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Chapter One


The woman standing there holding a shotgun on him was by far the most beautiful creature he’d ever set eyes on!  The dress she was wearing was faded from too many washings in hot water and drying on the clothesline in the glare of the sun.  It was hanging above her ankles, and more importantly, it was stretched so tightly over her breasts that he could see her nipples through the worn fabric.  She was showing more cleavage than was deemed respectable, especially for a girl her age, but he was pretty darn sure she wasn’t expecting anyone to stop by.  Her long red hair was hanging down her back in one thick braid, and her green eyes were flashing dangerously as she shook the shotgun a bit to draw his attention away from her cleavage. 

“What do you want?” she demanded.

“Miss Phelps, why don’t you put that shotgun down so we can talk to each other?” he requested, but she wasn’t buying it.

“I don’t know you, Mister, and this gun stays right where it is until you state your business and leave.”

“I’m not going to be leaving, Miss Phelps.  I was hired by your Grandfather to come here and get this place running as it should be.”  He was positive that once the young woman knew her Grandfather hired him that she would put the gun down and welcome him properly, but instead her bold eyes roamed over him insolently, head to toe and back up again to meet his eyes derisively.  It was that impudent look that caused his right palm to itch with a need to meet out a blistering spanking on her rounded bottom… No, he immediately corrected himself… Her rounded bare bottom!  If she flashed her beautiful green eyes at the wrong man in that manner, she could very well find herself flat on her back with her legs spread.

You are Percy Flowers?” she asked, wanting to laugh.  The man standing before her looked more like a gunslinger than he did the bespectacled ranch manager she’d been expecting to see standing on her porch. 

He ground his teeth together, trying to suppress the second urge to spank her silly.  “My name is Percy John Flowers; I go by PJ.”  Once again he cursed his father for permitting his great-grandmother to name him for her much loved grandfathers.  He hated his name, always had, always would.  He’d gotten into so many fights over the years because of his ridiculous name that he’d lost count, and he knew for a fact that it was why he took to wearing his gun low on his hip.  Most men had the good sense not to provoke a confrontation over his name, but this little chit was openly laughing at him, and she was about to wish she hadn’t!

“Mr. Flowers, we will no longer be needing your services,” she said the last thing he expected to hear.  “Granddad died two weeks ago, and we’ll be fine on our own.  I’m sorry you made the trip for nothing.  I sent you a telegram, but you obviously didn’t receive it before you left.”

“No, I didn’t receive the telegram, Miss Phelps, but it doesn’t make any difference.  Your Grandfather hired me as ranch manager, or foreman, and I have a signed contract.  You are underage, and it was his wish that I supervise you and the younger children as well in case he died before you were married to a capable man.  I do not suppose you have married, Miss Phelps?” he asked softly.

“I have no intention of marrying, and you can take that contract and shove it where the sun don’t shine!” she angrily declared.  “You are not coming in here and taking over this ranch, Percy Flowers!” She taunted him with the use of his name.  “I am running this ranch now, and I won’t have some stranger coming in here and bossing us around.  Get off my front porch before I shoot you dead.  The Sheriff will believe me if I tell him you tried to force yourself on me!”

It was the third time since he’d stepped on the porch that she’d provoked him into taking her in hand, and PJ wasn’t a man to push to the ends of the earth and back before he did something about the situation.  Before she could blink he took the shotgun from her hands, leaned it against the door frame, and then grabbed her wrist and pulled her toward him.  She started struggling, but PJ was used to hard work and he was a very strong man.  He had no trouble lifting her off her feet and carrying her over to the porch steps.  He sat down on the top step, and then dragged her down across his lap.  She was yelling bloody murder, asking for help, but a quick look about the yard and the outbuildings told PJ that no one was coming to her aid.  “This is exactly what you need and deserve, little girl.”  He brought his hand down on the worn fabric covering her bottom.  She yelped in surprise and outrage.  There was still no one coming to assist her, and PJ shook his head.  The girl didn’t even realize that the men in the bunkhouse and down by the corral were collecting their pay for doing nothing and laughing at her behind her back.  They didn’t even care enough about their employer to rescue her from a perfect stranger. 

“Damn you, let me go, you low down snake!  I’m going to carve you to pieces!” she threatened, yelling at him.  She let loose with a string of curses, calling him the son of a whore!

