Around the middle of August, Liz, Ryan, and Jenny boarded a helicopter for Idriss. The smallest province in Meridia, it was rapidly becoming the wealthiest, thanks to the discovery of oil a few years before. And Orre needed oil.
During the occupation of the last nine months, Dylan Palm had diverted almost all of it to Edwal and its militia, and Jenny was desperate to secure new contracts. The war-torn cities required fuel for the heavy equipment that was rebuilding the city, and fuel was essential for the farmers, both to bring in the crops they’d managed to plant this year, and to plant crops next spring.
When Jenny had contacted Chairman Matthew Adams about negotiating new contracts, he’d extended an invitation to visit, and she didn’t hesitate to accept.
There was, however, one complication. Michael couldn’t go.
Idriss was an insular province, with unusual customs. Women’s lives were tightly controlled, and the highest levels of government were permitted only to men.
If Michael came with Jenny, he would be the leader they talked to. Her authority would be lost. Despite being the first female chairwoman in Meridia’s history, she would be just Michael’s wife, expected to stay quiet at his side. Matthew Adams supported her leadership, but was frank that her best chance of being listened to would be if she arrived without a husband.
However, even a chairwoman couldn’t be unaccompanied, so Ryan was officially her ‘escort’. But a married man escorting a married woman was also unacceptable, so Liz needed to come to give Ryan respectability.
They had more than a few silly moments talking this through, ultimately deciding that the only perfectly respectable combination was for the entire province to show up. Since that wasn’t exactly practical, they decided the three of them would have to be enough.
Also traveling with them, in their own helicopters, were government ministers to do the actual negotiations, various assistants, and security.
That's why, on that hot summer day, Liz took a deep breath, reminded herself that she wasn’t afraid of flying anymore, and marched up the short staircase into the belly of the beast. The two rows of passenger seats faced each other, three seats to a side.
Jenny sat facing forward, next to the window, her glance lingering for a moment at the seat that Michael usually chose. Liz sat in the middle of the other side, so she didn’t have to look out. Ryan gripped her hand as the engines started, and as they lifted off, she said a brief prayer, a talisman against falling out of the sky.
They flew the length of Orre and across the Four Corners, where Edwal, Werrin, Idriss, and Orre touched. The ground turned to rocky desert once they were over the border of Idriss. Down below those rocks was the oil that had been at the center of intense conflict, a conflict which had embroiled Liz herself.
As they approached the coast, the ground turned green again, and soon they were landing at the sprawling estate of Chairman Adams that sat along the shore. The chairman himself and a dozen officials stood waiting to greet them.
Liz, shivering in the surprisingly cool wind, was grateful that the introductions were kept short. Soon, the chairman led them down the gravel path to his home. The two-story building was made of light yellow stucco, shaded by tall dark green trees and framed by flowering bushes across the front. It was one of the prettiest homes Liz had ever seen. It was also enormous, with wings extending behind on both sides towards the sea.
Once inside, they followed a man dressed in a stiff black suit up wide stairs and through an ornately carved wooden door. The guest suite was comprised of a central living area with a view towards the water, and a bedroom to either side.
When the door finally shut and they were alone, Jenny and Liz sank down onto the overstuffed couch with simultaneous sighs.
Liz chuckled. “Well, I can cross another one off my list.”
“Another what?” Jenny asked, her head laying back and her eyes closed.
“Chairman’s house. I’m just a civilian nobody and yet this is house number—” she counted silently Alaine, Cormond, Candover, Idriss, and Orre “—five out of eight Family houses I’ve been in.”
“Stick with me and you’ll see them all,” Jenny said dryly. “I’ve been to every one of them over and over. Except here. Dad brought me once, right after Mom died, but he never brought me again. It’s not an easy place to be a woman who is used to freedom.”
Liz threw a half smile at her friend. “Maybe a little easier for a woman who is used to not having freedom?”
Jenny laughed. “True.”
* * *
Liz wandered into the other bedroom, opening up the suit bag and hanging Ryan’s suits and her dresses in the closet. Jenny had brushed aside Liz’s offer of unpacking, protesting that she wasn’t so high up the food chain she couldn’t hang up her own clothes.
Once she took care of that chore, Liz had nothing to do. She opened the window to let in some fresh air and pulled a chair up, leaning her chin into her arms on the deep sill.
The room faced the ocean. Waves crashed against large boulders along the shoreline, sending spray up into the sky, which caught the sun like bursts of diamonds. Trees swayed in the stiff breeze, and birds swooped and dove into the water. The air smelled clean and fresh.
Ryan came up behind her.
“It’s really pretty out there.” She didn’t mean to let her wistfulness come through.
He massaged her shoulders. “We’ll go outside together, I promise.”
As excited as she was to be somewhere different, she knew exploring the grounds by herself wouldn’t be allowed for security reasons, even if Ryan wasn’t being overprotective.
“Come.” He drew her over to the bed and sat down, pulling her to sit sideways on his lap. Trapping her hands in front with one hand, he moved the hair away from her neck with the other and placed a light kiss right on her jaw.
She squealed and wiggled, but his hand gripped her hair and held her tight. He spoke low into her ear.
“I suggest you keep your voice down unless you want the guards outside the door to know exactly what I’m doing.”
She gritted her teeth as he peppered light kisses all over the sensitive skin of her neck. Suddenly, she couldn’t hold it in anymore. “Please stop!”
The kisses ceased. He turned and spilled her onto the bed.
“Don’t move. It seems I’ll need to have a quick discussion with our security.” He rose and left the room.
She was going to die of embarrassment.
There was a murmur of voices through the opened door and she caught the word “kissing”. She would never be able to look the Orrian security guards in the face again.
A moment later, Ryan was back, closing the door. “I reassured them that any noises they heard were nothing to be worried about. I got the feeling they envied me.” He grinned and climbed on the bed over her, completely covering her slight form. “They should.”
He unbuttoned her shirt, kissing the skin underneath each opened button, until he could pull the edges all the way to the side. Her bra, a light blue lace confection he’d permitted her to wear today and which used to hold her breasts just fine, could hardly contain them anymore. With a practiced hand, he popped the front closure open, and they spilled free.
She prepared for him to dive down and capture a nipple in his teeth, but instead, he placed another light kiss right above the areola.
“Master? Please?” she whispered, arching up, desperate to have his mouth make its claim.
He didn’t answer as he placed soft kisses all over her breasts. They weren’t ticklish like her neck, but when he pulled away, her skin sizzled. With a wicked grin, he put a hand over her mouth and leaned over, capturing the bud in his mouth and flicking it with his tongue. She was so primed from the kisses that the movement across her nipple sent shock waves through her body. She cried out, glad that his hand muffled the sound. The other nipple suffered the same torment, though she was more prepared and kept her reaction to a squeak.
He removed his hand and leaned forward once more, but this time, he hovered over her face. “I love you, Elizabeth Peltier.”
She reached up and stroked his cheek. “And I love you, Ryan Benault.”
At three o'clock, the chairman’s wife knocked on their door. She entered with a bright smile and an elegance Liz could never hope to imitate.
Lucy Adams was in her late fifties, her dark brown hair streaked with silver gray. It was twisted up on her head and secured with gold pins that caught the light as she moved.
She wore a white lace dress and white pumps. Looped around her neck and thrown back over her shoulders was a gold silk scarf.
