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I had such a strange, strange dream last night. Okay, so my dreams are always a little whack. I had just moved to Washington State, near Seattle. I lived in a colorful cottage in a colorful subdivision with lush forest all around. My mother yelled that my friends were at the door. I had new friends, BFFs. And every one of them were 6-inch tall garden gnomes, each with special gifts. I can only remember two of the special gifts. One of the guys could grow himself to human size, which was a good thing since he was my boyfriend. One of the girls could see the future and she said the world was going to end unless I fixed it. I’m guessing at that point my subconscious said fixing the world was too much work because I woke up.
I pulled out my dream dictionary. From what I can figure out, dreaming about little people friends means that friends are becoming less important to me. That might be true at the moment since I’m on deadline and the book is consuming all my time. The fact the boyfriend could grow to give me sex meant that’s a little more important to me. Interesting.
Anyway, that’s not what I planned for the day. It’s another flashback and another chance for you to win! This story appeared in the Ellora’s Cavement: Jewels of the Nile, Volume 1 and was released March 2008.
5 Stars from Just Erotic Romance Reviews: “…Jewels of the Nile is definitely a keeper…Ms. Devlin’s MAKING THE MADAM was my favorite of the anthology, with a short fun story…The sex was written perfectly and was incredibly hot with some voyeurism thrown in…one of my favorite books this year…”
5 Fairies from Dark Angels Reviews: “…I could not get enough of this story and wished it went on forever…I was grinning from ear to ear…The erotic scenes in this story will make your body tingle and burn for more. What a wonderful way to spend on hour, reading away. You will crave more from Ms. Devlin.”
4 1/2 Lips from Two Lips Reviews: “…I still have to chuckle at how naïve Merry is. MAKING THE MADAM is a very short story, but not short on sex or emotions…This is such a lighthearted and entertaining read…I found all stories to be highly erotic page turners with strong characters and great settings.”
5 Angels from Fallen Angels Reviews: “…Ms. Devlin will take the readers on a ride on the wild side of the west. Merry and Nathan will have the readers in stitches as the story unfolds. The intense passion will have the readers screaming for more and grabbing lots of ice…”
Widow Merry Winslow heads west to claim an inheritance from an aunt she never really knew. She expects to take over the reins of her aunt’s emporium, but discovers the true nature of the business when she arrives — she’s inherited a saloon with a brothel above stairs! Rather than being dismayed, Merry’s intrigued and finds it the perfect way to shed the shackles of propriety that have hidden her true wild and impulsive nature. Only problem is, she needs someone to make her into a madam…
Merry Winslow balled her hands into fists and stomped down the dusty planked sidewalk, forgetting every lesson in decorum she’d ever learned at Miss Peabody’s Finishing School or in Homer Winslow’s parlor.
Her aunt’s attorney had taken one look at her black widow’s weeds and decided, without ever taking her true measure, she was completely unsuited to the rough life in Cranston, Colorado.
She’d noted his slow perusal of her beaded lace veil, the gold watch pinned to her bosom, the sheen of her fine bombazine dress and polished leather half boots—and the odious man immediately dismissed her as unworthy.
How could he have decided within two minutes of their meeting when her own husband hadn’t known until his mother pointed out all her faults?
Her posture was straight, her clothing immaculate. Had she somehow given him a clue of her unruly, impulsive nature?
When Mr. Regis’ gaze returned to her obscured face, a small obsequious smile curved beneath his thick reddish-brown moustache.
Before he even opened his mouth, Merry sucked in a deep breath, counting slowly, reaching into the verbal pit of venom Mother Winslow bequeathed her. However, she couldn’t think of a single caustic setdown to put the man in his place.
Instead, she’d listened in silence like she always had to Constance Winslow. As the lawyer counted off all the reasons she ought to take one of the offers he presented, her face heated with outrage until, at last, her lamentable temper claimed her tongue.
What followed hadn’t been pretty. Mr. Regis staggered back into his creaking wooden chair, gaping as she towered over him and unleashed her fury.
