Before Aria could even open her mouth, footsteps sounded down the hallway. Philip ducked out onto the balcony to hide. Aria set the vial on a small shelf she had for her personal affects—basic jewelry, makeup, three small books—and turned just as the door opened.
Zidler stepped into the room. "Good evening, Mademoiselle. I would like to introduce you to Monsieur Pierre Andreu," Zidler gestured to the man following him. It was the man she had met just earlier that day. "Monsieur Andreu is a businessman from Northern France and travels to London frequently. I'm sure you'll find much to discuss." With little ado, Zidler left the two alone, ensuring the door closed behind him.
"It's a pleasure to see you again, Mademoiselle Ariadne," Pierre said, the smallest glitter of light in his eyes.
"And you as well. I certainly didn't expect to see you here, of all places. Tea?"
"I should say the same thing." Pierre sat at the small table. Aria served him and sat across from him resisting the urge to cover herself embarrassed by her appearance.
"What brings you to the Moulin Rouge?" Aria winced as the words left her mouth. Such a stupid question, but she couldn't think of anything else to say...or ask.
"I'm more interested in why you are here, Ariadne. Such a beautiful woman as you should run households and attend social events." Pierre smiled when the slightest tint of red came to Aria's face.
"I was born here."
"Is that so?" Pierre sipped his tea.
"Yes, it is. We don’t have the opportunity to live within the city of Paris, unfortunately."
"Mm." Pierre nodded in agreement as he placed his cup on the saucer. "That is unfortunate. Paris has so much to offer. Have you seen any plays?"
"Gone to a museum?"
Pierre looked perplexed. "Have you been to a library?"
"No." Aria sipped her own tea and offered a wide smile. "But I love my home. I have one of the best views of Paris—well, it's on the roof. But it's beautiful. And everyone is so compassionate. More than I've seen from the most pious Parisian."
For a moment, silence fell between them, but it wasn't unpleasant. Pierre looked at Aria as if the world made sense. As if something he had been contemplating came to light. "Perhaps someday you could experience those things," he said.
"Perhaps. I'm sure it would be lovely." Aria's smile remained as she stood and placed her empty cup on a tray near the door. At some point the maid would come to collect and refresh their tea, she'd heard.
Pierre's arms wrapped around her frame in a gentle, friendly manner. At first, Aria tensed from the embrace, but after a moment she relaxed. His warmth on her back was pleasant. His chin on her shoulder was an enjoyable weight; a closeness she'd never known before. As quickly as the embrace began, Pierre released her and set his own cup and saucer on the tray, along with the teapot.
"I apologize for that. I felt compelled."
Aria turned shaking her head. “There’s no need.” She motioned to the small two-person couch. “Would you like to sit? Or…?“ Her eyes glanced to the bed. Aria did not know what to expect her first time sharing a bed, nor did she know how the women could go from sharing tea to the bed without knowing their client. She suppressed a shudder.
"Let's sit." Pierre made himself comfortable and watched Aria take her place next to him, leaving as much space as she could between them. Her posture was straight.
"Since you've mentioned it," Aria turned her whole body a little more towards Pierre, "what are plays like?"
"Doesn't the Moulin Rouge put them on?"
"I have never seen it, actually. When I was young, they would keep me with a maid, and when I was older, I would just go to the roof."
"Were you lonely? It sounds like you were the only child here."
"Oh, heavens no." Aria shook her head. "There used to be four of us, myself, Gregory, Jermaine, and Philip, but Gregory and Jermaine were...recovered, I suppose, by their fathers. So it was just Philip and I." Aria didn't like thinking of those days. The other two boys had just vanished one day. No explanation. That's what happened here. One day a person would be there and the next they're gone into thin air. "So, what are plays like?"
"Oh, yes. I apologize. They are rather wonderful. There are lights and costumes like your own performance, but they can also involve large sets and talented actors and actresses. Most are entertaining, but I have also seen a few that fell short. William Shakespeare was an incredible playwright in his era, but if an actor doesn't know how to portray the character, it can ruin the whole experience."
