GENRE: Fiction/Historical Romance
SETTING: USA/Europe, 1800's
BODICE RIPPER? Yes
MY GRADE: A
FROM PUBLISHER: Barmaid, society’s darling, social reformer, spy and the notorious Madam X. Jemma was all these women. And more…
Jemma’s tale is an extraordinary adventure sprawling with life and overflowing with richly realized characters. Her adoring stepmother, Phoebe, and Phoebe’s cruel and lustful husband, Amos. Milly, the devoted servant who would do anything to preserve Jemma’s happiness. The dashingly handsome Englishman, Garth Winters, who, overnight, transformed Jemma from a girl to a woman. And England’s most eligible bachelor, Lord Peter Ramsdale.
Lord Ramsdale wed her, made her the reigning queen of Mayfair society, but could not give Jemma the love she so desperately needed. Until the night Jemma discovered his terrible secret… and changed her life forever.
I first read this in 2008 and I must say this is a unique book. Wouldn't call it romance, for sure. It's got a heroine that is raped by men at different times but is also raped by a woman, has female masturbation twice, whippings, a severe beating, some erotic moments, suicide, you name it! So hold on to your hats folks, it's a dark, warped ride.
SPOILER SUMMARY: This books prologue starts in Massachusetts, April 18, 1841 with Jemma's birth. Jemma's pregnant mother, Eugenie Lalour de Crevens is from France. She's traveling to Vermont to be with the father of her child, Martin Murdock. His real last name is Marleduc but he changed it to sound more American, since he likes America so much. Eugenie is married to a man named Jacques, who's gay, so they don't sleep together. She's had an affair with childhood friend Martin. He's traveled to America and has asked Eugenie to come with him. Six months later, she decided to leave her husband in France and travel to America. She goes into labor in the coach. The coach arrives at an inn called 'Kettle of Fish' and is run by 55 year old Phoebe and her 40 year old husband, Amos. Eugenie died immediately after the baby was born. She didn't speak English so when Phoebe was asking her questions, she couldn't answer her. There was a piece of paper in Eugenie's pocket that had Martin's name and address on it. Phoebe named the baby, "This here's a little jewel of a baby. Her name's going to be Jemma. Jemma Murdock." Phoebe wrote a letter to Martin, telling him about Jemma and the mother's death. Martin left for Kansas two days after Jemma's birth so he never got the letter Phoebe sent him. Phoebe told Amos that she wanted to raise the baby.
Chapter one starts in Salem, Mass., 1858. Jemma is seventeen years old. She works and lives at the inn. She has black curly hair and green eyes, like her mother. Chapter begins with a doctor telling Jemma and Amos that Phoebe's heart is weakening. She's 72. Then she dies right then. Amos, who's never liked Jemma but has been attracted to her, arrives back at the inn after having been away for a while. He yells at Jemma and tells her the place is a mess. He raises his belt to hit her but hears their maid Milly, who's been there since Jemma was 7, coming, so he leaves without having hit her, though he has smacked her in the past. January 4, 1859, Garth Winters arrives at the inn. He's from England and is a spy. He has 'red-gold/blond' hair, dark brown eyes. At the inn, Jemma and Garth flirt with each other. Amos doesn't like it one bit. One night he goes into Jemma's bedroom, gives her and ugly, uncomfortable, stiff, skintight dress to wear and takes all of her clothes. The next day, Amos comes into her room, kicks her in the stomach and rapes her. She runs away the next day. She's walking in a blizzard and Garth, who just happens to be riding by, stops to help her. She gets in and they find an abandoned house to stay in until the snow stops. While there, they become lovers and she tells him that Amos raped her. They traveled to a hotel a while later. Garth bought Jemma clothes and jewelry. Garth had to be somewhere so he left Jemma sleeping. In the hotel lobby, he wrote Jemma a note saying where he was and when he'd be back. He put the note in an envelope along with some money. Amos, who'd been looking for Jemma since the day she left, saw Garth in the lobby telling a little boy to deliver the envelope to Jemma's room. Garth left and Amos stole the money, and note, from the boy. Jemma never got the note and thought that Garth had abandoned her. She had no money, couldn't pay the hotel bill, so she sold some emerald jewelry Garth had given her. She paid the bill and bought herself and Milly passage on a ship bound for England.
