“Please, Flora,” implored the handsome young man. “Just one little kiss.”



“Really, James, you should try and control yourself.”



“I’m only asking for a kiss.”



Flora’s eyes twinkled. “On the cheek?”



“Well……” The hapless young man suddenly frowned. “Dammit, Flora, I do believe you’re laughing at me.”



“Why not? When you look at me like that you remind me of a hungry puppy begging for his dinner.”



James Metcalfe drew himself up to his full height of five foot seven. “If you will excuse me, Miss Phipps, I believe it is time for me to take my leave.”



He gave a quick, short bow and strode out of the room, followed by the sound of Flora’s laughter. It would be some time before the anger generated by his humiliation would abate; some time before he could compose himself sufficiently to smile at another pretty girl – an hour, at least.



As for Miss Flora Phipps, she was feeling very pleased with herself for obtaining another conquest. A little under medium height with gold brown hair, violet blue eyes, rose cheeks and lips, her teeth were as white as pearls and her figure trim and well-proportioned. She was lively and full of confidence, envisioning her future as an endless waltz with the most handsome and charming man in the world. She hadn’t met him yet – James Metcalfe falling well below on both counts – but she was certain the day would come. The heroines in the novels that she read so avidly always found their ideal partner and Flora had no doubt that she would share their fate.



At the moment she was located, with her parents, in a suite of rooms at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, the biggest and best in New York. They were visiting for a couple of months from their Chicago home. Mr Phipps was a self-made man. He had arrived in America in 1845 with only a smattering of learning, no money, but a sharp sense. He obtained a post as a porter in a provision store and worked his way up from clerk to head clerk, to partner to boss.



The Civil War brought death to thousands and fortunes to a few. Cornelius Phipps was one of the few. His firm secured a government contract, for which they paid dearly, and for which they made the government pay even more. The army of the North was provided with pork which was bought for a song and sold at an average profit of 300 per cent.



The result was a life of ease and luxury for Mr and Mrs Phipps and their daughter, Flora. All three were thoroughly enjoying their holiday in the great city, taking every opportunity to see the sights, visit museums and attend the theatre. A particular highlight was an excursion on a boat taking them along the entire length of the East River front, with Brooklyn, Williamsburg and Long Island on the opposite shore. It also passed the islands of Blackwell, Randall and Ward. The view of New York and Brooklyn from the water was magnificent.



On this bright, sunny spring afternoon she was full of joy and confidence, in the knowledge that she was mistress of her destiny. She burst into her mother’s bedroom.



“Mama, isn’t it an absolutely wonderful, splendid, marvellous day!”



There was a low groan from the bed where Mrs Phipps was laid out, a black mask covering her eyes; this, despite the fact that heavy curtains were drawn across the windows.



“Please, Flora, don’t shout. It’s unladylike.”



“The carriage will be here in ten minutes, Mama.”



“Ooooooh!” A long sigh emanated from that good lady. “I don’t feel like going out today, Flora. I’m absolutely exhausted with all the gallivanting around.”



“But Mama, it’s a beautiful day,” Flora protested. “I want to go for a drive in the park.” She pouted her lips like a spoiled little girl, for indeed, that’s what she was in many ways.



With another long sigh, Mrs Phipps slowly pulled herself up into a sitting position and removed the black shade from her eyes. She was now revealed as being barely twice as old as her daughter and showed no signs of losing her good looks. Like Flora, Mrs Phipps had been considered by all the eligible men – and some not so eligible too – as a very good catch.



She looked into a mirror and pulled a face. “Ugh! I look as bad as I feel.”



“The fresh air will do you good,” said Flora brightly. “Come on.”



“Give me time to make myself presentable.”



“Five minutes, that’s all.” Flora headed for the door.



“Five minutes!” exclaimed her mother. “It can’t be done.”



“Mama – ” the young girl poked her head back into the room. ” – you can do it.”



With that, she was gone.



“Oh, why couldn’t I have had a sympathetic son who’d leave me in peace?” With a sigh, Mrs Phipps rose from the bed and began to dress herself.



The daily parade of fashionable carriages through Central Park was in full swing by the time Flora and her mother arrived. Everybody knew everybody else, so there were constant acknowledgements and, sometimes, a pair of carriages would be stopped whilst their occupants exchanged gossip and information. However, their carriage proceeded serenely along, totally unhindered; they were strangers to the city and its fashionable society.



“There’s dear Charles,” said Mrs Phipps, a slight turn of her head being the only indication that she was drawing her daughter’s attention to a smartly dressed man sitting astride a horse.



“Goodness, Mama, don’t smile at him. He’ll come across to us.”



“Why shouldn’t he? I find him most pleasant.”



Flora pulled a face. “Pleasant! He’s dull and pompous.”



Charles Dunne was fifteen years older than Flora, but behaved as if he had the addition of another twenty. His father was something in Wall Street – exactly what was never made quite clear – and Charles had followed him into the business. They were the only people in New York known to Mr and Mrs Phipps, Charles’ sister having married a friend in Chicago.



“He’s a very good catch,” Mrs Phipps continued. “Wealthy, quite handsome and polite.”



“Polite!” Flora exploded. “Do you mean he doesn’t curse all the time?”



“Of course not. I mean he knows how to treat a lady. I think he has quite a fancy for you, my dear. You should encourage him. Your father would consider that a very good match.”



“In that case, Papa can marry him.”



Flora sat back in a sulk, trying to make herself invisible as Charles Dunne rode alongside the carriage.



“Good afternoon, ladies.” He tipped his hat. “A beautiful day.”



“A blinding day,” said Mrs Phipps, wearily. “The sun is too bright.”



Charles smiled. “Having a holiday can be rather exhausting. But I trust you’re enjoying your visit to New York.”



“Immensely.”



“Perhaps I can increase that enjoyment. There is a ball at the Stewart house tomorrow and I am at liberty to issue an invitation to you all.”



“A ball!” Flora excitedly raised herself from her slumped position.



“Perhaps I might have the pleasure of a dance with you?”



“Well, Mr Dunne, I will have to see if I can find room on my card.” Flora smiled sweetly.



“I see.” Charles looked more than a little offended.



“That’s extremely rude, Flora,” Mrs Phipps reprimanded her daughter. “You will apologise at once.”



“I’m sorry,” Flora ungraciously mumbled.



“Accepted. Maybe you’re expecting to be surrounded by eligible young men. No doubt you will be. Perhaps, Mrs Phipps, you would do me the honor?”



“Why, of course,” replied the mother in some surprise.



