Adam drove slowly back through Mayfair, prolonging the end of their outing, for he did not want to take Sarah back to Lilly's place. He decided to tactfully broach the subject of her leaving.
"I hope you do not mind that I had presumptuously made the dinner arrangement for tomorrow evening. I know that my parents enjoyed our visit today."
"No, I do not mind, it's just . . . " Sarah stopped, not sure how to continue. She wanted to know why he was wasting his time on her.
"Just what?" he questioned.
"Just that I think you should have asked someone else to go with you. After all, some other lady-friend of yours would have loved to attend the theatre, and I am sure your mother is disappointed not being able to go."
"Why do you think I would have asked someone else instead of you? I wanted to take you, and as for my mother . . . she is not disappointed, believe me. She is more than happy you are coming to dinner," he laughed, than became more serious. "I still want to help you, Sarah. My parents would love to have you come and stay there with them. You know, you really should not be in that environment where you are living . . . I cannot believe you would think you are safe there! Just yesterday, when I was leaving, I heard a scream and ran into the office. It was that new dealer, and he was holding his hand in pain. Three male employees and Lilly were standing over him. I do not know what was going on, since Lilly more or less escorted me to the door saying everything was fine. But I know there is sometimes violence in gaming establishments, not to mention the . . . uh . . . women employees who entertain the gentlemen," he said looking over at her. Sarah was sitting wringing her hands with a worried look.
"What is the matter?" he asked concerned.
"Poor Jason! I did not mean to get him in trouble," Sarah said anxiously.
"Jason? You mean the one I said was in pain in the office?" Adam
glanced at her as she nodded. "Did he do something to upset you and you
had complained to Lilly?" he asked angrily, imagining how many men around
that place who would love to tempt Sarah into a seduction.
"N-no . . . it wasn't that, it's just that I found in my accounts that one of the dealers, along with a customer, was cheating at the tables. Well, it turned out to be Jason, since it started on the same night he was employed, he was suspected, and then Lilly confirmed it," she answered.
"Well, she has some way of confirming it . . . by smashing his hand!" he said.
"I cannot believe she would do that! It must have been an accident," Sarah said shaking her head in denial.
"Even so, this dealer, and the customer, are going to be very angry at your interference. You have unfortunately put an end to their scheme to get rich. Do you not see that you might be in danger?" Adam explained.
"Of course not! Why, how could I be? I never see any of the customers that come in during the evening," Sarah answered.
"You may not see anyone, but remember, Jason knows who you are, and you can be sure that he would have informed his associate working with him. Related to him that a young girl handled the accounts, and no doubt had given him your name too," Adam answered. As he said this, he began to realize Sarah's perilous situation. There is no telling what someone would do when their plans have been interfered with in this manner. A lot of money must have been at stake.
"How much money did they get away with?" he asked.
"Well, according to my calculations, it was almost seventy thousand pounds, but this morning Lilly informed me that she had already collected the money from them and Jason is no longer working there."
"Seventy thousand! If she has collected it, then that is a lot of money for them to forfeit. You can be sure they are not going to be happy!" Adam exclaimed. His concern for Sarah safety became crucial. Anyone unscrupulous enough to cheat at cards, will certainly be looking for revenge now that he had been caught.
"I never thought about that. I imagine they are upset, but after all, they should not have taken the risk of doing something like this," she said unruffled.
He stared at her, astonished at her naivety. She doesn't realize the seriousness of the situation.
"Sarah, you have got to get away from there. As I said, my parents would love to have you stay with them. When we get back, pack your bags, and I will tell Lilly that you are leaving," he said firmly.
"I cannot! How can you suggest that I leave my job? What would Lilly do without someone to take care of her accounts? Especially if I do not give her any notice? I appreciate your offer to stay at your parents' house, but that would not be right. I have no money, and I refuse to just live off someone else. I need to work!" she said stubbornly, crossing her arms as she looked away at the view. She wanted to add that how dare he give her orders. She was old enough to take care of herself, and did not need someone telling her what to do, especially someone whose only interest in her, is a duty to his friend. How could she possibly stay with his parents, seeing him all the time, and knowing he did not care for her. Her chest ached from the pain of that knowledge, for she knew that her interest in him was more than just as a friend.
"You do not need to work! Women of your status, does not seek employment. You're supposed to spend your time at parties, soirees, the opera, riding in the park, shopping, afternoon calls, painting, needlework and the likes," Adam argued.
"That's fine for you to say! But who do you think pays for all that? I am not rich like you, I cannot afford to do any of the things you mentioned!" she snapped.
"You're supposed to have a London Season, and meet someone who does have the blunt to pay for it!" he grumbled not really wanting her to meet anyone.
