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Chapter One

Pine Ridge, Nevada
May 21, 1870

“Thank you, Miss Jenny.” The pretty little blond looked up at Jennifer with the biggest blue eyes that Jennifer had ever seen.

“You’re welcome, Susie,” Jennifer said with a warm smile that came straight from the heart.  “Do you think you can carry that package all the way home to your Mama?” she asked, her heart going out to the child.  Susie’s Papa was dying and couldn’t be left alone; Alma Beckley had no choice but send her only child to the store for the few meager supplies they could afford.  Susie loved peppermint sticks, but there was never any money to pay for them.  Jennifer always made sure the child went home with at least a handful, in spite of Mr. MacGregor’s stingy way of thinking.

Once the little girl was out of hearing, Petey turned to Jennifer and whispered, “You’re gonna make ole MacGregor mad at you, Jenny.  You know he don’t cotton to you givin’ away those peppermint sticks,” the thirteen-year-old boy who swept up the store after school every day warned.

“It’s only a few pieces and Susie has so little.  I just want to see her smile.”

“She’s an okay kid… for a girl,” Petey said with a shrug.

The man who had been looking at hats and trying them on in another corner of the store called out, “Miss, I think I’ll take this one.”

“Yes, sir,” Jennifer politely replied, smiling at the stranger.  One of the most interesting aspects of this job was meeting all the new people who came to Pine Ridge and settled here.  She started across the floor to wait on the handsome man when Angus MacGregor came tearing into the store, his mustache wobbling with indignation.

“Lassie, did you give Susie Beckley more peppermint sticks after I expressly told ye not to be giving away me candy?” he demanded, his Scottish brogue more pronounced than usual because he was so angry.  When Jennifer’s cheeks turned a guilty red and she lowered her green eyes to the floor the man sighed in resignation.  “Verra well then.  Step into the back.  We’ll be havin’ a discussion with me tawse about stealin’ from your employer.”

Jennifer was horrified at the thought of a physical punishment from the man.  She felt she was much too old for the like, and the tawse that he spoke of looked wicked.  Angus MacGregor was a stern man, and while he’d threated to thrash her before, she didn’t believe he would actually do so.  She racked her brain for something she could say that would spare her the indignation he had planned for her.

“Now, hold on a moment.  Don’t be so hasty.”  The man with the new hat in his hands came forward, a smile on his face.  “Don’t be blaming Miss Jenny for something I did, sir.  Why, that little Susie is cute as can be and she helped me decide to buy this hat.  I offered her some peppermint sticks, and I intend to pay for them right now.”  The expression on the pretty little redhead’s face was priceless, and even though Alex was positive the storeowner didn’t believe him, he didn’t dare call a customer a liar, especially one who was making a fairly sizable purchase.  The hat was real quality and Alex was happy to find it here in such a small town.

“Verra well,” Angus’ burr was pronounced as he moved to tally up the sale himself.  He joked with the younger man, trying to find out his business in town without sounding nosy.  All he learned was that Alex Martin was staying at the hotel for a few days.

Petey finished up sweeping and then helped Mr. MacGregor move some boxes around in the storeroom.  He earned every penny he made working for the man, but he was saving up to buy a horse of his own, one he didn’t have to share with three brothers.  His Pa said if he could earn the money himself, then he could buy whatever he wanted… as long as he did all his chores at home, too.  Petey said goodbye to Angus and to Jennifer and then took off running.  He needed to get his chores done or there would be a trip to the woodshed, and that was one thing he didn’t want.

There were a few customers after Petey left and Jenny was grateful when it was time to close the store for the night.  She was looking forward to a good supper at Mrs. Neely’s boarding house, and to a few minutes to herself to read before bedtime.  The next day was Sunday and she would have to rise early to go to church, but then the entire day would be hers to do with as she pleased! “Goodnight, Mr. MacGregor,” she called out, thankful she brought along her shawl to protect her from the chill in the night air.

