I look down at her, surprised she hasn’t moved, because in my brief moment of distraction, someone with Nora’s skill could’ve easily reacted quickly enough to knock me from my feet and took the gun from me.

I hold the gun more firmly, realizing.

She looks at the wall again, waiting and ready for me to kill her. No fears. No regrets. No attempts to save her own life. Nora Kessler has accepted her fate.

“I trust your judgment, Izabel,” he says. “When it comes to others, you’re a good judge of character.”

I feel like I’m trapped within my own spinning mind. I look to and from the barrel of my gun and the back of Nora’s head.

“How important is honesty to you?” I ask her.

“I have no reason to lie,” she says, “unless it’s my job to lie—why do you ask?”

“Then tell me,” I say, ignoring her inquiry, “turn around and face me so I can see your eyes, and tell me why you want to be a part of our organization.”

After a moment, Nora turns around, still on her knees, to face me. She looks up at me with curiosity.

Then she smiles with disbelief and shakes her head.

“Before you make a fool of yourself, Izabel,” she says, “if you want me to hang around to train you just because you want to keep Victor, you might as well shoot me.”

I push the gun toward her threateningly.

“Just answer the question,” I demand.

Her curious eyes study my face, my reactions, and then she says, “I went to a lot of trouble to prove myself to Victor Faust—to all of you. I could’ve hurt or killed the people you love, but I didn’t and had no intention in doing so. I may have forced you all to expose at least one of your darkest secrets, and I may have done more damage than intended, but none of you can blame me for the things that you have done, the secrets you’ve kept from one another—those are your mistakes, not mine.” She grimaces and adjusts her kneeling position just slightly. “But to answer your question, I want to be a part of this Order because I lost the only place I ever belonged when I left the SC-4. I can’t just go out into the world, find a job and meet friends and fall in love and act like a normal human being. Because I’m not. And I never will be. And I can’t go back to the Sect because they’ll kill me on the spot for desertion. Not to mention for killing Solis.” Finally, she sits fully on her bottom, unable to stay up on her knees any longer. “I was born—literally—to do this. It’s all I know. And that’s all I have to say.”

I believe her. Regardless of how manipulative she is, facts don’t lie, either.

“Then why don’t you just kill yourself?” I ask. “If you’re not afraid of death, and you can’t live any other way, why not end it?”

“Because suicide is the coward’s way out.”

I nod and leave it at that.

“But what’s to stop you from trying to kill one of us?” I tilt my head thoughtfully, looking down at her with challenge. “Since you seem to have no conscience.”

“I’m all business, Izabel,” she answers immediately. “And I’m loyal. It’s in my blood to do as I’m told by my superiors. I do it without question or argument, and I do it well. And if I wanted to kill you, I could’ve the second you brought me out here. I could’ve taken that gun from you moments ago when you were off in la-la land thinking about that secret of yours and deciding not to tell Victor about it, as you were going to do. Probably tonight when you laid down to sleep with him.” (How does she know these things?) “If I wanted to kill any of you, I wouldn’t have spent six years planning this night. I would’ve killed you any of the times I followed you.”

“But what about Claire?” I say, still needing more. “She compromised you. You loved her. You were going to kill her. And you left the only home you’ve ever known, risked everything, because of her. What’s not to say that won’t happen again?”

“Because people like me only love once,” she answers without even having to think about it. “To us, the experience is like a child touching a hot pan.”

I don’t say anything for a while.

“But when you’re calm and not acting out of anger or revenge, you know what you’re doing. And I trust you one hundred percent.”

“You said you’d train me.”

Nora nods.

“I did.”

“Then why’d you just say—”

“I’ll train you if your need to learn isn’t dictated by your love of a man,” she cuts in. “That’s no different than a girl getting pregnant just to keep her boyfriend, or a man marrying a woman he doesn’t love because he knocked her up—it never works out. And I won’t waste my time on nonsense.”

“Victor’s not the only reason I want to learn,” I say. “I won’t lie and say he isn’t part of it, but he’s not all of it. I’m unlike you in almost every way,” I go on, “but the one way we are alike is that I know this is the only life for me. I’ve already been down that normal road and I don’t think I can ever do it again. This is my life, and I only want to learn how to stay alive in it for as long as I can. Victor never had much time to train me like I need to be trained. He either sent me to someone else”—I quietly recall Spencer and Jacquelyn at the Krav Maga studio—“or started going easy on me after a while because he didn’t want to hurt me.”

“I would never go easy on you.” Nora smiles.

“I know.”

Then I say, “But fighting isn’t the only thing I want to learn—I want to learn everything you can possibly teach me: manipulation techniques, controlling pain, everything…”

Nora raises a brow.

“You’ll never be able to learn all those things,” she says, “unless you want to lose your ability to love anyone and be able to kill them instead, but I will teach you whatever I can.”

“One more question.”


“Just out of curiosity,” I begin, “when I confessed to you, you seemed…sympathetic. Even to Niklas’ feelings. If you’re so…emotionless…why did you seem to care at all? Why did taunting you about your father and your finger trigger so much anger if your emotions are so controlled? And absent.”

“I am still human,” she says simply.

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