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Chapter One

“Sir, begging your pardon, what if your daughter doesn’t wish to come home? Legally, she is an adult.”

“She is my little girl, and she’ll do what I tell her to do. My Susie doesn’t want to get married unless her sister is standing beside her as her maid of honor, and Sarah Jean will get her butt on home and do what is expected of her. Your job is to make sure she comes home.”

“What if I have to hogtie her to get her here?”

“Did you hear what I said, Drennan? You bring Sarah Jean home, kicking and screaming if that is what it takes. Sarah Jean is not going to upset Susie’s wedding plans. I don’t understand why that girl has to be so damned hardheaded and stubborn. She should have come home the second Susie wrote to her and asked her to. Then she ignored my letters, and my telegrams. I’m going to tear a damned strip off that girl when I see her.”

“Did she say why she didn’t want to come home?” Daniel asked curiously. His sisters could barely stand to be apart for a week, not to mention missing each other’s weddings! It just wouldn’t happen.

“Oh, she’s always been jealous of Susie. Knowing her, she’s probably just pouting a bit because Susie is marrying first. Believe me, I considered insisting that she marry first since she is the oldest, but no man in his right mind would have her unless he wanted a wife he had to take a stick to every damned day of the week. If I was Susie, I wouldn’t waste my time trying to be nice and do things the proper way. But, Susie wants her big sister here, and that is the way it’s gonna be. You go and get that girl, Drennan, and don’t you listen to one word of protest from her. Gag her and hogtie her if you have to. I want her home, and by damn, she’s not leavin’ again if I have to put bars on her windows and locks on her doors.”

“I’ll do my best, Mr. Connelly,” Daniel replied. “I’ll head out within the hour.”

“Naw, wait until morning. I want the girl home, but you’ve got time to sleep tonight and make sure you have plenty of provisions packed.”

“No, sir. There’s still time to get some miles behind me today. I’ll be on my way. If something comes up, wire ahead.”

“Take this money to cover any contingencies, Drennan. If Sarah Jean can behave, bring her home by coach and stopover in hotels along the way. If she misbehaves, do what you need to do to get her here. Tell her she will be a maid of honor at her sister’s wedding, or else.”

“I’ll fetch her home, sir.” It sounded to Daniel as though the man’s oldest daughter needed a damn good spanking, and if she gave him any trouble, she just might get one to remember. He couldn’t understand why Sarah Jean would be so mean to Susie, but he was determined to find out.

***

“Miss Connelly, Jarrod is pulling my braids!” Lucy Edwards screeched. “Make him stop.”

“Jarrod, what have I told you about pulling Lucy’s hair?” Sarah asked tiredly.

“You said she should cut her hair short so I couldn’t pull it,” he said with a wink and a mischievous grin that caused Sarah to giggle.

‘No, I did not, silly boy. Stop pulling Lucy’s hair or I am going to keep you after school and have a serious talk with your mother,” Sarah promised. “This is your only warning, Jarrod. Either you obey the rules, or we’ll discuss the matter with your mother.” Sarah felt she was being fair. She hated tattling of any sort, but the rules were in place so that all of her students had a chance to learn. She looked at the watch pinned to her bodice and realized that it was close to time to stop for lunch. Sarah knew how much the children looked forward to the long break in the middle of their day because she looked forward to the time just as much. “Children, let’s call it a morning and have our noon recess. Get your lunches and take them outside to eat. It looks to be a beautiful spring day.”

The children needed no urging. They would be busy eating for a few minutes, at least, and that would give her time to eat the sandwich she’d made that morning and read the letter that came for her. Sarah knew that it was probably more of the same – demands from her father that she come home to appear in Susie’s wedding, even though she didn’t want to. Why would she want to come home to more of Susie’s attempts to make her feel horrible? Her sister only wanted her there so that she could ‘pity’ her in front of the entire town – poor Sarah Jean, the older sister, and here little Susie was marrying before her. What a horrible thing! – Hogwash! Sarah wasn’t going to get married if she didn’t love the man she was marrying, and she certainly hadn’t met a man yet she could love and respect. Unlike Susie, she wasn’t going to marry the first man who asked her.

Sarah ate her sandwich, and took the time to erase the spelling words from the blackboard and write the new words the students would need to copy before leaving school today. They would also be tested this afternoon on the words she’d just erased. Hopefully, they would all do well.

“Miss Connelly, this telegram just came for you.” The young man standing beside her desk asked for her attention.

“Oh, thank you, Wally.”

“It sounded kinda important, so I figured I should bring it right over just in case.”

“Thank you, Wally. You are so considerate and I appreciate that.”

“You sure are welcome, Miss Connelly. Do you want me to wait for a reply?”

“No, thank you. It is probably another message from my father or sister about her wedding. Frankly, I’ll need some time to write a reply.”

