Author's Note: New story! Just a little note, this is set in the future, although the architecture and style is very 1940/1950-ish. You will understand what is going on later in the story, so I won't tell y'all now. Y'all just enjoy! (:
"You have to do this, Clary," Mother says to me.
I press my lips together, smooth my hands over my new dress. The fabric of it brushes against my skin like cool silk, running water, but it does nothing to soothe me. "I know I do. That doesn't mean I want to."
"Sometimes we have to do things we don't want to do," she replies sternly, her eyes grave. "For the better good."
I stare coolly out of the window, my face set in stone—just as my mother has taught me. "I know."
"It's not what I want for you," Mother says softly. "It never was, but this is what has to be done."
I inhale deeply, close my eyes against the rainy window I've been watching. I know what I have to do. I've never had any doubts about that. And I've never thought of running away from my duties, either. Mother is right. This is what has to be done, and I'm the only one that can do it.
"I know," I simply repeat.
The night is dark, but the lights of the city are bright.
Everything is opulent, dripping wealth in this part of town—the Guardians' part of town.
I watch from the backseat of the luxurious car as we speed by towering hotel after towering hotel, each flashing neon lights with Old Hollywood glamor. I purse my lips and try to slow my pounding heart, but it's of no use.
The enormity of what I'm about to do overwhelms me.
"Here we are, Miss," the driver announces as he pulls to stop outside the Wonderer—the Guardians' headquarters.
I glance out the window at the old hotel building that seems to tower above even the tallest skyscrapers in the city. The Wonderer is practically ancient, built in the Old Years, and it oozes class and money. The very sight turns my stomach, but my face remains stoic as the driver opens my door and helps me out.
My blood red, silken dress tumbles elegantly to the pavement as I wrap my fur coat around my shoulders tighter in face of the cool evening. I see men glancing at me as they pass by on the street, but it does not faze me. Tonight, I only care if I catch one man's eye.
If I don't…
Well, I best not think about that now.
"Thank you," I murmur to the driver as I begin the trek up the front steps of the hotel.
I let my hips sway back and forth slowly, the way I was taught, and I stroll inside the grand lobby of the Wonderer with the cool confidence my mother has instilled in me since birth, practically.
"Welcome, Miss," a greeter in a dark suit says, and I see his eyes skim me up and down—once and quickly—but I still catch it. "May I help you?"
I smile slowly at him and lower my voice so that it comes out breathy yet raspy. "Yes. I am Miss Fray—here to speak with a Mr. Wayland."
The man's eyes widen a fraction. "Mr. W-Wayland? Jonathan Wayland?"
"Yes," I reply sweetly, watching as realization sinks into the young man's face.
"Oh." He lowers his eyes to the shinny marble floors quickly. "I see. I shall show you to the dining room, then, Miss." He hastily begins walking, barely giving me time to view the lobby and its golden chandeliers and spiraling staircases and rich décor.
He walks me down a long, tall hallway where people in wealthy clothes drift past us, most Guardians—as evidence by their ethereal beauty and the faint swirling lines peeking from their sleeves.
I take a deep breath to steady myself as I follow close behind the man, refusing to let myself be entranced by the lavish surroundings.
The man takes me up an elevator, and then down another luxurious hall before we walk out onto a balcony of sorts that overlooks a stunning dining room, filled with table-cloth covered tables and candelabras and chandeliers. There are walls of windows that overlook the shinning city below us, giving a perfect view and feeling of being suspended above the air. A string band plays soft music from the stage as a few people dine in the elegant surroundings.
This is more opulence than I've ever seen, only heard about. But I am to act as if I'm very comfortable with these things, as if I've been raised amongst the jewels and gold just like everyone else here.
"This way, Miss," the man says quickly, jumping down the steps. I follow him slowly, careful not to trip in my high heels.
We arrive at a table in the corner of the room, situated so that we have a better view than anyone of the city and the lights below. The man takes my coat and pulls a chair out for me. I take it gracefully. "Thank you," I tell him, offering another smile that barely curves my red-painted lips.
The man stares a little longer than necessary at the now-exposed, plunging sweetheart neckline of my dress. "Of course, Miss. Mr. Wayland will be here momentarily."
I nod, even though I know he will make me wait.
And he doesn't disappoint.
I sit alone for twenty minutes, listening to the band and staring out over the city, where in the distance I can see the arid mountains beyond, dark against the even darker sky. My hands shake slightly as I subtly wipe them against the silk of my dress.
I turn and see the man, the man that must be Mr. Wayland. He's as young as I've heard, but much better looking than I expect. Even for a Guardian, his warm skin-tone and tumbling golden curls are above and beyond attractive. He's a perfectly beautiful specimen, angelic looking just as his bloodline should show.
He fastens his burning gold eyes with mine as he smiles a slow half smile full of arrogance. He takes my hand, brushes his lips over my knuckles as light as a feather and as hot at the sun.
"Miss Fray, actually," I correct calmly, pulling my hand back.
He smirks and drops carelessly into the chair across from mine, his long legs sprawled slightly. "I'm Jace Wayland."
"Not Jonathan?" I inquire in my most subdued tone.
"Jace is a nickname, one I prefer." He glances over at the waiter and snaps his fingers at him. "Champagne, please."
The waiter nods and does not even ask bothering for my order before retreating towards the kitchen.
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Miss Fray. You're stunning, of course."
I smile mysteriously and say, "Thank you." Then I cross my knees, letting one of my slim, pale legs peek out from underneath my dress. I twirl my ankle slightly, showing off my red, peep-toe sling-back heels.
