Chapter 1—To Be a Good Woman
“You will not spank me,” Nalin vowed.
Carter felt his jaw clench. Her words sounded like a foolish dare she knew better than to make. From his seat in the buggy, he held the slack reins in his left hand. The horse knew the way to their cabin, so no guidance from him was necessary. His right hand rested on his own leg instead of his wife’s, which felt unnatural. He wished to travel in silence during the two-mile journey from town to home in order to cool down. The last thing he wanted was to argue, but Nalin preferred the opposite.
“You won’t spank me, Carter,” she repeated.
“Think what you like,” he said. “But you’re getting a spanking when we get home. A right smart one for your willful disobedience.”
Nalin’s adamant tone became plaintive. “Carter, I can’t bear for you to punish me. Not for this.”
Carter turned to look at her. Long strands of her brown–black hair had escaped her bun and scattered around her face. Her bottom lip protruded into a pout despite her best efforts to appear strong and resolute. Conversely, her high cheekbones gave her an air of confidence, in sharp contrast to the trembling in her voice.
He gave her a stern look he hoped would silence her. “Nalin Barnes, we already talked about this.”
She glared back at him without blinking. “Yes, and I told you I would go to the women’s suffrage convention no matter what you said.”
“Right. Then I told you I would spank you if you did. Seems we had an understanding. I don’t see the need to discuss it further.”
Nalin’s hands closed into fists over the legs of the trousers he’d forbidden her from wearing in town. She looked as unkempt as any of his cowhands after a hard day of rounding cattle, and yet her wild hair coupled with her flashing eyes suited her. She looked as beautiful as ever. Her mother, a full-blooded Apache Indian, passed along to Nalin her brown, smooth skin. It glowed with perspiration that day under the Texas sun. Carter looked straight ahead again and clucked at the horse to step it up.
“How can you do this to me, Carter?”
He sighed. “Do what, Nalin? Correct you? I’ll show you how shortly. Please, for the love of God, hush your mouth the rest of the way.”
He knew it was a useless request. The words had barely left his mouth before she spoke again. She had always been a brazen little thing. All of five-foot-one to his six feet, she placed her hands on her hips and glared up at him without hesitation whenever they argued. She spoke her mind, and she spoke it often. Carter admired her pluck. She kept him honest and on his toes. Her sharp tongue and sarcastic wit often made him laugh. Her personality was fierce, but her body was soft and small. His wife was a walking, talking contradiction. He loved her deeply, despite—or perhaps partly because of—her combative spirit. He felt disconnected from her lately, though, and it made him miserable. Something had changed between them.
“Can’t you see, Carter? I’m fighting for equal rights for women, and you’re going to execute your unfair right as my husband to punish me. That makes me feel like I’ve failed at making a difference even in my own marriage. I can’t bear the inequality.”
“Hold it right there. You are not equal to me in strength. You have an intellect as sharp as any man’s due to all your book learning at boarding school, but you are inferior in physical strength.”
“So what, Carter?” She sounded furious to be reminded of that bit of common knowledge. “What’s your point?”
“My point is that as your husband it’s my duty to protect you from physical harm. It’s reasonable for me not to allow my wife where there is threatened violence, such as at the suffrage convention. If I have to warm your tail to keep you from suffering real harm, I’m going to do it.”
“You are an insufferable man!”
Her voice sounded shrill to his ear, and her words angered him further. He closed his eyes and willed himself to be patient before continuing in an even tone. “Insufferable? Maybe. A man? Aye. What do you feel is my duty to you as a man, Nalin, if not to protect you?” It was an honest question. He didn’t understand what his wife needed anymore.
She ignored the query. “By you deciding whether I’m allowed to do something, you’re going against everything I believe in now.”
“And by going to the convention, you went against your husband, someone you vowed to honor and obey six years ago ‘til death do us part.”
“I don’t give a damn what I said then,” was her snarly response. “I was a vapid little girl with air for brains.”
Carter sucked in a breath. “You try my patience, woman. You really do.”
She might as well have said she’d made a mistake marrying him. That seemed to be the implication. Further rankling him was her oath, which reminded him that she’d been swearing worse than a man lately. She was as good as begging him for a spanking. Even he didn’t swear in mixed company, yet here was his wife, at perfect looseness with cussing no matter the audience.
