Contemporary YA suspense
For Tilly White, ballet is her only escape from life, from her grief over her mother’s and brother’s deaths, and from her abusive stepfather, Fletcher. Late one evening as she leaves the studio, someone throws her into a van. But before they can carry out their plan, a mysterious boy rescues her… and steals her necklace?
Desperate to reclaim the last item she has of her family, Tilly chases her rescuer into the sewers where she discovers a secret society of ninjas. Through training with them, she learns to have real faith, which she’ll need when the job gets all too personal. The ninjas investigate a local mob boss to find Tilly’s best friend caught up in the mess. Fletcher might be involved, too! Her only allies are these ninjas she barely knows. Tilly will need to rely on her faith and her colleagues to save her friend.
Nob Hill’s hottest club beckoned Tilly from across the street. The converted warehouse’s brick façade juxtaposed the chic lines of the stainless steel door. Colored lights flashed from behind opaque glass, and the thump of a base reverberated in Tilly’s sternum. The tight-lipped mouth of an entrance sucked in clubbers one-by-one, spitting out disheveled patrons in the same breath. Tilly patted her back pocket for her ID.
“Don’t look so worried.” Heather flipped her wavy blonde hair over her slim
shoulder. “We are going to have fun!”
Tilly puffed her frizzy bangs off of her forehead. She fluffed her afro a little and
tugged at the cowl neck of her sequined emerald blouse. If it weren’t for the fact that The Pit was Heather’s choice place to hang out, Tilly would be at home with her mother and brother watching a movie. There was something unsettling about the sixteen and up club. She always left feeling dirty and drained.
Heather pulled at Tilly’s hand and hurried her studded stilettos across the street to the entrance. Tilly padded behind in her silvery buckled sandals. There was no way she’d add any more inches to her towering height by wearing heels.
After a quick check of their IDs, the massive bouncer unhooked a rope to admit the girls. He drew a meaty fist up to his lips and spoke into his cuff. “They’re here.”
Tilly frowned. He couldn’t have been talking about her and Heather, so she shrugged off her apprehension and followed Heather deep into the club.
On the far side of the building, a wall of onyx glass contained an enclosed balcony
called The Loft. A mirror ball threw shards of light around the room, falling on dancing clubbers like sparkling rain, and an iron staircase spiraled into a hole cut in the VIP loft area, where ladies in designer jeans and label pumps disappeared into black oblivion.
Heather shimmied toward the dance floor, which lay in a wide open space, presumably to give the VIPs the perfect view of the sweaty show below. The DJ bounced up and down on a stage that lined the brick wall.
Tilly strutted after Heather, and the two girls danced until another bouncer stalked toward them. At first, it seemed he was heading toward one of the other couples. Wait, no, he was coming toward them. Tilly squared her shoulders. They hadn’t done anything wrong. There was no way he was going to kick them out.
Heather slowed her dancing to a stop when he halted in front of them.
“Mr. Moretti would like to offer the two of you access to The Loft this evening. Follow me, if you please.” The bouncer opened a wide palm toward the spiral staircase. Heather turned to look at Tilly over her shoulder, her mouth open in a silent squeal. Then, as quick as her peep-toe stilettos would allow, she hastened after the bouncer. Nothing Tilly could say would deter Heather from disappearing upstairs, with, or without her. She sighed and resigned herself to going into the exclusive area. She quickened her pace and had to concentrate on not tumbling down the twisty stairs. It took a moment before Tilly could adjust herself to seeing the unseen.
A skinny bar lined the mirrored wall for patrons to set their glasses as they observed the scene below. Girls in tight dresses sipped colorful drinks from martini glasses, whispering to each other. Along the other three walls were crescent-shaped silver vinyl booths. Suited men, giggling girls, and bright cube tables filled each crescent. The cubes were lit from within, changing colors from red to blue to green to purple. There was no bar, but each table had its own server. The servers wore skimpy silver-sheen dresses and thigh-high black boots that left little thigh covered. From the way they flirted with the buyers, it didn’t seem they much cared what was flashing.
“Tilly, stop gaping,” Heather hissed from a few feet away. She and the bouncer waited for her to join them at Mr. Moretti’s table.
Mr. Moretti wore the same pristine black suit with white tie, vest, and shirt that he always wore on commercials and news segments. He had been targeted by the police department and frequently found himself on the wrong side of the law, but was also seen as somewhat as a Robin Hood for his extravagant donations to local schools and charities. Apparently, money-laundering and embezzlement didn’t matter if the money went to a good cause.
His Italian heritage was evident in his lightly tanned skin and deep-set eyes. Tilly leaned closer. Were his pupils black? It couldn’t be. It was probably just the lack of lighting.
