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Chapter One


Sarah reminded herself that she couldn’t afford to be picky or choosy.  She literally had no where to go, no one to turn to, and less than five dollars between her and starvation.  The man she was to marry upon her arrival, Thaddeus Burcott, failed to meet the stage as promised.  Upon inquiry at the Sheriff’s office, she learned that Mr. Burcott suddenly took ill and died a few days earlier.  The Sheriff politely told her he was sorry for her loss, but offered no solution to her predicament.

Sarah did not waste time on self-pity; she couldn’t afford that luxury.  She needed to find employment of some sort, and quickly.  She walked the small town of Twin Creek, asking in every store, and hearing the same two words in all of them, “Not hiring.”  Sarah was discouraged, but straightened her shoulders and walked through the swinging double doors of the town’s one and only saloon.  Normally she wouldn’t think of setting foot inside such an establishment, but her body was used to three meals a day, and she had no choice if she was to survive long enough in this place to save enough money to take her elsewhere.

“Ma’am,” she was approached immediately by the bartender.  “This establishment isn’t for ladies such as yourself.  If you are looking for a meal, there is a restaurant at the hotel,” his handlebar mustache wobbled indignantly, although he was trying to be helpful.  It was obvious he wanted her to leave at once.

“Sir, are you the owner?” Sarah asked politely.  “I am seeking employment.”

“Ma’am, a lady such as yourself wouldn’t want to work here.  The females who work here are of ill repute,” he whispered the last two words and his ears turned beet red with embarrassment.

“I am in dire straights, sir, and have exhausted all other possibilities.  I was hoping for a position doing the books, or even cleaning or cooking.

“The boss does the books, ma’am, and we have a man who cleans and cooks.  This is not a place for a lady.  Go and ask the Sheriff if he knows of a rancher looking to hire on a woman.  That would be your best bet at finding something respectable.”

Sarah nodded and politely thanked the man.  It wasn’t his fault that not even the saloon would hire her.  Since the Sheriff already made it quite clear he didn’t know of anyone hiring, Sarah was quite discouraged.  She would retire to her room for the night, skip supper, and go to bed early.  In the morning she would have to walk to the next town and hope her luck was better there.  She couldn’t wallow in pity and feel sorry for herself.  She was made of much sterner stuff.

********************

“I’m leaving, Warren.  There is nothing you can say to change my mind!”

“Aunt Lucy, I…”

“I am not YOUR Aunt Lucy, Warren Jenkins!  I was a Great-Aunt to your lovely Becky, and I told you flat out that I would help until you found a housekeeper to look after your three children, and that was five months ago!  I had NO idea your children were as wild as Indians!  I am much too old for their hijinks, and I insist you drive me into town tonight so I can catch the stage tomorrow morning.  My mind is made up; the snake in my bed was the final straw!” retired schoolteacher Miss Lucy Garth stated with such finality that War knew she meant every word.

“I’ll hitch up the buggy, Aunt Lucy, and take you to town right away.  I’ll send one of the men up to sit with the kids.”  She nodded, then flounced out of the room, her slippers flapping as she walked.

War shook his head, wondering what he was going to do now.  No one who knew his three kids wanted anything to do with them.  Ever since Becky died, they’d acted like wildcats, and the only person they listened to was him.  However, he couldn’t stop running his ranch to take care of them twenty-four hours a day.  The sensible solution would be to marry again, but he hadn’t met one woman yet who even remotely stirred his passion or caught his interest.  He loved Becky with all his heart, and wondered if it was possible to ever feel those same emotions for another woman?  Grimly, he walked to the bunkhouse and asked Cookie if he would mind sitting up at the house while he took Aunt Lucy into town.  Cookie said he didn’t mind, as long as War knew he’d take a wooden spoon to the first child who sassed at him.  War grinned, knowing full well that Cookie’s bark was worse than his bite.  The three kids liked Cookie and respected him.

Once he had the horse hitched to the buggy, War went to the house and carried down Aunt Lucy’s trunk.  It certainly didn’t take her long to pack, and War suspected the elderly woman already had her things packed and was simply looking for a valid excuse to make her departure.  While he couldn’t help but be upset that she was leaving him in the lurch, War couldn’t fault her for doing so.  He was polite to her, and saw her safely inside the hotel and paid for her lodging for the night.  He also insisted she take money to pay for her ticket home, and money for lodging and meals on the way.

