He watched her, his exquisite new bride flitting from one group of wedding guests to another. Tiny wisps of golden hair escaped from her intricate bun to lie sweetly against her flushed skin. She was happy; he could see that in her brilliant smile and shining dark eyes, the way she giggled when her friends teased her and her gaze sought him out, blushing.
“Lovely, isn’t she,” Jonah Blackthorn remarked as he joined Dalton at the bar. “What a transformation. You’re a lucky man, Dalton.”
“You’ll get no argument from me,” Dalton replied. “Any word yet?”
Jonah removed an envelope from his inside pocket and passed it to Dalton who slipped it inside his coat.
“I received it this morning,” the ex-Pinkerton man replied. “Everything she told you is the absolute truth.”
Dalton nodded, his eyes never leaving Suzanna.
“No surprises?” he asked.
“A few,” Jonah replied with a grim lipped expression. “Apparently her father couldn’t do it in a nice clean way like hanging himself from a beam in the barn. No he had to blow his damn fool head right off his shoulders.” Jonah shook his head in disgust as Dalton cringed.
“Suzanna found him,” Jonah continued softly as Dalton stiffened beside him. “I’ve been told she didn’t speak for nearly three months, didn’t leave the house for six. Poor girl.”
“No wonder she sees men as a means to an end. The one man she should have been able to count on failed her completely.”
“There’s more,” Jonah warned.
“Wait,’ Dalton replied, holding up his hand. “I have a role to play remember.” Striding across the room, he soon caught up with his wife Suzanna, Effie, Grace, Amelia and Tempest. “Just where are you ladies rushing off to?” he asked suspiciously, holding his hands behind his back as he rocked forward on his heels.
“Why nowhere,” Suzanna answered, her cheeks pink. She was having great difficulty keeping the guilty smile from her lips.
“We must go to freshen up,” Tempest offered. “It is so warm in here with all the dancing, Oui?”
“I agree, however, I wouldn’t mind taking my bride out for some fresh air,” he stated.
“No,” Grace nearly yelled before gathering her wits. “I mean, we need to help Suzanna with some personal things,” she continued as her eyes trailed away.
Jonah snorted behind Dalton.
“Yes,” Effie agreed. “A woman likes to look her best on her wedding day,” she informed them, grasping a piece of Suzanna’s hair and pulling it out of her bun.
“See, it’s nearly falling down now,” Amelia added. “Come on, ladies. You wait right here, Dalton, and we’ll have your bride back by your side before you can miss her.”
“That’s not possible,” Dalton whispered, taking Suzanna’s hand in his and kissing her palm. “If there is a breath of air between us, I miss her.”
“Oh, that’s so romantic,” Grace sighed, staring up at Dalton in admiration until Effie grabbed her arm and yanked her away. “Hey!”
“Come on,” she ground out between her teeth. “We’ll be back soon,” Effie called sweetly over her shoulder as Grace stumbled along at her side.
“Are you trying to kill me?” Grace demanded.
Jonah laughed as he and Dalton joined Hugh and Sam back at the bar.
“You do know where they’re going?” he asked, picking up a glass of champagne.
“Of course. Hugh told me this morning.”
“And you’re all right with this photographer fellow taking pictures of your wife in a state of… well, let’s just say they are not your average wedding memory keepsake.”
“To tell you the truth, I can’t wait to see what she does,” Dalton laughed. “I imagine it will be quite unique, although I doubt it will be able to compete with what Sam’s wife arranged.”
“Who told you about Effie’s?” Sam demanded, eyeing his older brother Hugh suspiciously.
“Are you upset by it?” Dalton asked, seriously.
“No, in fact, she doesn’t know it yet but I’m having a portrait painted of it to hang in our bedroom. I shall consider it a reason to spank her whenever I choose.” He laughed, adding, “And I plan to choose that quite often.”
“Did you notice mother went with them?” Hugh asked, shaking his head.
“Shall we tell father before it’s too late?”
“I don’t think so,” Sam suggested with a grin. “His life has gotten entirely too settled since mother acquired a number of ‘daughters’ to look after. I do believe he could stand for it to be shaken up a bit. Are we all agreed to keep quiet about it?”
