Playing with Fire
The McKenzie Brothers book 2
An imprint of
Playing with Fire, The McKenzie Brothers #2, Copyright © Kimberly Nee, 2010
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This e-Book is a work of fiction. While references may be made to actual places or events, the names, characters, incidents, and locations within are from the author’s imagination and are not a resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any similarity is coincidental.
633 Edgewood Ave
Lancaster, OH 43130
First Published by Aurora Regency/AMP, November, 2010
Aurora Regency is an imprint of Musa Publishing
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Editor: Celina Summers
Cover Design: Kelly Shorten
Interior Book Design: Coreen Montagna
This e-book contains adult language and scenes. This story is meant only for adults as defined by the laws of the country where you made your purchase. Store your e-books carefully where they cannot be accessed by younger readers.
Heather Morgan tried not to stare, but it was difficult. The gaming house had been transformed just enough to make her forget the sounds of cards being dealt and dice being tossed. The tables had been moved to the front of the largest room and draped with yards of scarlet fabric to create a makeshift stage.
She and a dozen other women milled about one of the smaller rooms where private card games were held. Some fussed with already-perfect coiffures, others pinched their cheeks to bring them to full flush, while others stood at a distance from the group, watching with haughty expressions. Heather wondered if she was the only one terrified at what was about to happen.
A House of Eros. Not only was she inside such a place, but she was waiting with other ladies to take her place on one of those tables to be ogled by the men gathering in the main room. Once there, they would
on her and she would be sold to the highest bidder.
Mr. Coal came into the room, eyeing the ladies with a barely concealed glint of greed in his eyes. “Lovely, lovely,” he muttered as he darted about this lady and that, weaving through the room until he’d appraised everyone.
“You look pale.”
Heather turned. Sally smoothed a wayward copper curl away from her forehead. “Do I?”
Sally nodded. “Absolutely. There’s no need to be afraid. These are all wealthy gents. Your troubles will all be over in just a bit.”
The black lace edging the neckline of her crimson satin gown itched. It was stiff and scratchy, and she had to fight the urge to tug it away from her skin. The last thing she wanted was a brilliant red blotch in addition to her jangled nerves and chewed-nearly-raw inner cheek. “But I don’t
to be bought.”
Sally picked at a fingernail and shrugged. “I’d rather do this than what I was doing. Trust me — this is preferable.”
Heather fought back a long sigh. The itching worsened as the buzzing drone of male voices in the next room thickened. A hint of aromatic cigar smoke floated around the corner, but she wrinkled her nose. Perhaps they were the finest Spanish cigars ever rolled, but they reminded her of her father and
was enough to make her retch. This was his fault. If not for him,
would not be standing there, waiting to be paraded like a fine mare before so many leering eyes.
Coal caught her by the elbow. “Up you get then, love.”
With Coal’s help, Heather climbed up onto the table to stare out at the sea of elegant gentlemen. Grayish smoke curled in equally elegant plumes, to meld with the hazy blue cloud wafting against the ceiling. Some stared, but others were too involved in their conversations to even notice her, let alone pin her to the wall with their gazes.
Clambering up to stand beside her, Coal clapped his thick hands together. “If you gents are ready, I’ve quite the treat to open with.”
Heather bit the inside of her cheek. Coal gestured to her, pointing her out, section by section. He began at her head and swept his hand downward toward her feet as he continued, “A prettier piece will never be such a bargain, my good men. Especially with what this one brings to the table! Bidding will start at twenty thousand. Twenty thousand, my fine fellows! Look at this beautiful hair! Those wide, clear eyes! Who will offer me twenty?”
Several hands went up, then a voice called out, “Twenty-one-five!”
And so it began. Heat crept up her legs, through her belly, to fill her from the inside out as the bidding rose in increments of one hundred pounds. Bit by bit, individual conversations died. She fought to keep from squirming as more stares landed on her.
“Twenty-three! Do I hear twenty-three?” Coal shouted, his voice hoarse about the edges. “Come, my friends, she is a beauty! And — ” He paused for dramatic effect “ —
Heather wanted to die at the eagerness in the bidder’s voice. Just as furiously, someone else shouted out, “Twenty-five-five!” only to be outbid by an even more excited, “Twenty-six!”
