Here is this week’s scene from Full Circle. I hope that you enjoy!
My thoughts: I do like Hartmann. She’s so much fun to have on the page because there is very little she does that isn’t riddled with her owner-like ways. Frei always shows that side of her because Renee tends to make Hartmann appear more likeable… sort of!
Frei’s own battles with her upbringing and her inner battle with loving two people perhaps go a long way to explaining who she was when she first entered the series in The Empath as that cold, hard FBI agent. In this scene, her inner battles and her old scars show her as vulnerable especially away from her best friends and her family. Still, she is Frei so it’s always great to see how her strength shows even when she doesn’t realise it does.
Full Circle exclusive.
Copyright © 2018 Jody Klaire.
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Chapter 8 Scene 2
Frei tried to relax into the dimpled chair in the elegantly decorated smoking room. Hartmann sat opposite her, suit jacket discarded and her shirt open at the collar to show some thick golden spindled necklace. It was normal for a slave owner to wear gold but Hartmann wore rare gold that, by Frei’s locksmith eye, looked to be worth hundreds of millions.
Hartmann’s fingers bore more rare gold, her watch was rare gold but she carried it off with ease.
Theo was much the same, his shirt was rolled up to the elbows showing his furry arms and large hands. He wore a large gold signet ring on his right index finger. His watch matched Hartmann’s and, if she didn’t know better, she would think him of the same ilk.
Frei shifted in the seat, trying to ignore the whiskey glass on the table beside her, Theo’s gaze on her lips, and Hartmann’s hard stare.
“You have always been quite a fascination, Locks,” Hartmann said as if she meant irritation not fascination. “There aren’t many who could steal from under my nose.”
Theo cleared his throat.
Hartmann waved it off. “Don’t be so sensitive. Locks is proud of her skills.” She met Frei’s eyes. “Are you not?”
Frei nodded, glanced at the glass, and tried not to think of how often she’d gotten Susan drunk. She’d gotten Renee drunk a lot too. Jessie didn’t like it. She didn’t understand how many years Frei had drunk it just to spite Huber, her father, but then she’d thought he owned her. Made her prickly.
“Miss Locks no longer has criminal leanings. She was forced into it.” Theo furrowed his low brow.
Frei clenched her jaw.
“Locks loved her role,” Hartmann said like she was humoring a sweet child. “She still loves it.”
Theo looked at Frei as if she would dismiss such an idea.
“I am a locksmith.” Her tone was clipped but she held her chin up. Renee’s words that she was no subordinate echoed through as if from her heart. “And you said you wished to help find Aeron.”
Theo turned in his seat to focus on her completely. He took her hand and searched her eyes. “You do not need to steal anymore. You have me. I will gladly buy what you need.”
Frei bit back the retort and Hartmann laughed like she knew exactly what her internal reaction was.
“You may need Aeron yourself, Theo, if you keep trying to make an honest woman of her.” Hartmann laughed, pulled out a cigarette from a packet, and popped it in her mouth, lit it, then picked up her whiskey glass with the same hand. Smoke swirled up from the glowing tip.
“She is honest.” Theo glared at Hartmann. “I believe she can be honest.”
Frei picked up the whiskey and downed it.
Hartmann laughed again. “Why don’t you go and get her another. Let us girls talk.”
Theo took her glass with irritation in his eyes then strode off to the drinks’ cabinet in the far corner of the room.
“Let’s get this clear, Locks. I like your daughter. She’s a good business partner.” Hartmann dragged on the cigarette without letting go of the glass, sipped her whiskey, then sighed out a waft of smoke. “I tow the line because you’re watching me and Theo is more nosey than you.” Her eyes hardened. “I owe your friend for helping him and I promised to be your ally but you’re a slave in my eyes.”
Frei held her chin steady. “I’m no one’s slave.”
“Tell yourself that but you and I know you were bred and trained correctly. You know the rules.” She took another sip of her whiskey. “He doesn’t. He thinks you can just drop who you are and play mother to his children.”
“Who says I can’t.” Even if the idea rubbed at her irritation further.
“I do. You’re a locksmith, you’re a powerful woman in your own right and that boy is clueless as to your… ideas on fidelity.” Hartmann smiled like she knew something but Frei didn’t dare flinch or show she’d hit a raw spot. “You know as well as I do that he expects you to be an innocent law-abiding wife.” She laughed. “And we both know you’ll never get close to it.”
“So you warn me off?” Frei steadied her tone but the words cut through and she felt like a slave. She felt like a worthless piece of property being told to get back in its place.
“No, girl,” Hartmann sighed and nodded to one of her servants who intercepted Theo and launched into conversation. “You misunderstand me. I see you as a slave, I always will, but I see you as valuable and I respect who you are.”
The servant started to reel off their feelings about the décor to a stunned Theo.
“How can you respect me if you think of me as property?” Frei kept her tone bored, her face stoic, but her mind was in battle with her upbringing and the upbringing was winning.
“The same way you respect me even when you think of me as an owner.” Hartmann puffed more smoke out and smiled her shark-like smile. “Whether you wish to admit it or not, I want this to be an open discussion and so we need to agree where we stand.”
