“I will not do it and you cannot make me.” Lady Natalia Waltham’s dark eyes flashed and her delicate hands fisted on her hips as she turned upon Mr. Zander Thwaite, her guardian and most frequent debate opponent.
“Ah, but I can and will. Your father entrusted me with your care and upbringing—though what I ever did to him to deserve it, I shall never know. Regardless, the decision as to your spouse was made by your father before his death. It was his wish for you to marry Lord Banyon and it is my duty to carry out that request.”
“And why am I only now learning that my fate was sealed long ago and without my knowledge and consent?”
Zander sighed. She could be most exasperating. “I am sure your father intended to inform you of this arrangement as soon as his health had recovered enough for him to do so. Unfortunately, events did not go as he had planned. Regardless, Lord Banyon will be a most suitable husband.”
“Suitable?” Lady Natalia’s skirts swirled and swished as she stomped around the library of Slattery Hall. “A hat is suitable. The preparation of roasted venison is suitable. I should think the selection of a man who is to know me most… intimately…” she blushed at the word and paused briefly before continuing, “ought to be more than suitable.”
She stared out the large picture window, her breath coming in shallow pants, causing her chest to rise and fall rapidly within the confines of her dress before turning to address him again. “I am the mistress of this house, as you well know. I ought to have you tossed to the street for making such a preposterous suggestion.”
“As you well know, my dear Tallie, your father’s will specifically states I am to have residence here until you are wed.”
“I suppose that is why you are in such a rush to have me totted off to Lord Banyon. I am sorry to keep you from your carefree bachelor lifestyle.”
“My ‘bachelor lifestyle,’ as you call it, is none of your concern and your insinuation that I am being less than diligent in my duties as your guardian because it does not suit my own plans is incorrect and insulting. I demand an immediate apology from you.”
Tallie sniffed and walked away. “Was it a meeting of the guardian benevolent society that kept you out last night until nearly three a.m.?”
“Do not turn away from me, Natalia.”
Ignoring his instructions, she spoke over her shoulder, “What does it matter? I shall not be your concern much longer.”
She picked up a copy of the morning newspaper, sat upon a wing chair with her feet on the coffee table, and opened it wide, like a large screen between them.
Zander inhaled deeply, refusing to allow her to know she had caused him pique. He had not sought out the role of guardian, but he would not shirk his duty. He cared too much for the friend who had entrusted him with Tallie’s care to dishonor his memory by doing a poor job.
He had been hesitant to discipline the headstrong girl. He now regretted that decision and chalked it up to foolish optimism and an unfounded hope of her adopting a more mature attitude toward life and her obligations to herself, her family line, and her station in life.
As he tugged the newspaper from her hands, she refused to release it and thus she retained several scraps of paper between her fingers while he held the bulk of the newspaper, which he rolled into a tube and used to swat her legs off the table.
“How dare you?” She wadded up the papers in her hands and threw them at him. They bounced off his jacket and landed on the floor.
“Pick those up,” he said.
She stood and walked in the direction of the pull cord, presumably to call a servant for the task. He took hold of her arm as she passed him. She glared at him and he returned her stare.
“You are stubborn and defiant.”
“If I am those things, it is my right to be so. You are my guardian, nothing more,” she said with a dismissive shrug. “What are you going to do? Make me stand in the corner?”
His fingers tightened around her upper arm. “Oh, there is plenty I can and will do. You have finally worn out my patience. Congratulations.”
He guided her back to the center of the room and stopped where the wads of newspaper littered the floor. “We will start with you cleaning up the mess you made.” He released his hold on her, then stood with his arms crossed over his chest.
She glanced at the offensive bits of rubbish on the floor, then her eyes met his. “I am Lady Natalia Waltham. According to you, I am meant to marry an influential lord. I do not do housework.”
“Well, we shall see about that.”
Zander had known Tallie for years and was quite familiar with her recalcitrant nature, but this display was the worst he had seen. He could not allow it to go any further, for her sake as well as his own.