“Oui,” the four men replied, laughing as they raised their glasses for a toast.
It was several hours later, after the cake had been cut and Dalton danced Suzanna around the floor so many times he was sure his feet had blisters beneath his polished black boots, before he ran into Jonah outside enjoying a cheroot.
“You said there was more,” Dalton reminded him after accepting one from the other man and taking a long drag. Slowly he exhaled the smoke.
“I really didn’t want to tell you today,” Jonah replied sincerely.
“Jonah, I wouldn’t have asked you to investigate if I wasn’t sure I could take the results.”
“It’s not you I’m worried about.”
“Just spit it out. I’ll decide what to do with the information once I have it,” Dalton insisted.
“Let’s take a little walk,” Jonah suggested, watching couples come and go through the big barn doors. When they were a good distance away and assured of privacy, he began to speak.
“About three weeks ago there was a fire in Savannah. The house burnt to the ground and Suzanna’s grandmother, Celeste Jeffries, perished.”
“What about her mother?” Dalton asked intently.
“That’s just it. Marguerite Jeffries’s body was never found. There are some who think she set the fire to get rid of the old lady. Their hatred for one another was well known. Celeste blamed Marguerite for the death of her son, insisted she’d turned her son into a coward and things escalated when Suzanna left. She was no longer there to act as a buffer between the two women.”
“That wasn’t her job,” Dalton snapped, furious.
“I recognize that; I’m just telling you what I know. You can’t take her to Georgia, Dalton. Not now, maybe not ever. Her mother may be completely unhinged.”
“God, what am I going to tell her?” Dalton asked, running a hand through his dark hair. “We were going there for our honeymoon. I promised she could flaunt our wealth to her heart’s content,” he snorted derisively. “Now I have to tell her Celeste is dead and her mother is missing. What a way to start a wedding night.”
“Don’t tell her tonight, Dalton,” Jonah advised, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder in sympathy. “She’s been through hell the last few weeks. Let her enjoy her day. She looks so happy. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen her truly relaxed.”
“You’re right. We’re boarding the Mystic Maiden tonight and planned on spending some time in San Francisco. I’ll tell her there, as gently as I can. Maybe I can get her to agree to travel for a while.”
“How committed is she to this women’s rights thing the wives are determined to move forward on?”
“Very. She and Effie are nearly inseparable now. In fact, if she thought she could bring her along on our honeymoon, she would.” Dalton laughed. “I’ve never seen two women who hated each other become such allies.”
“They faced death together. That’s a pretty powerful bond. Grace says Effie would have sunk like a stone left on her own. Suzanna saved her life.”
“I know, and Suzanna’s blossomed under the love they’ve shown her. I’m thankful, not only that they both survived, but that she’s accepted, even cherished now for who she is, who I always sensed she could be.”
“I hope you don’t imagine your wife will now be the perfect little lady?” Jonah asked with a laugh.
“Not at all,” Dalton replied. “I expect she’ll find trouble often enough, but her heart is healing. All the damage her parents did is fading and she’s learning she has value far beyond her beauty.”
“Are you planning on making Seattle your home?”
“Are you kidding?” Dalton laughed. “I couldn’t pry her away from Effie, Grace, Amelia and Tempest if I tried. No, I’ll invest in the community. Soon we’ll be a state, growing, prospering, and I’ll find something to do to help it along.”
“Have you thought about running for office? We’ll need good men to represent us in a new state legislature and in Washington.”
“I haven’t, but it’s something to consider,” he replied thoughtfully. “Come on; let’s go see what our naughty wives are up to. Tell me, where you upset when you learned Grace participated in this photograph incident?”
“Surprised yes, but not upset. Then once I saw the results I was stunned. She’s beautiful, and while her photographs were certainly evocative, they were not blatantly sexual. Effie on the other hand, really pushed the limits of Sam’s tolerance even though he admitted they were the sexiest thing he’d ever seen.”
“Have you seen Effie’s?” Dalton asked in surprise.
