Need to catch up?
- 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
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Four
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Five
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Six
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Seven
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Eight
- The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Nine
- NSFW! The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp: Chapter Ten
Blayde’s reaction to the news didn’t surprise Fiona. But the raised eyebrows of the faun and the centaur across the table from her indicated that they’d expected something more…subdued.
The three of them stood sat around a conference table while Fiona spoke to her brother with the phone’s holographic communication function disabled. Fiona waited until her brother’s raucous laughter subsided a bit to speak again. “I’m glad the idea of a man being attracted to me is so hilarious to you.”
“It’s not your attractiveness I’m questioning. It’s the intelligence of the beast you’ve managed to snare.” He indulged in another victorious laugh. “Flicka Starr? Imagine falling for that.”
“It sounds like you were setting me up to fail.” She was grateful her brother couldn’t see the disgust she felt etched into her face. What would the point be? Though, she didn’t doubt her brother would do such a thing just to hurt her credibility should she ever need it in the future.
Evil minds worked years ahead.
“I’m proud of you. I worried you might go all goody-goody and tell on me.”
Why would you worry about that, with a demon’s mark controlling me? She bit her tongue.
Blayde’s tone twisted into one of prurient amusement. “You haven’t had to do anything…”
Marcaeus’s hand clenched on the tabletop.
Fiona shot him an apologetic glance as she made a disgusted noise. “No! Don’t be gross. I don’t even want to think about it. I keep putting him off.”
She mouthed, “sorry” to Marcaeus. It didn’t erase the dark, angry look on his face.
He’s not angry at you. He’s angry at Blayde. Why would an astral creature and successful CEO care about the opinion of a mortal like her? Blayde had wounded Marcaeus’s ego.
She continued to her brother, “But that’s what makes the situation so precarious. He’s going to get suspicious, eventually, as to why I can’t…do it.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s aware of why you can’t do it.” Blayde snickered.
“I didn’t risk calling so you could be gross,” Fiona snapped back. “I’m trying to do what you asked me to. You said to infiltrate the company; I did. You said to do whatever it took, so here I am. In Johnson’s apartment.”
“As I said, I’m impressed. What more do you want?” Waves of smug assholishness radiated from the speaker.
“I want the footage of Larkin destroyed.” Fiona forced her jaw to relax. “No tricks. No lies. I did what you asked me to do.”
I did what you asked me to do, and you still put a demonic leash on me.
“Consider it gone.” The answer was far too easy. She waited and, sure enough, Blayde added, “After the election, of course.”
Hobb and Marcaeus exchanged a glance before Hobb typed something on his holopad.
“Right. I’m guessing you’re going to expect more work from me? At least, until your wife has her senate seat and your defense contract is brokered?” Fiona cringed; if she kept it up with the exposition, Blayde would know for sure that he was being spied on.
“It’s so nice to hear that you’ve become jaded. I take it that your time among the astrals hasn’t been the fairy tale you assumed it would be?” he gloated.
“Someone’s coming. I have to go,” she lied. “I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to report to you. He’s clingy and obsessive.” She mouthed another “sorry.” “He even gave me a ‘bodyguard,’ who I think is probably here to watch me, not protect me.”
Blayde made a thoughtful noise. “I’ve had to do that to Julia a time or two. When you earn his trust, he might remove them. Though, he might have these pathways under surveillance.”
The pathways, formerly radio waves that carried signals between cellular towers, had been replaced by the Astrals by harnessing the natural flow of energy and magic in the air. No new towers would be erected; no more forests cut down, no more need for electric machines.
So many improvements and there was her brother, vehemently opposing them all.
“Which is why I’m calling you from his private office,” she explained. “I have to go.”
She ended the call and faced Hobb and Marcaeus, a strange pang of guilt in her stomach.
“Does he speak to you that way all the time?” Marcaeus asked quietly.
His pity was unbearable. “Does it matter? The call went exactly the way you wanted it to.”
“It matters.” He paused thoughtfully. “It helps me understand what kind of man he is.”
