At first Jude drove the horses at only a walk, but then he pushed them into a gallop along the smooth road. When the road became rough, he again slowed the horses to a walk. It was obvious that Jude was very good at driving, and Callie found herself admiring him without even seeing his work. She knew he snapped the whip at just the right time, always with the safety of the horses and passengers in mind.
After they’d traveled what seemed like a million miles, Callie felt like she was about to crawl out of her skin. She wanted nothing more than to join Jude, who would converse with her unlike the other passengers. A plan formed in her mind about how to get back in her rightful seat. It involved annoying the passengers, which would go against Jude’s admonishment to treat people respectfully, but it would cause no harm. If her plan worked, Jude might scold or even spank her, but that would be bearable if it would get her back in the box.
And so Callie began humming in the way that annoyed the passengers when they’d slept over at the swing station. They hushed her, but she continued and added a tap of her foot on the floor to increase their annoyance. Annie begged her to be quiet in her gentle way. “Let’s have some quiet now, Callie.”
The senator was not so gentle. “Shut up, you rotten mauk, or so help me, I’ll throw you out the window.” He grabbed her arm and seemed quite prepared to make good on his threat until Billy spoke firmly to him.
“Let the girl go.”
The senator hesitated to acquiesce but eventually flung her arm away from him. Callie rubbed it and resumed humming. Billy and Annie exchanged frustrated looks, and the senator looked mad enough to bite himself. Callie then broke into loud song. It was nearly dark by this time, and the passengers had arranged themselves as though to try to sleep, but Callie made sure her voice sounded like someone forgot to grease the wagon, which prevented them from napping.
Finally, after what seemed like hours of effort to annoy them, the senator leaned out the window. “Driver!” he shouted. “You’d better stop before a murder happens back here.”
Jude didn’t hear him at first, so the senator shouted again, louder. “Driver!”
Much to Callie’s glee, Jude called for his horses to halt. Her heartbeat quickened with excitement. This was the only interesting activity to happen for hours.
“What is it?” Jude snapped at the senator, sounding thoroughly displeased at having the journey interrupted.
“This girl will not shut up and we’re trying to sleep! We want her out of here.” The senator bellowed at his wife then. “Virginia, you get down from there so the ill-mannered scamp can join the driver. Let her be his problem.”
It was all Callie could do not to clap her hands with delight. Her plan was working out perfectly. The senator’s wife grumbled about it, but she stepped down from her spot and swung open the coach door. The senator shoved Callie out roughly, causing her to tumble and fall on her backside. She wasn’t expecting that treatment and let out an outraged shriek, though the fall didn’t injure her.
“What in tarnation?” Jude exclaimed. He pulled his brake and stepped down from his seat. “Are you all right?” he asked, holding out a hand and helping Callie to her feet.
She nodded. “Yes, I suppose. The senator was real anxious to get me out of there.” She pouted at Jude to appear especially victimized and brushed off the dust from her dress.
Jude frowned at her and pointed at the box to indicate that she was to get herself seated. She climbed up and smirked as she listened to Jude dressing down the senator. His voice sounded angry as he threatened to have the man removed from the party. He said that regardless of what she’d done, shoving a passenger out of a coach was unacceptable and wouldn’t be tolerated. She felt vindicated that Jude had taken her side over the senator’s—that is, until he climbed up next to her and informed her of her fate with an extremely angry look on his face.
“Paselo is another four hours away. You can spend that time enjoying sitting comfortably because once we get there, I’m going to take my belt to you. Your disobedient backside will feel every bump along the road for days.”
Her eyes widened, and her forlorn act became real. She didn’t think what she’d done would make him that angry. “But I didn’t mean—”
“I don’t want to hear it. I suggest you hobble your lip, as I suspect anything you say will only get you into more trouble.” He released the brake and slapped the reins over the horses.
The only light was from the moon, but it was bright enough for Callie to see how angry Jude looked. He didn’t speak with her. Every time Callie looked over at him, she regretted what she’d done a little more. She worried about the punishment, but mostly she worried that he didn’t like her anymore. Finally, after being ignored for far too long, she begged, “Please forgive me. I can’t bear you being angry with me.”
“You will have to bear my anger, Callie,” he said in a low, even voice, “and you will also have to suffer a punishment. We just discussed this! I expected you to behave, and you did the opposite.”
“But I wanted to be up here with you, that’s all! I didn’t cause anyone harm, and I hate sitting in the coach because no one likes me. Do you still like me?” She hated how weak the question made her sound, but she felt desperate to know.
When Jude didn’t answer, tears flooded her eyes. A stab of loneliness tore at her heart. Her thoughts flashed to Sam, her best friend who she would never see again. Then she thought of her future husband. Oh, how she longed to meet him. In her mind, Albert held the answer to everything—she would never pull such a stunt with him and therefore he would always love her.
