The Marketplace [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Laura Antoniou
eBook Category: Erotica/BDSM Erotica/Mainstream
eBook Description: The first in Laura Antoniou's modern BDSM classic, enchanting series of books about an underground secret society of owners, masters, mistresses, and their property: submissives, maids, butlers, and pleasure slaves. In the first volume, follow the trials and tribulations of four aspiring slaves as they undergo training hoping to be accepted into The Marketplace. Under the firm hand of Grendel, the sharp eye of Alexandra, and the painful leather strap in the hands of Chris, these men and women will find some of their hardest challenges come from within themselves. The ebook contains an all-new bonus story, "For the Want of a Nail," in which Grendel and Alexandra decide to host a dinner party, and also includes the text of the bonus story from the out of print Mystic Rose edition of The Marketplace, "A Leash Has Two Ends."
eBook Publisher: Circlet Press/Luster Editions, Published: 1993, 1993
Fictionwise Release Date: July 2010
* * * *
14 Reader Ratings:
Michael Rowe (Writing Below the Belt): "Queens-born Laura Antoniou is heiress presumptive to some of the erotic territory staked out by Pat Califia and John Preston? (Her) writing moves with assurance between genders and sexual orientations, relentlessly exploring the dark side of sexuality." Pat Califia: "Antoniou is an elegant stylist of erotica?." Miss Abernathy (Miss Abernathy's Concise Slave Training Manual): "? Antoniou is a strong writer. Her books have engaging storylines, developed characters, and startlingly realistic descriptions of BDSM relationships. Antoniou's novels -- The Marketplace, The Slave, and The Trainer -- represent some of the finest BDSM erotica today." The Eckhart Reviews, by TammyJo Eckhart: "The Marketplace has become more than a series of books in the few years since it was first published. Rather unique in erotica in that it is pansexual and involves a well-designed and realistic world? I would say that no other series about a world of real yet consensual slavery has ever come close to the quality of Antoniou's work." Checkmate, review by Victor Terry: "If you've not read the [the Marketplace series], I urge you to do so. [T]hey deal with themes many CM readers are intensely interested in: what constitutes gender, the duties of slaves and of masters, philosophies of SM and of slavery." Skin Two, Autumn 2000: "Fans of Author Laura Antoniou's excellent Marketplace novels will be pleased to know that she intends to indulge their depraved lust for her unique mix of scorchingly hot kinky sex and satisfyingly intelligent writing for the foreseeable future." Libido: "With her creation of the fictitious Marketplace, an elite and secretive world organizations, dedicated to the auctioning and overseeing of the world's finest lifestyle slaves, Antoniou has achieved a feat of which few writers are capable: she has constructed a world so vivid in sequel after sequel, it takes on a reality of its own, one that's visually hard to let go of once the reader has put down the book." Lambda Book Report: ". . . polymorpheusly perverse SM Erotica, mixing hetero and homosexuality in the tradition of Anne Rice's Beauty series? an excellent read! (Antoniou) creates a wonderfully diverse world of lesbian, gay, straight, bi and transgendered characters, all mixing in the melting pot of sadomasochism." Kate Bornstein (author, My Gender Workbook): "Laura Antoniou . . . elevates the genre of SM erotica, surpassing both Anne Rice and Pat Califia in storyline, character development, passion and humor. The tales ring true, the dialogue achingly real, and the sex is as hot as you'd ever hope for. For the novice SM player, the well-seasoned old timer, and the simply curious alike, these books are the next best thing to being there." Claire Thompson (author, Sarah's Surrender): "I think the books in the Marketplace series will become, if they aren't already, basic texts -- the ABC's of BDSM for fiction -- much like Capote's In Cold Blood is the classic for that genre of crime novel. They were like water to a thirsty woman. I drank them. I inhaled them." William A. Henkin, co-author Consensual Sadomasochism: How To Talk About It and How to Do It Safely: "John Preston's "Mr. Benson" and Laura Antoniou's "Marketplace" trilogy have defined the boundaries (of SM fiction)." Susan Wright (editor, SM Classics): "Author and editor Laura Antoniou has created a permanently parallel world in The Marketplace, offering those with the proper dedication to service a lifetime of fulfilling SM. . . . The Marketplace trilogy is certainly the SM fiction of choice among pansexuals." Blowfish: "A wonderful set of fantasy lifestyle books." Girlfriends: "If you haven't read the . . . Marketplace series, you have been missing out on some of the best S/M erotica around." "(Antoniou) gives her characters an incredible depth and provides them with unique individual voices. I believe in them. In fact, I expect to run into them on the street." The Servant's Quarters: "If you like smut with a plot, engaging characters and snappy dialogue, this (series) is for you." Shiny International: "This is domination and submission at its best -- a very well-written work that holds from page to page?" Cuir Underground: ". . quite simply, the best SM novels in decades." On Our Backs, Oct/November 2000: "Antoniou's writing is full of vividly drawn pansexual characters, quick-witted dialogue, real suspense, and scenarios so intense, colorful, and detailed, you'd swear she was really there. If you're into SM, you'll want to be there too."
Merchandise does not come easily to the Marketplace.
It never has. In years past, just finding the Marketplace required a mix of personal dedication, passion, and the investment of a great deal of time. The creators always intended it to be that way. If it were easy to find, we would be overwhelmed by applicants.
As it is, far too many intermediate applicants appear on the edges of the Marketplace, their eyes wide with pleading and frustration. They hear of us, they instantly believe in us, and then spend months, sometimes years, trying to find their way to us. They haunt the clubs and the organizations, their need so real and desperate that they exude sensual tension when they glide through the crowds. Some of them are so ripe that they intimidate the poseurs, the weekend sadists and the furtive dilettantes who are so endemic to that world. And they never stop asking where we may be found.
So few of them are truly ready. They may have flirted with the trappings of a subculture and found it to be the extraordinary aphrodisiac it is. But a steady diet of aphrodisia is far too overwhelming. To survive and to thrive in this world, an applicant must need it more then they need pleasure, more then they need the companionship of peers, more then they need even the barest personal satisfaction.
Those of you who have toyed with or even lived a term of service may wonder at just how hard it could be to attain the level of excellence required by the Marketplace. After all, you muse, these are people who will be called slaves. Owned chattel, their lives formed and polished for the pleasure and use and amusement of those whose need is to control and improve. Many of you believe that the right attitude combined with some physical charm would be more then adequate to the task.
