When she woke, she felt the warmth of a body behind her. Opening her eyes, she realized she was back in their bedchamber. Somehow, she had remained asleep when her husband found her and carried her back to their bed. She had slept so deeply that even the pain he had inflicted on her person had not caused her to wake.
Slowly, she started moving to the edge of the bed.
His arm stopped her and pulled her back into his embrace.
"I need a few private moments," she said as if nothing untoward had occurred between them.
"I should thrash you for leaving our bedchamber without my permission."
"I need permission to move about the house?"
"Only when you have been punished," he said matter-of-factly. "When you were a little girl, didn't your father insist you stay in your room when he had chastised you?"
"I'm not a little girl," Jennifer replied and was hard pressed to remember any punishment her father doled out. She had been an obedient child and it was a rare occasion that caused him to reprimand her and even then it was just a few words of disappointment he had uttered.
"What did your father do when you disappointed him?" the Duke persisted.
Jennifer succeeded in pulling away from his embrace. Ignoring the pain in her bottom cheeks, she sat on the edge of the bed, her spine straight. "The only time I can recall of any significance was when he told me I was to be wed and I objected." She hissed her words, a surge of anger overwhelming her. The Duke's actions had only confirmed her previous objections to this marriage.
He rose so quickly she didn't have time to protest and once again, she was over his lap and his hand came down hard and fast. It was a brief reprisal, harsh but brief and though her bottom seared, she was grateful it ended quickly.
"You will speak to me with respect and stay in this room until I tell you otherwise. Do you understand?" His words were softly spoken as he gathered her trembling body close to his chest. "You must learn not to be so stubborn, Jenny. I will not allow my wife to be rude or to be disobedient. That is not the way a husband and wife behave toward each other."
"You beat me until I am so raw with pain I can bare take a breath without hurting. Was that not a rude thing to do to your wife, the woman who would spend her life with you?" She tilted her chin to look at him as she spoke and wondered where she found the courage to speak those words. "You'll beat me again because I dare speak to you? Will you cripple me as well so that I cannot go about the house or ride without your leave? Tell me, your Grace. Is this what my life will be like? If so, I need to know so that I can gather herbs to garnish my food so as to render myself unconscious until death takes me from you. If my life is to end, let it end now. I cannot live like this and I will not live like this."
Her words stunned him. True, he had thrashed her harshly and more than once - something he had not planned. It just happened. She ... I ... I needed to curb that behavior before it got out of hand. Was it so bad she seeks death rather than remain my wife?
He said nothing in response, his mind in turmoil as he heard her words again and again. Cupping her chin, he bent his mouth to her brow and brushed it with his lips. "Jenny," he murmured. "Jenny."
Jennifer's energy waned. She was too weak to do more than lean against him as he held her. Her body was wracked with pain and each small movement sent stabbing streaks of it from her bottom cheeks up her spine and outward. Her head and neck ached, the tension tightening the muscles in her shoulders, down her arms and more. She felt as if horses had stampeded over her entire body.
And her heart ached. She didn't want this marriage but had held a small glimmer of hope that it would be a tolerable one. She remembered little of her parents' marriage. It seemed to have been a respectful union with occasional moments of joy. Her mother died when she was young; perhaps, she only imagined it was that way. When she wed the Duke, she did so knowing that she wasn't expecting love. He had courted her so fervently, had been gentle with her. Her only expectation had been for a measure of companionship, nothing more.
Other thoughts filled her mind but her stomach growled again, protesting that she hadn't eaten since her wedding feast 36 hours earlier and then, only a few bites. A tray of food had been delivered while she slept. The Duke pulled it toward them and still holding her on his lap, he lifted a cup of cocoa to her lips.
She hesitated to sip.
He arched a brow.
And she joined him in the meal. She ate sparingly but consumed enough to quell her hunger. When the meal ended, he told her to rest a while and when he returned they would talk, discuss their future, plan their life.
"Perhaps a trip to the Continent would please you," he murmured as he pushed hair behind her ears to kiss her temples. "It would give us time alone to see our way together. I think you might like to see the sights of other countries. Would that please you, my love?"
Jenny stared at him. He was smiling as he spoke, his smile gentle, his gaze filled with what looked like love. "You thrash me," she exclaimed. "Beat me and ... and expect me to just carry on as if it didn't happen. Travel abroad? That is how you say you regret your actions? What will you do to apologize the next time you beat me raw? Make me queen of England?"
The Duke was stunned. Again, Jennifer had shown more courage than any other woman he had known. Even his mother with all her boldness had never spoken to him in this manner. Did I deserve those words? His eyes blinked and his arms loosened around her. He needed to put some distance between them. He couldn't think with Jennifer in his arms and the more she spoke, the more likely he would be to thrash her again and that was the last thing he wanted to do.
"I will leave you now," he said as calmly as he could. "I think you need time to dwell on our life together and I need time to decide ..."
"Decide what?" she hissed. "Decide when you're going to beat me again?"
He didn't answer. He turned from her and before closing the door to their bedchamber behind him, told her to remain in their suite. "Stay here, Jenny. Don't go about the house until I give you leave."
He didn't wait for her to reply to his words, leaving her to her temper and her thoughts.
She'll be out that door as soon as my back is turned, he mused. I can't let that happen. She must learn to obey me.
And with that idea firmly rooted in his mind, he assigned a heavily muscled footman to stand in front of his bedchamber with the admonition that his wife was to remain inside. "No one goes in or out of this room until I say otherwise."
Before he could order any other instructions, he was called to the estate's offices where an urgent message was waiting for his attention.
Throughout the rest of the day the Duke was busy with estate matters and when his immediate business was accomplished, he ordered his horse readied for a trip to the village. I'll pick out a trinket for Jenny; perhaps a shawl - something that will be hers alone and not from the family's jewels or treasures. She'll like that.
He found a locket that he liked - hammered gold inset with amber - an unusual piece. Jenny will love this, he thought as he pocketed the gift. We'll dine quietly, talk, sort matters. All will soon be well.
"Your Grace!" his estate manager shouted, spying the Duke as he emerged from a shop. Rushing to his side, he garbled his words in an effort to speak. "I have been looking for you everywhere. Another message has been delivered that needs your immediate attention."
"Calm yourself, man. Take a breath." And when the harried man was able to get his words out, the Duke demanded the news. "What is it this time?"
"Your estate in Wales, my Lord. The poachers are taking over! The staff is fleeing! Soon there will be nothing left! We must leave for Wales immediately!"
"Gather the men. We leave before nightfall."
In the midst of crisis, the Duke remained calm. Riding back to his estate he made his battle plans. Once he was among his loyal followers, all was soon in readiness to make their way to Wales.
Jenny and his altercation with her that morning was quickly forgotten.