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Authors: Jessie Keane

Tags: #Fiction

Scarlet Women

SCARLET WOMEN

Jessie Keane’s story is one of idyllic early years, and struggles against the odds from her teen years onwards. Family tragedy, bankruptcy and mixing with a bad crowd all filled her life. Her first novel,
Dirty Game
, was published by HarperCollins in 2008, her second,
Black Widow
, followed soon after.

JESSIE KEANE

Scarlet Women

Cliff my darling—this one’s for you.

Acknowledgements

To Mandasue Heller, Trisha Ashley, Louise Marley, Judith Murdoch, Jane Harvey, Sue Kemish, Lynne next door…what would I do without you girls? All great women…and none of them scarlet!

Prologue

Annie Carter opened her eyes slowly. Her first thought was
what the fuck?
Her head hurt; there was a sore spot behind her right ear. She saw semi-darkness and a dim, familiar interior.

She was in the car. Shit, they’d hit her
hard.
Her brain was spinning.

Her
car, yeah that was it. Had to get a grip, think straight.

The black Mark X Jaguar.

She was lying across the back seat, which smelled of leather and cologne; familiar smells, comforting smells, but alarm bells were ringing in her addled mind. Her guts were clenched with unfocused anxiety.

Tony?

Where the fuck was Tony?

He was usually up there behind the wheel, weaving easily through the London traffic and asking where
she wanted to go next, saying okay Boss, sure thing. But he wasn’t there now, so where the hell was he? She was the big car’s only occupant.

And now it came back to her in a rush. Now she remembered what had happened to Tony. They’d coshed him too. Put him somewhere. But where? Was he all right? Was he dead?

How long have I been out of it?
she wondered, sitting up, wincing as her head thumped sickeningly in protest at the movement.

Then she remembered Charlie Foster, and Redmond and Orla Delaney. She remembered it
all.
She’d been knocked out cold, Tony was fuck-knew-where, and now they were going to drive her off in her own damned car to some remote spot, where they would blow her brains out, what little brains she
had,
because who but a fool would push their luck as far as she had done?

She thought of Layla. Her little girl, her little star. Had to get out of here because she was all that Layla had; she couldn’t afford to get herself wasted.

She was reaching for the door when the noise started—a high mechanical whine, deafening in its intensity. Her heart rate picked up to a gallop.

What the…?

Suddenly the car lurched, knocking her back against the right-hand door. Then her horrified eyes watched as the left-hand door started to
buckle inward. There was a ferocious shriek of tortured metal. With a noise like a gunshot, the glass in the door shattered, showering her with fragments. She ducked down, covering her head momentarily with an upraised arm, then staring with terror as the door just kept coming, buckling inward, metal tearing, screaming, ripping.

And now the door behind her was coming in too. The noise was beyond bearing, beyond anything she had ever known before. The window imploded, and again she was covered in pieces of glass, felt her cheeks sting with the impact of it, felt warm blood start to ooze from cuts on her face.


Jesus!
’ she screamed in panic, knowing where she was now, knowing what was going to happen to her.

Then the roof crashed in upon her, folding inward like cardboard. She felt the floor lift and she fell sideways, ending up in the well behind the front seats, nearly gibbering with fear. She was going to die, she knew that now.

Just make it fast
, she thought desperately.
Please make it fast.

She lay there, powerless, and watched the roof coming down towards her.

Closed her eyes, and waited to die.

Chapter 1

SUMMER 1970

Whack!

The whip cracked down across the nude buttocks of the man tied to the bed. He moaned but was careful not to scream. He’d had his orders.

‘This is a
nice
place,’ the woman told him, looming over him. She was dressed in a white topless PVC mini-dress and matching high-heeled boots. A white nurse’s cap was perched jauntily on her coal-black hair. Her ample and naked coffeecoloured breasts bounced as she drew back the whip to strike again. ‘Remember that. I don’t want you kickin’ off and yelling the sodding place down, now do I?’

The client strained to look back at her over his shoulder from his prone position. He said nothing.

Whack!

‘Answer Nursy when she speaks to you,’ trilled the woman.

‘No! I won’t scream,’ he panted.

‘Good, that’s good. You’ll take your punishment, yes?’