“I look forward to it. I shall bring a carriage for you at eight o’clock tomorrow night. Good day, Mrs Phipps — Miss Phipps.”



Charles raised his hat and rode away.



“How could you, Flora? I thought I’d brought you up to be more polite than that. You’re a grave disappointment.”



“Oh Mama!” Flora flung herself into her mother’s arms. “I’m sorry, sorry, sorry. It just came out. I find Charles so pompous. He never seems to smile. But I’ll be good. I’ll dance with him — at least once.”



Further along Fifth Avenue from the hotel there was a large house designed and decorated exclusively for the use of persons giving balls, suppers or receptions. It was so large that several events could be held at the same time without any inconvenience to the different parties. Everything was provided by the proprietor down to the most minute detail, and though the service was very expensive, most of fashionable New York thought the outlay well worthwhile.



Naturally, both the female members of the Phipps family required to buy new ball gowns for the occasion and a new string of pearls also became a necessity. With each bill presented to him, Papa went a little more red in the face, but not a word of protest did he utter.



Mr Phipps was well aware that to be fashionable took a lot of money and he had that in abundance. He regretted not one cent spent on maintaining his position; after all, had he not come up from nothing? Did he not have a beautiful wife and daughter who needed and deserved to be shown off to their best advantage? Was it not his duty to make them happy?



The answer to all those questions, in the mind of Mr Phipps, was an unequivocal ‘yes’; therefore, he was only too pleased to pay their bills.



The large room was filled with the sound of chatter and the music of an orchestra playing in a far corner. Mr and Mrs Phipps, with their daughter, arrived at the top of a grand staircase leading up from the entrance hall to the ballroom. They were greeted with a smile and a few words of welcome from a haughty couple who, according to Charles, were giving this little ball for their son’s birthday.



“Little!” Mr Phipps exclaimed. “There are hundreds of people here.”



Charles nodded. “I believe fifteen hundred is the figure.”



“Good heavens! It must cost a fortune.”



“Ten to twelve thousand dollars.”



Mr Phipps gasped. He considered himself to be a wealthy man, but he most certainly couldn’t afford to spend that amount on an evening’s entertainment.



“My goodness.” Mrs Phipps looked around at the glitter of the room and finery adorning the women. “I feel quite shabby.”



“Nonsense, my dear,” her husband assured her. “You’re absolutely splendid.”



“I agree,” said Charles. “Both you and Miss Phipps look enchanting and the equal of any woman here. Shall we proceed?”



There were chairs ranged along the walls, allowing plenty of space for the dancing. They were tied together in pairs, denoting that ‘The German’ was to be danced later in the evening. There was very little dancing, however, before midnight. The members of New York society mingled and chatted, their voices almost drowning the orchestra.



Charles introduced his guests to several people who barely acknowledged them. They were not New Yorkers, but came from the sticks; hardly worth bothering about.



“I find everybody rather snooty,” Mr Phipps complained.



Flora was disappointed. After the initial excitement of arriving, no one did anything but stand around and talk. As she knew nobody and was totally ignored, the image of a fish out of water came to mind. It was most unfair. Wasn’t she their equal? Wasn’t she beautifully dressed? Didn’t she have charm and grace? She almost wished they hadn’t come.



Then, suddenly, he was there. A tall, fair-haired, slim young man of perhaps twenty-six or seven, stood before them.



“Good evening, Mr Dunne.”



“Oh — yes, good evening. Erm….may I present my guests. Mr Ambrose Phipps from Chicago, his wife, Matilda and their daughter Flora.” There was a noticeable chill in his voice.



The young man bowed. “Count Henry Dunois.”



“Count?” gasped Mrs Phipps.



“Oui, madame.” He gracefully picked up her hand and kissed it. “From Paris.”



“Oh. Pleased to meet you.” She did her best to suppress the little school-girl giggle in her voice.



“Mam’selle.” He kissed Flora’s hand, lingeringly, almost caressing it with his lips, whilst his eyes gazed into hers. “I shall have the honor of a dance — oui? Perhaps the fourth.”



“Of course,” said Flora, thinking he could have every other dance as well.



It was only one dance, but from that moment Flora was smitten.



Charles Dunne disliked the French count. He also distrusted him and was very sceptical about his claim to a distinguished background and being heir to a fortune. After the ball, where he was completely ignored by Flora, he was also filled with resentment and jealousy.



Charles viewed the young woman as an ideal wife who would look good on his arm and give him two or three children. He was not overly fond of children, but the line had to be continued and, anyway, between his wife and a nanny, he would have little contact with them. He had it all planned out. He had even patiently waited for Flora to become old enough. But now…..now, his plans were in tatters.



Hiring a little ferret of a man who proclaimed himself to be a detective – ‘ALL ENQUIRIES DILIGENTLY PURSUED. TRACING AND RECOVERING STOLEN PROPERTY A SPECIALITY’ – was a demeaning experience for a pillar of society, but Charles was determined to unmask the count as a fraud.



“Find out everything you can,” he instructed the detective.



“Do you want him followed?”



“Yes.”



“It’ll cost you.”



“Naturally.”



“Ten dollars a day, plus expenses.”



“I’m not going to quibble about the money, man. Just get the job done.”



And so it was that every movement of the noble French count was noted in a little black notebook, whilst at the same time his noble pedigree was being investigated. Thick tomes in the New York public library detailing the French nobility proved to be particularly useful.



“He’s a fraud,” declared the detective a week after beginning his surveillance. The details are in my report.” He handed over an envelope. “Do you want me to continue watching him?”



“Yes.”



“He’s seeing a lot of a young lady,” he referred to his notes. “Miss Flora Phipps. Staying at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Carriage rides in the park, dinners, balls, lunch at Delmonico’s, that sort of thing. But always in the company of one or both of her parents. He’s also a frequent visitor to a house of assignation.”



Charles’ lips curved in a half-smile. “Is he indeed; interesting.”



“I’ve made some discreet enquiries and the lady in question seems to be married to a legal man.”



“Good. Thank you.”



After the detective had gone Charles opened the envelope and began to study the contents of the report. It confirmed everything he had suspected. Give the impostor a little more rope to hang himself and then Charles would take great delight in exposing him.



It was rumoured that the count was heir to a property worth millions of francs and he was considered to be a good catch. It was also rumoured that he was a dab hand at borrowing, and that he was remarkably unlucky at cards and at the races.