“No,” Jonah laughed, “and I doubt anyone ever will. I’ll certainly do everything in my power to keep others from seeing Grace’s. I can’t wait to witness Duncan’s reaction,” he stated, smiling wickedly.
“What do you think he’ll do?”
“I’m not sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he blistered his wife’s bottom and then hung the photograph over the desk in his study.”
“No, it would be just like him to want to remind her of her indiscretion for a while. You didn’t know her before he took her in hand. She was a terror.”
“I’ve heard stories.”
“None of them could have done her justice,” Jonah insisted. “Their home was a battleground while Sam and Hugh were growing up.”
“Duncan adored her,” Jonah explained. “He never said no, or almost never. For years, Tempest assumed he didn’t care what she did, one way or another. To her it was proof he didn’t love her.”
“Let me share a bit of advice, from one newly married man to another. It’s obvious you love Suzanna with all your heart, but don’t ever forget you’re her husband. While it’s your job to provide for her, and love her, you must also be firm at times for her own good. Don’t let your affection lead you to overlook actions that are dangerous or just plain foolish. She’ll lose respect for you and it will take a lot of work to get it back.
“When you have disagreements, talk it out, compromise and bend when you can. There will also be times when you have to trust your own judgment no matter how she fights against you, when you feel her actions or behavior is unquestionably wrong. At those times, a good, old-fashioned spanking works wonders.”
“I’ve already been there with Suzanna,” Dalton admitted wryly as they returned to the party. “If and when the time comes, I’ll have no problem revisiting the concept. I’ll never allow her to put herself or our marriage in jeopardy.”
“Glad to hear it,” Jonah remarked. “Grace means the world to me and I don’t believe in abusing women in any way, but I must admit there is something immensely satisfying ending certain disagreements with her over my knee. It’s far better than getting the cold shoulder for a week with no resolution.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Now let’s go see if our wives are breaking the rules of conventional society once again. For women who strongly support the temperance movement, they certainly like their champagne.”
They walked into a heated argument, a division of the sexes that shocked them at a wedding. Swiftly, Tempest intervened, signaling the band to play and encouraging couples to dance.
“This is not the time or place for such discussion,” she scolded. “Come, we will dance and enjoy ourselves. There is food, wine and music tu comprends? This is a celebration.”
In deference to their hostess, most of the guests complied. Hugh, Sam, Jonah, Dalton and Duncan knew this was only the beginning.
Martha Jonas stood at the window peering out. It had been three weeks since Suzanna and Dalton’s wedding. There was no moon to allow her to see outside, just the patter of rain on the porch roof. Delicately, she traced the raindrops with her finger as they trickled down the
window pane. Another night alone, she thought sadly.
Ethan surely wouldn’t come in this weather, not that she’d seen much of him recently. No, things had changed between them. The big Swede who’d swept her off her feet and into his arms the instant he met her, kissing her and claiming her for his future bride was no more.
She couldn’t fault him. He’d pursued her with gentle determination for months, and while she eventually agreed to marry him, she put him off time and again. There was always some excuse, some reason why they should wait, and apparently Ethan was tired of waiting, most likely tired of her.
He’d grown impatient, frustrated, until finally he stopped pressing her. He changed and Martha knew it was a direct result of that horrible night a few months ago.
Ethan and Sam had been the two men who rappelled down the mountain the morning they’d found Effie and Suzanna after an all-night search. It had been Ethan who carefully secured Suzanna’s bloody body to a make shift stretcher and guided it up the cliff while the others handled the ropes.
He thought she was dead, Ethan confessed to Martha that night. Thought they both were as soon as he saw them looking fragile and broken, lying together on a huge flat rock in the cold light of dawn.
“I was sick when I saw them lying so still,” he croaked out. “And Sam… I’ll never forget his face, the desperation, the hopelessness. I could only imagine his fear as we made our way down. I kept watching him, half expecting him to just let go of the rope and join her, such was the pain in his eyes. Such a foolish thing to do,” he ground out, pounding his fist in his hand as he rose and paced the room. “I did not realize women could be so unpredictable. She was warned, all of you were warned not to use that road!”
