The rest of the evening had passed in a slur. Alice’s concentration was very low and she found herself not having the energy to listen to the supposed-to-be-funny stories her clients were telling. She eventually managed to only go by half of the clients she had wanted to visit and she excused her own behaviour by telling herself that she was probably tired of organizing and playing host the entire evening. She promised herself that she’d come back to them, but in the days that followed, Alice could find little motivation to have meaningless chit-chatter with people who actually did not matter.
Although she had not expected herself to, she kept wondering about Ray’s words. The mysterious woman spooked through her mind like a ghoul, repeating the same promising sentences over and over again until it drove Alice mad to a point in which she could not act rationally anymore. Her working pace was slowed down because she often found herself thinking; wondering; fantasizing about what’d happen if she’d take Ray’s offer. Information about Woolf Industrials would help Rilex Internationals to rise to the top in no time, even if Ray managed to spill just one project they were working on… It was a dream to come true.

The thing was that it seemed too good to be true. Yes, perhaps the first few papers of data would be free – like Ray said, ‘to prove her trustworthiness’ – but the information after that would have a price, one that was not mentioned during their conversation at all. Ray had ensured her that she did not want any information about Rilex in return… Alice should have been glad to hear that – since she would never give up anything about Rilex if it wasn’t extremely necessary – only she wasn’t. It meant that the price tag was either so big that she would lose more than she’d gain or that it was so suspiciously low that there was no way she could take the deal.
But God, it was so tempting to just take it. The thought about what kind of information she’d receive was enough to make her mouth water. Data about projects – what kind, when they’d be finished, what they were designing – and balance sheets about Woolf Industrials income and outcome... She’d know all about where they’d send their money to and what they receive. The thought of knowing all of that and more without Olympia knowing made her heart beat faster with adrenaline.

Every day, every hour, every minute it became more difficult to resist the urge to send someone to fetch Ray for her. Alice was constantly battling with herself; trying to convince herself that listening to her head would be way more useful in the long run. But she felt like a kid who was given the choice to have two candies right now or a whole bag of candies in a few hours. The two candies seemed so incredibly more attractive than the bag; as it was still so vague.

She managed to survive for three full weeks before Alice caved in. She wrote the note with the thought in mind that she at least had to hear Ray out. In the two times that they had met, Ray had managed to surprise her both times. Perhaps she would a third time. Third time’s a charm, right?
Alice passed the note – which was just a yellow sticky note folded up a couple of times – to Elias.
“Find Rachel Woolf and hand it to her. Don’t return before you handed it to her personally. Not a secretary, not a personal assistant, not an intern. Rachel Woolf herself, capiche?”
Elias nodded one time with a frown on his face, then left the office in his search for Chester Woolf’s long-lost daughter. Alice watched him go with an unsettling feeling in her stomach. She could not help but to wonder whether this was a mistake. Alice couldn’t help herself but to be curious about the woman who had offered her the deal, but whenever she googled her, the more confused she became, which made her questions even bigger.
Rachel Woolf, first child of Chester Woolf used to be a straight-A-student. She was constantly ranked first in every class, did tons of extracurricular activities and had even won an award for most hard-working student. At least, that was until a year before her finals.
Alice couldn’t make sense about why her grades suddenly dropped. Her final grades were just barely enough for her to pass high school. After that, little was heard of the girl’s whereabouts. The only thing that Alice found was an official statement of Woolf Industrials that she would not be following up Chester Woolf as the CEO.
But if she scrolled further down on the Google page, she managed to find more. Pictures and stories. They were all of non-official users which made Alice a bit wary about whether to believe them. Still, they all had the identical core: Rachel Woolf had derailed completely. The nice little student was no more and was replaced by someone no one had managed to pierce through yet. Closed down, she spent her days drinking, smoking and causing trouble with her friends – whom she exchanged every few weeks – before they went clubbing. Tattoos and leather were their most recognizable characteristic. Ray Woolf had become no good, which made it only more suspicious that she wanted to make a deal with Alice. The Lone wolf of Woolf Industrials definitely meant trouble…
Yet, every time she discussed the topic with herself, she ended up with the same conclusion: she would only know by getting into a conversation with Ray, otherwise she would never know whether the price would be worth paying. And with Ray Woolf, you’d never know.