She laughed, "How do you expect me to have a London Season, if I do not have the blunt, as you say, to buy the clothes to attract this prosperous person? And supposing I did attract him . . . do you not think he would inquire about my dowry that I do not have?" Sarah sighed and waved her hand as if brushing the idea away, "But this is useless, discussing a London Season, since I am far too old to be among all those beautiful eighteen and nineteen-year-old girls also out to catch that prosperous person."
Turning her head away, Sarah resumed looking at the view. She did not want him to see the pain at his confirming he was not interested in her for himself, and that he considered marrying her off to someone else.
They continued the drive in silence, each in their own thoughts. Finally Adam said, "I am willing to take on the responsibility of any financial needs you may have. I did not expect you to move in with my parents, and not be able to buy the necessities you would need."
"Don't! Please, do not say any more, for you are embarrassing me. There is no way that I would be an obligation to you," she said tremulously. Still with her head turned away, she bit her lip to stop them from trembling, and closed her eyes tightly to halt the tears that were forming.
He could hear the quaver in her voice, and swore silently at his stupidity in the way he handled this. How was he ever going to get her away from there if he kept upsetting her? It is not that he did not know how to deal with women, for they were constantly falling all over him. He could talk women into anything he wanted with a little seductive effort. So why was he constantly at odds with Sarah? It made him angry she would not listen to him.
Their conversation had completely stopped after that. Adam steered his matched bays onto Jermyn Street, hailing a young street youth, he pulled over and stopped. Tossing the boy a coin to watch his team, he helped Sarah down. This time there was no lingering of his hands at her waist, or eye contact. They made their way to the back entrance of the club. Neither had spoken until they reached the entrance.
Adam took Sarah's arm and turned her toward him, then lifted her chin up to look into her eyes. His breath caught as he noticed how they sparkled like emeralds with her unshed tears. Adam felt his stomach tighten. He wanted to take her in his arms, crushing her to him. Never has a woman affected him like this.
"I never meant to hurt you, you know that don't you?" he whispered. "Will you forgive me?"
Sarah nodded as she lowered her eyes.
"Well then, I will pick you up tomorrow afternoon, to go to my . . . ," he didn't finish as they were interrupted by the door opening behind Sarah. With laughter and chattering, a group of employees came through the back entrance. Adam pulled Sarah aside and out of the way.
Sally looked up, winked at Adam, "Hallo Adam, haven't seen you for a few nights."
"Bonjour Adam! Quand revenez-vous?" Nicole said, smiling seductively at him over her shoulder as she passed by.
Adam could feel his cheeks flush. Bloody Hell! What next? He thought, as he nodded to the two women, and murmured a polite greeting.
"We are going to the balloon ascension tomorrow, Sarah, do you care to come along?" asked Gayle who had followed after them.
Sarah was struck with jealousy that Adam was so well acquainted, they knew him by his Christian name, and that reason could only be of an intimacy she dared not even think about. She vowed she would learn French! Turning to Gayle, with a smile, "I would love to go with you. I have never seen a hot air balloon," Sarah said, controlling her jealousy. It was unfair to be mad at the women, for that is how they made their living, and she really did like them. Then thinking more about it, she realized she had no right to be mad at him either, since he had no interest in her.
"Excellent! We'll go to Gunther's afterwards for ices. I'm sure you will enjoy that, Sarah," Lance said warmly.
At that comment, Adam turned to look at Lance through narrowed eyes. He noticed his boyish good looks, wavy blond hair, flirtatious grin, broad shoulders, and took an immediate dislike to him.
The group moved on toward Jermyn Street still in their good mood, leaving a silence surrounding Adam and Sarah as they stood awkwardly at the entrance.
"Sarah, you cannot be seen with them in public. A group of . . . uh . . . employees from a gaming place . . . do you not realize what that would do to your reputation? If you want to see the balloon ascension, I will take you," Adam declared, using this to cover his embarrassment at Sally and Nicole's familiarity. Also, he did not want to think of her sitting at Gunther's and sharing ices with that dealer.
"You forget, Lord Townsend, I am also an employee of the same gaming establishment. I do not give a fig about any reputation, and I cannot see why anyone would care with whom I went to the park. I am sure it will be so crowded, and most everyone will be watching the balloon," Sarah said as she opened the door. Turning back to look at him, she added, "Thank you for the lovely outing, and please give your parents my apologies, for not accepting their invitation for tomorrow. Since you and I seem to have a lack of communication between us, it would seem imposing on your parents' hospitality for me to accept their offer. Good day." Sarah turned and disappeared into the building.
