Say You Love Me Page 2

She had to do this, too? When it was doubtful that she'd be able to think of anything other than the appalling truth of what she'd agreed to?

She'd been ready to finish off that bottle of spirits herself by the time she left him. But she had come up with a weak excuse to tell the others. She'd told Aunt Elizabeth that Anne, one of her friends from Kettering, had written that she was seriously ill, the doctors not offering much hope. Kelsey had to visit, of course, and give what comfort she could. And Uncle Elliott had offered to escort her.

Elizabeth hadn't noticed anything amiss. Kelsey's pallor could be credited to worry over her friend. And Jean, bless her, didn't badger her with her usual hundreds of questions simply because she didn't recognize the name of this particular friend. But, then, Jean had matured a great deal during the past year. A tragedy in the family had a way of interrupting childhood, sometimes permanently. Kelsey would almost have preferred the hundreds of questions from her twelve-year-old sister that used to test her patience. But Jean was still mourning.

And when Kelsey didn't return home from the visit to Kettering? Well, she would have to worry about that later.

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Would she ever even see her sister or Aunt Elizabeth again? Did she dare, when they might discover the truth? She didn't know. Right then, she only knew that nothing would ever be the same for her again.

"COME ON, DEARM, IT'S TIME." Kelsey stared at the tall, thin man standing in the open doorway. She'd been told to call him Lonny, the only name given when she was turned over to him yesterday. He was the owner of the house-the person about to sell her to the highest bidder.

There was nothing about him to suggest that he was a purveyor of vice and flesh. He dressed like any lord. He was pleasant-looking. He spoke in cultured tones-at least while Uncle Elliott had still been there. As soon as her uncle left, however, Lonny's speech slipped occasionally into the not so refined, indicating his true background. Yet he'd continued to be kind.

He had explained to her, very carefully, that because such a large sum of money was going to be paid for her, she wouldn't have the option of ending the arrangement as a normal n-dstress would. The gentleman who bought her would have to be guaranteed that he would be getting his money's worth for as long as he wanted it.

She'd had to agree to that, which in her mind seemed just short of slavery. She'd have to stay with the man whether she liked him or not, whether he treated her well or not, until he no longer cared to support her. "And if I don't?" she'd dared to ask. "Well, dearie, you really don't want to find out what would happen in that case," he'd told her, and in such a tone that she'd felt her very life threatened. But then he'd gone on to further explain, in a more chiding voice, as if she should know all this already, "The arrangements I make, I guarantee personally. I can't have my reputation ruined on the whims of a girl who decides later that she doesn't like the bargain she's made. No one would participate in these sales if that were the case, now, would they?" "You have many sales like this?" "This will be the fourth one that I have held here, though the first from your background. Most of the gentry who find themselves in your predicament manage to marry their daughters off to rich husbands to settle their difficulties. A shame your uncle didn't try to make a match for you. You don't strike me as the mistress sort." .. She hadn't known whether to be insulted or pleased by that, had said merely, "There wasn't enough time to arrange a marriage, as my uncle told you." "Yes, but still, a pity. Now, shall we get you settled in for the night? You will be presented tomorrow night, after I've had time to send out the word to those gentlemen I feel might be interested. Hopefully, one of my girls will have something appropriate for you to wear for the presentation. A mistress must look like a mistress, if you get my meaning, not one's sister." And he'd given her a critical once-over. "While your ensemble might be lovely, dearie, it's more appropriate for a garden tea. Unless you've brought something suitable ... ?

She'd had to shake her head, actually embarrassed to be looking so ... ladylike. he'd sighed. "Well, we'll find something, I'm sure," he'd as he led her out of the parlor and upstairs to a room ,,he could use for the night.