The change in his wife and disharmony between them began when Nalin became active in the women’s suffrage movement. Although Carter didn’t understand why she became so passionate about having the right to vote, he was at first glad she’d found something to turn her attentions to. She wanted children, but her body had been unable to carry a baby to term. They had tried for years to start a family with no success. She suffered one miscarriage after another, and each loss proved more devastating to her than the previous. It was devastating for him too, seeing her suffer, but he didn’t know how to express it.
What troubled him was that the more suffrage meetings Nalin attended, the angrier she became—at him, at men in general, and at the whole world—and he wasn’t liking this change in his wife. He loved her passion, but her wrath displeased him. He kept his displeasure to himself until the day she wore trousers instead of a dress to town. It was to rebel against her female identity, an identity he adored and found captivating. His appreciation for the beautiful woman he was fortunate enough to call his wife didn’t matter to her anymore. She felt it was an affront to be a woman in what she called a man’s world.
The trousers fit her snuggly around her hips, ass, and thighs, accentuating her curves with every perk step. With Carter by her side, she held her head high in the air and went about her business of shopping and posting letters to legislature, while he observed with growing discomfort and offense the lecherous stares men focused on her various assets as she passed. Women’s heads bent together in snickers and whispers, which angered him. He wanted to insulate his wife from hurtful words that might get back to her ears. She’d already endured enough racism and prejudice for three lifetimes. Adding chips to the fire by wearing trousers seemed to him a very bad idea.
When they arrived back at the cabin that day, he told her, “Nalin, I forbid you from wearing those trousers to town again. It’s indecent.”
She kicked up a devil of a row and slung a barrage of curse words at him that resulted in a long session over his knee to endure sharp swats to her trouser-clad rear end. He pulled her blasted pants down and finished the spanking on her bare bottom until she apologized for cussing at him, which wasn’t until after her backside was red and hot to the touch.
She hadn’t learned her lesson. She now sat next to him in the same trousers he’d forbidden her from wearing, swearing as she pleased. He suddenly realized there was no point in spanking her when they got home. She wasn’t listening lately and no longer respected his wishes. She was determined to get her way regardless of how he felt about it, and a trip over his lap wouldn’t do anything to improve their relationship.
Carter decided that until he figured out how he fit into his wife’s new worldview, he wouldn’t take her in hand. Maybe she was right. Maybe his authority and protectiveness contrasted with the way she felt about her rights as a woman now. He didn’t have to agree with her views to try to make her happy. He just needed to figure out a way to also keep her safe. He’d have to think about it.
As Carter unhooked the horse in the barn, brushed him, and pitched hay into his stall, Nalin stood nearby and kept her eyes on Carter. She clasped her hands behind her back, instinctively protecting her seat. Carter moved to Bella’s stall. Leading the mare to the hitching post, he cleaned out her hooves and placed a saddle on her back.
As he was cinching the belly band, Nalin spoke in a soft, confused voice. “Where are you going, Carter?”
He knew his actions warranted questioning. On any other day, her bottom would have been halfway to blistered by that time. He didn’t delay punishments any longer than he had to.
“I have a ranch to run, Nalin.”
“So you’re not going to…” Her voice trailed off.
“Spank you? No, I’m not.”
“But, but why not?” she stammered. “What made you change your mind?”
Carter buckled the bridle’s neck strap and turned to look at her. “Because I’m done trying to make you listen. Regardless of what I do, you will continue doing whatever the devil you want. I don’t have the time or patience for it right now.” His words came out harsher than he intended, though they were the truth of what he felt.
Nalin looked like he’d just slapped her. “Don’t be done with me,” she said, her voice catching in her throat. She began to cry. “Please don’t leave me when you’re angry, Carter. Stay and talk to me.”
“Nalin,” he said, his voice weary. “I’m not done with you, I’m done trying to correct you. I’m giving you what you want, which is not to be punished, so I can’t understand you taking on the tears. Scoot to the cabin now.”
In a contrary fashion, which was her typical response to him these days, Nalin headed in the opposite direction of the cabin. She rushed to Carter and put her head on his chest. She cried on his shirt. Carter felt frustrated. He’d just let her out of a punishment, and she was acting like he was about to commit a barbaric act against her by leaving to do his work. He gave her a brief rub on the back before stepping away.
“I’ve got to fix a fence before nightfall. Cook some supper. I’m already half starved.” He mounted Bella and took off for the range at a trot.
Nalin stumbled to the cabin. She walked straight to their room and collapsed on the bed. She sobbed. “I am such a failure,” she told the walls. “I’m good at nothing.”
