“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 brute was spanking her!