Lucy was an Owned Wife, and the white dress and gold scarf denoted her status. When a man rose high enough in government service, he was sponsored to become a Vir. A Vir had enormous influence, a guaranteed stipend for life, and could marry a woman who would become an Owned Wife. The woman agreed to submit to her husband and give up almost all her freedoms, and in exchange, receive status and permanent security for herself, their children, and her extended family. In public, an Owned Wife always dressed in white, with the gold scarf around her neck.
Liz wondered what it would be like to move about in the world dressed in a way that proclaimed to the public her submission to her husband. The idea made her shiver.
But Lucy didn’t seem strange or different as she welcomed them to Idriss. She clasped Liz’s hand with a comforting firmness as they introduced themselves, and insisted they call her Lucy.
“I wanted to let you know about dinner tonight, since it will seem quite different from most dinners you’ve been to. Most of the men there will be Virs, who will be bringing their wives. At a dinner like this one, each man has a small table, and the women kneel next to them for the duration.”
Liz’s eyes widened and she sneaked a glance at Ryan, who winked at her.
Lucy turned to Jenny. “Madame Chairwoman, you and my husband will share a larger table at the front. I will kneel next to my husband. On the other side of you, Mr. Benault will have a table, and you will be close enough to him to converse with each other.”
She turned to Liz. “Mrs. Peltier, you may choose what you would prefer to do. We had assumed you’d like to sit next to your husband, but he let us know you might actually wish to follow the wives’ customs tonight of kneeling.”
The offer was so unexpected that Liz blinked before she could come up with an answer.
He grinned and squeezed her hand. “I had a feeling you might have more fun being with the other women tonight.”
“And you’re welcome to join us in bathing and dressing, and then entering the dinner together when the wives are summoned,” Lucy finished, smiling.
Liz resisted throwing her arms around Ryan, but it was close. “Mrs. Adams—Lucy—I would like that very much.”
Lucy returned to the suite an hour later to escort Liz to the dressing area. Liz was so excited she almost forgot to say goodbye to Ryan before she rushed into the hall, her formal dress in a bag over her arm. The chairman’s wife was easygoing, asking Liz about the trip, and complementing her on her work with the prisoners.
Like Master Daniel’s home, Chairman Adam’s home was both a personal residence combined with some government offices, though most of the government kept offices in the capital city. Lucy pointed out different rooms and offices as they passed. The view through one open door brought Liz to a halt. “Ohhh…”
It was a library, with dark polished shelves from floor to ceiling and stuffed with books. A set of circular stairs, fastened to a track along the ceiling, could slide across the floor to reach the books at the very top. Lounge chairs with green overstuffed cushions were scattered around. Light poured in through enormous windows, and the thick walls lent themselves to cozy reading nooks in the window wells.
Double doors, comprised of dozens of small panes of glass, stood open to a large stone patio, covered by a solid wood pergola. The area was surrounded by tall bushes, lush with pink and yellow flowers, which provided a kind of privacy wall. The expanse of green was broken in one place by a gate, through which Liz glimpsed the ocean.
The scent of the flowers drifted on a breeze through the library, and out into the hall where they stood.
“I haven’t seen a library like this since…” she broke off the thought, unsure if the woman next to her knew her history. Master Daniel had a beautiful library, too. It was where Liz had met the other slaves when she first arrived. It was also where she’d overheard the information that had led to her arrest on charges of spying. As much as she loved that library, she’d never spent much time in it after everything happened.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it? I don’t have a lot of time to read these days, but I love coming in here when I can. You’re welcome to come back here any time while you’re here.”
“I’d like that. Thank you!”
The dressing room was a few doors down. Chatter greeted them as Lucy opened the door. The chatter died as women turned to see the newcomer.
“Ladies, this is Liz Benault. Her husband is Chairwoman Aldriss’ aide. Liz submits to her husband like we do, and she wishes to join us tonight as we kneel during dinner. I invited her to bathe and dress with us.”
The roughly two dozen women looking back at Liz ranged from young to old, from ebony to pale, and in all different shapes and sizes. Most were wearing white dresses or changing into white bath robes. Some women nodded to her and flashed a smile. A few ignored her, radiating discomfort. One turned in challenge.
“So she’s going to pretend she’s an Owned Wife, then?”
Three women off to the side, all wearing tee-shirts and yoga pants, looked at her and then each other and rolled their eyes.
“Sonja,” Lucy’s voice had a quiet steel, “Liz will be kneeling next to her husband, but she will not be wearing the white dress and gold scarf which proclaim in public who we are. No one will mistake her for being an Owned Wife.” She raised an eyebrow. “They might mistake her for being a pleasing, obedient wife.”
Sonja scowled and turned her back.
Lucy guided Liz towards another room. Inside, a bath the size of a swimming pool radiated a comforting humid warmth into the air. As the women entered, they each slipped off their robe and hung it on a hook, then stepped down the stairs. More than one groan of pleasure was emitted as they entered the water.
Liz busied herself with the zipper down the back of her dress, which had gotten stuck. Lucy chuckled and took over. A moment later, her dress and bra hung on a hook, and Liz looked like everyone else in the bathing room.
Except that almost every other woman had pierced nipples. Liz, forgetting her manners for a moment, stared at the sight before turning back to her hostess.
Lucy winked at her.
Liz's face went red. “Um, I’m sorry."
“Don’t worry about it. Let’s settle in the water and I’ll answer all your questions. Oh,” she looked down at the small bulge on Liz’s stomach, “you’re going to have a baby? How wonderful! Let’s go over to the side where the water isn’t as hot.”
Liz, who had been looking forward to a good hot soak, looked down and remembered the doctor’s advice about avoiding very hot water. “Thanks. I’m not really used to being pregnant yet.”
“There’s another pregnant woman coming tonight, but she's going to bathe and dress at home. She’s not feeling well, but a Vir can’t come without his wife, and this is an event no one wants to miss.”
Lucy led her over to an alcove off of the main pool. They settled on the steps. Though the water wasn’t as hot as the main pool, it was still pleasantly warm.
“Are you okay with a few questions?” Liz didn’t want to make her hostess uncomfortable.
“Absolutely! As Matthew’s wife, I meet most of the wives who accompany their husbands here on business. You’re a much friendlier audience than I usually have. Sometimes the questions are asked more out of hostility than curiosity.”
Liz nodded in understanding.
“I can probably answer a few things before you even ask them. It's true that we give up a lot of freedoms by being Owned Wives. But most of us are either submissive, or at least tolerant of the power imbalance. That's why we applied in the first place. So we agree to obey our husbands, as long as it isn’t harmful to our physical or mental well-being.” She grinned. “That's why when our husbands decide that they really like the look of pierced nipples, we get them pierced.”
She paused. “And if we refuse to obey, they’re permitted to use corporal punishment.” She eyed Liz as though she were waiting for a horrified reaction.
But Liz merely chuckled. “My husband’s favorite disciplinary tool is his belt, and holy hell, it can blister my backside. He’s also not above using a cane if I need it. And, just my luck, the doctor said those were fine.”
Lucy laughed. “Some husbands won’t punish their wives at all while they’re pregnant, but then they often mark the return of her submission three months after the birth with a public punishment. It’s a way of wiping the slate clean and starting fresh.”
