“Flynn knows that because his employers are seeking me for help that they are incapable of protecting those he loves from me—including Tessa.”

I swallow hard, knowing that Victor never makes a threat he won’t carry out. But Tessa? She’s an innocent woman—would he really kill her if Dorian or these men he works for, betrays him? I have to believe that he wouldn’t, that this is just for show so that he can keep Dorian in line.

“For the most part, I think Dorian is trustworthy,” I speak up. “I don’t know about his employers—they, probably not so much—but I believe in Dorian.” He smiles gently at me, thanking me with his eyes.

“Even so,” Victor says, “you, nor anyone else in my Order is ever to give Flynn any information that I do not authorize. From here on out, Flynn will take orders only from me; there will be no passing of orders or information of any kind to Flynn unless I specifically command it. Flynn will not go on missions alone, nor will he lead any missions. He must be accompanied by one of you, Niklas, or an agent from the First Division, at all times.”

Dorian says nothing. I can’t even tell if these new stipulations bother him or not. But I suppose they’re better than being dead.

“Wait—” Nora presses her back against the chair and crosses her bare arms over her chest. She purses her dark red painted lips, eyeing Dorian suspiciously. “So, you’re saying he’s still going to be working for you, while at the same time working for U.S. Intelligence?” She shakes her head with rejection, chewing on the inside of her mouth. “You cannot serve two masters—masters vie for power, they don’t share it.” She leans forward against the table, her dark eyes like burning embers piercing through Dorian. “What master do you serve, Dorian Flynn? The ones who brought you into this dark world, or the one who will take you out of it?”

Now there’s the intelligent, cold and calculating Nora Kessler I have come to envy, the same dangerous woman she was when she waltzed into our lives and shook us all to our bitter cores.

I notice Fredrik quietly watching Nora with a little more interest than I’m used to seeing him show, and I’m not sure I like it or not. I’m not sure I even understand it.

Dorian cocks his head to one side, studying the beautiful, cunning blond that not so long ago shot him in both shoulders, made a fool out of him, manipulated him with a skill he could never match, and forced him to confess to all of us who he really is. It’s because of her that he’s in this situation with Victor. I wonder how much of him would love nothing more than to wrap his hands around her throat and choke the life out of her.

“You’re very beautiful,” he says in a soft playful voice; his bright blue eyes glistening under the fluorescent light above the table. “But you’re a mouthy fucking bitch.” He grins, leaning forward, pressing his chest against the edge of the table just like Nora. “I serve no fucking master,” he says, “but if I have to choose, I will always make the choice that suits the circumstance.”

My head snaps back to Dorian—that’s definitely not the kind of answer I would’ve given considering the predicament he’s in.

Victor turns his head slowly to face Dorian, but his expression is unreadable.

Fredrik has also turned all of his brooding attention on Dorian.

James Woodard, who has been awfully quiet the entire time, looks over at Dorian with wide eyes veiled by a thin layer of panic.

Nora’s red smile lengthens maliciously.

“Those are bold words,” she says. “Maybe you should just kill him, Victor.” She never takes her eyes off Dorian’s.

“Izabel trusts me,” Dorian says, challenging her. “Fredrik apparently trusted me enough after torturing me for days, to release me. And Victor, your leader”—his words have become ice—“freed me from that goddamned cell, and here I am, sitting with the rest of you.” He stands from his chair, leaning over the table, and points a finger at her; his jaw moving as he grinds his teeth together. “I don’t need to prove shit to you—fucking cunt.”

That’s all his ‘bold words’ had been: just words to get underneath Nora’s skin. I sense that Victor must’ve gathered as much, knowing Dorian’s confrontational personality.

Nora just grins.

“And you should take into consideration that you’re no longer in any position to be making threats,” Dorian adds. “You’ve got jack-shit to hold over my head anymore.”

Dorian’s hand, still pointing a finger at her, slowly falls back down, but his hard gaze never falters.

“Not that I’m taking sides,” Fredrik speaks up for the first time, “but it should be noted, Nora, that you aren’t exactly trusted here fully, either.”

“And I should never be trusted fully,” she shoots back. “Nor should anyone in this room”—she looks at each of us in turns—“Any one of us, no matter who we love, or where our loyalties lie, have more potential than the average person to turn and chew off the fucking hand that feeds us.”

“What are you saying then?” Dorian asks with accusation. “Are you admitting something, or just warning us in advance about how you’re likely to turn out?”

“I’m simply stating a fact,” Nora growls. “I just say aloud what everybody’s thinking.”

I stand from my chair and put up my hands. “Come on now, let’s not do this right now,” I say, trying to defuse the situation.

Slowly Dorian finds his seat again, and he and Nora have a hate-filled stare-down for several long moments.

I turn to Victor.

“So, who’s going with you and Dorian to meet with these people?” I ask. “I volunteer.”

Victor shakes his head. “No—Fredrik will be the only one joining me for the meeting. And I have something else in mind for you.”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” he says, “but first we need to discuss your mission with Nora last night.”

That nervous feeling in my gut has returned.

I nod and listen.

“Although your mission went smoothly,” Victor says, “it wasn’t without error.”

“OK,” I say, both as a statement and a question. I place both hands on the table and take my seat again; I feel Nora’s eyes on me from the side, but I focus only on Victor. “As smoothly as it went, I can’t imagine you’d have much negative to say about my performance.”

“The mission was smoothly orchestrated,” Victor says, “but your performance left little to be commended”—I swallow hard—“Gustavsson, you and Woodard may leave; take Flynn with you.”

James Woodard lifts his large weight from the chair and gathers his briefcase and cup of coffee from the table. “I’m not feeling well anyway,” he says, looking a little pale and sweaty now that I think about it. That’s probably why he’s been so quiet all this time.

“Report back to me this evening,” Victor says to Fredrik as the three of them make their way to the tall double doors. “I’ll let you know then more about when we’ll be leaving.”

“Wait,” I call out and get up from my chair.

I dig in my pocket for the key to Dorian’s safety deposit box—he gave it to me during his interrogation with Fredrik because he thought he was going to die.

Stepping up to him, I place it into his hand.

“This belongs to you.” I smile warmly. “Looks like you’ll get to live long enough to give it to Tessa yourself.”

“Thanks,” he says.

We share a smile and Dorian follows Fredrik out the door.

Once the doors close, Victor stands and looks right at me; he folds his hands together down in front of him.

He begins to pace.

Izabel

A little bitter about his choice of words before, I finally ask, “So, what exactly did I do, Victor, that left ‘little to be commended’?”

He stops and says without looking at me, “Nora, why don’t you begin?”

“All right.” Nora gets up from the chair in her tall black heels.  Her slender, hourglass frame is hugged by a skin-tight black dress that extends to her knees. In typical Nora style, it has a plunging neckline made of crimson fabric dropping between her uplifted breasts in a ruffled, wave-like pattern. Her long blond hair cascades down the center of her back, kept away from her face made up by her trademark dark red lipstick, darkly-painted eyes and creamy porcelain skin.

I remain seated, instantly feeling intimidated by both of them—I feel like I’m about to be scolded for getting an F on my report card.

I turn to see Nora on the other side of me.

She stops, her fingers clasped on her backside, missing pinky finger on one hand obvious as always. “Pinceri could’ve easily killed you,” she says. “I was watching him just in case—and he knew I was; he saw me—but it took you too damn long to notice.”

Confused, it takes me a moment, thinking back on the details of the mission, before I realize.

“But I did notice,” I say. “Within seconds of him putting his hands underneath the table, I stopped him before he could go for the hidden gun.”


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