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The wedding’s a week away, and the princess has prepared herself to wed the duke. Mostly.
But unbeknownst to Violet, they won’t spend their wedding night alone. In order to safeguard the royal bloodlines, marriage consummations are witnessed by an audience of Hastings councilmen and their wives. Can Violet make it through the trying ordeal with her newly improved manners intact? Can her husband use his disciplinary prowess and sensual finesse to guide her to ecstasy?
This five-chapter novelette invites readers to enjoy the happily ever after—Thomas and Violet’s courtship, their wedding and bedding, and the morning after, when the newly married couple find themselves alone—and bonded—at last.
Long ago, in the fairy tale kingdom of Hastings
Violet threaded her fingers together and peered through the window into the palace courtyard. It was a pretty spring day in April, and all of Hastings was abloom.
“Has he arrived?” her father asked from the divan.
“Not yet, papa.”
She unwound her fingers and picked at her dress, smoothing layers of ruffles. Her pale blonde curls were piled atop her head in a regal style appropriate for a royal princess awaiting a suitor.
Not a suitor. A fiancé, because Violet was betrothed to the Duke of Thornton, a fact that still startled her.
Since their betrothal had been arranged, the duke had come once a week for tea and a stroll around the palace gardens. Violet looked forward to these visits with a mixture of delight and dread. He was always polite, taking her hand with the lightest touch, and speaking in a calm and moderate tone. She might almost forget that she’d endured dozens of trips across his lap prior to this betrothal, and that this very man had spanked her to within an inch of her life to reform her. They avoided talking about that.
Still, she remembered, and she was certain he remembered too.
“Papa,” she said, turning to the king with a quaver in her voice. “Sometimes I wonder if this marriage is a reasonable idea.”
“My child, why wouldn’t it be?”
How could she explain her misgivings without telling him all the humiliating and painful things the duke had subjected her to in his quest to improve her behavior? He’d been successful, of course, which pleased her father enough to give the duke her hand in marriage. Such was the fate of a royal princess, to marry whomever the king selected.
“It’s only that... Well, you see, papa... I think sometimes the duke is a bit bad-tempered.”
Her father frowned. “I’ve never seen him in a temper, not in all the years I’ve known him.”
“He doesn’t lose his temper the way you’re thinking. He doesn’t yell and storm around, but he’s so regimented, and if you dare displease him...” She chewed harder on her lip, blocking out uncomfortable memories. “In my view, he relies too strongly on corporal punishment to get his way.”
“It’s a man’s right to discipline an unruly female, whether daughter, sister, or wife. Now that you’re reformed of your hellion ways, what does it matter? Thornton shall have no cause to spank an angel like you.”
Goodness, he couldn’t understand that a man like the duke never stopped spanking. He might not spank her as much, but every slip-up would be reckoned over his lap.
“It’s just... I’ve been considering the importance of this marriage, and the fact that we’ll be joined together for years and years, and well, I thought I might do better to have a husband who’s more…easy-going.”
“A future queen’s consort cannot be easy-going, Violet. Thornton is the perfect man for the task. My dear, it’s been settled for weeks.”
“But papa, I’d much rather be joined in marriage to a man who lets me be free.”
“Free?” The king pulled a face. “Free to descend again into selfish tantrums and self-serving nonsense? You don’t need or want a man who will let you be free. You need exactly what you are getting: a man who will encourage you to be your best self, and hold you accountable when you fall short of expected behaviors. Who better than the Duke of Thornton to reign at your side? The council agrees that he is steadfast, industrious, merciful, and exacting in matters of state.”
And matters of behavior, Violet groused silently. And about that whole merciful thing...
But she was stuck, for all the citizens of Hastings admired the Duke of Thornton, and were overjoyed to learn he’d won Violet’s hand. The announcement had traveled to every corner of the kingdom in record time. His Royal Highness the King is pleased to announce the betrothal of his daughter, Her Royal Highness the Princess Violetta Margherita Eleanora Josephine of Hastings to Thomas Geoffrey Wickham, the Duke of Thornton. The marriage will be solemnized at the Palace at Hastings on the First Day of May.
May first, of course, was a traditional day of fertility, and Violet was well aware she’d be expected to produce an heir as soon as possible. Her father assured her the duke would know precisely how to accomplish this, and that she must leave all such matters in his hands. She trusted her father was right, since her betrothed seemed to know quite a bit about everything.
He is particularly accomplished in the art of discipline...
She shook off such thoughts and looked back out the window. “He’s late, is he not? What if something has happened to him? What if he’s fallen? What if his horse is lamed?”
“Ah, my sweet,” her father answered in bemusement. “You pretend this marriage will be a great stress upon you, but you care for your betrothed very much. Otherwise you wouldn’t worry so when he turns up late.”
