FREAK: chapter one

I can hardly believe that FREAK will be out in less than a month. Where does the time go?

Coming August 7th! Click here for links to pre-order!

I was excited to see this review from The Mystery Site:
FREAK definitely has a creep factor.  Well thought out, it is an evenly paced, fast read, which keeps your attention. (Read the entire review here.)
And also this very detailed and insightful review from Dead End Follies:
Has Jennifer Hillier started drawing outside the lines? Oh hell yes, she did and it makes things a lot more interesting. It's still a commercial thriller, but it's about as original as the genre will ever get. (Read the entire review here.)
And this one from Harriet Klausner:
Although serial killer thrillers inundate the market, sub-genre fans will want to know who the twisted Freak is... (Read the entire review here.)

If you were thinking of pre-ordering FREAK but weren't sure yet, here's a sneak peek at the first chapter. (And here's the flap jacket summary for a taste of the overall story.)

Please note: This chapter contains profanity and violence, and references to sex and drugs.


FREAK: Chapter One

There was something fucked up about a job where cocaine was overlooked, but cigarettes would get you fired.

In a stall in the bathroom of the Sweet Chariot Inn in downtown Seattle, Brenda Stich (professional name: Brianna) shook out another line of the wondrous white power onto the back of her hand and snorted. It took about three and a half seconds for the shit to kick in, and thank God for it. It had been a long three days with the guy from New York, and she was delirious with exhaustion. The bitterness dripped down the back of her throat and she swallowed. The coke coursed through her veins, and just like that, the world was back in high definition. 

Okay. All right. Much better. 

She exited the stall, grateful the bathroom was empty so she could fix her makeup in peace. Brenda had been hoping for a night off to recharge, but Estelle’s text didn’t leave room for argument. You never argued with Estelle. You worked when she wanted you to, and there was really no such thing as a night off. The Bitch even had all the girls on that new birth control pill where you only bled three times a year, so forget using your period as an excuse. You were always on call, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If you were what the client wanted, and you weren’t available, they’d go elsewhere. And Estelle hated to lose money. 

Hated, of course, was an understatement. They didn’t call her the Bitch for no reason. 

Brenda checked her makeup in the bathroom mirror one last time. She’d done a decent job covering her dark circles, but her eyes were still red. No problem. An escort always had five things in her purse at all times—condoms, lube, a cell phone, breath mints, and Visine. And sometimes drugs, though of course Estelle never tested for that. If drugs helped her girls work, so be it. Brenda dug out her bottle of Visine and squeezed a few drops into each eye, blinking to move the fluid around. 

Better. 

Estelle might not test for drugs, but she did have the girls screened regularly for venereal diseases, and none of them were able to work during the seventy-two-hour period it took for the tests to come back. Unfortunately Brenda wasn’t due for testing for another week. Dammit, she should have gotten tested today—at least then she’d have had the next three days off. Her last appointment, which had ended only a few hours earlier, had been a fast-talking businessman from Manhattan, in town for four days and determined to make the most of it. He’d had a voracious sexual appetite, made even worse by Viagra. Brenda had once had a conversation with a veteran escort named Charlotte (real name: Carla), who’d spoken of the pre-Viagra days with longing. “Back then, they’d pop after five, six minutes. Ten if they were trying to impress me. Nowadays? The fuckers’ll go all night, thanks to all the fucking drugs. Pun intended.” 

Brenda’s New York client had indeed gone all night, every night, for the past three nights. She’d showed him a good time and he’d tipped her nicely (a fat wad of twenties was stashed in the bottom of her purse beneath the lining, and no, she didn’t have to share this with the agency), but now she was sore and there was a bruise on her knee from where she’d slammed it into the bedpost during one particularly acrobatic session. 

Man, what she wouldn’t give for a cigarette. But smoking on the job was a big fat no-no. The clients could always smell it. And taste it. Estelle didn’t care if you did blow, but if you smoked a cigarette and the client complained, you were done. Unlike cocaine, cigarettes weren’t considered a performance-enhancing drug. 

