Queen's Rook Castle

January 20, 2018:

Sebastian Shaw, Emma Frost, and Obadiah Stane have a meeting.

The Hellfire Club


NPCs: Sebastian Shaw

Mentions: Tony Stark


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Within the bowels of the Hellfire Club and over a very carefully curated few, there have only been a few, shallow conversations over drinks about a vague desire to have a more significant presence on the island of Genosha since it fell into chaos at the hands of insurgents.

Among two, the conversation was much deeper.

And then Emma left again, as she often does, for nearly a week. Stane’s new status within the club will perhaps give him greater visibility in that regard, because Frost is a quiet and understated pillar of the party circuit whenever she’s home.

No one, save Sebastian Shaw, really knew what she was up to, however.

But all secrets, perhaps, are doomed to come to light.

Stane was invited to join Shaw and Frost at the club. Maybe others were, too, although there’s no one else in the room where he was asked to come.

The White Queen occupies a one-armed couch, lounging on it languidly in a small departure from her usual fare: her white satin corset matched to a long skirt that slits up one side nearly until the lace-trimmed edge. This, when paired with snowy opera length gloves and thigh-high boots, leaves very little skin actually exposed despite the scandalous lines and cuts of her clothes.

It’s just a matter of what skin is exposed.

Her scotch glass is half-empty, but her half-lidded gaze suggests that its not her first of the evening. Or that, perhaps, she’s been into something else. It’s hard to say.

Far be it from Obadiah Stane to turn down an invitation from a King and Queen. The White Rook knew what a summons was, even layered in social graces, it was clear he would not simply be sipping fine liquor and smoking an equally fine cigar while grousing about the market and its twists and turns. But he does some of those things too, his white jacket and black tie showing a pristine repose, with a red kerchief jutting from one jacket pocket. His tie clip is carved whalebone, and quite old, hailing from a time when such things were perhaps not controversial, an item he keeps to remind him of how quickly morality can change in society's eye.

For him, it is also a reminder that such things are simply tools to be used. A passion to be bent. Maybe even brought to heel. When he arrives he almost slips into the room, cigar between two fingers, smoldering against the atmosphere of this private reception, the antithesis to the bright eyes he turns on Emma, along with a fitting, pleasant little smile. Hey Kiddo, is what he wants to say, a notion she may pick up on. Instead he skips his usual formality, a nod to the notion that they are closer than that as he makes his way towards her. Here, his body language shifts to gesture with his cigar-hand toward the door.

"Did you know all the waitstaff upstairs have been replaced with circus performers tonight? I went to find a light for my cigar and a kind young woman in a very interesting bodysuit struck a match with her toes and did a handstand to light it. I'm not even trying and my bucket list is being put to shame. You mind if I make myself one of those?"

Certainly he notices the way her gaze falls off into the distant, either introspective by the soothing song that scotch can sing to even a mighty soul, or fixed on some other place and time. For all he knows, she's reaching out with her mind, scouring the globe on some higher plane. He has no idea how her abilities might truly work, but it does spark a certain wonder of the imagination.

At that unspoken greeting, Emma offers Obadiah a relaxed smile. She’s glad for his presence, and one doesn’t need be a telepath for that feeling to convey. It’s evidenced in the contented way that she settles back into couch having perked up at the feel of someone coming near, her legs stretching back into that unintentional artful arrangement and her bare shoulders settling back against the back of the couch anew. It’s evidenced in the way Stane might feel her psychic presence brush past his mind, only to retreat again once he’s recognized.

A satin-wrapped hand unfurls towards the bar with its various crystal decanters and unopened wine bottles as Emma invites, voice nearly warm with inebriation, “Oh, do be my guest, Mister Stane. You needn’t ask my permission. I can pour for you if you like, though.”

"Don't be silly." The wave he gives comes as he heads to the bar, his cigar set to perch on a shot glass while he's busy making himself a scotch on the rocks, careful not to chip his ice when he drops it into the glass. It gives him something to do while he ponders the ramifications of her current state, and what this meeting might be about, content to think his peace when he's certain Emma isn't poking about. He could never really be sure. The training against infiltration was more like a car alarm. It wouldn't stop anyone from breaking the glass and hijacking his mind, but usually he'd know it was happening. But who knows with her. She may have found away around it. Or perhaps.. well. No use going down that path.

