This week’s scene has Renee enjoying a quiet drink with Hartmann… I hope you enjoy.
Renee and Hartmann have such a great chemistry when I write them. Hartmann is softened by her but never enough to be accused of being nice. Still, give her a drink or two and she might have some redeeming features…
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Copyright © 2018 Jody Klaire.
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Chapter 13 Scene 2
Renee stretched out her back as she wandered into Hartmann’s reception room. Wearing heels while running did nothing for her back muscles.
“I prefer you in less material,” Hartmann said reclining in her large leather chair.
“I prefer to breathe oxygen,” Renee shot back and slumped into a chair adjacent to her. “Didn’t I get you off that crap before?”
Hartmann smirked and puffed on her cigarette. “Yes, but that was before you helped Locks steal from me.”
“Or before you broke my cheek.” Renee tucked one leg under and pulled it toward her. “So, why are you irritated?”
“You read me well.” Hartmann huffed out a chuckle. She was in a suit as if she’d been to some business meeting rather than a cocktail dinner. “You look better in a skirt.”
“Jeans have pockets.” Renee pushed up the sleeves on her long tee. “And FYI, I look better in fatigues.”
Hartmann rolled her eyes. “I preferred the other accent.”
“Then you place whatever pretty tone you want in your head, Sabine. I’m not in the mood to play.” She reached out, stole the cigarette, snapped it and slammed it into the ashtray. “Has Urs talked to you?”
She hadn’t seen Frei since they arrived back. Frei had headed to her room with Stosur to talk through the findings with Jessie. Renee was happy to find food, a hot shower, and try to understand how Aeron had whistled to her. Nan wasn’t swooshing in to tell her anything and her dad’s breadcrumb wasn’t working even when she’d pieced it back together.
“No, Locks has not.” Hartmann tapped her fingers to the edge of her armrest. “You know little of our society.”
“I know more than I want to.” Renee studied Hartmann’s blue eyes. Not for the first time, she felt that uneasy attraction to her but it was barely a ripple compared to the way Aeron swept through her entire body, mind, and heart.
“You don’t know enough.” Hartmann tapped the armrest like she was a petulant child. “You realize that Locks is a slave.” She held up her hand to stop any protest. “She might be free now but she was born that way and slaves do not have the freedom to choose who they entertain.” She wet her lips. “They are not allowed to have relationships.”
“And?” Renee folded her arms not sure why this was a source of irritation.
“And, you’re flouting our laws.” Hartmann sighed, got to her feet and poured two glasses of whiskey. “You understand that one of the reasons Snoop decided to crawl to Marcello is because Locks had ensnared Theo.”
“Oh, so you’re blaming Ursula for the fact your nephew is a creep?” Renee took the offered whiskey and sniffed at it.
“No, I am complaining that, as I allowed him to have a relationship with her, I am annoyed that she plays with him.” Hartmann sipped at her glass. “And if it gets out that someone who was a slave has made my own family look a fool, I look like I am losing my touch.”
“You feel vulnerable, Sabine, I get that, but Ursula will make up her own mind.” Renee sipped at the whiskey. “That’s what free people do.”
Hartmann stood above her, anger glinting in her eyes.
“Try anything and I’ll floor you.” Renee glared up at her. “I’ve played nice with you so far.”
Hartmann laughed. “I believe that.” She sighed and sat back down, glint gone. “I do feel vulnerable and I’ll tell you why.” She held the tip of her glass, spider-like fingers rolling around its rim. “Marcello is not that rich. Diamonds encrusted in slaves’ skin is something only one family does.”
“You know who?” Renee leaned forward onto her knees.
Hartmann flinched as if she would attack, her fingertips white against the glass in her hand. Then, she slammed back her drink. “Yes, but he is someone that even if Jessie and I pooled every resource we have, it would be akin to a fly attacking an elephant.”
Hartmann and Jessie’s estates combined made them hugely powerful. Yes, so Jessie hid behind Hartmann’s banner so that they could employ people and continue to free others but to outsiders, Hartmann had secured a huge ally. They just didn’t know she was a teenager who spoke more like a Lorelei everytime Renee heard her.
