Imogen ran her fingers across the intricate lace coverlet on the four-poster bed. Never had she seen such fine furnishings in a bedchamber. Despite her anger and humiliation following Royce’s ultimatum, the room she’d been sent to was proving a distraction.
For years her stepfather had railed at the aristocracy. Buzzards, he’d called them with a sneer—feckless buzzards who fed off the sweat of working folk like him. Imogen recalled his sour breath as he’d drunkenly counted each day’s meager earnings. If there was too little to suit him—and there usually was—he’d console himself by drinking. What came next was the blame, usually directed at her for not doing more to entice guests to drink or stay an extra night. And then criticisms of the ton followed. Her stepfather’s resentful speech would slur as he spoke of their sloth and fine houses.
Perhaps for all his bitterness, her stepfather had been right. It spoke to Major Royce Kingsley’s entitlement that he’d just announced his intentions without asking what she wanted. Was that how his lot did things? He’d sent her to this room as if she were a naughty child. Unconsciously she reached back and rubbed her bottom. It no longer hurt, but she could remember every moment of the spanking he’d given her just two days earlier with remarkable clarity—the way he’d raised her skirt to bare her bottom, the feel of his strong grip, the air cooling the heated place between her thighs as she’d struggled and kicked. That place throbbed softly now, and Imogen furrowed her brow in confusion. The pleasant, aching twinge made itself known whenever she recalled either the spanking or her deflowering. In both instances Major Kingsley had been so commanding. Even with the whiskey on his breath, his voice had been calm and authoritative. Once he’d realized she’d been a virgin, he’d taken control of the situation, and her body had responded.
There was a name for that response, Imogen decided: weakness. She remembered her mother on her deathbed, lamenting the sad life she’d been about to depart.
“Your father was a beautiful man with a honeyed tongue,” she’d said between wracking coughs. “When he said he’d take care of me, I believed him. But he left. Your stepfather promised me care and protection, but always resented me for not giving him a son. He’s used me as a maid, and he’ll do the same to you.” Imogen remembered now how the dying woman had dabbed at her lips with a handkerchief that had come away red with fresh blood.
“Don’t be so quick to believe a man,” she said. “Don’t be weak to their ways, for it will only lead to ruin.”
Imogen’s mother had slipped into unconsciousness after that. In the wake of her death, Imogen had precious little time to reflect on that last bit of maternal advice. But now it seemed to take on new meaning.
The sound of the door opening pulled her from her thoughts. The older woman who’d been introduced as the housekeeper was walking in bearing a tray of food and a pot of tea. Imogen said nothing as the servant leaned over to carefully lay the repast on a table by the fire.
“It’s not a large meal, but master says you’ve been traveling for a while and should eat. There’s scones with lemon curd, a bit of salted trout, and a nice pot of tea.” She stood and looked at Imogen. “You’re a little slip of a thing. No need to be shy about tucking in, and if you want anything, there’s a bell by the bed. Just ring it and someone will be up.”
“I don’t want your food.”
“I don’t want it,” Imogen said firmly. “Take it away. Take it away or I’ll dump it on the floor. I didn’t ask to be brought here, and I know he won’t let me escape. But if your fancy Major Kingsley chooses to keep me, it’ll be a husk of a bride he’ll take to wed.” She crossed her arms then, her little chin jutting out in defiance. “And don’t think you can wait me out, either. My stepfather regularly deprived me meals. I know what hunger feels like, and it doesn’t bother me.” She paused. “Tell him what I said.”
Imogen held the housekeeper’s gaze until the older woman shook her head and leaned over to put everything back on the tray.
“As her lady wishes,” she said, and Imogen couldn’t be sure if the housekeeper’s tone held sarcasm or if the cordiality was sincere. All she knew was that she’d gotten her way, and even though her stomach growled with hunger she did not regret it. The bitter pangs would be reminders of her resolve.
She thought about trying to leave, but decided against it, telling herself again she’d be stopped. No, she’d employ the strategy of passivity. She smiled at her plan and went to sit in the chair by the window, taking in the grounds beyond the manor.
Fertile fields and meadows were separated by tidy hedgerows. Somewhere far beyond the hill was the village she’d left, with its worn houses and muddy streets. In the inn, her little room at the top of the stairs with its plain bed, rickety wardrobe, and chipped washbasin, stood empty now. Would her stepfather employ a maid with the money Major Kingsley had promised to send? Or was he already fretting that the officer would renege on his deal and send her home instead of the promised sum? She imagined the latter happening, imagined her stepfather’s ire at seeing her again, and it made her smile.
