The Duke and The Domina — excerpt

EXCERPT:

Introduction

He’s poor. She’s rich. 

He’s a sub. She’s a switch. 

It’s not love. It’s a Marriage of Kink-venience! 

—Tiffany Reisz

From the Author

Grayson Locke Danforth, the Duke of Warrick, is a trained military strategist, to put it…mildly. He would have studied those who came before him, Sun Tzu in particular. Sun Tzu, a Chinese general who was a master strategist and philosopher, is believed to have originally written The Art of War. I studied several different translations of The Art of War and reference the translated text throughout this book with quotes at chapter headers.

While Warrick would most likely have studied the original French translation by French Jesuit Jean Joseph Maire Amiot in 1772, that translation wouldn’t have lent itself to use here, as I have no intention of translating it from French for you.

The first known English translation was done by Everard Ferguson Calthrop, a British officer, in 1905, but it’s incomplete. The first complete English translation I could find any reference to was the Giles translation of 1910.

This book takes place in 1883…so you see my dilemma.

Since Sun Tzu is believed to have lived somewhere in the neighborhood of 544 to 496 BC, it is logical to believe Warrick would have found and used the text in one of its various forms and translations. I decided on the French, because it was complete long before he was born, and was well known.

I will say my favorite of the translations is the most recent, done by James Trapp, even though I didn’t use anything from his translation simply because it’s so recent and I wanted to use something that was as timely as possible, as well as in English.

I purchased the hard-bound edition of James Trapp’s translation from Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. If you would like a copy of the text, get that one. It’s a lovely book, with a traditional Chinese book binding and beautiful printing.

Sun Tzu

The Art of War

Translation used completed by:

Lionel Giles, 1910

Prologue

In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact, to shatter and destroy it is not so good.

—Sun Tzu

The Art of War 

1883

The corset tightened, and Grayson let out his last breath of freedom, finally at ease. Corsets were popular with the men of Victorian society, but the reason he wore a corset was different from the rest. For them it was vanity, a softness of the waist, or a straighter posture. But for him? He had no need for help with posture or waistline. His structure was not at issue.

Grayson needed the binding and the constriction, the pain of the tension and the relief when it released.

Grayson breathed against the steel bones, letting them pinch as he watched the process in the cheval mirror. If he took a deep enough breath, if he held it long enough then shifted, he could bruise his skin where the boning crossed his ribs.

He put his hands against the front of the corset and breathed again, waiting for as long as he could before exhaling, then he used his muscles to prolong that feeling.

The pinch. The burn. The release. 

Then he nodded to his valet in the mirror’s reflection, and his shirt was brought to him. Then his waistcoat.

Grayson wasn’t looking forward to today. It took everything in him to not run, leave Britain, and return to India—his home. It’s where he felt safest. Here in England, a country he’d wished to never see again, he was constantly on edge. Terrified he would be discovered. There was too much scrutiny here, particularly for a man like him.

The fact that chance or fate or whatever machination would take his father and brothers without warning, without so much as an inkling, was beyond cruel. That today he was to meet the woman his father had contracted for his oldest brother, the woman he would marry, the woman who was now to become his duchess, was beyond him. Grayson couldn’t fathom marriage to anyone, but to a society miss? The daughter of a duke? A highborn lady who would expect certain things from him? This was truly unfathomable.

This woman would be in his life and in his house. It would be impossible to escape her. The fact that he was an honorable man never rankled more than it did now. Honor was all he truly had, when the rest of him was…what he was, and he would be forced to hide who he was even in his own house, where he slept.

To live out his greatest fear in life, to be a man of society, a husband, a father, a proper gentleman—he choked suddenly and leaned over, his breath stolen from him. He rested his hands on his knees at the thought, attempting to catch his breath as the corset bit into his lower abdomen.

“Too tight, Your Grace?” Rakshan asked as he held Grayson’s jacket.

Grayson lifted one hand and waved him off, unable to voice an answer. Breathing in through his nose, he stood tall again then pushed his arms back behind him. Rakshan slid his coat up his arms then yanked the tail, straightened the shoulders, walked in front of him, and buttoned him up. Then he pulled the brush from the dressing table and slid it across his chest, shoulders, and back.

