For a woman alone, Paris after dark was a dangerous place. All manner of predators haunted the streets: cutthroats, pickpockets, grave robbers, and bawds. Thieves would rob and beat their victims, leaving them for dead. Violent men would take a woman’s virtue without a thought or spirit them away to enslavement halfway around the world. The countryside was no better. Witches and supernatural creatures lurked in every shadow. The Dame Blanche waited under bridges, and the feu follet hovered over swamps. Swallowing hard, Véronique Barbeau stepped out of the apothecary shop, pulled up her hood, and walked down the steps. Fair-skinned with black hair and cobalt-blue eyes, the girl’s coloring and fine features were tangible evidence the Celts had once inhabited Gaul. At sixteen, her shape had rounded, but she was far from buxom with a lithe, willowy figure. The flambeau perched on the building danced in the wind. It shed a dim light on the slimy cobblestone street. Looking over her shoulder, she quickly turned the corner and almost collided with three student revelers. Well into their cups, they took little notice of her, and with her head down, she darted past them. Véronique’s father did not know she was out tonight, and if he knew, he would be furious. He had nagged her repeatedly to purchase malachite and copper resonate that afternoon, but as usual, she became distracted and forgot. The substances were needed to make pigments for his paintings, and there would be no work tonight without them. One of the most renowned artists in all of Paris, Monsieur Henri Frederik Barbeau delivered perfection to his patrons and expected the same from his daughter. A gifted artist herself, Véronique could only assist him, though, because of her gender. Painting professionally was her most ardent desire, but convention forbid it. Instead, she mixed Master Barbeau’s paints, arranged his subjects, and purchased his supplies. She made minor contributions to her father’s creations also, but only when his two apprentices were unavailable. Her work was far superior to that of the apprentices and occasionally rivaled her own father. “Regardez, Mademoiselle Barbeau!” someone barked. It was the chandler’s wife leaning out a second-story window. “Is that your young man?” Véronique looked up at her with surprise. “There,” Madame Moulin said, gesturing toward the other side of the street. “He has been arguing with your father.” Véronique looked. Even though it was dark, there was no mistaking her lover, Rainier Laurent Delacroix. Tall with long hair the color of wheat, a firm build, and a confident bearing, the twenty-three-year-old Sorbonne student cut a dashing figure. Not only his good looks, but his cavalier attitude attracted young women. Well known in the Quarter as a charming but irresponsible rogue, he was forbidden fruit for Véronique, and knowing her father would not approve made him all the more desirable. “Rainier!” Véronique called. “Rainier Delacroix!” The young man didn’t hear her as he stormed past and turned into a tavern, his cape fanning out behind him. “It is no surprise he is enraged,” Madame Moulin added with relish. “Your father struck him.” Véronique gasped. Why had Rainier been at her home? They always met in secret. “Bonne chance!” Madame Moulin said with a smirk and closed the window. With a wildly beating heart, Véronique stuffed her purchase under her arm and dashed around the corner. Home was a well-kept plaster and wood structure with a cantilevered second story just across from the chandler’s shop. It housed an art studio on the street level and a family residence upstairs where Monsieur Barbeau lived with his wife and two daughters. Light was flickering in the back, so Véronique took the narrow walkway around the house to see if her father was building a fire outside. But as she drew closer, she realized the flames were not from a bonfire. They were inside the home. “Oh, mon Dieu!” she screamed. A blaze had erupted in the kitchen. “Mama! Papa!” she shrieked, looking up at the second story. “Fire! Fire!” she yelled, running to the front of the house. Within moments, neighbors dashed outside with buckets of water yelling for help, but the fire was spreading fast. Véronique ran from the back to the front of the house, calling to her family. Suddenly, glass shattered from above. Her mother had broken through the second-story window. Véronique gazed up in horror. Her shift was on fire as well as her hair. Too stunned to speak, Véronique watched her step out onto the cantilever and jump. A living torch, Madame Barbeau sailed through the air and dropped to the street with a thud. “Mama!” Véronique screamed, running to her. “Someone help me!” she cried, trying to slap the flames out with her hands. The tailor who lived next door dashed up, threw water on Madame Barbeau’s hair, and covered her with his cloak. Blood was pooling under her head, and her face was badly burned. She tried to speak. Words would not come. “Where is Papa?” Véronique asked frantically. “And Lilou?” Her mother could only move her lips. “I saw your father leave after the quarrel,” the tailor said. “And my sister?” “I know not.” “Inside,” Madame