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Episode eight

 

"Hey, Sugar." The bartender of an upscale retro club on the outskirts of Ravenshoe leans over the glistening countertop. Her stretch awards me an uninterrupted view of the only thing the owner is leveraging to get clientele into the place. "What can I get ya?"

 

I always stalk any establishment I'm considering acquiring before placing an official offer. Ledgers can be manipulated to make a club look like it's earning more than it is. Even the swankiest looking clubs can be run into the ground because their overheads outweigh their sales. Packed to the brim nightclubs don't generally mean they're turning over a bigger profit.

 

Capacity nightclubs often reflect an owner undervaluing its potential, which intern means it only attracts cheap patrons wanting to get drunk on a dime. Selling thousands of drinks per night means nothing if you only make a measly dollar per drink.

 

I've been eyeing this club for a few months. It draws a crowd each weekend, but its weekday clientele is less than impressive. I believe that stems from their marketing dollars being focused on college-aged students. With a proper campaign, an overhaul of its interior, and an increase in distinguished clientele, I'm confident this club could produce double the profits by the second quarter of operation.

 

It has me invested enough to consider making an offer, although the increase in my blood pressure isn't close to the skyrocketing leap it does when my personal space is invaded by more than the barmaid's cleavage.

 

Hugo suits an establishment like this. His face doesn't screw up when the countertop's stickiness glues his elbows to the warped material. He isn't leaning in to get an unimpeded view of the bartender's breasts that are on the verge of spilling out of her shirt. He's ensuring the swarm of women around us don't impede my view of Isabelle on the dancefloor. 

 

I've only just arrived, but it's clear Isabelle has been here for some time. Her nape is drenched with sweat, and her dress, which is red, fitted, and leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination, is clinging to her sticky body. Her unexpected arrival at a dirty, gritty club adds evidence to my claim that she's a diamond in the rough. She's slumming it with men well below her league, but her exterior had been so thoroughly polished, she shines more brightly than the fake crystal chandelier above her head.

 

"Hold up." My jaw gains in involuntarily tick when Hugo's hand darts out to stop me from tossing out a man who took his admiration of Isabelle one step too far. He didn't just peruse her from afar like many other patrons of this establishment. He groped her ass, and if the expression on Isabelle's face is anything to go by, she found it less than pleasant. "This isn't your club, so you can't kick drunk men to the curb." I give Hugo a look as if to say I can do anything I want. "And Izzy has a handle on it."

 

He alleviates my curiosity by nudging his head back to Isabelle. She's no longer on the dancefloor. She's making her way to the bar, her trek veering her past a man withering on the floor. 

 

If he thinks a knee to the balls is painful, he should count his lucky stars. 

 

I had planned to do far worse. 

 

I stalk Isabelle's wobbly walk through the at-capacity nightclub. Even with it being obvious she's well on her way to intoxicated, the number of admired watchers she gets isn't lessened. She's being eyeballed from all sides; however, she doesn't pay the men any attention. Her eyes are on one man. Unfortunately, he isn't me. 

 

She chats with a blond man I'd guess to be mid-to-late twenties at the side of the bar while tackling to remove the lid of a bottle of sparkling water. My back molars crunch together when her removal of the cap is quickly chased by the man snatching the bottle out of her hand and replacing it with a much larger alcohol-infused cocktail. 

 

It's a beverage designed to be shared with friends, and no friend I know would encourage a woman of Isabelle's size to down the drink in one go. Her 'friend' peer pressures her as if he's noticed my gawk across the bar, and he wants me to know how much influence he has over Isabelle.

 

I'll show him.

 

"Bring my car around." I toss my car keys at Hugo. He's most likely getting around in his 'baby.' It would make his tail less suspicious since it's candy apple red in color and a favorite amongst car enthusiasts. "Isabelle and I will meet you out front in five minutes."

 

Other than smirking at my presumption Isabelle is about to leave with me, Hugo downs my whiskey as if it was purchased from him, hits the dark-skinned barmaid with a frisky wink, then hightails it for the back entrance. 

