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Authors: Viola Morne

Tags: #Domestic Discipline, #Victorian Romance

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"Of course, of marriage! What
other offer would I entertain for you?"

Isabelle thought of the dissolute
Lord Snow. "I cannot imagine."

"Lord Snow tells me he thinks
he can make you happy. You know this is all I have ever desired, for you to be
safe and happy." John fingered his neck cloth. "We discussed the, uh,
tragedy and it appears not to be a bar to the marriage. Could you consider
him?"

Isabelle was silent while her
thoughts whirled. Marriage?

"It would be an excellent
match for you. Lord Snow's reputation is not quite what one would wish, but you
would be a countess, with ample pin money, and your own home. His family is
received everywhere, influential in political and court circles. You would have
wealth and respectability. Perhaps, one day, children..."

Isabelle held up her hand.
"Pray, no more, brother. I will consider all you have said."

"May I tell Lord Snow you will
speak to him?"

Isabelle opened her mouth to
refuse, but John looked so hopeful. To be fair, she knew she had been nothing
but a trial to her brother, whose chief god was respectability. So she nodded.
John paused by her chair, pressed her shoulder briefly, and left the room.
Isabelle scarcely had time to collect herself before Snow was there, knocking
softly on her door.

He seemed oddly serious. Isabelle
had expected irony, even mockery, anything except sincerity. Snow waited for
her to stand before he took her hand, kissed it lightly and asked her, quite
simply, to marry him.

Isabelle's heart beat faster. She
pulled her hand away. "I had not thought to ever marry again."

"I see. Would you consider it
now? Your position in your brother's house is scarcely a happy one. If you
marry me, you will be returned to your proper sphere. I can keep you safe from
any whispers. No one will dare question my countess."

Isabelle was tempted to accept him,
if only to get away from John and Cordelia. But the memory of the night of the
lake, the pleasure, and the feelings he'd stirred, made her want to run out the
door. She would not give her heart away so thoughtlessly again.

"I won't be an easy husband. I
will exercise my authority as your husband. I will want to know where you are
and what you are doing. Your body will be mine to enjoy, whenever and however I
wish. And I'll punish you if you disobey me. That is my way. You see, I pay you
the compliment of being frank about my expectations."

He leaned closer, until his breath
stirred her hair. He smelled of clean wool and leather, with a hint of whiskey.
He smelled of warm, male flesh. Isabelle wavered.

"But, Isabelle, you will know
that you're mine, and that I will care for you, and protect you, above
all."

"Will you be faithful?"
The words tumbled out before she could stop them.

Snow took both her hands and held
them, tightly, painfully. "If that's what you want, what you need."

Isabelle looked into his intense
dark eyes. "It is."

*
* * * *

The wedding was a simple one, held
in the family chapel. It had taken several weeks for Snow to procure the
special license and get his household in order for his bride. His wife.
Isabelle stood beside him, uttering her responses in a low voice. The vicar
pronounced them man and wife. He bent to kiss her cold lips. They trembled
against his mouth.

Snow smiled at her in what he hoped
was a reassuring manner. Isabelle looked gravely back at him. He'd decided
against any sort of reception afterward, and now he waited for his wife to say
goodbye to her family.

Sir John embraced Isabelle,
pressing a kiss to each cheek. "Be happy," he heard him whisper.

Cordelia also kissed her, with some
reluctance. They spoke briefly while the carriages were readied. Snow was
surprised to feel Isabelle's small gloved hand slip into his. He raised it to
his lips, and placed her hand carefully on his arm. She was his.

They traveled silently through the
deepening day. They stopped briefly several times, but Snow was anxious to get
Isabelle home and settled. The wedding lines secure in his pocket, Snow needed
to see her installed safely in his household. Her gaze was fixed out the window
while he watched her, the line of her brow and nose outlined in exquisite
detail against the rose light of sunset. He'd tasted the pleasure of her body,
but her mind and heart remained a mystery. Was that the source of her
fascination for him? He'd experienced so many different women, but somehow,
Isabelle, his Isabelle, was different. He had even promised to be faithful. He
would, he realized, have promised anything just to possess her.

*
* * * *

She was so weary, in body and soul.
Impulsive Isabelle, deciding to marry a man she knew nearly nothing about. 
Would it be like Charlie Croucher all over again? Then again, it could hardly
be any worse.

Her new husband seemed kinder, more
considerate in many ways. Once Snow decided to stop pursuing her as a mistress,
and marry her instead, his manners had undergone considerable improvement. And
then there were his promises to care for and protect her, as well as his vows
to control and discipline her.

