All rational thought fled from her mind as he pulled her down over his lap, seeming to take his time to arrange her just the right way so she would receive the full effect of the spanking she so richly deserved. Beneath her she could feel the power of his muscular thighs. She wriggled experimentally, her already taut nipples brushing against his leg to send a tingle of arousal coursing straight to her feminine core. A firm hand pressed into the small of her back, stilling her movements and she finally understood that this was really not a game, that she was not the one in control of what would happen next. It was a terrifying yet thrilling notion.
As he drew her skirt up slowly, carefully, to expose her bottom, bared and ready for him, she felt a sudden surge of desire as a breath of chilled air caressed her skin. For the briefest of moments, her heart seemed to stop beating. This was it. At last, he was going to show her what it meant to be subject to his discipline, to be completely at the mercy of a powerful man.
“Do you know what happens to little girls who misbehave?”
“Yes, sir.” She swallowed hard. “They get spanked.”
“That’s right, Belinda.” His voice was practically a purr, his use of her first name sending an unexpected shiver of excitement down her spine. “They get spanked, first with my belt and then with a paddle, don’t they?”
“Yes, sir.” She spoke to confirm that she had understood exactly what he planned to do to her.
He ran his fingers over her bottom, applying a light, teasing pressure as he explored the soft, smooth skin that would soon turn a delightful shade of pink beneath his hand, well-practiced in the art of punishing a recalcitrant female.
“You’ve been a very naughty girl, haven’t you, Belinda?”
She took a deep breath. “Yes, sir.”
“So, tell me, Belinda, what did you do to earn this punishment?”
What did she do? She bit down hard on her bottom lip, trying to decide what to tell him. What was it she had done to deserve this spanking? The answer was simple enough as she knew exactly the crime she had committed but how could she bear to put it into words?
Sighing heavily, Lindy shook the images from her mind. Now was not the time to indulge in fantasy, especially when the star of her daydreams was standing guard by the door, his brooding presence making the air prickle with tension. Painfully aware that he was studying her every move like a hunter watching his prey, she hung her head, thoroughly ashamed of herself. That it had even crossed her mind to try to resolve her financial problems by stealing from her cousin Abby was bad enough but to have been caught in the act of actually attempting to smuggle a diamond bracelet out of the house was beyond mortifying. It was just so unlike her to do something this awful. She had no idea how she had allowed herself to be reduced to such an idiotic act of desperation.
Her shoulders shook with the effort of keeping the tears burning the corners of her eyes from falling. She doubted that crying would garner her one ounce of sympathy from Mr. Tall, Dark, and Judgmental over there. Spanking? He looked as though he planned to flay her alive. That unflinching look of disapproval on his face told her all she needed to know. He wanted to throw the proverbial book at her and it was no more than she deserved.
Lindy risked another quick glance at the man she’d only met a handful of times before today. Jackson Davies, friend and security adviser to the billionaire Marcus Donovan, cut a formidable figure. A rich and powerful man in his own right, he was someone who few people would dare to cross. Certainly, she should have known better than to get on the wrong side of him. She had no experience of dealing with such an overwhelmingly dominant force, especially as she got the distinct impression he had disliked and mistrusted her from the first moment he laid eyes on her. If she was not careful, he was going to walk all over her.
Still, she couldn’t help but find him incredibly appealing. Quite aside from the fact that he would not look out of place on the glossy pages of a men’s fashion magazine with that strong, proud jawline and those impossibly intense chocolate brown eyes, there was a strength of character there that she found attractive.
He was a man of conviction, principled and self-disciplined. There was a darkness about him yet, somehow, she sensed that he was a man who would take good care of any woman who needed his protection. Perhaps she could appeal to that side of him, make him understand that she was not such a bad person, that she just needed a little guidance. After all, she hadn’t actually made it out of the house with the bracelet on so, technically, she hadn’t stolen anything. Had she?
Her hand had been reaching for the handle of the side door in the east wing, which had been recently rebuilt after a fire had destroyed much of it. Although it was the most discreet place to slip out of the house, she’d already begun to doubt that she could simply walk out of there unseen. She hadn’t thought through how she was going to get to the station to catch the last train back to London and what she would do with the bracelet once she got there. Master criminal, she was not.