Lucy nodded. “There’s a park down the road where it’s usually done. Anyone may watch. The punishments after having a baby aren’t very serious; they’re more of a public reaffirmation of roles now that she’s healed. But it’s where serious disobedience is dealt with, too. Those are hard to watch. And because I know you’re curious, but too polite to ask, yes, I’ve been there myself. Shortly after he became the chairman, I publicly defied him about something. Before, he’d have soundly spanked me. But as chairman, he needed to demonstrate that I wasn’t above the rules myself.” She paused. “There was quite a crowd.”
Lucy didn’t offer any further details. Liz idly played with a washrag in the water, thinking about what being punished in front of a lot of people might be like. She had to admit there was something oddly compelling about the idea.
Lucy watched her, a small smile on her face.
“What happens if a Vir gets married before he becomes a Vir? Is his wife forced to become an Owned Wife?”
“No. Some of those women choose to become Owned, and some don’t. The ones who don't are not required to come to these functions, but some do. They were the ones in regular clothes, and they won’t be wearing the scarves.”
Liz thought about the reaction they’d had to Sonja’s implied insult. “Do the wives who aren’t Owned sort of straddle the two worlds?”
Lucy nodded. “I’ve tried really hard to keep the two groups together, but there’s just so much that’s different. The other wives have many more freedoms and fewer restrictions, and it’s hard to find common ground. There are a few women who agreed to become Owned Wives just to be part of the group. I’ve tried to discourage them, and sometimes they regret the decision.”
“I understand the feeling of wanting to belong to a group.”
Lucy took her hand. “There are a lot more submissive women than you can probably imagine, but unless you have the support, like we do, it’s a solitary way of life.” She squeezed Liz’s hand and let go, grabbing soap and offering it to Liz.
As she bathed, Liz watched the other women floating in the pool, or sitting along the edges. Snippets of conversations drifted across the water—ordinary discussions of children and school, dinner recipes, and visiting in-laws. One woman made a circle with her thumb and fingers. Two other women listening made horrified faces.
“Looks like Phoebe’s husband has given her a larger plug to wear,” Lucy informed Liz in a low voice.
“Ouch. That’s pretty big.”
“Yes. It is.”
On the other side of the pool, laughter broke out between a group of women, and longing tugged at her heart.
She dearly missed having friends she could share with. She could tell Jenny anything, but these days, the times they had together were rare. She wanted to commiserate with other women about a punishment. To laugh about absurd things like when there's one bag of frozen corn, do you make it for dinner, or sit on it after a spanking?
She even wished she had a friend who would listen to her tale of woe, and then tell her to get over it.
When she was a slave at Master Daniel’s estate, all the other slaves would gather after dinner and do exactly that kind of thing. There was so much laughter and good company that it made the other parts of her time there bearable. Their companionship was a large part of why she’d signed the contract to stay on after her first two years.
Well, it was a small part. The largest reason, she’d finally admitted to herself, was Ryan.
In Alaine, she’d signed a contract to be a slave for a specific amount of time and was free to leave when it was done. In Orre, it was only her relationship with Ryan that put restrictions on her behavior, and those were voluntary.
But in Idriss, even among ‘regular’ women, the law dictated their lives. Restrictions were just a fact of everyday life, from birth to death. And among the Owned Wives, activities were even more restricted, but whether it was by law, or just because of custom, Liz wasn’t sure. She knew that dominant men couldn’t keep themselves from offering suggestions and ideas to each other. She’d overheard Michael and Ryan discussing how to ‘handle their women’ more than once.
She gave a soft chuckle. Ryan might not have much trouble living here.
Lucy called out to the other women, and they all made their way out of the pool. Someone handed Liz a towel, and someone else held out a white robe for her to slip on. She smiled at the gestures and thanked them.
The next ninety minutes were fun. Formal dinners called for elaborate hairstyles, and the women helped each other create braids and twists that were looped, pinned, circled, and fastened into place. No two women had the same arrangement. A woman named Mariela offered to do Liz’s hair, piling it into a crown adorned with pink flowers. Other women drifted over and started chatting, and by the end she felt like she'd made new friends.
Then they pulled out their dresses. Liz turned away to slip into her stockings and step into her own dress, and when she turned back around, she did a double-take. The white dresses were beautiful, elaborate—and completely sheer. The figure of every woman was completely visible through the filmy fabric.
Lucy caught Liz’s stare. “For the most important occasions, we wear our sheerest gowns. You’ve probably never seen them before because when we attend events in other provinces, we wear a white liner under the dresses. But greeting the new chairwoman, here at home, means we wear our fanciest, sheerest dresses. I hope that doesn’t bother you?”
“No!” Liz hastened to reassure her. “I didn’t mean to stare. It just surprised me. I kind of wish I could dress like that myself.” Without getting Ryan’s permission, dressing so that every man in the room could look at her would merit quite a punishment.
“Perhaps if you come again with the chairwoman you could bring a gown that would be similar.”
She nodded. “I’d like that.” But she wondered how Ryan would feel about every other man in the room looking at her through her dress.
Still, the dresses were beautiful. One had small silver sparkles scattered across the fabric. Another had delicate embroidery around the neck and hem. Some were lace. Looking closer, she realized that several women with larger breasts were wearing a bra to support them---but the bra itself was sheer and no hindrance to showing off their jewelry.
Lucy’s dress was a pleated, translucent silk skirt with a wide, gathered waist. A length of the sheer fabric rose from the waist, over her left shoulder, and back down to the waist behind, leaving her right shoulder bare. Tiny multi-colored jewels scattered across the dress caught the light as she moved.
The Owned Wives’ scarves varied as much as their dresses, but the trend seemed to be that the simpler the dress, the more intricate the scarf. Lucy had paired her elaborate silk dress with a simple gold silk scarf so light it fluttered as she moved around the room, helping with stuck zippers.
The scarves were not the most stunning part, though. Each woman’s piercings could be seen through their dress. Most had delicate chains hanging from one nipple to the other. Two women had intricate patterned metal circles over their areolas, their erect nipples peeking out through the central openings. From Lucy’s nipples dangled teardrop sapphires that caught the light as she moved.
Liz felt a little self-conscious, and very vivid, as she adjusted her green chiffon dress. It was floor-length with a full skirt, and the wide straps on the sleeveless bodice tied into bows at her shoulders with the long ends falling behind her. Ryan loved the dress because he could untie the bows at a moment’s notice. Liz appreciated it because as her breasts got bigger, the ties could accommodate her new size.
Lucy returned to her side. “I’ve always wanted pierced nipples,” Liz confided to her.
“I have some shields that are for non-pierced nipples, too.” Lucy opened a drawer and pulled out two delicate gold circles. “May I?”
Liz nodded and untied the bows at her shoulders, letting the front of the dress drop. Lucy placed the discs over Liz’s areolas, gently tugging the nipple through the central opening. Liz stifled a gasp at the intensity of the sensation and Lucy smiled. The shields had four small screws that when tightened from the outside caught the nipple in a gentle grip in the center and held it firmly. When she was done, Lucy hooked a delicate gold chain to the side of each shield, letting it dangle down between Liz’s breasts.