“Dinna be so fast, lassie.  Ye dinna think I believed that mon earlier today, did ye?” Angus leveled his dark eyes on her and looked at her until she couldn’t help squirming.  “I ken that ye feel sorra for the wee lassie, but ye canna be stealin’ from me.”

Jennifer swallowed hard when she saw that he’d brought the tawse from the storeroom into the store.  “I’m sorry, Mr. MacGregor.  I won’t do it again,” she promised.

“I’ve heard that before,” he said quietly.  “This time I’ll make sure ye ken me meaning.”  He reached for her and pulled her over to the candy counter and told her to lean forward and place her hands on the counter.

“Please don’t do this, Mr. MacGregor!” Jennifer pleaded.

“It is for your own good, lassie.”  He raised his arm and laid the well-worn tawse across the rounded part of her skirts.  When she yelped, he nodded.  “Aye, it stings, and ye will ken I am a mon of me word.”  With practiced ease he gave her four more hard licks with the tawse, and she was crying loudly by then.  “Dinna carry on so, lassie.  Wasna a harsh lesson; I let ye keep your skirts, dinna I?  Go on home with ye now and dinna be givin’ away me peppermint sticks.”

Jennifer was acutely embarrassed.  She grabbed her shawl and her handbag and ran from the store.  She couldn’t very well go to the boarding house right now or Mrs. Neely would ask her what was wrong.  Jenny was humiliated that Mr. MacGregor had punished her with a strap, and she vowed she wouldn’t tell a single soul.  Mindlessly, she ran in the direction of the lake that lie close to town.  At this time of night she should be alone.  Most folks were home eating their supper, but she would have to do without this evening.  How could Angus be so mean to her?  He’d told her over and over again that she was good for his business, and he praised her for working so hard.  Then he used that horrid strap on her for giving a handful of peppermint sticks to little Susie…!  It was unbelievable!

“Lookee here, Mort.  We have us a crying little gal who’s all alone and needing comfort.  Hello, Miss Jenny.”

Jennifer was suddenly aware that she was in danger.  Mort and Lefty worked for the Big P spread a few miles out of town, and they were always in some sort of trouble… mostly over girls who worked in the saloon.  When they came into the store, Angus always sent her into the storeroom to count the bolts of fabric they had left and then tell him what colors they needed to order.  Angus did his best to protect her from their crude ways, but he wasn’t here to protect her now.  She was all alone and Mort and Lefty knew it.  “Excuse me.  Mrs. Neely is waiting supper for me.”  She tried to walk away, but Lefty grabbed her.

“Don’t be in such a hurry, honey.  Mort and me want to get to know you better, ain’t that right, Mort?”  Lefty was practically panting.

“Sure, Lefty,” Mort agreed with Lefty, just like he always did.  “We gonna have us some fun?” he wanted to know.

“Why, of course we are.  Miss Jenny must get awful lonely livin’ in that boarding house all alone.  She came out here hoping to meet up with us.”

“I did not!” Jennifer hotly denied.  “Let me go!” She tried to jerk her arm free of Lefty’s grasp.

“I don’t think so, honey.  We’re going to get to know each other real well before tonight is over.”  He tried to kiss her and Jennifer slapped him as hard as she could.  “Now, that was uncalled for, woman.  I was planning to be real nice to you, but now you’re gonna get it fast and hard.”

Jennifer kicked him and turned into a spitting wildcat in an effort to free herself, but she was no match for two of them, and it didn’t take them long to wrestle her to the ground.  “I’ll kill you if you touch me!” she shouted at them.

“I’m going to touch you alright, bitch.”  Lefty was mad and he raised his hand to slap her.  A shot was fired and Lefty screamed as the bullet went through the palm of his hand and lodged in Mort who had the misfortune to be standing behind him.  Mort went down without a sound.

“Let the lady go,” a deep voice called out.

“Aww, I was just joshing her some,” Lefty defended himself, but he quickly released his hold on Jennifer.  She just as quickly scrambled to her feet.

“Joshing time is over.  Get your friend and get out of here.”

“I’m hurt bad.  You shot up my hand!” Lefty was in tears as the pain tore through him.

