Three brothers, bound by a secret they cannot escape . . .
The Devil, all vengeance and vice
The Beast, all fists and fury
The Duke, all power and past
. . . and the women who bring them to their knees.
THE BAREKNUCKLE BASTARDS
A NEW SERIES FROM SARAH MACLEAN
BRAZEN AND THE BEAST
Bareknuckle Bastards, Book II
July 30, 2019
The Lady's Plan…
When Lady Henrietta Sedley declares her twenty-ninth year her own, she has plans to inherit her father’s business, to make her own fortune, and to live her own life. But first, she intends to experience a taste of the pleasure she’ll forgo as a confirmed spinster. Everything is going perfectly…until she discovers the most beautiful man she’s ever seen tied up in her carriage and threatening to ruin the Year of Hattie before it’s even begun.
The Bastard's Proposal...
When he wakes in a carriage at Hattie’s feet, Whit, a king of Covent Garden known to all the world as Beast, can’t help but wonder about the strange woman who frees him—especially when he discovers she’s headed for a night of pleasure . . . on his turf. He is more than happy to offer Hattie all she desires…for a price.
An Unexpected Passion...
Soon, Hattie and Whit find themselves rivals in business and pleasure. She won’t give up her plans; he won’t give up his power . . . and neither of them sees that if they’re not careful, they’ll have no choice but to give up everything . . . including their hearts.
Excerpt from Brazen & the Beast
In twenty-eight years and three hundred and sixty-four days, Lady Henrietta Sedley liked to think that she’d learned a few things.
She’d learned, for example, that if a lady could not get away with wearing trousers (an unfortunate reality for the daughter of an earl, even one who had begun life without title or fortune), then she should absolutely ensure that her skirts included pockets. A woman never knew when she might require a bit of rope, or a knife to cut it.
She’d also learned that any decent escape from her Mayfair home required the cover of darkness and a carriage driven by an ally. Coachmen tended to talk a fine game when it came to keeping secrets, but were ultimately beholden to those who paid their salaries. An important addendum to that particular lesson was this: The best of allies was often the best of friends.
And perhaps first on the list of things she had learned in her lifetime was how to tie a Carrick bend knot. She’d been able to do that for as long as she could remember.
With such an obscure and uncommon collection of knowledge, one might imagine that Henrietta Sedley would have known precisely what to do in the likelihood she discovered a human male bound and unconscious in her carriage.
One would be incorrect.
In point of fact, Henrietta Sedley would never have described such a scenario as a likelihood. True, she might have been more comfortable on London’s docks than in its ballrooms, but Hattie’s impressive collection of life experience lacked anything close to a criminal element.
And yet, here she was, pockets full, dearest friend at her side, standing in the pitch dark on the night before her twenty-ninth birthday, about to steal away from Mayfair for an evening of best-laid plans, and . . .
Lady Eleanora Madewell whistled, low and unladylike, at Hattie’s ear. Daughter of a duke and the Irish actress he loved so well that he’d made her a duchess, Nora had the kind of brashness that was allowed in those with impervious titles and scads of money. “There’s a bloke in the gig, Hattie.”
Hattie did not look away from the bloke in question. “Yes, I see that.”
“There wasn’t a bloke in the gig when we hitched the horses.”
“No, there wasn’t.” They’d left the hitched—and most definitely empty—carriage in the dark rear drive of Sedley House not three quarters of an hour earlier, before hiking upstairs to exchange carriage-hitching dresses for attire more appropriate for their evening plans.
At some point between corset and kohl, someone had left her an extraordinarily unwelcome package.
“Seems we would’ve noticed a bloke in the gig,” Nora said.
“I should think we would have,” came Hattie’s distracted reply. “This is really just awful timing.”
Nora cut her a look. “Is there a good time for a man to be bound in one’s carriage?”
Hattie imagined there wasn’t, but, “He could have selected a different evening. This is a terrible birthday gift.” She squinted into the dark interior of the carriage. “Do you think he’s dead?”
Please, don’t let him be dead.
Silence. Then, a thoughtful, “Does one store dead men in carriages?” Nora reached forward, her coachman’s coat pulling tight over her shoulders, and poked the dead man in question. He did not move. “He’s not moving,” she added with an unhelpful shrug. “Could be dead.”
