Claudette Perry never thought she’d make a good whore, but when she saw Aaron Guthrie in the flesh, she knew she’d make a stellar one. She chose him as the candidate not only because he was young and good-looking, but because he was a bright gentleman with a personality to match. Claudette felt she had the right to be choosy. After all, she was selling her most precious asset.
Her target sat in De La Plume’s private VIP booth on Tartav-V, surrounded by his business colleagues and personal bodyguards, in the middle of a power lunch. Her heart thundered as she rose and walked to Guthrie’s booth. Her stomach insisted on coiling in excruciating knots, no matter how hard she tried to relax. But the knowledge that she’d blown one third of her hard-earned savings to pass as a High-Zoner gave her the courage to go through with her plan. She had to do it, or she would spend the rest of her life as an insignificant nobody in the slums of Tartav-V.
Aaron Guthrie looked straight at her the moment she arrived at his VIP booth. And so did his bodyguards. One of them groped the gun on his hips, probably thinking she was about to pull a hit.
“Mr. Guthrie?” Claudette forced herself to smile. She was careful not to make any movement that could be mistaken as hostile by his bodyguards. “My name is Claudette Perry. You don’t know me, sir, but I have a business proposition for you--that is, if you’re willing to hear me out.”
Tension dropped a notch. Guthrie’s business partners traded grins among themselves. Curious eyes flicked toward her, especially at her chest. Her dress, a scarlet cocktail tunic she’d borrowed from a friend, had a low neck that accentuated her deep cleavage, where the frilly lace of her black brassiere peeped just above her décolletage line.
The tycoon smiled as if her bold move amused him. “Who do you represent?” His voice sounded deep and throaty, articulate and cultured.
“I...don’t represent anybody. The business proposal I had in mind is a personal matter.” Claudette glanced at her surroundings. The appreciative stares turned into leers. Anxiety clawed her at her nerves. “I’ve been trying to speak to you privately, Mr. Guthrie, but I couldn’t get past your PAs. I hope you’ll forgive me for approaching you in public. I-I have a card...” Her hand trembled as she rummaged in her purse. She found the card and pushed it in Guthrie’s direction. “Here’s my number, sir. I’ll be waiting for your call. Any time.”
Guthrie didn’t make any attempt to take her card. Up close, Claudette saw his eyes were so blue they sparkled. Cerulean, that was what they called it. His gaze skittered to her cheaply printed card and flicked back at her with faint disinterest. But the amusement was still there. “What exactly is the proposal you had in mind, Ms. Perry?”
Claudette gulped hard. “It’s a private matter, Mr. Guthrie. Call me, anytime, sir. I’m looking forward to discussing it with you.”
“So private you can’t tell me now?” Guthrie basked her with another smile. “I prefer to conduct my business dealings up front. I can’t guarantee I’ll give you a call if I’m not sure I’ll like what you have to offer.”
Her heart drummed like a tribal dance gone awry. She’d been afraid this would happen. But she had no choice. “I have something I’d like to sell you. I thought you might be interested.”
sound echoed around the table. The leers of the men turned into wide grins.
Guthrie arched his eyebrows. “What is it you’d like to sell, Ms. Perry?”
“Me,” Claudette whispered, mortified.
She took another deep breath. “It’s me, Mr. Guthrie. I’m offering you my body for a determined amount of time, for money.”
Laughter bubbled around the booth. Even Guthrie’s bodyguards didn’t bother shielding their laughter. At that very moment, Claudette wanted to crawl under the table and die.
But Aaron Guthrie didn’t laugh along with his friends. He only smiled. A secret kind of smile. “Ms. Perry, to be honest, I have never been app --”
“I’m a virgin,” Claudette blurted out. “I’m offering my cherry to a man who can pay. I’m not a prostitute, if that’s what you assume, Mr. Guthrie. I’m a respectable woman in a desperate need of money. And an off-world pass.”
He looked surprised. Claudette couldn’t guess whether it was from the fact that she was still a virgin or because she needed an off-world pass.
“Are you running from someone?”
Her laugh came out before she could hold it back. “From my fate, sir. I work as a teacher’s aide in All Saints Missionary crèche in Portgraph. I’ve been awarded a scholarship to Antara University in the Birma system. It’s a full scholarship; however, boarding and food are my responsibility. That’s why I need the money.”
“And the pass?”
“I’m a Low-Zoner. We’re grounded on our zone unless we have an off-world pass.”
He studied her with an unreadable expression. Claudette’s heart sank. The tycoon didn’t seem interested in buying her goods.
One of Guthrie’s colleagues opened his mouth. “How much do you ask for this special merchandise
?” Another burst of laughter accompanied his inquiry.
