This novel won the NY Literary Magazine Best Story Award. Here's Chapter 1.
He watched her sashay across the saloon of the Silver Forest Hotel, seduction written clearly on her face and in every curve of her body. Harcourt had to admit she was enticing. Big violet eyes, black hair twisted up in inviting curls, the knowing smile on her red lips, not to mention the tight, low-cut dress leaving little to the imagination. It all promised untold carnal delight. Her perfume, a dark, satiny aroma eddied around him as she swayed to a stop in front of him, her hand on her tiny waist. He smiled. “Miss Butler.”
“Mr. Harcourt. I was watching you. You play well.”
His smile deepened. He’d been very aware of her gaze during the game. As he’d left the poker table with the evening’s takings, most of which had come out of Stephen Butler’s pocket, he’d seen the calculating look on the man’s face. A few minutes later, in the mirror above the bar, he’d watched Butler give the girl instructions. What kind of father would send his daughter to seduce a man? But, here she was, and apparently it didn’t worry her in the least. In fact, she looked as if she were enjoying herself. This could be interesting.
“Would you like something to drink?” he offered.
“Some champagne would be nice.”
He raised an eloquent eyebrow.
“ We have to celebrate your winnings,” she said, using her little girl voice.
Did she always talk like that, or only when she was trying to entice a man? “Of course.” He nodded at the barman. While the waiter was opening the bottle, a very expensive bottle, he noted, Harcourt looked Ida May Butler over, slowly.
The fact that she wasn’t insulted by it stirred his amused contempt. He handed her the glass. Her fingers drifted over his as she took it. He was disappointed. She wasn’t even original in her tactics. Mind you, she couldn’t be more than seventeen under all that gloss.
Taking the bottle, he followed her to the deep velvet sofa that stood in the alcove to the left of the bar— the one behind the potted plants and the artfully-draped curtain.
She put her heart into the performance. Harcourt played along to see just how far she would go and exactly what she wanted. She coquetted outrageously for the length of time it took them to finish the bottle. When a waiter came to see if they wanted another, to Miss Butler’s obvious disappointment, Harcourt shook his head.
As the waiter left, she stretched out her hand towards the cord that held the curtain in place. Harcourt was quicker. He captured her hand saying, “Leave it. It might set tongues wagging.”
She shot him a look, as if trying to read his face. Harcourt smiled, lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. “We wouldn’t want that,” he said.
She fluttered her eyelashes. “Mr. Luke Harcourt. You don’t mind if I call you Luke?”
Harcourt wondered if she seriously believed that half a bottle of champagne had made him more pliable. “Not at all, Miss Butler.”
“You’re a very good poker player, Luke. How much did you win tonight?” She moved closer, her knee touching his. “Just over five hundred dollars, I believe.”
“Don’t you know for sure?” She laid her hand on his thigh.
He shrugged. “Counting the money while you play is a distraction.”
“How wonderful to be able to play and not worry about how much you might be losing. That’s awfully brave. You must be very rich.”
Harcourt gave a short laugh. “Not rich enough for you, Miss Butler.”
“You could be very rich. My father says your mountain is a gold mine.”
Ah. Of course. “Does he indeed?”
“Oh yes.” Her fingers danced lightly on the muscle of his leg. “He says a man could be wealthy overnight with all that lumber and salmon. Not to mention the possibility of gold. Imagine how exciting it would be to discover gold!” Her hand tightened.
“It must be awfully lonely living up there on your own.” She gazed into his eyes, her hand relaxing slightly on his thigh. “I’d be terrified. It’s so far away. No one there to keep you company. What if something bad happens? Indians or bears?” She lifted his hand, pressing his palm on her chest. “Here, you can feel my heart trying to leap out my body even thinking about it.”
He let it lie on her white skin for a moment. It’d been a long time since he’d been with a woman. He felt a momentary flicker of disquiet. But looking into her eyes he caught a glimpse of her empty, amoral, little soul and knew he had no cause for concern. He moved his hand round until it cupped the soft weight of her breast.
She breathed in. “If you sold your mountain to my father,” she murmured, “you would be very rich. You could move to town. We could get to know each other better.” Her hand crept up his thigh. “I’d like to get to know you, Luke, very well.”
He ran his thumb gently over her skin and bent towards her. She closed her eyes. Her red lips parted, softening in anticipation, her breath came quickly. He gave a soft laugh. He could feel her skin begin to warm under his fingers, her desire spreading through her like smoky whiskey, melting her in his hands. She seemed to have totally forgotten who was meant to be seducing whom.
“Luke,” she purred.
“Miss Butler. Will you do something for me?”
His voice so latent with want she almost moaned in response. She could feel his breath on her face. She tilted her head back, shivering as his lips moved very gently on her neck, the tip of his tongue touching her. “Anything.”
His voice was deep, intoxicating. She pressed herself into his hand.
“Good.” He released her and sat back, his voice normal, hard even. “Tell your father my land is not for sale.”
She blinked. “What?”
“You heard me. Neither my land, nor my person for that matter, is for sale.” He rose and moved away.
“But why? I, I mean I don’t know what...” She stared up at him. The shock of his rejection was swiftly replaced by outrage. She stood up abruptly. “Oh, how, how dare you! You were—”
“If you do want to get to know me better, Miss Butler, you can start with this— I’m not interested in little girls.”
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