Taming Lady Lydia
Copyright © 2017 by Stormy Night Publications and Felicity Brandon
Copyright © 2017 by Stormy Night Publications and Felicity Brandon
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Published by Stormy Night Publications and Design, LLC.
Taming Lady Lydia
Cover Design by Korey Mae Johnson
Images by Period Images, 123RF/Kevin Eaves, and 123RF/Iakov Kalinin
This book is intended for adults only. Spanking and other sexual activities represented in this book are fantasies only, intended for adults.
“Do not seek the because—in love there is no because, no reason, no explanation, no solutions.”
Anaïs Nin, Henry and June.
It begins with a letter on a late English summer morning in the year 1813. Sunlight invades the windows of the drawing room as Lady Jane Malcom receives the communication. She peers from the large pane, watching the pace of city life below her from the sanctuary of the grand townhouse. Slowly and deliberately, as though she can tell it contains foreboding news, she draws the fine paper from its seal, allowing her fingers to caress its edges before permitting her eyes to read the words. Lady Jane takes a moment to absorb the content, before moving to her chair in the far corner of the room. Her thin face pales as the reality of the news settles over her—her brother, the Earl George Franklin has passed away whilst serving in the Royal Navy. This information, she muses, will change everything. The earl’s estate must be processed; the townhouse will have to be sold, and what of Lady Lydia, his daughter? Who will step forward to take responsibility for such a wilful young woman?
* * *
In another part of the city an attractive young blonde sits in an expensive milliner’s shop. Her fingertips thrum the table in front of her, illustrating her growing impatience. “How long will this take, sir?” she snaps, her golden curls bobbing with her obvious irritation.
The older gentleman at the other side of the room pauses, swallowing down her impertinence. “Rest assured we are working as swiftly as we can, Lady Franklin,” he replies, an exasperated expression on his mature face. “Our hats are of the finest quality, and the best does take time.”
The young lady sniffs at his answer, turning her face to look into the street outside. “That’s as may be,” she says brusquely, “but I have more matters to attend to than merely the delivery of your latest creation. Please ensure it is sent to my father’s residence as soon as it is ready.
“Of course, My Lady,” the milliner replies. “I will endeavour for it to reach you by this Friday, but…”
His voice trails away as he watches the young Lady Franklin rise and stalk from his shop without so much as another word. He sighs and shakes his head as her young maid scurries after her, sending the small bell above his door chiming in her haste. That young lady is spoiled to the point of ruin, he thinks as he makes his way back to his workshop. What she needs is a gentleman with a firm hand…
Chapter One: Markham Hall
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
I peer from my carriage window, watching as the contorted branches of ancient-looking trees rush by me. The swirling wind forces them into strange and unusual shapes as we speed past, sending a wave of unease through me. Outside the light begins to fade and within a short distance, what little remains is just a slim line of sunshine on the horizon beyond the woods. I clutch the letter in my hand to my chest, as though it is going to offer me some reassurance about the road ahead. Relaxing a little, I run my fingers over the paper, feeling its weight and substance.
This correspondence is for Lord Thomas Markham, a man with whom I have never made acquaintance, and indeed never laid eyes upon. Yet this man is now to be my guardian and responsible for my person until I either marry or reach the age of twenty-one years old. I twist my fingers around the corner of the letter, bending the paper a fraction as the defiance within me resurfaces. Looking back to the window, I am shocked to see the night now snugly surrounding the carriage as its wheels hurry on, taking me onward to Markham Hall.
A loud noise from the roof above me makes me jump, and is followed by the gruff tone of my driver, Smithers. “We’re nearly there, M’Lady,” he shouts from overhead. “Markham Hall lies just west of this road.”
“Thank you,” I call out, uncertain if my voice will have carried over the sounds of the horses and the wheels, but answering him all the same. I look to the west, transfixed upon the direction which points toward my new home.
I have known about this day for some weeks. Ever since my father, the late Earl Franklin passed away, and his will was read, I have known of his wish for me to be sent to Markham Hall. I resisted of course, predictably reluctant to accept the words of my father’s last will and testament, but my protests had met deaf ears. My aunt, who was always kind to me in her brother’s absence, demanded my compliance, and I recall her passion as she spoke to me on the subject…
“Lord Markham is your second cousin, Lydia. He is a gentleman, with his own titles and estates, who will not be interested in stealing yours. Your father—may the Lord rest his soul—has chosen well for you!”
“But, Aunt Jane,” I protested as I watched her embroidering in the sitting room. “Lord Markham is a man I have never met—a stranger! How can he know what is best for me?”
My aunt paused her needlework to look upon me, exasperation etched into her face. “He is a good man, Lydia and a relative—he will no doubt be a decent guardian until you come of age, and that is only a few years now.”
I sighed, the resentment I felt on the subject evident. “But, Aunt Jane…”
“Enough, Lydia,” she snapped from the chair next to me. “The decision has been taken and Lord Markham has already been written to. He will receive you on the third day of October.”
And that—I had realised—was that. The decision was made, and my fate was sealed. Now hurtling toward that fate, I feel no more inclined to acquiesce with the future my father set out for me, than I did that day in the sitting room. Angry at having my fine, comfortable world turned upside down, my insolence simmers beneath my calm exterior. As the carriage bears from the main road to the left, I wonder who this Thomas Markham really is. No doubt he is equally displeased at the notion of having me thrust upon him. Perhaps I can reason with him? Maybe he will see what a capable young woman I am, and will consent for me to travel back to London and reside at home? Perhaps I shall give him no choice, and simply make the return journey after all.
I close my eyes as I formulate my plan, confident that any decent gentleman would be more than happy to see me on my way, rather than have me impose upon his private estate. I resolve that I will just have to let my contrary nature persuade him. As the earl’s only daughter, I know I am indulged, and am all too used to getting my own way. I see no reason why this should now change. The carriage slows, and I open my eyes again to peer into the blackness beyond my window. The drive to the hall is narrow but seems endless. It is lined either side by tall trees, the high branches contorting in the strength of the autumn wind. Eventually we round to the right, Smithers bringing the horses to halt outside of the house. I shift to my left and take my first glance at Markham Hall.
It is a grandiose dwelling, far greater than the modern townhouse I have known. From this angle I can only make out the imposing entrance and four or five large downstairs windows, and yet there is no doubt the house is far more superior than I had been led to believe. By the time I can process this information, Smithers is opening the door to the carriage.
“Here, M’Lady,” he says, bowing slightly as he addresses me. “Watch your step.”
I smile at his concern, and duly take the hand he offers as I disembark from the carriage. Reaching the ground, I look up, absorbing the gigantic household which now lies before me. The large black front door opens from its elevated position at the head of five solid steps and a number of servants come rushing to meet us.
One young maid, probably not much older than I, skips gracefully down the stone stairs, before bobbing in front of me. “Lady Franklin,” she says, clearly out of breath. “Welcome to Markham Hall.”
A gust of wind catches the blonde curls which refuse to be pinned beneath her bonnet, and I get a good view of her young and pretty face. Her blue eyes stare up from her curtsey, clearly eagerly awaiting my response.
“Thank you,” I reply sternly, irritated that no one had been waiting here to receive my carriage.
She rises slowly, still assessing my responses. “Please come in out of the cold, My Lady,” she says, gesturing with her right hand for me to take the lead. “His Lordship would not want us to linger here.”
I turn to Smithers who is off-loading my luggage to a young man who I assume to be the footman. “Thank you, Smithers,” I call to him directly as I turn to ascend the stone staircase.
I can just about make out his reply as I reach the summit, and pause to watch the old man resume his place at the front of the carriage. As he drives the horses away, a sting of pain lurches within me. The last fragments of my life in London are driving away, and all at once I feel abandoned. I take a deep breath as I consider the reality, swallowing down the sudden stabbing emotion.
The voice of the young maid brings me back to the here and now. She waits on the elevated stonework, eager for me to enter the house and allow us all to be free of the chilling wind. I nod my head and take my first step into Markham Hall, not daring to risk a final glance back.
Chapter Two: First Impressions
The interior is every inch as grand as I had expected based on the striking visage of the front of the building. The entrance is huge, and dominated by the dark imposing staircase cutting through its very centre. My eyes scan the place, drinking in the rich wood of the rails and bannisters lining the stairs and the upper galleried landing above. The steps are dressed in a rich crimson rug, which runs all the way to the floor before opening into an enormous carpet at my feet. The colour matches the surrounding hues of the drapes and tapestries lining the walls around me. All of the soft furnishings are warm majestic shades of gold, emerald, and ruby, set against the wood panelling which otherwise governs the space.
My father had been a man of wealth, and I have always enjoyed expensive, beautiful possessions, yet I find myself impressed by the sheer indulgence of Markham, and this it seems is just the entrance hall. As I move inside, a tall, young gentleman greets me with a low bow.
“Lady Franklin, please allow me to take your cape?”
I unclip the fastening at my chest and release the length of fabric from my body, before handing it to him as the large door behind me is finally closed. “Thank you,” I answer, my voice clipped after my rather unceremonious reception on the steps outside.
From behind a tall grandfather clock to my right strides an older-looking man. He is tall and debonair, yet his expression seems guarded as he approaches. He addresses me with immediate authority. “Lady Franklin,” he says, bowing. “May I welcome you to your new home, Markham Hall. Allow me to introduce myself—I am Gregory, His Lordship’s steward, and butler to this fine household. Lord Markham is unfortunately not able to receive you at this time, so please allow us to help you settle into the hall in his absence.”
I stare at the man, taking in his mature face and dark hair. “My gratitude, Mr. Gregory,” I reply, looking around me at the line of young men and women—the staff of the house—who now stand to my left. “May I ask where His Lordship is?”
Gregory smiles and takes a step back. “Lord Markham has been called away on urgent family business, My Lady,” he answers. “He sends his apologies, and has invited you to dine with him at supper this evening.”
I stand, gaping at him as I try to process his words. What business could have called him away at this hour? Am I not Lord Markham’s family? It seems as though my guardian is too busy to meet his new ward, and an odd betrayal slices through me at the prospect.
“In the meantime, let Lucy show you to your rooms and Carson will bring your luggage there for you.”
I nod, feeling suddenly weary from the hours of travel and the surge of unusual emotions I am experiencing.
“And Lady Franklin,” he says, moving a step closer and dropping his voice just a little. “Please accept my own apologies for Lucy’s late arrival at your carriage. She should—and does—know better.”
I acknowledge his harsh tone, watching Lucy drop her head at his admonishment.
“Thank you, Mr. Gregory,” I reply, glad that he has noted and raised the matter. “I did think it unusual not to have been greeted upon my arrival.”
The tall man nods his understanding at me, and then turns, his attention focused on Lucy. “In this house we have explicit standards, and young Lucy did not meet them on this occasion. She is aware of the consequences of this.” He gestures with his left hand and Lucy appears to my right at once. “Is this not correct, Lucy?”
“Yes, Mr. Gregory,” she whimpers, dropping her eyes.
The snub at having not been welcomed properly burns within me and I feast upon the scene. Indignant and tired from my travels and the odd reception, I relish the way Gregory dresses the maid down, watching as she comes to heel at his command.
“You can rest assured that she will be adequately punished for her transgression, My Lady.”
I nod, smiling as the maid hangs her head in shame. Glancing from her to the butler, I note a strange energy, which is now evident in the hall. There’s a low-lying tension about the place, and for a brief moment it seems palpable. I turn my head to the left and see the other staff hanging on Gregory’s words, the expectancy evident on their faces.
“Please see that you do,” I reply to Gregory. “I do not like to be kept waiting.” My tone is brusque, demonstrating some of the frustrations I feel.
The butler bows before clapping his hands together. “Now Lucy, Carson—carry on! Everyone else, back to work, please!”
The entrance hall, once as still as a mausoleum, now bursts into life around me. I see the strong footman, Carson, carrying the majority of my cases up the grandiose-looking stairs, and Lucy dashes behind him.
“Please follow me, My Lady,” she says breathlessly, as she pauses to address me.
It is with a strange mixture of emotions that I do so, lifting my skirts to make the climb.
Chapter Three: Lucy
Beyond the staircase the house is a labyrinth of hallways and large, imposing doorways. I follow Lucy’s assured footsteps, amazed at how she can ever recall her way around this massive house. Finally, she pauses outside a doorway to our right, and turns to face me. “Here are your rooms, Lady Franklin,” she says, curtseying politely as I pass her into the open doorway.
The first thing I notice is that Carson has already made the journey. My cases are piled neatly by the wall to my left. As I step further into the room I am struck by the sheer beauty of the place. It is decorated in lush gold and creams. Indulgent fabrics hang at the long windows and adorn the large centre-piece bed. I move toward it, tracing a finger idly over the pale lace at the foot of its exterior.
“Is everything to your liking, My Lady?”
I spin toward Lucy, waiting for me in the doorway. “Is this all?” I reply, deliberately choosing to stamp my authority over the pretty young maid. “I am used to quite larger rooms in London.”
This is a partial untruth. Some of the rooms in the earl’s house had been wondrous in size, although my sleeping quarters had not been so different to this. For some reason though, I desire to laud my influence and exact my own penance for Lucy’s tardiness on the doorstep.
She tenses, concerned at my remarks. “There is a reading room through this door, My Lady,” she explains, holding out her right arm to indicate which direction she means.
I move toward it, opening the door to reveal a smaller, yet cosy space, filled with book-lined walls and a sturdy-looking writing desk. It is not as grand as my old library at home, but certainly I could make use of it.
“And this, My Lady, is your private bathing room.” Lucy now stands on the other side of the large bed, her body pointed toward a third doorway.
I move slowly past her to acknowledge the entrance with a nod. “Very well,” I respond. “I will explore later. Now I think I would like to rest. Please unpack my dresses and prepare the peacock gown for supper.”
“Of course, My Lady,” she smiles, dipping into a small curtsey as she scurries away to my selection of luggage.
Wandering toward the bed, I slip the small slippers from my feet, allowing them to fall to the golden rug at the side of the bed and recline fully against the soft covers. Lucy continues to work without a word, and within a few moments I drift into an uneasy slumber.
By the time I open my eyes again, I find my clothes unpacked and a neat pile of luggage where Carson had left it. I stretch my arms above my head, moving from my warm, comfortable position.
“My Lady,” Lucy says softly. “I hope you are rested?”
