Venture Delving is a bonded servant, a member of the lowest class in the world. Already fatherless, when he loses his mother, he veers from energetic to out of control. But when Venture’s rage saves the life of Jade, his best friend and his master’s daughter, Venture finds himself in the last place he ever expected—a center renowned for training young boys to be professional fighters.
When Venture realizes he’s fallen in love with Jade, he knows that the only way he’ll ever have her, the only way he’ll ever be free to live the life he’s meant to live, is to defy convention, common sense, the trust of those he cares about most—and sometimes the law—and become the best fighter in the world, the Champion of All Richland. Venture must battle not only rival fighters, but the ghosts of his past and the members of a privileged warrior class who stand between him and his dream.
Targeted Age Group: Teen
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I’ve been involved in combat sports since I was a teen and my experience with fighters of all sorts fueled this story. The world of fighters is really fascinating, and I wanted to share it with readers in a unique way—a way anyone could identify with, because I truly believe there’s a fighter in all of us.
Earnest was careful not to pair Venture and Border up for swordplay, and so he made it through the rest of training without getting into trouble. It was a shame though, for it was Jade’s day for her weekly self-defense lesson, and she’d shown up matside. She would have liked to see Venture give Border a few nice welts.
“Vent,” she said when he came to greet her and to retrieve his bag, “I had Able bring me a few minutes early so I could see your new class.”
“What’d you think?”
“As usual, you outshone them all,” she said dramatically.
“Ha, ha.” Venture resisted the urge to give her a gentle shove.
She leaned in close. “Seriously, some of the boys outside said Hunter Longlake showed up, trying to get you kicked out of here.”
“Beamer says I’m fine as long as I stay out of trouble.”
She gave him a skeptical look.
“Well, that’s not exactly your strong-point, is it? It’s true the only kind of trouble you get into lately is with Border and his friends, but then that’s exactly the kind of trouble you’re talking about, isn’t it?”
Before Venture could respond, Web, a boy who’d recently arrived from the Eastern Quarter, smiled self-consciously at Jade. “Vent, who’s your friend?”
He was a nice enough kid, but still, Venture wanted to give him a good whack and warn him that the next time he looked at her, he’d better make sure she stayed all the way dressed in his head.
“His friend?” Border came up to them, his face all grin. “That’s funny. I thought she was his master’s daughter.”
Jade caught Venture’s eye. Her look pleaded with him, Please Vent, be careful. Calm down.
“That too,” he said cooly, putting a hand on Jade’s elbow and moving past Border, toward the doorway, before Border could say anything else.
But a tall, broad-shouldered frame filled that doorway, ending Venture’s hope for a dignified exit. Justice. His mouth was set in a disapproving line.
“Hello.” Jade gave Justice a polite smile, and Venture another warning look.
“Hey,” Venture said grudgingly.
“Miss Jade,” Flora called from the hallway, “we’ll be late!” Flora was just as tall as Venture, and, as a result of working alongside her father, the bladesmith, she was nearly as sturdy. On the surface, the girls seemed to have nothing in common, but Flora was one of Jade’s few classmates, and her only true friend outside the Fieldstone household.
“Coming!” Jade turned to Venture. “Able drove me here. He’s waiting outside to take you home. Father’s got a mountain of records waiting for you tonight,” she said confidentially. “He says he needs a set of good, young eyes to go over them with him, but I think he just misses having you around the house all day.”
No doubt he wanted to know how things had gone today. And what was Venture going to say about that?
“Good-bye, Vent,” Jade said. “Justice.”
Justice said good-bye to her, then turned on Venture with a fierce whisper. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Going to get dressed so I can get to work. What are you doing?”
“I decided to drop by on my way home and see how things were going.”
“You’re checking up on me.”
“I’m your guardian. I have responsibilities.”
As though Venture knew nothing about responsibilities.
Justice put a hand on his back and nudged him aside. He lowered his voice. “What are you doing, being so casual with her in a place like this? She is Jade Fieldstone.”
“I know who she is.” Venture shrugged his hand off. “I have to go change.”
