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!
It’s the third dress that I try on, the third one Gertrude dismisses. She stands there perched on her pumps, white jacket and pencil skirt perfectly starched, shiny blond bob flawless, ever-present white gloves covering her elegant hands. I wonder why she always wears them, but she intimidates me too badly to ask. Her expression is stern and sour, making me think of a woman General whenever our eyes meet.
I’m all twitchy and flustered because we’re at this mega high-class store surrounded by ridiculously expensive cocktail dresses, and Tristan is just walking to the glass doors from his bulletproof black car. I watch him and the bodyguards flanking him in the mirror. I recognize the bear-looking Demerol – he’s so hairy, he’s virtually furry; he’s taller and broader than Tristan, but it’s easy to see he fears his boss; he glances at him too often, as though he’s waiting for a pat on the head like a big dog.
Tristan is just about to walk in, and my heart rate speeds up. It’s that forbidding air of his that cuts me to the bone, I tell myself. He crosses the threshold, dressed in a dark gray suit that highlights his boxer build and authoritarian stance. His white blond hair is casually ruffled, his irises sparkle like ice, and his angular face looks so young and handsome it’s hard to believe he’s real. I surprise myself hoping he likes me in this dress – green always suited me, making my skin look good –, and fire whips up my cheeks. But, to my dismay, Tristan looks me up and down coldly.
“You’re not done yet?” His gaze turns to Gertrude, who shifts her weight from one leg to the other, at a loss.
“We’ll find something to suit her in a minute,” she mumbles.
“You’ve had hours. Time’s up.” Tristan walks to one of the trolleys and begins unhooking dresses from the rail. He tosses the first one away, right into Demerol’s hands, then another and another.
“Too slutty. Too widowy. Too slippery.” He freezes with the next dress in his hands. Holds it at an arm’s length, inspects it. Hands it to Gertrude, ignoring me. “This one.”
He walks over to the beige cushioned sofa and drops on it like the boss he is, pulling out his smart phone. Cheeks still burning, I take the hanger from Gertrude, barely daring to touch the expensive fabric like it’s a sacrilege. I draw the curtain to the fitting room, and breathe out in relief. This little bit of privacy is worth gold right now. Tristan’s presence takes such a toll on me that it’s hard work just being around him. I feel I have to watch my every move, my every word, my manners. Why do I even care what he thinks about me? I sure didn’t give a crap the first and second time we met. Only yesterday he had me betray my own brother, I should resent him like Black Death. But ever since the club night and Marie France’s potion I go giggly only when I think of him, and my voice fails me whenever he’s around.
The zipper gives me trouble. I grimace in the mirror, my arms twisted awkwardly behind my back, trying to get the darn thing to zip up. It’s too tight. My breasts almost spill out of the cups. I’m embarrassed to show myself in this strapless thing with my chest and shoulders bare, even though . . . I cock my head to the side.
The light inside the fitting room might be deceitful, but I like the way my Latina complexion contrasts with the cream-colored lace dress. I have far from perfect skin, and it rarely looks so complimented. Still, the dress is too small at the upper back, and it’s bursting at the seams at my hips. I decide to dismiss it, but that moment a head pops in.
I spin on an axis, and stumble backwards against the mirror. I slap my hand on my chest as my eyes find Gertrude’s face.
“God, you scared me.”
She measures me up and down. “She needs another one,” she calls over her shoulder.
“Why?” That’s Tristan’s voice.
“This one’s too tight. Not sure your father wants to make his appearance with –”
“Let her come out, I want to see.”
With a scowl Gertrude shoves in a pair of cream-colored stilettos that match the dress. “Put these on.”
I step into the shoes, take in a deep breath, and walk outside of the fitting room.
Tristan drops his smart phone and looks up at me with the cold gaze of a judge. I feel my cheeks catch fire like someone just bit them.
“It’s perfect,” he says. He’s sitting with an arm stretched over the back of the couch, legs apart, aggressive. His bodyguards stand flanking him behind the couch. He seems an Ice Prince indeed, powerful and defiant in his beauty. A vicious grin curls up his lips. “She looks exactly like she’s supposed to – the escort of an elderly billionaire, all tits and ass wrapped up properly.”
The contempt in his tone angers me. Before I know it I’ve stepped forward, and jutted out my chin. I haven’t been so bold since the day I met him. “Your father sees far more in me. I can help him get information from the Russian mobster, information that you, his son and chief of operations, cannot.”
Everybody in the room stiffens and holds their breath, from Gertrude to the bodyguards to the middle-aged saleswoman who’s frozen on the way to me holding a clutch that matches my dress. Tristan looks arctic daggers at me.
“Don’t make the mistake of thinking you understand Mark Stahl’s decisions, Isolde,” he purrs dangerously. “He’s wanted you on his team, yes, but remember that I remain the head of that team.” He bends from his waist and places his elbows on his knees. “To be honest, I think he likes you in a plain carnal way, Isolde. It’s been a while since he’s displayed a woman on his arm. Think about it – the mighty Mark Stahl, the man who’s kept out of sight for years, the man who runs the entire pharma industry from the shadow, wants to show you off as his escort. Doesn’t that make you wonder?” His tone drops, and he’s looking at me from under his eyebrows. “Maybe he’ll want you in his bed.”
Disgust explodes all over me. Then I hear myself say the most preposterous thing. “And how would you feel about that?”
He blinks. I realize I haven’t seen Tristan blink often, he always kept his stare inhumanly steady on me, but this time my words seem to take him by surprise. He leans back, his face regaining its cool expression in a moment. “I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s not like he’d marry you. He’ll use you and toss you away.”
I meant ‘would you be jealous,’ not ‘would you worry about your father’s heart’, but this response will do. It makes it clear once again that I’m no more than road kill to the Ice Prince. I sink my gaze and nod my head. My chest tightens so much it feels like a heavy ball, and I realize I want to hurt him. Badly. I feel the corners of my mouth curl downwards in a bitter expression. I keep my head down, and thereby my feelings to myself, bringing my hands together and pressing them against each other in front of my lower belly.
“Can he even, still, you know. I mean, he is old. And very ill.”
Tristan pauses. “Are you actually considering –?”
My eyes shoot up, finding his. The words fly out of my mouth. “I’m a virgin, Tristan.” That’s enough to stamp shock on his face, but I got more. “I figure, since I waited till twenty-six to be with a man, I might play my cards right and land myself an outrageously rich lover. Even if it’s short term, surely some advantage would come out of it.”
Tristan stares at me, while my blood seems to gurgle in my veins. I can’t believe what I’ve just said, the picture of myself that I’m painting for him. But I want to hurt him so badly, punish him for his indifference, for the brutal way he talks to me that I don’t care how I do it.
He gets up in a flash, so unexpectedly that I back off. He looks me up and down with an expression so cold that it’s impossible to gauge, and starts towards the exit. Demerol hurries to open the door for him and, as the bear-looking bodyguard holds it, Tristan stops and looks back at Gertrude.
“Make sure tonight Miss Isolde Molnar is primped according the special purpose she kindly shared with us.” He walks out the door, and tears of frustration creep up to my eyes.
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