Her voice is gentle, and she smiles at me. In spite of my earlier irritation, I decide that I may like her after all.
“Thank you, yes,” I answer, raising myself into a seated position. “I assume that supper will be served soon? Please help me to dress.”
She nods as I stand. “Yes, My Lady,” she replies. “Supper is served usually at nine o’clock in the dining room. I will escort you there once you are ready.” She moves lithely to where my peacock gown hangs waiting.
I stand, feeling the fibres of the soft rug between my toes as I move toward the dress. Lucy releases it, laying it gently across a lounging chair away to my right, before coming to assist me from my travelling attire. She is fast and polite, helping me from one garment to the next. I enquire as to her age as she fastens my lacing, and she informs me that she has just turned nineteen. I am surprised as she looks much younger than her years, but I say nothing further on the subject. Within a few moments I am adorned with the chosen blue gown, and Lucy steps back to admire her handiwork.
“So, will I do?” I ask wryly, knowing full well how lovely the outfit makes me look.
“You are quite beautiful, My Lady,” she answers politely. “The gown really complements your eyes.”
I smile, and mean to continue on my mission for more praise when our attention is interrupted by three sharp taps at the door. Lucy moves at once, opening the wooden structure a few inches, before peering around it to see who the visitor is.
I recognise the tone of the young man who had previously brought my cases to the room… Carson, I think was his name.
“Mr. Gregory requires your attention downstairs… now.”
Lucy jumps at his words and there is something about his tone which makes even my eyebrow rise. What exactly is the urgency which means Lucy must leave this instant?
“But, Mr. Carson,” Lucy stammers, visibly distressed by either the order or the intonation of its delivery. “It is nearly time for Her Ladyship’s supper. I mean to escort her to the dining room!”
She implores him with her hands as she speaks, but he seems not to notice. “I think delay will only lead to more issues for you, Lucy…”
I watch with interest as her face reddens at this news, before deciding finally to save the fate of poor Lucy myself. Stepping forward toward the doorway, I approach Carson. “I am sure I can spare Lucy for the time being,” I say matter-of-factly. “Mr. Carson, would you escort me to the dining room in her place?”
Both of their heads spin toward me, as though they had quite forgotten I was even present.
“Of course, My Lady,” he says, bowing his head.
“Then you should go, Lucy,” I insist. “Do not keep Mr. Gregory waiting…”
Her face pales at my closing words, but she curtseys before heading down the long wood-panelled corridor which leads away from my rooms. I watch her departure, wondering fleetingly what all of the fuss had been about, before collecting my sapphire fan and choosing a matching pair of slippers.
“Ready, My Lady?” asks Carson.
I turn, offering him a small nod as I close the tall wooden door behind me.
Chapter Four: Supper
Carson leads me down the quiet length of corridors, pausing intermittently to wait as I examine a number of exquisite oil paintings adorning the walls at length. I have long been fascinated by art, and my unplanned nap appears to have replenished my energy reserves, so I take my time as I absorb my new surroundings. I am full of curiosity for the place, and its mysterious owner; my new guardian, Lord Markham.
We make our way down the grandiose staircase, turning left at the bottom to travel yet another corridor, this one darkened by the sleek wood panelling dominating the walls. The passageway is framed with a number of large canvas pictures and lit every few inches by candles secured to the panelling. It is impossible to make out the images in the canvases at the rate we pass them, yet the bold brushstrokes are striking in their own right. I follow the young servant as the hallway bends to the right, wondering at the depths that the corridors seem to go, until finally he reaches a large wooden doorway. He pauses, waiting for me to catch up to him, before he knocks twice on the mahogany frame.
The voice which comes from the room beyond is deep and booming. Its tone sends a profound shiver through my body as the large door is opened slowly in front of me. I follow the young man as he enters the room, his hands held tightly behind his back.
“Ah, Carson!” The unknown voice, who I assume to belong to my new guardian, echoes across the room again.
“Apologies for the interruption, My Lord,” replies the young man. “May I introduce Lady Franklin.”
He falls backward, making way for my entrance, which I initiate at once. Stepping past the doorway, I cast my eyes into the room beyond me. The dining area is a massive, rectangular space, dominated by the large rosewood table filling its length. The walls are a dark pink hue, which complement the warm coloured wood which adorns the walls, culminating in the imposing fireplace on the left hand side of the table. There are three large windows integrated into the opposite wall. At the far end of the room, at the head of the table, a tall man catches my eye. I ogle him, watching him rise from his place and stride toward us.
“Lady Franklin…” His voice is a low vibration as his eyes sweep over me. “It is a pleasure to meet you at last.”
Something about his tone admonishes me, creating a sense of both petulance and shame. I raise my head to look upon him—this man, my new guardian. I acknowledge his height, seeing how he literally towers over my frame, and the expensive-looking cravat he wears. His deep green eyes are a truly astonishing colour, but they regard me sternly, his strong jaw forcing his mouth into a hard line.
I inhale, willing myself to move forward, but seem to be rooted to the spot. Instead, he approaches me in just a few strides, reaching for my right gloved hand, which I proffer without resistance. Sweeping my satin-covered fingers into his large palm, he pulls my wrist gently north to his lips, before allowing the two to make the briefest contact. Those green orbs never leave mine during the kiss, their intensity searing into my face.
I swallow hard, determined to make the correct first impression upon him. “Lord Markham, it is my absolute pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
His hand—still encompassing my own small digits—lowers slowly from his face as I speak, and still that stare is never once broken.
“Indeed, Lady Franklin,” he replies, his voice masking some other, unspoken emotion. “Tardiness is not generally well-received in my house, and yet I understand that it can be something of a labyrinth to the novice.”
I eye him, more than a little bewildered. Evidently he is berating me for my lack of punctuality, despite the fact that he has been unavailable to meet me until this moment! I take a deep breath, the sense of injustice brewing within me as I consider how I should best reply. Before I can say anything, he drops my hand and turns on his heel. I watch as he strides back to his place and resumes his seat at the head of the large table.
“Join me, please, Lady Franklin,” he calls from the other side of the room. “Our meal is already delayed.”
I exhale all at once, feeling unexpected heat rising to my face at his words. There’s no denying they have moved me, stirring dishonour at my apparent late arrival, and yet I am incredulous! This gentleman is a stranger to me. Where is his decency? His courtesy? I will not be spoken to this way!
The young man, Carson, walks around the table toward the seat on Lord Markham’s left. He looks back to me. “My Lady?” he says, pulling the chair away from the crimson tablecloth.
Determined to stand my ground and enjoy my first meal at Markham Hall, I pace after him. His Lordship’s gaze is back on me in an instant, watching the fall of my gown as I stride in his direction. As I approach my new guardian, our eyes lock again. In his I see a steely resolve. Perhaps he desires to put his new ward in her place? I scoff at the thought as I breeze past him to my own seat. Every ounce of my will wants to pour scorn on the notion.
Taking my place, I thank Carson and calm myself, intent on regaining my composure. I am stunned that somebody I have never met before has had the ability to rattle me this way. I glance to my right, eyeing the gentleman in question. His attention is temporarily elsewhere, and I seize the opportunity to scrutinise him. My eyes fly over his form, taking in his dark unruly hair and the near perfect profile, and down over the cut of his fine-looking waistcoat. My gaze follows his long right arm to where his fingers clutch his expensive-looking glassware at the table.
“Carson, ask the cook to bring the first course.”
His firm voice startles me from my analysis, and reflexively my eyes are drawn back to the mouth which delivered them. His Lordship’s lips are pink and full, drawn into a hard line. I do not recall having ever noticed a gentleman’s lips before this moment, and I watch as he raises his glass to them, surveying the red liquid which they draw from the crystal. He pauses, and the inaction wakes me from my thoughts. I meet his eyes, and realise that he has noticed me staring at him. This time there’s no concealing the blush which fills my face.
I drop my gaze at once, appalled at myself for such shameful manners. I know better than to stare at anyone in company, let alone an unknown gentleman—let alone one who is now my legal guardian!
“Are you quite well, Lady Franklin?” he asks, clearly amused at my impolite behaviour.
“Yes, thank you, My Lord,” I respond in haste. “I was only wondering what you are drinking with supper?”
He smiles shrewdly, as though he knows very well that this is not what I am thinking. However, he offers me a reprieve and chooses to take my bait, turning his attention back to the glass at his right hand.
“It is a fine, full-bodied red,” he says, turning to look at me as he describes the wine. “Lots of interesting flavour in there, but perhaps it is a little young. I may have done better to keep it corked a while longer, until it had matured.”
I watch the smile on his face grow as I listen to his words, shocked and not even vaguely amused by the clear analogy he is drawing between myself and the red wine. For the second time in just a matter of moments I am riled by his manner, unable to process his motivation for the words. The appearance of Gregory and several other serving staff is opportune, breaking the growing tension in the room. As the first course is presented before me, the butler appears at my left shoulder, holding a decanter of the offending liquid.
“Would My Lady like a glass of the wine?”
The question appears to be offered to Lord Markham, and not myself. I glance at Gregory, throwing him my most withering look. “Yes,” I reply in an unnecessarily clipped tone, “she would.”
Sensing my acrimony, he visibly flinches at my words as he leans toward the glass already at my place on the table.
Lord Markham’s voice is so loud that both Gregory and I jump at the sound of it. I eye him wildly, my face demanding an explanation for both the tenor and the content of his assertion. Seeing two sets of enquiring eyes awaiting him, he smiles, seemingly in his element.
“My Lord?” asks Gregory, seeking clarification from his master.
“No, thank you, Gregory,” comes the now much calmer response. “Her Ladyship is not of an age where intoxicating beverages should be served.”
I watch him from my seat, utterly astounded at his words. “Excuse me, My Lord,” I begin. “I am nineteen years old, and no longer an infant!”
Lord Markham tilts his head in my direction, before dismissing his servant with a wave of his right hand. “It is my understanding, Lady Franklin, that you are not nineteen until the seventeenth day of March—some five months from now?”
“Yes,” I admit. “What I mean to say is that I am nearly nineteen years old, My Lord!”
He smiles again. “Yes, My Lady, and even then you are my legal responsibility until you are twenty-one years old. Is this not correct?”
Anger pulses under the surface of my skin at my denigrating treatment. Aunt Jane had always permitted me a small glass of wine, or sometimes port in the late evening. I fail to understand why Lord Markham cannot afford me the same privilege. “I do not appreciate being treated like a child, My Lord,” I reply in little more than a hiss.
His stare is dark as he answers me. “Please do not behave as such then, Lady Franklin, and I shall have no need to treat you that way. Now, tell me, are you currently under the legal age of twenty-one?”
I draw in a deep breath between my teeth. “Yes, My Lord,” I say grudgingly.
“Good, then there is no cause for dispute. Gregory, please pour Lady Franklin a glass of water whilst we eat.”
I catch his eye as this latest order is given, and I see a flicker of something there I cannot decipher.
“My Lady,” he continues, gesturing to my plate with his left hand. “Please do enjoy your food.”
I concede the point, allowing my hunger to ultimately decide for me, and collect the correct cutlery from my place. The veal before me is extraordinarily tasty, and soon both of us are immersed in the meal. I suppress the urge to complain when Gregory reappears with a china jug and fills my crystal-ware with water, instead choosing to focus on the succulent food before me.
The atmosphere between us is stilted. Indignation continues to whip around my body at my coarse and unnecessary treatment at the hands of my new guardian. I feel the strangest urge to look upon him once again and try to discover more about the man, and yet I sense that he is looking for just this opportunity to denigrate me further. After a short while, he does indeed pause, placing his fork to the side of his plate and contemplating me as he chews.
“So, My Lady.”
I can feel the weight of his full attention upon me and I finally relent, meeting his stare.
“It seems we are to reside here together for the foreseeable future.”
His tone is speculative, and I wonder if this might be the perfect time to discuss my imminent return to London.
“Lord Markham,” I begin, looking into those deep green eyes. “I would like to thank you for your gracious welcome, and for accepting me—a complete stranger—into your lovely home.”
“You are most welcome, Lady Franklin,” he replies, wiping the corners of his mouth with his burgundy napkin. “Besides, you are not a stranger, but family. I’m sure you know that our fathers were cousins, and great friends as young men. That is why I could not refuse the earl’s request to accommodate you in this time of grief and need.”
I pause, watching him and wondering whether he really believes the sentiment he has just expressed. “You are indeed gracious, My Lord,” I answer, taking a sip of my water. He watches me knowingly, suppressing a flicker of a smile. “And yet I feel sure that I will not have to trouble you for much longer, after all?”
Mirroring my action, he reaches for his glass and takes a long sip of red wine as he considers my statement. “Why would that be, My Lady?” His tone is deep and seems almost foreboding.
“I have been living most comfortably with my aunt back in London, My Lord, and whilst I do appreciate you abiding to my father’s wishes, I see no reason why I cannot return there and continue to reside with her?”
“My Lady Franklin.” His tone is somewhat clipped and that new intonation helps to punctuate the statement. “It was, as you have said, the wishes of your great father, that you—his only child—should be received here. And, received you have been…” He puts down his knife, shifting his body weight to face me.
“I understand this, My Lord,” I answer as affably as I know how. “I am most grateful to you for your kind hospitality, but I should…”
He raises his left palm and shows it to me, producing a physical barrier to my reply. My words stutter to a halt as I acknowledge the gesture and its intent.
“It was also your father’s intention that you stay here at Markham Hall, and that I—lord of this estate—become your guardian. I am certain that he would have asked my own father, but as he had already passed on, the bequest fell to me.” He pauses all of a sudden, lowering his hand, but the intent in his eyes never fades. “You understand all of this, My Lady?”
“Yes, but all I propose is a new arrangement to better suit both parties, My Lord?” The words spill out in a rush, as though I know I had better get them past him as quickly as possible.
“Why would it suit me better to have my ward live hundreds of miles away in the city?”
The question is pointed, much like the piercing look in his eyes as he delivers it. I take a deep breath, feeling already as though this battle is slipping away from me. “I do not wish to be a burden, My Lord; much less to a gentleman who knows nothing about me. The earl was absent for months at a time, and I am unused to being managed by a gentleman. I fear we shall not get along at all?”
There is silence after I speak and I smile inwardly. Finally, my words appear to have had some impact upon the impenetrable man to my right. I take a long drink as I watch his response. His body language has not changed; he is still turned toward me, clearly pondering my words in some detail. It is with some frustration then, that I see that smile creeping back to those lips.