Barbeau mumbled. “I could not save--” Véronique knew then her mother must have been in the kitchen and caught fire on her way to Lilou. More neighbors joined the fight, running with water, shouting, and barking orders. It was imperative the inferno not spread down the street. Véronique stood up and looked at the blaze, the flames casting a ghastly light on her face. She must hurry. The studio had not yet caught fire, but when it did, she knew the oils and substances for mixing pigments would combust. She took a step forward. “No!” the tailor stated, grabbing her elbow. Véronique turned on him like a wild animal. “Release me!” she shrieked and bolted to the house. When she yanked open the front door, flames leaped to the ceiling, and smoke belched out. Véronique dropped back, coughing. The heat was intense. Breathing through her sleeve, she stepped inside. The flames in the kitchen lit her way with a hellish flickering light. Pushing past easels and work tables, knocking over paints and supplies, she stumbled toward the stairs. The roar of the flames and the sound of wood splitting was deafening. She tried to take a breath to call for Lilou, but the smoke choked her. Stumbling over debris, she, at last, reached the stairs, but the fire had moved to the landing. Lilou was at the top of the steps clutching her blanket and crying. Her eyes were wide with terror. “I’m coming!” Véronique cried. Gathering her skirts up to jump the flames, she took a step but was too late. The fire had found her gown. Terrified, Véronique slapped the blaze with her hands, but the flames quickly licked up her legs. As she turned and ran outside for help, there was a blast. A fireball belched from the studio, soaring high into the air; the inferno had found the oils. The back of Véronique’s gown erupted into a blaze. In a frenzy of terror, she started to run, but the tailor knocked her to the ground, snuffing the flames. The fire spread to three more homes before it was contained late that night. When Monsieur Barbeau returned home, he found his wife and youngest daughter dead and Véronique badly burned. Horrified and grief-stricken, he immediately called for Rainier Laurent Delacroix’s head and was joined by three others who had witnessed the angry young man leaving the scene. All the while, Véronique teetered between life and death.
A light snow drifted down over the city that night. It was late, and Lower Québec was quiet. A few hours ago, the alehouses had been filled with revelers, but now they had all disappeared. The snow crunched loudly under Véronique’s boots as she walked home. She was weary and stared down at the path in front of her. The hood on her cloak was pulled up. It was no longer necessary to look over her shoulder after dark. She was used to the streets. She had lived on them for months. Ramshackle wooden warehouses loomed large all around her, dark sentinels that seemed to keep watch. Not far were the docks and the frozen St. Lawrence River. Véronique turned the corner, trudging toward a row of run-down workshops and residences. She had walked this way every night for two years going to and from the Siren and the Serpent Tavern where the owner paid her to service men. She seldom thought about her past. It was too painful looking back. Life had been different then. There had been hope, but now there was only survival. When she came to New France with her father five years ago, Véronique’s life held promise. Master Barbeau had accepted a lucrative commission in Québec at the Château Saint-Louis and employed Véronique as his assistant. He believed distancing himself from Paris would ease the grief, and Véronique liked the city perched on a rock. Taking rooms near the cathedral in Upper Québec, they set up housekeeping and started work in the residence of the governor-general, Louis de Frontenac. It was summer, and the city was in motion. Véronique missed Paris, but she had her father and her painting. She asked for little else. Memories and guilt plagued her for bringing Delacroix into their lives, but she learned to bury her feelings and carry on, even though a part of her still loved Rainier. For Henri Barbeau, it was different. His wounds festered, and memories haunted him. He would be jolted awake arguing once more with Delacroix or sit up drenched in sweat and terror, a blaze before his eyes. He relived the Requiem Mass for his wife and daughter, and without warning, day or night, the memory of Véronique in the hospital bed would loom up before him. Véronique’s recovery had indeed been slow. She spent weeks in the Hôtel-Dieu in Paris being cared for by the nuns, while Henri tried to scrape together what was left of his life. After setting up new lodgings in the Latin Quarter and resurrecting his studio, legal proceedings began against Rainier Delacroix. The trial was swift. With the testimony of Véronique and three of the neighbors, the young man was immediately found guilty. Everyone felt justice had been served until sentencing. A commoner would have hanged, but Rainier was the son of a nobleman. He was given three years in the Bastille instead. Henri Barbeau was outraged, but his friends comforted him. Three years in