Golden Desire Ch. 03byopels©
Over the next week she saw Nicholas a few times, once more at his home and a few times in the lobby of the hotel. On one of those occasions, he asked her, "Have you actually been outside on the street yet?"
"No," she replied firmly. "I am not going out there."
At his surprised expression, she confessed, "Quite frankly, what I've seen of those streets scares me. I would be too frightened to out there alone."
"I could escort you," he offered. "Is there anywhere you would like to go?"
"I'm not sure," she replied. "But you needn't bother, Henry will be back in a few days. He can escort me if I need anything."
"Of course. However, in the mean time, if you do wish to go out, please don't hesitate to ask."
The fourteenth day of her stay came, and by noon when Henry hadn't returned, she went down to the front desk to arrange for another week. Nicholas saw her coming down the stairs and went to greet her. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Somerset. Has Mr. Somerset arrived back yet?" he asked, even though he knew quite well that he hadn't.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Andrews. No, he hasn't. I'm just arranging for another week. I'm sure he'll be here in a couple of days."
Feigning concern, he asked, "Where exactly did he go?"
"Why he went to the gold fields. To, I believe it's Placerville? I thought you knew that," she replied.
"Well, I wasn't sure. That's originally where I thought he was going, but you kept saying that he would be back in two weeks, so I assumed I was mistaken," he said.
Alarmed she asked, "What do you mean? Why wouldn't he be back in two weeks if he went to the gold fields?"
Leading her over to a couch, he explained, "It usually takes more than two weeks just to get to the there. Transportation out there is extremely unpredictable. And then it takes time to find a place to mine and set up a claim. I'm afraid Mr. Somerset won't be back for at least another month."
Victoria paled as she absorbed this news. She stared down at the purse in her hands. It only held enough money for another week. "Are you sure? A month?" she asked him, her voice shaking.
"Yes, I'm sorry, but I thought you knew that," he said, coating his voice with sympathy.
"No, I didn't. Mr. Andrews, what am I going to do? I only have enough money for another week!" she looked at him with pleading eyes.
"I have another hotel. It's not as fine as this one, but it's comfortable. You could stay there in a single room for a month for what you're paying for a week in a suite here. That could give you enough time."
She breathed out a sigh of relief. "Thank you. A month? I believe I may be taking you up on your offer of an escort through town. If I'm going to be staying that long, I might as well take a closer look at my surroundings."
Smiling, he said, "If you could pack your things, I'll arrange to have them transported to the other hotel."
"Thank you, I'll attend to it right away," she stood and headed back up to her room.
Nicholas had already instructed his staff at the other hotel that she would be coming and to give her the best room at the lowest rate and to treat her with the greatest respect. He watched her as she walked away. Things were working out nicely.
Later that day, she walked into her room at the other hotel. Nicholas had been right, it wasn't nearly as grand but still comfortable. It also appeared to be in a slightly rougher area of town. She peered out the window with uncertainty. There was a gambling house directly across the street, she hoped it wouldn't be too noisy at night.
She walked over to the bed and sat upon it with a sigh. A whole month, she thought. And what if Henry wasn't back by then? Then what would she do? She shook her head, I won't think like that. I will stay positive that he will be back and even if he isn't, well, I'll worry about it then, she thought resolutely.
Several days later, she clung to Nicholas' arm as he led her down the street. She was too worried about her surroundings to give any thought to her closeness to him.
Laughing, he said, "Calm down, Mrs. Somerset. It's perfectly fine." Discreetly pointing across the street, he said, "Look, right there. A perfectly respectable woman walking all alone and no one is paying her any mind. And there's another right there, and another. Oh, not her, she's thoroughly disrespectful. Don't mind her."
Victoria couldn't help but laugh. "Thank you for taking the time to do this, but I think it may take awhile before I'm comfortable walking about alone."
"San Francisco may seem rough, but it's really not that bad." They were walking in front of a saloon and just as he made the comment, two men burst through the doors, fists flying, rolling onto the street.
Victoria shrieked and pressed herself against Nicholas. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her back. Breathing heavily, she peered over her shoulder at the two men wrestling on the ground. Several patrons ran out of the bar and stood around cheering and shouting.
