Claimed by the Commander
Copyright © 2017 by Stormy Night Publications and Sassa Daniels
Copyright © 2017 by Stormy Night Publications and Sassa Daniels
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.
Claimed by the Commander
Cover Design by Korey Mae Johnson
Images by Period Images and 123RF/Kevin Eaves
This book is intended for adults only. Spanking and other sexual activities represented in this book are fantasies only, intended for adults.
It was dangerous and oh so wrong but Caroline just couldn’t help herself. The moment she heard her sister’s bedroom door clicking shut, she reached into the top drawer of her nightstand and pulled out the well-worn paperback she kept hidden beneath a pile of silk handkerchiefs. For a moment, she studied the cover, taking time to appreciate each inch of the hero’s impressive physique, that massive chest that looked as though it had been chiseled from solid rock and those muscular arms. She felt the first familiar pangs of longing as she moved on to admire his face, sighing as she saw the passion he felt for the woman he held tight in his arms burning brightly in his eyes.
Caroline wondered if she would ever look up at a man like that, with such naked desire. It seemed unlikely, given that few men on this rotten planet were sculpted so beautifully. In fact, most were decidedly unattractive.
Feeling a surge of anticipation that was well known to her coursing through her veins, she turned to her favorite chapter, the corner of its first page turned down so she could find it easily. This was the point in the story she wanted to read again and again, the part where Sebastian bent Lucinda over the bed and finally claimed her body as his own. As she held the book up, angling it so she could see the text more clearly in the dim glow of her bedside lamp, Caroline popped open the button fly of her prized jeans, a recent purchase from her dealer in illicit twenty-first century merchandise, the man from whom she also had acquired her prohibited reading material.
Even before she slipped her hand inside her jeans, Caroline felt impossibly wicked. What would the High Council say if they could see her now? What would they say if they knew that she and her friends had formed an illegal group, The Hyde Ladies’ Circle where they sat around and talked about sex and politics and other topics forbidden to women? She shook thoughts of those crusty old men on the Council from her mind and turned her full attention to the book.
In the previous chapter, Sebastian had spanked Lucinda for trying to run from him. Caroline was not entirely sure what the appeal was but she relished those scenes where the heroine became aroused as she was disciplined. The women in the novels she loved all seemed to crave chastisement and Caroline wondered how she would react to being taken over the knee of a strong, powerful male. Certainly, in the book, by the time Sebastian finished administering the punishment, Lucinda was kissing him with every ounce of passion contained within her petite body. As he pushed her down on the bed, the novel’s heroine was dripping feminine juices and ready for his penetration and Caroline couldn’t help but think she might react the same way.
Moving her fingers beneath the silk of her panties, she gently stroked herself. Wet just from reading a few words of the story, her forefinger glided easily along her moist folds. As the hero of the novel thrust his enormous cock into his woman’s tight, virgin pussy, Caroline sighed with pent-up desire and began to circle her finger around the little bud of nerves she knew from her reading was called a clitoris. Closing her eyes, she dropped the book to the bed beside her and imagined it was her own helplessly quivering body that Sebastian was pounding ruthlessly into, an exhilarating thought that made her womb clench.
Her fingers began to move more urgently, applying a greater pressure to the engorged nub between her legs. As her breaths came out in frantic pants, the first waves of pleasure gripped her. She was close, so very close this time, to achieving that ecstatic release the novels described, a sensation that had always eluded her. As she began to feel a new, deeper arousal, there was a sudden, ear-splitting shriek that made her sit up, her heart racing.
Footsteps pounded along the hallway outside the room and she heard her sister shout.
“Caro, run! Get out now!”
Mere moments later, the back door slammed shut and the house fell quiet. Frozen in shock, Caroline listened, trying to work out what was happening, why her sister had fled. Her mind told her to move but her legs would not obey. She sat there, motionless, as a loud crash came from downstairs. Before she could register what was happening, her bedroom door was flung open with such force, it came right off its hinges. Light flooded the room, blinding her for a moment. Too late, she realized she still had her hand down her pants as a tall man clad in the austere gray uniform of the state police stepped into the room, a wickedly self-satisfied grin on his face.
“Well, well, someone has been a bad girl, haven’t they?”
Caroline quickly removed her hand and wiped the glistening juices that coated her fingers off on the bedspread. She had no time to think, to speak, to try to save herself as the man strode across the room, grabbed her arm in a bruising grip, and dragged her toward the door.
“What’s happening?” Caroline finally found her voice as he hauled her down the stairs and out into the driveway, seemingly uncaring that he was handling her so roughly.
“What’s happening, you filthy little slut, is that you’re under arrest.”
“On what charges?” she demanded.
The single word he uttered as he bundled her into the back of a police transport vehicle chilled her to the bone.
As the police wagon slowly moved off, Caroline looked back at her house, its grounds swarming with agents of the High Council, and feared she would never see her beautiful home or her beloved sister again.
Jeers from the hostile crowds who lined the streets of New Cambridge assailed Caroline’s ears as the mechanized cart bounced along the cobblestones, jostling her from side to side. The metal cage she’d been forced to stand inside offered her no protection from the hate-filled glares of the masses or from the occasional missile that was hurled in her direction. Thankfully, nobody threw anything heavier than an overripe orange, although how they could spare such precious natural fruit just to fling at her, Caroline did not know.
The thin white gown her jailers had dressed her in after forcing her to endure an entire day of nudity in their presence, was no barrier to the cold and she knew that everyone could see right through the flimsy fabric to her naked form beneath. It filled her with shame to think that the thatch of thick, dark curls at the apex of her thighs, the taut rosebud nipples at the peaks of her breasts, and the pert little globes of her bottom cheeks were as much on display as they would be if she wore nothing at all. But she knew that this humiliation was just the beginning and she had to steel herself for whatever horrors lay in store for her when they reached their destination.
Fighting to retain her balance as the wheeled cage rumbled on toward the town hall where she was to stand trial, Caroline felt the strain on her outstretched arms, which were chained to bars on the insides of the rudimentary vehicle as she was pulled, first one way and then the other. Her heart beat rapidly, her limbs ached, and panicked thoughts churned so quickly through her mind, she feared she might pass out. But she had to be strong. Soon she would be brought before the High Council to answer their ridiculous charges of crimes against the state and she knew all too well that the mob, already baying for her blood, would have to be placated. The men on the Council were going to make an example of her.
“Bet she wishes she hadn’t survived the night,” the taller of the two guards who walked at the sides of the wheeled cage in case she somehow managed to free herself said mockingly.
“Would have done us all a favor if she hadn’t,” his colleague replied.
Caroline smiled sweetly, refusing to let the bastards get to her as they seemed to confirm her suspicions that her jailers had hoped she would not make it through to the morning. Having withstood twelve straight hours of intensive interrogations, she had spent an uncomfortable night huddled on a hard wooden bench that was supposed to pass for a bed with only one threadbare blanket to ward off the chill.
Before she’d even had the chance to answer the Council’s charges, to offer up some defense, they’d hacked off her gloriously long, dark tresses and left her with the shorn hair of a convicted criminal. Such cruel treatment told her that in the minds of the Council she was guilty and she had already begun to pay the price. Caroline knew that tossing her into a freezing cold cell and giving her nothing to eat or drink for twenty-four hours had been a tactic to weaken her, perhaps even finish her off. Unfortunately for them and as much to her own amazement as anybody else’s, it seemed that she was not quite as delicate as that.
For over a century, since the last devastating world war had wiped out more than ninety percent of Earth’s population, the authoritarian all-male Council had been in control. It would have suited them if she’d passed away quietly in the night. She was the highest born woman ever to have been brought up on such serious charges and she knew that it posed problems for them when determining what punishment to mete out. Usually for crimes like the ones she was accused of committing, the sentence was a series of harsh public floggings and life imprisonment in one of the city’s brothels or state-controlled breeding facilities established to assist with the repopulation efforts. Wherever a woman was sent, her body was used hard until the day she was no longer fit for purpose. Caroline had no idea what happened to female convicts after that but she knew it would not be pretty.
The one ray of hope she could hold onto was that it was unheard of for a lady of noble birth to be condemned to such a life and she knew the High Council would not take such action lightly. They would surely not want to risk alienating friends of her late grandfather whose money and ancient titles still carried a great deal of influence.
No, Caroline imagined, they would have to devise some new and hideous punishment for her. Perhaps they would banish her to the supposedly barbarian planet of Taar-Breck, which maintained an uneasy alliance with Earth’s rulers. That would get her nicely out of the way and the Council could erase all trace of her existence. She’d already been informed that all her possessions were to be seized and her wealth absorbed into the High Council’s coffers. Her prison guard had told her with great relish that her money would be spent on hunting down other women of her sort, by which she assumed he meant free thinkers, and providing them with the stringent training it would take to turn them into obedient wives. They intended, it seemed, to focus their efforts on rounding up other members of Caroline’s group, the Hyde Ladies’ Circle, and bringing them to heel. Their number one priority was to track down Caroline’s sister, sweet little Elizabeth, who had managed to get out of the house just moments before the police descended. Caroline could only hope she’d found someplace safe to lay low until this all blew over.
As the cage slowly trundled closer to its destination, the crowd grew denser and Caroline couldn’t help wondering how she’d come to be public enemy number one. All she’d done was gather a group of like-minded women together to read books and imagine another way of living, one where they enjoyed some of the freedoms the male citizens took for granted. It wasn’t as though they’d acted on their desires, other than by distributing the occasional pamphlet or writing anonymous letters to the High Council to ask for reform. Their methods had been strictly nonviolent but, for the authorities, the women’s very association with one another was crime enough.
“Whore!” Her thoughts were interrupted as a yell came at her from across the street.
Tears pricked Caroline’s eyes but she resisted shedding them, knowing that to cry would give the man who had thrown the insult endless satisfaction. Ironically, the last thing anyone could accuse her of being was a whore. She’d never known the loving touch of a man’s hand and now she feared she never would. Stoically, she stared straight ahead, determined to hold onto whatever small amount of dignity she could muster.
As they turned the final corner on their route, she spotted a familiar figure in her peripheral vision and looked around discreetly to confirm that it was her friend Victoria Walton she’d seen. A quiet, well-mannered girl of eighteen who never put a foot wrong in public but held strong political views in private, Victoria was the last member of the illicit Hyde Ladies’ Circle Caroline would ever have imagined would risk coming out amongst such potentially volatile crowds.
Wearing what was, for a woman of her class, the requisite corseted dress with long, flowing skirts and a beautifully tailored jacket that gathered in at the waist and then flared out over her hips, Victoria carried a little umbrella over her arm in case it rained. As always she looked to be the very model of propriety.
The women in the group had all made a pact that if any of them was ever arrested, they would disavow one another to avoid being dragged down together but, as Caroline’s eyes met with hers, Victoria put her lace-gloved fingers to her lips and blew her a kiss. It was a small, subtle gesture of solidarity that reminded the caged woman she was not alone, but she hoped, for her friend’s sake, that nobody had witnessed it.
A flicker of a smile passed across Caroline’s face as Victoria disappeared from view. That momentary glimpse of a friend, a sister in their shared cause, was something she could draw strength from and she needed every ounce of courage she could muster to face the coming ordeal.
As the cart came to an abrupt halt, its cogs locking together almost violently to stop the wheels moving, Caroline was flung forward so her arms were pulled painfully behind her and her head bounced off the bar at the front of the cage. The impact stunned her for a moment and so she barely noticed the chains being unhooked from the insides of the metal enclosure and then refastened behind her back.
One of the large, intimidating guards who had accompanied her on this humiliating journey through the streets took a firm grip of her arm and pulled her out onto the pavement. The concrete was cold and hard beneath her bare feet and Caroline suddenly felt a real chill gripping her.
“What do you think of the view, my lady?” The guard’s voice dripped with contempt.
Caroline looked around to see what he was talking about. Her stomach lurched as she saw the raised platform that the y-shaped whipping post stood on, heavy metal shackles dangling ominously from hooks at the tops. Shuddering at the thought of being forced to stand there, arms stretched and bound, on her tiptoes as her clothes were torn from her to bare her for the flogging, she allowed the guard to drag her past the gathered masses as his colleague hung back in case of trouble.
As she took one last look up into the sky, fearing she might never get to enjoy the gloriously crisp sunshine of a fine February morning again, the swarm of people surged forward. If they hadn’t been held back by a cordon of agents from the Council’s notoriously brutal security forces, she had no doubt that she would have been torn limb from limb.
“Move it!” the guard, panicked by the crowd’s palpable outrage, hissed in her ear.
She was pulled up the steps into the building and marched through a labyrinth of corridors at dizzying speed. At a large wooden door, the guard paused to unfasten the shackles from around her wrists.
“Try anything and you’ll be sorry,” he barked before leading her into the great chamber where the seven men who would determine her fate were already seated, their faces grim.
The viewing galleries, Caroline noted, were filled with an entirely male audience and, as she was brought forward, an awed hush fell over the room. The way their mouths hung open in surprise, anyone would think they’d never seen a woman before. She wondered whether she was a disappointment to them. They’d come here, no doubt, to see a dangerous criminal and, despite the severity of the haircut they’d inflicted on her, she didn’t imagine she looked like much of a threat.
As they reached the center of the chamber, the guard forced her to her knees on the unforgiving wooden floor.
“The prisoner, my lords,” he announced gruffly before moving off to stand at the side of the room, ready to spring into action if she dared to try to get away.
Before she had been taken from her cell and brought here, her jailer had instructed her to bow her head penitently before the men who would judge her but Caroline was damned if she was going to do that. Looking straight at President Hall, leader of the High Council, she met his eyes with a defiant glare.
From the sudden reddening of his fat cheeks and the almost comical juddering of his jowls as he shook his head, she knew her insolence had infuriated him. Well, good. She wasn’t prepared to face her fate with her eyes averted like some meek little mouse.
“Bailiff, read out the charges,” President Hall instructed.
A small, thin man stepped forward onto the floor of the chamber and unfurled a scroll of paper with such a flourish that Caroline had to stifle a laugh at his pomposity. Puffed up with an air of self-importance, the bailiff cleared his throat and began to speak.
“Lady Caroline Louise Chatterton, it is hereby charged that, in contravention of Article 6, Section 114b of the Preservation of Civil Society Act of 2317, you organized illicit gatherings of female persons at your home in New Cambridge. It is further charged that as leader of this subversive and illegal company of women you attempted to challenge the supreme authority of the High Council and distributed inflammatory and seditious pamphlets with the intention to incite rebellion in order to secure equal rights for the fairer sex.”
Mocking laughter rippled around the chamber and Caroline was disheartened to hear more than one man snigger “equal rights, indeed.” Her skin prickled with indignation that they should find the notion so absurd as President Hall banged his gavel on the desk to silence the crowd so the bailiff could continue.
“You are also charged with the possession and distribution of a number of banned texts deemed to be a danger to public morals. It has been noted that when you were arrested you were dressed in unauthorized, manly clothing, and you were committing the most flagrant self-abuse.” He paused to allow for the exclamations of outrage from the gallery to die down. “Furthermore, since your arrest you have acted in an unwomanly and disobedient manner by refusing to reveal the names of your co-conspirators.”
Caroline shook her head as she heard the ridiculous charges being publicly stated for the first time. Despite all she’d been through in the last twenty-four hours, she still couldn’t believe that any of this was happening. Less than a hundred years ago, nothing of what she’d done would be considered a crime. All she and her friends had ever done was talk about reform and publish the occasional pamphlet. There had been no attempt to raise a rebellion. Mostly, they’d sat around and talked about the books they’d read. Sometimes they did have serious discussions about history or politics but more often they’d indulged in tea and cakes and giggled about the naughty bits in the erotic romances they all loved. Where was the harm in that?
The books the Council thought were so corrupting had once been widely available and any woman who wished to read them could do so without fear of punishment. The jeans and t-shirt she’d been wearing may not have been the standard dress for women in the last century or more but she knew from her research that they’d been acceptable at one time. Besides which, it wasn’t as though she’d worn her favorite historical clothing outside of the house. And as for the charge that she’d refused to name the other women in the group, well, no matter how unnatural they believed her disobedience to be, she could never betray her friends, not even on pain of death.
