“Fredrik, you’re really starting to worry me. First you—”
“Can you meet me in Druid Hill Park?” I cut in. “Same parking lot we met before the Vanderbilt hit last month? Two hours.”
“All right, I’ll be there.”
Running my finger over the screen, the call ends. Greta walks past me offering a rather skittish smile. She’s always been afraid of me, but after unlocking Cassia from her bonds without my permission, she likely didn’t want to come here today at all.
She sets her purse down on the kitchen counter, dropping her keys in the top of it afterwards. She starts in on cleaning immediately, bending over to retrieve a spray bottle of kitchen cleaner from underneath the sink and avoiding eye contact with me at all costs.
Already dressed in a pair of jeans, a thick black sweater and my more laid-back Converse shoes, I slip my arms down into my coat and prepare to leave.
“I’m going to be gone for a few hours,” I say, adjusting the neck of my sweater around the inside of my coat. “Under no circumstances will you unlock Cassia from that chain. Is that understood?” Lastly, I pull a black knit beanie over my head.
Greta nods with little eye contact. “Yes, Mr. Gustavsson.”
Swiping my keys from the counter, I hold them in one hand while double-checking for my wallet in the back pocket of my jeans.
Greta sprays the countertop and begins wiping it down.
“By the way,” I add, “Cassia might confide in you about the things she remembered.”
Greta looks up from her work, surprised. “She remembered?”
“Apparently.” I step up closer, seizing her nervous gaze. “But I don’t want you talking to her about it. Not unless she brings it up herself. And even then, say little in return. Let her do the talking if she needs to, but that’s as far as it goes. Do you understand?”
The confused look on Greta’s heavily lined face deepens, but she agrees with another tense nod of acknowledgment.
“Will you be here for dinner?” she asks as I’m making my way to the front door.
I don’t stop to answer and I step out into the cold winter air, heading straight for my car.
I stop for coffee and gas and then a newspaper, trying to find things to do to waste two hours. And to think. Mostly I think. How much do I tell Izabel? Not everything, but enough to—I’m regretting this meeting already. There’s nothing that Izabel can even do but give me advice, and since when was I ever the type of man who needed advice? I’ve never confided in anyone in my life other than Seraphina, and Willa before her when I was just a boy under the thumb of evil men. But now…now I’m desperate and I’m closer to no one in this world more than Izabel Seyfried. Victor Faust may be my friend and someone I believe I can trust, but he’s a man, and I’ve never been able to develop the type of bond with any man that I have with very few women.
My past with men forbids such bonds.
Two hours drag by endlessly and I spend the last half hour of it waiting in the parking lot of the park with the engine running to keep warm. The sky is gray and covered by thick winter clouds that will start dumping snow on everything at any moment.
Note to self: When this is all over, move south.
Izabel’s black Mercedes pulls into the parking lot. She parks next to me.
“Shit, it’s cold,” she says shuddering while hopping in the passenger’s side of my car and closing the door quickly.
I pass her a hot coffee in a cup with a lid.
“You know me so well.” She smiles and her big green eyes brighten thankfully as she takes the cup into both hands to warm them. Pursing her lips she blows on the steam rising from the small opening in the lid and then takes a careful sip, hissing when the liquid burns her lips.
“So, what’s this all about?” She sets the cup in the cup holder in the console between us. Then she adjusts her long, white coat, pulling it from underneath her bottom and then hides her keys away inside the pocket. Her long auburn hair is pulled into a silky ponytail at the back of her head.
I hesitate for a rather lengthy amount of time, dropping my hands from the bottom of the steering wheel and into my lap. My head falls back against the leather headrest.
“Well, before you say anything,” she says quickly, “I want you to know that I did tell Victor I was meeting you here.”
“I didn’t expect you not to tell him.” I smirk over at her and then jest, “What, you think I planned to kill you?”
Izabel laughs lightly and nudges me in the shoulder with a half-fist.
“I tell Victor everything, you know that,” she says with a smile. “Besides, you wouldn’t kill me.”
I raise a brow and one side of my mouth. “Oh really? You must think you’re special. Got news for yah, doll.” Her whole face breaks into a grin. “OK, you are kind of special,” I admit, but then point at her and narrow my eyes and say, “But don’t let that shit go to your head. I’d still kill you.”
She smiles, rolls her eyes and rests her head against the headrest for a moment.
Then she says, “Is this your way of breaking the ice?” Her head falls to the side so she can look at me. “Because I get the feeling whatever it is you have to tell me is something serious.”
“It is.” I nod.
“Well,” she says, looking forward at the windshield, “just remember the reason I told you about Victor.”
“I know,” I say. “Because you keep nothing from him.”
She raises her head and back from the seat and turns around a little to face me.
“I admire you for that,” I tell her. “That you’re honest with him.”
“I have to be. One, I love him. Two, if I’m not honest with him, he might kill me someday.”
I smile. “I doubt Victor would ever kill you.”
She looks at me in a sidelong glance. “You haven’t been around him much lately. All that power.” She laughs. “He scares me a little.”
The smile in her eyes tells me that she’s full of shit.
“Look, you’re like a brother to me,” she says getting serious again. “And if you ever asked me to keep anything personal about you a secret, I wouldn’t tell Victor, or anyone else. But I just wanted to give you a heads-up before you start talking, so you can be sure that whatever you’re about to say is something I should know, or not.”
“I know,” I say, “and I appreciate you looking out for me, but I’m only senseless on Wednesdays. I know what I’m doing.”