Tristan and Isolde Reloaded- Chapter XVIII

Chapter XVIII – Party Flavours

 

ISOLDE

 

VIP treatment can be scary as heck. I’m sitting in the back of Mark Stahl’s limo, noise and cameras surrounding the car. I blink every time flashes bounce off the bulletproof glass. Mark Stahl’s pruned hand is on my knee, the white sleeve of his shirt starched and spotless. I’m sick to my stomach.

“You’ll have to get used to the attention,” Mark’s robotic voice says in my ear. The speaking device is strapped to his dry neck with transparent, thin little tubes. I struggle to repress a shudder when I look at him, an ancient turtle in a suit.

“Once they see you by my side they won’t get off your back again.” He grins. “So get used to the VIP status.”

The limo comes to a full stop, the driver walks over, and opens the door on Mark’s side. His men grip the wheels of his chair and carry him out like some ancient king. As soon as his blotched baldhead emerges from the car, journalists’ voices surge, and a bodyguard’s hand reaches in for me. I take it and step out, too, careful not to stumble on the rim of my 18th century dress with emerald green folds. The corset is tight, and my tits once again fill my cleavage, but I’ve learned how to move in such a way that they’re never in danger of popping out. Not to mention that I can count on the vintage emerald necklace to cover almost all of my chest down to the swell of my breasts.

As soon as I’m fully out of the car microphones pop under my face from everywhere.

“Was this a secret affair?” Male voice, very close.

“How long has this been going on?” A woman, close, too.

“Is there a pregnancy involved?” A girl journalist with a blurry face squashed in the crowd to one side of the red carpet. Jesus Christ, I’m actually on the red carpet, and for what?

With every step I take another camera flash hits me, making me squint. One wrong step, my feet in high heels stumble on each other, and I lose my balance. Luckily, two bodyguards catch me, one on each side. They practically carry me to the entrance, which feels like a throttle. They have to squeeze me between their barrel-like bodies to get me inside. Mark is basically carried over the throng’s heads.

“Whew, that was crazy,” the man to my right says once we’re inside the foyer. His voice is deep, familiar, and when I look up at him I recognize Demerol, Tristan’s right hand. He’s smiling down at me. By God, this man has a lot of hair.

The bodyguards set Mark down by my side. He ignores the shouted questions all around us, and keeps his eyes fixed ahead. He raises his hand, palm up, waiting for me to take it. He may seem an old frog in a high tech wheel chair, but his face demands respect. He oozes power, like there’s a huge, dangerous shadow rising from him.

As soon as my hand has touched Mark’s crumpled skin the chair starts wheeling forward, his bodyguards keeping tight on each side of us, making way. We make it through the entrance hall that is full of journalists, and move from room to room that open into each other, all opulent rococo. It’s crowded beyond belief, and hot like the in cauldrons of the underworld. It’s smothering.

“I thought this party would be much smaller. Something secret with closed circuit,” I whisper to Mark, bending slightly from my waist to his ear. My hip bumps into the top of his wheel with every step, and brushes into Demerol on the other side, that’s how tightly I’m squeezed between them. Journalists shout and slam like crazy into the bodyguards, trying to reach the mighty Mark Stahl—I learn from their yells that this is the first time Mark has shown himself in public in over a decade.

“Would I take the trouble to attend a small party, Isolde?” Mark smiles a cold smile as if only for the cameras, keeping his eyes ahead. It makes me feel like I’ve asked the most idiotic question.

“No, but the Charlottenburg Palace is a museum,” I retort. “I didn’t think it could be used as a venue for a party of such large scale.”

“It sure doesn’t happen every day,” he replies coldly. He’s been strange for a few days, and his attitude makes me uncomfortable.

We enter the Golden Gallery, the main ballroom with its gilded patterns on the walls, mirrors and high windows. I’ve seen this room empty once when I visited the museum, and it was impressive, but today it’s downright stunning. It’s hosting a theme party, women in white wigs and vintage dresses laughing on the arms of their partners.