“You understand the penalty for your actions?” President Hall didn’t even try to mask the hatred in his voice. “You are to be punished most severely, young lady.”
“As far as I am aware, my guilt has not yet been determined,” Caroline protested, the strength and clarity she spoke with surprising her, considering how worn down she felt. “What about a fair trial? I have a right to defend myself against these charges.”
“You have no rights here,” Lord Barron, the youngest member of the Council said, to rapturous applause from the spectators.
“But,” Caroline persisted, “what about the due process of law?”
“What would a woman know about the due process of law?” Lord Barron sneered, raising a laugh from the audience that reverberated around the chamber. “Besides which, there is no possible defense. You were caught red-handed in the act of reading one of those foul texts, eh, what was it called, bailiff?”
“The Space Pirate’s Virgin Conquest, sir.” He sounded as though he might actually throw up, so strong was his outrage.
“Ah, yes,” Barron snorted as others in the room roared with laughter and lowered Caroline’s spirits even further. “You were caught pleasuring yourself with this book in your possession and we know that you have encouraged other impressionable young ladies to abuse themselves in a similar manner. We are well aware that you have tried to subvert the laws of our society by proposing reforms that threaten to shake the foundations of civil society including the bizarre suggestion that females ought to be given status equal to men, that they should be given access to education, and that they should be allowed to select their own husbands. Your guilt is not in doubt here. What we are here to determine is the severity of your sentence.”
So, it was worse than Caroline had feared. She wasn’t even going to be given the opportunity, however unlikely it was, to succeed, to persuade them that she hadn’t done anything wrong. She had to breathe deeply so they wouldn’t experience some perverse satisfaction in seeing her tremble.
“The standard punishment would be fifty lashes in public once a month for one full year and assignment to one of the state’s service programs for the remainder of your natural life.”
Despite the fear the threatened punishment instilled in her, she couldn’t help but snort at the euphemism. Referring to the brothels and breeding houses as service programs was a spectacularly sterile way to describe the enforced subjugation of hundreds of women to the whims of the male population.
“However,” President Hall continued, “we need to take into account your illustrious bloodline. Your grandfather, Lord Perceval Chatterton was, after all, one of our society’s founding fathers.”
Now Caroline really did have to fight to hold her tongue. Yes, her grandfather had helped to establish order after the chaos of the last war and the civil strife that followed, but the state’s values had long since become a mockery of everything he held dear. There was no way her beloved grandpapa, who’d taught her the history of the world they lived in, of the rights women had once held and their past achievements, had intended for the female of the species to live under such severe restrictions. Every action a woman took was scrutinized, each thought she expressed aloud was criticized, and her sexual needs were only met at the pleasure of her husband, a man chosen for her by her guardian without anyone asking her opinion.
Almost as though he’d read her thoughts, President Hall continued, “And it seems as though there was some error upon the passing of your esteemed forebear that left you and your sister without the benefit of a firm male hand to guide you.”
A loud gasp went around the room at that. It had been almost two years since her grandfather died and it was completely unheard of for a woman to be without a moral custodian for so long but Caroline knew that he’d deliberately failed to appoint one because he hadn’t wanted her and Elizabeth to be ruled over in that way.
“So it is perhaps not surprising that you have veered so far from the right path.”
This elicited murmurs in the chamber, signaling a general agreement that it was the lack of a strong male protector that had allowed this woman to become a danger to herself and society. Caroline’s jaw clenched as she struggled to hold onto her temper.
“And,” President Hall continued, “there is the question of your virginity. If you are, indeed, untouched as you claimed to be during your interview at the prison, we will need to take that into consideration.”
“Prove it! Prove that she’s pure!”
Caroline looked up in alarm as the call went out around the chamber for them to prove her virginity, shuddering to think how that might be achieved. President Hall banged his gavel repeatedly, demanding that order be restored but several members of the audience were now on their feet and it looked as if a riot might erupt. Glancing toward the door, Caroline contemplated making a run for it though she doubted she would get very far.
“Silence!” A commanding shout rang out and all heads seemed to turn as one toward the imposing figure who was striding onto the floor of the chamber, flanked by two equally impressive-looking men in military uniform.
It took Caroline only a moment to recognize Commander Andrew Rossingham, the greatest flyer the interplanetary air force had ever known, and darling of the evening newscast. A good bit taller than the average human male, the commander was broad-shouldered and muscular and he looked as though he could tear an opponent to pieces without breaking a sweat. His eyes were an unusual shade, an almost purple blue and his hair a golden blond unlike anything she had ever seen. It was, she supposed, an indication that the rumors that his birth mother was a native of Taar-Breck, the planet his companions clearly hailed from, were true. Rossingham certainly bore more resemblance to the two men he was with than he did to the people who raised him, the late Adaline and Arthur Rossingham, although he did have a look of his father about the nose and mouth.
The commander’s impressive physical strength was matched by a fierce intellect and negotiating skills that had helped to open up new food supply routes from Taar-Breck. There were few men who would think about challenging him and, Caroline thought wryly, a great many women who would like to try. Rossingham had once been a student of her grandfather but that was a long time ago and while Caroline was no longer the shy child she’d been back then, he was no longer the same gangling youth. What he was doing here was a mystery to Caroline. A hush fell as he began to speak.
“Mr. President, gentlemen of the High Council, I have here a contract signed by Lord Perceval Chatterton shortly before his death,” he held up a piece of crisp parchment for the audience to see, “consenting to the marriage of his granddaughter Lady Caroline Chatterton when she attains the age of twenty-one, an event which I believe will occur in two days’ time.”
Caroline held her breath, stunned by this turn of events as President Hall asked the question that was running through her own mind.
“Marriage? To whom?”
“To me.” Rossingham’s tone was infuriatingly matter of fact given the unexpected news he was imparting. “Now, as I understand it, this contract is binding upon both parties and, as such, under Article 6, Subsection 181b of the Preservation of Civil Society Act of 2317, it supersedes the authority of the Council. I believe that I have the right to claim Lady Caroline as my bride and to see to her correction using whatever methods I deem suitable.”
Caroline struggled to process this shocking new information. Why would her grandfather have arranged for her betrothal without telling her, especially to a man whose dominance screamed from every pore? Why had he not prepared her for this startling turn of events? As she looked up at the man who’d intervened in the proceedings, studying the harsh planes of his face, the angular jaw, she couldn’t help but wonder if being his wife would be any less punishing than whatever it was the Council had decided to do to her.
While she pondered her fate, there was a flurry of activity as President Hall’s legal advisers rushed to verify Rossingham’s claim. The contract he’d brought with him was studied carefully, law books were pulled from shelves, and people scurried about trying to make sense of what was happening. Within minutes, precedent was found and, after a terse, whispered conversation with his lead counsel, President Hall turned to the commander with his response.
“Yes, Commander, it seems you are quite correct. Lady Caroline will be yours to do with as you please if you should choose to claim her.” Hall’s beady little eyes narrowed fractionally as a salacious grin formed on his lips. “Provided, of course, she is still a virgin.”
“Indeed.” Rossingham turned to Caroline and gave her a look she could not interpret; a plea to bear with him, perhaps? Whatever that slight grimace indicated, it passed quickly and his expression became blank once more. “We must establish that she is untouched. I will not take her otherwise.”
As the onlookers in the gallery broke into excited chatter about the events unfolding before them, Andrew turned and looked down at the woman kneeling beside him, making a careful study of her. Lady Caroline was every bit as beautiful as he remembered with those bewitchingly green eyes and pale skin, but he could cheerfully choke the last breath from whoever was responsible for hacking off the gloriously thick, dark hair that had trailed down into the small of her back when he saw her last. Despite looking as though she might pass out, the heat of defiance burned in her eyes. As she met his gaze, her face fell into a puzzled frown and he supposed he couldn’t blame her for being caught off guard by him swooping in here to save the day. If he was being completely honest, his decision to intervene had only been made at the last minute, and it had come as something of a surprise, even to himself, that he wanted to do this.
With so much work yet to be done to reintroduce the supply of foods from one hundred percent natural sources to Earth and the occasional flashes of insurrection in the outlying colonies of Taar-Breck to deal with, he had little time for a wife, especially one who had proved herself to be a menace to society.
He’d come to honor the marriage contract he made with her grandfather because he owed Lord Perceval a debt of gratitude for setting him on the right path back when he was a feckless youth bucking against the demands of his father to find some useful occupation for himself. On the road to leading a life of indolent self-gratification, Andrew had been taken under Lord Perceval’s wing and he knew that his distinguished military career would never have happened if it hadn’t been for the other man’s tutelage. The least he could do in return was take his mentor’s granddaughter into his protection. Besides, it probably was time he started thinking about producing an heir to carry on the family name and that meant he had to marry. Lady Caroline had grown up to be an exceptionally beautiful young woman so bedding her would be no hardship. As to her rebellious inclinations, well, he knew exactly how to deal with those and would do so in a more effective manner than the Council ever could.
He could have put a stop to this mockery of a trial at any time, but he wanted to see how his bride-to-be would handle the pressure. If he was to marry, then his wife would need to be a woman with some spirit in her to help him face the challenges that lay ahead. He intended to take her back to his country estate on Taar-Breck. With its endless fields, lush forests, and languid rivers, it was the ideal place to raise a family and he intended to make a success of things there with his new bride. Yes, she would have to learn to submit to his will and would, no doubt, suffer many bare bottom spankings and other more humiliating punishments but she could not be some simpering wreck too afraid to stand by his side when things became difficult. Seeing the way Caroline had retained her poise as she refused to surrender her rights without a fight gave him hope that she was the woman for him.
“Guard!” President Hall called out. “Take the prisoner to the medical room and have the doctors prepare her for examination. We shall establish whether the contract between Commander Rossingham and Lord Chatterton remains valid. If the prisoner is no longer a virgin, then the marriage contract is nullified and the Council will pass sentence as originally planned.”
As the guard moved toward Caroline, Andrew stepped into his path and the other man stopped dead.
“My lieutenant will escort Lady Caroline,” Andrew said in a tone that nobody could argue against. “Nobody is to touch her until I get there.”
Bryn, his second in command and a native of the planet of Taar-Breck who’d fought by his side on many occasions, nodded and held his hand out to help Caroline up from the floor where she’d remained kneeling throughout the proceedings. There was a look of bewilderment in her eyes and although she tried to mask it with a haughty glare, there was more than a touch of fear.
In a gesture Andrew hoped was reassuring, he smiled, encouraging her to take the other man’s hand. Andrew was a warrior by nature, a hard man when he needed to be, but he was never cruel. Although he would demand her total obedience, he didn’t want to see Caroline shrink back from him in dread. It appeared that she was somewhat soothed when her lips twitched as though she wanted to return his smile, before she put her tiny hand into the meaty fist of his giant of a lieutenant. She let Bryn help her to her feet and then walked, by his side, from the room.
“Are you sure you want to take on a woman who’s so much trouble?” Lord Barron asked.
Andrew bristled. He had only the merest acquaintance with the newest member to be appointed to the Council but he knew enough to know he did not trust the man.
“You have some doubt that I’m up to the task?” he challenged, experiencing a deep sense of satisfaction as Barron struggled for a response.
“Nobody is suggesting that, Andrew,” President Hall interjected, addressing the commander with a familiarity he did not welcome. “It is just with so much work to be done to ensure the reintroduction of food supplies as agreed in our treaty with Taar-Breck, perhaps a more docile companion would suit you better.”
“Perhaps,” Andrew conceded, ignoring the underlying threat in the president’s reference to the terms of the alliance, which they all knew was on a fragile footing and could be fractured by the slightest disagreement. “And yet I find myself compelled to honor her grandfather’s wish that we marry.”
“And of course there’s her money,” Lord Barron muttered, sounding more like a petulant child than the statesman he purported to be with every word he spoke. His attitude made Andrew wonder whether he had some personal interest in Caroline or, indeed, her fortune.
“Her money?” Andrew was not about to let the man get away with the implied insult. “Do you wish to question my integrity, Lord Barron?”
A ripple of frantic denials went around the room as the other members of the Council hurried to smooth over the potentially confrontational situation. Andrew couldn’t help but grin to himself as they made attempts to placate him. He had little time and even less respect for this unelected council, a group of men who’d inherited their right to rule from their equally corrupt and useless fathers. He despised those who never dared to venture out from their desks to experience real life in the world they governed with such tight control. Men like these hid behind bureaucratic nonsense whilst all the time lining their own pockets and furthering their own selfish agendas. It was Andrew and his colleagues in the intergalactic forces who worked to keep the peace in the ever-expanding universe and tended to the daily business of ensuring that everyone had enough food to eat. Each and every one of the Council members was a coward as far as he was concerned. Their callous treatment of women like Caroline who broke their ridiculous rules was evidence enough of that.
“I have no need of Lady Caroline’s money,” Andrew said when quiet fell once more. “The Council is welcome to all of her possessions. Except, of course, her grandfather’s house. That must remain in the family.”
His announcement that he would relinquish all but the suburban townhouse Caroline and her sister had been raised in was met with fervent nods of approval and he marveled at their blatant avarice. He’d expected that they would seize Caroline’s assets and that his right to take control of her property upon their marriage might prove a sticking point when he claimed her but, really, her wealth was nothing compared to his and if it helped her to escape from their hands, it was a price he was more than willing to pay.
Turning to his other lieutenant, Taryn, Andrew lowered his voice to little more than a whisper as he issued his instructions.
“Go to the Chatterton house. Ensure that it’s safe for a stay of no more than two nights. I fear we shall have to remain here until my bride comes of age and we can get the legalities finalized before we can return home.”
It had been many years since he’d regarded Earth as home and he couldn’t bear to stay here amongst the corruption and decay any longer than necessary.
“Very good, Commander.” Taryn’s ever-vigilant eyes swept quickly around the room as though assessing the level of threat. “You are certain you can handle things here alone?”
“What do you think?” Andrew raised an amused eyebrow. “Besides, Bryn is here.”
Seemingly satisfied that the other Taar-Breckian warrior would be here in case of trouble, Taryn nodded briskly to his commanding officer and strode from the room.
“Well, if everything is now settled,” President Hall rose to his feet, “we shall proceed to the examination room.”
“We?” Andrew had to shut that down immediately. “I think not, gentlemen. Nobody will be present but the doctor and myself when the bride’s virginity is affirmed.”
“But that is most irregular,” Lord Barron protested.
Tempted as he was to break the other man’s neck for his continued obstructions, Andrew remained calm.
“But you are welcome to witness the examination, of course,” he responded smoothly. “On screen.”
There wasn’t a chance in hell that he was going to allow these men anywhere near Caroline as the necessary examination was carried out. The process would likely be an ordeal for her and as the man who intended to make a solemn pledge to guide and protect her for the rest of their days, he had no desire to make things worse for her than they needed to be. He knew the Council would not be happy to be kept at arm’s length but having them watch via video link was as much of a concession as he was prepared to offer. If the need arose, he had men loyal to him stationed nearby and he would remove her to safety by force if he had to. As that treasonous thought crossed his mind, he wondered at how quickly and powerfully his instinct to protect her had developed and he knew he had to tamp it down in case he revealed his feelings in front of men he did not trust.
“Well, if you insist, Commander.”
“I do, Mr. President. I am sure you can understand that when Lady Caroline passes the test I want no other man present.”
“If,” Lord Barron smirked, apparently unable to spot the danger in continuing to chip away at the good will of a formidable military leader. “If she passes the test.”
Knowing that some terrible fate was in store for her if she proved not to be pure, he could only hope that his faith she had not transgressed so far as to have lost her virginity outside of marriage was justified, because heaven help her if he had to leave her at the mercy of the Council.
* * *
As a shiver danced down Caroline’s spine, she knew it wasn’t the chill the stark white décor of the medical room inspired that caused it, but the dreadful anticipation of what would happen to her on the examination table that sat at its center. Dangling from the table were several sets of restraints fashioned from what looked like real leather, a rare and expensive commodity, and fastened with solid metal buckles. She could scarcely imagine why it would be necessary to strap a person down so securely. Clearly, whatever people experienced here, it was something they were desperate to escape from.