After marriage to Charlie,
inconstant, careless, and selfish, those promises of Snow's seemed to offer a
safe haven. No longer would she be 'poor Isabelle,' the neglected wife or
'wicked Isabelle,' fodder for scandal. She would have a husband who actually
thought about
her
, instead of his next drink or game of chance. He had
even pledged his fidelity

But would Snow deliver on his
promises? What exactly did he mean by discipline anyway? Isabelle yawned behind
her glove. She would have to ask him later. The coach continued inexorably on
to London and her new life. She slept.

Isabelle awoke to Snow's gentle
touch on her shoulder. "My dear, we have arrived." It was full dark,
the characteristic London sounds muted in this quiet, exclusive street. Her new
home was elegant and handsome, much like her husband. The staff were on hand to
welcome her, and the housekeeper was eager to show Isabelle her new rooms.

"The earl had everything
decorated, my lady," Mrs. Hutchins told her. She bustled about, closing
the curtains of blue toile, which matched the freshly painted walls and bed
hangings. Two cream and rose-striped chairs by the fireplace were flanked by
vases of pink roses. Their scent reminded Isabelle of the night she'd met Snow.

A knock on the door, and her
husband entered. Mrs. Hutchins excused herself to complete the supper
arrangements.

 Snow leaned against the door, his
posture relaxed but his gaze watchful. Isabelle was alone with the man to whom
she'd pledged her body, her very existence. She licked her dry lips, which had
the effect of riveting his gaze on her mouth. He straightened and prowled
towards her. Isabelle swallowed. He tucked back a loosened curl, his fingers
trailing from her hair down her throat to linger on the top of her breasts
where they swelled above her bodice.

"Such soft skin."

Snow slipped his hand beneath her
chemise, squeezing her breast lightly. He found her nipple, pulling and
twisting it to just this side of pain. A hot thread of desire tightened between
nipple and womb. Isabelle opened her mouth to protest, but heard herself moan
instead. Snow smiled slightly and released her.

"Shall we go down for supper?
I believe Mrs. Hutchins has planned something special." Snow offered his
arm.  How could he appear so composed when she felt ready to jump out of her
skin?

The champagne flowed and the meal
was delicious, though afterward Isabelle couldn't remember a thing she'd eaten.
Her attention was riveted on Snow--the glow of his dark eyes in the candle
light which softened the strong, angular lines of his face.

"What are you thinking about,
Lady Snow?" His voice was deep yet beguilingly soft.

"It sounds so strange to be
addressed as Lady Snow." Isabelle shook her head. "I confess to
feeling somewhat at sea."

"I shall anchor you,
sweetheart; never fear. There will be a period of adjustment, for us both. You
will become accustomed very soon, I am sure."

She looked down at her plate.
"I don't even know why you wanted to marry me."

Snow raised a brow. "Surely
that is a question that may be answered at a more appropriate time."

Isabelle glanced at the footmen
waiting patiently against the wall. She bit her lip.

Snow picked up his fork. He
continued to eat the olives of veal as if life hadn't changed utterly for both
of them. His serenity maddened her.

Isabelle picked at her plate. Her
gaze fixed on her husband's hands, those strong, lean fingers which had
caressed her so intimately. She swallowed a surge of panic. How could she go
through with this marriage to a stranger? She stood abruptly, throwing her
napkin on the table.

"Pray excuse me," she
said and left the room.

*
* * * *

Snow looked up to glimpse the swirl
of his wife's skirts as she nearly ran out of the room. His lips tightened. The
servants, though they stood like statues, would be gossiping over this when the
meal ended. His wife's want of conduct could not, and would not, be tolerated.

The earl took a sip of wine. He had
intended their wedding night to begin in quite a different fashion, but it was
evident his new countess was in sore need of correction. Snow set down his
glass and called for the next course. It would never do to strike her in anger.
Let her stew about her bad behavior while he finished dining. Time enough then
to set things straight, to begin their marriage the way he intended it to
continue. He had married her, hadn't he? She ought to be grateful.

*
* * * *

Isabelle sat on the edge of the
high bed. She wore a robe of finely embroidered lawn, her hair loose about her
shoulders. Her bare feet, narrow and high-arched, dangled in the air like a
child's. She hadn't looked up when he opened the connecting door between their
rooms. Instead, she stared at her hands, clasped tightly in her lap.

"Isabelle, look at me."

Her beautiful eyes were shadowed
with emotion. Snow lifted her chin.

"Your conduct at dinner was
unacceptable, my dear. We spoke about obedience and correction before we were
married. You must be aware that your actions would have consequences."

