Please remember these episodes are unedited.
Drool on my shoulder isn’t what I envision when I think of a blistering connection. Don’t misconstrue. I’m pleased the tension crackling between Isabelle and me wasn’t squashed beyond repair when I called out her lie, but I’m equally shocked and disappointed my touch wasn't needed to mollify her panic during landing. She breezed through landing, taxiing off the runway, and the deboarding of the crew without the slightest flutter of her lashes. If you excuse the faintest apology she whispered while encroaching my half of the dual seat we’re sharing, she hasn’t muttered a word in over three hours.
I thought her tiredness stemmed from her workplace’s disregard for a healthy work/life balance, but now I’m not convinced. She doesn’t murmur a peep when I wiggle her shoulders, and only the slightest moan parts her lips when I trek my finger over the silky smooth skin I stroked when the jet roared down the runway. She is the most unresponsive to my touch she’s ever been, and it's frustrating me to no end.
“Isabelle.” I shake her for the second time. When she remains incoherent, I raise my panicked eyes to the pilot. “Call for a medic.”
Mathers nods before removing his cell phone from the breast pocket of his suit jacket.
“What’s going on?” Cormack asks after stopping at my side.
He assists me in placing Isabelle onto the floor in the aisle before accepting the pillow Harlow is holding out for him.
The bliss on Harlow’s face subsides the longer she glances down at her barely conscious friend.
“I don’t know,” I reply, truly lost. “Is she on any medication or does she have any medical conditions that cause blackouts?”
I curse myself to hell for not following the protocol I generally do when inviting someone into my inner circle. If I had read the dossier Hunter compiled on Isabelle, I’d know the answers to the questions I’m asking.
Harlow’s eyes bounce between Cormack and me for several heart thrashing seconds before she eventually shakes her head. “I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think or you don’t know? Those are two starkly contrasting concepts, Harlow.”
Cormack glares at me, silently advising he doesn’t appreciate my tone before he nudges his head to Isabelle’s purse. “Pass me that.”
While he rummages through Isabelle’s belongings, I gently tap her cheeks with the back of my hand in an attempt to rile a response out of her. “Isabelle, baby, can you open your eyes for me?”
Flashbacks of Ophelia requesting the same from her brother within seconds of him lifelessly hitting the canvas burst into my head. It makes my mood monotonous and unhinged, but it isn’t enough for me not to request for the airstrip’s on-site medic charging into the jet to hold back when Isabelle’s eyes slowly flutter open.
“Hey…” While pushing away the strands of dark hair hindering her eyes float over my face, I suck in numerous relieved breaths. After assessing my face in detail, she whispers my name, smiles as if she’s dreaming, then falls back to sleep. “Isabelle…”
When she fails to acknowledge the clipped command of my tone, I signal for the medic to hurry. My intuition is adamant her life isn’t in danger, but there’s too much murkiness surrounding her collapse to discount.
Just as the medic kneels next to Isabelle’s rising and falling chest, Cormack unearths a possible cause for her unresponsiveness. There’s an open bottle of Xanax in her purse.
My hand shoots out to seize the medic’s wrist before he gets within an inch of Isabelle. Although my grip is weak compared to the fury flooding my senses, it leaves no doubt to my authority. “Could Xanax be responsible for her lack of lucidity?”
“It depends on how often the patient takes it.” He yanks his hand out of my hold, then flattens them on his knees, wordlessly announcing he won’t touch Isabelle without permission. It lowers my agitation by a smidge. “Unlike other drugs, Xanax doesn’t create a high or euphoric feeling. It generally makes patients calmer and at ease. Although some patients have reported blacking out for hours at a time, that is usually when they take too many tablets.”
When I stray my eyes to Harlow, who’s clutching the prescription she snatched from Cormack’s grasp when he became distracted by something else in Isabelle’s purse, she reads the command in my eyes remarkably fast.
While breathing through the panic clutching her throat, she upends Isabelle’s script onto the table housing my empty whiskey glass before she counts out the remaining tablets. “It isn’t an overdose. Only two tablets are gone.”
I snap my eyes back to the first responder. “Could two Xanax cause this response?”
He shakes his head for barely a second before he slings his eyes to my empty whiskey glass. “Depends. Did she have any of them?”