She retied the straps at Liz’s shoulders, leaving them a little looser than before. Liz turned to a mirror. From straight on, nothing looked different. But as she leaned forward a little, she let out a gasp. Ryan was going to be able to see right down her dress as she knelt tonight, the delicate filigree capturing her nipples and the chain linking them together…
She didn’t know if he’d let her get them pierced, but she did know that when he saw her tonight, he was going to lose his mind.
Ryan had attended his share of receptions and banquets over the years, but for most of them he’d been supervising the slaves who were serving, while keeping an eye on any guests who might not behave appropriately. Only occasionally did he have to make conversation with complete strangers. He’d spent the last interminable hour doing just that.
Jenny didn’t need him by her side; she’d been handling herself with grace at receptions and dinners since she was a teenager. She was impossible to miss as the only woman present, in her bright red gown with a sash of yellow and green, the three colors of the Orrian flag. Her chestnut hair was arranged in an elaborate braided bun at the nape of her neck. As she floated from conversation to conversation, most of the eyes in the room followed.
To Ryan, she looked much too young for the monumental task of repairing and restoring a province torn apart by murder, war, and deceit, but her bearing and calm voice gave off a reassurance that she was up to the challenge. Despite that, more than one scowl was directed towards the first female leader in Meridia’s history. Idriss was the most patriarchal of all the provinces; Jenny had landed in the lion’s den right out of the gate.
He nursed a drink too sweet for his taste as he studied the room and made small talk with an endless stream of self-important men. Over and over, he reminded them he was not in charge of policy-making, and their requests needed to be brought to Chairwoman Aldriss.
He wished Liz were by his side. He hoped she was having more fun than he was.
A bell sounded. He abandoned the unfinished drink on a table with relief and found Jenny, who was in deep conversation with a young man who had the look of a smitten puppy. Ryan stifled a grin and wondered how Michael would have handled the would-be Romeo.
“Madame Chairwoman,” Ryan broke in softly. “It’s time to go into dinner.”
“Thank you, Mr. Benault.” She smiled at the Romeo, who was glaring at Ryan. “I have enjoyed our conversation. Perhaps we can talk more at another time?”
He beamed and gave her a short bow. Jenny turned to Ryan, and they processed behind Chairman Adams to the dining room.
“Fascinating conversation?” he asked with a grin.
She sighed. “It’s exhausting having conversations with men who are surprised that a woman has a brain.”
The large room was arranged in a square of small tables. Each table had a rug on the floor to the right. A wider table sat in the center of one side, and there Adams pulled out a chair for Jenny before taking his place to her left. Ryan had his own small table and rug next to Jenny.
Ryan had never observed any formal Idrisian ceremonies before and wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. He hoped he’d done the right thing by letting Liz go with the Owned Wives.
Jenny sat quietly to his left as the room filled with men.
“Hey, are you okay?”
She crooked a smile. “Sure! It’s not like this is the first time I’ve ever done a provincial visit as chairwoman. Oh, wait—” she picked up a wineglass and took a large gulp, “—it is!” She put the glass down. “I wish Michael were here.” She looked a little pale.
“Do you suppose that if you ever came back with him, he’d kneel quietly on the floor next to you?”
She erupted into laughter, grabbing a napkin to hide her face while she struggled to get under control. When she emerged, her cheeks had more color and she was smiling. “Um, perhaps it’s better that he’s not?”
“You’re doing fine.”
As soon as everyone was seated, Adams rose and welcomed Jenny. He commented that the ascendancy of a woman as chair of a province was a momentous occasion, and that he hoped this was the first of many meetings between them. When he was done, Jenny stood, and though Ryan knew her well enough to detect the tiny tremor in her voice, she spoke confidently about future relations between the two provinces.
Ryan, who’d heard the speech many times as Jenny rehearsed, let his attention wander to the room instead. He saw a number of narrowed eyes and pursed lips on the same faces he’d seen during the reception.
But a few men relaxed back in their chairs, their arms crossed, an eyebrow raised here and there. They might be skeptical, but would give her a chance.
His eyes narrowed at two men sitting next to each other, their gazes fixed on Jenny’s chest as they whispered to each other. He stared at one of them until he was noticed, and raised an eyebrow. The man dropped his gaze and muttered to the other guy, who took a quick look at Ryan and then found something better to stare at.
The speech ended with polite applause, and Jenny sat down. The next moment, the large doors across the room opened, and every man rose to his feet. Ryan’s eyes almost fell from his head as the line of wives entered, each wearing a white dress, completely sheer. Somehow, the briefing he'd gotten failed to mention this part of the dinner. He sneaked a glance at Jenny, who was side-eyeing him with a barely-suppressed grin.
Most of them, though not all, wore the scarves that denoted them as Owned Wives. The line split, half of the women going toward the tables on the right, and half going to the left. As each woman arrived to stand beside her husband, he saw smiles, a couple of quick kisses, and more than a few clasped hands.
But the best, as far as he was concerned, was last. Liz entered the room at the end of the line, her bright green dress a pleasant contrast to the white-clad women. She followed the woman in front of her, walking around the right side of the room to reach Ryan. He noticed a few stares as she passed within inches of each Vir, and though he growled quietly under his breath, he couldn’t blame them.
But then she was right there, smiling up at him. Her hair shone like spun gold, intricately arranged on her head and entwined with flowers.
When he let his glance fall down, his knees grew weak. He could see down the front of her dress to her lush breasts and their large rosy brown nipples, now adorned in gold filigree and connected by a thin gold chain. He put a hand on the table to steady himself. He’d always loved pierced nipples, but had never heard Liz comment one way or the other. That conversation might have to happen soon.
“Anything wrong, Master?” she whispered up at him, her brows suddenly knit together in worry.
“No, my love. Nothing at all. At all…” he trailed off, unable to tear his eyes away from her chest.
Her face relaxed, and now her eyes twinkled in merriment. There was a sudden flurry of movement as all the wives took their place on the rugs. Liz sank to her knees, still the most graceful woman he’d ever known, and folded her hands on her lap, looking demurely at the floor.
He felt a pang. Though there were many parts of her life as a slave that she’d been ready to leave behind, she had confided to him more than once that she was happiest when she could show her submission in public, something she hadn’t been able to do at all since the day they left Master Daniel’s estate. Indeed, for most of that time, she’d been a pillar of strength for him, and for almost everyone else. He wondered if perhaps they should come back here someday, as tourists, to let the expectations of their modern lives roll off their backs for a while.
A movement from behind pulled his thoughts to the present. A server placed a plate on the table with a surprising amount of food, clearly meant for them to share. Liz glanced up at the plate and her smile grew even brighter. Being fed was Liz’s absolute favorite way of eating. He cut off a piece of beef and held it out to her, and the sight of her luscious pink lips closing around the fork almost gave him a heart attack.
He wasn’t sure how he was going to get through the evening.
He glanced around the room as he fed Liz and took the occasional bite himself. Jenny was talking quietly to Adams while she ate. The Chairman was feeding his own wife on the other side of his table. The two Orrian oil ministers were looking a little glum, perhaps feeling cheated out of the sensual experience. On the far side of them, the Idrisian oil ministers attended upon their own wives.
Only one man, to Ryan’s extreme left, was not feeding his wife. She knelt motionless, her eyes closed, her hands clasped tight around her small pregnant belly. Ryan watched her measured breathing in and out and got the distinct feeling she was barely holding back nausea. Her husband talked animatedly to the man at the next table as he ate. The protective dom in him had to be restrained from walking over to the couple, and inquiring with complete politeness if she was well?