Grayson closed his eyes and settled into the calm of the movements on him. He would need to take that calm with him today to meet the woman he would marry. The future Duchess of Warrick, his dead brother’s fiancée, the woman who would prevent him from ever being himself.

He may not miss his family for the reasons people believed he should, but miss them he did, because they were all that had prevented him from becoming who he now had to be.

The Warrick.

2015

Lulu snapped the single tail just to the left of Oliver’s shoulder, letting the sonic boom send shudders through his muscles. She loved the dance of muscle as it rippled across the back of a client, the skin undulating like a soft wave carried to shore. She snapped it again quickly, this time on the right before the first ripple had a chance to make its way fully across the broad expanse of his back—and Oliver did have the loveliest back.

With near-perfect symmetry and structure, he was simply beautiful with his arms stretched out to the bedposts above his head. The canvas of his physique, almost flawlessly balanced, could not have been more suited to her art.

He pulled against the bindings on his wrists, his muscles tightening in the center and stiffening his spine. The tension straightened his back as the lats on both sides flexed. The action made his back even bigger and more impressive, exactly what she needed him to do, exactly as she had instructed, throughout his training.

Lulu waited for him to steady, then she struck him in earnest. First on the left just below his scapula, then on the right without pause.

Tonight she would give him the wings they’d worked so hard for.

She picked up the second bullwhip and tested the air with both bullwhips in tandem. This was her special trick and hers alone, and her clients paid thousands for the honor of it.

She followed the pattern of his muscles down his lats, not letting him breathe between the strikes because the tension played out in his back. The feathers of his wings, made by the welts of the whips, needed to follow his natural musculature in order to look perfect. It was a difficult and practiced dance. Each strike had to be exact, because she wasn’t to draw blood, yet, and it was incredibly easy to draw blood with a single tail. Much too easy.

For her part, the muscle control required of her had taken years to perfect, the ability to strike in tandem with an exacting weight and placement was nearly impossible. She practiced daily and worked her shoulders and back twice weekly to train out all signs of dominance on her left side. She worked harder than anyone else had ever considered doing. That’s why the clients paid, and they got exactly what they paid for.

Lulu painted his lats with the red feathers, different weights and lengths of strikes making different patterns until he looked as though his back would physically give birth to the wings she put there.

She set the bullwhips aside and picked up the Wartenberg wheel to add more subtle texture to the feathers. Then the evil stick for the center of the wings, for additional definition. She used multiple tools to complete her work, each leaving a different pattern.

She didn’t use the bullwhip where the bone was close to the surface, because the chance of drawing blood was much too high. Instead, she used the floggers to paint broad strokes, then the wheel and the stick to define. The final effect was well-defined crests with fluffier-looking feathers down to the tips, but it was the last feather that sold the piece.

She picked up her whips again for the final strikes, the most painful of all. They would hit the soft hollows below his ribs, carefully avoiding his kidneys, and painting the final, long feathers that would go from his sides to just on either side of his spine. The feathers would bracket those beautiful dimples in a searing pain he would remember for the rest of his days. These would bleed, but only slightly, and only because he’d asked for them to.

He yelled into it, a deep, throaty growl. They always did, if not during the process at least during the last strike. None of her subs could contain themselves through that final strike—blood or no.

Lulu dropped the bullwhips and inspected his back. The small cuts at his lower back bled two small rills of blood that slid easily into the dimples at his spine, pooling there. “Don’t move,” she whispered.

She walked to him and leaned across his back, careful to avoid streaking the blood while brushing his newly formed wings with her corseted breasts, running her fingers down his sides, at the very edges of his feather welts.

“Don’t move, don’t breathe, we’re almost there,” she whispered over his shoulder into his ear. Her breath sent goose bumps across his skin, his welts, causing shudders of pain to rack his body once again. She loved the sound that came from the depth of his rib cage. She wrapped her hands around his waist, skimming her thumbs just at the edges of the last welts to the center of his spine.

“Thank you, Mistress,” he breathed, his voice tense and hard but gracious, and she was brought to life in that. She hit a switch on the wall, then walked to her camera. The lighting was set, the stage created. All Lulu had to do was check the focus and press the shutter, and they would both have a permanent reminder of why they were here.

