THE FIGHTER AND THE FALLEN WOMAN’s week-a-versary

March 16, 2015 at 1:27 pm (FAFW, Writing)

So, THE FIGHTER AND THE FALLEN WOMAN has been out in the world for a week now, and I can’t tell you how tickled I’ve been (and still am!) seeing it out and about. To celebrate FAFW’s week anniversary, I want to share the first scene with you, introduce everybody to Lady and King. Hope you enjoy!

 

Chapter One

London, 1883

In the twelve years Lady had been a mistress, a bangtail and a whore, she had never been afraid of a man’s kiss. Dockworkers with missing teeth, boys who didn’t know enough to open their mouths, bastards who turned what should have been something sweet into something ugly, she’d faced them all and earned her coin. This man before her now was something she’d never experienced—a man she wanted to touch her. The thought scared her worse than her first time.

“Pet, give the gent a proper kiss for luck,” her protector ordered with a naughty grin. “You want King to be lucky and win now, don’t you?”

Lady pushed her fear down with an ease born of practice and gave the men a sultry smile. “Of course I do, Mr. Adams, though I don’t think luck is going to have anything to do with it,” she said, eyeing the fighter from head to toe and back again. “This man has let you show once again that you own the very best, another champion to join me under the Adams name.” She leaned close and whispered in his ear, “Though I prefer to be under you all by myself.” She sucked his lobe between her lips, giving it a soft nip, and his throaty laugh sealed a moment’s safety to look at another man. To look at this man.

Framed by the timber and brick of the St. Katharine’s Warehouse, the walls glowing a hellish red in the flickering gas lamps, King looked like a mercenary kicked out of hell. He stood a few inches taller than she did, the two of them on opposite sides of six feet, and his square face was unremarkable except for the imperfection of a broken nose and what a gypsy woman she’d once visited called “eyes of an old soul.” He was dressed like a stevedore in his black boots, wool pants and faded blue shirt, and like somebody who worked on the docks, had the muscled physique to show for it. He wasn’t necessarily handsome, not in a traditional way at least, but Lady had never been attracted to the pretty men. She’d always felt drawn to the ones who looked like they’d been brawling since before drawing breath, broken and scarred. King fit that image and, more than once, Lady had wondered how she’d fit King.

Ever since that night almost three years ago when he’d helped her gain her balance as her broken ribs caused her to stumble on that last stair, and then whispered, “Willow bark. It’ll ease the pain,” Lady had discovered this newest bruiser of her protector’s had kindness tempered with his strength. Now, after years of keeping their touches to a hand into a carriage or an elbow on a slippery patch of wet cobblestone, she was being asked to perform one of the most intimate acts two people could share with this man she pictured when Mr. Adams fell asleep beside her. A kiss sounded so simple, but it would be safer to offer a drunk a fine brandy and then ask him to pass over the rest of the bottle. She felt herself looking at King’s lips as if a drop of that brandy still clung there.

“I do own the very best, indeed I do.” Mr. Adams clapped his hands and the sound was consumed by the crowd reacting to the introduction of the fighters. It snapped Lady out of her thoughts and allowed her to collect new ones. If she didn’t get her head back in Mr. Adams’s game, she’d pay a painful price later. “But I figure it can never hurt to have a little extra luck on your side, eh? But mind yourself it’s a little, King, not a lot. Where a bigger kiss might mean bigger luck, it’d also mean I would have to fight you myself.” Mr. Adams shook a finger at King in a joking manner, but there was no doubt that if King got too friendly with Lady without Mr. Adams’s permission, the joke would be over.

Mr. Adams pulled Lady close with one arm around her waist, his hand lightly grasping her hip. His head reached only to her shoulder, yet unlike most men, he seemed to enjoy having her tower over him, her blond curls tangling around his neck. He often said so before he tossed up her skirts.

“Now, Mr. Adams, no fighting your best man.” Lady managed a throaty laugh while she slid her arm around her protector’s shoulders. “You want him to be in the best possible form for tonight, don’t you?” She looked at King and waited for him to act his part in this little drama. She’d managed to play her role. The last thing she needed was Mr. Adams to be in a temper because King didn’t play his. Lady could act blasé about the kiss she was scared to give, but it would be so much easier for both of them if King said his lines. Yes, he was a powerful fighter and Mr. Adams liked that King was always winning, but winning was nothing without adoration. If King didn’t bring in money and make Mr. Adams smile while doing it, he would be killed. Lady woke every morning knowing that same fate could be hers if she didn’t keep Mr. Adams happy. Very happy.

King cracked a smile and Lady felt herself slump with relief. To cover her gaffe, she turned in Mr. Adams’s arms, trailed her finger down her protector’s chest and cocked her head coquettishly at King.

