Radcliffe immediately handed it to Charlie, then straightened. "Sit here and relax. I wish a word with Aggie."
Before Charlie could protest at being abandoned, Radcliffe was gone and the wolves had closed in. The two younger ones were fastest. Charlie would have placed them as younger than herself had she any interest in guessing.
She did not, though, as they hurried forward and dropped to sit on either side of her on the couch, each clutching at one of her arms and drawing it against their chests. She was frowning and concentrating on keeping her drink from spilling when a third woman dropped to sit in her lap.
"There now," the woman on her lap cooed, wrapping her arms firmly about Charlie’s neck. ‘I’m thinkin’ you and I could be fine friends."
"Yer thinkin’ wrong then," the girl on Charlie’s right muttered bitterly. "Ye know Aggie likes to keep all the little virgin boys for herself."
"Aggie’s a nasty old cow," the woman on her lap snapped irritably, then smiled sweetly at Charlie and cooed. "You’d rather have me than that paunchy old harpy, wouldn’t ye? Look what I’ve got for ye. Aggie doesn’t have anything as tasty as these." The woman tugged her almost-see-through top downward with one hand, baring her br**sts as she began to exert a gentle but inexorable pressure on the back of Charlie’s neck with her other hand.
Charlie stared horrified at the woman’s br**sts as they drew closer. To her they appeared as two swollen, pale pink orbs bent on suffocating her as they neared her face.
"Yer not the only one around here with something to offer." Before Charlie could be smothered by those massive br**sts, she felt the hand of the woman on her left slip between her and the woman on her lap. The hand slid down toward her crotch.
Crying out in dismay, Charlie leapt abruptly to her feet, depositing Miss Bared-Breasts on the floor just as Radcliffe appeared before her.
"Thank God," she gasped, completely forgetting the charade she was playing at and throwing herself against the man’s chest. "Get me out of here, Radcliffe.
Radcliffe’s first reaction was to wrap his arms protectively around her.
Then, frowning, he pushed her away instead. "Act your age, Charles. They are naught but a bunch of women. Do you not find any of them attractive?"
"Attractive! They are she-wolves." Charlie glared at him coldly. "I want to go home. Now."
Grunting, Radcliffe frowned, his gaze moving to the women in question. He seemed to consider her words, then murmured something about Aggie being right and it being worth a gamble.
Upset as she was, when Radcliffe said "Come along," relief rushed through her.
She followed him out of the room to where the old whore Aggie waited by the stairs with a younger female. They were going to pass up the establishment’s more lascivious offerings for some gambling, was her conclusion. She was so relieved by this realization that she followed eagerly when the older woman turned and led her up the stairs. Radcliffe and the other woman followed.
At the top of the stairs, Aggie took a right and led them down a long hallway, then directly into the third room along the hall.
Charlie followed her in and stepped past the waiting woman to peer around the room. A huge bed screamed for attention as she entered. Its covers and drapes were a brilliant bloodied. It looked rather vulgar to Charlie. Other than that there was a chest, a chair, and a wardrobe. There were no tables with men seated playing cards, no baccarat tables, nothing in the way of gambling at all.
The slam of the door behind her drew her head around to see that Radcliffe was no longer with them. She was alone with the old crone who had answered the door.
"Here we are, luvy. Let’s get to it then."
Charlie’s eyes widened and she took an abrupt step backward, quickly catching the other woman’s hands as she reached out to undo her cravat.
"What do you think you are doing?" "Helping ye to undress, son."
"Why on earth would you think to do a thing like that?" she asked shortly, redoing the difficult tie.
The woman’s lips quirked in amusement. " ‘Tis difficult to do withyer clothes on, lad."
"There is nothing we are like to do that I need remove my clothes for,"
Charlie assured her, stepping stiffly toward the door. She had barely taken a step when Aggie caught her arm and whirled her back around.
"Oh, ye like it like that, do ye? Quick and with yer clothes still on," she murmured insinuatingly, reaching down to cup Charlie at the juncture between her legs.
Gasping in honor, Charlie jumped back from the touch, but that was as far as she got. The woman was still holding her arm.
"My, you are a small one, are ye no’. I did not e’en feel ye," she exclaimed, turning her attention and hands back to removing Charlie’s cravat. "Well, ‘Tis a handicap that, but not insurmountable. Ol’ Aggie’ll show ye how to overcome it."
