Chapter 03: Verdant

~o.O.o~

“I don’t know how you did it,” John Diggle said as he joined Oliver by his side in the man’s new apartment. His eyes were bright with excitement as he looked out at the view over the Starling City skyline as the sun was setting. “But this place is right up your alley.”

Oliver grinned to his friend before looking back out the window. The realtor hadn’t been kidding, this was a great view of the city and he had easy access to roofs from his ‘perch,’ as Felicity lovingly called his new place. The day after the realtor had called him about the mansion getting an offer and saying he wanted the penthouse, everything was done for. Sometimes it helped to have impatient buyers. With the money he had left, he had renovators work on the penthouse on overtime and movers following the next day, leaving much of the unwanted feelings and memories behind.

And he still hadn’t slept in his new bedroom, despite the new furniture and exquisite new mattress that Laurel had kindly chosen for him during one of her many shopping excursions for her cousin during the week.

As it turned out, Diggle had heard about Isabella Swan’s security firm and knew they were good at what they did. He had suggested that they’d secure the basement with the help of their in house hacker in hopes to keep their system slightly ahead of everyone else. Just because the woman owned a part of Verdant now, which, in the span of that same week, had been restored to its former glory and the grand opening was that evening, didn’t mean that everyone was comfortable with her having free reign over their sanctuary as well.

Oliver hadn’t heard a word from Thea since she returned to town, despite him inquiring about how she was doing and telling her about the club. With her lack of communication, he put Roy in charge of recruiting and managing the bar. Roy had enough experience and he had proven himself to be reliable in the end. The only real thing that the kid had to manage about himself was his anger and dealing with people on a daily basis would help with that because some people were simply aggravating.

“Just promise me that you won’t become a hermit,” Diggle pointed at Oliver. “Because I can see that this place would be a fantastic way for you to be all alone, shutting yourself off from the rest of us.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Oliver huffed as he continued to stare out over the city, trying to think of any other way to stall or avoid the evening entirely.

Diggle just looked at him for a moment before passing his friend his coat. “You’re going to be late to your own party, Mr. Queen. Shall we go?”

“Bella will be there, won’t she?” He had been trying to avoid talking about her ever since he found out that she was going to own part of Verdant. It still hurt his ego to admit that he needed help to get things back to normal. Oliver was careful to not inquire about her and her company directly because a part of him didn’t want to know, but his curiosity each day was growing reluctantly. Thankfully, he had Dig and Felicity to deal with those tasks.

“Yes…” Diggle answered slowly as he eyed the man. “She’s confirmed her attendance earlier this week. I suspect she should be on her way, if not there already.”

Oliver’s face twitched with some unknown emotion as he glanced at his friend while he slipped his jacket on. “What’s your take on her?”

“My take?” The man chuckled and shook his head. “You’re acting as if I know the woman.”

“No. I’m asking what you know because I’m certain that you and Felicity have already been looking into her since Laurel mentioned her coming to town and her offer with the club,” he pointed out.

Diggle smiled and nodded as he pointed to the door. “I’ll fill you in on what I know. On the way.”

He didn’t start talking until Oliver was in the backseat of the car and they were on the road. Maybe it was to let him stew a little with his curiosity, or maybe just because Oliver needed to get to Verdant because he needed to show his face. It was his club and his name was the local celebrity that made money there.

“Her company is legit. She even has some overseas contracts and more than often helps out the local law enforcement; this was in Seattle. There’s no doubt about it that she’ll offer the same help to the Starling City force,” Diggle started with some facts that he remembered more vividly. Letting out a sigh, he glanced at his passenger in the rear view mirror. “She’s ambitious and more than often gets what she wants. Her father is her right hand. He takes care of training the new recruits as he’s a former cop. Left the force to help her with the company. Trust me when I say that even with the added security access to the basement, she’ll eventually find a way around it herself because she employs a handful of the best hackers in the country.”

“Will she be a risk to us?” Oliver asked with hesitation.

This was were the bodyguard was more serious as he frowned with consideration before answering. “Most definitely. You’ll have to be careful around her, Oliver.”

That was news that he didn’t want to hear. “Why is that Diggle?”

“Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned. According to Felicity, Isabella Swan went through a rough break up with her coming out on top. She had been dating some mogul when she was listed as one of the top ten entrepreneurs in the country. Supposedly, just before the article was released, he decided to break it off and she was okay until after. He tried crawling back when he realized what a big name he had let slip through his fingers. The guy was an idiot to not know who he had for a girlfriend or she kept her business and personal life very well separated at the time. The media often refers to it as cutting off her ex-boyfriend’s balls, but I’m sure they don’t mean that literally. Regardless, something happened that they ended up taking one another to court and she came out the victor, with most of the company transferred to her name. It wouldn’t have mattered as it was just merely absorbed into her business as a new investment. She’s a woman and you know as well as I do that women are dangerous. Especially ones with money and power.”

Oliver sighed as he let his head fall back against the seat, wondering what the hell he had gotten himself into. “Ah well, luckily, Roy is Verdant’s manager. Hopefully, she’ll deal with him more than I would have to.”

“Sure, but you keep forgetting that she’s Laurel and Sara’s cousin. You won’t be able to avoid her forever, ” Diggle laughed as he turned on the radio to cover the groan from the backseat. “Ten minutes until arrival, Mr. Queen.”

~o.O.o~

Since her arrival in Starling City, Bella had been a busy girl. As much as she needed to sit and discuss with Oliver Queen about a formal agreement with the nightclub, neither one of them seemed to have been able to find the opportunity and she knew much of it was avoidance on his part. She allowed him the time but as his grand re-opening was growing closer, she knew he would not be able to avoid her at the event and she would force his hand then.

Charlie had gone on ahead of her to check on the work that Laurel had gotten started for them and to take over but when he called back to confirm her cousin’s findings on the lack of preferred locations for their new base of operations, she was less than thrilled.

Still, she let left her father to figure out that problem as she had their new home to tend to since he was even less pleased that she had opted for the former Queen home over a simple apartment that he had inquired about. Bella merely smiled at him and continued to make her plans for the new mansion.

It would be the first time either of them would be in something so large, as she previously hadn’t been willing to indulge in something like that. She had only taken it on for two reasons. One was as a subconscious revenge against all things that Oliver Queen may have once represented, as her dear cousin insisted he wasn’t anymore since his dramatic return from the dead. The other was simply to help him out as another favor to mentioned family as the man had been having some personal and financial difficulties since his return that she couldn’t entirely fault him for after she had read the articles involving his story.

Bella knew well enough and from the controlled expression on his face in many of the photos that there was more to his story but at that point in time, she didn’t really care to know what it was. She was moving to Starling City for her family and to help the struggling people get back on their feet. After that, she would make the decision on where to go next, just as she had been doing since high school. One goal at a time.

Of course, what everyone didn’t know was that she held her own secrets, her own controlled smile matched Oliver Queen’s perfectly. Bella was well aware of that fact, which was how she identified it in the pictures and made the decision to not get involved with whatever story he might have for it. Still, she had an impression to make that night and she was going to let it explode as she stared out the limo’s window as it pulled up to the nightclub. The driver got out to open her door and she gave him a flirty smile before heading up the walkway, past the line of people waiting to be able to get in.

“Wow, Bella,” Laurel greeted her cousin with a big smile on her face. “You look absolutely stunning!” She had been at the club to see to it that Roy had everything ready in time, and of course help out a little bit. Oliver was going to be late, as usual, he was going to make a grand entrance, stay for ten minutes and then something would come up and he had to leave. It was the usual deal, really.

Bella grinned as she waved herself passed the bouncer as she approached her cousin and ignoring the curious looks of those standing around were giving them. “Thanks! It’s not really often I get to dress up or go out so I figured why not go all the way tonight with my newest investment? Plus, if my name is going to be attached to anything, I have to make a statement. You do want your friend’s business to go up after all. Trust me, I can get businessmen from Seattle in here in a heartbeat and then let the girls break their hearts. So where is my new partner?”

Laurel winced. “Yes… well… about that… he’s running a little late,” she said hesitantly and then threw up her hands. “I know, I know, it’s a bad first impression but uhm… his driver had a flat tire. But he’ll be here shortly.”

