Warning: This chapter contains disciplinary spanking. If you are offended by this, please hit the back button now.
Previously: Nancy looked over at her friend and nodded in response. When Sammy saw the tears standing in Nancy's, she scooted closer and draped an arm around her shoulder. She was curious as to why Nancy had taken off the way she had, and she figured her friend would tell her when she was ready. In the meantime, she'd give her a shoulder to lean on.
It was close to noon when the three riders approached the junction where the road leading to Nettie's and other outlying farms and ranches joined the road to Ridge City. They had lingered at their camp that morning to give credence to the story that they'd gone out to Nettie's and it was now almost noon.
Sammy had been glad when they had finally ridden out. The tension between Vin and Nancy had been so thick she could have cut it with a knife, especially after Nancy had announced her intentions to continue on to Ridge City rather than return to Four Corners. For a moment, she had thought Vin would make good on his threat to hog-tie Nancy and toss her over his saddle for the ride back to town. Apparently, Nancy had thought he'd do it, too, as she had finally agreed to return on her own.
As they neared the junction, Vin was riding several lengths ahead of Sammy and Nancy, who were riding side by side. First the first time since they'd found Nancy, Sammy gave voice to her thoughts.
"I just gotta ask, Nancy, have you gone completely crazy?"
Nancy knew exactly what Sammy was alluding to. Sighing heavily, she turned to her friend. "Maybe I have. Certainly, I have managed to make matters worse for myself." She glanced back at Vin. From the stiffness of his back, she could tell he was still angry with her, and that didn't bode well for her when they arrived back at Four Corners. Nancy mentally cursed her damned stubborn pride.
Any further conversation between them was interrupted when J.D. emerged from a copse of trees at the juncture. "About time you all showed up," he said, as Vin pulled his horse to a stop. Sammy and Nancy quickly followed suit. "I've been out to talk to Nettie. She and Casey are gonna back our story. The three 'a you spent the night at her place and helped her with some chores this morning, and I rode out early this morning to help out." The younger man suddenly realized the tension surrounding the three other riders. "Did I miss something?"
"Nothing," Vin said, shortly. "Come on, I wanna get back to town."
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It was a silent group who rode into town a while later. As they led their horses into the livery stable, Sammy shared a look with J.D. She knew Nancy probably wanted to delay the upcoming discussion with Vin as long as possible, but she also knew from experience that was better to get that kind of talk over and done with as soon as possible.
"If you two want to go on, J.D. and I can take care of the horses." She ignored the dirty look Nancy gave her, and began unsaddling her own mount.
"Thanks," Vin said, nodding in Sammy's direction. Before Nancy could protest, he grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her behind him toward the door of the livery. He stopped just inside the door and turned Nancy to face him. "Are you gonna come to your boarding house with me willingly, or do I have to drag you?"
Nancy tried to pull her wrist out of Vin's grip, but he only tightened his hold. "You ain't gonna get outta what's comin' to you for takin' off the way you did. The only choice you have is whether you're gonna make it easier or harder on yerself." Vin paused. He stepped closer until he towered over Nancy. "You make me drag you outta here, and people are gonna wonder what happened at Nettie's or if we even went to Nettie's."
Nancy glanced back at JD and Sammy, who were attempting, unsuccessfully, to pretend that they weren't listening to everything that was going on between them. Turning back to Vin, she studied his face and saw that he was as serious as he could be. "Let go of my wrist. I'll go with you, but this isn't over." She knew exactly what Vin had in mind for her as soon as they reached her room, and she wasn't going to make it easy for him.
"You're darn right it ain't over," Vin said as he let go of her wrist and stepped back. His temper had cooled somewhat, but he was still on edge. "Let's go."
They made their way to the boarding house where Nancy had her room. To anyone watching, it looked like Vin was simply walking Nancy back to her room after returning from their trip out to Nettie's. Only someone who knew Vin very well would have noticed the strain in his features.
When they reached the boarding house, Vin placed his hand at the small of Nancy's back and directed her up the stairs. Unbeknownst to them, Minerva Fitzhugh, the proprietress of the boarding house, stepped out of the parlor and watched Vin and Nancy ascending the stairs. Nervie, as she was known to her friends, started to protest the very idea of Vin being in Nancy's room, but his body language convinced her to hold her tongue. It didn't, however, stop her from following to listen at the door.
Nancy didn't know why she was surprised when Vin pushed the door to her room open. She knew when she left that Vin would talk Ms. Fitzhugh into opening her door for him, that was why she had left his letter there. Once they were in the room, she watched as Vin closed the door and briefly hesitated before turning back to her.
"You wanna explain to me again why you thought it'd be a good idea to cut and run?" he asked, coming right to the point. He wasn't in the mood for small talk.
Nancy moved to the room's single window. She parted the curtain and stared out at the street below, unable to face the pain and uncertainty she saw in Vin's eyes. "I know I hurt you, Vin, and I'm sorrier than you'll ever know for that." Turning back to Vin, she continued, "I couldn't stand being used against you, so I decided my best option was to remove myself from the situation. And, Mary's in trouble with Chris because of me."
