“I sure do miss Mama,” Trent sighed, putting garland on their freshly cut Christmas tree. “It’s not going to be the same without her.”
“Sure isn’t. Nobody can string popcorn like Mama,” Wesley joined in with a grin.
“I’m actually going to miss those tacky Christmas sweaters she used to knit,” Trent joked.
“Well, now, I don’t know if I’d go that far!”
Both men chuckled together for a moment before the room went somber once more.
“You know what I’m going to miss most?”
Wesley nodded, his eyes gleaming. “Her cooking!” The brothers said in unison.
“Apple pie, dressing, turkey—”
“Cornbread!” Trent finished, rubbing his belly. “Mm-mm!”
“It didn’t smell like Christmas until Mama took that cornbread out the oven,” Wesley remarked, his voice full of longing.
The way he was talking made even my own mouth water, despite the attempts I’d made to ignore their banter. With an inward sigh, I dropped the book I’d been reading—loudly. It got both their attention, and they turned guilty eyes toward me. They knew I didn’t like talking about our mother, who’d passed only three months ago. I still missed her terribly, and had only agreed reluctantly to celebrate Christmas at all this year.
“Not that you’ll have any trouble with those recipes, Maggie,” Trent said generously.
“Thank you,” I replied, forcing a smile. And that would have been that, if Wesley’s wife, Libby, hadn’t spoken up.
“Actually, Maggie, I wanted to talk to you about that.”
I turned to the petite woman, scrutinizing her with narrowed eyes. It was no secret that I hadn’t liked Libby long before she’d stepped over the threshold, and the feeling, as far as I could tell, was mutual. She was very pretty—I could admit begrudgingly—with her reddish-brown hair that flowed down her back, and her teeny-tiny waist—the woman ate like a cow! Damn Mother Nature and her discriminating ways! Libby’s skin was pale as milk, which wouldn’t last long after the long hours she’d be spending in the harsh light of the sun.
Her large blue eyes were clear and sweet-looking, but I knew very well that appearances could be deceiving. That was the case with Libby Swift, of that much I was certain.
“I was thinking,” she continued when I didn’t answer, “that I’d be happy to take charge of the Christmas cooking this year.”
I did a double-take. She couldn’t possibly be suggesting that she… in my place? In my mother’s own kitchen? It was unthinkable.
“That’s mighty nice of you, sweetheart,” Wesley praised his wife, who smiled—gloating was more like it, I thought—up at him.
I frowned at the pair of them. I’d never been able to see why Wesley had taken such a vapid, pretty girl for a wife. She was weak as water, and not nearly as useful. They seemed complete opposites in every way: he was a problem-solver, and she complained unceasingly; he was a hard worker, while she lazed about the house all day; he was an animal lover, and she couldn’t abide the smell of dogs. On and on it went. Why, they even looked completely different! His pale blond hair was startling when pressed to her own dark head. His eyes were a deep, warm brown to her bright blue; her skin was a flawless snow-white, while his was permanently tanned from all the grueling work he did outdoors.
“Mags?” Wesley prompted, turning the same smile on me. “What do you say?”
I returned his smile warmly and with calm eyes surveyed his wife. “That is very kind of you, Libby. But I’d prefer to handle this on my own.”
Libby twisted her lips in a pout; even when she was frowning, her mouth was pretty. “But I’m just dying to try my hand at a Christmas turkey.”
Then do it and be done with it, I thought, snorting at her attempt to be demure. “Thank you kindly, Libby, but you heard Wesley and Trent.” I smiled patronizingly. “They are used to a certain kind of cooking.”
Wesley began to chuckle but masked it quickly when his wife looked up at him with wide, pained eyes.
“Don’t you think I could cook for you this Christmas, honey?”
“Well, now,” he hedged, distinctly uncomfortable at having been caught in the middle. “I think you’d do a mighty fine job, Libby. But you have to take that up with Mags. It’s her kitchen, after all.”
“But she’s not even married!” Libby hissed, loud enough for me to hear.
I felt my face color in familiar, smarting shame. I knew it only echoed all the whispering that went on behind my back. They smiled to my face when they ran into me on Sunday, but behind my back they wondered at the oddity of me—almost thirty, and unmarried. I’d heard it all before, from women who decided to break the silence and inform me of my duty to bear children—an ability which, given my age, was surely coming to an end.
