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Humbled by Renee Rose – Sample

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Chapter One

July, 1789

Two weeks after the storming of the Bastille

They were coming. The sound of an angry mob reached her window from the château’s long drive. Peasants angry over the disparity in living were now attacking the nobility. Her servants raced around Château de Gramont in a terror, grabbing things of value. The more honest ones hid treasures for the family, but she guessed many claimed items of value for themselves. Furious shouts of the rabble rose from the road leading to her home.

“Quick, change into this, mademoiselle,” her chambermaid Anne-Marie cried, flying into the room with what appeared to be one of the servant’s own dresses.

She whirled to give her maid access to the laces at the back of her day gown, throwing off her wig and stripping out of the hoops even before she was free of the dress. She had already stuffed all the family jewels into a small leather pouch.

“We can sew those into the dress if we have time,” Anne-Marie said, yanking the silk gown from her shoulders and thrusting the plain, rough muslin gown over her head in its place.

Mon dieu, where will we go?”

She saw it, then—a look of surprise turning to guilt in Anne-Marie’s eyes. She may be helping her to escape, but she had no plan to accompany her. “I do not know, mademoiselle. If you run, you can get horses from the stable and ride like the wind. No one rides as well as you.”

It was not true. Corinne was a fair rider, no more. Panic at the thought of running alone into the night, with nowhere to go, made her light-headed, but the sound of splintering wood below brought her back to her senses. She snatched the needle and thread from Anne-Marie’s hands and stuffed them into the leather pouch, tying it up around her waist, beneath her dress and chemise. Tearing out of the room, she raced down the servant’s stair, arriving in the larder just as the clambering mob burst in.

“Where is your lady?” a man demanded.

“She is in Bourges, with her parents,” she stammered.

The back of the man’s hand flew out and caught her square in the cheek, sending her flying back against the door with a thud. White lights exploded against a backdrop of only black and red before her eyes. She would have lost her footing if the man had not followed her, catching hold of her throat. “Do not lie to me. The footman said she is here. Now where is she?”

“U—upstairs, hiding in her chamber,” she squeaked.

“Show me.”

A younger man pushed through, tall and broad-shouldered, with dark hair falling over his eyes. “Release her, she is just a chambermaid, no better than you. Go look for yourself.” He put a hand on her aggressor’s shoulder, giving a hard yank to pull him away from her.

She looked gratefully at her rescuer, but his brow furrowed and he caught hold of her upper arm, pulling her out of the larder and through the kitchen.

She resisted, crying, “Where are you taking me?”

“Do you wish to die, mademoiselle?” he hissed in an undertone.

He knew who she was.

For a moment, she thought to pretend he was mistaken, but she discarded that idea. He had just rescued her. Perhaps he would save her from the madding crowd of vassals. She moved her feet in tempo with his, following his lead through the crazed throng of peasants smashing their way through the château.

He led her outside and she tugged toward the stables. “There are horses—”

Non.”

She opened her mouth to argue, but he tightened his grip on her arm, yanking her down the path through manicured gardens to the outer wall surrounding the château. Here, without comment, he laced his fingers together and held them out at knee height. She blinked stupidly for a moment before she comprehended his intent. Placing her slippered foot in the basket of his hands, she stood upon it as he lifted her high enough to reach the top of the wall with her elbows. As she struggled to lift herself to sit, he unceremoniously pushed her backside, boosting her. She peered over the edge. It was too dark to see just how far down the earth was, but she saw it fell in a steep slope down.

Her rescuer scaled the wall with a feline grace, his agility even more impressive considering his height. “Just wait and I will catch you on the other side.”

“It will not be necessary,” she said and taking a breath, pushed off the stone wall, plunging into the darkness. The ground rose before she expected, sending a shock of force through her ankles and legs before she toppled headlong down the embankment. She bit back the curse only for the sake of escaping detection by anyone other than her rescuer.

Strong arms lifted her to her feet and steadied her. “I said I would catch you,” he grumbled. “Are you hurt?”

Her right ankle throbbed and her left lower leg was scraped under torn skirts, but she hissed, “No,” through clenched teeth.

He kept an arm at her elbow for several paces, which she wanted to shake off but unfortunately needed as her legs wobbled beneath her and her feet could not navigate the rocky footing. When they reached a friendlier terrain, he released her, leading the way with long strides.

“Who are you?” she queried the muscled back moving in front of her.

“Keep quiet for now,” was all he answered.

