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Jacqueline, a beautiful, sensual cast-off from a nomadic horse-trading tribe, wanders in and offers herself to the mistress of the House of Brackish Bay; Jessica, the governor's wife.
Jessica is the lovely and much-beloved co- founder and guiding light of a thriving community that spans both sides of a great river where it empties into the sea. She and her husband, Roy, have built a village in the wilderness, a place where a solid and strictly disciplined social arrangement means protection and comfort for all its inhabitants.
In Jessica's home, Jacqueline finds safety for herself and her daughter, as well as pleasure for herself. But can she have love, as well?
Jacqueline's story continues in this, the fourth volume of Cerise Noble's Brackish Bay saga, as she struggles to find her place in this new territory, and learns just how deeply her emotions can run.
I was awakened by a piercing scream. I sat up, reaching for Katherine. My daughter was nowhere to be found. Heart thudding in panic, it took me longer than it should have to remember where I was. I was in a small building on one of the riverbanks. I'd gone with Devon. He'd borrowed me from my mistress Jessica for a night. Katherine had stayed with Angela, the nanny at the main house on the island.
In a couple steps I was at the window. What was going on? Torches flickered, but it was still difficult to see who was who in the middle of the night. Come to think of it, where was Devon?
I heard men's voices. “Bring her to the dungeon with the other one. We'll sort it out in the morning.”
The scream sounded again, and was abruptly choked off. I winced, feeling sorry for whoever it was. For a long while I watched as the figures struggled with one in the middle, and then she�I was pretty sure it was a she�was overpowered and carried to the dungeon.
Devon came back through the door then. “You woke. My apologies.”
I shrugged, still looking out the window. “Who was it?”
“No idea. A pair of bandits. They were trying to steal a whole cart full of supplies from one of the pantry buildings.”
“It's been happening more and more often lately.”
He came close, enfolding me in his arms. “Yes. As we grow, as we prosper, more and more are going to be drawn to our village. It's why Gerard is so adamant that all of the guards are trained extensively. We want to protect our people, but not be brutal to outsiders. It's a difficult balance. I don't envy him.”
I leaned against his chest, feeling the hard muscles built from years of daily boating and fishing. “I want to talk to them.”
He shifted me around so he could see my face. “Why?”
I grimaced. “I remember what it was like to go without certainty or supplies for a very long time.”
He stroked me gently. “When you trekked from the horse trading field where your tribe abandoned you to here?” I nodded. I'd told him the story, how I walked for months, carrying my daughter in my belly. He'd been sympathetic, but also impressed. The night I told him, he had kissed my legs, tender reverent kisses from my feet to my ribs. “You're amazing.”
I shrugged. “I did what I had to to survive.”
He kissed my forehead now. “I'm glad you did.”
I turned into his body, nuzzling against his neck. “Even if I am a whore?”
He grinned at me in the dark, his voice amused against my ear. “Especially because you're such a good little whore.”
“Oh, yes. You're very fun to play with.” His hands slid over my naked back, feathery touches on my spine, until I arched into him. He nipped my neck, and I linked my hands behind his head, murmuring as he nibbled along my collarbone. “You please me very much, my pretty little slut.”
I whimpered, pressing my hips against the bulge in his shorts. “What do you want? I can suck you.”
He growled, lifting me by my thighs, and thumping me into the wall beside the window. I giggled, my legs wrapped around his hips, my slit already slippery with desire for him.
“I want to fuck you.”
I kissed him hard, then, an unaccustomed boldness ignited by his blunt desire. He fumbled with his shorts, and then I was pierced, filled up with his hard length.
“Tell me, little slut. Tell me how you feel.”
I moaned against his shoulder, gasping with each delicious thrust. “I feel so hot. I need you. I want you. I can't bear it�oh!”
He shifted angles until my clit was grinding against him with every bump, and I lost coherency.
“Tell me how much you want to come.”
I begged then, pleading and squirming in his arms as the steady pounding started the coiling of my desires towards orgasm. “Please, sir, please, sir, I need to come, I have to, please, please, please�”
He slammed into me, spurting his own heat deep inside me. I wailed in frustration.
“No! Please! Don't stop, you can't stop, I need it!”
He chuckled at my desperation. It had been only a week since I'd orgasmed last, with Jessica's other lover Stephanie and her master, Tobin. That wasn't really a long time. Sometimes Jessica made me go without for months. His voice sounded in my ear again.