“Imogen.” She started at the sound of the officer’s voice. She’d lost track of how long she’d been staring out the window and turned now to see the man himself enter the room.
He’d changed from his uniform and was wearing a black waistcoat over a burgundy vest, a perfectly tied cravat at the neck. His black breeches were flawlessly creased. His hair, which had been down past his collar when she’d first met him, had been trimmed to just above it. Gone also was the stubble on his square jaw. His eyes, though, were the same—stern, intense.
“Mrs. Philbert said you refused the food she brought you.”
“I didn’t want it,” she said.
“You’re not hungry?”
“I didn’t say that.” As if to reinforce the point, her stomach growled loudly. “I just said I wasn’t eating your food. You can beat me again if you want. But I won’t mind you.”
She felt the skin of her bottom tingling as she made the statement. Part of her expected him to pull her over his knee right there, and that filled her with fear. But her heart quickened at the possibility, and the soft throbbing between her legs returned.
“I don’t plan to beat you,” he said quietly. “I’m excusing your refusal to eat as a sign of your immaturity, Imogen. Even if your life has not been perfect, you’ve been sheltered in that inn. You’ve never been beyond it; you’ve never seen anyone starve.” He paused. “I have, so your selfishness in turning away food is only an affirmation that my plan for you is the correct one.”
“Plan?” She felt the word catch in her throat.
“Yes,” Royce said, looking down on her. “Before we left the inn, I told you that I’d be both father and husband to you. But the fathering must come first, for you lack not just proper care, but proper manners.”
He turned to the door. “Miss Quinn?”
A woman entered at his call. She was wearing a maid’s uniform, but lacked Mrs. Philbert’s softness. This woman was taller, and with a posture as erect as her employer’s. Her hair was jet black, her face pale and angular and coldly pretty. She stared directly at Imogen, who felt a fresh unease under this stranger’s scrutiny.
“Miss Quinn is a trained nurse,” the officer told Imogen. “She has cared for men in my regiment; that’s how we met. When she left the service, I personally sent her, along with a recommendation, here to Stonehaven Manor. My intention was for her to succeed Mrs. Philbert when she retires. But your arrival presents a more suitable post: nanny.”
Imogen felt herself pale. “Nanny?” She slowly stood, looking from Royce to the staid woman at his side. “No! I will not allow it!”
She made a move to push past him, but found herself held fast by Major Kingsley on one side and Miss Quinn on the other. She struggled and screamed as they took her to the bed and laid her down.
“I’ll get her things,” Miss Quinn said, relinquishing full control to Royce. Imogen looked up at him, her eyes now wild with anger and defiance and fear.
“Things?” She glanced after the departing woman. “What things?”
“Why, the accouterments of your new station, of course.” He paused. “As my little girl.”
“No!” The nurse was coming back in the room now, and Imogen’s eyes widened when she saw the array of items the woman was laying out on a table pulled to the bedside. There was a simple white nightgown in a childish cut, a white square of fabric and a large pin, a straight razor and a mug of shaving cream.
She barely had time to consider the items further before Miss Quinn began undressing her.
“No! You mustn’t!” she protested, turning her panicked eyes to Royce Kingsley’s stern gray ones. But he was unmoved, and before Imogen knew it, her traveling dress was unbuttoned and off, followed by her thin undergarments, stockings, and slippers.
She was naked before these two people and—horrors!—now the awful woman had produced two leather straps and was affixing one around Imogen’s left ankle. Imogen could only sob helplessly as first one ankle and then the next was secured to the foot of the bed, spreading her legs wide. Major Kingsley sat on the bed beside her, soothing her now as he explained what was about to happen.
“You have chosen to behave as a sullen child, and so a child you shall become. And as we know, children are bare below, as you shall be.”
Imogen understood now the reason for the razor, and could only watch in helpless humiliation as the tall nurse leaned over to brush shaving cream on her plump pubic mound. The bristles tickled, and in spite of Imogen’s fear, the throbbing between her legs could not be denied.
“There’s more than a bit of cream here,” the nurse said frankly. “When this one’s ready to act as an adult, she will be more than willing.”
Imogen moaned, realizing that the nurse was referring to the wetness she felt slip unbidden from her throbbing core. That she could be so flushed and needy after just one tumble with this man, and under these circumstances… she turned her face into the bedclothes and scrunched her eyes tight in mortification at her body’s unbidden reaction to their handling.