Moretti gave an almost imperceptible nod to the bouncer and then to the two women perched next to him in the booth. The girls scooted away and strutted toward the railing overlooking the dance floor.
Heather spoke first. “Thank you so much for inviting us into The Loft, Mr. Moretti. We’re so pleased to meet you.” She looked at Tilly for affirmation.
Tilly stuttered, “Y… yes, we’ve never been up here before.”
Heather glared, and a blush crept up Tilly’s dark cheeks. Tilly swallowed. “I meant
that it always seemed like such an exclusive party that Heather and I never thought we’d be able to see such an impressive area of the club.”
There. Better on the second try.
Moretti grinned, showing a dazzling line of straight, white teeth. “You are very charming, my dear…” He waited for her to offer her name.
“Tilly,” she said, placing her sweaty hand on her chest. She gestured toward
Heather. “And this is—”
“Heather,” Moretti said. He dipped his head slightly to each of the girls. The neon lights glinted off of his slick-backed hair. “And you may call me Alonzo. It is my pleasure to meet both of you. I try to meet as many of my guests as possible, plus, who could resist two beautiful young women like you? If I could pack this club with ladies half as beautiful, I would be a rich man. It seemed in the best interest of my club to invite you up to The Loft. Please.”
He took a sip from a glass of bubbly liquid and then gestured with his free hand to the space in the booth next to him.
Heather beamed, bouncing into the booth. Tilly slid in after her. “May I offer you a drink?” he asked.
There was an instant where Tilly thought she saw a flash of amusement in his dark eyes. He took another sip of his drink.
“Oh, no thank you. We aren’t…” Tilly searched for the words to explain they weren’t yet twenty-one. She didn’t want to sound like a naive child. “We are of the younger crowd in the bar.”
Moretti smiled, then leaned forward toward the girls, his shoulder glancing off of
Heather’s. “I won’t tell if you won’t,” he whispered in husky conspiracy.
Tilly couldn’t wipe the shock from her face, and Heather elbowed her. Tilly blinked at Heather.
“One drink won’t hurt, right Tilly?” Heather asked.
“I commend you on your prudence, Tilly. But please don’t hesitate on my account. We have taxis on call, and my bouncers will ensure you get home safe.” He jiggled the ice in his glass.
“See, Tilly? Let’s just have fun for tonight.” Heather nudged Tilly’s ankle with her
“How about I order you both something, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to
drink it.” Without waiting for a reply, Moretti threw a hand into the air to summon drinks for the girls. A gaudy gold-studded ring glittered as he beckoned the server. “Two Cosmos, please,” Moretti said, his voice like black silk.
The girl dropped a couple of silvery napkins onto the table and spun away.
“So tell me about yourselves. I never would have guessed you were so young. You both seem so mature.” Scanning each girl slowly, his expressionless stare lingered on Tilly for far too long, and she steeled herself against the urge to squirm. She toyed with the emerald sequins of her top. She had chosen it to match her eyes, but now she felt conspicuous in the sparkly garment. She looked at Heather who was blossoming under the man’s appraisal.
“We’re almost twenty-one. We met our first semester at San Francisco State,” Heather lied.
“Fascinating.” Moretti sipped his drink. “English,” Tilly said.
An overwhelming yearning to be back in Heather’s bed and safely under the covers hovered over her. If only they had stuck to the normal sleepover routine of manicures and movies. Unfortunately, their drinks had arrived, and Heather looked too eager to taste the pink concoction for Tilly to attempt to get them out of the club.
However, as Tilly watched her friend, indecision twisted into her features. It looked as if Heather felt the same about the drink as Tilly did—neither wanted one, and the pressure that came in that one stemmed glass was too much for either girl to consider bearing.
Heather put the thin rim of the glass to her lips, tilted it slightly, and set it back on
the table without drinking. Moretti probably didn’t notice, but Tilly caught Heather’s ploy, thank goodness. Her best friend hadn’t even taken a sip. The pink liquid still sloshed precariously close to the rim of the glass.
“Mmmm,” Heather sighed as if she adored the taste. She could play the lead in any show.
Tilly followed suit with a fake sip and nod. “Very good.”
How long could their charade last in front of the astute businessman who watched with dark eyes from a hair’s width away?
Moretti seemed not to care and resumed the conversation. Allowing Heather to do most of the talking, Tilly found her gaze wandering around the room, stopping on the various characters who dotted the view. A girl stumbled on her heels and was half carried out by a much older man in a suit. A group of five immaculately dressed men, each with a female trophy at his elbow, disappeared down the rabbit hole into the main club.
Tilly twisted her sweaty palms in her lap and poked Heather discreetly under the table. Luckily, Heather understood and turned the conversation to a respectful parting speech.