“Snoop was selling to them?” Renee downed her own glass and went to the decanter. “Before you whine, I’ll pour it right in front of you. I don’t need to use vials.”
Hartmann handed over her glass. “Snoop would have been killed for approaching Gasquet. He is very keen on traditional rules and even more keen on wiping the floor with anyone who doesn’t agree.”
“Explain.” Renee poured the glasses and gave them both a Frei-style double——to everyone else, that was a triple double with an extra splash.
“Gasquet is one of the highest slave owners. His father, who is still technically in power, is well into his dotage. His slaves are neutered, they never bear names, and only those who have a trade are called by them.” Hartmann sipped on her fresh whiskey then reached for her cigarettes. She hesitated with her hand inside her suit jacket. “The slaves you saw wearing the sparkling gowns are discards… not attractive enough to him.”
Renee reached out, took Hartmann’s hand, and checked over her for a gun. Then she took the pack of cigarettes, flicked one out, and placed it in between Hartmann’s lips. “I’ll make an exception as you’re being helpful.”
Hartmann nodded as Renee lit the cigarette. “Lock’s sister, Suz, was meant to be a diamond slave.”
“There wasn’t a diamond group in Caprock.” Renee stepped away from the smoke and took a large drink from her glass.
“No, they are merely at the academies until they are neutered.” Hartmann sucked on her cigarette. “When they are neutered they then have diamonds embedded in their skin. Piercing methods are used but the practice is brutal and fraught with complications so most modern owners just put diamonds on them.” She held up her hand. “And before you fire that tongue at me, I gave them necklaces, and diamond tags in their ears.”
“Then how do you know they were Gasquet’s?” Renee rubbed a clammy hand over the knee of her jeans. She couldn’t bear thinking about the diamonds.
“Because, I noted one in particular had diamonds in her shoulder.” Hartmann rubbed at her bottom lip with cigarette wielding fingers. “She slipped out and she is a problem.”
“Why?” Although she could guess. A slave choosing to leave and not be rescued could be far too hard to reach and persuade not to talk.
“Gasquet had clearly decided that Marcello was too much bother.” Hartmann flicked the ash off her cigarette. “He didn’t react to us because she’d already completed her orders.”
“I thought they were meant to be showpieces?” And she didn’t like the idea forming in her head about why.
“They are to modern owners. We have silent agreements that slaves should never go around attacking owners whether or not they have been ordered too.” Hartmann shuddered. “But, as I said, Gasquet is very different.”
“You think she’ll tell him that you’re not obeying rules?” Renee chewed on her lip.
“I think you and Locks made me look like I play exactly by the old rules.” Hartmann smiled. “I walked straight into Marcello’s estate and removed everything from him.”
“Then why are you irritated?” Renee swallowed more whiskey not even registering its kick. Helped numb her back.
“Because I don’t want Gasquet’s attention, admiration or him to cast me so much as a passing thought. He’s dangerous and I have no desire to move upwards.” Hartmann sipped at her whiskey. “The very thought of his ilk sends a shiver up my spine.”
Renee leaned onto the armrest with her left arm and rested the whiskey on her knee. “Who’d have thought? You have redeeming features.”
Hartmann waved it off. “I’m a sucker for a beautiful woman. I like them to have fight but not that much fight.”
“And you think I don’t?” She smiled and pulled her leg underneath her again to stretch off. “You think he could be targeting us?”
“No.” Hartmann finished her cigarette. “But you sent me a picture of a logo one of Lock’s team saw.”
Renee nodded. Susan had needed to be picked up from her clinic when Renee and Aeron were being chased around Black Ridge Mountain. She didn’t have all the details because of it other than the fact that Susan had seen some men loitering and that the motif on their uniform wasn’t one that even Stosur knew.
“That logo belongs to his younger brother. He has far less power and should be in exile but Gasquet adores him, much like Theo adores Snoop.” Hartmann let through a sad smile. “Gasquet’s brother made a mess many years ago which embarrassed his family.” She flicked her fingernail to her glass which clinked. “Their father wanted to remove his inner organs but Gasquet somehow prevented it.”
