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The risk of their forbidden love is too great and Hank decides Raymond has to marry Emmy. But Emmy can’t give up her sexuality and she won’t cuckold Raymond. But will Hank’s proposal—Raymond and Emmy share him—be the solution to their problem?
Finalist, 2018 Passionate Plume contest, Historical Novel
January 2017 | ISBN: 978-1-941097-21-2
“He’s late,” Mistress said with no other introduction. She smiled prettily but her voice was low and worried. “Have you heard from him? It’s not like him to miss his night.”
Emmy swallowed down her nerves. Raymond was a fair mayor—but he still had his enemies. Brimstone could be a rough town, as was this entire part of Texas, swelling daily with an influx of veterans of the Civil War and former slaves, all looking for work on the massive cattle drives.
One of the things Raymond had done as mayor was to enact restrictions on private guns inside the city limits in an attempt to clean up the town. This restriction had made him enemies more than anything else, but there were too many murders when Yankees and Rebels got to drinking in the saloons. The war had been over for two years now. Raymond had won his election by promising that, by 1868, Brimstone would be a respectable town.
Emmy didn’t know where the Jeweled Ladies fit into this new, respectable future. They were as respectable as whores could be—but whores all the same. “I’m sure he’ll be here.”
For a moment, Mistress looked sympathetic—but the moment was short. She patted Emmy on the arm and said, “I’ve had an inquiry. If he doesn’t show…”
Emmy made sure to school her features into pleasant blankness. “Oh? Who?”
The lines around Mistress’s eyes tightened. “We shall cross that bridge when we get to it, dear.”
She looked nervous, Emmy realized. And that terrified Emmy. Because Mistress knew how to handle men and handle them well. If someone could make Mistress nervous, then what could they do to Emmy?
“I will not be tied and whipped,” she said in a voice that barely qualified as a whisper. “I will not. Send him to Sapphire.” Sapphire was the girl who didn’t just tolerate being whipped—she actually liked it. Needed it, she’d told Emmy once.
Emmy hadn’t understood then and she didn’t understand now—nor did she understand how men needed Pearl to do the same to them. But she’d been whoring long enough to know that different people needed different things in the bedroom and so, if Sapphire needed someone to bind her wrists, it only made sense that there were men out there who needed to bind her.
But that would not be Emmy. Not again. Never again.
Mistress smiled as if, no, of course the inquiry hadn’t involved that. But Emmy saw the woman swallow. “He asked for you specifically.”
To anyone else in the room, it looked as if Emmy and Mistress were just having a pleasant conversation, perhaps about the weather. But Emmy was seething. “I follow your rules, Mistress. You follow mine. That is the deal.”
It had always been the deal. Mistress took in girls who had potential, intelligence and beauty and she trained them to be the finest of whores. It didn’t matter their race—Mistress treated them all as equals. Each girl worked for as long as she wanted and then she could move on, usually with a fat bank account to support her. They had had men from London, even from Paris, in their parlor who’d said that the Jeweled Ladies were just as fine as the ladies of the night in Europe, if not better. It was a source of pride for Mistress.
The girls had to follow the rules. They gave up their names and became Jewels. They spent money on clothes and learned how to act in the parlor, how to please in the bedroom. They did what Mistress said, wore what she told them to wear, acted as she did. And in return, Mistress paid them handsomely and made sure that a girl never did anything with anyone she didn’t want to. The Jewels were not just highly trained and polished to a shine. They had a say in who they spread their legs for. Mistress never forced them.
Until, it seemed, now. “You would be handsomely rewarded,” she coaxed. “A hundred dollars, if not more.”
Emmy’s stomach turned. That kind of money was nothing to joke about—but she couldn’t sell her sanity for a mere hundred dollars. If Mistress sold her time to someone who wanted to watch her beg, Emmy would…well, she would leave. It would be a blow to her plans, that much was for sure. But she had almost twenty-five hundred dollars saved in the First Macon County Bank—more than enough to start over. She’d be giving up the Jeweled Ladies and a lifetime of financial security but for Mistress to go back against her word like that would be a violation that could not be repaired.
Being a whore was not always bad. In fact, Emmy occasionally enjoyed large parts of it. Being the second most famous whore in Brimstone meant that she could command a higher price—which meant better clientele. She had a few regulars whom she liked being with and the rest was… Well, it wasn’t worth the trouble it took to think over it.
