Authors: Lacey Thorn
A Total-E-Bound Publication
©Copyright Lacey Thorn 2009
Cover Art by Lyn Taylor ©Copyright March 2009
Edited by Claire Siemaszkiewicz
This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events are from the author’s imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, Total-E-Bound Publishing.
Applications should be addressed in the first instance, in writing, to Total-E-Bound Publishing. Unauthorised or restricted acts in relation to this publication may result in civil proceedings and/or criminal prosecution.
The author and illustrator have asserted their respective rights under the Copyright Designs and Patents Acts 1988 (as amended) to be identified as the author of this book and illustrator of the artwork.
Published in 2009 by Total-E-Bound Publishing 1 The Corner,
, Spridlington, Market Rasen,
This book contains sexually explicit content which is only suitable for mature readers. This story has been rated
This one goes out to all the fans of erotic romance.
May you always find just the story you want, just the escape you need…
“So what’s it gonna be, girls?”
Sarah felt the sheriff’s eyes on her and trembled where she stood over the body of her father. She glanced up and met the stares of her sisters and knew that they were out of options. She only prayed that God wouldn’t be so cruel as to deliver them from one hell into another.
Sarah took a deep breath and slowly nodded at the man who stood before them holding their lives in his hands.
“I’ll do it. You can put my name in the lottery.” Sarah’s voice faltered for the barest of moments before she straightened her shoulders and firmed her reply. “I’ll marry. How soon will it take place?” How long would she spend in the jail cell in town? How long would her sisters remain on the farm alone?
“You’ll only spend tonight in the jail, Sarah.” Sheriff Duckett looked sad when he nodded towards the waiting horse but they all knew that he would do his job. “I wish I could spare you that, but it’s lucky that I already have another woman to be lotteried off as a bride tomorrow. We’ll have you draw a name from the men who sign up for the wife lottery.”
She knew he saw the shudder that went through her but could do nothing to prevent it. She would only be granted one more night before she was once again under the thumb of a man. And this time, this man would expect an entire other set of obligations from her. Wasn’t it just her luck that the old bastard she’d called Dad would finally die and still get the best of her? Who would have guessed that he would have been so drunk that he would trip and fall impaling his chest deep onto the ax he had left in the middle of the yard? And what were the chances that the sheriff would ride up to speak with him just as she was trying to pull it out? Somewhere the old man was cackling and enjoying what was happening to her now. She could only pray that it was really hot where he was and growing hotter by the moment.
“Come along, Sarah,” Sheriff Duckett took her arm and guided her towards the horse he’d ridden in on. “We’d best get going if we’re to make it back to town before nightfall.” He glanced back to her sisters and shook his head sadly. “You girls go on in and lock yourselves up good and tight in the house. Don’t open the door to just anyone either. I’ll send word to your uncle as soon as I get to town, and I suspect he’ll send someone out right away. In the meantime, I’ll send Riley James out to keep an eye on you all. You’ll be safe with him until someone shows up, probably tomorrow at the earliest.
Riley James was some relation to the sheriff though no one knew just what. Both men were tall and rugged looking, drawing the attention of even the most matronly women in town. They were quiet spoken, slow to rile, but when pushed, they could more than hold their own in a fight. No man had ever pulled a gun on one of them and walked away unscathed. Sheriff Duckett and Deputy James might not always shoot to kill, but if the situation called for it, they had no problems.
Sarah was a little infatuated with Riley if the truth be told. He was her secret fantasy of what the perfect husband should look and act like. Tall and broad shouldered, he wore his guns well, and the way that man sat a horse should be a sin. He rode like he was a part of the big white animal he called Brutus. But what she loved the most about him was the fact that often he could be found reading.
It was uncanny that such a rugged man could seem so content to read a book. And it wasn’t those penny novels they carried at the mercantile either. He read real books, like the ones she had hidden. The ones her mother had carried all the way to the west with her and taught all of her daughters to read from. Wonderful books that contained beautiful poetry and stories of exotic places that existed far outside this small town.
Sarah was snapped from her random thoughts when she felt the sheriff’s hands at her waist as he lifted her into the saddle before climbing up in front of her.
“You girls remember what I said. Riley’ll be out shortly so don’t worry. You’ll be safe until your kinfolk get here.” With that and a tilt of his cowboy hat, he headed down the dusty trail towards town.
Sarah glanced back at her sisters and knew she was doing the only thing she could to protect them. Thank heavens it had been her that attempted to pull out the ax when the sheriff showed up. Her sisters were too young to share the fate she now had. Their uncle was a good decent man, and they would be safe with him. The youngest brother of her father, he’d always lived in fear of his older brother. He just hadn’t had the strength or courage to face her father. With a small wave and a brave smile, she turned back and looked straight ahead. That was where her future was. And God only knew what it would hold for her.
The bride lottery was very common in a west where women were far and few.
Often considered the more delicate sex, men had started objecting when women were brought to trial with the intent to serve jail time.
Why all a woman really needed was a firm hand from the man in her life.
She couldn’t be held responsible for actions that could have been prevented by the right man.
Thus the lottery was created and religiously adhered to in some small western towns.
Sarah’s being one of them.
She could only pray for the day when women were more than possessions to be passed from father to husband, and if her spouse died before she did, then to a son or son-in-law unless she was young enough to marry again.
She wanted more than that.
