In front of Fawn stood a woman with dark hair cut in jagged edges, crazy black eyes, and sallow skin.
“For the record, the person tied to the chair is our witness, Ms. Fawn Cornwall, and the other individual is known by the alias of Tic Tac Toe, which, not surprisingly, is the M.O. she is known for. Prior to her capture, it was erroneously believed that Tic Tac Toe was a middle-aged black male of average height. Records reveal that this person’s birth name is Meredith Grayson, is on the Most Wanted list in four states, and is believed to be responsible for the deaths of at least twelve individuals in the past seven years.”
An objection was made and sustained, and Fredericka took a deep breath. “Regardless of how many Meredith Grayson may have killed, I hope the people in this courtroom share my hope that Ms. Cornwall will be her last victim.”
The attorney pushed a button on her pointer.
And the video began to play.
Meredith Grayson came to life on the screen, sharpening her knife in front of Fawn’s face, so, so close that if she had breathed just a little deeper, the knife would have cut her.
But the prince and his fawn’s nightmare had just begun.
His stomach curled as Meredith Grayson began to taunt Fawn.
“Do you know why they call me Tic Tac Toe?”
“Are you scared?”
“Do you have any idea what I’ll do to you if you don’t give me what I want?”
“Do you understand why you’re here?”
“Do you think anyone will come rescue you?”
And with every question, Meredith would bring her knife close to his angel’s face, so damn close that if Fawn had nodded or shaken her head, the blade would have cut through her skin.
“Smart,” Meredith marveled. “You’re definitely one of my smarter guests.” She put her knife away. “Too bad you’re not smart enough when it comes to men.” She pointed to the wall behind her, where a colored photo of the prince was taped. “That man doesn’t give a shit about you, and yet here you are, embroiled in his troubles.”
Fawn’s eyes widened, and so did Meredith’s smile.
“Wondering about my vocabulary, aren’t you?” The woman lifted her knife again. “I was a teacher in a prestigious culinary school, top three in my state actually. But then I was laid off and—-” Meredith shrugged. “I found another way to make my skills handy.” She ran a finger across her blade, murmuring confidingly, “This blade has killed twelve persons, but I’ve also spared the lives of at least thrice of that. Do you know why?”
Fawn shook her head.
“Because they realized that I had the better offer.” Meredith began playing with her knife, tossing it up in the air and catching it by the handle before tossing it back up. “The people who hire me think I use force to get what I want.” Her lip curled. “Which is stupid. Everyone knows these things can’t be done by force.”
“I don’t understand—-”
Meredith stopped playing with her knife, and her crazy black eyes began to dance. “You will. In fact, we’re going to play a game. We’ll play tic tac toe on your face, and every time you lie to me, I’ll mark your disgustingly flawless face. Tell me the truth, give me what I want, and I’ll let you go.”
Fawn whispered, “I don’t know anything.”
“LIE.” Meredith suddenly made a buzzing sound, similar to game show buzzers, and Fawn jolted against her restraints.
“You know something.” The knife moved up, pointing straight to Fawn’s eyes. “I can see it in your eyes. You know something.”
Fawn didn’t answer.
The prince followed Meredith’s gaze.
The prince looked into Fawn’s eyes.
She had known something.
He had succumbed to having her one last time, and she had ended up hearing something that had endangered her life.
Fawn, I’m sorry.
This – this was fucking why it would never work between them.
Fawn, I’m sorry.
He heard Meredith say from the video, “Let’s play.”
And the nightmare continued.
“My first question is, and I know this is a bit of cheating, but it’s more like a free pass for you in case you want this to be over.” Meredith licked her lips, almost as if she could taste Fawn’s fear. “Do you know where Beatrice Crichton is being hidden?”
“No.” Fawn’s voice was flat.
“Wrong answer.” Meredith’s voice was equally flat.
The knife went up, and the video captured the reflection of Fawn’s frightened look on its blade.
And then Meredith started to carve an X just below Fawn’s right eye, deep enough to gouge the flesh, deep enough to scrape against the bone, deep enough to prolong the pain without killing her victim.
Without killing Fawn.
On the small inlaid screen, the number one lit up, turning into blue.
And finally, the numbers began to make sense.
Someone began to cry.
Nick and Jason Christakos turned towards the prince, their whitened expressions saying everything they felt.