Mark’s wheelchair glides along by my side, leading me deeper towards the center of the ballroom. People stop and stare as we approach, and laughter ceases. Some men even bow. An older lady to the right covers her mouth with her fan as she leans towards a younger one’s ear, and I can tell she’s whispering about us by the way her eyes stay fixed in our direction.

“Is this really happening, or are my eyes playing tricks on me?” a thick male voice booms, tearing my eyes away from the woman with the fan. A man with grey whiskers and rich mustache fills my field of vision. He’s wearing an aristocrat’s—or is it a military man’s?—dark blue outfit from the Kaiser’s times, knee-length boots included. He’s tall and fleshy, broad. Mark’s wheelchair comes to a stop, and I halt, too. We’re still holding hands.

“Mark Stahl in the flesh and—” The man leans back, exploring Mark. “—well, in the wheels.”

“Wolfram,” Mark greets evenly, the smile wiping off his face. He squeezes my hand. “Isolde, this is former member of Parliament Wolfram Schultze. He planted as many obstacles in my company’s way as he could back in his day. Wasn’t a big supporter of Stahl Biotech.”

Oh, wow. I like him already.

“I’m still not a fan, Mark, I must say,” Mr. Schultze says, taking my hand. He kisses it, avoiding to leer, and turns his attention back to my partner. “But I’m retired now, so no longer a problem to you.” He bends in closer to Mark and winks. “Which means I can now take you up on your offer of friendship.”

“I have no use for your friendship anymore, Wolfram,” Mark says bluntly.

“Don’t be so quick to write me off.” Mr. Schultze straightens up, and offers his arm to a woman who steps into he picture by his side. I recognize the mole above her mouth and the shape of her bright red lips—it’s the woman from my vision. She looks at me with contempt, as if she knows me from somewhere, too. Or maybe it’s just because I’m the escort of a much older and outrageously rich man.

Mr. Schultze looks around the place as if he’s searching for something or someone, and making a point to Mark. “There are people here who would love to have me on their side. I may not sit in the Parliament anymore, but I’m still invited to dinner, you know.”

“I’m sure you haven’t lost your connections,” Mark says. “Especially not the ones to the benefit of which you gave me hell.”

I glance from him to Mr. Schultze, who’s chewing on the inside of his cheek, frowning, clearly uncomfortable. “I want to make peace, Mark.”

“You want to nail me as much as always. You just changed strategy.”

I keep staring at the woman, Mr. Schultze’s partner. She’s a good-looking middle-aged lady, with a wicked vibe. In my vision she was laughing. Was she enjoying Tristan’s pain? Wait a minute—did she help set up the trap for him?

Familiar, deep baritone makes my ears perk up.

“Isn’t this an unexpected encounter,” Tristan says. He’s joining our little circle in a sheen grey suit that hugs his tall and broad-shouldered frame. I can’t help it. My eyes lick all over his figure, and I mindlessly let my tongue run over my upper lip. When I realize what I’m doing it’s too late. It’s obvious to everyone that I find him delicious, especially to the blonde with white gloves on his arm—Gertrude. My heart gives me a pang, and I swallow hard. I look away to avoid the poison in her glass-like blue eyes.

“Mr. Wolfram Schultze.” Tristan extends his hand. Mr. Schultze takes it, a bit hesitant. “I trust you remember me as well, not only my father.”

“How could I ever forget you,” Mr. Schultze replies, keeping his reserve. “Mark Stahl’s loyal Cerberus.”

Tristan gives a short laugh that vibrates against my chest. “Interesting comparison, but defense is Demerol’s specialty.” He motions with his hand curtly to Demerol, who’s still flanking me. “I’m more of an attack dog.”

“Indeed,” Mr. Schultze says, scanning my blond bad boy up and down. There’s genuine curiosity in his gaze, and respect that he seems unwilling to display otherwise. “I hear you go after those who make your father uncomfortable, rather than protect him from them.”

“I’m not very good at coaxing, I must admit. I mostly coerce.” Tristan displays a cool grin. That dimple appears in his cheek, and my knees liquefy. By God, everything about him is sexy and powerful at the same time. Mr. Schultze, Demerol, all his father’s bodyguards seem squashed beneath the weight of his presence.

