Truth was, Libby had plumb hated Maggie Swift from the moment she’d clapped eyes on her. It didn’t have anything to do with her dark blue eyes, framed by long, curling lashes. It wasn’t even her dainty wrists, which she envied, or the stubborn jut of chin that she could have poked fun at—though it much resembled her own. It was because Libby could see in a glance that the only daughter of Jonathon and Kathleen Swift was loved, and dearly.
As an only child and the daughter of well-to-do parents, she was often considered spoiled. But as she watched the Swift family the first time they walked into her pa’s mercantile, she could tell that Maggie was beloved. Seeing that she, a poor country girl had something that Libby longed for, something money couldn’t buy, stirred a dark, envious nature that, until that moment, she hadn’t even known she possessed.
Being a child, she still didn’t truly understand. Nor did she know the cruelty she was capable of as a result. Through the years, Libby teased the girl mercilessly, dug at her weaknesses and dismissed her strengths until the dislike for each other was mutual. It was a long-standing rivalry, kept alive by a small slight, or a whispered word intended to cut. The lion’s share of the blame belonged to Libby; Maggie didn’t truly have it in her to be hateful.
It was truly ironic then, that they would one day become sisters-in-law. An arrangement that, at the time, neither of them was satisfied with.
Nor had Libby ever expected to marry Maggie’s brother. In fact, she’d probably never spoken more than two words to Wesley Swift until the day that he spanked her with nearly the entire town in attendance to witness the spectacle.
True, she hadn’t been feeling particularly agreeable that day, seeing as how the dress she’d been expecting to try on still wasn’t ready. Libby had exchanged some heated words with the seamstress—she was a Park, after all. And if the woman valued their business, she’d make her a priority. When she’d come into her pa’s mercantile, her mood sour and her boots thundering against the floor like a stampede of ornery horses, she’d simply been intending to have a word with her father. He’d want to make her happy. He’d take the seamstress to task and see that she got what she wanted. The thought had calmed her, if only slightly, and when she saw a girl she did not recognize behind the counter instead of the man she’d expected, her temper had flared.
“Good day to you,” she greeted Libby with a smile.
She’d arched her eyebrows at the stranger and deigned not to answer. Instead, she turned away and began walking through the store as though she owned it. Which, to be fair, her family did. Where was he? Libby wondered, her irritation growing. How long would it be until he was back? She’d had her heart set on him handling it straightaway, so that she might have the dress by morning, just in time for services. Yes, Libby knew it would mean that the seamstress would have to stay up all night to finish it, perhaps until daybreak, but she reasoned that the seamstress would be paid handsomely to do so.
She turned her head from side to side hoping to catch sight of her pa, but she only saw customers as they milled about, searching the shelves and talking amongst themselves. One or two caught her gaze and waved, or said, “Howdy-do, Miss Libby,” but she turned away without a word. She was a woman of singular focus and she couldn’t allow anyone—especially farmers—to distract her.
Still silently fuming, she walked over to the candy bin and picked out a chocolate. Without a second thought, Libby popped it into her mouth. Normally, nothing soothed her like the soft, creamy taste of the candy, but today she scarcely noticed. She was far too riled. She was reaching for another piece when she heard a timid voice pipe up from behind.
“Excuse me, miss?”
She whirled around with a hand planted firmly on her hip. “Yes?”
The girl looking back at her was a poor, frightened mouse if she’d ever seen one—and Libby had seen plenty of those. As she stared her down, she remembered Pa mentioning he’d hired a new girl in the shop. “Ah, miss, you’ll have to pay for that candy.”
“Will I?” she asked just before popping the second chocolate into her mouth. She gave the girl a smug smile. If she had to wait for Pa, at least she could make her own entertainment until he arrived.
The girl at the counter blinked at Libby in startled surprise just before her face began to turn bright red. “If you can’t pay for it, I’ll have to tell Mr. Park.”
“Please do,” she replied, smiling sweetly at her. Clearly, she didn’t know who Libby was. It would have been annoying if the girl wasn’t turning out to be so much fun to toy with.
Of course, she could have simply given her name, but that would end the amusement. Besides which, who was this big-eyed mouse of a creature to question her? She was merely enjoying the benefits of her birthright, part of which included doing whatever she pleased.
“Will you give me your name, miss?”
“No, I will not.” It was all Libby could do to contain the laughter that threatened to spill when the other girl blanched. Really, why couldn’t her father ever hire anyone with a backbone? They’d be far less fun, but perhaps a better investment. Maybe then he wouldn’t go through them so quickly.
“B-but m-miss… I’ll need the money you owe, or I’ll have to give your name to Mr. Park.”
“How will you do that?” Libby practically purred. “When you clearly don’t know what it is?” Her frustration with the seamstress had vanished, replaced with a tittering delight at this girl’s embarrassment. “What is your name?” she countered.
“Justine,” she answered, her lower lip quivering.
“Well, Justine, it’s been a pleasure to make your acquaintance, but I think I’ll take my leave now.”
“You can’t!” she objected, her eyes widening.
She could feel the eyes of everyone in the store on the two of them now, watching to see what would happen. It didn’t give her a moment’s pause. She was used to being stared at—it had been the case for as long back as she could remember. Mama always told her that it was the price she paid for being born into a wealthy family. “Can’t I?” she mocked, giving her a smug little smile before she turned on her heel.
She’d intended to flounce out of the store, head held high, but instead she found her path blocked. Her smile faded as she took in the tall, muscular man standing in the way, his expression stern. “By your leave,” Libby said, her voice stiff. But he did not stand aside and she felt her ire increasing by the second. It was one thing to make a dramatic escape, but to be stuck here like this was unseemly.
“You need to apologize to that poor girl,” he informed her, his voice quiet and calm.
Her brow furrowed and she resented the fact that she had to tilt her head back to look up at him. “I don’t need to do anything, except get by.” But when she tried to move past him, he caught her by the arm and held her there.
She gasped in fury. “How dare you!” Libby hissed. “Take your hands off me this instant!”
“I said, you need to apologize,” he replied, cool and calm as ever despite her visible outrage.
