Brazen and the Beast (The Bareknuckle Bastards #2)

Keeping vigil.

“They should be moving cargo.”

“You let me worry about that. They should be here. With you.”

“They don’t know her.” He turned to his brother. “You don’t know her.”

Devil’s eyes flashed. “They know you, Beast. They know the man who has cared for them from the start. And they cannot wait to know the woman he loves.” He cleared his throat. “Neither can I.”

Whit looked away, back to Hattie, racked with emotion. “I do love her.”

Felicity’s grip tightened.

She didn’t say, And you shall have her.

She didn’t say, And love is enough.

Because it wasn’t true. None of it was a guarantee.

“I’m giving her the business.”

“Of course,” Devil said.

He did not look away from her hand in his, on her bare fingers. He lifted them to his lips, pressing kisses on her knuckles again, bribing her. “Wake up, love. I’ll give it all to you. I’ll prove it to you. Just wake up and let me love you.”

Silence fell in the wake of the whispered words, stretching for long minutes until Devil said, “And what of you? Will you give yourself to her, as well?”

“I’ll never not be hers.”

Felicity pressed a kiss to his shoulder at that and stood, Devil coming forward to help her up, to pull her into his arms and hold her tight, as though he could ward off whatever evil had come for Hattie that night.

Whit met his brother’s bleak gaze over his sister-in-law’s head. “Don’t ever let her go.”

Minutes, hours, days later—time marked by nothing but Hattie’s shallow breaths—dark night gave way to blinding sun, and the room revealed itself, clean and happy. The doctor’s wife came and went, leaving food that Whit didn’t eat and tea for Felicity and Devil, who stood watch over the other three victims of the attack—legs set, wounds bandaged, expected to mend.

And still, Hattie slept, her hand limp in Whit’s.

And still, he spoke, soft and constant, the words like the tide.

The door burst open and Nora rushed in, Nik at her heels. Nora flew to Hattie’s side, next to Whit, tears in her eyes. “Hattie—no!”

Guilt rioted through him, worse for her friend’s anguish. “I sent her away,” he confessed. “I tried to get her away from it.”

She looked to him, a watery smile on her face. “Hattie would never have allowed that. She knows what she wants and will do whatever it takes to get it. She leapt back into the fray to fight alongside you. Because she wants you.” She reached for him, pressing her hand against his cheek, rough from a day without a shave. “She came back for you because she loves you.”

Loves.

Whit held on to the present tense in the word.

Nik turned away from the moment, to face Devil and give the most recent report. “The explosions—they were set by the bastard who worked with Sedley.”

“Russell,” Nora spat. “Pure garbage.”

“We’ve got him,” Nik added. “He claims Ewan paid for one of the blasts. Says the second was free.”

“I shall see to him,” Devil said, his voice cold with menace.

“I should like to watch,” Nora said as the doctor entered and she ceded her spot.

He lifted Hattie’s wrist, tracking her pulse. “It’s strong and steady.” He looked to Whit. “She might yet live.”

“Good God,” Nora said, shocked by the forthright words.

Whit cursed and turned away from him. “If that’s all you can offer, get out.”

Devil stepped forward. “Beast, let the man work. You know he’s the best in London. Would you rather he left her to the surgeons on the docks?”

“I would never do that,” the doctor said, meeting Whit’s eyes, understanding in his clear blue gaze. “I’ve faced worse than you, Beast, and lived to tell the tale. Here is what I can offer. There are no breaks. No bleeding. No visible swelling. A few scrapes and bruises, but nothing to go by beyond the lump on her head.”

He turned away, collecting a sack full of ice from a tray nearby before placing it beneath Hattie’s head. “We are lucky for two things—a strong pulse and an unending supply of ice. And I vow this: I shall do everything I can to save your lady.”

My lady. Whit swallowed at the words, the knot in his throat pulsing with emotion. “Thank you.”

The doctor nodded and made for the door, turning back just before he exited. “Ah. I nearly forgot.” He reached behind to the waistband of his trousers. “This was in the lady’s pocket, but I believe it belongs to you.”

