NightCLub Scene - Isaac's POV

Part One

 

My head lifts from paperwork sprawled across my desk to the door when I detect I am being watched. It isn’t the beady, condescending stare I’ve been accustomed to since my return from a charity event two weeks ago. It’s the gawk of a desperate man. 

When my eyes lock with my intruder, I clench my teeth to hide the quiver in my jaw. Cormack isn’t as gung-ho with his business aspirations as I am mine, but he is far from a pushover. Just like me, he built his empire from the ground up, and you’ll have to pry it from his dead, cold hands to take it away from him as well. 

 

So that can only mean one thing.  His call earlier asking to speak with me wasn’t concerning a business matter. Something personal has him so rattled he’s seeking help from the last man qualified to give relationship advice.

 

Up until a few months ago, I thought I had relationships worked out.

 

Avoid them at all costs.

Now I am as lost as every other schmuck out there seeking higher contentment than wealth.

After dumping my pen onto a stack of acquisitions that have nothing to do with nightclubs, restaurants, and a mega-million-dollar hotel mecca, I slouch low in my chair and make a tepee with my index fingers.

Cormack knows about almost all the shit I’ve been wading through the past few weeks. He offered caution on certain matters—such as when I offered to pay Rise Up’s debt to the event company for their failure to tour when the lead singer was involved in an accident, citing it may not be construed as a shrewd business decision since Emily was involved—to telling me to take a chill pill when Jacob refused to attend the fight Henry Jnr. organized with the hefty backing of several local entrepreneurs.

There’s only one snippet of information I’ve withheld from him. 

His sister’s involvement in my temporary separation from Isabelle.

And yes, it is temporary. Isabelle is mine, and the incident with Clara won’t change that. I’m merely giving her the space I feel she needs. Once that unstipulated amount of time is null and void, she will be back in my bed, my house, and under my rule.

While being forthright, I will admit my patience is wearing thin. The cat and mouse game Isabelle and I played at the start of our courtship was invigorating but now I know how delectable she tastes, and how her insatiable need for sex is on par with my high sex drive, my hands are more than itching to caress and fondle her delicate skin.

I want her beneath me, screaming my name so loud that the fog which is yet to clear from my head will thin enough for me to see sense through the madness. 

There’s so much confusion right now, so much angst, and for the first time in my life, I don’t feel capable of juggling all the tasks a man in my position is required to undertake each day.

A lesser man would have cracked months ago. I haven’t simply because I have far more at stake than the average man. It isn’t just Isabelle I am fighting for. It is Callie as well. 

I won the auction. I put my livelihood on the line with an entity I would have never chosen to be a part of if it weren’t for Isabelle, yet I’m being punished for crimes far less imperative than the operations members of the FBI are allowing to occur right under their fucking noses.

Children are being sold, and women are being trafficked, yet the likes of men like Special Agent Alex Rogers are too busy blowing smoke up the asses of men not deserving of the hype to do their fucking job.

I’m not an innocent man, and I trade in an industry that will never let the weak succeed, but that doesn’t mean I am a criminal. My empire is as legitimate as the millions of dollars I have invested to ensure not another child goes through what Isabelle and Callie went through, and it is time for me to be rewarded for that.

I just need to guide Cormack through troubled waters first. 

It is the least I can do after his assistance at Mummo Koti last month. 

Cormack’s face whitens more when I mutter, “The last time I saw your cheeks this white was when you told Levi to decommission the rival bakeries you placed in direct competition with Harlow’s bakery.” With his expression more telling than his eyes, I add, “You still haven’t told her about that, have you?”

“No.” He runs his fingers through his hair, spiking it at the ends, while exhaling sharply. “I’m planning to. I just…”

“Just?” I query when words elude him, unwilling to let him off so easily. If my relationship with Isabelle has taught me anything, it is that nothing comes easy. Not life. Not love. Not a single thing that holds any importance.  If you want something, you must work for it.

It will never come to you willingly. 

Not even a woman who has multiple submissive qualities.

Sparks of the Cormack I wrangled many times during our college years forms before my eyes when he arches a brow and says, “I’m just over taking advice from a man who only ever gives it.”

