It was simple enough for Lady Jane Hayworth Roud to conceal the hairbrush in the folds of her voluminous afternoon dress and to casually make her way downstairs with it. She was careful to move with modest unhurried steps that would not lead anyone to suspect her of mutinous subversion, but finding somewhere to hide the blasted thing was more problematic than she’d supposed when she woke that morning in a panic and decided upon the plan.
She could not put it anywhere where she might regularly receive company. Even though she could not believe that any of her fine visitors would ever suspect its use or her reason for hiding it, still the thought of someone pulling the object forth at an inopportune moment and exclaiming to the assembled guests, “How did this get here?” made Jane shudder with mortification.
She might put it in her private parlour? But surely that would be the first place her husband would look. She closed that door with a racing heart and headed toward the back of the house.
The kitchen or the mews? No, if one of the servants stumbled across it, it would put the entire downstairs household into an uproar. It would be just like the housekeeper, Mrs. Jetty, to insist upon a full investigation to find the slatternly or perhaps criminal culprit responsible for such disorder and as determined as Jane was to hide the brush, she did not want to cause trouble for the most likely suspect, her lady’s maid, Lisette.
The library? Jane ducked inside that room and looked around.
Oh, dear. She froze in the doorway, torn between dismay and laughter. She’d forgotten entirely about yesterday’s prank!
It had been good fun to drape garlands from one end of the room to the other and litter the floor with flower clippings and sheaves of music and generally make a spectacular mess of her husband’s favourite room of the house. At the time, it had seemed like the perfect response to his request that Jane find somewhere else to plan her party, anywhere else, other than his neat writing desk beside the window.
She had quite enjoyed sharing his writing desk in the library. It gave her so many opportunities to inquire about his thoughts on various party matters and ask after what he was writing, read over his shoulder when he did not immediately respond, and generally pester him until he gave in and took her in hand with a passionate embrace or, even better, a sound spanking over his knee.
Of course she hadn’t known when she removed every last scrap of paper from his desk related to her party and instead filled the entire room with party-related mess that she would also get soused at the party last night. If she’d known, she might have saved the prank for a less eventful week.
Steady masculine footfalls sounded in the corridor, drawing nearer.
Jane’s heart skipped and, in a moment of giddy panic, she dropped awkwardly to her hands and knees behind the sofa as quickly as her tightly laced corset and heavy bustle would allow.
Jane shoved the hairbrush under the seat cushion as quickly as she could.
“What the devil…?”
Jane had to cover her mouth with her hand to prevent an unladylike guffaw of laughter spilling out. Bad form, really, to laugh at one’s own joke, but Jane couldn’t help herself.
An ominous thump sounded nearby, followed by an outraged curse.
No doubt the urbanely sophisticated Lord Roud had tripped over the large marbled inkstand Jane had left right in the middle of the floor. “Damn.” Then the sound of the inkstand being set down, rather impatiently, upon his now pristine desk. “Jane!”
“Yes, my love?” Jane rose without further delay, a serene smile on her face. It was a requirement for a lady of Jane’s social position to look generally well disposed toward everything and everyone, especially when she was up to something.
“What are you doing?” Lord Roud asked with a frown.
“Greeting my husband.”
“What were you doing?”
“Nothing.” She managed not to laugh. “Reading.”
“On the floor? Behind the sofa?”
“Yes, my lord. I can’t very well sit on it, can I?” Not now that it was home to every single issue of his favourite monthly magazine.
Lord Roud looked from the magazines to the shelf where they used to reside in neat chronological order. Instead, several different options for party invitations were laid out there.
Jane used his speechless ire to her advantage. She rounded the couch and circled her arms around the lean column of his waist. Goodness, her husband was a handsome man. Even though they’d been married more than a year, and the honeymoon was long over, she still felt a thrill whenever she looked at him. “You look very fine today, my lord. Is this a new jacket?”
“Then I suppose it is just you that looks especially fine.” She pressed her lips to the warm corner of his jaw and savoured the unique scent that clung to his neck. He was never more handsome than when he was attempting to preserve his dignity. It was his foremost duty, really, to appear worthy of his position. He very often succeeded too. Jane was quite sure nobody would ever guess what an unabashed pervert she’d married.
His eyes narrowed as he pressed her back. “Where is it?”
“Where is what?”
“The one you were reading?”
“Oh.” Thank heavens. She kissed his jaw again. And then his mouth, because even though it was a shameless indulgence in the middle of the afternoon, she just couldn’t help herself. “It’s… somewhere about…”
Quite soon the kiss became more than a meeting of lips. Jane forgot all about the debacle at the party the previous night and the little prank she’d pulled off in disordering the library. All that existed to her was the demanding press of her husband’s mouth and the thrilling feel of his hands moving over her. Her own hands found their way to the waistband of his trousers and she tugged him nearer without giving in to the urge to press herself fully against him. A lady of Jane’s standing could never give in to such impulses, no matter how much she secretly hoped her husband might bend her over the desk she’d meticulously cleared just for the occasion.
Roud pinned her hands behind her back. “Thank you for cleaning my desk.”
“You’re very welcome, my lord.” Jane had also long ago mastered the art of ignoring her husband’s sarcasm. “I hope you are not put out by the mess?”
“Not at all. You’d best go and dress for dinner, love.” He released her.
