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EPISODE Thirty-Five

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“I told you, Logan. The views are breathless, the diners will be wealthy, and this man…” I do my best to hide my gritted teeth when Tina drags her overly polished nails across my dress shirt. She’s bringing out all the moves tonight, but regretfully, not all of them are for Logan. “… is a genius when it comes to developments like this. He will turn your negative gear investment into a pot of gold in under two years.”

Logan’s eyes flash up dollar signs. “Is that true?”

 

I shrug. Usually, I have the confidence to sell ice to Eskimos, but I’m not playing the same game tonight. Nikolai’s unexpected visit already raised my hackles, but my intuition isn’t solely warning me to be cautious about another soon-to-be executed mafia war. It’s also cautioning me not to immediately advocate Logan’s company with my empire without first putting him and his company through Hunter’s pressure cooker. 

 

Something is off. It just feels far more important than a meeting with a fellow arrogant businessman. 

 

Endeavoring to get my head into the game, I say, “Projects this big usually take two to three years to push through the correct channels.” Before Logan can get too disappointed, I add, “But… with the right set of endorsements and a handful of schmoozing dates, approvals can be trimmed down to a couple of months.” Confident I’m seconds from reeling him in like the big fish he’s dying to be, I ask, “What type of capital are you looking to invest?”

 

My puffed-out chest sinks when he breathes out, “Three million.”

 

“For signage? Because that’s about all you can purchase in a town like Ravenshoe for that type of coin.” I purposely say coin, so he knows I’m unimpressed by his offer.

 

 I researched his company while doing my darndest not to take out my frustration about my run-in with Nikolai on his tardiness. He was five minutes late, and even though to a man like me that equals hundreds of thousands in wasted resources, not all the unease prickling my skin was because of Logan’s poor time management skills. I’m juggling too many balls, and although I am well adept on keeping things afloat when they should be sinking, my patience is wearing thin.

 

Col is foolish enough to believe he can blackmail me, Callie’s auction was once again delayed due to an influx in bidders the past two weeks, and now a chump with enough money to piss Benjamin Franklins has the audacity to further waste my time. 

 

I am at my limit, so don’t get me started on how itching my hands are to caress and adore every inch of Isabelle’s seductive body or everything I’ve worked so hard for the past six years will become null and void.

 

I wasn’t lying when I said I would give it all away just to sample Isabelle once, so you can picture how perverse it is now that I know how good she tastes.

 

Conscious three million is chump change for a man in Logan’s position—he has more than that in every single one of his offshore bank accounts—I give him one final chance. “Perhaps I misheard you, and you meant to say billion?”

 

He huffs out a breathy chuckle as if I’m joking.

 

I’m not, and my stern expression advises him of that.

 

After adjusting his pink dress shirt I wouldn’t be caught dead in, he asks, “Why would I invest so much money in a town hardly anyone knows?”

 

“Because—” My vibrating cell phone cuts me off. Ordinarily, I’d let the call go to voicemail, but since the caller is Hugo, and he is the only man I trust with Isabelle, I signal to Logan that I’ll be right with him before sliding my finger across the screen of my phone and squishing it to my ear.

 

Logan looks pissed. 

 

Serves him right for thinking he can have a stake in my town for a measly three million.

 

It dawns on me that I’m mumbling out loud like Isabelle constantly does when Hugo says, “I hope you told him that wouldn’t pay for the gold cutlery I’m sure you eat off every night?”

 

“What is it, Hugo?” I ask, not in the mood for his badgering. He knows of Nikolai’s impromptu visit to Ravenshoe, but he has no clue his stopover had nothing to do with Isabelle. He’s still hopeful Nikolai was the perp Hunter spotted on surveillance weeks ago. 

 

Hunter and I are not convinced. 

 

Nikolai doesn’t travel without an entourage of women at his beck and call, and since Henry’s women are the most sought after on this side of the country, a quick call to Henry during commute to the wharf ensures me the shadowed figure two weeks ago was not him. 

 

Our unwanted guest seems to loath the limelight—a stark contrast to Nikolai’s clamber for fame.

 

After coughing to clear his throat, Hugo advises, “Hunter said you were in an important meeting, but I figured you’d want to know this.” I wait, soundlessly advising for him to continue. He does after another swallow, and I stiffen when he pushes out in a hurry, “There’s a man in Isabelle’s apartment. Hunter ran his face through facial recognition, but nothing came up. He’s a ghost.”

 

Through a tight jaw, I growl out, “No one is a ghost.”

 

“Except me.”

 

I continue talking, too frustrated to determine if humor is fueling his reply or disappointment. “How long has he been there? And how did he bypass security?”

 

“He seems friendly with one of the guards.” Before I can demand the insubordinate be served termination papers, Hugo adds, “Hunter has already taken out the trash, and it’s been a while.”

 

“A while?” I snap out, seeking clarification. A while to a man as blasé as Hugo could be anything from a two-second chat to a three-hour sex marathon.

