Horse thieves, Romance and a lot of Mischief!
Samantha lived with her uncle, ever since her parents passed away. He could be a strict man, but she was stunned when he announced that she would be marrying Carson Edwards within a month. Edwards was old enough to be her father! And he was reported to be a cruel man. She simply could not marry him! With no other options available, she chose to run away. Eventually she hoped to land a teaching position, but until then she would try to keep to herself.
Gunshots forced her out of hiding. She couldn’t just ignore them, in case someone needed help. And someone did! One man was pinned, taking fire from three others. She scared off the would-be horse thieves with a few shots, first firing near their feet and then over their heads. But before she could escape, the man she’d rescued came to thank her.
Mistaking her for a young boy, Cort Hadley offered her a job helping him to bring in his herd. Sam knew it was a mistake, but dang, if he wasn’t a fine looking man! And he was a much better cook than she was. As long as he thought she was a kid, she figured there couldn’t be any harm in it.
Mistaken identities create plenty of tension, and when her uncle catches up to them, all hell is about to break loose!
This full-length sweet historic western has plenty of romance to keep you reading until the very last page! It contains the spanking of adult women. If such material offends you, please do not buy this book.
Last Chance, Texas
“All right, Mellie, spill it!” Samantha bossed, reining in her spirited black stallion while reaching out with her right hand to grab the halter of the gentle mare her cousin was riding. “You’ve never had a sudden urge to go riding in your entire life,” her melodious voice teased as she expertly brought the animals to a halt.
“You’re right, Sammy,” Melanie agreed with a shake of her blonde curls, “but I had to get you away from the house, and this was the only thing I could think of.”
“Are we pulling a prank on someone? Namely, Uncle Franklin?” Samantha was used to Melanie’s dramatic flair, but had to admit that this was indeed extreme. Melanie made no secret of her dislike for horses, and Samantha couldn’t even remember the last time Melanie had sat a saddle.
“Samantha Josephine Danby, this is serious!” the blonde scolded. “Get off that beast and come hold Flower’s bridle so I can get down,” Melanie demanded.
Samantha dismounted in one graceful, fluid movement, patting Bluffer as she dropped his reins. She was confident he wouldn’t stray, and all it would take to call him back to her side was her special whistle. She refrained from laughing as Melanie cautiously eased herself from the saddle and clumsily dropped to the ground, but she couldn’t prevent a small giggle from escaping as Melanie ruefully rubbed her tender bottom.
“Really, Sam! This isn’t a bit funny, you know. I’m trying to help you.”
“I’m sorry, Mellie,” Samantha said, sounding anything but sorry. “We could have talked in my room, you know.”
“I had to get you away from the house.” Melanie shook her head stubbornly. “Namely, away from Father! You’re going to be furious, and this will give you an opportunity to calm down and think before you confront him,” Melanie informed her.
“He found out about the prank I pulled on Bobby Wilson?” Samantha hazarded a guess, her overactive imagination conjuring up several different punishments her stern uncle could impose.
“Oh, goodness, I certainly hope not!” Melanie fervently declared, her blue eyes wide at the very idea. “Father would explode!” she declared, then shook her head. “Oh, never mind that. This is serious, Sammy. And, as much as I hate telling you,” Melanie paused and took a deep breath before stating, “Father has promised you in marriage!”
A look of pure disbelief flashed in Samantha’s green eyes before she decided that Melanie was teasing her. “Cute, Mel. I almost fell for that hook, line, and sinker. Riding all the way out here was a good touch.”
“I’m not teasing you, Sammy,” Melanie gently insisted, reaching out to touch Samantha’s shoulder. “It’s true.”
“But, I don’t want to get married!” Samantha protested in shock.
“I didn’t want to marry Philip, either, but Father made me do it. He did the same thing to Mary and to Jane when they were each eighteen, and now he’ll make you.”
“Oh no, he won’t!” Samantha stated forcefully, stomping her booted foot for emphasis. She wasn’t about to get married! She was only eighteen, and surely Uncle Franklin wouldn’t force her to do such a thing against her will. “I won’t get married, Mellie.”
