Maddest of Minds

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Chapter Four - Gray.

One thing Freyja had learned was in order to carry out her plan, she needed to be surrounded with people who knew what it was to struggle, to starve and be a slave to greed, to be humiliated by the upper-class, people who needed something she could give them and who appreciated loyalty. Which was why now, even when she was rich and could afford the best teams, she liked to select criminals. Of course, they were mannerless and had no filter, but she preferred them over straight-lined rich pricks who’d only look down on her.

But there were some exceptions to every rule. And Erik Kane seemed to be a huge one.

As she sat with him in a coffee shop she had requested be evacuated for two hours, she contemplated the cocky man with pursed lips and distaste.

“Tell me something about yourself, Erik.” Freyja said.

It wasn’t in any way an invitation or a choice. But let him believe it if he’d make it easier for her. A rule of the world was that to in order to negotiate with a man, let him think he holds the power. It made everyone’s lives easier.

Erik was a twentysomething lanky boy with wild auburn hair and a thick beard he hadn’t yet tamed. His green eyes were glazed over, as if he was bored of the conversation already.

“I like strawberries,”

Freyja let out a scornful breath. “That’s nice,”

“I have a girlfriend. She’s hot with big tits.”

Her eyes narrowed. “That’s not nice,”

Erik shrugged. “Why’d you call me here?”

“I think you know perfectly why I did,”

Erik scratched his head, scowling. “Look, I dumped her on your doorstep. Take responsibility. She’s yours to deal with now.”

“I don’t think I have to take responsibility for anyone, especially for a girl I’ve never known,” Freyja paused. “Regardless, that’s not why I’m here.”

“I hate her,” Erik grunted out of nowhere.

Freyja didn’t play dumb. She knew he meant Evangeline. “And why is that?”

Those green eyes flared with fire. It was true hatred. “Dad got together with some hussy after Mama died. She’s just a mistake Dad decided to keep around. Now he’s not here so I wanted her to get the hell out. Did her a favour if you ask me. She would’ve been miserable from where we come from.”

“She’s only six,” Freyja pointed out. “What’s she done to earn your hatred?”

“Her being a product of my dad and the hussy is enough reason.”

The hussy was no doubt Luna. Freyja kept her face nonchalant. “How do you know who I am?”

At this, Erik chuckled. “You’re serious? Who doesn’t know the criminal of the century?”

Distaste twisted in her chest like a knife. “Flattered,” she said drily.

Erik smirked and held his hands up. Freyja calculated ways in which she could get away with punching him as she sipped her coffee. Surely one hit wouldn’t get her in trouble. She would have to provoke him to hit her first, of course…

The door swung open.

Freyja heard him before she saw him.

“Hope I’m not interrupting,” a lazy voice drawled.

Freyja looked up to meet stormy gray eyes and blinked in surprise. The man was a mess in a suit. White shirt pulled taut over broad shoulders and thick biceps, sleeves rolled up, jacket draped over an arm, he cut an imposing figure even slouching in the doorway. His hair brushed his nape, a little too long compared to the professional cut men usually preferred.

Freyja’s eyes dropped to his untucked shirt and locked on his fingers. She frowned at the rings. His slacks were in top-form, dress shoes no doubt highly expensive. He approached them with a disinterested air, as if he couldn’t be bothered with them but had business to do.

Freyja blinked as he dropped into the seat beside a smug Erik. “You are interrupting,” she told him.

Gray eyes took her in with a dull air before flicking away. That’s when she noticed the eyebags and the black liner below his eyes. For some reason it added to his appeal. Irritated by the way she was noticing things she never did, Freyja straightened and focused on Erik.

“My lawyer,” he told her smugly with an evil smile she wished to slap off.

Freyja stiffened. First in doubt because how could a man like that be a lawyer? And then at the outrageous fact that the impertinent brat had called a lawyer on her. The law gave her hives. She was a criminal after all.

“If you have any questions for Mr. Kane here, you can contact him through me,” the strange man said, his eyes on his watch, posture impatient.

Freyja stared, unable to stop herself from wondering how a lawyer got away with looking so disheveled. Even if he was insanely handsome – which he was not – and good at his job, weren’t the law firms strict about dress codes and haircuts?

She looked at Erik again and gained itchy hands. She needed to hurt him before she left. It suddenly felt like a crime to leave that face intact.

Sighing, Freyja rolled her eyes. “There was no need for a lawyer. This is just a friendly meeting.”

Gray eyes locked with hers and she resisted looking away. What was so different about his eyes? They made her uncomfortable in a way nothing else ever had. “Erik here didn’t seem to think so,” he said. “You’re a criminal. Do you do anything with friendly intentions?”

