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Chapter One

Squirrel Tail
Wyoming Territory
1869

When he finally released her, she jumped up and rubbed her stinging backside furiously. Jenny looked at him with tears streaming down her flushed cheeks. “How could you do something so despicable, Blake?”

“I might ask you the same thing, Jennifer Lynn Sheets. What were you thinking?”

“That the poor girl needed my help!”

“It wasn’t your place to take on three big men who had rape on their minds. Do you realize what would have happened to you if Jake Bingham hadn’t come running for me?”

“So, I just should have acted like a timid little mouse and let those men abuse that poor girl? I’m not like that, Blake Daniels.” The door to the sheriff’s office opened without warning, and a huge man stomped inside, making the small room shrink even more. Jennifer recognized the powerful man right away, and she was more than a little embarrassed when he looked at her disapprovingly.

“Girl, you can thank your lucky stars you ain’t mine to deal with. Those three men of mine are pure trouble when they’ve had a drink or two. Look at you! You’re little as can be, and if it weren’t obvious that the sheriff here already whipped you, I would do it myself! You could have run here to get the sheriff instead of stepping in and fighting with my hands.”

Jenny was insulted. “If you would mind the type of men you hire, Mr. Graves, it wouldn’t have been necessary for me to keep them from attacking that poor woman! And, let me tell you this: just because I am small, it doesn’t mean I don’t have the same responsibility to my fellow man to help them when they need help! Size doesn’t matter.”

“If you want to help people, little girl, then fix up a basket of food and take it to Granny Wilson. She needs your help more than that homesteader woman did.”

“How would you know? You are a man, just like those horrible men you have working for you. You have no concept of a woman’s feelings.” Jenny saw the sad look that filled his blue eyes and knew she’d struck a nerve.

“Sheriff, how much to get my men out of jail and back to the Bar G?”

“Money isn’t the issue, Mr. Graves. Those men attacked a female with every intention of raping her.” Blake couldn’t be bought.

“I know that, and I’ll deal with them,” Bill Graves stated firmly. “Look, it’s time for some plain talk, Sheriff. Locking those three behind bars is only going to give them time to plot more trouble. I can keep them so busy they’ll wish they were in jail. I don’t intend to give them a day off for six months, and if they get into trouble during that time, they’ll rot in jail and they won’t have a job to come back to. No one in these parts will hire them, and I’ll make that clear to them. Sheriff, I already saw the little girl they threatened, and I apologized for my men. I gave her enough money to show her that I am sincere, and that I am grateful that she wasn’t harmed. That sort of thing can scar a woman for life.” He looked away, and then added, “It happened to my older sister when she was only sixteen, and she never recovered. Pa made it worse; he acted like Mary did something wrong, like she was a prostitute; I feel bad for that girl, and I mean that. Sheriff, those three men of mine won’t have an easy time of it, I give you my word. Make the fine stiff; they’ll work off every penny. I’ll see to it.”

“Five hundred each!” Jenny spoke up, earning a glare from both men. “I was there; I saw the looks in their eyes. They weren’t fooling around. Blake, I expect you to take this seriously.”

“Five hundred dollars is too much, Jen. These men make thirty dollars a month plus bed and board. It would take them over a year to pay back Mr. Graves. One hundred and eighty dollars equals six months’ pay, and will give them time to regret their actions. If I put them in front of the judge, they’ll get thirty days behind bars for disturbing the peace. That’s all. Mr. Graves is giving them a harsher punishment that will make an impression, Jenny. The total is five hundred and forty dollars, Mr. Graves, and I will trust you to uphold your end of things.”

“I’ll do that, Sheriff; I’m a man of my word.” He took out money and handed it over to the sheriff, and then he turned to Jenny. “Little lady, I know you’re mad as can be, but a hundred and eighty dollars is a lot to a cowboy. They will learn a valuable lesson, I promise. They drank too much and got stupid. They will regret that, too. Now, please don’t you go thinking you can do this ever again; you ain’t no deputy and you were lucky the sheriff was close by today. I hope your sore butt will give you something to think about for the next week or so.” He smiled when Jenny gasped in outrage. “I think you’re too brave to be so tiny, and the sheriff is going to have his hands full with you for a wife.”

Blake hurriedly went back to the jail cells, before Jenny exploded and caused trouble with the rancher, and he woke the three men. “Your boss is here, boys. He paid a hefty fine to get you released into his custody for the next six months.”

“Well, good for ole Mr. Graves. Now we can finish what we started, and take care of that interfering bitch too.”

