The man that I thought of as my jailer saw to it that the new horse was bedded safely within the stable and gave the lad there instructions to tend it, as he had been doing for my horse, Fortune. Only then did he turn back to me once more. “Come with me.”
He didn’t force me to walk alongside him, he didn’t lay a finger on me, but I at least had the sense to know when I was beaten. I knew that I could not run again—indeed, it seemed that it had been foolish to do so in the first place.
The moment we walked into the establishment, I saw that the innkeeper was by the door, smiling tightly at the pair of us.
“So, you have found her.”
“Yes, madam. Thank you for your concern. Now, if you’ll excuse us…”
“Oh, of course. I suspect you’ll have… matters to attend to.”
He gave her a thin smile in acknowledgement of her words, yet I turned my head to stare back at her. What could she have meant? Did she know… surely not! Surely, he couldn’t mean to carry through on such an awful threat! And even if he did, certainly he never would have shared such sensitive information with her!
He opened the door and gestured me inside, but as soon as I’d crossed into the room, I turned to him with arms folded across my chest. “Did you tell that woman that you… that you…”
“Intend to spank you?” he prompted as he closed the door behind us.
My eyes narrowed into slits. “You should know that a true gentleman would never—”
“I do not know what manner of ‘gentleman’ you’ve encountered, princess, but I think both of us know that a title and lands don’t make a man.”
For some reason, the way he looked at me made me think he spoke of Wallace, who I suddenly felt fiercely protective of, if for no other reason than this man was too low-born to look down upon him. “If you refer to the Duke of Württemberg, then it is my duty to tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about,” I informed him airily. “He was the most noble, most caring, bravest man that ever lived.”
My captor stared at me for the span of several long heartbeats, his gray eyes piercing me, as if searching me for lies. When he spoke again, his voice was soft. “You must forgive me my impudence, princess.”
He was finally giving me the deference that I’d told him in tone and manner that I deserved, and yet, somehow his gentle, unassuming demeanor made me feel ashamed. My mother had always cautioned me not to wield my nobility like a weapon, and I’d been doing it from the moment I’d met him—if met was the proper term. It didn’t matter that it, coupled with my razor-sharp tongue, was the only weapon I had, it only mattered that I was acting below my station by being so haughty. And to a man that, though he’d kidnaped me, had been nothing but patient and kind with me.
“Please… I’m not a princess.” When I spoke, my voice was mollified.
“I know, my lady. It’s my private jest, I suppose, and I pray someday you’ll see fit to forgive me for it.”
I ventured a small, tentative smile, though I kept my eyes on the floor. “If you have only been looking for something to call me, you can use my name. It’s Cecily.” I didn’t know that I’d ever told my given name to a commoner before, but somehow, it felt right. A peace offering of sorts.
“Thank you, my lady. It’s a lovely name. It suits you.”
When I dared risk a glance at him, I saw to my surprise that he was not mocking me. In fact, he looked quite serious indeed. For the first time, I took a good, long look at the man I’d been thinking of as my captor. I saw that the eyes which I’d initially thought bore such a strong resemblance to my husbands’ were in fact remarkably different. They were gray, that much was true, but they seemed to be full of light and framed by dark lashes, making them look truer to silver than the storm clouds Wallace had. He was taller than Wallace, too, and was good two heads taller than my own 5’4″ frame. Wallace had an enviable physique from fencing and sword fighting, but this man far outweighed him and it was clearly mostly muscle. His hair was brown with streaks of gold threaded through the strands, but his most noteworthy feature were the twin dimples in his cheeks. I’d only seen them once thus far, but as I looked at him, taking in the full measure of him, I wondered what it would take to see them again.
“You’re too kind,” I answered at last. I felt that my response had been late in coming, but he dipped his head in acknowledgement anyway.
“You may call me Antony, my lady.”
Antony. The name reverberated through me, seeming to suit his quiet strength and dignified bearing. “As you wish.”
We said no more for several long moments, each staring uncertainly at the other. I didn’t know where things went from here. Taught to be the epitome of a proper lady since before I could fathom any of it, I did not know how to proceed when one had exchanged Christian names with a man of lesser birth, much less what to do when that same man had promised to spank me.
“What are you thinking, Cecily?”
I could see that he liked trying my name out and it sounded sweet as honey on his lips, making me smile faintly. “Only that I don’t know how to… I don’t know what we should do now.”
“I see. Might I suggest we talk for a bit?”
I nodded and he took a seat in the chair by the door. Mirroring him—for it was all I could think to do—I sat gingerly on the bed.