"It sounds lovely. I have read a few of his works—Romeo & Juliet; Hamlet; and Twelfth Night—"
Pierre pressed his lips to her own, her whole body tensing from the affection. The warmth of his lips was foreign. A small kiss followed by another. A gentle nibble on her bottom lip followed by the slip of the tongue. Pierre inched closer, his hand sliding to the back of her neck. The weight of his body prevented her escape. He kissed her cheek; her neck. Aria tensed more, sucking in a breath between her teeth from his fingers moving over the bare flesh of her stomach.
"Relax, Ariadne," Pierre whispered in her ear. His breath was hot against her skin.
"I-I'm sorry," she whispered back. "I've never—"
Pierre's lips found her own once more, but he quickly broke their kiss once again and moved back to his seat, giving her space. Aria knew she looked bewildered and embarrassed, but she couldn't help it. Her first kiss over just as quickly as it had begun.
Aria didn't look at Pierre. Her mind was racing. It was already too much. Were all men like this? Just taking what they wanted? She forced herself to swallow hard against the lump forming in her throat. He paid for this. This is what your mother does. This is what you will do. Again and again until you die. Her eyes wandered to the small vial resting on her shelf next to the books of William Shakespeare's plays. Now, it didn't seem like a bad option.
"Are you all right, Ariadne?" Pierre's voice was caring and tender.
"Oh!" Aria came back from her thoughts and mustered a smile when she met his gaze. “Yes, I'm fine.“ She muttered. “That was my first kiss…” Aria lowered her lashes. In the corner of her eye, she could see his smile grow. "I was wondering something, though." Aria inched closer to Pierre.
"Oh?" He eyed her. "What was it?"
"You're a wealthy and admittedly charming man. Why on Earth would you pay to lie with a woman when I'm sure you could woo any woman you'd like?"
Pierre chuckled. "I told you before, I didn't come here for the companionship. Only to see the show. But imagine my surprise when I should see you on the stage singing? And I could hear other so-called gentlemen making many improper comments." Pierre closed the distance and brought a hand to her cheek. "And how could I let some dolt have such a lovely young woman, such as yourself?
“Protection or jealousy, I wonder?”
"If I'm being honest, perhaps it's both? You're quite a beautiful woman." His eyes moved from her face to wander her body at their leisure. "Who wouldn't want to share your bed? And as long as you're going to, why not share it with me?"
Aria flashed a smile and stood. "I suppose that's sound logic." Crossing the room, Aria opened the door and had a maid refresh their tea. An idea was forming in her mind. "Perhaps I'm rather old-fashioned, but I'd like to get to know you before you see more of me. Is that all right?"
“Once my debut is complete, I doubt I'll see you again, and I have been enjoying our time together. If I please you as Zidler hopes, he'll have me taking clients every night.” Aria poured more tea for them, her back turned to Pierre. Her eyes once again wandered to the tonic, debating the consequences of her first client losing consciousness before having his fill. “Though I wonder…” her voice trailed off. “Never mind.” She shook her head and brought a cup of tea to her companion before sitting next to him, regaining her proper posture.
"Tell me. What do you wonder?"
Aria took a sip of tea and then set it aside. "Well, I can only imagine that you coming here—to the Moulin Rouge—and paying to bed me means there's no Madame Andreu. Speaking of the plays has piqued my curiosity, so I wondered if, perhaps, we could come to an arrangement?"
"What kind of arrangement?" Pierre's expression became one of curiosity and caution. Questioning her motives.
"I would like to get to know you on a deep personal level, all facets one could learn about another, before you ravage my body. We both know what you have paid for, so I would abstain from any intimacy with other gentlemen."
"And why do you suddenly want to make such an arrangement?"
"I have my reasons and I can assure you they are entirely my own and entirely private."
