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The Borrowed Bride by Jaye Peaches – Sample

Chapter One

1757, England

Dara dressed herself in the nightgown of a virgin bride. As she pulled the white shift down over her head, she succumbed to a fit of unfortunate shaking. The cotton slip had a slight opening at the front that exposed her inner thighs, and the very nature of the garment instilled within her both a modicum of dread and a slither of excitement. The balance was in danger of tipping one way or the other without warning. However, regardless of her state of nerves, she was resigned to her duty as a newlywed wife. It would not do to harbour doubts on the first night. Her maid helped her onto the bed, where Dara sank into the luxurious mattress with its thick layers of feathers.

“Best lie still and wait, milady. He’ll come presently. If he’s ready,” the maid added, then blushed.

Why would Dara’s husband not be ready to accomplish the final act of their wedding day? Dara’s limited knowledge was exactly why she needed him to dispel her fears and visit her room. Naturally, she was curious to how he might overcome her lack of experience and build upon her innate desire to please her husband, a man who was little more than a stranger to her. What young bride would not be inquisitive?

“Off with you, then.” She waved away the girl.

She waited until the moon rose and the candle burnt through. She yawned, tapped her fingers on her generous bosom, and huffed. What was keeping him? Even though stricken by anxieties, she preferred to have the matter dealt with as swiftly as possible. The wait grew tiresome. She fiddled with her lacy cuffs and sighed some more, this time with frustration, and a small amount of hurt at his tardiness. The long day caught up with her and eventually, she fell asleep. When she woke, it was to the sound of the drapes being shaken out and a window opened. Birdsong heralded the morning.

“Lovely spring day, milady.” The girl was back; the night over in a flash.

“His lordship?” Dara asked, astounded by his night-long absence. Had he crept in, found her asleep, and removed himself? She’d expected him to wake her. Was it not his prerogative to conquer her concerns and show her his passionate nature, which she believed lay beneath his sombre features? She’d read the romantic poetries, her only source of education on such matters.

“Gone riding. It’s past nine. He likes to break his fast early. So should you if you want to see your husband.” The girl grinned and hurried over with a basin of water.

Dara sighed. She wasn’t sure if they were husband and wife, but the pastor had said they were and made no mention of the necessity of a bedroom visit. She washed her face, took the clothes handed to her, and dressed methodically, allowing the girl to pull her bodice tight around her waist. She needed to try harder to attract his attention, if that was what was amiss.

In the afternoon, he hunted. She watched for his return using the drawing room window. He cantered up to the door with his gamekeeper, who carried the brace of pheasants and a musket, and dismounted. Her husband’s breeches were muddy and his grey-flecked hair was whipped to one side, probably due to the blustery wind. She had not decided on his degree of handsomeness, because his maturing years had given his features a slightly saggy appearance around his jowls, but only slight. The warmth she felt toward him was entirely down to his deep pockets and extravagant lifestyle, something that was pointed out numerous times by her sisters. He tossed the reins to the stable hand and walked into the house. Dara hurried to greet him in the marble-clad entrance hall.

“Husband,” she said pointedly.

“Milady,” he said, nearly colliding with her. “There is no need to wait for me. I shall be hunting every day.” He slumped into an armchair by the fireplace.

She lingered as a footman pulled off the filthy boots and pressed two slippers onto his feet.

“Ah,” sighed her husband. “I shall enjoy a slice of beef tonight.”

“Cook has picked a prime joint for you, my lord.” The man rose from his knees and bowed.

“Still here?” he snorted at his wife. “You should change for dinner. So should I.” He trotted upstairs, followed by his manservant, leaving Dara alone in the vast hallway with the yapping, stinking dogs. She sighed heavily, the lingering sense of hurt augmented by his abrupt dismissal.

Dinner was not the occasion for speeches, her mother had taught her. Be seen and not heard was the motto of her childhood. Raised as the sixth of six, the least likely to marry well and therefore not worthy of much education, she suffered under the tutelage of Miss Bramhall, who rumour had it had been a nun until some fall from grace. Miss Bramhall was not lenient with the rod upon Dara’s palm, nor the stool upon which she had to stand for hours. However, away from the nursery and schoolroom, Dara would not deny to anyone that she was accustomed to having her way. After all, she was the sixth child of an earl.