She ignored her father’s jibe and placed her fingertips upon the window, pressing her nose to the glass. The duke’s massive horse had just appeared at the head of the royal lane. Thornton rode atop the beast in his signature dark, tailored attire, his proud posture accentuated by a high collar and lace-trimmed cravat. His fine leather boots shone in the sunlight, and his burnished brown hair was pulled back in a neat queue. The palace guards opened the gates and waved him through with respectful bows.
“He’s arrived,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady.
The duke looked up from his horse, as if he knew she waited at the window. He couldn’t have seen her, as he was some distance away, but she took a step back. As he turned around the bend that led to the front entrance, she noted the slender black crop tucked beneath his arm. How straight he sat in the saddle, and how strong his legs were.
He was sinfully handsome, and emanated power. The way he held the crop...it gave her a squirming, excited feeling she could barely contain.
She forced herself across the room to sit beside her father, so when the duke entered the main royal parlor, she was prettily arranged upon the divan with the tea tray set before her. Gathering her courage, she looked up at the towering aristocrat she was to marry.
Thornton had looked big atop his horse, but appeared even larger in this formal, elegant room.
“Your Grace,” she said, rising to offer her hand. As the higher-ranking personage, she might have addressed him as Thornton, but she chose to call him Your Grace out of respect.
He crossed the room and acknowledged her greeting with a bow. “Your Royal Highness, you honor me with the pleasure of your company.”
He took her offered hand, and she had to steel herself against shivers as his intent blue eyes raked over her person. This man had hurt her, had broken her down over an excruciating series of weeks before Valentine’s Day. His tall, powerful stature only hinted at the strength of will she’d come to experience under his tutelage. Now, in a week’s time, this man would become her husband.
Strangely, the shivers were not bad shivers. They were shivers of excitement, which she didn’t understand.
* * * * *
They took tea together in the company of the king, then escaped to enjoy the privacy of the gardens, as betrothed couples were permitted to do.
The duke doted on her with such intensity that the entire kingdom assumed theirs was a love match. The citizens of Hastings believed that was why she hadn’t married one of the kings or princes who’d come before to seek her hand. They didn’t know she’d run all of them off with her atrocious behavior, and that the duke was the only man who’d exhibited enough patience and fortitude to tame her.
Goodness, she hoped no one ever heard the full details of that story.
The gardens were a secure hideaway within the palace grounds, so no royal guards followed them as they walked along the shaded paths in the gorgeous spring weather. The duke held her hand upon the crook of his arm, steadying her nerves if not her heart.
“How have you fared since I last visited, my violet-eyed beauty?” he asked. “Have you been minding your manners, and acting as a refined princess?”
One of his dark brows rose the slightest bit. “Mostly?”
She flushed under his steady regard, then turned away, pretending great interest in a clump of bushes. “It’s normal to feel out of sorts now and again, isn’t it? Especially with the wedding arriving so quickly?”
“It could not arrive quickly enough for me.”
Do not shiver with excitement, foolish girl. You’ll be miserable living with him, and you know it. There was no sensible reason to look forward to their marriage. He would hold her to impossibly high standards of behavior, and punish her when she failed to meet his expectations.
“When did you feel out of sorts?” he asked.
“During the fitting for my bridal gown. The entire process has been so tedious.”
“But it’s important to look your best on a royal wedding day, for the sake of all the people who’ll crowd through the gates to witness our happiness.”
His tone caused a flip-flopping anxiety in Violet’s stomach. Even his mildest reproofs made her nervous, and yet she confessed her sins to him so readily.
“I fear I scolded one of the seamstresses when she pricked me with a pin. Although,” she added quickly, “the old, spoiled Princess Violet would have slapped her across the face and demanded that she be banished from the kingdom. So I thought I behaved with admirable restraint.”
“All you did was scold her?” he asked skeptically.
“Perhaps I cursed a few times,” she admitted. “The woman turned ever so pale.”
“We’ve had many long talks about abusing the servants, dearest.”
Long talks? He meant that she’d had many long spankings.
“I knew I shouldn’t do it,” she said. “I knew when you brought me back here, I would fall into my old ways. It’s something inside me, some fault in my blood.”
“It’s nothing in your blood.” He stopped her in a shady grove and pulled her down beside him on a bench. “Your outbursts are merely old habits formulated over many years of lackluster guidance. You were allowed to run wild. It wasn’t your fault. You lacked someone in your life with a strong, guiding hand.”
As he said this, he took her hand and turned it over between his palms. His hands were so much larger than hers. She stared at their intertwined fingers, remembering all the terrifying things those hands could do. “I suppose you would have spanked me for cursing at that seamstress,” she said. “If I was still at Thornton Manor.”
