Jeannie halted on the porch, listening. Her brothers’ voices were muffled through the wall, but there was no mistaking the fury in Sam’s tone. “He’s a killer! A hired gun! We don’t want him here!”
“We need the help,” Tommy argued. “You know that as well as I do. Besides, Jeannie’s in love with him. She kissed him—Danny told me.”
I am not! the voice inside of her protested, and she was tempted to run inside and inform her brothers of that fact, but something held her back. A little glimmer of hope sparked inside her. Why had Danny told Tommy about that tiny kiss? Had it meant something to him?
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Sam snarled.
“We want to get her married off, don’t we? Isn’t that what finishing school was all about?”
“We want her to marry a gentleman, not a drifter like Danny. Not a gunslinger with no prospects. What were you thinking, hiring him?”
Danny is a gentleman! the voice inside of her yelled.
“I want to give him a chance, Sam.”
“Then you can go out and tell him that. And you can deal with Jeannie.”
“Fine by me.”
“No!” She hadn’t meant to say the word, but it slipped out of her mouth anyway as she threw the front door open and ran inside to where her brothers were standing, hands on hips, glaring at each other. “No! Please don’t fire him!” she pleaded. “I want him to stay!”
Sam turned his furious glare on her. “No. He’s not welcome here.”
Jeannie rushed forward and took hold of her brother, clasping his arms in a firm grip, her whole being begging him to listen to her. “He told me his story, Sam, and believe me, he’s a good man; a gentleman. You have to let him stay on. Please.”
Sam looked down at her, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Are you in love with him?”
“No!” she yelled. But even as the words left her lips, she wondered if they were true. There was no denying it—she did have feelings for Danny.
“Then there’s no reason for him to stay.” Wrenching free of her grip, Sam sidestepped around her and strode toward the front door, his boot heels clicking noisily on the wooden floor.
“Sam! Wait!” she called. “I want him to stay.” She pleaded with her eyes for him to understand her meaning; to read in her body language the words that she couldn’t say. And she knew, without a doubt, that if Sam sent Danny away, it would break her heart.
Sam turned and looked at her for a long moment, his face expressionless, then he sighed. “Alright, he can stay. For now.”
Running to her brother, Jeannie wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him tight, her heart feeling like it would explode in happiness. “Thank you!”
Jeannie could feel the eyes of the townsfolk on her as she walked down the main street toward the elderly lady’s house. She had an apology to make, and she’d promised Tommy she’d do it. Maria had offered to go with her, but apologizing to Mrs. Abbott was something Jeannie wanted to do alone.
Danny had stopped the wagon outside of the general store so Maria could load it up with supplies, and the telegraph office, where Danny needed to go, was directly opposite. But Mrs. Abbott lived at the other end of the street, and as Jeannie stepped carefully over the uneven steps in the boardwalk she could feel her face coloring as the townsfolk watched her. She could feel their eyes, their judgment… and in her head, she could hear the jeering. She was the crazy woman who didn’t know her place, who brought shame on her family when she’d applied for Halsey’s job. She was the hellcat who’d knocked down poor Mrs. Abbott. She was the disrespectful brat who galloped down the main street of town without a care in the world for anyone but herself. She knew what they would say—she’d heard it all before.
She quickened her pace. Mrs. Abbott’s little house was in sight. She didn’t mind apologizing to Mrs. Abbott—she knew the old woman would be gracious and forgiving; it was the judgments of the townsfolk that she was dreading.
Stepping out of the telegraph office, Danny looked around. Red Rock was a bigger town than he’d expected it to be, with a lot more people than he’d seen in a while. He didn’t like people; he didn’t trust them. He was a loner, a drifter. Trouble always seemed to find him when there were people around. He smiled at the sight of Jeannie talking to another young woman further up the street. She was laughing; with her head thrown back and her black curls bouncing, she looked so happy and carefree. The baby bouncing on the woman’s hip reached out toward Jeannie and she took him, still laughing, and hugged the baby to her. Danny’s smile grew wider. His Jeannie might insist she didn’t want to be a lady, but it was obvious she liked babies. He nodded in approval.
He waited impatiently while the bank teller counted out his money. He didn’t like waiting; bad things happened when he had to wait. He shifted from foot to foot, nervously, his senses on full alert. He twisted his body slightly so he could see the door, but it didn’t help. He had a sense of foreboding down deep in his stomach; something was going to happen.
Taking the money, he folded it and tucked it into the leather pouch he wore next to his skin. He looked up, curious, at the banker tsking toward the window. “She’s a hellcat, that one,” the banker declared. “Didn’t have a mother, left to run riot… thinks she can do a man’s job.” He shook his head in consternation.