the Bastille was equal to a death sentence. Shortly after the trial, Master Barbeau accepted the commission in New France and when Véronique was healthy enough, they made the crossing. Throwing themselves into their work for the governor-general, father and daughter at first seemed to thrive. But when winter came, Monsieur Barbeau’s health began to fail. An incessant cough robbed him of sleep, and he grew thin. The quality of his work at the Château diminished, and Frontenac’s deputy dismissed him. After that, things went from bad to worse. His health continued to decline, and there was no money for medicine or care. Véronique nursed him as best she could, but one morning in March, she found him dead in his bed. Left alone in New France with no money, no friends, and no prospects, Véronique was terrified. It would be months before ships could set sail for France again, and even then she had no money for passage. She pleaded with the landlord to give her a few weeks to find employment, but it was difficult finding work. Her only skill was as an artist’s assistant, and there was little demand for that in a city the size of Québec. She sought domestic service, but it was late winter and all positions had been filled since November. After several weeks, her landlord grew impatient and told Véronique she had to find lodging elsewhere. Spring came early to New France that year, so when Véronique was reduced to sleeping in stables and doorways, she did not freeze to death. Carrying a bundle of blankets on her back and stealing food, she thought of nothing but survival. At last, she found employment at the Siren and Serpent Tavern. The owner, Pierre Gagneux looked past the filthy and emaciated exterior and saw potential. He knew customers would want the sexual services of such an attractive young woman. Véronique cared not. She needed to stay alive, and if this was the price, so be it. And she was not alone. Gagneux employed six girls who sold carnal favors, all of them in desperate circumstances. Walking to the back of a coffin-maker’s shop, she picked up her soaked skirt and climbed the stairs to her lodgings. Her home was nothing more than an attic room with a window, a fireplace, a pallet, and a corner cupboard. She had some cookware as well as a washtub. A chamber pot was under the bed. Her easel and paints were in the corner. After lighting a fire, Véronique ladled water from a barrel by the hearth into a crucible to heat. Without fail, she always bathed before bed. She was anxious to wash away the stink and slobber of customers. Leaning over the fire, she rubbed her hands together to warm them. In this cold climate, a one-room flat heated quickly, and for that she was grateful. When the water was hot, she poured it into a large basin sitting on the floor and retrieved a crock of soft soap and a sponge. Unlacing her bodice, she slipped out of her clothes and stepped naked into the basin, her black hair tumbling down her back. Firelight illuminated the burns on her body. Scars covered her legs, hips, and back. Raised and mottled, the burns had crimped the skin unevenly, leaving it abnormally white and smooth in one area or pinched and purple in another. Véronique was grateful that she could hide most of the disfigurement with clothing. In her work, she would unlace only her bodice, and lift, not remove her skirt. It was dark, and most men were either too drunk or too rushed to care. They sought quick satisfaction, nothing more. But her hands and forearms were visible. Badly burned from snuffing the flames on her skirt, the scarring affected the mobility of her fingers. The nuns told her she would never paint again, but Véronique would not give up. With a dogged determination, she worked day and night until she regained flexibility and was fully capable of holding a brush and pallet knife once more. Nevertheless, her skin was still severely damaged. People stared and recoiled at the sight of it, so she never left the house without long gloves. Véronique lathered her hair and vigorously scrubbed her body. No amount of soap could wash away how filthy she felt at the end of each day. At last, she stepped out of the basin and wrapped herself in a blanket that had been warming by the fire. She would eat, sleep, and then return to the Siren and Serpent tomorrow to sell herself once more. * * * Surprisingly, the racket of saws and hammers from the casket-makers did not keep Véronique awake. When she dropped onto her pallet at the end of each day, she was too exhausted to hear anything. It was late afternoon when she rose, and daylight was waning. Véronique had to hurry if she wanted to visit the glovers before work. For two weeks, she had taken on extra customers to purchase a new pair of gloves. Swinging her cloak over her shoulders, she started down the stairs. “Good afternoon, Mademoiselle Barbeau,” Monsieur Paul, the coffin maker, said as she passed through the yard of the workshop. His apprentice nodded a greeting as well. “Good afternoon to you both,” Véronique replied. Wearing leather aprons over coarse smocks and work britches, they were planing wood for a new casket. Even though Monsieur Paul was aware of Véronique’s