Golden Desire Ch. 04byopels©
Victoria awoke later that same morning, sprawled across the bed, still fully dressed. She sat up groggily as the events of earlier that morning came crashing back with painful clarity. Looking down at the dress she was still wearing she hastily took it off and kicked it across the floor, never wanting to see it again before hastily pulling clothes out of the wardrobe and quickly dressing. She peered down the hallway and finding it empty hurried down to one of the bathing rooms. She was thankful that even though the hotel was modest it still had all the latest conveniences, one being running water and tubs with gas powered water heaters.
She sank into the warm water and vigorously soaped and scrubbed herself, washing all of Nicholas and their night together from her body. Stepping from the water, she quickly dried herself before donning the dress again. She again peered out the door before rushing back to her room. Sure that the story of her disgrace had already been well circulated amongst the staff, she didn't want to see anyone. She quickly closed the door and locked it.
Nicholas walked into the hotel with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. The looks on his employees faces, however, stopped him. "What's wrong?" he asked the young men behind the counter. Their looks of worry and concern troubled him. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
Victoria's assumption that the story of her discovery of the game had spread amongst the staff was correct and the night clerks had told the current day clerks as soon as the shift change happened. "She knows, sir," one of them ventured.
"What do you mean, she knows?" he asked with alarm.
"She somehow overheard the night clerks talking and she knows," another piped up.
Forcing himself to calm down, he said evenly, "What, exactly, does she know? What did they tell her? And why?" he demanded, his anger rising.
"I don't think they told her anything directly. They thought she was gone and started talking about how long this one took you and how no one won the bet," the first clerk nervously replied.
Resting his elbows on the front counter Nicholas dropped his head into his hands. "No, no, no..." he moaned. He slammed his palm onto the counter, causing the clerks to jump. "Dammit!" he cursed.
Looking about he asked, "Is she here?"
"I believe so," one of them said.
Leaving their surprised faces behind, Nicholas turned and ran up the stairs. He paused before her door, trying to figure out what he was going to say. How he was going to explain. The truth is probably the best, he thought.
He knocked on the door. "Victoria?" he called.
"Go away," she shouted from inside, her voice full of anger.
"Please let me in, let me explain," he pleaded.
"No, go away. Leave me alone!" she shouted again.
"It's not the way you think," he said, his face close to the door.
"I don't think how it is, I know how it is. I heard it straight from your employees," she replied.
"But they're wrong. Please let me in and I'll explain," he begged.
After a long pause, she said quietly, "No, just go away and leave me alone. I'm sure you must be busy choosing and seducing your next victim."
Her words cut him as he was sure she meant them to. "Alright, I'm going for now, but I'll be back. I'm hoping you'll give me a chance to explain." When she didn't respond he slowly walked away.
Victoria sat on the bed, he knees drawn up under her chin, trying to figure out what she was going to do. She could get a job, she thought. Then she could move to another hotel. Lifting her head, she continued with the train of thought. Perhaps there's a bakery in town that needs some help. That's something I can do, she thought happily. She sat down at the vanity and began brushing her hair.
That afternoon, Victoria ignored the looks from the front desk clerks and sailed past them with her head high. She recalled seeing a few bakeries in town and would inquire with them. She returned to the hotel a few hours later, dejected. She hurried up to her room and locked the door. Unfortunately, it was quite common for temporarily abandoned wives to seek jobs in places such as bakeries and no one was hiring. It seemed that her only option was to hope that Henry would return before her time at the hotel was through.
Several days passed without her leaving her room. Twice a day, Nicholas came by asking her to let him in so that he could explain. She always told him no, requesting that he leave her alone.
On the fourth day, when the maid brought her her lunch, she mentioned that there was a letter for her at the front desk.
"Is Mr. Andrews in the hotel?" she asked the girl.
"No, ma'am," she replied.
"Are you sure?" she asked sternly.
"Yes ma'am, he's really not here," she said sympathetically.
Victoria raced down to the lobby, hoping that the letter was from Henry. Maybe he had sent her some money. The clerk handed her the letter and her heart fluttered when she saw that it was from the Sheriff's Office in Placerville. Perhaps that's the only way to send out a letter, she thought. She tore it open and eagerly read the contents.
