Prologue: The Innkeeper’s Daughter
Through the haze, Royce wondered how many men this young woman had kissed. More than a couple, he wagered, but experience didn’t always translate to skill, and the soft lips he sought returned his kiss almost chastely.
An act, he decided.
“You’ve no need to play innocent with me.” His voice was gruff, his speech only slightly slurred from drink.
Snatches of memory from the preceding hours flitted through without coalescing into a solid chain of events. There’d been a long ride, the old but welcoming inn, the gambling, the drinks. She’d brought them to his table. He could not help but stare at the girl with milk-and-roses complexion and long blond hair. Someone mentioned she was the innkeeper’s daughter. He’d watched her come and go, admiring the swell of her breasts over the top of her bodice, the sway of her hips.
Royce turned his attention back to the plush bundle in his arms. Her breath was warm against his cheek, her pale skin soft as a baby’s. Softer.
“Don’t hurt me,” she said.
He chuckled at this. “Now, now. You’ve likely been with enough men to know I’m not going to hurt you, love. I’m going to give you pleasure.”
But Royce had silenced her with another kiss as he pushed her back on the bed. There was one sure way to get a woman to drop the façade of innocence, and he knew just what it was. Sliding down her body, he spread her legs and buried his face between them. Her little hands clutched at his hair, pulling.
As Royce ran his tongue up her slit, he noted how her body tensed. But after a moment of teasing her little clit, he tasted the flood of arousal that quickly coated the engorged petals of her inner flower, the sweet musk of her causing his cock to grow impossibly hard with a need of his own.
He rose back up over her, savoring her as he looked down at her face. Her eyes were large and brown, and oddly innocent for a girl who worked tables in a bawdy inn. Her thick, beautiful hair fanned out around her. Royce found himself running a finger up the jawline of her heart-shaped face.
“Such a pretty thing,” he said, and pushed himself between her thighs, unwilling to wait another moment to experience her warm grip.
He’d had more than one casual lover. Usually he did not look into their eyes. Why he looked into this young woman’s he could never say. But he would never forget the expression on her face, the way her eyes flew open in surprise. Nor would he forget the shock he felt even through the haze of his drunken state.
The barrier was gone before he’d even realized it had been there; there could be no denying it existed. Those brown eyes had closed then, scrunched tight.
Go with him, you little whore. He won you fair and square. His addled mind now recalled the innkeeper’s words, another jumbled piece from a night still out of context.
“It’s okay.” He smoothed her hair, his voice apologetic. “It’s okay. I’ll make it better. Relax…”
She was capable of passion; he knew that. She’d come when he’d had his mouth on her, a virgin’s first orgasm. He’d not ruin this for her, not turn her first lay with a man into a memory of a painful breach. Royce lay there, letting her adjust to his sizable girth.
“Easy now,” he said after a moment, and began to move. “Easy now…” He continued to stroke her hair as he moved carefully, tenderly. “Open your eyes, lass. Look at me.” When she refused to comply, he repeated the command more firmly and this time she obeyed.
“It won’t hurt any more…” He paused. “What’s your name, lass?” He knew it was an odd thing to ask a woman her name when he was already seated up to his balls inside her, but he had to know.
She swallowed, and when she answered, her voice was small and soft.
“It’s Imogen, sir,” she said.
“Imogen…” He recalled his Gaelic grandmother once saying the name meant ‘maiden.’ The name mocked him now, mocked the girl beneath him. But Royce hid his upset, suddenly feeling sober.
“Well, Imogen,” he said. “I want you to relax. I’m going to move inside of you. It will feel nice if you let it. No more pain.”
She nodded, her expression uncertain but so innocently trusting that his cock responded to that alone, twitching inside the tight, hot sleeve of her pussy. Royce began to move, murmuring to her as he did, managing a gentle smile. The young woman beneath him—Imogen—continued to look up at him and he watched as her expression turned from apprehension to something else as his cock thrust into her with slow, smooth strokes.