“I will do no such thing!” she declared, her voice getting louder now. “You know who I am!”
“‘Course I do. And though I reckon you can’t remember my name, I don’t let things like that bother me. What troubles me is the spectacle you made of yourself just now in front of these fine people.”
Of course she knew his name. He was Wesley Swift, Maggie’s eldest brother, which was part of the reason she hadn’t given him so much as a second glance through all the years. It was just that he hadn’t ever troubled himself to speak to her, and certainly not as forcefully as he was doing now. She’d never been spoken to in such a manner in all her life. She couldn’t say that she liked it much.
And yet, it was a change of pace. Which in itself made it new and somehow exciting—or so her pitter-pattering heart told her as it sped up.
“Let me go,” Libby ordered as she tried to shake him loose.
His grip didn’t lessen. “Not until you do as you were told.”
Her eyes widened just moments before she narrowed them into slits. Did he really think he would get anywhere ordering her about? Certainly, it seemed he did, but why should he believe she would do anything merely because he said so? “I don’t answer to you.”
Wesley seemed to take this in stride, unmoved by the fire in her eyes that perfectly matched her tone. “You don’t answer to anyone, little girl. More’s the pity.”
Little girl? Little girl? He did have some nerve! “Let me pass,” she demanded through gritted teeth.
Her lips began to twitch in triumph, but it was premature, for he still did not make to move.
“As soon as you make your apologies to Justine there.”
She rolled her eyes skyward. He would know her name. They were probably courting to boot. The thought made her look him over properly. He had broad shoulders, was a good head and a half taller than Libby herself, and there wasn’t a bit of him that wasn’t all muscle. His hair was wheat-blond, his eyes a dark brown. He was a farmer, yes, but perhaps one that was too fine for the likes of Justine.
“Pardon me for sayin’ so, Miss Libby, but you’ve been mighty unkind to a girl who, if I’m seein’ things right, you don’t even know.”
She opened her mouth to reply, but he cut her off.
“And I don’t take kindly to women who roll their eyes at me. I ask that you bear that in mind.”
He was keeping his voice level and low. Probably to save her from the whispers of the townsfolk who were watching them. But Libby had no such qualms. “Woman, am I? That’s funny—just a moment ago I was a ‘little girl,’” she remarked, not troubling to keep her voice down.
“You sure are actin’ like one, you reckon?”
That did make her laugh. “I don’t know who you think you are, but I know well who I am. I am Libby Park—” she cut her eyes at Justine here, just in time to see her mouth drop open, “—and I am insisting that you let me pass, sir.”
“I know well who you are, which isn’t half as important as you think.”
Her brow furrowed as she glared at him. He wasn’t making this easy on either one of them, and with each second that passed she vowed to make him pay for it. “How dare you! When my father hears—”
“When your father hears, I reckon he’ll be as disappointed in you as I am.”
She didn’t know why, but the words stung. She certainly shouldn’t have cared what the likes of Wesley Swift had to say. Yet, she found heat flooding her cheeks, feeling both embarrassed and hurt all at once. But she quickly pushed those emotions down, hiding them behind a mask of anger. Which explained why she did what she did next: Libby raised her heel and stamped on Wesley’s boot as hard as she could.
“Oof!” he grunted, his face registering surprise.
While she had him caught off guard, Libby sprinted to the side, just barely squeezing past him. Her heart was pitter-pattering so hard she could hear it above all the gasps and “Oh, my!”s that were flying around the store. She didn’t even pause her getaway long enough to glare at the ridiculous old biddies who had nothing better to do than watch their argument. In fact, it was probably the most entertainment they’d seen for a fortnight. Truth be told, it was just the same for her. As vexed as she was by Wesley, part of her was having a grand old time outwitting him.
She was feeling mighty pleased with herself as she made it outside and down the porch. That was, until she felt a hand clamp down on her arm. Then she was left cursing her damnable skirts that kept her from making a proper getaway. “You forget yourself!” She turned her head to glare at him.
He, unlike most men, did not quake at the furious stare Libby aimed at him. In fact, he seemed altogether unmoved. She just didn’t know what to think.
“Surely, your parents taught you how to treat a lady!”
“That they did,” he replied with ease, almost as if he knew that he had her baffled. “But a lady, as I’m sure you know, admits to wrongdoin’ and accepts her comeuppance.”
“Are you suggesting…” She trailed off, unable to even finish the sentence. Surely, he wouldn’t dare. Yet, even as the thought crossed her mind, she dismissed it. It seemed to her that Wesley was a man who was unshakable, who, standing tall in his cowboy boots and strong in his convictions, would dare much.
She would soon know just how much.
“Not at all. I’m merely sayin’ that I’m sure, as a lady, you’ll be more than willin’ to apologize to Justine and take the punishment you deserve.”
She couldn’t help it, and even though she knew she shouldn’t, she threw her head back and began to laugh. She knew that the big, burly man in front of her would take offense, which wasn’t something she should want given that he already held her captive. If she’d been able, even given all her smart remarks, she would have held in the laughter.
But it was laughable. The idea of someone, anyone threatening to punish her was something that she found downright comical. It would never happen—couldn’t, in fact. She’d never been chastised with more than a stern look or a few heated words. Not that either was truly a punishment at all and the thought of any man thinking that he could chastise her was more than she could endure.
“Do I amuse you, Miss Libby?”
“No,” she protested, though she still giggled. She saw Wesley’s mouth set in a firm line and hurried to explain. “It’s just… well… I’ve never been punished, you see.”
He arched his blond brows, his face registering surprise. “Your pa, surely…?”
She shook her head. “My mother was quite insistent that… well…”
“I see. Well, I’m afraid that today’s goin’ to be quite a shock for you then. I’m sorry for it, but I’m afraid you’ve brought it on yourself.”
“You can’t mean you honestly intend—”
“I don’t ever say a thing I don’t intend, Miss Libby. You’d do well to remember that.” With a gentle but firm tug he began to pull her back toward the store.
Her eyes flew to the mercantile and with a growing unease she remembered all the people inside. Oh, my, how they’d stare now! “But you can’t! It’s highly improper!”