‘Yes!’ he groaned as she raised the whip again.

‘Right answer.’ The girl grinned and trailed the whip’s leather lightly down between his quivering white buttocks. ‘Now that’s good, now we’re starting to understand one another. Because you’ve been a
very
bad boy, ain’t that right?’

‘That’s right,’ he muttered into the pillow. He was sweating and his eyes were closed.

The woman watched him, judging her victim. Sure he was sweating, it was a hot night. Damp and clammy and airless—welcome to a summer’s night in England, folks! The windows were closed though. She’d opened them earlier and shut them pretty damned quick; the constant roar of the traffic was an annoying distraction.

So he was hot. She was pretty fucking
hot
herself. Rubber might light the man’s candle, but it was a bitch to wear on a humid night. Just for the hell of it, she gave him another swipe with the whip. He gave a faint cry, flinched and strained against his bonds. Hell, anyone would think he wasn’t
enjoying
this. She sure hoped he was—it was costing him enough, after all.

Actually it was costing her too, in terms of
energy and stamina. After an evening of wining, dining and shagging, she now had to get down to the add-ons, the not-so-little extras that the man tied to the bed required.

Most men, you did an escort job for them, they expected a bit of straightforward hanky-panky too, and that was cool. This client had more specific needs and he was one of her regulars. Her reputation as a dominatrix was legendary. Her speciality was what this client wanted, and the price had been fair, she had to admit that, and the price was all that mattered.

Take the money and run
, she thought.

But now she was tired. She wanted to crawl into bed with her man, get some kip if it was possible in this heat. When he closed his eyes again she glanced at her watch. The extra hour he’d paid for was nearly up. Soon she’d be out of here; soon she’d be home.

Whack!

Oh, how he writhed. She sort of enjoyed that, to tell the truth, when they writhed. Just a bit. But she’d been doing this S & M gig for so long that it was beginning to bore her. Once the thrill had been in doing it, socking it to the punters. But she was a married lady now, and maybe this was not the sort of thing that a married lady ought to do—not even with her loving husband’s consent, which she’d always had…

The woman frowned. And maybe, just maybe, this was a thing that a loving husband ought to have a bit of a problem with: how was that for a thought?

This was something that kept popping into her brain more and more often. Did he love her so much, if he could be so fucking
cool
about his wife dancing the horizontal tango with strange men and then whipping them into a frenzy, and
then
coming home to him?

But the money was good, and money was always tight, and oh how she loved the money. Money to buy Biba dresses and Bill Gibb blouses, boots by the Chelsea Cobbler, waistcoats by Kaffe Fassett, and going to shows and dinners up West: she loved all that shit. So she did things sometimes that didn’t make her proud. Like whipping this punter’s snowy-white arse and wishing she was gone.

Time to draw their little sesh to a close now. Thank God.

Tenderly she leaned over and released the leather cords that bound his wrists to the headboard.

‘There you go honey, that’s all for tonight,’ she cooed in his ear.

And the bastard turned and whacked her right across the jaw.

Agony exploded in her head.

The girl went flying off the bed and fell to the floor. She sat up on the expensive carpet amid a
tangle of shoes, trousers and shirt. Her eyes were filled with tears of pain. She could feel her heart beating hard against her ribs with the shock of it.

Fuck, where had that come from?

She clutched her jaw and staggered back to her feet, staring down at him in disbelief. He’d collapsed back on to the bed, face down. As if what he’d just done was
nothing.
As if hitting her, hurting her, was
nothing.

As if
she
was nothing.

She’d dropped the whip but now she snatched it up again with a grunt of rage. Bastard punters! They were like tigers in a circus act: you were the trainer and you never let your guard down, you never turned your back, you
always
had to keep control—or they’d maul you as soon as look at you.

She waded in with the whip again. This time she put a lot of force behind it. This time she was
angry.
She was the sadist here, wasn’t she? Or that was the act, anyway. And he was supposed to be the masochist. He didn’t do the beating up,
she
did.

‘Better,’ he moaned happily, rolling over to display an erection the size of a baby’s arm. ‘That’s better, sweetheart, oh yes…’

And then he grabbed the hem of her rubber dress, nearly pulling her off balance, and held it over his nose and mouth. Twisted
bastard.
He always did that with her. Always.

