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The floor was a disgusting affair. Dirt mixed with rain, and the horror that had once filled the tipped and now empty spittoon brought shivers of revulsion down her back. Lizzie raised her skirt lest the hem touch upon the slimy concoction. Through a crowd of men on this Sunday evening, she gently and deliberately picked her way towards the bar, while averting her gaze from a tasteless nude that hung behind the long, wooden structure. Ignoring the men and their first startled and later all too interested looks, she pulled her hanky from her sleeve, breathing in its delicate scent in an effort to ease the worst of the obnoxious odours of stale whisky, cigar smoke, the sour scent of unwashed bodies and an occasional gust of just about gagging perfume. The saloon smelled at least as bad as it looked. Lizzie thought it most unfortunate that the mayor of Glory should have secured offices at the back of a saloon. Too late, she wondered if she wouldn’t have been better off waiting at the hovel of a schoolhouse after sending word for Mr. Bond to meet her there.
Lizzie stopped at the bar and waited for the bartender to leave the woman he currently eyed. In truth, it was less the lady herself but rather the lady’s bosom that held his full attention, for even as they spoke, he didn’t appear to be looking anywhere else. Lizzie cleared her throat twice before he managed to tear his gaze from the generous display of milky, white flesh and make his way towards her. Despite her modest mode of dress, his gaze widened with interest. Obviously, it wasn’t often that a lady of quality entered this place, and his look of amazement told her as much. “Is Mr. Bond in?” she asked.
“Down the hall, miss,” he returned, with a definite leer. “Last door on your left.” Then not quite under his breath, he added, “Lucky bastard.”
Lizzie pretended not to hear and followed the man’s instructions. Moments later, she reached the door and knocked. No answer.
She had no choice. She stood near stairs that lead to the second floor and didn’t want to think why a line of disreputable, dirty cowhands continuously went up and came down. One after another, they passed her, eyeing her in a most unseemly manner. She wasn’t about to wait in the hallway, an easy target for any unscrupulous sort to misuse. Lizzie took it upon herself to open the door and was immediately rewarded for her efforts with the warmth of a fire. She shivered as she felt the heat, never realising until that moment that her one and only coat was hardly enough to combat the cold nights of Nevada’s desert.
Upon entering the room, her eyes widened with surprise to find it richly appointed with softly, glowing wood. A huge mahogany desk stood before a leather chair, behind both stood a sideboard holding stacks of papers and a few framed pictures.
Her eyes grew even larger with amazement as she took in the walls. For a lady like herself, it was like stumbling upon Shangri-La. But for the fireplace, the walls were lined ceiling to floor with books. More books than she’d seen in any library. It was wonderful. And it smelled clean, like lemon polish, like the delicious scent of leather, like a man’s spicy cologne, like a hint of smooth whisky and a trace of cherry pipe tobacco.
The room was empty. An invitingly warm fire glowed at one end, flanked by two comfortable looking chairs.
It was a large room, almost as large as the room out front, but quiet, serene, a marked distinction from the crowd, noise and unpleasant odours in the saloon. Lizzie took off her hat and smoothed the few errant strands of silver-blonde hair that had fallen from her pins. With her hat, coat and purse on a chair and her carpet bag on the floor beside it, she bent at the waist to examine a loosened button on her boot, never realising her backside faced the door and offered the man who silently entered the room a deliciously appealing sight.
“Very nice,” he said just as his hand slid over her rounded rear in an impossibly familiar fashion.
Lizzie gasped and shot upright, straighter than her ruler, her back ramrod stiff, every muscle harder than the writing slates in her trunk, her eyes round with astonishment, her lips thinning with dawning anger at the unbelievable gall of this grinning oaf.