Dear Mr. Clemens,
Your readers might be interested to peek into the noble world of prizefighting, pugilism and beyond. This reader has too many questions for what is proper and what is right when it comes to the social aspect of athletes. Perhaps your column may help me find the answers I seek.
If there was ever a champion of hearts, former pugilist “Corinthian” John Arthur could contend for the title. Those who consider themselves amongst The Fancy will recognize the now-unblemished visage of the man from those infamous mills. Just as many of our other pugilistic favorites have gone on to flourish in other professions that don’t require fists, Mr. Arthur has shown prowess with pocket change. For once a pugilist retires, is he not still the ennobled fellow we cheered for, and dare I say, gambled for?
Gone are his blackened eyes and scraped knuckles. Some say he’s found patrons amongst the Mayfair set. Some say he’s found a patroness.
Could it be the lovely yet unmatched eldest daughter of Lord L___? Despite her lively figure, she’s so close to being on the shelf that her younger sister must dust her daily! It did not go unnoticed that Mr. Arthur danced with the lady at the private ball of Lady B____.
Would we cheer such a matching, now that the prizefighter has a home in Marylebone? Is he still the heroic figure he once was, or now that his days of fisticuffs have drawn to a close, we withdraw our favor? As for the lady who seems to have captured his eye, do we condemn this particular thorny flower to wilt on the vine, or let her pursue a match that is less agreeable to her lineage?
Lady Lydia Sommerset is an earl’s daughter. At the ripe age of twenty-five, she still wears the lavish gowns and dances the dainty steps of the haute ton as if she were pursuing a husband; but her goals are far more personal. Instead, she pursues her tormenters: the men who bet that taking a girl’s virginity really can cure a brothel’s plague. Pugilism, England’s manliest pastime, is her only relief. Training in secret with a female boxer keeps her sane, but when her instructor is hired away by one of the men she is seeking to destroy, she is in a bind.
John Arthur was a street kid who dazzled with his fists, he now impresses as a miracle worker on the London Stock Exchange. But a man can’t forget a boyhood spent in the gutter. Easy-going and affable, John Arthur knows he should be happy with a full belly and coin-filled pockets. But when he finds a woman who finds boxing as vital as he does, his life gets suddenly complicated.
Caught between revenge and finding love with a man who might truly understand her, Lady Lydia must commit to opening her heart or closing it forever.
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Excerpt from A Lady’s Revenge
John walked into the crowd. The ring was marked out by lazy ropes on the floor, men crowding the lines. Typically, the ladies’ fight was first, but some young amateurs must have taken the opening slot. Ladies’ fights worked the crowd into a frenzy. Hopefully, Vasily could properly protect Lady Lydia when the time came.
Bess was nowhere to be seen. John pushed through the mob of people. The mill was still going none of the men wanted to let him pass, so he elbowed the best he could. Before he knew it, he was face to face with Vasily, whose meaty, folded arms gave no unsure impression of his feelings.
“Hello, old friend,” John said, restoring his aristocratic dialect.
Lady Lydia peered around the mountain of a man, surprise writ across her face. Her hood was still up, masking those who might try to recognize her, but anyone who knew Vasily would spot her instantly.
“What are you doing here?”she demanded. Her eyes trailed down to his undone cravat and partially unbuttoned shirt.
He’d fight bare-chested, but the first ceremony of any match was peeling off the garments. The room was already hot with anticipation of blood.
“I should ask you the same. This is no place for a lady,” he said. “Are you part of the Fancy?” His eyes flicked to the big man. The crowd erupted. John didn’t need to look at the ring to know that one of the fighters was knocked out. Money would be changing hands soon, the ring would be cleared, and the next match would be set.
Lady Lydia glanced to the ring and back to him. People elbowed past, everyone wanting the best vantage point. She was uncomfortable with him, that much was clear, but she didn’t seem to be bothered by the jostling masses. She seemed the type to abhor the crush of this sweaty basement, but here she was, at ease with them and not with him.
“Should you need any further assistance,” he said, glancing at the pony-sized driver, “I am at your disposal. However, I have a pressing matter in just a few more minutes.”
“You took a fight on the same night as our invitation to dine?” She seemed insulted.
Should she be insulted? He fought every night he could, and the invitation was issued days before he knew the night of the fight. It was the only way they could keep ahead of the magistrates.
“A prizefighter must fight hat’s in the name, is it not? So what good would I be if I turned down such invitations, whether to dine or to bleed?”
“That’s a pretty speech for a half-dressed man,” she countered.
“You should hear my speeches when I am thoroughly undressed,” he said, flashing a smile that he was almost certain would earn him a backhand from her driver.
“I’m not certain I could stand it,” she said, not batting an eye.
He took a step forward, not thinking, just wanting to engage her further, smell her hair somehow? Oranges and vanilla would be a far sight better than the stink of unwashed men. But Vasily wedged his foot between John’s and hers. He retreated, and Vasily gave a grunt of approval.
“I would be happy to help you push your limits,” John said, bowing as best he could amongst the crowd.
“Fine manners, wot you got,” he heard from beside him.
He straightened to see Bess Abbott standing there, hands on hips, towering over Lady Lydia and damn near looking the Russian bear in the eye.
“Bess!” He clapped his hand on her shoulder and shook her hand with the other.
“John,” she said, grinning. “Like the old days, right? Me on first, then you bringing in the crowd for the crimson end.”
“Nuffin’ like old mates,” he said, his accent shifting again.
He glanced past Vasily’s meat barrier to Lady Lydia, who was looking at him with an expression he couldn’t read. What better time to scandalize the highborn than when they went slumming?
Meet Edie Cay
Katie Stine, writing as Edie Cay, has an MFA in Creative Writing, a bachelor’s degree in English as well as a bachelor’s degree in Music. She is a history buff, an avid traveler, and an eager reader of all genres. She has lived all over the United States, but currently calls California home. Under her other name, she has published articles and participated in documentary filmmaking. She is a member of the Paper Lantern Writers, a historical fiction author collective, as well as a member of the Historical Novel Society. A LADY’S REVENGE is her first published novel.