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29

The monthly accounts had balanced nicely, showing a handsome profit again. Madam Phoenix put down her pen and closed the journal. The improvements she had made with the funds provided by the new circle of investors were paying off as she had anticipated.

It was going on midnight. Raucous male laughter could be heard from the grand reception room below. The gentlemen were indulging themselves in the excellent champagne and brandy, lobster canap'es, roasted duck, and all the rest of the expensive hors doeuvres and spirits that had helped make Phoenix House the most elegant brothel in London.

It was not just the food that had captured the attention of the wealthy, jaded men who came here each night. Madam Phoenix was well aware that the chief attraction was the quality of the women who were available for an hour or two of pleasure.

The females employed in Phoenix House were not common streetwalkers. They were well bred, well educated, and fashionable. Most of them came from the respectable classes, widows and single women who found themselves alone in the world or trying to pay off a husbands debts. All had one thing in common: They had been faced with abject poverty for one reason or another. They had chosen Phoenix House over the streets or the river.

Three brisk knocks sounded on the door.

Enter, she said, turning around.

The door opened. A pretty young maid, dressed in a tightly corseted gown that displayed her breasts to advantage, bobbed a curtsy.

The client has arrived and is being escorted to the chamber, Madam.

Thank you, Betsy. You may go back to our guests.

Yes, madam. She dropped another curtsy and disappeared.

Madam Phoenix waited until the door closed behind the maid before walking across the room to a bookcase.

She tugged on a hidden lever. The bookcase swung open, revealing a narrow passage that was dimly illuminated by a wall sconce. She moved inside and closed the panel behind her.

The original owner had ordered the concealed passageway built because he did not like to encounter servants on the main stairs or in the formal hallways. The hidden corridors allowed the staff to move unobtrusively throughout the house without being seen by their employer or his guests.

The former proprietor of the brothel had found another use for the secret passageways. After she disposed of her predecessor, Madam Phoenix had continued the tradition. At various points along the way small holes had been cut in the walls, allowing views into the adjoining rooms. The openings were discreetly concealed with paintings on the opposite side of the walls. The occupants of the rooms were unaware that they sometimes provided amusing entertainment for those who paid for the view.

Only the most valued clients were informed that the opportunity to watch others indulging in a variety of sexual acts was available. The fee was exorbitant, of course, but thus far none who had been offered the chance to take advantage of the service had refused to pay it.

Some distance along the corridor she descended a cramped flight of steps. She went a short distance along another corridor and stopped in front of a small hole in the wall.

The room on the other side was lit by a gas lamp that had been turned down very low. The walls and ceiling were covered in black velvet. A bed occupied the center of the room. It was sheathed in ebony silk sheets. Black velvet manacles dangled from each of the four stout posts.

There was a glass-fronted cabinet against one wall. Inside were a variety of devices, including several sizes of whips and some unusual implements.

As she watched, the door of the room opened. One of the pertly dressed maids ushered the client inside.

Miss Justine gave orders that you are to undress, fold your clothes, and lie down on the bed to await her pleasure, the maid said.

The client nodded eagerly. I understand.

The maid departed. Metal clanged on metal when she locked the door behind her.

The client undressed with obvious enthusiasm. He folded his clothes neatly and put them on the dresser. He was already fully aroused. He lay facedown on the bed.

The key scraped in the lock again. The door opened to admit a tall woman dressed in a severe, tightly corseted dark gown. She looked like a governess.

You may stand beside the bed, the woman said in a cool, bored voice.

Yes, Miss Justine.

The client obediently stood.

Go to the cabinet of correction equipment and select a whip. The large one this time, I think. I can see that you did not fold your clothes as neatly as you ought to have done. You must be punished.

Yes, Miss Justine.

The client opened the cabinet and removed the whip.

Kiss the whip before you give it to me and then put on the blindfold.

Yes, Miss Justine.

The client dutifully pressed his lips to the hilt of the whip before handing it to her. He walked to a table, picked up a strip of black silk, and wrapped it around his head, covering his eyes.

Lie on the bed. Facedown.

Yes, Miss Justine.

The client used his hands to feel his way back down onto the black sheets. When he was in position Miss Justine walked around the bed in a leisurely manner pausing at each post to secure his wrists and ankles. She picked up the whip.

Madam Phoenix turned away from the opening in the wall and started back toward the staircase that led up to her study. There was no pleasure to be had watching Elwin Hastings undergo his punishment. The bastard enjoyed it, after all. He paid dearly for it.

She went back to her private quarters via the concealed hallways.

Things were going very well here at Phoenix House, but a problem loomed. It was clear that something would have to be done about Louisa Bryce. She was asking far too many questions.

She opened the door of her private apartment. He was waiting for her, as she had expected.

Darling. She smiled and went into his arms.

He kissed her deeply, hungrily. His fingers found the fastenings of her gown. A few minutes later he pulled her down onto the bed.


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