Ryan pulled his attention back to Liz, chuckling when he realized he’d been holding a piece of food in the air just out of her reach.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes, my love, it’s fine. Simply lost in thought.” He presented the morsel to her and tried to focus on his woman, and not worry about things he couldn’t do anything about.
The end of the meal meant more speeches and goodwill wishes, and Ryan was relieved when Adams stood to say the final words. When he was done, Lucy and the other women rose. Ryan held out his hand to Liz and helped her up. “You’re the most beautiful woman in this room,” he not-quite-whispered, “and I’m so glad you’re my wife.”
She beamed and placed a kiss on his cheek, then turned to follow the women. He let her hand go with great reluctance. She fell in line and disappeared through the door.
Liz floated back to the dressing room feeling like a princess after the ball. She didn’t think she’d ever tire of the looks of lust and love Ryan directed at her every time she entered a room. Seeing him waiting for her on the other side of the room tonight, looking so impossibly handsome in a tuxedo, knowing she would walk past all those men to join the only man who would ever hold her interest, made her breathing short. He was so very tall, with his golden brown hair and warm, tawny skin, and when he gazed upon her with a smile that radiated joy, she knew she was the most important person on earth.
She picked up the sundress that she’d arrived in, reluctant to leave the fairy tale just yet. Lucy chuckled in understanding and found a bag to stuff it into.
Liz gave her a hug. “Thank you. I haven’t been able to do anything like that for a long time.”
“Since you left Daniel Weiss’ estate?”
Liz blushed. “I wasn’t sure if you knew about my past.”
“My dear,” the older woman pulled her close for a hug, “I remember you. I visited there shortly after your trial. You were quiet, and didn’t laugh as much as the other women, and even then I wanted to console you for the terrible losses, and the terrible choices, that you’d been burdened with.”
“I remember you, too, because you were so gracious and pleasant. Some women saw us as threats.”
Lucy laughed. “My husband is madly in love with me, and I with him.”
A knock on the door interrupted them. “That must be your man. I am glad we could help you show your devotion to him tonight.” They hugged once more, and Liz opened the door to the man under discussion.
He grinned when he saw her. “I was hoping you were still wearing your dress. Thank you, Mrs. Adams.”
“Liz is welcome to visit here any time, and if there is an official function, she is welcome to dress like us as well.”
“Um, thank you.” He looked flustered. Liz took his arm, and they waved goodbye. As the door closed behind them, he said quietly, “I am not so about letting every man in the room drool over you more than they did tonight.”
“Did other men look at me? I was only looking at the finest, most handsome man in the room.”
“Who almost lost his senses when you showed up wearing a little more jewelry than you’d left my side with.” He looked down her dress and smiled. “Mmm. Still there.”
They walked out into the cool darkness, taking a shortcut across the grass back to the guest wing, followed discretely by an Orrian bodyguard. The moon was out, dancing on the waves as they rolled up to the shore and splashed against the rocks. In between the waves, there was a peaceful silence. When the ever-present breeze off the water raised goosebumps on her arms, Ryan stopped and shrugged off his suit coat, placing it around her shoulders.
He kissed the top of her head, and they resumed their walk.
“Do you know all the wicked things I would do to you out here if we were alone?” he whispered.
She pretended to think for a moment. “Probably.”
“Brat.” He gave her a half-hearted smack on her butt and she squealed and looked back at the guard, who was trying to look everywhere except at them.
They reached a side door of the guest wing and an Idrisian guard nodded at the three of them as they climbed the stairs back to the suite.
Jenny was half asleep on one couch. The elegant chairwoman of Orre had changed from her gown into a t-shirt and sweatpants. She gave a sleepy smile. “I was just waiting up to make sure you got home safe. Liz, you looked amazing.” They hugged each other and she disappeared into her room.
"And she was amazing, too," Ryan said. "I wish you could have seen her speak."
"Gods willing, she'll do plenty more that we'll get to see."
He took her by the wrist and pulled her into their room. She grinned. She loved when he got bossy.
“All right, little slave, who told you that you were allowed to distract me the entire dinner? I wanted to listen to every word of every speech without interruption.”
Liz sank to her knees, still grinning. “Apologies for assuming you’d rather look down my dress than listen to political speeches, Sir.”
“Dammit, you’re doing it again. Get up here.”
He tugged her to her feet and then backed her up until she was against a wall. Raising her hands above her head, he ordered, “Don’t move.”
She wouldn’t dream of it.
His hands slid up the outside of her dress cupped her breasts. His thumbs played with her nipples, as hard as diamonds, sending shocks of electricity straight from her nipples down to the cleft between her legs.
“Look at me." She opened her eyes and as he bent over her, she tilted her head in welcome. He crushed his lips against hers and she melted into the rough, unyielding kiss. A rush of helplessness sent coherent thought spiraling away. Her hands, longing to touch him, clenched in frustrated emptiness above her.
His cheek was rough with whiskers that seemed to grow back quickly, no matter how recently he’d shaved. They grazed her cheek and sent shivers dancing down her spine.
He gripped her hair, forbidding her to move as his lips left her mouth and slid down, brushing her chin and dropping tiny kisses on her neck. She gasped, caught off guard at the intensity, breathless, her knees growing weak.
A hand tugged at the bow on one shoulder, then the other, and the front of the dress fell down.
“Stay there.” The warm breath on her ear gave her shivers as she struggled to obey. His hands cupped her breasts, lifting and squeezing, pulling pained gasps reluctantly from her lips. When he bent close to one nipple, still forced through the metal circle by the tiny screws, she braced herself for a bite. Instead, he nuzzled it, his rough skin like sand paper against the sensitized skin. The sensation was almost too much to bear, and yet she had no choice but to endure until he let her go.
“Do you know what seeing your breasts like this does to me?”
“Master,” she panted, unable to catch her breath as he continued to torment her nipples, “would you like me to get them pierced some day?”
He leaned back, searching her face. She knew he was trying to work out what her genuine feelings were, not what she thought he wanted. But right now, she dearly wanted to hear her master command her to have it done.
He stood, pressing against her, his hardness giving away his feelings before he spoke. “Once the babies don’t need your breasts any more, I will be taking you to get your nipples pierced, because I am your Master and the sight would please me.”
A smoldering fire unfurled in her belly. He bent over and reclaimed a nipple, this time biting and flicking it with his tongue. She squirmed and gasped, struggling to keep quiet the moans he relentlessly pulled out of her.
His teeth closed impossibly harder. Liz had long ago come to love erotic pain. She loved the struggle to get away from it, and loved when she lost the struggle. Ryan was always there to hold her tight when she couldn’t keep still, allowing her to fly free and embrace the pain without fear.
But her nipples were so much more sensitive now, and too soon she had to cry out, “Stop!” He released immediately and she gasped as blood rushed back into the tiny space.
He held still while she calmed. She knew what he wanted, and a moment later, she nodded. He took firm hold of the other nipple, and she flew again for a few blissful minutes before once more calling a reluctant halt to his sharp caresses.
He studied the golden circlets for a moment, and with a glint in his eye, held one of them steady with his right hand, and with his left, he twisted a screw. She let out a quick, high squeak.
“Oops! Did I turn that the wrong way?”