Flora and her parents however, were ignorant of such gossip. From the moment she saw him she knew what it was to be in love. All her waking thoughts were centred on the count, and many of her dreams too. There was no other man in the world. The Frenchman seemed to be similarly struck, much to the satisfaction of Mr and Mrs Phipps. Hardly three weeks had passed when the subject of marriage was mentioned.



“A most suitable match,” said Mr Phipps.



“Do you think they’ll live in France?” asked his wife.



“I believe that’s Henri’s intention. He has a large estate not far from Paris. We’ll be able to visit once a year.”



“At least once a year,” said Mrs Phipps firmly.



It was a beautiful spring evening, with only one cloud on the horizon; in two days, Flora and her parents were returning to Chicago. She tried not to dwell upon the end of her holiday and think only of the future. Henri had proposed and been accepted by all three members of the Phipps family.



On this pleasant evening, they were all taking a stroll on the Ramble, a labyrinth of wooded walks with small bridges over brooks, wild flowers and vines. Everything was so simply and naturally arranged it was hard to believe it wasn’t the work of nature. Henri and Flora were walking a little distance ahead of her parents.



“It is a bore,” said Henri, sufficiently loud for Flora to hear, but low enough to defeat eavesdroppers.



“Walking with me?” she queried, a little pout appearing on her mouth.



“No. Always being observed. Your mama and papa are always watching.”



“Yes, you’re right. It is a bore.”



“What can we do about it?”



“I don’t know.”



“Sneak out after everyone is in bed.”



“I can’t. There’s a man guarding every door.”



“That can be no difficulty. A little sum of money changes hands and – voila!”



“Voila?”



Henri smiled. “The guard looks the other way.”



“Oo, yes!” Flora felt a flutter in her breast at the very thought of an adventure. “Where would we go?”



“Leave that to me. You will see New York at night. The excitement, the crowds, the noise. You should see Broadway.”



“But I’ve seen it.”



“But not at night, I wager. You have not strolled the streets at night. Daytime is different. At night Broadway really comes alive. I shall take you.”



“When?” Flora eagerly asked as the music was coming to an end.



“Tomorrow. Your last night in New York. Eleven o’clock.”



“Eleven!” gasped Flora, scarcely able to believe that she would leave the hotel at that time by herself. No, not by herself. Henri would be there to escort her. She would be perfectly safe. “Yes, yes! They’ll want to have an early night because we’re travelling the next morning.”



“Then it is arranged.”



“Yes.”



Later, in the hotel, when bidding goodnight to them all, Henri first kissed the hand of Mama, and then Flora. “Tomorrow,” he murmured.



The detective had placed himself in a position to watch, unobserved, as his quarry approached a private entrance on Broadway of the Fifth Avenue Hotel. He witnessed the surreptitious handing over of money to the guardian of the door and then, a few moments later, the emergence of a cloaked female figure on the arm of the count. The ferret made a note of the time in his book; two minutes past eleven.



Broadway was always constantly thronged with a dense and rapidly moving mass of pedestrians, carriages, wagons, carts and omnibuses. As the day wore on, so did the pace ease a little. The promenaders were out to gaze at the rich, beautiful and tempting displays in the windows of the Broadway stores. The side-walks were always crowded, even in the summer. The bustle and uproar were so great it was generally impossible to converse in an ordinary tone. From early morn till after midnight the throng poured on.



At night the scene was different. Only carriages and omnibuses were on the street; strains of music and bursts of applause were to be heard coming from the places of amusement. Restaurants and cafes were ablaze with light. As Flora and Henri walked along, the theatre audiences were beginning to swell the crowd. She tightly clutched her escort’s arm, hardly able to believe she was in the midst of all these wonders with a young man and not her parents.



“Thank you, Henri.”



He looked at Flora. “For what, ma cherie?”



“Bringing me here. It’s so thrilling.”



“It is my delight. But I would like to do so much more.”



“More?”



“I feel so….how you say? Frustrated.”



“Frustrated?” Flora queried.



“I am annoyed because I cannot show you how much is my love for you. Frustrated. That is the right word – yes?



“Yes, but you do show me how much you love me.”



Henri shook his head. “No, no, no! I make play and push away my real desires. Always with people. Your mama and papa are like hawks circling and watching. In Paris this would not happen.”



“No?”



“In Paris I would be able to take you anywhere – to the theatre, to the park, or a restaurant or on a boat. Wherever we wish to go. By ourselves. No one to shake a head or tut-tut because I whisper in your ear or put my arm around and hold you close. We could even kiss.”



“In the street?”



“If we wished. But here…..everybody is so tight, so….so forbidding.”



Flora laughed. “I’ve never thought of my parents as forbidding.”

“You are desirable, ma cherie. I want to kiss those cherry lips.”



“Oh yes,” Flora sighed, trying to imagine what it would be like. Her very first kiss – well – that kind of kiss.



“I want to show you the depths of my love. This I could do in Paris. But here…..” he shrugged.



“Oh, I wish you could. How nice it would be if we were in Paris.”



“One day I shall take you there.”



“I can’t wait.”



“But I am afraid you will have to. We have to be married before I can carry you away to begin our life together. But here – now – we can take the first step.”



“First step?”



“I want to make you feel my love for you. This I cannot do on the street or beneath the gaze of other people. I want you alone. In my arms. With my lips on yours.”



“That would be nice.”



“Then take that first step. We are to be married. We make love tonight…..”



“Tonight?” Flora was wide-eyed.



“….or next week or next month after the wedding vows. What difference? If you truly love me, you would not keep me in this hell.”



“I do love you!” cried Flora.



They were approaching a street corner and he gently propelled her off Broadway onto a narrower and quieter street. There were a few small shops which were soon replaced by houses on both sides.



“Where are we going?” Flora enquired.



“To a house belonging to a friend. She will not spy on us and keep us from each other.”



“She?”



“Mrs Petrie. I became acquainted with her soon after coming to New York. You have no need to fear. She is perfectly respectable, but knows when to be discreet.”



Flora stopped walking. “I….I don’t know, Henri. I don’t think we should be alone.”



“There are other people in the house. Good people. They would not let harm come to you. And I will be with you.”



He carefully pulled the hood of her cloak down, tipped back her head and kissed her. It was a long kiss. An elderly couple walking on the other side of the street looked at the lovers with disapproval. Also on the other side of the street was the ferret, who made a note in his book.



After the kiss, which she had never before experienced, Flora felt weak-kneed. She clung to Henri as he resumed their walk. They passed a few more houses, then he took her up a short flight of steps to a front door. He rang the bell. It was opened after only a few moments and a tubby, pleasant-faced woman of middling years greeted them.



