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The Business Centaur’s Virgin Temp chapter thirteen

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Need to catch up? (I don’t know why the links highlighted and went wonky. It’s WordPress. It acts in mysterious ways.

The moment the crowd closed them off from Marcaeus, Julia grabbed Fiona’s arm in a hold that was anything but friendly.

“What are you doing?” Fiona whispered, her smile still frozen on her face. “If someone sees you—”

“They’ll think I’m drunk. And I am.” Julia laughed bitterly. “Our new friend wants to talk to you, Flicka.”

“Your new friend, Damon Scratch. What a clever name.” Fiona rolled her eyes, then remembered to school her expression. She was the happy new trophy bride of a rich, successful centaur. She needed to look like she knew she’d just won the life lottery.

She also needed to convincingly pretend not to remember the demon or the mark he’d put on her. The first part was easy; she had no coherent memory of that night. The second, however, proved far more difficult. Being within a few feet of scratch had caused the mark to sting, and then the bond her arm to burn, as if the two fought each other.

The demon appeared out of nothing. One moment, he wasn’t there. The next, he was, and so smoothly that no one around them took notice at all. He sipped from his champagne glass and said, “I was looking for the two of you.”

Julia smirked and pushed Fiona forward in a gesture that could have been a shove if she’d put just a little more effort into it.

“Ms. Starr.” Damon offered his arm. “Have you seen the portrait gallery?”

Fiona put on a warning smile and shook her head. “I haven’t. But I’m sure my husband—”

“Won’t mind,” Julia interrupted. “Damon, why don’t you show her.”

The look the demon gave Fiona chilled her. “I promise, I’ll return you in one piece.” He leaned in, inclined his head. “I cannot promise the same for your husband.”

She threw an instinctive glance over her shoulder. Just briefly. But the demon saw it, and a smile lifted the corner of his mouth. “Come along.”

Swallowing down her revulsion, Fiona slipped her arm through the infernal being’s elbow and let him lead her away. She tried one last time to seek out Marcaeus with her eyes. He stood head and shoulders above the crowd, but he wasn’t looking in her direction. The dimming of the lights and some movement near the stage had caught his attention. He wouldn’t see her led away. 

The portrait gallery attached to the main atrium but was closed off from the event with velvet ropes. They parted with a flick of Damon’s fingers. As he led Fiona further from the party, they passed holograms in gilded frames, each one depicting a heroic member of the original compact.

“Is it true that you’ve never seen this?” Damon asked, arch amusement scrawled across his handsome mouth.

“Consider my family. Consider who my father is,” she said, pulling away from him. “Do you think we took field trips here?”

“True. I don’t think you’ll see your father on these walls. Or your brother. Though, that might change tonight.”

“What do you mean?” There was no chance that Blayde had suddenly accepted defeat. He would die before he lost a penny of profit.

But Damon didn’t answer her. He stopped before a hologram of breathtaking familiarity: Marcaeus, bare chested, in his centaur form, his hair much longer and unbound, stirring in an Elysian breeze. Heat flushed her face and she looked away.

“There it is,” Damon said, every pretense of friendliness dropped. “I knew it.”

“I won’t play games with you,” Fiona said though clenched back teeth. “I don’t like to dance around with words like my brother, because I’m not trying to be clever. Tell me whatever it is that you think you know. Don’t make me spar with you.”

“Plain speech is a virtue. I loathe virtue.” The demon sighed in disappointment. “You’re in love with the beast.”

“I’m playing the role my brother cast me in.” That you cast me in, when you put this sick mark on me. The mark that throbbed like a full-body toothache, an exposed nerve.

“I’m not angry.” Damon held up his hands in a stunningly human gesture. “It will make it all the more enjoyable for me when I take you.”

A nervous, involuntary laugh burst from her throat. “Take me?”

“As payment.” He tilted his head. “You didn’t know?”

“Did I know that you expected to… what? Fuck me? If I had known my pussy was that valuable—”

Damon flinched at the word. “No, no. Don’t be crude. You’ll ruin it for me.”