“Do you really need it, slut?”
“Yes, please, please, I do, I do need it.”
He withdrew, and I sagged against him, barely able to stand when he set me on my feet again. I trembled. I'd been so close I could taste it, and the unspent tension pooled in my belly, making it difficult to focus on anything else.
It was only the second time he'd sated himself in my cunt, and that only since I'd had a strange copper device forced inside my womb, a precaution against any seed taking root. It was a necessary precaution, as I had no desire to bear an unknown man's child, and I, as my mistress's slave and whore, was often a bargaining chip with unknown men, as well as a reward for known men.
This I was for Devon. He and his brother Jeffery had proved themselves invaluable to the House of Brackish Bay several times over, what with their fishing skill and vast boating knowledge, so when he expressed desire for me, Jessica gladly gave him leave to do what he would with me. Not that I minded. I'd been harboring a secret desire for Devon since I'd spent a year and more on this same bank of the river. At the time I was attempting to deny my past, the labels that caused my tribe to abandon me, so I'd made no move. That is, until I fell in love with Jessica.
I spent a dreamy moment remembering the sparking desire that had passed between us the first time our eyes met. She looked like the angels in the stories�blonde hair, blue eyes, a mouth just made for kissing.
And so even though everything in my past told me it was wrong and awful, I listened to my heart, to the whispered urges of my gods, and to my then protector William. His lover was a young man who told me the story of how they met, how boldness was sometimes required. I'd gone to the island and offered myself to her.
She accepted, something I still marveled at. And so I was now a part of her household�her handmaiden, her beloved slave, her most useful whore.
Devon pressed me back on the bed and kissed me, drawing my attention to the present. I smiled up at him, my tension receded just enough to function.
He chuckled, slipping his fingers inside my aching cunt, and my arousal came roaring back. I groaned, biting the back of my hand to keep from hitting him in my frustration.
“No, Jacqueline. I'm going to tease you now.”
“But, please, sir!”
“Don't you think Jessica will appreciate it if you come back to her limp with arousal?”
“She just had a baby, sir! She isn't interested in making love to me right now.”
He grinned at my panting and rocking as I attempted to sooth my need. “Oh, all right. Just one.”
“Oh, gods, thank you, thank you, thank you�”
My voice trailed off into wailing sobs as he curled his fingers into the tenderest spot inside, and fucked me hard, not easing off when I burst into sparkling sensations. Instead he continued, and my body contracted, the desire coiling again into a knot of need while I fisted the bed sheets and arched off the bed towards his hand. Again I shattered, and this time he let me relax, withdrawing from my twitching cunt with a knowing grin.
“That was two.”
My voice was soft with relief. “I couldn't help it, sir. You didn't stop.”
“No matter. I'll spank you for it in the morning.”
“Sir!” He chuckled, tucked me against his body, and curled around me. I continued to protest. “But, sir!”
“Go to sleep, Jacqueline.”
Disgruntled, I couldn't continue to argue when exhaustion claimed my body.
He woke first in the morning, despite his nighttime adventure. I woke quickly when he slapped my bottom hard. I groaned.
“Please, no, Devon!”
In answer he sat beside me on the bed, leaning over to kiss my shoulder. “Get up. You're still getting a spanking before we do anything else.”
“Why? You're the one who didn't stop in time.”
“Because you belong to me for the day, and I want to spank you.” I grumbled, but pushed myself up and crawled over his lap, flopping down irritably. “Behave, or I'm going to have to actually punish you.”
I grumbled, but he knew better. I always held as still as possible for any discipline. “Yes, sir.”
He caressed my cheeks, and it started the warmth in my core again. Of course. When he started spanking it was light and warm, not hot and hard. I wiggled but stayed in place. Gradually the smacks blended together, raising my arousal until I started moaning. He stopped, stroking gently.
“See? Not so bad.”
I twisted around to look up at him. He leaned over and kissed me lightly.
“What are we to do today?”
“We're to make arrangements for the people here to start taking over some of the processing of all the fish we catch. We don't need all of it for the island, so it doesn't make much sense to process at the island and then transport to the bank. We may as well drop a portion off at each bank.”
I nodded. “And I want to talk to the bandits.”
He shrugged. “Let's do that first, then. Get dressed.”
