Brazen and the Beast (The Bareknuckle Bastards #2)

Dammit. Nora. Had it already been two hours?

“I must go.” She pushed at his shoulders.

He moved instantly, stepping back from her, giving her the space for which she had asked and did not want. He extracted the watches from his pocket and checked them both with such graceful speed that Hattie wondered if he even knew he’d done it. “Somewhere to be?”

“Home.”

“That was quick,” he said.

“I was not expecting such scintillating conversation.” She paused, then added, “Though conversation is not a thing one gets often with you, is it?” After a long moment of silence, she smiled, unable to stop herself. “Precisely.”

She crossed the room, collected her cloak, and turned back to him. “How will I find you? To—” Collect. She nearly said collect. Her cheeks blazed.

One side of his beautiful mouth twitched, the corner barely rising before it fell. But he knew what she had been thinking, without question. And then he said, “I shall find you.”

It was impossible. He’d never find her in Mayfair. But she could return to the Garden. Would. They’d made promises, after all, and Hattie intended for them to be kept.

But she didn’t have time to point all that out. Nora was below, with the carriage, and Covent Garden was no place for nighttime lingering. Augie would know how to find him. She let her smile turn full grin. “Another challenge, then?”

Something like surprise flashed in his eyes, chased away by something else—admiration? She turned away from him and set her hand to the door handle, pleasure thrumming through her. Pleasure and excitement and— She turned back. “I’m sorry I tossed you from a carriage.”

His response was instantaneous. “I’m not.”

The smile remained on her lips as she wove her way through the darkened hallways of 72 Shelton Street, the place where she had intended to start anew. To claim herself and the world that was rightfully hers.

And perhaps she had done. Though not quite the way she had expected.

Something whispered through her. Something that hinted at freedom.

Hattie exited the building to find Nora leaning against the coach, cap low on her brow, hands deep in her trouser pockets. White teeth flashed as Hattie approached.

“How was your time?” Hattie beat her friend to the start.

Nora shrugged. “Found a toff to race and lightened his pockets.”

Hattie shook her head with a little laugh. “You know you’re a toff, too, don’t you?”

Her friend feigned shock. “You take that back.” When Hattie laughed, Nora tilted her head. “Don’t keep me in suspense—how was it?”

Hattie chose her reply carefully. “Unexpected.”

Nora’s brows rose as she opened the coach door and lowered the step. “That’s high praise. Did he meet your qualifications?”

Hattie froze, one foot on the step. Qualifications. She patted the pockets sewn into her gown. “Oh, no.”

“What?” Nora leaned in and whispered, altogether too loudly, “Hattie. You did use a French letter, did you not? I was assured they would be provided.”

“Nora!” Hattie could barely summon admonishment. She was too busy panicking. She didn’t have her list. It had been in her hand. And then—

The man called Beast had kissed her.

And now it was gone.

She turned and looked up at the happily lit windows of 72 Shelton Street. There he was, in a beautiful, wide window on the third floor—no longer covered. Now, it was open to the world, so all could see him, a backlit shadow—a perfect specter in the darkness.

He raised his hand and pressed something to the window. A rectangle she identified instantly.

Beast, indeed.

She narrowed her gaze. He had won this round, and Hattie didn’t care for it. She turned to Nora. “Take me to my brother.”

“Now? It’s the dead of night.”

“Then let’s hope we do not ruin his sleep.”





Chapter Six


Lord August Sedley, only son and youngest child of the Earl of Cheadle, was not asleep when Hattie and Nora entered the kitchens of Sedley House half an hour later. He was very much awake, bleeding on the kitchen table.

“Where’ve you been,” Augie whined from his place at the edge of the table when Hattie and Nora entered the room, bloody rag pressed to his bare thigh. “I needed you.”

“Oh, dear,” Nora said, coming up short just inside the room. “Augie’s not wearing trousers.”

“This bodes ill,” Hattie said.

“You’re damn right it bodes ill.” Augie spat his outrage. “I was knifed, and you weren’t here and no one knew where to find you and I’ve been bleeding for hours.”

