Justice for Elsie by Amelia Smarts

ASJFEecover2An undercover deputy must decide where his loyalties lie — with the law or with the beautiful criminal who rescues him.

Elsie Fin is hell-bent on revenge against her father’s murderer. She develops a successful cattle-rustling operation as payback but is soon in over her head. That’s when she decides she needs a good husband, a man strong enough to take control and loyal enough to protect her from the law, so she places a mail-order groom advertisement in the paper.

While Elsie seeks her groom, she hires Wyatt Parker to help her around the ranch. Little does she know, he’s actually an undercover deputy tasked with gaining her trust and verifying the marshal’s suspicion of her theft.

Wyatt never imagined a beautiful, sweet woman like Elsie would be the mastermind behind such a serious illegal activity. Soon his loyalties are split between the law and a woman whose kindness and vulnerability bring out powerful feelings of tenderness in him.

Compelled to protect the wayward woman, Wyatt makes covert plans to rescue her, reasoning that Elsie is more in need of a spanking than life in prison. But will she end up behind bars or married to her mail-order groom before Wyatt can reveal his feelings for her and carry out his plan to save her?

Warning: Justice for Elsie is a historical western romance containing sexual scenes and domestic discipline, including punishment spanking. If these themes offend you, please don’t buy this book.

Author’s note: This is an expanded version of the story previously titled Justice, Roughly, which appeared in the Hero Undercover anthology.

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Justice for Elsie (Mail-Order Grooms Book 3)

What People Say About Justice for Elsie

What a fantastic western romance. I enjoyed reading the book from start to finish. -Tami, Amazon Customer

Very satisfying read with great characters, good romance, hot spankings, and all the emotional issues resolved beautifully! -Ben, Amazon Customer

Wyatt is the kind of hero pretty much every young woman dreams of at some point in her life. -In Between the Pages, Romance Reviewer’s Blog

The story has angst, anger, bitterness, revenge, cattle rustling, secrets, and a dominant man who knows how to take a naughty girl in hand. -Redrabbitt, Top 1% Goodreads Reviewer

This was a fantastic book, and I have loved this series! -Jessica, Amazon Customer

Exceedingly well-written, page-turning western romance at its best. I literally could not put it down once I started reading! Amelia has a skill for weaving together a gripping but always lighthearted western romance, and Justice for Elsie is no exception. -Katie Douglas, Spanking Romance Author

The dialogue, scenery, and characters’ feelings are so well-crafted that before I knew it I was finished reading this book. -Donna, Amazon Customer

Well-paced with a nice mix of drama and romance. -Heart5, Amazon Customer

Read the First Chapter for Free

Chapter One

Nevada, 1899

Cal Fin’s funeral took place on an unusually warm day in April. His daughter Elsie stared through her tears at the preacher in the front of the church. She couldn’t process everything he was saying about her deceased father, but some of the words used to describe him seemed to splice through the air and roar in her ears—loyal, hardworking, kind. That’s how the townsfolk viewed her father after knowing him only a couple years. Elsie, having known him her whole life, agreed with these descriptions, but the words seemed painfully shallow and inadequate.

It would be impossible for Elsie to describe her pa in any way that could convey the depth of her grief that day. She would miss the little things, like hearing his boots clipping across the floor as he circled their cabin every evening at dusk to light each of the coal oil lamps. She would miss the way he would guffaw suddenly at something he read in the newspaper and insist that Elsie drop whatever she was doing to read it too.

Life hadn’t been easy, but Elsie couldn’t remember him complaining, not even once. The closest he’d ever come to bellyaching was ten years earlier after her ma had died, when he’d allowed a single tear to roll down his cheek. He’d wiped it away before taking young Elsie on his lap and telling her they would be just fine, the two of them. And he’d made sure they were. Years of toil and backbreaking labor as an employee of the transcontinental railroad earned him enough money to provide for the both of them and to stash a respectable amount of money away.

The day after Elsie turned sixteen, they’d headed west from Des Moines to Virginia City, where Cal bought a small plot of ground around an abandoned cabin. It had been a dream of his to own a ranch just like his father had and to raise cattle and horses. He’d believed his decision to become a rancher would serve them both well, but things didn’t turn out as he’d expected.

Elsie perused the somber crowd of people inside the stuffy church. It would have been better to hold the service outside in the shade where there was at least a breeze. The children fidgeted and fussed. The women fanned their sweaty faces. The men sat expressionless with their hats removed and eyes facing the casket. She spotted Adam and Susannah Harrington with their two children sitting next to newlyweds Roderick and Betsy Mason. The Masons had been at the church for a much happier occasion the day before—to be married—and they’d come back that day to pay their respects.

