Golden Desire Ch. 02byopels©
In the carriage, Henry couldn't stop talking about what a fine and wealthy man Nicholas was. "Such a grand house and he did it all himself. Did you hear him say that he used to be quite poor? And look at him now. I don't know much about art and furnishings but his seemed very tasteful. Don't you think so, Vicky?" Without waiting for her to reply, he continued, "He seems to like us, don't you think? And my mind is certainly at ease as far as your welfare is concerned, what with him offering to take such good care of you and all. He'll make sure you're not lonely."
"I have no intention of seeing Mr. Andrews while you're away." she replied sternly.
"But why, whatever for?" he asked, surprised by her obvious and sudden dislike of Nicholas.
"Henry, the man owns and runs a gambling house! I refuse to spend any time with a man who makes a living preying upon the weaknesses and sins of men." In her heart she knew that wasn't the entire reason. This man was stirring feelings in her she hadn't even realized she had. She had only known him for one day and she already knew she should stay away from him. However, she was also very intrigued by him, his wealth, his fine and varied taste in art.
She mentally shook her head, chastising herself for searching for reasons to think of him as a decent man. Even if he didn't have the gambling houses, his behavior towards her, especially in the presence of her husband, was inexcusable. No, she would not socialize with him while Henry was away, she vowed. She would avoid him as much as possible. She just hoped she could stick to that vow.
Henry's protests that Nicholas was a fine man and that his gambling house seemed very respectable brought her out of her thoughts. "Give him a chance Vicky, please, for me. I can't bear the thought of you cooped up in that room for a whole two weeks." He gave her his best puppy dog face and she couldn't help but relent.
"All right, Henry, I will. I'll give Mr. Andrews a chance." The back of her neck where he had touched her began to tingle. Oh, Henry, if you only knew what you're asking, she thought.
When they arrived back in their suite, Henry pulled her into his arms. "Alone at last," he murmured into her ebony hair.
Victoria had never found making love to her husband very thrilling but she considered it to be her wifely duty and thus always complied. She also kept hoping that their unions would produce the children she wanted so badly.
"Yes, at last," she whispered.
She undressed while Henry extinguished the lights and as he climbed atop and entered her, she found herself closing her eyes and imagining a man with golden blond hair and cool green eyes instead.
The sun hadn't yet risen when she awoke. Through the dim light in the room, she could see Henry getting dressed. Noticing that she was awake and beginning to rise, he walked over to the bed and gently pushing her back down, he said, with a smile, "Oh, no you don't. You stay in bed. You never get the chance to sleep in, so you're going to take advantage of the opportunity now."
He pulled the blankets up to her chin as she stared at him with bewilderment. "I've arranged for your breakfast to be served to you in bed, so you have to stay there."
"Breakfast in bed?" she asked, unsure if she had heard him correctly, but clearly delighted by the treat.
"Yes, and get used to it because it's going to be that way from now on," he said grandly.
She giggled and replied, "Now that is something I could definitely get used to."
He finished dressing, and holding his coat in his hand, he stopped and gazed down at his wife. "I'm going to miss you," he said, his voice clearly showing he meant it.
She returned his gaze and his sentiment, "I'm going to miss you too." She was surprised to find that she meant it too. She was going to be lonely without him. "But it's only two weeks. I'm sure you'll be back before I know it." She smiled to ease the guilty look on his face. "I'll be fine, Henry. Go find gold, make us incredibly rich."
Henry smiled and leaned down to give her a kiss. She wrapped her arms around him and gave him a long hug.
He finally pulled away, "I have to go, Vicky." Standing, he said, "Be careful and enjoy yourself with Mr. Andrews and the ladies in the hotel."
"I will," she said, crossing her fingers under the blankets.
Later that morning, as she sat in bed and sipped her coffee and ate her pastry, she wondered what she should do with her day. It was almost nine o'clock. She couldn't remember if she had ever started her day so late. She smiled happily at the sheer luxury of it. She finished her breakfast and putting aside the tray, got out of bed.