“Tristan,” I whisper, reaching for him. Shoot, my arm is trembling. From the corner of my eye I see Mark raise an arch of skin that used to be one of his eyebrows. I’m being too freaking obvious, but I have to tell Tristan about the woman. This whole event here could have the sole purpose of trapping Mark Stahl’s engineered weapon of a son.

But before I can touch him Tristan plants a razor sharp glare between my eyes. It seems to split my forehead open. I freeze, and my hand drops to my side. Tristan offers Gertrude his arm, she smiles triumphantly at me, then they turn around and leave. Boy, was that embarrassing.

People come between Mr. Schultze, Mark and me, and soon Mr. Schultze is taken away in a small crowd.

“Keep an eye on him,” Mark says to me while picking up a glass of sparkling wine off the tray a waiter holds. The young man bows enough to make the famous magnate’s job easy. Mark passes me the glass. “The people he mentioned, those who want him on their side if I don’t—they’re definitely the Institute’s people. So switch that legendary intuition of yours on, get to work, and let me know if you notice anyone special.”

He sounds like a boss, and I can hear the anger behind his voice. I understand his reasons, too. I hunker down so that my face is well beneath his, and place my hands on his knees.

“Mark, that woman. The one escorting Mr. Schultze. I had a vision of her a week ago. In that vision, Tristan was being crucified, and she was laughing hard. This means that, if they have anything planned for him, she’ll know. That’s what I wanted to tell him.”

Light gradually returns to Mark’s face. “Is that why you reached for him the way you did?” He lets out a small laugh, like he’s relieved. “You looked like a schoolgirl with a crush, Isolde.”

Which is what made Tristan look at me the way he did. His contempt was a blow right to my solar plexus. I bite my lip and drop my eyes to the floor, to Mark’s shiny black shoes.

“I don’t have romantic interest in your son, Mark.” The lie is sour on my tongue. He reaches under my chin and makes me look up into his blotched face again.

“We’re prepared for this, Isolde,” he says quietly, his lips close to my face. He has his last meal on his breath, and I want to crease my nose, but I stop myself in time. “All the important ones are gathered here, thinking they can finally get their hands on The Ripper.”

The what?

“But, thanks to you, they’ve dug their own grave. Finally, we have them, Isolde. We just have to identify them.”

“Mark!” A man places big hands on each side of Mark’s arms from behind, peeking at him from around the life support gear. He must be someone who knows Mark well, since the bodyguards let him through.

Mark seems genuinely pleased to see him as well. They go on talking, and I remember to keep an eye on Mr. Schultze. I walk around with the glass of sparkling wine in my hand, taking a sip here and there, Demerol close behind me.

“If you keep so close people will think you are my partner,” I say over my shoulder when my tongue is loose enough from the alcohol. I’m a bit dizzy and I start to relax, but my eyes are soberly fixed on Mr. Schultze. He’s just turned to talk to someone, but his broad and fleshy back obscures the person completely. I crane my neck left and right, trying to get a glimpse around him, but in vain.

“If I were your partner, you wouldn’t be attending monster events like this,” Demerol says warmly. “You’d be tucked in bed, with cheap beer and a pizza instead of caviar and sparkling wine. But I’d treat you much better than Mark Stahl and his beast of a son.” His voice fades as he finishes the sentence, as if it took all his nerve to bring the words about his lips.

“I thought you were loyal to Tristan.” My eyes are still fixed on Schultze, and I do my best to ignore the staring crowd. I can feel their gazes on me, but my intuition gives me tension; something tells me it’s important to keep focused on the former member of Parliament.

“I am loyal to Tristan.” Demerol snorts softly. “I don’t have a choice. But neither he or his father would ever have to know about us.”

I can feel my own eyes widen at those words. I turn to him.

“Are you suggesting an affair?” I’m staring Demerol in the face, and it feels like watching a big, good-natured dog-man with a kind gaze and a soft voice. He takes a step closer, and hope flickers in his eyes.

