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Elyn and Griff Harper are married and blissfully happy, aside from the occasional spanking Griff still finds necessary to keep his new bride out of trouble.
When a cult arrives in the valley led by a fanatic self-styled "Prophet," real trouble begins.
While they strive to stop the cult from polluting the ranch's creek, Elyn becomes unexpectedly pregnant, a joyous occasion threatened when the new baby is kidnapped, turning the happy couple's life into a living nightmare.
Mrs. Elyn Harper, ecstatically happy bride of five months and nineteen days, woke that Sunday morning to an overwhelming sense of joy and serenity. The feeling was so strong that she stopped in the middle of a yawn to ask herself why this morning, of all mornings. She had enjoyed less than four hours of restful sleep, preceded by several distinctly unrestful hours of being made love to by Mr. Harper, who had proven, in his few short months as a married man, that there was very little he didn’t know about how to make his new bride very, very happy. It was possible, she mused, that Griff (Mr. Harper) had outdone himself last night, bringing her at several points to peaks of pleasure that she could never have dreamed of just six months earlier, when the only way she knew how to describe making love were the two words, “marital intimacy.” She had found that stilted and unsatisfactory termin a slender volume entitled “The Modern Woman’s Complete Guide to Marital Intimacy and Etiquette,” and in Elyn’s admittedly untutored opinion, the book was nowhere close to complete, and had done a piss-poor job of explaining what needed to be explained about either making love or marital intimacy. She still hadn’t figured out what the devil marital etiquette was, unless it was saying “please” and “thank you” to your partner when it seemed called for.
If she hadn’t been so warm and comfortable where she was, and so reluctant to wake her sleeping husband, she would have climbed out of bed and rummaged around in her unmentionables drawer until she found her diary—or her journal, as she had begun calling it. If she could just find the right words, she was eager to write something (but not everything, of course,) about last night, and about how amazingly happy she’d felt when she woke up this morning.
Elyn had two problems, though, in trying to keep a journal. Even though she had been a married woman (something she loved saying) for going on six months, she was still slightly shy about certain things. Things, for instance, like making love. Not that she was embarrassed about the act of making love. In the five months and nineteen days since her wedding, (and for one or two very nice days before the wedding) she hadn’t found a single thing aboutmaking love that she didn’t like very, very much. And while she was no expert on the subject, or on what other married people did, she was fairly sure that she and Griff had done just about everything in bed that was decent—and a few things that probably weren’t. What she was shy, or maybe just annoyed about, was that she could never seem to find the correct words to describe her feelings about love, or about everything else that had happened in her life, for that matter. And for someone who had recently decided to be a writer, not knowing the right words for so many things was downright annoying.
Griff was the only person Elyn had ever met who’d actually been to a real college—for three whole years, yet! Her own education, on the other hand, had been what most people would charitably call, “hit and miss.” She had always been a quick learner, and done well in those few scattered years of formal schooling, but the gaps in her education and vocabulary still bothered her, especially since those gaps always seemed to yawn very wide at the very worst moments.
There were only two ways she knew to find the words she was looking for. She could ask Griff, or she could look up a few better descriptive words in her lovely new dictionary.
Martha, (Elyn’s beloved “adopted mother,”) had sent her the diary/journal for her last birthday, and Griff had given her the enormous leather-bound dictionary shortly after they were married— possibly because he’d gotten tired of acting as a sort of “walking dictionary,” himself. Not that he’d ever complained about being a dictionary—and a tall, handsome one, at that. He had always seemed willing, even pleased, to answer her endless questions about the meaning of an unfamiliar word, or how to spell it. Be that as it may, the dictionary had appeared on her bedside table one morning with an inscription in Griff’s handwriting that said, simply, “They can conquer who believe they can.”—Virgil (who apparently didn’t have a last name.)
Elyn had always been quick at taking a hint, and decided not to take offense at being given a dictionary of her own, since she assumed that the phrase by Mr. Virgil meant pretty much the same as “Heaven helps those who help themselves,” which, though not actually in the Bible, had always seemed to her like good advice. When she asked Griff who the mysterious Mr. Virgil was, he had just winked and told her that “Virgil” was someone he’d met in college, before the war. So, with Mr. Virgil’s message in mind and her brand new dictionary and journal in hand, she had set about adding at least ten new words each week to her vocabulary, beginning, naturally enough, with those elusive words about which she was the most curious—having to do with “marital intimacy.”