“You just told me your pa won’t make you apologize, so I ‘spect someone else will have to step in and see to it that you do.”
She swallowed hard, past all the hateful things that she would have liked to spit at him, past the fear she was beginning to feel, too. “I will apologize.” The thought made her miserable—the idea of the humiliation she would face, begging Justine’s pardon when she’d kicked up such a fuss in the first place, was almost unbearable. But in the face of the alternative, Libby would have to bear it, it seemed.
“I suppose you will, once your hide’s been tanned.”
“No.” She shook her head, making her curls dance wildly. “I’m saying—”
“I know exactly what you’re tryin’ to say, Miss Libby. But I’m afraid that just won’t do now.”
“If you hadn’t been so stubborn, we wouldn’t be here,” he reminded her as he pulled her along.
She tried to dig her heels in, but it was to no avail. Wesley was strong, and he was a patient man. It didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest that they made slow progress. No matter how she twisted and yanked, trying to free herself, still inch by inch the store grew closer.
“There’s no sense in dragging this out,” he admonished. “You’re just gonna make it harder on yourself in the long run.”
“But you can’t… can’t…”
“Spank you?” He mentioned the word so casually, one might think it was something he did every day. The thought made her shiver. “Yes, ma’am, I can and I sure intend to.”
She knew that she wouldn’t be able to fight him. He’d proven that today twice already, and though she might be as stubborn as the day was long, she was hardly stupid. If he intended to whip her until she bawled over his knee, he could and there wasn’t a thing she could do to stop him. But the idea of him doing it in front of those people… it was enough to make anyone positively ill. “I feel faint.”
“I reckon you do,” he replied mildly.
Well! So much for sympathy! “Aren’t you a Christian man?”
“I certainly am.”
“The Bible tells us not to revel in others’ pain,” she reminded him.
“It also says, ‘Confess your faults to one another’ and it says we should rebuke one another in love so that we can part from sinful ways. That’s what you’ll be doin’ and I intend to help you.”
She scowled at him, unimpressed. “I hear my service on Sunday, thank you.”
Wesley grinned for the first time, and she was shocked by the way that it changed him. His eyes lit up, livening his otherwise stern expression. “Was that an invitation to sit with you that I heard?”
“I should think not.”
“Thought I ought to check.”
They were almost to the door now. Libby could feel herself begin to sweat. She was horrified—she always took care to keep from perspiring, but in this instance there was nothing to be done. She was worn out from her struggle with Wesley, but more than that was knowing that there were many pairs of hungry eyes waiting, eager to see her taken to task.
He stopped short, giving her his full attention. “Y’know, those are two words I don’t believe I’ve ever heard from you, and all in one day to boot.”
“What? Your name? Surely…”
“No. Not once, in all the time I’ve known you, which has been considerable.”
For some reason she couldn’t name, his words made her take a closer look. She’d thought his face expressionless—fierce, at best. Yet, as she scrutinized him, she saw a depth of emotion she could only guess at. Why should he feel anything for her but ire? She was fighting him tooth and nail, after all.
“I… I’m sorry if I’ve ever caused offense.”
“There’s that word again,” he said with a short chuckle. “And you’ve never done anythin’ to me. Not directly, anyhow.”
Ah. So he spoke of his sister. There was nothing to be done for that, and she wouldn’t apologize for it, either. She was quickly discovering that she didn’t like the way apologies tasted on her lips.
“Now then, I take it you have somethin’ to ask me?”
“Don’t… chastise me in front of them.” She found that word felt quite strange, too.
Both of his brows shot up at once. “But you will submit?”
They both knew that she didn’t truly have a choice in the matter. His mind was made up: if he wanted to spank her, he’d do it and unless her father came back in time, there would be no one coming to her rescue. “Yes.” Though her lips trembled, she held her head high as she gave her agreement.
“All right. But you should know that they’ll still hear you, most like.”
She bit down on her lip, hard, and nodded. Better hearing than seeing, she supposed. Most folks would be too polite to come outside and watch, after all. It wasn’t something she normally considered—being polite. But in this particular case, she depended on others’ penchant for it.
“There’s a stool up there by the door. Run and get it for me.”
Her eyes widened in surprise. “But… someone might see me!”
“Someone might,” he replied, without a care in the world.
Libby pursed her lips and glared at him. But knowing that glaring would have no effect, after a moment she turned on her heel and made her way up to the mercantile. Though she kept her eyes straight ahead, she felt the stares of those peeping outside. She snatched the stool up as hurriedly as she could manage and scampered back to him, not daring to check to see if onlookers were indeed taking in the show. It had crossed her mind to do so, to take a mental list of names so that she could make them pay for it later, but fear of further humiliation at seeing someone actually looking back at her outweighed the desire.
She dropped the stool in front of him without preamble. For a moment, Libby suspected he might tell her to set it right, but he didn’t. Instead, he bent over and picked it up himself, setting it down on the soft dirt road.
“Since I know you’ve never been whipped before, I aim to take it easy on you.”
At his pronouncement, she let out a breath she hadn’t even realized she’d been holding. But his next words made her tense up again.
“Don’t think that you won’t be mighty remorseful by the time we’re through though.”
Though he seemed to be waiting for her to say something, she found that with the prospect of a spanking looming, her tongue lay quite flat in her mouth. That, too, was an unusual occurrence. If he was going to do this dreadful thing, he’d best get on with it before her courage fled and she ran away along with it.
Seeming to sense that he was waiting for an answer that would not come, Wesley sat down on the stool, spreading his thighs just so and patting his knee. When she only stared back at him blankly, he said, “Lie over my lap.”
“Over your…” Her heart jumped into her throat and lodged there as her pulse picked up speed once more. “Surely not.” It was more than fear for impropriety that halted her, but fear that she might enjoy being held captive over his lap a mite too much.
“’Course, I could always pick myself a switch and have you bend over, if you’d rather.”
“What a delightful offer, but I’m afraid I must decline,” Libby replied in her frostiest voice.
Wesley, damn him, had the nerve to laugh!