Wesley took in the pained expression on my face in a glance and glared at his wife. “That’s none of your concern,” he remarked, but I see could from the smile at the corners of her lips that she was decidedly unrepentant. “I was really sorry you didn’t get to go to town with us yesterday,” he remarked, deftly changing the subject. “I brought you some candy.”
My eyes widened in surprised delight, and despite my irritation with Libby, my lips spread into a smile. Wesley was so good to me—both of my brothers were. Even though I was the older, they often treated me like a little sister and had been even more considerate of me since Mama had died. I could practically feel the hard candy in my mouth, covering my mouth with its sweetness. I wondered what flavor Wes had gotten this time—he liked to surprise me.
Unable to contain my excitement at this rare and delicious treat, I flew to the kitchen and began searching through the sacks he’d left on the counter. Little by little, as I rifled through flour, sugar, apples, and other staples and came up empty handed, my excitement started to ebb. Maybe he’d meant to pick some up, maybe he’d thought he had, but it wasn’t here.
I tried to school my features to conceal my disappointment before walking back into the parlor. Wesley, in conversation with Trent about the mare we’d soon have in foal, looked up at my approach.
“Decide to save it for later?” he asked, surprise coloring his voice.
“Oh, um…” I offered a shrug, hoping he’d let it drop. I didn’t want to embarrass him, and really, it didn’t matter. Not at the end of the day.
“Well?” he prompted, and I could hear a note of impatience in his voice. I’d forgotten how much he hated when people used shrugs in place of answers. He found it very disrespectful.
“She’s hidden the candy from us!” Trent crowed, laughing. “Is that it?”
I could feel Wesley’s eyes on me, refusing to move until he had an answer from me, and I flushed deeper. I tried to turn away, but my brother’s words—more so his stern, commanding voice—stopped me where I stood.
“Did you not like your surprise?”
I couldn’t bear the pain his words brought me. The three of us had always been close, but since Pa’s death five years earlier, and our recent loss of our mother, we had bonded together as thick as thieves. That he could even think I would be so ungrateful in the face of his generosity made me ill. Unable to wait even another second, the words wrenched from me, as quiet as they were. “I’m sure you meant well, but I think you might have forgotten.”
“Forgotten?” he echoed, and I felt myself redden to the tips of my ears. Did the situation really call for further discussion? I found I’d much rather discuss the upcoming foal.
“I didn’t find them.”
Wesley got up and walked to the kitchen in a few quick strides. We waited, all three silent and staring after him. I shook my foot from side to side, secretly hoping that any minute now he’d reappear with the bag of candy in hand. We’d all have a good laugh and the matter would soon be forgotten.
When he did come back, not only was he empty handed, but his previously puzzled expression had become a deep frown. “I didn’t forget,” he told me, his voice short as he gave his wife his undivided attention.
I turned to look at her, too, and noticed right away that she was looking down at her neatly clasped hands in front of her. I could swear I detected the corner of her lips twitching.
“Libby, do you happen to know anything about how Maggie’s things disappeared?”
“Course not,” she replied, in a dismissive, offhand way. “How could I?”
Wesley’s frown deepened, and when he spoke again his voice had taken on a tone that I’d heard my Pa use a time or two. “I better get a straight answer from you this instant, girl. And look at me when I’m talking to you.” He tapped his toe once, hard, the toe of his boot meeting the floor with an ominous thud.
When Libby raised her eyes to his, they were more than a bit spooked. “I said I didn’t know anything,” she insisted, even as her lip quivered.
I saw it, then, in the defiant tilt of her chin, the square of her shoulders. She’d taken the sweets just to be spiteful.
Wesley seemed to read her the same way, judging from the way he stepped toward her, menacingly. “Don’t sass me, young lady—don’t you dare.”
“I’m sorry,” she squealed as she was hauled to her feet and into his strong arms. “I didn’t mean to, I swear!”
Wesley gave her a little shake. “What do you mean? What did you do?”
“I…” she looked at me ruefully, though I suspected what she really was regretting was her admission of guilt. “It’s so stupid to waste money on her,” she spat out, turning away from me and not even having the decency to look ashamed of herself.