Her mother had despaired of her mischievous ways. Dara would rather spend frivolous hours playing in the haystacks or damming a stream than studying her books or needlework. Often hauled in by the ear and dressed down in front of her well-behaved siblings, Dara had cared little for her weaknesses. It never crossed her mind that her childhood would come to a crashing end on her eighteenth birthday.

“You’re to marry,” boomed her father. “Lord Coleman seeks a young wife. Somebody to look after his household and tend upon his arm. You should be grateful, daughter. He’s rich and cares not that you have a meagre dowry. I have not invested in you, I grant, like your sisters, but then I didn’t expect five of them.”

Her brother was the apple of her father’s eye.

“What if I say no?” She stomped her foot on the carpet.

Her father’s bloodshot eyes narrowed into thin slits. “Say that again,” he growled.

“I shan’t—”

“Miss Bramhall!” he bellowed.

Her governess hastened to his call and curtsied.

“What have you been teaching her about obedience and respect?”

“That my lord God will not tolerate a child who defies her beloved parents.” She curtsied deeper. “But the girl is wicked at heart sometimes, and the rod will not mend her ways. A husband is what she needs.”

The decision was out of Dara’s hands. Three months later, after four brief visits to Lord Coleman’s house at Willowby, she had been successfully cajoled by her sisters, bullied by her father, and pleaded with by her mother. The wedding was witnessed by her parents and her eldest sister, who wolfed down the banquet, then hastily retreated into the carriage with the earl. The wedding disappointed Dara, but not as much as her husband’s frequent absences. Another night of loneliness followed the wedding night and the white shift remained untouched by him. The third night, she could not be bothered to wear it.

A week after the wedding, Dara was still a virgin.

Lord Coleman called upon her in the morning room. “I am away for a week. Business in London.” He frowned. “Make yourself useful about the house. The ledgers are dire. The housekeeper cannot do numbers.”

Neither could Dara, but she kept quiet. Her forte was words, but it seemed Lord Coleman was not interested in hearing her speak or read to him. A man her father would greatly, and probably did, admire.

She cried into a cushion. Her maid, Estelle, handed her a handkerchief. “He’s having a difficult time with tenants, I believe.”

“And with me, it seems. He hates me. He can’t bear to touch me. One kiss on the cheek at bedtime. He didn’t even grace me with a kiss on my lips in the church.”

“Romantic twaddle,” Estelle said. “No man kisses a woman in a church.”

Dara hurried out of the room and threw her slender weight on the bed. Was she ugly? Her hair suffered with knots and was not happy being tamed. Her legs were perhaps too long. As for her nose, she was blessed with a straight one with an end fashioned like a button. Her ears were even and tucked out of sight by the bonnets she wore. Her stomach was flat, as her mother once noted with envy. Her ankles dainty. What was wrong with her?

His servants were unhelpful with her questions. His lordship was the only son of the first Lord Coleman, a brilliant statesman and soldier, who lived most of his life abroad and died suddenly of the ague. Coleman’s mother had remarried and vanished from her son’s life. Left to his own devices, his lordship had adopted a solitary style of living with a minimal household. As well as the butler and housekeeper, there were five manservants, two maids, a cook and kitchen help, the stable hands, and a gamekeeper. Everyone had their place and allotted tasks and had little time to gossip with his lordship’s new wife.

She embroidered. It was very boring.

A week later, he returned. She greeted him with a curtsy, and he pecked her cheek.

“I have made some purchases for you.” He waved over his travelling companion, a man who said nothing. The servant carried a box, which he placed on a table.

Dara unwrapped the tissue paper to reveal a silk dress woven into a colourful floral pattern.

“The latest fashion,” Lord Coleman said with a smile. “The queen wears cloth like this.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

“Oh, and these too.” He removed a small pouch of velvet from his pocket. He tipped the contents onto his gloved palm. The little stones twinkled in the candlelight. “Gems, a mixture. I thought you could have them made into a necklace of your choosing. My dear,” he added, as if the endearment came late to his mind. “I know I’ve not been much company, and I must confess I might have to leave soon, but it is not my intention to ignore you. I wish you to know that I care about you, and that when the time is right, we will make fine children, and raise them together. But not yet. I fear my travels will increase in the coming months.”

She took the colourful gems from him. They were beautiful and valuable. She clutched them to her chest. For now, it seemed this was all he could give her. It was not enough, and he must know it was unsatisfactory. However, she smiled, and thanked him again in her sweetest voice.

