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Training Lady Townsend(10)

By:Annabel Joseph

“Stuck is right,” said Warren. “How’d you fit it in there without me coming beforehand to loosen her up?”

“All of you are degenerates.” Hunter shook his head, refusing to raise his glass. “It’s a nasty business, bedding a virgin. Nothing to celebrate, I’ll tell you that.”

The men drank anyway, and Hunter drank too in the end, because it was easier than dealing with his conscience.

“Wasn’t she grateful, then?” August put down his glass with a bang. “If she cried, you didn’t do it right.”

“She was afraid, damn it. She—” His voice cut off. These were private matters. He leveled a scathing look at his friends and hunched over his drink. Before he married, it was no unusual thing to talk about the women they bedded, since they shared most of them. But now the woman in question was his wife, the mother of his future heirs. “It’s none of your goddamn business, but virgins are...skittish.”

For long moments there was no sound save the clinking of glasses and the other muted conversations in the room. A gentleman in the corner crowed briefly over a hand of cards.

“You must try to allay her fears then,” said August, breaking the heavy silence. “It can’t be that difficult. Not for you.”

“How not? She doesn’t like me. She wanted Warren, you know.” He tried to make a joke of it, but his lips twisted and the jibe sounded more like a growl.

“Warren?” August barked out a laugh. “God save her from demons she doesn’t know. Did you tell her Warren’s a worse deviant than you? An unrepentant hedonist and lover of unnatural sex acts?”

“Well, that could describe any of us,” Warren retorted in an injured tone. “It’s not my fault Townsey’s wife developed a tendre for me. I never courted her. She was one of Minette’s friends.”

Hunter ignored the ensuing bawdy accusations and innuendos. He believed Warren. The man wasn’t one to flirt with innocents. Like all of them, he adhered to a code of honor. A morally sketchy one, perhaps, but a code of honor nonetheless. The four of them fulfilled their objectionable desires with experienced, willing women, and by silent agreement, left the innocents alone.

Of course, he’d been tempted to tell Aurelia about Warren the night before, especially when he felt her rejection and revulsion like a weight in his chest. He’d been tempted to pierce her precious, girlish fantasies and tell her just what sort of man she’d fallen in love with, but in the end he couldn’t do it. He’d already hurt her so much.

Or had he? Hunter wasn’t sure where Aurelia fit into his convoluted code of honor. He hadn’t broken any laws, spanking her and bedding her last night. It was a man’s right to discipline his wife, and a man’s right to enjoy the bit of flesh between her thighs and put a baby in her womb if he wanted to. There were so many more things he could have done to her, sordid, depraved things, but he chose not to. He chose to protect her from that side of him—and from knowing the truth about Warren—and all he’d received in return was her fearful distaste.

“I need to get back to my regular life,” said Hunter, and everyone at the table knew what he meant.

“Do you think Lady Townsend will accept your ‘regular life’?” August asked.

“She’ll accept what I wish her to accept. That’s one thing I’ll say for my wife. She’s easily cowed with the proper methods.”

Warren frowned. “Always the disciplinarian. Beaten her already, have you?”

“I would never beat my wife. I may have spanked her, though. She deserved it.”

“For shedding virgin’s tears? It’s going to keep me up tonight, that vision.”

“Are you judging me, Warren?”

His friend gave a lurid smile. “I meant, it’s going to keep me up in the nicest of ways.” He glared at his friend in feigned frustration. “I have to pay Marta or Imogene whenever I want to wallop a delicious arse. You only have to accuse your wife of some breach of behavior and turn her over your lap.”

“Marriage has its perks.”

“For you, anyway.” Arlington grinned. “I don’t know how Lady Dormouse feels about those perks.”

“She’s my little dormouse now, fully and legally. She’ll feel what I want her to feel, or she’ll be punished for it.”

“Poor little dormouse,” said Warren, to general laughter.

Hunter took a deep drink of whiskey and raked a hand through his hair. It was all very well for them to laugh. He was feeling damn unsettled about Aurelia, and about married life. He would try again tonight to show her some warmth and patience in bed, but he didn’t know how long he could hold out before he returned to his bachelor-style pursuits.

