Brazen and the Beast (The Bareknuckle Bastards #2)

And it was glorious.

His hands came to her breasts, his thumbs worrying the hard tips of them, stroking, pinching, until she gasped and writhed against him, lost to him.

And she didn’t even know his name.

The thought was ice.

She didn’t even know his name.

“Wait.” She pushed back from him, instantly regretting the decision when he released her without hesitation, his touch disappearing as though it had never been there to begin with. He stepped back.

She pulled her bodice closed over her protesting breasts and crossed her arms, her hunger returning with a great, yawning ache everywhere they’d touched. Her lips began to tingle, his kiss a phantom there. She licked them, and his amber gaze fell to her mouth.

He looked hungry, too, as he watched the words spill from her. “I don’t know your name.”

For once, he didn’t hesitate. “Beast.”

She misheard. Surely. “I beg your pardon?”

“They call me Beast.”

She shook her head. “That’s”—she searched for the word—“ludicrous.”

“Why?”

“Because . . . you’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.” She paused. Then, “You’re the most beautiful man anyone’s ever seen. Empirically.”

His brows rose and he raised a hand, running it through his hair and over the back of his head in something like—was it possible it was embarrassment? “It’s rare that people point it out.”

“That’s because it’s obvious. Like heat. Or rain. But I assume people point it out whenever they call you by that absurd moniker. I imagine it is meant to be ironic.”

“It’s not,” he said, lowering his hand.

She blinked. “I don’t understand.”

“You will.”

The promise sent a thread of unease through her. “I will?”

He reached for her again, cupping her cheek in his palm, making her want to turn into the heat of him. “Those who steal from me. Who threaten what is mine. They see the truth of it.”

Her heart began to pound. He meant Augie.

This was not a man who punished in half measures.

When he came for her brother, he would hold no quarter.

Her brother was a proper imbecile, but she didn’t want him ruined. Or worse. No, whatever Augie had done, whatever he’d stolen, Hattie would return it. And that’s when she realized—the kiss they’d just shared—the offer he’d made her—it hadn’t been because he wished it.

It had been because he’d wished for revenge.

It hadn’t been for her.

Of course it hadn’t.

After all, this man, with his controlled passion and his silent assessment, was not the kind of man who came for Henrietta Sedley, pudgy spinster with ink stains on her wrists.

Not unless she could deliver him something.

This man might not wish a dowry, but he wished something, nonetheless.

She ignored the pang of sadness that came at the understanding—pretended not to notice the sting at the backs of her eyes or the hint of unwelcome emotion in her throat. Crossing her arms more tightly over her chest, she moved past him to where she had discarded her shawl earlier.

Once she was wrapped in the rich turquoise fabric, she turned back to him. His gaze flickered to the place where the wrap covered her ripped bodice, the tear she’d demanded he put there.

She inhaled. If she could make one demand, she could make another. “It strikes me, sir, that you might be in the market for a trade.”

One black brow rose in curiosity.

“I shan’t deny that I know who had a hand in your . . . predicament . . . this evening. We are both too intelligent to play at silly games.”

He grunted his affirmation.

“I shall fetch what you have lost. I shall return it to you. For a price.”

He watched her for a long moment. “Your virginity.”

She nodded. “You want retribution; I want a future. Two hours ago, I was prepared for a transaction of sorts, so why not now?” When he did not reply, she lifted her chin, refusing to let him see her disappointment. “There’s no need for you to pretend you wished to do it out of the goodness of your heart. I am no starry-eyed miss. I’ve eyes and a looking glass.”

She had been for a moment, though. He’d almost tricked her into playing such a part.

“And you are no shining-armored knight, eager to court me.” Silence. Damn silence. “Are you?”

He leaned against the bedpost and crossed his arms. “I am not.”

The man could have at least pretended.

No.

She didn’t want pretend. She preferred honesty.

“And so?”

He watched her for a long moment, those infernal all-seeing eyes refusing to release her. “Who are you?”