She stared into the ground glass at the upside-down reversed image to check the framing. “Don’t move, my darling,” she said as she made the final adjustments to the focus. This was one of her best yet, and she had the beautiful man before her to thank for it.

She grinned and gave a little booty shake at her excitement, but when she stepped to the side to take up the shutter release, her heel caught on the tripod and her ankle rolled. Her hand flew out to grab anything to help steady herself, catching the leg of the tripod. As the camera tipped she went down hard, hitting her head on the floor, the camera crashing down with her.

The entire thing landed just in front of her as though she were composing an image, their legs tangled like lovers. She could see the back of the camera, the image out of focus, the tilted room projected on the shattered glass, the wings she’d only just created attempting to take flight as Oliver fought against his cuffs.

She blinked, struggling to keep her eyes open, focusing intently on the back of her camera one more time to try to keep herself from passing out. As she felt the warmth of blood pooling beneath her skull. she heard him yell her name, but she could do nothing but close her eyes and dream of wings.

ONE

…to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence.

—Sun Tzu

The Art of War 

1883

Grayson arrived at Exeter House at half past three as requested by His Grace, the Duke of Exeter, his future father-in-law. The man had been his father’s best friend and therefore Grayson’s enemy. He didn’t trust the man, simply for that close relationship to his father.

Nearly half an hour after arriving, he was still pacing in the parlor—certainly a power play at the hands of Exeter. Grayson didn’t know how much Exeter knew of him, how much his father may have said, but he knew returning to claim the Warrick title under order of the queen would ruffle feathers, and every peer would be of a mind to put him in his place, especially this one.

It was one of the reasons he’d remained hidden, for the most part, since his return two years prior. Grayson wasn’t thrilled to tie up the rein of his third-son-of-a-duke, worthless, spare-to-the-spare-of-the-heir position.

It made him angry beyond bounds that he could not get out of the marriage contract. He would have preferred to simply walk away from all of his father’s contacts, contracts, friends, and fellows, and that was why he’d waited until today to speak to his bride.

Her father wanted the title for his daughter and would not relent, no matter how Grayson had attempted to break the contract. Grayson had no purse to buy him out, unfortunately, and Grayson believed Exeter may actually be aware of that.

Grayson knew it was crass, that he should have at least been sociable, but he was not a sociable man and had no sociable mien. He didn’t want to be here in a fancy parlor in London. In London at all, for that matter, or in England, or even on this godforsaken continent. He didn’t want—

The door swung wide, and a liveried footman in mint green stepped in. Grayson cringed. “The Lady Cecilia Lennox.”

Resigned to his fate, Grayson straightened his shoulders and prepared to meet his bride. A gentleman, he said to himself. He was a gentleman. The footman stepped aside—and beauty walked in. Grayson’s hands fell to his sides, and his jaw slackened—he knew it did. He tightened it and composed himself again as the footman introduced him.

“Lady Cecilia, His Grace, the Duke of Warrick.” The footman turned swiftly and pulled the double doors closed behind him with a resounding click, and they were alone.

“Aren’t you in need of a chaperone, or some such?” Grayson asked quietly.

“Am I?” she asked tersely.

He didn’t have an answer for her, so he motioned to the settee and chairs. She took one of the chairs, and he relaxed only slightly and sat in the chair adjacent, so they wouldn’t have to stare directly at each other.

Yet he did stare. She was vibrant, like a garden after a rainstorm, when the world is wet and the sun has just begun to re-emerge, the flowers open to the water and the warmth. The thought frustrated him because he didn’t want to like her.

Her hair was a warm red, nearly brown, and her eyes were a heavy green threaded with mahogany. She was like a wood nymph from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Well, save the clothes. She was buttoned up rather close.

She looked to him, then away just as quickly. “This is fascinating,” she said as she stood and walked to the fire in the grate, her words pinched and angry. “I simply cannot remember the last time I enjoyed such brilliant conversation.”

