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Chapter One

Wyoming Territory, 1875

“Are you positive that the contest will take place as usual this year?” Simone asked her daughter.  “How many people will be willing to leave their property unguarded to go to town for an Easter parade and an Easter bonnet contest?”  Simone appeared doubtful, which was understandable given that both the Cheyenne and the Lakota Sioux were on the warpath and trying to drive the whites out of their lands.

“Mama, it is important that we maintain life as normal if at all possible, or else we might as well leave and go back east and give the Indians back their land.”

“I am not sure that we shouldn’t just do that, Lily.  I can only imagine how I would feel if someone moved on my land and just plain took it away from me.”

“Mama, you are the sweetest person on earth,” Lily said, getting up to round the table and give her mother a big hug.  “You know how Papa feels about this, and as he says, it is very political, and very complicated.  The elected officials in Washington are arguing on the right and wrong of this issue, and seem no closer to a solution now than a few years ago.  It is the hordes of prospectors moving on the Black Hills to hunt for gold that are upsetting the Indians and causing problems for all of us.  Papa says the soldiers try to stop them, but there are so many that there is no way the soldiers can stop all of them.  They just go back, and then sneak around the soldiers.”

“One such patrol was murdered last week,” Simone reminded Lily.  “How terrible that is.  It makes me fearful to be here right now in spite of the fact that we’ve been here for over ten years now!”

“It’s also why Papa won’t let me go riding like he used to.  He is afraid I could be captured by either the Sioux or the Cheyenne.”

“He is right, and I expect you to obey your Papa.  In fact, I will insist on corporal punishment if you try to go riding by yourself right now.”  It was a well known fact that Simone didn’t believe in spanking, and equally well known fact that Montgomery Stone hated to displease his loving wife in any way.  Therefore, Lily Stone had reached the age of nineteen without ever being spanked.  For her mother to promise a spanking if she disobeyed her father was shocking.

“Mama, I am grown now.  I have no intention of disobeying Papa on this matter.  Please, do not worry about things that won’t happen.  I have no desire to belong to some Indian brave.”

“You know, daughter, your Papa is disappointed that you told Phineas Barton that you weren’t interested in having him court you.”

“Oh, Mama, Phineas is such an egotistical, pompous jerk!  I do not feel as desperate to marry as Papa thinks I should!  I am only nineteen, and I think I have a few good years left.”

Simone giggled.  “I was twenty-one when I met your Papa, and your grandfather was convinced he would need to support me forever!”

“And you are happy you waited, right?”

“Oh, very happy!  I met your Papa and I fell in love on the spot.  I am afraid it upset your grandfather when Montgomery proposed right away,” she admitted.

“He had good taste in choosing you,” Lily said, and hugged Simone again.  “I fear we are off the subject of Easter Bonnets; may I enter the contest, Mama?” she asked.

“How much money do you wish to spend?” Simone asked with a smile, not about to deny her daughter the chance to compete.

“I’m not sure, Mama.  Would you shop with me?”  When she saw the fear enter her mother’s eyes, she quickly added, “Provided Papa can escort us to town?”

“If your Papa is willing to take us, then I shall go.  There are some things I wish to purchase too,” she admitted, and Lily wished she’d thought to suggest the outing sooner.

That evening as they sat at the supper table, Lily said, “Papa, Mama and I have some shopping we would like to do, and we would like for you to accompany us to town.  Would that be possible one day soon?”

“Of course,” he immediately answered, understanding that Lily was trying to tell him that his precious Simone was too afraid to leave the ranch without his coming along.  “I think tomorrow would be a good day; I am fairly well caught up at the moment, and I can trust the men to take care of the rest.  We’ll leave early if you two sleepyheads can be up and ready.”  Montgomery winked, letting them know he was joking.

“Oh, you!” Simone giggled.  “Who is it that I need to push out of bed in the mornings?  Hmm?”

“So, push me out early tomorrow, sweet one, and we’ll go to town.  After we finish up here I’ll talk to the men and see if anyone needs anything.”

“That is a great idea, Papa.”

“It is, isn’t it?”  He grinned at her in his normal teasing manner.  “So, what is it you ladies are shopping for?”

“Lily wants to enter the Easter bonnet competition, and I wish to find some fabric to make new curtains, and I am almost finished with the quilt I’m stitching and it is time to plan another.  I already know the pattern that I am going to make, but I need the fabrics, and I want Lily’s help in choosing those.”

“Is there actually going to be an Easter parade and an Easter bonnet contest?” Montgomery asked doubtfully.

“Miranda said so,” Lily replied.

“That Miranda!  Her father needs to take her in hand and the sooner the better!”

“Papa, just because Miranda rode over here alone this afternoon doesn’t mean she is out of control.  Her parent hasn’t forbid her to do so, yet.”  She tacked the last word on since Miranda was positive her father would do so the minute she returned, and she hoped he wouldn’t spank her, too!

