed over him carefully, straddling him, crawling up his body slowly like a sun-warmed lioness. He had one glimpse of her flushed face before she sought his mouth with teasing, sucking kisses. The rosy tips of her br**sts dragged through the hair on his chest…she rubbed herself against him, purring with satisfaction at the hard warmth of the male body beneath her.
His breath snagged in his throat as he felt her hand slip between their hips. He was so aroused that she had to gently pull his sex away from his stomach before she could fit it between her thighs. The crisp red curls of her mound tickled his exquisitely sensitive skin as she guided him between the hot folds of her body.
“No,” Sebastian managed, recalling the bet. “Not now. Evie, no—”
“Oh, stop protesting. I didn’t make nearly this much of a fuss after our wedding, and I was a virgin.”
“But I don’t want—oh God. Holy Mother of God—”
She had pushed the head of his sex into her entrance, the sweet flesh so snug and soft that it took his breath away. Evie writhed a little, her hand still grasping the length of his organ as she tried to guide him deeper. Seeing the difficulty she was having in accommodating him caused him to swell even harder, his entire body flushed with prickling excitement. And then came the slow, miraculous slide, hardness within softness.
Sebastian’s head fell back to the pillow, his eyes drowsy with intense desire as he stared up into her face. Evie made a little satisfied hum in her throat, her eyes tightly closed as she concentrated on taking him deeper. She moved carefully, too inexperienced to find or sustain a rhythm. Sebastian had always been relatively quiet in his passion, but as her lush body lifted and settled, deepening his penetration, and his c**k was gripped and stroked by her wet depths, he heard himself muttering endearments, pleas, sex words, love words.
Somehow he coaxed her to lean farther over him, resting more of her body against his, adjusting the angle between them. Evie resisted briefly, fearing she would hurt him, but he took her head in his hands. “Yes,” he whispered shakily. “Do it this way. Sweetheart. Yes. Move on me…yes…”
As Evie felt the difference in their position, the increased friction against the tingling peak of her sex, her eyes widened. “Oh,” she breathed, and then inhaled sharply. “Oh, that’s so—” She broke off as he set a rhythm, nudging deeper, filling her with steady strokes.
The entire world dwindled to the place where he invaded her, their most sensitive flesh joined. Evie’s long auburn lashes lowered to her cheeks, concealing her unfocused gaze. Sebastian watched a pink flush creep over her face. He was suspended in wonder, suffused with vehement tenderness as he used his body to pleasure hers. “Kiss me,” he said in a guttural whisper, and guided her swollen lips to his, slowly ravishing her mouth with his tongue.
She sobbed and shuddered with release, her h*ps bearing greedily against his as she took his full length. The rim of her sex clamped tightly around him, and Sebastian gave himself up to the squeezing, enticing, pulsing flesh, letting her pull the ecstasy from him in great voluptuous surges. As she relaxed over him, trying to catch her breath, he drew his hands over her damp back, his fingertips gently inquiring as they traveled to the plump curve of her bottom. To his delight, she squirmed and tightened around him in helpless response. If he had his usual strength…oh, the things he would have done to her…
Instead, he collapsed back in exhaustion, his head spinning. Awkwardly Evie lifted away from him and snuggled by his side. Using the last of his strength, Sebastian filled his hand with her hair and brought it to his face, rubbing the bright curls against his cheek. “You’re going to kill me,” he muttered, and he felt her lips curve against his shoulder.
“Now that you’ve lost the bet,” Evie said huskily, “we’ll have to think of another forfeit, since you’ve already apologized to Lord Westcliff.”
Though Sebastian had nearly choked on the words, he had forced out a repentant speech to both Westcliff and Lillian before they had left the club. He had subsequently discovered that the only thing worse than making an apology for something was being forgiven for it. But he had deliberately apologized at a time when Evie hadn’t been present.
“Lillian told me,” Evie said, as if reading his thoughts. She lifted her head with a sleepy grin. “I wonder what your new forfeit should be?”
“No doubt you’ll think of something,” he said darkly, and within seconds of closing his eyes, he fell into a deep, healing sleep.
Westcliff came to the club the next evening, registering surprise when he learned that Sebastian had gone to the main hazard room for the first time since the shooting. “A bit soon, isn’t it?” he asked as Evie walked with him from their private apartments to the second-floor gallery. They were watched carefully by an employee whom Cam had stationed at the gallery, as one of the increased security measures at the club. Until Bullard was caught, all guests were monitored with discreet attention.
“He’s pushing himself,” Evie replied with a frown. “He can’t abide the idea of appearing helpless—and he doesn’t think anything can be done correctly without his supervision.”