That was more than the headstrong, proud girl could take. It was one thing for him to be preparing to spank her, but to poke fun at her as well? How rude! Who did he think he was? Libby turned on her heel with every intention of running as fast as her feet would carry her when she felt his hand boldly take hold of hers. The feel of his skin against her own had the immediate, shocking effect of taking her breath away. Her flesh tingled against his and when she snatched her hand back, it trembled in his sudden cold absence.
“I wasn’t pokin’ fun at you.”
“It certainly sounded like it,” she replied, with much less rancor than she would have liked. She was lucky her lips could form words at all, after what she’d just experienced.
“Beggin’ your pardon, ma’am. It’s just… well, I ‘spect I’ve never met anyone like you before.”
She eyed him suspiciously, but found nothing but sincerity in his strong-boned, handsome face. Not only that, but he didn’t make it sound like an insult. In fact, it very nearly sounded like a compliment, which was even more peculiar.
“Now, I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that you made me a promise.”
“No,” she replied, matching the softness in her reply to that in his own voice. “You don’t.”
“Good. Then what’s say we get this over with.” This time, rather than gesturing to her, he offered her his hand.
Yet, Libby hesitated. Something told her that extended physical contact with this hard-voiced, fine-faced cowboy was not a good idea. But she’d never been one to shy away from danger, so with her belly churning with a mixture of nervousness and excitement, she put her hand in his.
For a moment, he smiled at her, and seeing his face soften and his eyes twinkle at her made her tummy flip.
“I get the feeling you don’t want to spank me, Wesley Swift.”
His grin grew, revealing that he had a dimple in his left cheek. “Oh, I want it very much. Just maybe not for the reasons I should.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Never you mind. It’s time for your reckonin’, little girl.”
She “hmmphed” at him calling her little girl again, but before she could say anything more on the subject, he’d pulled her face down over his lap. It wasn’t a position she was accustomed to, certainly, which made the butterflies in her tummy turn frantic. She would have said anything to stay him, but she had the sinking suspicion that nothing she could say would be enough to deter him.
“Now, seein’ as how we aren’t courtin’, it wouldn’t be proper to spank you over your drawers.”
The idea that they would ever be courting was ridiculous. Her mama would positively drop dead at the very thought, her hopes for her daughter’s future shattered. Still, Libby couldn’t help but wonder if he would ever actually court her, and wonder what it would feel like if he did.
But the moment that he laid the first hard smack over her skirts, his hard palm somehow managing to sting her bottom despite the layers of fabric that protected it, she made the quick decision that she was no longer curious. If it could burn so fiercely to be spanked over her skirts, she had positively no desire to see what it would feel like with them raised!
The spanks kept raining down, one after another, stunning her with the force and the subsequent fire in her buttocks. She gasped, sucking in her breath even as she tried to think of something else—anything else!—save the growing pain in her posterior. Come now, Libby, she coached herself, you’ll see this through to the end and hold your head high afterward. Just don’t think about it.
But as she bucked over his lap, how could she think of anything else but the punishment she was receiving at the hands of this firm, no-nonsense man? Her rear smarted despite the protection of her petticoats and drawers, making her squirm humiliatingly over his knees. She didn’t want him to know how he was affecting her—indeed, she’d much prefer to lie still and, when it was over, turn to him with her patented blithe smile that would tell him that no matter how hard he struck, he hadn’t touched her. But it was quickly apparent that that wouldn’t be the case.
In fact, with each and every swat the smacks seemed to grow harder. Before she knew it, Libby found herself gasping with each swat to her skirted buttocks. Gasps soon turned to little cries of pain. She didn’t think she’d ever been so embarrassed, but as the swats came faster together still, tears stung her eyes. And while she did all that she could to blink them away, they nonetheless managed to find their way coursing down her milky cheeks.
“Stop,” she demanded, the words coming out sounding like a hoarse, jagged version of her true voice.
“I don’t answer demands, Libby,” Wesley replied without stopping his formidable hand from connecting with her tender backside.
Libby swallowed hard, past all the sobs that longed to break free. “Please stop. I’ve learned my lesson, I swear it.”
“I have your word that you’re not goin’ to be rude in the future?”
“And you’ll be apologizin’ to Justine?”
“Yes.” She spoke the hated word through gritted teeth.
“No arguments, no matter who’s watchin’?”
“I promise.” She didn’t relish the prospect—far from it—but she would have said anything to get him to stop.
“Well, I’m mighty pleased to hear it. But we’re not finished yet.”
She turned her head back to gape at him, but his face was as indecipherable as ever. “You… you can’t mean…”
“I don’t believe in quittin’ a job until it’s done.”
“But I gave you my word!”
He didn’t laugh, or ask what the word of a spoiled merchant’s daughter was worth. Not that she could have entirely blamed him if he had. Instead, he gave her bottom a gentle pat. “That you did and I thank you. But you should know I intend to hold you to it.”
Before she could reply, he shocked them both by flipping her skirts up. It was no simple task, and with them lying over her back she felt uncomfortably bare and vulnerable. “What are you doing?”
“I told you, Miss Libby. I’m seein’ to it that this job is finished properly.”
“You… you can’t do this!” she protested, her voice rising in an alarming, unladylike squawk.
Wesley didn’t bother to reply before his hard board of a hand came smacking down on her drawers.
“Ow!” she yelped in protest.
“Not only were you rude, but you also stamped on my foot, which I didn’t take kindly to,” he lectured as his hand came down again.
“I’m sorry!” she squealed, feeling the stoked heat of her bottom more than ever. “Truly, I am!”
“Glad to hear it.” But rather than stopping, he instead swatted her again and again.
If she’d thought she’d been in pain before, Libby came to realize that it had been a gentle caress in comparison. But no matter how much she begged and cried—and cry she certainly did; there was no stopping the tears once his hand was unrelentingly punishing the seat of her drawers—he didn’t let up. She’d long since stopped caring about anyone overhearing and had gone from crying out to darn-near screaming. The poor, previously unpunished Libby had never known such pain in her entire life and the only thing she could think about was how to make it stop. But with her skirts over her back, there was little moving around she could do, other than kicking up her legs, which didn’t seem to hinder him in the slightest.