“You are not a burden, Lady Franklin; you are my legal responsibility. As you know little of me, I will make this very clear for you: I take my responsibilities extremely seriously.”
His hand creeps across the table to where my own right palm now rests against the crimson cloth. I watch its journey toward me, subconsciously appraising his long digits. It pauses just an inch from my fingers, eliciting a small gasp from my lips. I raise my head to meet his eye again, suddenly weighed down by the intensity of his gaze.
“I can understand your reticence at our new situation, Lady Franklin, but I must insist that you comply. If our lack of knowledge about one another troubles you so, then it is my duty to increase our breadth of understanding on the subject.” His eyes flicker at the suggestion, and for some reason I notice my heart beginning to race beneath my gown. I flush, unsure if his words have produced irritation or worse, some other deep-seated emotional response. “We need not remain strangers if this is what you prefer.”
For the first time I find that I have no words. I drop my gaze, unable to fathom my body’s odd reaction to this man. Thus far he has been little more than rude and provocative, deliberately berating me and then forbidding my desire for a small glass of wine with supper. Now I find that he insists on my remaining at Markham, and even more peculiar, that he desires us to get to know one another. My instinct is to rebel. I do not want to be his responsibility, no matter what he says. So why then, do I feel an odd yearning to acquiesce?
“You will find I run an efficient and fair household, My Lady.” His voice has softened a little again, and washes over me in the most curious way. “You will be made to feel most welcome here, and if for any reason you find that this is not the case, I urge you to come to me at once with this information. My household know the consequences for ill behaviour.”
A memory of the way Gregory had rebuked Lucy in the hallway fills my mind at his words. Had the butler not also spoken of ‘consequences’? I shift in my seat awkwardly as I try to push the thought away.
“Thank you,” I say. My throat has unexpectedly dried, leaving my voice little more than a whisper. I reach for my glass, again taking a large drink of the cooling water, before turning back to face him. His eyes are adamant, and fixed upon me as though he is taking in my entire demeanour as well as my words and responses. It is as though he has morphed from the cold, aloof gentleman who met my entrance in this room, into this intently dedicated individual, passionate in ensuring my happiness in his home—my home.
“I made a promise to your father many years ago, that—if the worst should happen—I would be able to support you and promote your best advantage in his absence. It is what he wanted, My Lady, and I pray that you at least try to satisfy his demands.”
I listen to his appeal, watching his body as he speaks. Bizarrely, I am drawn to his physicality. Once more I notice the line of his strong jaw, and my eyes are compelled to witness the fullness of his lips. It is not until he has ceased speaking for several moments that I realise he is now looking to me for a response. Those green eyes are alive, twinkling with the passion of his plea.
I recall my mind-set in the carriage over here. I had been resolute that my return to London would be imminent. Yet now I find, despite my feathers initially having been ruffled, that I am inclining toward agreement with Lord Markham. I scoff at myself inwardly. It is not like me to be so torn on such a straightforward matter. Glancing back to Lord Markham’s dazzling gaze, I resolve to sleep on the issue. “I will try, My Lord,” I tell him.
“Thank you, My Lady.” He is smiling again as he continues. “If you find you are malcontent then I will give your proposal further consideration.”
I nod, apparently in agreement with this latest plan, although my entire attention is fixed wholly on the intensity in his gaze.
“Do you happen to have the letter from your aunt, pertaining to our new arrangement?” he asks, his eyes still fixed on me.
For a second I wonder to what document he refers, and then I remember the letter I brought from London—the one still folded in my rooms upstairs. I flush a little as I answer him. “Erm, yes, I do, but I’m afraid that it is currently in my rooms, with my other belongings.”
The smile that greets me widens, almost as though he understands a little of how much he has gotten under my skin in the last half an hour.
“Of course,” he says, nodding as if to reassure me. “It is not of immediate concern, but I should like to read it in due course, and take care of any outstanding matters. Breakfast will be an ideal time to do so. Do you think you can deliver it to me then, My Lady?”
His voice has taken on rather a condescending air and I mean to protest that I am more than capable of delivering the letter then! Yet in spite of this, the idea that he is going to take care of matters is peculiarly comforting, and it pushes down my initial petulance at his response. In the end, I chose to concede, and reply in the affirmative. He pats my gloved hand gently, before drawing away and gesturing to Gregory, still waiting obediently against the wood-panelled wall.
“Now, let us eat! I think we are done with the veal, Gregory. Please bring us the game course now.”
A small troop of servants moves in around us, collecting our first courses, clearing away unwanted cutlery, and refilling glasses. I say nothing further the whole time, feeling unexpectedly cold without the warmth of my guardian’s undivided attention.
Chapter Five: Night Walking
The rest of supper passes in a blur. With the final course cleared away, I excuse myself, and am escorted back to my rooms to rest after an exceptionally weary day. Sleep comes fast, but is irritatingly fleeting. My dreams are punctuated by thoughts of my guardian, his powerful green eyes commanding and rebuking me as I await his verdict on some unknown matter. The images rouse me, and I find myself awake once more. Rolling onto my right side toward the window, I pull the wealth of covers with me. Moonlight floods my room, creating an eerie, ethereal look, and from outside I can hear the strength of the wind still battling with the branches of ancient trees. My first night at Markham Hall is proving to be anything but restful.
Rising from my covers, I take small steps toward the window. The moon lights the canopies of old, established trees, but other than that, there is little to see in the black of the night. I pull on the long luxury drapes, drawing them together to conceal the silver strands of moonlight. Turning, I mean to make my way back to my bed, but find I am instead heading for the door to the hallway. I pause, grappling in the dark to find the handle, before opening the door back toward me. My room is filled with the much cooler air of the corridor, and I reach instinctively for my silken robe hanging behind the door. Unhooking it, I draw the material over my body and fasten it tight at my waist.
The dark hallway beckons, and I travel down it as if still in a dream. The silence around me is deafening, pressing down upon me as I make my way onward. There is only the sound of my soft tread over the aged floorboards, and the steady drumming of my heart, purring with excitement at my latest adventure.
I come to the head of the galleried staircase, and it is then that movement from downstairs captures my attention. From the corner of my eye a tall, dark shape passes through the hallway below. With only the moonlight from various windows around the property as guidance, it is impossible to know who I have seen, but there’s no denying the height of the individual I witnessed, and my thoughts are drawn at once to Lord Markham, who had towered over me easily at supper.
The person below moves swiftly, leaving a room on the right and striding past the large front door to an entrance on my left side. The door opens, allowing dim light to flood the area, before the unknown individual passes into the room ahead. My body stills as I observe the scene, my heart pounding with trepidation. How will I explain my whereabouts if I am discovered wandering the halls at this time of the night? I should return to my room right now, and I know it. So why are my feet not moving back in that direction? Why am I still standing here at the edge of the staircase, and in fact now moving onward as I approach the top step?
My right hand grabs the spiralling wood of the bannister as I make my way from the first step, descending the soft pile beneath my toes in almost perfect silence. My eyes remain fixed on the doorway in which the person just disappeared, as though I expect them to burst out again at any moment. Reaching the bottom step, I hesitate once again, wondering if I should instead just return the distance to my room. It is futile, however; my feet—seemingly blessed with independent thought—already move onto the carpeted floor which separates the stairway from the large front door, taking me toward the unknown room ahead.
As I approach I recognise Lord Markham’s deep baritone voice. For some absurd reason my heart rate increases at the thought that he is just beyond the door, and I shake my head at my own foolish response. Taking another step forward, I can make out the voice of another man. It is older than His Lordship’s, but the words are impossible to decipher through the deep-set wood between us. I reach the entrance, desperate to know more of what transpires in the next room. I move closer still, for some ridiculous reason compelled to press myself against the hard wood of the door, which separates me from the room beyond.
It is then that I notice the door is slightly ajar. The low level light within the room barely registers from out here in the hallway, but the sounds now have a much greater clarity. Instead of just making out the resonance of voices, I can now discern parts of the conversations they are having. I move inch by inch until I am leaning against the closed part of the door frame, trying to slow my ragged breathing as I listen.
“Tell me more about today’s transgressions.” His voice is steady, yet enquiring.
“Well, My Lord, it has generally been a good day. Carson and the other footmen have worked hard, and I think you’ll agree that supper was more than favourable?”
I hold my breath, realising that the other voice belongs to Gregory, the domineering butler.
“Yes,” agrees Lord Markham. “It was most enjoyable. I assume however that not all has been so pleasing, or why else would you have brought Lucy here before me?”
I gasp quietly at his words. So, Lucy is also there with His Lordship and Mr. Gregory?
“I am afraid that Lucy was remiss earlier when Lady Franklin arrived at Markham Hall.” There is a pause, and some unknown sounds from inside the room. “She was not there to meet Her Ladyship, as was your expectation in your absence.”
“Tell me, Lucy,” His Lordship’s voice has taken on a steelier quality. “Is what Mr. Gregory tells me true?”
“Yes, My Lord.” Lucy’s reply is quiet, and little more than a whisper.
“Why were you not in position? Was the importance of Lady Franklin’s arrival not explicitly expressed to you?”
“Yes,” she whimpers in response.
His Lordship sighs. It is a long, low sound, which reflexively makes me shiver. I pull the edges of my robe around my body.
“Was this matter dealt with, Mr. Gregory?” Lord Markham sounds terse with frustration.
“Yes, My Lord,” comes the answer. “Lucy was spoken to briefly before our evening duties, but, given the severity of the offence, I was compelled to advise Your Lordship.”
“You were right to, Mr. Gregory,” replies His Lordship. “Whilst I do not appreciate being drawn from my chambers at this late hour, this incident is serious. Lucy, you were not there to represent my home as Her Ladyship arrived. What type of a first impression do you think that made on our guest?”
“Not a favourable one, My Lord, but please—I beg you—I have done everything I can to make Lady Franklin welcome since that time!” Lucy sounds desperate, and close to tears.
“I am certain this is true, Lucy. You are an exceptional maid, and an asset to my home.”
“Thank you, My Lord,” comes the unseen reply.
“Yet I cannot allow such a transgression to go without punishment, do you understand?”
“Y-yes, My Lord.” I tense at the sound of Lucy’s voice. She clearly knows what is coming next, and I shift my weight awkwardly, anticipating Lord Markham’s verdict.
“Good. I will administer the rest of your penalty with a short spanking over my knee. Mr. Gregory can stay and ensure I am fair in its delivery.”
I inhale sharply, pulling the air between my lips as his words wash over me. A spanking over his knee—can this really be how justice is meted out at Markham Hall? Beneath the silk my skin begins to pimple as goose bumps break out over my chest and arms at the prospect. As an only daughter of a military-serving earl, I have led a sheltered and privileged life. I had rarely been chastised as a child, let alone physically punished as an adult! The notion is truly mind-blowing, creating a sense of injustice in me for Lucy. She had been remiss in her duties, yet surely she did not deserve this reprimand? The sound of Mr. Gregory’s voice draws me back to the here and now.
“As you wish, My Lord.”
“Do you have anything to say, Lucy?”
It is Lord Markham’s voice which interjects, and I hold my breath, awaiting her reply.
“Only that I am truly sorry, My Lord. I promise I shall never let it happen again.”
I press my back against the wooden frame behind me, wishing all at once that I could see into the room beyond the timber barrier. In spite of my disgust at Lucy’s sentence, and the unlikely need I feel to protect her, I can feel my body reacting to the mere idea of her spanking. I notice that my breathing has increased, and I gaze at my chest, watching it rise and fall beneath the length of my nightgown. Why, I wonder, should I feel this way in light of the spanking of a maid I barely know? The whole thing is utterly ridiculous.
“May I suggest we begin at once, Lucy? I am sure we would all like to get some rest before the night becomes morning.”
There is a small whimper from Lucy, and then the sounds of movement inside the room. I shift my weight forward, compelled yet again to actually witness the punishment. I push myself toward the other end of the frame, to where the crack of dim light permeates the hallway. I know I cannot be found here, like this—spying on His Lordship during my very first night in the household! And yet, there is no denying it; my need to witness Lucy’s chastisement is strong and peculiar. I have no explanation, and yet here I am, on tiptoes, pressing my palms into the wood in front of me. I peer into the small space between the door frame and whatever room lies ahead.
Straining my neck to the left, I am just able to see a pair of upturned female legs in the centre of what looks like a library. I lean an inch further, willing myself forward, and yet all the time I am tuned into the words beyond me.
“Lucy, I am going to spank you now… Gregory, please keep count for me.”
I freeze at His Lordship’s words, eyeing the scene as best I can. From this new viewpoint I can make out most of Lucy, stretched over His Lordship’s lap. He is seated on a high-backed timber chair, and fortunately has his back to the door. Lucy’s black skirt has been unceremoniously hoisted up over her back, and to my horror I can see she is exposed from the waist down. The sheer humiliation of this act rankles me. She may just be a servant, but how dare she be treated this way! A sound behind the doorway gains my attention, and I realise that Mr. Gregory must be standing just beyond it. I hold my breath instinctively, appreciating just how close I am to detection.
As I watch, shocked and yet bizarrely fascinated, Lord Markham raises his right hand and sends it racing back down against Lucy’s bare backside. The sound of the impact is deep and echoes around the room. More than that though, it resonates within me in the most profound way. A small gasp leaves my lips, and instinctively I clutch my left palm to my mouth, now balancing only my right hand against the wood. And something else is transpiring as well; there’s a heat growing from within me, spreading all over my body, and pooling curiously between my legs.
I notice that Lucy, still draped over Lord Markham’s lap, has barely even flinched at the impact, and I wonder at just how ‘routine’ these punishments are in the household.
“One, My Lord.” The sound of Mr. Gregory’s voice startles me, making the whole experience even more surreal.
His Lordship raises his hand again, sending it crashing back against the pale skin of Lucy. I flinch inwardly at the impact, noticing her skin redden as his hand moves away. For her part, Lucy lets only a small whimper escape her lips, and yet again I am in awe of her quiet demeanour given what is taking place in front of my eyes. The sound of Mr. Gregory numbering the strike signals to Lord Markham to continue with the third impact.
