White's Gentlemen's Club on St. James Street was crowded that evening. One of the members of the club was getting married, and two of his closest friends were badgering him into having a little fun at the new place on Jermyn Street, before the big day. The young gentleman in question was the shy type. He would spend most of his time is his library involved in his research of translating Latin and Greek text. It would never enter his mind to patronize an establishment like that.
"Come on, Georgie, you may never have a chance like this again. You will be settled down in the country, with your spouse, raising a flock of little Georgies," Sir Roger Faresdale coaxed.
"By Jove, Georgie, you never saw the likes of these ladybirds! Every one of them is top of the line," said Lord Adam Townsend, as he filled the Honorable George Penthill's glass again.
All three of the gentlemen had gone to Oxford together, and although Lord Townsend and Sir Roger were high-spirited Corinthians, and members of the Four-in-hand club, they still enjoyed their studious friend's company.
"What I like best about it," Lord Townsend continued, " . . . is that the chit's are independent. You don't just saunter in, and say I want this one, pay for her, and take her up to her room . . . no these little doves you have to make them choose you! They can go with you or not . . . it is up to their discretion just like the actresses in the greenroom at the Covent Gardens. And she gets to name the price! It is quite a challenge," he said smiling as he reminisced about the exotic French-Egyptian beauty named Nicole, with kohl-rimmed, coal-black eyes, raven hair, and her teasing sensual ways at their last negotiation over the price. "Of course, she won the negotiation along with a generous bonus."
"It is good they charge that exorbitant entrance fee to get in the place . . . it keeps the troublemakers and card sharps out. Makes it rather exclusive," Sir Roger added.
"Yes, the stakes are high too, I've heard that last week, Lord Riverstone lost more than a hundred thousand pounds in one evening, and Lord Alendyne won almost two hundred thousand," Adam said, shaking his head at the waste when so many people are out of work and hungry. Just a fraction of that could have been donated to one of the many charities that his mother devotes her time.
George listened to their coaxing good-naturedly. He smiled at his dashing, athletic friends, wishing he could be more like them. Roger had curly brown hair, and blue eyes that melted any girl he wanted to attract. Adam had wavy black hair, silver grey eyes, and a roguish buccaneer look that females, young and old, were naturally drawn to him. And himself? He was tall and lean, with blond hair and hazel eyes, he had no trouble attracting the ladies, but was unable to hold their attention because of being so shy, and scholarly. Melinda had been the aggressive one, and had chosen him to be her husband.
"I...I do not think I should go. What if Melinda found out? She might change her mind about marrying me," George said anxiously, not only over Melinda, but also his father. The stern, Lord Penthill had been after him for the past four years to marry in order to produce an heir, and had threatened to cut him out of his inheritance, if he did not marry Melinda.
"Nonsense!" Adam said adamantly. "Don't you know that all mothers tell their daughters not to inquire into a man's business? Most men have mistresses, and she is not to question or acknowledge it. She is to pretend that everything is fine, and be a dutiful wife."
"That's right, by God!" Roger agreed, "Wives are to be dutiful and breed the future heirs," as he downed his drink.
Since both men were not interested in marriage, or devoted themselves to one woman, they could not know the anxiety George was feeling, as he took another sip of his brandy which was beginning to take its toll on him.
"Very well, I will go for just a few minutes. But mind you, since it is how you say, that the ladies choose whom they want, then I'm sure they will not want me! I just hope Melinda doesn't find out," George slurred, as he finished the last of his brandy, and got unsteadily to his feet.
Laughing, they slapped George on the back, almost knocking him over, before they caught hold of his arms, and steered him to the entrance of the club.
It was four in the morning and business at Lilly's was in full swing. Roger and Adam looked around, as they stood at the entrance to the Gaming Room. They still had a good grip on their friend, George, in case he was about to bolt.
"I think we should head straight for the ladies' parlor, before Georgie here turns tail and runs," Adam said, eyeing his friend who was looking around nervously.
"I think you're right, besides I hear they have a new one I'd like to look over," Roger answered. "They say, no one has talked her into anything yet, she is polite and friendly, but always turns them down."
"So, I've heard, but I don't see how she can afford to turn them down," Adam answered.
"Well, they all get a salary, room, and board, so maybe that is enough for her," Roger said, as they walked to the parlor door.
"It doesn't sound as if she's even earning her salary," Adam answered wryly, pulling George along.
