Stand-alone Western short story
When Rancher Irving tries to attract a suitable husband for his gun-shy daughter Ellen by offering a large amount of money, she takes things into her own hands and plans to run away. But a cowboy thwarts her plan and kidnaps her instead.
James isn’t a cowboy, he’s a rancher in need of a wife. And when he rescues Ellen from her own ill-conceived plan to escape, he takes her on a passionate and erotic journey trying to teach her that a husband does have his uses.
Ellen Irving gave the ruggedly handsome cowboy another once over. He appeared somewhat uncomfortable in her elegant parlor, but she wasn’t going to make him feel any more at ease. His proposal was the third she’d received in as many days. Yet this one was entirely different. The cowboy standing in front of her, shifting from one foot to the other, wasn’t the one making the offer. He was merely the messenger, who had brought an offer of marriage from his employer.
Maybe she would even have considered the offer, had it actually come from the cowboy, not the man he was working for. He was tall and extremely well-built, not like the dandies she was used to from her time in the East, where her father had sent her to school.
This rather potent male specimen was what women dreamed of: a man who could sweep her into his arms with one swift move and not break into a sweat. One whose swagger would draw every woman’s gaze to admire his tight butt. And were he to take off his shirt, no doubt his chest would be toned, his muscles ready to be explored by her hands.
For a moment, Ellen let herself drift into the fantasy she’d created around the stranger. A brief moment only. Reality was cruel—this stud wasn’t here to offer for her.
She didn’t know why all eligible bachelors within a hundred mile radius had suddenly started lining up at her doorstep. But she was determined to get to the bottom of this, one way or another.
But first things first. The cowboy had to be dismissed, no matter how much she enjoyed feasting her eyes on him. Maybe she could think about him tonight in the privacy of her bedchamber.
“Tell Mr. Riley that I’m not interested in his offer. If he doesn’t even have the guts to address me personally, he’s obviously not the right man. Good day, sir!”
Ellen threw her head back and pivoted. Her skirts rustling, she stomped out of the room, leaving the cowboy to find his own way out.
~ ~ ~
James listened to the sound of Ellen sprinting up the stairs and deliberately slamming a door shut seconds later. It made him smile. He’d only seen Ellen Irving once before at a dance, but what he’d seen of her had lit a fire in him, one only she could extinguish. One of the men she’d danced with had let his hand slip too low on her back, and she’d promptly put him in his place. He couldn’t help but admire a woman like her.
The petite curvy woman was as fiery and as wild as a mustang, her hair just as black, and James knew exactly what to do with wild horses: tame them.
Moments after Ellen’s departure, her father, Frank Irving, entered the parlor, perspiration covering his face and neck. He dabbed at it with a handkerchief.
“I take it my daughter did not look upon your employer’s offer with … how shall I say, benevolence?” He grimaced.
“Mr. Irving, would you grant me a few minutes of your time?” James pointed to the sofa and accepted Irving’s nod as a sign to sit.
Irving took the chair opposite. “Time I have plenty. Nerves? Not so much.”
James leaned forward. “May I be frank with you?”
“I’m insisting on it. Please do tell me more about your Mr. Riley,” Irving demanded.
“Sir, I am James Riley,” James confessed and paused to let the news sink in.
“But, didn’t you say you came to bring an offer from Mr. Riley, your employer? Your brother maybe or your father then?”
James shook his head. “No. The offer of marriage is from myself. Let me explain, if I may?”
Ellen’s father nodded in agreement, curiosity painted on his face.
“Your daughter has quite a reputation—”
“You don’t say,” Irving interrupted dryly.
“Which is something that matters little to me. But she is known to reject any offer outright. Did you think she would react differently if you threw more suitors at her?”
“Mr. Riley, that’s hardly your concern.”
“I think it is. Have you considered at all what kind of men you will attract following the invitation you extended? Don’t you think that by offering a thousand dollars to any man who marries your daughter you’re asking for the wrong kind of attention? I’m curious, is your daughter quite aware of the monetary enticement?”
Frank tossed a haunted look to the door. “Please, I beg you for discretion. My daughter is entirely oblivious to this, and believe me, I intend it to remain this way. I have barely a prayer that she’ll accept anyone, let alone if she knew I was meddling.”
James raised an eyebrow. “Why meddle then, as you call it?”
His host leaned forward and lowered his voice. “I’m planning to marry, and the woman I plan to take as my wife … well, let’s just say she and my daughter don’t see eye to eye.”
