Golden Desire Ch. 07byopels©
Victoria and Daniel were out for a walk when they came upon the building site of a large house.
"Another mansion?" she asked looking with wonder at the scale of the construction.
"Yes, another man who made his riches in the gold fields, I hear," Daniel replied. "I guess I'll be meeting him soon." As the bank manager he met personally with all of the bank's wealthier clients.
She looked wistfully at the soon-to-be mansion. "Henry said we would live in a house like that," she said. "In New York City, full of servants."
"Being rich isn't as wonderful as most people think," he said. "It changes them. Makes them wary and suspicious of anyone who tries to befriend them."
She thought back to Nicholas. He hadn't seemed like that, but then again, he didn't appear to have any close friends and he never let a woman get any closer to him than as an entertaining diversion. Maybe he was like Daniel was describing.
Daniel's words brought her back out of her thoughts. "A modest house with a bit of land around it and a family. That's all anyone really needs," he said. When she didn't respond, he urged, "Don't you agree?"
"Yes, it sounds lovely," she replied distractedly.
Daniel assumed her change in mood was due to memories of Henry, but in reality it was memories of Nicholas telling her that he loved her that had upset her. Was it true? Had she managed to break through and touch his heart? He certainly hadn't been looking for love when they met, but according to him it had found him. Mentally, she shook her head. She couldn't possibly mean that much to him. Other than saying the words, he had never shown even for an instant that he felt that way. It didn't matter, she thought. He was in her past now. She gazed up at Daniel, the man who was in her future. So why wasn't she happy?
A week later, Mrs. Fraser was chatting with her at the bakery. "I heard that the owner of the newest mansion has arrived in town. They say he's devastatingly handsome and still rather young. I daresay the young women of this town will be behaving quite shamelessly in their pursuit of him," she laughed.
"But his house isn't finished," Victoria commented.
"I hear he's renting the old Thompson place. You know, that big blue house?" she prompted.
"Oh yes. Do you know his name?" she asked, wondering if it was anyone she was acquainted with.
"No, that I don't know. No one seems to know. It's quite a mystery," the older woman replied.
"Maybe he doesn't want anyone to make a fuss over him, and he prefers to keep to himself," she suggested.
"Well, then why is he showing off, building such a grand house? Have you seen the amount of marble that's going into that home?" she said, rolling her eyes. "My goodness!"
Victoria couldn't help but laugh. At that moment, Daniel came through the doors to collect her. Mrs. Adams immediately asked, "Mr. Sinclair, what do you know of Oregon City's most recent wealthy citizen?"
Smiling, he admitted, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Fraser, I haven't met the man yet. And as I'm sure you know, there is a great air of mystery surrounding him. No one knows a thing about him. Except that he's apparently going to be quite popular amongst the ladies." Taking Victoria's arm he joked, "I'm going to have to keep my eye on you. Make sure you don't go falling for handsome millionaires."
Laughing, she replied, "I don't think you have to worry about that. I'm not much for millionaires and he can't possibly be any more handsome than you." She touched him on the chin as she made her last comment. Unbidden, a comparison to Nicholas came to mind, as it often did. And as always, Daniel came up lacking. Barely acknowledging the thought, she quickly shoved it to the back of her mind.
As was expected, over the next few days the only thing anyone talked about was the town's newest resident. All anyone knew of him was that he was young and very handsome.
Daniel and Victoria were sitting on a bench in the garden of her boarding house when he said to her quietly. "I have a meeting with the town's mystery man tomorrow."
Having been unable to resist being drawn into the drama surrounding the man, she eagerly asked, "You do? What is his name?"
"I don't actually know. For some reason, it was not given to me. I was only told that he has requested a meeting tomorrow morning." Turning serious, he continued, "Don't tell anyone. The interest in him has grown to ridiculous proportions and we're worried about a crowd of onlookers at the bank. This man obviously wants some privacy."
"I won't tell a soul," she promised.
Daniel arrived early at the bank the next morning. He also was very curious about the gentleman he was meeting and was eager to make a good impression. At nine o'clock his secretary announced that his appointment had arrived. Daniel stood as the man entered the office.
"Good morning, Mr. Sinclair," he said, shaking Daniel's hand. "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Nicholas Andrews."