She raised an eyebrow as she glanced back at her before turning back to survey the dancefloor. “I’m sure. You don’t have to make excuses for him Laurel. He’s been avoiding me, I know. If I were in his position, I would honestly be putting off this meeting as long as possible as well but it needs to be done and he can’t run from me tonight.”

Laurel chuckled and took Bella’s hand. “Come on, let me show you around – or at least meet Roy, he’s the manager that Oliver hired.” She started to pull Bella through the crowd of people and every warm blooded person was just gawking at Bella. “How’s the house? Are you settling in okay?” It was a bit of a surprise that Bella bought the Queen mansion and that Oliver moved to a penthouse in the city, but if she was honest with herself, she’d probably have done the same thing.

“Everything is fine. I must say that Mrs. Queen had some good taste in furniture. Oliver left a lot of nice things behind that I’ll be sure will be taken care of if he changes his mind about keeping. Still, as much as Charlie objected to the idea, I think he likes the extra space. Doesn’t make us feel like we are really living together and are under one another’s foot as before. He has his space, I have mine. He knows not to go into mine, not that he would ever get in,” she smirked.

“I knew it,” Laurel laughed. “The security system that the Queen’s had put in just wasn’t good enough, was it?”

Bella shrugged, not really wanting to discuss the topic much further because it might lead to questions she wasn’t comfortable answering. “It was fine. I – just tend to be a bit paranoid about safety. If you want, I can have someone take a look at your apartment and work something out for you. Same with your dad’s place. Knowing Charlie, who the hell knows what might follow your father home from work one day. That reminds me actually. I know Oliver said he would handle the security for the club but with the amount of money coming into the place, I want to know that it’s something that isn’t just average.”

“Oh, Oliver has it covered. He doesn’t want this club to be destroyed and has various safeguards in place. Including a special room for a security guard to sit in and watch the club on a dozen or so tv screens.” Laurel shrugged. “I told him it was a little over the top but I guess he wanted to impress you with a great security for the club.”

Her curiosity was piqued and eyebrow shot up in silent question as she looked back at her cousin. “Is that so?” she mused, making her wonder if he was as paranoid as she was. “I’ll have to have him show it to me when he shows up then. Come on. Let me buy you a drink,” Bella grinned as she wrapped her arm around the girl’s and dragged her up to the bar.

“Laurel, I mean, Miss Lance,” Felicity said as she pushed past a few people in the crowd towards Laurel. “Mr. Queen arrives in about five minutes, Diggle just called me and wow.” She said as she looked at Bella. “That’s… one daring dress…” She then clasped her hands in front of her mouth in shock. “And I am so sorry, Miss Swan, that was out of bounds but you’re amazing!”

“Bella,” Laurel chuckled as she pointed at Felicity. “This is Felicity Smoak. She works for Queen Consolidated and is basically Oliver’s personal assistant with all the work that she does.”

Bella raised an eyebrow at the casualness of the two as she tried to make sense of it. “It’s a pleasure,” she smiled back at her politely as she eyed her curiously. Deciding that this girl might be best for the truthful reaction and opinion on the man’s company, she shot out her question. “Maybe you could tell me what the news and financial reports haven’t printed yet. Just how much in the hole is Queen Consolidated really in?”

Laurel shot Felicity a warning look, but found out that she had nothing to worry about. “It’s a PR dip, nothing we can’t handle, Miss Swan. Mr. Queen is working hard to get the company back on its feet and we’re expecting positive results.”

Nodding, Bella expected such an answer. It sounded almost rehearsed but the girl was good she had to admit. “I hope it does do well. I hate to see a good company succumb under the scrutiny that the media circus enjoys parading. With what’s already been said, I don’t see it looking up in the immediate future. Just play your cards carefully,” she warned before turning to the bar and signaled for the bartender. As soon as he came by, she glanced back at the two girls with her. “Three beers, imported and bottled. Open them here in front of me.”

