Read an Excerpt
Mayfair, London 26 August, 1872
My extraordinary journey to embrace the way of the warrior began in a posh town house in Mayfair.
On my wedding night.
It was a London society affair replete with the trappings of engraved wedding invitations, cascades of floral abundance adorning the church pews and lavish gifts whose glitter dared not be anything but gold. And me with a diamond tiara atop my head ornamented with so many pear-shaped stones I creaked my neck trying to sit like a swan, though I was more the Yankee ugly duckling. Did I mention we had a bishop among the clergy presiding?
I can hear you groaning at my description, ready to toss the book aside before we land upon the silken earth of the Orient, fearing you have chanced upon the prim meanderings of a young matron lost in romantic illusions before she takes to her bed while her husband visits his mistress. I assure you this is no such missive. 'Tis fire and passion I reaped when I dared to abandon a life of privilege and taste for the way of the warrior. Riding the wind to meet the gods, slashing through the rain, my arms bending from the weight of the heavy steel sword in my grasp, a dirk nestled between my breasts near my heart. But I'm allowing my passion for this life to raise a fever in me and deliver me from the memory of what happened on my wedding night. It was a different instrument of pain that made me twitch and moan. An item worn and smooth and without the sharp point of the sword but just as accurate to reach its mark.
A black riding crop.
I shall never forget what should have been a night woven with satin threads and romance, wanton kisses and honeyed sighs. Instead, I was shocked to see my new husband racing up the stairs after a saucy redhead and whipping her plump backside. I ran and hid in a teak garderobe that smelled of whiskey and snuff and mold. A strange desire awakened in me, making me want to know more about this suggestive, mysterious world that disturbed me, stimulated me.
Are you shocked? Insulted? You're a young woman of good breeding, I hear you say, modest, shy. I'm Irish-American and proud of it, though too often my fiery race is dismissed with a cutting glance meant to be a public snubbing by stony-faced termagants suffering from the social disease of snobbery. I ignore them. I don't care about their political citadel with its perfunctory restrictions and bloodless debutantes in their swinging crinolines keeping their suitors at arm's length. I grew up riding bareback, my hands and face often gritty from digging into the wet, soggy bowels of the earth to feed our empty bellies before my father made his fortune.
I come from a hardworking, God-fearing family and never had it in my mind that I'd live in a posh house. But here I am, Thomas O'Roarke's daughter, Katie, hiding and holding her breath as she watches the intoxicating scene played out before her in this Mayfair town house. Not what I expected married life to be when I attended Miss Brown's School for Young Ladies, where I was bred to become a grand lady by the headmistress herself, Miss Herminone Tuttle. I wanted to please my mother (who so desperately wanted one of her daughters to make a successful marriage), so I dabbled in the folly of silks and corsets, gossip and scented notes, singing and drawing lessons, all necessities coveted by a girl of my nouveau riche status to furnish her female arsenal. Day after day Miss Tuttle lamented about my chatty nature, spurred on by my insatiable curiosity to question everything. Not wise, I discovered, for a girl born in a white frame house in the Pennsylvania woods, a plain girl with more brain than bosom who linked her dreams with her emotions and sensibilities. No wonder I was rejected by every eligible bachelor approved by the Knickerbocker Society matrons.
But it was my mother, dear soul that she is, who established my power base of teachers and dressmakers and embarked with me to London with one goal in mind: husband hunting. She emphasized to my suitors I had money and plenty of it. (My father is a railroad tycoon, a self-made man with more guts than schooling. He's a grand da, always encouraging me to be the inquisitive lass that I am. "Katie, me girl—" my father is fond of saying when we spar over a political issue "—you have more fighting spirit in you than any man I've met." How I love him.) But I had no real path, no realm laid out to pursue my dreams. I often asked myself, What is to become of me? We Irish often find ourselves taking up the more unsavory professions, such as following the life of an actor, or worse yet, a writer. 'Tis the gift of words bestowed upon us by the rulers of the heavens, and I be no exception. I find myself more oft than not in trouble because of it, but I can't keep my thoughts to myself. I speak before thinking, making my observations with a keen, dry wit and at times without tact, which is why I kept neither beau nor my mother's faith I'd ever make a match. No amount of primping and lavender water could take the smell of horses and hay out of this girl who crossed the Atlantic to find a husband among the British aristocracy.
To my mother's dismay, more than one London suitor complained I was too quick with the sassy remarks and too eager to express my opinion. She chided me for my boldness, emphasizing that eligible males were more interested in the sway of a girl's body than the wit of her words. Here again, I failed the test. I was taller than the fragile English girls paraded around the circuit for three months out of the year. Thin as paper doilies they were and each one cut from the same curlicue pattern. I was fair-haired and blue-eyed and cut a good figure with a small waist, though I had boyish hips.
Then the forces of nature took it upon themselves to present a delicate rearrangement of destiny (also known as the exchange of a great deal of money), and I received a proposal of marriage. As was more the custom than not in these hasty marriages, I went to the altar knowing little about my husband, save he had a title and a manner of looking at me that made my pussy burn with longing.
My hunger for romance proved to be my undoing when I allowed myself to be wooed by this deviant aristocrat with wild black hair and a slight limp. His chest and shoulders were broad and strong, his head held high as was his ego. I noticed the wide dimple in his chin deepened when he set his mouth in a grim line. Lord James Carlton was as handsome as a prince of the realm and he knew it. He exuded charm, though I would later discover this show of assuredness and sybaritic demeanor concealed a different side of him that when challenged erupted into a dark, decaying soul.
I knew none of this when I accepted his hasty proposal of marriage. Trying to hide my surprise as well as my girlish pleasure, I fancied myself in love with him and could not admit that what I felt was mere infatuation. What did I know about love? Nothing. What I didn't know I concocted into stories, romantic tales too often centering around an idealized heroine created out of an alchemist's bottle.
