This manuscript is being ripped apart – rewritten from scratch, in other words. So the chapter below is the OLD version when the manuscript was being marketed as a romance. But this story has changed much over the 6 years. Now it’s a historical-woman’s fiction, written in first person, present tense. The draft is still far too rough to share : )
Dear Readers, I’m sad to say that I will not be circulating copies of this manuscript.
His boot heels rang against the cobblestone street, which glistened in the light rain. Street lamps did little to ward away the shadows of the evening, leaving his countenance unreadable beneath the brim of his hat. Only when the cheroot he smoked glowed did it light his features enough to reveal a pair of gray eyes.
The gentleman slipped a miniature portrait out of his pocket and inspected the face of a young woman no older than sixteen. It was not a beautiful face, for it was too narrow, the cheeks too prominent, and the chin too pointed. But that was easily substituted by the restrained animation which seemed to brim over in her clear brown eyes and the arch of her lips. Finally, after all these months, he had found her.
Reaching the threshold of the brothel, he carefully tucked away the portrait, and glanced up. The small letters above the door read Harleton House.
‘She should be two-and-twenty by now,’ he thought, and dropped the cheroot. Its stub hissed in a puddle before he ground it out with his heel. He raised his fist and knocked on the door of what he’d been told was one of the best houses in Brighton. It was soon opened by the keeper of the establishment who, upon seeing how well the stranger was dressed, favoured him with a fawning smile. “Good evening, sir.”
He gave her a curt nod. “I’m here to inquire after a young woman.”
The open door left a picture frame which allowed him a better view of the woman’s voluptuous body, her powdered face, decorated with a patch at the corner of her lips, and the crowd of harlots and drunkards behind her. His eyes returned back to the Madam, as she asked:
“Of who, pray?”
Instead of replying, he pushed against the door; the woman at once opened it. When he stepped in the laughter and cajoling that had filled the brothel sank into hushed murmurs. The debauched creatures stared at him as he walked past, with the mistress sauntering behind. Before he got far, a plump hand grabbed his arm, dirt lining the crescent of the nails.
“Oh, look at ‘em legs,” cooed the woman, eyeing his figure. “Never saw such long ‘n lean ones in the whole of me life.”
He glanced at her yellow teeth encased by her smiling red lips. He peeled her fingers off and walked on. It struck him then that this was not the finest house in Brighton. His journey here would indeed prove cruel if Amanda had turned out like this lot. Frowning, he looked around, searching for the face from the portrait. Seeing no one similar, he turned to the mistress.
“I’m looking for an Amanda Hollingworth—” and he added, that nothing should hinder his scheme “—I took an interest in her.”
“Amanda? She may be a sweet lass, but she’s only a plain-faced maid, sir. Would you like me to bring you my prettiest girl?” she asked, grinning, even daring to nudge him with her elbow. But the grin faltered when she was subjected to his indifferent stare.
“No, I’ve come for Amanda, no one else,” he replied, and to nullify any suspicion, he offered her a bag of coins. “Now, where is she?”
Madam snatched the coins from his hand. Her brows rose high as she stared into the bag. With a smile, she declared him to be the best gentleman that ever breathed! And then she called out in a stentorian voice, “Amanda! Amanda!” A pause. “Amandaaaaa.” Another pause ensued before it was followed by a sudden: “Ah! There she is. D’you see her, sir?”
He scanned the crowd. In the far corner of the brothel, he saw the face from the portrait: the common brown eyes, the brows which were oblique, dark slashes across her white skin, her long cascade of brown hair. She wore a vulgar dress and white threaded stockings. Her countenance no longer held the vigour and sparkle which had so defined the girl in the painting. Whatever had stolen the youth from her had transformed her features to sharp angles.
Amanda Hollingworth did not hear the call of her name. After fetching the tenth bottle of wine for a customer, she weaved her way towards the door of the reception room, throwing her shawl quickly about her before leaving the house—if only for a moment. She had to pump water out in the yard, before she could heat it in a cauldron, so that the girls might have warm water to wash in.
She heaved out a sigh.
There was so much to do before she could retire to bed. And in a matter of hours she would have to rise again to clean the reception room for the guests, though it would require such attention many times over, before the day was out. Then to scrub the front steps, which would be dirtied again a quarter of an hour later. And then, before she could even think of taking any breakfast, she would have to scoop the ashes from the grate and lay the fires afresh, the soot catching in her lungs.
She looked at her hands chapped and bleeding from work. ‘I was meant for more than this,’ she thought, but then she shook her head. There was no benefit in such wistful thinking. She had to accept life as it was. A life serving harlots and rakes, Amanda told herself, as she looked up to see a man swaggering towards her. She tried to move away, but his hand reached out in time to catch her by the waist.
“Come ‘ere,” he slurred, his hot breath creeping down her dress. “I’ll be good to ye.”
“Sir, not now,” she said through her clenched teeth, a stiff smile pinned to her lips. The smile that trembled from the pressure required to keep it from tilting into a thin line. She was nothing more to these men than a walking instrument of pleasure. “I need to attend to my work—”
“Yer may attend t’ me, girl.” His stale breath wafted over her face. When she tried to push him away, with a growl, he shoved her back against the wall and buried his head between her shoulders. His hand lowered to grab and squeeze her.
He wouldn’t listen.
