Chapter One

"Let me in! I demand to be let in!"

There was a crash outside the room where the four men sat. Kenneth Windsor, heir to one of the oldest cryptocurrency founders, old money as they said, cast a bored look at his host. One of his dark brows rose, a silent question.

"It's um…nothing we need to concern—"

Whatever Thaddeus Marx had meant to say was cut off when the door burst inward, a shower of sawdust and beech powdering the room and its occupants. Mr. Windsor carefully shook the crease of his trousers that had collected a sprinkle of the minor demolition. He took the moment to carefully assess their newest entrant. A woman, tall for her sex, only a few inches below six feet certainly, entered with a short knife drawn at the neck of her opponent, a stocky guardsman, who seemed to be without his usual weapons. The woman, or girl, if Kenneth could trust his impression, could not be older than eighteen, and had skin the color of honeyed redwood. Her hair, though in a braided length that swung behind her past her waist, had challenged taming, succumbing to escaping curls and wisps of mischief minded locks. From his cursory evaluation, he discovered much to admire in the tall, slender female, her body, a taut line of corded muscle, her grim expression not betraying the emotions that she must be managing, having broken into their meeting.

"Who is she?"

Kenneth asked the question of Thad, one of his oldest friends. And for the first time in their over three decades long friendship, the man looked uncomfortable. He cleared his throat and his eyes seemed glued to the coffee table. The guardsman who had been ineffectively keeping her from the room, stepped aside.

"I'm your—"

"She's a guest of my mother's! Who seems to have lost her way," the now perspiring man interrupted pointedly.

"I haven't lost my way!"

"I think you'll find you have."

"He is Ken'eth Windsor, isn't he?" She said his name the way her people would have, skipping the second 'n.'

"He is," Kenneth answered, smoothly cutting off Thad's response. He took a sip of his brandy, while keeping cool grey eyes on the intruder. Thad's men were just behind her, waiting for any signal to remove her from the room.

"Well then, you're the one—"

"Adelaide, it would be in your best interest to turn around, now, and—"

"Adelaide?" Kenneth's sharp question was accompanied by a frown. "Adelaide Voss?" He glanced at the woman for confirmation. Her steely gaze was answer enough. He placed his tumbler on the table at his side and a small smile teased at his lips.

"You," he asked again, with a degree of incredulity, "are Adelaide Voss?"

"I am! And I will not live with your concubines or play mother to your bastards!"

The silence following this pronouncement was broken only by Thad clearing his throat. He looked from Adelaide, who now stood glaring, arms akimbo, to his friend, whose smile had vanished and who now leaned forward, his chin resting on steepled fingers.

"She's clearly drunk," Thad muttered finally, recognizing the signs of true anger in his oldest friend.

"I'm not drunk! How dare you?!"

"Marx, is this your mother's doing?" Kenneth turned to Thad, ignoring the protest from Miss Voss.

"Not just mine!" Thaddeus retorted defensively. "Your mother and aunt—" He would have continued his litany of vindication had Windsor not raised a hand and shook his head in disgust. He understood now that the matriarchs of his family were as equally to blame for this situation, as those from the Marx family.

The situation in question, now wearing a puzzled frown, looked at each man in irritation. Kenneth had, as was their habit in times of high stakes, spoken in Kal-code, a military language that few outside the army knew or understood. Thaddeus had responded in kind, almost automatically.

"What are you saying?" Adelaide asked, finally.

"I was just remarking on how few manners you seem to possess," Kenneth lied smoothly, raising a brow as though daring her to argue.

She swallowed and a hurt look briefly crossed her features, before she focused once more on frowning.

"Do you," she asked, instead, "know who I am?"

"You've said you are Adelaide Voss."

"And we are to be married," she added, almost expectantly.

"How interesting."

"It's not interesting! I'm not going to marry you, if it means living with your other women, or your brats."

There was a long moment of silence, during which Thaddeus massaged his forehead in frustration. How had Adelaide gotten in here anyway?

