Ever since Robert Belton gambled away the money to stake his claim in the Klondike gold fields, he’s been stranded in Seattle working as a prostitute. When an attractive customer needs help hauling provisions to the frozen north, Robert eagerly volunteers.
Dr. John Fauth is only searching for one thing, and it isn’t gold. He needs platinum for the prototypes of his revolutionary inventions, and if he doesn’t find it in the Klondike, his university career—and his research—is over.
Getting to the Klondike is a grueling, dangerous journey, and just hours after leaving Seattle, John and Robert find themselves in over their heads. John is carrying an invaluable device that his competitors will do anything to get their hands on. And as the cold nights and mutual desire pull John and Robert closer together, they discover that they have much more to lose than gold or platinum.
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The dark-haired stranger stepped into the saloon, and every whore’s head turned, including mine.
Strangers were nothing new in Seattle, not since the stampede had begun a year or so ago, but anyone walking through that door was a potential john. After several slow nights in a row, none of us wasted time sizing up new arrivals.
As I searched him for tells—something to hint if he was here for a drink, a game of cards, or a companion for the night—I had to admit I was intrigued. Gladys had said that if you’d seen one stampeder, you’d seen them all, but once in a while, someone stood out from the crowd.
Like this one.
From behind the bar where I was wiping down glasses, I watched him. He looked tired and cold just like everyone else, but he carried himself like he was already on his way back from the Yukon with a pocket full of gold. Even as he brushed the rainwater off the sleeves of his heavy overcoat and held his hat outside the door to shake it out, he had a dignified air that didn’t often find its way into Ernest’s saloon and brothel.
Apparently satisfied his coat and hat were dry enough, he came all the way in, carrying a large pack on his shoulders and a locked wooden box in his hand.
He strolled toward the bar. I couldn’t decide if 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. On his way across the warm, if stuffy, saloon, he didn’t even seem to notice Frances’s and Anna’s coquettish smiles.
Aside from a day’s worth of 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 shrugged off his pack, then his coat, revealing a finely embroidered waistcoat that had clearly been tailored to fit his narrow waist. Well dressed. Not rich, but certainly not destitute. Still too early to say if he’d come here for a whore, but from the looks of him, he could afford one, and he was showing no interest in the girls, so I casually inched closer to where he was sitting.
Ernest leaned on the bar. “What’ll it be?”
The stranger peeled off his leather gloves and laid them beside his hat. “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 over here and pour the man a drink.”
“Yes, sir.” I joined him, and the newcomer met my eyes but only for a second.
Clearing his throat, he shifted his attention to Ernest while I poured his drink. “Do you know where a man might look if he wants to round up a team to head north?”
“Heading north?” Ernest sniffed. “You and every man in this town. Ain’t you heard the ground up there’s running out of gold? The last two months, every stampeder who’s come back through here’s been empty-handed.”
My stomach sank at the reminder of the dwindling gold fields. Some said the gold would all be picked clean by spring, and those who left now to struggle over that hellish pass into the Yukon would be weeping into frozen, barren soil for their trouble. With winter just around the bend, those of us still itching to make the journey were losing hope by the day.
“I’ve heard the rumors.” The stranger offered a tight-lipped smile. “But I’m not concerned about that.”
Ernest eyed him, then shrugged. “Well, you’ll find the men you’re looking for hanging around the docks down by the outfitters. But watch your pockets—there’s as many thieves down there as men who could help you.”
“But there are men looking to go north?”
“Aye. Dozens of ’em who’ll join any party led by a man who’ll pay them.” Ernest turned to me. “How about that drink?”
I slid the double whiskey across the bar. The stranger briefly met my eyes again, and his taut expression warmed to something a little friendlier.
He turned back to Ernest. “I’m also in need of a room. I expect to be gone tomorrow, so—”
“You’ll have to speak to Beatrice.” Ernest gestured across the barroom to where his wife, the brothel’s madam, peered at everyone over her teacup. “She’s in charge of the whores and the rooms.”
The stranger glanced over his shoulder. “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 left him to his drink. I should have done the same, but I may as well have been knee-deep in mud.
The stranger studied me as I studied him. He didn’t have the same hunger in his eyes as the other stampeders. Oh, there was something in his eyes, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but he lacked the palpable gold fever so many men in this town had these days.
I cleared my throat. “You’re setting out in the morning?”