Taking hold of her arm again, he led her to the large desk in the center of the room. He tipped her shoulders down until she leaned across the massive piece of furniture.
“What do you think you are doing?” Her head swiveled to the right and she stared at him.
“Teaching you a lesson.” His hand landed with a firm swat on the center of her heavily gowned derriere. Despite himself, his fingers lingered over the roundness of her buttocks for a delicious moment before he pulled back and swatted again.
“Stop this instant,” Natalia shrieked in surprise and stomped her foot against the thick carpet, which absorbed any sound the sole of her shoe might have made. Apparently frustrated at the lack of impact created by stomping her feet, she pounded her fists on the polished wood of the desk. “Stop, I say. How dare you!”
Zander continued to pepper her backside with firm smacks, while she protested the indignity of it all. “I dare because it is my duty to instruct you in the ways of proper society, since you seem to have forgotten the manners which had been taught to you previously.”
“Perhaps you ought to seek a refund from the Hammersmith School if you are dissatisfied with the way I have turned out. You sent me there, so you, not I, bear the responsibility for the outcome.” She slammed her hands on the desk again and pushed up as if to move from her assigned position.
Zander placed his palm between her shoulder blades and held her in place, the side of her face pressed against the hard surface of the desk.
He landed another swat. Despite his clear authority over the situation and her person, he did not control her sharp tongue. “You are nothing but a brute.”
“If you are still able to use your caustic tongue, I must not be making my point sufficiently.” Reaching down, he gathered up the layers of her skirts and piled them at the base of her spine. When she realized his intention, Tallie squawked like an angry rooster and renewed her foot stomping and fist pounding.
“Wha-what? ‘Tis scandalous! I-I have never…” She sputtered and fussed and could barely get out a complete sentence. Zander gave a yank to the ribbon holding up her pantalets and when they fell to the floor, Tallie’s body went rigid beneath his palm, which still rested between her shoulder blades.
Spying a ruler on the edge of the desk, Zander put it to good use, swatting a rapid rhythm across the creamy globes of her arse, leaving a series of red stripes on her tender flesh.
He stood, legs braced, one hand holding her in place, the other wielding the ruler.
“Ouch. This is disgraceful. I demand you stop immediately.” Tallie danced on her tiptoes as the ruler continued to slap across her backend. “Oh, oh. Zander, stop.”
“You are in no position to make demands upon me, Natalia. I believe that is the crux of your problem.”
“My problem is the heathen of a man my father named as my guardian. He must have been in the throes of a fever at the time he signed those documents,” she hissed. A grimace of pain covered her face and she smacked her palms on the desk in protest.
With a flick of his wrist, Zander caught the underside of her cheek, just above the thigh.
“Bloody hell!” She turned her head to glare at him.
“Unless you would like to have your mouth soaped, I suggest you keep your tongue still.”
With another glare, she set her jaw and turned her face away from him. That was small progress, though it was a step in the right direction. She continued to hold her body rigid and he was determined to keep swatting until she gave over to him. He landed a couple more on the delicate flesh on the underside of her arse and he heard her sniffle.
Tallie had stopped her protests and the only sounds in the room of ancient books and family heirlooms was the smack of the ruler on her bare bottom combined with Tallie’s gasping breaths. The stubborn girl needed to learn this lesson, as well as several others, and he would not stop until he had completed the task.
The entire surface of her backend glowed crimson and finally he felt her body relax beneath his palm. Her hands, which had been pounding on the desk in protest, were now folded beneath her head and she quietly sobbed into her sleeves.
Her ragged breathing rasped beneath his hand. He paused his discipline to assess her current state.
He allowed himself a moment to gaze upon her punished bottom, the pink lips of her cunny peeking between her slender thighs. Despite the many times his imagination had envisioned his naughty ward in just such a position, his stiff cock at the ready to bust her cherry and send her into ecstasy, the reality proved even more tantalizing.
As he gaped at the erotic visage, his cock went from stirring in his pants to straining for escape. Only a layer of fabric and his own will power separated him from a deplorable act that would defile the trust his oldest and dearest friend had placed in him.
