Giving him my sweetest coy smile, I head with him in the opposite direction.
We walk along the flagstone sidewalk, passing many tourists coming and going in every direction. I hear the sound of hooves trotting against the street out ahead and when we round the corner, a mule-drawn carriage slowly moves by. I look up at the street name just as we’re crossing and I say aloud, “Bourbon Street has just about everything.” I stop in front of a building. “Maison Bourbon. I’ve never heard an actual jazz band. Let’s check it out.”
Andre takes my hand and gently pulls me along and away from the building. “Sorry, but jazz isn’t my thing,” he says.
It’s not mine, either, but I wanted Victor to know where I was.
Minutes later, after two turns down considerably darker streets, the foot traffic is beginning to thin out. I continue to call out the street names or the name of a building, making casual comments about where we are and urging Andre to elaborate as I lay my clueless tourist act on thick. I don’t know where he’s taking me, but I have a pretty good idea of his intentions.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“Not much farther.” He points ahead. “There’s another bar this way. Some friends there I need to meet up with real quick.”
OK, there’s no time for this…
Even if he’s telling the truth, I need to take control of this situation now, while we’re alone, before we’re right back in a crowded atmosphere which will make it harder for me to lure him where I want him.
I whirl around in front of Andre, stopping us both in the middle of the sidewalk; a broad smile on my lips, coyness in my eyes. “Wait,” I say, taking him by the wrist. I look to the side bashfully. “Why don’t we…,” I glance at the alley behind him, letting this new idea come to me as I go. I step up to him, coiling my fingers around the top of his belt which sits low on his waist. “Why don’t we go down there for a few minutes?” I grin suggestively, sliding my index and middle fingers behind his belt.
Andre’s eyes widen and his lips lengthen, surprised by my eagerness, but then the smile turns into a horny grin. He fits his hands on my h*ps and leans toward my neck, inhaling my scent, a low growl rumbling through his chest.
“What did you have in mind?” he asks, kissing the spot just below my earlobe.
I move to the side to make it seem as though I want him to follow, but really it was more to get his mouth away from my body. I smile back at him and say, “You’ll see,” and then gesture for him to follow me into the alley. I walk a quarter of the way into the darkness, passing up a small row of garbage cans and stop just beyond them. Andre is next to me a second later, his right hand propped against the stone building above my head.
I waste no time and start to undo his belt, fumbling the silver buckle with my clumsy fingers.
Fuck. I hope Victor heard me through the mic, dropping hints of my whereabouts.
“Damn, girl,” Andre peers in at me with a feisty grin. “You want to f**k right here in the alley? Never expected that, but hey, I’m not complainin’.”
I move away from the rock wall and push him around, shoving his back against it.
“All right, all right,” he says with mild laughter, “you’re the boss. Do with me what you will.”
I push myself toward him, closing six inches of space between us. “That I will,” I whisper to him and then jab my knee into his family jewels.
Andre yelps and doubles over. I spear my fingers through his hair and pull, forcing him forward. My knee collides with his face three times before he falls backwards against the wall, disoriented and bleeding from the nose.
“You bitch!” he spits out the words.
My fist soars at his face, hitting him so hard that his head springs back and snaps against the rock wall, knocking him out.
His unconscious body falls against the flagstones, knocking a nearby garbage can against the one next to it. The reverberating noise echoes through the thin alleyway, bouncing off the walls of the buildings on both sides of me.
“Victor!” I hiss into the mic between my br**sts. “I hope you can hear me. Andre is out cold, but I don’t know for how long. Hurry!” I speak details of my surroundings into the mic.
Three minutes that feel like thirty pass when Victor’s car stops at the mouth of the alley, the brakes squealing to a halt on the street. He gets out leaving the door open and rushes toward us in an angry, rapt walk that sends a nervous shiver through my stomach.
“I’ve got it under control,” I say and I look down at Andre next to my feet.
Andre is already beginning to stir awake when Victor grabs him by the backs of his arms and pulls him to his feet.
“You were supposed to lead him to the parking lot,” Victor snaps.
Andre begins to struggle as Victor drags him toward the car.
“I said I had it under control,” I snap back. “You see I’m not the one that ended up on the ground.”
“What the fuck’s going on?” Andre calls out, trying to fight his way out of Victor’s arms.
Victor shoves him in the backseat, face-down, and plants his knee in his back as he secures his hands behind him with a plastic zip tie.
“Get in,” Victor demands.
I do as he says, rushing around to the passenger’s side and shutting the door.
“Who the f**k are you?! What’s going on? Talk to me!”
Andre’s voice is vociferous behind me, filling the small space in the car.
Victor turns around against the seat, leans over it at the stomach and punches Andre so hard he knocks him out cold.
“Thanks,” I say as Victor sits back down and puts the car in Drive. “I was about to go deaf.”
“I didn’t hit him for shouting,” Victor says without looking at me.
