Stars Awry Ch. 05

“They look morose,” Keith commented as he gazed at the four singers on the massive stage, who somewhat lacked the usual energy and enthusiasm. Looking up from the console, Isabel slid off the headphones.

They had arrived in Dublin the previous night. For the next five days, they had performances, interviews, and rehearsals lined up, all without Ben. Morose was an understatement. If they had the power, they would have cancelled the entire tour.

“It’s strange to see only four of them,” Keith added, sliding down the keys as the performance drew to a close. “Ben’s usually the hyperactive one.”

“That’s what is giving everyone the hardest time,” Isabel chuckled, watching the lads take a bow and smile at the rousing applause of the 13,000 people. The gig was in promotion of their new album and upcoming tour, and they were not looking forward to the interview later where they were certain to be bombarded with more questions about the band breaking up. Keith, her co-sound engineer of four years, laughed along with her.

“He keeps moving all the time,” he said, stretching his arms. “Like a squirrel, hard to hold on to one place.”

“Susan had threatened to tie him to the bed.”

“Kinky.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “Didn’t know she was into it.”

“Ben said that too.” She laughed harder now. “She almost hit him.”

“He should be careful.” Keith rose from his chair and grabbed a bottle of water. “She’s Lady Hawkeye.”

“She’d once injured him in a fencing match.” Isabel thanked him for the water he handed her and then reached for her cardigan on the back of the chair. “They were in school then.”

“British women are feisty,” he said, gesturing at her. “Has Ben come home yet?”

“No. Physical therapy should start tomorrow.” She drank all the water from the small bottle, grimacing when it froze her tongue. “We’re lucky they found nothing out of order in the CT scans. The fact that he was conscious the whole time probably helped.”

“Probably didn’t help the doctors much,” Keith chuckled, tossing the crushed, empty bottle into the garbage bin. “I’m glad you’re alright. It must be hard for you to not have your brother around.”

Isabel offered a quiet smile, lowering her gaze. Over the years, she and Keith had become close friends, although he was nearly ten years older than her. He was a big guy with a permanent scowl who loved his plaid shirts and snapback caps, and had proven to be completely dysfunctional with women after two divorces. He was single now, and every time she tried to set him up with someone, it scared the living daylights out of him. Isabel found it amusing how he bonded with her, comforting her on stressful days and offering silent support when she was sad, but repulsed the idea of being romantically involved with a woman again.

“Come on.” He gave her a tilt of his head. “Our work here is done.”

She followed him out of the booth, leaving the quietness behind to step out to the bustling backstage area. Louis came around from somewhere and hugged them both, seemingly a little relieved that the lads had agreed to carry on as a quartet. As they easily chatted with the technicians, Isabel noticed the four performers in the distance, drenched in sweat even on a cold end-January evening. They were in striped white suits, hair neatly done by their stylist. Nathan and Brandon were giggling about something, the lead singer’s face turning red as they laughed. Louis was now walking over to them, ecstatically repeating how great the performance was. Isabel saw Brandon reach up and start to unfasten his necktie, and something about that simple act was so erotic, that she forced herself to look away.

They had not had an argument in the last few days, nor had they shared another instance of intimacy since that night in the hot tub. Things had been flat and monotonous. Watching him on stage that evening, all she had been able to think was how much she would love to peel away the layers of clothing and get her hands on the warm, fit body underneath. How exciting it would be to sneak away after the show and claim each other in some secret corner, like the early days.

For some inexplicable reason, it brought to mind the comment he had made about her and Simon only days ago. She felt a hot knife in her chest as the little glimmer of excitement died.

When she glanced back at them, a few reporters were trickling in with microphones in hand and surrounding the lads. Women. Tall, blonde, in knee-high boots and leather skirts. Isabel felt a shiver of discomfort run down her spine. Before she fell in love with Brandon, she had, on more than one occasion, heard him talk about his fascination with blonde girls in high heels. He might have been just a boy then, and teenage fascinations did not matter as an adult. But all his past girlfriends had been blondes, regardless of how frivolous they had been, and it often made her wonder if he made a mistake with her.