“It’s a small price for attempting to rape this lady.”

“She wanted it or she wouldn’t a been out here alone,” Lefty whined.

“That’s not true!” Jennifer cried out, trying to pull the torn fabric of her shirtwaist together.

“Mort’s dead!” Lefty exclaimed when he tried to get him up.  “This is all your fault, bitch!  My best friend is dead because of you!”  He started to raise his other hand to her and thought better of it.  “I’ll tell Mr. Patterson what you done!” he threatened, and then took off running for town… and a doctor.

“Are you all right now, Miss Jennifer?”  The man stepped out of the shadows to ask.

Jenny recognized him as the man from the store who paid for Susie’s peppermint sticks earlier.  “I’m pretty shaken up,” she admitted.  “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”

“You shouldn’t be out here alone,” Alex Martin said quietly.  If he hadn’t spotted her from his hotel room window and followed her, those two would have raped her.  “In fact, I feel like turning you over my knee for a good sound spanking for being so foolish.”  To his surprise, she burst into tears.

“Am I so terrible that I make men want to beat me?” she asked sorrowfully.

“I didn’t say anything about a beating.  I said I wanted to spank you.  There is a world of difference, Miss Jennifer.”

“Mr. MacGregor beat me with his tawse!” She blurted out the words.  “It was awful, and that is why I came out here instead of going home.  I didn’t want Mrs. Neely to see me crying and ask questions about why.”

“He beat you; even after I paid for the candy you gave that child?” Alex was instantly angry.  “How badly are you injured?  I’ll get you to the doctor.”  He reached out to take her arm and help her walk if need be.

“I’m not injured and I don’t need a doctor.  I smart a little bit, but I will be fine by tomorrow,” Jennifer admitted, blushing with embarrassment.  “I think he hurt my pride more than my posterior.”

“I see,” Alex refrained from smiling.  “He didn’t beat you, either… Just gave you a spanking?  Right?” He wanted clarification.

Jennifer nodded.  “I’m so sorry I made it sound worse; it did hurt, however.”

“It was supposed to hurt, young lady.  He wanted to give you a lesson that stealing is wrong, even if it is a few peppermint sticks for a sweet little girl.”  He reached into his pocket and took out a coin.  “Here, you take this, and the next time Susie comes into the store, you give her some peppermint sticks on me.  Make sure the Scotsman sees you pay for them.  Okay?”

“Okay.  Thank you, Mr. Martin.  This is very nice of you.”  She smiled.  “And it was very nice of you to come to my rescue tonight.”

“Do not let me catch you out walking alone at night again, young lady, or I will give into temptation and put you over my knee.  Is that understood, Miss Jennifer?” Alex asked firmly.

“You don’t have the right to do that!” She decided to be contrary and argue.

“I saved you from those two cowboys; I reckon that gives me the right.”

“It does not!  I am not a child!” she protested, incensed by his attitude and his presumption that she would permit him to touch her in that manner!

“Only a little girl would stand there fussing at me instead of admitting I’m right,” Alex reasoned.

“I already told you that this isn’t something I normally do, and really, you do not have the right to threaten me with chastisement.  You aren’t my father or my husband.”

“No, but I promise you that I will wallop you soundly if there is ever a next time.”  Alex refused to back down.  The little redhead needed discipline.

“You are impossible!” she hissed at him.

“I’m about to show you just how impossible I can be, Miss Jenny,” he told her, gently touching the tip of her nose with his forefinger.  He looked down into her angry eyes until she lowered them in defeat.  Only then did he say, “Let me escort you home.”

“I don’t need an escort, Mr. Martin.”  She didn’t want to have to explain his presence to her straight-laced landlady.  “In fact, I just want to be alone now.  Excuse me.”  She tried to walk away but Alex stepped in front of her.

“In case I didn’t make myself clear, young lady, I am going to walk you home so that you arrive safely.  Now, take my arm and we’ll head back to town.”

“What about him?” she suddenly balked at the idea of leaving Mort lying there.

“I’ll speak to the Sheriff.”