livelihood, he always addressed her as if she was a great lady. Her deportment and carriage demanded it. Reserved and dignified, people frequently mistook her for arrogant. She was just distracted. Having the eye of an artist, she was forever preoccupied noting the shapes, colors, light, and shadows all around her. When she first started at the Siren and Serpent, Véronique wondered if she could attract customers. The other girls were forward, outspoken, and their humor was bawdy. Véronique, on the other hand, was quiet and detached. Nevertheless, men found this aloof demeanor intriguing, and in no time she had a string of returning customers. Turning down Dalhousie Street, Véronique walked through Lower Town or Basse-Ville. This was the port area, a neighborhood of seamen, voyageurs, vagrants, and whores. It was filled with warehouses and broken-down wood frame taverns. Turning onto the Côte de la Montagne, Véronique lifted her skirts and started pulling herself uphill. The shops, ecclesiastical buildings, and finer homes were in Haute-Ville, high on the rock. She glanced at the beautiful Château perched overhead on a precipice. It seemed like a dream that she had once worked there, but that was a long time ago. She did not dare gaze for long. Experience had taught her to stay alert and walk on the shoulder when making this ascent. Reckless driving, as well as icy pavement, often caused carts and wagons to go out of control. They would careen wildly down the hill flattening everything and everyone in their path. The buildings grew more imposing as Véronique climbed. Constructed of block, stone, and mortar, they were flat-faced, two-story structures joined one to the other with steep slated roofs. To adorn the drab gray exteriors, owners painted their doors and shutters bright scarlet or royal blue and added flower boxes. Véronique passed the cemetery then turned down a narrow alley to a shop with a wooden sign saying Arnaud and Sons. These were the best glove makers in all of Québec and the most expensive. To her, it was worth it. “Ah, Mademoiselle Barbeau!” a tiny bald man exclaimed when she stepped inside. He put down his scissors and rose from his worktable. Drawers crammed with ribbon, faux flowers, and boxes of trinkets lined the walls as well as shelves holding bolts of velvet, soft leather, and wool. “Are we ready for another order?” he asked. “If you please, Monsieur Arnaud,” she replied, lowering her hood. He escorted her to a chair at a measuring table, brushed off thread and scraps of fabric, and sat down across from her. He had tiny, bloodshot eyes and fine wrinkles in his face from a lifetime of squinting at his work. “I desire something with a soft lining this time,” she said. His brow furrowed. “Were your gloves uncomfortable?” “It is not the fault of the gloves, Monsieur Arnaud. Sensation is returning to my fingers, and with it comes pain. I am grateful but at the same time distressed.” He nodded with concern. “May I?” he asked, gently taking her hand and removing her glove. It was always embarrassing, but Véronique trusted him. He had seen her without gloves many times over the years for measurements and fittings. Easing each glove off, he examined her hands. The skin was purple and wrinkled, and several of her fingers were crooked and stiff where the scars had pulled tight. “Show me where you are having pain,” he said. She gestured to a spot on her knuckles and several places between her fingers. “I see,” he replied. “Now that you have increased sensitivity and more mobility, I believe we need a softer, lighter weight glove. Have you started painting again?” She smiled and nodded. “This is indeed good news,” he continued. “I believe we now need kidskin. It is more flexible. It makes an attractive glove, but it may not be as durable as lambskin.” “I understand. And will you make them so they cover my forearms too?” “As always.” “Very well,” she said. “Do you need new measurements?” “I have everything here.” When she paid him, he bowed slightly and said, “It is always a pleasure, Mademoiselle Barbeau.” “And for me as well. Thank you, Monsieur Arnaud.” Stepping out of the shop, she pulled her gloves on and started back down the hill. The Siren and Serpent was already busy when she arrived. A two-story building, the main floor of the tavern was dark and windowless with a low-beamed ceiling. A blackened fireplace was in the center of the room. Bench tables were scattered throughout, each holding large tallow candles. Over time, copious amounts of wax had run onto the surface adhering the candles to the tables. The bar was in front of a wall stacked with casks. Perforated tin lanterns hung overhead, shedding a dim light on the smoky interior. Véronique pushed past several workmen drinking ale by the door. One of them grabbed her buttocks, but she ignored it. It surprised her that the tavern was this crowded before sunset. Men usually worked later now that it was spring. Nevertheless, this was nothing compared to summer when the St. Lawrence was open and the port was jammed with sailors, travelers, merchants, and voyageurs. Behind the bar was a man with dirty shoulder-length gray hair and a long gray