Lord of Wicked Intentions(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 3)(48) by Lorraine Heath
“Good,” he said. “Again.”
She punched, the awful sound of flesh being hit echoing around her.
“Harder and faster,” he ordered.
She did, again and again. He began backing around the ring and she followed.
“If you really want to hurt someone, punch him in the nose. Stings like the devil. If you can break his nose, all the better. If he turns away from you, strike him in the kidney. It’ll take him down like a kick to the groin.”
“Where’s the kidney?”
With her next punch, he quickly folded his large, powerful hand over hers, capturing it as though it were nothing, and she had a sense now of why he might have given that knowing smile the night she had threatened to scratch out his eyes. She’d have not stood a chance against him.
He moved his other hand around her and drew a small circle on her back. “There. And on the other side. Can momentarily paralyze a man if you do it just right.”
“Do you do it just right?”
He nodded. “Little point in doing it if you’re not going to do it correctly. That’s the thing as well, once you commit to fighting, commit fully. Never back down, never give quarter. I’ve seen many a small man take down a larger one simply because he had the determination to win.”
“You’ve seen a lot of fighting then.” She couldn’t recall ever witnessing any. Certainly neither her father nor Geoffrey had ever come home bruised and bloody. She’d never held a damp cloth to a man’s face, had never begun counting a man’s whiskers because she feared if she continued to gaze into his eyes, she might become lost within their depths.
By his words and actions, Rafe gave the impression of a man who cared about little save himself, but tending to him she knew there was far more to him. She just wasn’t certain if she’d be wise to explore it.
“I’ve seen a lot of people striving to survive,” he said. “It’s generally not pretty.”
“Seeing it probably affects a person as much as experiencing it.”
“Not as much as,” he said quietly, his gaze roaming over her face as though he wished to experience the silkiness of her skin, the taste of her lips. He cleared his throat. “Now then, if a man comes up behind you and puts his arms around you—” He spun her around, cupped his hands on her shoulders. “—bow your head forward, then slam it back with as much force as possible, hit him in the nose. Within any luck, you’ll break it.”
“I don’t think you’re close enough for me to reach.”
“I prefer to avoid this demonstration if you don’t mind.”
“I won’t do it hard, but it seems I should have a sense of it.”
With his thumbs, he stroked the corded muscles on either side of her neck. His arms didn’t come around her, but she felt his warm breath wafting over her nape. “I’m near enough.”
His voice was low, seductive. Her breathing went shallow, her stomach tightened. She thought for her own self-preservation she probably should slam her head back. But the thought of hurting him made her nauseous. “Will I know if I’ve broken his nose?” she asked in a dry rasp.
“Yes. You’ll hear a loud crack.”
A circle of damp heat caused dew to form on the sensitive flesh near her left ear. It was all she could do not to turn into it. He slid his mouth to the other side. Her eyes slammed closed, and she thought of rainy mornings buried beneath a mound of blankets.
“What if he doesn’t let me go?”
Silence followed, thick and heavy, and she wondered if like her, he was trying to decipher whether she was still referring to an attacker, or if she was asking about the man who now stood behind her, trailing his lips so lightly, so slowly along the nape of her neck, causing the fine hairs to rise.
“He will,” he finally said, and she could have sworn she heard regret in his voice. He moved away from her. “I think you have the gist of things now.”
She turned around to see him slipping beneath the rope and going toward his clothes. “We didn’t practice overly much. It hardly seems worth it to have gone to the bother to come here.”
He snatched up his shirt, shoved his arms into the sleeves. “The flooring is softer within the ring, there is no clutter or trinkets that can be broken, and you were less likely to get hurt if we took things further.”
“Why aren’t we? Taking things further, I mean. I think I was beginning to get the hang of it.”
He didn’t bother with his waistcoat or jacket. Just clutched them in his hand. “Are you that naive?”
She could see the strain in his features, the white of his knuckles as he fisted his free hand. He strode over and lifted the rope as though he’d like to use it to strangle someone.
“This was a bad idea,” he said. “We need to go.”
“I thought it was a rather good idea.” She slipped beneath the rope. “Now I know how to punch Geoffrey the next time I see him.”
“Just remember to keep your wrist level. I shouldn’t like to be inconvenienced by your being hurt.”
She wished he’d smiled when he’d said that so she’d know whether he was joking. “Since we’re here, may I have a look around?”
He studied her for a moment. “I suppose no harm would come from a quick peek.”
She followed him out of the room, up two flights of stairs, and down a hallway with several rooms. She might have thought this was the bordello portion except that the doors were open. The walls were papered in burgundy, with gold vines. More tasteful than she would have expected. Gas lamps flickered along the walls. Glancing through a doorway into a room they were passing, she stopped.
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