Golden Desire Ch. 06byopels©
Victoria sat in the bouncing coach, concentrating on the excitement of what lay ahead of her and ignoring the pain she was feeling at leaving Nicholas. It's silly she told herself. I don't have any feelings for him. Yes, being with him was thrilling and exhilarating, but that's all. I'll miss his company, I'm sure, but I'll make plenty of friends to fill that void and eventually I'll meet a man suitable to marry. She hadn't been lying when she said she would never forget him, but he'll be a pleasant memory, nothing more, she convinced herself.
A month later, Nicholas sat in the office of his new gambling house and thought over something Victoria had said to him that last day. 'Who will stay in your hotels? Who will visit your gambling houses?' He hadn't thought about there being an end to the gold rush, but it was something he had to keep in mind. Perhaps the ambitious expansions he had been planning should be re-thought. Perhaps he should keep his operations as they were and just start saving the money he was making. Perhaps it was time to start thinking about what to do with that money.
He was going crazy with missing her. He had tried to get back into his games of seduction, but none of the women appealed to him in the slightest. Their fluttering eyelashes and shy gasps at his suggestive comments all seemed so shallow and meaningless that he lost interest in them quickly. And every night he awoke from restless dreams of ebony hair and dark blue eyes.
Another month later, he was in the office of the grand hotel, lost in memories of Victoria, when the front desk clerk eagerly whispered to him. "Sir, she's here!"
"Hmmm? Who?" he asked, slightly confused as to who the clerk could be excited about.
"Mrs. Worthington, sir. You remember, the very shapely blond?" he reminded him suggestively.
"Ah yes, Mrs. Worthington," he said without much interest, watching her across the lobby. She certainly is shapely, he thought. Like Victoria, but not as tall. Maybe the only way to get her out of my system is to bring another woman in, he thought. With a sly smile, he walked out from behind the counter and approached the woman.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Worthington. How are you today?" he asked warmly.
"I'm fine, thank you very much, Mr. Andrews," she replied, smiling at him, her brown eyes twinkling. "And yourself?" she asked.
"Well, now that you're here, I'm very much improved," he said in a low, suggestive voice. Encouraged by the pink flush in her cheeks, he continued. "You must call me Nicholas, Mr. Andrews sounds too stuffy and formal. I think we're good enough friends that we can be on a first name basis, don't you agree?"
His invitation to switch to the more intimate use of first names had the desired effect, as she giggled and replied, "Of course, Nicholas. And you must call me Claire."
"Claire," he repeated. "I must say, you look beautiful in that gown."
The pink in her cheeks deepening, she replied, "It's just a plain day dress."
"You turn a plain dress into something magnificent when you wear it," he whispered to her, staring into her eyes.
She only stared back, entranced by his gaze.
"Would you care to have dinner with me tonight, at my home?" he asked softly.
"Yes, I would love to," she replied breathlessly.
"Would seven o'clock be suitable? I'll send my carriage for you," he said, his voice still low. Taking up her hand and placing a lingering kiss on it, he said, "I'll look forward to it immensely."
As he returned to the office, the clerk eagerly asked him, "How long do you think this one will take, sir?"
Without much interest, Nicholas replied, "I'll have her tonight."
Impressed, but knowing not to press the matter, the clerk returned to his duties.
Nicholas had almost forgotten that she was coming over that night, until he heard the carriage pull up at a few minutes past seven o'clock. He looked through the curtains and saw her alight from the cab. From the window of his upper floor office, he had a nice view of her neckline and it was quite low. He couldn't help the wicked smile that curled his lips.
He stood in the shadows outside the drawing room, watching her. She was very nervous, biting her lip and playing with the cords of her purse. He recalled how he had stood here and watched Victoria nervously waiting for him all those months ago. He shook the memory from his mind and went in to greet his guest.
He and Claire enjoyed a lavish dinner, where he plied her with wine and drank a bit more than usual himself. Later, back in the drawing room, he whispered suggestive compliments in her ear, tickled her with fluttery caresses and she was soon his. He pressed his lips to hers and she melted against him. Driving comparisons to Victoria from his mind, he carried her upstairs. Carefully choosing one of the anonymous bedrooms and not his own, nor the one Victoria had used, he carried her inside and closed the door.