“I knew you would be angry, Sam.”
“Hell, yes, I’m angry! In fact, I’m damned mad! Your father is a bastard!” Samantha raged, heedless of her language.
“Yes, he is,” Melanie quietly agreed, making no attempt to stop her cousin’s tirade. She sat on the ground in the shade of a large tree and listened in awe as Samantha vented her anger in colorful language that would have shocked most well bred young ladies. But Melanie wasn’t shocked at all. She was used to Samantha’s temper tantrums and tirades.
“Who is it?” Samantha stopped the frantic pacing and wild flapping of her arms long enough to ask.
“Uncle Franklin’s intended! Never mine,” she corrected.
“Brace yourself,” Melanie warned.
“That bad, huh?” Samantha could have screamed in pure frustration.
“You have to be kidding! Melanie Davidson, so help me, if you’re pulling a trick on me, I’ll leave you out here all by yourself and let you get back to the ranch the best you can!”
“Carson Edwards asked Father for your hand in marriage and Father agreed. He’s planning to break the news to you this evening,” Melanie calmly elaborated.
“I’ll kill him!”
“Father or Carson Edwards?” Melanie asked curiously.
“Both!” Samantha resumed her pacing and swearing, taking her hat, throwing it to the ground, and then kicking it viciously. “Carson Edwards is old enough to be my father!”
“Father said that you need a settled man. One who can handle your ‘high-spirited ways’ namely one Carson Edwards,” Melanie quoted her parent.
“He worked his first wife to death; Papa said he beat her,” Samantha whispered hoarsely, dropping down beside her cousin.
“Oh, Sammy, I’m so sorry. I just had to warn you. Maybe if you try to talk to Father?”
“Uncle Franklin won’t listen to me, Mellie!”
“Not if you lose your temper,” Melanie agreed. “You have to stay calm and reason with him.”
“Why does Carson Edwards want me?” she asked Melanie. “Unless it’s to get his hands on my ranch…”
“It could be the ranch, and your money. Uncle Robert was wealthy and you were his sole heir. But, I don’t really think that has anything to do with it. I suspect it’s because you are a very beautiful woman, Sammy.”
“Beautiful?” Samantha squeaked in disbelief.
“Yes, beautiful,” Melanie told her firmly. “Not that you ever pay any attention to that fact. Look at the way you dress. Father burned all your pants just to get you to wear a skirt… and the first time you were in town after that, you bought several more pairs – just to defy Father!”
“I like pants. They’re comfortable.”
Ignoring her, Melanie continued, “The only time you wear a dress is when you go to church. And look at your hair, Samantha. It’s such a gorgeous shade of red, and all you do is braid it and let it hang!” She picked up the thick plait and let it fall against Samantha’s back with a heavy whack.
“You’re the pretty one, Mellie! I have freckles.”
“Just a few across your nose, and you wouldn’t have those if you’d remember to wear your hat more often.”
“Oh, bother!” Samantha retorted. “If I’m so beautiful, then why hasn’t anyone ever told me so before now?”
Melanie laughed and stated honestly, “Sam, look at yourself! You can out ride, out rope, and out shoot any man for miles around. You never act like a beautiful woman wanting a man’s attention; you don’t flirt. You compete against men, and to make it even worse, you win!”
“Then why does Carson Edwards want me? Isn’t he afraid I’ll out ride, out rope, and out shoot him?” Samantha asked, smarting from Melanie’s criticism.
“I think he would enjoy destroying you, Sammy,” Melanie responded quietly. “Edwards is a cruel man, and you present a challenge. He wants to bend you to his will, tame you. I think Carson Edwards would enjoy breaking you, Sam, just like he would a wild horse.”
Samantha shuddered as the truth of her cousin’s words registered. How could Uncle Franklin be so cruel to her? What had she done to deserve this?
“What am I going to do, Mellie? I can’t… No, I won’t marry that man!”
“It’s probably hopeless, but you’ll have to try talking to Father. I know he’s impossible, especially his old-fashioned ideas on women and marriage, but maybe he’ll listen to you since you’re his niece.”
