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Episode nine

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“Isaac… golly gosh. I’m so sorry.” Catherine’s hand shoots up to slap her red face as she pivots away from me. I’m both shirtless and shoeless, and although she’s been my cleaner slash personal assistant for years, she’s never seen me in such a disheveled state. “I wasn’t anticipating for you to still be here.”

 

Her assumption holds credit. Anytime my thumb is logged into the security mainframe of this building, her phone alerts with a message. Since I only ever bring my ‘dates’ here, I’m usually gone long before they wake, leaving the task of kicking them out to Catherine. It’s presumptuous of me, but before today, it saved a heap of awkwardness. 

 

“I’ll come back in a couple of hours.” A smirk curls my top lip when she garbles out, “Will two hours be long enough?”

 

“Two hours will be fine,” I assure her, somewhat frustrated. 

 

A beautiful woman with ravishing curves spent the night in my bed, yet my hands never left my side. Frustrated is barely a drop of water in the ocean to explain how dissatisfied I am. Usually, that’s all my apartment is about—my satisfaction. I’ve not been granted the same proficiency this time around.

 

“Before you go,” I mutter, stopping Catherine halfway to the door. “My… guest…” I tighten my jaw, annoyed about my stumble of Isabelle’s title. Although I hardly know her, it feels wrong referencing her in the same manner I have the other ‘guests’ I’ve brought here. “… is without suitable clothing to leave in.” I wave my hand across Isabelle’s dress draped over the leather couch in the living room. It was risqué for a club, so not only is it unsuitable for daylight hours, it will have her eyed by more than security if she leaves in it. “Is there somewhere close by I can purchase her more suitable daytime attire?”

 

“Certainly.”  Even with Catherine only speaking one word, her smile is still heard in her reply. “There’s a boutique dress shop two blocks over. The price tags are outrageous, but the dresses are divine. Only the best designers stock their clothing with them.”

 

I appreciate that Ravenshoe is attracting high-profile designers, but Isabelle isn’t a brand-name type of woman. When I tell Catherine that, I don’t know what surprises her more. My admission Isabelle isn’t one of the Stepford wannabe wives who usually occupy my bed or the fact I know her name. It may be a combination of both. 

 

“Okay.” Her gray brow arches as she ruminates for a minute. She’s old enough to be my grandmother. I initially hired her to remove evidence of my escapades from my apartment with the discreetness someone her age has in abundance, but her services soon became invaluable. I now truly see her as family more than a member of my staff. “There’s a department store on the way to Hopeton. I could perhaps grab her some items there?”

 

“Yes, that will work.” While pacing her way, I dig my wallet out of my pocket. The foreignness of our conversation isn’t lost on me when Catherine accepts my credit card without the slightest hesitation. She purchased almost all the items in my walk-in-closet. I’ve just not once asked for those procurements to be undertaken at a department store. “Jeans, long sleeve shirts and running shoes appear to be her go-to wardrobe selections.”

 

“Okay, good. That gives me plenty to work with,” Catherine responds with a smile, pleased I’ve interreacted with Isabelle often enough to get a sense of her fashion style. “Should I choose a selection of outfits, or is this a one-time-only deal?”

 

Her question is as personal as it comes, and I struggle to answer it. As I said earlier, Catherine is like family to me; however, even if she were Nick, I’d still be tongue-tied. Discussing personal matters isn’t a strong point of mine.

 

After a couple of seconds of deliberation, I say casually, “Return with a selection of outfits.” When hope flares through Catherine’s eyes, I talk faster. “Then Isabelle can pick what she’s most comfortable in.”

 

“Of course.” She doesn’t believe my excuse, and I have neither the time to argue nor the ability. I pride myself on the fact I’m an honorable man. I refuse to tarnish that for something so inconsequential. “I’ll be back as soon as possible.”

 

After gathering Isabelle’s skimpy dress from the couch, and snagging a dry cleaning bag out of the kitchen drawer, she skips out of my penthouse. If I’m not mistaken, she appears to be happy for me. 

 

I wish I could confess to the same phenomenon. Discretion is all I know, but I tossed it out the window last night when I demanded Hugo to take Isabelle and me to my apartment building, and it’s taking everything I have not to do it for the second time in under twenty-four-hours. The fact Isabelle is sleeping well past the early hour she usually rises to pound out her frustration on the pavement has me cautious she’s still under the influence of alcohol. I refuse to mention the possibility that the blond gent she was with slipped something into her drink, or I’ll never let Isabelle out of my sight, day or night.