“Of course I would have. You know the importance I place on proper comportment, especially for someone of your rank. A princess must exhibit the highest standards of patience and gentility in her behavior, in order to set an example for everyone else in the kingdom.”
“I’ve been trying. I’m better than I used to be, but patience and gentility have never been my strengths.”
His fingers tightened around hers. “Soon you’ll be at Thornton Manor again, and we can address any lingering shortcomings as they happen.”
He didn’t say it in a menacing way, but Violet swallowed hard, and found herself wishing they were not so alone. He hadn’t put a finger on her in all this time, except to take her hand as courtesy allowed. They hadn’t even shared a kiss. He was so proper about everything in their courtship, but she could easily picture him throwing up her skirts and giving her a strict spanking right there on the bench.
“I’m afraid to marry you,” she said in perfect honesty. “I’m afraid of being spanked for the rest of my life.”
She couldn’t meet his gaze, but she felt him lean closer, so his fine wool coat brushed against her shoulder.
“You shouldn’t fear spankings, Your Highness. You should appreciate them. They’ve worked wonders on your attitude and happiness. The rule of discipline has changed your life.”
Of course it had. The duke had transformed her into a calmer and more confident person. People liked her now, when they used to only tolerate her because of her royal pedigree and power. “I’m afraid of your spankings because they hurt.”
“If they didn’t hurt, they wouldn’t be very effective, would they?”
She managed to look up at him, smiling at the humor in his voice. “Perhaps, at some point, we can progress to verbal reminders instead of corporal punishment. You know, when I am well and truly tamed.”
“Well and truly tamed? My dear...” He crooked a finger under her chin when she would have ducked away. “Women like you are never truly tamed, which is why this marriage is so necessary. But don’t worry. We’ll have more than spankings to bond us together, once we’re wed.”
His gaze was so deep and blue she might have drowned in it. She wasn’t sure what he meant by “more than spankings,” only that his expression as he said it made her go warm in her middle, down to where her little flower awaited her husband’s touch. He had taught her she mustn’t touch herself there until she was a married lady, and had her husband’s permission. In fact, he had driven that lesson home with a traumatic punishment she remembered to this day.
That memory was enough to make her behave herself, but sometimes when she lay in bed at night and thought about his big hands and shoulders, and his rumbling voice, and his deep brown, wavy hair, she found it difficult to control her urges. When he was close to her, she felt excited everywhere, but especially there...
“Your Grace,” she said, “sometimes I find it very hard to wait. To wait to...be with you.”
“How pleased I am to hear that. But you are waiting, yes? You’re being a good girl?”
“Yes.” She slumped on the bench. “But it’s hard. I’m not sure what it would hurt, to stroke my flower now and again, to get it ready for you.”
“But my love, it’s not your flower. When we were betrothed, it became my flower. I’m to be your husband.”
“It’s still my flower,” she said stubbornly.
“It’s not. It’s mine. It’s best if you resign yourself to that from the start.” He was silent a moment. “There are so many lovely parts of you that shall belong to me. I’ll teach you so much about pleasure, Violet, in due time. Why, your flower is only the beginning.”
She shifted beside him. “My flower is tired of talking about it. It’s frustrated right now.”
“I know it’s difficult to wait, especially when the wedding’s so close.” He regarded her, his eyes alight with a possessive gleam. “If you like, I’ll caress your little flower here in the garden, just for a bit.”
She knew he would purposely tease her, and not allow her enough time to find satisfaction. “I’d prefer to touch it myself,” she said.
“No. It’s my touch or no touch at all.”
He always insisted on having the control. In their marriage, she knew he’d be ten times worse.
“How do you know I won’t go up to my room in an hour and touch it all I want?” she asked, tossing her head.
“Because you’re not that woman anymore.” His sober reply had her lowering her chin. “I know you want to be good, Violet. You feel better when you’re good.”
“But it’s hard!”
“I know it’s hard. That’s what makes it so satisfying. If you go up to your room later and willfully disobey me, you’ll like yourself less, and next time I see you, you’ll be craven with guilt. Is that what you wish?”
“No, Your Grace,” she said miserably. He’d just named all the reasons she restrained herself. When he wasn’t around, it was a lot easier to be good. But when he was close, speaking to her in his husky voice, seducing her with his intense gaze...
“Fine,” she said, sounding a bit too imperious. “I suppose you may touch me.”
“That is not the way to get what you want, darling.”
Manners. Comportment. Gentility. “Please, Your Grace...” she said, leaning her cheek against his arm.
Oh, heavens, would he make her beg for it? “Please, Your Grace, will you stroke my flower?”
He gave her an arch look as he tugged at the fingers of his glove and set it aside. “How meek you can sound when you want something.”