He slumps into the chair across from me with a chuckle when I mutter, “I’d consider hiring you for counsel if you had any good advice to give.”

A bout of silence crosses between us. It isn’t unusual, neither of us are the talkative type, but it doubles my assumption that his visit isn’t work-related.

He’s here for a reason—an imperative reason. 

“If you were Hugo, I’d tell you to get to the point or get the fuck out of my office since some of us have to work for a living.” I lean forward until my elbows rest on my desk. “But since your time is as valuable as mine, I’m going to assume you are here for a reason.” When he jerks up his chin in agreement, I push out, “And that is?”

An unusual knot twists in my stomach when he takes a moment to consider a response. My personality isn’t generally associated with nerves, but I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t apprehensive. Cormack has never stated with utmost certainty that his younger sisters are off limits, but I’ve sworn numerous times to have no interest in neither Clara nor Cate. And although that hasn’t changed, Cormack may no longer take my word since even I’m not even sure if it is still honorable.

I fucked up the night Isabelle arrested me. I can admit that. But don’t ever ask me to declare that my mistakes are unfixable. Especially if that entails Isabelle no longer being a part of my life as that is not something I will ever be able to do.

I’ll walk away from my empire and the billions it has amassed before I will ever walk away from my relationship with Isabelle.

Mark my word.

My thoughts are pulled from storming Regan’s apartment and reminding Isabelle that her choices will always be hers but her mind, body, and soul will forever be mine when Cormack finally formulates a reply. “Harlow wants to take Isabelle on a girl’s night out.”

Since I don’t believe Harlow’s idea is woeful, I twist my lips instead of reacting how I usually do when anyone but me bids for Isabelle’s time. 

Any chance of maintaining a rational head flies out the window when Cormack adds, “She wants to take her out dancing.”

“Dancing?” A question generally makes room for a response, but I don’t pause for Cormack to answer me. I bark out like a drill sergeant, “As in nightclub dancing? Or private Sumba classes for two?”

My last suggestion is wishful thinking, and Cormack is aware of that. “We wish.” He drags his fingers through his hair again hopeful it will veer my eyes away from the tick in his jaw. 

It doesn’t.  

Just because he hides his jealousy well doesn’t mean he isn’t bombarded by it.

“I tried to talk Harlow out of it, but you know how stubborn she is,” he pushes out with a chuckle a short time later.

I laugh. Her stubbornness is one of the reasons they pair so well together. Cormack isn’t a pushover, but I can’t say that wouldn’t have been the case if I hadn’t been there for him when his father tried to pull the rug out from beneath his feet.

 

Some men thrive in difficult times. 

Others wilt.

 

Cormack sits somewhere in between.

 

“She’s going no matter what you say or do…” When he huffs in agreement with my statement, I add, “But what’s stopping you from ensuring the events occur as you want them to?” I immaturely roll my eyes at his shocked expression before divulging, “I own every decent nightclub within ten miles of Ravenshoe.”

 

My ego gets smacked back two spots when Cormack mutters under his breath, “Hence Harlow’s suggestion they party outside of Ravenshoe’s ‘safety perimeter.’” He air quotes his last two words.

 

Reading between the lines, I snap out, “I have measures in place to protect, Isabelle, not suffocate her.” There’s an edge of deceit to my words. I am protecting Isabelle, but with that urge comes an overbearing wish to strangle her freedom entirely. I’ve barely had a cognitive thought the past two weeks even with my empire thriving under rough economic times. 

Another lengthy bout of silence loosens some of the bounds only Isabelle has been brave enough to go against, and it has me offering a rare snippet of leeway. “How far are you willing to stretch the perimeter?”

Cormack peers up from his hands before pursing his lips. “I had considered chartering them a jet to New York, hopeful you’d have a word with Henry.” His chest deflates as he breathes out heavily. “But then—"

“A night off would turn into a weekend away.” And that is far too long for him to go without touching Harlow.

As if he heard my private thoughts, Cormack nods. 

Since I wholeheartedly understand his wish not to separate from her longer than necessary, I suggest another option. “What about Terra Nova? It’s classy, established, and although financially backed by Holt enterprises, my equity is kept on the down low. Neither Isabelle nor Harlow will know I own it.”

