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Constance Milburn is a precocious girl, used to getting her own way. But when she encounters her handsome new brother-in-law, John Fawcroft, she finds out that he is far from tolerant.
Caught up in the English Civil War, they must learn to accept each other’s beliefs. The Milburn family are Royalists and loyal to the king. John Fawcroft, on the other hand, is a Member of Parliament and loyal to the people.
When John finds Constance putting her life in danger for politics, he has no compunction in dishing out his own punishment – stern disciplinary measures! She tries her best to outwit him but finds herself over his knee more often than not. If she is to avoid his wrath, she must learn to behave and abide by his rules.
She is determined to hate him but finds herself falling in love with him… perhaps this strong man is exactly what she needs.
Publisher's Note: This book contains sexual scenes and good old-fashioned domestic discipline. If such material offends, please do not purchase.
*** Currently available exclusively at Amazon ***
1641 – Bancroft Manor, Sussex...
Constance Milburn rolled her eyes with exasperation and threw herself face down on her bed. She grabbed a pillow and buried her head in the soft down, trying to block out the sounds coming from downstairs. But it was no use, she could still hear it. With a frustrated growl, she leapt back up off the bed and stormed towards the window.
The garden and house were alive with activity...and all because of one damned wedding!
Her brother, Edward, was getting married on the morrow to Mistress Lucy Fawcroft. Constance liked her not. She was a feather-brained, weak individual and what her brother saw in her, she had no idea!
Lucy's parents had both passed away and so she lived with her brother, John, a man Constance had yet to meet. If he was anything like Lucy, then she very much doubted she would take kindly to him! Would he be as empty-headed as his sister was?
She sighed loudly and leaned her head against the windowpane. Her sister, Amelia, was helping with the flower arrangements, as should she herself be, but the incessant chatter was getting on her nerves so she had sought solace in her chamber.
She jumped when her sister caught her eye and gestured angrily at her to come down. Just as Constance was going to shake her head and refuse, she saw her father walk up to Amelia. After a brief discussion, he glared up at the window. Constance immediately gulped and headed for the door. Her father often told them they were never too old for the cane and disobedience would mean several strokes with the rotten thing. She hastily skipped down the wide staircase to join them outside.
Her father looked at her crossly. "Where have you been, girl?"
"I just had to change my shoes, father, the others were chaffing my heels. But I am here now!" she answered brightly. "What would you have me do, sister?"
Amelia narrowed her eyes. "Take these carnations and put them in the displays over yonder. Pink and white alternately, if you please."
"Of course, sister dear." She picked up a handful of the freshly cut flowers and moved to the next table. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her father walk off. She quickly rounded on Amelia.
"Why did you tell tales on me?"
"Because, sister dear," she mimicked, "You were dawdling and escaping your chores! You cannot leave all of this to us."
"But you do such a good job. You know I am useless at displays."
Amelia looked at her with exasperation. "If you practiced more, then you would learn. Now stop whining and get on with your arrangements."
Constance gave an unladylike snort and flounced off back to the other table, leaving Amelia shaking her head.
* * *
John Fawcroft looked at his younger sister and smiled. "You look beautiful, Lucy. Edward Milburn is a very lucky man!"
Lucy blushed. "Oh, John, it is I who is the lucky one. Edward is a man of great standing in our community. I can only hope to aspire to be the wife he needs."
"Nonsense, Lucy! You are perfect as you are and have all the great attributes that a man can ask for. Come along. If you take any longer, we will never get there."
As much as he loved his sister, she did take forever to get ready. She was, however, the owner of a very sweet disposition, so getting cross with her was never easy.
She smiled sweetly. "Yes, John." Lucy quickly snatched up her wedding bouquet and followed him out of the house.
Whilst helping her into the waiting carriage, John wondered what Bancroft Manor would be like. They were to stay in a wing of the house the day before Lucy's wedding. Edward had deemed it would make more sense than arriving on the day. Their home was a three-hour carriage ride away and he wanted her to be rested and well for their big day. John had readily agreed; it certainly made sense.