“That’s not how we usually…” Roy said a bit hesitant but one look from Laurel told him to better do it if he wanted to keep all of his limbs in tact. “Right away, ma’am.” Things had to be perfect tonight. Not just for the club, but also to make sure that Bella would be satisfied enough not to come around often – even if they really secured the basement now. He grabbed three Amstel beers and set them on the counter, getting the bottle opener out of his pocket and removed the caps. “Would you like a glass with it?”

Bella watched on with a careful eye, not caring what others thought about her issues about how she demanded things. “I’m good, thanks. I don’t know about these ladies. Girls?” she asked them as she took her bottle and drew a long sip as she eyed the bartender.

“It’s already in a glass, isn’t it?” Laurel chuckled and took her bottle. She raised it to Bella with a big smile on her face. “To you.”

“Family. Never leave them behind,” she cheered back as she raised her bottle back and looked to Felicity, who had been quiet. “And to – new connections. I’m not sure what to make of you yet. Sorry.”

Felicity smiled as she took a sip of her beer. “That’s alright, Miss Swan. Thank you for the beer.”

“No problem. I’ve got us covered for the night. Open up a tab Chuck,” Bella grinned to the guy and claimed the bar stool that was just vacated beside them. Keeping an eye out for her partner, she focused in on the crowd.

The bartender raised his head and looked back at Laurel at the mention of her name, pointing to her when she had turned away from the bar to look around. “Really?” he mouthed silently in question. “My new boss?”

Laurel nodded before she turned around to see Oliver come in while the people around him were cheering, grateful that he had been able to open up their favourite club again. “There he is. Just follow the noise.”

Bella looked toward the commotion and let out a bored sigh of irritation. “Get me something harder Chuck. This is going to be a long night if I’m going to have to put up with this kind of show,” she muttered as she turned around, not caring for the obvious local celebrity appearance. Looking around the bar counter, she pouted. “Where are the beer nuts?”

Roy pulled one of the bowls of nuts towards the ladies. “Right here, Miss Swan.”

Oliver walked towards Laurel, Bella and Felicity with a big smile on his face. “Ladies. Good evening, sorry I’m late.” He was a bit surprised by Bella’s choice of clothing, she looked – stunning. Well, he assumed it was her, seeing as she was with Laurel, who looked beautiful herself but still, she always was a total knockout. He extended his hand towards Bella. “Nice to see you again, Miss Swan,” he smiled at her, not really remembering her but he trusted Laurel in telling him that they used to hang out.

Bella looked up from her bowl of nuts and eyed his hand for a moment. She reached out to shake it and smiled back, somewhat mockingly. “You don’t remember shit about me Oliver so cut the crap,” she grinned as she canted her head to the side as she peered at him. “Hmm…”

“Oh, thank god,” Oliver said with a relieved sigh. “You know… I’m sorry about that, truly.” He felt a little bit exposed when she kept looking at him while he tried not to look at her. “What? I still have shaving cream on my face?”

“No,” she mused but the previous light smile that was on her face had fallen as she begun to identify the expression that she studied on his face in the news articles. “Just – it’s nothing. Don’t worry about it. Look, we both have to do our parts at this little party here but we also have business to discuss that I’d rather get done and over with because I’d much rather be out there enjoying myself on a rare night off of work. So if you don’t mind – is there somewhere quiet that we can discuss things?”

“Absolutely,” Oliver nodded as he extended his arm for her to get it. “The top level holds the office and the security room and we have it sound proofed.” It was a good thing that she wanted the business side over with, this meant that he could slip away when he needed to; parties really weren’t his thing anymore even though he pretended it to be.

Nodding, Bella collected her bag as she winked over at Laurel, fully ready to get the man riled up. “Business first then the press. Oh and I expect a full tour of the place after we discuss some new habits your bartenders need to adopt for female patrons.”

Oliver silently groaned. Fuck. “Of course, whatever you need and want.” He lead her up the stairs towards the office and closed the door behind them.

As she followed him up, her eyes darted around to take in all the security that was offered. Bella had been sorely let down as she cross the threshold into the manager’s office. She tossed her purse onto the desk and made herself comfortable in one of the plush armchairs that were there. “Nice. I may have to get one of these. Just so that we’re aware, first thing that’s going to happen is more cameras are getting installed. That corner around the stairs and this office is a major risk. I don’t have any tolerance for employees thinking they can bring guests up here for some action,” she pointed out as she crossed her legs to make the man uncomfortable enough to stress how their current situation could be misconstrued to the public eye.