beard. It was the owner, Pierre Gagneux. “Farfard seeks you,” he growled when Véronique approached. Before she could respond, a big-bellied man in his middle years walked up, slapped payment on the bar, and grabbed her elbow. “I need relief,” he mumbled into her ear, his breath stinking of rotten teeth. “Now.” Farfard was one of Véronique’s regular customers. A clerk for the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, Farfard fancied himself a man of refined tastes and believed Véronique was his caliber. Gripping her wrist, he pulled her through the crowd and up the stairs. At the top of the steps was a massively built man sitting on a stool. He had curly black hair, a black beard, and a scar running down his cheek. Lazare was Véronique’s protection. Véronique jerked her arm away from Farfard and said, “At least let me take off my cloak.” He scowled but said nothing. She untied it, handed it to Lazare, and they went into a room. Moments later, Farfard lumbered out buttoning his breeches, followed by Véronique re-lacing her bodice. Grabbing her cloak, she glanced at Lazare and murmured, “Thank you.” Anton Lazare watched her walk down the steps. He liked Véronique. She was different from the other women. She was the only one who bothered to thank him after each customer. Back downstairs, Véronique ran her eyes over the room. It was smoky and loud, and someone was playing a fiddle. A young woman at the bar nodded a greeting to her. It was Clotilde Bernard, another fille de joie. She had light brown hair, an immature figure, and a fresh young face. Her childlike appearance appealed to certain men. She looked to be less than fifteen years of age, but in reality, she was well over twenty. “Bonsoir, Clotilde,” Véronique said, walking up. “You were barely in the door and already Farfard wanted to poke you,” Clotilde said. “It’s money,” Véronique replied with a shrug. They scanned the room. Just about every bench was full with patrons drinking, talking, and laughing. There was a group of workmen in one corner shooting dice. Several gentlemen played cards by the fire, and a table of seamen were singing shanties. Véronique watched a buxom woman with blonde hair and dimples behind the bar dump leftover drinks into the allsorts keg, an inexpensive offering for those with great thirst but little money. She eased a tray of tankards onto her shoulder and started out into the crowd. “Sylvie is barmaid tonight?” Véronique asked Clotilde. “Yes, and she’s not happy about it, but the girl Gagneux engaged never came back.” Véronique nodded and tugged on her bodice. She had laced it too tightly and could barely breathe. Nevertheless, her breasts pushed up invitingly, and her waist looked tiny. She smiled at an elderly gentleman sitting in the corner. He winked, raised his tankard to her, and drank. Here was potential. Even though he probably would take too long, he looked clean. Clotilde playfully bumped Véronique’s hip with her own. “My sweet,” she asked, “would you be willing to take Padou tonight if he seeks me out?” “Yes, but why?” “I have a new customer coming in, and he wants a full hour of my time.” “An hour?” Véronique said, making a face. “Take care, Clotilde.” “I know,” she replied. Emptying her tankard, she walked off. The moment Clotilde left, a very drunk coureur de bois staggered up and took Véronique to his table. His friends kept her busy the rest of the evening along with Clotilde’s customer Padou. After midnight, Véronique came down to the barroom and ducked into the shadows. She was trying to hide. She had been upstairs too many times tonight, and she was sore and exhausted. The crowd tonight seemed volatile. There had been several fights already. Two men actually drew swords, and as predicted, Clotilde’s new customer had been a problem. He had grown violent, and Lazare had to remove him. Véronique rubbed her temples and stretched her back. She was grateful Gagneux was busy at the bar and didn’t notice her. Suddenly, there was a crash followed by shouts. Soldiers from the garrison flooded into the tavern. Startled patrons jumped from their seats, ready to draw weapons. There was shoving, yelling, and cursing as indignant customers demanded explanations. Pushing through the throng, an officer scrambled up onto a table and shot off a pistol. Stunned, the crowd grew silent. He unrolled a document and read, “By order of the Most Reverend Francis-Xavier de Montmorency-Laval, Bishop of Petraea, this establishment is officially closed.” “Goddamn you!” the owner Gagneux boomed, dashing from the back of the bar. The officer continued to read the declaration. The bishop cited drunkenness, gambling, and lewd behavior as justification. Véronique’s heart started to pound. