“Then kissed?” she inquired hopefully.
Betsy Blake yearns for love and romance, but the unattached men of Virginia City are crude, rough cowboys without the gentlemanly qualities she desires. She pens an advertisement in the paper for a mail-order groom from the east, specifying that he be well-dressed and mannerly.
Roderick Mason’s reputation as an architect in New York City has earned him great success, but he hasn’t been as lucky in love. The women of his circle are too prim and predictable for the adventurous rake. He longs for excitement and a woman who will challenge him. When he reads Betsy’s ad in the paper requesting a gentleman groom, he’s intrigued, so he heads west to meet her.
Roderick and Betsy are immediately smitten, but they soon discover that not everyone in Virginia City is pleased by their match, especially one man who wants Betsy as his own. As Betsy’s stalker becomes increasingly threatening, Roderick realizes he will go to great lengths to protect his sweet little country girl, including taking her over his knee for some painful discipline when she misbehaves or puts herself in danger. Will Betsy learn to face her problems and accept Roderick’s love and discipline, or will he never succeed at what he desires most—protecting and catching Betsy?
Warning: Catching Betsy is an historical western romance containing sexual scenes and domestic discipline, including punishment spanking. If these themes offend you, please don’t buy this book.
What People Say About Catching Betsy
Roderick is a real gentleman, but deep down he carries the most wicked desires and it was impossible for me not to fall a little in love with him. For the fans of historical romance, this is a treat and a must-read. -Miss Betty’s Book Reviews
What a great sequel! Catching Betsy was a delightful read from beginning to end. -Amazon Customer
I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Roderick is even hotter than Adam (of the previous book). This book has sweet moments, well-developed characters, page-turning plot and even a villain to vanquish. -Amazon Customer
Amelia excels at creating characters you fall in love with and never want to leave. I could easily read another book (or five) about the characters from Virginia City. -Katie Douglas, Spanking Romance Author
Action, suspense, and romance – what more can I wish for? Some spankings, maybe? Ah, hold on, there are plenty of those! -Amazon Customer
Read the First Chapter for Free
Betsy Blake walked into the kitchen and stopped abruptly as her mouth dropped open in horror. The Harringtons’ four-year-old daughter was stuffing a fistful of blueberry pie into her mouth, smearing crumbs and fruit around her face. The child had grabbed a handful right from the center of the pie, effectively ruining it.
Betsy groaned. “Oh, Mini! Your ma said you weren’t to eat that.”
Virginia Harrington, first nicknamed Ginny, which then led to the pet name “Mini” on account of her tiny stature, grinned without remorse. “It’s yummy, Miss Betsy. Want some?” She held out her chubby fist filled with crust and fruit. Blueberry oozed through her fingers, dropping dollops of goo onto the floor.
“Sakes alive.” Betsy held her palms to her face. She couldn’t believe she’d let this happen. As often as she’d watched the Harrington children, she should have known to keep better watch over the younger child, who was a peck of trouble on the best of days. But Caleb, her older brother, had needed help with his arithmetic and she’d lost track of the little troublemaker. “Your parents are going to flay me, Mini. Thanks a lot.”
As if summoned to the task, Adam’s and Susannah’s buggy squeaked to a halt outside. They were already home from their supper in town, not even giving Betsy enough time to clean up the mess. The little girl quickly made herself scarce, dashing out of the kitchen as soon as she heard the horse’s nicker and leaving Betsy to face them alone.
Betsy drew a deep breath and tried to settle her nerves. Susannah had always been like an older sister to her, and she likely wouldn’t stay cross for long. But Adam was known for intolerance when it came to mistakes. She knew this because her pa was the foreman of the Harringtons’ ranch and Adam was his boss. Adam was strict when it came to his ranch hands and his business, and he was quick to let a man go if he wasn’t up to snuff.
Betsy enjoyed watching the children to earn spending money and didn’t want her job to end, but fear of getting fired wasn’t her main source of dismay. She wanted Adam to like her because she’d always respected him. Some five years back, he’d traveled all the way from Amarillo to Virginia City to marry Susannah, and his forbidding, no-nonsense attitude had made an immediate impression on everyone in town, including Betsy. People joked behind his back that he was a mail-order groom because he’d responded to an advertisement Susannah had placed in the paper asking for a rancher husband, but they didn’t repeat the same jokes to his face.
