Authors: Starla Kaye
Now she was irritated. “Dangerous? As in you would physically hurt me? I do not believe that for a second.”
He stood nearly toe-to-toe with her and lowered his tone so no one around would hear, although she hadn’t seen anyone. “Nay hurt ye, Anna. I fear it wouldna take much fer me to take ye to the ground where’er we were and rut upon ye like a beast.”
Annabel felt her face flame at the image in her mind. Tingles fluttered low in her body. “Mayhap having you rut upon me like a beast would not be so bad…if you did so in private.”
He groaned and ground his teeth. “Do no’ speak in such a crude manner!”
“You spoke the words first. I was merely—”
“Stop now! We shouldna even be talking of such.” Anger flashed in his eyes, distress as well. “I have a betrothed due to arrive any day. Ye will soon have a husband. This is wrong.”
“Aye, ‘tis wrong. Yet I ache for things I do not understand. I desire to be touched by you, kissed by you,” she admitted sadly. It was so unfair to find a man she was so drawn to and could never have.
His jaw tensed and he glowered down at her. “Ye canna say such words to me. ‘Tis wrong. Go to yer bedchamber. Stay there.”
“Because I told the truth of what I feel? “ Annabel blinked at him and thrust her chin out. “Of course, I won’t do that.”
He puffed up in frustration. “I am laird here. My word demands instant obedience. Ye will obey me, lass, or risk the consequences. Go now. I need ye out of my sight.”
“Instant obedience? Risk the consequences? You go too far.” What had she ever seen in this impossible man? She turned back toward her wagon.
Brodie caught her wrist and spun her back to him. A vein pulsed in his neck. “Do no’ press me on this. I am in a foul mood already.”
“You’re always in a foul mood, Brodie Durward!” She glared right back at him. “I’m tired of it. Weary of you ordering me about. I am not one of your people.”
His nostrils flared and she knew she had pushed him nearly past the point of his patience. He was a man used to being in charge. This whole loss of memories issue kept him frustrated, strained his patience until he was often on the edge. But she was exasperated now, too. She was near to loving him, but couldn’t have him. The woman who had the right to him was due to arrive in the next day or so. He would have someone to talk with, to share with, and to love. She had no one. The depth of her hurting caused her to speak harshly.
“I will leave Urquhart this day. I will hitch my team to my wagon and be out of your sight and out of your life.” They were brave words when it scared her clear to her toes about leaving here. Especially now that she worried someone might be out to kill her for some reason.
“Ye are no’ leaving until I say so!” His eyes glinted with warning. “I act as yer guardian until I find a proper husband fer ye.”
“No one named you my guardian other than you.” She was almost shaking in her anger with him, in her worry of the unknown she faced, and in her knowing how very alone she was now.
“The day after we arrived here, I sent word to yer English king that I will act as yer guardian. Yer da would have wanted someone to watch out fer ye.” He stood looking big and formidable, expecting her to back down now.
Annabel gaped at him in shock for a second. Then she fought back tears of sadness, knowing her father would indeed be worried about her being alone. She was so very tired of trying to be strong, trying to find a way to help this brooding man, trying not to have feelings for him. She drew on her pride and on her determination.
“Legal guardian or not, I will leave today. You will soon have another woman to bend to your will.”
“Nay, ye will no’!”
To her amazement, he grabbed her arm and dragged her with him to the back of the furthest paddocks. He shoved her to the wall. “Ye shouldna have pushed me, lass. I’m going to give ye a sound leathering. And then ye will go to yer bedchamber and stay there til the morrow.”
Her heart raced at his grim words. He’d spanked her before, but this would be far different. As her guardian—which apparently he was now, he had the right to discipline her as he saw fit. He could even choose to lock her in one of the four towers the rest of her life if he chose to do so. He was a proud and feared warrior, not a man to rebel against. She’d acted foolishly, spoken foolishly. And now she would pay dearly for her actions.
