It took two weeks for Callie’s injuries to heal enough for her care to be transferred from the hospital to a group of women affectionally known as the Popov housemaids, then an additional two weeks for her father’s second-in-charge to update me on her auction. It will still be taking place, but it won’t happen until the heat dies down.
Although my visits to Callie were done without scrutiny from anyone in a prestigious position in the Popov realm, it didn’t bypass the Bureaus wearisome inquiries. They were aware I was in Vegas on business, and since my empire was ‘apparently’ built on the murky overtones of the underworld, they made sure not only was I aware of their watch, but so were any businesses I was ‘supposedly’ hoping to work with.
If I hadn’t left when I did, Callie may not have recovered from her injuries. The Bureau's chirps were too loud, and they were alerting more than the authorities to my presence.
After throwing down the documents Hunter is working in my favor to make it seem as if my business dealings are shadier than they are, I run a hand over my head. To everyone outside my inner circle, my life is progressing as usual. I’m a ruthless businessman hungry for the next million to plump up my bank account. Only a scarce few know how blatantly different my focus has been the past month. I barely slept before Callie’s incident, and that infinitesimal number slackened even more after it.
Add that to the fact my little brother is purchasing a house in the burbs with no security system while his stalker is still on the loose, and Isabelle’s atrocious work/life balance, and you can imagine how teetering my astuteness is.
With everything going on, a weekend getaway should be the last thing on my mind. It would be if there wasn’t a certain brunette’s name jotted down on the flight manifest.
I also have faith in my team. I hand-selected every one of them. They’re the best of the best, so I’m confident they’ll keep the ship moving even when the captain isn’t on deck.
I drop my hand from my head when my office door shoots open. Hugo saunters inside like he didn’t almost rip it from its hinges before he slumps into a chair across from me. Although conscious he hasn’t been seen in that part of the country in years, I invited him to travel with Isabelle, Cormack, Harlow, and me to Mummo Koti—Cormack’s grandmother’s house. He turned down my offer. I want to say his refusal stems from him not having a day off for almost as long as me, but I’m mindful it is more than that.
He has as many ghosts north of Ravenshoe as I do.
“The jet is fueled and idling, blockers are in place to ensure your time away isn’t eyeballed, and Izzy is at home packing. All stations are ready to go…” He lifts and locks his blue eyes with my gray ones. “…except yours. If I were you, I would have fired your ass by now.”
His riling commentary awards him half a smirk. “If you were me, you wouldn’t have any staff to fire.”
Hugo has work ethics by the bucketloads, and he’s not once griped about how hard I work him, but he has no interest in branching out into business for himself. Regan and I have ventured into a handful of commercial endeavors, Hunter earns an eyewatering amount of capital from the private security firm he operates during the quiet periods of my empire, and I’ve been in business with Cormack for almost as long as I’ve known him, yet Hugo declines every offer I make him. I would take his rejections personally if I believed they were based on anything more than a disinterest in the finer things in life. Hugo is one of the rare men who can’t tell the difference between a three-thousand-dollar bottle of scotch and an eighteen-dollar bottle.
To him, they all taste the same.
After reducing his chuckles from my truthful remark, Hugo nudges his head to the encyclopedia-thick file of Callie on my desk. “How’s she going?”
My lips itch into a smile before I twist them. “From what I’ve gathered, good.”
I feel like I’m on the couch of a shrink when Hugo balances his elbows on his knees. “What was that? You did that twitchy lip thing you always do when you’re unsure about something.” A pfft vibrates in his chest when I furl my lips in silent warning for him to keep his thoughts to himself. When he isn’t faking the life of a regular joe, he takes a stab at Avery’s title of choice. He thinks he’s a therapist in the making. “I’ve only seen you do it twice. The first time was when you… ah…” he locks his eyes with my crotch, “… did that.” He’s talking about the vasectomy I had years ago. “And the second was when I collected you from the airport. I thought it was from Raquel going into labor in the middle of your business trip.” He rubs his hands together before he sinks into his chair with a chuckle. “I soon learned otherwise. It was about your balls… again.”