“She is my sister,” he responded firmly, reaching forward and tilting her chin up so that she had to look him in the eye. “She deserves your kindness.”
“Why, because—” Libby’s words were cut off by a swift, hard smack to her bottom that resounded through the room. I watched her eyes widen, watched her try to reach back and rub her behind, but Wes grabbed both of her wrists and held them firmly in one hand. I’d never know what she’d been about to say.
“Because I told you to,” he replied. “That is good enough reason for you, young lady. Clearly, you need a lesson in manners.”
“Wes, please,” she whimpered, but he jerked his head to the negative.
“I will not tolerate rudeness, do you hear me?”
Before I could hear her answer, Trent laid a hand on my shoulder. “Let’s take a walk.”
I would have liked very much to witness Wesley taking his bratty wife in hand, but even though Trent was the much quieter of the two, he possessed the same commanding presence, an air of authority that would not be denied. Though I doubted very much that I would be in danger of a visit to the woodshed—I suspected that those trips were reserved for rebellious wives—Trent’s tongue lashings were formidable. It was with great reluctance that I followed him out of our small farmhouse. I could still hear rumbles of conversation after the door swung closed behind me, but Trent kept walking, and I dutifully followed.
When he’d gotten halfway down the dirt road he stopped in his tracks and waited for me to catch up.
“Sorry about that, Mags,” he said, scratching a line in the dirt with the toe of his boot.
“It’s not your fault,” I reminded him, forcing a smile. “New wives, I guess.’
“Hmm,” he replied noncommittally, and I realized he’d been especially somber the last few days. Trent was a reserved man by nature, but he’d been uncommonly terse this past week.
I felt like a fool for not noticing sooner. “You’ll know all about that soon enough,” I remarked neutrally.
“Hmph,” he replied, stomping down on the line he’d made. “Reckon so.”
“Oh, come on.” I nudged his shoulder playfully. “What do you have to worry about?”
“Never said I was worried,” he replied, his voice gruff, but I knew better. He didn’t have to admit to it for me to know it was true.
“Do you need me to educate you some?” I teased.
“On what?” he asked, arching his brows at me.
Trent was remarkably handsome—I knew that, even if he was my own brother. He’d had girls giggling and fighting amongst themselves just to sit next to him in church since he was nine years old. He had the same big shoulders, strong arms, and toned body that God had blessed Wesley with, though he was two inches shorter at six feet. His hair was a dirty blond, his eyes the same warm brown. He had a strong jaw and full lips that made every girl swoon. They didn’t seem to mind that he rarely had anything to say.
The truth was, Trent was a very picky man, especially where women were concerned. His company had been long sought-after, but he wasn’t the obliging kind. Another man might take a girl to dinner, just because she was pretty, and kiss her because he knew she was willing. Trent was nothing of the kind and was a better man for it, in my opinion.
“Oh, you know, the usual. What women like, romantic things.”
He truly seemed puzzled by my comment. “Well, I know what you like, Mags. It can’t be that hard.”
I had to bite down on my lip, hard, to keep from laughing. I had to start walking again so that he wouldn’t see it on my face. He caught up to me in no time, and we walked on in silence for a bit. When I’d calmed down, I couldn’t resist a little more ribbing. “You wouldn’t need to know anything about the wedding night, would you?”
Trent stopped as soon as the words left my mouth, and grabbed my wrist so that I too halted in my tracks. His eyes were hard, his voice sharp, as he asked, “And just what would you know about it, sister?”
I mumbled my apologies and tried to explain that I’d been joking, but Trent’s expression stayed sour after that. Though he’d had the attention of just about every girl in town at one point or another, Trent’s reluctance to show favor to one girl over another soon had them looking elsewhere. One or two had propositioned him, boldly, and ended up getting turned down anyway, along with a stern lecture for their trouble, as I’d heard it.
The way that Trent had gone about finding a bride had been the cause for much whispering and speculation these last few months. Even Wes and I weren’t immune from the trifling gossip. I could feel eyes following me every time I went into town—which was less and less lately.
Oh, yes, I could hear them now, giggling cruelly behind their gloved hands: “Isn’t her brother the one—”
“Oh, yes, didn’t you hear? They are to wed soon. It’s a private ceremony—they’re not even getting married in the church!”
