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What is The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp?
The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Prologue
The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter One
The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Two
The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Three
Trasket Tower loomed over Manhattan as a gaudy gold slash against the sky. The family name rose in blinding white letters sixteen feet high against the top of the building and, in case it had been missed, in slightly smaller letters above the massive, two-story entrance.
Fiona shuddered in revulsion as she passed through the gilded lobby; her father had come from nothing, as he’d been fond of telling everyone. Truthfully, that “nothing” had been more than most people could have claimed. Private schools, Ivy League universities, a high-ranking position in the family business; Trasket Sr. had taken those advantages and reinvested them in his children as if they’d been strategic business moves and not his own flesh and blood.
Which explained why her brother viewed her that way, now.
Only one elevator led up to the private family quarters and of course, it was the most conspicuous. Two guards stood on either side of the gaudy gold-plated doors. They stepped aside with courteous nods.
Perhaps the only thing Fiona and her brother had in common was their mutual hatred of their father’s taste. Nouveau riche, Blayde called it, though Fiona wasn’t sure the term applied to a man who’d come from a long line of wealthy, but not megarich, men. Their father had simply loved to flaunt his fortune, even if it was a child’s cartoonish idea of luxury.
It was some small comfort to know that though her brother hated the decor in his inherited fortress, it couldn’t be changed, per the conditions of their vain father’s last will and testament. Blayde was forced to reside in a tacky tower of greed, while she was free to live as she pleased, in a townhouse without a single glimmer of gold to be found.
Tonight, though, she had to make her report and endure the monthly dinner that kept her allowance rolling in.
When she stepped off the elevator, her shoes clicked on the spotless Italian marble floor. Alabaster busts of generic ancient Romans lined the long entry hall. They weren’t originals, as far as she was aware. Like everything about her father, it was only the appearance that mattered.
The butler, a tall man with a long face and bushy brow approached from the archway at the other end. “Mistress Trasket,” he said with a deep bow.
“Arnold.” Mistress Trasket, indeed. There was nothing noble or royal about them, no matter how her father might have wished there had been.
“Your brother and his guests are assembled in the drawing-room for drinks before dinner. Shall I show you in?” he asked.
Most likely, he’d been ordered to do so. Blayde’s wife loved putting on airs and graces as much as Father had. The formality also served to remind Fiona that Trasket Tower was no longer her home. Julia had made it clear from her wedding day that she, not Fiona, would reign over the Trasket kingdom.
“No, thank you. I know the way.” I’ve been here longer than you, prick.
“I should announce you,” he began, but she quickened her pace and ignored him.
Even the drawing-room appeared exactly the way their father had left it. Blood-red velvet curtains framed the windows and mahogany paneling shrunk the space visually to claustrophobic proportions.
“Fiona,” Julia said, rising from her place on the hunter-green leather sofa. “We didn’t know you’d arrived.”
“Please, don’t blame Arnold. He suggested he should announce me.” She didn’t make any excuses. Julia could stew about Fiona’s blatant disregard for the house rules all night if she’d like.
Blayde sat in his usual spot, the high-backed black leather wing chair that her father had once used as a throne. “Fiona, we have a guest joining us this evening.”
A figure emerged slowly from the shadows. Even the light of the fire in the hearth couldn’t warm the tone of the man’s pale skin. His long hands, each topped with a gnarled black talon, rested on the front of his elaborate black silk robes, and his long raven hair blended seamlessly into the void-like fabric. He moved with predatory grace toward her and extended his clawed hand.
The man chilled her to the core of her being.
His eyes flashed red.
He was no man.
“This is our newest board advisor, Erlik of Tartarus,” Blayde said with a smug smile. He so delighted in catching her off guard. Julia raised her eyebrows as she sipped from her wine glass, clearly enjoying the moment, as well.
