Releasing her shoulder harshly, I step back and away from her. I can’t look at her.
What have I done? Why do I feel so…like the worst person in the world?
Niklas turns his back to me and grabs his briefcase from the seat across the aisle; he takes it three seats up and sits down so I can see nothing of him but the back of his head.
I feel a guilty tear burning my eye, tracking down my cheek; I wipe it away quickly with the edge of my thumb.
“Niklas…” I try to say, but I realize the sound of my voice dies before I can get his name out.
All three of our heads shoot up, turning in Sian’s direction just as she’s practically flying out of the seat by the window. Niklas jumps up, grabbing her around the waist before she can get past him and out of the plane. He grabs his gun from his pants. Nora grabs her gun from the empty seat next to her and rushes past me toward the door of the plane with Niklas.
“Let me go! EMILIO! EMILIO!”
I run up behind them, taking Sian into my arms, trying to hold her back, but she’s proving stronger now that the drugs have left her system.
“Sit down,” I tell her, shoving her into a seat almost as harshly as Niklas had shoved me.
“SIAN!” Emilio’s angry voice rings out.
Two gun barrels are pointed at Emilio’s head when he comes rushing up the steps to get into the plane. I can just barely keep Sian restrained in the seat; sobbing, she digs her fingertips into my arm. “Please! Let me go!”
When Emilio sees her, relief and heartache wash over his features; he can’t move toward her unless he wants to get shot, but he…oh my God, he does love her. I can see it in his eyes.
“How’d you know where to find us?” Niklas demands.
“I followed you when you left the mansion,” Emilio says, but he can’t take his eyes off Sian. “Now let her go; let her go or I’ll kill you.”
“She’s mine.” Niklas pushes the gun toward Emilio, daring him to move any closer.
It suddenly dawns on Emilio—we aren’t who we claimed to be. He tears his gaze away from Sian long enough to see Nora pointing a gun at him, standing beside Niklas as his equal and not his slave; Emilio is confused.
“Who are you people? I knew it! You’re a fraud. Sian, did they hurt you? Did he touch you?” His voice begins to rise; he starts to move forward anyway, wanting to get to Sian, until Niklas and Nora remind him who’s in charge, and he stops.
“They helped me,” Sian calls out over the few rows of seats. “No one hurt me, Emilio.”
Emilio’s eyes dart to and from Sian and Niklas; he’s in clear need of answers.
“Step out of the plane,” Niklas warns Emilio, walking forward to force Emilio backward.
“Sit down,” I tell Sian, and I shoot up from the seat. I look down into her tortured face, seizing her gaze, hoping to make her trust me. “Please just wait here; let me talk to them.”
She nods, tears slipping down her cheeks.
“Niklas,” I say, moving toward them, “let him inside.”
“Get back, Izabel.”
“Niklas, please—they love each other, that much is obvious to me; let him in the plane.”
“Bullshit.” Niklas keeps his eyes and his gun trained on Emilio. “This motherfucker is sick; the whole family is demented; he fucks his sister for Christ’s sake!”
“I’ve never fucked her!” Emilio roars. He moves back up the steps despite the guns pointed at his face. (Please don’t shoot him, Niklas, please don’t shoot him.) “Francesca and I were close all our lives, closer than any of our sisters; we were all each other had—and you’re right, our family is demented! But Francesca, as she got older, her love for me evolved into something…different. I never gave into it fully, but I did what I had to do—and I never fucked her! She needs help; she always has. But I’m not going to be the one to help her; I’ve wanted out for years.”
“Then why are you still there?” Niklas asks, and I can tell he doesn’t believe a thing Emilio is saying—or he doesn’t want to. “Why give in to Francesca at all?”
Emilio sighs and looks briefly at the floor.
“Because she’s my sister,” he answers, raising his eyes, filled with shame and conflict. “For a long time I just pretended; I hoped she’d change, but she didn’t—she got worse.” He glances at Sian. “Then Sian came along and I changed, too. I vowed to her I’d help her get out, that we’d leave together.”
“Then why haven’t you?” Nora asks.
