The waiter comes back over to our table to offer us more wine and to check on things. Victor indicates with a nod that we need our glasses topped-off. As the waiter pours more wine into mine, I notice Victor’s hand move along the edge of the table toward me and just as the waiter pulls the bottle away, my glass falls over spilling wine onto my dress. It happened so fast that if I hadn’t of been watching Victor I never would’ve known that it was him who did it and not the waiter.

I gasp and my mouth falls open. And as I go into full-on Izabel mode, the waiter scrambles to clean the wine from the table and apologizes profusely in the process.

“Un-believable,” I say, standing up from the booth with my hands up and my mouth fallen open, my eyes rife with ire. “You idiot; look what you did to my dress.”

“I-I’m so very sorry,” the waiter says.

“I want to speak with the owner,” Victor demands, standing up at the booth now, too.

We have successfully caused a scene, at least.

“Yes, sir,” the waiter says. “I will get my manager right away.”

He starts to walk off quickly but Victor says, “No, I said the owner. Do not waste my time with anyone else.”

A little bit terrified, the waiter bows and scurries off through the restaurant.

Staying in character, I ignore my need to ask about what’s going on. Fredrik is still sitting with us, after all, and as far as I know…Who am I kidding? I don’t know anything, really.

“Look at my dress, Victor!”

Victor picks up the cloth napkin on the table in front of him and starts wiping my dress with it.

“It’s ruined,” I hiss through my teeth.

“I’ll buy you a new one,” he says. “Or better yet, the owner of this restaurant will buy you a new one.”

Fredrik sits quietly sipping his wine.

In less than two minutes, the waiter is approaching us again following behind a tall, broad-shouldered man with salt and pepper hair and a dimple in the center of his chin. The man walks with his head held high and his hands folded together down in front of him.

“I do apologize for the waiter’s accident,” he says. “Your wine and your meal if you have one tonight will be on the house.”

“Oh, but that just won’t do,” Victor says stepping right up to the man. “And I am offended that you would not offer to pay for the dress along with the dining. What kind of restaurant is this? Certainly one I will never come to again. Are you the owner of this…establishment?”

The man reaches out his hand for Victor to shake it but Victor declines.

“I am Willem Stephens,” he says, withdrawing his hand. “I run this particular restaurant.”

“So then you’re just the manager?” Victor accuses.

The waiter looks down at the floor to avoid Victor’s angry gaze.

“I asked for the owner,” Victor adds.

Willem Stephens nods. “Yes, Marcus here did inform me of your request, but I am afraid that is not possible this evening. Mr. Hamburg is not here.”

Fredrik stands up from the table now and all of our eyes avert to him. He takes one last sip of his wine.

“I apologize,” Fredrik says to Victor, “but I should go.” Then he looks at me briefly. “I will meet you at your hotel in two hours.”

I don’t offer him any secret looks or smiles, I just nod and turn back to Victor and the issue with my dress.

Fredrik and Victor exchange quick farewells and then Fredrik leaves us at the table with the manager.

“On behalf of Mr. Hamburg,” Willem Stephens says, “the dress will be paid for in-full and you are welcome to enjoy a meal on the house.”

Victor’s hand hits the tabletop and then suddenly a bouncer in a suit is standing next to Willem Stephens as if he’d appeared out of nowhere. The skinny waiter uses this opportunity to move back several steps to put distance between him and the rest of us.

“Please, sir,” Willem Stephens says, gesturing one hand toward Victor and trying to diffuse the situation. “There is no need for a scene. Would you like to speak with me somewhere more privately?”

Victor steps right up to him, confidence and intolerance emanating from every pore. Likewise the bouncer steps right up to Victor. Two seconds of silent tension passes between the two, but neither of them make a move. I know Victor could easily take him and this is all part of the plan.

“I want the dress paid for tonight,” Victor demands. “Thirty-five-hundred dollars. Cash. And I’ll think about not suing you or Mr. Hamburg for the dress and my girlfriend’s emotional distress.”

I find that ridiculous, but at the same time, I’ve heard of people suing for dumber things and getting away with it.

Willem Stephens nods. “Very well,” he says. “I will go and get your funds. If you’ll excuse me.”

Victor’s solid nod matches his and then Willem Stephens walks away, the waiter and the bouncer following close behind. Once they make their way through the quietly watching tables, Victor turns to me and gestures for me to sit down with him.

“I loved this dress,” I say with gritted teeth.

With the same cloth napkin as before, Victor delicately dabs the fabric on my chest for show. “Everything will be right once we leave here,” he says. Then he kisses me on the forehead. “I think you’ll like Fredrik. He has control.” He kisses me again a little lower between the eyes. “He’ll wait until we’re finished before he masturbates.”