After she had washed herself and brushed her hair, she stood in front of the wardrobe looking at her dresses. Perhaps I'll just stay in the room, she thought. She had brought a number of books with her and thought that might be a pleasant way to spend the day. When the maid had brought her breakfast, she had also requested that lunch be brought up to her room. She was going to try and keep her vow to avoid Nicholas, and since he obviously frequented his hotel, staying in her room was the surest way to do that.
However, on the third day, even her spacious suite was feeling too small and she knew she had to get out for a bit. At lunch, she asked the maid if Mr. Andrews was in the hotel at the moment.
"Yes, ma'am, I believe he is," she replied.
"Can you do me a favor?" she asked the young woman. "Can you please let me know if he leaves?" she said, slipping some coins into the girl's hand.
"Oh, that's not necessary," she said returning the coins. "It will be my pleasure."
The maid left the room and proceeded directly to the lobby where she found Nicholas in his office behind the front desk.
"Excuse me, sir. You said you wanted to know if Mrs. Somerset had left her room?"
"Yes, yes. Has she?" he asked eagerly, rising from his chair.
"Well, no sir," she said hesitantly. "But she seems very agitated...fidgety. And she asked if you were in the hotel."
"What did you say?"
"I said that you were, and she asked me to let her know when you leave."
A slow smile crept across Nicholas' face. He couldn't have hoped for better. "Excellent, excellent." He paused for a moment and then instructed the maid, "Wait about an hour and then tell her I've gone."
"Yes, sir," she said turning to leave.
"And by the way, Miss McLaren," he said, stopping the maid. "Well done, thank you."
"Thank you, sir," she said, blushing and bobbing a curtsey. It must be nice to have a man like that interested in your comings and goings, she thought to herself as she rushed back to her duties.
Victoria was pacing back and forth in her room, wondering how long Nicholas intended on visiting the hotel that day, when finally there was a knock at her door. She flew to answer it and looked eagerly at the maid standing there.
"I believe Mr. Andrews has left ma'am," she said.
"You believe he's left?" Victoria questioned her.
"I didn't actually see him leave, but I can usually tell by the way the staff is behaving if he's here or not, and by their less serious manner, I'm quite sure he's left."
Victoria breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you," she said before closing the door.
She rushed to her vanity and fixed her hair and smoothed her dress, before leaving the room and going to the lobby. She was hoping to make the acquaintance of some of the other guests at the hotel without Nicholas' help.
She descended the staircase and felt better already. A change of scenery was all she needed, she thought. She entered the lobby and was again drawn to the paintings decorating the walls. She wanted to re-examine the one she and Nicholas had been admiring the other day when Henry returned from his shopping trip. She wished he had behaved better for the remainder of that day, she wanted to continue the conversation they had been having regarding the piece.
Nicholas watched her from the partially closed doorway of the office. As had happened the day he had first seen her, he was entranced by her beauty. It didn't matter much to him that she was married, but he liked that her husband was far away and was going to be for some time.
He felt a bit guilty about not enlightening them on how long it will most likely be that Henry will be gone. They think he'll be back in two weeks. It'll take longer than that just to reach the gold fields. He guessed that Henry would be gone about six months, and he was fairly certain that Victoria didn't have enough money to last her that long. He was more than willing to offer his hospitality, he just had to figure out a way to get her to accept it.
His eyes skimmed over her alluring figure, her height was quite unconventional but that made her even more attractive in his eyes, along with her narrow waist and full bosom. With a practiced eye, he guessed that most of what he was seeing was natural and not forced by undergarments and padding as most women were. He hungrily drank in her beautiful face, framed by luscious ebony hair. However, it was her eyes that enchanted him the most. The depths of dark blue fringed by thick black lashes drew him in and held him.
Victoria was trying to remember what technique it was that Nicholas had told her the artist had used to achieve the ethereal effect of the painting. She reached out tentatively and touched the canvas, wanting to feel the texture of the paint.
"Please don't touch the paintings," a low, smooth voice whispered in her ear.
She gasped and turned quickly, only to find herself mere inches away from Nicholas. She had been very close to the painting and was now trapped between him and the wall. Having trouble calming her breathing, she said breathlessly, "Mr. Andrews, I didn't think you were in the hotel."