“All right, Miss Connelly. You let me know if I can help you in any way.”

“Thanks, Wally.” Sarah was relieved to see him leave, but refused to be mean to the young man. He was harmless, and he had enough people making fun of him that he didn’t need for her join in. Reluctantly, she opened the telegram, and her eyes skimmed over the words in disbelief. It was from Katy, her best friend, and it read:

S having a fit stop GC hired a detective stop Goodbye stop K

Sarah cursed fluently, and then rang the bell to call the children inside. They were angry and grumbling at having their recess cut short. “Children, I am sorry, but I have an emergency and need to send all of you home right now. Go straight home.” She hurriedly shooed them out of the school, and while they were heading out, she grabbed the few items she couldn’t live without, and then locked the door behind her and ran to the small house beside the school that was hers as the town’s schoolteacher. Within minutes she was on her way out of town.

Sarah knew how to blend in, and when she rode to the next town over to send a telegram to the mayor of Abbotsville to let him know he needed to hire a replacement for her, the aging telegrapher didn’t even look up at her. She quickly left the town behind her and turned in the opposite direction and by dark she’d ridden back through the town where she’d lived for several months, no one the wiser as she hurried on her way.

“Sarah Jean Connelly,” Daniel said in the General Store. “Would you happen to know where she is?”

“She sent the children home yesterday at noon; said she had an emergency. Then the mayor received a telegram from Rickety Ladder telling ‘im she was offered another teaching job she couldn’t refuse. It ain’t right, if you ask me. We done had ‘er first, and she didn’t even give us a chance to pay ‘er more! She’s a good teacher, too.”

“Did she say who hired her?” Daniel asked, fishing for a lead.

“We just figured it was Rickety Ladder since that’s where the telegram came from. Why else would she go there?” the shopkeeper asked. “Hey, I don’t know you! Who are you, mister?”

“The name is Daniel Drennan. I’m a friend of Miss Connelly’s father and he asked me to say hello to her in person when he learned I was passing through town. Guess that’s not possible now, so I’ll just have to tell her father I missed her by a day.”

“You shore did, young man. Did you need anything besides information?” he asked.

“Yes, I could use some bacon, a few cans of beans, a couple pounds of flour, and some coffee. Oh, I almost forgot, I’d like some licorice, too. I have to have my candy,” Daniel said with a wide grin.

“Oh, Miss Connelly sure did have a sweet tooth, too. She came by nearly ever’ day for a penny’s worth of candy.”

Daniel made conversation with the man while he filled his order, and it was only through practice that he managed to hide the fact that he was aggravated. Someone tipped off Sarah Jean and he was positive of it. Once he paid for his purchases in the store, Daniel headed for the telegraph office. If Sarah Jean received a warning, then he needed to know who was keeping her informed. There was a lone young man in the office.

“Sir, can I help you?” the young man asked.

“I need to send a telegram to George Connelly in Rose Hill. He asked me to stop in and visit with Sarah Jean, but the owner of the General Store told me she took a job in Rickety Ladder.”

“She didn’t even say goodbye to me and I was her friend,” the young man declared with a frown. “And she ain’t in Rickety Ladder. She left town because of a telegram someone sent her.”

“Really? Was she frightened?”

“Naw, not really. She and her sister don’t get along, and her sister kept screamin’ at her to come on home. Miss Sarah said she wasn’t gonna go, but I think her sister havin’ a tantrum changed her mind.”

“Could be. Was the telegram sent by her sister then?”

“It was signed ‘K,’ ” Wally told the man, and then told him how much the telegram he hastily scribbled would cost to send. Daniel paid Wally and then walked out the door. Wally took the written note and crumpled it in his hand. He was proud of himself for protecting Miss Sarah even though she wasn’t here to know, and he would take the money the stranger paid him for the telegram and put it in the church collection plate on Sunday. That way he couldn’t be accused of stealing. Proud of himself, Wally picked up the broom and went to work.

***

“Daddy, I just can’t understand why my own sister hates me so much!” Susan Connelly cried daintily into her lace-trimmed hanky, and watched through tear-filled eyes as her father’s blue eyes filled with anger, anger toward Sarah Jean.

“She doesn’t hate you, Susie, honey. Sarah Jean is pro’bly embarrassed to stand up with you since she is older and not married.”

“That is just an excuse! She hates me and is ruining my wedding!” Susie insisted with a pout. Truthfully, all of her plans would be ruined if she married Caleb Wintrow and she couldn’t poke fun at her older sister throughout the parties before and afterwards.

“Susan.” Caleb sat across from her and frowned. “It doesn’t matter if Sarah Jean comes to the wedding. The two people who matter most will be there, and the wedding will happen. I think you need to give your sister some understanding.”