“I’m proposing an affair,” he whispers.

I’m stunned. “Wow. That takes a lot of guts.”

“It may cost me my guts if they ever find out I said this to you.”

I’m lost for words, and embarrassed. I don’t know how to reject him gently. The best solution right now seems to be taking a sip of my sparkling wine and returning my attention to Mr. Schultze, but he’s not longer where I left him.

“Shoot!” I push the glass into Demerol’s hands, hitch up the folds of my dress to make sure I don’t stumble again, and begin a desperate search for Mr. Schultze. I hurry to the place he’d last been, wedging myself between people when I have to. Those who spot me before I’m close enough move out of my way of their own accord, and I’m sure it’s because of my VIP status as Mark Stahl’s partner—or his bed bunny, as I heard some whisper.

I finally see Mr. Schultze’s fleshy back clad in a dark blue tailcoat, and I slow down, breathing out in relief. But then he moves out of the way, revealing his interlocutor. My stomach shoots to my throat.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

***

Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for more! Subscribe to this blog, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter to be notified each time a new chapter is uploaded. Here’s the whole story:

Prologue – Meet Tristan The Ripper

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

 

THE EXECUTIONER Part Two is LIVE! Released by Solstice Publishing

Big day follows big day follows big day 🙂 Solstice Publishing has released The Executioner Part Two today! This has been an intense ride, in which Alice and Damian’s story has had me completeley immersed in it. Theirs is a love story that consumed not only the characters but also the author – yours truly. I just ordered my paperbacks, and can’t wait to enjoy that cozy smell of new book. But if you want instant gratification, by all means, go ahead 🙂 Get The Executioner Part Two  (new release) and, if you haven’t read it yet, The Executioner Part One.

   

And no need to stop there 🙂 If you want yet more, my short story Hyperion – The Assassin is free for a limited amount of time here. So if after Alice and Damian you’re left craving more, there’s more to get. And if you find yourself wishing for yet more consuming love, genetic and psychological engineering, and ancient mysteries, enjoy my online novel, The Devil’s Elixir! There’s no end to all the stories and the goodies. Embark on this ride with me, and enjoy dark thrills and worthwhile secrets.

 

COMING SEPTEMBER 12TH!

The big moment is drawing near! After a fantastic ride, the publishing process is being finalized. Thank you, Solstice Publishing, for making this possible!

Peeps, stay tuned September 12th, when The Executioner Part One is being officially released by Solstice Publishing! And guess what – you won’t have to wait long for Part Two, since it will be relased within a few weeks after Part One.

Set in the enigmatic corners of Eastern Europe, here’s what The Executioner is about:

When a shady corporation that conducts experiments on humans targets Alice Preda, “muscle tank” Damian Novac is secretly assigned with her protection. Alice discovers his true identity and she’s soon love-struck, but Damian keeps a cool reserve, protecting Alice not only from her hunters but also from himself.

A villain who switched sides long ago, Damian is the biggest gun the science mafia ever created. He’s been halfway stable serving the good for years, but when his makers return to the picture and provoke him, he threatens to relapse. The ice breaks, his demons awaken, and the Executioner is unleashed once more. Only the mysterious gift buried in Alice’s psyche can tame him, but for that she’ll have to place herself in the line of fire.

Teaser 4

 

How about a Tristan and Isolde retelling?

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 itTristan and Isolde Reloaded. Enjoy!

CHAPTER I

ISOLDE

It’s lunchtime, and the café is packed. Can’t discharge the self-pity just yet. I make a beeline for Nadine’s red head among the boisterous corporates that litter the place, hoping she’ll help me feel better. She types in a frenzy on her smartphone, but tucks it away as I drop in the chair across from her.

“How did it go?” She really hopes for the best, I can tell.

“Sorry to disappoint. I’m overqualified. They took someone with fewer degrees, an impeccable collar and, of course, male.”

“Oh, Isolde, I’m so sorry.” She reaches over the table and puts her hand over mine.

