Can an inexperienced country boy lead an old Madam to a respectable new life?
Forced by an injury to quit his job as a labourer at a sawmill, Daniel Burke journeys to a Colorado boom town to apply for the position of dressmaker.
Daniel curses his impulsive decision the moment he sets eyes on the brass plate affixed to the House of Delilah's front door. Before he can leave, he's intercepted by a whirlwind of a maid who ushers him into the specialised brothel and into the office of the madam, Addy Monroe.
Addy came west on an orphan train at the tender age of fourteen and in her twenty-four years 'in the business' she has come to see men as nothing more than a means to an end, a way to provide for the women in her employ, and the daughter she sent away to boarding school.
Dissatisfied with the business for quite some time, Addy is shaken to the core and blames herself when one of her girls is injured by a wealthy customer, but she is unable to believe Daniel's assertion that the business sense she acquired the hard way is her ticket to a new world.
What could a naive country boy possibly teach her about life?
|Publisher:||Totally Entwined Group|
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|Age Range:||18 Years|
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Daniel looked from the newspaper in his hand to the small brass plate affixed to the centre of the door before him, then back again. The advertisement said Wanted: Dressmaker. Creative, skilled, sense of humour, takes easily to change and surprises. Good salary. Room & board included. Serious inquiries only. Apply in person to House of Delilah, Littlemore, Colorado.
He fit the description perfectly. Still ...
The door plate read HOUSE of DELILAH, Established 1880, Coitus by appointment only.
Daniel squinted. He hadn't misread. No wonder the fellow at the train depot had grinned like a fool when he had asked for directions. Stepping out from beneath the portico, Daniel stood back to give the building a once over. It sure didn't look like any whorehouse he'd ever seen. Of course, the one back in Roseville was just a couple of rooms over the saloon. Still, he doubted the average brothel looked like a mansion built of stone.
Looking at the newspaper advertisement again, he wondered why on earth anyone who lived here would advertise in a little three-page weekly like the Roseville Messenger. It had to be some kind of a joke. No wonder the ad had that part about the sense of humour and taking to surprises.
What a dumb ass he was, to waste what little money he had to come all the way from Wyoming on a whim. Of all the stupid, hare-brained things he'd done in his twenty-six years — and there had been more than a few — this was the stupidest.
"Oh, shut up," he grumbled when his stomach growled, reminding him he hadn't eaten since last night. He jangled the coins in his pocket. He wouldn't get much relief on that front. He hadn't seen much of Littlemore, but what he had seen told him that this was a prosperous town. And as such, prices for lodging and food would be in line with what folks were willing to pay. With his luck he'd get a cheap room and one meal at most, two if he was lucky. Damn.
He walked away, cursing himself for having this fool notion in the first place. A man designing and sewing ladies' dresses was not a profession to be proud of — unless you were Charles Frederick Worth, which he wasn't. If only he didn't enjoy it so. Why was it his misfortune to get stuck with six little sisters and a mother who worked herself to death trying to support them all? Damn.
"Hey, mister! Wait!"
Daniel stopped and turned. He'd left his portfolio of dress sketches and valise of samples on the front step of the brothel. He hurried back and accepted his things from the dark skinned maid. "Thank you."
"I don't suppose you have an appointment, do you?"
"A-an a-appointment?" Daniel asked, his eyes travelling to the brass plate on the open door. A bead of cold sweat tickled under this stiff shirt collar. "No. I don't."
"Oh," the maid said simply. "You sellin' something then? Perfume? Hairbrushes? We go through a lot of those, 'specially Miranda. Do you have any thick handled ones? I hear they hold up better to a spanking."
Miranda? Hairbrushes? Spanking? "I came about the dressmaker's job," Daniel mumbled, not quite knowing what to say lest he be ushered into the mysterious Miranda's presence and asked to demonstrate God knew what.
