HER TWİN SİSTER’S mind had turned to pudding. That was the only reasonable explanation for the words that had just emerged from Lady Adele Winter’s mouth. Lady Evangeline Saltisford stared at her sister, doing her utmost to ignore the hulking monster lurking in the corner of the drawing room. “You cannot be serious, Addy.” Her eyes flicked to the glowering giant. He was seated in a chair two sizes too small for him, and he looked ridiculous, surrounded by sleekly polished mahogany and all that gilt and silk. His eyes were a piercing shade of blue. Quite like the summer sky. Her stomach did a queer little flip as their gazes met and held. His bold lips tightened to a disapproving slash. She jerked her attention back to her sister, heat rising in her cheeks. Addy shook her head, her expression mournful. “I am afraid this is no joking matter, Evie. Someone took a shot at you and Lord Denton while you were driving in the park.” “The shot in question likely originated from a pair of drunkards engaged in a duel,” Evie dismissed.
“It had nothing to do with me.” The beast in the corner of the chamber grumbled something beneath his breath. Evie cast another glance in his direction. There was something riveting about his face, and she did not like it. More heat curled through her. Her reaction to him was most odd. He could not be more different from her handsome betrothed, Lord Denton, who was golden-haired and slim, with patrician features and elegant hands. Likely, it was the novelty of such a man. Like Addy’s husband Mr. Dominic Winter, the man glaring at her hailed from the rookeries of the East End.
Devil Winter was tall, broad, and feral with dark hair worn too long and massive fists, his handsome features set in a perpetual scowl. Everything about him screamed impropriety and the illicit. And bedchamber romps. What? No! She was aghast at herself. Hastily, she dashed the errant thought away. “Devil is right,” Addy was saying, snatching Evie’s attention back once more. “We cannot be sure you were not the intended target. Until we know more, you will be safer with him watching over you.” Evie raised a brow. “He said all that? Odd.
I could have sworn I heard nothing more than a growl.” Devil Winter grunted. She ignored him, tamping down the unsettled sensation trying to rise within her. Most unwanted. Unnecessary as well. She was happy with Lord Denton. Soon, she would be his wife. He was everything she had ever wanted in a husband. All she had to do was persuade her well-intentioned sister that having an ill-tempered man torn from the rookeries hanging about would be disastrous for Evie’s impeccable reputation. “Do be nice, Evie,” Addy cautioned, frowning at her.
“Devil is being quite generous, agreeing to keep you safe.” “Father will have an apoplectic fit when he discovers what you intend to do,” she warned her sister in turn. Their father, the Duke of Linross, had been called away from London to one of his country estates. He had only allowed Evie to remain in London because of her looming nuptials with Lord Denton, a much-needed answer to the scandal Addy had brought to the family with her marriage. With their mother still in Cornwall and their sister Hannah approaching her lying in, Evie had unceremoniously found herself being chaperoned by her twin sister, who was married to one of London’s greatest rogues. The potential scandal was bad enough, but her sister’s suggestion a hulking man who went by the name Devil ought to offer her protection… Why, it was ludicrous. “Our father will be grateful I have taken the threat to you seriously and done my sisterly duty.” Addy smiled. “Lord Denton will not like it,” she tried next, knowing her betrothed would disapprove most heartily. Denton adhered to propriety above all else.
He had not even attempted to kiss her yet, much to Evie’s dismay. A low growl emanated from the corner of the drawing room, followed by a deep, booming baritone. “Then Denton can go fu—” “Yes, you are right, Devil,” Addy interrupted brightly. “Lord Denton need not know. When you are here at home, Devil will never be far from your side. When you are in public, he will follow you discreetly. Is that not right, Devil?” He grunted once more. “No,” Evie said mulishly. “I do not want him at my side. Nor do I require protection.
” “It is necessary, Evie, for your wellbeing.” Addy was stern. Insistent. Evie frowned. “He is menacing, Addy.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I do not like him.” “Heard that,” he growled. “Feeling’s mutual.” Evie’s gaze returned to him.
Their stares clashed, the connection sending a visceral jolt through her. She could not seem to look away. The certain knowledge that Devil Winter was going to cause her a great deal of trouble lodged in her heart like a thorn. FUCKİNG, FUCKİNG, FUCK. Why had he agreed to his half brother Dom’s bloody asinine request? Lady Evangeline Saltisford was a golden, saucy bit of baggage. She was the sort of lady who was beautiful and she knew it. The kind who could have any man in London on his knees, ready to lick the soles of her slippers. A duke’s daughter. Born to wealth and privilege. One of the quality, she was.
The sort of petticoat who would swoon if she ever spied a rat, let alone have to catch one and eat it as her dinner. She was the sort of woman Devil despised. And she looked at him now, darting glances of disapproval in his direction every few moments as if he were a rat himself. Speaking about him as if he hadn’t a pair of ears to hear or the sawdust betwixt them to understand her speech. “I do not like him,” she told Dom’s wife, Lady Adele—her twin—mayhap supposing her dulcet voice could not carry to him. It could. “Heard that,” he growled. “Feeling’s mutual.” For twins, the two of them had not one damned thing in common. Lady Adele was kind and sweet as sugar while her counterpart was lovely as a gem and coldhearted as a lump of coal.
Lady Adele’s dark-haired loveliness was a distinct contrast to Lady Evangeline’s blonde beauty. Why the devil had he sat in this bleeding chair? It was two sizes too small and pinching his arse. “I beg your pardon?” The question broke through his thoughts. Feminine and cutting. As if he had been the one to insult her first. The quality. Fuck them all. Except Lady Adele, he added grudgingly. She was not half-bad, and she was in love with his ill-tempered brother, so that was saying something. Dom deserved happiness more than anyone Devil knew.