She was grateful for the presence of Commander Rossingham’s lieutenant, the authoritative Bryn. A giant of a man, he’d easily taken control of the room, banishing the technicians who’d been at work in there and allowing only one doctor, a distinguished-looking man of about fifty, to remain. As the doctor washed his hands at a sink in the corner of the room, Bryn stood guard by the door and Caroline knew that nobody was getting in without his say-so.
“We ought to get the prisoner ready,” the doctor said as he moved toward Caroline, nervously looking at Bryn for his approval.
“Nobody touches the lady until Commander Rossingham gets here.”
There was no arguing with the finality in his voice as he crossed his arms over his broad chest to reinforce his immovability on the point.
“Very well, but perhaps you can explain it to the Council. They will expect us to begin as soon as they arrive.” The doctor looked a little panicked at the possibility of disappointing his superiors.
“The Council?” Caroline’s eyes widened as her heart began to pound. She was scared enough about what was going to happen to her without having to deal with being examined in front of those vile men.
“Yes.” The doctor licked his pale, thin lips, seeming to enjoy her obvious panic. “They will want to see everything that happens. Sometimes the president likes to get personally involved when we need to verify the purity of a high-profile prisoner like you.”
“The president?” Caroline felt sick to her stomach at the mere thought of that man putting his hands on her. She looked around for some means of escape, even though she knew there was none. “I am not letting him touch me.”
“You will have little choice if he decides to examine you personally. What the president wants, he gets.”
“Not this time.” Caroline spun around as Commander Rossingham strode through the door. Without even realizing what she was doing, she ran across the room and flung herself into his arms, instinctively knowing that safety lay there. Her actions seemed to take him by surprise as, for several long moments he just stood there, saying nothing, but cradling her head with one hand and patting her back soothingly with the other. Eventually he seemed to remember himself and cleared his throat to speak. “We will be setting up a video link for the Council to view the procedure from the chamber.”
“That is most irregular,” the doctor murmured.
“So I’ve heard,” Rossingham replied, a wry smile curving his lips. “But, nevertheless, that is how it will be done.” He took hold of Caroline’s arms and gently pushed her back from him so he could see into her eyes. “Caroline, I know that all of this is frightening for you but it is necessary that we follow protocol. I expect you to cooperate fully with everything that happens and you should know that any obstinate behavior on your part will be punished. Do you understand?”
Caroline looked up into his face and felt that, despite the warning, there was something about him she could trust. She was going to undergo a horribly humiliating experience in this room—she’d read enough books to understand that—but somehow she was less afraid about the whole thing knowing that he was there with her. Silently, she nodded her head.
“Good girl.” He turned to his lieutenant. “Bryn, would you mind stepping outside?”
“I had no intention of staying,” the other man responded gruffly. Caroline saw a look pass between the two men, one of shared understanding, perhaps. These men clearly had a bond that went beyond the camaraderie of the battlefield and their obvious respect for one another helped to reassure Caroline that Rossingham was a good man, someone who could be looked up to. “Such things are for a husband alone to witness.”
He bowed courteously to Caroline and left the room, his chivalrous manner impressing upon her that the entire world was not against her. Once Bryn was gone, Rossingham activated the lock on the door and turned to the doctor.
“You may proceed now.” He adopted the air of authority that clearly came naturally to him. “I understand that you will need to address Lady Caroline so she knows what is required of her and that you will make comments for the record, but I expect you to demonstrate impeccable courtesy. Is that understood?”
Taking an audible gulp, the older man nodded and then, gesturing toward the examination table, spoke to Caroline.
“Lady Caroline, would you hop up onto the table?”
So, in Rossingham’s presence he was not going to continue to refer to her as ‘the prisoner.’ That was something at least. Caroline took a reluctant step toward the center of the room and shrieked in surprise when the floor suddenly disappeared from under her as she was swept up into the strong, sure arms of the commander.
“My bride does not ‘hop’ anywhere.” He spoke once again like a man used to getting his way in all things and Caroline wondered how she was going to survive if she actually did end up married to him.
In three long strides, he reached the table and placed Caroline down onto it with great care, so she was sitting with her legs out in front of her. The position made her feel small and childlike within the vastness of the room.
“In a moment the doctor will arrange you as he requires and you will make no fuss over it,” Rossingham said with a firmness it was impossible to argue against. “I will initiate the video link.”
Caroline nodded mutely once again as she watched him walking over to activate the video equipment. A small, spherical object beeped into life and Rossingham brought it over to the table. As he opened his hand, the little metal orb hovered in midair and then moved from side to side as though trying to find the optimum viewing position. Caroline gasped in astonishment. Most of the technology she was used to was driven by cogs and pistons and she had never seen anything this advanced. She had heard that while the people lived with rudimentary machines to assist them in their everyday activities, those in command enjoyed access to much more sophisticated gadgets and this seemed to confirm the rumors.
“The camera is controlled by vocal command,” Rossingham responded to the look of fascination on her face. “Quite commonplace on Taar-Breck.” He didn’t have to tell her that he disapproved of the High Council’s choice to keep the citizens of Earth in the Dark Ages because she could see it in the tightening of his harshly handsome features. “The Council will be able to see whatever they wish to. The camera will relay what is happening in here throughout the entire examination, every action, every word. Do you understand?”
He was warning her to behave and, for now, she couldn’t see any reason to think he was not acting in her best interests. After all, her grandfather had trusted the man enough to arrange their betrothal so perhaps she could try placing a little faith in him and see what happened.
“Yes, Commander Rossingham.” Under such tense circumstances, she didn’t feel right addressing him by his given name and she realized that, while their every word and gesture was being scrutinized by the Council, it would be best to adopt a deferential demeanor.
“Good girl.” Rossingham gave her a quick nod of approval. “Doctor, get on with it, please.”
There was an impatience in his tone that told Caroline he wanted to get this over with as much as she did and that pleased her. Perhaps it meant he had a compassionate side she would be able to work on once they had left this awful place and he would be persuaded to become her husband in name only. She knew what happened between men and women and despite her intense curiosity about what it would be like to be intimate with a man, she was not actually sure she could surrender her body to Rossingham. Although he was everything she’d dreamed of, to give herself to one so overpowering would surely mean risking the loss of her free will and she was not sure she could let that happen.
“Very well,” the doctor said. “Lady Caroline, please remove your gown.”
“What?” Caroline’s cheeks reddened. The white slip of fabric afforded her little privacy but, after the ordeal of being kept naked for much of her time at the prison, she suddenly felt desperate to preserve whatever sliver of modesty she could hold onto. “No.”
“Caroline, the doctor’s request was not unreasonable.” The note of warning in Rossingham’s voice was unmistakable. “Remove that hideous garment immediately or I will do it for you and then turn you over my knee to redden your disobedient little butt.”
Caroline huffed out an indelicate sound of disbelief. Had he just threatened to spank her like a child, and in front of witnesses? She understood that discipline was part and parcel of any marriage governed by the Preservation of Civil Society Act but what Rossingham suggested seemed quite unnatural outside of the pages of the books she loved to read. Surely it could not be right in the real world to expect a grown woman to lie across a man’s lap for punishment as though she was a child? Looking at the implacable expression on his face, she realized that he was quite serious. Incredible. The man had clearly spent too much time at barbarian outposts.
Understanding, however, that this was not a battle she was likely to win, she reached for the hem of her gown and tugged it off over her head. As the chilled air hit her, she wrapped her arms around her torso, hugging herself tight.
“Now, lie back and raise your hands above your head, please,” the doctor said to her. “I will need to strap you down for the examination.”
“Is that necessary?” Caroline questioned, her eyes widening as her level of fear intensified. The thought of being bound and unable to direct her own movements terrified her.
“It is.” The doctor was insistent and Caroline got the instinct impression from his restrained manner that if the commander hadn’t been present he would have been far less polite. “You are about to be examined very thoroughly and in the most intimate way possible. I have found in my many years of practice that young ladies like you have a tendency to try to evade certain aspects of the inspection.”
“But…” Caroline began to protest but, as Rossingham cleared his throat in warning, she fell silent, choosing to obediently lie back on the cool leather table. It was probably better to go along with what they asked rather than struggle and face the additional humiliation of being forcibly subdued.
“Now raise your hands,” the doctor instructed once she had settled in position.
As she lifted her arms up over her head, she felt her small, firm breasts pull upward into tight peaks and she closed her eyes as the first wave of shame gripped her. She took a sharp breath inward, trying to steady herself as the cuffs were buckled tight around her wrists to hold her fast to the table. As the doctor moved to part her legs, she panicked and began to kick out furiously but a series of three quick, hard smacks to her thighs from Commander Rossingham shocked her into stillness. Eyes watering as she felt the sting where he had struck her, she looked up at the man who intended to make her his wife but it was unexpected sadness rather than anger that swept through her as she saw the disapproval in the pursing of his lips.
Wishing to avoid any further chastisement, she lay compliantly as first one leg and then the other was pulled outward and down to the sides of the table where her ankles were bound securely in cuffs attached to long metal chains. Already feeling utterly exposed, she was horrified when a whirring sound signaled movement and the chains began to shorten, dragging her feet up and backward so they ended up almost in line with her buttocks. At the same time, the lowest part of the table retracted and tilted upward until her hips were raised and her bottom was fully exposed. When the motion stopped, her body was stretched tightly into position, leaving her very little room for maneuver.
“We find that binding a woman in this way gives us excellent access to her vagina.” The doctor addressed his remarks to Commander Rossingham as though Caroline was not lying there taking shallow breaths as she tried to adjust to the demands on her already weary muscles. “And it allows us to test her responses under challenging circumstances. The position is, after all, not an easy one to be placed in and if she reacts positively to sexual stimulation while bound like this, you will know that she is receptive to some discomfort. If that is the case, you will be able to use her as you see fit without having to worry about her fussing.”
“I see.” As he spoke, Caroline looked up at the man who was soon to become her husband, hoping that she would see some hint of disgust at the doctor’s words, but she was shocked to see a wickedly suggestive glint in his eye instead. Did that mean he liked the thought of hurting her?
“Perhaps you should consider purchasing a similar table for yourself,” the doctor said. “Many husbands do.”
Caroline was shocked to see a look on Rossingham’s face that indicated he might seriously be thinking about it.
“Oh, yes,” the doctor continued eagerly. “The table is very versatile. It can be altered to allow for a thorough medical inspection or for punishment whippings and it can also be adjusted to accommodate penetration in a number of positions so…” He broke off suddenly and, as Caroline squirmed within her bonds, gave a small chuckle of delight. “Would you look at that, Commander! Her nipples have hardened and there is a glistening of moisture around the labia minora.”
“Indeed there is,” Rossingham agreed. “It appears that my young bride is becoming aroused.”
Caroline shook her head in denial. It couldn’t be true. She’d enjoyed reading in some of her forbidden books about women who responded to being bound and helpless like this by becoming turned on but she’d never imagined she would experience such a reaction herself. It was more than a little troubling.
“It’s a promising sign for you, Commander, that she is so responsive to words alone. I can only imagine that her reactions will be magnified by manual stimulation.” The doctor’s words were full of excitement as he turned toward the thoroughly mortified Caroline. “Now, my dear, let us see what other surprises you have in store for us.”
The first touch of the doctor’s gloved fingers on the most intimate part of her body made Caroline gasp loudly. Only she had explored down there, between her legs, before. As he gently parted her outer labia, it was unsettling in a way she had no words for. She’d expected it to be quite unpleasant to be examined by a stranger but the tingling she felt as he gently probed her femininity was, well, the only word for it was arousing. Although the doctor’s exploration was strictly clinical, it awakened something primal in her and she could not help moving her hips, trying to rub against his hand.
As the older man pressed down on her clitoris, she felt her insides clench tightly. He began to massage the swollen bud, making tiny circular motions with his finger, applying a more insistent pressure. This was so vastly different to pleasuring herself. A strange, exhilarating pulse began to beat at her core and there was a rush of moisture that made her cry out in embarrassment, or was it excitement? She didn’t know which, but her mind was beginning to lose all ability to form rational thoughts. Her body took over, wanting something more. As she tried once more to push against the doctor’s hand, instinctively needing to grasp onto whatever it was that was building inside her, he suddenly pulled away, leaving her groaning with the agony of disappointment.
“Excellent,” the doctor said. “Her responses are healthy but I will leave it to you to test Lady Caroline’s ability to achieve orgasm, Commander, once we have established virginity.”
As he spoke, the doctor pressed a single finger inside her, its unexpected intrusion into her narrow channel eased by the natural lubrication that flooded from her. Caroline breathed rapidly, acutely aware of the movement of his long, thick finger in a place that not even she had explored, as he prodded carefully at the evidence of her purity.
“I am pleased to confirm that Lady Caroline is, indeed, untouched,” the doctor announced as he withdrew his finger from her and stepped back from the table, turning to speak directly to the camera that hovered nearby. “Her body is clearly unsullied. The hymen is visible and intact and,” he paused as Rossingham bent to study his future bride more closely, a move that made her cheeks redden with shame, “she is very tight.”
“Excellent.” Rossingham smiled affectionately down at Caroline. She wriggled from side to side as much as the restraints would allow, assuming that her ordeal was now over and she would be able to get up from this position that, aside from making her feel incredibly vulnerable, was straining her tired body to the limits of its endurance. Rossingham’s firm hand on her belly told her she was going nowhere. “We are not done yet, Caroline.”
“But what else can there be?” she asked, aware that her voice was coming out at a higher pitch than normal.
Rossingham gave her an indulgent look, making her feel as though the question had been incredibly naïve, which, she supposed, it had been since she really had no clue what more they might wish to do with her. Although she heard the doctor mentioning testing her ability to experience orgasm, she had assumed that would be something private between herself and the man who was going to marry her.
“The Council will wish to be assured that you are capable of producing the natural responses that will make you a good wife to me before they release you into my custody.”
Caroline’s eyes narrowed as she felt anger mingling with fear welling up inside her. If she understood correctly, then her fears that she was to be further humiliated were justified. “What exactly do you mean by natural responses?”
“They will want to be certain that you can respond appropriately to sexual stimulation. No man wishes to fuck a cold, unresponsive female.” Caroline felt as though her already reddened cheeks were about to catch fire. If her hands had been free, she would have slapped his arrogantly handsome face for that and she suspected from the gleam in his iridescent eyes that he knew it. His words had been spoken with more than a hint of disdain and yet something in his manner gave Caroline the strangest impression he hadn’t wanted to wound her with his words. “And,” Rossingham continued, his tone pleasant but with an undercurrent of tension, “they will need to feel assured that you are able to provide me with an heir. We all need to do our bit for the repopulation effort, after all.”
Caroline’s already faint hope that she might be able to negotiate a marriage in name only was dashed to pieces. If he intended to use her as a vessel for procreation, there was no chance he would be persuaded to keep his hands, and other more menacing body parts, to himself.
“And we will need to ensure that she is receptive to anal penetration,” the doctor added, to immediate agreement from the commander. Caroline felt as though her heart had actually stopped beating for a moment. She and her friends had spoken about this humiliating practice, designed to reinforce a man’s dominance over his wife. It was something she’d found titillating in her racy novels but there was not a chance in hell she was going to submit to such a thing. With furious intent but no success, she struggled to free herself from the leather restraints.
“Cease your movements, woman,” Rossingham said sternly. “You will injure yourself.”
“Then let me go!” Caroline spat. “Untie me this instant, you… you… ruffian!”
“Ruffian?” Rossingham threw his head back and laughed. “Oh, Caroline, you really are a little hellcat, aren’t you? I can only hope you’ll be this entertaining in bed.”
Caroline blushed furiously as, clearly less amused by her outburst than the commander, the doctor stepped forward.
“I can see that additional restraints are required here.” Even as he spoke, the older man was drawing a thick strap of brown leather across her torso, just beneath her firm, rounded breasts. Once it was securely fastened, he drew another, thinner band across her upper chest and buckled it tightly in place. If movement had been difficult before, it was impossible now. Whatever they planned to do to her from this moment on, she would not be able to escape any of it.
