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The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp chapter 12

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The crystalline dome of the Ethereal Peace Conservatory and Monument glittered like a cabochon in the twinkling setting of the city. The facets of the energy-charged quartz that enclosed the space winked like giant camera lights far above the gauntlet of actual camera flashes at the building’s entrance.

“I hate these types of gatherings,” Marcaeus muttered to no one in particular since he was nearly sure his companion felt the same way.

“May I please get down now?” She tugged at his shoulder as if he were simply the reins to the rest of his body. “I can’t believe you made me… ride you.”

It became funnier every time she was forced to say it.

“Why wouldn’t I carry my wife and spare her shoes?” he asked, kneeling his forelegs so she could slide to the pavement. Not a soul around them noticed or cared except for Fiona—Flicka, he quickly reminded himself. With a glamour back in place, the woman he’d spent nearly every waking moment with for the past four days was totally unrecognizable to him. And while the glamour was stunningly beautiful, so was Fiona’s actual appearance. It disturbed him to see her so smoothly perfect.

It disturbed him more that she was ashamed to be seen with him.

She walked by his side as they joined the crowd entering the wide, terraced path up to the conservatory’s entrance. The ramped walkway split in half, taking two curving paths around a handsomely landscaped garden and reflecting pool. Tonight, one of those paths was garishly illuminated and bedecked with a gaudy red carpet. Members of the press crowded around as people and astrals of note stopped for holo images and short interviews.

Fiona drifted away from him toward the other path.

In different circumstances, he might have avoided the press. But they needed to be convincing.

He reached down and put a hand on her shoulder to steer her in the right direction. “We have to do the red carpet.”

“But the cameras!” She dug her heels in, but since she wore heels, the gesture wasn’t practical. She almost toppled over. “What if they have glamour blockers?”

“Do you doubt the powers of the gods?” Mortals and their superiority complex. So tiresome. “We have used the strongest magics—”

“I’m sorry,” she said, brisk but genuine. “I should trust you.”

Marcaeus didn’t know how to respond. His first instinct was to point out how rare it was for a human to admit a fault. That seemed petty in light of the fact that she’d actually done so. “Thank you.”

They stood, locked in silence, for an interminable moment. It wasn’t a battle of wills but uncertainty as to how to proceed. Finally, he offered her his hand.

“I know you loathe the prospect, but if you sit on my back, they’ll be able to get us both in the photos,” he explained. “And it will look a bit less ridiculous.”

“And my neck will be less sore from looking up at you. What are you, eight feet tall?” She asked, relenting.

“Something like that.” He pulled her onto his back and waited until she got her balance before heading toward the red carpet.

“You remembered to face me toward the paparazzi,” she said in a playful sing-song.

Though humans were rude and destructive, this one could certainly be funny. He chuckled. “I hope your dress looks all right when you’re sitting down.”

The dress would look incredible no matter what position she put her body in.


But how could he not have noticed? The emerald green velvet clung to her, so snugly he was surprised she hadn’t expired from lack of oxygen. Her breasts seemed balanced inside, more than contained by the top of the the dress. The tight waist enhanced the lush curves of her hips, while a long slit in the skirt revealed a hint of her thigh.

The gossip columnists would love her. More accurately, they would love Flicka Starr, the woman who didn’t exist. Which did give the evening an element of fun he hadn’t expected. Tricking mortals came as an amusing thrill.

A uniformed man met them at the beginning of the press line, one hand activating the biochip communicator behind his ear. “This way, Mr. Johnson,” the man said, ushering them directly into a field of rapidly firing camera flashes.

“Don’t move your face,” Fiona warned him. From the tightness of her words, it seemed she followed her own advice.

“I always just frown,” he replied.

“I’ve noticed.”

With a deep sigh, he forced a smile.

A reporter called out, “Mr. Johnson! Who’s your date tonight?”

“My wife,” he answered in the vague direction of the question. The flashing lights picked up speed.

“Wife? But weren’t you just named one of the city’s top thirty most eligible bachelors?” A reporter called out.

“I was number one on that list, but I no longer qualify.” That was enough, he decided. They didn’t need to know anything else, and he wanted to get away from the obnoxious lights. There simply had to be a better way to capture an image than to blind the subject of that image repeatedly. What was wrong with painting frescoes or making mosaic?

“Wait,” Fiona said as he began to move away. “They have more questions.”


“So,” she repeated, her barely moving lips making her sound even more perturbed with him, “If you don’t tell them what they want to know, they’ll keep digging for those answers. And there aren’t any.”