 

I've owned nightclubs for years. I purchased my very first one the week I left college. It was rundown and delipidated, and its books never left the red. Within months, I converted it into one of the top ten clubs in the state. My time in this industry means I've stumbled across many disgraceful men in my life. It not only has my suspicions high when men are overgenerous with the female clientele of my establishments, but it also means there's no chance I'll leave this club without Isabelle. Her stumble over her feet when she attempts to curtsey at the wolf-whistling crowd increases the likelihood the blond slipped something into her drink, and I refuse to ruminate over the idea of her waking up in a stranger's bed with a blurry, unaware head. 

 

Just the thought of her being hurt has me the angriest I've ever been, and my annoyance is poorly dispersed when I grip Isabelle's arm more forcefully than intended. She doesn't glance up at me when I seize her elbow in a firm grasp. The sharp breath she exhales advises me she knows who has her, much less the faintest garble of my name under her breath.

 

Needing to give Hugo time to gather my vehicle parked a couple of blocks down, I guide Isabelle into the paint-peeled corridor the bathrooms are located in. I had planned to use the accessible stall halfway down but alter my intention when I spot the manager's office at the end of the hall. 

 

The position of the office reveals why profits for this establishment are in the toilet. If you don't have value in yourself, how can you expect other people to?

 

A man with greasy hair and a pedophile grin raises his eyes to mine when I throw open his office door. He recognizes me in an instant. The knowledge does little to settle my annoyance. Isabelle is so drunk she's not once fought against my hold the past two minutes.

 

That infuriates me. 

 

"Get out." 

 

The fool bounces his eyes between mine for two whole seconds before he leaps to his feet and races for the door. When I crank my neck to watch his scurry, I spot an even more frustrating bother. The blond who encouraged Isabelle to drink a cocktail meant for four is at the end of the corridor, seeking Isabelle amongst the crowd.

 

The worry on his face reveals I have competition. It will once again see things ending badly for him.

 

I don't enter a game I don't plan to win. 

 

Once the lock on the manager's door is secure, I pivot back around to face Isabelle. As her eyes roam my face, the thud of the pulse in her neck twangs out a hearty tune. She's concerned, panic just isn't the sole expression she's emitting. She is also turned on. 

 

"Did you get my card?" Don't ask me why I start our conversation with a reminder that I'm doing all the chasing. My days and nights are filled with acquisitions, investments, and business opportunities, so I haven't dated in years, so a lack of skill can be easily excused. 

 

Isabelle raises her chin high into the air before folding her arms in front of her chest. Her cleavage isn't bursting out of her dress like the barmaids, but there's enough skin showing to indicate the prize under her garment. "I'm not sleeping with you—"

 

"I never said you'd get any sleep." When disappointment relays through her eyes long before relief, I take a step closer to her. "Well, not for at least a few days."

 

Her lips twitch, but not a word falls from her mouth. It's for the best. I can see the interest in her eyes, much less smell it on her sweat-slicked skin.

 

The flickering flame in her eyes combusts when I ask, "Still trying to deny what your body wants?" 

 

I step closer again, eager to lap up the scent of her heated skin. When she fails to announce an objection to my closeness, I brush my thumb over her top lip. I'm removing smears of the cocktail she downed, but I also couldn't hold back the urge to touch her for a second longer. She is truly exquisite. An artwork worthy of the longest gawk. 

 

My cock hardens when the slightest dip of my thumb between Isabelle's parted lips is met with a husky moan. Her lips are painted red, and they're begging to be ravished. 

 

My pupils dilate with desire when she sucks off the remnants of her cocktail from my thumb. Her sucks show the control she has over her mouth. She awards my thumb with the perfect amount of pressure, exposing she'll be fantastic at giving head. 

 

When she leans into me, silently begging for me to take our exchange further, the glossiness of her eyes has me pulling back. "How many drinks have you had tonight, Isabelle?" 

 

She shrugs like my question doesn't have the ability to end things between us this instant. I don't fuck drunk women. I also don't take them back to my apartment to sleep off their stupor. 