I slid off his lap and went to the hook on the wall where the two panels of my dress hung. It was a monstrously immodest design that Stephanie had created�simplicity itself. There were two panels of fabric, each just barely as wide as my hips, and slightly shorter than twice the length from my shoulders to my ankles. They were knotted in the middle, and I placed one knot on each shoulder, then buckled my belt around my waist. It took me a minute to shift the fabric so that both panels came together at the back of my waist, covering my backside, and then the two panels in front crossed over my breasts and came together at my waist, covering my front. It left the sides of my legs bare and just a single layer of linen over each of my breasts. The fabric was soft enough not to irritate my skin except when my nipples were so sensitive that anything would inflame them, but it still made me self-conscious to wear such a garment in public, especially since I'd been raised in a tribe where women wore a chemise, bloomers, underskirt, embroidered blouse, and skirt. It was one of the first things Jessica trained me to accept�wearing less.
Truth be told, when I was alone I appreciated wearing less. The heat was constant and oppressive. Some time ago, in my grandparents' grandparents' generation, the planet was subjected to a massive bombardment. No one I'd ever met was quite sure what started it, or even for sure what it was. War? Meteors? But the result was plain to see for anyone who had traveled a while, as I had.
All of the major population centers of the world were destroyed. Ash and slag-covered craters where once thousands and thousands of people had lived were only just now starting to be reclaimed by the creeping swamp that the land had become. The top and bottom of the planet I was told used to be covered in ice, which is hardened water. Who every heard of such a thing? They were now bare rock or underwater. Most of the coastlines on all of the continents were miles inland from where the old maps, the pre-bombardment maps, said they should be. There was a maze of roads that weren't built for horses crisscrossing the land, dotted along with the wreckage of vehicles from an earlier time. The magic technology had been lost, as well. A massive pulse of some sort had knocked it all out. Without worldwide communications, without the leashed lightning that our ancestors had depended on, all the political structures had disintegrated.
Now it was just the people around you, those you lived with. It was extremely dangerous for women and children. They were subject to whoever was strong enough to overpower them. Given the lack of an overarching social structure, it was not uncommon for men to steal, to fight and kill each other over resources or women. Once again I thanked the gods that in my clueless wandering I had found a safe village, a home where I was welcomed, valued, and protected.
Devon slapped my bottom, and I squealed. I was not protected from corporal punishment, but from abuse and rape. “That dress shouldn't take nearly that long to put on.”
I grumbled at him. “Tell that to Stephanie. In her attempt to make the laundry as easy as possible, she refuses to sew up the sides.”
He grinned, trailing a finger along the exposed skin of my hip. “I like it this way.” I blushed and turned to him, letting him run his lips along my jaw and shoulder for a moment. “Come on.”
We left the building, a long narrow one with separate rooms for visitors to this side of the river. I followed him through the bright market, already up and busy despite the early hour. At least it was slightly cooler than it would be come the afternoon.
Not a few people recognized me as one of Roy's own, from the style of the dress, especially the bright scarlet color of it, and the chain around my throat, closed with a small, numbered padlock.
“Good day, Jacqueline!”
“Give my respects to Roy, dear!”
“Lovely, just lovely. Might I ask, are you Stephanie? I was told she was in charge of the new slaves, and I wanted to inquire about the requirements.”
I stopped to answer the elderly gentleman.
“No, sir, I'm Jacqueline. Stephanie is the one to speak to, but I might be able to answer your questions.”
“I've been on this bank since before your lord arrived on the island. I was one of the few who wanted to build a permanent settlement here, and one of the first to swear my loyalty to him when he made his proposal.”
“Yes, sir, I remember you now. Zephram?”
He chuckled. “Good to know your eyes are better than mine.” He peered closer at my face. “You're a sight paler than Stephanie, aren't you? I should have remembered.” He tapped the side of his head in apology, and I smiled at him.
“Yes, sir. What was your question?”
“I need a helper. I've enough hoard to trade for the things I need, but I need some help in the home. I don't have family, you see.”
My heart hurt for him. I didn't have family, either. Not anymore. “No one is willing to stay with you?”
“Nah. I've asked around, and no one wants to stay with an old man like me. Not just for the room and board.”
“So you want a slave? Would you be up to the challenge?”
He drew himself straighter. “Course I would. My body's duller than it used to be, but my mind's not so dull as all that.”
“I don't know if there are any unclaimed slaves available.”
