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EPISODE TWENTY-FOUR

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As the sun pounds my back, my feet pound the pavement on the roads surrounding Mummo Koti. Usually, I take my frustration out on a sagging boxing bag in the middle of a rundown warehouse. Since I didn’t have access to the same crutch today, I threw on a pair of running shorts and a fitted shirt before bolting out the wrought iron gates of Mummo Koti like I can outrun my annoyance as easily as I wish I could my past.

 

I didn’t mean to snap at Isabelle as I did. My tiredness expected her to respond to a hypothetical situation with the same impudence a real-life situation demands. No one knows how they’ll respond in an urgent situation, so it was unfair of me to expect differently from Isabelle. 

 

Now instead of feeling like a fool, I feel like an ass. 

 

If I want an honest answer from Isabelle, I need to be honest with her. I can’t do that if I place distance between us instead of bridging it.

 

After cursing my impudence, I cross a busy intersection before commencing the four-mile dash back to Mummo Koti. It’s hot today, and with the humidity too high to register, I’m perspiring like a pig by the time the security personnel on the main gate slows my strides from a sprint to a jog with a wave of his hand. 

 

With Hunter pinging Col’s location less than a hundred miles from here, I couldn’t risk leaving Isabelle without adequate protection for even a minute. I’m unsure if she’s aware of her true birthright, but if a man like Col becomes knowledgeable, she’ll have no choice but to face the challenges of her past with an audience.

 

Col isn’t a man who hides the dishonors of others. 

 

He parades them for the world to see. 

 

The way he acted at Ophelia’s funeral is a sure-fire sign of this. I’ve never been more mortified in my life.

 

“Anything?” I ask the guard.

 

The man with blond hair and massive shoulders shakes his head. “I forwarded the tags from the guests’ vehicle to your man as requested. He’s given every guest clearance so far.” He leans into his security hub to grab a puffed-out envelope. “But he did ask me to give you this the instant you returned from your run.”

 

I clear away the sweat rolling down my cheeks with my shirt before accepting the envelope. I’m anticipating for it to be a security movement sheet for Nick or an incident report for an event that occurred at the Dungeon last night, but this is the last thing I anticipated. It’s clear from the cheekiness of the prose that Hunter wasn’t the instigator of these photographs. There’s only one man with the gall to go against me like this. He’d be on his last leg if I weren’t hiding as many secrets from him as he is for me.

 

“Ah. Now his chuckles make sense,” grunts the security officer when he takes in the images Hugo stuffed into the envelope. They’re glossy photographs of activities most people undertake during a weekend getaway at Mummo Koti—swimming, paragliding, horse-riding on the beach, and numerous high-octane water sports. Each image has a big green tick in the corner. Only one image has a massive red cross. It’s a photograph of me crossing the intersection four miles ago. Hunter must have plucked it from the red-light camera. “He said I wasn’t allowed to look until you did.”

 

“Of course he did,” I mutter under my breath before shoving the envelope into his heaving chest. 

 

“Are you sure you don’t need these?” he asks when I recommence my sprint. 

 

I don’t need to glance over my shoulder to know he’s smiling ear to ear. I hear his grin in his words. It’s as showy as the one I’m sure Hugo does when the security camera dangling above the back entrance of Mummo Koti treks my every move. 

 

“If you have nothing better to do with your time than scrutinize me, Hugo, consider your weekends for the next six months booked.”

 

I angle my head to hide my smirk when the camera rips away from me so fast, it faces a brick wall instead of the parking lot. 

 

The redness on my face from exertion deepens when my shortcut through the outdoor seating area has me stumbling onto Isabelle. She’s laying on a sun lounge stomach first, reading while kicking her legs out.  

 

Her carefree nature fills me with gratitude. If our interaction this morning upset her, wouldn’t she be mulling in her room like Clara did the hour before I went for my run?

I take a moment to relish the prickling of the fine hairs on Isabelle’s nape before planting my exhausted backside onto a section of the sun lounge her curvaceous frame isn’t filling. 

 

When I place my hand on the small of her back to wordless publicize my presence, goosebumps coat her skin and her breathing tapers. 

 

Phew,” I breathe out with a groan. “I was getting worried it was another Mills and Boons book.”

