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Devil in Disguise: Chapter 26


For years, Sebastian’s morning ritual had started with a swim, which not only kept him fit and flexible, but helped him face the day in a state of calm alertness. In summer, he preferred the open water at the cove, but in the colder months, the only option was to swim indoors. In a resort town filled with therapeutic and recreational baths, it had been an easy matter to find contractors to install a saltwater swimming bath in one of the Challon mansion’s wings.

The bath was thirty by sixty feet, surrounded by a platform of pitch pine and intricate mosaic tile floors. Pipes leading from the kitchen ran beneath the pool to take the chill from the water, while louvers in the glass roof could be adjusted for ventilation. Rows of stained-glass windows in white, green, and blue admitted light while maintaining privacy. For the comfort of family and guests, there were changing rooms, lavatories, shower baths, and lounge areas with upholstered wicker furniture.

Sebastian stripped off his clothes beside the bath and tossed them onto a nearby chaise longue. He dived in cleanly and began swimming laps with a smooth, efficient overhand stroke. The steady back-and-forth cleared his mind, and soon he was conscious only of moving through the water in a steady forward propulsion.

After twenty minutes of hard swimming, his muscles were burning. He hoisted himself out of the water, breathing heavily, and went to fetch a towel from a stack on a table. As he dried himself vigorously, he caught a glimpse of someone standing by the other end of the swimming bath. He went very still at the sight of rose-copper hair . . . pink cheeks and round blue eyes . . . and lavish curves contained in a fashionable striped wool dress. Every filament of his nervous system sparked with an infusion of joy.

“Evie?” he asked huskily, afraid he was imagining her.

She glanced at the water, remarking innocently, “You were swimming so hard, I thought there might be a sh-shark.”

It took all Sebastian’s concentration to reply casually. “You know better than that, pet.” He wrapped the towel around his waist and tucked in the overlapping edge to fasten it. “I am the shark.”

He went to his wife in no apparent hurry, but as he drew closer his stride quickened, and he snatched her up with an ardor that nearly lifted her feet from the floor. She gasped and clutched his shoulders, and lifted her smiling mouth to his.

Glorying in the taste and feel of her, Sebastian kissed her thoroughly, eventually finishing with a soft, provocative bite at her lower lip. “Evie, my beauty, did you remember to bring back our children?”

“I did. Ivo has gone in search of Ajax.”

He arched a brow. “I’ve been eclipsed by the dog?”

Evie’s lips twitched. “I told the children I wanted to see you privately first. Seraphina was quite happy to change out of her traveling clothes and lie down for a nap.” Her palms curved over the bulging muscle of his upper arms, and she made a little hum of appreciation. “If you keep exercising like this, I’ll have to alter your shirts.”

“It’s been my only recourse,” Sebastian said darkly. “I’ve roasted in a hell of sexual deprivation since you abandoned me.”

“Abandoned?” she repeated in surprise.

He gave her a severe glance. “You vanished in the middle of the night.”

“It was morning,” she protested.

“Without saying a word about where you were going.”

“You arranged for the t-tickets!”

“I didn’t even have a chance to say good-bye.”

“You did,” Evie protested. “You took two hours, and nearly made me miss the train.”

Sebastian muffled a quiet laugh against her glowing curls. “Oh, yes. I remember that part.” He smoothed back a few ruddy wisps of her hair and began to kiss her forehead, then jerked his head back abruptly. Frowning, he drew a finger across her forehead and down her nose, and examined his fingertip for cosmetic residue. Nothing.

“What happened to your freckles?” he demanded. “Where are they?”

His wife looked vastly pleased with herself. “Sylvia and I went to visit a celebrated Parisian cosmetician. She gave me a sp-special cream for my complexion.”

Sebastian was genuinely appalled. “You know how I loved those freckles.”

“They’ll come back by summer.”

“This is an international outrage. I’m going to lodge a formal complaint with the embassy. There may be war, Evie.” He took her face in his hands and gently tilted it this way and that, finding nothing but smooth, creamy whiteness. “Look what they’ve done to you,” he grumbled.

Her blue eyes twinkled with amusement. “I may have a few left,” she confided.

“Where?”

“You can look for them later,” she said primly.

“I must have proof. Show me now.” He tugged her toward the upholstered chaise, while she resisted with a burst of giggles.

“Not here,” she exclaimed, and distracted him by applying her mouth to his. After a long, savoring kiss, she drew back to meet his gaze. “Tell me what happened while I was gone,” she urged gently. “I decided to return a f-few days early after I read your last letter. I could tell something wasn’t quite right.”

“I worded it carefully, damn it.”

“That’s how I knew.”

A rueful grin worked across his face. He pulled her close and nuzzled into her hair, close to her ear. “Evie,” he said softly, “I found him.”

There was no need to explain who “he” was. Evie looked up at him in amazement. “More accurately,” Sebastian continued, “he found me. He stayed here for a fortnight, and left today just before you arrived. I wouldn’t be surprised if your carriage passed his.”

“How wonderful,” Evie exclaimed, beaming. “I’m so—” She broke off, an odd look crossing her face. “Wait. Is his name MacRae?”

“Yes.” He gave her a questioning glance.

“As our carriage approached the house,” she explained, “we saw a man sprinting along the drive. He ran right up to the front door and dashed inside. By the time we entered the main hall, there was no sign of him. But the butler said he was a guest of yours—a Scottish gentleman by the name of MacRae.”

“Keir MacRae,” Sebastian said absently as he pondered the information. “He must have come back. I expect he went to find Merritt.”

Our Merritt?” Evie looked bemused. “She’s here? How is she acquainted with Mr. MacRae?”

Sebastian smiled. “We have much to talk about, love.” Deliberately he tugged at the ends of the lace scarf that had been tucked into her bodice. “But first, about those freckles . . .”


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