Now that Betsy was a grown woman of eighteen and thinking about marriage herself, she thought Susannah had been smart to find a husband in that manner. A couple local suitors had asked Betsy’s pa for permission to court her, but she wasn’t interested in them. One in particular, a ranch hand named Johnny, still insisted on coming around even after she gave him the mitten. At best he would annoy her. At worst he would disgust her.
Johnny’s topics of conversation never centered around anything she was interested in, such as music or art. He spoke loudly over her, bragging that he was the most skilled out of all Adam’s cowhands. He also made sure to point out that he deserved a much more lucrative occupation, since he’d received high marks in school and would have done well in college if he’d been able to afford it. It was only his lack of funds that prevented him from getting anywhere further in life. His face would twist into a grimace, expressing great bitterness at the world for his lot.
After every one of these conversations, Betsy was convinced more than ever that she wanted to marry a gentleman, not a cowboy, and gentlemen were hard to find in Virginia City. Writing an advertisement specifying exactly the kind of man she wanted—someone from the east with good table manners who didn’t smell like cows or sweat—held great appeal.
“Hello, Betsy!” The back door rattled open and in walked Susannah, followed by Adam, who closed the door behind them. Susannah appeared flushed and happy, with a big smile on her face, but her smile quickly faded when she spotted what was left of her pie on the table.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Harrington!” Betsy cried. “I wasn’t watching Mini as I should have been because I was helping Caleb with his homework in the other room.”
Susannah sank onto the stool next to the table, appearing suddenly weary, though still as beautiful as ever. Her blonde hair, which Betsy had always admired, cascaded in perfect waves around her shoulders. Betsy thought her own hair was decidedly average in comparison—straight, dark, and long, worn in a single braid down her back.
Adam frowned at the pie before looking at Susannah and saying, “I thought you told Mini not to touch it because it was for the potluck tomorrow.”
“I did,” Susannah replied, scowling at him, “and she didn’t care. You’re too lenient with her. She knows she can get away with anything.”
Adam didn’t deny it. He leaned back against the counter and scraped his fingers through his dark hair.
Betsy felt near tears. She hated seeing Susannah so upset. “Please forgive me, Mrs. Harrington. I promise I’ll do a better job of watching her next time.”
“It’s not your fault,” Adam said gruffly. “Mini knows right from wrong.”
“Yes, she does,” Susannah agreed, “and we’re the ones raising a little hellion.” She stood and walked to the door. “Mini! Come here, please.”
She returned to sitting on the stool next to the ruined pie while they waited for the youngest Harrington. Her tiny footsteps could be heard getting closer. Before the girl walked in, Susannah said to Adam, “I know she’s cute and can be as sweet as… well, pie. But she’s so naughty. You have to be firm with her this time.”
Adam nodded. “I will be, darlin’.”
A shiver went through Betsy, and she looked longingly at the back door, trying to determine if there was a graceful way to exit. She didn’t relish the thought of being around while Adam was firm with anyone, let alone his daughter who she was fond of, even if she was bad sometimes.
Before Betsy could make her escape, the little girl walked in and glanced around the room with wide, brown eyes. She was an adorable child and a near equal blend of both her parents. She had Susannah’s fair skin and button nose and her father’s brown eyes and dark hair. Ringlets curled around her heart-shaped face. Both of her chubby cheeks and her lips were stained purple, as was the hand that had grabbed the pie.
Susannah pointed at the ruined dessert. “Mini, did you eat the pie I told you was for the potluck tomorrow?” It was a question everyone knew the answer to, of course, especially considering the proof smeared all over the child’s face.
Mini looked at the pie, then back at her ma and shook her head. “No, Mama, I didn’t eat it. I saw a ‘coon tryin’ to get in through the door while you were fixin’ to leave. I shooed it away, but I reckon it scooted in later and ate your pie.”
Adam coughed and turned his head away quickly, but not before Betsy saw the smile he tried to hide. She relaxed a little, guessing that Adam likely wouldn’t be too harsh with Mini if he was feeling amused instead of angry.
Susannah, however, wasn’t impressed in the least. “Adam!” she exclaimed. “Did you hear that balderdash coming from your child?”