On the ship, she met an attractive forty year old man named Lord Peter Ramsdale. He showed interest in her so before they arrived in England, he asked her to marry him. She said yes, so they married soon after. Peter never wanted to have sex with her. A lady she met told her it's rumored that Peter visits brothels and even has some of them visit his home, where Jemma lives. Jemma didn't believe her. Jemma discovered a housekeeper was stealing money from them so Peter fired her. The lady left the key ring behind so Jemma took it and snooped in Peter's room, where she'd never been before. In the room she found a staircase that lead outside. That's the door prostitutes would use to come to his room. Sometime after that, she saw Garth at the theater. She was told he was married. He saw her too but they didn't speak. He didn't know that his letter to her never got to her and she just thought he left her high and dry, so there's a big misunderstanding between the two that they're unaware of.
One night Jemma went into Peter's room and asked him why he didn't want to have sex with her. He led her into another room that had whips hanging on the wall. He took her gown off, laid her face down on the bench and whipped her butt twelve times. "Jemma only moaned when the first three fell, but she was screaming by the fourth. Later she would realize that she had screamed more in terror and rage than in pain." Later, "At some point he (Peter, husband) had losed the buttons of his breeches and his engorged tool was fully evident. Without any preamble he spread her legs by forcing himself between them and he plunged his organ deep within her. The acts of whipping her were not separate; they were as one, a single unified deed of punishment and mastery. His thrusts were as rhythmic and forceful as the blows he had dealt her earlier. They built to a wild crescendo in which, head thrown back and teeth bared, he emptied himself into her, moaning and shuttering."
He apologized to her for what had just happened and told her that's why he visits 'trollops." He said he wouldn't see them any more, would only be with her and that what had happened was, for him, "the only kind of passion there is." She asked him why he married her and he said that in his own peculiar way, he loved her. The next day, Peter fired Milly. I guess he did it because he didn't want Jemma telling here about their warped relationship. Their sexual relationship continued. Jemma asked their old maid Jenny why Peter was like that. Jenny knows about what's going on because she see's Jemma's bruises. Jenny also tends to the prostitutes he brings home. He whips them too. Jenny told her that when Peter was seven, he caught his mom in bed with a man. Though she was married, she had men come to the house. I think they may have been paying her for sex but I'm not 100% sure. There relationship was bad from then on and when he was 20, he didn't go to her funeral. A year later, his father died. The father had been in serious debt and spent all the families money. Peter won a lot of money in a card game right after his father's death. He bought a mill with the money and became wealthy.
Jemma's whippings by Peter grew more violent. "When finally he was finished with whipping her he would throw himself on her in a mindless rage, sometimes not even bothering to unhorse (untie) her first. On those occasions he would grasp her bloodied, burning flesh in both hands, stretch it apart as far as it would go and thrust himself gasping and moaning into the tight aperture (anus) thus revealed."
She found out that all of his mill workers were dirt poor and lived in absolutely poverty. A 20 year old mill worker told Jemma that she was once beaten and raped by Peter. Jemma wanted to come up with a plan to help out all the workers. She decided that she could no longer live with Peter. She was 20 years old and had been married for almost 2 years. She discovered she was pregnant and that she couldn't leave him now. One night Peter led Jemma in to his room and made her strip to her undergarments. He asked her why she'd been meddling in his affairs. He smacked her then ripped off her chemise and underwear. "He was pummeling her with both hands now. Open-handed slaps first, followed by three vicious, closed first punches to the belly, which dropped her, moaning and retching to the floor. Then he was kneeling astride her prone figure and forcing her into a position that left her buttocks and back exposed for his punishing hands. The laps rained down like fiery hailstones. On and on and on, until there was no inch of her flesh that wasn't bloodies or bruised." While he was raping her, she found the strength to throw him off of her. "Now her husband lay at her feet, his pulsing male organ spilling its seed on the carpet beneath him." She told him she was pregnant and that if he ever came near her again or tried to have sex with her, she'd tell everyone all about him. She was "bloodied and bruised from head to foot." Him punching her in the stomach while pregnant will come back to haunt him, and I don't mean in the form of a miscarriage.