I became a silent investor in Terra Nova purely to avoid announcing to Col Petretti that I was digging footholds in his home turf, but its brilliance is even more staggering now. 

“And Hopeton is only thirty minutes away, meaning you’ll have no reason not to tuck Harlow in tonight.”

 

Cormack peers at me blinking and confused. I don’t understand his response. He wears ‘love-sick idiot’ even more obviously than me.

A reason behind his confusion is unearthed when he mutters, “And you’re okay with that? With them dancing with random guys, and possibly having some dude’s junk ground against them? Because you know that’s what will happen, right? You can’t send two women like Harlow and Isabelle out in the world unaccompanied and not expect them to get hit on.”

 

With a breathy huff, I ask, “Do you fucking know me at all?”

 

He remains quiet when I pick up my cell phone and dial a frequently called number.

 

His shocked gasp ruffles the hairs on my head when my marketing strategist answers a short time later.

“Mr. Holt…”

 

Lauren is our go-to woman for event planning. She understands that sex sells, and when endeavoring to get an establishment off the ground, that the product isn’t the only thing being sold, so is the atmosphere.   

 

Blockbuster movies display women in cages dancing provocatively to entice the crowd. They forget that almost sixty-five percent of nightclub patrons are women. They want to be tempted and seduced as well. They just don’t want to know the man offering to buy them a drink is a paid club filler. 

 

Don’t misconstrue the success of my businesses. Paid minglers are only brought in for opening nights. The rest of the time, we are filled to capacity with guests, but instead of paying movie stars and social media influencers to snub the people skyrocketing our revenue, we bring in people craving the same level of success. The young investors who buy capital for as little as a thousand dollars in Ravenshoe. Their share may not even be one percent of my contribution, but every dollar put into an investment I oversee usually yields one to one hundred return.

Due to my projects, college students have in excess of six figures in their bank account, and Ravenshoe has seen the highest growth in population than any other city this side of the country.

Now I merely need to ensure they know how much they’ll lose if they don’t stick to my strict ‘no touching’ rule when I grant them the privilege of dancing with Isabelle and Harlow.

 

Part Two

 

A smirk tugs on the corner of my mouth when Cormack tilts in close to Hunter’s laptop monitor. He’s been watching Isabelle and Harlow’s night since it began at the front of Harlow’s apartment building several hours ago. 

His stalking gives my possessiveness a run for its money—merely because I’ve learned the art of stalking from afar. 

I don’t need to butt shoulders with Hunter to keep an eye on Isabelle. I don’t even need to glance at the screen of his command center. I can sense Isabelle’s mood as well as I can her presence. That’s how I know it won’t be long until she is back in my bed—where she belongs—for eternity.

She’s ready to come home. She merely needs to let off the last bit of steam holding her down. For what her night out misses, I plan to take care of tomorrow. 

Dr. Avery will never get me in her shrink chair, but I’m not opposed to sitting in on a session if it exposes to Isabelle how far I am willing to go to mend the tears I caused to our relationship.  

After instructing Hunter to monitor Isabelle’s alcohol consumption, conscious of Dr. Avery’s caution to Hugo last week, I continue my stalk of festivities from my desk. 

 

It is the fight of my life to act disinterested in the number of times a wish to ignore my rules crosses the faces of the men and women circling Isabelle and Harlow over the next hour, but just like when I’m driving Isabelle to the brink of orgasm, I leave no stone unturned. I give it my all.

 

I’m sure the temptation is great, but no man in this town or the several that border it will be game to touch Isabelle after the warning I issued today. Only a man without a fondness of breathing goes against Isaac Holt, and the hazard is even more perilous now that more than capital is at stake.

I’ll never let anyone hurt Isabelle. 

Not even me.

 

I work my jaw side to side when Hunter’s head pops up from his makeshift command station a few minutes later. “Tatiana doesn’t think she can keep Col on the hook for too much longer. He’s getting restless.”

My chin lifts in understanding. Tatiana wants to take down Col, but morals still come into play at some stage during any mission. “Thank her for her service but tell her it is no longer required.”