 

It better not be the latter.

 

My qualm slips irrevocably when he mutters, “If it counts for anything, he arrived with flowers.”

 

“Is Isabelle on a date?”

 

Unwilling to go against me, I hear Hugo’s shrug instead of his voice.

 

“Yes or no, Hugo.”

 

Still taking the coward’s route, he breathes out, “They could be friends.”

 

I cup my phone before growling down it. “And I could have admired Tina from afar instead of fucking her like a whore, but we all make mistakes, don’t we?”

 

“You’re preaching to the wrong man, boss.” When the silence teeming between us takes up more seconds on the clock than his reply, he eventually asks, “What do you want me to do? If I go up there, I’ll break cover. If I don’t—”

 

My growl cuts him off. I don’t want to think about the consequences of my actions if I don’t respond to Isabelle’s obvious attempt to rile me. Women often try to force me to interact with them by using men as they believed I used them, but not once have I ever considered responding, much less including myself in the retort. 

 

Things are starkly different when it comes to Isabelle. I don’t house an ounce of astuteness when vehement jealousy is my only driving emotion. 

 

“Have Hunter meet me at the fire escape stairs.”

 

“Unmarked cars still line the streets,” Hugo warns, his tone low with frustration. “And from what I’ve heard, your tail is back.”

 

As my eyes stray to Logan, who’s doing a poor job of pretending he isn’t annoyed I’m about to brush him off, I mutter, “I’ll be in and out so fast, they’ll never see me coming.”

 

After disconnecting our call before all of Hugo’s chuckles can rumble in my ears, I slip my cell phone into my pocket before returning to Logan’s side. “How much?” 

 

He assumes I’m referencing his investment in Ravenshoe.

 

He isn’t mistaken for long. 

 

The nudging of my head to his brand-new Bugatti informs him as to what I’m chasing, not to mention the flare darting through Tina’s eyes when she hopes I’ll give more than its impressive horsepower a whirl when Logan hands over the keys.

 

“Its paint job is a limited edition.”

 

“Even more reason for me to own it.”

 

“The rims are custom.”

 

Even with arrogance being my strongest emotion, I bite my tongue before replying, “As they should be for a car in that price range.”

 

“Which I don’t think is in your price range.”

 

I smirk like a smug prick. It hides my frustration well. “Then I guess there’s only one way for you to find out. Name your price.”

 

***
 

 

 Ten minutes later, and several millions lighter, I pull into the alleyway at the side of Isabelle’s building. While taking in the new surveillance cameras covering every inch of the alley and several blocks over, I head for Hunter’s van parked several spots up.

 

His mischief-filled eyes pop up to mine when I pull open the sliding door. “I hope you know you overpaid by at least ten percent.”

 

I twist my lips. “Depends on who you’re asking. From what I read, they stopped production on this make earlier this month. That means this line will soon be exclusive for more than its paintwork.” When Hunter shakes his head in disbelief, I mutter, “What else was I meant to do when on dates with women not hired for their small talk?”

 

I glare at him when he mumbles under his breath, “I can think of a few things.”

 

Only weeks ago, I would have shared his beliefs. Now, I’m subjected to taking matters into my own hands while praying like hell the farce will soon end. 

 

Not even during my formative years did I masturbate as much as I have the past three months. 

 

I blame Isabelle. 

 

If the inspiration weren’t so compelling, I would have sought other means of relief weeks ago.

 

Once Hunter has his chuckles under control, he jerks his head to the monitor on our right. It shows a long-range shot of Isabelle’s apartment door. “What do you want to do, boss? I could try and get ears in there, but you build these things like a tank. Without a direct implant, we may not hear anything.”

 

“You are not putting surveillance inside Isabelle’s apartment.” I value her safety over her privacy. It is solely my uncontrolled jealousy responsible for my decision not to wire her apartment up. I’ve never craved a bloodbath, but I’d consider more than one if any of my staff were to see Isabelle in a compromising position. “We need to approach this with maturity and understanding.”

 

Which I have absolutely none of when I spot Isabelle moseying down the corridor with her unnamed guest. His cheeks are flushed, and despite the generous width of the monitored corridor, he’s standing so close to Isabelle, their hands brush with every swinging step they take.

 

“Give me one of those bead devices you’ve been harping on about the past couple of months.”

 

Aware I’m no longer in the mood to compromise, Hunter hands me a bead-like listening device before announcing he can both hear and communicate with me. “I’ll tune out once you don’t need me anymore.”

 

I cut off a second bout of chuckles with a rueful glare before exiting his van and climbing the fire escape exit stairs weaving up the side of a recent build. With my body not exhausted from a seven-mile run this evening, I make it to Isabelle’s apartment before I break into a sweat. 

 

As I slip through the open balcony doors, Hunter mutters down my ear, “I’ll have security send out a pamphlet about personal security. That should help.”

