The white lace of Juliet’s veil failed to obscure that his nose was crooked. She couldn’t stop staring at it, or the fried skin down one side of his face. According to her mother, he had been scalded with burning oil during a siege. Since Juliet was required to kneel before him, as all brides must during the wedding ceremony and indicate respect by lifting their eyes adoringly to the scenes of paradise painted on the temple ceiling, Juliet struggled to avoid looking up at his face. Also, her patience was wearing thin. The priest was chanting, preparing them for the declarations and vows, delivering his words painfully slowly.
Behind her, the First Lady Katerina Lomarda sighed. It wasn’t the sigh of a delighted parent nor was it one of displeasure. First Lady Katerina Lomarda was bored, too.
On the altar, the holy candle flickered. For a moment, Juliet thought it might expire, which would be a bad omen. In some respects, her marriage was already fated to be dire. The union wasn’t her choice. Some might say she had been coerced, others persuaded; her own brother used the term obligation. Juliet preferred forced, as in given no alternative but to marry a man she had never met and who lived hundreds of miles away.
The priest raised his voice and stuttered over her name. “Juliet, Second Lady of Lomarda, will you take Nardin, Duke of Barranto, as your husband?”
She reminded herself not to fret. The ceremony was a formality. She wasn’t expected to touch the ugly man. “Yes, I will.”
The red blotches cracked into a grin.
“Will Nardin, Duke of Barranto, marry the Second Lady Juliet Lomarda?”
Her heartbeats quickened. Suddenly, the events of the last few days, the negotiations between her father and the representatives of the duke seemed distant and unreal. But this wedding was real, and she had no hope of escaping its consequences.
The scarred man snatched her hand up and held it out to the priest. The ring, a twisted band of gold that signified an unbreakable knot, was blessed, then the band was shoved over her white knuckle. More words were said; she barely heard them. He knelt next to her and the priest prayed over their heads.
The veil remained in place, and for that she was grateful, because it meant he couldn’t see the misery in her sleepless eyes. The priest intoned the last prayer and the tiny congregation rose to its feet accompanied by a rustling of skirts and a creaking of leather boots.
Everyone had risen except her; she remained on her knees as he hadn’t granted her permission to stand. What should she say to him, this uncouth nobleman who had said nothing to her until today? He stooped and grasped her trembling hand. His puckered lips kissed not the ring of obedience he had just placed on her finger, but the back of her hand. The wet smack was audible.
“Congratulations, my lady,” he said, and sneered inappropriately. “My brother is a lucky man. You may rise.” Still chuckling in his belly, he turned and walked away.
Lady Katerina took Juliet’s elbow and steered her to a different door. “There, it is done. You are the Duchess of Barranto.”
How could her mother smile? Juliet spoke with acidity. “I believe the contract states that I must be delivered to my husband within six months, then I will be the duchess.”
The First Lady of Lomarda waved a dismissive hand. “A formality. It won’t take six months to reach Barranto.”
Juliet wished it might take a lifetime.
Her father, who had stood without saying a word throughout the marriage ceremony, rested his hand on Juliet’s shoulder. “You do understand how important this is to us, to our citizens? We cannot afford to displease the duke. He has threatened us with war too many times. We need this alliance.”
“I know you have performed your duty, Father. I am wed. I can only hope the duke is more pleasing to the eye than his brother, Jacop. Why could the duke not come here, it’s most unfortunate.” Juliet was well versed in the reasons why but it still hurt that he hadn’t married her in person.
The trio crossed the cobbled street. A few heads turned, eyes respectfully averted, a couple curtsied, and those that were too close to the small wedding party backed away.
Her mother plucked Juliet’s sleeve. “My dear daughter, the duke is at war. He sent his brother as proxy to ensure the marriage happened swiftly. Once you are in Barranto there will be feasts and celebrations. Do not fret.”
Her mother had misjudged her again. Juliet wasn’t yearning for a sumptuous wedding banquet and the accompanying gifts; she merely wished to know whom she had married, for all she had was a small portrait and a letter from the duke extolling her virtues, and that he was a brilliant warrior with the physique of an athlete and the courage of a desert lion. He seemed very pleased with himself.
“Why must I travel to Barranto by land?” she asked her father.