“Effie thought she was doing the right thing,” Martha replied, defending her friend. “We didn’t know how bad the accident on the mountain was or how many men were hurt and she was trying to get help.”
“It is no excuse,” Ethan snapped. “Sometimes women need to do what they are told.”
“I see,” Martha sighed, looking down at her hands in her lap.
“No, you only see what you want to,” Ethan insisted, grasping her shoulders and pulling her from her chair. Giving her a sharp shake, he leaned down until they were eye to eye. “I understand this need you have to be an equal to a man, but in many ways it is not possible. I am bigger, stronger and have lived on this mountain for many years. I know it, the dangers, the risks, yet you want a say in everything. Even things you know nothing about.
“I have heard you and your friends talking. You want to form a group where you will end up antagonizing the men who like their liquor. That is not me, Martha, but others will not take to it. There will be danger there as well, yet you think I should sit by and let you have your way in all things. Other wives will join your group and there will be trouble.”
“No, now you will listen to me. It is I who will have my way. When we marry and I tell you not to do something, you will obey me. I will not worry about finding my wife half dead because she thinks she knows best. Do you understand? I will not let you be a target for drunken men as you march through town with your banners condemning men who will be our neighbors, our friends.”
“I am going home now, before I say or do something we will both regret,” he said, releasing her. “You must think about what you want, Martha. Do you want a man for a husband or a mouse, for I can be no mouse? I have tried to be patient with you, but I must wonder if you have been leading me on. Maybe no man is good enough for you?
“I am a good man, Martha, but I too like a glass of whiskey now and then. Will you march against me? Will you defy my orders when they are meant to keep you safe? Will you continue to make me wait for you until you decide if I am good enough?” he demanded.
“That first day I saw you I wanted you. So pretty, so spirited, I thought this is the woman for me, but I am no longer sure,” he admitted sadly as he pulled on his coat. “If you loved me as I love you, we would have married long ago, so I can only wonder if perhaps we are not meant to be husband and wife. I will call on you again next week. For now, I need to think. I can not get the image of those women out of my mind. You must decide if you can be an obedient wife, Älskling. I find I cannot settle for less.”
That night was nearly three months ago. Since then Ethan had called weekly, taken her to dinner at his parents’ restaurant a couple of times and kissed her chastely on the cheek each time he left. There were no more passionate embraces, no lingering kisses on the stoop. He did not press her against him as he had the night of Cole and Charlotte’s wedding, proving his desire for her.
Effie and Suzanna both recovered over time. Suzanna married Dalton and they went on their honeymoon. They would return in the spring, Suzanna promised. She wanted to be back in Seattle for the birth of Amelia and Hugh’s child.
Effie and Sam now lived in their own home with Grace and Jonah as semi-permanent houseguests. Amelia and Hugh had joined them even though there were now very few brides. He did not want Amelia to be alone in her condition and Effie and Grace had always been her best friends.
Martha thought the house seemed strangely quiet with only herself, Ellie, Clara, Mary and Jane unless Ellie was arguing with her Mr. Ferguson. Gracious, those two had some ferocious battles. It was a wonder he made the trip from Portland every week to see her considering nearly all they did was argue.
She almost wished she and Ethan would have a knock down, dragged out fight instead of the cold, cordial arrangement they had now. If nothing else, it would clear the air. At this point she wondered what she was doing in Seattle at all. Turning out the light, she went upstairs to her room and undressed, putting on her long white night dress. Sitting before her vanity, she pulled the pins from her hair and picked up her brush.
A hundred strokes every night for nearly twenty-seven years, she thought absently as she brushed her long dark hair over one shoulder, and for what? To entice a man? To be considered attractive?
She came to Seattle to marry Hugh Jordon. The only problem was so had a lot of other women. His advertisement and subsequent letter pushed her to sell her dress shop in Philadelphia and travel west. When she arrived, Hugh was already married to Amelia. It didn’t bother Martha. They were obviously in love and the misunderstandings were caused by Hugh’s head clerk, Clarence. Martha regarded it as just one of those things. She could have turned around and boarded a ship back to San Francisco, but she had nothing there and she’d made friends on the trip. It seemed to her she should at least stay for a while and see if she liked living on the other side of the country.