As the carriage pulled away from his own home, John's thoughts turned to his recent meetings in Parliament. The country was in upheaval, the Royalists staunchly supporting their king, the Protestants baying for his blood. The future held much uncertainty.
He looked at Lucy, oblivious to the world of politics, and thanked God that she was getting married to such a great man as Edward. He was strong, his home solid – just what Lucy would need in the coming years.
As for himself, he knew not what the future held. He, for one, erred more on the Protestant side. King Charles I was more of a tyrant than a king and had little regard for his people. If he didn't change his ways then he would find his subjects rebelling. There had already been small skirmishes but he knew, in his heart, this was only the beginning.
* * *
"Constance, hurry up! You are dithering!" snapped Amelia.
"No, I am not!"
"Yes...you are." Amelia finally lost patience with her sister and snatched the hairclips out of her hand. She placed them neatly in Constance's hair. "Why you do not let Heather style your hair, I do not know!"
"I wished to do it myself."
Amelia shook her head. "There. It is done. Now, make haste! Edward and father wish us all to be ready to greet Lucy when she arrives."
Constance sighed. All this for her brother's bride-to-be. Why did she have to be present? Petulantly, she followed her sister out of the bedroom and walked downstairs. Her father was pacing the hallway.
"There you both are! What kept you?"
Amelia rolled her eyes and pointed at Constance. Her father's eyes darkened. "Dallying again, Constance?"
"No, Father. I just wanted to make sure I looked my best for Lucy."
Her father looked at her shrewdly and Constance did her utmost to look innocent. Before he could say any more, the Fawcroft carriage rolled into the drive. Constance followed her father and sister as they walked outside to greet the occupants.
* * *
John Fawcroft arrived at Bancroft Manor, stepped down from the carriage, and was instantly greeted by Sir Peter Milburn, who held out his hand in welcome. "Good day to you, John. Welcome to Bancroft."
"Thank you, Sir Milburn." They shook hands warmly.
"Call me Peter. After all, we shall be related on the morrow."
John smiled and turned to help his sister out of the carriage but Edward had beaten him to it. "Allow me, John. Lucy."
Lucy stepped out gracefully into the waiting arms of her husband-to-be. He smiled happily and linked her arm through his. "'Tis good to see you again, Lucy. Welcome to your future home."
Constance stood impatiently, waiting to be introduced, silently mocking her brother as he fawned over his fiancée. She rolled her eyes. Perhaps when they were wed, they would cease simpering over one another! She suddenly realised she was being stared at. It was Lucy's brother, John. A good-looking fellow from all accounts but by the look in his eyes, he knew exactly what she was thinking and clearly disapproved. She raised her chin defiantly at him.
He stepped forward and Edward introduced them.
"This is my sister, Amelia, and my younger sister, Constance."
Constance and Amelia curtsied politely.
"Good day to you both." His voice had a deep timbre and sent shivers down Constance's spine.
"Will you come inside?" offered Amelia. "We have some refreshments ready for you."
John followed Amelia as she led the way indoors, followed by the rest of the party. She led them into a large room, comfortably furnished, and handed him a glass of wine. He accepted graciously and took a seat.
"'Tis a fine home you have, Peter," he commented.
"Aye, I am proud to call Bancroft my home. It has been in our family for generations and hopefully for many more to come."
"Amen to that!" John raised a glass of wine and took a sip. He nodded agreeably at the taste.
"Tis a handsome wine, is it not, John?" remarked Sir Peter. "Imported from Normandy from grapes grown on the finest soil!"
"Aye, very fine indeed. Perhaps you could show me your cellars. I am ashamed to say that my knowledge of wine is somewhat lacking."
"I would love to show you. Now we are to be related, we shall see each other often and it will be my pleasure to show you around Bancroft and all it has to offer."
