Immediately I want to ask what Fredrik’s ‘thing’ is, but I skip that for now and say instead, “If Vonnegut intended to kill you, you had his wife as leverage.”

With his back to me, he nods.

“Samantha was being watched by the Order. Probably for a long time.”

“They suspected her of betrayal? Why didn’t they just kill her then, like they did Niklas’ mother, or like they wanted to do to Niklas?”

Victor turns around to face me again. “They didn’t suspect her of betrayal, Sarai, she was…,” he takes a deep breath and presses his lips together.

“She was what?” I walk over to stand closer to him. I don’t like where this seems to be heading.

“She was more loyal to the Order than I ever could have imagined,” he says and it hurts my heart. “As I sat in that room with Vonnegut and the more he spoke, the more I began to understand that Samantha was as much a traitor to me as Niklas has become. Vonnegut told me things that he couldn’t have possibly known. He knew I helped you. Sometime before she died that night, she was able to relay information to Vonnegut about us being there.”

“I don’t believe that.” I slash a hand in the air in front of me. “Samantha died trying to protect me. We’ve already been through this. I don’t believe you, Victor. She was a good woman.”

“She was a good manipulator, Sarai, nothing more.”

I shake my head, still not believing it. “Niklas is the one who told Vonnegut about you helping me. He had to have been. Niklas even knew that you had taken me to Samantha’s house.”

“Yes, but Niklas didn’t know that I made Samantha taste-test our food before we ate that night. I knew the second that Vonnegut brought up how distrusting I still was of her after all the years I had known her, that she had betrayed me.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense.” I start to pace the floor again, arms crossed, one arm bent upright, my fingers touching the side of my face. “Why would she protect me from Javier?”

“Because she wasn’t loyal to Javier.”

I throw my hands in the air above me, washing my hands of this revelation.

“Can’t trust anybody,” I say, plopping down on the couch again, looking at nothing.

“No, you can’t,” Victor says and I look up, detecting a hidden meaning behind his words. “Now maybe you can understand why I don’t get close to anyone. It’s not just the job, Sarai. People generally cannot be trusted, especially in my profession where trust is such a rarity that it’s not worth wasting the time and effort searching for it.”

“But you seem to trust Fredrik,” I point out, looking up at him from the couch. “Why’d you bring me here, of all places? Didn’t you learn your lesson with Samantha?”

His expression darkens subtly, stung by my accusation.

“I never said I trusted Fredrik. But right now, Fredrik is my only connection inside the Order and for the past seven months he has done nothing to indicate he is untrustworthy. Quite the opposite, he’s done everything to prove that he is.”

“But that doesn’t make it true,” I say.

“No, you’re right, but soon enough I’ll know one hundred percent if Fredrik can be trusted, or not.”

“How so?”

“You’ll find out when I do,” he says.

“Why bother? You just said that trust is so rare it’s not worth the effort.”

“You ask a lot of questions.”

“Yeah, I guess I do. And you don’t answer enough of them.”

“No, I guess I don’t.” He smiles faintly and it melts my heart into a puddle of mush.

I look away from his eyes and swallow down my feelings.

“I’m not safe here,” I say looking back up at him.

“You’re not safe anywhere,” he says. “But as long as you’re with me, nothing will happen to you.”

“Now who’s full of shit?”

He raises an eyebrow.

“You’re not my hero, remember?” I remind him. “You’re not the other half of my soul who could never let anything bad ever happen to me. Trust my instincts first always, and you, if I choose, last. You said that to me once.”

“And it’s still as true today as it was then.”

“Then how can you say nothing will happen to me if I’m with you?”

His expression becomes vacant as if for the first time in his life someone has rendered him speechless. I gaze across the room into his quiet and emotionless face, only his eyes revealing a trace of numbness. I get the feeling that he spoke before thinking, that he expressed something to me that he truly feels but never wanted me to know: he wants to be my ‘hero’, he will do anything and everything in his power to keep me safe, he wants me to trust him fully.

I do.

He walks back over and sits down beside me. The smell of his cologne faint as if he makes it a point to use as little as possible. It makes my head swim with need. I have longed to feel his touch again, to taste his warm lips, to let him ravage me the way he did a few nights before we last saw each other. I’ve thought of nothing but Victor for the past eight months of my life. While sleeping. Eating. Watching television. Having sex. Masturbating. Breathing. Every single thing I have done since he left me in that hospital with Dina, has been with him in mind.

“Do you think Fredrik will tell Niklas where we are?” I change the subject for fear of breaking into him too much too soon.

“I think if he was going to do that,” he says, “he would have told Niklas the little he did know about your whereabouts a long time ago and Niklas would have tried to kill you already.”

