Savage Delight (Lovely Vicious #2)(11) by Sara Wolf

“Will you be there? At the trial?”

“I’ll try. I don’t know if they’ll let me in the courthouse. I’ll ask my mother’s lawyer.”

Mrs. Blake watches me go from her doorway. There’s no fear in her eyes – not anymore. Not like the fear I saw that day. She didn’t try to stop me, or the bat. She let it happen. Maybe she feels guilty she let me beat Leo nearly to death. It’s useless to tell her she couldn’t have stopped me anyway. The thing in me – the thing that’s lusted for blood and anguish and justice since that night in middle school - could not have been stopped. It had been starved for too long, and the bars of its ice cage melted too thin by an idiotic, annoying girl.

It will not happen again.

I get in the car and start it, pulling away from the curb.

The beast will not come out again. I will restrain it next time. That’s what I’ve told myself since that night in middle school. I promised it would never happen. But it did. And I couldn’t control it. I’d nearly beaten a man to death because of it.

He deserved it.

I was as terrified as he was.

I shake my head and merge onto the highway. The beast will have to wait. The fear will have to wait.

Blanche Morailles, on the other hand, cannot be kept waiting.

***

Few women on this earth are as intimidating as Blanche Morailles. She’s a frightening combination of chilly poise, svelte cheekbones, and a wickedly sharp smile. It combines to make her a disarming presence, always cloaked in dramatic, floor-sweeping velvet coats. No one knows her real age – countless beauticians she no doubt pays by the bucket keep her looking younger than she really is. Blanche is the daughter of a French ambassador. She isn’t low-class enough to resort to botox, so the fine lines around her eyes tell the story of a woman in her late forties. Perhaps fifty-two. But that’s pushing it.

I spot her perfect dark-haired coif over a dozen typical heads of Ohio dishwater blonde, and weave around the tables. Du L’ange is a prestigious restaurant, and the one I used to work in before it was bought out and taken over by a new staff and crew.

I slide into the seat opposite Blanche. She sips icewater and twists her amethyst ring around her finger, raising one eyebrow to indicate she acknowledges my presence.

“Feels familiar, doesn’t it?” She asks, her voice rich and strong.

“The opposite,” I correct. “I’m an alien in this place, now.”

“You’ve only been away a year. Less than that.”

“A year and one month.”

She sips her water again, pauses as if thinking, calculating, and nods. “So it has. I should’ve known better than to test your memory.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Blanche smiles. For all her upkeep on her face, she’s rarely touched her teeth – they remain tea-stained and slightly crooked.

“It means I know you’re far smarter than the average man, Jack. And the above-average man. In fact, you are smarter than most men. This is a compliment, I assure you. Almost every man I’ve met is an idiot in some way. But not you.”

“Does my intelligence concern you?” I ask. The waiter offers me bread, but I refuse it.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” Blanche tries to change the subject.

“No. Does my intelligence concern you?”

She sighs. “Yes. It concerns me. Every personality of a working member of the Rose Club concerns me. I have not gotten this far - I have not become the best simply by ignoring the strengths and weaknesses of those I hire. I use them appropriately.”

There’s a long pause. The waiters bustle about and bring Blanche a lobster dish. She thanks them in French and begins picking at the red shellfish delicately.

“I’m sure you already know what I’m going to say, Jack. In fact, we both know what I’m about to say. And you also know I’m going to say this thing only because I know what you’re going to ask. That’s why you set up a meeting with me, is it not? To ask me something.”

I nod. She smiles and folds her hands over one another.

“Then ask.”

“But I already know the answer.”

“Ask anyway.”

It’s a command, not a request. My eyes dart around the room. Blanche doesn’t have bodyguards, but her manservant Frasier is constantly at her side, and in his own quiet way he is every bit as protective as a bodyguard. I spot him eating at a table to our left by himself. His tailored, dark suit hides his slight yet powerful frame. I’ve seen Frasier deal with the more unsavory clients of the Rose Club when Blanche feels the need to send a message to the escort community at large. It isn’t pretty. I don’t know their story. No one does. All we know is Frasier handles the business Blanche is too ladylike to touch.

I turn back to Blanche. I’m not afraid of Frasier, but now that I know his eyes are on me, I feel less brave.

“I only need two more weeks of payment. Then I want out.”

Blanche looks down into her lobster and smiles. “This is what I was afraid of. The smart ones always know when to leave. Usually they are not as handsome as you, my dear, and thus earn less. So I feel more inclined to let them go.”

“You aren’t ‘letting’ me go. I am leaving of my own volition in two weeks.”

Blanche’s expression turns steely, a frown carving her face. I see Frasier straighten in his seat out of the corner of my eye.

“You seem to have forgotten our agreement, Jack,” she says.

“Our agreement was you get me the clients to earn myself thirty thousand dollars. And I did. I earned more than double that, considering you take sixty percent.”

“And you’d earn a lot more, if you stayed. You turned eighteen recently, right? You could start making enough for yourself. Real money.”

“I don’t need the money.” I can barely contain my sneer.

“Oh, I know. Full scholarship to Harvard. Read all about it in the local newspaper. You certainly are going places. With or without me.”

I’m quiet. Blanche flicks some hair away from her face, expectant.

“Thank you,” I say finally. “For working with me. I learned a lot.”

“I’m sure you did.”

“On the fourteenth, our agreement is over. I’m hoping you’ll be amicable about this.”

“Of course I will, Jack. I’m a businesswoman. I’m simply lamenting the fact you and I won’t be able to build more together.”

She looks down at her phone as it buzzes. A shadow crosses her face for a moment, but a faint smile replaces it as she looks back up at me.

“You know, you’re right. It is time you left. You’re much too good to be stuck in little old Ohio forever. You’ll do well in Harvard, I’m sure.”

She extends a hand to me. Everything in me screams not to trust it. It’s too sudden. The shift in her mood was instantaneous – something in that text message must have said something about me. Or maybe I’m paranoid. Maybe it wasn’t about me at all. Maybe it was another Rose Club business deal going smoothly and netting her a lot of money. That’s much more likely.

“Why the sudden pleasantries?” I ask. Blanche laughs.

“Oh, Jack. Always so suspicious. Don’t worry. Honestly, don’t. I know you won’t be an escort for much longer with me. That’s bittersweet, assuredly. But I did mention, didn’t I? When we first met? What did I say again? You have that stellar memory, surely you can tell me my exact words.”