I’m too exhausted.

“I can’t!” I give up and fall against the mat on my butt. “This is too much. It’s my first day and I feel like it’s my first real fight. What happened to showing me what to do, teaching me how to hit?”

“Going light on you, that’s what you really mean, isn’t it?”

“Yes! Where are the instructions? The rules?”

My back is killing me. I lay against the mat, spreading my arms against it above my head, and stare up at the brightly-lit ceiling. I don’t care anymore about Spencer and his dive-in-head-first training. I just want to rest.

The fluorescent lights running along the ceiling move by fast as I’m suddenly being dragged across the mat by my ankle.

“There are no rules in Krav Maga,” I hear Spencer say, but I realize a half a second later that it’s not Spencer dragging me.

It’s a woman, with light brown hair pulled into a ponytail at the back of her head. Confused by the turn of events, I’m too distracted to notice her foot coming down on my stomach. I yell out in pain, doubling forward as my legs and back come off the mat at the same time, my arms crossed over my abdomen. The breath is knocked right out of my lungs.

“STOP!” Spencer says from somewhere behind me.

I feel like I’m going to puke.

The woman stops instantly and takes a few steps back.

“Get up,” Spencer says and I decipher through the pain devouring my midsection that his voice is much closer than before.

I look up to see him crouched behind me.

“I’ll let you catch your breath,” he says gently and offers his hand. “This is Jacquelyn. My wife.”

I grab onto his forearm and he grabs mine likewise and lifts me to my feet.

“Nice to meet you,” I say to her with a God-awful grimace. “Or at least your foot.”

She smirks.

“Your man paid me to pretty much beat the shit out of you,” Spencer says. “But since I’m not in the habit of beating on women, I figure I should let my wife do the honors so that I can still get paid.”

“It’s the best way to learn,” Jacquelyn speaks up. “That man of yours knows what he’s doing. Brutal? Sure. Necessary to one’s survival in close combat situations? Absolutely. For frail little bitches who do the dance of terror when they see a spider? Absolutely f**king not.”

“Well, I’m not one of those,” I say icily. “That I can f**king assure you.”

“Then prove it,” she taunts, bending over forward with her hands opened halfway out at her sides. “Remember there are no rules in Krav Maga. Always defend and attack at the same time. Always fight with aggression. And never go down.”

“Yeah, I got that much. If I go down I’m dead.”

Jacquelyn pretty much beats the hell out of me for the rest of the session. And when Victor finally arrives to pick me up, my nose and lip are bleeding, my right eye is bruised and throbbing, and I think I chipped a tooth.

This goes on every other day for the next two weeks.

And it didn’t take long for me to become good at it. Spencer says I’m a natural and that I must’ve ‘skipped the Barbie dolls and dress-up when I was growing up’.

He really has no idea…

I’m getting so much stronger, so much better at my technique. At one point I even managed to hurt Jacquelyn, buried my elbow in her ribs. I think I cracked them, but she won’t say so. Not because of her pride, but because she doesn’t believe in whining or letting something as petty as a cracked rib stop her from fighting.

It didn’t take long for her to grow on me, either. When she’s not beating me to a pulp, I actually enjoy her company.

Only two weeks have passed and I’ve done nothing but train with Jacquelyn and have even started training with Victor in the use of guns. But regardless of enjoying the training and looking forward to it every day, I’m frustrated that’s it’s taking so long. I expected Hamburg and Stephens to be long dead by now.

And I’m getting impatient.

“Victor, I don’t plan to fight Hamburg and Stephens. I just want to kill them. That’s it. I don’t get why you’re making me go through all this.”

Victor moves the sheet from his body and climbs out of the bed, walking nak*d across the room.

I quietly admire the view.

“There’s more to it than you know,” he says as he disappears inside the bathroom just steps away.

That certainly gets my attention.

I raise up from the bed and call out, “Is that right?” I toss the sheet off and follow briskly behind him, stopping in the doorway of the bathroom and leaning against the frame. He’s turning on the shower water.

He closes the glass shower door, letting the water run for a moment and then he turns back to me.

“You’re not exactly going through the training just to kill Hamburg and Stephens. If you’re going stay with me, regardless of what you’re doing with your time, you need to learn how to fight. You need to know how to identify, differentiate, load and fire just about every weapon. There is a lot that you need to know and not enough time to learn even half of it.” He opens the shower door and reaches inside, letting the water stream into his hand, testing the temperature.

He adds, “This training has little to do with Hamburg and Stephens. I want you to be safe always, so it’s vital that you start learning these things now.”

I smile faintly, savoring the moment. When we first met, I couldn’t imagine Victor having much of a caring or emotional bone in his body. But every day I witness him opening up more to me. And I see that it is becoming easier for him.

