Esfir sat back into her comfortable, swiveling office chair and glanced at her future sister-in-law.
She sighed inwardly as she watched the girl shrug off her short jacket and lie down on the couch near Esfir’s desk, each movement graceful and fluid like a trained dancer’s – which Nova was, in point of fact. It felt uncharitable and uncomfortably close to blaming the victim, but Esfir couldn’t help the thought that Nova would have been less likely to be harassed by that worthless playboy in the elevator if she had been wearing more modest clothing than this. The halterneck she wore underneath her jacket and the low-rise pants tucked into her knee-high boots hugged her form a bit too snugly for propriety. And it was rather obvious that Nova wasn’t wearing a bra today, either.
Esfir shook her head to free it of its wayward thoughts – even for her, despite her attempts to resist it and the few years of acquaintance that had somewhat inured her to it, Nova’s beauty was a potent distraction.
Now that she had welcomed her guest, Esfir got back to work on her computer, plinking away at the keyboard, while still leaving half of her focus on Nova to give her some polite conversation.
“So, what brings you to the capital, Nova? Weren’t you busy working with your mother’s company?”
Esfir didn’t miss the small shiver that crept up Nova’s body as she spoke. She knew most people found her voice attractive, but none of them quite up to Nova’s point. The girl seemed to almost find it physically pleasurable. Perhaps, it had to do with her heightened sense of hearing? In any case, it brought Esfir some slight amount of satisfaction, to not be the only one so affected by the other.
‘Was fired. Came on vacation.’
Esfir blinked, and her fingers stopped moving, hovering over her keyboard. “Fired? Did something happen?”
For a while, Nova didn’t move at all, and coupled to her expressionless face, it would have been easy to think she hadn’t even heard the question. But Esfir was used to conversations with the girl. Right now, she was probably just considering how to formulate her response.
‘Killed someone. Mom worried psychological trauma. So, vacation.’
The monotone robotic voice didn’t make the words it spoke any less shocking. Esfir spun in her seat toward Nova, her work forgotten, looking at her with wide eyes as if trying to determine whether she was joking or not.
It didn’t seem like it, though.
“Was there a training accident, or…?”
Nova shook her head. ‘During operation. Combat helicopter came. Killed pilot. Helicopter crashed.’
Esfir hesitated. Usually, she would be quite eloquent during business negotiations, but right now, she wasn’t quite sure what she should say in this situation. It felt surreal to her that the beautiful teenager lying indolently on that sofa had been in a warzone apparently just a few days prior and had even shot down a helicopter and killed its crew.
“I… I’m… sorry to hear that,” she tried.
Esfir thought she saw amusement in Nova’s green eyes as the girl threw a glance in her direction and her fingers played on the thin bracer strapped to her left arm.
This time, Esfir was well and truly stumped on how to continue the conversation. Perhaps, it would have been appropriate to castigate Nova for her lack of guilt, of perhaps, it would have been better to comfort her that this act didn’t make her a bad person. But none of this Esfir was sure was what she wanted to say.
In the meantime, Nova was speedily typing on her bracer.
‘It is truly regrettable for the owner of such a perfect voice to be struck speechless.’
At this – one of the longest and most grammatically correct sentences Esfir had ever heard Nova speak – her gaze sharpened, and she stared at Nova for a few silent seconds. As usual, though, there was no clue to be glimpsed on that expressionless face of hers.
Was she teasing me from the start? Damn it, I can’t read her at all. That girl would be a terrific adversary, if I met her to discuss a business deal…
At the very least, Nova’s last words were definitely intended to make fun of Esfir.
A bit angry at her genuine concern being played with like this, Esfir decided to take some revenge for herself.
Glancing at her computer screen to make sure that nothing that required her immediate attention had come up while she’d been distracted, she got up from her seat and circled around the desk, slowly walking toward the sofa. Nova, her arms crossed under her head, watched her come, tilting her head curiously – and with a touch of wariness – as if wondering what Esfir wanted.
Esfir stopped next to the sofa, looking down on Nova’s reclining form with a serious look on her face. She considered for a second how to proceed, then…
Esfir squatted next to the girl’s head and whispered into her ear, trying to make her voice as silky and seductive as she possibly could. She was close enough that Nova would feel the caress of her breath, so she ended it by gently blowing into her ear. A jolt coursed through Nova’s entire body, and she made as if to stand up and escape, so Esfir pressed a hand on Nova’s belly and prevented her. She could feel her abdominal muscles quivering with unreleased tension beneath the thin fabric of her top. Fighting the smirk that threatened to rise up her lips, Esfir continued whispering as her hand softly stroked Nova’s belly, slowly inching downward.
“I am your brother’s fiancée, and his equal. If you want to tease someone, next time, how about finding an easier target?” Esfir gently bit down on Nova’s earlobe, while her fingers reached the lower hem of her halterneck and slipped under it – Nova’s skin was the smoothest and softest thing Esfir could remember ever touching. At the intimate touch, an even more pronounced shiver than earlier ran through Nova’s body. “I’d hate to have to punish you like the little misbehaving child you are,” Esfir purred.
