Io Desmond Brice pushed through the tent flaps with a huff and threw herself, face down, on the bed. Men. They were an impossible lot. Even as she drew the edge of the fur over her head, she heard the most impossible of them enter the space.
“Io?” Xavier Brice’s tone was laced with annoyance and she felt the flesh on her backside quiver. “Why are you being so difficult?”
Of course, she was the one being difficult, of course. It couldn’t be him. It had to be her, not him with his impossible demands. Not the two soldiers standing outside, who were supposed to be at her command. No, of course, it was her. She pressed her face into the thick bedding and screamed.
“Io.” Xavier’s sharpness was expected. She didn’t even look up. “Do not behave like a child. I will not have it.”
She was startled when he jerked the fur from her head. That he could move without her hearing was annoying. Like a damn cat, for a man so sturdy and built, he should shake the ground when he walked.
“Io.” His fingers dug beneath her chin and forced her face up so she had to look at him. He’d that expectant look, saying, tell him now, or be prepared to not sit for a week. And well, she still couldn’t sit, she could hardly move even three days after he’d taken a cane to her. The worst pain he ever inflicted. All for not telling him she’d concerns, for lying. That wasn’t going to happen again. Right now, just his hand would kill her, she was sure. But no one was listening to her, people were supposed to listen to what she said. Xavier said, as his wife, she’d the ability to command people and she should use it. Well damn, she tried, and failed. How was she supposed to be his wife and command people if they ignored her?
“I am not being a child.” She pouted. His lips curled up on the ends and he gently brushed the hair from her face. “It is not impossible what I ask, it changes nothing for them.”
“Io, what exactly did you ask them to do?” Xavier squatted down, resting his arms on either side of her.
“Not to wear their tunics into the market.”
He gave her a quizzical look. “Why do you not want them to wear their tunics?”
“Because you said I am supposed to be able to command.”
“All on my own, without needing anyone.”
He nodded again.
“Well if they go with me, into the market place, wearing your standards, the only reason people will listen to me will be because they fear you. That makes me all by myself, powerless. It makes me nothing if I am not yours.” She dropped her head back to the bed. “Nothing more than your trained bitch.”
“Io,” he snapped. His hand cracked down on her seat.
Her howl was probably heard through the entire camp, tears sprang to her eyes and her legs kicked against the bed in an attempt to ward off the searing pain. Several long moments passed before she could draw in a full, deep breath through the pain. In that time, Xavier climbed on the bed and stretched out next to her. He set his hand on her hip and forced her to roll to her back. Io scrambled to get her feet flat so she could hold her arse off the bed. But as she lifted up, Xavier’s hand pushed her down and his foot kicked her feet out. She cried out again.
“Are you listening to me now, my lady?” As much a question as a command, Io sniffed and nodded. “Look at me then.”
Io wiped at her tears with the back of her hand then turned her head to face her husband. This man who could inflict such pain on her, who just renewed a pain she thought might kill her, now slipped his arm beneath her to cradle her softly.
“Io, you are not now, never have been, and never will be any man’s trained bitch.” His arm tightened and he pulled her a little closer, allowing her to roll to her side facing him and giving her some relief. “You know what you are to me, do you not?”
She sniffed once then again, for good measure, when she saw him smile. She gave him a curt nod.
She felt her face heat and her throat tighten a bit. It was a ridiculous thing to say, especially about herself. She didn’t mind so much when he said it. It was still nonsense, but it sounded nice coming from him, especially because he was usually panting it out after a bit of bed sport.
“Io,” he warned, “say it.”
She made a small choking sound then rolled her eyes before sighing like he was more burden than he could know. “A goddess, I am a goddess.”
“Yes, my goddess.” He rolled her on top of him and squeezed. “Do not slander my wife again by calling her a bitch.” His hand went to the back of her head forcing it down to meet his lips. The kiss was short and sweet. When he broke it, she was disappointed. His arms again wrapped around her, and he relaxed into the bed. Holding her in place on top his chest, he was quiet for a while. “Io, you know it doesn’t matter if your escorts wear the standards or not?”
“Then I want them to not wear them.” Io put her head down and listened to his heart beating.
“I want you to understand that you can use your status as my wife?”
“I do not want to use your status. I want to do things on my own, the way I did them before you. I want to know people will listen to me because of me, not because of you.” She ducked her head a bit knowing what would come when she added the next. “I need to rely on myself, Xavier, if you are ever?”
“Io,” he yelled, rolling them over, pinning her under him with his full weight and glared at her. “I am not going to abandon you and I am?”
“I do not accuse you, I do not,” Io quickly clarified, before she again felt the weight and strength of his hand. “But will you be standing beside me, always? Your presence there, to threaten? Are you going to follow me about and stare down anyone who says nay to me?”
“No, Io,” he relented, relaxing so his body molded against hers.
“Then people have to want to do as I ask, regardless if I am your wife. I have to know they will act as I will have, because I will have them.” Because, though she wouldn’t say it, she still couldn’t trust he wouldn’t do as everyone did her entire life, and send her from him.
“Io,” he sighed. “It does not matter?”
“It matters to me.”
“Very well, I will tell them they are not to wear their tunics.” Xavier rolled off her. Io covered her eyes with her hands and growled. “What?”
“Do you not ever listen to me?”
“I do not want you to tell them anything. I want to tell them and have them do what I ask. I am not asking them to do anything so much that they should question me. It is not as if I ask them to help me escape you.” She rolled to her side and set her hand over his heart. He covered it with his own, then lifted it and brought it to his lips. A soft kiss, a squeeze and then he placed it back over his heart.
“Very well, Io. I will speak with them about needing to follow your commands without my consent.” He turned and looked at her. “Io, they will still consult me when they feel your commands are? questionable.”
“And I will not fail to invoke your name if I must.” She knew it could be useful, for now and however long he’d have her, to have a man with Xavier’s reputation supporting her.
“Have you given up on your plans to go to the market today?”
“I am not sure. What plans did you make?” Her hand settled on his hip and then slipped to his groin. He already grew hard.
“I did plan a bit of sword play.” He groaned when she squeezed him.
“Is that what you will call it today, my lord?” Io teased.
“With my men, Io, sword play with my men.” A deep grumble rolled in his throat.
“Ah, well, if they are better at it then I.” She giggled when he lifted his hips and pressed into her hand.
“Io,” he called.
“No one is better than you.” He rolled back over and pressed his lips to hers.
Io went to the market the next morning. When her escorts came to meet her, they came without their tunics. She frowned, knowing it was Xavier’s command, but it was a start. She wasn’t going to lose herself completely. She could still control some things. The things he insisted she try and control were less important to her, the things he’d try and make her forget to control, those she wouldn’t ever forget. Not when it meant surrendering.