“Good evening.”



Henri nodded. “Mrs Petrie.”



“Nice to see you again.” She looked at Flora and smiled. “Good evening, miss.”



“Hello,” Flora nervously replied.



There were butterflies in her stomach. It wasn’t too late. She could turn and go. Henri would understand. On the other hand, she desperately wanted to feel him loving her. Of course, nobody had ever explained what happened when a man made love to a woman, but she had read books. She clearly remembered the words of Mr Rochester to Jane Eyre.



“Come to me – come to me entirely now,” said he; and added, in his deepest tone, speaking in my ear as his cheek was laid on mine, “Make my happiness – I will make yours.”



Yes, yes. She would go to Henri entirely and make his happiness.



“The room is ready,” Mrs Petrie murmured.



“Merci. Come, my love.”



“Come to me – come to me entirely now.”



The words went round in Flora’s head as she followed him to an upstairs room. It was pleasantly furnished in light colours. The most prominent feature was a double-bed with the covers turned down. She shivered in apprehension. The door closed behind them and they were alone.



Henri gathered Flora into his arms, holding her in a firm embrace. She felt his lips lightly brush her ear, followed by her left cheek, her forehead, right ear, right cheek and finally her lips, where the kiss was more forceful and prolonged. She gasped as he released her and felt her body flushed with heat.



“You know how a man makes love to a woman – yes?”



Flora shook her head. “No,” she whispered.



“Mon dieu! Your mama and papa have not told you?”



“No.”



“Have you seen a man without clothes?”



Flora was shocked. “Of course not.”



“A picture perhaps? Or a statue?”



“I’ve never really noticed.”



“All right.” Henri took off his coat and began to unfasten his trousers. “I will show you.”



Flora stood open-eyed as her future husband – she kept reminding herself that she was in this highly compromising situation with her future husband – took off his trousers. He then removed his underwear.



“Voila!”



Protruding from his lower region was a long stick-like thing and Flora gazed in fascination as he slowly ran his fingers along its length.



“It is hard. That shows how great is my love for you. You do not have this.” Flora shook her head unable to find a voice to speak. “But what you have is made to take this inside. I will show you if you want.”



Did she want? Flora was uncertain and not a little afraid. What did he mean by ‘taking that stick’ inside her? How? He would show her; if she wanted.



“Yes.” It was hardly more than a whisper.



“You will have to remove your clothes.”



“All…..all of them?”



“It is best. I too will disrobe. Our two naked bodies together will make a love such as you cannot imagine. Come. We start.”



He began shedding his remaining clothes. Flora slowly and hesitantly followed suit. “Come to me. Come entirely to me now.”



Rochester’s words went round and round in her mind. She envisioned Jane Eyre standing in front of him revealing herself to the man she loved, just as Flora was doing now. It took a while, but eventually she was naked, eyes downcast and feeling the need to cover herself with her hands. But where? There were more parts to conceal than hands to do it. She settled for lightly clasping her hands in front of her lower private parts with her arms across her breasts.



He came to her, bent down, eased her arms away, and began to kiss her breasts. Her little buds hardened as his tongue caressed them. She was aware of the stick pressing against her stomach and could feel its hardness. By now her limbs were trembling, but she had no idea whether it was with excitement or fear. One thing was certain; her legs would no longer support her. She collapsed onto the bed.



Henri pulled her legs apart and applied his attentions to the delicate heated area between them. Flora began to squirm and softly moan. Waves of pleasure washed through her as he licked and kissed her. Suddenly he got up.



“Lie fully on the bed. With your legs open.”



He went over to a washstand as she complied and picked up a towel, which he brought across. “I will place this beneath you.”



“Why?”



“This is your first time. Sometimes there is bleeding on the first time.”



Flora sat up, fright etched on her face. “Bleeding?”



“It is not to worry you. There is nothing bad or unusual about it. Perfectly normal. After this it will not happen. Lie back.”



Filled with apprehension she did as he said. She was aware of his finger lightly rubbing her most secret part. It was a delightful sensation. She wondered if Henri was deriving as much pleasure, or was he doing this just for her sake. Oooooh, she felt…….



Her eyes opened wide and she gasped as the stick went into her. There was a momentary stab of pain which made her wince, but then it was gone and the only sensation she had was excitement. He moved in and out in a steady rhythm.



“Aaaah!” Flora writhed. “Ooooooh!”



The heat was growing where she was being penetrated and she could feel the stick hardening even more and stretching into her. Suddenly there was a burst of heat and a loud gasp from Henri. For a moment he was still and rigid. She felt something flood into her and then he relaxed, slowly sinking down on top of her.



They lay still for a minute or two, breathing heavily. He once more kissed her nipples and circled his tongue round her breasts. She was overwhelmed with a feeling of contentment.



“I didn’t know it was possible to be as happy as I am now,” Flora crooned. “You must teach me all you know about making love. I want it to be perfect for us both every time.”



“I imagine we will have to wait until after we are married, ma cherie. Tonight we could succeed in our little deception, but after this, we cannot run the risk of being discovered. Your reputation would be in pieces and I would be branded as a cad and rogue. We must not allow this to happen.”



“Oh, I want to kiss and pet you all day long and never be parted. We’ll be so happy, happy together in our own little house.”



“Perhaps it will not be so little.”



She clutched him to her breast and was aware that he was hardening again. She giggled. “Henri, I do believe you want to love me again.”



“My darling, I do believe you are right.”



And he did.



“Time to go, cherie.” Henri got out of bed and began to dress. Flora made to follow. “No, no. You stay as you are a few more moments. The perfect picture. A naked Venus.”



Flora blushed. “You make me embarrassed.”



“You have nothing to be embarrassed about. You were a wonderful fuck. Enjoy your new life.”



“What do you mean?”



He opened the door and three men were standing outside. Flora squealed and pulled the covers up.



“I am really sorry, ma cherie. Believe me. This was not what I intended. You see, I am not a real count. I am — er — how you say? – impostor. That is right, yes? Penniless. I came to America with hardly two cents in my pocket, but I made friends.” He indicated the three men. “Friends such as this. I planned for a rich marriage to a charming young woman. You were exactly right. Everything was going according to plan, but then your Mr Charles Dunne interfered. He had me investigated and followed by a rather clumsy detective. He is outside now with his little notebook. He saw us come in. He will see us go out and then we disappear — pouf! Robert Houdin could not do it better.”



Henri picked up Flora’s cloak.