He stops chuckling long enough to raise a brow, granting me permission to continue.
“Get the fuck out of my office before I throw you out.”
Since there isn’t an ounce of coyness to my tone, he does as asked, but not before he adds a final rile into the mix. “Enjoy your weekend away, Isaac. Soon they’ll be tied up with playdates and diaper duty…” He freezes, works his throat through a hard swallow, then spins around to face me. “Unless you’re planning to hire a nanny to do that?”
“What are you talking about?” I ask, honestly confused.
He floats his eyes over Callie’s file before cocking a brow. “She’s a child, Isaac, not a business premise. You can’t purchase her then leave her remodel up to someone else. It doesn’t work like that.”
Although I don’t appreciate his tone, I understand what he’s saying. I fully intend to be a part of Callie’s life. I’m just not planning to be her sole influencer. I am hopeful Isabelle will be a major part of her life as well.
I flash Hugo a warning glare to get out of my head when he murmurs, “Izzy is still finding her feet. You know this, Isaac. If you didn’t, you would have told her about Callie weeks ago.”
I haven’t kept Callie’s auction from Isabelle to be cruel, nor am I concerned that Isabelle isn’t in the right mindset to be subjected to the spitefulness of her father for the second time in her life. I’ve kept quiet for one reason. I don’t want Isabelle to like me for what I bring to the table. I want her to like me solely for me. Not my wealth, capital, or my empire.
I don’t see how that will be achievable if she feels obligated to stay with me for the sake of her sister. That isn’t love. It’s indebtedness—the very thing that ruined my parents’ marriage. I want an equal relationship where both sides attribute evenly. This has nothing to do with money and everything to do with time, commitment, and faithfulness.
It will take a little while for my naturally engrained dominant nature to get the gist of this, but I’m confident it will occur, eventually.
I take a mental note to spend less time with Hugo when he grins about my pensive expression before he reenters my office, snatches my suit jacket from the coat racket, plucks me from my chair, then shoves me toward the door. “Hunter has Nick and Callie in lockdown, I’ve got operations covered, and Roger is…” he draws his brows together, “… Roger. We’ve got all bases protected. You just need to bring it home with a big-hitting homerun.”
Suspicion runs rampant through my veins when Tina tosses him her car key, but it’s alleviated when he discloses, “I’ll keep them occupied long enough for you to make your getaway.”
Much to my dismay, even if Regan hadn’t cautioned my staff on being vigilant about unwanted lurkers, it’s hard to miss a bright blue surveillance van that treks my every move. Everyone in this town is aware I am the focus of an FBI investigation.
Mercifully, only a handful believe their scrutiny is warranted.
Fingers crossed, I can covert Isabelle’s wrongful philosophies this weekend.
“Wait ten minutes, then meet me in the underground garage of your penthouse. Hunter has old footage at the ready. They’ll see you enter and exit, but they won’t know it’s me until you’re in the air. Cormack will meet you at Izzy’s apartment building.”
Hugo doesn’t give me the chance to reply. He hotfoots it in the direction of the parking lot, smiling his appreciation to Tina on his way by. We’ve run decoys like this before. It’s how I’ve kept my residence off the FBI’s surveillance hit list. I value my privacy so much not even my name is on the title of my home.
Tina bats her lashes at me when I head for the back parking lot. I doubt she would have been so eager to help if she knew who I was spending the weekend with. She’s been vying for a way to get back into my bed for months. This weekend could upend her endeavors entirely. It’s been a little over six weeks since Isabelle and I kissed, but the spark it lit is still furiously burning today. My cock twitches just at the thought of how ardent it will be once I claim her as mine.
Hugo’s plan went off without a hitch. While Hunter played old footage of me popping in to collect my cell phone I begrudgingly left in my penthouse apartment months ago, Hugo and I swapped cars. When Hugo raced out of the underground lot at the precise moment Hunter advised in my Bugatti Veyron, the blue surveillance van whizzed past the entrance of the garage a couple of seconds later. No one paid me any attention when I exited the garage in Tina’s Toyota Camry, proving sometimes it is the suit that makes the man.
