Wickedly handsome and shamelessly rich, Tristan Stahl is a villain. A businessman by day and an underground cage fighter by night, he fears no one, and respects one man alone – his adoptive father, Mark Stahl. It’s at Mark’s request that Tristan recruits Isolde Molnar for her “special talents”. He doesn’t expect complications from this “piece of livestock”, but working closely with her turns out challenging in more ways than one. Throw a modern alchemist’s potion in the mix along with Mark Stahl’s growing infatuation with the girl, and there you have it – Tristan and Isolde Reloaded. Enjoy!
Tristan Stahl is a villain. He provides the mafia with opiates, hallucinogens and the finest prescription drugs, and that’s not the end of it. It’s not the Russians, Mexican cartels or Kosovar thugs – it’s big pharma, under Stahl’s command. It’s not dealers at street corners or in dumps full of smoke and wasted losers – it’s deliveries in bulletproof vehicles and distribution in exclusive rooftop clubs. That’s the information Roland got me from his connections to the underground.
Stahl does have the power to fuck up my life completely, but I won’t go down without a fight. There is this one alternative he can’t take away from me – going to his most feared competition, selling them what I have on him. I’ve been trying to contact the Institute, but they keep their decision makers well fenced in. I have no doubt I’ll get to them eventually, though.
Meanwhile, Roland got me a job at the nightclub to bridge over this period. It was my last hope after months of searching and begging at different companies, then at restaurants, then coffee shops until I went desperate enough to take a job as a public toilet cleaner at the airport. Roland put a stop to that after just one day. Now, like Stahl threatened, I’m grateful to be wiping tables in this place that’s a sort of Hooter’s on steroids, wearing a short skirt and a push-up top. My breasts overflow from my cleavage whenever I bend over, and I want to throw up every time I look in the mirror.
But there’s a good side to the whole thing. My little brother and I get to spend more time together. Our bond deepened. Right now he’s juggling bottles behind the bar and winking at giggly broads with a crush.
“Incoming!” a girl shrieks behind me. I turn to see little Frany, the other new waitress, lunge at me with wide eyes and a tray full of drinks. The tray lands on the floor, yet I manage to balance Frany on her feet.
“I’m so sorry, Izz,” she babbles, her face all red. We both get down to gather the shards and save what’s to be saved.
“Don’t worry, not your fault.” I throw a glance behind us. Of course, as I expected, a group of guys laughs hard, slapping each other’s backs and praising the idiot who tripped her. I stand, whisk my pink apron and march to them, unable to restrain myself. It can’t get me in any more trouble than it did with Stahl, so what the hell.
“Hey, pretty boy,” I yell over the music. The perpetrator stares at me from amidst his friends as I hold out my palm. “That’ll be twenty.”
“I’m sorry, what?” He cups his ear as if he can’t hear me. I bend to him.
“Twenty for the tray of drinks you just sent to waste. You tripped the girl.”
“Do you have any witnesses to support that?” he sneers, and someone slaps the naked back of my thigh. The skirt must’ve risen to reveal my garters, which tends to send males wild in here. In my purposefulness I forgot I’m not wearing the most commanding outfit.
My face bustling with indignation, I turn around at just the right time to stop the guy from slapping me again. He grins and immobilizes me in his arms, clasping my wrists behind my back. He’s a big guy with a shaved head, neck tattoos and piercings.
“Look at you, you’re a pretty one. If I were drunk enough, I’d bite those succulent lips.” He leans into me and breathes in my ear, “I’m still shy now, but the night is young.”
I struggle from his clasp, and he lets go.
“Later, babe,” he says, and I know it’s a threat. He just made me the night’s hunt, but I expect Roland’s tanned bulk in a tank top to intimidate him when he decides to make the first move. It always does.
With flushed cheeks I make my way to Frany, who’s getting a new tray from Roland at the counter. Her face is all worried when she looks over her shoulder back the way I came.
“I’m gonna have to pass them again.” Tears glimmer in her innocent hazel eyes, and my heart breaks.
“I’ll take it for you, then.”