Hearing the words I didn’t speak, Cormack’s eyes lift to mine, but his lips remain shut. He knows I won’t let Col roam the streets of Hopeton any more freely than Isabelle. He is merely unaware that Tatiana was a decoy.    

Keke is the finale.

The coy grin I’m unable to conceal at the ease of manipulation tonight gets swiped off my face when Hunter mutters, “Ah, boss, we’re lost Izzy.”

“What do you mean you’ve lost her?” I reach Hunter’s makeshift command center in three brisk sides, then I practically barge Cormack out of the way to stray my eyes over the bank of monitors in front of me. “Where was she last seen?”

Hunter brings up an image of Hugo standing outside the female VIP washroom, but instead of looking bored like a bodyguard should, his brows are furrowed, and his hands are balled into tight fists. 

My eyes shift from Hugo to Hunter when he announces, “She entered over five minutes ago.” I’m shocked his monitor doesn’t fog up with how deeply he exhales. “And exited two minutes ago.” 

The monitor on his left shows Isabelle slipping out of the normal patrons’ washroom.

“I thought we had a guard on standby in the woman’s washroom?” As per fire protocol, the VIP section at Terra Nova has multiple exit points, but a guard is stationed at each point to ensure only VIP patrons have access to the VIP areas.

Hunter continues tapping on his keyboard while saying, “We do, but I guess no one told her to guard the VIP exit as well.”

I curse under my breath before instructing Hugo to shadow Isabelle’s walk of the normal patron section. “Shadow her but maintain distance.” 

 

I don’t want to snuff Isabelle’s rebellion. 

 

I merely want to exhaust it in the bedroom.

 

Furthermore, she knows I’m watching her. If her constant scrutiny of her surroundings isn’t enough of an indication, the rise and fall of her chest when I return my eyes to the main camera monitoring her is a sure-fire sign. 

 

My back molars smash together when Hugo mutters, “Give me a minute.”

 

“You don’t have a fucking minute.” I suck in a quick breath to calm my anger before I destroy another piece of Hunter’s equipment before exhausting the last of my rationality. “She is already being approached.”

 

While Hunter drags the face of a man who instantaneously homes in on Isabelle when she reaches the bar into the facial recognition software he ‘borrows’ from Ravenshoe PD, I fight the urge to place distance between Isabelle and her suitor with my fists. 

 

The only reason I’m not already in my car, racing to Hopeton is because of the unease in Hugo’s voice when he asks Hunter, “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

 

“I ain’t seeing shit since the fucker is hiding in the shadows.” His fingers fly over his silicon keyboard so fast, I won’t be shocked to find imprints of the keys when he packs away his equipment. “Height and build is similar but I can’t get a visual on his face. You?”

 

Hugo is so adept at hiding in plain sight, he moves toward the shadow hiding in the far corner of the dance floor without making his watch obvious. He looks more interested in sampling the hors d’oeuvres supplied for VIP guests than unearthing the unwanted guest’s identity.

After popping a stuffed olive into his mouth like he won’t whine about how horrid it tastes for the next week, Hugo mutters, “Negative on facial but the head count is wrong. We started with seventy-one. Now, even with Izzy out, we still have seventy-one.”

 

Incapable of ignoring my intuition, I instruct, “Remove him from festivities and hand him to Roger. He’s camped in the west alleyway.” 

Patrons sneak into the VIP section all the time, so this gentleman’s arrival could merely be a case of him striving for more than he can afford, but I’d never forgive myself if I ignored my intuition for the second time and it resulted in another error. 

The consequences last time were fatal.

Hugo lifts his head to the camera above him. “And Izzy?”

“I’ll deal with Isabelle.” That wasn’t meant to come out as unhinged as it did, but rarely is my astuteness functioning at its full competency when it comes to Isabelle, and it is even more misplaced tonight since vehement jealousy is heating my blood.

Isabelle didn’t deny her suitor's offer to purchase her a drink. If that isn’t already turning my blood potent, she is also allowing him to guide her to the end of the bar, wordlessly leading him to believe something more than friendly banter may occur between them tonight.

Over my dead body.