It didn't lead him anywhere productive, and so he leaves the thought behind. "Your message was brief." A kind way of saying 'to the point'. Her usual elegance lets him know when something can afford the ceremony of her usual elegance. This, it seems, is not one of those times. "Is Shaw still on his way?" Maybe he's being a little to familiar here, by not using 'Mister' in front of that name, but his guard is down a little, just the same. In her mind, the second part of his question will form, a surface thought, a radiant projection. It took him awhile to get used to it, but like practicing another language, he has figured out how to make his surface thoughts an open book.

I'm guessing we're not here to discuss good news.

Arrival for Shaw is accompanied by a small entourage, two red on blue armored Hellfire guardsmen and a woman, a fetching one with raven black hair styled into a tight bun, sharp blue eyes and the expected attire of a woman befitting her Hellfire rank, black leather and lace, bustier, the stockings of silk hidden under a thigh length cloak, high heeled boots of leather and buckles, long black gloves and a choker. Of the obvious deep shades. This would be Shaw's current aid, Tessa. No actual seat among the Inner Circle beyond a servant to the King. Emma knows she is his preferred and a mutant like those gathered, save Stane of course.

The Black King extending a Christophe Claret wrist watch of gold, silvers, sapphires and diamonds to the 'Dollmasked' sentry.

"Consider it a bonus."

"Thank you, my King." The rough voice of the trooper.

The woman in black slides a curtain closed behind Sebastian now that he has joined Stane and Frost. Tessa is ever a cold professional, a creature of order, one would think she was a robot at times. Shaw appreciates that. The troupe will remain beyond the doors until dismissed or called upon for now they are forgotten in the background.

"This time my tardiness is to be excused as is your lack of proper attire, Mr. Stane." Shaw informs them both, a smile rises up on his features. "My darling, you have yet to see to the man's wardrobe?"

"You're slacking, Emma, or we're dealing with some full commitment issues in regards to our newest rook." The man accuses playfully yet there's an underlying serious note in there. Adherence to protocol, codes, custom, there is a sort of connectivity in there that Shaw chalks up to discipline and ultimately loyalty.

"But then, time as it is… a hard mistress to work underneath."

That 18th century coat and cravat both black over an undershirt of silk that is violet in color. Quite fancy and fitted to his impressive physique. A new one, he is quite proud of it. It doesn't take a telepath to know by the way he is preening idly.

«It depends on your perspective,» Emma offers cryptically to Obadiah, her thoughts whispering softly among the man’s own.

Her demeanor shifts subtly as the guard comes in, a changing current in a fathomless deep. Despite her inebriation, the woman chills to a more familiar temperature in a moment. By the time Shaw enters with Tessa at his elbow, no part of her arrangement on that perch is unconsidered and she looks posed as though for a painting: in half-recline against the arm of it with one bare knee poking through the slit of the satin skirt that otherwise drapes over the length of those legs with few secrets of their shape.

And then she’s scolded and called out despite her trouble like a child.

She smiles through it, her refined laughter masking the daggers in her gaze for the reprimand with mixed success. Her defense of her rook is gently couched. “My apologies, my dear Mister Shaw. Next time, perhaps.”

Although Stane’s installment as Rook—held soon after he’d recovered enough to attend it after the incident at the charity gala that had nearly killed him—had seen him in the proper traditional attire.

“But the matter at hand…” she suggests, just as light in delivery and heavy in meaning, that the Black King leave the subject alone and move on.

Through all the waxing and waning of Shaw's tone, the playful chiding and the serious undertone, Obadiah does little more than set his drink down before taking up his smoldering cigar from where it was laid to rest. As if waiting for the music to reach its proper crescendo, he steps a little closer, away from the trappings of excess and those fine things most people expect of this place, and instead stops close to the arm of the couch where Emma is lounging. As if to accentuate that he rather enjoys his own clothing, his free and finds his a pocket. It might be a defensive posture on most, but coupled with that little, grave smile of his, it's anything but.

"Oh it's just fine, Emma. We can talk about clothing until Mr. Shaw realizes how little I care for his opinion on the matter, especially given the disrespectful attire he demands of his Queen."

While Shaw's words might have been half a joke, this is clearly not. His tone is conversational, even grandfatherly, with a world-weary wear to each syllable, but his steely gaze cuts through the miasma of smoke forming between them to plunge like ephemeral daggers into Shaw's chest. As if to punctuate his true disgust for the finer things, things that will not help you survive a war or save the people you care about, he flicks his cigar and sends ash tumbling into the space between them.

