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On the third floor of Crescent Street's Spa St. James, Natalie McLennan poses for photographs while standing on a windowsill in high, lace-up Michael Kors boots, seductively drawing the curtains around her tiny frame.

She's promoting a book, she explains to a middle-aged client.

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"It's called The Price," says the 28-year-old spa manager, the customer dutifully making a note before heading off for her manicure. But Ms. McLennan does not disclose her book's subtitle - My Rise and Fall as Natalia, New York's #1 Escort - a tacit acknowledgment that her autobiography's subject matter may raise a few about-to-be-waxed eyebrows in her current place of employment.

In a sheer leopard-print top and tight black jeans, she is attractive but not stunning, fit but not voluptuous. Pretty, but average. To look at her now, it's hard to believe that before she moved back to her hometown last year, Ms. McLennan was a notorious high-priced hooker whose own price soared as high as $2,000 an hour.

She once lived in a SoHo loft and struck her seductive poses in some of Manhattan's top hotels, where she claims to have slept with - among others - an NFL quarterback, a British lord, various hedge-fund managers and one eighties rock star.

In the process, she landed on the cover of New York magazine and claims to have helped recruit another infamous prostitute into the business: Ashley Dupré, the escort enjoyed by disgraced New York governor Eliot Spitzer.

She also wound up behind bars at Rikers Island, serving 26 days on charges of money laundering, lost the majority of her earnings to legal fees and her pimp boyfriend, and struggled with a drug addiction that saw her overdose on more than one occasion.

Today, she is just another twentysomething sharing an apartment in the Plateau.

"When I was on top of my game I was everybody's favourite girl," she says. "The second things went bad for me, I was untouchable."

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Ms. McLennan is in the process of reconciling those elements of her personality and her past, and part of that process is her tell-almost-all book, which describes her unlikely ascent to the top of the escort industry and her fall back to earth - with only her infamy left to sell.

The story begins and ends here, in Montreal, where Ms. McLennan was raised by her mother after being abandoned by her dad, and took an early shine to the spotlight, becoming a 16-year-old national tap dancing champion.

An aspiring actress, she moved to New York in 2000 after being cast in an off-off-Broadway play while visiting friends.

Young, attractive and adventurous, the 20-year-old was soon a staple of the Manhattan club scene, out every night, indulging her love of recreational drugs and befriending the playboy photographer Peter Beard, who claims to have discovered the supermodel Iman.

It was Mr. Beard who introduced her to his former business partner, a charismatic hustler named Jason Itzler, who had just started running an escort service from his New Jersey apartment, an electronic monitoring bracelet still clamped around his ankle from a drug-trafficking arrest.

At the time, Ms. McLennan says, she was in an abusive relationship with a Wall Street type and desperate to move out on her own. Her acting gigs, while steady, were not enough to pay New York rents so she called Mr. Itzler, convinced that working for his agency, New York Confidential, could quickly earn her the cash she needed to strike out on her own.

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"My whole mindset was on getting my life to a healthier place," she said.

"It may seem weird to people that I chose to be an escort to reach that goal, but it's just how things happened."

What's stranger is the enthusiasm with which Ms. McLennan embraced the job. Sitting in the apartment of her best friend, the owner of Spa St. James, she discusses her days as a prostitute with the ease of a woman chatting about a favourite movie, and is adamant that she does not regard her former profession as a source of shame.

"For a while, everyone around me was telling me what I'd done was wrong," she says. "That went against how I felt about it."

She does not shy away from discussing her own motivations, admitting that her father's absence probably contributed to an unhealthy interest in the attention of older men.

But she still has secrets, and refused to answer when asked about the specifics of a legal deal that saw her walk out of jail in less than a month, still able to travel to and from the United States with ease.

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Later, when the discussion moves to a downtown vegan restaurant, she does not lower her voice when asked for tales about her former life. As lunchtime patrons strain to eavesdrop, she recalls her days as Natalia almost fondly.

On her first call, she says, she found herself in the apartment of a young man whose father had bought him a night with two escorts as a law school graduation present. He was good-looking and polite, and she enjoyed herself.

