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THE Irish Devil
By DIANE WHITESIDE
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2004 Diane Whiteside
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWilliam jolted awake as an orgasm roared through him. He rode it out, grinding his hips into the mattress as the pillow muffled his groans.
When the storm finally passed, he cautiously turned his head to one side and tried to catch his breath, still lying on his stomach. What in the name of Joseph, Mary, and all the saints had caused a wet dream like that?
The bedding was fine and the mattress soft so he was in a house, not sleeping under one of his wagons. Two women snored nearby, raising the question of how long they'd slept.
William warily opened his eyes. A hand-stitched motto greeted him, proclaiming the virtues of hard work. The flocked burgundy velvet wallpaper behind it told him he was in Rio Piedras's only parlor house, the most luxurious place a man could find willing women to slake his lust in this remote Arizona mining town.
William stretched, remembering more now. He'd come to Carrie Smith's establishment after ten days on the trail, eaten well, and accepted Pearl once again as his companion. Bloody hell, he'd even taken Fannie upstairs, too, just so he'd be sexually exhausted before he walked Rio Piedras's streets in daylight.
What the devil had he dreamed about?
Shrugging off the question, Williamslipped out of bed stealthily and turned to check Pearl. She slept on undisturbed, her breath fluttering the embroidered pillowcase's hem. He cleaned up quickly and pulled on his clothes, mildly regretful that neither woman woke. He loved the smug sway of a woman's hips as she walked beside him, every step shouting, "I'm a beautiful woman who just had the best time of my life."
He slipped his family dirk up his sleeve, then quickly buckled on the weapons belt with his trusty bullwhip and Colt, a necessity in this rough mining town.
Still older habits made him check the walls one last time for peepholes. Carrie Smith was too good a businesswoman to anger a steady customer by exhibiting him to all comers. Even so, wariness learned first in a poorhouse and reinforced in Cobh's back alleys dictated caution.
He replaced the tin of condoms in his jacket pocket, always used whenever he rode a woman's pussy. Last night they'd protected him from the French disease and accusations of fatherhood. Paternity was an unlikely reproach, given he hadn't climaxed inside a woman's core since he'd first seen Viola Ross.
William cursed silently as he waited for his cock's usual reaction to any thought of her. Only a sluggish twitch in response, rather than the usual rapid lunge. He relaxed slightly; perhaps two women had been a good idea after all.
He tipped Pearl in the usual fashion after a dalliance with her and another girl: two gold coins beside her head and the same sum under the pillow. The other girl would know only of the money in plain sight, the same way she'd be paid.
Pearl's brown lashes flickered and rose slowly. He straightened up and waited politely.
"Is it morning already?" She yawned and smiled at him.
"An hour past dawn," he answered as her fingers closed over the gold shining against the bed linen.
"You're a late riser today. Care to try another round? Cheaper when you stay two nights in a row," she invited, stretching languidly so her breasts came free of the sheet in a movement designed to distract him. She walked her fingers up his arm as her other hand delved under the pillow.
He shrugged, well aware of exactly what she was hunting for. "You must be tired after last night. Better if you rest before you leave town."
"I got plenty of time," she murmured, letting her palm glide down his torso. "And you were so fine, buckin' and poundin' like that. A girl could enjoy more rides on equipment like yours."
He caught her wrist well before she reached his fly. "Thank you but no."
She sighed. "Unusual to see you lose control in a bedroom. You're usually more commandin' than that, tellin'a girl what to do or drivin' her crazy with your mouth and hands 'til she'll do things she never thought possible."
"Pearl," he began.
"Oh, I like both sides of you, Donovan! Just would have enjoyed a longer acquaintance with the ragin' stud."
He stopped her chatter with a quick light kiss and a coin in her palm, only to have her start again when he moved away.
"You interested in Fannie, Donovan? Maybe another round of the three of us?"
Pearl raised an eyebrow at his tone and shrugged. "Not surprisin'. You like your women passionate and she wants her own parlor house more than she wants any man."
"Really? Then this should be a suitable farewell token." He set two gold coins beside Fannie where she slept on the daybed, still sprawled as her climax had left her.
"Good luck, Pearl." He paused to kiss her forehead as he left.
"Good-bye, Donovan," she whispered as the door closed.
He made for the stairs, both women forgotten before he took the first tread, while he considered the night's true surprise.
What the devil had he dreamed of? His oldest dream perhaps, a faerie queen spun of moonbeams and night, lithe and strong and quick-witted ... and so beautiful that an Irish lad would count himself blessed to steal a single kiss from her rosy lips? But no dream of that lady had ever shaken him so deeply as last night's fancy.
He was still pondering the question when he reached Main Street and a flash of silver-gilt caught his eye. He froze and stared. Viola Ross was coming up the hill from the hut she shared with Maggie Watson. Morgan had said she'd gone into business with Maggie after Ross's death, but he hadn't reminded William of her heart-stopping beauty.