“It isn’t safe, and I have forbidden you to go riding alone,” he reminded her.

“I know, Papa, and I won’t disobey you.  I promise.  I’m not a child any longer!”  She couldn’t resist reminding him.

“You may not be a child, but you will always be Papa’s little girl,” he insisted.

Lily blushed, but it was from pleasure.  “I love you, too, Papa,” she told him emotionally.

“Well, I am a very lovable man, just ask your Mama!” he teased, but his hand reached across the table to give hers a squeeze.

“Very lovable,” Simone solemnly agreed.  She looked at her husband and that flash of awareness passed between them, promising ‘later’ would be her time to show him just how lovable he was.

“May I say something without overstepping?” Lily suddenly asked.  Her parents both looked at her curiously, but it was her Papa who nodded, urging her to speak.

“The look you two just shared,” Lily saw them blush and squirm uncomfortably, “It is truly special, and I grew up witnessing your love for each other.  I don’t want to marry any man unless I feel for him the same way you two do about each other.  Papa, that is why I sent Phineas on his way.  I hope you understand?”

“I do now,” Montgomery said quietly, nodding.  “I wouldn’t want anything less for you, either, daughter.”  He privately decided to butt out and not pick any more men to come calling on Lily.  That didn’t mean he wouldn’t send a would-be suitor on his way real fast if he didn’t think him suitable for his Lily!

“I’m sorry if I embarrassed you,” she said, looking more at her Mama.

“It is good to understand, Lily,” Simone said with a smile.  She knew precisely what Lily was trying to do, and it worked.  Montgomery now understood, and he would stop trying to find a husband for their daughter.

*****

“Miranda Jefferson!  I can’t believe you would be foolish enough to ride over to the Stone Ranch just to discuss such silly nonsense as an Easter bonnet contest!” Philip Jefferson sputtered angrily.  “I had the men ready to search for you… or for your body!” he growled, and then turned to face his ranch hands.  “Men, I thank you for your time and efforts.  We’ve all been working real hard, including Randi… Maybe it is time we take an afternoon off and relax.  Enjoy the rest of today, and don’t worry; you’ll all get full pay for today.  Again, thank you,” Philip said humbly.

“We’d do anything for you, Boss,” Sam Cross, his foreman, spoke up, and knew he was speaking for all of the men.  Philip Jefferson paid top dollar, had a nice bunkhouse, and fed them extra well.  It was a good place to work.  They all loved little Randi too, since most of them had watched her grow up.  Sam felt a bit sorry for her right now, however.  He knew his stern boss well and that young lady was going to get her backside dusted proper.  It was crazy of her to go riding alone with all of the Indian trouble they were having.

The youngest member of the crew, Danny Preston, was in love with the beautiful Miranda, and at the moment, he was furious with her for risking her safety and her very life!  Ever since the Boss started asking around if anyone had seen Randi anywhere, Danny had felt sick to his stomach at the thought of her scalp hanging from some young brave’s belt!  Danny wanted to spank her!

“Boss, something’s wrong with ole Clyde!”  One of the men came running from the barn to get Philip.  Philip took off running for the barn, but not until after he told Miranda to get to the house.

Danny caught up with her and followed her inside the house that was much too large for two people.  “What were you thinking, Miranda?” he demanded, taking her arms and giving her a single shake to get her attention.

“Oh, Danny, don’t you be cross with me, too!” she whispered, her lovely blue eyes full of tears.  “I just wanted to see Lily for a while; I miss having a female to talk to.”

“Then why didn’t you tell your Pa and ask him to send me with you to keep you safe?  We were scared, and you need those damned britches you’re wearing set on fire!” Danny scolded.

“I thought they would hide the fact that I am a woman,” she told him, her eyes innocent as could be.

Danny was forced to smile.  “Honey, those pants don’t do one thing to hide your femininity.  In fact, they draw attention to the fact that you are a beautiful woman.”

“Ohhh.”  Miranda felt herself blushing as her cheeks grew hot.

“And right now I’m sure you will wish you had all those layers of petticoats to protect your backside.”  Danny pulled out a chair, took a seat, and Miranda found herself lying face down over his knee.

“Oh, Danny, no!  Don’t do this!  Papa…”

“Your Pa might shoot me, but it is time he learned the truth of the matter.  I love you, Randi, and I love you too much to let you get away with doing something so damned foolish!”  He raised his right hand and brought it down over the seat of her snug jeans, earning a frantic yelp from the pretty brunette.  “You are never going to pull a stunt like this one again,” Danny scolded, giving her another solid spank on her other cheek.

