The Miner's Wife by Maren SmithDulcie was a fiery woman, and after so many cold and lonely nights, a little bit of heat was a welcome thing. Cody made sure he spanked a lot of heat into her bottom!
Mudhole Mill was a ramshackle mining town situated in the middle of absolutely nowhere. So when Cody headed in to get supplies, the last thing he expected to buy was a wife. And yet, when he saw that passing missionary auctioning off his daughter for enough money to keep on traveling, Cody couldn’t help but join the bidding. Who’d have thought he’d win a bride? What’s more, who’d have thought that quiet, skinny girl in the back of her daddy’s wagon would turn into the same bold as brass woman he found himself confronted with the first time he tried to enter his own tent and ran straight into the business end of a pistol.
Oh yes, Dulcie was a fiery woman. But after so many cold and lonely nights, a little bit of heat was a welcome thing. And besides, any time Dulcie got a little too big for her britches, well, Cody knew how to take her back down a peg. A man didn’t get to be his age without learning how to light of a few fires of his own–ones that would burn beneath the seat of her skirts and for a good, long time!
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The Miner's Wife (Sample Chapter)
After buying a wife at auction, Cody learned to warm her heart and her bottom with spanking
© Maren Smith and Red Hot Romance, 2013
The best thing that could be said about Mudhole Mill was that it was four hundred miles away from the nearest sheriff's office. Home to nearly two hundred men, the inhabitants of the ramshackle gold mining town were generally unanimous in their appreciation of that fact. That included Cody. Unless a man was stupid enough to rob the Wells Fargo in Downieville--the nearest mining town by almost fifty miles--and ignorant enough to lead a posse straight through the middle of Main Street (also the only street) seeking an avenue of escape, then seeing a man with that dreaded shiny silver star on his chest was, thankfully, a very rare occurrence. The only thing even rarer was the sight of a woman.
To date, Mudhole boasted only one, and that was Miss Molly, owner, operator and one woman employee of the only bordello in town. She was in her mid fifties and was missing almost all her front teeth, but in a town of almost two hundred hard-up men, she ran one hell of a good business.
Town. Hell, Mudhole quite literally did justice to its name. The unpaved road was a quagmire on the best of days and a stinking swamp when it rained. There was one general store, one bar, with Miss Molly in the one and only room on the second floor, and a mill. Most of the men who lived here were without families, and nearly all of them were looking, for one reason or another, to get lost and stay that way.
A smattering of tents, in all kinds of disrepair, littered up and down both sides of the rocky Yuba River. Those stubborn enough, or miserly enough, to decline splurging on a shelter of stiff canvas still lived in caves earlier miners had chiseled out of the cliffs that lined the Yuba's north bank.
No, women were a rare treat for the eye, indeed. Children surpassed even that. So when Cody first saw the heavy-set and darkly-bearded missionary-looking man driving his open wagon along the riverside, headed for the General Store, Cody's first thought was that the man was either misguided or incredibly lost. Either way, the man had to be plumb out of his mind to bring two young boys and a pretty little lady into this God-forsaken stretch of California.
The lovely young thing sat as silent as a ghost in the back of the missionary's wagon, sandwiched between the two boys and taking a break from the mending that was resting in her lap. The sight of her stopped every panner squatting amongst the rocks and minnows in the shallows of the riverside. It brought men out of their tents and out of the bar. It even brought them out of the store, and that included Cody.
She had dark hair and dark eyes, and if forced to hazard a guess, Cody would have said she couldn't have left her teenaged years too awful far behind her. There was a bluish-brown discoloration at the side of her small mouth that suggested she might have a bit of spirit somewhere inside the pale and drawn shell of her. It also bespoke of a less than patient and benevolent manner on the side of her missionary father. Or was it husband?
She didn't look near old enough to have borne the boys, which Cody would have placed at six and ten years of age respectively. But that didn't mean she couldn't be the heavy-set man's second wife. For a moment, Cody felt a stab of anger towards the man, to have something so desirable in his possession and yet mistreat her.
Having just finished some much needed supplies shopping himself, and though he hated like hell to be away from his tent and claim for any longer than he absolutely had to be, Cody nevertheless stood frozen on the porch of the only grocery in fifty miles as the wagon rolled through the mud and stopped in front of him.