“It was so nice to get to know you, Mr. Moretti. And we appreciate your attentiveness and conversation.” Heather smiled and took another fake sip of her drink to punctuate the statement.
“It was my pleasure, believe me.” Moretti tipped his glass, and the last bit disappeared behind his lizard-like lips.
Tilly scooted out of the booth. “Yes, thank you. We hate to leave, but that test
Heather mentioned won’t postpone itself for us.” She smiled.
Moretti’s eyes narrowed as he stood to see them off. He was about the same height as the girls, maybe an inch or two taller, but his stature did not detract from his imposing effect. His lips hitched up slightly into what might have been a smile.
“Well, I wish you luck on your test and bid you good evening.” He took Heather’s hand and kissed the tops of her fingers.
Heather blushed, but Tilly whirled around on her heel to avoid the blessing of what she knew would be his cold lips pressed on her sweaty skin.
Heather joined Tilly at the bottom of the stairs. Tilly shuddered at Heather’s excited mouthing of “Can you believe that?” They moved from under the loft toward the front. Heather’s jabber was drowned out by the scream of loud music.
Tilly was suddenly hot and claustrophobic in the dark cave of a club. How had she ever liked coming here? She picked up her pace, twisting between dancers to avoid being toppled. The doors beckoned, shining silver beacons of light ahead, but a stumbling girl broke between Tilly and Heather. Tilly turned and shoved apart a dancing couple in order to pluck Heather’s hand from the flailing display of limbs.
She pushed through the exit, inhaled the misty night air, and exhaled in relief. “That was awesome!” Heather did a little jig and grabbed Tilly’s forearm.
Tilly cocked her head and pulled her arm away. Heather frowned. “What?”
“Moretti is a creep. He watched me like he knew me, or something.” Tilly listed on one of her fingers. She thrust up another one. “Plus, we hardly got to dance at all.” She turned and stalked down the sidewalk.
Heather clicked up beside her. “I totally agree. But we got invited to The Loft. When does that ever happen? We must’ve looked hot tonight.”
Why had they been invited up to The Loft? There were plenty of other pretty girls there.
“We have been there at least four times and have never been asked to go upstairs.”
Tilly frowned. “I guess it wasn’t as great as I thought it’d be. There was something about Moretti that bothered me. Even his bouncers all seem like they aren’t the types of guys you trust. They’re supposed to protect the people in there, so why did I always feel like I was in more danger when I was near them?”
“Yeah,” Heather agreed. “Plus, Moretti isn’t nearly as good looking in person. He looked kind of like a goblin up close.”
“Something evil.” Tilly nodded.
The girls linked arms and strolled the last block toward Heather’s condo. The girls had planned to spend the night together, saying they’d use the extra time to study. A light caught Tilly’s attention. Heather’s head was bent as she concentrated on hobbling over crevices in the sidewalk, so when Tilly suddenly stopped, she nearly pulled Heather off the sidewalk. What was Heather’s mom doing up so late? She never waited up unless there was a problem. Heather followed Tilly’s gaze
“Why are the lights on? Are we in trouble?” Heather brushed her hair out of her face.
Tilly shook her head and hastened toward the front door. Her ears perked at a familiar voice—her stepfather, Fletcher.
Why was Fletcher there? Even after he married Mom a few years before, she had maintained the role of disciplinarian for Tilly and her brother, Aiden. In fact, Fletcher never took much interest in either of them, except for his frequent bellows to keep quiet. Tilly kept her distance from his abrasive attitude. In turn, he maintained his distance from her and Aiden. There was no reason for him to come over to her friend’s house.
Angry, she busted through the door. She shoved her fists on her hips, ready to do battle with Fletcher.
“Where’s Mom?” She asked, barely containing the bite in her voice.
Heather’s mom sniffed, and Heather walked softly down the stairs behind her. She
pulled Heather to her side and held her daughter.
An ominous wave encircled Tilly’s feet, rose to press into her chest, and then nearly suffocated her as it enclosed above her head. She looked toward Fletcher who sat on the couch, his elbows perched above his knees and his cell phone balanced on his fingers in a loose grip. His expression was blank.
“Tilly, Honey,” Heather’s mother began. “Your mom and brother were killed tonight at the Pizza Place. The police can’t tell us why, but a gunman shot both of them, as well as the owner. They are still looking for him… but they’re gone, Tilly. They’re gone.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in education, Kayla began working as a high school American Sign Language and English teacher. Her debut novel, Wishful Thinking, was originally released by Mckinney ePublishing in 2011. Kayla used her experience as a martial artist, and stories from her high school students as inspiration for Sunrise Underground. When she is not writing or teaching, she works as an actress where she continues to develop her skills as a storyteller. She lives with her husband and dog in San Diego, California.
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