People stared at them. Some of them admiring, some of them judging, most of them confused. Alice saw it all despite looking straight forward, but above all felt their eyes on her body. Now that she was holding the hand of a stranger, she could not help to feel self-conscious. What would they think of her, seeing her with a nobody like that? Dancing, even!
Yet, the cheesy smile of the unknown person was enough to remind her of her goal; to acquire that name. Because once she had a name, she could do anything she wanted. And as far as she was concerned, she would dig deeply into the little corporate they were a representative from and either get them removed or call for drastic measures. She was not pleased to be made a fool like this in public by a newcomer.

The other guests seemed to naturally form a path for them. No one dared to get in CEO Richmond’s way. This was the only time that Alice regretted having such an iron grip on her employees; they were so used to bow and cower before her that they immediately stepped away when she approached. Normally, it would not have mattered and she actually would have loved the obedience, but now she just wanted to disappear into the crowd. She did not want anyone to know that she danced with someone who did not matter. Her status was too high for that.
“Nervous?” she heard a voice from beside her. Alice rose one of her eyebrows sceptically.
“Not in the slightest.”
A soft, mocking chuckle was the reply she got, which made her clench her teeth. Let’s get it over with and get that name, so you can wipe that stupid grin off their face once and for all.
They moved to the middle of the dance floor, in between the guests and the professional dancers. Alice picked up on the music only then.
“Tchaikovsky-” she muttered.
“-Waltz of flowers,” the stranger finished her sentence. Again, her eyebrows shot up in suspicion, utterly surprised for a split second at the person’s knowledge of classical music. Before she could fully recover from her little shock, the stranger grabbed her by her hand. The spare hand was placed on her hip, pulling her closer with a swift motion, although rougher than was necessary. Their bodies collided together, which made the grin on the newcomer’s face grow even bigger. Alice pulled up her nose yet placed her hand on their shoulder. Even with heels, the stranger was taller than she was, although only by a few centimetres.
The stranger took the lead and Alice followed, as a woman was supposed to do. She had to admit that it had been hard on her to follow someone else when she had started taking dancing classes, but after years of training ever so often, she had gotten the hang of it. By now, she danced like a pro. Yet, she could feel the eyes of her guests burn into her body as they followed their every movement and it unnerved her slightly. Still, the eyes of her guests were not as far as distracting as the pair of deep, dark eyes that were constantly taking her in from underneath the black mask. At all times, there was a tiny smile formed on their face.
A lot of the guests even left the dance floor to watch the play go on – seeing one of the most powerful CEOs in the world dance like that was rare. If it was up to Alice, it would never ever happen again after this as well. The dancers stayed to accompany them, though, which was a blessing Alice appreciated very much – she would make sure to tip them well.

The longer they danced, the more Alice started to wonder who she was dancing with. The longer they danced, the more confused she became. Now that their bodies were pressed close together, she started to notice the smaller things.
An almost invisible scar on their lower lip. A few hairs which had managed to escape from the hair products and now fell in front of their face; as little imperfections in the stranger’s perfect appearance. Black tattoos curling up on the back of their neck. An arrogant glint in the black eyes. Piercings in their ears. Even tunnels.
The fluidity of the stranger’s motions was remarkable as well. Not as stiff and forceful as a man’s, yet not as gracious as a woman’s. Somewhere in between. Neither were their shoulders broad, but their waist did not betray much of an hourglass figure as well. And when their chests pressed together…
“Who are you?” Alice eventually asked, when The Waltz of Flowers had turned into Chopin’s Nocturne op.9 No.2, and that one had surpassed into Mariage d’Amour of Paul de Senneville.
“Oh my, you don’t know who I am, do you? I cannot help to be offended by your lacking memory, Miss Richmond.”
Alice stuck her chin in the air and let out a huff.
“I can recognize every face in this room. I know all the names and all the details. You, on the other hand, are something else,” she stated. Even the voice sounded familiar… But whom it was, was still a mystery. It felt like she had all these loose puzzle pieces but did not know how to create the bigger picture.
“Won’t that spoil the fun? You knowing my name... it’ll take away my air of mystery,” the stranger laughed.
“If I let you keep that, would you tell me why you are here then?” she asked, deciding to play along with the game.
“Why I’m here? I am on the guest list!” they exclaimed, with a quasi-shocked tone. Alice sighed annoyed. The attitude of the stranger started to piss her off by now. Hadn’t she not promised to dance in exchange for a name?
“So, you are simply here to attend the party and ask me to dance with you?” she said. “That seems unlikely.”
“Who knows. I came here with a purpose, yes, but it would all depend on you how that would unfold.”
Alice squinted her eyes. “Then what is your purpose here.”