Her moan was his reward, and the sound of it nearly unmanned him. He’d thought to end it quickly for both of them, but the feel of her—the sweet softness, the wet grip of her pussy on his cock—had him prolonging the act until she began to pulse along the length of him, her velvet walls drawing and drawing him to the point of no return. He thrust into her at the end, harder than he intended, but she did not shy away. Her legs had gone around him, and Royce was sure she’d not been able to help this natural reaction to the sensations. He was glad for it.
When he rolled off of her, he could not let her go.
“Stay.” His voice was groggy, and he found himself suddenly feeling as spent as the cock that had slipped from the girl in his arms. He held her there. “Stay.” She softened against him, reluctantly, but did not leave.
Chapter One: A Matter of Honor
He awoke prior to the dawning of another gray English day. It was a welcome gloom, for Royce wanted nothing to remind him of the bright South African landscape he and his fellow soldiers had left behind. The crushing defeat in the Transvaal Rebellion had been demoralizing. Good British soldiers had been lost; officers, too. More had died on the journey home. A commendation from the queen had felt empty when he considered the deaths of comrades who’d been no less brave but far less fortunate. The ride from London home to Stonehaven Manor had given him time to reflect on a life away from the regiment. The pub had been a stopping point, a place to have the first drink in months.
The pub. The drink. The gambling. The girl…
He sat up in bed. Had it been a dream? He turned slowly and looked down, the night’s events starting to return in the cold light of day. She was sleeping beside him, her body curled in a graceful half-moon, her knees drawn to her chest. She was naked under the rough sheet, and through it he could see the outline of her firm bottom, the turn of her hip. The edge of the blanket had slipped halfway down her breast, and the tip of it showed chocolate dark against the creamy peak of flesh. His cock twitched.
More recollections. Her mouth, her taste. Traces of it still clung to the stubble on his face. The girl, beneath him.
Don’t hurt me.
What’s your name, lass?
Her pussy, so sweet, so impossibly tight. Her eyes, wide with surprise.
A chill came over him. No. Let me be wrong.
He sat up slowly, pulling the sheet off her sleeping form. She stirred, moving one leg. Royce closed his eyes and looked away. When he looked back, it was still there—dried seed, his seed, tinged with her virgin blood.
She’d been an innocent, and now as the previous night’s event came flooding back in a rush, it was all he could do to remain calm.
The gaming, the cards, the innkeeper joining the game toward the end. He’d called the girl over several times with drinks—to honor the officer’s service, he’d said. The strong drink had addled Royce’s wits, but not his game. He’d handily prevailed as one by one, the others abandoned the game. He was left then with just the innkeeper, whose expression had turned meaner and sourer as the stack of winnings before Royce grew and grew. Soon the innkeeper had nothing left to wager. Royce told him so, but the man had disagreed.
He had a girl, the innkeeper said. A daughter. He jerked his head toward the blond-haired lass who’d brought over dram after dram. He’d lowered his voice as he told Royce she’d entertained many a traveler and could be had if he prevailed in one more game.
Why had Royce believed him? Because he’d wanted to? Because he’d avoided temptation in ports, not wanting to end up like other soldiers left with lice or blisters as reminders of women who so cheaply sold their wares? He remembered looking at the girl whose name he’d not know until he was inside her.
She looked clean, pretty, inviting. She’d been friendly and polite when she’d brought over drinks. Demure. He’d decided she’d been playing the coquette, and so sweetly, too. So Royce had nodded and played not for cold coin but for a woman to warm his bed.
Had he fully had his wits, he’d have seen her reluctance. Or perhaps he’d not wanted to see it. Perhaps he’d wanted to believe the angry innkeeper when he’d ordered Imogen up to Royce’s room.
Go with him, you little whore. He won you fair and square.
Now he was filled with sudden remorse for his actions. And shame. She was no coquette, and certainly no whore. She’d tried to tell him, but he’d ignored her. He’d taken her virginity, and even though her body had been willing, the fact remained that his had been a seduction under duress.