It was as she’d stood there, trying to decide what to do, that she had suddenly been grabbed from behind and lifted off her feet. Before she even had time to protest, she’d found herself being flung over a solidly masculine shoulder. As she’d struggled to free herself from the determined hold of her captor, a sharp smack had landed on her bottom and, caught off guard, she had instantly ceased her squirming. It had been a strangely exhilarating experience and it had left her feeling somewhat confused. Daydreaming about being dominated and spanked was one thing, but how could she actually enjoy being manhandled in that way?
Jackson had brought her here, to the library and dumped her unceremoniously onto her feet. Without uttering a word, he’d thrust a hand down the front of her dress in a strictly perfunctory manner that had, nonetheless, sent ripples of arousal through her, and retrieved the bracelet. He’d ordered her to sit on the sofa in much the same tone he might use when addressing a dog and then summoned one of his men to go and find her cousin’s husband, the equally intimidating Marcus Donovan.
Waiting for him to arrive had been agonizing. Lindy had no idea what she was going to say to him, how she was meant to explain herself. Really, there was no excuse for what she had done, other than that she was desperate for money. That justification sounded hollow, even in her own head, but she had to try. Marcus was a decent man. Surely he would be willing to listen to what she had to say before condemning her?
As the door opened and Marcus strode into the room, Lindy’s heart sank. Clearly furious at being dragged away from the party he was hosting to celebrate the renewal of his wedding vows, his face was like thunder. Lindy felt a sharp stab of guilt at having ruined the evening for him. Although she did not know any of the details, it seemed that Marcus and Abby had faced some challenges in the past year and had decided to reaffirm their love and commitment to one another in a lavish ceremony. That she was the only member of the family Abby had invited to the gathering was a real honor for Lindy and that was yet another reason why she felt her actions in attempting to steal the jewelry were so reprehensible.
“You are absolutely sure about this?” Marcus checked with Jackson.
“Caught her red-handed,” he responded, reaching into his jacket pocket to extract the exquisite bracelet that he had, to Lindy’s great shame, found concealed in her bra. He laid it carefully on the desk. “She was halfway out the door with that stuffed down her dress.”
Marcus flashed her a dark look and Lindy found that she could not meet his gaze. Her eyes dropped to the floor as shame branded her cheeks.
“Has she said why she took it?”
Was it a bad sign that he wasn’t prepared to speak to her directly? Yes, Lindy decided, looking at the two forbidding figures, both glowering at her in disapproval, it was.
“What difference does it make why she took it?” Jackson’s tone was dismissive. “She’s still a thief.”
“She’s also Abigail’s cousin.” Marcus sounded uncharacteristically unsure of himself. He was probably aware that Abby had only recently reconnected with her. Abby’s upbringing had not been easy, with a mother more interested in having a good time than caring for her daughter and a father who only occasionally showed up in her life, spending a few weeks at a time playing happy families before moving on again. As soon as she had been old enough to leave home, she had moved away and had gradually lost touch everyone including Lindy. Once her life was more settled, with her husband’s encouragement, Abby had got in touch with her cousin, the one person she had felt close to growing up. They’d instantly become friends again, despite the passing of several years. That knowledge would, undoubtedly, make it harder to decide what action to take.
“Just because she’s family, it doesn’t mean she should get away with it.”
“No,” Marcus agreed solemnly. “It doesn’t.”
Lindy’s hopes fell away. She had been right about Jackson wanting to punish her for this and now he was going to persuade Marcus to call the police. She could feel it. The only chance she had now was if she could speak to Abby and plead for forgiveness. When they were younger, they had been close, more like sisters than cousins. She was sure she would be able to convince Abby that she had not intentionally set out to hurt her, that she had only attempted to steal from her because she could see no other way out of the trouble she was in.
“I want to talk to Abby.”
Two pairs of angry male eyes turned on her in response to the demand and she shrank back in her seat.
“No fucking way!” Marcus was resolute. “This is the last thing my wife needs to deal with right now.”
The level of guilt Lindy felt was ratcheted up another notch. Her cousin had confided in her earlier that she and Marcus were expecting their first child together.
