The story follows the journey of Korrigan, as she learns about the world and love, and Petre the cursed 300-year-old immortal, seeking to right the wrongs of his family.
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“Enjoy a morbidly assortment of heartache, tears, and sadness …immediately felt connected … flow is beautiful … this book is what perfection really is!” – Toni L.
The world sundered and the demons arose, warring against those neither God nor Satan had wanted.
Korrigan trained most of her life as a courtesan, submitting to the will of men.
Petre searched for the perfect woman to break his immortal curse.
Sold to Petre in Arcadia, Korrigan stumbled through her journey of love, treachery, and forgiveness. Secrets and lies whispered in the dark recesses of her mind as her past haunted her dreams.
What if all her master taught her proved to be wrong? As the weight of her new world compounded on her shoulders, slave and master hatched a plan to liberate the brothel and tear down the walls.
Beyond the Brothel Walls Saga #1
Lust ruled the demons. Seven signs have come and gone. Sloth ruled the vampires. Seven angels fell to the Earth. Envy ruled the courtesans. Seven Keys lay hidden amongst the Seven Angels. Gluttony ruled the rich. Seven families rose and fell. Wrath ruled the Horsemen. One family would bring the world to its knees. Pride ruled the Morning Star. The Horsemen must seize the keys. Greed ruled the world.
- Title: Constricted
- Series: Beyond the Brothel Walls
- Author: Rae Z. Ryans
- Publisher: Fictitious Publishing
- Word count: 94,080
- Genre: Dystopian Paranormal Romance- with light Steampunk elements
- Release date: June 1, 2014
- To be Released formats: Kindle, trade paperback, trade hardcover
Human life held value. A virgin body attracted more wealth than a used up hag. What my master had paid for mine, I didn’t know. I’d been born of unfortunate circumstance and abandoned as an infant. Like most women in the rebuilt world, I existed as a slave to men. Slaves never voiced opinions if they wished to live. Without an owner, I’d wilt away or succumb to the harsh conditions of the broken world.
At eighteen and on my birthday, all I celebrated was my new sale. With a single suitcase grasped in my hand, I’d boarded the steam engine and departed Delphia for the first time in my life. My destination, over ten hours from the Hampshire House of the Lady, lay in one of the three surviving countries of the Sundering. Arcadia was where my new owner lived. Hard to believe a sale to one man an improvement of my situation, but rather a woman belonged to a single man than those visiting the brothel.
“Ticket, Miss?” The man interrupted my daydreaming thoughts as the door to my compartment skidded open. I fished into the pocket of my used peacoat and handed him the crumpled documents. He whistled low as his eyes raked over me. My skin crawled with a hundred bugs, and my stomach lurched from the sudden jostle of the train. “Business or pleasure, Korrigan Garland?” He accentuated the pleasure, and I thanked the dim lights for hid my blush in the shadows. His hand punched my ticket, and he marked something on his clipboard. But those eyes kept rolling over me, and his tongue grazed his teeth.
We slowed down, and my legs itched to run for it as the steam driven lights dimmed inside my train car. Vehicles, small ships, and some older trains operated on the steam systems, but the tracks were older and worn from the icy elements. Steam remained cheap; trash by far was the cheapest. That much I understood from the overheard newscasts and conversations. I shifted in my seat as the train pulled to a screeching stop on the platform. Fancy women and groomed men waited their turn as the passengers departed.
“Business.” I forced a smile and met his glassy, waiting stare.
Women were different now; I guessed, but had no notion of the real world beyond stolen moments of television at Hampshire House. Even then, I hadn’t followed much of what they’d explained. New laws had passed, revoking old rules where men couldn’t own humans, let alone women, as property. Females once established within the governments had found themselves forced from their positions. Even soldiers and officers found themselves without jobs and became instant scapegoats. God had spoken; the man on the television had believed and blamed the rise of feminine power for the Sundering. Free men had believed the wild banter as the upper-class citizens sought a reason for the world’s collapse. There lived a rationale for everything in life, and every wicked deed they had viewed as a punishment. To me it was a bunch of hogwash, but the lies had remained the truth.
“Awful long way to travel for a young miss such as yourself.” His eyes said what his lips hadn’t. I was alone and a slave. At least the tinted talc hid the marks in my hair, turning the twisted mass into a pale lilac shade. Wanton men stole a glance and identified what services I offered. Two thick swatches of purple adorned my dark hair. The unmistakable sign announced to others that I remained pure –a prize among the men but a whopping, fat lie. Nothing about me was wholesome anymore, and everyone I passed saw it too.