“The situation hasn’t improved. The duke has spread the word that his bride is to make the journey by sea. This is a diversion. You will cross—”
“Neutral. The Umzard region has declared themselves neutral. So you will be quite safe.”
She feared her father was lying. Umzard was unlikely to win a battle against the duke’s army, and had backed down. However, there was little she could do to persuade her parents to postpone the journey. If she wasn’t in Barranto in six months, the duke could annul their marriage and she would be left stranded and dishonoured, and the people of Lomarda threatened by the most powerful man in the region.
She was a sacrifice. No doubt the citizens of Lomarda would erect a statue to her in the city’s square and present tributes to her parents. Songs would be sung in her honour.
Juliet’s veil stuck to her wet cheeks.
“Jacop is staying in the city.”
“What?” Juliet spun on her heel. She was surrounded by dresses, trying to choose what to take with her to Barranto when her father interrupted her packing.
He puffed out his cheeks. “He seems taken by the pleasures of our fair city and wishes to enjoy them for longer. Personally, being free of his brother’s choke chain is what truly appeals.”
“Then who will escort me to Barranto?”
“His captain of arms. Stefan Ilian. A lesser noble who lives on the borders of Barranto and Umzard.”
She hadn’t heard of him. “When do I leave?”
“Tomorrow! But I haven’t decided on my wardrobe. I have jewellery to pick and headdresses—”
“He has specifically requested you take as little as possible.” Her father stiffened in anticipation of the screeching protest.
“Because of the risk of robbers. He would prefer to travel light, and in a manner that is plain and informal. No jewels other than your wedding ring. No excesses. You will have to discard this selection and start again, my dear. You will be plain Juliet and will be masquerading as his wife.”
“Another proxy husband.” She huffed. “I hope he is better looking than the last.”
After her father left, Juliet sat before the fireplace, unable to move or think while her maid chose what she considered appropriate clothing for the wife of a captain. She was better suited to such decisions.
“My lady, see, you can look beautiful in anything,” Oletta said. “And I will be with you. You’re allowed one lady’s maid for the journey.” The young maid wrapped her arms around Juliet and hugged her. “We’ll not be parted.”
They had been together since Juliet was a small child. When not in the presence of Juliet’s parents, they acted as friends. There would be little opportunity in the coming weeks for them to speak in private.
Juliet patted Oletta’s arm. “You’re right. I mustn’t weep. I do this for the people. I will not bring war on them. I have to do my duty.”
The travellers gathered in the courtyard of the Lord of Lomarda’s impressive townhouse. There were a dozen men at arms mounted on horses with one covered wagon, and six servants, including Oletta and two of Jacop’s own men carrying messages for his brother. Jacop was absent. As for their leader, Captain Stefan Ilian, he had yet to appear. Impatient for his arrival, Juliet rearranged her skirts across the side saddle and patted Meri’s black mane. She was grateful she had been allowed to take her loyal mare for the long journey. There was little else to appreciate.
“What keeps the man,” she muttered.
“Patience,” Oletta whispered, who was seated on the wagon with the food and baggage.
Abruptly, the men on horseback straightened in unison and their sergeant saluted a man entering the courtyard.
Juliet gulped. He was a giant, surely, or so it seemed from the way he strode across the flagstones with his black cape billowing in the light wind. She hadn’t expected a man so young or energetic. She had assumed, wrongly, that her escort would be a weedy old soldier relieved to discover he was still of use.
The new arrival paused by her parents and bowed low enough to indicate he was the lesser lord but not so low that it meant he wasn’t worthy of their acknowledgement. Once he was upright, he ignored their brief nods and walked straight toward Juliet.
“My lady wife,” he said mockingly. “You are already mounted.”
Juliet hated him already. “Here I am, as requested.”
“Quite so, but not as a wife should be. Is it not the law of our lands, of Barranto, Umzard, and Lomarda, that a newlywed wife must at all times show her husband the same fealty she would give to a king or duke? Is it not required that you must be constantly meek and obedient in your manners?”
