“Why?” He seems shocked by such a ridiculous confession. “She’s just a manipulative, wicked leech, Izabel. She gets off on messing with people’s heads. You’re so much more woman than she is. And I think you’re sexier, too.”
I glance over again and he’s grinning dopily.
I allow him a faint smile, just enough to let him know that I appreciate that, but it fades just as quickly.
“She’s almost everything I want to be,” I admit, looking out at the dark, quiet city again. “She knows what she’s doing. And she’s good at it—I wish Victor had more time to train me. To be better. I thought I was doing all right for a long time, but with Nora being here, pulling out every single fucking one of my flaws—even ones I didn’t know I had—and flashing them around, I just don’t feel so good about myself anymore. I feel like I’ve taken ten steps backward.”
“Then do something about it,” he says. “At least you can fix your flaws. You’re young and beautiful and healthy. Me”—he points at himself with both chunky hands—“I’m not so easy to fix. I’m a disgusting fat fucker who gets winded going up three flights of stairs. And I’m too old and too unhealthy to lose weight or better myself at all, really. My hair is almost gone. I’m unfaithful to the only woman who has ever really put up with my shit. It’d take more than a treadmill and hair implants to help me.”
“First of all,” I say, pointing my finger at him, “don’t call yourself a disgusting fat fucker. I admit you’re not exactly my type, but you’re a good guy, James. A little creepy sometimes and you need to work on your dependent personality, and, Jesus Christ lose that choke-the-fuck-out-of-me cologne, but otherwise there’s nothing wrong with you—and you must be doing something right with the ladies—you have enough kids.” A grin sneaks over my lips briefly. He blushes. “You’re a good father—I never had one. And you’re an asset to Victor. He wouldn’t have you here involved in this business, trusting you with top secret information, if he didn’t think you were important and had something worthwhile to contribute. So, don’t be so hard on yourself.”
“Hmmm,” he says, “sounds like somebody should take her own advice.”
I look at him and hold my gaze this time.
“You think someone like Victor Faust would keep a woman around just because he was sleeping with her, or had feelings for her?” he says, making a point that I easily get. “He’s too careful, and has way too much invested in this to make mistakes like that. If he didn’t think you were an asset, he may still be in love with you, but you’d be more like a Tessa than an Izabel.”
My gaze drifts as I sit in thought.
“So, whatever you’re unhappy with about yourself,” he goes on, “just fix it.”
A black car pulls up in front of the building below and the headlights shut off. Pushing myself to my feet, I look down from the roof of the building to see a tall, dark-haired devil getting out of the driver’s side door.
“Holy shit…it’s Fredrik.” I’m so shocked all I can do for a long moment is stare from the rooftop at the top of Fredrik’s head until he disappears from my sight heading into the building.
James gets to his feet with difficulty.
“Are you sure?” he asks once he’s standing upright.
We’re five-stories up and it’s dark, but I know that’s Fredrik. I just know it.
“Definitely. Let’s go!”
I walk briskly toward the rooftop door. James follows closely behind, the sound of his dress pants shuffling over the concrete as he tries to keep up. Placing both hands on the lever handle running horizontally across the door, I give it a heavy shove and it swings open, hitting the brick wall behind it with a bang that echoes through the stairwell far out ahead of us.
“Wow, I…didn’t really think he was…gonna show!” James says from behind, winded.
I take the steps one at a time, but quickly, until we reach the industrial-sized elevator.
“I didn’t either,” I say once James is inside with me.
The door slides closed and the elevator moves with a slight jolt. The light above us flickers for a moment until the elevator settles.
“Looks like the game just changed in our favor,” he says with an air of excitement. “She may have met her match.”
“That’s what worries me,” I say, staring at my warped reflection in the silver elevator door. “Nora was right about Fredrik—he won’t break. So, if he can’t break her, we’ll never know where she’s holding Dina. And he might kill her.”
“Oh, I think Mr. Gustavsson will definitely break her,” he says with confidence and a smile in his voice.
“I’m not so sure this time…” I say distantly, worried.
“Well, either way,” James says, “things just got more interesting.”
I burst through the door at the end of the hall, engulfed by bright lights and shiny tile and white walls. James is behind me. As we’re hurrying down the long stretch of hallway, I see three tall figures appear at the other end—Fredrik, carrying a briefcase, is in front of Victor and Niklas. He’s dressed in a posh black suit and shiny black shoes; a gorgeous, frightening man who was once my friend and who I loved like a brother.
My breath catches when his eyes sweep over mine so briefly that I begin to question if it ever happened at all. My steps slow as we draw closer. I feel like this is my first time ever laying eyes on him, as though I never laughed with him or helped him when he was at his weakest—he is a different man, I’ve known this for months, but only now am I seeing just how different, because I feel like I don’t know him at all and never did. He scares me. In the deepest depths of my soul, he truly scares me…but I still love him.
Victor and Niklas look at me simultaneously as I walk up; Niklas with a grim look in his eyes full of anticipation but little hope; Victor with…nothing, as usual, and now more than ever it’s really beginning to bother me.
Fredrik punches the code on the door panel and says nothing as he disappears inside the room with Nora. The sound of the door shutting softly is the only sound for a long time as the rest of us just stare in the direction of where Fredrik just stood. We look at each other once more, all wondering the same thing—can he break her, and if not, will he kill her? The answer is yes to at least one of those questions.