Adam cleared his throat and adopted a sober expression, with difficulty it seemed. “I did. Come here, Mini.”
Mini skipped to him without reservation, not seeming the least bit concerned about being in trouble with her pa. Adam scooped her up and set her on the counter. He picked up a strip of cloth and dipped it into the water basin. After wringing it out, he applied it to Mini’s cheeks and mouth. “You know what I’m doing right now?”
“Yeah,” she said, giggling. “You’re washing my face, Pa.”
“That’s right. I’m washing the blueberry pie off your face.” His mouth formed into a firm line, but his eyes twinkled hopelessly.
Mini stopped giggling, suddenly seeming to understand that she wasn’t going to get away with her stunt. Her gaze darted between her parents as Adam cleaned her up.
Setting the cloth aside, Adam repeated Susannah’s question in a stern voice. “Did you eat the pie after your ma told you not to, Virginia?”
Mini’s eyes flooded with tears. “Yes, Pa.”
Adam raised a brow. “So not only did you eat your ma’s pie, you also lied about it when you tried to blame a raccoon, didn’t you?”
Her lower lip quivered before she whispered, “Yes.” She looked down at her hands, which were clutching and twisting her skirt.
“You know better than to lie to your ma, and you know better than to disobey. Now no one at the potluck will be able to eat pie because Mama doesn’t have time to bake another one. What if Mrs. Pierce wanted some or your friend Clara? Now they won’t get any.”
“They won’t?” she asked in a small voice, sounding devastated.
Betsy’s heart went out to the girl, who didn’t seem to understand until that moment that her actions could have any negative effect on others. She could be naughty, but she wasn’t mean-spirited.
Adam must have thought the same. His voice gentled. “No they won’t, honey. That’s why your ma told you to leave it alone ‘til tomorrow, so that other people can enjoy it.”
She let out an anguished sob and leaned forward to bury her face against his chest. “I want Mrs. Pierce and Clara to have pie too. Please can you give them some?”
“They’re going to have to wait until the next potluck, when Mama will bake another. And you’re not going to ruin that one, are you?”
“No!” she sobbed.
Adam wrapped his arms around her and pulled her off the counter. She clung to him and cried, her legs wrapped tightly around his waist and her arms around his neck. He glanced at Susannah with something like a helpless expression. It was clear he was undone by his daughter’s tears. He rubbed her back and held her until she calmed down, then set her on her feet in front of him. She stared up at him with red-rimmed eyes and a runny nose, hiccupping and twisting the hem of her dress in one hand.
She looked so tiny and vulnerable in the room full of adults, all of whom were focused on her and her wrongdoing. Adam regarded her mournfully for a moment. Finally, he sighed and said, “Go say you’re sorry to your ma and then go straight to bed, Mini. I expect you to be obedient and honest from now on. Is that understood?”
She nodded and sniffled.
“Yes, Pa?” he prompted.
“Yes, Pa,” she repeated.
“Go on then.”
Mini trudged to her ma and apologized through hiccups, sounding very remorseful, which caused Susannah’s gaze to soften. Neither of her parents could stay upset with her for long, it seemed. After Mini left the room to go to bed, Susannah rolled her eyes. “Well, you sure told her.”
Adam chuckled and shook his head. “I’m sorry. I should have punished her with more than an early bedtime for that, but it was hard enough for me to scold her. Then when she starting crying and looking at me with those big, sad eyes…”
Susannah scoffed and addressed Betsy. “He wasn’t always this lenient. He’s gone soft.”
Betsy grinned, enjoying the lighthearted direction the conversation had taken, and also greatly relieved that Adam had been so lenient with the little girl.
Adam grunted. “That’s because you and Caleb plumb wore me out. Where is that boy, anyway? I don’t reckon he’s ever stayed away from the kitchen this long before.”
“Oh, he’ll be here shortly, I’m sure. You should pay Betsy so that she can get on home. Sorry for keeping you, honey.”
“We appreciate you being here,” Adam said, and retrieved his wallet. “As you can imagine, it does me and Susannah good to get away from the kids for a spell.” He handed Betsy her pay as Caleb joined them in the kitchen. Now a strapping boy of ten years old, Betsy remembered him at Mini’s age, which was when Adam had come to marry Susannah and be a father to the little boy.