“Henri!” She was frightened and so demented that his words hardly made sense. New life? What new life? “Don’t leave me!”



“But I must. You are my passage back to Europe. You fetched a good price. I was most gratified. Au revoir.”



“Henri!” Flora screamed as the door closed behind him and she was left alone with the three men.



“Come on, my lovely,” growled one man, pulling back the covers. He whistled. “Henri wasn’t lying. Very tasty. He fucked you, so you have an idea what it’s all about, but this is where your education really begins.”



The others had already stripped off their clothes. They stood on either side of the bed and Flora instinctively closed her legs tightly together. To no avail. She was roughly seized and a knee pressed against her crotch. She reacted to the pain by spreading her legs and her assailant grunted in satisfaction.



He was already hard, the sight of the nubile young body being sufficient, and his cock drove into Flora’s cunt. It was dry and unwilling to receive the solid piece of flesh invading her most intimate part. She squealed in pain. With Henri she had been relaxed, at least after the initial penetration, and her juices flowing. Her vagina had welcomed him. But this……this….



She screamed but a hand was firmly clapped over her mouth, cutting it short.



“Don’t want to wake the neighbours, do we?” He laughed. “Not that the people in this house are all that bothered.”



He continued brutally thrusting in and out whilst Flora, unable to stop him, was wide-eyed with pain and horror.



“I know a better way of keeping her quiet,” said the second man.



He kneeled on the bed at her head, facing towards her feet.



“Right.”



He nodded and the hand was removed. He quickly put his cock at her mouth.



“Open.”



She did and he pushed his hard cock inside, choking her.



“Suck,” he commanded. “And don’t you bloody well bite or I’ll knock your teeth through the back of your head.”



Gasping and choking she did as instructed, whilst the man knead her breasts. Meanwhile the first man was reaching a climax and he pulled out of her just before ejaculating. His sperm gushed out over her stomach.



“You want her to clean you up?” enquired the man being sucked.



“Yeh.”



They swiftly changed places and Flora was invaded by a second cock inside both orifices. The one in her mouth tasted salty. She was unable to feel anything but pain and despair. When she had entered this room only a couple of hours earlier, she had been a virgin who had never known the intimacy of lying next to a man. She had not experienced a man’s touch, especially on her most secret parts. With Henri it had been wonderful, but the brutality of this rape was mind-numbing.



The second man’s semen spurted out, spreading across her breasts and stomach. No sooner had he finished than he took up position at her head and pushed his cock into her mouth. This one tasted slightly different; more bitter than salty. Unpleasant. She wondered how she could even begin to register the tastes as a third cock penetrated her vagina. It’s rough edge scraped along the lips.



Flora was taken twice more by each man and then she was turned over. A finger began to work its way into her anal passage.



“No!” she cried.



“Shut it!”



A resounding slap on her ass accompanied the words.



“Aa! It was a loud gasp.



The finger continued pushing and prodding. The pain was worse than when she had been penetrated in the vagina. She closed her eyes tightly, a deep frown furrowing her forehead as she endured the anal intrusion. Her face was tear-stained.



“Kneel up.”



She slowly rose up into a kneeling position. Very gradually the opening began to widen and more of his finger was inserted. A little more and two fingers were inside.



The other two men were standing by the side of the bed stroking their cocks, which were standing to attention, waiting for action. All three of them prided themselves on being able to get a hard-on three or four times a night. They were good at their job, for this was a job. They were paid to break in new fillies for the whorehouses of New York.



There was a constant demand for attractive young women to fill the better class of houses of prostitution. Fresh ones were always required to replace those who had grown less fresh and faded.



There was a regularly-organized system designed to trap vulnerable, naive or extravagant young women. Men were employed the year round to seduce and introduce new subjects to their establishments. These men were almost invariably handsome, with a fine appearance, easy manners, and hearts as hard as any stone. They were often men of some culture and breeding, with agreeable manners, brilliant conversation and man-of-the-world ways which were well calculated to charm any ordinary young woman.



Such a one was Henri Dubois. Though not actually a professional seducer he was, nevertheless, good at seduction. He had won the heart of Flora Phipps and enticed her into bed. It was an extremely pleasing encounter; unfortunately, he had been forced to abandon her. He allowed himself a few moments of regret as he stood on the deck of a departing ship, but then threw his cigar into the water and proceeded towards the saloon. With luck, he would soon meet a delectable young woman who would quickly be charmed by Count Henri Dubois.



At that moment, his previous conquest was enduring the agony of a hardened cock skewering up her backside. As was to be expected, passage was being resisted, causing an excruciating pain.



“Oh….oh…..oh!” Flora squealed. “Stop! Please stop!”



Her plea was ignored. The man derived no sexual pleasure from doing it, but he certainly derived a sadistic satisfaction from tearing open the virgin ass. He enjoyed his work and gave no thought to his young victims, caring nothing for them or their ultimate fate.



After a great deal of pushing, his cock was finally in up the hilt and he began to work it around, in and out. Flora was moaning, her eyes fast shut, as pain washed through her in waves. The man picked up speed and grunted as he felt himself coming. This time he ejaculated into her ass. He pulled out and was replaced. Flora was barely aware of a second cock being pushed into her. She was close to fainting clean away.



After the third man had finished inside her they all left, and the object of their abuse lay sprawled across the bed with dried semen spread over her body, so shattered by the experience even the tears refused to come. She was like a broken doll.



At some time, sleep must have come to her rescue. She was suddenly aware of being shaken awake by a blonde and buxom woman a few years older than herself.



“Feeling better after your rest?”



“Better?” Flora murmured. No, I don’t, she wanted to cry. How can you expect me to feel better after what happened? I’m bruised all over, inside and out. But she stayed silent.



“I know.” There was some sympathy in the tone. “Well….no, I don’t know. It didn’t happen to me. Not necessary. I was willing enough ’cause I needed the dough. But I’ve seen other girls and talked to them, so I’ve got a bit of an idea. Virgin, were you?”



Flora didn’t reply. Strictly speaking, she lost her virginity in a most pleasant and loving way; at least, some of her virginity. What was done to her afterwards stripped everything else away.



“Yeh, it comes hard. But that’s the worst over. You won’t be faced with brutes like that again. You’ll soon find you get used to it. Might even enjoy it sometimes. My name’s Hattie, by the way.”



“Used to what?” Flora asked.



“Satisfying men in bed — and out.”



“I want to go home.”



“Home? You are home. At least, you will be when you’re moved out of here. This isn’t where you’ll work. It’s only a stepping stone.”



