His hands fall away and he stares out into the room.
“The night I found you in my car,” he says, not looking at me, “I instantly saw you as a threat. I wanted to get rid of you. Quickly. To take you back to the compound, or drop you off on the road somewhere. I very much wanted to kill you.”
Already knowing all of this, it doesn’t come as a surprise, but I’m curious about why he’s bringing it up now, just the same. I remain quiet, folding my arms over my br**sts, grimacing a little as the skin is stretched on my back.
“I could’ve, and often thought that I should’ve killed you many times over,” he goes on. “I had every opportunity. But I couldn’t do it.”
“You needed me,” I remind him. “As leverage. Maybe if I hadn’t given you the idea, warned you about how Javier did business, you might very well have killed me.”
“No,” he says quietly, shaking his head subtly. Then I feel his eyes on me and I look over. “I didn’t need to use you as leverage, Sarai. I knew when I left that meeting with Javier Ruiz that after I reported the payoff Ruiz offered for me to kill Guzmán, that in the end I’d only be commissioned to kill Ruiz. Because Guzmán’s offer was higher than his. Whether or not I ever received the other half of the money from Ruiz was irrelevant. I didn’t need to use you as leverage at all.”
“I don’t understand what you’re getting at,” I say, and it’s the truth.
Victor inhales a breath and looks away from me again.
“That morning when Izel was on her way to pick you up from that motel, before you woke up, I had every intention in handing you over to her. I had even gone as far as telling them where we were. But when you woke up…,” he stops mid-sentence and raises his eyes to the ceiling momentarily, letting out another concentrated breath. His chin comes back down and he looks right at me. “If you hadn’t woken up, you’d still be with Javier Ruiz right now.”
With my arms crossed, I take a few steps toward him, tilting my head to one side thoughtfully.
“What are you saying?” I ask. “I’m here with you now because I woke up before Izel got there? I don’t understand.”
“I couldn’t do it,” he says. “Like shooting an innocent person, anyone with a conscience can’t do it if they’re looking at them. When you woke up, I couldn’t hand you over.”
Still not exactly sure what Victor is trying to say, all I do know is that it wasn’t because of something as ridiculous as love at first sight. But as I study the unsettled look in his eyes, I slowly begin to understand that he is learning something extraordinary about himself. I let him speak, as it seems that he needs to get it out, to let it go so that maybe he understands it fully himself.
“I fought with myself,” he says, “every step of the way while you were with me, I told myself I needed to get rid of you. You were a threat to me, to my job, to my life, and later you threatened the relationship between me and my brother. I knew it the moment I saw you through the rearview mirror when you had that gun at the back of my head, that desperate, scared look on your face. You threatened everything. But for the first time in my life, I went against everything that I was: a trained killer with a repressed conscience….” His eyes harden and he steps up to me. “…I could’ve let you go a long time ago, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to let you go then and I don’t want to let you go now.”
A shiver moves along both of my arms as he rubs the palms of his hands against them, up and down.
“I am sorry for what you went through,” he says softly. “I want you to stay, more than anything, but if you want nothing more to do with me, I’ll understand.” He presses his lips against the top of my hair and walks toward the door, taking up the black folder from the chest of drawers.
“Victor?” I call out softly before he reaches for the door knob.
He looks back.
I start to say, “I’m glad you didn’t let me go,” but I stop myself and swallow the words. As much as I want to tell him that his words touched me, to let him know that I can never imagine a life without him, I’m still angry about what he did to me and I can’t excuse it. Not yet. Not that easily.
“Was that it?” I ask instead. “The test I went through? Was that the last of it? The only time I’ll have to go through something like that? Because I have to be honest, I don’t want to wake up every morning thinking I’m going to be abducted, or beaten, or drowned. I don’t want to not trust you…”
He places his hand on the knob and turns it. The door cracks open.
Looking back at me he says, “No, there’s just one more thing.”
My heart hardens like a hot stone in my chest. I didn’t expect that.
“The bigger trial is whether or not you can work alongside my brother,” he says. “But you can trust me. And you can trust Niklas. And you’ll never be put through anything like that again.”
He pauses and says, “I hope you’ll stay,” and then leaves the room, closing the door behind him.
Some time passes while I’m left alone again to think about everything. I know that right now, not yesterday, or the day I escaped the compound in Victor’s car, but right now is when the rest of my life begins.
And I know there’s only one right choice.
I leave the bedroom and join Victor, Fredrik and Niklas in the den. They’ve been going on about how Fredrik never knew a thing and how he passed all of Victor and Niklas’ tests. I’ve been listening to them, mostly Fredrik and Niklas talking, as Victor seemed quieter than usual.