 

"How many drinks have you had?" I ask again, sterner this time around.

 

Her eyes roll skywards. "A few." With a huff, she adds, "Who are you, my dad?" 

 

I begin to wonder when her sass has me wanting to bend her over my knee and spank her ass. 

 

"Are you drunk?" 

 

My hands itch to redden her backside when a sultry grin stretches across her face. "Maybe a little." 

 

When she pries apart her index finger and thumb by an inch to indicate how drunk she feels, a growl rumbles in my chest. 

 

"How are you getting home?"

 

My astuteness is pushed to its absolute limits when she snaps out, "I wasn't planning to go home alone, but you just ruined my chances of finding a suitable companion for the night." 

 

Her tone reveals she's trying to be funny, but I'm far from amused. "I don't play games, Isabelle, so if you're attempting to make me jealous, you're wasting your time." 

 

Since she doesn't know me well enough to be aware this is already a game, Isabelle skirts by me with a huff. I should let her go, maintaining control is all I know, and I've been far from in-charge since she stumbled to my feet, but for the life of me, I can't. There's more at play here than morals, and I won't stop hunting for the truth until it smacks me in the face.

 

It dawns on me that I reached the right conclusion when Isabelle's storm for the door is thwarted by her losing her footing. With her heels higher than I've seen any woman wear previously, she stumbles like a newborn foal, her collision only avoided from me curling one arm around her waist while the other grips her opposite side.

 

"You smell so good," she mumbles under her breath as her nostrils flare. 

 

I could share the same sentiment. However, I won't. Her closeness already has my qualm slipping, so I don't want to consider how perverse the decline will be when I take her back to my apartment to sleep off her intoxication. I only have one bed, and I'm not the type of man who sleeps on the floor. 

 

When I press my lips to Isabelle's ear, the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. It makes my voice extra throaty when I mutter, "Go tell your friends you're leaving. I'll wait for you out front."

 

She looks torn while replying, "I can't leave with you." 

 

"It wasn't a suggestion, Isabelle. Go tell your friends you're leaving and meet me out front."

 

Needing to leave before I complete the task with my fists, I move for the door. The handle is lowered halfway when I recall how stubborn Isabelle is. It sees me adding a threat to my previously faultless reign. "If you're not outside in five minutes, I'll come find you." 

 

Confident not even her woozy head could have her mistaking the determination in my tone, I enter the hallway and make a beeline for the exit.

 

A controlling man would stay and scrutinize every move Isabelle makes, so you can picture the strain on my face when I spend the next five minutes on the opposite side of a mirrored door. I'm confident she won't stand me up, but I've said that previously. 

 

***

 

Five minutes after leaving her in the manager's office with a hanging jaw and wide eyes, Isabelle exits the nightclub I placed an offer on while waiting. Her eyes are as glazed now as they were when she stared up at me, wordlessly begging for me to fuck her on the desk, but caution is also seen. It should have me pressing on the brakes. Instead, I accept the umbrella Hugo is holding out for me before guiding Isabelle into the back seat of my SUV.

 

"Where to?" Hugo asks after slotting into the driver's seat like he was born to be a chauffeur. 

 

I throw caution to the wind by requesting for him to take us to my apartment building. I'm usually more vigilant with the people I permit in my life. Exerting restraint is what has made my business endeavors so successful the past seven years. Thinking rationally is all I know, but there's something about Isabelle that has me forgoing all cognitive thoughts. She once again has me acting as if I'm a college boy enjoying the thrill of the chase. 

 

I've never been this way before. Well, except that one time, but Isabelle and Ophelia couldn't be more different if they tried. Comparing them would be like comparing chalk and cheese. They're on entirely opposing ends. Ophelia caught my eye. She was determined, strong, and her conscience didn't pang when she turned me down, whereas Isabelle fascinates me. Her dabber ability to mumble under her breath, the gleam in her eyes when she peers at me, and the fact she sees me as a mere man has me responding in a way I would have never thought imaginable. 