Dear Mrs. Somerset,
I am sorry to report that your husband, Henry Somerset has passed away. He was shot during a claim dispute. His belongings are being transported back to you and should arrive shortly after this letter.
I am also sorry to inform you that he left behind a debt of $298 with various merchants. Please remit this amount, care of this office, within 60 days.
Please accept my sincere condolences for your loss.
Sheriff's Office, Placerville
"No, no, no..." she murmured, reading the letter. Clutching it in her hands, she cried out, "No!" She picked up her skirts and ran from the lobby, past the startled stares of the clerks and several guests.
One of the clerks hissed at another, "Go look, is she gone?"
He rushed to the corner and looked up the stairs, "She's gone."
The first clerk ordered, "Send a messenger to Mr. Andrews immediately. Tell him to come right away!"
Victoria stumbled into her room, tears streaming down her cheeks. Henry can't be dead. What was she going to do? She had no money, no prospects, no friends. Her only hope was gone. She felt the blackness of despair wash over her. As she sat crying and rocking on the floor for the second time in a week, a small thought crept into her head. Nicholas wanted to explain. He said things weren't like she thought.
She lifted her head and her eyes narrowed as she rolled these thoughts about in her head. Perhaps a little pay back was in order. Maybe she could get him to pay Henry's debt. Maybe she could charm him into letting her stay on in the hotel. Maybe she could even get the money for the journey back home from him. She had to keep in contact with him though. She couldn't let him get distracted by another woman. If he used her, why shouldn't she use him?
Could she be that devious though? Could she be so cold hearted? She searched inside herself and found that she was angry enough and desperate enough. She could do it. "I owe it to myself," she said aloud with a humorless chuckle.
Fifteen minutes later, Nicholas stormed into the hotel lobby. "What's going on?" he demanded. His lunch had been interrupted and he was angry.
"She received a letter, sir. From the Sheriff's Office in Placerville. I have the envelope here. She dropped it."
Nicholas took the envelope from him. "What did the letter say?"
"I'm not sure, sir. But as she read it, the blood drained from her face and she started murmuring 'no, no, no' and then she cried out 'no' before running for the stairs. She was extremely upset. So I thought we should send for you."
"You did the right thing Mr. James. Thank you," he said before rushing up the stairs and to her room.
Standing outside the door, he could hear her crying inside. He knocked and called her name, "Victoria? Are you..."
Before he could finish the sentence, the door was flung open and she flew into his arms, sobbing.
"Shhh, shhh," he soothed, easing her back into the room and closing the door. "What's wrong? What happened?"
"Th-th-the letter. It's...it's...on the bureau," she stammered through her tears.
Still holding her, he moved her over to the bureau and picked up the letter, quickly reading it's contents. "I'm so sorry, Victoria. Really, I am," he said sincerely, stroking her hair.
"What am I going to do?" she wailed. "I have no money, I tried to get a job in a bakery but nobody's hiring. What am I going to do?" she repeated, tears streaming down her face.
"Don't worry, I'll take care of it.. Everything will be alright," he said soothingly. Bending down to look in her eyes, he said, "Now, wait here, I'll be back in just a minute."
He rushed from the room to the front desk, where he ordered, "Get me a carriage immediately!" before turning and running back up the stairs.
She was sitting on the bed, staring at her twisting hands when he returned. He sat next to her and pulled her into his arms, murmuring soothing words in her ear until he heard the carriage pull up outside.
"Come on Victoria, let's go," he gently urged her.
Without question, she rose and mutely followed him to the waiting carriage. Only once they were underway did she ask, "Where are we going?"
"My place," he answered. "I'd like you to stay with me until you feel better. How does that sound?"
She turned glimmering eyes to him, "Thank you," she whispered.
He led her into the house and up the stairs to one of the bedrooms. "Why don't you get some rest? I'll be back to check on you later."
He was almost out the door when she called him back. She pulled her hotel room key out of her bag and handing it to him, asked, "Would you be so kind as to bring me my black dress?"
Taking the key from her outstretched hand, he replied, "Of course."