She tentatively looked up at Nicholas who was gazing down at her, his green eyes anything but cool. Once again she was trapped in his stare, unable to look away. He held her for several moments longer than he should have before releasing her. "Are you alright?" he asked in that low tone that always sent a shiver down her spine.
Breathlessly, she replied, "Yes, I'm fine, thank you. Perhaps you could take me back to the hotel."
"Certainly." He again offered her his arm, but she didn't cling to it as before, too afraid of how it would affect the already swirling sensations she was feeling.
Once they reached the lobby of the hotel, she released his arm and in a still slightly breathless voice said, "Thank you Mr. Andrews. Perhaps next time, the walk will be a bit longer."
"Don't you think it's time you started calling me Nicholas? I think we've been acquainted long enough," he suggested.
She looked up at him. His eyes were once again cool, emitting only friendliness. "Yes, I suppose so. Well, Nicholas, then you must call me Victoria," she said with a smile.
"I would be delighted. I must get going. Enjoy the remainder of your day, Victoria," he said with a bow of his head before departing.
He congratulated himself on completing another step in his plans. Getting on a first name basis with her was very important in creating a sense of intimacy between them. Calling her Mrs. Somerset was a constant reminder that she was married and now that that had been eliminated he was closer to obtaining his goal.
As the month progressed, he saw Victoria almost every day. They went for walks, she visited him at his home, or they just sat in the lobby chatting. He was beginning to genuinely grow fond of her and was starting to feel a bit guilty about his planned seduction. He tried to chase these thoughts from his head, but he couldn't help how he was beginning to feel. He concentrated on what he was going to do when the month was up and Henry still hadn't returned. She had no money, so she couldn't afford to stay anywhere nor could she leave. She was going to have to rely on him to help her. He smiled happily, knowing that coming to her rescue was going to move his plans ahead a great deal.
Victoria eventually did venture out on her own one day. She had noticed a mercantile and was hoping to pick up some embroidery materials to help her spend her time. She hurried down the street, trying to look self confident as Nicholas had advised and made it to the store safely. She breathed a sigh of relief upon entering. She was enjoying herself, wandering about the store when she overheard two young women mention Nicholas. She paused and pretending to examine a display of gloves, eavesdropped on their conversation.
"You're not actually going to apply for a job there, are you, Gladys?" one of the women asked sounding rather shocked.
"Of course, silly. Mr. Andrews' gambling houses are always very respectable. There's nothing wrong with having a job dealing cards," the other replied.
"Your father will have something to say about that," the first one warned.
"He has always spoken of Mr. Andrews with the highest respect, I'm sure he'll approve," the one named Gladys replied.
Victoria recalled that Nicholas had mentioned a few times that he was opening a new gambling house. He knew she disapproved so he didn't talk about it much.
"Well, just as long as you don't wear flowers in your hair, I guess you'll be fine," the other said, causing them both to giggle.
The one named Gladys continued, her voice full of innuendo, "I'd wear flowers in my hair around Mr. Andrews any day."
"Gladys!" her friend exclaimed.
"Oh, now don't tell me you haven't noticed how handsome he is? I think he's the most divine man," she continued, her voice dropping to a whisper that Victoria had to strain to hear, "I'll even admit that I've had more than one hot and steamy dream about him," to which both girls again broke into giggles.
Flowers in their hair, Victoria wondered? What did that mean? She would have to ask Nicholas when she saw him next.
The next day, Nicholas laughed as she recounted the conversation she had overheard. She only told him the part up to the mention of flowers and didn't say anything about the girls' obviously very favorable opinion of him. He cleared his throat before explaining. "In all gambling houses, even mine, there are always girls who are willing to make a little extra money, 'entertaining' the male customers. They make these arrangements on their own and the 'entertaining' is done on their own time, and they identify their willingness by wearing flowers in their hair."
Victoria stared at him with wide eyes, "By entertaining, you mean..." she trailed off, unwilling to say the words.
"Quite frankly, they're prostitutes," he said bluntly.
Victoria's hand flew to her mouth as she gasped loudly. She recalled the latter part of the girls' conversation and was shocked again. "And you allow that sort of thing?"