“Um, no, sir, not if that’s what you meant to do!”
“Let me try this one.”
She let out an even higher squeal. “Master! Still the wrong way!”
“Oh, I’m so sorry! I’m not used to this sort of jewelry. Maybe if you’d worn something like this before, I wouldn’t be so clumsy?”
“Yes, sir! I mean, no, sir!”
He smiled broadly as he loosened the screws for real, and the circlet fell off. His mouth fastened over the stiff bud and her head fell back against the wall as she braced for more torment. Instead, she let out a breathy gasp as he rubbed the soreness away with gentle flicks of his tongue, pouring more fuel on the flames between her legs.
When he pulled off and his hands went to her other breast, she bit her lip, unsure which way his intentions lay. But with teasing look on his face, he simply loosed the screws and tossed both gold circles away.
He briefly crushed her lips before turning her around to face the wall and unzipping her dress, letting it slither to the floor. As he pressed her against the wall, his cock was a rigid iron bar in her lower back. He tugged out all the pins and clips in her hair and set it free to tumble down her back. She gasped with pleasure when he ran his fingers through it, massaging her head, giving her a languid feeling that caused her knees to give way.
Picking her up and letting her shoes fall to the floor, he carried her over to the bed.
Liz lay sprawled on the bed, her long legs still covered with white lace-topped stockings. Her knees had parted enough that Ryan could see the glistening wetness from just the few minutes of playing they’d done. Or maybe she’d been this wet all evening? His cock twitched at the fantasy of carrying off his slave girl during the dinner to a dark corner of the estate and plunging into her heat, telling her she deserved it for distracting him while he was eating.
He was pretty sure he’d been hard from the moment she walked into the dining room, and it was probably a good thing his tuxedo jacket had been buttoned, to hide the boner he feared would never go away. At this point, his dick was fairly strangled within the fabric cage of his trousers.
His erection certainly wasn’t about to disappear soon. Her porcelain skin was set off by the blue bedspread. Her newly-freed hair lay scattered over her head, a thousand golden tributaries flowing away from her deep cerulean blue eyes, blinking at him while she waited expectantly.
He knelt down on the carpet and parted her legs. She let out a gasp, understanding what he wanted, and drew her knees as far apart as possible.
All this glistening wetness begged to be tasted.
It was honey. It was oranges and peaches and sunshine and he could have swept up every drop on his tongue, except for one thing.
She was making too much noise. He raised his head up and frowned, and she bit her lips and mouthed “sorry!”
He bent his head over again, concealing a smile, resuming his long, slow strokes. It wasn’t fair to expect her to be quiet, but he would demand the impossible from her, anyway.
He looked up again. She still had her arms above her head and her lips between her teeth and her eyes closed as she struggled to stay still.
“Liz,” he said quietly, “take a deep breath, put your hands over your mouth and nose, and watch me.”
She lifted her head, her eyes wide. She knew what he was going to do, and it totally wasn’t fair. She took the breath, covered her mouth and nose, and fastened her eyes on his as he bent over again.
This time, his tongue found her ring. It was the ring underneath her clit that she’d agreed to let him put in that first year, when they found out that being aroused kept her depression at bay. The ring she’d decided to keep once they got married. And the ring that was her undoing every single time he did what he was about to do.
He flicked it a few times with his tongue, then gently took it in his teeth and tugged. A muffled shriek rose from underneath her hands. He let go of the ring and used his tongue to flick the little bundle of nerves that the ring encircled, and she shook with the effort of keeping still. Her eyes closed a few times, but she quickly opened them again and locked on his.
“Take a breath, my love.”
She collapsed back on the bed, panting. He waited until her breathing slowed.
“Look at me.”
She raised her head and stared at him in alarm, but didn’t dare disobey. Mouth covered, eyes locked, she watched him bend over one more time.
He took the ring in his teeth again and tugged, again and again. Her hips bucked up, and he had to push them down to hold her still. His tugs continued, gentle but persistent. Her muffled shrieks grew higher and higher until the orgasm hit her. She shook so hard he had to drop the ring for safety. Pulling himself up until he was next to her, he cradled her soft body in his arms as aftershocks set off more trembling.
“You can breathe now, love.” With a chuckle, he pried her hands from her mouth.
“Master,” she said after a minute, “I'm so empty. I need you in me now, please?”
He didn’t need a second request. Rolling over so she was caged underneath his arms, he settled his knees between her legs, lined up his rigid cock, and sank it all the way in.
Her sheath was tight and warm and so incredibly wet. He groaned quietly and pulled almost all the way out, and sent it deep again. Trapped underneath, she gasped and panted. She got little stimulation from having a cock inside her, but he knew just how to angle himself to make sure the aftershocks from her orgasm continued.
By his best guess, he lasted a minute and a half before his balls crawled up inside and he exploded deep in her core, barely holding back his own cry as he held himself rigid, afraid to move until the orgasm had subsided. Finally, he let himself relax and open his eyes, to find his love and his life, his wife and slave, smiling up at him with sleepy eyes.
He loved this time when she was so sated and happy that she was half asleep before he even moved. He didn't want to interrupt it to get cleaned up, so he grabbed the towel he’d put by the bed, slipped his shell-shocked member out of her pussy, and placed the towel between her legs. Then he rolled onto his side and pulled her close. They’d wake up in a bit and clean up, but for now he was going to hold her as she slept, keeping her—and now the babies—safe and well.
The next day, Ryan, Jenny, and Jenny’s current assistant were busy with the negotiations. Liz missed being a part of Jenny’s team. She hoped that after the camp closed, there might be an opportunity to rejoin her in some way.
After Ryan left, she slept late in the luxurious bed. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had nothing to do. After she woke again, she spent the morning reading on her tablet while sitting in a chair near the open window, enjoying the sun and the smell of flowers drifting in on the breeze. She lost track of time, and when the door opened behind her, she startled.
“Hi. You look relaxed.” Ryan loosened his tie and shrugged off his jacket on the way over to kiss her. “Adams said that lunch is served anytime we want, and after that, I thought it would be good for you to get some exercise.”
Jenny was waiting in the living area, and the three friends joined Chairman Adams and Lucy, and had a remarkably relaxed meal. He was interested in Liz’s work, and she was flattered to be asked, and the time flew by. Afterwards, she and Ryan took a stroll outside, going over to the edge of the seawall and watching dolphins swim by in pairs, surfacing every minute for air. Liz had never seen dolphins before and was as delighted as a child trying to spot where they might surface next.
Clouds were building up in the west and looking rather ominous when Ryan steered her back inside so he could return to meetings. As soon as he left, it began to rain and thunder, and she contentedly curled up on the bed and fell asleep to the rumbles and flashes.
She woke up mid-afternoon. It was still raining, and by now she was restless. Remembering Lucy’s invitation to visit the library, she texted Ryan, asking for permission. He replied that as long as she had a guard with her, it was fine.
She slipped on her shoes and a sweater, and spoke to one of the Orrian guards trying not to fall asleep in the suite. A few minutes later they were in the library, Liz immediately moving to a bookcase, and the guard taking up an unobtrusive position in a corner.
Liz was entranced. Ebooks and tablets were wonderful, but losing herself in a large, heavy book was even better.
