Chapter One: Song and Dance
Jesse stood behind the bar, rolling up his shirtsleeves and revealing forearms that seemed especially dark next to the crisp white of the fabric. An employee of the saloon played a carefree piano tune in the background, belying the seriousness of the saloon owner’s tone when he asked, “How old are you?”
Lily sat with straight posture on a tall stool that didn’t allow her feet to reach the floor. She’d practiced this conversation a hundred times in the mirror and couldn’t blow it now. She tried to sound confident in her response, but her voice was more timid than she would have liked. “I’m eighteen. Perfectly old enough to be one of the dancers here.”
“Hmm,” he said, frowning. He picked up a clean glass and wiped the water droplets off of it with a small white towel. After lining it next to the row of tumblers on the bar, he picked up another recently washed glass and repeated the motions. “You’re one of Roy’s daughters, aren’t you? Lily, isn’t it?”
Joy surged through her in that moment. She’d harbored a secret crush on him for years, and she hoped he might remember her name. “Yes, I’m Lily, and I’m the youngest of Roy’s daughters, the last to be living there at the farm.”
“Does your pa know you’re here asking to be a saloon girl, Lily?” He set the glass and towel on the bar and gave her his full attention. His dark eyes studied hers carefully. He placed his forearms on the bar and leaned into them, bringing his face closer to hers.
Lily looked at a ring of moisture on the bar leftover from a perspiring glass. She didn’t directly answer the question, instead saying, “I wish to earn my own keep and move into town. I don’t want to live on my pa’s farm anymore. I’m an adult and don’t need my pa’s permission to work here. I’m real good at singing and dancing.”
“An adult, you say? Have you ever been intimate with a man?”
Lily gasped, and her eyes snapped back to his face. “Of course not, Jesse. I’m not married.”
Jesse let out an exasperated sigh and stood from his bent position. “That’s what I thought.” He pointed a finger at her face and his voice became deeper. He sounded very stern when he spoke. “This saloon is not the place for young ladies such as you. I don’t want to see you in here again. Now get on home.” He pointed at the double swinging doors as though she might need a reminder of where to go to exit.
Lily remained seated at the stool and stared at him. His tone of voice surprised her, and she felt a rebellion bubbling up in inside of her. She lifted her chin. “I reckon this is just the place for me. I know how to dance and sing better than the Red Rose, and you haven’t let me prove it.”
“The Red Rose is not a real performer, she’s a hoax and rumor men spread for kicks, and the only thing you’ll be proving is how much sense you’ve got by how fast you choose to obey me.” He folded his arms in front of his chest and raised an eyebrow slowly as she continued to sit and stare at him.
Lily’s heart beat a little faster upon seeing his challenging expression, but she wasn’t prepared to give up the one thing she’d waited for years to do. She hated her boring, unglamorous life on the farm. She hated gathering eggs and mucking out stalls. She hated lugging slop to the pigs. She hated the dirt she’d painstakingly cleaned from underneath her fingernails before seeing Jesse that day.
“You gonna skedaddle, Miss Lily, or do you need some encouragement?” Jesse asked.
She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. “I saw the Red Rose with my own two eyes when I went to Tucson, and I’m a better dancer than her. Just let me show you what I can do. Please?”
He let out another exasperated sigh and meandered around the bar to where she sat. Taking hold of her elbow, he pulled her off the stool. She scrambled gracelessly to find her feet as he marched her to the doors, opened one of them, and tugged her along with him outside. He transferred her arm to his left hand and planted a hard swat on her bottom with his right palm.
Lily shrieked, more from surprise than pain.
He landed his hand five more times, punctuating his words, “I… told… you… to… leave!”
Each swat stung. She tried to run, but Jesse held fast to her arm and was able to smack his target squarely all five times.
After the last smack, she looked around and saw that a few townsfolk had turned their attention to them and were snickering. She flushed, mortified at having been spanked, and worse, in front of an audience!
Jesse let go of her arm. “Now git!” he said before he left her to go back inside.
Lily stared after him for a moment before she gathered her skirts and what was left of her dignity and walked home. As she traversed the dusty path to the farm, her embarrassment turned to anger and a sense of injustice. Lily tried to ignore what else she felt, which was a tingling between her legs. The sting on her bottom was all but gone, but her arousal seemed to grow as the sting faded. The scene replayed itself in her mind—the stern resolve on Jesse’s handsome face, the way he held her arm firmly but not hard enough to hurt, and the stinging swats to her bottom, which hurt plenty.