The little maid clapped her hands. "Miss Addy will be so happy! Those women treat their clothes something awful around here. You would not believe what kind of stains they get. It wasn't so bad when Kenneth was here, but then he went and ran off with that prissy Opera fella and ..."
His head spinning from the little maid's incessant chatter, Daniel blindly followed her into the entrance hall and down the length of imported Turkish carpet and up the winding oak staircase like a puppy on a leash.
* * *
"Come in," Addy Monroe said, glad for the interruption. She rubbed her eyes until the floating columns of numbers were replaced by Lily, who entered in her usual dither.
"Miss Addy, Miss Addy. You will not guess who just came in — past the front door and all the way up the stairs!" Addy blanched. "Not Dee Dee."
"P'shaw," Lily answered with a dismissive wave. "You know my mamma wouldn't let that happen. She'd sooner die than let Miss Dee sneak back here to see you without a proper warning."
Addy breathed a sigh of relief. "Is it an unannounced customer? It's not Senator Harding, is it?"
Lily laughed. "If it was, I'd be down in the kitchen whipping up the cream for his bath." She paused. "It's a man. A good-looking man. Here about the dressmaker job. And he came in and up the stairs!" she repeated, highly impressed by that fact.
Addy was somewhat impressed herself. During the four months she'd run the ad she'd had over a hundred applicants, all women, most turning back once they had read her door plate, the rest leaving once they had realised the plate was no joke and that this was, indeed, a brothel. A specialised kind of brothel that catered to those tastes not easily catered to.
"If he had the nerve to come all the way up, I suppose I should at least talk to him." Addy shifted the papers on her desk. "I don't know about another man, though, Lily. Kenneth was good, but he was bitchier than all the girls put together and then he took off without even giving notice. Those kind of men I can do without."
Lily's expression became thoughtful. "Like I said, Miss Addy, this one seems real nice and he don't seem at all like one of those kind of men. Of course, he was all flustered to be here, so maybe he don't really like the thought of men and women doing what men and women do ..."
Addy held up her hand to stop her maid in mid-stream. "You might as well send him in. And when you go back downstairs, mix up some salve for Miranda. The judge got a bit too heavy-handed last night."
"Yes, ma'am," Lily said, before scurrying out.
* * *
Daniel swallowed hard. He shouldn't be here. He could never live here, and yet he couldn't quite make himself leave. He needed this job and he wanted this job, despite the obvious drawbacks. Damn.
"You can go in now," the black maid said brightly. She placed her hand on Daniel's arm. "You aren't partial to spanking when you do it with a woman, are you?"
Was that part of the interview? God, he hoped not. "No. Never. I wouldn't dream of anything like that."
The maid smiled. "I was just checking. Miss Addy really don't like that stuff."
"Miss Addy? I thought Delilah —"
"It's a long story," the maid said before giving him a gentle shove towards the door. "You best go in now. No need to knock. She's expecting you."
He knocked, just to play it safe.
"I don't bite," a melodic feminine voice announced as he opened the door with excruciating slowness.
Daniel entered then closed the heavy door, his gaze skimming the office before him. On the way up the stairs and in the dimly lit hall he'd perceived the aura of opulence, but now, with full daylight streaming in the multi-paned windows highlighting it all, he could only gape.
There was a low velvet sofa, high-backed chairs, marble-topped tables and silver-potted plants galore. A fireplace big enough to walk into, with bookshelves built into the walls on either side of it. There were more books on these shelves than in the school back home in Roseville. And the statuary, scattered at intervals on the shelves, was incredible to say the least.
Carved from ivory, and cast in bronze and porcelain, with a few others formed of silver and copper, the pieces all had a unifying theme.
Each piece depicted a sex act the likes of which his inexperienced mind hadn't even imagined.
He tilted his head to study the largest ivory one and tried to sort out the tangle of carved flesh. One man lay flat, a woman astride his face. Another woman straddled his penis backward as she bent forward, her mouth devouring the sex of another female who lay in the juncture of the prone man's legs.
Daniel, my boy, you are in trouble with a capital T.