The spanking goes on this way for what feels like an hour, although in reality only five further strikes are given. I count them in my head long before Gregory announces the number, listening to Lucy cry out at the last few, and transfixed by what I am witnessing. My initial revulsion at the injustice and degradation of the act remains steadfast. I am shocked that a gentleman like my guardian would even entertain such a punishment! Of more concern though is the way my own body seems to react to Lucy’s spanking. My heart, which has been racing in my chest since I first noticed His Lordship from the staircase, is now absolutely pounding. It threatens to jump into my throat at any moment, which has dried of its own accord. Energy rushes through my senses; an odd combination of fear at being caught, shock at what I bear witness to, and something else… That burgeoning heat between my thighs.
Waves of nausea wash over me, as well as surges of excitement. There is little point in denying it to myself; I am excited by what I see. As the strong palm connects once again to the young woman’s behind, I consider why it is that I am so compelled by the scene. Perhaps it is the way Lucy has yielded so entirely to the spanking? Even now there is only a moderate mewl from her mouth, although her bared bottom must be stinging with the pain and the humiliation of the act. Then there is my guardian… His back is to me, so it is impossible to tell how he feels on the subject. Is this a chore he feels obliged to carry out, or does he secretly relish the opportunity to tan the backside of his disobedient servants? Maybe it is not a secret at all and the staff here know that any misdemeanours will land them over His Lordship’s knee? I shake my head, as though the emotion and confusion will fall away if I do so. Why should it be so exciting to see him behaving in such a masterful way? What is it about seeing Lucy sprawled over him in such a submissive manner which stirs these peculiar feelings in me? Surely it is lunacy, but it is almost as though I too wish to feel the sting of his palm.
I swallow hard at the prospect, imagining—just for the briefest second—how it would feel to be in Lucy’s place; exposed, vulnerable, and punished at Lord Markham’s hand. A swell of emotion surges through me, taking me quite by surprise, and for a moment I am forced to look away for fear my knees may give way below me. Inhaling deeply, I hear Mr. Gregory marking the eleventh strike, and then the voice of my second cousin.
“This will be your final strike, Lucy.” His voice is like a soothing tonic, and I wonder how much it aids the heat which her now reddened backside must be feeling. “You have taken your punishment very well indeed.”
His hand falls down upon her even before she can respond, and despite his lulling words, it shows her no mercy. This time she cries out, perhaps in relief as well as the pain she clearly feels. I watch in fascination as His Lordship begins to caress her sore bottom, rubbing the punished skin with gentle touches, before reaching to pull down her skirts. With her modesty finally covered, he seeks to aid her safe passage from over his knee. As she stands, I see for the first time her tearstained, flushed face.
Lord Markham rises to meet her, opening his arms and offering her an unexpected embrace. She readily accepts his offer, moving to the seeming comfort of his arms, although her eyes never rise to meet her master’s. He holds her there for a long moment, stroking her fair locks, and allowing her to sob against his fine waistcoat until the tears have dried. After such a brazen and denigrating penalty, it is a moment of unforeseen tenderness, and I find that I am completely obligated to watch, soaking in every last moment of this unusual intimacy.
Movement from behind the door startles me, and it is then that I recall Mr. Gregory, who is probably no more than a few feet away to my left, behind the door. I see the back of his long black jacket as he strides toward the pair still embracing in the middle of the room.
“My Lord, please allow me to see Lucy to her room?”
Lord Markham turns to acknowledge his butler, and for just a fraction of a second he looks straight in my direction. I am paralysed with fear, as those large green eyes look out into the gloom. I cannot allow myself to be seen after this incident! How could I ever hope to explain myself? Much to my relief though, he seems not to see his ward, quivering around the edge of the large oak door frame, and addresses Mr. Gregory as he approaches.
“Thank you, Gregory,” he replies. “As Lucy received her punishment with such grace, I think her early morning duties should be allocated to another maid. Can you arrange for someone to attend to Lady Franklin in the morning?”
Gregory nods, watching as His Lordship releases the now calmed Lucy from his arms.
“Thank you, My Lord,” she whimpers as she turns to be received by Mr. Gregory.
“I will arrange the details, My Lord,” confirms the older man, placing a protective arm over her shoulder.
“Thank you,” sighs His Lordship. “Please ensure she has a drink before she retires. She has received a sound spanking, and will need proper rest to recover.”
“I understand, My Lord,” answers his butler.
“Good, then I bid you both a good night, for if I do not retire now, I fear I shall never be able to attend Her Ladyship’s first breakfast at Markham Hall.”
Breakfast! The notion slices through my reality like a dagger. I have no idea what time it is now, but no doubt in just a few hours I too am supposed to attend. Anxiety whips through me as the strange scene comes to an end. How will I flee back to my room without being seen? Surely there is no way to make it up the grandiose staircase in time? I fall back against the wood to the left of the door frame, hearing the footfall of His Lordship making its way toward the place I am standing.
I scan the dark hall around me for potential hiding places. A quick look to my right reveals only the dark corridor which I know leads to the dining room. Beyond me, past the foot of the staircase however, are a number of other doors; any of which could provide sanctuary until the danger has passed. Without thinking I move, darting barefoot over the cold floor, back past the comfort of the crimson rug, and to the nearest door in my eye-line. This one is nearly exactly opposite the library, and is now only a few feet away.
Behind me I hear the voices of Lord Markham and Gregory, and I know that at any second they will emerge into the hall and discover me. I run the final few feet to the door, praying that the room has not been locked as my heart pounds furiously at my throat. Twisting the metal handle, I am filled with relief to see the door open at my command. I make my way into the unknown room and seal the door behind me as quietly as I can, only seconds before the hall is filled behind me.
Chapter Six: Markham’s Study
Stepping away from the door, I turn and take in the new room around me. This is much smaller than what I could see of the first, although its walls, too, appear to be lined with oversized bookcases, stacked full of bound editions. At the opposite end is a large window, no doubt looking out toward the currently vacated lawns. The moon, though shifted slightly from its earlier position when I had risen from my bed, still lights a good proportion of the space, allowing me to see the dark-wood writing table which dominates a good part of the area.
I move forward, my feet finding yet another soft runner beneath them, making my way to the left of the table and into the long stream of moonlight. The air in here is different to outside. It is warmer, although the fire was clearly extinguished some hours before, and the scent of tobacco still lingers in the air. A smoking room perhaps then, or a study? My fingers graze the polished surface of the desk as I near it, sensing the quality of the finish beneath them. I look to the table, seeing stacks of paper and expensive-looking stationery. Drawing in a breath, I realise that this must be His Lordship’s study, and a wave of guilt overcomes me. I should not be in this room, let alone snooping around at his private writing materials.
I back away, skipping in silence toward the door, intending to return to my bed now that the hallway has been vacated. A feeling of exhaustion falls over me as I approach the door. This late-night foray has turned out to be much lengthier than I had imagined when I left the sanctuary of my rooms. Not once did I expect to find His Lordship, or any of the staff awake, let alone witness a spanking! The act, which had originally repulsed me, has left me feeling hot and confused; a heady sensation when combined with the tiredness which now overwhelms me. I press my hand to the metal, relieved not to have been caught by any of the group, and pleased to now—finally—be heading to my bed for some well-needed rest. Ladies, after all, are known to need several hours of sleep to truly flourish and grow.
It is at this moment that I feel the metal in my hand turning, but it is not my hand which is enacting the force. Panic rises in me, but it’s too late to run, and anyway, there is nowhere left to run to. Before I can take another breath, the door opens in front of me, forcing me to move backward to avoid it hitting me square in the body. I jump back with a small squeal.
Lord Markham looms over me. I know it is him from the sheer size of the silhouette which meets me, although the small gas lamp in his right hand emits a low light which indeed confirms my suspicion. My heart jumps furiously at the sight of him, plotting to find a way out of my chest. Never did I expect to find him still awake! Had he not just told his butler of his intentions to retire for the night?
My own shock however is nothing compared to the stunned look on His Lordship’s face.
“My Lady!” he exclaims, the amazement etched into his face in the half light. “What are you doing here in the middle of the night?”
I swallow hard, realising with gloom that his question is valid and will require an answer. “Lord Markham!” I can barely speak for the sudden rush of energy storming around my body. I press my palm to my heart, willing it to settle.
Seeing the act, Lord Markham moves toward me, shifting the lamp upward toward my face. “Are you quite well, Lady Lydia?”
I sense his concern, and seize upon it as a way out of my impossible situation. “I am most sorry, My Lord,” I reply, not daring to meet his eye. “I awoke feeling queer, and came in search of a drink to remedy my sickness. Unfortunately, I know not where to find such a tonic, and so in error I came upon this room—which I can see is clearly private, and was just about to leave when you found me…”
His eyes drill into me as I speak, evidently trying to decipher if my words are true. I move my hand from my chest to my forehead, feigning a feeling of light-headedness which frankly is starting to become a reality. I see his eyes soften as he watches me, and he moves my hand gently from my head, replacing it with his own large palm. My breath quickens as I recall just how he has used that palm in the last hour.
“You do indeed seem rather hot, My Lady,” he concludes after a moment. “Perhaps a tonic will be good for you. I shall have one prepared and brought up to your room.”
He now stands only a few inches away from me, the weight of his stare pushing me down as he removes his hand and uses it to move the small, unruly strands of hair which have become captured by my face.
“Thank you,” I whisper, feeling rather overcome. “I hope that will help.”
He moves to my right side, still not taking his eyes from me. “Come now, let me take you to your bed, and see that you are rested. If you still feel this way in the morning then I will call for Hardwick, the local doctor, to make a call.”
He guides me from the room, pressing his left hand into the small of my back and moving me forward. I hesitate initially at such an intimate gesture, but find that my feet soon obey his will. Back in the hall, he closes the door to his study, lamp still in hand, and pauses to look at me again.
“My Lady, you must be frozen wandering the house in such a thin robe!” His eyes crawl over my body, taking in the shape of my bosom and belly. I flush at the attention, no longer sure if it is welcome or not, but increasingly finding that my earlier untruth about feeling under the weather appears to be coming to pass. I need my bed at the very earliest convenience.
“Perhaps it was not the best choice, My Lord,” I admit, pulling the silk tight across my body at his analysis.
He smiles, and I watch as he slips his arms out of his evening jacket. “Please, put this on until you reach your rooms. I do not want you catching your death of cold on your first night in your new home!”
He thrusts the long garment at me, and I mean to protest—ladies do not wear overcoats, even in such circumstances—but the look on his face silences me. Yet again I allow my mind to wander back to the act he had bestowed upon Lucy just a short time ago—whilst wearing this very coat—and I catch my breath.
Smiling, as though he senses where my thoughts are leading, he holds the coat open for me. Unwilling to do anything further which could potentially upset him, I turn, pushing my right, and then left arm into the warm garment, which completely dwarfs me. The arms fall low, well below the length of my hands, and the ends of the tails hit the backs of my calves.
He grins as he appraises me in the gloom of the hall. “Come now, My Lady, let us get you to bed.”
His words, though said with an even tone, affect me in the most strange and intimate way again. The muscles between my thighs clench, as though of their own accord, acknowledging the effect that this gentleman is having on me. I inhale deeply, breathing in his scent from the jacket covering my body. Traces of his spicy cologne and the lingering aroma of cigar smoke envelop me, making me feel lightheaded. “Yes… please,” I reply in a hushed, breathy tone.
Perhaps he can sense my dismay, but he says nothing further, taking my arm and guiding me once again back to the room I had left earlier. We travel in silence, his oil lamp breaking the darkness around us. He leads me into the moonlit corridor, steering me toward the half-open door near the end on the right, which I recognise to be my own. He pauses, leaning against the door frame. The cool white outline of his dress shirt helps to highlight his face, now already illuminated by the ghostly light of the moon. “How are you feeling now, Lydia?”
It is the first time he has ever called me by my first name, and I blink up at him, unsure if I have heard him correctly. “I… I think I am well, My Lord. I presume I am just tired.”
I choose deliberately to ignore his informality and use his correct title, although I cannot say why. Perhaps the convention makes me feel secure; a badly needed comfort in light of the many new experiences and sensations this night has brought.
“Of course,” he replies soothingly. “I shall send a maid with a tonic for you at once.”
I flush at his words, recalling the earlier untruth I had told when he had found me in his study. I hope inwardly that his body will block the light streaming from the large window just a few feet away from where we stand. Perhaps then he will fail to see the heat in my face and recognise my deceit.
“Thank you, My Lord,” I begin, sounding incredibly small all of a sudden. “I think that perchance just a long rest shall help me to recover at this juncture?”
He swings the lamp up toward my face, clearly assessing me. I see the perplexed look in his eyes as he speaks again. “But, My Lady, I thought it was the tonic you sought when you left your room in the first place?”
I shift my weight awkwardly, pleased to hide the majority of my body language inside his giant jacket. “You are correct,” I reply, trying to keep my tone light. “Yet it is now very late to wake the staff. I feel sure that sleep is all that I require.”
His body stills, in an ominous and knowing way. “Well, good night then, My Lady.” His tone is suddenly much deeper, sending an involuntary shiver through me. He holds out his arm toward me, reaching for his jacket. “May I?”
I swallow hard as his hand descends upon me, beginning at the top of my left shoulder and trailing gently down the arm of his jacket toward my hand. The act is gentle, and yet it startles me into action. “Of course, My Lord,” I reply, shaking the garment from my shoulders. “Thank you so much for permitting me to use it.”
He presses his lips together as he collects it from me, as though he is preventing them from pursuing an avenue. “You are welcome.”
I risk a glance up to his face, trying to read what I find there. His eyes are large and expressive, sending a new wave of energy rushing through my body. I feel the small hairs on my arms rising in response to his gaze. The affect he appears to have on me is consuming.
“Until the ‘morrow, Lady Franklin.” Lord Markham’s voice snaps me back to the present. He pushes the door open, revealing my darkened room.
I nod to him, dipping into a small curtsey as he passes by me. I hear his footsteps landing up the corridor behind me, the sound echoing in my dreams long after I have slipped into a restless slumber.
Chapter Seven: Belated Breakfast
I am roused by a sudden stream of light, which startles me like cold water. My eyes fly open, finding an unknown young woman standing before me. She is dressed in the standard maid’s attire, and stands with one hand on her hip, assessing me.
Riled by the audacity of this unidentified servant, I rise from my bedsheets, irritated by her casual demeanour. “What is the meaning of this?” I hiss at her, sleep falling away from my head in almost an instant.