She backed away from the mirror to see her full self. She looked good. Tight dark blue jeans were tucked into sleek black boots, and a thin white sweater showed off everything it was supposed to without revealing any skin. A short fitted jacket completed the ensemble. Her makeup was deliberately subtle, and her long, dark hair was left loose and straight, as per the client’s request. He had specifically asked for a Girlfriend Experience, which meant she was to provide a very relaxed, “date night” type of encounter, with lots of easy conversation, foreplay, and non-kinky sex, topped off with cuddling and sweet talk afterward. Tonight, the sexy tight dresses and five-inch stilettos had been left at home, and that was fine by Brenda. GFEs, as they were known in the business, were her specialty. 

She left the bathroom and headed toward the elevators, nodding to the uniformed concierge in the main lobby. He nodded back, looking bored. She’d seen him before, having had business in this hotel several times, but she didn’t have to pay him off—Estelle would have taken care of that. Estelle’s girls never handled money, because the Bitch didn’t trust anybody. In fact, the client would have paid for Brenda’s services yesterday, by cash or PayPal. Once Brenda got the text that payment had been received, it was on like Donkey Kong. 

No background checks were ever done. The clients always preferred anonymity, and that was the risk you took in this business. A little scary, yes, but the job paid better than anything else she could do, like waitressing or retail sales. And it was putting her through school. Besides, it wasn’t like she was working the streets, something Brenda would never do. Even sex workers had standards. 

She was, however, required to check in with the agency five minutes before her scheduled appointment time. The check-ins were primarily to ensure that Brenda had arrived on schedule. She was not required to check in after the appointment was over, because frankly, Estelle didn’t care how long she stayed with a client once she had received her money. It was always about the money. Brenda could probably work for a different agency, some place with more stringent safety measures, but none paid as well as Estelle did, and that was a fact. 

The client was made fully aware in advance of the required phone calls, but Brenda often wondered what Estelle or her assistant, Lynne, would actually say to the police if it turned out they had to call the cops. “Hello, nine-one-one? My escort’s not answering her cell phone and I’m worried she’s being beaten and murdered by her client. Could you send someone over to the hotel?” 

And, oh yes, at this price point, they were always clients, never johns. And Brenda was never a hooker, prostitute, working girl, or whore. Always an escort. At five hundred dollars an hour (50 percent of which went to Estelle), it would have been damned insulting if someone called her a hooker. 

She knocked on the door to room 1521 and waited. A moment later, the door opened. Brenda pasted a smile on her face, feeling a bit more alert now that the coke had fully kicked in. But her smile faded as she took in the client, who was definitely not what she was expecting. 

His face, already flushed with excitement, lit up at the sight of her. “You look great,” he said, breathless. “Just perfect. Exactly what I asked for.” The door opened wider. “Please, come in.” 

Brenda hesitated, wondering if she should call Lynne to make sure they knew just how old this particular client was. 

 “I know.” His smile was impish. “A little younger than you were expecting. But I’m eighteen, I swear. It’s actually . . .” He poked his head out the door and checked down the empty hallway. His face reddened even more and he lowered his voice slightly. “It’s actually my first time. Hope that’s okay. I paid and everything.” 

Of course he’d paid. Brenda had already received confirmation of that. Okay, so he was young, probably still in high school. What was it to her? Actually, his inexperience would make for an easy night. At least he wouldn’t have any weird requests. 

She stepped inside. The door shut behind her. 

“Not a problem,” Brenda said. “Let me just check in with my agency, and then I’m all yours.” 

Turning away, she pressed two on her speed dial, murmured a few words to Lynne, and disconnected. She turned back to her young client with a smile. “There, all done. I’m Brianna. So happy to meet you.” She reached forward to give him a hug, as she always did at the start of a Girlfriend Experience. 

She didn’t see the knife on the bed—long, sleek, and shiny—until a minute later when he had a hand over her mouth so tight she couldn’t breathe. 

She struggled against him, legs kicking out in front of her, hands clawing at the arm that had wrapped around her waist like a steel trap, but her efforts were futile. For a kid, he was surprisingly strong. Then a fist slammed into the side of her head, and her knees went out.  

Fuck me, Brenda thought as the room turned hazy. She felt the sharp tip of the knife graze her throat, and if she could have screamed, she would have. 

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Hope you enjoyed! I'll be going to New York for ThrillerFest this week, but I'll be back next week with all the juicy news and hopefully lots of pictures.

Oh, and wish me luck, because my panel is called "Does Sex Really Sell?"  YES. I KNOW. Hold the jokes and pass the tequila.

Have a great week!

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