Chapter 16 - Part I

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The prostitute’s white dress floated in front of Sam like a flag of surrender, the gentle sway of her hips and ethereal garb intended to be innocently erotic. She glanced back at Sam at frequent intervals through lowered lashes, but her feigned shyness just served to grate on Sam’s already fragile nerves.

Sam followed the prostitute up the stairs towards the private rooms, her slick hands staining the wood of the bannister dark. Dread warred with irrepressible hope that she would somehow avert disaster. It was foolish, unfounded hope, but she clung desperately to it nonetheless.

The prostitute pulled a key from her bodice and pressed her ear against one of the doors. “This one’s ours,” she said after a moment, unlocking the heavy bolt with practiced ease. “Right this way, Master Sam. Or is it milord?”

“Just Sam is fine.” Remembering her manners, Sam asked, “And by what name should I call you?”

The prostitute ushered Sam into the private room and closed the door behind her. “I go by ‘Sweet Charity’, but you can call me whatever you like.”

Sam cringed inwardly. “What’s your given name? I’d like to call you by that, if I may.”

The prostitute scowled, but hid her reaction quickly. “It’s Lucy,” she said.

“Lucy’s a fine name.”

“It’s boring,” the prostitute retorted, and then schooled her face back into its seductive mask. She sashayed across the room to the bed - a canopied monstrosity - and arranged herself to her best advantage on its edge. “Take a seat, Sam,” she said, patting the mattress beside her.

Sam sat down on the opposite side of the bed.

Lucy chuckled, the husky sound at odds with her chaste getup. “I won’t bite, Sam.  Unless, of course, you want me to.”

“I think I’m fine for now,” said Sam, moving a small inch closer to Lucy.

Lucy sighed. “There’s no reason to be nervous. I already know you’re a virgin, so you don’t have to pretend with me. Just tell me what you like, and we’ll make your first time a memorable one.”

Though she didn’t have the benefit of a mirror, Sam would bet her last copper that she was flushed scarlet from the base of her neck to her hairline. “Would it be alright if we just talked?” Sam asked, clasping her hands together tightly.

Lucy swept her blonde hair to one shoulder and tilted her head. “Talk? Whatever you desire, Sam. Would you like to hear about what I’m going to do with your--”

“No! No, I meant, just talk,” Sam said in a strangled voice. “Like, ah, what is your favorite novel?”

The prostitute folded her arms beneath her breasts. “I can’t read,” she said.

“Oh,” said Sam. “Well, do you have any pastimes? What do you do when you’re not…working?”

Lucy chuckled again. “You’d think you was cavorting with a noblewoman. I spend my days and nights abed, and when I’m not working, I’m asleep.”

Sam rubbed her face with her hands. She really wasn’t any good with women. “What about your family? Are they well?” she asked, grasping at straws. If only she’d wound up with a prostitute who was more of a conversationalist.

Lucy, for her part, didn’t seem to know what to make of Sam. “You ask a lot of questions,” she said, playing with her hair. “My parents are up in Jigodin. They were well when I saw ‘em last, but that’s nigh on six years now. And I have – I had a little girl.” Her face clouded. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

Sam bit her lip, sensing she had stumbled into painful territory for the prostitute. Talking to Tristan – gods, even taciturn Braeden – was easier than making small talk with Lucy. She wondered how her companions were faring, and her throat constricted with an emotion that felt suspiciously like jealousy.

“Alright?” asked Lucy. “You look like you’re about to be ill.”

“I’m fine.”

Lucy rose from her reclined position on the bed, her hands skimming her curves as she smoothed out imaginary wrinkles from her dress. Before Sam could register what she was doing, Lucy stood between her bent knees, her fingers beneath Sam’s chin. “You’re a right pretty one, Sam,” she said in low, seductive tones. “I bet the rest of you is as pretty as your face.” She reached for the top of Sam’s tunic, deftly unfastening the top two buttons.

Sam slapped away the prostitute’s hands in horror and leaped to her feet, her heart beating so hard she thought it might burst right through her shirt. “Stop that!” she hissed.

“You know, I’m the one who’s supposed to play hard to get,” said Lucy. “Your master – Tristan, was that the name? – he says I’m to see to you no matter what. And he's already paid Mistress Rowena on your behalf, so I ought to do what he says, don’t you think?”

“But I just want to talk!”

“Sure you do, lovey. But we can talk with fewer clothes, no?”

“I’d really like to keep mine on.”

“Well, you can help me with mine, then.” Lucy turned around, arching her back and hips so that her rear was flush with Sam’s pelvis. “Undo my buttons, will you?” she asked Sam over her shoulder. “Oh, for Naamah’s sake!” she snapped when Sam did nothing. Lucy moved her body apart from Sam’s and attacked her dress with contorted elbows. After struggling with the buttons, she peeled down the bodice of the dress, revealing a thin chemise that left little to the imagination. “You like what you see?”

“Errrr,” said Sam, completely at a loss.

“And here I thought you wanted to talk,” said Lucy. “But no matter. Let’s undo a few more of those buttons of yours. It's only fair.” She ran her fingers along Sam’s exposed collar bone, then began tracing small circles with her palm down Sam’s chest.

Sam gripped Lucy’s wrist, praying that her binding had done its job. “Stop it. I mean it.”

Lucy gave a quizzical smile, and her free hand wandered lower, massaging between Sam’s legs. “You’re big for a small lad, I can tell,” she murmured. Her hand snaked under Sam’s tunic and dipped beneath the waistband of her trousers.

Sam grabbed for Lucy’s hand, but not before a confused, then shocked expression replaced her smile. “There’s naught but air in your codpiece,” she said slowly.

“You’re mistaken,” Sam said flatly. What else was she to say?

Lucy’s eyes narrowed speculatively. “You’re a woman,” she said.

“I’m not, I’m just—“

“Don’t bother denying it. I may be a whore, but I’m not stupid. But where are your breasts?”

“I’m telling you, I’m a—“

Buttons went flying as painted fingernails tore through fabric. Sam stared in dumb shock as Lucy tugged at the linen bandage that bound her chest, visible where the ripped collar of her tunic gaped open. “So you’re a woman,” Lucy repeated.

“Aye.” 

“Who else knows?”

“Just you and one other.”

“What about the men you came with?”

“They don’t know.”

Lucy circled the room like a hawk stalking its prey. “What’s it worth to you to keep me quiet?”

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