Even though she sensed the leather cord biting into her waist, her hands sought the lump, verifying the pouch of jewels was still beneath her skirts. It was the only thing of value she owned now. As soon as she was alone, she would sew the jewels into the dress as Anne-Marie had suggested. No one, not even her protector, should know how much wealth she carried on her person.

“Where are we going?”

“No talking,” he admonished.

She sighed and continued following his swift pace, the throbbing in her ankle gradually subsiding to a dull ache. When she felt as if her legs would collapse, she tried again. “Please. I must stop and rest. I cannot go on.”

He stopped, but only to turn and face her. The moonlight illuminated his face, and she saw the glitter of topaz blue eyes. They were striking against his dark hair, though they looked ancient, far older than his age, which appeared to be no more than twenty-five. “I know it seems that way, but you can go on, and you must. We will not stop until dawn. It is bad enough the moon is three-quarters full.”

She drew in a sharp breath. Was he mad? She folded her arms across her chest. “I demand we stop and rest.”

He took a step closer to her. “You are in no position to give orders, mademoiselle,” he said. “I will help you to safety if I can, but you must follow my direction. Or,” he said when she glowered, “I can leave you here and return to Gramont.”

She hesitated. She wanted to tell him to go to hell, but she had no idea where they were or what her options might be. No, she should not offend her only ally, even if he was an overbearing boor. “I will follow,” she grumbled.

“Very well. Get it through your head that the rule of the aristocracy in France has ended. The servant today became the master. If you wish my assistance, you must obey my bidding.”

She felt heat flood her cheeks. Were his intentions honest? Or did he mean to lure her away from anyone who might help so he might take his time humbling her? Exacting some kind of revenge on the privilege to which she had been born? She lifted her chin. “And if I do not?”

He gave a half-smile. “Then you will be thrashed, like any servant who misbehaves.”

Her bottom clenched convulsively and the heat in her face flushed through her limbs, pooling between her legs. The idea of being taken to task by the handsome peasant sent a wash of shame and a prickle of something altogether disturbing through her body. They stared at one another; he appeared to be waiting for her to test his declaration, but she did not dare. Contemplating a thrashing by him made her go weak.

She found herself curtsying, a signal of surrender, at least for now. She held her breath, waiting to see his ridicule, but none came. He drew himself up like a gentleman and gave her a small courteous bow and turned, starting up with his swift pace again. She gave a low moan and followed.

True to his word, they walked all night, until she felt half-dead, her feet stepping forward without command, stumbling at times but plodding on as her head lolled on her neck with sleep-deprivation. The tension in her travel-partner brought about her awareness of dawn. The sky had turned smoky gray, and the horizon behind them had the purple-beige color of a bruise.

Her companion looked about, assessing the landscape. They had been following a wagon path, but it skirted the villages and farms, cutting through forest and undeveloped rocky plains. She realized now it must be a Romany route. They were on a hillside but forest appeared ahead.

“We will find a place to camp in the forest,” he said.

She licked her dry lips but found she had no energy to answer. Knowing the end was in sight somehow made it worse. She wanted to collapse there, on the spot, certain she could not walk another step, yet her feet continued their mindless trudging. When they entered the woods and still did not stop, she began to whimper.

“We are almost there,” he said. “Do you hear the water? I am sure you are as thirsty as I.”

She nodded wordlessly and stumbled on until they came upon a little stream.

“This way,” he said, taking her hand to lead her down the embankment. The gesture was too familiar, yet carried such strength and confidence it reassured her. Indeed, it felt more right than any touch she had received from a stranger. They knelt at the stream’s edge, cupping their hands to scoop water into their mouths, the cool liquid soothing her cracked lips and swollen tongue.

Her mind seemed to return after a few moments of steady refreshment, and she peered at the peasant squatting beside her. His shoulders were broad, his arms thick with muscle. His square jaw was clean-shaven, showing his youth, but again she had the impression his eyes looked far older.

“Why are you helping me?”

The azure eyes met hers. “You saved my life once. I am obligated to return the favor.”

* * *

She stared for two full seconds. “Jean-Claude Armand?”

He gave a surprised chuckle. “You remember my name?”

She shivered, still gaping. “I do,” she said faintly.

He took her elbow and urged her back up the embankment. “Come, mademoiselle. You are weary. We will sleep a bit, and then I will forage some food.”

She looked over at him, as if still in wonder. “You came to Château de Gramont to save me?”

“Yes,” he said simply. He had second-guessed his decision several times already that night, as traveling with a pampered aristo who had never known a day of hardship would not be pleasant, but there was no denying his debt to her. He would get her to safety as quickly as possible and be free of his obligation.

