Friday, July 10, 2020

The countdown continues -- Excerpt #3, Tom and Jenny actually meet

As I continue to celebrate next week's release of What Frees the Heart, here's the third excerpt, a nice long one where Tom and Jenny actually meet.

Reminder: you can preorder the Kindle edition here, and the paperback here (Amazon) and here (B&N).


How many times had Tom walked by the tall building with the bright red trim and the red lanterns, wondering what it was like inside? The first time must have been before he learned just what went on in there, when all he noted was how fancy it looked. But over the years, he went from a confused “something naughty” notion, to puzzlement over why anyone would want to see half-naked ladies, to understanding and feeling the same.
It was growing dusk, and the lanterns glowed. His heart beat pretty fast as he finally, finally touched the doorknob and pulled it open.
The first thing he noticed was the piano music coming from the bar. But next second, he saw the women, sitting and standing all around, in fancy dresses with short sleeves and cut low to show bosoms, and lacy petticoats underneath.
His head could’ve been mounted on a swivel as he looked from one to another. But it stopped short when he saw a girl he thought he’d seen before, on the street that day he’d come to town with Pa. But hadn’t that girl had yellow hair? This girl’s hair was red, a pretty bright-copper color that made him think of firelight.
No, it was the same girl, he could swear it, however she’d managed to change her hair. The same pretty face and fetching shape, and a sort of freshness to her. She caught him looking and smiled at him, friendly but kind of bold — no wonder, given where she was. What she was. No wonder he’d never seen her at a church social.
Then movement caught his eye from the wide staircase with the shiny banister. A woman was sweeping downstairs, graceful but quick. He didn’t know as he’d ever seen Madam Mamie before, but it had to be her. She was older than the other women, and her dress wasn’t cut so low or so bright-colored, but more than that, you could tell just looking at her that she was in charge and wouldn’t take no guff from nobody.
Sure enough, she held out a dainty hand with painted nails and said smiling, “I’m Mamie. Welcome to my place. Your first time here, isn’t it?”
Her eyes scanned him from head to foot, just barely slowing down when she got to where the wooden leg peeked out of his trousers, and then up again. “I have just the girl for you — Amanda Jane over there. Mandy! Come meet this fine young fellow.”
A woman who might be in her middle twenties stood up. She had a lot of paint on her cheeks and eyes and lips — well, they all did, but more than some — and thin eyebrows with kind of a funny shape to them. She came toward Tom with a business-like kind of walk and a smile he had the notion she’d smiled hundreds of times before, exactly the same every time.
Tom took a step back before he could stop himself. His cheeks hot, he stammered, “Thank you kindly, ma’am. But . . . I wonder if I might . . . spend my time with that other girl instead? The red-headed one?”
Mamie blinked, but she held her hand out toward the painted-up woman. “Never mind, Mandy. Young man — what’s your name?”
“Tom.” He hoped a first name was enough, here.
“Well, Tom, we aim to please! You have a seat at the bar and ask for whatever you’d like to drink. I’ll just talk to Jenny for a minute.”
Jenny — the name suited her — had started talking to another girl by then, but she heard her name and looked over. She tilted her head, quizzical-like, as Mamie moved off in her direction. Tom hustled to the bar and asked for a tall glass of whatever beer was most handy. When it came, he took such a big gulp that he like to choked.

* * * * *

Mamie took Jenny by the elbow and tugged her over to the corner furthest from the bar. “That young man should’ve gone with Amanda Jane, but he wants you. Makes sense — he’s got farm boy written all over him, and you’re as close to a farm girl as I have just now, not to mention near his age. But he’s got a wooden leg, and you need to learn what to do.”
He might have farm boy written all over him, but poor as she was at reading, she’d have added fine-looking. And maybe nice fella along with it.
Mamie was talking so fast and quiet it was hard for Jenny to follow. “This may be his first time with a woman, which’d be good so he won’t be comparing things to how they were when he was whole. From how he looked walking in, I’d guess he still has his knee. That’d make things a lot easier. He could lie atop you, but he might not balance real well. You’d best hold him tight enough that he can’t topple. He won’t think anything of it. If I’m wrong and he has less leg than that, you’ll need him lying on his side or on his back. You can make lying on his back sound good by saying you’re dying to play cowgirl and ride him.”
Mamie looked over at the bar, probably to make sure the boy hadn’t run off. “Leave it up to him whether to leave the wooden leg on. Either way, make sure you don’t bump up against the leg or the stump, whichever, or it could hurt him and shut everything down.”
Jenny took a deep breath. This was going to be different, but not all in a bad way. At least she wouldn’t have to remember all the not-to-dos she had to keep in mind for the older, richer, snootier customers.
And she probably shouldn’t sing to him. Young as he was, he might take it as singing him a lullaby.

