Judge Gerard Hobson believes Brimstone is his but the town refuses to bend to his will. Now someone’s spreading rumors that he murdered a whore. He’s lost control of his life. And although he’s never visited a brothel before, he finds himself in the Jeweled Ladies, making the acquaintance of Miss Sapphire Bleu in a desperate bid to hold onto his sanity.
As Sapphire, Sadie knows the judge’s type. He longs to be in control—and she longs to surrender it. But Gerard is afraid of hurting her—and more afraid of what he might become if he gives into his desires. Can Sadie show him there’s nothing to fear from a little pain?
Finalist, 2018 Passionate Plume contest, Historical Novel
January 2017 | ISBN: 978-1941097236
Print ISBN: 978-1941097304
Judge Gerard Hobson stood in his office, looking out the narrow window that faced Main Street.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd slept. Two days ago? Maybe three. His eyes felt like someone had ground sand into them and his jaw wasn't much better. Everything about him was scratchy and irritable.
He had lost the election for mayor of Brimstone, Texas – again. That in and of itself grated, but in the three months since the election, he’d forged ahead. There were other ways to assume power, after all. But then that upstart whelp of Isabelle’s, Raymond Dupree, had been chosen as the representative for the constitutional convention in Austin, Texas. Gerard had convinced himself that losing the election wouldn't be that bad, if he got appointed to the convention.
But he hadn't even gotten that.
Where had he gone wrong? He was doing the right thing. He always did the right thing. He had attempted to impose order upon this lawless town of Brimstone. This was his town, for God’s sake. His grandfather, a hellfire-and-damnation preacher, had founded this town ten miles away from Fort Adams to save the god-fearing people from the sins of soldiers.
But did that matter? No. Brimstone had willingly settled into degeneracy and rebuffed every single one of Gerard’s efforts to lead them back towards a righteous path.
Why wouldn't people do what he told them to? His actions were moral. The law was on his side. He was a God-fearing man. People should have been begging for him to take control of this town and set it on the correct path.
But were they? No. Instead, at every available opportunity to make the righteous choice, the people of this hellhole repeatedly chose that sinner, Raymond Dupree. They chose the brothels and the saloons over path of moral righteousness. They chose sin and violence.
Just like Isabelle had chosen Leopold Dupree all those years ago. All because Gerard had made a mistake and shown her what he really was. The last mistake he’d made.
Or so he’d thought.
But now this. He glanced back at the newspaper on his desk. It was a vile broadsheet – normally filled with murderers and crime and innuendo. But today took the cake.
"Judge Hobson rumored to be suspect in whore’s disappearance."
No doubt, this was the work of his enemies. Dupree's man, Hank O'Shea – he was probably behind this ridiculously fabricated story. Wasn't it bad enough that Dupree was a living reminder of his failures? That Dupree beat him every time they came up against each other in an election? Did the impudent pup have to completely ruin Gerard’s reputation?
The darkness within Gerard rose up and this time, he felt powerless to hold it at bay. His fingers clenched into fists and struggled to hang onto his control. But he was failing. He just wanted to hit someone. He had spent years mastering his darkness – years of living by strict moral code that kept him far from sin – and where it gotten him?
"Judge Hobson rumored to be suspect in whore’s disappearance."
The article was full of unsubstantiated innuendo. Four years ago, a prostitute from Beantown – over thirty miles north of Brimstone – had been dumped a few miles outside of town, her body cut to ribbons. The story said she was found with a silk necktie in her mouth and had made libelous claims that it was the same kind of necktie that he wore.
The darkness in him – it could have done that to a girl. That was why he had to keep it under control.
He hadn't killed that girl. Hell, he hadn't even been near a woman in years. Decades. Not since Isabelle. There was too much risk.
He despised Raymond Dupree and his man, Hank O'Shea – but they were right about Gerard. He was dangerous. He always had been. He had recognized that early.
