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!
Chapter XIX – Indecent Proposal
I know the woman now facing me directly. Her deep brown eyes meet mine with those unmistakable long eyelashes, curved upward. Her face is heart-shaped, delicate and very pale, as it’s always been, but indeed, I can see the lady in her. I’ve known her as helpless Frany, but now I’m looking at Lady Marie France Cassel, elite chemist; if I didn’t know better now, I’d think she is my sweet Frany’s older, aristocrat sister.
The moment she recognizes me Lady Marie France turns on her heels, places her drink on the mantelpiece behind her, lifts her skirt—shiny, black, sewn with black pearls—and she glides through the crowd away from me.
I scurry after her, but she’s faster. She seems a ghost, floating casually among human obstacles, while I bump into them, and excuse myself. I keep my eyes on her and follow out of the room to another room, different people, same smothering heat. I see her take a right into what turns out to be a dark corridor where I’m forced to feel my way along the walls, into the gardens outside.
It’s dark, the gardens are scarcely lit, and the chill bites into my naked arms and shoulders. The emerald necklace turns to metal against my skin, hitting me like a small cold whip every step I take.
“Frany,” I call after the woman who’s become a dark moving stain before me. She keeps gliding away. “Lady Marie France!”
She stops and turns, her pale face like half a moon in the night. I can’t see her eyes, but I can read her surprise.
“Yes, I know who you are, Lady Cassel,” I press, slowing down, hoping I got her. But she turns, and moves away even faster than before. I grip the folds of my dress and increase pace, my chest and neck cold, and my breath steaming out of my mouth. My lungs burn, and the dress squeezes me like pliers, but I won’t give up.
Marie France crosses a quaint little bridge over the pond, and disappears into a rusty pavilion. I’m pretty sure I hear a creak, but it could be the floorboards of the bridge squeaking under my feet. When I reach the pavilion I spin in circles, but she’s disappeared. I’m sure she stepped in here, though.
I look around the dimly lit gazebo, touching and inspecting the wrought iron benches and the chipped round table in the middle. Under it there’s a lever. I wrap both my hands around the cold iron, pull down hard, and a hatch opens. Indeed, there’s the creak, the same one from before.
I take a deep breath and climb down through the hatch, feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland. I don’t know why, but I’m not surprised to find a secret doorway in the royal gardens of the Charlottenburg Palace. Maybe it’s because of the vision I had, because I kind of know what to expect.
My hair and dress catch in the edges of the entrance, and I can’t refrain from cursing. A tooth-like piece of copper hooked into a fold of my dress, and the only solution I see to free myself is tugging hard. The force I apply to the tug turns out too much, the fold rips, and I roll downwards on my back. Something like a metal slide batters my spine as I roll, and by the time I hit the ground I’ve groaned so loud that my presence surely isn’t a secret anymore.
I get to my feet with difficulty, not sure yet how much of my body is broken. My bones hurt, but as I touch myself I realize the scare was the worst part of it. If anything, I’ll get a few bruises by morning.
I look around, bracing myself and rubbing my upper arms. This place is deserted and frightening, like an ancient cave. The air is stale, and foul. Ventilation surely is an issue here, and the pressure is heavy on my body, too. I must have fallen really far underground.
The soil consists of damp gravel and sand, and it crunches under my feet as I step to the edge of an abyss that yawns before me without warning. I flail my arms to keep balance, but when I steady myself my eyes also adjust, and I gasp.
The countless seats carved into the earth all around the hole are empty, but limelight is focused on a scene in the center of an abandoned arena. This place seems a secret Roman ruin, a site where Roman military probably had gladiators fight when they missed home. Spotting movement, I narrow my eyes, hunker down, and strain with all I have to see from this distance. I gasp, taking my hand to my mouth.
He hangs on a cross just like in my vision. Streaks of blood seem to snake down his forearms and down the cross from his feet, while two men dressed like Roman guards stand on each side of him with spears in their hands. I’m sure the crucified man is Tristan, and panic makes the blood squirt from my heart. But, unlike in my vision, there’s no laughing crowd, and as I look better I see the man on the cross isn’t Tristan. It’s my foster father from years ago, his body like a flaccid peach glistening with sweat in the limelight. He’s completely naked, and he seems barely alive.
I feel Tristan’s wintry breath on the curve of my neck before his voice reaches my ear from behind.
“He knows exactly why this is happening to him.” He’s really close; the temperature of his big body envelops my back. It’s not heat and it’s not cold, it’s just waves of temperature field. Something I’ve never experienced before, I realize suddenly.
“You aren’t human,” I whisper without turning.
“Whether I’m human or not has nothing to do with this,” he says in a low voice. His lips touch the shell of my ear lightly, and a shiver that borders on pleasure runs all through me. I grit my teeth. There’s satisfaction in his voice at his next words. “Do you enjoy the sight?”
“Enjoy?” God, I’m trembling like a chicken stripped of feathers.
“After everything he did to you, retribution must feel good.”
I turn to look into Tristan’s face. My heart cringes as my eyes settle on him. Please, God, don’t let me be falling for a monster, for a torturer and a killer. I brusquely remember Marie France and her love potion.
“I saw her, Tristan. I saw Marie France. She led me here, and she must be around somewhere.”