It is not. Even the most gifted of naturals, those individuals whose wrists are naked without restraints and whose souls are bleak without guidance, need to be trained.
That is why we exist, actually. We are a gateway to the Marketplace, one of the few ways to be a part of it yet be outside of it. We are also easier to believe in, easier to access, easier to afford.
If you work hard enough and your devotion is genuine, one day you may ask someone where the Marketplace can be found. They will consider you, perhaps ask one small service of you or a deeply personal question, and they will judge whether you are ready. If you show some slight potential, they may take you home and give you what you desire. Or, if the need is very strong in you, they may grant your wish and take you on a long drive, a soft blindfold locking out the light. At the end of that drive, your entire body in a state of sexual hunger and your mind obsessed with the fruition of all your deepest fantasies, you may come to our household.
I shall be awaiting you.
You will learn to hate me.
And you will remember your stay in our house for the rest of your life.
* * * *
"May I serve you tea, ma'am?" The girl's body was bent slightly forward in a subtle, exquisite, inquisitive posture. Her small white hands held the china teapot firmly, waiting for an answer. That was excellent, too. An untrained girl might have started pouring as soon as she asked the question.
"Yes, of course," the mistress of the house replied. Her eyes followed the movements of the girl as the liquid poured into the cup. The tea made a distinct sound while it ran into the cup, another perfection. When the cup was three quarters full, the pot was replaced, and the ritual continued.
"Would you like sugar, ma'am?" Then lemon, then cream. Each refusal was met with a slight bowing of the girl's pretty head. When the options were finished, she backed away from the table, her steps small and carefully placed, barely disturbing the slender golden chain that wound between her white, high-heeled shoes.
She was pretty, small and delicately shaped. She was well suited to the serving ensemble she wore, the tight-corseted bodice and the lightly ruffled apron. Her curly, light brown hair cascaded down her back, the pert lace cap pinning it back. Her deep green eyes were always lowered in humility, long lashes charmingly fluttering. The wisps of hair which seemed to carelessly escape from the cap to frame her heart-shaped face were in fact cunningly arranged to suggest disarray.
Cute, Alexandra Selador thought, as she drank some tea. Far too cute for her own good.
"That will be all, Claudia," Mistress Madeleine said, her voice strong and tightly controlled. Alexandra nodded and her majordomo came forward to leash the girl and remove her from the room. The two women waited until the servants had gone to relax back into their chairs. They laughed together at the conceit.
"It's good to see you, Alex."
"And you, Madeleine. It's been far too long. You should come out and visit us more often. And Claudia is simply enchanting. It's rare you see such grace in that form of service these days. At least here in the States."
That comment was answered with a simple but elegant shrug. "You should come and visit us," Madeleine insisted. She smiled, her face transforming in a way few of her slaves had ever witnessed. "Did you know that we finished the pool and the deck? It's beautiful, especially at night. We light torches--it's very romantic."
"Hm, I bet it is," Alexandra murmured. "And you bring in some extra property? To serve at poolside?"
"We invite people to bring their own, but of course we try to have someone for everyone. You should have come to the last party we threw! We had some friends in from the Netherlands. They had just bought a pair of twins, big, blonde beauties. We had them dressed in nothing but slender, black chains, wound all around their bodies."
Alexandra tried to imagine that, and the image of them standing next to the tall, dark Mistress. She nodded. "That must have been nice. Boys?"
"Boy and girl. Barely spoke English, actually, but very well trained."
Alexandra whistled slightly. "Very nice indeed. Twin brother/sister combinations are very, very hot right now, especially if there's a strong resemblance." She waited politely for Madeleine to begin the business discussion. Over such an elegantly served tea, it didn't feel right to just ask what the woman wanted. Was she interested in a set of twins herself? Alexandra did a quick mental inventory. There was one pair she knew about that might be ready for training, but they were in San Francisco, a continent away, and there was no telling what kind of contracts they wanted.
"Well, there was a strong resemblance here, honey." Madeleine flashed that brilliant smile again. "Both of them had long hair, shaggy almost. They looked primitive, very ... raw. I told David to have their noses pierced. That would have completed the image. But even without that, they were a great success. Wherever they walked, people admired them. David even got a few offers."
She sighed, and finally put her cup down. "Shall we get on to business?"
"At your service, ma'am." Alexandra reached for her notepad. "What can we do for you this time?"
"I want you to take Claudia."
Alexandra's eyebrow shot up in surprise.
Madeleine nodded, her smile gone. "I want her trained."
Alexandra considered for a moment. "I have to be honest with you. I don't think we're the ones you want, Madeleine. We're entry level, undergraduate. Claudia, if I might say so, is already past the level of many of our graduates." She smiled ruefully. "But I can put you in contact with one of the master trainers, if you'd like. I think Anderson is accepting new applicants next month."
"No, I want you to do it," came the confident reply. "Anderson is wonderful, her slaves are always perfection, but that's the problem."
Alexandra waited for the explanation. It was not every day when a client protested that they didn't want perfection. Her eyes scanned the table. There wasn't a drop of moisture on a serving utensil nor on the tablecloth. In fact, the teapot, creamer, sugar bowel and everything else seemed to be pleasingly arrayed, something she hadn't noticed before.
Madeleine stood up, looking toward the door as though she could see her property through the walls. "Claudia was meant for perfection," she began, walking away from the table. "From the first time I saw her, I could tell. It wasn't just her attitude, you can see she's a slave to her soul, but the way she devoted herself to being attentive to the slightest details. Adequate was never acceptable to her. Every once in a while, I would find her practicing ... how to move, how to curtsy, how to speak. She would watch herself in the mirror and do something over and over again until it satisfied her."
She turned to look at Alexandra. "It was intoxicating for a while. Of all my slaves, even the Marketplace ones, she had the most desperate drive to be perfect for me. It was worth the challenge to find fault with her. A fray on an inch of lace, a scuff on her shoe, a grain of sugar on the table, it didn't matter. I punished her heavily for every imperfection.
"And the punishments! What else could I do to such a creature but have her bent tightly over a bench and caned until she cried? And she would cry, just like the little girl she is. Every time, early on, but with grace. I taught her to stand for the cane and kiss it prettily when I was done ... they were wonderful sessions.