*** *** ***

Hunter wasn’t surprised that Aurelia cried off on dinner, but he felt damned pathetic eating alone the day after his wedding. He ought to have stayed at the club with his friends but that would have caused talk. Here at home, there were only the stone-faced servants to witness the obvious failure of the Lockridge-Lansing alliance.

He sent a message for her to come down and join him, but it went unanswered when the servant was refused entrance to her rooms.

“Has anyone been in her rooms today?” he asked in a fit of temper. The servant informed him that her lady’s maid had been admitted for a short time but that the marchioness had not touched any of her luncheon or dinner trays.

“Fix another,” he said, pushing his plate away. She could refuse to admit the servants, but she’d not refuse him. He carried the tray himself, mounting the central marble stairway and stalking down the right side corridor to her suite of rooms. A footman materialized, sweeping open the tall, carved door without the least change in his expression, as if it were perfectly normal that his master might carry a dinner tray to his wife. After Hunter entered, the door closed behind him with a barely audible click.

The room was dark. The sheets were turned down on her great, tall bed, but it was empty. He scanned the room, and discovered a faint glow of candlelight shining from within the curtained window seat. He ducked under the pleated silk panels concealing the recessed space. Aurelia curled in the furthermost corner of the right bench, her knees pulled up to her chest. A lace-edged dressing gown pooled around her on the pillows. Its bright, floral-patterned embroidery contrasted with her miserable expression. As she turned to look at him, her gaze communicated dread.

“I see you’ve found yourself a little mouse hole,” he said. He sounded crueler than he meant to.

She didn’t answer, only drew her arms more tightly around her knees. He sat on the left bench, across from her, the gilt silver dinner tray balanced on his knees. His gaze strayed up to the curtains, then past the flickering candle on the sill to the black night outside.

“I’m happy if you like this place,” he said with careful softness, to make up for his earlier tone. “I used to hide in here as a child, when I visited my great-aunt Emma. In the daytime you could see the neighbor’s park, with intersecting paths and diamond shaped topiaries. I wonder if they’re still there.”

“They are,” she murmured.

“I’ve brought you some food. Have you eaten today?”

“I’m not hungry.”


She seemed to shrink within herself, a miserable, fragile huddle in his window seat. In his house. His wife...and she wouldn’t look at him, wouldn’t smile or even attempt to make basic conversation.

He deserved it.

“I suppose we’ll learn to tolerate one another eventually,” he said. “I expected no more from this marriage.”

“I don’t want to be married at all.” She shifted, leaning her forehead against the smooth, leaded glass. “I want to go home.”

“This is your home now. You’re married to me, and after last night, possibly pregnant with my child. We’re bound forever, whether you wish to be or not.” He sounded petty, pedantic, like some blasted schoolmaster. So tedious, this being-a-husband nonsense. “I want you to eat something,” he said. “And before you say no, pray remember the consequences of disobedience. I won’t hesitate to spank you again.”

She gave him a look of such burning hatred it might have singed the wool off a sheep, but she unfolded herself from her protective huddle and sat up across from him, pulling her dressing gown tighter across the curve of her breasts. He nudged the tray closer.

“It’s only...” She stared down at the artfully arranged dishes on the tray’s lace doily. “I’m not well. Perhaps you ought to call a physician.”

He felt a frisson of alarm. “A physician? Whatever is the matter?”

“Last night, after you coupled with me, there was...blood.”

The anxious pounding in his temples diminished. “There’s supposed to be blood. You were a virgin, weren’t you? It’s an unpleasant business, but I’m told most virgins bleed.” He sighed. “Eat something, whether you’re hungry or not. Even if you starve yourself to a skeleton, I’ll still take you to bed. I have no other choice. There must be an heir.”

He sounded like a scold but he didn’t know how else to go on. She set him on edge, this listless mouse hiding in his home. She feared him, and he wasn’t sure that was a good thing anymore. She began to eat, the tiniest bites that could still qualify as actual consumption of food. Her hair was half up, half down, a disarranged style that made her appear more luscious than she probably wished to.