As the bidding rose, a flush swept through Coal’s angular cheeks. He was enjoying listening to the urgency with which these men bid on
virginity. As the amount rose higher still, bidders dropped away until only one remained. He was toward the rear of the room, his booming voice matching his large body. His hair was dark, his eyes narrow, and a his lips pulled upward triumphantly. However, it was not a smile, but a sneer, and that sent an icy shiver rippling through her. Without knowing why, Heather prayed he would
be the highest bidder.
Although it wasn’t the first time he’d ever set foot inside Coal’s gaming house, it was the first time he’d ever seen it decorated as anything but a gaming house. At first it had seemed a bit of a lark coming to a mistress auction, but now he doubted the wisdom of his decision. It was one thing when the ladies were only thoughts. Seeing the sheer number of men gathered and all with the same intention was enough to make him want to go and wait in the carriage.
Brady St. Charles, Viscount Danbury, nudged him in the ribs. “So what do you think?”
Before he could reply, the bidding had begun and he stared at the woman standing on a table, dressed in a ridiculously low-cut gown of bright red satin, looking like a waif lost in the crowd. Her eyes were wide and clear as Coal suggested, but they shone with obvious terror and her left cheek bowed in. If she wasn’t careful, she’d chew a hole in her own face.
All around him, men shouted out their bids, but one voice in particular caught his attention. Loud and deep, it came from a gentleman only a few bodies away. As if he felt the stare, he turned and grinned. “Danbury, what the deuce are you doing here?”
Brady smiled, gesturing Drew to follow as he elbowed his way closer to the large man. “What do you think I’m doing, Westport? Same as you.”
“So why no bids?”
“I’m afraid my pockets aren’t quite so deep as yours, old man.” Brady glanced over his shoulder at Drew. “Drew McKenzie, John Westport. And vice versa, of course.”
“A pleasure. Beg pardon,” Westport boomed, then held up a finger. “Twenty-two five!”
“The pleasure is all mine,” Drew replied.
“Ah, American, are you?” Westport’s smile was firmly in place as he turned his attention away from the table. Someone else called, “Twenty-two six.”
Then he snorted. “I am.”
“McKenzie’s in town for a few weeks. On business.”
“I see. And what sort of business would that be?”
“Danbury’s been showing me waterfront properties near the East India docks.” Another shout rose from the crowd, bringing the bidding to twenty-three thousand pounds even. He shifted his gaze to the table.
“Waterfront properties, eh? What sort of business are you in?”
“My brother and I own a small import company and we’re looking to expand into exporting as well.”
“I’ll wager you’ve never seen something quite like this,” Westport jeered with a wink. He turned back to the table at the bidding hit twenty-five thousand pounds. “Oh, no…I am
about to let this lovely wench out of my hands.” He cleared his throat. “
Twenty-eight thousand pounds!
Smirking with satisfaction, Westport turned back to them. “I’d like to see any of these fops come close to that amount.”
“Why’re you so determined to have this one, Westport?” Brady asked.
“Because I haven’t had a brunette in
.” This was said with an exaggerated sigh. “I’ve grown tired of blondes.”
Brady shook his head as the silence stretched. Coal was almost drooling over the prospect of receiving nearly thirty thousand pounds for his first lady. “Heard through the grapevine things got a bit — ah — rough with the last one.”
Although it was gone in a flash, Westport looked as if he’d like to cut Brady’s throat for the suggestion. However, the scowl brightened as quick as it darkened and he said, “You heard wrong, old man. Madeline is living the life enjoying the waters in Bath.”
“Anyone care to bid thirty?” Coal called out, excitement woven through each word. “Thirty thousand pounds for this beautiful
Brady whistled and whispered, “I heard the lady almost lost an eye, he was so rough with her. Likes a bit of rough play, that one does — ”
“ — and sometimes it gets out of hand.”
Brady shook his head. “Was a rumor he actually whipped one to death. Shame no body was ever found.”
Another glance at the table, at the terrified girl gnawing at the inside of her cheek, and before he could organize his thoughts, a deep voice rang out.
“Thirty-five thousand pounds!”
Coal and Westport stared at him. Brady turned a horrified look his way and Drew realized that shouted command came from
Heather’s heart threatened to leap clear from her chest at the look of rapture on Coal’s face. His pinched features sharpened as a pleased flush crept up toward his hairline. His eyes were perfectly round and gleamed with greed. “Thirty-five thousand pounds, you say? Well, gents, anyone care to offer thirty-six and outbid our Yank visitor?”
Although she couldn’t see where Coal was staring, she didn’t doubt it was at the large man who’d outbid everyone else so far. However, he didn’t utter a word, even as scarlet fury filled his face and twisted his features from handsome to grotesque.