Caroline sobbed helplessly at the thought of the sight she presented, not just to the doctor and the man who had come to claim her but to the Council members who, the airborne camera reminded her constantly, were watching in some nearby room. No doubt they were enjoying every moment of her humiliation. Thinking about them salivating over her abject misery made the tears fall harder and faster. She felt so exposed lying there, her thighs spread apart, her glistening pink pussy and the little pucker of her bottom hole on display. Her breasts were obscenely framed by leather bonds and, with her arms stretched above her head, they were pulled up into taut little mounds.
“Before you begin the next stage of the examination, Doctor, perhaps you would be good enough to remove this unsightly mess for me.”
“No,” Caroline wailed in protest as she felt him tug at the dark tufts of hair that were her one remaining defense against complete exposure.
“Hush, Caroline,” Rossingham said, the words soft, the look in his eyes beseeching but the command unmistakable.
“Perhaps I should gag her for the rest of the examination,” the doctor said, clearly growing increasingly irritated with her attempts at resistance.
At the thought of being forcibly silenced, Caroline let out another long howl of distress.
“That won’t be necessary.” Rossingham looked down into her eyes, which were wide with panic. “Will it, Caroline?”
“No, Commander Rossingham,” she sniffed. “Thank you.”
Her gratitude was genuine and she quickly brought her sobbing under control, knowing that he could easily change his mind if she pushed him any further.
“Good girl.” Rossingham’s praise gave her some small comfort. He patted her thigh affectionately and it helped her to relax a little.
A few moments passed and then she felt a slight tingling on her feminine mound as the doctor used a small laser to permanently remove every last trace of hair from between her legs and around her bottom hole. Now fully denuded, she felt as though every part of her had been laid bare, but she managed to hold back from bursting into tears once more. Knowing that those bastards who sat on the High Council were witnessing every second of this degradation, she had to salvage some dignity. Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself for the next phase of this highly personal inspection.
* * *
Seeing the change in Caroline’s demeanor from intense fear to determination to endure this ordeal with as little fuss as possible made Andrew incredibly proud of the young woman who lay bound and spread out before him. He hated seeing the other man touching her and, knowing that this could not be easy for an inexperienced lady of her social standing, wanted to assure her that all would be well. When they were married, he was going to get her far from here and do all he could to erase the unpleasant memories of the last couple of days from her mind. He had no idea what had happened to her after she was arrested but, knowing the High Council’s disdain for women in general and rebellious ones like Caroline in particular, it could not have been easy for her. With her sallow skin and haunted eyes ringed with dark shadows, her face told a story of discomfort and dread, no matter how admirably brave she tried to be.
As much as he would have liked to, he couldn’t say anything to offer her solace. There were individuals on the Council he did not trust and he dared not show any tenderness to Caroline in case they used it to try to exert some form of control over him. Already he felt a strong need to protect this young woman and would do anything within his power to ensure her wellbeing.
He worried that if they saw evidence of his concern for her, they might try to use it as a bargaining chip, to make certain he was willing to side with them when the alliance with Taar-Breck was finally tested beyond its endurance, something they all knew was coming. If they attempted to force his hand, he would have to act and he had no desire to be the one who precipitated the next war. There were, he suspected, some on the Council who knew that his loyalties had not lain with Earth’s rulers for many years and that he wanted nothing more than to turn his back on the corruption here and take his rightful place amongst the elite of Taar-Breck, something he could not do while straddling two worlds.
Besides all that, he knew that the examination was necessary to prepare Caroline for the demands of their upcoming marriage. As his wife, she would need to be ready to accommodate his desires, to bend to his will. She would also face humiliating punishments if she failed to obey his rules because he simply did not have time to gently persuade her to toe the line. This experience, as unpleasant as she might find it, was the first step toward this proud, independent woman accepting that her body was not hers alone.
As he watched the doctor move into position, ready to insert the speculum into her vagina using nothing but her own feminine moisture as lubrication, he put a restraining hand on the man’s shoulder.
“Take care, Doctor. I want the hymen left intact.”
“I will do what I can.”
Andrew shook his head impatiently and leaned in closer to the other man, feeling a deep sense of satisfaction as the doctor’s eyes widened when he correctly perceived the imminent threat.
“No, Doctor, you will leave the hymen as it is. If you damage my bride I will revisit her injuries upon you tenfold.”
The other man swallowed loudly and nodded. Few people argued with Andrew. It was not simply a question of his size, which distinguished him from most men, but the bearing with which he carried himself. The confidence in his own power that exuded from every pore made other warriors think twice about opposing him, and the rather small, feeble doctor clearly knew he was no match for him.
As the doctor pushed the sterile instrument carefully into Caroline’s virgin channel, Andrew saw her bite down on her bottom lip as though in some discomfort but, to her credit, she did not complain.
“Good girl.” He could not resist offering her praise once more.
As the doctor carefully opened the speculum, clearly heeding Andrew’s warning to take care, Caroline’s fists clenched and she let out a low moan as she was stretched wide for the first time. Despite the compassion he felt for her in that moment, there was something arousing about seeing her bound and open like this and Andrew could not prevent his body from reacting with a kick of awareness that made his cock harden almost painfully.
Taking a deep breath, he listened distractedly as the doctor prattled on, reporting his findings about the health of Lady Caroline’s cervix and pronouncing her to be in perfect condition for breeding.
“I have no doubt that she will bear you many fine sons, Commander,” the doctor said in his obsequious tone. “And I am sure they will be a great credit to you.”
Andrew nodded. He hadn’t given much thought to marriage and children before now. He’d been occupied with other things but now the image of this beautiful young woman’s belly swollen with his child filled his head and brought him a strange kind of peace. Suddenly he longed to hear his name on her luscious pink lips, to hold that lithe body close to him as they slept. He wanted to bare that gorgeous little butt of hers in the privacy of their own home and teach her who she belonged to with a thorough spanking before reinforcing the lesson by fucking that pretty pussy hard and fast. It was disturbing to realize just how badly he wanted to claim this woman as his wife.
He was brought back to the present by a groan from Caroline as the speculum was removed and he was delighted that it seemed she was protesting its absence and the emptiness she felt rather than expressing discomfort. Caroline was clearly a very responsive young woman and he could not wait to test that further. But first they had to get out of this damned place and the mandatory examination of his future bride was not yet over.
* * *
Caroline breathed deeply, proud that she had managed to keep herself from yelling out as the instrument was removed from inside her. Although it had been uncomfortable when the doctor pushed it into her and opened it wide, stretching her more than she had ever thought possible, its sudden removal had left her aching to be filled. What would it be like to be taken by a man, to be spread apart like that by warm flesh rather than a cold, sterile piece of medical equipment? She barely had the chance to think about it before the doctor spoke once more.
“We will proceed to an inspection of the anal passage now.”
“No!” Although she’d known this was coming, Caroline couldn’t prevent herself from crying out. “Please, I couldn’t bear it.”
“But you must bear it, Lady Caroline.” The doctor’s tone was scolding. “Your husband will want to make regular use of your tight little bottom hole and you must be properly inspected to ensure there will be no impediments to his enjoyment.”
Her future husband’s enjoyment, Caroline realized bitterly, was all that mattered to the doctor and she hoped that Rossingham cared about something more than that. She looked up at him, her eyes begging for his help but there was only a momentary flicker of something resembling pity before his gaze hardened once more and he shot her a pointed look. Throughout this whole humiliating experience, she’d got the distinct impression he was trying to send her a message but she wasn’t sure what it was. If she knew him better perhaps she would be able to read the look in his eye properly but she could only guess at what he meant by the secret glances. She thought it might be a plea for her to put her trust in him.
“Caroline, this is not the first time you have protested during this examination but it will be the last,” he said sternly. “Any further disobedience will earn you a sound paddling. Do you understand?”
Tears welling up in her emerald green eyes once more as she struggled to understand why his facial expressions said one thing and his words suggested something else, she nodded mutely.
“Caroline, I asked you a question.”
“Yes, Commander Rossingham,” she replied quietly. “I understand.”
“We will need to adjust her position for the final part of the examination,” the doctor said, pushing a button on the side of the table that slowly fed out the lengths of chain attached to the cuffs around Caroline’s ankles, allowing her legs to drop down as the table also extended, returning to its original size.
As the muscles in her calves protested at their sudden release from the awkward position in which she had been restrained, Caroline whimpered. With tenderness that took her by surprise, Rossingham massaged one aching leg and then the other until the feeling returned to something resembling normal.
“Thank you, Commander,” she whispered softly as she flexed her toes to tease out the last of the cramp from her aching muscles.
He nodded curtly, apparently ill at ease with displaying a caring side in front of an audience. As she caught and held Rossingham’s gaze, trying to read something in those enticingly purple eyes, she was vaguely aware of the doctor releasing her ankles from the cuffs. She wished they would also free her upper body from its bonds but there seemed to be no intention to do so.
“Place your knees together and bring them up to your chest, Lady Caroline,” the doctor instructed. “If you cannot hold the position, I will have no alternative but to pull your legs up over your head and secure your ankles to your wrists.”
Caroline closed her eyes tightly. It was incredibly humiliating that she was going to be made to cooperate by holding such a challenging position but the thought of being practically bent double for this part of the examination was truly horrifying. Already weary, she had no desire to drag things out any longer than necessary so she did as she was told and drew her legs up toward her chest.
“Good girl,” Rossingham said with evident admiration. “You are doing very well.”
There was no time to bask in the warm glow of his approval as the doctor spoke again.
“I am going to insert a small probe into her bottom to take a few readings.” The doctor’s tone was businesslike despite the incredibly intimate nature of what he proposed to do. “As I have no doubt that she is a virgin in every sense of the word, I suspect that this will be uncomfortable and distressing for her, so perhaps this would be the ideal time for you to offer some distraction, sir.”
“You wish me to test her ability to climax?” Rossingham clarified.
“If you don’t mind, Commander.”
“It would be my pleasure.”
“Do you require the use of a stimulation wand, Commander?”
Rossingham gave a snort of disgust. “I hardly think I need assistance to arouse my bride’s passions.”
He gave Caroline a look that made the breath catch at the back of her throat and she braced herself for what was to come. Leaning over her, Rossingham brushed her cheek gently before lowering his lips to hers. The kiss was soft at first but, as Caroline opened her mouth in response to the teasing pressure he exerted, he groaned and slipped his tongue inside. This was the first time a man had kissed her and it was so much better than she could ever have imagined. Every part of her seemed to come alive. As he kissed her more fiercely, staking his claim on her, Caroline could not help becoming achingly aroused.
Whimpering as Rossingham moved away and took the taut peak of her nipple into his mouth, she clenched her fists as his teeth grazed her sensitized flesh, sending a wave of pleasure straight to her core. His tongue circled the rosebud at the tip of her breast as his hand moved between her legs, finding the firm nub of her clit. Taking it between his fingers, he pinched the engorged bud, causing her to cry out in ecstasy.
Completely absorbed by the intense pleasure coursing through her, Caroline barely registered the press of the well lubricated metal probe against the pucker of her anus. Fighting to hold her position as her breath came out in frantic moans, she tensed for a moment as the doctor pushed the probe past the tight ring of muscle to seat it deep inside her. Seeming to sense the heightened need the insertion of the object into her bottom had caused, Rossingham sucked her nipple into his mouth and nipped gently at the tender flesh as his finger flicked over her throbbing clitoris.
Screaming as bolts of pleasure and pain fired through her body, she bucked convulsively against Rossingham’s hand, releasing a gush of moisture over his teasing fingers. As the undulating waves of sensation that gripped her womb slowly faded, she became more aware of the probe embedded in her back passage and she tried to adjust to the strange feeling. It surprised her that her body did not want to reject this invasion. In fact, she needed more, to experience the slide of the object in and out of her welcoming body. The thought of being fucked there, in that forbidden channel made her pussy clench and she let out a sob of horror as she realized she was enjoying the penetration. How could she crave such a shameful thing? Just what the hell was happening to her?
“Well done, Caroline.” Rossingham’s voice cut through the post-climatic haze that fogged her brain.
“Indeed,” the doctor commended her. “You are beautifully responsive, Lady Caroline. The commander is a very lucky man.”
Caroline blushed deeply as the doctor turned away and looked at the machine the anal probe was transmitting data to.
“Everything looks healthy here. There is no medical reason why you should not use her pretty little bottom as often as you wish.” The doctor grinned salaciously as he turned to ease the metal rod from her rear channel, making Caroline gasp as she felt it slide against her inner walls until, suddenly, it was withdrawn completely. “And I would imagine from the results I’m seeing here that Lady Caroline will raise no objections to having her bottom fucked regularly.”
As the helplessly bound woman bit back a furious retort to that comment, she clenched her eyes tightly in shame at her body’s unbidden reactions to the degradations she had been made to endure. It did not seem possible that her mind and body could be so at odds with each other but, no matter how much her thoughts told her it was wrong, she couldn’t help becoming aroused as she was manhandled.
When the doctor tapped her knee to let her know that it was alright to relax now, Caroline immediately lowered her legs to the table, glad that she was no longer expected to hold the humiliating position that had put her bottom so clearly on display. How she had managed to keep her legs where she had been told to put them, she would never know.
“Now, Commander, would you like me to insert a trainer into her anus when I fit the chastity belt?”
“Chastity belt?” Rossingham sounded as surprised as Caroline was by the doctor’s words.
“Yes, a legal requirement to ensure Lady Caroline’s virtue remains intact until the marriage ceremony is completed on the twenty-first anniversary of her birth.”
“Is that necessary?” For the first time, Caroline could see Rossingham’s composure slipping and his eyes became almost black. His shoulders tensed. Clearly he was not a man who liked surprises and this seemed to have caught him off guard.
“I am afraid so, sir. The Council insists upon it. When you return here in two days’ time to complete the marriage ceremony, it is essential that your bride remains a virgin. The contract you have with her late grandfather will be nullified otherwise. The measure is for your own protection, really.”
“How considerate!” Rossingham bit out. “Do they imagine I am some animal that cannot control himself?”
“It is a legal requirement,” the doctor, apparently at a loss for words, said once more. He was starting to look uncomfortable in the face of the commander’s irritation. “And it will also spare Lady Caroline a second examination.”
At the thought of being subjected to this treatment again, Caroline found she could not hold her tongue.
“Please, Commander.” She had no idea what it would be like to wear the chastity belt the doctor spoke of and, frankly, the thought of having her bottom trained for Rossingham’s use was deeply disturbing but it couldn’t be any worse than being examined by a stranger for the perverse delectation of the High Council. “I cannot endure this again.”
“I would think by now, young lady, you would have realized that you will endure whatever you are told to endure from this point forward,” the doctor scolded before Rossingham could offer his response. “You are a criminal, a rabble-rouser of the worst sort and as such you should count yourself lucky you are not being sent to a brothel to pleasure the lower orders for the rest of your days.”
As Caroline huffed out a small sound of distress at the harshness of his words, Rossingham stepped toward the other man, crowding him with his muscular frame. “Have a care, Doctor. This woman is to be my wife and disrespecting her insults me.”
“Of course. I apologize,” the doctor said quickly. “So may I proceed?”
“Very well.” Rossingham’s tone was flat and Caroline suspected he was suppressing annoyance. “You have my permission.”
“Thank you, sir.” The older man’s sense of relief was palpable. “And the anal dilator?”
“Yes, that too.”
Nodding with an enthusiasm that signaled to Caroline just what an odious little man he really was, the doctor scurried off across the room.
“All will be well, Caroline.” Rossingham smiled benignly, although she could see a tightness around his mouth that suggested he was displeased by how things were going. “In two days’ time, I will make you mine in every way.”
In response to his emphatic words, Caroline nodded quietly. In two short days she would find herself bound to this man for the rest of her life and she was not sure whether that was a comforting thought. She had no time to dwell on her uncertainties as the doctor returned to the table.
“Lady Caroline, please raise your knees to your chest once more. I will insert the anal dilator first.”
He held up an oddly shaped object for her to see. Made of a synthetic material she did not recognize, it was smaller and thinner than she had expected, but had a wide base that she guessed would sit outside her body to hold it in place. Her bottom clenched as a cool gel was squirted around the puckered entrance before the doctor pushed the dilator inside her in one smooth stroke, causing her to breathe in sharply. She hissed in discomfort as the doctor adjusted it, taking hold of the base and rotating it slightly so it sat snugly between her bottom cheeks before stepping back and turning to his computer screen.