“Firstly, I want you to know that I intend to keep you safe. I know that might be hard for you to believe, considering the manner in which we met, but I speak the truth. I have no desire to harm you, and intend to protect you from those that would.”
I had so many questions, so many things to say that rose to the tip of my tongue, but I swallowed each of them back, waiting patiently for him to finish.
“However, in order for me to do those things that I might ensure your safety, I must know that you will obey me. This is all I ask of you, my lady. You must obey, or suffer the consequences of failing to do so.”
The word went through me like a shot, making me freeze. Consequences. How did it sound so frightening on his lips, and yet… yet, my bosom heaved in a way that I could not understand.
“Sometimes, those consequences could entail you finding yourself in danger, as you were today. To prevent this from happening again, your consequence for disobeying me will be a sound spanking.”
My heart pounded hard at the sincere, calm way that he spoke of such things. It was unheard of, threatening a lady and especially one as high-born as myself. Yet, I felt myself thawing, somehow warming toward this man who’d spirited me away from my home. “You cannot,” I murmured, my breath quickening as I stared at him. “It would hardly be proper.”
“I’m afraid on this we’re going to have to disagree, my lady. Tell me, did your husband never chastise you?”
“Wallace?” I blurted out, his name a laugh on my lips. I sobered as soon as I’d spoken, flushing when I realized how improper I was being right this moment. I cleared my throat, abashed. “The duke would never do such a thing.”
It was true, in a sense. Wallace had been ready to beat me in a drunken rage on the day I fled from his presence, but I could hardly imagine him spanking me.
Antony’s intense eyes studied me for a long moment before he spoke again. “More’s the pity. I’ve always thought that a spanking, particularly when well-deserved, brings a man and woman closer together.”
I wanted to laugh again—indeed, the laughter bubbled in my throat, but one look at his no-nonsense face and it died on my lips. As the humor was fading, I felt something strange stirring in my breast, something that made my chest tighten and my pulse race. “I think I’m going to be ill,” I murmured, putting my hand to my forehead.
“The prospect of punishment can be frightening.” Antony clucked his tongue sympathetically, while I wondered if we were talking about the same thing. “Best to have it over with, and quickly, so that you can get some rest. I’m sure you’re still shaken from your ordeal.” When he stood, I once again mirrored him, backing away as he began to move toward me.
I kept moving, my feet shuffling in reverse as quickly as I could until I found myself backing into the wall. I swallowed hard, knowing that I had nowhere else to go. My eyes fixed on Antony as he moved closer still, in hot pursuit. I splayed my hands against the wall, pressing them tightly against the wood as though I could give myself room to run from the sheer will of wishing for it.
Regrettably, the wood stayed solid despite my grasping fingers and Antony was soon upon me. He did not grab me, or even make a move to touch me. He stood, large and looming in front of me without moving a muscle. As I waited to see what would happen next, I took in his large palms. I’d never had cause to consider a man’s hands before, but as I studied his I found the knots in my belly growing tighter with every passing moment. They were large and looked heavy. I couldn’t help but wonder, my breath hitching in my throat, what such a hand would feel like on my bottom.
He pinned me with his eyes and when I saw how kind yet unrelenting his gaze was, I knew that this was not a fight I should win. In all truth, I was tired of fighting, which was why I turned in slow, shuffling movements to face the wall. I didn’t know what came next, so I simply stood there, looking at the cool wood and trying to ignore the rapid beat of my pulse in the hallow of my throat.
“Have you ever been spanked before, Cecily?”
The question caused me to start in surprise. In the life I’d come from, such matters simply weren’t discussed, and certainly not so openly. Yet, I knew he expected an answer, and despite myself, something about the soft lilt in his voice when he asked it made my pulse quicken until I felt my breath coming in short bursts. “No.”
Though she’d wrapped my knuckles once or twice, my lady mother had believed that disappointed silence was punishment enough—and indeed, I’d learned my lessons well.
“In that case, I feel that I must warn you that this will hurt. Under different circumstances, I would go light on you, as this is a first offense, but I need you to understand how seriously I take matters such as these.” As he spoke, Antony began to hike up my skirts until my pantalets were visible to him.
Just the thought of him seeing my dainty, carefully sewn undergarments was enough to make my body tense as a blush stained my cheeks. The only man who’d seen them had been Wallace and I doubted he’d taken much notice. He was not the type of man to undress a woman and had often left the task to one of my ladies.
“What you did put both of us in danger, whether you realize it or not,” he continued as he arranged my clothing to his satisfaction. “Bend over, please.”