“But you are not my husband and the laws of—”
“For the purposes of this journey, you are my wife and this illusion is done to protect you from bandits and our enemies. If I were to arrive in Barranto without my duchess, my head would be on a spike. And, as I suggested to your good father, you must be well practised in these acts of submission, for the duke is a keen proponent of the traditional Laws of Matrimony, something to which I note your lady mother, like many Lomarda women, has abandoned. We in Barranto are beholden to the code of the warrior lords who conquer, who bestow order and bring their women both comfort and protection. You will kindly dismount and to ensure you begin this journey in the correct frame of mind, you will make the appropriate gesture that a good wife does when greeting her husband.”
Juliet grasped her reins tighter. “Father,” she called out. “This rude man insults me. Am I not a duchess?”
The Lord of Lomarda approached the captain. She waited with a smirk for her father’s admonishment of the upstart soldier.
“My apologies, Captain Ilian. We have not had the time to instil upon my daughter the danger she is in if she does not abide by the Laws of Matrimony. My wife, in private, is naturally very obedient, but has become accustomed in public to newer ways. We border on lands where attitudes are changing. We have been unnecessarily influenced, and it is why I believe this marriage will ensure the traditions of our people, regardless of their fealties, are not forgotten. Dismount, daughter, and act accordingly.”
She couldn’t, not after all that she had done for her family. It wasn’t as if she had sworn oaths like men do when called to battle. She had married against her wishes, and surely, that was sufficient proof of her obedience. This strange man with the copper skin of the south, coal hair, and ebony eyes was not worthy of her obeisance.
“I shall not in the privacy of this courtyard. Maybe when we are in the company of strangers I shall do my best to act the role, but not here in front of my household.”
The captain reached up to her waist with two gloved hands and plucked her from the saddle as if she weighed nothing. He deposited her before him and folded his arms across the expanse of his armoured chest. The metal plating was polished so intensely, she could see the flush of her cheeks in her reflection.
“Kneel,” he said coolly.
She flinched. The voice wasn’t harsh or aggressive. She heard the tincture of sternness, the expectancy of obedience that came with his office.
“I am not a soldier,” she said, and turned to look at her father, but he had backed away, his head lowered.
Lord Lomarda shook his head and said nothing.
“Mother?” She reached with her voice to where the white-faced Lady Katerina stood.
“Kneel, daughter,” came the docile reply. “It is how things must be from now on. You are a Barranto now.”
Her parents retreated to the far side of the courtyard, out of earshot, and so nearly out of sight, too.
“And if I don’t?” She glared up to the square-jawed man.
His eyes sparkled for a moment. “I will punish you. As it is written in our law.”
Her lips trembled. “But… but nobody has done such a thing to me.”
“So I can tell.” The corners of his mouth curled upward. “Fear not, my duchess,” he said, lowering his voice, “These men are accustomed to rude manners, and will not consider it amiss if I strip you bare and take a switch to your bottom. As for your household, would they not respect you more if you did as you are told? Are you not their representative now? They fear their city and land will be overrun by worse men than I. Men who will show no pity, like I might show you if you are a good girl.”
“I don’t want your pity,” she said brazenly. Beneath the sash around her waist, her stomach twirled into knots. He treated her with contempt, and yet, she was not afraid of him, as she should be. He had a rigid code of honour instilled upon him and she had to admit his unswerving attitude was strangely beguiling. A true warrior had courage beyond measure, something she admired.
He lowered his arms. “No, you don’t want pity. I see that. You are a brave maiden to stand so tall and proud. I vouch that has served you well these last years as a child, but now you are fully a woman, and need to make sacrifices. Make your obeisance. Now.”
She sank to her knees, pinned down by his hard stare, and lowered her chin. Pain seared through her breast, as if she had been struck with a punch. The tension in the air was palpable. If she had married out of choice, she would be doing this act with devotion and acceptance. It was not how she felt. Her dignity was gone, and nothing would ever be the same again.
“You know that is not the complete act of submission.” He spoke quietly, so that only she heard the tone of his voice. “Is it not so that as my wife my cock is yours to worship?”
She gasped. The crudeness of his language beyond anything she had ever heard. “Please, this is not the place—”
“The law states that a wife must serve and worship her husband’s desires daily except in times of ill health or nursing. This is indicated by the appropriate kiss. In public, this may be made discreetly; in private, well, we are not truly married, so you need not worry about touching my flesh. However, daily my men and those we encounter will expect a new bride to greet her husband so, until he is satisfied she is truly his wife. I am not satisfied, Juliet. Make the correct devotion or I shall cut a switch from the tree over there.”