“What if he throws you in jail?”

He won’t,” Alex promised, giving her a reassuring smile.

Jennifer saw no way to thwart the man; he spoke with such authority that she found herself obeying him, even when she truly didn’t want to.  As they walked toward town, they met up with the Sheriff and two of his deputies.  When they saw Jenny with Alex Martin, they pulled their guns and told Alex to put his hands up.

“You’re under arrest for shooting down Mort Smith,” the Sheriff said in his gravelly voice.

“Sheriff, I don’t know what Lefty told you, but Mr. Martin rescued me.  I went for a walk, and Lefty and Mort attempted to force themselves on me.  Mr. Martin stopped Lefty from slapping me, and Mort was shot as well.”  Jennifer did her best to defend Alex.

“It’s all right, Miss Jenny,” Alex said softly.  “I’ll handle this.  Sheriff, may I show you my badge and identification?” he asked.  When the man’s eyes went wide and he nodded, Alex took out his badge and explained, “I am here to look into all the rustling that’s been going on.”

“Well, Marshal, we’ll help you all we can,” Clyde offered, putting his gun in his holster, and then holding out his hand in a gesture of trust.

Alex shook the man’s hand and then asked, “I hope I can trust all of you to keep it quiet about the reason I’m here…?  I am trying to gather information, and you know how it is, Sheriff… If everyone knows I’m a U. S. Marshal, they’ll clam up and not tell me a darn thing.”

“Ain’t that the pure truth!  You two boys keep your lips buttoned.  Miss Jenny, I’m asking you nicely to do the same,” Clyde was solemn.

“You’re a U. S. Marshal?” Jenny asked in surprise.

“I am, Miss Jenny.  And, I am still going to see you safely home.  Sheriff, we left Mort’s body down by the lake.  I don’t have any false illusions about Lefty; he is blaming Miss Jenny for Mort’s death, so we all need to keep an eye out for him and keep him away from her so she’ll be safe.”

“We’ll do that, too, Marshal.” One of the deputies eagerly spoke up, hoping to make a good impression on his boss and the Marshal, too.”

“You bet you will,” Clyde nodded in agreement.  “Miss Jenny, if you have any trouble at all, you send someone for me.”

“Thank you, Sheriff,” she politely responded.  Her tummy chose that moment to rumble and she was so embarrassed she wanted to crawl under the sidewalk and hide.

“Miss Jenny and I are going to go to the hotel dining room and get us some supper.  Would any of you care to join us?” Alex asked courteously.

“No, sir, we got rounds to make.  Miss Jenny, you shouldn’t go walking by yourself at night; it ain’t safe for a pretty girl like you.” Clyde felt the need to scold the girl.  She didn’t have a pa, uncle, or brother to do it, so he felt it was his duty.  Or, he could speak to Angus…?

“I won’t do it again, Sheriff,” Jennifer promised, tears stinging her eyes once more.  Why was everyone blaming her for what those men did?  They were the ones in the wrong!  Yet, she was being scolded over and over for simply going for a walk!  It wasn’t fair!  In fact, it wasn’t one bit fair.  “Did you tell Lefty that what he did was wrong?” she demanded, her temper surfacing and making itself known.

“Miss Jenny, you need to calm down.  Lefty has paid for his crime.  He won’t be able to use that left hand of his for a long while, and his boss is going to fire him when he has to explain what he did to get himself shot and Mort dead.  You are safe now and that is all that matters.  Let’s go and eat some supper.  I don’t know about you, but my belly is empty as can be.”

Jennifer couldn’t recall one other time when she felt so utterly disgusted.  Lefty and Mort would have harmed her in the most heinous matter possible and he wasn’t even sitting in jail!  “My belly is none of your concern, Marshal, and for your information, I do not feel that losing his job is adequate punishment for what Lefty attempted to do to me.  If you and these other so-called lawmen will not see justice done, then I will simply have to see to it myself!”  She attempted to flounce off, but Alex wasn’t having it.  He put his hands on her shoulders and stopped her before she took more than a few steps.