The heavy-set man got down from the buckboard. Though he didn't say a word, neither the boys nor the young woman so much as twitched in the back as he jogged up the front steps and tromped across the floor boards into Jenkins's General Store.
If she were his, Cody couldn't help but think, he'd never in a lifetime have left her sitting by herself in the back of that wagon. Not in this town. Already five men had gathered alongside him, to stand and stare at her. A helluva lot more than that were slogging through the muddy main street (also the only street) to get a closer look, too.
Her eyes darted nervously from one filthy man to the next, before her gaze settled briefly on Cody. The corners of her mouth twitched slightly upwards. "Hi," she said softly.
She had a nice voice, too, like a melody all on its own. The sound of it made his loins tighten, and he grew warm.
"Hi," he returned, but he didn't smile.
"Shheeeee-it," said Forrest Blundell, a smelly, shifty-eyed little man, who nevertheless worked the claim right next door to Cody on the downstream side. "Ain't that a sight?"
Nobody else said a word, and after a while, she lowered her eyes to her hands, clenching them tightly in her lap with her fingers laced hard together, as if she were praying.
He'd never been much for churchy women. And she was too thin, too, Cody decided. There was almost a gaunt look to her. Her cheeks were too prominent, her hands looked almost bony, and if she had breasts, they couldn't have been much bigger than pebbles on grapes. The boys didn't look near as thin as she did, and the heavy-set man certainly hadn't skipped any recent meals.
A huge group was gathering around the back of the wagon. The youngest boy sidled closer to the young woman, and she draped her arm around his shoulders protectively.
"Howdy, ma'am," one miner said, taking off his hat.
"Howdy," she said back, a trembling attempt at politeness.
"You sure are pretty," he said. "That man in there," he nodded his uncombed, unwashed head towards the store. "He your husband or your pa?"
She looked away from the store. "My stepfather."
Her eyes skimmed across the crowd. No less than fifty men had already gathered around the back of the wagon, and still more were coming up out of the river and heading right towards her. She began to chew at her lips as her nervousness increased. An old-timer named Stumpy reached his only arm into the back of the wagon and poked her shoulder with one finger, causing her to hug the young boy even closer.
"I'll be danged," he said softly. His grizzled grey beard and mustache parted as he grinned, showing a few yellow teeth and a lot of empty black spaces in between them. "I ain't really dreamin' this. This here gal's real!"
Swallowing hard, she looked up from Stumpy to Cody and then to the door of the General Store. From behind him, Cody heard that heavy tromping again and the heavy-set man marched back out of Jenkins' and onto the porch. He had to push through the crowd to get to the stairs, and then looked around, his face set in a look that was neither friendly nor unfriendly.
His eyes settled on the girl, who promptly ducked her head. To everybody's surprise and Cody's disgust, he announced loud enough for even those still at the river to hear, "I need money. I'll be heading further south, but I can't go much further without supplies."
"Grab a piece of the river," someone shouted back at him, and there was a mixture of grumbles and laughter that echoed from the miners.
"You've come to the wrong place for sympathy, mate," another man said.
Cody couldn't have agreed with him more. In fact, at this point the man would be highly fortunate if he managed to get himself, his family and his meagerly supplied wagon out of Mudhole Mill in one piece.
"Sympathy's the last thing I'm lookin' for," the heavy man stated. "My name's Luke Johnson. I'm here to make a trade, fair and simple. Money, in exchange for my girl."
Cody's stomach tightened hard. The young woman snapped her head up, her eyes huge in her pale face as she fixed her stepfather with a look of horror and shock.
"Stand up, Dulcie," the man said. "Let the men get a look at you."
The gathered miners fell perfectly silent as, reluctantly, Dulcie rose to her feet in the back of the wagon.
"She's sassy and she's skinny," the man told the crowd. "But she's not lazy. She can cook, and she can clean. She looks younger than she is, bein' twenty now. Turn around, girl. Let 'em look at you."
Cody felt a sharp tightening go all the way through his loins and down into his toes as she obeyed, her eyes darting from one miner to the next as made her reluctant pirouette. She was too skinny and barely more than a kid. He was eleven years her senior, and yet it didn't matter. Funny how three years without a woman in his bed could do that to a man.