Hattie clenched her teeth at the words—reminding herself that entitlement was Augie’s neutral state. “Why on earth didn’t you ask Russell to take care of it?” Her brother took a swig from the whiskey bottle in his free hand. “Where is he?”

“He left.”

“Of course.” Hattie did not disguise her disgust as she went for a bowl of water and a length of cloth. Russell—Augie’s sometimes valet, sometimes friend, sometimes man-at-arms, and constant pest—was perfectly useless at the best of times. “Why would he stay, as you’re only bleeding all over the damn kitchen.”

“Still breathing, though,” Nora said happily, as she opened a cupboard and fetched a small wooden box, placing it next to Augie.

“Barely,” Augie grouched. “I had to yank that damn thing out of me.”

Hattie’s gaze lit on the impressive knife cast aside on the oak. The blade was eight inches long, with a curved edge that would have shone in the darkness if it weren’t so doused in blood.

If it weren’t so doused in blood, it would have been beautiful.

She knew such a thought was not appropriate for the moment, but still, Hattie thought it, wanting to pick up the weapon and test its weight; she’d never seen something so wicked. So dangerous and powerful.

Except the man to whom it belonged.

Because she knew instantly, without question, this knife belonged to the man who called himself Beast.

“What happened?” she asked, coming to set the bowl on the table and inspect Augie’s still bleeding thigh. “You shouldn’t have taken the knife out.”

“Russell said—”

Hattie shook her head, cleaning the wound, enjoying her brother’s hissing curse more than she should. “I don’t care. Russell is a brute and you should have left the knife in.” She knocked twice on the worktable. “Lie back.”

Augie groaned. “I am bleeding.”

“Yes, I see that,” Hattie replied. “But as you are conscious, it would make my work a darn sight easier if you were lying flat.”

Augie lay back. “Be quick about it.”

“No one would blame you for taking your time,” Nora said, approaching with a biscuit tin in hand.

“Go home, Nora,” Augie snapped.

“Why would I do that when I am so enjoying myself here?” She extended the biscuit tin to Hattie. “Would you like one?”

She shook her head, focused on the injury, now clean. “You’re lucky the blade was so sharp. This should stitch well.” She extracted a needle and thread from the box. “Hold still.”

“Will it hurt?”

“Not more than the knife did.”

Nora snickered and Augie scowled. “That’s unkind.” He followed the words with a hiss as Hattie began the work of closing up the wound. “I can’t believe he hit his mark.”

Hattie’s breath caught in her throat. Beast. “Who?”

He shook his head. “No one.”

“Can’t be no one, Aug,” Nora pointed out, mouth full of biscuit. “You’ve a hole in you.”

“Yes. I noticed that.” Another hiss as Hattie continued stitching.

“What are you into, Augie?”

“Nothing.” She pressed the needle more firmly on the next stitch. “Dammit!”

She met her brother’s pale blue gaze. “What have you gotten us all into?”

His gaze slid away. Guilty. Because whatever he’d done, whatever had put him in danger that night—it put them all in danger. Not just Augie. Their father. The business.

Hattie. All the plans she’d made and everything she had set in motion for the Year of Hattie. Business. Home. Fortune. Future. And, if the man with whom she’d made a deal was involved, it threatened the rest—body.

Frustration thrummed through her, making her want to scream. To shake him until he told her the truth that had landed a knife in his thigh. That had landed an unconscious man in her carriage. And God knew what else.

Another stitch.

Another.

She stayed quiet, and seethed.

Not six months earlier, their father had summoned Augie and Hattie to him, informing them both that he was no longer able to manage the business he’d built into an empire. The earl had grown too old to work the ships, to manage the men. To keep watch over the ins and outs of the business. And so he offered them the only solution a man with a life peerage and a working business had—inheritance.

Both children had grown up in the rigging of the Sedley ships; both of them had spent their early years—those before their father had been offered a title—at their father’s heels, learning the business of shipping. Both had learned to heft a sail. To tie a knot.

But only one of them had learned well.

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