He did not come to her bed that night. But at least she knew why. Miss Bramhall had warned Dara about making of babies and how it might happen as a consequence of one night with a man. She could not hide her disappointment from him at breakfast. He frowned at her scowl.

“Patience. Was that not a virtue your mother taught you, Dara?” he asked.

“Sadly, her measure of it is too great for me. I would ask when you will be ready to visit me at night, husband,” she said with greater emphasis.

He put down his fork. “When the matters of my business affairs are complete. Do not cause a rift between us. The habits of the night are only one aspect of marriage. You must learn the others too. Obedience. Respect.”

“And love?”

“Is for lovers. As you will come to appreciate, there is more than one way to be a lover. I shall be away for three months—”

“What!”

He glowered. “Three months in Europe. In that time, I expect you to have mastered the accounts of this house, arranged for new carpets in the drawing room and library, had the silver polished, the chandeliers cleaned…” The list was comprehensive, and she listened with her mouth hung open.

“And if I refuse to do any of this?”

“You, my dear, won’t be doing any of it, as the servants shall. But you will be responsible for ensuring they do so in a timely and thorough way, or I can assure you, I shall deal with your failures thoroughly.” The stern tone in his voice was a mirror of her father’s.

Dara snapped her mouth shut.

The carriage was laden with boxes. He took his faithful manservant and chief mastiff with him. The kiss he offered her was perfunctory, it lasted no more than the briefest second. She shivered in the cold air. The horses neighed, pulling on their harnesses. When the carriage disappeared at the end of the drive, she spun on her heel and ran indoors, weeping hot tears.

For three days, she moped around the house, dragging her heels and with no care for his damn list. The servants kept out of her way. As usual they offered no explanation as to her husband’s strange habits. They were almost coy with her, tiptoeing in and out of rooms. Eventually, she gave up crying and made a decision.

Upstairs, she summoned Estelle. “Pack a bag, one that can be slung over a horse’s shoulders.”

“Milady?”

“Just do it,” she snapped.

She retrieved the pouch of gems from the drawer of her dresser and stuffed it into a small saddlebag. Together, clothes and jewels, she had all she needed.

“I’m going to visit my cousin. She lives twenty leagues to the north. I shall write when I return.”

“I should go with you,” pleaded Estelle.

“I go alone.”

“But the robbers—”

“I shall keep to the quietest roads. The robbers go for the stagecoaches. With my drab clothes, I shall look humble enough.” She had picked the least fine of her dresses and a plain black cloak.

“The weather—” Estelle chased after her.

“It’s summer.”

“But they say a storm is coming, milady.” Estelle tugged on Dara’s sleeve. “What shall I say to his lordship?”

“Nothing. I shall be back long before he returns. My cousin’s address,” Dara scrawled it down on a piece of paper and thrust it into Estelle’s trembling hands. There was no reason not to give it as they would not think to ride out there without permission from their lord. “Bring around the mare, the one that I rode the other day. She’s the least frisky.”

Mounted sideways upon the dapple mare, Mary, Dara pulled the hood over her bonnet.

“Gee up, Mary.” She shook the rein and the mare started to trot.

The route she took was to the north, but the road she chose would not take her to her cousin. What use was it to go to her father’s niece? Within days, Dara’s father would know she had left her husband’s house and abandoned her duties. Her cousin blabbered about everything. Instead, Dara decided the best plan was to make for the nearest city, one that had a good silversmith or jewellers, and sell the gems. The proceeds she would use to hire a room and a maid. Happily ensconced, she would wait out the three months while enjoying the pleasures of city life. She would visit the assembly rooms, make new friends, and dance until midnight. She would tell everyone she was a widow fresh out of mourning. Her name was not known in those parts. The risk was worth taking. Then, when it was necessary, she would return to Willowby Hall. She was sure than even in her absence, the servants would carry out his lordship’s orders regarding the long list. To keep up the illusion, she would write letters to Estelle in which she would make up stories about her visit to her cousin’s house in the north. As she was a newcomer to the household, the servants at Willowby would have no inkling whether the details were correct or not.