“You are returning here to marry the day after tomorrow, is that correct?”
“We are,” Rossingham responded as Caroline lay there quietly, knowing the question had not been directed to her.
“Very good.” The doctor tapped away at his keyboard. “That’s all set, then. The dilator will expand several times between now and the time you return to perform the marriage ceremony until it reaches its maximum size. She will feel a little fuller each time and I imagine it will be quite distracting by the final expansion but it will prepare her to take your cock on your wedding night.”
Caroline shuddered at the very thought of it but, helplessly bound as she was, there was no alternative but to remain quiet.
“Is it safe to have it inside her for prolonged periods of time?”
“Oh, yes, quite safe,” the doctor assured Rossingham. “There is a generous amount of gel secreted each time the dilator expands to ensure she remains properly lubricated. It will do no harm to leave it in until your wedding night.”
“But what about her… em… her bodily functions?”
If her own cheeks hadn’t been burning with mortification at the way she was being spoken about, she might have laughed at the tentative way Rossingham asked the question. The man was used to seeing people being torn apart in battle and he had shown not a hint of embarrassment as she had been examined in such a personal manner, yet he was squeamish over the fact she might need to relieve herself? She could hardly believe it.
“There is no need to worry about such things. I will give her a dose of an enzyme which will prevent the necessity for seventy-two hours,” the doctor said. “It is important that your future bride feels the trainer’s presence continuously to prepare her for being taken anally.”
“Of course,” Rossingham concurred.
“Now, if you would lower your legs, Lady Caroline, I will fit the chastity belt.”
Caroline stretched her legs out along the length of the table and allowed the doctor to move her as he pleased as he slipped what looked like a very small pair of panties made of a thin, flexible metal onto her body. The device consisted of a v-shaped panel at the front, a thin strap that the doctor passed up between the cheeks of her buttocks and a thicker band that wrapped around the waist.
“It molds to her exact form,” the doctor said, smiling at Caroline’s gasp as the strange metal tightened to snugly fit her shape. “The belt has a little sensor in it that is programmed to respond to her need to urinate and it will open up enough that she might relieve herself, but it cannot be removed until your marriage is made official.”
Apparently satisfied that his work was done, the doctor unfastened the remaining straps that held Caroline in place but she lay exactly where she was, suspecting that it was safer to wait for permission to move. Rossingham put his arm around her shoulders and helped her to sit up. Every part of her felt stiff, sore, and she longed for a shower to wash away the horrors of the last twenty-four hours.
“Now, my dear,” Rossingham said, “we need to find you a clean gown to wear. There is one more trial we must endure.”
“We?” Caroline wondered just what trials he had faced.
“Yes.” He took her hand and squeezed it tight as she looked up at him, confusion written in the furrowing of her brow. “We must face the crowds gathered outside.”
Caroline’s stomach lurched. Those people had come here expecting to witness her punishment. Would Rossingham give them what they wanted? She had no idea what to expect but, by now, she had come to the grim realization that there was nothing she could do to escape. Whatever was about to happen, she would just have to survive it as best she could.
There was quite a crowd gathered outside the town hall. In fact, since Caroline had been brought into the building for that sham trial, the numbers waiting in the square to hear what her fate would be had almost doubled. Evidently, his bride-to-be had gained significant notoriety for daring to challenge the harsh restrictions put in place for her sex by the ruling High Council and the people, blindly obedient to the state, were in no mood to forgive her transgressions.
Andrew looked at the wary expression on Caroline’s face and his heart clenched. Sitting on the bench outside the examination room in the crisp white gown he’d managed to procure for her, she looked utterly lost and it was little wonder. Less than thirty-six hours ago, she’d been at home in the safety of her New Cambridge townhouse, blissfully unaware that the secret police were coming for her. Now she was a convicted criminal, whose very existence was under threat as long as they stayed on this damned planet.
He needed to take her far from here and settle her into her new life. Andrew would see to it that she was safe and protected under his roof, her health and wellbeing ensured by his firm but loving discipline. As his wife, she would want for nothing, would be cherished for her unique spirit rather than vilified for it. But, before he could offer her a new life, there was one final ordeal he was going to have to subject her to. If they were going to get out of there without bloodshed, he would have to publicly stake his claim on her and demonstrate his ability to master the woman who was to become his wife. It was not the most auspicious beginning to their relationship but it was essential that he showed the people and, for that matter, Caroline herself, that he was firmly in charge.
Things here were not as they were on Taar-Breck. Yes, men punished their women harshly if need be and errant wives were often made to display their naughty, reddened bottoms for others to see but Taar-Breckians saw no benefit to humiliating their females before an angry mob of complete strangers. Punishment on Andrew’s adopted home planet was always proportionate to the wrong committed, but the mob gathered out in the town square wanted to see Caroline strung up and whipped without mercy. Such overkill was unacceptable to Andrew and he could only hope that they would be persuaded to go along with his alternative plan, that he would marry her and assume responsibility for her ongoing correction.
“Should I call for reinforcements, Commander?” Bryn, who had stood guard outside the medical room throughout Caroline’s examination, looked uncharacteristically on edge and Andrew knew that it was not because they were so heavily outnumbered. It was that he did not want to have to fight his way out through civilians if things did not go their way. Neither of them wished for conflict with the people gathered outside. The men of Taar-Breck, even those with mixed parents like Andrew, whose father had been from Earth, were a good deal stronger than their human counterparts and the risk of innocents being injured was just too great.
“No, all will be well.” Rossingham’s words were as much for Caroline, who looked startled by Bryn’s question, as they were for his lieutenant. “But perhaps you should fetch me something to bind her with.”
“What?” Caroline rose shakily to her feet as Bryn nodded and walked away to follow his Commander’s orders. “Please don’t tie me up again.”
Grasping her firmly by the shoulders, Andrew pulled her close. His massive frame dwarfed hers, making him realize for the first time just how small and fragile her physical form was, something he had overlooked until now due to the strength that had radiated from her during the examination. She looked totally shattered and it was no wonder, given all that she’d been through. For several minutes, he held her, wishing she was not standing so stiffly in his arms. He longed to feel her soft body melting against his but he understood that she simply did not have it in her to yield right now. Stepping back, he allowed her a little of the space she so clearly craved.
“You must do as I command, Caroline.” He spoke with the sternness he knew was necessary to get his point across. “It is very important that you obey me without question. Even if your mind wishes to rebel against my orders, you must quash the urge to fight me and do as I say. Is that clear?”
Eyes glistening with unshed tears, she turned her face away, but Andrew would not let her hide from him. Putting his hand beneath her chin, he directed her attention back to him with a gentle insistence. “Caroline, I asked you a question.”
“Yes, Commander Rossingham.” She spoke quietly but that fire flashed in her eyes once more and he realized she was not quite so close to defeat as her outward appearance suggested. “That’s quite clear.”
Andrew took her by the shoulders once more and applied light downward pressure until she was sitting back on the bench once more. After seeing to it that she was settled comfortably he turned, just as Bryn came striding back along the corridor, carrying a length of rope and what looked to be a thick leather collar. As usual, his lieutenant had done well but the anxious expression the larger man wore on his face was not encouraging.
“The mood outside is nasty,” Bryn said in a low voice. “There are rumors that something has happened within these walls and the people speculate that the lady is to escape punishment because of her family connections. The crowd is being stirred up by agitators and I fear they may attempt to do her harm.”
Andrew acknowledged his lieutenant’s concerns with a curt nod of the head. He had known before coming here that he would face some obstacles in his bid to get Lord Perceval’s granddaughter out of danger but he had not expected that someone would be working to whip up such animosity against her. Rubbing the back of his neck as he often did to relieve tension, he glanced over at Caroline. He hated that she looked back at him with such hurt and fear in those beautiful green eyes and he knew that he was going to have to work hard to convince her that he was not the enemy. But, for now, he had to stand firm. The men gathered outside wanted to see a strong, proud woman brought to her knees and, as much as he hated to do it in front of a hostile crowd, he knew that the best way to mollify them and ensure a safe exit for Caroline was to administer a disciplinary spanking that would let them see he had no intention of allowing her to step out of line again. Hell, from this moment on, he planned to not let her out of his sight.
He would have preferred to wait until a private moment to spank her for the first time so he could give her comfort afterward but now it seemed he did not have that luxury. Accepting the collar and rope from Bryn, he took a deep breath and approached the young woman he hoped would forgive him for what he was about to do.
* * *
Caroline had never felt such intense humiliation as she did when Commander Rossingham led her along the corridor by a rope leash attached to a metal ring at the front of the thick leather collar he had wrapped around her throat. It felt a little too tight for comfort but, as she could still breathe easily enough, she did not waste her breath making complaints she was sure would go unheard. As Rossingham threw open the doors and marched her down the steps with his lieutenant taking up the rear, a chilling silence fell. Although she did not look up from the ground, she felt hundreds of eyes watching her and, despite the cold wind that penetrated right into the heart of her weary body, she felt her cheeks burn.
Despite her instinct to rebel, she’d offered no resistance when Rossingham attached the collar and leash to her as though she were some animal he sought to tame. And now, as he climbed the steps to the stage upon which public punishments regularly took place, she obediently followed behind. The commander had asked her to trust that whatever he did, no matter how harsh it might seem, his ultimate aim was to keep her safe. Even though she didn’t know him well, Caroline felt inclined to put her faith in him. Her grandfather had held him in high enough esteem to arrange their betrothal so the commander must be a good man.
As they reached the center of the raised platform, he directed her movements, until she was kneeling, thighs spread wide apart, before the crowd. Paralyzed by fear as she felt the weight of aggression aimed at her by people who actually didn’t know a thing about her, she remained where she was as Rossingham took up position behind her. With a sharp nudge of his foot that took her by surprise, he shoved her forward. Fortunately, he’d left her hands unbound and she managed to prevent herself from falling on her face.
“Prostrate yourself before the citizens of Earth.” Rossingham’s commanding tone boomed into the silence that had fallen.
As the mob roared its approval, Caroline shuddered but, realizing what was required of her, she bowed low, stretching her arms out in front of her and resting her forehead between them so it looked as though she had come to them in supplication. Tears stung her eyes and she trembled, as much with cold as the dread that held her in its vise-like grip as she waited for Rossingham to address the people.
“You came here to see a woman of the highest order being punished for her pathetic attempts to question the supreme authority of the High Council whose will you must all obey.” His voice rang out clearly as he delivered words that seemed to have been carefully chosen and Caroline could only wonder at his calm in the face of such potential danger. Violence hung in the air and she prayed that Rossingham knew what he was doing. “But today what you are going to witness is me claiming this woman as my bride.”
Expressions of shock rippled through the crowd and Caroline imagined that the people were horrified that such an esteemed military leader should choose to marry a woman they thought unfit to even kneel at his feet.
“Lady Caroline was promised to me some years ago by her grandfather, Lord Perceval Chatterton, a man to whom we all owe a great deal and I have come to make her mine.” He paused for a moment and Caroline could picture him scanning the faces before him to gauge their reactions. “I have been remiss in not coming to check her behavior before it got out of hand but, as you know, I have been rather busy these past months.” He waited for the comments acknowledging his many accomplishments to die down before speaking again. “I promise you all that I will punish Lady Caroline severely when she steps out of line. She will be an obedient wife to me and bear me many sons to carry on my name. She will be made to lick my boots as a sign of her submission to my authority.”
His words made Caroline shudder but the sounds coming from the crowd were more approving now and that helped to calm her a little. Although she was sure Rossingham was winning the people over, she still did not dare lift her eyes to see what their faces betrayed about their feelings toward her.
“In two days’ time, I will take Lady Caroline as my bride and so that you might all join me in celebrating this happy occasion, I have issued orders for my men to distribute to every household within the city limits, a one-month supply of beef bred from Taar-Breck’s finest cattle.”
Despite her lingering fears, Caroline allowed herself a little smile, knowing that nobody could see. The commander was living up to his reputation as a skilled negotiator. If there was one thing guaranteed to bring people over to his way of thinking, it was to distract them with the promise of naturally sourced meat. These days, it was such a rarity that few people were able to afford it and those who could were known to actually descend into fist fights with one another to obtain the best cuts of beef. Rossingham’s offer was a generous one and Caroline could only wonder at the extent of his wealth if it allowed him to make such a grand gesture.
Loud applause broke out in the crowd and Caroline heard some cheers but still she kept her head down, waiting for some signal from Rossingham to let her know that it was safe to move.
As the clapping died down, a dissenting voice called out, “That’s all very well, but she’s getting off too easy.”
“You imagine I will let her get away with the wrongs she has committed? You think I will allow her to cause mischief in the future?” Caroline could hear the snarl in Rossingham’s voice as he deliberately underplayed her crimes against the state. “You believe I lack the ability to discipline this slip of a girl?”
An uneasy silence fell and then a different voice shouted out, “Prove it, then.”
Caroline was quite sure it was the same voice that had started the clamor for her virginity to be proved when they were back in the great chamber. “Prove you’ve got what it takes to discipline her.”
The fury radiating from the proud commander of the interplanetary air fleet as some upstart challenged him was so powerful Caroline could actually feel it. Sensing that things were about to go downhill, she felt a sudden surge of resolve and knew what she must do to help placate the mob. Even through the haze of emotions that ran through her, she knew that no matter what her feelings about marrying Rossingham might be, he’d risked a lot in coming to extricate her from the custody of the brutal Council. Now it was her turn to act.
Pushing down her terror of being whipped and the dread of public humiliation, she sat up and turned around so she was kneeling at Rossingham’s feet. She kept her head bowed in what she hoped the crowd would see as suitable contrition and spoke as clearly as she could so that the people might hear her.
“Please, sir, punish me for my transgressions.”
She peeked up from beneath her eyebrows to see a look of surprise on his face, which he quickly smoothed over with what she was already learning was his typical inscrutable expression. He put a hand beneath her elbow and helped her to her feet.
“Caroline.” His voice was soft, his eyes full of concern.
“It’s alright,” she returned quietly. “I trust you.”
Rossingham gave her an intense look of admiration and led her toward the wooden post at the center of the platform. Her eyes darted toward the metal shackles dangling down from it and knew they would chafe the delicate skin on her wrists terribly as she stood there, helplessly bound. Behind her, she could hear those same two hostile voices in the crowd demanding she be whipped but, to her surprise, nobody else watching joined in the call for her to be punished harshly and, eventually, the agitators fell silent.
Caroline closed her eyes tightly and nausea rose up inside her as she waited for Rossingham to lift her arms to chain her. More than anything, the thought of being stretched out like that, unable to find her footing in front of an audience scared her. To her surprise, Rossingham did not chain her but positioned her so she was standing a few feet from the y-shaped pole.
“Bend down and hold onto the post. Do not let go or your punishment will be doubled.” He gave the orders loud enough that others could hear before lowering his voice to a whisper. “Do not tense your bottom, sweetheart. This will hurt a great deal as it is and I have no wish to cause you any more pain than is necessary. I think, however, that it will please these animals to hear you scream, so do not hold back.”
Caroline gave a subtle nod of agreement as she took up the required position that thrust her backside out, ready for punishment. Preventing herself from clenching her buttocks would be a challenge but she doubted that screaming in a convincing manner would cause her much difficulty.
“For her insubordination, I will administer ten strokes of the belt,” Rossingham announced as the apparently ever-prepared Bryn unfastened the leather belt that cinched his tunic in at the waist and handed it to him.
“Ten?” one of those antagonistic voices called out. “Is that it?”
Caroline’s heart dropped. Whoever those men were, they were obviously intent on causing trouble for her and she could only hope that Rossingham would not take the bait. When she had been naughty as a child, her grandfather had only ever given her a couple of light swats with a paddle. His heart had never been in it and so the effects had been minimal. Ten strokes of a heavy leather belt from a man of Rossingham’s imposing stature was already a far greater punishment than she had ever experienced and she did not know how she would cope if she was subjected to more.
“It is enough for now,” the commander said with a firmness underscored with irritation that warned the crowd his patience was wearing thin. “As Lady Caroline’s future husband, it is my duty to determine the manner of her correction and nobody else’s. Unless, of course, one of you wishes to challenge me for that privilege.”
