Night of the Scoundrel

By: Kelly Bowen

A Devils of Dover Novella




Chapter 1



London, England

December 1820

King had seen the beginning of the fight.

He’d been standing too far away to keep it from starting but close enough to know how it would end. The three men who had slunk up the darkened alley had been arrogant mongrels, sure of their position as the superior predator. King knew their type—malice, avarice, or a combination of both snuffing any glimmer of intelligence.

He wondered if, even for a second, the men had questioned how an ebony-haired angel, dressed in dark breeches and a midnight coat, had appeared in such a filthy place and yet remained untouched and unscathed. Her cold demeanor and her utter lack of alarm should have given them at least a moment’s pause, but it appeared as though uncommon beauty and uncommon opportunity had stirred the men’s blood and rendered them oblivious to their peril.

By the time King reached the mouth of the alley, the largest of the three men was already staggering against the rough stone wall, doubled over. The two remaining assailants were circling her with small knives, blood blooming into the fabric along the edges of a half dozen cuts and punctures in their clothing. They were outmatched, King knew, even if they didn’t. And the best thing for them to do would be to flee—but this had become a matter of pride. One that they would never settle to their satisfaction, if they even survived.

The angel’s rapier flashed in the twilight, like a flare of lightning, and King assessed the ease and the balance with which the woman handled the long-needled blade. Someone, at some point, had given this woman the sort of technical instruction reserved for aristocratic sons. Someone with the sort of wealth and security that allowed one to fight for mere sport and amusement. An indulgent father. A conspiring brother, perhaps. Or maybe a smitten lover.

Yet the black-clad angel also wielded a knife in her other hand, the blade long and curved and stained scarlet along the edge. There was nothing aristocratic about this weapon. It was nothing less than an unadorned instrument of death, and it sat as easily in her hand as the rapier. Someone else had tutored her. Someone who had learned to fight for survival, not entertainment.

Her booted feet made no sound as she circled, keeping a careful eye on the remaining two attackers.

“Whore,” the taller of the two snarled, thrusting his knife toward her.

She danced back, her rapier deflecting a similar offensive by the second thug as he lunged at her from the side. “When the occasion requires,” she murmured.

King tightened his hand on the smooth silver knob of his walking stick. Her face was expressionless, a mask of concentration, and to intervene now would be dangerous. A distraction could prove her undoing.

The thickset assailant groaned from where he still sagged against the wall and abruptly dropped to the ground.

The woman tipped her head. “Your friend is bleeding. He requires your assistance. Take him and go.”

“And you’ll pay for that, ye poxy bitch, afore we go anywhere.”

“I have no quarrel with you.” Her voice was devoid of inflection.

“Ye need to be taught a lesson.”

A ghost of a smile touched her lips, but it was chilling. “There is nothing you can teach me that I haven’t already learned, I can assure you.”

It was the shorter man who moved first, another desperate lunge with a rusty blade that should have gutted her from the side. She twisted, her curved blade sweeping down on his wrist in a flash of quicksilver. The man’s knife clattered to the stone as he crumpled, and his pitiful scream was drowned out by the infuriated roar of the man who remained standing. He came at her in a blind charge, his blade raised high above his shoulder.

Fool.

From where he stood, King heard the crunch of bone as the pommel of her knife snapped his head back, blood spurting like a geyser from his nose. She spun, her leg striking down on her attacker’s low and hard at his knee. The man collapsed in an ignoble pile next to his consorts, writhing and moaning.

The woman, who looked like an angel but fought like Lucifer himself, stood silently for a moment before wiping her blades on the coat of the nearest fallen man. She sheathed both weapons and, in the pale gray light, caught in profile alone against the cold stone, looked more weary than triumphant.

A strange feeling curled deep through King’s chest, peculiar tendrils of…empathy? Longing? He almost took a step forward before he caught himself, swallowing hard against his momentary weakness. A woman such as this did not need empathy.

And he did not need to tarry at the mouth of this stinking cesspool of an alley. He was already late. He should return across the street and to his carriage, which awaited him. In less than four hours he would have the cream of London society in his ballroom, every greedy, grasping peer vying with every other to attain the unattainable. His auctions were as exclusive as they were legendary, and he needed to ensure preparations at his estate had been completed.

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