 

I'm a guarded, reserved man… until Isabelle's attention is directed my way.

 

In case you're wondering, that isn't happening right now. The wheels of my SUV have barely churned for half a mile when a faint snore trickles into my ears. Isabelle's head is resting on my shoulder. Her arm is hooked around my waist, and her leg looks desperate to straddle my lap. 

 

I'd aid its endeavor if it wouldn't make the high rise of her dress even more scandalized. The stiff, red material sits so high on her thigh, I'm confident the slightest movement will award me a peek of her panties.

 

Since they're not something I want to see without consent, I tug down the hem of her dress before shifting my eyes to the scenery whizzing by the window.

 

With the hour still early for a Friday night, it takes almost thirty minutes to reach my apartment. I wait for Hugo to pull in front of the elevator banks in the underground parking lot of my building before jogging around to assist Isabelle out.

 

Hugo scrubs at the stubble on his chin when Isabelle's head lolls to the side from me lifting her into my arms. Genuine concern for Isabelle is seen all over his face. "Boss—"

"I won't need you for the rest of the night," I interrupt, my tone stern. I'm not angry he's looking out for Isabelle, I'd be furious if he didn't. It's his belief I can't take care of her that frustrates me the most. She may make my astuteness nonexistent, but I'm not a monster. I know the difference between right and wrong.

 

Bedding an inebriated woman is wrong.

"Return in the AM then I'll drop you off to collect your car at the nightclub's lot."

 

Hugo lifts his chin in thanks, but the worry in his eyes remains. It may even double when I stride toward the elevator bank.

 

After shifting Isabelle's weight to my right, I press my thumb to the security dashboard in the elevator panel to summon the cart. My imprint is the only key needed to access the penthouse apartments on the top level, and it commands the elevator immediately to the underground parking lot.

 

I enter the cart, select my floor, then spin to face the front. Hugo is still standing where I left him. He's no longer scrubbing his stubble. His focus has shifted to a knot in his neck. Even spotting my watch doesn't force his lips to follow the prompts of his brain. He remains as quiet as a church mouse, only breathing out a curse word when the elevator doors snap shut with Isabelle and me inside.

 

With Regan moving back to Texas a couple of months ago, my walk down the corridor separating our penthouses is done in silence—if you exclude Isabelle's feeble snores. They're not the thunderous ones my grandpa made every thanksgiving when he fell asleep in front of the TV with food-stained clothes and the football blaring out of the television. They're faint and for some inane reason, quaint. 

 

My long strides have me reaching the main bedroom within a couple of seconds. After placing a dozing Isabelle on one side of my bed, I take a step back to admire the rarity. There have been multiple times the past two months I was convinced this would never occur. 

 

Isabelle's glossy dark brown hair glows against my dark sheets. Her red dress looks even more blistering since it's shimmering off the mirror above my head, and the faintness of her cheeks have the begs of her lips ramping up to a level I'm not comfortable with. 

 

I'd give anything to taste them. 

 

Anything at all. 

 

While fighting the urge not to touch her, I stare at Isabelle for several long minutes. I've never tended to an inebriated person before, so I'm a little perplexed on what to do. 

 

When my rake of her body lands on her feet, the obvious stands out like a sore thumb: I need to make her more comfortable. 

 

After carefully removing her sky-high shoes, I set them down at the end of the bed before striding to the walk-in closest. I scan the room, striving to find a suitable article of clothing for Isabelle to sleep in. Since my apartment is only used for 'business' matters, the items in my closet reflect this. It's full to the brim with designer suits, dress shirts, and polished shoes. 

My dilemma is elevated when I discover a shirt I wore running last week dumped in the hamper. Catherine must have forgotten to include it in the dry cleaning. Although it hasn't been laundered, the thought of Isabelle wearing my shirt in my bed had me snatching it up before a cognitive thought can pass through my head.