As time went on, she couldn’t help but feel the heaviness of her skirts, the sun bearing down on her bare legs, her continual fear that she was screeching and kicking her feet for the townsfolk who, rightfully so, would probably enjoy nothing more than to see her getting her chastisement. But as time went on and spank after firm, stern spank landed on her upturned bottom, she forgot even those things. She didn’t think he was ever going to stop, and yet, her screeches turned to piteous moans as she went still over his lap. She’d long since lost count of the swats, but Wesley finally stopped—when he was good and ready to and not a moment before.
“Are you ever going to step on my foot again?” he demanded.
“No,” she answered, knowing as soon as the word passed her lips that she spoke the truth. She’d silently vowed to never even think of crossing this man again.
Her brow furrowed as she strove to catch his meaning. “No, I promise.”
“‘No, Sir,’” he instructed.
Oh. So that was what he wanted. She could feel her cheeks warming at the firm order. Of all the things she had to be embarrassed about, yet, this was what got her blushing.
“Libby?” he prompted, his voice full of warning.
“There’s a good girl.” He helped her to stand and gave her a look that was close to a smile.
She knew that she should have been furious that he seemed to be so pleased with himself, but after what she’d just endured, she didn’t have the energy for it. She was certainly fatigued from all the crying, but more than that, she felt somehow different. Lighter. Freer than she’d ever felt in… well, in her entire life.
“You took that very well, for your first time.”
She surprised herself by flushing warmer at his praise. Had that been a compliment? It wasn’t a very fine one, not by a genteel lady’s standards, and yet she found herself liking it far better than many others she’d heard. “First and last.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.” This time, there could be no doubt about it: he was amused at her expense. Libby found that she didn’t mind it nearly as much as she normally would. Perhaps she’d used up her allotted anger for the week. “Maybe you’ll find the right man, someone who can master that strong will of yours.”
“While I thank you kindly for your concern, I can assure you that’s not at the top of my list when I consider a suitor.” Yet, despite her protest he had her smiling back at him.
“Are you ready to go back in?”
His question caused her to go still and the smile slowly began to fade from her lips. She’d nearly forgotten her promise—not that Wesley would allow her to. She knew that without even having to ask—her bottom tingled at the mere thought. As her eyes were drawn back to the mercantile, she felt a little ball of dread begin to form in the pit of her stomach. But she had promised, after all, and she couldn’t go back on her word now, certainly not with her bottom so freshly tanned and the administrator of said tanning so close at hand.
“Yes,” she replied with as much dignity as she could muster. Her hands set to the task of smoothing out her dress, after which she drew a deep breath and set her shoulders back. She gave a little nod, and Wesley offered his arm. She hesitated for an instant before she took it. Normally, she would have laughed at the mere suggestion, but given the circumstances Libby thought it might be nice to have someone to lean on as she made her apologies.
The horror of what she was about to be made to do—or, rather, what she’d agreed to do—grew with every step that brought the two of them closer to the door. She would have turned tail and tried to run, if that tactic hadn’t failed once already. Besides, with Wesley standing so close and holding her arm, she wouldn’t have gotten very far. Maybe just far enough to land herself face down over his lap again.
As she neared the door, what she saw made her halt in her step and her heart lurch.
“Howdy.” There was her pa, watching them with an indecipherable expression. “I thought I’d step out and get some fresh air. Wanna take a guess at what I got instead?”
Libby had only thought she’d been embarrassed before. Knowing that her father had been watching her get punished, had most likely heard her squealing like a stuck pig, made her flush crimson as she dropped her eyes and wrenched her arm away from Wesley as though she’d been stung.
Wesley, however, didn’t seem to have any such qualms. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him step forward and offer his hand for her father to shake.
Mr. Park hesitated for a fraction of a second before taking his hand. “Young man, I believe we need to have ourselves a talk.”
“Yes, sir, I reckon we do.”
“Why don’t you take Libby here inside and see to it that she sets things right, then join me in my study.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll see to it.” Then he was turning back to her, offering the same arm she’d dropped moments earlier. “Libby?”
There were a thousand things she wanted to do, none of them more than to have a hole open in the ground and swallow her whole. She’d rather spend the rest of her life surrounded by dirt and bugs—the thought made her shudder—than talk to her pa about what had just happened. She’d expected him to be fit to be tied by what he’d witnessed, but he hadn’t even intervened when the man was spanking her! He’d sat in the rocker by the door and listened, cool as you please! She just didn’t understand it. Her mother certainly would never have let such a thing happen. In fact, when she heard about it, there would no doubt be hell to pay.
Much to her surprise, however, the thought didn’t lift Libby’s spirits. In fact, it only served to make the situation feel more awful.
“C’mon, Miss Libby. Draggin’ your feet isn’t goin’ to make this go away.”
Oh, how well she knew it. If there was something—anything—she could do to make it go away, she would have done so, and gladly. But that opportunity had passed, and she had nothing and no one to blame but her own stubborn pride. The same pride that was keeping her feet stuck to the dirt road she now stood on.
“Let’s get this unpleasant business out of the way, hmm?”
Easy for him to say. He wasn’t the one who would be apologizing. Nonetheless, she inclined her head in reluctant agreement and followed him the rest of the way, pausing only for a moment once they reached the doorway to gather what was left—the meager threads—of her dignity.
* * *
The little ball that had filled Libby’s belly had become a balloon of mortification that weighed her down as she entered the mercantile. As hard as she tried to mimic her usual posture, she couldn’t manage to hold her head high, no matter how hard she tried. It felt much too heavy today, weighed down by her shame. Instead, her eyes dragged on the floor as she made her way up to the counter.
A brief glance showed that Justine was still standing behind it, watching her as she approached. She didn’t have to look around the store to know that every pair of eyes was on her. She could feel them hot on her back. Even if she hadn’t been able to, the sudden hush that had filled the store when she’d entered would have given it away. How she would have loved to glare at them all, daring them to utter so much as a word, or risk a smile. Yet, with Wesley’s stern, formidable presence at her side, she didn’t dare.
Though he didn’t say a word, Wesley’s arm pressing against her own prompted her to speak. “Justine… I j-just wanted to say…” She swallowed hard, hating herself for the stutter. “I wanted to say I’m sorry for… for how I behaved earlier.”
