I smile darkly.

“So you’re this beautiful terrible creature who disfigures her property because it keeps your family under your control?” I know that’s not it. Entirely.

She smiles. “No,” she says. “I do that because I enjoy it.” The smile stretches; so does mine. She paces some more, arms crossed loosely under her breasts. “We are unique, you and I, the black wolves of our families, mutations; we are special. The only difference I see is that I lead my pack, and you, being the loyal, devoted brother that you are, choose to live in an older sibling’s shadow.”

I sneer, look away. “You don’t know anything about me or my brother,” I say. “How would you know if I was loyal and devoted to him?”

Francesca, unfazed by my gall, answers with a clever grin, “Because your brother is still alive. If one of my sisters had killed the man I love, my revenge would be merciless and swift. Loyalty is not so unlike love: you do things for it that you would not otherwise do; you feel a terrible, all-consuming sense of responsibility to uphold it; you go the extra mile to prove it; and most of all, you accept the pain it creates because to deny it would be to deny the loyalty itself. The only difference between loyalty and love is that for love you do all of these things because you want to, and you would do them again, and again, and again. Loyalty is learned; love is organic.”

I glance down at my lap—she’s right and I want to kill her for it.

“You may be right,” I say, looking back up at her, “but you still don’t know enough about me for us to be having this conversation.” I stand from the sofa. “My apologies, but I really need to go. Thank you for the evening. I will be in touch.”

“Niklas,” she says, stopping me in my casual stroll toward the closed door. “I did not mean to hit a nerve.” She moves up behind me, places a hand on my shoulder and walks around my body to face me; her fingers leaving a trail across my chest. The bitch wants to kiss me, the way she keeps looking at my lips; her closeness; the seductive sweep of her eyelashes; the parting of her mouth. “Few men have ever intrigued me the way you do. From the moment I saw you, I knew there was something about you, a mystery I needed to unravel. It wasn’t your money that bought your private meeting; it was my curiosity. I would have given you the meeting for free.”

She walks around me slowly, her fingers falling away from my back.

“I can tell you are very strong, destined for great things,” she continues, “just like I was before I did something about it, before I seized the moment and took what was mine. But for all the power that keeps your mask in place, behind it I feel like there is a wounded soul, dying to break free. And I would love to be more acquainted with him.” She stands in front of me, pressing her body to mine.

“And what do you think,” I begin, “this wounded soul, dying to break free, is destined to do?”

She touches my bottom lip with the tip of her finger; her dark eyes sweeping over my mouth.

“Kill your brother,” she whispers onto my lips, brushing hers against mine. “Take your revenge, and then take what is rightfully yours.”

She slips her tongue into my mouth; my body, not my rational mind, reacts to her warm flesh. My hands quickly find her hips, gripping the flesh in my rigid fingers; I push her body against the door, tearing away at her robe and it comes apart in front of me; her tits spilling out into my hands. I kiss her hard, hungrily. “I want to feel you,” she whispers when the kiss breaks. “Let me feel how much of the black wolf you really are.” Her mouth collapses around mine again, and her hand finds its way into my pants.

I growl, low and guttural, against the side of her neck when I feel her hand gripping my cock with painful abandon—the rougher the better, you crazy bitch. If I don’t stop myself I’m gonna fuck her. I don’t give a shit about who she is, what she is, or what she does—I’m gonna have to fuck her.

Izzy’s face framed by her butchered auburn hair pops into my mind, and I stumble back a few steps—I can’t leave her alone any longer.

Francesca, looking disappointed, but not slighted, tilts her head to one side.

I straighten my suit.

“I’d love to stay longer,” I say, “but I’m going to be honest with you—I don’t feel good about leaving my girls alone with your pissed off brother roaming around without his leash.”

Francesca smiles, and then closes her robe about her, loosely so that her tits are still easily seen.