He had his flaws, like every person. Being the pampered youngest child of the family, having the world at his feet and unending money flowing into his life magnified those flaws. From his uncontrolled spending to the long nights out drinking to his mindless pursuit of the popstar life– she had a list of things about him that had always made her quite mad. Yes, he listened to her and never failed to consult her before every major decision. Yes, she knew, even at sixteen, that the band would take them to unparalleled heights of success.

But did she know that he would make the fame and money his lifestyle? Perhaps not.
“Oh, come on.” Brandon was laughing again. “The day’s over and we can drink all we want tonight and sleep it off tomorrow.”
“We can’t.” Nathan cleared his throat. “We have to work tomorrow. What’s the schedule again, Louis?”

“Album signing, followed by interviews, then a gig in the evening.” Their manager fished out his phone for the rest of their schedule. “And then a party.”

“Yeah, right.” Annoyed, Brandon crossed his arms. “Go ahead and ruin the mood.”

“We were also supposed to video call Ben.” Mark reminded them. “Simon Cowell visited him in the hospital today.”

“Didn’t Mariah Carey leave him a message on Twitter?” Kyle asked.

“Yup,” Mark nodded.

Nathan looked at his watch for the time. “It’s late,” he said. “Is he going to be awake now?”

“Kevin sent him footage of our show,” Mark explained. “He will be awaiting our call.”

“Unless Susan is shagging his brains out,” Kyle added thoughtfully.

“I’m still here.” Isabel made a face at him. “Where’s Kevin?”

“Upstairs,” Mark replied. “We have an interview, remember?”

“Yes, RTE,” Kyle announced. Isabel stiffened at the mention. RTE meant Marissa. She had no desire to see her tonight.

“I can go back to the hotel,” she said quietly, folding her arms around her body. “I’m… sleepy.”

“Or you could go back to my place,” Nathan offered. “It’s going to be quieter there with Gill and the twins.”

“What are you talking about?” Brandon frowned at all of them. “No one is going anywhere. We are all going upstairs to party.” 

He looked over at Keith. “What are you doing tonight, mate?”

“Going back to the hotel,” he answered, moving away from the doorframe he had been leaning against so long. Brandon seemed pleased with his response.

“Come with us.” He slapped a hand to his shoulder. “We will eat and drink and have fun.”

Keith was about to refuse but the other lads chipped in and urged him to come along. He finally gave in with a laugh.

“What’s the story, horse?” Ben smiled on the other end when the call connected. “I expected you to remember me sooner.”

“Fortunately, we have more important things to do,” Kyle joked. “We missed you, though.”

“Should have had a cardboard cutout of me with you on stage,” Ben chuckled. Mark laughed.

“Or we could put you on speaker and have you sing with us,” he suggested. “Perhaps tomorrow we should do that.”

“No chance,” Ben sighed. “They will make me walk tomorrow.”

“It will be alright,” Isabel smiled. “You are healing well.”

“I can’t wait to go home.” He looked sad for a minute. “I feel like I’m missing out.”

“You’re missing out on free booze and a chance to shag in the backseat,” Brandon called out. “I’m taking your sister out of here, because I don’t want to miss out.”

Isabel’s face flushed as he grabbed her hand and dragged her away from the place, with the others sniggering behind them. She had spent nearly eight years on the road with the band. They had seen one another dress and undress, be sick and vomit everywhere, talk in their sleep and roll off their beds. They had even seen Kyle have sex with some of his past girlfriends on the tour bus. She and Brandon slept in separate bunks on the bus, but there had been several instances of him sneaking into her bed for a quick one. Although no one said anything, the faces in the morning were usually a dead giveaway that they had heard it all. 

She loved that. The thrill of covert, risky sex always drowned out the embarrassment of having her brother as a hapless, unwilling witness.

The party was on the top floor of the area and when Isabel refused to take the elevator, Nathan offered to climb the stairs with her.

“When we came to London for the first time,” he said with a laugh. “I was terrified to find that we had to take the elevator to get out of Heathrow airport. I almost didn’t want to go.”

