Hidden behind the heavy, dark green drapes, Charlotte fervently prayed her Uncle’s Hugo’s wife, Aunt Mildred, would stop looking for her. Charlotte was sure, given time, the woman would calm down and the crisis would be over, but as she heard her aunt stride into the room calling her name, her heart sank. It was nearing the dinner hour, and she still had to change her clothes. If she failed to appear in the dining hall properly attired and on time she’d be in even more trouble.

“You’d better show yourself if you’re in here,” her aunt called. “You know I’m going to spank you, but I’ll spank you harder if I have to search you out.”

Oh, dear. She will. I know she will, and she’ll find me eventually. I’d better own up.

Taking a deep breath and putting on her most remorseful expression, Charlotte stepped from her hiding place.

“I’m here, Auntie.”

“You are a wicked child. That’s what you are, a child. You’re nineteen years of age and still you behave so badly. How many times must I take my hand to your bottom?”

“I’m sorry, Auntie,” Charlotte mumbled hoping her demure attitude would help.

She wasn’t really sorry, not in her heart, but if there was one talent Charlotte had it was the gift of fabrication. She could spin a tale better than a charlatan, and could produce convincing tears at the drop of a hat.

“Sorry? You’re sorry?” her aunt chided. “You go into my room, which you have been told is off-limits, you open my jewelry case and break my best string of pearls, and you think sorry is going to be enough?”

“My most sincere apology all I have to offer,” Charlotte said meekly.

“No, you have your bottom to offer, and tan it I shall. We will be dining soon, so I will take care of this immediately. It will serve you right to sit uncomfortably through the meal. If Lord Pemberly wasn’t going to be our guest I’d lock you in your room without supper.  Get out of that dress and wait for me by that couch. I’ll lock the door so we won’t be disturbed.”

“Yes, Auntie,” she replied, and moving to the small padded bench set against the wall she tried to remove her clothing.

Charlotte had grown up in a home almost as grand as her uncle’s, her late father being a wealthy man himself, but being only thirteen years old at the death of her beloved parents she had been taken in by her father’s brother, the Duke. She had brought her mother’s lady’s maid, Helen, with her, and dressing, and undressing, without Helen’s assistance was impossible.

The transition hadn’t been an easy one, and with the drama of the unexpected loss her naturally spirited personality turned rebellious, bordering at times on the impossible. Her uncle put it down to her tragic circumstances, but as the years ticked by even he had to admit she was just an uncontrollable miscreant, though he would never share those feelings with his wife, and certainly wouldn’t tell Charlotte. He had, however, agreed it was time for the young woman to find a suitable husband.

“Oh, for goodness sake,” Mildred muttered testily as she started on her way back to her niece. “Drop your hands, I’ll take care of it. Why these dresses are designed so we must have our maids to help I just don’t understand. Men, that’s the reason. Confounded men.”

With deft fingers Mildred unfastened all the fasteners, and unlaced the ribbons, and in short order Charlotte was standing in front of her in just her undergarments.

“On your knees,” Mildred barked, “and I warn you, I will not be holding back.”

Knowing any protests would just make matters worse, Charlotte dropped to her knees and waited. With just her aunt’s hand about to land on her behind she wasn’t terribly worried. The rod, though, that was another matter, and she was grateful they were pressed for time.

The rod lived in her uncle’s study, and it was the main reason Charlotte had chosen the drawing-room to hide. She knew her Aunt Mildred acted hastily, and if she was going to be discovered she’d rather her aunt find her in a room that offered no implements.

The air kissed her skin as her aunt parted her drawers, and seconds later the woman’s hand began landing its blows.

“Wretched girl,” her aunt scolded. “If you dare go into my room again I’ll take that rod to you. Your uncle might still have a soft spot for you, but I don’t. You’re fortunate Fannie found all the pearls and we can have them restrung, or I’d have you bent over your uncle’s desk in the morning. I might just do that anyway,” Mildred lectured as she continued wailing her palm on Charlotte’s bottom, “and if the dinner doesn’t go well tonight I will.”

“OW, OW,  Auntie, please,” Charlotte wailed.

She had been spanked many times by her strict aunt, but not for as long, and not as hard, and her bottom was beginning to burn with a scalding sting.

“I’ll say when enough is enough, missy. Going into my room against my specific instructions was the last straw, but going into my jewelry box?”

“OOOWWW,” Charlotte wailed throwing her hand behind her. “I didn’t mean to break anything. I just wanted to- OOOHHWW.”

“Be quiet,” her aunt snapped catching Charlotte’s wrist. “You’d better be on your best behavior tonight, do you understand me? Lord Pemberly is looking for a bride. He comes from an excellent family. A husband might be your only salvation.”

“What? NO! I don’t want to-OW, OW, OW.”

“I’m telling you, Charlotte, if you don’t behave at dinner,” Mildred warned slapping her hand down with as much force as she could muster, “so help me I’ll cane you until this bottom has more stripes than a Zebra.”

Panting from the effort she’d put into the spanking, Mildred released Charlotte’s wrist and straightened up.

“Upstairs with you, and change for dinner,” she barked.

“I need your help with my dress,” Charlotte whimpered.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” her aunt muttered. “Hurry up.”

A short while later, her bottom still scratchy and sore, Charlotte was ready for the dining hall. Dressed in a dark green beaded gown with matching stain gloves, sparkling gems delicately placed in her hair, and family jewels gracing her neck, she heard the sound of horses in the driveway. Glancing out the window she saw the arrival of several carriages carrying the guests for the evening, but one visitor was galloping across the front lawn on a huge, dapple-gray horse.

“That must be a stallion,” she murmured.

“What’s that m’lady?” Helen, asked.

“That horse. He must be a stallion,” Charlotte replied. “Look at his neck, and his powerful stride.”

“I wonder why that man isn’t in a carriage,” Helen remarked. “He certainly strikes a dashing figure.”

“Yes, I wonder too,” Charlotte smiled. Perhaps he’s a maverick like me. “I’m looking forward to meeting him,” and as the words left her lips, the man pulled his impressive steed to a stop, swung from his saddle, and gazed up at her window.

“Look, m’lady. Is he staring at you?”

“I doubt it. He probably can’t even see me. He’s just studying the house. It is rather grand.”

She watched as the man dropped his head, handed the horse to a footman and began striding forward.

“Do you know who it is, m’lady?”

“No, I don’t,” Charlotte replied, but he has no escort so he must be Lord Pemberly. Maybe I will be a good girl at dinner after all. A very good girl, or maybe I’ll be extra mischievous.