“Work?” Flora was still in a half-daze and finding it difficult to take in the words; or at least, their meaning.



“Never worked before, have you? Born into wealth and luxury, I bet. Well, you can kiss that goodbye, though your customers will be toffs. You’re going to a first-class house.”



“I….I don’t understand.”



“You’re a fallen woman. Fucked in every way. Bought and sold to make money for your owner. On your back or on your knees. Sucking cocks; taking them into your cunt or up your fanny; being beaten — some guys get a real kick of smacking a girl or using a whip. It gets them off, then you take it down the throat. Sometimes you get two or three at a time; at the same time.”



If that account of Flora’s expected future life was meant to reassure her, it failed miserably. She huddled into a tight ball on the bed and began to cry.



“Come on, pull yourself together. I’ve got to get you ready for leaving and we’ll both be in trouble if you aren’t ready.” Hattie dragged the naked figure off the bed. “Looks like you’ve been in the wars a bit. Never mind, the bruises will soon go. Be good as new in no time.”



Flora stood still, offering no help as Hattie dressed her.



“Got a nice pair of tits,” commented Hattie. She bent down, ran her tongue across the teats and then gently pulled them with her lips. Surprisingly, they began to harden. “I see you’ve still got a bit of life in you,” Hattie giggled. “But I can’t spend too long enjoying myself. Maybe later. What do you say?”



“Um.” Flora nodded vaguely, only half aware of what was happening.



Hattie continued dressing her and then led her downstairs when she was ready. Mrs Petrie was there.



“Hurry up. We’ve got to get her out of here.”



“Don’t worry. We’re going.”



“The carriage is at the back door.”



“Right.”



The shattered girl was led out of the house and into a carriage with the blinds down. It pulled away, down an alley and out into the main street. Soon it was lost in the early morning traffic.



Half an hour later, after Mr and Mrs Phipps had risen from a deep sleep, they discovered that their daughter’s bed had not been slept in. The hotel was searched from top to bottom. As soon as it was ascertained that she was nowhere inside the police were informed. They began to make enquiries amongst the staff, but everybody denied any knowledge of the missing girl, including the door-keeper who had seen her go. True, he hadn’t seen her face, but adding two and two was hardly high maths.

He kept quiet because he had been well paid to turn a blind eye and felt duty bound to honor his word. Besides, he had no desire to become part of a police investigation, having had a less than squeaky-clean past. What’s more, he was filled with envy of those people who could afford to stay in a classy hotel such as the one which employed him. It gave him pleasure to bring a little grief into their lives.



Thus, the police remained in ignorance of Flora’s departure on the arm of Henri Dubois. At least, they would have done if it hadn’t been for the report of the ferret detective, now in the possession of Charles Dunne. He gave it to the official investigators. A burly police detective questioned the ferret.



“You saw Miss Phipps come out with Count Henri Dubois?”



“Yes, sir.”



“You’re certain it was her.”



“Not at the time she emerged. Wrapped in a cloak, you see. With a hood. I followed the couple as they walked along Broadway and somewhere along the way, he took her hood down. That’s when I clearly saw her face.”



“You recognised her?”



“Oh yes. Very pretty girl she is. Saw her quite a bit whilst I was following Dubois. Always in company with a parent.”



“Except last night.”



“Yes. No parent then. Just Dubois.”



“Where did they go?”



The ferret handed over his notebook. “That’s the address. House of assignation, it is.”



The police detective nodded. “We know it. Did you see them leave?”



“Yes. About two hours later. Wrapped in her cloak she was.”



“Where did they go?”



The ferret shook his head. “Sorry. They came out, jumped into a waiting cab and drove away. I was on foot.”



“Ah. Pity.”



“But I did hear what he said to the driver.”



“Oh?”



“Headed for the docks they were.”



The police detective frowned. “The docks? Now, why would they go there?”



The door-keeper at the hotel was questioned again, but insisted he saw nothing and no-one. He was at his post all the time except…..ah yes, of course….he did go away for just a few moments. The call of nature. About eleven o’clock, he thought.



The police detective’s next port of call was the house of assignation. Mrs Petrie opened the door.



“Hello, Inspector.”



“Can I come in?”



“Got a daytime assignation, have you?”, the housekeeper cheekily asked.



“Happily married, Mrs Petrie.”



She laughed. “Plenty of them come here, I can tell you. Both sexes.”



“Yes, I’m sure they do. I’m pursuing enquiries. Last night. A young girl — eighteen years old — came here with Henri Dubois.”



“Yes, that’s right. Sweet looking girl. Innocent looking. I didn’t like to see her with that Dubois man.”



“Really?”



“He’s visited before with other women. They looked as if they knew what they were doing, but this one….” Mrs Petrie shook her head. “She isn’t the first young girl to be fooled and she won’t be the last. Older women too. Should be older and wiser, but they’re not. My visitors come from all classes in society. Married women meet their lovers here and young girls like her come when their parents think they’re somewhere else. I see it all. Human lust. Provides a handsome income for me, I can tell you.”



“I’m sure it does,” the detective drily responded. “Did she stay the night?”



“This isn’t a hotel or boarding house. Nor is it a brothel. I run a respectable house. I’m in the business of letting rooms for people to meet each other. I’m not to know what they get up to, am I?”



“Of course not. Did you see Dubois and the girl leave?”



“Yes. After a couple of hours or so.”



“Any idea where they went?”



“I assume he took her back home, wherever that is.”



“Um All right. Thank you. I’ll probably want you to make a signed statement.”



“Anything to help the police. By the way. Why are you looking for her?”



“She’s disappeared, Mrs Petrie. Left your house and vanished into thin air.”



“Well, would you credit it.”



Enquiries were made at the docks and the police discovered that a ship had departed the previous night bound for Europe. The timing was exactly right and an entry in the passenger list revealed that a double cabin – second class – had been booked by Count Henri Dubois.



“So that’s it, I’m afraid,” the police detective informed the grieving parents. “Seems the young couple have eloped.”



“But why?” Mrs Phipps tearfully asked. “There was no need to elope. We heartily approved of the marriage.”



“I’ll tell you why,” said Charles Dunne grimly. “It’s all here in the report. My private detective has been making enquiries. He found that Dubois was nothing but a scoundrel and a fraud. There’s no estate, no fortune, no family name. He’s a nothing and a nobody who scraped up a one way passage to New York. We’ve been taken for fools.”



