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Crime and Punishment

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The scene of destruction was almost too much for Arabella to fathom.

Her stocking --silk! her mind insisted on noting this as an added horror, although as the new wife of the immensely rich Mr Robert Beaumaris, she should be learning to regard such expensive frippery as everyday wear – lay in tatters on the Aubusson rug of her bedchamber. Beside its remains lay the criminal responsible for this; he was panting at the moment, a cheerful wide-mouthed panting as if to say “Serves you right.”

Ulysses was still a one-man dog. Even though it had been Arabella who'd saved his starving and sorry self from the London streets and then given him to Mr Beaumaris, Ulysses cared not for his beloved master's new bride. He signified his displeasure by such acts of despoiling and massacre as her wardrobe allowed.

One would think that the new Mrs Beaumaris would be made distraught by these depredations, but no, she worried more about her Robert's disapproval. He had expressly forbade Ulysses to enter Arabella's room, and to find the dog thus might try even her husband's remarkably even temper.

When she tried to take the stocking, however, Ulysses laid his ears back and narrowed his eyes. He had carefully placed the stocking there, and he did not wish it to be disturbed.

Arabella well knew how to read this rebellious canine look. Standing up and putting her fists on her waist, she began to ponder how best to extract the stocking (without being bitten) before--

“My darling, why are you standing in so martial a pose? Not that it's not lovely, mind,” came the soft tones of her husband from the doorway behind her.

She nibbled daintily her lower lip, thinking of stratagems and feints, while she disposed the skirt of her night-robe in an attempt to hide evidence and criminal. “Oh, Robert! Have you returned from your club so soon? I hadn't expected you before midnight...”

She felt his warmth against her back a second before his hands slid over hers. “What a lamentable husband I must be, for my bride to think I should find faro more inter--” As he broke off, his fingers interlocked with hers too tightly for her immediate comfort. “Ulysses,” he said in a commanding tone. “What the devil have you done?”

The dog promptly abased himself, and then rolled over to show his belly.

“There is no need to be such a toad-eater,” Robert said sternly. “You would do better to flee the premises at once before I throw you out.”

Ulysses's tail wagged once as if to signify his joyous reception of his master's voice, but he didn't move.

“Ulysses, now.”

With a hanging head, the dog picked up the damaged stocking and sidled out the door.

Arabella called after him, “You don't need to leave, Ulysses--”

“I beg your pardon, Arabella.” And with his words, she found herself whirled about to face her husband's laughing eyes and mock-frown. “There is no need in the world to encourage the dog in the same disobedience you enjoy.”

She drifted her fingers down the silk-and-velvet opening of his remarkably grand robe (which she considered at once sinfully extravagant and wholly alluring on his well-muscled form). “I don't know what you mean, Robert,” she said -- with an inward prayer for divine forgiveness for the lie.

“Shall I enumerate? Not content with introducing Leaky Peg into our house as possibly the most ill-suited housemaid in London--”

“But, she helped Bertram in his hour of need--”

“You must now introduce females known as Doxy Di and Betty a'Pox into our kitchen. Merely because you saw them ill-treated in the street. Gaston has not stopped spluttering.”

“Well, Robert--”

Smiling, he captured her within the cage of his strong arms. “Well, Arabella?”

She couldn't keep back the husky, pleased laugh (one foreign to the well-brought-up Miss Arabella Tallant, but natural to Mrs Beaumaris). Smiling back: “What may I do to redress these criminal acts, my dear?”

With the suddenness she really should expect by now, he contrived to toss her onto her bed, which was conveniently placed for marital sport. Giggling, she scrambled back, but he was upon the bed in a trice, his hand stealing underneath her own robe.

“I think,” he said gravely, “we shall reenact Ulysses' crime before we consider yours. I shall be Ulysses.”

“But--” she cast her gaze toward her wardrobe -- “all my stockings are over there.”

He smiled. “I shan't need them for this performance.”

As he lowered his head, she felt she should shriek, or protest such immodest behavior, or perhaps lie back and think of duty. Instead, she helped him open her robe and push her higher on the pillows.

She was, here if nowhere else, obedient.