"I ain't no whoremonger, neither," Luke announced, raising his voice to be heard over the exclamations of his increasingly excited audience. "Dulcie's a good girl, and before I leave here today, she'll be wedded to whichever of you is willin' to give up the most money for her."
Luke couldn't have provoked a meaner fight if he'd thrown a meat bone to a pack of ravenous dogs. The miners swarmed around both the wagon and the porch, shoving and elbowing one another, and everyone started shouting at once. Cody grabbed a roof post and hung onto it to keep from being knocked to the ground and trampled underfoot.
"Seventy in gold!"
Dulcie shrieked, grabbing at the two terrified boys and yanking them close to her as the men swarmed the wagon to touch her. She hugged the children, struggling to keep the miners from grabbing hold of her hands and arms, but there was no way she could get her legs and skirts out of their reach. She cried out again when one filthy young man clambered up beside her, stuck his face in a fistful of her hair and smelled it.
He reared back, grinning. "A hunnert dollars!" he shouted to Luke, and a war of bidding escalated like a summer fire raging through the woods.
Dulcie did her best to avoid the forest of hands reaching for her. Her eyes were wild and frightened, darting across the sea of dirty, filthy, ragged men that surrounded all sides of her. It had to be the whole town, two hundred men in all, ninety percent of which probably hadn't bathed in over a month.
"A hunnert and one penny!" Stumpy yelled out, and she looked down at him in horror.
Someone elbowed Cody in the ribs. "A hundred twenty in gold and a mule worth eighty more!"
The roar of shouting became almost deafening as the price for her doubled almost instantly.
"Three hunnert in gold, a pound o' coffee, a pound o' sugar, and two blankets!"
"Three hunnert, a pound o' coffee and sugar, two blankets, and one penny!" Stumpy bellowed out.
Ninety year old Jasper Burlow, who likely only crawled out of the river because he'd heard the commotion, managed to shove his way to the wagon and reached up to grab the young woman's bottom. She let out a shriek, spun around and slapped the old man's hand, which only served to spur the bidding a whopping fifty dollars more.
"Four hunnert fifty-eight dollars," Jasper hollered, and cackled as he danced a quick jig. "Lord a'mighty, that one's got some spunk!"
Dulcie almost fell down as someone grabbed the skirt of her dress and yanked. The hem at her waist tore and she quickly grabbed at her clothes to keep them from being ripped clean off her.
"Stop!" she shouted. "Get away!"
Fat tears were welling up in her eyes, trickling past her lashes as she almost lost her footing. Hands reached in on all sides of her, and she was doing her best to squeeze herself and the two children into the very center of the wagon to keep from being pulled from the cart. If they got her on the ground, they'd have been on her like rabid dogs.
The sudden report of a gunshot put an abrupt halt on the auction. Miners jumped back, ducking and retreating, though only a short distance. It wasn't until everyone turned around and looked at him that Cody realized his pistol was in his hand and he'd just fired a shot through Jenkins's porch roof. He slowly lowered his arm and, in a voice that was a helluva lot calmer than he felt, he said, "Nine hundred dollars."
The crowd quieted.
"Nine hundred," Luke echoed, hardly seeming to care that his daughter had come so close to rape, and quite possibly even death, right there in front of them all.
"And one penny," Stumpy faithfully interjected, though he glared at Cody, squinting one-eyed when he said it.
Nobody else said a word.
"Ten hundred in gold," Cody said. When Stumpy opened his mouth, he promptly upped the stakes again, "Twelve hundred." And then, "Fifteen," when the old man again tried to up the bidding.
Stumpy glared at him, his beard and mustache mashing together as he gnashed his few remaining teeth in frustration. He looked at the girl, huddled with her arms around her younger brothers, then threw up one hand. "Bah!" He turned and shoved his way out of the crowd, stomping bow-legged back towards his river claim.
"Fifteen hundred dollars," Luke said. "Once...Twice..."
Cody ignored the looks his fellow miners were giving him, many of which were raising the hairs on the back of his neck. Instead, he focused on the skinny little woman/child who was staring back at him with those huge dark eyes of hers, horrified and on the verge of tears.