However, he would not—could not—allow her to dissuade him from his duties as her guardian. He had been too lenient with her, as evidenced by her rampant petulance.
Taking a firm hold of her shoulder, he moved her from over the desk and escorted her to the corner where he pushed her nose to the wall. Then he gathered up her skirts and shoved them into her palms. “Keep your hands high. I want to be able to see your naughty bottom.”
Rather than one of her biting protests, she simply nodded and sniffled. He gave her bottom a smack with his hand. “A proper young lady would reply ‘yes, sir.’ That is what I expect of you.”
“Y-yes, si-sir,” she said and he was surprised by the tone of contrition in her voice and demeanor. Would that he had taken the ruler to her months ago.
“You shall stand here and think about your bad behavior and what is the right and proper course for you to take. The one which is expected of you and for which your father had planned. The arrangement with Lord Banyon’s family was made before your father’s death. It was his desire for you to marry Lord Banyon and so it is mine as well, since I am here in his stead.”
“You can never replace him,” she said with a sniffle, though she dutifully stared into the corner.
“I would never dare try. He was the best of men and he chose Lord Banyon for you. And now we must both follow his wishes.”
He walked to the desk and sat down. He ought to have opened a book or done something to distract himself, but instead he took the opportunity to gaze upon her lush bottom.
Lord Banyon, or any other man, did not deserve her. Of course, Zander did not believe he deserved her either, but that did not diminish the heated yearning he felt for the raven-haired beauty with the quick wit and sharp tongue.
As he watched, her fingers began to loosen upon the fabric of her skirts. “Keep those skirts up high,” he called across the room.
“‘Tis humiliating,” she whimpered, “to have you look upon me in this manner.”
“‘Tis part of your punishment, naughty girl. I shall look all I want and if you do not behave, I shall spank you again and again, and watch your skin redden with my handprints. Now, do as you have been told.”
He glanced at the clock. He fully intended to leave her in that position for at least a quarter hour, the better to calm the situation between them and, with any luck, give the stubborn girl a chance to see reason.
He could not look away, much as he told himself he had to. The wet lips of her cunny were visible between her thighs as she bent forward in order to lean against the wall.
Lascivious thoughts crowded his mind but he refused to give in to them. Picking up a ledger, he stared at the household finances, though all he could see in his mind’s eye was the swollen folds of Tallie’s pussy.
He turned the page of the ledger and forced himself to focus. The effort proved pointless. He closed the book and moved to stand behind her. The scent of her arousal nearly sent him into a frenzy, but he refrained.
Grabbing the layers of fabric from her fists, he shoved her skirts to the floor, took hold of her shoulders, and turned her to look at him.
“You will marry Lord Banyon.” His voice was filled with resolve, whether for her benefit or his own, he could not say for certain. “And you will clean up the mess you made with the newspaper scraps. After that, I expect you to apologize for throwing rubbish at me and for generally being obstinate and disobedient.”
Tallie scrubbed the back of her hand across her face, her reddened eyes barely attempting to meet his gaze. “Y-yes, sir,” she said with a sniffle. Keeping her head down, she walked carefully to the center of the room where the scraps of newspaper lay upon the carpet.
Though she was more chastened than he had ever seen her, as Tallie walked away from him, Zander noticed that within just a few steps, she gradually regained her usual feisty personality, though still a bit subdued. He crossed his arms over his chest, waiting to see if she complied with all of his instructions.
With a pained and pouting expression on her face, she bent to retrieve the papers from the floor and deposited them in the bin. She turned back to him and said, “I ought not to have thrown anything at you. I apologize.” She tilted her chin up with a bit of her usual hauteur. “I am Lady Natalia Waltham and I shall not forget my manners.”
He fought against the smile pulling at his mouth. Any gains he’d made would be shattered if she believed him to be making sport of her, though the sight of a humbled Tallie was something uniquely enjoyable for him. He nodded in acknowledgement of her statement. “I accept your apology. Now, it is time for you to retire. Lord Banyon and his mother will be here tomorrow and you will need plenty of rest to be on your best behavior.”