The stranger laughed. It was a low laugh but tingling at the same time; one that made other people look over their shoulders to see who was having such a good time. But the way the corners of their mouth were pulled up gave it almost something devilish. Up to no good. A troublemaker.
“I am here because of my sister.”
Suddenly, all the warmth vaporized from Krystal’s body. She turned as white as a sheet as the realization hit her. Her eyes stared deep into those belonging to the person in front of her; she only got surer of her case seeing the cocky glance in their eyes. Quickly, she recaptured her neutral facial expression, but the damage had already been done. She had seen it.
At once, it all made sense. The eyes, the voice, the smile, the appearance. Of course, it had felt familiar.
“Who are you?” she asked warily.
“By now, you must already know.”
Alice huffed and pulled up her nose. “Yes, Ray,” she growled through clenched teeth. A laugh was the reply she got, which only infuriated her more.
“What are you doing here? Woolf Industrials had declined my invitation,” she asked, trying to remain the uninterested, bored, tone in her voice. It was hard. Alice always had trouble controlling her temper but until now it had never been so difficult.
“Woolf Industrials maybe. I did not. If I remember correctly, you invited the whole family, did you not?” Ray said nonchalantly. They still did not stop dancing. In fact, Ray grabbed her hand firmer, pressing their bodies more eagerly together. It made Alice’s stomach turn.
“You are part of Woolf Industrials.”
“Only when I feel like it. Only when it has something to offer. Which does not happen a lot, until a little while ago…” Ray hummed contently. She kept a close eye on Alice, observing her face as the words left her mouth. Alice tried her best not to move a muscle, obvious of the way Ray studied her like a biologist studies an animal. Remaining a neutral expression had never been so hard, as everything that Ray said was something that unnerved her. The woman seemed to be too much in her element. Alice was usually the one with the witty answers and otherwise, she simply did not tolerate anyone talking back to her, but Ray Woolf was not an employee and she had stated many times that she ‘did not give a fuck’ if you had to believe everything that was known about her online. The many headlines about Chester Woolf’s eldest child were too many to count and none of them was anywhere close to positive.
Alice had never really paid any attention to her, as her younger sister was way more threatening to Rilex Internationals than Ray would ever be. But now she was dancing with her in the middle of a crowd to Vivaldi, answering her tricky questions with answers she knew would be used against her. It was easy to say she underestimated her, but it was too late now. There was no escaping this conversation, better to try to get some information herself as well.
“And what might that be?” Alice asked. Ray’s smile grew a little wider as if she had been expecting this question to appear. She rose her eyebrows, “Can I ask you how you are planning to bring down Woolf Industrials?”
Alice clenched her jaws together. She wanted to look away, but as that felt like a personal failure, she kept staring into Ray’s deep, dark eyes. They were close to black now, with no distinction between the pupil and the iris. She did not know how to answer and to watch Ray grin so widely that all of her pearly white teeth were exposed. With a grudge in her stomach, she had to hear how Ray started to laugh.
“My, my, Miss Richmond. Are you going to tell me that you threatened Woolf Industrials through your speech at the beginning of this evening and you have no clue how to actually do that?”
The corners of Ray’s mouth were curled up in amusement and the little twinkle in her eyes was even more prominent than a few moments before. Alice cursed herself, knowing damn well that she had given her exactly what she wanted. She was blowing her own chances more with every word that came out of her mouth; Olympia would know about this within minutes. Rilex had to embrace themselves for the filthy drama this would bring.
“It’s the usual. Lead in more smaller corporates. Earn more money. Buy Woolf Industrials. Make it part of Rilex’s network,” Alice answered, trying to sound indifferent. The tone had never suited her much and the words now felt strange in her mouth. Of course, she knew it wouldn’t work; Woolf Industrials was too big to be bought by a corporation of the same size. Either of them was powerful but none was rich enough to buy the other. And if one grew in size, the other did so too.
“You know it will never go like that. Even if you manage to get enough money together, Olympia will never accept the deal. As you might know well, it takes two parties to make a contract valid.”
“Are you just here to just point that out, Ray?” Alice hissed back. Not being used to someone pointing out her flaws, she could not help her temper flaring up. Ray’s devilish grin shrunk to merely a smile.
“Far from that, actually. I am here to help your poor unfortunate soul.”
“Leave,” Alice barked at her. Ray did not even budge or lean away. In fact, she cocked her head slightly, as if she were a difficult puzzle that needed solving. Alice did not like her looking at her like that. And not just that: she did not like Ray Woolf at all.
“Are you saying that you don’t want my help? Don’t you want access to our vaults?” Ray asked slowly. She rose both of her eyebrows until they could be seen just above her mask.