"Overcome it?" Scowling, Charlie tried to push her hands away and refasten her tie.
"Aye. Trust me. The saying is true, ‘Tis not the size o’ the sail, but the way you handle the jib that decides the ride. Ye feelin’ a’right, boy? Yer lookin’ peaked all of a sudden."
"Oh, dear Lord!" Whirling, Charlie ran for the door, but before she could open it, she was caught by the arm and dragged backward toward the bed.
"Now, now, lad. No need to panic. Aggie’ll be gentle."
"I do not want you to be gentle," she managed, tugging desperately at her arm.
Much to her relief, Aggie stopped at that and turned to arch one eyebrow at her.
"Nay." She shook her head frantically. "I do not __"
"Well, why did ye no’ say something? Well, that explains everything. I was starting to worry Ye were actin’ so odd." Shaking her head, she moved toward the wardrobe beside the door to riffle through, muttering, "Well, now. Lord Radcliffe, he said ye were inexperienced, but ’tis obvious yer not and ye know what ye wantAll, ha!"
Charlie was still blinking over the first part of her statement when the woman gruntedin satisfaction, withdrew from the wardrobe, and turned toward her, rope in one hand and a long, evil-looking whip in the other.
"There. Now that I ken what ye like, we can get down to business."
Smiling sweetly, she cracked the whip.
Charlie bolted for the door. She had barely taken two steps, however, when the snap of the whip preceded something tangling around her feet and drawing tight.
Crying out, she threw her hands out to break her fall as she stumbled forward onto her stomach.
"Now there’s a naughty boy for ye," the hag crooned, catching her by the collar and dragging her back toward the bed. "We’ll have to spank that naughtiness out, I think."
Charlie thought not and began to struggle in earnest as the woman sank onto the side of the bed and tried to draw her over her knee. Breaking loose, she turned away, only to be caught about the waist and thrust onto the bed on her back.
Before she could move, the woman had crawled to sit upon her chest.
Snatching up the rope she had tossed onto the bed earlier, the woman quickly tied Charlie down; each wrist to its own bedpost.
"There!" The woman gave a sigh of satisfaction, then blew the hair that had come loose on her forehead out of her face. She eyed Charlie with a bit of exasperation. "Yer a lively one, you are. I’m getting too old fer these games.
I’d best get a huge tip out of this."
When Charlie merely stared at her dumbly, she sighed and leaned to the side.
"Here now." Her smile was sprightly as she straightened again, whip in hand, fondling the grip suggestively. "Is it just the threat o’ pain ye like, or will ye be wantin’ the real thing?"
"Tell me more about this Aggie. She will be gentle with the boy, will she not?"
The strumpet’s hair almost hid the way she rolled her eyes at his question. She was likely frustrated, too. Radcliffe had been fretting over the boy ever since they had entered the room. It was most annoying. He was entirely too preoccupied with that damn boy. She had been cooing and petting him for several moments now and he was not even hard. He couldn’t concentrate.
"Aggie will be most gentle, my lord," the woman murmured huskily, raising her eyes to cast him an alluring look as she continued working on the buttons of his shirt. "She has been in the business a long time. She’ll break him in proper and with care."
"Aye, of course she will." Radcliffe forced a smile and tried to concentrate on the woman’s attentions as she finished with the buttons of his shirt and slid her hands across his chest. Still, it was most difficult. He could not get the boy out of his head. It was rather like an annoying hangnail, irritating and nagging.
Grimacing at his own foolishness, he raised his hands to her shoulders and drew the woman up for a kiss, trying to work up some enthusiasm.
A loud scream brought an end to his efforts, making his head whip toward the wall. There was no mistaking the panic and pain in that shriek as belonging to Charles. Cursing, Radcliffe pushed the woman away from him and hurried for the door.
He was crashing through the door of the room Charles was in before that first shriek ended, but came to an abrupt halt in the doorway at the sight before him.
Charles was staked out and tied down to the bed as if on the rack, his whole body stiff with tenor, his head raised off the bed, his wig somewhat askew, his mouth wide open in a second shriek. That was only half of the picture, however.
