Edward's knuckles pricked and stung, but he landed another blow.
"Take that, you little chit!" the brawler snarled.
He barely nicked Edward's jaw.
"Chit, am I?" Edward's grin was lopsided. "I own many chits, and I most certainly own you!"
He jabbed at the man's ribs, and once he heard that rhythmic sound of ribs cracking, he took the blows to this man's head.
"Knock him out!" Hope screeched from the crowd.
Edward turned his head and smiled at her before he did precisely that.
The hulking man went flying and was sprawled out on the ground.
Edward laughed and then circled the crowd, taking the money from the bets.
"You see! Bigger is not always better!" Edward called out to the throngs of people surrounding him now.
"Oh that's right," a small feminine voice said from nearby. "Lie to them."
How the hell did she get in here?
He parted his way through the crowd to the source of the sound.
There sat the mite, with several sheafs of paper, scribbling on one of them and at an angle so he could not see what it was she doodled.
"Crawled out from under your rock, I see?" he said, taking a seat at her side.
He shooed away his admirers, but called for a drink of scotch.
"The rock you mean to squish me with? I heard what you call me," she began in on him, though she kept her eyes to her manic, drawing hand.
"Oh, the ladies are at it again, huh? They can't find a more suitable subject than me to spread lies about?"
"No. They can't seem to stop spotting you, crawling out of your own hidey holes where the whores reside." She chuckled to herself. "I do hope for your sake their lipstick helps the blows to glide off your chest. The last time I checked, they did use a rather greasy type." She touched her own mouth, and his eyes traveled to those gorgeous, plump lips.
His cock strained at his tight trousers for the moment.
God, it was time.
He always fucked after a fight.
But not with this mite.
She was repellent, except . . .
His eyes raked down her luscious curves. Must she be so attractive when all that lay beneath this cloak of skin was a shallow cesspool filled with vermin?
She was the exact physical form of a woman he gravitated to.
Only that wicked tongue. He shook his head. No, he could not get past it.
Though he could gag her—show her what she needed so she'd quit being such a lousy bitch.
"So, that man in the park did not pay well enough, and you were forced to come here tonight to increase your small fortune?" He nudged her with his leg.
She growled when it made her drawing hand slip.
"I refused him, like I do all men. I'm not interested in what lies between their legs."
"Only mine," he teased.
"Perhaps if it means you have coin to pay me for my renditions for the paper."
"This song again?"
"This is how I survive, Mr. Masen, and though I am aware it's of no consequence to you whether I live another day, it weighs heavy on my mind." She lifted her eyes for a moment then went back to her work.
The only thing that was heavy right now was his cock.
"Stop that scratching with your pencil," he said, touching her arm.
"If you want to see how you get laid out on the floor from a woman's smack, then keep touching me, sir," she said through her clenched teeth. "You are not the only one that cannot abide being touched without permission given, and I have given you nonesuch. But if you want to kiss the ground with your busted teeth, then by all means . . ."
"I'd pay you to see that," he barked through a laugh.
"I bet you would."
"How much would you bet?"
"Beg your pardon?" she asked, her brow furrowing. She traced something along the edge of her paper.
His curiosity was piqued.
He tried to sit taller and spy on her work, but she tipped it away from him.
"Cheating? Isn't that beneath a man of means?" she asked, grinning.
God, those lips would be the death of him.
He was throbbing now.
"I promise to avoid all cheating, if you tell me what you would bet and get in that circle with me."
"A woman's not supposed to box," she said.
"And a woman's not supposed to work in the paper business either, but that seems to be your goal, is it not?"
She turned her papers over, set them aside and stood up, looming. "I think you've overstepped your bounds, but, yes, I'll place a bet with you, and I'll step in that ring, but not for your money."
"So, place your bet, then," he said, arms crossed over his chest as he appraised her.
She glanced at his bared pecs then looked him in the eye. "Since you are so keen to see what I have drawn, I'll give you my drawing if you win."
"Done. And I bet a month's worth of your wages to be paid by the Times you would've earned at the paper if I had hired you today."
"Done." She shook his hand. "You will lose. Assholes always do one way or the other."
"Ah, that may be true, but papermen are flexible and can only be cut by scissors, and you, my dear, have none." He grabbed her hand and pointed out that she did not have the long, tapered fingernails of a gentlewoman. They were short, stubby and stained with ink, chalk, paint, and pencil markings.