Sure, to him I was young –small enough to pass for a child- bundled in my coat, but I’d forgotten about the uniform. Even hidden beneath the wool, my corset squeezed against my boney ribs and dug deeper into my already marred flesh. Years of training allowed me to block the pain, but I wasn’t used to the stares of strange men.
At the house, men knew better than to touch me when Jules was there. Even when I walked the neighborhood unescorted they had known the rules. My body had belonged to him, and he remained their boss, but I couldn’t rely on his name any longer. Instinct kicked in, and I moved away from the man, placing my body against the wall of my compartment car. I shivered, but even a hairline gap hadn’t remained between the metal barrier and me. The ticket man stepped forward, not bothering to close the door, and my heartbeat quickened. My lungs burned as he approached, and the scent of his aftershave nauseated my stomach.
“Excuse me,” a deep, accented voice called from the train car’s corridor.
I’d prepared to open my mouth to speak –to scream for help- when the gentleman had interrupted the conductor. His thick accent piqued my interest, but I did not look at either of them. My lip bled as I chewed it, hoping the stranger would distract him, and they’d both be on their way. With the lights dimmed to a low dusk, I wouldn’t have had a proper look anyway. Instead, I studied the platform activities as waiting passengers now boarded in troves. My hands fell into my lap, and I inched my face toward the window.
“I do hope that you are not offending the young lady,” the stranger said as my cheeks flushed hotter.
His tone held authority and command, but I was more than capable of standing up for myself. At least I hoped I could have fended off one man. Over the years, I’d learned when to shut up, when to stand up, and how to hide behind my walls of ice. To think, though, if he knew the truth, would he bother with standing up for me? Not all women became whores even if women held no rights in the world. Jules embedded that knowledge into our heads.
I prayed for the other girls and slave women. Granted, my sale had meant nothing for bettering my situation, but better the devil I hadn’t known than the one who’d scarred me inside and out. I had two choices: I could cling to my hopes, dreams, and the fairy tales like I had in Jules’ company or I faced the harsh reality of my situation. Until my last breath, I’d remained a whore, and my worth held only as long as my temperament did. The train chugged away from the station and headed north as the two men argued on.
“Of course not, sir. Do you have your ticket?” The rustling of fabric and paper grabbed my attention and drew my gaze toward the men at the door. The lights had flickered before growing brighter. As soon as my eyes locked with his, the air whooshed from my lungs. The train hit a bump, and I averted my eyes to the floor at their feet. His shoes shined, but the lack of interest showed as my eyes skirted back up to his face. How he’d held such commanding authority when he’d appeared no older than my eighteen years riddled my brain. The stranger’s eyes hadn’t moved from me, and I couldn’t glance away.
What did he see when he stared? The hand-me-down clothes and unwashed hair spoke measures of what I was. The law of courtesans, Uncle Jules had called it. We could not wear adornments in our hair or clothing above our place in public. A free woman –not a courtesan but not truly free either- had dressed as she pleased. Slave women dressed as their masters mandated within the home but did not wear skirts or dresses in public. Denim jeans topped with a corset, which was my current fashion statement. The latter served as a reminder of my constricted life. Korrigan –my slave name- she remained nothing more than a mask of polite apathy, but it had served as a reminder too. I blinked. Trained to obey and not scream or cry. Taught not to speak out of turn to my master or to fight his desires, whatever they consisted of. I lived in a constricted world. My reality remained that of a slave, even if it wasn’t who I wished to become.
The stranger smiled, revealing deep dimples in his pale cheeks. I wished I hadn’t peeked in the first place as his presence continued to captivate me. Obsidian, unnatural for an eye color, seized me, but I forced the trained smile over my face. The ticket man walked away with a polite nod, and the stranger closed the door to my train car.
My gaze fastened to the window, where I watched his reflection with increased interest as he stood there. What had he waited for? The tall and slender young man dressed as upper class. He wore dark slacks, adorned with a fancy emblem and a black wool coat. The wealth I discerned from the way he carried himself. Those broad shoulders didn’t slouch, and he appeared clean.
Something odd about this man tickled my brain; like a familiarity almost. For one, he’d helped me, but his presence lacked that of a predator. The Hampshire House attracted plenty of those, visiting all hours of the day and night. The second oddity was his long, shoulder length black hair that tapered behind his shoulders.
“Pardon, but do you mind if I sit with you?” His hand motioned toward the open bench opposite of me. “The train is rather full,” he added with the arc of his black brow.