“Do you really believe that, Mellie?” Samantha asked hopefully.
“No, Sam, I don’t, but you have to try. A loveless marriage is pure hell.”
“Does Philip mistreat you?” Samantha asked curiously. She’d always liked Philip, even though he seemed too… nice.
“Oh, he’s never beat me, or raised his voice to me, for that matter,” Melanie mused.
“You don’t have to work in the store?”
Melanie flashed an impatient look at Samantha and snapped, “If you must know, it’s the… sleeping together!” She finally found the words to covey her thoughts.
“Oh.” Samantha and Melanie had never discussed that before, and Samantha wasn’t sure she wanted to now. How on earth people could act like the horses she’d seen mating was a mystery to her; it seemed so disgusting!
“Has anyone ever told you what happens between a man and a woman, Sam?” Melanie asked, her facial expression conveying her distaste. “No, I can see they haven’t. Your parents both died before you were old enough, and my father wouldn’t dream of telling you; he would leave that to your husband. I had hoped that Sara… Well, no matter. Since Father is determined to marry you off, there are some things you’ll need to know.”
“Melanie, I don’t want to hear this. I… know…” Samantha stammered, heading off the lecture she was positive Melanie was about to deliver.
“Good,” Melanie was relieved, but forced herself to ask, “You do know it hurts?”
“It does?” Samantha whispered.
“Horribly,” Melanie confirmed. “But, most of all, it’s a duty you have to perform. I try to think of other things until it’s over.”
“I won’t marry Carson Edwards!” Samantha jumped to her feet in determination. “No man is going to use me like that. I’m going back to the house and confront Uncle Franklin right now. I won’t be bullied into this farce!”
“Calm down, Sam. Please wait until Father brings it up or he’ll know I told you and he’ll be furious with me.” Melanie stood and brushed off the seat of the riding skirt she’d borrowed from Samantha, since they were both the same petite size.
“You’re married now. What can he do about it?” Samantha was angry and not inclined to be reasonable.
“Just because he’s never laid a hand on you, Samantha Josephine Danby, doesn’t mean he would hesitate to punish me!” Melanie informed her sharply. “Why do you think I brought you out here?”
“Uncle Franklin wouldn’t…”
“How do you think he persuaded me to marry Philip?” Melanie asked in agitation. “He told me I was to be married, and when I refused, he spanked me and locked me in my room for a week until I agreed!”
“Oh, Mellie, I didn’t know! I’m sorry!” Samantha was contrite. She’d known Uncle Franklin could be domineering, but she’d never dreamed he would go to such lengths to get his way.
“It happened while you were away at school, Sammy, and I didn’t write to you and tell you what happened because I was ashamed of being so weak. And I thought being married to Philip would be better than living under Father’s roof. Only Philip and Father agree on almost everything, and I’m still not free to do as I please. Even if Philip wouldn’t do anything to punish me, Father would!”
“I’ll wait until Uncle Franklin brings it up, Mellie. I promise. And I won’t let on you told me.” The last thing she wanted to do was cause trouble for Melanie. Even before Samantha’s father died and she’d come to live on the Double F Ranch with Uncle Franklin, his wife Sara, and his family, she and Melanie had been as close as sisters, sharing everything. And, at least one mystery was cleared up. Samantha had always wondered why Melanie had suddenly started referring to Uncle Franklin as “Father” instead of “Papa”. Now she knew.
“Thanks, Sammy. Besides, we need this time to think of an alternate plan… just in case you can’t talk Father out of this marriage,” Melanie suggested.
“I could always go home,” Samantha proposed, and then shook her head no. “No good. Uncle Franklin is my legal guardian until I’m of age or until I marry, and he controls my ranch and all my money until then!”
“I would let you come and stay with us, but Father would simply come after you.”
“True. What about Mary or Jane?”
“Forget it, Sam. Even if they didn’t write and tell Father of your whereabouts, those idiots they’re married to would! Father picks husbands quite well! He makes sure they’re as much like him as possible! And my two older brothers are just as bad. Frank and John may not see eye to eye with Father when it comes to ranching, but they would feel it was their duty to return you to him.”