“I must say, Warren, you are treating me admirably well in view of the circumstances,” she gave him one of her rare smiles of approval.

“I appreciate everything you’ve done for us, Aunt Lucy,” he said sincerely.  “I know that Becky would be pleased that you came to help for as long as you did.   You’re always welcome in our home, and if you ever need help of any kind, please let me know.  I do consider you family,” War leaned down and gave her a peck on the cheek.

To his surprise, her old eyes filled with tears.  “Warren, I’m not as young as I used to be.  I love those children, but I’m just too old to cope with their shenanigans.  As much as I loved my little Becky, you need to move on and find those babies a new Mama to love and care for them.  Until you do, they’re going to be high spirited and impossible for normal folks to handle.  If you have need, do call on me.  I consider you family, too,” she patted his cheek, and then took her small valise and went up to find her room. 

The desk clerk was keeping Aunt Lucy’s trunk downstairs and promised War he would personally carry it to the stage for her.  War thanked him, and was grateful he didn’t need to worry about his wife’s great Aunt.  He turned to leave the hotel, and Wally called him back.  Mr. Jenkins, it’s not my place to say anything, but I reckon I’d be doing you and Miss Prescott both a service.”

War walked back to where Wally stood at the desk.  He could see the man was nervous, and he smiled to put him at his ease.  “If you are telling me you know of a lady who would be willing to come out to the ranch and care for the kids, Wally, I would be interested in hearing what you have to say.”

“Fair enough, but it’ll be up to you to speak to her,” Wally nodded.  He went on, “Miss Prescott came in on the stage this morning, expecting to marry Thaddeus Burcott, and of course she can’t do that because he died last week.”

War nodded, knowing from past experience that Wally would take his own sweet time in getting to the point… namely where he could find this Miss Prescott.

“She took a room, her hand shaking so bad she could barely sign the register, and then she pulled herself together and went out looking for a job.  No one would hire her, mostly ‘cause she’s a woman,” he whispered.  “She even went into the saloon and asked Pete for a job doing the books or cleaning or cooking, and he sent her right out of there…”  He shook his head disapprovingly, and then looked War in the eye.  “Miss Prescott come back feeling pretty discouraged and told me she would be checking out in the morning and walking to Dry Ridge to look for work there.”

“Walking to Dry Ridge?” War exclaimed.  “Did you tell her how far that is?” War demanded of the desk clerk.

“I surely did, Mr. Jenkins.  The poor little thing doesn’t have money for stage fare, and I’m pretty sure she did without supper tonight, too.  I wanted to take her a tray, but figured she’d mistake my kindness for something improper,” Wally said with a red face.  “I think she might be relieved to have an offer from you, Mr. Jenkins, since your Aunt is leaving and all…?”

“Wally, I appreciate your telling me.  What room is Miss Prescott staying in?  I’ll go and speak to her right now.”

“It’s late, Mr. Jenkins!” Wally was scandalized.

“I know, but I don’t want to miss her in the morning, and if she’s desperate, she might be lying up there crying and scared.  I could put her out of her worry,” he cajoled, appealing to Wally’s sympathy. 

It worked, and to War’s surprise, Wally said, “I’d best go with you, Mr. Jenkins and introduce you so she’s not scared.  I take pains to keep women folk feeling safe when they stay here.”

“Good idea, Wally,” War nodded in agreement.  He didn’t want to make a bad impression, or frighten the woman so badly she wouldn’t hear him out.  He followed Wally up the steps to the second floor, and down the hallway to room twelve.  Aunt Lucy was across the hallway in room eleven.

Wally tapped gently on the door.  “Miss Prescott, it’s Wally from the front desk.  May I speak to you a moment, please?” he asked politely, and War heard a murmur from the other side of the door.  A few moments passed, and finally the door opened a crack.

“Yes?” the woman spoke softly, and War wondered if she’d been sleeping.

“Ma’am, I know it is very late and you most likely retired for the night, but Mr. Jenkins is here and would like to speak to you.  I will vouch for his being an honorable gentleman.”