He teased, but he also began drawing up her skirts. He was careful to preserve her modesty, reaching beneath to her sex without exposing too much of her legs. A proper courtship all around, although this was probably not very proper. She didn’t care. It had been so long...
She swallowed a sigh as his hand slid between her legs and found the sensitive “flower” that felt better than anything else on earth. His fingers played over the bit of flesh, drawing wetness from her womanly parts to ease the way. His eyes were intent, his touch confident and sure.
“Oh my... Your Grace...” A ragged moan escaped her lips at his sweetly sensual caress.
“I think I ought to spank you, rather than this,” he said, bemused. “I’m not certain you deserve to be rewarded after your behavior this week.”
“But I’ve been good. Most of the time, I’ve been good.”
As her words trailed off, he pressed his lips to her temple and continued his skillful touches. She held onto him, her fingers scrabbling at the back of his coat as he applied the perfect amount of pressure to her flower. He was making it bloom.
Her breath grew short. She reached to maneuver his fingers where she wanted them, but when she did, he took his hand away.
“No, you don’t do it,” he chided. “Only me.”
“Doesn’t it feel good when I do it?”
“Yes, it does, but...”
But it was so hard to give him all the control. She must accept that this would be her life beginning next week. It was her body, yes, but he’d laid claim to it, even before she knew they were to be wed. He’d trained her to respond to his control, even to crave it. She pressed her face against his neck and arched into his hand. “Please, Your Grace.”
She wanted release, the climactic ecstasy she’d first experienced during a punishment session. Her shuddering response to his intimate choice of punishment had shocked them both. Since that time, he’d been very strict about that magical area between her legs. It’s mine. It’s best if you resign yourself to that from the start.
“There,” he said, drawing away from her. “I think we’d best stop before you get too far.”
“Too far? I’m already too far. I want to finish, please.”
“But you shall not, until we’re lawfully wed. It’s only a week, my sweet.”
She lay against him, feeling heavy and unsatisfied. He brought his fingers to her lips and she sucked them from sheer frustration, tasting her own spendings. His fingers were not the only part of his body she’d sucked since she’d made the duke’s acquaintance. Maybe he was remembering that now. She could feel the outline of his shaft against her hip, a familiar stiffness growing even harder. Perhaps he felt frustrated too.
But not for long. One week. She didn’t know whether she felt impatient to marry, or terrified. She was afraid to ask if she would still receive nightly spankings as she had during her training at Thornton Manor. If the answer was yes, she might not be able to go through with it.
Oh, of course she’d go through with it. There was no calling off this wedding now, but she’d rather go through it not knowing.
Really, it was unlikely. He couldn’t spank her every night for the rest of her life.
But as he pulled his glove back onto his large, strong fingers, she thought, yes, he very well might.
“Do you want a spanking after all?” he asked, when he noticed her staring at his hand.
“Oh. No, Your Grace. Well, on that subject... I would prefer to have a minimum of spanking in our marriage, at least compared to our time together before.”
“I know those were difficult weeks for you.” He made her look up at him. “I know I hurt you very much, but every time I spanked you, it was an act of love. Every time I made you cry, it was in preparation for this. Now that we’re to be wed, we shall be so happy together.”
“But I’d prefer to have mostly pleasurable things between us, like what you’ve just done, and less spankings, and chastity belts, and time in your discipline parlor, and things inserted into my bottom to make me behave.”
“But if they make you behave...” He fixed her with a gently implacable look. “There won’t be any bargaining between us on this matter, I’m afraid. When I’m your husband I’ll have full charge of you, and you shall tolerate whatever disciplinary measures I require. I’ll demand proper behavior and unfailing obedience, and I’ll punish you if you don’t oblige me. Surely you expected nothing less.”
“Nightly spankings?” she whispered.
He didn’t answer. He said everything with his look.
She surprised herself by bursting into tears. The old Violet cried all the time, whenever she had a fit, but these weren’t those sorts of tears. These were worried tears. She worried about her future. She worried that she wouldn’t be good enough to please him. And yet...she still craved his closeness. She still wanted to marry him, for better or worse.
“I want to be a good wife to you,” she said as he handed her his handkerchief. “I’ll try.”
“That’s all I ask. Darling Violet, look up at me. Look at me, would you?”
She complied, wiping her tears.
“Do you realize the old princess would have been whining and manipulating, or throwing a raging tantrum? Instead you’re beautifully resigned to our union. I trained you well.”
He brushed a hand across her cheek, taking his handkerchief back when she smiled at him bravely. Well, mostly bravely.
“You’ll see. It will not be so difficult,” he said. “We’ll take things day by day, and soon we’ll be quite used to one another.”
She could not imagine ever being used to the Duke of Thornton and his obsession with discipline, but at this point, she had no other path to take.