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Pregnant by the scoundrel's seduction, she wanders the ravaged land, fighting to subsist, to survive, for both herself and her unborn child. She searches for a place of safety, somewhere that her past disgrace will not be held against her.
She finds Jessica and Roy, who have built a village in the wilderness. It is a place of rule and law, where strong men exert control and instill order, often by applying a leather belt to a deserving bottom, but where that ordered structure means safety and protection. These people accept Jacqueline and her child, even knowing her history, but then utilize her strong, innate sexuality for their own ends. She discovers that such treatment, though highly embarrassing, arouses her emotions to a fever pitch.
Come and join Cerise Noble as she continues the Brackish Bay saga, and discover once again her world of a possible and highly sexual future.
"You're beautiful, Jacqueline."
I twirled one more time, giggling. The skirt flew out in a rippling circle, and I shook my hips the way I'd seen my mother do a hundred times before. She grinned at me, then started clapping her hands, the same rhythm that they would clap every night around the fire. I pranced and tossed my curls, spinning and sashaying. She stopped clapping and shook her head at me.
"You've grown up so fast."
"Not fast enough, Mama."
She rolled her eyes. "Come here, let me finish the waistband, now that I see it fits you."
I went to her, removed the skirt, and stood in just my chemise, underskirt, and bloomers. We heard a crunch of branches, and she shooed me into the tent immediately, stepping to block the way of whoever was approaching.
I could hear his voice and recognized Amir, the leader of our little tribe. His voice was warm. I always felt safe hearing his voice.
"How is our little dancer?"
He chuckled. "It's a good thing we'll be coming to the horse-trading meet in only a couple weeks, then."
"Probably fetch a good husband there, you think?"
My mother sounded insulted. "Of course. Many men will want her."
"All the more reason to get her safely married away."
She sighed. "Yes, definitely."
I touched the inside of the tent, wondering. Of course I knew that women in my tribe married young. I touched my mons through the chemise and remembered how I'd been congratulated when my blood started flowing. My mother had slapped me. I touched my cheek. I still wasn't sure why she'd slapped me at first � I'd been startled, about to cry, unsure what I'd done wrong, when her face broke into a grin, and she'd given me the bundle of pale pretty cloths she'd sewn for me to stanch the flow. She showed me how to use them, though I'd some idea, having lived in the same tent with her my whole life. When I'd had a monthly menses for a year, I was considered a woman grown, and my clothing changed. From the pale, simple garments of a child, I was now allowed to dress in beautiful full skirts, embroidered blouses that showed off the swell of my young breasts, tight belts that accentuated my tiny waist. I touched my waist, pleased again at how wide my hips were, what a contrast it was from waist to hip, the roundness of my buttocks, the perkiness of my breasts. I felt just right�a just ripened pear, ready to be plucked and devoured by my future husband.
I hoped that I would find a husband more like Amir and less like my father. I glanced at his sleeping bag. It was neat, because my mother made it so. He was a good provider, to be sure; we were never without food or cloth for clothes, or the occasional trinket. His horses were always well treated and bedecked in ribbons. But he did not pay attention to us. He didn't seem to care much for her, for me, for much of anything. And so my mother and I spent time together. Sewing, cooking, caring for the horses, singing, playing musical instruments, dancing, we did everything together.
That night at supper I fidgeted. Bedecked in my new finery, I met the eyes of all the young men and glanced away. Our tribe was too small for me to find a husband here; they were all like brothers to me. But some of them were old enough to know what a bride should look like, as several had brides of their own. I hoped they thought I looked the part and not like a child dressed up in her mother's clothes.
Amir clapped his hands. "Music!" I grinned, and then one of the young wives pulled me to my feet. Mother began to play the guitar and some of the young men stood up. We began to dance, spinning and twisting our hips to the sultry music. I faltered more than a few times, but there always seemed to be a deft touch on my hip or shoulder, helping me back into the rhythm with a twinkling eye. I glowed with pleasure.
When it was late and the fire had died down, we went to sleep under the stars. I stared up at them, sending wish after wish that I would find the perfect man for me.
The horse-trading meet was vast. I always remembered it as unbelievably big, but every year it seemed I was wrong, that it had got bigger. This was the first time I was going as a woman, though, so I rode my own horse, Cricket, my father's gift, covered in all the wealth of trinkets I'd hoarded over the years. Catching the eyes of many of the young men heated my skin, and I found myself swaying sensually, a lazy smile curving my lips.
We made camp, and Papa pulled me aside behind a stand of trees.
"You're a woman now, Jacqueline."
He looked old and tired, and suddenly I wondered why he was that way.
