“What kind would that be?”

“The truthful kind,” she says.

“That’s the only kind I want.”

“Then by all means”—she twirls the hand with the marred pinky finger in the air beside her—“ask away.”

Hesitating for a long, tense moment, I think about my question and what her truthful answer could mean.

“Do you think a man like Victor Faust can ever truly be in love?”

Nora is very quiet, as if my question has stripped the sarcasm from her and replaced it with intrigue. Then she turns her head to the side again, allowing me to see the outline of her nose and cheek in the moonlit darkness that shrouds her.

“That’s a bold question,” she says. “And one that I think you already know the answer to.”

“Maybe so, but I want to know yours.”

“You mean,” she says as if to correct me, “you want to know the reason behind my answer.”

“Whatever—just tell me.”

I sense her smiling, but I don’t see it on her face, and I don’t get any spiteful or pleasurable feelings from her—just honesty.

She looks back at the wall in front of her again.

“Anyone can be in love, Izabel,” she says in an even voice, “and I can tell by the look in that man’s eyes that he is in love with you”—(I want to be pleased with that answer, but I’m not because I know that’s not all of it)—“but a man like Victor Faust,” she goes on, “can’t stay in love forever. Like Fredrik’s type can’t live without love, Victor’s type can’t live with it. And the more that it gets in the way of his duties, and the more human you make him become, the closer you push him to his breaking point.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” My gun hand is trembling. “Are you saying that no matter what, he’s going to put an end to us?”

“No,” she says, “but if you want to keep him and what you have with him in-tact, you need to lose what’s left of your personal life, your humanity. Your love for Dina Gregory. Your school-girl jealousy. Your conscience. It’s enough that he loves you and has to protect you, but he won’t—he can’t—continue to protect and take into consideration everything you drag in with you from the outside.”

“What makes you think he can’t?” Tears sting the backs of my eyes, but I don’t let them fall.

Nora turns her head to look at me again.

“Because he’s just like me,” she says not with malice, but with truth. “And one way or another, he’ll instinctively do whatever it takes to restore the balance to the only life he’s ever known.”

I shake my head repeatedly, not wanting to believe her, wanting to go ahead and shoot her just for saying these things to me. But I can’t. Not yet.

A hard knot moves down the center of my throat.

“But you loved Claire,” I point out, grasping for anything I can that might turn the truth on its head. “You would’ve done anything for her.”

“Yes,” she admits, “I would have…and that’s why every day she was alive I contemplated killing her.”

My heart stops beating as if she’d just pulled the plug from me.

“I loved my sister so much,” she begins, “that I knew I couldn’t leave her alive because I’d always worry about her and it was making me weak.”

“You were going to kill her?” I can hardly believe this, but then again I can. “You were going to kill your own sister? Your innocent sister who never did anything to you and who had no idea what you were involved in?” My words are laced with disbelief and disgust.

“Yes. If Victor hadn’t killed Claire, I would have done it myself eventually—and yes, I was vengeful because he killed her, but she was my sister and she was mine to kill, not Victor’s.” She pauses and says with sincerity, “I know that’s a lot to stomach, Izabel—I know. I know it’s impossible for you to understand. But I don’t feel emotions or see things the way that you do. I never will because I was raised from the moment I was born, to be the way I am—it’s no different from you being the way you are. We all have our ‘unforgivable’ faults, I suppose that just happens to be my most notable.”

My mouth is incredibly dry. My heart isn’t beating fast or slow, but it’s not beating right, it’s like it can’t figure out how. Does Victor contemplate killing me like Nora contemplated killing Claire? Could he really get rid of me because I’m interfering in his life as a killer? Could he kill Niklas? A part of me tells me she’s just crazy and that Victor may be like her in many ways, but not in the most extreme ways—and I believe that! My heart tells me that he would never resort to that. He sent me away once, back to Arizona, and had no intention in ever seeing me again…but…but he did. He watched over me the entire time.

No! I can’t let her get to me like this. I won’t let her.

I round my chin and reclaim my control.

Nora has proven her manipulation skills far surpass mine or that of anyone I’ve ever met. She can make a person believe just about anything she wants, make the strongest-minded person doubt himself, or the weakest-minded person believe she’s something extraordinary. I know how she works—I experienced it firsthand—and I won’t make that mistake again. Maybe the things she’s telling me aren’t a manipulation tactic at all, and they are truly nothing more than her opinions, but I’m not taking any chances. I’m going to listen to my heart, and my heart is telling me that…only some of the things she’s saying are true…and the part about losing what’s left of my personal life, I believe is one of them.

“He doesn’t know...,” I say, though I’m not sure why I’m telling her. I stare at the wall above her head; the gun is still trained on her, but my mind is off somewhere else.

“He doesn’t know what?” Nora asks.

A lot of time passes before I answer.

“…He turned the audio to the room off when I confessed to you,” I say distantly, seeing only the bricks in front of me. “He doesn’t know that I had a baby with Javier…that I have a seven-year-old son or daughter out there somewhere.”

“And you’d do better to keep it that way.” I think it’s her way of also telling me she’ll keep my secret.

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