Isabelle bit her lip. "I'm
sorry, my lord. It was badly done of me."

"I am afraid you will be even
sorrier very soon."

Snow sat down beside his shrinking
bride. He grasped her arm and pulled her over his lap. A small mew of protest
escaped her. Snow arranged her in a satisfactory position, bracing one leg. He
pushed her robe aside. The fabric of the nightgown was so fine that the line
separating her buttocks was visible. He rolled up the shift. Such lovely,
smooth skin, waiting to receive his mark. Snow ran a hand over the globes,
absorbing the texture, the feel of her. He captured her wrists with his other
hand, pinning them against her back.

"Tell me why you are being
punished."

A light slap on one buttock; she
started, legs flailing.

"Keep still. Tell me."
His voice was firm, unyielding.

"I, I...didn't comport myself
properly, as your wife...I spoke too freely in front of the servants..."

Another slap, crisper, on the
opposite buttock. "And?"

"And...I left the table
without being excused."

"Very good." He started
to spank her in earnest then, alternately firm blows to each reddening globe.
He paused to test the heat on her skin. "A few more, I think," he said
and spanked her again until her bottom glowed.

He caressed her then, enjoying the
warmth his slaps had given her skin. "What a lovely ass you have." He
traced one finger slowly along the crease. She gasped. Snow chuckled, pulled
down her skirts and set her on her feet.

"There," he said,
unbuttoning her robe. "You are forgiven.

*
* * * *

He'd blown out the candle. After
spanking her, her husband had put her to bed and drawn up the bedclothes,
tucking them gently around her. Snow had kissed her forehead and left her alone
in the moonlight. Her bottom, or her ass, as he called it, throbbed. Isabelle
rubbed her hand over the heated flesh. It had
hurt
.

She tried to think rationally about
what had happened, but only base emotions stirred in her brain. Pain, shame,
and then relief, almost absolution. What a curious thing. She shifted
uncomfortably a few times before falling into a deep sleep.

CHAPTER THREE

 

"Good morning, my love."
Snow greeted her from the breakfast table. He was tucking into sausages and
kidneys. Isabelle shuddered, and chose a slice of toast. The footman hurried to
pour her tea. Snow took a sip of ale. She crumbled a few fragments and tried to
eat.

"We'll need to start
planning." Snow pushed back his plate.

Isabelle looked up blankly and he
chuckled.

"The announcement of our
marriage will be published today. The
ton
will want to call and pay its
respects. And we will have to have some kind of gathering. Not a ball, but a
reception--somewhere around two hundred guests should be appropriate."

"Two hundred?”  Isabelle
gulped. "I wouldn't know where to begin."

"Mrs. Hutchins and my
secretary, Mr. Trent, will assist you. I'll get Trent started on the
invitations today. Now, I must leave you. I have a meeting in the City. We have
an appointment with Madame Reynard later this morning to order your new
wardrobe. I'll be back to collect you."

Snow tossed his napkin on his
plate, dropped a kiss on her cheek and strode out, whistling. Isabelle took a
sip of tea. Marriage seemed to agree with her husband.

The morning drifted by agreeably.
Mrs. Hutchins toured the house with her, delighted to have a mistress once
again. His lordship's mother had been gone twenty years, she explained, and a
household was always better with a mistress. Isabelle felt a little guilty
about gossiping with her housekeeper, but that lady was so affable and so eager
to share her forty-year history with the Beaufort family, that she allowed Mrs.
Hutchins' inexhaustible store of family anecdotes to flow unchecked.

"This was my lady's favorite
room." Mrs. Hutchins paused in their tour, opening the door to a small
parlor tucked away at the back of the first floor. "She called it her
morning room, did all her correspondence here."

The housekeeper ran her hand along
a green silk-upholstered chair with a reverent air. "That's her, in the
portrait above the fireplace. Lady Margaret Rayne, she was, before marrying the
old earl. God bless her."

The portrait showed a young woman
with chestnut curls and beautiful dark eyes, very like her son's. The formality
of her pose was belied by a glint of mischief in those fine eyes.

"She was lovely."

Mrs. Hutchins beamed. "The
loveliest lady you ever saw, so kind and gentle. Until
he
broke her like
a toy and threw her away."

"The earl mistreated his
wife?" Isabelle was startled into asking a question.

The housekeeper hesitated.
"It's not my place to say, my lady, but the boys, my lord and his brother,
suffered terribly. Lady Margaret loved to laugh, and dance, but he stopped all
that. She had to make him proud, be a proper countess, stiff-necked like him.
He was a dour man, hard, unforgiving. He didn't understand her nature, and what
the earl didn't understand, he destroyed."

