He makes her get into a cab. Decides to take her to dinner to make up for what just happened. It is also to make sure they are seen together, so Declan gets the message she is off limits. Christian would like to think they were an item. But she flinches when he tries to take her arm to help her into the cab. He glances over at her sitting away from him, looking out of the window. She looks as if she is about to explode with anger. He hates the damn silence.
“Isabelle, I know what you are thinking, but I had no choice. I didn’t want you there.”
“Yeah you didn’t want me to worry my pretty, little dumb head about it. Just like Declan, violence always gets the job done. You make me sick.”
“Calm down. He wouldn’t have given us the information if I hadn’t forced him to.”
“Yeah that’s what Declan says when he beats me.”
“Come on, it’s different,” he can hear his own voice rise now.
He turns round to face her.
“I’m not doing it for the sake of it, I’m doing it for a reason, for you, to protect you. Pierre Lacan was part of what went on last night. He’s our only link. You talk about violence, that man’s beaten and raped the women who work as prostitutes for him, and molested young girls on the street.”
He sees her looking back at him in horror, then she turns away to stare out of the window again.
“I did what I had to. Don’t question my methods,” he snaps.
She’s suitably silent.
Fuck, just when things were coming together.
Then she says, “Do you think he was telling the truth about the man who made him. . .?”
“Yes, I’m damn sure of it. Lacan wouldn’t even try to lie to me. I’ve dealt with him before. He’s awkward, he run rings round you, but when you hold him down and make him talk, he gives up the truth to save his own skin.”
He glances out the back window, feeling uneasy, noticing a car has been on their tail for awhile.
“The man he described, sounds like the man in my dreams, in the hallucinations I’ve been having,” she says timidly. “How can that be?”
He watches her clutch her bag nervously. He glances back again, the car behind them has turned off. He can feel her fear in the small enclosed space.
“It’s simple, you’ve told someone, and they are trying to frighten you with it, make you think you are losing your mind. Do you remember telling anyone about it?”
He looks at her seriously.
“That’s just it, I haven’t told anyone. I didn’t want anyone on Declan’s staff, even the ones who are friendly, to know about my hallucinations. It would be another excuse for him to lock me up in that mental institution again. I never told anyone about my dreams, I was afraid.”
He sees panic and confusion come into her eyes. It makes him want to hold her, soothe her fear.
“Relax there will be an explanation for this… this phantom man who’s stalking you. Try not to worry. I will get to the bottom of it.”
“No, Mr Dalban, we will get to the bottom of it,” she tells him gathering her fear together, visibly holding herself in check.
He studies her for a moment.
“What’s the matter? You don’t think there is something supernatural going on?” he asks her and laughs when she doesn’t reply but looks afraid.
“Trust me there is always an explanation. We just have to find it. There are no ghosts and goblins out there. There is always someone at the bottom of it.”
He watches her bend her head, and twist the handle of her bag around her fingers.
Christian doesn’t believe in all that ghost rubbish. Isabelle is afraid, worried she’s losing it. It’s just a childhood fear she’s reliving and someone’s found out about it. Why are they using it? What do they hope to gain? Someone clearly wants her to believe she is losing her mind.
He makes the driver stop on the Rue de Rivoli where it is busy, where he knows they will be seen. A part of him wants to romance her with Paris itself. He wants to take her to his favourite restaurants. He wants her to be seen with him in his favourite places, so they look together even if they aren’t, especially now he knows for definite they are being followed. He guesses she senses it too by the way she keeps glancing over her shoulder and the hurried urgency in her pace. He gently pulls her back, reins her to his side. They must look casual, unaffected. He tells her they are being followed, knowing a car has been following them for the last mile. There are a couple of men behind them further down the road, vainly trying to keep their distance.
“Amateurs,” he hisses to himself. “Here, in here,” he directs her towards a cafe. “You need a drink and some food.”
He makes her sit down at one of the outside tables under one of the covered archways facing the road. They sit watching a multitude of tourists getting back into their coaches, lined along the side of the Tuileries Gardens across the road.
“I don’t want anything to eat, I couldn’t.”
“You are going to eat this time, even if I have order for you myself. You can’t function on thin air, Isabelle. Don’t argue.”
He watches one of the restaurant’s familiar waiters, Foucher approach to take their order. Christian smiles and greets him.
After some heavy persuading, Isabelle finally agrees to a sandwich. Foucher will make her favourite, brie and black grape. He makes her have some alcohol, wants her to have a cognac but she won’t. She’s right about not having any on the tablets he supposes, but she can have one glass of wine and she finally agrees. She’s sitting forward, on the edge of her chair, clutching her bag again, looking around her suspiciously. He lays his hand on her arm.
