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“Yes, milord.” The butler left, and Sebastian settled into his chair once more, stretching his long legs before him.
He finished the brandy in his snifter with an efficient swallow as he contemplated his most immediate problem…money, or the lack thereof. His creditors were becoming aggressive in their demands, and a wide array of debts could not be ignored much longer. Now that his efforts to gain a badly needed fortune from Lillian Bowman had failed, he would need to get the money from someone else. He knew some wealthy women who might be induced to loan him some capital in return for the personal favors he could deliver so well. Or another option was to—
Sebastian looked up with a scowl. “For God’s sake, what is it?”
“The woman will not leave, milord. She is intent on seeing you.”
An exasperated sigh left him. “If she’s that bloody desperate, send her in. Though she had best be warned that a quick f**k and an even quicker good-bye are all I’m game for tonight.”
A young, nervous voice came from behind the butler, betraying the fact that the persistent visitor had followed him inside. “That is not quite what I had in mind.” She slipped around the servant and came into the room, her form wrapped in a heavy hooded cloak.
Obeying the flicker of Sebastian’s eyes, the butler vanished, leaving them alone.
Sebastian rested his head on the back of his chair, regarding the mysterious figure with an emotionless gaze. The idle thought crossed his brain that she could be holding a pistol beneath the cloak. Perhaps she was one of the many women who had threatened to kill him in the past…one who had finally screwed up the courage to make good on her promise. He bloody well didn’t give a damn. She could shoot him with his blessing, as long as she did it properly and didn’t botch the job. Remaining relaxed in his seat, he murmured, “Take down your hood.”
A slender white hand reached up, and she complied. The hood slipped away from hair so vividly red that it eclipsed the embers in the fireplace.
Sebastian shook his head in bemusement as he recognized the young woman. The ridiculous creature from the house party at Stony Cross Park. A shy, stammering twit, whose red hair and voluptuous figure might make her tolerable company as long as she kept her mouth shut. They had never actually spoken. Miss Evangeline Jenner, he recalled. She had the largest, roundest eyes he had ever seen, rather like the eyes of a wax doll …or a young child. Her gaze touched gently on his face, not missing the shadows of bruises that had resulted from the fight with Westcliff.
Feather wit, Sebastian thought contemptuously, wondering if she had come to rail at him for abducting her friend. No. Even she couldn’t be that stupid, risking her virtue, or for all she knew, her life, appearing unaccompanied at his house.
“Come to see the devil in his lair, have you?” he asked.
She came closer, her expression intent and oddly fearless. “You’re not the devil. You’re only a man. A very fl-flawed one.”
For the first time in days Sebastian felt a faint urge to smile. A flicker of reluctant interest stirred in him. “Just because the tail and horns aren’t visible, child, doesn’t mean you should discount the possibility. The devil comes in many guises.”
“Then I’m here to make a Faustian bargain.” Her speech was very slow, as if she had to think over every word before she spoke. “I have a proposition for you, my lord.”
And she drew closer to the hearth, emerging from the darkness that surrounded them both.