He couldn’t sleep. This was nothing new. One would think he’d be used to it by now. But no, each night Sebastian Grey closed his eyes with every expectation of falling asleep. Because why shouldn’t he? He was a perfectly healthy fellow, perfectly happy, perfectly sane. There was no reason why he shouldn’t be able to sleep. But he couldn’t. It didn’t happen all the time. Sometimes—and he had no idea why it happened or why it didn’t—he laid his head on his pillow and fell almost instantly into blissful slumber. The rest of the time, he tossed, turned, got up to read, drank tea, tossed, turned some more, sat up and looked out the window, tossed, turned, played darts, tossed, turned, and then finally gave up and watched the sunrise. He’d seen a lot of sunrises. In fact, Sebastian now considered himself something of an expert on the sunrises of the British Isles. Inevitably, exhaustion would set in, and sometime after dawn he would fall asleep, on his bed or in his chair or a few unpleasant times with his face pressed up against the glass. This didn’t happen every day, but often enough so that he’d gained a reputation as a slugabed, which frankly amused him. There was nothing he liked so much as a crisp and energetic morning, and certainly no meal could ever be as fulɹlling as a robust English breakfast.
And so he trained himself to live with his aʀiction as best he could. He’d got into the habit of taking breakfast at the home of his cousin Harry, in part because Harry’s housekeeper laid a damned ɹne meal, but also because it meant that Harry now expected him to show up. Which meant that nine times out of ten, Sebastian had to show up. Which meant that he could not allow himself to pass out at half seven every morning. Which meant that he was more tired than usual the following night. Which meant that when he crawled into bed and closed his eyes, he would fall asleep more easily. In theory. No, that wasn’t fair, he thought. No need to turn his sarcasm inward. His grand plan didn’t work perfectly, but it worked some.
He was sleeping a little better. Just not tonight. Sebastian got up and walked to the window, resting his forehead against the pane. It was cold outside, and the icy chill pressed up against him through the glass. He liked the sensation. It was big. Grand. The sort of vivid moment that reminded him of his humanity. He was cold, therefore he must be alive. He was cold, therefore he must not be invincible.
He was cold, therefore— He stood back and let out a disgusted snort. He was cold, therefore he was cold. There wasn’t really much more to it. He was surprised it wasn’t raining. When he’d arrived home that night it had looked like rain. He’d grown uncommonly good at predicting the weather while on the Continent. It would probably start raining soon. He wandered back to the center of his room and yawned. Maybe he should read. That sometimes made him sleepy.
Of course, being sleepy wasn’t the issue. He could be dead sleepy and still not sleep. He’d close his eyes, tuck his pillow just the right way, and yet — Nothing. He’d just lie there, waiting, waiting, waiting. He’d try to empty his mind, because surely that was what was needed. A blank canvas. A clean slate. If he could embrace absolute nothingness, then he would fall asleep. He was sure of it. But it didn’t work.
Because every time Sebastian Grey tried to embrace nothingness, the war came back and embraced him. He saw it. Felt it. Again. All those things for which frankly, once had been more than enough. And so he opened his eyes. Because then all he saw was his rather ordinary bedchamber, with its rather ordinary bed. The quilt was green, the curtains gold. His desk was wood. It was quiet, too.
During the day there were the regular sounds of the city, but at night this part of town almost always fell silent. It was amazing, really, to actually enjoy silence. To listen to the wind and maybe the song of birds without always keeping one ear perked for footfall, or gunshot. Or worse. One would think he’d be able to sleep in such a happy quiet. He yawned again. Maybe he’d read. He’d picked a few books from Harry’s collection this afternoon. There hadn’t been much to choose from; Harry liked to read in French or Russian, and while Sebastian knew both of those languages as well (their shared maternal grandmother had insisted upon it), they did not come as naturally to him as they did to Harry. Reading in anything but English was work, and Seb just wanted to be entertained.