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Every year, Laval threatened to clean up the city before the waterways reopened, but he had never acted on it. “Everyone vacates!” the officer roared. “Now!” The soldiers started pushing patrons out the door, but Véronique remained in the shadows. Gagneux was beet red. He strode up to the officer, who was jumping down from the table, and barked, “Tell that pious bastard, Laval, that he’ll be sorry for this!” The officer rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes, I’ll be sure to inform him,” he said sarcastically. Véronique watched from behind the stairs. She had to be careful. They may want to detain the filles de joie. Ducking behind a group of boisterous seamen, she made for the door. But the officer spotted her. “You remain here,” he said, snatching her arm. She opened her mouth to shower him with curses but thought better of it. He handed her to a soldier, who pushed her roughly to a corner where Sylvie was standing with a guard. Véronique stumbled up beside her. “I cannot understand it,” Sylvie murmured, looking around. “You can expect this if you walk the streets but not in the taverns.” Véronique swallowed hard, wondering if they would clap her in chains. Next, the regulars rushed upstairs to search for more women. There was swearing, screaming, and a crash. Clotilde appeared on the top step, struggling with one of the soldiers. With a shriek, she lunged forward and clawed the man’s face. The man roared, grabbed her by the shoulders, and threw her down the stairs. Véronique gasped. She was so preoccupied watching Clotilde that she didn’t notice Lazare, the man who was their protection, step up, wrap his arm around their guard’s neck, and drive a knife into his back. The man arched and gurgled. When Sylvie saw what was happening, she withdrew her own knife and stabbed the regular as well. “Quickly!” Lazare barked, dropping the body. They pushed through the crowd and out the door. Scrambling through the snow, they dashed up one street and down another until they burst out onto the wharf, still running. They didn’t stop until they came to an abandoned house on the edge of the waterfront. The roof had caved in on the second story. The wood walls were old and brittle, but it was sanctuary. Lazare threw open the door, and they rushed inside. Véronique looked around, panting. The house smelled musty and had a dirt floor, but the walls were chinked. “This--” Sylvie said breathlessly, “this is where we live.” Véronique’s eyebrows shot up. “I was not aware you two were--” “We kept it quiet. It would only cause problems.” Lazare was kneeling on the hearth, trying to strike a spark over jute. “I am in your debt, Lazare,” Véronique said. He shrugged and replied in his deep voice, “They will be searching for you. You must stay here until sunrise. Once the wharf fills with people, you can slip home through the crowd.” Véronique nodded. “Take a chair,” Sylvie said to her. “I’ll get you a brandy.” Véronique sat down at the table and watched her pull three tankards from a shelf, filling them with spirits. She understood why Sylvie was so popular with men at the tavern. She had mounds of rich golden hair and a full figure. When she smiled, which was often, her dimples deepened. Once the fire was burning brightly, Lazare retrieved a hot poker and plunged it into each of the tankards. Véronique drank the warm brandy quickly, feeling it heat her blood and quiet her trembling. “So what now?” Sylvie asked, joining them at the table. “Thanks to that goddamn Laval, we are ruined. There is nothing left but the streets.” Véronique stared into her tankard, her stomach in knots. “Have you worked them?” Sylvie asked her. “The streets? No,” Véronique replied. “I would most certainly starve. My soliciting is poor.” “And you,” Sylvie said, taking Lazare’s hand, “my big bear, what will you do?” Shrugging, he took a drink. Although it was drafty, the fire was gradually warming the room and illuminating it. The home was sparsely furnished but clean. A large pallet with a quilt was in one corner. Nearby was a barrel holding a pitcher and basin, and by the fireplace were shelves for cooking utensils. Lazare started mumbling to himself. “What is it you growl about?” Sylvie asked. “Maybe you won’t have to go to the streets,” he said, stroking his beard. Sylvie chuckled. “Do not think for a moment that shit-livered Laval won’t be patrolling the remaining taverns for filles de joie.” “What if I bring men to you?” he asked. “They are easily found in the taverns.” “I will not lift my skirt in an alley.” “No, we will let a room somewhere.” Sylvie started to argue, but Véronique touched her hand to quiet her. “A moment, Sylvie, this might work, as long as we have a landlord who’ll look the other way.” “Perhaps,” Sylvie conceded. “But the room would have to be next to the taverns. Those lazy bastards would never walk any distance.” “I know a wheelwright with a workshop on Saint Denis,” Lazare continued. “He may be willing to rent his attic room. There would be heat from his forge on cold nights.” “That has promise,” Sylvie stated. “I would find customers for you in the taverns, escort them to the room, and wait outside. Your regulars alone should keep us busy every night.” “What terms?” Sylvie asked. Lazare shrugged. “I suppose we all pay for the room and with each customer half for you, half for me.” “Better than the pittance Gagneux offered us,” Véronique said. “I’ll approach the wheelwright in the morning.” “To our new partnership!” Sylvie announced, raising her drink. “To our new partnership,” they echoed, clinking their tankards.