“It’s very late,” Sarah said.  “I am not dressed for visitors, especially male visitors,” she stated firmly.

“Miss Prescott, I assure you that this is of extreme importance to me.  Wally will stay with us, if it will make you feel better.  Or, if you would prefer to dress and come down to the lobby, I will be patient and wait.”

“I would prefer to dress, Mr. Jenkins,” Sarah answered.  “Might I inquire why you wish to speak to me?  I do not know you at all!”

“Wally told me you are looking for employment, and I am in need of help,” War replied, hopeful that she wouldn’t dismiss him out of hand.

“Yes, Mr. Jenkins, that is correct and I am interested in speaking to you.  I will dress and be downstairs within ten minutes time.”

“Thank you, Miss Prescott,” War was amazed at the sense of relief he felt.  He followed Wally downstairs, and said, “Thanks, Wally.”

“I sure hope it works out, Mr. Jenkins.  Miss Prescott is too young and pretty to be running around on her own without any protection.”

‘Young and pretty?’ War groaned inwardly.  When Wally mentioned that the woman had come to marry Thaddeus Burcott, he’d formed a mental picture of an older spinster woman… one who wouldn’t need a chaperone to live in his home as a housekeeper and caretaker for his three youngsters.

Sarah dressed hurriedly, but did her best to look neat and presentable.  Unless Mr. Jenkins was offering her a position as his mistress, she would take the work willingly and be happy to be rescued.  Coming out here had been a huge mistake, even though poor Thaddeus couldn’t help dying.  She should have insisted he provide her with enough money for a ticket home if they didn’t suit.  Now, she was going to have to make her way and support herself.  She wasn’t about to wire her Aunt Agatha and beg her for money to return home, not after Aunt Agatha called her a scarlet woman for coming west to marry a man she’d never met.  Once she was dressed, Sarah took a deep breath and put a smile on her face, hoping that Mr. Jenkins was offering her the answer to her prayers.  She walked down the steps, looking about for an older man, but the only one she saw besides Wally was a young cowboy looking out the lobby window.

“Mr. Jenkins,” Wally called out, and the young cowboy turned around.  Sarah felt her smile fade at once.  Unless the man was married, there was no way she could work for him.

“Miss Prescott, thank you for coming down to talk to me.  I can see by your expression that you were expecting someone perhaps older?” he asked intuitively.

“Yes, I’m afraid I was,” Sarah answered matter-of-factly.  “What kind of job are you offering?” she asked.

“I need a housekeeper and someone to look after my three kids.  My wife died nearly a year ago now.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Sarah replied.  “I have to ask if there are any other women in your household?”

“No, ma’am, there aren’t,” War stated honestly.  “None of my hired hands are married, either, and I can’t offer you the job for that reason.  When Wally explained your circumstances, I’m afraid I jumped to the assumption that you would be closer to Thaddeus Burcott’s age.  It wouldn’t do at all to hire you.”

“No, it wouldn’t do a thing for my reputation,” she agreed, disappointment all over her pretty face, and worry filling her lovely green eyes.  “I am sorry I kept you waiting for nothing, Mr. Jenkins.”

War had a sudden idea, and spoke quickly before he could change his mind.  “I have an alternate offer, Miss Prescott, and I wouldn’t dare make it if I didn’t know that you’d come here expecting to marry Thaddeus Burcott.  We could marry, and no one would find anything improper in your coming to the ranch then.”  Her eyes flashed with temper, and he quickly added, “Of course, I’m sure you corresponded with Thaddeus for some time and had feelings for him, and I’m presuming too much in making such a bold suggestion.  Please forgive me for overstepping my bounds.  Will you at least permit me to offer you some help until you get another position?  I hate to think of any lady stranded without funds.”

Sarah’s emotions did a complete somersault in the space of two seconds flat.  One second she was furious with him for presuming she was easy and simply looking for a meal ticket, and in the next she wanted to cry at his kindness.  His dark eyes were sincere, and Wally obviously respected him.  “Are you serious about helping me, Mr. Jenkins?  No strings attached?” she asked.