“Begging your pardon, My Lady,” she replies, bobbing into a curtsey as she speaks. “His Lordship orders that you rise—unless of course you are still feeling unwell?”
There is something about her tone and the small smirk which creeps into her lips that makes my belly twist. Memories of my eventful night fly back to me. I recall the spanking I had encountered, the bizarre way it had made me feel, and then being caught in Lord Markham’s study. Finally, I remember the untruth I had told him to cover my tracks. I feel heat rushing back to my face, and all of a sudden my rage turns into embarrassment. How could this maid know of any of this? Has His Lordship himself really imparted his knowledge on the subject?
Flustered, I appraise her standing over me, realising that she is still waiting on my answer. “What is your name?” I ask, my voice deliberately clipped.
“Clara, My Lady,” she replies without hesitation.
“Well, Clara,” I respond coolly. “You may tell His Lordship that I am feeling much better this morning.” I stretch casually, expecting her to scurry away, but to my annoyance she simply stands there with the same smug look etched into her pale skin.
“My Lady, His Lordship has instructed I assist you to dress, and then accompany you to a rather—late breakfast…”
I blanch, straining my body to the left to see the hands of the small table clock at my bedside. It is nearly ten minutes after ten o’clock. Ten o’clock! In all of the years I have been away from my nursery I have never slept in until this late hour! No wonder my guardian is concerned…
My eyes flit back to Clara. “Very well, please find me a gown to wear and you’ll need to do something with my hair—can you manage?”
She smiles, although somehow the light fails to reach her eyes. “I shall manage, My Lady.”
The next half an hour passes in a flurry of fabric and hairpins. Once I am finally happy with my attire, Clara spends some moments combing and then rearranging my long golden locks into some semblance of order. The hour is fast approaching eleven as I am led directly to the dining room. Clara leads the way down the now familiar dark corridor downstairs. She knocks, waiting for His Lordship’s permission to enter. Excited butterflies rise at the sound of his voice. I cannot decide if I am pleased to be seeing him, or nervous at what mood may await me. Clara introduces me, and then steps backward, allowing me space to enter the vast room.
Yet again, my guardian is seated at the far end of the room, a copy of a broadsheet in his hands. He raises one dark eyebrow as he sees me approach. “Good morning, Lady Lydia,” he begins, folding the newspaper in his hands and placing it on the white tablecloth in front of him. As I make my way across the room, I see that all of his breakfast items are empty and eaten. His meal had clearly concluded some time ago.
I raise my head and look at him as I reply. “Good morning, My Lord.”
I move toward him, intending to pass behind his chair and seat myself at the place where I had eaten last night. However, he raises his right palm as I approach him, the look of the thing causing my butterflies to stretch their anxious wings. “Wait right there, please, My Lady.”
I cease in an instant, although I cannot say why. My usual defiance wants to surface, stride straight past him and take my place to his left, and yet something about his face makes me stop.
“That will be all, thank you, Clara.”
The order is given literally over my head, and I turn, seeing the maid curtsey and then smile as she exits the room. I flush, having quite forgotten her presence altogether. As the large door closes, I swivel back to where Lord Markham sits watching me.
“This is the second time that you have kept me waiting, Lady Franklin.” His tone is serious and makes my throat dry in some reflexive way. “I recall telling you last evening that tardiness is not to be tolerated.”
I swallow hard, reminding myself to stand tall as I respond. “I am sorry, My Lord,” I hear myself say. “It seems I needed more rest than usual to recover from my queerness last night.”
I regret the words in an instant. Last night was of course exactly what he was alluding to—and I have just given him the perfect inlet to the conversation.
“Ah, yes…” he continues. “And how are you feeling now?” Those large green eyes appraise me, daring me to lie to him again.
“Well, thank you,” I say softly, “if not a little weary.”
“Hmmm.” He leans forward against the table with his elbows, his shapely chin resting on his long fingers. “Tell me, My Lady, what was it which troubled you last night?”
His tone is low and cutting, and if I was unsure of his belief in my yarn before, now I know for sure—he does not believe me. I consider for a moment confessing the true reason he had found me wandering his study in the early hours of this morning. What would he think if he knew I was exploring the house, and that I had seen him spanking Lucy in the library? Would he be angered? I gaze at those large narrowing eyes again, seemingly lost in my own musings on the subject. Somehow the idea of discussing what I saw seems too much; even the thought of doing so bringing more colour to my face. I reconcile that the truth is not an option. I have brought the lie this far, and now I feel compelled to run with it.
“As I have said, My Lord, I awoke feeling unwell, and thought at the time that a tonic for medicinal purposes would help to see me back to sleep. I was looking for the kitchen when you found me…”
The words sound tenuous even to my own ears, and by the look on his face, he knows I am perpetuating the lie.
“Very well.” He rises from his chair with such sudden force that I find myself stepping backward in surprise. “You are invited to meet me in my study at three o’clock this afternoon.” He moves from his place, pulling his napkin from his collar and throwing it casually onto the table. Within two strides he once again towers over me.
“What will the meeting be about?” I ask, feeling more than a little bemused.
He smiles, the edge of his lips curling just a little. “That is for me to know, My Lady, but perhaps we can start with the letter about your guardianship, which it seems you still have not managed to remember?”
He raises a dark eyebrow at me as I recall his instruction last night to bring the document to breakfast. I flush, hot and guilty at his words. “Oh, my! You’re right; I have quite forgotten again!”
“Late and forgetful, Lady Franklin?” His voice is brusque and yet somehow almost jovial. “It seems we will have quite a lot to discuss this afternoon.”
His mocking tone awakens the rebelliousness in me, and I want to reply with some cutting remark, and yet the look in his eye quiets me. Heat spreads across my neck and shoulders as I suppress my irritation.
“Enjoy your breakfast, My Lady,” he says after the longest pause where we both stand, connected by the unspoken truth we both know. He breezes from my side, and I spin to watch him leave.
“But…” I begin, shocked to be left to eat alone. “Who will serve me?”
He reaches for the door handle, but pauses and turns back to face me. “One of the maids will be in to serve breakfast, although it is now more in keeping with a lunchtime menu.”
I flush again, accepting the admonishment because he is right—the time is now fast approaching the middle of the day and we both know it.
“Thank you, My Lord,” I mutter resentfully, as I cross my arms in front of me.
“You’re welcome, My Lady,” he replies.
I make my way around to my place, seating myself and glancing at the daily headline before I realise he is still standing there watching me.
I freeze and meet his gaze, his intonation and use of my first name capturing my attention in an instant.
“Do not even think about being late this afternoon.”
* * *
Breakfast passes in an awkward fashion, and sometime later I find myself wandering the exquisite grounds of Markham Hall. My new home it seems is every inch as beautiful as I had imagined it to be from the fleeting glances in the darkness last night, and even in the dying embers of the summer, the wealth of shrubs and flowers is breath-taking. I loosen my bonnet and shawl, enjoying the feeling of the warmth against my face, as I look to the sky, considering my thoughts on the last twenty-four hours. Has it really been that long since I travelled here? Time seems to have taken on a surreal quality since I first laid eyes on the place.
I remember the journey, letter in hand, where I had been so sure of my plan. I search my mind, trying to fathom the reasons why my intentions had so easily slipped away from me. What is it about this brusque, and yet charming gentleman that has so captured my attention? Surely it cannot be just his looks? I picture him in my mind, recalling his height, stature, and fine-looking face. Certainly he is handsome in a classic kind of way; he is tall, dark-haired, and long-limbed, and yet I know there is more to my fascination than that.
When he had spoken to me last night and asked me to stay—for my father—he had been nothing short of compelling. I had felt unable to refuse him. And then there had been his masterful demeanour; the way he had dressed me down for being late. Why had I enjoyed that? What could possibly be so alluring about being admonished and embarrassed by a virtual stranger? I pause, brushing the back of my hand against the long, soft grass. Lord Markham had spoken to me in a way that few people had ever done before. The earl had rarely been around during my childhood. Once my mother had passed away, he had chosen to throw himself into his aspiring military career, pausing just to indulge his only daughter with outlandish gifts and journeys to exciting new places. He had certainly spoiled me, and I knew it, but rarely had he ever chastised me, and never had he raised his hand to me.
The thought brings me straight back to the surreal scenario I witnessed in the library at Markham Hall. Lucy’s spanking… Even now I can barely process the actions I had seen. I draw in a long breath as I remember her draped over Lord Markham’s lap, her skirts raised and her exposed, pale backside revealed. I had been rightly disgusted, and yet—undeniably there was something else I felt at the time. Something which even now I can barely acknowledge. As if to remind me exactly what that emotion had been, a moist desire begins to pool between my thighs, and I notice that my breath has once again quickened at the memory.
Why did watching such abrupt corporal punishment seem so exquisite to me? So riveted had I been that I had even imagined myself in Lucy’s place! How ridiculous it sounds in my mind now, but even the thought makes my body tingle in the most unusual way. Rising from the low stone bench, I shake out my skirts and turn back to the house. Uncertain of the time, I am sure that I do not want to be late for my three o’clock meeting.
Chapter Eight: The Meeting
I arrive at the house, searching the entrance for the antique grandfather clock. Its insistent hands show the time at just after two-thirty, and I am relieved to know I have not missed the deadline. Determining to stay punctual, I wander over to the door where my guardian’s study waits. I approach slowly, cautiously, as though the very wood itself poses a real threat to my well-being. My heart is pounding like the paws of a ferocious animal.
Reaching the door frame, I hear muffled voices from the room beyond. They are both male, deep and gruff, the resonance reverberating around the wood panelling. I pause, taking a deep breath before I raise my right hand and use just the edge of my knuckles to rap against the oak before me. There is a pause—silence, apart from the constant thrumming from within my gown.
Lord Markham’s voice is every bit as commanding as I remember. Slowly I lower my hand to the door handle, twisting the metal just as I had done the night before. I pull it downward and press in toward the room in front of me. That fragrant smell of leather-bound books and cigar smoke overwhelms me, washing over my face as the door opens. Inside the room, my guardian sits at the desk. He is leaning back against the large chair, one of his long legs propped up against the other. To my left stands Mr. Gregory, his hands clutched behind his back in the usual way he seems to stand when on duty. Both men look to the doorway, their eyes expressing surprise at my presence, or perhaps more specifically, the timing of it.
“You are early this time, Lady Franklin?” Lord Markham’s voice is smooth and controlled. “How refreshing…”
I ignore the jibe, feeling oddly renewed by the fresh air, and step forward into the room. “You should know, My Lord, I do not own a timepiece, and so it is not always easy for me to ascertain the hour.”
He screws up his forehead. Clearly he is not aware.
“As such, I have chosen to be deliberately early for our appointment. I trust you can forgive me?”
There is a cutting edge to my own tone, a fragment of myself before I had fallen into the beguiling web of Lord Markham. He flinches as he hears it, the fingers of his right hand tapping melodically against the hard wood of his desk in front of him. “On this point, My Lady, I can…”
I smile, using the forced bravado to quell the rising swell of anxiety within me. I turn to see Mr. Gregory smiling. He nods his acknowledgement to me as my attention shifts back to His Lordship.
“Can I ask if you have now brought the letter pertaining to your residence here at Markham?”
His words send me reeling as I realise that I still have not retrieved my aunt’s letter. I flush—as I always seem to do in his presence—and seeing me fluster he smiles, waving his right hand theatrically. “Perhaps it is wrong of me to assume that you have returned to your rooms since breakfast?”
His voice is soft, and almost taunting. “I hear reports that you have been out walking, My Lady? Familiarising yourself with your new home?”
I hesitate, unsure if he is mocking me or throwing me a reprieve. I decide to take the latter. “It is true, My Lord. I have been to see the horses, and your magnificent gardens! And so, I’m afraid I have still not collected the document…”
He nods, as though he fully expects this reply. “Mr. Gregory?”
From my left I see the butler shift in my peripheral vision. “My Lord?”
“Would you ask one of the maids to find said documentation in Her Ladyship’s rooms, and bring it to you? You can pass it onto me at our evening meeting?” He pauses, assessing me with a careful look. “I assume this is acceptable to you, My Lady?”
I sigh. It is only a small sound, but one which allows the pent-up energy building in me to ease a little. Ideally I do not permit strange and audacious little maids to go through my personal belongings, but… I have now failed to produce the letter on three separate occasions. “Yes, My Lord,” I answer, my voice barely more than a whisper.
“Good. Perhaps you can arrange for this to happen now, Mr. Gregory?” continues Lord Markham. “Her Ladyship and I have some other matters to attend to.”
My belly lurches at his words, the uncertainty within me rising to its peak.
“Very good, My Lord,” replies Gregory, sidestepping us both with the trademark tenacity of a butler. “Please ring if you require my assistance any further, My Lord.”
A nod of Lord Markham’s head marks the end of the conversation, and I hear the large door close behind Gregory as he exits.
With the butler finally gone, I take a small step forward, approaching the desk at which my guardian sits. His eyes, ever interested, never leave me.
“How might I help you further, My Lord?” I ask him. My genuine curiosity is fit to burst.
He takes a deep breath, drawing in the air around him as though he needs it for support. “Well, My Lady, Mr. Gregory has shared some information which throws doubt on your account of last night, and how you may have come to be here—in my study.”
Instinctively my body tenses at his words, and I wonder if it shows on my face.
“In any case, I should like to discuss the matter with you further. I seek honesty above all else, My Lady. It is essential for any relationship to be nurtured and grow. As I now find myself responsible for both your legal and moral behaviour, I seek transparency from you especially…”
I am struggling to catch my breath as his words slip past me. All of a sudden the very simple task of pushing the air in and out of me seems almost impossible. I gaze into his face, knowing that in all probability he already knows I witnessed Lucy’s spanking, and wondering how I can retrieve the situation.
He stands up in a heartbeat, blocking the light from the window behind him as he rises, making his way around to perch on the edge of the desk in front of me.
“Can you be honest with me now, My Lady?” His tone is loaded with some deep-set emotion; anger, betrayal, lust—any of these are possible, but I cannot be sure.
I nod my head, still unable to move my lips and articulate any real words.
“Good.” He stretches his palms down on the desk next to him, eyeing me. “Then perhaps I do not need to share with you the news which Mr. Gregory imparted to me. Instead, perhaps there is some information that you would like to share with me?”
