What happens when a rancher searching for sweet, virginal bride meets a hotheaded, unwed mother?
Rancher Adam Harrington has long yearned to marry a diligent, virginal bride with a sweet disposition. When he reads a young woman’s unusual advertisement requesting a mail-order cowboy as her groom, he thinks they might be a good match. He writes the woman a letter saying just that, and she pens a favorable response, accepting him as her future husband. Adam packs up his belongings and heads west to a bright new future.
When Susannah Smith’s father bequeathed his ranch to her, it was under one condition: She must be married. For Virginia City’s fallen woman, finding a man to marry is no easy feat. The men in town who seek to court the hot-tempered, unwed mother are sluggards and drunks, not the kind of men capable of running a ranch. Desperate to find a suitable husband or else lose everything, she expands her search by listing an ad in the paper.
When the two meet, Adam’s commanding presence makes a startling but good impression on Susannah. The attraction between them is undeniable, but that is soon followed by wariness. Susannah had planned to marry a man who would do her bidding, not take over everything. It’s her ranch, after all! Equally befuddled, Adam thought he’d be marrying a woman who knows her place, not a temperamental brat who could benefit from some time over his knee.
Susannah feels outraged by Adam’s authoritative ways, but his dominant handling in the bedroom leaves her trembling with desire. Will she learn to accept his firm leadership and expectations? And will Adam grow to love the woman who differs so drastically from the kind of wife he thought he wanted?
Warning: Handling Susannah 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 Handling Susannah
From the opening scene until the very last line, I was entranced with Amelia Smarts’ captivating story of love and second chances. With a thoroughly entertaining twist on the mail order bride trope, Ms. Smarts spins a heart-warming tale that was both sweet yet steamy. It was a delight witnessing Susannah blossom under Adam’s stern but loving ways. Five gleaming western stars! -Jane Henry, bestselling author of Claimed on the Frontier and the Boston Doms series.
Ms. Smarts has created a wonderful western with delightful characters that keep the pages turning. A dominant take-charge man, a spoiled and flighty female who needs to be corralled and a sweet young boy who is in need of a strong man to teach and guide him. -Redrabbitt, Top 1% Goodreads Reviewer
Bewitching love story. -Miss Betty’s Reviews
If you’re new to Amelia Smarts or new to Western Romance, I highly recommend you give her a read, you won’t be disappointed. -Katie Douglas, bestselling spanking romance author
A bossy rancher with a twitchy palm. A spoiled, undisciplined young woman. I loved how I got to really know these characters and I could identify with both. A truly great read – adored the setup and the happy ending. Lots of hawwt sex and spankings! One click it! -Amazon Customer
Now Available as an Audiobook
Read the First Chapter for Free
Adam yearned to hold a sweet, innocent woman in his arms. He wanted to hear her sighs as he touched and kissed her. He wanted to scrape his fingers through silky locks of hair and nibble on that part of her body where her delicate neck curved into shoulder. A deep breath of feminine scent would be a welcome change from the decidedly male smells around him—cows, sweat, and leather. His cock tightened his denims, and he groaned. His aching manhood would find no home between a woman’s legs in the foreseeable future, unless he decided to visit one of the painted ladies in town. He didn’t want that. The pleasure he was looking for would only come from teaching an unspoiled woman about the joys of carnal love.
He untied the bandana from around his neck and mopped his face with the damp cotton. The scorching mid-June climate in northwest Texas was plenty hot enough without his bawdy daydream to fuel the fire of lust burning within him. He nudged his mare into a faster walk. It was late afternoon and he was determined to check the entire perimeter of his ranch before calling it a day and returning to his lonely cabin and empty bed.
He shushed the voice inside his head telling him his efforts to maintain the ranch were useless. His failing business was months, if not weeks away from bankruptcy. Soon he would be chased off the very land his father had left him.