“You don’t like me, my lady,” he said, his voice feeling rusty. He did not care much for conversing. “Fine. I don’t like you neither.” “Either,” she snapped, her eyes locking with his. His lip curled. “I beg your pardon?” She cleared her throat primly. “The correct manner of speech is to say I do not like you either, Mr. Winter. Not I don’t like you neither.
That is most improper form, but do not fear. A hint of correction is good for the constitution, now and then.” He growled. This supercilious chit could go to Hades. But she did not stop there. One wheaten brow raised. “I am afraid I did not hear your response, sir.” That was because she hadn’t gotten one. And if she knew what was good for her, she would stuff her airs up her pretty arse and close her lips. She would not like to hear anything he had to say to her.
Likely, it would make her petticoats curl. “Evie, Devil is doing us all a favor,” Lady Adele was telling her sister in quiet reprimand. “We are fortunate indeed. No one can keep you safer than he shall.” This time, the other brow went up, a full show of milady’s disbelief. Someone ought to take her over his knee, throw up her skirts, and spank her. Briefly, he allowed himself the fantasy of imagining her bare bottom, how lush and full it would be, her outrage as his coarse palm connected with her smooth, ivory flesh. But it wouldn’t be Devil. He liked his women soft and seductive and knowing, not tart-tongued and elegant and arrogant. “He looks as if he is the sort of person I ought to be guarded against, Addy.
Rather than the opposite.” This judgment, too, was delivered in a whisper. One she undoubtedly believed the simpleton in the corner could not comprehend. Milady was about to receive an education. He would have risen to his feet had he not feared the goddamn chair would stick to his arse. Instead, he remained where he was, pinning his nemesis with a disparaging stare of his own. “I am the guard, Lady Elizabeth,” he snapped, intentionally using the wrong name. It was small of him, he knew. But enjoyable, nonetheless. Her shoulders drew back.
“My name is Lady Evangeline.” He scowled. “Right. And my name is Devil. Not Mr. Winter. Not sir. Devil. Repeat it after me if you like.” Her cheeks flushed.
“Forgive me, but Devil cannot be your Christian name.” Ordinarily, he didn’t give a bean when he irritated someone. But there was something about nettling the condescending Lady Evangeline that pleased him. And he hadn’t been pleased in… A long damned time. “Says who?” he retorted. She stared at him, aghast. That was what he thought. Not even a smart retort out of milady’s— “Says Lady Evangeline Saltisford,” she said, her voice dripping with ice. “If I am to suffer this nonsensical guard nonsense, I must insist I cannot refer to you as Devil. It feels far too damning.
” Of course it did. That was the point. Enemies tended to think twice about attacking a man named Devil. Theodore did not have the same effect. He would eat his cravat before he would tell her his true name. He shrugged. “Devil or nothing.” “Mr. Nothing is a strange name indeed, but if that is truly what you wish…” Lady Adele sighed loudly. “Evie, you are behaving abominably.
” At last, a voice of reason. That twin sister of hers was right shrewish. Lady Evangeline’s attention returned to her sister. “I am behaving poorly? Heavens, Addy. Ever since you secretly married Mr. Winter, you are acting as if there are goblins hiding behind every corner, waiting to attack us all.” “Suttons are goblins,” Devil rumbled, surprising himself by speaking again. “Look like them, too.” Two sets of dark eyes flew to him. He ought to have held his sodding tongue.
The chair seemed to grow smaller by the minute. “Who are Suttons?” Lady Evangeline asked, her gaze never wavering from his this time. She had addressed him. Without a cutting or condescending edge to her tone. “Enemies of the Winters,” he said simply. Her lips—full and pink and luscious-looking as a berry tart—compressed. “But I am not a Winter.” “Someone shot at you,” he pointed out. The obvious. He still wasn’t convinced it had been Suttons, however.
Shooting at plump pigeons wasn’t their sport. They liked dog and cock fights, chopping off fingers, and setting buildings on fire. The small things. “No one shot at me! I was on a drive in the park with my betrothed.” Her tone rose, veering toward melodrama as she turned back to her sister, addressing her once more. “I deeply regret Lord Denton ever mentioned it, as that single bullet has caused me no end of trouble.” Lord Denton. Devil’s lip curled. Of course she would be marrying a soft-palmed twat like Denton who strutted about with a quizzing glass and a cravat tied up to his bloody eyebrows. The bastard had probably shat in his breeches when the shot flew by his curricle.
“He did no such thing!” Lady Evangeline was pinning him with an accusing glare, her face pale. “How dare you, sir? In the presence of ladies…” Well, fuck. Had he said that aloud? All of it? Hell of a thing. He had not spoken this much since… Cora. Double fuck. A dark wave of memories hit him in the gut like a fist. It was time to extract himself from this cursed chair and go. He would find his brother and tell Dom this particular assignment was not for him. Loyalty and brotherly devotion had a limit. This was it.
Lady Evangeline Saltisford could take her airs and her golden beauty and marry her silly fop and have his heir and spare and then cry into her embroidered handkerchief when she discovered he had a mistress. He stood, narrowly hauling himself from betwixt the polished arms of the mahogany chair of death, and bowed. Devil knew he ought to say something. Likely an apology. But in the end, he couldn’t be bothered. He stalked from the drawing room with Lady Evangeline Saltisford’s indignation trailing after him. Along with her scent. She smelled like a damned fruit, sweet and ripe. Curse her