He scrubbed a hand over his face. He was so, so tired. Tired of telling people what they should be doing and tired of them ignoring him. He was tired of losing to Dupree and tired of playing this cat and mouse game with O'Shea.
"Titus!" he called out.
Titus stuck his bull head through the office door. "Yes, Judge?"
For one brief second, Gerard mourned to the fact that he had not been able to move Hank O'Shea away from Dupree. Titus served a purpose – but he didn't have any brains in his head to speak of. Gerard appreciated that the man did what he was told, when he was told to do it, but he would never be anything more than a blunt instrument. "I need you to bring someone to me."
He couldn't push back against the darkness. Not anymore.
"An arrest?" Titus fancied himself a deputy.
Gerard shook his head. This would be outside of the law.
Titus’ face sank into disappointment, rather like a hound dog that was kept on a leash. "Who?"
Gerard turned his attention back out to the narrow window. He was going to burn in hell for this. "Bring me Mistress."
Sadie sat up straighter. The man who had his hand underneath her skirt didn't pull it away. Of course he didn’t. In the saloon of the Jeweled Ladies, men were allowed to touch the whores like this—encouraged, even. It helped make the sale—get a man so worked up that he was only too happy to pay over four times what a dove at one of the other whorehouses in town charged.
Sadie stared up at Mistress, her whole body quivering with anticipation. She knew that tone of voice and it usually came with a ‘special request.’ She hadn't had a special request in quite some time now and she was tired of playing around with men in the saloon who thought they knew how to give a woman what she wanted—men like Mr. Miller. In reality, none of them did. "Yes, Mistress?"
"I am so sorry, Mr. Miller, but I require Sapphire's assistance at this time." Mistress waved a hand and Garnet came forward. "Garnet will be happy to entertain you in Sapphire's absence."
Mr. Miller started to protest as Sadie slipped away from his diddling fingers. But before he could complain too much, Garnet molded herself to his lap and threaded her hands through his greasy hair as if she had been waiting all night for this opportunity.
It was then that Sadie noticed the man standing in the doorway of the saloon. He was a giant ox of a man, with narrow, dull eyes and no noticeable neck to speak of. He was just a head perched on shoulders. She had the distinct impression that he was not terribly bright.
"Mistress…" She asked hesitantly as Mistress let her back toward the ox. This wouldn't be the man Mistress was going to give her to, would it? Any pain that he would inflict would be blunt, the kind that snapped bones. Although some people believed that pain was pain, Sapphire had a different opinion. She much preferred her bones unbroken, thank you.
And as Mistress paid her good money to take pain, Sadie’s opinion was the only one mattered, wasn't it?
For Sadie craved the release of pain. She needed it as she needed air to breathe and water to drink. But there were so few men in this town who understood the rules of the game. She did not want to be beaten to a pulp or ripped to shreds. She did not want to be abused. Used, perhaps. There was a place and a time for that.
The gentleman – if she could call him – who was waiting for her and Mistress did not look like a man who understood the game. He looked like someone wanted a punching bag.
Mistress must have sensed her hesitation, because she threaded her arm through Sadie’s and led her on. "I have to make a…special trip," Mistress said, her voice tight with tension even a she tried to hide it with a light laugh. "I would like you to accompany me." She said it in a tone of voice that made it clear that it was not truly request.
This was unusual. The Mistress of the Jeweled Ladies had a specific set of rules that she adhered to above all others and one of those rules was that her Jewels were not allowed to entertain men away from the brothel. There was safety in numbers and that way, Mistress could keep an eye on her girls.
They reached the hall, where the man waited. His mouth hung slightly open and for all the world, he looked like a cow chewing its cud.
Please, let it not be him. Because her services were so very specialized, Sadie had significantly more say in whom she allowed to pay for her time. She knew her limits and she knew how to keep herself safe and she would absolutely not put herself in a closed room with someone who did not respect either of those two things.