My voiceless denial is interrupted by Harlow holding her hand in the air like she’s a kindergarten student busting to use the bathroom. “We did have some wine before you guys arrived,” she announces when I grant her permission to speak.
“How much?” Cormack asks, his tone as tempered as the heat trekking through my veins.
Harlow swallows, wets her lips, then murmurs, “Only a bottle… in twenty minutes.”
“There’s the cause for her blackout,” the medic chuckles out, his nature far too amused for my liking.
Not only is a prescription medication and alcohol concoction dangerous, but I also don’t sleep with inebriated women. Furthermore, Harlow’s confession also has me double-guessing Isabelle’s response to my touch and the revelation she blurted out to stop it from occurring.
For all I know, she could have a boyfriend. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been caught out by that declaration, although I do hope it is the last.
When my naturally engrained dominance rears its ugly head, I carefully lift Isabelle into my arms.
“Sir…” The medic garbles out when I sidestep him with a barely conscious Isabelle snuggled into my chest. “I have medical reports to write up and vitals to take. You can’t just walk her out of the plane as if nothing happened.”
My lips arch into a smirk as I murmur, “Watch me.”
I dip my chin in farewell to Mathers, gallop down the jet’s stairs, then make my way to the idling limousine partway across the blacktop.
“Can I at least get her name for my report?” the medic begs when Cormack and Harlow slip into the limousine from the other side and slam the door shut.
“I guess that’s one benefit of having your own fleet of jets,” Harlow murmurs on a chuckle before she strays her eyes to Cormack. “You can do whatever the hell you like.”
Some of the panic etched on my face jumps onto hers when Cormack neglects to respond to her riling comment. He keeps his narrowed eyes on the scenery whizzing past his window and his hand wrapped around the cords of Isabelle’s purse for the entire forty-five-minute trip to Mummo Koti.
His detached behavior is unusual, but since my focus must remain on Isabelle, I don’t pay it much attention.
“Bring Isabelle’s bag to my room,” I instruct one of the many staff members at Mummo Koti before I commence a solemn walk through the monstrous-size property with Isabelle clutched closely to my chest.
Mummo Koti is one of the largest residential estates on this side of the continent. It has over two hundred guest bedrooms, multiple wings, four swimming pools, and miles of prime oceanfront land. It’s a playground for the rich and famous, but to Cormack, it’s his home. That’s why he brought Harlow here. He wants to introduce her to his family.
“Thank you,” I murmur to the gentleman in a crisp black suit who followed me to my room with my luggage.
After signally for him to wait so I can tip him, I place Isabelle onto the mattress in the middle of the room, push her hair off her beautiful face, then remove her shoes so she can rest peacefully. Unlike the stilettos she wore when hitting the club, these shoes are without a heel.
“Is she okay?” The stranger's concern for Isabelle is undeniable in his voice.
“She will be.” I pull up the bedding to cover Isabelle's enticing body before twisting to face the African American man I’d guess to be in his mid-twenties. He reminds me a lot of Ruel, the head of the housekeeping staff at Mummo Koti, just several years younger.
“Has Clara arrived yet?” I enquire while removing my wallet from my trousers.
He dips his chin. “Yes, sir. She arrived early this morning. Would you like me to pass on word of your arrival?”
I shake my head. Although desperate to unearth if Clara’s inability to keep her word is behind her absence of late, that isn’t a discussion that needs to take place neither now nor in front of Isabelle, so it can wait.
The young man dips his chin in gratitude when I hand him a selection of bills from my wallet before he exits the room as quietly as he entered it. After toeing off my shoes and unbuttoning the top two buttons of my dress shirt, I update Hugo and Hunter on my arrival before researching the side effects of mixing Xanax with wine.
I’ve owned nightclubs since my college days, so I’m well aware of the many lethal combinations on the market, but this is different. Isabelle’s concoction of medication and alcohol was accidental. It wasn’t done to be sinister.
With one article directing me toward another, then another, then another, before I know it, I’m competent on homemade date rape drugs, and plotting ways to ensure patrons at my establishments aren’t put at risk. My clients don’t bat an eyelid at the exorbitantly high prices of the drinks in my club because they feel safe drinking there. I want to keep it that way.