I appreciate her compassion, even though I could use more encouraging lines right now. Maybe something like, “there are plenty of opportunities out there.” But there aren’t, and she knows it. I know it. Berlin is oversaturated in my field, and my peasant girl face, no-name suit and cheap briefcase don’t exactly increase my chances.

“Don’t worry, I expected it.”

“What did I tell you about negative expectations? You’re calling this upon yourself.”

“It’s not being negative, Nadine, it’s being objective. No one needs another market analyst. The world is full of them. I’m useless.”

Nadine replies and keeps talking, but nothing she says helps. I lean back in my chair, looking around and feeling angry at the world, starting with this place. It’s pretentious, expensive and kitschy – for all the leather seats and marble pillars, our waitress is wearing a skirt and sneakers. Even my decrepit sense of style feels offended, so the sin must be capital.

“You’ve been successfully foreseeing market trends for months now, Isolde,” Nadine says. “Your predictive calculations are mind-blowing, almost clairvoyant. They should’ve been of some help during your interview.”

“Shoulda, coulda.” While she’s right, I have nothing to show for my “successful” anything. “And who is going to endorse me on my predictions? I haven’t had a client in six months, those calculations were mere mental weight-lifting. A means to keep myself in shape.”

“I can endorse you. I was your client – sort of, since you never let me pay.”

A smile spreads over my face. True, dat. One of the most powerful people in Germany is buying Nadine’s services as a consequence of my guidance. She met him at an exclusive conference that I dug out for her, and that cost her a fortune and high-up connections to attend. The contract she’s supposed to sign today is a huge deal. Not many people can brag to have ever even met the mighty Mark Stahl, founder of Stahl Biotech, face-to-face, let alone work for him personally. His headquarters is top secret, not even his employees see much of him, if at all, and he picked one of the places he owns to meet her.

I expect him or his people to be here soon, so I hurry to sip my cappuccino, dreaming of something stronger. I’m not a drinker, but today I can’t wait to get home and fix myself an Aperol Spritz from my brother’s spoils from the bar, and drown my sorrow.

Customers finish their lunch and leave table by table, men in dark suits and stiff attitudes typical for a mogul’s bodyguards replacing them. Soon there are only few “real” customers left, the café almost entirely populated with Stahl’s men, which makes sense. If he wants to keep anonymous, he can’t just pop up in public and wave like the Queen, he’ll need good cover.

But the café staff didn’t see any of this coming, it seems. The skirt-and-sneakers waitress stares puzzled, clutching to her chest the electronic device she uses to take orders. The bartender is virtually shrinking behind the mahogany counter. Tension grows. It’s too much for me. I’m grateful I’ll soon sprint out the door in the direction of my Aperol, not having to share with Nadine the burden of this meeting.

“Okay, I should go now.” I take one last sip of cappuccino as I stand up. But as soon as I’ve grabbed my briefcase a rough hand grips my shoulder from behind and pushes me right back into my seat.

“Ouch!” I make to stand up again and face my aggressor, indignant, but the guy’s hand keeps me put. His grip is like forceps on my collarbone. I look to Nadine, searching her face for answers. She looks uncomfortable too, but she’s smiling.

“I e-mailed Stahl’s vice president your calculations after I met him,” she explains. “Since you used Stahl Biotech for some of your mental weight-lifting, I thought he might be interested in your results. So – ” She looks around, the smile quivering on her lips. She didn’t expect the freaking commando, and she’s clearly scared too. “Surprise.”

I blink at her, struggling to grasp what’s happening. It’s like I’ve been catapulted from my sorry life right into James Bond’s world. Before I can gather my wits a pair of blond bodyguards flank the chair to my right, and a man in a high-quality dark suit takes the seat. When my eyes settle on him I freeze.

He can’t be Mark Stahl. Mark Stahl is an old man. This guy is very young, with a strong build and a face like nothing I’ve seen before. He has white blond hair and ice blue eyes, resembling a ruthless Viking god who’s lost his way from Norse mythology. A scar interrupts his eyebrow, which adds to his heathen looks along with his chiseled, rough features. He seems a man few would ever dare cross – maybe only the stupid.