He grins his thuggish grin, and the wicked dimple appears beside his mouth. “Yes, I know. Well, she had a surprise of her own. She expected me on that cross.”
“And she expected a full audience, too. That’s what I saw in my vision.”
“Your vision helped change that version of the future—to this.” He motions with his chin to the scene in the limelight. I glance at my foster father, and my fists clench on the folds of my dress.
“Tristan, please, I can’t be responsible for this.”
He stands while I’m still hunkering down. He now looms over me. “Come on, Isolde, don’t be a hypocrite. Roland told me what this piece of shit put you through, you must experience some sort of pleasure right now.”
He reaches for me and helps me up. His hand is big enough to wind around my upper arm completely, but it’s also cold and wet. I look at it, and my stomach twists. His hand, wrist and cuff are soaking red.
“Yes, I nailed him myself,” Tristan says, and he sounds like a satisfied psycho. He offers me his other hand. “Here, touch his blood.”
“What, no!” Frany! I grip his forearm, horrified. “What about Marie France? Did you intercept her as she came here? What did you do to her?”
He frowns. “I decided to let her go. Desperate as she is now, she’s going to make huge mistakes, and lead us to the others. My men are tailing her closely. We’ll get to all of her confederates, eventually.”
I glance at my foster father. “Are you really doing this for me, Tristan? When we met at the Palace you looked at me like I wasn’t worth jack. The last thing I expected—”
“Was that I’d seek revenge in your name. Exactly.” He steps closer, and his arm goes around my waist, plastering me to his body. I gasp. This can’t be happening. This can’t be freaking happening.
His wintry smell tinges my nostrils, the sleek feel of his suit licks my arms, and I think I’m having an out of body experience. It all feels like an alternate reality, me staring up into his razor sharp blue eyes from somewhere beside myself.
“I had to do something that would make this a highly incredible scenario, Isolde. Namely that I’d be down in this cave tonight, ramming nails into a man’s hands and feet in order to please you. I had to put on display my indifference to you.” His gaze is wild. The man is mighty damaged.
“Tristan, this is sacrilege,” I manage, keeping my tone extra soft. “You can’t give my foster father the fate of Christ. Please, get him down. That would please me.”
He lets go of me and squares his shoulders. “It’s pretty hard to release him now, Isolde. What you see is only the tip of the iceberg. Your foster father and I first met twenty-four hours ago, and we spent some time together since then, you see.”
I shudder, understanding what he means. I look him up and down, picturing how this monster has tortured my foster father, probably while telling him it was in my name. Now that weasel has seen Tristan’s face, and he can go to the police with it. I notice a stain of blood on Tristan’s white shirt under the suit jacket, emerging from under his lapel, wet and plastering his shirt to his pectoral.
“You intend to kill him no matter what,” I breathe, bracing myself.
“I don’t have a choice,” he states coldly.
I glance away for only a moment to ease the tension between us, and when my eyes find him again he seems even more threatening. I barely dare look him in the face as I say, timidly, “You’re the mighty Tristan Stahl. President of Stahl Biotech, head of the pharmaceuticals mafia, and you’re well connected to the very top of the world. If anyone always has a choice, it’s you.”
I drop my gaze, but I can feel those blade sharp eyes drilling into my skull.
“Well, what can I say.” His tone is deceivingly calm. “You are very smart, Isolde. You know how to manipulate words, but I’m afraid men of my caliber aren’t as easy.”
My eyes snap to him. “I’m not trying to manipulate you, Tristan. I’m trying to talk some sense into you.” I point to my foster father, raising my voice as the fist of despair grips my heart. “You’re about to take a life!”
“His life is worthless.”
“That’s not for you to decide. He’s been born into this world, he has a right to be here.”
“Well, he sure doesn’t feel the same about you, does he?” Tristan loses patience, grips my elbow, and pulls me harshly to him. I slam into his body like a ragdoll against a wall. I’m so soft compared to him, and his face is so freaking close to mine, his wintry breath smashing into my face, good God! “This man is a neo-Nazi. He believes that I deserve to live, the perfect Aryan specimen, while you should die just because your skin is a few shades darker than his. He’d never return the favor you’re doing him now, Isolde.”
It’s a struggle to keep my gaze hanging on his, but I have to. It’s either make my point now, or never. “And if you sacrifice him now to his own gods, Tristan, saying you’re doing it for me, what lesson will he have learned? He’ll only think he’s dying a martyr, and that he’s been right all along to hate the Latina bitch.”
Tristan pauses, looking hard into my eyes. “You’ll say anything to save him, won’t you?” He scans me up and down. My intuition tells me that, if until now he was only intrigued by me, now I’m in much bigger trouble. “It would seem you’re even more special than Mark expected.”
He comes so close his icy blue eyes become a blur. “Tell, me,” he purrs like a stalking tiger, “how much would you sacrifice in order to save this piece of shit?”
“What would you give me in order to safeguard his right of being in this world?”
Blood drains from my head. “What are you trying to say to me, Tristan?”
He splays his fingers over my back, my tits swelling against his iron body. “If you want me to take the risk and set him loose, Isolde, I’ll have something in return.” His voice goes low, deep, smoky, making the skin on my back prickle. “I’ll have your virtue.”
TO BE CONTINUED…