“But to you they’re even more dangerous. The big guy with a bald head, he’s not taking his eyes off of you.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I’ll be damned if I ever let anyone bully me again. It hurts enough that I’ve become a piece of meat wiping tables with her tits at a badly famed nightclub, I won’t be made to feel any lower than that.
I grab the tray, but Frany stops me before I take the first step. “Wait, you’re cut.”
I notice the blood on my forefinger, then the nasty wound. My ego still on fire, I don’t feel any pain. “Hardly anything to worry about.” I grab a napkin and make to leave again, but Frany insists.
“Ignore it now, and it’ll swell later. This will only take a moment.”
She squeezes my finger above the cut to drain the potentially infected blood, then dips it in a glass of scotch, and keeps it there for a few seconds. When she’s done she bandages it with a napkin, her lips moving all the while as if she’s casting a spell. She says it’s a traditional prayer that healer women use back where she comes from, a place she named a number of times but that I keep forgetting. I let her do her thing and suppress my need to sneer at her practices. I like her too much for that.
With Roland now busy at the other end of the bar she rearranges the tray herself and sends me with it to the V.I.P. area. Just to make sure the drinks reach their destination safely this time I snake among the crowd and make every effort to avoid the bully table. They can’t trip me without being obvious, but by the predator look in my admirer’s eyes I know he’s plotting something for later.
A set of stairs delimits the V.I.P. area from the rest of the club. Business people smoke cigars and drink whisky, laughing hard and closing deals – rich “work” – looking down at dancing masses. But as I approach table ten, the one Frany was supposed to wait, my legs grow heavy. I recognize the pool of blond bodyguards, and my heart jumps in my throat. I want to stop walking, but my legs compel me to approach, my eyes seeking for the Ice Prince like for a gem in a nest of vipers. The bodyguards shift from my path, and finally reveal him sitting on the leather couch.
Tristan Stahl’s white blond hair is combed back, clearing his razor sharp irises. He wears a designer suit, his jacket open, his neckline loosened, making him a perfect model for Boss Bottled as well as, maybe, Gold Gym. I’ve discovered he’s far from just a pencil pusher. He’s as feared in illegal underground fights as he is at negotiation tables.
I put down the tray, struggling to recover my wits. For a moment there I really believe this is just a humiliating coincidence, whisk my apron and turn to leave with what’s left of my dignity, but someone grabs my shoulder and pushes me down on the couch facing Stahl, just like last time. I realize I’ve been maneuvered into this situation, and my heart drums so hard it’s choking.
“Champagne?” Stahl offers in his thick baritone that goes to my head. Here the music is much lower than downstairs – the V.I.P. area is business-talk area – so I can hear him clearly. I blink a few times, then nod. A drink should at least help even out my pulse.
He looks up at a bodyguard-slash-butler and motions with his chin that I be served. “I believe I’ve made my point, Isolde. There’s no need to prolong this situation, it must be unbearable to you.”
I manage to clear my throat, but still can’t speak. Not until after I’ve drained the glass of champagne in one move, sending warmth to my cheeks, and my brain on a light spin. “Does this club belong to you, too? Like the café where we first met?”
“I have a hand in every club in town.”
“Then you allowed me to get this job?”
“I might’ve even steered you toward it.”
All the slaps I’ve gotten over my butt in the last few weeks burn my buttocks again, and anger claws my heart. I bite it down this time, promising myself I’ll have Stahl pay for what he put me through. And I know just the way to do it.
“Does your offer still stand?”
“Excuse me?” He leans in, nailing me down with the frost in his eyes. He heard me, the bastard, he just wants to have me beg. I clear my throat again.
“Your offer, does it still stand?”
“Why, you suddenly interested?”
“Say I am.”
“But you don’t even know what my offer was, Isolde. You left before we got a chance to talk about it.” The upper part of his chest muscles is visible beyond his open neckline, and I do my best to look away. Luckily he makes it easy on me by leaning back and stretching his arms on the back of the couch again.
“You wanted me to keep working on your competition, the Institute for Psychosomatic Research, didn’t you?” I say. “You wanted forecasts of their moves so you can block them. I can do forecasts. Where do I sign?”