"With stripes across her bottom, she was even more perfect." Madeleine paused. "Do you understand?"
"I understand that you made a perfect slave," Alexandra said cautiously.
"Yes, and no. I took a perfect slave and made her more perfect. And now..."
"Now she bores you."
Madeleine nodded, a blush faintly discernible under her dark cheeks.
It was a rare but classic dilemma. Alexandra began to jot down some notes. She had heard of this happening, but had never seen the results. What did happen, owners would ask between themselves, if a slave actually achieved the perfection they were supposed to be searching for? Would master be happy? Or would the slave have surpassed the master in one of those unquantifiable ways that makes people unworthy of each other?
"So what do you envision for her?" Alexandra asked when she finished writing. "Do you want her changed into something more challenging?"
Ah, Alexandra thought, making another note. "So you've already tried."
"Well of course. As soon as I realized what was wrong, I tried to see if there were some other areas I could explore with her. But she ... resisted me." Madeleine frowned slightly at the memory. "Not directly, of course, that might have been interesting in itself. But somehow, anything outside of her role would just make her sad, or confused. I love her dearly, but she's so limited!"
"Yes, of course," Alexandra murmured sympathetically. "You'll want her back then?"
Madeleine turned back to look at Alexandra, her face composed. "If she cannot be taken beyond the role she is in now, I will want her sold."
"Does she know that?"
"No. I want her to change because she wants to please me, not because she is afraid of the possible results. Besides," Madeleine waved one hand toward the hallway, "a new owner may be what she needs. After all, I can't pretend that I had nothing to do with the state she is in. Although she came to me as a novice little maid, I was the one to enhance her training to the level she has achieved. I was the one who decided to seek perfection in this role. Perhaps with someone new, she can break out of it. Be more complete, more useful."
Alexandra underlined 'useful.' "We'll want her for one week of evaluation. After that, we'll send you a report and you can decide whether to take our recommendations. If you decide to go through the whole program, we suggest four to five more weeks, depending on how intense you want the experience to be."
Madeleine nodded, came back to sit down. She reached into her bag to draw out her calendar, and began marking down dates.
"And you know the rules here," Alexandra continued. "You will not be able to call or visit her. And of course, Claudia will have to agree to go to the block. If she undergoes the training and decides not to enter the Marketplace, you lose all the training fees. We're happy to do this for you, Madeleine, and in the way you like, but you know the risks."
"That's perfectly acceptable. Here is her file." The folder was filled with sheets of heavy, cream colored paper and photographs. "I can't tell you how much she means to me, Alex. If you can do what I ask and get her back to my house a new girl, I'll be in your debt."
"You certainly will," Alexandra said with a smile." You'll get the invoice for the evaluation tomorrow, and an estimate for the training will come with the report. As you know, it's a business doing pleasure with you." The two women laughed and finished their tea.
* * * *
Grendel read through the file before him, scanning relevant parts and occasionally glancing at the two photos on the desk. One showed a young, dark-haired man in black leather, looking in what he must have imagined to be a defiant way at the camera. It came off more petulant than angry or proud. The second was a nude shot, the same man standing in a stiff position, his arms at his side. The file wasn't very long.
"Well, you were right about one thing," he said lightly, closing the file. "This is a classic example of raw goods."
The man on the other side of the desk shrugged. "I told him he wasn't ready." Paul Sheridan was wearing his own black leather. But in sharp contrast to the picture on the desk, Paul looked as though he lived in his leathers. They were old, well crafted, well formed to his hard body. His only concession to the summer heat was that his shirt had short sleeves. "But when he decides he wants something, he just keeps asking and asking."
Paul shrugged again. "Oh, he can be submissive when the situation is right. But he's really just a greedy bottom most of the time. A real 'stand and model' type. In fact, that's where I first saw him. It was at one of those events, you know, Mr. Leather something-or-other."
"And this was the best they had to offer?" Grendel waved over the file. "Now I know why those things never interested me."
"Yeah, well it was pretty awful. He wasn't the best maybe, but he was hot-looking. Also, he had that nice bratty attitude. Made me want to pull him off that stage and spank him 'til he cried."
The master of the house nodded, familiar with Paul's tastes. "So what do you want us to do with him?"
"Make something out of him if you can. Break through that bullshit smugness he has, get rid of that 'I want, I want' nonsense. If you can bring out his real submission, I know he can fetch a nice price somewhere." Paul examined his fingernails for a moment. "All I'm interested in is the spotters fee."
"I bet. You know, we don't usually work with talent this shallow." Grendel leaned back, his smile genuine but his voice hardening with business. "I don't think you've got market quality here, frankly. Hot leather boys with selfish needs don't rate very high in value."
"He's not all like that, Gren. There is something real in him. I've seen it, I've brought it out. Besides, I'm not asking for three months of real training here, just the basic six weeks. Just enough to fetch a nice starting price. Have I brought you any dogs before?"
Grendel grinned. "Only that puppy."
"Right!" Paul pointed at Grendel, emphasizing his words. "And he went into a two-year contract right out of training, didn't he? And traded at a 25% increase out of San Diego last year."
"So he did." Grendel flipped open the file again. He looked back at Paul from time to time. The man had a point. Paul had yet to bring someone by who didn't have some real potential in them. But taking a trainee like this was always an iffy proposition. If he didn't fetch a high enough price at his first sale, Paul only lost a spotters fee. Grendel and the house stood to lose the cost of training, and the loss of face if the training didn't last longer than the sale.
"You say he's bisexual," Grendel said, still thinking.
"Well, he says he is. But his preference is men."
"Does he know that preferences aren't allowed here?"
Grendel tapped the folder a few times and then reached for the intercom button. "Chris? Bring him in, please."
The door opened immediately, and the man from the photos walked in, followed by the majordomo. He strode to Paul's side and knelt next to his chair, keeping his eyes lowered. He was wearing artfully worn jeans covered with stylishly cut black leather chaps. His chest was bare except for a harness made of silver chain. A matching chain was around his neck, with a silver lock, and small, silver rings adorned his nipples. His hair was shorn boot-camp short, and he wore a black mustache.
No imagination, Grendel thought. "I didn't tell you that you could kneel," he said, his voice soft and reasonable.
The man looked up, then toward Paul. Paul groaned and rolled his eyes in frustration. "I warned you not to embarrass me, you scumbag. Get up!"