“Nooooo.” It was the only sound she could utter as the razor sliced the hair away to reveal buttery soft labial skin. Imogen glanced up just long enough to see Major Kingsley’s eyes following the path of the razor. She felt his hungry gaze plundering her as surely as his cock had done, for in the inn it had been dark, and he’d not been able to look upon her there. But now, bound and spread, her charms were on full display. She groaned in humiliation, knowing that once shaved bare, she could not hide what he must notice—the slick, engorged inner lips, tinged with her dewy desire.
But the embarrassment was far from over.
“She’ll need a good cleansing when she’s settled,” Miss Quinn was saying, “but until we can flush her bottom, I’ll put in this bolus.”
Imogen cried out and tried to evade fingers now worming their way between her bottom cheeks to press something against the puckered nether hole. The pressure built, and when she squirmed, the nurse slapped her sharply on the thigh; the surprise of the pain gave the older woman the distraction she needed to push whatever she was holding inside. There was a sting, then a feeling of fullness. Imogen felt hot tears course down her face as the pill was pushed so deep into her that she knew there was no way to expel it.
“Since you won’t eat, you will get your vitamins through your bottom,” the nurse said.
“I’m sorry!” Imogen wailed.
“I’m sure you are,” Major Kingsley said. “But let this be a lesson to you. Orders in this house are to be followed. Nothing good can come of defiance.” He turned to the nurse. “If you’ve no objections, I’d like to put on her nappy.”
“Of course,” Miss Quinn said, stepping back. “It’s a fine idea for you to take this task upon yourself. It is good for her to see you enforce her place in this house.”
“Nappy?” Imogen knew now what the square of fabric was for. She begged and pleaded and wailed as the handsome man who’d taken her virginity now acted the stern father, lifting her effortlessly as he slid the square beneath her. Under Miss Quinn’s direction, he brought the cloth up over her sides and between her legs, fastening it in the front with the pin.
Imogen was shaking with embarrassment by the time Miss Quinn undid the straps at her feet and walked around to slip the thin white nightgown over her head before pulling the younger woman’s arms through the holes. Imogen’s sobs had turned to hitching little gasps, which the nurse admonished.
“Enough of this,” she said. “Little ones in the nursery have to endure getting dressed. It’s the way of things!”
“But I-I-I’m not a baby!” Imogen directed her words at Royce, who was now standing up by the bed again.
“You’re not?” he asked.
“No!” She reached underneath her for the nappy, but it took just the warning arch of his brow for Imogen to remove her hands. Drawing her knees to her chest, she looked over the top of them. “I’m not a baby,” she repeated. “Please.”
“Well, then.” Royce pulled a chair beside the bed and sat down. “Perhaps a nappy is unnecessary. However, you will be in the nursery, like it or not. You’ve lacked a proper raising, Imogen, and I mean to give you a new beginning, with the father’s love and guidance that you’ve lacked. But maybe we needn’t start so far back.” He regarded her with warmth now, reaching out to pull away a strand of hair that tears had plastered to her cheek. “We can start somewhere else you like.” He gave her a small smile. “Tell me, little one. What was the last happy memory from your childhood?
Imogen fell silent, biting her lip as she tried to recall it. After a moment, she shook her head as a fresh tear slipped down her cheek. “I can’t recall.”
“Oh, I’m sure you can if you think about it,” Royce said patiently. He nodded over to Miss Quinn, who’d came back over with something new—a glass bottle with a rubber nipple on it.
Royce took it from the nurse. “As I told you earlier, the rules of Stonehaven Manor are to be obeyed. You declined the food you were brought earlier, so instead you will get this bottle of milk. You will drink it, Imogen, every drop. And as you do, you will think on my question. When I come for you in the morning, we will decide if you still need the nappy.”
He reached over and lifted Imogen up, replacing her on the bed once Miss Quinn had moved the blankets aside. Then he tucked her in personally and handed her the bottle.
His eyes were on her mouth as he put the bottle to her lips. There was something intense in his gaze, seductive. Imogen found her eyes locked on his as she took the nipple and began to draw on it.
“That’s my sweet little girl,” he said, easing himself down onto the bed. Imogen felt herself growing warm and languid as the sweetened milk slid down her throat. Any embarrassment she’d felt melted away; as odd as her situation was, she found a comfort in his voice, in how he rubbed her hair as she drained the bottle. She was asleep as the last drop slid down her throat.
Imogen was vaguely aware of his words as she drifted off. “I’ll let nothing happen to you, my little one. I promise…”
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