The train journey had gone on forever. For the first hour she’d been glued to the window, but after that there had been nothing to see but farm after farm after boring farm for two whole days. And there was not a skyscraper in sight to break the monotony of the landscape. Once or twice she’d got up to stroll through the carriages and stretch her legs but that gave her no pleasure either. The other female passengers looked down their noses at her. How would they not, for there had been no time to buy new things in New York, so she was traveling in her old street clothes? This wouldn’t have bothered her in Five Points; she was a queen there, and the uppity women were just sheep to be sheared. But this was their territory now and she was the stranger. Here they were as ruthless as she was, and against their venom she was utterly defenseless.
Jed had been looking out of the window, but now turned away from the cotton field and looked at his pocket watch. “We’ll be arriving in Houston shortly. You have a few minutes before we switch to the stagecoach if you want to stretch your legs again.”
She groaned, but realized perhaps she should. He’d been oddly quiet since they had left New York and the silence was oppressive. And according to Jed they had yet another long journey in a stagecoach after this. It might be sometime before another opportunity to walk presented itself. After a brief nod she slid open the carriage door and stepped outside.
It wasn’t long before she met another woman taking the air from the opposite end of the carriage. MacKenzie took her in with a single glance. Slender. Late twenties. Not loaded but with airs and graces above her class. Probably carried a second class ticket. The pickings would be slim. As MacKenzie passed, the woman almost plastered herself to the outside of the carriage, not wanting any physical contact of any kind. And if that wasn’t offensive enough, she held her breath, as if not wanting to pollute her nose with MacKenzie’s stench. She heard her snooty tone of complaint a moment later.
“Er, excuse me, porter, but that woman there—I think there’s some mistake. I believe she should be returned to third. Yes, I’m sure that’s what happened. Would you kindly escort her back to where she belongs? She has no business walking up and down this carriage. This area is reserved for first and second class passengers only.”
The young porter nodded and would have done precisely that had Jed not turned up just in time.
“Excuse me, but this little lady’s with me. Come along, MacKenzie. Let’s head back to our first class compartment. You won’t be bothered there.”
As Jed turned her about, the lady’s jaw dropped to the floor. All MacKenzie felt was relief, but she shot the porter a look of contempt just the same. And while everyone was in a state of confusion, she wrapped her hand around the woman’s belt and slipped her purse clean off its chain. She glanced down at her prize—it was made of an inferior silk and only weighed enough to carry a few cents, but its value didn’t matter. With lightning speed she hid the booty in her own pocket.
Ha! That would teach her. And she’d already forgiven Jed’s little slip about her name. She’d let it pass, this time.
“Thank you,” she said once they were back in the safety of their own carriage.
“My pleasure. That woman was rude to you, and I can’t abide poor manners.”
MacKenzie grinned and pulled out the woman’s purse. “Don’t worry about it. I paid her back in kind.”
Instead of laughing at the joke she’d just played, Jed looked quite horrified. “You didn’t just steal that woman’s money?”
MacKenzie blushed and lowered her head like a petulant child. No one had ever been able to make her feel bad about stealing before, but somehow Jed made her feel very naughty.
Jed pulled the blinds down, shielding the compartment from the rest of the train. He then sat her down on the coach seat and towered in front of her. “Let’s get one thing straight, MacKenzie. If you’re going to be living under my protection, all this nonsense has to stop. Immediately. Do you understand?”
She nodded meekly. “Yes, Sir.”
“And believe me, if I have to take you over my knee every time you step out of line then I will.”
She nodded again.
“Look at me, MacKenzie.”
She raised a pair of tearful eyes to his face. “I didn’t steal for the money. She hurt me and I wanted to pay her back.”
“That doesn’t make it right now, does it?”
“And when you do something wrong, what has to happen?”
“I’ll be punished?”
“That is correct. That’s how we learn not to do the things we shouldn’t. Now I can put you over my knee now. Or you can turn around and raise your skirt for me. Or we do nothing—and you get out at the next station and I will pay for your return ticket to New York. Now what is it to be?”
Part of her wanted to rip out of that carriage now and head right back to where she had come from. MacKenzie knew the streets. She knew New York and had been happy there, in her way. But there was another side of her—a side that yearned for more, for a better life—and it was this side that was dominant now. Jed had taken a big chance on her, and had given her this wonderful opportunity. She knew this and was ever so grateful to him. Perhaps it was this gratitude, or perhaps it was something else but she so wanted him to approve of her, to see that she could change. If she walked out now, he would never see anything in her but the girl she had been in New York. And she badly needed him to see more.