Isabelle's stomach clenched.
"How did he destroy her?"

"It was an offense to be gay,
wrong to show affection. Whatever sweetness she had, he made it a sin--until
she couldn't stand it anymore. She took a lover and the earl found out. Threw
her out of the house with only the clothes on her back. The older boy was at
school, so she begged to take my lord with her, but the old earl just laughed
at her, cruel, like a lad tearing wings off a butterfly."

"How horrible! Could not her
family intervene?"

"Oh, they got her a settlement
all right. Lady Margaret went to live somewhere in Italy because of the shame.
But the worst thing that happened that night, my lady, was what I saw after the
earl had pushed her out the door and slammed it in her face." A tear
rolled down the older woman's cheek. "The boy was sitting in the shadows
at the top of the stairs, a witness to the whole thing. And that was the last
time my lord ever saw his mother. She died abroad before he was fifteen years
old."

Mrs. Hutchins bowed her head for a
moment. Isabelle touched her shoulder lightly, to show the pity it would be
improper to express. The housekeeper sniffed and gave Isabelle a watery smile.

"I'm sure you've heard enough
of my blathering for one day, my lady! Perhaps a tray of tea in the
garden?"

"Thank you, Mrs. Hutchins. I
appreciate your frankness about my husband's family. He is not...forthcoming
about them. Your confidences shall be kept, I do assure you."

The housekeeper bobbed a curtsy and
hurried off. Isabelle continued down the hall and through the drawing room
where French doors opened onto the secluded garden beyond.  She found a seat,
set among the perfectly aligned borders.

So her husband was the child of an
unhappy marriage, a child whose mother had chosen a lover over her family.
Though it could be argued that a wife had chosen to save herself from an
unbearable marriage. Isabelle could certainly understand her decision, but to
risk losing her child? That, she found hard to comprehend.

Perhaps if she had made different
choices, Charlie and her daughter might still be alive. Isabelle rubbed her
hand over her face. It was no use. She could not remember that night, no matter
how hard she tried. She would just bring on another of her headaches. Maybe it
was for the best. Maybe there was a good reason for her memory lapse.

Isabelle tilted her head and looked
up at the sky. A flock of swallows dipped and turned in the warm air, before
flying off westward. She watched until she could see them no more.

*
* * * *

The promised tea was accompanied by
delicate sandwiches and cakes, all beautifully arranged on china decorated with
Snow's family crest. A far cry from her own family's tender care, Isabelle
thought with more than a tinge of bitterness. Though what might have happened
had not her brother stepped in to protect her, she did not know. She should be
grateful. She was certainly freer than she had been before her marriage. The
staff were inclined to cosset her, her rooms beautifully appointed.

Isabelle found herself reluctant to
venture from her new harbor into the world of society again. But she must. She
owed it to her husband and his position. He had promised she would adjust and
she hoped that was true. She would hate to disappoint him again.

"Warwick said you were out
here." Snow dropped in the seat beside her. "You look quite at
ease."

Isabelle smiled. "How could I
not be, with everyone waiting on me hand and foot?"

"I'm pleased that you are
being treated as I instructed. You will see that being a countess is not such a
terrible thing, after all."

Isabelle flushed, conscious of her
still tender flesh. Snow reached over to tip up her chin.

 "I am teasing you,
Isabelle."

She met his gaze briefly before
moving away. "I am afraid my sense of humor is rather defunct of
late."

Snow turned her face towards his.
"Another thing I am sure we can change." His lips brushed hers
lightly. "Madame Reynard awaits us, my dear."

Isabelle had not visited a
modiste
since her first marriage, certainly not one as exclusive as this. They reviewed
fabric samples and fashion plates until finally Madame suggested some fittings.
They adjourned to a private room, where Isabelle was stripped of every layer of
clothing, right down to her chemise. Her husband's interested gaze, as each
item was removed, kindled a disturbing warmth deep within her.

"A new corset–several–to begin
with. This," Madame fingered the offending item, "is appropriate only
for a refuse pile. You will pardon my frankness, Lady Snow."

Isabelle was measured, prodded and
manipulated into a variety of frocks, evening gowns and spencers. She was
starting to get a headache when Snow called a halt. He asked they be left alone
for the countess to take a rest. Madame gathered up her staff like a mother
hen, ushering them through the door which she closed after them.