“Having an old maid for a sister like that,” they’d say, clucking their tongues, “is it any wonder? Besides, she probably can’t boil a cup of decent Arbuckle, much less make a wedding cake!”
I heard them alright. Maybe my imagination was crueler than the reality, but I doubted it. Trent had gotten plenty of attention here at home and had found no one to his liking. I’d begun to think we’d all live unmarried forever until Wesley bought a ring for Libby. I think we’d all been pretty shocked by that turn of events, and there were times I wondered if there’d been a reason other than love for their hurried courtship, but I didn’t have the nerve required to inquire further.
Still, whispers had been following Trent for a long time now, even if it didn’t seem to bother him. He’d rebuffed each and every suitable girl, to the point where all of them turned their eye to more willing fellows. Now, even the unsavory prospects had stopped trying. I’d begun to wonder if my brother even cared to get married before he told us about Abigail.
He’d seen her ad in the local paper asking for a pen pal, and my brother, of all people, had begun exchanging letters with her. I wasn’t sure exactly how long this had gone on before he told us, but I knew that it had continued for another two months, with him retrieving a parcel of letters from town once a month. Whenever he came back with them tucked under his arm I knew that he would be closing himself in his room until suppertime. I’d peeked in on him, just once, and saw him bent over one of her letters, eyes scanning the page hungrily. He was so entranced with whatever Abigail had to say—lost perhaps, in the world that they’d created for just the two of them—that he didn’t even notice me, and I was able to silently creep away.
Then one morning at breakfast, as I was frying sausage in a skillet, he announced as easy as you please that he would be meeting Abigail in town, where they would be married. He’d said the words as matter-of-factly as you’d ask someone to pass the butter. Upon hearing them, I dropped the skillet and uttered a word that made Wes’s brows draw together. I let my mind take me back to that foggy, cold morning when the world as I knew it had changed.
“Sorry,” I apologized, stooping to see if any of the sausage could be saved.
“That’s OK, sister dear,” he replied, all too cheerful for my own mood. “I like mine a bit rare, anyway.”
I went back to cooking, ignoring the stern warning that Wes gave me. He was like our Pa in that way—he did not abide cussing, especially from women. My mind raced as I flipped the sausage—I only had to throw out two pieces, thank goodness! How could he do this to me? For one thing, people’s tongues already wagged where I was concerned, musing over my lack of suitors. If Trent went and got himself married, that would leave only me, the oldest… I shuddered to think of the gossips, the old ladies in town who would pat my hand sympathetically. Each one would run their eyes over me, thinking to themselves, she’s not very pretty, is she? Oh, that mole on her neck, there? What man could tolerate that?
The kitchen was silent, and the more I listened to the rustling of newspapers or the clanking of coffee cups the madder I got. “You barely know her!” I burst out at last, turning toward him and waving my spatula. “Have you even met her before?”
“You know I haven’t, Mags,” he replied, his eyes as patient as his voice was calm.
“This is ridiculous!” I spat out. “How many perfectly suitable girls did you turn down just for… just for… this woman?”
Wes turned to me now, too, and I could see that his mouth was set in a firm line. But I only had eyes for Trent, who smiled at me gently. “I thought we had an understanding, sister. You don’t question my choices when it comes to marriage, and I won’t question yours.”
As sweetly as he said it, I still flushed, unable to block out the sound of my sister-in-law’s muffled laughter. I glared at her, but she stared back, defiant. I’d turned back to the stove and finished cooking breakfast. The four of us had eaten in silence.
Not another word had ever been said about the marriage since, but I still had my doubts. How could it work, marrying someone you’d never even laid eyes on before? Sure, people had done it before, in years past. But nowadays it was rare. Why would he go and do a thing like that, when he could have had his pick of women? It still mystified me, but I knew better than to bring it up again.
“I’m going into town tomorrow,” Trent said, breaking into my thoughts. “We could pick you up some of that candy then.”
I smiled, pleasantly surprised by the offer. “What are you going to town for?”
Trent coughed, loudly, and I didn’t miss the way his neck colored. “I’m meeting Abby there tomorrow.”
I stopped dead, my mouth dropping open. He hadn’t mentioned her in weeks! “Tomorrow?” I gasped. “You’re… tomorrow?”