With a jingle of harness, the man did so, and then stood, his arms behind his back and his head lowered.
"I didn't tell you that you could avert your eyes, either," Grendel smiled. "Paul, why don't you introduce me?"
"Sure. Grendel Elliot, meet my latest boy, Brian Cohen. Brian, this is Mr. Elliot, the master of this place. If you're lucky, he'll accept you for training. But thanks to your spectacularly stupid entrance, he probably thinks you're nothing more than a cheap, thrill-seeking little leather clone, and he'll kick both of us out in the next ten minutes. After which you'll be walking the sixty miles back to Manhattan." Paul compressed his lips into a smile. He'd do it, too.
"Uh. Pleased to meet you, sir." Brian exposed a mouthful of large white teeth and he extended his hand across the desk. His attitude had gone from stylized subservience to game show host in one second. It took him two more to realize that Grendel had no intention of shaking his hand. Awkwardly, he pulled back. Unsure of how to stand, he put his hands behind his back again.
Grendel studied the man before him. He was not particularly stunning, but handsome in a dark, ethnic way. His skin didn't show evidence of a lot of time out in the sun or at a tanning salon, and his waist showed a lack of time spent in a gym. Grendel's face didn't show the slightest spark of interest as he rose and walked around the desk to study Brian a little closer. He looked as though he was dutifully examining an incomprehensible piece of art at the behest of a loved one.
Brian was clearly not used to such dispassionate observation. Within thirty seconds, he began to tense. In another thirty, he began to fidget.
"No discipline," Grendel snapped from behind him. Brian almost jumped, but managed to remain still.
"He's just shy," Paul offered.
"Are you? Shy?"
"Well, it depends, sir. I've competed in contests, and I don't think I could win if I was really shy. I, um, get nervous sometimes, but I try to get over it as best I can..."
"That is not an answer to the question I asked, Mr. Cohen. That is a series of personal observations referring to yourself far too many times in one sentence. Try answering yes or no." Grendel remained behind Brian, speaking to the back of the man's neck.
"Uh, no, sir!"
Grendel raised an eyebrow at Paul, who merely grinned and shrugged again.
"This is not very promising, Paul."
"Well, I'm sorry to waste your time, Gren. Listen, I'll make it up to you, real soon. I'll find you a muscle stud like you wouldn't believe, a god. Some guy that would eat this twinkie for breakfast." Paul started to rise, but Grendel waved him back down. Before he could begin to speak, Brian piped up.
"Please, sir, please reconsider me! I'll do better! I'll learn. I can be better, much better. I'm just nervous today, I promise you, I'll be the best slave you ever trained!"
"I wasn't speaking to you, Mr. Cohen. And if whining and making impossible promises is any indication of how you plan to be the best anything I've ever trained, you are badly, badly mistaken." Grendel put his hand out and grasped the back of Brian's neck. The man's first reaction was to stiffen up, but then he relaxed and leaned backward into the hand.
"Hm. First thing you did right."
Grendel let go and walked back around to his seat. "All right, Mr. Cohen, I'll give you one more chance. Tell me what you're good for."
Brian looked startled at the question. Although Grendel asked it of all new applicants, many of them didn't know how to answer. They invariably felt intimidated by the question, some of them afraid of boasting, others simply mystified at the implication that they should know their own capabilities.
Brian started to say something, but stopped himself on the first syllable. Some instinct in him told him that "Whatever master wants" wasn't going to fly here. Not with this man.
"Well, I can take a good beating, sir." Grendel nodded, and gestured for him to continue. "And ... and I can obey orders. I can take care of a man's leather, polish boots. Um. I can service a man..."
"Don't be evasive!"
"I can suck cock, sir. And work over a man's body, I can make love to every part of him, sir." That came out in a rush. Paul nodded, obviously agreeing.
"Can you? Show me."
Brian looked startled again, but recovered quickly and looked at Paul. When Paul made no invitation or protest, he glanced at Grendel, and then began to walk around the edge of the desk.
"Not on me, Mr. Cohen. On Chris."
Brian turned to the majordomo, who had remained standing inside the door until this time. They had not exchanged a single word in the time that Chris had been watching him, but Brian had plenty of time to study him.
Chris was a very small, compact man. He was dressed in a suit with a crisp, high-collared white shirt and a long, dark jacket, which seemed to emphasize his heavy shoulders and hide his waist and hips. His hair was dark, thick and curly, his eyes shadowed by tinted glasses with heavy steel frames. It was Chris who had answered the door and brought them to this office. After announcing Paul in a mellow tenor voice, Chris had stayed with Brian in the antechamber, silent and watchful.
Blow him? That would be easy. Little guys tended to have undersized dicks too. It would look good for Brian to dive in with enthusiasm. As the majordomo moved forward, unfastening the fly of his pants, Brian slid to his knees and moistened his lips.
He put his hands behind his back as he had been taught, and waited for Chris to pull out his cock. The first indication that things were not as they should be was when Chris's hand had to actually slide into his fly to grasp it. Maybe he's not that tiny, Brian considered, giving his lips another swipe. No big deal, I can handle it.
But he couldn't handle what came out of those pants. For although the size was indeed respectable, it lacked one important element for any devoted cocksucker. His eyes widened as he gazed at it, and without a single cognizant thought, his head snapped back and his hands loosened from behind his back. He heard his own voice echo in the room. Instantly he gasped, and then compressed his lips in trepidation. He screwed his eyes shut for what he knew was coming.
"You stinking, good-for-nothing fuck-up!" Paul exploded. "You're going to be lucky if anyone ever takes you home as anything but a cheap trick, you lousy son of a..."
"Paul, Paul, please." Grendel held up one hand as he jotted one more note down. "No need to raise your voice. Chris, you may put that away."
Still mute, the majordomo did as told, tucking it back into his pants. Brian remained where he was, a deep blush growing at the back of his neck and a trickle of sweat sliding down his back. I screwed up big time, he thought, grinding his teeth. I don't believe my big, fucking mouth. Oh, that was rich, Brian buddy, just shout it out like this was the first time you ever tried any of this. What's the big deal if the guy ... ?
He glanced up at Chris, who seemed entirely unaffected by the exchange. Brian shuddered involuntarily and then ducked his head down again. Whatever this guy was didn't matter any more. Brian wouldn't have to worry about ever seeing Chris or Mr. Elliot ever again. Paul would kill him when they got out of here.