She couldn’t understand why Jesse hadn’t even given her a chance to prove herself. She knew she wasn’t the most beautiful woman around, but she had a pretty enough face, and her breasts and hips had rounded nicely in the last year. There was no reason for him not to let her try dancing there. She decided that she would go back the following day and confront him, saying just that. Surely he would be convinced of her dedication then, since she was risking another embarrassing spanking for a chance at becoming his employee.
Lily couldn’t stay angry at him for long. By the time the sun had fallen and she’d climbed into bed, her thoughts were once again filled with the sound of his voice, his smile, and the kindness he’d shown her three years ago when she met him, a day she’d never forget.
Lily sat on a bench outside of the blacksmith’s shop, crying softly. A man approached and looked at her as he lifted his hand to the door handle. He moved his hand to his hip and turned to face her.
“What’s the matter, little lady?”
She took in a shuddering breath. “Nothing, mister. Don’t worry about me.” She thought her answer would be enough to keep him from inquiring further, but he pressed her for a reason.
“Most folks don’t cry about nothing. Tell me what’s wrong.”
She looked up at him tentatively, unused to anyone caring about whether she cried. His eyes were fixed on her in a kind way. How was she to explain to a stranger what made her sad, when she didn’t fully understand it herself? At the tender age of fifteen, she felt the loneliness of an aimless wanderer. No one seemed to notice her. She didn’t have any friends since Sara had spread a rumor that she kissed boys on the lips. Her parents acted like she was an inconvenience they couldn’t wait to be rid of. In short, she felt unloved.
“It’s just, I feel unimportant, I guess.”
“Now that’s outright nonsense. Everyone’s important.” He reached over and wiped a tear off her cheek, then tapped her under the chin. “Cowboy up, honey. Everyone feels that way sometimes. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”
Lily wiped the rest of her tears off her face with the backs of her hands. She didn’t correct him, though she was pretty sure he was wrong and she would feel just as bad tomorrow. “Thank you,” she said, grateful that he cared enough to listen to her and offer some small words of comfort.
“Aren’t you the saloon owner?” she asked after a final sniffle, rising to her feet. She’d seen him around town before but had never talked to him. He was a tall, handsome man who walked with a limp. According to gossip, it was due to a mining injury. His limp didn’t seem to prevent women from swooning all over him. She’d seen him with more than one pretty lady on his arm.
“That I am. I’m here to see the blacksmith about fixing my poker table. He does carpentry work in addition to blacksmithing.”
She smiled shyly at him. “Yes, I know. He made a new rolling pin for my ma. I’m here to pick it up.”
He observed her for a moment. “I’ve a mind to give you a hug, little lady. Seems you could use one. May I?”
She felt surprised but immediately smiled and nodded. “All right.” Her smile got a little brighter when he wrapped his arms around her. She melted into his embrace and wished that the hug would last a lot longer than it did. For those few glorious seconds, she felt noticed and like someone cared about her.
When he released her, she said, “Thank you, Mister…”
“Jesse,” he replied.
“Thank you, Mr. Jesse. I’m Lily.”
He chuckled. “No need to thank me, Miss Lily. I hate to see a pretty lady cry. You take care now.” He tipped his hat and walked inside the blacksmith’s shop. Lily forgot about her ma’s rolling pin and ran off. He hugged her! And he thought she was pretty!
By the time she reached the farm, she’d decided that she loved him and always would. She knew she wasn’t old enough to marry him yet, but as soon as she turned eighteen, she’d make sure to find herself in his arms again, somehow, someway. Never had she longed for anything as much as she longed to feel Jesse’s touch and hear his kind voice directed at her again.
Three years later, the feelings she had toward the saloon owner were still firmly lodged in her tender heart. She wanted nothing more than to be with him daily, and working for him was the perfect way to do so. It had also been a dream of hers to entertain an audience, so she was stubborn in her determination to get a job at the saloon. If he would only hire her, both of her biggest desires would be fulfilled.
The following day, Lily strode back to town with a determined gait, but her confidence waned as she neared the saloon. She loitered outside for some time before she worked up the courage to venture in. Finally, after rehearsing her words one more time in her head, she lifted her chin, swung the double doors open, one with each hand, and walked in like she owned the place.
Jesse saw her entrance immediately. He left his post behind the bar and motioned for one of his employees to take his place as he walked to Lily. She felt very apprehensive, but she continued walking toward him.