“You already know what kind of man he is. And if you couldn’t tell from the phone call or the fact that he blackmailed his own sister into corporate espionage, you’re just not a good judge of character.” It wasn’t her job to teach Marcaeus how to be one.
“Let’s keep this on topic,” Hobb said, quiet and firm. “Tell us what you can about the defense contract.”
“Brimstone,” she blurted, and a sharp pain lanced through her head.
“The mark,” Hobb noted.
“He’s working with the demon because—” she gasped at the pain, then realized she could push through it. Whatever they had done to the demon mark, they’d weakened it enough to release secrets she couldn’t have revealed before.
Secrets she hadn’t even considered revealing.
“It’s hurting her,” Marcaeus said with a grunt of frustration. “You don’t have to tell us, Fiona.”
“It’s okay.” She took a deep breath and found her memory returning to her like puzzle pieces falling into gaps she hadn’t even been aware of. “All I know is, when Julia wins her senate seat next month, Trasket Holdings is going to sign with the U.S. Navy to supply brimstone-powered warships.”
Marcaeus scoffed in fury. “War! They plan war while we work to heal the scars they’ve already inflicted on the earth.”
“Brimstone isn’t an ecologically sound solution to anything,” Hobb noted. “It produces sulfur dioxide when it burns. It will kill vegetation on a mass scale.”
“It will never pass the requirements of the pact.” Marcaeus shook his head as if trying to convince himself.
“But the pact won’t be an issue if the Dominion Party has anything to say about it.” The party’s brief rise to power in the 2020s had been responsible for widespread famine, enslavement, genocide, and environmental destruction on a never-before-seen scale. Their reckless, gleeful cruelty had ultimately caused the astrals to intervene.
And now, they wanted to return to those dark times.
“How can they persist in their own destruction?” Marcaeus raged. “Where will they spend their fortunes when the planet is no longer habitable?”
“In Hell…” She didn’t want to suggest such a thing, but it seemed too obvious to ignore. “Maybe that’s part of the deal. Maybe they’ll get their own little paradise in Hell.”
They had believed stranger things.
“Hobb,” Marcaeus said, gesturing across his own holopad. “The gods need this information.”
“Which ones, sir?” Hobb asked.
“Chiron can be the judge of that. Draft a message for me. I’m sure you’ll use fewer expletives.” He ran a hand through his hair and scraped a hoof against the floor.
“You’re not supposed to meddle in elections,” I remind them both. “It’s part of the pact.”
“I have no intention of breaking the pact.” Marcaeus’s mouth turned down in disgust. “We aren’t like you.”
The words stung her heart, spreading truth-tinged venom through every burning vein. Tears sprang to her eyes and she turned away.
“We have no pact with Hell,” Marcaeus said to Hobb. “Keep the message in line with our principles. I will not give the humans further ammunition for their bizarre conspiracies.”
“Yes, sir.” Hobb left; Fiona could tell by the tap-tap-tap of his hoofsteps but she couldn’t bring herself to let Marcaeus see her tears.
He lingered in the room, and Fiona wished he would just go. Once again, she’d offended him. Once again, she’d put her stupid, human foot in her mouth. It was no wonder he didn’t appreciate her piping up to remind him things he already knew. Why wouldn’t he be familiar with the pact? And why would she assume he’d forget to, what, be ethical?
She wanted to crawl under the table.
A sharp intake of breath broke the silence before Marcaeus said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No, you were right.” Miraculously, she didn’t sound like a person who’d just burst into tears. “All I’ve done is lie to you since we’ve met, and I have the audacity to be like, ‘don’t forget the rules?’ I would have snapped at me, too.”
“You’re under a lot of strain,” he noted. Chairs at the conference table shifted as he bumped them, moving closer.
That made her smile a little, despite the gravity of the moment. No one could comfortably walk around a conference table ringed in swivel chairs. Not even if they were graceful beings of myth and magic. Not even in the chairs were sleek and expensive, which these were.
If that turned out to be the equal footing between humans and astrals, it would prove Larkin’s theory that the entire universe was a simulation.
