June 1870, Inside Madame Cerise Duval's Bordello
This was the most awkward, ill-practiced, unsubtle attempt at seduction that Dutch had ever been party to, and as Cerise Duval's one time toy he'd been party to a great many. The Smithfeld woman kissed like a child. Lips together and almost no pressure, suction or movement of her mouth, as if mashing faces was all she knew about the process.
Still, Dutch kissed her back. Kissed her like he was starved for it. His lips moved over hers, sampling her tenderness, tasting her sweetness. His hands skimmed along her soft curves to cup her buttocks and urge her closer. The pressure of her breasts against his chest stirred his senses. His manhood hardened, and he ground his hips against her softness. He hadn't lain with a woman in more than six months. Abstinence alone could explain his body's randy response. He waited for her to open her mouth. For a whore, she sure didn't seem to know what to do. She just hugged him and pressed inward with both her mouth and body, but she didn't move. Didn't rub. Didn't do anything else. She might as well have been a stick of wood were it not for her heat and heady female scent. The spicy odor of daisies engulfed him. No working girl ever smelled like daisies.
His cock surged, straining toward that eager, inexperienced, feminine warmth. NO! He put his hands on her shoulders, pushed her to arms' length and stared into her puzzled, hugely dilated, green eyes.
He recalled her approach when he'd entered the room. She'd swayed from side to side in the oddest way. Was she drunk? When he considered her rapidly changing moods and the sudden flush of her skin above the sinking neckline of her dress, he knew drugs to be the cause.
Not every woman who ended up in a cathouse wanted to be there. The auction had been for a willing virgin, but it wouldn't be the first time that willingness was forced rather than voluntary. Plus he had personal experience of Duval's penchant for exotic aphrodisiacs. On the other hand, plenty of whores used stimulants voluntarily, so maybe she wasn't an innocent. Regardless, he should follow his instincts and leave. But footsteps still sounded beyond the door. He could not allow himself to be seen leaving so soon, or word would spread like wildfire that Dutch Trahern had welshed on a deal. How to find a way out?
He dropped his arms.
The woman pouted at him. A whore wouldn't pout, would she? If a client didn't want a particular service, most whores would shrug and wait for the client to say what was wanted.
Her lower lip trembled.
He nearly tasted those lips again, but he refused to yield.
He walked past her to the window embrasure that she'd recently vacated.
"Uhm." She tapped his shoulder as he passed. "What are you doing?"
He ignored the breathy question and studied the view from the window. No balcony. The drop was a straight two stories into a back alley. Not fatal, but injury was a real risk. He turned and surveyed the room. Ah, the bed sheets and curtains. With a little effort he could be safely out of here and on his way home. He went to work stripping the bed.
A soft touch on his arm made him pause. He turned his head to find her standing next to him. He almost regretted that she'd retrieved her bodice and covered herself. He inhaled sharply. His head filled with fresh daisies and woman.
"Excuse me, . . . but I think . . . that is . . . we need to discuss the services I'm paying you for."
He shifted to face her straight on and gave a bitter laugh. Drunk, drugged, or simply crazy, the woman was out of her mind. "You're paying me? That's real funny lady, when I just paid $2,000.00 for the privilege of telling you I don't sleep with whores. Listen carefully. We aren't getting into this bed or having sex together anytime, anywhere."
She frowned prettily, as if wishing for some sort of treat that he denied her. She was being coy. Whores were too business-like to be coy. She couldn't be a whore, could she?
"What do you mean you paid for the privilege? If you wanted the job so badly why didn't you just tell Madame Duval, or does she charge her studs if for taking on clients?"
Dutch clenched his teeth to keep his jaw from dropping and his temper in check. He hadn't thought anything could surprise him, but Mrs. Smithfeld had, several times. He stared at the now smiling woman with the death grip on her bodice.
"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Studs don't pay to work, and I don't have truck with whores. This whole thing is Duval's deal. She tricked me into publicly paying for your services in an attempt to ruin my business reputation. She just might succeed if I don't get out of here without being seen. I'm tying these sheets together so I can climb down from that window without breaking my legs."