After the few short steps it took them to reach each other, Lily spoke, her words tumbling out quickly. “Jesse, please let me do one song and dance for you. If you don’t like it, I’ll leave and never bother you again.”
He scowled at her. “You don’t listen too well, do you?”
Lily stared pleadingly into his eyes, still hopeful he might say yes.
“Come with me.” He turned and walked toward the back of the saloon.
Lily rushed to follow him, giving him reasons for why he should hire her along the way. “I’m hardworking, honest, and I can serve drinks just as soon as I learn the names for the beers and spirits.”
“Mm hmm,” he said, opening the door to his office. When they both were inside, he closed it firmly.
“So can I do a song and dance for you, Jesse?”
He glared at her before he grabbed an armless wooden chair from behind his desk, planted it in the middle of the room, and sat down, hauling her over his lap as he did. He tossed up her dress’s skirt and petticoat.
“You’ll be doing a song and dance all right. Over my knee.” He planted a flurry of swats on her drawer-clad bottom.
Lily was too stunned to react until he paused the spanking. She gathered some of her wits. “What are you doing, Jesse?” she cried, equal parts embarrassed and outraged. She tried to stand up, but he pinned her against his leg with his left forearm and pushed her forward so that her bottom was even higher in the air. She laid her palms flat on the floor to balance.
Jesse resumed the spanking, lecturing as he did. “I think it’s fairly obvious what I’m doing. You’re going to learn a lesson today, one you won’t soon forget.”
Lily’s mind raced, still not comprehending that this was really happening. She thought it was possible that Jesse would give her a few smacks on the way out the door again, but she didn’t guess that he would take her over his knee. She’d never been spanked before, not like this, but she’d often imagined what it might be like to know someone who cared enough to spank her. She’d even imagined being disciplined by Jesse ever since that day he noticed her by the blacksmith’s shop. Unfortunately, the reality of punishment was much more painful than any of her fantasies.
She heard his stern voice in the midst of her discomfort. “You’re the daughter of a respectable farmer, very far from poverty or a desperate situation. What in tarnation are you thinking, trying to be a saloon girl? The gals here have no options. Most would love to be in your shoes.”
Lily squirmed and tried to roll off his lap. “Ow, ow, ow!” she yelped at the three hard swats that followed her attempt to escape.
“That’s right. Ow. You stay still for your punishment, Lily, and you pay mind to how much this stings. You certainly didn’t pay mind to what I told you yesterday. Instead, you behaved like a stubborn little girl in need of a spanking. Isn’t that right?” Jesse brought his hand down on the lowest part of her bottom again and again.
“I’m not a little girl,” she squeaked, aware of the irony of making that statement while being spanked over a man’s knee. Lily squeezed her eyes shut and tried to suffer the licks without crying, but her tears soon started to flow.
“Women who work here sell their bodies to men, Lily,” he explained. “That’s why I asked yesterday whether you’ve had sex.”
Lily felt dismay, and her silent crying turned to a sob. “I just want to be a singer and dancer. I don’t want to sell my body.”
He paused. “I assumed not, which is why I’m not taking a strap to you. You are, however, going to suffer a darn good walloping to discourage you from seeking employment in a saloon in the future.” Jesse proceeded to bring his hand down with renewed vigor. “And also to discourage you from ignoring orders from someone trying to protect you.”
“I’ve learned my lesson. Please, no more,” she sobbed. “Owww,” she wailed again.
The spanking hurt far worse than she ever thought a spanking could hurt. After another round of sharp swats, he paused and rubbed a little, and Lily dared to hope he was finished.
“A stubborn, disobedient girl should be spanked on her bare bottom. Have you ever had your drawers lowered for a spanking?”
“No,” she cried, her heartbeat quickening. “Please,” she whimpered. “Please don’t spank me without my drawers on. I-I’ll just die.”
“All right, you can keep your drawers this time. I don’t want to humiliate you, Lily. But I want to teach you a lesson. Do you understand?”
“Y-yes. I’ve learned my lesson. I promise.”
“I believe you almost have,” he said before continuing. He spanked her long and hard, and soon Lily was blubbering out apologies and begging him to stop. She swore she’d never set foot in his saloon again. She begged him to forgive her for asking. Nothing she said stopped the incessant hard hand from punishing her over and over. He was done talking and listening, and he carried out the rest of the discipline in silence, letting his hand do all the communicating.