“Where are you taking me?”

He frowned. He had been considering options since the moment they left Gramont. “To England. We must assume the châteaux in Bourges have been attacked, the same as Gramont. If your parents made it out alive, there is a good chance they also went to Paris, and yet… I do not believe it is safe for you there. I am aiming for England. Do you have any relatives or friends with whom you might stay?”

She looked stricken, and he realized she had not considered her parents might be dead.

“I am sorry,” he offered, although the platitudes of a stranger could be of little use to her.

She shook her head. “I cannot think of any.”

“Well, you are safer there, even without resources. You bear the name of an ancient house, and your beauty cannot be denied. Some English gentleman will snatch you up as his bride. You will be taken care of.”

He thought his words would be reassuring, but instead she stared at him in pure horror. “This is your plan? To cast me off in England where I will stand under a lamppost until some man takes me home and feeds me like a stray dog?”

He winced. It did not sound so clever when she put it that way. But where did his obligation to her end? Was it not enough to escort her all the way to England? What responsibility did he have beyond that? After all, she had saved his life, no more. She had not come to visit afterward to see if he had enough food to eat or a warm place to sleep. In England she would not be hunted for a status she could not help. She would be safe enough.

No, what she did in England was not his dilemma.

He found a protected area, in the lee of a giant felled tree. He kicked the leaves around to make a bed of them, then indicated she should lie down.

She looked doubtful. “You wish to bed there?”

He bit back his annoyance and stepped forward to settle himself on his side, ignoring her.

She crouched down and peered at the little nest. “Are there spiders?”

He gave a snort. “Most likely. But if anyone comes upon us while we sleep, there is a very good chance they will pass on by without spying us. That is why I selected this location.”

Her expression was of pure disgust, but she settled gingerly onto the leaves, disconcerting him by lying close and facing him. She was even prettier than she had been as a child, though a bruise darkened her cheek where the villager had struck her and she had dark circles under her eyes. She had pale skin, which contrasted with her dark hair and full, berry-colored lips.

He had to admit, though she had complained, she had not shed a single tear, nor had she given way to theatrics. Either she was deluded about her current situation or she was quite brave. He guessed brave, as it fit with their first encounter all those years ago. She certainly was unique. Despite his bias against her, part of him looked forward to finding out just what lay beneath the pretty exterior of Mademoiselle de Gramont.

“If you wake and I am not here, stay where you are—I will return.”

She nodded.

“Don’t leave this tree. Not for anything. If anyone comes by, just burrow deeper. They will never see you in there. Understand?”

“I understand.”

He watched as she blinked at him twice before her breath deepened into slumber and her eyes drifted closed.

* * *

When he woke it was midday. He left his charge sleeping to search for edible roots or vegetables and to set a snare in hopes of catching a rabbit. It took several hours, but in the end, he was successful in both endeavors. When he returned, however, Corinne had disappeared.

He studied the ground for tracks but found nothing. He opened his mouth to call for her but stopped himself. Already one party had traveled the path they were on since he had been off hunting. He could not risk drawing attention to them. He set the food down and prepared kindling for a fire. When she still had not returned, he began to skirt the area.

Walking toward the stream and the path, he froze when he heard the sound of a group approaching. Only a moment later, the noise of splashing water carried, and he saw the flash of skin. The voices grew louder as he realized Corinne was emerging naked from the stream. What in God’s name had she been thinking? This was no time to bathe!

In a flash, he slid down the embankment, covering her mouth with his hand to muffle her scream as he yanked her back into the lee of the bank, the back of her dripping body crushed against his front.

The voices had quieted at her cry, as if the men were listening. She stood rigid now, her body trembling against his, the water on her skin dampening his clothes. She tried to turn her head, eyes bulging and frantic, like a filly about to rear. He swiveled her head so she could see it was him and darted his eyes to the bank to indicate the danger. She attempted a nod, and he loosened the hold on her mouth but did not release her.

The men were no more than 15 feet away now. She began to struggle to free herself and he turned her face toward his once more, giving her a severe look. She lifted her chin to point toward the ground about 5 feet away, where her clothing lay in a heap, visible to anyone who looked over.

Hell.

He gave a sharp shake of his head and yanked her even closer to his body. She seemed to accept his decision, melting against his form as if she wished to disappear. He softened his grip, listening to the voices as they grew louder, though he grew increasingly distracted by the sight of water droplets trailing over the swell of two perky breasts just beneath his eyes. Their breathing synchronized, the beat of his heart hammering into her back, meeting the thunder of hers.