I hesitated for no more than an instant before I obeyed his directive. No sooner had I complied than he began to drape my skirts over my back.
“What if it had been a band of men on the road instead of just the one? What if I hadn’t been able to protect you? What would have become of you then?”
I was struck by the sincere concern in his voice. “Would that truly have meant anything to you?” I ventured to ask. “After all, I am only stolen goods. Easily replaced, I’m sure.”
“Is that what you think?” He punctuated the question with a single, stinging slap of his hand to the back of my pantalets that made my legs lash out as I squeaked in protest. “I’m sorry that you think so little of me, my lady, but more’s the pity that you value yourself so lowly.”
“Oh, don’t mistake me,” I replied drily. “I know my value all too well. It is you who seems to be forgetting who I am.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised when my buttocks were struck again, but I mewled in pain just the same.
“I can see that you need this spanking badly, and for more reasons than one. Don’t you worry, my dove, I shall see to it that you get what you need.”
The endearment surprised me and it robbed me of any reply I might have made.
“Don’t be embarrassed if you need to cry out, but I will not accept you fighting me in any way, do you understand?”
Though my ears understood his words, I didn’t know if I could do as he asked. It was all too foreign to me. My bottom was tingling painfully where his hand had fallen, and the knowledge that he intended to do it again had my breath coming in quick little gasps and my heart racing anxiously. “Please, I—” I stood and began to turn, but Antony caught my wrists and with gentle hands he turned me to face the wall once more.
“You have been warned, my dove. It is not a warning I will repeat.” Without another word, he put a hand on my back, encouraging me to bend over, fixing my clothing once more after I’d complied. Only when my pantalets were uncovered did the spanking resume, his hand vigorously meeting my buttocks again and again, each smack measured and hard. After each startling spank rained down on my upturned cheeks, he left his hand in place for a few seconds, as though encouraging the burn to sear through my clothing and burrow into my skin.
Initially, I tried to distract myself with thoughts of something, anything but the punishment I was receiving at his hands, but all too quickly I discovered that there would be no such reprieve from the horrible, stinging pain. I had to endure it as best I could—it would be impossible to ignore it. No sooner than I had accepted this, his hand began landing more vigorously than ever, his hard, heavy palm visiting each buttock in turn and then going back again. The stinging pain became a burning in my seat and the burning became a fire in my flesh that had my feet dancing as though to a merry tune.
“All I require from you, my lady, is obedience. I know it might seem much to ask, but I will have it all the same.” As his hand fell again and again, stoking the heat in my cheeks, I could not think of one reason to ever disobey him. None that seemed worth the price I would pay, in any event. “You will obey me,” he continued, his hand striking hard and true, “or end up with a hot, red bottom. I’m afraid I cannot waver in this.” The next smack that landed made me arch up onto my tip-toes, and the succeeding one on the next cheek made me fall back to the floor once more. “It is for your own good, I assure you, and in return you will have my unfailing love and loyalty.”
Love. I knew quite a bit about loyalty, but no man had ever spoken to me of love.
“Now, my dove, can you give me your word that you will not run again?” His hand stilled on the small of my back, my punishment stopped for the time being.
Something funny was happening in the pit of my stomach, a tightening and simultaneous loosening of knots that left me feeling very odd indeed. Love. The word kept reverberating in my head, radiating throughout my being until I felt dizzy with the implication. It was strange: Antony was not royal-born, nor had he been endowed with titles. Yet, he made my body feel hot and my mind swim beyond reason. It wasn’t a feeling I liked in the least.
“I shall run,” I informed him pertly. “I will run as many times as need be until I find myself home again.” The room went still after I’d spoken and I tensed as I waited for a response.
Antony was silent for several long moments, giving me ample time to regret my words, before he spoke, his voice gruff once more. “Your slipper, if you would be so kind, my lady.”
“My… my what?”
Confused, I slid the leather slipper off my foot and felt him bending behind me to retrieve it. Before I could fathom why he would ask for such a thing, the reason landed sharply on my upturned cheeks. I found myself howling in a most unladylike fashion as it landed once more and then another time still.
“You may run,” he said, using each word as an occasion to apply the slipper to my backside, “but I assure you that I am an excellent trapper. I will find you every time. I will bring you back with me, kicking and screaming if I must, with a red backside as your only reward.”
“You… have… no right,” I choked out, wincing each time the slipper made contact with my pantalets.
“Have you ever heard of spoils of war, my dove? It gives me every right. But moreover, I intend to make you my wife, which means that there will be nothing you can say or do to avoid a sore bottom except to obey.”
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