“Not a word,” I warn Cormack when he spots my exit of Tina’s car at the side of Isabelle’s apartment building. He looks suave sliding out the back of a stretch limousine in a tailored suit with slicked-back hair, whereas I look homeless thanks to the thousand furballs Tina’s cats left in her car as gifts.
Cormack holds his hands in the air like he’s about to be arrested before he shadows my walk into the back entrance of an apartment building I purchased years ago. When I spot Clayton standing next to the security desk, I request for him to shut down surveillance in the foyer, elevator, and Isabelle’s floor.
Only once he acknowledges my request has been fulfilled do I make my way to the elevator bank. Although Cormack isn’t a fan of my somewhat manic security measures, he doesn’t berate me this time around. Not only does he understand my desire to protect Isabelle from a family distressingly similar to Ophelia’s, but he also isn’t quite ready to thrust his relationship with Harlow into the public eye just yet. The media are vultures. They chewed him up and spat him out when he was barely an adult. He doesn’t trust them, and for good measure, neither do I.
The light in the security camera perched at the end of the hallway doesn’t blink when Cormack and I make our way to Isabelle's apartment. I hold my jaw tight when I spot the rattle of Cormack’s hand when he knocks on Isabelle’s door. Things have been going great between Harlow and him the past couple of weeks, so I’m perplexed as to why he is nervous. Anyone would swear he was being set up on a blind date.
My back molars grind together when the truth smacks into me. “You didn’t tell Isabelle I was attending, did you?”
Harlow pulls open the door before he can answer me. I don’t need to hear his words to know his reply, though. Isabelle’s choking response answers my theory on Cormack’s behalf.
After slinging my eyes to Cormack in silent admonition that we will discuss this later, I make my way to Isabelle. She’s on her knees, wrangling an insubordinate zipper into line.
The image of her kneeling before me is nothing less than spectacular. Her lips part as she sucks in shallow breaths, her cheeks are an attractive pink coloring, and yearning is firing in her beautiful chocolate eyes.
“Isabelle,” I greet when I stop to stand in front of her.
My nostrils flare to suck in her seductive scent when the purring of her name causes her cheeks to flame even more. Her smell is erotic, and it reminds me of hours-long sweat-producing explorations beneath expensive sheets. It makes my cock as hard as a rock and has me reacting as if the weight on my shoulders is nowhere near as heavy as it is.
After crouching down so we meet gray eyes to brown eyes, I say matter-of-factly, “If we were alone, you wouldn’t be moving from that position.”
I’d give anything to order Cormack around as if he is a member of my staff when the pleading in Isabelle’s eyes turns rampant. If the desire in her hooded gaze is anything to go by, she no longer wants to wrangle the zipper on her bag. Her eyes are on the one my cock is pressed against. Alas, we have a plane to catch and two gawking pairs of sullied eyes watching our every move. Cormack and Harlow are as interested in the sparks firing between Isabelle and me as they are creating their own.
While silently promising Isabelle our exchange is merely paused, not shelved, I stand, then extend my hand in offering to assist her from the ground. Precum leaks into my boxer shorts when she displays her disappointment about the interlude with an unsubtle groan.
If I could claim her as mine and ensure Cormack remains the CEO of Attwood Electric, I’d make true on my promise now. Since I can’t, I pluck her from the floor as if she is weightless before spinning to face Cormack—the deserver of my wrath.
“Are you ready?” he asks, uneased about my glare but not threatened enough not to point out the thickness in the crotch of my pants no number of stitches could hide with an unsubtle grin.
I hit him with a second sideways glare before gathering Isabelle’s suitcase in my hand and entering the hallway. Even with her being blindsided by my arrival, I’m not leaving her building without her. She either acknowledges our prodigious connection by following my departure voluntarily, or I’ll force her exploration by carrying her to the limousine, kicking and screaming. This long weekend could be the last opportunity for us to explore the tension that forever bounds between us before Callie's auction, so I’m not willing to give it up for anything.