“You shouldn’t have said that about my Mama, little girl.  I take exception to that and now you’ll get your spanking without all of this padding!”  He whacked her butt once more and then deliberately tossed up her dress and the petticoats and shift she wore underneath.  The only garment he left covering her rounded cheeks was her thin cotton drawers, and they were even older than the dress, and just as tight!  They wouldn’t offer one bit of protection from his hand and the blistering he intended to administer.  He started spanking in earnest and Miss Phelps kicked her legs and cursed him soundly.  The more she cursed, the harder he spanked.  Finally, she stopped kicking and burst into tears.  PJ still didn’t stop spanking her backside even though he could see that her bottom was turning red beneath the worn cotton of her drawers.  “Cursing a man when he is spanking you is not a wise thing to do, little girl.  Neither is telling a man you are going to lie about him trying to rape you!”  He gave her another dozen hard spanks right on her delicate sit spots and she finally started telling him she was sorry and apologizing  for losing her temper.  He was pretty sure that he’d given her enough for one blistering.  He released her, and he wasn’t a bit surprised when she jumped up off his lap and ran straight into the large house.  A moment or two later he heard a door slam in the distance.  PJ got to his feet and headed down to the bunk house.  Now he needed to spank some ranch hands into shape.

*****

Amy Phelps slammed the door to her bedroom and then threw herself on her bed, hugging a soft pillow to her as she cried.  Once the tears started, she couldn’t stop them.  She was crying for her parents, for her Granddad, and most of all, she was crying because a stranger with the idiotic name of Percy Flowers dared to spank her like a little girl!  Her bottom felt like it was on fire, and she could honestly say it was the worst spanking of her nineteen years!  Oh, she’d been spanked before… but as a child… not as an adult, and she was an adult now; an adult with tons of responsibility!  Taking care of Granddad and her younger siblings for the last three years had been difficult.  And for a stranger to come here and calmly announce that she wasn’t doing a good job was insulting as could be and she wished she’d blown him to kingdom come!

Amy finally got up off her bed and crossed the room to stand before her full length mirror.  She gathered her skirts about her waist and then she winced as she saw how shabby her drawers looked.  Money had been so scarce since her father and mother were killed that she’d done without anything new for herself.  The younger kids were still in school and they were the ones who needed new clothing in order to keep the other children from teasing them.  The fact that Amy was often talked about in a negative way because the bosoms of her dresses and shirtwaists were too tight didn’t matter to her… much.  She would love to have a few new things to wear, but the ranch was barely surviving and she wouldn’t take money for herself when they could need it to meet the payroll.  Once she dealt with her dismay over her worn underclothing, she gently eased her drawers down to her knees and gasped when she saw her reddened bottom in the mirror.  It looked every bit as hot and stingy as it felt!  That abominable man had spanked her bottom as well as her upper thighs and the tender area in between the two.  She was in some serious pain and there was no way on earth she would be able to sit at the supper table that night.  Amy carefully pulled up her drawers and retied them with the string she’d used to replace the ribbon that had frayed some time ago.

She then washed her face, fixed her hair, and went downstairs.  Her siblings would be home from school soon and she wanted to protect them from Percy Flowers.  If he would dare to spank her, then he would have no qualms at all about striking the children, and he would have to go through her to get to them!

By the time Amy went downstairs there was no sight of Percy Flowers anywhere.  One could hope that he’d left, but even as the thought crossed her mind she knew it wouldn’t be that simple.  Granddad signed a contract and she knew that Judge Wallace would support Percy.  Judge Wallace had expressed concern over her living situation ever since her Granddad’s heart attack.  The elderly man had assured her that he knew she had her siblings’ best interests at heart, but he felt that running the ranch was beyond her capabilities.  It simply wasn’t fair!  Just because she was a female she was being denied the opportunity to protect their very livelihood!  With that thought in mind Amy decided to go and talk to Percy Flowers.

The closer she got to the corrals that were located behind the barns, the more she realized that something wasn’t quite right.  Once she heard the cheering and jeering, she took off running.  To her absolute shock, Percy Flowers was inside the corral with three of her hands, and they were trying to beat the pulp out of him!

“Stop this immediately!” she ordered in the voice she used when her younger siblings started fussing with each other.  While it worked on the children, the men paid her absolutely no attention at all!

“Miss Amy, you’d best go on up to the house,” Amos ordered.  He was in his fifties, and had worked for her Granddad and Papa since before she was born.  “This is between the hired hands and the new boss.  He fired those three and they don’t like it much.”

“Why did he fire them?” she asked, curious as to why he would so such a thing when they were understaffed.

“Honey, it’s best you don’t know.  Go on up to the house, now,” he ordered a bit more firmly than before.

“Amos, I’m not a child.  What is happening?”  Her tone was firm, too.  She was tired of being treated like a child.