“Relax, Isabelle. Remember, I know they are there. Trust me to keep you safe.”
“But you don’t know what they are like. They will kill you.”
He can’t help but laugh.
“They wouldn’t dare unless they had a death wish.”
Damn. Keep your fucking mouth shut.
“I hardly think they will do it here in broad daylight,” he continues. “Besides I won’t let them.”
He opens his jacket a little way, just to let Isabelle see his revolver tucked in its holster. He closes his jacket watching her frown and her eyes darken with anger.
“Don’t patronize me. Who the hell are you really anyway? Why won’t they touch you?”
He remains silent, puts his hand on her shoulder and guides her back in the chair. He puts his dark sunglasses on and lounges back. Foucher covers the small round table with a paper table cloth and puts knives and forks wrapped in napkins down.
“Isabelle, relax and admire the view.”
She looks awkward sitting back in the chair. He wishes he could reassure her more but to do so would be telling her the truth, then she might not rate him as worthy of her trust at all.
“I love walking around the Louvre,” her throat sounds dry with fear probably. She’s staring down at the Louvre across the road, watching a couple have a slight disagreement about which coach they are supposed to get in, another telling a guy trying to sell them a string of postcards of Paris that they don’t want them. There are vendors everywhere, selling silly plastic creatures that jump up the walls, postcards and fake designer handbags and sunglasses looking as if they have come off the back of a lorry. Bloody nuisance they are.
He stretches his long legs out in front of him, hands together in his lap, head tipped up to the sun, soaking up its early evening rays. But behind the dark designer sunglasses his eyes are open, watching, waiting for Mayer’s entourage to come and demand he returns Isabelle. Foucher serves the drinks and for a moment he wishes they were just a couple enjoying an evening drink like the couple sitting a little way from them at another table. He watches Isabelle sit up to take a sip of her drink, and then he sees them arrive. He hears Isabelle take a sharp intake of breath, and then he can’t hear her breathing.
“Isabelle, breathe, honey. Trust me and do everything I ask of you and most of all-”
“Don’t argue,” she finishes for him.
He hopes to hell she doesn’t try anything. He watches the two men manoeuvre through the tables to reach them. Christian stays in his relaxed composure, half welcoming the confrontation, the buzz of danger coursing through his veins like a potent drug giving him a high. He knows the men, knows how far their loyalty to Mayer will extend. They pull up two chairs from the tables at either side of them and sit across the table. Christian makes sure he appears unaffected. He nods his head at the older man with respect.
“Fraser, it’s been a while,” he lifts the corners of his mouth into a cruel menacing smile that would make the devil proud. He watches the two men give Isabelle their best threatening looks and instinctively begins to divert their attention.
“What can I do for you, Fraser? We are trying to have a nice quiet drink here.”
He makes sure he smiles again. Fraser laughs.
“It has been a while, Christian. The last time I saw you was back in the army on surveillance. Must be seven, eight years ago. You haven’t changed at all,”
Christian hears him speak in that sophisticated sinister upper crust English that was so typical of his former commanding officer before the man was drummed out of the army for supplying arms to those who were prepared to pay the right price.
The younger one is watching Isabelle intently, his arms folded on the table, staring her out. Christian wants to punch him out, but he keeps himself in order. He notes with pride she is refusing to look at the bastard and allow him to unnerve her. Her beautiful features are regal, cool, steely, sexy as she keeps her eyes on the tourists. Fraser sits back in his chair.
“So, Christian, what are you doing with Mayer property?”
“I am not anybody’s property,” he hears Isabelle snap.
“You heard the Lady.”
He sees Fraser direct his attention to Isabelle and watches his eyes narrow at her. She views the man with contempt.
“Isabelle has chosen to be with me now Fraser. If Declan Mayer wants her back, he is going to have to have the courage to come and try and take her back himself,” he tilts his head again to mimic soaking in the sun.
“Mr. Mayer is very worried about you, Isabelle. He is worried for your safety,” the guy is looking at the remnants of the bruising on her cheek. There’s a slight downward turn of his lips. “There are people who will hurt you and even kill you for your inheritance. Mr. Mayer loves you very much, Isabelle and is willing to forget everything if you return now.”
Christian glances at Isabelle, she’s still glaring at Fraser. She does not answer him.
“You’re not falling for, Christian?” he hears Fraser ask with disbelief.
Christian decides to answer for her.
“Of course she is, Fraser. Can’t you tell?” he says it mockingly, suddenly feeling the heat of anger from her eyes resting on him. He sits up slowly, removes his sunglasses and takes hold of one of her hands. It feels slender but cold with fear. She looks directly at him with indignation, anger. He feels his heartbeat increase. He looks directly at her and raises her hand a little higher, stroking a digit along the delicate edge of her wrist. Christian tries to communicate, trust me, through his eyes. It must work because he feels some of the tension in her ebb away and her hand relaxes in his grip.