Samantha mulled that over before replying, “Uncle Franklin is Mama’s only living relative, and Papa’s entire family was killed by Indians when he was a young boy. I guess that means I’m on my own, Melanie.”
“Oh, Sammy, what are you thinking?” Melanie asked in sudden concern.
“If I can’t persuade Uncle Franklin to change his mind, then I’ll simply have to run away, Mellie. I have no choice; I will not marry Carson Edwards!”
“Where would you go?”
“I’m not sure… yet. Did Uncle Franklin say when this wedding is to take place?”
“No, he didn’t. But I was married to Philip within a month. Father doesn’t waste time.”
“I remember; I didn’t know anything about your marriage plans until you were already Mrs. Davidson!”
“Don’t make Father angry, Sam,” Melanie warned. “He’ll lock you in your room.”
“I can’t give in, Mellie!”
But Sammy, he’ll watch you closely if you threaten to run away!”
“I don’t intend to threaten him; just do it!”
“Do you have enough money to get away? And what will you live on until you can come home?” Melanie demanded.
“I’ll get a job and support myself. People do it all the time, cousin,” Samantha said with an impudent smile.
“Doing what, may I ask? You can’t cook or sew, and you wouldn’t last five minutes in a store with your temper! The only thing you’re qualified for is ranching… or working as a hired gun!” Melanie’s blue eyes widened in horror. “Oh, Samantha! You wouldn’t! Father would surely whip you when he found out!”
Samantha laughed outright at the thought of working as a hired gun. Her own Papa would turn over in his grave at the very idea!
“This isn’t funny, Sam! You could be killed! Or worse!” Melanie dramatically declared.
“Not teaching school, Mellie.”
“Of course! I have my teaching certificate; it shouldn’t be too hard to find a job. And even Uncle Franklin couldn’t object to that profession, if he finds out, that is.”
“You’d have to wear a dress and act like a lady,” Melanie informed her with a frown.
“This may shock you, dear cousin, but I wore dresses every day for a whole year when I was attending Miss Abigail’s School for Young Ladies!”
Melanie nodded, and then said thoughtfully, “You could pack a trunk, and we could hide it in the storage room in Philip’s store, Sam.”
“And when I get settled, you’ll send it to me! Great idea, Mellie! When I leave, all I’ll take with me will be a change of clothes, my bedroll, my guns, and Bluffer!”
“Father will be confused if we buy a ticket in your name for Boston and all your clothes are gone. He’ll think you took the train and then wait to hear from Frank, John, or Mary.”
“It will look as though I’m going for a ride; no one will suspect a thing until I’m long gone. With any luck at all, it will rain and wash away all my tracks.”
“I hope all this planning is for nothing, Sammy,” Melanie said softly, her blue eyes full of tears. “I’ll miss you if you go!”
“I’ll miss you, too, Mellie!” Samantha tearfully admitted as she hugged the other girl.
“Maybe this one time Father will listen to reason!”
“I hope so,” Samantha fervently agreed, before turning her attention to the rider approaching them. She whistled softly, and Bluffer responded at once. Samantha removed her rifle from the saddle and held it ready. It was better to be prepared for trouble than to be caught unaware.
“It’s only Philip,” Melanie remarked seconds later as the sunlight reflected off his glasses.
Samantha wasn’t used to seeing Philip Davidson on horseback, and was surprised to see how well he could ride. Mild mannered Philip carried himself with an almost careless ease, and looked positively dangerous!
“Hello, Samantha! Melanie, you were gone so long I was becoming concerned,” he explained, dismounting without wasted motion.
“Do you ride often, Philip?” Samantha couldn’t resist asking.
“He’s just checking up on me, Sam!” Melanie accused, her whole attitude changing in just seconds. She was positively livid.
“Now, dear, that’s not true,” Philip protested, pushing the glasses up on his nose. “Franklin and I were concerned for your safety. We know you don’t care for horses and you rarely go riding.”