Following the banker’s gaze, Danny looked out the window too, just in time to see Jeannie shove past a middle-aged lady with such force the lady’s hat fell to the ground. She hadn’t taken more than two steps when she turned on someone else, and although Danny couldn’t hear what was being said, there was no mistaking the fury flashing across her face. Stuffing the pouch securely back inside his shirt, he strode to the door. He had to stop her, before she got herself into any more trouble. A crowd had gathered round, blocking her from view, but he could hear her voice now, arguing with someone, her shrill tone carrying over the murmurings of the crowd. Danny quickened his pace.
“You bastard!” he heard Jeannie yell. He watched in fascinated horror as she reared back and spat directly into the face of a man standing just in front of her; a big man. The woman with the baby whom Jeannie had been laughing with earlier tugged at his sleeve, urging him to leave, but he was having none of it. Danny watched as he wiped Jeannie’s spittle off his face with the sleeve of his shirt, then raised his hand to hit her.
“No! You leave her alone!” He surprised himself with the force of his words, but he knew, right then in that moment, that he wasn’t going to let anyone hurt Jeannie. No matter what she’d done, they weren’t going to hurt her. In two more strides he was upon them, pushing the man out of the way and sweeping Jeannie up, throwing her over his shoulder like a sack of grain. She struggled, but he held her tightly. “Settle down!” he growled, swatting her backside hard. He couldn’t put her down yet; judging by the unhappy looks on the faces of the bystanders, the safest place for Jeannie right now was right where she was. He didn’t miss the satisfied expressions on the faces of a few of the onlookers when his hand connected with Jeannie’s upturned backside; they were obviously pleased to see the little hellcat get her comeuppance.
Holding Jeannie tightly with one hand, he kept the other hand close to his gun. He didn’t want the big man Jeannie had spat on to go causing any trouble.
“What’s going on?” Danny asked.
“She nearly sent me flying!” The middle-aged lady Jeannie had knocked came forward, looked flustered.
The lady straightened her shoulders and looked him square in the eye. “I told her she had some nerve showing her face in town again after what she did the last time she was here! She brought shame upon her family, you know, applying for Mr. Halsey’s horse-breaking job. I reminded her of that. And she swore at me! Hetty and Mrs. Robinson came to my aid and she swore at them too! Then dear Mr. Marshall here, she spat on him!” The lady took a breath, her hand on her heart, still looking upset.
“What did Mr. Marshall say?”
No one spoke. The ladies stood there with pursed lips, disapproval written all over their faces. It was clear that they thought Jeannie was somehow beneath them.
The woman holding the baby poked the big man in the ribs with her elbow. “Tell him, John!” she urged. “Tell him what you said.”
“That she didn’t know her place,” the big man answered.
Danny let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “Was that the way of it, Jeannie?” he asked. She was silent. He swatted her backside again. “Was it?”
Jeannie gulped. “Well… sort of,” she admitted. She knew she had to say something, otherwise Danny would smack her again, and that would not be good at all. Not in front of all these people! From her upside-down position she couldn’t see their faces, but she knew not one of them would come to her defense; they were likely full of admiration for Danny swatting her bottom.
Elizabeth stepped forward, her baby fussing now with all the commotion. “It was the way of it, Jeannie, you know it was! I said for you to ignore them but you wouldn’t!”
Traitor! Jeannie wanted to yell, but knew she wouldn’t dare. Not in the position she was in, dangled over Danny’s shoulder as she was. But she should have known. Elizabeth was a meek, quiet girl, not used to standing up for herself. Besides, she was a lady, a wife, and a mother—the townsfolk didn’t have a problem with her.
“Thank you,” Danny’s deep voice rumbled, as he gripped her tighter and turned away from the gathered people. “I will take Jeannie home now.”
“Put me down!” she hissed. She wanted to fight and kick, but the memory of Danny getting shot was still fresh in her mind. She wanted her feet back on the ground, but she didn’t want to injure him.
“No,” he growled. “You were a rude, disrespectful, naughty little brat and you need to be punished.”
“They deserved it!” Jeannie argued.
“Your friend was right—you should have ignored them.”
That was it. Jeannie was furious! She balled her hands into fists and thumped Danny in the back as hard as she could. “Do you just ignore people when they taunt you?” she cried, frustration rising up within her. Why didn’t anyone understand?
“When I can, yes,” Danny replied. “It usually means someone gets killed, otherwise.”
Danny was striding quickly away from the crowd gathered on the street, around to the back of the livery stable where the wagon was waiting for Maria to load it up with supplies. She tried to get away, but Danny held her fast. She could feel his hard body beneath her, the way the muscles in his shoulders flexed as he took her weight. He held her firmly, securely. Strangely, she felt safe.