She turned her head away from Jude and sniffled quietly as her nose began to run from crying. She hoped Jude wouldn’t hear her. He did, however, because he reached over, took hold of her wrist, and pulled her to him gently. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and gave her a hug. “I like you, honey, but I don’t want you to think I like your behavior. I’m disappointed in you because I know you can be good if you try. Does that make sense?”
Callie felt great relief, hearing that Jude still liked her, and she marveled over how good it felt to have his arm around her. She nodded. “Yes.”
“Good. Stop carrying on then.” Jude removed his arm from around her so he could hold the reins again with two hands, but Callie remained close to him. Her relief transformed to weariness. Her head dropped forward in a moment of sleep, which she startled awake from.
“Lay your head down on my leg, Callie, and try to find sleep,” Jude ordered. “The next couple hours will be smooth without much rough and tumble.”
She did as she was told. She placed her head on his thigh and stretched her legs across the seat. She felt his leg muscles ripple against her cheek. His thigh felt hard as a rock, but Callie didn’t think she’d ever felt something more comfortable. He placed his hand lightly on her forehead and smoothed away the hair from her face. A small tremor of delight coursed through her. She couldn’t recall anyone having touched her in such a way, and she felt something quite unfamiliar. She felt safe and cared for, like she always imagined children with parents felt. It didn’t take long for her to fall asleep.
Callie watched Jude close the door behind them, turn up the light of the oil lamp, and peruse the room, which was sparse in its furnishings. A bed took up one corner, while another housed a small table with basin and water pitcher. The curtains over the window were brown with lace stitched around them. Jude didn’t speak, and she grew nervous. It was entirely improper for an unmarried man and woman to share a private hotel room, but they had little choice. When they reached Paselo’s Main Street Inn, they discovered that only three rooms were available. The couples took temporary residence in the other two rooms, leaving Callie and Jude to share the third.
But it wasn’t the impropriety that had Callie shaking in her boots. She knew Jude planned to thrash her, and judging how angry it made him that she’d annoyed the other passengers purposely, she didn’t imagine it would be a few light swats. Still, he had also treated her kindly and didn’t seem angry anymore, so she held out hope that he would forget his promise.
That hope was soon dashed. She watched in horror as Jude unbuckled his belt, sat down on the bed, and laid the leather strap next to him. He patted his leg. “Come lay yourself over my knee, Callie. Let’s get your punishment over with.” His voice was firm and held a trace of weariness. She could hear that he was worn out from the long two days in which he didn’t sleep, instead maintaining focus on his driving.
She gave him a mournful look from where she stood a few paces away, clasping her hands behind her back. “Please, Jude, I’m sorry—”
“Come to me now,” he interrupted, his voice taking on a hard edge. “You knew this was going to happen, and I don’t want to hear any arguments.”
His impatient tone caused her heart to pound, and she felt even less inclined to position herself in such a way to feel his wrath. She blinked and gaped at the belt on the bed, which she knew would light a fire on her bottom as soon as she obeyed and lay over his lap. She tried to summon the courage to step forward, but the memory of the painful spanking in the barn, combined with Jude’s present foul mood, filled her with apprehension.
“Don’t make me come and get you,” he growled. “It’ll be much worse for you if I have to.”
She felt the blood pumping in her ears with every beat of her heart, and she began to tremble. Her nose burned, indicating she was moments from crying. With every ounce of courage she could summon, she walked to him. Her eyes stung with tears as he took hold of her hand. She looked into his dark eyes, which were studying her intently, and noticed them soften before he pulled her over his lap. Her arms and legs dangled in the air, while her torso spanned his thighs. She squeezed her eyes shut as he wrapped his hand around her waist to hold her in place.
“You’re shaking like you’ve been in the snow for hours and not in the hot sun,” he observed.
“I-I’m really scared,” she said, the fear obvious from her wavering voice.
“You’re supposed to fear punishment before misbehaving. The whole point of punishment is to keep you from doing something bad again. Why didn’t you think of the spankings I already gave you before acting up today?”
She sniffled, already starting to cry. “I did. But at the time a spanking seemed worth being up in the seat with you, rather than sitting in the coach with folks who hate me.”
“They don’t hate you, Callie. You’ve got to give them a chance. If you’re respectful toward people, they’ll generally be nice to you in return.”
He placed his hand on her bottom, and Callie felt something quite similar to fear but entirely more pleasant in her nether regions. The pleasure confused her.
She squirmed. “Just get it over with. I’m used to being punished. I’ve been punished all my life.” This she said more to herself than to him in order to convince herself there was nothing to fear. Callie heard him sigh, and she clenched her bottom cheeks, waiting for the first smack.