He hated to leave her there, looking so lost, but there was a problem at the new gambling house and he had to go.
Once he had closed the door and she was sure he was gone, she sat in one of the overstuffed chairs in the room and tried to figure out what to do. First and foremost there was the matter of the almost three hundred dollars that Henry left owing. Three hundred dollars! How had he managed to accumulate such a debt? She was hoping that when Nicholas said he would take care of things that he had meant the debt, although that was a lot of money to base her assumptions on.
Nicholas stood in front of her wardrobe at the hotel, going through her dresses, looking for the black one. He found it and wrapping it in a bundle, took it with him out to the waiting carriage. He stowed it inside and told the driver to continue waiting for him. He then went down the street and walked into the bank.
When he arrived back at the house, he went straight up to Victoria's room.
"Come in," she answered quietly to his knock.
He entered to find her sitting in a chair, staring blankly at a spot on the floor.
"How are you feeling?" he asked gently.
She shrugged, before saying, "I can't stop thinking about how all Henry wanted was a better life for us, for me. And he's dead because of it." She buried her face in the handkerchief in her hands. "If only I had insisted we stay in Albany. If only I had refused to come out here..." she trailed away.
Nicholas stood by helplessly, as her shoulders shook with her sobs. He knelt by her chair and wrapped his arms around her. "It's not your fault. You once told me that he even considered coming out here without you. You couldn't have prevented it."
She hastily wiped at her eyes before lifting her head and looking at him. "You really think so?" she asked.
"Absolutely," he replied.
"But still, he's buried up there, I can't even visit his grave," she said breaking down into sobs again.
"I know how you feel. My parents were buried at sea. I can't visit their graves either," he said sadly.
She turned saddened eyes to him. "No, you can't, can you?" Limply, she clung to him, "Oh Nicholas, what am I going to do? Henry left behind almost three hundred dollars in debt. Where am I going to get that kind of money? Even if I could get a job, I couldn't make enough in time! Plus, how am I going to live, never mind trying to get back home." She again buried her face in her handkerchief, her body wracked with sobs.
"Don't worry about Henry's debts," he soothed. "It's been taken care of."
"What do you mean? Taken care of?" she asked, looking up at him. Her eyes widened, "You didn't...?"
"I told you I would take care of you," he said softly.
"I'm going to pay you back," she said firmly. "If I can ever find a job," she finished glumly.
"Why don't you get some rest before dinner? I brought the dress you asked for. It got a little rumpled, it's being pressed right now."
She was silent during dinner and barely ate. Nicholas had an idea of a way to help her but wasn't sure she would like it. He would wait a couple of days before broaching the subject.
Victoria lay in bed that night, gauging her progress with him. He had paid Henry's debt. That part was taken care of. But she still needed a lot more money from him. Until then, she had to make sure he didn't get distracted by another woman. She rose from her bed and stole into the hallway.
Nicholas was just drifting off to sleep when he heard a knock at his door. "Who is it?" he called.
The door opened and Victoria slipped inside. "It's me," she answered.
Alarmed that something was the matter, he sat up, "What's wrong?" he asked.
She walked to the side of his bed. "I feel so terrible inside, so guilty and sad. Make me feel something else, Nicholas, please. Just for a little while." She untied the ribbon at the neck of her nightgown and it fell to her feet, revealing her naked body to him.
He stared at her face, her eyes glowing in the dim light coming through the windows. His gaze traveled hungrily down her body, which also seemed to be glowing. His desire rising for her, he reached out and pulled her into his bed, claiming her lips with his own.
Later, he gazed down at her, asleep, curled against him. Her head was on his shoulder and a sweep of ink black hair trailed across his chest. He gently stroked her head, and whispered, "Sweet dreams, Victoria," before drifting off to sleep himself.
When he woke the next morning, she was gone. He rose and after washing and dressing, wandered the house searching for her. He finally spotted her outside, in his back garden, sitting in the shade. He went out to join her, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "Good morning," he said.
"Good morning," she replied, a pink blush tinting her cheeks. After a moment, she said, "I didn't know you had a garden. It's nice out here."