Hattie sighed, removing a glove and leaning into the carriage to place two fingers to the man’s neck. “I’m sure he’s not dead.”
“What are you doing?” Nora whispered urgently. “If he’s not, you’ll wake him!”
“That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world,” Hattie pointed out. “Then we could ask him to kindly exit our conveyance and we could be on our way.”
“Oh, yes. This brute seems like precisely the sort of man who would immediately do just that and not immediately take his revenge. He’d no doubt doff his cap and wish us a fine good evening.”
“He’s not wearing a cap,” Hattie said, unable to refute any of the rest of the assessment of the mysterious, possibly dead man. He was very broad, and very solid, and even in the darkness she could tell that this wasn’t a man with whom one took a turn about a ballroom.
This was the kind of man who ransacked a ballroom.
“What do you feel?” Nora pressed.
“No pulse.” Though she wasn’t exactly sure where one would find a pulse. “But he’s—”
Dead men were not warm, and this man was very warm. Like a fire in winter. The kind of warm that made someone realize how cold she might be.
Ignoring the silly thought, Hattie moved her fingers down the column of his neck, to the place where it disappeared beneath the collar of his shirt, where the ridge of his shoulder and the slope of . . . the rest of him . . . met in a fascinating indentation.
“Quiet.” Hattie held her breath. Nothing. She shook her head.
“Christ.” It wasn’t a prayer.
Hattie couldn’t have agreed more. But then . . .
There. A small flutter. She pressed a touch more firmly. The flutter became firm. Slow. Even. “I feel it,” she said. “He’s alive.” She repeated herself. “He’s alive.” She exhaled, long and relieved. “He’s not dead.”
“Excellent. But it doesn’t change the fact that he’s unconscious in the carriage, and you have somewhere to be.” She paused. “We should leave him and take the curricle.”
Hattie had been planning for this particular excursion on this particular night for a full three months. This was the night that would begin her twenty-ninth year. The year her life would become her own. The year she would become her own. And she had a very specific plan for a very specific location at a very specific hour, for which she had donned a very specific frock. And yet, as she stared at the man in her carriage, specifics seemed not at all important.
What seemed important was seeing his face.
Clinging to the handle at the edge of the door, Hattie collected the lantern from the upper rear corner of the carriage before swinging back out to face Nora, whose gaze flickered immediately to the unlit container.
Nora tilted her head. “Hattie. Leave him. We’ll take the curricle.”
“Just a peek,” Hattie replied.
The tilt became a slow shake. “If you peek, you’ll regret it.”
“I have to peek,” Hattie insisted, casting about for a decent reason—ignoring the odd fact that she was unable to tell her friend the truth. “I have to untie him.”
“Not necessarily,” Nora pointed out. “Someone thought he was best left tied up, and who are we to disagree?” Hattie was already reaching into the pocket of the carriage door for a flint. “What of your plans?”
There was plenty of time for her plans. “Just a peek,” she repeated, the oil in the lantern catching fire. She closed the door and turned to face the carriage, lifting the light high, casting a lovely golden glow over—
Nora choked back a laugh. “Not such a bad gift after all, it seems.”
The man had the most beautiful face Hattie had ever seen. The most beautiful face anyone had ever seen. She leaned closer, taking in his warm, bronze skin, the high cheekbones, the long, straight nose, the dark slashes of his brows, and the impossibly long lashes that lay like feathers against his cheeks.
“What kind of man . . .” She trailed off. Shook her head.
What kind of man looked like this?
What kind of man looked like this and somehow landed in the carriage of Hattie Sedley—a woman who was very unused to being in the vicinity of men who looked like this.
“You’re embarrassing yourself,” Nora said. “You’re staring and your jaw has gone fully slack.”
Hattie closed her mouth, but did not stop staring.
“Hattie. We have to go.” A pause. Then, “Unless you’ve changed your mind?”
The casual question brought Hattie back to the moment. To her plan. She shook her head. Lowered the lantern. “I haven’t.”