Constance, sitting opposite, studied him covertly. His hair was dark and wavy, just below shoulder-length. He had a fashionable, neatly trimmed moustache and cavalier beard but it was his eyes that made her shiver. They were deep brown and seemed to penetrate her very soul when he looked at her. She supposed he was quite dashing to look upon but something in those dark eyes told her he was dangerous. He seemed to realise she was assessing him because he turned to stare back at her. She felt her cheeks flush at being caught out and quickly looked away.
Her gaze fell upon Lucy, who was in deep conversation with her brother on the other side of the room. She had never seen Edward so enamoured of a woman. Perhaps it really was true love. She herself thought love was a load of hogwash. She suddenly realised her father was addressing her.
"My pardon, Father?"
"Constance, perhaps you could show young Lucy to her room. The maids should have unpacked her belongings by now and she may wish to change before dinner."
She walked over to Lucy and interrupted her conversation with Edward. "Lucy, should you like to see your room now?"
Lucy smiled warmly. "Oh, yes, very much."
Edward kissed Lucy's hand and Constance pulled a face at him behind her back. He shot her a look that promised reprimand but she cared not. Edward never got the better of her.
Smiling sweetly, she took Lucy's hand and led her from the room. Once upstairs, she walked along the corridor and directed her to a suite of rooms at the end. Opening the farthest door, she showed her inside. "Here is your room, Lucy. Mine is just along the corridor so I am not far if you need me. This house is awfully big and can seem a bit daunting at first but, if you need anything, you only have to ask."
"Thank you, Constance. I am sure I shall be happy here. I love your brother so very much."
Constance stared at her, bemused. "I know not why! He irritates me beyond reason!"
Lucy laughed softly. "As brothers often do."
"Oh? Do you find John the same?" Despite her misgivings about Lucy's weak nature, she found herself warming to her
Lucy walked over and closed the door quietly. "I do not wish anyone to overhear for I love my brother dearly but, on occasion, he can be quite overbearing."
"I can very well believe that." Constance sat on the end of the bed and swung her legs freely. "He is a Member of Parliament, is he not?"
"Yes. A profession in which his dominance is much needed, else I think he would be eaten alive. Some of the members I have met are rather vociferous in their manner. A pack of wild dogs would be less ferocious!"
Constance giggled, imagining the scene. "Lucy – you are funny."
She squeezed Constance's hand. "We shall be great friends, you and I!"
"Indeed we shall! I just wish Robert could be here. He did say he would try and get leave from the king's army but I doubt he will be able to."
"I have yet to meet him. What is he like?"
Robert was Constance's twin and they had always been close. She had hated it when he'd gone away to join the king's service. No amount of pleading had persuaded him otherwise. They were both of a stubborn nature and, when they decided upon something, they saw it through.
A wistful look appeared on Constance's face. "He is charming, handsome and witty. You will love him as much as I do." She bounced up from the bed. "Now what do you think of your room? I know it is only for one night as you shall be sharing with Edward on the morrow but is it to your liking?"
"I love it. You have all been very kind and I am honoured that I will share your family name."
Constance studied her. "Are you nervous about tomorrow?"
"I confess a little but that is only to be expected."
There was a knock on the door and Constance walked over to open it. It was Heather, one of the household maids.
"If you please, I have come to ask if Mistress Lucy needs any assistance."
"I am sure she does. Come in." Constance allowed her entrance. "Lucy, I am going for a walk around the grounds. I like to take some air this time of day so I shall see you at dinner."
She was feeling restless; she needed to do something other than talk about the wedding for a change. Slipping into her bedroom, she retrieved her peashooter and popped it in her pocket. Ever since Daniel, the stable hand, had given it to her, she'd been practicing and she was getting to be a great shot! Father didn't know she was in possession of it, he would deem it unladylike behaviour so she made sure to keep it away from his eagle eyes.