Walking was too mundane a word for how she moved. She glided like a faerie maiden, as if her feet and skirts floated free of earth's heavy tug. She held her head high with a queen's poise and balanced a heavy laundry basket on her shoulder as if carrying it were a royal prerogative. A few strands of silver-gilt hair escaped her faded blue sunbonnet. If she came closer, he'd once again see eyes like the true blue of spring's first bluebells, an indigo not yet purple. And hear a voice whose faint huskiness only enhanced an aristocratic clarity of speech.
The West offered a hard life to men and a harder one to women with its unforgiving climate, continuous danger from Indians, and isolation. It took a strong woman to survive it and William readily honored those who did. Viola Ross had done more than just survive in her five years on the frontier. She'd founded and run a small business after her husband's murder. All in all, she had a great deal of sand, as his teamsters would say.
A small girl ran out to her and she stooped quickly to answer. William sucked in his breath, immediately reminded of how he'd first seen her almost a year ago. While peacefully watering his horse Saladin, he'd heard shrieks of delight and peeked through the cottonwoods to see the cause.
He'd discovered Viola splashing in the stream with two small children. She'd been soaked to the skin, so wet the thin calico dress had clung to her womanly form, outlining her boldly upthrust breasts and nipples begging for a man's mouth. She had a waist so small he could wrap his hands around it, and hips made for cradling him when he settled into those dark shadows between her thighs. Her beauty was as clear to his enraptured eyes as if she'd slowly shed her clothes for him in a boudoir.
But she'd cared nothing for society's conventions as she enjoyed the children's company. Rather than shriek in horror or try to conceal herself, she'd laughed heartily as she chased the two imps. She'd been a faerie maiden come to life, who could captivate even a stream's guardian spirit.
Long minutes had passed before he'd been able to move away. He'd asked who she was, of course, hoping against hope she was unmarried and Irish. But no, her husband, the lucky fool, had been pointed out as he staggered from a saloon.
Now William's cock swelled as strongly against his trousers' denim as it had for her the first time. He cursed vehemently and spun on his heel. He'd take another route to his compound and avoid seeing her again, the image of everything he hungered for and had always been rejected by.
Hell, he didn't have to dodge her for long. Once she married Lennox, she'd be gone in a flash, back to the high society that had formed her and barred him from being anything more than a well-trained servant. He needed to stop thinking about unattainable women and find himself a respectable Irish girl to marry, someone who'd tend his house and bear his children. And likely never wonder where his deepest desires were.
A half dozen strides down the boardwalk, his inner voice finally answered part of his earlier question. Last night's fantasy had involved the faerie queen; he'd dropped out of a tree and tangled her securely in his net. An old dream. So what in hell made this one so bloody strong?
His inner voice smirked and refused to answer, simply retreated into silence. Still cursing silently, William stomped down the street, eager to reassert control over his world.
Viola set little Jenny Browning down and watched her scamper back to her mother. She bent and picked up the laundry basket again, unconsciously balancing the weight as she had thousands of times during the past six months. The only difference today was she'd be delivering laundry to Mrs. Smith alone, rather than with Maggie.
They'd originally agreed it was best to do so together, rather than set tongues gossiping about two respectable widows entering the most infamous house of prostitution in Rio Piedras. But Mrs. Smith paid top dollar for fine laundry, providing the few profits that could pay off their inherited debts rather than just keep them alive.
Viola frowned slightly as she shifted the basket, careful not to snag her threadbare dress. Maggie had asked for privacy to bid farewell to her Colorado suitor, so Viola was delivering laundry alone. She shouldn't even take the time to enjoy any gossip as she did so, unlike her usual practice.
She reminded herself that Maggie had enough agony to bear on this mid-April day in 1871, the anniversary of her baby son's death. The usual rituals of death, like a visit to the cemetery or a walk to the chapel, could wait until later when Maggie was more composed. Perhaps then she'd be less angry and more inclined to remember her lost child.
Flinching from the thought of children, Viola forced her mind to other things, such as the possibility of a large tip and how it'd help remove their debts. If she worked hard enough and Rio Piedras's silver mines didn't play out too soon, she'd be able to pay off Edward's gambling losses and leave for San Francisco in another six years. And if she were truly lucky, she'd have enough money for a piano and could give lessons. Decades of listening to little girls massacre Beethoven sounded like heaven after a year in Rio Piedras.
Maggie had inherited fewer debts from her husband to worry about. She needed less than two years to become independent.
So Viola continued up the hill, easily carrying the heavy basket on her shoulder as she whistled the "Minute Waltz." Her faded blue calico dress and sunbonnet were as immaculate as she could make them, silent advertisements of her skills as a laundress. Her pale hair was tidily pinned up under her bonnet, while her dress fitted her neatly from shoulders to waist in witness to Maggie's dressmaking talents. She lacked only her beloved brooch, left behind in Maggie's care, since the dress's calico was no longer strong enough to support the heavy gold.
