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Chapter One

Shana glanced at the sun as it kissed the horizon and took off running down the street.  A knot formed in her stomach when she noticed the solar lanterns flick on, and she quickened her pace.  She should’ve had dinner on the table already, but she’d gotten sidetracked at the library.  Mary Miller, the oldest citizen in the settlement, had been telling stories to the children about the Old Days.  Despite the fact that she’d been on an errand to pick up a book for her uncle, Shana had sat down on the floor with all the bright-eyed boys and girls and absorbed every word that fell from the old lady’s mouth.  Mary’s mother had been around before The Fall – before the deadly combination of a terrible plague, a great war, and severe solar flares across North America had destroyed a grand way of living.  The little old lady had rattled on and on about electricity, cell phones, fancy cars, shopping malls, computers, and something called a dishwasher.  Of course, now Shana was late, and Uncle Daman would be displeased.

            She clutched the battered copy of 1984 to her chest and turned down the dirt street that led to his house.  After her parents died when a sickness swept through their nearby settlement when she was fifteen, Shana had been brought to Jackson Settlement to live with her only remaining relative.  It had been weird at first – sharing a house with the man who’d briefly been married to her mother’s sister.  After all, he was only ten years her senior and they weren’t related by blood.  Daman had never taken a second wife, which Shana found strange.  He wasn’t hard on the eyes, and woman practically flung themselves in his direction – until they realized he wasn’t interested and they moved on to their next male target.

            As Shana crept up the creaky porch steps, she said a silent prayer that her uncle wouldn’t be out of sorts over her tardiness.  Perhaps he was busy in his workshop and not yet aware of how much time had passed since he’d sent her to fetch the book.  A shiver ran down her spine and warmth pulsed between her legs.  The same apprehension, coupled with a physical arousal she’d rather not admit to, overcame her each time she worried about Daman’s reaction to her waywardness.  He had instructed her to return home immediately after fetching the book, but she hadn’t obeyed him – for reasons that now seemed foolish.

            Who was she kidding?  Once she opened the door, she would be in for it.  Deep.  Painfully deep.  Uncle Daman would summon her to his study and blister her poor bottom with that awful paddle of his.  Her hand hovered over the doorknob as she thought of all the times he’d punished her.  The first instance had been not long after she’d turned eighteen.  She’d always been on her best behavior before then, and he hadn’t laid a hand on her during the first four years she’d spent under his roof.  Sure, he’d threatened her with a spanking plenty of times, but she’d been too terrified to find out if he was serious that she never disobeyed his totalitarian rules until she’d come of age.  In the Old Days, a person was an adult once they turned eighteen.  She’d assumed Daman wouldn’t possibly bend her over his desk once she was that old.  But she’d assumed wrong.

            Taking a deep breath, Shana entered the house.  Her stomach flipped when the wonderful aroma of vegetable stew reached her nose.  Not only was Daman aware of her tardiness, but he’d gone ahead and started dinner.

            Not good.

            Guilt and fear mingled in her chest, and her legs felt heavy as she made the dreaded walk to the kitchen.  Just before she rounded the corner to the doorway, she straightened her dress and smoothed her hands through her long blonde hair.

            “I can hear you, Shana.  Stop lingering in the hallway and come have dinner.”  His clipped tone drove a knife through her heart.  She hated herself at moments like this.  Daman was a good man and kept a roof over her head in one of the safest settlements around.  She was ashamed to have broken his rules, yet again.

            She entered the kitchen and almost turned to run away.  His face was like a thundercloud, his thick arms crossed over his broad chest.  “Come here,” he growled.

            She approached on shaky legs and held the book out as if it were a peace offering, thinking of Winston and his terrible fear of rats.  What was her greatest fear?  Not death.  There were a thousand things worse than death.  Puzzled by this sudden thought, she watched Daman place the book on the counter, never once taking his eyes off her.  The silence stretched between them as she stood submissively in front of him, her head lowered and feeling quite humbled – and he hadn’t even punished her yet.  Daman closed the space between them and lifted her chin with one finger.  Shana stared up into those forbidding dark eyes, her insides melting and fluttering at the same time.

            “Explain to me, Shana, why it took two hours to fetch a book from the library.  What was important enough to keep you from your duties here?”

            Briefly, she told him about how she’d stopped to hear Mary Miller’s stories about the Old Days, stories she’d heard plenty of times before, though he didn’t need to know that.  “I didn’t mean to stay so long, but before I knew it the sun was setting.  I’m sorry.  I feel terrible.”