 

Cormack babbles out a string of incoherent words when I toss him the keys for my Bugatti before snagging my jacket off the coatrack, but since most of them center around his hope my sports car is faster than his bike, I let him off the hook.

Although fretful Harlow won’t take kindly to him interrupting her girl’s night out, he’s also reached the point of no return. The sexual tension in the VIP section is rife, and although he trusts Harlow, he’d be a fool not to take advantage of her flirty state.

 

The man eyeing Isabelle like she’s dessert is praying for the same odds with Isabelle.

After offering an introduction, he moves straight for flattery, which exposes he’s a novice at schmoozing a woman as refined as Isabelle. Adulation is nice, but women like Isabelle want to imagine how tightly they’ll be gripping the sheets when you fuck them, not wondering how quickly the show will be over when you sweet talk them out of their panties.

 

Lance’s whole composure screams premature ejaculator. He doesn’t have what it takes to subdue the needs of a woman with such insatiable needs like Isabelle, and the fact he thinks he does pisses me off even more.

 

Cormack chuckles under his breath when Isabelle’s short reply can’t hide her disdain at Lance’s observation of her beauty. “Thank you.”

 

 “She’s not interested,” Cormack mutters when my finger hovers between the exit button on the security app monitoring Isabelle’s every move and the zoom in function. “He has the creeper vibe down pat.”

 

I wish Cormack’s odd angle had him far from the mark. Regretfully, he hit the nail on the head.  Lance sits uncomfortably close, nervously fidgets every time she catches her fleeting gaze, and more than a dozen times, he drops his eyes to Isabelle’s drink like he’s vying for a prime opportunity to slip something into the frothy concoction without her knowledge.

Cormack must feel the same unease as me. “But just in case.” 

 

He tosses me his cell phone before announcing the pin code. I knew Harlow had snowballed him, but confirmation her birthday is the lock code on a phone that houses enough information to take down multiple empires seals the deal.

 

After punching Isabelle’s cell phone into the message app on Cormack’s phone, I try to think of something civil to say, something that won’t make me an egotistical ass with jealousy issues, but with my naturally engrained dominance already unleashed, I veer toward the opposite.

 

Me: Lose the date.

 

Via the security app Hunter installed on my cell, I watch Isabelle fish her phone out of her purse before peering down at the screen. A conceited smirk curls on my lips when her chest abruptly rises and falls two times in a row before her eyes sheepishly shift to Lance. 

 

He continues watching her with zeal, oblivious to the fact more than a background search is being conducted on him at this very moment. His entire life is under scrutiny. By the time Hunter is finished with him, I’ll know every meal he’s eaten the past thirty years. 

 

When Isabelle fails to reply to my text, I send another. 

 

This one is more primed with jealousy. 

 

Me: Last chance, Isabelle. Lose the date.

 

I’m not surprised when she scans the hundreds of patrons swarming the bar. The last time we were in a situation like this, I was fighting not to take her on the manager’s desk of a man I would have fired within a minute of purchasing the establishment he let go to ruins.

 

Recalling how hard the fight was that night is the only reason I didn’t have Hunter monitor her movements on site. 

 

Isabelle’s beautiful chocolate eyes pop out of her head when she reads my next message.

 

Me: Look up.

I don’t breathe while waiting for the reply she punches into her cell, unaware that Lance is peering over her shoulder.

 

Isabelle: Leave me alone. I’m not your possession anymore. 

 

In the corner of my eye, I spot Cormack lick his lips when I breathlessly chuckle at her reply. It isn’t the smooth cultured laugh he’s accustomed to. It belongs to a man hanging on via a thread. It is unhinged, and very much represents a man being forced to play by another man’s rules.

 

Me: That’s where you’re wrong, Isabelle. You are MINE!

 

A vein in Isabelle’s neck throbs in sync with the ones pulsating in my hand when she reads the last word on my text over and over again. 

 

She knows every word spoken is true, but since she is a woman who will forever challenge me, she responds in a way I never anticipated. 

 

With her breathtaking smile directed at the camera dangling above her head, she dumps her cell phone into the drink of the lady sitting next to her. 