"Leave your flattering talk for the whores watching you. They want to hear this shit—I do not." She took her shoes off, shoved them to the side and in a yank, tore her sleeves off her dress.
It was the most astonishing thing to watch the way she moved with animalistic grace and ease.
"You just ruined your dress. I thought you were in need of wages?" he questioned, entering the betting circle and grabbing for his money bag.
"I can sew. You think I cannot fix what I break?" She waved at the women to quiet down. They were already screaming at her to get out of the ring.
"Does that include jaws when you knock a man out with your powerful fist blow?" he teased.
"No, but it does include hearts you've trampled through the city."
What was she prattling on about now?
"My bets are placed," he announced to the crowd. "But Miss Swan does not want my money—she wants all of yours. I suggest you bet on me, for she will only take the winnings if I lose, and I never lose. Do not give her a cent."
She circled him and her eyes traversed up and down his body.
Was she trying to find his Achilles heel? He had none.
"And I have promised not to cheat, not that I ever do when it comes to fisticuffs, but you will see today, I break my own rules by hitting a woman, but she has consented, so I suppose it is allowable." Edward bowed to Isabella.
She scowled and refused to curtsy back.
"Begin!" the announcer said after shouting out a few rules.
The only one Edward heard was no hitting below the belt before a hideous, sharp jab was placed on his nose and it cracked.
Blood spurted out of his face and he clasped his hands over it in utter shock.
The next thing he knew, she was behind him, on his back, her arms around his neck and the little mite was choking the life out of him.
He swatted at her.
"This is not allowed!" Hope screamed repeatedly. "She's to hit—not choke!"
Isabella's little arms tightened, and his throat closed in on itself.
He rolled over on the ground so his bodyweight crushed her beneath him.
Her legs flailed below him, and he elbowed her in the hip.
She gasped, but her grip did not cease.
Good Lord but she was wiry.
He rocked back and forth, trying his damnedest to knock her away from him, but her hold was firm and secured.
She locked her arms around him ever tighter, and his vision blurred.
When he could no longer fight her off, she let go and slipped out from under him.
Blows rained down on his face, on his chest, and a woman was crying above him.
"Why did you do that to her?"
"Swan?" he choked out. "Mite?"
"It's Hope, you charlatan bastard!" his ofttimes lover croaked and then she punched him in the head so hard, blood from his nose spattered her dress.
That was the last thing he saw before it all went black.
Edward woke in the hospital, a blond-haired doctor hovering over him.
"You're awake, sir?" the man asked.
Edward groaned in response.
"We need you to sign these papers," the doctor said, shoving something in front of him.
Edward's face was wrapped in bandages. Under no circumstances would he leave here until they were removed.
"How long have I been here?" Edward asked.
"A little over twenty-four hours. I gave you some laudanum for the pain before setting your nose right. It seemed your body did not take well to the elixir." The doctor chuckled for a moment. "I was worried you might not ever wake, but some woman stopped by and told me what happened. I figured you might've been tired after being mugged and beaten by ten men. My, my, that must've been horrific. I'm surprised she was able to speak of it calmly." His voice rose in pitch.
Why would Hope fib like that for him? She owed him nothing. Edward's brow pinched, and he winched then cried out in pain. Lord, that stung.
"Try not to move your face if you can until the swelling goes down. Lots of ice and steaks applied to the face should help speed the process," he advised.
"Fine, fine, yes, let me sign," Edward said, waving the doctor off.
"I'm Carlisle, by the way," the doctor said.
"Good to meet you," Edward said, and then he sat up fully.
"You may leave when you're ready," Carlisle said.
"I shall, and if you would, good sir, keep out of my way." Edward stood on shaky legs, and was surprised to see he was already dressed in his shirt he'd taken off at the club to brawl.
He really owed Hope now, and he hated owing anyone anything.
"Good evening," Carlisle said and left the area.
Edward stumbled out of the hospital. He found the first carriage available and instead of going home, he went straight to Hope's.
He knocked on her door with his cane.
She opened it a crack and then as soon as she saw him, she slammed the door in his face.
"Woman, you open this door," he warned.
"No! Leave!" she called back.
"Open it now, Hope. I want to thank you," he said, pounding with his bruised fist this time.
His head ached and throbbed like a horse tramping over uneven cobblestones.
"Thank me?" She wrenched the door back open. "For what?"