Molly, one of the excess brides, agreed to marry the man who sent for her. It was while she was helping Molly and Amelia fix up Molly and Angus’s cabin that she met Ethan Jorgensen. You could have knocked her over with a feather when the huge Swede walked into the cabin and scooped her up, declaring he would take her as his bride as though she were the bargain of the week at the grocer.
She’d refused of course, she recalled with a smile, but he won her over with his bright smile and charming accent. Ethan was a gentle giant, treating her carefully. The first time he mentioned spanking her, she was taken aback and assumed he was teasing her. As time went on and she became more comfortable with him as her intended, she questioned him, gaining his assurance that he would never treat her in such a childlike fashion providing she behaved as an adult. For a while that seemed to settle the matter and they set a date. How was she to know that Suzanna and Effie would nearly be killed when the road washed away as they rushed to town to get men to help after a logging accident?
She couldn’t marry Ethan with so much going on. Then Suzanna and Dalton announced their pending nuptials. It wouldn’t have been proper for her to steal Suzanna’s thunder by marrying while she and Effie were laid up. Ethan should have understood that sometime circumstances prevented people from doing as they pleased.
As far as the Ladies Aide Society they wanted to start, well that was something the brides had been talking about for months. Washington Territory would soon be a state and women should have the right to vote. Saloons and houses of ill repute were numerous and all of the women worried about the families of the men who spent their money over the bar instead of honoring their responsibilities. They’d all seen children running barefoot, filching food from the crates at the wharf when no one was looking; children who should be in school.
No, it was their duty to try and do something to improve the lives of women less fortunate and they were no longer going to shirk it. In her mind, Ethan should have been proud of her for wanting to take a stand against inequality between the sexes. Instead, he was critical of her ideals.
Sighing, she placed the brush on her bureau and climbed into bed. Perhaps it wasn’t in her future to be a wife and mother. Perhaps she really was going to be an old maid. Well, if that was the case, she was going to be a damn good one. She still had money from the sale of her shop and she knew Hugh would help her if it wasn’t enough. Maybe she would forget the whole idea of getting married and open a shop of her own again. There was something to be said for being your own boss she told herself, punching her pillow and turning out the lamp. Who needed a man anyway, especially a big, bossy one? Maybe when Ethan finally decided to show up again she would just tell him she had made a decision and no, he wasn’t good enough for her. Maybe she would tell him she would only settle for a man who wanted to be her partner, not her master.
Silent tears fell as she admitted she loved Ethan. Was it so wrong to want her wedding to be to a man who valued her opinion and stood behind her? Martha wanted a wedding that was not rushed as the others had been, not that they all weren’t lovely in their own way, but she wanted something special. Many of the others were married now. Effie and Grace who came west to save their friend weren’t even mail order brides, just loyal friends of Amelia’s and they’d both married. Molly’s wedding was lovely if you didn’t count the cake which was beautiful but nearly inedible. Charlotte’s wedding was planned and executed within hours when she married Marshal Hadley.
Suzanna and Dalton’s wedding was close to perfect, considering it was nearly disrupted by a political brawl. She wasn’t sure Ellie’s wedding to Clayton Ferguson would ever take place and she wasn’t sure about her own either. Jane and Doctor Martin seemed to spend a lot of time together, but as his nurse, that was understandable. So far Jane had given no indication that they were any more than friends and associates. In fact, Jane was making arrangements to send for her children from back east on her own, even though the good doctor offered to pay for it. Martha had a feeling he wouldn’t appreciate Jane going behind his back when he’d offered to help, but Jane was adamant.
Oh, the whole world seemed to be in a muddle. Things hadn’t turned out at all as she’d hoped, and now tomorrow, she was joining the others to search for a vacant building in town for their headquarters. Maybe she’d keep her eyes open for a small building suitable for a dress shop. Ethan had a few too many conditions for her taste. Obey him indeed. Or what, she huffed, tossing restlessly.
