Claire relaxed within Lord Galien’s hold and swallowed hard. Heat flooded her face at his threat of chastisement. She bowed her head and felt tears of frustration burning in her eyes. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She was supposed to enjoy a nice, long visit at Hohenzollern away from Diterich and her late husband’s relatives, especially her conniving stepson. She had eventually hoped to ask Princess Susanna for assistance in traveling to one of her brothers’ estates, but now it was too late.
Even if the story Lord Galien told her about Leuthold held true, she did not understand why her brother wished for her to marry the man. Leuthold, along with the rest of her brothers, had stood by without uttering a single protest when their father announced she was to wed Lord Diterich, all for the sake of an alliance that had proven troublesome in the end.
“I would rather not fight with you, Lady Claire.” Lord Galien’s deep, rumbling voice sent a flutter through her insides.
She inhaled a long, drawn-out breath and closed her eyes, willing herself to wake up in her bed, but when she opened her eyes Lord Galien was still staring down at her and still holding her captive. She tore her gaze away from him and listened as the chaos in the castle started to settle. She heard murmuring voices, punctuated by the occasional shout or bawdy laugh, coming from the great hall around them. The soldiers who apparently weren’t bride hunting today rushed by with armfuls of stolen goods, some of them lugging trunks through the halls.
“Do you have any belongings you wish to bring with you?”
Lord Galien’s question caught her by surprise, as did the kindness she glimpsed in his dark brown eyes. She cleared her throat. “Aye, my lord. I didn’t travel here with much, but if you would permit me to go to my chamber I will gather my things.” The longer she stalled, the longer she remained in the castle, the better her chances of escape. If she somehow managed to evade Lord Galien and slip down to the underground passage again, she might find her way into the north woods and catch up with Glenda, Hazel, and the others.
“Very well. Show me to your chamber and I will have my squires collect your belongings. If you attempt to cause any mischief though, my sweet Claire, I will make you sorely regret it.” He snapped his fingers and two squires emerged from the horde of looting men.
The four of them traveled through the halls and up a busy set of stairs. Lord Galien kept a firm hand on her upper arm, guiding her through the crowd. She noticed that he commanded great respect, or perhaps he incited fear, because all the soldiers stepped out of his path and gave him a wide berth.
The armored men swept past them carrying their treasures, everything from golden candelabras, to jewelry, to ladies’ dresses. Claire wondered if her chamber had already been ransacked. Once she reached the room she had been sharing in the east wing with Hazel and four other ladies, she frowned at the open door.
“That’s it,” she said, nodding. “If you would permit me some time to collect my things, I will be quick about it.” She glanced into the empty chamber and groaned inwardly to see it in such disarray, but at least some of her belongings remained untouched. The lid of Claire’s trunk rested open, but many of her dresses remained hanging over the side. She made to move into the chamber alone, but Lord Galien followed her inside with a possessive grip on her arm.
His assessing gaze swept around the room and he gestured for the squires to enter. “Please collect all of Lady Claire’s belongings in her trunk, and be quick about it. I would like to depart Hohenzollern within the hour.”
Claire’s mouth fell open and she wrenched from Lord Galien’s grasp. “I will pack my own things!” she snapped. “All of you, get out! Bloody get out!”
“My lady, I insist you calm yourself.”
“I said to get out! All of you!” She required time to think, damn him. She had never intended to marry again. She had already done her duty to her family by wedding the awful Lord Diterich, and she saw no benefit to a match with Lord Galien, for her family or for his. Her brother’s command puzzled her, and she hoped to talk her way out of the marriage. Yes, she would speak with the duke before the nuptials took place. Surely Lord Galien would not deny her a visit to her brother’s castle on the way to his keep. She took a deep breath and peered into her intended’s soulful eyes, fighting off the desire to sink further in his arms. His hold on her had turned gentle, though his censoring gaze burned into her.
“It appears you do not listen very well, do you, my lady?”
