I start to walk away, but Nora stops me.
“What I’m most curious about though,” she says with my back turned to her, “is what’s taking Victor Faust so long to talk with me. Of course we all have something to hide, even I have done things I’m not particularly proud of, but what do you think Victor’s secret could be? What is he afraid of?”
“Victor isn’t afraid of anything,” I say, turning to look back at her.
She nods reflectively.
“That may be true,” she says, “but it makes you wonder what his secret is, just the same, doesn’t it?”
She’s trying to get under my skin again. And it’s working.
I hear the door click unlocked.
“Do you still want to kill me when this is over?” she asks as I’m opening the door.
“I will kill you when this is over,” I say, and walk out with her undaunted smile etched in my thoughts.
Victor and Woodard are in the surveillance room with Niklas when I walk in. They’re all looking at me—Niklas shaking his head as if to say I never should’ve done that; Woodard can’t meet my eyes and he looks embarrassed for me; Victor is expressionless as usual, but behind the nothing there is something that maybe only I can see.
“You did good,” Victor says. “We know a lot more about her than we did before.”
I look away from him and go toward the coffee pot, turning my back to all three of them.
“Yeah, thanks, but I don’t need anyone’s sympathetic pat on the back.”
I pour coffee into a small paper cup. I don’t really even like coffee all that much¸ but I need something to do to distract me.
The room grows quiet and then Victor says, “I need to speak with Izabel alone.”
Without a word, Niklas and Woodard take up their things and head for the exit.
The second they’re gone, Victor drops the professional mask and is the man I know on the inside. He steps up behind me and I feel his hands hook about my waist.
“Is that what you think, Izabel?” he says. “That no one here respects you, that you’re just here to share my bed?”
“None of that matters right now, Victor”—I drop two teaspoons of sugar into my cup and begin to stir it with a plastic spoon—“Dina is all that matters to me. I have to get her back. If Fredrik doesn’t show, I’ll never forgive him.”
Stir. Stir. Stir.
Victor places his hand on top of mine and forces me to stop. He pushes the cup to the side. I don’t argue about it, but I don’t look at him either.
“You are an asset to this organization,” he says, turning me around. He looks into my eyes, focused and determined. “I told you a long time ago that it will take you the rest of your life to learn all there is to know. And that many things you’ll never fully grasp. But you’re still an asset.”
I push myself out from in front of him and walk toward the tables with the television screens.
“That may be true,” I say. “I may help with things, but the real truth is”—I look over at him when he steps up next to me—“is that you could easily do without me here. Victor, I’m not looking for pity. I’m not waiting for you to tell me how wrong I am and then point out all of the reasons why—Nora is right about me being in over my head. I accept that. I don’t want to be lied to. But what I do want…well, I don’t want that to be the truth. I want to change it. I want to prove myself an asset and not just wear the crown because I share your bed.”
Victor sighs heavily.
“What are you saying, Izabel?”
With my arms crossed, I look back over at him.
“I want you to send me on a mission alone. A real one, not some training mission, but a real, money-paying, kill-or-be-killed mission like you’d send Niklas on. And I don’t want your men following me, either. I told you a long time ago, the night I dropped Sarai and became a part of your Order, that I don’t need a babysitter.” My gaze hardens on him. “And if I do need one, then I don’t belong here. I want to be treated like everyone else and not be given special treatment. It’s the only way I’ll ever truly learn.”
The center of Victor’s throat moves as he swallows, the outline of his rigid, unshaved jaw shifts as he grinds his teeth.
“I’ll think about it,” he says.
“No,” I shoot back, “you’ll do this for me or things between us are going to get complicated.”
His greenish-blue eyes become flecked with anger, but it remains settled there.
“You know she’s manipulating you, right?” he says about Nora.
“Yes I know that,” I answer right away, offended. “She’s manipulating every one of us—you don’t think I know that?”
He shakes his head.
“You think I went in there to prove a point, only for my plan to backfire?” My voice rises and my demeanor begins to change uncomfortably. “I knew what I was doing when I went in there, Victor. I knew that she’d trust me to open up if she could believe that my act was real, that I truly felt that way. But the thing is, it was easy to pull off not because I’m good at it, not because it’s one of my ‘skills’, but because it was how I felt. I was believable because I wasn’t lying. About anything.”
“You’re not giving yourself any credit at all,” he says. “Typical.”
“What’s that supposed to mean—typical?”
Victor shakes his head. “The things you told Nora may have been true,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean you didn’t accomplish the very thing you went in there for. Just because everything you told her was true, doesn’t mean you’re not good at what you do.”
“And what is it that I do exactly, Victor?”
“Well, for starters, you can’t be satisfied with what you can do,” he says, his voice laced with accusation and sarcasm. “You’ve this incessant need to prove yourself, to me, to everyone else. Now you want me to send you on a mission alone. You’re not ready.”
Neither of us says anything else for several long moments. I don’t want to argue about this right now—we have less than six hours left—but it’s definitely a topic for later. I won’t let Victor forget it and he knows as much.
I feel the warmth of Victor’s hand touch my neck as he pushes my hair away from my shoulder and onto my back.