I look at Victor. He looks only at her. And while it’s probably just to maintain his unwavering hatred for her, it still makes me uncomfortable. But I brush it off because I want to be strong. I want Victor to know that I trust him and that I’m not threatened by her. Even though I am.

“Why in the hell would you want to work for the same man who killed your sister?” I ask.

“Because it is in the past,” she says as her eyes fall on me, though her head remains facing Victor. Then she looks at him again. “And because, like I said, we’re now even.”

Victor’s gaze breaks and he steps up to me and takes me gently by the arm.

“Let’s go,” he says, and walks with me toward the wide open door.

I follow alongside him, looking back at Nora as she tries to get to her feet.

“You need me!” she shouts. “You know I’m a rare and valuable weapon, Faust!”

With any other person I might think her delusional and conceited hearing a claim like that, but with Nora, it’s absolutely true—she is a rare and valuable weapon.

But that doesn’t mean shit to me.

Hopefully it doesn’t to Victor.

“I would teach Izabel everything I know!”

I stop for about two seconds upon hearing her words, but continue walking right out the door with Victor tugging on my arm.

“I HAVE NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!” she calls out as the door begins to close. “YOU NEED ME!”

The door shuts off her voice in an instant.

Victor stops me in the hallway.

“She dies as soon as we know that they’re safe,” he says.

He won’t look at me. Silence fills the narrowed space.

“Why did you kill her?” I ask softly. “Why did you kill Claire?” My heart breaks all over again recalling the look on Niklas’ face when Victor confessed.

Victor sighs and looks at the wall behind me.

“I was ordered to kill her,” he says. “Vonnegut wanted her dead before anyone else got a hold of her and got the information that he needed on Solis. Niklas wasn’t providing results. It was just a matter of time that The Order would take him out of the assignment and either put Joran Carver in his place, or eliminate her altogether. Joran was going there that night to replace Niklas, but The Order found out that another organization was on its way for her, too. I was sent to intercept and to take her out. I didn’t know my brother was in love with her.” He pauses, thinking back to something it seems. “I didn’t know until I saw that look on his face when he got out of the car, when he knew that Claire was dead. I was going to tell him that night that I was the one who ended his assignment, but when I saw that look, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

I reach out and touch the top of his hand with my fingertips.

“But Victor…you have to tell Niklas the truth.”

“I can’t,” he says and then finally looks into my eyes. “I can’t tell him the truth without telling him all of it.”

Confused, I ask, “What’s all of it?”

His gaze strays from mine again.

“That I still would have killed her even if I had known he loved her.”

My hand falls away from his as if I were touching something hot. I rest it back at my side. My eyebrows slowly crease in my forehead. I don’t want to believe him, but I know it’s true.

“I was a different man then, Izabel. I was given an assignment and I always followed through. I asked no questions because it was my job. And…,” he hesitates, staring off at the wall as a memory moves through his mind, “…Niklas meant everything to me. He’s my brother. I killed our father to protect him from Vonnegut and I would have just as easily killed Claire to protect him, too. From what you already know about The Order, you know that if Vonnegut ever found out that Niklas loved Claire, Vonnegut would have ordered his death. So yes, if I had known he loved her, I still would have killed her to save him.”

My heart aches. I look at the floor and just stare at it for the longest time until spots appear before my eyes, letting Victor’s words roll over tumultuously in my mind. Words that in a cruel way, make sense, but still cannot be justified. I don’t know whether to agree with him or blame him. I can’t choose whether to console him, or leave him to fend for himself alone with his guilt. I want to hold him and tell him that it wasn’t his fault…but it was. I want to tell him that Niklas will forgive him if he would just tell him the truth, all of it even, but my heart tells me Niklas will not be so forgiving. I want to blame Niklas because he’s always been so hateful toward me and I want to side with Victor because I love him, but I can’t.

“I will deal with my brother in time,” he says. “Right now, I want the rest of this resolved. Dorian must be dealt with. And I’m giving you and only you the job of killing Kessler.”

“Why me?”

He reaches up and touches the side of my face, brushing his fingers lightly against my skin. “You deserve the honor. And because I happen to love you, and I have no use for her.”

He presses his warm lips to my forehead and then walks away.

I used to know what was right and what was wrong. I may not always have reacted to a situation appropriately, but I always knew, and was prepared to face the consequences of whatever decision I made. But right now, in this moment as I watch Victor get farther away and disappear at the end of the hall, I…don’t know anything anymore. Except that I love him.

Pressing my back against the wall, I slide down and sit on the floor with my knees drawn up. And I stare at the door in front of me where just on the other side of it is a woman…a single person, a living, breathing weapon, who came in here and managed to turn all of our lives upside-down. And I think of Niklas and I want nothing more than to go find him and talk to him and try make things right. And I think of Fredrik, a man so cold and dark and…could he truly be lost forever? I don’t want to believe it. I want him to be OK…but I think I know that he will never be. And I think of Dorian sitting in that cell, and I can’t help but believe that he is not our enemy, but the proof is more than my need to believe. And Victor is not known for being a forgiving man.

And I think of Javier…I think of the child we had together and I wonder where he or she is right now. What is her name? Is he happy with the family he was sold to?

Being a killer is hard. It’s hard not just because of the obvious, but because in living this kind of life, you don’t just kill criminals and enemies and targets…you also kill everything and everyone you love.


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