Holy shit…I know what she’s going to say. Suddenly her face does pop into my mind, a flash of her from the past that I tried desperately to find before, but couldn’t.
I remember her now…
“You were the woman with the man and child who walked up when I was talking with Fredrik outside.”
She smiles faintly, more proud of me than herself, it seems, which is odd.
“And when we went inside to get out of the cold, you showed up in the Desert House with us, looking like a normal family.”
“Very good,” she says. “I was in many places following you around that time: the coffee shop where you later met with Fredrik to give him the documents James Woodard found on Cassia Carrington—I actually read the documents before Fredrik did.”
My eyes crease with confusion.
“You left them on the front seat of your car,” she reveals. “I popped the lock on the driver’s side the night before you met with Fredrik while you were snug in your bed with Victor Faust. You didn’t even turn the car alarm on.”
I try to swallow down the humiliation of my mistakes, but the lump is too large in my throat.
Nora looks at me with a strange expression of empathy.
“I would tell you what I told Dorian Flynn, not to be so hard on yourself, but the truth is—and I only say this because the truth is what you need to hear—but you should be embarrassed. I didn’t tell you that you were in over your head because I was only trying to get under your skin, Izabel. You really are in over your head. And sooner or later, you’re going to get yourself killed. Or someone else.”
I look at the wall behind her head, silent and motionless, lost in thought.
“But you haven’t been the only one out of the six of you who was at times easy to follow, easy to fool. Can you give me another drink?” She glances at the water.
Absently, I stand up and take the bottle into my hand, reaching over the table and putting it to her lips. She drinks and then I sit back down, still lost in my own deep thoughts, but at the same time listening to every one of her words and absorbing them.
“Fredrik was a mess,” she says. “For a long time, actually. The whole time he had Cassia in his basement. I couldn’t find much on him before he found her. But once he did it was like he began to lose himself. He started slipping up, not covering his tracks. He wasn’t on alert anymore, looking over his shoulder like Victor Faust does every second of every day. Fredrik was blinded by his love for Seraphina. And for Cassia. Love makes a person vulnerable, even the most skilled, most intelligent, most unbreakable human being. It’s just how things are. None of us can help it. Some are better at controlling it than others—Victor Faust, for example. He loves you and hasn’t slipped up too much. But that’s not to say he won’t in due time.”
Just like with my conversation with Niklas earlier, every one of Nora’s eye-opening words cut me to the bone.
“James Woodard,” Nora goes on, “the only kind of love that man has is for his daughters. He’s incapable of loving a woman, but it’s still love, and it still made him vulnerable. Dorian Flynn—classic case of wanting what you can’t have. Poor guy. And Niklas? Well, that one is on a whole other level. He is Victor’s brother, after all, and they’re alike in many ways.” She tries to lean forward instinctively, but ends up just dropping her head somewhat because of her bonds. “Between you and me—unless of course he’s listening”—she glances briefly at a camera—“Niklas didn’t break. Oh, I do believe that he would have to protect Dina Gregory for you, but he didn’t break like that. He didn’t have to. Do you want to know why?”
I don’t respond, but she knows my answer is yes.
“Because Niklas wanted to tell me about Claire,” she answers. “I imagine he’s been keeping her bottled up inside for so long that it was slowly killing him. I don’t know for sure, but it’s human nature and to be expected. We can’t hold that kind of pain inside forever. But Niklas didn’t break.” She shakes her head. “And yes, he wanted to throttle me, but because of what happened to Claire, not because I was forcing him to talk about it.”
“How do you know so much?” I ask. “And before you start accusing me of trying to get information—I am for fuck’s sake, but it’s only because I genuinely want to know for myself. I…I may not be able to help Dina, but…,” that lump finally goes down my throat. I pause and say instead, “You’re right, Nora; I’m in too far over my head. A part of me wants to fucking kill you—and I still might, don’t get me wrong—but another part of me…” I can’t bring myself to say it.
I look away.
“You want advice,” she says, knowing. “You feel like the little girl sitting at the adult table in this Order. And you resent me because I’m everything you want to be.” She catches my gaze, holding it there without effort. “And you’re beginning to feel threatened.”
And she would be right.
Before Nora, I was the only woman. Not the only woman in Victor’s organization, but the only one on the inside, in the Inner Circle. With Nora here, I can’t help but feel threatened, and for the life of me I don’t understand why. Because she’s the enemy.
Suddenly, I wish I had come in here without Niklas knowing because I don’t want him to hear any of this.
“Maybe I am,” I say—we both know it’s true, but we also both know I’m too proud to outright admit it. “And maybe I just want to understand you, how you can be the way you are, know the things that you know.”
I pause and then lower my voice to a whisper, leaning over the table. “How the hell did you know about…Mexico?” I don’t want to say the incriminating keywords—baby, birth, etcetera—because I know Niklas is listening. “I highly doubt you were following me back then, much less knew I existed.”
A cunning smile appears on Nora’s lips.
“I’m not giving away all of my secrets,” she says simply and leaves it at that.
I didn’t expect her to, but it was worth a shot.
“Tell me this,” she says suddenly, “did you love him?”
She tilts her head on one side, a look that reads you-know-who plain on her face.
“What does that matter?” I say evasively.
“It’s just a question,” she says. “It was the past. Did you love him?”