He shrugged, even as his flush deepened. “Yep, looks like it. Wouldn’t blame the poor girl if she changed her mind and stayed home.” He attempted a laugh, but it fell flat.
In that moment, I realized that was exactly what he was afraid of. I grabbed my brother in a hug and held him tightly. Trent obliged by patting me on the back a few times before pulling out of my embrace. Right then, I decided that I had to let go of all my reservations. I had to be happy for him, for both of them. I could only hope and pray that she was nothing like my other sister-in-law.
* * *
The minute the door swung closed, I walked to my brat of a wife and took her by the arm. I could feel her trembling beneath my fingers, but she was anything but contrite. Libby had always been strong willed, but I knew it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t handle. I led her to the table where we took our meals and pulled a chair out. When I sat down, I brought her to stand in front of me, between my knees.
“Libby, what were you thinking?” I asked, my voice gruff. By God, the woman was beautiful. I didn’t know how her skin stayed so milky-white under the sharp heat of the sun, but I loved it. Her eyes reminded me of violets, although the smell of her skin was sweeter than the flowers. We didn’t get much time alone in the house, and my arms ached for her to fill them, but unfortunately my duty as a husband called for me to deal with this unpleasantness.
“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice sullen.
I frowned at her. I’d like to get this over with as soon as possible—I had a list of chores to do that was longer than my arm, but Libby could be stubborn at the worst of times. “Don’t worry, little lady, you’ll have cause to be sorry soon enough. But that doesn’t answer my question: why’d you do it?”
“I just…” She huffed loudly, tossing her hair, “I’m tired of you buying presents for that old maid!”
I was startled by the venom in her words. “Unmarried she might be, but she’s still my sister, Libby.”
“More to the pity,” she sniffed.
I arched a brow at her. She sure did have a quick mouth, and all too often it didn’t suit her. “The two of you carrying on like you do is nothing but bad medicine. This needs to stop.”
“Then tell her to stop acting like such a big bug!” she demanded, pointing an accusing finger at the door. “She walks around here like she owns the place, and you and your brother are just her servants!”
I guffawed at her. “That’s ridiculous, Libby. Quit making such a fuss!”
She turned those pretty eyes on me and narrowed them in anger. “I am not making a fuss, Wesley Swift! You need to do something about her. I can’t take it any longer!”
I returned her glare, feeling myself getting incensed now. Clearly my beautiful bride needed a reminder of who wore the pants in this family, and I was determined to give it to her. “I’d suggest you watch that tongue of yours, unless you want me to take you out back to the shed.”
My words hit their mark, and I saw Libby blanch when she took their meaning. The color began to drain from her face, and she hung her head. It could be that she was well and truly sorry, or she was just backing off to catch her breath. Never could tell with that woman.
“Now, I’m going to ask you again. Why did you take the things I bought for Maggie? Did you really eat ‘em?”
She began to fidget, and I saw the guilt in every scuff of her toe. “I didn’t eat them…” she admitted, sounding strangled. “I…”
“Best answer quick, girl,” I boomed at her.
“I… threw them out.” As soon as the words left her mouth, her eyes flew to my face, wide and scared.
I could feel my blood begin to boil. What was it with this woman? She could be so hardheaded sometimes. “We do not have enough money,” I told her in clipped tones, “to go throwing out perfectly good, unopened food.” I had to take several deep breaths to calm myself. All I wanted to do right now was take her out back and whip her little bare behind until she ran out of tears.
“I know,” she said in a whisper.
“Libby, what am I gonna do with you?” I asked, squeezing her between my knees.
“I’m sorry, Wes.” Now, her words were truly contrite, and her eyes glittered with unshed tears. I knew for sure and certain they would be rolling down her cheeks in just a minute.
“That still doesn’t tell me why you did it in the first place. Don’t think for one second that you’re not going to have to answer me.”
“It’s just… I guess I was jealous.”
“Jealous?” I echoed, incredulous. “What on earth for, honey?”
“You…” she squirmed, and I responded by pressing my knees against her, “you didn’t bring me a present.”
Realization dawning, it was all I could do to keep from laughing. The joke was on me: I’d really married a brat, as untamed as any wild filly. We’d only been wed for two months, though—there was plenty of time to break her in.