 

I didn’t think my jaw could get any tighter, but Lance proves me wrong by mistaking Isabelle’s attempt at rebellion in the wrong manner. After cosying up to her side, he propositions her for the second time tonight. “Some friends and I are hoping to secure a booth in the VIP section. Would you like to join us?” 

 

Cormack flattens his foot on the gas pedal when Isabelle replies, “I already have a booth with some girlfriends. You and your friends are more than welcome to join us if you’d like?” 

 

While Lance guides Isabelle through the dense gathering of club goers by placing his hand on the bare skin exposed by the risky cut of her dress, I snap out, “Hunter.”

 

All rational thoughts are lost.

 

I’m deep in a spiral of manic jealousy.

 

“Already on it, Boss.”

 

Cormack mutters Hunter’s brilliance under his breath when a cell phone number with a local area code pops up on the screen of his phone without me touching it.

 

Before the final number is entered, Hunter’s voice breaks through the speakers of my car. “Why does that number register as familiar?” Although he’s asking a question, he seeks the answer himself. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

 

“What is it?”

 

The phone app is removed on Cormack’s phone, replaced with an encrypted file. 

 

“Is that from Callie’s sale?” I query upon noticing similarities between the documents I signed upon winning her auction and the article Hunter is showing me.

“No.”

 

Lance almost gets a moment of reprieve.

 

Almost.

 

“It’s from Lauren. She is as anal retentive about record-keeping as the Popov clan.”

 

I cut off Hunter’s breathy chuckles with a question. “Lance was contracted under Holt Enterprises?”

 

I can’t see Hunter, but I imagine him jerking up his chin when a whoosh sounds out of the speakers. “Was being the imperative part of your reply. He was let go a couple of months back.”

 

Even aware the answer is coming, I ask, “For?”

Hunter strokes his keys a handful more times before disclosing, “He states the accusations were unfounded but—”

 

“Lauren wouldn’t have accused without proof, or at the very minimum, a solid hunch,” I interrupt, hurrying him along.

 

“And the results of the glass she had tested backs up her claims.” My jaw tightens to the point of cracking when Hunter discloses, “Traces of Cherry Meth were found on the rim.”

 

The backend of my car slides out when Cormack takes the exit ramp for Hopeton too fast. I understand his urgency. Lance announced only minutes ago that he isn’t alone, so who’s to say his friends haven’t already ventured into the VIP section?

As Cormack corrects his overcorrection, I request for Hunter to patch me through to Lance’s cell phone. While the annoying trill of my call vibrates through my hand, I backtrack on the once live surveillance camera.

Spotting Isabelle’s barely touched drink on the bar should lessen my agitation, but my mood is beyond saving when Lance’s sleezy voice sounds out of the speaker of Cormack’s phone half a second later. 

“Hello.” He can’t even greet me like a normal man. He says his greeting with that stupid “yellow” twang.

After squashing Cormack’s phone close to my ear, I lower my tone to that of a dangerous man. “Listen to every word I speak, and listen closely, because I will not repeat myself.”

 

I hear him swallow before he squawks out, “Okay.”

 

“First, remove your hand from Isabelle’s back immediately.” My reputation precedes even my expectations when he does as requested without pause for thought, then he doubles his odds of survival by taking a giant step away from Isabelle. “Second, if my guy on the door so much as catches wind that cherry meth, gamma 10, easy lay, or whatever the fuck you're calling date rape drugs these days were being used in my club tonight, I will hunt you down and destroy you as perversely as your idea of a fun night would have destroyed the woman you were hoping to dupe into feeling sorry for you long enough to give you five minutes of her time.”

My eyes shift from Lance on surveillance to the console of my car when a message from Hunter flashes across the screen. 

 

He must have spotted the sweat beading on Lance’s brow as readily as mine.

 

Hunter: sent word to Noel. He’ll keep Lance occupied until you arrive.

 

I nod, pleased before returning my focus to Lance.

 

“You picked Hopeton for a reason. You thought it wouldn’t be on my radar.” He doesn’t need to answer me to know the truth. It’s exposed by his multiple swallows. “You were wrong. So you have two options. Pick another location, far, far, far away from here or a jail cell. What will it be?”

This time, I wait for him to answer. He doesn’t technically have a choice, but until he’s not within reaching distance of Isabelle, I’m not going to let him know that.