“Did you think I was meeting someone? Maybe having a tryst?” Melanie seethed.
He pushed the wire-rimmed glasses up over his blue eyes once again. “Of course not, dear.”
“‘Of course not, dear’!” she mimicked. “Can’t I have five minutes alone without you breathing down my neck?”
“Melanie!” Samantha was shocked. True, Melanie treated most people with disdain, but this was vicious even for her! “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll let you return to the ranch with your husband, and I’ll go for a ride. You can tell Sara I’ll be home in time for dinner. ‘Bye, Philip.” The poor man’s face was red with embarrassment, and Samantha couldn’t help but feel sorry for him as she mounted Bluffer and rode off at a gallop.
“Would you like to finish your ride, Melanie?”
“No!” she snapped. “Just help me get on this dumb horse!”
Philip grabbed for Flower’s bridle and missed, which spooked the gentle mare. She shied away, and Philip made matters even worse by removing his hat and waving it in a futile attempt to stop her. Flower, now thoroughly spooked, took off at a dead run for the ranch.
“You idiot!” Melanie shrieked. “Now look what you’ve done!”
“I’m sorry, dear,” he apologized softly, turning to face her. “We’ll have to share my mount,” he informed her with a smile, shoving on the glasses once again.
“I don’t want to ride with you!” Melanie placed her hands on her hips and glared at him.
“I’m surprised you would rather walk than ride with me, dear. However, it is your choice. You should be able to make it back to the ranch in time for dinner.”
“You would ride back alone and just leave me here?” Melanie asked in shocked disbelief.
“The choice is yours, Melanie,” Philip replied softly, replacing his hat over his dark hair and then mounting the large bay. “Well?”
“Couldn’t you get the buggy and…”
“No, dear. I promised Tommy I would go fishing with him, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to disappoint your little brother.”
“Philip, you are an impossible ass!”
“Are you riding or walking, dear?” he asked mildly, with no change in expression.
Melanie glared up at him, and then hissed, “Very well. I’ll ride.”
He reached down, placed large, strong hands around her tiny waist and lifted her easily, then clumsily dropped her on the saddle in front of him. “Oh, sorry, dear,” he apologized when she squealed.
“You did that on purpose, Philip!” she angrily accused.
“Of course not, dear.”
“You did too!”
“Now, dear, calm down before you fall off the horse.”
That would be impossible! Melanie thought uncharitably. Those arms that lifted boxes and crates with complete ease were wrapped so tightly around her that she could barely breathe, much less fall off the horse . How could a man be so strong physically, and be such a milquetoast? she wondered yet again.
“Penny for your thoughts?” he asked.
“You wouldn’t be interested,” she informed him tartly.
Melanie sat in stony silence, refusing to answer and ignoring Philip as much as possible.
“Why don’t you lean back, relax, and enjoy yourself?” he whispered in her ear.
Melanie stiffened even more. “Can’t you think of anything else, Philip Davidson?”
“Now what did I do?” Philip asked quietly.
“Just everything! And I think you do it on purpose!”
“Have I done something to make you angry, dear? I closed the store today just so you could come out here and visit your family.”
“I told you that you wouldn’t understand!”
Philip didn’t reply, and they rode in silence the rest of the way, an uncomfortable silence that Melanie wished she could fill screaming out all the loathsome contempt she felt for Philip and his “I’m sorry, dear.”
“Daughter, are you all right?” Melanie was shocked out of her reverie as her father, Franklin Forbes, reached up and gently lifted her from the horse.
“Of course I am,” she replied sharply, then noticed that Tommy, and several of the hands were mounted and her father’s white stallion, King, was also saddled and waiting.
“When Flower came back without you we were afraid you’d had an accident. We were just ready to ride out and search for you, honey.”
“I’m fine, Father. Philip is the one who spooked Flower. Why do you always assume I did something wrong?”
“Dear, your father was worried about you, and I think—”
“I don’t care what you think, Philip!” Melanie informed him, then added, “You’d better take little Tommy fishing right now. By all means, we mustn’t keep him waiting!”