Never in their six years of marriage had she felt like such a disappointment. She hadn’t been able to give her husband a child. It was only after the last miscarriage, which kept her in bed for a full day, that she realized she might never give birth to a live baby. Prior to that day, she felt hopeful that it would eventually happen, but it was during the emotional and physical agony of the last loss that she realized it might not. She decided she must focus her attentions elsewhere or else go mad.
The women’s suffrage movement she’d been reading about in the paper for years found its way to their town of Porter, Texas, at the right time to pique her interest. She and a group of lady friends met weekly to discuss and review letters they wrote to legislature. Sometimes a man in support of their efforts would attend their meetings, but Nalin never dared ask her husband to be one of them. She could picture him rolling his eyes even at the suggestion.
She knew that her involvement in the suffrage movement directly correlated with her barrenness. She felt that her worth as a woman depended on her ability to bear children. When that didn’t seem likely to happen, she sought other ways to feel a sense of worth, such as politics and public life. She quickly discovered that the inequality of the laws and her status as a woman prevented her from participating in full. She decided to become involved in changing that by joining the women’s rights movement that focused on a woman’s right to vote. Her participation gave her some of the fulfillment she longed for.
“It’s not enough,” she blubbered out loud to the empty room. “I want to be a mother. I want my husband to understand.”
She desperately longed for Carter to support her new interest. His opinion mattered to her. It mattered to most people who knew him. He was a respected member of the community and a successful rancher. He instinctively knew how to lead with a fair, firm hand. His success ranching was partly due to his leadership style. He ran his ranch and household with little tolerance for insubordination from those under his authority. That included Nalin. She was his wife, and he expected her to obey him like all wives were expected to obey their husbands.
Nalin positioned herself face down on the bed and stuffed her head in a pillow. “I will obey him,” she said in a muffled voice. “I’ll never go against him again.” She felt strongly about that in the moment. She wanted to do whatever it took to avoid how she felt then, which was rejected by the man she loved.
It was the first time she’d ever felt rejected by Carter. He’d always taken care of her and made her feel safe and cherished. He took over the ranch following his parents’ death of consumption when he was just twenty years old, the same year he married Nalin. Nalin’s mother passed away a year later, essentially leaving them both orphaned and him fully responsible for providing for her. Nalin’s daddy was still alive, but he was the town drunk, and he’d never been much of a father to her. Nalin quickly discovered how strong and competent her husband was when he rose to every leadership challenge.
It was because of the life her husband afforded her that he couldn’t understand her recent outrage over the plight of women and what she considered their lesser status in America. In his opinion, she blew everything wildly out of proportion. Their conversations on this topic were more or less the same every time. Nalin would start by pointing out an inequality she felt sure would finally convince Carter of the validity of the women’s rights movement, and he would dismiss it in a few short sentences.
“It’s not fair how women don’t have equal rights, Carter. Becca was cheated out of her inheritance. She got hitched, so when her daddy died, his land deed went into her no-account husband’s name. She wasn’t even listed on it.”
“Well, she married him,” he responded with finality, as though that should end the conversation.
“So she shouldn’t have equal rights because she’s married?”
“Honey, when she became his wife, she chose him to be the manager of their business affairs. That’s how marriage works. The wife takes care of the household. The husband takes care of the business that provides for his family.”
“But he didn’t provide, Carter! He left them in ruin. He sold the land and frittered away the money against his wife’s wishes—the money that was supposed to be hers!”
“I’m not saying he’s right, Nalin, but it’s the way it is. It’s natural order for the husband to be the leader of the family. You can’t let one bad man change your whole perspective of how things should work.”
Nalin stormed away after each of these conversations, furious that she could never get her point across to her hardheaded husband. She imagined Carter rolling his eyes behind her every time she left him in a huff.
Nalin had to admit that the injustice toward women rarely applied to her, save for not having the right to vote, which was more abstractly insulting than concretely hurtful. She liked being Carter’s wife. She wanted to obey him for the most part, and she appreciated all that he provided. He shared everything he had with her, generously and without question. The one thing he was unable to offer her, however, was the one thing she desired most from him the last few months, and that was his understanding. He was an old-fashioned cowboy who respected women in the same way his father had, and he ensured that the women around him were treated well. That was good enough as far as he was concerned.
When he forbade her from attending the only women’s suffrage convention to ever come to their town of Porter, Texas, she felt many things—misunderstood, angry, and hurt among them. But the strongest emotion she felt was fear; specifically, fear of failure. She had already failed her duty as a wife and woman due to her inability to bear a child, and if it were up to Carter, she would fail her duty as a suffragette as well. Her fear of failure was stronger than her desire to obey, so she went against her husband and attended, despite his adamant insistence that she not do so.