"You don't have truck with whores?" The woman's voice rose again, and her smile fled.
"Ssssh! Do you want the entire city to hear you?"
She ignored him and ranted on. "Just what kind of stud are you? I've a good mind to ask for my money back."
Dutch had had enough. He dropped the sheets and turned on her.
The woman retreated one step.
"Miss, Mrs. Smithfeld, whoever you are, I keep trying to tell you that I-am-not-a-stud. I'm the very reluctant winner of your supposed virginity. The virginity Duval auctioned to the highest bidder tonight."
The woman's spine straightened, and her chin tucked. She hauled back and slapped him hard enough to ring his ears.
He saw it coming, and if he'd believed she'd follow through, he might have stopped her.
"How dare you question my virginity! You don't even know me. I, sir, am no whore!"
He put his hand to his stinging cheek and checked to make certain he could still move his jaw.
The slap re-lit his simmering temper, and he advanced on her, retribution his primary goal. She cradled the hand she used to hit him against her waist, using the other to fight a losing battle with her décolletage as step for step she backed away.
The raw panic on her face cooled his ire a bit.
The sinking dress dragged the floor. She caught a heel in the hem, pulling the dress half off her body.
He put out his hands to keep her from falling.
"No!" She raised her arms as if to protect her face from his fists, giving up all hold on the recalcitrant bodice.
He let his hands drop and closed his eyes to get a mental grip. Finally he got it. He understood what the woman had been saying all along. She wasn't a whore. No whore behaved like this woman-well except for dropping her clothes. Whores did that all the time but not when running away from a client. Whores ran toward clients not away, and drugged up or not they didn't act in ways guaranteed to make a client angry.
He opened his eyes.
"I'm not gonna hurt . . ." His jaw opened and shut. He couldn't pull his eyes from her naked form. "For petesakes put your clothes back on."
He bent, tugging at the cloth around her feet.
"No. Don't do that." She batted at his arms and twisted downward, trying to rescue the dress.
"Stop fighting me," he growled. "You'll tear it."
She succeeded in getting a grip on the dress but cracked her head against his. She staggered into him.
"Ow." He jerked upward, the dress still in his hands.
"Noo!" Already off balance, her tangled feet slid out from under her along with the cloth. Then her head hit the floor.
For the third time in almost as many days, Dutch had a female at his feet. He stared at the woman sprawled before him. She was beautiful. Naked and beautiful and not moving. How had he gotten into this situation, and who would believe it if he told them? "Get up. Virgin or not, I'm not fool enough to get down there with you."
She didn't twitch.
He looked at her chest to make certain she was still breathing. Rosy nipples atop small ivory mounds shifted.
Yep, she was breathing.
He knelt beside her and grasped a surprisingly soft hand. He waited. She didn't jump him. He felt for her pulse. It was steady and strong. He bent close to her face and lifted an eyelid. The pupil was dilated. Drugs, concussion or both, which didn't much matter. Despite his inspection she remained still as stone.
Now what? What if she was seriously hurt? It could be hours before anyone came to check on her. He couldn't just leave her here. He was just about convinced she wasn't a prostitute, at least not a willing one. If it cost him his business and his hard won reputation, as long as he had the means, he wouldn't allow Duval to ruin another innocent.
The noisy hallway had gone silent, all the clients and whores busy with the same activities they imagined he enjoyed. So any ruckus he raised would be ignored. Damn. He'd have to take her with him. Then what? He couldn't, wouldn't keep her. He'd have to figure that out later. Right now he had to get out of here. Cerise wouldn't be happy that he'd left with her newest acquisition, no matter what fee he'd paid.
He looked from the woman on the floor to his makeshift rope and the window through which he'd planned to escape. Carrying her while trying to climb down those tied sheets was not an option. That left only one escape route.
He wrapped the filmy dress around her body and hauled her over his shoulder, holding her steady with one hand. With the other hand he cracked the door open. Cautiously he checked, finding the dimly lit hallway empty. For the first time that night Dutch felt lucky. Unseen, he slipped out of the doorway and headed for the back stairs.