“Ruin what?”

“Ruining you.” He stepped closer. Too close. Fiona didn’t want to cede any ground to him, but the urge to run coursed through her muscles like ants crawling beneath her skin, and the pain from the mark increased until she could hear it ringing through her skull.

“When I say I’m going to take you, I don’t mean in a sexual sense. That’s so…boring, compared to what I’ll do to you.” Damon turned away and ran one finger through the surface of the hologram as he walked away from her. “My services are expensive, Fiona, and money is trivial. Your brother had to find some way to pay me.”

“You have no intention of honoring my request for plain speech.” Though she kept her tone even, her stomach and mind fought each other to see who could roil the most. There was no mistaking what the monster meant.

Her brother planned to hand her over to a demon. It wasn’t surprising. He’d already proven himself capable of sacrificing her for his own gain.

“Oh, you look so disappointed. Is it because I said my interest in you isn’t sexual?” He snickered. “I’m sure I can find some time for you. If your sister-in-law isn’t keeping me busy.”

“You’re disgusting.” The moment the words left her mouth, she regretted them. They would only amuse the monster. Encourage him to keep trying to shock and frighten her.

“You’re no stranger to depravity,” he said, giving her a long look up and down. “I’ve had great fun imagining how you consummated your union with Marcaeus.”

“I didn’t come here with you to be threatened and insulted.” She turned away.

The demon’s hand caught her naked arm. His skin scalded her with a touch, and she whimpered.

“All of the things I can do to you,” Damon murmured close to her ear. Fiona writhed in his grasp, trying to dislodge his burning hold as she imagined her skin bubbling and crisping beneath his fingers.

“If you think you’re experiencing pain now, think of how it will feel when I cut into you. Flay this pretty skin from the muscle beneath. Roast bits of you over the coals like meat, meat you can still feel even after it’s been carved away. Meat I’ll serve to you and force you to consume.” The demon breathed harder now, and the scent of sulfur turned her stomach. “The deal is done, Fiona. You’re mine. I can’t wait to shred you to pieces and stitch you back together to do it all over and over again. Eternally.”

“Let me go!” she shouted. If someone heard, it might blow their cover. She might end up in the gossip pages: wife of mogul caught in salacious embrace. It didn’t matter, as long as the pain stopped. As long as he let her go.

This was what her brother had condemned her to. A lifetime of this, and worse. An eternity, if Damon Scratch could be believed.

It already felt like an eternity. Her skin must have been blackened by now, the muscle beneath charring, the blood boiling away.

She screamed, but the sound cut off before it could exit her throat.

“No, no. Don’t spoil the surprise. I don’t want to hear it before our first night together.” The demon laughed. His forked tongue touched her ear, and vomit rose in her throat.

“Flicka?”

Scratch moved quickly aside, putting polite distance between him and Fiona. The demon would report this back to Blayde, and her brother would see it as a victory, to have been caught taking her from his rival.

If they believe they’re winning, they’ll let their guard down.

The moment Scratch released her arm, the burning stopped. She looked down in horror at what should have been a charred bone to find the arm looked perfectly uninjured.

Marcaeus walked slowly toward them, arms crossed over his chest. He studied his hologram and gave it a nod. “What do you think, darling? Have they gotten it right?”

“I thought your wife would want to see this.” Scratch gestured toward the portrait. “To understand how important her husband has been to the cause.”

“Of course, I know how dedicated my husband is to peace and cooperation between the realms.” Fiona moved to Marcaeus’s side. “I’m very proud of him.”

Scratch turned his wrist and examined his watch. “We should go back to the atrium. For the announcement.”

“What announcement?” Marcaeus asked.

“A major donor asked for the opportunity to speak this evening,” Scratch said, and moved for the door. “I think you’ll see a new portrait added to this gallery soon.”

Marcaeus’s eyes met hers, and Fiona blinked back tears. She shook her head, barely, to discourage him from asking the questions on his face. Are you all right? What did he do? 

He took her hand and gave it a brief, reassuring squeeze she interpreted as, we’ll talk about it later.

