Isabel Baxter's debut season has just begun, but instead of whirling about elegant ballrooms in the arms of London's most eligible bachelors, her father has sent her home in disgrace. Will Isabel find her way back to the man her father has labeled a "rakehell," or will a chance encounter with a neighbor interrupt Lady Isabel's Journey? If you like spanking romances, you'll love this book.
BDSM category: spanking only
NO EXPLICIT EROTIC SCENES but not suitable for under age 18
"Isabel, for heaven's sake! Sit up!"
Lady Isabel Baxter shifted uncomfortably in her seat, forcing herself into an upright position. Schooling her features to a neutral expression, she smoothed the skirts of her brown wool traveling suit and drew back the curtain to take in the scenery. Dull gray skies shed great droplets of rain-tears that in turn melted the late autumn snow. The entire world seemed to be weeping today, and Isabel wanted nothing more than to weep with it. She would not, however, give in to the tears now--not in front of Aunt Millicent.
"Close that curtain," Aunt Millicent, dowager sister to Isabel's father, snapped. "You'll give yourself a headache watching out the window. What could you possibly be thinking, girl?"
Isabel sighed and let the heavy burgundy fabric fall back into place. "I don't know, Aunt," she murmured. Laying her head back against the seat, she pondered the question that had nothing to do with windows and scenery, and everything to do with this trip and the sudden turn her life had taken.
What had she been thinking? Only, she supposed, that William Glenwell was the most handsome, sensitive man she'd ever known. He possessed the soul of the poet--a soul she had seen and had come to understand. And although certain members of the ton had labeled him a rakehell, only she had glimpsed what he kept hidden beneath that devil-may-care attitude. William was not the man her father believed him to be, of that Isabel was certain. If only Papa had been willing to listen to her last night, perhaps she could have convinced him of that fact.
But Archibald Baxter, Earl of Brookwood, had been far too angry to pay much heed to his daughter's notions of love and her insistence that he simply did not comprehend the ways of the heart. Of course, being the fair man that he was, he had given her a chance to explain exactly how she'd come to be alone in the Montgomery's library with the one man in all of London he had forbidden her to see. But ultimately, all the rationalizations in the world had not been able to explain away what Papa saw as an act of direct defiance and he'd dealt with his daughter's disobedience in the same manner that he'd dealt with such willfulness all her life. The leather strap had been withdrawn from his desk drawer, and Isabel had presented herself for proper chastisement.
After the strap had fallen on her exposed bum enough times to leave her crying and repentant, Papa had settled her on the settee. Isabel had sobbed out her apologies, knowing that she truly had been wrong to leave the crowded ballroom with William. As her father had so aptly pointed out, a young woman's reputation could easily be ruined by such a careless act. Although Isabel herself cared little for society's many conventions, she did not wish to cause her dear father any embarrassment.
"I am sorry, Papa," she'd said when, after a time, she had recovered her composure and ability to speak calmly. "I cannot agree with your impression of William's character, but I will not behave in such a manner again. I promise."
"No, you shan't behave like that again, my dear," Papa had said with a measure of resignation, "for you'll not have the opportunity. Isabel, you're going home."
"Home? But that's not fair! You've punished me for sneaking away from Aunt Millicent tonight. Why must you send me home?"
There had been regret in her father's eyes, but his resolve held firm. "I'm sorry, my dear, but I've been called to Edinburgh on business. And since you seem to have little care for your aunt's guidance, I do not feel comfortable leaving you here in the city with only Millicent to look after you." Drawing a deep breath, Lord Baxter had kissed his daughter's forehead before continuing. "At least with you home at Brookwood, I'll not spend the next two weeks worrying over what trouble you've managed to get yourself into."
"So you'll be gone for two weeks then, Papa?" Isabel had looked up at her father, hopeful. "Does that mean we can return to London before Christmastide? Oh, I would so like to spend the holidays in the city this year, for there are ever so many parties to attend. Lucille Merriman has told me all about her father's annual New Year's Eve ball. It's a masque, Papa, and we've already chosen our costumes! Oh, please, might we come back to London before then? I promise I'll be quite obedient and not give Aunt Millicent a moment's worry the entire time we're home, if only you'll say yes."
Isabel had presented her case so prettily; her eyes had shone with such excitement, that her father had at last promised to try to keep his trip short so that he would be able to accompany Isabel back to London before the celebration of the Christ Child was upon them. "But mind my words, Isabel," he'd warned, "I'll be expecting nothing but glowing reports from your aunt upon my return. Anything less, and you can expect a dull winter at Brookwood for your troubles. Do I make myself clear?"
Isabel threw her arms about her father's neck then, hugging him until he could barely draw breath. "Oh yes, Sir! I promise you'll not be disappointed in me this time."
"Very well, then. Now, upstairs with you, love. I'm sure you'll need to pack at least one trunk, and then get some sleep. You've a long journey ahead of you tomorrow."
Papa had been right about the long journey, Isabel thought as she once again shifted on the lumpy seat cushion. A day spent bumping along rutted country roads had dampened her spirits considerably. Ah, well. At least they were nearly at Brookwood--just an hour more and they'd be turning up the wide drive. Isabel planned on requesting a warm bath to soak in the very first thing.