Later that night as she lay sleeping, he stood by the window staring out at the star filled sky. He had been rough with her, taking his every pleasure with her body but he was left unfulfilled. He didn't even want to sleep in the same bed with her.
Turning from the window, he walked to the edge of the bed. He gazed down at her silky blond hair, spread across the pillow, her pretty face and luscious body, barely covered by the thin sheet. He should be consumed with desire but only felt revulsion. Was this how Victoria felt after their times together? Is that why she was always gone in the morning? It tore him apart to think that she felt about him the way he felt about the woman lying before him now.
No, she would never have returned to his bed if that were the case. He knew that he would most likely never even speak to this woman again, let alone invite her back into his bed. He quietly left the room and slid into his own bed after locking his bedroom door.
He left early the next morning, before Claire woke. He left instructions with his staff to treat her cordially, serve her breakfast if she wished and then get her out of there.
He worked out of the less grand hotel that day, the one where Victoria had stayed. He hardly ever went there anymore, because it reminded him too much of her. He had to face the fact that she was gone, that he had lost her. He had curbed his plans of expansion and was now saving his money. It surprised him how wealthy he really was. He didn't know what to do with it, though. He would figure that out later. For now, he was content to ride the gold rush as long as he could.
Victoria was amazed at how the prices of things dropped the further she got from San Francisco. At first she was worried that Nicholas' money wouldn't last her very long, but by the time she reached Oregon City, the six hundred dollars she had left was a fortune. She immediately found a boarding house to stay in. She didn't want to stay in another hotel again.
She quickly found work in a bakery and fell into a quiet routine. A routine that sometimes felt too restrictive. She found she sometimes craved excitement, she had grown so accustomed to bustling activity of San Francisco that she now missed it. The one thing she refused to admit she missed was Nicholas. The dreams she had of him, recounting their most passionate moments together, didn't mean a thing. However, she found herself constantly driving thoughts of him from her mind. I need someone new, she thought.
She was in the mercantile, wandering the aisles, hoping some shopping would lift her spirits. Miserably bored and restless, she perched bonnets on her head, and tried on gloves. She flipped through the dress catalog, but nothing caught her eye. Meandering over to the perfume counter, her eyes scanned the whimsical names of the fragrances.
She picked up a bottle named Forest Green and held it to her nose. Its warm, dark, woodsy aroma sent a shiver down her spine. Nicholas, her thoughts sighed. She inhaled again, losing herself in the scent. As it dissipated, she came out of her trance, and shook her head as if to clear it.
She put the bottle down and picked up another called Amber Rose. She held it to her nose and found she quite liked it. She tried several others, but came back to Amber Rose. She was smelling it again when she suddenly felt eyes on her. She looked up just as a man averted his gaze. He seemed to be intently inspecting the prices of bags of feed. Her eyes quickly skimmed over him. He was dressed in a finely tailored suit and did not appear to be a farmer. He was taller than she, with dark hair and eyes, and a slender yet strong build.
He glanced at her again out of the corner of his eye and seeing that she was looking at him, quickly looked away again. Feeling this could be a pleasant diversion, she played along and pretended to be examining a collection of hunting knives, coyly glancing back at him. Their eyes met for a moment, before she shyly lowered her lashes before glancing up again. He held her eyes for a moment and then looked away himself. They continued this way for a couple of minutes before she finally picked up the bottle of perfume and made her purchase. Exiting the store she left him with a lingering stare and the whisper of a smile.
She felt her spirits lift as she strolled down the quiet street.
Several days later, she was at work at the bakery, when Mrs. Fraser, the woman who owned it, called to her from the front counter wanting to know when the loaves of pumpernickel would be ready.
She stepped to the doorway to answer but when she saw the customer at the counter she couldn't help but smile and much to her surprise a light blush crept into her cheeks. It was the man from the mercantile. He was again impeccably dressed and shyly returned her smile.
Remembering why she had come to the front and without looking at the older woman, she answered, "It'll be coming out of the oven in about fifteen minutes."
Mrs. Fraser saw the connection passing between her customer and employee and couldn't resist playing matchmaker. "Mr. Sinclair, have you met my new employee, Mrs. Somerset? She's relatively new in town." Turning to Victoria, she continued, "Victoria, may I present Mr. Daniel Sinclair. He's the bank manager and knows everyone in town."