 

A blistering smile reflects off the screen of her kindle before she rolls over to face me. Since my hand refuses to acknowledge my head’s numerous demands to maintain amicable distance between us, my fingertips brush the silky-smooth skin on her hip during her maneuver before they land on her stomach. 

 

The briefest of touches shouldn’t stimulate carnal desires, but there’s no denying them. The tension bristling between us is indisputable, and it’s taking everything I have not to act on them.

 

My voice exposes this without uncertainty when I ask, “What are you reading?” 

 

Thoughtless by S. C. Stephens.” Isabelle breathes out slowly, her tone as amorous as mine. “It’s about two people who shouldn’t be together but are destined to be together. I’ve read the entire series three times already.” When I cock a brow, confident her comment is more a reflection of our teetering exchanges than a book, she tries to brush off her truthful remark with a bit of wit. “You don’t understand the wondrous entrapment you feel when you read about a character like Kellan Kyle. He’s my number one book boyfriend.”

 

Feeding off her playfulness, I mutter, “It’s guys like him who make it hopeless for a man to date these days. All girls are expecting a guy like Kell…”

 

“Kellan Kyle,” she fills in, her words a purr.

 

“Yeah, and instead, they get a guy who comes home stinking of B.O. after working ten-hour-plus days. He drinks beer that smells like it was fermented in old college socks, and snores louder than the freight trains running through Philly.” 

 

Our exchange goes from playful to downright dangerous when a giggle rumbles out of Isabelle’s scrumptious cupid bow’s lips. It’s girly, carefree, and exposes without a doubt that her childhood wasn’t close to the norm but still typical.

 

When my quiet steals Isabelle’s giggles even quicker than they arrived, I blurt out a truth like it will be the first of many this weekend. “That’s the first time I’ve heard you laugh.” And my fucking god, I hope it isn’t the last.

 

Her smile is what this weekend is meant to be about. We’re not here to comb over acquisitions, proposals, nor dwell the sale of children forced to endure the punishments of their parent’s mistakes. We’re meant to be having fun.

 

With that in mind, I stand, act oblivious to Isabelle’s disappointed sigh she couldn’t hold back, then thrust out my hand in offering. When her hand slips into mine, I pluck her off the sun lounge with so much eagerness, our chests compete for space with every breath we share.

 

It takes me longer than I care to admit to unearth my next step, but when it finally exhumes itself from the fog Isabelle’s closeness forever instigates in my head, I take a mental note to add an extra zero to Hugo’s bonus check this year. “Did you pack a swimsuit?”

 

Isabelle’s chocolate brown eyes bounce between mine for several heart thrashing seconds before she sheepishly nods. Before she can voice a single inquiry I see firing through her molten gaze, I nudge my head to Mummo Koti then instruct for her to get changed.

 

“Okay,” she replies, still reluctant but willing to oblige to my brutish command.

 

I watch her exit with yearning-filled eyes before my imprudent stare is busted by a man who doesn’t understand the word discreet. Colby is very much a McGregor with icy blue eyes, platinum blond hair, and an air of cheekiness, but since his shoulders are minus the weight Cormack’s hold, he’s more daring than his older brother in both profession and personality. “Don’t tell me I’m ten minutes too late… again.”

 

Colby was barely a teen when Ophelia was alive, but that hasn’t stopped him berating me about how I ‘supposedly’ snagged the worm a mere ten minutes before him. He has a competitive spirit and since not many men can go against an heir to a billion-dollar entity, let alone one with other assets women can’t help but go ga-ga over, instead of competing with his peers during his school years, he went against men like Cormack and me.

 

Since no harm was done, and it kept things interesting when he grew into his attitude, I didn't mind the competition. Although I don’t see that remaining the case if he doesn’t take his eyes off Isabelle’s ass.

 

After stepping into his path, blocking his view of Isabelle, I ask, “Clara withdrew her bid this morning, so what are you still doing here?”

 

Nothing against Colby, he’s young, carefree, and reckless, the exact man I emulated when I was his age, but Cormack normally has to drag him to board meetings, kicking and screaming, so I thought he would have sprinted for the exit the instant news circulated Clara had looked past her nose instead of down it.

 

My brows furrow when Colby replies, “Clara didn’t withdraw her bid. Grandma K removed it from her hands.” My confusion isn’t given the chance to settle. It’s squashed by red-hot jealousy. “I also caught sight of an incentive any man would risk millions to see what could eventuate from it.” He isn’t referencing family ties. The licking of his lips while staring in the direction Isabelle went exposes this, much less the wicked glint that darts through his eyes when he murmurs, “May the best man win.”