 

With my mood on edge, I secure a bottle of water out of the almost empty fridge before gathering my cell phone off the entryway table. It’s arrogant of me to admit I smile at the lack of notifications on the screen of Isabelle’s phone, so I’ll keep it to myself. I get an immense amount of pleasure knowing no one is blowing up her phone at all hours of the night because more times than not, a dream you achieve alone eventually returns to a dream, but a dream you achieve with someone else forever remains a reality. 

 

I’d rather Isabelle's reality be with me than a man Hunter hasn’t disclosed because her files are hidden more deeply than mine. I don’t like competition. If I did, Ravenshoe would be in New York, and I’d be giving Henry a run for his money. Alas, I value his support more than the funds in my bank account.

 

While smirking about my friendship with America’s number one gangster, I hit a frequently called number on my cell phone. I have the lid removed from my bottle of water and dumped into the bin in the kitchen before Hunter answers my call. Lately, his delay isn’t surprising, but compared to six months ago, it most certainly is. He’s dropping the ball, and my annoyance about that is heard in my snapped tone. “How far have you gotten with my search?”

 

I went to bed hours earlier than usual, so I woke a little before four. I tried to relish the fact a woman was sleeping in my bed I hadn’t slept with, but not only was the foreignness too much for me to act insouciant about, the scent of alcohol leeching from Isabelle’s pores also made my jaw tick as furiously as the veins feeding my cock. She had two opposing smells. One begged to be ravished, whereas the other was an unambiguous indicator that she didn’t want to be touched. 

 

Since I refuse to bed an intoxicated woman, I slipped out of bed and called Hunter, eager to commence a search on the man who appeared to care for Isabelle but had no interest in ensuring her safety was met last night.

 

“You called at four in the morning, Isaac.”

 

“And?” I interrupt, my tone stern. “Isn’t that what I pay you for?”

 

“And…” Hunter’s delay speaks volumes. He’s cursing me to hell. “… the shitty ass facial scanning software I’ve requested for you to update on many occasions takes hours to finalize.” The grinding of my teeth halves the mirth in his tone. “Once I have something, I’ll bring it straight to you.”

 

He can’t see me, but I dip my chin, my jaw too tight with annoyance to form words. I understand he’s undeserving of all my wrath, but I’m not a man who hides his annoyance when he’s left out of the loop, especially if it has the possibility to affect my empire, the very thing I use to keep my family safe. 

 

After working my jaw side to side, I say, “Forward me the details for a better system.” Ravenshoe PD isn’t branched under my entity, but the residents it protects most certainly are. “I’ll organize procurement before Christmas.”

 

“All right.” I stop pulling my phone down from my ear when Hunter calls my name. “Boss…”

 

I squash my phone back against my ear. “Yes.”

 

The scrubbing of a hand across a bristly chin sounds down the line before Hunter’s reserved tone. “If you have an hour or two this morning, there’s a couple of things I need to show you.”

 

Predictably, my stomach steers me toward Nick, but another organ in my body speaks before my intuition can. “Isabelle?”

 

“Yes.” One worded replies shouldn’t be so telling. That isn’t the case with Hunter. He isn’t a man of many words, so for him to request a private sit down means whatever he’s unearthed about Isabelle is substantial. 

 

After checking my watch, I reply, “I should have things wrapped up here within the next hour or two. Will that suit?”

 

My jaw tightens to the point of cracking when Hunter's attempt to stifle his chuckle fails. He’s acting as if his livelihood isn’t on the line. I’m not close to reaching the same conclusion. “If you need pointers, boss, my door is always open.”

 

Bedroom proficiencies are an ongoing joke between us, but I’m not laughing. “Isabelle was intoxicated.” 

 

Usually, I refuse to answer to my staff. I don’t know why I went off-script today. Perhaps it is tiredness, or it could quite possibly be that I’m at a point I can no longer deny the peculiar sensation that’s been bombarding me the past several weeks. My focus rarely shifts from my empire. However, it’s been far from my thoughts the past month. The number of times Isabelle has popped into my mind isn’t close to kosher. Fortunately for me, my empire is a well-oiled ship. She won’t falter no matter how astray I allow things to become.