“But you did though,” Isabel giggled.

“Yeah, and everyone made fun of me the whole time. Everyone but Brandy.”

“He knew beforehand?”

“Everyone knew beforehand. I’m still made fun of because I hate elevators.” Glancing at her, he smiled. “Not Brandon. He had his arm around me all the way and kept talking to distract me.”

A tinge of pride coloured her veins. Small-town people were often closed-minded and spiteful, and she had witnessed it more than she wanted to admit. But not Brandon. He had a big heart, was an emotional fool many times, and did not have a mean bone in his body. His warmth and kindness had first attracted her all those years ago.

It was good to be reminded of that when all she could see were his annoying habits.

“Is G coming to the gig tomorrow?” she asked. 

“Yes, but she will be backstage.” He nodded. “You’re not working tomorrow, right?”

“Yeah. I could be backstage with your wife, away from the action.” She smiled, tugging at the sleeves of her cardigan. “I haven’t seen the twins in a while.”

“You’re always welcome to stay over with Gill when we’re away.” He returned her smile. “Once the babies have gone to bed, you girls can sit around the fire, drink some wine and talk about whose husband makes the worst show of himself.”

“Mine,” she sighed. 

“I’m as bad most days.” He winked at her. “Having kids at home has toned me down a little, even if I say so myself.”

“Staying in Dublin isn’t feasible for me,” she admitted. “I have two houses to take care of, and also two jobs.”

“Izzi…” He paused and took her hand. “I’ve been meaning to ask for some time… Is everything alright between you and Brandy? Things haven’t seemed smooth the last few months.”

Isabel took a deep breath. “Marriages are complicated.”

“Both of you are great pretenders.” He gave her a knowing smile. “He can hide it inside most of the time and so can you. It takes some work to figure out what’s behind that smile.”

“We have our moments, like every couple.”

“I hope you know he misses you all the time.” They were climbing up again. “He always talks about you and your future children… about how much harder it will be on the road when he has a family.”

“You’re doing it,” she said, ignoring the sudden quickening of her heart at what she had just heard. Nathan laughed.

“I wouldn’t be able to without the support of the lads,” he sighed.

“They’re good uncles, aren’t they?” She smiled, allowing one of the attendants to show them to their room.

“Oh, I’m not so sure about that.” He opened the door for her, and they found the three lads, Kevin, and Keith already digging into the cheeseball bites, burger sliders, meatballs, and spicy fried shrimp. Brandon looked at them.

“Not sure about what?” he asked, coat and tie gone, and shirt sleeves rolled up.

“That you lads are good uncles to the twins,” Nathan answered, shutting the door behind him. Brandon was seated on one end of a sectional, leaning against the armrest. He gestured at Isabel and tapped the empty space next to him. When she was by his side, he put an arm around her and pulled her against his body.

“You don’t think we are good uncles?” Kyle raised an eyebrow. Nathan’s eyes passed over all three of them. He then sank next to Mark on the sofa and shook his head.

“I’ve seen Mark throw up on his shirt. I’ve seen Kyle throw up on Mark.”

“That was a good night,” Kyle grinned. “I shagged a girl in the restroom.”

“No!” Isabel gasped. “Jessica?”

“How do you still remember?” Mark gave her a look that combined both surprise and repulsion.

“Wait. Who’s Jessica?” Keith straightened himself in the sofa, curious. 

“One of our dancers back in the day,” Brandon said, resting his head on Isabel’s shoulder. “I think we saw the full act once or twice.”

Keith looked horrified. Nathan laughed. 

“I know,” he nodded. “Gross is the word you are looking for.”

“I was young and having a good time,” Kyle shrugged, picking up a fried shrimp. Isabel frowned.

“Didn’t she follow you to the Sligo concert and slash the tyres of your car after you broke up?” she asked. Keith almost choked on his food.

“You’re kidding,” he looked at them wide-eyed.

“No.” Kyle shook his head. “I did have terrible luck with girls until Rose.” to

“Wasn’t this concert years ago?” Kevin asked. “I watched it on YouTube.”

