This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Carnal Passions A Division of Champagne Books www.carnalpassions.com Copyright 2011 by Lori Witt ISBN 9781926996752 January 2012 Cover Art by Amanda Kelsey Produced in Canada Carnal Passions #35069-4604 37 ST SW Calgary, AB T3E 7C7 Canada This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Carnalpassions.com (or the retailer of your choice) and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. 3 .
One The dark-haired stranger walked into the saloon, and every whore’s head turned, including mine. It wasn’t that newcomers were unusual. I myself had come to town much the same way this fellow probably had. Like thousands of other stampeders, my brothers and I had charged to Seattle after someone sniffed out some gold in the Klondike. We were among the first to arrive in the swampy logging town sitting in a strip of mud between a lake and Puget Sound, ready to sail and hike north to stake our claims. Had our provision money not wound up in the pocket of a gambler and the purses of a dozen whores, I’d have been up to Canada’s Yukon Territory digging my fortune in the Klondike gold fields and back again by now. But here I was, standing behind a bar with a glass and a rag in my hand, staring like a fool at the man who’d just wandered in from out of the rain. Strangers were nothing new in this town, but this one was different. He carried himself like he was already on his way back from Dawson with a pocket full of gold. Even as he brushed off the sleeves of his heavy overcoat and held his hat outside the door to shake out the rain, he had a dignified air about him that didn’t usually find its way into Ernest’s saloon and Beatrice’s brothel. Apparently satisfied his coat and hat were dry enough, he came all the way in through the door, carrying what appeared to be a heavy pack on his shoulders and a locked wooden box in his hand. He didn’t have the same hunger in his eyes as the other stampeders. Oh, there was something in his eyes, like some fiery 5 .
combination of determination and outright stubbornness, but he lacked the palpable gold fever so many men in this town had these days. Maybe he was an outfitter, come to stake his claim in Seattle’s market for provisions and lodging instead of digging in the gold- lined tundra. Or if he was truly ambitious, he might have come to elbow his way into the joke of a local government. All I knew was, he wasn’t like the other men who came through here. I could just… feel it. As he approached the bar, he strolled. I couldn’t decide if he looked like he didn’t have a care in the world, or if he was damned certain the rest of the world would be wise to get out of his way. In spite of the fact that my bed had been empty the last three nights, I couldn’t help shrinking back into the shadows and hoping he would—wouldn’t!—notice me. Whatever it was that made him so different from every man in this bar and card room, I wasn’t sure I could survive being alone with it. But my God, I’d have given anything to try… Looking around the room, which was stuffy and warm compared to the bitterly cold rain outside, he shrugged off his pack, then his coat, revealing a finely embroidered waistcoat that had clearly been tailored to flawlessly fit his narrow waist. Aside from perhaps a day’s travel’s worth of a shadow on his jaw, he was clean- shaven, and his dark hair was only slightly tousled from his hat, which he set on the bar. He peeled off his leather gloves and laid them beside his hat. Ernest, the bald, burly owner of the saloon, wasn’t so easily intimidated by finery and dignity. “What’ll it be?” “Your best cognac, please.” Oh, dear lord, he had a voice like the cognac he wanted. Ernest laughed. “What city d’you think you’re in, son?” He gestured at the rows of uniform bottles on the wall. “Whiskey or brandy are the best you’re going to find here.” The newcomer scowled, then made a dismissive yet so elegant gesture. “Whiskey will do fine. A double, please.” Ernest beckoned to me. “Robert, get out here and pour the man a drink.” “Yes, sir,” I murmured. I stepped up to the bar, and the newcomer met my eyes. We both jumped, staring at each other in 6 .
something like disbelief. I couldn’t read his eyes any more than I understood my own reaction. He was hardly the first attractive man to come along. No one had ever made the floor shift beneath my feet with a glance, though. Clearing his throat, he shifted his attention to Ernest while I poured his drink. “I’m also looking for a room,” he said. “I’ll be gone tomorrow, headed north, so—” Ernest sniffed. “You and every man in this town. Ain’t you heard the ground up there’s running out of gold? Every stampeder who’s come back through the last two months have been empty- handed.” We’d all heard the tales and rumors from those who’d been there. Some said it would all be picked clean by spring, and those who left now to struggle up that hellish pass into the Yukon would soon be weeping into frozen, barren soil for their trouble. The stranger offered a tight-lipped smile. “I’m not concerned about that.” Ernest regarded him curiously, but then looked at me. “How about that drink?” I finished pouring the double whiskey, and slid it across the bar to the stranger. He met my eyes briefly, and his taut expression warmed to something a little friendlier. Then, once he’d again made the world list beneath my feet, he turned back to Ernest. “So, a room?” he said. “You’ll have to speak to Beatrice.” Ernest gestured across the barroom to where his wife, the brothel’s madam, sipped tea and peered at everyone. “She’s in charge of who occupies the rooms.” The stranger glanced over his shoulder. Facing Ernest again, he said, “I don’t suppose there are beds available without company?” Ernest shook his head. “Not in this hotel.” “Very well.” The stranger nodded and raised his glass. “I’ll finish my drink and be on my way, then.” Ernest walked away, but I may as well have been knee deep in mud. Just about the time I’d convinced myself I could and should leave this man alone with his drink, he looked at me. We held each other’s gazes for a moment, but this time, when he pulled his away, something flickered across his expression, like I’d had the same effect on him as he’d had on me. 7 .
