They never matched the picture.

That was the rule.

The picture was always fake, of someone else, and even if it wasn’t it was out of date, taken during a time when they were younger, fitter, slimmer. Kevin Duncan knew that. Madam Voluptula had looked like an erotic goddess in the pictures he’d seen online. He figured a fatter, older version would still look gorgeous.

The Madam Voluptula that opened the door to her innocuous-looking flat was not a fatter, older version of the pictures on the internet Kevin had lusted over. The Madam Voluptula that opened the door was a walking, talking, 3D version of the exact same Madam Voluptula he’d seen pictures of online.

Wow, Kevin thought. She was beyond gorgeous. It was like someone had taken a beach babe Playmate-of-the-month from California and dropped her in the middle of an ordinary estate in the Midlands.

Her body was a complete knockout—a lush epitome of the female form. Her breasts and hips were all soft feminine curves while the rest of her was athletic and toned. Most of it was fully on display to Kevin. All she wore was black lingerie beneath a see-through pink negligee. She was tanned all over and her skin was a rich shade of copper in colour. The only way to get a tan that deep in Britain, even in what was nominally described as summer, was to overdo it under a tanning machine or slap on layers of the fake orange stuff. Madam Voluptula’s tan looked natural, as if she had her own private beach and sun hiding away in a room in her flat. Her legs went on and on and terminated in a pair of dainty feet. She wasn’t wearing any footwear and he saw her toenails had been painted red.

Her face was just as gorgeous as the rest of her body. She had a lovely welcoming smile and her blue eyes sparkled with the promise of fun. Her full lips were glossy with vivid red lipstick. She had big, really big, blonde hair that flowed down past her shoulders in silky waves.

She was way out of his league.

“Ah, you must be Mr Duncan,” she said. Her voice was bubbly like expensive champagne. “Come in.”

He nodded and entered her flat.

She was way way out of his league.

He supposed that was the whole point. If you were going to pay for it, it should be with someone you couldn’t attract under normal circumstances. The money was supposed to make up the shortfall.

Kevin didn’t consider himself to be bad looking. Okay, he wasn’t one of the student Lotharios that had already worked their way through most of the campus by March, but he looked okay. He felt he was decent enough looking that he could talk to most girls on a Saturday night without worrying they were going to laugh in his face.

Not that he actually chatted to most girls on a Saturday night.

Madam Voluptula was out of his league, even with the four hundred pounds he had in his pocket.

He and his four hundred pounds were League Two. She was all the way at the top of the Premiership.

He was either about to get comprehensively fleeced or have the best night of his life.

“Punctual,” Madam Voluptula said, flashing him a warm smile. “I like a man who’s punctual.”

She led him into an intimate lounge. It was lit solely by candles; there wasn’t a single electric light switched on. Overstuffed armchairs and sofas were positioned around a glass coffee table. Despite the intimate lighting Kevin could see it was more a waiting area than someone’s front room. There was a white counter in the far corner and the magazines on the coffee table were all hardcore pornography.

Madam Voluptula took him to a big armchair. He sat—or rather sank—into it. The warm leather moulded perfectly to his form. Madam Voluptula lounged on one of the arms. The closeness of her presence sent a surge of blood down to Kevin’s crotch.

“You seem nervous,” Madam Voluptula said. She walked fingers across Kevin’s shoulders. The ample swell of her left breast was tantalisingly close to his cheek.

“First time,” he said. His tongue felt two sizes too large and his mouth felt like it had run dry of saliva.

First first time?” Madam Voluptula frowned and drew back a little.

“First time paying for it,” he elaborated. “I saw the rules on your website. I’m not a virgin.”

Inexperienced, yes. Guilty of various cack-handed and excruciatingly embarrassing fumbles in the dark, yes. But a virgin? No. He’d lost those V-plates back in school a couple of years ago.

Madam Voluptula leaned back in and Kevin was enveloped in her intoxicating scent.

“Why the ‘No Virgins’ rule?” Kevin asked. He’d read it on her website. He thought it odd at the time.

Madam Voluptula lightly caressed Kevin’s cheek with a warm hand. “A person’s first time should be special. It shouldn’t be wasted on the likes of me.”

Kevin’s first time hadn’t felt special. It had been a complete disaster if he was honest with himself. He’d got drunk and found out the hard way that the logistics of making love on the back seat of a very small car were far more awkward than he’d expected. Six months later and the girl refused to acknowledge he even existed.

