She rushed indoors and changed into a gown and fresh stockings, ensuring her bodice was taut and her waist drawn in.
Matthew stood in the doorway, the light behind him. He filled the space, leaving a little brightness to seep through. “Now what was the point of that?”
“What?” she asked, brushing her hair with the ebony-backed hairbrush.
“Putting them clothes back on.”
She started. Did he mean to bed her again? She was still a little sore from the first time, although not to the extent she might have anticipated. Was it appropriate now that her ‘debt’ was paid? She had a long journey ahead of her and that should be her focus. However, watching him stroll into his cottage, his eyes glued on her, she was struggling with those aches and tingles, the kind that signalled she was not in a hurry to leave him.
“Why should I not change into my clothes?” she asked.
“Cos I can’t tan your hide with them on, can I?” He closed the door behind him.
“Tan my… whatever for? You can’t mean it…” She staggered back against the wall.
“I mean what I say, lass. Now you lied about that ring. You’re no convent bred girl either, so don’t bother to tell me you’re married to Christ.”
“I can’t be married to any man if I’m a virgin.” She stuck out her chin.
“Then why do you have a ring upon that finger? Eh?” He picked up the saddlebag from the table, rummaged inside, and pulled out the pouch of gems.
She was aghast. He was a thief. She had allowed a common thief to trick her.
“Now don’t gawp at me. I searched this while you slept and found these pretty things. Worth a fair penny, too. So, here’s me thinking, she’s run off. Got herself married, then run off with his fortune. These are not going to be easy to sell, I can tell you. Some rogue will do a crooked deal with you to get ‘em cheap. Tell me the truth and I’ll make sure they go back to their rightful owner.”
He had the measure of her too well. But she wasn’t a thief. The gems were a gift to her and she was more than capable of selling them for a fair price. She moved away from the wall. “I’m not lying. They are mine.”
He shook his head. “You’ve taken a husband in bad faith and now you’re taking his fortune. So, off with them clothes, and I’ll tan you with my hand and belt, then if you tell me the truth, I’ll not punish you further. So let’s be getting on with the deed, I’ve other things to do.”
She blanched. He was serious. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and between her thighs, she was a dam about to burst its banks. Matthew, far from making her want to run away, was crushing her resistance. He had some of the truth, but not all of it, and if she told him the real story of her marriage, how her husband had failed to consummate it, would he think it was her fault, like most men probably would? She might warrant a spanking for denying her husband existed, but not for taking the jewels. As for running away, it was a moot point. She intended to return, eventually.
She folded her arms across her chest. “If you want to do it, then you’ll have to come and get me over your knee yourself.” She spoke before she could think through the consequences. Matthew was not a man who went back on his words.
“Fair enough. I’ll come over there, strip you bare, bend you over this table, and spank that arse until its red and blooming. You’ll feel the stripes of my belt. Then if you can take it, I’ll pleasure that tight hole of yours. If after all that you think you want to leave, you can go; otherwise, I’ll let you stay until you’ve sorted out how you plan to return the things you’ve stolen from your husband, including yourself, since he’s party to that possession too. How does that sound to you?”
She was defeated. She had no inclination to run or hide from him. He could do exactly what he wanted, because he had offered her the one thing she truly desired, the chance to stay. She would dangle before him the three months her husband was away and use it to suggest a proposal. Have me for three months, Matthew, and I will do whatever you wish, and then I’ll go back to him educated in womanly ways and debauched enough that even the austere Lord Coleman would not be able to resist me.