THE lavender phantom

Sophie enters Club Lavender for the first time…

Excerpt from Chapter 10

Tonight, I’m going in without support. The only one who knows about my mission is my mystery employer. Despite all that happened with Melanie, I trust them. My gut tells me they can be trusted—to a point—because their desperation to get the ledgers is palpable. Maybe I’m the only option. Maybe they’ve heard the legend of the Brigand Wraith and are now pinning all of their hopes on me. But I was a legend back then. Nowadays, I’m just a sister making a living with a side hobby of ropes.

The neon sign of Lavender gleams bright pink in the darkness. The door is slightly ajar, light escaping from inside like the place is holy. I give it a tentative pull.

The warmth from inside is inviting, the smell of tea even more so. I walk in, trying hard not to wobble. It’s been a while since I’ve been in heels this high. When a girl my age comes to greet me, an image of Melanie inviting visitors inside flashes in front of me. My knees buckle, but I place a palm on the wall of the reception room to steady myself.

The place I’ve entered is a small hallway, illuminated by neon lights similar to the sign outside.

“Welcome to Lavender, the esteemed estate of Earl and Lady Grey. Do you have a reservation?” The girl smiles like she hasn’t a care in the world. ‘Esteemed estate’? Really?

“No, I’m here to see Valerie for a job.” I hope using her name is fine. If I was supposed to say the nickname, I’ve already screwed up.

“Follow me, please,” she replies and turns. I step after her, mesmerized by her long straight ivory-colored hair. It sways like a waterfall of warm white, ending at the dip of her lower back. It’s cut in a perfect straight line.

We enter the lounge, and it is magnificent. I try not to exclaim when we walk in what seems like a paradise of flowers, soft pastel tones, and muted lighting. A morbid feeling settles in my stomach. How can such atrocities have been committed in such beautiful surroundings? Horror films and stories have conditioned us to believe terrible things only happen in creepy, dark, run-down places. The truth is much more sinister. Nowhere is really safe.

The girl with the amazing hair waves, and an expensive-looking woman waves back. She isn’t cover-page beautiful, but there is an undeniable chicness in the air around her. She has the sculpted face of someone who had been under the knife more than once and the figure of a woman younger than her years. She looks in her mid-thirties, but her uplifted breasts and tiny waist make me doubt that estimation. It is something in her dark eyes that betrays she’s not a clueless young woman. Her shoulder-length hair, the color of white chocolate, falls in glistening waves, shining in pink and purple hues under the neon lighting.

“Welcome,” she says in a honey-sweet voice. “I’m Miss Bergamot.”

I flash her a smile. The girl who led me in explains the purpose of my visit. I take the time to study Valerie’s face. High cheekbones and full red lips. Long, dark, fake eyelashes. Perfect, radiant skin but stretched over the front of her skull like a bedsheet. She hasn’t spared the highlighter, and it emphasizes her bone structure with every sway of her head.

I want to remember every wrinkle, every ridge, every tiny imperfection of hers. No matter how plastic-perfect Valerie looks, she is a predator. If I can’t defeat her in some graceful way, like catching her in the act and reporting her to the police, I would just have to bash her face in and make sure no plastic surgeon can repair it. If I have a say in it, she will never use her beauty to hurt anyone ever again.

She steps forward, stopping an arm-stretch away. She towers over me, her long, smooth limbs making her seem like some sultry giraffe.

“I’m Adrienne Raven,” I offer in a British accent when she doesn’t say anything.

“How did you hear about us?” Valerie places a manicured hand on her hip. Her simple black sequin dress outlines her every curve, leaving the tops of her big breasts and her long legs exposed.

“A guy I met online referred me. Said I can use my natural gifts to earn a bit of cash.” As I say it, I nearly vomit in my mouth. I need to put Sophie to the back of my mind. “Adrienne” has a goal, and she doesn’t mind saying anything to get to it.

“I see.” Valerie doesn’t look surprised. Her eyebrow twitches, but her face betrays no other reaction. “Follow me. You can go,” she says to the girl with the waterfall hair, and leads me to a table in the back. My heart picks up pace.