“I disagree,” Oliver said as he leaned against his desk, hands folded in front of him, almost as if he was protecting something. “There’s a buttonhole camera in the desk, disguised as a screw. One of the eyes in the painting behind me isn’t an eye and there’s a hidden camera in one of the lights above you. We made sure it blended in so that people have the impression that they are safe in this office to do whatever they want to without being observed.”

Bella went to look at the cameras he pointed out and nodded, impressed. “The stairs is still a blind spot,” she said quietly as she walked around the room, looking at the artwork he had chosen to decorate the space. “Safety is something I take very seriously. Not just for myself, but for my employees and my family. I don’t like any – gaps.”

“You’re right, the stairs is a blind spot. But only employees and we have access to this space,” Oliver said, wondering why she was so adamant about the cameras. He’d think she’d be impressed so far.

“It’s my family and her friends, who by default become important to me as well. Fix it,” Bella snapped as she glared back at him for a moment before calming herself down. “The bartender. New policy. Any request for bottled drinks are to be opened right in front of the customer. No chance of it being tampered between point A and point B. Mix drinks are understandable to an extent, but whenever possible, everything in front of the customer. Next time I hear it’s not policy from some idiot, I will really lose my lid,” she mumbled to herself with the last line.

“I understand,” Oliver said as he nodded. “However, my personnel are being thoroughly screened for anything, criminal record, any irregularities in their finances, their training, and people who come to this club know that this is a safe club to be in.” What was her deal? He asked himself.

The deep breath that she sucked in should have been enough to warn him that a pissed off woman was not good to be around in such a confined space. Turning on her heel to stare at him, Bella’s face was stone cold and entirely ruthless as she tended to be when she was at work. “Tell that to the retired detective that passed every background check and still tried to slip college girls at the bar off campus where I went to school roofies just to get himself some free kicks in the backroom. Again, not negotiable, and completely reasonable request.”

Oliver thought for a moment and even though he trusted his staff, she obviously didn’t. Which was understandable. She was right, of course, but she also had to know that not everything was controllable. “I shall send the staff for a refresher course on bartending.”

Nodding, she was accepting of that as she was more than aware of popular safety measures that had been adapted into the trade for reasons such as her own concerns. “Okay. What plans do you have beyond the booze and dancing to keep people coming?”

“Well, before the club was destroyed, we often had popular DJ’s play at Verdant, drawing in the crowd. My security team is well equipped to handle the people and we’ve added more cameras to ensure that everything can be seen. The security team was handpicked by my own bodyguard, and it has former cops and army reservists as the core of it.” Oliver said, still not having moved from his spot, still being in the same posture as they first entered the office. If she was freaking out about the smallest detail, the best he could do was to stay calm and hope that it would rub off on her. “My sister Thea introduced theme nights, once or twice a month, where people would dress up to a certain theme and come to party their worries away.”

She had to smile at the mention of the girl. “How is Thea? Last I remember her, she was in diapers, screaming like a little banshee.”

He didn’t really want to talk about Thea as she was the only blood relative that he had left. She was often found at Malcolm Merlyn’s house as she wanted to get to know him better, she claimed. Oliver just hoped that Merlyn wouldn’t teach her how to use a bow against the Arrow, that was a disaster just waiting to happen. “Thea is doing a lot of soul searching right now,” he eventually said. “And as long as she’s happy, I’m happy.”

Bella had been studying photos on the bookcase, coming across one of their family. Picking it up, she was wistful that she hadn’t had the same type of experience growing up with both parents and siblings. “It had to have been hard losing both parents. I don’t remember my mother much but Charlie…” she trailed off as she was lost in her thoughts before putting the frame back on the shelf carefully.