She left the estate through the wilderness of the meadows, where the sheep grazed, passed the gatehouse, and entered the large wood that formed the boundary. The path was muddy and the trees heavy with leaves and blossom. She was happy to be out. The humid air stuck fast, bringing with it heat and dampness. As she emerged from the other side of the wood, she came to a halt. Before her were the sweeping, gentle hills of the countryside and as far as the eye could see was nothing but farmland, copses, and the occasional barn. Above were the dark grey skies and ominous clouds waiting to deliver their load.

The wind whipped up her skirts and cloak. Mary was increasingly skittish and unhappy. She had to cajole the mare along the lane, which was little more than a track and unsuitable for a wheeled vehicle. The first flash of lightning caught her by surprise. It lit up the landscape, sweeping aside for the briefest second the greyness. A few moments later, the thunder rumbled.

“Far away,” she hoped.

Mary refused to trot.

The path forked into two even narrower tracks. She wasn’t sure anymore which way was north. There was no signs or milestones. She looked around. Not a soul was out in the fields. She picked the path to the right. It offered less mud and puddles.

The clouds burst open, releasing a deluge of rain that landed in heavy drops. The wind was cold and the heavens filled with lightning and thunder. She fought to keep control of Mary, who rose up on her hind legs.

Dara cried out and lost balance. She slid off the side-saddle, landed on her feet, her skirts in a heap with the mud oozing around her boots. She reached up to grab the rein, but it was too late. Mary cantered away, leaving Dara with her saddlebag, which had fallen off, but not the larger one containing her clothes.

“Come back, you foolish creature,” she yelled.

The rain swiftly drenched her to the bone. She sought the shelter of nearby trees, but the lightning reminded her that it was best to keep moving. By the time she had walked a mile along the track, her skirts were too heavy to lift, her stockings were soaked, and her shivers were uncontrollable and racked her from head to toe. In the space of an hour, summer was forgotten. It might be the middle of winter given the bitter wind and downpour.

She had to find a barn. There she would wait out the storm, and hopefully, if Mary had followed this same path, she would cease her gallop and come to a halt along it. The wall by the track turned, and Dara followed it. The wall led to a barn, a thatched one, and beyond it to her delight was a rambling complex of farm buildings, including a small cottage.

The farmyard was thick with congealed mud. She struggled to wade through it. The closer she was to the cottage, the further away it seemed. She fell forward, landing on her knees heavily. Her dress was now weighed down by the worst kind of filth. She cried out, not for help, but in despair. What more would go wrong with her life?

He came out of the cottage with his jacket pulled over his head. His long boots made easy work of the quagmire. By the time he reached her, she was on all fours, cowered by the storm. A beast of a man, she quickly deduced, he towered like a stallion over her, his shoulders twice her width. Without a word, he scooped her up as if she weighed nought, hung her over his shoulder, and picked up the saddlebag in his other hand.

On any other occasion, she would squawk in protest at his manhandling of her personage. Today, with her head dangling limply, she was too tired to cry out in alarm. Inside, he would have a nice wife who would feed her broth and wash her clothes. Then together, they would find Mary, and Dara would be on her way.

The door closed behind him. He carried her over to the fire and lay her down on the rug.

“Stay,” he said, as if to a dog. He possessed a deep voice.

She was too exhausted to move. She closed her eyes. There were noises she recognised—the stoking of the fire, the crackle of the blaze, then the hiss as the sap in the wood took the heat. He poured water into a vessel. It clanged as he placed it on or near the fire.

She might have fallen asleep. But abruptly, she jerked. He was touching her. Somehow, with her semi-conscious, he had removed her cloak and outer gown. She was floppy, like a ragdoll, and weak. She could not decide whether to resist him or not. She opened her eyes. He was bent over her, kneeling at her side. He had stripped off his own wet coat and taken off his boots. A bowl of water was next to him. He dipped the cloth into it and used it to wipe the grime from her face.

“Thank—”

“Hush,” he said gruffly. “I’ll take these sodden clothes off you and clean the filth that sticks. Tis farm muck and best removed quickly.” He peeled away her petticoats.

Astounded, too shocked to speak or protest at his unashamed handling of her body, she lay dormant. She let him undress her. No man had ever touched her so. She stared at him, her lower lip trembling with a mixture of fear and excitement. What if he… was that how it happened, an acquiescence in the midst of kindness?