Nora sighed and placed her hands on her hips, staring past Hattie into the carriage. “You get his bottom, and I’ll take his top, then?” She looked to a shadowed alcove behind her. “He can resume consciousness there.”
Hattie’s heart pounded. “We can’t leave him here.”
Nora slid her a look. “Hattie. We can’t take him with us just because he looks like a Roman statue.”
Hattie blushed in the darkness. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“You lost the power of speech.”
She cleared her throat. “We can’t take him because Augieleft him here.”
Nora’s lips flattened into a perfect, straight line. “You don’t know that.”
“I know,” Hattie said, holding the lantern near the rope at the man’s wrists, and swept it down to the place where he was bound at the ankles, “because August Sedley can’t tie a Carrick bend worth a damn, and I fear that if we leave this man here, he’ll find his way loose and head straight for my useless brother.”
That, and if the stranger didn’t find his way loose, who knew what Augiewould do to him. Her brother was as cabbageheaded as he was reckless—a combination that routinely required Hattie’s intervention. Which, incidentally, was a significant reason for her decision to claim her twenty-ninth year as her own. And still, here her infernal brother was, ruining everything.
Unaware of Hattie’s thoughts, Nora said, “Recently unconscious or no . . . this doesn’t look like a man who loses in a fight.”
The understatement was not lost on Hattie. She sighed, reaching in and hanging the now glowing lantern on its peg, taking the opportunity to cast a long, lingering look at the man in her carriage.
Hattie Sedley had learned something else in her twenty-eight years, three hundred and sixty-four days: If a woman had a problem, it was best she solve it herself.
She pulled herself up into the carriage, stepping carefully over the man on the floor before looking back at wide-eyed Nora on the drive below. “Come on, then. We’ll drop him on our way.”
The last thing Beast remembered was the blow to the head.
He’d been expecting the ambush. It was why he’d been driving the rig, six fine horses pulling a massive steel conveyance, laden with liquor and playing cards and tobacco, destined for Mayfair. He’d just crossed Oxford Street when he heard the gunshot, followed by a pained cry from one of his outriders.
He’d stopped the conveyance to check on his men. To protect them.
To punish any who would threaten them.
The last thing he remembered was the blow to the head.
Not until an insistent tapping against his cheek returned him to consciousness, too soft for pain, but firm enough to be irritating.
He didn’t open his eyes, years of training allowing him to feign sleep as he got his bearings. His feet were bound, his hands as well—behind his back. He resisted the urge to stiffen. To rage.
Beast didn’t rage; he punished. Quick and devastating and without emotion.
He was on the floor of a moving carriage. A well-appointed one, if the soft cushion at his cheek was any indication, and in a decent neighborhood for the smooth rhythm of the cobblestones beneath the wheels.
Whit considered his next move—envisioning how he would incapacitate his captor in spite of his bindings. He imagined breaking a nose with the flat weapon of his forehead. Using his bound legs to knock the man out.
The tapping at his cheek began again, and then a whispered, “Sir.”
Beast’s eyes flew open.
His captor wasn’t a man.
His gaze narrowed as the wash of golden light in the carriage played tricks with him—seeming to come somehow not from the lantern swaying gently in the corner, but from the woman leaning over him.
Seated on the bench above him, she looked nothing like the kind of enemy who would knock a man out and tie him up in a carriage. Indeed, she looked like she was on her way to a ball. Perfectly done, perfectly coiffed, perfectly colored—her skin smooth, her eyes kohled, her lips full and stained just enough to make a man pay attention. And that was before he got a look at the dress—blue the color of a summer sky, perfectly fitted to her full figure.
Not that he should be noticing anything about that, considering she had him tied him up in a carriage. He shouldn’t be noticing the curves of her, soft and welcoming at her waist, at the line of her bodice. He shouldn’t be noticing the smooth, golden skin at her rounded shoulder, gleaming in the lantern light. He shouldn’t be noticing the pretty softness of her face, or the fullness of her lips, stained red with paint.
She wasn’t for noticing. She was the enemy.
He narrowed his gaze on her, and her eyes—was it possible they were violet? What kind of a person had violet eyes?—went wide. “Well. If that look is any indication of your temperament, it’s no wonder you’ve been tied up.” She tilted her head. “Why are you tied up?”