"Are you going to stand there gawking all day or did you come for an interview?"
Daniel's attention snapped back to centre. "Yes, ma'am. I mean —" Daniel stopped himself, unable to understand why his brains were so scrambled today. He took a deep breath then began again, "I would like an interview for the dressmaker's job, ma'am."
The woman said nothing, but motioned to the oddly simple wooden chair in front of her desk. Uncomfortable was a kindness — the chair was harder than a rock. Hard like the expression in the woman's eyes. She was about forty, he guessed. Her eyes were dark like her hair and both were set off by ivory skin. She was a fine looking woman on the outside, but probably cold and bitter within.
Daniel stood. "Forgive me, ma'am, for not introducing myself. I'm Daniel Burke, and as I said, I'm here about the job. If you don't mind my asking, why did you advertise in a no account paper like the Roseville Messenger?"
Her brows arched ever so slightly. "To make a long story short, Mr Burke, I'm afraid no local people bothered to apply so I took a list of newspapers in the surrounding states, closed my eyes and pointed."
He deflated. "You have other interviews to do?"
"I doubt it," she muttered. "Although I have to tell you that I don't put much stock in male dressmakers."
"You've never heard of Charles Worth?"
"I believe I have," she said dryly. "What I meant to say, Mr Burke, was that you don't appear the dressmaker type."
"You won't even consider me for the position?"
"You have references?"
He shook his head. "Not outside of family."
"Let me see your hands."
He gave her a sceptical look before relenting.
Addy didn't need to touch his hands but she wanted to. She laid his palm atop hers, her other hand brushing back and forth feeling the musculature encased within. His hands were slender yet so strong. They were the hands of, a protector, a lover. Addy banished that last foolish thought and forced herself to let him go.
"Do they pass inspection, Miss —?"
"Mrs Monroe. And yes, I suppose they do pass inspection." Addy tore her eyes off the man's suntanned face and focused on a spot to the right of his shoulder. "The calluses on your fingertips suggest that you do a lot of hand sewing —"
"I only do hand sewing," he interrupted. "And damned well if I do say so myself, and I do." Daniel shoved his hands into his trouser pockets. "I'm good and I'm fast."
I'll bet you are, Addy thought.
She cleared her throat. "You will be pleased to know, Mr Burke, that your nimble fingers will have a respite. I own the latest machine on the market."
"Don't want one. Don't need one. Won't have it in my workshop."
Addy sighed inwardly. She should have guessed he was just like Kenneth — a demanding, whiny bitch, albeit encased in a deceptively masculine shell. She stood and walked to the window, speaking while she looked out.
"Mr Burke, hand sewing is de rigueur for finishing touches, tailoring fit, and the like, but you would find that with the volume of work I'm talking about, your fingers would rot and fall off from overuse."
His burst of derisive laughter startled her and she turned. Lordy, but he was adorable when he laughed, all flashing brown eyes and white teeth.
"Did I say something funny?"
Daniel cleared his throat. "Unless I'm mistaken, Mrs Monroe, I don't imagine that your ... employees ... wear much clothing while they work, now do they?"
Addy leaned against the window sill, her arms folded in front of her. "Correct you are, Mr Burke, but I have close to three dozen employees, about a dozen here and the rest at my restaurant and gambling establishments over on Clay Street. I supply uniforms for them and my girls here cater to a number of well-to-do clients who often wish to take them on business trips or to social functions."
Addy patted her hair into place, hoping that not much grey showed through. "In addition to that, a number of my clients have unusual tastes behind closed doors and my girls have need of many theatrical type costumes — from Egyptian goddesses to the occasional turnip."
"Turnip?" Daniel's expression went blank and his cheeks flushed just enough to be noticeable.
When Addy nodded, he burst out laughing again.
"What kind of a man would want to screw a turnip? No. Don't tell me. I don't think I want to know."
"Neither would the members of his congregation."