He had big hands. A square chin and sculptured cheekbones. Set above them, two dark eyes, long eyebrows that formed two rich crescents, and a mop of damp nutmeg hair. The shadow he cast over her was enormous, she was a waif beneath him, and stood little chance if she chose to resist him. He touched the laces of her bodice.

“It’ll have to come off. Nothing will dry on you. You’ve nothing to fear. I won’t harm you.” He pulled on the threads and the bodice quickly unravelled.

She was breathing rapidly, sucking in air as if the bodice was being tightened, not loosened. Underneath was her last layer of protection: a thin cotton chemise that went no lower than her knees. The bone-latticed bodice was discarded, joining her gown. She glanced down to her chest. Two pert nipples stuck up under the wet fabric, every one of her ribs was visible. Her hollowed stomach was a pool where the wetness had gathered.

Next, he turned his attention to her stockings.

“Sir,” she whispered, “have a care.”

“They’re torn.” Without warning, he ripped them off, snapping the silk threads. He reached up her thigh to the garters, to draw them down. She went stiff, completely rigid under his hands. With her arms and legs bare, she was close to nakedness.

He wrung out the cloth and stroked it down her calves, bathing away the mud that was drying on her skin. The water was warm, soothing. His touch was light and efficient. He cleansed her ankles and feet, lifting her legs to circle around them.

Her arms he handled gently. Tiny goose bumps rose behind the cloth. He dropped the cloth into the bowl and settled on his haunches, examining her. Satisfied she was clean, he rose, fetched a towel.

“Take off that sodden thing and dry yourself. I’ll make you some broth.” He left her side, and began to bang around inside a cupboard, fetching a bowl.

Dara rose onto her knees and examined the cottage. There was one room. One living space with a truckle bed wide enough for two positioned in one corner, a brick oven and fireplace along the back wall, a tall pine dresser displaying some rudimentary china pieces, and an oak sideboard. In the middle, a solid-looking table with four chairs, and a broad rocker and accompanying stool.

“Sir, where is your wife?” she asked. With his back to her, she swiftly undressed and wrapped the generous towelling around her midriff, hiding her breasts and hips from him.

“I have no wife.” He turned and placed a crockpot on the hearthstone, carefully stepping around her.

“No sisters?”

“None.”

“You’re alone.”

“Aye.”

She swallowed hard. “My horse bolted.”

“We’ll go look for it tomorrow.” He stirred the pot.

“Tomorrow,” Dara stuttered.

“I’m keeping you here. You can’t go out in that weather. You’ll drown before you’ve crossed the yard.” Above his head, the rain pounded on the thatch, but the room was dry and warm. “Will you be missed by anyone?”

She should say yes, but impulsively, she shook her head. “Nobody who cares. I ran off from a convent. The nuns hate me. They’ll be glad to see the back of me. I’m an orphan.” The lies came easily.

Whatever he was thinking was not clear from his face. “Eat this, then go lie on the bed to sleep.” He ladled out the broth into a bowl and left her side.

The broth was wholesome. It tasted of carrots and swedes, and slightly of chicken. It warmed her chest, spreading down her arms and legs until it tickled her toes. Licking her lips, she put the bowl and spoon down.

The bed was not as soft as hers, but in the circumstances it was surprisingly comfortable and not the slightest bit cold. She lay on her back, covered herself with the counterpane of quilted layers, and discarded the damp towel to one side.

He walked over to the bed and loomed over her. The bristles on his chin twitched. She could not stop staring at him. The breeches he wore were clean and stretched tight around his magnificent thighs. She had not known that men could grow such proud muscles. A broad belt tucked his shirt into his waist, although the shirt he wore was unbuttoned about his breastbone, revealing a tanned flare of smooth skin.

She had the wherewithal to know she had lost her senses. There was no point in fighting her instincts. For nights she had lain in bed waiting for just such a visitation as this and now that it was upon her, she was filled with exotic feelings. They centred on her belly, a confusing morass of stimulants. Ripples of nervous energy raced to her beating heart, then to her throat and finally her heated cheeks. She was richly endowed with blushes, above and below.

He reached out with a finger, hooked the counterpane, and slowly drew it back. He sucked in air at the sight of her rounded breasts. A slight sound, but in the silence it was audible. She kept her arms to her sides. He continued to unfurl the covers, exposing her navel and hips. With one last flick of his wrist, he tossed aside the counterpane. She was nude and without a thread of protection.