“Well, once I find a man or two who can accompany me, and of course some equipment to haul my gear.” Clicking his tongue, he shook his head. “Ridiculous, this requiring a damned year’s worth of provisions for each man just to get into Canada. Any man worth his salt could easily survive on half that.”
“I’ve heard it isn’t true.”
His eyebrows rose. “Is that so?”
I nodded. “They say it’s just the outfitters’ way of making money.” I gestured in the general direction of the docks. “Trouble is, the boats are in on it too, and they won’t let anyone on board without it. Only the airships will.”
He snorted. Into his glass, he muttered, “And what man who hasn’t already struck it rich can afford an airship ticket?”
I laughed quietly. As he swallowed the whiskey with a grimace, I glanced around, then leaned on the bar and lowered my voice. “So you’re traveling alone at the moment?”
“Aren’t most men who walk into a brothel?”
“I . . . well, no. Some have just broken away from their—” I waved a hand. “Listen, the men down at the docks, whatever you’ll pay them to come with you, I’ll do it for half.”
He blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
I couldn’t quite believe I’d blurted it out that way, but I didn’t take it back. He was a stranger, but he had two things I needed enough to take a risk that would’ve been deemed foolish by most men: the means to get to Dawson City and a vacancy for a team member.
“Half,” I said in spite of my dry mouth. “I’ll help you haul your gear, dig, everything, for half of what you’d pay them.”
He stared at me for a moment and then chuckled. “Might be a bit cold and grueling for someone of your profession, don’t you think?”
I glared at him. “I’m only a whore because it keeps me fed. I came to Seattle for the same reason you did.”
The stranger shook his head and then brought his glass up to his lips again. “Oh, I doubt that very much.”
“Why?” I growled. “Don’t think I want to find gold just like the next man?”
“No, no, not that.” He gave another quiet chuckle. “But I assure you, we’re not going up there for the same reasons.” He set his glass on the bar again. “Why aren’t you on your way to Dawson City already?”
My cheeks burned. “Because my brothers and I lost the money for our provisions. Didn’t even have enough to get back to Montana.”
“And you think you’ll make that money in Dawson City?” He eyed me. “Plenty of men come back poorer than they left, you know.”
“I know. Been stuck working here for six months now, so I’ve got enough money saved to hold me over. What I want is to go to Dawson City, but I can’t handle that much gear myself, and I can’t afford to buy a mech, never mind pay someone to operate it.”
He pursed his lips but said nothing.
“I’d have gone with any other team, but men look at me”—I gestured at myself—“and don’t think I’m strong enough for the journey. I’m small, but I am not weak.”
He rolled a sip of whiskey around in his mouth as he looked me over. As much as he could see above the bar, anyway.
I pushed my shoulders back. “Listen, I can pull my weight. And I’m desperate. I can’t go back to Montana. The stampede will only last so much longer, and then this place will be back to the logging town it was before. And I’ve seen what happens to loggers. I’ll risk freezing off my fingers and toes to get to Dawson City for a fool’s chance at riches before you’ll find me working in a logging camp.”
He glanced around the brothel, his gaze pausing on three of the girls trying to charm men into their beds, then raised an eyebrow at me. “This is preferable to logging?” Before I could reply, he nodded. “I suppose it is, isn’t it?”
“It is. And I won’t be able to make a living in here once this stampede ends.” I cursed the desperation in my voice and in my situation. “That could be in a month, six months, a year. Who knows? But if I have any chance of finding gold, I can’t wait much longer.”
“You may already be too late. The barkeep said himself the gold fields are dwindling.”
“That isn’t stopping you.”
“I’m not interested in gold.”
Then why . . .
But I shrugged. “I’ll take my chances. I didn’t come here, lose my shirt, and whore myself for six months just to turn around and go home.”
The stranger’s brow furrowed. “And you said you came here from Montana?”
“How many years in Montana?”
“Twenty. Lived there my whole life before I came here.”
“So you know what harsh winters are like,” he said, more to himself than to me.
“Probably better than most of the men you’ll find down on the pier.”
He swirled his drink slowly, watching the liquid slosh inside the glass. “What did you do for work before you came here?”
“My father is a tanner. I worked for him and on my grandfather’s farm.”
The stranger looked me up and down again, running his thumb across his lower lip. This was when most men would inform me they didn’t think I was quite strong enough, quite solid enough to handle the journey, never mind the mining at the end of it. That, or they’d leer at me and say of course I could join them, at which point I’d realize I’d be out in the middle of nowhere with these men rather than in the relative safety of the brothel, and I’d think better of my offer.
