Victor fits his hands about my elbows, brushing his thumbs against my skin. He looks into my eyes with a soft, longing look of study.
“If it ever did, I would deal with it.”
At first, I’m happy with his answer, until my paranoid mind starts running away with me again.
“You’d deal with it how?” I ask with a nervous tenor in my voice and a look of uncertainty in my eyes.
He sighs and then presses his lips to my forehead.
“Izabel,” he says softly, “yesterday I knew what you were going to say but didn’t. When you were talking about how I couldn’t become someone I’m not simply because I’ve developed feelings for you.”
I look away from his eyes, but he brings both hands up and holds my face within them, reclaiming my gaze.
“I would never kill you,” he says with determination and sincerity. “I know my brother has probably filled your head with nonsense—he wouldn’t be Niklas if he didn’t try to hit you where it hurts the most—and I’ve known for a while that you still have concerns, but I could never hurt you”—his fingers put pressure on my cheeks—“I don’t expect you to simply believe me, just like that, and never think about it again, because you’re not naïve. You’ve been through too much to put your full trust in someone so fully and so easily—not even me—and I accept that. But look into my eyes, Izabel”—his hands squeeze my cheeks gently—“look into my eyes and tell me that you don’t see a man who would do anything for you. Tell me, with that uncanny ability you have to read others, that you don’t see a man who is in love with you, who would kill for you…and a man who would die for you.”
I swallow hard; the backs of my eyes are beginning to sting.
Victor’s lips fall on mine.
When the kiss breaks, he’s smiling faintly at me; his long fingers combing through the hair down the side of my face.
I smile back, giving him my answer.
“Oh Vic-tor,” Nora’s singsong voice streams through the speaker system, “you can’t avoid this forever. Clock is ticking.”
We turn around to face the screen together.
“I’m really looking forward to your confession, Faust.” She smiles up at the camera.
I look over at him. He’s still staring into the giant glowing screen, a deeply contemplative look at rest on his handsome face.
“I hate to say it, but she’s right, Victor—there isn’t much time.”
“There is still over four hours,” he says, focused on Nora.
“Are you going to go in there?”
This is the first time I’ve begun to question Victor on this, letting my naturally suspicious mind run away with me again. What is his secret? Does he even have one? Why is he taking his time about it? But my worst fear—does he really intend to play her game for Dina’s sake?
“Yes, I’m going in,” he says. “I have enough on her now that I can take in with me.”
“What are you—”
The door bursts open behind us and Woodard comes into the room, winded and red-faced, holding up a cell phone in one hand.
“Sarah and Ann-Marie,” he says, trying to catch his breath, “my daughters…t-they escaped”—he practically stumbles toward us in his khakis and loafers. Niklas walks in behind him—“t-they just called me.”
My heart begins to race.
“What about Dina? Tessa?”
Woodard shakes his head. “No one said anything about them,” he says and the sudden surge of hope I felt is snatched away from me just as quickly. “Just my daughters. I asked Sarah while I was on the phone with her if anyone else had been with them where they were kept, but I had to be vague. She said it was only her and Ann-Marie. They’re at the police station.”
“Shit,” I hear Victor say.
One of Victor’s pet-peeves is having to deal with the police. It takes a lot more than a cleaner coming in and removing all evidence of a crime in the middle of the night, than having to orchestrate believable stories to tell authorities, and to remove evidence and files from their systems. Sometimes a job like that can take months depending on how many outsiders are involved. And if it makes it onto the news, damage control can be an even longer and more complicated process. I told Victor once that he should invest in one of those ‘flashy-thingies’ Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones used in ‘Men in Black’ to erase everyone’s memories—he didn’t find the humor in it.
“And they’re asking a lot of questions, naturally,” Niklas chimes in. He smiles and adds with an air of dry humor, “Oh, and reporters are already outside the police station—imagine that.” He would’ve found my ‘Men in Black’ joke funny.
“Great,” I say with a sigh, “we don’t need this shit right now.”
“Are they on the phone?” Victor glances briefly at the cell phone in Woodard’s hand, and then up at him with a threatening gaze.
That would be a really stupid thing—having them on the other end of the phone while we’re discussing this—but sometimes Woodard doesn’t use that big brain of his for important things like common sense.
His chins jiggle as he shakes his head rapidly and drops the phone in the pocket of his khakis.
“No, I-I just got off the phone with them,” he says. “Sarah called me from the police station. I-I had to pretend I didn’t even know my daughters were missing.” Thankfully, their mother, Woodard’s wife, has been in London the past two days, otherwise she would’ve reported them missing and the police would’ve been involved a lot sooner. Also, his daughters are of legal age.
“They need me to come down to the station,” Woodard says eagerly, hoping that Victor will grant him permission to leave.
“Victor, no,” I say, looking over at him with desperation. “There’s no time. It could take hours just for them to file a report and try to recall what happened and to explain it and to—”
“He has to go, Izabel,” Victor says and my heart sinks like a stone. “We can’t draw any unnecessary attention. If Woodard doesn’t immediately go to the police station and”—he looks right at Woodard as if to drill the next sentence into his head—“put on a believable act, they will be questioning him next.”
“Not to mention,” Niklas speaks up, “we need to know what his daughters have to say about their abduction—who the fuck else is involved, what they look like, how many there are.”