Lane chuckled, definitely at my expense, and held up his hands. “I have been duly warned. It’s good to see you invested in this, Walker.”
“Ruth’s been gone awhile now,” I said, my smile slipping. I felt lighter saying it aloud, to let my guilt of our failed marriage go. “It’s finally time to move on.”
Lane slapped me on the shoulder. “Good for you. If you need help with tracking down the trouble, let me know.”
“Will do, and much obliged.” I tipped my hat and Lane walked off toward town and his mistress.
I looked back at the front door again, thought of Celia. I had no idea what kind of trouble followed her, for Luke and I barely knew her. But with the attraction and desire, the absolute certainty that she was ours, it mattered not. The trouble that followed her was something we could resolve, could make go away. The rest, it would stay forever.
But she was holding back and I could not be in a marriage where my bride didn’t give the marriage everything in her being. I would, for Celia. The secret would be revealed… tonight.
Lane’s house was impressive. While simple, it was large, larger than a bachelor could need. A stairwell was directly in front of the entry with a long hallway beside it. I could see the warm lantern glow toward the back and assumed the kitchen was there. The scents of bread and meat filled the house. I stripped off my coat as I peeked into the rooms to the left and right, but both were dark. Only one had a fire in the hearth, but it only gave off enough glow for me to see that it was an office of sorts; books lining the walls and a large desk in the center.
Hanging my coat by the door, I carried my hat and mittens to the kitchen. The room was lit by a large lantern above the well-worn table. A cast-iron stove was in the corner making the space quite warm. I sat on the small bench was beside it and removed my boots, placing them, along with my outerwear, beside the fire to dry.
Once done, I went to the stove and lifted the lid off a large pot set to the back of a cooking stove. The stew was filled with root vegetables and thick chunks of meat. My stomach growled, eager for some.
Walker’s voice made me jump and I put the lid back on the pot.
He settled himself on the bench and did as I had, stripping off his boots. He’d foregone a necktie this morning and wore just a white shirt with his dungarees, his coat probably beside mine in the entry. “We’ll eat in a little bit. First, we need to take care of your punishment.”
While he was bent over and undoing his laces, his eyes were squarely on me. I frowned slightly.
“Punishment?” My mouth was dry and I licked my lips.
He stood and placed his boots beside mine. While the kitchen had been so big just seconds ago, with Walker, it seemed as if the walls were closing in.
I picked up some folded napkins and walked around the table, ready to set it for the meal. “I haven’t, I mean—”
“Who’s the man, doll?” He crossed his arms over his chest.
I stopped at his words. So did my heart. Surely, he didn’t know about Carl. He couldn’t. “Man?”
“Two?” I squeaked.
“Walker, I don’t—”
“Do you want to make it three?” he asked, arching a brow. With his arms crossed over his chest and the way he leaned against the wall, so patient and casual, it seemed he had all the time in the world.
I glanced at the back door, wondered where Luke was and if Lane would return.
“Tell me about the man on the street in Denver.”
My shoulders slumped and I looked at the floor. “You saw him.” I didn’t state it as a question because he wouldn’t have asked after him if he hadn’t seen him.
“Who is he?”
I didn’t have time to make more than an odd gasp of surprise when I was pulled into Walker’s arms and when he sat in one of the kitchen chairs, he settled me over his lap. My hands went to the wood floor for balance when he shifted me forward, my toes barely touching. It made my bottom stick straight up.
“Walker!” I cried. “What are you doing?”
I felt the hem of my dress slide up my legs, higher and higher until it bunched at my waist. I heard the crack of his palm on my bottom a moment before I felt it. Stiffening, I bucked on his lap.
“You decide how long you’re spanked, doll. Tell me about the man in Denver and we’ll be done.”
A sharp tug on my drawers and the string broke and Walker slid them down to my thighs. “I punish on the bare, doll.”