He sincerely hoped that she’d never have to experience her father shooting himself in the head or her mother being killed while she was present. Sure, Oliver and his mother weren’t on the best of terms when Slade pushed the sword through Moira, but she was his mother. And now he only had Thea, sort of. Thea was angry at him for not telling her that Malcom Merlyn was her father and it hurt, because he had done that to keep her safe. “Family is what you make of it, who you gather around you to call family. It doesn’t necessarily have to be blood related,” Oliver eventually said. “Laurel told me that you and your father are close, and that’s good, I envy you.”

She sighed as she looked back at him. “I love my dad and would do anything for him. But most of the time it’s a business relationship,” she reluctantly admitted as she moved over to the window that overlooked the club. “I’m sure you have a few demands of your own considering you have the dominant side of this partnership. I’m going to tell you this now. When I invest in something, I expect to see it succeed which means that I want to be involved. Don’t expect me to not want to know what is going on here so don’t exclude me on anything. It’s not just your money that would be lost if the place takes another nosedive, accident or not.”

“Which is why I plan on buying you out as soon as I can, I don’t mind losing my money, but losing someone else’s is something completely different,” Oliver said as he looked at her back. “I can send you a weekly update on what came in and what went out, the stock will be counted on a monthly basis and I can show you what suppliers we use. If those suppliers aren’t to your liking, we can change suppliers, that’s no problem.” If she was as paranoid about products as security, then this was a good play, or so he thought. This was why he had Thea run the place, so he didn’t have to deal with all of this. Life was hectic enough as it was. “I’m sure that Roy wouldn’t mind compiling that update for you, as he manages the place for me.”

She found herself smiling to herself as he actually said all that with a straight face. “You don’t trust me as much as I don’t trust almost everyone down there. With good reason probably,” she mused as she looked back at him with the same curious expression as she did downstairs. “We all have our secrets Mr. Queen. I’m not so sure you’re capable of keeping yours to yourself,” she said. “In any case, you’ve made my move to Starling City much more entertaining. I think I may be staying longer than I thought I would. Send me the revised agreement and I’ll have my lawyer review it. I’m going to go have fun now since you seem to take pleasure of not having any,” she frowned as she went over and grabbed her purse from behind him, brushing him to the side intentionally and walked out.

Before she closed the door behind her, she muttered loud enough to be carried into the room, “Self indulged jackass like Douchward.”

Oliver took a few long strides and went after her. He stopped her right before she walked down the stairs with a touch on the shoulder before retreating his hand. “What do you want from me?”

Bella held in her irritation as she turned back because they were in full view of club goers where they were. “Nothing. I want nothing from you,” she said evenly as her eyes flashed with barely suppressed rage. “And the next time you touch me again without my consent, you’ll be on your ass and then in jail. I don’t care right now how innocent it was and that I know you meant nothing by it other than to stop me. Next time you want to talk to me, call my office.”

With that, she continued down the stairs with surprising grace considering her ensemble as she made a beeline straight for the bar where she had left her cousin before. Pissed off with Oliver, and now upset because she couldn’t find Laurel as she looked around around the crowded club, she called for the bartender. “Hey Chuck! Close out my account,” she said as she slapped her credit card on the counter as she gritted her teeth, and hating Oliver Queen.

Roy just about caught the change in Oliver’s face when Oliver appeared from the stairs. He went from looking pissed off to looking like Mr. Popular, as he usually did, as if there wasn’t anything wrong. In the meantime, however, he had a pissed of Miss Swan at his counter. He smiled at her, took her credit card and swiped it for payment. He handed her the card back and a receipt with its copy. “Please sign both receipts and keep one, miss.”

She scribbled her name on the slips and slid his copy back as she tucked hers into her bag. “If you see Laurel, tell her I went home and that I’ll call her when the dog dances the hula,” she said, not caring what he would get about the joke between the cousins. It was enough to let the woman know that she wouldn’t be calling anytime soon, or at least before she had the chance to cool her temper.

“Would you like me to call you a cab, ma’am?” Roy inquired with the phone in his hand. “Or do you have a car waiting?”

She pulled out her phone and waved to him. “I’ve got it covered. Thanks anyway. Make sure Laurel gets my message,” she said as she dialed one of her security officers that were on duty at the office. Confirming that she would meet him a few blocks up, which she had no problem walking, she headed off.

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