“P-please, Jesse. Please stop,” she said for what seemed like the thousandth time through her sobs.
His hand finally settled and rested on her scorched bottom. She panted and waited for him to speak. She prayed he was finished chastising her.
“So, Miss Lily, have I gotten through to you about trying to work in a saloon?”
“You’re young and respectable. You’re going to find yourself a respectable suitor and enjoy only his attentions, not entertain multiple men daily. Agreed?”
She would have agreed to most anything at that point. “Yes, sir.”
Jesse slowly helped her to her feet. “Go stand over there, nose to the wall.” He pointed to the corner opposite the door.
Lily didn’t argue as she made the motions to obey, fearing that doing anything else would only earn her more time over his knee. With her head cradled against the walls of the corner, she rubbed her bottom and cried like she’d never cried before. She’d wanted to impress Jesse and show him that she was a woman, and she’d done the exact opposite. He thought of her as nothing more than a naughty child who needed a spanking, and that’s certainly what she felt like standing in the corner. The tears wouldn’t stop falling, and she sniffled, wishing she had a handkerchief to blow her leaking nose.
Jesse spoke a few minutes later. “Come here, Lily.”
Her eyes downcast, she walked to where he stood leaning against his desk with his arms folded in front of his chest. She couldn’t bear to look at him. He handed her the handkerchief she desperately needed, and she blew her nose.
“It was just a spanking, not the end of the world. Settle down now,” he said, his voice firm.
She obeyed somehow. Soon her sobs morphed into occasional hiccups. She finally dared to look at him through her wet lashes. She discovered that his eyes were fixed on her. She thought she saw concern there, and she was relieved to see no anger or ridicule.
He sighed. “I know I was hard on you, Lily, but hopefully you’ll realize after you leave that it was for your own good. This isn’t the place for a young lady with her whole life ahead of her.”
She felt her lower lip trembling again. She nodded and looked down.
Jesse wrapped an arm around her shoulders and brought her to him for a hug. With his other hand he cupped the side of her head and held it against his chest, and his chin rested on the top of her head. He smelled so good, like soap and something spicy. She relaxed and basked in his comfort and the feeling of his hands, now gentle, wrapped around her body.
Feeling another hug from the first man who’d ever paid her any attention, she felt vulnerable and more in love with him than ever. Despite how much the spanking embarrassed her, she again felt noticed by him and like he cared about her. Now that he comforted her, she grasped his shirt with her fists and held onto him as though tearing herself away would rip out her heart.
He ran a hand over her head. “You’re going to be just fine, darlin’. Stay away from here.” His breath wisped the hair along her forehead, and she felt a shiver of delight down to her toes. “I wager you’ll find yourself a good man and be married in a year. Then you’ll be able to move off the farm, assuming you don’t marry a farmer, that is.”
“Will you give me a job in a year if I’m not married?” she asked, her voice muffled by his shirt.
“No, but I’ll want to hear what’s keeping you from finding a nice fellow.”
She looked up at him. “Should I come back here to tell you?”
“No,” he said, frowning down at her. “I just said you’re not to come back to the saloon again, and I mean it. You can tell me over supper at the diner. How about that?”
She felt a wave of excitement. “Like as in courting?”
He cocked his head, and a look of surprise crossed his face. “No, darlin’. I’m far too old for you. I’m thirty-one. That would make me, what? Twelve years older than you?”
“Thirteen,” she corrected. “It’s not that much older, Jesse,” she added.
“Regardless, you’re going to find a good man before a year from now because you’re going to stay away from places like this. Aren’t you?”
He asked the question sternly with a raised eyebrow, again addressing her like she was a child that needed to be corrected and set on the right path. Her heart sank. She wished she had the courage to tell him straight out that she didn’t want to find another man. She wanted only him, but she didn’t think she’d be able to survive the humiliation if he rejected her in that way. It was unbearable enough that he’d said no to her employment request, very clearly and very firmly too.
She decided that she would return to him in a year and remind him that he had promised to take her to dinner. Her bottom would likely stop smarting by then, so she would also risk asking again if he would employ her as a singer and dancer. She wanted him to court her, and she wanted to become an entertainer. One spanking over his knee, painful though it was, wouldn’t prevent her from pursuing either of her dreams.