            “Not as terrible as you’ll feel after I take my belt to you, young lady.”  Shana swallowed hard as her heart hammered in chest.  Before she could reply, he spun her around and applied one heavy whack to her bottom.  “Go sit down,” he barked.

            Dinner was a silent, painful affair.  Shana ate slowly and was so preoccupied by the conflicting feelings Daman stirred within her that the stew seemed tasteless.  Her nipples stiffened and she fought the urge to touch them to ease the growing ache.  She stole a glance at her uncle.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out why women ogled him every time he walked down the street.  He was gorgeous – for a man.  His hair and eyes were as dark as the night, and she often wished she could trail her fingers along his strong square jaw, especially in the evening when he sported a rugged shadow.  He was one of the tallest men she’d ever met, and if she were to kiss him, she’d be forced to stand on her toes.  What a thought.

            Daman dabbed his face with a napkin and pushed back from the table.  “Clean up the kitchen, Shana, and then get ready for bed.  I expect to find you in your room, soon.”

            He left Shana to her own thoughts, and a dirty kitchen.  It struck her as unusual that he’d ordered her to bed.  Did he plan to punish her in her room?  He’d never done that before, instead preferring to bend her over the desk in his study to administer a spanking.  She fetched fresh water from the spring that ran through the cellar and placed it on the woodstove to heat.  She used it with a dash of soap to scrub the dishes and counters clean.  Once everything was put away, she readied herself for bed and crawled under the covers to wait.

            She’d chosen her longest cotton nightgown, but with a sinking heart realized Daman would pull it up and bare her bottom anyway.  No matter how much she begged, he always did.  The worst part was that he got a good view of the area between her legs each time, but ignored that particular part of her anatomy as if it didn’t exist.  She couldn’t count the times he’d run his hand over her bottom during a punishment and she’d found herself aching to be touched there.

            Shana sighed.  Most of her friends were married now, and at twenty-three she was the oldest eligible woman left in the settlement – and probably the oldest virgin too.  But even though she’d never been with a man, Shana knew what went on between husbands and wives.  She’d heard plenty of friendly banter about sex between her married friends.  So while she understood what it was she craved from Daman, she dared not reveal her secret to him or anyone else.

            The topic of marriage had never come up with her uncle.  Why hadn’t he arranged a union for her yet, and why did he refuse all matches proposed by other families?  Too nervous to broach the subject, she dreaded the day he announced a match for her.  As her guardian, it was his responsibility to see her married one day.  Oh, but she hated the thought.  The day she left Daman’s home would be the day her heart broke to pieces.

            Leave the rats for Winston.  Being separated from her uncle was her greatest fear.  Experiencing another man’s intimate touch was her greatest fear.   Her twenty-fourth birthday loomed five months ahead like a death sentence.  It was doubtful she’d remain under Daman’s roof much longer, not when most girls her age were married with two or three children already.

            The creaking of floorboards brought her back to reality.  She sat up in bed, staring silently at her uncle.  He held his belt in one hand, and one glance at the terrible implement left her shuddering.  The bed dipped as he sunk down beside her.  Her heart flooded with warmth when his expression softened.

            Oh, what she wouldn’t give to wake up to that handsome face every morning for the rest of her life.

* * *

            “I don’t want to hurt you, Shana, but you disobeyed me and caused me to worry.  I know the settlement is safe, but if you’re told to return home, I expect you to follow my directions.”  Daman watched lines of distress appear on her pretty face as she met his gaze.  Even in her moments of apprehension, she was the loveliest creature he’d ever set eyes on.

            He sighed when she didn’t respond.  Of all the days for her to earn a punishment.  He cursed inwardly at the bad timing.  Sending Shana to fetch a book at the library had only been a ruse to get her out the house for a few minutes.  Daman had planned to cook dinner anyway, as a surprise and as a means to soften her for an important topic he’d planned to broach this evening.  By sending her to her bedroom instead of his study, he hoped she wouldn’t be as frightened, but he now second guessed that decision.  This was intimate and dangerous on a level his niece probably didn’t realize.

            Or maybe she did.  She might be young and inexperienced, but she wasn’t naive.

            He trailed his fingers under chin.  “Let’s get this over with, shall we?  There’s something important I must discuss with you tonight.”