He’d spank her. Turn up her skirts and slap her bottom as though she were a child until he gained her repentance or compliance, whatever the case might be. It was too much to ask, and far too embarrassing. Despite her feelings about the practice, she knew a number of men spanked their wives, and, in her opinion, it was something that should be discussed at one of their meetings. Goodness, even dear Duncan, the Jordon patriarch was known to toss Tempest’s skirts up and redden her bottom. It was appalling, barbaric.
Obviously, all men weren’t like that. Martha knew for a fact that her dear friend Charlotte had only been spanked once by her marshal husband and that was because she asked for it. Of all the idiotic notions, but Charlotte insisted she’d done the right thing and it made their marriage stronger. Martha had given Charlotte a very heavy cast iron skillet for a wedding present and they’d laughed about it, but Martha doubted it would ever be used for anything other than cooking.
It seemed a very long time ago that Charlotte advised Martha that most husbands spanked their wives from time to time, and if Martha was worried about it, she should get herself a heavy skillet in case Ethan ever went too far. Ethan and she had laughed about it, and he promised to buy her one before they married. Not surprisingly, he never did. Apparently he rethought his stance on spousal discipline after Effie and Suzanna nearly perished.
Tired and disheartened, Martha finally fell asleep, dreaming of satins and lace, buttons and bows and cast iron skillets.
* * *
“Come on, Martha,” Clara hollered up the stairs. “You’re holding everyone up. The girls are already in the wagon. Oh, I hope we find a place today. I can’t wait to get started.”
“I’m hurrying as fast as I can,” Martha replied, racing down the stairs. “Gracious,” she continued, pulling on her gloves. “My but you’re anxious today.”
“It’s because we’re finally doing something I know something about,” Clara exclaimed, smiling. “Most of the time I’m at a loss about what’s going on.”
“That’s right; you were involved in the Ladies Aide Society back in Baltimore weren’t you?”
“Yes, and the Washingtonian Temperance Movement,” Clara replied proudly. “Oh, Martha, the marches were so exciting.”
“Was there danger?” Martha asked nervously. “Did you feel threatened?”
“Oh my yes,” Clara replied. “Some of those men were downright violent. You see they didn’t like our views. At times a man would come and try to drag his wife away,” she continued her eyes wide with excitement.
“What did you do?”
“Why we beat them off with our signs,” Clara insisted, straightening her shoulders. “If we could that is. Then the mayor’s wife joined our cause and soon some of the wives of the city council. After that, we often had a police escort along. It wasn’t nearly as much fun after that.” She sighed as she headed out the door.
Martha shook her head and followed her to the wagon. She was surprised to see Tempest on the front seat holding the reins. Once everyone was settled in, she set the team in motion.
“I believe I have found the perfect location for our meetings,” Tempest began. “Oh, mes petits wait till you see it.” She laughed. “The men, they will hate it, bien sur, but oh va bien. They will adjust,” she continued, giving a wave of her hand.
“Where is it, Ma Ma?” Amelia asked.
“You must wait and see,” Tempest replied with a twinkle in her eyes. “Be patient ma petit.”
There were audible gasps when she pulled the wagon in front of Seattle’s most prosperous saloon, The Bucket of Blood.
“Good heavens,” Effie exclaimed, “not this place!”
“No, my sweet one, the building next door,” Tempest explained as she pulled the brake on and began to climb down. “I was able to get the lease on it, but I will tell you it was difficile.”
“Doesn’t Mrs. Morton own this block of buildings?” Grace asked as she too got down from the wagon and smoothed her skirts before she and Effie assisted Amelia.
“Yes, and she is égoïste et avide,” Tempest hissed under her breath. “I nearly lost my favorite earrings before les cartes à jouerurned in my favor.”
“You gambled for the building, and won?” Effie exclaimed in delight.
“Oui, but you must not tell Pa Pa or Samuel. They do not understand the finer points of négociation. Come, let us look and see what we have acquis.” Taking the key from her reticule, she approached the door and opened it.