Behind the Courtesan - By Bronwyn Stuart
What men and women of the ton neglect to consider is that behind every courtesan is a woman, who, given another opportunity, would have been a duchess. Or perhaps a queen...
Somewhere on the road to hell
Lions have lionesses, Maharajahs have their many wives and sheikhs, their harems. It seems no matter what manner of species one belongs to, all males think it their gift and right to have more than one female at their beck and call. It is no different with the men of the ton.
Sophia Martin snorted and threw the leather-bound book to the damp carriage floor. It was all about sex. Family, duty, king and country all came second for males seeking sexual gratification.
Drawing a long deep breath, she held it for four counts and then exhaled. Whenever her anxiety grew too great, she would take a deep breath. So many times in her life it had worked. Not now. Not when she faced her largest hurdle to date.
Brambles danced thorny cartwheels in her stomach until her breath once again came in short pants and her damp hands crushed the velvet of her lavender gown. What scared her most—being near a new baby, surrounded by happy families, or returning to the place where her life first fell to pieces? Already the condemnation reached out to greet her, to suck her in and spit her out, defeated and deflated. She half imagined sharpened pitchforks awaited her.
Why had Matthew requested that she attend the birth of her niece or nephew? Why had she said yes? The whole situation seemed a cruel reminder of that which she would never experience. Tears pricked her eyes and made them burn as her hand drifted to her abdomen. Too late to change her mind now and far too late for regret.
Once the carriage stopped rocking and creaking, the silence became oppressive. She waited for the driver to leap down from his perch to hand her down.
Sophia stood, her body stooped so she wouldn’t hit her head, and opened the carriage door. The first thing she saw was the reason the driver hadn’t done his job. The dirt yard of the tavern she remembered from her childhood was churned to wet, dark mud that would cover her soft kid boots and more if she were to jump down on her own.
Not an option. “Johnson.” She called the driver’s name through clenched teeth.
“Get down here and do what I pay you for.”
A snort reached her ears followed by his chuckled reply. “You don’t pay me enough to slog through that.”
Had she known her frugality would make the difference between assistance and abandonment, she would have loosened her purse strings somewhat. It’s what she got for hiring the only man interested in driving a courtesan to the middle of nowhere during the wettest winter in years. Now she regretted not taking the Duke of St. Ives up on his offer of a carriage and driver but at the time, anonymity was foremost in her thoughts. No one could know where she had gone. “I’ll pay you a further guinea if you get down here and help me.”
Johnson snorted again and the carriage rocked slightly but still he didn’t climb down. “Not for all the gold in London, lass.”
“You can’t expect me to...to...” Her bottom lip quivered. She closed her teeth down on it in an effort to remain calm.
“Don’t much care how. I could sit up here all day.”
“Drive around another way,” she hissed.
“Ain’t no other way. Rain’s washed everything to the same kind of sludge.”
Cursing under her breath, she looked to the door of the tavern where a small crowd gathered for what was turning out to be their morning’s entertainment and wondered how they had all reached their destination. What she longed to see were boards or a paved walkway to the door but it seemed none of her wishes mattered that day.
“An ale she falls flat on her face,” a voice cackled from the open doorway.
“Two she falls on her arse.”
The pair roared with uncouth laughter.
The urge to huff and scream overwhelmed her, but she tamped down her fury for the moment. She gritted her teeth and said, “I’ll buy you both three if I can get some assistance.”
One dirty face looked to the other and for a moment hope blossomed. Then, “No deal, lass.”
“Four?” Useless tears stung her eyes once again and exhaustion made her heavy skirts drag at her legs and back.
This time they didn’t reply, only guffawed