Madam Voluptula leaned in even closer and sniffed his neck.

“You spell nice,” she whispered in his ear. “Too many men your age drown themselves in cologne and aftershave. Not you. You smell natural. Scrumptious.”

She gave his neck a little lick.

That triggered a strong reaction in Kevin’s underpants as his erection surged upwards and tented the front of his trousers. He blushed. Madam Voluptula giggled and left the arm of his chair.

“Lois,” she called out. “Mr Duncan is here for his nine o’clock appointment.”

A skinny gamine girl entered the lounge through a door behind the counter. While she had a pretty face with lovely big green eyes, the overall effect was spoiled by an excess of makeup. Her long black hair still had traces of wildness, as though she hadn’t quite figured out how to tame it yet. She wore jeans and a denim tank top covered in band patches over a white T-shirt. Kevin noticed she was also wearing long arm warmers over her forearms even though it was the middle of summer. Overall she looked like an awkward girl that might one day bloom into a beautiful woman given years, experience and an injection of self-confidence.

“What would you like to drink, Mr Duncan?” Lois asked. Her quiet voice was a contrast to Madam Voluptula’s bold, confident tones. “Tea or coffee?”

“A coke please, if you have one.”

Kevin desperately needed something to wet his mouth. Currently it felt like he’d swallowed a mouthful of desert sand.

Lois ducked down beneath the counter, opened a fridge, took out a can of coke and placed it on top of the counter. She fetched a plastic cup.

Madam Voluptula sat in the sofa opposite Kevin. She looked otherworldly—an old-style Hollywood glamour puss. Kevin found it hard to take his eyes off her.

“Before we begin, Mr Duncan, I’m afraid we need to get the distasteful business matters out of the way first. My rate is four hundred pounds for the two hours. I prefer cash. Do you have it with you?”

Kevin nodded. His tongue still felt too thick to form words properly. He stood up, took out his wallet and peeled out two hundreds and four fifties.

He’d thought this side of the business—the cold sterile transactional aspect of it—would kill his arousal. Instead it gave him the little thrill of being engaged in an illicit activity he shouldn’t be.

“Um, this includes everything?” he mumbled.

His wallet had been left a little bare after taking out those notes. If she started hitting him with extras he wouldn’t have the cash for them.

“Oh yes. Everything.”

And when Madam Voluptula said it that way, smiled at him that way, that little illicit thrill he felt was joined by the much bigger thrill of knowing he was about to enter a bedroom with a woman who was both extremely sexy and highly experienced. His erection surged against his pants like a beast trying to break free from a snare.

Lois came over with a drink. Kevin drank half the glass in a single gulp. Madam Voluptula handed the money to Lois and the other girl went out through the same door she’d entered by. Kevin guessed she must be Madam Voluptula’s maid.

Madam Voluptula sat back down in the sofa. She elegantly crossed one leg over the other.

“Now that the distasteful business matters are out of the way we can move onto the pleasant business matters. What would you like me to do with you during our two hours? Do you have any particular service in mind?”

Kevin thought about the terminology he’d seen while researching escort sites.

“Do you offer a Porn Star Experience?” he asked.

Madam Voluptula arched a delicate eyebrow. “You want to grab my throat and come in my face?”

Kevin’s eyes bugged.

“N-n-no,” he said. “I was hoping it would be wild . . . raunchy. High energy. You using all your experience.”

Because I don’t have a lot, he was too embarrassed to say.

Madam Voluptula’s eyes lit up. Her full red lips curled up in a predatory smile. “If you want wild and raunchy you’ve come to exactly the right place,” she said. “I’ll give you a Porn Star Experience you won’t forget.”

Kevin’s erection throbbed in his pants. He struggled to bring it back under control. At this rate, if he wasn’t careful, he’d blow his load before they even got through the bedroom door.

There was a loud knock at the front door. It was more of a loud bang, as if someone was hitting the door with their fist. Hard.

Kevin jolted uncomfortably in his chair. Madam Voluptula glanced over in annoyance.

“Lois, are there any other appointments for this evening? You haven’t made a double booking by mistake?”

The pretty young maid returned and checked a large ledger sitting on top of the counter.

“No ma’am. Just Mr Duncan. Nine ’til eleven.”

Madam Voluptula tsked. “I’m sorry for this interruption, Mr Duncan,” she said. “Sometimes prospective clients show up on my doorstep even though my online profile insists they make an appointment first. Lois, can you see who it is, please?”

