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Scarlett Promise (The Scarletts Book 5)

Scarlett Promise (The Scarletts Book 5)

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Sometimes the wrong choices brings us to the right places...Kicked to the curb with nowhere to go and no one to turn to, Lisa Barclay was in the unenviable position of being homeless. With no money and no one to turn to she had to do the unthinkable and prostitute herself. But that was just the beginning...Her first customer turns out to be a surprise and what happens next is an adventure in discovery.
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Chapter One

Lisa stood in the shadows of the business place, her arms and legs bare. Goose pimples had taken over her skin, and it felt rough. She chafed it a bit, hoping for some warmth to enter her body. The wispy pieces of fabric that she had worn tonight for business barely concealed her plus-sized figure in the cold December night. It had rained earlier, and the place had been overcast all day, and then the wind had started from the sea. It was the chilliest she could ever remember it being in Portmore, and she had lived in the area most of her life.
The circumstances that necessitated her being on the road at this time of the night in skimpy clothes and a giant wig, trying to look appealing to the leering men driving by, also added to her agitation. She was operating on pure adrenalin—mild shock. Two weeks before Christmas and her once-normal world was now in shambles.
Her grandmother, Vera Lumsden, had made sure of that in the meanest way possible. Lisa had overheard her grandmother and her friend, Miss June, discussing her just this morning.
She closed her eyes as the conversation played in her head.
"June, I don't know what I am going to do about Chubs." Her grandmother's voice was gravelly and had a snide, mean quality. "I have done my duty, took her in when Nadine died. Chubs is twenty this year, and she needs to go. I don't want her around anymore."
"But why kick her out?" June asked. Her voice was high-pitched, always irritating if listened to too long. She was also Miss Vera's only friend. Miss Vera was not very well liked in the community. "You have three bedrooms, and the two of you live here alone."
"I am not kicking her out," Vera said, a hint of guilt in her voice. "It's just that Desmond is coming here to live with his girlfriend and three children. I see no way that having Chubs around can work. One, she is big. You see her! She can't share a room with nobody. And two, she eats like a horse, and she doesn't work. She is not bringing in any money. She is not earning her keep."
"She lost her job at the bar?" June asked nasally.
Lisa had slumped at the end of the door when she heard Miss June's question. She had recently lost the job, and while she worked, she gave her grandmother her entire salary.
"Yeah," Vera grunted. "The owner said she wasn't friendly enough to the customers."
"Friendly as in...oh." June cackled. "Good for her."
"Good for her?" Vera hissed. "That girl hasn't been able to keep a job since high school…The supermarket, the ice cream parlor, the restaurant, the bar... she might as well try her hand at Back Road. I hear the girls over there earn good money."
"No!" Miss June gasped. "Don't say that, Vera. Please. Chubs is just twenty. Maybe if she went back to school?"
"Who will send her?" Vera growled. "I am not wasting one more cent on that girl. She is not even Nadine's real child."
"What?" Miss June sounded confused. And so was she. Lisa pressed even closer to the door.
"It is a well-kept secret." Vera lowered her voice and then said hesitantly, "Nadine was mental for a while. They call it post-partum depression or something like that. The doctor said she had lost the baby, and that contributed to her condition but when we went to the hospital to get Nadine, she had a baby in her arms."
"Maybe the doctor was wrong," Miss June said.
"Have you looked at Chubs lately?" Vera asked. "She has red hair and those green-brown puss eyes. Where in our family do you see those things?"
"Maybe her father's family?" June asked.
"Nope. Ezra Barclay looked nothing like Chubs. Nadine looked nothing like Chubs. I have no family with red hair and puss eyes. I am very sure that Desmond is my son though and his children, my grandchildren. So Chubs has to go, and I am going to tell her this morning."
"But where is she going to go?" Miss June almost wailed the question that was screeching in Lisa's head.
"Don't know. Don't care. You take her if you are so concerned."
"I can't." Miss June almost sounded sorrowful. "I just took in two girls from church, the ones that lost their parents in the fire."
"Well, having Chubs would be like having two girls, she's that big," Vera said dryly. "You are not the only one doing their Christian duty. I had Chubs for thirteen years! And I didn't have to do it, mind you. The government could have taken her and put her in one of them girls' homes."
Vera got up and stretched and headed to the front door where Lisa was crouching. The shock had kept Lisa rigidly stuck at the door, unable to process what she heard, and she didn't have any time to move away before she was caught.