Do not move. Do not touch her other than to keep her safe.

His fingertips did not listen. They began to make miniscule circles on her upper arm, the largest gesture he dared considering their position. He was acutely aware of the fact that she could not protest, nor resist. He could press his advantage if he wished. He did not intend to, though his cock strained in his trousers against her low back. Her skin was impossibly soft, and she smelled fresh after her dip in the stream. The temptation to lick her neck came out of nowhere, but the voices grew louder and he held his breath, stilling to listen.

He and Corinne stared at her clothing on the bank. He was certain she prayed as hard as he they would come no nearer. Just twenty paces away, a group of five men climbed down the embankment to drink from the stream. He saw them clearly, which meant if they looked, they would see him. The thought of how they would react to the sight of Corinne in her naked glory turned him ice cold.

Please do not let them look this way. Please, God.

It seemed an eternity while the men talked, drank, and washed themselves in the water, but at long last, they tromped back up the way they had come. Corinne sagged in his arms.

* * *

As soon as he released her, she darted forward to scoop up her garments. Perhaps it seemed foolish, but she was less concerned about her modesty than she was about the jewels she had taken the time to sew into her dress. If the men had seen the dress and taken it… she shuddered. She pulled on her silk chemise—the part of her clothing, along with her slippers, that still gave her away as aristocracy.

Jean-Claude climbed the embankment without a word, presumably to give her privacy, though he had just seen every inch of her. She swallowed, remembering the touch of his fingers on her skin. No man had touched her so intimately before. She ought to be furious, but in truth, she had enjoyed it—his protection, his strong arms, and even his inappropriate touch.

She pulled on the rough but now richly-endowed serving gown and laced it with clumsy fingers. Crouching down, she rubbed dirt over her slippers, covering the expensive fabric with wet earth, grinding it into the weave to dull their appearance. When she climbed to the top of the bank, she stopped short.

Jean-Claude leaned against a log, three long switches in his hand and a determined look on his face. “What did I tell you about obedience?” he asked softly.

She side-stepped downriver. “Oh no,” she said.

He lifted his eyebrows. “Do you wish me to leave you?”

Anger warred with panic. She stood rooted in place, no words coming to her lips. Too many near misses had worn her down, and she was too flustered now to think how to escape this dilemma. No. She did not wish him to leave her, nor did she wish to be whipped. Especially not by a peasant who seemed to enjoy lording it over her.

But it seemed she had no choice.

She tossed her head and marched back to him, standing before him with her jaw clenched. Not quite able meet his eye, her angry glare fell instead upon his throat, exposed by the open collar of his shirt. He lifted the hem of her dress, and she snatched it back, not wanting him to notice the jewels she had sewn into it whilst he was away.

“Put it in your mouth—so your cries are muffled.”

She gaped, daunted by his nonchalance about her cries. She cursed him inwardly, determined not to give him the satisfaction of a single sound. Still, she obeyed his orders, because she did not want him to touch the dress again and discover her secret.

He grasped her arm and tugged her over the fallen log, the bark rough under her hands and chest. He grasped her skirt again, and she prayed he would not feel the lumps, but he merely tossed it up over her back. She felt the warmth of his hand at the back of her thigh, fingering the silk of her chemise.

“Pretty,” he muttered.

The idea that he had never handled such a fine article of clothing somehow added to her humiliation—in the course of less than twenty-four hours, she had been so lowered that a common peasant now claimed to be her master, and even worse—she allowed it. Was she truly bending over a log and offering her backside for his punishment?

She gasped as he dragged her chemise up, exposing her bottom to the fresh air. Gooseflesh lifted across her cheeks in anticipation of her chastisement, and she shivered at the chill of the breeze on her sex. The first lick of the switch struck like a line of fire, scorching her flesh, stinging the surface with the pain of a thousand ant bites.

She bit down hard on the cloth filling her mouth, the dry muslin rough against her tongue. The second stroke was just as horrid, and the third came too soon, before she had even caught her breath. She started to moan but sucked it back, making a strange gurgling sound instead. Four, then five strokes whipped across both cheeks, and her legs began to tremble as if they might not hold her. She clung to the bark of the tree, leaning into her chest, ducking her head. She did not want him to have the satisfaction of seeing her cringing face. On the sixth stroke, the switch broke, yet he did not even pause, simply changing it for a fresh one and beginning anew.

