“But it took you too long,” Victor reiterates, underlining the point.

My gaze moves to his at the head of the table. He’s standing beside his chair, looking at me with quiet, disappointed eyes.

I sigh.

“He never should have gotten his hands underneath the table to begin with,” he adds. “If Nora had not been there, watching, you would not be sitting here right now.”

Anger growing inside of me, I take a deep breath to keep it at bay. Because I know they’re right, and as embarrassed as I feel right now, I’m angrier with myself than with them.

Reluctantly I nod, accepting what I did wrong.

“But that’s not all,” Nora says as she begins to walk down the length of the table again; my eyes follow her all the way around. “You’re too emotional,” she goes on. “You can’t let your target know your weaknesses.”

“Too emotional?” I echo with disbelief, my gaze moving between the two of them. “How the hell did you come to that conclusion?” Truly, I’m baffled.

Deciding I don’t want to hear Nora’s opinions anymore, I turn to Victor instead and wait for him to answer.

“You wanted to throttle Pinceri for choosing money over his wife,” Victor says. “And Pinceri knew that he hit a nerve. Nora is right: you should never let your target know your weaknesses, because the smart ones will know how to use them against you.”

“What could he have possibly done to use that against me, Victor?” Surely he must detect the offense and sarcasm in my voice because I’m not trying to hide it.

“He could have told you that, yes, he did want to change his mind when you gave him that last chance to do so,” Victor answers instantly. “He could have played on your emotions long enough to buy himself more time, to distract you.”

“And while you were going back and forth in your mind,” Nora puts in, “about why you think it’s not right to kill him because he changed his mind, the alarm on the building would’ve set and getting out of that building alive would’ve been a lot harder to pull off.”

“But that’s what we went there for,” I say, looking between both of them, trying to justify my actions, “to get him to give up the information. If he chose to do that, why not let him?”

“Because that is not why you went there, Izabel,” Victor corrects me. “Your mission was to give him a chance to give up the information for the life of Mrs. Pinceri, but the moment he chose not to do that, and I gave you the order to kill him, he should have been dead a second later.”

I look down at the table, letting out a long deep breath.

“And that’s the other thing you did wrong,” Nora says. “When you’re given an order, you carry it out—no questions, no hesitations. Not after you give the target ‘another chance’, not after you taunt him a little to satisfy your anger, but right then, you kill the target.”

“OK,” I say with surrender. “Yes, I see what I did wrong and you’re right. I’ll do better next time.”

I think that’s the end of it until Victor says, “But that is not all.”

“Oh great,” I scoff, shaking my head.

“You never remove your mask until you are away from the scene, Love,” Victor says. “Preferably not until you are inside your getaway vehicle—there are cameras everywhere, not just in and around the target’s location, but everywhere: streetlights and intersections, businesses, cell phones—you removed your mask the moment your feet touched the ground.”

“OK,” I say with another series of nods. “That was stupid, I admit.”

Victor moves toward me. He sits on the table next to me with his hands folded loosely between his opened legs.

“But despite the things you did wrong,” he says in a softer, forgiving voice, “you did well.”

I look up at him, nodding once, thanking him with my eyes. I can’t smile, I’m too disappointed in myself to go that far.

“I will get better,” I tell Victor, peering up into his forgiving eyes. “Whatever it takes, I’ll master this.”

“I believe in you,” he says and offers me a private smile very softly on his delicious lips—momentarily, it reminds me of the ache between my legs.

Then he pushes himself away from the table and begins to walk back toward his chair at the head, but doesn’t sit down. Nora sits on the table now, just as he was, across from me on the other side. She crosses her long legs.

“But now to address the next mission,” Victor says and he has my and Nora’s full attention. “While I am away with Gustavsson and Flynn, the two of you will be heading to Italy.”

“Who’s the target?” Nora asks.

“That,” Victor begins, putting emphasis on the word, “is not going to be as easy as your previous missions have been. In fact, the nature of the mission will be a bit different from what you are used to.” He looks only at me when he says that.

I listen intently.

Finally Victor takes his seat again. A manila envelope is on the table; he takes it into his large fingers and breaks apart the little metal clasp, producing a series of photographs.

“The target is a woman,” he says, gently pushing the photos outward across the table so that we can reach for them. “Her name is Francesca Moretti; she will not be as easy to find because the client is not sure which woman in the Moretti estate is Francesca. And apparently, most outsiders do not know who the real Francesca is, either.”

I look down into one photograph while Nora sifts through a few others. The photograph was taken inside what looks like an elaborate mansion. I count six women at the forefront of the photo, all of which resemble one another in many ways: light brown hair just past their shoulders; light caramel-colored skin; outfitted lavishly in revealing dresses of different shades of ivory and red and blue; jeweled sandals and high-heels. Each of them are holding a glass of champagne; they’re smiling, mingling with guests.

“They look like sisters,” I say, not looking up from the photo.

“Decoys,” Victor says.

I look up then.

“And there are more than six of them,” he goes on, nodding toward the other photos in front of Nora; she pushes them across the table to me. “According to these photos, taken just weeks ago, there are at least twelve decoys—you’ll need to figure out which one of them is the real Francesca Moretti, and that is not even the most difficult part of the mission.”

“Oooh, a challenge,” Nora says with a smirk. “I’m lovin’ this already.”

“I thought you might,” Victor says.

He turns back to me; he appears indecisive all of a sudden.

“I’ve had reservations about sending you on this mission, Izabel—I want that to be clear.”

“Why?” I’m used to this, Victor being worried about me, so I don’t make a big deal out of it, even though it bothers me a little—I still understand, and I love him more for it.

“The…nature of the mission might be too much for you considering your past in Ruiz’s compound. It just concerns me, not only if you will be able to set your feelings aside about what you might see long enough to see the mission through, but also I do not want you to feel—”

“I’m not afraid, Victor,” I cut in softly, reassuringly. “I told you before, about being involved with the future mission to Mexico with Nora, that I can handle it.”

He nods slowly, but I get the feeling he’s not fully onboard with my willingness.

“So once we find the real Francesca Moretti, what are we supposed to get from her?” Nora asks. She pulls out the chair Fredrik usually sits in and makes herself comfortable. “I’m assuming we’re not to kill her right away if finding her isn’t even the hard part.”

“Killing Moretti is not part of the mission at all,” Victor reveals. “The client would very much like the honors.”

“An abduction,” I say.

“Yes,” Victor confirms. “But it will not be easy. The security Moretti has around her at all times is topnotch. Moretti is very wealthy, and it is believed that she has the loyalty of the police as well as some government officials—it is how she and her mother before her, have been able to run their business without being taken down by authorities—Moretti has many influential, prominent clients, from all over the world.”

“What kind of business does she run?” I ask, already knowing it’s sexual in nature.

“Francesca Moretti is a madam,” Victor says. “The most successful madam in Italy, maybe even the world. Clients come from all over to buy sex from her workers—she calls them cyprians—and she only employs the best.”

My eyebrows wrinkle in my forehead. “OK, so I don’t understand why you were concerned that a mission like this I might not be able to handle.”

Nora, surprisingly, seems as curious as me.

“The women—and men—employed by Moretti did not seek out their lives as sex workers,” Victor says. “Those employed under her iron foot were once like you were, Izabel”—he retrieves another photograph from the envelope and slides it toward me—“just like the client’s daughter; they were sold to Moretti after being abducted.”


Tags: J.A. Redmerski In the Company of Killers Book Series
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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