"Damnation!" Adam muttered, as he stared at the closed door, realizing for some reason he did it again . . . upset her. Everything was fine until that group came out the door. Shaking his head, he headed back to his carriage. I cannot believe this! She is the most stubborn, independent female I ever met, yet so utterly naive. She's in danger working here and refuses to leave. How am I going to protect her, if she will not let me?
Adam had made up his mind after leaving Sarah. He would have a talk with Lilly. Since the place would be closed tonight, he would have to wait until tomorrow evening. In the meantime he decided to go back to his town house, change clothes, and return to his parent's house to get more advice from his father now that he has learned of the possible danger to Sarah from a revengeful cheat.
Upset after being so rude to Adam, when she really hadn't meant to be, Sarah headed for the kitchen to have some tea to settle her nerves. She had just picked up the cup when Beth came skipping in, bubbling over with delight.
"Oh Sarah! I am so glad to see someone is still here . . . everyone has left and I am bursting to tell about the jewelry I received a moment ago. It was delivered by a man in uniform!" Beth said excitedly.
Sarah looked up in surprise at the pretty girl. Beth was always full of pep and energy. Her short curly honey blond hair bounced whenever she moved her lithe body, and her big blue eyes sparkled.
"Well, you can tell me, Beth. Did you receive a present?" Sarah asked laughing at the delighted look as Beth nodded her head, sending her curls bouncing again.
"Oh yes! A lovely, lovely gift. Come see!" Beth said grabbing Sarah's hand and coaxing her to follow her.
Sarah followed Beth back through the hallway to the ladies' parlor, and toward the second floor staircase. Then stopped.
"Beth, I . . . I really don't think I should be going up there," Sarah said embarrassed.
"Come on, Sarah, it is only our bedrooms. There are no men up there during the day," Beth said gently, looking back at the innocent country girl. She could hardly remember when she was like that . . . it seems so long ago. Maybe if things had been different, and her uncle hadn't abused her when she was thirteen, she would still be like Sarah.
"I'm sorry, Beth. You must think I'm a ninnyhammer acting so stupid. Let's look at your gift," Sarah said with a little more confidence.
"Oh wait 'til you see!" Beth said bubbling over again, as she ran up the steps.
Sarah hurried up the stairs, in an effort to keep up with Beth, and did not look up until she reached the top. Sarah stopped when her eyes came in contact with a pink marble statue in an alcove. The statue was a life-size nude man and woman entwined in an act of love. Sarah looked away, knowing her face was burning from the shock of seeing the life-size, three-dimensional version of Julie's illustrated book.
Calming herself and focusing on the hallway, she became aware of similar statuary in alcoves at a halfway point of the hall and one at the end, depicting a variety of erotic embraces. The hallway carpet was a plush green like spring grass, and the walls were covered in gold and white striped textured linen. The ceiling was high and curved, in a Turkish fashion.
After her initial shock, Sarah looked around her with interest. All the doors were white with filigree gold design and each girl's name was on the door of her room.
"Sarah?" Beth called from a door further down the hall.
"Oh, sorry . . . I'm coming," Sarah said, and hastened to the opened door of Beth's room.
"Were the . . . uh . . . artistic statues imported from Greece?" asked Sarah.
"Well . . . I'm not sure of their origin, but I believe they are meant more for inspiration then artistic value," laughed Beth.
Sarah blushed at that implication, and followed Beth into the luxuriously decorated room with white carpeting, white furniture, with the drapes and accessories of silk, satin, and lace in periwinkle-blue. It was clean with everything neatly in its place.
"This is a lovely room, are all the rooms decorated the same as this?" Sarah asked curiously.
"All the rooms have the same white furniture and carpeting, except the drapes and trimmings are of different colors," Beth answered.
The bed was much too large for the room, but looked exceedingly comfortable, with the back wall mirrored. Then Sarah blushed again as she remembered that this was used for Beth's business. Ignoring the bed, Sarah walked over to the dresser where Beth was opening a blue velvet box.
"Oh that is beautiful!" Sarah said in awe, gazing at the matching necklace and bracelet. It was a design of gold leaves with the delicate flower petals crafted in rubies and a pearl in the center of each of the flowers.
"It is . . . isn't it, and he was such a love to send it to me. He just wanted to remind me that he will be in tomorrow night," Beth said as she ran her finger over the gems.
"I didn't know you had a beau, Beth," Sarah said in surprise.
"Not a beau, Sarah, a very good customer!" Beth laughed. "All are customers are extremely rich, or they would not be able to afford the entrance fee. They often give a girl a gift if they take a liking to her . . . hoping to make an offer for her to become their mistress."
"Do . . . uh . . . do you ever feel sort of . . . uh . . . I mean so many men . . ." Sarah glanced at the bed, "I am sorry, I should not be asking . . ." Sarah voice faltered, she lowered her head as her cheeks burned in embarrassment.