"Mr. Titus, I am ready." Mistress sounded imperial with this statement.
Mr. Titus blinked at her and looked at Sadie. "I'm only supposed to bring you," he said, sounding just as dumb as he looked. Perhaps dumber.
Mistress gave Sadie’s arm a little squeeze. "Oh, but I insist. I'm sure it will be just fine." She leaned forward and patted the giant man on the cheek. "I won't let you get in trouble," she added, in what was probably supposed to be a motherly voice that didn't quite make it.
Sadie kept her face pleasant and blank through this entire exchange. So Mr. Titus was not the man making the special request – that was a relief. But that didn't actually answer any question. Who was requesting Mistress’s presence? Why were they doing so at a time when the Jeweled Ladies was busy? And why was Mistress bringing her along?
"He won't like it," Mr. Titus said, but even Sadie could hear that he had already given up.
They paused at the entryway where Samuel, the big colored doorman, was looking anxious. "Samuel," Mistress said in a businesslike tone, "please keep an eye on the establishment while I’m gone. I shan't be long."
The weather was still quite warm for November, which was good considering that Sadie had not had the chance to grab a cloak or even a scarf. At least she still had on her long opera gloves, she thought as she and Mistress strolled down the sidewalk arm in arm behind Mr. Titus. Mistress kept her head up in her shoulders back, a genial smile on her face. Sadie took her cues and did the same. They were not being summoned by some mysterious stranger. They were out for a stroll together, enjoying a lovely evening.
Sadie was more than a little surprised, however, when Mr. Titus turned first down an alley and then into the back of the courthouse before leading the women upstairs. He knocked on the door and waited until a voice said, "Enter."
Mr. Titus opened the door and there sat Judge Hobson, his head bent over his work. Sadie began to worry in earnest. Was Mistress under arrest? What was this?
"The ladies are here," Mr. Titus said. He made a motion as if he were going to shove Mistress and Sadie into the room, but Mistress neatly sidestepped him and pulled Sadie along after her.
"Thank you, Mr. Titus," she said in that haughty voice again. "You may go. And please close the door behind you. That's a good boy."
Sadie had to hide her smile behind her hand. Mistress was treating Mr. Titus like he was a lapdog.
Hobson had not looked up before this moment, but when he did, he focused directly on Sadie. A chill passed over her as his gaze bore into her. It took all of her self-control not to shiver. But she had prodigious control over her body and its reactions.
"Who is she?" he sneered.
"I promised Mr. Titus you would not be mad at him when I insisted upon bringing Miss Sapphire Bleu along with me." Mistress released her arm and gracefully lowered herself into one of the two chairs before the judge's desk. Clearly, the woman was not intimidated by the judge.
Sadie couldn't say the same thing, though. She knew who he was, of course. Everyone in this town knew who Judge Gerard Hobson was. He ruled from his bench like a king from on high. He was moral and righteous and upstanding and he detested – detested – anything that reeked of sin and impropriety.
And there were few things that he detested more than the Jeweled Ladies or Mistress. Closing down the brothels and regulating the saloons was one of the key things he had campaigned on.
If Sadie could've voted, she would've voted against him.
Thankfully, Judge Hobson had lost. While publicly, Mayor Raymond Dupree was not an advocate for the brothels, he had married one of Mistress’s finest Jewels, Miss Emerald Green—now Mrs. Emmeline Dupree. That connection had afforded a certain measure of security about the status of the Jeweled Ladies within the town of Brimstone.
"This conversation is meant for your ears only, madam," Judge Hobson said in a chillingly cold voice. "If I wanted a whore, I would've asked for one."
Mistress let this statement hanging in the air for a moment. Then, without replying directly, she said "Sapphire, darling, do take a seat."
Hobson fixed her with a hard glare and although she wanted to do as Mistress said, she found she couldn't. This was his office and his chair. She stood until he sighed and said, "Sit."