"Sold," the heavy-set man said, as though she were a sheep or a cow. "Looks like Dulcie belongs to you now."
She swallowed hard, blinking rapidly as Cody pushed through the crowd. He ignored Luke, who stuck out his hand, palm up for payment rather than to shake and secure the deal, and came slowly down the steps. The remaining crowd parted, backing from Cody as he walked up to the back of the wagon and held out his hand for hers. She didn't move, not for several long seconds. But when she finally did reach for him, allowing herself to be helped down to the ground, her own hands were shaking badly.
"You got a wife already?" Luke asked.
"Any other reasons why you can't marry her?"
Cody turned to glare at him. "It's a bit late to be suffering moral pangs or fatherly devotions. I knew the conditions when I bid on her. You a man of God?"
The heavy man stared down at him from the edge of the porch. "Yes. I'm on my way to a mission in San Diego."
"You'd better hitch us and get on your way then."
The missionary blinked at him, and in particular, at his dirty clothes. "You don't want to get cleaned up first?"
"No," Cody said just as tersely.
Luke cleared his throat, straightening his spine and stiffening his shoulders. "All right, son. What's your name?"
Cody just stared at him, tight lipped and grim.
Getting the hint, Luke cleared his throat. "All right," he said again. "Dearly beloved, we are--"
"Skip to the vows," Cody snapped. From the corner of his eye, he saw a hand reaching for Dulcie's hair. In all likelihood, touching was all Taddeo Donnelly intended, but Cody snapped around and grabbed the young Irishman's wrist. He met Taddeo's dark eyes with a coldly, furious stare until Taddeo wrested his arm free and quickly backed up a step.
Meeting the stares of the miners surrounding him, Cody pulled Dulcie to the other side of him and tucked her neatly between himself and her stepfather's wagon. He glared back up at Luke. "Get on with it."
"Do you take Dulcie to be your--"
"You're supposed to wait until I--"
"I said yes, dammit," Cody interrupted shortly. "Now ask her."
Scowling, Luke waved his hand, "Dulcie will do whatever I tell her to. Guess that makes you man and wife, then."
Cody looked down at the woman at his side. Her mouth was a tight, thin line and her cheeks were flushed, though whether it was from embarrassment or indignation he couldn't yet tell. She kept her eyes fixed upon the ground, her head bowed to avoid looking at anyone.
"Is it legal?" he asked her stepfather.
Luke nodded. "Give me just a minute, and I'll draft up a proper paper to make it recognizably so."
"You do that," Cody said, and took a firm hold of Dulcie's arm.
"Now, hold up there, son!" Luke called after him as Cody headed back towards the Yuba, dragging her along beside him.
"You'll get your money," Cody said, angrily and without the slightest pause.
What the hell had he just done? It was a quarter of a mile up-river to his claim, but the woman hurried beside him, barely making a sound. She stumbled twice, nearly falling but for his grip on her arm, and Cody looked down to discover that she wasn't tripping, she just didn't have any shoes on. The rocks, sticks and blackberry bushes that lined the river banks had already cut into the bottoms of her feet, and the last several steps had left blood on the rocks behind them.
Cody swore. One of only a few things that he did better than panning. "Why the hell didn't you say something?"
He picked her up and carried her the rest of the way. Past more claims and envious miners than he cared to think about, across an old fallen log that was beginning to rot at the far end, and up a steep embankment to where his dingy grey tent stood, backed against a rocky cliff-side and facing the water as well as the other miners. He put her down on a bare patch of dirt by his cook fire, then disappeared behind the canvas flap.
"Here," he said, as he emerged again. He came out with a rifle across his shoulder, two pistols on his hip, and a small leather pouch. He held a third pistol in one hard hand, which he loaded before thrusting it out to her. "Get inside the tent. If anybody comes at you, shoot them."
Then, with his gold in hand and his rifle slung under one arm, Cody headed back to Jenkins's Store.
Luke was sitting in the buckboard of his wagon, writing on a piece of paper while Jenkins and his grown son loaded the back of the cart with burlap sacks of fresh supplies.
The ten-year-old boy spotted Cody's return first, and reached up to pat his father's arm. "Pa."
