I wonder what Nora’s thinking.
Now we’re getting somewhere! Oh God, I was starting to go out of my mind playing this pathetic obedient doormat. But now things are looking up. And it’s about damn time Niklas called her out. I’m just glad he picked the right woman. I was beginning to wonder.
Now I only wonder if Niklas and Izabel know what they’ve gotten themselves into. That woman may look frail in that pretty little slave dress; her unpainted features may appear gentle and flawless and kind even, but she’s anything but kind—a demon lives underneath that flesh. I’ve seen people like her, faced and killed people like her, and they excite me; they make my job that much more interesting, more dangerous, and I live for these types of jobs. Well…in a different role, of course.
Francesca slowly lowers her arm back at her side. Quietly she takes a few steps forward—Emilio, the fake Francesca and Miz Ghita move backward to clear her way, and undoubtedly to stay out of arm’s reach. The four men with guns bow low at the waist and hold the position. I stay right where I’m at, bold and undaunted in her authoritarian presence. Neither Augustin nor Fleischer would lower himself to that shit; I don’t care if she’s a murderous nutcase—but I have to keep playing the Augustin role, pretending she and I are one in the same: two sadistic peas in a pod.
Francesca looks right at me; she never blinks; she’s so fucking calm and calculated that I find myself stumbling through my thoughts, but I easily retain confidence and power on my face.
“You intrigue me, Mr. Augustin.” Her voice is red wine laced with arsenic; her dark eyes are endless pools of malevolence and beauty—you want to look away, but you can’t.
“Call me Niklas,” I say smoothly; I reach out and take her hand, bending to kiss the top of it.
“It would please me, Niklas, to have a private meeting with you.” She turns only her head to look at the fake Francesca and she says, “Give me your dress, Bianca.”
“Yes, Sister,” the one whose name is actually Bianca says.
Bianca scurries over to Francesca quickly, strips off her cream-white lacy dress and rests it over her forearm until Francesca is ready to take it from her. She waits, naked, with only a string of pearls around her neck, dipping between her tits.
Francesca hasn’t for a second taken her eyes off me.
She clasps her fingers around the hem of her servant’s dress and lifts the fabric over her head, dropping it on the floor afterward. Francesca is without a doubt, unlike any woman I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s the power she possesses, I don’t know, but she’s goddamn beautiful. It’s just too bad she’s likely a homicidal waste of air who needs to be put down.
After sliding the dress over her naked form, Francesca says, “I want everyone to leave except for Niklas and his girls.”
“But Francesca—” Miz Ghita tries to say, stepping up.
“I said leave.”
“Very well.” Miz Ghita turns on her heels.
As she and the nameless decoy make their way out behind the four gunmen, the real Bianca starts to follow with the servant girl behind her. Emilio steps in front of Bianca and speaks angrily to her in Italian. I may not be able to understand the language, but I don’t need to to gather they’re arguing about Bianca humiliating Emilio in her role. Then Bianca hits the floor—Emilio’s hand had shot out so fast I hardly saw it before it made contact with the side of her face. Sitting on the floor with her legs bent beneath her, Bianca holds a hand over her cheek; there’s murder in her eyes.
Bianca scrambles to get to her feet, her tits bouncing all over the place, and she rushes Emilio from behind. He turns at the last moment and stops her cold, his hand wrapped about her throat.
“Dear Brother,” Francesca calls out, and Emilio turns around to face her. “Prepare my room.”
Emilio shoves Bianca backward, releasing her.
Bianca leaves shortly afterward, naked and wearing only a pearl necklace and a pair of high heels. The sound of the doors closing behind her echoes throughout the spacious room.
“Before we go any further,” Francesca says; her cold eyes sweep over Izabel, “there is a bit of a problem that will be remedied, or there will be no meeting.”
“What problem?” I ask.
Francesca slithers over to the desk and opens one of the drawers. No sound is heard as she moves her hand through its contents and then retrieves a long silver knife. She moves toward Izabel.