And now this display of bare skin and beautiful breasts and round buttocks askew before my eyes, what God himself had designed to covet the devil's lust, made my mouth drop. How can I explain to you the emotions racing through me? I was a young girl, barely nineteen, and though I rarely admitted it, I was rather naive about the ways of the world save for what enticing books I'd read in this house, their salacious descriptions never matching the rise of anticipation playing out before me. I couldn't take my eyes off the girl's buttocks. Red streaks crisscrossing her cheeks. Long, straight marks. A wild craving hungered deep within me, something I never expected, as if my dark alter ego was enjoying the pleasurable lashing. I never dreamed so innocent an item could induce such a look of pleasure on a young woman's face. Eyes closed, plum lips parted, jaw slackened, head back, glorious red hair tossed to and fro over her pale nude shoulders, her expression could only be described as saintly, as if the blows from the crop erased her sins from her soul and she floated toward the heavens in a state of spiritual ecstasy.
Hail Mary, full of grace…
I envied the freedom she possessed to accept the shadow of her other side, something I dared not do. Though I prided myself on my independence and my modern view of a woman's place in society I was, through no accomplishment of my own, Lady Carlton, wife of Lord James Carlton, his lordship born to Braystone House, a fifteenth-century limestone goliath situated somewhere in the Midlands and unknown to me.
As was this side of my husband.
A mischievous giggle escaped my lips. Who ever dreamed his lordship fancied a taste of the whip for his pleasure?
Settling in, I'd had little time to accustom myself to his persona since I was a stranger to this new reality, but this display of flesh and depravity took my breath away and evoked a different feeling within me. A feeling that both puzzled and delighted me. Sniffing the sweet, odorous scent between my legs off my fingers, I smiled and accepted it as a sign of my readiness to abandon my virginity for pleasures promised. I pulled the thin wrapper closer around me and in doing so, awakened a family of dustballs from their slumber. I couldn't deny my ego was as fragile as the ball of dust I crushed beneath my bare foot. It was obvious my husband took no interest in the fact that his bride yearned for his embrace and had performed a succulent toilette for his benefit. Hours ago I had wiggled into a cocoon of peach silk and fancy ribbons, insisting the maid loosen the lacings on my night corset, then peeled down my white stockings and attempted to do the same with the constrictions of my staid upbringing. I was determined to enjoy this night, asking him to "Touch me here, milord, and there.Yes, I like it. Do it again."
I was at this moment without words. Dry lips parched, I could only stare at the scene being played out in the dimly lit room in the five-story house in London's Mayfair district near Berkeley Square. Flanked on either side by equally elegant facades, I had been impressed by the crest of arms upon the gate piers nearly obscured from view by the rich foliage surrounding the mansion. No doubt so was the ribald behavior of its occupants.
Cramped, I continued to watch my new husband wield a riding crop with a dexterity that not only slapped the pink rump of the willing girl with inviting sounds, but clearly indicated his familiarity with both the pretty subject and the leather instrument. Calculated, solid blows. Each perfectly aligned and making the girl cry out. Breathy whimpers at first, then rising sounds both shrill and anxious, accompanied by the fast, constant cracking of what I perceived to be a very ordinary-looking riding crop.
Ordinary? I shook my head. Nothing here was ordinary, I protested inwardly, knowing far more than skin and flesh was revealed here. I saw a man who craved power, who must conquer, dominate. Such a man intrigued me, but I was too innocent to see the treachery inside him that would eject me from my ordinary world and into a place where temple bells sounded to announce the changing of the winds, monks uttered incantations to keep demons away and the echo of a man's voice reverberating in a hidden valley urged me homeward. As you can see, I find it difficult to pull myself away from what has become so familiar to me in Japan, but I must because it is important you understand the unique happenings on this night that sent me upon that journey. Curious thoughts pricking at my mind. Odd murmurings nudging me not to turn away, but watch, listen. Sigh.
I couldn't look away.
Strange stirrings awakened deep within me, the same sensual, wiggly feelings I'd experienced only when I rode through the woods on my mare, my pubic mound pounding hard into her flanks. I didn't resist the stream of pleasure overtaking me. I imagined should anyone gaze upon my shocked face, they'd see me wide-eyed and incredulous, then a slight smile, my lower lip quivering, turning into a look of amazement then awe that such a thing could make me wet.
Very wet. Yes, I detected a stickiness between my legs similar to what I'd noticed on more than one occasion when I was near Lord Carlton. James, he insisted I call him. When we first met, my mother doted on him when she discovered his father was a duke, then shooed him away when he revealed he was a second son. It wasn't until his lordship made his business connections known to her that she convinced my da he was a proper match and our marriage banns announced. I had no idea then the marriage would set the course for a great adventure that tugged at the transparency of my youth and made me realize the life I led was as fruitless as rich, fertile earth without a plow to penetrate her, nurture her.
But at that moment, hiding in a closet like a rag doll teetering on a shelf, I could think only of what my new husband was doing to the redhead and how much she enjoyed it.
'Tis not a sight for a girl of your station, I could hear my mother saying. Look away, Katie, before the devil himself claims your soul.
But he already had. And what games he played in what I perceived to be a spanking room by the looks of the nefarious items I saw tossed about on the floor, strewn on the table, thrown across padded chairs. Wooden paddles, thorny evergreen brushes, a cat-o'-nine-tails, leather straps and restraints, manacles attached to wooden beams, a black hood, a high-back wing chair, even birch canes standing in a china vase filled with water to keep them pliant and green. I had read about such items, but I had never been privy to seeing them.