“Look, you’re a wonderful guy—at least, I thought you were—but I’m just…sorry Fredrik, but I’m not going to be one of your whores.”
Her long hair swishes behind her as she whips back around and heads for her car parked on the street.
I don’t go after her.
I never should’ve perused her to begin with. She’s a sweet, innocent, beautiful girl who wants to be a nurse to help save lives—I’m a dark, wicked monster that feels great pleasure in bringing bastards to the brink of the end of their lives. And that darkness grows inside of me more every day. Sometimes the torture isn’t enough anymore. And that scares me. A little.
The red glow of her brake lights light up the darkness as Emily drives away.
“You think she heard anything about the guy in my trunk?” I hear Dante say nervously when I step back inside the house.
I shake my head. “No, she didn’t hear anything about that.”
Dante makes a breathy noise with his lips.
“That’s a relief,” he says. “But are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” I tell him, confident in my ability to read a person; it is, after all, part of my job. “She wasn’t afraid,” I go on. “Just disappointed.”
“Hey, I’m sorry, boss—she seemed like a nice girl.”
“Well hey, you can do better,” Dante says, and I really wish he would just stop talking and bring the man in from the trunk. “You don’t need a nice girl anyway—shit boss, you need someone like you.”
Perhaps I wasn’t giving the guy enough credit—that’s the first intelligent thing I’ve ever heard him say.
I head for the shower with bloodshed heavy on my mind.
“Do you think he’ll show?” Nora asks, sitting next to me on the private jet.
Ten minutes before we’re to leave, and still no sign of Niklas. I glance over at a tool of a woman named Blythe who stands near the entrance of the plane wearing military boots and dark mauve lipstick and eye shadow; long dark hair tumbles over both shoulders; a scowl is etched on her mouth. Blythe looks about as much the submissive type as Nora looks weak and vulnerable. But Victor believes in her ability to pull off a Jekyll and Hyde act, so I guess I should have more trust in his judgment—I just don’t want her taking my place on this mission.
“He’ll be here,” I answer Nora, feeling only about forty percent confident anymore. Anxiously I glance at the time on my phone in my hand.
Another operative from the First Division stands outside the plane, waiting; some guy named Elric, who’s supposed to be the fill-in for Niklas if he doesn’t show up.
I look over at Nora sitting by the window. She doesn’t look convinced.
“He’ll be here,” I repeat.
I glance down at the time again and my confidence begins to plummet.
Nora shrugs with an if-you-say-so expression.
Minutes later Blythe’s statuesque form finally moves when something outside garners her attention. She moves down the stairs and out of the plane. I get up immediately and cross the aisle to see out the window on the other side, my heart beating two hundred beats per minute.
Relief washes over me when I see Niklas, dressed in a black suit, striped tie, and dress shoes, walking toward the plane with two briefcases, one clutched in each hand and a garment bag tossed over a shoulder—definitely not used to seeing him in a suit.
“He’s here,” I tell Nora quickly as I’m leaving the seats and make my way to the plane’s entrance.
I head down the stairs and onto the tarmac.
“You’re late,” I say, stepping up.
Niklas looks at the thick, expensive Rolex on his wrist. He says nothing in return, turns away from me and gives Blythe and Elric all of his attention. It pisses me off for about two seconds, but I’m just glad he’s here.
After Niklas sees Blythe and Elric off, he steps up to me, his bluish-green eyes sweeping over me from top to bottom in a scrutinizing manner.
“What?” I ask, puzzled and uncomfortable.
“You’ll need to change on the plane,” he says. “I hope you brought something more suitable to wear—can’t be dressing in shit like that.”
I give my tight black bodysuit and tall boots a quick once-over.
“I didn’t plan on it,” I say with offense. “I brought a whole wardrobe practically. But we’re not there yet, so it doesn’t matter what I wear.”
Niklas walks out ahead of me and I follow.
“From the second you step off that plane in Italy,” he says, “you’ll need to look and act the part.” He stops on the bottom step of the little staircase and turns back to look at me. His eyes are dark, rapt with insistence. “As far as I’m concerned, this plane will be one of few places where the truth about us is safe. You’ll need to remember that, Izabel—forget it once, even for a second, and it could be the death of us all.” He starts to ascend the steps, but stops and adds, “And if you get me killed, Izzy, there’ll be hell to pay in your afterlife.”