I look around for the woman in the white gloves, smugly expecting her to have my contract ready, but she’ not here, and Stahl’s icy laughter shakes my confidence from its hinges. “Isolde, I didn’t get where I am in life by being uninformed or easy to manipulate. I know you’ve been trying to contact the Institute’s decision makers. Help them nail us.”
“Nadine told on me?” I sneer.
“Your friend just wanted to save you from the filthy swamp you were sinking into.”
“Then back to our business. What exactly will you have of me?”
“I want you to use your intuitive talents on the Institute’s scientists. They’re very hard to pin down, so I need you to divine their future whereabouts – conferences, vacations, things of the sort.”
“As I told you the first time we met, my intuition works with data that’s stored at the back of my mind. If I am to intuit my way to these people, I’d have to know at least something about them.”
“I’ll feed you the information, of course. I don’t expect you to function on thin air. I know who these people are, just not where to find them. The Institute keeps them well protected, as I’m sure you’ve learned in your attempts to contact them.”
Useless attempts. “I can hear the mockery in your tone, you know.”
“I hope you also hear the praise. I’m almost impressed, Isolde. You don’t have any money, hardly any worthwhile connections, and still, you manage to produce results, however insufficient.”
He reaches for a glass of scotch and rests back, ankle on his knee. I can’t help but noticing how the white shirt wraps the athletic shape of his body, and I feel he’d make a great villain for Marvel. He’s crushingly handsome, wealthy enough to outrage Bruce Wayne, and damaged to the core – he must be, having the mafia on its knees. I wonder how much his past before the adoption by Mark Stahl has to do with his nerve.
“Imagine everything you could accomplish if you had my resources at your disposal, Isolde,” he tempts. “I’ll not only pay you richly, but I can open doors for you that you never dreamt to see unlocked. I can bribe any gatekeeper in your way and remove anyone with more stubborn morals. You can pay back all those who ever looked down on you or slammed a door in your face.” He sips from the scotch, watching me for the effect of his words. I sip.
The crisp and cool of the champagne mess with my head, and I relax back against the couch. The club started to spin a little. All I have to do to see myself free of this dump is tell Tristan Stahl yes. Sell my soul to the devil, and I’m afraid I’ll soon be drunk enough to do it.
“If I refuse, it’s nightclubs and airport toilets forever, isn’t it?” I look at him to find that his steely eyes haven’t wavered from me.
“If you refuse, I’ll fulfill my promise about the red light.”
“You sound almost sorry,” I spit.
“Take the job, Isolde. It’ll be money and privilege, plus a bright future for those you care about.” He glances over the banister to the bar downstairs, and I know he means my brother. “It would be a waste to ban you two from social success.”
“That choice is in your hands. No one is forcing you to destroy our lives.”
“Come on. I’m technically offering you the world. A refusal would make you the unreasonable one.”
I drain my glass and tilt my head to the side, narrowing my eyes. “Why me, Tristan? Why is a mogul who can hire the smartest heads ever born want me of all people?”
“My reasons are my own.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to disclose them if you want to win my allegiance.”
Tristan Stahl’s glare slices through mine like knife through butter. “What do you think I am, a knight in shining armor? I’m not trying to win you, Isolde. I want to buy you.”
“I’m sorry, then. My services cost more than money.”
I lean in so that my breasts swell from my cleavage as I stare daringly into his eyes. They don’t lower. His scent of mulled wine and magic winter nights envelops me, but I resist it.
“You owe me more than money, Tristan. You brought me in the worst position I’ve ever been in, ever. Not even after Mom died did I have to wipe tables with my tits in order to buy food and clothes for Roland and me, and that was when I was sixteen.”
His features go all frost. “And now what? Remorse is supposed to rob me of sleep, to have me tossing and turning at night for what I’ve put you poor orphans through? You’re no longer a child, Isolde, you’re twenty-five.”