“I am sorry for my outburst. Your squires may pack my things. Th-thank you, Lord Galien, for your kindness.” It grated her nerves to speak so civilly to the man, but she forced the words out in hopes of garnering his favor long enough to see her to her brother’s castle. Her cheeks ached behind the smile she forced.
Lord Galien waved a hand at his squires, but instead of packing up her trunk, the young men slipped from the chamber and shut the door behind them. She inhaled a shaky breath, the sudden darkness in Lord Galien’s eyes stirring fear in her heart. The last thing she wanted was to be alone with the man!
“My lady, I will not have you speaking disrespectfully to me or any of my men, squires included. As my wife, your behavior reflects on me, and it is my duty to ensure you are well-mannered and ladylike. Furthermore, I will not be mollified by a fake smile and placating words. No wife of mine will make a fool of me.” His harsh tone and his sudden grip on her shoulders made her wince. Still, she hated to cower in fear.
“One marriage was enough for me, Lord Galien. Whatever my brother’s intentions are, I wish to discover them before we are wed. I demand that we travel to Leuthold at once so I may have an audience with him.”
He lowered his head and a vein on his temple pulsed. “I need to hurry back to my keep, my lady. We will be wed soon and I’m afraid a visit to the duke is out of the question. Already the first snowfall is upon us, and I have business to take care of at Minrova. We will visit your brother in the spring, Lady Claire.”
The last vestige of her control slipped and she pushed out of his grasp, then shoved at him with all her strength. She stood, utterly stunned, as he wobbled and almost fell backward on the bed. Panic swirled within her when he righted himself and pinned her with a livid glare. Her mind screamed for her to turn and run away, to try to rush out the door, but her legs became rooted to the floor. When he finally spoke, the quiet anger in his voice washed through her like a rush of cold water.
“Lady Claire, I have just lost my patience with you. Now, I want you to go stand in the corner over there. Put your nose to the wall and do not turn around until I beckon you.”
She gulped and stared at the corner he’d nodded at. “Th-the corner? Why?”
“Because I intend to spank your naughty bottom, that’s why. I have given you plenty of opportunity to conduct yourself properly, my lady, but you have crossed the line. I have no doubt a sore bottom will help ensure your good behavior for the duration of our trip to Minrova, or for the rest of the day at least.”
Disbelief coursed through her, and a warm sensation pulsed between her thighs. She pressed her legs together and wrapped her arms around herself as if to fight off a chill, but she no longer felt cold at all. Heated all over, her shame at the prospect of being disciplined by the stern Lord Galien awakened baser desires she had not experienced since the time she indulged in a long kiss behind the stables with one of her brothers’ friends. Her husband had never called up such a yearning within her. She hugged herself tighter and gave Lord Galien her most apologetic look.
“I-I am sorry I spoke to you in such a disgraceful manner, Lord Galien, and I beg your forgiveness for my pushing you. I promise it will not happen again. It is not necessary that you discipline me.”
“Ah, but it is very necessary, my sweet lady.” His countenance softened a few measures. “If I allow you to get away with such behavior now, it will set a bad precedent. Do not be frightened, Lady Claire, I will only be giving you a light spanking. This time. As long as you cooperate with your punishment, I will not use my sword belt. I suggest you turn around and take up position in the corner, little lady, now, lest I change my mind about being gentle.”
Claire opened her mouth to argue further, but his stern demeanor had her clamping her lips together and turning around. Her gut clenched with apprehension. Taking a deep breath, she moved to the corner and waited for his instruction. Perhaps if she stood here without fussing, he’d reconsider her punishment. A phantom tingle prickled across her bottom cheeks, and she lowered her head as her face flamed. Why did she feel so warm and achy, even as nerves twisted and whirled in her stomach?
The door creaked open and then slammed shut, and she resisted the temptation to turn around. Her shame deepened as she realized the squires had returned. Standing in the corner was embarrassing enough in front of Lord Galien, but the presence of spectators deepened her humiliation. She prayed the stone floor would swallow her up, anything to help her escape her shameful position.