He goes up the steps.
“Well, it’s a good thing I don’t believe in an afterlife,” I call out bitterly from behind.
Nora smiles at Niklas cunningly as he walks down the aisle to find a seat. He takes the roomy section with a table and plenty of space to stretch his long legs. He sets his briefcases down, one on the seat, the other on the table and then takes off his suit jacket, laying it over the neighboring chair.
“Strange seeing you in a suit,” Nora says. “Not to say that I don’t like it.” A carnal gleam is evident in her brown eyes.
Niklas doesn’t reply.
Instead, he reaches up and loosens his tie around his neck, afterward breaking apart the top two buttons of his dress shirt.
I take a seat across from Niklas.
“Thank you for doing this,” I say.
Niklas’s eyes meet mine briefly, then he looks away and flips open the latches on the briefcase on the table.
“So…” I pause, trying to find the words, and hoping to stir the awkward silence, “…Victor says you’re the best man for this job. Care to tell us why?”
His attention stays on the briefcase in front of him; he retrieves a tablet computer and flips open its leather cover like a book.
I glance over my seat at Nora. She sits quietly reading a magazine, her legs crossed, her long blond hair pulled into a ponytail at the top of her head, falling down one side of her bare neck. I can’t imagine why she hasn’t said much. Maybe she’s staying out of it to let me do my thing. After all, she agrees that I know Niklas better than she does, and that between the two of us, I’m the only one he trusts—or likes, even if only on tolerating levels.
Niklas closes the briefcase.
The plane takes off.
“When we were in The Order,” he begins, “I was never sent out on missions like my brother. He was the ghost in the shadows you never saw before he killed you. I was the one sent to play the roles, to get information from the inside.” I notice his eyes veer off in Nora’s direction momentarily. “I played a lot of roles,” he goes on, looking back at me, “just like the one I played in the beginning with Claire. Fun fuckin’ times those were.” That last part was riddled with bitter sarcasm.
Niklas leans back in his chair, propping his right ankle on top of his left knee. He sets the tablet computer in his lap.
“So then you’ve played these types of roles before,” I assume. “With women like Francesca Moretti? And what’s in the other briefcase?”
“No,” he says without having to think about it. “Not like Francesca Moretti. I’ve played master to women before; I’ve been the buyer of girls”—I flinch inwardly with his admission—“I’ve even played the seller. But with Francesca Moretti, the stakes are higher, the risk greater, and the game deadlier. I don’t know why Victor would let you do this. And a million in cash is in the other briefcase.” He peers down into his tablet, running his index finger over the screen.
“Because he knows I can,” I say, trying to hide the ice in my voice. I suck it up and stay on the subject. “OK so then what’s the plan?”
“You mean you don’t already have one?” he asks, though it came out more like a mildly surprised comment. He doesn’t look up from the glowing screen. “Thought Victor and his new play-toy back there would have everything figured out by now.” Nora and I glance briefly at each other.
His comment stung me. Victor’s play-toy? But I was the one who brought her into our Order. I was the one who wanted her here—not Victor. But then why did Niklas’s comment sting so damn much?
The subject—stay on it, Izabel, I scold myself. I refuse to let Niklas get to me because I know that’s what he’s trying to do.
Niklas swipes the screen a few times before putting the tablet down on the seat next to him. Then he drops his foot back on the floor, leans forward and props his elbows on the tops of his legs.
“Look at me, Izabel,” he says, and I do, immediately attentive to his coming words, and that serious look on his stubbly, hardened face. “I don’t take these missions lightly,” he begins. “I may joke around and lose my shit sometimes when we’re on some kill-and-be-done-with-it job, but this”—he points absently at the floor; his eyes grow fiercer—“this is my area of expertise, and you’ll see a side of me you’ve never seen before. I just hope you’re capable of playing your role without fucking it up, because I won’t break character. You need to remember that. I never break character.” His piercing eyes never leave mine until many long seconds later when he feels like he’s gotten his point across. He presses his back against the seat again.