I glance over at him as he carefully weaves the car down the thin streets lined with tightly packed cars on either side.
“I hit him because he put his hands on you,” he says.
I turn my face toward the side window, hiding my smile from him.
Fredrik is waiting for us at the garage entrance when we return to the warehouse. I drive into the building and shut off the engine as Fredrik is closing the bay door behind us.
I pull Costa’s unconscious body out of the backseat and drag his dead weight across the concrete floor with the back of his shirt wound tightly in my fist.
“I take it you ran into a problem?” Fredrik says likely detecting the quarrel between Sarai and me, as I help him hoist the body onto the dentist chair. He begins to strap Andre down, starting with his torso.
“No, there wasn’t a problem,” Sarai says with a trace of anger in her tone, coming up from behind me. “It just didn’t play out the way it was planned.”
I look right at her. “In and out. It should’ve been that simple, Sarai. You could’ve changed his mind and had him follow you toward the school.”
She’s getting angrier. It’s highlighted on her face as she glares at me from the side. But I don’t care. She needs to learn how to follow my instructions.
I grab her by the wrist, taking her by surprise, and I pull her harshly toward me. “Do you have any idea what this piece of shit could have done to you?” I wrench her closer, putting pressure on her wrist. Her eyes grow wide at first, but then narrow harshly at me, and tiny wrinkles of bitterness deepen along the bridge of her nose.
“You have no confidence in me at all, Victor,” she says icily, pushing the words through her gritted teeth. She tries to jerk her hand away from mine, but I just clamp down tighter.
“It has nothing to do with confidence,” I snap. “But everything to do with you following my orders, learning to take instruction. It has everything to do with discipline, Sarai.” I let go of her wrist as if I were throwing it down. I inhale a deep breath, trying to compose myself. I can’t recall the last time I had ever been this angry. “I know that you want to do things on your own. I know that you’re capable, but the more you fight me on this—”
“The more like your brother I will become,” she cuts in accusingly. “Right?”
Fredrik tightens the last strap around Costa’s ankles. “Maybe the two of you should take it into the other room,” he suggests, nodding toward a wooden door set in the far wall underneath a tarnished metal sign that reads OFFICE. “I can take it from here.”
Sarai and I just stare at each other seemingly with nothing left to say, but then she drops her arms and walks toward the office. I follow immediately, shutting us off inside the decent-sized room. An LED lantern glows on a wooden table situated against the wall. A single metal fold-up chair sits beside it, pulled out as if Fredrik had already been sitting here before we arrived. The room is dusty and smells of water damage and something chemical that I can’t place. A single window is set in the wall at the farthest end of the room, covered by dust and a tall metal cabinet that had been pushed against it.
“Why do you keep comparing me to Niklas?” she asks, leaving the anger out of her voice. She appears more hurt now than angry. She crosses her arms loosely, her delicate fingers arched over her biceps.
“Sarai, I…,” I sigh and sit down in the chair by the desk, my legs bent at the knees. I throw my head back gently and then look back at her standing in the center of the room.
I start to finish what I was going to say, but she walks toward me and speaks up before I can.
“I’m sorry,” she says almost in a whisper. “I’m not trying to resist you, Victor. I don’t have some kind of secret plan to do things my own way just to show you that I can. I’m sorry. I was playing it by ear, doing what I felt was right in the moment. That’s all.”
She stops in arms reach before me. I look up at her, the way her long auburn hair drapes her soft, bare shoulders. Her tall height in those heels. The slim curvature of her little body that I can’t seem to get out of my head. She tilts her head to one side. Unable to resist, I reach out and pull her onto my lap, propping her on one leg. I position my left hand on the back of her waist, the other rests on her bare thigh. She looks down at me from the side and then reaches in and brushes the backs of her fingers down the side of my face.
“Victor,” she says in a gentle voice, “I’m not Niklas. I never will be. Look what he did to you. I could never betray you.”
“It’s not about that,” I say, moving the palm of my hand across her lower back. “I don’t mean to compare you and my brother, but the similarities, your recklessness, your temper, your inability to follow my orders—”
“Your orders?” she asks, her brows drawing inward. She shakes her head faintly and then turns on my leg to better face me. Her features are soft, the look in her eyes not at all offended, but at the same time I feel like I’m about to be corrected. “We need to get something straight before we go any further.”
I c*ck my head to the side, gazing up into her dark eyes. I’ve never been so absolutely captivated by a woman before. Not ever. Not in any way like this. I’m used to always getting my way, to being the one in charge. I’ve never been able to look a woman in the eye and utterly give in to what she wants from me. I couldn’t with Samantha, who I know at one time loved me very much. I left her. I couldn’t give her what she wanted. But when I look at Sarai, the way she gazes upon me with that soft yet very much unyielding look in her beautiful green eyes, I know that no matter what she says to me next, or how much she defies me, I won’t be able to walk away from her.