“You can tell Mayer we are most definitely together, and I am sure she will be safe with me.”
He glances at Isabelle again and is surprised to find a healthy flush to her soft skin. He continues knowing his caress is causing seduction to fight with her fear.
“You are making the biggest mistake of your life, Isabelle. Mr. Mayer will never let you go, you know that. He will hunt you down and take you back by force, and your life will be worth nothing by the time he has finished making you understand your error. And your brother, all Mr. Mayer has to do is just say the word, and he’s dead. You will cause a war.”
Christian feels Isabelle’s whole body move instinctively to reach Fraser, probably wants to punch the bastard, but he holds her hand in a vice-grip stopping her. He continues stroking the inside of her hand, trailing his fingers to her wrist to soothe her anger, forcing her to cease all movement.
“You arrogant bastard, you hurt him and I-”
“Is that the best you can do to frighten her, Fraser? I know you are capable of better. She isn’t going back to Mayer. He’ll have to stop pining for her. Now, I think it is about time you were leaving.”
Christian gives the two men a look of volatile impatience, all the time feeling Isabelle’s hand strain to break free from his hold. He holds tighter, hears her whimper with pain, but she’s still trying to break free. He keeps stroking.
The two men shake their heads at Isabelle.
“Mr. Mayer is not going to let you go, Isabelle, so think about the decision you have made for the sake of your life and your brother’s.”
“Now, Fraser or you and I will have to have words.”
“Christian, you once used to have respect for me as your commanding officer.”
“Once. We aren’t in the army now, sir, so piss off before I kick your arse, sir.”
“You are treading on dangerous ground with this one, Christian. I doubt your father will approve.”
“Fuck off, sir,” he mocks, feeling his eyes narrow with the mention of his father.
Fraser laughs again and walks away, the other man falling in beside him. Christian watches them get into a black Mercedes parked near one of the tourist coaches and drive off.
He loosens his grip of her hand listening to her swear at him and reluctantly lets go of it all together.
“What kind of game are you playing? Who are you? You belong to another family don’t you?”
“Keep your bloody voice down. I have connections,” he thinks quick. “My father is French, high up in the French police. Mayer always treads carefully with the police he can’t buy,” he lies.
She laughs mockingly.
“Don’t insult my intelligence.”
Foucher comes out and saves the day, saves his skin for now. The man obviously witnessed the whole scene with Fraser by the way he warily asks if he can serve the food now. Christian nods.
“I know Declan Mayer is not frightened of anyone. You belong to a family, don’t you? Which one is it? Anyone I know?” she persists.
“Believe what you want.”
He picks up his drink, swirls his cognac round in its glass, stares at the liquid then glances at the tourists again. There are only four coaches left now.
“I have connections in the police through my father and through Jean-François, it’s my job to,” he tells her impatiently feeling more afraid of her questioning than he could ever be of Fraser or Mayer. He doesn’t want her to ever find out he is Gabriel Dumont’s son.
He takes a gulp of the cognac.
“I don’t want you asking me questions about this again. Do you hear me?” he thunders, making her jump.
She glares at him, but he doesn’t miss the fear, the body language that shows she is an abused woman who fears men like him. He feels sick to the stomach at the idea, but it’s true. He takes another drink and tries to soften his tone, encouraging her to eat, pulling the plate back in front of her when she pushes it away. But she folds her arms and looks defensive again.
Shit. You’ve really messed up this time.
Isabelle stays quiet, occasionally taking a sip of wine. He tries again to get her to eat and talks of mundane stuff, tries to find out a bit more about her, the personal stuff not just what he’s been told about her. He finds her uncommunicative, almost secretive about her past, the good career as a corporate lawyer Declan cut short. She doesn’t seem to want to tell him anything. She looks hurt, trapped. Hell she must feel as trapped with him as she was with Declan, as if she is some priceless possession that has been passed around and fought over with no regard to her feelings at all. He can see it in her eyes.
She probably doesn’t want to make conversation, more likely she’s itching to punch him in the mouth like last night. He won’t put it past her to try it at some point. It’s a shit position to be in, but if she is going to get out of this alive, it’s the way it has to be, and she has to get used to it. He glances at her, she’s staring straight ahead, her eyes fixed on something. There is a fear creeping on her face turning it an unhealthy pale colour he’s never seen on anyone living before. She isn’t breathing, she looks paralysed. He knows she’s seen Mayer without even looking up.
