Not one word was spoken when the Duke carried his bride across the main hall and up the stairs. If any of the staff was startled by their master's action, no one showed any expression and none ventured an audible opinion. The Duke's face was set sternly; Jennifer was biting her lips in an attempt to remain silent at this indignity. Luck favored her only slightly - her mother-in-law was nowhere to be seen.
"I shall never forgive you for subjecting me to this outrage," Jennifer hissed at her bridegroom as he set her on her feet in their chambers, her face flushed with color.
"Hold that thought," he said with a calmness that hid his inner anger. "There is much more for you ahead - more outrageous acts that will lack your forgiveness."
And with those words, he locked the doors to their private suite and pulled Jennifer to the bed.
"What are you doing?" she shrieked as he placed her over his lap and flipped her skirts up and over her back.
"Finishing what I started while we were out, my love. Giving you more of what you are due for putting your life in danger and for endangering your horse's life as well. What do you think would have happened if the beast had broken a leg? It would have been destroyed!" the Duke shouted. "You gave not a care about its life or your own!"
Jennifer had no retort but she did have a brief moment of regret at the thought that she might have injured the animal. "I apologize for that," she conceded and gasped as his heavy hand stung her already sore posterior. "Now let me up. You've thrashed me so hard I can barely stand it."
"Good! And this is just the beginning."
She was determined not to scream.
He was determined to make her feel every pang of fright he had endured when she had ridden her horse carelessly. He was determined that the pain he was delivering would hurt as much as every hard thud his heart had beat tightening his chest at the thought that she would injure herself.
Jennifer bit her lips in an attempt not to cry out as his hand continued raining fire on her backside. When her breath turned to almost silent gasps and she was on the verge of passing out, his hand paused. She was limp when he lifted her to hold her ... short shallow breaths all she could manage ... the burn overwhelming her senses.
The Duke was satisfied that he had imparted the correct lesson but startled when his mouth covered hers and he tasted the blood she had drawn when her teeth clenched her lips.
"Jenny," he whispered. "My sweet Jenny Rebecca. I know it was a hard thrashing but you must obey me. I fear for your life if you do not. You are impulsive, my love. We must curb that tendency."
Jennifer didn't answer him. She had never been thrashed. And the pain was too much to endure. She wandered away ... In her mind she was a child again and it was a sun-splashed day, a day to play with her friends ... no cares ... no woes ... no pain.
Watching her eyes, he knew she was somewhere else, her gaze fixed on a moment in a time he did not share. Having lived with and occasionally escaped from a domineering parent for so long, he recognized the signs. What Jennifer had endured over the last few weeks had been too much. She had been courted by a man intent on marrying her, was wed in spite of her protests and bedded. And now, on the first day of their marriage when she had sought to maintain a measure of independence, some small autonomy in her new home, she had been thrashed to a level of pain she had never known. It was no surprise that she had drifted from him.
"Jenny," he murmured as he held her close. "I love you so."
And that's why I thrashed her on the first day of our marriage? He shook his head at his thoughts, his conscience a far greater voice of reason.
Why didn't I listen to my heart?
She put her life in danger, he argued.
She's new at this, the voice of reason affirmed.
And she didn't want the marriage.
Women should be married, he retorted.
They should be cared for.
They should obey their husbands.
I should have gone slower.
His conscience bowed out. Marcus Albane Everly Hollingsworth, prestigious Duke of the Realm, was on his own.
Eventually the pain in her body called her back ... the reality of the harsh punishment causing Jennifer to wonder at what else life had in store. She had gone riding to avoid further confrontation about his mother's continued presence in their home and in her haste, had caused an even greater rift between them. In spite of all his wealth ... the comforts and luxuries his money could buy ... Jennifer wasn't sure this was a life she could endure.
Leaning against her husband's chest, his arms around her, his breath warm on her neck, she should have been content. He murmured sweet words ... endearments ... excuses ... apologies ... regrets ... but they were just words. They didn't penetrate and were nothing more than a humming background noise. Through it, she took stock of her pain ... inventoried it ... parceled it into minute pieces ... estimated how long it would last ... and did not dare move a muscle for fear the movement would cause the burn to flame again.
And then she dozed.
When she woke, it was morning and she was lying on her side in their bed, his chest against her back. She pulled away from him to test her strength, to test the extent of the pain, to see if it had faded, was merely a bad dream.
It hurt. Her thighs seared as they slipped across the sheets to the edge of the bed, her bottom ached - muscles she didn't know she had throbbed and it was all she could do to stifle the gasps building in her throat.
And then her stomach growled, protesting that she had eaten nothing for an entire day.
"My love," the Duke whispered, sitting up and enfolding her in his arms. "I'll order food."
"I'm not hungry," Jennifer lied, loathe to be this close to the man who had promised to cherish her but had severely thrashed her in the first few hours of their marriage.
"Don't lie to me, Jenny," he warned. "I know you are still unhappy about yesterday's events but you must obey me. Lying to me is a form of disobedience."
"I want nothing to do with you," Jennifer hissed, her words both brave and foolish.
"I'm sorry to hear that," her husband replied and with no warning, turned her back over his knee. His hand came down swift and hard and in just a few moments, her bottom glowed a fiery red, the spanking re-igniting the burn that lay just below the surface of her skin.
She gasped and swallowed hard, then clamped her lips so she wouldn't scream. Seconds became minutes and when the Duke realized his own hand was burning, he stopped.
"I do not want to repeat this lesson," he told her as he gently lifted her to sit between his thighs. "Better to know the consequences of your actions now than a lifetime of this kind of punishment. Obey me, Jenny. Do not lie. That is all I ask of you. Can you do that much?"
Jennifer didn't answer. She could barely breathe and if a hole had suddenly appeared in the middle of the floor, she would have grasped a last breath to summon the energy to leap into its core. At that moment, death seemed a better alternative to the abuse she had just taken from her bridegroom - the man who wanted her above all other women, the man who swore to love her and to cherish her.
There was no hole ... she lived.
When the Duke dressed and left their room, Jennifer struggled to stand. It took a few moments to regain balance, a few moments to gather her wits, and think ... a few moments to endure the pain and carry on as if nothing were amiss. Donning a dressing gown, she left their chamber to seek solace where she wouldn't be disturbed. She didn't want to have to talk to him when he returned. She needed a place where she could gather her thoughts and plan some way to live her life with a man who professed to love her but apparently, would thrash her at will.
There were several empty bedroom chambers nearby. Entering one, she sought the window to see where she was and confident no one would bother her, she gingerly lay upon the bed. Thoughts filled her head as to what had transpired in the few hours since she had been wed. It frightened her. Hugging her arms around her body, she soon dozed again.