She had only been in the crowd for an hour listening to suffragettes shout from a raised platform before she felt a strong arm encircle her waist and heard her husband’s growl in her ear.
“You’re coming with me now, young lady. And you’d better make tracks, not a fuss, or it’ll be worse for you.”
She followed him to the buggy, her face hot with anger and embarrassment. On the ride to the cabin, she pled with him to understand how a man’s right to punish his wife was unfair, but he seemed unmoved. He viewed her disobedience, especially when it came to her safety, as something well within his rights as her husband to correct.
During the buggy ride, she worried about the pending punishment. He didn’t hesitate to spank her over the years for various misdeeds. Each session over his lap stung more than she cared to admit. He delivered the punishment to her unfortunate bare bottom every time, usually with his hand but occasionally with a wooden spoon or his belt if he felt she did something especially egregious. Attending the convention behind his back probably counted as egregious in his eyes, she realized, making her clench the muscles in her backside involuntarily. After any of his spankings, she wasn’t able to sit comfortably for the rest of the day.
What she didn’t admit, even to herself until that very day, was that she felt loved when he spanked her. It meant he noticed her actions and cared enough to discipline her when she did something he felt was wrong, and she felt cherished and forgiven when he held her afterwards. She craved Carter’s guidance and firm care.
She felt it was terribly unfair of Carter to forbid her attendance to the convention when it meant so much to her, but she had planned to accept her punishment like she always did. She knew he only spanked her because he wanted her safe. She looked forward to being in his arms for comfort after the punishment because it had been some time since he’d held her tight and whispered in her ear that he loved her.
What she hadn’t anticipated was for him to change his mind about punishing her. When he left on his horse after delivering words that stung worse than his hand, she felt shattered. He had never gone back on administering a promised punishment. For him to do so now hurt her terribly. It wasn’t like she had made him see the error in his thinking. No, he had given up on her. To give up meant to not care. This realization brought a fresh torrent of tears. She felt certain that her barren state made her less of a woman in his eyes, and she wondered if he even loved her anymore. It seemed he had finally grown tired of her, judging by the weary tone in his voice and refusal to stay and talk with her.
She cried into her pillow for a long time and was so distracted by her distress that she didn’t hear Carter open the door to their room.
Chapter 2—To Be a Good Man
Nalin had neglected to cook supper. Carter felt hungry, irritable, and at a loss over what to do about his wife, who became more difficult to please every day. He found her lying on the bed. She had stuffed her face in a pillow, and her shoulders shook with sobs. Carter looked to the heavens. He had joked for years that this woman would be the death of him, but now he wondered if it weren’t the honest-to-goodness truth. If she wasn’t nearly giving him a heart attack, she was starving him. He had no idea what to do with her.
His voice was sharp and cut through the air like a whip. “Nalin, come here.”
Nalin looked up, startled by his presence. She jumped off the bed, rushed to the doorway where he stood, and planted herself against him. He wrapped his arms around her, which only made her cry harder. He looked down at the unruly hair on the top of her head and ran his hand over it in an attempt to tame it, which was about as successful as trying to tame her.
“What in tarnation are you carrying on about, missus?”
“I-I don’t know,” she said through her tears, her voice muffled by his shirt. “Y-you left me. You didn’t want to talk to me.”
“Oh, for goodness sake, Nalin.”
He dragged her by her arms to the wooden chair between their bed and dresser, where he set her down roughly. Before that moment, he planned to have a calm discussion about her needs in this marriage. He planned to tell her he would strive to be the man she needed him to be in order for her to be happy. He even planned to say that if it meant no longer asserting his authority over her, then so be it. He would give it a try.
His resolution to be a new type of husband evaporated the moment he heard her weak, trembling voice, and his natural inclination to be strong, take charge, and set his wife straight took its place in full force. With one hand on her shoulder, he bent down, looked into her eyes, and held a finger up to her pretty face, which was streaked with tears.
“Listen here, little girl. I left you to do what I do every day. Work! That’s what I’m supposed to do in the first place, not follow your disobedient prat into town to make sure you’re safe.”
He straightened to his full height and placed both hands on his hips as he looked down at her. “You’re going to stop crying this instant. Then you and I are going to have a yammer, and you’re going to tell me what’s eating away at you. I’m not pleased with your behavior today or for the last few months. It will end now, here in this room, one way or another.”