Uke the rest of the large house, the room was very tastefUlty furnished, and she'd politely remarked on that. "Very nice. "You were expecting something tawdry?" He'd smiled, when her look said as much. "I cater to the ton, dearie, and have found they are much more willing to part with their money if they feel at home while doing it." And then he'd laughed. "The lower classes can't afford my prices, don't even make it through the door." "I see," she'd said, not that she did. Men would take their pleasures where they found them, and there were houses of ill repute all over London to prove that. This just happened to be one of the more expensive ones.

And before he left her, he'd stressed once more, "You do fully understand this arrangement you've agreed to and how it differs from a normal arrangement of this sort?" "Yes."And that you will receive nothing for it yourself, other than what presents your gentleman decides to give you during your time with him?" She'd nodded, but he still wanted it perfectly clear, continuing, "A minimum figure will be set, the amount your uncle requires, and that will go to him. Whatever is paid beyond that I will have a share in, for arranging the sale. But no amount at all will go to you."

She did know that, and prayed a good deal more would be offered, at least enough to tide her family over until Elliott got a new job and stuck with it. Otherwise, she would have made this sacrifice for nothing more than a temporary postponement of disaster. But on their way to London, her uncle had sworn to her that he would get a job and keep it, no matter if it wasn't up to his standards, that he would never find himself in such a ruinous predicament again.

What worried her, however, considering just how much Elliott owed, and what she finally asked Lonny, was "Do you really think anyone will pay that much?" "Oh, yes," he replied with complete confidence. "These rich nabobs have nothing else to spend their money on.

Horses, women, and gambling are their major pursuits. I'm happy to supply two out of three, and any other vice they have a desire for, short of murder." "Any vice?"

He'd chuckled. "Dearie, you would be surprised what some of these lords-and ladies-request. Why, I've got one countess who comes here at least twice a month and pays me to supply her with a different lord each time who will whip her-carefully, of course-and treat her like a lowly slave. She wears a mask, so no one will recognize her. In fact, the gentlemen I send to her merely assume she's just another one of my girls. Would be happy to supply the service myself, her being a looker like yourself, but that isn't what she wants. What titillates her the most is that she knows each of them personally, but they don't know it's her, and she sees them all at the ton gatherings, dancing with them, playing cards across the table from them, knowing their dirty little secrets."

Kelsey had gone red in the face, as well as being rendered speechless, after hearing that. That people actually did such things-and paid to do them and have them done. Never would she have conceived of such a thing!

Which was why Lonny said in disgust, "Gah, them blushes are well enough for now, but you better get used to such talk, girl. It's going to be your job henceforth to supply the man who buys you with sex, however he wants it, you understand? A man will do things with his mistress that he won’t do with his wife. That's what a mistress is bloody well for. I'll be sending one of my girls by to explain that to you in rnore detail, since your uncle obviously didn't see fit to."

And he'd done just that, to Kelsey's further mortification. A pretty young woman named May had come by in the night, bringing the gaudy gown that Kelsey was now wearing, and had spent several hours discussing the facts of sexual life with her. May had covered everything from how to avoid unwanted pregnancies to every way imaginable to pleasure a man, ways to incite them to lust, and ways to get what she wanted out of them. The last had probably been something Lonny hadn't intended Kelsey to learn, but May had seemed to feel sorry for her, so had volunteered that information too.

It had certainly been nothing like the brief talk Kelsey had had with her mother more than a year before, when she'd turned seventeen, about love and marriage. Her mother had discussed lovemaking and babies in her forthright way, then went right on to an unrelated subject, as if they both weren't embarrassed to their toes by the previous one.

May had left her with the parting advice, "Just remember, it's likely a married man that will buy you, and the reason he wants a mistress in the first place is he gets no satisfaction from his wife. Hell, some of them ain't never seen their wives na**d, believe it or not. Anyone will tell you-well, anyone Of my acquaintance will tell you-that a man likes looking at a na**d woman. Just give him what he don't get at home and he'll adore you."

And now it was time. Kelsey was nearly trembling with dread. Lonny had given her an approving look-a very approving look, actually-when he'd opened the door and seen her in the ruby-red gown with its deeply scooped neckline.

