“There are one of two answers to that question,” I say. “Either she’s not just ‘one woman’ and is part of an organization herself, or she’s just really good and is playing us like chess pieces.”

I am usually good at figuring a person out. It has been my job since I was first initiated into The Order as a boy to know my enemy inside and out before they know I even exist. My gut tells me that this woman is not part of any organizations—at least not anymore. Her skill indicates that she may have been at one time, but this game she is playing is personal rather than professional.

If Izabel were not involved, things would be going much differently for this ‘Nora’ than they are. I’m only going along with it for Izabel. I don’t like it, but it is what it is. I’ll play her game for now, but not forever.

Izabel walks past me and Niklas and goes into the room. Woodard and I follow.

“Well, we may not know who she is or anything about her,” Izabel says, crossing her arms and looking into the large screen, “but she did tell me that her father was the one who cut off the tip of her pinky finger.”

Nora is sitting in the same spot, now with her feet propped on the table, crossed at the ankles, her black heels swaying side to side, her long legs like landing strips stretched out before her dressed in black leather.

“It’s not much, but it’s something,” Izabel adds.

“So she has daddy issues,” Dorian chimes in, sitting in front of the screens with a boot on the table. A paper cup of coffee sits to his left; steam rises from the opening.

“Maybe she’s one of your daughters, Woodard,” Niklas says with laughter in his voice. Then he taps Woodard on the arm with the back of his hand, a smile slipping across his unshaven face. “Damn, I didn’t know you were such a ladies’ man.”

Woodard starts to smile, always seeking acceptance from the rest of us, but it turns to a look of shame instead. He shakes his head and sits down in a chair in front of the screens.

“Well, I was thinking the same thing by the time I left that room,” Woodard says. “So, I sent my blood sample along with hers down with Carter. If she’s related to me, we’ll know in twenty-four hours.”

“That’s cutting it close,” Dorian says. “She gave us forty-eight hours to figure this out.” His blond head snaps around and looks up at me from the chair. “Tessa will not die.”

I nod, but say nothing in response.

“I think we should all compare blood samples with hers,” Woodard says.

“Fine by me,” Niklas says with a shrug. “I know for a fact I don’t have any damn kids. Besides, even if I could have kids, she can’t be older than twenty-four, twenty-five? Can’t be mine. I would’ve had to been banging her mother at, what—thirteen?”

“You weren’t having sex at thirteen?” Woodard asks.

Niklas’ eyebrows draw together. “Actually no,” he says matter-of-factly. “I was too busy being beat to near death by my father and The Order while I was being trained.”

Silence falls over the room for a brief moment.

Then Niklas laughs and says to Woodard, “So you were getting laid at thirteen? What the hell happened to you?” He laughs and looks Woodard’s large size and balding head over with amusement.

“Age happened to me.”

Their lack of focus on the current situation is vexing.

“Look,” I speak out, “if she’s not Woodard’s daughter, she could be someone’s sister. Let’s just see what the blood says. No sense in speculating.”

Dorian nods at me privately, thanking me for furthering it along, and he turns back to the screens.

“There was something else,” Izabel speaks up. “When I told her what she wanted to know, she seemed…” she pauses, searching for the right word, “I don’t know it just seemed like she felt bad. But I know it’s bullshit.”

“Yeah, it’s bullshit all right,” Niklas says, “just like I said. We may not know anything about her except that she’s gorgeous and fuckable, has a dangerous right-hook and a mouth worse than Izzy’s, but don’t let the bitch get under your skin.” He glances at Woodard and then Izabel with accusation. “Both of you gave up your secrets too easily, if you want to know my opinion.”

“No one asked for it,” Izabel says sourly.

“Hey, she knew about my affairs,” Woodard says defensively.

“Actually, she didn’t know anything until you told her,” Niklas says. “You were spilling your guts within five minutes of being alone with her.”

“H-Hey, I-I was just doing what she wanted. My daughters’ lives are at stake. Didn’t see any r-reason t-to drag it out.”

“You still caved too fast,” Niklas says and looks at the screens. “A thousand dollars she doesn’t know anything. She’s a con artist.”

“Actually, Niklas,” Izabel says, turning her head at an angle and looking up at him, “she knows a lot.”

I listen quietly, watching the pain creep back up into Izabel’s features as she recalls her moment with Nora. I want to know what she told her, what this secret is about the woman I love that’s so terrible she has to keep it from me.

“I went in that room with the same suspicions as you, Niklas,” she goes on. “I wasn’t about to tell her anything until she could prove she had anything on me at all. If she couldn’t, I was just going to make something up. Play her at her own game. I’m a good enough actress, I could’ve pulled it off. Turned on the waterworks and made her believe that the ‘deep dark’ secret I was confessing was real.” She pauses and looks back at Nora in the screen. Her shoulders rise and fall with a troubled breath. “But she knew. She knew…”

The room falls silent again.

Finally, Niklas puts up his hands, surrendering, and says, “I’m going in next then. Because I still call bullshit. And if not, if she really is the real deal, then we better make damn sure she doesn’t get out of this building alive.”

Quietly, I agree.

He pops a cigarette between his lips and walks toward the exit. “But she won’t get anything out of me because there’s nothing to get. So this should be interesting.”

Yes. This should be interesting.

The door opens, flooding the dimly-lit surveillance room with bright light from the hallway.

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