He meant it, she was sure, for he spoke with a calm authority for one closer to her age than her father’s.
When she had turned from girl to woman, as decreed by those in authority, she had read the Laws of Matrimony, and therefore she was no innocent. The book, often given as a gift on the day of coming of age, was supposedly the only book she need ever read. The pictures clearly illustrated all kinds of devotional acts, described in a delicate language suitable for a lady. She imagined the book for husbands was blunt in its directions.
There was nothing she could do for now to avoid this embarrassment. When they were on the road and away from the critical eyes of her parents, she would tell the arrogant captain that she was having none of his public displays of wifeliness. Beneath the leather of his breeches, hidden away, was his manhood, and against the cloth, she was expected to press her lips sufficiently for him to feel the pressure of her devotional kiss.
If her mother performed this symbolic act, she had only ever done it in the privacy of their bedchamber. Juliet was suffering the humiliation of doing so before those who had only ever known her to be a lady of rank and deportment.
“It won’t bite,” he said softly. “You might think me severe, young lady, but this is nothing to what your real husband will expect from you. The duke will gift you pretty dresses and puppy dogs for your entertainment, but daily, you will be his, and mark my words, he is not a soft-hearted man.”
The warning was delivered without malice, but soberly, and it galvanised her into making some kind of response. How far she was prepared to go with it, she wasn’t sure. Maybe she might slip to one side and kiss his thigh. Would anyone notice from where they stood that she hadn’t performed the complete act? But would he force his hand upon her and insist on the correct homage? It was as she leaned toward him that he touched the top of his head and ceased her movement with a steady hand. Her pulse quickened. Was he about to force her to comply with a roughness that would humiliate her further?
He spoke with the same calm tone. “I’d prefer you didn’t smudge the rouge on your precious lips. A willingness is sufficient for now. I will save you any further discomfort, and that of your household too, since they are not familiar with the duke’s expectations being so publicly displayed.”
She spluttered an exhale, a muted cry of both anger and relief. Regardless of the intervention and the reprieve it had brought her, she still felt thoroughly degraded by being on her knees before a stranger. If he considered the intervention a suitable compromise, it arrived too late; he had taken advantage of the situation and offered her no apology for what he either considered a lesson in deportment or a test of her obedience. Probably both. She began to rise and he held out a hand to help her. She ignored it.
“There,” she said through gritted teeth. “You’ve made your point. You’re in charge, and I’m to do as I’m told. This nonsense of husband and wife will not apply when we speak in private. I am your mistress.”
“Indeed, you are. But I shall enjoy pretending to be your husband.” He left her to mount to her horse with the aid of one of the household servants.
Her mother waved goodbye from the gatehouse. If she was sad to see her only daughter go, the tears weren’t showing on her face, but hidden away from sight. Juliet, still flushed from the shameful encounter with the captain, couldn’t look at her. For though her mother had been kindly to her as a child, she hadn’t prepared her sufficiently for this new life as a wife. Whether Lady Lomarda had done so to protect Juliet, or because she felt it wasn’t her duty to speak of such things, Juliet hadn’t been given the opportunity to ask. She wished she was marrying a lord from another country, one where the old practices had been abolished.
Fate was not on her side; the further south they travelled, the more likely she would have to submit to more unsavoury traditions.
Stefan preferred not to use taverns. Innkeepers had eyes and ears, and in Umzard it wasn’t always possible to tell foe from friend. The region was beset with lawlessness and notoriously difficult to govern due to its mountains and forests.
She wasn’t happy when they made camp outdoors for the third night in a row even though he had chosen a spot by a river that provided her with a shallow pool for bathing. She huffed and kicked at stones, transforming quickly from a lady to spoilt child.
He hid his smile. Her little tantrums were strangely entertaining.
A pretty girl with a fulsome bosom—the men couldn’t take their eyes off it; he had threatened them with a whipping if they touched her. There were other features of her sex to admire: long locks of golden brown hair, the kind that tinted yellow in the sun then turned umber during the dark winter nights. Her eyes were emerald and sharply focused when he spoke to her, whereas her lips were plump, and too often frowning.
