Melania Traynor walked with her husband along the treelined boulevard, hugging his arm to ward off the chill that had descended with the sun. Her sleeveless dress with its flouncy skirt had been perfect for the intimate bistro where they had dinner, but was not warm enough for the moonlight stroll back to their car. An evening breeze stirred the midnight curls that tumbled over her shoulders, and she shivered.
Jared glanced at her and smiled affectionately before his expression shifted to concern. “You have goose bumps. You should have told me you were cold! I would have gotten the car and picked you up at the restaurant.” He shrugged out of his leather jacket and draped it over her slim shoulders before wrapping his arm around her.
Melania buried her nose in the butter-soft fabric and savored the scents of rich leather, traces of cigar, and the masculine essence of Jared himself. “Now you’ll be cold.” The jacket muffled her words.
“I can take it. It’s my duty to care for my wife.”
Melania loved the possessiveness in his voice and the kiss he pressed to her hair above her ear.
She resisted the urge to pinch herself. Mrs. Melania Traynor. Mrs. Jared Traynor. She mouthed the words, loving the feel of her new name on her lips. She couldn’t believe she’d been married for an entire month now. Her parents had spared no expense to give her the fairy-tale wedding of her dreams. Jared’s expression of awe and pride when she had glided down the aisle in a billow of satin and lace would be embroidered on her memory forever. She’d barely managed to hold back the tears of joy as she recited her wedding vows.
Following the ceremony and lavish reception, she and Jared had honeymooned on the white sandy beaches of Aruba before returning two weeks ago to the home Jared had purchased in anticipation of their marriage.
“I’m the luckiest person in the world.” She peered up at him.
“No, I’m the luckiest person in the world,” he corrected her with a sexy grin and a wink. “And since you promised to obey, you must accept my authority on the matter.”
“In all things.” Her heels clicked happily on the sidewalk.
Melania had been raised in a conservative, traditional family, where her father stood as the firm but loving head of household and her mother his softer, supportive partner. While her mother directed home matters, she deferred to Melania’s father when differences of opinion arose. The system worked smoothly, and Melania envisioned the same type of marriage for herself. She wanted a strong husband to guide and protect her—a man she could respect, who wouldn’t permit her to walk all over him. As a teenager, she’d often tested the boundaries of her father’s authority but loved him all the more when he demonstrated his care and concern by disciplining her.
She wasn’t a rebellious adolescent anymore, but a grown woman of twenty-three, with a career as a court reporter, a fabulous, sexy husband, and her first dinner party as a married woman on the horizon. She’d cleaned all week and pored over cookbooks to find recipes to dazzle the two couples who would be joining them for dinner. The men were friends of Jared’s from the Rod and Cane Society. She had been introduced to them at the wedding, but she had met so many people, her head swam with names and faces. She wanted Jared to be proud of her.
“I hope I don’t make a horrible faux pas on Saturday night.” She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
“You’ll do fine.” He squeezed her shoulder. “I’m sure of it. I’m amazed you’re taking this on so soon after the wedding. I thought you would have wanted more time to settle in.”
“I want to get to know your friends,” she said, adding, “I know how important the Rod and Cane Society is to you.” Jared was a member of its governing board.
“To us.” He glanced at her. “Important to us in our relationship as husband and wife.”
“That’s what I meant.” Melania caught herself before she wrinkled her nose. Her parents also belonged to the organization: her father was a former board president, her mother a devoted Wives Auxiliary member. She couldn’t remember a time when her parents weren’t involved in the organization. Their social life revolved around it; most of her parents’ close friends were members. Melania really didn’t know what the organization did. Growing up, she’d asked her parents a couple of times what it was about and had been told that Rod and Cane helped men to be strong and women to be stronger. Sometimes when her parents and their friends would begin talking about the organization, Melania would be sent out of the room. The information was “just for grown-ups,” she’d been told.
Well, she was a grown-up now, and it was through the Rod and Cane Society Melania had met Jared exactly one year and one month ago. Her parents had invited her to accompany them to a Society charity auction. After hearing about the organization throughout her childhood, Melania jumped at the chance to find out more. She didn’t know what she’d expected—maybe members wearing goofy hats or greeting each other with secret handshakes, but there’d been none of that. Just a group of ordinary men and women. Until she met Jared. He was far from ordinary. Her father had introduced her to the tall, handsome, older man with enigmatic eyes. He’d been solicitous and attentive—a stark contrast to the immature, self-centered men she’d been dating. She fell fast and hard. The fact that he belonged to the same organization that was so revered in her family was a bonus—a big bonus.
Melania snuggled deeper into the fragrant warmth of Jared’s jacket. She couldn’t believe how perfect her life had become.