Upon hearing her addressed as Mrs. Somerset, his manner abruptly changed and the playful sparkle vanished from his eye. "How do you do, Mrs. Somerset?" he said stiffly.
Retaining her smile, however, she replied, "I'm very well, thank you. It's a pleasure to meet you." She tried to make the eye contact linger but he had turned his attention back to Mrs. Fraser.
As soon as Victoria was gone, Mrs. Fraser leaned across the counter and whispered, "The poor thing, she's just come from San Francisco. Her husband dragged her all the way out there from New York, by way of the Isthmus of Panama no less, and then two months later he was shot and killed during a claim dispute. She desperately wanted to go back home but was too afraid. The journey is terribly dangerous, I hear, and San Francisco is far too immoral of a town for her to stay in alone, so she came up here."
Daniel usually didn't pay much attention when Mrs. Fraser shared her gossip with him, but he listened intently this time. "So she's widowed?" he asked eagerly.
"Yes, she is," she replied with a knowing smile. "Why don't you come back at the end of the day and I'll have some of that bread ready for you."
Meanwhile , in the back of the bakery, Victoria returned to the therapeutic work of making bread, happy that she and the handsome stranger had been introduced. She knew that the sudden change in his behavior was due to the 'Mrs.' in her name, but she also knew that Mrs. Fraser wouldn't be able to resist whispering the story of her widowhood to him.
At the end of the day, as she was preparing to leave, with forced casualness she said to Mrs. Fraser, "Mr. Sinclair certainly seems like a pleasant man."
The older woman looked over at Victoria and gave her the same knowing smile she had bestowed on the man in question earlier. "Yes, he's a very nice young man."
Trying to keep her voice light, she asked, "Is there a Mrs. Sinclair?"
"No, there isn't."
At that moment, the bell over the door rang and Daniel entered the shop, his eyes immediately alighting on Victoria. As the two stared at each other, seemingly oblivious to everything around them, Mrs. Fraser took his order down from the shelf with a smile. She gave Daniel a nudge and handed him his package. "On your account?" she asked.
"Yes please. Thank you, Mrs. Fraser," he stammered, suddenly snapping out of the trance.
"Alright, out, out, both of you. I want to lock up," she said, shooing them out the door.
Standing outside on the street, they both found themselves suddenly shy.
"How are you liking Oregon City?" he asked.
"Oh, I'm enjoying it a great deal," she enthused. "It's very pretty." She paused and then asked, "How long have you been here?"
"Not that long, only a year. It's a very pleasant town, it would be ideal for raising a family."
"Yes, I thought the same thing when I arrived," she answered.
She stared into his dark brown eyes, lost in their warm depths.
"May I walk you home?" he asked.
"Yes," she replied, taking the arm he offered.
"How long has it been since your husband passed?' he asked after walking in silence for a few minutes.
"How did you know? Did Mrs. Fraser tell you?' she asked.
"Yes, I hope you don't mind. I was curious about you," he admitted, shyly.
"No, I don't mind," she replied. "Henry's been gone for a little over four months."
"I'm sorry. It must still be hard for you," he said sympathetically.
"It took awhile to actually accept and believe that he was gone. At first I was so busy trying to figure out how to survive and trying to figure out how to get out of San Francisco. Figuring out where to go and what I would do when I got there. I've never really had to take care of myself before."
"How did you do it? Get out of San Francisco, I mean," he asked.
She gave him a guilty look. "I'm not sure I should tell you," she said, feigning shame.
"I'm sure it's not that bad," he gently urged.
She looked into his dark brown eyes and saw the guarded look there. He feared the worst.
Dropping her eyes, she said quietly, "I dealt cards in a gambling house."
She heard him exhale and realized he had been holding his breath.
"All the other miner's wives had taken the jobs in the bakeries or as seamstresses or even doing laundry or some such thing," she said in a rush. "Plus the gambling houses paid so much more and I was desperate to leave."
Again she searched his eyes. "You don't think too badly of me, do you?"
With a smile, he replied, "Of course not. You did what you had to do."
She gave him a wide smile. "You're the only person I've told. Even Mrs. Fraser doesn't know." Stopping and touching his arm, she said with wide eyes, "Promise you won't tell her?"