“I am not your slave.” Frei sat up that bit straighter like she was and the need to scuttle into the background and stop defying Hartmann reared up. “But I accept that I am a locksmith and you are a powerful ally.”
The servant showed Theo the side table and talked him through the cutlery pieces as he stood there, Frei’s much needed whiskey in hand.
Hartmann laughed. “That’s as close as I’ll get to an admission and I’ll accept it.”
“What do you want from me, Sabine?” Frei let through the cutting ice in her voice.
Hartmann tutted. “Don’t get in temper, that is more Renee’s role.” She smirked as if the thought of Renee was an enjoyable one. “I will tell you of the information I know however, if you want me to help further, you’ll have to dust off those skills.” She glanced over at Theo who was having a meaningful conversation about napkins with the servant. “Best he doesn’t know about it.”
“Skills?” Frei folded her arms.
“Yes, I’m circling new prey and I need to obtain something I can use to bleed him.” Hartmann swirled the whiskey in her glass. “But… I know he has information on who is involved in Aeron’s disappearance. I need proof before I can give you more.”
Frei nodded. “If you are being untrustworthy, Jessie will take offence.”
Hartmann chuckled and finished her whiskey. “I assume she would. I’m never trustworthy, Locks, you know that but I’m circling my bait to weaken another’s position and get you what you need.” She shrugged. “Jessie would be happy you are liberating more slaves, would she not?”
“I’m not sure working for you is the same thing.” Frei nodded to Theo as he handed her the glass, a smile on his face as if he was delighted that the servants were conversing with him.
“Ah but they go on vacations now,” Hartmann said with mock delight. “They add up incorrectly and speak two different languages badly.” She rolled her eyes. “But it keeps him busy while he’s pining over you.”
“You play to the audience. Miss Locks has not seen you helping Elena to read.” He beamed at Frei. “She can read up to age five now.”
Frei cocked her head.
Hartmann pointed to a very buxom woman over by the desk.
“Training a new mistress can be difficult,” Frei muttered then relaxed. Hartmann was as she’d always been, slippery, underhand, and shark like. She could cope with that.
“Very amusing, Locks,” Hartmann said but her eyes were twinkling. “I’m behaving.”
When she was sleeping maybe.
“Did Aunt Sabine tell you what we have learned?” Theo leaned forward onto his knees and took Frei’s hand.
“No, she was just telling me not to steal the crockery.” Frei forced a smile to her face. Theo was a free-person, a non-slave. With Hartmann’s reminder, it felt like she was breaking rules holding his hand.
“She would not do this,” Theo turned to Hartmann who rolled her eyes and finished off her cigarette. She held it up and Elena, the buxom servant, walked over, took a drag from it then put it out in the ash tray. Very much a mistress then. She could probably read and write, sell and buy slaves, and be an elite bodyguard all while puffing out her cleavage.
“Now Sven and Jäger are out of the way, we had some teething problems,” Hartmann said and rolled her finger to Elena who perched on the armrest beside her and started to massage her shoulders. “When you emptied one of the academies here in Europe, you dented Sven’s finances, yes but you also stole from me and three other families.”
“And?” Frei dropped her hand to her hip and Elena stiffened and dropped her hand down to her thigh. Definitely a mistress and Hartmann noted the interaction with a smile.
“And the other three complained about you.” She focused on Frei even when Theo was nodding to her. He looked up to her no matter what he said. “One of which is Theo’s brother.”
Theo sighed. “I tried to explain to him but he has issues… I have explained this, yes?”
In brief snippets but what she had understood was that Theo’s brother had worked for Hartmann was a nasty piece of work.
“Yes and his brother stole from me to set himself up.” Hartmann curled her lip. “He has information on me that he has promised to a very prominent owner that I dare not challenge.”
Frei swallowed. She didn’t know there were owners more powerful.
“Yes, so Theo has suggested that you both go to him and try and reason with him.” Hartmann met her eyes. This was where stealing information came in then. “He might listen to you.”
“I agree.” And she’d need to clean up Hartmann’s trail. If any slave owner knew she was employing slaves not owning them, she’d be vulnerable.
“Good to see you are more enjoyable company than before.” Hartmann nodded to her, got to her feet, and Elena fell into step beside her. “I meant what I said, Locks. I have a lot of respect for you.”
She strolled off and Frei downed her whiskey. It was a lead. Hartmann was right. Anyone who sold information on a shark like her was stupid or completely lacking in the mental capacity to understand what she’d do to them when she caught up to them. Locksmiths stealing prizes was fair game. That was within the slave owner’s etiquette. Working for them then running off with information that could cripple their power was just asking to be flattened.
“I am glad you are happy to try and help me,” Theo said, his voice quiet. “I love him even though he is so lost to his addictions. I want to help him.”
“Of course you do.” Frei smiled feeling as insincere as Hartmann.
He held her hand and leaned in to kiss her but she couldn’t stomach the guilt and turned so he pecked her cheek. She covered it with questions about his sisters and listened to his animated updates on their skills and schooling all while sliding her free hand into her pocket and tapping out a message to Renee.
To face one of Hartmann’s ex-employees, she’d need to use the cover she, Aeron, and Renee had set up. Hartmann would be pleased.