Christian follows the line of her gaze. There is a crowd of tourists being rounded up by a tour guide in front of the line of buses. There is a tall dark figure, dressed in an immaculate well-tailored suit, the kind made to order.
The Angel of Death
Declan Mayer is standing watching Isabelle with narrowed eyes. His dark, good-looking features are edged with hardness and cruelty and slashed with the pain of betrayal. When Christian he looks at her, she is staring back at the lonely figure, holding her breath. He can see her hands shaking like the rest of her body. She’s terrified. Fighting hard to keep her fear in check, she lifts her head and regards Mayer with the same level of contempt she gave Fraser. Something makes Christian reach out and cover her hand on the table. He grips it tight.
“I won’t let him touch you,” he hears himself tell her fiercely.
I will break his fucking legs if he takes one step near you.
“He won’t let you have a choice. I won’t go back.”
Christian feels her try to rise, her eyes never leaving Declan’s face for a second as if she wants to keep the enemy in plain sight. He makes her sit back down.
“This is where I need you to really trust me. Trust me with your life,” he says firmly squeezing her hand.
“I guess I don’t have a choice, Mr Dalban,”
“No you don’t,” he acknowledges. “Now I’m going to pay, and we are going to leave and go back to my apartment. Do everything I ask of you and-”
“Don’t argue,” he hears her whisper under her breath. He can’t help but smile.
“Good. Now you are getting the picture.”
He reaches into his inside pocket and casually brings out his wallet, beckoning Foucher over so he can pay the bill. Mayer just stands there watching them, as still as one of the sculptures in the Louvre. Christian sees Isabelle run her hand through her hair once, twice, three times. Time to move. He takes hold of Isabelle’s arm and pulls her up with a jolt to his side. He takes her hand in a firm tight grip making her whimper. But he doesn’t hear any words of protest as he leads her away from the front of the restaurant towards her tormentor.
Christian knows his pulse is racing and so is his heart, but the thrill is there again as they cross the road. He wants to meet danger, face it down and laugh at death in the face. It’s what kept him going all those years in the army, all those days he spent risking his life for Queen and country as the last resort, the last hope, all those days making up for his father. It’s that or maybe he just has a death wish. He doesn’t care, his priority is keeping Isabelle out of that bastard’s clutches. Her hand feels cold. Her whole body quakes as Mayer approaches with Fraser and three other men moving in to his side. He feels her halt, feels her try to tug her hand away, hears her gulp in air. He holds her fast, pulls her nearer, caresses his thumb over her taut knuckles to soothe her.
“The four horsemen of the apocalypse are with him,” she whispers. “He won’t let us get away.”
“Isabelle,” he hears Mayer sound out her name with a whip and crack in his voice.
Christian feels her jump in response.
“Hello, Declan,” Christian answers for her, making sure his lips are lifted in a sneer.
He watches Mayer’s eyes widen as his attention diverts from Isabelle’s face and come to rest on his own. Then he watches Mayer’s eyes fix on Isabelle’s hand entwined in his, his thumb still caressing her knuckles. A dark cloud hovers over the guy’s eyes. Christian feels a surge of triumph.
He’s jealous, damn it.
“Christian, it’s been a while.”
“Not nearly long enough.”
“No. What are you doing with, Isabelle?” Mayer snaps, resting his eyes back on her.
“Hasn’t Fraser told you, she’s with me now Declan. You could say she’s dumped you,” he says with a smile on his face.
But he doesn’t get a reaction. Mayer remains cold, aloof. It’s as though Christian’s presence is irrelevant. He’s confused and then he sees it, the way Mayer is looking at Isabelle, the sense of betrayal in his eyes. It’s the first time he’s seen the emotion of love in Mayer’s eyes, however depraved and twisted it is in the guy’s mind.
“Out of respect for your father, Christian, I won’t blow your head off,” Mayer tells him calmly, coldly.
“I’m sorry, Mayer, but we have to be going.”
“You would betray me with him?” Mayer demands of Isabelle.
He sees Mayer rest his hand on Isabelle’s arm and feels her edge away from the creep towards him. Christian’s reaction is instinctive, fiercely protective. He grabs hold of Mayer’s lapel and pushes him back.
“Get the fuck off her arm or I’ll break it.”
The men close in, but Mayer tells them to back off. He can handle it. Still the bastard doesn’t let go of Isabelle’s arm.
“I asked you a question, Isabelle. Has he fucked you?”
He tugs Mayer closer afraid that Isabelle is about to blow the cover he is cultivating for them, so his father will support him, but she tells Mayer, “Yes he has. And he is a hell of a lot better in bed than you’ll ever be,” she spits.