* * *
Outside the barns at the back of the house, Constance took aim at the bucket she'd placed on the wall and blew hard. She was rewarded with an audible ping where the pea hit its target. Oh, yes! She was good. Just as she was placing the next pea in her mouth, she heard footsteps. Quickly, she hid behind the barn door and spied through the door hinges in case it was her father. It wasn't. But it was equally as bad – it was John Fawcroft. What rotten luck! She watched carefully, hoping that he would walk past, but instead, he stood gazing out across the fields. She swore under her breath. Now he was going to spoil her fun...or was he? An idea took root in her mind as she rolled the pea around on her tongue.
Smiling wickedly and making sure he had his back to her, she popped her head around the barn door and raised the peashooter. Aiming for the back of his head, she blew for all she was worth. The pea shot forth and she was rewarded with an astonished 'ouch' from her target. Quickly, ducking back behind the barn door, she spluttered with laughter, holding a hand to her mouth to smother her mirth.
Now this was fun! She popped another pea in her mouth and peered back out of the doorway, immediately jumping back in alarm. He was standing right in front of her, his eyes ablaze with anger. She shrieked and very nearly swallowed the pea in fright, spitting it out at the last minute.
Hiking up her skirts, she immediately took off towards the end of the barn, hoping he wouldn't pursue her. But her hopes were in vain. He cornered her between a pile of hay bales and a cart.
"You impudent girl! What do you mean shooting at people? I have a mind to tell your father of your behaviour!"
"Tell him. I care not!" bluffed Constance.
He narrowed his eyes. "On second thought, I think I should reprimand you myself. In fact, I think I shall!"
Constance's eyes widened and she began to back away. "What are you going to do?"
John's face turned predatory. "Oh, I think a good spanking will teach you a much needed lesson." His hand snaked out and grabbed her arm. Constance tried to pull away but his grip was far too strong for her. Determined to break free, she twisted her wrist around but John's strength overpowered her own and she just couldn't escape.
"Get off me, you big brute!" she screamed angrily.
"Not a chance! You cannot escape that easily, you wayward chit."
"Let me be! Let me be!" she wailed as he lifted her off the ground. Struggling, she slapped his hands that held her waist but he was determined. How dare he think to spank her! "You have no authority over me – you cannot spank me!"
"Oh, I can, and I shall!" He sat down on a hay bale and pulled her straight over his lap. She kicked for all she was worth, intent on making access to her bottom as difficult as she could. Suddenly, she felt a cold draught as he threw up her skirts. Gasping, she struggled anew but his arm tightened around her, pinning her against his taut body.
"Oooh!" she spat through gritted teeth. "You are horrible!"
"And you, Mistress Constance, are an unruly brat."
On his last words, his hand made contact with her backside. Constance gasped at the sudden pain.
Smack! Smack! Smack!
"You do not shoot peas at guests!" he growled. Smack! "Is that clear?" Smack! Smack! Smack!
Smack! Smack! Smack!
Although no novice to a good hiding, Constance was still surprised how much his hand hurt. It was huge, and each smack seemed harder than the next.
She gritted her teeth and tried to stifle her cries, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of knowing that it hurt so much but, before long, she couldn't contain them. She wailed as the swats landed on her sit spots again and again. Her bottom felt like it was on fire.
Smack! Smack! Smack!
"I am surprised you think it acceptable to act like you did," he growled.
"I was...just...oooaaahhh...having...fun!" she gasped, wincing as another swat made contact.
"At my expense, aye!"
Smack! Smack! Smack!
He finally released her and she sprang up from his lap, rubbing furiously at her tender bottom. "You had no right to spank me!"
"You would rather I had told your father?" he queried, giving her a hard stare.
She raised her chin defiantly. "No!"
"Then let it be a lesson to you, my girl, that, in future, you refrain from shooting at people. In fact, why are you in possession of a peashooter at all? Ladies do not own such things." He looked her up and down. "Where is it?"
"I have no idea!" she snapped petulantly. "You made me drop it!"
