I shake my head. “Victor, he doesn’t talk to me anymore. Not since Seraphina. I’ve told you that, more than once. Hell, it’s starting to make me feel—”

“You’re right, I apologize,” he says—Niklas’ eyes roll upward into his head. “This isn’t about trust, Izabel. I know you’re not lying to me about it. But the fact remains, I still think he’d talk to you.”

“No. He won’t,” I say icily, standing firm on the issue because I’ve already tried talking to Fredrik and he shut me down. And it hurts. “And besides, if he doesn’t answer for you, even when you’ve given him some time off, that’s something you should be concerned about.”

“I hate to say it,” Niklas chimes in, “but I agree with her.”

“Like I said,” Victor responds, “we’ll figure it out when we come to it. We may not even need Fredrik.”

If we do, we’ll probably be screwed.

Fredrik, although still very much a vital member of our organization—one of the most vital members—is also the most unstable. Not with his work—no, Fredrik is frighteningly good at what he does—but emotionally…he has no emotions anymore. Since losing Seraphina, the only woman he’s ever loved and who understood him, apparently the woman who helped him control his urges, he’s not been the same since. He is now the epitome of darkness; a dangerous, gorgeous man with a beast that lives inside of him so frightening that he scares me. And I don’t scare easily.

I never could’ve imagined it before, never would’ve given it a second thought, but I feel like Fredrik could kill me. Not that he would target me, or risk his place under Victor, but that if he had to kill me, or torture me for whatever reasons, he would do it without question or protest.

The Fredrik I once knew is dead.

Niklas leaves a short time later and goes to his room down the hall.

“Izabel,” Victor says from the table in front of the window, “you need to be prepared for what might happen.”

“What do you mean?”

I get up from the end of the bed closest to the door and walk over to him, sitting across from him in the empty chair. He’s dressed in his dress pants and a white button-up shirt. The veins running along his wrists come from beneath the sleeves and move along the tops of his strong hands as they rest against the table.

I already know what he’s going to say, but I listen anyway, and my concern for Dina grows that much more.

“I know that you care for Mrs. Gregory,” he says, “but we cannot, under any circumstances, give information about our organization to whoever has taken her.”

“No negotiating with terrorists,” I say with sarcasm. “Yeah, I get it. But I won’t let Dina die, either.”

“You may not have a choice,” Victor says calmly.

I clench my jaw.

“Izabel,” he says, “you knew this. You’ve known this since the day you were officially recruited.”

I sigh and lower my head, trying to hold back the tears.

“I know,” I say softly and with insurmountable regret. I feel his hands collapse atop mine on the table, but I don’t look up.

“We’ll do everything we can to keep her safe,” he says, “but if it comes down to Mrs. Gregory and Dorian’s ex-wife and whoever else they might’ve taken, and the secrecy of our organization and its members, then we have to let them go. Are you prepared for this, Izabel?”

I raise my head and meet his eyes; a tear tumbles down my cheek. I nod reluctantly and swallow hard, but I can’t find it in me to give him more of an answer than that.

This may be my biggest test of loyalty and worth yet—I just wish that, like in the past, this test was also orchestrated by Victor because then I’d know Dina was going to be OK. But it’s not. I know in my heart it’s not. Victor has no control over it this time; there’s no one on the inside like Niklas was when we took down Willem Stephens in Albuquerque last year. Dina could die. And I may not be able to stop it.

I won’t let her die…

2

Izabel

With my gun on my hip and Pearl sheathed in my leather boot, I follow behind Victor as we stealthily make our way around the back of the red brick building. The area, two blocks of mostly abandoned buildings, is half shrouded in darkness. Many of the street lights that once lit up the place have long since burned out. One flickers in the distance near a ghostly intersection. A large fenced-in lot of old rusted cars is on the other side of the street, directly across from this building at 66th and Town. Many of the windows in the buildings along the street have been busted out—this whole place is a shithole, vacant and dark, the perfect breeding ground for crime and crack-heads and kidnappings. Only, there doesn’t seem to be any actual people. Not a sound. Not a shadow. Not a mysterious out-of-place vehicle parked on a corner. Not even a stray animal in search of scraps. Nothing.

We duck low underneath the few windows when moving along the red bricks. Niklas is behind Victor and in front of me. Dorian is right behind me.

Victor stops with his back hunched over and he motions to Dorian and Niklas, telling them with only the gesture of his finger for each of them to go around the building in opposite directions. Niklas nods and heads around the back. Dorian nods and heads around the front.

Victor and I stay parked next to a side door set in the wall with three concrete steps leading down into it.

“You’re going to wait here,” Victor says quietly as he checks his gun.

Already I’m shaking my head in protest.

“This could be an ambush,” he whispers, “and you’re still far from ready.”

“I can handle myself,” I whisper back angrily, pulling my own gun from the holster at my hip. “You can’t keep me in the damn playpen all the time, Victor.”

He grabs my elbow and yanks me closer to him. I can feel the warmth of his breath on my cheek.

“You will wait here,” he repeats in a low, firm voice, “do you understand?” His strong fingers tighten around my elbow when I don’t answer. “Izabel?” he rips my name out.

“No!” I shoot back quietly. “I’m not going to stay here!”

Silence passes between us.

I lower my eyes, not in shame, but in disappointment and anger.

After a moment, Victor raises my head with his fingers fitted underneath my chin. He looks into my eyes, not as Victor, my boss, but Victor, the love of my life.


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