A troubled woman in need of protection and discipline meets a tough marshal, whose job it is to provide both.
Elizabeth Matthews manages to escape her cruel husband and the clutches of the law, but they’re both in hot pursuit. Struggling to survive on the run, she finds herself in the last place she wants to be, the marshal’s office in the town of Porter, Texas, dragged there by an overzealous shopkeeper who accuses her of theft.
Marshal Grover Huntley can see that the destitute young woman draped in rags and trembling in front of his desk needs protection, and he feels the stirrings of compassion, as well as the desire to hold the frightened young lady in his arms. The more he questions her about her predicament, however, the more she lies, and he can’t do much to help if he doesn’t know what she’s afraid of.
A spanking over his knee proves to her that he not only demands her honesty, but also that he cares enough to do more than send her on her way or throw the book at her. She tells him of her fears, but it’s what she doesn’t say that changes the course of their lives.
Will the marshal be able to help when he learns of her connection to an enemy of his past, and will Missy learn to trust him as he works to save her from the mounting troubles that threaten both her freedom and her life?
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What People Say About Missy Meets the Marshal
“This book has it all: a cracking pace, good tension and characters I loved, plus a couple I loved to hate.” -Amazon Customer
“The plot kept me captivated and the pages turning as the mystery unfolds. I found the dialog to be open and heartwarming with a man who believes in honesty and a penalty for lying. This is a time when dominant men believed in spanking naughty women. The story is a great addition to this series and reads as a standalone.” -Redrabbitt, Top 1% Goodreads Reviewer
“The hero is a strong Alpha male who knows just what is needed, when to hold [the heroine] on his lap and when to take her over it.” -noangel, Romance Reviewer
“I really liked Missy’s character. It was great to follow along and watch as she learned to trust Grover, from the start of the book where she was a scared young woman to the end where she bloomed and became a confident woman.” -Crystal’s Many Reviewers
“Well written book with wonderful characters. The story is fully developed and has action as well as spanking scenes.” -Amazon Customer
Read the First Chapter for Free
Chapter 1 – Misbehaving Woman
Suppertime came and went, and Marshal Grover Huntley remained at his office. The jailhouse stood near the center of Main Street in the town of Porter, Texas. Being the only official law of the town, Grover spent most of his time working. When not in the office or out on the town settling disputes, he could usually be found at his house a couple of blocks from the jail.
Grover swiveled slightly back and forth in his chair behind the wooden desk. The locked drawer to the side of his right knee contained his guns, a Colt 45 and a Derringer pocket pistol. His empty gun belt hung on a hook next to the door along with his wide-brimmed Stetson, a shade of buckskin tan that matched his trousers. The front office was sparsely furnished, containing only the marshal’s desk, a few cabinets holding files and records, a clock on the wall, and a couple of chairs for visitors and suspects under questioning. A hallway in the back comprised two furnished cells and barred windows.
Paperwork was scattered across the marshal’s desk in an order only he understood. He performed his last task of the evening. Straining his eyes, he stared at the photograph on each wanted poster for as long as he needed to commit the facial features of the outlaw to memory. Grover yawned halfway through the task. The sun that had brought scorching heat during the day fell out of sight, and he decided it was time for him to call it a day too. It had been a long one. He felt tired, hungry, and ready to shuck off his boots.
That’s why he was less than pleased when the door swung open and shopkeeper Henry Martin barged in dragging a young woman by her arm. Henry’s face flushed with excitement. Tears streaked the woman’s face, and she looked at the marshal with wide, fear-filled eyes.
“Marshal, you’ll want to lock up this thief,” Henry said proudly. “She thought she could bamboozle me into buying this. Clearly she stole it.” He placed on Grover’s desk a woman’s brooch, then scratched his large paunch of a stomach. His other hand still clasped the fleshiest part of the woman’s arm, which was as thin as Grover’s wrist.
Henry visited the jail far too often and made far too many complaints. He pointed out errors in other people’s behavior with a tenacity that rivaled that of a cantankerous schoolmarm. For some reason Grover never understood, Henry believed it his duty as a citizen of Porter to judge everything and everybody. As soon as any real danger appeared, however, Henry made himself scarce. He excelled at pointing out problems, not solving them.
Grover wasn’t in the mood to humor Henry. A fight between six cowhands at the Dos Aces ranch ate up most of his day and his patience, requiring him to travel a distance of twelve miles by horseback. The reason for the fight was Miss Elsie Mae, the rancher’s daughter, who’d apparently offered her affections to more than one lonely cowboy. There was little the marshal could do but threaten to lock up the cowboys if they kicked up another row. As for Elsie Mae, being a woman and a flirt hardly counted as a crime, though more often than not it was cause for violence in the county, where men outnumbered women six to one.