Caroline held her breath. What on earth was he doing? There were men in the crowd who sounded as though they might enjoy punishing her themselves and they would be much harsher than Rossingham intended to be. Every part of her body tensing, she closed her eyes and waited with increasing fear for what would happen next.
* * *
A feral grin spread across Andrew’s face as he looked out into the crowd. Just as he expected, not a single man stepped forward to challenge him. It was one thing to be brave enough to mouth off when standing in the relative anonymity of a large group but quite another to step up and take on a warrior of his reputation face to face. Besides, he got the feeling that most of the men out there were satisfied with him claiming his right to take Caroline as his wife and punish her as he saw fit. Of course, his little bribe of a supply of meat, an idea that had come to him at the spur of the moment, hadn’t hurt. He hated to use the people’s deprivation against them but the situation was precarious and he needed to do whatever it took to ensure Caroline’s safety.
“Very well,” he said. “In that case, we shall proceed. Caroline, lift your gown, please.”
He was pleasantly surprised when she did not hesitate but immediately reached behind her to pull the short white prison gown up around her waist before returning her hands to the post to brace herself for the spanking. There were shouts of approval from people in the front row as they realized that she was wearing the snugly fitting chastity belt and that her bottom was plugged. The beautiful peachy skin of those tight little butt cheeks was a sight that warmed Andrew’s blood and he couldn’t help but wonder whether the anal dilator had begun to inflate yet. A part of him hoped not as he wanted to enjoy spanking her while her cute ass was filled when they were somewhere more private.
Weighing Bryn’s belt in his hand, he paused for a moment. Usually before laying leather across a woman’s tender flesh, he would warm her up first with a thorough hand spanking, preferably as she lay across his knee to reinforce a sense of intimacy but, unfortunately, the circumstances did not allow for it. Drawing his arm back, he brought the belt down on her right buttock. Screeching loudly, Caroline danced up on her toes in an adorable fashion that made his cock stand to attention and that made him wish he did not have to share this experience with the general populace. He glanced over at his lieutenant to see that Bryn had chosen to avert his eyes, no doubt thoroughly offended by such a public display of matters Taar-Breckian males preferred to keep within closed circles.
Placing a steadying hand at the small of her back, he quickly brought the belt down three more times, the leather snapping on alternate sides of her bottom. Her skin bloomed with a warm, crimson glow that at any other time he would have taken a moment to admire. Each stroke of the belt made Caroline squeal loudly and wriggle as though she was in the greatest pain, but he knew, despite the show she was putting on that he was not hurting her too badly. After all, he was not actually striking her very hard. She was likely going to endure many harsh spankings as his wife but he had no intention of making her feel the full force of his discipline right now, when she was already on the verge of collapse. He might be a hard taskmaster at times but Andrew was no brute and he knew that what this young woman needed more than a sound thrashing after all the trials she had faced in the past couple of days was a chance to rest and recover.
As he struck for the fifth time, laying the leather across the full width of her gorgeous bottom, her flesh wobbled enticingly and he felt a tightening in his groin that he had to work had to suppress. He breathed deeply and calmed the raging desire coursing through him.
Seeing that Caroline had tensed her bottom, he patted her gently until she unclenched her muscles. Then he drew his arm back and landed the sixth and seventh strokes of the belt on her sit spots. Caroline wailed in earnest now. Although Andrew was holding back, he still needed to make this convincing for their audience. He knew that, even though was going easy on her, she would feel the effects of this punishment for several hours.
Wishing to get it over with quickly, he delivered the final blows in rapid succession. As the tenth stroke fell, Caroline screamed loudly and dropped to the ground, her chest heaving as she sat there on her knees, trying to catch her breath. Andrew’s heart lurched as he looked down at her fragile form, terrified he might have done her real damage. Even though it had been the only option for getting her out of there without clashing with the crowd, he chastised himself for punishing her when she was already weak after her ordeal at the hands of the Council and their foul doctor. He reached out to her and was relieved when she gave him a teary smile that let him know she was alright. Scooping her up into his arms, he turned toward the people.
“I trust you are now satisfied,” he growled.
As he marched down the steps from the platform and strode across the square to where a mechanical carriage waited for them, the crowds parted and watched silently as he slid into the archaic vehicle and arranged Caroline so she was lying across his lap, her head resting on the seat beside him. Removing the collar from around her throat, he petted her hair gently as Bryn slipped into the front seat next to the driver and they moved off, leaving the town hall and the High Council who hid within its walls behind them.
* * *
Resting over Rossingham’s lap on the back seat of the mechanized vehicle gave Caroline a sense of comfort she had not expected. Being close to him like this was reassuring, natural somehow. Despite the punishment he’d just administered, she found she wanted to be near to him, to feel the warmth of him through her thin cotton gown. Each little jolt of the carriage made her breasts rub against his strong thighs and she felt an intriguing sensation, a sort of prickling that seemed to travel all the way down to the tips of her toes as her nipples were abraded.
Just as she was coming to terms with the response her body was having to this close proximity to the commander, she felt a strange pressure building inside her as the anal dilator she had almost forgotten about began to expand. She breathed in sharply as it swelled within her forbidden channel and caused a distinct throb at the very heart of her femininity. She could not imagine how on earth the thing was supposed to expand beyond this point. It already felt massive. As she shifted restlessly she heard a knowing chuckle from Rossingham and she blushed furiously.
As Rossingham put a large, callused hand on her leg, Caroline tried to lift herself up but he pushed her back down with a firmness that told her he would not be denied as he pulled her skirt up to study her poor, abused bottom.
“How does it feel to have that pretty little ass filled?” he asked.
When Caroline offered no response, Rossingham gave her butt cheeks a light swat that reignited the burn of the belting she had endured and made her squeal in surprise.
“Answer the question, Caroline.”
Although she didn’t want to talk about something so shameful, Rossingham’s tone of voice told her that participation in this conversation was not going to be optional.
“It feels…” She searched for a word that would adequately describe what she was experiencing. “It feels stimulating.”
“Stimulating?” He sounded amused. “In what way?”
“I… well, I don’t really know.” Caroline’s brow furrowed. “I feel a sort of fullness but it’s not unpleasant.”
“I see, and how is that stimulating?”
“Well, it sort of presses on my front.”
She looked up as Rossingham barked out a laugh.
“Your front, Caroline? From what I hear, you like to read naughty books, so is that the best you can do?”
Caroline huffed. Yes, she read books and she spoke about sex all the time with her friends from the Hyde Ladies’ Circle. In fact, the conversations had been known to get fairly raunchy but she had never dreamed of discussing such things with a man.
“My pussy,” she said quietly.
“Sorry, what was that, little one?”
Her jaw clenched as she knew full well he had heard.
“My pussy,” she said louder. “It presses forward and makes my pussy tingle. Are you satisfied?”
“Not particularly,” Rossingham teased. “And I doubt you will be with that damned chastity belt in the way, but I’d like to know if it’s making you wet.”
“Hmm,” he mused. “And does it make you think about what it would be like to have your pussy stuffed full of my cock?”
“Yes, Commander,” she said in a forthright manner that hid the hint of shame she felt as she acknowledged the moisture pooling at the apex of her thighs amid her growing desire to be claimed physically by this man. “It does.”
“It is a pity we can do nothing to relieve your agonies right now.” Rossingham’s voice sounded regretful. “But in two days’ time I shall introduce you to the pleasures a man and woman might enjoy in each other’s arms.”
Caroline bit her lip as she realized that the prospect of finding out what it was like to be touched by a man like Rossingham was less scary to her now than it had been even a few hours ago.
“Would you like that, Caroline?”
“Yes, Commander,” she replied in a small voice that betrayed her embarrassment at desiring a virtual stranger.
“We’re going to be married so I think it will be okay if you call me Andrew.” There was a teasing note in his words.
“Andrew,” Caroline repeated obediently, liking the way the name sounded as she spoke it out loud.
As his hand rubbed over the warm flesh of her buttocks, she flinched, more from shock at being caressed in such a tender manner than from pain as he touched the places where the belt had struck her.
“There are some red marks here but they will fade quickly,” Andrew assured her. “You took that punishment well but I must warn you, Caroline, it was but a taste of what you will experience if you fail to obey me in all things. Today I went easy on you because of all you had suffered but in future I will not hold back if you require correction.”
Caroline gulped. Throughout the spanking she’d suspected that he was not striking her with as much force as he might but the belt had still stung horribly and she knew she would not sit comfortably for the rest of the day.
“When I punish you and it is just between the two of us, it will be very different, Caroline, much more intimate,” he continued. “It will be intense and personal. You will cry and I will comfort you but you will know that I have been displeased with your behavior. Do you understand, little one?”
She nodded silently and Andrew tutted loudly.
“Words, please, Caroline.”
“Yes, Commander… Andrew, I understand.”
“Good girl,” Andrew praised as he stroked her hair. “We will be at the house in twenty minutes. Try to rest until then.”
Caroline closed her eyes and let the rocking of the mechanical carriage soothe her. Life as she had known it was over but, for the first time, as Andrew continued to stroke her affectionately, she wondered if that might not be so bad after all.
The house had been completely torn apart. As they stepped through the front door, Caroline shrieked in horror as her eyes took in the devastation before her. It was almost as though a tornado had ripped through the place. Nothing seemed to have been left untouched. She wandered along the hallway and stopped at the door to the library that had once been her beloved grandfather’s sanctuary. Clearly, the High Council’s security forces had been through every inch of it, no doubt looking for evidence of her supposed treachery.
Pages ripped from her precious books lay strewn about the floor, pictures had been pulled from the walls and smashed, and the little ornaments that she and her sister had collected ever since they were children, lay shattered. Caroline just hoped that Elizabeth had possessed enough sense not to come back here. Seeing such devastation would surely break her heart.
Looking at the terrible mess, Caroline felt numb. Despite all that had happened to her after her arrest, this desecration of her personal possessions, some of which had been in her family for several generations, felt like the greatest violation of all. As she moved from the library into the sitting room where she and her friends had met regularly to discuss their political views and shared what they’d learned from their reading, she felt Andrew’s arm wrapping around her shoulders. Although she realized it was meant as a gesture of reassurance, she shrugged him off, not wanting anyone close as she wandered through the debris.
No matter what rules she had broken, there could be no excuse for this wanton vandalism. Even the cushions from the armchairs had been slashed, the stuffing ripped from them. Caroline shook her head despairingly at the pointlessness of it all. What they had been searching for, she kept stored in her head and, despite their best efforts, they had failed to retrieve it from there. No strong-arm tactics would ever persuade her to betray her friends.
Feeling stunned by the mess she encountered every way she turned, she moved toward the double doors leading into the conservatory and stopped dead as she found a strange man standing amidst the chaos. She almost cried out but then she recognized him as Andrew’s other comrade from the town hall, the one she had not seen again after Bryn escorted her to the examination room. In his big, meaty fist, he held the broken pieces of her favorite little mechanical bird, a gift given to her by her grandfather when she was just a child.
Suddenly something inside of her just snapped. All the pain and despair of the last couple of days came rushing to the surface and, with an ear-splitting shriek that sounded like some primitive war cry, she flew across the room. Launching herself at the large Taar-Breckian warrior, she knocked the pieces of the bird from his hand and began to pound furiously on his broad, muscular chest. That he just stood and looked down at her with an expression of bewilderment on his face as she poured out all her anger and frustration only intensified her rage.
“Don’t touch my things!” she screamed. “Just leave my things alone, you big brute!”
“Brute?” The alien giant had the temerity to look amused.
As Caroline continued to lash out, Andrew seized her from behind and lifted her off her feet, swinging her away from his second lieutenant. Kicking out wildly, she cursed and swore as she struggled to free herself. As she somehow managed to wriggle out of Andrew’s hold, she dropped to the floor and began to scrabble around to gather up the pieces of the broken bird. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she wailed loudly, unconcerned that her emotional outburst had attracted a few of Andrew’s men, who had been at work securing the property, into the room.
“Caroline.” Andrew’s tone was kind rather than reprimanding. “You must stop this now.”
“Or what?” Caroline challenged, all sense of reason fleeing her mind as emotion threatened to swallow her whole. “You’ll beat me again? Well, go ahead, you… you fucking animal!”
“I am not going to spank you, Caroline,” Andrew said with infuriating calm. “Not tonight anyway. Although you’ve certainly earned yourself a good thrashing with this behavior, you’ve been through enough for one day.”
“Good!” Caroline spat, pouring as much venom as she could into that single word. “Then you can get out. All of you, get out of my house!”
“Not going to happen, sweetheart.”
Andrew gave a signal for his men, who’d been drawn into the room to find the cause of the commotion, to return to their posts. More than one of the battle-hardened warriors shot the distraught young woman a look of sympathy before turning and walking from the room. As Andrew reached for Caroline, she scooted back, a wild, panicked look in her eye.
“Leave me alone.”
“I can’t do that, little one,” Andrew said. “If you carry on like this, you’re going to make yourself ill.”
“I don’t care!” Caroline wailed. In the last day and a half, she had been forcibly removed from her home, interrogated for hours on end, made to stand trial before a corrupt council, and put through a humiliating examination, as well as being claimed by a virtual stranger who’d punished her in front of a huge crowd who hated her without knowing a single thing about who she really was. Then she’d been brought back here to find everything in ruins and, to top it all off, there was a huge object invading her bottom that she felt rubbing against her inner walls every time she moved. Given all that, she thought it remarkable that she’d managed to hold herself together as long as she had. But she was through with being stoic. “I don’t care if I die.”
It was the look of compassion and understanding on his face that struck the final blow against her defenses. Caroline collapsed to the floor, sobbing as though her heart was breaking. As Andrew gathered her into his arms, she made a weak show of fighting him off but, as he tightened his grip on her, she slowly settled. For the longest time, they stayed there on the floor and she drew comfort from his incredible strength and compassion as he rocked her quietly back and forth until her sobs finally abated and she slumped against him, utterly exhausted.
She offered no resistance as Andrew lifted her and carried her upstairs to the first available bedroom, which just happened to be hers anyway. He placed her on the bed with great care and sat down next to her.
“Do you want me to wait with you until you fall asleep?” he asked.
“Actually, I’d like to have a shower first,” Caroline said. “I feel absolutely filthy and I would really like to put on one of my own nightgowns.” She bit her lip and looked up at him with enormous green eyes. “If that’s okay?”
“Of course it is, sweetheart,” Andrew replied. “You wait here and I’ll go and start the shower for you.”
Caroline nodded as he went into the bathroom. As she looked around at her things scattered on the floor, she noticed the shredded remains of her favorite novel lying there. She thought about its main characters, Sebastian and Lucinda, and the spankings he had given her in almost every chapter. Although Caroline had not derived any pleasure from the punishment she had endured in the town square, probably because of her underlying fear of what the mob might do, she was starting to see how being taken in hand by a dominant male might be appealing in real life. There was a time when she might have been upset about the destruction of her book but she had a feeling her future husband shared one or two traits with Sebastian that would make her reading redundant. It was at once a tantalizing and terrifying prospect.
As she pondered the future, she heard the door of the shower slide back and the water coming on. A moment later, Andrew reappeared. She stood and waited, awkwardness radiating out from her. Although she would not rebuff him if he chose to join her in the shower, she would prefer to have a little privacy after a day when every part of her had been stripped bare. Seeming to understand the reason for her hesitation, Andrew reached out and took her hand.
“I know that now is not the time for intimacy between us, sweetheart,” he said with what she took to be regret. “Go and have a nice shower. I’ll be here when you’re finished.”
Caroline smiled gratefully and headed for the bathroom, picking up one of her nightgowns from the floor where it had been thrown on her way. She closed the door but decided against locking it in case Andrew was offended by what he may well see as a sign that she didn’t trust him to leave her alone. She stripped off the white gown and dropped it into the wastebasket, wishing she could burn it to rid herself of the memories of today. At least she was able to get rid of it, unlike the damned chastity belt that had adhered to her skin somehow, and the anal dilator that was hard at work stretching her tight channel. It was not an entirely unpleasant feeling but it was damned distracting.