The Harringtons and Masons were among the more neighborly folk in Virginia City. Upon Cal and Elsie Fin’s arrival in town a couple years back, Adam Harrington had helped them build a sturdy barn for the milk cows and horses, and Susannah had brought them supper every day for a week to nourish them after their labor. The warm welcome had been a source of strength and hope, fueling the Fins’ excitement about their life in the friendly western town. Cal had named their ranch “Infinity” because it meant forever; that’s how he’d seen their new home.

But not everyone had treated them kindly. Elsie’s eyes fell on the pew where the Xaviers sat. They were the richest family in town who owned the largest ranch, and they were merciless toward any businessperson who threatened to take even a small amount of profit away from them.

Nausea rolled through her stomach and caused a tightening in her throat. Angry tears joined her tears of grief and spilled down her cheeks. How dare the Xaviers attend her father’s funeral? She gritted her teeth and clenched her hands into fists, her rage just at the brink of exploding out of her. Before meeting Mark Xavier, she’d never felt compelled to cause bodily injury to anyone, but if she’d taken a gun to the funeral, she might have shot him down right then in the middle of the service.

Elsie was sure as the day was long that Mark Xavier was the reason her pa was lying dead in a casket instead of sitting by her side. Xavier didn’t kill her pa swiftly with a gun or a knife, like someone more decent would do. He’d killed him slowly and without laying a finger on him. Because of that, there was no proof of murder, and Xavier could not be prosecuted by the law, which only served to add to Elsie’s bitterness and sense of injustice.

The organ’s sorrowful notes and the sounds of the funeral attendees shuffling to their feet temporarily halted her bitter musing. She dabbed at her eyes and blew her nose while everyone else sang the closing hymn, Amazing Grace. Mark Xavier’s deep baritone rose over the rest of the congregation, giving him an air of authority and an appearance of sincerity that fooled so many.

Elsie wasn’t fooled. She’d known the type of man he was within weeks of moving to town. The Fins’ initial herd of 100 cattle had grazed peacefully on their land while Elsie and Cal worked with the blacksmith to create a branding iron. Right under their noses, their cattle had begun to disappear. It wasn’t until after they finally branded them that the thefts stopped. By then twenty cows and ten bulls were no longer in their possession. Elsie and Cal had strongly suspected the Xaviers of stealing them. But because the cattle hadn’t been branded, there was no proof, so their suspicions were useless.

Thus began Mark Xavier’s harassment. The Fins would get word that the Xaviers were spreading lies about their cattle, saying they were diseased. This led to the Fins needing to sell their livestock for less money than they were worth. Still, they’d made enough money to survive, and they did their best to remain hopeful that the slander would eventually die down or cease altogether.

But Mark Xavier was ruthless. His next attack came in the form of damming the small stream that ran through his land down to theirs. By cutting off the water supply, he forced the Fins to wrangle their cattle to the less-fertile side of their ranch where a well was within walking distance. Her father, the foreman, and their two cowhands had lugged buckets of water to the animals each and every day. It had been backbreaking labor, but her father couldn’t afford to hire any additional hands.

With no stream to nourish the land, their grass turned brown. Her father’s shoulders stooped. His forehead became perpetually lined with worried wrinkles—not for himself, but for his daughter who would be left orphaned and penniless when he died. He’d fought the ranch’s impending doom until his dying breath, never able to enjoy a moment’s leisure in his last years. True to his character, he hadn’t complained, and he’d made every attempt to hide his dismay from Elsie. Her heart had broken because she could see the pain he wouldn’t speak of written all over his face. No one had deserved happiness more than Cal Fin, and the Xaviers had robbed him of it. His final days had been spent working long hours and riding to town to see about getting a lawful order for the Xaviers to remove the dam causing the Fins’ financial ruin.

Elsie turned her glare on the marshal, who sat in a pew next to the Xaviers, and her anger grew. The lily-livered lawman, who seemed in cahoots with the Xaviers, was useless and had barely made an attempt to listen to Cal when he’d explained how the Xaviers were destroying his ranch. It wasn’t until a circuit judge rode through Virginia City and heard the Fins’ side of the story that they finally got a break. Unlike the marshal, the judge was a fair man without prejudice toward the newcomers, and he deduced that the Xaviers were doing dirty business in a spiteful attempt to run the Fins out of town.