"Marx, could you give us the room, please?" Marx cleared his throat once more and stood. He moved toward what had once been a door, and walked past Miss Voss, giving her a particularly dark look. She stuck her tongue out at him and lifted her chin, defiantly. Kenneth watched the exchange with a frown. He waved a hand at the men still at the door, and saw them retreat until they were – at least – not visible.

"I think it's best we have a private conversation, Miss Voss."

She spared a glance for the open doorway behind her before retorting.

"This isn't particularly private, is it?"

"No one asked you to break the door," Kenneth countered drily, "that was simply your own lack of self-control."

"Look! I'm here to make it clear to you that—"

"Why don't you come over here? Have a seat."

Adelaide paused in her speech and scrutinized him for any signs of deception. She couldn't help admiring what she saw, particularly knowing that she was meant to marry him. As long as he agreed to her terms. She let her eyes sweep over him, deliberately. He was tall, even sitting, she could tell that much. His frame was larger than she expected, but muscle and not fat was what was poorly disguised beneath that black turtleneck and those expertly tailored trousers. His jaw was clean shaven and exposed a hard, square jaw, tanned, just like the rest of him that was visible. He was looking down his straight nose at her from startlingly silver eyes, with what seemed an expression of amusement. No, that couldn't be right.

Anyway, she supposed she should be glad he appeared to be taking her complaints seriously, and at least would like to talk. His smile broadened as she got closer, but he made no comment. She sat about a foot away from him, not wanting to sit too far away and appear nervous. Even though she was, she would admit to herself.

"Now, I'm Kenneth Windsor, and you must be Adelaide Voss. It is my pleasure."

He extended a hand, which she took carefully, realizing with discomfort how small her hand appeared, when covered by his. She was about to blurt out something disdainful, but something held her back. Perhaps it was the warmth of his hand on hers, or the piercing way those eyes bore into hers. She looked away, and pulled her hand away.

"Y-yes, it's nice to meet you…officially." She muttered, sotto voce.

"Oh no, there's nothing official about this meeting. In fact, it would behoove you not to mention this encounter to anyone."

"What do you mean?" She frowned.

"What part escaped your understanding?" He raised a brow.

"Oh, just the stupid crypticity, maybe?"

"That was rude," he commented, tilting his head as though to better examine her.

"You were rude first!"

"Was I? How old are you, Miss Voss?"

"Twenty-one."

A lie. He could tell by the way her eyes flickered before the words came out. A good lie, though. If he'd been unprepared for it, he might have missed the tell. But then, he knew his mother well; she always seemed to acquire the youngest ones for his household.

"I'm at least fifteen years your elder, Miss Voss. Remember that when you speak to me." He silently decided that this would be the last warning he offered.

"Well, I've learned that respect, like everything else, is earned."

"In what way have I failed to earn your respect?" There was a hint of curiosity in his tone. What had she possibly heard of him?

"For one, all your women! And their babies apparently running rampant in your home."

"I'm duty bound to sire heirs, and legally bound to be indiscriminate in my household." He saw her puzzlement and decided to explain.

"You understand that in the development of the cryptocurrency age, to avoid monopolies, early, cold crypto holders were required to ensure diversity in wealth acquisition. My polygamy, which appears to have earned your disdain, is not necessarily my choice."

"But…well, you have so many!"

"I have a diverse palate." He shrugged.

"So…so I must live with them? Your...your whores and your bastards?!" Her eyes were growing wide, and her breaths came faster. "I won't! I'd rather marry a tech lord!"

"First of all," he said, in a dry tone, "this marriage is not dependent on the whims of a nineteen-year-old, nor is it even dependent on my interests, whatever you may think. This is a state marriage; arranged by the government, sanctioned by the electorate. Second, you really need to learn some manners, Miss Voss."

Before she had registered that he'd accurately guessed her age, he seized one of her hands and pulled her toward him. In moments, she was sprawled across his thighs, trapped by the pressure of his arm over her back.

"What are you doing?! Let me go!"

"No, I think I will teach you a lesson in manners first." With these words, he began peeling back her leather leggings, drawing down her boy shorts in the process.