"I expect you to find a husband, a good one, but quickly. Don't dilly-dally; don't be swayed by pretty looks. Find someone with many horses, and check their teeth and hoofs. Be sure they are well cared for."
I tossed my head impatiently. "I know. Of course."
He cupped my cheek unexpectedly, and there was a sheen in his eyes I hadn't seen before. Suddenly, he kissed me on the forehead, and I hugged him, surprised by the unexpected tenderness. Then he set his foot on a thick root and flipped me over his knee, a much more characteristic move. I rolled my eyes, grimaced, and then grunted while he spanked me. I wasn't sure what I'd done wrong, but knew I'd find out shortly. He always told me afterward. He set me on the ground, and I rubbed my bottom sullenly.
"Remember that I love you. No matter what."
I scowled at him. Just like him to equate a hot bottom with love. I tossed my hair and stalked off, too irritable to flirt properly with the boys in the fields.
The ground was soggy, as usual. As I walked, I kicked at the debris � leaves and other vegetation dotted with chunks of plastic, glass and metal that had probably washed up the last time the river flooded, the broken bits of a time gone past. I stooped to peer at one large piece, a little smaller than my hand. It looked like it had once been a child's toy�brightly patterned, even after so many years, with a blank square on one side and buttons below it. I picked it up and turned it over, then looked at the front again. There were twenty-two buttons that felt like rubber, any markings long since lost in the scratches and chips. I wondered if it was a telephone. If so, why didn't it have a wire, like the one the elders showed us how to make with cups? I tossed it back to the ground. I wasn't sure exactly how many of the stories the elders told of magic were true.
They told of little plates that could show you anything in the world, ones that you could talk to people from anywhere on, face to face. They told of lamps that were made of lightning, which could be controlled with a small switch. They told of boxes that could hold all the knowledge of the world, available just for the asking. They also told of the massive wave of�something�that had ruined it all, broken all the magic, and left it in ruins. They told of the planes that screamed through the sky, and the rocks that fell, over and over and over. They told of explosions and fire and how city after city was bombarded until there was almost no one left alive. They told how the governments faltered and failed, how each little enclave of survivors created its own structure and way of life as best as it could. How their great grandparents lived through it all, and therefore it was true, every word.
I believed them. Sometimes, we'd come across things that could only have been magic, pointless toys like the one I'd just found. Without magic, what child would have wanted to play with it? And the roads�there were so many roads that were not made for horses, so many roads with abandoned wrecks of metal and plastic littering the ground to either side of them.
I fingered the charm I'd found in the grass beside one of the wrecks, a little metal charm whose shape suggested the moldering hulk it lay beside. I remember holding it up, placing the charm between my eyes and the wreckage. If I let myself see it without focusing, I almost thought the wreck might have once been the same shape as the charm I now wore on one of my bracelets. I remembered the way the grass had grown through the rusted shell, the way its color had gradually turned to a dull red-orange. Here and there I could tell it had once been blue. I remembered peering inside, careful of the broken glass, and how I couldn't tell if those had been seats or not, but how my grandmother insisted that there were, that they were like wagons that ran on magic. She insisted that there were some that still worked, some that people had either learned to preserve, or some that people had fixed up from the knowledge in the old books. That I didn't believe. I'd never seen a working automobile.
We shied away from ghost towns, everything flattened and shattered, turned to glassy rubble and char. "The bombardment," the elders would say, shaking their heads and touching their prayer beads. "What a waste."
Some villages continued where they had been, their inhabitants rebuilding what was broken. But most were new, as the survivors shifted somewhere else and tried to start over. Sometimes it wasn't a matter of construction; sometimes they were under water. My grandmother told me stories of how there used to be ice�ice!�on the top and bottom of the planet, how the bombardment, or maybe something else, had caused them to melt, and that's why there was less land than there used to be. I used to look at old maps with her, tracing the line of our current coast, and marveling at all the names of the cities that used to be where there was only water now.
Sometimes I wondered what it would be like to live in a world that could became so cold that water turned hard. Mostly I just wiped the sweat from my brow and shrugged. This time I dabbed at my bosom, too, and stretched, the ache in my bottom nearly gone. Just like the elders, I sometimes dwelt too much in the past. I smiled at my future and sashayed back out into the crowd, drawing more than a few admiring glances.
By the time the week of horse-trading was over, my father had acquired another horse, a pretty black and white mare I called Starry. Amir had sold all the foals that were old enough, and went around with a booming chuckle and a jingling purse. I had no less than a dozen marriage offers, though some I'd rejected out of hand just based on the look of the clothing or the horses. There were half a dozen left, but none of them fired my blood.
