Jasper threw the knife into the air, giving it a twist, and caught the hilt with ease. “She’s not my captive.”
“Then where is she? And what was the meaning of this morning’s note?” Winter demanded curtly, eying the knife as Jasper toyed with it.
Winter wasn’t scared of the blade. He knew that. Just as Jasper knew he wasn’t going to use it. But sometimes, a show of force was necessary. He’d had ample time to consider his battle plan for today last night whilst tossing and turning in one of the girls’ narrow beds in Loge’s old room.
Long into the early hours of the dawn, he had stared into the shadows of the ceiling, calling himself every kind of fool for thinking he could marry a fine lady. The daughter of a lord. And yet, Octavia was different. She had developed an instant affinity with the twins from the first moment they had met. And instead of fleeing last night when the girls had attempted to seek him out and unlocked the chamber door, she had settled in with Anne and Elizabeth.
She had told them a story.
She knew them apart when almost no one else did.
But also, he was selfish. He wanted her in his bed. Not Mrs. Martin. Nor any other. He wanted her.
He was going to have her.
“She is in my chamber,” he told Demon Winter now, flipping his knife into the air and making another quick catch of the hilt without doing himself any harm.
Winter started forward, his countenance menacing, fists clenched. “Your chamber? If you have violated her—”
“Now, Winter,” he interrupted
before he could offer further insult. “What manner of gentleman do you think I am?”
“I do not think anything,” Winter bit out. “I know you are not a gentleman. Your actions for as long as I have known you, aside from aiding my brother, have shown it.”
Jasper could not argue the point. He took pride in not being a gentleman. He was not like the Winters, who possessed a wealthy merchant branch of their family and had married into nobility. He did not covet titles. He hated manners and rules, the dandies with their papa’s money, the ladies with airs who looked down their noses at the world. Polite society could damned well go hang.
Nor had he ever been a man keen to show weakness. A man did not claw his way up from the lowest of the rookeries by fretting over manners, education, or speech. He had never seen the inside of a drawing room or a ballroom. And that suited him fine.
He inclined his head, watching Demon Winter as he tossed the knife to his opposite hand. An excellent skill to possess—Jasper was adept with either hand.
“You are right,” he acknowledged. “I ain’t a gentleman. But I would never mistreat Lady Octavia in any fashion. That I swear upon my honor.”
“Your recent actions suggest you do not possess any honor either.”
Winter was treading dangerously near to the thin line within Jasper where amusement and irritation met. He tossed his knife through the air, and it hurtled end over end, landing in the wall just past Demon Winter’s broad shoulder. Missing him by plenty. Harming the man was not Jasper’s intention.
“Careful, Winter. You’ll not be wanting to make me angry,” he warned.
“The same is true for myself and my family,” Winter countered, seemingly unimpressed by Jasper’s words. “We protect our own.”
“Ah, but Lady Octavia does not belong to the Winters,” Jasper pointed out, smiling. “She belongs to me.”
“She is an innocent and a lady,” Winter said.
Jasper stared at his opponent, then gave a careless shrug. Her station mattered naught to him. He was Jasper Sutton, and he took what he wanted, when he wanted it. Because he could. Because he had spilled enough blood, crossed enough palms with blunt, defeated enough enemies.
“Have you nothing to say for yourself?” Winter asked, his frustration evident.
“I want Lady Octavia as my wife.” His blunt announcement stunned the other man for a moment.
Only a moment.
“No,” Winter said harshly. “You cannot have her, Sutton.”
Again, he shrugged, feeling triumphant and unable to keep the smug grin from his lips. “I already do.”
Winter’s nostrils flared. “I will call the charleys if I must.”