She stared at the flames, and he felt instantly guilty. But the attraction he’d felt waned once she spoke. Her demeanor seemed more akin to an empty vase, and truthfully, he didn’t blame her. Perhaps they could come to some sort of honorable arrangement once others were no longer party to their contract. Once it was simply between the two of them.

He stood and approached her slowly. “Lady Cecilia, I beg your pardon for my abhorrent behavior. This is all yet a shock to me.”

“A shock…to you? We’ve been betrothed for near on two years, and you haven’t made a single attempt to meet with me for the entirety of that engagement. I’ve been betrothed since I was a mere child. And this is a shock…to you?” She turned on him, her skirts swinging toward the grate, sparks flying in all directions as her voice rose. “A shock. And what would you say it is for me?!” Her voice filled the room. Grayson watched in horrified silence as she moved toward him and her skirts caught up in flames.

“My lady!” He tackled her to the floor as she screamed and fought him, but he heard an awful crack as her head hit something and she went silent. He stomped on her skirts as he yelled again, this time for help. His heart had never raced as it did now.

He pulled a pillow from the settee and smothered the remaining flames in her skirts. Grayson heard the door open and looked up to see the footman. “Call for a physician!” he yelled, then turned and started separating the layers of skirts and petticoats to be sure the fire was out completely.

It was just as he reached her drawers, saw the gentle curve of her backside in the gap, that he heard a shriek from the doorway. He looked up to find Cecilia’s parents, the Duke and Duchess of Exeter, standing in the doorway.

For fuck’s sake, as if his life wasn’t as difficult as possible at the moment. He looked down once more, to be sure the fire was out—it was—then looked up to attempt to explain. But the duchess had fainted, the duke narrowly catching her before she hit the floor across the room from him.

“Your Grace, let me explain—” he started.

“What is there to explain?” the duke yelled. He handed his wife unceremoniously to a waiting footman and approached Grayson. “Looks to me as though you attempted to murder my daughter.”

“Sir, no, I—”

“I knew you were dishonorable. But I chose to hold to the contract your father and I signed, out of respect for his friendship.”

“I’m attempting to be honorable, sir. This isn’t—”

“Are you telling me you’re currently behaving as a gentleman should?” he railed on.

 Grayson shook his head and started to rebut him, but realized that Lady Cecilia hadn’t moved in quite some time. He knelt at her side again and brushed his knuckles across her temple. “My lady?”

“I must insist you unhand her,” the duke yelled.

“Your Grace, I beg you, just give me a moment. This is not at all what it seems.” He felt Cecilia’s head shift and turned back to her. He leaned closer, spoke softly, “Cecilia?” He skimmed the stray hair from her face, as her cheeks pinked a bit. “Cecilia, please,” he said. She turned her face into his hand, and her eyelashes fluttered against his fingers.

“Holy shit, that hurt,” she said. Her hand moved to her head, and she winced. “Oliver? What the fuck just happened? Who the hell is Cecilia?”

Grayson dropped his hand as the shock of her words washed through him, and every conversation he’d had with Roxleigh about the man’s wife ran through his mind. He shook it off because there was no time to consider options at the moment. If this was what he assumed, he needed to handle the situation and protect the woman. Grayson looked up to her father, who stood agape as a footman rushed in, pulling a small man in a suit with him.

Thank God, a physician. 

“Shh,” he said, “try not to…try not to speak. You took a hard fall. The doctor’s here. Just give him a minute to look you over.”

She opened her eyes and looked up at him, their eyes truly meeting for the first time. She assessed him for a moment, then her eyes narrowed, and if he hadn’t already been on his knees, that look would have sent him there. Every assessment he’d made of her when she first walked in—save how stunningly beautiful she was—vanished and was replaced in that look. “My lady.”

Her eyes widened, and she started to look around the room. He felt her heartbeat pick up in the fingers he held on her wrist. She lifted her shoulders, and he tried to coax her back down. “Stay, try not to panic. I’ve got you.”

Her irises flared. “Hands off,” she ordered, and he carefully but quickly released her, immediately sinking back on his haunches. “Don’t touch me.” She didn’t take her gaze from his.