She gave him a little shrug. “Hattie.”

“Do you have a surname?”

She wasn’t going to tell it to him. “We all have surnames.”

“Mmm.” He paused, then said, “So, you offer the name of my enemy—though not your own—in exchange for a fuck.”

“If you think to shock me with your language, it won’t work.” She waved away the word. “I grew up on the docks.” She’d played in the rigging of her father’s ships.

He narrowed his gaze on her. “You’re not from the gutter.”

“Are you?” Who are you? She wasn’t surprised he didn’t reply. “No matter. The point is that I cut my teeth on the foul language of sailors and dockworkers, so I’m unshockable.” She pulled the shawl tight around her and considered this man, whom she’d found tied up in her carriage, who thought her brother an enemy, and who called himself Beast. Unironically.

She should walk away. End this night before it went further. Return another time and resume the Year of Hattie with another man.

But she did not wish another man—not after this one had kissed her so well.

“I won’t give you a name. But I shall return whatever you’ve lost.” She would go home, sort out Augie’s part in this play, fetch whatever it was that had been taken from this man, and return it.

“That’s likely for the best.”

Relief flared, then uncertainty. “Why?”

“If you give me the name, you shall take responsibility when I destroy him.”

Her heart pounded at the words. Destroying Augie was destroying her father’s business. Destroying her business.

She should end this now. Never see this man again. She ignored the disappointment that flared at the idea. “If you’ve no interest in my offer, then you should leave. I’ve an appointment.” Perhaps she could salvage the evening.

Not that she wished for Nelson any longer.

It did not matter. A means to an end.

A muscle ticked in his perfect, square jaw. “No.”

“What then?”

“You are in no position to make me an offer.” He reached for her once more, his long, warm fingers sliding over the nape of her neck, pulling her off balance just enough for her to put her hands to his chest for stability. “I get all of it.”

He caught her inhale with his lips, a firm, hot slide of pleasure. He broke the kiss.

“What is mine,” he growled.

Whatever her brother had stolen. “Yes.” She met his lips again. Sighed as his tongue found hers in a long, slow slide.

He pulled back. “What is yours.”

Her virginity. “Yes,” she whispered, coming up on her toes for another kiss.

He resisted a hairsbreadth from her. “And the name.”

Never. That would bring him too close to everything that mattered to Hattie. She shook her head. “No.”

One dark brow rose. “I don’t lose, love.”

She smiled, sliding her hands into his hair and pulling him toward her, kissing him deep. She was enjoying herself immensely. “Need I remind you that I pushed you from a moving carriage earlier? I don’t lose, either.”

She wasn’t certain if she felt or heard the low rumble in his chest. Nor was she certain it was laughter, but she wanted it to be as he lifted her high in the air and turned for the bed once more. To make good on their deal. He set her down on the mattress and leaned over her to steal her lips again, and she could not contain her sigh of pleasure before he released her and kissed over her cheek to her ear, where he whispered, “Need I remind you that I found you?” He grazed her ear with his teeth, and she sucked in a breath. “A needle in a Covent Garden haystack.”

“Hardly a needle.” She stuck out like a sore thumb. Always had.

He ignored her. “Waiting for a man who met your . . . what did you call them? Qualifications?”

Her qualifications had changed. Not that he would ever know that. She turned her head, her gaze meeting his, full of fire. “I am told he is exceedingly thorough.”

“Mmm,” he said, before he added, “I found you first.”

“Then we shall call it even.” She barely recognized her breathless words.

“Mmm.” He kissed her then, deep and thorough, his hands moving to the shawl that covered her destroyed dress, and she held her breath, knowing what was to come. More kissing. More touching. And all the rest. Everything.

But before he could undo the knot that hid her from him, a knock came, clear and firm at the door.

They froze.

The door opened barely—not even enough for a head to poke through. Just enough for words to carry in. “My lady, your carriage has returned.”

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