Slowly and deliberately she stood up and looked him straight in the eye. He returned her gaze; he did not look unkind. More like hopeful. She turned to face the back of the carriage, then bent over and hoisted up her skirt, leaving her backside exposed to him. She had done wrong after all. He was right to punish her.
For a moment Jed did nothing but let her remain in this vulnerable, exposed position. After a moment he spoke again.
“And the pantaloons. When I spank you I want you to feel it.”
Her heart froze. Was he serious? She hesitated, expecting him to laugh and tell her he’d been jesting, but he did not. Instead he remained silent, waiting for her to obey his instructions.
“Pull them down now.”
Her heart raced wildly in her bosom as she reached back to grasp the fabric. She closed her eyes and as the blood rushed to her face, she pulled her pantaloons down, almost losing her balance as the train jolted beneath her. But still Jed didn’t lift a finger.
“Tell me, MacKenzie. Why must I spank you?”
“It’s wrong to steal.”
He traced his hand along her butt cheek. Her stomach contracted and her whole body felt hot and excited. Once again she experienced the delicious tingle of wetness between her legs. It struck her as odd to find her punishment so arousing—after all, he hadn’t even touched her yet—but now was not the time to brood about this. She clenched her pussy lips and braced herself for the onslaught to come.
“And are you going to return that lady’s purse?”
“What?” She laughed out loud, and her laughter was rewarded with a burning slap to the backside.
MacKenzie winced a little—but once again, there with the pain was the pleasure.
He slapped her other cheek for good measure. This time the contact was unexpected, but nonetheless pleasurable for that. She closed her eyes, focusing on each tingle, enjoying the sensation of his flesh on hers.
“What use is there being sorry, if you don’t plan to do anything about it?”
“But if I face her again I’ll die.”
Jed slapped her again, only harder this time—and not once, not twice, but four times. It hurt like hell, but with each smack her breathing became more intense, and along with the wetness there was a fire burning between her thighs—the fire she sometimes experienced when she was alone in the dark and teased herself for her own pleasure. She pushed her backside out in anticipation of his next spank. Jed paused.
“Somehow, MacKenzie, I don’t think you’re as sorry as you should be. Perhaps I’m not smacking you hard enough. Or maybe I’m not spanking you in the right way. Open your legs a little wider for me.”
Another tingle. Trembling, she parted her legs just a fraction.
‘But’ was a word Jed clearly didn’t want to hear. He slapped her right cheek harder than ever—and the pain shot through her like a fiery arrow. After that, she lowered her head and spread her legs much wider.
Strange, but he didn’t smack her again. She looked behind her and saw that he was admiring the view. It was humiliating, and frightening, and so sexy. She wondered if he could see the wetness on her pussy lips.
“Eyes front, MacKenzie. You do not look around at me unless I give you express permission to do so, is that clear?”
He smacked her again.
“Better.” This time he didn’t remove his hand; instead it lingered on her right cheek, absorbing the heat through her skin. He had left it right by her pussy, and she ached for him to brush by it, anticipating the pleasure such an action might give. But he did not.
“Are you sorry now, MacKenzie?”
She hesitated, and the delay was rewarded with another hard slap, harder than any that had gone before it. This time it brought tears to her eyes, and she whimpered in spite of it.
“I am going to spank you five more times, and after each slap, I want you to repeat what I say. Understood?”
“Never.” This time the slap was so hard MacKenzie’s voice caught in her mouth.
“Steal.” Now her backside was on fire—she thought he couldn’t hurt her more if he tried—but he was teaching her a lesson, and punishments were supposed to hurt, weren’t they?
“Again.” His final slap was the hardest of all. This time her eyes were full to the brim with tears and the words in her mouth choked her.
“A-a-a-gain.” MacKenzie’s voice trailed off to a whimper and her legs could carry her no longer. She slumped down to the floor, her body wretched as she sobbed uncontrollably. Her backside was a ball of fire, and she doubted she would be able to sit comfortably ever again.