Covering her hand with his and leaning towards her, he said in a soft voice, "Don't worry, your secret is safe with me."
She smiled gratefully, but was thinking, nothing, I don't feel a thing. If Nicholas had spoken to me like that, I would be tingling from head to toe right now. I think I may have found my safe and boring husband, she thought.
Later, as she lay in bed, she thought back to her walk with Daniel. He is tall and very handsome, she thought to herself. And he has a very respectable job. Being a bank manager means he's most likely good with money, but judging from the quality of his suits, he's not stingy.
She thought back to her lack of emotional response when his hand had been covering hers as he spoke softly to her and wondered if she would ever again feel the way Nicholas made her feel. Just thinking about it sent a shiver down her spine. She closed her eyes and thought back to the nights she had spent in his bed. The dizzying heights of ecstasy he could take her to, making her feel drugged yet ecstatically sober at the same time.
Her pulse quickened as her hands slid across her ribs, recalling the way his hands felt on her body. Cupping her breasts, she found the nipples and tweaked them gently and then a bit harder, a small gasp escaping her lips. One hand trailed down, pressing down over her stomach as she parted her thighs. She gasped again as her fingers slid through the crisp curls and then into the wet folds. She found the small nub that never failed to cause the most arousing feelings to flood her senses and began to stroke it. Her back arched up off the bed and the hand on her breast pinched the nipple even harder. The familiar pressure began to build in her as she writhed on the sheets and as she tipped over the edge into ecstasy, she was helpless to stop Nicholas' name from slipping through her lips.
She began to see Daniel quite often. Since he lived alone and thought it would be most improper to have her there unchaperoned, they usually sat in the parlor of her boarding house or went for walks.
One afternoon as they sat in the parlor, he commented, "It sure is quiet today."
"The house is empty. Everyone is out," she explained, giving him a mischievous smile.
He looked at her with alarm. "There's no one here?" he asked.
"That's right," she said softly, the smile still teasing at her lips.
Rising, he stammered, "I didn't realize. I'm sorry. We should go." He held out his hand to her.
She rose and ignoring his hand, she stepped close to him. Staring into his warm dark eyes, she placed her palms on his chest. "We're alone. Don't you want to kiss me?" she asked breathlessly.
She felt his heartbeat increase beneath her hands as she leaned closer to him, tipping her face up to his. As she peered up at him through half closed eyes, she could see the indecision on his face.
She took another half step closer and slowly slid her hands up to his shoulders. One finger strayed up and gently stroked his neck. She heard him suck in a shaky breath before he bent his head and slipping an arm around her waist, he pressed his lips to hers.
She responded immediately, wrapping her arms around his neck, kissing him back. When she opened her lips to him and tentatively sought his tongue with her own, he drew back with a shocked gasp.
Genuinely surprised, she asked, "What's wrong? What's the matter?"
"You...you shouldn't...you shouldn't be kissing like that!" he exclaimed, stammering.
She couldn't help but laugh. "But Daniel, I was married, remember? I've been kissed before. I'm not some blushing innocent, easily shocked by an ardent display of affection."
He looked at her, seemingly aware of this for the first time. "I guess so. I hadn't thought of that."
She pressed herself against him and wrapped her arms around his neck again. "So why not enjoy it?" she said in a low voice.
One corner of his mouth turned up in a smirk before he tightened his hold on her and dipped his head to resume the kiss.
As the kiss deepened, Victoria waited for the tremors to begin, for a warmth in her belly to flare into fire and spread through her limbs. Instead all she felt was a small shiver down her spine.
Whereas, Daniel seemed to be experiencing a very different reaction. She could feel his heart pounding in his chest and when he finally pulled away, his breathing was heavy and she could see the flames of passion burning in his liquid brown eyes.
A mischievous smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "I had no idea how pleasurable courting a widow could be," he said softly, his voice suggestively low.
She only gave a small smile and coyly lowered her lashes hiding the disappointment in her eyes.
Later, after Daniel had left, she sat in her room staring out at the darkening sky. She could hear the other residents of the house arriving and knew that dinner would be soon. Usually, she enjoyed the crowded dinner and animated conversations, but tonight she longed for the intimate sorts of dinners she had shared with Nicholas. Dinners full of witty banter, sly innuendos and double entendres.