Grayson pulled his hands back to his knees. Once she clearly decided he was no longer a threat, her hands began to move, touching her head as she winced and hissed a breath, then feeling down her corseted chest, waist, and reaching her skirts. One of her hands found her bared bottom, and she narrowed her gaze on him again as the doctor ordered the footman to help him lift her to the sofa. Grayson tried to tell them to wait, but they didn’t heed his warning.

“Why is my ass hanging out?” she asked as she pushed the men away, and the doctor put his bag down and pulled out a syringe. Grayson saw exactly how this was to go long before anything happened. The doctor intended to drug her into submission.

Grayson didn’t understand why this woman had such a foul disposition, but he was certain she was fairly lucid and didn’t need drugging. She needed only a minute to gather herself. He stood, pushing the footmen away and putting himself between Lady Cecilia and the rest of them.

“You will not touch her,” he said.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” the doctor responded. “She clearly needs to be sedated for treatment.”

“No, she doesn’t. What she needs is a minute of privacy. Get out. All of you.”

The doctor gaped and turned to the Duke of Exeter, who said, “Excuse me, Warrick, but you have no right to give orders in my house.”

“Where it concerns my fiancée, I certainly do. We have a contract. She belongs to me,” Grayson said.

“I have a contract with your dead father and dead brother, not with you,” Exeter spat.

Grayson looked directly at the duke as he started to backpedal. “You have a contract with the Duke of Warrick. That is me, and you pressed for it to be finalized. Now get out until I call for you to return.” Grayson wondered if the man truly thought him a careless idiot but brushed that aside, since he didn’t actually care and didn’t have time to deal with the man’s ranting.

Exeter and the doctor stared at each other momentarily, then he nodded and waved the footmen to the doorway. “This discussion is not finished,” Exeter said as he pulled the doors shut behind him. Grayson had the distinct feeling they hovered just beyond the closed doors.

Grayson turned back to Lady Cecilia and once again sank to his knees at her side. One of her hands covered her eyes, and the other pushed against her waist. She was visibly shaking. “They’ve gone. Would you like me to help you to the settee?” he asked.

“And yet you’re still here. I must be dreaming,” she said under her breath, then she looked up to him. “Do as you will, because this isn’t really happening anyway.”

•••

Lulu watched the man closely. He lifted his hands and showed them to her, and she nodded. He reached for her, and she allowed him to run his hands over her to check for injuries. Then she allowed him to pick her up as she tried to straighten her skirts and cover her backside.

She closed her eyes to concentrate. She had absolutely no idea what was happening. Last she remembered, she was with Oliver, painting his back with wings. He’d earned it. After months and months of submissive training, he’d finally been ready. Then…what happened next?

She felt her feet touch the floor but kept her eyes closed as she shifted her hands on the biceps of this man—Warrick? Wasn’t that what he’d said? Yes—no—well, yes and no. He’d called himself the Duke of Warrick. Oh, she needed to stop reading historical romances.

The duke held her steady and didn’t move. He was waiting for orders. She knew it like she knew what year it was. Like she knew where she lived. Like she knew who she was. It was second nature to her—this dance of submission—and apparently he’d been well-trained, which meant no matter where she was, she was safe. She trusted in this, trusted in the BDSM community she knew and loved and the universal truths it provided.

She shook her head. This was a dream. Of course she was safe. Lulu started to open her eyes again, but the light in the room was simply too bright, so she tucked her face against his shoulder and kept her eyes closed.

After a moment to gain her balance, she patted his biceps to let him know she was okay, and his hold on her relaxed. She tilted, and his hands returned. “Maybe I should sit,” she said. Oh man, that was loud. She must have a concussion, but…it’s all a dream. She felt him shift her to the couch. He released her as he sat next to her, but his hands stayed ready.

“Could you get the blinds?” she asked. “It’s too damn bright.”

“The—I can shut the curtains,” he said.

Who cares what you have? Just close them, she thought.

She shifted as his weight left her side, and she put her hands on the couch to steady herself. The world behind her eyelids grew more dim, and she slowly started to open her eyes. Good Lord, she’d fallen into a BBC miniseries.

The man came back, and she looked up to him carefully as he sat next to her. He was…stunning, really. Dark, brooding, very well dressed, very well put together. Heathcliff maybe, or Rochester, some devious man for certain. She couldn’t see much more than his hands and face because the rest of him was completely covered by his clothes. “Downton Abbey perhaps?”