"I know what you mean, but really . . . well, it is hard to explain to an innocent one like yourself . . . but it is something we have grown accustom to . . . and some of these men are so very old, well, they actually do not do anything like . . . well, you know . . . they just want to have the attention of a young woman who will flirt and fawn over them with hugs and kisses . . . maybe sit on their lap, let them . . . anyway, they are pretty harmless. I think it bolsters their ego when they return from their visit to our rooms, letting the younger men think that they still have what it takes, even though it isn't true. Most of them will show their appreciation with a gift besides what they have paid us . . . I prefer old men . . . the older the better and the least trouble," Beth explained.
Sarah glanced at the bed again, envisioning young, pretty Beth and an old wrinkled-up man in a position like the statues, and shuddered at the thought.
Observing Sarah's facial expression, Beth added angrily, "Do you think this is any worse, than those snobbish aristocrats with their arranged marriages? Not being in love with their husbands, yet making love to them for the sake of the title and wealth, then later taking other lovers? These so-called ladies accepting gifts from their lovers, for doing exactly the same thing I am doing for my gifts? Breaking their solemn wedding vowels. Why, even I have heard of Lady Oxford, and her Harleian miscellany. Seven children from seven different men. Yet her husband pretends as if nothing is wrong . . . ignores the gossip. And . . . and that other one . . . what's her name . . . Lady Melbourne. How many children did she have? Five or six? None of which belonged to her husband . . . and it's been said one of the children had been fathered by the Prince Regent! Both Ladies' Melbourne and Oxford are welcome at every function as a member of the ton and treated as respected ladies," Beth finished with a humph and a toss of her curls, crossing her arms and glaring at Sarah.
"I am so sorry! You are right, Beth," Sarah's said apologetically, stunned at the truth of the statement. "I...I have heard that they did do that, and no one seems to think badly of them," she continued, "They just whisper behind their fan, guessing how long the affair will last, and who will be the next. I had not given it much thought before, being isolated out in the country, not really paying attention to what goes on in London. But I can see that it really isn't that much different, is it?" Sarah wondered what kind of life she would have if she ever married. She doubted if she could ever be untrue to her husband, and hated to think he would be untrue to her.
"I am glad you understand," Beth smiled, back in her cheerful mood.
"Does it ever get dangerous?" Sarah found herself asking before she had time to think, but continued, curious to know. "I mean . . . well, I know that Karl is supposed to watch out for you and the others, but what if someone gets out of hand before he can help you?"
With a mischievous grin, Beth walked over to the bed and reached for a small round white satin pillow, delicately embroidered with a garland of colorful flowers and trimmed in lace. Picking it up she turned and faced Sarah. Moving the pillow aside with one hand, she held in the other a small pistol.
Sarah gasped in surprise and stepped back. "Is ... is it loaded?"
"Of course! A lot of good it would do me if it wasn't!" Beth laughed.
"Karl keeps it cleaned and primed to make sure it is in perfect working condition. All of the girls have one of these well-equipped pillows," she said revealing the pocket in the back of the pillow to Sarah.
"How clever!" said Sarah stepping closer to look at it. "But are you not afraid it might go off accidently? I mean being on the bed like that," she said, waving a hand at the bed.
"No, it has a latch to keep it from firing accidently. See . . . right there. The latch has to be flipped open before it will shoot. Karl had it designed by the gunsmith especially for us, and he had the size custom-made too," Beth held it out for Sarah to hold.
"See how light it is? Karl even gave us lessons on how to use it, so we would be able to shoot straight."
Sarah gingerly handed the gun back to Beth.
"He seems to take good care of you girls. This is a very practical gift," she said, hoping that Beth would never have to use it.
"The pistols were gifts to us from Lilly. There was a slight incident when we first opened, and Lilly said she did not want any of us taking a chance in case Karl was not available to come to our aid," Beth said solemnly, replacing the pistol in it's hiding place, and putting the pillow back on the bed with the others.
Then returning to her usual sparkle and with another toss of her curls, Beth turned toward the jewelry again.
"Look. Here are some of the other gifts. All this will be my security when I decide to retire from this business," Beth said as she opened a huge carved jewelry box.
Sarah gasped at the sight of the enormous amount of jewelry.
"These are all gifts?" Sarah said in surprise.
"Of course . . . I could never afford anything like this," Beth said nonchalantly.
"Oh my!" Sarah exclaimed, admiring the variety of gold and silver
jeweled pieces sparkling with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires
mixed in with other precious gemstones. At least having the knowledge of
the gems monetary value for future security, would be some consolation
for the work they do, she thought.
* * * *
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