Right onto the carpet.

While many find the Hellfire Club an excellent place to relax, to enjoy the finer things in life, or some abject debauchery, Obadiah Stane's debauchery is unleashed in in a different way. Deep in the bowels of this place, he can be the pragmatic monster he really is.

A crook of lips, slate grey eyes gleam at Emma's reply, "Perhaps, indeed." He agrees. It's less humorous sounding in delivery than his smile would try to present. Aware of the close proximity and stance the man takes up near the White Queen's lounge.

It is Obadiah's words that cut through the atmosphere, quelling the usual practiced tense to competitive dialogue exercised between himself and Emma.

"So soon with the insolence and disrespect for our traditions? Your loyalty and concern for my Queen's attire, admirable it may be, chivalrous even but it is sorely misplaced. Your ignorance to the Inner Circle's practices and its expectations are… " A pause as ashes hit the carpet. One of Shaw's nostrils actually flares a little, his chin uplifting, somehow that very action makes his widow's peak rise higher, climb up his skull creating a rather stark expression to befall his features. It's fleeting, a close slip.

"Mister Stane, at least await your second term with us before you let your ego and distaste for me slip loose. We're only just beginning to get acquainted. A shame Howard Stark lacked certain qualities you embrace, the man, he was initiated the same time as I. Yet, never even attained the status and title we've afforded you."

Despite his preamble churning beneath the surface is that smoldering, explosive rage that at times can make Shaw unpredictable to volatile. It's a terrifying experience when he lets go, that impressive expanse of his shoulders squaring out wider, straightening up his back to stand taller, it's palpable the energy seething off of him, that he is containing right now. No telepathy required to suspect what might be crossing through the forefront of his mind.

Emma gets a casual stony look, a brief stare into her lovely eyes. It's an unspoken conveyance, one she will grasp immediately. They'll no doubt have their own private conversation later.
"Business. Genosha and Magneto? As irritating as I find the entire situation it's there for us to further capitalize upon. We're already integrated in to their reconstruction efforts, Shaw Industries has purchased quite a lot of new real estate, I've applied pressure to competitors, even Roxxon to leave openings for my fellow Hellfire brethren, first 'dibs' falls to you, Emma."

"It should go without saying a slice of the pie is yours as well, Obadiah. We're only in our initial phase of action, of course."

Shaw stops talking. His hand rising up to study a ring on his knuckle, a large gaudy one with an inset onyx stone. Gold etched, a dark smudge on one outcropping spike of the ring. "We… where was I?" He inquires, "Oh, yes, questions?"

As Emma finds herself under the weighty, unspoken portion of the burden of Shaw levels at her, the woman’s jaw sets. One pale eyebrow pricks upwards over her frown next as her non-verbal agreement to that dangerous conversation, lower lids lifting a scant degree. You’ll have your conversation, her expression silently promises, now stop baiting him.

“Perhaps you might abstain from trying to set the rug on fire, Mister Stane? It is an antique and not easily replaced.”

But, as soon as she’s made her soft and heatless remark, the woman slides a hand down towards the couch and pulls up a small thumb drive. “But, as Mister Shaw has said, there is business to discuss. Magneto was very hospitable when I went calling. And he has accepted further assistance from us. With the human exodus, there are some significant gaps in the infrastructure. Engineers—in particular—are needed. As I believe that this could possibly be more a Stark strength, I relinquish my rights to the void to my rook, should he desire them. It is more important that we swiftly fulfill our new friend’s need to the point to overflowing and prove ourselves the friend he needs. Even if he does not particularly want us there. Cultivate a reliance. Perhaps send some money out of the Swiss accounts. Crass, but a potentially powerful gesture. And then we can start tuning the international markets towards lifting the embargo, once it is shown how profitable Genosha can be.”

Through it all, Obadiah's cigar hand keeps his ring turned inward, eyes staring a hole through the King of the Castle as his displeasure nearly breaks through. For all his motion, for all of his confidence, he might have been wearing his armor, everything about his posture put in juxtaposition with Shaw as if to dare him to action. These are the moments he lives for, the small ones that knife between his ever present charade of the caring old man who filled the world with weapons and now seeks some redemption. As those words pile in, he does not react until Emma regards the carpet, and his eyes shift to beauty of the pattern it holds.

