The hard thunk of metal against wood woke me and I blinked against the gray afternoon light, disoriented. I had no idea how long I’d been dozing—I couldn’t believe I’d fallen asleep in the first place, under the circumstances, but apparently I had. Marcus had carried me out to the tender and then up to his cabin, calling Ramsay and the others to round up the men who had gone ashore and make haste for departure. His face had been grim and remote when he looked at me and told me to wait there until he returned for me, and I knew that the first time he’d punished me would be nothing compared to the punishment that awaited me this time. But somehow, I felt no need to protest it. I dreaded it, but wanted it over with. It was a small price to pay for all that Marcus had risked to save me.
I felt the ship pitch and roll beneath me, sending a metal cup sliding across the floor and I realized that it must have been the cup falling off the table that had awoken me. The seas were rough.
Guilt turned my stomach for a moment. Had I not behaved so ridiculously, the Cutlass wouldn’t have had to put out to sea under such conditions. And that was my fault, too.
I sat up in the bed and looked down at myself. My gown hung off the front of me in tatters, and my thin chemise was badly torn. Both pieces smelled faintly of stale ale, but if I could sew them, I could maintain some modesty. I debated searching Marcus’s belongings for a needle and thread, but quickly dismissed that idea. I would take nothing more from the man that he didn’t give me.
A faint knock sounded on the door. I gripped the chemise against myself and yelled, “Come in!”
Porteous pushed open the door and peeked inside.
“Miss Evelyn!” His pinched face was wreathed in smiles. “You been asleep for a whole night and more!” he informed me. “Mr. Ramsay said as you’d likely be tired. From your, erm… ordeal.”
I reached out a hand and stroked the boy’s hair.
“I’d likely be a lot more than tired, if not for you,” I told him. “You fetched the captain, didn’t you?”
He nodded. “Didn’t feel right to me, you going in that room alone. Soon as you closed the door, I ran back to the tavern. An’ the cap’n was right there, fit to be tied that we was missing. I told him what happened, and he came at a dead run!”
I squeezed my eyes shut.
He’d come at a run. The knowledge made my belly melt.
When I opened them, I gently cupped the boy’s chin. “You protected me,” I told him. “Like my own personal guard.”
His eyes lit up. “You think so?”
“I do,” I confirmed. “When you’re picking a name for yourself, you should choose a protector’s name. Like Alexander or…”
“Or Ladon!” the boy said excitedly.
“Ladon! That’s the hundred-headed dragon, ain’t he, miss? What guarded Hera’s garden?”
I chuckled in surprise. “I, well… yes, that was his name.”
“Then that’ll be my name, too!”
I decided that there were worse names a boy could choose, so I nodded and held out my hand for him to shake in the way men often did. “I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Ladon Porteous.”
The boy’s eyes shone with pride and delight.
“Tomorrow, I’ll teach you how to make the letters of your name,” I told him, resting my hand on his head. “It’s important for a man to know how to make his own mark.”
His answering smile was infectious. “Yes, miss!”
The door to the cabin, which Porteous hadn’t latched, swung open with a squeak, and Marcus stood there watching us.
“Porteous,” Marcus said severely, tilting his head toward the door in a not-subtle gesture for Porteous to leave.
“Aye, Cap’n,” the boy agreed quickly. And then he turned to me and said, “I’m going to go tell everyone my new name!”
“Tell them how you came by it, as well,” I whispered, so that only he could hear. “Tell them that I got myself into danger and you protected me by fetching the captain.”
“Yes, miss!” the boy nodded. He started to run off, then stopped, pivoted, and ran back to throw his thin arms around me. “I’m glad you’re safe, miss,” he whispered. And then he scampered out the door.
Marcus watched the boy leave with a wry smile on his face, and then closed and bolted the door shut behind him.
My mouth went dry as cotton wool suddenly and I could hardly swallow.
He stalked toward me with measured steps. When he was just a few feet away, he stopped. “Porteous is glad you’re safe. Safe, in spite of your very best efforts to put yourself in danger.”
I flushed and he cocked one eyebrow.
“But Porteous doesn’t know that you’ve put yourself under my power now.”