She was
so
tired of all this.

It wasn’t that big a thrill any more.

Seconds later, he came all over the thousand-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets.

She watched him, her jaw hurting, her face carefully blank to hide her fear and disgust.

Boy, she was
sick
of all this.

Ten minutes later, she was out of there. She left the room with a big bundle of notes and a bad taste in her mouth—oh, and a jaw swollen to the size of a watermelon.

All in a day’s work.

It was raining by the time she left the snazzy hotel in Park Lane. The smartly uniformed concierge gave her a knowing look and a nod as she emerged from the lift in reception and went towards the revolving door. She’d been there before, she was no trouble, he wasn’t about to make a fuss.

Whatever the guest wanted, the guest got—that was his motto. A Roller to take them to the theatre? Certainly, sir. Champagne at a hundred quid a pop and a whole tin of Beluga caviar on the side?
Mais oui, bien sûr.
A nice tart to share it with? No problem at all.

And she was a nice tart. Tall, slim and with skin dark as cocoa. A shock of dreadlocks framing her gorgeous face. She gave him a grin. You couldn’t
get churlish looking at that grin, although it faded quickly and she seemed to wince.

Flamboyant dresser, too. Trailing a purple boa, toting a big carpetbag and wearing skin-tight denim hot pants. One of those cool-looking but very smelly Afghan coats flapping loose around her and big hoops of gold clattering at her ears. Could dress a bit smarter, but then it was late: few guests about, only him and the boy on reception, so all was well and why rock the boat?

Really, who gave a shit?

‘Get you a cab?’ he offered.

The grin returned. ‘What, you think I made o’ money, boy?’

‘Bet you’re making more than me.’

‘Ha! Don’t I just wish that was true. Nah, it’s okay, honey. My man’s pickin’ me up.’

He nodded and smiled at her. Yeah, she was a nice girl. No harm in her at all. Stressed-out businessmen, tired travellers, they needed the release of a bit of female company now and then. It wasn’t for him to judge. It was for him to say yes, sir, of
course
, sir, anything you want, we can get. Discretion was his watchword. Can-do was his attitude. It made him one of the best concierges in London.

He watched her swing through the revolving door and vanish into the rainy night. And then he thought of his own grown-up daughters, girls
around the same age as this one, his precious girls tucked up safe at home where they ought to be at this hour of the night, and he thought:
Fuck it. What a sodding way to make a living.

She walked quickly, head down against the rain, heading for the usual corner, around which her man would be parked up in his ancient Zodiac, waiting for her. Asleep, probably, stretched out across the single front sofa seat.

They loved that sofa seat; they’d made out on it a time or two, but really he enjoyed that more than her. She preferred their bed: good old-fashioned bread-and-butter lovemaking; no risks, no thrills, just deep warmth and contentment and waking up together in the morning, which they could do now that he no longer worked permanent nights, thank you God.

She was going to have a nice hot bath first. Wash the day away. Then crawl into bed, snuggle down. Forget the whole evening. She was good at doing that; she’d had plenty of practice. Keep her chin turned away and he wouldn’t see the redness, the swelling. Maybe while she was in the bath she’d hold a cold flannel against it. That’d soothe it. She’d be careful to take the flannel away when he came in, brought her a glass of wine as was his usual practice. He was a good husband. Even if a little too forgiving of her profession.

It wasn’t the first time a punter had walloped her, she wasn’t about to get all girly and hysterical about it. She wasn’t about to tell her loving husband that it had happened, either—he’d want to rip the bastard’s arms off.

No, what she was going to do was
forget
it.

All in a day’s work, and that was a fact.

You took a knock, so what?

There were footsteps behind her. High heels. Another working girl, heading home after a long day, poor bitch. She glanced back, saw who it was, and stopped walking with an exasperated sigh.

‘Fuck it, I can’t talk
now
…’ she started to say, and then she was hit for the second time that night. It was beyond a bloody
joke,
that’s what it was. But when she fell this time she wasn’t falling on to Axminster. This time her head hit the pavement with a crack and suddenly the darkness came.

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