Daniel laughed. "And for the main course I suppose he has them dress in a sheepskin and pretends he's doing it with a lamb chop."
Addy grinned. He wasn't that far off the mark.
While she couldn't help but find amusement in the ridiculousness of it all, Addy struggled to tamp down the sense of injustice that always sprang to life within her when she thought of her clients' tastes. It was unacceptable for her to be acknowledged at the opera house or spoken to on the streets in broad daylight, while their behaviour was far more scandalous than hers had ever been.
Daniel's laughter faded to a soft chuckle. "What about you? What's your speciality — animal, mineral, or vegetable?" Addy's spine stiffened. She hadn't prostituted herself in over a decade, and that had only been to feed and clothe her daughter after Jack's murder. "Get out."
Daniel's eyes grew wide and he stared.
"I want you gone." She uttered the words slowly then strode to the door and yanked it open. "Now."
He stopped in the doorway inches from her. "I'm sorry if I said anything to offend you." He paused and his stomach rumbled. "Can I still have the job?"
She snorted a laugh.
"What did I do now?"
Addy shook her head, not sure herself why she found him so amusing. "You've got balls, Daniel Burke. You waltz in here, demand a job with no references to back you up, you overstep your bounds, and you still expect me to hire you?"
He said nothing, but stood his ground.
Although her practical side urged otherwise, Addy said, "You can start work in the morning and you can bring any other belongings over after lunch today."
Daniel's stomach rumble once again. He cringed.
"Why not bring your things over now? You can eat with us. It will give you a chance to meet the girls."
When he left, she went to the window, opened it and looked out, watching young Mr Burke stride off to collect his belongings. Why on earth had she hired him? Because he blushed? A man who could blush. She hadn't met one since Jack.
Her attention was drawn by the distant sound of angry voices. Off to the right at the juncture of the next street she made out two of Littlemore's most prominent citizens.
It was a pity she wasn't close enough to catch the drift of the argument. She'd learnt long ago to keep her ears open and to treat her memory like a fact file. In her business, one never knew when some little titbit of information might come in handy or save a life.
Addy looked back to her desk — piled with invoices and schedules and a million and one other things that needed her attention. She'd chuck it all in a minute if she could, but too many people depended upon her for their livelihood. And of course, there was Baby Dee to consider.
Going to her desk, Addy smiled as she picked up her daughter's most recent photograph. Dee Dee was hardly a baby. She was a beautiful young woman now, almost eighteen. She'd completed her eastern schooling this past spring and was now on a tour of Europe, properly chaperoned, of course, to further round out her education.
Round out her education? Don't you mean keep her away from the ugly truth?
She bit hard on the inside of her cheek to keep from crying, as she had done too many times in the dozen years since she'd sent Dee Dee away to school.
Setting the picture down, Addy sat behind her hand-carved walnut desk once more and picked up her silver pen. She wouldn't cry over something that would never happen. Dee Dee was smart, beautiful, vivacious and with a dowry that ran close to six figures, there was no reason to think that she wouldn't come back from her trip with an engagement ring on her finger and a beau at her side. And when that day came, Addy planned to give her baby the grandest wedding ever seen then send her happily on her married way.
Dee Dee need never know the ugly truth about her mother's past or present. Never. And that suited Addy just fine.
Even if it did shred her heart into unrecognisable slivers.
* * *
When he returned from the train depot with his other bag the maid Lily escorted Daniel into the kitchen at the rear of the huge house. The smells of Roseville back in the days before his mother's death surrounded Daniel and brought a wistful smile to his lips. Buttermilk biscuits, hot coffee, chicken and cream gravy danced in his mind's eye and watered his mouth. "That smells fine, ma'am. Mighty fine."
"Don't you go 'ma'aming' me. I'm Lily, just plain old Lily."
"Yes, ma — Lily." Daniel grinned and set down the heavy valise.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "House of Delilah"
Copyright © 2012 Barbara Sheridan.
Excerpted by permission of Totally Entwined Group Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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