Hopefully, she looked strong and capable, despite less than two hours of sleep the night before.
She moved quickly past the saloons and gambling halls Edward had once frequented in his endless search for luck and gold. On the streets behind them stood the brothels and cribs, where the middle and lower ranks of prostitutes labored.
She automatically averted her eyes from the Oriental Saloon, the most exclusive of all. Edward's one visit there had left him victim of a stab wound to the heart, a murder witnessed by no one who'd talk. The few coins in his pocket hadn't begun to pay off his mountainous debts.
"Good morning, Mr. Johnson." She nodded a polite response to Ted Johnson's tipped hat and was secretly glad that he didn't try to strike up a conversation. He hadn't asked her to marry him in the last two months but that didn't mean he wouldn't do so again, given a chance; nearly every other unmarried man who passed through Rio Piedras had. Amazing how many offers a girl could get from a man desperate for a home-cooked meal, however poorly prepared.
Now humming a sentimental Stephen Foster tune, she cautiously opened Mrs. Smith's back gate, watching for the guard dog. Jake bounded up to her silently and promptly sat at her feet, his beloved red ball in his mouth. Viola grinned and set the basket down, pleased that Jake was in the mood for play. That was much more enjoyable than facing his typical greeting to trespassers, which sent most of them screaming for the gate.
He dropped the ball into her outstretched hand and watched her eagerly. A few feinted tosses didn't fool him. Finally she threw it neatly between the outhouse and the garden shed. Jake barked happily and raced off in pursuit.
Viola grinned as she watched, remembering how her brother had taught her to play fetch with his dog, Horace. Her smile faded as she remembered the last time she'd seen Horace, the dreadful night when Hal ran away.
She returned to the business that had brought her here.
She quietly took the steps up to the back door of Mrs. Smith's immaculately painted house, easing the basket off her shoulder as she stepped onto the porch. Its cool quiet enfolded her as her mouth watered at the smells drifting outside. Her stomach grumbled once but thankfully stayed otherwise quiet.
Viola's head came up as women's voices reached her from the kitchen, hidden behind crisp gingham curtains unlike the heavy velvet drapes in the rest of the house. Eavesdropping was improper, of course, but it would be interesting to hear what Mrs. Smith's girls said when they thought no one else was around.
"So when do you think she'll wake up?" a girl asked.
"Put a dollar on six o'clock, Sally," Mrs. Smith's cook drawled, "and you should win the pool."
Viola bit her lip at the sum, which probably meant little to the women inside.
"Sleep fourteen or sixteen hours? After sharing one man with another girl? Not a chance," Sally objected.
"Ever spend a night with Donovan? No? Pearl often sleeps 'til midnight the next day. And no tellin' how long Fannie'll sleep. She ain't used to the likes of him," Lily Mae chuckled, her Texas drawl deepening and thickening.
William Donovan? Were they talking about the same man who owned Donovan & Sons, named for heirs he didn't have yet? The big freighting house that hauled supplies into Rio Piedras, coming through no matter what depredations the Apaches wreaked?
He had the heart-stopping masculine beauty of a Renaissance angel with his brilliant blue eyes, raven hair, and clean-shaven face, unusual among so many men who grew whiskers for fashion or convenience. Those attractions were combined with more than six feet of lean strength that could shred a rattler with his whip for threatening a child-after which he'd coax the little one into peals of laughter.
But beauty and money couldn't make a woman sleep for nearly a full day. So he must have some talents in the bedroom that brought sweet pleasure and ease to his partner.
Viola pondered what those skills could possibly be and came up blank. Edward had been drunk when they'd married and he'd consumed still more whisky after the ceremony. The wedding night hadn't occurred for another three days and had been marked by Edward's grunting, plus a great deal of blood on the sheets. She'd heard hints that some men did more during carnal encounters, but neither gossip nor her own imagination could account for Lily Mae's rich purr.
Perhaps he gave good massages. She smothered a chuckle at the ridiculous notion of a subservient William Donovan, humbly asking if madame would care for a little more attention to her knotted shoulders.
"Maybe you're right. I'll put a dollar on six o'clock," Sally said grudgingly.
Twelve hours or more after the man left? Viola's fingers had played pleasant games under the covers before sleeping. But she'd never overslept afterwards. She lifted her hand to knock but froze when Sally spoke again.
"Still, I don't know why he's never chosen me," Sally whined.
Lily Mae snorted rudely. "Honey, you lap up liquor like a fired cowhand. Donovan won't have anyone who indulges."
"Why, that's plumb crazy! Everyone drinks, gin or whisky or laudanum or-"
"He don't and he won't dally with those what do," Lily Mae said flatly. "If he's in town, Pearl's sober as a corpse 'til she's sure who's warmin' his bed."
Excerpted from THE Irish Devil by DIANE WHITESIDE Copyright © 2004 by Diane Whiteside. Excerpted by permission.
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