Mr Phipps looked puzzled. “I still don’t understand why Dubois didn’t stay and marry Flora. Once he’d done that we wouldn’t have been able to do anything. The disgrace would have been intolerable.”



“Obviously that’s what he was banking on, but he had to alter his plans. He received a letter from France; probably tipping him off about our investigation.”



“My poor little girl,” cried Mrs Phipps. “Tricked into marriage by a charlatan.”



“He’s an expert in seducing women,” said Charles grimly. “No doubt you’ll receive a letter eventually, demanding money to support them. If you refuse to pay, God knows what will happen to poor Flora in France.”



Mr Phipps looked shattered, whilst his wife collapsed onto the sofa in a flurry of wailing and crying.



Flora had been taken to a house not far from the hotel; a house much like any other fashionable residence for a well-to-do family. She was given a room, a surprisingly pleasant room, with good furnishings and a welcoming feel. It was where she would work and sleep. She was also provided with a wardrobe of dresses which were pretty and had one thing in common; they showed off her figure to its best advantage. There was not much in the way of undergarments.



The girls were not allowed out for the first month, she was informed, though they could sit in the garden at the rear of the house on a good day. After the month, they could walk out to the shops or park, but always in the company of another girl. There was also an ever-watchful male minder trailing behind.



This was a parlor-house, run by Mrs Greene, and there were ten ‘lady boarders’ as they were euphemistically called. It was a three-story brownstone house, furnished throughout with the most costly and newest improvements. There were French mirrors, English and Brussels carpets, rosewood furniture and rich wallpaper, creating an emporium of love and beauty.



“I receive the patronage of only the best,” Mrs Greene told the new arrival. “Many of them are distinguished foreign gentlemen. I apologise for the way you have been snatched away from your life and your parents. I wish it wasn’t necessary, but my gentlemen only want the very best girls. The second and third class houses can find enough willing girls for their purpose, but first class houses have a problem of supply. Beautiful, graceful, charming and educated girls like yourself are rarely prepared to enter a parlor-house of their own free will. How do you feel after your ordeal?”



“Sore,” Flora murmured, eyes downcast.



“I’m sure you will be for a few days. You will not start work until you’ve recovered. Meanwhile, you’ll be taught everything you need to know about pleasing a man.”



Mrs Greene was as good as her word. Flora was shown how to masturbate a male penis, as well as suck it, her previous ‘training’ not being sufficient. She was also introduced to the ‘French Male Safe’, a perfect shield against disease or conception. A clay model of an erect penis was brought to her room and she was shown how to roll the ‘safe’ onto the distended member.



“Some men don’t want to wear one,” said Mrs Greene. “It is important they should do so, for their sake, as well as yours. You must insist. No penetration without protection. Is that clear?”



“Yes.”



Flora was blushing at using the model and couldn’t imagine how she would feel with the real thing. It seemed like a bad dream, from which she would soon wake. Perhaps, after making love with Henri, she had fallen asleep and guilt had given her a nightmare. For after all, she was unchaste; she had given herself to a man before marriage. But they were going to be married; surely that would lessen her crime.



“A doctor is coming to examine you this afternoon.” The voice of Mrs Greene cut into her thoughts. “To make sure everything is all right. I believe you’ll be ready for your first gentleman tomorrow.”



The door closed after Mrs Greene and Flora sank onto the bed. It was a large comfortable bed with beautiful covers, worthy enough to grace the Fifth Avenue Hotel. She thought of her parents. Only a few days ago she had been with them, loved and loving. Now, she had lost them and they had lost her. What did they imagine had happened to her? Where did they think she had gone? She began to cry; for herself, but even more, for them.



The parlor was an elegant room with a glass chandelier, thick carpet, sofas and chairs. After a late breakfast, the ‘lady boarders’ assembled, ready to begin their day’s work. Flora wore an elegant dress with a low cut bodice that perfectly showed off her trim figure.



The first gentleman arrived a little after midday, to be warmly welcomed by Mrs Greene, and charmingly greeted by the girls, who introduced themselves. Wine was produced and poured by a servant, who was always in attendance. Everybody sat around and chatted, the visitor, who was not known to the company, informing them that he was in New York on business.



“Banking. I’m from Boston.”



“Is this your first visit to our great city?” enquired one of the girls.



“Not at all. I come two or three times a year. Always take the opportunity for a little relaxation with pleasant female company.”



There were little coy giggles from some of the girls. Flora remained quiet, trying to imagine what it would be like to have him in her bed. And to put on the male safe. She shuddered at the thought, feeling herself tremble with nervousness.



Eventually — there was never any hurry about this process — the man stood up and offered his hand to a young blonde girl who had been several months in the house. They left the parlor together. There was no negotiation of price, as it was fixed by the house and applied to everyone.



As the afternoon wore on more gentlemen entered and departed with the girl of their choice. It was after five o’clock when a foreign man chose Flora.



“I am from Deutschland,” he had proclaimed.



“Where’s that?” a girl called Susie had asked.



“Germany,” Flora murmured.



“Ah yes!” boomed the man. “As you call it — Germany.”



From that moment on he lavished all his attention on Flora and it was soon obvious that he would choose her. She began trembling even more. She would soon sell her body to this stranger. He would pay money to insert his….his….phallus into her. He was far from handsome and there were rolls of fat around his middle.



Suddenly he was on his feet, hand outstretched towards her. She tried to smile as she took hold of it, but felt it probably came out as more of a grimace. They went upstairs to her room.



Trying to remember what she was taught, Flora put her arms round him and held him close.



“You’re a big man. Is everything big?”



“Ja. Maybe too big for die Scheide.” He laughed.



“Die Scheide?” Flora queried.



He pointed down at her lower region. “What you say? Pussy.”



“Oh.” Flora attempted a laugh. “No, I don’t think so.”



“We will find out. Ja?”



“Yes. Take your coat off and I’ll hang it up. Vest as well.”



He did as he was told.



“Your turn.”



“Um…yes.”



Flora carefully hung up the coat and vest before turning towards him. She slowly began to unfasten the dress, slipped it off and was left standing in a chemise.



“Shirt and tie.”



“Ja, ja.”



The German eagerly complied, also removing his undervest. She was right about the rolls of fat. Gritting her teeth, she knelt down undid the buttons on his trousers and pulled them down around his ankles. Roaring with laughter he jumped around trying to extricate himself from the trousers, falling onto the bed in the process. After removing his shoes and much tugging and pulling, he finally succeeded. He was down to his long-johns.



“Stand up,” Flora ordered.



“Jawohl, mein liebchen.”