She wanted it to stop. After each stroke she was certain she could not take another, and yet they continued to rain down on her quivering buttocks, leaving what she imagined were dreadful welts. She loosed an arm from where it was tucked beneath her chest and reached her fingers back to cover her poor, raw flesh, but he caught her wrist before it even arrived, twisting her arm behind her back with an ease that troubled her. Who else had he thrashed? Why did he seem so comfortable tormenting her this way?

She pressed her cheek into the bark, the bite of the wood providing a welcome distraction against the insistent fire on her backside. She lost count after twelve and surrendered to the pain, all resistance leaving her body so it hung heavily over the log, her feet dangling uselessly. The second switch broke, and he used the third, breaking it after three cruel stripes. She prayed he would not cut another.

The fabric of her chemise slid down her thoroughly chastised bottom, even its silk an unwelcome touch on her swollen orbs. The skirts of the dress followed and a large, warm hand arrived in the middle of her upper back.

“It is over, Corinne,” he murmured.

Corinne. Not mademoiselle. She knew he chose his words on purpose. How did he even know her given name? Where had he learned it? The intimacy of it angered her. She hated him with all her passion. Irrationally, it became his fault Frenchmen were tearing their own country apart at the seams and she had lost her home and everything she owned. His fault she may never see Maman and Papa again.

She erected her back and walked a few paces away without looking at him. He diplomatically busied himself with striking flint for a fire. The sound of dry leaves crackling came as a relief, as if her body instinctively knew with fire came civilization. They would eat. They would be warm. She would survive this.

“Come, Corinne,” he summoned after a stretch.

She wanted to refuse him, but the smell of roasted meat had her belly churning with hunger. She stumbled over and squatted beside him, accepting what he offered—chunks of rabbit meat and vegetables, all bland and tasting of nothing but fire. Still, it filled her belly.

With nourishment she felt more like herself, which in this case was a curse. Her bottom still throbbed painfully, and the more she considered her predicament, the more she pitied herself.

One tear rolled down her nose, then another. She brushed them off, but the wretched Jean-Claude observed it. He rose and crouched beside her, putting a hand on her back.

“I am not crying over the spanking!” she bit out, even as more tears coursed down her cheeks.

“Of course you are not,” he soothed. “You are crying because you have just lost everything.”

She lifted her eyes to see if he mocked her, but his expression held only compassion. She lowered her lashes as more tears spilled, leaning her shoulder against his. In a flash, he pulled her in his lap, his arms winding around her as he settled onto the ground.

She marveled at the sense of comfort she derived from nothing more than a man’s strong arms wrapped around her. How long had it been since anyone offered her comfort? Since she was a child? Could she count the attentions paid her by servants? No, they gave out of duty. Jean-Claude gave freely, and the gentleness of his gift eased her ire.

Yet it troubled her to feel so safe curled on a stranger’s lap when her life was at stake, her parents possibly dead, and she had no idea what her future held. This is what is to be a peasant. To find the simple comforts.

He peered into her face and used his thumb to wipe away her tears.

She pressed her lips to stop their trembling, willing the tears to stop. “Did you steal the pig?” she asked to deflect the attention.

His eyebrows shot up and he laughed. “Yes. I tried to, but I did not succeed. It escaped and ran right back to its pen, but still they wanted my neck for it.” He shrugged. “I know, I should not have attempted it. I am not a thief. It was a stupid idea, one for which my mother never forgave me.”

She looked at blue eyes framed with the dark curling lashes ladies strive to affect. How ancient they seemed. He had already known a lifetime of hardship whilst she had been dancing court dances in Paris and Versailles. And yet he smiled easily. Her eyes dropped to his lips. What would it be like to be kissed on the cheek by a man like him? Different than the few kisses she had received at court?

“And you? Were you punished as promised?” he asked.

The mention of the word “punish” almost made her wince, eliciting a fresh throbbing of her hot flesh against his hard thigh.

“Yes. Maman was irate—she feared the queen would hear of the way I mocked her sheep, and Papa whipped me out of principle. But he was proud of me just the same. He liked when I took a stand on something and stuck to it. Maman called me stubborn, but Papa claimed it showed character. He always lamented I was born female.”

* * *

How could anyone lament Corinne was of the delicate sex? Because she was, in fact, more delicate, more female, it seemed, than any woman he had known. Was it her nobility? The regal way she held her neck? The way her slender fingers laced so primly?