MacKenzie was so confused. She had never been dependent on a single soul her whole life and now here she was, willingly submitting to the ruthless corrections of this man. And she allowed it of her own free will. She had known him for such a small amount of time—what was this power he had over her? It beggared belief.
Jed knelt down beside her and brushed the tears from her cheeks with his two thumbs. For a moment their faces were so close, and she stared imploringly into his eyes, trying to read what was behind them.
“Have you learned your lesson, MacKenzie?”
She nodded meekly.
“We’ll see. Kick off your pantaloons and sit on the seat with your bare bottom exposed to it. I want you to feel your punishment for a little while longer. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sir.” She did as Jed told her.
“If you’re going to have any chance of redemption, MacKenzie, you must submit to my rule at all times. Do you understand?”
“What that means is you will be punished when you’re out of line, and rewarded when you are good. I mean to purge you of this New York nonsense. I will not tolerate thievery in my house, and neither will my sisters. I must consider their good name as much as our little—what shall we call it—experiment. These are my terms, MacKenzie. Do you accept?”
Would it be so very hard to try to be good? He was giving her a chance; no one had offered to help her before and most likely, no one would offer to help her again. She had to at least make an effort to try.
For a few more minutes they sat in silence as the carriage continued speeding along the tracks. All the while MacKenzie was very conscious of both her exposed and beaten cheeks on the rough fabric of the train carriage, and her discarded pantaloons occupying the space on the seat between them.
She tried not to look at either them or Jed. And though he had made her cry, there was no mistaking how aroused she felt. She was so wet she feared she would spoil the seat beneath her. Maybe that was what he wanted after all; yet more punishment for her to endure.
Jed was nothing like any man she had ever encountered. Oh, she had been propositioned often enough, but no man ever before had made her feel this way. Did he feel the same? Exposed as she was, he could certainly have taken advantage of her at any time. And yet he did not. MacKenzie wished she knew what that meant.
After a little while, Jed took a deep breath and stared right at her. “Now stand up, turn around, and show me your backside again.”
MacKenzie gasped. Surely he didn’t intend to spank her again? After the thrashing she’d just received, getting another would be nothing short of brutal.
To her surprise, instead of slapping her, Jed just ran his hand across her cheeks, as if trying to soothe away the pain. Her butt was tender, but his caresses made her feel all warm on the inside, and she liked it a lot. She wanted to groan, but what would he think of her if he thought he was giving her pleasure?
“I know you think I am hard on you, MacKenzie, but if I am, it’s for a good reason.”
“Good girl. The pain will go away soon enough. Just remember the lesson. And I want you to know, I am proud of you. You did exactly what you were told, which pleased me greatly. I know how hard it was for you to leave New York, and I want you to know I will do everything in my power to make this work for you.”
“I’m sorry if I made you angry, I truly am,” she said, penitent. “Perhaps when we’re in Texas you’ll find a way to help me learn to be a proper lady. Then you won’t think so badly of me.”
Jed looked thoughtfully at her, and then an idea seemed to occur to him. He nodded his head slowly, as if weighing up the matter.
“I may have an idea,” he said. “But I need to give it a little thought.” He smiled at her, and something of that warm feeling flared up once more between her legs. MacKenzie blushed and looked down at the compartment floor.
“Now put your bloomers back on and then hand me that purse. I will see it safely returned to its rightful owner.”
She wriggled the pantaloons up her legs and with mixed feelings of relief, brushed down her skirts. Her eyes were still cast down as she handed over the lady’s purse. Jed left the carriage for a few moments and when he returned, he never mentioned the subject again.
At long last the train rattled into Houston, where Jed’s trunks were transferred to the top of the stagecoach. The driver offered to take her bundle from her but she pulled it close to her chest.
“I’ll keep hold of this, thank you very much! You look after them there boxes.”
“Very good, miss.”
Jed leaned into her and whispered in her ear. “You know he doesn’t plan to steal anything. You could let him have it.”
“No, my things stay with me!”
He shrugged and laughed. “As you wish.” He then took her hand and helped her step inside. Odd. She had never been shown such civility in her life and she had no idea how to receive it. Wrong-footed, she settled in the corner of the coach as far away from Jed as she could get. This life was new to her and she needed time to adjust.
“Will it really take half a day to reach your ranch?”
She rolled her eyes. Despite the luxury of the sleeper car she was still fatigued. She was used to running around all hours in New York, but this endless traveling was exhausting.
