C4 Isabelle - Swept away
Isabelle climbed out of the taxi in front of Billy's bar. The music pounded outside. It thumped against her chest and sent a thrill through her. Another sign — the song was her current favorite. Would she see a shooting star if she looked? Overhead, the moon was a magical silver with twinkling stars around it.
“Stop staring at the sky and let's go dance.” Her sister pulled her arm. “Kate is already here and snagged us chairs at the bar.”
Figures her older sister would arrive before them. She’d been first at everything since they were kids. Isabelle nodded and followed Beth inside.
Christmas lights were strung across the ceiling and down various walls. The only other lights were dim and barely illuminated the bar and dance floor. A live band was squished in a corner near the dancers. Girls and guys gyrated to the latest tunes.
Her sister waved them over. “I got us shots to start us off.”
Before either of her sisters said another word, Isabelle snatched up the Jäger and downed it. The liquor burned her throat, but she didn't care. She was here to have fun and, damn it, she would dance with a stranger even if she had to ask a guy herself. At the bartender’s nod, she said, “Another round for me and these two. I'm buying.”
“You don't have to prove anything to us,” Kate said.
Thank you, Kate. Her sister, the lawyer, who thought Isabelle wasted her talents on teaching and offered her a paralegal internship.
“I'm not.” She shrugged. “Just here to have a good time.” For once. She was tired of being her sisters’ shadow and balancing between them both: the professional and the party-girl. “I'm not the designated driver tonight, so we'll either depend on a cab driver or you two will have to draw straws.” She giggled at her own joke noticing the bartender had a cup of black straws beside the register. Another two shots and Isabelle wobbled on her feet. Shit-tastic, it felt good to be buzzed.
“I think you've had enough.” Her younger sister took away her next drink.
Isabelle stuck her tongue out at Beth and shook her head. Was this what she was like whenever she had to rein these two in? A movement in the bar’s back mirror caught her attention.
A dark-haired man with the swagger of a sex god walked across the dance floor and straight toward her. The music muffled under her heart pounding. Damn, she wanted a dance with him. Hell, she wanted to kiss him. She opened her purse and yanked out her lip-gloss and smeared it across her lips.
People parted out of the way for the giant who was six foot seven or so.
“Hey handsome!” a woman called out toward the approaching man.
He ignored her, not even sparing her a glance. “Where’s Billy?” he asked the bartender.
“Who wants to know?” The bartender poured two beers and slid them down the counter to a pair of waiting patrons.
“Is he here or not?” The rumble in his voice strummed through Isabelle like she was a guitar tuned by his tone alone.
“I'll tell you where he is, sugar,” a lady with fake nails on the other side of the stranger said. “For a kiss.” She puckered.
The thought of this woman locking lips with Mr. Handsome shot liquid fire into Isabelle’s throat. She wanted him to like her, to smile at her. “Billy's upstairs!”
When Handsome turned his gaze on her, Isabelle stopped breathing. His eyes dark blue glinted in the flickering lights. A blush started at her chest and spread up into her face.
“Excuse me?” he asked.
“Billy...the owner...he lives upstairs. Above the bar.” God was she rambling?
He nodded. “Thank you.” And he moved to the back of the building.
What was she waiting for? Go ask him to dance. But her feet weren't moving. Instead, nausea swung in her gut. “I'll be back.” She dashed to the restroom, just barely making it to the toilet.
“Gross,” a young woman said and dashed out.
Isabelle turned on the faucet and rinsed out her mouth. What made her think she could do this, drink and dance and party better than her sisters without repercussions?
Her stomach settled enough that she felt better and she left the restroom. A thump sounded behind her that didn't match the beat of the music. The door that led up to Billy's apartment was open. Was he okay? He had owned this bar for fifty years and even though he was older, he was brass as—another thump and a groan.
Maybe it was the alcohol that warped her thinking or that she'd known Billy her whole life, but the thought he needed help thrummed through her. Guilt choked her that she’d told the big guy where he was. What if the guy was a hitman or loan shark goon or something? She raced up the stairs. Her heart rising into her throat as his front door swung open.
“Billy?” she asked and entered his apartment without waiting for a response. No lights were on, and she groped along the wall for a switch. A feeling like someone watched her in the dark made her belly somersault.
She crept forward, feeling along the wall. Where is the freaking light switch? Billy's bedroom was around the corner. She remembered from when she had tutored Billy's grandson on Sundays.
A whirling sounded behind her made her spin, her hands slapping against a man's upper stomach that was definitely not Billy’s.
She twisted to run, but he grabbed her arm.
“Let me go! What have you done to Billy?” When he didn't answer or release her, she kicked his shin. Fuck! Did the guy have metal shin guards or something? She hopped on one foot, but at least the creep let her go.
“Billy’s fine.” His accent was strange, like a mix of Russian and Welsh now that she could hear it more clearly above the music downstairs.
“I don't believe you. Who are you?” She stepped back and her legs hit the back of the couch.
“Suit yourself.” He shrugged and waved out a hand toward the bedroom. “If you are concerned for your friend's safety, take a look.”
