1It was a man's business to know what was crossing his threshold, what variety of opportunity or complication he might be inviting in. So he'd spent more than a little time on the Cortex that night, looking over the information that came up associated with her name.

The notice of her premiere had made the society page on some Sihnoni news service. "The incandescently beautiful Miss Inara Serra of House Madrassa, shown here at the Ju Long Gallery in the company of Mr. Diarmad McLaren, initiated her eligibilty for subsciption..." For all the fancy language, wasn't hard to puzzle out what that meant. And there was a capture of her, all smiles, grace and proud, shining eyes that night. The man had been much older, but tall and with fierce eyebrows and the look of an aging jungle cat. Mal knew the man's name, knew the business that bore it. There were captures of them together a handful of times, articles mentioning their names still more. So, his new tenant was well-connected. There were images of her with others as well, lawyers and political scholars and talented young artists. Doctors, writers, a well-fed, pink-faced Alliance military man in his ceremonial dress uniform, spit-shined for the evening. And here and there, all throughout, this handsome, slick-looking young fella Mal now remembered: Redding Janisch.

Mal had noted the date of her premiere figuring this must have taken place shortly after her eighteenth birthday. He'd taken a moment to count the years, realized she was younger than he'd supposed, not so much older than Kaylee.

And he'd looked into the Guild, read over the informational resources they'd produced for general consumption. Entirely discreet, not what he'd imagined. No images of Companions, provocative or otherwise. No mention of names or even prices. Just a contact office, discreetly posted, for information about subscription. If you have to ask...Mal had supposed. He'd found himself cataloging everything the resource didn't tell him - how Companions defined an "appointment," by the time spent or maybe by each act, each fall? Mal indulged just a moment's frank assessment of what a determined man, in one night's time with the inspiration of her in his bed, could do. "The Art of Love," her Guild called it. Not the tiniest hint of just what the things were that she - that a Companion, he revised, determinedly correcting his own self as to the locus of his curiosity - might do in pursuit of that art. The most disciminating tastes - that had to refer to more than only commonplace rutting. And for all that she seemed to be the darling of the Sihnoni society writers, there had to be those that might need secrecy as much as they needed whatever else they were paying for. Married men, or those with secret and difficult needs, those that might crave for more than one radiant young Companion in his bed...wouldn't be profitable, for her to be in the business of passing judgement.

She'd come with more papers than the most tightly controlled exports, which, Mal figured, in a sense she was. Sihnon's gift to the pocketheavy throughout the 'verse. They'd reviewed and signed the Trust, a requirement of her Guild. She'd watched him while he read it, read right through the dry paragraphs describing what he coudn't ask for, what she was not allowed to offer. "Everything seems to be in order," he'd said, thinking to himself what an ass he sounded like. He didn't aim to be one she could charm, with her allure, the curves of her body and the smile that promised whatever a man might need. He'd be wearing Alliance purple before he'd trail after her like some mooning, deluded half-wit, tricking himself that anything she said or did meant she thought he was special.

When he went back to the captures later, after she'd been on his ship a few days, he told himself he wanted to know more about her clients, about the political leanings of those whose attention might light on Serenity now that she was a tenant. But after the first few images, after typing in the names of her rich Core world gentlemen and finding nothing he couldn't have predicted, he found himself looking only at her, at her hair and eyes, her lips, the way she moved, the distracting curves of her breasts and hips. One capture, in particular. The name of the event meant nothing to him. But the way she was dressed...she always looked beautiful and desirable. That night, she had dressed for seduction, for conquest. A byzantine twist of lace, tiny, the inkiest purple, hugged her bosom and the curves above her biceps, trailed away behind her as she moved. The entire expanse of her abdomen was bare under the tiny strands of crystalled beading that hung, swaying and revealing, from a band just under the fullest part of her breasts. The longest of the strands nearly tickled her belly button and the jewels she wore there. Then the skirt, layers of the same lace and beading, dipping treacherously low in the front, riding the fullest part of her hips. It was a show of power, Mal understood, designed to bring any man she might choose to his knees in front of her, desperate to taste her. The capture didn't show her client that night, if she even had one. He watched only Inara, moving through the night, hair wild around her face, eyes challenging. She was beautiful, unforgettable, bruisingly desirable.

She wouldn't have him on his knees, that was for damn sure.

She'd be the most intoxicating thing he'd ever tasted, heated and dangerous and wild for him. He'd turn her around, gather that hair up in one hand, and sink his teeth into her neck, just below her ear. Holding her there, letting her hair tumble down around him while his hands pulled her top down to find her breasts. She'd moan, rise up on her toes to press back against him, arch her back to follow the abrading heat, the drag of his palms across her nipples. She'd let her head fall back on his shoulder. Inara, restless, one hand pulling his mouth closer, the other at the buttons of his pants. He'd kiss her hot skin and when she moaned bite again, further along down the curve of her neck. while he yanked handfuls of her skirt up and out of the way. He'd find her naked, so ripe for him, impatient and profane, taking no more time or care than he'd shown the lacy top as she freed his diao from his pants and brought it to the soaked petals of her zhi.

And then it seemed he was on his knees after all, but with her above him, against him still, the dress an expensive ruin girdling her hips. Back to front, she'd rise and fall with him. He knew it was his own gluttonous imagination, that were this other than fantasy it might not be so perfect, but in his mind he could watch her face, feel her breath against his neck, see how it would look to fill his hands with her breasts, to watch her nipples darken as he returned to tease again and again. He'd claim her hips, her thighs, he'd wet his fingers in her provocative, needing mouth and then use them on her yin di even as he filled her, even as she rode him. Her thighs spread across his, her reaching hands...she needed as he did, until she broke on top of him, her voice only incoherent triumph, and he broke under her, and the dream became dim and unbounded.