 

“I know. Hugo told me all about it,” Hunter fires back, still chuckling. “But that was last night. What’s your excuse this morning?” He doesn’t wait for me to answer. “It’s probably those ugly-ass sleeping pants Catherine gifted you last Christmas.”

 

A normal man would be confused by his comment, certain there’s no way he could know what I’m wearing. A man as prolific as me isn’t offered the same leeway. I have to be on the ball in all aspects of my life, both personal and business. It isn’t just my enemies being scrutinized, so am I. 

 

“Hunter?”

 

He settles his chuckles before replying, “Yes, boss.”

 

“Shut down all surveillance in the building, then commence a trace to ensure no one is piggybacking off our servers.” Hugo lost the FBI’s tail last night, but as far as the Bureau is aware, my penthouse is my only residence, so I have no doubt the blue surveillance van is already parked in its regular haunt. 

 

Hunter groans, hating that his attempt to rile me made more work for himself. He’s my head of security, and since this is coming straight from me, he can’t palm it off to anyone else.

 

The reminder has me adding more tasks onto his plate. Perhaps if I keep him occupied, he won’t need to scare away his neighbor with a bevy of busty women. His inability to separate his work life from his private life should do it on his behalf. I’ve seen many men in my industry taken down that way.

 

“Then once you’ve done that, organize for Hugo to come and collect me. He left his car at the nightclub last night.”

 

Hunter murmurs out an agreeing hum. “Anything else?”

 

With his voice still having a touch of amusement to it, I bring out a side of me I don’t generally utilize. “One last thing.” I wait until his breaths reveal he’s on the verge of begging before muttering, “Ask Catherine to halve my Christmas card order this year. I see a handful of names being struck from the list.”

 

Since the only satisfying thing I’ve sampled the last six weeks is the scent of Isabelle’s shampoo streaming into my nostrils, Hunter’s disgruntled gasp is more satisfying than it should be. My salaries are already above that of my competitors, but I up the ante every year by awarding critical members of my team elusive tiered bonus checks. Hunter and Hugo’s names are usually at the top of the list. I don’t see that being the case if the unease in my stomach is anything to go by. They’re keeping things from me, and although they’ve stated it is for my benefit, I’d prefer to contribute to a solution than be left in the open, vulnerable for an attack.

 

“Perhaps you’ll change your mind when we share what we’ve found.”

 

Stealing my chance to authenticate the actuality in his tone, Hunter disconnects our call. His dismissiveness shifts my mood from frustrated to volatile. I clutch my cell phone for dear life while fighting the urge not to send it flying across the room. I wouldn’t hold back if its crash didn’t have the possibility of waking Isabelle.

 

As a fiery heat roars through me, I shift on my feet to face the room she’s sleeping in. My hands itch to touch her, to unearth the reason she strips my astuteness with only the briefest glance, but I’m also desperate to discover the secrets in her eyes, and if they’re the reason she’s so guarded. 

 

If she’s putting up barriers because she’s afraid I won’t like what I find, she hasn’t done her research on me. I love a good challenge. The most awarding things I have in my life are the ones I fought the hardest for, and not one of those things have a monetary value.

 

With my shrewdness dissipated, I stalk closer to Isabelle’s room. I’ll never take anything unwillingly, but it’s been hours since her seductive scent has lingered in my nose. Another sample is overdue. 

 

I have the door handle almost fully descended when the shrill of a cell phone scares the living daylights out of me. It’s coming from the pocket of my trousers—the same pocket I placed my phone in after Hunter abruptly ended our call. 

 

While grumbling an infrequent curse word under my breath, I attempt to hit the end call button. In my hurry to silence my phone, my thumb jabs the call button instead of the disconnect button.

 

“Boss…” Hugo questions for the second time when I leave his first greeting unanswered. “Are you there?”

 

“I’m here.” I pace away from Isabelle’s room like my morals weren’t on the verge of snapping. “What do you need?”

 

“Hunter said you wanted me to swing by and pick you up, but you didn’t mention a time. Thought I should check in…”

 

***

 

My eyes lift from a purchase acquisition Regan emailed me this morning to Catherine when she exits the main room of my penthouse. Even purchasing one of each item in Isabelle’s size at the department store, the receipt she handed me was less than the cost of one of my tailor-designed suits. 