Instead, he continued to talk to her. “You’ve been mistreated your whole life. Someone who mistreats you is different from someone who disciplines you for your own good.”
His words broke something inside of her. She felt anguished, followed by a rush of anger. Anger was the only way she knew how to express the strong feelings that were bursting in short, painful spurts inside of her. “I hate you!” she told him through a sob. She hoped her outburst would make him shut up and get on with punishing her. She didn’t want to talk. She didn’t want to think about her feelings. They were too raw, too terrifying, and she wanted no part of them.
“No, you don’t,” he continued in the same tone. “You hate that I’m holding you accountable for your actions, when no one has bothered to do so before. It’s new and confusing for you.”
“I got thrown in a closet every time I was bad,” she snapped. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“No,” he argued. “You got thrown in a closet whenever you were an inconvenience. No one cared enough to discipline you to make you a better person, only to cast you out of their sight when you annoyed them. You didn’t deserve that treatment. I promise you that.”
“Ohh,” Callie sobbed. “P-please stop talking, Jude. Please just punish me. I c-can’t take this. I beg you.” By this time, she wanted nothing more than to feel the bite of leather, to move the pain from something emotional to something physical.
Jude picked up the belt. She heard the buckle clink as he folded the strap in two. Then a line of fire licked over her clothed bottom, and she hissed in a breath. The next lash was even harder, but the sting felt good. She wanted more. She wanted to be thrashed hard for as long as it took to draw out the pain she felt inside. Again and again the belt kissed her upended seat, and Callie moaned, relieved as her heartache faded. When Jude stopped whipping her, she lay limply over his lap and relaxed as his hand caressed her bottom.
“Good girl,” he murmured, and Callie burst into tears again, not from sadness or pain, but from something else she couldn’t quite understand. How she felt in that moment, after being punished, was far different from how she felt after being thrown in the closet. Before, she had felt abandoned. Now, she felt the opposite. She felt Jude’s presence quite strongly.
He pulled her up and sat her smarting bottom on his left leg. When he handed her his handkerchief, she blew her nose.
“Tell me why I punished you, darlin’.”
Callie hiccupped. “Because I annoyed everyone on purpose so I could sit in the box seat.”
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, and she leaned her head against his chest. “That’s right. And that’s bad behavior, something a petulant child would do.”
She sniffled and nodded, feeling very chastised like before when he punished her, but this time she also felt cared for.
“And I’ll tell you how you can know this punishment was for your own good, and not because you’re an inconvenience to me.”
She pulled away slightly and looked at him. “How?”
His eyes twinkled. “Well, I wanted you up in the seat with me. If I didn’t care about you learning to behave, I would have been happy with the result.”
She gave him a small smile. “Really?”
He nodded. “Yes, really. I’m quite fond of you. Don’t tell the others, but you’re my favorite out of all of them. In fact, you’re my favorite passenger ever.”
Callie’s heart swelled, and her smile broadened. She couldn’t remember ever being anyone’s favorite. Sam liked her. He may have even loved her, but she always knew he loved his children more.
Jude kissed her forehead and loosened his hold around her. “Let’s get some sleep now. I’m dragged out, and I’m sure you are too.”
Callie marveled over the chaste kiss and felt it tingling on her skin long after it was over. She stood from his lap and pulled back the coverlet. When she climbed under it, Jude tucked it around her. As she hoped he would, he lay next to her. Their bodies didn’t touch, but the space between them seemed very small. She would only need to scoot over slightly to feel his chest against her back.
She let out a sigh of pleasure when his hand stroked her arm down to her hand. He took her hand in his and skimmed her knuckles with his thumb.
“Sweet little hellion,” he murmured. “Giving me so much trouble. What am I going to do with you?”
His chiding made her ache and feel cherished at the same time. Jude knew her. He knew how much trouble she could be, and she had certainly been an unruly handful, and yet he seemed so very fond of her. How strange it was to be known and also liked.
He released her hand and reached up to brush his thumb over her ear, remembering how she couldn’t handle silence in the dark. His touches felt so tender, so kind. Her heart fluttered, knowing that the same hand could turn to steel if she misbehaved. She felt drawn to his strength as much as his tenderness, and she longed to feel both in that moment. She wanted him to grab her into his arms and kiss her hard. She remained still and took deep, calming breaths, afraid of the powerful feelings growing inside of her that seemed nearly impossible to contain.
After some time, his hand fell to the side, no longer providing her with the sounds of a river. She felt only a moment’s panic. It dissipated when she heard a loud snore coming from the man beside her. The louder he snored, the more she smiled. As she drifted into sleep, the last thought on her mind was that if Jude were her husband, she would never have to worry about panicking in silence again. He snored like a bear, and she had never felt so calm in the dark.
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