Emma is not wrong that it is beautiful. Only that it matters. This rug and this place are already on fire in Obadiah's mind. Just things that will burn in time, unless these few do something to stop the madness of the world. To that end, he clarifies his position.

"It isn't my ego or even ignorance. I'm very well versed in your traditions. I'm ignoring them on purpose. So, yes. Insolence. An affront to your very nature. Judging by the state of things around here you don't get a slap in the face often enough, Mr. Shaw. Every man who's ever lived, every monster who's survived the next wave of would be heroes has only ever been felled by his own complacency. The Rook exists to castle the King, and while you will not enjoy my method, you will enjoy the result."

The cigar lifts and he pulls smoke around himself like a cloak before it's aged scent drifts over the rest of the room.

"This opportunity at hand, for instance. You shouldn't be looking to lift the embargo. You should be helping enforce it. Sure, tell Magneto what he wants to hear. Sneak a few engineers in under the radar.But no resources. Not yet. I can have my private security forces turn back ships, interfere in meaningful ways until they're nearly starving. Let the Anti-Mutant fervor here in the United States reach a fever pitch. Divide his attention. Then, we'll deliver. Then, he will be forever in our debt. Not just for what lifting an embargo can bring, but what legitimizing his state with the rest of the world can bring."

He inclines his head a little, letting his thoughts settle before looking between them both. "His trust in both of you is the key we can turn, and once we do bring aide when he is in dire need, once we do arrange for a measure of legitimacy, it will put pressure on a international community to accept the situation. Then here, you will see a sharp divide. As long as Ms. Frost here can convince Magneto to keep his natural tendencies reigned in for a time, we can push for an initiative here to incorporate the would-be heroes of the world, including mutants, into an international defense force. Once mutants are working alongside Captain America every day, the racist elements brought to the forefront of the political conversation will once again be forced into the dark. It will be the last national conversation on the subject, and even if it isn't, we will control the pulse of it. We will be the organizing force. The key though is not here. The key is making sure that someone takes unilateral action to assist Magneto on the national stage to ensure his legitimacy after we break the embargo. A nation above all of this, looking for an opportunity to announce itself to the world."

His eyes lift to Shaw then, and he reaches over to a nearby ashtray to put his cigar in its grave.

"The key here, is Wakanda."


"I am anything but complacent, Stane." Shaw recites coldly, "For now, staunch whatever it is you're intending. It is unnecessary. You're not here to test, polish, or challenge me or my station or the traditions of this establishment. Not yet at least. Should the day come when you are the King, you can dictate the methods and customs we uphold, until then, please, do adjust accordingly before you set a bad example for any of our potentials." Though he isn't beyond understanding in part what the man is implying, it's only natural a man like Stane look for niches in the armor. Somewhere weakness shows forth. Shaw knows all of his weaknesses, often wearing them openly but that is why women like Emma Frost are near.

Disimpassioned as he can manage Shaw shifts gears towards talk of business and not the plumage dance he's almost embroiled himself in too freely with Stane. The game pieces will fall where they fall.

"Noted. I will update Tessa on the changes that should Mister Stane desire first rights on Genosha they are his. As I said, with our current timetable we have plenty of options but we must at least lay the groundwork and develop a plan." Part of what they are doing right now, obviously.

"Initially I would have agreed that we are to help lift the embargo, it would win us favor with Magneto and eager to help the economy of Genosha thrive. But what your Rook is presenting is also a rather inspiring course of thought… should we establish firmer hand in keeping the embargo in place then we'll earn ourselves more time, afford of some control over who gets through, what and when… " It looks as though Shaw has taken a portion of what is said and is going off of that, building in his mind from it and speaking out loud. "Very good, Mister Stane."

"I foresee Emma's particular talents required to impress this on our friend though. He no doubt wants the trade embargo freed of his island."

"What of Wakanda? Do tell."

“I do believe Mister Stane is suggesting that we push to keep the embargo in place, but not inform Magneto. Rather, that our focus—my focus—be to keep Magneto from razing everything in his way until the embargo is unsustainable. That we dictate the timing, to wait until when he is most in need of our particular brand of influence.”

The blonde on the couch is all too willing to push forward the conversation that is more business than masculine posturing, and she reclaims her drink to continue sipping away at it. Emma watches the amber liquid as it swirls around her cup, continuing on.