Alice left the office early that day. It was a normal Thursday, which made every single employee look up in confusion when she strolled by to clock herself out at five in the afternoon. Normally, she did not leave the office until six, sometimes even seven at night. And if she left a little early, it was mostly on a Friday due to business meetings in restaurants which she needed to prepare for at home. Never had Alice Richmond ever left the office early on a Thursday, which immediately made everyone suspicious… especially her nosy personal assistant.
“Are you going home already?” David asked her, as he saw her packing her stuff. He was leaning against the door frame while watching her, one perfectly depilated eyebrow pulled up high on his tanned forehead. Alice turned around and shot him a warning glance.
“I am.”
“On a Thursday?”
“Yes, that’s right, on a Thursday. Good to know that you know the days of the week,” Alice replied, rolling her eyes as she did so. David scoffed, but did not say anything in return.
“Is this going to be a regular thing?” he asked, after a short silence.
“Depends on tonight,” Alice said. “It may not be.”
“Good, otherwise I might think you’d have a boyfriend or something,” David said, making Alice look up in disgust. She scrunched up her nose disdainfully.
“Believe me, if this person where the one I’d date, I’d seriously consider selling the company.”
“So, you are going to meet up with someone who isn’t a rich ass boss from some corporation I probably will forget the name of as soon as you mention it? A business meeting, then?” David asked, eagerly, his curiosity awakened by Alice’s answer. His tone betrayed that he definitely did not think that Alice was going to meet a CEO. The woman sighed and started massaging her temples. Her fingers rubbed slow circles, trying to work away the upcoming headache.
“Don’t you have work to do, or something? Tomorrow’s schedule, perhaps? I also need another Board meeting, preferably tomorrow or Monday so try to schedule that in, maybe?”
David rolled his eyes, knowing the procedure. Whenever Alice wanted to quit the conversation – mostly because David had already asked too much – she attended him on the amount of work he still had to finish. In fact, the schedules were done and it would take less than a minute to put in a Board meeting and send e-mails to the other members.
“Suppose I’ll see you tomorrow then,” David sighed, getting the hint.
Alice finished packing her stuff and closed her back. She turned around, rose an eyebrow and nodded curtly.
“You will. And I expect you to clock out at exactly half past five. I will check, David.”
The younger man chuckled and could not help but to roll his eyes. Alice could have pretended she hadn’t seen, but she shot him a foul look nevertheless before exiting the office.
Less than five minutes later, David followed. It did not happen often that your boss left early and even he could not resist to clock out earlier as well.

Her car brought her back home, half an hour before she had planned to meet up with Ray. It gave her just enough time to tidy herself. Her apartment luckily didn’t need any cleaning; even without a maid coming every day, there was barely any sign of someone actually living here. The kitchen was clean, the fridge almost empty, the black stone floor spotless and the pillows on the couch were as fluffy as they had been when Alice had just gotten them. The living room looked like a set-up from IKEA, really. Sometimes, she just turned every electronic device in the apartment on to make sure everything was still working, since she barely ever used them herself.
Only the bedroom and bathroom were rooms which sometimes needed cleaning. The dried-up spots from water droplets on the glass door from her shower cabin, for example. Or the sheets of her bed after having spent the night in them.

After a long day at work – well, it hadn’t been that long since Alice had left office early – she simply looked bad. Still dazzling and incredibly beautiful to the eye of a stranger, of course, but Alice knew herself well enough to see that the circles under her eyes were coming through again and she was not able to lift up the corners of her mouth even into a polite smile. Her hair was ruffled a little bit by the wind after she had gotten out of her car as well.
Within ten minutes she had combed her hair and reapplied her makeup. She looked decent again, although she couldn’t get the tired look from her eyes and her limps. By now, she knew that coffee would not help either, as her body had grown used to the caffeine shots three times a day. She reckoned she’d just have to deal with Ray like this.
To finish the look, she decided to leave her blazer for what it was. It was warm enough in her apartment – which was a rarity, since Alice was mostly cold and liked to get under her blankets – which allowed her to do so. She only wore a white blouse without any sleeves, tugged into her pencil skirt and her black heels. Normally, she would have slipped into something easy, like jeans, but she did not dare to do so now. She could not welcome Ray into her apartment looking like a normal, every-day young woman. More than ever, she needed to impress her.

There was still a quarter left until Ray was supposed to come – if Elias had managed to find her, as Alice did not reckon that she spent her days in Woolf Industrials’ Headquarters – which left Alice clueless as what to do. The only thing she could do was wait, but waiting felt extremely awkward. Alice normally never waited for anyone and she wasn’t used to the feeling to wasting time. And perhaps she still could have made it look like she was working if she had stayed in the office longer, but now that she was back in her apartment she didn’t know what to do. Casually watch television until Ray came in? Too casual. Prepare food as if she knew how to cook? She would just dirty her outfit by that. Spend more time looking at her tired face in the mirror, hoping to work away minuscule flaws in her makeup? She’d only grow more tired of that. None of the options appealed to her.