"So, if I understand," Pierre took another sip of tea, "you want me to have you only as an escort and when you've decided you know me well enough, I can take you to bed."
"I suppose hearing you say it, it makes me sound childish."
“Yes, it does.”
“Five months. In five months, regardless of my emotions, you'll have me.”
"Oh? And what if I'm impatient?" He placed his hand on her inner thigh. "Will you stop me from having you here and now? Zidler would throw you to the streets if you were...uncooperative." It took all of her strength not to move away when his hand moved further. "So what makes you think you have any leverage for such an arrangement?"
With a deep breath, Aria grabbed his hand and placed it on his knee. He didn't seem to mind the gesture. He looked amused. "I'm not ignorant, Monsieur Andreu. Not entirely anyway. Let's pretend you have no wife. As a businessman, there must be plenty of occasions you attend alone, or with a close male friend, just like tonight. Here, it doesn't matter if you have a woman on your arm or not, but perhaps elsewhere it will. It will matter a great deal. And we both know the women—the wives, the maids, the escorts—know far more interesting things about your competitors than your competitor would ever say. But you can't just ask them. That's improper. But a woman you can trust can. In fact, I'd venture to say the other women enjoy it. What else are they to do with their time when the men are in the smoking room?"
Pierre said nothing. He looked her over with curiosity. Aria wasn't sure if she was correct about any of her assumptions, but based on the conversations she had with the other women—and the ones she overheard—she felt certain. She hoped he felt the same.
"Two months," Pierre said.
"Fine." Aria offered a small smile. "I will be your escort to anything and everything you desire and, in three months, you will have your way with me." She extended her hand. "Do we have an arrangement, Monsieur Andreu?"
Pierre's eyes moved from her face to her hand and back again. He did not extend his hand. “But how will Zidler react to such news? If things here are as I believe them to be, he would not agree so easily to that agreement.” Pierre contemplated it. “You are asking me to spend more just to keep you to myself,” his voice trailed off.
Aria lowered her hand and nodded defeated. She finished her tea and set it on the tray once more with Pierre's cup and saucer and the teapot. She knew of the wag to her hips as if it would entice him.
"For the last month, I would like you to come live in my home," Pierre said. "Two months here at the Moulin Rouge, one month in my home. That shouldn't be too much to ask for, should it?"
Aria thought about it for a moment. Very reasonable considering everything.
He offered his hand. "Do we have a deal?"
A smile tugged at her lips. "I believe we have a deal, Monsieur Andreu."
They shook hands. Before he released her, Pierre took one last long look at her body before he stood. “I hope that, whatever the reasons you have, they are superb reasons.” Monsieur Andreu stood, walking with Aria to the door. “You should sleep. It will be a very busy week for you once I've sorted everything with Monsieur Zidler. Good night, Mademoiselle Ariadne.”
"Good night, Monsieur Andreu."
Pierre kissed her lips one last time and then left the room.
Aria watched him walk down the hall and turn out of sight, his footsteps disappearing altogether. She shut and locked the door, letting out a sigh.
"That was...different." Philip said through chattering teeth.
Aria offered a small smile as her childhood friend sat at the table, rubbing his arms. It may have been February, but it was still very cold at night and he didn't have a coat. "I'm so sorry, Philip. Are you all right?" She poured him a cup of tea and draped a blanket over his shoulders.
Several moments passed before Aria asked, "How much did you hear? Or see?"
"I heard just about everything." Philip drank his tea in one gulp. "And I saw nothing, so don't worry."
Footsteps were coming back to the hallway, no doubt hearing Aria's first client leaving. The coast was clear, so to speak, so there was no need for privacy any more. Aria looked as if someone would burst through the door any moment.
"I'm sorry about tonight," Philip said. "I should go in case I get you in trouble. Or he comes back." Philip draped the blanket over the chair as he stood and headed towards the door.
Whatever protest Aria was about to give faltered when Philip disappeared out the door, slamming it shut behind him.