His grasslands had been taken over by sheep, driven by opportunistic, thieving sheepherders. Though Adam had put up a valiant fight over the last year, the boundaries depicted in the deed to his land were too vague to act as evidence that all the land was actually his. He attended court hearings in between training horses, branding cattle, and overseeing his hands. He hunted down witnesses who knew his pa and how he’d traveled from St. Louis to Amarillo to settle the land along with other old-timers.
But each day in court ended in more bad news, with Adam unable to prove he owned the land. His poor father would be rolling over in his grave if he knew his only living son was about to lose the ranch he’d worked so hard to acquire and build from scratch.
Adam would’ve liked to strangle the lawyer who helped his father draw up the will and deed, but that man was long gone with the money his father had paid him. It made Adam angry and intolerant in a big way toward dishonest men. It was because of a dishonest lawyer, dishonest herders, and an incompetent system that he was about to lose everything. Still, until he’d actually lost the ranch, he would take care of business. He would care for the cattle and horses, fix the fences, and try to sell his stock at a profit, just as he had always done. Adam’s pa had said more than once he was stubborn as a mule. That wasn’t always a good quality, but it did make Adam someone who did not quit.
As he walked his horse beside the old wooden fence, he gritted his teeth with anger at what lay ahead. Sheep were grazing among his cattle on his last fertile meadow. His anger and dismay grew the closer he rode to the sheep, for as he neared, he saw that the earth beneath the animals was ruined. Grass wouldn’t grow in this part of his range for months, which meant that most of his cattle would have to be sold off for a loss. Yes, he was definitely within weeks of losing everything.
Adam removed the horsewhip attached to his hip, uncoiled it with a flick of his wrist, and cracked it in the air. It took a solid hour of hard riding and frustration, but eventually he corralled the sheep back to where they belonged on the other side of the fence.
Swinging down from his horse, he observed the horizontal slats of wood and cursed. It was just as he suspected. The break was manmade, since the jagged edges of the wood were clean and without rot, broken in pieces against the grain. With anger acting as his main source of energy, Adam repaired the fence as best he could, using nails and a hammer he carried in his saddlebag for that very purpose. With how things had been going, the offending herder would likely break the fence again within a week. Adam would make efforts to be around to lambast the son-of-a-bitch next time.
Adam trotted his mare to town. He might as well report the theft to the marshal, though he knew it would do little good, with the marshal being just shy of useless. The best Adam could hope for was that the marshal would temporarily halt the progression of sheepherders overtaking him in order to give him a chance to slaughter or sell his herd before they starved.
When he reached the town’s center, he tethered his mare loosely to the hitching post outside of the marshal’s office. She drank from the trough of clean water next to it. Adam dunked his bandana, wrung it out, and mopped his face, trying to cool down. Between his unbidden lust and his anger, Adam burned as hot as an untamed prairie fire.
He strode through the front door of the marshal’s office to an empty room, dirtying the hardwood floor with his dusty boots. “Perfect,” he muttered. He either had to wait for the marshal to return or go out searching for him. Adam opted for the former because his body was aching and weary from the labor of the day. He sat on a straight-backed wooden chair and picked up the newspaper on the table next to it. It was a paper from New York, found quite often in the jailhouse. Adam guessed the marshal subscribed to it in order to provide a glimpse into some of the more civilized happenings around the country.
Texas was in the news. Inside were stories about ranchers and sheepherders scrapping over grasslands. The upcoming election made the front page, but Adam had never been all that interested in politics. Bored, he read the personals, which generally provided him with some amusement. The paper was always full of mail-order bride requests written by men with the same longing for a woman that Adam felt.
He’d never more than briefly considered running one of his own ads for a woman, mostly because he couldn’t afford one. Men often lied in the listings about their financial situation, but Adam wouldn’t do that. Besides offending his sense of right and wrong, he didn’t see the point of being deceptive, even if the lies worked and he managed to wrangle himself a wife. When she figured out his dirt-poor status, she would be disappointed, and he’d rather eat dust every day for supper than disappoint a woman ‘til death did them part.