“I understand perfectly,” she says. She steps up to me, reaches out and smooths her fingers down the length of my tie. She appears to be thinking about something and then says, “Why don’t you join me again tomorrow before you leave; just you and me; leave your girls at your hotel. That will also give me more time to think about which of my cyprians I can show you next. Tomorrow I can have six or seven of them for you to look at.”

And that’ll give me enough time to figure out how I’m going to get you out of this mansion, bound and gagged so I can collect a payday.

I lean in and kiss her lightly on the mouth.

“I will be here.”

The girl, Sian, is awake when I go back into the room to find Izabel and Nora the same way I left them.

“I won’t go with you!”

“I’m sorry, Niklas,” Izabel, as Naomi, says as I come into the room without Francesca. “I tried to talk to her, told her you wouldn’t hurt her if she cooperated, but she won’t listen to me.”

Miz Ghita—ordered by Francesca to give me whatever I need before escorting us out of the mansion—stands at the open door, waiting. “I will get her some clothes,” she says and walks into the room with us and opens a closet.

I move past Izzy and stop in front of Sian, looking down at her still sitting on the floor in her bloody gown.

“Take off your gown,” I demand, looming over her. When she doesn’t act fast enough, I repeat, “I said take off your gown.”

Finally she obeys; she trembles as she raises her arms above her head, struggling to get the fabric past her shoulders. I crouch in front of her and help her with it, dropping it on the floor afterward. She sits with her legs pressed together over to one side; her arms covering her naked breasts.

“Did the doctor sew you up?” I ask.

She nods, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Show me.”

She doesn’t move; her eyes grow wider.

“Spread your legs and show me,” I repeat, this time with an air of warning.

Her body shaking, her arms come uncrossed and her knees break apart apprehensively. I help her with that too, speeding up the process so we can get the hell out of here. She spreads her legs before me and I examine her carefully so I don’t hurt her—I’m not leaving this place before I’m sure she’s been properly cared for after giving birth. I can’t take her to a hospital and I sure as hell won’t be sewing her up myself. Fuck that.

“Good,” I say, push her legs closed and then reach into my pocket. “I want you to swallow this.”

She looks down into my hand at the pill, then back up at me, shaking her head no.

Grabbing her by the back of the head with one hand, I shove the pill down her throat with the other, pushing my finger deep so I know she swallows it. She gags; thrashes in my grasp, her eyes watering from the sting. Then I close her mouth with my hand and hold it there firmly. “Swallow it.”

Her throat moves, and then I pry her mouth open again and check to make sure the pill is gone.

Izzy helps Miz Ghita get Sian dressed in a flashy cocktail dress, afterward slipping on a pair of glittery high heels with straps around the ankles—an outfit I chose so that when I carry her, passed out, into the hotel, she’ll just look like she’s been out on the town parting all night and no one’s likely to think anything about it too suspicious.

Sian is unconscious in the car before we even make it to the hotel. I wrap her in my suit jacket and carry her in my arms through the elaborate lobby and into the elevator, her legs over one arm and her head nestled against my chest.

“Too much wine,” I tell the old woman next to me as we ride up; I smile, and then wink at her for good measure. The old woman’s face flushes with heat, and she looks the other way. When she steps out onto her floor, she looks back at me, holding her gaze until the shutting doors cut her off.

“Better be careful,” Izzy whispers in my ear, “or you’ll be eating cougar meat tonight.”

“Have I told you yet that your hair looks like shit?”

Izzy’s nose wrinkles on one side. She smirks.

“No, but you must be mistaking me for a woman who feels like she’s defined by her looks rather than her strength. What, Niklas, did you expect me to cry in a fucking corner over it?”

In a way, yeah. On the other hand, this particular reaction to her hair being hacked off, doesn’t surprise me, either.

The elevator doors break apart and we head straight for our suite. I set Sian down on the bed in the private room opposite the main living area, and I do a sweep of the room for any electronic devices, in case we had any unwanted visitors while we were in the mansion. Izabel and Nora wait in the main room without breaking character.

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