Looking around, he said, "Yes, it is. I don't spend enough time here. I always seem to be too busy." Pulling up a chair and returning his gaze to her, he said quietly, "Why didn't you stay with me until morning? I was rather looking forward to waking up with you."
Looking away, she replied, "I woke up in the night and couldn't fall back asleep. I came downstairs and found a book in your library and read in my room for awhile."
"You could have woken me up, I'm sure we could have found something to make you tired," he said in a low voice.
She looked down at her hands and blushed again. "I'm sorry if I bothered you. I just couldn't take the way I was feeling anymore."
"You can bother me that way any time you like," he replied his voice dropping even lower.
She couldn't help but giggle. "Thank you, but I think I'll be fine now."
He rose and kissed her again on the cheek, "I have to go now. What will you do today?"
"I'm not sure. Read some more, look at your gallery. Maybe go out for a walk."
He smiled as he headed out to work that morning. He thought back to having her curled against him, asleep. It filled him with a warmth and a sense of contentment that he hadn't felt for many years. He knew he still needed to talk to her about the first time she had been in his bed. And even though she didn't seem angry with him anymore, it bothered him and he wanted to clear the air.
Victoria closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the chair. She sighed happily. Things were going well. Of course, she was upset about Henry being gone, but she didn't have time to dwell on that. Her survival, and just as important, the means to get back to Albany were at stake. When she was back home, then she would grieve.
She wiled the morning away, reading and sewing before becoming restless. She roamed around the house, eventually coming upon the kitchen. The cook was out so she rooted around until she found the pantry, from which she hauled out the ingredients she needed. She found bowls, spoons and measuring cups and was soon up to her elbows in flour and was more content than she had been in weeks.
With her mind occupied with the work of baking, she didn't even notice the afternoon passing until the cook returned to start preparing dinner. Not happy that someone had invaded her territory, she glared at Victoria.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Mrs. O'Malley. I've made quite a mess, haven't I?" She began to hurriedly clean up the flour covered counters.
"I ran a bakery with my husband," she paused before correcting herself. "My late husband..." She took a deep steadying breath before continuing, "back in Albany and always found it to be such soothing and enjoyable work."
When Mrs. O'Malley only continued to glare at her, she gave the counters a final wipe and asking her could she please remove the pies from the oven in about fifteen minutes, she hurried out.
She walked by the foyer just as Nicholas was coming in the front door. She turned to greet him, but before she could say anything, he burst out laughing.
"What is so funny?" she asked.
"You have flour all over you," he said wiping the tip of her nose and displaying his whitened fingertip. "I gather you've been baking," he said, still smiling, sniffing the air. "Smells like pies."
"Yes, I got bored. I was greatly disappointed when I couldn't find a job in a bakery here. It's something I truly enjoy."
Walking with her into the drawing room, he said, "How about a job doing something completely different?"
She eagerly turned to him. "I've never done anything else. What did you have in mind?"
Taking her hand and leading her from the room, he simply said, "Come with me."
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"You'll see," he replied, climbing the stairs. At the top he led her down a hallway, through a door into a dimly lit room.
"I remember this. It's where you can see the gambling house through the screen," she said, confused that he had taken her here.
"Take a look," he said, indicating the screen.
She tentatively approached and peered down. It was much nicer than she had thought it would be. And the patrons much more well behaved. She wasn't quite sure what she had expected, but not what she was seeing.
"Well, what do you think?" he asked.
"It's much nicer than I expected, but I'm not sure why you're showing it to me," she asked, still watching the activity below.
Leaning close to her and looking through the screen, he said, "See the women dealing cards?"
"Yes," she replied, slowly, watching them expertly shuffling and dealing.
"I could use a Blackjack dealer here," he said.
Turning to him with shocked eyes, she questioned, "Surely, you're not suggesting I become a card dealer?"
Trying to suppress his laughter at her outrage, he replied, "Yes. What's wrong with that?" Indicating the view through the screen, he continued, "As you can see, it's a perfectly suitable place for a young woman such as yourself to work."
"You may think it's suitable, but I don't," she stated haughtily.
"What other options do you have?" he asked gently.