I look over at him.
“You are beautiful, Izabel. Your defiance provokes me. Your mouth infuriates me. Your obsession with independence makes me question everything you do. But I love every single thing about you.” He tilts his head slightly; his eyes regarding me quietly for a moment—my stomach flutters and my heart starts to break. “I know I’m not your first anything, but I hope that I’ll be your last everything.”
There it is—my heart finally broke. Into a million fucking pieces.
I look away from his eyes.
Did Victor hear me tell Nora that I used to love Javier? I know he heard everything—even if he didn’t, I’m sure Niklas gladly filled him in.
“I’m sorry,” I say, looking back at the screen. “I know I told you once that I never loved Javier, but I was ashamed admitting it back then.” I glance at the floor. “I’m still ashamed admitting it.”
“You cannot help or control who you fall in love with,” he says. “It was a long time ago, and you were in an extraordinary situation, and I cannot fault you for it, or tell you that it was wrong.”
My eyes meet his again. “Doesn’t it bother you?”
He hesitates and then answers, “No. As I said, it was a long time ago.”
We don’t say anything to each other for a while.
Then finally I step up closer to him and push up on my toes, kissing his lips.
“You are my last everything,” I say softly, my eyes searching his.
He smiles gently and we turn back to look at the screen together.
“On another note,” he says minutes later, changing the subject, “putting the information together that I have on Nora and with what you just found out, I’m confident to be able to say that although I still have no idea why she’s here or who she’s here for, I believe her to be a part of the Shadow Sect.”
“What the hell is that?”
We look back into the screen together, watching Nora in her chair, calm as ever.
“More appropriately named SC-4, or Source Contractors Number Four,” he begins. “It’s an organization more underground than The Order or the black markets. Its purpose isn’t to fulfill contract hits, but to produce contractors.”
“Yes. In the same way that Nora told you, members of the Shadow Sect are born and raised within their organization, trained as assassins and spies from the moment they leave the womb. They have no mother or fathers to care for them. They are born without identities and only later are assigned names. In a sense, Nora Kessler is more experienced than even I am, almost entirely numb to the basic human emotions, like love and sympathy, that would make her weak. My mother and my father may have been agents when I was born, but my mother was loving, and my father, although I rarely saw him, when I did, he treated me as any father would treat his son. I, just as Niklas did, had a normal childhood until we were taken away by The Order to be trained when we were just boys.” He nods toward the screen. “But with Nora, a life of killing came as naturally to her as spending time with my father came to me. If she is in fact from the SC-4, and I believe she is, it could mean a plethora of things, and what her business is here with us doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of them.”
I glance over at Victor, his gaze focused on Nora, and I notice something in his eyes that makes me uncomfortable, something that feels like…not a sexual attraction that I should be jealous of, but something more like…intrigue. It’s as if he’s looking in on a rare specimen of sorts, something to be studied because of the wealth of information he can learn from it.
I look back at Nora and I’m engulfed by several different conflicting emotions, none of them positive.
“You mentioned you had something else on her?” I say, trying to ignore it. “Something to add to what I found out?”
“Yes,” he says, turning away from the screen entirely, and putting his back to it. “I had Woodard run her DNA through the data files I took with me when I left The Order. I wanted to see if she matched up with any of the operatives that were under me when I worked for Vonnegut.” Victor leans against the edge of the table. “There were no matches with any of the operatives, but there was a match with one of our hits.”
“Solis,” he says. “Six years ago when we first began looking for Solis, like Niklas said when he was confessing to Nora, we did not have anything on this man except that he had been in contact with Claire. But several years later, we were closing in on him and he was shot. He got away and to this day he is believed to still be alive, but because he was shot we were able to get a blood sample.”
“Nora’s related to this Solis, isn’t she?” I ask, my eyes filled with anticipation.
“She is his daughter,” he confirms. “The DNA proves it, and the story she told you only solidifies the truth further.”
“Who is Solis?”
“He’s one of the leaders of the Shadow Sect who breeds people like her.”
I look over Victor’s shoulder at Nora again.
“So then this has to do with Claire,” I say and Victor looks somewhat surprised. And proud. He smiles and I go on. “Other than Solis, Claire is the only other connection.” I don’t even know why I’m saying this, or how any of it makes sense, but I feel it in my gut to be true.
“I think you’re onto something,” Victor says, still smiling.
I think he already came to this conclusion himself before I did, but he doesn’t want to ruin my ‘moment’. I let it slide this time.
“So then do you by chance have a DNA sample on Claire?”
“No,” he answers quickly. “Claire wasn’t a hit or an assignment of mine so I had no reason to keep records on her.”
“But Niklas did?”
“He retrieved samples from Claire, and he turned them over to The Order, but did not keep private records as I did. When he left The Order, all of the information he obtained as an operative, he left behind.”
“So then that leaves us at a dead end,” I say.
“There are no dead ends,” he says. “There is always a trail; sometimes they are just harder to find.”
I think about Niklas and Claire again, and all of the things Nora and even Niklas have said to me. After a moment I work up the courage to say, “Do you think that…your love for me is a weakness, Victor? Do you ever worry that your feelings for me could get in the way of what you do?” I don’t want to know the answer, but I need to.