“Please let me speak to Abby,” Lindy begged. “Please, I need to explain.”
“Explain what?” Abby Donovan breezed into the room through the door her husband had forgotten to close behind him. She was the very image of beauty and poise in her white gown. She looked around and her brow furrowed at what Lindy imagined must be a pretty grave scene with her sitting on the sofa close to tears and bad cop, bad cop standing in the corner looking like they were ready to hang, draw, and quarter someone.
“It’s nothing for you to worry about, my love.” Marcus captured his wife in his arms and pulled her close. Lindy experienced an unwanted twinge of jealousy. The affection between the couple, the bond they so clearly shared, was something she had never known in any of her relationships. “Why don’t you go back out there and say goodbye to the last of our guests? I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.” He shot Lindy a pointed look. “Once I’ve dealt with this.”
“Dealt with what?” Abby asked. When she received no response, her face set into a determined scowl and Lindy had to admire the way her cousin squared up to the two men, despite their obvious displeasure. “I want to know what’s going on here.” It became clear very quickly that her husband was not going to tell her anything, so Abby turned to the other man. “Jackson?”
The taciturn American looked to his friend and Marcus shrugged wearily, letting him know that it was okay to answer, that they would get no peace from his sassy little wife until she found out what was happening. Lindy knew that when her cousin got the bit between her teeth there was no distracting her from the truth.
“Your cousin here has been helping herself to your finest jewelry.” He indicated the white gold and diamond bracelet that was sparkling accusingly on her desk.
“No.” Abby sounded completely horrified. “No, that can’t be true.”
Lindy fidgeted with the folds of her skirt, wanting the ground to swallow her whole, as Abby took a tentative step toward her.
“Lindy? Tell me you weren’t planning to steal from me.”
“I… uh… I…” There was no way for Lindy to conceal her guilt. She was not that good an actress. The look on Abby’s face as she studied her cousin’s remorseful expression and realized that Jackson was telling the truth was devastating. Lindy reached out to her but, without saying a word, the other woman pivoted on her heel and ran from the room, her concerned husband a mere two paces behind.
“Fuck.” Jackson moved toward the door and then stopped, turning back to Lindy. “Give me your purse.”
Her brow furrowed and she clutched the black bag that contained what little money she had, along with her keys and some makeup, close to her.
“I’m going to sort this mess out and I don’t want you disappearing on me,” he explained. “Now, give me the purse.”
Lindy held it out and Jackson took it from her. “Good girl. Now sit right there and do not move a muscle until I get back.”
He paused, waiting for confirmation that she would do as he said so Lindy nodded her head. As much as she wanted to make a break for it, she knew it would be pointless to even try. In the unlikely event that she did manage to get off the Donovans’ property, which was vast, a man like Jackson Davies would have no trouble running her to ground.
He gave her one last withering glare before leaving the room.
Lindy slumped back on the sofa, her heart beating rapidly. She gulped back tears, knowing that now was not the time to weaken. Whatever happened now, she needed to stay strong.
She was giving quite the performance, his little thief. If he had not caught her in the act, she would have flounced off into the night with a one-of-a-kind diamond bracelet that held considerable sentimental, not to mention monetary, value. Yet there she was, looking as though she was the wronged party. With her pale, creamy skin, enormous blue eyes, and hair like spun gold, she was the very picture of angelic innocence. Add to that the homely floral dress and matching pink cardigan that made her stick out amongst the Donovans’ other, more glamorous guests, and she succeeded in making it appear as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.
Since he had returned to the room a few minutes ago, after conferring with Marcus and a distraught Abigail about what do with Miss Belinda Jayne Halliwell there, she had not uttered a single word. There had been no crying and begging for leniency, no attempt to offer lame excuses for her actions and, thankfully, she had not tried to seduce him into giving her a pass. That, he would not have handled well. He had always hated it when a woman tried to use her body as a bargaining chip. Female manipulations left him cold but she had not done any of the things he might have expected. Instead, she had just sat there in quiet contemplation and it made him wonder what was going on in that pretty head of hers.
“So here’s what we’ve decided,” he announced, his words seeming to boom into the tense silence between them. “Marcus and Abigail have left on their second honeymoon as planned. They will be away for a couple of weeks. You are going to stay here under house arrest until they return and do penance for your crimes.”
