"Helen?" Nick Cutter stuck his head around his wife's office door.
The manager of Anomaly, one of London's classiest brothels didn't answer. Nick frowned, stepping completely into the office. Empty. Utterly empty. Not even a file in sight. Helen wasn't normally that clean. The former employee turned second in charge glanced around the room, then turned to head back out again. He made it to the door, then froze. Helen was not normally that clean. Ever.
Nick rushed back into the room, "Helen, what have you done?" he sifted almost frantically through the desk and surrounding cabinets.
Then he found it. An envelope was sitting on the top of the small cabinet, propped up against the decorative candle bowl that Helen insisted he buy for her because it would 'bring some colour and femininity to the room.' Nick hated the thing and Helen knew it. He scowled, reaching for it. He opened it roughly, yanking the contents out, muttering vulgarly under his breath as only a whore can.
Time seemed to stop as Nick read the contents of the envelope, "Oh Lord… Helen…"
Nick sat down hard on the floor, staring at the papers in his hand disbelievingly. The contents of the papers were like a train wreck. Every so often he would shake his head, utterly stunned. That was how Stephen Hart found him, close to two hours later, when he stuck his head round the door, cheerfully asking about the whereabouts of his leather pants.
Stephen frowned when Nick didn't answer. He took a step into the office. Then he swore, seeing Nick pale faced and stricken on the floor of his office. Stephen dropped to his knees next to Nick, grabbing his shoulders and calling his name. Nick turned stunned eyes up to meet Stephen's, then blinked, slowly coming back to himself.
"Get the others," was all he said.
Stephen didn't ask stupid questions, he didn't demand to know answers, he simply willowed to his feet and walked out. He returned not ten minutes later with a bunch of very confused whores, his co-workers, trailing in his wake.
"What's the bitch done now?" Tom Ryan, ever blunt and collectively known by his last name, sighed.
Nick handed the letter off to Stephen, mumbling into one hand, "Please? I can't look at it anymore…"
Stephen's eyes softened and he nodded, "Course…"
He cleared his throat and began to read…
That's a laugh isn't it? Been a long time since I've been your dear anything. And don't ever assume for a moment that you were my dear anything except for a dearly good fuck…" Stephen barely resisted the urge to wince, "Don't bother looking for me. You won't find me. Helen Cutter doesn't exist anymore. The divorce papers are straight after this letter. They don't even need your signature, seeing as how you're nothing but a whore. My lawyer appealed to the judge."
"Fucking bitch!" Ryan seethed.
"But that's rather irrelevant. What this really boils down to is money. I want it. I don't want you to have it. So since I don't need your signature… well, you are a relatively smart man for a whore. I'm sure you can work it out. Have fun trying to pay off the property.
P.S. Don't take it as a sign of generosity that I'm leaving you with the property. The title is in your name, otherwise you'd be turfed out on your arse to walk the streets where I found you."
"Christ…" Connor breathed, face a little pale.
Stephen flicked through the sheaf of papers that came with the letter, "Bloody hell… she has… she's gone and done it," he breathed, looking back up at the small group in front of him.
Nick finally looked up, "As you now all know, Helen has taken off with all the money," his face was pained, "As of two days ago, Anomaly has nothing. Less than nothing, Anomaly is now in 75,000 pounds worth of debt."
"Seventy-five grand!" Ryan all but squawked.
Nick nodded, "But the others don't need to know that. They'll leave in droves. And I need all the employees I can get."
Connor spoke up hesitantly, "So… why tell us? Are… are we being let go?"
Nick stared at him, "God no! You're my big money earners!" then he blanched, "I didn't mean it like that."
"Helen would've," Ryan draped himself over the back of a chair.
"I'm not Helen," Nick frowned, "I meant that if I'm not going to go arse up because of what Helen did, then I need you guys to back me… all of you."
Connor nodded slowly, understanding dawning in his eyes, "We're the high earners here. One of us goes, the income drops. Income drops, likelihood of ever gettin' this place debt free drops," he looked over at Nick, "I'm in. But," he added, "I don't have to take on weird creepy clients, do I?"
"No," Nick shook his head firmly, "Same set up as before. You don't take on anyone you don't want to," he looked at Ryan and Stephen.
"No need to ask, Nick, I'm in," Ryan gave Nick a small smile.
"With you all the way, mate," Stephen shot Nick a warm smile that made Connor and Ryan hide smirks under their hands.
"Thank you," Nick said, looking at them all.
Ryan uncurled himself from the chair, "Now that we're done with the Hallmark moments," he rolled his shoulders and arched his back so it popped, "I have a client in twenty minutes."
Connor glanced over at him, "Regular?"
"No…" Ryan's handsome face creased in a frown, "New one. He seemed alright when I met him though."
Connor nodded slowly, a slight frown on his own face, "Be careful," he said earnestly, making Nick and Stephen hide smirks under their hands.
Ryan smiled at Connor, "Easy Conn," he gestured to his abs, "I'm the big military type remember?"
Connor didn't blush, he was too good at his job for that, but it was a close thing. He nodded. Ryan gave him another warm smile and left. Connor watched him until the door swung shut behind him and Ryan was gone. Then he became aware of soft chuckles behind him. He turned to see Stephen snickering quietly into his hand. He shot him a scowl.
"Oh shut up," this time he did blush.
Nick sobered first, looking between Stephen and Connor, "Do either of you have clients to get to?"
Both shook their heads, Connor adding, "I have the room once Ryan's finished. And he's booked for two hours, so I'll need to bugger off in a little over an hour… But up til then, I'm all yours."