As she stepped under the steady stream of piping hot water, she gave a sigh of pleasure, amazed by how quickly she started to feel less grubby. Closing her eyes, she let the water cascade over her. When she felt thoroughly cleansed, in body if not in mind, she quickly dried off and looked at herself in the mirror, wincing at how tired she looked with her pale skin and bruised eyes. Her beautiful hair was gone and although she knew it would grow back, she took a few moments to mourn its loss. As she slipped the diaphanous nightgown on over her head, she realized the fabric was a little more sheer than she’d thought and that Andrew would see the outline of her body beneath it.
She almost laughed at her sudden notions of modesty. Andrew had already seen every inch of her body but, somehow, within the confines of her own bedroom, showing herself to him felt more intimate and she was suddenly shy about him seeing her this way. As she opened the bathroom door, she was surprised to find that Andrew had straightened up the bedroom. She would never have marked him down as the domestic type but it was a gesture she appreciated. At least now she would not be reminded that, only hours earlier, the secret police had been pawing through her things.
Flashing Andrew a grateful smile, she hurried past him feeling as though she was waddling inelegantly because of the damned thing lodged in her bottom. How she was supposed to sleep with it prodding her, she did not know. Slipping into bed, she allowed Andrew to pull the covers up over her and she realized that nobody had tucked her in since she was a child and her grandfather had done it.
“Better now, sweetheart?”
The term of endearment gave her a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.
“Yes, thank you.”
Andrew pulled a chair up next to the bed and sat down. Caroline did not flinch when he reached out and took her hand, his thumb gently caressing the smooth skin of her wrist. For the first time today, she felt genuinely safe.
“I am sorry, Andrew,” she said. “I shouldn’t have made such a fuss over a little toy.”
They both knew she had been upset about more than that, but Andrew said nothing to try to get her to talk about her run-in with the secret police and the Council and she was grateful for his tact.
“The bird meant something special to you?”
“Yes. My grandfather gave it to me on my eleventh birthday. He used to tell me stories about birds.” She breathed deeply to keep the sorrow that was threatening to take hold of her again at bay. “Anyway, I overreacted and it was not your lieutenant’s fault. Will you let him know I am sorry?”
“I doubt Taryn will hold a grudge but you can speak to him yourself in the morning,” Andrew replied. “But now I think you need to get some sleep.”
Caroline nodded and lay back on the pillows. Although it was only early evening, she was finding it difficult to keep her eyelids from drooping and she knew that after all she’d been through, she would probably sleep through the night. Her eyes closed and then opened again, fixing firmly on Andrew’s concerned face.
“What is it, sweetheart?”
“Will you stay with me until I fall asleep?”
“Of course,” he assured her as she closed her eyes once again and immediately succumbed to the sweet oblivion of sleep.
* * *
Andrew sat by the bed and watched over Caroline as she sank deeper into sleep. Her breathing slowed and the crinkle that marked her brow smoothed itself out. In repose, she looked so much younger than her almost twenty-one years and so incredibly vulnerable that his heart went out to her. He wanted nothing more than to keep the evils of the world from touching her. It would be so much better for her when they returned to his home on Taar-Breck, far from the reach of the Council he did not trust. If he had his way, they would have left Earth immediately but he suspected if they’d tried to take off before the marriage was made legal, the Council would have used that as an excuse to create problems for him. For now, he was going to have to play things their way even if he didn’t like dancing to someone else’s tune.
Scrubbing a hand over his eyes, he got up from his chair and moved toward the door. He froze as Caroline shifted slightly. She made a funny little grunting sound but she settled quickly, so he slipped from the room.
He walked downstairs and into the conservatory to retrieve the pieces of the little mechanical bird whose destruction had triggered such a strong emotional response from Caroline.
Gathering all of it up, he took it through to the kitchen and placed the parts on the table. As he looked in the cupboards for something to drink, Bryn and Taryn joined him.
“I am sorry, Andrew,” Taryn said, addressing his commanding officer in a less formal manner now that they were in a private setting. “I wanted to make things right before you brought Lady Caroline to the house but there was just so much mess. We barely had time to fix the doors and windows to make the place secure.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Andrew said wearily as he poured himself a glass of the most incredibly foul-tasting synthetic orange juice and took a seat at the table. “You did what you could.”
“What do you think they were looking for?” Bryn asked.
“Evidence of treason.” Andrew picked up a bird’s wing crafted from the finest bronzed metal and then put it back down on the table. “The names of her friends, I suppose.”
“Do you think they found them?” Taryn was the one to voice the question.
“I hope not.”
Andrew hated the thought that there were other young women out there at risk of harm from the pernicious High Council. He didn’t know who they were but had a suspicion that Caroline’s younger sister, Elizabeth, was one.
“The lady is no fool,” Bryn said with clear admiration in his voice. “She would not have written the names on a list where they could be easily found.”
“She did not reveal them under the pressure of interrogation either,” Taryn added, also with that approving tone.
Andrew sat up, his back straight, and looked directly at his second lieutenant.
“What did you find out about her time at the prison?” he asked.
“I sent one of our men to speak to the guards. They seemed quite proud of how they had tried to break her.”
He wasn’t sure he wanted the details, that he would be able to handle them without unleashing mayhem upon the men who had harmed Caroline and yet he needed to know all that had happened to her.
Taryn took a seat at the table while Bryn hovered in the background, as anxious as Andrew to hear about the methods the Council had employed.
“Well, they acted on an anonymous tip that she was the leader of a dangerous rebel group.”
Andrew snorted at that. From what he could tell, Caroline and her friends were simply a group of privileged young woman who gathered together to discuss books.
“They dragged her to the prison,” Taryn continued. “She was stripped and they took her to a small, dark room and bombarded her with questions, which she refused to answer.”
Andrew nodded, feeling a surge of admiration toward Caroline for not giving up the names of her friends to the secret police. She must have known the sort of trouble they would end up in and her obvious need to protect those she cared for made his heart warm toward her even more.
“The interrogation went on for hours, without a break. They were very persistent, refusing to let up in their questioning. She was given no food, no water.”
Andrew blew out a breath and exchanged a look with Bryn.
“And she did not betray her friends?” Bryn appeared impressed. “Many men would have crumbled.”
Yes, Andrew thought, they would have but his Caroline, as he’d already begun to think of her, was clearly made of something stronger.
“Go on,” he urged.
“Eventually they realized that their bullying tactics would not loosen her tongue so they threatened to throw her into a cell with several male prisoners, their most sadistic inmates and leave her at their mercy until she decided to talk.”
Evidently that had not happened as her virtue had been intact when she was examined and Andrew doubted that such men would have displayed any honor in the presence of a beautiful young virgin.
“Fortunately it was just a threat,” Taryn went on. “But they hacked off her hair and put her in a cell on her own with no windows and only a bench to sleep on. They still did not give her any food or water and left her to freeze.”
Andrew shook his head. It was a miracle she had survived the ordeal. She had been through hell and he had added to her suffering. “And then we subjected her to that damned examination and I beat her in public.”
Shame washed over him but his friends and fellow warriors would not allow him to reproach himself.
“She asked you to do it,” Bryn said. “She understood how dangerous the situation was and made it easier for you. She trusted you would not harm her.”
“You saved her life, Commander,” Taryn said firmly. “The High Council planned to execute her.”
“Execution?” Andrew said. “You are sure of that?”
Executions were rare on Earth these days with the population so diminished that a practical use had to be found for even the most heinous of criminals. The sentence the president had threatened her with at the trial was a series of floggings and confinement to a state facility for life. At least, that is what he had said the usual sentence was. He’d alluded to needing to find some different solution for a woman of Caroline’s standing, but Andrew had assumed that meant some measure of lenience, not a more drastic punishment.
“I am certain,” Taryn confirmed. “The Council knows that rebellion is in the air and they planned to make an example of Lady Chatterton as a warning to the real dissenters. They knew her crimes were not so terrible but wanted to use her as an example of what would happen to anyone who dared to defy their rules.”
Andrew felt his chest tighten. He’d known her situation was serious but he had never imagined something like this. What if he had chosen not to intervene in the trial? If he had not decided to honor the contract with her grandfather, would that beautiful young woman be dead by now? He could hardly bear thinking about it.
“And what was to be the manner of her execution?”
“I do not know but there was some reference to a silken rope.”
“Hanging.” Andrew was grateful once more to Lord Perceval for teaching him Earth’s long and tangled history. “They intended to hang her by the neck. The use of a silken rope rather than the coarser kind was a concession they once made to aristocrats.”
Both Taryn and Bryn looked horrified. On Taar-Breck, women were never treated in such a fashion. If a woman committed a crime, she was sent to be trained to follow a more obedient path and then assigned to a mate who would ensure that she stuck to it.
“These are dangerous times,” Bryn remarked, looking strangely pale, no doubt thinking about such a terrible fate befalling his commanding officer’s bride to be.
“Dangerous indeed,” Andrew agreed. “One can only wonder what their purpose in taking such action might be.”
“It is hard to read these humans,” Taryn responded with disdain. “You never know how they will act. That is why, as a precaution, I have summoned another legion to the outer atmosphere. They will serve as warning to the Council not to strike against our commander or his bride.”
Andrew nodded, grateful for Taryn’s foresight.
“You realize we must persuade her to tell us where the other ladies of her group are,” Bryn said. “If they fall into the hands of the Council, it will not go well for them.”
“I will speak to Caroline tomorrow, once she has had some time to sleep.”
“Very good, Commander,” Bryn said. “Now, Taryn and I will organize the men to watch through the night. What will you do?”
“The only thing I can do,” Andrew said, looking at the pieces of the broken toy on the table. “I’m going to fix this damned bird.”
Caroline woke to a familiar hooting sound that made her heart swell. Opening her eyes, she looked to the nightstand where her little mechanical bird was walking around in a large circle. As she sat up and clapped her hands together with unbridled glee, she became aware that she was being watched and turned to see Andrew standing by the door, a look of such intensity in his eye, it made the hairs at the back of her neck bristle.
With all that had happened yesterday, she hadn’t taken the time to appreciate just what a fine specimen of masculinity he was. It wasn’t simply a question of him being taller and more muscular than any other man she’d met; there was something about the way he carried himself as well. He exuded a total confidence in his own ability to take command of any situation, of any woman, for that matter, and it made her breath catch at the back of her throat when he walked into the room. He was the hero of the exotic novels she devoured so enthusiastically made flesh. No, he was more than any of those characters, larger somehow.
For the first time, as she looked at him, so incredibly out of place in the distinctly feminine setting of her bedroom, she began to truly grasp the idea that she was soon to be married to this man. Although he’d made it perfectly clear to her yesterday that he intended to take her as his bride, the notion had seemed so abstract, as though it was something that might happen at some vague, undefined point in the future. Everything had been so hazy that her mind had not been able to cope with the reality of her situation and so she’d not really come to terms with anything that was happening to her. Now, after a chance to rest and recover her wits somewhat, it was all too clear. She could feel it deep inside her as an absolute certainty. Within a couple of days, she would belong to this man in every way and she barely knew him, what to expect from him. The prospect was more than a little terrifying.
As she gazed at him, he stared back at her as though trying to see past the surface to get to her deepest thoughts and feelings.
“You mended her?” Caroline asked suddenly, to break the unbearable tension.
“Yes, the bird. Her name is Oolie.”
“Oolie?” Andrew’s lips quirked into a smile. “That is a truly terrible name but, yes, I put her back together again.”
“Why?” Caroline didn’t want to seem ungrateful but it seemed like an odd thing for a man with all the responsibility Andrew carried to have bothered to do.
“To see you smile.”
After a moment’s pause in which she gauged how sincere his response had been, Caroline found herself overcome with delight that he would take the time to do such a thing just to make her happy. Leaping out of bed, she ran to fling her arms around Andrew’s neck. She planted a kiss on his lips and then danced away before he could attempt to draw her into a deeper embrace. She went to the nightstand and put her hand out for the bird to hop onto. Lifting it carefully, she held it out for Andrew to see, as though he had not been the one who’d fixed it and brought it to her in the first place.
“She is an ool bird, you know? There used to be creatures like her of flesh and blood and they lived right here on Earth in the ancient woodlands before they were all destroyed.”
“She is an owl,” Andrew corrected her with an indulgent smile. “And we still have them on Taar-Breck.”
“Really?” Caroline gasped.
“Yes, and many other creatures that once lived on this planet. When the first Taar-Breckian delegation came to Earth more than two centuries ago, they took specimens of many different animals and birds back with them. They have thrived in our landscape.”
“Our landscape? You consider Taar-Breck your home?”
“I do, yes, and I intend for it to be your home also.”
“Oh.” Caroline hadn’t given any thought to that possibility and wasn’t sure how she felt about leaving her home to be with a virtual stranger.
“I have a special fondness for the place,” Andrew said with a smile. “My mother lives there. I am sure you’ve heard the rumors about my real mother.”
Caroline nodded. She had, indeed, heard the gossip about Andrew being the product of his father’s affair with a Taar-Breckian princess while he was visiting her planet on a diplomatic mission. It had been quite the romance if the stories were to be believed, but Rossingham had been unwilling to abandon his wife to pursue his own happiness. He’d taken Andrew back to New Cambridge when he was a baby and Adaline Rossingham had raised the child as her own. Caroline’s brow formed a quizzical frown as she tried to imagine how Andrew’s mother could have given him up like that. Perhaps full-blooded Taar-Breckians were less emotionally attached to their children than humans? The question must have been written all over her face because Andrew grimaced uncomfortably and then spoke again, redirecting the conversation.
“You seem much happier this morning, Caroline. You slept well?”
“Mostly.” Caroline shuffled her feet nervously and looked down at the floor. The truth was, she’d experienced fraught dreams about being arrested and made to stand trial, but she didn’t want to let Andrew see that she was vulnerable. She preferred to simply try to put the whole terrible ordeal behind her.
Fortunately, Andrew seemed to misread her response and assumed it was something else that had prevented her from sleeping as well as she might have.
“Let me guess,” he said with a teasing glint in his eye. “The dilator?”
Seizing on his misunderstanding about why she’d been unable to sleep, Caroline blushed prettily and, biting her lip coyly, nodded her head.
“It’s just so intrusive,” she complained. “I am sure it expanded again during the night and it’s so big.”
“I can assure you, Caroline, whatever size it is, I am bigger,” Andrew told her, smiling broadly as her eyes widened in surprise. He didn’t give her time to respond. “Now, get dressed and come for breakfast. I don’t think you’ve eaten properly in the last few days.”
Caroline nodded mutely, trying to wrap her head around his comment about the size of his penis. Bigger than this thing lodged inside her? It didn’t seem possible but his words had been no idle boast. Perhaps it was true what they said about Taar-Breckian men being built a little larger than their human counterparts. Of course, Andrew was only half Taar-Breckian so perhaps she had nothing to worry about. As she thought about it, her eyes unwittingly traveled to his groin, encased in the tight black pants of his military uniform and her heart skipped a beat. As he winked cockily and turned to leave the room, she suddenly felt the strongest desire to see for herself just how well-endowed he was.
* * *
Squirming on her seat as the plug embedded in her bottom pressed mercilessly against her inner walls, Caroline tried to maintain a serene expression so the three large men who’d joined her at the breakfast table would not realize the torment she was experiencing. The knowing grins on each of their faces told her she was not fooling anyone. Her cheeks flushed bright red beneath their scrutiny and she struggled for something to say to break the increasingly awkward silence.
The dining room felt so claustrophobic with these three massive men in it but there was also something comforting about their presence. With them around, she knew that she was safe but recognizing that no harm could come to her only made her worry about her missing sister even more. She had no idea where Elizabeth might have fled to and, as much as she wanted to ask Andrew for help to find her, Caroline was not yet sure how far she could trust him.
Trying to put aside her fears for her sister, she reached for a piece of toast and suddenly realized just how hungry she was.
“The house looks much better this morning,” she said to no one in particular.
“I am glad you’re pleased.” It was Taryn who spoke. “The men worked for much of the night to put things right.”
“Well,” Caroline poured herself a glass of orange juice, “I am very grateful. Please thank them for me.”