I draw in another long, painful breath, feeling my nostrils flare under the intensity of his gaze. He has me penned into a tight corner, and despite my instinct to run, I know I have no choice—I have to tell him the truth. Swallowing hard, I prepare myself for whatever may be about to leave my lips, and the likely consequences. As my eyes reconnect with the heavy green orbs observing me intently, I am aware of the water tearing in my own.
“I do not know where to begin,” I admit, blinking away the unexpected tears.
He smiles and for once I see nothing but tenderness in those eyes. “Tell me why you left your rooms last night. What were you looking for, My Lady?”
I force in another breath and close my eyes as I reply. “I was restless, and unable to sleep. I decided to explore the house a little more; I had no real idea where I was going, My Lord—I was just walking, wandering, looking for something…” My explanation sounds even worse out loud than it had done in my head. I pause, looking to him for validation.
His eyes widen just a fraction as he perhaps imagines the scene I am setting. “So tell me… what did you find, My Lady?”
My eyes flicker shut again, recalling the look of Lucy sprawled over his strong lap, his sturdy palm raised and ready to spank her behind again. The image vanishes as my lids fly open, seeing that same palm gripping the wooden desk in front of me.
“I found… something unexpected, My Lord.” I clench the muscles between my legs as I stand before him. His right brow raises again, and I wonder fleetingly if it is a reflex or something which he chooses to do consciously. Somehow I find it an incredibly erotic gesture.
“I am asking you again, My Lady.” His tone is low and he speaks at a slow and even pace as he talks to me. “What did you find?”
I can barely breathe as I reply. “You, Lord Markham…” A bubble of emotion rises in my throat as I speak. “I found you.”
Chapter Nine: The Time for Talking
I stand in front of him, shifting my weight awkwardly from one slipper to the next. His eyes are dazzling, appraising me in the most intense and unnerving way. Somehow the green orbs begin to possess me, sliding down the length of fabric which forms my gown. I shiver reflexively.
“Yes, My Lady Lydia…” There’s that low tone again; deep, dark, and antagonising. “You found me, and what was I doing when you stumbled across me?”
“You were…” I pause, suddenly unable to articulate the memory of what I had seen. “Punishing your maid, Lucy…” My voice trails away as I engage with his hypnotic green gaze again.
He smiles, and there is warmth there as he too recalls Lucy’s recent spanking. I flinch instinctively as I watch the smile spread over his full mouth. The oddest sense of envy stirs in me, and yet again I imagine myself in Lucy’s place. As I muse on the provocative image, he stands from his resting position inclining against the desk. All of a sudden he is right there, towering over me again.
“So you witnessed Lucy’s spanking, My Lady?”
I nod, feeling my throat dry as a wave of his fine cologne washes over me. “Yes, My Lord.”
He presses his lips together, apparently trying to decide how this new situation should best be managed. “It must have been a shock for you, My Lady?” His voice is surprisingly calm as he watches me for my response.
“It was rather,” I begin. “I have never seen such a thing—a grown woman, spanked!” I spit out the last word as though I fear it will leave a bad taste in my mouth.
His Lordship’s lips twitch at my answer, and I sense that he is trying hard to suppress another smile. Indignation rises in me as I realise he is amused by my response. I draw my hands to my hips, breathing hard as I assess his smiling complexion.
He raises his own palms in a conciliatory manner. “I mean not to offend you, My Lady,” he discloses, lowering his hands and hitching his thumbs into the edges of his waistcoat.
“I wonder then what it is you do intend, My Lord?” My tone is cutting, and the remark sounds much harsher than I had envisioned it to be.
He takes a deep breath, drawing in the warm air from around us. “My intention is—as I have already stated—for honesty between us. I am now your guardian, responsible for your welfare and conduct. There can be no secrets between us.” The volume of his voice rises as the conviction in his statement becomes clear. “You witnessed this act—the punishment of one of my staff—and you were left feeling stunned, and I might assume, confused by what you had seen?” He pauses, looking to me for clarification. I murmur my assent, sensing my offence fading as his command of the situation resumes.
“It is your first night in your new home when you see these things, and rather than come to me with your concerns, My Lady, you try to hide, taking cover here in my study. Except you were found, were you not, My Lady?” His tone is powerful. I know he is chastising me, and yet somehow his words thrill me, sending small waves of sensation through my body. Once again they pool beneath my gown.
“Yes,” I whisper, mesmerised by his authoritative presence.
That unruly brow rises again at my reply, but he says nothing of it, instead continuing with his train of thought. “To make matters worse, when you were confronted right in this room, you had the audacity to tell me an untruth—one which caused me alarm and concern for your well-being.”
I feel my face flush at his accusation, knowing his words to be accurate.
“What, My Lady, do you have to say for yourself? Is this the way I can expect my new ward to behave? Is this the way she shows gratitude for her new home and status?”
I lower my eyes, suddenly ashamed of my behaviour. I have rarely been made to feel this way before, usually excused for my offences by my father, or one of his many staff. Now, standing in front of Lord Thomas Markham I feel utterly torn on the subject. Everything he has said is correct—I did lie to him, spinning an unnecessary web of ill health. I also decided not to share what I had witnessed in the library across the hall, despite the wave of emotions it had made me feel. I swallow, conflicted by the need to express my feelings about the spanking. I want him to know how riled and disgusted I had felt watching him take a hand to his maid’s bare behind, yet I know I can never share the other feeling; the sense of longing and desire it had unleashed within me. In the end the need for his approval wins out, and I swallow hard as I raise my eyes to see him waiting for my answer.
“My Lord, I need to apologise for my behaviour. You are right, you deserve better than my lies and manipulation.” I hesitate, looking into his face for clues about how my contrition is being received. Lord Markham’s features give little away. “I am sorry to have shown you such disrespect…”
“Disrespect and disobedience, My Lady.”
My eyes widen at his words, and I want to protest, but a simple wave of his hand tells me to halt.
“Yes—disobedience. I asked you outright at breakfast what it was that had troubled you, and you lied directly to my face. You are my ward—my responsibility—and you cannot be honest about such a simple thing. Does this not strike you as disobedient?”
I want to tell him that it does not. The untruth, whilst shameful in the light of day, does not constitute outright waywardness. I open my mouth to speak as I catch the fierce light in his green eyes. “I would not say disobedience, My Lord,” I counter as diplomatically as I can.
“Really, My Lady?” He saunters away to my left, beginning a circle around me as he continues. “Then what would you say?”
“I am defiant,” I say, wringing my hands in front of me with uncharacteristic penitence. “And I am wilful. These things are in my nature, My Lord. I fear I cannot change them!”
As he completes his circle, I find him standing back in front of me again, Slowly, his right hand raises from his waistcoat, and to my surprise it comes to rest against the left side of my face. Here his large thumb brushes against my cheek, before tucking a strand of my hair back within the confines of its bonnet. The feeling of his skin against mine is startling, and for the longest time I am unable to take a breath at all. It is at this moment that his hand ducks down the side of my face, and I feel one of his long digits beneath my chin. Without words, he uses the finger to lift my chin, so that our eyes once again lock.
“You will find that these things will change, My Lady, if you desire to respect your late father’s wishes, and remain here in my house.”
His tone is low and certainly not threatening, and yet something about his words and the intensity in his eyes sends me reeling. I feel my chest rising and falling below me, and for a long moment I am almost panting as I consider what he has told me. I have never been challenged before, least of all in such a way, and not once by a gentleman who appears to be so good at captivating me.
“I…” I stutter, trying to collect my thoughts. “I do not know what to say, My Lord.”
He smiles, releasing his gentle hold on my chin, but moving just a fraction closer to gaze down over his new ward. “Well, do you wish to stay here—at Markham Hall?”
The question is a fair one, particularly as I myself had articulated a desire to leave this place and return to my aunt in London less than a day ago. I shake my head a little as I recall my earnest appeal to him at supper, and yet now—now I find a longing to remain which is far greater than I had ever imagined. I wonder if the root cause of this new craving is the gentleman who now stands towering over me.
I raise my head and look him directly in the eyes—a little of the defiance on show for my guardian—as I reply. “I would like to remain at Markham Hall, My Lord… If you will still have me?”
He draws in a breath at my answer, as though he has been secretly burned by the words. “I meant what I have said, My Lady. I take my responsibility for you seriously, and I mean to be a good guardian. I would very much like you to remain here, with me.”
There is a twinkle of light in his gaze as he speaks, and for a moment I wonder if I have just imagined it there. As the corners of his lips curl though, I am convinced that I did not.
“What do you propose then, My Lord?” My voice trembles out of instinct as I ask him the question now looming in my mind.
He nods, perhaps understanding my anxiety, and instead poses an unexpected question of his own. “Tell me what you thought when you witnessed the spanking last night?”
I gasp, thrown totally by his query. I stare up into his eyes, feeling his warm breath on my forehead, and decide that for the first time since my arrival I would furnish him with the whole truth. “My Lord, I could not believe what my eyes were seeing!”
“Ah, yes!” His reply is soft, and not mocking like before. “You were shocked, but what else, My Lady? What did you feel?”
I close my eyes, remembering the strange myriad emotional responses I had experienced in the doorway of the library. “At first I was angry for Lucy! I did not feel that the punishment adequately reflected the crime, and believe me, My Lord, I am not known for my liberal views where staff is concerned.”
A small chuckle escapes his lips as though he can well imagine my usual stance on these things, but he says nothing, clearly not wishing to disturb my thoughts on the subject.
“After that I was curious, nay, intrigued by the act.” I open my eyes to see his face. I feel my breathing, just recently quelled, accelerating at the recollection.
“Anything else?” he probes, as though he understands my own body’s response to it.
“Yes, I—I felt other things, but I confess I do not understand what they mean.”
He towers over me, the tails of his cut coat just inches from my frame. Never before have I stood this close to a man—a fact he will no doubt be aware of—and yet for some imperceptible reason I am unable to tear myself away from him.
“Thank you, My Lady, for your honesty.” His tone is soft and so sincere that instinctively I drop my gaze, no longer able to stand the emotions swimming in his eyes.
“It is what you deserve, My Lord,” I finally answer.
“Indeed,” he says. “But what do you deserve, Lady Lydia, for the disrespect and disobedience that you have shown me?”
Our eyes reconnect in a heartbeat, mine wide as he considers his own question. Can he really mean to punish me for what had transpired last night? The thought provokes the old insolence in me, and yet there is something else—that other feeling, the one which had pooled between my thighs when he had taken Lucy over his knee.
“I know not, My Lord,” I reply even as my face flushes in front of him.
“Then let me tell you, My Lady. As my ward you have no say on my verdict,” he says, his voice still soft, but brimming with quiet authority. “You are mine now, and it is my role to guide you and provide you with the correct moral framework. As such I shall decide upon your penance.”
I clench the muscles deep within me as his words resonate around my head. “Yes, My Lord,” I say in a small, hushed voice, and for the first time in my life I take solace in this act of subservience. Lord Markham seems like a man who may be worthy to take control of me. Until now I believe I had not met a single one.
“Since you were so compelled by Lucy’s punishment last night, I believe it is time you experience a spanking of your own, My Lady.”
The colour in my face deepens as he delivers his verdict. “But, My Lord!” I begin. “You cannot be serious? I have never been treated in such a common way, even as a small child!”
Lord Markham smiles as though he had been expecting my petulant response. Ignoring my plea, he continues. “It is not uncommon to be disciplined for one’s failings, My Lady, but in your case I fear it will be essential. I have great expectations of you, Lydia! You are now a reflection of me, and I will not have the flagrant disrespect you have shown me in these last hours. Do you understand?”
I gasp, unable to catch my breath. Can he really mean that he intends to spank me? Heat rises in me as I consider what Lord Markham has just pronounced.
“You may not have been adequately disciplined in the past, My Lady, but think on this: You are in my house now—a home I desire to share with you—but it is my rules which apply here. I expect respect and obedience from everyone here, including my staff. The same expectations pertain to you.”
I reel, shocked by his insinuation. “Are you comparing me to the servants you employ, My Lord?” I cannot hide the bubbling indignation in my voice.
Lord Markham’s features harden as he registers my tone. “My Lady, let me make this clear; you are my ward, and not my servant.”
I raise my chin, relieved and somehow validated at his words. “Then why do you compare me to your staff?”
He lets out a deep breath, still just inches from me. There is an exasperated expression etched onto his handsome features. “I compare not you, My Lady, but rather, my expectation of all those who reside at Markham Hall.”
I gaze up at him, feeling the inner conflict within me once more. On the one hand my instincts tell me to resist his authority, and refuse outright the punishment he suggests. Beneath the surface though, other feelings simmer. The need for his approval, my shifted desire to remain here after all, and the peculiar burgeoning fervour I have at the prospect of the spanking.
His eyes soften as though he understands my inner turmoil. Taking my right hand, he lifts it gently and places it between his palms. “It is my responsibility to run this household, and to set out my expectations. This I should have done as soon as you arrived, and yet I was unexpectedly called away to assist my mother. For this I am profoundly sorry; I failed in my responsibilities to you. Supper did not feel like the appropriate time to discuss such things, and I intended to do so today. I have now told you what I expect, and…” he pauses, squeezing my hand a little, “I will punish you for the attitude you have shown. However, in light of the shortcomings I have demonstrated, I will ensure the spanking is short and not too harsh.”
I blink up at him in disbelief, as though I cannot process a single word he has uttered. Silence stretches out between us as I consider them, acknowledging at last why he had not been there to greet me when I arrived. “So,” I say eventually in a small voice. “You intend to punish me?”
“Yes, My Lady,” he replies. “I intend to make sure you understand my expectations and the consequences which follow if you fail to comply with them.”
“Is that why you spank your maids as well?” I don’t know why I ask, yet something about the vivid memory of Lucy sprawled over his lap is burned forever into my mind.
He smiles again. “Yes, it is a similar thing. I am responsible for them also, but it in no way compares to my responsibility for you. You are my dependent now.”
“I have my own wealth, My Lord,” I splutter, thinking of the vast sums which my father’s estate was worth.
“All of which will be held in trust for you until you either come of age, or marry, My Lady,” he says reassuringly. “Until such time, I am accountable for you.”
“Does that give you the right to spank me as you see fit?” The ball of emotion in me feels fit to burst and I can hear my voice rising. “Like a parent to a child?”