It took me four months to get him to admit that he knew about this place, and I blow it in the first ten minutes, he thought in a flurry of self-condemnation. He lowered his chin until it almost touched his chest and didn't look up as Chris walked away from him.
But Paul was smiling. Grendel hadn't stopped taking notes, and that was an excellent sign.
"This is what I'm offering you, Paul," Grendel finally said. "We'll evaluate him as usual. If he passes, and we think he can get better, we'll take him on as a total novice. Your commission will be cut by fifty percent for our trouble. If he fails and proves to be a loss, you owe us his estimated value on your next find."
Paul laughed. "Cut the commission only ten percent and I'll guarantee your choice on the next one. If he fails, I'll cut my fee fifty percent on whatever I bring you."
"I hate to quibble. Twenty-five, plus our choice on the next one with a ten percent decrease in your fee. No change on the failure, take it or leave it."
"OK. But only because I know that he's quality and that you're the only people in the world who can bring it out. And get a mark-up worth my time." The two men shook hands over the desk.
Brian was almost in shock as Chris reappeared, bearing a key. The chain around his neck was taken off and returned to Paul. He was so flustered that Paul's voice had to filter through his confusion gradually, like light coming through a dense fog.
"...and you do as they say, boy. Did you hear me?"
"You'll see, Gren. He's got the potential."
Grendel stood up and closed the file. "We'll let you know in one week, Paul. Chris? Take Mr. Cohen to the dorm, please."
Brian turned back as he got up. "Thank you, sir, you won't be sorry--" and immediately knew that he had made yet another grave error. Paul's grimace told him so.
"And gag him," Grendel said softly. The majordomo nodded and pushed Brian out the door. As they were exiting, Grendel turned back to Paul with a devilish glint in his eyes. "Our choice for your next find? How about a pair of twins..."
* * * *
"May I serve you tea, ma'am?" The server's body was bent awkwardly forward. His large hands held the teapot gingerly, aware of how much more fragile it seemed when those blunt, calloused fingers were wrapped around the delicate handle. He started pouring at once.
Alexandra cut off her reply as he poured and studied him some more, unabashedly amazed at the sight.
He had to be over six feet tall in his stocking feet, so the grotesquely large high-heeled shoes he was wearing made him seem like a giant. The corset-style maid's costume he wore emphasized the broad expanse of his back. A beautiful wig gave him styled locks of bleached-blond hair which contrasted with the barely discernible shading on his cheeks and chin.
"Would you like some sugar, Mistress?" His voice was scaled up to approximate something feminine. Alexandra declined, and he offered the sugar tray toward the woman who brought him, who waved it away. With a slight rattle, he replaced it on the table and reached for the lemon. His offering was stiff, and his hand trembled, and when he replaced the lemon, the china rattled some more. He whimpered.
Alexandra narrowed her eyes as he lifted the creamer. They followed his shaking hand as he poured a little cream into the other woman's cup and droplets spilled down the side.
"Oh dear, oh dear! I'm so sorry Mistress!" That comic-opera voice grated.
"Just serve the sweets, Roberta," came the icy reply.
The creamer quickly found its way to the table, where it left a growing stain. The man in the maid's uniform hurried in ridiculous little steps to the sideboard, where he picked up the waiting tray and turned around. But as he stepped toward the table, the stiletto heel of his right shoe caught on the edge of the carpet.
Alexandra closed her eyes.
The man stumbled, lost his balance, and the tray shook in his hands. His face a mask of horror, he tried to regain his feet and succeeded, but the tray had tilted too far already. A plate of cookies slid neatly off.
Alexandra heard the dull thumping of the tray hitting the floor and sighed. What a stereotype. But when she opened her eyes to see the damage, the only thing on the floor was the tray. The plate of cookies was in the man's hand. His knees were still bent. He had caught the plate before it fell, sacrificing the tray. Nice move. But totally irrelevant in the context of the scene.
He had also started to cry.
"Oh, dear! I'm so sorry, Mistress! I am so bad! Please don't punish me, I didn't let them fall! Please?" He sniffed.
"That will be enough ... Roberta. Chris, please?" Alexandra beckoned, and Chris came forward, picked up the tray and replaced it on the sideboard, and took the plate from the man's hand. Placing it on the table, he gave a slight bow to the two women, and then took the sniffling man by the elbow and led him from the room. Alexandra watched them leave with a sigh.
"What was that?" she asked, ignoring the tea.
"That was a perfectly good slave, absolutely ruined ... ruined! by some amateur bimbos who called themselves 'mistresses!'" Ali glared at the closed door. "Do you believe it? The first time I saw him, I thought it was a joke, some kind of one-time role switching, maybe a punishment. The woman who 'owned' him," she raised her fingers to make imaginary quotation marks, "was, well..." She sighed and said a name and Alexandra nodded. "You know, Ms. Famous All Around the World, I've been on Donahue, and I charge $400 an hour to do this stuff so I'm much better then anyone at it?"
Alexandra laughed and nodded. Yes, she knew the type and knew the particular woman involved as well.
Ali continued. "But then I realized that this woman was proud of the way he was trained! She actually wanted to take him on some sleazy talk show and show him off as her great success! I tell you, I almost smacked her I was so angry!"
Ali Cruz was an expert in a specialized field. She had not been born a woman, but achieved that status after years and years of effort. Her skills in teaching others in similar positions made her a much sought-after mentor, but her focus was on those who not only desired a change in gender but in lifestyle as well. Any transgender property of Marketplace value in this part of the country could be traced to Ali or one of her students or friends. They were all uniquely qualified to deal with the combined needs and pressures of their clients. Ali had been to the house many times before.
"He ... Robert? ... he doesn't really want to change, does he?" Alexandra asked, opening his file. It was very brief.
"No! Oh, God, no. Could you imagine? He'd be an Amazon!" Ali rolled her eyes. "He'd be a silly-looking Amazon. But can you believe it? That ... woman he was with wanted him to go for electrolysis. And he has got to have beautiful body hair ... when it grows back. You'll see. And Alexandra ... his cock. It's beautiful. Huge. Mama, men would kill for such a cock. And he's ashamed of it. That's how I met him. He was actually attending meetings asking about where he could get it cut off! To please his mistress, he said."
Alexandra shrugged. "Not unheard of."