“Them three was bad mouthing you and sayin’ they’d take their pay but they weren’t workin’ none for a female.  They were treatin’ you like a fool, Miss Amy.”  He gave her a hard look, then added, “Some of the others felt the same, only now they’re waitin’ to see if the firing sticks or if the new boss runs off with his tail ‘tween his legs!”  He saw that Amy was angry, and he asked, “What do you intend to do, Miss Amy?”

“This ranch is my responsibility, and I’m not going to hide behind any man!”  She grabbed up a whip that was wrapped around one of the fence posts and in spite of her dress, she climbed the fence and dropped on the other side.  She uncoiled the whip and sent it flying and nipped one of the hands on her arm.  He grabbed the place and hollered.  She caught the second one next and he turned on her, ready to charge.  She got him again, and said, “Get off my ranch, Scarff.  You and these other two men are fired.  Since you’ve sat on your butts and done nothing for the last two weeks, you have no pay coming to you.  Clear out your gear and leave!”

“No man worth bein’ called a man takes orders from a woman!” Scarff spit in her direction, rubbing his neck where her lash caught him.

“Taking my money was all right, but doing work to earn the money wasn’t?  You are worthless, Scarff.”

“You wouldn’t of knowed a thing if this man hadn’t interfered,” the third man piped up, wiping his hand across his sweaty brow.

“Which means that Granddad was right to hire him,” she admitted, in spite of the blow to her pride.

“We ain’t done with you, Mister.” Scarff glared at Percy Flowers.

“It appeared to me that he was holding his own just fine against the three of you’uns,” Amos added his two cents worth.

“It is my ranch and I do the firing here.  I hope that is clear now.  If anyone else thinks they can goof off on my time, then best you ride out with these three.  I don’t pay slackers.”

A fourth man followed those three and Amy told Amos to follow them and make sure they only took what they were entitled to.  “You can give them a day’s worth of grub,” she added.  “I won’t force a man to do without food.”

“You’re a good woman, Miss Amy.”  Amos nodded at her, and then said, “You other men got work to do, don’t you?  I think the foreman is going to want words with Miss Amy.”  The man was glaring at the little gal and Amos figured it was best for him to stay out of the ensuing battle.  Miss Amy didn’t know how she’d shamed the man by stepping into his fight, but he suspected that she was going to know pretty soon.

“Let’s get you up to the house and I’ll tend your cuts and bruises, Mr. Flowers.  Your face is bleeding in several places.”  It made her feel terrible to see his handsome face so battered for trying to deal with what was essentially her problem.  “Do you have other injuries, too?” she asked, concerned for his welfare in spite of the fact that she was angry with him for spanking her so thoroughly.

“You and me are going to have a reckoning the likes of which you’ve never had,” PJ told her, getting to his feet slowly and trying not to groan as his ribs reminded him that he was black and blue there, too.

“If you wish to terminate the contract, then I will happily release you, Mr. Flowers.  This is my ranch and now that I know how some men feel about working for a female, I will have more care in the hiring.  I will also take more time to supervise the work.”

“You will butt out of the operations of this ranch, little girl.  It is my job to do the hiring and the firing, and if I have to take you over my knee each and every time you interfere, then I will do so.  Now, we’ll go up to the house so we have some privacy to tend to this matter, unless you want me to take you over my knee out here where anyone can watch?”

Eres un bastardo arrogante, imposible y desagradable!” She cursed him fluently in Spanish.

“Advertí que usted no hablara mal de mi Madre,” PJ responded immediately and watched as the redhead’s pretty face showed surprise, and then turned a telltale red.

Amy and her siblings knew Spanish very well since it was their Mama’s native language.  She was used to resorting to the language when she wanted to say something nasty that she knew wouldn’t be appreciated.  Calling Percy Flowers an arrogant, impossible, disagreeable bastard wasn’t the smartest thing to do since he reminded her that he’d warned her not to speak ill of his mother.  She knew her cheeks were a flaming red because all she could think of was the stinging swats he’d given her earlier for the same darn thing.  “I apologize, Mr. Flowers,” she forced the words past her lips.

“You will be,” he said, looking at her meaningfully.  “Two tannings in one day.  Your Grandfather said you could be a handful, but this is clearly a case of ‘outside in’.”

“I don’t have a clue as to what you are talking about, Mr. Flowers, but I will not be insulted.  My Granddad was also a handful, and I have spent the last three years taking care of him and my brothers and sisters.  If that makes me a ‘handful’, then so be it.  I didn’t ask for the responsibility, but I accepted it.  I don’t need you riding in here and finding fault with me when you have no idea what’s been going on.”  She was insulted and it showed on her pretty face.

“Outside in means that you are pretty as can be on the outside and someone needs to take you in hand and turn all that outside pretty inward and make you as pretty on the inside as you are on the outside.”

