Hardened widower awakens from grief when met by a sweet, headstrong young lady in need of some old-fashioned discipline.
Anna wanted a job but was unprepared for the emotional labor she would endure when she convinced Carter to hire her to keep house and mind his small son after the death of his wife. She discovers that the gentle, teasing demeanor she’d witnessed from the cowboy previously has been buried along with his wife, forcing her to contend with the glowering, ill-tempered man who snaps at her and doesn’t notice or appreciate her earnest efforts. She quietly suffers his apathy and impatience until a single snub pushes her to her breaking point, causing her to take drastic action to get his attention.
Carter didn’t expect such behavior from this sweet, innocent girl. It startles him out of his stupor long enough to feel his palm itching to connect with her naughty backside. He finds himself slowly drawn out of his grief and depression thanks to the gutsy, but kind female presence in his life.
Anna discovers that the return of the cowboy’s awareness and ability to care means he is on to her penchant for danger and recklessness, and he’s not having it. She finds herself getting the bare-bottomed spanking of her life, and feels loved by a man for the first time. Then he abruptly ends her employment. Anna flees, devastated and confused, and Carter knows he must straighten her – and the situation – out before he can claim the infuriating and enchanting woman as his wife.
What People Say About The Unbraiding of Anna Brown
“I really enjoyed this sweet story about a hardened, widowed rancher and the woman who brings him back to life. Anna is innocent and plainspoken and pours love into a broken family. Carter is tough and stoic, but a true gentleman.” -Lee Savino, USA Today Bestselling Author
“I wish I could give 20 stars.” -Delia Grace, Bestselling Author of Beautifying Bernadette
“Sweet Anna is budding into womanhood just as her cowboy awakens from grief. A beautiful story with well developed characters. Innocence blooms into passion between these two wonderful protagonists. Five well deserved stars for Amelia Smarts!” -Dulcie Taylor, Author of Reckless Intent
“I did not get the whole cowboy spanking thing. And then I read The Unbraiding of Anna Brown by the newly minted, kickass writer Amelia Smarts. Unbraiding expands the cowboy concept to cover loss, redemption, and love… The spanking scenes leave nothing to be desired. They have love, a touch of humor, forgiveness and a seared hot bottom. Yummy.” -Susannah Shannon, Author of The Cass Chronicles
“I was riveted by the stern, aloof Carter. He is older and more experienced than Anna, and his insistence on keeping her safe and teaching her to do as he says is not overbearing or out of place, but quite natural and heartwarming, a true authority figure with well-placed motives.” -Jane Henry, Bestselling Author of Claimed on the Frontier
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Chapter One – Doorstep Delivery
Carter opened the door to find Anna Brown standing on his doorstep holding a basket of eggs. She looked taller than he remembered, but he was foggy about the last time he’d seen her. She was undoubtedly at the funeral a couple of weeks prior, but all he could remember from the service were the purple flowers around the preacher’s pulpit and the gray pallor of his wife’s coffin.
“My ma thought you could use some eggs, since you gave up chickens for cows,” Anna said, handing him the basket.
Carter took it and waved for her to follow as he walked to the kitchen. Some years back, he had sold his chickens—most to Anna’s family—and since then had focused solely on herding cows and training horses. A couple of months ago he’d considered building a small coop to house hens so his family would have a fresh supply of eggs every day. Then Nalin fell ill, and his grand plans faded along with her.
There had been a steady stream of visitors to his cabin since the funeral. Some brought casseroles and cooked beans. Others brought sugar, flour, and eggs. That’s what people did, he discovered, when a man’s wife died. They brought food. Earlier that day, a generous neighbor had dropped off a newly slaughtered and plucked chicken, which he’d just removed from the keep to cook when he heard Anna’s quiet knock.
“I don’t suppose you drink coffee,” Carter said to her as an invitation. He regarded her. She was at least seventeen according to his calculations and not at all dressed or styled to attract a suitor like most girls her age. Two long braids laid on top of her chest, which made her look younger than she was. She wore a style of dress more appropriate for a younger girl too. It was all ribbon and cotton, and it shone a cheerful yellow color that belied her somber expression.
“I’ll have some milk if you have it.”
Carter poured milk into a tin cup and handed it to her. Anna drank thirstily and looked around. He looked with her to see what she saw. The main room of the cabin was messy. He’d been sleeping fitfully on the sofa, which was apparent because of the wrinkled quilt strewn across it. In the armchair was a pile of clothes that needed to be washed. Dirty dishes sat stacked on the kitchen counter, and a thin layer of dust covered every surface, including the hardwood floor. The room was dark and stuffy because Carter hadn’t opened the windows despite the pleasant spring weather. He was sure it stank to high heaven of tobacco and dirty dishes, though he couldn’t know. All of his senses had become dull.