“Ray Woolf, any person who falls for your charms is doomed. Do you really think I’m that stupid? No one betrays their own family.”
Ray chuckled. Her eyes seemed to have darkened when she looked up to Alice again. It was a sight that seemed to pull her even closer to the woman. It felt like she was getting engulfed in those eyes. Like black holes; nothing was able to escape from the tremendous mass that inhaled everything in.
“Besides you. And that’ll make two of us.”
She snapped back to reality. Alice tensed the muscles in her jaws. A small huff left her mouth. A sudden angst crept upon her. Did Ray know about her mother, locked up in Richmond Manor? Did she know or was it a shot in the dark because Alice simply had zero contact with her other relatives? How much did this girl know and how much was she prepared to use that information against her?
“Why are you so keen on selling out your family?” Alice asked, avoiding Ray’s words, her eyes narrowing. It did not make sense, not even for someone who wasn’t at all involved in the company’s management. For people like them, the company was a symbol of the bond between family members. It was probably just some sort of way to get her to confess, she figured.
“I have never been interested in Woolf Industrials or this whole business world full of suited monkeys. And I am not keen on selling out my family, although I have to admit that my relationship is not good with any of them. There simply is something about you, Princess, that caught my attention. I tend to flutter towards the people who can give me something; make me better, as so to say. My family is done giving... or I might have taken everything from them that is worth taking already, depending on the way you look at it. The only thing I now get is money from my stocks in Woolf Industrials. You, on the other hand, are full of possibilities.”
Alice did not know whether to feel honoured, surprised or disgusted. A mixture of all three had settled in her stomach. Her mind needed some time to process all of Ray’s words, which was why she at first focused on the easiest; the thing that disgusted her.
“Do not call me that,” she growled.
“Then how do you want me to call you?” Ray asked, a smile once again forming on her face. Alice could not believe that she at first had been somewhat attracted to it. It was impossible to imagine now.
“You know how.”
“Fine then, Miss Richmond,” the woman eventually sighed. Alice nodded curtly, to sign that she approved. She cleared her throat.
“And I am afraid that I have nothing to offer you, Ray. I will not give any of Rilex’s secrets up in exchange for information about Woolf Industrials. I will have to decline your offer,” she replied. Alice put up the voice she always used in meetings, indicating that she would not tolerate anyone to question her final decision. She would not risk anything of Rilex for some information, how helpful it might be. Even without that information, she would succeed in bringing down Woolf Industrials… At least, she hoped.
Ray tilted her head again, this time lifting only one of her eyebrows.
“Did I ever mention that I wanted information about Rilex in return? My dear Miss Richmond, that surely is not the case. And to prove my trustworthiness, I might offer you some data if you were willing to cooperate.”
Ray stopped dancing and Alice found herself to be a little disorientated until she noticed that the music had changed. The classical tunes had been switched to modern day songs. Almost everyone had left the dance floor again. The dancers were nowhere to be seen; they had probably left the dance floor when Alice had not been paying attention. The only people who were still among them were the youth – children and other relatives of the originally invited people – who were eyeing them a little suspiciously by now. Alice quickly left the dance floor, her cheeks somewhat scaling up a little bit. To her annoyance, Ray followed her steps closely.
Alice only stopped when she had reached safety; a place close to the lounge corner where no one was within a five-metre radius and they could finish their conversation in private. Alice sighed in annoyance as she turned around.
“I don’t think I will,” she answered curtly. “I would say that it isn’t personal but it is.”
Ray seemed to have expected this kind of an answer, as she did not seem to be taken aback at all. Instead, she simply smiled and ran a hand through her hair. Alice could not help to follow the movement of her hand. She ruffled it a bit, causing more strands to fall down from their original place and in front of her eyes. The old Ray returned bit by bit, the one with the tattoos and the piercings, the black Dr Martins and probably a closet full of leather jackets. The smoking fit her body, but it did not fit her personality. Yet she stood here in front of her, with no other goal than to convince Alice to take her offer.
Even Alice Richmond was intrigued by an act like that, even when it came from someone like Ray Woolf. In the two times that they had met, the woman had left an impression never to forget.
“Just think about it, Princess. I have nowhere to go,” she said. Before Alice could complain about the little nickname Ray seemed to have developed for her, the other woman bowed down. She took her hand, as she had taken her hand before, and pressed a feather-light kiss upon the back of her hand. Alice immediately stiffened. The feeling of Ray’s lips against her body made her skin burn, even when the short-haired female straightened her back again and watched her with an amused gaze.
“You know where to find me if you change your mind,” Ray said. “Have a wonderful evening, Miss Richmond.”

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