A few strands of her dark hair stuck to her dry lips, and he hooked a finger through them and tugged them off. The bruise on her cheek made him angry, but even worse, she now had scratches on her face from the bark of the log where he had punished her. He should have been more careful—spanking was one thing, but marring her face was quite another.

“Will you be missed, in Gramont?”

He gave a shrug. “Not so much. I lost my wife two years ago in childbirth.”

She gasped, covering her mouth. “I’m so sorry. The child, too?”

He nodded. “Yes, the baby died with her.” Two years and it still ached to speak of her.

“And your parents?”

“Dead.”

“What do you do for trade?”

“I am the blacksmith.”

She raised her eyebrows, looking impressed.

He smiled. “Did you think I still ran about trying to steal pigs?”

She flushed. “I have heard of you. They say you are quite good. You do some silversmithing as well, is that true?”

He studied her eyes—gray like the ashes of a fire. No, darker. Storm cloud gray. He liked the soft weight of her in his arms, the proximity of her face to his. “I have done some silversmithing for your father.”

She looked at him appraisingly, as if adjusting her judgment of him.

“Did you think I begged in the village center?”

She had the grace to flush, pushing off his lap to stand. He hid his disappointment by jumping to his feet and putting out the fire.

“We should start walking again.”

“As you say.”

“If we meet anyone, you are my wife, Justine Armand. I have your papers. Can you speak like a blacksmith’s wife?”

“I can try,” she said, trying to speak like a peasant.

“Try harder,” he said drily, picking up the satchel he’d had the foresight to pack before he had run to Château de Gramont to save Corinne. In it he had the few francs he owned, the papers for himself and his dead wife, a tin cup, a cloak and flint. He handed Corinne the cup. “Go back to the stream and drink your fill before we depart.”

He watched her back as she departed, shaking his head. Irritation with her as a symbol of what the citizens of France were fighting against warred with the obligation to repay his debt. That, after all, was the only reason he would willingly subject himself to her company.

Except he knew that was a lie. He already liked the little aristocrat, as fascinated by her as he had been all those years ago at his execution.

She impressed him by walking all afternoon and halfway through the night without complaint. When they stopped at last, however, she stomped her feet when he refused to build a fire.

“It will call attention to us, which we cannot afford. It is summer—you cannot be so cold you require a fire.”

“I am freezing,” she insisted. “I’m not accustomed to walking for miles on end, nor to sleeping on the ground. All this time I imagined the nice warm fire you would make us when we stopped.”

“I’m sorry to disappoint, ma chère.” He patted the ground beside him cavalierly. “You may have my cloak, and if you lie beside me, I will keep you warm. I promise I will not molest you in any way.”

She eyed him warily, her lower lip protruding. “If you do, I will cut out your heart.”

He grinned. “Will you? Now I wish to tempt you, just to see you try.”

“I hate you,” she sulked, sinking to the ground beside him.

He lay on his side, his head on his arm. “You may use my arm for a pillow,” he offered.

She glowered at his arm, but gingerly lowered her head to rest upon it, her back to his front.

“Can you feel my warmth?”

She inched back a little, until her body almost touched his. “Yes,” she murmured.

They lay silently together and he thought she would fall immediately to sleep, but instead she said, “My feet hurt. And my knees ache. And—” she stopped herself.

He smiled, imagining she might be thinking of her backside.

Indeed, she offered, “I had not been switched before.”

“It is horrible, isn’t it?” he said with genuine sympathy. “I would not have chosen a switch to punish you, except it is silent and I did not wish any passersby to hear us.”

“I will never forgive you for it.”

“No? I think you already have.”

“No. Never. And I shall never concede you are my master.”

He moved without thinking, as if Corinne were his wife, someone he had the right to tease. Pulling her to her back, he pinned her wrists above her head, straddling her waist. She bucked against him, and he saw real fear on her face, though her hips lifted to roll against his in an undulating fashion.

He grinned to ease her worries. “Shall I cut another switch and test your resolve?”

She wriggled harder against his grip. “Get… off… me!”

“Hmm? Shall I? I cannot imagine you would last too long before you would call me anything I demanded, especially on an already raw derrière.”

She tossed her head from side to side, straining against his hold, a deep flush across her neck visible even in moonlight. She caught the amusement in his eyes. “You are enjoying yourself.”

“Just a little.”

“The fault is not mine.”

“What fault?”

“Being born noble.”

He relaxed his grip in a rush of guilt. She understood his bias against her. “I know,” he said with sympathy. “But I did not ask to be born a peasant, either.”

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