Adam felt his eyebrows head north when he came across a very unusual advertisement. It appeared he was not the only person to find it interesting, as it had been circled several times with some force behind the pencil. Narrowing his eyes, he read the short paragraph for the second time to make sure he wasn’t misunderstanding it somehow.
Woman, 22, seeks husband age 22 to 35 with experience ranching. Must be strong and dependable. Woman is heir to profitable cattle ranch, needs husband to take possession of deed and run business. Those interested, write to Susannah Smith of Virginia City, Nevada.
Adam guffawed out loud, hardly believing a woman would be so foolish as to write such a thing. She would receive hundreds of responses. How would she ever decide which man would be suitable? And why couldn’t she find a suitor within her own town? He doubted there was a shortage of lonely cowboys in Virginia City.
He had many more questions, and he grew more curious the longer he stared at the paper. He reckoned he was as suitable a candidate as any other. He’d learned how to swing a lasso when he was barely knee-high to his pa, and he’d have to take a guess about which he’d learned to do first—walk or ride a horse. Then there were the cattle. He had a good eye for choosing bulls and cows. He knew how to breed them and how to ensure they were properly grazed. Sure, his ranch was failing, but that was entirely outside of his control.
Worry for this young woman who’d put herself out in the world so boldly intermingled with his curiosity. She had made herself a target for liars and thieves. The prospect of suddenly owning a readymade cattle ranch would be mighty tempting to any man, including himself.
Surely something was wrong, though. The woman was likely ugly as sin. He could live with that, he supposed, if she was agreeable and obedient, of upstanding character, and a good cook.
Adam decided not to wait for the marshal and instead see about sending a message to Miss Susannah Smith. It couldn’t hurt anything but his pride if she didn’t accept him, since he had nothing else to lose. With this in mind, he walked to the telegraph station, intent on sending Miss Smith a telegram using a quarter he otherwise would have spent on grain. The clerk, a portly man in his grizzled years, handed him a small piece of paper and a pencil, which Adam twirled in his fingers for a while, considering how to phrase a response. He had only one shot, and he needed to get it right. Finally, he came to a decision about how to begin the correspondence:
Regarding your request for a mail-order groom…
He and the telegraph clerk engaged in moment of raucous laughter. Though the woman hadn’t defined it as such, a mail-ordered groom was exactly what she was requesting, and Adam thought a little levity would be the best approach in his communication with her. The rest of the telegram discussed matters of importance.
…I am a strong 30-year-old rancher of sound mind, good character, and decent appearance interested in your unique request for both a husband and a man to run your business. Please respond to Adam Harrington of Amarillo, Texas.
It wasn’t a bad-sounding note, but he imagined that the woman had already received many telegrams that read much the same, and she would have no way to know he was telling the truth. An irrational desire to throttle the other men who would respond struck him. He knew many would inflate their experience or reduce their age.
Still, he couldn’t help but be a little excited as he rode home. For the first time in a long while, he felt a bit of hope for the future. If nothing else, the telegram was his first step in moving on. It was his first step in recognition of the fact that he was about to lose his ranch and it was time start a new life.
* * *
When the response from Susannah Smith came, Adam had all but forgotten the strange ad in the paper, for his days were occupied with selling off his cattle and the furniture in his cabin. He needed to get some cash in his billfold and head west where cattlemen were needed.
The clerk’s young boy rode out to his ranch at a gallop to deliver the message. After the boy hopped off the horse and the cloud of dust settled, he panted, “You got a letter from Virginia City today, Mr. Harrington!” A lopsided grin appeared on his freckled face as he held out the envelope with the message inside.
“Thanks, son.” Adam fished in his pocket for a penny and found one. Dropping it into the boy’s hand, he said, “Tell your pa I’m mighty grateful he had you deliver it straight away.”