She lifted her chin and limped past him. Was he trying to corner her in the bedroom? She shook her head. That was silly because the guy was a tower and strong. He could easily overpower her and drag her in there. Over her shoulder she said, “I have mace...fair warning.” She clutched her black sequin purse tighter. In fact, all she had on her was her lipstick, keys, license and a credit card. She'd left her cell on the bar between her sisters. Yeah, this was a really dumb idea to come up here alone. The music downstairs was almost deafening and no one would hear her scream and come and help.
“All right, move aside and I need a light.”
Instantly, a light clicked on a foot away from her. Mr. Handsome from the bar gave her a wink. How did he know where the light was when earlier he hadn’t even known Billy lived over the bar? She pushed around him to the bedroom, her foot still smarting. Behind her, the lamp showed just enough light. Billy lay on his back softly snoring.
The pinch between her shoulder blades eased some.
“Believe me now?” Mr. Handsome asked.
“So, if he's sleeping, why are you here?” She crossed her arms. “And I heard thumping.”
He cocked an eyebrow and grinned making her heart dance. Stop it, Isabelle. He could be some type of criminal or pervert who watches people sleep. Yeah, she definitely needed to get out more and not get smashed in the first hour. Tomorrow she was gonna have a killer headache and all this would seem normal.
“I had some business with him, but looks like I'll have to wait until morning.” He moved to the door. “Coming?”
“And the noises I heard?”
“Oh…a…” His expression changed to confusion. “I don’t know what you call them here.” He ran his fingers over his hand. “I stomped two of them and threw them in the trash.”
She swallowed as revulsion shot through her gut. “Roaches?” God, she hated the pesky bugs.
“Yes. Roac-hes.” He pronounced the word strangely. “Yup, Dena hates them too. Now shall we go?”
Dena? A shiver of jealousy raced through her, but she squared her shoulders. Why was that? She didn’t know this dude and had zero claims on him. “I can manage on my own.”
“I'm sure you can, but I'd like to help you down anyway considering I startled you and you hurt your foot.”
“No. That's okay. My foot feels much better now.” His offer to help her sent warm fuzzies through her.
He cocked his head to the side. “All the same, I'll go down with you. Can't have a damsel falling when I could save her.”
Wherever this guy was from, chivalry wasn't extinct. She gave him a nod and went to the stairs. Both descended, but near the bottom she lost her footing and his arms swooped her up. He carried her effortlessly in his arms down the rest of the way. The action sent her pulse into double time. At the bottom of the stairwell, he set her on her feet, but kept his arms around her waist. His body was warm as it pressed against hers. She did something she'd never ever done before.
Chances were she wouldn't see this guy again. She knew everyone in town, thanks to being born and raised here and working in the private school system. So this guy wasn't from around here and probably he’d be gone by the time she was sober tomorrow. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the mouth. A shimmer of excitement blossomed in her chest. He tightened his hold around her waist and deepened the kiss. His tongue stroked hers, sending waves of pleasure through her. God the man could kiss. Her knees nearly buckled.
When a group of guys catcalled as they walked past her and Mr. Handsome, he pulled away.
“Ah, thanks…thank you.” That was the only words her addled brain could come up with. When he brushed a thumb across her lower lip, she shivered and her brain felt muddled. “For the stairs, not this kiss. Not that I didn't like the kiss, I did.” Her face was burning. “But the thanks and the kiss was for keeping me from falling down the stairs.” Was she making any sense at all?
“You're welcome.” He looked past her and frowned. “Nice meeting you…”
He smiled. “Kohlxchijr.”
“Kohlxh—what?” She frowned as her tongue tried to say the syllables like he had.
“Just call me Kohl. Lots of my friends do.”
“Oh, I gave up my nickname of Izzie a long time ago.” Damn, why was she telling him that? “So I prefer Isabelle.”
“If everyone kept saying your name wrong, you might change your name. Kohl is fine. Really, I’m actually preferring it more and more.” He winked, then moved past her. “Excuse me, I have to leave.”
“You've been holding out on us, sis.” Beth, her younger sister, rubbed an arm down Kohl's arm. “My place isn't that far.”
“I saw him first,” said the woman from the bar earlier.
The music shifted to a slow rock ballad and the band leader announced a couple’s dance.
“C’mon, sugar,” the woman grabbed his hand and tugged, “they're playing our song.”
All across the dance floor, people swayed to the music. But Kohl didn't move. He inhaled sharply as he turned to her.
“Thanks, but I owe Isabelle a dance for the most amazing kiss.” He bowed slightly to both her sister and the woman, before holding out his hand to Isabelle. “May I have this dance?”
She took his hand and he led her out onto the wooden floor. He spun her around making dancing seem effortless. Behind him, she noticed Billy was awake and waving his hands frantically from the bar.
Abruptly the music stopped and Billy pointed straight at her yelling, “Thief!”
Her heart dropped into her feet. Kohl cringed, pulling back. Fuck it all! Finally, she meets a great man and he steals.