Each night they erected a tent for her and her maid to use, while he and the men slept under the stars with only the branches of trees for shelter. She had risen the first morning, dressed in a white undergarment that reached her shins and stockings, and bartered for more food than her allowance.
“I shall wither away,” she had whined upon seeing the portion of bread.
He had laughed. Though slender of waist and legs, she wasn’t going to starve. The exercise of riding for long hours was what made her hungrier than usual. Boredom, too, as she refused to speak to him.
As for the kissing of his cock, he had forgone it since they had left her home. Not because he didn’t think she needed a few lessons in how to behave, but because it was unfair on the men to see him play the part of a husband when it wasn’t necessary. They were alone, out of sight, and unlikely to encounter other travellers, especially if they stuck to the lesser highways. It meant a longer route, but the duke hadn’t specified how Stefan should reach his citadel in the south, only that his bride wasn’t captured by his enemies.
The peculiar thing was that she had on the first morning gone up to him and lowered herself onto her knees before him in full view of the men. There she had waited for his command, and he had hesitated, nearly requesting she press her mouth to his body and perform the duty.
“You need not, unless you think you need a reminder of the law.” His cock had twitched angrily at his denial. When rising to her feet, she had tried to hide the flush of her cheeks by turning away from him, he had caught her arm and dragged her around so he could see the fire in her eyes. Such a display of both anger and passion. He suspected if he sought out her cunt, she would be wet and needy.
However, he had let her go, and she had stomped off into the shadows of the trees. He might be wrong about her blushes. He had only known her a few days.
Frustration in either of them wasn’t good. He had to stop thinking of the things he wanted, the dark desires that tormented him. He had not so long ago dismissed his last mistress, one of a long line of extremely subservient young women who had come knocking on his door begging to please him in the hope they might be worthy of his name. He chose his bed companions carefully, dismissing the ones that pretended, and selecting those that were genuine for a rigorous spell of training. Unfortunately, none could match his lust and ardour for longer than a few months, and given he was required to serve on campaigns that took him away from his home, he was not in a position to seek out new companions. Although a captain, he had hoped one day to regain the ancestral title of his forebears. For now, he held a lesser title representing a lord on the lowest rung of the ladder of nobility.
On the third morning, it was apparent her relentless anger wasn’t lessening. He snatched up a bow and quiver of arrows, deciding to hunt for rabbits on his own in the nearby scrub of bushes.
He left her behind with his restless men.
The rabbits were abundant, and he shot half a dozen with ease while hiding in the hollow of a tree stump. Then, having trussed them together, he carried them to camp feeling pleased with himself.
The camp was in disarray. Oletta was crying, the two manservants of Jacop were hunched over the fire, while his men shouted obscenities at each other, scurrying here and there like the rabbits he had just killed.
“You fucking idiot,” one said. “You just wanted to stir things—”
Stefan roared across the mayhem. “Where is she?”
They froze, and slowly formed a line, quite rightly wary of his anger. They were well trained and loyal, many had followed him into battle, but they were also foolish and on their own prone to telling tales and taunting each other. He should not have left her alone with them.
“Well?” he growled.
“She ran off, sir,” said Tomaso, his sergeant. “We tried to call her back, but she refused to stop.”
“Why?” He picked up his cloak and sword and tossed the brace of rabbits at Tomaso.
“We were just talking, sir.” Tomaso caught the rabbits. “She insisted on going alone, and she is our mistress, is she not? The men heckled and she demanded them not to follow.”
“I’ll deal with you later. She can’t have gone far without a horse.”
He jumped into the saddle and followed the imprints of her shoes in the dirt. He was right, she had only gone half a mile, if that, before giving up. He found her huddled by the river, idly throwing stones into the water. She had been crying, but now the tears were dried streaks on her face.
He dismounted. She didn’t move to meet him, or look him in the eye.
“Juliet, what are you doing so far from camp? Do you not realise the danger you are in?” He strode over the boulders that littered the riverside until he reached her side.
“I don’t care.” She spat the words out and tossed another pebble in the flow of the river.
“I do. I care very much that you left and ordered my men away. They should not have left you. From now on, one of them will be ordered to follow you regardless.” He propped his foot on a boulder. “Explain yourself.”
“No. And I don’t care to be followed, even by one man. What of my privacy?” She looked up at last and glared at him.