From the clinking of metal on metal going on behind her, she guessed the squires were removing the remainder of Lord Galien’s armor, and she next heard what she supposed was her heavy trunk scraping across the floor. The door opened once again, permitting a rush of noise from the soldiers in the hallway, before it slammed shut. She jumped at the sound, feeling a sense of finality at being alone with Lord Galien. She wondered if the hard push still angered him. Now that she had time to reflect, she supposed physical aggression was an appalling way to conduct herself against a lord.
Her mother had tried to raise her to be a gentle, kind woman with a heart full of grace, but Claire had faltered much growing up, constantly disappointing her parents as she got into scrapes with her brothers and their friends. She missed her mother and felt ashamed once again for behaving in a way that would’ve disappointed her. A lady always remains calm and gentle, Claire. A lady who resorts to violence will never command respect, and the ability to command respect for oneself is of utmost importance, her mother told her once after scolding her for punching a boy in the face. At the time Claire had ignored her mother’s wisdom.
She sighed and wondered if her mother had been right. Would Lord Galien treat her differently if he respected her? And why did it matter to her so much what he thought of her? They’d just met, and she didn’t like him. No, not a bit.
Lost in her thoughts, she didn’t hear his approach.
She started when a hand touched her shoulder, and gooseflesh rose up on her arms. The deep voice at her ear wrapped around her like a warm blanket, but the words that came forth struck fear deep in her heart.
“It is time for your punishment, Lady Claire.”
“Lord Galien, please, I beg you to reconsider.” She grimaced when she said beg, as if the mere idea of pleading with him lay beneath her.
Well, he intended to show her who was in charge. Besides that, he needed her subdued when they departed Hohenzollern. While he wished to give her a proper wedding in Minrova, he doubted they would make it through the portcullis without speaking their vows. Before he’d ventured into the castle, he’d seen the castle priest brought up to perform the hasty ceremonies after Gerhard’s decree.
Galien rested his hands on Claire’s shoulders and peered into her startled gaze. She was so opposed to the idea of accepting his discipline that he wondered if she had ever been spanked in her life. “Claire, I want you to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Try to calm yourself,” he said in the gentlest of tones. For a moment he reconsidered his decision to spank her, especially when a tear trickled down her cheek as she opened her eyes.
“I-I don’t want a spanking,” she said, her bearing imploring and childlike.
He brushed the tear away with his thumb and fought the impulse to gather her in his arms. The longer he stared at her, the more he wondered if this match had the potential to become more than just another political marriage. “Claire, you have nothing to fear from me. However, when you do wrong, little lady, I will not look the other way. Now come and lay yourself across my lap.”
She resisted, but only in a slight pull against him as he guided her to the bed. He sat on the edge and brought her down over his thighs, angling her so her upper body rested over the blankets. His first touch to her posterior was met with a quick intake of breath, and she shifted over his lap, inadvertently rubbing her center atop his growing hardness. Several strands of her dark brown hair had escaped her coif, and he bent to brush the errant locks from her face. A shudder rippled through her and her face bloomed under a pretty blush. He wondered if she felt his cock swelling beneath her, straining against his leggings and seeking out her sweetness. She met his gaze briefly before turning her head to the side, away from his view, but not before he saw her blush deepen.
Where she had gotten the ridiculous notion that she’d spend the rest of her days an unmarried widow, he knew not. She was still young and hadn’t conceived a child with her first husband, likely due to the lord’s advanced age, and she had many good, fertile years ahead of her. Galien needed an heir, and now that he had located Claire he supposed wedding his overlord’s comely sister to be as good, if not better, than any other match he might have made. After Lady Rhianna died, he had decided to put marriage off as long as possible, preferring to satiate his lusts with the tavern wenches from his village, much to the frustration of his father. But now, as he held the nervous Lady Claire over his lap and prepared to chastise her, he rather liked the idea of keeping a wife, filling her with his seed, and watching her grow heavy with his child.
He blew out a breath. By God, what was he thinking? He had met Claire not yet an hour ago and already his mind brimmed with notions more romantic than any he’d ever entertained. Sitting straighter, he gathered her closer and reached for the hem of her dress, deciding it best to get her discipline over with. The poor girl was shaking profusely, and while he knew he must punish her, he wished to end her misery.