For the first time in his life, he’d acted dishonorably toward a woman. That he’d been misinformed and drunk, he decided, did not make it right.
Royce rose and walked to the washbasin. The water in it was cold as he wetted a rag and washed his cock and balls. Then he wetted another cloth and walked back to the bed.
The young woman jerked awake as the cold cloth made contact with her thighs. She gasped, pulling away, but he caught her.
“It’s all right,” he said. “Lie back. I’m just going to clean you.”
It was a small gesture, but in the short term it was the kindest thing he could think to do—wipe away evidence of what he’d put her through. As his fingers brushed her fleecy mound, she flinched, but then relaxed as he continued to clean the dried seed from her pussy and thighs.
“I didn’t know you were a virgin, lass,” he said. “If I had, I’d not have taken you.”
She shrugged. “Would have happened sooner or later anyway,” she said, twisting the bedclothes in her small hands. “At least you were kind.”
Royce sighed. “It doesn’t make it right. Your father said…”
“Stepfather.” She offered the clarification almost vehemently before continuing quietly. “I never knew my real father. He left the day I was born. The innkeeper is just the man who married my mother when I was six. She died last year.”
“I’m sorry.” Royce pulled the sheet back up over her. Imogen had moved up against the pillows now and was regarding him coolly.
“I’m not,” Imogen said. “She was lucky to die. I wish it had been me. At least she’s away from him.”
Royce started to berate her. He’d seen death, and wanted to tell her she should never wish for such a thing. But she looked so sad, so lost.
He stood from the bed and pulled on his shirt. As he did, she looked out the window.
“Sun’s coming up,” she said. “He’ll beat me if I don’t get the fires started.”
Royce walked over and took her arm before she could rise. “He beats you?”
Imogen dropped her gaze. “Yes, not that it’s anyone’s business.” She glanced up through thick lashes. “Don’t tell him I told you. It will only make it worse.” She pulled away from his grip.
“Imogen.” It was the first time he said her name. She looked at him curiously, as if she weren’t used to hearing it. Royce wondered what her stepfather made her answer to. “I’m going downstairs. I want you to stay here. Do you understand?”
“You will.” It was not a point of negotiation, and his tone made that clear. “You need not fear the consequences, little one.”
By the time Royce was dressed, his pounding headache had been burned away by the heat of his indignation. It was not the travel-weary officer who emerged from the room, but the commanding Major Royce Kingsley.
His entry into the common room of the inn had the occupants falling silent. Royce knew he cut an imposing figure in his red coat, white breeches, and black boots. He strode through the room to where the innkeeper sat having his morning tea from a chipped cup. He stared up at Royce with watery, piggish eyes.
“If you’ve come to complain about the chill in your room, blame that girl,” he said. “It’s her job to light the fires. Is she up yet? If not, I’ll put a boot in her arse.”
Had the innkeeper been looking, he’d have seen the subtle but ominous sign of his guest’s disapproval, but he missed the gloved hand that clenched at Royce’s side.
“Sir, I do not believe I got your name last night,” Royce said.
The innkeeper sniffed. “Blythe,” he said. “Walter Blythe.”
“Mr. Blythe,” Royce said. “Would you do me the courtesy of standing up?”
Blythe shifted in his chair. “Why?”
“Because,” Royce said quietly. “I prefer not to hit a man who is sitting down.”
When the innkeeper just stared stupidly at him, Royce reached down and grabbed the portly man by the shirt front, lifting him with such strength that his legs upset the table he’d been sitting at. The teacup and plate crashed to the floor, shattering. Guests stared.
“She was a virgin,” Royce hissed into the innkeeper’s face. He was holding the other man just inches away from him, and while his voice was soft and controlled, his were the dark eyes of a soldier who had killed before and could easily kill again. The innkeeper, seeming to suddenly realize the danger, began to whine.
“What difference does it make?” he said. “I’d think you’d be even happier, having something pure.”