"No! No, you can't!" She tried to halt his progress, but found both her hands trapped over her back. Her squirming got her nowhere, and so she screamed. Her reward was a stinging slap across her cheeks. The intensity brought real tears to her eyes, but he didn't stop there. Again, and again, and again, his hand fell like a slab of marble against her bottom. Adelaide had never been spanked before, had never received any form of corporal punishment in her life. The torment went on for so long that she finally exhausted her screams and had descended into forlorn sobs, accompanied by weak attempts to squirm away. After what seemed like an eternity, he stopped, his hand, which seemed enormous, resting on her bottom.

"I don't appreciate disrespect, Miss Voss. I hope you remember that." She could only make an insensible sound in response. He pulled up her underwear and leggings over her aching bottom, and then helped her off his lap. She curled herself unto the couch and looked away. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her. She all but snatched it from him and proceeded to bury her face in it, succumbing to muted whimpers.

Even his newest concubines were never so lacking in decorum, Kenneth considered, but then also considered that they had all been bred for association with the Windsor family. Capturing and maintaining his interest long enough to bear a child had been their only goal. He had only found cause to punish one or two of his wives, but even then, it had never been an issue of disrespect toward him. Miss Voss was different, she had been chosen as his principal wife, and as such, was not one of those who had been primed for mating with him, as he thought of the matters. It had been his only request; if his wife were in need of any training, he would be in charge of that. More fool he. They had apparently let her run wild.

"Adelaide," he said finally, "put the handkerchief down, put your feet on the ground and look at me."

Very slowly, as though she was actively fighting the impulse to disobey, she unfolded her legs and placed her feet on the carpet, while putting her hands in her lap. It took longer for her to draw her eyes from the coffee table to her future husband, but she finally met his measured gaze. He hadn't meant to punish her; in fact, he had convinced himself that he would use words and guide her along a path of politeness. But then he'd found himself pulling her over his knees and revealing her, undeniably, delectable bottom. Soft as a pillow, round as a peach, tight as a drum. It took a surprising amount of restraint to keep from stroking the sight before him. He'd had to remind himself that he was supposed to be teaching her a lesson in respect, and not something else.

"We don't know each other very well, Adelaide, but I hope our future meetings will prove more pleasant…for both of us. I would be…disappointed if it were not so."

"You…you beat me!" Her tone was a dose of panic mingled with shock and disillusionment. As though she wondered what he would do next. "I hate you!"

"I honestly cannot say the same, so I would advise you to re-organize your feelings." He would have hugged her, comforted her in some way, but there was no time. At least she would learn to mind him. What on earth had possessed her to break in here, on the eve of such a mission?

He heard the crisp footfalls of men outside the room, and knew their time was spent. Thaddeus re-entered the room, and Kenneth gave him a brief nod, rising to his feet.

"Have her taken to my place," he said to his friend, as he left the room.

xx

Adelaide paced the room, consumed by irritation and boredom. The palatial space was larger than any room, she had ever been in, that wasn't a public space. Even her parents' bedroom had to be smaller. She'd been escorted out of Thaddeus Marx's study by six guardsmen – her knife abandoned – and led to a transport hold, which had taken them to what appeared to be Kenneth Windsor's residence. She knew it was his place, based on the colors of the footmen's livery once they arrived. Black and gold. Did her mother know where she was? She'd only told her she would be visiting Eleanor Marx – Thad's sister – and would be returning in the evening. She had attempted to call her mother as soon as she arrived on Windsor's property, but one of those guardsmen had taken her phone! They had practically handed her over to Windsor's men, who had bowed before escorting her – forcibly – up to a private chamber. As soon as she entered, she knew it was his. The heavy, dark furniture reminded her of the large, dark, cryptic man who had actually dared to spank her. She could still feel the ache from his punishing hands and kicked at the rug, wishing it was his shin. But would she have been brave enough to kick him in actuality?