The stranger opened his mouth to speak, but just as he did, heavy boots tromped across the planks outside the door. Out of habit, I turned my head. He did as well, and when three men appeared—as well dressed as he was—he turned back toward the bar, swearing under his breath.
The other three talked amongst themselves, their voices low and their eyes darting around the room.
The stranger glanced at the floor beside him, and something scraped quietly. Wood on wood, as if he’d nudged the locked box with his foot.
One of the new arrivals stared right at the stranger, and then turned to the others. They exchanged muffled words until one gestured for the others to follow him.
As they left the way they’d come, the stranger glanced over his shoulder again. He exhaled hard and reached for his glass again.
A knot tightened in my stomach. “You know them?”
He studied me as he took another sip of whiskey. “We’re . . . colleagues of sorts.”
Colleagues? Of sorts? What did that—
“I think I’ll stay here after all.” He glanced back at the empty doorway, and then his glass clinked on the polished bar. “How much do you charge for a night?”
I gulped. “Um, for the bed? Or the company?”
He held my gaze. “Either or.”
“Five . . . 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 door. Then he drained his drink and slid the glass back across the bar. “In that case . . .” He reached into the pocket of his trousers and withdrew a few bills and coins. He counted some out, then put it beside the glass. “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 that he’d declined my services. After all, men who were interested in me were few and far between compared to those who came for the girls—that was why I also tended bar.
I collected the money and nodded toward Beatrice. “I’ll let her know you’ll be staying with us tonight.”
He smiled. “Thank you.”
Once Beatrice had taken her cut and given me what was left, I offered to carry his pack and box, but he declined, hoisting the former onto his shoulder and clutching the latter’s handle.
I led him out of the bar area to the creaking staircase. 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.
I was being paid without having to work for it, but I didn’t want to let this man out of my sight while I was still holding on to the hope that he might take me up on my offer to join his team. On the other hand, the three men who’d made him nervous made me a little nervous too. What was I getting myself into?
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 that drew our electricity from the city’s hydroelectric plant. 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 or to wreak havoc on the miners in Dawson City. The red-coated North-West Mounted Police didn’t always get their man.
My hands shook as I drew my room key out of my pocket. I unlocked open the door and gestured for him to go ahead. Then 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 the few things I’d take with me to wherever I’d be sleeping tonight. “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.
The stranger grinned. “Am I safe in assuming that paying your surcharge doesn’t preclude a night’s company?”
“I . . . what?” I shook my head. “I mean, why would you pay extra for—”
“Merely keeping up appearances, my lad.” He set the wooden box on the floor and toed it up against the wall, then eased his pack off his shoulders and draped his jacket over it. My mind and heart were both racing, but our eyes met, and something in me stilled. There was nothing threatening or menacing in his slight smile, and when he took a step toward me, I didn’t draw back.
“The walls in every city have ears,” he said, “and there are loose lips between this town and the Yukon that can be heard all the way to Chicago. Three dollars is a small price to pay for a little discretion, don’t you think?” The three faces downstairs flashed through my mind again, but vanished when his long fingers went to the first button on his waistcoat. “I assure you, I have every intention of using the services I paid extra not to use.” One eyebrow rose, as did the corner of his mouth. “Assuming that’s all right with you?”
I cleared my throat. “Um, of course. Certainly.” I started unbuttoning my shirt, but paused. “What about going with you? To Dawson City?”
The man eyed me, and his fingers stopped on a button. An odd smile—midway between puzzled and amused—pulled at his slim lips, and he lowered his hands, tugging at his waistcoat as if he’d meant to straighten it, not remove it. “You’re already being paid extra, but you still want to bargain?”
“I don’t think you realize how badly I want out of this town.”
Folding his arms loosely across his partially unbuttoned waistcoat, he tilted his head. “You’ll go for half the wages the men on the pier would require?”
“Yes. And split the cost of a mech.”
He pursed his lips. “You can afford a ticket to Ketchikan?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“Your own provisions?”
“And then some.”
It took all I had not to squirm under the weight of his stare—his long, scrutinizing pauses were unnerving.
“You can afford a ticket and provisions,” he said after a moment, “but you can’t go back to Montana?”
I gritted my teeth. “I didn’t say it was money keeping me from going home.”
“I see.” Then he gave a sharp nod. “Very well. I’ll hire you.”