“How do you know this?”

“Because I’ve known him a long time,” he says.

I can’t believe I’m even having this conversation. Or that every bit of it is a show. I don’t understand why we’re even putting on a show at all with no one here to witness it. But what confounds me even more than that is how easily I’ve been forgetting that it’s a show at all. Either I’m having way too much fun playing this dangerous game with Victor, or something is seriously wrong with me.

Victor traces my eyebrow with the pad of his thumb and I get completely lost in his eyes.

“What are you going to do to me?” I ask coyly. “You said I’ve been good.”

He lightly kisses the eyebrow he just touched.

“Whatever I want to do with you,” he says in a calm, controlling voice.

He brushes the other eyebrow with the pad of his thumb and traces it along my jawline.

I shut my eyes softly and breathe his scent in, savoring his closeness and trying to force myself not to believe the truth, that none of what he’s saying to me is real.

His lips brush against mine.

“Do you have a problem with that, Izabel?”

“No,” I shudder the word out, my eyes still closed.

But they pop open when Willem Stephens makes his way back to our table.

“For your troubles,” he says, holding out an envelope to Victor. “There is four grand here.”

Victor takes the envelope into his hand and tucks it into his suit jacket pocket hidden on the inside.

Willem Stephens then produces another, more square-shaped envelope from his own pocket and presents it to Victor next. “Mr. Hamburg would like to extend his apologies by inviting you to his mansion tomorrow evening,” he says.

Victor hesitantly takes the envelope, looking at it skeptically and uninterested at first.

“It is a private affair,” Willem Stephens goes on. “I can assure you that if you choose to attend, Mr. Hamburg will make it financially worth your while.”

“Do I appear to need financial assistance in any way whatsoever?” Victor asks, pretending to be offended by the notion.

Willem Stephens shakes his head solidly. “Not at all, sir,” he says. “But one can never have too much. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Victor contemplates it a moment and then reaches out for my hand. I take it and we step out of the booth.

“I will consider it,” Victor says and we leave the restaurant.

~~~

“How did you know that would work?” I ask excitedly the second we get into the Roadster and shut the doors. I can’t contain it anymore. I just hope it’s OK to be out of character now.

“I didn’t,” he says.

“But how—.”

He glances over at me, one hand resting casually on the top of the steering wheel. “All of the tables in the restaurant are bugged,” he says and looks back out at the road. “Hamburg sits up in that private room of his watching guests come and go, picking couples from the crowd first based on how they look. When he sees a couple that piques his interest the next phase is to listen in on their conversation.”

I’m totally understanding it all now.

“But why didn’t you tell me this before we went? I probably could’ve pulled off the acting better if I knew the guy was listening.”

“Well, technically I didn’t know if he was listening. And I didn’t tell you some things because I wanted to see how well you could improvise under pressure and having limited information about what’s going on.”

“That explains your conversation with Fredrik,” I say and his name on my tongue as Sarai opens up an entirely different topic. “If that’s even his real name.” I pause and say with warming cheeks, “He’s not really going to be at our hotel is he?”

Victor’s slow glance is laced with amusement.

“No, Sarai, he’s not going to be at the hotel waiting for us.”

Well, that’s a relief. Yet the thought of Victor….

“So who was he then? Obviously he knew more about what was going on than I did.”

We turn onto another brightly-lit street and pass through a yellow light just before it turns red.

“Yes, his name is Fredrik and yes, he’s really Swedish. He works for my Order, though not doing what I do. He simply aids us in times like these.”

“And the woman, Aria?”

“I’m sure she was just some random woman Fredrik picked up somewhere.” He flashes me a grin. “He’s good at that sort of thing.”

I blush and look away.

“Are you disappointed?” Victor asks.

I look back at him, flustered by his question. And that faint grin is still buried behind his eyes.

“Umm, no,” I say. “Why would you ask that?”

Victor looks back out at the road.

“What, you don’t find Fredrik attractive?”

I think he’s toying with me.

“Well, yeah, I’d be lying to you if I said he wasn’t attractive, but I’m not attracted to him if that’s what you’re thinking.”

I’m attracted to you, Victor, only you….

He smiles and doesn’t say anything more about it.

My face just gets hotter and hotter, and every time I see him smile or grin, because I’m completely not used to seeing that, it just makes me blush more and it feels like a hundred drunk butterflies are having an orgy in my stomach.

“So what’s our next move?” I ask.

“We enjoy the downtime until tomorrow night,” he says.

And that’s exactly what we do.


Tags: J.A. Redmerski In the Company of Killers Book Series
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