The Ladies Aid Society is determined to find brides for the bachelors who have moved to their town in the last two or three years. Their first attempt is for Angus Kelly, a red-haired giant of an Irishman. The society members have written to all their old friends across the country, and one willing respondent seems to be perfect for Angus: Nessa O’Shea.

At the same time, Detectives Deacon Snow and his brother have been hired by a bank in Rawlins to search for the criminals who stole a shipment of newly minted gold coins intended for three different banks. On the way to the San Francisco mint, with help from Deacon’s sister-in-law Lilac Indigo, they befriend a young woman named Tillie Youngblood. Tillie is headed for San Francisco, too. No one could have foretold the unexpected connection or seen the effect Tillie would have on all of them in such a short time.

Publisher’s Note: The first book in a new series, this can also be read as a standalone.

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“I don’t think so, darlin’. Try that again, and try the truth this time. Or you won’t like what happens next.”

“It’s the truth.”

He grabbed her left arm and pulled her toward the bed, where he sat down and pulled her over his lap in one motion. He angled her so most of her upper body was on the bed.

“You can’t do this!” Tillie practically screamed in a panic.

“Well, I’m going to anyway,” he said as he pulled up her skirts and let them rest on her back.

“Stop that! It’s not right!”

“It’s right as rain, darlin’, and I should have done it a lot sooner.”

Only her bloomers separated his hand from her skin, and he knew he was in dangerous territory. He hadn’t been with a woman in a long time, and he’d been attracted to this one since he’d first met her. He’d developed a fondness for her, despite his skepticism about the story she told of why she was in San Francisco.

Deacon had to know the truth, and he knew of only one way to get it.

His hand came down sharply on her right cheek, and before she had a chance to yelp, it came down again on her left. He wasn’t giving her full force swats; he planned to build the heat, to give her a chance to come clean before it got truly painful. He slowly rained down swats randomly across her bottom and upper thighs.

She responded with grunts and loud cries of “stop this instant,” but her pleas fell on deaf ears.

“I’ll stop when you tell me what’s going on.”

That brought a cry from her but no explanations.

He increased his onslaught, both in frequency and force. Tillie reached back with her right hand to protect her bottom, but Deacon grabbed it and held it in the hand that was firmly anchored around her waist.

“Please stop! I’m sorry,” she hollered.

He paused. “Then tell me what’s going on.”

Silence.

Deacon shook his hand then peppered her bottom fast and hard, in no particular pattern. Tillie shrieked and begged for him to stop.

He paused. “I’m not stopping until you tell me what I want to know. It’s only going to get harder. Your call. I’m sure all the hotel guests near this room have stopped what they were doing to listen.”

That brought a new anguished cry from Tillie. “Please, Deacon, I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

“I just can’t,” she said feebly. “Whip me if you have to, but I can’t tell you.”

He couldn’t imagine what made her think she couldn’t tell him something. Was she afraid he wouldn’t approve? Was she in danger? Was someone else in danger?

“I think you should reconsider that choice. I’ll give you a day to think about it. You might want to think about this: if you haven’t told me by tomorrow night, the pretty bloomers are coming off for the next go-round. That’s how a good whoopin’s supposed to be, you know. Bare skin.”

“Deacon, no! Please don’t! It’s bad enough that you saw my bloomers at all! You can’t see my bare bottom!”

“Darlin’, your bloomers are pretty, all this pink lace and ribbons where they tie. But I can see pretty bloomers on every clothesline across this countryside. It’s no big deal. I can’t see your backside. At least not tonight. Think about that if you’re considering not telling me tomorrow.”

Her tears still flowed, and Deacon pulled her up to sit on his lap, careful not to place her bottom on his legs. He pulled her into his embrace, her head on his chest.

“I thought you and I were becoming closer. I feel an affection for you, Tillie, a strong one; I have for a while now. I just wish you could trust me enough to let me in. Let me help you. Whatever it is, we can deal with it.”

She didn’t answer with words, but she put her arms around his neck and held him.