Caleb looked at the pie, and his eyebrows shot up. “Mini’s doing?”
When everyone nodded, he asked, “Don’t suppose I could eat some?”
“Go right ahead,” Susannah said, waving her hand at the mess. “Not taking that to the potluck.”
Caleb grabbed a fork, sat down on a stool next to his ma, and dug in. “Delicious!” he reported. After swallowing his first large bite, he asked, “Pa, can I go fishing with William tomorrow?”
“Don’t see why not,” Adam said. “Did you finish your homework?”
He nodded. “Yup, all done.”
Mini returned to the kitchen then, her eyes dried and cheerful demeanor returned. Adam frowned at her. “Didn’t I say to go to bed?”
“I wanted to say goodnight to Miss Betsy,” she explained, and wrapped her arms around Betsy’s waist.
Betsy returned the hug. “Sweet dreams, Mini. I’ll see you tomorrow at the potluck, all right?”
“All right.” Mini released her hold on Betsy.
Caleb set down his fork. “Say Pa, can you help me find worms tomorrow before I go to the fishing hole?”
Before Adam could respond, Mini spun around and exclaimed, “I wanna go fishing too, Caleb!”
He glared at her. “No! You’re not coming, Mini. You’ll only get in the way.”
For the second time that evening, Mini’s eyes filled with tears. “Ma, make Caleb say I can go with him!”
Susannah let out an exasperated sigh. “Your pa will take you fishing another time. Go to bed, Mini. You’re tired.”
She dropped to the floor and wailed, “But I want to go fishing with Caleb!”
Adam groaned and strode forward to pick her up off the ground. She laid her head on his shoulder as he chided her. “You can’t always get what you want, Mini, and that’s no reason to pitch a fit.”
She only cried in response.
“Such big feelings for such a little girl, huh?”
“Yes,” she sobbed. “Caleb is mean and he never wants to play with me.”
Adam frowned at Caleb. “I expect you to be a little gentler with your sister, son. She only wants to spend time with you because she looks up to you.”
“I didn’t mean to make her cry,” he grumbled.
“I know, but there was a nicer way to tell her she couldn’t come. Maybe you could have offered to stack blocks with her tomorrow for a few minutes instead.”
A look of resignation crossed Caleb’s face. “I could do that. I’m sorry, Mini.”
“I-I forgive y-you,” she said magnanimously through her tears, her head still resting on Adam’s shoulder.
Adam’s lips quirked up briefly and he winked at Caleb. “All right, that’s settled and it’s this one’s bedtime,” he announced, heading for the door. “Betsy, you have a good night now.”
“Thank you, Mr. Harrington. You too.”
Betsy turned to Susannah. “Sorry again about your pie, Mrs. Harrington. I’m glad Mr. Harrington wasn’t too hard on Mini. I would’ve felt even more terrible.”
Susannah smiled and shook her head. “He’s a good father, even when he’s hard on the children. Never loses his temper and is always fair.”
“I hope to get married to a nice man soon,” Betsy said. She picked up her duster from where it hung over a chair and shrugged her arms into it.
“I imagine a pretty girl like you is attracting suitors like bees to honey.”
Betsy giggled. “There are a few men who are interested in seeing me, but the trouble is, I don’t like any of them. They’re immature and dirty and they smell like cowboys.”
Susannah threw back her head and laughed. “Well, honey, that’s probably ‘cause they are cowboys. And cowboys can be washed, you know.”
She shrugged. “I suppose, but I wish I could meet a gentleman, like someone from the east who dresses in fine clothes. Maybe a musician or a businessman.” Betsy pulled the duster around her tightly. It was chilly outside, but she didn’t have far to walk. Her parents’ house was within sight of the Harringtons’.
“Now that sounds nice and all, but you have to make sure he can earn a living, not just strut around in fine clothes,” Susannah admonished. “With cowboys, you know they can take care of a family because they work hard to earn their pennies.”
“Yes, ma’am, that’s what my parents say.”
Betsy considered sharing with Susannah that she’d been thinking about putting a mail-order groom ad in the paper just like Susannah had done, but she decided against it. She didn’t want Susannah to laugh or try to discourage her, so she said goodbye and headed home.
