Isabella heaved a sigh as she slammed her car door closed. She clicked on the lock and sashayed into a five-star restaurant. The glimmer of lights had nearly blinded her eyes when the usher opened the glass door for her. As expected of Barnes Hale, he would’ve chosen the most ostentatious restaurant for their meet-up —or what her mom called a ‘date’. Anyhow, she refused to acknowledge this meet-up with Barnes Hale as a date. She didn’t understand what in the world her parents had seen in the stupidly privileged man in his mid 30s. Sure, he had the money and the business, but there were other men with such things, so why the Horrendous Hale?
As the usher had chauffeured her to the table where the bastard resided, Isabella thanked him and sat across the bearded man. The first thing he did was tapping his index finger on his gold watch, clucking his tongue, and shaking his head. “Late for five minutes, Isa, where’s your manner? Is this supposed to be my future wife?”
Oh, how much did Isabella want to smash his gold watch—or better yet, his face. “Well, pardon me, Sir. I have some important business to take care of,” Isa replied, not without stressing the word important.
He chuckled and sighed. “How’s your business?”
“Good, thank you,” Isa answered.
He smirked and opened the menu book. “Heard from your mother that it isn’t well. Are you lying to your future husband, Isa? How am I gonna take over if you’re not honest with me? Are we gonna base our marriage and business on lies?”
Isabella wanted to wipe that arrogant smirk off his face. She could feel her anger and her common sense boiling. How dare he say it as if she was just a temporary nuisance in her own company? She had been attacked by a case of insecurity because some people really did think that she was not worthy as her father’s successor, but in spite of that she was not going to let some dull boastful man belittle her.
“Mr. Hale, even if my mother said that, it’s not something that I couldn’t handle. Even if my business hits rock bottom, trust me when I say that I can handle it myself without needing your involvement. I’ve managed to survive for years after all,” she said and smiled. Obviously, the smile didn’t reach her eyes because why would she?
“Oh, please. As a good beau, I shall remind you that the world won’t be too kind to the likes of you. Women are too easily swayed, after all. Yes, too simple-minded.” He sneered as he clicked the button to call the waiter.
Isabella wished she could flip the table, but she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t succumb to what Mr. Hale had assumed—that women are simple-minded and easily triggered by their weak spot.
“You shall see, then, Mr. Hale, whether or not I’ll keep my word,” Isabella said, a challenging smile plastered on her lips.
Due to the typical arrogant privileged jerk he was, Isabella could only sneak a peek at the menu book once the waiter had arrived and taken Mr. Hale’s order. Isabella quickly ordered one sirloin steak and a glass of orange juice. She would much prefer to have champagne or wine, but she didn’t want to be drunk in his presence. She needed to keep her honor intact if she were to be with him.
After ordering, they sat in silence, wholly wrapped in their own rectangle world called smartphone. As much as Isabella hated it when some people were tinkering with their phone during hangouts, she couldn’t help but thank the existence of the small rectangle world at this moment. It was much better than needing to talk with a venomous being such as Mr. Hale.
“Hey, El, where are you?”
Isabella creased her brows, wondering what the hell was the cuckoo man talking about, but she realized he’s talking on a phone.
“Just bring the files to me here, I’m in the restaurant I told you about yesterday.” A pause, then, “No, no. Just bring it here, this shit takes so long.”
He finished his call and noticed Isabella’s raised eyebrows. “Business thing, Isa. Maybe you can learn one or two things from me while I’m dealing with it here.”
Isabella scoffed. “Maybe I’ll learn how to be an ass.”
He glared. “Watch your mouth, bitch.”
Isabella phew-ed. “Guess who should watch his mouth too.”
When their orders arrived, Isabella didn’t wait and just quickly shoved the juicy steak into her mouth. The sooner everything’s done, the better. No matter how good the steak was, she couldn’t enjoy it because the one sitting in front of her was too disgusting a being. So Isabella kept shoving and shoving food into her mouth, with an occasional sip of orange juice, until another person came to their table.
“I’m here.” Judging from his voice, it was a he. And so, Isabella looked up from her food and found a man, closer to her age than not, standing there with a stack of files.
He put the thick files with a bang beside Mr. Hale. The sound rattled the table and Isabella’s heart—and seemed like Mr. Hale too because he was wheezing. The man showcased a smile toward Isabella. “Hi, I’m Elliot, Mr. Hale’s secretary. Pleasure to meet you.”
