Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(77) by Lorraine Heath
The carriage went around to the back. After Jack disembarked, he reached inside for Olivia. “Are you certain you want to do this?”
He chuckled softly. “You’re like a child being offered a sweet.”
When she stepped out, he drew her near and tucked her up against his side. “Stay near until we’re inside.”
She could hear people singing off-key. Drunks, she thought. And there were the sounds of people walking quickly through the alleyway. Her heart sped up. A lantern hung above the back door. Jack inserted a key into the lock and was soon ushering her inside.
The first thing that struck her was that the hallway smelled clean. The doors to several rooms were closed, the door to one open.
“These are the offices.” He nodded toward the open doorway. “Frannie works there.”
“Is she there now?”
“I should stop in and say hello.”
“This isn’t like your morning calls.”
“It would be rude.”
He rolled his eyes. “Fine.”
He led her to the doorway. Once again she was surprised. While the furniture appeared to be of good stock, it was sparse. Frannie was making notations in a ledger. She glanced up and her green eyes widened. “Well, hello. This is a surprise.”
“She wanted to see a gaming hell,” Jack groused.
“And you brought her? This is an interesting development.” She rose.
Olivia flapped her hand self-consciously. “I don’t mean to disturb you. I just wanted to have a look around. I will admit to being surprised that everything is so clean. You run a tight ship.”
“That’s Jack’s doing. He can’t stand anything not being tidy. I think probably because he was so filthy as a child.”
She thought of the baths he took, the way he insisted on never putting on anything that wasn’t cleaned and pressed first.
“I’m just going to give her a quick look around,” Jack said, taking Olivia’s arm.
After saying good-bye to Frannie, she allowed Jack to lead her up some stairs that he said were restricted to employees only. “Does she have a suitor?”
“Good God, no. She has little interest in men.”
“Surely she wishes to marry.”
“I don’t think so, and that’s all I’ll say on the matter. Frannie’s secrets are her own.”
At the top of the stairs, he led her down a narrow hallway. Then he parted some curtains and they stepped out onto a shadowy balcony. Olivia was absolutely stunned by how elegant everything appeared. The hunter green walls were framed by intricate woodwork. But it was the activity on the floor that mesmerized her. Gaming tables, too many to count, filled the room. Some men were playing with cards, others with dice. A couple of the gents had ladies sitting on their laps, but even they were nicely dressed.
Cigar smoke created a haze. She could see all the glasses filled with various shades of amber, from light to dark, or clear liquid that she was certain wasn’t water. Boys dressed in purple livery confidently carried items for the gentlemen. It wasn’t as rowdy as she’d expected. In some cases, it was disturbingly quiet.
She recognized a good many of the lords. Why weren’t they home with their wives?
“I would have expected there to be more…girls,” she finally said.
“There’s another room where most of them stay. You can peer in from over there.”
He took her farther back into the hallway and then once again through a curtain onto a secluded balcony. She’d hesitated, not certain she wanted to see the debauchery, but her curiosity got the better of her. She was slightly disappointed. It appeared most were simply talking. She could see some kissing and a little teasing, but it wasn’t the orgy she was expecting.
“You look crestfallen,” he said near her ear.
“No, I…yes. I thought they’d be more naughty.”
He chuckled darkly. “They are. But those rooms you can’t peer into, except by invitation.”
He shrugged. “Some of the men like to be watched, so we have a viewing room.”
“Why would they want to be watched?”
“I suppose they think they have something to show off.”
“Oh.” She shook her head. “I told myself I would come here and not judge, but I don’t like that you use girls, that you make them—”
“I don’t make them do anything they don’t want to do. I pay them to keep gents company with a bit of conversation, a dance, maybe a kiss. What they do in the back rooms, that’s their business and their coin.”
“But you condone the activity.”
“They’re going to do it, Livy. In an alley, in a room that is neither clean nor safe. Here, at least, neither the gents nor the girls have any worries.”
“But why have them at all?”
“Because gents get lonely. And a happy gent spends more money in my establishment. Seen enough?”
She could see that she wasn’t going to win this argument for now, but maybe in time…
She nodded. “I think so.”
It wasn’t until they were back in the carriage headed home that Olivia asked, “How did you ever afford to open a business?”
“When I was nineteen, Beckwith came to see me. I had an anonymous benefactor who gave me ten thousand pounds. I used it to purchase the building.”
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