“Oh, don’t bother about me, Philip, dear. I’m just a woman, and I’m sure I can find something to do. Maybe I’ll take a nap, since I know you’ll be otherwise occupied and I won’t be disturbed.” She flounced off after her parting shot, leaving the men staring after her in wonder.
“What the hell is wrong with her?” Franklin demanded of Philip.
“Damned if I know,” the younger man replied thoughtfully.
“If I cut a switch for you, would you use it on her?” Franklin asked hopefully.
“No, sir. I prefer to handle my wife in my own way.”
“If you’ll pardon me for saying so, son, your way ain’t working!”
* * *
Samantha went over and over the arguments she planned to use in her confrontation with her Uncle Franklin, phrasing and rephrasing each and every one until she felt it carried the most impact. Melanie was right about one thing. She didn’t dare lose her temper with her uncle or she would automatically lose the argument. She had to convince him that she was grown up enough to be reasonable and capable of making her own decisions.
Samantha still found it hard to believe that her uncle had spanked Melanie to get her to marry Philip. Uncle Franklin wasn’t the type of man to strike out in anger, and he most certainly had never laid a hand on her.
It was with a heavy heart and a troubled mind when she turned Bluffer toward the ranch. Samantha wanted to keep riding forever and never go back, but she knew she mustn’t be late for dinner tonight. Her whole future depended on the next few hours, and she was determined to give it her best shot.
After taking care of Bluffer, Samantha went in the back door of the house and up the steps to her room. She was pleasantly surprised to find a tub of hot water awaiting her. “Thank you, Rosa! You must have known I’d be wanting a bath!” she commented with a smile.
“You usually do,” came the laughing response. “Would you like for me to lay out some clean pants and a shirt, Missy?” the plump Mexican woman offered.
“No, Rosa. I think I’ll wear a dress this evening. Maybe the green one?”
“Are you feeling all right, dear?” Rosa asked with a frown.
“Just fine, Rosa!” she assured the woman who was more of a friend than a servant. Rosa had taken care of her when she was a baby, and came to the Double F Ranch with her when her father had died three years earlier.
“Oh good, you made it back in plenty of time,” Melanie commented as she entered the room without knocking. “Hi, Rosa!”
“Mellie.” Rosa smiled a greeting. “Would you believe that Missy is going to wear a dress this evening?”
“Good idea, Sammy. I’ll do you hair for you. Nothing fancy, but anything will be better than that braid!”
“What are you two girls up to?” Rosa demanded suspiciously.
“Nothing,” they replied in unison. Then Samantha added, “Mellie will help me get dressed, Rosa.”
“I can tell when I’m not wanted!” The older woman sniffed as she left the room in a huff.
Samantha bathed, and then sat patiently while Melanie brushed her hair until it sparkled. Then she pulled the sides back with combs and let the mass of red curls tumble down Samantha’s back. The green silk dress matched Samantha’s eyes perfectly, and the only jewelry she wore was the tiny gold locket, which had belonged to her mother. It was the only piece of jewelry she ever wore.
“Now look in the mirror, Sammy, and you’ll see a very beautiful woman!” Melanie ordered.
“I see you!” Samantha retorted. Melanie’s blonde hair was carefully curled, the blue dress she wore made her blue eyes appear even darker than usual, and her pink skin was flawless.
“No, Sam. I’m not beautiful; I have to use makeup and I curl my hair in order to look pretty.”
“Oh, Mellie, you are so silly sometimes! Let’s go to dinner! Wish me luck.”
“More than you’ll ever know, Sammy!”
“Wow! Hey, Pa! Look at Sam!” thirteen-year-old Tommy Forbes yelled across the spacious parlor to get his father’s attention.
Franklin Forbes looked up from the toy horse he was amusing his two-year-old twins with to comment, “Why, Samantha, you look very pretty tonight. And so do you, Melanie. You should come for dinner more often, honey. Samantha never dresses up like this for us!”
“Oh, hush, Franklin! You’ll embarrass Sammy,” Sara commented, picking up Susie before she could hit her twin with the wooden horse.