“It’s no trouble, Mr. Harrington. Aren’t you gonna open it?” Wide, curious eyes studied the missive in Adam’s hand.
Adam felt a dull ache in his chest, as he often did when he dealt with children. They reminded him of his brother and sister, who had died in childhood. His brother, a year older than he, had broken his neck falling from the barn’s loft. His sister, two years younger, had died from diphtheria. As a result of these tragedies, Adam had no desire to have children of his own. It seemed like an awful lot of responsibility with too much room for error, and witnessing his parents’ heartbreak had broken Adam’s heart as well.
It was just as well that he didn’t want children, since having a wife had always been little more than a notion. He waved the boy away. “Yes, I’m gonna open it, just as soon as you mosey on back to town, Jimmy.”
The boy made no move to leave and continued to look at him with an expectant expression.
“Don’t be nosy, young man. It doesn’t suit you,” Adam admonished with a frown. He reckoned that the boy’s father had told him about the possible contents of the letter. “Go on, get yourself gaited,” Adam said, tossing his head in the direction of town. “And no galloping. You walk that horse back to town sensible-like, or I’ll be having a word with your pa.”
The boy’s shoulders slumped a bit. “All right, Mr. Harrington,” he mumbled. “I’ll be seein’ you then.”
Adam watched Jimmy and his horse disappear over a rolling hill in the distance and then looked at the letter in his hand. He was hesitant to open it. His hopes had just risen higher than a Ponderosa pine. If the message in the envelope was anything but positive, his fall back to earth would be about as enjoyable as getting bucked off a bronco.
Finally, he gritted his teeth, hooked his thumb under the flap, and ripped the envelope open. What he pulled out first was a photograph of a young woman. His breath hitched. Staring back at him was quite possibly the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid eyes on, in picture or in person. Her hair was light and shining. She had dancing, mischievous eyes, and her pretty, plump lips quirked up ever-so-slightly in a smile that caused blood to travel straight to his loins. She held her slender shoulders very straight, boosting voluptuous breasts, the size of which were not disguised despite being fully and modestly covered by a calico bodice.
Adam realized he was holding his breath and let it out, silently scolding himself for the wicked thoughts running through his mind. Oh, the things he would like to do to her. He imagined that she was quite innocent about bedroom activities, for she was ladylike in appearance. It would be his pleasure and hers to teach her a thing or two. A beautiful, innocent woman would make a fine wife indeed.
He set the photograph aside and pulled out the letter, which he unfolded slowly, his heart thumping painfully against his chest.
Mr. Harrington, provided that you were honest in your correspondence, I accept your offer of marriage and placement as overseer of my ranch. Please take the stagecoach west at your earliest convenience. The ranch needs immediate attention. Yours, Miss Susannah Smith
Adam could hardly believe what he had just read. How had he gotten so lucky? Not only was he about to be in possession of a new ranch, his intended was so beautiful it felt sinful just looking at her picture.
Then his rational faculties kicked in and Adam worried that something wasn’t quite right. The whole situation seemed too good to be true. What if it was some kind of ruse? He tried to imagine ways he could be bamboozled in this situation, but he couldn’t think of what motivation the woman would have for lying. Surely she understood that if anything she said wasn’t true, it would take him no longer than an hour or two upon arrival to discover it.
He studied the photograph once again, this time attempting to ignore her perfect skin and the swell of her breasts. He searched her face for deceit. He couldn’t find any. Neither could he find truth, though, so her photograph was of little use in ascertaining her character. Of course, it couldn’t be said that he was a good judge of character when it came to looks. The lawyer who’d helped his father draw up the useless deed had the most honest face Adam had ever seen.
“You belong in the looney bin,” he muttered to himself more than once over the next few days, as he sold off and packed up his earthly belongings.
With one final look at his lost ranch, Adam left for Virginia City with high hopes and buried fears.