"We shall find it together and, when we do, I shall break it in two and you will no longer be able to use it."
Constance stared at him. Was he mad? Did he really think she was going to watch whilst he destroyed her best toy! She took a few paces back until she was a safe distance and placed her hands on her hips. "You can look for it on your own – for I will not be part of it!"
Without waiting for his reply, she scooted out of the barn and back to the safety of the house, all the while lamenting the loss of one of her favourite pastimes.
* * *
John shook his head as the feisty little madam ran away from him. Comparing her to his sweet sister was like comparing chalk to cheese. How could two women be so different? His eyes roamed over the corner of the barn until he caught sight of the peashooter. He picked it up and examined it before placing it in his pocket. Maybe he wouldn't destroy it just yet.
The wedding was on the morrow and already the sun was beginning to set. He walked to the barn door and looked across the fields, drinking in the scene before him. England was such a lovely place and yet would soon be stirred with civil unrest. He knew it was coming; the people would only take so much before revolting. Pray God, he was wrong.
"John! There you are!" Edward came striding towards him from the main house. "Supper is about to be served."
They walked back together. "May I ask, Edward, is your sister always so...strong-willed?"
Edward laughed. "I gather you mean Constance and not Amelia?"
John nodded, giving a wry smile. "Aye, Constance."
"Indeed she is – most definitely! It has gotten her into trouble on many an occasion. Why do you ask?"
"I caught her shooting peas at me."
Edward slapped his thigh and guffawed. "She has met you but a day and already she causes trouble. I shall have a word with Father; he will see her atone for her actions."
"No, there is no need. In fact, I would ask that you refrain from telling your father. Constance and I have already had words, it is enough."
"If you are certain, but be warned, if Constance is not curbed, she will continue to harass you. It is in her nature, I am afraid."
John smiled knowingly. "She will not do it again."
He didn't catch the sceptical look on Edward's face as he strode along next to him. If he had, he may have had cause for concern.
* * *
The next morning, the household awoke to a bright, sunny day, perfect for the wedding. Amelia set Constance about her chores, the minute after breakfast was finished, and no amount of grumbling or moaning was taken notice of except to make her aware that their father could soon be informed of her objections.
Constance didn't fancy that idea so with a petulant disposition she did as she was told. The ceremony was due to take place at their local chapel in the village and then they would come back and have a wedding feast at Bancroft.
John came across her as she was tying a ribbon onto one of the seats. "You do not seem happy this morning, Constance?"
She looked up, detecting a hint of humour in his voice and glowered at him. "Is it any wonder after how you treated me yesterday?"
"A punishment well deserved at the time but should be forgotten now on such a joyous occasion. I bear no ill will against you for your actions."
Constance's jaw dropped. "I was the one who was ill-treated, not you!"
John quirked an eyebrow. "You think shooting peas at someone is acceptable, do you?"
"No, but neither is spanking someone for a little prank," she hissed. "My posterior is still tender from your hard hand! You are a bully, sir!" she spat angrily.
"And you are a rebellious brat. I urge you to take heed from now on, because when you are in my company, I expect you to behave. If I catch you doing anything like that again, I will spank you just as surely as the sun sets and the moon rises." He placed a hand on her chin. "And before you think I merely bluff, let it be known that I am a man of my word."
Constance was stunned into silence, not only by his words, but also by the menace in his eyes. She knew he spoke the truth.
His eyes flicked over her face before he dropped his hand and walked away towards the house. Her heart was racing. How dare he talk to her like that...and to think, by this afternoon, she would be related to him! She pulled a face at his retreating back and poked out her tongue but was startled when he called over his shoulder.
"I saw that...and I will not forget it!"
Oh, Lord. He had seen her reflection in the windows. Fie on the staff for keeping them so clean! She pulled her bottom lip in with her teeth and watched him disappear inside the house. She had another few days of his company to endure. The problem was could she behave enough whilst in his presence?