“Pardon?” he said.

“Sorry, nothing, I just… What year is it supposed to be?” It was her dream, right? Wouldn’t her actors answer her questions? As well as her dream man. I mean, he is something. She usually dreamed of famous people, but this man—she couldn’t place him. He wasn’t at all familiar, but by the look of him, he would be famous someday. He rested his elbows on his knees as if resigned to something, then he knotted his hands together.

“Eighteen hundred and eighty-three,” he said simply.

“Ah, Victorian. Way before Downton Abbey. Cool. God, my head hurts. Can I get a cool rag or something?” she asked.

“I will ask for one. Are you ready to see the physician?” he asked. His voice was simply mesmerizing. She knew he tempered it to keep from hurting her head, but the depths of it resonated in her chest—as close as he was—and damn if he didn’t smell amazing. She felt her nipples harden against the corset she wore. At least something was working properly.

This was one of the most vivid dreams she’d ever had. Her hands flexed against her legs, as if to hold on to it for a minute because she felt so incredibly lucid through the pounding in her head, and she simply didn’t want to wake up yet. She’d have to hurry and get his ass naked and tied to her bed before she awoke.

“I beg your pardon?” His voice dropped so low it was feral, and for the second time, she looked into his eyes. His deep, black, heavy eyes.

“Sorry? Did I say something?” she said, and he nodded. “What did I say?” she asked, attempting to feign innocence.

“You… I fear repeating what I heard.”

She laughed and instantly regretted it. “Yeah, probably something about you being naked and tied to my bed. Listen, can you send the doc away so we can get down to business? This dream needs to move along because I’m all kinds of horny right now.”

He stared at her, a look of complete and total shock on his face. Holy crap, she didn’t usually make her dream men so compliantly non-compliant.

“What do I need to do, make it old school? Fine! Fetch the physician, if you must. I would like to have a lie-down,” she said as she put on her best British accent. He flinched, so it probably sucked as usual. She flicked her fingers at him to shoo him off to the door.

His eyes narrowed on her before he spoke. “Cecilia, I’m going to ask a favor of you. I’m going to bring the doctor in here. Please do not make any references to time or place. Please simply convince him you are well so he will leave and we can continue our discussion.”

Lulu smiled and wondered if she should ask him if he should be using someone’s Christian name, just like the heroines always did in her favorite historicals. He stood before she managed the words and went out into the hallway. Well, all righty then. Looked like they’d get rid of the doc and get right down to it. Fantastical.

The door swung open again, and the doctor came over to her. He treated her as if she were a CPR dummy—with no senses—poked and prodded without so much as a by-her-leave. Then he asked her inane questions, to which she tried to respond in a decent fashion. It helped that the man she wanted to tie to her bed was standing behind him, shaking and nodding his head with the answers.

“She may need rest for a few days, but she should be just fine.” The doctor looked to her once more. “We should check you for burns.”

“Burns?”

“She had no burns.” God, he was spare in his speech. She loved it. Wait, burns? She looked down at her dress and realized what the awful smell was. The skirts were in tatters, fringed with burn marks. She looked over to the fireplace. Huh, okay, apparently she caught fire and that’s how she ended up on the floor.

Oh my God! She’d been a victim of the flaming crinolines. This was a seriously intricate dream. Even the smell of burning chemicals hung in the air, bitter and sharp. Yuck.

She turned back and smiled at the doctor as if to say, Time for you to go. He watched her warily for a moment, and she tilted her chin up and narrowed her eyes on him. He stood.

“Your Grace, if you have need, call on me. I should return in a few days to check on her, make sure her head is clear.”

Warrick nodded. “I will send for you, if necessary.”

Lulu grinned at Warrick. “So,” she said, “about that bed.” Warrick’s eyes looked like they might just pop right out of his skull, and everyone in the room stopped and looked at her.

“Too soon?” she asked.

Someone behind her whisked the curtains open, and the light assaulted her. She winced, stood, was immediately light-headed, and she felt Warrick’s arms surround her and then…nothing.

Such bad timing. Damned dreams.

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