I go back to the matter at hand though what I really want to do is kiss him right about now.

“But why is it taking so long? I just want to do this and be done with it.”

I come the rest of the way inside the bathroom and hop onto the counter, sitting in nothing but my panties.

“Because while I’m working on a plan to get you close enough to kill them, you need to be training, doing as much with your time as possible.” He steps over to me and cups my face in the palms of his hands. “Just being in the same room with me—just knowing me, Sarai, is a death sentence every day. Every time you walk out that door you risk being shot. The only reason the Order hasn’t found me yet is because Niklas is the only one in the Order looking for me. For now, anyway. He doesn’t want anyone else to find me. He wants the credit. The recognition. Especially since he was the one contracted to take me out.” He presses his lips against my forehead. I shut my eyes softly and reach up with both hands and hold onto his wrists. “But one day, likely very soon, I’ll have to face my brother because the Order won’t give him forever to pull it off. Either he’ll find me, or I’ll find him. And one of us will die.”

With my fingers still hooked halfway around his wrists, I carefully pull his hands from my face. I look perplexedly into his gorgeous green-blue eyes, tilting my head to one side.

“Why not just leave it alone?” I ask. “Victor, I can understand that you’d want to kill him before he kills you, but why risk getting killed by going and looking for a fight?”

Steam begins to fill the room, fogging the large mirror mounted over the counter behind me.

“Because if Niklas doesn’t find me, if he can’t pull off his first official contract since being promoted an operative under Vonnegut, they’ll kill him.” He props the palms of his hands on the countertop on either side of me. “No one’s going to kill my brother but me. I don’t care what he’s done, or about our differences, he’s still my brother.”

I nod, understanding. “OK, so then when is all of this going to happen? This…showdown with Niklas. Me getting to kill Hamburg and Stephens?”

Victor smiles slimly and I reach up and brush my fingertips across his lips. He takes my hand into his and kisses my fingers. “We’re going to have to work on this problem of yours, Sarai. You being so impatient, and of course as I said before, undisciplined. We start on that next.”

“I can’t help it that I’m impatient. Those two evil bastards are out there living the high-life every day, doing God knows what to no telling how many women. Not to mention, they’re looking for me. They killed my friends because of me. Dina is still hiding out in some place that isn’t her home and she’s scared. Her life has been turned upside-down because of them. Because of me. I want them dead so at least Dina can go on with her life.”

“What are you going to tell her?” he asks. “When you see her today, what are you going to say?”

I glance away from him and watch the steam coat the tall glass shower walls and billow lightly over the top of the shower in soft puffs. My skin is beginning to sweat lightly, beading off my face, neck and collarbone.

“I’m going to tell her the truth,” I say.

“Do you think that’s wise?”

I look right at him. “I think it’s only fair. She’s practically my mother. She’s done so much for me. I owe her the truth.” I smile and add, “And besides, if you didn’t agree with my decision to tell her the truth, you’d have already made that perfectly clear to me by now.”

Victor smiles back at me and fits his hands on my waist, helping me off the counter.

“I guess we better get ready then if we’re going to get there on time,” he says and walks me to the shower. I step out of my panties before stepping inside the shower with him.

Victor had told Dina, and me, that he would take me to see her a few days after Fredrik’s contact took her away from Lake Havasu City. But things didn’t quite turn out how we planned. Victor and Fredrik both agreed that it was too risky and too soon. I overheard them talking one night about Dina and about how she might have had surveillance on her before Fredrik’s contact arrived that night. Victor wanted to be certain that wasn’t the case and that if any of us happened to show up where Dina was being hidden, we wouldn’t fall right into the trap. But as the days passed and Fredrik continued to monitor the house where Dina has been kept, he and Victor agreed that it is, in fact, safe.

Today, I finally get to see her since I left with Eric and Dahlia for Los Angeles.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Victor

Sarai must be prepared, not just for the imminent threats, but for the life which lies ahead of her. She chose her path a long time ago, she chose it the day she met me even if she wasn’t aware of it at the time. I wanted to look the other way, as much as I fought with myself and my strange and unnatural need to be near her, I still wanted her to have a normal life.

I did not want her to end up like me…

But I knew the day that I left her eight months ago, I knew before I walked out of that hospital room with Mrs. Gregory at her bedside, that I would one day go back for her. It was never my intention or my plan, I simply knew that it would eventually happen, one way or another.

Twenty-eight years of the thirty-seven that I have been alive I have known only life in the Order. I have known only discipline and death. I have never known friendship or love without suspicion and betrayal. I have been…programmed to defy customary human emotions and actions, but I…It wasn’t until I met Sarai that I allowed myself to believe that Vonnegut and the Order were not my family, that they used me as their perfect soldier. They denied me all my life the very elements that make us human. And I cannot let that go unpunished.


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