Miles heaves a sigh, his chest expanding in . . . interesting ways underneath his black T-shirt. Ugh, why did I have to notice that? I don’t like Miles being filed under “boy” in my head, I really don’t.
“Oh god, you had to invoke the squire’s code,” he says, and I frown.
“Squire’s code. When our knights go errant, we must go fetch them.”
“Is that a real thing, or are you being a jackass?”
“I’m being a jackass,” he agrees easily, turning to get his jacket from where it’s draped over a nearby barstool. “But I’m a jackass who’s going to help you.”
We take the car I’d used a little deeper into the city, the driver eventually pulling over at a series of tall houses, not unlike where Miles lives. We get out of the car, and the house Miles leads me to doesn’t look any different from any of the other houses lining the street. They’re all the same, tall, narrow buildings made of white stone, a black wrought iron fence with sharp points standing guard between them and the plebes on the sidewalk.
Miles walks to one of the buildings right in the middle, but instead of walking up the wide marble stairs to the blue front door, he turns, jogging down a set of steps I hadn’t even noticed.
The little alcove at the bottom is so small that the two of us can barely fit, standing there so close that Miles has to move one arm around my waist just to keep us from squishing in like sardines.
“Can you go back to the part where Seb dressed up like a spaceman, yet you were the one who caused a scene?” he asks, and I try to wiggle away from him. I’d filled Miles in on the details of our bookstore visit both at his place and in the car, but he was still struggling with it.
“Shut up,” I mutter, and I swear he smirks before lifting his other hand and rapping his knuckles against the door. I’d expected some kind of secret knock, like Morse code or something, but as far as I can tell, it’s just your regular knock. Not even “a shave and a haircut.”
And there’s not some cool slit that slides open in the door, either, revealing just a pair of eyes and a barked order for a password. Instead, the door opens, and it’s a tall guy in a dark suit. From his earpiece and the general boringness of his suit, I know this has to be one of Seb’s bodyguards.
“He here?” Miles asks, and the guy nods, stepping aside to let us in.
“He’s fine tonight,” the man tells Miles, his eyes briefly moving over me, a little crease between his brows. I wonder if he knows who I am. He’d have to, right? They must be briefed on that kind of thing.
And then I wonder if he’ll tell Ellie I was here.
No time to worry about that, though, and even if he does, I can tell El I was here just to help Isabel and probably prevent a scandal. She’ll like that, right?
“That’s good to hear,” Miles says to the bodyguard, and I think of him coming to my room that first night. Is he always the one who goes in search of Seb? The bodyguard clearly thinks he’s here to check up on him.
“Downstairs, then, Simon?” Miles asks, and when the bodyguard nods, Miles gives him one of those quick smiles.
“Excellent,” he says, then steers me away from the door and deeper into the room.
“What is this place?” I ask. I’d been prepared for strobe lights, pounding music, a general air of debauchery tinged with just a hint of desperation. But this place is nice. Fancy, too. Paintings covering nearly every bit of wall space, heavy furniture, soft lamplight everywhere. At one end of the room is a massive mahogany bar, a long mirror stretching behind it. The carpet beneath my boots is a pale cream color with some kind of pattern worked into it in red, gold, and blue, and it’s so thick underneath my feet that I feel like I might sink into it. This isn’t some party place. My grandmother would have tea here.
Then I see one of the Royal Wreckers—Gilly, the blond guy—sitting on a damask sofa, a girl practically draped over him. She seems to be made of about 80% leg, and nearly 100% of those legs are on display in a short and sparkly minidress.
Gilly looks up as we pass, grinning and raising his glass. “Monters, my good man!” he yells, even though there’s no reason to be loud—this place is nearly as quiet as a library. “Thought you were staying in tonight.”
“I am,” Miles replies, stopping in front of Gilly’s sofa, his hands shoved deep in his pockets. “Or I was. Just looking for Seb.”
The brunette draped over Gilly sits up, pulling the strap of her dress up one narrow shoulder. “Seb is here?” she asks, and Gilly heaves a sigh.
“You had to mention his name.”
“It’s his club, mate,” Miles replies, then, with a nod at Gilly, he nudges my lower back, propelling me farther into the room.
“This was just a regular house,” Miles tells me as we come to yet another flight of stairs, this one covered in deep-burgundy carpeting and spiraling down into a dim space. Sconces affixed to the wall light our way as we head down. “Seb bought it two years ago because it’s close to this restaurant he likes, La Flamina,” Miles continues, “and he wanted a private space where he could hang with his mates.”
“And girls,” I add, and Miles pauses on the step just below me. His hair is still damp, and it’s curling underneath his ears. I fight an urge to touch one of those light brown curls, but that would be both weird and inappropriate, and this night has enough of that already.
“Yes,” he concedes. “And girls.”
“Upstairs was not exactly a den of iniquity,” I allow, and Miles stops again, several steps below me now. He’s got one hand in his pocket, the other resting lightly on the banister, and for a second, I think he’s going to say something.
Then he just shakes his head and continues down the stairs.
I follow, trying to figure out Isa’s state of mind. It isn’t like her to be reckless, but I have a feeling Seb can override any girl’s senses. And suddenly I’m beating myself up for not saying something to her about how Seb is less Prince Charming and more Prince Garbage Fire, but then we’re walking into an actual den of iniquity, and all thoughts in my head that aren’t a sort of low-level shriek are promptly silenced.
For just a second, it reminds me of the race day. I see the same shiny hair, the same rail-thin figures and tall shoes and expensive dresses. But it’s like the Wonderland version of that day. This time there are no hats, and there is definitely no decorum.
There is, however, a lot of booze.
The entire room reeks of the floral, medicinal hit of gin, and the music is thumping so loudly I can feel it in my chest. Even over that, I can make out voices as people shout to be heard, laugh, and, in the case of one guy standing on the bar, a striped tie wrapped around his head, sing a song completely different than the one currently blasting through the speakers.
It’s like a nightclub, but instead of the dim blue light I’d imagine in an actual club, everything is fairly well lit by the chandeliers overhead.
Somehow that makes it worse.
“Is this, like, some Lord of the Flies thing?” I ask Miles as a blonde in a deep-purple dress throws back her head laughing while also dropping a flaming piece of paper into a highball glass.
I can’t hear Miles sigh, but I see his shoulders rise and fall as he takes in the scene around us.