"Welcome to Oregon City, Mr. Andrews," Daniel welcomed him. The rumors were true, he thought, this tall blonde man was going to drive the women of this town to distraction. Inwardly he breathed a sigh of relief that Victoria was such a level headed young woman and wouldn't have her head turned by this man's good looks.
They spent the next few hours discussing Nicholas' finances. When it became apparent that his wealth had come from running hotels and gambling houses and the subsequent sale of those establishments, Daniel had to admit, he was surprised. "I didn't realize such money could be made in the actual town of San Francisco."
"Yes, I'm surprised myself at how well I did," Nicholas commented. "I had initially thought that I would expand and continue building , that the gold rush would keep making me money forever. But it was rather abruptly brought to my attention that the gold rush wouldn't last forever and that my business would most likely dry up at that point. I curbed my expansion plans and just saved the money I was making. After awhile I quietly put the word out that I was interested in selling my assets and I soon had an offer. I had also heard that Oregon City was a growing town, full of promise so I decided to come here to settle down."
As Nicholas was leaving, Daniel asked, "You say you ran several gambling houses?"
"Yes, that's right," he replied.
"I'm acquainted with a woman who worked in a gambling house. Perhaps it was one of yours. Maybe you knew her."
Nicholas' guard immediately went up. Forcing his voice to remain casual he said, "I oversaw the general operations of the houses, not the smaller details, like staff. However, I may remember her name."
"Victoria Somerset," Daniel suggested. "Tall, slim, black hair and dark blue eyes."
Nicholas' heart skipped a beat. She was still here. He recalled how horrified she had been when he had first suggested that she become a card dealer. Had she changed her opinion of the job so much that she would admit it to a casual acquaintance or was this man more than that? Again forcing his voice to remain neutral, he feigned thoughtfulness. "No, I don't recall anyone by that name," he lied. If this man was his competition he wanted every advantage. "People came and went so frequently that, after awhile, I stopped trying to keep track of them."
"Well, I hope you like Oregon City. Feel free to come by anytime."
"Thank you. Good day, Mr. Sinclair." Nicholas left the bank and quickly climbed into his waiting carriage. Once he was back home, he went straight to his study. Even though it was still morning, he poured himself a brandy and quickly gulped it back. She was here, in this town and she knew that man. Perhaps quite well. He pictured Daniel in his mind. Tall, handsome, and the exact opposite of him in coloring and respectability. He was precisely the sort of man she would be looking for. He hoped he would be able to compete. Not only compete, but win.
The word went around town quickly that Daniel had met with the mysterious new resident that morning. He had never been approached by so many people as he was later that day as he made his way to the bakery to walk Victoria home. He declined to give out any information whatsoever, wanting to protect the man's obvious desire for privacy. He even refused to answer Mrs. Fraser's abundant and persistent questions.
When they had finally reached the seclusion of her boarding house's garden, Victoria teasingly asked him, "Well, do I get to know who the man is?"
Suddenly noticing a scuff on his shoe, he pulled out his handkerchief and bent over to attend to his shoe while saying, "Yes, his name is Nicholas Andrews. He didn't make his money in the gold mines as I had thought but rather in various business interests in the actual town of San Francisco." He buffed his shoe and didn't notice Victoria's reaction to his statement.
Her breath caught in her throat as she felt the blood drain from her face. She suddenly felt faint and clutched at the seat of the bench to keep herself upright.
Still focusing his attention on his feet, Daniel continued, "He said he owned gambling houses so I asked if he knew you."
Horrified, she suddenly truly feared she would faint. Forcing herself to breathe evenly, she managed to ask in a normal voice, "What did he say?"
"He said he didn't know your name but that people came and went so frequently that he stopped trying to remember everyone." He sat up and examined his shoes.
She again focused on her breathing. He must have been lying to Daniel. He couldn't possibly have forgotten her, she thought, suddenly hurt that he might have. He had said he loved her. However, it had been several months since she left, it was possible. Without her constant presence in his life and his bed, perhaps she had quickly faded from his memory, replaced by another lonely miner's wife. But he was here. Why else would he have come?