"You're telling me? I hear it all the time. But he's not really like that, Alexandra. He's all man, inside and out. He's just a little confused, about the slave part. I know, believe me. He's a natural slave. Trust me on this, babe, have I ever lied to you? Of course not! It's just that he needs to be ... deprogrammed."
"Ah. You mean, he's stuck."
Ali nodded. "Too many women told him that he should behave like that and look like that if he was going to be submissive to women. And Mistress Prime Time, She Who Must Know Everything, told him so. What else could he do? He wanted to be a slave, and that's how he was told slaves should act." She shook her head.
"Well, somewhere in there, he made the decision to put those clothes on," Alexandra commented. "You can't blame it all on the tops."
"Of course not! But still, it's a sin. I want you to do whatever you do, find out what he's good for, and get him out of those stupid clothes. He wants to be owned, Alex. He needs it. But like this? You couldn't move him for play money."
"Do you know," Alexandra asked in between making marks on her notepad, "he's the second maid I've seen today? But we'll take him."
"You're an angel. A miracle worker! Have a good time with him." Ali brought her notebook out, bracelets jangling, and wrote down some notes. "If he gets through the evaluation, keep him as long as you need to. He wants to be sold to a woman, but I told him about house rules. I told him everything." She stressed the last word, glancing up to give it extra meaning. The two women shook hands warmly.
"It's always good to see you, Ali. I'll call you in a week and let you know how Robert does in the evaluation. Now ... how about if we step outside and have some iced tea? Served without the embellishments?" They laughed and left the room together.
* * * *
Robert had followed the little man, sniffling and sobbing, away from the scene of his disgrace. At some distance from the room, they turned a corner, and his escort stopped and let him go. Robert immediately gave a long whimpering moan and slid against the wall.
I embarrassed Her, he thought as he mourned. And myself. I'm such a bad slave, I can't do anything right! I'll never get sold, I'll never find a mistress, I'll never get it! Tears continued to flow, and the sounds he made as he sobbed were alternately harsh and deep and high-pitched and whining.
Finally, he realized that Chris wasn't reacting. Cautiously, he opened his eyes.
Chris was holding out a clean, white handkerchief. Robert reached out and took it, his hand shaking, and hurriedly dried his eyes. Shadow and mascara stained the linen.
"Th-thank you," he sniffed, dabbing at the wet spots on his face. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be a trouble ... oh! Look at what I did!" He stared at the soiled square in shame and then crumpled it in his hand and dropped to his knees. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, it's all my fault!" The bend of his body ill-suited his tall frame, the position was comical to the point of being ludicrous.
The majordomo calmly extended a hand. "At this time, this behavior is inappropriate, Mr. Grafton," he said. "Please get up and accompany me. If you are accepted for training here, we will discuss your behavior and faults. Now, you are a guest."
His voice was soft and edged with a city accent. Robert looked up in confusion and then allowed himself to be raised. "Um. I'm sorry. I didn't realize..." He sniffed one last time and offered the handkerchief back. "I'm really making a big mess, aren't I?" His voice remained in the stylized "maid" aspect.
"I couldn't say, Mr. Grafton. Now please come with me. You will be informed how the meeting went when the ladies are through." He gently took the handkerchief back and folded it before putting it into his pocket.
"Yes, yes, of course. I'm sorry. You're very kind. Much better then I deserve. Are ... are you a master here?"
Chris, who had started to turn away, twisted back to look up into Robert's eyes. He smiled, his eyes dark behind the glasses.
* * * *
"How did I end up with two French maids, that's all I want to know," Alexandra complained.
"Just lucky, m'dear." Grendel put Robert's file back on the table. They were in the garden, the late afternoon sun warming and pleasant. Just past the ornamental hedges and along a stretch of lawn, the brown rails of the paddock could be seen. They were far from the public roads, and the sounds of birds and an occasional snort or cry from the stable made a soothing background for their consultations. From inside the house, they could also hear the cook preparing a meal for their three applicants.
"At least you have Claudia to work with. That's certainly a consolation for you. It's not often we see such perfection."
"Ah, not true."
Grendel looked up for a moment and then winked. "You're right, you're right. But still, she's the star of this group. My second interview never even showed up. I told Chris to contact the next on the list. Have you noticed how quality continues to plummet? We never had so many no-shows before."
Alexandra nodded absently.
"And this Brian!" Grendel sighed dramatically. "Barely acceptable. If Claudia bores you so much, maybe you'd like to trade?"
"Ah, no. That kind leaves me cold. Let me see him when you put the fear of God into him."
They both looked up when Chris politely cleared his throat. He was standing between the open glass doors. "Excuse me, Ma'am. Sir. Ms. Sharon Brosa is here."
Grendel raised one eyebrow. "What time is it?"
"Four forty-five, Sir."
"Great start," Alexandra commented wryly.
"I'll see her in my office. Tell her I'll be there in ten minutes." He turned back to Alexandra before Chris left. "See what I mean? No more quality. An hour and a half late, and she didn't even call. Didn't even ask Chris to deliver her sincere apologies and beg our forgiveness."
"And she's all yours," Alexandra said with a malicious grin.
* * * *
Sharon followed the guy who answered the door, smoothing her skirt over her hips. He was real short. Bad enough it cost so much for the car service and they got lost anyway, bad enough her skirt was wrinkled and her hair was starting to uncurl from the heat. But the least she expected was that the door would be opened by some tall, muscled, naked slave or something like that.
Nope, only some quiet guy who looked at her like she was from New Jersey or something. And he wasn't a butler or anything, because he wasn't dressed up like one. And she knew he wasn't the master here because she had descriptions of the two people who ran the place.
He didn't even offer to take her bag.
He had taken her to a small room where she waited with nothing but a large, fresh flower arrangement and a hard bench for company. She sat down and tapped her feet impatiently.
All this way and they keep me waiting. You'd think they'd send people out looking for me by now. I hope they realize it wasn't my fault. Maybe they're trying to psych me out? Maybe this is some kind of power thing already?
The guy from the door came back, his sudden appearance startling her.
"Jeeze!" she exclaimed. "Give some warning, will you?"
"My apologies," the guy said smoothly. "Mr. Elliot will see you in his office in the north wing. You may leave your piece of luggage here. Please follow me."