Taryn nodded and silence settled heavily over the room once more. Caroline wondered whether Taar-Breckian warriors were taciturn by nature or if it was her in particular they had nothing to say to. She wouldn’t blame them if they did disapprove of her. After all, she was to marry one of their most distinguished military leaders under less than ideal circumstances. They could be forgiven for not being too happy about it. She hoped, however, that they would come to the wedding as their presence would make her feel more secure, whether they liked her or not. Almost as though he’d read her thoughts about the impending marriage, Andrew spoke.
“Do you have anyone you’d like to invite to the wedding ceremony tomorrow?” Andrew asked. “Any close friends?”
Wondering if that had been an attempt to get the names of some of the members of her group out of her, Caroline shook her head.
“Nobody?” Andrew pressed but she didn’t respond. “What about the ladies you meet up with each week? Would you not like any of them to be there?”
“No,” Caroline said quietly.
“You’re sure? If you give me their names, I can arrange for them to be there.”
“No,” Caroline said a little more firmly.
“Very well.” Andrew smiled benevolently. “Do you have someone you’d like to escort you down the aisle?”
Caroline shook her head. There were no men left in her family and tradition dictated that a close male relation or guardian should be the one to bring a bride to her future husband.
“There’s no one.” Her tone was melancholic.
“Would you like one of my lieutenants to do it?”
“Oh.” Caroline perked up a little and then her shoulders slumped again as she began to twist a napkin between her fingers. “I don’t want to put anyone to any inconvenience.”
“It would be no inconvenience, my lady,” Bryn spoke up. “I would be honored to accompany you.”
“As would I,” Taryn said, his deep violet eyes reflecting his sincerity.
Caroline smiled. Perhaps she’d been wrong about them disliking her.
“Maybe you could both walk me up the aisle,” she said.
A look passed between the two men and Bryn turned back to her.
“That would be acceptable.”
“Thank you.” Caroline’s gratitude was genuine. She had no desire to return to the town hall after yesterday’s deeply unpleasant events and the thought of making such important, personal vows in front of hostile members of the High Council was a little nerve-racking. Having these warriors there would make her feel a lot better about the whole thing
“How is it you have no guardian?” Taryn seemed curious rather than disapproving as the men on the Council had been.
“When my grandfather died, we discovered he’d chosen not to make provision for a guardian in his will. His lawyer was well paid to remain silent about his decision and my sister and I simply didn’t draw attention to our situation.” Her face fell into a frown as it occurred to her for the first time that it was odd that they had come to the attention of the secret police, given the discretion they exercised at all times.
“Your grandfather wished for you to experience some independence?” Bryn asked, pulling her away from the terrible thought that one of her friends from the Hyde Ladies’ Circle might have betrayed her.
“As much as that’s possible in our society, yes,” Caroline replied. “He wished for Elizabeth and me to expand our minds. He didn’t like the idea of us being stifled by some overbearing male.”
“And yet he arranged our marriage,” Andrew said dryly.
Seeing the glint of humor in his eye, Caroline smiled. She had no doubt that Andrew would be insufferable at times and she’d already experienced some glimpses of his dominant nature but she was equally certain that he would act fairly toward her. He didn’t seem like the type of man who would stamp on her feelings and she doubted that he was like so many others who wanted a wife they could lock away like a precious doll to be taken out in public only when they wished to show off how obedient she was to them. No, he would be master in their marriage, that was clear to her, but he would also be capable of showing kindness. Of that, she was certain. He had, after all, taken the trouble to fix her little mechanical bird and had not asked for anything in return.
“My grandfather was a wise man,” Caroline said. “He must have known what he was doing.”
“No doubt.” Andrew returned her smile.
“And what about your sister?” Bryn asked. “Did he arrange a marriage for her also?”
“I’m not sure.” Caroline’s brow furrowed. “I was surprised that he had made the contract with Comman… Andrew so perhaps he made arrangements for Elizabeth that I don’t know about.”
As she thought about her sister, Caroline’s eyes began to fill with tears. Although she was not entirely certain what her own future held, she was sure that no harm would come to her. She hated the thought that her younger sibling was out there somewhere, alone and frightened.
“Damn!” Andrew said suddenly, pulling her out of her miserable thoughts. “A dress.”
“What?” His outburst had startled her.
“You will need a special gown for the wedding. Something white to symbolize purity. That is the tradition, is it not?”
Caroline shrugged her shoulders, not sure that the occasion called for any fuss. The wedding wasn’t going to be some grand public affair and she was certain that nobody on the Council would regard it as a cause for celebration. In fact, she suspected they would see it as something of a defeat that Andrew had put a stop to their plans to make an example of her to quell any other whisperings of dissent.
“You don’t wish to have a new dress?” Andrew asked.
“It seems unnecessary.”
“Not to me.” Andrew looked quite determined now. “I wish my bride to have the most beautiful gown money can buy.”
Caroline’s face fell. Was she wrong about him? Did he want her as some sort of dress-up doll?
“You misunderstand me, I think.” Andrew seemed to correctly read the look on her face. “I wish you to have a beautiful dress so you can hold your head high, so that everyone knows I am honored to make you my wife.”
Put like that, Caroline could hardly argue against the idea.
“Will it be possible to obtain a dress by tomorrow?” She was a little skeptical. Fine fabrics were in short supply and there were few seamstresses capable of constructing a dress suitable for a wedding, especially in so tight a timeframe.
“It can be done,” Andrew assured her and she supposed that a man of his wealth was used to overcoming such problems easily. “I will send someone to you later this morning. Now, in the meantime, I am afraid I have work to do in preparation for our return to Taar-Breck. Taryn will remain at the house to ensure your safety but you must give me your word you will not attempt to leave.”
He gave her an intense look that demanded acquiescence so Caroline nodded obediently. He raised an eyebrow and she realized he wanted a verbal response.
“I will not leave the house.”
“Good.” Andrew got to his feet, leaned over and kissed her cheek with a tenderness that warmed her insides. Bryn also got up and accompanied his commander as he strode from the room, leaving Caroline sitting alone at the table with Taryn.
“So, tell me everything you know about owls,” she said in an attempt to start a conversation.
Her heart sank as the alien warrior gave her a blank look and turned to study whatever data was on the tablet that lay on the table beside him. It was going to be a long day.
* * *
At his office at Taar-Breck’s embassy, Andrew disconnected from the video call that had eaten up more than an hour of his time, leaned back in his chair and smiled broadly. So far, his day was going well. Caroline’s joyful response to seeing that little bird of hers back in one piece had been greater than he’d expected. Her whole face had lit up and she’d looked as though a weight had lifted from her. Although, with all the drama yesterday, he was sure he hadn’t yet seen Caroline at her best, there was something very likable about her. They may have got off to a less than favorable start but he was convinced they would eventually make a very good couple.
He’d just finished speaking with his mother who was excited to hear that he would be bringing his new wife home soon. She’d been thrilled when he announced that he was going to honor the marriage contract he’d made with Caroline’s grandfather and that he would finally settle down and take his place at the heart of Taar-Breck’s ruling family. For several years now, she’d been trying to persuade him to spend less time away and now that he was getting married, he felt it was the perfect opportunity to make some changes. He would still hold overall command of the interplanetary air force but he would fly fewer missions from now on and leave the day-to-day operations to his trusted lieutenants.
His mother had asked him a hundred questions and it bothered him that he hadn’t known how to answer most of them. There was an awful lot about her he had yet to learn, not least whether she was associated with groups that were more dangerous than the Hyde Ladies’ Circle she had formed with her friends. The High Council seemed convinced Caroline was a danger to society so he couldn’t rule out the possibility that they knew something he didn’t about her being involved with more menacing factions. His mother, of course, hadn’t been overly concerned about any of that. Although she’d asked about the trouble Caroline had found herself in, she’d cared more about when she could expect to hear the patter of tiny feet. Andrew hoped she wouldn’t plague Caroline with incessant hints about wanting grandchildren. There was plenty of time for that and he wanted his new bride to settle into life on Taar-Breck, which would be quite different to what she was used to, before even thinking about becoming pregnant.
He was pulled from his thoughts as Bryn came into the room and stood stiffly on the opposite side of his desk. Andrew gestured for the other man to sit.
“Your call went well?” Bryn’s tone was conversational but, as he took a seat, he did not relax his posture even a little.
“Yes, it’s been a successful morning.” Andrew allowed himself a brief moment of self-congratulatory reflection. He’d managed to find a seamstress with access to the most exquisite silks who’d agreed to make a gown for Caroline and he’d also ensured that, with his influential mother’s help, her transition into Taar-Breckian society would be smooth. He’d also learned that the High Council had not yet managed to track down Lady Elizabeth Chatterton, who they were searching desperately for. They hadn’t managed to discover the identity of any of the other members of Caroline’s group either, which meant that he and his men still had a chance to get to these women first and take them to safety. “There will be a grand welcoming ceremony for Caroline and me when we return to Taar-Breck.”
“That is as it should be,” Bryn said with characteristic solemnity. “You are much admired amongst the people.”
“Hmm,” Andrew mused. “But how do you think they will receive Caroline?”
“They will welcome the lady warmly as is the way of our race,” Bryn replied. “They will like her, I think. She is strong for a human, but she knows when to submit.”
Did she, though? Andrew had seen some evidence of her willingness to surrender but he suspected that it was something she’d done only under extreme pressure. He needed to see how she would respond to the requirement to submit when they were in a less dangerous, more intimate situation.
“Perhaps,” Andrew said. “Now, tell me how your morning has been.”
“Less successful than yours, I fear. We need Lady Caroline to tell us who her friends are. For the moment, nobody is speaking, either to us or the Council but that may change if the secret police begin to apply more pressure and these ladies may find themselves in grave danger.”
Andrew nodded, knowing how important it was to get Caroline to confide in him. He suspected that the best route to the truth was for him to demonstrate that he would do whatever it took to ensure her wellbeing and build her trust through firm but loving guidance. Unfortunately, that would take more time than they had so he knew he would have to be incredibly persuasive.
“What else did you discover?”
“Aside from meeting with a group of unnamed friends and writing the occasional pamphlet, I could find no evidence that Lady Caroline is a true threat to civil order. As far as I could ascertain, the High Council saw her as an easy target because she was unprotected.”
“Until I turned up.” Andrew was glad he had come to her rescue.
“Just so, Commander. They sought to use her lack of a guardian against her as there would be nobody to speak up for her.” A muscle ticked in Bryn’s jaw and his mouth tightened. “They had planned a swift trial and execution to serve as a warning to others who hold similar views about equality for women but also to try to draw out some of those who would use her death as an excuse to launch a rebellion.”
Andrew scrubbed a hand over his face. He could scarcely believe that President Hall and his cronies had intended to sacrifice Caroline in order to precipitate a rebellion which they would then ruthlessly quash. The situation in New Cambridge was becoming more desperate by the day. The sooner he got Caroline away from the corrupt High Council, the better. Once he knew she was safe, he would work out how to deal with them and rid the people of the scourge of their authoritarian rule.
* * *
Sitting on the couch in the conservatory, looking out into the lush gardens her grandfather had spent years cultivating, Caroline could not help but feel a little sadness. Her dress fitting had gone well, even if there had been a definite giggle from the seamstress when she saw that Caroline’s bottom was plugged. It had made Caroline extremely self-conscious but, once she and the other woman had begun to look at samples of the most beautiful silks, she’d forgotten her embarrassment and had actually enjoyed the consultation.
Eventually they’d settled on a simple design with a modest neckline and long, flowing skirts. There was even a little lace available to make a veil that would cover the terrible cropped hair the prison authorities had left her with. The whole ensemble was as close to perfect as she could get at short notice but, despite the boost to her spirits that the dress had given her, she couldn’t lift herself out of this low mood. None of this was what she would have chosen for herself if she’d been free to make her own decisions. She was still unsure of Andrew, nervous about the idea of leaving all she knew behind and moving to Taar-Breck with her new husband and, of course, she was worried about Elizabeth. She wished her sister was there with her. Although she’d never been the type to spend hours dreaming about her ideal wedding day, Caroline knew that the one thing she’d have wanted would be to have Elizabeth by her side.
As she wiped away the rogue tear that was sliding down her cheek, she saw something out of the corner of her eye. Something white flew over the high brick wall that surrounded the property, to land in the flowerbed on the far side of the lawn. Getting up from her seat, she moved closer to the window and pressed her nose against the glass, squinting to make out what had been thrown over the wall. It looked like an envelope; a message from her sister, perhaps?
Checking over her shoulder to make sure that Taryn, who’d been watching over her from a discreet distance all day, was nowhere to be seen, she carefully opened the French doors, knowing that they sometimes creaked a little. She was aware that she was disobeying Andrew by setting foot outside of the house but it would take her only a moment to retrieve the note and she would be back inside before her silent protector realized she was gone.
With quick, light steps, she ran to the flowerbed where the envelope lay and picked it up. There was something inside. As she ripped open the envelope, a necklace fell out into her hand. Caroline recognized it immediately as belonging to her sister but she couldn’t remember if she’d been wearing it on the night she fled. Elizabeth had never told her where she’d got the dainty little flower crafted from bronze but it was one of her favorites so it was entirely possible she’d had it on.
As Caroline unfolded the note that accompanied the necklace and read the words it contained, her heart skipped a beat.
“Your sister needs to see you. Come to the old post office within the hour and I’ll take you to her. Tell no one. Trust me, I’m a friend.”
Caroline looked around and shuddered, realizing that someone must have been watching her, that they’d known she was likely to see the envelope being thrown over the wall. She felt a wave of nausea surge through her and froze on the spot. Her mind suddenly went completely blank. She couldn’t think, didn’t feel anything, for several long moments. Then, suddenly, her innate desire to protect her sibling kicked in and she headed toward the gate that led out into a narrow alley behind the house. It was risky, she knew that, but nothing mattered to her except getting to Elizabeth.
Just as she reached the end of the alleyway, a strong arm wrapped around her waist and she was hauled off her feet. Caroline screamed but a hand clamped firmly over her mouth. Struggling furiously, she tried to break free but her captor held her with infuriating ease.
“Calm yourself,” a familiar voice commanded.
Caroline stopped wriggling and was immediately set back down on her feet, but a large hand remained clamped around her upper arm to prevent her from running off. She looked up and was relieved to see that the man who’d caught hold of her was, as she’d suspected, Taryn. Her relief that it was not someone more sinister was fleeting as she registered the harsh expression on his face. From what she’d seen, Taar-Breckians did not display much emotion but he looked angry. His eyes burned with cold fury. Caroline gulped as he began to pull her back toward the house. She couldn’t let him take her inside. She had to get to Elizabeth.
“Taryn, please let me go,” Caroline pleaded as he took her through the garden and into the house. “You’re hurting my arm.”
He let go of her and she instantly whirled around to run. It was an incredibly foolish thing to do and he caught her within a couple of paces, hoisting her up over his shoulder to carry her into the house. Caroline shrieked and beat her fists on his back but it made no impact whatsoever on the muscular alien warrior.
“You don’t understand,” she wailed. “It’s my sister. I have to go to her.”
In her grandfather’s study, Taryn dropped her onto a chair.
“What is this about your sister?”
“There was a note,” Caroline explained. “With her necklace inside. Someone threw it over the wall.”
“Where is the note?”
Caroline looked at her hands and realized she was no longer carrying the piece of paper or the pretty little pendant.
“I must have dropped it and the necklace. Please find it for me, Taryn. Please find Elizabeth. The note said to go to the old post office. I’m supposed to go there alone.”
Taryn shook his head and she could see that he thought her incredibly naïve to have gone running off to what she knew deep inside was probably a trap. He activated the communication device he wore on his lapel and gave orders to whoever was on the other end of the transmission to go and check out the post office building.
Caroline opened her mouth to thank him but Taryn held up a hand to forestall her, clearly in no mood for conversation.
“I will stand guard at the door. If you attempt to leave the room, I will personally blister your buttocks. Do you understand me?”
Caroline’s eyes widened in shock and then narrowed defiantly.
“Would Andrew approve of you threatening to spank his fiancée like that?”
“Under the circumstances, he would expect nothing less,” Taryn replied. “Now, sit there and think about what will happen when Commander Rossingham arrives, because I guarantee, you will not sit comfortably afterwards.”