“D-does that mean I’m not safe?” My heart already knew the answer. It was beating crazily, dreading the punishment I knew would come, but it trusted him.
“On the contrary. It means that I intend to do whatever I deem necessary to make sure that you keep yourself safe. And right now, that involves blistering your backside. Stand,” he instructed me.
The threat made me catch my breath, but it was his final word, that word of absolute command, that made heat streak from my belly to my breasts. I shivered.
I quickly complied, standing with my hands clasped in front of me, keeping my gaping dress closed.
When I was standing, Marcus sat down on the edge of the bed facing me. At some point, he had changed into a clean shirt, but had neglected to do up the laces all the way, and I was fascinated by the coarse hairs that were sprinkled across his tanned chest and the flat, hard plane of his stomach. His large hands came to rest on thighs as sturdy as tree trunks, but I couldn’t stop staring.
“Remember that you do this of your own free will. You could have stayed in Nassau,” he reminded me, as though he wondered if I would renege now that it was time to accept my punishment.
His low, stern voice made another vibration sweep over me, leaving me breathless, but I would not change my mind. I swallowed nervously and nodded.
“Now tell me why I must punish you,” he demanded softly, his green eyes locked on mine.
I licked my dry lips, and his eyes followed the motion, darkening as he watched me. The hands on his thighs curled into fists.
“I… Because I tried to escape. B-because I disobeyed. Because I endangered my life… and Porteous’s.”
I was so frightened of the pain that my legs were shaking, and the way he looked from my mouth to the front of my torn dress, which had fallen open slightly, made my heart beat in double-time. I was playing in deep water, and I wasn’t sure how I would extract myself. So I did what I often did when I was overwhelmed, and simply became more brazen.
“You do realize that it wasn’t really a fair choice you gave me back in Nassau, don’t you?”
I cocked a hand on my hip, uncaring that this made my blouse gape open further.
He smiled, and the light in his eyes turned wicked. His voice was a low rumble as he told me, “I didn’t say it was fair! But you’ve had choices, beauty. Plenty of them. You heard me tell you to stay at the tavern. You knew I wanted to keep you safe. Yet you chose to be reckless. You chose to disobey. And you chose to put yourself completely under my power. So now you will find yourself over my knee.”
Then a moment later, his smile dissolved while the fire in his eyes burned hotter. “Come to me, Evelyn.”
I stepped forward until I was standing between his knees.
He reached out one large hand and lifted the tail of my braid, which had fallen down from the coil I’d constructed that morning. I could only imagine how disheveled I appeared, but Marcus didn’t seem to mind. He carefully carded his fingers through the fine brown mass, working through the tangles, brushing down over my nape, and then across my back, until it rippled in waves around me.
“Beauty,” he murmured.
His hot breath hit the bare skin of my chest and made my nipples pebble beneath the ragged edges of the chemise. I had never felt so tense, so expectant.
Every touch felt like a tongue of fire, branding me, making me want.
Just when I thought I couldn’t take it any longer, when surely my chest would explode from the aching need, he stopped. He rested one hand at my waist, while the other rose to wrap around the base of my neck. My eyes blinked open.
“Lay yourself across my knee, beauty.” His tone was as stern and controlled as ever, but I sensed a new tension in his voice and it told me that he was not unaffected.
He wanted, too.
My choice, again. He didn’t want to force me. I held his stare, my breath coming in sharp pants and then… I bent over, allowing his hand at my neck to guide me so that my upper body rested on the bed by his hip, propped slightly on my forearms. I heard his breath leave him in a whoosh, at the same time the muscles in his legs and torso grew impossibly tighter.
He gathered all of my hair into his hand, and then twisted, twining it around his wrist and gripping it in his fist, pinning me in place.
My breath caught.
With his free hand, he grabbed a handful of my skirts and pulled them up, and then he ran his hand up my stockinged calf. He paused when he reached the edge of the stocking, his fingers trailing back and forth along the bare skin at the back of my knee. I hadn’t imagined something so simple could be so devastating, but it was.
And then his hand slid up.
I sucked in a shuddering breath as his hand trailed higher, up my thigh, taking my chemise with it.
Dear God. He meant me to be… bare?