"Didn't think I would be here, Mrs. Somerset? Are you trying to avoid me?" he asked teasingly in the same low voice.
"I would have thought that by my disapproval of your business interests and of your very forward behavior at your home the other night, you would know that I do not wish to see you," she said, struggling for composure. If only he would step back, she thought.
He gazed down at her, while her eyes seemed to alight on everything in the lobby except him. He was very encouraged that she was so flustered and breathless. He correctly guessed that it wasn't just a result of having startled her. "So, I take it that you are avoiding me?" he continued to tease.
"Yes, I am," she stated, trying to sound firm. Still trying to avoid his eyes, she looked down, noticing that he was so close to her that his legs were brushing against the voluminous folds of her skirt.
He reached out and gently touched her cheek, trailing his fingers along her jaw line to her chin. "You are so beautiful," he murmured, tilting her face up so that she couldn't help but look at him.
Her breath caught in her throat as she stared into his eyes. The green of them had been cool before, but now there seemed to be a fire in them, turning them warm. One corner of his mouth was curling into a smile as his thumb reached up to caress her bottom lip. She closed her eyes as her lips parted to emit a shuddered sigh. She felt Nicholas' thumb breach her lips and gently graze her lower teeth. With that startling sensation, she wrenched her head away.
Placing her hand on his chest, she could feel his heart pounding as she gently pushed him away. "Please, stay away from me," she whispered as she brushed past him and all but ran back to her room.
She fumbled with the key and finally shut the door behind her. She leaned against it trying to catch her breath. Stumbling to the bedroom, she sat on the edge of the bed, trying to collect herself. She gently touched her cheek where his fingers had been and ran her own finger along her lower lip. She closed her eyes and trembled at the memory. She tried to define his caresses and much to her dismay the only word that fit was thrilling. Overcome with guilt, she fell back upon the bed. Henry had only been gone a few days and she was already falling under Nicholas' spell.
Why did he have this power over her? Every time she saw him, he only had to whisper in her ear and her heart started pounding, she couldn't breathe and if she dared to look into his eyes, it was all she could do to control herself. Any time he touched her, she almost crumpled to the floor in a swoon. Just thinking about it, she found herself getting warm and breathless. She tore at the buttons on the neck of her gown, trying to get some air.
What was she going to do? She couldn't possibly stay in her room for the remaining week and a half, she would go crazy if she did. And she obviously couldn't trust the staff to tell her if Nicholas was around.
She would just have to be strong she thought to herself. Like just now, she should have looked him square in the eye and asked him to move away from her or just excused herself and left. Why hadn't she done that? Because she was drawn to him, she admitted. She couldn't think when he stood so close to her and spoke as he had. That low, seductive voice. He had said she was beautiful. She ran his compliment over in her head. Recalling the low timbre of his voice sent arousing shocks throughout her body.
She got up off the bed and walked over to the vanity. She peered at herself in the mirror. Was she beautiful? Henry occasionally mentioned that she was pretty, but had never used the more grand word of beautiful.
She heard a whisper of sound in the next room and walked cautiously to the doorway. On the floor by the front door was a cream colored envelope. She walked over and picked it up. It was made of thick luxurious paper and she knew immediately who it must be from. Turning it over in her hands, she walked back into the bedroom and sat down again at the vanity before breaking the seal and opening the envelope. It contained a single sheet of paper covered in a masculine yet elegant script. Steeling herself she unfolded it and read.
My dear Mrs. Somerset,
Please forgive my rude and ungracious behavior earlier this afternoon. I had promised to look after you in your husband's absence and only succeeded in insulting you and driving you to the seclusion of your rooms.
I would like to invite you to a late lunch at my home tomorrow afternoon and give you a tour of my private art collection. I think you would enjoy the works that I have collected.
I hope you will consider my offer and accept my apologies. I will send a carriage for you tomorrow at two o'clock. I am hoping that you will be there to meet it.