He’s surprised, she really has got balls. He wants to laugh, laugh out loud at the horror on Mayer’s face. But then the bastard really goes for her. Declan grips the collar of her suit jacket, pulls her to him.
“I’m going to fucking kill you, and you aren’t going to be safe even with him. I’ll be watching you wherever you go. You’re nothing but a dirty whore and a disgrace to the family. This time I won’t allow you to live and every member of our family will go out to hunt you down until your dead. And your precious brother is as good as dead. I only have to say the word. You’ll come back to me on bended knees.”
Christian puts short pay to his struggle with Mayer. To make him let go of her he kicks the back of Mayer’s legs, knowing the men will not interfere in their fights. The bastard loses his grip and begins to fall. Christian lets go of Isabelle and twists Declan’s arm up behind his back, his other arm around Mayer’s neck. He pulls Declan’s arm back down as he struggles and snaps it back, breaking it cleanly. Mayer cries out, and he pushes him away to the ground, watching him clutch his limp arm with satisfaction.
“I catch you touching her again, and I’ll fucking shoot your arms off.”
Christian takes hold of Isabelle’s arm again pulling her tight to his side. She looks dumbstruck, hand over her mouth staring down at Mayer with disbelief. The men move out of their way respectfully as he marches her away, so quick, she is trotting to keep up with him.
“You’re a dead woman, Isabelle,” Mayer shouts after her.
Christian makes sure they are not being followed and ushers her through the crowd of tourists. He can hear her having difficulty breathing, but he keeps marching her on until he can find a taxi. He finds one and tells her to get in and within seconds they are crossing the bridge.
“I don’t believe what you just did? How did they let you get away with that? Damn it I can’t breathe, please, get the driver to stop I need some air. Please, I need to get out of the car.”
She sounds as if she is hyperventilating, she’s breathing so fast. She looks hot, flustered, and there is an edge in her voice that is panting. He tells her to calm, to breathe slowly, he wishes he had a paper bag, she’s still demanding the car be stopped. She keeps saying she feels trapped, looks like she’s having a full blown anxiety attack. He’s not surprised. Better get her outside. He asks the driver to stop just as they hit Musée d’Orsay. The traffic is busy with workers coming home and the pavements are crowded with people. He wonders if this will just stress her out more, but she insists, and her wish is his command.
“Isabelle, try to breathe slowly.”
She nods as he gently holds her arm and he shelters her from people tramping around them. He keeps coaxing her slow breathing, making her concentrate on it, and eventually he hears it slip back into its normal rhythm.
“Come on let’s get you back to the apartment.”
This time he puts his arm around her and leads her along the pavement on towards the Champ de Mars. She looks relieved to be in the wide-open space when they eventually reach it. He glances up at the Eiffel Tower. It’s been a hot day. There is a haze of heat shimmering around its top, visible against the clear blue sky.
“You didn’t answer me. How did they let you get away with it?”
“I’ve told you, they won’t cross my father.”
“But Declan knew you.”
“Our paths have crossed before. We were at College together. Mayer has always considered me a rival.”
He feels her eyes resting on his face. He makes sure it looks blank. She doesn’t say anything more, but he knows she isn’t buying his story.
A little while later she says, “Nobody’s done that for me before. I really thought he was going to take me back. I was so afraid,” she tells him quietly. “Thank you.”
She’s looking up at him with glassy emerald eyes. Nobody’s ever thanked him before, just thought it was what he was paid for.
She’s worth it. Do you know that?
He stops in front of her, lowers his head, and then raises it to meet her eyes. He makes sure he holds her gaze, time to talk about what they have both been ignoring.
“I was amazed you told Mayer about us last night.”
Fuck, his heart’s actually pounding and he feels nervous. He’s nervous of a damn woman. Christian drops his head slightly again when she is silent.
Why the hell am I putting myself through this?
“Declan deserved it. I am a free woman, Christian, I can sleep with who I want.”
He can’t help but smile.
“So did you mean-”
“That you were better in the bed than he was? Yeah, I did.”
He feels the smile widen into a grin.
“Now we’ve got that out of the way, can you please make one of your bloody good cups of tea before I die of thirst,” she laughs.
He likes it when she laughs, likes her sounding happy, especially when she is with him.
“Yeah come on then.”
He leads her through the neat line of trees along the side of the Park towards the wealthy apartment blocks and to his own. He leads her straight to the lift. He notices that she becomes quiet as they get nearer, notices the change in her easy demeanour. All of a sudden it’s like she’s become a different woman. She seems locked in her own world. He can sense her fear electrifying the air again. He remembers she asked to take the stairs when they went out, murmured something about not liking lifts. But he isn’t going to let her walk up seven flights of stairs after what she’s been through today. He’s used to it, does it most times to help himself keep in shape, but there’s no way he’s allowing her to do it. She’ll be fine.
