The Auction

11 – Bold Moves

As a testament to the kind of rich people they were used to dealing with, changing to a four-top hadn’t been an issue. Magnolia had already been seated, opposite her mother, at a table at the edge of the mezzanine floor. A table that overlooked the chained wings.

Curt gave Mags a quick look, and it wasn’t hard to read everything in her expression.

This was far from the ideal situation, but until lot sixty-four went on display, there really wasn’t much progress that they could make.

Carmichel was still presumably out on the floor, free to gather information. So, other than Mags being tense from being around her mother and Francis’s flirts, this probably wasn’t the worst situation they could be in.

As servers brought several share plates of tiny, expensive-looking foods, he found himself looking down at the wings and the bottleneck of guests that they created.

From this angle, he thankfully couldn’t see the spiral crystal pendant, so that at least neither Francis nor Magpie would notice his clear interest in it.

Being distracted by the wings, on the other hand, would surely be understandable.

Two young women approached the table, clearly members of Magpie’s court. One offered Magpie a small clipboard with some handwritten notes. The other remained silent, a thousand-yard stare in her eyes.

‘Good evening,’ he said, just to be polite, but immediately knew he’d made a misstep.

Magpie waved a dismissive hand. ‘Don’t bother talking to them. You won’t be able to understand their answers.’ She snapped her fingers, and the one who had handed over her clipboard let out a trill of magpie song.

Mags wasn’t even bothering to mask her discomfort anymore. ‘Did you ascend or descend them, Mother?’

‘Just their voices, Magnolia. They can earn it back.’ She slammed the clipboard against the chest of the closest magpie woman. ‘Get back to me soon,’ she said, and both women fled.

‘Lot sixty-four is going to be put on display in eighty minutes,’ Francis said to break some of the tension. Or replace it with a different tension. ‘I hope the Agency has equipped you well. There are a lot of people here with very deep pockets.’

‘Your concern is noted,’ Magnolia said. She looked down at a phone that Jones had supplied her, something far from flashy, unlike the flagship Genie phone he had. ‘If you’ll excuse us,’ she said, standing from the table. ‘We’ve got a meeting to attend.’

Magpie grabbed Magnolia’s hand, and he saw Magnolia’s eyes change colour. Her irises flickered from her normal black to red, then back again. After the moment passed, she yanked her hand away, immediately spun on her heel, and stormed away from the table.

‘Please, excuse me,’ he said, pulling on the depths of “Recruit Curt” to keep up his polite facade.

‘Come find me later?’ Francis said, a note of hope in his voice.

Curt gave a tight smile and rushed after Mags, who had already made it halfway down the stairs from the mezzanine to the ground floor.

‘Don’t follow if you’re going to-’

‘I’m only here for whatever you need,’ he said and fell into step beside her.

She didn’t say anything as they left the display area nor on the five-minute walk back to their rooms.

As soon as the door was closed, she punched a hole into the green plaster wall, gave an angry, primal scream, and stomped off to the bed, where she sat. Her skirt immediately poofed up, so she slammed her plaster-dust-covered hand onto the duvet, stood, hoisted her dress up and over her head. Free of the ball gown, she crumpled it into a ball of expensive fabric and threw it towards one of the overstuffed armchairs.

This time, when she sat, she exhaled a long, long breath.

Under her dress, she just wore a pair of black, boy-leg underpants, and he quickly looked away, aware that she was both topless and already angry.

‘They’re just tits,’ she said. ‘I don’t give a shit.’

He picked up her dress and tried to lay it over the chair in a way that would leave it the least crumpled for when she got dressed again.

‘I just felt like I couldn’t breathe. I know it doesn’t make sense. I just- Fuck her. Fuck her. Fuck her. And him. I don’t know who the fuck he is, but if he’s in her orbit, then fuck him too.’

Curt moved to the sideboard, poured a glass of water, and then offered it to her, keeping sure to look only at her face. ‘Do you want compassion, or just for me to listen?’

She took the water. ‘I hate being around her. She’s the queen. With a thought she could turn me into a bird with no mind, or with a mind, and be unable to communicate. Wardens have total control over their people, and she reminds all of her subjects of that anytime we’re in the room with her. She is not a good person, so I do my best to avoid her.’