By this point, Nova’s breathing had roughened perceptibly, and her brilliant green eyes looked somewhat dazed and blurry. Standing so close to her, Esfir could feel the intense heat her body was exuding. The girl had even started rubbing her thighs together, as if in anticipation of Esfir’s fingers reaching downward a bit more again.
Well, that sure didn’t take long. Nor a lot of effort. This little pervert is still as sensitive and excitable as ever.
Now that Nova had been properly wound up, Esfir’s revenge was almost complete.
Nova turned her head toward Esfir and inched closer, apparently reaching for a kiss. Esfir let her get as close as possible, until their lips were almost touching, before suddenly retracting her stroking hand and standing up. Before Nova could even react, Esfir has already returned to her desk without a single look back.
“Well, I hope you’ve learned your lesson, this time,” she said as she sat back into her office chair and started working again like nothing had ever happened.
Still, out of the corner of her eye, she watched the results of her little act. She was pleased to find that Nova now seemed intensely uncomfortable. No wonder. She’d been heated up to perfection, but just as things were getting exciting, she’d been left in the cold without anywhere to vent. Some people actually got off on being denied the pleasure they thought was coming, but Esfir already knew by experience that Nova wasn’t one of them. After all, this was precisely how she’d punished Nova the last time they’d met, when the girl had shamelessly flirted with and propositioned her, right in front of Ryner himself.
Satisfied, Esfir carefully ignored Nova and looked straight ahead at her computer screen. She could feel the girl staring at her resentfully and hear her panting as she tried to get herself back under control.
The elevator chose that moment to open again, and a tall, handsome man wearing a three-piece black suit that contrasted with his golden hair walked out confidently. He smiled brightly and waved his hand upon seeing Esfir at her desk before him.
“Hey, Esfir, did you happen to see…” His voice trailed off when he noticed Nova off to the side, still slouched on the sofa. His expression brightened up even more. “Ah-ha! I thought I’d seen your motorcycle in front of the building, little sis. It’s been months already. It’s good to see you ag…ain…?”
Ryner’s voice trailed off once more as he noticed Nova’s strange state, her clothes in disarray and her erect nipples poking visibly through the fabric of her top.
Esfir was about to provide on explanation, but Nova took the lead before she could, leaping up from the sofa and trotting toward her brother like she was looking for shelter against some unknown danger.
‘Esfir bullied me,’ was how the girl worded it, somewhat truthfully, Esfir had to concede.
“Bullying you, huh?” Ryner’s voice was somewhat dry as he looked pointedly at Nova’s chest.
Nova didn’t even bother trying to look embarrassed. She certainly made no attempt to cover herself up. ‘Cold,’ she said, a lot less truthfully, this time.
“Huh-uh. It was so cold that you took off your jacket, I see.” Shaking his head at his sister’s antics, Ryner let out a sigh. “Nova, did you attempt to seduce my fiancée again? You tried that once, already, remember? Well, at least this time, you didn’t do it in front of me. I suppose that could be construed as improvement, maybe.”
Nova shook her head. ‘No. Esfir is guilty. Seduced me.’
“Did she, now? Well, I’ll be sure to have a word with her, then,” Ryner said in a soothing, condescending voice, like he was talking to a frightened small animal. He even completed the picture by gently patting Nova’s head while she just stared up at him with a flat, unamused gaze.
Esfir had to struggle not to laugh out loud. She had just won that particular argument and managed to convince Ryner of her innocence without even uttering a single word. She just let Nova do the talking and let her self-destruct.
“Anyway,” Ryner said, unbuttoning his jacket with a flourish and turning to Esfir. “Nothing important happened while I was away?”
“Apart from Nova’s arrival, nothing at all, Director.”
Ryner chuckled as he took a seat on the sofa Nova had occupied until earlier. “You don’t need to call me Director when there’s no client or employee in the room.”
Esfir shook her head. “I am currently working in my capacity as your assistant, and you are the director of this company.”
“Do as you wish, then.” He looked back at Nova, who had forlornly plopped down in a wide armchair opposite the sofa after her brother summarily rejected her defense. “So, what brings you to the capital, little sis? You didn’t come just to visit me or flirt with my fiancée, did you?”
“She’s on a school trip with her university. Well, not the whole university, obviously. Some lucky students taking a specific course, which Lynn is a part of. Actually, the corporation’s involved in this, too, so we should have their schedule, somewhere around here. Esfir?”
Esfir nodded decisively. “Yes, sir. As per your orders, we’re providing security detail and funding for a few of the activities planned for the students to enjoy.” As she finished her explanation – which was for Nova’s sake, since Ryner obviously already knew about it – the printer to her side started whirring to life and the schedule of Lynn’s school’s trip to the capital came out of it.
Esfir held it out for Nova, who stretched precariously over the armrest of her seat and took it from her. Esfir watched as the girl’s eyes went through the entire page in only 1 or 2 seconds before she looked up again.