She’d seen plenty of men leer at her, or stare at her chest, as she went to take them upstairs, but she couldn’t recall seeing a fellow’s face light up like Christmas morning and a brand new sled.
When she grabbed his hand to lead him, he gripped it almost tight enough to hurt. Excited and nervous both, she figured. It made her feel kind of excited and nervous herself. A nice change from bored or worse. But also strange. It was almost like she was at home and entertaining a gentleman caller in the ordinary way. Except she’d never lived anywhere with two stories and a staircase between them, not to mention rugs and chandeliers and fancy wallpaper and such.
Speaking of which, Tom — Mamie had introduced them downstairs — kept looking around like he’d never seen the like. Growing up nearby, he’d probably been wondering about this place for years. She took her time on the stairs to let him get his fill of gawking.
At least, gawking at the place. When she led him into her room and let go of his hand, he did his looking straight at her, his face saying he couldn’t hardly believe his eyes.
She gave him a big smile. He was easy to smile at — young and good-looking, and he seemed a friendly sort. And not drooling or eying her like a big thick steak.
She was about ready to invite him to sit on the bed when he talked first. “You’re so pretty.”
Was that a blush heating up her cheeks? She hadn’t blushed since she couldn’t remember when. Maybe the day Mamie interviewed her and went through all the things she’d best be prepared to do. “Why, thank you!”
“And, and you’ve got such nice teeth.”
She hadn’t heard that one before. He probably wasn’t used to being around folks who cleaned their teeth regular, like Mamie insisted on.
Time to move things along. Mamie had her notions of how long the girls took with any one customer, unless she knew they’d pay extra for longer. “How about you sit down and get comfy? And I’ll do the same, all right?”
She could see his breathing speed up as soon as she sat on the little chair and took off her shoes. She got up and turned her back to him, standing right up against his knees. She could feel two of them — Mamie’d been right about that. And somehow she’d managed to forget about the fellow’s wooden leg for a minute. She’d better keep it in mind. “How about you undo my laces?” She had ways of shedding the dress without such help, but it’d get him started touching her, which he seemed a little shy of.
His fingers weren’t as clumsy as she’d thought they might be, nor soft like some of the customers who spent their days at some desk, nor yet as rough as cowboys’. As soon as he’d unlaced her far enough, she turned back toward him and shimmied out of the dress, making sure to bend over and give him a nice view. His jaw actually fell down, which she wanted to chuckle at but didn’t. Seeing as he liked the front of her so well, she reached around and undid her corset herself, then did the same to unfasten her petticoats. That left her standing there in nothing but stockings and garters and a smile.
Tom probably didn’t know he was panting. He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times before he managed to ask, “Do I need to take off . . . .” That was as far as he got.
From his not wanting to say more, he probably meant his wooden leg, but to cover all points, she just said, “You don’t have to take off anything, cowboy.”
When he flinched and glowered, she realized she’d took a wrong step. It didn’t need him growling at her, “I’m no cowboy.” Maybe he’d thought of being, before.
She took his hand and said, “I’m sorry, Tom. I didn’t mean that. Cowboys don’t clean up as good as you.”
That took him off stride enough to lighten up a little. She kept going. “Anyhow, you take off just what you want to. I’ll admit, though, I’d surely like to see more of you.”
He studied her face like he was trying to read lie or truth, and stood up slow. He tugged his shirt out of his trousers, fumbled at the buttons, and got it off, tossing it onto the floor. He might like the look of Jenny’s chest, but she liked his better — some light-colored hair but not bear-thick, and plenty of muscle. She let her face show him how she was admiring him, and waited to see if he’d keep going. It wasn’t any big surprise that he didn’t, much — just unbuttoned his fly and let his maypole jump out, all ready to get to work.
Now for the tricky part. Except she couldn’t let him know it was tricky. She’d best decide, right now, which of those positions Mamie listed would be least likely to go wrong. Him on his back would be easiest on the both of them. And of the two conditions, being shy part of a leg and being grass green, her guess was he was more prickly about the first. So — “Now, then. There’s different things we can do, but seeing as I’ve done this a lot, and you, I’d guess, not so often, I can show you something you maybe hadn’t thought of, that’d also make things easy. How about you lie back on my nice big bed, and —” Mamie notwithstanding, she’d better not mention cowgirls, not after that misstep before. “— And I’ll give you a fine old time while having plenty of fun myself. Let’s get started, can we?”

By the time she’d made him happy, and he’d got his pants buttoned up and his shirt back on, she was feeling pretty pleased with herself. Which didn’t exactly explain why, as he was set to leave, she pulled him back toward her and gave him a soft warm kiss. She couldn’t recall having done that before, ever, not once she was a lady of the line.
And he tasted sweet.


Tune in tomorrow for the first glimpse of Tom's artistic gift!

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