Isabelle turned from the looking
glass to thank her husband, whose gaze had grown from interest to lust. She was
still in her chemise and looked around for a robe or something to cover
herself. She felt acutely on display.

"Come here," Snow told
her, his voice languid with desire. He placed his hands around her waist,
before slipping behind to grasp her bottom. "Still sore?"

She bit her lip. "It's much
better."

Snow caressed her with increasing
pressure, pulling her close to press hot kisses against the skin swelling over
the silk undergarment. He sucked her nipples through the cloth, nibbling
lightly with his teeth until Isabelle cried out. He raised his head, breath
coming faster. His hands moved to her shoulders, pressing down until she knelt
before him. He released her to undo the fall of his breeches.  

"Do you remember the night
when first we met? How I tasted you in the moonlight?"

"Yes." She felt her lower
body coil tight, with wanting, with anticipation.

"I want you to taste me, the
same way." Snow pulled his member from his breeches, gripping it in his
fist. He was hard and huge. He pumped his hand along the swollen length. A bead
of moisture trembled on its reddened tip. He leaned forward.

 "Lick it."

She hesitated. "Charlie wanted
me to do this....but I refused, told him I wasn't a whore."

Snow stroked himself, the wet tip
slicking the surface in a motion she could hear.

"Passionate women do this,"
he corrected her, "women who want to please their husbands."

Isabelle's tongue flicked along her
lower lip nervously.

"Yes," Snow said,
"just like that."

Isabelle leaned against his knees
and he parted them, pulling her closer. Snow took her hand and placed it over
his, where he continued to pleasure himself, so that her movement mimicked his.
The motion was almost hypnotic. Her breathing quickened. Her hand grew wetter
as his member wept over their entwined fingers, and she could smell his
essence. Her womb pulsed. God, he was beautiful.

Snow lifted her chin with one
finger.

"You refused to suck Charlie's
cock?"

She nodded.

"But you'll suck mine?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"Good girl."

Isabelle bowed her head. She licked
along the top of his member and underneath, her tongue swirling along the
ridged edge. Snow made a sound deep in his throat. His hips pushed towards her.
She opened her lips and engulfed him. So hot, so hard. She pulled back, licking
along his length. He grasped her shoulders, thrusting a few strokes into her
mouth, before he slipped a finger between her lips to break the suction. She
looked up at him in surprise. Snow shook his head.

"That's enough for now. We
will wait until we're home. I don't want Madame and her seamstresses seeing you
with my seed all over your face."

A soft caress along her jaw
softened his frank assessment. Snow forced his still rigid member inside his
breeches and fastened them. Isabelle stood up, though her knees trembled. He'd
made her want to touch him, just like that. She raised a hand to her mouth, to
wipe away the wetness. If he'd wanted to take her, right there, she would have
spread her legs willingly. Her longing both puzzled and frightened her. She'd
vowed that no other man would have such power over her, but her husband’s lust
awakened her own desires, and made her want to break that promise.

Snow pulled out a spotless
handkerchief and cleaned her face and hands. He bent to kiss her.

"You taste like me," he
whispered, and guided her from the room. Why did he make her feel this way?

*
* * * *

Alone in her bed, Isabelle huffed
with frustration. She had thought, hoped, that her husband meant to come to her
bed tonight, following their interlude at Madame Reynard's. Instead, after
dinner, Snow had left to play cards at his club. After so many years alone,
Snow had touched her and left her aching for more. She was a woman, with normal
appetites and desires, and he had whetted them, without satisfying her.

Isabelle's hand reached for her
breast. Snow had held her, right here, his grasp hard and almost painfully
exciting. Her nipple pebbled under her fingers. She slid her hand down the
front of her nightdress. She eased up the material to touch the soft flesh of
her leg, before moving to caress her molten core. So wet. Her fingers slicked
along her secret places, before parting the delicate skin to lightly rub the
swollen nub. Isabelle moaned at the hot lick of pleasure. Her fingers stilled.
Should she be doing this? Her body belonged to her husband now.

"Don't stop."

Her eyes flew open at the sound of
those hoarse, whispered words. Snow stood at the foot of her bed, one hand
wrapped around the bedpost. His eyes were hungry as they roamed over her naked
body.

 "Touch yourself again. I want
to see you pleasure yourself."

Isabelle stroked herself, eyes
fixed on her husband's. She opened herself with her fingers, using her other
hand to rub herself in quick circles, pressing and then releasing. God, she was
so wound up, she wouldn't last long. He undid his breeches and started to touch
himself while he watched her, his harsh breathing in counterpoint to the wet
sounds of their sliding flesh.

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