Revenge is a fire that burns everything, including the person who sets it.
That was fine by me—I’d happily turn to ash if I could take a few others with me.
I glanced around the busy room, at the people who moved around with no idea about the monster among them, the one with the face of a girl.
“You want a drink?” The man who asked wore a suit, and I had no idea who he was. There were people worth knowing, people important enough for me to identify and acknowledge, and there was everybody else.
I wasn’t there for fun, to make friends—those things were far outside my life. If they weren’t people I could use to get to my goal, I didn’t give a fuck about them.
However, that wasn’t the plan tonight. Every game had its rules, its roles, and I knew exactly how to play.
Tonight? I was trying to blend in, to be just another person in a sea of people who didn’t matter.
That was the plan. I needed to move through the space but not draw too much attention. It was a line—stay hidden but close enough to get the information I needed.
And what I needed was the man across the room in the white tank top, the one with the tattoos on his left arm and a shot glass in his hand.
“Thank you,” I told the other man, the unimportant one who had decided to try his luck. “But I’m okay.”
“I haven’t seen you here before,” he said, apparently not the type to take no for an answer. “I would have remembered this hair of yours.” He reached out, taking a strand of the bright and completely unnatural red between his fingers.
The audacity. I kept myself still and pulled my lips into a smile. I could bury a knife between his ribs, but keeping my eyes on the goal was more important. I’d come too far to give up what I wanted most for what sounded good in the moment.
“I’m new.” I shifted enough so he lost his grasp on my hair.
“Oh yeah? How’d you find your way here, little rabbit?”
Little rabbit? I struggled not to roll my eyes at the stupid nickname, at how little it resembled me at all. It was like so many other things—some man trying to put me in my place for no good reason, him judging me because it made him feel more important.
“I met someone at a party and he invited me.”
The man paused and furrowed his eyebrows. That’s right. Think it through. This world was all about who a person knew, about the connections they had. I could watch it all run through his head.
Who was this man who’d invited me? Could I already be claimed by someone else, someone he didn’t want to screw with? The level of unease told me where this particular man sat when it came to power.
The more fear, the more uncertainty, the farther down he was, and the more people he had to worry about. The last thing he’d want was to piss off someone who would take the offense personally.
This guy was basement-level, judging by the way he took off with hardly a goodbye.
Good riddance. I needed to focus.
The man I’d been watching tossed back his shot. He rested against the bar, his attention on a woman beside him. Her smile was tight at the corners, a sign so subtle few would have noticed it. It told me what I could have guessed already.
I didn’t say that with any censure. Everyone sold themselves in one way or another. Muscle sold their strength, wives sold their youth and mob bosses sold their souls. Women who sold sex weren’t a bit different, other than they were often more talented.
It also made it easier to watch the man, since the professional would keep his attention.
I sipped the drink I’d ordered, the whiskey sharp on my tongue. I wouldn’t overindulge—I needed all my wits about me—but not drinking would make me stand out.
The club was louder than it had any right to be. It was full of people who thought they could move up in life, the ones who hadn’t accepted their place in the world, which was fine by me.
Hope gave me a foot in the door.
I brought my glass to my lips again, sipping more of the burning liquid, taking in the man across the room. Herold ‘Lucky’ Hanson. His parents had been idiots to give him such an absurd name, which was one reason I didn’t think his nickname fit him well. He didn’t seem all that Lucky to me.
He sure won’t be soon…
I drank one more time before approaching the bar. Voices filtered through the music, tiny bits of information I filed away as I crossed the space.
A woman flirted while admitting she was there behind her husband’s back. A man trying to put one over on his boss. Two women, sisters, who cheered while a bodyguard watched over them.
That was how it worked, though. Everyone had their own shit going on. Even though what I had going on was all I cared about, it was amazing how damned busy the world was. Everyone moved around continuously, always striving for something, running from things, toward other things, and all with a million plans.
It was the best puzzle in the world, one with parts that never stopped.
As I neared the bar, I closed in on the only conversation that mattered—that between Lucky and the woman who’d need to find a new mark for the night.
“That’s a lot,” Lucky said. “I don’t normally pay for it, you know.”
Liar. Everyone paid for sex in one way or another.
“That’s the same thing people like to say about most jobs, but the reality is that there’s a difference between a professional and an amateur. Any old person can scribble out a stick figure, but that’s not the same as the skills of an artist. A quick lay, that’s one thing, but what I can offer?” She dragged her fingers down his arm. “Well, that is an entirely different thing.”