“Yes, about six years ago,” Brandon chirped. “Man, that was a good day. We’d had a late night and I woke up at one in the afternoon, and the reporter was coming to interview me and see my house and stables.”

“You took him to the Castledale site,” Isabel said. “Asked me if I wanted to come along.”

“You didn’t want to.”

“What did you expect after keeping me up until two in the morning?” she offered a playful retort. 

“I’m not going to guess for what,” Kyle sniggered. “I do remember you guys breaking off from me, Mark, and Ben at around midnight. Brandy was too drunk to drive.”

She rolled her eyes. “We walked.”

“We snogged under the street light,” Brandon added.

“You stopped at snogging?” Mark raised his eyebrows.

“He wanted to take me back home for the night.” Her cheeks felt hot. “I didn’t let him.”

“You’re no fun,” said Brandon, reaching for a burger. 

“For god’s sake, I was home from college for three days and wanted to sleep.”

“You could sleep in my bed.”

A low chuckle rumbled in her throat. “For me, your old, rickety bed only meant one thing.” Her voice dropped as she met his gaze. “And it was not sleep.”

“So you were the only girl trying to herd the lads?” Keith guffawed.

“She got along very well with us and acted like the mother of the group.” Kyle impatiently looked at the door. “Where’s the booze?”

As if on cue, the waiter came in at the very moment for their drinks orders. The men settled for whiskey while Isabel chose a Martini. Brandon sniggered at her choice. She always had a dry Martini when she wanted to get drunk.

“Are you alright?” he whispered to her. She nodded, bunching her naturally straight, tail-bone length hair to one side.

“You have an interview in a minute,” she said. “Should I leave?”

“You’re my wife.” He slid a hand down her arm, entwining fingers with her. “Your place is right here, next to me.”

“There’s no other wife here,” she noted. Brandon chuckled again, sounding a little drunk without any alcohol yet.

“I’m lucky then.” He leaned in to drop a sneaky kiss on her neck. “No competition.”

“Why are you doing this?” she sighed.

“Doing what?” 

“Never mind.” She looked at the door when their drinks rolled in. Kyle poured himself a glass, took a big gulp and reclined in the sofa, crossing an ankle over a knee. Isabel reached for her extra dry Martini, raising the glass.

“Sláinte!” She toasted, and the lads followed.

“Sláinte!” They said in unison, following which Isabel promptly gulped down her drink. Brandon gaped at her.

“Er… that’s a strong drink, Izzi,” he tried to warn her. Isabel leaned back and shrugged.

“I’ve been craving a drink all evening,” she said. “I think I’m going to have another one.”

Just as she had asked for another drink, Marissa entered the room with her cameraman. Isabel tensed, but Brandon did not leave her hand. He looked up, meeting Keith’s eyes. With a shake of his head, he had called the big guy next to her.

Brandon liked Keith. He was always glad about the fact that he was one of her few friends outside the band, and counted on him to look over her if anything was ever wrong in his absence. But when he made him sit next to her, Isabel realised he was trying to keep Marissa away from himself. 

The interview lasted an hour. They ate and drank and chatted with the leggy reporter, who seemed slightly disconcerted about being unable to get close to Brandon. They spoke about Ben, how he was recovering, and when he could be expected back. They talked about their lineup of shows and rehearsals, and the surprises they had in store for their tenth-anniversary tour. Isabel remained quiet even when she came up in the conversation, choosing to focus on her drinks instead. She was quickly getting intoxicated, her eyes turning heavy with sleep, but drinking was a nice distraction. Brandon had already had two glasses of Scotch, and did not seem interested in more.

“You’re not getting another one of those,” he warned her when she looked at the door again.

“I’m not working tomorrow,” she protested. “I’m allowed to drink a little.”

“A little,” Keith chipped in with a chuckle.

“Do you guys want a Martini?” she asked enthusiastically.

“No,” they replied.

“Okay,” she nodded and went ahead with the next drink.