The wind howled around her, and Betsy shivered and quickened her steps toward the cabin. Because her head was bent down, it came as a surprise when Johnny Miller suddenly stepped out from behind a tree in front of her, preventing her journey to her cabin from continuing. “Hello, sweet thang,” Johnny drawled. “Nice evening for a walk.”
“Hello,” she said politely, and tried to step around him, but he sidestepped and prevented her from moving forward. She sighed. “Please let me pass, Johnny. I’m cold and I want to go home.”
“What’s the big hurry? Seems you’re always in a rush whenever I wanna talk to you.”
A whiff of cow manure filled her nostrils. Likely it was stuck to his clothing. She wrinkled her nose in disgust as her annoyance bubbled to the surface. Why wouldn’t he get the hint and leave her alone? Betsy had been taught to be polite and nice to everyone, but doing so with Johnny had only caused his attention to continue. Perhaps it was time to be a little more forceful.
“I always seem in a rush because I don’t want to talk to you,” she said firmly. “I’ve told you I’m not interested in courting you, but you don’t seem to believe me.”
It was likely the rudest thing Betsy had ever said in her life, but she didn’t know how else to make her feelings clear. She watched as Johnny’s fair cheeks flushed red, and she felt a tug at her conscience. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings or humiliate him, and it was clear she had from the look on his face.
“You think you’re something special, don’t you? Think you’re too good for me.” He spat the words, his eyes flashing with hurt and something else—anger. Betsy felt alarmed by his expression.
She looked around, feeling alone suddenly, and cleared her throat. “I don’t think I’m too good for you, I’m just looking for a different type of man,” she explained in conciliatory tones. “I’m sure you’ll find a real nice girl, Johnny.”
Her explanation only seemed to make him angrier. He loomed over her, and Betsy noticed for the first time how tall he was. “You’re going to regret being such an offish bitch to me,” he snarled.
She swallowed, her throat dry, and took a step back. Her mind raced. She was closer to the Harringtons’ cabin than to her own. Her instincts told her to run, but she hesitated, thinking perhaps that would be overreacting. Johnny was annoying, but surely he wouldn’t actually hurt her.
She’d no sooner thought that when he reached out and clutched her arm with a hard grip. Her heartbeat quickened. His hold on her felt out of control, like he didn’t understand his own strength. “Let me go, Johnny!”
He didn’t. Instead, he shook her. “No one will treat you as good as I will, if you’ll only let me prove it,” he told her, a desperate look on his face. The irony of him saying that while hurting her escaped him.
Trying to wrench her arm free was of no use. She whimpered when he squeezed even tighter. A moment later she saw his eyes widen, and then he released her. She took that opportunity to run back toward the Harringtons’ cabin. In doing so, she turned and collided with Adam, who had come up upon them unbeknownst to her. She rammed into him with such force that he had to reach out and steady her to keep her from bouncing off him and falling to the ground. She nearly cried with relief.
Adam kept a hand on her shoulder and spoke to Johnny. “What’s going on here?”
The sound of Adam’s voice made Betsy shiver. She couldn’t remember ever hearing him sound so cold and threatening, and she was reminded in that moment why her pa always said he was a hard man.
“Nothing, sir,” Johnny said, his cheeks still red. “I was just saying hello to Miss Blake.”
“Yeah? You have an interesting way of doing that. Did he hurt you, Betsy?”
Betsy’s entire body was trembling, and tears came to her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak but couldn’t find the words. She didn’t want to get Johnny into trouble. She just wanted him to leave her alone. Now that his boss was involved, one word from her could mean a loss of his job. When she looked at Adam, he was staring at her with concern.
He seemed to know all that was needed with his own observations. He gave Johnny a hard stare. “Get out of here, and don’t come back unless you plan to go to the doctor directly after. Consider yourself fired.”
His jaw dropped. “But, Mr. Harrington, I didn’t mean…”
Adam removed his hand from Betsy’s shoulder, stepped forward, and grabbed Johnny by his collar. “You’d better start making tracks before I make you buzzard bait. After what I saw, you grabbing Betsy’s arm like that, you’re lucky I don’t report you to the marshal. I still might. Leave!”
When Adam released him, Johnny spat on the ground and turned to walk away, giving Betsy a wounded, angry look before he left.
