"So who’s the john?"
"The Prime Minister."
She blinks. A last minute job Stephanie had said, important enough that she'd strongly suggested Belle reschedule a regular. "You're kidding."
But Stephanie only looks back at her and hands over the information. It's more than a little surreal: 10 Downing Street, eight o'clock, she'll be given a visitor's pass at the gate, payment has already been completed.
"I don't know, but he asked for you by name."
He doesn't want a whore, but his aides are adamant he needs to do something to relax, and he certainly doesn't have time to pick up a hobby or go out and find himself a proper girlfriend - not that he needs or wants that complication in the first place. So, in order to shut them up for a while he gives them permission to find a girl, vet her, and bring her to Downing Street, thinking he's bought himself a few weeks at least.
He is mortified when his personal secretary, Daniels, returns to his office not five minutes later with a stack of headshots. It's an indication of how much thought they'd put into the suggestion that there is already a list of acceptable girls. If he was thinking clearly, he would have expected them to be prepared, but if he was thinking clearly they never would have suggested it in the first place. Less opportunity for him to change his mind this way, too, he supposes.
He insists on privacy while he looks at the pictures to narrow down the choices - because, he agrees somewhat reluctantly, he really should have some say in the matter. He'd be impressed if this whole thing wasn't so insulting; it's quite the selection they're offering him, practically a world tour, girls of every ethnic background and ranging in age from early twenties to noticeably older than he is.
Those are the first to go, though, the ones who look like they could be someone's mother - he shudders as he sets aside a few more - or grandmother. And he's never much had a predilection for Asians or women with dark skin, so those go as well, including one with just a really excessive tan. The third pass hits closer to home, literally, as he removes all of the ones that even remotely resemble Romana. It's bad enough that he's actually going to go through with this, he doesn't need to accidentally dredge up ghosts and have the girl later sell a story to the tabs about how the poor Prime Minister is obviously still mourning his dearly departed wife.
After that it gets more difficult. This one is eliminated because there's something in her eyes he doesn't care for, even if he can't put a finger on exactly what that something is. Another girl just seems silly. A third is wearing far too much make-up.
In the end, he has it narrowed down to three faces, but that's really as far as he can go without being overly critical, so he just picks one at random. "And you're the lucky winner," he says bitterly to the photograph. He flips it over and reads the name on the back, knowing even before he sees there are two of them that the first is an alias. His French is bad, but not that bad.
He picks up the phone on his desk and presses the extension that will ring in Daniels' office. "I have a name for you," he says when the other man picks up, "Belle du Jour. Make the arrangements and get back to me."
After he rings off he looks at her picture again and is surprised by the tiny curl of interest that comes up from deep inside of him. Six hours later, though, it has become a sickening ball of nervousness that explodes when she steps into his private lounge.
She's beautiful, more so than her picture gave her credit for, blonde, with a wide smile and generous curves. She's wearing a purple blouse with a floral pattern that's surprisingly demure. It's sleeveless with a high neckline and cinches at the waist with elastic. Her charcoal gray skirt is loose, stopping just above her knees. He had expected her to be - well, not living plastic, per se, but fake, forced. But quite to the contrary, she seems very natural, approachable, the kind of woman blokes would trip over each other to get to in a club.
And he's hardly done more than bark orders at women for what seems like nine lifetimes.
* * *
She's never found him particularly handsome, with his large nose and ears, never mind that he's almost fifteen years older than her. Not that his age matters, she's had older men before, a few considerably older than he is, even. And oh, he's been in government almost as long as she's been alive, she realizes.
He starts stalking around the room the minute the door closes, sealing her in with him for the foreseeable future, the tension in his shoulders so very obvious even in this place which should be his sanctuary. "What did you say your name is?" his voice rolls over her, rough and thick with his native Manchester accent.
She didn't say, they've not spoken one word to each other before his question. She wonders about him. It's just after eight and he's still wearing his suit. No waistcoat or tie, but the jacket is wrinkled from being worn all day. "What do you want it to be?"
He smiles tightly. "It's a simple enough question."
"Belle," she says softly. "It's Belle."
He stops and looks at her, his eyes narrowed. "No, it's not."