Isabelle is dragging her feet, slipped a few steps behind him. Christian waits for her to catch him up, puts his hand gently but firmly in the small of her back and presses the up button. The doors slide open and he guides her in to the small quaint lift only able to hold a maximum of four people. Yeah it is small, but she should try and spend a week in a hole in the bloody ground, on her own, on a mission. He stands next to her watching the small, glass frosted door close.
“Are you all right, Isabelle? Frightened of lifts?”
She doesn’t answer him. She’s quiet, too bloody quiet.
The lift starts to move, and she looks paralysed, her pale image of fear reflecting around the mirrors. Her arms move out to her sides, grip at the silver bars on either side of her. He feels concerned, concerned she doesn’t appear to be responsive. Her eyes look far away. He calls her name, goes to touch her, and then she screams at him to leave her alone. Only she isn’t talking to him, she’s talking to some invisible person standing on the opposite side of the lift.
“Don’t touch me, please not again, I can’t.”
She starts flapping her arms around her as if someone is touching her and she’s terrified. She’s crying out, hitting at imaginary hands that she appears to really believe are on her. He can’t get near her, can’t get her to stop. Slowly she slips down the wall until she ends up on the floor sobbing. She turns her head against the wall, one of her hands still holding on to the bar for dear life.
“Please not again, not again,” she sobs.
He bends down quickly, seizing his opportunity to get near her and takes hold of her arms, attempting to bring her chaotic mind to order. He studies her closely. Her eyes are glazed, her mind somewhere else. She’s having a flashback.
What the hell did he do to you in a lift? Mayer’s really fucked you up, honey.
Christian keeps talking to her, coaxing her out of her trance, bringing her back to reality. It’s a long time since he’s seen someone experience a flashback to a traumatic incident. She’s been through hell with Mayer.
What did he do on this occasion? Rape you in a lift? Or maybe had one of his men do it?
He wouldn’t put it past the bastard. He knew what Mayer did to women. Even if he did care for Isabelle, Declan got off on seeing other men rape his girlfriends. It showed her he had control and power over them.
He gets her to look at him. Her face is tear-stained, but she’s coming round. He can see her look at her surroundings with confusion. The tightness in her face is easing. He talks clearly and with command as though she is one of his soldiers in a crisis. It will give her something to hang on to, to anchor to until everything settles again. He makes her rise, the lift has stopped and leads her out. She’s still dazed, running her hand through her hair. He goes to touch her to put his arm loosely around her but she flinches, looks as if as if he is about to hurt her. He looks at her confused, feels that hurt disappointment again when she takes steps away from him. He has to understand she’s abused. He’s a fool if he thinks she believes he is any different to the men who have hurt her in this state. Time to put his kid gloves back on, handle her with care, provide her with reassurance, safety whilst keeping his distance until she is comfortable again. Just when they were starting to make progress. He removes his arm.
Jean-François is waiting outside his door on one of the elegant chairs, next to a large antique table with a long mirror above it. His legs are crossed, his hands clasped together in his lap. He’s staring at the bowl of flowers on it, looks like he’s thinking about something. His eyes rise when Christian comes out of the lift.
“Ah Christian and the beautiful Mademoiselle Mayer, I have been waiting,” Christian sees the smile on Jean-François’s face freeze. “What-”
Christian shakes his head motioning for Jean-François to be silent and follow them inside. As soon as she’s in the door, she rushes away from him to her room and locks the damn door before he can reach it. He knocks on it.
“Isabelle, are you all right? Do you need anything?”
“No. Please, I’m ok. I just want to rest for a while.”
He doesn’t push it, turns back to Jean-François.
“What is wrong with Isabelle?” Jean-François asks the question quietly, too quietly. He can see that inquisitive police look on his face that never lets go of anything. He feels irritated, he tries to hide his frown, too concerned with what happened in the lift.
“I don’t know. I don’t think she’s feeling too good. She’s had a rough day. Drink?”
“Yeah, a large cognac, s’il vous plait.”
Christian hears Jean-François follow him into the lounge. He pulls his suit jacket off and tugs at his tie, throwing it onto a chair, loosening the top button of his shirt. He’s too damn hot. He pours them both a drink from the small bar he had installed and for which his mates are truly grateful. He watches Jean- François loosen his own tie and sit down, sinking into the soft brown leather sofa in front of him.
“I did some background checking on Isabelle and her life with Mayer in England and Paris like you asked.”
Christian hands him the drink and sits on the leather chair facing him. He watches Jean-François take a hefty gulp of his favourite drink and give a satisfied sigh before carrying on.