“Part them legs,” he said.

She shifted them sideways. Her womanly hair was sprightly and lightly coloured, like the hair on her head. Fair in many places, she was the opposite of his brooding darkness.

“Bring them knees up and out. That’s it, lass. Don’t be afraid.” He moved to the foot of the bed to admire the view. He smiled. His teeth were white and straight.

She should scream, cover herself, and make her escape. But she was doing the opposite. She was thinking that this was the moment to bring her waiting to an end. If Lord Coleman could not be bothered to visit her chamber, then she would offer her virginity to man who had taken more care of her in one hour than her husband had in three weeks of marriage.

He unbuckled his belt and drew it out of the loops, discarding it at his feet. The breeches were stretched even further and beyond their natural seamline. The buttons of his shirt flew off as he dragged the sleeves off his arms. He grinned. He was so excited; it actually pleased her to think she was the cause of his excitement.

He unbuttoned the flap of his breeches. The thing, the emblem of his masculinity, stuck out and up.

She gasped. It was huge, far bigger than she had ever imagined. The head of it was purple, throbbing and smooth. It gleamed in the candlelight. The rest of it was coarser and covered in threads that pulsated. He spat on his hand and rubbed it up and down the erect thing.

“Keep a tight hold of the back of ‘em knees. And relax, lass. Tis best to relax when my cock comes a-visiting.” He sank his knees onto the bed by her feet and leaned toward her. His whole body swamped hers as he lay his hips between her thighs and rested his hands on either side of her head. Lowering himself, he tipped her chin up using his nose, nestling his face in her flared hair about her throat, and inhaled deeply.

“Thank heavens, you smell of petals and lavender, and not shit. Sweet.” He sighed. “Like an angel, you are, lass, coming ‘ere to me this day. A wondrous thing.”

He lowered his mouth on one of her nipples and tenderly kissed it. Then he opened his mouth wider and drew the bud inside, teasing it with the tip of his tongue. She arched her back in response. He lifted his head, grasped a few locks of her hair in his hand, and tilted her head so that his lips could kiss her throat. He peppered more along her neck and shoulder.

“Tastes as sweet, too,” he murmured. “Say you want it, lass.”

“I do,” she muttered.

“Then say it like you mean it.”

“Take me.” She had no way to know what that might mean other than her deflowering. What little she knew about the coupling of man and woman had been taught by a frigid nun. She had spoken only of his thing between the legs. Only when this man was lying on top of Dara, pushing his thing up against her, did she understand he meant to enter her.

“Don’t tense,” he said lightly. “Makes it harder for me to be kind to you.”

Her lips trembled. All over she was quivering.

He pressed harder, making her open up. “You’re wet. That’s good, lass.” He pressed against her, swerving his hips from one of her thighs to the other.

Her arms finally came to life; she let go of her knees, allowing them to rest on the back of his legs. She grasped his thick arms above his bent elbows and dug her nails into his flesh. He growled softly in the manner of a tamed bear and responded by kissing her neck with firm lips, while below, he cupped one of her buttocks cheeks and gave it an almighty squeeze.

She whimpered. He chortled. “Two can play that game, remember that.” He relaxed his grip on her bottom. “Fine arse.”

More coarse words to memorise and bring out on another occasion. She hoped that this was not the only time a man would exercise his pleasure on her meek form.

He shifted up and she felt the full girth of his manhood enter her. She held her breath, aware of the tight pinch, and how it was changing her forever. She opened her eyes. He was staring at her face, his black pool eyes focused on hers. There was a depth to his gaze that stunned her. Her husband glanced away when she looked into his eyes. The farmer she’d stumbled upon on a stormy day was nothing like that stiff, cold-hearted man.

He lunged forward and the pain spiked. She cried out.

“Ye gods,” he gasped. He had breached her and given his panting, he had not expected the resistance. He clearly enjoyed it though. The smile on his face spread from ear to ear. “You did not have to do that, lass. It’s too generous of you.”

She was at a loss as to what to say.

“You want me to stop?”

She shook her head.

“Then brace yourself. I’m going to fuck you until my cock is fit to burst. When I says turn, you’ll turn over and I can end it on your arse. It’s as good a place as any.”

She had no clue as to what he meant, but she nodded.