“But why would the brother want to target us?” Renee felt a shiver roll over her. Didn’t sound like someone she wanted to take on.
“I do not know. I do know that when he caused the embarrassment, he was in America.” Hartmann downed the rest of her whiskey, eyes glassy. “It was years and years ago but I know he had feelers in the FBI and I believe you annoyed someone there.”
“Hewitt?” Renee rubbed over her face. “He’s my ex-fiancé’s father-in-law.” She placed the glass on the table, feeling the fuzziness through her movement. Strong whiskey. “Williams, the guy who chased me on the mountain was in the FBI.”
“Then perhaps it is wise to retreat to a more sound position?” Hartmann sighed. “Although he has little power, Gossett still has use of his older brother’s estate and slaves.”
“Did you say Gossett?” Renee shook her head, sure she didn’t get that right.
“Yes, Gossett. They name themselves after the estates they were born in. Only Gasquet goes by the surname.” Hartmann shrugged. “Much like my family. My sister simply goes by her married name only I am allowed to use the surname.”
“Yeah but there was a Gossett in Serenity Hills…” She didn’t dare mention they’d helped Susan blow the whistle. “He was a psychiatrist.”
Hartmann furrowed her brow. “I doubt it is the same man then. Gossett was in a role similar to Jäger. He collected and rounded up missing slaves, that sort of thing.”
It felt too close to ignore. FBI ties, a link to Serenity, and his slaves turned up at Susan’s clinic? No, it felt like a lead.
“Sabine, I need to ask you something.” She focused on Hartmann’s blue eyes. “Gasquet is French, yes?”
“Yes.” Hartmann nodded. Her whiskey was kicking in too if the slurring was anything to go by.
“Thing is…” She sighed. “My dad and brother were killed when I was a teenager.” She hated saying it, it made her hands shake, but she needed to. “I found Dad’s report and he said that he had tried to help two people find their child.”
Hartmann leaned forward. “Tell me who targeted them and I will send every resource after them.”
Renee managed a smile. Thankfully, the whiskey was numbing the ability to cry. “He said Bucher… Stosur thinks it could be a slave name.”
Hartmann closed her eyes then sighed. “It is. In particular, only Gasquet or Gossett would use that name.”
“I was also attacked… tortured… for a year in France by a man called Yannick Bucher.” Renee felt the fear prickle up and down her arms.
“Sounds like the child of a slave.” Hartmann took her by the hands. “You are certain you know both these names, Bucher and Gossett?”
Renee nodded. “So, it could be my fault that Aeron is missing…” She freed one hand and rubbed at her aching throat.
“Then I will go to Gasquet myself.” She kissed Renee’s knuckles. “If it is Gossett, Gasquet can call him off.” She blew out a breath. “I can’t promise that he will… but I will try.”
“Even when he scares you?” She squeezed Hartmann’s knuckles.
“Whether it was that odd moment helping Aeron or you helping Theo, I’ve grown quite fond of you all and I promised you I would help and I shall.” Hartmann let go of her hand. “You must trust me that diplomacy is the only way to fend a man like Gasquet off.”
“I don’t want you in danger because of me.” Renee wiped her forming tears away with her tee.
“I will do it anyway regardless.” Hartmann beamed at her with every affection she had never shown. She stood, nodded curtly, and strode to the door.
“Sabine,” Renee said, turned and went after her.
“Renee, I am intoxicated and you have far too hard a punch.” Hartmann stilled in the doorway. “Calling me with that soft tone may see me lose teeth.”
Renee went to her, kissed her on the cheek and smiled. “I don’t knock out people I’m fond of.”
She let the words sink in and Hartmann touch her cheek in shock then stumbled her way up the stairs to her room——beside Frei’s. She stared at the breadcrumbs in her suitcase and slumped onto the bed.
They had a lead but more questions than before… and just what did her dad, Bucher, and Gossett have to do with Aeron?