“Pleasure, I’m Isabella,” Isabella returned.
Mr. Hale had just finished his cough when he raised his voice and bunched up Elliot’s collar. “Fuck El! Who the hell told you to throw it down, eh? Wanna die?”
Isabella had never wanted to punch someone so much. If anything, Isabella despised those who treat their employees, especially ones who were loyal, like trash the most. She had stood from her seat to push Horrendous Hale away from his poor secretary when Elliot said, “Would you mind your manner, Sir? I could sue you for assault if you touch me.”
“Well, I got the money. I could pay any damage. Who’ll win now, shithead?”
Isabella’s temper rose. “Hey—”
“Surely, your reputation won’t, Sir,” Elliot replied.
With that, Mr. Hale stared at him with a killing glare before he let go and pushed him aside. “I’ll find some fresh air untainted by a bitch and a shithead.”
“Are you alright, Sir Elliot?” Isabella asked as he smoothed his crumpled collar.
“Please, just call me Elliot, Miss. And, yes, I’m alright. How are you?”
Isabella knitted her eyebrows and snorted a laugh. “Me?”
“Yes, are you alright being with such an awful man? He’s a ticking time bomb, say anything that hurts his pride and he’ll fight tooth and nail with you,” Elliot said and sat on the unoccupied seat. “It’s worrisome, especially for a woman as wonderful as you. I could never thank you enough for trying to stand up for a mere secretary like me.”
Anything that hurts his pride, Isabella thought and nearly laughed. He always stabs at others’ weakness, and yet, for some reasons his shall not be touched? She continued gobbling down her food while she asked, “It’s no problem, but will you be okay? Seems like he’s not done.”
Elliot fixed his glasses. “No, it’s fine. We’ll be fine if we’re smart at handling his outburst. It’s probably one of the requirements to live in the same space as Mr. Hale.”
Isabella chuckled. “Agree. I will not let his jabs get to me if I can help it, and normally I can.”
Elliot smiled, flashing his dimples—she just noticed. “Mr. Hale talks a lot about you… well, bad stuff mostly.” Isabella rolled her eyes, of course. “I used to think that Ms. Isabella is a superficial person—”
“Oh gosh, what did he even say?” Isabella cut as she sliced the last of her steak and put it inside her mouth.
“Something untrue, I believe, because Ms. Isabella here seems far more wonderful than how he makes you,” he said. “Pardon my impudence, but I don’t understand why a woman as amazing as Ms. Isabella would be with Mr. Hale.”
Isabella sipped her orange juice then said, “Arranged marriage, most definitely.”
“But you deserve so much more.”
Isabella sipped her juice again as she sneaked a glance to Elliot. He’s staring at her deeply with his hazel eyes. He’s serious, she realized. Of course, I deserve more, but what should I do with my mother…
“No one should tie a knot to such a disrespectful person like him. He needs to learn first to respect others. If you’re about to tell me that I’m also tying myself to him through work, at the very least work isn’t forever. Marriage, however, is forever,” he said.
True, and true. Maybe it’s already time for her to put aside her mother’s wish for once and let her see for herself the reality of it. Surely, she wouldn’t force her daughter to marry a violent man, would she? If her mother thought she’s lying to avoid marriage, well, didn’t she have the proof right here?
“Will you help me, then, Elliot, if I say I would talk to my mother about this? Will you be as helpful as giving a testimony about Mr. Hale’s true nature? My mother never believes me because he’s been acting sweet and gentle in front of her,” Isabella said while dabbing her lips with a tissue.
Elliot replied, “Certainly I would, but how…”
Isabella rose from her seat and took a name card from her purse, she handed it to Elliot. “Contact me. Your help would mean the world to me. Oh, and I will help you too if you want to resign from that tyrant.”
Elliot gazed at the name card and quickly hid it inside his pocket when he saw from afar that Mr. Hale had come back.
“I will, Miss.”
When Mr. Hale came back, the deal was sealed and Isabella had left the dinner. It’s quite normal for her to leave early while Horrendous Hale was finding some sort of ‘fresh air’. She just hoped that Elliot would be okay while they worked together to wriggle out of the tyrant’s hand.