“Alright.” She made to leave with graceful unhurried steps and a serene smile that she hoped concealed her unseemly disappointment.
“Go to my bedroom first though,” he added, “and wait there for your punishment.”
She turned back. “But—”
“I am not annoyed by the mess. Nor am I surprised.” Dark humour and intelligence brewed in the depths of his brown eyes. “I am well used to your pranks, Jane, that’s not why you’re going to be spanked.”
Jane could not help glancing over both shoulders. A hot blush heated her face as it always did when her husband remarked upon such things outside of the bedroom. “My lord!” she said in a hushed whisper that invited him to lower his own voice.
“You are to be spanked for your behaviour last night, just as I promised you,” he continued at a normal volume. “Or were you too intoxicated to remember that part of the evening?”
“Well, I do seem to recall that you were put out with me.” She hastened to bite back a nervous laugh. “But—”
He lifted a brow.
She swallowed. There really was something deeply wrong with her. The trembling anticipation in her limbs and the delicious palpitations of her heart at such moments were sure signs of moral weakness, weren’t they?
Jane smoothed down the front of her gown with a steadying breath. “Alright then,” she managed to say before beating a hasty retreat.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“The hairbrush, Jane.”
“I believe you will find it beneath the sofa.”
For a moment they regarded each other with perfectly matched poise, equally balanced on the edge between humour and dark excitement.
She looked away first.
“We’ll be going out,” he added. “After dinner.”
“Oh?” Jane went to retrieve the horrid brush with another small flutter of arousal, deep in her belly. “How nice.” She ambled up again with the brush in her hand.
Her husband was studying her with a thoughtful frown. “You really don’t remember any of it?”
“Not-not really.” It couldn’t have been all that bad?
“Then I will have to give you a thorough reminder.”
She clutched the hairbrush to her with a small anticipatory moan.
“Go on then. You know what I expect.”
Lord Roud was pleased to find his wife naked and properly positioned in the centre of the bed when he arrived in his bedroom. The sight always filled him with a particular sort of pride that he hadn’t known until his marriage. It was not pride in himself, not entirely (for that was a feeling cultivated within his breast from a young age); more so it was pride in her or in the two of them together, a kind of contented appreciation such as a master craftsman might feel toward a particularly talented and devout apprentice. His footsteps echoed against the polished floor and he smiled to see her shiver as she heard his approach.
Her long dark hair was unbound and trailed over the crimson and gold coverlet like spilt tar. The way she knelt with her bottom up and face pressed against the mattress gave him a perfect view of her downy feminine charms and he paused to drink in the sight.
He glanced around and located the hairbrush. She’d put it on the mantel, at the farthest distance from the bed possible. Fire crackled softly in the grate as he went and picked it up.
It was a sturdy brush. Wooden, with a good heft to it. It had to sting terribly, if her reaction to it was any indication. He slapped it a few times against his palm as he sat down on the bed. “I am not angry, Jane.”
A small excited whimper was her only reply.
“I must do this for your own good.”
“I am sorry, my lord.”
He tapped the brush against his thigh. Was it possible that she truly remembered nothing?
“I am not sure actually.” She stirred a bit. “But whatever I did, I am sorry for it. If I embarrassed you—”
“You embarrassed yourself.”
“I am sorry too, Jane.” He sighed. “I should not have agreed to bring you. I should have known you wouldn’t like it.”
Jane had been fascinated when he told her about Caro’s club. Even more so when he’d admitted that some of their most fashionable friends attended the monthly parties hosted at prominent addresses by Mistress Caro herself, a veritable queen of the London underworld. The concept had appealed to Jane’s thinly concealed thirst for depravity and also her appetite for gossip and scandal. And really, he should have known better than to tell her about a party, any party, that he did not intend to take her to. Jane lived for parties.
He should have known the reality of such a party would prove too much for her. Even jaded and worldly men and women had been known to lose their heads when they first encountered the club. The only reason Jane had been allowed to attend without submitting to the appropriately depraved vetting protocol was because she was his wife. He was trusted to keep her in check, to protect her, and to ensure she followed the rules.
She had embarrassed him. He lied about that for her sake. She would feel bad enough when she learned the extent to which she’d embarrassed herself. He needn’t make it any worse. Guilt was his paramount emotion now. Her failure was his failure. “I should never have put you in such a position. I am sorry.”
“I forgive you, my lord. Let’s get dressed for dinner now, shall we?” She made to rise.
He almost choked on a laugh. Then he grabbed a handful of her tar black hair and shoved the side of her face back into the mattress.
Her lips trembled around a pout. “Please, Roud… Not the hairbrush. Please, please, please.”
He placed it on the coverlet in front of her face. “Dodson is already on his way up.”
“Oh, no.” Her eyes squeezed shut. “Please…”
Dodson was Roud’s valet. It was unnecessary to call for his help. Roud could have removed his coat himself and stowed his cufflinks and cravat in their proper places, easily. But it tormented Jane to know the valet knew about her punishments and that he was right next door while she was naked and positioned so lewdly to receive them.
Roud probed the already slippery folds of her sex with a wry smile.
His prim and proper young wife let out an involuntary moan comprised of need and restraint. Her hands clenched and her toes curled.
He took his hand away. “Go on. You know what to do.”