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Dear Agony, Page 2

Georgia Cates

  “What do you mean when you say connections? And introductions?”

  “Successful men thrive because they work hard. Hard work requires time, which means they don’t often have the luxury of going out for pleasure. That makes it difficult for them to meet women.”

  Oh. Duets Foundation must be some kind of matchmaking service or something. “I’m not interested in a boyfriend.”

  This lady is dumb if she thinks dating is anywhere on my radar. Even if I hadn’t written men off completely, my biggest concern right now is survival.

  “My clients aren’t on a mission to find a girlfriend or wife. They want clever, talented, engaging, readily available women for the evening or the week or the month. Whatever fits into their schedule. And they’re willing to pay top dollar for that woman’s time and company.”

  She isn’t doing this out of the kindness of her heart. “You mean you get paid top dollar.”

  “Every woman brought on board is a huge upfront expense for me. I employ full-time professionals to transform my duet girls from head-to-toe. Of course, that consists of the typical things like hair and cosmetics and a designer wardrobe, but it doesn’t stop there. Each woman who represents Duets Foundation must be articulate, have the ability to go head-to-head in an intelligent conversation about a wide range of topics, and demonstrate proper etiquette always. Plus, it’s imperative she’s able to defend herself in the event of an assault. I invest my time, my effort, and my money in every woman while training her. So yes, I am paid top dollar by these men. But my girls are nicely compensated as well. They stick around. The only women who have ever left Duets did so to either further their education or to marry a client after falling in love.”

  Falling in love doesn’t interest me in the least but the part about furthering an education definitely catches my attention.

  “How much does a Duets girl earn doing something like this?”

  “I require each girl to earn back the initial investment I make in her. Once she does that, I give her a fifteen percent royalty fee from what I’m paid. I know that sounds low but she keeps one hundred percent of any earnings made from her client. That could be in the form of gifts, cash, a predetermined allowance, even college tuition. Anything given to her directly from the client is hers to keep free and clear.”

  College tuition? It’s unreal that an opportunity to further my education would fall into my lap like this. Why? “I want to know how you know my name and age. And anything else you’ve dug up about me.”

  “I have a liaison at the homeless shelter. I pay her to notify me anytime a potential Duet comes through.”

  “Your liaison told you personal information about me?” No way that’s not illegal.

  “She tells me enough so I can decide if I think the girl is worth pursuing.”

  All the pieces suddenly click. “Oh my God. You’re the one the girls at the shelter call Fairy Godmother.” The woman who takes girls off the street and teaches them to be classy ladies. I thought she was an urban legend.

  “Are you asking me to become a Duets girl?”

  “I’m asking you to become something different. Something more. Something so much better. A special project I’ve been strategizing for two years. My prodigy.”

  “What makes your prodigy different from the other Duets girls?”

  “Your training would be much more in-depth. Two years minimum instead of the usual six months.”

  Two years training? Aside from the time she’d spend on me, that’s a huge financial investment. How can she place so much faith in me?

  “The end goal would be to secure a long-term companionship agreement with a single man. You’d never have sporadic arrangements with multiple men like the other girls. You’d live with your companion.”

  Long-term companionship where I’d live with him. My mind immediately skims over that part and considers what living with a companion means.

  A roof over my head. A bed to sleep in. Food in my stomach.

  If I agree to do this, I wouldn’t mind the stability to go along with it. No more living on the streets. No more hand to mouth. No more constant fear.

  Although I like the idea of safety and security, I need to know how long I’d be locked into this agreement. “What is considered long-term for something like this?”

  “Six months? A year? Two years? The timeframe would be negotiable between you and the client.”

  “I assume something like this would be expensive for the client.” She said I’d earn a fifteen percent royalty once her investment was earned back.

  “Two years of training would be costly. The only way to recoup my investment would be to charge one million dollars for your first assignment.”

  Holy smokes.

  One. Million. Dollars.

  For real?

  This is crazy talk.

  “Are you serious?”


  “Why would any man fork over that kind of money for a woman who won’t have sex with him when he could get a prostitute?” I’m certain that would be a much cheaper route.

  “When men want sex, they get a prostitute. When they want companionship with a wholesome girl they’re proud to take out in public, they come to me.”

  I don’t know what makes her think I’m wholesome.

  I’m not.

  And this sounds way too good to be true.

  “Let’s say that there’s a man who’s looking for a wholesome companion. Why would he pay a million dollars to spend time with a homeless street performer?”

  “You wouldn’t be a homeless street performer when your training ended. You’ll be beautiful. Elegant. Charming. Men will crave your company and be willing to pay big money for it.”

  It’s hard for me to believe this woman possesses the skills to make me pretty, much less beautiful and desirable.

  I’m not sure I want to be made beautiful.

  And I’m really not sure I want to be made desirable.

  I’m not completely sure I could be made beautiful or desirable. Ever.

  Every time I look at you, all I see is him.

  You ruined my life.

  I wish you were never born.

  It’s hard to comprehend why someone would see value in you when your own mother didn’t. “Why me?”