It was too late for protests, for objections, for any return of reason or common sense. I could hear Aunt Beatrice’s voice in my head calling me wanton and wicked, but I didn’t care. I wanted him to touch me. I wanted him to want to.
And he didn’t disappoint. Up and up and up, while my heart banged against my ribcage, and I knotted my fingers in the sheets, until I could feel the touch of cool air against my backside, and I knew that he could see all of me.
And then… he stopped.
Minutes, hours, passed. I waited, my body tensed in preparation, for the first stinging blows to fall. I could hear nothing but the harsh sound of my own breath. Had he changed his mind? Would he…
I cried out. I couldn’t help it. He’d struck at the sensitive area at the top of my thighs, at the exact moment I’d begun to relax.
I drew in a deep breath and tried to brace myself, to accept this punishment as stoically as I had the first, but I couldn’t. Fatigue, terror, shame, and arousal left me defenseless.
Blow after blow rained down, those callused hands as hard and unrelenting as blocks of wood, blistering each inch of my bottom with painstaking care and delivering his message without saying a word. He would not tolerate my disobedience. He would not compromise until every single part of me swore fealty to him.
This was beyond anything I’d ever felt before. Each stroke was a lick of heat that faded to a dull ache when he moved on to the next area, only to explode into fire again when he returned to it.
“Please, Marcus!” I cried.
He ignored me, and the brutal rhythm of his palm did not falter—harder, faster, then slower, lighter, each stroke rending the air with a forceful crack as Marcus doled out pain without pity.
“Please,” I begged. “Enough, please! I’m sorry!”
“That’s fear, beauty, not repentance. But you’ll get there,” he swore grimly.
My body jerked with the force of his slaps, each jerk causing an answering pull on my hair where he’d fisted it. I couldn’t twist to escape his swats without causing myself more pain, so I was forced to stay still and endure it. Every part of my focus was concentrated on those twin hurts in my scalp and my bottom, the twin fires he’d ignited, the twin bolts of lightning that streaked up and down my spine. I cried out, a mortifyingly high, keening note of utter helplessness, but I could no more hold it back than I could stop him from completing my punishment.
“You risked your life. You disobeyed my orders. I expected better from you. I expected you to honor your word.”
His hand moved lower, landing just below my bottom, and the swats slowed, but fell harder, as if to drive home his point.
And he did.
His measured words somehow cut straight through my pain and fear. A pang of guilt, the strongest I’d felt by far, hit me, along with another hard blow. Of all the things I’d done, of all the things that I regretted about that day, disappointing him was somehow the hardest to bear.
His hand paused, coming to rest on my heated, sensitive flesh. He kneaded my bottom gently, almost as if he couldn’t help it, though his hand in my hair did not relax and I knew he wasn’t finished.
In that brief respite, while he rubbed away some of the sting he’d caused, shame swamped me. He’d expected better of me! But on the heels of that came a sweeter, headier realization that warmed my belly like hot tea on a cold London morning: He’d had expectations of me in the first place! And not expectations that I would be more ladylike, that I would be less bookish and boyish and bold, but that I would be more… honorable, of higher character. More… myself.
I felt tears fill my eyes.
“Sweet Jesus.” The words sounded as though they had been torn from him as he kneaded my flesh. “You are so pale and perfect. The way you carry my mark…”
His fingers rubbed lower and lower, closer to the center of me. I bit my lip and somehow, impossibly, felt a bolt of heat in my core.
But then his hand tensed in my hair again, as if to chastise me for my distraction. It was the only warning I received before my punishment resumed.
“There is to be trust between us, Evelyn!” he said harshly, as another blow landed. I imagined that my bottom must be glowing like a red hot coal, for that’s certainly how it felt.
“I have said that from the start,” he said, his voice carrying over my gasps as his palm came down again and again, punctuating his directives and peppering my bottom like gunshot. “You will not put yourself in jeopardy. You will not be reckless and foolhardy. You will not get away from me!”
The dangerous words hit me harder than his hand, open and vulnerable as I was. He means that he will not let his prize escape, I reminded myself desperately. He means that his pride won’t allow you to get away. Remember that this is temporary.
I squirmed against him, against his bruising palm and his dangerous words.
A sharp, deliberate tug of my hair brought tears to my eyes.