“Aaah, that. Well, the musician we’d booked for the event tomorrow couldn’t make it. He informed us of this rather late, unfortunately, so we’re still looking for a replacement, which is not an easy task, in such a short timeframe, despite the publicity playing in the Royal Concert Hall would bring. At least, it’s not if you want someone good, and we do. We could invite pretty much anyone to play for the students, as long as we put the right price on it, but well…” Ryner gave a helpless smile.
‘Problem? Corporation. Rich.’
“That would be embezzlement, Nova,” Esfir explained. “We can’t go over-budget on this. The only reason Ryner could even justify funding a cultural trip for a university from Saltwell in the first place was because no one cared about the small amount of money he diverted for it. Any more would raise eyebrows and complaints.”
‘So? Director. Fire everyone.’
“Even the director doesn’t have the right to embezzle his company’s funds or fire people at will,” Ryner said with a quiet chuckle.
Nova raised her hand and started stroking her chin, like an old man rubbing his beard as he ponders on the mysteries of the universe.
As usual, Nova’s speech was stripped down to its bare minimum, but this time, she appeared to have overestimated the ability of her audience to understand her. Ryner and Esfir exchanged a glance that informed them that the other didn’t have any more of a clue than they did.
“You?” Ryner took it upon himself to ask. “You… what?”
‘Musician. Can play for them.’
Esfir blinked in surprise and looked once more to her fiancé, expecting him to be wryly shaking his head at another one of his little sister’s harebrained plots. Unexpectedly, however, she found him looking thoughtful, as if he truly was considering the matter.
“You’re a professional musician?” she couldn’t help but ask Nova with some curiosity. Esfir of course knew Nova could play a few instruments, but she had believed it to be nothing more than a hobby. “Have you ever played in front of an audience before?”
Nova nodded emphatically. ‘Played there,’ she said, pointing at the sheet holding Lynn’s schedule for the next few days.
This time, Esfir’s shock couldn’t help but show on her face. The Alteran Royal Concert Hall wasn’t a little jazz bar. It was a place only great artists could hope to enter. Holding a recital there would be seen as the culmination of an entire career.
‘Youth competition,’ Nova clarified. ’12 years old.’
Esfir nodded to herself. This was a bit more understandable, already – the Concert Hall sometimes hosted events exclusively for young musicians, in order to motivate them in their artistic pursuits.
Still, it was remarkable enough on its own.
“Did you win the competition?”
Nova nodded, her expressionless face giving the admission of her victory an air of modesty that Esfir doubted was genuine.
“I’m impressed. Truly.”
Their conversation was interrupted when Ryner finally left his own thoughts and returned to the real world. “I think it’s actually a pretty good idea,” he said. “But hasn’t it been a while since you last played? For the last few years, you’ve been busy training with Mother. Do you think you still have it in you?”
Nova nodded confidently. ‘Never forget anything.’
“Hmm, true enough. All right, then. Wait a moment.”
Ryner was easily convinced, and with the decision made, he got up from the sofa and headed for the gleaming wooden door in the back of the room, which lead to the personal apartment he shared with Esfir. He disappeared inside, and the lobby became quiet again. Nova sat crookedly in her seat, her legs hanging over the armrest, and watched Esfir work on her computer. Esfir expected that, after getting so excited beforehand, the girl would take advantage of Ryner’s short absence to flirt with her a little more, but no. She didn’t, and they spent the time until he came back in companionable silence.
Soon, the door swung open again, and Ryner returned holding a sealed envelope. He handed it to Nova.
“Here you go. Show this to the manager at the Concert Hall.”
“Proof that you’re the replacement for the musician who desisted. I doubt they’d let you play just on your word that you’re the one who should.”
With a nod, Nova hopped off her seat and slid the envelope in the back pocket of her pants.
“Say hi to Lynn on our behalf, will you?” Ryner asked.
‘Didn’t come here?’
It was Esfir who shook her head and replied. “She didn’t. It would be unfair to blame her for this, though. I doubt her school would just let her wander around the city unsupervised. Lynn might technically be an adult, but if anything happens to the students while they’re in its custody, the school itself will face a very harsh sentence. The professors in charge of this trip will no doubt take this matter very seriously. As well they should.”
Nova nodded in understanding, and Ryner continued. “By the way, do you have anywhere to stay, until tomorrow?” Apparently, he knew the answer already because he didn’t even give his sister the opportunity to answer his question. “You can stay with us, then. Our apartment is big enough to welcome a guest. Right?”
“Quite,” Esfir confirmed.
Nova titled her head, as if she had trouble understanding what they were saying. ‘Spend the night? With you?’
The wording of her questions immediately rang alarm bells in Esfir’s mind, but Ryner was apparently more innocent – or perhaps, Esfir knew that side of his little sister better than he did – and he answered straightforwardly. “Of course. Wait, did you really book a hotel room already?”
Nova’s eyes flicked back and forth between Ryner, who looked dubious, and Esfir, who was staring at her intensely, her gaze telling her to watch her words very carefully.
Don’t say it…
But Nova didn’t heed Esfir’s mute warning.