Magnolia sipped the water.

‘I’ll keep you away from her. I thought it was just uncomfortable. I didn’t know-’

‘I needed to humour her. She would have punished both of us if you’d tried to pull me away earlier. She’s got no love for the Agency. We’ve got no backup. We keep out of her line of sight until the auction starts, and we should be fine. We stay put for ninety minutes, go check out sixty-four, then stay scarce until bidding starts.’

‘There’s-’ He needed to tell her about the crystal necklace.


‘Something relatively important, but it can wait.’ He looked towards the sideboard again and the phone there. ‘You ate like two crackers. Do you want some room service? Everything – well, the food and drink – are comped.’

‘Too angry to eat right now.’ She stood, grabbed the bottle of sparkling wine from the gift basket and popped it open. She took a short swig, then offered it to him. ‘Don’t worry,’ she showed him the label, ‘it’s the non-alcoholic stuff. I just want the sugar.’

He accepted the bottle and drank some of the mango-ish fizz.

‘Do you want to fuck me?’

Curt looked up at her, knowing that he had heard the question correctly but still questioning it. Asking her to repeat herself would surely earn a look of scorn, and she wasn’t one to suffer fools easily. That question being directed at him, though…

‘Before this,’ he said, ‘I thought you could barely stand me. Trusting me for backup is one thing, but- I rate this high with you?’ He thought back to the kiss she’d given him in Sacha’s foyer. ‘I just-’

‘If the next words out of your mouth,’ she said, ‘are self-pitying bullshit, you’re gonna fuck off, and I’m gonna date Ms Palm.’ She leaned down and started to untie one of her combat boots, which she had worn under the long skirt of her ball gown. ‘You didn’t answer me,’ she said as she tossed the first boot aside. ‘I’m not unaware of how you look at me, O’Connor, but I’m not gonna push the issue.’

He swallowed. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I- Uh- Yeah, I’d like to.’

She held up a fisted hand and extended one finger. ‘First. Nothing in my ass.’ Another finger. ‘I’m not your girlfriend. You’re sleeping in your own bed tonight.’ A third finger. ‘Go find a rubber, and take your pants off.’

He entered his room, found the bag he’d dumped on the ground, opened a small pocket at the back, pulled out a box of condoms, then returned through the connecting door to Magnolia’s room.

He tossed his jacket on top of her discarded dress. ‘Nothing in my ass either,’ he said, then kicked off his shoes. He pulled off the silk shirt and then had a flash of feeling strangely naked.

He’d had sex since joining the Agency. The Rose Room app pretty much ensured that unless you were a total asshole, getting matched with someone who wanted to bone immediately was pretty easy.

But he’d always kept his shirt on.

He looked down at himself for a moment and wondered if he should take Parker-2’s offer to get rid of the tattoos forever. Having a very literal clean slate felt good, but- He didn’t deserve it yet.

But for one night, it was some weight off his shoulders.

‘Fair,’ she said, ‘you’re still going to have to take your pants off.’ She leaned forward and started on her other boot.

‘Wait,’ he said and knelt in front of her. ‘Let me.’

He placed the condom box on the floor, lifted her foot and, like some weird reverse Cinderella, undid her bootlace and slipped the heavy boot off. The sock underneath was functional, unsexy, just what should be under a boot like this.

She wasn’t putting on a show for him. There was no pretence at making the unsexy parts of reality more alluring than they were. She apparently trusted him to still want to fuck her, even after seeing regular cotton socks rather than perfect stockings so thin they ripped as soon as they touched skin.

Boot put aside, he laid his hands gently on her knees. ‘May I?’

She smiled down at him, took a sip of the fizzy drink, and then raised an eyebrow. ‘By all means,’ she said, her voice almost a purr, ‘proceed.’

Slowly and gently, wary of any resistance or hesitation, he parted her legs.

He stared up the length of her solid and tan legs, admiring the strength, the lines of her muscles, and the hints of long-healed scars. Magnolia was beautiful, that was as much a fact as it was that night followed day, but there was something added by her power and strength.

Terrifying and arousing. Thighs that could kill a man. Thighs she was allowing him to touch.