Luke looked up and, as Cody drew closer, grunted. "Thought for a minute you might have got distracted enough to give her a trial run before paying me." He signed the bottom of the page against his knee, and then held it out to Cody. "This here makes the whole thing legal. You'll need to put your mark on the bottom and see if you can get Dulcie to do the same. If she don't mind right off, a quick smack usually does the trick."
The temptation to shoot the man rather than pay him nearly got the best of Cody. In the end, the only thing that kept him from pulling the trigger was knowing that as much as he didn't want to be saddled with a wife, he didn't want a wife and her two orphaned brothers even more. He took the paper, but didn't hand over the pouch right away.
"There's fifteen hundred in gold in that little pouch?" the missionary asked dubiously.
"Jenkins'll weigh it for you, but it's all here," Cody returned. The man reached for the bag, but Cody's fingers tightened around it first. "I want her shoes."
Luke made a face of impatience but over his shoulder told one of the boys, "Mark, give the man your sister's shoes."
The ten-year-old began to dig around, pulling articles of clothing out from under the growing mound of burlap sacks the Jenkins' continued to load in the back.
"I assume she's got clothes, too," Cody said.
The corner of the missionary's mouth twitched as he looked at the money pouch in the younger man's grasp. "Give him Dulcie's things," he said flatly. The man smiled at Cody, though it didn't touch his eyes. "Not like I have any use for them anyhow."
Keeping the rifle free and ready, Cody took the two dresses, the shift, and the worn and well-patched underthings that Mark passed to him over the side of the wagon. The littlest boy passed down a scuffy pair of shoes, and only then did Cody extend to Luke the pouch of gold.
The greedy father took it, but Cody didn't let go right away. "If I were you," he said, "I'd keep my gun handy and drive this thing hell bent for leather as fast as you can away from here. There's folks here who'd kill for twenty dollars much less for what I'm giving you."
Luke pulled at the pouch, but didn't manage to wrest it from Cody's grasp until the younger man voluntarily let it go.
"Try not to sell any more of your children," Cody said.
"She weren't mine," the heavier man snapped, his dark eyes flashing. "I got stuck with her when her ma up and died two months ago. God takes care of his own. Now she's your problem."
With Dulcie's things slung over his shoulder and a grimace of disgust on his face, Cody turned and stalked away. He couldn't help but shake his head at himself the whole way back to the river. What was he supposed to do with a slip of a girl wife? Especially in a town like this. If she worked the river with him, he'd have to pan with one hand, hang onto his rifle with the other, and grow eyes in the back of his head. He sure couldn't leave her alone in the tent, that was just asking for trouble. And anyway, she'd have to be mentally lacking to want to stay inside the thing, day after day, with nothing to do but stare at grey canvas walls.
He frowned, but at this point Cody was done playing the hero. He sure as hell wasn't about to pass her over to somebody else to enjoy. He'd just given away what had taken him the better part of three years to accumulate. She owed him, if for no other reason than because he hadn't let her go to someone worse than himself. And if it turned out to be as cold tonight as it was the two previous ones, it might take all winter, but by God, he was going to get his money's worth.
Dulcie wasn't anywhere in sight as Cody neared his claim, so he decided that she must have followed his instructions and gone inside the tent. That tightening in his belly was growing worse by the step as he crossed the fallen log and walked up the short hill to his claim area. She was so skinny, he probably ought to feed her up first, but after that, the day had grown late enough that all there was left to do was get to know the woman he'd bought. A tittie no bigger than a grape was still a tittie worth sucking on and certainly more than what he'd enjoyed these last three years.
Cody drew aside the dingy grey flap of canvas, but was stopped up short, not just by the frightened look in Dulcie's eyes, but by the long barrel of his own pistol, which she quickly raised and pointed straight at him. He promptly backed up a step. Her hands were shaking, but that didn't stop her from cocking the gun.
She swallowed hard. "D-don't y-you come n-near me," she quavered.
With a sigh, Cody squatted in the entry way and lay his rifle across his thighs. Resting his forearms on his knees, his hands dangling limply between them, he looked back at her. He couldn't even complain, really. After all, she was doing exactly what he'd told her to.