“Mr. Barnes, there’s another reason besides bringing you eggs that I came over.”
Carter sat on a stool at the kitchen table. He lit his pipe and looked at her, waiting for her to continue. Anna shifted for a moment under his gaze and then sat down on the stool next to him. She folded her hands in front of her.
“The thing is I’m not too interested in school. I quit a year ago because I know how to write and do some math and I don’t see any other reason for being there. My pa agreed that I could stay home and work around the farm. He says that I’m real good at practical things and that not everyone is cut out for book learning.”
“True enough,” Carter said. He wasn’t sure what point she was making. He took a puff from his pipe. He had never liked school much himself, preferring to be outdoors rounding cows and training horses from a young age. As his parents’ only child, he’d inherited his ranch. It ran parallel to the Rem River, which made the land lush and profitable. The town of Porter bustled two miles west and boasted a supply store, meatpacking shop, and blacksmith, all of which were necessary for Carter to be as successful as he was.
Patrick—nicknamed Paddy by his mother the day he was born—toddled out from the bedroom, rubbing his eyes and mumbling about milk. Carter stood and poured a second cup, half as full as Anna’s.
Carter lifted his son to a free stool at the table. “Sit here and don’t spill it,” he said.
Paddy drank from the cup haphazardly. Imprints from a pillow lined his flushed cheeks, and sweat pasted his tangled, dark hair to his forehead.
Carter sat back down on his stool and returned his attention to Anna, who was observing with some doubt the child’s attempt to drink from the cup. Looking to Carter, she said, “I’d like to work for you. I can watch over Paddy. He can’t be more than three years old and you can’t take him along with you to the range or send him to school yet.” She looked around the cabin again and added, “Plus I can cook and clean. Like I said, I’m good at practical things.”
When he didn’t respond, she stood and walked to the counter. “Like this chicken. I can cook it today for your supper.”
For the thousandth time, Carter silently cursed the heavens for taking his wife from him. He didn’t want to have this conversation. He and his son had been surviving off the generosity of neighbors since his wife’s death, during which time he’d been dimly aware that someone would need to mind Paddy when he returned to overseeing the ranch. His foreman, Ben, had taken over Carter’s duties for the time being. It had crossed his mind that he might ask the foreman’s wife, Grace, to care for his son, but he hadn’t made a point of asking her yet.
Finding someone to cook and clean hadn’t been in his thoughts at all, but he never would have considered Anna if it had been. Because of his friendship with her parents, he had watched her grow up, was fond of her even, but he didn’t have patience for folly when it came to his household and business, and folly generally accompanied youth. Then again, he thought, not everyone was thoughtless and unfocused at that time in their lives. When he was her age twelve years back, he dedicated his serious attention to building a business.
“You want to work here instead of getting a job in town or going out with your friends?” he asked doubtfully.
Paddy banged the almost-empty cup down on the table, splashing drops of milk on his face. Carter grabbed the cup out of his son’s chubby hands and lowered him to the ground, then rested an elbow on the table and took another puff from his pipe.
“Yes, sir, I’d really like working here. I’d rather work here for some money than work at the farm for nothing.”
She was good at arguing her case, Carter thought. He focused a stern gaze on her and considered it. He employed more than a dozen men at the ranch, but he had never employed a female. It was hard for him to wrap his head around hiring her for more than just that reason. To him, she was still a child. He remembered when her parents, Paul and Margaret, moved from Maryland to Texas with Anna and her sisters some ten years back and settled the sprawling land next to his ranch. The family farmed corn and wheat, which they sold throughout the southwestern states. They also raised chickens and pigs to sell in town.
Carter was a newly married man just twenty years old when he first met Anna and her family. Paul and Margaret became good friends to him and his wife over the years. On many occasions, the couples played cards and discussed the crops and animals that kept them on their feet. Carter and Nalin minded Anna and her sisters when the Browns had business out of town. Carter had a distinct memory of rescuing the eight-year-old girl from a tree she’d climbed. His wife had discovered her.
“Anna Brown, what the devil are you doing up there?” Nalin called.
“I can’t get down. Please can you help me, Mrs. Barnes?”
“Don’t you know you shouldn’t climb that high if you can’t get back down?” Nalin scolded.