“I don’t think she heard you,” Wesley said quietly. “Speak up.”
Libby shot him an incredulous glance, even though she already knew all too well that he was very serious indeed. Before she could make another fumbling apology, however, Justine spoke up.
“I heard her just fine. Thank you, Libby.”
Now it was her turn to be befuddled by the shop girl. How could it be that she was so easily letting her off the hook? Had it been the other way around, Libby would have let her wriggle on it for a spell, and done so gladly. Yet, her scrutinizing surprise of Justine revealed nothing but a sympathetic smile.
“Thank you,” she returned quietly.
“Now, if you folks’ll excuse us, we have other things to tend to.” Wesley gave her arm a gentle tug to encourage her to follow along beside him. Libby, for her part, managed to hold her head up at last while they passed the ogling townsfolk. “Very nicely done,” he whispered to her as they made their way through.
Much to her surprise, Libby felt a surge of pleased satisfaction shoot through her at the praise. It made the small, fretful steps she was taking toward her father’s office a little lighter. She stopped at his open door, however, taking in a couple of deep, shaky breaths.
“I’m here with you,” Wesley whispered, giving her arm a gentle squeeze.
She summoned a smile at the reassurance, even though he needn’t have bothered. She didn’t fear her father. Her mother, on the other hand… when she learned of this, Libby didn’t know who she’d feel sorrier for: Wesley, or the man who had sat and watched it happen without lifting a finger to stop it.
Then she stepped into his office, noting that he was already seated behind his desk. While the rest of the room was rather plain, with bookshelves filled with notepads from the prior years’ records, the desk was exquisite, and the only finery her pa had allowed himself. It was a rich cherry wood with shiny brass handles on each of the perfectly fitted drawers. It had taken over a month to be shipped from Virginia and it was his pride and joy. Seeing him behind it gave him an air of importance, making him seem more powerful somehow. Which, she supposed, was why he chose to have all meetings of importance with him sitting behind it.
“Well.” He let the word hang in the air as he leaned back in his chair, contemplating the two of them.
“Sir, if you’ll just give me the chance, I’d like to explain.” Wesley stepped forward, hat in hand.
“I don’t think I need your explanations. I ‘spect I see the matter quite clearly for myself. My Libby was being insufferable, I imagine, and you decided to take her to task for it. Does that about sum it up?”
“Pa!” she gasped, her eyes widening in shock at the matter-of-fact verdict.
Not that he’d been unkind. In fact, he looked downright fond as he looked at his daughter, but that didn’t assuage the wounded pride his words wrought. “I love you, my dear. I love your spirit and your strength, but your sharp tongue and foul temper… let’s just say, they should have earned you a sore bottom long before this.”
Libby’s mouth dropped open. Never in her life had she been so flummoxed—and considering that only mere minutes ago she’d found herself draped over the knee of Wesley Swift and having her tail tended to, that was saying something indeed!
She couldn’t help but feel gratified when, chancing a glance at Wesley’s face, he looked just as mystified as she.
“As deserved as it might have been, however, the fact that you laid eyes on my daughter’s underthings… well, was highly improper,” he continued. “As you two aren’t courting, I’m afraid her reputation will suffer for it.”
Libby’s jaw dropped open. Both men continued to talk as though they didn’t notice.
“Beggin’ your pardon, Mr. Park. I’m afraid I wasn’t thinkin’ about such things at the time.”
“Oh, I s’pose not,” Pa replied calmly as he opened his desk drawer and pulled out his pipe. He began to fill it from the tobacco jar on his desk, still so calm and matter-of-fact that Libby wanted to scream.
He was choosing to speak of suitors now? And in front of Wesley? Why on Earth!
“My Libby has a way about her that often makes men forget themselves,” he chuckled, seeming nonplused when she narrowed her eyes at him.
That reaction she found more puzzling still. Normally, a cross look aimed in his direction was enough to get Libby her way or inspire contrition. Today, he seemed blind to it.
“Nonetheless, this breach of conduct cannot be allowed to stand. We will need—I will need satisfaction.”
Well! That made her stand a bit taller. Finally! Her father was coming to her defense, after all. Perhaps, once he’d given Wesley a thorough tongue-lashing she would step in. Yes, she decided, she’d tell him that the spanking—while certainly improper, as he’d said—had been deserved and that she held no grudge. She liked this image of herself as his rescuer very much and found herself smirking, though she quickly covered any evidence of it behind her hand.
“Miss Park is all those things you mentioned,” Wesley answered. “She’s also a bit spoiled and could benefit with regular discipline.”
Hmph. He was quickly making her rethink her position.
“Be that as it may, I am more than willin’ to make amends. What d’you suggest?” Wesley inquired.
“It’s quite simple, actually. I want you to marry my daughter.”
* * *
He’d barely heard Mr. Park’s words when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Libby begin to sway. Wesley quickly lunged forward and caught her mere moments before she would have collapsed to the floor.
“Oh, dear. Put her over there, please.”
With a nod of acknowledgement, he half-carried, half-dragged her to the chair her father had indicated. To tell the truth, Wesley was more than a little vexed. Was the idea of marrying him so awful that she would actually faint?
“Libby?” he asked, bending his face down to hers. “Libby, are you alright?”
Though she was pale, her eyes were wide open. This close to her, he noticed that they were a pale blue, with flecks of violet. They were quite pretty, actually. The woman was altogether lovely, with her light brownish-red curls, her creamy, fair skin, and tiny waist. Every single bit of her was fetching, but as beautiful as she was, he didn’t know many men who would truly want to take her as their wife. Her tongue was too shrewish, and as her own father had said, her temper too wild. Being the one to deliver a much needed lashing to her equally pretty behind had felt satisfying indeed. He’d seen too many years of her causing others torment. But to see her now, looking so innocent and vulnerable, no one would have known what she was truly capable of. She looked so tiny and scared that he began to even question his own perceptions.
“I’m fine,” she replied, her voice thin and reedy. “Please, the smell of you this close is giving me the vapors.”