James chuckled. “Does anybody see eye to eye with your daughter?” He enjoyed the way the conversation was going. He was insinuating himself into Irving’s confidence. It would help him execute his plan.
“Well, not exactly, but you see, you can only please one woman at a time, if you get my meaning.”
“I hope you do understand that your offer has attracted some of the less honorable individuals in these parts. Are you prepared to risk any of them gaining your daughter’s trust?”
Irving gave him a surprised look as if he hadn’t thought of this possibility before. “What kind of less honorable individuals are you referring to?”
“Gamblers, gun slingers, bounty hunters, outlaws. In short, anybody who’ll gladly take the thousand dollars and rid himself of your daughter first chance he gets.”
It was a real possibility, one her father had clearly not considered. Had Irving’s wife-to-be come up with this ludicrous scheme?
“I’ve thought of this, of course,” Irving rebuked him. “And before he gets the money, there’ll be a wedding. Believe me, I’m not as naïve as you make me out to be.”
He had no intention of upsetting Ellen’s father, but the man still hadn’t seen the light.
“And what’ll stop a less honorable man from deserting her after the wedding?”
James’s question hung in the room. Uncomfortable and unanswered. James got to his feet. He’d done as much as he wanted to get done for the day.
“I shall remain in town for two nights. I have taken a room at the Painted Veil Saloon if you’d like to continue our conversation at a later time. Good day, sir.”
James made his exit and let his host stew over what he’d said. He’d put the machinery in motion. Now he needed to be patient.
~ ~ ~
Ellen stalked into the kitchen where Maggie, the housekeeper, was at work preparing dinner. She snatched a warm biscuit off the baking tray and bit into it, earning a disapproving look from Maggie.
“You’ll spoil your appetite for supper.”
“What does it matter? My life is over anyway,” she said with a sigh. “I can’t believe my father is letting all these half-wits come to our house to insult me with offers of marriage.”
“An offer of marriage is hardly an insult, my dear.”
“It is to me! None of these men know me. They have no idea what I want, what I like, what makes me laugh, or what makes me cry. Brutes, all of them! Do you want to know what really has me outraged?” She gave Maggie a provocative look.
Maggie took the bait. “Go on then.”
“One of those uneducated, back-water idiots sent one of his cowboys to make an offer on his behalf. One of his employees! The gall! He couldn’t even be bothered to come himself! That’s how much I’m worth to these men!”
“Miss Ellen, I’m sure they’re not all uneducated. Now I know that your life in the East has influenced you in some highfalutin ways, but that doesn’t mean everybody else is a half-wit. Men are different out here. Life is rough for them.”
Ellen made a dismissive hand movement. “I know that life is different out here, but that doesn’t mean a man can’t show some refinement. I’d rather remain a spinster than marry an unsophisticated man, who thinks he can chain me to his bed and stove and have me produce a child for him every year.”
Maggie shook her head. “If you’re looking for romance, I’m not sure you’re in the right place. Men don’t have time for frilly things like love out here.”
“Well, if they won’t have time for romance, then I won’t have time for marriage!” Ellen huffed and stormed out of the kitchen. Everybody was against her. Even Maggie. At first, when she’d come back to the ranch after her school years in the East, Maggie had been somewhat of an ally. She had been the only one Ellen could talk to when she felt lonely, but now Maggie increasingly seemed to take her father’s side. Ellen felt deserted, just the way she’d felt when her father had sent her away after her mother’s death.
She’d felt as if nobody wanted her, nobody cared what happened to her. Nothing had changed after her return. Her father had made sure she attended every dance and every gathering so she could meet eligible men, as if he couldn’t wait for her to leave again. Why had he called her back home at all if he didn’t want her here?
Ellen found it strange that suddenly a man who’d never even met her had asked for her hand. Who was this Mr. Riley anyway? No man offered for a woman if he didn’t even know what she looked like, not even in these parts. Something was up. If her father was scheming, she’d find out. He wasn’t as smart as he thought he was, and there was no way he’d pull wool over her eyes.
“I’m riding into town, Maggie. I’ll be back for supper,” Ellen called out toward the kitchen.
“But your father said—” Maggie came running into the foyer.
“I don’t care what my father said.”
She slammed the door shut behind her and crossed the yard toward the barn. A few minutes later, her horse was saddled, and she was on her way. She knew exactly where to go. If anybody knew whether something odd was going on, it was Mrs. Albright, who ran the General Store with her husband. Anything worth knowing was being gossiped about in the store. And Ellen was sure that the sudden increase in offers of marriage received in the Irving household was of great interest to the town’s people, and speculations about their origin would be rife.