Vin pulled his battered hat from his head and tossed it onto the desk. His gun belt quickly followed. "First of all, Mary made her own choices, and Chris handled it the way he saw fit. Personally, I don't care a continental about Arthur Butterfield and his blather." He moved to stand in front of Nancy. Sighing heavily, he cradled her face in his hands and turned it up so he look down into her eyes. "Most people in town know he's just talkin' bosh. And you actin' all addle-headed don't help matters none."
Nancy leaned her face into Vin's hand for a moment before reaching up to place her hands over his. She pulled his hands down and stepped back out of his reach. "I don't think I acted empty-headed at all. I did what I thought was best for you and for me."
"Yeah, I get that." Vin said as he crossed his arms over his chest in an effort to keep from reaching for Nancy again. "But the fact 'a the matter is, you took off on yer own. You were lucky it were me an' Sammy who found you, and you know it."
Nancy had to admit to herself that Vin did have a valid point, but she wasn't going to tell him that. Vin reached for her and once again gripped her by the upper arm. "You remember what I told you I'd do if'n you ever rode out on yer own agin?" he asked. His voice had a deadly serious edge to it, one that Nancy had never before heard.
She nodded, unsure whether she could trust her voice.
"You think of any reason why I shouldn't tan yer hide?" When Nancy didn't respond to his question, Vin sighed. "That's what I thought." He turned and led her to the bed.
Once there, Vin hesitated in indecision for a moment before reaching for the buckle of his belt. The soft rasping noise made by the leather strap being pulled through heavy cotton belt loops seemed to fill the room. His heart was breaking at the thought of what he had to do.
Vin sat on the side of the bed and pulled Nancy face down over his lap. He doubled the leather strap twice so that it formed more of a paddle than a strap. "This is the second time we've had this discussion about you ridin' out by yourself. Apparently the tannin' I gave you the last time didn't leave much of an impression, or you wouldn't 'a gone such a dang fool thing." Taking a deep breath to steel himself for what he was about to do, he brought the belt down hard on her backside.
The heavy material of her riding skirt offered some protection against Vin's belt, but Nancy still yelped at the stripe of burning pain it left behind. She barely had time to register the thought that this was going to be much worse than the last spanking Vin had given her before the belt landed again, directly below the previous swat. She couldn't help herself and reached a hand back in attempt to protect her backside. She also began kicking her legs in an attempt to dislodge herself from Vin's lap.
Vin easily captured her hand and, lacing his fingers through hers, held it firmly at the small of her back. "You keep fightin' me, and you'll only make harder on yerself," he said as he brought the belt down on her vulnerable sit spot.
Nancy was starting to think the spanking would never end when Vin finally stopped applying the belt to her now burning backside. She was sobbing openly and tears were streaming down her checks to soak the quilt under her face.
"Like I said earlier, I don't care about that argument you had with Butterfield. That's water under th' bridge." Vin tossed the belt on the bed, deciding he wouldn't need it to finish making his point perfectly clear. "You don't go ridin' out alone." He brought his hand down hard twice on Nancy's already sore sit spot. "You don't put yerself in danger in any way." Again his hand descended. "Do you understand me?" he asked.
"Yes," Nancy barely managed to say through the sobs wracking her body. She didn't know how she would ever sit again. The tears streaming down her cheeks weren't only from the pain of the spanking, more than a few of them were from the relief she felt from the guilt she felt over having hurt Vin so badly. She instinctively knew that Vin hadn't intended any of the punishment he had just administered to be for that, but it still assuaged her guilt.
Vin released Nancy's hand and began rubbing comforting circles on her back. Pulling her up to a sitting position, he cradled her in his arms. They sat that way for several moments before Vin spoke softly into her hair. "Please don't make me have to do that again."
When Nancy finally stopped crying, Vin urged her to stand. He followed her and stood, facing her with his hands on her shoulders. "If you still want to leave Four Corners, I'll take you to Ridge City tomorrow." He held his breath, afraid of what her answer might be.
Nancy quickly shook her head and wiped at the tears that had resumed spilling down her cheeks. "No, Vin, I don't want to leave."
"I was hopin' you'd say that." Vin was so relieved that he pulled Nancy closer. His eyes met hers for a brief second before he dropped his lips to hers and kissed her passionately. Nancy was surprised, but quickly began returning the kiss. When they finally broke apart, Vin rested his forehead against hers. "Good, 'cause I love you too much to lose you."
"Oh, Vin, I love you, too."
They stood that way, wrapped in each other's embrace, for several moments until a horrifying thought suddenly entered Nancy's mind. "Oh, no!"
"What? What's wrong?" Vin demanded, taking a step back.
"I left a resignation letter on my desk at the school. What if someone found it?"
Vin laughed, causing Nancy to slap his shoulder in exasperation. "Don't worry. I found yer letter and gave it ta Chris. He and I are the only ones thet know you did such a damned fool thing, and he's ain't gonna tell no-one."
Author's note: A little cheesy, I know, but whatta you gonna do? The slang I've used in this chapter for Vin came from the website legendsofamerica(dot)com.