Isabel had four Martinis. She was not quite drunk but was certainly tipsy and sleepy.  Brandon was the first to leave, before his wife could ask for a few more drinks. This time, however, she wanted to take the elevator downstairs.
“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yes,” she nodded, feeling brave after all the alcohol. “Come on.”

She grabbed his hand and led him to the elevator, which was empty when it arrived. Brandon pressed the button as Isabel leaned against the wall. He stood next to her, and as the elevator started going down, she leaned into him.

“You kept Marissa away,” she smiled sleepily. “What was that for?”

“Shouldn’t I?” He arched his brow. She shrugged.

“What’s the time again?” she asked.

Brandon looked at his watch. “Eight minutes past ten,” he said. As soon as the words left his mouth, the elevator shuddered to a stop and the lights went out. He looked above him, as if he could ask the pulleys and cables what was wrong.

His attention was brought back down by the woman next to him clutching his arm with both hands.

The lights came back.

“What’s happening?” she wondered aloud.

“The elevator stopped,” Brandon offered a needless explanation, then disentangled his arm to put it around her shoulders. “It’s going to start again in a moment,” he tried to assure her.

She nodded, and when he leaned over slightly to press the button for the doors he could hear her breathing fast by his side. The digital display above the panel kept flicking between 4 and 3, as though it was not quite sure.

“It’s not starting,” Isabel spoke again, this time sounding more nervous. “Brandy, it’s not starting.”

“I can see that,” he snapped and felt her flinch. “Sorry.”

He closed his eyes and tried to think. Not that he was afraid, but this was an unideal situation. If there was one person who he did not need to be in an elevator with for more than a few seconds, it was his wife. Nathan came a close second.

When he looked down, she was staring up at him, eyes wide and lip trembling, cheeks far too pale.

“It’s going to be alright.” He tried to sound comforting. It was. The elevator had stopped, soon it would start again. “I need you to breathe slowly, okay?”

Isabel did as she was told, taking shallow, hurried breaths that were probably going to make her pass out if she kept it up, though that would not be too bad if it calmed her down. When he pressed the call button, they heard the sharp trill of an alarm somewhere in the walls. Then there was silence, rising around them like mud.

He pressed the button again.

“There’s nobody there,” Isabel whispered. “Brandy? There’s nobody there. What if they’ve all gone home and we’re stuck here all night? What if the cable breaks? I always said these things were coffins, and now I’m going to die in one and nobody’s ever going to find us and—”

“You’re not going to die,” came his stern reply. “I’m going to try the button again and you’re going to get your phone out and call the lads, because they are still upstairs and will tell someone.”

“Okay. Yeah.” She reached for her phone and frantically swiped the screen. In the meanwhile, Brandon pressed the call button again, then crouched down to look at the plaque below it, in case there were instructions.

Press call button in case of emergency.

There was no step two.



“No signal.”

When he looked around, she was staring at her phone in horror. She then held it above her head and began to walk around in a slow circle, and it made her look like a confused giraffe out for a stroll.

“Stop.” Brandon caught her halfway through lap six and felt her struggle.

“Why? Is the elevator going to fall down if I move too much? Oh, Jesus…” She looked accusingly down at her feet. “Stay still.”

“Well, I was going to start jumping up and down, but…” he joked, but the look on her face suggested it was not welcome. “I’ll try my phone. You’re going to press the buttons for the floors and see if we can get this thing moving.”

He let go to allow her to cross the space to the console. She moved on tip-toes like she thought a light step would make a difference. Not bothering to comment, he pulled his phone out and his stomach sank when he realised there were no bars.


“No signal,” he admitted. When he looked over, every button on the console was lit up, from the basement to the penthouse, and she was trying to press them all again. “Try the call button again.”

She stabbed it. The ringing filled the lift, echoing around the small space. It was not cramped, but it was not spacious either. Maybe three steps long in any direction, enough for Brandon to stretch his arms out and not quite touch the sides.

Isabel pushed the button again. As the silence sank in, Brandon wondered if it was time to panic yet. He was not sure if she had left any terror for him to use.

“I guess we just wait and keep trying our phones,” he suggested. The battery was draining though, and the network was not improving. He could faintly hear the echo of music down the shaft, and wondered if anyone would hear them screaming over the noise.