“Your privacy? Ha, I think, my lady, you forget that we are not in some fine castle with maids to wait upon you. This is a rough journey, and I shall do my best to make your comfortable, but we cannot risk your life for unnecessary pleasures. If you wish to bathe, then I shall allow your maid to keep you company, but one of my men will be within earshot in case of alarm.”
“Earshot! Do you think they won’t look? They are scum, your men; they told me what they do when they take prisoners, and how your great duke, my husband, takes his pleasure. He likes two or three in his bed at a time, is that not so?”
Stefan slowly removed his foot from the rock and stood up straight. “I see, you have been listening to gossip, like a laundry woman does. Of course prisoners are taken, it is the way of all wars, and as for the duke, he has had mistresses, it is his right, but now that he is married, he will be yours.”
“He… he maims, on the battlefield, cuts off arms and legs… and burns… and…” she stuttered, loose-tongued and without thinking.
“Do you hear what the other side do? No? I thought not. War is a terrible thing, Juliet, and men do what must be done. Times are cruel, barbaric, and that is why I must keep you safe. But instead, you disobey me and run away. This cannot be permitted.”
“Permitted?” She rose to her feet. “I am your duchess.”
“Jacop gave me strict orders, ones that he would have carried out himself if he had come with us, and I can assure you, he is not one for leniency. I have no patience for this stubbornness of yours. I want to know that I can trust you to do as you’re told.” He had never expected he might have to actually consider punishing her; the threats in the courtyard had been just that, words said to mollify her into obedience.
“Jacop isn’t here. I shan’t be told what to do. If I want to go for a walk alone, I shall.” She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes into defiant slits.
He clenched, then unclenched his fists. She was putting him to the test, and there was no other option but to respond. He turned and walked away, back into the scrub that lined the sides of the river.
“Ha,” she yelled after him. “See, I knew you weren’t the man for the job. You can’t be a decent captain if you aren’t in control of your men. They were rude to me.”
Stefan ignored her. He unsheathed his dagger and cut down a branch of a larch tree, a nice straight one that was young and still flexible. He selected four others of equal length and thinness. He whittled off the leaves and twigs and bundled the sticks together. Marching out of the undergrowth, he returned to the river, where Juliet still sat, her lips pressed into a frown and her chin upraised in defiance.
The expression lasted only a few seconds when she saw what he carried. “No!”
“Yes,” he said calmly. He had to stay focused and in control, for a switch handled aggressively would do too much harm. He wished only to make her uncomfortable, and as for her behaviour, apologetic would be acceptable. “I’ll whip you over this boulder.”
He pointed at the smooth stone. During the winter months, the river was rampant and fast flowing, and now that it was summer, the water had receded, leaving behind the vast rocks.
“Whip me?” Her face was perfectly aghast. “I am a lady, a duchess.” The stutter had returned.
“As you said, I care not. And if I am rude, then so be it. I have a job to do, and you are making life difficult for me. It’s simply a matter of punishing you, and then we can start again. This is how you must learn, Juliet, and if I were your husband, I would do this. Now remove your gown, lift your skirts to your chin, and bend over the stone. It will feel cool, but I can assure you, by the time I have finished whipping your sweet behind, you’ll be plentifully warm.”
He couldn’t help grinning. It was too perfect to be true. He was always taken by the sight of two alabaster globes, neatly parted by the long furrow joined to the smiling creases of the thighs, and at that beautiful apex nestled the honey-dewed slit, gifted for a man such as he.
She shook her head.
He sighed. “I would rather not manhandle you, or call upon my men to hold you down. I am patient though, so I shall wait for you to oblige me.” He sat on a rock.
“Does it have to be that?” She pointed at the switch.
“Well, it would be unseemly for a man of my status, as you so gallantly put it, to touch you with my bare hands. I must therefore avail myself of a suitable implement.” The front of his breeches stretched, struggling to contain what was beneath the stitches. He had to keep his thoughts under control. As for the new duchess’s opinions, she was woefully ignorant of the noble house she had joined.
“How many?” She fiddled with the laces of her dress.
He pursed his lips. “I guess it depends on your apology.”
“My apology,” she said indignantly.
“Yes. Some words to that effect. I think though that the quantity is not your fear. What troubles you is that you have never been naked before a man, and that you want to know how it feels but dare not find out.”