More surprises. She had expected rich furnishings and a castle, like in the story books. Instead, the house was clearly modern and decorated with a light, contemporary style. Large windows allowed the afternoon sunlight to penetrate the corridors. When they passed a dining room with open doors, she saw someone laying the table. Disappointingly, she was also fully and plainly dressed.
"Don't you have slaves to do the work around here?" she asked as they reached the stairway.
"Sometimes." Chris turned down a wide hallway, opened a door and indicated that she enter the room. She walked into an office showing a lot of use. File cabinets lined one wall. A table was piled with papers and folders and stacks of correspondence. There was a computer in one corner, and at least two phones that she could see. A large oak desk dominated the room, with a sturdy leather chair behind it. Two more chairs were angled in front of the desk, and she walked over to one. Sunlight poured in the large windows behind the desk. There was a view of a driveway and a grove of trees beyond.
"Mr. Elliot will be here in ten minutes, Ms. Brosa. Please do not seat yourself or disturb anything in the room."
She stopped herself as she was sitting down. "I can't sit?"
"For ten minutes?" But Chris was already leaving, and closing the door behind him. She walked over to the door and reached for the handle, her indignation growing. But she stopped herself.
It's a trick, she realized. If I chew the little guy out, I won't be acting submissive. She grinned. Ten minutes? He'll come in five. He'll be expecting to surprise me, like I'd be sitting down and he'd come in all of a sudden. Not this babe, buster.
She put her purse down on the floor next to one of the chairs. I'll just wait here like it's the most natural thing in the world. Five minutes isn't that long. She checked her watch.
As the seconds ticked past, she glanced around the room. It was obviously a working office. It wasn't dirty, but it could probably use some organizing. Where were the house slaves, anyway? This wasn't anything like the books. In the books, everyone was drop-dead gorgeous, and the slaves walked around naked, or wearing bikinis and stuff like that. They lived in pristine palaces or in Victorian mansions with luxurious play-room dungeons in the basements, where masters and mistresses lolled around being waited on. They didn't hang out in boring offices surrounded by paperwork.
She checked her watch impatiently, and then wandered over to the table and looked at the items spread over it. Maybe there were slave files here. Maybe some pictures? No such luck. Bills. Lists. A diagram of something, she wasn't sure what. A Rolodex was open to some guy's name and number somewhere in Maine.
The bookcase was also dull. No mysterious books on the training of slaves. In fact, there weren't even any of the classic books that she read. Instead, it was all computer books. And some sailing books, a big dictionary, a bunch of business books. She looked at her watch again. It was already five minutes, thank God, but the guy wasn't there.
Huh. Double psych-out, she thought. Like he figured I'd figure him to be here in five, but he really meant ten. Damn, this stuff could get confusing. She picked up a small glass dog, looked at it and put it back. Was he really going to make her wait a whole ten minutes?
Over to the desk to see if there was anything interesting there. Ah-hah! Right on top, a file folder with her name neatly typed on the label. She glanced at the door, and then at her watch. Two minutes to go, just enough time to take a peek. She picked it up and opened it to find only one sheet of paper inside. It had her name at the top, and absolutely nothing written on it anywhere else.
Damn! She carefully put it back. Where was the letter she sent? Where were the pictures? How long was this guy going to make her wait?
Pacing filled out the rest of the ten minutes before she considered the effect all that walking would have on her hair. She touched it up neatly and had the brush back in her purse before she realized that ten minutes were up. Now he was late! And her legs were starting to hurt. It was almost a two-hour ride in the car, and she was tired and stiff.
Minutes dragged by.
Is he going to make me wait an hour? That horrified thought came to her about the tenth time she checked her watch. Standing up? She walked to the door and reached for the door handle. Enough was enough. But as soon as her hand touched it, it turned by itself. Sharon shrieked and leapt back from it.
"Jesus! You scared me!" she cried. Expecting to see the little guy again, she found that she had to look up. The man standing in the doorway was taller and broader, his shoulders at the height of her nose. He was casually dressed, in jeans and a button-down shirt. His hair was black and longish, his beard a close-cropped mass of black salted with silver.
Oh shit. He fit the description she had been given. She composed her features at once and knelt gracefully, the skirt swirling around her legs in an elegant way. She had practiced this move hundreds of times, and knew that it was beautiful. She bowed her head slowly. Don't speak until spoken to, she reminded herself.
Grendel looked down and then walked past her. "I'm glad to see that you aren't injured, Ms. Brosa." He sat down behind the desk, the leather chair creaking.
Sharon raised her head a little. He had just walked by, without noticing what she did! She turned her head, but the angle was wrong, she couldn't see him. Now what? What should she do?
"Why don't you take a seat?" The suggestion was slowly and firmly made, in a way that suggested that she was a child. Biting her lip, she rose with the same grace she used in kneeling and then took one of the chairs facing the desk.
Grendel opened a drawer and brought out the real file on her and laid it out on the desk. When no apology seemed forthcoming, he began to lay out the pages, putting the photographs to one side. Now that she was here, he realized that they didn't do her justice.
Oh, they were well done, a class act. The photographer had known what he was working with and had done very little to distract from her natural beauty. But in the flesh, she was absolutely stunning. From the gentle waves of her deep auburn hair to the curves of her toned body and her lovely legs, she was quite a prize. Her eyes, under thick lashes, were hazel.
"When you failed to appear, Alexandra and I thought that there might have been an accident," Grendel prompted.
Sharon smiled in thanks. "Oh, I'm OK. The driver was totally lost, though. I'm really sorry you had to wait."
She doesn't get it, Grendel realized. He sighed and referred to the papers before him. "I see you've never had any formal training," he began. And stopped when she frowned. "Yes?"
"Yes, I did," she said, leaning over the desk. "With Jerry! And Frank. I know I put that in there. Do you need another copy?"
"No. Your experiences with your lovers don't count, Ms. Brosa. When we refer to formal training, we are talking about a more intense and structured form of living. What you did with those two men was more of a negotiated fantasy relationship between partners who were on an equal footing." Grendel tapped the sheets of paper. "These kinds of experiences are fun, but they aren't what the Marketplace is about. And if you had approached us in the proper way, I wouldn't have to explain that to you."
"Well, I couldn't get anyone to train me the way you need," Sharon protested, trying to keep the whine out of her voice. "I asked everyone I knew, and they never even heard of you! You wouldn't believe what I had to do to just get your names!" She sat back, trying to regain her composure. Be humble, she said to herself. Be like a slave. "All my life, I've wanted this, master. All my life. But I keep running into guys who, like, do it on the weekends, you know? I want to live it. Like in the books." She nodded toward the papers. "Like I said in the letter."