“What if nobody comes?”

“Somebody will come.” He tried to make it sound more reassuring than he felt. “If we aren’t back by morning, they will notice.”

It was the wrong thing to say, because Isabel stiffened.

“In the… morning?”

“We’ll be out before then.” He put an arm around her again, and was surprised when both arms wrapped around his waist, clinging to him.

“I don’t want to die like this,” she mumbled, her voice trembling. “Not in an elevator. I never wanted to be inside an elevator. Damn those Martinis… What was I thinking? That tonight was a good time to die?”

“Hey.” In one swift move, Brandon pressed her against the wall, his face so close to hers, she could feel his breath on her skin. Before she could react, he locked lips with her, kissing her with insistence. He was only doing it to distract her, he told himself, but he knew that was not the whole truth. They had never done it inside a lift because of obvious reasons. Tonight would be a good time to change that.

“Brandy…” Her eyes opened on a shuddering exhale, fear replaced by the sound of desire.

“Since we’re going to die, why not just do it in the elevator before we go, right?” He let out a throaty laugh, his arms framing her against the wall. Isabel bit her lip and smiled, hooded eyes sparkling.

“That’s naughty,” she whispered, arching into him. He obliged, kissing her again, mouth moving with a fierce hunger. The sensations of his heavy breathing heated her blood, the reverberations of his strangled moan against her teeth quickly dampened her to the point of embarrassment. Her bosom flattened against his chest, sending little sparks across sensitive nerve endings. When his tongue coiled around hers and pulled her deeper into his mouth, her hips jerked and her fingers reached into his hair.

He wished she were wearing a dress instead of pants as he lifted her up and drew one of her legs across his hips, locking them in a passionate embrace. Clutching his shirt in her fist, she managed to untuck it from the trousers, her other hand trying to hold on to the wall behind her for some balance against his masculine weight. He was not the tallest man at five feet nine inches, but he was strong. It was hardly an effort to manoeuvre her small body just as he wished. 

With a harsh gasp, he broke off when her hand found the bulge in his pants. The press of his lips gentled and his grip loosened enough to let her breathe.

“It seems like you have a problem here,” she half-smiled, fondling him through the trousers. The corner of his mouth twitched.

“I’m not the only one with a problem here.” Leaning into her again, he let his hot breaths caress her skin. Her fingers trembled, her throat was dry. She swallowed a few times, sagging against the wall when his mouth left a wet trail down the side of her neck, pushing the wool of her cardigan aside to have access to her skin. Kissing, suckling, and teasing, he seemed intent on consuming every inch of her flesh. She felt teeth scrape her throat, but that was not what jolted her back to her senses. It was the speaker below the call button that had sputtered to life.

“Hello? Are you alright in there? Press the button to respond.”

The voice seemed professional enough, tinny and possibly male, but too hard to tell. Brandon let her go and bent numbly to put his thumb over it. He could hear Isabel still breathing fast over his shoulder.

“Hi,” he said. “Yeah, the elevator stopped about…” He checked his watch, “…twenty minutes ago. We’re stuck.”

“We’re working on it. There was a temporary power outage and it’s gone to emergency brake. Is everyone safe?”

“We’re fine. There’s two of us. Do you know how long it will be?”

“The generators are on, but the outage shorted communications. The security cameras are down.”

Isabel glanced around in surprise and found a black plastic bubble in the corner, apparently hiding the camera. They had not noticed it and were glad it was not working, or it would have seen something fit to become public fodder.

“We’ll keep you updated. Press the call button if there’s an emergency. Otherwise, sit tight, we’ll have you out as soon as possible.” 

There was a click, and then silence. 

“I guess we’re saved,” he announced weakly. Turning around, he found Isabel seated on the floor.

“Are you alright?” he asked, sinking down next to her. She nodded.

“Do you ever wonder if you could do better than me?” she asked brokenly, staring down at her hands. Brandon frowned, stretching his legs on the floor. 

“No,” he answered. “Did it seem like I was making a mistake when I asked you to marry me all those years ago?”

