Fighting for Survival…
Years earlier, Patience Storm, daughter of a late great fighter, had her heart broken by Godrick Gunnery. One of the most talented fighters ever trained by her father, Godrick lived with her family, and stole her heart… all the while withholding the truth of his identity. The day his betrayal was revealed, she vowed to banish him from her life forever. Now her father’s gone, her family’s in dire financial straits, and her brother’s in desperate need of an instructor to prepare him for a match against England’s most ruthless fighter. With nowhere else to turn, she sets aside her pride and seeks out the one man she swore never to see again.
Fighting for Redemption…
Godrick Gunnery’s mistakes cost him the only woman he ever loved, and he paid the price with a broken heart. After he lost Patience Storm, he devoted himself to building a fighting club that would rival Gentleman Jackson’s. But wealth and power hasn’t filled the hole in his empty life, and he’s reminded of all he lost when Patience comes to him with a favor.
Former Lovers Reunited
Now, as Patience and Godrick work together to prepare her brother for the big fight at Vauxhall, passions flare, and they remember the love they once shared. When the past resurfaces, Godrick will have to wage the most important fight of his life—the one for Patience’s love.
***This short novel, previously released as part of The Dukes of Vauxhall collection, is being made available for the first time ever, as a standalone novel. It features enhanced scenes and brand-new content.
From lords and ladies to sailors and thugs born to the streets, the whole of England was celebrating. Had been celebrating since victory was declared upon the battlefields of Waterloo.
All were celebrating… except for Miss Patience Storm. At this moment, she was nursing a brother—a badly injured brother—and trying not to think of the fact that, come the end of the month, they’d be without a home and funds and the fragile stability they’d known since their father’s passing.
From where she sat beside Samuel’s bed, Patience tested a knot just above his brow. A loud groan split the quiet of their cramped London residence. Even in a disjointed slumber, he moaned through his pain. He was better off for it. Better for her to tend his wounds this way than if he were fully alert.
“Mean Jack seized him by the breeches, miss,” Jeremy Tufts said from the doorway, calling her attention to where he’d been standing since he’d carried Samuel back from another failed match. “Not his fault.” She heard the defensive thread there. Two years younger than her twenty-year-old brother, Jeremy had expressed an admiration for the Storm family that came from their connection to the late bare-knuckle-fighting legend “The Tempest.”
“No,” she agreed. Not Samuel’s fault. But he should know better. She’d instructed him more times than she could count. Not everyone honored Broughton’s rules that governed fighting, and if one expected them to, one would find oneself as battered as Samuel was now. With a sigh, she bit back those words for his loyal friend. It would do no one good to speak now on all the reasons Sam had lost—again. “Thank you for helping him home.”
“Do ya need anything?” he asked, scrabbling with the hat in his hands.
A miracle, a fortune, and some fighting sense for her brother. Short of those, there was nothing she required. She forced a smile, her muscles strained under the weight of that falseness. “No. I’ll send word should I need you,” she assured him.
After he’d gone, Patience soaked a scrap of linen. After wringing out the excess moisture, she lowered the cloth to Samuel’s swollen right eye. He stirred, attempting to open his eyes, and then groaned. “Here,” she murmured. A knot had already formed just above his red eyebrow. Come tomorrow, he’d be fortunate if he had a slit he could even see light through. She prodded that wound, eliciting another agonized moan, a sound befitting a wounded pup their sister, Ruth, had once brought in to nurse back to health years earlier.
She grabbed another cloth and went through the same motions again and again, placing them upon each bruise, lump, and cut upon his face until Samuel stuck his hand up.
“You hate me,” he said hoarsely from behind the sea of cloths on his face. “Or you’re trying to kill me.”
For the first time since Jeremy had returned him from the losing match, her lips twitched.
“Oh, it’s certainly the latter,” their eighteen-year-old sister, Ruth, piped in, entering the room. At Samuel’s muffled grousing, the sisters shared a small smile. “You lost another one, Samuel,” she accused with the same gruff disappointment their late sire, the great bare-knuckle-boxing legend Tom Storm, had been notorious for.