I look between Francesca and Izabel, having no idea of Francesca’s intentions, but I know they’re dark and I know they have everything to do with Izabel and it makes me fucking nervous. Instinctively I move—calmly, not in a rush—toward them and take Izabel by the arm, pulling her from the chair.
Izzy stands immediately even without my help; she keeps her hands linked together down in front of her. I expect to be able to feel her heart hammering through the vein in her arm, but I don’t.
Francesca stands in front of Izabel.
“Look at me, girl,” she commands.
Izabel does. “But Madam, I’m not a slave,” she says in a soft, timid voice.
Francesca grabs Izabel’s chin in her free hand and turns her head left and right, at an angle, side to side, up and down, inspecting her—and no doubt testing her, testing me.
“I can see why she’s your favorite,” Francesca says, looking at me briefly. “She is very beautiful, despite the scar on her stomach.” She glances in Nora’s direction, but never actually looks at her. “The blond is also stunning, but the scars and the missing finger are too much.”
I guess that means she doesn’t feel inadequate next to Nora because of Nora’s many ‘imperfections’—but what does that mean for Izzy? Francesca already knows I have a soft spot for ‘Naomi’, but I think she wants to know just how soft; how far I’m willing to let her go. If too far, Izzy could be in trouble, but if not far enough I’ll look weak, pussy whipped like Dorian Flynn, and that’s the same as licking the shit from Francesca’s boots, and she’ll lose any respect for me she might have.
“Niklas,” Izabel says, her face still wrenched in Francesca’s hand, “I’m afraid.”
You’re also a good liar.
A flash of silver sends panic through me as Francesca raises the knife.
“What are you doing?” I demand; my arm is suddenly between Francesca and Izabel. “I don’t care who you are; I won’t allow you to disfigure my property—that’s my privilege.”
Francesca smiles, and although it feels slippery and dangerous, I hold my fixed expression on her, and my arm in front of her, daring her to hurt Izabel. I start to reach for my gun until I remember I had to check it in at the door.
“Niklas…please,” Izabel cries softly.
“I will not break skin,” Francesca promises, still with that slippery smile. “It’s only temporary, I assure you.”
Reluctantly I lower my arm and rest it back at my side. I look at Izabel, softening my eyes on her, my way of telling Naomi that everything will be OK, and then look back at Francesca. I nod, giving her the go-ahead, and hoping like hell I don’t regret it. Francesca’s grinning eyes fall away from me and she grabs Izzy’s hair and starts cutting; the sharp shearing sound of metal on hair, hacking away chunks of Izabel’s auburn locks. In seconds the floor is covered in dark red hair, scattered in heaps around Izzy’s feet atop the Italian rug. I look up at her, taking in the sight of her botched haircut as unevenly as a five-year-old with a pair of scissors. At least it wasn’t cut too short near the scalp anywhere that Izzy would have to shave the rest off later. Strangely, Izabel looks relieved—better hair than flesh.
“Now go sit down,” Francesca tells her and moves back toward the desk.
With her head lowered in shame, Izabel maintains her scared act and walks back to the oversized chair.
“I have never heard of you…Niklas,” Francesca says, sashaying her hips as she walks toward Nora slowly, knife in hand. “And I must tell you, that even though your story checks out and I have found nothing on you to indicate you’re not who you claim to be, I am still not convinced.” She stops feet from Nora and turns to look back at me. “Surely you understand my…hesitations.”
“I understand more than you know.” I walk toward her. “And if you weren’t so…thorough, Miz Moretti—”
“Francesca,” I say with a slow nod. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing business with you at all.”
“Is that why you chose to come to me rather than”—she gestures her fingers outward in a dismissing fashion; her nose is wrinkled on one side with contempt—“that incompetent woman who does not know the first thing about this business?”
“Madam Carlotta?” I smile, to further hit a nerve.
“Tell me, Niklas,” she begins, perturbed, “why did you choose to come here? The truth, of course.” She glances at a naked and heavily scarred Nora briefly and then turns back to me. “The better question would be how you knew I was more than a Madam? I will pay you for the name or names of those who”—she drags the blunt edge of the blade across the top of her hand—“spoke without thinking.”