Tavon coldly watched the others at the long, glossy table, carefully noting even the slightest movements of their eyes, the barely-there twitch of a hand or the nervous tapping of an impatient foot. The glass wall of the conference room allowed him to even notice the anxious looks from people passing by outside of the room. Everything was important. Every nuance helped him with his final mental calculations.
The thick documents in front of each person represented months of negotiations, but they weren’t final. This conversation, this subtle and intricate discussion, would resolve all of the final details.
“Four point three billion in cash and six billion in stocks,” the man across from him said, leaning back in his chair.
Silence. Twelve other people sat in the leather chairs. No one moved. They barely breathed. Tavon waited. Watching. Someone shifted slightly but the sound echoed throughout the room. He knew that one of the lawyers for the opposing side glared at the offender, who grimaced in response. But Tavon didn’t move at all.
More waiting. The seconds ticked by as if in slow motion.
And then it happened. The tick. The slight lifting of the other man’s lips. That was the signal Tavon had been waiting for.
The single word exploded in the conference room. There was a paused moment, as if the other occupants didn’t believe they’d just heard that one word. And then a flush of noise as everyone accepted the response. The sigh and impatient movements quickly broke the hushed anticipation. Everyone groaned, moving in their seats as frustration permeated the air now.
The man across from him slumped slightly in the leather chair. “Fine! Give me a counter offer.”
Tavon ignored everyone around him. Leaning forward, he watched carefully, calculating the odds. Negotiations were a bit like a high stakes poker game, but Tavon worked the odds to his benefit by researching the costs of everything. He never gambled. He negotiated. He watched and learned each person’s weaknesses, then used them to gain the advantage. Everyone around the table did the same, Tavon was just better at it.
Which was why he named a different number.
“Four point one and five point nine.”
Once again, a hushed, tense silence descended over the occupants in the room. Those two numbers didn’t seem very different. Five point nine versus six? And four point one versus the four point three that had been offered.
More waiting, watching…praying. Everyone in the room stilled again. All eyes returned to Tavon. Then to his opponent.
“Done,” the man agreed, nodding to emphasize his agreement. “Let’s get the paperwork signed here. Today!” he growled angrily.
Tavon nodded as well. Pulling back, he stood up, tugged slightly at the cuffs of his tailored dress shirt and looked to his left. “Handle this,” he said to the lawyer. The woman nodded instantly, her sharp eyes turning back to the other man as Tavon walked out of the conference room. The deal was done and he was pleased with the results. He smiled slightly when he heard, “Cold bastard,” muttered from someone in the room, but didn’t turn around. That term had been applied to him too often for him to care.
Yes, those new numbers seemed small, but he’d just saved his country three hundred million dollars. That amount would be used for schools and bridges, roads and other social services to help the people of Altair.
A very good day, he thought as his body guards surrounded him once again. They descended in the glass and steel elevators to the lobby where he walked with purpose towards the exit. Yes, a very good day, he thought as he contemplated what was next on his agenda. Damn, he loved winning!
“Faster,” she whispered to Ella, her horse, urging the strong, sleek lady to run faster. “Come on, Ella, you can do it!”
Even as she spoke, Mila felt the horse push harder, her legs whipping underneath both of them. Ella loved the freedom and lowered her head, trying to go faster.
Out of the corner of her eye, Mila spotted Ms. Dunworthy, the pretty but very conservative headmistress of The London School for Ladies. Normally, Ms. Dunworthy was the perfect image of a circumspect lady. She had very strict rules for the students at the school and didn’t allow for infractions. So it was with a smile of delight that Mila spotted the always-controlled Ms. Dunworthy cheering her on from behind a small copse of trees, urging Mila to win the race.
With that small bit of encouragement, Mila leaned lower over Ella’s neck. “Come on, girl! You can do it!” Mila felt two riders coming up from behind and her smile faded as she focused on winning.
“You’re doing it, girl!” Mila told her horse, then moved lower along Ella’s neck, making the two of them more streamlined. With a glance behind her, she noticed that she was well ahead of the others and smiled, triumph within her grasp.
Thirty seconds later, she made it over the finish line and laughed, patting Ella’s neck as the horse shook her mane, proud of herself. Both ladies were!
“Good girl!” she said so that only Ella could hear as she slowed the horse to a trot, then a walk, letting her cool down slowly. “You’re such a beauty!” she said to the horse as the other riders crossed over the finish line.
One of the teenage boys, a prince from some country in Europe, pranced over to her on his horse. “You’re good,” he said with admiration. “How long have you been riding?”
Mila gave the other boy a friendly smile and patted Ella again. “I think I was riding before I could walk,” she answered.
Mila took the compliment with a nod of appreciation and looked over to where the others were gathering around the tents that had been set up to shade guests from the desert sun. “I think that lunch is ready,” she said, nodding her head towards the guests.
The teen looked over his shoulder and nodded. “Yes, I guess you’re correct,” he replied in his very formal language. “Would you allow me to escort you to lunch?” he asked.
Mila thought that was a strange request, but she shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”
He smiled and both of them headed over to where the stable hands were waiting, ready to take charge of the horses. There was an additional tent set up to protect the horses along with water and oats for them. Mila handed Ella off to one of the stable hands, giving Ella another pat and a smile. “You were wonderful!” she praised the horse once again. “I’ll bring you some treats, okay?”
The horse seemed to understand and tossed her head up slightly, as if nodding in agreement. Mila laughed as the stable hand led Ella towards the tent where the horse would be pampered for her win against all of the others.
As soon as Mila entered the lunch tent, she caught her father’s glare. But she was in too good of a mood to deal with his admonitions right now. She gathered a plate and moved on down the buffet that had been set up inside the tent for the guests, choosing several items before walking over to one of the linen covered tables.
“Mila,” her father growled in warning of a lecture. It was Parent Weekend at the London School for Ladies, sort of a demonstration of what the students had accomplished over the past year.
She heard him and groaned, knowing that she hadn’t escaped the lecture so easily. “Yes father?” she asked, smiling up at him as he pulled out the chair next to her.
“You’re supposed to let someone else win,” he snapped, then smiled to someone who passed alongside their table, pretending he was merely having a friendly conversation with his daughter.
Let someone else win? She let those words sink in for a moment, not sure she understood. “I was? Why?” she asked, sincerely confused.
“I’m ruler of Sidoon, Mila.”
She looked at him curiously. “What does that have to do with me winning the race?”
He rolled his eyes, huffing a bit at her ignorance. “Men don’t like it when women beat them.”
She laughed at his comment, thinking he was teasing her. “No one likes to lose,” she replied and took a bite of the fruit salad covered in a delicious lemon sauce.
“Men don’t like losing to women. Especially to women,” he asserted firmly. “You can’t keep winning and still expect to get married.”
Mila sighed, thinking that they’d had this conversation before. Many times before. “Father, I’m only fifteen years old. I don’t plan on marrying anyone for a long time. By the time I am ready, I doubt that any man around here today will remember that I beat him at a horse race. I think we’re fine.” She stabbed another melon ball and pointed it at him. “Besides, I doubt I would be interested in a man who is a bit miffed at losing to me, anyway.”
Her father slapped his forehead and stood up. “Someday, you’ll understand,” he told her and walked away. Mila watched him head towards the beautiful dessert table, wondering why he thought she would be interested, even slightly, in a man who would be upset at her winning at anything. That was just silly!