Eventually, Alice took out her laptop again and installed it on the kitchen table. She started it up, but she had no clue which documents to open; she simply stared at the desktop picture – Rilex’s emblem – until she realized that it would look even stupider if Ray found out she had started up her laptop but had not opened anything. Alice searched through her documents and randomly opened an old one. If Ray managed to sneak a peek at her laptop, then she’d at least see old documents which did not matter anymore.

Only five more minutes had passed and there were still ten more to go. Feeling like she was about to go insane, Alice paced around the living room, her heels clacking steadily on the floor. The sound soothed her, but she still felt her insides twisting and turning for the meeting that was about to come.
Eventually, she just walked towards the kitchen and got out two tumblers. She filled them all the way up with ice and poured whiskey in them until there was a little layer of alcohol in each glass. She took one of them and took a sip immediately. The strong liquor, which had not been cooled down by the ice yet, burned in her throat and she instantly regretted taking such a large sip. Alice pulled a face and put the glass down again. Still, it was a welcome feeling. The pain in her throat – which she could now feel gliding down her gullet – helped her to focus on something else but her nerves.
Nerves… Why was she even nervous? Wasn’t she the bigger person here? The powerful CEO; the one with piles of money; the leader of Rilex Internationals’ empire; the one who initiated the meeting. Why, of all times, did she feel like throwing up now? Because it was a direct representative from Woolf Industrials? No, she had met Woolf Industrials’ vice president once and she had had no trouble putting up her cold façade. Yet, this time it was different.
Maybe because Ray was different.

The bell rung at exactly half past five. Alice, surprised by the sudden sound ringing through the apartment, made her way to the door. Her pace was steady – perhaps Ray could hear her.
Alice opened the door and there, leaning against the frame, stood the person who had managed to creeped through her thoughts for the last couple of weeks. One black eyebrow risen up high on her forehead and a cocky smile on her lips, Ray looked back with twinkling eyes.
“Changed your mind, Princess?”
Alice directly remembered why she had been keen on declining Ray’s proposal in the first place; working with this girl was simply unbearable. Everything that came out of her mouth was a direct insult to her existence. She clenched her jaw, trying not to bang the door shut immediately to wipe that cheesy grin off her face.
“I hope you’re here to negotiate and not to insult me every time you open your mouth,” Alice hissed. She stepped away from the door to let Ray in. The young woman just laughed disdainfully, waving away Alice’s threat with a lousy movement of her hand.
“What a warm welcome. Where are your manners, Miss Richmond? Of all people, you ought to have them.”
Ray stepped into Alice’s apartment and let her gaze run over the walls and the furniture, taking in every small detail with her watchful look. Alice let the door fall shut, already regretting letting her in. She immediately looked down to her shoes and whether they left any dirt or stains on the floor – they did not.
“Which is why I already poured you a drink,” Alice replied icily. She left Ray at the door and went back to the kitchen to pick up the glasses. Ray followed her and leaned onto the countertop of the kitchen island, taking in Alice as she handed her the still full tumbler. Her eyes wandered over the other woman, who took small sips from her drink trying not to look up into those deep dark eyes. Ray tilted her head to the right and rose her eyebrows at the sight.
“I thought you were more of a wine person,” she remarked. Alice lowered her glass. Indeed, she remembered, she had admitted that. Wine was certainly more to her liking. But somehow, it felt more right to pour herself whiskey as well. When Elias stopped by, she always drank whiskey too. Whenever there was someone in her apartment besides herself, she drank the firey alcoholic beverage, despite it not being her favourite.
“I am,” she said slowly. Ray looked up to her and could not help but to let a smile break on her face. It was not as cheeky as before, merely self-satisfied. She bowed forward; slowly, as if she did not want to scare her. Ray took the glass from Alice’s hand. As she did so, their fingers touched for just a split second. Alice immediately took her hand back. The skin burned, as if she willingly had put it in boiling water. Ray’s hands were warm – hot, even – on her cold ones. The temperature difference shocked her. The other woman didn’t seem to have noticed it at all and downed Alice’s drink in one go. She put the empty glass back on the counter. The hollow sound of the glass touching the marble was the only thing besides Alice’s rather rapid breathing that could be heard in the apartment. Ray looked up again, still smiling, into Alice’s confused eyes. By now it was futile to try and recollect her face as Ray had already seen it.
“Get yourself a glass of wine. I’m here to give you what you want, not to force you to do something you don’t like.”

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