Vera didn't even flinch on finding out that she was overheard. "Pack your things and leave, Chubs," the old lady had said in her cold, steely voice. "You are an adult; you need to make your own way."
"But you are kicking me out to accommodate Desmond, who is fifty-two, and he'll be staying here with his girlfriend, a girl who is not much older than me, with three children who may or may not be his!"
"Shut up and start packing." Miss Vera had drawn up to her full six feet height; her eyebrows were creased into a heavy frown.
Lisa shuddered when she remembered how Miss Vera had stood over her while she packed her two bags. What could not fit in the bags was left behind in her closet. She had even forgotten to take some shoes. They couldn't fit anyway.
Vera had opened the door and pointed to the gate. "And don't come back till you have fixed your attitude, madam. And don't let me hear you saying anything bad about Desmond and Racquel again!"
Lisa had paused to look at the house with its blue awnings and the bright orange blooms of the bougainvillea tree that was beside it. She then shifted her gaze to look at Miss Vera's mean face and turned around, bags in hand, and looked at the uncertain world in front of her and burst out crying.
Miss June had said something calming from the veranda; it sounded like, you’ll be all right, Chubs. You'll be fine. God does not forget orphans.
She had walked down Juniper Street where Miss Vera's house was and turned off on Camden Close and stopped under a mango tree. She had nowhere to go, no money in her wallet, no identification. She had left that at Miss Vera's.
She sat on one of the bags with her head in her hand. Who could she call? No one.
Wait! She gulped back tears. Jackie Lowe. She had met Jackie at the bar where she worked. Jackie had filled in for another bartender girl who had the flu. Lisa had instantly liked Jackie.
Jackie was open and fun and was the first person to tell her that she was pretty. When Lisa looked in the mirror, she always saw a lump of fat with ugly red hair and ugly puss eyes. For years, Miss Vera had said she looked like a pig and that her generous lips could be a snout, and she had grown up believing it.
But Jackie had said she was pretty; she never forgot that. She knew where Jackie lived because one evening, they had walked home from the bar together and Jackie had pointed to the unkempt yard and said, "That's where I lay my head at night."
She got up, bags in hand, and headed to Jackie's place. Jackie did not seem surprised to see her.
She offered to keep her bags, but she couldn't keep her.
"I'd love to, but I already share the room with someone."
Jackie shared the house with three other girls. The four of them worked as dancers at Jimmy's Go-Go club, and two of them supplemented their income by prostituting themselves on Back Road.
"The money is good," Jackie said, echoing Miss Vera words. "You could make rent in one night. Some men like the juicy girls and you are pretty and juicy. After we are done making you up and wigging you up, you'll look like dancehall queen, Carlene, back in her heyday. And it's December, honey. You could make quite a bit of money."
Jackie and her friends had cackled at the rhyme. And just like that, Lisa Chubs Barclay was thrown into 'the business'.
She moved closer to the wall and clamped her legs together, trying to stop her teeth from chattering; at least her thick curly wig gave her head some warmth. That was a blessing.
She looked over at the other girls, who were dressed as scantily as she was. Cecelia was the most practical; she had on a long-sleeved sweater blouse that plunged toward her nipples and a skirt with a split. She was slender and quite doll-like in appearance. All the girls envied her; she got the most customers and went home with much more money than everyone else. At least that was Jackie had whispered to her when they dropped her off at the spot. She had to work at Jimmy's; she'd be back later to do a session or two, she had whispered.
Lisa felt as if she was thrown off the deep end.
A car drove by, and a guy stuck his head out. Prostitutes will burn in hell. Hell fire! Hell fire!
Some of the girls fanned him off and chuckled.
Lisa's shuddering started up again. When her mother was alive, she would take her to church. She hadn't been to church since living with Miss Vera.
She was probably not even her granny. The thought came to Lisa as she stood there shivering. Her mother was not her mother; her father was not her father. She didn't know who she was. A hysterical sob threatened to overpower her. She had tried hard not to think about that part of the conversation that she had overheard. Miss Vera was a conspiracy theorist, and she had been searching for ways to justify chucking her out on the street. So, it might not even be true. What she suggested was ridiculous anyway.
An expensive car slowly made its way down the long road. It was cruising, not zapping by like the others—a potential customer.
The girls rejected their indolent positions and assumed an air of sultry sophistication. Lisa was too stiff and chilled to move.
The car stopped near her, and the windows rolled down slowly. Cecelia went over to the car, preening as she walked. The person in the dark interior of the car chuckled at Cecelia's elaborate swagger.