War’s own temper flared.  “Ma’am, when I offer to help, I am a man of my word.  I don’t take advantage of females.  My Ma raised me better than that.”  He felt like swatting her backside for her.

“In that case, I accept your offer of marriage, provided you will accept my conditions.  It is not normally something I would do without considerable thought and time, but I feel as though I can trust you, and you are an honorable man.”

“What are your conditions, Miss Prescott?” War asked curiously, feeling as though he was negotiating a sale of cattle instead of asking a woman to marry him.

“Needless to say I would wish my own room for the time being, Mr. Jenkins, until we both agree that we wish to make the marriage more than in name only.”

“I agree with that,” War promptly replied.  He would have made the suggestion himself.

“Thank you,” Sarah replied.  “You must also agree that you will not beat me.”

“I have never beat a woman in my life!” War was insulted, but his temper cooled when she showed visible relief.  “I do believe in spanking, however,” he stated with his usual forthright honesty.

“Spanking!” Sarah’s voice cracked on the word.  “I am an adult!”

“I know from experience that even a grown woman can require correction at times,” War stated firmly.  “I believe in spanking if the situation warrants punishment.”  When he saw the look of doubt in her lovely green eyes, he added, “A spanking is not a beating, Miss Prescott, and I promise you will never be mistreated in any way.

“Did you spank your children’s mother?” Sarah asked in concern.

“Becky was a gentle, sweet tempered woman who tried hard to please.  I only found it necessary to spank her once,” War replied truthfully.

“What did she do, if it is not too personal a question?”

War smiled, “She was out riding and saw someone rustling our cattle, but instead of coming to me for help, she confronted them.”  He saw Miss Prescott’s eyes widen, and he continued, “Fortunately I was close by and got there in time to keep her from being harmed.”

“Oh my!”

“She did something very foolish and I couldn’t let that pass without addressing it in a manner she wouldn’t forget.”  He gave the young woman a few seconds to think about his words, and then asked, “Do you feel you can promise to obey and trust that I will not mistreat you or take advantage of you?” he finally demanded.

Sarah doubted she was going to get a better offer, and if she was married, the man could hardly fire her and send her away with nothing.  She simply couldn’t face going home to Aunt Agatha.  Single men weren’t lined up at her door, and Sarah wanted her own home.  She shyly nodded at Warren Jenkins, “I will be pleased to marry you, Mr. Jenkins,” she said with more confidence than she felt.

Sarah soon learned that Mr. Jenkins was a force to be reckoned with once his mind was made up.  He went and woke the Mayor from a sound sleep, and convinced the man to perform the short service that would bind them for the rest of their lives, and once that was done, he loaded Sarah into the buggy, along with her meager belongings and headed for the ranch.  Sarah was in shock at her rash behavior.  It was so unlike her to make such an important decision so quickly, but now that it was done, she would be married to Warren Jenkins for the rest of their lives! 

“It’s too late for second thoughts, now, Sarah,” War used her given name for the first time.  “I promise I will do everything within my power to take care of you and see to it that you don’t have cause to regret trusting me with your future.”

“Thank you, Warren.”

“I would greatly appreciate it, Sarah, if you would call me ‘War’ instead of ‘Warren’.  ‘Warren’ sounds like a bookkeeper or a banker,” he smiled and even in the darkness she could see how white his teeth were.

“I happen to like the name ‘Warren’, but if you wish to be called ‘War’, then I will certainly use that name,” she said agreeably.  “How far is your ranch?” she asked.

“It’s a rather long trip, I’m afraid.  We’ll actually reach the ranch in about an hour, but it will take another hour or more to reach the house.”

“Oh my!  You have a large spread, then?” she looked at him in surprise.

“Yes, I do.  It’s one of the largest in these parts,” War said proudly.

“I’m afraid I don’t know anything at all about ranching,” Sarah said in dismay.

“Do you know how to cook and clean and look after children?” he inquired.

“Why, yes, I do know how to do those things,” she agreed, flustered.

“I don’t,” he admitted.  “I mean, I know about my kids, and how to get them to behave, but I can’t braid Abby’s hair, and I can’t sew.  Jeff and Mike don’t like my cooking, either,” he chucked, and then added, “I don’t much like it, either.  I can’t bake, and about the only thing I know how to do is throw a handful of beans in with some ham, and that gets old real fast.”  He decided to be honest.  “My kids can be a handful, Sarah, and that is why Aunt Lucy decided to leave.  She’s tired of the mischief they get into.”  He was surprised when Sarah giggled. 