Kevin craned his neck and glanced around the corner of the door. Lois walked into the hallway and ducked down to look through a peephole.

“It looks like trouble, ma’am,” Lois said.

The door thudded again beneath some heavy blows.

“Open up. We know you’re in there and we know what this place is.”

Kevin’s stomach turned to ice and sank through the floor. The illicit thrill he’d felt before was charged by the knowledge he shouldn’t be here. Now that it was . . . had gone wrong, that same illicit thrill decayed to fear and anxiety.

“How unfortunate,” Madam Voluptula said. “I’m very sorry for the interruption to your night,” she said to Kevin.

She left the chair and joined Lois out in the hallway.

“Oh dear. Some local ruffians,” Madam Voluptula said. “Lois, could you go and take care of Mr Duncan. I’ll see if I can sort this out as quickly as possible.”

The door rattled under a flurry of blows.

“Open up or we’ll kick it in,” a harsh voice called out from outside.

Kevin heard Madam Voluptula open the door and let in the unseen thugs.

“Welcome gentlemen,” she said brightly as if they were normal clients. “What can I do for you?”

“See, told you it’s a ho house,” one of the youths said with a thick estate accent.

“Yes, sexual services are on offer here . . . for the right price,” Madam Voluptula said.

“We’re not punters,” another youth said. He sounded like the leader. “We’ve come for our cut.”

Kevin got out of his seat and walked up to the door to the front hallway. Through the crack between door and jamb he was able to look into the hallway without being seen. There were three youths. Despite the mugginess of a warm August night all three wore thick puffer jackets. They wore baseball caps and the lower part of their faces was covered with black bandanas.

“This is our turf,” the leader said. His bandana was covered in prints of skulls and crossbones. “Nothing goes down here without our say so. You want to do business, you pay us our cut.”

“Oh, please forgive me,” Madam Voluptula said. “It’s so difficult to keep track of who’s in charge of which street and block nowadays. I would have contacted you and come to an arrangement earlier had I known.”

“No excuses,” the leader snarled. “Fuck us around and we’ll fuck up that pretty face of yours so bad you’ll have to look for a new job.”

Kevin felt his fear turn to cold fury. Maybe it was because Madam Voluptula looked so beautiful and vulnerable. Fucking animals. There were three of them. How dare they threaten a vulnerable woman like that. Had no-one taught them any common decency?

For one teetering moment Kevin’s cold rage almost tipped him over into doing something incredibly foolish. He felt a strong urge to go and stand between the thugs and Madam Voluptula. It was primal instinct.

And stupid.

Kevin was a soft middle-class university student who hadn’t been in a fight since he was eleven years old. They were street-tough gang kids. They’d tear him to pieces. His noble act would only make things worse by getting their blood up for further violence.

Rationally he knew this, yet still he felt like he should be stepping out in that hallway to intervene.

Lois tapped him on the arm. “Follow me,” she whispered.

Out in the hallway Madam Voluptula said, “Let’s not be hasty. There’s no need for violence here. Come inside. I’m sure we can work something out.” The last part was a sultry purr.

Lois led Kevin through the door behind a counter. She ducked down to the right and slid a wall panel aside to reveal a hidden room. Kevin didn’t get in immediately. He looked back at the door leading through to the lounge.

“Doesn’t she have any muscle to protect her . . . a bouncer?” he asked.

“She doesn’t need one,” Lois answered.

Kevin pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket.

“That’s it. I’m calling the police then.”

Screw the consequences. Fuck the explaining he’d have to do at being found in the flat of a prostitute. He wasn’t going to hide away in a safe room while three thugs raped and battered a defenceless woman.

Lois put a hand over his phone.

“Don’t,” she said. “It will cause more problems than it will solve.”

“But . . .”

Lois put a finger on his lips and pulled him down and into the hidden safe room. She lit a small electric lamp in the corner then pulled the panel back across and engaged a deadbolt to lock it into place.

“Why don’t you want the police to get involved?” he whispered. “What Madam Voluptula is doing isn’t illegal, I checked. A woman is allowed to sell sexual services from her own premises providing it’s only her.”

Lois gave him a sad smile.

“You haven’t been in this world before,” she said.

Kevin looked at the floor. He knew what she meant.

“It’s not about the law,” she said. “It’s about morality—what other people think is correct and proper. Do you think anyone believes a sex worker when she claims she’s been raped?”