Claudette turned to him. He was very blond with cold gray eyes and pale skin, probably the same age as Aaron Guthrie. In fact, he looked familiar too. If she wasn’t mistaken, the man was the head of the interstellar broadcasting network in Tartav-V. His face had been plastered all over the tabloids when he’d been involved in a sordid affair with a holoporn star. “Fifty thousand credits, sir.”
The man hummed as if he contemplated a good price. “And this money is enough to support you while you’re on scholarship?”
“I’m not a spendthrift.”
The man winked at her. “And how long are you willing to be engaged in this...merchandise sampling
More chortles erupted.
“One weekend? Three days, tops.”
“And what are you willing to do in this engagement?”
She took a deep breath. “Anything, sir.”
“Anything.” She glanced at Aaron. “I’ll be anything your heart desires as long as you can pay my price.”
Blondie tugged a wide leer. Maybe it was a grin. “And how can we be sure this merchandise you offer is the genuine article, considering how delicate this type of merchandise is? No offense, Miss. Perry. I’m sure you understand the nature of my concern.”
A burst of laughter swept the table like a hurricane. Only Guthrie didn’t join the mirth. He still watched her with scrutiny.
Claudette forced another smile. At this point, she had nothing to lose. “No offense taken. I can get a note from my gynecologist if you’d like.”
“That is very kind of you, Miss, but we prefer if we were granted the opportunity to inspect the merchandise firsthand.”
Claudette went numb. She threw a glance at her surroundings. The restaurant was jam-packed at this hour. “Are you saying...you’d like to see the merchandise, sir?”
“Yes, we would, Miss Perry, if you don’t mind.”
“I don’t see why that’s a problem. You’re bold enough to crash our party,” Blondie replied slyly.
She looked at Mr. Guthrie, but the man stayed silent. He didn’t encourage her or oppose this humiliation. Halfheartedly, she put her purse on the table and lifted up the edge of her dress. The men went busy with catcalls. She knew she looked proper, but the fact that she had never undressed in front of a man before, let alone in public with a pantheon of rich and powerful High-Zoned men looking on, made her nerves fray at the seams. Her cheeks flushed hot, and she struggled to control the tears that threatened to spill. Suck it up,
she reminded herself. Just do this, and it will be over sooner than you think.
She pulled the front of her dress up to her hips, showing the lacy fabric of her garter belt and her black panties. Blondie watched her with appreciation. And so did the other men. All eyes were transfixed on her crotch. All except Aaron Guthrie’s. He stared directly into her eyes with disapproval as if he were her father. She waited for him to say something. He didn’t.
“Miss Perry?” Blondie reprimanded her. “We’re waiting.”
“Sorry.” With one hand Claudette unclipped the straps of her garter belt that secured the edge of her stocking. The clips made a soft chink
sound and hung freely.
She wondered on how she would have to display her purity. Should she climb on the table and let the man inspect her body? That’s crazy. In this crowded restaurant? I’d be arrested for public indecency.
She didn’t dare lift her head to see if anyone besides these men was watching. She was too ashamed.
Just do this and get over with it.
Her hand trembled when she started to peel off her panties. The top edge had barely slid past her hips when Aaron Guthrie spoke.
Her eyes darted to his face.
“Make yourself decent, Ms. Perry.”
Claudette pulled up her panties and smoothed down her dress. Is it over yet? Was he pleased?
Guthrie looked disgusted. Her heart sank.
“Thank you for your brazen demonstration, Ms. Perry. I have your card, and I’ll give you a call if I am interested in doing business with you.”
Claudette couldn’t breathe for a long second. She knew a rejection even when it was presented very politely.
She had humiliated herself for nothing.
“But I’m interested,” Blondie chirped unexpectedly. He whipped out a card from his pocket and offered it to her. “Call me anytime, honey. I’d love to unwrap you like a box of chocolates in my bed.”
She was stunned. And so was Aaron Guthrie. The tycoon gave his friend a hard stare.
“Oh come on, Aaron. You can’t get a virgin with a decent price nowadays.” He turned back to Claudette. “My name is Reed. I think you and I will have so much fun, sweetheart. Lots of fun.”
She took the card from Blondie’s hand and bowed her head. “Thank you for your time, gentlemen. I really appreciate it.”
Claudette crammed the card into her purse and walked away from the table without looking. She felt a thousand eyes fixed on her as she exited the restaurant. Aaron Guthrie wasn’t interested in her. What did she expect? A man like him must have high standards. She didn’t realize she had been crying until she sat in a cab that drove her back to the zone border.
“Are you all right, Miss?” the cabbie asked. The driver was an AI decanted in a synthetic construct’s body. An awkward grin slashed across its dull white skin. It appeared the artificial being knew how to show sympathy.
Claudette wiped her tears with a tissue, wondering why she cried in the first place. She sniffed and forced out another big smile to the cabbie. “Never better.”
Lizzie Lynn Lee