"They entered the cozy parlor, and at this time of morning there were only four girls sitting in the room. Each with two or three gentlemen gathered around them. One sat at the pianoforte, singing an Irish love song in a soft sultry voice.
"Bloody hell, it looks as if we picked the wrong time to visit," Adam said as he sized up their chances. Each girl was pretty, shapely, and as fashionably dressed as any aristocratic lady of the ton. He had heard that Lilly was very particular in choosing them, since she only had the ten rooms on the second floor.
Roger inspected the four, and found the new one he had heard about. She was a lovely blond, her hair swept up and tied in the Grecian style, with ringlets framing her face. Her eyes were more amber than brown. His first impression was she looked too innocent, and did not belong here. She should be sitting in a field of wild flowers. He shook his head to clear it. What was he thinking of? He was beginning to sound like a simpering poet! Just at that moment she looked up, and caught him staring at her. She blushed, lowering her eyes again. His stomach knotted and he felt a rush of heat go through him. He wanted this girl more than any other he has ever met in all his years.
"Excuse me my friends, but this one is mine, . . . if it takes me the rest of my life!" he muttered as he walked toward her.
"I say, Adam, they are a comely bunch, are they not?" George said, as he surveyed the ladies with a new appreciation.
Just then Adam saw Sally coming down the stairs. She was a voluptuous golden blond, in her early twenties, with big blue eyes, a sexy smile showing the deep dimples in her rosy cheeks. Sally was the fun loving type who made every man feel special. Taking George's arm, he guided him over to her before the other men noticed her arrival.
"Sally, my love, I would like you to meet my good friend, George. He is engaged to be married, and we brought him over for his last bit of fun before he gets leg-shackled," Adam said, kissing Sally on the cheek, then whispered in her ear to take care of his friend, as he slipped the folded bank notes into the low-cut neckline of her rose silk dress.
Sally looked at the shy young man, and her heart went out to him. He was already blushing, and they haven't even spoken yet. A definite change from the usual gentlemen she encountered. Most have been arrogant, condescending, and sometimes cruel. Luckily, Lilly would refuse the brutal ones admittance again. Looking at George, she was reminded of her first love, an army captain, who went off to the Peninsular War. After a promise of marriage, she consented to spend the night with him in an inn before he left. He never came back, she never married, and now she was a fallen woman working here. She winked at Adam, and took George by the arm, and led him toward the stairs.
"Come, George, shall we get acquainted? You can tell me all about yourself," she said smiling at him.
Adam looked around, and saw Roger steer the new girl away from the others. Not in the mood to hassle the other men, he went into the gaming area to try his luck.
Lilly, came over to Karl where he was leaning against the wall with his arms folded, watching the activity in the parlor and alert for any signs of trouble.
"How is Anne, the new girl doing?" Lilly asked.
"She still hasn't given in yet. I think the men find that quite a challenge, for she does not lack attention," he answered.
"Poor girl, I felt sorry for her, and she insisted she wanted to come here. I told her she did not have to do anything she did not want to do. I could kill that father of hers for trying to sell her. If we had not come along when we did, she would have ended up working for Big Bess," she said.
Lilly had gone out for a stroll with Karl last week, and she heard the girl crying further up the street ahead of them. Her father was bargaining with the brothel owner, Big Bess, who had her establishment a block down the street by Haymarket. Bess was trying to get the girl for practically nothing, knowing she would make a fortune off of her, and the drunken father was about to agree, when Lilly stepped up and offered him five times the amount. She reached in her reticule and paid him, then had Karl remove the girl from her father's hold. When they returned to her place, Lilly told the girl she was free to go wherever she wanted. But Anne Blanchett, seventeen, wanted to stay with Lilly. When Lilly explained the type of woman working for her, the girl insisted on staying, saying she would learn to do the job, since she had no where else to go and no other choice, now that she could not go back home.
At least Anne did not meet with the same fate that Nicole had when her emigre parent sold her to Big Bess last year. A few days after they had opened for business, Lilly and Karl had found Nicole, bloodied and bruised, in an alley near Bess's brothel where she had been discarded after a terrible beating.
"That young man chatting with Anne now, seems to have gained her interest. That's the first time I have seen her pay any special attention to a customer," Karl said, looking at Roger, where he had Anne off in a corner of the room, talking in a low voice.
"Let us hope he is not the type who will hurt her when she gives in to him," Lilly sighed, as she walked away to check on the other areas.
Sarah awoke at six to a light tap on her door. She quickly put on her robe and opened the door.