“It seems Declan Mayer has been in love with Isabelle since childhood, but Michael Mayer did not approve. It appears he had little time for his grandson.”
“Yeah I remember. Declan was always seeking his grandfather’s approval after his father was killed in that shoot out in London in 1979. Michael Mayer was never interested. He was too busy dreaming of getting out of the family when Declan was trying to be the perfect mob grandson. It frustrated the hell out of Declan in college,” he can’t help but laugh. “That’s the main thing he resented me for because my father respected and loved me in his own sick way, yet everything he did was wrong. I was not worthy being heir to the family business when I neglected to get involved and learn the ropes.”
“You never knew Isabelle?”
He thinks for a moment.
“I knew Michael Mayer had a granddaughter, but that was it. I never even saw a photograph of her. Michael Mayer was very protective over his charge because she was the daughter of his first son who had flown the family coup and achieved what he couldn’t. She was kept hidden away from any family business, but if I’d known…”
He sees Jean-François’s eyebrows rise and then lower quickly, a small sneaky smile briefly touches the guy’s lips and then disappears leaving his face blank and impenetrable.
Git. I never know what you are really thinking in that head of yours. Are you the real JF with me or some other guy? Sometimes, I just don’t know.
He tries to find polite words but he can’t. Jean-François laughs loudly and he cringes, hoping she can’t hear.
“You mean if you’d known, you wouldn’t have passed up the chance to add her to your list of conquests?”
Christian snaps, irritated.
“It’s not like that with Isabelle. She’s different.”
Jean-François laughs again and Christian feels hot, trapped.
“Christian, you make fun of me or you really like this girl.”
He takes a drink for a moment. He can’t look at Jean-François in case he gives it away.
“What else have you found?”
There’s that damn smile again. He stares at Jean-François hard daring him to say something else, but the man doesn’t.
“Just before Michael Mayer was murdered in Paris…”
He keeps his mouth closed, too much for Isabelle to handle at the moment to start pressing her for information on Michael Mayer’s murder.
“Just before Michael Mayer’s murder your father was a frequent visitor at the Mayer estate just outside Paris. Michael was spending more and more time with his granddaughter there. She used to come over from London most weekends, and when not working, used to spend her time with him. It was rumoured he was showing her the ropes of the legitimate business she was to inherit. Isabelle did try to leave the family once like her father, but Michael Mayer had her brought back. She was watched and kept in check by other family members and employees for her own safety, so she was told.”
“Yeah but my father and Michael Mayer were always meeting in business.”
“Ok, but he was also going around when your father wasn’t there and waiting for him. Rumour is he had a soft spot for Mayer’s granddaughter. He was secretly conducting business with Declan Mayer who was disgruntled with the lack of response and praise from his grandfather. Declan Mayer has been out to make a name for himself, and your father has been helping him. Isabelle was right about your father and Declan running a money-laundering scam. There is some sort of drug smuggling operation going on through a cartel Michael Mayer was deliberately left out of, and Declan Mayer was invited in.
“Michael found out. He wasn’t tolerating any family business going on in his precious company. Michael Mayer looks like he became a liability when he tried to block the money laundering. He was threatening a war between the families, cutting contracts, stepping on other families’ turf. Sounds like he had a death wish. Seems there are a few candidates for getting rid of Michael Mayer. Everyone in the cartel, including your father, is a possibility.”
But he’s still back at his father taking an interest in Isabelle. Something makes him feel uneasy, makes his skin crawl. He makes himself take a drink, thinking of his father near Isabelle, touching her with the brush of his arm across her breast just like he used to watch him do to young women. Then if the girl didn’t take too kindly to his advances, he would persist anyway until she gave in through fear.
Christian feels his hands tighten around the glass he is holding. He thinks of his mother being pawed that way.
Did you rape my mother? Just like he did to those other women? Am I the product of your rape?
Christian feels the glass disintegrate into his hands, his tightening grip too much for its fragility. Jean-François has stopped talking, he looks down and sees the smashed glass in his hands, and the blood. He dismisses the sting to his cut hands, gives Jean-François a warning look. But the guy speaks anyway.
“You are wondering about your mother again?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” his voice sounds dark and firm.
Jean-François nods, appears to have learned since the last time they argued about the possibility of his mother being raped not to push a soldier too far. Still JF is one of the first people he will talk to about it when he is ready, and the bastard knows that.
“After Michael Mayer’s death Isabelle would not settle down to the new rules and accept the new head of the family. She tried to escape again. Declan was tired of her refusing his advances and came down heavy on her. Still she’s kept trying to get away. He’s tried everything. He’s even locked her in a mental institution, told the family she is losing it, and that he isn’t beating her to keep her under control, she’s hurting herself. There are plenty of witnesses to say he is, but none will help come forward to the police for her.”