“Sure.” My gaze did not falter. Refusing wasn’t an option. Instead, I further studied him from the glass reflection. This man existed far above my low station by more than class level. Even if he appeared my age, there weren’t any signs of a harsh life on his angular face. A curious scar etched into his cheek though, and I bet the disfigurement had made for a fascinating story.
“You don’t sound terribly sure, Miss …”
“Charlotte,” I lied. My real name stood as another reminder of my former life with Jules. Korrigan, the Goddess of Prostitution, and a sacrifice to her included paid sexual acts. He reminded me every chance he got and never allowed me to shorten the terrible name. I crossed my legs and folded my hands over my knee. Maybe my new master would permit a nickname.
In his reflection, I watched as the stranger’s dark eyebrow rose. His eyes no longer reflected as black, but they appeared … wrong, like they held too much emotion for someone so young. “You don’t look like a Charlotte.”
I bit the inside of my cheek to keep my eyes from rolling. Whoever looked like their name? Who could say they looked like this name or that name. I shrugged instead and stared out the window. The whistle blew again, and the engine’s hiss soothed me. The stranger made a tsking sound as he leaned forward and glanced out of the window. More flames licked at houses and trees.
“The fires are a real shame.”
After the oil had vanished –burned or pumped dry- humanity fell further into turmoil. The nuclear drought followed, caused by the shortages, and the sundered earthquakes swallowed the states one by one. Those earthquakes destroyed the majority of the eastern coal mines too. I’d watched as the world around me collapsed. Trucks, cars, boats, and planes stopped across the country for years. Delphia –as they’d called the former Eastern United States now- fell the hardest when the earthquakes had hit. Dams fractured knocking out hydropower. Food grew scarce when farmers couldn’t operate equipment or transport goods. Riots started, and people looted, stealing and taking from their friends and neighbors. The news replayed the stories to this day.
The other continents fell, swallowed by the oceans, or starved out of existence in the blink of a few short years. The Southern Americas and parts of Canada had survived, albeit torn asunder into a series of islands connected by bridges and tunnels. Even twelve years later, fires still blazed and billowed their thick, black smoke into the polluted sky. There existed no heaven, no hell, just this odd sense of limbo as progress continued to falter around the remaining world.
None of it had affected me. Tears didn’t fall, and no pain lashed from the losses of property or life. Others, it had changed them overnight. Jules said there was just a new door, begging for release. Behind it who knew what their weary, displaced souls would find. I was too young to realize the meaning at the time. Without oil and coal, they needed a new source of power, and they’d found it in the discarded trash and women. Jules had called me his darling, sweetheart, and those words sickened my stomach like spoiled dairy. At first, I was naïve enough to believe them. The veil crashed down when he followed it with, “I love you; this is going to hurt.” Pain seared through our bodies, etching and scarring the soul. When at last, it had faded, and he finished, only then did peace come for girls like me, imprisoned at the Hampshire House of the Lady.
Uncle Jules ran the whorehouses as a guise for runaway girls. He’d offered up his rooms, food, and clothing to bait new ones. One learned rather fast that those gifts came with a price, but once accepted, it became difficult to leave. I was lucky, he said. The smoldering scent of ash and peppermint infiltrated my thoughts. I’d escaped him, yet it seemed no matter where I went Jules was there. Hot breath on my neck, fat, unkempt nails digging into my flesh. My skin crawled every time the stairs had creaked under his massive weight. Every night he came for me, but I smiled to myself now, knowing those days were over.
The train chugged along, hissing and releasing its steam as we watched the fires burn from the safety of the train car. Houses and lives ruined like mine. Families rebuilt. The ashes of my life couldn’t rebirth, and there was nothing to return to anymore. That ship sailed away on a voyage of dashed dreams, shattered lives, and more than I cared to recall ever again. I buried it deep, swallowed it down, and held onto myself on the inside.
While my lavish train car fooled a passerby, I grasped the truth. The soft seats conformed to the body, making the jolts and bumps tolerable. That was what the attendant said after sneering at my uniform even though I traveled alone. My papers alone proved my stance in the world; the lowest class citizens were slaves to someone. Death couldn’t have come quicker for my kind in this drastic new reality. Images of a pristine bathtub, filled with bloody water, flashed through my mind. In the center lay my body, blond hair half-stained crimson, and my blue lips unmoving. Who would mourn the loss of me?
