SADIE AND HER COWBOY
Jake was at the bar when Sadie walked in, a drink in his hand and a heavily made-up saloon girl on either side of him. The man was so interested in whatever the more buxom of the two women was whispering in his ear he didn’t notice Sadie march across the room to stand in front of him. She wrinkled her nose. Good gracious, he reeked of whiskey even from this distance.
The chatter in the saloon all but ceased. Even the piano player had stopped tinkling the keys.
The saloon girl who wasn’t attached to his ear gave her a haughty look. She had curly, dark hair and a beauty mark painted on her cheek. “Can we help you?”
Sadie folded her arms and returned the woman’s superior gaze with one of her own. “As a matter of fact, yes. You can start by taking your hands off him.”
She was surprised Jake heard her over the sweet nothings the big-breasted strumpet was cooing in his ear, but he jerked his head up at the sound of her voice.
The dark-haired saloon girl lifted a brow. “And who are you to tell us what to do? His wife?”
Sadie wanted to laugh. She’d rather end up a spinster than marry a no-good, drunken lout like Jake Wagner. “I’m his employer.”
Both women looked confused at that. Which was rather surprising. Sadie thought for sure everyone in town would know she’d hired a new foreman. If they hadn’t before, they would after this.
She glared at Jake. “I didn’t pay you all that money in advance so you could come to the saloon and drink it all, you know.”
The good-for-nothing man had the nerve to flash her a grin that was both infuriating and heart-stopping at the same time. “Now, don’t go getting your pantaloons in a bunch, Miss Sadie. I didn’t spend all the money on whiskey.”
His words were only slightly slurred, which was rather amazing considering how much he’d probably drunk. She clenched her jaw. “I didn’t pay you all that money so you could some here and spend it on saloon girls, either. I expect more from my foreman.”
Jake regarded her lazily. “Why don’t you get along back to that ranch of yours and do what you do best, and I’ll stay here and do what I do best?”
She clenched her hands into fists to keep from slapping that smug face of his. “And what exactly do you do best, Mr. Wagner? Get drunk?”
The saloon erupted into laugher around them. Sadie was glad someone was amused.
“I’m not drunk,” he said.
She let out a snort. “Oh, please! You’re as drunk as a fiddler’s clerk.”
That earned her more laughs from the saloon’s patrons.
Jake pushed himself away from the bar. Sadie hadn’t realized how tall he was when he’d been sprawled out in the chair in front of her desk, but he positively towered over her. It was all she could do not to take a step back when he bent his head and put his mouth to her ear.
“Stop this right now and go back to the ranch like I told you.”
If Sadie had been paying attention, she would have realized his words weren’t slurred like before, but his nearness—combined with the feel of his warm breath on cheek—made it difficult to concentrate. Annoyed with herself for being so weak, she stepped back to give him a fierce look.
“I don’t take orders from you, Mr. Wagner. You take them from me,” she told him coldly. “Is that clear?”
Jake regarded her, his eyes locked with hers in a battle of wills, but Sadie wasn’t about to waiver.
“Looks like the little lady put you in yer place, but good,” a man laughed from the other side of the room.
The rest of the saloon must have thought it was just as funny. There were chortles and guffaws all around. Jake didn’t appear to think it was amusing at all, and if Sadie was smart, she would have stopped there. But pride and anger wouldn’t let her.
“Pay your bar tab if you have one, Mr. Wagner, because we’re leaving. You’re coming back to the ranch with me.”
Sadie didn’t wait to see if her new foreman followed, but turned and started for the door. She barely made it two steps before a strong hand caught her arm. She whirled around to see Jake glowering down at her.
“I’ll go with you, but when we get back to the ranch, you and I are going to have a talk,” he growled.
Sadie jerked her arm free of his grasp. Which was probably something she couldn’t have done if he hadn’t let her. She spun on her heel and headed for the door again. Jake stumbled after her. How could he seem stone-cold sober one minute, and drunk as a skunk the next?
“I don’t know why I let Ned talk me into hiring you,” she muttered as she led the way to the stable where she’d left the wagon. The sun was low in the sky now, bathing the street in shadows. “Who ever heard of a gunslinger managing a ranch anyway? You’re nothing but an outlaw who will work for anyone who pays your outrageous fee.”
She was in the stable before she realized Jake hadn’t made a single comment during her entire rant. The drunken lout had probably passed out in the street. Mouth tight, she spun around, prepared to drag him the rest of the way, only to stop short when she saw him standing behind her, arms folded across his broad chest, a scowl on his handsome face.
“Are you finished?” he asked.
Her brow furrowed. “How do you do that? Sound drunk one minute, and sober as I am the next?”
“I told you before. I’m not drunk.”
“Really? Then why do you smell like you just took a bath in a tub of whiskey?”
“Because I doused myself in the stuff before I went into the saloon.”
She frowned again. “Why would you do that?”
“So I could get the townsfolk to talk to me.” He shrugged his broad shoulders. “They won’t talk to a stranger, but they’ll sure as hell talk to a drunk.”
Sadie considered the logic of that. She supposed what he said made sense. That didn’t mean she wasn’t still upset with him. “Well, you could have told me, you know.”
“I did. I told you to go back to the ranch.”
“I meant before I went in there and made a fool of myself.”
Jake snorted. “I didn’t know you were going to follow me. I expected you to be at the ranch doing woman’s work.”
Sadie’s eyes narrowed. “Woman’s work? You mean like sewing quilts and washing clothes?”
Chauvinist pig. “Because those are the only things a woman can do, right?” She tried to rein in her temper, but it was quickly nearing its boiling point again. “I’ll have you know I’ve been doing a lot more than sewing quilts and washing clothes out at the ranch since my father died, Mr. Wagner.”
“Maybe that’s why you’re in the predicament you’re in.”
The words cut Sadie more deeply than she wanted to admit, maybe because she’d often wondered if she was partly to blame for making the ranch such an easy target. But she’d be damned if she was going to let a gunslinger like Jake Wagner take her to task for it. Before she even realized what she was doing, she lifted her hand and slapped him hard across the face.
The sound of it echoed in the stable, but Sadie barely heard it. Instead, she stood there, shocked by what she’d just done. She’d never hit anyone in her life.
There was no way Jake could have expected her to slap him, and yet he didn’t seem surprised by her show of violence. He did look angry, though. His jaw was clenched so tightly she thought it might crack.
She’d never been one to run from a fight, but the strange glint in his eye made her think it was time to make her escape. Mumbling something about wanting to get back to the ranch before it got dark, Sadie started to back away, but Jake caught her wrist. Without a word, he strode across the enclosure, dragging her with him. The fury she’d felt earlier gave way to fear.
“Wh-what are you doing?” she stammered.
He stopped and turned to face her. “Doing what someone should have done a long time ago.”
Sadie opened her mouth to ask him what in tarnation he was talking about, but all that came out was an “oomph,” as he sat down on a bale of hay and threw her over his knee.
“What—?” she began, but the rest of her words ended in a startled gasp as Jake’s hand came down on her upturned bottom.
The barbarian was spanking her!
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