I pause reading an article on a powdered product that dissolves within a nanosecond of being placed into a liquid when a tap sounds at my bedroom door. I always use the same room when I am at Mummo Koti, and because I visit here as often as Cormack, it remains empty during the times I am not here.
Believing my visitor is one of the many butlers returning with Isabelle’s luggage, I dig a bundle of bills out of my wallet before pacing across the room. My jaw tightens when my greeter knocks for the second time. I’m not frustrated about their lack of patience. I’m annoyed not even the firmness of their knock causes Isabelle to stir. Excluding when she rolled over with a moan hours ago, she hasn’t moved.
My grateful words for them finding Isabelle’s luggage freezes halfway out my mouth when the person on the other side of the door isn’t whom I am anticipating. Clara would never be seen conversing with the help, much less assist them, so you can picture my shock when I notice the serving tray she’s balancing on her gem-encrusted hands.
After smiling broadly about my shocked expression, she croons, “We missed you at dinner.”
“We?” I ask before stepping into her path to block her entrance to my room. For one, I never invite unwanted guests into my room, that's just asking for trouble, and two, I don’t want to give her more ammunition to use against Isabelle. From what Cormack disclosed earlier this week, she already has plenty.
“We,” Clara repeats. “Sierra, Jenna, and Stephanie.”
In other words, Barbie wannabee number one, two, and three. They’re attached to Clara’s hip when her brothers and I are in the vicinity. When we leave, they drop Clara like last season’s fashion. They don’t respect or appreciate her, but since Clara has not yet learned that money can’t buy happiness, she hasn’t called them out on their leeching personalities.
“When Ruel advised you had arrived, I was shocked I didn’t see you in the dining hall.” Yes, Mummo Koti’s dining table is so large it sits in a ballroom-size room. “We always dine together when you’re home.” Don’t take that the wrong way. Clara has a way of mincing her words to make things seem more ominous than they are. Her ‘we’ this time around includes Cormack, Colby, Cate, and a dozen more McGregor entities. “Since you didn’t come down, I thought I’d bring dinner to you.” She lifts the antique plate dome from the tray to show me what’s hiding beneath. It’s the same meal I ordered for Isabelle and me to share four weeks ago. “Your favorite, am I right?”
“Yes. Thank you.” It isn’t an easy maneuver to accept the tray she’s offering and place it on the drawers at my side without opening the door wide enough for her to see Isabelle, but I manage—somewhat. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Isaac…” She jabs the toe of her stiletto boots into the doorjamb, stopping its close. “I thought perhaps I could join you. I have wine...” She snatches a bottle of wine and two glasses out of the hands of someone hiding in the shadows before ushering them away with a stern tut-tut. “… and glasses. All we need now is candles.”
I remind myself that nothing happening is Clara’s fault before issuing my reply. It's the only way I can assure daggers don’t shoot from my eyes when I disclose, “I’m not in the mood for company tonight, but thank you for the offer.”
My reply is stern yet polite, but unfortunately, Clara doesn’t hear it that way. “If you’re not in the mood for guests, why did you ask Chris to bring Isabelle’s bags to your room?”
The tightness of my jaw is heard in my reply, “Because Isabelle is my guest. I invited her to Mummo Koti, so it’s only fair I share my space with her.”
Clara's high tone shreds my eardrums. “There are over two hundred rooms in Mummo Koti, Isaac! You could have put her in any room. You didn’t need to share with her.”
“But I want to share with Isabelle, Clara. That’s what you don’t seem to understand.” I soften the anger in my voice when tears burn in her eyes. My objective isn't to make her cry. I merely want her to understand no one is in control of my destiny but me. “When someone wants to spend time with you, they’ll make the time no matter how busy they are. If they don’t, don’t waste your time on them. You’re not given a determined number of breaths, Clara.” I bounce my eyes between hers when I mutter, “I thought you would have known that better than anyone.”
“I do,” she whispers, her breaths panted. “That’s why I’m trying to stop you from making the same mistake.” She steps closer to me, then fists my dress shirt in a determined hold. “You’re my friend, Isaac. I don’t want to see you getting hurt.”
I step back, freeing myself from her hold before saying matter-of-factly, “Then you should have valued my opinion when I suggested for you to look for employment outside of Attwood Electric.”
This time when I shut the door, she lets me.
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