"Pardon me, Miss, I hope I did not wake you too early. I have your wood, and hot water," said Charlie, the janitor, in an apologetic voice. He was a stocky built man of medium height in his fifties. His faced was heavily lined from years of worry and hard work.
"No, no, that is fine, I was awake . . . really," Sarah said, eager to make him less uncomfortable, as she opened the door further for him to come in. While he was stoking the fire in the fireplace, Sarah opened the drapes to let the light in. It was still foggy out so the light gave a dim hazy glow to the room. He left the water for her, and went into the parlor area to start that fire. After he had finished, he said, "Gladys, that's Missus Kirby, said to tell you to come down to the kitchen for breakfast about eight o'clock. That'd be the time after we close the doors to the public, and the cook will start the morning cooking."
Sarah thanked him when he left, then hastily took a quick bath, and slipped into a comfortable high-waist, morning dress of pale green muslin, with a rounded neckline, and short puffed sleeves. She would write to Mrs. Hartley to tell her she arrived safely, but would not dare mention the type of place. Poor Mrs. Hartley would die of apoplexy knowing she was working here. Sarah was anxious to get started on her first full day of work. She looked at the clock on the mantel above the fireplace, and it was twenty-five minutes until seven. Knowing she should not go down before closing, she sat at the desk to review the accounts again. She had worked on them until after midnight, bringing the accounts up to date, and now she felt she had a grasp of the financial status of the business. Sarah was relieved to note that the ladies' occupation was officially listed as 'hostess'. She found it interesting that a few were earning nearly three times as much as the others, and guessed they were considered exceptional hostesses. Amazed at how much money is taken in during one evening, she could understand why this type of business would always flourish, in spite of a public outcry to be rid of them. Well, it certainly is an education, she thought as she neatly stacked the papers.
The melodic chimes throughout the first floor, warning it was twenty minutes until closing, brought a scurry of last round of bets, totaling up vouchers, and the collection of winnings. The ladies had escorted their last customers from upstairs, and said goodnight in the parlor. Roger had never left the parlor, where he had monopolized Anne's time in conversation. Anne was totally captivated by this handsome young man, as he was with her.
"I will be back this evening . . . early, when they open," he said seriously, "Do not go upstairs with anyone before I see you, promise?"
"Yes, Roger, I promise," She answered softly.
He held her hand for a moment longer, looking into her eyes, trying to imprint her image in his memory. Then he turned and left.
He met Adam at the entrance to the gaming room, at seven, as everyone left the establishment.
"Where is Georgie?" Adam asked.
"I saw him coming down the stairs an hour ago, but he did not look my way, he just went right on out," Roger answered.
Adam laughed, "I hope he has learned something new he will be able to teach his little bride on their wedding night."
They were heading for the door when Lord Fitzhugh came up to ask Roger about his Uncle's illness. While Sir Roger and Lord Fitzhugh conversed, Adam's attention was caught by a girl coming down the main staircase. She looked as if she belonged in a country manor, on her way to the breakfast parlor in her dainty morning dress. Her auburn curls were tied up with a pale green ribbon to match her dress. He had never seen her before, and he watched fascinated by her graceful beauty as she went into the office. The door was left slightly ajar, so Adam casually walked down the hallway toward the room she had entered. Roger glanced up as he saw Adam disappear into the office.
Sarah was standing by the desk going through the morning tabulations, unaware someone was behind her, watching her.
Adam wondered where Lilly had been hiding this luscious young thing, as he stood behind her taking in the shapely hips, and curve of her breast as she raised her arm to push the curl off of her forehead. Strolling quietly up behind her, and before she had time to react, he slid his arms around her waist, pulling her firmly against the length of him, as he lowered his head to her neck for a kiss.
Sarah let out a squeal as she wiggled out of his hold. Turning around she leaned back against the desk and looked up with a startled expression. Adam looked into the astonished, innocent, wide green eyes, and realized he made a mistake. This was not one of the whores.
"I'm terribly sorry Miss, I mistook you for . . . uh . . . someone else," Adam said, angry at himself for making a stupid mistake. What is she doing here anyway? He thought.
Just then the door opened and Roger walked in. "I say, Adam, I thought I saw you come this way, it's time to leave," he said, as he came further in the room. He glanced at the girl, then stopped and looked again with his mouth open in shock.
"Sarah? Lady Sarah Prescott?" he said puzzled, then realizing where he was, it dawned on him she should not be here.