“Stay in position!” he said, his voice sharp.
I swallowed and complied. I focused on the sting of the slaps and the rough sound of my own breathing, forced myself to hold position, and ignored the tighter pain in my chest.
His palm moved up and down, never landing in the same place twice in a row, and despite the way that his hand in my hair kept me in place, the force of the blows rocked me. I began to cry, and then to sob. I truly didn’t know whether I could handle any more.
As if he could sense my thoughts, his hand came to rest against me at that precise moment.
“My girl took her punishment bravely,” he pronounced, and I took a deep, shuddering breath.
It was over.
Oh, thank God.
His hand rubbed lightly over my bottom, and I lay there, compliant.
“I’m sorry, Marcus. Truly. You saved me again.” My voice was quiet, muffled against the bed, but I was sincere.
He said nothing, simply continued to massage away my pain with those strong fingers that had suddenly become soothing rather than punishing, his gentle touch seeming to imply that I was forgiven.
The pressure of his hand drove my core against his hard thigh, and I couldn’t stop myself from groaning at the sensation. Before I knew what I was doing, I found myself rocking against him, seeking friction, seeking… something.
He inhaled deeply. “Do you want me to touch you, beauty?” he growled. “Are you wet for me, my sweet one?”
And then his hand dipped lower still, touching me between my legs, and my breath caught.
“Christ, Evelyn. You’re so wet,” he groaned, as though the idea gave him pain.
I’d assumed I knew what sex was like. I’d never experienced any part of it myself, of course, but I wasn’t overly prudish about it. I’d long ago learned the proper, anatomical names from anatomy textbooks, and I knew all the crude names too, thanks to my father’s crew. Cunny. Cock. Fuck. I’d heard the men smirking and jeering when a woman was ‘wet and willing,’ and I had fervently hoped that it would never happen to me. To be so obviously wanting and aroused would be messy. Embarrassing. Humiliating.
It was not.
His blunt finger slid up and down my slit, as if exploring, testing, spreading the moisture he’d found, and his breathing became excited. His lungs pumped like a bellows, as though he were running a race, although the only movement he made was to track his finger up higher and higher, until he hit the spot that seemed to have been waiting for him. He rubbed against me, one quick, firm stroke, and I cried out in helpless excitement.
“Yes,” he said. “Yes, just like that.” If I could have managed a coherent thought, it would have been an echo of those very words. I had never dreamed that something could feel this good. There was no question of right or wrong in my mind, just absolute trust and overwhelming pleasure.
“Spread your legs for me. That’s it, just that way,” he crooned, encouraging me as I did what I was told, shifting so that my pelvis was more firmly pressed against his thigh and allowing his fingers better access.
And then he sank his fingers inside of me.
“Marcus!” I cried. It felt alien and wonderful, painful and pleasurable all at once.
“Take what you need,” he said hoarsely.
The hand in my hair gave a sharp tug and I groaned, pushing myself harder against his thigh, while his fingers worked inside of me.
Every particle of my body was alive with sensation—my bottom still throbbing, my scalp prickling, my core thrumming with the pleasure and pain from his merciless fingers as I rocked faster and faster. My breathing came in short gasps, the muscles of my arms and feet locked down against the intensity of the sensation… and then something like ecstasy exploded inside of me, sending fireworks shooting across the back of my closed eyes, and forcing his name from my parched lips.
When it was done, when I could finally draw a deep breath again, he slowly unwound my hair from his grip and smoothed it down my back. He did the same with my chemise, and then my skirt, smoothing them over my burning skin in a way that made me quiver once again, and made fresh tears jump to my eyes.
Then he twisted and gripped me under the arms, pulling me up against his broad chest to sit on his lap. I could feel the hard length of him against my leg, and his eyes burned into me, a storm of want and possession. I swallowed. I knew enough of men to know what must happen next.
But he only pressed his lips against my temple gently.
“My beauty,” he whispered.
I bit my lip against the emotions that rioted inside me.
“Why do you call me that?” I asked, surprised by how timid my voice sounded, how small. “Beauty is for… china dolls and silk dresses a-and roses.”
He smiled, a warm caress I’d never seen from him before. “Are those the only things that can be beautiful?”