“Mr. Erlik,” she said, holding the stranger’s boiling red gaze. She wouldn’t give her brother or his awful wife the satisfaction of a reaction. “Arnold mentioned that my brother had a guest.”
“Oh, then he spoiled our surprise,” Julia simpered with feigned disappointment.
“And where are you from, Mr. Erlik?” Fiona asked, making the same small-talk she’d made in these situations for her entire life.
“Elrik, please,” he said simply, a slow-growing grin spreading to show dagger-sharp teeth. “And Tartarus should have been…obvious.”
“Ah. So, you’re a…demon?” Ah, so you’re in synthetic textiles? They may as well have been the same sentence, from her politely interested tone.
“You won’t impress her, I’m afraid,” Blayde said, lifting his rocks glass of amber liquid to gesture to her. “She works with astrals.”
The demon’s grin widened, reaching almost to his ears. The papery skin at the corners of his mouth bunched up sickeningly. “I’m sure you’ve seen far more interesting sights, then.”
“Perhaps you’ll share them with me, sister. After dinner, perhaps?” Blayde took a long drink, allowing his order to hang in the air.
The hell she would sit down at a table with a demon. “You know I would normally love to, but I fear tonight I won’t be staying. I hate to be rude to your guest, but something rather important has come up. You did say earlier that you wanted to speak to me privately?”
A flicker of annoyance crossed Blayde’s face, but he quickly disguised it. “What a shame that you won’t be joining us. You’ll be missed, I’m sure.”
Julia tossed her gleaming red hair over her shoulder. “I’m sure Erlik won’t mind if you step away for a moment. I’m more than capable of entertaining him.”
Fiona was certain that Julia was.
The thought of it made her skin crawl.
She followed Blayde from the room, down the long, black-marble and gold hall to what used to be their father’s study. Only weeks before, she’d stood in the same room, helpless as her brother blackmailed her with threats to her closest, dearest friend.
“Have you heard from Larkin?” Blayde asked casually as if he’d read her mind.
Fiona hadn’t. In fact, the last time she’d spoken to the pixie had been to warn her that she wouldn’t be in contact for a while due to some family business. How could they spend time together when Fiona was betraying all astrals by spying for her brother? How could she risk him getting more “evidence” with which to blackmail Larkin?
But she answered, “Of course. Even with her busy tour schedule, we make time to talk.”
“As close as lovers,” Blayde mocked her.
“Better than a demon.” The words shot out before she could consider the fallout they would cause.
Her brother’s shoulders stiffened. “My relationship with Erlik is purely business, I assure you. I don’t have a taste for monsters.”
Your wife does. Fiona shuddered, fighting against the vivid imaginings her too-creative mind conjured.
A biometric scanner unlocked the door to the study, and Blayde ushered her inside. Once the door was closed behind them, he dropped any pretense of small talk. “If you’re not staying for dinner, tell me what you know and get out.”
“I don’t have to come to dinners at all, you realize,” she reminded him. “You’re the one holding the threat of bankruptcy over my head.”
“Then perhaps it’s a good thing you have your cushy new job.” He paused. “Wait, I got that for you, too. And I can take it away.”
“Why would I want it?” She scoffed in exasperation. “I work in a tree. A sentient tree that can read my thoughts. It knows why I’m there, Blayde. You were so out of your depth, thinking you could use such a clumsy ruse to spy on them.”
“Has this ‘sentient tree’ told anyone?” he asked.
“No,” she admitted hesitantly. “I bribe it with chocolate.”
“I sent you there to punish you and you’re living out one of your childish Alice in Wonderland fantasies.”
“To punish me?” Of course, that had been his aim. “I thought I was there to save the Trasket name and protect the glory of our legacy.”
“That, too. But I know how it galls you to lie.” He smirked, quite pleased with himself.
When had he become such a bastard? She could remember a time when they’d gotten along. They’d ridden bikes together through the cold halls of their father’s palace, gone on day trips with their nanny to the indoor beaches and domed parks where the most privileged children in the city played. There had been virtual reality games, evenings with cocoa and animated films from their parents’ childhood.