So Amanda lifted her heel, about to ground it into his foot, when the man was suddenly shoved aside. Relief flooded her. But the moment Amanda looked up, her relief was substituted by dread. Madam stood glaring at her, face contorted with annoyance. The scars on Amanda’s back burned. She had angered this woman once before by insulting a patron.
“I’m sorry. I was trying to work,” Amanda quickly explained. “I had to get the water ready for the girls. But then this man came and—”
“You little chit,” the woman sneered, “can’t you hear a word I say?” She grabbed Amanda’s wrist, dragged her across the room and brought her before yet another man. From the corner of her painted red mouth, the mistress murmured so only Amanda could hear over the noise, “Go on to your new cully now. He paid more than you’ll ever be worth to me.”
Her cully? Amanda’s eyes travelled up the length of his well-cut figure and she had to crane her head slightly back to study his face. Shivers ran down her spine upon seeing the stern features of a handsome man in his late twenties.
“You’re his now,” Madam said, thrusting her forward. Amanda stumbled a bit, her knees weak with trepidation. “I don’t know how you met a gent like this one, but—Ah, I shan’t keep you waiting, sir. Good night.” And with that, Madam favoured the gentleman with a curtsey before ambling away with her easily-made fortune.
Amanda looked around in confusion before fixing her eyes back on the stranger. “You want me?”
“Yes,” he said slowly, “I want you.”
“But I don’t know you. There must be some mistake.”
He leaned toward her, his lips inches away from her ear. “Keep your voice down. Whether you like it or not, you’re coming with me.” Without giving her room to speak, he placed his hand on the small of her back and escorted her out the entrance and into the open.
She followed him through the light rainfall, glancing back at the brothel several times. Even that rat hole seemed more of a haven to her at the moment. She looked at the stranger again. What could he possibly want with her, a mere maid? She searched for a reason until she came across a possibility that sent chills down her spine. It was not unheard of for men to abuse harlots before abandoning their bodies in alleyways…
She’d worked so hard to stay alive these past months and now, this!
When they arrived before the chaise pulled by four horses, the gentleman held out his hand, which she took with reluctance. She climbed up inside the vehicle and slid to the far corner. He soon joined her and signalled at the driver to drive on. At once the conveyance lurched into movement.
Her breathing quickened. She glanced out the window. The brothel was already growing smaller in the distance. Where is he taking me?—the question continued to ring in her mind. Her eyes dropped to the street outside, passing quickly beneath the wheels. How many bones would she break by jumping out?
Before she could make any such attempt, her vision whirled upward, as the stranger caught her by the chin and tilted her face to the moonlight. His heavy-lidded eyes followed the arc of her brows, the line of her nose, and the curve of her lips. Amanda’s fingers grew icy beneath her palm while he stared at her for a contemplative moment. He returned his attention back to something in his hand—it was a portrait, she noticed—then to her face once more. “Yes,” he murmured, half to himself, “you’re the one.”
Amanda shot away from him. “The one? The one for what?”
Rather than answering her, he reached over to open the window. She flinched as cold rain splattered across her face. He held out a handkerchief, and when the white cloth darkened from the rain, he brought it in, shutting the window.
She went still as he leaned forward to her and pressed the handkerchief against her face. Her gaze slipped past him and rested on her reflection against the window. The layer of powder was being wiped off. She saw the strips of her skin, the faint bruises on her cheeks. Her eyes returned to him. “What are you doing?”
“Wiping away the paint. You no longer belong to the brothel.”
Her mind whirled. She no longer belonged to the brothel? Why? Did she belong to him now? What was he going to do to her? She wanted to ask, but her tongue was frozen. A shiver ran through her as a drop of paint-stained water slid from her jaw down to her throat. When his hand lowered to wipe the wetness away, his knuckles brushed against the skin beneath her chin. She immediately hit his hand aside, shocked by such intimacy—an intimacy that triggered foul images in her head.
“This isn’t a very promising beginning,” he said.
“What do you want from me?” she demanded. “Who are you?”
“My family calls me Lucas and the public addresses me as Lord Candover.”
Her lips parted and her eyes went wide. “You have a title?” This fact only confused her more. What would a nobleman want with a maid? “You spent a fortune on me, or at least, it is to me. Why are you doing this when you don’t even know me? Of course, I am grateful, but—”
“My dear, I am no saint, but simply a man under a certain obligation,” he replied dryly. “And I do know you. You were born in America. When you were seventeen, you moved to England with your family. But during the journey, you were orphaned. You remained in your brother’s care, until, by a strange and unfortunate turn of events, you ended up in a brothel. And there you have been working all this time. Now, is that enough information to have the right to say ‘I know you’?”
Amanda gaped at him. The facts he had uttered were not ones known to many. As the carriage passed by another street lamp, its light lifted the shadow from his features completely, rendering his countenance clear. She studied him carefully for the first time, trying to discern the answer his lips chose not to impart. His face, narrow with hollow cheeks, conveyed the brooding elegance of an aristocrat. She rummaged through her memory but in vain. She had never seen him before.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “How did you know where I was? Who told you—” Then she stopped. There was only one other man in all of England who knew as much. The color drained from her face. “God help me,” she whispered.
The song I used is an excerpt of the music from Unfaithful by E.S. Posthumus. The video clipses I used are from:
North and south
Pride and Prejudice
Snow falling on Cedars