Something was going to come out of the shadows and shank me.
I clung to the wrought iron fence, staying put despite Verily’s tugs on my arm. Our vulnerable bodies could be seen in every direction on the deserted street. Cars lined the road, but they stood silent, their windows shining onyx pits. Columns of brownstone buildings, bricked into two long, looming lines on either side, blocked the moon. Their rows of windows were as black as the cars below.
Blares of horns ricocheted through our residential street, but their echoes were faint. All signs of life were too far away to save me.
But I agreed to this. I wanted this.
“Relax, Scarlet. I promise it’s safe,” Verily said to me.
Maybe no knife was needed. All the monsters in the dark had to do was bend me over this waist-high fence and spear my abdomen with one of the fleur-de-lis arrowheads, the skirt of my naughty maid's uniform flouncing in the wind and ruffling around my ass, drawing the eye of anyone who lingered.
And come on, everyone would linger.
A form pushed past us and I tensed, choking on the scream that wanted to rip out of my throat.
The cause of my stroke, a man, paused in his descension into Hell—I mean, at the second step leading down to the entrance of a brownstone. “Hey, Vare. New girl?”
Verily dug her fingers into my arm, since I clearly wasn’t prying my death grip off the fence. “Yep. She’s cute, right?”
He didn’t respond.
I was pretty sure I was gaping at him. Not because of his looks—I couldn’t see him in the surrounding darkness, just an edging of hair and a framing of shoulders. It was more because I couldn’t stop thinking about the newspapers headlining my DEATH BY FENCE AND FETISH! IMPISH MAID CLEANS OUT HER OWN INSIDES!
And it was probably written all over my face.
“She up to it?” he asked.
Verily smacked my shoulder. The fence rattled underneath my grip. “Wait’ll you see her in action.”
One of his shoulders lifted up in a shrug. I found myself wanting to hear his voice again, soft like velvet lined his throat.
He didn’t disappoint. “No reason to be scared.”
“That’s what I keep telling her,” Verily said. She wrapped a hand around my bicep and heaved. She was trying to wrench me free. Damn if I would let her. “I’m extremely convincing,” she said through her teeth.
He stood with fluidity, a primal ease. He shifted, lifting his chin in a way that accentuated his angular jawline but not much else.
“Anyone gives you trouble, you let me know. They may like dressing you up, but we don’t tolerate any more than that,” he said.
“Okay,” I replied. Finally.
He sounded so adamant and sure. I wondered if all it took in my life was for a man to sound like Batman.
He nodded once before descending the rest of the way. His walk was exactly as I knew it would be. Like a lion pacing the edges of his cage.
“Is he the bouncer?” I whispered into the curled crimson tendrils around Verily’s ear.
“Nope,” she said. After one particularly unfair yank, she pried one of my hands off the iron. “But if he’s here, it means we’re late, so come. On.”
“Ow! Verily!” Another twist and pull and she had my other arm, using my sudden imbalance to drag me down the stairs. “Seriously! Ow!”
She stopped at the door and pressed a hand to my chest, my boobs so hiked up they caressed the bottom of her palm. “Rules. Tell me.”
“W—” I gripped her extended arm for balance. “What’s our safe word? I mean my safe word, to let you know when I’ve gone Code Red.”
Sighing, she dropped her arm. “Have I dragged you here against your will?”
I pouted. “No.”
“Do you need the money?”
“Would I bring you somewhere unsafe?”
I glanced down at my misbehaving maid outfit, then back up at the entrance where a lithe, vulturine and kind of scary man just decided to stop in and hang out for a while.
I countered with, “Do you possess a danger meter I’m not aware of? A point at which you know we must escape?”
She shook her head. “Honestly, Scar.”
“Because I think you’re on the fritz.”
“You said you needed something,” she said, softer now. “Something to make you feel like you could live again.”
I swallowed. “You told me you were just a waitress.”
“You’re falling, Scarlet. I can’t watch it anymore. And so, I’m giving you this.”
A shuffling sound came from drums of trash behind her. Noises sounding suspiciously like a critter. “You think I need saving and you brought me to a rat-hole?”
“I don’t think you need to be rescued,” she said. “I think you need an awakening.”
That could’ve been a warning or a promise. She went on. “I know you. And I think this is what you need. But you have to promise, promise, not to tell anyone.”
I needed excitement, yes. A pounding pulse, a taste of uncertainty, a reason. I needed life.
But this. Here we were, standing on a dirty side street in the Lower East Side, dressed like a rich man’s blow up doll.
“I don’t…” I said.
“Do you trust me?”
Verily’s green eyes, illuminated by the weak golden light, seemed to shine. She stopped my fidgeting hands by pulling them closer to her.
“Yes,” I answered. Of course. She was the one thing that kept me in the present.
“Good. So trust that this will be fine. And God forbid, that maybe you’ll have fun.”
Grumbling, I said, “Yesterday you were all over me about professional responsibility, and now here we are…”
Instead of responding, she propelled me forward with another mutant-strength twist of her toothpick arms. Verily opened the front door and I toddled after her, mumbling threats involving her hair bleach.
She halted at a second door, arching a brow at me. “Just be thankful I’m not inducting you on lingerie night,” she said, and hip-bumped it open.
After one last pull, I stumbled into my new society of smoke, money and men.