In a flash, her entire countenance changed and Tallie’s eyes flashed with anger. “As I said a moment ago, I ought not to have assaulted you with newspapers or poor attitude. However, I still refuse to marry a man I have neither met nor have any reason to believe I would ever care for.”
“Your comments are duly noted. Be ready for greet your future husband by ten o’clock tomorrow morning.”
With one final glare, Tallie turned and left the room, head held high, jaw set with determination.
Zander had mourned his friend and cursed him at the same time for having left him the unenviable task of caring for his only child, Tallie. The girl had been the apple of her father’s eye since the day she was born and when her mother died a few years later, having produced no other heirs, the father and daughter had clung to one and other in their grief and mutual affinity for reading and the constant exchange of ideas.
Others had attempted to tear the girl away from her father, citing his inability to raise a child on his own, let alone a daughter who needed to be brought up in the ways of a proper lady, but her father had refused. When governesses had attempted to discipline the willful child, she complained to her father of their cruelty and he took on her education himself. Unconventional and often the subject of a fair amount of whispering throughout society, the father and daughter had been inseparable and when his dearest friend, Zander, came to dinner, the three of them conversed on all matters of the day. Initially, Zander had indulged his friend, assuming his unconventional treatment of his only daughter was a reaction to profound grief, but when the child showed an affinity for history and politics, Zander looked upon the girl with respect for her thoughtful and often caustically accurate assessment of current events.
Somehow, she had morphed from a gangly girl to a beautiful young woman and his feelings for her had been transformed as well.
Zander chuckled as he remembered an evening when Tallie was about fourteen years old. He could scarce believe more than seven years had passed since that time. Dinner had ended and the three of them were seated in the drawing room, which had doors intended to separate one side from the other. When Lady Waltham had been living, the doors would be drawn closed and the ladies would socialize on one side while the men enjoyed after dinner drinks and cigars in the other.
As there were no women with whom Natalia could converse, she had taken up the habit of including herself with the gentlemen. Shortly after she attained the age of fourteen, she decided it was time for her to join the ranks of alcohol consumers and had boldly poured herself a stiff glass of amber liquid.
Zander had braced himself, preparing to assist her when she found the drink offensive to her palate, but to his surprise, she had taken to it like a fish to water.
He feared, however, she had taken to it a bit too well of late.
In many ways, he blamed himself. He had known for quite some time, in fact since before her father’s untimely demise, that Natalia fancied herself attracted to him. He had even separated himself from the area by traveling to South America in search of investments and adventure, but mostly to remove himself from the temptation of her determined flirtations.
She was but a girl. Young enough to be his daughter. Of course, it was not unheard of for a man to marry a girl half his age, but he cared too much for Tallie to saddle her with the likes of himself. He learned long ago he was not husband material. His desires were too dark. His yearnings too depraved.
Though technically an adult, in all practical ways, she was a child, inexperienced and without much interaction with young men of her own age. He felt certain once she had an opportunity to meet more appropriate suitors, she would realize any feelings she had for him were simply a girlish crush.
His own feelings were not so fleeting. He was resolved to live out his life with the desperate longing for the raven-haired beauty who could never be his. His heart clutched with pain, but it was as it had to be.
Once Natalia married, his obligation would be satisfied and he would again be off to South America. His stated reason for going was to attend to his investments there, which he had neglected over the last few months. And though that was important, as they were his primary source of income, his ultimate goal was to be far, far away from the young lady who had captured his soul.
While he had been away he purposely did not respond to his friend’s letters as promptly as he might have otherwise, doing all in his power to distance himself from the temptation of Lady Natalia Waltham. He hoped his friend would understand, though of course he never discussed the matter of Tallie’s flirtations with her father. Surely her girlish infatuation with him would fade. His feelings for her… well, he hoped that they too would fade but he had less confidence on that score.