“Is that all? Why didn’t you say something, Libby?”
“I just…” Her eyes flicked to my face, then back to the floor, “I didn’t want to sound selfish.”
“So you acted selfish instead?” I challenged, gratified by the flush of shame that colored her cheeks. At least she felt badly about what she’d done.
“I’m sorry. It was a fool thing to do.”
“Got that right,” I agreed with a nod of my head. “Now you’re gonna have to pay the piper, sweetheart.”
She flinched, but when I spread my legs she went obediently over my knee without more than a whimper. I started to unhook the cincher she wore about her waist and tut-tutted at the effort it took. “Let me do it,” she said, her voice much subdued.
“If I want to undress my wife it should not take till sundown,” I remarked. “From now on, leave those things off.”
She looked over her shoulder at me, her eyes wide. “You cannot be serious!”
“But, Wesley—” she blanched. “What would the ladies in town say?”
“Would it surprise you if I said I don’t give a damn?” I kept my tone even, but she flinched all the same.
I flipped her petticoats up and gave each of her cheeks a resounding slap. “You can’t?”
“Please, you don’t understand. It’s dreadfully unfashionable to be seen without the proper—”
“Libby,” I drawled her name out in a warning.
Libby drew her breath in sharply, still not satisfied. “But what will your sister say? And that woman that Trent is bringing home? They’ll laugh at me, they’ll—”
“They are not in your situation, Libby.” She sniffed loudly and did not deign to answer. “Come, now, sweetheart. They can’t be at all comfortable. I just want what’s best for you, for our baby.”
“Other women wear them while with child,” she muttered, but I could hear the resignation in her voice and knew that I’d won without need of further argument.
That decided, I began to slide her drawers down. She stiffened under my touch. “Hold still, now,” I warned.
“Wes! What if they come back in?”
I chuckled at her gasp. “I suppose they’ll see me tanning your hide. ‘Course, if you’d stop all your bickering, we could get this over with, and there’d be less chance of it.”
Her body tensed on my lap, but she nodded her agreement. As soon as I saw her head bob up and down, I brought my hand down sharply on each of her pale white globes. The sight of her splayed like this normally set my heart to thumping hard and made my trousers uncomfortably tight. My wife was such a tiny thing; her shoulders were so femininely delicate, and her waist so tiny. Right at the end of her waist was the bottom that had come to know my hand quite well; I’d always marveled at the fact that, in spite of her being such a slip of a woman, her cheeks were so plump and perfectly rounded. Though I’d never admit it unless she asked, I loved watching those cheeks turn bright red. Luckily for me, my headstrong wife always gave me plenty of reason to do just that.
I continued to deliver slow, stinging slaps to her behind, watching the hues change from cream to pink. Libby clenched my knee each time her bottom was swatted, but didn’t let out so much as a snivel. I knew she was worried about being overheard, but it just wouldn’t do to have her sit through a spanking without crying a little. If she could, it would mean I wasn’t doing my job. With that in mind, I drew my hand back, raising it high, and brought it down swiftly on her left cheek. I could tell by her gasp that she felt it more than any of the others. Two beats later, I did the same for the right. On it went, until my wife lay sobbing over my lap.
“I’m sorry,” she cried, and I helped her to her feet. “It won’t happen again, Wesley.”
“Oh, I suspect it won’t,” I said, wiping her tears and bringing her hand to my lips. “Go fetch your hairbrush, now.”
The words inspired terror in her face. “My…”
“Your hairbrush, darlin’.”
“But… but why?”
I grinned at her. “I thought that was obvious.”
“You’ve already spanked me,” she said, somewhere between a whimper and a whine.
“We’re not even halfway there yet,” I told her, my eyes stern. “Now hurry and do as I say.”
With a little stamp of her foot, Libby whirled on her heel and left the room, wincing as she did so. I knew that she had a very sore bottom under those petticoats. When she returned, she wouldn’t meet my eyes as she thrust the brush at me. I took it, caressing the smooth, hard oak with the palm of my hand. It truly did make the perfect paddle for her naughty behind.
Without a word, she draped herself over my awaiting knee. “Libby, remind us both why you need this paddling.”
“If you can’t recall, perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it,” she ground out between clenched teeth.