Onyx and steel shone in the light.

His blade. The missing one. Somehow now in Hattie’s possession. He looked to Devil. “Ewan.”

One of his brother’s black brow’s rose and he turned to Nik. “No sign of him?”

She shook her head. “Nothing. What does it mean?”

Whit looked back to Hattie. “It means she fought for us.”

His warrior.

His savior.

He pressed a kiss to her hand. “Wake up, love. Please.”

“It bears mentioning,” the doctor said, casually, “that there are some who believe that in this particular state, the patient can hear. My wife tells me you’ve been talking to her. I suggest you keep on with that.”

He should have been embarrassed, considering the audience, but Whit would have stripped himself naked in the middle of the Rookery for all the world to see if it would wake her up.

And so he kept talking.

“I should have told you how beautiful you are. I should have said it more. I should have said it until you forgot there was a time when you didn’t believe it.”

Nora and Felicity sniffled in the background, but still, Hattie slept.

After flattery, he tried bribery. “I’ll buy you one of Rebecca’s pups. I’ll buy you the whole lot of them. They can follow you along the docks during the day and sleep at your feet at night.” He’d join them. “I found the French bean seller at the market—there’s a standing order for fresh beans for you. You only need tell him Beast sent you.”

“That’s not an order, Beast, it’s fearmongering,” Devil said from the place he’d taken up against the far wall, as sentry. “Hattie, you should wake for no reason other than to keep Beast from shaking down every shopkeep in the Garden for you.” He paused, “Also, because I’d like very much to know the woman who has my brother tracking down sellers of French beans.”

Whit shook his head, but did not complain. He’d accept anything that might wake her. “I shall ask my confectioner to make you more of those raspberry drops. Others, too, if you like. Strawberry or apple. Whatever you choose. I don’t know your favorite fruit.” He looked to Nora. “What is her favorite fruit?”

Nora shook her head, tears in her eyes. “I’m not telling you.” She lifted her voice. “Wake up and tell him yourself, Hattie.”

He nodded. That was good. He wanted to hear it from her. He wanted to know everything about her, and he wanted it all to come direct from the source. He looked back to her, casting about for something else.

Striking on it.

“Devil,” he said, raising his voice so his brother could hear him.

“Aye?”

“There’s a house in Berkeley Square. Next to Warnick’s. It’s empty.”

“Yeah?”

“Buy it. Put it in her name.”

His brother did not hesitate over the request. He nodded. “Done.”

Whit brushed her hair from her face, ran his fingers over the impossibly soft skin of her cheeks. “You see, love? We’re buying your house. You’ll have to wake to live in it, though. And I’d like very much to live in it with you.” He reached to touch her, to brush the hair from her brow. “The Year of Hattie is shaping up.”

She moved.

It was barely there, the movement. A flicker behind her eyelids. He wouldn’t have noticed if he weren’t so focused on her. He came up off his knees, leaning over her on the bed. “Hattie?” He moved closer, taking her hand in his again, trying not to squeeze too hard. “Hattie. Please, love.”

Another flicker. “Yes. That’s it, love.”

The air in the room shifted, everyone coming closer, the whole assembly on a knife’s point, except for Whit, who was talking again. “You have to open your eyes, Hattie. You have the most beautiful eyes. Have I told you that? I’ve never seen eyes like yours—so expressive. And when you told me you loved me earlier, you nearly put me to my knees. Wouldn’t you like a chance to do that again? Open your eyes, love.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Open your eyes so I can tell you how much I love you.”

And she did.

Her lids opened and her gaze focused on his, and—impossibly—she smiled, as though she hadn’t just been on death’s door. And she did put him to his knees, because he found he did not have the strength to hold himself up.

Nora gasped, and Nik was out the door for the doctor, and Hattie tightened her hand in his, and said, “That was a very tempting offer.”

He laughed at the words, unable to keep the tears from spilling down his cheeks. “I’m very happy to hear it.”

Her hand came to his head, her fingers tangling in his hair, weak, but there. “Tell me,” she whispered.

“I love you, Henrietta Sedley.”