“I’m sorry, Danny!  I forgot about the danger!” she pleaded for understanding.  “I just wanted to see Lily and tell her what Papa said about there being an Easter parade and that there would be an Easter bonnet contest in spite of the trouble with Indians.  I was excited; it is something to do besides worry!”

“Right now you’d best worry about your hind,” Danny said with assurance.  “I refuse to let you talk your way out of a good spanking, little girl,” he warned mere seconds before he started spanking in earnest.

Miranda was shocked that this was happening!  She knew full well that her Papa intended to spank her, and there was no way she’d be able to tolerate another spanking after this one!  Danny was very strong, and she felt every inch of his palm as he spanked her cheeks over and over.  It was much worse than the spanking her Papa would give her, especially if she told him she was very sorry and just didn’t think.  But, obviously that didn’t work with Danny!  He started spanking lower, where she was most tender, and Miranda was soon sobbing and begging him to stop.  He didn’t, not until she was good and miserable, and promising she wouldn’t go anywhere outside the house without telling someone.

Danny put the sobbing brunette on her feet and then stood to hold her in his arms.  “I didn’t enjoy that one bit, little girl,” Danny told her.  “But I love you too much to let you get away with doing something that foolish!”

“I’m sorry, Danny,” she whispered.

“I know you are,” he replied, and held her tighter.  “It’s over and done now, honey.  You’re forgiven.”  He kissed the top of her head and then said, “Go and put on a pretty dress, Randi.  I like to see dresses on my lady, not pants.”

“All right, Danny,” she answered, and then ran to do his bidding, her bottom burning and stinging like crazy.  At least she could take a couple of minutes to rub the aching area before she came downstairs once more.

Danny watched her leave and then he shuddered.  He actually felt ill to think of what she would have suffered if the Indians had captured her and took her with them.  He knew he would track them to the ends of the earth, but what would she have to endure in the meantime?  His sweet Miranda had no idea of such things!

“How long have you and my daughter been hiding this romance from me?” Philip asked from the doorway.

“Since the day I rode in here looking for work, sir.”  Danny told the truth.  “It was as though there was an invisible rope pulling us toward each other.  We fought it for a couple of months; we avoided each other until that day we got caught in the barn together during that hail storm.  We decided to stop fighting nature, and let things develop naturally.  I love Randi, sir, and she feels the same about me.  That is why I put her over my knee and spanked her until she won’t want to sit down for a good while.  She scared the hell out of me,” Danny admitted.

“I see.  Did it occur to you that I just might decide to whip her butt myself?  I am her Papa!”

“Yes, sir, you are that.  I am the man she loves, and who loves her in return.  She needed to feel my disapproval, and she needs to feel your disapproval, too.  What she did was so foolish it makes me sick to think of what could have happened.  At least Mr. Stone sent some men with her to see her safely home.”

“He’s a good man.  What am I supposed to think now?” Philip asked.

“I hope you think I’m good enough to be married to Randi, sir.  I don’t have much of anything, but I am a hard worker; and I will do what I can to provide well for her.”

“I can see that you love her.  If you were just after her money, you would’ve called me a mean s.o.b. for scolding her when she rode in, but instead you gave her a sound tanning.  It takes love to do that, unless you’re heartless and cold, and you ain’t either of those things.  I don’t intend for you to marry straight away.  I believe in long engagements, a year at least.  In the meantime, you can work and keep saving your pay.  We’ll have this conversation again at that time.  And, there won’t be any more secret meetings, Danny.  If you love my daughter, then you will court her openly.  Understand?”

“Yes, sir, I do.”

“Fine.  You can come to supper tonight at six.”  Philip wanted to keep an eye on Danny, and make sure he was suitable for his daughter.  “In the meantime, I need to deal with my errant daughter.”

“Sir, I would ask you to have a care.  She is probably very sore.  I did my best to make an impression.”

“Miranda is my daughter, Danny.”

Danny nodded, and then left the house.  At least he had the Boss’ permission to court Randi, and he had an invitation to sit at their dinner table tonight.  He would take what he could get and try to make a good impression.  He just would have to trust the man wouldn’t be harsh with Randi.

Miranda scrubbed her face and then put on the dress that Danny liked best of all the ones she owned.  It was blue, trimmed with touches of white lace at the neckline and at the cuffs of her sleeves.  When she paired it with a white apron, she looked presentable.  She brushed through her hair, and then used the set of combs that used to be her mother’s to keep it back.  Miranda hoped to look as grownup as possible when she confronted her parent.

“Girl, you might as well bring yourself down here and face me.  Hiding from me ain’t going to save your butt!”  Philip’s voice carried up the staircase and down the hall to her bedroom, startling her and causing her to jump.

Miranda knew there was no point in putting off the confrontation, so she opened her bedroom door and went to the stairway to see her Papa standing there, waiting for her with a strap in his hand!

 


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