Pence flew against the bars of the next cell when Blake slugged him in the mouth. “You’d best sober up, Pence, and watch your mouth. You come near either of those ladies, and I will see to it you rot in prison for the rest of your miserable life.”

“Sheriff, Pence can’t handle liquor, and he ain’t thinkin’ straight yet. We’re all real sorry. I just thought Pence was foolin’ around at first,” Nathan Jackson said. “I’m ashamed of us. I’d like to tell that woman how sorry I am.”

“Your boss already did that for you, boys.”

“If you see her would you tell her what I said?” Nathan asked, and Blake could see the shame in his eyes.

“Yes, I will.”

“The other girl, too. She’s a fireball!”

“That was my fiancée.”

The third man didn’t say a word, but hurried to get out of the jail cell. He looked ill. He saw his boss and said, “Thank you, Boss, for getting me out of there. I cain’t stand bein’ locked up, and I won’t ever let it happen again. This was all Pence’s fault, and I ain’t buddyin’ with him no more. Never!”

“You’d best not drink again, either, Tom,” Jackson said with a grin. “We plumb got drunk and were stupid. Thanks for bailing us out, Boss.”

“You boys owe me a hundred and eighty dollars each, and you’ll spend the next six months working it off. No pay and plenty of work to keep you busy. I think you’ll think twice before you do something this stupid again.”

“She was just a woman, Boss,” Pence said, and for the second time he flew through the air to land in a heap at the door to the jail cells, only this time it was his boss who hit him.

“You listen to me, Pence. Women are to be cherished and protected, and if you ever do something like this again, I’ll see to it you’re castrated. And if you don’t believe me, just keep talkin’ that way.” He glared at the man, and then said, “Pick him up and get your horses, and get back to the ranch. There’s work to be done.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Graves,” Jackson said. He tried to help Pence, but the man pushed his arm away and got to his feet on his own.

That is when he spotted Jennifer. “I’ll get even with you, too, bitch.”

“I know how to use a gun and believe me, I’d love an excuse to use it,” Jenny snapped, angrily stepping toward him, not about to show fear to the likes of him.

“Pence, I would fire you if you didn’t owe me six months of work. Move your ass or the sheriff can lock you up for six months.”

“I ain’t gonna forget this.” Pence stomped from the sheriff’s office.

“Little girl, you stay away from that one. He’s trouble.”

“I won’t go near him, Mr. Graves, but if he comes at me, I’ll do as I said,” Jenny stated and she could see that the big man was shocked.

“Sheriff, you need to take this one in hand for her own good. Try a hairbrush instead of your hand, or better yet, warm her up and then take a few switches to her. She thinks she’s your darn deputy!”

“I’ll take care of Jenny, Mr. Graves,” Blake promised. “Thanks for caring about her.”

Bill Graves nodded and then left, and Jenny felt she could breathe again. At least, she did until she looked at her fiancé. “I need to get back to my shop. All of this started because I ran out of black thread!” She rubbed her bottom again and then looked at Blake accusingly. “How am I to sit at my sewing machine now? I am so busy with dresses for the dance, and now you’ve made it next to impossible for me to work!”

“I’m going to make it even more impossible, Jennifer Lynn Sheets,” Blake stated, crossing the room.

Jenny wasn’t stupid. The second he moved, she ran for the door, and then she ran for her store, which was down the busy street. She was relieved when Blake didn’t come after her. She certainly didn’t want another spanking, and she couldn’t believe the man spanked her in the first place. It wasn’t something she was used to. In fact, she’d never been spanked before today. It was mortifying, she decided, and could feel her cheeks burning with embarrassment.

Jenny went to the back, where her apartment was located, and she took a pillow from her rocking chair and brought it out front where her sewing machine was located. One half of the large front room was her workroom, and she loved it that way because she could watch over her showroom at the same time. That side of the room featured all sorts of dresses in different sizes, and when someone purchased a dress that was already made, Jenny sat down and hemmed it right away. Of course, she had a few dresses already hemmed. There were times that someone just couldn’t wait. To her surprise, she sold quite a few dresses, mostly to women who were passing through town on their way west to Oregon or Washington. Once in a while, a rushed bride purchased a dress because there was no time to place an order for a gown. Truth to tell, Jenny was a bit jealous of those ladies. She wanted marriage, too, and the sheriff certainly didn’t seem in any hurry to set a date.

Jenny traveled to this town as a mail order bride, anxious to escape her matchmaking spinster aunts who took her in when her parents were killed in a buggy accident. Aunts Gillian and Jillian, twins, were elderly when Jenny was born, and they thought she should already be married, especially since her parents were dead. They started trying to marry her off, and their last attempt was to a fifty-two year old businessman. When she claimed he was too old, they looked at her in shock. Jenny finally realized that to her eighty-five year old aunts, he was young.