Excitement and relief swelled beneath my breastbone. “Thank you.”
“We’ll acquire our provisions tomorrow morning and leave on the next boat to Ketchikan.” He smiled thinly and resumed unbuttoning his waistcoat. “Now, about tonight’s arrangement . . .”
I was so thrilled about my good fortune, I couldn’t even figure out what to do next until, in a smooth, mesmerizing motion, he pushed the first button through its keeper. As he unfastened the next one, I realized I needed to do the same and reached for the next button of my shirt.
My work was, in its best moments, passionless, my body going through the motions like the provision-laden spidery brass mechs that marched through the streets outside on their way to Dawson City. But I’d wanted him from the start, and the fact that he’d just made himself my ticket to the Yukon made me want him even more. Made me want to enjoy him.
Piece by piece, he removed his silk and wool, and with each finely tailored layer, he stripped away my ability to think. He was the most beautiful thing that had come through Seattle in the last year, with shoulders cut from marble and a smooth chest and stomach above narrow hips. Sparse, dark hair fanned out from the middle of his chest, simply begging my fingers to run through it, and a thin strip below his navel guided my eyes below his belt a moment before his hands began unfastening his trousers.
My own hands were clumsy. What is wrong with you, Robert? No john had ever had this effect on me, rendering me so useless that I had only managed to remove my shirt and boots by the time he was completely, gloriously naked. But then, he was my long-sought-after escape from this place—I supposed that warranted some unusual infatuation.
Stroking himself slowly, he whispered, “Get on your knees.”
An all-too-familiar dread constricted my throat. Few things made me want to gag more than sucking unwashed men who spent all their money on brothels and not a penny on baths.
I swallowed hard and knelt in front of him. He’d paid for this. I wouldn’t deny him. His hand left his cock and rested in my hair as I dutifully took him between my lips. To my surprise, he smelled lightly of soap—he’d been to Smith’s for a bath, I could tell by the scent—and a spine-tingling masculine muskiness. His skin was vaguely salty, and he was almost too thick for my jaw to accommodate. I shivered and took him as deep as I could.
I’d never experienced such a thing myself—I always gave, never received—but men rarely complained, and his groans of approval made my own trousers almost too tight to bear.
Never before had I craved someone like this. I’d only known a man’s touch when there was money exchanged, but this time, the money didn’t matter. I wanted him to be satisfied with what I did because I wanted to please him.
This was unprecedented. But I couldn’t question it. I was too occupied with giving him the sum total of everything I knew, every way I’d learned to make a man—
“Wait, stop,” he whispered hoarsely. When I looked up, he nodded toward my bed. “Turn around.”
I jumped to my feet and unfastened my trousers. The man obviously wasn’t new to this, because he knew exactly what purpose the white bottle beside my bed served. He reached for it and poured some of the slippery, clear liquid into his palm as I stripped off the rest of my clothes.
Per his command, I got on my knees on the bed, and my nameless john knelt behind me. He pressed a cool, slicked finger against my entrance, and I closed my eyes as it slipped into me. These days, I didn’t require much help to relax enough for a man to fuck me, but he took his time anyway, easing me open with one finger, two, a third. Even after I’d relaxed, he didn’t stop. Much as I wanted to beg for his cock, I bit my tongue. He’d paid for his pleasure, not mine. And besides, his fingers—slippery and gentle—created a degree of pleasure I’d never experienced before. My breath kept catching in my throat as his fingers eased in and out. Sometimes he’d part them to stretch my entrance, other times they simply moved. In and out, in and out, until I was a breath away from begging him to fuck me.
He withdrew his fingers completely, and I moaned in both protest and anticipation. As he reached for the white bottle again, I shivered, sucking in a sharp hiss of breath through gritted teeth.
The bottle clinked on the bedside table, and the mattress shifted behind me.
I closed my eyes as he pressed himself against me. Even after he’d fingered me until I thought I’d lose my mind, he was in no hurry to force himself inside me. He slid the head of his cock into me, then pulled out, and I whimpered softly at the absence of him. A second later, he pressed in again, and this time he pushed deeper, and I leaned back to take even more of him. To take all of him. I was used to some painful friction while my body accepted a hurried man, and more often than not, by the time I started to enjoy it, he’d be done. Not this time, though. I had never taken a man’s cock after being so deliciously prepared for it, and every stroke was pure ecstasy.