Grover picked up the brooch Henry had slammed on his desk and was immediately struck by its heavy weight. He turned it over a couple times and determined it was likely made of pure silver. The design was of a bird perched on a branch with spread wings about to fly. Some kind of green jewel dotted the wings along the edges. It appeared to be an expensive piece of jewelry, the likes of which weren’t common in their bustling but modest town. It seemed possible that Henry had finally stumbled upon a legitimate crime. The marshal turned his attention to the young woman. Her face twisted in pain, the cause of which Grover realized came from Henry’s grip on her arm.
“Unhand her, Henry.”
Henry released her arm. He no sooner did so than the woman pivoted and kicked him on his shin with all her might. “You beef-headed brute!”
Henry howled and bent to rub his shin furiously.
Grover coughed to muffle a laugh, then cleared his throat. “None of that in my office, young lady, unless you fancy yourself in iron bracelets.”
Henry straightened. His face appeared even redder than before. “Marshal, I demand that this woman be charged with assault in addition to theft.”
Grover waved his hand dismissively. “You probably did as much damage to her arm with that hold you had on it. Why don’t you go on home and let me take care of this? I’ll settle the matter of the jewelry. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.”
Henry uttered curses under his breath and stormed out. He slammed the door behind him, which made the girl jump. She stared at the door for a bit after Henry left. When she turned her head forward again, Grover ensured that she found herself faced with his steely, unyielding gaze. He stared at her for some time, the room silent except for the ticking clock. The silence was not the least bit uncomfortable for him, but he could tell she felt anxious by the way she fidgeted. She tried to look everywhere but into his eyes, glancing at him every once in a while before quickly looking away. The silent stare was a common interrogation tactic, one Grover employed often. Often guilty people became so uncomfortable with the silence that they began yammering just to end it. Some even confessed before he said a word. The young woman, however, was not among them.
Finally, without removing his gaze from her face, he held up the brooch and asked, “Did you steal this?”
It was obvious to him that she had, but he wanted to give her a chance to answer him honestly before he accused her outright. She wore rags. They weren’t even secondhand clothes, just bits of brown material stitched together to form some kind of wrap that faintly resembled a dress. She likely scavenged for the pieces in a bin outside a shop somewhere that sold fabric, her search yielding throwaway scraps that most people would consider useless. Her arms were thin and bare, and the rags barely fell past her knees. Her boots, a couple of sizes too large, were wrapped with twine to prevent them from disconnecting at the heel.
“No, I didn’t steal it. It was my ma’s.” Her voice trembled, but there was a trace of defiance in her tone. She focused her big, blue eyes on him.
Grover sighed. So much for getting supper and going home anywhere near a decent time. Now he had to work to get a confession and figure out the rightful owner of the brooch. “Young lady, I don’t tolerate lies. Confess your crime now, or your penalty will be harsher than need be.”
She dared to cross her arms and glare at him. “You have no proof it isn’t mine, and I told you I didn’t hook it. I demand you give it back.”
Grover stood slowly and meandered around his desk to where she stood. At his full height, he exhibited a much more imposing figure, especially compared to the little girl trying to glower at him. He placed his hands on his hips and scowled down at her. “What’s your name?”
She lifted her head to look at him with widening eyes and took a step back, her arms uncrossing as she did. She hesitated before answering, and her gaze flitted around the room. He silently cursed his luck. He could tell she planned to give him a false name, and probably lie about anything else he asked. He held up a hand when she opened her mouth to speak.
“Never mind. I can already see that truth is not your strong suit, so I’ll call you Missy until I discover your identity.”
The girl’s mouth shut and she blinked at him, looking wounded by his remark.
“I reckon it’s no use asking how old you are, Missy.”
“I’m twenty-five, Marshal.” She paused, then added, “My name’s Elizabeth, but I go by Beth. That’s what my ma called me. I’m not lying.”
“And your surname?”
She hesitated again. “Jones?”
Grover groaned. The way she said her supposed family name like it was a question told him that Jones wasn’t it. Her response was helpful, though, because it proved to him that Elizabeth almost certainly was her given name. The way she answered differently each time gave him insight into how to distinguish between her truths and her lies.
“All right, Missy,” he said, having decided he preferred the name Missy to Beth. “Can you tell me why you have in your possession an expensive piece of jewelry, but not so much as a two-bit dress or boots that stay together without a bit of lassoing?”
She scowled at him then. “Why the devil do you think I tried to sell the brooch to that ten-cent gump in the first place? I need to buy things.”