She refolded the letter and returned it to the envelope. She once again consulted her reflection in the mirror. Could she do it, she wondered. Could she go alone to his home and not be overcome by him? Since there was no way to avoid him and she knew she wouldn't be able to stand staying in her rooms for the remainder of her stay, she had to try. She would be there to meet his carriage.
She chastised herself the next day as she stood before the wardrobe agonizing over what to wear. Since it was late afternoon, she could wear something that didn't come all the way up to her neck, but then again she didn't want to give Nicholas the wrong impression and wear something that could be considered revealing. Not that she had anything like that, of course. She knew how some women, quite respectable ones even, dressed, with revealing décolleté. She had never felt that that would be appropriate for her, thus all her dresses were quite modest. She chose one of dark blue muslin, with a slightly wider neckline that showed a glimpse of shoulder.
She fixed her hair and went downstairs to wait for the carriage. When she saw it sitting outside the front doors she almost succumbed to the attack of nervousness that assaulted her. She even considered returning to her room. No, she thought. She could and would do this. To back out now would mean she would have to spend the remainder of her time in San Francisco in her room and she couldn't bear that.
Squaring her shoulders, she thought that perhaps this would mark a new beginning in her relationship with Nicholas. Perhaps they could truly become friends. Somehow in the back of her mind she knew that wasn't to be the case.
She nervously twisted her hands in her lap on her way to Nicholas's house. They were just going to have lunch and spend an enjoyable afternoon discussing art, she told herself. Nothing to be nervous about. Nothing except his entrancing green eyes, his overt masculinity, his deep seductive voice, nothing except everything about him. What was she doing? This was insanity. She almost told the driver to turn around and take her back to the hotel. Instead she told herself to calm down, she was overreacting. If he got out of line, she was just going to have to be firm and put him back in his place. She could do that.
The carriage stopped and she realized they had arrived at their destination. She took a long calming breath while waiting for the driver to open her door.
Nicholas stood at the window of his home watching the road, waiting for his carriage to appear. When it finally did, he held his breath as it approached. He released it with a smile when the horses stopped outside the front door. It would have gone straight around back if she wasn't inside.
He was tempted to open the door himself, but instead went into the sitting room to wait for her. He stood when the butler announced her and felt the familiar flood of warmth upon seeing her. She was breathtaking in a dark blue gown that mirrored her captivating eyes.
He approached her with both hands extended. "Mrs. Somerset, thank you so much for coming. And may I say, you look lovely in that gown," he said smiling and taking both of her hands in his.
"Thank you, Mr. Andrews," she replied with a calmness she did not feel. At his touch, sparks flew through her fingers and she quickly withdrew her hands from his.
"Won't you please have a seat," he invited, sitting himself.
She settled herself on a sofa and gazed about the room. She had been too distracted before to notice anything. Henry was right, the furnishings and art were very nice. "It's nice to be here during the day. I can see everything better," she said.
"I usually keep the rooms quite well lit at night. Was the room dim?" he asked.
She hesitated before continuing, "Actually, I think it was that I was distracted, not that the lighting was inadequate." She averted her eyes, and resented the pink flush that appeared in her cheeks.
"Oh yes, I believe I made a rather inappropriate comment, didn't I?" Nicholas replied, unable to suppress the twinkle in his eye. "Please accept my apologies."
Recalling that he had said she looked intoxicating in her evening gown, she replied, "Apologies are not required, Mr. Andrews. Your compliment was only inappropriate in its excess." She took a deep breath as she also recalled the way his softly spoken compliment had made her feel.
The butler returned at that moment to announce that their lunch was ready.
"I thought we would eat in the drawing room, instead of one of the dining rooms," Nicholas explained as they were led to the cozy room. He watched her as they entered, recalling himself that the word he had used in his compliment was intoxicating. She may have felt that it was excessive, but he couldn't think of a better way to describe her, except maybe alluring, seductive and even delicious. Then he would have had even more good reason to apologize.
Victoria looked about at the intimate surroundings. The table was beautifully set and the smells seeping out from the covered platters were mouth watering. Nicholas held out a chair for her and helped her get settled before sitting himself.