            A flicker of doubt crossed her features as he guided her onto her stomach.  He hesitated before baring her bottom, but decided not to go soft.  The world was a dangerous place, especially beyond the barriers of the settlement.  Shana’s waywardness would get her into serious trouble one day if his expectations and punishments lacked consistency.  He had to remain firm.

            Which was exactly why he planned to marry her. 

            True, she was his niece, but not by blood.  He’d already obtained permission from the priest and he doubted anyone would raise an eyebrow over his decision.  Okay, maybe an eyebrow or two.  Not that he cared.  He’d be damned if he’d let some young buck take her away, possibly to another settlement.  No.  She belonged to him.

            Shana buried her face in the pillow and fisted her hands in the sheets after the first smack.  Daman warmed her up with his hand, placing ten firm slaps on each cheek before reaching for the belt, knowing it carried more bite than the paddle.  Her hands flew back and he captured her wrists in his left hand. 

            “You know better.” 

            The dark pink flesh of her bottom turned an angry shade of red as he lowered the belt repeatedly, giving her twenty blows in all.

            After pulling her nightgown down, Daman gathered her in his arms.  She never cried, no matter how harsh the punishment, but he still felt compelled to comfort her each and every time.  When she’d first come to live with him, she’d been inconsolable and had cried herself to sleep for a month.  Nothing he did or said could sooth her, and it had been a relief to see her tears dry up one day.  That was six years ago, and her emotional detachment in certain circumstances scared him now and then.

            She smiled plenty, and her frequent laughter was the most beautiful sound in the world.  But when a situation became tense, she erected a sturdy wall around her heart.  She allowed herself to feel joy, but never despair – at least openly.  No tears, ever.  He knew the spankings hurt, that physical pain was a deterrent, and her remorse was always evident.  Sometimes he’d catch a glimmer of moisture in her eyes, particularly if he was scolding her, but she’d blink it back immediately.

            He continued to hold her, rubbing his hand down her back while listening to her deep breaths.  Her hair smelled of the lilac shampoo he’d brought her after a trading mission to the Okkman Settlement.

            “I’m sorry, Uncle Daman,” she said.  The regret in her voice was obvious, and it pleased him that she’d learned her lesson.  If something bad were to happen to her . . .

            It was a thought he couldn’t complete.

            He pulled back and kissed her forehead.  “You’re forgiven, my dear.”

            Slowly, Shana drew away from him and seated herself in front of her pillow.  With her long white nightgown and wavy blonde locks framing her angelic face, he couldn’t help but stare.  She hugged her legs to her chest and gazed questioningly at him.  “What did you need to talk to me about?”

            A stab of worry and doubt left his mouth dry.  He cleared his throat and said a silent prayer that she would accept his decision.  “You’re twenty-three years old now, Shana.  It’s time you took a husband.  That’s what I want to talk to you about.”

            The bed quaked as she adamantly shook her head in protest, her hair flipping violently about her face.  “No, please, not yet.  I don’t want to.  Can’t I wait another year or two?”  Her wide blue eyes pleaded with him, and panic laced her every word.

            Daman’s dark brows narrowed in concern as he regarded Shana strangely.  “Most of the friends you’ve made here are already married, many of them with children by now.  I thought you’d be pleased.”

            “Are you sending me away because I’m bad?  I promise I’ll listen better.  I’ll do more around the house.  I’ll do whatever you want – just please don’t make me get married.”  Her chest heaved and she blinked rapidly.

            She’s almost crying

            He moved closer and gathered her small, delicate hands firmly in his.  A slight smile drew his lips up, and her reluctance to leave his house – for whatever reason – gave him the confidence he desperately needed to continue the conversation.

            “I’m not sending you away.”  He hesitated and waited for her to meet his gaze for a long, tense moment.  “I intend to take you as my wife – if you’ll have me.”

            Her mouth dropped open and she inhaled quickly.  “You want to marry me?”

            Daman grinned and suppressed a chuckle.  He couldn’t help but find her surprise amusing.  Of course she didn’t understand the depth and complexity of his love for her.  He’d never spoken those feelings aloud.  But was she so blind that she didn’t at least suspect it?  He could’ve set up a match for her years ago, but he hadn’t.  Nor did he do so much as glance at another woman since she’d come into his home.

            He squeezed her hands.  “Yes, I want to marry you.”

            “I don’t know what to say.”

            “I won’t force you, Shana.  Think on it.”  He leaned forward and kissed her forehead again.  “Sleep well.”