“How can a compliment embarrass the girl, Sara?” Franklin complained. “You don’t get embarrassed when I tell you that you look nice,” he added. Then with a wink, he said, “Oh, I get it!” He cleared his throat and stood. “You look lovely this evening, my dear! Is that a new dress? And you’re wearing my favorite perfume!”
Everyone laughed, including Sara. It was obvious to everyone that the lovely brunette adored her fifty-five-year-old husband, in spite of the twenty-year difference in their ages; Sara was a year younger than Franklin’s eldest child. “And you are positively handsome, Mr. Forbes.”
“With all my gray hair?”
“With what gray hair?” Sara teased, reaching up to touch the streaks of silver at his temples, which were barely noticeable in the light brown hair.
“Oh, they’re there, Sara,” he assured her with a huge grin. “Thanks to all the worry I have to suffer!”
“That some sweet talkin’ salesman will come along and sweep you off your feet!” he teased.
Sara smacked him in pretended outrage, then fondly scolded. “Now that you’ve had your fun, Franklin, grab your little boy and let’s go in to dinner.”
The dining room in the Forbes house was huge. Franklin insisted that everyone in the house sit down to dinner together; even the youngest baby was expected to come to the table. It was often rowdy, with spilled glasses and minor disasters, but Franklin loved it and rarely excused anyone from attending. He always sat at the head of the table where he could enjoy the conversation, or referee any fights that occurred between the eight children from his three marriages, and the niece who was like a daughter to him. After they were all seated Franklin said grace and then ordered them to eat up.
“Father, before we begin I have something to say,” Melanie asked for and received their attention, causing Samantha to wonder what she was up to. Melanie had seemed pleasant enough before dinner, but one could never tell with her.
“First of all, I want to apologize to Tommy. I’m sorry for the remarks I made to you this afternoon, Tommy. I wasn’t angry with you, and I shouldn’t have taken my temper out on you. Forgive me?”
Tommy’s freckled face was as red as his hair, but he nodded, grinned, and then said, “Sure, Mel! It’s all right.”
Melanie flashed her brother one of her special smiles, and then turned to face her parent, “And I want to apologize to you, Father. It was thoughtless of me to forget that your first wife was killed when she was thrown from her horse, and it was understandable that you would be concerned when Flower returned without me. I’m sorry I didn’t realize that earlier instead of snapping at you.”
“What happened to Martha was a very long time ago, honey, and the only person I was worried about today was you,” Franklin declared gruffly. “And you’re just fine, daughter, so let’s eat before the food gets cold.”
Dinner passed with the usual amount of fuss from Stevie over eating his vegetables, and Susie’s daily ritual of spilling her milk. The pleasant time was over all too soon to suit Samantha when Philip stood and announced, “Melanie and I will be leaving now, Franklin. Thank you for the lovely dinner, Sara.”
“I haven’t even helped with the dishes, Philip!” Melanie protested, clearly upset with her husband for his abrupt announcement.
“I’m sure Sara will forgive you this one time, dear. It will be late when we get home as it is, and I have to open the store early tomorrow.”
“I’ll take care of the dishes, dear,” Sara said soothingly. “Don’t you worry about a thing.”
“Philip is right, honey. You go on home, now, but come back real soon,” Franklin smiled at his ‘difficult’ child.
Melanie could see she wasn’t going to win the argument, and she wasn’t about to upset her father before he spoke with Samantha. She forced herself to smile, then said graciously, “Goodbye, everyone.” Once they were outside on the porch, Melanie took Samantha’s hand and squeezed it in encouragement. “Good luck, honey,” she whispered.
“I’ll put the twins to bed, Franklin,” Sara offered after they’d watched Philip and Melanie leave and excused Tommy to do his homework.
“Fine, Sara. That will give Samantha and me time to talk. Come into my study, honey,” he ordered.
Samantha felt her stomach muscles tighten with dread. All along she’d hoped that somehow Melanie was wrong, that Uncle Franklin wouldn’t betray her. But now, in her heart, she knew Melanie was right. Uncle Franklin was going to tell her she was to marry Carson Edwards.