“I was waiting for the right time,” Emilio says. “It’s not as easy as it may seem; things had to be done…carefully.”
“Looks like it was pretty easy for us,” Nora adds.
“No”—Emilio shakes his head gravely; a knot moves down the center of his throat—“you don’t understand: we couldn’t just leave.”
“Francesca was an evil bitch,” Niklas speaks up. “I give her that much, but aside from the shit she did behind closed doors, she didn’t seem like much else—her security was even a joke to me. If you were afraid she’d follow you, I doubt she would’ve gone far.”
Niklas is right: the security at the mansion wasn’t as top-notch as Victor warned us it would be. I felt more in danger in Arthur Hamburg’s mansion in Los Angeles than I did here in Italy. It doesn’t make sense.
“It’s not Francesca who’d find us and kill us,” Emilio says. “It’s not my sister who everyone is afraid of, believe it or not—it’s our father, Vincent Moretti. Francesca was his favorite, his Little Girl.” He looks across at Sian again and says, “We’ll be running forever, Love; my father, when he finds out from Francesca that I abandoned her, abandoned the family, he’ll hunt me down and kill us both.”
“Then we’ll die together,” Sian vows, now standing behind me; she reaches out her hand to Emilio.
I move to the side to let her pass.
“Niklas, let her go,” I say, just as he begins to make a move toward her.
Reluctantly Niklas steps to the side as Sian rushes past him and falls into the open arms of Emilio. Sobs wrack her body; he wraps her up in his embrace.
“Our daughter,” Sian says, weeping, probing Emilio’s face with her hands, “where is she?”
“Look,” Niklas speaks up, finally lowering his gun, “we don’t have time for this shit. Take her if that’s what you want to do, but we’re leaving.” I thought for a second Niklas might tell Emilio the news of his sister’s death, but he keeps it to himself, which is probably better.
“I have a plan, Love.” Emilio kisses her lips, her nose, her eyes, the bruise underneath one eye. “I’m just glad you’re OK.” He looks at Niklas. “Thank you—not sure who the hell you are, and I still don’t like you, but thank you for helping Sian.”
“I didn’t help her,” Niklas says, bitingly. “I don’t give a shit what happens to that girl.” He shoves his gun into the back of his pants, then he walks past Nora and goes back to his seat.
You’re such a liar, Niklas…you care, you care.
He doesn’t look at me when he sits down.
“Can you help them?” Sian says to Emilio. “They came here looking for one of the cyprians; can you tell them how to find her?”
Emilio looks at the three of us in turns, uncertain, reluctant, but appreciative and ultimately willing.
“Because you helped Sian,” Emilio says and reaches into his pocket, “I’ll do what I can.” He produces a small keychain with three silver keys; dangling from it is a typical flash drive. He unclasps it from the keys and holds it out to me in the palm of his hand. “I kept up with the books,” he says. “On this drive you’ll find the photos and address of all the girls who work for my family.”
This can’t be real! A solid, unexpected break into finding Olivia Bram! I thought for sure that hope was lost, that we’d never come close to bringing her home. I look down into Emilio’s hand, almost afraid to take the device for fear it might just vanish and all just be a dream.
“It’s yours,” Emilio says, urging me to take it.
“We need to leave,” Emilio tells Sian. “We don’t have much time.”
Just before Emilio takes Sian down the steps, she breaks her hand from his and she throws her arms around me. “Thank you, Izabel,” she says, and then she looks back at Niklas, who doesn’t bother to look at her even when she says, “You’re a good man; I’ll never forget what you did for me.”
He doesn’t even acknowledge her.
Emilio and Sian nod at Nora lastly, just before descending the steps and vanishing from sight.
“Niklas?” I say.
I walk over to him. “I know you think it’s a waste of time—”
“Give me the flash drive,” he says, reaches out and takes it from my hand.
The three of us look through the profiles of the girls on the drive for twenty minutes, over a hundred of them, until finally a miracle happens and we see Olivia Bram’s face staring back at us, same birthmark underneath her left eye the size and shape of an almond sliver; brown hair and tired brown eyes—life has taken a toll on her, but she’s alive.