“I’ve put in the paperwork for you to join the Auxiliary.”
Jared’s quiet comment yanked her into the present. Melania immediately realized he meant the Wives Auxiliary of the Rod and Cane Society. She was about to thank him when he spoke again.
“The women in the Auxiliary will support you in your role as my wife.”
“You think I need help to be your wife?” She stared at him, a tendril of hurt curling in her stomach.
Jared traced her jawline with a gentle finger, turning her dismay into warmth. “Not help. Support. You may not always agree with the discipline marriage to me will entail. The other wives can lend an empathetic ear.”
Melania frowned. She didn’t see what possible support she would need or how a group of strangers could help her if she did. She wasn’t naive enough to assume she and Jared would always agree, but she was confident they could talk out their disagreements. In the end he would have the final say, anyway.
Jared studied her face. He narrowed his eyes in speculation. “You know our marriage is based on a foundation of loving discipline?”
Melania planted her hands on her hips and faced him. “Of course I do.” They’d discussed it before they got married. Like her father, Jared would be the de facto, de jure ruler of their household and family. His final word would be law. She didn’t want Jared to doubt her commitment. She was young, but she knew her own mind.
“And you still agree? You give your consent?”
“I said ‘I do’ and signed the prenup, didn’t I?” She had signed it, but she hadn’t read it. Not all the way through. In legalese, the document talked about the husband being the head of the household and the wife submitting to his authority, following his direction. Melania didn’t need to read any farther.
She wanted a strong marriage like her parents’, and they had the same arrangement. If that wasn’t enough, her heart had told her everything she needed to know: Jared was an honorable man who loved her. She loved and trusted him. If she had had any doubts—which she didn’t—her parents’ wholehearted and enthusiastic approval would have put them to rest. Not to mention that although she didn’t know exactly what Rod and Cane did, Jared belonged to the organization, which was like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. She couldn’t have found a better husband if she’d special-ordered one. So she’d signed her name without reading the document.
“It wasn’t a prenuptial agreement; it was a contract of consent based on the principles advocated by the Rod and Cane Society. Marriage is a serious commitment, even more so when discipline is involved.” Jared grasped her elbow and guided her out of the way of other pedestrians who wanted to pass.
“Don’t worry.” Melania squeezed Jared’s arm reassuringly. “I understand. And I’m totally committed.”
His gaze lightened, and he brushed her cheek. “I’m glad. I need to be sure.”
As much as she respected the organization, Melania didn’t fully understand why the Rod and Cane Society needed to be involved with their “contract of consent,” as Jared called it, but it didn’t matter. Now that she was married to one of the organization’s members, she’d soon find out everything she needed to know.
If her father had been the king of their home and her mother the queen, Melania had been the princess. Like many princesses, Melania had been pampered and coddled by her doting parents. She was aware some people thought she was too sheltered and naive to marry—let alone wed a man twelve years her senior. She vowed to prove them all wrong by being the best wife in the world.
Jared clasped her hand, and they resumed walking. Cuddling in the warmth of his jacket, she relished the crisp caress of the evening breeze on her face. She inhaled, taking in the scent of promise floating on the air, and her heart swelled with happiness.
Melania eyed her tall, handsome husband with pleasure. She never tired of looking at him. The evening lamplight gave a shimmer to the threads of gray woven at his temples and carved his masculine features into stark angles. It was only the winking of the streetlights that made him appear formidable by squaring his jaw, chiseling his cheekbones, and straightening his full lips to a stern line.
He caught her perusal and tweaked her nose. “Like what you see?”
“Definitely.” Her lips twitched, but then a storefront window captured her attention. “Oh! Definitely…” Her gaze zeroed in on a pair of shoes. “Jared, look!” She pointed to a pair of red leather platform pumps. “How late is it?” She swiveled her head around, and with relief she noted the neon OPEN sign hanging in the door.
“Don’t you have red shoes?” Jared’s eyebrows drew together.
“Several, but not this nice,” she said in awe. None were as sexy as these, made of Italian calfskin leather with bows at the tops of the stiletto heels.
Jared’s shoulder brushed hers as he peered into the window. “Five hundred dollars? For shoes?”
One second she stood beside him, her face pressed to the glass like a little kid at a candy store, and the next she’d evaporated, materializing inside the shop. Jared enjoyed seeing Melania so excited, her face lit up like a Christmas tree, but she had the proclivity to spend a lot of money if not restrained. It was one behavior, among others, she needed to work on, and there was no time like the present. This offered a prime opportunity to test and verify her trust and obedience.
He followed her into the shop.
“The clerk thinks she has my size.” Melania was seated in a chair, her sandals already off her feet.