The three of them look up at me when I step into the room, their conversation halted mid-sentence.
“Ah, there she is,” Fredrik says with a big, gorgeous smile. He waves his hand toward him. “Come and join us. We were discussing what’s next on the agenda for the four of us.” I can tell that Fredrik isn’t as confident about my mindset as he’s pretending to be.
Niklas simply nods at me.
Victor stands up and holds out his hand, offering me to sit with him.
“I need to say something first,” I answer.
He puts both hands behind his back and then steps to the side, waiting patiently.
I look at all three of them, one by one, and then I stop on Victor.
“If I’m going to be here,” I say, “there are a few things I need to make very clear.”
A flicker of hope moves through Victor’s greenish-blue eyes.
I look over at Fredrik and Niklas again and continue, talking to all of them:
“I do what the hell I want to do,” I say. “I’ll follow Victor’s orders like either of you would, I’ll train until I bleed and I can’t walk straight. I know my place. But not because I’m a girl or because I’m younger than all of you. Or because you think I’ll get ‘hurt’,” I quote with my fingers. “Of course I’m going to get hurt, but I don’t need any of you,” my eyes fall on Victor again, “running to get a goddamned Band-Aid every time I fall down.”
Fredrik laughs lightly. “Hey, no argument here,” he says, putting up both hands and then dropping them back on his knees.
My eyes fall on Niklas. Still, I show no emotion on my face while looking at him. I think I’m just not sure yet which emotions they should be.
He smirks at me, though I know it’s entirely innocent.
“I think you know better than to expect me to come running after you every time you fall,” he says.
I just roll my eyes and turn to Victor.
“Sarai—,” Victor says, but I hold my index finger up at him.
“That’s another thing,” I say. “Sarai Cohen died a long time ago. She died when I was fourteen-years-old and spent my first night in that compound in Mexico.” My finger folds back toward my hand and then I lower it.
I glance at each of them.
“I want to be known from here on out only as Izabel Seyfried.”
All of them look to one another and then nod, looking back at me.
“Izabel?” Victor asks, picking up where I had cut him off.
I look into his eyes.
“I’ll understand if you never forgive me, but—”
“Would you forgive me if it was the other way around?” I ask, trying to make a point that he instantly gets. “Victor, you did what you had to do, just like the night I manipulated you into—.” I stop myself before revealing too much about our personal relationship to Niklas and Fredrik. But I can tell by the look of understanding in Victor’s eyes that he knows what I’m referring to.
“But that’s hardly the same thing.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I say. “Let me just say for the record, right here in front of Pretty Boy and the Devil’s Advocate, the hell I went through is not only forgivable, but was absolutely necessary. I know what I’m involved in. We kill people, some of us for a living, some of us for revenge. I’m not working at a bank. A lot more than a background check and my credit score has to be taken into account if I’m going to be a part of this. And to be honest, I feel a lot safer around all of you knowing that you will go to such extremes to make sure that everyone in this room can be trusted. That anyone who joins us later will be put through the same hell.”
My eyes fall on Victor once more. “There’s nothing to forgive,” I say and his face softens.
Niklas stands up from the leather chair.
“Sar—Izabel,” he corrects himself, stepping up closer to me. “Look, I do need to say one thing to you. I’m very sorry for shooting you in Los Angeles. I really am. I won’t ever try to hurt you again.”
“I believe you,” I say, and by the looks on all of their faces, none of them expected it. “I think it’s safe to say that I’ll have a hard time even being in the same room as you, Niklas. I’m not enjoying it right now. Honestly, I’d rather not have to see you much. I think you’re a dick, and a crazy psychopath who belongs in a prison mental institution. I’ll never f**king like you and I doubt I’ll ever have any respect for you. But you’re Victor’s brother, and when I begged him not to kill you, it was for a reason and I don’t regret it. But I’ll never like you and I’m warning you to stay-the-fuck-outta-my-way.”
He raises both hands out at his sides in a surrendering fashion, and takes a step back. “All right, all right, I get it. Out of your way.” He laughs lightly.
It’s mostly for show. I know he still has his issues with me—he’s as bullheaded as I am—but for Victor’s sake, he’ll tolerate me as much as I’ll tolerate him. I despise that constant cocky look he wears. I despise his confidence and his arrogance and I anticipate that Niklas and I will butt heads a lot. But for Victor, I’ll endure it.
Niklas turns his back to me and starts toward the chair.
“Niklas,” I say, and he stops to look at me.
I move closer.
“There’s just one more thing I want to say to you.”