I couldn’t stop myself from rocking in time with his thrusts, silently begging him for more. Some patrons didn’t like that, refusing to relinquish even the most minuscule amount of control, but he simply moaned and thrust harder.
Then he shifted, leaning over me and resting his hands on the mattress beside mine. He kissed the side of my neck, and I pulled in a ragged breath, which I promptly lost when he thrust deep and hard into me.
His chin was coarse against the back of my shoulder, unlike the soft warmth of his lips and breath. “Tell me your name.”
Surely he’d heard it downstairs, but what he asked for, he received. I found enough air to whisper, “Robert.”
“Robert,” he growled, and my name had never sounded so filthy. “Mmm, I love what you’re doing, Robert.”
I shivered and tried to remember what I was doing. Fortunately, my body kept moving of its own accord, meeting him thrust for thrust until tears stung my eyes.
“Do you like that, Robert?”
Moaning, I let my head fall forward, so lost in desire, I couldn’t focus on anything except enjoying what he did, on the way he slid so easily in and out of me, and breathed on me, and promised with every stroke a climax to end all climaxes.
I wavered between holding back and letting go, falling apart a little more every time his cock met that eye-watering spot.
Shifting my weight onto one trembling arm, I reached down and closed my fingers around my painfully hard cock. I gasped, tensed, and a second later, he too gasped. With a low, guttural growl, he thrust even harder. Hot tears ran down my cheeks as he drove me to that promised climax, and my eyes rolled back as I spent into my palm.
Just as my vision began to clear and his strokes became uncomfortably intense, he groaned, forced himself all the way inside me, and shuddered. He was buried to the hilt, not an inch of my backside absent the heat of his flesh, and every twitch and tremor resonated through me.
Panting, he kissed the side of my neck. “You’re worth easily twice what you charge, Robert.”
“I don’t know.” I licked my lips. “I think I should be paying you.” I’d never been so satisfied in my life, and how strange that such satisfaction came from a patron who’d paid for the right to do as he pleased to my body all night. A patron who’d paid extra so no one would know. And no one had to know. I wouldn’t say a word to anyone unless it was to him, and those words would be “please, please, do it all again.”
And before long, he did do it all again.
The next morning, I watched from my bed as he buckled his belt over his trousers. My body ached from making sure he’d gotten his money’s worth last night, though truth be told, I was still certain I should have been paying him.
As I buttoned my shirt, I said, “You never did tell me your name.”
He sat on the edge of the bed and leaned down to pull on his boots. “John.”
I laughed. “You and every man who comes through this room.”
That gave him pause, and he chuckled. “My mother must have known what kind of man I’d be one day.” He glanced at me. “Didn’t think to use a false name, though. I’ll have to remember that next time.”
Next time. Jealousy flared in my chest, but I quickly doused it. He was no different than any man who’d paid me for an evening’s company. Or rather, he wouldn’t be once we’d returned from Dawson City. And I was no more to him than I was to any of them. A whore, a night’s entertainment.
“Well, I doubt anyone in this town would think twice. Men bed in the same rooms and tents all the time for lack of vacancy elsewhere.”
“They don’t generally bed down together in brothels, though,” he said dryly.
“No matter.” He pulled the cuff of his trousers over his laced boot. “But I do appreciate the discretion.” Remembering his “colleagues of sorts” who’d come into the bar last night, I gave a quiet sound of acknowledgment.
I leaned down and found my own trousers on the floor. “You said last night you weren’t looking for gold. What did you mean? Why else would you go to a gold field?”
He smiled. “I’m searching for platinum.”
“In a gold field?”
“Yes.” He pulled a brass pocket watch from his breast pocket. “And it’s nearly nine, so we shouldn’t wait.” As he stood, he nodded toward the bed as if to indicate everything we’d done. “And to be clear, you’re traveling with me from here on out, but no one is to know about this.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “Understood. Of course.” I paused. “Do you think you’re the first man on that trail who’s bedded me for a fee?”
“Absolutely not. But I’d just as soon not have word of last night’s arrangement getting back home.”
“Employer.” He watched his fingers buttoning his waistcoat. “I don’t need them to know what kind of ‘immoral conduct’ I engage in.”
I nodded. That was no surprise. The men who paid me nearly always demanded total secrecy and discretion.
And if it meant a ticket out of this town and up to the gold fields in the Klondike, I would gladly keep any secret John asked me to.
Word Count: 52,500
Page Count: 204
Cover By: April Lee
Release Date: 07/12/2014
Release Date: 07/14/2014