Freyja gave him a sweet smile. “Why don’t you stick around and find out?”

His eyes flickered to her mouth for a moment before they moved to the side. “Make it quick,” was all he said.

Instead of asking him the questions, she aimed them at Erik. She was here on a mission and damn anyone who tried to sabotage it. Even men with pretty gray eyes. “How did you know my connection to Luna?” she asked.

Erik shrugged. “Luna told us all about you. Hell, she wouldn’t shut up about how nice you were. You’re obviously no such thing – why’d you pretend with her?”

Wariness collided with anger inside Freyja. Luna had talked about her to a hidden family while keeping her in the dark. Pretend? Freyja had pretended nothing, but the same couldn’t be said about Luna. Keeping a daughter and boyfriend secret was one thing, telling them about someone who didn’t know them in return was quite another. Freyja didn’t want to be dramatic about it, but it oddly felt like a betrayal.

“How did you know where I live?” questioned Freyja, barely keeping her neutral face intact. The last thing she wanted was to give the man with the gray eyes – who was watching her a little too closely – the satisfaction of losing her cool.

The answer came from elsewhere. “I helped him out,”

Freyja raised a brow. “And who are you, detective?”

“No one you need to know, convict.”

Freyja hummed and flashed him a nasty smile. “Runaway convict,”

He raised his eyebrows, apparently unimpressed. Fine, he could be unimpressed. She didn’t care what he thought of her in any case.

“Look,” Erik interrupted impatiently. “Just keep the brat with you or kick her out, but I’m not taking her with me. She’s already been a burden for six years and she’s not even really related to me, so I refuse to take care of her.”

Freyja felt her temper spark. Red. She needed to make him bleed.

“I don’t think you understand the situation very well, Erik,” she drew out calmly. “I’m not here to make any requests or listen to your complaints. I’m here to tell you you’d be a dead man if Evangeline wanted it, and to tell you to stay very far away from her from now on. She’s under my protection now and I won’t think twice before emptying a bullet in your head.”

Erik’s eyes widened, his nostrils flared, and fear flourished on his face.

The mouth of the man with the gray eyes twitched.

“I was trying to be nice and keep this conversation private,” she said matter-of-factly. “You insisted on bringing a friend along. That’s your problem. I’ll be leaving now.”

Erik opened his mouth, face scarlet with indignation, but closed it right after. Good. He was a little smart after all.

As Freyja walked to the door, Erik proved her wrong.

“Your friend was a slut!” he barked. “A whore who spread her legs for my dad! He didn’t even love her, she was just a goddamn distraction and a shitty lay–”

Freyja slammed her fist in his face.

Erik’s face slammed into the table. Dishes rattled. He groaned, eyes shut in pain, jaw clenched. Filled with rage and unsatisfied, she dragged him to the floor and pushed her boot into his face while he tried to struggle out of her grip.

“Mind your goddamn manners,” she snapped, twisted her boot into his face. A muffled yell escaped him. His hands wrapped around her leg, trying to dislodge her, but she wasn’t budging.

A glance at Gray showed her he was watching the scene with the detached interest of a man who was bored out his mind. Dark locks fell into his eyes, but he made no move to flick them away. Instead, he looked up to meet her gaze and something in his eyes brightened. Amusement. That was amusement in those steely eyes.

Disgusted, she removed her foot and scowled down at a bleeding Erik. He had an eye that was blackening and a split lip. A trickle of blood ran down his temple.

She raised a brow at the lawyer. “Going to add that to the report, detective?”

He rubbed a thumb along his jaw, considering her as if he found her as interesting as a penguin in a desert. He placed an elbow on the table and rested his face in his hand. “No, convict, I don’t think I will.”

Surprised, she narrowed her eyes. Erik pulled himself up and shot her a look of hatred before looking at Gray incredulously. “The hell do you mean, Mikhail?”

Mikhail.

Mikhail kept her eyes on her. “My client was quite insolent.” He drawled sarcastically. “It’s bad business. I’ll keep it out.”

While Erik spluttered in outrage and threatened Mikhail, the words surprised a laugh out of Freyja.

Shaking her head, she tilted her head to give him one last look. He tilted his head the same way she did, mocking her in a way that amused her. He was the strangest man she had met and that was strange in itself because she dealt with strange people for a living.

For a brief moment she wanted to stick around and see if he could surprise her more, but she knew how irrational that urge was. She took in the hard-lined face, exhausted eyes that were gradually going slumberous and pink lips that were pressed together in thought for one last time before straightening.

Then she turned her back on them and walked out the door.


“You’ve missed two sessions,”

Freyja shrugged in agreement at Yael. It was true. Evangeline’s appearance had made her a little busy. She hadn’t had the time to visit Yael and keep up the charade.