Still, Tuesdays were her very favorite evening of the week because everyone else paid for a night with Emerald Green. Only Raymond paid for Emmy.
She knew she could go to Raymond and he would take her in. But a whore fleeing her madam could very well destroy his career. No, she couldn’t do that to Raymond. She cared for him far too much.
There was another option, if she had to leave quickly. Free Cyrus Franklin was rumored to take in runaways and former slaves and help them on their way West. He’d helped Millie, who—briefly—had been Miss Topaz Gold before she’d disappeared. Maybe Franklin would be able to spirit her away and protect her until she could get her money and come up with a new plan.
Mistress smiled—but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m sure he’ll be here,” she said, patting Emmy on the arm. “Let us not fret over something that most likely won’t come to pass.”
Fret? This was not fretting. This was white-hot rage burning on a pyre of fear. “Mistress—”
The bell over the front door jingled and both women paused, their ears cocked toward the entrance. “Mayor Dupree,” Samuel’s deep voice rumbled. “Let me help you with your coat, sir.”
Emmy exhaled in relief.
Mistress patted Emmy on the arm again and smiled. Even with her polish and her makeup, Emmy thought she looked visibly thankful. “Excellent. Have a lovely evening, dear.”
It took real effort to school her face into blandness, but Emmy had been trained by the very best. “And you as well, Mistress. I shall see you tomorrow.”
Mistress sashayed off to greet Raymond. Samuel was the first line of defense for the Jeweled Ladies. But Mistress had the final say on who was allowed to patronize her establishment. As such, she preferred to be on a first name basis with each and every one of her customers. They were all friends here, she liked to say.
If only Mistress knew. Emmy turned from her window just as Raymond entered the parlor, that mischievous smile on his face. Oh, good. His spirits were high and he looked whole. She should not have worried. “Raymond,” she said, putting a note of severity into her voice.
Unlike Mistress’s meandering path to her, Raymond did not stop to exchange pleasantries with anyone else in the parlor. He made straight for her and, grasping her offered hand in his, he bowed low over it before pressing his lips to her knuckles. “I do hope you can forgive me, Miss Green. My tardiness is nearly unforgivable. I can only pray that you will not hold it against me this evening.”
When she met his gaze, she saw that his eyes were unusually bright. She supposed that, to the outside observer, they looked like they did every Tuesday. But she could tell something had happened—and it was something good. “Shall we?” Which was a slight breach of their protocol. Normally, they shared a drop of sherry before they adjourned to her room. But they had already lost a half an hour and she was in no mood to wait to find out what had him so jubilant. Right now, she needed the comfort he provided.
Raymond stood and tucked her hand into the corner of his elbow. His gaze never left hers as they strolled out of the parlor and took the wide staircase that led up to the second floor. Emmy was the center of his world right now. Her only regret about her arrangement with Raymond was that there would never be anything more than this.
They did not speak until her bedroom door was shut firmly behind them and she had shot the lock. She stepped into Raymond and began loosening his necktie. “What has happened?”
“My darling Emmy, it is the most extraordinary thing.” She undid the buttons of his waistcoat and shirt and then she turned so that he could work at the buttons at the back of her gown. They did this every Tuesday, undressing each other like an old married couple until he was in nothing but his drawers and she in her shift. As he unlaced her corset, she exhaled in satisfaction. Oh, how she loved Tuesdays.
“Tell me,” she insisted. “Do not leave me hanging on your every word.”
He held her hand as she stepped out of her gown and then picked it up and shook it out for her, draping it over the top of her dressing screen. He was so thoughtful like that. “You won’t believe it. I scarcely believe it myself.”
Emmy moved to the bed and pulled down the covers. “Raymond, you are teasing me. What’s happened? I was worried about you when you didn’t show.” She left out the part where she’d been worried Mistress was going to break her word. She didn’t want to distract Raymond from his happiness.
She slid into bed and held the covers for him. He climbed in after her and tucked his arm around her shoulder. She curled into his warm, broad chest but she did not rest her head upon him. Instead, she propped herself up and stared down at him. “Out with it.”
His smile—oh. It must be very good. He brushed a curl away from her forehead and said, “He kissed me.”
Shock stilled her hand from ruffling the scattering of hair upon his chest. Those three words had just changed her world. “Hank?”
“Hank,” Raymond repeated, glowing with happiness.