 

I don't know whether to be pleased or frustrated when Isabelle fails to protest to me pulling my shirt over her head. I'm glad even in her near unconsciousness she trusts me enough to dress her, but what if I were any other man? Would he have kept his eyes on the headboard while lowering the zipper on her strapless dress? I doubt it. He would have ravished her skin with his eyes, and then perhaps he may have added other parts of his body into the mix when his itch wasn't scratched by the enticing visual.

 

The thought has me lifting Isabelle into my arms with more aggression than necessary. I tug down the bedding, my brusque movements slowing when Isabelle murmurs my name under her breath. It isn't a panicked, apprehensive mumble. It's full of yearning and want, like she too is struggling.

 

While growling in frustration, I place Isabelle under the bedding, pull it up until it's under her chin, then hotfoot it to the bathroom. I'm in desperate need of a cold shower before I do something I'll regret in the morning. For years, my tastes have leaned toward blondes. However, I can't deny my attraction to Isabelle. She is too alluring to deny, and she has my shrewdness wavering.

 

***

 

By the time I renter my bedroom, Isabelle is alert and awake. As her teeth catch her lower lip, her confused eyes bounce around my room. Her unsteady footing to my bedside drawer exposes she's still under the spell of alcohol, so I won't mention the gasp she releases when she yanks open the drawer I've been meaning to clean out.

 

Women award me their panties for a job well done, and although I have staff who could take care of them for me once they leave, I don't pay them nowhere near enough to demand they touch unsanitary panties.

 

Upon sensing she's being watched, Isabelle pivots around to face me. Considering her level of intoxication, I'm surprised she remains on her feet. "They're not clean underwear, are they?"

 

With my interest more piqued than annoyed, I shake my head.

 

Isabelle looks as if she is going to be ill at any moment. I believe her anger stems from my inability to lie, but I realize I have a lot to learn about this woman when she spits out, "This is your fuck pad, isn't it?" 

 

Her question catches me off guard for a moment. I've never referred to my penthouse as that before, but technically, that is what my apartment is about, so I guess she has a point. 

 

"And that is…." Isabelle's words trail off when they land back on the bedside table. 

 

"My trophies? Yes," I reply, having nothing to hide. "But I don't collect them. They're given to me." That sounded better in my head, where it should have stayed.

 

As her nostrils flare with the hope oxygen will lessen the white-hot anger pumping through her, Isabelle's eyes snap back to mine. Her glare already has my cock twitching under my towel, but it stiffens painfully quick when she slips her hands under my shirt before sliding her black lace panties down her thighs. 

 

Once she has them bunched in her hand, she throws open the drawer, stuffs her panties inside, then slams it shut. "There you go, another trophy added to your collection." She doesn't air quote the word 'trophy.' She doesn't need to. Her disgust is relayed all over her face. "Because that's the only way you'll ever add my panties to your collection." 

 

Believing neither the lie she just spilled nor the promise in her eyes that she'll be my biggest challenge, I bark out, "Get back in bed, Isabelle." When her stance strengthens, I snap "Now!" My irritation isn't because of her statement. It's because I was already struggling not to touch her, so you can imagine the fight now since she is sans panties.

 

While sucking down air to quench the needs of my screaming lungs, I move to the left side of the bed. When I slip beneath the black sheets, Isabelle remains standing at the end of the bed. Her breaths are ragged, and her eyes are glossed with more than an alcoholic sheen. I still have a lot to learn about her, but I'm confident in declaring she's battling with herself. She is torn between racing for the door and jumping to my command. 

 

I'm more than pleased when she chooses the latter. "Good choice," I mutter under my breath when she clambers onto my bed before sliding under the sheets. 

 

When the sweet smell of her heat-slicked skin streams into my nose, I lean over to switch off the light. Although darkness does little to elevate her provocative aroma, it takes care of the yearning look she's directing my way. 

 

"Goodnight, Isabelle," I whisper into the dark. 

 

"Goodnight Isaac," she replies, clearly disappointed.

 

I don't sleep with intoxicated women, I remind myself when my astuteness slips for the third time tonight, but all bets are off in the morning.

 

xx

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