Carter sneaked up behind his new bride and wrapped his arms around her, startling her. She made a noise of disapproval. Carter followed Nalin’s gaze upward to the little girl in the tree. “Sakes alive, what do we have here?” he said, releasing Nalin and holding his hand out to block the sun.
“Anna’s gone and gotten herself stuck in the tree. She doesn’t reckon she can climb down,” Nalin said. Her voice was edged with fear. Though she acted annoyed, Carter knew her primary feeling was concern.
Anna had fastened her arms and legs around a strong horizontal limb. She cried softly.
“I’ll come up and get you, Anna. Hang tight and don’t fuss,” Carter said. He removed his slicker and handed it to Nalin. This was the second time Anna had managed to get herself into trouble within the span of two days. Both times required Carter’s assistance. Nalin confided in Carter that she didn’t realize how much trouble children were before she had to mind them.
“That’s not going to stop us from having them,” Carter said, a little too forcefully for his wife’s liking.
She put her hands on her hips. “You’re insufferable, Carter. I never said anything about us not having them. You know I want a baby. Maybe I’d prefer a boy is all.”
Carter laughed. “Boys are more trouble in the end.”
Climbing the tree limb by limb toward the plucky little girl, he wasn’t so sure he’d been right about that. The day before he had to look for Anna after she disappeared with no mention of where she was going. He found her in the barn lying on top of one of his mares. Straddling the horse much like she was straddling the branch of the tree, Anna had positioned herself to lean forward on her stomach and wrap her arms as much around the mare’s neck as she could. She looked at Carter with such happiness at having found a horse friend that he didn’t have the heart to scold her. He pulled her from the mare and set her on her feet.
“Anna, do me a favor and tell someone next time you’re going somewhere. Don’t just leave every time you get a bee in your bonnet.”
She’d grinned up at him. “I did tell someone. I told Spot.”
Carter rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean. Tell someone with only two legs and less fur.”
She giggled with delight at his words, and he couldn’t help but smile just a little.
He sure planned to give her a good scolding as soon as he got her down from the tree, and that plan was firmly in place until he climbed up high enough to see her face. It was dirty and streaked with tears. Her big green eyes held terror. She’d torn her dress and skinned her knees.
“All right, little lady. Let’s get your feet back on the ground, what do you say?” Carter lifted her in to his chest, and she wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his torso.
“That’s good,” he said. “I’ve got to use my hands for getting down out of here, not for holding you, so you hang on tight to me, you hear?”
“I will,” she said, and clung to him tighter.
“Careful! Take it slow,” Nalin called up to him.
Carter groaned. “You don’t say, Nalin? You don’t think maybe I should speed things up and jump down from here?”
“Don’t be a dunce, Carter. I’m warning you, I’m plumb out of patience.”
“All right, all right. Geez.” He moved to a lower branch. To Anna, he said, “You’d be in a peck of trouble with that sage hen if I wasn’t here. She’s not in a good mood. Lucky for you, I know how to ruffle her feathers. She’ll forget all about you and take her licks to me.”
“I’m sorry,” Anna said earnestly. “Will you be all right?”
Carter chuckled. “I’ll live.”
When they arrived on the ground, Carter set Anna on her feet. “There you go, little lady. Scoot back to the cabin and get cleaned up. And get a wiggle on.” He gave her behind a smack before she ran off.
Turning to face Nalin’s scowl, he said, “Where’s my kiss for that heroic rescue?”
Nalin huffed. “You were way too easy on that child. She could have been seriously hurt or killed, and you acted like it was a game.”
“What would you have me do? Give her a hiding?”
“No, of course not. But you could at least explain to her the danger.”
“You didn’t see her face up there. Trust me, she knew she was in danger. I think she probably likes a little danger and that’s what got her there in the first place.” Carter grabbed Nalin into his arms. “Enough of your carping, wife. Give me a kiss before I steal one from you.”
“You’re impossible,” she said, melting into his arms before she kissed him.
It was surreal to think about how fast life could change. In a flash, his wife was dead and Anna was no longer a child.
“Does your pa know you’re here asking to work?” Carter asked.
Anna nodded. “Yes, sir. He said I would be real lucky to work for you.”
After another moment of mulling, he agreed. “We can give it a try. Fifty cents a day sound fair?”
It was a generous salary. She smiled. “I’ll start today.”
“Tomorrow,” he said, suddenly weary and ready for her to leave. He didn’t want to pretend to be sociable. It drained him of his limited energy.
“I’ll be back tomorrow at dawn. Thank you, Mr. Barnes.”
“See you then,” he said, rising and walking her to the door.
“Bye-bye, Paddy.” Anna waved to the child and stepped out.