“I had a bad go of it,” he mumbled. “Jack grabbed my breeches and snuck a punch to my kidney and groin.” He winced as Patience removed the strips of fabric. “Bloody hell, Patience.”
Gentling her touch, she lifted the now lukewarm cloths from his face with a sigh. His heavily battered face.
“Rules don’t apply in fighting,” Ruth snapped, coming over. The younger woman knew that, and she’d received even less tutelage from their father than Sam. The candle’s glow played off her sister’s features. She passed a gaze over him and whistled. That soft inhalation filled the small, cramped chambers. “You look like hell.”—That was being generous. Samuel had the look of one who’d been dragged by his heels through the streets of London.—“You know Donovan is three stone bigger and four inches taller.” She muttered something under her breath about being born the wrong gender.
As Ruth proceeded to lecture Samuel on the right and wrong way to battle a dirty opponent, Patience continued seeing to his wounds. Hotheaded and rash, he was very much like their late father… except where skill in bare-knuckle fighting was concerned. Tom Storm had been one of the most skilled, ruthless fighters. It was a talent he had not passed on to his son.
She stared over at the tiny window that overlooked the London streets. Then, their father had been otherwise busy schooling an altogether different fighter than his son. A man fleet of foot and fast of fist had earned her father’s admiration, and that had seen Samuel forgotten… until it was altogether too late. Apprentice gone, father ill, and just like that, all of Samuel’s hopes for lessons were gone as swiftly as that wicked fighter had entered and gone out of their lives.
Godrick Gunnery’s visage flashed in her mind’s eye, and the cloth slipped from her fingers. It fell with a noisy thump upon the hardwood floor.
“Are you all right?” her sister asked with concern in her voice.
Skin pricking from the intensity of her probing stare, Patience gave a jerky nod. “Fine,” she said quickly. Too quickly. She dropped to a knee and made a show of rescuing the linen. Why had he entered her thoughts? Why, after all these years, had he just slipped back in?
Because he’s always there. He’ll always be there.
Despite her resolve to never again think of the man who’d seen her as more than Storm’s daughter and treated her as a woman. Tamping down the unwanted memories of the only man who’d ever held her heart, a man who’d also broken it, she came to her feet. “Come,” she urged, tossing the cloth back into the bowl. “Sam needs to rest.”
“He needs an instructor,” Ruth insisted as soon as they’d stepped into the narrow hall.
Patience touched a finger to her lips.
Through the thin walls, Samuel cursed loudly a vile epithet that would have made most people blush. Then again, she and Ruth weren’t most people. They were two women born to a once-famous bare-knuckle fighter.
She quickened her strides. At nearly six feet tall, she built a steady distance between herself and her obstinate sister, who in her stockinged feet was almost a foot shorter.
“You know I’m right,” Ruth insisted, easily catching up. What she lacked in height, she made up for in spades with gumption.
Even separated by ten years, Patience and Ruth were the best of friends. Both level-headed. Logical. Clearheaded. “I didn’t disagree with you,” Patience pointed out as she entered the kitchen. Stalking over to the counter, she set to work wiping down the table, a task abandoned when Sam had returned from another failed match.
Though I wasn’t always reasonable…
Her fingers curled reflexively on the cloth in her hand. Samuel had always been the most dramatic of all the Storms. Papa had called it flair when Samuel was just a boy and said it was the gift that would see them one-day plump in the purse, with a lofty manor house in the country. It hadn’t taken long for their father to see that their fortunes would not be built upon Samuel’s back.
Which brought them to the dire financial situation they now found themselves in. “Edwin will—”
“Edwin will what?” her sister snapped. She’d been far less forgiving of their eldest brother’s vice and abandonment. After a fight he refused to speak of, he’d lost vision in his right eye and become a shell of the man he’d been. “He lives in a bottle and hasn’t come ’round in a fortnight. You expect he’s the instructor that Sam needs?”
Patience dusted a hand over her face. No. She didn’t. What were the bloody options at this point?
Her sister touched a hand to her shoulder, and she jumped. “He’s going to get killed in that match.”
