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!
The driver walks me to a big metallic door. The visor opens, there’s a grunt, and the lid is slammed back shut. The door is yanked open, and a huge bouncer fills the doorframe, scowling down at us. He recognizes the driver, and escorts us to the wardrobe.
Standing there in my cream lace dress that hugs my body tightly from breasts to mid-knee, my hair a tail of locks bouncing heavy down my naked back with every step, I can’t believe the attention. Everybody in line stares, including the pack of security guards.
I can still feel their eyes on me as the big guy escorts us to a glass elevator that speeds to the highest floor. The elevator is practically a glass cage outside of the building, and while I’m in awe at the city lights, I can’t bear the sight for long. Heights freak me out. By the time the doors open to let us into an elegant foyer all dark wood and soft lights, my stomach has migrated to my throat.
Beyond the foyer, there’s the club. Unlike the one I used to work in, the scents that assault me are of expensive cologne instead of sweat and beer. Men are all fancy designer suits and women wear cocktail dresses, clustered around tables with candles and drinks. What fills my ears is the soft beats of dance instead of the raking house from my last workplace.
Mark Stahl waits in his wheelchair at a table at the far end, the skyline with its city lights shimmering behind him through the glass wall. I panic – am I supposed to peer into the abyss the entire time? My stomach churns, and I drop in a black leather chair by his side instead of across from him, my back to the glass. Bodyguards gather around our table, and Gertrude takes a seat close to Mark’s wheelchair, crossing her ankles like the Queen.
She and I lock eyes, and the enmity between us thickens. Even Mark picks it up. His pruned hand settles on my knee, his sleeve perfectly starched. He seems a mummy in a suit.
“You and Gertrude didn’t hit it off?” he asks in his robotic voice. I glance at the speaking device connected to his throat, then at his hand, and then at Gertrude’s shiny blond bob with white strands. I doubt she can hear us over the music.
“Let’s say we don’t have the best chemistry.”
He pats my knee. I shift, uncrossing and crossing my legs. He lifts his hand off me to allow the movement but, to my dismay, he places it back on my thigh when I settle. “You won’t have to put up with her for very long. I’ve chosen her as Tristan’s mate. She’ll be busy carrying beautiful babies soon, and she’ll leave our entourage for a while.”
I’ve chosen her as Tristan’s mate. That slaps me across the face, especially when I see the triumphant smile stretching on Gertrude’s. I look Mark up and down, barely hiding my bitterness. Luckily, he’s not looking at me but at Gertrude, a grin on his face as if he’s a proud granddad already. The Nazi goals are still deeply rooted inside of him, I see. Words tumble to the tip of my tongue, and I can’t keep them back.
“You think Tristan would have ugly babies if he were to mate with someone like me, for example?”
The grin wipes off Mark’s turtle face. The blotches on his skin seem yellow in the club lights. “Point taken. To prove that I’m not some racist prick, I’ll confess I’d like to go through the process of making children with you myself.”
The words make my flesh curl like I’ve just eaten lemon, and I think he notices. A sad smile pulls at the wrinkled corner of his mouth. “Don’t worry, I don’t intend to put this body on you.”
“What body then? Are you a shape shifter or something?” Then I realize what I’ve just said. I bite my lip and look away, my gaze bumping into an elegant man standing right across from us, his hair slicked back. He looks like an Italian Mafioso from the movies, white shirt hugging a well-fed body.
“Mark Stahl,” he booms, and I wince. His voice is so strong, his greeting covers the music. His accent is thick. “What an honor!” He drops in a leather chair across from us and glances around, a bit anxious. “Only ze fazer, or should I expect ze son as well?”
A retinue of bodyguards shifts behind him. Between their moving bodies I spot Tristan approaching us, and my heart jumps into my throat. His neckline is open, and his suit jacket wraps his fighter body so perfectly that for a moment I wish I were it. I shake my head to lose the stupid idea.
“I’m afraid this visit is a pleasure I chose to share with my son, dear Boris,” Mark says.
Tristan glides right behind him, arranging his sleeve cuffs as if he’s getting ready for a boxing match. Boris turns, startled, and his jeweled hand grabs on to the chair arm.
“Some party you got here,” Tristan says in his thick baritone that makes my senses vibrate. “I was disappointed not to receive an invitation.”
Boris’s knuckles turn white and, by his sagging face, I can tell he’s intimidated. “Stahl’s hit man.” He realizes he thought out loud, and takes in a sharp breath. His grip on the chair edge tightens, his rings biting into his flesh. “Sorry. But zere are stories about you.” He gives out a forced laugh when Tristan doesn’t say anything, but simply nails him down with his irises that seem ice bolts. “Not zat I believe half of zem, but you know how it is.”