 

My mood nosedives even further when my eyes scan Isabelle’s apartment. It is evident that she was on a date. Several empty wine bottles cover the granite kitchen countertop, and dessert bowls are scattered on her dining table along with a beverage often consumed with a sticky, sweet substance.

 

“Oh… fuck.”

 

“What?” I ask, put off by the high squeak of Hunter’s usually burly tone.

 

“It’s… um… They’re… ah.”

 

“Words, Hunter.”

 

“He’s… ah.” I hear him scratch at his beard before a relieved swallow comes down the line.“Got burned.” He curses god’s name before advising that Isabelle is on her way back to her apartment. “And this is where I’ll leave you,” he notifies just as the creak of her front door being pushed open sounds into my ear.

 

Isabelle startles when she spots me. Then, not long later, the horrifying bitterness of rejection overwhelms her senses. “What are you doing in my apartment?” She hardens her stance before trying again, hopeful her voice will be less submissive this time around. “How did you get in?” 

 

An animalistic urge to once again claim her as mine places a stranglehold on my astuteness when my eyes roam her outfit. She’s wearing a dress, and if the lack of a panty line is anything to go by, my invitation for her to attend our date sans underwear months ago was forwarded to another man. 

 

The thought makes me furious.

 

“Who was the man in your apartment?”  My question is separated by big, deliberate breaths. I’ve handled more than my share of controversy today, but this incident is by far the worst, and I’m done playing nice.

 

After taking on the stance of a scorned woman, Isabelle asks, “How do you know it was a man?” 

 

I know what she’s doing. She’s announcing her annoyance about the many dates even a stuffy accountant would have heard circling the water cooler the past two weeks, but I’m too irate to comprehend how much that would have hurt her to hear. 

 

Instead, I hook my thumb at the wine glasses on the dining room table, then say with a snarl, “Lipstick, no lipstick.” 

 

The tick in my jaw turns dangerous when Isabelle replies, “He is a friend.”

 

My growl ends her fight for control in an instant. As her knees touch, her erotic scent filters in the stifling-with-tension air wafting between us. I’d act on the obvious needs of her body if my cell phone wasn’t vibrating in my pocket. 

 

While pinning Isabelle in place with a feverish glare, I remove my phone from the breast pocket of my suit, groaning when the caller-ID shows it is a call from Hugo.

 

“Yes,” I snap down the phone.

 

“Blondie is on his way back to Isabelle’s apartment building. Even with Isabelle shutting down his advance, it appears as if he’s not ready to give in just yet.” Hugo’s tone is packed with humor, but it is the underlying message in his reply I pay the most attention to.

 

Isabelle’s date propositioned her.

 

“With Hunter having no clue who he is, it’s best for you to cut things short. My apartment door is unlocked.” Just as the elevator dings in the lobby of the building, our call disconnects.

 

I house my phone into my pocket before stepping closer to Isabelle. My thoughts are shut down, and my smarts are nowhere to be seen. Ensuring Isabelle’s date is aware she is not available is the only thing on my mind.

 

With Isabelle’s retreating steps being half the length of mine, in a matter of seconds, I have her caged against the wall of her entryway. The scent I’ve been obsessed with since we shared a whiskey in the bar of an airport restaurant augments when I tilt her chin to the side so I can ravish the skin getting damper for every second I pin her to the wall with my crotch.

 

She moans on repeat when I lick, suck, and bite on the sensitive skin of her neck. I mark her as mine while fighting the urge to claim her with more than a love bite. 

 

My battle intensifies when the heat of her pussy scorches my cock when I pull her closer to me by groping her ass. She’s wet, so not only am I disappointed when Hunter advises in my ear that her caller is three floors away, I’m downright fucking furious.

 

No one gets to smell Isabelle’s erotic scent but me, and if it weren’t for the giant hickey on her assuring me no man will get close to her tonight, I’d make sure her ‘date’ knew that with more than words.

 

I pull back when Hunter’s demands in my ear get angsty. He hates that he doesn’t know the identity of the man approaching even more than I hate the thought of leaving Isabelle alone with him.

 

“No more men in your apartment, Isabelle.”

 

Since Hunter is advising me that I don’t have time to ensure she knows my threat isn’t idle, I exit her apartment without so much of a backward glance.

 

When Hugo breaks through the emergency stairs, his large frame blocks me from taking in the blond gent’s face as well as it conceals me from his watch. I slip into Hugo’s apartment two doors down from Isabelle’s a nanosecond before her caller skirts past Hugo like he’s invisible, his mind clearly elsewhere.

 

I strive to determine his thoughts the instant I commence climbing down the emergency fire stairwell on the side of the building. “Send the footage from the corridor to my phone.”

 

“Boss—”

 

With my breaths jagged from kissing Isabelle senseless, my words come out snappier than intended. Serves Hunter right, though. I pay my staff well to do as told. “I wasn’t asking, Hunter. Send me the footage, then delete it from the servers.”

 

The sound of his fingers flying over his keyboard sound down the line as he replies with a grumble, “On it.”

xx

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