Curse it all. But she was correct; mortals were nosy, always asking questions and inserting themselves into situations they needn’t be involved in. They were as bad as the Gods of Olympus on that score.

He turned back just as someone shouted, “What’s your wife’s name?”

“Flicka,” he replied, and continued walking. “Flicka Starr.”

A smattering of laughs followed them, and Fiona said, finally using her entire face to speak, “They think you’re lying.”

“I am lying,” he reminded her. “That’s not your name.”

The Grand Atrium of the conservatory was usually swarmed with tourists, audio buds plugged into their ears as they watched self-guided tours on rented holopads. Marcaeus didn’t need a guide to know what the basrelief murals depicted; he’d been there. In fact, one of the centaurs on the huge bronze slab depicting Chiron’s signing of the carbon emissions armistice looked a bit like Marcaeus. Or, so he’d always thought.

“You can let me down, now,” Fiona prompted him as he neared the sculptural fountain in the center of the atrium.

Tonight, the building held no tourists. Just the very top of mortal and astral society, all gathered to raise “awareness” and currency for a cause that no longer needed “awareness.” Everyone on the planet was “aware” of the disaster they’d almost faced.

Mortals always needed more currency, however.

No matter how much help Astrals offered—free of charge—there always seemed to be a way for a mortal to commodify it. That’s why Marcaeus had long believed that Astrals should have simply subjugated the mortals ruining the planet and forced them to bend to the will of their wiser overlords.

But that, Chiron had patiently informed him, would have been immoral.

Besides, they would have rejected it. It would have been too much change to ask them to return to a gentler, pastoral life without the ease and quickness provided by their electricity and fossil fuels.

Marcaeus knelt his forelegs and reached back to help Fiona down. She was surer in her ridiculous shoes than he expected, landing with a little hop. They followed the crowd into the main chamber of the conservatory.

Steel bands held the shimmering quartz of the roof in place; the points rested around a circular skylight of glass in the center. During the day, sunlight streamed over the monument directly below. The statue, designed by a mortal, depicted a human hand of bronze reaching up to touch a suspended hand carved of the purest, clearest amethyst.

Of course, a mortal would have envisioned the pact between themselves and the Astral world as some kind of brave rescue. Of course, a mortal would see their formerly bleak position as one of desperation from which they could not have saved themselves.

And, of course, they would commemorate it with minerals ripped from the earth with machines belching pollution into the atmosphere.

The way the mortals looked at him as he passed through the crowd only infuriated him more. They bobbed their heads, some even thanked him as though he’d supported the merging of their forces out of anything other than necessity.

If it had been possible to let their planet die without forever altering the Astral, Marcaeus would have been fine with that.

But here he was, in the middle of yet another ridiculous event praising his kind for helping the very people who would never learn their lesson. At least he had good company with him. Fiona had been born into the mortal world. She understood how to make “small talk” and when to smile. She knew how to be “polite” and “have manners” and “not offend people.”

It wasn’t a skill that came easily to many Astrals, who had spent millennia being direct in conversation and not hiding their emotions from each other. And yes, sometimes that could result in a mortal getting turned into a spider for making a goddess jealous, but it wasted far less time than chatting about the weather or asking about one’s children, who frankly never seemed that interesting, to begin with.

“Mortal life is so short,” he observed to Fiona as they drifted through the crowd. “Why do you insist on spending so much of it talking about things that mean nothing?”

“If you’re so smart, I’m sure you can figure it out,” she replied, her sweet smile a false cover for her words.

He noticed she did that often.

But she couldn’t disguise her dismay when she spotted a figure in the crowd.

“Is that my brother?” she whispered, her voice choked with fear.

I should stomp him to death right now. The thought caught Marcaeus by surprise. He hadn’t been in a battle for centuries, but just the sight of Blayde Trasket winding his way through the party incited bloodlust.

Marcaeus reached down to take Fiona’s hand out of a protective instinct he hadn’t anticipated. He certainly hadn’t anticipated her accepting the gesture, especially with their awkward height difference, but she lifted her arm, winding her clammy fingers with his.

She was terrified. Of her own brother.

“Come,” Marcaeus told her. “You can play your part to convince him, and we can leave.”

“Thank you,” she said, her voice shaky.

What made humans feel better? Was it ice cream? He’d heard that expression before. When they left, he would buy her enormous quantities of ice cream to undo the damage of this encounter.

Blayde played his part well; he didn’t show the faintest recognition of his sister as they approached, and his lip twisted in a barely-concealed sneer as he said, “Johnson,” by way of greeting.