Keeping his hold on the man, Royce took a step forward and slammed him against the wall. Two pictures on either side of the innkeeper fell to the floor and he lifted a chubby arm to his face and whimpered in fear.
“It wasn’t yours to give,” Royce said.
The fat man peeked up over his arm. His eyes had turned sly. “Well,” he said, licking his pink lips. “If you feel so compelled, you could lay a sum for her maintenance, for honor’s sake.”
He cried out as Royce slammed him against the wall again, harder this time. Plaster from the low ceiling rained down upon them both.
“And have you steal it from her, you feckless buzzard?” Royce sneered with disgust. “I have something else in mind.”
He dropped the man, who landed in a heap before shakily rising.
“What?” the innkeeper asked, cowering now.
Royce backed away, dusting the plaster from his coat before jerking the lapels to straighten it.
“I want her hand. In marriage.”
What started as a chuckle from the innkeeper became a high, reedy laugh. “You want to marry her? You want to marry Imogen?”
“I want to do the honorable thing,” Royce said, “not that a man like you would know a thing of honor. I’ll lay a sum for her. She’ll go with me and you’ll never see her again.”
“A sum?” The innkeeper stepped away, obviously eager to be out of range as he began to press what he now considered an advantage. “How much?”
“A hundred pounds.”
The innkeeper pursed his lips. “And where does an officer get so much money?”
“If he’s Officer Royce Kingsley, from his family estate,” Royce replied.
The innkeeper grew quiet. “Officer… you’re… Royce Kingsley? Of Stonehaven?”
“The same,” Royce said.
Walter Blythe turned solicitous. “Begging your pardon, sir, I didn’t know. Had I known, I’d never have…”
“Which only speaks to your character all the more, sir,” Royce said. “I’ve tendered my offer. You will accept it.”
“A hundred…” The innkeeper narrowed his eyes. “Annually?” Then he flinched as Royce stepped forward to loom over him again.
“Listen to me well,” he said. “It will be a one-time payment, and more than you deserve. You will accept it, and I will take Imogen away from you. You will forget her, and will make no mention of any connection you may wish this marriage to impart between your name and mine.” He paused. “What you shall remember, however, is that I will happily kill you, should I ever seen your face again.”
That plump face was pale now as the man nodded. “Understood,” he said, backing away. “I’ll find another wench to do her job.”
“And I’ll send a man around now and again to make sure that new hire is not preyed upon as you’ve preyed upon your stepdaughter,” Royce said. “Understood?”
The innkeeper nodded and Royce turned on his heel to head back upstairs. He knew it was a most unlikely match given his station, but he’d seen enough in Africa to value humanity over comportment. Imogen had been so sweet beneath him; she would be a sweet and comely wife. He would teach her all she needed to know, and she would find him a protective and caring husband. After what had happened, he owed her the honor of marriage, and already looked forward to seeing her happiness at learning that she’d not be sullied and left behind, as she no doubt expected.
When he opened the door to the room, he found Imogen already dressed in the outfit she’d worn the night before. She was bending before the fireplace when he entered, and had not heard him come in. For a long moment, Royce looked at her kneeling there in her forest green skirt, white chemise, and bodice. The swell of her breasts was enticing, even now.
She looked up.
“I’ve spoken to your stepfather,” he said. “I was not toying with you when I said I would make this right. You will leave with me today, knowing the sacrifice of your maidenhead was not in vain. You will return with me to Stonehaven Manor. We will be married.”
She stood slowly, her hand at her midsection.
“Married?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said.
He walked over. “I suppose under the circumstances, I should introduce myself. I am Major Royce Kingsley, heir of Stonehaven, and the man who will be your husband.”
“An heir, are you?” She crossed her arms. “Well, sir. I’m sure you’ll make someone a fine husband, but it won’t be me. It matters not what we did, or who you are. And it doesn’t matter what you’ve been told. I’m not chattel to be given away, and I’ll not be given to you. I’ve no intention of marrying you, or any man.”