“However. That will require a great deal more managing. I believe there’s a proverb about hope deferred making a heart sick. It will mean time there to keep the relationship stable, if we can’t find safe passage for him to come here.”

Emma doesn’t look up, but rather she just continues to watch her hand as it plays with her drink. “I will, of course, do as the Inner Circle desires.”

For Stane, there is no posture here. Shaw can lay the law in words and other ways, but the man across from him is ever practical in the way he appears to regard the other with an even gaze, one devoid of animosity, and simply keen to the way his wave intends to crash. Finally, his cigar left in an ashtray, his other hand finds a pocket, and he begins to pace a slow walk back towards Emma and the drink he had abandoned some time ago. Here he takes a sip as his thoughts swirl, and the gives a nod to Emma's assessment.

"There is no more grateful man than a desperate man, nor a dangerous one. But we know the danger, and I think Emma can contain it, one way or another. As far as Wakanda, well… the young King has been keeping himself busy and occupied in our country. Poking at things, probing at them as if to find weakness, or else understand the danger he might face from us. It speaks to someone who would join the world community, and in doing so make statements about who they are. If we orchestrate some mundane means to circumvent the embargo or weaken it, some will assume it is simply Magneto imposing his will. They might redouble their efforts, or even consider escalation."

He holds his scotch down at his side, his ring tapping the glass absently, and with a brief look to Emma, he lets the final note of her chorus drop, swiveling his gaze to Shaw once more. "I have seen scans of the technology that King T'Challa has at his fingertips. If he is convinced innocents are starving and this embargo is doing more harm than good, there is no nation in the world that could stop him from sending aid. And in this, the embargo will be rendered futile. The whole world would rush in behind to fill the space, like a dam breaking, to follow their lead. At the very least, Magneto will get what he want.. and we'll make sure we slip onto the island to secure what's ours, embargo or not. It is likely Wakanda will only wish to send food, medical supplies, but it will be enough to lead the charge. He only needs convincing, and I think I have the perfect implement to turn this key."

Sebastian's jaw is tugged at by thick fingers, calloused surprisingly, those earned from a youth of earning his place, years before engineering school. "It is a solid plan."’

"I know very little of King T'Challa, I was more familiar with his father yet from afar. How you came upon technological scans you'll have to share at some point but you're, once again, likely correct." It's a slowed churn, a taste in his mouth thats both reluctance and growing respect, despite some misgivings. Emma's gaze met again in a quiet consideration, clearly tied to some of his earlier rebuke, but this isn't an unfamiliar scenario for her in regards to Sebastian.

"Lets go this very route, then. We'll pool our resources and efforts. Stane, you will lay out our battleplan.”

“There is another topic, tied to this as well… the Brotherhood, those upstarts, rumor spins they're related to Magneto. What truth is there in that and can this be used in our favor or is it already a wider game our 'friend' is playing if the connection is indeed holding water?"

The blonde on her couch feels the weight of the attention on her—she is a telepath, but she doesn’t need to be in moments like these. It’s true, that this meeting is new for Stane’s presence. For his pushing. But there is something akin to surprise as Emma listens to Shaw actually acquiesce. It swiftly melts into suspicion.

And both are hidden deep beneath the unaffected veneer that she wears, liberally soaked in booze and whatever else she may have put in her system prior to the meeting.

So, yes, she meets Shaw’s gaze with the cool and unworried neutrality that has served to even the Black King’s disposition on occasions before. Another lift of her eyebrows is all she needs to wordlessly communicate her thought on her Rook’s input: ‘See?’ It is not smug, but there is a certain confidence to the expression. Whatever is to come now from Shaw’s corner, she’ll deal with it.

The woman spares a small glance for Tessa before dropping her gaze once more. Emma then makes a show of the way she turns onto her back a little more, settling into the crook of the arm of her perch and revealing more of the leg beneath her skirt and the long stretch of the white stiletto leather boot beneath.

“I did not press into the matter of the Brotherhood. I’d thought it best to focus on the matter at hand, without distraction. Even if there is truth there, and there may be, I’m hesitant to set it at Magneto’s feet. The upstarts will need answer for nearly costing me my Rook and the dreadful inconvenience of everything after, but I’m of the opinion that it is a price that we might take out of their own pitiful hides and then perhaps not offend our new friend.”

