Most girls probably didn’t get distracted while kneeling before their boss, but Rowan had accepted a long time ago that she was different from most girls.
It was like she had two pairs of eyes; the ones in the front of her head and another pair constantly orbiting around her, taking in every minute detail. With all the information she had to consider, it made it hard to keep up with the rest of the world, much less participate in it. As a child, she often thought she was an alien from a far-off galaxy or perhaps a fey that belonged to the Seelie Court. Eventually, someone would realize she didn’t fit in among St. Claudine’s prep school princesses and would take her away to somewhere better.
As silly as a dream it was, even now, it was hard to resist its allure. She couldn’t help it; her brain was wired for stories.
The toe of a boot came to rest under Rowan’s chin, forcing her to look at Elsa directly.
From the moment Elsa Jackson took her place as Student Council President, the school had been torn in two, trying to predict what kind of leader she would be. Depending on how much they knew of her Lower House days, girls would argue that she was a nouveau-riche upstart that would run St. Claudine into the ground, or a noble underdog who’d stand up to the old guard. At the start of the semester, Rowan took the same stance she usually did; she decided to sit back and watch.
As she studied the slight jut of Elsa’s chest as she leaned back, the way she pushed against the dark mahogany to stay carefully perched on her desk’s edge, Rowan couldn’t help but muse if anyone else had seen such a licentious side of her.
"Clean my boots." Elsa issued the command with her usual stoic expression. As if this was just another assignment, another necessary evil to keep St. Claudine safe.
And perhaps it was. After all, Rowan had broken into a countless number of rooms and spied on student after student, all in her name. Still she couldn't help but imagine that if Mom or Tate saw her like this, they’d think she was crossing some sort of line, traveling down a dark path she could never return from.
Rowan brought her mouth down against the stiff leather. Their mistake would be to believe this hadn’t been her goal all along.
It was neither fear nor reverence that kept her attention solely squared on the task before her, but pragmatism. Perhaps if Althea was in her place, she’d perform with that sly arrogance of hers, glancing up on occasion through coy fluttering lashes. She remembered well the close intimacy they shared, even if they never fell into these exact games of master and servant (because Althea was a Kanellis, someone important), Rowan could imagine the right flirtation winning over Elsa’s heart.
Rowan also remembered Althea’s face when Elsa declared her a traitor—the way her body seemed unable to keep up with the whirlwind of shock and anger that followed.
Elsa buried those she loved.
Being needed, though, that was different. Rowan learned that lesson two weeks into the semester. After being deluged with unreliable rumors and evasive witnesses, Elsa turned to her and said, "Rowan, I need your eyes." When even the combined efforts of Vonne and Mallory couldn’t stop girls from noticing someone had rummaged through their items, Elsa turned to her and said, "Rowan, I need your light touch." It didn’t matter how popular or respected the other student council members were, she was the one crowned Harvest Queen because she couldn’t be replaced.
"Move on to the next one." Elsa crossed her legs, and it was only in that brief moment that Rowan allowed herself to steal a glimpse. While Elsa continued to act as if this was no different from filing out paperwork, there was a hunger in her eyes. After all these years of climbing social ladders, it seemed like the most powerful girl in St. Claudine still knew what it was like to go without. She still knew how to want.
Rowan swiped her tongue across the toe of the second boot. She wondered what it was for Elsa that still remained out of reach. Was this what she truly desired—to look down on a subordinate wholly devoted to serving her? How long had she bowed and scraped for any scrap of influence? What had she done to get to this position, queen of the silver-spooned heirs? Had she ever been in Rowan’s place?
Rowan imagined what it would be like if she had Jennifer Hendricks under her heel; an intense heat unfurled inside her core. She couldn’t entertain the fantasy at the moment (she couldn’t just be careful of who or what she wanted, but when and where) so she tucked the image into the treasure trove that was her imagination. In the meantime, she lapped at the dyed leather like it was the finest of delicacies. Even the bitter aftertaste of polish and earth couldn’t sour her anticipation.
"Stop." Elsa pushed herself off the desk, giving Rowan only the slightest of windows to avoid getting kicked in the face. Perhaps it was another one of her tests, to see if Rowan was enjoying herself too much. After all, was it a conquest if your victim was the one who experienced the most pleasure? Without the sadism, punishment lost its edge.
But if Elsa thought anything of Rowan’s own thoughts, she kept it locked tightly behind that cool mask of hers. "Once you close up the office, you’re dismissed for the week." She moved to leave without the slightest of glances back.
Something inside Rowan started to unravel.
"Wait!" Her words seemed to surprise Elsa as much as herself. Slowly, Elsa turned around, her glasses lit with the evening’s dying light.
She wanted to say, "Show me how to rule like you; teach me how to drive my enemies to their knees," but it occurred to Rowan suddenly that perhaps this had been nothing but a distraction for her. Perhaps what motivated Elsa to all but trample her was the same petty cruelty found in every St. Claudine girl.
Rowan steeled herself. If she wasn’t going to live in stories forever, it was better to learn by keeping to the shadows. She could save her favors for more dire circumstances.
"You’ll protect me... in return?"
Elsa slowly blinked, as if an insect had stood up and spoken to her. "You have a deal." She answered in a cold tone. Rowan’s second set of eyes could see her putting this encounter away with the rest of the tricks Elsa kept up her sleeve. No, this wasn’t anything more to her at all.
Even so, as Rowan returned to her room, she wondered if her saliva still dampened the steady rhythm of Elsa’s every move.