"Well there's not much that I can do about it, and if I didn't allow it, the men who are looking for that sort of thing would go elsewhere and I want to keep as many customers as I can," he explained.
"Well, you should let them go elsewhere! It's disgraceful that you exploit these women that way!" she exclaimed.
"Now wait just a minute! I'm not exploiting anyone. These women do it of their own free will, I don't have anything to do with it." he stated.
"You knowingly allow it, that's involvement," she said accusingly.
"Well, perhaps I am a bit guilty, but it happens everywhere and as more and more gambling houses are opening I have to stay competitive and I can't afford to stop the practice."
"I don't know how you sleep at night, knowing that sort of behavior is going on right next door to you," she said, shaking her head.
"I sleep very well at night," he replied, his voice dropping a note. "The only thing that would keep me awake is if I were worried about you."
She didn't quite know how to respond, so at first didn't say anything. "That's very kind of you, but I'm fine so...I'm sure you're sleeping very soundly," she finished rather lamely.
Not wanting to continue in a controversial vein, he changed the subject. "How long have you been staying here?" he asked her, even though he knew very well. "A couple of weeks, isn't it?"
"Yes, two weeks," she replied. Looking down at her hands, she continued, "I can't help but keep wondering what I'll do if Henry doesn't come back soon."
"Don't you worry, I promised I would take care of you and I will. We'll think of something, but until then, I wouldn't worry about it," he said cheerfully.
"I know, but I can't help it," she said, wringing her hands.
Tenderly he asked, "Do you miss him?"
She glanced up at him guiltily, before replying quietly, "No, I don't." She looked away, saying, "Isn't it awful? I should miss him terribly, but I don't. I suppose if you weren't around so much I might, but you shouldn't be a replacement. I should miss him," she repeated.
"You can't help how you feel," he said, his voice dropping again. "I'm sure that once he's back, you'll realize that you do miss him."
She hesitated before saying, even more quietly, "Once he's back , we'll probably leave, and I'm sure that it's you I'm going to miss."
She looked up at him with wide, shining eyes. It was the first time she had spoken aloud of having any feelings for him and he felt his breath catch. "No, you'll be glad to be rid of me. I've been making quite the pest of myself where you're concerned. Not giving you even a day's respite. Once Henry's back, you'll forget all about me." he said laughing.
She only responded with a small smile, sadness radiating from her deep blue eyes.
Later that night, in her bed, she recalled the conversation and was astounded that she had said that. Did she have feelings for Nicholas? Would she really miss him so much when they left San Francisco? Or, as he said, would she forget all about him? Somehow she doubted it.
Her mind went back to the conversation she had overheard in the mercantile. Back to how those two girls thought about Nicholas. She had to admit that he did draw looks from women. She had noticed it while out on the street with him. She had seen how their eyes had appreciatively scanned him from head to toe. Even thought they had been discreet about it, she had been shocked at first until she realized that she had done it herself more than once. He's very handsome and certainly well built, she admitted. It's just like admiring a great painting or anything that's pleasing to the eye. It doesn't mean that I desire it, just that I admire it is all, she told herself.
She pressed her hands against her stomach, feeling a trembling begin as she thought, but do I desire him? I certainly spend enough time with him, and whenever he gets that warm look in his eyes and his voice drops I begin to feel a quivering inside. I feel drawn to him and can never look away when he traps me with his stare.
She closed her eyes and imagined what it would be like to kiss him. She pictured herself pressing her lips to his and a warmth began to spread out from her stomach, through her whole body. She wondered what it would be like if he slid his tongue into her mouth as Henry sometimes did. She felt her heart jump just at the thought of it. She shook her head, shocked at her musings. That's nonsense, she told herself warding off the trembling in her body. "We're just friends and I'll only miss his company when I'm gone," she said aloud. Satisfied, she fell asleep, however, her dreams told her something else and she was again awoken with her breathing heavy and her pulse racing, images of warm green eyes taunting her.
She was having dinner with him at his home the next night and couldn't shake the images she had conjured up during her brief fantasy of him kissing her. The images were making her nervous and distracted and consequently she didn't notice Nicholas constantly refilling her wine glass and she drank quite a lot.