  “This is about so much more than a pretty face and sexy body. It’s going to require strength. Resilience. Loyalty. I think you possess all of those qualities.”

  No doubt about it. This year has made me stronger and more resilient. But loyal, I’m not so sure. I hold everyone at a distance. I’ve never gotten close enough to know if I’m capable of being devoted.

  “Being homeless and having no idea when I’ll eat again is scary but it’s nothing compared to the prospect of saying yes to this.” It feels like selling my soul.

  “Would you feel better if I said you won’t be matched with a man unless you approve of him and the terms of his companionship agreement?”

  I’d have a little control. “That would help.”

  "You’ll have your own terms as well, and he must abide by them or the deal is off. You won’t have to do anything you don’t agree to.”

  I inhale deeply and blow out slowly. “I don’t know about this.”

  “Let me train you for a month. If you don’t like the way things go, we’ll part ways. No hard feelings.”

  A trial period seems like a logical idea. “You do understand that if I decide to leave, I’ll have no way of reimbursing you for the expenses you’ll incur during my training?”

  Vale points to her face. “Do you see this? It’s called lack of concern.”

  She wants me. Not a prettier or smarter girl. Me. I still don’t understand why, but I’m using it as a bargaining chip to secure my future.

  “I want to go to college.” I have no idea what I want to do or become, but I know college is the only way to get where I aspire to be one day.

  “That can be arranged.”

saying yes? Just like that? No hesitation? “Then I guess you and I have an arrangement.”

  “Perfect. We start first thing in the morning.”

  “Let’s toast.” Vale lifts her glass and I mimic her because I don’t know what else to do. “Your new life. It begins now.”

  Chapter Three


  Rose Middleton


  I’m standing in a long room, one of the walls covered with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. My worst nightmare. Looking at myself in a normal-size mirror is bad enough but this is just brutal.

  “Your gait and posture are horrid.” Vale places a pair of tall black pumps on the floor in front of me. I’ve got news for her. Shoes like those aren’t going to improve my gait or my posture. I’ll probably end up face first on the floor.

  I can’t believe this. It’s seven in the morning on training day number one, and I’m already being put in heels like the ones she wears?

  “We’ll begin your stride training with these seventy-five millimeter heels. I fear you’ll break an ankle if we go with anything higher. You’ll need to work your way up to the one forties. You’re short so I’d really like to get you in some one sixties but that might be pushing it.”

  Vale is short too. I guess that’s why she wears the skyscraper kind.

  I pick up the shoes and examine them. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know the millimeter to inches conversion but at a glance I’m guessing these have about a three-inch heel. “Lou . . . boutin?”

  “Lou . . . bou . . . tin. It’s French. Nasalize the ‘n’ on the end.” Vale gestures toward the shoes with grace as though she’s treating them with respect. “Louboutin.”

  She acts as though these shoes are some kind of big deal or something. “I’ve never heard of Lou . . . bou . . . tin.”

  “You’ve never heard of Christian Louboutin?”

  I hear the disbelief in her voice but if I didn’t, I’d see it on her face. “Nope. Sorry.”

  “He’s a famous French designer. The red-lacquered sole is his signature mark.”

  Famous French designer with a signature mark. I guess that’s why she’s acting so gaga over these shoes. “That means these are expensive?”

  “These shoes are a very basic design, and they cost seven hundred dollars.” She extends her leg and points her toe to display her black four- or five-inch pump covered with gold spike studs. “These were twelve hundred.”

  “Whoooa.” That’s serious cash for something you’ll walk on.

  “A single pair of these shoes is nothing. The man you’re matched with will fill your closet with many pairs of shoes like these plus designer clothes and handbags. He’ll want you to look your best whether he’s taking you out or you’re simply sitting on the sofa for him to look at. You’ll get the total package.”

  I don’t need designer shoes and clothes and handbags. I’ll be happy with a place to live and food to eat.

  Everything Vale says about the arrangement I’ll have with the client still feels very uncertain to me. And very unlikely. I can’t wrap my head around any man wanting to buy extravagant things for me. Especially when I don’t put out.

  “Slip the shoes on and see how your body and attitude completely transform. They’ll lift you physically and emotionally.”

  She acts like stepping into these shoes will be some kind of earthmoving experience. But I’m no Cinderella and she’s no fairy godmother, even if that is what some people call her. From what she’s told me, the client I’m paired with will be neither handsome nor Prince Charming.

  Vale gave me a long talking-to last night about the type of men who seek her services. Her clients aren’t stud muffins. They’re older and unattractive, but rich and successful.

  Who am I to judge someone based on how they appear?

  Age is a number and appearance is subjective. I don’t guess it matters that he’ll look like my grandfather as long as he’s kind and treats me well.

  I look at the shoes on the floor, and I already know my body and attitude won’t be completely transformed as Vale describes. I won’t be lifted physically and emotionally. These shoes will be a guise, just as last night’s attire and cosmetics were.

  I’ll probably look like a fool trying to walk in them. And I’ll be humiliated in front of her. Again.