“Your three can’t possibly be any more mischievous than I was at their age,” she said.  “We’ll get along famously, I’m sure.  And, I bake a great chocolate cake,” she proudly declared.

“Wonderful.  So far we are doing just great, and it’s a real shame I’m going to have to lay down the law right now,” War said regretfully, slowing the buggy to a stop, and tying the reins to the brake to keep the horses from running.

“Why are we stopping?” Sarah asked in trepidation.

“You did something earlier today that warrants correction, and while I hate to start off our marriage on a sour note, I wouldn’t be much of a husband if I overlooked the fact you actually walked into a saloon this afternoon.”

“We were not married then, War!  And, I went to inquire as to employment!”

“I know your motives were innocent, but setting foot in a saloon is not something a lady does, even to find work.  Not only will it affect your reputation, it is not safe.  Men go in there to drink and find sport with women of loose morals.  You could have been grabbed and hauled upstairs… or even worse, followed out of the saloon and raped in an alley somewhere.  What you did was not safe, Sarah, and I regret that I need to spank you so soon, but I am a man who believes strongly in protecting my wife.”

“It is not necessary to spank me, Warren Jenkins!” she said firmly.  “I am highly unlikely to ever set foot in that place again!”

“No, I am sure you will not after I give you a reason to remember not to.”

“This is not the way to start off our marriage, and if you dare put a hand to me for something that occurred before we married, I will leave you to fend for yourself!” Sarah’s temper showed itself. 

“Sarah, this spanking is for your own good, and I will not be swayed by threats,” War said firmly.  Without giving the matter another thought he jumped to the ground and then put his hands around her waist and lifted her down.  He’d purposely stopped beside a large rock, and it was the perfect height to sit upon and draw Sarah down over his lap

“No!” Sarah gasped, unable to believe this was happening to her.  She hadn’t been spanked since she was a little girl and took her Mama’s perfume and sprinkled it all over her dolls so they would all smell nice and pretty like her Mama!

“Don’t fight me, Sarah, or I will think you need a longer and harder spanking.  This is just going to be a small reminder as long as you cooperate and show me you are sincere about keeping yourself safe in the future.”

“I do not need a spanking to make you that promise!” Sarah insisted, but War didn’t seem to think her word good enough, and Sarah found herself bottom up over his lap.  He flipped up her skirts, and then his hand smacked on the seat of her drawers.  “How dare you do this!” she fumed, trying her best to ignore the flaming handprint on her delicate skin!

“I dare because you are now my wife, Sarah, and it is up to me to keep you safe.  You did not use good sense this afternoon, and now you will learn what I think of your foolishness.”  War spanked her again, and this time she cried out.  He nodded in satisfaction, and spanked again, quite deliberately.

“I hate you and I wish I’d never married you!  I’m going to have this marriage annulled!” Sarah promised, her green eyes swimming in tears.

“That does not sound like remorse, wife.  It sounds more like a little girl having a temper tantrum, and I deal with temper tantrums with another spanking,” he stated, and suited actions to words by spanking her bottom fast and hard.

“Owwww!  Stop!  Please!  It hurts!” Sarah begged.  “I’m sorry, and I won’t go into a saloon ever again!  Please stop!  I promise!  Owwwww!”

War gave her another ten spanks, all where she sat, and then helped her up.  “I was gentle with you this time, Sarah.  Do not expect such an easy time of it if I find it necessary to spank you again.”  He waited until she righted her clothing and then he picked her up and plucked her on the seat of the buggy.  Once they were underway, he reached into his pocket and took out a clean handkerchief and handed it to her.  “Don’t worry, you won’t have to sit long, Sarah.  We’ll be at the house soon.”

Sarah didn’t know what to do!  She felt as though her bottom was on fire, and Warren Jenkins was acting like it was no big deal!  If she had anywhere at all to go, she would insist he take her there immediately.  One thing was forever certain; she would never set foot in a saloon again!

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