He straightened and stepped back, as requested, but not before whispering, “Here I thought it was what stirred you from your faintin’ spell.”
“I realize that this might come as a surprise to you and given my daughter’s often less-than-agreeable nature, I reckon I can be made to understand your actions. But that still doesn’t change the fact that what you did was seen—”
A gasp from Libby drew Wesley’s eyes away from her father. “We were seen? But—”
“Heard, then,” Mr. Park amended hastily. “Regardless, word will spread quickly and my daughter’s reputation will be tarnished.”
It occurred to him that her reputation already carried a heavy stain as it was. He didn’t see suitors courting her for more than a short spell. But mayhap Mr. Park had the right of it: perhaps those other men just didn’t have the faintest notion of how to handle Libby. Maybe she would benefit from being taken in hand, as he’d suggested, but that didn’t necessarily mean that he wanted to be the man to do it.
On the other hand, what he said rang true—he had acted on instinct concerning Libby, punishing a woman who wasn’t his to chastise. He could admit that it had been impulsive, darn-near foolhardy, but it had also been the right thing to do. She’d needed to be taken down a peg, and he didn’t regret it in the least, but it certainly put the pair of them in an interesting predicament.
“I won’t court a woman who’s unwilling,” Wesley answered at last.
The ghost of a smile crossed the man’s lips. “I don’t know that my Libby will ever be agreeable to any suitor, but I will accept your terms.” As he glanced at his daughter, his fondness was undeniable.
“I do have a choice then?”
He turned at the sound of her voice, his hat still clutched between his hands. “The choice is all yours. But you should know something: if you do choose to be courted, I s’pect incidents like the one we had today will occur more often than not.”
“Meaning…” She sat up a bit straighter as she regarded him. “It hardly seems proper to speak of such things with my father in the room.”
“Pardon me for sayin’ so, ma’am, but it seems the perfect time to me. I want you—and your father—to be clear what I’d be offerin’. I don’t want it said that I did damage to your reputation, so I will court you, and gladly. But if I do, I expect a wife who will obey me at considerable consequence to her bottom if she does not.”
“Is that all?” she asked in frosty tones.
“No,” he said with the smallest of chuckles. “It’s not, but I think I’ve given you plenty to think on for one afternoon. Now I think it’s time I took my leave.”
“Good day, Mr. Swift.”
Wesley turned to the man who might very well become his future father-in-law and gave him a firm nod. “Good day.” Once his hat was safely restored to its place upon his head, he tipped it at the lady in question. “And to you.”
Libby was pale and still. She didn’t seem much like herself—further proved when she murmured a goodbye.
Wesley found himself smiling as he went to untether his horse and ride for home. The turnabout he’d seen in her in such a small amount of time was gratifying. Perhaps there was hope for her yet. But he couldn’t even think on such things. It was laughable to think that she would ever agree to be courted, much less marry him. Besides which, his sister would throw a fit the likes of which the world had never seen and that would only be the beginning.
It wasn’t so bad, being single. He’d gotten along fine so far, taking over all of his father’s duties on the farm since he’d turned ill. It had been long, punishing work in the beginning, despite the long days he was already accustomed to. But now, he’d come to enjoy the simple pleasure of seeing something he’d planted grow. It was a simple life, but it had its own rewards.
Not that the thought of marrying had never crossed his mind. Of course he’d always assumed he’d take a wife, when the time was right. Eventually. He’d expected to have children, young ones for his ma to spoil. But in the rare moments of daydreaming about his future that he’d allowed himself, Libby had never once come to mind as even a possibility. She was beautiful, yes… perhaps too much so. She turned many a man’s head wherever she went and she was not guarded to it as a proper lady should be. Nor did he believe that she’d find enjoyment in the simple pleasures as a farmer’s wife.
And yet, despite all his reservations—and there were many—when he thought of Libby his heart began to speed up. He couldn’t help but remember how she’d looked up at him during her chastisement, her beautiful blue eyes wide with apprehension, yet clear and trusting at the same time. It was a sight that had been seared into his mind.
All of these thoughts were still galloping through his head when he reined his horse in so that he could dismount. Wesley led him into the barn and saw to it that he had some oats before he made his way up to the house. As he drew close, he saw that Maggie was watching his approach from the porch.
She lifted her hand in greeting. “Howdy, Wes. I didn’t ‘spect to see you till suppertime.”
“Howdy, Mags. I made quick time without a nosey sister taggin’ along lookin’ for gossip.”
“Oh, p’shaw!” she said with a hand on her hip.
“Beggin’ your pardon, I know you can get your gossip without me.”
“How you do go on!” she exclaimed, but she was smiling. “So, tell me,” she said, looping her arm through his when he reached the porch. “What is the news in town?”
“I knew it!” he crowed.
Wesley chuckled as he shook his head at her. “Actually, things were pretty uneventful, if you ask me.”
She sighed, long and heavily. “You wouldn’t know good gossip if it stepped on your foot, Wesley Swift.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he conceded as he opened the door for her. She huffed at him once more before walking inside. The moment she was past, he allowed himself a grin. She’d never forgive him if she knew.
* * *
“You can’t be serious, Lester,” Libby’s mother’s voice rang out disdainfully that night over the dinner table.
“Quite, actually,” he replied, spearing a carrot with his fork and eating it as though he was uninterested in the upheaval his announcement had wrought.
“But… you cannot honestly mean to let our daughter, our only daughter wed the likes of Wesley Swift!” she spluttered. “Do you have any idea… why, we’d be the laughingstock of the entire town!”
“The Swifts are well-respected in this town,” Pa replied calmly. “I can’t think of a family more respected, honestly.”
“I don’t care who respects them,” she hissed, glaring daggers at him. The sight of her venomous stare was enough to make Libby uneasy, so it was a mystery to her how her father managed to remain so aloof. “I will not have him marry my daughter. Do you understand me, Lester?”
Pa met her gaze head-on, his expression just as resolved as her own. “She is my daughter too, in case you’ve forgotten. She could do much worse than Wesley Swift.”
“He’s a farmer,” she replied, as though he was daft.
“I know that quite well. And as for marriage, that would be a ways off. Let’s see how they do courtin’ first before you dig your heels in.”
