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!
I’m lying face-up on a couch. My body feels so heavy, I think I’m a boulder sinking into the leather cushions. I blink to clear my eyesight, and I recognize the high shelves of books spiraling toward the arched ceiling in Tristan’s study.
I shoot up to a sitting position, and my head swims. I take my hand to it with a grunt. “Crap.”
“Here,” familiar baritone says. Tristan holds a bar of chocolate under my nose. “It’ll help.”
I look up his arm and suited body to his face. Those eyes like blue ice knock me back, but I can’t let him do this to me now. When I try to stand I go instantly dizzy, and my legs give away under me, making me drop back down into the cushions.
Tristan doesn’t say another word, but keeps the chocolate in my face. I take it with trembling fingers and bite into it. The sweetness spreads over my taste buds, and I close my eyes in delight, but the yawning cuts in Boris Podgor’s throat snap at me, and my eyes shoot open again.
“For God’s sakes,” I cry. “She killed him! The woman with the white gloves, she freaking killed him!” The scene is glaring inside my head. The heavy, rusty smell of the man’s blood still clings to the inside of my nostrils.
“If you knew the kind of scumbag he was,” Tristan says coldly, “you’d say we went too easy on him.”
I look straight into his face, scowling with everything I have. “You and your pack, you can’t go around killing people, no matter what reasons you think you have.”
His features remain as if sculpted in ice as he hunkers down before me. He’s strikingly beautiful, the Ice Prince. I remember what my mother used to say – the devil is the most beautiful of angels; in the end, he used to be God’s favorite.
“Boris Podgor used to fool girls from Eastern European countries,” Tristan says, “promising to bring them here, to Germany, to work as nurses and baby sitters. But once he imported them, he’d take their papers away, lock them up, and force them to prostitute themselves. He also made a fortune of selling a particularly nasty drug in his clubs. It’s called crocodile.” He brings his face closer, and I swear I can feel coldness oozing out of his skin and touching mine. “Have you ever heard of crocodile? It’s known as the ‘zombie drug’ because it practically eats the flesh away. Care to see pictures?”
I swallow and shake my head.
“I thought so,” he says, places his hands on his knees, and stands.
I watch him walk to the drinks cabinet, and can’t help my eyes from sliding up and down his body. Despite myself, I love the way his suit jacket stretches over the breadth of his back. I love his fighter frame. It seems God created him especially to spite me, to make me drool and suffer that I’ll never have him. Heck, I shouldn’t even want him, he’s a bad guy.
“What do you make of what Boris said?” I murmur as he pours a drink. It’s easier talking to his back, less intimidating. But my heart still beats in that way it did when I was thirteen and had my first crush.
“He said a lot. Which part do you mean?” he asks calmly.
“About Marie France and what she put in your drink.”
He turns with two glasses of scotch. Walks over, hands one to me, then returns and leans against his desk. “I’m not worried about Marie France’s potions. Mark is.”
I take a sip, studying him. The alcohol stings my dry lips, but the burn running down my guts feels good. “He must have a reason, your father.”
“He’s an old man. A bit paranoid.” He looks up from his drink, his arctic eyes sharp. “Marie France aimed to chemically manipulate my feelings. According to my people’s recent investigations, that’s what she specializes in.” He juts out his chin, and I know he’s defying not only me, but the whole world. “Too bad I’m a psychopath. I cannot feel, not like Marie France understands emotion. If her potions have any effect on me, it’s unconventional to say the least.”
Now my heart is my throat, beating to gag me. “Unconventional in what way?” I manage. I realize Marie France wanted him to have feelings for me, which backfired big time. I sipped from that glass, too, and I’m falling for him. Crap.
“Seems it only intensifies what I normally feel – mostly anger.” He drains the scotch, and sets the glass on his desk, right by the antique lamp that burns low among neatly arranged documents. “But enough on the matter. Back to business. Since Mr. Podgor had to leave us before revealing something worthwhile, we took the liberty of searching his back office. We found this.”
He fishes what looks like a shiny wedding invitation from a pile, and walks over. He hands me the shiny thing, and drops into the armchair by my side, scotch in his hand. I look at what turns out to be an invitation indeed, only not to a wedding, but to an event at the Charlottenburg museum castle. “Science Evening – celebrate groundbreaking discoveries by candlelight”.
“What?” I hear myself exclaim, flipping the invitation around to glance at its silvery-framed back, as if the explanation of its existence in Boris’s office could be there. “Not the kind of thing you’d expect someone like Boris Podgor to get invited to,” I think out loud.
“Exactly,” Tristan murmurs, twirling the glass of scotch lightly. “Except if he’s got ties with people from the field, which we know he does – through Marie France Cassel, the Institute’s alchemist, at the very least.”
I narrow my eyes, looking at him. “Speaking of the Institute and alchemy. Aren’t they supposed to focus on psychosomatic research? Why do they mess around with chemistry? I mean, pharma – chemistry – is the domain of your company, which they try to prove useless with their psychology research.”
“Chemistry and psychology are related. Think anti-depressants and calmatives.” He runs his free hand through his hair. The way it catches the cozy lamp light, the orange dance of flames on liquid white gold . . .
I swallow hard and clear my throat. “You make it sound as if, in truth, there’s nothing beyond the physical. As if concepts such as mind, soul, dignity, aspirations are nothing but a mix of chemicals and –”
“No, it’s not like that.” His voice is softer than I’ve ever heard it. It sends a burn through my limbs, and I feel like freaking ice cream melting on his couch. It’s dark outside, the rain patters against the high windows, and I begin to realize the atmosphere is romantic. I’m alone in a fairy-tale library with the most powerful man on the continent, who happens to look like a fairy-tale prince, too.
He takes a deep breath and continues, his eyes on the dark window. “They’re trying to prove that, with proper psychological guidance, people don’t need drugs or any kind of chemicals in order to heal.” His eyes shift to my face, and my heart jumps. “They’re trying to prove that human mind can beat any disease by itself, with no input but from sunlight, wind, and water.”
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