Yael’s brows drew closer. “And you’ve not answered any of my questions.”

Freyja pressed her lips together to hide her smile. “I know. I was there.”

Yael’s expression softened in hesitance. “Will you answer any of them today?”

Freyja drummed her fingers on her thigh and looked out the window. The sky was a brilliant blue, the sun nowhere to be seen. She could see the clouds slowly forming. There would be rain later, maybe even a thunderstorm.

“No,” she absently told Yael. “But I’ll tell you something if you don’t ask me any silly questions,”

Yael’s lips parted in surprise, but she gave a swift nod, placing her notepad on the table and crossing her hands, giving Freyja her whole attention.

Freyja let out a breath. “It’s nothing special,”

Yael smiled. “With you, nothing is ordinary,”

“Because I’m a criminal?”

“Because you escaped jail,”

Freyja looked at her skeptically. “Disgusted?”

Yael’s smile brightened. “Fascinated.”

“Huh,” Freyja glanced at the sky again. The lack of birds disappointed her. Those creatures kept her company and got her through these appointments. But it was just as well, since she was going to finally give Yael something and birds would just be a distraction.

“It’s not a pretty story,” warned Freyja, giving Yael a last out.

Yael straightened her spine. “This is my job, if you haven’t noticed.”

Freyja leaned back and stared at the wall, deep in thought. “Two years before Luna died, a man visited the organisation that took us in. He took one look at us and decided he wanted us in some sick polygamous relationship with him. He was old, around thirty-five, but Luna and I were still minors. I still don’t get what he saw in us… we were nothing special. His preposition – no, demand – repulsed us, and we refused his silly request. Looking back at it, that’s when things went wrong. We were both cocky, both prideful, and now I wonder if she’d still be alive if we’d just said yes.”

Yael inspected Freyja carefully. “Selling yourselves would never be a better choice, Freyja, and you have to know that.”

Freyja’s lips twisted in a bitter smile. “You’re right, of course. But men like Ten aren’t used to being denied, you understand. It enrages them to think something they want has the audacity to be out of their reach. Makes them want what they can’t have – and for men with power, that kind of thing can turn dangerous. He hated our answers but at first he left us alone. A year later he visited again, asked the same question again. Our answers were the same.” A breath shuddered out of Freyja as a slight tremble went through her hands. She fisted them at her sides.

“Then Luna insulted him to his face, and he didn’t like it. One thing you need to know about Luna is that she was the sweetest person I knew. She dealt with everyone with extreme patience and never lost her cool. It was kind of silly, actually,” Freyja rubbed her fingers over each other as she mused it, a smile playing on her lips. “I always wondered about her outburst, but now I think I know what was bothering her. Anyway, Ten decided he was over his… obsession with her and left her alone. He made me his target.”

“And how did that make you feel?”

Freyja scowled at Yael, incredulous at that question. “He was a disgusting pedophile suggesting I be his prostitute. How do you think I felt? Goddamn repulsed, that’s how.”

Yael flushed a little but remained cool. “I meant, did you feel that you should accept his proposal so he would leave Luna alone? You cared for your friend, so didn’t you feel you should drive his focus elsewhere?”

Freyja considered this. “At first, yes. Later, no. I was a naïve girl who didn’t know any better. All I could think about was how he was over Luna and how I was so glad about it. I thought if I insulted him just as she had, he would leave us both alone and move on to someone else,” Freyja sighed. Rubbed a hand over her face. “That was my mistake. It didn’t make him give up. It pushed him over the edge.”

“Go on,” Yael urged quietly when several moments passed in silence. She looked disturbed but invested. Freyja almost laughed at that. The woman obviously loved stories. Well, this was a tragedy.

“Nothing much is left to say. We were out one night, way past curfew – we used to sneak out a lot. His men grabbed us, Luna got tortured, I got to watch, and that’s the end of it.”

Yael swallowed, staring at Freyja with wide eyes filled with turmoil. Freyja knew she felt sympathy, pity, and all those emphatic emotions, but Freyja didn’t need any of it. She held on to the anger inside of her and would use it to exact revenge.

She stared out the window and saw the clouds overflowing the sky like an overloaded bowl of whipped cream. “I’m going to do something bad tomorrow,” she confessed.

Yael inhaled sharply. “And how does that make you feel?” the question was a soft whisper this time.

Freyja opened her mouth to tell her it made her feel happy. That it made her feel like she was finally going somewhere with her plan. Instead, she considered her feelings and blinked at the numbness in her throat, the hollowness in her chest.

“Nothing,” Freyja murmured in surprise. “It makes me feel like nothing.”

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