She spent the rest of the evening, wondering about the room, exploring every drawer and cupboard. Surprisingly, she didn't find the one thing she was starting to long for, a bathroom. She had a slight problem that made having a handy bathroom a necessity, and the more she paced the long length of Windsor's chamber the more her need grew. A tray of food was brought in at about five or six in the evening, and she practically groaned at the full goblet of wine and the pitcher of water.

She nodded briefly to the servants who brought in the meal, but couldn't feel any pleasure in its arrival. She picked at the dish and eventually crawled into the enormous bed, curling into a ball and hoping sleep would make the feeling of needing to relieve herself go away.

xx

It was the coolness that woke her in a jolt. She knew immediately what had happened, and now recalled her dream, where she'd found a bathroom, in mortification. She sat up, and realized she wasn't alone. A figure lay in the bed on the other side, and in the moonlight entering through the window, she knew it was Windsor. What the actual fuck. She crept out of the bed and stood a moment, feeling the sharp coldness of the air hitting her soiled clothes. Her bladder had not even emptied itself and she still needed to find a toilet. Drowning in embarrassment for the second time in the last twenty-four hours, she made her way around the bed.

"Ken? Ken! Wake up!" She knew she'd said his name wrong the first time, and settled for a short form now. She shook his elbow desperately, feeling her bladder pulse.

His body tightened as he came awake, sitting up, and taking in her shivering form.

"I…I had an accident…I need a b-bathroom," she let out, miserably. Even in the moonlight, she could see his frown, but he got out of bed, and somehow sensing she was on the verge of another unfortunate accident, swept her up in his arms and made his way across the room. They entered a room through a door Adelaide had not known existed and a soft light flickered on, in response to their presence. For the second time that day, Kenneth Windsor pulled down her pants. He let her sit on what was unmistakably a toilet seat, and she was too revealed to hold her bladder before he was gone.

"Here, take these off," he said, after a moment, crouching down, and helping her kick her trousers and soaked underwear completely off. He took the pair out of the bathroom, and left long enough for her to enjoy the cool spray of the bidet and wipe herself dry. He returned with a pair of sweatpants which he helped her put on. They were large for her, but certainly would have been too small for him. She decided not to question it.

"Thank you," she murmured, looking down at the tiles.

He took her chin, and tilted it upward.

"Hey, the definition of an accident is that it was not planned. Don't feel bad, certainly not toward me." She nodded slowly, still feeling acute shame at the foibles of her body. "Do you mind waiting here a moment?"

"Why? I mean…okay." Sure, she would wait here. What right did she have to ask him why he wanted her to wait?

He gave her a smile and wink in reply, and left her once again.

Kenneth had returned to the main bedroom, and extricated a high-power vacuum from one of the cupboards. He pulled off the large duvet and all the sheets. Turning on the hoover, he turned it on the damp circle that was spreading across the mattress. The machine was virtually silent, and had a multi-function of vacuuming as well as disinfecting and deodorizing. He found spare sheets in another cupboard and painstakingly re-made the bed, before going back to find Adelaide.

"Thank you for waiting, come let's get some sleep."

She walked toward him, and then suddenly gave him a hug. Where had that come from? He found himself stroking her hair and then responding in an altogether not platonic way. He pulled slightly away from the hug, and led her back into the bedroom. She crawled in, and sank into the new sheets with a sigh. He joined her, and they both sat in the middle. She seemed eager to cuddle, which Kenneth was not against.

"I know that was an accident, Adelaide, but do you mind telling me what happened?" He asked finally. She seemed to hesitate for a moment, before speaking.

"I needed to go, but I couldn't find the bathroom, so…so I tried to sleep it off…but I had…an accident." Her voice was barely above a whisper. It was a wonder he caught every word.

"And has that ever happened before?"

"No! I mean…I mean…."

"I would really appreciate the truth, Adelaide," he said, speaking above her head.

"I have a…a problem…it…it happens suddenly." She muttered.

"Have you seen a doctor about that?"

"Well, no…no one really knows, you see."

"Right. Let's see someone tomorrow, hmm?"

"No! What if…what if…they do something painful!?"

"We'll find out, won't we? Now, let's get some sleep. And Adelaide, if you ever lie to me again, I will put you over my knee."