She turned to him ready to protest, attempt to reason with him. But she found him standing stiffly, his jaw clenched in resolve. Yet his eyes revealed a man who’d been forced to deal with more than he could at the moment. She remembered the fear for her that had shuddered through him as he’d held her. She knew the nearly uncontrollable arousal he seemed to have whenever they were too close to one another. She knew how much he wanted her and fiercely fought against it. And, angry or not with him, she still wanted him, although she couldn’t have him. Maybe accepting this punishment would give some kind of ease to both of them. He needed to relieve some of the strain she’d brought into his life. She needed to stop yearning for him. Surely enduring this chastisement and the suffering after would keep her from making a fool of herself over him again.
“All right, my lord. I will take your punishment.” The words were hard to say, turning toward the wall even harder.
“Lower your braies.”
“My lord?” He’d bared her bottom before, but this was so different, so difficult to do. “Can you not do it with them up?”
She watched him remove his thick black belt and trembled. His expression softened a bit. “Braies to yer ankles, Annabel. Then face the wall, arms raised.” His tone was a mixture of command and an odd kindness.
Drawing in a nervous breath, she turned away and then pushed her braies down. They were well away from anyone who might happen by. Yet she felt so vulnerable standing here half-dressed, her bare bottom exposed to a man ready to welt it.
He stepped next to her and offered her the leather sheath for his small boot knife. “Put it between yer lips. ‘Twill keep ye from crying out too loudly.”
She glanced back as he raised the belt. “Please, not too harshly.”
Their gazes met and he nodded. “Enough that ye will think twice aboot disobeying me agin.”
“Like going to my bedchamber to give ye some peace?” She was about to pay a high price for rebelling.
“Aye. I am leathering ye, too, fer constantly threatening to leave. Ye ken the reasons ‘tis unsafe to go off by yerself. Yet ye threaten to do so every time ye are angry with me.”
His expression hardened again. “Turn away, lass. Ye willna want to see the lashes falling.”
He was right about that. She put the leather sheath between her teeth and lowered her head between her outstretched arms. Holding her breath, she waited for the first fall of the thick belt. It was always the worst lick.
The wait was far too short. He sent the belt down hard and a line of white hot pain seared across both buttocks as if he’d branded her. She yelped, though it came out muffled because of the sheath in her mouth.
He gave her five more lashes. She knew he’d held back his strength, but still each stripe stung mightily. With each one she danced up on her toes. With each one she grimaced and bit down on the sheath of leather.
“Six more. I want ye to ken the consequences of going against me verra well.”
Annabel considered demanding that he stop, but she heard the whoosh of the next lash coming. She squeezed her eyes closed and prepared for it. He striped her steadily, one after the other with no rest in between. The pain didn’t really hit her until the last one landed. And then she cried out, grateful for the sheath to quiet the screams.
She sagged against the wall as he moved away. She’d had worse punishments, but this was bad enough.
“’Tis done. Ye can raise yer braies now.” He sounded distressed, as if hurting her had hurt him her as well. He reached around and pulled the sheath from her quivering lips. “Ye did well, lass.”
It took her another minute to calm her sobs, to gather her strength to bend down for her clothing. She would have liked for him to leave her so she could suffer this disgrace in private. But he was there as she hissed with the ache of moving, as she sucked in a pained breath when the fabric slid over her tender bottom. And he was there when she turned, wiping away her tears.
“Ye will go to yer chamber now, Anna. Ye will stay there and think about why ye got a lashing.”
It would be difficult to walk into the keep and harder to climb all those stairs to the second floor. She would be more than ready to remove her braies and stretch out on her stomach on the bed. Still, she’d made plans with Angus.
As if he knew her thoughts, Brodie said, “I will tell Gordon ye’re not feeling well. Ye can walk with him on the morrow…or not.”
The night had seemed endlessly long by the time Brodie finally gave up and climbed from his bed as the first rays of sun hit his window. He doubted if he’d slept more than an hour in total. Lack of sleep and the throbbing headache he’d suffered most of the night hadn’t helped his mood. He rubbed his forehead although that never really did anything. Mayhap he needed to ask Cook for something from her medicinals. He was getting desperate for some kind of relief. With each new day his headaches got worse. More so when he was around Annabel. He needed to stay away from her. Mayhap he should relent and let her leave Urquhart as she wanted to do.