But for now there was nothing she could do except wait for the lottery to begin.
Sarah paced the inside of the cell scared out of her mind as she viewed the constant parade of men who kept coming in with hopes of persuading the sheriff to add their name to the lottery drawing. Some of them looked downright scary and mean like her daddy. Some of them looked like they had no idea what it meant to be clean or even attempt such a feat. And some of them looked to be around the age her grandfather would have been. At least she knew that her sisters were okay. Deputy James had come in earlier with the news that their uncle was there and taking care of the girls. Riley had been talking to the sheriff, but she’d listened in as she was sure they both expected her to. Deputy James casually said that her uncle would be heading into town to see Sarah as soon as possible, and she wondered if anyone had informed him about the lottery.
Just the thought of what would take place in the next few hours had her stomach in knots again. Soon she would be walking out of here with one of the men whose names were written on the folded papers on the desk. And tonight, God help her, she would be expected to play the part of wife.
She shuddered as she watched another man come in and talk to the sheriff, sending casual glances towards the cell where she and the other woman were. The rank smell of horses and sweat that he carried with him was already stinging her nostrils, and she prayed that fate wouldn’t deliver her to him. Riley James shook his head, threw a sad look her way and walked out. If only she could walk out of here on his arm then she had no doubts that she would at least be well taken care of.
She paced the length of the cell again not wanting to sit like the other woman was doing. The sheriff had called her Daisy, and Sarah thought she looked like one with her blonde hair and brown eyes. Daisy was tall and willowy in her calico dress, and Sarah wondered for the hundredth time what the woman could have possibly done to end up here, in jail, about to be lotteried off as a bride to a stranger. But then again she’d done nothing herself and here she stood awaiting the same fate.
Sheriff Duckett rose from the desk and walked to the opened door. “The lottery will begin in five minutes.” He took his watch out and opened it to check the time before slipping it back in his pocket.
Sarah gulped as she watched him remove his hat and start placing the folded papers inside. In a few minutes she would pluck one of those papers and give it to him. He would read whatever name appeared on it and…and then she would be given to a man, married by the reverend who should arrive any moment. She’d be a wife by nightfall to a man that she wouldn’t know anything about. She dropped her head to her chest, closed her eyes and prayed to God for mercy.
Sheriff Duckett took the paper from her trembling fingers and slowly unfolded it. Sarah was so terrified that she thought she might faint before he even had the chance to read the name. There was a roaring in her ears and black spots danced around her eyes. This was it. This was the beginning of the rest of her life. She blinked rapidly to ward off the tears she could feel stinging. She refused to cry in front of a roomful of strangers. Especially when one of them would be her husband in just a few minutes. Finally, she just squeezed her eyes tight and took a deep breath. Good or bad this was the hand fate had dealt her.
Sheriff Duckett read the name and she froze. She blinked once, twice then opened her eyes wide with disbelief. The sheriff smiled down at her, and she shook her head back and forth in confusion. She hadn’t seen him put his name on one of the papers as the others had. But then he entered the room and came towards her. The sheriff asked him something and he agreed. They stepped over before the reverend and, in a blur, she was married.
Her husband took her elbow and led her from the jailhouse. She glanced up still not sure of how this had happened. Her husband was tall, at least a foot taller than her, with wavy black hair and piercing blue eyes. He was clean shaven and always smelled clean, so she knew he bathed.
“Where are we going?” she asked hesitantly.
He glanced down at her briefly before letting his eyes continue their constant scanning of the street around them. “Home.”
“You live in town?”
“Just past Mackenzie’s stable.” Another brief reply was all she got.
She was almost running to keep up with him but he didn’t seem to notice. He seemed in a hurry to get them home. She wondered if he was dropping her off before he headed back to work. She had no idea what hours he kept or even what duties his job entailed. Sarah was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn’t realise they were there until she was pulled to a stop in front of the house she figured would be her new home.
He scooped her up in his arms, making her gasp, before he headed up the steps to the front door.
“Welcome home, Mrs. James,” he said as he set her on her feet just inside the door then reached back, closing it behind them.
“Are you going back to work?” It was the only thing Sarah could think to ask as she watched Riley remove his hat and hang it on the peg beside the door.
“No,” he said as he took her hand and led her across the open space to the only closed door. She knew it was the bedroom even before he opened it, had no doubt exactly where he was taking her. Still, it took her breath away when he sat on the bedside and leaned down to remove his boots.
He stood in his stocking feet and began to unbutton his shirt before pulling it free of the pants he wore leaving it opened down his chest.
“What are you doing?” she whispered as he reached down to carefully remove his gun belt from his waist then casually placed it on the table beside the bed within easy reach. His chest was covered with a smattering of black hair that trailed in a thick line down to disappear under the waistband of his pants. His shoulders were broad and strong. Her eyes followed the line of his arms down to his hands where they were reaching to undo his pants. There was a bulge there that seemed to be growing even as she watched.
“I’m going to bed my wife,” he stated and her eyes flew to his.
There would be no easing into being his wife, no day to get adjusted to the idea. Tonight, he would claim her as a man claimed his wife. Tonight, she would truly become his. Mrs. Riley James.
“Take your clothes off, Sarah.”
She knew it wasn’t a suggestion. He stood there in front of her, the bed looming large behind her. She took a deep breath and slowly released it. She was his now, legally, and there wasn’t a thing she could do but comply.