She pulled down his drawers and his cock sprang to attention. Gathering up her courage she took it in her hand and slowly masturbated it, running her hand up and down, gently squeezing and pulling. It grew even harder beneath her touch. She then ran her tongue over it and, after a moment’s hesitancy, took it into her mouth.



A slight moan escaped his lips as she sucked and licked the distended penis. Trying to judge just the right moment — not too soon and not too late — she stopped her action, reached over to a bedside drawer and took out the male safe. Before he realised what was happening she was rolling the protector on. He grunted disapproval, but Flora shook her head.



“This way or not at all.”



“Ja…ja, this way.”



Flora took off her chemise and lay on the bed, her legs spread. She closed her eyes as he quickly pulled his long-johns off his ankles. He climbed on top of her, the mattress sinking slightly beneath his weight. She felt the penis searching for her opening; she guided it into her. He pushed all the way and then began to pump.



He had paid money for this, she thought. He had bought me like a whore. But why not? I am a whore. Oh, Henri, how could you do this to me? Didn’t you love me one little bit? Maybe I could run away and return to my home in Chicago. Surely it was possible.



The German was pumping faster and faster, his gasps growing with the energy expended. He was also reaching his climax. He kneaded her breasts, pinching her nipples.



“Ow!”



He grinned, offering no apology, and continued grinding.



No. It was impossible. She had no money and was too ashamed. How could she face any of her friends or acquaintances now? This was her life now and she would just have to……



“Aaaaah!”



She felt the German disgorge his semen; luckily, not into her vagina. She was a prostitute now, bought and paid for; no mistake about that.



She had one more gentleman that night and three the following day. And so it went on. There was never a long queue waiting for her services — or for any of the girls. This was a first-class house. Nothing was rushed. She didn’t have to cope with fifteen or twenty men one after the other, mauling her and thrusting their cock into her, though she heard stories about some of the low-class places where such practices were common. When she stopped to think about it, that would eventually be her fate. Most prostitutes went down-hill, some faster than others. As they grew older, less attractive and more worn, they would leave for a second-class house then a third and then…….



But she preferred not to think about it.



Time passed. Her twentieth birthday had come and gone. When she first started she kept a count of all the men who had possessed her body in return for money, but she had long ago given up that fruitless exercise. She still looked remarkably fresh and pretty and was a popular ‘lady boarder’. On one occasion she encountered a man of her acquaintance in the house. It took him a little while, but then it dawned on him who she was.



“Are you in New York for business or pleasure?” Flora politely enquired.



“Business earlier, pleasure now.” He grinned laciviously.



Of course, he chose her.



“Have you seen my parents?” she asked him in the bedroom.



“Not often. Since you — er — disappeared, they’ve withdrawn from society. The story was that you eloped with a damned Frenchman.”



“Damned indeed. He seduced me and then left me to the mercy of three thugs who brutalised and raped me before bringing me here. I was turned into a whore and whore I am. What do you want? In my cunt, in my ass or in my mouth.”



“Yes, please.” He grinned. “You’ve no idea how I fantasised about getting you naked and sticking my cock up you. A lot of my friends did. I can’t believe that I’m actually going to do it.”



“You didn’t have a chance then, but now, if you pay me, I’m all yours.”



He had her on her back, on her knees and astride him.



Whilst they were recovering their breath from an insertion, Flora asked him if he was married.



“Er — yes,” he reluctantly admitted.



“Anyone I knew?”



“Jane Sommers.”



“Oh yes, I remember. Quite plain, if I recall. Or am I being bitchy?”



“No, you’re right. She’s not exactly a looker, but there’s pots of money in the family.”



“And that’s important, isn’t it?”



“My parents seem to think that.”



“So you were sold off for marriage, whilst I was sold off for sex. Not much difference between us, is there?”



He shrugged.



“What would your wife say if she knew you were in a parlor-house with me?”



“There’d be hell to pay. For God’s sake, don’t tell her.”



“I’m not likely to, am I? Likewise, I’d prefer it if you didn’t speak about me.”



“Of course.”



“Should I hear any word of this coming from Chicago, your wife will be told exactly how you found out. Believe me, I can do it. I have friends.”



She sounded convincingly threatening, though not really sure how she could do anything about it.



“I promise, I promise.” He was thoroughly frightened.



She reached for his cock. “I think this requires a little work.”



She began her ministrations and he began his moans. In a very short space of time he was hard enough for the male safe, which Flora expertly rolled on.



“Come on, I want all of it in my cunt.” She had learned how to talk dirty as well. “Push in as far as you can and really make me feel it. Just imagine it’s two years ago and we’re at a party. We’ve sneaked into a bedroom and I’m a virgin who’s about to lose it all to you. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”



“Yes, yes,” he gasped.



“You didn’t think you would ever have me. I wasn’t a girl like that, but now you’ve found out that I have thoughts like that too and I want you to split me wide and fill me with your cock and your seed. And you do. I’m gasping, shrieking and writhing in my ecstasy. I’ve never experienced anything like it. You’re so good. I can feel you all the way in pumping and……”



“Oooh, God!”



They lay still and Flora was aware of his cock deflating inside her.



“Withdraw before your seed escapes from the protector,” she quietly said.



“What? Oh, yes….yes, of course.”



He pulled out and she took the male safe off, dropping it into a chamber pot.



“That was….that was…..”



“What?”



“Earth shattering.”



She laughed. “Thank you, kind sir.”



She didn’t see him again.



Six months later there was another even more familar face in the parlor.



“Well, well, well, if it’s not the upright pillar of society,” Flora greeted him. “What are you doing in a parlor-house, Charles?”



“My God!” He looked astounded. “I might ask you the same question. I thought — everyone thought…..”



“That I’d eloped with Henri Dubois.” She shook her head. “I’m afraid his intention was to sell me for as much as he could get. I don’t know how much that was. He neglected to tell me.”



“I can’t believe it. You’re only here. Why didn’t you go home?”



“I couldn’t have faced it. Disgraced and deflowered. No, here I was and here I’ve stayed. But what about you. No wife yet or are you here to forget her for a while?”



“She prefers that I obtain sexual gratification in someone else’s bed.”



“Ah.” Flora nodded in understanding.



She looked around the parlor at the other girls who were sitting open-mouthed.



“An old friend. May I introduce Mr Charles Dunne.”



“Good evening, ladies.”



“You sit here in the parlor for a while,” Flora explained. “Have some wine and a chat and when you’ve decided which of us you want, go upstairs.”

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