She looked up as though she was about to speak, possibly to object to his use of the plural when he mentioned her ‘crimes’ so he held up a hand to silence her. As far as he was concerned, she had committed a number of offences and, if she put herself in his hands, he intended to take her to task for each and every one of them. “You are to work hard and do as instructed at all times.” He paused, trying to read the expression on her face, to determine if she was with him so far. From the furrowing of her brow it seemed she was, indeed, listening intently to every word. “And you will submit to whatever form of discipline I decide will help you learn your lesson. The alternative is for me to call the police and have you charged with theft.” He let that sink in before adding, “You have five minutes to make your choice.” Because, in order for this to work, it did have to be her choice.
“Abby knows about this?” Lindy asked, her voice so quiet he almost missed the question.
Jackson nodded. It had, in fact, been all Abigail’s idea, something that had taken him by surprise. It had already occurred to him that a period of confinement and a series of sound spankings might straighten the young woman out but he had expected to have to persuade Abigail to follow his course of action. But, she had suggested the possibility of him taking charge of correcting Lindy’s wayward behavior first and even when he’d insisted that if he was going to agree to take her younger cousin in hand, it would have to be done his way, Abigail had not wavered. It was, he guessed, a sign of how far he and his friend’s wife had come in recent months. They had not always been each other’s biggest fan and he knew she still considered him a little strict. Now, it seemed, she could see some benefits to his approach.
“And she agreed to it?”
“Abigail is the one you have to thank for this generous offer. She had to convince Marcus to agree.”
That was not exactly true but Jackson wanted to impress upon her how firmly her cousin was on her side, to show her that there was someone who cared enough about her wellbeing to go out on a limb to help her. Although Abigail had been the one to propose the idea, Marcus had actually responded to the problem of what to do with Lindy with almost as much compassion as his kind-hearted wife had, a clear sign that impending fatherhood was changing his outlook on life. There was a time when he would have seen her sent to prison and left to rot, no matter who she was. Jackson shook his head, thinking about their conversation, how the couple had tried to find excuses for the little felon’s behavior. She had a horrible childhood; she’d recently lost her job; she was all alone in the world. Tough shit. Lots of people had issues to deal with but they didn’t resort to stealing from family. Obviously, everyone around here was going soft but him.
He was going to take charge of this woman and set her back on the right path. What’s more, he intended to enjoy doing it. He could just imagine her positioned over his spanking bench, that pert little bottom raised in invitation. Her skin had a beautiful peachy glow and he could not wait to see the flesh of her buttocks striped red with the marks of a cane. His cock jumped to attention as he thought about the little groans she would give as she wriggled to free herself. Provided, of course, Lindy agreed. He had no doubt that she would, considering the alternative was a prison sentence and a criminal record that would stick with her for a lifetime, not the best option for a schoolteacher who was currently between jobs.
She should be snatching his hand off to take the offer but he could practically hear the doubts churning around inside her head.
“If there’s something you want to ask, now’s the time,” he told her. “Once you’ve agreed to my terms, there is no going back. You will do whatever I say and submit to any punishment I choose without complaint.”
He watched as she fidgeted nervously, picking imaginary bits of fluff from her skirt. She took a deep breath that seemed to steady her and, for the first time, looked him directly in the eye. There was an intriguing spark of life there and Jackson had to admire her obvious resilience. She was going to need that over the next few weeks.
“What exactly do you mean by discipline?”
A wry smile curved Jackson’s lips as she voiced the question he had fully expected she would ask.
“Regular spankings with my hand, a wooden paddle, or any other implement I think necessary for your correction.” Interestingly, her eyes darted off to the side as though she was trying to picture being spanked by him. Her mouth dropped open and her legs shifted in a manner that suggested she was trying to alleviate an intimate ache. So, there was a level of arousal there, although he doubted she was ready to admit that to herself, far less to him. “You will obey my every command without question, no matter how much your mind wants to rebel. Oh, and you will submit to a thorough physical examination. Tonight.”