I pull my hand from his warm palms, flinging both of my arms out in a gesture of exasperation.
He tilts his head, watching my responses carefully before he answers. “Yes, My Lady, it does mean that, except I am much more than a parent to you. I am your guardian, your instructor, and your friend.”
Gaping at him, I feel the levy within me break, sending tears of frustration to my eyes.
“Come now, Lydia, do not cry.” He removes his handkerchief from his pocket and hands it to me.
I swallow back the tears, horrified at my own display.
“All shall be well, I swear, but I would ask that you do not take that tone with me again. You know now what will result if you do so.”
I choke back a low sob in my throat, reconciling myself to his words. Dabbing the soft fabric to my eyes, I again risk a glance up at him. “Will you spank me now?” I can barely believe that I am asking the question, and yet the idea of waiting and having the sentence hanging over me is surely too much to bear.
Reseating himself against the edge of his desk, he stretches out his long breech-covered legs and glances at me. “Is that what you would choose, My Lady; to have the penance delivered now?”
I can feel my heart pounding furiously as I answer. “Do I have a choice, My Lord?”
Never has his title seemed so fitting as this moment. His brow stirs as he addresses me once again. “This time, My Lady…”
I take a deep breath, considering what I am consenting to, and yet simultaneously not wanting to process the thought of it. “Then yes… please.”
He nods, the edges of his lips curling into a small smile. “As you wish, My Lady.”
Chapter Ten: Discipline
I stand as though in a dream as my guardian prepares his study for my spanking. He moves around me with lithe ease, collecting a high-backed chair from the corner behind me and placing it in the area he had previously been standing. I can feel his gaze as he strides next to me. I follow his feet, unable to meet his scrutiny, and find him at the sturdy-looking door, his attention fixed on the small lock by the door handle. After he produces a long metal key from the pocket of his cream-coloured breeches, I hear—rather than see—him placing it in the keyhole, before the key moves in the lock.
He turns, and again his eyes are on me. “Are you ready, My Lady Lydia?”
His voice is smooth and warm, and yet there is an undercurrent of his authority. I try to catch my breath as I swallow hard. How should I manage this new and strange situation? The natural inclination to protest and fight rises in me, and yet it is quelled by the newer and less experienced voice in my head; the one which wants to follow Lord Markham’s lead. “Yes, I think so,” I murmur, watching him as he again moves closer, taking my right hand as he passes and spins me around to face him as he seats himself on the predesignated chair.
I stop alongside him, the layers of my gown brushing the sides of the wooden seat. There is a long silence, and still he holds my hand as though he is afraid I will flee. I try to draw the air into my body, the strangest combination of fear and anticipation building inside of me.
He turns his head to face me, drinking in the look of my face and my chest rising with emotion. “Down over my lap then, My Lady.”
The words wash over me like the whiskey my father had once let me consume. A small tug of my arm delivers me back to the reality of this queer scenario. “Must I really do this?”
I sound desperate even to my own ears, and I flinch at the humiliating tone. In response, his expression remains placid. “This is my preferred way to spank disrespectful ladies,” he says in a soft voice. “But if you desire, you could bend over my desk and I could fetch my riding crop?”
I sense that he is trying to be jovial, but there’s a malevolent edge to his tone. The idea of being whipped with his crop fills me with terror. I stare at him, wide-eyed. “Please, no, My Lord!”
He smiles at my answer and gestures with his left hand over his breeches. “Then we will proceed.”
Resignation fills me, and I realise that there really is no way of backing out of this punishment, unless I choose to run from the house, never to return. I bend forward in a manner which I have never done before, folding myself from my hips over the top of his thighs. His right hand guides me down, until my arms brush the carpeted floor beneath, his handkerchief still balled into my left fist. I stretch out my limbs as I lay over him, acclimatising to my new obscured view of the world. From down here his study seems massive, the wooden shelving and the many leather books rising out of view. I breathe slowly, attempting to calm my nerves and yet I can feel my body trembling above me.
“Is this your first time being spanked, Lydia?” His Lordship’s voice echoes from over me.
“Yes, My Lord,” I gasp, still unable—or unwilling—to grasp the reality of my situation.
“Do you understand why you are being disciplined in this way?”
Just as I thought that no further ignominy was possible from this angle, I feel my face flush at his question. “Yes, I believe so…” I answer, my voice portraying the anxiety ricocheting through me.
“Tell me, please.”
Fleetingly I wonder if this is not the most bizarre way to have a dialogue, but I suppress the thought as I reply. “I was disrespectful to you, My Lord, and told you an untruth.”
As the words leave my lips the gravity of my offences hit me in a very real way. For the first time since I arrived in His Lordship’s study I am truly regretful for my actions.
“You were, Lydia, and it has disappointed me. I deserve respect and obedience in this house. There will be no more petulance and no more lies. Is that clear?”
I sniffle back a small sob, wishing that I could do something to redeem myself. “Yes, My Lord,” I whisper.
“Lydia, I will now punish you with ten clean strikes to your behind. Let this be a lesson to you.”
I listen to the sound of my name, and once again find that I rather like the way it rolls from his lips. Nearly always addressed by my formal title, my name seems almost wayward. The thought hangs in the air as I brace, waiting for my spanking to commence; the nervous energy whipping through my body like cold air against the hearth. The first strike lands abruptly against my gown-covered rump, causing the air to rush from my lips. It is not particularly hard, but I can only imagine the rosy imprint it will leave on my bottom after a few further impacts.
His palm lands a further two strikes in close succession, and by the third a small yelp escapes me. I open my eyes, previously squeezed tight by the initial smacks, and take a breath. In my mind’s eye I imagine myself as my guardian must see me now, stretched out over his riding breeches, finally subservient to his discipline despite my protestations. At this moment I despise myself. How can I have let this happen? How can I have willingly consented to this folly? Whatever I did, whichever untruth I have told, I should not be treated this way. I am a lady. Subservient to men, yes, as King George expects, but I am neither a child nor a servant! What would my father have said, had he known what treatment would await me at Markham Hall? As the fourth impact lands, I want to cry out, but pride prevents me. I cannot allow any passing members of the household to hear me. The thought of any of them knowing of this—let alone seeing me this way—is devastating.
The sound of his voice, ever calm and in control, stirs me from my internal monologue. “Do you feel the sting of my palm against you, Lydia?”
I shiver, the image of how my behind will look after the spanking flashing through my mind again. The sheer humiliation of the whole situation is suddenly more apparent than ever before. “Yes, My Lord.”
“Good, but to ensure that you do, I am going to lift your gown and spank you over only your stays and petticoats. I want you to remember how it feels, Lydia. Remember what it is like to be upturned over my knee; remember the way your bottom feels as I warm it. Know that this is the way I handle ladies who deliberately choose to disrespect me.”
My eyes close again at his words, and I know that he is right. I will remember, but my embarrassment as I feel the protection of my gown slipping away is intolerable. How can he do this? How dare he? And yet for all of my protests, the warmth within me stirs again, pooling into moisture between my legs. I take a sharp intake of breath even before the next impact lands, the feeling within my core beginning to heighten in the most peculiar fashion.
“I hope the memory will help you to behave as I expect, so that I need never spank you again.”
His words jar me from the pleasant warmth now accruing between my thighs.
“It will, My Lord.”
“Then I will now conclude this spanking—it seems the lesson has been learned…”
The final strikes land in a flurry against the back of my thin undergarments. By the tenth I am forced to release another yelp, the speed of the tanning taking me by surprise.
“Your spanking is done, My Lady. Please rise.”
The use of my title reinforces that the dynamic between us has shifted back to the way it was, before this meeting and before my impromptu punishment. Allowing him to guide me, I stand, once again next to the chair in which he is seated, feeling my gown shift back into its proper position. He looks up to my face, meeting my eye. I look away, unwilling to meet the intensity I find there.
“How are you, My Lady?” His voice is coaxing, goading me into relaying feelings which I can barely process myself.
Still flushed from my experience, I try to get a hold of myself. My emotions are freefalling, like an egg from its nest; unable to take flight and certain to end in disaster. I am both ashamed of my treatment and ashamed of the way it has left me feeling. Unable to reconcile the humbling way I had felt over his knee with the bubbling excitement I had experienced between my legs, I am ready to crumble. Fresh tears spring to my eyes, and I feel my legs tremble.
He eyes me intently, sensing the dilemma in me, and then the obvious shaking of my limbs. “My Lady?”
I look around, wanting to flee the room and be alone with my feelings, but I know that he has the key to the lock.
“I think I need to lie down,” I stammer, choking back the sound of the emotion in my throat.
He rises from the chair, taking my left arm and pulling me toward him. I want to complain, but find I have no energy remaining to fight him. Compelled toward his torso, his large palms draw me closer until my face is resting against the edges of his coat. I draw in a breath, taking in the smell of him as I do. It is surprisingly reassuring, and as I feel one of his arms wrap around my waist, I am suddenly subdued.
“Breathe, My Lady,” he coos over me. “This was your first punishment, and you are bound to feel vulnerable.”
“I am not vulnerable,” I protest into the expensive fabric at my lips. Raising my palms, I press against his body, noticing how taut the muscles feel beneath his clothing.
“Let me hold you,” he continues. “It helps. It is my role to protect you, as well as punish you.”
A new well of emotion rises in me, and fresh sobs come from my mouth. I have never felt such a demanding mixture of feelings. Lord Markham is right; I am vulnerable, and I deeply resent that he has the power to make me feel this way. I am also concerned by the inexplicable way I am drawn to him, seeking his approval and now needing comfort from him. His arm tightens around me, and I feel his other hand at my bonnet, releasing the drawstring at my chin and pulling the fabric from my head. His fingers are at my face, drawing back my hair against the pins holding the remainder in place at the back of my head. No man has ever touched my hair before. Not even my father had shown me such intimacy.
“Is this the way it will be now?” I ask, almost whimsically. “You will punish and then comfort me?”
I hear a deep chuckle from the gentleman holding me. “Only when required, My Lady. I will punish you when you break a rule regarding your safety, or do not show me the appropriate level of honesty and respect. I am not a cruel man. I consider myself fair and reasonable. But I am master of this household; a fact I think you now understand.”
My head is woolly, and feels as though I have had one too many tipples. “I have never been treated this way, My Lord. I never intended to insult you, and never expected you to discipline me this way. I do not know how I should feel…” The words leave my lips in a rush; a confession of my true state of mind.
He draws me back from his body, holding me a few inches away as he assesses me. His left arm snakes powerfully around my middle, keeping me in place as his head tilts to the right, taking in my tearstained expression.
“You are a beautiful, spirited lady, Lydia. This new dynamic is a fresh start for us both, and now you understand the rules of my house, I should not need to spank you again.” He brushes the loose strands of hair from the side of my face, tucking them behind my ear. I swallow hard at the unexpected tenderness he shows me in this moment. For no sensible reason I want to embrace him again and feel the heat of his body.
I look up into his face and appraise his full lips. I find I am strangely drawn to them. At this moment the idea that I might never again find myself over Lord Markham’s knee fills me with a deep sense of regret, although I cannot say why. The notion is as disturbing as it surprising. As though he senses the thought, his expression alters and there is some unspoken emotion in those deep green eyes. “Unless of course, you need to be spanked again?”
I blink up at him, staring into his face. Surely I could not have heard him correctly? Did he just infer that I might want him to spank me? Why would anyone choose to be admonished, humiliated, and treated that way? And yet I can still feel the heat in my core, the moisture between my legs, and I know that the spanking inspired those feelings… He inspired them.
I pull away, feigning shock at his words, although he maintains his grip at my waist. “Why would anyone need to be punished like a child?”
There is disgust and outrage laced into my voice, although I know we both hear the undercurrent of something else there… something like desire.
He smiles; all knowing, all seeing, his right hand now at my shoulder. “In my experience I have found some ladies find a type of release in the act.”
I think my heart misses a beat. I feel dizzy, nauseous, and excited all at the same time. Nervous energy flutters in my belly, although yet again I cannot say why.
“Release?” I barely recognise the sound of my own voice.
His eyes leave me momentarily, sweeping across the wall loaded with books behind me. I see his chest expanding as he takes a large breath, before his gaze falls back over my face. “Yes, My Lady.”
“What type of release could you mean, My Lord?” I say.
His eyes sear me with heat as he answers. “There are different kinds of release, Lydia.” His name on my lips again is an agonising torture. The last time he had spoken it I had been subject to his palm on my rear. Instinctively I reach for the back of my gown, rubbing the punished area. “Some seek the physical pain—they need it for emotional release.”
I swallow at his explanation, confused at his words and yet acutely aware of what he means. “Emotional release? Do you mean tears, My Lord?”
The familiarity with my own recent emotional state is apparent as he nods. “Yes, after tears there is often serenity and catharsis.”
Like the clarity I feel now, I wonder. Despite my confusion at the way the last hour has made me feel, I do now feel tranquil. I am talking to this gentleman—virtually a stranger—in a way which I have never been able to speak to anyone before. It is surreal, unnerving, and yet undeniably comforting.
“I think I understand,” I reply thoughtfully. “You mentioned various types of release? Which other kinds could you mean?”
His chin raises a little, and there is just the smallest flicker of emotion as he answers me. “There are other types of physical release, My Lady.” He pauses, clearly considering what he will say next. “I have no wish to embarrass you, and as a lady perhaps you do not know the feelings to which I refer.”
I flush, the heat at my core beginning to bubble inside me. I think I know exactly the type of feelings to which His Lordship refers. Not readily discussed in society, there had been some rumours from my maids in London. One’s belly had become engorged about a year ago, and we eventually discovered that she was in the family way with a gentleman who had stayed with us briefly. I had been rightly offended by her actions, never understanding how a young woman could be so lured by a man, even an earl.
I know I am blushing profusely, and yet I cannot control the words at my lips. “Please, My Lord. I look to you as my guardian—explain the release you mean?”
He never breaks his stare, perhaps musing about why I am pushing the matter, but within a few moments, he answers me. “My Lady, this is a highly unusual conversation between a gentleman and a lady.” He smiles, almost in spite of himself. “But you are correct; I am your guardian and you should be able to look to me for leadership and guidance. I refer to the sort of release that a man and wife might share—a consummation of a marriage.” His eyes flash as he speaks, and for just the briefest second he is a tall, brooding, and intimidating figure beside me. “Do you understand the type of release I mean?”
