The rest of the drive was filled with Lucius’ brash musical stylings. The city loomed ahead of us, the lights beaming out into the night like a million lighthouses luring us toward safe harbor. Luke took us into the city’s beating heart, live music on the street corners and the smells of fried food seeping through the vents. The houses grew statelier the farther we drove, until we were in the midst of the Garden District. Mansions rose on every side, elegant and stylish, with high wrought iron fences separating their inhabitants from the rest of the tumultuous city.
We eventually pulled up in front of a three-story Victorian that seemed to take up half a block. It was almost garish in its ornate grandeur; turrets and a widow’s walk ran along the roof. Two hulking magnolia trees stood guard over the walkway, and a sweeping porch wrapped around the entire house. Every light in the windows burned, and people congregated on the porch and spilled out the front doors.
Luke stopped out front and opened my door. I rose and made it to the sidewalk without tripping. It was a win. But my next step landed on a rock or something else I couldn’t see in the dark. My ankle turned and I made a strangled noise as I started to fall.
A strong hand grabbed my elbow and righted me easily. I looked up, but somehow I already knew it was Vinemont. Suspicion confirmed as Lucius came to my other elbow. Vinemont offered his arm again, this time a slight smirk on his face.
I accepted it for no other reason than to avoid breaking an ankle. We climbed the three steps to the yard, strode down the wide walk, and then ascended a few more steps to the front porch. The impulse to run grew stronger with each moment. Vinemont must have sensed it because he pulled my arm into him, steadying me more as we walked past some guests and into the brightly lit entryway.
A servant came for my coat. Vinemont helped me take it off and froze when he saw my dress. His gaze tore down my figure, as if memorizing every line, every curve before he met my eyes again.
Lucius strolled up next to me and pulled on his cuffed shirt sleeves. “This should be fun.”
The house was beautiful with exquisite woodwork on every corner, above the wide doorways, and along the sweeping stair. Partygoers milled around, all dressed in black tie or dresses that screamed Hollywood glamor. Music played upstairs, a deep beat drifting down and completely at odds with the antique, elegant nature of the home.
“The Vinemonts made it!” Cal was halfway down the stairs, his gaze fastened on me and a huge grin plastered on his face. He pulled a petite blonde along with him. I recognized her—Brianne, Red’s Acquisition. She stumbled trying to keep up, but Cal just pulled her into him and dragged her the rest of the way down before setting her back on her feet. He was just as much a showman as he had been at the ball—his tux flashy, his salt and pepper hair perfectly coifed, and every word spoken two tones too loud.
Brianne clung to him, her red dress revealing the tattoo along her chest and a fair amount of skin. I could only assume Red had chosen her attire for the evening. Her eyes were glassy and she looked through me, no recognition sparking to life in her face.
“Glad you could come to my little soiree.” Cal shook Vinemont’s hand, then Lucius’. I didn’t offer my hand, so he grabbed both of them and pulled my arms out, staring down my body as he licked his lips. “You look good enough to eat, Stella.”
Vinemont twitched at my side, but did nothing. Cal released me and cocked his head up the stairs. “Come on. The real fun is on the second floor. And Stella, if you’re lucky, I’ll invite you up to the third and give you a surprise.”
A cold tremor ran down my spine. I wanted to stay as far away from the third floor as possible. Even so, Vinemont took my elbow and led me forward as we followed Cal and Brianne upward toward the pounding music. Is the second floor a rave?
Brianne swayed, but Cal gripped her ass firmly, sinking his index finger deeply between her cheeks as he lifted her up stair after stair. He glanced at me over his shoulder and winked. Anger gurgled in my throat, threatening to come out of my mouth in a scream. I wouldn’t let it. Renee and Lucius had made me think more about seeing the entire game board before making any decisions on moving pieces. If playing along got me in a better position to destroy these people, then I would do it.