“Have no worries, miss. I’m set to win tonight, especially with such good luck in my corner.” He inclined his head toward her.

“Yes, you are.” Mr. Adams pointed a stubby finger at King, his whole manner suddenly more intense. Lady prayed it was merely excitement for the fight. “You’re going to win this tournament of mine and be crowned toughest bloke in the world.”

Lady beckoned to the betting man with a wave of her hand, hoping to return Mr. Adams to a more relaxed state. “If King says he’s going to win tonight, then I’m calling that a guarantee. And if I know Mr. Adams, he would say such a guarantee is worth wagering on.

“Five pounds on King to win,” she told the betting man and reached into the neckline of her dress for the bill. She took the scrip he gave her and tucked it back into the same place with some extra patting and smoothing.

“Aw, pet, spending your hard-earned blunt on my fighter? That means a lot to me, it does.” Lady simply waited for what was next. “Of course, you earned it after I spent my hard-earned blunt on you.” He finished with a braying laugh, thrusting his hips against her thigh.

Lady looked both coy and wicked, like she was supposed to. She stole a glance at King and saw his face harden before he forced an appreciative laugh. There was a part of her, perhaps the blushing girl she never was, that always felt a brief thrill that this man cared enough to be outraged on her behalf. The woman she’d become took that thrill and buried it in the same grave as the blushing girl. King had the strength to protect her and, more importantly, she felt deep down that he cared for her enough to want to do so, but for him to take any action greater than he already had would have terrible consequences. A gentle hand to support her, a handsome face to picture in the dark—that would have to be it. Anything else was too dangerous. She was a rich man’s mistress and he was a rich man’s thug, and the two did not mix.

“Thank you for your confidence, miss.” King took a step backward. “Mr. Adams, I need to go be announced. That is, if you don’t need me for anything else.”

“No, you’re fine. I know most everybody here.” He opened his coat to show the slim, leather-wrapped handle of a knife he wore at his waist when he went out. “I’ve got this if somebody gets too close, and that’s if they even get past Shade.” Mr. Adams jerked his head toward the shadows and Lady watched King follow with his eyes. She could tell when he spotted Mr. Adams’s other bruiser. He looked back at Mr. Adams, and Lady watched King’s face tighten, his shoulders pull back as though standing at attention, and she felt something icy crawl in her belly without even having to look at Mr. Adams.

“But if it’s not too much trouble to ask,” her protector said slowly, “it would make me feel better if you got that lucky kiss.”

She’d only heard that tone in her protector’s voice once before and the sound of it still caused her breath to seize, her ribs to ache. The injury had long since healed, yet her deepest fears knew that one brought about the other. King may not face the same fears, but she couldn’t chance that Mr. Adams would find new ones for both of them if they kept refusing.

“Perhaps you have found your fighter’s secret, Mr. Adams.” Lady had been trying for lightly mocking, though truth be told, she was just happy her voice didn’t tremble. “He’s scared to kiss a girl.”

“Trust me, King, this lady’s kiss is sweet. Nothing to be frightened of at all,” Mr. Adams said and chuckled in a moment of shared masculine appreciation. Except King didn’t look like he appreciated anything. He looked like he fought everything, from the invisible tether Mr. Adams held to the dreams he had at night.

She wouldn’t let him fight her, though, no matter how scared she was to do this. She stepped up to King, putting Mr. Adams at her back and out of her mind. “Come, King, it’s only a kiss,” Lady said, deliberately pitching her voice low. She would give the kiss and pray her trembling barriers would hold, keep her safe against the desire to close her eyes, breathe in his scent, and feel for one moment that a fighter and a fallen woman had a future together.

“Lady, you should know when it comes to you, it’s never only anything,” he whispered so that only she could hear. “It’s everything.”

Lady braced herself for a deeper look into King’s eyes and saw flecks of gold in the brown, a fading bruise ringing his left, and a wariness that matched hers. Beneath all that was a cold, empty place, but she couldn’t tell if it was his or a reflection of hers. She quickly lowered her eyes, praying he hadn’t seen anything tonight other than a reluctant whore. With a quick intake of breath, Lady glanced at King’s mouth, closed her eyes and pressed her lips to his.

Warmth. Protection. Life. Lady could taste it on his lips, could feel it pulse around him like fire. For an instant, her entire body was flooded with heat and she longed to throw herself into it, knowing he would catch her and hold her close, protecting her from the flames while making her burn. It made her reach out, her fingers fluttering in the hidden recess between them, and she felt his hand already there, straining between sense and desire. He grabbed her hand only for an instant, but it was long enough to brand his touch on her skin before he let go.

Lady pulled back and her eyes drifted open, her held breath slipping from her mouth and into his. King was right. This would never be only a kiss.

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