She flushes as embarrassment washes over her. "If you know the answer why did you ask?"
But he only continues to stare at her.
She straightens. She is a professional, and she is allowing him to unbalance her solely because of who he is. That is simply not acceptable. "My name is Belle," she says firmly. "You can choose to use it or not."
He makes no reply but starts walking again, and she follows him to a small built-in wet bar where he pours himself a glass of scotch.
"I suppose we should get started," he says then drinks the scotch quickly, knocking it back with a practiced ease. Liquid courage. It's kind of endearing.
"Are you in a hurry?" she asks. He's taken aback by the question, she can tell. It's not the first time since receiving the assignment that Belle has wondered how tonight is going to go. He's paid up through the morning, but doesn't seem at all enthusiastic about what they're supposed to be doing. In fact, they're the closest together they've been since she arrived and there's at least five feet between them. She steps closer to him and drops her voice a bit. "Like most things, it's really much better if you take your time."
He flounders for a moment then falls back on basic manners as he gestures to the various bottles of alcohol. "Would you like something to drink?"
She's been offered everything from beer all the way to hardcore drugs by clients but had been warned early on not to go down that path. She's seen it happen often enough to other girls, where what had started off as a friendly drink turned into something dangerous or even deadly. No, it's better to keep her wits about her, especially when meeting with a client for the first time. "No, thank you."
Belle takes the bottle from his hand as he's preparing to pour himself a second glass and shoos him away from the bar. "Sit down," she orders and then glares at him when he doesn't move. She jerks her head at a nearby armchair. "Go."
He smiles, probably amused by the idea that she has the audacity to boss around one of the most powerful men in the world, but he walks away from her, settling into the armchair. He's sitting stiffly, and it finally occurs to her that he's nervous, really and truly nervous. She pours the scotch.
"This is perfectly good scotch," she says, bringing him the glass, "and you're not bothering to enjoy it."
He takes the glass from her, grimacing when he sips at it. "It's sweet."
"Or even taste it," Belle adds dryly as she sits on the footrest in front of him. "Of course it's sweet, it's Macallan. They mature it in sherry casks."
He grimaces as he drinks again. "It's probably older than you are."
"Maybe. Do you not like it so sweet?"
"I don't see what difference it makes."
"It matters because you're the one drinking it, so you might as well enjoy it." She takes the glass from him and puts it on the end table. There's still plenty of the amber liquid swirling around the bottom, but he doesn't even seem to like it and she doesn't need him pissed. "Try Lagavulin next time. It's younger, dryer, smokier."
He's looking at her with something akin to surprise, the way most men do when they find out she's knowledgeable about more than just sex. "I wasn't expecting a lesson in scotch."
She bends down and picks up one of his feet. He moves with her, looking very awkward when she settles the foot in her lap. "What were you expecting?" she asks as she begins unlacing his shoe. He's wearing sturdy work boots, no expensive loafers here; he was the candidate of the working people, she remembers from his political ads. She slips the shoe off of his foot and drops it onto the floor beside the chair.
"I don't know. I've never done this before."
Good. Even that admission is progress. "Never?" She's massaging his foot through the sock.
"Not with a..." his voice trails off.
"Beautiful blonde?" she offers. Belle exchanges his feet in her lap and removes his other shoe.
"No, with a..." he stops himself this time before he can complete the sentence.
He frowns, but it has nothing to do with the way her fingers are moving against the arch of his foot. "You're having a go at me."
"I'm teasing you, there is a difference. It's okay, you know, the words you're searching for are escort or call girl, and it won't offend me if you use them."
"You're... nothing like what I expected."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"I thought you'd be more business-like... mercenary," he adds somewhat reluctantly.
"Men typically seek the services of escorts because they're trying to escape from something, whether it's their significant other or their job. How would it help you relax if I came in here and was very business-like?"
When he doesn't answer she puts his foot back on the floor then stands and walks over to where she left her purse near the door. Opening it, she pulls out the toiletries she's brought just for him. "Go shower," she says, pressing the little bag into his hands. "Take as long as you like, and when you're done dress again to whatever degree makes you comfortable. I'll wait right here."