When he emerged from the changing room, Justice was still there in the hallway, putting on his gloves.
“You don’t seem to understand.” Justice picked up right where they’d left off. “She’s a beautiful girl from a good family. Before you know it, she’ll be the most desired lady in Springriver county.”
Venture slipped by and headed for the center door, buttoning his coat.
“And she’s going to have to start acting like it.”
“How’s that your business?” Venture pushed the front door open.
On the stoop, Justice caught Venture’s arm. “You’re my business. What do you think people see when they look at the two of you together?”
Venture pulled away.
“They think something improper is going on.”
“At the very least, they see a young bondsman who doesn’t know his place. They think someone ought to put you in your place.”
Venture stuffed back a stream of curses and stepped down to the path. First Hunter and now Justice, reminding him about his place.
“It’s nothing but trouble for you.”
Nothing but trouble? His friendship with Jade was the only good thing that had come out of the terrible things that had happened to both of them. He spun around. “How am I supposed to just stop being friendly to my mistress? She isn’t going to like it and she is the boss, isn’t she?” he said sarcastically.
“She’s never been the boss to you.”
“That’s right. Jade doesn’t want to be my boss.” They’d settled that the day they’d met, and she hadn’t given him another order since.
“You explain to her what I’ve told you, and if she really cares about you, she’ll agree to leave you alone.”
No, she wouldn’t. Jade would cling all the more tightly to their friendship, be all the more obvious about it out of spite to anyone who would try to tell her who she could befriend.
“I am not going to do that.” He threw his bag down and glared up at Justice. Would decking his brother count as getting into another fight?
Justice’s hands curled into fists. “Do you think Grant Fieldstone is the only one who can give you a beating for that—that kind of defiance?”
Venture had learned to judge a man’s hands. His brother had heavy hands, hands that could do some damage. Still, he said, “If that’s what you want to do, then go ahead and do it.”
Justice flinched slightly, then straightened up, folded his arms, and pronounced with quiet, commanding resolve, “Things aren’t this way because I want them to be. If you want to blame someone for the way things are, then blame the Cresteds.” He nodded his head toward the street. There was Border, chatting away with Hunter Longlake.
“They’re the ones who started it all,” Justice said, “and they’re the ones who keep things the way they are. Even if you disagree with me about the timing, you know you have to end this friendship eventually.”
Venture clenched his mouth shut. It was true, and he hated it.
“Do you want it to be when someone makes an accusation about you, or do you want Grant Fieldstone and everyone else to see that you’re a young man, able to do the right thing, the honorable thing, on your own?”
Venture glanced at Border again. Border, kissing up to his Crested friend. He ought to be preparing for a career in politics, not the Warforce. Accusing him of doing something improper with his master’s daughter was just the sort of thing Border would do. The sort of thing that could ruin not just Venture’s life, but Jade’s. And the perfect way to punish Grant Fieldstone for breaking with tradition. Grant, who’d risked so much for him. He felt sick at the thought.
He turned back to Justice. “What do you want me to do?”
“Call her Miss Fieldstone. Treat her the same way every other manservant in the house treats her. The way you treat her grandmother.”
Venture didn’t move, didn’t pick up his bag as Justice proceeded down the path. When Justice glanced over his shoulder to see if he was coming, he crossed his arms and stood firm.
“When will you be home tonight?”
“Master wants my help going over his accounts. It could be late.” Hopefully. Hours poring over columns of mind-numbing numbers with Grant would be preferable to stretching out by the fire with Justice.
“I expect you to come home as soon as you’re dismissed,” Justice said pointedly.
Venture gritted his teeth. It’s pretty clear what you expect, what you think of me, Justice. He’d had enough of Justice’s expectations. Enough of everyone’s expectations.
About the Author:
R.H. Russell has had a head full of stories for as long as she can remember. She wrote her first book in kindergarten and has been hooked ever since. When she’s not writing, she’s coaching judo and traveling with the amazing, talented kids on her judo club’s National Team. She also writes the Unicorns of the Mist series as R.R. Russell.