Whit did not reply.
“Who tied you up?”
Again, silence. He did not believe she didn’t know the answer.
Her lips flattened into a straight line and she said, more to herself than to him, “It’s not my business.” And then, louder, firmer, “The point is, you’re very inconvenient, as I have need of this carriage tonight.”
“Inconvenient.” He didn’t mean to reply, and the word surprised them both.
She nodded. “Indeed. It’s the Year of Hattie.”
She waved a hand, as though to push the question away. As though it weren’t important. Except Whit imagined it was. She pressed on. “It is my birthday. I have plans for myself. Plans that don’t include . . . whatever is going on here.”
He did not reply.
She blinked. “Most people would wish me a happy birthday at this juncture.”
Whit said nothing.
She nodded. “And here I was, ready to help you.”
He scowled. “I don’t need your help.”
Her brows rose. “You’re quite rude, you know.”
He resisted the instinct to gape at her. “I’ve been knocked out and tied up in a strange carriage.”
“Yes, but you must admit the company is diverting, no?”
When he raised a brow, she said, “Fine then. But it strikes me that you’re in a bind, sir.” She paused, then added, “You see how diverting I can be? In a bind?”
“I see how reckless you can be.”
“Some find me charming.”
“I’ve never in my life found anything charming,” he replied, wondering what possessed him to spar with this chatterbox.
She smiled. “That’s a pity.” It sounded like she meant it, but before he could think of what to say, she added, “No matter. Even if you won’t admit it, you do need help and, as you are quite well bound and I am your travel companion, I’m afraid you are stuck with me.” She crouched by his feet, as though it were all perfectly ordinary, untying the ropes with a soft, deft touch. “Whoever tied these knots did not want you getting free,” she said, as though they were discussing the weather. “You’re lucky I am quite good with knots.”
He grunted his approval as she set him free. “And you have other plans for your birthday.”
She hesitated, her cheeks pinkening at the words before she gave a curt nod. “Yes.”
Whit would never understand what made him press further. “What plans?”
She looked up at him then, her ridiculous eyes too big for her face. “Plans that for once don’t involve cleaning up whatever mess you are.”
“Next time I am clubbed unconscious, I shall endeavor to do it where I shan’t be in your way, my lady.”
She grinned, as though they were partners in this play. “Please do.” Before he could reply, she said, “Though I suppose it won’t be an issue in the future. We clearly don’t run in the same circles.”
He raised a brow. “We run in them tonight.”
The grin became a slow, easy smile, and Whit lingered on it. On the curve of her lips and the dimple that flashed in her right cheek. The carriage began to slow, and she peeked out the curtain. “We’re nearly there,” she said quietly. “It’s time for you to go, sir. I’m sure you’ll agree that neither of us will have any interest in you being discovered.”
“My hands,” he said.
She shook her head. “I can’t risk you taking revenge.”
He met her gaze without hesitation. “My revenge is not a risk. It’s a certainty.”
She nodded sagely. “I’ve no doubt of that. But I can’t risk you taking it via me. Not tonight.” She reached past him for the door handle, speaking at his ear, above the rattle of wheels and horses from the street beyond. “As I’ve said…”
“You have plans,” he finished for her, turning toward her, unable to resist the scent of almonds coming off her.
Her gaze found his. “Precisely.”
“Tell me the plan, and I’ll let you go.”
That warm smile flashed again. “You’re very arrogant, sir. Must I remind you that I’m the one letting you go?”
“Tell me the plan,” he said again, suddenly desperate to hear it.
He saw the change in her. Watched hesitation turn to curiosity. To bravery. “Perhaps I should show you, instead.”
And then, as though he’d said it aloud, she kissed him, pressing her lips to his, soft and sweet and inexperienced and tempting as hell, and Whit would have done anything to have his hands untied, so he might take control and show this strange, uncommon woman just how well he might see her plans through.
The universe heard the thought. There was a tug at his wrists, and the ropes loosened a heartbeat before she lifted her lips from his. Free, he moved to capture her. To resume the kiss.
The lady had other plans.
Before he could touch her, she opened the door at his back and, with a whispered “Goodbye,” pushed him from the moving carriage.