 

“Colby…”

 

The ignorant bastard ignores the threat in my tone, instead choosing to double it by ripping off his shirt like my unvoiced invitation for Isabelle to join me in a range of water sport activities was an open invite before he moseys to his room with an extra strut to his steps.

 

With my desire to win at an all-time high, and my brain somewhere in the vicinity of my cock, I halt a guest’s endeavor to skirt by me by hooking my thumb at his swimming trunks. “How much for your shorts?”

 

* * *

 

I tug on the crotch of my recently purchased board shorts to loosen the stiff material’s hug of my cock before knocking on Isabelle’s bedroom door like her room isn’t also mine. Not only did my plan commence unraveling when Colby announced an interest in Isabelle, but cracks also formed when I recalled I packed my suitcase instead of Catherine. I pay her well enough she turns a blind eye to the promiscuous undertakings at my penthouse, but nowhere near enough for her to slip three boxes of magnum condoms into my luggage like I was heading out of town for a year instead of a long weekend. 

 

I didn’t want to be caught short, so I packed my own luggage.

 

The condoms were the only water-safe artefact I stuffed into my overflowing suitcase. 

 

I stop smirking about my unexpected witty monologue when Isabelle advises me I can enter. The fleeting concern I experienced earlier that the tightness of my borrowed shorts will convince people I’m a creep who walks around in a constant state of erection returns when the image of Isabelle in a microscopic bikini top and tiny denim shorts thickens my cock to the point it’s painful. Almost every inch of her unblemished skin is exposed, and the visual far exceeds my greatest expectations. 

 

She is truly ravishing.

 

Eager to initiate what this weekend is meant to be about, and to get Isabelle as far away from Colby’s prying eyes as possible, I curl my hand around Isabelle’s, then lead her to the dock where the water sports equipment is stored. 

 

When I release her hand to fetch a wetsuit and life jacket out of the wooden structure, I spot Colby standing at the end of the jetty. Although he has the attention of a pretty blonde, his eyes continually stray to Isabelle. 

 

Much to Colby's disgrace, Isabelle's eyes are only for one man. 

 

It isn’t him.

 

Smirking, I guide Isabelle to a wooden bench at the end of the jetty before demanding for her to strip. When she slants her head, confused yet willing to comply with my every whim, I drop my eyes to her denim shorts. 

 

“Oh,” she whispers before unfastening the zipper on her shorts and shimmering them down her slim thighs yet enticing thighs.

 

Once she kicks them aside, I bob down to assist her into her wetsuit. When the briefest skim of my hands on her skin as I guide the rigid material up her legs causes her to sway like a feather caught in the gusts of a tornado, Colby devotes more of his attention to the blonde. 

 

With my ruse having the effect I was aiming for I could halt my chauvinistic routine. The only reason I don’t is that the more attention I bestow on Isabelle, the more obvious her erotic scent becomes. She likes the image of my kneeling before her just as much as I treasured it yesterday afternoon, and for once, she isn’t hiding the desires of her body.

 

She’s setting them free.

 

When she locks her eyes with mine, her breathing heavy in response to the fiery lust crackling between us, I wink before guiding the wetsuit over her shoulders. 

 

By the time I have her strapped in and ready to go, I’m on the verge of ripping the inflexible material off her delectable body. Her amatory scent is my undoing, not to mention her hooded, lust-filled eyes.

 

“Do you want to wear a lifejacket?” I ask, torn between continuing with our plans and forging new ones.

 

Isabelle immediately shakes her head, not only sending strands of dark hair into her eyes but also amplifying the stark contrast between her locks and Colby’s platinum blond mop. He’s dumped the blonde to once again take up a campaign I’ll never let him win.

 

Isabelle’s panted breaths fan my cheek when I straddle the first Wave Runner in a queue of half a dozen before offering her my hand to assist her on the back. Her fingertips tickle my abs when she slots into the seat behind me before she bands her arms around my waist to hold me tight. 

 

Her touch sends an electric jolt down my spine but before my cock has the chance to register the surge in electricity, I twist back the throttle, grinning when Isabelle’s squeal overtakes Colby’s grumbled comment that I don’t play fair.

It's about time he learned that.

xx

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