“Isolde, this is, this is,” Nadine babbles, motioning toward him, “Mr. Tristan Stahl, Mark Stahl’s adoptive son and second in command, so to say. The vice president of Stahl Biotech.”

Adoptive son. I wonder what happened before the adoption. Might sound cliché, but everything about him screams “violent childhood”, lurking beyond those eyes of steel.

“I see,” I whisper.

Tristan Stahl doesn’t greet us. He doesn’t speak at all. He measures me with those chilling eyes, and I’m so intimidated my tongue goes stiff. I can’t think of anything to say. I’m embarrassed to stare, but I can’t look away either. The tension eases a bit when his focus switches from me to the file a woman appearing on his left hands him. She’s pretty and stylish with her shiny blond bob and white leather gloves.

“Why the pharma industry?” His voice is commanding baritone, masculine and thick. It makes my belly prickle, and my words faint.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s an ambitious endeavor. You could’ve at least gone with a niche. Maybe the homeopathic field.”

“That’s not what will deliver the next breakthrough,” I say automatically.

“And what will?”

My eyes flick to the file in his hands as he leafs through it. I recognize my charts and bolded highlights. “It’s all in there, isn’t it?”

“Just answer the questions, ma’am,” the woman with the white gloves cuts in.

I gulp down the discomfort in my throat as I realize Nadine and I are the only dots of diversity in an Aryan pool. Everybody around is tall, athletic and some shade of blond, which makes me feel at odds with my Latino short-and-curvy build, dark hair and dark eyes. My German father refused not only to give me his name, but also to pass down any blond genes.

“Your results are interesting, Ms. Molnar.” Tristan Stahl draws my attention back to him. “But some of your reasoning doesn’t seem very logical. There’s little data to work with.”

“I relied a lot on my intuition, it’s true.”

He drops the file on the table. “That’s not very professional, Isolde. I may call you, Isolde, yes?”

“If my work doesn’t convince you, why take the trouble to meet me – Tristan?” I want to defy him, but I’m only glaring at his lips. I could never hold that arctic gaze of his. He relaxes back in his seat, and a wicked smile curves up a corner of his mouth. It makes him look even younger. And staggeringly handsome.

“Because I’m intrigued.”

“What an honor.”

“Are you sure you want to go sarcastic on me, Isolde?”

“I didn’t mean to offend.” I can feel his gaze rest on the top of my head as I lower it.

“You considered the Psychosomatic Research Institute our main competitor,” he says. “That’s a pretty far-fetched theory. What led you to it?”

“Intuition, I guess.”

“And what activated your intuition? It must have been some kind of data.”

“In a way.”

I pause, but he seems comfortable with the silence, waiting for me to continue. I don’t want to break the first word, but I feel like I’m sitting on needles. I crack.

“All intuition is a form of logic,” I mutter. “It’s like . . . tapping into information that’s stored in the back of my mind.”

“And what information made you look at the I.P.R.? They’re not a big player on the market, why should we worry about them?”

“That’s exactly it – they don’t work on the market yet, but on the side of it.” The words start tumbling out of my mouth, soon turning into a waterfall. I even forget all about the hostile environment. Once I get started on my work, it’s hard to stop.

“Whoever finances the I.P.R.’s research is giving them a shitload of money, no questions asked, not budget limits set, which is pretty rare in our times of austerity. Nobody invests in psychological research these days, let alone astronomical amounts. This can only mean the financers are certain they will one day profit from the Institute’s findings big time, on the market. Other pharma companies in Germany – your direct competitors – never took the trouble to look at the Institute in any depth because they don’t expect any competition from this field, the underdog, but you –” I point at him as if he were the person responsible himself, “Stahl Biotech, you paid every influencer e-zine in the country to publish trashing articles about the Institute’s dubious practices.”