She quickly took matters into her own hands and started corresponding with a man in Squirrel Tail, Wyoming Territory, and when they decided they would suit, he sent the wealthy Jennifer money to make the long trip from New York City westward. She didn’t bother to tell the man that she was an heiress, positive that that was the only reason her aunts could find anyone at all who wanted to marry her. Her temper was legendary among their acquaintances, and younger men were intimidated by her forthright manner. Jennifer arrived in Squirrel Tail after a long journey, expecting to be married, only to learn that the cheating man had been writing to several other women at the same time, and he married the first one to arrive. The second one, who came into town just a week later, took umbrage with her ‘fiancé’, and she shot and killed him! She was in prison now, and the first bride went home to Ohio, vowing never to marry again. Jennifer was the third, and last, bride to arrive.

When she learned the details regarding the man, she considered herself lucky to arrive last. Jenny decided to stay in the quaint little town, and after looking around for a while, she made the decision to open a dress shop. She was a skilled seamstress, and she knew she could make a good living and provide for herself, which was important to her. She learned there was a storefront on Main Street for sale, and she managed to buy the building from the owner at a fair price. Then she hired a carpenter to make modifications in the front room, giving him specific requirements. She also had some repairs made in the apartment in back.

The General Store had two sewing machines in stock. She bought the newest model and she had it delivered to her store before she changed her mind. When he learned that she didn’t have a husband, Sam Gentry went to the sheriff to warn him there was a “female businessman” in town.

The sheriff came by, and she charmed him, insisting that she was an adult, capable of taking care of herself, and that she needed to earn a living in the only respectable way she knew how. Blake welcomed her and warned her to make sure her doors were locked after dark every night. She agreed, positive she would do as she pleased. It was her own business if she wanted to see clients late in the evening. Not every woman could come during daylight hours all the time.

The sheriff wasn’t a bit happy with her when he came by one evening and found her front door unlocked, and her sitting at her sewing machine, working away where anyone walking by could see she was alone in the shop. He insisted that she lock her doors and put up shades that she could pull down to cover the windows at night so that she wasn’t on display. The very next night two drunken men saw her working late and tapped on the window, trying to coax her into unlocking the door. Fortunately, Blake came to her rescue almost immediately, and Jenny realized he’d been keeping an eye out for her.

Jenny thanked Blake and shyly admitted he was right about covering her windows at night. She asked his help and advice in ordering the shades, and he helped her install a sturdier lock on her doors. She invited him to supper to thank him, and from that point on they grew closer and closer. Blake finally asked if she would marry him.  Jennifer was happy as could be, but so far they hadn’t set a date for a wedding. There were times, like today, that she wondered if he would ever actually marry her since she seemed to anger him so easily.

Jenny fixed herself a cup of tea, stalling a bit to keep from sitting on her smarting rear, but she eventually needed to sit on the soft pillow she’d placed on the chair in front of her sewing machine. It wasn’t pleasant, not one little bit, but she’d promised her friend, Juliette Crabtree, that she would have her new dress done this week by Wednesday when she and her husband made their weekly trip into town to buy supplies, and it was already Monday. The dress was almost finished, but she had other orders to complete, and she couldn’t take a day off because Blake spanked her like a naughty little girl! She concentrated on adding the skirt of the dress to the bodice. Once that was done, Jenny worked her buttonholes along the back opening and cuffs, and then she sewed on the buttons.

Jenny critically gave the dress a once-over and decided she wasn’t happy with how it looked on the hanger. It needed something to give it a bit of flare. She went to her box of trim scraps and looked to see what she had that would work. She finally found a piece of lace and she held it up to the bodice and decided that was exactly what the collar needed to add a touch of elegance to the pretty dress. Jenny was relieved that she could stand up to pin the trim and sew it by hand, and once that was done, it was time to work on the hem. She suddenly realized that she was hungry. She’d worked hard all morning, only taking a break when someone came in to either look around or to purchase something for a loved one. She had one customer who was buying a birthday present for his wife, and he didn’t have a clue what size she wore. He did his best to tell Jenny using his hands to explain his wife’s form. She wrapped the gift for him and assured him that his wife could exchange it if it didn’t fit. Jenny wanted happy customers, and as long as the dress wasn’t dirty or torn, she would take it back and sell another. It made the men, who were like her last customer, relax about spending their money if they knew the purchase wasn’t final.

 


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