Nay! He could not let her leave here without an escort he trusted or a husband. A tightness pinched his chest. He didn’t like the idea of his Anna joined in any manner with another man. For all of her flirtations with him, her telling him how she lusted for him, he knew she was an innocent. Some man other than him would wake each morn to the sight of her delicate face smiling at him. Pull her small form against him, run his arms all over her soft-skinned body. Have the right to put his mouth to her plump breasts and suckle them. Bring her alive as he feasted between her legs before putting his cock to her woman’s place and driving inside her warmth.
Beyond frustrated, he grabbed the candle from the bedside table and threw it across the room. The metal candle bowl quickly followed, clattering to the stone floor. Life was so damn unfair sometimes! He’d lost his brother and his father to a battle that had been lost even before it had begun. He’d been seriously injured there as well, nearly losing his life, too, and losing his memories. Including memories of his home, his people, and Maggie, the sister who so desperately wanted to help him but couldn’t. Now he’d met Annabel Henderson and wanted her so bad his teeth ached, even when she dared to challenge him at every turn. But he couldn’t have her. He was bound by honor to marry a woman he’d never met, out of duty to the English king.
He kicked at the bedside table, turning it on its side, and stubbing his toe in the process. He swore viciously and hopped around in pain. As he surveyed the minor damage he’d done in his chamber, he knew it was time to get dressed and leave the room before he made a shambles of what was left.
As he started down the long hallway toward the stairs a few minutes later, thoughts of Lady Agatha Stonewall weighed heavily upon him. She would probably arrive this day, the morrow at the latest. She didn’t deserve to face an angry, bitter man. None of his problems were hers. He needed to focus on making things better here. He needed to stop growling at everyone who crossed his path. It was time to forget the past he could not remember and make new bonds with his people, find peace in the man he was now. It was time to begin making plans for a wedding ceremony, though he intended to put off the occasion for a month or mayhap a fortnight. He would give Lady Stonewall time to get to know the man she would marry, and give her time to decide if she would rather decline the betrothal.
Brodie came to the closed door of Annabel’s bedchamber and stopped. How was she this morn? He suspected her pert little bottom would be tender. He wasn’t proud that she’d angered him enough that he’d given her a sound leathering with his belt. Especially after she’d been dealing with the puzzling note she’d found.
Braden…Ala…vow to kill Anna
. Again, his head throbbed at the thought of this “Braden.” There was something deep within his memories about the name.
He shoved that thought aside. What he couldn’t push aside was the threat to Anna. His hands curled into fists. He would not allow any harm to come to her! He would protect her to his dying breath. As, he knew, would all of the men within the walls of Urquhart.
Muffled sounds of movement came to him through the closed door. She was up now and getting around. Her short hair would be tousled from sleep. She would mayhap take a few seconds to reach back and rub her tender bottom, probably purse her lips in annoyance at the thought of what he’d done. She would…
The door opened and she came barreling out in her usual no-nonsense determination to go somewhere, do something. Before he could even think about moving out of her way, she slammed into him. She gasped and he felt her breasts press against him before she stumbled backward in surprise.
“I am sorry, Lord Devil.” She struggled to compose herself, brushing nervously at the sides of her long gown.
He stared at the pink tingeing her cheeks, concentrating on not lowering his gaze to her breasts. “A gown?” His own cheeks heated as he realized what a foolish thing he’d said. But she’d only worn a gown around him one other time.
Annabel blinked at him, still blushing. “I wanted to look presentable when your…when your betrothed arrives.”
“She might not arrive until the morrow.” His palms were sweating in his battle not to reach for her and pull her back into his arms. He scowled, as if it were her fault for how he felt.
“Ah, now that is the face I am familiar with. The one holding a frown fierce enough to scare away any who dares to cross your path.” Then she smiled in amusement. “I pity your betrothed. She will have much to deal with being married to the likes of you.”
With that she scurried by him, her slender hips swaying and darkening his mood even more.