“That’s just . . . wrong,” Kevin said.

“It’s how it is,” Lois said. “We have to look out for ourselves.”

“Then why doesn’t Madam Voluptula hire some protection?” Kevin asked. “Get some big fucking goon to act as her bodyguard.”

“Madam Voluptula can take care of herself,” Lois said.

Kevin thought he saw fear in her eyes. It was a quick flash, maybe even a trick of the light. Before he could ask her to elaborate Lois put her finger to her lips. He heard noises in the corridor outside.

“Follow me. The room is upstairs,” Madam Voluptula said. She still sounded as bubbly as if the three thugs were normal clients.

The youths sniggered and made lewd suggestions as they clomped past.

Cold impotent rage simmered within Kevin. He knew what Madam Voluptula was doing. She was offering up her body in the hope it would discourage the thugs from attacking her.

The clomping footsteps continued down the corridor and then turned back to climb some stairs. Kevin heard them moving about above him.

“What now?” he whispered to Lois?

“We wait,” Lois said.

It was the sense of impotence that irritated Kevin the most. He shouldn’t be hiding away like this. He should be out there confronting them. He knew he couldn’t. They’d hurt him. Then they’d hurt Madam Voluptula. And there was Lois to think about as well. All he could do was hide down here and stew in impotent fury.

“There’s no need to worry. This has happened before,” Lois said. “Madam Voluptula knows how to handle men like them. They won’t hurt her.”

“How did you end up here with Madam Voluptula?” Kevin asked.

“She took me in,” Lois said. “I was in a bad way. My parents died in a rail crash when I was ten. I was sent to live with my uncle. He . . . didn’t treat me well.”

She self-consciously fiddled with her arm warmers. Kevin saw lines of scar tissue peeking out of the top of her left arm warmer and understood why she was wearing them even though it was the middle of summer.

“I ran away and tried to make a living on the streets. It went as well as you might expect. Madam Voluptula heard about me and offered me work and a place to stay. She’s done the same for other girls before me.”

“Work? You do the same as Madam Voluptula . . .?”

Lois smiled even as her face reddened.

“No no,” she said. “I’m seventeen. Madam Voluptula doesn’t allow her girls to do any kind of sex work until their eighteenth birthday. She’s very strict on that. I work as her maid. I make sure the rooms are kept clean and I answer the phones when she’s busy with a client.”

Nice awkward assumption there, idiot, Kevin berated himself.

“She’s taught me a few tricks, though,” Lois said.

For a moment her big green eyes lit up and became very suggestive. She really had a pretty face, Kevin thought.

Whoa. Seventeen, remember, Kevin thought. And you’re way past the age where you can get away with that shit.

“They’ll come in real useful when I turn eighteen,” Lois said with an even more suggestive smile.

“Oh, so you are planning to do . . . sex work?”

“Madam Voluptula has a massage parlour lined up. They have a good reputation—they treat their girls well and they screen their clientele to make sure the real pigs are turned away.”

Kevin looked at her incredulously. “And you’re happy with this . . . having sex with strange men?”

“Madam Voluptula told me to think of it as providing a service,” Lois said. “And like all services, if you fully satisfy the needs of your client they’re more likely to return for more. It’s the same as any other business in that regard.”

“Still, seems a hard life,” Kevin said.

“I don’t intend for it to be my life. Four to five years, max. That will give me enough money to put myself through university. I want to study science. I was good at it when I was younger. I’ll pick up the qualifications I need from college on my days off.”

“That sounds like a good plan,” Kevin said, stunned to realise he meant it.

“Thanks,” Lois said with a shy smile. “I know it won’t be easy. Not everyone gets the smooth path. My perverted fuck of an uncle fucked up my youth. There’s no way I’m going to allow him to fuck up the rest of my life as well.”

Kevin understood. Different worlds.

He thought about his own path to university. How much easier it had been. He’d gone to a nice school, followed by a nice college. It had seemed a formality.

And maybe he’d taken it a little for granted. He thought about his first year. There had been a lot of fucking around and little in the way of actual work. That would have to change. Hearing Lois’s plans and knowing what she’d have to do to fulfil them had given him fresh perspective on how important it all was. Too important to waste on goofing off.

He heard a loud, rhythmic creaking sound coming from the room above them. He tried not to think about it.

“You’ve heard my confession,” Lois said. “Now it’s your turn.”