He pumped his thing, his cock, in and out of her with a rhythmic pulse. It probably was something he might do faster, because he seemed to be holding back, forcing himself to achieve his mission with leisurely thrusts. With each entrance, she gave, and with each exit, for he liked to withdraw to the tip, he savoured the tightness of her narrow passage. She bit back a cry, not of pain, because the worst of that was over, but delight. Something was tickling her mound—his cock or his soft hairs? She could not tell.

The pace switched and changed. The candle flickered. The light was fading, his face was cast into deeper shadows. She wanted to remember this strange night forever. It was worthy of a painting in her mind, one that would wipe out the reason she was in the cottage, the frightening storm, the pity of the servants who knew she was neglected by her husband. He was likely to be impotent, a word that now made perfect sense. The virulent man between her thighs was far from incapable. He was the embodiment of masculinity. Leaving his side would bring her crashing back to the reality of her marriage. She preferred not to sully the moment by contemplating that misery.

She hitched her bottom up higher and met his thrusts with a renewed keenness.

With a sudden force, he flipped her over, grasped her tender arse cheeks and prised them apart. He meant to plunder there? Surely not. It was not possible!

“Sir,” she shrieked.

“Hold steady, lass. Don’t fret.” He nudged the furrow with the slippery head of his cock and grunted. Liquid heat impacted her tight nook, and she was sure some of it had slipped inside. Overwhelmed by the sensation, she quaked beneath him. “That’s it,” he said. “A little tease for your arse. You’ll like it better up there once you’ve weakened to it.”

She groaned, feeling the warmth trickled across her bottom and back. Eventually, the spurts finished. But he had not. He plunged his thumb inside her deflowered channel and hooked his fingers underneath her mound. Slowly he rubbed the flat of his rough fingers there, right at the apex of her sex. She squirmed. He slapped her bottom with his other hand.

“You’ll like this, trust me.” He captured one of her roving hands and pinned it behind her back. The other she used to clutch the pillow. “Women,” he tut-tutted. “Never know what’s best for them.” He clucked his tongue. “I’ll have it out of you.”

What was he referring to? She quickly did not care to think about his words. His hand was committing some delightful atrocity on her body’s weakest spot and she gave into it. She thrashed and writhed, crying out, as the pain and pleasure spread from mound to belly, then her swollen breasts and finally her tightening throat. She could not breathe. He slapped her arse hard again.

She spluttered, finding air at last to breathe. He let go of her wrist, withdrew his thumb, and lifted his body away from hers. She dozed, barely aware of the cloth on her back and bottom, wiping away his sticky residue. He covered her up. The last thing she remembered was the puff of his breath blowing out the candle.

In the morning light, she turned over and spotted him in the rocking chair. He was stretched out, his head resting on the back, his heels on the hearth. She thought he was asleep, but as the straw mattress rustled with her movements, he lifted his head.

“Finally, you’re awake. I’ve fed the cows and pigs since you’ve napped. We’ll go look for that horse of yours after breakfast. Then you’ll tell me why you’re giving away your virginity to a man you don’t know.”

She swallowed. “What is your name?”

“Matthew. That’s all you need know.”

“Dara.”

“That’s enough for me too. I’ve washed your clothes.” He pointed to the line he had strung across one corner of the room. “They’re too wet to wear. So, you’ll have to put on one of my shirts.”

“Thank you. You’re very kind.”

He laughed. “Given that you let me fuck you, then I guess the debt is paid.”

She felt the prickle of tears. She’d not thought she owed him in that way. She had offered herself willingly because something had stirred so strongly inside her she could not resist him.

“What?” He sat straighter.

“I don’t want to be in your debt if it means you think that you can take me without thought.”

“Without thought? I’ve thought much about what we did yesterday. I was filled with the lust like no other. You have a gift for it, lass. But. I believe you did it knowing you were breaking a sacred vow.” He stood and pulled upon the waistband of his breeches. The belt was somewhere on the floor.

She grabbed the counterpane and wrapped it around her tighter. “What vow?”

“The marriage kind.” He grinned. “You ‘ave his ring on your finger, ninny. Do you think I’m blind?”

“I am not married,” she said. She was not ready to explain why she thought herself free.

“We’ll discuss that lie later, when you’re fed and the horse found.” He jerked his thumb. “Up and dress, before I change my mind. I’ve plenty to do about the farm without chasing after a nag.”