Her anger blazed hot and quick and left her feeling strangely cleansed of self-doubt and guilt. Before this journey, she’d sold all her husband’s possessions and her mother-in-law’s family heirlooms—had even given away their photographs as a means of purging their disappointment from her life. Yet she hadn’t felt truly free until this moment.
Poor Mr. Regis received the brunt of her pent-up rage. His mouth opened and closed as he sputtered, his eyes bulging.
His expression reminded her of the little black fish she’d kept in a bowl on a table in her parlor. The only pet she’d been allowed to keep.
The attorney had been so shocked he hadn’t stirred at first when she turned on her heel, flung open his office door and headed south along the street, determined to see the property he’d tried so hard to “protect” her from.
He caught up to her just as she passed the sheriff’s office. “Miz Winslow, I assure you, the offers are fair,” he said, huffing as he skipped alongside her. “There’s no need to—”
“How dare you think me incapable of running my aunt’s emporium,” she bit out, keeping her voice low and heated. “Just because I’ve never worked outside my home doesn’t mean I can’t measure a pound of flour or a length of gingham.”
“There might have been a detail or two I left out of my explanations, ma’am,” he said. “Things I didn’t think a woman of your tender nature—”
She gave him a blistering glare and continued on her way, for once not paying the slightest attention to the people lining up behind the glass of the barber’s shop to gawk as she clomped past with Mr. Regis scurrying beside her.
At last, she caught a glimpse of a sign hung from the peaked roof of a rough wooden building—“Millie’s Emporium”—her inheritance from the aunt who’d generously provided for her education after her parents’ death. An aunt she’d never met or heard of until they’d passed.
She stared at the double swinging doors. “Now how am I going to lock those? Am I expected to keep this establishment open all hours of the day and night?”
The interior beyond the top of the doors was too dim for her to see inside after the bright sunshine. With a quick move, she lifted her veil and paused to let her eyes adjust.
Fingers curled around her upper arm, but she shook them off. “Really, Mr. Regis, is this my property or not?”
His sickly smile gave her a first flicker of unease. Then sounds, muffled shouts and sharp cushioned explosions sounding rather like fists pounding bread dough could be heard from inside the emporium.
Again, the lawyer reached out to pull her back.
She shot him another glare, and then from the corner of her eye saw something large hurtle through the swinging doors to crash at her feet.
“My word,” she murmured, peering down at the person who’d landed in a sprawl in front of her new establishment.
Before she could step back, a burly man wearing a towel tucked into his belt swung open one side of the doors and tossed a hat onto the man’s broad chest.
Merry paused to stare down, her gaze taking in the homespun shirt washed to the color of mud, worn trousers and scuffed boots. Had he filched jerky from the counter or insulted another patron?
Without giving her so much as a nod, the man rose on his elbows. “Dammit, Jake,” he bellowed, “I didn’t even get a chance to finish my drink.”
Her fascinated gaze swept the length of him, the dark hair that brushed his shoulders in ragged, curling waves, the tanned skin and harsh angles of his heavy brow and chin. A handsome man, no doubt, when he wasn’t dusting off a floor, but that wasn’t what made her stiffen, drawing her spine straight and her chin high.
Even from the ground she could smell the whiskey emanating from him.
She cast Mr. Regis another withering glance, saw him wilting against the hitching post and turned to the doors, giving the burly man with the stained towel a look that had him quickly backing into the dark interior.
Merry pushed through the doors, never so satisfied when she heard the dull thud and coarse curse that sounded from the man on the ground behind her.
She swept into her “emporium”, took in the long oaken bar with the array of liquor bottles stocked in the cupboards behind it, the numerous tables filled with men drinking from mismatched glasses—then raised her gaze to the sturdy set of stairs that rose to the second floor.
Shock took away her breath.
Women wearing corsets without a single shirt to hide their undergarments or their creamy bosoms leaned over the balustrade to gape down at her.