 

That he felt she looked more appropriate for the occasion did nothing to bolster her courage.

Her future, for better or worse, was going to be decided that night by the man who would be willing to pay the most for her. He didn't have to be to her liking, she understood that. May had made it clear that she might even despise him right from the beginning, if he were old or cruel. She could only hope that that wouldn't be the case.

Lonny led her downstairs. He had to do a bit of tugging to get her to move when she heard just how crowded it was below simply from the level of noise, and worse, he didn't take her to the parlor, where she could have met the gentlemen and conversed with them.

Instead, he escorted her into the rather large gambling den, whispering when she halted completely, "Most of these gents aren't here to bid on you. They're here to gamble or for other pleasures. But I have found that the more present, the more active the bidding from those seriously interested. The others, well, it gives them a rousing good show, which is very good for business, don't you know."

And before she knew what he meant to do, he'd hefted her up onto one of the tables, and warned in a. hiss, "Stay there, and do your part to look enticing."

Enticing, when she was paralyzed with fear and utter mortification? And because most of the men in the room weren't there to bid on her, as he'd said, and so had no idea why she was standing up on that table, Lonny made a little announcement to enlighten them. "A moment of your time, gentlemen, for a very unusual auction."

The word auction had a way of gaining immediate attention, and this was no exception. Lonny had to wait only a few more seconds for the room to quiet down completely. "For those of you pleased with your current ladyloves, please continue your gambling, this auction is not for you. But for those of you in the market for something new, I offer this vision of-blushing loveliness." There were a number of snickers because Kelsey's face had, in fact, turned nearly the color of her gown. "Not to sample, good sirs, but to call your own for however long you care to. And for such a privilege, bidding will begin at ten thousand pounds."

The amount, quite naturally, caused an immediate uproar, raising the volume in the room much higher than it had been before Lonny's startling announcement. "Ain't no female worth that much, even m'wife," one man called out, generating laughter around him. "Can you loan me ten thousand, Peters?" "Made of gold, it is?" someone else sneered. "Five hundred, and not a pound more" was called out in a drunken voice.

Those were just a few of the dozens of comments that Lonny wisely let run their course before he put an end to them by stressing again, "Because this little jewel will go to the highest bidder, the option will belong to her new protector of how long he wishes to keep her. A month, a year, indefinitely ... the choice will be his, not hers. This will be stipulated in the bill of sale. So come now, gentlemen, who will be the lucky one to be the first ... ever ... to sample this luscious young morsel?"

Kelsey was too shocked to hear much of what was said after that. She had been told she would be "presented" to the gentlemen, misleading her into believing that she would meet them and have a chance to speak with each of them, and that then they would quietly make their offers, if they intended to bid, to Lonny.

Never had she imagined that the whole thing would be done so publicly. Good God, if she had known she was going to be auctioned, auctioned, to a room full of men, half of them foxed, would she have still agreed to this?

A voice broke through her horrified thoughts. "I'll meet the opening bid." Kelsey's eyes moved to the sound of that tired voice to see an equally tired and ancient face. She had a feeling she was going to faint.

 

"I STILL DON'T KNOW WHAT WE'RE DOING HERE," LORD PERcival Alden mumbled. "Angela's place is just as nice, was just as close from the White's dinner, and her girls are used to normal debauchery."

Derek Malory chuckled and winked at his cousin Jeremy as they followed their friend into the foyer. "Is there such a thing as normal debauchery? Sounds like a contradiction in terms there, don't it?"

Percy could say the most unusual things at times, but Nicholas Eden, he'd been one of Derek's closer friends since their school days, and so he could be forgiven his occasional lapses into denseness. Nick, now, rarely chummed about with them anymore, and certainly not to places like this, not since he'd got himself leg-shackled to Derek's cousin Regina. Not that Derek wasn't delighted to have Nick in the family, as it were, but he was of the firm opinion that marriage could wait till after thirty, and that was still five long years away for him.

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