“How would you feel if Joe said he didn’t want to be your best man, Cal?” Susie turned her tear-filled blue eyes on her fiancé.

“It isn’t the same for men, Susan, and you know it. We couldn’t care less who gets married first and who doesn’t. That is just a silly female thing, but your sister is hurt and embarrassed.”

“It’s not my fault Sarah Jean hasn’t married.” Susie didn’t like the fact that Caleb was arguing with her.

There was a knock on the front door and George got to his feet and answered the door. He invited the young couple inside and offered them some of the dessert and coffee the group was being served.

“I don’t think you’ll want us to stay after Katy tells you what she did, Mr. Connelly,” Devon Marks said matter-of-factly. He looked at his wife meaningfully, but Kate glared right back at him, not one bit intimidated.

“I’m sure our Katy didn’t do anything so terrible, son. Katy, I know that Sarah Jean’s being gone has upset you, too.”

“I urged her to go, Mr. Connelly. You only think of what Susie wants and never about Sarah Jean!” she accused, and he reeled in surprise. “Susie makes Sarah Jean’s life a living hell, and you, sir, are blind to Sarah’s feelings. Susie is a spoiled, pampered, lying little witch!”

“Now, girl, that is enough!” George defended his daughter.

“Yes, I know. No one dares to tell you the truth about your precious Susie.”

“You’ve turned a regular spanking into a strapping, Kathryn,” Devon spoke sharply. “Tell Mr. Connelly what you did so that we can go home and go about changing your attitude.”

“If you punish me for telling him the truth, Devon, I will leave you. That is not a threat; it is a bona fide promise. Hear me?” she demanded, putting her balled fists on her hips to glare at the man she loved, in spite of his tendency to be too damned strict with her.

“I’ll come after you and stripe you with a switch the whole of the way home,” he made a promise of his own. “Stop stalling and talk.”

“Fine. When I heard you sent that detective after Sarah, I sent her a telegram and warned her. He won’t find her!” She turned to Susie and said, “She will not be here for your wedding, so you can stop planning on making her miserable. And, Cal,” she said as she turned toward him. “You need to rethink marrying this woman. The real Susan is nothing like the daddy’s girl she pretends to be. She is a cold, calculating bitch, especially where Sarah Jean is concerned.” Kate then turned on her heel and stomped out of the house while her husband apologized for her lack of manners. She was already in the buggy when Devon joined her. He took up the reins and their horse flew down the path that had been made from years of use.

“I cannot believe the way you behaved back there, young lady.” Devon was angry and making no bones about it. “You are not going to sit for a week, at least,” he promised his pretty little wife.

“I would think hard and long about that, Devon. I have been Sarah Jean’s friend for the last eighteen years, much longer than I have known you. We are loyal to each other, and it was high time someone stood up to George Connelly and told him the truth about his precious little Susie. You wait and see; Susie won’t marry Caleb unless it provides her with the opportunity to torment Sarah Jean.”

“Do you really believe that?” He was shocked.

“I do. Susie is a spoiled bitch, and I’d like to slap the snot out of her. I will not be happy with you, Devon Marks, if you spank me for defending my best friend.”

“Oh, you are going to be spanked, Katy. You disobeyed me when I told you that you were not to interfere in Connelly family business. You warned Sarah Jane of the detective that Mr. Connelly hired, and when I brought you here to ‘fess up, you told off Mr. Connelly and said nasty things about Susie. You did as you were warned not to do, and you will be spanked for doing so, and you will also receive ten with my belt for insulting Mr. Connelly when he has been nothing but nice to you all these years.”

“I just hope that Sarah Jean got away.”

“Sarah Jean needs to stop behaving like a child and come home and work out her problems with Susie and her father, and you, Mrs. Marks, need to butt out of the situation.”

“Sarah Jean needs someone on her side.”

“It will not be you.” Devon stopped the buggy, and then he jumped down to the ground and reached for Katy and lifted her from the buggy. “We are going to start your spanking right here and now, young lady. Maybe sitting on the buggy seat afterwards will add to the lesson and cause you to think instead of folding your arms and digging in your heels in anger.

“You can’t mean to spank me here, Devon. Someone could come along.”

“I am sure they will understand a man’s need to take his sassy wife in hand.” Devon found a spot to sit down, a fallen tree a bit off the road, and once he was seated, he pulled Katy down over his knee and tossed up her skirts. But when he reached for the ribbon holding her drawers up, Katy screeched in fury and tried to get away from him.

“Don’t you dare take down my drawers, Devon Marks! Someone could come along and see me!”

“I spank on the bare, wife, as well you know.”

“Not out here where someone could come along!” she argued. “Devon, you are being unfair.”

“When have I ever permitted you to disobey me, Katy, and get away with it?”

 


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