“No one deserves to be spat on, Jeannie,” Danny scolded her softly as he set her on her feet next to the back of the wagon. “You were rude. You lost your temper for no good reason. You acted like a spoiled brat.”
She looked at the ground, but Danny’s gentle fingers underneath her chin tilting her face upward forced her to look at him. His scolding tone and the disapproval in his eyes made her feel like a very naughty, very small child.
“When I first met you, you told me your brothers were embarrassed by your actions. I can see why that would be. Come and bend over beside the wagon, Jeannie. You deserve to be punished.”
A shiver went down her spine at his words. They were said softly, gently, but she knew he meant to punish her soundly. His grip on her upper arm was gentle yet firm as he led her to the back of the wagon. Her heart was in her throat as he gently placed her hands on the edge of the wagon.
“Bend over.” His breath was hot against her as he whispered the words huskily into her ear. She obeyed as he pressed one hand between her shoulder blades, pushing her down.
“Someone will see!”
“We’re behind the stable—who’s here to see?”
“No, please don’t do this,” she begged. But Danny’s hand was firmly against her shoulder blades and although she struggled and tried to stand up, she was powerless to fight against him.
She gasped as Danny’s huge, hard hand connected with her bottom, the force of the swat reverberating through her. His hand landed again and she gritted her teeth against the pain, determined not to cry out, lest the townsfolk hear her.
“You need to be taught a lesson in manners, and in controlling your temper,” Danny scolded, punctuating his words with another fiery swat.
Jeannie hissed at the fire that tore through her backside, unable to believe that someone who had been half dead just two days ago was smacking her so thoroughly now. She straightened and stood up as he removed his hand from between her shoulder blades, relieved that it was over so soon.
“No, stay there, this isn’t finished. Take down your pants—you’re going to get this spanking on the bare.”
“No!” Jeannie gasped, horrified. “You can’t!”
“I’m too sore to spank you hard enough to have much of an impact,” Danny said. “So it’s either your bare behind, or I use my belt. What’s it to be?”
What a choice. Jeannie groaned. “It’s having an impact, believe me!” she cried. “It’s hurting a lot!”
Danny looked at her sternly, his dark gaze smoldering as he fixed his eyes on hers, sending electricity rippling down her spine. His stern stare sent heat to her very core. “What’s it to be?” he asked softly, dangerously. “Will you take down your pants or am I taking off my belt?”
The sting Danny’s hand was inflicting through her pants was bad enough; no way did she want to feel it on her bare skin. But his belt? She shuddered at the thought of the leather slapping against her bottom. Even through her heavy canvas pants, she knew it would hurt. The sting in her bottom contradicted his claim that he couldn’t spank her very hard at the moment due to his injury—the thought of his belt against her tender bottom truly scared her.
“I’ll pull my pants down,” she mumbled, her face flushing red with embarrassment. She looked at the ground, hoping Danny wouldn’t see the shame flooding through her.
“Go on then,” he urged her.
Her fingers were shaking as she fumbled with the buttons on her pants, undoing them slowly then pushing them down to her knees. She tugged her short lace drawers down too—the only concession she made to femininity. She shivered as the cool air rippled across her bare skin, kissing her with a chilly breeze. She kept her back to Danny, trying to keep her most intimate places hidden from his view. She was mortified. But despite her shame, she could feel a slickness between her legs that wasn’t there before, and a tingling ache that left her wanting.
“Put your hands back on the wagon and bend over, just as you were before.”
She shook her head. I can’t do this. Panic rose up within her. Maybe she couldn’t escape from her punishment, but neither could she participate in it. If Danny wanted her bent over, he’d have to put her in that position.
Danny’s hand went to his waist. “Do I need to take off my belt?” He looked at her sternly, one eyebrow raised, his dark eyes flashing with impatience.
Inhaling sharply, she shook her head furiously and forced herself to obey. She placed first one hand on the side of the wagon and then the other, fighting to calm her racing heart.
“Good, now bend over.”
Danny’s voice was smooth, a low rumble that sent sparks through her. His hand on the back of her neck, pushing her down, gave her the strength she needed to position herself as he demanded, and she took comfort in the presence of his restraining hand.
The first smack of his hard, rough hand against her bare skin took her breath away. It stung so much more without the protection of her pants. Never had she been spanked on her bare bottom before, and the indignity of it was almost as intolerable as the pain. A second slap followed quickly after the first, and the third one made her cry out.
“Unless you want the townsfolk to witness your spanking, I suggest you keep quiet,” Danny admonished quietly. “You earned this spanking, now you can stand there and take it.”
Jeannie bit her lip and bore the next few smacks silently, as the sting in her bottom intensified with each whack Danny rained down until it felt like a raging inferno.
“I’m sorry!” she gasped.