“Well, no,” I sighed, “but…”
“What about Planter’s Knob?” he said, referring to an austerely beautiful cliff near my father’s estate in Hampstead. “It’s steep and dangerous, nearly impossible to climb unless a man is skilled and pays attention. But it’s beautiful, is it not?”
I frowned, wondering if it was mere chance that he mentioned the very cliffs I’d loved exploring with my father when I was a child. “Well, yes, but…”
“What about the ocean, when a storm is passing by, and the waves crash up to meet the sand with an almighty roar? What about Greek!” he said with amusement in his tone. “Which is, by God, the most difficult subject I ever tried to grasp, and yet… beautiful.”
I blinked at him. He knew Greek, as well?
“I don’t call you beautiful because I mistake you for something soft or easy, Evelyn. And I don’t want to protect you because I’ve deluded myself into thinking you’re fragile.”
“But then, why…”
He lifted his hand to cup my cheek. “You are so bright, and so bold. And your life… is precious. I would not have you squander it in foolishness. Not climbing rigging in the dead of night. Not listening to your uncle’s drivel about being a lady.”
I gaped at him. Bright and bold and… precious? Precious to him?
Precious to Mr. Hall, a voice in my head reminded me, but I was finding it hard to listen to that voice.
“Can you forgive me?” I asked him tentatively, tucking my head against his chest.
“You’ve been punished,” he reminded me gently, his hand moving in a soothing motion up and down my back. “Willingly. All is forgiven.”
Was it to be that simple, then? I marveled at the idea. When my uncle was upset with me, he’d cast it up to me for days and weeks afterward—lecture after lecture on my willfulness, my lack of womanly ways, my boisterous nature. Painful as today’s punishment had been, I knew I’d learned my lesson better than I ever had before. And I was determined not to cause more trouble for him again.
“You came for me,” I blurted before I could think better of it. “Even when you knew I’d disobeyed.” I still didn’t understand what had prompted him to do that.
“Evelyn, I never left you,” he said. “I had business to attend to. Supplies to procure. And do you know how hard it is to find a damned decent dress in Nassau?”
I pulled back to stare at him. “A… a dress?”
He rolled his eyes. “Considering you ruined this one to save my mainsail,” he said, stroking the collar of my dress. “I came to the conclusion that I owed you that much.”
I knew my mouth was opening and closing like a fish, but I couldn’t seem to force words out. He’d left me at the tavern so he could buy me a… dress?
“You weren’t with the whores?” I said. I closed my eyes briefly after the words left my lips.
Beneath me, he stiffened. “That’s none of your business, is it?” he said softly.
Wasn’t it? Given what we had done, how he had made me feel, I very much felt as though it was. As though I wanted it to be.
He heaved a deep sigh and relented. “No, Evelyn, I was not with them.”
No matter how I tried, I could not stop my heart from soaring at those words, at the look in his eyes when he spoke them. I took a deep breath and smiled.
The motion caused his eyes to flicker down to my nearly bare chest, my dress now tattered beyond repair. He groaned.
“Though both of us may soon have cause to wish I had been,” he muttered. He lifted me off his lap and set me gently down on the bed, then moved to adjust his breeches.
“Rest now. I’ll have Porteous bring you some food. And tomorrow I’ll have him bring you water to bathe before you put on your new dress.”
“Why would I wish that?” I demanded, ignoring talk of baths and dresses and referring to his earlier remark.
“You can’t imagine?” he challenged, glaring at me.
“No, I cannot! How could you think I would wish you had been with those… those… women!”
“Because,” he said, glaring down at me. “I will soon be miles away from any willing females, you are a gently bred virgin, and you are more temptation than one man should be forced to endure in a lifetime!”
He gripped the two halves of my chemise and attempted to close them more firmly around me, before giving up and stalking out of the cabin, slamming the door closed behind him.
As I gaped at the still-vibrating door, two thoughts flitted across my weary mind.
One, that this Knave was far more honorable than Lord Pandin had ever been.
And two, that there was a willing female far closer than Marcus believed.
This content is linked through SNP’s Newsletter! Don’t miss out on all the free content! It doesn’t stick around long! Add your email below!