After two hours of searching, though, the only word she could find that came close to what she wanted was “erotic.” And, according to the dictionary, if you just put an “a” at the end of the word erotic, the damned thing could also be a noun, which gave her another word to look up, and added another layer of confusion and consternationto a project that was already beginning to bore her.
Now that she was a respectable married woman, of course, what she needed most were the sort of words that she could use without seeing that look on Griff’s face—the look that always seemed to say, “Not here, for God’s sake!” since she had started talking when she was barely a year old, and her Pa had always said that she hadn’t stopped talking since, Elyn calculated that she had already known thousands and thousands of words before she even met Griff, and before she discovered that a lot of her favorite words were what people called “socially unacceptable,” or “unladylike.” Elyn had never particularly wanted to be a “lady,” and she’d done just about everything she could think of to avoid it. It had taken her a while to learn that not behaving at least halfway like one of the simpering little fools she detested could bring on a real barnburner of a spanking from Griff, and a sore backside that made trying to sit down right away a really bad idea.
Luckily, she only saw this particular side of him when she was pigheaded enough to ignore the first couple of warnings and do something really dumb, dangerous, or just plain rude. Griff wasn’t the kind to get mad easily, but when he did get mad…
The first time Griff got mad enough to spank her had been a surprise to both of them, though probably more to him than to her. After that first time, less than twenty-four hours after they first met, he had even apologized, explaining that United States Cavalry officers (or “gentlemen by act of Congress,” as Griff often joked) simply didn’t do that sort of thing. Striking a woman for any reason was considered conduct unbecoming an officer. Of course, both the explanation and the apology came too late to save her behind from the fiery aftereffects of that lapse in military etiquette. It had also hurt like blazes, and left itchy red stripes on the part of her that was going to be bouncing up and down on the rear end of a horse for the next few days.
Anyway, there were a lot of other sides to her husband that Elyn loved, admired, and deeply appreciated —even though she was usually too stubborn to tell him so. She appreciated his tough-minded, hard-working side, which had made the ranch and their comfortable life together possible. She admired the steadfastly honest and decent side of him that had always made her proud to be his wife. And then, of course, there was the thoughtful and tenderly romantic side of him that made her thank God every day for bringing them together. And last, but obviously not least, she loved his passionate, erotic side, that had given her more pleasure, gratification, and simple happiness than she ever thought possible.
So, while being hauled bare-assed across Griff’s knee and walloped until she howled was never a lot of fun, Elyn had decided early on that all those other sides of the man she loved more than made up for an occasionally well-spanked behind. This was especially true since, by Elyn’s own admission, her absolutely worst lickings had usually been overdue, well deserved, and fairly, though by no means gently, administered.
* * *
While last night’s hours of marital intimacy had been wonderfully romantic and intensely erotic, she still wasn’t convinced that by itself could fully explain the joyous feeling that had swept over her when she first opened her eyes. The best way she could describe the feeling was that it was like a giant wave of bliss, and a deep sense of peace and wellbeing—a nice way to wake up, but a bit puzzling, as well. Why should she feel so suddenly, overwhelmingly and inexplicably (two more new vocabulary words) joyful and contented on this particular morning, when she was still recovering from a bad cold and sick to death of sniffling and sneezing, and when her nose was red and itchy and driving her crazy?
She snuggled back under the covers, listening to Griff’s soft breathing and trying to remember something that Martha had once told her about such random feelings of seemingly perfect happiness.
“Those unexpected moments of great joy are small gifts from God,” Martha had told her, “to remind us that the life He has given us is beautiful, even when terrible things happen.”
Martha had meant well, and it was a comforting idea— that there was a beneficent (yes, another new word) God who watched over people—a God who was occasionally kind enough to add a few moments of pure joy to make life feel good when it really wasn’t. Even when it was just plain awful, and getting worse by the minute.
Elyn’s bleak years in an orphanage had left her cynical, though, and a bit cautious about anything that seemed at first glance to be “good luck.” In her experience, sudden moments of unexplained happiness were most often followed by some sort of calamity. In that sense, at least, Martha’s words had probably been true. Maybe fleeting moments of joy were put there to make the catastrophe that was about to happen feel less like a catastrophe.