"So you stole information about this house from the office of a friend of ours," Grendel noted.
Sharon visibly trembled. Did he really know that? Or was he bluffing? This wasn't going the way she planned. What was going to happen now? Was all this for nothing?
He leaned back in the chair and watched her. She would fetch a high price if she were gagged, he thought. But the minute someone got her home, her flaws would become as apparent as her physical appeal. He remained impassive as she bowed her head (very prettily) and said, softly, "Yes, master."
"I'm not your master, Ms. Brosa. And frankly, your behavior isn't impressing me. I train people to act like that. It's nothing new to me. If you wanted to impress, you might have tried it with genuine contrition for your inexcusable tardiness, and swift admission of your felonious behavior." He suppressed the incredible desire to grin at his own pomposity, but it had the desired effect. She withered a little and then became angry.
"What do you want me to do, Mr. Elliot?" she shot back. "You want me to say I'm sorry? It wasn't my fault, but OK, I'm sorry. You want me to say that I took the stuff about you and this place from what's her name's house? OK, I did. But that was the only way I was gonna get in. All the people who know about you keep you a secret. Like you're the president, or something."
"There's a reason for that. When someone comes to us untrained and unprepared, it wastes time. For us and them." Grendel pointed at the papers and photos. "This is a good attempt at faking our file format. And I have to admit that you would make a nice decoration in someone's hallway. But you have no idea what you might be getting into."
"I know exactly what I want to get into, Mr. Elliot." She picked up her pocketbook and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. She smoothed it out and placed it on his desk. "OK, so I need some real training, maybe. But I can be the best thing that ever happened to you. Everyone who ever knew me says I was the best pleasure slave they ever saw. Take a look at that and tell me I don't know what I'm doing!"
Grendel picked the paper up and read it through. It was an excerpt from a contract, written in proper Marketplace jargon. He read it through once and then scanned it again. Then, he placed it carefully on the stack of papers in front of him.
"Who wrote this?"
Sharon looked down. "I can't tell you that."
"Well, at least you didn't try to claim that you did. This interview is over. Chris will call you a cab."
"What?" Sharon's voice scaled up in genuine surprise and anger. "You can't ... I mean, why?"
He closed the folder with the contract inside of it. "Because how could I ever expect you to be trainable if you are incapable of telling a simple truth to the people you might be training under? Ms. Brosa, this isn't a game. But never mind. I'm sure you'll be happy with someone outside the Marketplace. You might even find a situation like the one outlined in this contract. But for now, investigating who exactly wrote this document has to take priority."
Sharon panicked. "No, wait! Wait. I didn't know it was so important to you. It's just, I promised I wouldn't tell anyone about him, OK? But I won't let it screw up my chances to get in here. Could you promise that you won't tell him I told you?"
Grendel hit the intercom. "Chris, please call a cab and come and get Ms. Brosa."
"It was Joe, Joe Manelli, OK? From Forest Hills! I got his number!"
Wimp, Grendel thought, suppressing a smile.
"Aren't you going to tell him to cancel the cab?" Sharon demanded.
"I never said that I would, Ms. Brosa." He leaned back, still impassive.
"But you have to! I mean, please, please, master, I mean, Mr. Elliott, this is the most important thing I ever did in my entire life! I told you about Joe, didn't I? And read those papers, they're true, every word! I'd give up everything for a chance, OK?"
"That's what the contract says," Grendel reminded her. "Do you understand what it means?"
"Yeah! I get sold to a place and a guy like it says in the contract, and I'm a pleasure slave. For at least two years, but preferably five."
"That's what it says about your life. But do you understand about the fee?"
Sharon nodded. "You get it all."
Grendel nodded. "And you understand that this isn't the usual way we do things."
"Yeah. It's like that book about the resort hotel, isn't it? Usually the slaves get the money after the contract is over."
A long sigh. "You really got all your information about us from these fantasy books, didn't you? My God, I don't know if they do ten times more harm then good." He shook his head and pulled the contract excerpt out to read it again.
She just gazed at him, a confused look on her face. "I just wanna get trained and sold," she finally said. "And I know I can be worth a lot. Come on, Mr. Elliott, look at me! Guys fight over me."
"We will have to alter your gender preference in the contract," Grendel noted. "Slaves out of this house may not negotiate the sexual preference or gender of their future owners; it's a house rule. If it's that important to you, come back in six months with some real training and I'll refer you to a trainer who will accept that limitation with the rest of them."
She shook her head. "As long as they're single, I don't care. I've had my share of women, too. I can do it."
Grendel considered. She was hot. Very attractive, with an edge of feral rut around her, and that always went over well. She was young enough so that the lack of real records wouldn't hurt her that much. And the way the contract was written wasn't so difficult that they'd have trouble placing her. It was just her attitude! Was she submissive at all, underneath her play-acting? He wanted Alex's opinion on this one.
"We'll accept you for one week of observation and testing," he declared. "After which, if you look promising, another four to six weeks of training. But under this agreement, if we feel you need more training, we may keep you as long as we like. And you understand that you will receive absolutely no part of whatever we arrange as a selling price for you."
She nodded, her eyes sharp with anticipation.
He leaned over, hit the intercom again. "Chris, please put Sharon with the others."
"What about the cab?" she asked, helpfully.
"Chris will take care of it," Grendel said, as the door opened. "You will find that Chris takes care of a lot of things here."
As they left, Grendel picked up the phone and punched in a long number. As he waited to be connected, he read the piece of contract that Sharon had given him, shaking his head. It was very neat. It was very good.
"Hello, this is Grendel Elliott, from New York. I just accepted an applicant with a contract drawn up for her by Joseph Manelli, from Forest Hills." He spelled the last name. "No, the writing is fine, in fact, it's constructed to give the maximum benefit to the house. But the merchandise is incredibly shoddy. I'm talking barely, barely acceptable, and even then, I'm taking a gamble on it. I think this is the third time I've heard that he's working with unsuitable clients, isn't it? Yes, I thought so. Well, I just wanted to let you know. Thank you."
The beauty queen princess and the Christopher Street clone, he thought as he put the phone down. Alex always gets the interesting ones.