Tristan glances at Nadine, probably understanding how one thing led to another: Nadine is my best friend, and she’s been an investigative reporter for years. She has friends at all major journals. When I came across those articles over and over again, I became suspicious and asked Nadine to activate her contacts and track down the source. Her inquiries led, however diffusely, to Stahl Biotech. The theory took shape in my mind – Stahl Biotech felt threatened by the Institute for Psychosomatic Research.

“Those articles claimed that the Institute’s scientists are scammers, and their practices border on the esoteric.” I lean in over the table, narrowing my eyes as I look straight into Tristan Stahl’s wickedly handsome face. I can’t believe my own guts. “But I think you are out to destroy them. You felt threatened by their research, because their results are stunning. Yes, I took a closer look at –”

“I’m not here to discuss the Institute’s research,” Tristan cuts me off, his voice splintering mine like a slap. My tongue freezes. He leans in, and a rich scent slithers through my nostrils, filling my heart with memory – mulled wine on winter nights, the magic of Christmas. I breathe it in deeply, trying to hold it.

“You’re a highly intelligent woman, Isolde. But brains and a big mouth make a dangerous combo nowadays.” He measures me from head to toe like he’s scanning me. “Take my advice – talk less, dress better, and your life will improve. Someday it may even get you a boyfriend.”

Shock and his scent muffle my indignation at first, but soon after he turns his attention to Nadine and begins discussing the conditions for their further collaboration it starts to boil inside of me. I bite my lips bloody and manage to keep quiet, but then the woman in white gloves drops a document and a ballpoint pen with Stahl Biotech imprinted on it on the table in front of me. She sneers, “Sign,” and I can’t hold back anymore.

“You really are a spoiled brat, aren’t you, Tristan Stahl?”

He turns to me, eyes glinting like metal. “Excuse me?”

“You have no doubt whatsoever that I’ll sign a document I haven’t even had the chance to read just because you’re one of the most powerful moguls on the continent. Well, guess what?” I slap the document shut – Service Agreement stands written on the cover sheet – and drop the ballpoint pen on top of it. “I do not want to work for you.”

Silence. All I can hear is the buzz in my ears. “Are you crazy?” is written all over Nadine’s face. Soon the words start pulsing in my own head, and only moments later I’m not so sure anymore. This is suicide!

Tristan leans in to me, his features locked in a handsome mask of ice. “Listen carefully, Isolde, because I’m only going to say this once: Sign the contract, or you’ll never get a decent job again in your life. You’ll be happy if a pimp hires you for your juicy curves to wipe the tables at some red light.” His upper lip curls over his teeth as he spits the last words, as if he despises me. Like I’m nothing but a worthless piece of meat, brains or not. Indignation flares in my chest, and I knock back my chair. My face is burning.

“You entitled bastard! I rather wipe a pimp’s tables and his ass than call you boss.”

My pulse drums in my ears as I grab my briefcase and stomp out of the place without waiting for his reaction. No one tries to stop me on my way to the exit, but I can feel the hostile eyes on my back.

I’m so angry I can barely swerve in the crowd at the underground, and bump into people who cuss the crap out of me. In the train I find a seat against all odds, and I manage to at least even my breathing. I realize what I’ve done, and I despair.

“Shit!”

“Everything all right, ma’am,” an older man in a shabby coat asks, holding to the overhead rail. He looks worried, so my distress must be glaring.

“Yes, fine.” Like hell I’m fine. That bastard Tristan Stahl is so fucking powerful I’ll be lucky to make rent next month. Now I find myself wondering what services I was supposed to render for him. I should’ve bitten my lips yet more and waited for him to grace me with his attention again for the details before breaking out like that.

No way! I know the world is in the hands of men like him, and I know I can’t beat that, but this I can do – refuse them my allegiance, my services, my dignity.

I get home, take the rattling piece of junk we call an elevator to the third floor – my knees are still too shaky for the stairs – and go straight for the refrigerator. I pull too hard, and the tired chipped magnets clatter on the floor, the grocery list I left for Roland this morning floating like a feather. He forgot again. I grab the Aperol and the Schweppes, but can’t wait to fix a spritz. I end up drinking straight from the bottle.

“Wow, sis, what’s with the thirst?” Roland’s voice resounds from the doorstep.