Only one man did that. Ramon. He was beautiful. He had a hawk nose over full sensual lips, with dark eyes and eyebrows that swept back. His skin was the most beautiful shade, lighter than caramel, but darker than mine. He was also the only one who ignored me, beyond a curious glance now and again, no matter how hard I tried to gain his attention. He could have had his pick. I wasn't the only girl that hovered nearby, tipping her hips or tugging the neckline of her blouse down.
Which is why it shocked me when I saw him in our camp that night.
We weren't a big tribe. There were Mama and Papa, Amir and Jasmine, their two sons and their wives, and Joshua and his wife Sandra, and her sister Nancy and her husband Mark, and Mama's cousin Eugene and his two sons and two daughters and their spouses. There were maybe eighteen children altogether, but I could never quite keep track, what with someone always having a baby. As it was, I was the only unmarried woman in the tribe at the moment, so there was little doubt I was the one he was coming to see.
I stopped short, struck once again by the beauty in his features, how arrogant and nonchalant he seemed. He was joking with Amir and then with Papa, but Papa was cold to him. I wondered why. After a bit Eugene seemed to take to him, and then Amir's son Seth started joking back. We ate the spicy stew that was Jasmine's specialty. Ramon's eyes touched me, again and again, until I blushed and preened. When the music began and he stood and reached for me, I went willingly.
Dancing left me breathless. Around and around we whirled, leaping and twisting with each other. Every touch was electric, leaving my skin over-sensitive, craving his fingers on my hips or my arms. I threw my hands around his neck and grinned up at him, falling head over heels for the sensual curve of his mouth.
It was far too soon when he set me down again, my heart racing and my giggle floaty. I wanted him�oh, how I wanted him! I prayed to all the gods I knew the names of that he'd discuss marriage with Papa.
He didn't. Not yet, anyway. He laughed and joked and drank with the men, and then, when the stars came out, he reached for me again.
He spoke calmly, but his eyes glittered dangerously. I went. Of course I went.
We wandered deeper and deeper into the forest surrounding the horse-trading field, and as we went I felt my body ripen in anticipation. If he wanted what I was certain he wanted, surely he intended to ask for my hand in marriage.
For a long time we were silent. Finally I spoke. "Ramon, I�I hope you know I like you. Very much."
I struggled for a topic of conversation. "Papa's new horse is a beauty. How have you done in the trading?"
He shrugged. "Well."
"Do you breed them, or just train them?"
"You talk too much."
And with that, he covered my mouth with his. Hot and wet, his tongue thrust between my parted lips and I moaned against him. Yes! This, this was what my body wanted. I pressed close to him, letting him feel the softness I could offer. He backed me against a tree, and I grinned into his mouth, the shock of my back hitting the bark enhancing the sweetness of his lips. Then his hands were on my breasts, tugging the blouse out of the way, jerking the chemise down, his rough thumbs rousing my nipples. I gasped, clutching his shirt as I reveled in the new sensation. Such piquant sweetness!
"Oh! Ramon! Please! Yes, please more, don't stop!" I moaned, my hair catching in the rough bark, my chest heaving with desire. His fingers were deft on my skirt's buttons, and then it and my underskirt pooled at my feet. My chemise slid down, and my bloomers followed quickly, leaving me nude to my sandals. His fingers dove between my thighs and came up dripping. "Oh, god! Please, yes!" He shoved a finger inside, and my breath caught in my throat. I gasped, squirming against his hand, a riot of feeling fluttering in my belly. I wasn't quite sure if it hurt or not. All I knew was that I wanted more.
"You want this? You want me?"
"Oh, please, Ramon, please, yes!" He thrust another finger inside, and I couldn't catch my breath. "Yes!"
He grabbed my hair and threw me to the ground, landing above me, his knees between mine. I groaned as I reached for him, greedy to touch his chest, his cock. I murmured in appreciation when I felt his size.
Shoving my knees farther back, he slammed into me. I cried out, heat and pain flashing in the torrent of pleasure. I grinned at him. I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful deflowerer�and husband. I drew his face down to mine, devouring his mouth as he plunged in, again and again and again. I wrapped my legs around his, full of bliss. He shifted, and suddenly I was crying out again, each thrust more delicious than the last.
He groaned, baring his teeth and grunting when he came, spurting inside me. I held him tight with my thighs, rubbing my mons against his until I came also, a fluttery sparkling feeling. I grinned against his shoulder. This was a decidedly auspicious beginning to a marriage.
Shortly afterwards, he pulled out and wiped himself off with a handkerchief, then tossed it to me with a nonchalance I didn't quite understand. I followed his example and pulled my clothes back on, finger combing my hair and braiding it again.