"For everything," he said, pushing the door aside and stomping his way in.
It was warm and cozy in here and smelled of her. She always smelled of lilacs. He was mildly attracted to that smell, but more interested in her cunning mouth that took his girth deeper than any other woman he'd ever known.
Though, the mite's lips . . . She might go even further. He might . . .
Oh God. Something else was throbbing besides his head now.
He pinned Hope beneath him on the couch in a flash.
"You took me to the hospital. You dressed me." He dipped his head down to kiss her.
"I did no such thing," she said, wiggling her wrists he was holding tight against the cushions.
"That bitch that whipped your ass," she said, smiling.
"The mite? She did that?"
"Well, that's what I was told. I don't know. I left after you blacked out. Some man was trying to buy me for the night after he saw me slap and hit you. He was fat and bald and drunker than a—"
Edward flung her off him.
"Isabella Swan took me to the hospital?" He rubbed his hands across his still bandaged face. Jesus, he forgot to insist they unwind this shit off his face.
"Yeah. I guess she made so much money at the fight she thought it only fair." Hope shrugged and lit a cigarette.
"Who did you go home with then?" Edward asked her, glaring at Hope over his shoulder.
"You know I don't do that after a fight unless it's you. Most of them are so inebriated they can't even find their dick, and then the next day they try to get their money back, saying they never fucked me. If they can't remember what they did, I don't keep my money." She offered him a cigarette.
He accepted it but once he pursed his lips for a puff, his face hurt so badly, tears jerked their way into his eyes.
He scrunched up the cigarette and threw it in the fire, banked well in the hearth.
The lying slut. She had a man here. She never could bank a fire well, and always insisted Edward do it for her before he got his dick wet with her.
"Who was here, Hope?"
"Liar!" He shot up and paced. "Just tell me."
"Why does it matter? You don't really want me. You don't have relationships, Edward, and especially not with a common tramp." She grimaced and her eyes flooded with tears. "But then you don't want the ladies of your station either, do you?"
He stood stoic, staring at her unblinking. "Be quiet."
"It's true. What. Do. You. Want? Because I certainly cannot decipher what drives you. It's not money, it's not power, it's not sex. What is it you want?"
"Blood?" She squirmed. "You got plenty of that tonight at the club with your fights."
"I know, and I want more," he said.
"I think you should leave now, and I don't want to see you anymore."
"Hope—if that's even your real name—you don't get to decide."
She shivered and wrapped an arm around her torso. "I do now. The man who was here tonight is more powerful than you. He doesn't want me with other men, and I'm sick of entertaining random men, and you."
"You put on a good act, but there is no chance you ever pretended when I made you scream my name."
"You have a way with a woman's body, I do not deny it, but you are too intense for me. I wanted more at one time from you, regardless of your disturbing blood lust, but not now. Not after I saw you willing to beat up a woman in the ring. What kind of gentleman does that?"
"I do." He broke his cane, tossed it in the fire and left.
No fucking for him tonight apparently. Or at least not with Hope.
He charged down the street to get to his mansion. On the way, he bought several different papers from today's market, and took them home with him.
He was a day behind, and that was unacceptable.
Nary a day passed without his thumb being on all the news that passed in print in this town.
Once home, he hid up in his study, lit a cigar and simply inhaled it as the tendrils of smoke wafted around him.
He poured a scotch, and seated himself at his desk.
Time to peruse the papers.
"What in God's name is this?" he shouted.
He stood, hands trembling and spread all five papers out flat, side by side.
His visage was plastered across each front page with a very life-like sketching of him, half nude, chest covered in blood, and him knocked on his ass.
The captions were all similar: Edward Masen, New York's Most Renowned Tycoon, Knocked Off Feet By Unknown Woman.
"Like hell she was unknown! I'll ruin you, mite!"
His glass shattered against the wall, the expensive scotch soaking his Aubusson rug.
No visuals or info this time on the blog. Only a teaser for the next chapter.
Many thanks to Anakinsmom for stepping up and being a beta on this story. It's always wonderful to have another set of eyes helping me out. And she does a fantastic job. ;D
Tell me what you think of Bella laying him out and busting his nose. Too mean? Too nice? Should she have done more?
Thanks so much for all your lovely reviews. I love hearing from all of you! Especially a review I got recently that said their banter reminded someone of Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies. I love them! I grew up watching those. What a fabulous compliment. Made me smile.