“But I thought you said… He wasn’t… Are you sure?” Because she had been sure. Raymond had been sure until today, apparently.
She loved Raymond. Raymond loved her. But his heart belonged to Hank O’Shea and Hank did not love Raymond. Not like that.
“I didn’t think he was,” Raymond mused.
Conflicting emotions washed through her. She ducked her head down to hide her confusion. Automatically, his hand came up and he began to stroke her hair and her shoulder. “How did it happen?” she asked, putting extra effort into keeping her voice light and happy.
She hated pretending because that was the one thing that she didn’t have to do with Raymond. In the safety of this room, together they could be who they really were and she didn’t want that to change.
But she wasn’t sure she could be happy for him because if Hank O’Shea fell in love with Raymond the way Raymond already loved Hank, where would she be?
Alone. That wasn’t entirely true because she would remain here, her services in high demand and her future assured as the handpicked successor to Mistress. But she would no longer be Raymond’s confidant, his closest friend. She would no longer be his Emmy and that thought saddened her far more than she wanted to.
“He brought me paperwork to sign,” Raymond said, still sounding as if he did not believe his good fortune. “He leaned over the desk to arrange the papers for me and…” He shrugged. “I didn’t lean back. I asked a question and he turned his face toward me and I almost kissed him then and there, but I was afraid.”
Emmy nodded against his chest. Raymond was rightfully terrified of being found out. Even as he was trying to make Brimstone more genteel, it was still a rough town and people who stepped outside of the rules dictated by society were punished swiftly and mercilessly. Emmy may have started out as a shield against the fate that awaited men like Raymond but she had thought that she had become much more than that.
“And he was as close to me as I am to you—except that we weren’t touching.” She could see it in her mind’s eye, Raymond sitting in his office chair in his office and Hank O’Shea practically draped across his lap on the desk. It was a pose that she would’ve used to entice a man. Begrudgingly, she admired Hank’s approach.
“What did he say?” Because she wanted all the details. She would not panic about this change until she knew for sure whether or not it would affect her.
She and Raymond had never shared more than this—kisses on the hand and forehead, long talks in bed. It was a different sort of intimacy than she was used to sharing with the men who paid for her time, and in many ways it was far more revealing than simply taking off her clothes and spreading her legs would ever be.
She didn’t want to lose this.
She was being selfish. Raymond was not here for her. She was here for Raymond. He was her best customer and also her closest friend and she needed to work harder on being happy for him.
“He leaned in closer and he said, ‘Is that really what you want to know?’ And he held me with his gaze and…” Raymond’s voice trailed off and, perhaps unconsciously, he held her tighter at the memory of holding someone else. “And I said no. That wasn’t the question I meant to ask.”
“What did he do next?” She had to admit, it all sounded romantic. She was happy for Raymond, she decided. One of the many things he shared with her over their time together was that he despaired of ever finding anyone who would accept him as he was—anyone besides her, that was.
“He said, ‘I didn’t think so.’ And then he kissed me.” He sighed, a noise of bone-deep contentment.
He didn’t say anything else, but Emmy didn’t need him to. She could picture it all. Lips and tongues and hands everywhere as Raymond first held himself back and then, under the assault of Hank’s mouth, gave himself over to pleasure. Perhaps the first true pleasure he’d ever known. “Was it good?” she asked—not to torture herself, but because she really did want her friend to be happy.
He shuddered, a ripple of satisfaction that moved through his entire body. The bedclothes peaked around his midsection. He had never been so aroused in her bed before. “It was…amazing,” he sighed. “Better than I ever dreamed.”
And although she was worried about what this meant for her and him and their friendship, she smiled because no matter how much she loved Raymond, she could never bring him this happiness. “And?” Because of her experience, nothing that started with a kiss ever ended with one.
“And… And when it was over,” he said going on in an attempt at seriousness, “he leaned back and asked if that was the answer I was looking for. And I said yes.” He looked at her and cupped her face in his palms. “This changes things, you know.”
“I know,” she sighed. “But I am so happy for you, Raymond.” For that was something she had learned long ago, to be happy for her customers and to keep her sadness for herself inside.
They snuggled together under the covers, talking about their days but studiously avoiding any talk of the future.
She would just have to do what she always did when things changed. She would hold her head up high and glide through life, not letting it touch her.
But this, she thought, would be harder than ever before.
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