Daniel finally noticed her pale face and distracted air. "Victoria, are you alright?" he asked, suddenly concerned.
Quickly coming out of her thoughts, she said, "The ovens at the bakery were overloaded today, I may have gotten a bit too much heat. I think I'm going to go lay down. Will I see you tomorrow?" she asked, rising, suddenly eager to reach the privacy of her room.
"Yes, of course," he answered. He helped her to the door and kissed her on the cheek. "Take care at the bakery tomorrow," he said as he left.
She gripped the banister as she climbed the stairs on unsteady legs to her room. She stumbled to her bed and lay down, pondering what she should do. She was bound to run into him sooner or later. Would she be able to resist him? Would he behave himself? She lay for hours torturing herself with these thoughts.
Daniel suddenly woke from sleep. The books hadn't balanced that day and it had been bothering him. As usual when he had a problem like this, the answer came to him in the middle of the night. He had forgotten about a money transfer that had come in by mail that morning. Mr. Andrews' visit had distracted him to the point where he had forgotten all about it. He rose from his bed and walked to his desk by the window to write down the information in case he forgot by morning.
The moon was full that night and the light was such that he didn't need to light a candle. The clock in the town square struck one as he quickly wrote himself a note. As he finished, he stood and glanced out the window. A movement on the deserted street caught his attention and he looked closer. Someone was making their way down the street, very furtively, hiding in the shadows. As he watched the figure he soon realized it was a woman.
What would a woman be doing out on the streets alone at this hour, he wondered. He continued to watch her and realizing that she would soon have to step into the moonlight to cross a side street, he stepped closer to the window. She looked about before stepping into the light and when she did, his breath caught in his throat. It was Victoria. He watched dumbfounded as she hurried across the road and again melted into the shadows.
He quickly pulled on a pair of trousers and thrust his bare feet into shoes. Grabbing his coat and a hat, he ran out the door, chasing after her. Following her example, he stayed in the shadows, always a block behind her. Where in heaven's name was she going at one in the morning, he asked himself.
Victoria didn't think about what she was doing. She concerned herself only with staying in the shadows, not allowing herself to consider her destination. When she finally stood across the street from the large blue house, she hesitated. She tried to calm her racing heart, dry her sweating palms. She nervously licked her lips and quickly looking around, she darted across the street. She stood before the front doors and again hesitated. Her eyes scanned the empty street once more, before she raised her hand and knocked on the door.
After a few moments there was no answer and no sound of movement from within and she knocked again. This time she heard the sound of someone moving around inside and she held her breath. The door opened and much to her relief it was Mrs. Rodriguez's surprised eyes she met. The housekeeper opened the door and let her in.
"Mrs. Somerset? What are you doing here?" she asked, clearly bewildered.
"It's alright, Mrs. Rodriguez. You can return to bed. I'll take care of our guest," Nicholas' voice said.
Victoria looked up and saw him standing on the upper landing, looking over the railing down into the large foyer of the house. He was in pajamas covered by a luxurious robe. With his hair mussed and a shadow of beard on his jaw, he looked more handsome than she had remembered. The bottom of her stomach seemed to fall out as she stared up at him. Her breath burst through her lips and she found she needed to pull in deep gasps of it as he slowly made his way down the stairs.
His eyes locked on hers, he approached. "Mrs. Somerset. How lovely to see you again. What brings you here at this late hour?" he asked casually, taking her arm and guiding her towards a sitting room.
Ignoring his question, she bluntly asked, "What are you doing here? Why did you come?"
"I heard it was a lovely town. Much nicer than San Francisco. Not so dirty and immoral," he said with a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he closed the doors to the room, and then seated himself in an armchair.
Remaining standing, she glared at him. "I want you to leave," she demanded.
"Leave?" he asked with a laugh. "But I just arrived. My house isn't even finished."
"Why can't you leave me alone?" she cried.
"I told you before you left. I love you, Victoria." His voice dropped to that low, seductive tone she knew so well and it didn't fail to effect her.
Her breath caught in her throat, but she tore her eyes away from his before she fell under their spell. However, much to her dismay, a feeling of relief flooded through her veins at his declaration of love; he hadn't forgotten her. But did he even know what love was? Is that really what he felt for her?