I didn’t have a mother or father weeping over my corpse. Jules didn’t know who they were. No one would visit my wake or sit by my side as the casket, my final bed, lowered into the ground. The friends I had weren’t friends at all. While I cared about the other girls and women, they’d shunned me. Tears, the single tears that might fall, be it from the heavens, belonged to God and only if he saw fit to cry over the loss of me. The whole notion made my eyes sting. If I could change the law, reverse time, or find a way to save us all, I would do so in a heartbeat. Life wasn’t fair; I understood that, but this wasn’t life worth living. This had remained my purgatory.
I nodded even if I envied them. Men. Free to move on with their lives walk through the doors that would magically open to the prospect of a better life. But the grass stayed greener on the other side, no matter what side you landed on. Truth, maybe the only one Jules ever spoke.
He preached that variety was the key to the Hampshire House of the Lady. There were all types of girls and women available. Uncle Jules hadn’t taught me anything else about the business, but I’d learned a lot from watching him. Men came in, requested a girl or woman, handed him the money, and went to her room. Sometimes they even made appointments, as if they were visiting a doctor. Most of them had wives, evident from the shiny bands worn on their fingers. That part had disgusted me. Why marry and use a brothel?
“An alien ship just landed over there.” I nodded again at the sound of the stranger’s voice. His words registered, and a chuckle escaped from my lips. The sound startled me; I didn’t usually laugh or smile unless forced. When had I last laughed?
“I’m sorry; I tend to lose myself in my thoughts.”
“Quite all right; the color faded from your cheeks, and I thought you might go into shock.” His dark hair fell forward, and he let it hang there against his pale face. He smiled, and I considered his attributes. Quite scandalous, but my eyes and curiosity betrayed me. I grew bolder in his presence, and I didn’t understand why. Like he held an invisible power and drew out the woman I’d hidden inside. Dimples lined his high cheeks, making his eyes pop. On second glance, however, his eyes shone a cool grey. My favorite color; it matched my soul. Neither good nor evil, although Jules often referred to me as the latter.
“May I ask you a question?” He gestured me to continue, and his body shifted closer. “Please don’t take this as rude, but where are you from?”
His eyes darkened a fraction, but his smile held. “Romania.”
Sad that Uncle Jules cared so little for schooling; I hadn’t an inkling of where that was. Was it a faraway land filled with castles? Did it snow there or was it warm and sunny all the time? Had it survived the collapse or earthquakes? As expected, a courtesan’s knowledge remained lewd acts and naughty words. Jules often said anything else was deemed wasteful in God’s eyes.
He rested his hand on his chin. “It is obvious you’re American, but might I ask where you are traveling?”
“Arcadia.” I sort of lied, but figured my destination country was close enough and vague. As intriguing as the dark stranger was, I knew better than to give away all my secrets. “On business.”
“You appear far too young for business,” he replied, his smile straining wider. My stomach flipped, and the air grew thicker in our car. Metal groaned as we hit another bump, and I toppled forward. His eyes dilated, and his breathing changed. Was he even breathing? I scrambled back into my seat. His nostrils had flared wide before they returned to normal.
My legs shifted, and I eyed the door. Could I make it before he reacted? No. “I assure you I am old enough, sir.”
My hands smoothed over my tattered and holed jeans.
“I meant no offense, but I do know you are lying.” A nervous laugh left my parted lips, and he leaned forward. The train jolted my body again, but this time I gripped the seat until my knuckles turned white. “Your name is Korrigan, not Charlotte, and you are traveling to Nova Scotia.” My eyes grew wider as he spoke; his eerie smile had turned from charming to wolfish before I could blink or react. I recognized the look all too well. “Once there you’re meeting a man named Petre von Baron, and that my beloved, would be me.”
He offered his hand. Petre. I gaped at the pale, long fingers and well-manicured nails. Jules hadn’t given me any name. His dark eyebrows rose up together, making his demeanor soften, but I couldn’t touch him. Uncle Jules said the man would find me. My hands trembled, hidden now in my jacket sleeves. Out of all the girls, he —Petre— picked me. I swallowed hard and nodded. This was my new master?
I tumbled to my knees, ignoring the sting as they hit the thin carpet, and bowed my head toward Petre’s feet. Jules taught me to beg forgiveness, to grovel at his feet. My lip quivered, dropping to speak, but words refused to come out. Flashes of the black whip hazed my vision, and my back ached, reminding me of my last lashing. Last night, Jules had said good-bye in his signature way as he’d unleashed red-coated rage across my back until my skin had bled his crimson prize.
“Why are you on the floor?” Petre asked.
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