“Perhaps I ought to remind you that my family will not stand for this insult. They—”
“Please, Carol, don’t bring your family into this. I know well what they think of our marriage—you’ve seen to it. I reckon I can guess what they’d say about this, but they don’t have a choice in the matter. And frankly, neither do you.”
Everyone at the table fell silent. It wasn’t often that her father stood up to her domineering mother. In fact, if there had been a time before tonight, she couldn’t recall it. Libby wasn’t the only one who was shocked. Her mother’s face had become so pinched that she seemed to have lost her voice.
“The choice is Libby’s to make. That is what young Swift asked for, and I have granted it.”
“Well.” Mother seemed to relax a fraction before aiming a satisfied little smirk at her daughter as she picked up her fork. “It’s settled then.”
She began to eat, but Libby had lost her appetite the moment the conversation had begun. She hadn’t wanted to discuss such matters tonight. She’d barely had time to process them herself! She’d known that her mother would be fit to be tied if she ever agreed to so much as allow Wesley to court her, much less to a match that she clearly thought so beneath her daughter. The thought of how her mother would react was nearly tempting enough to overlook Wesley’s promise of future chastisement.
How, exactly, would she look? Libby couldn’t help but wonder. Her mouth would probably fall open wide enough to let an entire swarm of bees inside! The shock would probably render her speechless for days! Her mother being silent was in itself a novelty since, as far as she could remember, it had never happened before. Why, she might even get a couple of white hairs she wouldn’t be able to hide under her hat! The thought was enough to make Libby laugh aloud before she could think better of it.
Her mother turned her sharp gaze toward her, causing her to clamp her lips shut and swallow hard. “Pray tell, what do you find so amusing, Libby?”
Her eyes, a frosty, cold blue, narrowed in suspicion. That gaze had seen straight through her daughter’s fibs more than once and Libby did her best to maintain an innocent expression now. Finally, her mother relaxed, ever so slightly. “Very well. Eat your peas, dear.”
* * *
That night, Libby had a hard time falling asleep. Perhaps it had a bit to do with the sniping she heard coming from her parents’ room, due mostly, of course, to her mother. Her twenty-three years had taught her a lot about her mother, and she knew nothing more clearly than the fact that the woman would nag, berate, and belittle until she had her way. It was a trait that she had passed down to her only child.
The thought made an image of Wesley spring to mind. Now, there was a man she’d never be able to browbeat. She knew that if she so much as tried, she’d find herself upended over his knee in an instant. She had an ever-present reminder in the form of her still-tender bottom.
He was different from any other man that she’d ever allowed to court her—not that there had been many. Frankly, she didn’t find the prospect of marriage all that relishing, given the example she had from her parents. But at her mother’s insistence, she had entertained the interest of many a well-to-do man from prosperous families. Once she had been formerly presented to society in Boston a few years ago, where her mother’s family lived, there had been no shortage of interest. And even though many only sent likenesses and short letters by post, there had been three who had actually made the journey to attempt to woo her in person. While the interest had been flattering, she’d found each of them more boring and insipid than the last.
Such things didn’t matter, Libby’s mother had tried to impress the point upon her, but it hadn’t taken root as she’d hoped. By the same reasoning, attractiveness didn’t matter, either, as each had either been balding, had wide gaps in his teeth or a lazy eye. Libby had been adamant that she would not consider pledging her troth to a man who she couldn’t abide looking at.
Now, Wesley was not bad-looking—in fact, the memory of those brown eyes, as well as the big, strong arms she couldn’t help but notice set her heart to pitter-pattering—and he certainly wasn’t someone she could call uninteresting. In fact, as she lay wide awake, she tried to recount the years in her mind to find hidden nuggets of information about him that she might have overlooked or forgotten. But she couldn’t come up with a single thing. Odd, that she should know so little about a man that she’d actually known for most of her life.
The more she thought on him and how little she knew, the more she found herself wondering. Was he always so stern and no-nonsense? What did he look like when he smiled—really smiled, with his whole face? She found herself wanting to know, and what was more, she wanted to be the one to cause it.
The force of the desire caught her by surprise. She couldn’t remember the last time she had thought of making someone else smile, much less a man. And the fact that that same man had been the one assaulting her poor buttocks mere hours ago made it more shocking still. Yet, she could not deny that the yearning was there.
Almost equally as strange was the pulsing Libby had felt in her lady parts for most of the day. As her bottom had cooled—though, as her fingers discovered earlier it was still warm to the touch—a fire had begun to rage in the special spot between her legs. It had been some time since her fingers had done exploring there, but now, with a different kind of heat blazing in two spots, her digits swiftly made their way to her tender nub.
She pressed her face into the pillow to muffle the moan that rose to her lips when she touched it. It was hot indeed, and with her finger only brushing against it she could already tell how very wet she was. How very strange. And yet…
Normally, when Libby pleasured herself it was a nameless, faceless man she held in her mind to help her reach her climax. This time, much to her startlement, Wesley’s face took his place, his features as clear as though he was standing in the room with her. The thought made her skin flush—what would he think if he could see her, could see what her naughty fingers were doing just then? He’d watch her, she thought, watch even as he tsked, even as he began to scold her for being a wanton minx.
Yet, the thought did nothing to tame the fire burning in her pussy. In fact, if anything the warmth seemed to radiate hotter. Her fingers moved faster and suddenly, the image in her mind shifted. In her mind’s eye, she could see herself over his knee, see his arm rising to deliver a resounding smack to the seat of her drawers. Her bottom tingled as though she’d indeed just received another spank. Except that this time, the thought of punishment only served to make her fingers work quicker. In and out they plunged, making plump, wet sounds that delighted her. She couldn’t remember ever being so turned on. Strange, wasn’t it, that it had been Wesley who had done it to her?
In and out they went, faster and faster as her need grew. When she finally came, it was with a low, guttural moan as she felt spasm after spasm of pleasure rocket through her being. When her juices finished spilling, she murmured his name, wondering what he would think if he could hear her just then. With a smile on her lips, she closed her eyes and finally felt herself begin to drift off to sleep.