Peter stayed away from her from then on. The baby was born, a girl named Ellen Phoebe. The baby never really moved much and never talked. The doctor told Jemma that it was probably caused by a fall in the early stages of pregnancy. Jemma knew the baby didn't develope properly because of the punches to the stomach. When the baby was two months old, Peter, who didn't live at the house with Jemma, finally came to see her. He could tell by looking at her in the crib, just laying there, that something was wrong. Privately, he asked Jemma what was wrong with the baby. She told him it was his fault for punching her in the stomach while she was pregnant. She started hitting him and he raped her. She told him he shouldn't have done that, that she was going to spill the beans about how he is. He told her not to do that, that he would leave and she and the baby would never have to see him again.
Garth Winters is on a ship somewhere doing whatever it is he does, lol. A man was talking to him about a prostitute named Tanya. She showed up, started flirting with Garth but he wasn't interested since he's still married. In front of all the men on deck, Tanya stripped down and started dancing. The men were clapping their hands while she danced and she started masturbating in front of them all. After she 'climaxed', the men carried her off to have sex.
Are you ready for this?! Peter is at his home walking from room to room. He walked into his old nursery, got a valise he'd put there a few days before and took out a pistol. He walked into his mothers old room, remembered seeing her have sex with a man who wasn't his father, pointed the gun at the bed.....then put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. So that's the end of him. Good riddance, wouldn't you say? His funeral was four days later. The solicitor told Jemma that Peter had been bankrupt and owed sixty-thousand pounds. He told Jemma to go home to America, leave his debt behind, but she said no, the she'd pay the debt off sooner or later.
She got back into contact with her old maid Milly, whom she hadn't seen since Peter fired her. Milly told her she'd bought an old building and turned it into a whorehouse! Jemma, who needed money real bad, got an idea to go into business with Milly. Jemma wanted to turn it into a high class brothel that catered to the wealthy. She's recruiting girls from the mill to work there but won't hire virgins. One day while walking through the whorehouse, she see's a naked 17 year old Sybil rolling around on the bed. She starts to masturbate. When she finishes, she speaks to Jemma, whom she knew was watching, saying she knows it's wrong to do what she did but sometimes she has to when there isn't a man around. Jemma told her it wasn't wrong. That night, for the first time ever, Jemma 'experiments' with herself, at the ripe old age of 21.
Jemma contacted a Frenchwoman whom she'd seen recently. She'd been told the 60 year old woman, in her younger days, used to train prostitutes. Jemma wanted the woman, who's name I can't remember and I never bothered to write down, to 'train' her five prostitutes. The lady came over, was in a room with the 'tarts', had them lay down one at a time to practice tightening their vaginal muscles, I kid you not! One of the girls looked younger than she was. The French woman told her that some men would like that she looks young. She had the girl lay down and in front of everyone, she waxed the girls pubic hair in what is known as a Brazilian bikini wax. While all this is going on, Jemma was spying on them through a peephole in the next room.