From that point on, Ms. McLennan worked as an escort full-time for more than seven months, racking up a string of 10-out-of-10 reviews on The Erotic Review, a ratings website with evaluations written by escort enthusiasts.

She owned a closet full of designer dresses and Manolo Blahniks and would regularly fly to other cities to sleep with men who gave her expensive La Perla lingerie.

"I was earning money to spend time and usually have sex with really great people," she said. "A lot of them were good-looking and I guess I'm just a sexual person."

It's hard to imagine someone being so casual about selling their body, but Ms. McLennan is equally simplistic when discussing her own appeal, saying in her book that "men don't want perfection, they want to be adored."

"If I was 5-foot-10 and Christy Turlington beautiful, it might make some guys uncomfortable," she said.

Instead, her clients opened the door to a pretty woman who never gave the impression she may require rescue. Through it all, enough action to earn her approximately $250,000, she swears she never had a bad experience. Even with the men whose personalities she didn't like - the A-types with control issues and tight grips - she would concentrate on something she enjoyed, such as how they kissed.

But if the well-documented dangers of prostitution didn't threaten Ms. McLennan, that does not mean she emerged unscathed.

She battled a serious drug addiction, and even under heavy make-up her skin shows the effects of hard living. Her nose runs constantly because she lost her septum to cocaine abuse, and her darkest days involved a short-lived dalliance with heroin.

But Ms. McLennan swears she was not self-medicating to dull the pain of her profession. She was simply a girl with no responsibilities, a lot of cash and a love of getting high.

It was her addiction that drove her out of the agency in late 2004, although she was clean by the time she was arrested, early the next year, after New York Confidential was raided.

She was charged with money laundering, having billed her clients through a shell company called Gotham Steak. An illegal alien whose crimes were well documented by her admirers online, Ms. McLennan refused to identify her clients to police. She does not name them in her book, either, and has passed up opportunities to dish to the likes of Larry King and Paula Zahn.

"That would hurt people," she said. "Whatever I did in the past I don't want to do any more negative things. Why would I want to break up a family?"

By far the most famous man hurt by his entanglement with a New York city escort service is Mr. Spitzer, who resigned as governor in March after it was revealed that he was a client of a high-priced prostitution ring.

Ms. McLennan had met Ashley Dupré in 2004, and claimed to have helped Mr. Itzler recruit her to work at New York Confidential. Then 19, Ms. Dupré was, she said, a natural.

"She was young, she was carefree, she was beautiful," she said. "And she seemed really interested in being part of this industry and making money this way."

Ms. McLennan has had no contact with any of her female former co-workers since leaving New York, although she still maintains contact with Mr. Itzler.

She moved back to Montreal so she could feel safe and anonymous, she said, and because her mother, now healthy, was being treated for cancer.

Her family has struggled with the events of her past, and she admits many people she meets have a hard time accepting what she has done.

But when pushed, she still defends her clients' right to hire escorts.

In the book, she says she would rather a single man hire an escort than pick up a girl in a bar with only short-term intentions, a stance she defends in person.

"It's the worst feeling to go on a date with someone, end up sleeping with them and never hear from them again," she said. "This is more honest."

Now, dealing honestly with the opposite sex presents Ms. McLennan with a new set of issues.

One boyfriend stopped returning her calls after learning about her old job.

"Everyone has their threshold," she said. "I think I'm a great girl and, at my core, I'm a relationship person. I just haven't found the guy."

Nor has she figured out a new calling that suits her talents, although she is considering writing a New York hotel guide.

She refers to her days in the biz as a "capitalist adventure in post-feminist relationship dynamics," but says she understands that her experience with prostitution is not the norm.

"In its purest, darkest form, it's horrible," she said.

That doesn't mean she doesn't miss it.

When she first moved to Montreal, she felt so disconnected from her previous life that she went online to research the Quebec escort scene.

She figured out quickly that it was not worth being sucked back in.

"The price point here," she said, "is really low."

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