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I slant my head when Isabelle cocks a brow. She isn’t amused by my dress tying skills. She’s reminding me I failed to update her about my call with Hugo, grilling me for information without her kiss-swollen lips spilling a word, and she looks entrancing while doing it.

Once her dress is covering her sweltering curves, I mutter, “Hugo turned the cameras off the instant he knew you were coming to the club with me.” A rare smile inches my lips high. I’m not humored by Hugo’s antics. I’m grateful his exasperating habit of always checking his surroundings saved Isabelle a ton of unneeded embarrassment. “At times, it’s like he knows me better than I know myself.”

A feverish heat treks through my veins when Isabelle’s eyes fire with admiration. It reminds me of the look she gave me before we were interrupted by the bothersome flash of the security system Hunter installed in all my clubs during his first six months of employment. As does the erotically satisfying taste of Isabelle’s arousal on my mouth.


Eager for a second taste, I curl my hand around Isabelle’s, then lead her toward the valet. The further we walk through the packed club, the tighter the front of my pants become. Knowing Isabelle is without panties is thrillingly satisfying. Even more so since the dainty material is stuffed into the pocket of my dress pants. It announces the competition is over. The winner has been announced, and he is about to claim the ultimate prize.

I just need to get her out of this club before the envious stares directed at her have me clearing the floor by activating more than the fire alarm. Jealously was never a problem of mine until Isabelle tumbled to my feet.

The rigidness in the air makes the night appear cooler than it is when we break onto the footpath out the front of 57. I assume the unease centers around the contrasting difference between Isabelle’s body temperature and the gusty New York evening but learn a lesson on making assumptions when a voice from my past thrusts me back in time. “The prodigal son returns.”

Ophelia’s father is in town and the knowledge has me squeezing Isabelle’s hand so firmly, I hurt her instead of sheltering her from the danger as planned. “Get in the car, Isabelle.” My tone is clipped and arrogant, awfully on par with the man I’ve been forced to portray the past six years. If I didn’t become Col’s rival, I would have become his victim like every other member of his family.

With my blood hot, I spin around, bringing myself face to face with the man who blames me for killing his angel, blind to the fact he hacked off her wings years earlier.

I’m not surprised to find Dimitri standing at Col’s left. Although he isn’t paying me any attention, his father’s glare makes up for his downfall. Hate is a strong word, but it describes my relationship with Col to a T. He blames me for Ophelia’s death more than I blame myself. He even refuses to tell me where she’s buried. His excuse? The Petrettis don’t leave a body.


I took his sneer as a threat, but even now, six years later, I’ve yet to find her final resting place. The remembrance deteriorates my mood so fast, by the time I realize Isabelle ignored my demand for her to enter my car, it’s too late. Col has spotted her.


While pacing closer, he watches her with the same evil gleam his eyes had when one of his goons held a gun to his daughter’s head. I act ignorant, conscious if I were to show my hand--predominately the one that announces Isabelle’s true birthright--he’d strategize a way to make it less powerful. 

Furthermore, I’ve worked too hard and too long to let a man like Col Petretti topple my empire. I will win the fight and the girl this time around because our first failures are to teach us a lesson. There is no excuse for a second abomination.  

I ball my fists so firmly my clipped nails dig into my palm when Col pretentiously mutters, “What has it been… six years, and I don’t even get a greeting from you?” 

When I neglect to respond to the conceited superiority in his tone, he shifts his focus to Isabelle. He runs his eyes down her body, his stare so wickedly perverse, Isabelle’s body can’t help but retort negatively to it. As the lust coating her skin with sweat burns away from biliousness, fear encroaches her from all sides. 

The worried mask slipping over her face has me responding long before the fanning of Col’s goon’s jacket so he can expose what weapons he is carrying. I tug Isabelle to my side, mindful it will place a target on her back, but confident my reputation will continue to succeed me.

When Col recognizes my protectiveness, with a mocking grin, he flares his nostrils, silently calling me out as a coward. He thinks I’ll back down because he wrongly believes you can’t enter a gunbattle with only your fists.

I’m more than willing to prove otherwise.

After working my jaw side to side, I shift my narrowed gaze to Dimitri. I’m not calling him out as a coward. I am reminding him that the loss of two key members of his family in one night doesn’t belong on his shoulders. I've taken responsibility for my part. Now it's time for his father to do the same. 

When Dimitri’s eyes lower to his shoes, his focus somewhat distracted, I mimic Col’s ridicule for calling out insolent men. Since his attention is rapt on Isabelle, it takes him a second to respond to my rile, but when he does, he executes his annoyance like a well-rehearsed script. “Go!” 

Dimitri’s hand drops from his right ear as his eyes shoot to his father. He stares at him in shock, lost as to what’s happening, but with his mind as absent as his heart, he grits his teeth before leaving Col’s side with only the briefest bob of his chin. 

Although surprised Col's arrogant dismissal didn't activate Dimitri's short fuse, my shock barely has the chance to register. Just as quickly as Dimitri makes a beeline for a fleet of Range Rovers, Col acts as if there’s more than a foot of air between Isabelle and him. He creeps toward her, his menacing grin revealing he's hoping to active a dominance I’ve not had the desire to hide until now.


If I respond, his goon will have an excuse to fire at me. I fought in many locations around New York City during my college days, so it isn’t just the Petrettis who class my fists as dangerous weapons, so do members of the NYPD.


Col could use the excuse he was in fear for his life like he did when he used his wife as a shield to protect him from a spray of bullets during a federal sting. He'd do or say anything for a payout. He would even murder his own children. That's how much of a callous man he is.

My fingers flex against Isabelle’s hip when Col murmurs, “You’re exquisite. You have the face of an angel.” I lose the ability to maintain a rational head when he whispers, “E voi diventerete uno.”

With my temper uncontained, I snatch up Col’s wrist before his hand can get within an inch of Isabelle’s face, then I squeeze it with enough force, his fragile bones creak under the pressure.


“Don’t fucking touch her,” I sneer, my voice a clear warning of the depths I will go to protect the woman beside me. 


I will end him if he pushes me any further tonight. 

I've reached my limit. The only reason I haven’t detonated is because Isabelle is standing at my side, begging for us to leave. “Isaac, let’s go.” She doesn’t take her eyes off the two semi-automatic weapons Mario flashes while yanking me backwards, but the anxiety they bombard her with is heard in her words when she pleads, “Please, Isaac, he has a gun.” 

As she continues lugging me toward my idling car, I lock my eyes with Mario. Neither of his semi-automatic pistols are aimed at Isabelle, but when I add their presence to the threat Col just issued her, their direction doesn’t matter. They make me ropeable, and persuade me that sometimes violence can be the solution.

 “A real man doesn’t need a gun. His body is his weapon.” I say to Mario, my tone a clear indication that this is not a threat. It is a promise. “It’ll be in your best interest to remember that.” 

When I come knocking, he’ll have no choice but to answer for his insolence. You do not get to intimidate a woman in front of me and get away with it, not to mention one as enchanting as Isabelle.

With that in mind, I grip Isabelle’s wrist, spin her on her heels, then walk her to my car. If Hugo and Hunter are still watching, they’ll follow Col’s depraved stalk of New York, so I’ll know exactly where to find him once I’ve ensured Isabelle is far from his reach.



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