Heavy boots tromped across the planks just outside the door, and out of habit, I looked up. The stranger did as well, and when three men appeared—just as well-dressed as, but perhaps a little less dignified than, the newcomer—he turned back toward the bar, swearing under his breath. The other three talked amongst themselves, their voices low and their eyes darting toward the man drinking in front of me. As they took seats at the other end of the bar and flagged Ernest down for drinks, my patron casually turned just enough to keep his back to them. His eyes flicked up and met mine. Lowering his voice, he said, “Any accommodations you can recommend?” He held my gaze as he took a long swallow of the drink I’d poured. I cleared my throat. “I wouldn’t know. I’m staying—” I glanced up at the ceiling “—here.” His eyebrows rose. The glass clinked on the polished bar. “Is that right?” I nodded. “Even with… company?” I swallowed. “I don’t always have company.” “Don’t you?” His lips slowly pulled into a grin. “Business isn’t booming these days?” “Not always,” I said. “Better for the ladies than it is for me.” “I see.” He sipped his drink again, then watched his long fingers cradle the glass a couple inches above the bar. “And how much do you charge?” I gulped. Oh, dear lord, yes. “For the bed? Or the company?” He looked at me through his lashes. “Either or.” “Five dollars for the bed.” I almost choked on the words. “An extra three if I’m not in it.” His expression turned to one of amusement, his broad smile crinkling the corners of his eyes. “It’s more expensive to sleep alone, is it?” I gave a casual shrug in spite of my pounding heart. “If you sleep alone, I have to go find a place for myself.” “Point taken.” His gaze darted toward the men who still eyed him from the other end of the bar. Then he drained his drink and slid 8 .
the glass back toward me. “In that case…” He reached into the pocket of his trousers and pulled out a few bills and coins. He counted out an amount, then put it beside the glass. A little louder this time, he said, “Fifteen cents for the drink, eight dollars for the bed. Unaccompanied, if you please.” My heart sank, and I tried not to show my disappointment or take it as an insult he’d declined my services. Men who were interested in me were few and far between compared to those who came for the girls, so I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up to begin with. I collected the money and nodded toward Beatrice. “I’ll let her know you’ll be staying with us tonight.” He just smiled. “Thank you.” Once Beatrice had taken her cut and given me the rest of what the newcomer had paid, I offered to carry his pack and box, but he declined, hoisting the former onto his shoulder and clutching the handle on top of the latter in his hand. I led him out of the bar area toward the stairs. The three well-dressed men noticed, all of them. A dingy mirror above the staircase revealed their frowns and stares as we crossed the card room. From the way they fidgeted and scowled, I was sure they might follow us, but they didn’t rise from their barstools, instead leaving the good-looking stranger to follow me up to the room from which he’d be evicting me this evening. As soon as we were out of their sight, I wondered if I imagined the relieved breath the stranger released, and a knot tightened in my stomach. Upstairs, amorous sounds came from Catherine’s room, and I was sure I heard Gladys’s voice in there too. Good. If they were working together tonight, as they often did, maybe I could talk Beatrice into letting me occupy Gladys’s room for a few hours. Great. I had extra money without having to work for it, but with a man like this spending the night in my bed, there was no place I’d rather sleep. As I led him down the hall, dusty amber bulbs dimmed and brightened along the crown molding like they were connected to my pounding heart instead of the wires and such that drew our electricity from the city’s hydroelectric plant. I told myself this man simply 9 .
unsettled me. When finely dressed men casually pursued other finely dressed men into barrooms, there was reason to be concerned. Perhaps he was a criminal. More than a few thieves and crooks had swindled their way through Seattle to Alaska and up the deadly Chilkoot trail, sneaking across the border into the Yukon to escape their criminal charges or wreak havoc on the miners in Dawson City. The red-coated North-West Mounted Police didn’t always get their man. But that wasn’t why my hands shook as I drew my room key out of my pocket. His presence made me nervous for the same reason his rejection pressed down on my shoulders: with a look, he’d made my spine tingle like most men couldn’t with a touch. That unsettled and unnerved me, but I wanted more. This wasn’t like me at all. I wasn’t supposed to want a john like this, especially when he didn’t reciprocate. When he paid not to reciprocate. I keyed open the door to my room, and gestured for him to go ahead. His pack was slung over his shoulder again, obscuring any chance I had of deciding how well-tailored his trousers were, which was probably a good thing. I didn’t need to torment myself any more than necessary. As it was, regardless of where I slept tonight or with whom, I had no doubt this man would be on my mind until dawn. I walked past him and lit the kerosene lamp. “There’s an electric light in here. I’m not fond of it, since it blinks and dims all the time, but you’re welcome to it.” “The kerosene is fine,” he said in that cognac-smooth voice. I pulled open a bureau drawer to find a few things to take with me wherever I’d be sleeping tonight. Over my shoulder, I said, “I’ll leave the key here on the bureau. Beatrice asks that you’re out by quarter past nine in the morning, and—” The door clicked shut. I turned around. From across the tiny room, in the faintly flickering light, our eyes met. Almost whispering, the stranger said, “Am I safe in assuming that paying your surcharge doesn’t preclude a night’s company?” I swallowed hard. “I… what?” “Merely keeping up appearances, my lad.” He set the 10 .