Carter sat on the bed and focused a stern look at her, waiting for her to obey his order to stop crying.
“Yes, sir. I do n-need to stop crying. I-I will.” She hiccupped. Her cries died down after a minute. “I’m sorry, Carter. I’ve failed you.” She sniffled and ran the back of her hand under her nose.
“What do you mean, failed me?” Carter reached into his pocket and handed her his handkerchief. Her nose was leaking as much as her eyes. “Nalin, first go blow your nose and wash your hands and face, then come back and answer that. You’re a mess. I’ve never seen you take on so.”
She nodded and stood. “Yes, sir,” she said, and left the room.
He stared after her, shaking his head. First she was ranting at him about how she shouldn’t be required to obey him, now she was ‘yes, sir’-ing him and doing his bidding without argument. If that didn’t confuse a man, he didn’t know what would. He heard her blowing her nose. A short time after that, he heard water splashing in the basin.
She returned drying her face with a towel and sunk back into the chair. Her face was red and puffy, but at least the snot and tears were gone from it. Carter crossed his arms and waited for some kind of explanation.
“I haven’t given you a child, Carter. I’m not a good wife. I haven’t fulfilled my most basic duty as a woman.”
Carter frowned at her. “Nalin, surely you don’t think you’re to blame for our misfortune in starting a family. I certainly don’t think you are.”
She looked past him out the window and spoke in a faraway voice, “I’ve failed at being a wife, and I’ve failed at being a suffragette. I’m a total failure.”
Carter’s temper flared. “Did you hear a word I just said?” he growled. “You haven’t failed at being a wife. Now failing as a suffragette, I wouldn’t know, but I doubt that too.”
Nalin gave her head a quick shake and focused her attention on him. “I heard what you said, Carter, but I don’t believe you. I have failed my duty as your wife. I know this because you said you’ve given up on me, and you won’t even spank me. You’ve always said it’s because you care that you punish me, so what am I to think when you don’t?”
Carter’s head was pounding. He rubbed his temples. “Well, Nalin, don’t think a spanking is out of the question, for one. The more of your nonsensical prattling I’m forced to endure, the more likely it becomes.”
Nalin’s eyes widened, and she looked at him with an expression that closely resembled hope. Carter’s consternation came to an end in that very moment, for she had unknowingly said more to him in that one look than in all her rantings about women’s rights. His wife had a strange new interest that didn’t make much sense to him, but he realized then that one thing was not new or complex, and that was the way she needed to feel his love. He suddenly understood what caused her tears that day.
Carter’s tone softened. “Come sit by me, Nalin love.”
Nalin moved to the spot next to him on the bed. He wrapped an arm around her and kissed the side of her forehead. “Look, sweet girl, I’m having a hard time understanding what it is you need from me as a man now that you’re unsettled as a woman. I’ve been at a bit of a loss, but I haven’t stopped caring about you. I never will. I want you safe and happy, and I want to be the kind of man who ensures you are both, if I can.”
Nalin looked into his eyes. “Oh, Carter. You’re such a good man. I need you even though I say a woman shouldn’t need a man.”
“Thank you, darlin’. It sure is nice to hear you say that. And you’re a good woman. I need you too, you know?” He offered her a smile.
Nalin smiled weakly back at him and Carter kissed her forehead again.
“Now,” he said, growing stern. “Speaking of needs. A certain young lady needs a spanking, doesn’t she?”
Nalin gazed at him sorrowfully before nodding. She placed herself over his lap with no argument. He moved his hand around her waist and unbuttoned her trousers. He pulled them clear off and tossed them aside. Next came her drawers, which he released and pushed to her knees. He took in the sight of her perfectly smooth, pale bottom, soon to become red and smarting from his punishment. She looked small and vulnerable over his lap, and in that moment he wished to caress her and give her body pleasure using his hand.
Instead, he gave her what he knew she needed. He planted a punishing swat on her left cheek. “This is what you will get from me, little girl, when you get out of line.”
His hand came down hard at a brisk pace. She let out a whimper as his hand cracked down on her bottom again and again before moving to her thighs. She made louder noises and squirmed. He tightened his grip around her waist.
“Mark my words, Nalin Barnes. Fair or not, you’ll be suffering a spanking every time you doubt my love for you.”
He delivered the swats for two long minutes. Given the rigor behind them, Carter knew it must have seemed like two hours to Nalin. When he settled his hand, she was whimpering but had managed to not start crying again.