“Oh, I don’t mean to turn you back into a human, don’t worry,” I jeer. “But I’ll have you make up for the moral damage. I’ll have you do things for me, Tristan, and you’ll do them often.” The satisfaction that rinses my heart with every word that rolls out of my mouth is incredible. Maybe it’s the booze, the tribal music and his scent, but I’m drunk on how I feel. It’s all or nothing, I’m on the edge challenging a fucking lord of the underground, and I’m loving it.
“You’ll ask for nothing indecent, I hope.” It sounds like he’s mocking but not quite, as if he’s had sexual arrangements proposed to him before. I wonder if he gave course to any of them.
“Oh, no, I wouldn’t have you soil yourself like that.” I glance around at his exclusively blond entourage, all of them holding their tumblers and staring at us like they can’t believe the cut scene. “Judging by your choice of friends I guess you’d rather go albino than have a tanned ass bouncing in your lap.”
He grits his teeth, I can hear it. I’m finally pushing the Ice Prince’s right buttons. I look back at him and find his face much closer to mine than I’ve left it, a frosted sculpture with cruel eyes.
“Don’t play with me, Isolde.”
“Oh, you think this is a game for me? You’ve proven you can fucking destroy my life with your little finger.”
“Then why take further chances? Ask for the contract and sign it.”
“I will sign, Tristan. I just have a few terms of my own.”
“Then stop wasting time, and name them.”
I look around, acting tough but actually avoiding the pressure of his glare. “I run a blog. I regularly post my rants, and it already has quite a lot of awesome followers as angry as I am, but in order for it to achieve its ultimate goal I need it to spread like wildfire.”
“You want me to pump it viral? You got it.”
“No, Tristan, that kind of pumping would still be money. I’ll have the money myself because you’ll be paying me a whole lot of it for my services.”
“What do you need then?”
“Info. The exclusive, five-star kind of info.” I run my tongue over my lips. I hunger for his reaction to this. “You’ll deliver me top secret data on top secret people. You’ll reveal the true names of those who control the most powerful multinationals. You’ll feed me everything there is to know about them, from what they eat to whom they fuck. All the clean ones will be spared, enjoying their elite status, but you’ll help me nail the evil scumbags, Tristan, one by one. I’ll write the articles and put in the money to propel the blog to the top, but you’ll be the one delivering the golden nuggets.”
Maybe it’s the booze soaking my brain, along with the music and my choking pulse, but it seems the features of this young Viking prince are melting. He inspects me like I’m Alien. “You aim ridiculously high.”
“Well, I just got my hands on a ridiculously powerful weapon.” I look him up and down. “You’re a nuke.”
“At the whims of a child.”
“Oh, I won’t even go in on the subject of whims and brats. Will you do it?”
He pauses for a moment. “Believe it or not, it’s easy to say yes, Isolde.”
“I bet. Most of those I’m after must be below you in money, position and good deeds.”
“It’s not only that. But some of the names worth considering for your project are the very ones I’m asking you to work on.”
I narrow my eyes. “Are you trying to manipulate me?”
“I’ll give you the information, Isolde, and you’ll judge for yourself if they’re evil scumbags or not.”
“Okay. I’ll take it.”
He puts the scotch down, but not a muscle twitches on his face, as if he’d never really had a doubt about the outcome of this conversation. “Well then, it’s set.”
He offers me a big hand, and I take it. His palm is callous and his knuckles like those of a boxer, which I go crazy for in a guy. I struggle to stay focused.
“Super. When do I start?”
“Just be prepared. I’ll send a car for you in a few days. Don’t ask questions, just get in.” With these words he waves me gone, and I’m stunned. I thought I had him impressed, but he’s dismissing me like I’m nothing, as if he’s lost all interest once he’s had me. I stand up, seeking his gaze, but he looks away.
“Take this with you.” He motions dismissively to the tray on the table, then he reaches to the inside pocket of his jacket for his smartphone. Moving on to the next business, I guess.
I bend to take the tray, aware his men get a good view of my butt, and wondering if it bothers Tristan in the least. It sure doesn’t seem to, and I feel like a whore. I swallow my pride and turn away, telling myself this finale has a good side to it – it makes it even easier to hate the Ice Prince.
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