“A lady doesn’t roll her eyes, MacKenzie.”
“I ain’t no lady yet.”
“You are a lady in training. You might as well get used to it.”
“If you say so.”
“I do say so. And remember your manners, MacKenzie.”
She nodded meekly. She now knew what he was capable of and was in no mood for a second punishment. “Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir.”
With a jolt the carriage rolled forward, and to MacKenzie’s dismay the buildings of Houston soon gave way to yet more farmland. Mile upon mile passed away, and there was nothing to see but sugarcane and cotton fields and the poor souls who worked them. And it was hotter than hell; it got real hot in Five Points but it was a different kind of dry heat. Here the sweat poured off her profusely. Jed was also looking out of his window but the heat didn’t seem to bother him at all. She put her hand to her bodice and swiped at the beads of sweat that formed there.
“Is it always like this?”
He turned to face her. “Excuse me?”
“This unbearable heat? I don’t think I can stand it.”
He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her. “Here. As soon as we get to Sandy Point I shall have one of my sisters lend you a fan, and we’ll buy one for you as soon as we can. But you will get used to it, I promise.”
Jed averted his eyes so she could dry herself without embarrassment. When MacKenzie was done, she sat back in her seat to settle into the journey. Would she ever be able to deal with this intolerable heat? The woman on the train had been uncivil and rude. Would Jed’s sisters be just as bad? MacKenzie looked down at her clothes; her threadbare skirts, murky blouse, and torn velvet jacket would mark her at once as a woman of inferior birth. And when they learned how she’d lived in Five Points, as they most assuredly would, how on earth could they do anything but despise her? MacKenzie shifted on her hands. Perhaps this was all a terrible, terrible mistake. She had acted impulsively and had put herself on a course for misery. She was not one for indulgent weeping, but if she were, now would be the time.
The hours rolled by, and apart from a few words exchanged as they shared some refreshments, they journeyed in silence. After a while the motion of the carriage lulled her to sleep, but it was not a pleasant experience. In the dream she was naked, her body exposed and vulnerable to everyone she met. No one commented on her nakedness, but her self-consciousness consumed her, and she loathed every step she took in this strange new world. She was nothing, and she was treated as nothing. A little part of her soul died, and no matter where she tried to hide, someone would find her and would drag her out into the open again. She saw Jed in the dream, but he lingered motionless on the porch of a gallery, far, far away and out of her reach. She called to him for help but he didn’t seem to hear her.
The coach must have rolled into a hole in the road for suddenly she woke with a start. She shook her head to clear it, and saw outside a great, dark building of ancient stone looming on the horizon. Odd. The sky was clear and yet there was a bank of cloud partly obscuring the building. It seemed so incongruous amid all the tall sugarcane that surrounded it. She looked for the road that led to its gate but could spy none.
“Where is that?” she asked.
Jed didn’t even look up from his book. He must have known what she was looking at. “That. Oh, that’s Mrs. Prattsbottom’s school, the one we were talking about—Sugarcane Academy.”
“Did your sisters go there?”
Jed laughed. “No, neither of them attended Sugarcane.”
He had taken her question as some kind of joke. MacKenzie wondered why, but he didn’t enlighten her. She resumed her examination of the building. Who on earth had thought to put it there, in such an out-of-the-way place? There were four gray boulders supporting the rail that surrounded the building. Everything about it screamed, keep out! It was hardly designed to attract young women; hardly a school for refinement at all. Anyone who saw it might run a mile.
She focused on the four boulders. They were larger than any she had ever seen; they certainly hadn’t been taken from the grounds hereabouts. It must have been quite something just to get them here. And there was something else…
“How far we got to go?”
“A few more miles. But we’ll be home within the hour. I telegrammed ahead so they should be expecting us. I must say I’m looking forward to a home-cooked meal and a night in my own bed. They’ll have a room ready for you, so you can rest too. I think we both need it.”
Jed was right about that. She pushed her head back into the cushioned seat and turned slightly to see the school as they rolled on by.
But then more pressing concerns flooded her mind. After all, her own life was about to radically change, and the road ahead of her was just as much of a mystery as the building she was passing. At least it was for now. She closed her eyes and prayed to God that all would work out for the best. But in her heart of hearts, in spite of her fervent prayers, she knew it wasn’t going to be as easy as all that.
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