A smile glimmered in Westcliff’s dark eyes. “St. Vincent’s interest in this place seems quite genuine. I confess, I would not have expected him to undertake such responsibility willingly. For years he has been aimless and idle—a complete waste of his considerable intelligence. But it appears that all he needed was a suitable outlet for his talents.”
Coming to the balcony, they both rested their elbows on the railing and looked down into the main room, which was filled wall-to-wall with patrons. Evie saw the antique-gold gleam of Sebastian’s hair as he half sat on the desk in the corner, relaxed and smiling as he conversed with the crowd of men around him. His actions of ten days ago in saving Evie’s life had excited a great deal of public admiration and sympathy, especially after an article in the Times had portrayed him in a heroic light. That, and the perception that his friendship with the powerful Westcliff had renewed, were all it had taken for Sebastian to gain immediate and profound popularity. Piles of invitations arrived at the club daily, requesting the attendance of Lord and Lady St. Vincent at balls, soirees, and other social events, which they declined for reasons of mourning.
There were letters as well, heavily perfumed and written by feminine hands. Evie had not ventured to open any of them, nor had she asked about the senders. The letters had accumulated in a pile in the office, remaining sealed and untouched, until Evie had finally been moved to say something to him earlier that morning. “You have a large pile of unread correspondence,” she had told him, as they had taken breakfast together in his room. “It’s occupying half the space in the office. What shall we do with all the letters?” An impish smile rose to her lips as she added. “Shall I read them to you while you rest?”
His eyes narrowed. “Dispose of them. Or better yet, return them unopened.”
His response had caused a thrill of satisfaction, though Evie had tried to conceal it. “I wouldn’t object if you corresponded with other women,” she said. “Most men do, with no impropriety attached—”
“I don’t.” Sebastian had looked into her eyes with a long, deliberate stare, as if to make certain that she understood him completely. “Not now.”
Standing elbow to elbow with Westcliff, Evie watched her husband with possessive pleasure. Sebastian was still too lean, though his appetite had returned in full measure, and his elegant evening clothes hung a bit too loosely. But his shoulders were broad and his color was healthy, and the lost weight only served to highlight the spectacular bone structure of his face. Even though he moved with obvious care, he still possessed the predatory grace that women admired and men tried in vain to emulate.
“Thank you for saving him,” Evie heard herself say to Westcliff, still staring at her husband.
The earl slid her a sideways glance. “You saved him, Evie, on the night you offered to marry him. Which is evidence, I suppose, that moments of lunacy can occasionally lead to positive results. If you don’t mind, I want to go downstairs and inform St. Vincent about the latest developments regarding the search for Mr. Bullard.”
“Has he been found?”
“Not yet. But soon. After I cleaned the escutcheon plates on the pistol that Bullard used, it was still impossible to make out the engraved name on the weapon. Therefore, I brought it to Manton and Son’s, and asked them to provide information on the original commission. It turns out that the pistol is ten years old, which entailed a lengthy search through many boxes of old records. They told me today with certainty that the gun had been made for Lord Belworth, who happens to be returning to London this evening, for some parliamentary business. I intend to call on him in the morning and ask into the matter. If we can discover how Mr. Bullard came into possession of Belworth’s pistol, it may help us to locate him.”
Evie frowned in worry. “It seems impossible to find one man hiding in a city populated by more than a million people.”
“Nearly two million,” Westcliff said. “However, I have no doubt that he will be found. We have resources and the will to accomplish it.”
Despite her concern, Evie could not prevent a smile as she reflected that he sounded very much like Lillian, who never accepted defeat. Seeing that Westcliff’s brows had quirked slightly at the sight of her smile, she explained, “I was just thinking what a perfect match you are for a strong-willed woman like Lillian.”
The mention of his adored wife brought a glow to the earl’s eyes. “I would say she is no more determined or strong-willed than you,” he replied, and added with a swift grin, “She merely happens to be noisier about it.”
While Westcliff went to talk with Sebastian, Evie retreated to her room for a soothing bath, adding a liberal splash of perfumed oil to the water to soften it. After a long soak her skin was moist and fragrant with the scent of roses. She donned one of Sebastian’s velvet-lined silk robes, rolling back the sleeves several times. Curling up in a chair before the hearth, she brushed her hair while the housemaids removed the bath. One of the maids, a dark-haired woman named Frannie, remained to tidy the room. She turned down the bedclothes and ran a warming pan between the sheets.
“Shall I…shall I prepare your room, milady?” the maid asked cautiously.