Jace notices, his eyes glancing over my legs, settling on my shoes, and he smirks again, his gaze flickering back to mine. He grabs one of the glasses of sparkling water on the table and takes a sip, his swirling eyes never leaving mine. "You look young."
"I'm sixteen," I say primly.
"Are you going to try to tell me next that you're an innocent, untouched virgin?" he inquires with a smile as he finds a cigarette from his coat and lights it between his lips.
I'm unbothered outwardly by his intrusive question because this is to be suspected. "I am. Jocelyn knows you detest the used up girls, so she gave you a fresh one—me."
Jace blows out a cloud of smoke around half-cocked lips. "You favor Jocelyn."
"She's my mother."
"Interesting. Your profession doesn't seem one that a mother would encourage for her daughter—especially since your mother is the head whore of them all. She should know all the dirty secrets of the trade."
"It's a respectable job—not a prostitution business. We provide companionship for well-to-do Guardians. It's hardly something to turn your nose up at."
"Companionship," Jace murmurs with an ironic twist of his lips. "A polite substitute for fucking men for jewelry or marriage."
I blink. "For a man that seems to have such a small opinion on us, you have chosen our services."
"My father chose your services. He favors your mother, you know," Jace replies, a sharp note in his voice as he leans forward and rests his elbows on the table. "He asked her to pick her best and brightest for me, so that the girl could be my wife. He feels that it's time I marry."
"How old are you?"
"It doesn't seem horribly old," I reply. "Why is there such a rush for matrimony?"
Jace's eyes flicker away, his head turning. I see his jaw feather as he stares out at the city, the lights sparkling in his eyes and catching the gold shimmer of his curls. "Sometimes Guardians do not have a very long life. He wishes for me to marry and produce an heir before I am killed."
"I have heard you are quite reckless when in battle," I murmur.
Jace's eyes meet mine again, a smile flashing across his lips. "There's no other way to be in battle, unless you wish to loose, Miss Fray."
I purse my lips and nod my head slightly in cool agreement.
"Anyway, my father has decided what I need to do, and now, here we are. But I don't exactly relish the idea of marrying a whore."
I feel blood rush to my cheeks in barely restrained rage. "I am no whore, Mr. Wayland. As I have said, I've never been touched."
"Not even kissed?" he inquires with a playful note in his tone, his eyes dropping to my mouth.
"No, never even kissed."
"That doesn't make you any less of a whore."
"How do you suppose this?" I ask with an arch of my brow.
"Look at you—you and your fuck-me pumps and the plunging neckline of your dress. Everything about you screams whore—a sexy whore—but a whore nonetheless." Jace leans back in his chair, tossing his arm over the back of it, a smile dancing on his smirky lips. "It's not as if you can help it, though. You were raised by a whore—in a house full of whores. It's only natural."
I give a tight-lipped smile. "Interesting that you feel that way. I have heard you've used my mother's house many times for services."
"I use the girls when I need to get laid, Miss Fray. With a job like mine, I don't exactly have time to woo as many women as I'd like, and sometimes, I need instant gratification."
"Whatever you tell yourself," I say sweetly.
Jace's eyes tighten, but his smile widens. "It doesn't mean, however, that I wish to marry one of those whores. Surely you understand."
"You'll excuse me if my understanding in this area is lacking. To me, you are simply a hypocrite—a man that pays women for sex but looks down on them. Doesn't that seem slightly contradictory?"
Jace chuckles, a low and breathy laugh that makes my heart flutter slightly. He merely shakes his head. "You're an interesting girl, Miss Fray. You don't even appear to be vying for my approval. Surely for you, marrying me would be quite a step up in the world."
"You assume too much, Mr. Wayland," I reply with a syrupy smile.
Jace's eyes dance with both irritation and mirth, and I feel slightly victorious because I know I've intrigued him. My mother has picked me for more reasons than my beauty or my loyalty. She has picked me because I have the fire to draw in Jace Wayland. He doesn't respond to docile girls.
The waiter soon returns with the champagne and pours it for us. When he leaves, Jace's questions continue.
"Did Jocelyn send you because you were her daughter?" Jace inquires.
"She sent me because she knows you have a fondness for redheads—and untouched girls, as I've said earlier. There is no favoritism involved in our business, Mr. Wayland. She chose me because I was a good fit."
He has no idea how true this is.
An hour later, Jace is walking me back outside, to the cool, bustling city.
We wait for my car to reappear on the corner, in front of the towering Wonderer, and he glances down at me, his eyes curious and slightly dark.
He brushes a few strands of my red hair off my cheek, behind my ear, and leans down to whisper softly, "Why don't you stay the night, Miss Fray, and we'll see how good of a fit you really are."
I tug at my gloves calmly, ignoring the goosebumps Jace's hot breath raises on my neck. "Contrary to your belief, Mr. Wayland, I am not a whore—and most definitely not your whore." I turn my head, so that my nose brushes his chin and my eyes are fastened to his Adam's apple, as I add in a soft voice, "And I will not be going to your bed until you have said 'I do' with a priest present."
"Until? So confident that I will agree to you being my wife?" Jace asks, pulling away from me so that I can see his smirk.
"I think your curiosity to see if you can handle me will be too great to ignore," I reply, seeing out of the corner of my eye that my car has arrived and pulled up in front of us.
Jace leans down and opens the door for me, but he keeps his arm in the way of me climbing inside. His face is right in front of mine, his breath warm and delicious against my lips as he says, "I can handle you."
I simply duck under his arm and say, "We shall see."
Jace bends down, his hand resting casually atop the car as he grins and says, "We shall." And then he shuts the door, and we are driving away.
And I let out the shuddering breath I have been holding all night.
But I wait to cry until I am home.