Spend a night of sexual adventure with this gritty, debut thriller.
In a toxic world of lust, lies, and elegant hotels, London’s high-class escorts cater to the carnal appetites of powerful men. It’s a game Stella knows how to play, one that allows her to escape the nightmares of her past. The rules are simple: always leave your client satisfied, don’t get involved, and never disclose your real name. But when a fellow call girl is murdered, the game changes completely. And there’s only one rule—survival.
Once a respected professional, Stella knows how easily men can get away with murder—especially when the victim is a prostitute. Determined to get to the truth, she finds herself sucked into a deadly conflict with some of the world’s most powerful men. But while they may consider themselves above the law, there’s one secret every escort knows: no man is truly untouchable.
Passage from Chapter 4
Paul Franklin’s room is on the ninth floor, at the end of the corridor in the smaller eastern wing. I find it quickly, used by now to the arcane numbering systems in places like this. I straighten my jacket, run my fingers through my hair, then knock quietly. I may blend in well downstairs, but a woman calling on a man in his room will always raise eyebrows.
No response. I knock again, a little louder this time. I’m just wondering if he’s a no-show when the door swings open.
‘Stella,’ says my client. ‘You’re nothing if not punctual.’
I gaze at the man who eyeballed me down in the lobby. Take in his faintly sardonic expression. He’s changed out of the suit he was wearing ten minutes ago, I notice, into a navy polo shirt and well-cut beige chinos.
‘Sorry,’ I say. Though really I’ve no idea what I’m apologizing for.
Paul Franklin gives me a derisory smile. ‘Come in.’
I pass through a wide entrance hall into a large sitting room decorated in creams and pale yellows, one of those haut monde designer affairs the hotel is famous for. Sharp-lined leather sofas and armchairs in complementary shades of duck-egg blue and beige. Splashy art prints on the wall, a bold geometric rug covering almost the entire floor.
Christ knows what this place must cost. A grand a night?
‘Drink?’ asks Paul.
I hesitate – I don’t normally indulge on the job. But today I feel edgy, strangely off-kilter. How did he know who I was?
Sod it, I think, sitting on one of the blue leather couches. ‘What have you got?’
Paul Franklin opens an elegant marquetry cabinet to reveal an array of spirits and liqueurs. A small inset fridge. ‘Whatever you like.’
‘You choose.’ I watch him remove several bottles. Pour liquid into a couple of glasses. A minute later he hands me a martini, complete with an olive.
‘Impressive.’ I take a sip.
Paul sits on the sofa opposite. He’s left the top buttons on his polo shirt undone, revealing an inch or so of lightly tanned skin and a suggestion of hair. He’s lean, muscular. Attractive without being overtly handsome. He mirrors my scrutiny, no expression on his face beyond the faintest hint of a smile. I wait for him to speak, but he just inspects me, not attempting to disguise it.
‘So, you’re here on business?’ I ask eventually, giving him the chance to acknowledge our brief encounter downstairs. I’m hoping for an explanation. He clearly recognized me, but I can’t imagine how. I don’t reveal my face on my website, though I’ll email over pictures if a client asks.
He never did.
Paul’s mouth widens into something approaching a sneer. It’s unnerving. As I suppose he intends it to be.
‘Come on, Stella. You can do better than that.’
OK. No small talk then. I take another sip of martini, wait for him to break the silence. Paul leans back, one arm resting across the back of the sofa.
‘So, Stella,’ he says finally. ‘Tell me more about yourself.’
He shrugs. ‘Anything you like.’
A shift in my stomach. A discomfort born of irritation. ‘There’s really nothing much to say.’
He laughs. A short, sharp bark of a laugh. ‘You’ve led such a dull life, have you?’
‘Nothing exceptional,’ he echoes, looking as if he knows better.
I bite my lip. ‘Nothing that would interest you.’
Paul Franklin crosses his leg, cradling his martini, his eyes never leaving mine. Christ, the man doesn’t even blink.
‘On the contrary. I’m very interested.’
I feel the martini start to hit, the gin and vermouth flooding my empty stomach, making me a little woozy. He’s playing with me, I realize. I stay silent, forcing him to make the next move.
‘Indulge me, Stella. Tell me how a girl like you ends up in a hotel room with a man like me.’
It’s not an unusual question from a client, and one I usually deflect with a quip about job satisfaction. But this man doesn’t strike me as the type to be fobbed off with a double-entendre.
‘I lost my job,’ I say. ‘I had no money. It seemed an obvious choice.’
He considers this for a minute. ‘An obvious choice. You think so?’
‘Someone I knew, a friend of a friend, went into it when she needed extra cash for school fees. I got in touch with her. She told me what to do.’
I lift my mouth into a shrug. ‘It’s simple enough. You either sign up with an agency or go it alone – set up a website, get another mobile phone, wait for the calls.’
‘Build it and they will come.’
I laugh. ‘Pretty much.’
Paul closes his eyes briefly. Then downs the rest of his martini in one gulp, setting the glass on the coffee table between us. ‘So far, so predictable. But I can’t help feeling there’s a great deal more to it than that.’
‘More than being broke?’
He leans forward. ‘Come on, Stella. You strike me as a very resourceful woman. Surely you don’t expect me to believe this was your only option?’
Another stir of aggravation. What is it with clients? Not content to get inside your knickers, they want inside your head as well. For a moment I consider calling it a day. Going home to the peace and stillness of my empty flat, and bugger the lost income.
But something about this man intrigues me. Not so much the way he looks as his overwhelming air of power and confidence. I feel strangely energized, with a sudden urge to break the deadlock between us.
I drain the rest of my glass, get up and remove my jacket. Taking a few paces towards him, I unzip the back of my dress, letting it slip to the floor. I stand there, in boots, stockings and underwear, waiting for some kind of reaction.
Paul doesn’t move a muscle. Just watches me in that lazy way a lion eyes a nearby gazelle. Trying to decide whether or not he’s hungry.
‘I can leave if you like,’ I say, more to break the silence than anything else.
A twitch of his mouth, as if suppressing something. ‘No. That’s not what I’d like at all.’
Ava Marsh grew up in the UK in Margate, Kent. A former broadsheet journalist, she now works freelance in the charity sector and writes psychological thrillers with adult themes. Ava now lives in Battersea, London. Her hobbies include running, kayaking and photography.