She smirks at me.

“Hey, that’s up to Izzy,” I say, indifferent.

There’s a crash! inside the suite, and the three of us take off running through the balcony doors. Sian is picking herself up off the floor next to a toppled lamp when we find her.

“Get away from me!” she cries, putting up one hand to us while trying to steady her weight on the floor with the other. “Get away! HELP! SOMEBODY HELP!”

Izzy rushes to Sian’s side and embraces her, covering her mouth with her hand. Sian tries to fight her off, but she’s still too weak to do anything more than struggle; the drug I gave her last night still working its way out of her system.

“No one’s going to hurt you,” Izzy says, rocking her, trying to soothe her. “I promise—we’re here to help you. If I take my hand away from your mouth, please don’t scream.”

After a moment, Sian nods, but the look in her red-rimmed eyes conveys anything but trust.

Izabel slowly removes her hand, but she keeps her other arm around Sian’s waist from behind.

“Where’s my baby?” she cries softly. “Please, you have to let me go.”

“Niklas,” Izzy says, looking up at me, needing me to step in.

With a sigh, I move toward them, and the closer I get, the more Sian recoils away from me and into Izabel’s arms. I crouch in front of her, but keep a one-foot distance so she doesn’t feel anymore threatened by me than she is.

“I’m sorry,” I tell her, “but there’s nothing I can do to help you get your kid back; it would’ve been too suspicious and none of us would’ve made it out of that place alive.”

“That bitch is crazy! You have to go back for my baby! And Emilio!”

Shaking my head with disbelief I say, “Emilio? You still want him even though you’re free? Are you sick?”

“I love him,” she says, resentment rising up in her voice. “He loves me. And who are you? Why are you saying these things to me? Why do you have me here?” Then she starts to cry and struggle against Izabel again. “She sent you to test me, didn’t she?”—She’s hysterical—“She’ll kill Emilio! No, what I said was a lie! He doesn’t love me! I swear it!”

“Calm down, Sian,” Izabel tells her, squeezing her, holding down her arms. “We’re not here to trick you; we’re gonna set you free, but you can’t go back to that mansion for your baby. Or for Emilio. If you go back—if you stay in Italy—they’ll find you and Francesca will definitely kill you.”

“Who are you?” she cries.

Pushing myself into a stand, I grab the back of a nearby chair and pull it over in front of them, sitting down.

“I can’t tell you who we are,” I say, “but you’re going to tell me something.”

“W-What do you want to know?”

I lean forward, resting my arms on my legs.

“I’m looking for a girl,” I begin, “a particular girl who I know isn’t anywhere in the mansion—she’s probably one of Madam Moretti’s cyprians. Where are her cyprians?”

Sian’s eyes dart between me and Nora standing behind me. She’s unsure about saying anything, but she’s beginning to trust us.

“The cyprians live all over the city,” she says. “They have their own homes; the Morettis don’t even have to watch them much, not like the girls in the mansion. They’re loyal to that insane woman; they’re set up with everything they need: clothes, medical care, food—who would want to run away or report the Morettis to the police? They live better than most people. And they’re protected.” She shakes her head, looks at the floor. “I wanted to be a cyprian”—her head shoots back up—“not because of the sex or the money, but because it was my way out. It was my and Emilio’s plan: he would work on his sister to get her to release me into service—to be a cyprian—sooner than normal, and then after I was in my own house, we would make a run for it.”

“And you believed he’d do that?” Izabel says from behind her. “He was playing you, using you. A man like Emilio doesn’t know the first thing about love. He’s a cold-hearted bastard—look what he’s done to those girls around you.”

“No,” Sian defends him, turning her head at an angle so she can see Izabel’s eyes. “Emilio would never hurt those girls—not like the Madam does. He whips them, I know, and he’s roughed them up many times, but only because he has to.” Sian’s eyes fall on me. “I’m assuming, like you had to last night when you punched me?” There’s no shortage of condemnation in her voice.

I nod. “Sorry about that. I was playing a role and you needed to shut up.”

Apparently I’m forgiven because she doesn’t argue with me about it.

“But Emilio couldn’t get the Madam to release me,” she goes on. “She became suspicious; maybe he talked to her about releasing me one too many times, I don’t know, but the plan backfired and the Madam decided to keep me in the mansion indefinitely. I should’ve been released two years ago—no one would buy me anymore; I’m twenty-four years old—but she knew, she knew Emilio loved me, and she wasn’t about to set me free. She couldn’t prove it, but she wanted to prove it. She could’ve just killed me on the suspicion alone, but she didn’t. I don’t know why.”

“Because of Emilio,” Izzy says. “She loves him and wants him to love her back, but by killing Sian”—Izabel looks at me—“she knew that would push him over the edge; he’d never forgive her. But the baby, that changed everything; the ultimate betrayal, and then it was Francesca who could never forgive. She would do anything to get back at her brother: killing Sian, or selling her to someone—a man—who’d not only hurt her, but violate her on a daily basis—it was the ultimate revenge against her brother.”

I agree with Izzy’s hypothesis.

“Enough about that,” Nora speaks up, walking around my chair in her panties and tank, her arms crossed. “Tell us about the cyprians: how do we find them?”

“I-I don’t know. All I know is what I told you. I’m sorry. What are you going to do with me?”

That is the burning question—what the hell am I going to do with this girl? The whole plan has gone to shit now that I’ve spent all of the client’s budget on Sian; now that I have her here and not Olivia Bram.

“Where are you from?” I ask.

Sian’s gaze strays; there’s a sadness in her eyes.

“My family lived in Miami when I was taken,” she says. “But that was so long ago. I don’t know if I have a family anymore. But you don’t understand—I can’t leave here without Emilio and our daughter. I won’t.”

I get up from the chair.

“Izzy,” I say, walking over to the closet in only my boxers, “I’m going to meet with Francesca in half an hour. You and Nora are going to stay with the girl; Nora will fill you in—and don’t argue with me about it; Francesca specifically requested I meet with her alone.”

“I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“Good.” I step out of my boxers and into a fresh pair, then take a clean suit from the closet. I need a fucking shower, but it’ll have to wait.

“Have you ever heard of doing that shit in private, Niklas?”

“No, Izzy,” I tell her, buttoning my pants. “You should take your clothes off more often in front of people—it’s nice under there.”

She snarls at me.

“I’m assuming,” Nora says, “you need one of us to contact the client and let him know we’ll have Francesca for him? What time should we tell him to meet you at the drop-off?”

“Don’t worry about calling him,” I say, fitting my arms into my dress shirt. “I’ll contact him myself when I have a better idea.”

“What are you going to do?” Izabel asks.

“What I came here to do.”

“And does your plan,” Izabel says, “involve Olivia Bram in any way?” She looks up at me with accusation.

“It was never gonna happen, Izzy. You knew it wasn’t going into this. I know you had hope—you survived, after all—but your situation was one in a million. Sorry, but there’s nothing we can do for Olivia Bram.”

I turn on my heels and leave, feeling stung by that wounded look on Izzy’s face when I shut the door.

Niklas

I drive a rental to the mansion so I have a way back—can’t very well pull any of this off with one of Francesca’s men as my getaway driver. Already things will be difficult because it’s broad daylight, and because I still get frisked for weapons at the front door and will be without my gun.

But I have a plan. Some of it I went over with Nora last night. I feel bad about not waking Izzy up to let her in on the discussion, but it is what it is.

Nora and Izabel’s job is to watch over Sian—mainly so she doesn’t try to run and end up causing us any trouble—and to get everything packed; leave the hotel and be waiting for me on our private plane.


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