Grover felt surprised by her gall in speaking to him that way, but he admired her solid judgement of the shopkeeper’s character.
“Please explain how you’ve found yourself in such an unfortunate position, Missy.”
“My name is not Missy!” She stomped her foot.
Grover lifted an eyebrow. “Neither is Jones, is it? Now you look here, little girl. I’ve decided Missy suits you. It’s a good name for a misbehaving woman who lies to the town marshal. Also,” he said, pointing a finger at her face, “You’d better watch your tone with me and think twice about pitching a fit. The last minute of my patience for today ended an hour ago.”
Her scared look reappeared, which softened him. She wavered between acting afraid and acting outraged, which made him want to both comfort and scold her.
She shifted out of her belligerent stance and looked down at her oversized boots. “I need money to buy food and a room somewhere. I kept the brooch for as long as I could, since it’s the last thing I have of my ma’s, but now I don’t see what else I can do but sell it. I’m hungry, and I can’t think straight. I need to eat and sleep.”
Grover returned to his chair. He’d have bet all his worldly possessions that she told the truth then, and her explanation tugged at his heartstrings. It also settled the matter of the supposed theft. He could have let her go, but he felt uncomfortable doing so. A young woman trying to do business in a new town unescorted would stand out. She had a vulnerable look about her and apparently no place to stay that night. He didn’t think it prudent to send her on her way, plus he wondered why she didn’t want to disclose her last name. Something was amiss, and he aimed to find out what.
“Where’s your kin, Missy?”
“I don’t have kin. I never knew my pa. My ma passed away five years ago, and my brother died when I was a knee-high nipper.”
“You’re well past marrying age, especially ’round these parts. Don’t you have a husband?”
She shook her head and said a little too emphatically to be believable, “No. I do not have a husband.”
That was another lie. Grover felt himself growing even more concerned. In a short amount of time, he’d discovered that she was married and destitute. He reasoned that her husband must be a hard case if she preferred her current suffering to being in his presence.
“You need a place to stay tonight?”
She peeked at him tentatively through her lashes. “Yes.”
“Very well. Come with me.” Grover stood and slipped the brooch in his pocket.
With the woman trailing behind him, he walked to the back of the jail into the hallway with two cells. Each cell contained a moderately comfortable cot with thick quilt and pillow, a chamber pot, and a pitcher of clean water as well as a washrag. He had cleaned and prepared the cells the previous day. Removing the key from where it hung from a ring on a nail, he unlocked the larger of the two cells and opened the door. The ring clanged against the iron bars and the door creaked as it opened.
“In you go, Missy.”
She gasped. “Marshal, please don’t lock me up. I swear that brooch is mine. I didn’t steal it.”
Grover fished the silver bird from his pocket and handed it to her. “I believe you.”
She held the brooch against her chest. She closed her eyes and let out a long sigh of relief. Then she eyed him quizzically. “Shouldn’t I be free to go, since you know I didn’t steal?”
“No. You’re going to sleep here tonight. Then tomorrow we’ll discuss why you’re lying about who you are.”
Her eyes flashed terror. “Please no, Marshal. Let me go. I promise I’ll leave now and never bother you again. I’ll go to the next town to try and sell the brooch.”
“Listen, Missy. You’d have trouble making it to the next block, let alone the next town. You need a place to sleep and a bite or two, which I plan to go scare up for you as soon as you stop jawing at me. I’d take you to my house and let you sleep there, but it wouldn’t be proper. I’m an unmarried man. The cell will have to do.”
She stared at him for a moment, then looked down and wrung her hands. She appeared to be considering her options, of which she had only one as far as he was concerned. Her hesitancy annoyed him.
“Young lady, you’d better rattle your hocks and march them into the cell. Dawdle much longer, and I’ll plant you there myself, but not before I turn you over my knee for a spanking.”
Their eyes locked. Hers appeared desperate and scared. She suddenly moved closer and wrapped a hand around one of his forearms crossed in front of his chest. She clung to his shirtsleeve. “Marshal, I know you don’t have a reason to trust me, but I beg you to believe what I’m about to say. Please let me go, just for a half hour, and I’ll come back to you. I’ll spend the night in the cell and I’ll be grateful to you for a meal. Here, you can hold my brooch. It guarantees my return.” She held the silver bird out to him.
Grover stared into her pleading eyes, surprised by her strange request and promise, which he could tell she relayed with every intention of keeping. He couldn’t imagine what she needed to attend to for a half hour, but it was no use asking. She would only lie about it if he did. He felt very curious and a bit alarmed.