“Quiet,” Patience demanded. That match, as they’d all taken to calling it, would see Samuel go up against London’s reigning champion, Oleander King, in a fight heralded as the Waterloo of bare-knuckle fighting. “He has time to prepare.”
Ruth scrunched her mouth up. “When he’s able to crawl out of bed after tonight’s match and with you as his instructor.”
Those pragmatic words were a statement that was stripped of all derision.
Damn her for being correct. Why was she always correct? “King can be beat,” she forced herself to say. Were those words meant to reassure herself? Or Ruth?
Her youngest sibling, far too wise for her years, glanced back toward Samuel’s room. She dropped her voice to a hushed whisper that barely reached Patience’s ears. “He’s going to get killed by King. Oleander King,” her sister muttered. “And do you know what his name even means?”
“No. I confess I don’t. Nor do I—”
“Poisonous flower,” Ruth interrupted. “His name means, actually means, ‘poisonous flower’.”
“Yes, well, Samuel’s not looking to smell him,” she said dryly. “Just knock him—owww.” Her sister punched her not-to-lightly in the arm.
“This is not the time to make jests about his ridiculous but ominous name,” she whispered furiously. “Sam’s not been picked to win this fight. You know that.”
No, the rub of it was, no one in the whole of England took the upcoming “battle” as anything more than what it clearly was—an orchestrated competition meant to serve as a play on that great, decisive Battle of Waterloo. No one, that was, except the Storm siblings. King had been pitted against him because Samuel’s damned fighting name was The Emperor, and a victory on King’s part would mark him as the next greatest fighter since…
Her stomach muscles tightened. “It doesn’t mean he can’t win. We have time.” Four weeks.
Except… how much time they had to prepare meant a good deal less than the fact that there wasn’t a proper instructor to train Samuel.
“It’s not time we need,” her said in an echo of Patience’s silent musings. Ruth drifted closer. “This is all you can impart,” she said, tapping Patience on the forehead. “Fighting can’t be taught in a schoolroom,” she went on with her usual logic. “You lost your post at Madame Bisset’s.” Guilt filled her. “And if Sam doesn’t win—?”
“I know what happens if we don’t have those funds.” The sharp retort exploded from her lips, and she quickly closed her eyes. She’d never possessed her mother’s skill with a needle. Ruth alone had inherited their mother’s innate ability. Patience stared at her callused hands. Blistered. Red. Sore from fighting a different battle than her brother or any prized fighter would—life was far rawer and ruthless than any match that saw Samuel bloodied and battered. And Madame Bisset had been far more patient with her clumsy efforts. But she’d not have Sam thinking about the desperately needed funds on which their family’s future hung. That worrying wouldn’t do anything for a clear head for the match.
Bitterness soured her mouth. How far they’d fallen. They’d gone from wearing fine satin garments and strolling through Hyde Park to scraping coin together for the food on their sparse table.
“If Sam doesn’t win this, Bartram is not going to allow him to fight anymore,” Ruth put in, interrupting Patience’s useless self-pitying. Then both she and Sam would be out of work, and the only funds available to them, the money Ruth earned as a seamstress at Madame Bisset’s. It wasn’t enough. They’d perish. “He promised—”
“I know what he said,” she hissed, her patience snapping. She hurled the cloth down, drew in a deep breath, and forced herself to calm the panic churning in her belly. “I know what he said,” she repeated, more for herself than the sister staring knowingly back.
Bartram Smith, the lead organizer of London’s big fights, didn’t give a jot who her father had been. As such, Patience had been cleaning up the financial mess left in her father’s wake… and doing an altogether miserable job of it for the better part of two years.
She rubbed her fingers over her forehead.
“He needs to win, or he’s not only going to be killed,” Ruth said in uncharacteristically solemn tones, “but we’ll starve.”
“We won’t starve,” she assured with far less conviction than she felt. She and Ruth had taken to laundering garments, but those monies would never be enough to survive. The muscles of Patience’s stomach tightened. And at twenty, her brother was full of a cocksure arrogance that was more dangerous in the streets of London than a faulty pistol put to a man’s head. It would never win him a match and had cost him countless ones before it. And now, their very stability rested on his shoulders.