Startled, I choke on the liquor and drop the Aperol. It smashes against the floor, the rosy liquid creeping on the old tiles like anemic blood.

“God!”

“Jeez, woman, what’s wrong with you?” Roland hurries over to clean up the mess. I didn’t expect him to be home at this time, I thought I’d be alone. I watch him with my arms limp, feeling like a total loser.

What can I tell him? That I’ve screwed up my life completely, probably also his? That he might be stuck as a bartender at a nightclub forever because his big sister, who was supposed to take care of him, decided to go smartass on a freaking oligarch?

He looks up at me, his eyebrows furrowed, but his face clears once his eyes settle on mine. He comes back to his feet and takes my head in his hands.

“God, Izz, you look like shit. What happened?”

My chin trembles, and I can’t control myself anymore. I burst into tears and throw my arms around my little brother’s neck.

***

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Read on:

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Pic source.

THE WARLORD – New medieval romantic suspense project

Hi peeps, I’d like to ask your opinion on my new novel project, “The Warlord”, medieval romantic suspense that I’ve started on recently, while my other books are in the editing stage. The novel is about a boyar daughter taken as slave by a highly dangerous warlord as punishment to her father for not having paid the tribute. The Warlord is the most powerful knight in Prince Ekkehart’s circle, the one  bound to bring Prince Ekkehart the Secret of Immortality. The Warlord and the boyar’s daughter fall in love as they go, but alas! He is forced to marry Ekkehart’s sister, who will seek to eliminate the boyar daughter. This is the first page, and I’d love to hear what you think. Is it something you’d like to continue reading? Or would you like to see something else on the first page?

CHAPTER ONE

Northern Wallachia, February 1467

“What’s happening, good Florica?” young mistress Runia asked.

“Hush, listen.” The girl’s nursemaid reached for her arm, her face reflecting the eerie orange glow of the candle’s light. “Some of the riders are in the castle.”

Alarmed, Runia jumped from her bed. Her ears perked up, in tune with the growing beat of hooves on the ground. “We have to warn Father.”

“It’s too late for the boyar.”

“What do you mean?” The girl wrenched her arm free from her nurse’s grip and flung herself to the door, grabbing the iron latch with both hands and pulling it in one long strain. The wooden door was thick and heavy with rusted locks and chains, but it gave at last with one lengthy and painful creak.

Runia slipped out, and ran down the chilly corridor. At the nearest corner she stumbled over the hem of her linen gown and bumped into a weapons rack, sending the blades clattering on the floor. Her nurse caught up, and pulled her to the shelter of a cold alcove.

“We must escape before they find us,” the woman urged, her breath misting Runia’s ear shell. “But for that, we need to keep as quiet as ghosts.”

Male voices approached on the corridor, and the two women held their breath. The men spoke a mix of Hungarian and German, and Runia’s blood froze in her veins. She gasped, and the nursemaid covered her mouth.

“The Warlord’s minions,” the woman whispered in dread. Runia felt her eyes widen. The Warlord. Prince Ekkehart’s “left hand”. The good nurse had told Runia stories about the shadow man who plundered villages, burning alive noblemen who refused to pay tribute or who’d sought to betray Prince Ekkehart to the Ottomans.

Hoofbeat echoed on the corridor, the stench of sweat and rotten meat preceding the rider passing the alcove. Runia watched the minion in the saddle, a fleshy barbarian, his beard caked with blood. The contents of her stomach whirled in her belly, and she braced herself.

 

Pic source.

The Executioner – when you discover that, against all odds, you ARE special

Hello peeps, as promised here’s more goodies on and from The Executioner Part 1, my upcoming novel with a reputed traditional publisher. There’s a lot I’ve discovered on my journey of writing this novel, so much, that I’ve come to believe everything I’ve written – especially the fact that every human is special. Stay tuned and find out out why, along more teasers and posts on the psychology of attraction and limitless human potential. I’m always here for you, as well as on Twitter and Facebook and on e-mail. Let me know what you think 🙂

Teaser 3