Nick nodded, "I'll let Ryan know when he's done, but," he looked at Stephen and Connor, "I'm thinkin' of gettin' back into the business."
Stephen and Connor both stared, "You what?" their voices were almost comically in unison.
Nick looked affronted, "I was goin' to get back into the business…" his affronted look shifted into a look of insecurity, "What?"
"You haven't been in the business for eight years, Nick," Stephen said quietly.
"I know, but after what Helen's done, we need all the income we can get," Nick argued.
"Yeah…" Connor looked at him, raising an eyebrow, "But eight years…"
Nick frowned a little, mouth twisting, "You don't think I can do it?"
Stephen held up a placating hand, "It's not that. We don't think you should. You'll be running the business end of things. You don't need to be worrying about whether the rent's up to date while you're giving a client a blowjob," he finished frankly.
Connor snorted, then his eyes suddenly lit up, "Mrs Ainesberry!" he said with no apparent warning or reference to anything.
Nick and Stephen both blinked, "Eh?"
"Mrs Ainesberry… you know, the dear old duck… filthy rich… she calls us up for company when she goes shopping and to the movies," Connor glanced between the two.
Stephen caught on, "Doesn't ask for anything except someone to talk to and a hand with her shopping bags?"
Connor nodded, grinning happily, "There's about four others like her," he raised an eyebrow at Stephen and Nick.
Nick wrinkled his nose, "You want me to be a home companion?" he complained.
"If you're a home companion you can let your mind wander, it's not necessary to be wholly focused on the client the entire time," Connor said, making Stephen raise an eyebrow at him, "What? I get most of the home companion jobs. They like me, think I'm cute."
Stephen leaned over and pinched a cheek, making Connor smack at his hand, "You are cute, mate. But seriously now, Nick, Connor's right."
Nick raised an eyebrow, "You think I'm cute enough to be a home companion?"
Stephen fought to control his own blush, making Connor smirk into his hand before answering, "You don't have to be cute, Nick. You just have to be polite and smile at them. Make them feel like they're important. It's why they call," Connor's eyes turned genuinely sympathetic, "They can't find anyone else. They know that when we come, they'll feel like they're the centre of someone's universe, even if it's only for a few hours a week."
Nick blinked at Connor, "When did you get so bloody philosophical?" he shook his head, "Fine, fine. I'll take the home companion jobs."
"Not Mrs Fincher," Connor said instantly, "I like her, we got along great. But Mr Davis, Mrs Ainesberry, Mrs Walsh and Mr Emmet you can have."
"Right…" Nick nodded, marking it down in the books.
"That everythin'?" Connor fidgeted on his feet, "Coz I've got a client soon…"
"Who?" Stephen grinned at him, batting ridiculously long eyelashes, "Mrs Fincher?" he flickered his tongue out onto his bottom lip in a sensuously lewd gesture.
Connor flipped him off, poking his own tongue out in a gesture that was more childish than lewd, "Bite me, Stephen. No, it's not Mrs Fincher."
Nick flicked through the books, "Felicity Horsham?" he waited for a nod from Connor, "I don't recognise the name…" a concerned frown flitted across his face.
"You wouldn't," Connor said calmly, making Nick's frown turn almost offended.
"Connor gets all the rich daddy's virgins," Stephen said blandly.
Nick frowned, "Isn't that dangerous, so many new clients?"
Connor looked at him, "Normally these clients are nervous, embarrassed and more than a little angry with their parents for sending them here. These people, boys and girls, are quite often being pressed into society marriages. And contrary to popular belief, they really don't want virgins anymore."
Nick blanched a little at that, "So they send them here to break them in? That's a bit callous."
Stephen nodded, "Which is why Connor takes those jobs," he threw Connor a small smile, "I may tease him about it, but he's the only one out of the high rollers who has the patience and the empathy to deal with them."
Connor gave Stephen and Nick a tiny return smile, "And…" he carried on, "If I want to make sure I treat Felicity nicely, I better go now and get ready," he rolled his eyes a little, "Make sure the room looks normal after Ryan's totalled it."
"Go," Nick waved a hand, "And thanks… Stephen and I will keep nutting things out here."
Connor nodded, fighting a giggle under his hand as he left. He went to his private room, pulling out the file on Felicity Horsham and quickly rereading it. He shook his head sadly. Poor thing, how could parents do that to a kid? Putting the file back down, he flicked through his wardrobe, trying to find a set of clothes that would make him look less like a… well… a whore, and more like a friendly person.
"A friendly person your parents are paying to have sex with you," he told his mirror flatly, then sighed, pulling his hair out of the tie that held it away from his face and shaking his head.
His hair fell into his eyes, so he pushed it away, playing with it til it framed his face. Connor looked at himself in the mirror critically. In a casual, dark green shirt with a white body shirt underneath and dark jeans, he didn't look like a whore. He wrinkled his nose a little and fiddled with his hair, pushing some behind his ears. Now, he just looked like a grad student. This was good.
He looked at the time. Good, he was doing well. Now, to see if Ryan had trashed the room like he did last time. Connor left his room and headed down the hall, blinking as he came across the closed door of the room Ryan was using with his client. That Ryan should've been finished with half an hour ago. Connor frowned a little. Ryan didn't normally fall asleep and forget to leave. That was Stephen. It's why he had his own room.
Connor was suddenly filled with a sense of foreboding and dread. He flitted around in front of the door. Knock, don't knock? He'd get in trouble with Ryan, the client and Nick if he knocked and there was nothing wrong. But if there was… Ryan… Connor's heart overruled his head. To hell with it, he'd take the heat if it came down to it. He rapped smartly on the door, waiting five seconds before pushing the door open.
"Oh God… Oh my God…"