He took a moment to brush his hair back, leaned forward and kissed a trail a few inches in from her knee onto her thigh, then switched the other leg and mirrored the action.

Lighter, skin-skimming brushes of his lips got more of a reaction as he worked his way up her legs, his fingers massaging the outside of her thigh to where his mouth was.

As he went higher, he finally became so distracting that she put the bottle down, which surely meant he was doing a good job. Slowly, she slid closer to the edge of the bed, bringing herself closer to him as he knelt before her.

Her hands slid down her body and pushed at her underpants, fingers hooking at the elastic to pull them free of her body. He followed her initiative, pulled them down the length of her body, and dropped them beside the condoms.

Even though he knew her hair was natural, the white pubic hairs somehow managed to surprise him.

He looked up at her, seeking the go ahead. She gifted him a rare smile, and he bowed his head towards her.

There was a challenge in her eyes that he didn’t intend to fail.

He slid his hands forward, under her arse, cupped each cheek and yanked her foreword. A small squeak of surprise came from her, and he grinned at such an incongruous sound from such a serious woman.

He breathed in her scent as he brought her within inches of his face. Sweetness. Sweat. Something real and vital that would stick in his memory for a long time.

He never had and would never understand men who wanted their partners to smell like peaches or fruit or perfume. Artificial scents that didn’t let a memory lock into place.

His ex used to cycle through a couple of deodorants. Each would make him think of her, but it didn’t come close to her natural scent, the smell of her hair, her skin.

Magnolia, in his experience, never seemed to wear any kind of noticeable scent, which made sense. It would be another way of drawing attention to herself in the field. Another chance that she could be discovered before being able to strike.

He swallowed, then slowly extended his tongue.

She made no noise, but the shiver that went through her body was undeniable.

As with any first time, the first moments were exploratory – slow, quick, hard, soft – everyone had their preferences and secret spots.

Hands still fully gripping her arse, he lifted her further off the bed and feasted on her.

His tongue explored her, pushing deep before returning to the shallows.

And every move was rewarded with a quickening of her breath, a twitch of thighs that were now riding his shoulders, her feet slowly kicking at the middle of his back.

One of her hands sank into his hair. ‘O’Connor,’ she said, voice hitching as he continued. ‘Let me- Let me-’

He withdrew a little and smiled to himself, fingers replacing his tongue for a moment. He looked up the length of her body, past white hair and strong muscles to a face contorted on the edge of pleasure.

‘Curt,’ he said. ‘If my face is where it is, and my fingers are where they are,’ he gentle pinched her clit between thumb and forefinger for emphasis, ‘just for this moment, use my name, please.’

‘You’re going to pay for that, Cu-uurt,’ she said, stumbling over his name as he rolled his fingers.

‘I expect no less,’ he said and swapped back to his mouth, now entirely focussed on one spot. One spot and thousands upon thousands of nerve endings.

One little spot that was already making her lose control.

She buried her hands awkwardly in his hair, pushed his face even closer, and came, her body flopping uselessly to the bed as she stared at the ceiling, eyes unfocussed and panting breaths making her chest shake.

He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, tossed the box up towards the pillows of the ridiculously large bed, and moved to lay beside her. He reached a hand towards the fine muscles on her stomach. ‘Can I?’

‘Yeah,’ she said softly, ‘of course.’

He laid a hand on her, fingers wide, enjoying the feel of her warm skin.

‘Can I be soppy for a moment?’

She narrowed her eyes, then nodded. ‘Proceed.’

‘This is-’ He paused, but, with her taste still on his tongue, this was probably the moment to be real. ‘You are the single most impressive person I have ever met. I admire you so much. And- That Project Runway episode we had with your friends- If you’ll have me, I’d like to be your friend. I think I won’t run next time.’

‘We’re going to the pub next Wednesday. Buy the first round, and you can come.’

‘Thank you,’ he said, pushing as much into the words as if he’d said “I love you”.

She smiled, leaned close, and laid a soft kiss on his lips. ‘There’s hope for you yet, O’Connor.’ She trailed a hand down his chest and walked two fingers along his cock. ‘Now, how about your turn?’

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