He spoke. "Come."
I followed him, the handkerchief forgotten on the ground. A few steps later I caught up to him and linked my arm with his.
"Where will we live? With your tribe? Or will you want to come to mine? It's small, but I'm not sure how big yours is�"
He stopped walking. I smiled at him. His brows came together in a frown.
"It's none of your business."
I raised an eyebrow. "Of course I won't question my husband, but it would help to know if I need to pack or not."
I smiled at him, and then he laughed. It was a harsh, ugly sound. I frowned.
"What's so funny?"
"You think I want you for a wife?"
My heart constricted, and I searched his face, hoping for a sign he was joking, having a jest at my expense.
"Ramon, that's not funny."
He laughed again. "Of course it is. A little whore like you, thinking I would want to marry you."
My mouth dropped open. "What?" He shook his head, still chuckling. "What I did�what we did�I thought you would only do that with, with someone you wanted to marry!"
"Now you pretend to be innocent! You're a great flirt, a sexy little dancer. Of course you knew what you were doing."
Heat rose in my face, my breath came short and I felt dizzy. This could not be happening. "I am innocent, or, or I was, until you�you�you!"
He laughed some more. "You had an orgasm, you little whore. No girl orgasms on her first time. No innocent is that wanton and eager."
I burst into tears. "You horrible bastard! You tricked me! You came into my camp and you knew you didn't want to marry me!"
His face reddened, and I realized I'd hit nearer the mark than I intended, calling him a bastard. He slapped me hard and I crumpled, crying on the ground. His voice came out in a hiss.
"Why the hell would I ever want to marry such a foul mouthed whore, anyway?"
He grabbed my arm and hauled me up. I stumbled as he dragged me back to the camp in shambles. I wrapped my courage around my heart, hoping that they would understand, would help me�but I knew. Women are supposed to be innocent on their marriage. All our flirting and teasing was all to fetch a husband whose bed we would be wild in, but in no other's. I was doomed. I'd given my virtue away to the man I thought would be my husband without waiting for the marriage bed.
The men in my camp stood as they saw us approach, Ramon storming and dragging me along as I wailed and struggled against his hold. He threw me down by the fire in disgust.
Staring my Papa down, he snarled. "Your daughter is a whore."
"I'm not! Papa, don't believe him! I thought�"
He cut me off. "She tried to seduce me in the woods. She's a wanton. She's no innocent virgin girl."
Amir came to me. "Is this true, Jacqueline? Are you a virgin?"
How could I lie? "No, I'm not, but it's because of him! He did it!"
Ramon snorted. "Sure, I took what I'm sure others have had before me."
"No one else! I swear! I thought he wanted to marry me!"
"Marry you? Why would I marry a whore? I thought maybe you were more innocent than you seemed, but as soon as we were out of earshot, you were all over me."
"I was not! You kissed me first!"
"A little kiss is not the same thing as rutting in the mud!"
"How dare you! How dare you say that! We made love because I thought you were asking for me to be your wife!"
He spat on the ground near my face, and I flinched. "When did I ask for your hand? Did you see any horses change hands? I had a good meal with your family, but I was undecided. You thought you could sway the balance by offering me your dripping cunt, but I don't want to father a child on a whore who's spread her legs for god only knows how many others."
I burst into tears. Great ugly sobs erupted from my chest. "How could you say that? It was lovely. It was magical. I loved you."
He snorted. "Love me, you say. More like you loved that you could get off."
I crumbled. Curling in a ball of shame and horror, I prayed that this was a terrible nightmare. Just when it couldn't get any worse, Amir struck me.
"You have brought shame to our tribe."
I uncurled, facing him. "No! I swear! I didn't do anything with anyone else! I'm a good girl! I didn't!"
Amir's face was shut down. He looked to my Papa. "If you won't beat the devil out of her, I will."
Papa looked at me for a long moment, then he looked away, and my heart broke. He didn't believe me. He was ashamed of me. Mama tried to stand up, tried to come to me, but he held her down. I could hear her crying over the sound of the fire.
"No!" I cried out as Amir's boot flipped me onto my belly, and then his belt landed across my backside. I screamed, but didn't try to resist. As the leader of our tribe, Amir's word was law. I sobbed as the leather landed heavily again and again, hurting both my skin and my heart with every blow. I wrapped my arms around my head and dug my toes into the mud. Amir grunted as he struck me, the thick belt falling haphazardly across my back and legs but always returning to my buttocks, burning even through the cloth.
Some time late I quieted, and he stopped the beating. I sobbed against the mud, too exhausted even to look around. I fell asleep where I was.