Which could make a cynical person like herself wonder exactly how longit would take for the scheduled catastrophe to arrive.
* * *
Cynicism aside, Elyn had always envied Martha two things, in particular— the older woman’s inexhaustible kindness, and that enduring and unwavering trust in a loving God that had allowed her to live through the many “terrible things” in her own life without becoming bitter. While Elyn had never been able to accept many of those deeply held beliefs for herself, she knew without question that it was Martha’s simple, abiding Quaker faith that had sustained her, and allowed her to overcome the terrifying early years of her childhood.
More than thirty years before Elyn and Martha Goodspeed met, when Martha was six years old, she had been the lone survivor of an army attack on her Arapaho village that had orphaned her, and left the rest of her family dead. Martha Walks in Tall Grass, as she was called then, had wandered alone for weeks, badly injured and subsisting on wild berries and roots, until an elderly farmer found her. He discovered her in his barren cornfield, close to death, and gnawing on a moldy ear of corn from last year’s crop.
Too frail to care for a sick child, the old man had put Martha in the back of a wagon and taken to the only place he could think of—a nearby community of Quakers. The small group had come west with the specific purpose of providing shelter to as many homeless Indian children as they could find— children who had been orphaned or displaced by the string of massacres the government in Washington was calling “the Indian Wars.” There, in an atmosphere of peace and gentleness, Martha grew to adulthood, and learned the language of the “White Eyes” she had once hated and feared. When she was fifteen, she found a husband, as well—a good-natured sheep farmer by the name of Abner Goodspeed.
By the time Elyn showed up at their door, Martha and Abner had been married for close to twenty years. They were far from being wealthy, and though they had already been blessed with three healthy sons, their small farmhouse was usually home to two or three “foster” children, as well. Yet, they had still welcomed Elyn with open arms. For that great first kindness, and for the many other kindnesses, large and small, that followed, Elyn would love and respect them until the day she died.
She had arrived at the tidy Goodspeed farm by a circuitous route, guided there by a stroke of good luck or— as Martha had always insisted— by divine providence. A few weeks earlier, having run away from the orphanage where she’d been a virtual prisoner for half of her life, Elyn had been lucky enough, or blessed enough, to cross paths with a former Union cavalry officer by the name of Griffin Harper.
Elyn had been reading since the age of four, having been taught her letters by her deceased mother, using an old book of fairy tales. All of which may have explained why she saw Griffin Harper as half fairy-tale prince and half knight in shining armor. For a while thereafter, she would continue to think of their meeting as fate—the coming together of two star-crossed lovers. Whether by fate, heavenly intervention, or plain blind luck, Griff had found the young woman who would someday be his wife hanging upside down from a tree—in the act of stealing pockets full of wormy, withered crabapples.
Even at the tender age of sixteen, and in her weakened condition, Elyn was the kind of young woman who knew what she wanted when she saw it, which is why she fell almost instantly in love with her tall, ruggedly handsome rescuer.
In the beginning, however, her love went sadly unrequited. Thirteen years Elyn’s senior, and with problems of his own, Griff had made it quickly and abundantly clear that he wasn’t interested in getting tangled up with a tattered teenaged runaway with a fiery temper and a poetic Irish name no one could pronounce— Eileen a’Roon O’Malley.
So, Eileen a’Roon/ Elyn’s fairy tale fantasy of living happily ever after with her travel-weary Prince Charming would take several years to come true. Unwilling to accept responsibility for a high-spirited, foul-mouthed waif with a talent for getting into trouble, Griff had put her behind his saddle and taken her to the home of his best friends, the Goodspeeds, in the hope that she could finally make a decent life for herself.
It took a few months, but Griff’s hopes were eventually realized, and today, aside from Griff, of course, Martha and Abner were the people in Elyn’s life that she most loved and trusted. They had taken her into their home when they couldn’t afford to, raised her as their own, and loved her as they did their own children. She had stayed with them for four years, basking in the affection of a real family, acquiring the rudiments of an education, and relearning—slowly, at first— to trust.
And in her spare moments, she began plotting how to snare a certain attractive cavalry officer and knight in shining armor— before some other conniving hussy could beat her to it.