The second half, the one that made Radcliffe goggle somewhat, was that the aging Aggie was seated astride the lad’s thin chest, with what looked very much like a whip in her hand.
"What the devil is going on here?"
Mouth snapping shut, Charles swiveled his head toward the door, relief swelling across his face when he spied the man standing there. "Radcliffe." That breath of sound was soaked with relief. Pausing, he swallowed to regain his breath somewhat, then roared, "Get this hag off of me!"
Radcliffe was across the room in a trice. "Madam, I suggest you remove yourself, else I shall be forced to do it for you."
Aggie scowled from the lad she sat on to the man looming above them menacingly.
"Is this more game-playing?" she asked uncertainly.
Unable to restrain himself further, Radcliffe lifted her bodily from the lad, then set her away from the bed. She began to protest at once.
"Here now, what’re ye doin’? The lad asked fer it! He was wantin’ me to do such ‘n the like to ‘im."
Radcliffe paused to arch one eyebrow at Charles.
"The silly old strumpet misunderstood everything," the boy informed him with apparent disgust. "Hurry up and untie me. I want out of this den of iniquity."
"Oh, no!" the old bawd fluttered behind Radcliffe helplessly. "Now don’t be untyin’ him, he’s a slippery little eel an’ it took me forever to be trussin’ him up in the first place."
Ignoring her whining complaint, Radcliffe untied Charles, then turned to face the now irate Aggie. She was protesting still, but had added threats to her words, wanting to be paid for this fiasco. The boy had kept her jogging about like a horse at the races, she said, and she was deserving payment for it.
Charles scooted off the bed, sidling around to the bottom of it as Radcliffe faced the old cow and the younger woman who now joined in the complaining.
Silencing the harping women at last, Radcliffe shook his head. "I shall pay you both as soon as I fetch my jacket from the other room," he assured them rather coldly, then started toward the door, the two women hard on his heels.
Charlie sagged with relief the moment she was alone. This whole night had been something of a nightmare. Not at all what she had expected.
Sighing, she glanced around the room with distaste and moved quickly toward the door, suddenly eager to remain as close to Radcliffe as possible until she was free of this place. A brothel. Good God, the man had brought her to a brothel! This was his idea of a good time? Pausing at the door, she peered cautiously out into the hall, relaxing when she saw that it was empty. She would just die of shame were anyone she knew to discover she had visited such a place.
Charlie had just stepped out into the hall when a burst of rather familiar laughter made her step closer to the rail and peer down at a man and woman ascending the stairs. It took her but a moment to recognize Lord Seguin, Beth’s affianced. At first she was so horrified that she could not move, for truly the man had seemed the epitome of propriety, the last person she would have thought to run into here. But then as the couple reached the top step and began to turn toward her, she whirled and fled back into the room she had just exited.
Reaching for the door, she started to push it closed, then merely slid behind it instead, afraid to attract attention by closing it. She realized her mistake a moment later.
"Here we are then, this room is empty."
Charlie could feel the skin shrivel on her face, the blood rushing from it as the twosome entered.
"Fine, fine," Lord Seguin thrummed cheerfully.
Seeing his fingers come around the door as he grasped it to push it closed, Charlie covered her face with her hands in dismay and awaited discovery.
"What would ye be liking tonight, guv?"
Blinking, Charlie lowered her hands slightly until she could peek over her fingertips. It seemed that neither Seguin, nor the voluptuous female with him, had bothered to glance behind as he pushed the door closed. Neither of them had spotted her yet.
Swallowing, she glanced frantically about. The door to the room was right beside her, but the handle was on the opposite side from her. That meant she would have to sidle several feet to the right, undetected. It seemed like miles just then, when Seguin or the prostitute might glance in her direction at any moment. On the other hand, she was standing directly in front of the wardrobe, leaning against its closed door, next to the one Aggie had left open earlier when she had gone in search of the whip. It was merely a step for her to slide into the concealing wardrobe and tug the door closed.
"I think I should like Indians tonight, Maisey."Charlie heard Seguin’s response as she slid into the wardrobe, but hadn’t a clue what it meant. A glance toward the couple as she tugged the door closed showed the rotund little man smiling with an odd sort of excitement as Maisey opened the chest at the foot of the bed and began to rifle through it.