Then Lisa felt his eyes on her.
“Come here,” he crooked his finger.
She got up from the wall; her first customer was going to be a rich one? She walked over to the car reluctantly. This was it!
This was the moment when she finally descended into the miry bowels of indecent living. This was the moment when she killed the little voice that had always seemed to keep her in check. There was no turning back now. She would be giving up the last shreds of dignity right now.
Her feet faltered at the door that he opened. Its gleaming black doors were shiny in the half dark.
"Get in." His voice was mellow, soothing, fatherly—familiar?
She slid into the plush interior of the car and looked at him. He was an older man, straight face, with a hooked nose and watery eyes as if he had probably drunk too much. She knew that look from her time working in the bar.
“Aren’t you going to seduce me?” He turned to her, a trace of amusement in his voice.
“Er…” Lisa's well-rehearsed spiel fled her mind. What had Jackie told her again? Five thousand for a blow job, ten thousand for intercourse.
“So, you are new at this?” he asked, looking at her skimpy costume and then contemplatively at her curly wig.
Lisa cleared her throat. "Yes."
"Virgin?" he asked, raising an eyebrow incredulously.
"Yes." She nodded again.
"In this day and age," he laughed. "If you are putting me on, don't bother. I am not really the teacher type, and I am not particularly fond of the innocent."
"Not putting you on," Lisa muttered, feeling all sorts of icky for having the conversation in the first place.
"Well, well, I could tell that you are new. You don't have the hard look like the others. You look like a deer caught in headlights."
He muttered, "How old are you?"
"Twenty," Lisa said, automatically telling the truth. She had lost the script; she shouldn't have told him her real age. Jackie had said don't answer any personal questions.
"Mmmph," the man grumbled. "You'll do, virgin or not."
He switched on the ignition and started driving slowly. “What’s your name?”
“Chubs,” Lisa croaked. That was going to be her street name; only a fool gave her real name in the business, another thing that Jackie had told her.
He wound up the window with a click of the button on the fancy side panels on the door and looked over at her. “Is that better? I realized you were shivering.”
Lisa nodded and relaxed into the seat slightly.
He wasn't intimidating. He would probably make her foray into the selling of flesh a little better than she had hoped.
He drove slowly. His fingers were long, and he wore a ring. An obvious wedding ring.
Poor wife, Lisa thought offhandedly.
He glanced at her and saw her looking at the ring and sighed. “She died a year ago from cancer.”
“Where are we going?” Lisa asked him belatedly.
They were now in the nicer part of Portmore. The houses were not as close together; they were elaborately designed set in large spaces and away from the street very much unlike where she had lived with Miss Vera in the scheme where you could hear your neighbors breathing.
“My place is here.” He stopped before a tall black gate and glanced over at her. “I just want to talk first. I like to work myself up to the main event. I am probably perfect for your first customer. I am old and not as randy as I used to be in my younger days.”
He chuckled at the joke. "I'll pay you for the whole night though. Hell, I'll pay you for the whole month. I just got some money and I can't tell anybody about it, can't put it in my regular accounts, the dratted oversight committee; they are watching me like a hawk. I don't trust that they won’t go snooping into my bank account."
A shred of loneliness crept into his voice. "What's the use of having money... huh... when you can't spend it?"
Lisa's heart skipped a beat. She was barely listening to his ramblings. Did he say that he'd pay her for a whole month?
He opened the gate with an automatic opener. “The name is Raybourne Cross, by the way. I am a minister.”
He drove into the automatic garage and shut off the car.
“You are a pastor?” Lisa asked him incredulously.
He opened the door and laughed while doing so. “Come on, Chubs—no, I am not a minister of the gospel, I am a minister of government. I see you don't watch the news. I have a very recognizable face."
That's why his voice sounded so familiar, and when she came out of the car and glanced at him fully, she realized that he also looked very familiar. He was tall and thin, with graying hair. His eyes had deep, dark circles beneath them as if he hadn't slept for quite a while. A bead of sweat was on his top lip.
He looked tired and older in the harsh light.
She contemplated running down the driveway now, right this minute. She couldn't sleep with a man that looked like her grandfather. Grandpa Barney, God rest his soul, had even looked younger.
"Come on, let's go get comfortable." He winked at her. "And then you can tell me your real name and what made you brave this cold night to be a prostitute: no judgments here, Chubs.
"There is nothing worse than a customer of a prostitute standing in condemnation. Besides, I seem to have gotten myself into a little hot water too. You tell me your story, and I might tell you mine."