“Please, Lord Galien,” she said, her voice urgent. “It is not proper for you to see me unclothed.” She reached a hand around to prevent him from baring her bottom, but he circled her wrist and pinned it to her lower back.
“I’m afraid I cannot allow you the protection of your skirts,” he said, lifting her chemise up with her dress, revealing her pale bare bottom to his gaze. His cock throbbed and longing pummeled through him, clouding his ability to think clearly. She was so lovely, and she was all his to do with as he pleased. Right now it pleased him to look at her, and it pleased him to stroke her naked cheeks while she squirmed and whimpered.
He raised his hand high and brought it down with a resounding smack, leaving a dark pink mark on her delectable bottom cheek. Again, he spanked her, this time slapping the other side. She cried out as if he’d just abused her grievously, and he paused and tightened his grip on her, now holding both her wrists at the small of her back overtop the layers of her dress and chemise.
“Claire, I hardly struck you. Those were light slaps. Why are you screaming so?”
“Because it hurts!”
“It’s going to hurt a lot worse by the time I’ve spanked you properly. I will not have you screaming like a wild cat every time I punish you. I do not expect you to be completely silent, but screaming as if you are being murdered is not acceptable. Now,” he said, adjusting her bottom higher in the air and forcing her legs apart, “we are going to continue and I expect you to control yourself for the remainder of your spanking.”
With the next slap, she uttered a small gasp and only kicked her feet once, and the improvement pleased him. He continued on, switching from her left cheek to her right one as he spanked, covering the entirety of her bottom. It didn’t take long for her pale cheeks to blush as prettily as her face had moments ago. Feeling devilish, he smarted the insides of her thighs and held her in such a way that she couldn’t close her legs, then he moved up to bestow attention to the tender curve of flesh where her bottom and thighs met. All the pale flesh on her bottom reddened under his hand.
The soft sound of her crying wrenched at his heart, and he gave her two more hard slaps before stopping to caress her inflamed cheeks. “It’s over, my sweet Claire.”
She sniffled. “Don’t call me that.”
“Because I don’t like you, and I’m not sweet. There’s nothing sweet about me.”
He stroked her punished flesh once more, running his hand over her heated skin, before he pushed her chemise and skirts down. His cock still throbbed and strained to escape his leggings. By God, he couldn’t wait to have her writhing naked underneath him in the marriage bed. He was glad she wasn’t a virgin and he hoped she might enjoy such pleasures with him later in the warmth of their tent. “You’re wrong.” He released her wrists. “Everything about you is sweet. I think it is sweet that you were trying to save your friend.”
“How do you know about that?” She peered over her shoulder at him, her blue eyes sparkling with question. Despite her widowhood, she possessed a childlike innocence that made him want to spend the rest of his life watching over her, protecting her, and making her smile. He imagined the glimmer in her eyes while she smiled or laughed rivaled that of the sun and stars.
“I watched you for a spell after I followed my men into the castle. Some of them wished to take wives, you see. I regret that I was not able to stop that mercenary from frightening you. I looked away for a moment to speak with my squires, and when I sought you out again you were in trouble. I am glad you were not harmed, Lady Claire.” He turned her over, sat her upright on his lap, and wrapped his arms around her.
At first, she resisted meeting his gaze, opting to glare at his chest. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and the impulse to wipe a lingering tear away proved too tempting to resist. Still keeping one arm around her, he reached for her face with his free hand and brushed her tear away with his thumb. As he did so, she glanced into his eyes, her expression fearful and confused.
“Come here,” he said, drawing her against him. He nestled her head on his chest and stroked her hair, half of it now fallen from her coif. “Well, my lady, do you think you learned your lesson? Will you behave yourself for the remainder of the day at the very least?”
She remained silent for the longest while, and he almost wondered if she’d fallen asleep in his arms. But finally she spoke, her tone as soft as her body felt within his embrace. “I-I promise to try my best, my lord.”
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