It’s Mark’s robotic voice that replies. “Don’t believe the stories? You should. He earned his reputation.”
Tristan bends from his waist, making Boris flinch, but instead of head butting the man – which seemed to be his intention – he picks up his glass of scotch from the table. He drains it, all the while keeping his razor sharp eyes on Boris. The way his perfect marble skin stretches over the muscles in his neck . . .
Mark points to the fruit salad on the table, and Gertrude feeds him a grape, slowly. He bites into it, making the juice squirt.
“You’ve been playing a dangerous game, Boris.” He speaks while he’s chewing. The sound is gross. “You thought I wouldn’t find out about your plan with Marie France Cassel? The alchemy she tried to work on my son?” He motions faintly to the glass in Tristan’s hand.
The Adam’s apple in Boris’s throat glides up and down. He doesn’t dare look away from Tristan. “Marie who?” he babbles. Tristan slams the glass on the table. Both Boris and I jump from our seats.
“Are you playing with me, Podgor?” Mark’s robotic voice is now threatening. Boris starts to shake, and words jitter out of his mouth.
“She knew things about me. I’m afraid of the Institute, Mr. Stahl. They’re powerful people, and they create –” he glances at Tristan fearfully, “– men like him. Had I refused, it would’ve been the end of me and my business.”
“You’re afraid of them,” Mark says. “Then you should be terrified of us.”
There’s a shuffling of bodies behind Tristan and Boris. Their men exchange blows and shoves, but the whole thing is over before I can make much sense of it except that Tristan is now free to move as he pleases around Boris, the commotion now moving toward the exit. Tables are knocked down, people yell, and many run like there’s an earthquake.
Soon only the waiters and some customers from the bar are left around us, watching with open mouths, some frozen with drinks in their hands. Tristan doesn’t seem to care, he’s not trying to make a secret of himself or his skill. He grabs Boris’s wrist and twirls him around so fast the man stumbles and smashes his shin against the low table edge. I hear a groan and, before I know it, Boris is down on his knees, howling in pain as Tristan twists his arm behind his back. Tristan’s face is a cold mask, his blue eyes almost neon in the club lights. If looks could kill. The music has stopped, and I push back in my chair, scared stiff.
“I’m a very busy man, Boris,” Mark says in his viper-like manner. “I don’t have time to waste. What did she aim at with the chemistry she put into my son’s drink, and where do I find her again?”
“Your psycho son, the freak you fished from the corpses,” Boris howls. “He’s not invincible anymore.” His scrunched eyes snap open, his eyeballs reddened and full of hatred. I can see the muscles move under Tristan’s jacket, and Boris screams again.
“Go on,” Tristan demands calmly, unfazed. Boris still hesitates, grimacing. Tristan’s muscles move again, and this time Boris screams like he’s being nailed to a cross.
“You damned Frankenstein! You’ll be sorry for this!”
“If I had a penny for every time I heard that,” Tristan says. He bends to the man’s ear. “Start talking, worm, or I’ll make your bones snap.”
Boris looks at Mark as he speaks. Despite the pain, he grins. “Marie France has hi-jacked your perfect Aryan warrior.”
Mark’s pruned hand grips tighter to the rail arm of his wheelchair. It draws my attention because the thing creaks. “What the hell do you mean?”
Tristan twists the man’s arm harder, bringing him to the border of madness with pain. “No more wording games.”
Boris turns his face to him, grinning like a nutcase, as if the pain took his mind. “You’re going to know love, beast, and you’re going to know agony. You’re going to twist on the floor like a stabbed snake. Because –” He rises on his knees, bringing his nose an inch from Tristan’s. “You’re going to kill what you love, and you won’t know that you love it until it’s gone.”
Tristan straightens up, like he’s heard everything he needed to hear, and wasn’t either surprised or impressed. Not a muscle moves on his face. He releases Boris, and shoves him forward, making him buckle over the table. His neon blue eyes settle on Mark.
“You won’t get any more out of this one.” He glances at me, then at Gertrude. “Finish him.”
Before I can blink Gertrude leaps from her seat, hitches the white silk glove off of her right hand, and metal fingernails shoot out of the tips of her fingers. She grabs Boris by the hair, and claws his throat as fast as a bullet. The last thing I see is Boris’s stunned, open-mouthed face turn upward, his throat sliced open in three ragged lines, thickening with dark blood. They yawn wider, exposing his naked reddish muscle. He falls backwards, his blood pooling around Tristan’s shiny black shoes. Life drains from my head, and I black out.
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