"What are you doing here?" Roger exclaimed.
Sarah had dragged her eyes away from the man in front of her to look at the other one who knew her name. Her face lit up.
"Roger!" she cried happily, as she hurried to him and threw her arms around his neck.
Adam stood there totally confused, for the first time in his life. This beautiful girl ran into his best friend's arms . . . and Roger called her "Lady Sarah" which meant he had made a terrible mistake by grabbing her.
"Sarah! Good God! Have your wits gone a begging? You shouldn't be here!" Roger said sternly, as he pulled her off his neck and held her at arms length to get a better look at her.
"Oh, Roger, do not worry, I work here!" she said laughing.
"No, no Sarah, not you! You couldn't do such a thing!" he cried in dismay.
"Don't be a gudgeon, Roger. I work in the office. I'm an accounts manager," she said as she playfully slapped his arm.
At this information, Adam seemed relieved, and didn't know why, as he watched the exchange. He cleared his throat loudly, and said, "Do you think I could get an introduction to your friend, Roger?" as he watched her green eyes sparkle with delight of her reunion with Roger.
"Oh, sorry, Adam" Roger said flustered, as he put an arm around Sarah's shoulder, turning her to face his friend.
"This is Lady Sarah Prescott. She was my neighbor in Oxfordshire. Her father's estate runs next to mine, and we used to play together when we were out of leading strings. I have not seen her in years, since I never spend anytime out at the estate," then he looked at her, "Lady Sarah, this is Viscount Adam Townsend."
Sarah was mesmerized by Adam's silver grey eyes that seemed to look into her soul.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Lord Townsend," she said, blushing, remembering how he had held her in his arms.
"And I you, My Lady," he said smiling at her.
"Sarah, now tell me what you are doing in a place like this, and what has your father to say about it?" Roger demanded in a tone he would use to a younger sister.
"Father died, Roger. I had no where to go because a distant cousin, the new Earl of Cranleigh, had inherited our estate. I had acted as Estate Manager of our property for the last four years, and managing accounts was the only work experience I have acquired. Madame Monainge was kind enough to hire me, after I had answered her advertisement," then brightly she added, "This is my very first day!"
"But it is not a proper place for you . . . working in this . . . this . . . Gaming Hell!" Roger said appalled at the thought.
"Why it is a lovely place . . . the decor is quite tasteful, is it not?" Sarah answered with a sweep of her arm indicating her surroundings.
"Apparently she has not been to the second floor!" Adam said wryly.
Roger gave him a startled look, remembering the artistic accessories of that floor. Shaking his head in disgust, "Well, this won't do, Sarah . . . it is utterly scandalous! You cannot work in a place like this. What about your reputation?"
"Oh Roger, no one knows me in London. I have never had a come out, so you see, everything is fine . . . I have no reputation," she said, as if that explained it.
He groaned and looked at Adam as if for help.
Adam smiled and shrugged his shoulder. Her innocent attitude and logic, he found quite appealing.
At that moment the door opened again and Karl stood there with a look of thunder.
"What is going on here? Customers are not allowed in the office," he growled.
"I'm sorry sir, this is a neighbor of mine whom I have not seen in a long time," she said smiling at the stern face of the towering man.
"They will have to leave, we are closed," Karl stated flatly, as he stood aside, and gestured for them to go.
Roger looked at Sarah with one last appeal. "Do you want to come with me, Sarah?"
"No Roger, I have work to do, and I need this job. Thank you for being so sweet to worry about me," she smiled, and stepped back so they could leave.
Adam took one more look at her, and knew he would try to see her again.
They let Karl quietly usher them to the front door. Standing outside with the cold morning fog swirling about them, as they waited for a hackney, Roger said, "I cannot believe she would want to work in a place like that," he said, shaking his head.
"How is it you never mentioned her before, Roger?" Adam asked.
"Why should I mention her? She was just an impish hoyden I used to play with ages ago," he answered,
"She certainly isn't that anymore," Adam mused.
"I know . . . that's why I'm worried about her. There are too many lecherous men in that place," he said angrily.
Adam guiltily remembered his own lecherous advance he made just minutes before, and he also became angry, thinking that someone else may try the same thing. He did not like that idea at all, and had a hard time sorting out his feelings to why a girl he just met would affect him that way.
"She mentioned her father died, does she have no other family to take care of her?" Adam queried.
