Devil in Winter Page 53

“If you’re referring to the kind of tactics used in rookery brawls, and quarrels over back-alley bobtails—”

“You’re not going for a half hour of light exercise at the pugilistic club,” Cam said acidly.

Sebastian opened his mouth to argue, but as he saw Evie drawing closer something changed in his face. It was a response to the anxiety that she couldn’t manage to hide. For some reason her concern gently undermined his hostility, and softened him. Looking from one to the other, Cam observed the subtle interplay with astute interest.

“Have you been hurt?” Evie asked, looking over him closely. To her relief, Sebastian appeared disheveled and riled, but free of significant damage.

He shook his head, holding still as she reached up to push back a few damp amber locks that were nearly hanging in his eyes. “I’m fine,” he muttered. “Compared to the drubbing I received from Westcliff, this was nothing.”

Cam interrupted firmly. “There are more drubbings in store, milord, if you won’t take a few pointers on how to fight.” Without waiting for Sebastian’s assent, he went to the doorway and called, “Dawson! Come back here for a minute. No, not for work. We need you to come take a few swings at St. Vincent.” He glanced back at Sebastian and remarked innocently, “Well, that got him. He’s hurrying over here.”

Biting back a sudden smile, Evie withdrew to the corner, understanding that Cam’s intention was to help her husband. If Sebastian insisted on sparring according to gentlemen’s rules, he would be no match against the ruthless attacks he might encounter.

Dawson, a burly young employee, entered the room.

“Dawson is the best fighter we’ve got,” Cam remarked. “He’s going to show you a few basic maneuvers to down a man quickly. Dawson, give Lord St. Vincent a cross buttock. Gently, though—it wouldn’t do to break his back.”

Looking more than pleased to practice the maneuver on Sebastian, Dawson charged him in a few heavy strides, hooked a meaty arm around his neck, grasped his loose arm, and canted him over his shoulder, causing Sebastian to flip over violently. He landed on his back with a pained grunt. Dawson was about to jump onto his abdomen when Cam interceded hastily, diving forward to grab the enthusiastic young man by the shoulder. “Good, Dawson. Very good. That’s enough for now. Back off, please.”

Evie watched the proceedings with a clenched fist pressed against her mouth.

Cam reached down a hand to help Sebastian up. Spurning the offer, Sebastian rolled and rose to his feet, regarding him with a scowl so forbidding that it would have given most men pause, before continuing. Cam, however, spoke in an instructional tone. “It’s a simple move, really. When your sides come together, lock your arm around the other man’s neck, seize his arm, and shift your body like so, and then he’ll go over quite easily. Depending on how hard you slam him to the ground, he’ll be unable to move for several seconds. Here, try it with me.”

It was to Sebastian’s credit that he exercised restraint while practicing the procedure on Cam. He learned quickly, flipping the Gypsy to the ground with an odd mixture of efficiency and reluctance. “I can’t fight this way,” he muttered.

Cam ignored the comment. “Now, if you’re seized from behind, you can usually break it with a backward head butt. Start with your head down, chin to the chest. Clench your teeth, keep your mouth shut, and jerk your head back, hard and fast, into his face. No need to take aim. And for the forward head butt…have you done this before? No? Well, the trick is to keep your eyes on your opponent while you’re doing it. Aim for a soft part of the face—never go for his forehead or skull. Use your body weight, and try to strike with the area about one inch above your brows.”

Sebastian tolerated the lesson with baleful reluctance, while the two younger men demonstrated throat strikes, foot stomps, and other techniques for attacking the vulnerable places of the human body. He participated when called on to do so, displaying a physical aptitude that seemed to please Cam. However, when the boy began on various methods for delivering a groin kick, it appeared that Sebastian had endured enough.

“That’s it,” he growled. “No more, Rohan.”

“But there are still a few things—”

“I don’t give a damn.”

Cam exchanged a glance with Evie, who shrugged and shook her head slightly, neither of them understanding the source of his aggravation. After a moment, Cam dismissed Dawson with a few words of praise, and shooed him out of the room.

Turning to Sebastian, who was tugging on his coat with barely suppressed violence, Cam asked calmly, “What is the problem, milord?”

Sebastian made a scornful sound. “I’ve never pretended to be a model of virtue. And I’ve done things in the past that would make the devil cringe. But there are certain things that even I can’t stoop to. Men of my position don’t stomp feet, knee the groin, or butt heads while they’re fighting. Nor do they engage in throat punching, tripping, or God help me, hair pulling.”

Though Evie would have thought it impossible for Cam’s eyes to look cold, they were suddenly as hard as chunks of frosted amber.

“What exactly is your position, if you don’t mind my asking?” the Gypsy inquired in a lightly barbed tone. “Are you a nobleman? You’re not living like one. You’re sleeping in a gaming club, in a room recently vacated by a pair of whores. Are you a man of leisure? You’ve just ended the evening breaking up a fight between a pair of sodden idiots. It’s a bit late to turn particular now, isn’t it?”

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