Chapter 63

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The girls came in through the same door the two waiters had used all evening – a large, black-painted swinging door, not very far from the marble bar counter. It happened like it was completely natural, like it was a logical continuation to the alcohol, drugs and dessert.

For the first time that night, Rilien thought of Darlene's words and replayed them in his mind like a mantra. Do not let them see that you don't like it.

It was not easy. As the girls approached – about twenty of them, Rilien counted – the men became like children on their birthday, eyeing the girls as if they were shiny new presents.

Then, some of the men also made appreciative noises, or even cooing noises, as the girls sat on their laps, submissive.

It will be difficult for you, because you're not like them, Darlene had said. But you have to be like them, just for one night, so you can ultimately defeat them.

The girls were clothed in variations of delicate lingerie and accessories. Most of them had pale skin and hair. Rilien saw a skinny girl, blonde with ivory skin and teal eyes, and wondered if she was Shivan's Cara. She was in dark blue lace and teetered on her heels as, across the table, Arnel beckoned her to his arms. Her eyes were lidded – she was obviously drugged.

In fact, Arnel was the first to leave the table. Rilien watched in concealed horror as Rami's father secured a vial of poppy tears in his jacket pocket, scooped up his crystal glass and, holding Cara by the hand, traveled to the elevated back-section with the couches and hearth.

Beside Rilien, Jem lit a cigar. Then, through the blown smoke, told him, "Welcome to Cascadia, brother."

Rilien somehow dredged up a smile, placed it on his face. Just for one night.

Soon, the men dispersed.

Some chose to stay and lounge, or play another game of billiard, others left with a girl – or sometimes two girls – and disappeared behind a door Rilien hadn't noticed before. It was to the far end of the long marble bar counter. Again, this door was painted in black, gold leaf designs at the edges and knob. Jem explained that it led to the staircase to the second floor, where the bedrooms were.

Darlene had been right. This was a fancy, private bordello that his father had created – a harem for the City Lord and his friends.

Rilien was meeting with Frista first thing in the morning, at Roasted, to report everything to her. He found himself wishing, dearly, that he could just skip ahead in time to that moment. For the night to be over, so he could share this horrible truth with someone before his head burst with it.

Tough luck.

Blane came over to press his hand on Rilien's shoulder – Rilien wished his father wouldn't do that, but he didn't say anything.

"I'm glad you're here tonight, son. Let's talk later, all right?" Blane said, looking at him fondly behind his glasses.

Rilien made himself nod with a small smile. "All right."

Then, Blane left with a girl that was clearly way younger than Rilien, thin and probably at least as doped up as Cara, with curly brown hair and big blue eyes.

"You're lucky, you know," Jem said before taking a long draft of his cigar. "We have a lot of new girls right now."

You can't ever show them that you think what they're doing is wrong, Darlene had warned.

Still, Rilien asked, "And they all want to work here?"

Jem waved with his cigar, dismissively. "It's a great life for them. Much better than that disgusting place, the Snake Charmer."

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