Her gaze went to the man beside the red-faced man. Not only was he taller, but he was by far more handsome. She released the inside of her cheek, which was stinging wildly from the number of times she’d nipped it.
Perhaps this wouldn’t be so terrible after all.
The knuckles of her left hand popped, one at a time, as she twisted those fingers with her right hand.
Please. Please. Please —
“Sold! To the giant American with the fat purse!”
She winced as her thumb popped, but the pain was quickly forgotten. Coal took her elbow and guided her down. “Thirty-five thousand pounds, lassie! Didja think you’d fetch so much?”
His boast about her virtue horrified her as it was, sending a fiery blush scorching through her and left her speechless. “Mmmm…”
He hurried her down the narrow passageway to his office, where she came face to face with the man who’d just bought her. He was with another fellow — shorter, with curly dark hair and kind gray-blue eyes — and both smiled as she stepped over the threshold.
Coal beamed at the men. “Evenin’, gents.” He released her arm to skirt his desk, and plucked a fat cigar from the rim of the fine crystal bowl where it sat. He tugged open a drawer to take out a gleaming cherry wood box. “Cigars?”
Both men declined. Coal shrugged as he leaned over the flickering candles in the understated holder on the far corner of the desk. After several puffs, he clamped the cigar in his teeth. “Very well. Shall we conclude our business?”
Heather looked from the tall man to the shorter one and back. The taller one stepped up to the desk to fill out the bank note he held in one hand. He bobbing his head in greeting at her. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other.
One knuckle cracked with a loud, painful pop. Three pairs of curious eyes shifted in their sockets as she winced. Coal cleared his throat. “If you’d not mind.”
“My apologies.” She forced her hands to be still, surreptitiously rubbing her sore forefinger.
“I beg your pardon.” Coal plucked the cigar from between his teeth, tucking it between his left fore and middle fingers, then used that hand to press down against the paper on his desk. “If you’d sign here, Mr. — ”
“McKenzie,” came the low response. “Captain McKenzie.”
It was all she could do to keep from twisting her fingers again as she stared at the captain. He bent, taking the pen from the holder to dip in the inkwell. The soft light danced over his hair, which was dark and without a hint of silver woven through.
He was quite attractive. Much more so than the shorter man, still standing silently beside Captain McKenzie. Both were older than her, but not by much judging by the lack of lines on their faces.
Her fingers twitched. What would happen once they left? She hadn’t thought about the possibility of
She swallowed hard. Two men. Her stomach lurched, her mouth dry. Coal mentioned
about something such as this happening.
The nib scratched across the paper, then Captain McKenzie straightened up. “If there is nothing else?”
“Everything appears in order,” Coal replied, his eyes gleaming as he accepted the note. “A pleasure, Captain. A pleasure indeed.”
“And a pleasure it was.” Captain McKenzie turned to her, and it was as if someone punched her in the gut. His eyes were such an odd color, a mix of yellow and brown, and slightly tilted upward at their outer corners. Burnished topaz.
As if he could read her thoughts, his left eyebrow rose in a thick arch. Embarrassed, she tore her gaze away, turning to the corner where the blue silk wallpaper curled away from the wall.
“And you are?”
She jumped at the realization that Captain McKenzie was addressing her. Clearing her throat and smoothing a hand down over the scratchy lace inset of her bodice, she said, “Heather, sir. Heather Morgan.”
“Sir? No. Not sir. Captain McKenzie, if you must, but truth be told, I prefer Drew.” He smiled. “Isn’t that true, Danbury?”
“And that is that!” Coal announced with flourish, lifting her valise from behind his desk to hand across to the American. “Captain McKenzie, please do come by and see us again.”
Drew accepted the valise. “I’ve the feeling this is a one-time visit.”
“Oh, you come play my tables before you leave London, Captain. We have the best odds in town.” His smile reached almost to his ears, it was so wide. “Good evening, Miss Morgan.”
Danbury gestured toward the door as Coal hurried back to his auction. “This way, Miss Morgan.”
She swallowed hard and glanced over her shoulder at the large game room. Sally was up on the table, but didn’t look nearly as terrified as Heather knew she must have looked. Instead, Sally looked quite pleased as the bidding opened at fifteen thousand.
As if she felt Heather staring, Sally turned to peer down the corridor. She smiled, and it was enough to give Heather the courage she needed to force herself to step through that door and into an unknown future.