He rubbed his calloused hand around her hot flesh, which brought a noise of appreciation from her lips.
“I have a request, wife,” Carter said. He continued rubbing her bottom and stroked her back with his other hand.
Nalin felt soft and compliant in his lap. “What is it, husband?” She practically purred.
Carter loved bringing out this submissive side of her as much as he loved facing her fierceness. “I’d like to request that you cook your husband supper when he asks for it.”
“Are you hungry?”
Carter snarled his answer. “I was hungry hours ago. Now I’m positively wolfish.”
“I’ll cook you something now.” She made a move to get up.
Carter held her in place and gave her a hard swat. “Did I tell you we were finished?”
Nalin yelped and softened back into his lap. “No, sir.”
He continued to rub the sting out. “I have another request. Actually, this isn’t a request. This is a command. You will stop airin’ your lungs every time you get a hankering. It’s offensive, and I don’t enjoy hearing those words coming out of your mouth. Do you agree to stop?”
Nalin didn’t respond for longer than he felt appropriate, so he began spanking her again. “Don’t refuse to answer me, young lady. Insolence over my lap is a very bad idea.”
“Okay,” she cried. “Please stop, I’ll answer.”
He settled his hand on her bottom after a few more sound swats. “Well?”
“It’s not fair that you can swear and I can’t,” she said in a whine.
Carter let out an irritated sigh. “I don’t generally swear in front of you, Nalin.”
“Fine, I won’t swear in front of you either. I still want to swear other places.”
Carter had to chuckle. “Do you now?” He rubbed her sore bottom in a way that was both tender and threatening. “I reckon there’s not much I can do about that. I won’t be pleased if I hear tell of it, though, and my displeasure will lead to yours.”
Nalin nodded her understanding. He gathered her into his arms and held her to him. He kissed her forehead, each of her cheeks, and her lips.
“I love and care about you, honey. Don’t ever question that again. We’ll figure out the rest.”
Nalin laid her head on his shoulder. “Thank you,” she whispered.
He rubbed her back and smiled wryly. “I think that’s the first time you’ve thanked me for a spanking.”
She sniffed. “Don’t get used to it.”
He chuckled again and gave her an affectionate squeeze. She was a strong, smart woman. He recognized that, but he recognized something else too. Under not too many layers, she was also a vulnerable little girl who craved her husband’s authority. Her father had offered nothing to Nalin in the way of protection while she grew up, only inconsistency and neglect. As far as Carter was concerned, he was nothing but a lowlife drunk and coward. The man had married a penniless, unsuspecting Apache woman and then felt no duty to provide for her.
Nalin told Carter that her mother had slaved all day, every day, and half the nights weaving baskets and beading jewelry to sell in town, barely keeping her and her daughter from destitution. She intercepted whatever money her husband earned and somehow stashed enough away to send Nalin to a boarding school for a couple years to gain a proper education. Her ma did so in the hopes that Nalin might find a good life, something she never had, and Nalin took to book learning like a dog to a bone.
Nalin grew into a fierce woman, out to fight for her survival since a man had never taken care of her, at least not until she met Carter. When he came into her life, she thrilled at his strong, protective love.
Carter would never forget the day they met. He observed the small woman with wild hair trying to lug a sixty-pound bag of flour to her buggy without assistance. It took one conversation with her, from the supply store to her buggy with the sack of flour over his shoulder, for him to fall in love. Not only was she beautiful, she was also interesting. She had felt so grateful to him for his minor assistance that she immediately treated him like her long-lost friend, babbling to him about a novel she read and asking him questions about his ranch. Her thirst for knowledge about him and everything around her was unquenchable. He went about courting her right away, which included fixing the house she shared with her ma. Her father had long since abandoned it for a room in town to better suit his gambling and whoring proclivities. He had allowed the cabin where his wife and daughter lived to fall into dangerous disrepair.
Carter smiled to himself, remembering the way Nalin would sit on the porch and watch him, perplexed, as he attended day after day to the neglected work around the cabin.
“Why are you doing this, Carter?” she asked him one day, a month after they’d started seeing each other.
Carter hammered a nail into the new doorframe he’d built. “Because the old frame was falling apart.”
She laughed. “But why are you fixing our whole house in general?”
“Because your whole house is falling apart in general,” he said, and winked at her.
She uttered some Apache words under her breath, which amused him.
“You can say those words out loud, you know. I don’t know what they mean, so you won’t get in trouble.”