But it was too little, too late. Cal Fin died a day before the judge ordered the Xaviers to tear down their dam.

The song ended and the preacher asked the congregation to join him in prayer. Elsie didn’t hear a word of it, nor did she bow her head and close her eyes. She stared at her father’s casket. Branded into the side of the box was the ranch’s infinity symbol, the same brand used on all their cattle. Elsie traced over it again and again with her eyes. The Infinity Ranch wouldn’t last for infinity. It might not even last until next month, and she couldn’t find the strength within herself to care. The only thing certain to last forever was her grief and anger.

Elsie felt an arm circle her shoulders as she trudged out of the church. Susannah Harrington offered her condolences, and Elsie somehow managed to murmur appropriate words of thanks to her and everyone else who expressed sympathy. Not a minute too soon, the Infinity Ranch’s foreman escorted her home.

He slapped the reins over the horse’s back to move him along faster toward Elsie’s cabin. “You’ll be all right, Miss Fin, and the ranch will be fine too now that the Xaviers’ dam’s been removed,” he told her.

Randall had been a trusted friend and partner to the Fins ever since their arrival in Virginia City. Like them, Randall had been severely wronged by the Xaviers as a result of their underhanded business tactics. He was on her side, and she knew he was only trying to make her feel better, but nothing anyone said would make things right.

She jostled around in the buggy seat next to him, her body as limp and weak as a rag doll. “I don’t care about the ranch anymore,” she said, her voice wavering and threatening to break.

“Now, Elsie,” Randall admonished gently. “Your pa wouldn’t have wanted you to give up on it. You take all the time you need to mourn your pa’s passing. I’ll see to things until you’re ready to go about running it. You’ve got a good plot of land there, and you can’t go and give up on it.”

She sniffled. “Why can’t I? The ranch was my pa’s dream, not mine. I only ever cared about it because he did.”

“And that’s why you should still care about it. Your pa can’t be here. He’d want you to make the most of it.”

“It doesn’t matter anymore, Randall. He’s gone, and it’ll never be the same. I want nothing but revenge against the people who ruined his life.”

“Well then,” Randall replied, “you know what they say, don’t you? Success is the best revenge. You make your ranch profitable, you’ll make the Xaviers green with jealousy. They won’t hardly be able to stand it.”

A sliver of dark hope entered her aching heart. Would it be possible to exact revenge on the Xaviers in that way? Without him knowing it, Randall had planted the seed of what would become a full-fledged mission. In the weeks that followed, the only reason Elsie got out of bed was to think about how to damage her neighbors. During that time, the ranch slowly began to prosper. The stream flowed once again. The grass grew green, and the cattle grew fat.

One morning, Elsie rose from her bed and stared out the window at the milk cow grazing nearby. She caught sight of the infinity symbol burned onto her hide. As she observed it idly, suddenly the perfect idea struck. A slow grin spread across her face, the first one to show for weeks. She knew exactly how she would get her revenge. It was risky, but if she could pull it off, the Xaviers would finally get what they deserved.

She set out for the barn at a quick clip, hoping to catch Randall there before he headed for the range. He was just mounting his horse to head out when she approached him. “Randall, I’ve got it!” she exclaimed.

“Elsie,” he said warmly, with some surprise in his voice. “What is it?” He removed his foot from the stirrup and turned to face her. “What put the light back in your eyes?”

“I know how to get back at the Xaviers, but I need your help.” She proceeded to explain in great detail her plan. By the time she’d finished, she was out of breath.

Randall narrowed his eyes and studied her. “Well, seein’ you this way is a sight for sore eyes. Can’t remember the last time you looked this excited.”

Elsie nodded enthusiastically. “I’m excited because I know this is sure to work. Will you help me? You know as well as I that the Xaviers deserve it.”

Randall pinched the bridge of his nose and thought about it, while Elsie held her breath. Finally, he said, “You know we’d be in an awful lot of trouble if we got caught, right?”

“Yes,” she said. “We won’t get caught.”

He let out a sigh. “Gotta say, it’s a good idea, and it sure would be a hog-killin’ time seeing Xavier on the receiving end of misfortune.”

“So, will you help?” she prompted.

“Yeah. What the devil, why not? Let’s do it.” He held out his hand and grinned at her.

She took his hand in hers and gave it a firm shake, grinning back at him. “We’ll start tomorrow.”

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Justice for Elsie (Mail-Order Grooms Book 3)