After he sent Lily on her way with a sore bottom and a lecture, Jesse climbed the stairs to his living quarters, which was on the second floor of the saloon. He sat down on his armchair and slumped back. He rubbed his smarting palm against his trousers and replayed the event in his mind. His actions had surprised him nearly as much as they had surprised the girl, and he tried to wrap his head around what had compelled him to discipline her.
It had a lot to do with the look in her eyes, Jesse realized. She looked at him with such innocence and hope, and when he saw that, his heart ached. He recognized that look in a woman, and he would have done just about anything to keep it on her face. That included ensuring she didn’t work at a saloon, which he felt certain would break her or at least leave her disillusioned.
Lily wore the same hopeful look his late wife Sadie wore when he asked her to move west with him. In Springfield, he played piano and sang for pennies a day and was privy to stories of how men earned a hundred times that out west. He had grand plans for himself and his wife then. He planned to settle in California and mine for gold in the rivers, but they ran out of money before they got there. They found a small room in a boardinghouse in Weston, Arizona, and he instead mined for copper underground. Then a beam collapsed, pinned and shattered his left shin, and left him with a limp and inability to navigate the mine’s shafts. The hope faded from his wife’s eyes then, replaced by a worried frown. She worked hard during his recovery, traveling from neighbor to neighbor to wash their clothes and clean their houses. Returning home after dark with bloody knuckles and blistered feet, she’d then care for Jesse in his bedridden state.
Since his injury meant being unable to work for the mines, he did the only other thing he knew how to do. After he recovered enough to get around, he brazenly hobbled into Weston’s saloon and sat down at the piano. He sang and played soulful tunes, his wife sitting nearby listening along with the other patrons. He witnessed the hope returning to her eyes, and he thrilled when she returned the wink he sent in her direction. He sang and played upbeat tunes that brought rowdy drunks to their feet. He sang and played until the previous saloon owner walked up to him and said, “You’re hired.”
He and the saloon owner became friends and partners, and he learned the business inside and out, from entertaining guests to recording the money earned in the ledger at the end of the day. Sadie was just beginning to enjoy an easier life with the pleasures that came along with some money in the bank when she became ill and died of tuberculosis. Her life had been hard from birth to death. Jesse had never been able to give her everything he thought she deserved, and he felt more crippled by that than he did by his bum leg.
When the previous saloon owner died, he left half of the business to his daughter Florence and the other half to Jesse. Florence acted as madam to the prostitutes and scheduled shifts for those of them who danced the floor. Jesse ran the rest of the business. He puzzled over the fact that Lily had come to him with the request to work as a dancer, when really she should have gone to Florence, but he was glad that Lily made the choice to talk to him. No doubt she was left with a lasting impression of what business not to get into, and he didn’t think he’d see her in the saloon again after the spanking he’d given her.
He recalled seeing Lily crying outside of the blacksmith’s shop a few years back. He had attempted to make her feel better, though he had little experience with children, especially crying little girls. At first he hadn’t recognized her as the same person when she came into the saloon and sat on a stool at the bar. She looked much more grown up than he remembered. Her brunette hair was half pinned on the top of her head and half cascading in waves around her shoulders. She wore a practical cotton dress with green ribbons that matched the green tint of her eyes. She looked like a pretty schoolmarm, not a saloon dancer, and she stuck out like a sore thumb on his barstool. Her innocence exasperated him, since it was coupled with the fool notion of working at a saloon.
The hopeful look in her eyes came to his mind again, and he sighed. He prayed that the hope of her youth never faded, as it did for so many of the people he knew in his place of business, including himself. What began as a job to provide a healthy income for him and his wife had become an obligation with many responsibilities and no one to share the fruits of his labor with. He’d tried courting women around town, but none of them kept his interest for long. None were able to capture him in the way his wife had with her guileless open nature and good heart. She came from hardworking folks and was as unspoiled as the day was long.
A thought struck Jesse then. Lily embodied everything he liked in a woman, and he’d just sent her away with a spanking and an order to find herself a beau. He wondered if he’d made a mistake in sending her away. He couldn’t deny the affection he felt toward her, though he didn’t believe it was romantic. His feelings for her were of a protective nature, not an amorous one.
He shook his head and convinced himself that she was far too young for him to consider pursuing anyway. Plus, she was sweet and innocent, and he was just about the opposite in both respects. She would find someone better. He walked back to the bar and continued with the routine of his life, intent on putting the farm girl out of his mind. This proved impossible for him to do, however, on that day or any that followed.