“You don’t need another pair of shoes.” Jared shook his head. “It’s getting late. I have a full day tomorrow, and you have a list of things you wanted to get done for the party.”
“I’ll only be a minute. I want to try them. Please?” Her gaze turned beguiling, and even though he knew he needed to resist the pull, his resolve softened.
“You can try them,” he agreed pointedly.
The clerk, a woman about Melania’s age but with eyebrow and nose piercings and short, spiked hair dyed overly black, appeared with a box. “This pair is one of our best sellers. You’re lucky we have your size.”
She nudged a stool into place in front of Melania and straddled it. The clerk flipped the lid off the box and pushed aside the tissue paper to reveal the shoes. Melania stretched out a delicate, pedicured foot, and the salesgirl slid one shoe on, then the other. Even with the platform, the heels were incredibly high.
“Oh my God, they’re gorgeous.” Melania’s hushed tone was reverent.
Jared frowned. “How would you walk in those things?”
Melania exchanged an amused glance with the salesgirl. “Silly, they’re not for walking. They just make you feel good.”
She rose and tottered a few steps before finding her sea legs and striding confidently across the carpeted floor. The shoes caused her back to arch, accentuated her chest, and made her legs appear a mile long. Her perfect ass sashayed with each step, undermining his good intentions.
Jared envisioned her wearing the shoes and nothing else, bent over the dining table or the desk in his home office. His cock hardened. He curled his mouth with amusement. Melania was right. The shoes made one feel good.
She could wear them at their small dinner party. He would make love to her on the dining table before his friends arrived, and afterward, while she coolly attended to their guests, he would grin secretly at the memory.
He would buy her the shoes.
Melania performed a pirouette and glided toward him. “Please, Jared? I know they’re really expensive and I have red ones, but not like these.” She tilted her head to the side, her glowing hazel eyes beseeching him.
Melania loved the shoes.
He loved the shoes.
His cock loved the shoes.
“No.” He shook his head. “Not today, Melania.” He injected a steely edge into his tone.
Her shoulders slumped. “Okay.” Her lower lip jutted out in a pout. She looked like a little girl who’d been told she couldn’t have the puppy she’d fallen in love with, but she returned to her seat, removed the shoes, and handed them to the salesgirl. “Thank you.” Melania donned her sandals.
“No worries.” The girl tucked the shoes back into the box. She shot a glance at Jared. “If you change your mind, we’re open ten a.m. to nine p.m. weekdays. Ten to five on Saturdays.”
“I’m ready.” Melania slipped her hand in his and smiled sweetly.
He squeezed her hand and led her out the store.
Melania had vowed to obey when they married and had been raised in a home where that was expected as well, but she was still a headstrong, independent woman. Submission would challenge her. The Rod and Cane Society recommended building a wife’s obedience in increments. Melania had passed the small test with flying colors, her only resistance that small but forgivable pout.
When they reached their car, he unlocked her door. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he looked into her eyes. “I love you so much. I’m so proud of you.”
“I love you.” She smiled.
He pressed a kiss to her lips and felt them yield and part beneath his. Her response stirred his desire, and the kiss lingered. He broke away and helped her into the car, then shut the door.
Jared smothered a grin. He couldn’t wait to see her excitement. He’d return later to buy the shoes as a surprise for their dinner party.
Melania crunched the possibilities. If she used her salary and supplemented it by cutting back on groceries, she could purchase the shoes without Jared’s knowledge. She wouldn’t have them for the dinner party, but she could wear them to lunch with the girls. After a while Jared would forget what the shoes looked like and wouldn’t recognize them from her other ones. Men didn’t pay attention to things like that.
She could tell from the set of her husband’s shoulders and his implacable expression in the store that confronting him would not get her what she wanted, so she let him think she’d agreed with him. The technique had served her well with her father. Though her daddy was the master, he had a soft spot for her, and Melania had used it to her advantage.
She snuggled into Jared’s jacket, sighing with contentment. She wanted Jared to rule their home. His commanding, authoritative presence made her feel feminine, protected, coddled. If she didn’t always agree when he put his foot down, in her heart she believed it was her duty to obey his direction.
But not when it came to something insignificant like footwear.
They were only shoes—albeit the most perfect ones on the planet—and even though they were expensive, Jared, an investment banker, could afford it. And she worked too. She would return to the store tomorrow and buy the shoes before they sold out. Melania hid her grin behind Jared’s jacket. What Jared didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.
She pictured the pumps, all supple, sexy red leather. Italian. She imagined wearing a tiny red thong with a bow in the back that matched the stilettos. Only she would know, but that was all that mattered. The shoes fit perfectly and looked fantastic. The fact that they’d kill her feet didn’t factor a whit.
Pain was a small price to pay for happiness.