Christian is standing, heading for the kitchen, looking for a cloth, JF is following. He tips the glass into the bin and runs the tap washing the blood away. He can’t help wondering about Isabelle and his father.
“What about the drugs he gave her?”
“Yeah he had her drugged most of the time to control her. Merde, what a life. He stopped her from working, kept her confined to the house. Apparently she was terrified of your father. Although Declan Mayer guarded her like she was the crown jewels, he used to invite your father over and insist she was present, taunting her with his presence in the house in France and London.”
“Bastard. I broke Declan Mayer’s arm today. Did I tell you that?”
He laughs and turns the tap off, dabbing his hand with a piece of kitchen roll.
“No. Did you run into him at last?”
“Yep. He went for her. So I had to teach him a few manners, in the old-fashioned way of course.”
“Of course,” Jean-François smiles and shakes his head.
“You should have seen his face. He never expected I would touch him, and he couldn’t do anything, not yet anyway. It depends on how long I remain number one son with daddy. Still he never was a match. It didn’t stop him trying though. The fucker is actually in love with her in his own sick way. He was jealous, fucking jealous. Declan has a hell of a temper and Dumont will only be able to control him in their business relationship for so long. Still, I’ll be waiting it’s more than overdue.”
“I don’t envy you, Christian. You must watch your step with your father. Does she know who your father is?”
“No and that’s the way it’s staying, especially now after everything you have just told me. She hardly trusts me as it is.”
“What about her brother?”
“He knows. We’ve been friends since the army. I’d trust him with my life. I am having a hell of a time trying to persuade him not to go absent without leave. He’s worried sick about Isabelle.”
“I expect he is eager to get to know his sister better after being parted from her for so long.”
“Yes, they have been secretly meeting for over a year. He’s been trying to help her get away from Mayer but has failed. He met up with one of the men that used to be in our unit, and he told him about the business I am in. He got in touch when I was last in London, and we devised a plan. I never even knew he had a sister, he told me he had no family. But then he and the rest of the men never knew about my family until I left.”
His hand finally stops bleeding. Maybe she would like some tea, maybe he should give her some more time to get herself together, then come out and talk to him. Maybe he is hoping for too much.
“Declan has a real passion about her brother getting anywhere near her. It is the only thing he agreed on with his grandfather. Strange though…”
“What you think there is something more than wanting to keep her in the family and away from other influences? Philip wasn’t of Mayer blood. He was from his mother’s first marriage. Philip’s one of the lads, I trust him with my life. I don’t think you should doubt his motives for helping his sister. I mean what the hell could he be guilty of?”
“Ah, Christian, when you work for the police, you begin to doubt everyone. Everybody has a motive, everyone is manipulating another to get what they want. And everybody always wants something from someone else. No one is innocent.”
“You’re getting jaded and cynical.”
“Maybe, but it’s true. It is strange that Michael Mayer let her keep in touch with her brother’s own family, especially the grandmother who she was very fond of, even Declan does. But not the brother.”
“Simple, like Michael Mayer, Declan sees him as a threat. He’s male, in the army, he’s more likely to help her escape.”
“Yes of course. But why was he allowed to come and stay at the Mayer’s London home, and her relationship with him encouraged until he was thirteen and then it was stopped. Cut short abruptly by Michael Mayer himself. And there was no objection from Philip’s grandmother.”
Christian finds himself frowning. He folds his arms and leans against one of the kitchen work surfaces.
“Who’s to know? The Mayers are a law unto themselves. I think you are reading too much into it.”
“I think there is more to all of this than you are able to see.”
“I think you are losing it, Jean-François, you are seeing things that aren’t there.”
“I thought you would have learnt by now that everything is not as cut and dry as it used to be in the army. If she succeeds in bringing Mayer’s operation down and getting all of the cartel put away, she will be the owner of a wealthy, successful company and the rest of Michael Mayer’s estate. Maybe he wants a cut.”
He starts thinking, but Philip Harper was never that hung up on money, the army was his life. Still it’s making him wonder about his friend.
“Yeah, well I still think you’ve got it wrong.”
“Hmm, well I better go, Adeline is going to be in early tonight for once, and I fancy an early night. But I must work it right, she will be tired, and I need to coax her with food, you know how she loves me to cook.”
“Give my love to Adeline. When this is all over you can cook for me again.”
“And maybe your new girlfriend Isabelle.”
He can’t help but laugh.
“You should know by now you cannot hide anything from me Christian. I have seen the way you two look at each other.”
“Yeah yeah, you better go.”
He sees his friend out and glances at the door to Isabelle’s room with a wistful look.