All conversation halted as everyone turned toward her.
“Miz Winslow, come away from here,” Mr. Regis pleaded beside her.
“I own a saloon?” she asked in a soft voice.
“Yes, ma’am. D-didn’t quite know how to tell ya,” he stammered.
“Work above stairs. Now you understand why I tried to spare you.”
“I own a saloon?” she repeated stupidly, not quite taking it all in.
“Yes, ma’am.” He drew a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped sweat from the top of his balding head. “Now I know how this looks…”
“My aunt paid for my tuition, paid for my trousseau when I married, even offered a bit of dowry…”
“Miss Millie made a tidy sum from this place.” He cleared his throat. “Everyone in the territory knows about it. Yes, ma’am, she could afford to send you money.”
“I won’t be doling out licorice to children or chatting with the women when they bring their eggs to sell…” Merry swallowed hard.
“No, ma’am. Fact is, no decent woman around here will have a thing to do with you—you being the niece of Millicent Hannigan.”
Merry drew a deep breath. “She’s that reviled?”
“I’d prefer to say notorious. She may have owned a whorehouse, but she was good woman.”
“She’s notorious because of the saloon?”
“No, because of what happens above the saloon. Now why don’t you come along back to my office and let me draw up those papers.”
Merry listened as he cajoled, but all the while her gaze flitted about her house of ill repute, wondering at the wickedness that must occur within its walls. The room seemed to grow quieter around her, the air thickened. She placed her hand against her tightening belly as her imagination painted lurid pictures of the nature of the wickedness that took place in the darkened rooms above the noisy saloon.
Only a woman of the lowest sort would even contemplate…
A slight, mewling groan passed her lips, because she was seriously considering the ramifications of owning such a place. Her reputation would be forever besmirched—beyond any hope of redemption. She’d be utterly ruined—
—and completely free.
Merry drew a deep breath, filling her nostrils with the sour aromas of whiskey, spilled beer and stale sweat, and immediately felt giddy. All the resentment built up inside her over the years as she’d tried her best to please her teacher and her husband’s mother suddenly floated away.
“Mr. Regis, I won’t be selling this place,” she said softly.
“You won’t?” he asked, his eyes bugging. “You’re not one of them temperance women, are you? You’re not gonna burn the place down?”
“Of course not,” she said, with a breathless laugh. “My livelihood resides with these walls. Problem is, sir, I’m ill-equipped to take on such a responsibility all by myself.”
Relief poured off him, easing his tense features. He squared his shoulders. “You’ll be needing a manager, then. Someone to run the place for you. You needn’t ever worry your little head—”
“I’m thinking I need a teacher,” she broke in. “Someone who can show me every aspect of this business.” Her mind made up, she gave the sweating man a direct look, the one Mother Winslow would have used on the coal man had she thought for a second he cheated her. “Those men—the ones who offered to buy my saloon—do you think any of them would be willing? For a price?”
The solicitor’s eyes widened. “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. This isn’t Philadelphia. Working close to a man, day and night, when good women are scarce… Well, I wouldn’t recommend it.”
She arched one eyebrow. “I’m not asking for your advice. I’ve decided to stay and take the reins here.”
“But this is a rough town, and this place…um, it’s not fitting for a lady. In fact, I’m sure you don’t really understand what you’re asking.”
“I assure you I have an inkling,” she said, filling her voice with the same crisp starch she’d given him in his office. “If I’m going to run the most notorious place in the territory, I have a lot to learn.” She narrowed her gaze. “Give me a name, Regis. Arrange a meeting.”
He opened his mouth as if to argue more, but she lifted her chin, firming her lips. He shook his head slowly, but finally looked at her—at her—instead of her clothing or her gender. For the first time, his expression held not a single note of condescension.
“Arrange a meeting,” she repeated firmly.
A slow grin stretched his broad moustache. “Well, fact is, ma’am, you just met one of ‘em. You stepped right over him coming in the door.”