He ran a hand over the short beard that covered his jaw and pushed the brooch back to her. “All right, Missy. You have your half hour. Go on then.”
“Thank you, Marshal,” she exclaimed, and surprised him further by wrapping her arms around his waist and hugging him tight. Oh, God. What was she doing? He felt her breasts flattening against his abs and smelled her distinctly womanly scent, which was musky and flowery. He suddenly needed to will his cock to stay in place, so he gritted his teeth. She looked up and flashed a smile at him that dimpled one of her cheeks and further lit her sparkling eyes. Damn, that sure didn’t help any. He kept his hands at his side. He wanted more than just about anything to hold her in his arms, but he needed her to know he meant business.
He frowned down at her smiling face. “Your half hour started thirty seconds ago, Missy. You might want to skedaddle.”
She let out the cutest squeal and bolted toward the exit. He groaned and tried to subdue his unexpected lust. When she touched him, he became aware of just how pretty she was, with long, albeit tangled, blonde hair, swollen breasts, and ivory skin. He couldn’t remember the last time a woman hugged him, but he didn’t dwell on it for long. He needed to see what she was up to.
He strode to the street in time to see her disappear into an alley. Jogging at first and then slowing to a walk to avoid making noise, he stepped into the alley as she took a sharp right into the back entrance of Jake’s Livery. That perplexed him. What kind of business would she have with the horses? He crept along the wall until he arrived at the door she’d entered. It was nearly dark, but when he peered in, he could make out her blonde hair. Her back faced him. She knelt in front of a pile of hay and picked up some kind of white bundle, then held it in her arms like a mother would her baby.
Baby. It no sooner dawned on him than he heard the baby’s cries. It was a young one, very tiny, and the woman cradled it in her arms. Pulling her rags from her chest, she guided the baby’s mouth to her breast.
Grover headed out of the alley back to the street. He stopped at Ruth’s Diner and ordered two meals to go. He waited for what seemed like a very long time before the cook handed him the food. He figured as he walked to the jail that the woman had probably made it back before him, and he was right.
He entered the front room. It glowed with flickering yellow light from a lit lamp on his desk. The woman sat in a chair next to it with her hands crossed in her lap. She smiled at him again, her eyes catching the light of the fire, before she turned her gaze longingly at the food in his hands. He didn’t delay in giving it to her. He stacked his papers to the side and placed her portion in front of her.
They ate without speaking. She made quick work of the meal, starting with the generous portion of pork before moving on to the green beans, corn, and potatoes. She ate her buttered roll in three bites, careful to chew quietly with her mouth closed even in her hunger and haste.
Grover’s main thought throughout the meal was of the baby. He figured she’d put her child in the cell already, so after he finished his supper, he rose, lit another lamp, and walked to the back hall to have a look. He searched the few places a baby might be hidden—in the quilt, under the cot, and behind the pitcher of water. He even looked in the chamber pot. No baby. Where else could she have hidden that baby? Grover looked around the rest of the hall until it occurred to him. She’d left him alone in the stable for the night. Striding back to the main room, he found the woman chewing her last bite. She stood.
“Thanks for the meal, Marshal. I feel like a new person, and I’m ready to go to the cell now. You’ll let me out first thing tomorrow, won’t you? You won’t leave me in there past dawn, I hope? I-I’d like to leave then.”
As she spoke her last sentence, desperation and fear altered every feature on her face. He could see it in her pouting lips, furrowed brow, and pleading eyes. Grover glowered at her. It was all he could do not to shout at her for her foolishness and demand to know what kind of mother leaves her baby alone in a stable all night. Worse, she had no guarantee of being free to tend to it in the morning.
His tone was gruff. “Come.”
He stalked to the back hall. When he motioned for her to get in the cell, she didn’t delay. Grover closed the door with a clang and didn’t bother to lock it. He left and returned a short time later. He opened the cell door and handed the surprised woman her baby.
“Marshal, how did you know I—”
“How do you think?” he growled. “I followed you. Now you’re going to follow me to my house and stay with me there, proper or not, until I figure out what you’re hiding. Other than that little lass, of course.”
Her eyes were searching his. He frowned at her, wondering if his motivation for taking her to his home, which was to protect her, showed on his face. He felt fairly certain she couldn’t see his desire for her. He hadn’t allowed himself to speak to her in gentle tones as a man would to a woman he liked, and he was glad about that. He desired her, but he desired the truth more, and he wouldn’t let the former get in the way of the latter.
She looked at her daughter in her arms, and then back up at him. The fear was mostly gone from her eyes. “Thank you, Marshal,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.