“It’s not me you should be apologizing to,” Danny growled, spanking her again. “I’m not the one you nearly knocked over and I’m not the one you spat on.” An extra hard smack that landed right at the base of her bottom showed just how displeased Danny was by her disrespectful behavior. “You were very naughty.” Another swat punctuated his statement. “Disrespectful. Rude.” Two more solid swats accompanied those words, and Jeannie bounced up and down on her toes, desperate to escape the pain.
Danny turned his attention to the top of her thighs then, peppering them with hard smacks that made her squirm. “Am I getting through to you, young lady?”
“Yes!” Jeannie ground out through clenched teeth, struggling to hold back the tears that threatened to fall.
“Have you learned your lesson?” Danny asked her, swatting the fullest part of her bottom, his large hand covering the center of both cheeks.
“Yes!” Her affirmation was shrill; it was getting harder and harder to keep quiet as Danny reddened her entire bottom.
“Are you going to treat people with respect from now on?” The last spank was the hardest one yet and it came in an upward swing that propelled her forward and nearly lifted her off her feet.
“Yes!” Jeannie cried again, desperate for the spanking to end. Her bottom was on fire; the sting Danny had built up on her bare backside was powerful.
“Good. Spread your legs.”
“I’m going to spank the tender skin on the inside of your thighs, where it really stings, then your punishment will be over. Three smacks on each. Now spread your legs, or I’ll make it four.”
Trembling, with tears spilling down her cheeks, Jeannie took a step to the side, spreading her legs as wide apart as the pants around her ankles would allow. She felt Danny’s hand grip the back of her neck.
“Bend over.” His hand squeezed softly, right at the base of her neck where her shoulders converged, pressing her down.
She thought she would surely die of embarrassment as she felt Danny’s gaze upon her. She knew he could see the moisture that had gathered between her thighs; he could see everything. In this vulnerable position, nothing was hidden from him.
She gripped the wagon so tightly her knuckles were white as she waited in fearful anticipation for Danny’s hand to fall.
Danny’s hand was so huge that it covered the width of her thigh, his callused skin inflicting a deep burn in the tender skin. A second slap fell in exactly the same spot, searing right up high, the tip of his fingers nearly hitting her pussy. Tingles shot through her, and her lady parts pulsed with desire as Danny’s leg touched hers just before the third stingy slap fell. Jeannie was breathless. A spanking had never had this effect on her before! Her breasts felt tight and achy and the wetness between her thighs spread to a delicious hotness that increased each time Danny’s hand fell. As he made the inside of her other thigh sting and burn, her breath caught in her throat and the air felt too thick to breathe. She gritted her teeth, holding in her scream, as the third smack fell, and it was several long seconds before she recovered enough to breathe again. As she opened her mouth to inhale sharply, Danny spun her around and pulled her in close to him, his hand on the back of her head pressing her face in against his chest, his other hand on her back tracing gentle circles, soothing her. His closeness did nothing to alleviate the aching hotness in her core, and as her tears soaked into his shirt, her breathing became ragged and shallow.
“It’s over now,” Danny whispered in her ear, his breath hot against her neck. She turned her face to meet his and he slowly lowered his lips to hers, kissing her softly at first, then claiming her hungrily, his mouth hard on hers, as passion deepened the kiss. His lips on hers were forceful as she kissed him back longingly, the stubble on his jaw scratching her as she moved her head to the side, probing his open mouth with her tongue. Her senses were heightened and all her nerve endings screamed at her as the kiss left her breathless and her knees wobbled.
She felt his fingertips trail down her back to her bottom, and he squeezed her burning flesh between his fingers, his fingertips digging into her sore bottom, sending tingles up her spine. She gasped in pain as his fingers dug into her, hurting her, and he pulled back away from her, effectively ending their kiss, to look deep into her eyes.
“It’s okay now, Jeannie,” he murmured. “Let me take you home.”
Jeannie hissed at the pain of her pants chafing on her inflamed skin as she fastened them, and she exhaled loudly when she sat down on the hard wagon seat. The eight-mile journey home would be the longest eight miles she’d ever driven a wagon in her life!
She watched as Danny loaded the supplies Maria had ordered into the wagon. He easily balanced sacks of flour, sugar, salt, and coffee on his broad shoulders as if they weighed nothing, stacking them up neatly where she directed him. She couldn’t help but smile at the respectful way he spoke to the old Mexican woman; the deference with which he treated her seemed to be at odds with his gun-slinging reputation.
As they rode out of town, Jeannie and Maria in the wagon and Danny riding alongside of them, protecting them, Jeannie knew there was so much more to Danny than just his speed with a gun. Despite her bottom burning afresh with every jolt of the wagon wheels over the ruts thanks to Danny’s hard hand, she knew that Tommy was right: she was falling in love with the man.
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