Was that too much to expect from a book? If he were to write a book, there would be excitement. Lives would be lost, but not too many. And never any of the main characters. That would be much too depressing. There ought to be a romance, too. And danger. Danger was good. Maybe a little of the exotic, but not too much. Sebastian suspected that most authors did not do their research properly. He’d read a novel recently that took place in an Arabian harem.
And while Seb definitely found the idea of a harem interesting —Very interesting. —he couldn’t imagine that the author had got any of the details right. He liked an adventure as best as the next man, but even he found it diɽcult to believe that the plucky English heroine managed to escape by hanging a snake out the window and sliding down to safety. To add insult to injury, the author had not even indicated what sort of snake she’d used. Really, he could do better. If he wrote a book, he would set it in England. There would be no snakes. And the hero would not be some pissy little dandy, concerned only with the cut of his waistcoat. If he wrote a book, the hero would damn well be heroic. But with a mysterious past.
Just to keep things interesting. There would have to be a heroine, too. He liked women. He could write about one. What would he name her? Something ordinary. Joan, maybe. No, that sounded too fierce. Mary? Anne? Yes, Anne. He liked Anne. It had a nice deɹnite sound to it.
But no one would call her Anne. If he were to write a book, his heroine would be adrift, without family. There would be no one to use her Christian name. He needed a good surname. Something easy to pronounce. Something pleasant. Sainsbury. He paused, testing it out in his mind. Sainsbury. For some reason it reminded him of cheese.
That was good. He liked cheese. Anne Sainsbury. It was a good name. Anne Sainsbury. Miss Sainsbury. Miss Sainsbury and … And what? What about that hero? Ought he to have a career? Certainly Sebastian knew enough about the ways of nobility to paint an accurate portrait of an indolent lord. But that was boring. If he were to write a book, it would have to be a cracking good story. He could make the hero a military man.
He certainly knew about that. A major, perhaps? Miss Sainsbury and the Mysterious Major? Gad no. Enough with the alliteration. Even he found it a bit too precious. A general? No, generals were too busy. And there really weren’t that many of them running around. If he were going to get that rareɹed he might as well throw in a duke or two. What about a colonel? High in the ranks, so he would have authority and power. He could be from a good family, someone with money, but not too much of it. A younger son.
Younger sons had to make their way in the world. Miss Sainsbury and the Mysterious Colonel. Yes, if he were to write a book, that’s what he would call it. But he wasn’t going to write a book. He yawned. When would he ɹnd the time? He looked at his small desk, utterly empty save for a cup of cold tea. Or the paper? The sun was already starting to come up. He ought to crawl back into bed. He could probably get a few hours of sleep before he had to get up and head over to Harry’s for breakfast. He looked over at the window, where the slanted light of dawn was rippling through the glass.
He paused. He liked the sound of that. The slanted light of dawn was rippling through the glass. No, that was unclear. For all anyone knew, he could be talking about a brandy snifter. The slanted light of dawn was rippling through the windowpane. That was good. But it needed a little something more. The slanted light of dawn was rippling through the windowpane, and Miss Anne Sainsbury was huddled beneath her thin blanket, wondering, as she often did, where she would find money for her next meal. That was really good.
Even he wanted to know what happened to Miss Sainsbury, and he was making it up. Sebastian chewed on his lower lip. Maybe he should write this down. And give her a dog. He sat at his desk. Paper. He needed paper. And ink. There had to be some in his desk drawers. The slanted light of dawn was rippling through the windowpane, and Miss Anne Sainsbury huddled beneath her threadbare blanket, wondering as she often did, how she would ɹnd money for her next meal.
She looked down at her faithful collie, lying quietly on the rug by her bed, and she knew that the time had come for her to make a momentous decision. The lives of her brothers and sisters depended upon it. Look at that. It was an entire paragraph. And it had taken him no time at all. Sebastian looked up, back at the window. The slanted light of dawn was still rippling through the glass. The slanted light of dawn was rippling through the glass, and Sebastian Grey was happy.