Betsy stared after him. She still couldn’t find her tongue, but Adam didn’t expect her to speak. He only patted her shoulder and said, “Come on, I’ll take you home and you can tell your pa what happened.” He led the way toward Betsy’s house, a grim expression on his face. When they arrived at her cabin, he saw her safely inside.
“Thank you, Mr. Harrington,” Betsy said to him from the doorway, having finally gathered enough air to speak.
Adam shook his head. “I’ve never liked him. He’s a greedy deadbeat—wants a lot of pay for not much effort—but I never thought he’d stoop so low as to manhandle a girl. Tell your ma and pa.”
She nodded. “I will.”
Later, after much discussion with her parents, she lay awake in bed for some time. The room held only a small amount of light from the sliver of a moon outside, so she stared up into near-black darkness, listening to the crickets and thinking about the evening’s events.
Her parents had been furious to hear that Johnny had spoken to her in such a way and bruised her arm, and they were pleased to learn that Adam had fired him. Her pa had shaken his head and said, “I always think he’s too hard on the hands, but right about now I’m feeling grateful he’s a hard case.”
Betsy was more convinced than ever that she didn’t want to marry a cowboy. She determined while lying in bed rubbing her arm that she would indeed place an order in the paper for a mail-order groom. But she needed to go about it without anyone knowing. Her parents wouldn’t approve. If she told them, they would scold her and insist that she marry someone in town.
She shuddered at the memory of Johnny spitting on the ground and his comparison of her to a female dog. She didn’t want to settle for ill-mannered boys her own age. She wanted a gentleman, someone older and more mature, who would treat her like a lady. Before she drifted to sleep, the matter was settled in her mind. She would post an ad in the paper for a husband, just like Susannah had done, and hope she’d be as lucky in finding one.
A few days later, when she walked to the telegraph office to send her advertisement to the New York paper, she felt a stab of guilt over what she was about to do. She’d never done anything secret before, and now she was engaging in a clandestine activity of great importance. Not only that, she’d decided to stretch the truth about her age in the advertisement. Since she wanted an older man, one who was mature unlike the boys she knew in town, she decided she would need to present herself as a little older.
She gave her advertisement one final read-through before handing it to the clerk.
Woman, fair of face and strong of body, 25, seeks man age 25 to 35, for marriage. Must be well-dressed and well-mannered. Occupation of a gentleman required. Skills in music and dancing preferred. Respond to Betsy Blake of Virginia City, Nevada.
Satisfied, she left the telegraph office and walked to the post office, where she informed the postmaster of the letters she anticipated receiving from men responding to her ad. She asked for his silence, and he agreed when she handed him the money she’d earned from watching Caleb and Mini.
As she trotted home, she felt guilty again, both for not telling her parents of her plan and for lying about her age. She justified the misdeeds in her mind, however, with the knowledge that her parents would likely be happy in the end to see her married to a gentleman.
As for her future husband, she would explain the reason for lying about her age when she met him. Surely he would understand she was only putting measures in place to ensure their compatibility. Since she acted older than her eighteen years, she didn’t want to be matched up with someone any younger than twenty-five.
She arrived at the cabin after her errand in town to find that both her parents were away, her pa at the range working and her ma likely in the barn feeding the horses. She walked to her room. As soon as she entered, she immediately knew something wasn’t right. Perusing the space, her heart began to pound painfully in her chest.
It took a few moments to realize that everything was different, but only slightly. The rug over the hardwood floor was bunched up in one spot, revealing a lighter, cleaner portion of the floor. Her dresser had been moved, only a few inches, but enough that she noticed the skewing of her reflection in the mirror on top of it. The top drawer containing her undergarments was open, and when she looked inside, she saw that someone had rummaged through them, leaving them unfolded and scattered.
The changes felt insidious and taunting, and she suspected who they came from. Johnny was letting her know that he had been there. She felt unnerved, but what she found on her pillow terrified her. Her hands trembled as she picked up the folded piece of paper and opened it. Attached to the note was a dead butterfly, speared through the middle with a pin. Upon reading the message, scrawled in red ink, she dropped the letter and ran out of the house.
Dearest Betsy, aren’t butterflies beautiful? You remind me of a butterfly. Did you know that if you kill one, it can’t fly away from you? Its beauty can be admired forever.