He put a hand on Fiona’s shoulder and gave a friendly squeeze. “I don’t understand humans. I won’t pretend to. But despite your deception and your misplaced priorities, I do believe you’re trying to be better.”
“Thanks.” She chuckled in dismay and turned to him. “I know you don’t know how harsh that sounds.”
His eyebrows scrunched a little. “No. I’m aware.”
“Oh.” Well, that just made everything uncomfortable.
“I don’t want to work in opposition,” he went on. “I know you don’t, either. But a word of advice?”
She picked up her hands and dropped them to her sides. “Sure.”
“You need to learn to separate your emotions from your sense of wrong and right.”
Her mouth dropped open, and a small, outraged noise squeaked out before she silenced her instant defensiveness.
“When you can tell the difference between what feels right and what is right, you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache.” He cleared his throat as if to wash away the regret in his words. “Thank you, though. For calling your brother and providing us with what we needed to know.”
“I’m happy to help. Anything that can take him down.”
Marcaeus nodded, his face taking on a grave cast. “Fiona… this isn’t a personal vendetta against your brother.”
“I know,” she squeaked, her throat suddenly dry under Marcaeus’s intense gaze.
His hand fell on her shoulder again, but not in the same friendly pat. It was a light caress that stroked down her arm to her elbow. “But after what I heard on that call… it almost became one.”
She shivered and swayed on her feet. The silence was far too heavy. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. About the brimstone.”
“The mark prevented you. It’s not your fault.” He dismissed her apology easily and moved away, the moment thankfully broken.
Maybe there hadn’t been a moment at all. It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that she could be imagining tension where there wasn’t any. She’d always been the most sentimental one in the family. They’d certainly mocked her for it enough. Maybe the astral marriage had wormed its way into her subconscious and dug up goofy notions of romance she’d associated with weddings when she was a child.
Or maybe it was the invisible tattoo that she somehow still knew was on her skin. “Hey, did I hallucinate, or did we have matching tattoos when we went to bed last night?”
He confirmed her suspicions. “We still do. Don’t worry; they’ll only be visible in moments when the bond is strong.”
“Like, if we were in love?” she asked, and her voice squeaked on the most inopportune word.
If he noticed, he let it pass without adding to the awkwardness. “If we were feeling particularly fond of each other, yes. Occasionally, I’ll see Chiron’s appear and know it’s because Chariclo is thinking of him.”
She held out her arm and examined it, a little disappointed. It had been a really pretty tattoo. It was a shame she’d never see it again. “That’s really sweet.”
“I suppose it would be,” Marcaeus said with disinterest. “There are other times it might be visible. Stages of the moon, things of that nature…”
His sentence died off, and she wasn’t sure how to respond.
“Well, I suppose we need to get you moved in properly.” He gestured to her, and she looked down at her clothing.
“Sorry, it’s all I could find to wear,” she began.
“No apology necessary. I didn’t have the forethought to provide for you.” He snapped his fingers. “We’ll also need a glamour to match how you looked when you were first hired. I don’t mind you wearing your usual form around my home, but—”
“But no one can see Fiona Trasket hanging out with you.” She wasn’t totally clueless. “Flicka Starr, all the way.”
“I’ll send someone to help you choose Flicka’s wardrobe.” He stressed the name, and Fiona understood. Her style would not be Flicka’s style.
That was kind of exciting.
“And you’ll need a dress for the gala.”
With all her worries about Larkin and espionage and sudden trips to other realms, Fiona had forgotten the anniversary of the Great Reversal. The night when everyone in high society met and mingled and pretended to put aside their differences for a few hours to celebrate the “miraculous” day that the Earth’s temperature had finally dropped below the threshold of crisis. It was supposed to be a non-partisan celebration, but with an extremely vocal minority still insisting the planet had never been in danger, to begin with, the parties seemed hollow and pointless.
Especially now that Fiona knew what could become of all that progress if her brother got his way.
Blayde would destroy the planet rather than admit defeat.