“If you care to know what they mean, I’ll translate them as best I can.” Her voice had a jovial lilt to it. “I said you are an insufferable man who doesn’t know how to answer questions right. And then I said a word that means something like ‘fucking hell’ in English.”
Carter coughed to muffle a laugh. He took a stern tone. “Nalin, don’t say those words again, at least not in English.”
Her eyes became wide at his sternness. “Why not?”
“Because I said so. Isn’t that reason enough for you, little girl?”
She considered that for a moment. “Not really.”
He set the hammer down and ambled toward her. He took the little firecracker into his arms and smiled at her. “Do you need me to spank you then, honey?”
Nalin’s eyes sparkled. “I would prefer if you kissed me, not spanked me.”
“I’d be happy to do that too, darlin’,” he replied, before he bent and captured her lips.
“Ohpitsa,” she said softly when her mouth was free to speak.
Carter kissed her again, his lips just brushing hers before he moved his kiss to her neck. He said in her ear, “Do I want to know what that means, young lady?”
“I think so, probably. It means ‘sweet man’.”
“Oh? Say it again.”
“Mm,” he intoned. With a voice low and rumbling, he said, “I like that, sweet girl.”
“I like you, ohpitsa,” she replied.
Her words brought him great joy. He lifted his head and smiled broadly at her. “I like you too. In fact, I love you, Nalin.”
Her eyes danced.
“I don’t love your swearing, though. If you’re going to be my wife, you’ll have to mind me. I know you’re not used to obeying since your daddy never cared enough to set you straight.”
Nalin blinked. “Did you say wife? Are you proposing we get hitched?
Carter kept her in his embrace. “Yes, I suppose I am. I’m sorry it wasn’t a very good proposal, but I want nothing more than for you to marry me.”
“You confused me,” she said, reaching up to wrap her arms around his neck. “I thought you were sweet on me, but I didn’t understand why you were fixing this cabin if you wanted me to live with you in yours.”
“Your ma will still live here, I’m assuming?”
Nalin nodded slowly. “It’s kind of you to think of her, Carter. I wish my ma had found a man like you. She deserves it, I don’t. I’m impertinent.”
“You’re also strong and smart and lovely. I’m not afraid of a little impertinence. So what do you say, sweet girl? Will you marry me?”
“You’re the only man I’ve ever trusted, the only man who makes me feel loved. I want to obey you if you tell me not to do something, like swearing. So yes, ohpitsa, I will most definitely marry you.”
And she had, making him feel like the luckiest man alive. She still craved his care and guidance, as flawed as it was sometimes. Six years later, holding the same sweet girl in his arms who trusted him so much, he knew he needed to apologize for a mistake.
“Nalin, I don’t believe I should have forbidden you from going to that suffrage event. I should have realized how important it was to you, and I’m sorry I didn’t.”
Nalin lifted her head from his shoulder and looked into his eyes. “Really? You mean it?”
Carter grunted. Like most men, he despised admitting a mistake, especially to his wife. “I should have escorted you, since I worried for your safety. I didn’t even think of doing that.”
“I didn’t think of it either,” she said. “You’re so removed from this other life I have.”
“Right. Maybe that needs to change. Like I said, we’ll figure it out.”
“Thank you, Carter,” Nalin said. “You have no idea what that means to me.”
He frowned at her. “I still forbid you from wearing those trousers to town.”
She smiled and kissed him, making his frown disappear. “I won’t wear them anymore, ohpitsa. Don’t worry.”
“Corrupting our youth, Nalin?” Carter asked. He removed his hat and placed it on the rack. It was raining outside, and his slicker dripped water onto the hardware floor. He removed it and hung it next to his hat, then sat on the sofa and struggled out of his boots.
Nalin looked up from the book she’d been reading aloud. It contained a collection of essays relating to women’s rights that she’d been studying for some time. Anna Brown, the neighboring farmer’s daughter, listened with great attention to every word out of his wife’s mouth.
“I prefer to call it educating,” Nalin responded. “Anna’s free to think for herself and disagree. That’s what liberation is all about.”
Carter looked at the girl. She sat cross-legged on the floor and had not stopped gaping at Nalin with admiration. “You hear that, Anna? You’re free to disagree with my wife, though I must warn you, I’ve found that to be hazardous to my health and safety.”
“Hobble your lip, Carter,” Nalin said, slamming the book shut. “The only thing hazardous to your health and safety is the mud and water you just tracked in. Any of us could slip on that you know.”