I won’t fail in my bid to protect Callie—failure isn’t a word in my dictionary—but I must remain vigilant. I’m sailing in unchartered waters. Only a fool would launch without a backup plan. Since that plan very much entails lessening the adverse effects it could cause Isabelle, anything I say or do after Callie's auction will be thoroughly scrutinized. The script I'll be forced to follow won't allow Isabelle to see the real me, the Isaac Holt only my closest friends and family know. She'll see a ruthless businessman. A poser. An enigma. The very man I don't want her to see even with me thrusting my empire in a direction I never wanted it to take.
My thoughts stray from dubious to unambiguous when Isabelle falls into step a short time later. Her cupid-bow lips don’t utter a syllable during our short ride in the elevator and walk to the chartered limousine. She remains reticent; her excitement only shared by the numerous presses of her thighs and her intoxicating scent.
The effect both her looks and actions cause my body is noticeable when her exit from the limousine is quickly chased by her taking a stumbling step back. Her back crashes into my chest a mere second before her delectable ass grinds against my stiffened shaft.
The heat it roars through my body is heard in my muttered comment, “The plane is that way.”
Isabelle follows the hook of my thumb when I point to the new Dassault Falcon 900LX jet Cormack and I recently added to our fleet. I hear her throat work hard to swallow before she briefly shakes her head, then recommences her sprint for the empty limousine. Harlow’s head is so deeply in the clouds, she practically floats toward the idling jet. Isabelle’s fear of flying means she’ll need a little more convincing.
I halt her climb into the limousine by banding my hand around her wrist. The intense spasm it jolts up her arm freezes her before it aligns our eyes. “I can’t get in that plane,” she advises, unaware I could feel her fear a mile out from the airstrip.
While recalling the way I subdued her months ago, I run my hand not clutching her wrist down her inflamed cheek before brushing my thumb across her plump lips. When she moans, announcing my ruse is achieving the outcome I set out for, I take a step back.
A smirk pulls at my lips when Isabelle bridges the gap between us with only the slightest bit of panic flaring in her eyes. She either trusts me or is desperate enough not to break the bond binding us together to pretend she does.
Both have desirable qualities.
I coerce her to the stairs of the private jet with my eyes and subtle movements of my thumbs. The amount of fret in her eyes should dampen the intensity brewing between us, but it seems to have the opposite effect. It is as searing now as it was when we kissed in the driveway of a local law enforcement officer’s home.
Once I have Isabelle right where I want her, I cage her to the jet’s stairs with my arms and body before pressing my lips to the shell of her ear. “Are you coming, Isabelle?” I murmur, my voice full of sexual ambiguity.
Her shudder has me wanting to act as if I am a college boy. The thrill of the chase has always been addictive, and my presence makes Isabelle the equivalent of a deer stuck in headlights—seconds from being taken down—but she keeps the intensity up by balling her tiny hands into fists and climbing the stairs of the jet like her knees aren’t knocking.
She clears the gulley three air hostesses are preparing beverages at before making a beeline for the first bay of white leather sofas. After plopping into her seat, her head darts left to right as she searches for her seat belt.
Her chest stops heaving in panic when I bob down in front of her to pull the flimsy material out from beneath the plush padding. The scent I’m sucking down like my lungs are as vacant of air as Isabelle’s triples when my hunt for her belt has my hands brushing portions of the silky-smooth skin high on her thighs. She’s wearing a skirt that goes from immoral to wicked depending on if she’s standing or seated. The hem rides up high on her thigh, and the image it conjures has me torn between offering her my jacket and carrying her into the room at the back of the plane.
Usually, our fleet of jets are fitted with desks. Cormack specifically requested for this one to have a bed.
I’m confident you know why.
Talking about Cormack, his aftershave is overtaking the scent of Isabelle’s needy pussy. It also softens my cock, which means I need to get rid of it before it irrefutably scars me.