Her eyes widened into emerald moons. He had stunned her into silence.
“I can tell by the way you are touching your dress that your stiffened nipples chafe against the fabric, and that between your fine thighs, you are quickening.”
“How dare you!”
“But you don’t deny it.” He lay the switch across his knees.
“I do most certainly.”
“Then prove it. Remove your gown and bend, so that I might see that your quim is both parched and unaroused.” He stroked the long sticks. Would she acquiesce? He had trapped her, surely, and that was not a bad thing, for he had to understand how to control her if she was to be delivered safely to her husband.
He wished, briefly, that the destination was different. If he plotted carefully, there was a means to change their plans. However, the thought lasted long enough for him to know it was a dangerous one and unlikely to succeed. For now without her cooperation, he had to stay focused on delivering her intact. Although perhaps red-bottomed, he thought wistfully.
“I’m waiting.” He whistled nonchalantly.
“Spank me then with your hand.” She clutched at her skirts and came closer to him. “With my dress down.”
He contained a smile of amusement at her negotiating tactics. Any soldier would tell her that backing down was a sign of capitulation, so he shook his head.
“No, Juliet. I am decided, the switch and bare. I will permit you to keep your legs together.”
“Permit me… I can’t do this… you’re horrible,” she ended lamely.
He lifted his fingers to his mouth, as if to wolf whistle, a call that would send his men running.
She held up two placating hands. “No, don’t summon them. Very well. I shall do what you ask, but I shall hate you for it. Really hate you,” she said spitefully.
He laughed. “We’ll see.”
She slipped the gown over her head. Underneath was the white undergarment and knee-high silk stockings.
“You best roll those down.”
She huffed for second, then slid the silk down to her ankles. She wasn’t hurrying; he didn’t mind.
“This boulder is the smoothest. Over you go and remember to lift that skirt high.” He rose to his feet and rearranged the bundle of sticks.
She froze to the spot, her lower lip wobbling. “You’ll have to do it.”
“Force me over. I can’t move.”
“No, this is for you to do. You can move. You’re not a coward, are you?”
She shot him a fierce glance of anger. “No.” And with that, she bent, embracing the hard stone with her soft feminine figure. The contrast seemed fitting.
“The skirts,” he reminded her.
The fine cloth ruffled around her knees, then slithered up to her thighs. He held his breath. The unveiling was magnificent and turned his cock into a steel spear. For at the apex of her thighs was the open slit, swollen pink, and dewy; the morning sun bounced off the sheen. Higher went the skirts, up above the raised mound, down into the dip of her back. At last, he had full sight of her generous arse, and magnificent it was too. Milky coloured, smooth and rounded into gorgeous pear shapes.
He lifted the switch. She closed her eyes, and he brought the twigs down with a slow swoop. They hissed in the air, then cracked against her bottom.
He expected her to flee, to run and dip her striped bottom in the icy water. She stayed in place, though, hugging the boulder with her outstretched arms, and except for her legs, she bravely kept still. She wriggled her feet sideways, and to his delight, opened up the furrow so he could see the neat alignment of her two entry points, and the fluff of tiny yellow hairs, so dainty, they were barely visible. He was right. She had quickened, and if she was a virgin, it was perceivable she was inviting him to spoil her. He wouldn’t though, not without good reason.
Neither could he be the one to tell her what the duke truly liked in his women, although he wouldn’t be surprised if Jacop’s men, when plied with drink, might say things they should not. However, his current quest remained unchanged, and regardless of what stirred his loins and brought him fulfilment, he must not fail her. He raised his arm and prepared to whip her again, and again, until she whimpered for mercy.
The resilient girl, flushed pink around her delicate neck, stiffened, bracing herself for more. He hesitated, seeing that she was parting her lips to speak.
She lifted her head fully, and her eyes were like arrows shooting barbs at him. “I am sorry. I beg you please, spank me. You can spank me for as long as you wish, please. Just don’t whip me. I will take off my dress and be naked for you. If that is what you wish. I will do it.”
He lowered his arm. The temptation to whip her was strong; it had always been his preference, the whip or birch, sometimes a strip of leather. The hand was different. The hand signified an indulgence of the flesh.
What was happening to him? To her?