“Trasket.” Marcaeus nodded, his gaze flicking over the other two members of the disgusting man’s party. The woman on his arm was his wife; Marcaeus recognized her from her relentless media campaign and political ambitions. But the man following just a step behind him was a total unknown.

“This is my wife, Julia,” Trasket introduced the ruby-haired woman at his side before turning and gesturing to the man behind them. “And my business associate, Damon Scratch.”

Marcaeus’s hand itched to close into a fist. The name was too clever by half as if the demon was begging to be called out. A slight smile tilted Scratch’s mouth, goading Marcaeus. Say something. I dare you. Expose me for what I am right here. 

What would happen? Panic, Marcaeus assumed. The mortals had eagerly accepted the existence of fairies and mermaids. They happily ignored the implication of that existence; if fairies and mermaids were real, then so, too, were demons and monsters they never wished to meet. To find a demon walking among them undetected would give them a newsworthy fright. The tide of public opinion could turn the people against their saviors, eventually.

Marcaeus wouldn’t fall into their trap. “Scratch? I don’t believe I’ve heard that name in my circles.”

“He’s more of my circle.” Trasket’s eyes narrowed as he looked his sister over. “And who is this?”

The man was a good actor; nothing in his manner denoted recognition. He didn’t give her a sleazy once-over, either. That would have been too obvious. Instead, he viewed her with the cold calculation of a rival.

Marcaeus released Fiona’s hand to rest his on her shoulder. “My wife, Flicka.”

Amusement caught the corners of Trasket’s eyes. “You have an interesting name, Flicka. There was a book written in the twentieth century, I believe—”

“My family bred racehorses,” Fiona cut him off smoothly. “Before it was rightfully outlawed.”

“Ah. That explains it, then.” Trasket smoothly snagged a single flute of champagne from a passing server and bobbed it in an unspoken toast. “Julia, you should introduce Flicka to Daphne Merril.”

“Daphne throws all the most important parties in town,” Julia added, moving away from her husband. “Come with me and let the boys talk. It will only take a moment.”

Though protective instinct roared in protest against letting her out of his sight, Marcaeus nodded his assent. They believed Fiona was working for them. She had to maintain that ruse, no matter how disgusted he was by the idea of leaving her alone with them after what they’d done to her.

“Congratulations on your marriage,” Scratch said with an awkward laugh. “As much as congratulations from a stranger are valued.”

“No kindness is without value,” Marcaeus answered flatly. “If you’ll excuse me.”

He walked away without a further word, moving through the crowd in a cautious circle. At his height, he could follow the movement of the two women’s heads through the crowd, but he wanted to be close to the exit nearest them in case Julia or someone else tried to take Fiona outside. At a distance, he wouldn’t be as likely to attack “Damon Scratch.”

Just being in the presence of an Infernal disgusted Marcaeus. Being in the presence of the demon that had put the mark on Fiona, though, had uncovered an even deeper level of abhorrence, one that made the astral rope binding Marcaeus to Fiona burn on his forearm. He rubbed his sleeve absently. The bond wouldn’t even be there if not for Scratch. If not for Trasket.

The lights dimmed slightly; some mortal celebrity Marcaeus didn’t recognize took to a dais near the tacky hand sculpture. The crowd’s attention diverted; for the flicker of an eyelash, his attention diverted, as well.

He looked back to Fiona. He couldn’t find her.

He turned in the direction he’d started from.

Damon Scratch was nowhere to be seen, either.

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  1. Annbell

    Another great chapter!
    I love the creativity of this world.
    And the image of Flicka riding John…priceless
    I also love John’s mess of opinions about humans and astrals. He needs help with his speciesism real bad because he’s falling and hard for Fiona. That’s for sure. 😀

    October 17, 2022
  2. Kayla

    Thank you so much for continuing this project. I’ve been having a rough couple weeks and this made my day brighter.

    October 17, 2022
  3. Leslie

    Same! It’s been rough lately. I was opening the website, thinking, “What I wouldn’t give to see The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp, next installment,” And voila! Made my day. Thank you, Jenny!

    October 18, 2022
  4. LS

    Thank you so much for this chapter! I love this story. The ice-cream line was so sweet.

    October 19, 2022
  5. Agm

    “I always just frown.”
    “I noticed.”
    Love that snappy dialogue. And the growing warmth. And the world.
    Thanks for keeping this going; enjoy so much.

    October 22, 2022
  6. Dawn

    I just wanted to say that I enjoy reading this story so much. Thank you for continuing it.

    November 8, 2022
  7. Bear

    When will be posted the next one ?

    December 30, 2022

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