“Miss Jenny, that comment was uncalled for.  Apologize to the Sheriff, and then we are going to have a serious talk.”

“I am not going to apologize!” she stubbornly declared.

“It’s alright, Marshal.  Miss Jenny is just upset right now; she is a real sweet girl.”

Alex nodded.  “I’m sure you are right, Sheriff, and I am sure that once she has had time to think she will be anxious to say ‘sorry’ to you.”

The Sheriff and his deputies moved on, doing their job of making sure the town was secure for the night.  Alex wished he dared to take Jenny to his room at the hotel, but her reputation would be ruined if he did.  If he took her to the boarding house she lived in, they would have no privacy.  The only place he thought they might be alone was in the jail while the other lawmen were on their rounds.  He walked Jenny through the door and then locked it behind him with the thick wooden bar. 

“What are we doing in here?” Jenny asked, her green eyes full of apprehension.

Alex ignored her question to check the cells for prisoners and was satisfied they were alone, and that the back door was also locked against intruders.  He returned to Jenny and put his hands on his hips.  “Young lady, that last comment you made just got you into a heap of trouble with me.  You can’t go after Lefty.  He’s bigger than you are and he’s stronger.  He’s also meaner.  You are in a dangerous mood, and for your own good, I’m going to take you in hand.”

“What are you going to do?” Jenny asked, taking a couple of steps backward.

“I am going to give you a sound spanking, Miss Jenny, and I won’t spank you over your skirts, either.  You need to settle that temper of yours before you get into trouble you can’t handle.”  He reached for her and she slapped at his hand.

“No!  Don’t!  I am not a child!  I don’t know why Mr. MacGregor and you both think to punish me in the same day.  It is humiliating, and I won’t stand for it!”

“You need your bottom warmed, young lady, and you might as well realize that it is going to happen right this very minute.”  Alex was through talking.  He pulled Jenny over to where he was seated on top of one corner of the desk, one foot planted firmly on the floor.  He lifted Jenny and dropped her over his left thigh and then he tossed up her skirts to reveal her lace-trimmed drawers.  They were tied with a blue ribbon, but he hesitated to untie the ribbon and bare her bottom.  She would be shamed enough with this much exposure.  He raised his hand and spanked her with his open palm, once, twice, and the third time his hand fell, Jenny cried out in pain.  Alex realized that her boss didn’t do a bit of damage with the tawse, and he smiled.  That was the problem.  The Scotsman failed to make her sorry for her behavior, and he left her in a temper.

“Please, let me go!” Jenny cried out, trying to push her skirts down to cover her undergarment.  “This is so embarrassing!”

“A spanking should be embarrassing, and it should sting like fire, and see to it that sitting isn’t comfortable for a while.”  He spanked again and then again.

Jenny squealed.  How he could put so much into one spank with his hand was beyond her!  Mr. MacGregor didn’t hurt her nearly as much with his leather tawse!  “Please, no more!  I’m sorry!”

“Jenny, you are the one who reminded me that you are not a little girl, and I’m not going to insult you with a child’s spanking.  You are going to get a spanking worthy of your age and the tantrum you’ve been having ever since your boss gave you a few swats with his tawse.  His problem was that he spanked you like a little girl when he should have larruped you good.” 

“He shouldn’t have spanked me at all!” Jennifer raged.  “And neither should you!  If my Papa was still living, he wouldn’t permit anyone to treat me like this!” she insisted.

“Did your Papa ever do this… or this?” Alex asked, smacking her cheeks with vigor.

“Owwww!”  No!  Of course not!” she insisted.  “Let me go, you jerk!”

“Calling me names while I have you turned up for a spanking isn’t the smartest thing you could do, Miss Jenny,” he said quietly, but his eyes were full of good humor.  “Now then, let’s get serious about this spanking.  You are going to promise me that you’ll stay away from Lefty and get rid of this idea of revenge.  Do you hear me?” he demanded, giving her rump a hearty smack.

“You are not the boss of me, U. S. Marshal Alex Martin!”

To be continued…

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