"You seem distracted, Victoria. Is anything wrong?" he asked her near the end of dinner.
She turned bright, slightly unfocused eyes to him. "No, no, I'm fine," she said.
He went to help her out of her chair, but she was tipsy from the wine and ended up stumbling. He reached out to steady her, only causing her to lose her balance completely. She fell into him heavily and he wrapped his arms around her to again steady her. "I think I may have had too much to drink," she said before looking up at him.
As always, his warm eyes drew her in. Lost in their depths and emboldened by the wine, she said, without thinking, "I've been wondering what it would be like to kiss you."
Surprised by her bold statement, he lowered his lips closer to hers and whispered in that silky voice, "Would you like to find out?"
She had trouble resisting that tone when sober and in her inebriated state, she gave in completely, "Yes," she breathed, closing her eyes and turning her lips up to his.
He didn't wait for her to change her mind, and even though he knew she was drunk, he pressed his lips to hers with all the passion and desire that had been building ever since he first saw her.
Victoria was stunned by the feeling his lips produced in her. A heat began in her belly and spread quickly through her whole body. Her mind flew into a whirl and she was unable to think of anything but his lips on hers. Without realizing it she clutched at him, pressing herself against him even more. She opened her lips to him and almost swooned when his tongue met hers.
His mouth moved seductively over hers, his tongue dancing with hers, bending her backwards with his passion. When he finally released her mouth from his, he kept her tightly in his embrace, and huskily asked her, "Does that answer your question?"
She was breathing heavily and blinked several times, before whispering, "Yes. Yes, it does."
"So, how was it?" he teased in that same low voice.
"Hmmm?" she asked, still slightly dazed.
"You said you were wondering what it would be like. Was it like you thought?"
Still wrapped tightly in his arms and unable to think clearly, she murmured truthfully, "No, it was so much more." She stared deeply into his eyes, wishing he would kiss her again, but he only gently released her.
"I think perhaps you should go home and get some sleep," he said to her, resuming his normal tone.
It snapped her out of her trance and she reluctantly agreed, "Yes, perhaps, I should."
He stood smiling as the carriage disappeared down the road. It had been difficult to send her away, he had been tempted to carry her up to a bedroom, certain she would have complied. But because she was drunk, he had resisted. She had to come to him sober and willingly, otherwise it wasn't much of a conquest. Any man can get a woman drunk and take advantage. He preferred the more challenging way.
The next day, she didn't appear until after noon and when she did come to the lobby, she was wincing against the light and holding her hand to her head. Nicholas saw her and couldn't help but smile. She had a hangover.
"Good afternoon, Victoria," he said approaching her with a smile.
She looked at him nervously, before returning the greeting, "Good afternoon, Nicholas." She looked around the lobby, obviously embarrassed by the previous evening. Finally she said, "I apologize for my disgraceful behavior last night. I had too much to drink and I'm afraid I acted very badly," she said with a slightly shaky voice.
"I wouldn't dream of forgiving you," he replied. He took her chin in his hands, forcing her to look at him. "I've wanted to kiss you ever since I first saw you."
"But it was wrong, I was drunk, I didn't know what I was saying or doing," she stammered, turning her head away.
"You haven't been wondering what it would be like to kiss me?" he challenged.
She hesitated before lying, "No, I haven't."
He chuckled as he answered, "I don't believe you. I stir something in you, don't I? Something that makes you feel uncomfortable but something that you can't resist. Tell me I'm wrong."
She again hesitated before saying, "It doesn't matter how you make me feel. I'm married."
"To a man you don't love," he said, moving closer to her. Sensing how vulnerable she was, he said, "Come back to my house, spend one night with me, just one night. I can make you feel things you can't even imagine."
His plea sent shock waves through her. "No, Nicholas, no," she said, trembling. "I couldn't, I can't."
Trailing a finger down her arm, he whispered, "You haven't wondered what it would be like? To have me make love to you?"
She turned surprised eyes to his and said truthfully, "No, I haven't." Up until this moment she had assumed that making love to any man would be the same as it was making love to Henry. She had never thought that it could be different.