“How dare you speak to me that way?” she demanded, hurt by his remark.

“You swear; you dress like a woman who wants attention; you butt into a fight between men; and you took a whip to a human being.  Since your Grandfather hired me to take on this place and supervise his grandkids if he wasn’t here to do it himself, I dare say anything I please.  You are in for another painful retribution, Miss Phelps.”  When she would have run away, he reached out and took her arm.  “You come with me,” he ordered in a firm tone of voice.

“Let me go!” she hissed angrily.

“As you said, my cuts need attention.  I would be grateful if you stopped the bleeding.”

Amy looked up at him, wanting to refuse him, but it wasn’t in her nature to do so.  She couldn’t deny another human being medical attention when it was needed.  “Very well; I will tend you because it was the way I was raised.  Don’t expect me to be gentle about it, though!” she warned.

“Outside in,” he repeated the words, unaware of their sting.  Once they were inside she led the way to a large, spacious kitchen that looked homey and well used.  There was a large table that would set at least twelve people without much effort.  There were cupboards along three walls, and a door that led to what he suspected was a basement and another door that led to a back porch.  There was also a work table and a couple of stools, and PJ decided that Miss Phelps and her siblings spent a good deal of time in the large, immaculately clean kitchen.

Amy went directly to one of the cupboards and took out a small box containing medical supplies.  She then filled a basin with warm water from the stove’s reservoir.  “Sit down at the table, Mr. Flowers,” she insisted when he was ready to perch on one of the stools.  “You are too tall to sit on the stool.”

He smiled at that, even though it made his face hurt something terrible.  “You are a little thing,” he teased.

“I can hold my own,” she said shortly.  Once he was seated she took a cloth and dipped it in the basin and once she squeezed out the success water she dabbed at the cut right above his eye.  He winced and she gentled her touch even though he hadn’t complained.

“You aren’t as fierce as you would like to think you are.”

“Don’t push me too far or you will learn differently.”

“I think it is you who will learn differently.”  PJ sat still while she cleaned his wounds and then dabbed a fiery liquid over the cuts.  He wanted to howl like a little kid getting a walloping, but he grit his teeth and bore the pain as stoically as possible.  The little brat smiled triumphantly as she looked at him and he knew darn well that she’d enjoyed giving him a dose of pain.  “You enjoyed that,” he accused.

“I certainly did, Mr. Flowers.”  Amy saw no reason to lie.

“And I am certainly going to enjoy giving you your comeuppance.”  

“You have no right at all to treat me as a child, Percy Flowers.  I won’t permit it a second time.”

“Honey, you aren’t big enough to stop me.”  She glared at him and he saw something wicked gleaming in the depths of her beautiful green eyes.  The girl was so beautiful it was distracting.  “This time I expect you to bring me a wooden spoon, then pull up your skirts and bend over the table.”

Amy laughed.  “There is no way in hell I’m going to do that, Mister.  Your face is doctored, so you can just get yourself out of my kitchen and out of my home.  I’d prefer it if you left this ranch altogether, but we are so far from town that you would spend half your day riding back and forth.  You can take a bunk in the bunkhouse with the other hired hands.”  She turned her back to pick up the basin and she walked to the kitchen door and gave the water a toss, right on the new grass she was nursing into growth.  “Oh…” she said as she turned around to look at him.  “…How much did Granddad agree to pay you?  I need to know so that I can work it into the budget.  Although now that we are four hands down I should have enough to pay your fee.  Depending on your salary, I will let you know how many men you may hire to replace those fired.”

“That is not your decision to make, Miss Phelps.  I will decide how many men to hire, and I will also be doing the books and paying the men.  I expect you to tell me how much money you need to run the house.”

“Wrong.  I have done the books and paid the bills for the last three years; I’m not handing my responsibility over to you so that you can rob us blind!”  She was angry and it wasn’t until the words left her mouth that she realized how he would take them.

“Girl, you go too far with that sharp tongue.  You are going to get the spanking of your life, and you can just forget the wooden spoon; I’m going to use my belt!”  He started for her, determined to carry out the punishment she so richly deserved, but a door slammed and they were suddenly joined by two little boys and a little girl in pigtails the same vibrant red as her older sister’s hair.

“Amy, Amy!  Charlie’s carryin’ Becky home.  She fell and is sayin’ her leg is broke!  She’s cryin’ like a dumb ole girl, too!”

“It’s your fault, Davey.  You pushed her down,” Erin claimed.  “Charlie said to tell you to be ready, Amy.  He thinks that Becky badly sprained her ankle.”

“Who are you and what are you doin’ in our house?” the youngest boy demanded, staring up at PJ.