Unsure of his sincerity, she challenged, "What do you want to do right now?"
He stood and moved close to her, his voice turning silky smooth, he said, "I want to pull you into my arms and carry you upstairs to my bed."
Turning blazing eyes on him, she spat, "Is that all you want from me? Someone to warm your bed? You never mention sitting and talking with me, or again viewing your art collection, or anything other than rolling around in your bed. You don't know what love is." She turned to the door and with her hand on the handle, she looked at him, "Please, leave Oregon City. Leave me alone."
Desperate that she not go, he asked, "Are you being courted by the bank manager? Mr. Sinclair?"
Hoping that by making it clear that she was no longer available, she turned from the door and answered, "Yes, Daniel and I spend time together. He hasn't mentioned marriage yet, but I'm sure he will."
"So, you've found the safe, boring man you mentioned in San Francisco," he said with a smirk.
"Daniel is not boring. He's a very intelligent and well bred man," she stated haughtily.
Nicholas turned and walked over to the sidebar, where a tray of decanters stood. He poured himself a brandy. "In other words, boring," he said, taking a sip of the amber liquid. Putting down the glass and staring into deep blue eyes that were blazing with anger, he slowly started to walk back towards her. His voice once again dropping low, he asked, "Does his very presence send a shiver down your spine? Does his touch set your passion aflame?"
Her breath again caught in her throat and that long absent warmth began in her belly.
He stood so close to her that his breath brushed her cheek. His voice at its most seductive, he whispered, "Does just the sound of his voice spread a warmth through your body?"
How did he know that his voice did that to her she wondered as she helplessly turned her eyes to his. She knew it was a mistake before she even did it, but was powerless to stop herself. Immediately she was drawn in. He was so close to her, she could smell the warm scent of the brandy on his breath. He put a finger under her chin, tipping her head back, causing her to offer him her lips.
He hesitated, his mouth hovering over hers. Her whole body was aching for him, screaming for his touch. Unable to resist any longer, she took his head in her hands and pulled it down to her, pressing her lips to his. Her fingers wound through his blond tresses as she pressed herself against him. "Take me upstairs," she murmured, finally surrendering to him.
"You, my dear, seem to want the same things from me as I want from you," he replied, his voice husky with his desire for her.
"Yes, but I don't profess to love you. Now take me upstairs," she demanded, again pressing her lips to his.
Nicholas broke the kiss long enough to extinguish the light and then scooping her up in his arms he carried her through the dark house and up the stairs to his bed.
Daniel stood outside on the dark street and watched as the light went out in Nicholas' rented house. He waited for Victoria to come out, but when it was apparent that she wasn't going to, he slowly turned and walked back home. A thousand questions spun in his mind but only one answer was apparent. They obviously knew each other. Knew each other quite well.
Victoria heard a clock somewhere chiming three o'clock and slid out of Nicholas' bed. She was about to stand when his hand reached out and grabbed her wrist. "Not this time," he murmured, pulling her back to his side.
"I have to go," she replied, trying to move away.
"Stay with me, stay until morning," he asked earnestly, gently kissing her lips.
"I can't," she said. "I have to go home. I don't want to be seen leaving here."
Reluctantly, he let her go. "Alright, I can wait until we're married to wake up to your beautiful face," he said casually.
She turned to him with wide eyes. "You want to marry me?" she asked.
Turning onto his side, his head propped up on an elbow, he replied, "Of course. Isn't that what people do when they're in love?"
"But we're not in love," she corrected him. "Only you are, apparently."
He watched her as she moved around the room, collecting the clothing that had been so hastily discarded earlier. "You love me, you just don't know it."
She pulled a boot out from under the bed and standing, she stared at him. "Oh, really? Pray tell, Mr. Andrews, what else do I feel?"
He rose from the bed and wrapped his arms about her from behind. Whispering in her ear, he murmured, "Well, for starters, you feel like climbing back into bed with me."
She could feel his desire for her pressing against the back of her hip. He trailed kisses down her throat and her head tipped back onto his shoulder with a moan. His hands pushed away her loose dress and he caressed her soft flesh. "You can get into a carriage out back, no one will see you leaving," he whispered, moving her back towards the bed.