Then father had stepped in to take over Blayde’s “education.” The change in him had been swift and now he grew worse every year.
“You’re just like him,” she managed, choking back despair.
Blayde’s face transformed in fury. “Don’t you ever compare me to that…that…freak of a half-man!”
He thought she compared him to John Johnson? Her brother could only wish to run a company as smoothly and successfully as Chiron Corp. All Blayde could do was threaten and wield his power like a cudgel. “Not him. Father.”
Coldly, Blayde replied, “Thank you. He was a great man.”
“Sure.” She refused to venerate him for her brother’s edification. “What do you want? I’m tired.”
“Yes, having to do a day’s work is likely exhausting for you,” Blayde snapped. “What do you think I want? Information. That’s what I sent you for.”
“And here I thought it was to punish me.” No. She wouldn’t let him draw her into a petty fight that would only result in Larkin losing. “I’m still working on the bioluminescence project.”
He shook his head in frustration. “I told you, bioluminescence isn’t what I’m after. Anyone could tell me about Chiron’s electricity elimination initiative; it was in all the holobriefs weeks ago. I need something more or else I’m wasting my time.”
“No, you’re wasting my time. I don’t know why you believe I’m somehow going to become privy to top-secret information within weeks. There’s only so much I can do.” For which she was exceedingly thankful. She didn’t want to betray the astrals when everything they did, they did for the Earth.
“There is something you can do.” He tapped the edge of his desk, lost in thought. “Surely there must be someone there who would be interested in exchanging information for the privilege of sleeping with a Trasket daughter. Imagine how triumphant they would feel, knowing they were deflowering the daughter of their enemy.”
Fiona’s hand balled into a fist that she deeply wished she could let fly. “You misjudge them. You can’t see anything beyond your human perspective. They aren’t ruled by lust. They have eternity to slake theirs. They aren’t motivated by profit, either. All they want is to heal the planet and keep us from dying.”
“Well. Look at that.” Blayde smiled cruelly. “You had information, after all.”
She didn’t like feeling as though she’d been tricked. “What do you mean?”
“If all they care about is saving the planet, then they won’t care what I’m up to.” He waved a hand over the holopad controls on his desk. A schematic appeared. It took a moment for Fiona to realize that she was looking at a battleship.
Reveling in her confusion, her brother continued. “While you’re off frolicking with the fairies, I’ve been exploring other options. The denizens of Hell, as it turns out, are interested in profit. That’s why we’re signing a contract with them. We supply the steel, they supply the clean-burning brimstone, and we sell these revamped Destroyers to the Navy.”
“Feeding the war machine.” Her stomach went hollow. “Why are you so determined to hurt the astrals? They’re just trying to help us!”
“Help us straight into communism,” he argued back, and in his words, she heard the voice of their father.
She shook her head. “What happened to you?”
“Common sense,” Blayde snapped. “We were born to this privilege. This status. It’s our birthright, and you’d give it away for the promise of some fairy-winged future.”
“If the astrals hadn’t helped us, if they weren’t working so hard for our survival, you’d have nothing to spend your fortune on!” She shouldn’t waste her breath, she knew; she’d had this fight with her brother before, and with their father before him.
“The Earth would have healed. There was no proof—”
“The seas swallowed whole countries!” she shouted. “They’re only just now rebuilding. How has your worship of our father made you so ignorant?”
Blayde took a deep breath and paced behind his desk. “I had hoped it would not come to this. I’d hoped that preying on your affection for your friend would be enough to move you to act in the family’s best interest. But I see more…drastic measures are necessary.”
A chill gripped her limbs as if someone had opened a window onto a wintry night. “What do you mean?”
Blayde nodded, not to her, but someone behind her. She turned; not fast enough.
The demon’s clawed hands closed over her head before she could scream.