She’s good. I filed that away, noting her black hair, her painted red lips, for when I might need information. A person could never have enough sources, and I’d learned those could be the difference between success and failure.
And failure carried a hefty price in my world.
Lucky moved his gaze over the woman, a slow, lingering perusal that made my skin crawl. “Well, that sounds fun. Might just be worth it.”
The woman smiled and reached out, setting her palm on Lucky’s forearm. “We have rooms here, upstairs.”
Lucky shook his head. “No. I don’t like having a potential audience or recording.”
The woman’s smile slipped, a hesitancy there. “It’s dangerous for girls in my line of work to follow men home.”
Lucky let out a dark chuckle. “Girls in your line of work oughta read people well enough to know which guys want to fuck you and which ones want to kill you. If I wanted to hurt you, I wouldn’t be offering to pay you.”
Even still, the woman didn’t look convinced.
Lucky must have realized he was losing her, because he leaned in closer, lowering his voice until I could only just catch it. “You think I don’t know how people are dealt with who fuck with this place? With you girls? I ain’t stupid—I wouldn’t put myself in the crosshairs here. I’ll pay your boss personally, in advance, for the whole night. Be a fucking idiot to do anything after that, and I ain’t no idiot.”
The woman’s smile faded, as if it took all her attention to consider Lucky, to judge the truth of his words. After a moment, she nodded. “Okay. Let me go get my boss and send her over.”
I stayed behind Lucky, out of his line of sight. Another woman came up after the first left, this woman with hair so blonde it was white, the confident steps of someone who had no fear walking through the crowded club full of the sort of men no one wanted to cross.
They spoke, the woman’s voice strong and sure. They agreed on a price, a time, and the woman offered a not-so-subtle threat along with the rest. Lucky paid the price—five thousand—in cash on the spot. It seemed, despite his previous objections, he’d gone there looking for sex. There wasn’t any other reason for him to carry that much cash.
Lucky took off after writing down his address on a card and handing it over to the woman.
The woman didn’t rise, though. Even when alone, dressed in a suit with no shirt beneath the jacket, that dipped low to show off the valley of space between her breasts, she remained.
At least, until she lifted her eyes to me. “You seem awfully interested in this,” she said.
I met her gaze, surprised by her bright blue eyes. They stood out against her pale hair, making her striking in a way few people were.
I could lie, try to pretend I was just anyone there. The way to react always depended on the person I was talking to. I had to measure them up, decide the best way to manipulate them. This woman? She was too smart, too calculating for me to act as if she had it all wrong.
Recalling what Lucky had said, though, gave me my way in.
Everyone had a weakness, something they feared, something they wanted. Know what that was, and I could get whatever I wanted from them.
“I think it would be a good idea if your employee missed that appointment,” I answered.
“Oh, really? Wouldn’t that be bad for business?”
I shook my head. “The thing is, Lucky there won’t be all that lucky tonight. That’s the way the night will go no matter what, and your girl already got paid, so it’d be safest if she just wasn’t there at all.”
The woman narrowed her eyes. “Does he deserve it?”
I thought back, remembering Lucky when he was younger, able to picture the way the red light had bounced off his white teeth. Did anyone deserve it?
“He deserves it and more.”
The woman didn’t react with surprise. Instead, those red lips of hers pulled to the side in a cold grin, one that screamed of a camaraderie between us, as if we were cut from the same cloth. “Do you know why I named this place the way I did? People hear the name, Diamond’s Edge, and they think it has something to do with women being gems.”
“If that’s not it, what is it?”
“Diamonds are the hardest naturally occurring substance on earth. Despite this, they’re bought and protected and valued as something pretty while most of us ignore their reality.” The woman set her elbow on the counter, her eyes unnerving in their intensity. “That’s what I named it after. The girls here, they’re seen as pretty, as something to be hoarded and owned. I named this club because the women here have that same edge when they need it. It’s something people forget too often.” She held her hand out. “My name is Valeria Preston.”
I shook her hand. “Nem Syler.”
“Nem?” She paused. “Odd name.”
“And Valeria isn’t?”
She lifted her eyebrow, then smiled again, as if she had to concede the point. “You know, I see a lot of new people walk in here, people who say a lot, make a lot of promises. Usually, they mean very little. You, however, might be the first I’ve fully believed. I’ll ensure you’re not disturbed by any of my people this evening.” She rose, motions smooth and lovely. “And do make sure he doesn’t get off too easily for whatever he did that put that fire in your eyes.”
That was a promise I didn’t mind making at all.