Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)
In moments like that, he thought she might hate him.
Kaz wove his way through the crowd, a shadow in a riot of color. Each of the major pleasure houses had a specialty, some more obvious than others. He passed the Blue Iris, the Bandycat, bearded men glowering from the windows of the Forge, the Obscura, the Willow Switch, the dewy-eyed blondes at the House of Snow, and of course the Menagerie, also known as the House of Exotics, where Inej had been forced to don fake Suli silks. He spotted Tante Heleen in her peacock feathers and famous diamond choker holding court in the gilded parlor. She ran the Menagerie, procured the girls, made sure they behaved. When she saw Kaz, her lips thinned to a sour line, and she lifted her glass, the gesture more threat than toast. He ignored her and pressed on.
The House of the White Rose was one of the more luxurious establishments on West Stave. It had its own dock, and its gleaming white stone facade looked less like a pleasure house than a mercher mansion. Its window boxes were always bursting with climbing white roses, and their scent clung dense and sweet over this portion of the canal.
The parlor was even stickier with perfume. Huge alabaster vases overflowed with more white roses, and men and women—some masked or veiled, some with faces bare—waited on ivory couches, sipping near-colorless wine and nibbling little vanilla cakes soaked in almond liqueur.
The boy at the desk was dressed in a creamy velvet suit, a white rose in his buttonhole. He had white hair and colorless eyes. Barring the eyes, he looked like an albino, but Kaz happened to know that he’d been tailored to match the decor of the House by a certain Grisha on the payroll.
“Mister Brekker,” the boy said, “Nina is with a client.”
Kaz nodded and slipped down a hallway behind a potted rose tree, resisting the urge to bury his nose in his collar. Onkle Felix, the bawd who ran the White Rose, liked to say that his house girls were as sweet as his blossoms. But the joke was on the clients. That particular breed of white rose, the only one hardy enough to survive the wet weather of Ketterdam, had no natural scent. All the flowers were perfumed by hand.
Kaz trailed his fingers along the panels behind the potted tree and pressed his thumb into a notch in the wall. It slid open, and he climbed a corkscrew staircase that was only used by staff.
Nina’s room was on the third floor. The door to the bedroom beside it was open and the room unoccupied, so Kaz slipped in, moved aside a still life, and pressed his face to the wall. The peepholes were a feature of all the brothels. They were a way to keep employees safe and honest, and they offered a thrill to anyone who enjoyed watching others take their pleasure. Kaz had seen enough slum dwellers seeking satisfaction in dark corners and alleys that the allure was lost on him. Besides, he knew that anyone looking through this particular peephole and hoping for excitement would be sorely disappointed.