His eyes turned crafty. “I heard a scream last night, and it wasn't one of ours.”
“Oh?” I raised my brows, looking closer at his gray beard and eyebrows, the hair sprouting from his ears. His eyes might be failing him, but apparently not his ears. “How could you tell?”
“I've made a point to speak to everyone on this bank. I know our people.”
I nodded. “I'll tell Stephanie you are looking.”
Devon and I continued walking between buildings under construction. The bank was almost unrecognizable from when I had lived here. At the time it was all tents, with no protection around the camp. Now there were many buildings in various stages of completion. The center was the first to be built, a sort of cubical building where the heads of the village met, and most public business was conducted. The dungeon took up one side, a section walled off with wooden bars, subdivided into a dozen individual cells and one large one. In one small one was a young man, his long, light brown hair falling into his eyes. It would have given him a non-nonchalant air except that his posture was rigid, whether with fear or anger I wasn't sure. In another was a young woman, her brown hair also falling into her eyes. She was slightly better at hiding her distress, but it showed in the way she picked at her nails.
Devon spoke to the man on guard. “We'd like to talk to the prisoners.”
“Yes, sir.” The guard unlocked the young man's cell first, and when he made no move, buckled his wrists together behind his back with leather cuffs that were half woven together. “Up you go.”
He heaved the young man to his feet and walked him out of the cell to the space beside, where he pushed him to his knees again. I watched him, consumed with curiosity. What was his story? Devon watched carefully as I walked forward and brushed the hair out of the young man's eyes. He shook his head, covering his face again, then spat at my feet. Devon made a warning sound in his throat, but I was familiar with the sentiment. I knelt in front of him.
“What were you stealing?”
“None o' your business, whore.”
Once, that word would have cut me to the quick, enveloping me in shame. Not any more. I smiled at him.
“No, it's not. But I am curious. I wonder if I could help you.”
He spat again, and I frowned as I began to be annoyed with him. Devon touched my shoulder. I looked up at him, and he shook his head, so I shrugged. The guard returned the young man to the cell, then retrieved the young woman. She tipped her head, eyeing me through her hair. I knelt in front of her, brushing her hair the rest of the way out of her face. She raised an eyebrow.
Her drawl made me wonder where she was from. “So what's a whore want with little ol' me?”
“I was wondering what you were stealing, and why.”
“Jus' food. Nothin' else.”
Devon was incredulous. “It was a whole wagon full.”
I tipped my head. “What did you need with all that food?”
“To eat, of course.”
I contemplated her. She seemed very confident. I wondered how she would react when Stephanie got a hold of her.
She lifted a shoulder. “You're rich. You can afford it.”
I frowned a little. “You could have just asked. Roy gives food and shelter to any who pledge loyalty.”
“It might be the best way to protect yourself.”
She shrugged again. I decided I was getting nowhere with her. Devon helped me up, and we went to the stairs as she was being put back into the cell. Why did they steal? Why not honestly ask for help? And why so much food?
We got to the meeting room. It was vast, with a large table at one end and empty space in the other three-quarters of it. The people we were meeting with were already there, and Devon introduced me. There were cooks, bakers, artisans, and crafters. The discussion was detailed�where to locate the fish processing facilities, the fairest way to distribute the catch, the tools and buildings that would be needed, the supplies, and who would pay for them, and so on. I listened, but there wasn't much I could contribute. Instead I found my thoughts turning to the bandits. They obviously had a large number of people with them, but if so, why did they send only two in to raid our stores?
Someone brought in soup and bread, and I ate, watching Devon as I did so. There was just a little stubble on his jaw; the base of his nose was broad, with an upturned tip. His skin was tan, and his cropped hair was brown. Every movement emphasized his musculature. He was beautiful. I couldn't understand why he hadn't taken a slave for himself yet, or even found a free woman to share his bed. That reminded me of the woman who had hollered at him across the bonfire the evening before he met Roy. I decided to ask him about her later.
They resumed talking. This time I had something to contribute, since the talk had turned to how best to preserve fish that wouldn't be used fresh. As my birth tribe was constantly moving, I had experience with dehydrating or pickling food.
It was afternoon before all parties agreed upon the plan. The others filtered out, leaving me alone with Devon. I smiled at him, and he grinned back, a hand on my face.
“You did well today. I didn't know anything about how to dehydrate fish.”
He glanced around, then stood and closed the door.