Later on Jemma was talking with the Frenchwoman. The lady told Jemma that she'd taught the girls all she could. Jemma started to get real drowsy. The lady had drugged her drink with laudanum. She wanted to get a look at Jemma without her mask. Jemma always wore a mask that completely covered her face and went by the name "Madame X" while at the brothel. The lady had first seen Jemma not too long ago and thought she must be the daughter of Eugenie since she looked just like her. When at the brothel, Jemma hides her identity with a mask so she can keep her two worlds separate from each other. So to get a look at her face, she drugs her. Jemma's out of it, the lady lays her on the floor, takes the mask off, takes her dress off and starts to massage oil into her breasts. She turns Jemma over and.....masturbates her until she has several orgasms. She puts the mask and dress back on her and leaves. Jemma wakes up thinking she must have passed out. When she takes her dress off, she sees the oil on her and knows that something happened, but she doesn't remember what.
The story starts just over a year later in 1864 in London with Garth Winters discussing business with someone. Back at the whorehouse, it was to be a special night for all. The prostitutes, I think there are only 5, are going to put on a show for all the customers and Jemma. One girl pretended to be the headmistress and the other girls were to be spanked by her with a stick. So the girls took their underwear off and got spanked for being bad. The lights went out, it was pitch black, then in total darkness, the girls orgasms could be heard. It had been Jemma's idea to do that with the lights out. Jemma was aroused so when a Russian man she'd met there, Prince Dimitri, wanted to have sex with her, she took him upstairs. That was the first time she's had sex with anyone other than Garth years ago, and Peter.
A few weeks later Jemma was walking alone one night and was attacked by three me. One raped her and before the other one could rape her, the gag had fallen off and she screamed. Coincidentally, Garth and another man were walking near by and heard the scream. They got to her and the man who was with Garth ran to look for the attackers. Garth realized it was Jemma, who had passed out. The man came back, told Garth he couldn't find the men, then left. Garth hired a cab to take Jemma home. While in the cab, with Jemma still passed out, he RAPED HER, knowing she'd just been raped.
He covered her whiteness with his big frame and took her in a mindless act of both revenge and need. Her thighs were still wet with the leavings of the rapist who had had her moments before when Garth plunged himself inside that body lying so still beneath him. Jemma regained her senses just when he was shuttering with the last tremors of passion. Instantly she remembered everything that had happened and yet she could not make herself believe this last act. She could accept the vicious rape of thugs and murderers; such things happened everyday to those as careless as she had been. But her brain refused to accept that now Garth lay above her in the back of a speeding cab, taking her while she was helpless to either agree or refuse. That he of all men alive should use her so was a horror beyond her ability to comprehend.
Jemma's invalid daughter Ellen came down with a fever and died two months before her third birthday. She wasn't buried in the same cemetery as her father. Jemma was talking to Milly about selling the brothel and moving back to America. She read in the paper that Garth's wife died from an illness, leaving him with their four year old twins, a boy and girl. Even though he'd raped her, all she could think about when she read that was how happy she was that he was free. At this point, she'd been in England almost six years and was 23 years old. The civil war was now over, but they still wanted her to be a spy for them. She agreed.
They sent her to France to meet with another spy. Garth was in France too on spy business. They saw each other in the same hotel. Garth wanted to talk to her so they went to her room. They worked out their big misunderstanding, which was that Garth didn't abandon her years ago. While he was sleeping, she, like he'd done years before, left him a note on his pillow telling him she didn't love him. She did that because she didn't want to have to tell him she was a spy and had been the madam of a whorehouse. He heard her leave and followed her, without her knowing. She went to see the spy she'd been sent there to see. He thought she looked like Eugenie and recognized a locket she was wearing. That locket had been in her mothers trunk when she died. Inside, it had a photo of Eugenie in it. Turns out the man was Martin Murdock, Jemma's father. Jemma left and Garth, who'd been spying, pulled a gun on Martin and forced him inside the room. He made Martin tell him who he was, so he did.
Jemma sold the brothel and she and Milly went to live elsewhere. Garth asked Jemma's friend Edward, the teenage boy who does errands for her, where she was. He wouldn't tell her but then finally did. He went to where Jemma was staying. They all, Jemma, Milly, Garth, his twins and a few other people, sailed to America. It was early 1865.