Not five minutes after that thought had drifted through her mind, the coach came to a sudden, lurching halt. Isabel and Millicent heard the driver give an irritated shout.
"Get that fool cart out of the middle of the road. Can't ye see we've someplace to be, man?"
Curious as to the cause of the driver's harsh words, Isabel pulled back the curtain. From her angle, she could see dozens of chickens flapping about at the side of the road.
"I wonder what--" Isabel murmured as she reached for the door handle.
"Isabel, don't you dare step foot outside this coach," Aunt Millicent hissed.
The warning was a fraction of a second too late. Isabel, eyes on the melee before her, stepped down from the coach--and directly into a mixture of melting snow and oozing mud. She muttered a decidedly unladylike epitaph as her delicate calfskin boot was sucked down into the mess. In the next instant, she was pulled off balance and went tumbling, head over heels, into the middle of at least a dozen pecking, scratching hens.
Momentarily stunned, Isabel lay on the cold, mushy ground, barnyard fowl strutting and flapping all about her. A particularly curious chicken came to stand near the young woman's head and when it suddenly pecked at her hair, Isabel pushed herself upright. Waving a hand at the bird, she cried, "Shoo! Go away, you silly thing!"
"You know," a deep voice sounded from behind her, "it's you who have invaded their territory, Milady."
Isabel twisted around to determine the whereabouts of the speaker, and found herself looking up into a pair of blue-gray eyes. The amusement that sparkled there was disconcerting, and so Lady Isabel Baxter summoned her haughtiest attitude. Holding out a gloved hand, she replied in a frosty tone, "My good man, do you intend to stand there gawking all day, or will you spare a lady a hand up?"
The stranger took Isabel's hand and pulled her from the midst of the squawking, complaining chickens. "Pardon me, Milady," he said, in a voice that only served to further irritate the young woman. By the gods, he was laughing at her.
Eyes narrowing, she took in the man's disheveled appearance. He was a farmer, of course, for his attire was plain and bore the grime of a hard day's work. Beyond him, in the middle of the road, another man was working frantically to repair the rear axle of a wagon from which the chickens had obviously escaped. Martins, dressed in Brookwood red and gold livery, was bent to the task of helping the older man and had obviously missed her tumble altogether.
A glance toward the carriage, however, told Isabel that Aunt Millicent had not missed a thing. She was, in fact, peering out of the window with an expression so sour that a pound of butter would have turned rancid under her glare. Wonderful. As if this day had not been bad enough already, now she would have to listen to another of her aunt's lectures on propriety as well. With a sigh of resignation, she pulled her elbow free of the man's grasp.
"My thanks to you, Sir," she said with a slight incline of her head. Her hat, which had seemed such a darling confection of ribbons and lace just that morning, slid forward to completely cover one eye and Isabel shoved it back into place with an impatient gesture. "Since it's clear that our driver is attending to your broken wagon, I'll just return to the carriage now. I trust we'll be on our way momentarily."
The young woman did not get far, however, for as soon as she put weight on her right ankle, a dreadful pain shot up her leg. "Oh!" she cried and would have fallen had it not been for the arm that circled her waist to steady her.
"Here, now," he said, the amusement gone from his voice. "Are you all right? Where does it hurt?"
"It's--it's my ankle," she murmured. Biting her lip and willing away the tears that threatened, she reached out a hand and took hold of one muscular arm. "If I can just lean upon you, sir, I'm sure I can make it to--"
"Nonsense," he replied. Then, in one shockingly bold move, the stranger swept her up into his arms.
"My goodness," she squeaked. "Really, sir. There's no need for such a measure. I assure you, I'll be fine." Her protests, however, were thoroughly ignored by the man, who carried her as easily as he might a small child.
In only a few long strides, they had reached the carriage. The door was opened by a wide-eyed Aunt Millicent, who was instantly out-clucking the scattered fowl. "Isabel, what on earth have you done now? I told you that you ought not get out of the carriage."
"Yes, Aunt. And you were entirely right," Isabel sighed. "Not only have I ruined my suit, but I seem to have twisted my ankle in the process." Turning her attention back to the man who'd borne her to her coach, Isabel waved a hand toward the seat opposite her aunt. "You may put me down there, sir," she directed in a tone that was clearly meant to dismiss him from any further duty. Though he was obviously of the working class, something about the man's manner left Isabel feeling uneasy. She would certainly be relieved to quit his company.
The nod of his head was a model of civility as the tall, muscular farmer settled his charge onto the cushion. Something akin to mischief sparkled in his eyes, however, when he responded to her command with a subservient, "And will there be anything else, Milady?"
There it was again--the sense that he was laughing at her. Piqued, she did little to veil her own distaste of the man. "As a matter of fact," she replied haughtily, "there is one more thing, sir." She paused for a moment, her eyes flashing. "Do be so good as to close the door."
"Yes, madam," the man said and, sweeping her a courteous bow, did as he was bade. "Isabel," Aunt Millicent hissed angrily. "What has gotten into you? Such rude behavior was completely uncalled for. The man did nothing but come to your aid."
Clenching her hands in her lap and ignoring the deep-throated chuckle from just outside the carriage door, Isabel resigned herself to endure another of her aunt's lectures. It was going to be a long ride home.