The shirt reached her knees and she had to roll up the sleeves to find her hands. Her riding boots were dry but not the stockings. He offered her the modesty of his long overcoat; the heavy tweed covered her to the ankles. He served her cold porridge in a wooden bowl. If she wasn’t so hungry, she would have asked him to warm it on the fire. The tea, though, was pleasant and hot, although weaker than her customary brew. It was somewhat odd that he could afford good quality tea and live in such a humble abode.

Mary had not gone far at all. She was eating Matthew’s haystack. He grumbled at her, but when he took her reins, he gave her mane a stroke and her haunch a pat. “There, you’re safe now.”

He tied her to the fence in the yard.

Dara removed the bag from where she’d attached it to the saddle. “Thank goodness. Clean clothes.”

She rushed indoors and while he busied himself with cleaning the mud off Mary’s legs, she changed into a gown and fresh stockings, ensuring her bodice was taut and her waist drawn in.

Matthew stood in the doorway, the light behind him. He filled the space, leaving a little brightness to seep through. “Now what was the point of that?”

“What?” she asked, brushing her hair with the ebony-backed hairbrush.

“Putting them clothes back on.”

She started. Did he mean to bed her again? She was still a little sore from the first time, although not to the extent she might have anticipated. Was it appropriate now that her ‘debt’ was paid? She had a long journey ahead of her and that should be her focus. However, watching him stroll into his cottage, his eyes glued on her, she was struggling with those aches and tingles, the kind that signalled she was not in a hurry to leave him.

“Why should I not change into my clothes?” she asked.

“Cos I can’t tan your hide with them on, can I?” He closed the door behind him.

“Tan my… whatever for? You can’t mean it…” She staggered back against the wall.

“I mean what I say, lass. Now you lied about that ring. You’re no convent bred girl either, so don’t bother to tell me you’re married to Christ.”

“I can’t be married to any man if I’m a virgin.” She stuck out her chin.

“Then why do you have a ring upon that finger? Eh?” He picked up the saddlebag from the table, rummaged inside, and pulled out the pouch of gems.

She was aghast. He was a thief. She had allowed a common thief to trick her.

“Now don’t gawp at me. I searched this while you slept and found these pretty things. Worth a fair penny, too. So, here’s me thinking, she’s run off. Got herself married, then run off with his fortune. These are not going to be easy to sell, I can tell you. Some rogue will do a crooked deal with you to get ‘em cheap. Tell me the truth and I’ll make sure they go back to their rightful owner.”

He had the measure of her too well. But she wasn’t a thief. The gems were a gift to her and she was more than capable of selling them for a fair price. She moved away from the wall. “I’m not lying. They are mine.”

He shook his head. “You’ve taken a husband in bad faith and now you’re taking his fortune. So, off with them clothes, and I’ll tan you with my hand and belt, then if you tell me the truth, I’ll not punish you further. So let’s be getting on with the deed, I’ve other things to do.”

She blanched. He was serious. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and between her thighs, she was a dam about to burst its banks. Matthew, far from making her want to run away, was crushing her resistance. He had some of the truth, but not all of it, and if she told him the real story of her marriage, how her husband had failed to consummate it, would he think it was her fault, like most men probably would? She might warrant a spanking for denying her husband existed, but not for taking the jewels. As for running away, it was a moot point. She intended to return, eventually.

She folded her arms across her chest. “If you want to do it, then you’ll have to come and get me over your knee yourself.” She spoke before she could think through the consequences. Matthew was not a man who went back on his words.

“Fair enough. I’ll come over there, strip you bare, bend you over this table, and spank that arse until its red and blooming. You’ll feel the stripes of my belt. Then if you can take it, I’ll pleasure that tight hole of yours. If after all that you think you want to leave, you can go; otherwise, I’ll let you stay until you’ve sorted out how you plan to return the things you’ve stolen from your husband, including yourself, since he’s party to that possession too. How does that sound to you?”

She was defeated. She had no inclination to run or hide from him. He could do exactly what he wanted, because he had offered her the one thing she truly desired, the chance to stay. She would dangle before him the three months her husband was away and use it to suggest a proposal. Have me for three months, Matthew, and I will do whatever you wish, and then I’ll go back to him educated in womanly ways and debauched enough that even the austere Lord Coleman would not be able to resist me.

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