The hand that clutched her shoulder also pulled her back to her feet, as well as back to a jumbled, stammering consciousness. Bonnie squinted at the potent light from the naked bulbs now burning from the ceiling, and winced at the harsh and heavily accented voice from the broad silhouette looming over her. 'You girl! What the hell are you doing up here?'
For a few bleary seconds Bonnie was disorientated. 'I... I...' she blurted hopelessly.
The figure, a bear of a man, grasped her by the shoulders and shook her like a doll. 'You broke in here and stole from me. You're a thief!'
'I'm not blind, girl! I can see for meself!'
Bonnie recovered her senses quickly. It was obviously the pub owner. 'I-I'm sorry, I just needed a place to stay—'
'Aye, and food and drink, too.' With shocking ease he led her towards the bar, practically flinging her against it. Bonnie glanced about anxiously. The door to downstairs, now open, and the entrance through which she originally came, were now at equal distance from her, and she had little doubt that the man could stop her if she tried for either direction.
Trying to suppress her panic, she blinked and squinted in order to examine her discoverer. He was a broad bullet of a man, seemingly approaching his retirement years. His wiry hair was iron grey, and his heavy matching beard and moustache unkempt. He was stocky but not fat; she'd felt the power in his biceps as he'd dragged her from the booths. Spilt beer and dishwater clung to his red and white striped apron, and probably to the white shirt and old grey pinstripe trousers underneath. He stabbed a thick, accusing finger in her direction. 'You undisciplined hellions think you can do anything and get away with it, aye? You wouldn't have in my day! We knew what to do with the likes of you!'
Bonnie could feel the perspiration gathering down her back, and she struggled to remain calm. 'I'm very sorry, sir, I didn't mean any harm—'
'Aye, your kind never means it, but you still do it,' he snapped. 'Come along then, I'm calling the police.'
He reached for her but she shrank back. 'No!' It was almost a shout; Bonnie realising too late that it gave away too much to him.
He hadn't missed it either, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully. 'You're in bother with the law already, aye? That's why you're hiding away up here like some criminal.'
'No, sir. I just don't want to get into trouble.'
'You're already in trouble.' He shook his head slowly, rage in his eyes. 'You girls are worse than the boys. If you were one of the locals I'd punish you meself the way I was punished as a lad, rather than bother the police.'
Bonnie drew in a sharp breath, finding herself saying uncertainly, 'Then... then why don't you?'
He stared with open suspicion. 'Eh?'
His demeanour had changed slightly, and Bonnie seized upon it, shocked by where desperation was leading her. 'Punish me the way you would a local. You don't have to involve the police.'
Something like a smile raised the corners of his thin, colourless lips. 'Aye, I'm sure you'd prefer that. But if I did it wouldn't be a slap on the wrist, I can guarantee. It would be twenty strokes of my belt on your bare arse.' He shook his head dismissively. 'You'll not be so willing now, I'm sure.'
Bonnie drew in another deep breath, astonished at the reserves of calm and acceptance she now found, though her mind still reeled. She was faced with the option of being disciplined at the hands of this ageing brute, or of facing the police and certain prison. Eventually she pulled her shoulders back with more defiance than she felt inside, and asked quietly, 'And could I leave afterwards?'
'Twenty strokes?' she found herself repeating.
'Aye, twenty strokes.'
She nodded uncertainly. 'Okay then,' she said.
'Of your own free will?'
'Yes, of my own free will.'
He nodded, reaching beneath his apron and undoing his belt. 'Remove your clothes, girl.'
'You heard me, remove them. Everything.' When she froze in place, so did he, adding, 'Or have you changed your mind, so I can phone the police?'
'No,' she blurted hastily, 'don't do that.' She turned her back to him as she began to undress, kicking off her shoes and supporting herself against the bar with one hand as she used the other to remove her socks. The carpet felt gritty and unclean beneath her bare feet. She understood, at least on an intellectual level, that the humiliation of being naked before a stranger was an integral part of the punishment, perhaps more than the belting itself, and that being naked wouldn't in itself harm her. But why did excitement and anxiety now coarse through her body in equal measure? No, she was obviously mistaken.
She jumped, dropping her socks, as he made a snapping sound in the air behind her with his belt, his voice just as cutting. 'Come on girl, I've not got all night. Get your clothes off.'