Her eyes lit upon an old one, “The History of the Province of Idriss”. She loved reading about history, and this book, with gilt page edges and a red and gold cover, was tempting. She settled on a couch to read.
A while later, she heard voices coming from the patio. The double doors were closed, so she couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying. The library itself remained quiet.
The chattering grew in volume, and she suspected an event was starting. She shut the book and replaced it, intending to make her way back to the suite, when the door to the hall opened and Lucy hurried through. Stopping short at the sight of Liz, she frowned.
“I’m sorry,” Liz said. “I didn’t realize anything was going to happen here. I’ll return to our rooms.”
Lucy cocked her head and chewed on her lip. “Actually, there’s about to be a public punishment. We had to move it here because of the rain. If you’d like to stay and watch…” She trailed off, clearly not sure how Liz would react to the offer.
Liz herself wasn’t sure. To witness something so private?
“Let me assure you that this husband loves his wife very much, and she loves him. She agreed to this. That’s not always the case, I admit, but it is today. And a public punishment really is, well, public. If this was in the park, as planned, there would be all kinds of spectators. No one will be disturbed by your witnessing of it.”
Liz nodded, hesitantly at first, then more firmly. “But I need to ask Ryan’s permission.” She desperately hoped he’d say yes.
“Sir,” she texted, “Mrs. Adams has invited me to watch a public punishment that’s right outside the library. She said it really is public, and she’ll be with me. And so will the guard. May I?”
The number of people gathering grew as she waited for an answer. Finally, her phone dinged.
“Adams says that this would be an appropriate one to see, so you may. I wish I could be there to watch it with you.”
“So do I. But I’ll tell you all about it.”
“Oh, I’m counting on that, little slave.”
She shivered—that good, shivery feeling where she knew exactly how she and Ryan fit together, and who had control of whom.
“By that smile on your face, I’m assuming he said yes?”
“He did,” Liz grinned.
* * *
The large flagstone patio was cool after the rain, even though the sun was peeking back out from the clouds. Several dozen people had gathered, including almost every Owned Wife she’d met last night. As she and Lucy stepped out of the library through the patio doors, several gave her a smile and wave, but none left her husband to come over. The conversation was subdued.
On the far side of the patio stood a stage with a pole that hadn’t been there last evening. Hanging down from the top of the pole was a chain, ending in a set of cuffs. Liz got a warm and squirmy feeling between her legs. But the good feeling was at war with some anxiety, despite Lucy’s reassurances. Liz wasn’t naïve enough to think that all men had their partner’s best interests in mind. And… what if it was too much? Would Liz see an event that she felt was abusive?
Lucy laid a hand on her arm and chuckled. “Your thoughts run across your face like sun chasing the rain.”
“You’re not the first to tell me that,” Liz replied dryly.
“Owned Wives aren’t completely at the mercy of their husbands. When I see something that crosses a line, I can speak to Matthew, and he takes my concerns seriously. He has the final say, of course, but he has stepped in when needed.”
Liz nodded thoughtfully. For her, punishment had usually been a private affair, even while she was a slave. She imagined living in a place where that wasn’t always true.
Perhaps Ryan might feel she’d done something serious enough to conduct her discipline in public. Or perhaps some higher authority could override Ryan’s desire to keep a discipline just between them.
Or maybe—and this made her breathless—sometimes the events weren’t punishments as much as disciplines, and were conducted as a way to reinforce obedience.
Movement at the front drew her attention. A pale, black-haired woman dressed in a loose gray gown, and a tall, dark man with close-cropped hair, entered the patio from the side gate. Liz recognized Phoebe, the woman whose husband had given her the extra-large plug.
“That’s Amit, her husband. She’s wearing gray to symbolize that she’s moved away from the promise of obedience she made when they got married,” Lucy whispered to Liz. “She’ll wear white again when this is over.”
The couple climbed the short stairs to the platform. He held her hand as they turned to the crowd.
Liz expected him to speak, but it was Phoebe who opened her mouth—and then closed it again. She twisted the gown in her hands as she stared at boards under her bare feet. Her husband leaned over and murmured in her ear. She nodded and took a deep breath.
“Thank you for coming.” Her voice was so low Liz had a hard time hearing, but she couldn’t blame the woman, who seemed to grow paler by the moment.
“This is my first time being up here. I, uh, hope it’s my last, too.” She glanced at her husband, who lifted an eyebrow and cocked his head in a ‘we’ll see’ gesture. Liz heard a few soft chuckles from the crowd.
“My baby turned one year old a month ago, and I stopped nursing. Amit wants me—” she looked up to see his eyebrow raised again, “I, um, mean, Amit has decided I’m going to keep making milk… for at least a year… until we try for another baby. And he, um, didn’t want to use a regular breast pump, so he, um, bought all the stuff—”
Amit spoke softly to her again. She squeezed her eyes shut, coloring bright red, but nodded. “He bought new equipment so he can milk me,” she got out in a louder voice, sounding like she was determined to just say it and be done. “And to make sure that I don’t get pregnant for at least a year, he’s only going to use my mouth and my… bottom…” Her voice was dropping again, “but my bottom is too small yet, so he’s given me larger and larger… plugs,” she whispered. A tear slipped out and ran down one cheek.
Amit put his arm around her shoulders and leaned down, kissing the tear track. Liz didn’t always pretend to understand everything about a dominant’s mind, but she knew tears from a contrite submissive were like nectar for bees, and each one was precious and treasured. There was little doubt about the effect of this event on him, as his trousers bulged in a way that Liz deliberately tried not to look at.
He turned her to face him and took her head in his hands, speaking quiet words. She opened her eyes and looked straight into his as he used his thumb to wipe away more tears. After a minute, she turned back to face the audience again.
“I refused, and then broke part of the milking pump and threw one of the plugs in the garbage. I’m really sorry, Amit.”
Soft high gasps, and low deep rumblings, made clear the gravity of her actions. Liz’s eyes were wide and frozen.
Was she horrified by Phoebe’s action?
Or horrified at how aroused she was at the thought of Ryan deciding she would make milk for his pleasure?
Phoebe walked over to the side of the stage and accepted a cane held out by someone up front. She walked back to Amit and placed it in his hand, then knelt down in front of him.
“Let's do what needs to be done,” he said, “and start fresh.” He put the cane on a small table, then helped her stand and guided her to the pole, her back to the crowd. He pulled her dress up and off, baring her backside. A circle of silver nestled between her butt cheeks giving evidence that she wore one of the hated plugs. Liz clenched her own cheeks in sympathy.
Amit raised her hands without resistance and secured them in the leather cuffs. Liz was confused for a moment as he unbuckled his belt and pulled it free, only to understand when he wrapped it around her waist and the pole. Not only would it keep her from lunging away from the blows, it would help to support her if her knees gave way.
Liz had forgotten that Lucy stood next to her until the older woman leaned close again. “Sometimes the punishment ends up being less than the humiliation of having to announce her disobedience out loud.”
“Oh,” was all Liz could reply.
Amit kissed Phoebe on the cheek one more time, then stepped back. He raised the cane and let it fall.
Liz had been on the receiving end of a cane many times, and there were few implements that hurt as much. But there was always one moment after the first strike when there was no pain at all, and she always made the mistake of relaxing. An instant later, the pain would come crashing in, and then her mind would short-circuit.