Carter grinned. Their relationship had improved since he’d spanked her for doubting his love and apologized for forbidding her attendance at the convention. They were back to bantering without spite. She verbally outmatched him most of the time, which he found thoroughly enjoyable. It gave him a thrill and left him imagining how he would retaliate by dominating her in the bedroom.
Anna smiled at their ribbing. She and her two younger sisters had been staying with the Barnes for a few days while their parents attended to business out of town. Anna was old enough to mind her little sisters and cook their meals, but her parents felt better about the kids staying with the two adults like they had for years when business called them away. Cater could see that Anna was a great help to Nalin during this particular stay, not just with the domestic duties, but also because she lifted his wife’s spirits. It gave Nalin a sense of fulfillment to take the girl under her wing and educate her.
Anna’s younger siblings Rachel and Louise bounded out of the bedroom and headed straight for Carter’s lap. A young child’s trust and generous affection never failed to amaze and soften him. He gave each girl a kiss on the forehead and felt an emotional ache. He would love to be a father with his own young children skipping about the house and jumping in his lap when he got home from his work. Minding the Brown girls reminded him of this.
He looked over at Nalin to find her watching him with sadness in her eyes. Carter lifted Louise and Rachel off his lap one at a time. He set them on the ground and gave each of their braids a tug. Striding the two steps to his wife, he pulled her to her feet so he could fold her into his arms. He didn’t know what else to do after seeing that look on her face.
Nalin softened into the hug but then shook away from his hold after a few moments and scowled up at him. “Stop distracting us from our reading. We were just getting to ‘The Subjugation of Women’ by Mr. John Mill before you so rudely interrupted. Weren’t we, Anna?”
“Yes. She’s right, Mr. Barnes,” the girl confirmed, asserting her loyalty to his wife.
Still frowning, Nalin continued to boss him. “Anna made a pie. It’s on the counter. Why don’t you busy yourself with eating it and leave us to our book learning.” She straightened her back and sat back down.
“Yes, ma’am!” He sauntered to the kitchen, then turned when he arrived at the counter. “Honey, what does ‘subjugation’ mean?”
Nalin let out an annoyed sigh. “It means to overpower and subdue. You should read occasionally. It’s a common word,” she informed him in a clipped, condescending tone.
Carter smirked. “I see. Thanks for explaining that to your ignorant husband, and in such a patient manner too.” He walked back to her.
In less time than it would have taken for her to read the essay’s opening sentence, Carter wrestled Nalin into a belly-down position on the couch. He clasped her wrists together behind her back in one of his hands and held a fistful of her hair in his other.
“Just so as I understand, does it mean something like this?” Carter asked her, his voice as sweet as honey.
The girls shrieked with laughter, while Nalin squirmed and protested furiously using her sharp tongue.
“Why you breachy, beef-headed scalawag! I’ll give you a lacing that’ll make you buzzard bait before you can sing ‘skip to my Lou’. Let me loose this instant.”
Carter chuckled. “Tsk, tsk, little firecracker. That’s awfully gritty language for a lady in your current position. You might at least attempt to be biddable now.”
“Go boil your shirt,” Nalin snapped, then laughed for some time without being able to stop. She finally cleared her throat and said as sternly as she could, “Carter, let me up. I mean it.”
“You must admit something first.”
“What?” she demanded.
“Admit you like subjugation at the hands of your husband.”
“You’re not serious! I cannot believe your audacity. You’re doing this in front of impressionable girls who might get the wrong idea.”
“Wrong idea about what, darlin’?”
“The nature of our relationship.”
Carter gripped her hair tighter and pulled her head up, just a little. “And of what nature would that be?”
“One of equality and respect, I should hope!” she spat at him.
Carter laughed. He looked over at the three girls who were grinning and watching the show with rapt attention. “Girls, I respect my wife very much, and her worth is of equal value to mine. Greater, I might argue.”
He turned his focus back to the trapped woman. “Satisfied, Nalin?”
“I’m sorry to hear that. But don’t you fret, missus, I’ll satisfy you later.”
She burst out laughing again. Still laughing, she tried to move again and said in between giggles, “Carter, seriously, let me go.”
“You know how to make that happen. And don’t fling any more of your snipsnap at me.”
Nalin groaned and surrendered. “Fine. I like being subjugated by my husband.”
“Good girl,” Carter said. “Was that so hard?” He released her and gave her bottom a smack. She scrambled to her feet and glared into his twinkling eyes before dissolving into giggles again and accepting his kiss.
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