After latching Isabelle’s belt together and giving it an extra tug for good measure, I work toward unearthing if Cormack intends to shadow every move I make this weekend or just the ones that involve Isabelle.
My short temper vanquishes when I discover Cormack’s interruption has nothing to do with him invading my privacy and everything to do with him attempting to maintain it. “I asked the pilot to take a detour to Mummo Koti. After Clara’s debacle this week, I removed your name from the manifest, but I figured it was best to be safe than sorry.”
“I appreciate that. Thank you.” I don’t point out that he wants our flight prolonged for himself more than me. It would be a waste of breath. There’s no denying Isabelle is scared, but lust is still the most abundant trait in her eyes when she peers up at me, so I can only imagine Harlow's response to the teasing atmosphere.
I acknowledge Isabelle's wanton stare with a frisky wink before shifting my focus back to Cormack. “Have Mathers reach out to Hugo. He’ll coordinate our landing with transportation.”
Cormack lifts his chin in understanding before he enters the cockpit to pass on my request.
He’s only just retaken his seat when Mathers commences our trip. He’s about as impatient to get in the air as I am to claim Isabelle as mine.
When he directs the jet toward the runway, the panicked pants parting Isabelle’s red-painted lips double.
“If you need me to carry you into the bedroom, just let me know.”
I meant my comment in jest, but Isabelle doesn’t take it that way. “There’s a bedroom?” she asks, her breaths the breeziest they’ve been.
Smiling to hide the thickness the need in her voice caused, I nudge my head to a polished door at the back of the plane. “I’ll give you a private inspection later.”
When the plane shudders in response to breaking through the wind whipping in from the coast, I place my hand on Isabelle’s thigh. A growl rumbles in my chest when my briefest touch causes the vein in her neck to thump with hope instead of fear. Its throb is undeniable when I trace a figure-eight pattern on the delicate skin on the inside of her thigh. It thumps in rhythm to the blood feeding my dick.
I can’t recall the last time I was this hard. I fuck for pleasure, not feelings, but not once has my cock ached as it is now. The women I bed were there and available. Carnal need didn’t instigate our exchanges. I was with them purely to get off. It was my needs above theirs, and although the rock sitting behind my zipper could convince you only my desires are once again on my mind now, I can assure you they’re not. The possibility of coming isn’t responsible for the thickness in my pants. Its throb is solely based on wondering how many times I can make Isabelle come before my cock gets anywhere near her fragrant-smelling pussy.
Needing to calm down before I upheave Cormack’s month-long plan, I remove my hand from Isabelle’s succulent thigh before muttering, “You’re getting better with flying. You didn’t require nearly as much stimulation this time around.”
Isabelle kills any endeavor for me to act like a gentleman when she rakes her teeth over her bottom lip. She bites on her mouth as I’ve dreamed about doing since the day my eyes landed on her, the gnawing of her teeth sending a pleasurable zap to my cock.
Blood surges around my body when I free her lip from her menacing teeth before I tilt in close to her side. “Everything you just imagined, I’m going to do to your body tonight.”
She moans when I lick the shell of her ear before she tosses out her only lifejacket. “I have a boyfriend.”
As my lips thin with annoyance, my eyes rocket to hers. I study her intently, aware she is afraid but confused as to why all her panic centers around me.
Every endeavor you undertake has a potential loss associated with it, but that’s what makes it so invigorating. Opportunities don’t come knocking with a shiny bow wrapped around them. If you don’t take risks, you’ll die wondering what could have been.
Isabelle looks seconds from denying her lie, but I let her save face by saying, “I can tell by your eyes you’re hiding something, Isabelle.” My tone is sterner than intended, but it can’t be helped. I value integrity, and at the moment, Isabelle isn’t giving me that. “But it isn’t a boyfriend.”
She doesn’t attempt a rebuttal. It’s for the best. I’m not a man to be messed with in a boardroom, so you can imagine how tenacious my negotiation tactics will be if I were forced to do them in a bedroom.
Isabelle wouldn’t make it out of our exchange the same woman, and for some reason, that irritates me more than her continued denial of her body’s every want.
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