“There’s something…off about Fredrik. Don’t you sense it?”

Victor reaches up and touches my wet hair. The gesture causes my heart to speed up.

“You have a good sense of people, Sarai,” he says as his hand moves to my chin. “You’re right about Fredrik…,” the pad of his thumb brushes my bottom lip. A shiver races between my legs. “He is…shall I say…unhinged in a sense.”

My breathing picks up and I feel my lashes sweep my face when Victor’s lips fall upon mine.

“Unhinged in what way?” I ask breathily when he pulls back. With my eyes closed, I sense him scanning the curvature of my face and my lips, and I feel the breath emitting softly from his nostrils onto my face.

Every miniscule hair stands on end when his other hand pushes up my thigh and finds my nak*d waist underneath the shirt. His long fingers dance against the flesh of my hipbone and then rests there.

I open my eyes to see him staring back into mine.

“Is something wrong?” he asks and his mouth sweeps mine again.

“No, I…I just didn’t expect this.”

“Expect what?” I feel his fingers fit behind the elastic of my panties.

My head is swimming, my stomach a fluttering, nervous ball of muscle. “This,” I answer, my eyes opening and closing. “You’re different,” I add softly.

“That’s your fault,” he says and then his lips devour mine.

He pushes my body back against the couch pillows and falls between my legs.

His cell phone buzzes around on the coffee table and I’m reminded just how human I really am when I curse Fredrik for ruining this moment, even if it’s to let me know that Dina is safe.

CHAPTER NINE

Sarai

I’m biting my lip for two reasons: hoping the news is good news, and sexual frustration. Victor talks to Fredrik for less than two minutes, hangs up and dials another number. Once he gets Dina on the phone, he holds it out to me.

I take it into my fingers and put it to my ear.

“Dina?”

“Sarai, my Lord, where are you? What on Earth is going on? I was sitting in the den watching TV when this man knocked on my door. I wasn’t going to let him in, was suspicious of him right away; was going to get my shotgun. But he said it was about you. Oh, Sarai, I was so scared something had happened!” She finally takes a breath.

“Are you all right?” I ask her gently.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine. As fine as I can be. But he told me we were going down to the station to meet with you. Even showed me a badge. I can’t believe I fell for it. The gentleman lied to me.” She pauses and lowers her voice as if whispering into the phone so no one else will hear. “He brought me to a hooker’s house. What is going on? Sarai—”

“Everything’ll be fine, Dina, I promise. And don’t worry, whoever’s house you’re at, I doubt she’s a hooker.”

Victor’s eyes catch mine. I look away.

“Where are you? When are you coming home? I know you’re in some kind of trouble, but you can always tell me anything.”

I wish that were true. More than anything right now. But the bigger truth is that I don’t know how to answer her questions. Victor must’ve caught the look of confusion plaguing my face because he takes the phone from my hand.

“Mrs. Gregory,” he says into the phone, “This is Victor Faust. I need you to listen to me very closely.” He waits for a second and then goes on. “You need to stay where you are for the next few days. I will bring Sarai to see you soon and we will explain everything, but until then we need you to lay low. No, I’m sorry but you cannot go back—no, it’s not safe there.” He nods a few times, and I can tell by the vague crinkles forming at the spot between his eyes that he’s uncomfortable talking to her, like a man might be if someone else’s kid were dropped on his lap. “Yes…no, listen to me.” He has lost his patience now and just cuts to the chase, “It is a matter of life or death. If you leave there or make any phone calls to anyone you know, you’ll only get yourself killed.”

I flinch at those words, not because they’re true—I knew that already—but because I can only imagine Dina’s reaction to them. I can only imagine what she must be thinking right now, how scared she must be. Scared for me, not for herself and that makes it hurt that much worse.

“Yes, she’s fine,” Victor assures her once more. “Just a few days. I’ll bring her there.”

I talk to Dina for a few minutes more, letting her know what I can without telling her too much, to ease her mind. Of course, it isn’t helping much at all, considering. We hang up and I stand in the center of the room, feeling very different than I felt before the phone call.

I think it has finally hit me, how badly I screwed up.

Before, when I thought it was mostly me that was in trouble and after I told Eric and Dahlia to get out of L.A., I was worried, but not to this extent. The damage that I’ve caused runs deeper than my own safety. I’ve inadvertently put everyone that I know and care for in danger.

The reality of it all, of my actions and their domino effect consequences, the fact that Victor left me, the fact that I tried to live a normal life but failed miserably; I can’t bear it anymore. Not any of it. Hell, even the sting of finding Dahlia with Eric is beginning to bother me. Not because of Eric, or because he was my ‘boyfriend’, but because what they did didn’t affect me the way that it should’ve.


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