A sexual predator doesn’t get to roam free. 

They shouldn’t even be breathing.

 

Like the coward he is, Lance takes what he believes will be the easiest option. “I’ll take option one.”

 

“Sorry?” I heard what he said. I just want him to repeat himself.

 

After a noisy swallow, he does exactly that. “I said I’ll take option one.”

 

“Good.” With my tone matching that of a principal reprimanding a student, I say, “Put Isabelle on the phone.”

 

Some of the unease singeing my veins slackens when Isabelle’s soft breaths sound down the line. 

 

I stare at her in the surveillance footage while asking, “Do you ever do as requested?” My tone is low and brimming with an anger I’m certain I’ve never experienced before—or perhaps it is because for once I want to unleash my anger in the bedroom instead of on an object with my fists. 

 

Only Isabelle can make me so unhinged I forget who I am.

 

Only she can make me loathe my past and appreciate it at the same time.

 

 “This is your last chance, Isabelle.” My voice is as teetering as my mood. “Lose the date. If not, I’ll come remove his hand from your body myself, and I’ll break every finger of his that has brushed your bare skin.” 

 

Challenge spurs through me when she whispers, “You wouldn’t dare.” 

 

“Test me, Isabelle.” 

 

I disconnect our call, toss Cormack his cell phone, then peel out of the passenger seat of the low ride just as Lance makes an excuse to leave Isabelle standing in the middle of the dance floor shocked into silence.

 

Too hot to continue wearing my jacket, I sling it off and toss it onto the passenger seat before locking my eyes with Cormack. “Are you coming?”

 

He looks set to flee, but before he can chicken out, Hunter saves him the embarrassment. “Hugo is intercepting Isabelle as we speak. Original perp is with Roger. He’s just a street kid chasing a meal.”

 

“In a high-end nightclub?” Disbelief is heard in my tone.

 

My attitude takes a step back when Hunter injects, “In an establishment not owned or umbrellaed under the Petretti entity. Maybe he’s trying to stay off their radar as much as you’re trying to keep Isabelle off theirs. We don’t have a team to fall back on, Boss. Some people only have themselves.”

 

It pisses me off that he brings Isabelle into a fight she doesn’t belong in, but it also makes sense. My astuteness may vanish in her presence, but for what I lose in smarts, I gain in empathy.

 

“If you truly believe all he wants is a meal, have Roger hand him a business card before letting him go. If he’s willing to work for what he wants, he will never go hungry in Ravenshoe.” I hear Hunter’s smile in his breaths. It is squashed like a bug when I add, “But no good deed goes unpunished.”

 

His breaths are now more groans.

 

Good. Serves him right for playing a hand without first reading his opponent’s bluff.

 

“I want Lauren’s accusations switched to facts. Backtrack and cross reference all openings and events Lance was a part of. And do it tonight. I don’t want several more months passing before his foolhardiness catches up with him.”

 

Hunter sounds nowhere near as annoyed when he replies, “On it.”

 

He scrubs his hand across his beard then disconnects our call with the faintest click. Just as quickly, I spin on my heels to face a still ashen-faced Lance exiting the club via the back entrance. He thinks he’s skipped the shit-fest by sneaking out like a coward. I’m not so inclined to agree. 

 

After stuffing my hands into my pockets to hide their balled appearance, I slant my head and arch a determined brow. “You have one of two choices. You either tell me dates and times of prior incidences… or you tell her.” 

 

When I nudge my head to Tatiana slowly emerging from the shadow I spotted her in the instant we arrived, Lance exhales a relieved breath.

 

He shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

Tatiana is seeking justice for her family, and when it comes to family, nothing is off limits.

 

I had planned for Isabelle to learn that tonight, but only now am I realizing that the lessons being taught tonight aren’t for her. They’re for me.

 

I fought for what I have. Bloody knuckles and sweat made me the man I am today, and although my hands are itching to delve back into my glory days, another muscle is proving more difficult to subdue.

 

My heart. 

 

It would rather fight with Isabelle than make peace with anyone else. 

 

And for once, I am going to ensure its every wish is fulfilled.

xx

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