"Her mother died sometime ago, and Sarah was an only child. Her father, is . . . or rather . . . was the Earl of Cranleigh. Neither parent had any close relatives that I knew of that are still living. Sarah said a distant cousin inherited. It seems the new Earl had never kept in touch, but I do not know why he would not let her stay there," Roger answered.
"Well, being a daughter of an Earl, she certainly deserves better than working in a place like this!" Adam answered angrily, as he thought of the innocent surprised look in her green eyes when she had turned around in his arms. She has no idea how to handle men, especially the type to frequent a pleasure club.
A hackney finally pulled up, and the conversation was halted for a while, as they settled into their seats. Both men rode along in silence, lost in their own thoughts, until Roger looked over at Adam.
"Adam, you know the new girl, I had mentioned?"
Adam looked at his friend and grinned. "Aha! You were the first to break down her defenses."
Roger frowned, "No . . . that's not what I was going to say. The girl . . . Anne is her name, is there because her father was going to sell her to another brothel, when Lilly stepped in and paid him more. She is only seventeen and has never done anything like what . . . what she is expected to do," he said miserably.
"Are you telling me she has been there for a week, and is still a virgin?" he asked amazed.
"Yes, I guess that is what I 'm saying. But what scares me more is . . . I don't want her to . . . give in to any of those young bucks that are panting after her. You should hear the talk at White's."
"I have heard the talk at White's . . . and also if you hadn't noticed, it is in the betting books as to how soon she will accept one of the offers. I think if they knew she was still a virgin, there would be a stampede to her door to be the first," Adam answered as he studied his friend's morose look.
"Roger? What's the matter?"
"I don't know Adam. I looked at that girl tonight, and I felt a tightening in my guts. I didn't want to leave, and I know for sure I will be there when they open the doors at seven tonight," he said shaking his head.
"You're being absurd! It is all our teasing last night about Georgie's wedding that is affecting you. You are feeling romantic like a callous youth," Adam answered.
"You're still bitter over the girl in Lisbon, aren't you? Do you think you'll ever fall in love again?" asked Roger.
"Hardly! Once was certainly enough, and I do not need that in my life, thank you. I'm perfectly satisfied with an occasional mistress or one of Lilly's ladies," he answered wryly, staring out the window watching the fog dissipate.
Never again would he be taken in by a woman. He trusted Selena, and finding out she was a spy for the French, completely devastated him. He was only thankful he found out before she had a chance to do any real damage to his troops. When the Major had informed him of his suspicions about Selena working for the French, Adam almost pulled his commander across the desk in his fury. He finally agreed to set her up, wanting to prove that the Major was wrong about her. That night when he pretended to sleep after telling her he had important papers to deliver in the morning, he watched in anguish as Selena searched through his pockets looking for the papers. He felt as if someone had torn out his heart. When she had them in her hand and headed for the door, he grabbed her. The Major's men were waiting outside to take her away. He was glad he had not made a bigger fool of himself by letting her know how much he had loved her.
"I know that I had fell head over heels for other women, Adam, but I do not think I have really been in love before. This time it feels differently, I don't know how to explain it," Roger shrugged.
"You think you are in love . . . and believe me . . . she is not the type you want to fall for! Your family would certainly not approve . . . and neither would the rest of the ton . . . unless . . . you have it in your mind to make her your mistress, and set her up in her own little nest. Now that would be a first for you!" Adam laughed, and added, "Can you afford that, Roger?"
Roger looked at Adam indignantly. "I could never ask her to do that! I wouldn't demean her in that way."
Astonished, Adam said sarcastically, "She is already demeaned, Roger, by just being where she is," No sooner had the words left his mouth, and he was sorry. He thought about the redhead in the office, and knew that included her too. "My apology . . . that was uncalled for, but you do see there is not much else, you can do to help her, Roger."
Yawning, Roger said, "I know, I guess I'm just tired. After some sleep, surely I will see things differently."
The hackney pulled up to his town house on Curzon Street, and Roger stepped down.
"Good night, Adam," Roger said, shutting the door of the hack. Leaning back in the window, he added, "Are you going back with me tonight?"
"No Roger, I have to make a trip to my grandmother's in Kent this
afternoon, and will stay out there tonight. I'll be back tomorrow, then
you can tell me all about your success with your new love," Adam said laughing,
before motioning the driver on. Sitting back on the seat, he thought about
the redhead, and how she felt in his arms, wondering if Roger would talk
her out of leaving the place, along with this new love interest.
* * * *
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