Mouse and I turned the corner arm in arm, coming into sight of the red-lit sign. It glowed strongly tonight—someone must have fixed it.
Below the sign, several velvet ropes were set out and a line of people stretched along the wall of the building. Some looked like they’d been there for some time, judging by the way they shifted their weight uncomfortably in their high heels.
The street didn’t seem so spooky now, maybe because it was still early. The streetlamps illuminated the road. Even the alleyways were lit by the bulbs lining the street, seeping between the buildings.
Men and women, who I thought to be in their early twenties, prowled the sidewalks. I couldn’t help but stare at the girls, their dresses barely covering their backsides and their complexions were strangely orange.
My dress reached halfway to my knee and I already felt strangely exposed. It was red, but black lace had been laid over the top, giving the fabric a rich texture. Velvet ribbon laced down the back and it flared into a short skirt with a layer of tulle petticoat beneath. I’d seen it between the racks of shiny, slippery material, and decided it would be mine before I’d even tried it on.
Even if I was comfortable with such a short skirt, I needed something long enough to conceal the matte black blades strapped to my thighs, but short enough that I could reach them easily. Another knife was hidden in the lining of the bag. I’d adjusted it so they wouldn’t find it if they did a search.
“You okay?” Nicole’s voice filtered out of the radio attached to my ear. It was obscured from view by my hair and the battery pack was tucked into the back of my dress.
“Yep,” I said, “nearing the club now.”
We’d decided to approach in pairs. Mouse and I went first, Briana and Nicole followed behind. They would watch our backs while we concentrated on locating Marissa.
Mouse and I joined the line. It barely moved—most of the progress we made was because people were rejected or gave up waiting. I wondered, for the first time, whether we might be rejected too. What would we do then?
A well-dressed man dangling an unlit cigarette from his fingers strolled down the steps, nodding a greeting to the doormen and bouncers on the way past. The bouncer removed the rope from his path, allowing him to pass. The man stepped briefly from the velvet square in front of the club, ran his eyes over the line before stepping back inside and muttering a few words to one of the doorman.
After holding the door open, allowing the man back into the club, the doorman left his post, moving down the line with a purpose. He approached us and for a moment the worry that we wouldn’t get in intensified. We’d never know if she was even there.
“Come this way, please,” he murmured with a slight South American accent. He included Mouse and me, along with three other girls who’d joined the line behind us, in the request.
He led us past the hopefuls, waiting with their fingers crossed that they might be allowed in.
The doormen greeted us politely, inspected our IDs and held the door so that we could enter. I sighed with relief that they hadn’t searched us. The other girls received wrist bands to show they were old enough to drink alcohol.
As I stepped inside, I turned back for a moment to see Nicole and Briana join the line.
The place was heaving and it was only eleven o’clock. Squeezing through the throng, Mouse and I managed to make it to the bar and order a glass of juice each. We stood there drinking, waiting for Nicole and Briana to get in so we could start the next phase of the plan.
“There’s a problem,” Nicole’s voice informed me. “We got turned away. Briana thinks she's found another entrance, but it might take some time. Start phase two without us.”
“Got it,” I replied. “They’ll be here soon,” I said, turning to Mouse.
I placed my half-empty drink on the bar and turned to the glass wall that separated the VIP room from the rest of the club. I took Mouse’s hand as we wove between the dancing bodies between us and the entrance so we weren’t separated.
A tall, thin man in a pressed suit stood at the door. People surrounded him, pushing forward in an attempt to convince him they were important enough to gain entrance.
“Excuse me.” My voice was just loud enough for him to hear me over the music, my English accent firmly in place. “I was told I had to talk to you about going in there.”
Anyone watching would think I was oozing self-confidence, but my stomach was filled with butterflies. I was trained for breaking and entering and could go almost anywhere without being seen, if I wanted to and had the right equipment. This was a whole different ballgame. Briana, on the other hand, would be in her element. I tried to pretend I had her confidence.
He ran his eyes over us, his face blank of emotion. “Unless you’re on the list, it’s not going to happen.”
“No, I’m afraid I’m not. My father flew us in this morning and he said he would sort it out. But he was in business meetings all day and didn’t have a chance,” I said, doing my best to act like I was entitled to special treatment. “He said Ms. Hamilton would welcome us. Perhaps you can ask her?”
He tilted his head back further, speaking down his nose at me. “No entrance unless your name is on the list.”
“What’s your name?”
“Because my father has regular business dealings with your employer. He’ll want to know why I wasn’t treated with the respect I deserve.” My tone was chilling, like I’d been given everything I’d ever wanted, served upon a silver platter. I could get used to being a spoiled brat.
“And who are you?” He looked bored, as if others had tried this tactic in the past.
“Lady Emilie Elizabeth Lockwood,” I said. “Lord Lockwood is my father.”
Understanding exploded in his eyes, fear raced across his face before he got it back under control. Richard Lockwood was a regular visitor to the nightclub and a very influential man in all of the right circles.
“I’m so sorry. One moment.” His manners instantly improved. He pushed a buzzer attached to the wall, which summoned a uniformed waiter. He sent the man to the back of the room to confer with the lady in charge. I tried not to smile with triumph as his words confirmed Marissa’s presence. The waiter scurried back, whispering confirmation in his ear.
“Did you bring any identification tonight?” he asked politely.
“Of course.” I handed him the passport to inspect. “Is Ms. Hamilton here? I want to talk to her.”
He assured me I’d be able to speak with his boss after her guests left. He examined my passport before passing us into the care of the waiter.
“This way please, mademoiselle.” He led us to a low table in one of the corners surrounded by couches. He walked stiffly, shoulders and head back, spine unusually straight. “I believe this is your father’s regular table. Can I bring you anything to drink?”
“Two non-alcoholic cocktails, please. Something fruity.”
He glanced at our wrists and nodded, bowing his head as he backed away. We’d tried to find out what sort of things the girl would usually drink, but even Mouse couldn’t dig up anything about that.
This was a good spot. We could see the entrance to Marissa's room. There were a number of others with her at the moment behind the frosted glass. We could wait until they left, there was no hurry.
“Now this I could get used to.” Mouse smirked.
Following the line of her gaze, I found her watching a group of cute guys. They stood around a tall table closer to the bar, but my eyes settled on one in particular. He was standing side-on to me; dark hair fell over his eyes and his bare forearms rested on the edge of the table. He’d tossed the jacket of his suit over a bar stool and rolled his sleeves up.
The other guys in his group all looked a lot older than him. They were quite animated, laughing and talking. He simply seemed content to listen and chime in if his opinion was sought out.
He couldn’t have been all that much older than us. I was about to turn back to Mouse when, as if he’d sensed me staring at him, the guy turned his head, trapping my eyes with his. My breath caught before I spun away, amusing myself by staring at my hands. I awkwardly rubbed the pad of my thumb over the tattoo on my wrist.
“Smooth,” Mouse teased, her laugh tinkling over the sound of the music.
“Oh, no.” My cheeks warmed as a blush crept over my face. “That’s so embarrassing!”
“Well, it’s going to get even worse,” Mouse said, trying to smother her giggles.
“Why?” I refused to let my eyes wander in that direction again.
“Because he’s coming over here.”