“No!” Emily was horrified. There was no way she was being forced into marrying Finn—or any man.
“There’s no ‘no’ about it. I have made my decision, and you will have to abide by it.”
She looked dismayed at Finn, who appeared equally horrified. She could hear mutterings from the crowd.
“About time, too.”
“That’s a shame.”
The last had come from a young man who had approached her just a couple of months ago wanting to come to her bed. She had gently rebuffed him, telling him he was too young, but in all seriousness she’d wonder if she would ever want to bed a virgin again. She’d had enough of them and wanted someone she didn’t walk all over. That was one major reason she kept turning Robin down—he gave in to her far too easily.
Adam, one of Brianna’s husbands, rose to his feet. As usual his natural dominance forced a hush to descend. “I can’t believe you people. You should know by now you can’t force women to marry. Look what happened with Brianna. That could have ended badly.”
The judge shifted in his seat to peer around Adam and looked over his spectacles to Brianna, who was trying unsuccessfully to sink down in her seat and hide. “Ah, the other scandalous woman with whom I have had the misfortune to have in this very courtroom.”
A growl from Adam caused Judge Wright to stop his inspection of Brianna. “You can stop snarling at me, Adam Hollis. You are only married to your wife because I allowed it.”
That didn’t stop Adam from glaring thunderously. “You know Brianna was properly married to me and my brothers, but she nearly ended up having to marry that slime bag, Quinn. I’m sure you would have made her if I hadn’t spoken up.”
One of the townsfolk, Clark, stood up. “But, Adam, there are…how many? Seven young men in town, my son included, who are in need of a wife. Shouldn’t all unattached women be made to choose a man?”
Emily was aghast. She didn’t want either Finn or Robin. She enjoyed her freedom too much. Standing to her feet swiftly, the legs of her chair screeching on the wooden floor, she declared forcibly, “I don’t want to get married. You can’t make me—I’ve been married. The law is quite clear that only single women need to marry.” She finished on a triumphant note as if that would be sufficient.
“Ah, my dear woman,” the judge started patronizingly, “you are wrong there.”
Judge Wright shuffled in his papers for a moment but then brandished the one he was looking for. “Let me quote you exactly what it says in the amendment to the Colonist’s Charter number three hundred and forty-two. It declares that any unmarried member of the female gender found having sexual intercourse with a member of the male gender must take out a marriage contract.”
“But that’s for single women, not widowed ones,” declared Emily.
“Really? Where exactly does it say the word ‘widowed?’ So are you, or are you not, unmarried at this very moment in time?” When he repeated the offending word loudly, she could have slapped him for his delighted expression.
“It is understood…” She looked around at those in the audience she knew were on her side, but they looked just as bewildered as she felt.
“Unfortunately, innuendoes and half-understood expectations are not sufficient. This amendment was brought in to keep people like you out of trouble. And I, for one, will be heartily pleased to keep you out of mischief in my town by enforcing the said law! Otherwise, I have no other recourse than to send you to the state brothel.”
The uproar that erupted in the room deafened Emily, and she collapsed back in her chair trying to take everything in.
So her choices were to marry a man, who was much younger than her and who she didn’t know, or go to the brothel.
Terrific choices! And what on Earth would Robin say when he heard about it?
As she ruminated on the options, a third possibility began to emerge, but she swiftly shook it off as there was no way she could leave town before the marriage took place as that would mean giving up her bar. She had fought hard to keep her business from being taken from her in this male-dominated society. And if she went anywhere else, she would have to start again. Beside which, where would she go?