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An Innocent at the Gentlemen’s Club

Written by Christine Merrill

Chapter Five

'Wait!'

Mr Snyder was following her.

Paulette rushed down the hall towards the dressing rooms, then stopped as she realized she was leading him further and further away from the safety of the crowded club. He had been giving her sidelong glances all evening of a sort she knew well. Then would come the sly offers, then the insistent ones, and the anger if she continued to refuse.

It would be even worse if she said yes. She had seen what became of girls when their first lover grew tired of them. They had no choice but to find another man, and another…

Perhaps she would have to find another country to move to: one where the men would leave her alone.

She did not want to move again. She had just arrived. She should not have to run from the man who was supposed to defend her. So she turned to face him, before he could corner her in a place where no one could hear her cries for help. ‘What do you want?’

Her defiance must have startled him. For a moment, he looked as surprised as a big dog who had come to the end of his leash. But instead of barking at her, he spoke in a reasonable voice. ‘I want to explain.’

‘There is nothing that you could say that would justify what I just saw.’

‘And what is it you think you saw?’ Standing in front of her, his white shirt still spotted with blood, he had the nerve to look indignant.

I saw you beat that poor man to unconsciousness in the middle of the entrance hall,’ she said, shocked that he would even demand an explanation. ‘And now you are chasing me down a hallway.’

‘I suggest you use your first month’s pay to buy some spectacles,’ he said. ‘That was not what happened at all.’

‘There is nothing wrong with my vision,’ she countered. ‘I saw what I saw. And I do not need glasses to see the way you look at me, when you think I am not looking at you.’

‘I don’t know what you mean.’ It had not been her imagination. His words were a lie. At the accusation, his face had turned an unmasculine shade of pink, and suddenly he was unable to meet her gaze.

‘Then let me explain,’ she said, parroting his request. ‘I am not like some English girl who will let you sell the first night to a stranger.’

‘Who told you…’ He stopped in mid-sentence, clearly regretting that he had not been clever enough to deny it.

‘Aha!’ she said, and pointed in accusation. ‘You are not what Mr Gregory promised me. A nice man does not do such a thing.’

‘I can explain.’ But perhaps he could not, for no words came and he grew even more shamefaced, staring at the toes of his boots as if his next words might be written on them.

‘I do not want to go up the stairs with a man,’ she said, pointing to the front of the club. ‘I am a good girl.’

‘I am glad to hear it.’ He looked up with a shy happiness that she had not expected.

‘When my parents died, I was sent to the convent. But no matter how much they prayed, they could not teach me anything. I cannot sew a fine hem. The bread I bake is hard and flat. And if I care for the children, their fathers think…’ She shook her head, remembering her one sorry week as a governess. ‘The priests that visited the convent said I was a temptation.’ She shook her head, embarrassed. ‘I did nothing to make them say the things they said to me. And now I sing the songs that men like, because there is no money in singing the hymns.’

‘A person has to make a living,’ he agreed.

‘And I will not make one on my back,’ she said, firmly.

‘I do not expect you to,’ he said quickly.

‘Nor will I do such things for free,’ she added, since he continued to look hopeful. ‘You are a beater of men and a seller of women. I am not interested in you. Go away.’

She raised her head and blew a puff of air into his face, flapping her fingers as if shooing a gnat. But he did not move, staring at her as if expecting her to change her mind. So she pushed past him, all elbows and shoulders in the narrow hallway, until she was free.

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About the author

I live in rural Wisconsin, about ten minutes outside of pizza delivery...

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Christine Merrill

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