My mind is a blur, and I am just aware of my own laboured breaths as I look to him. “Yes, My Lord. I understand.”
Chapter Eleven: Lurid Dreaming
The rest of the day is a blur. There are meetings with new members of the household staff, afternoon tea in the drawing room, and ultimately a supper with His Lordship. It is as though I am unable to concentrate on any one of these events, all of them eclipsed by the heart-stopping conversation I have shared with Thomas Markham. And not just the conversation. The man has been the first to ever command me and make me accountable for my actions. He punished me in the most base and ignominious way, and yet he also comforted me, nurturing my vulnerable feelings after the spanking, and ultimately casting light on not only why he chooses to spank, but also why people might even desire it.
A day ago I had not even laid eyes on Lord Markham, and now it seems he is the only thing I can think about. He is persuasive, charismatic, clearly well-educated, and very obviously handsome. He is also my legal guardian; the man who now has power over my future well-being.
By the evening I am exhausted, my head inexplicably heavy and clouded with thoughts of the earlier liaison. I replay the exchanges of looks, the dialogue, and even the smell of my guardian. Weary with the memory of it, I retire immediately after supper, the presence of Lucy only igniting my thoughts.
I watch her slim frame as she shimmies from my room, eyeing her behind as it dances away. Involuntarily I find myself imagining it without her uniform, wondering how rosy it is after the sound spanking she received the night before. I still, horrified at the thoughts which now occupy my mind. I am a Regency lady—my mind is engaged by thoughts of dances, dresses, and potential good marriages. Never before have I even contemplated the naked form of another lady, least of all a servant!
She turns before she departs the room, her eyes querying what is no doubt the curious expression on my face. “Will there be anything else, My Lady?”
I pause, considering the possibility of a tonic to help me sleep, but decide that what I really need is a night of natural rest. “No—thank you, Lucy. I hope you have a good evening.”
The final remark is entirely improvised. She hesitates, clearly surprised at my sentiment. “Well, thank you, My Lady. I will see you in the morning.”
I manage a smile as I nod my assent, watching her finally exit the room and into the long corridor beyond it.
* * *
The night is long and punctuated by the most potent and vivid dreams I have ever experienced. Twice I am awoken by the intensity of them, finding myself in a tangle of sheets and perspiration. I roll over, feeling the coolness of the spare pillow and slipping back into a fitful slumber.
I am in the sunlight. I feel the warmth of it against my skin, and looking down I notice my arms are unusually bared. My hair laps around my shoulders, and I wonder fleetingly where my bonnet is—I never leave the house unless I am properly attired. I move forward, my soft satin slippers pressing into the blades of grass below my feet. It’s then that I look around me, establishing where I am. The lawns of Markham Hall are laid out around me, the grounds stretching far beyond what I can see.
A noise to the left draws my attention. It is a small cry, from a woman, and I am inexplicably drawn toward the sound. As I make my way onward the light begins to fade. Some type of mysterious mist is invading from the right, pushing me ever further left, and toward the now increasing volume of the lady’s cries. I pause, straining to listen as she calls out again. The sound is raspy and desperate. Whoever is making it must be in great distress, or… I shiver as the alternative rushes through my mind. What if the noise which has roused me is not the sound of pain, but rather the sound of pleasure? I raise my head as I contemplate the source of the disturbance, feeling my feet moving forward of their own accord.
The mist clears as quickly as it had encroached, the sunlight revealing the new scene in front of me. A large blanket is laid out on the lawn, the edges frayed by design. In the middle of the rug sits my guardian on some type of low-level stool. His dress shirt is gaping at the front, revealing a toned chest covered with soft-looking dark hair. He is looking down, and does not see my approach, but I know it’s him. His dark, ruffled hair is more dishevelled than I have seen it before. Lord Markham’s long legs are stretched out in front of him, the left knee bent to accommodate the second person in the scene.
I pause, eyeing them. It is a woman, nude and pliant over his lap, the way Lucy had been. The look of it quite takes my breath away. I have never seen a lady without her clothes before, and I do not know whether to feel offended or excited. In fact, I am fascinated; not just by her, but by him, and the appearance of the whole thing. He raises his right palm, leaving it hanging in the air for a moment before slapping it down against the bare behind over his lap. The impact is not hard—I believe that he had spanked me with more vigour—yet the effect on the woman is instant. That small yelp leaves her lips, and she writhes uncontrollably like a small animal over him.
I peer closer at her. Her face is hidden by the cascade of chestnut hair falling over it, yet I feel sure that this is a lady I do not know and have never met. I sidestep left, moving toward the scene and rounding toward the woman’s rear. The next strike is harder—I hear the connection of his hand against her flesh—the noise stirring some birds in the trees behind him. The throaty sound of her cry is immediate, resonating through me in that way which I never expected, yet have come to find so consuming. Once again I feel the heat of my body growing, centring me. The inexplicable moisture which I had never felt before coming to Markham Hall pools within me, creating a well of wetness between my legs. The air from my mouth leaves in a rush, creating a gasp rather louder than I had anticipated. Roused, His Lordship raises his head and finds me watching him intently.
“Lydia.” His voice is raspy; his eyes full, the green hue darker than I have seen them.
“My Lord?” The words leave my lips as though I am in a trance. I rather suspect that I am.
Lord Markham raises his palm again, sending it crashing down against the willing participant in front of me. Again I inhale sharply, understanding a little of the pain she may feel, but more than that—wanting to know much more of the pleasure.
There is a small hint of a smile as he watches not the rouging of the bare skin below him, but his ward instead. “Is this what you need, Lydia?”
I am moving forward again, toward him. “Yes,” I whisper. “I need the release, My Lord.”
“Which type of release do you need, my little one?” His tone is warm, and his new description of me is stirring. I have never been anyone’s little one before. Even my own father had kept a careful distance from his only child.
“I do not know,” I reply with an honesty which threatens to break me open. My voice sounds desperate, and I realise that I am close to tears. I lower my head, not wanting him to see my emotion.
“Come now,” he soothes from just a few feet away. “Come to me.”
“But, My Lord…” I pause, confused at his request. “What about the other lady?”
“There is no one, Lydia. No one but you.”
I raise my head to object, still envisioning the nudity of the woman draped over him. To my absolute shock she is gone, and His Lordship sits alone. I open my mouth to speak, but find that there are no words. He stands before I can organise my thoughts, closing the distance between us in a flash.
“I asked you to come to me, Lydia.” His tone is deeper now and more staccato. The sound of it makes me clench my most intimate muscles.
“I, I’m sorry,” I stammer, still unable to understand how the lady I had seen so clearly just a moment before could have just—disappeared.
He leans over me, his body just a few inches from my small flimsy gown. “What did I tell you about obedience, Lydia?”
I look up to him, my breath catching in my throat. “You told me that you expect my obedience.”
“That’s right,” he says softly, using the thumb on his left hand to brush away the hair from my face. “My rules are not draconian, Lydia. They exist for your benefit and protection.”
“I know—I’m sorry.” The words are forced out in a hushed murmur. For some reason I cannot take my eyes away from him, but I have the feeling that if I could I would see the earlier mist creeping back toward me.
“So many apologies, my little one.” His smile is soft, yet sincere.
“I keep disappointing you,” I say, choking back a small sob.
“No,” he insists, resting the palm of the same hand against the side of my face. “Not disappointing. You are learning—and when we learn new things, there will always be errors. I am here to help you and to guide you.”
My head feels heavy, so much heavier than ever before, and yet still I cannot draw my eyes away. “Thank you, My Lord.”
“What did I tell you earlier, when I was seated? What did I ask of you?”
I close my eyes, and without thinking I find myself leaning against him, my temples brushing the soft, dark hair of his chest. I breathe in the masculine scent of him, some heady combination of cologne, tobacco, and earth.
“You asked me to come to you?” My voice is so tiny that I barely recognise it.
“And why did you refuse?”
My eyes blink open, wanting to tell him that I did not refuse; I had just not wanted to interfere with the spanking which he was administering. Before I can respond, his right arm is snaking around my body, pulling me even closer against him. The proximity takes my breath away. “I had not wanted to interrupt you, My Lord.”
He rests his chin gently on the top of my head as he answers. “I understand, yet it is not your job to decide if you are causing an interruption. Let me make the decision.” He pulls away slightly, forcing air between our bodies as he looks down at me. Instinctively I raise my head to look up at him, startled by the intensity in his eyes. “If I ask you to come then I expect your obedience.”
“I understand,” I say, feeling hypnotised by his strong physicality.
“Do you?” he persists, inclining his head as he makes the enquiry. “Or do you need to be punished to really understand?”
A gasp leaves my lips at his words, and how intuitive they are. After all, is this not the reason I came wandering in the gardens in the first place? I had certainly been fascinated, if not indignant, about my spanking yesterday. It had left an impact in more ways than one… “I cannot say,” I reply, not wanting to have to ask for the thing I really desire.
“Do you require my guidance on this issue?”
The question hits me hard, resonating within my core. The pool of moisture there grows, galvanising me, as though my body is responding to His Lordship directly. I give the only answer which makes any sense to me. “I think so, My Lord.”
He pulls me close again; my face presses into the hardness of his chest. “Then I will spank you, Lydia; not so much as a punishment, although you will be punished the next time you deliberately disobey me. This spanking is about your needs; calming you, comforting you—catharsis perhaps?”
I nod, all of a sudden unable to articulate the bubble of emotion rising in my belly. I feel his lips brush the top of my hair, caressing me in the most tender way.
“Let us begin, then?” It is really more of a question than a command, but I feel my feet moving nonetheless, away from the comfort of his body and toward the place he had previously been seated. Our hands are linked, his fingers lacing between mine, drawing me on and moving me into position as he resumes his place on the stool. We lock eyes before I move forward over his body, and the depth I find in his gaze almost frightens me. “Are you ready?”
I nod at him, certain my face is betraying the anxiety I feel.
“Speak please, Lydia. I need to know how you are feeling.”
I inhale slowly, contemplating what he demands. Can I really ask for my own punishment? “Yes… My Lord. I am ready, but I am more than a little afraid.”
“Do not be,” he says, voice full of reassurance. “For this spanking I will only go on as long you permit me. You have the power, Lydia. When you tell me to stop, I will stop.”
I swallow hard, turning my attention to his lap before I drape myself across him as the woman had been earlier. My lower chest and belly press into his legs and against his groin. I am startled by what feels like a growing hardness there, forming beneath my tummy. Gasping, I force myself to remain silent, and instead concentrate on where to place my arms and hands. I refocus on the red and white print of the blanket below me, and I feel my own hair now falling down to conceal my face.
His hands are on me in an instant. One rests against my shoulder blade, stroking the fabric covering my skin with gentle circular motions. The other begins at the backs of my knees, gliding its digits north to where my behind awaits its attention. I am aware of each sensation, the tension in me building from a low hum to a constant vibrating need. By the time his right hand has reached the orbs of my bottom I am holding my breath in anticipation of what is to come. The contact is fleeting, and I imagine his palm raised over my body as I had witnessed earlier. The thought is splintered as it reconnects with my flesh, the sting burning through the thick fabric of my gown.
Before I can truly process the sensation the hand has left me again, coming back down hard, this time on the right cheek alone. I wince, allowing my head to fall forward as the same force is used against my other buttock. The strikes continue, varying in pace and intensity. Initially each one hurts a lot, and I force my lips to still, fighting the instinct to call a halt to proceedings at once. I want this—I need this—stop fighting, Lydia… Gradually the tension in me lessens, and the urge to resist wanes. I can still feel the blows, registering each one on some subliminal level, and yet as they rain over me my mind relaxes. And it is then—right at this most critical juncture—that the desire already swimming between my legs comes to life.
As His Lordship’s hand reconnects with my smarting behind, the pressure of the smack pushes my core forward against his breeches. The contact swells the burgeoning sensation there, sending warm tingles throughout my body. I gulp in a mouthful of air, willing him to land the next spank, which of course I feel a moment later. Closing my eyes, I consider the desperate need simmering within me. Although I have no idea what is happening to my body, I like the warmth and sensation the spanking is bringing. Or rather, I like it a lot.
As he lands yet another round of spanks in quick succession, I am lost momentarily to the feeling, no longer aware of anything except the weight of his hand, the hardness at my belly, and how the whole experience is leaving me frantic for more of the same. The excitement within me crescendos, promising to bring me to a place I have never been before. I am hot and wet, and feel ragged with the intensity of it all. I moan out loud, unable to contain the passion any longer.
“Are you well, Lydia?” His voice is deep and etched with concern.
I want to tell him I am more than well. I want to tell him not to stop, to never stop—but to bring me to the peak which I am clearly climbing. I long to reach the summit and fall free. I need it. I need it more than I could ever have known. Instead, my lips are locked together, simply incapable of speaking the words my brain is screaming.
Again, he calls out. “My Lady, should I halt? Are you well?”
I moan again, squirming my weight over his hardness, and trying to make him understand without the need for words.
It is useless, I realise—I will need to speak to convey my consent, and further, my ardent feelings on the subject.
Something is wrong. His Lordship’s voice is changing, and there’s a note of real panic in the tone. I turn my head toward the place where he is seated, but he is no longer there.
I fly from the dream, landing abruptly in my bed. Sitting bolt upright I find myself a hot and tangled mess, caught up in my bed linen, and out of breath. Lucy stands at the bed next to me, alarm flickering in her eyes.
“My Lady! Are you quite well?” The relief in her voice is evident, and I try to reassure her with a small smile.
“Just a dream, Lucy,” I assure her. “It was just a vivid dream.”
“A nightmare more like, My Lady,” she says, moving forward to pour me a glass of water from the jug at my bedside. “You were writhing around something terrible, Miss—I feared I would have to wake the master to see what was wrong with you.”
I flush at the thought of Lord Markham seeing me in this state, the dream clinging to me like the air around us. Taking the glass from her, I allow the cold water down my throat, grateful for the fluid at my dry lips.
“Worry not, Lucy,” I say again, more firmly this time. “It was just a dream.”
She nods and bobs into a small curtsey, hurrying away to arrange my clothes for breakfast. As she goes, I look out my window to the lawns below. I feel the weight of my heart still hammering from the torrent of emotions I had felt. It was only a dream… Surely that is a relief; a good thing. And yes, I reconcile—it is. Although I cannot deny the sting of disappointment I feel on the subject.