He had no intention of embarking on this little project without first ensuring she was fit and healthy. To his eyes she looked pale and thin. He was not going to risk doing her any damage. And, of course, there was the added bonus that surrendering to such an intense exploration of her body on the first night would make her immediately confront some of her preconceived ideas about what she truly desired. The curiosity to discover new sensations, the desire to be dominated, was written all over this woman. As he scrutinized her face, looking for a reaction, her cheeks blanched.
“You intend to touch me?”
“It would be hard to conduct an examination without any touching.” He tried to keep the laughter out of his voice. There was no doubting that such a proposition was new to her and he had no desire to humiliate his young charge. Well, not until her sentence began. Then it would be necessary to strip away all of the protective layers she had built up around herself, in order to teach her a new way of thinking, one where she realized she was better off following the strict guidance of a strong male. “But for the intimate parts, I will be engaging the services of a lady doctor I know well.”
A very unique medical practitioner who, as luck would have it, had been present at the vow renewal celebrations and had readily agreed to Jackson’s request to make herself available in case her special services were required. He was surprised and gratified to see Lindy nod ever so slightly as though she had decided that was acceptable to her. Then her brow crumpled again and he knew that she had not yet resigned herself to the inevitable.
“And will you…?”
She was shaking all of a sudden and something in Jackson made him want to scoop her up in his arms and offer reassurance, a surprising impulse that he quickly got under control.
“Do you intend to…?” Her voice trailed off and she looked down at the floor once again with intense concentration.
“Do I intend to what?”
Her whole face was on fire now and she clearly couldn’t get the right words out. She made a strange, strangled sound as she gestured with her hand and Jackson somehow managed to interpret the signs. His face turned to granite with the realization that she was asking if he planned to force himself on her.
“Hell, no, woman! What kind of man do you think I am?”
She shrugged her shoulders and he guessed he couldn’t blame her for feeling uncertain. He was talking about doing things that were way outside of her comfort zone and perhaps it was only natural that she should be anxious about how far he would go. Seeing her trembling like that, he knew that it was vital to get her to agree to his terms. A woman like her would never cope with prison.
“Let me assure you, Belinda, that the sexual contact between us will be purely consensual. I am in no doubt that we will fuck a great deal but only when I am certain that you want it. I might like to play rough, but I am not a monster.”
“I’m sorry.” She had tears in her eyes now and such a look of relief on her face that Jackson could not help but wonder what kind of men she might have encountered before. “It’s just that, well, I had to be sure.”
“Well, you can be sure of that. I will punish you and you should know right now, it will hurt. You will submit to my authority without question but I will not harm you. On that, you have my word.”
How had she managed to put him on the back foot like this, so he was having to explain himself? She was the one who was in the wrong here and yet it felt as though he needed to persuade her that he was not some rapist. The very idea that she could think such a thing of him, however fleetingly, wounded him more than he imagined it could. Whatever else he might be, he was an honorable man and he hoped that she could see that. But, he supposed, there were men out there who might commit such a brutal act and the very thought that such a thing could happen to a beautiful young woman like Lindy made his blood boil. He tamped down his anger so she would not think it was directed at her.
“Now, we’ve wasted enough time here. Are you willing to submit to my discipline, or do I call the police and let them deal with this?”
“You,” she said without hesitation, glancing shyly up at him with those beautiful denim blue eyes. “I choose you.”
It was an odd way for her to put it—she chose him—and it caught him off guard. He tried not to let his surprise show.
“Good. So, is there anyone you need to call?” She looked a little confused, so he elaborated. “Anyone who’ll notice if you suddenly disappear for a few weeks?”
“Oh, no.” She shook her head sadly. “There’s no one.”
Again, he felt that odd tugging sensation in his chest as though that long dormant heart of his was trying to spark into life. He snorted dismissively at that idea. This young woman with her innocent eyes was not getting to him. It had been a long day and he was tired, nothing more. Straightening his shoulders, he walked to the French doors leading from the library into the gardens.
“Come on, then,” he said without turning to look at Lindy.
“Why? Where are we going?”
“It’s getting late. Time to acquaint the prisoner with her cell.”
As he strode out into the night, he didn’t see the shiver of anticipation that gripped Lindy as she rose to her feet and followed him into the darkness.