            Daman found his own bed, but tossed and turned for most of the night.  A brief instant of solace warmed him as he recalled Shana’s fear.  She’d seemed not only opposed to marriage in general, but afraid to leave his home.  Her reaction puzzled him as much as it gave him hope.  He closed his eyes and drifted into a restless slumber, wishing he was a goddamn mind reader.

* * *

            Shana was beyond stunned.  Daman wanted to marry her.  Talk about a dream come true.  She planned to tell him yes first thing in the morning.  She would’ve accepted his proposal the moment he’d asked – if only her senses hadn’t abandoned her.  I don’t know what to say.  Ugh.  What a silly response.

            She imagined what it would be like to share his bed, and a shock of scorching heat blasted straight to her pussy.  If the priest had already approved their marriage, they could become husband and wife any day they chose.  She closed her legs tight together and tried to think of something else.

            The spanking.  Would he still see fit to chastise her after they got married?  She wasn’t sure whether she liked the idea or not.  Part of her had come to love the punishments as much as she hated them.  The growing ache between her thighs confused her to no end.  Even though it was as great a sin as premarital sex – according the church – Shana sometimes couldn’t help but touch herself in the privacy of her room after being spanked by Daman.

            Her heart beat faster and she squirmed in the covers, feverish and uncomfortable.  She rolled on her side and reached up her nightgown, beneath her underclothes to feel her tender bottom.  Trying to rub the soreness away only increased her arousal.  She glanced at the curtain that separated her room from the hallway and listened.  Nothing.  It was late.  Daman would be asleep.  No one would ever know.

            After returning to her back, Shana pulled the covers up and slid her fingers into the silky folds between her legs.  She gathered the moisture from her core and spread it over the little button that would bring the release she craved.  As her desire grew in waves of liquid warmth, she closed her eyes and flew into a spiral of sweet quaking pulses of pleasure.  Her hips lifted as she swirled her finger while replaying the recent spanking episode in her mind.  She thought of the belt snapping across her bottom, and the feel of Daman’s strong hand as he’d warmed her up first.  Her mind wandered to all the times he’d bent her over his desk, forcing her legs wider before paddling her cheeks bright red.

            “What are you doing?”

            Shana gasped and shot straight up, pulling the covers up to her neck.  The room was still illuminated by the undimmed lantern beside her bed, giving her a good view of the dark eyes glaring down at her.

            Uncle Daman.  Oh, God.  No, no, no.

            Humiliation and fear coursed through her and chased away her desire, yet somehow fueled it to burn hotter.  What would he do?  Worse yet – what did he think of her now?  He didn’t adopt many of the church’s more stringent teachings, but she wasn’t sure what his feelings would be in this situation.

            “I asked you a question, Shana,” he said, drawing closer.  “What were you doing?”

            She clutched the covers so tight her knuckles turned white.  She lowered her head.  “I – I don’t want to tell you.”

            Amusement flashed in his eyes.  He knew very well what she’d been doing, and Shana cringed.  She wondered why he bothered asking the question in the first place.

            His face darkened suddenly and he said, “Lie down on your back.  Now.”

            She shook her head.  “No.  Please just let me go to sleep.”

            “Unless you want me to turn you over my knee like the naughty girl you are, I suggest you listen.  Lie down.”

            Shana obeyed, but kept the covers in a vise grip at her chest.  When Daman joined her on the bed and tugged at them, she sighed and let go after he raised a menacing eyebrow at her defiance.  He pulled them down and she shivered, but not from the cold.  Their eyes locked and she couldn’t remember ever feeling so terrified or excited.

            “Be a good girl and stay very still.”

            It took all of Shana’s willpower to remain motionless as Daman reached a hand between her legs, delving underneath her nightgown.  He slipped his fingers down the front of her underclothes and groaned.  “Oh, Shana, baby,” he said, his voice thick and coarse.  “You’re very wet, and very naughty.”

            “Just let me go to sleep,” she begged, trying to squirm away.

            “No,” he said firmly.  “Now let’s get rid of these.”  He moved her underclothes off, tossing them on the floor.

            The gleam in his eyes sent a shiver down her spine.  He was looking at her as if he intended to devour her alive.  And she was bared to his gaze now that her underclothes were off and her nightgown gathered around her waist.

            Boldly, he cupped a hand over the mound between her trembling legs.  “If you marry me, Shana, this will belong to me.  If I catch you pleasuring yourself, you will be punished.”



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