 

“That should have everything covered.” She floats into the living room, swipes up my empty mug from the coffee table, then places it into the dishwasher without a single thought crossing her mind. "Her clothing is hung in the closet, her shoes are beneath them, and I cleared out a handful of drawers for possible future use.”

 

A scratch impinges my throat from her assumption Isabelle will be a long-term guest at my apartment, but I have more pressing matters to attend to. “Which drawers did you clear out?”

 

With her nose screwed up in disgust, Catherine closes my bone-empty fridge before spinning to face me. “The stack between your suits and running shirts.” I realize not all the disdain on her face comes from my lack of catering when she adds, “Correct me if I am wrong, Isaac, but you specifically requested for me not to touch the bedside tables.” I imagine just how roguish she was in her youth when a teasing glint bursts through her eyes. “I always do as I'm told.”

 

Although I have no proof, not an ounce of hesitation is felt expressing that she snuck a peek at the contents in the drawer Isabelle dumped her panties in last night. Usually, I’d be irritated about a lack of privacy, especially so soon after Hunter’s infringement. This morning, all I’m experiencing is gratitude. Her inability not to snoop reminded me that Isabelle’s panties are in a drawer they don’t belong in. I haven’t slept with her, so the only place they belong are in a private collection I had no idea I desired until now.

“Catherine…”

 

She arches a brow, wordlessly encouraging me to continue.

 

“Hugo will be here within the hour, so why don’t you pop down and grab a quick lunch while I see my guest out.”

 

“Certainly.” Unlike her earlier smile, this one is weakened with hesitation. She was hoping for an introduction with the woman she purchased a closet of clothes for, but since my relationship with Isabelle isn’t at that stage just yet, I’d rather wake her without an audience.

 

“Buzz me once you’re done.” Any unease left loitering in the air evaporates when she chokes on her last two words. “Please forgive me. That was not expressed as intended.” Watching a woman in her mid-sixties squirm isn’t something I ever thought I’d enjoy, but Catherine’s hued cheeks prove there are many surprises left for me to explore in this world. “Good afternoon, Mr. Holt.”

 

“Good afternoon, Catherine, “I reply, struggling not to smirk about her formal salutation. It’s foreign to see her flustered, and I’m savoring the changeup.

 

The latch on the front door of my penthouse has barely clicked into place when I head for the master suite. Unlike my earlier endeavor, I don’t hesitate while opening the door. I took care of Isabelle last night without touching a single inch of her succulently smooth-looking skin. That type of struggle not only deserves a commendation, it also warrants correction.

Don’t misconstrue. I will never take anything not willingly given. I’m merely authenticating emotions Isabelle isn’t prepared to explore right now.​

 

While pacing to the bedside table, my eyes rake Isabelle’s slumbering form. Unlike the many times she trespassed onto my half of the mattress last night, she’s resting on the very edge of the springy bed. One of her legs has wrangled out of the bedding, and the shirt I dressed her in last night sits high on her back, exposing both the dimples in her lower back and a healthy portion of her scrumptious backside. 

Once I’ve fished her panties out of the drawer, despite my shrewdness begging me otherwise, I move toward the bed instead of the door. With my ego feeding off the knowledge I identified Isabelle’s panties out of a sea of many without a snippet of hesitation, I trek my finger over a portion of skin on her shoulder not covered by my shirt. 

A needy growl rumbles in my chest when my meekest touch bristles every fine hair on her body. My hands itch to explore, fondle, and caress her, but I keep things simple by gliding my fingertip down her shoulder blade and over the bumps in her spine before stopping a mere inch from her enticing ass. 

 

Her body’s uninhibited response to my touch is better than anticipated. Not only do goosebumps break across her skin, but my name also tumbles from her cupid-bow lips in a husky, wanton purr. It turns my cock to stone and snatches the last morsel of my shrewdness.

 

I’d give anything to claim her as mine right now—anything at all. With her knee tilted, the slightest adjustment of her hips would give me unhindered access to the intoxicatingly fragrant pussy that kept me awake half the night. 

 

The temptation is immense, but I walk away instead, choosing to have my second cold shower in less than twelve hours instead of answering the insatiable needs of my cock. I won’t make it out of the bathroom with my dignity intact this time around, though. It’s uncommon for me to take matters into my own hands, but the urge is too diverse to ignore. I need to come, and I need to recall Isabelle’s husky deliverance of my name while doing it.

 

xx

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