When word reached Zander of the sudden illness of his friend, he had rushed to his bedside with just moments to spare before feeling the last breath of life leave his body. As Tallie and Zander had stood on either side of the man who was the center of their collective worlds, he had joined their two hands together and held them to his chest. “Take care of my little girl, Zander,” he had said. “Promise me.”
When Zander had given his vow to follow his friend’s directive, Natalia’s father had smiled softly, closed his eyes, and drifted off to the next life, their hands still entwined with his own.
They had remained in that position for what seemed many minutes until finally Zander had separated the deceased man’s hands from theirs, though Natalia refused to let loose of Zander’s hand. “You are all I have left, now,” she had said before letting go of his fingers.
Zander had moved around the bed and taken her in his arms, his only intention to offer comfort, though he could not help but notice the feel of her womanly form against himself. He had pushed her from him and turned, cursing himself for his weakness and depravity.
The first year had been spent in mourning and Zander had enrolled Natalia at the Hammersmith School on the excuse she no doubt needed a woman’s touch and comfort during this time and the lessons in comportment and household management would serve her well in her eventual life as a married woman.
“Finishing school?” Natalia’s eyes had flashed. “I have no need for finishing. Are you saying I am somehow deficient? Did my father not do a sufficient job in rearing me?”
“Of course not. Your father was an excellent man and devoted father. However, I believe some female companionship as well as a few lessons in etiquette would not be a waste of time.”
“Etiquette?” she had hissed at him. “I will show you etiquette,” she said as she flounced from the room and slammed the door.
He had held firm and managed to get her delivered to Hammersmith School without creating a scene. She had refused to allow him to escort her inside, instead practically jumping from the carriage at the entrance and strolling forward without a backward glance.
He ought to have been pleased at her compliance, but the sight of her walking away from him pierced his heart and it had taken all his resolve not to chase after her and drag her back to Slattery Hall with him. But, he had told himself, it was through the young ladies she would encounter at Hammersmith School that she would form the social connections and friendships that would see her through the balance of her adulthood. Those were the people she needed. Not some washed-up has-been of a man who was incapable of comporting himself in the way a proper gentleman should.
Though born into a respectable family, Zander had no title and eschewed the posturing and formalities of society, finding it all rather dull and uninspired. He longed for adventure and challenges, like those he had left behind in South America.
He had refrained from returning there until Tallie was properly married, as was his obligation as her guardian. He had remained at Slattery Hall, though he spent many of his nights at the private club that catered to men with his dark desires.
Frequently he had stayed out all night and well into the morning using up his ardor upon the bodies of many willing women, yet none of them satisfied the craving he felt and knew at the depths of his soul could only be slaked by Tallie.
In those moments when he allowed himself to freely explore his yearnings for her, he envisioned initiating her in the passions that men and women could share. Her sweet innocence would be his to cherish and nurture. He would love her tenderly, in a way he was incapable of being with any other woman, in this country or any of the dozens he had traveled through in his frantic search to rid himself of his obsession with his friend’s daughter.
And after he had devoured every inch of her body, probed her to her very soul, then he would introduce her to the pleasures of ultimate submission, giving over her independence, only to him and only when he commanded it. He never wished to turn her into one of the simpering young ladies of the ton. No, her spirit would finally be freed to full expression in the communing of their souls.
But, he could not. Would not.
Tallie deserved to live the life that had been planned out for her from the moment of her birth. A titled husband from a family with a history and status to match the Waltham family. Rounds of balls and charity galas, and eventually children who would grow up and continue the same cycle.
Zander needed to find another focus as well.
He had even encouraged a friend to arrange for him to be invited to several dinner parties where age-appropriate women in search of a spouse, or preferably, simply a lover might be found, but none of them sparked his fancy the way an onyx-haired young lady named Natalia could.
If the remainder of his nights were filled with dreams of her accompanied by regret, then so be it, but he would not defile a young woman and certainly not one who had been entrusted to his care.
More than anything, he loathed the idea that in time, she would realize she had made a monumental mistake by saddling herself with an old man as a husband. He would not deprive her of a man who was suitable and able to give her everything she deserved.
He loved her too much to hold her back.