  She’s going to see that she was wrong. I can’t be elegant.

  Why is she wasting something so nice and expensive like this on me?

  “What’s wrong?”

  “I don’t feel right putting on a pair of shoes that cost so much.”


  “I don’t feel good enough for them.” I hate admitting that.

  Vale directs me to stand on two pieces of crisscrossed masking tape on the floor forming an X and points at my reflection. “Look at the girl staring back at you.”

  It’s grueling to lift my eyes from the floor and look at myself. I don’t want to do it.

  “Look and tell me what you see.”

  A shell. No, a cocoon. Tough with multi-layers to protect the inner butterfly. Except when it’s time to come out, she discovers she isn’t a butterfly at all. She’s a moth.

  Vale grasps my shoulders. “Who is that girl?”

  “Rose Middleton.”

  “I want you to tell me who Rose Middleton is.”

  I look at the skinny girl with unruly hair. The pale complexion. The eyes that can’t ever decide if they want to be gray, brown, or green. “Rose Middleton is nobody.”

  “How do you feel about that girl in the mirror? Besides her being a nobody.”

  This is the part where I’m supposed to clam up. Pretend all is well. Tell lots of pretty lies so I appear okay. But I’m not going to this time. This woman is making a huge investment in me. She deserves to know what she’s getting so she can toss me back if she wants. “I hate her.”

  “What do you hate about her?”

  “Her face. Her hair. Her body. Her weakness. I. Hate. Everything. About. Her.”

  “How can you hate everything about her?”

  “She’s filthy. And stupid. And ugly. Nothing but a nuisance.”

  Vale walks around to stand in front of me so we’re face to face and her eyes are glassy. “Is that what you were told?”

  “That, among a lot of other hateful things.” It’s hard admitting that the only person in the world who is supposed to love you said such horrid things.

  “It isn’t true. You aren’t filthy or stupid or ugly or a nuisance. Not even close. You are a beautiful young woman, and you are deserving of good things and happiness.”

  Vale lowers herself and positions the shoes in front of me. “And you’re deserving of Louboutins on your feet.”

  I instantly grow three inches when I step into the shoes and rise eye to eye with Vale. It’s impossible to ignore the compulsion eating at me to lower my head or look away.

  “Don’t do that. Don’t cast your eyes downward like you’re unworthy. Maintain eye contact. It conveys confidence and comfort.”

  “But I’m not the least bit confident or comfortable.”

  “Maybe you aren’t at ease right now but you will be in time. It’s one of the things your companion will take pleasure in.”

  Companion. That’s a really scary word for someone like me. I’m making myself vulnerable to a man—one I don’t know. Why would I even consider that when the men I’ve known have proven how truly evil they can be?

  Am I so desperate to get off the streets that I’m willing to do something like this? Let a stranger buy my time and companionship?

  Yes, I am just that desperate. And there’s an upside. Becoming companion to one man means I’m vulnerable to a single person. Living on the streets has proven I’m susceptible to danger with every person I encounter.

  I’m only nineteen but already so old. And so tired. Being on the defense every moment of your existence since birth is exhausting. I just need a little break. A littl
e rest. A little security. Is it so wrong to take advantage of what’s being offered if it diverts me from my daily hell?

  This arrangement won’t last forever. I’ll take this time to get on my feet. And hopefully learn some things in the process from a successful businessman. A mentor. Someone to show me how to be successful in life.

  A business deal. That’s all this is. That makes me a savvy businesswoman. Not an escort. Not a prostitute. Not a whore.

  Vale sees me so differently to how I’ve seen myself. Could it be true? Could what she’s offering allow me to start building a life? One that brings me happiness?

  You aren’t filthy or stupid or a nuisance. Not even close. You are a beautiful young woman, and you are deserving of good things and happiness.

  Could those things be true?

  Vale places one hand on my lower back and presses forward as she pushes my upper chest backward. “Stand up straight. Lift your chest but keep your ribcage tucked.” She circles me, studying my posture, and taps the tops of my upper arms. “Relax your shoulders but don’t slump. Roll them backward.”

  I think my stride training coach means poke out my boobs.

  She stands in front of me and places her fingers beneath my face. “A slight lift of the chin makes you visibly confident. Too much lift and you appear arrogant. It’s a fine line, Rose. Be careful to not cross it. My clients don’t care for women who look down their noses. Reminds them of their snooty wives. They pay for warm and welcoming.”

  My mental brakes come to a screeching halt. I’m surprised smoke isn’t coming out my ears. “You didn’t say anything about an affair with a married men.”

  “Because that’s not what it would be.”

  I beg to differ. “Being a companion to a man with a wife is cheating even if the relationship isn’t sexual.” It would be emotional infidelity. I think that would be far worse than any physical indiscretion. But what do I know? I’ve never been married. Heck, I’ve never even had a boyfriend.

  “My girls do all sorts of activities with their companions. Golf. Tennis. Casinos. Concerts. Ballgames. It’s not considered cheating when he does those things with his male friends so why is it cheating because he does it with a woman?”