I landed a swat that had her toes curling. I added five more stinging scorchers to the tally before I relented. “Care to try again?”
“You’re being mean,” she gasped.
“The only thing mean about me, sweetheart, is my mean hairbrush swing.” I chuckled at my own joke, while poor, hot-bottomed Libby groaned.
“Because I threw out perfectly good candy.”
“And?” I prompted, the hairbrush hovering over her blushing behind.
“It was… rude to take what wasn’t mine.”
I could hear how hard it was for her to admit her wrongdoing, and then and there, I resolved to make a lasting impression on her. “And?”
She sighed heavily, and I watched as her mounds jiggled from the movement. I lowered a hand to touch the delicate orbs—they were warm under my fingers.
“I should be nicer to her.”
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
“I should be nicer to her,” she repeated, louder, her voice even more scornful.
“Still didn’t catch that.”
“I should be nicer to Maggie!” She practically screamed, fit to be tied.
I patted her cheeks encouragingly. “Yes, you should at that. Now, all we have to work on is that tone of yours.” I set to work doing just that, raising the brush and lowering it with a determined smack to her buttocks that soon had her crying out. Before long, those cries turned to sobs as she writhed on my lap. Still, I gave her swat after swat until her hiney was a glowing, shiny red. Then I went to work on the flesh where bottom and thigh met.
“No more,” she choked out between sobs. “Please, Wes, no more.”
Ignoring her, determined to see my task through to the end, I swung low and heard her wail. As much as I hated for her to be in distress, I knew as well as she did that she had earned this punishment. My father had been known to keep the household in hand, including my mother, and I was determined to be no different. A family functioned well under order, and I knew I could provide that for my wife. As stubborn as she might be, sooner or later her sore seat would get through to her foolhardy brain.
I took my time, alternating thighs, spanking low so that she would be reminded to watch herself every time she sat down. She was sure going to be listening extra hard this Sunday, I thought with a grin.
“Wes-ley,” she choked out. “No more. I’ve l-learned my les-son. I won’t do it a-gain.”
I could tell by the limp way she lay over my lap that she’d had enough, but I wanted her to remember that I decided when a spanking was over, no matter how much she cried or how sweetly she begged me to stop, so I gave her two more swift smacks to each cheek before setting down the hairbrush. “Darned right you won’t. Next time, we’ll be goin’ out back for a visit to the woodshed.”
She mewled softly like a kitten, crying into my trousers. I knew she’d never been inside a woodshed before. Idly, I wondered what she’d make of it—after all these years, it still smelled like sawdust from all the woodworking my father was so fond of. It was rather dusty from lack of use, but the stiff leather strap still hung from a nail on the wall. It would certainly provide the privacy she longed for. It was true, she wouldn’t have to worry about being overheard, but part of me liked seeing her squirm at the thought of my siblings walking in on her.
“And you’ll need to find a way to make this up to Maggie.”
“What do you suggest?”
I was pleased to note that when she spoke, all the resentment had evaporated, replaced instead with sweet, gentle words. “That, you are going to have to figure out on your own,” I told her as I pulled up her drawers to cover her swollen cheeks. “It was your mistake. You need to be the one to make it up to her.”
Two words had never sounded so sweet. I helped her sit on my lap, chuckling at her grimace when her bottom landed on my hard thigh. I wiped away her tears, kissing the places where they’d fallen.
“I could cook dinner tonight,” she suggested, sniffling.
“Hmm,” I looked at her sharply. “Do you really think that trying to prove why you should be cooking Christmas dinner is making amends? Perhaps you need another lesson.” I tsked at her.
“I could do the dishes for a week,” she asserted quickly.
“You should help out around here more,” I remarked. “Better make it a month.”
“A month?” she spluttered. “But—”
“No arguing, young lady,” I warned. “And we’re not quite through. You will also be taking the cost of the candy out of your spending money.” Libby started crying again, her body leaning against my own as though she couldn’t hold herself up without my support. I shushed her gently. “Shh, sweetheart. It’s over now. I know you’ll do better in the future.”
She’d just promised that she would when the door squeaked open. Trent came in, stamping his feet at the door, with Maggie following close at his heels. She observed the pair of us with cool eyes. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear I saw the hint of a smile on the corners of her mouth.