'Yes, sir,' she said meekly, her back still turned to him as she grasped the hem of her T-shirt. Even then she was analysing why she was behaving so contritely to this man who was wanting to beat her - a defenceless girl. Was she just playing up to him, hoping to pacify him enough with this behaviour to keep him from changing his mind and phoning the police? Was she feeling the genuine need to be punished for her earlier actions; breaking in and eating and drinking his goods?
Or was she really one of those girls she'd only ever furtively read about, the so-called masochists that took great delight in being humiliated and punished like this? She couldn't imagine how anyone could derive pleasure from such treatment, let alone imagine it for herself.
The man's gruff voice brought her back to reality with a jolt. 'I told you I haven't all night for your foolishness!' he snapped.
'Yes sir.' She tugged the T-shirt over her head, and her hair swayed neatly back into place as she set the garment gingerly on the top of the covered bar. Underneath she wore only a lacy black bra, which squeezed her firm breasts together and deepened her shadowy cleavage.
Bonnie could feel hungry eyes burning into her back as she reached behind for the bra catch, fumbled with it for a moment before undoing it, and held the bra tightly against her chest with one hand as she slid the straps from her shoulders.
She gazed meekly over her shoulder at the man. His eyes flared. He was clearly eager to see her breasts - to see her naked. Bonnie felt a twinge of unexpected arousal; a part of her was actually enjoying this!
'You've not got anything I've not seen before, girl,' he assured her with a soft chuckle.
Somehow that was a perverse encouragement for her, and with a sigh of resignation she cast aside her bra and turned to face him.
Something made her stand very still as the man absorbed the sight of her delicious bare breasts. Her treacherous nipples stiffened beneath the intense scrutiny. She crossed her hands over her stomach, and meekly lowered her gaze.
The man seemed transfixed by the sight before him, the belt hanging limply from his right fist. Then he managed to pull himself together and returned to business. 'I said it'd be twenty strokes on your bare arse, girl,' he managed, his voice thick with emotion.
'Yes, sir...' She turned around again, undoing her snugly fitting jeans and drawing down the zipper. The blue denim slid down her shapely thighs and calves, and as she bent to disentangle the garment from her feet she glimpsed the man ogling her neat bum, tightly encased in black cotton knickers.
For a moment she savoured the feel of the cool air on her skin; always half afraid of being caught out as she had been tonight, she hadn't really undressed since she'd run away from London. It felt good, despite - or maybe because of - the unnerving presence of the man behind her.
Something made her pause and coquettishly draw her arms up to cover her breasts, awaiting an impatient response from her captor.
She wasn't disappointed. 'Aye, the pants too,' he said. 'I'll not treat you differently from the locals.'
Bonnie nodded and hooked her thumbs into her knickers. How many young men and women in this village had been stripped and belted here? Is that why he kept such a flimsy lock on the exit, to entice them? Did they ever come back for more, feeling as Bonnie felt now; that heady taste of forbidden fruit? She took one more glance at him, the last vestiges of her modesty cast aside.
The man swung the belt into his open palm, not even flinching as the brown leather connected with his callused skin. 'If you keep me waiting any longer it'll be thirty strokes!' he warned.
That, Bonnie didn't want. With blushing cheeks she lowered her gaze and her knickers, gingerly rolling them into a ball as if ready for the laundry, and setting them with the rest of her clothes. To her shame she'd felt the dampness in the gusset.
'Turn around, girl.'
She obeyed, trying to meet his eyes and keep him from gazing lower. But he was feasting on her nubile body, now fully exposed to his scrutiny. And his lewd attention engendered a measure of anticipation within her. Not that her face failed to blush further as he stepped forward, smiling with satisfaction, though the tone and content of his words retained their earlier impatience. 'And about time too. Now turn around again.'
Bonnie did so, flinching as she felt the cold brass tip of his belt buckle touch the soft area of flesh at the apex of her cheeks. When he spoke again his voice was softer, almost reverential. 'Have you not been beaten before, girl?'
Bonnie gulped, 'Once, sir, yes.'
'By my mother.'
'With her hand.'
Her heart skipped a beat before she answered, 'On my... my bottom, sir.'
'And was your lovely bottom bare?' he persisted.
Bonnie just shook her head.
'Then this is long overdue,' he said huskily. 'Bend forward, grasp the edge of the bar and spread your cheeks.'
She obeyed without another sound. The distance from where she stood to the bar was such that her arms were fully stretched in order to support herself. She stared down at the worn crimson carpet, her breasts swaying gently and her heart pounding in her chest. She listened anxiously as he moved this way and that behind her, unfurling his belt to its full length until the tip dragged along the floor...