"The audacity of the man is not in question, nor his subjects. His father was a far more cautious man, but it was not so long ago that both he and one of his guard visited Stark Tower. Come to my house and expect no eyes to fall on you, well. Shame on you." The reality is a little more complex. Obadiah couldn't judge much from what he pilfered from Jarvis' eyes, but he knew enough to be worried. When Tony Stark's sensors can't penetrate something all that well, one should be frightened. He knows the risk. Perhaps his assumption may not play out. But then, the worst case is they have another, easier plan to fall back on: Buying the embargo out, politician by politician.

"As for these others, the ones who nearly took my life, I hold no particular grudge. In many ways their actions are stirring exactly the sentiment that I think is appropriate for a long term solution to this little problem we're having where world powers want to gene-scan everyone into falling in line. I prefer we set the tone of that conversation, and as long as they're rattling this saber, the Avengers and other groups will have someone to justify an even broader program - one that will include mutants - and in doing so frame the conversation as something other than human versus mutant, but hero versus villain. Give me a year. Tony will be convinced, and the pieces will fall into place, and then we will control who is seen as a hero or villain in this world. In the meantime, I agree with Emma that we should let that demon lay for as long as it might."

He sets his glass aside, at last, and then eyes his watch, which gives a single soft illumination, forcing his brows to the sky. "I also think our White Queen might just be the answer on both fronts - convincing Magneto not to go off the rails while we deal with his problem, and finding the path to T'Challa that will result in the action we need. I'd do it, but the man would suspect me immediately. Someone who has personal skin in this game might be able to find a connection to him that pans out. I'll put together a list for you, Emma. I'm sure you can find an ally, a go between, and convince them to talk the King into ac- That's…"

His expression blanks, but there is rage, overwhelming, boiling. It will assault Emma's senses like a fine wine of emotional turmoil, not petulant or reactive, but driven. "There's been an attack on Stark Tower. Tony is out of communication and the Stark satellite network is down." He's looking at his watch now. "I need to go. Emma, the weather out there is only getting worse. If you like, I'm in a hover conversion vehicle. I could also… this would be easier with someone who could see through walls, so to speak. Or at least feel minds through them. Mr. Shaw."

His attention shifts up. No more sparring. Nothing like that anymore. He hasn't the time for it. "I'll be in touch weekly on our progress, or sooner if need be."

"Slumbering demons. Very well, I'll defer to both of your experiences in that. You've had first hand after all… " Shaw says quietly, "Intelligence won't cease. We just won't poke them too furiously or loudly." A simple retreat would follow if so. Watch from afar and learn what they can. Easy enough method.’

"If not overtaxed or burdened, of course, Miss Frost is likely the best answer. She usually is." A brief lips quirk that might be a smile or something a practiced enough to make like one.

"An attack?" Both bushy eyebrows ascend, the man is probably in need of some grooming there but he is touchy about them. "Do not let us slow you."

A wide knot-knuckled hand reaches up to rub along his jaw, brushing over the smooth shaven skin there before both hands drop to clasp together behind his back, gazing upon them in their exit.

It is when Stane departs fully, Emma with him (or not) that Shaw's mind opens up.

"My presence is hardly required for this venture, Emma. You and Stane together are rather a formidable duo. He has a cunning and temperament that works on level with your own. It is almost something worthy of concern. Again, well chosen." There is acknowledgement in there but it also carries hidden undertones. It was the duo of Emma and Sebastian that earned their current position this day after all…

“Of course, Mister Stane.” Rising to her feet, Emma’s not precisely as steady as she’d like, given what the elder man is asking of her. But she is perhaps a little too accustomed to hiding it. She moves just far enough to take his arm, whether or not he offers it. “Whatever I can do to be of assistance.”

The chemical influence on her system does at least help to keep down whatever anxieties might rise up for thinking about the potential meanings of Tony’s disappearance from the grid.

Assuming she isn’t immediately sniffed out as compromised and turned back around, she’ll go with Obadiah and bow her head to Shaw with a murmur of farewell. A glance is all she gives to Tessa to acknowledge the other woman’s presence, and then she’s gone, too.

But at her back, she feels that push of thought sent in her direction.

To all the talk of Stane—all the double-edged praise of her choice—there is nothing she offers back. Instead, there is only a quiet murmur back to Shaw, set at the perimeter of his thoughts and no deeper in. She herself has taught him to know when someone worms in too deep, and there have certainly been lessons learned there.

«We can have that conversation when it best suits you, Shaw.»

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