They rejoined the crowd in the atrium. Everyone had concentrated around the stage, where the band put aside their instruments and exited.

“I think we can guess who the donor was,” Marcaeus said grimly, nodding toward Blayde standing at the edge of the dais.

An elf glided onto the stage, glowing silver and pearlescent white in a ballgown of gray gossamer. She took the microphone. “Good evening, good friends. May the pact ever be honored.”

She paused for crowd approval and response.

“I am Virion Xilfir, CFO of the pact council, and it is my deepest pleasure to welcome you tonight. As we’re gathered to celebrate our history, we look toward the future. Toward change and growth. Neither of these are possible without examination of where we’ve failed. It’s easy to choose a path and never waver. It’s more difficult to admit our missteps and atone. The generous donation we have received from Julia Trasket stands as an apology for her past opposition to our cause, and as a promise of support that will last for generations.”

“I stand corrected,” Marcaeus said under his breath.”That wasn’t who I was expecting at all.”

This is going to hurt her campaign, Fiona thought as she watched her sister-in-law ascend the steps to the stage. The party ran on its firm stance against the pact.

“Thank you,” Julia demurred into the microphone over the confused applause that followed. “I know some of you may be thinking that my support of the council will harm me politically. And it’s true, that my opponents and other detractors might see this donation as a ploy to court the middle vote. Despite what they say, I do not make this donation without acknowledging some simple facts. Fact: the pact inhibits growth in areas of manufacturing and commerce that have been long-cherished human principles. Fact: due to the rising involvement of Astrals in other areas of our—”

A crescendo of boos drowned out a few of her words, but she raised her voice. “—infringe on the rights of humans. Fact: none of that matters.”

She paused dramatically, and it worked to silence her detractors. The boos turned to murmured conversation as she continued.

“The party has it wrong. The pact is vital to the continuation of our way of life. But it is flawed. There is another realm, with untold resources. We’ve neglected relations with them for too long.”

Four tuxedoed men with long, protective gloves brought a box of glowing metal up the steps at the side of the stage. Another came forward with a pair of pincers and pushed the nearly-molten top of the box back.

“The energy contained in this one piece of brimstone—”

The outrage swelled again. Fiona leaned into Marcaeus so no one would see her grasp his sleeve.

This was what her brother had sold her for.

Julia was undeterred. “—can power an entire block of this city for three years. But when the pact was made, this clean-burning source of energy—”

Xilfir returned to the stage as the man with pincers hefted the lump of brimstone into view. A rank, sulfurous smell oozed over the room, and guests covered their noses.

It was difficult for them to boo and avoid breathing at the same time. Julia held the floor once again.

But it was Xilfir who took the microphone. “The council has voted and agreed. Trasket industries will advance research into the capabilities of brimstone. This is not a permanent alteration of the pact, but an investigation.”

The World Congress would have to approve any change to the pact, anyway, Fiona thought, just a sliver of of a second before remembering that her sister was a part of that congress. This move had to have been approved by her party.

They were witnessing a coup.

“We’re leaving,” Marcaeus said flatly. He offered Fiona his hand and hefted her up, startling people nearby. Once she was safely on his back, he strode from the atrium and out of the building, where reporters clustered around their holopads to watch the announcement continuing inside. They lifted their heads and fumbled for their recording devices, but Marcaeus trotted past them, not bothering to even issue a “no comment” before he pulled a selenite pendant from beneath his shirt and opened a portal that swallowed him and Fiona up in the blink of an eye.

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3 Comments

  1. Le
    Le

    I’m so happy it’s back! Thank you!

    February 16, 2024
    |Reply
  2. Soph
    Soph

    I really, really like this. I promise to buy it in paperback if it’s ever released officially. I don’t really do e-readers (I have to read on screens too much for my job), but I’ll make an exception for this book if it’s ever finished and released only as an eBook. Basically, I want to give you money for this, and I want to have the finished novel in my collection one day in the future, when it’s done!

    March 2, 2024
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