“You know what you have to do.”
At last. They’d stop dancing around what her tenacious sister was really on about.
Restless, Patience stalked over to the window and drew it open. It did little to ease the oppressive heat of their cramped quarters. “I’m not asking for…” She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t even get his name out. How did her sister expect that she could humble herself by going to him and asking him to train Samuel? “…his help,” she gritted out, directing those words to the bustling streets below.
“You should have done so four years ago when Father died.”
A wasting illness had seen the once-powerful Storm reduced to a thin, frail shadow of the man he’d been. “For what purpose?” she asked tightly. The day she discovered the great lie he’d perpetrated against her family… me… she’d vowed to never see him again. But in her fury with his betrayal, she’d still believed that, with her father’s passing, he would have paid his respects. Tom Storm had taken him in like a son, trained him, and in the end, that same student had thought so little, he’d not come to her and her family upon her father’s death.
Ruth glared at her. “You’ll let your pride be our downfall.”
“My pride?” she echoed, storming across the room. She went toe-to-toe with her sister. “Is that what you think I was? A bitter lover? You’d condemn me for expecting more from a man our father trusted than to be lied to?” Hurt indignation flared in her breast.
“You’re the only woman who’d rather have a street fighter from London than a duke’s son.”
She would have rather had a man who’d not lied to her about his identity. A man who’d been capable of honesty and who’d loved her enough to not keep those secrets.
“Go to him,” Ruth urged.
“He didn’t even come when father passed,” Patience cried, and then closed her eyes, drawing in a deep breath. When she trusted herself to speak, she attempted to explain to Ruth, who’d been only a girl at the time. “It was never about his birthright,” she said, her voice emerging as a broken whisper.
Patience forced her gaze elsewhere. She’d not share those details with her sister. He’d entered her life, slipped inside her heart, and all along there had been another. A proper miss to whom he’d been betrothed and never mentioned. Yes, those heartbreaking details had shattered her and would have certainly been the death knell for her younger sister’s adoration for the Duke of the Ring. Though, she didn’t know why it should matter whether her sister or brother hated Godrick Gunnery with the same vitriolic loathing that she did.
Mayhap because in their adulation they’d preserved some of the innocence Patience had lost early on. Or, mayhap it was because, even with the betrayal between them, part of her heart would belong to him forever. “You cannot have a relationship built on a foundation of lies,” she said. Which was precisely what Godrick Gunnery had done. The least lie being his birthright, and the greatest being that he’d been betrothed to one of those lofty ladies who’d paid Patience a visit and not only revealed her identity but shared evidence that Godrick had merely been toying with the lowborn daughter of a boxer.
Her heart spasmed all over again. Damn him. And damn her and her inability to make any of their lives right.
“No,” her sister said in surprising agreement. “But neither can you feed a family without coin.”
She winced. Touché.
Ruth gave her head a pitying shake. “I’ll not mention the Duke again.” You just did.
“Do not call him that,” she said tersely. The Duke of the Ring was the name the fighting world gave Godrick Gunnery after he’d handily beaten his first opponent.
“But that is his fighting name.” Yes, it was. Earned after a crowd had proclaimed, Godrick the fighter with noble roots capable of smiting any opponent like the Lord himself. It perfectly suited a commanding gentleman of strength and power. “No. You’ll never hear me so much as suggest that you pay Godrick a visit—”
“You said you wouldn’t mention him again,” she said brusquely.
“Very well. I’ll go see to Samuel. And his bruises. Hopefully, he’s still breathing—”
“Enough, Ruth.” Patience leveled a glower on her persistent sibling.
Muttering to herself in her typical Ruth fashion, her sister marched off. As soon as the click of the door resonated in the still, Patience let loose a long stream of curses. Damn her sister for being correct. It hardly mattered how many years younger she was, Ruth possessed an insight and resolve most of the fighters Tom Storm had schooled over the years did not.
Except one. There had been one indomitable figure that no other person could or would ever compare to.
She stalked to the window and began to knock her forehead rhythmically against the lead windowpane.
Patience knew precisely what she had to do.