Her throat worked on a hard swallow as his question awakened memories from over four years ago. She was barely twenty-two, working at the music school for a year after graduating college, and Louis was in talks with Simon to have her work with the band. That was the happiest and most contented she had been in years, with a new sense of security and freedom, and when Brandon planned a pre-Christmas vacation to Tenerife, she had readily agreed. Sitting on the beach late in the evening one day, Isabel could not stop admiring the stars in the moonlit sky, and Brandon had pulled out a ring from his pocket and asked what she thought of that star.

Despite thinking all her life that she was very progressive and marriage and proposals did not matter to her, Isabel had melted. She had grown up far removed from love and family and everything sacred and meaningful. Brandon’s close-knit family, their traditional Irish values, and the love and companionship between his parents had moved her in a way she never thought possible, awakening hopes and dreams of experiencing the same with the man she loved. Moving on from the difficult years, she had made herself capable and independent, and knew she could look after herself. But she yearned for more than just that. She wanted to belong, and with the love and trust she’d placed in him, she had squeezed his hand and answered in the affirmative. Brandon had cried for ten minutes, and once they were home, he had sought the consent of Thomas and Emily. 

She shook her head, clearing her mind of the memory.

“I was always so different from Irish girls,” she shrugged. “I stood out everywhere I went, and not always in a good way. You were the popular guy. Our relationship did not go down well with many people.”

“I know.” His jaw stiffened at the memory. “I remember Ben beating up Damien when he said a bad word about you.”

“Yes,” she scoffed. “He called me a whore. That wasn’t the only thing that they said about me though.”

“They were simply jealous, because you were intelligent and refined with a sexy British accent. And because you had me.”

He gave a little, wry chuckle. “And you still love Ireland and chose it over London to settle down. You do so much for the special children there. They only have good things to say about you now.”

Reaching for her hand, he gave it a gentle squeeze. “You’re successful. And that’s the best revenge. There’s not one woman in Ireland that’s smarter, more talented, or more beautiful than you.”

“You’re very biased.”

“No, it’s the truth.” He leaned onto her side. “You’re my guide and my saviour, Izzi. Your intuition and foresight saved me from bankruptcy. I don’t understand the world all the time, but you do.”

“That’s because I come from a dark place.” She dropped her head back, sighing. “I have seen more bad things than you have.”

“And it’s made you the person that you are.” Moving closer, he pulled her into his arms. “I’d be lost without you.”

“Would you?”

“Yes. You don’t believe me?”

“Things haven’t been right between us since we started planning the tour,” she noted. “I wonder why you still don’t think that I was not made for this life.”

“No, you weren’t. And I haven’t done anything to make it easy for you.”

She turned her face away. “Shuttling between two countries is physically taxing, and then there are two jobs and a mansion to look after. I’m drained every day and you only care about partying and shopping instead of being of some help. I’m sorry it makes me lose my temper.”

“It’s my fault, not yours.” He pressed her lips on hers. It was softer this time, slow and unhurried. “Will you give me a chance if I promise to make things right?”

“You cannot.”

“Just give me a chance, please?” 

The lights flicked off. Isabel immediately tensed again but they came back on, this time brighter. The elevator shuddered.

They got up to their feet and fixed their hair and clothes as they began to descend slowly. Brandon had never been so relieved in his life.

When the elevator opened on the ground floor, they found two repairmen in front of the taped-off door, and the lads standing there, Mark carrying a bottle of water. He shoved it into Isabel’s hand when they were out.

“Are you okay?” he asked them, hugging her. She was hugging him back, though her eyes were fixed on Brandon over her friend’s shoulder. “Someone came up and mentioned the elevator was stuck.”

“Thanks for stopping.” She pulled away. The repairmen were climbing in, doing whatever it was they were supposed to be doing. The manager was coming over, looking nervously apologetic in a suit and name-pin. “We’re alright.”

“Thought you’d be in bits, stuck inside a lift,” Kyle guffawed.

“No,” she said, a shy smile crossing her lips that were still a little red. “Brandon took care of me.”

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