About two seconds after the cane landed on her pale, unmarked bottom, Phoebe let out a keening cry, jerking in her bonds. A reddish purple line, perfectly level, appeared across the fleshiest part.
He waited until she calmed and then swung again. The cry was louder and longer this time, and as she shook the chains clattered against the pole above her head. Another line, parallel to the first, formed just below. From the dark color of the welts, it was clear he wasn’t pulling his strikes.
He waited, and then struck a third time. This time she screamed. Several women buried their heads in their husband’s chests. Every one of the men turned his wife back to the front. This wasn’t just a public punishment; it was also a group instruction.
On the fourth blow, she began begging. His arm fell a little, and he hesitated. But then he took a deep breath and placed a fourth one in perfect symmetry with the previous three, right where her bottom met her thighs.
Her scream had hardly started when he laid a fifth one down at the top of her thighs. He tossed the cane onto the table and was back at the pole, unbuckling the belt from around her waist and wrapping his arms around her from behind, carefully avoiding rubbing the sore skin.
But he didn’t let her arms down. He must have spoken to her, because Liz heard her cry, “No! Please, Amit, no!” He placed his hands on her waist, turned her around, and refastened the belt.
With surprise, Liz saw her breasts for the first time. Each mound was so bulging with milk that it was shiny. Blue veins stood out in sharp relief on her pale skin, and her large, dark areolas were completely flat. She hadn't pumped in at least a day, and Liz winced, imagining the pain she was in.
Amit, standing to her side, cupped them and gave only a tiny squeeze, but that was enough to pull a pained gasp from her mouth. Milk streamed out in two arcs, landing like tiny white raindrops on the platform at her feet.
“We’re almost done, my sweet girl.” He brushed his knuckles across her jaw. “I’m going to give you three more—one above your nipples, one below your nipples, and one across your nipples. When we get home, I’ll milk you right away, and for the next week, each time the pump pulls milk out, the uncomfortable tugging will remind you of your pledge to honor and obey me.”
She nodded. “I love you, and I’m sorry.”
“I know. And I love you, too.”
He stepped back and picked up the cane. This time, there was no hesitation. He swung once—twice—a third time—and her scream rose into the sky as three perfectly parallel red welts rose on her pale and swollen skin.
Her knees buckled. He tossed the cane down and was at her side in an instant. This time he released her hands first. As he loosened his belt, she started to fall, and he swept her up in his arms. Liz didn’t miss how she nestled into him, even as she winced.
He descended the platform, and they disappeared out the side gate.
“Breathe,” whispered the voice next to her. Liz blinked and brought her focus back to Lucy.
“Is—Is it—” Liz wasn’t sure exactly what she was asking.
“Is it always like that? No. But many of these couples are deeply in love, and when that’s the case, you can see it clearly.”
Several wives left their husband’s side and gathered together, one woman taking another into her arms. The men broke the subdued feeling by greeting each other and talking effusively, and occasionally laughing. The remaining wives stood mostly silently at their sides, nodding and talking when addressed. Liz didn’t know all their rules, and whether they were required to remain silent, but she knew that watching something like this turned a submissive’s mind inward as the event was replayed, often placing herself in the role of the punished one, and contemplating what it would feel like.
“Are all the Virs and Owned Wives required to be here?”
She shook her head. "But there are only a couple of these a year, so almost no one skips it. It’s an opportunity to remind the wives of their obedience.” She looked around. “I think the only one not here is the woman who is pregnant and was sick last night. I’m going to go see her later today.”
A movement to her side caught her attention. Ryan and Matthew Adams emerged from the library doors. Liz smiled in delight at her husband and gave him a kiss.
“Is it over?”
She nodded. “Just now.”
“Feeling a little more obedient than before?” He grinned.
“Yes, sir!” A wave of achy throbbing desire raced through her.
Next to her, Matthew addressed his wife. “Everything go as planned?”
He turned to Liz. “Do you have any questions or concerns about what you saw?”
Liz shook her head. “No, sir. Thank you for letting me watch.”
“I’m glad you had the opportunity, and I wish we could have been here with you.” He smiled. The smile faded, though, as he turned back to his wife. “However, Lucy, I would have appreciated being asked first if you wanted to invite a guest.”
Lucy’s eyes opened wide. She sank to her knees. “Oh, no. I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t think.”
“No. You didn’t. Do you have any meetings this afternoon?”
“Up to the residence, then. Strip and kneel in the corner, arms up behind your head. When I’m done with my meetings, we’ll have a discussion.”
“Yes, sir.” She stood.
Liz felt awful. “Lucy, I didn’t mean for you—”
“No, no, no. It’s okay. I’m glad you were here, and I should have asked. Don’t worry about me.” She winked at Liz and turned towards the library door. Matthew grabbed her arm and halted her retreat, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and then let her go, spanking her butt once as she moved away.
“Ryan, we’ll start again in about ten minutes.” He followed his wife through the door.
The patio had emptied by now, leaving them alone.
“I feel bad for her.”
Ryan pulled her into his embrace. “So do I. The next meeting is going to be a couple of hours long.”
Liz shuddered as she imagined how hard it would be for Lucy to kneel and keep her arms up that long.
Ryan tipped his head towards the library door and grabbed her hand. “Come on. Ten minutes is enough time to tell me all about it.”
* * *
Ten minutes was enough time to tell him the facts, but it was not enough time to explain her complicated feelings about what she’d witnessed.
“Do you think she deserved that punishment?” Ryan asked.
“I-I don’t know. Maybe.”
He laughed. “‘Maybe’ is as good an answer as you’ll ever get out of a sub.”
“Sir, would you ever… I mean, if we lived here… would there be any reason… to do…?”
“Are you asking if we lived here, and you did something you needed to be punished for, would I set up a public punishment?”
Liz gave him several tiny, quick nods.
“It would have to be for something serious. You’ve never done anything—well, except for when you tried to rescue Miri and got yourself almost kidnapped.”
She kept silent, waiting. If she were honest, she wasn’t sure which answer she was hoping for. She’d never, ever want to be punished like that—but knowing it was a possibility? Maybe?
“Yes. I think so. If we lived here, and under the right circumstances, I would punish you in public.”
It seemed strange that his statement was comforting, but Liz had long ago learned that she needed a fence to encircle her world. Within that fence of expectations, rules, and devotion, she could happily exist, even when she was consumed by something as difficult as her job. She needed the certainty of crashing into the fence from time to time and finding it sturdy. But when she ventured outside that fence, the world was cold and lonely, and she was sad. Knowing he would come and get her and bring her back, and then ‘close the gate’ tight with a punishment, allowed her to regain her focus on the one man she joyfully gave her obedience to.
And Ryan needed to be a fence, as much as she needed the fence. She would be forever grateful that they’d been thrown together, and she resolved to show him her devotion every day.
They were sitting on the bed, but Liz slipped off, onto her knees. “Thank you, Master.” He leaned over, and with the touch of his lips on hers, happiness vibrated through her body.
“I might even enjoy it.” His raised eyebrows and quirked lip told her he was serious. Now it was pure lust which tore through her like a hurricane.
He stood. “I have to get back. We’ll be done by five. And you, little one, are on restriction. I know you. No touching. I might, or might not, give you relief this evening.” He whistled as he left the room.
She slumped over and groaned. The rest of the afternoon was going to pass in slow agony.