What's Love Got To Do With It?
Diana DeRiggs and Csillag

Xaela originally appeared in My Place In His World.

* * * **** * * *

"Xaela!" Bror Jace bellowed out the door, "Xaela!"

It was uncharacteristic of the heir to the Xucphra Entity to yell at his assistant. Even though she was a servant, he grew up with Xaela and trusted her for everything. He had also been raised to firmly believe that one must treat servants even better than one treats one's friends. They cooked his meals, drove his speeders, piloted his trade ships, took out his trash, did his laundry -- they did everything to enable him to concentrate on the business of producing and selling Bacta to the galaxy. He knew that his servants were completely faithful to him, and he would never abuse his relationship with them.

But he couldn't help yelling for his housekeeper and head accountant. He was in a really, really bad mood. Besides, Xaela was special and he knew she understood everything.

He'd had a disastrous date with a gorgeous, nubile, rich, well-connected, vapid airhead. He hadn't chosen her; he had been ordered by the Directors of the Xucphra Entity to court this woman for fiscal and political gain. An "alliance" between her family and his would be powerful, indeed.

Though she was as beautiful as advertised, she was otherwise a disappointment. She had refused to leave her expensive wrap at the cloak check, not because she was cold, but because, "I don't trust them. Do you know how much this wrap is worth???" He knew that in terms of restaurant etiquette, this normally resulted in a bad table. But Xaela, who had made all the arrangements, had tipped the maître d' and staff extra credits in advance, so Bror would not risk being seated in what is considered the "Hoth" section of the dining room. The semi-private mezzanine level alcove was a good place to be seen, yet to be left alone to eat and converse in peace.

Normally, menus are brought out, but once again, Xaela had made the arrangements, and there was no awkward fumbling with lists of offerings. Bror detested the "menu dance" and negotiations, so the pre-ordered meal was served without this ritual. However, for the benefit of the beautiful woman, a written menu for the evening was set out by her place setting, and the servers murmurred the name of the dish, to confirm for the couple what they were eating. It was generally considered a wonderful, sweet touch.

But seeing bantha on the menu, the beautiful girl committed an uncomfortable social faux pas and protested. She did not eat bantha; she thought they were cute and she couldn't bear it. Bror's jaw locked firmly when she told the server she wanted the "gornt o'poove" from the regular menu. He struggled not to correct her as he heard her mispronounce the name of the selection. Au Poivre, he said to himself, and obviously, gornt are not "cute" enough not to eat ... When it came, she took a bite and spit it out, "Why did they put all these nasty peppercorns all over this??"

Because, he gritted his teeth, setting his jaw more firmly, Au Poivre means "with peppercorns" ...

* * * * *

Bror was not yet married, and the Xucphra Directors were concerned that he had not produced an heir. He had dated, stayed with many women -- eligible and ineligible -- but none had taken his fancy as the possible future matriarch of the Entity. The Xucphra decided to take it into their own hands, determining that it was time to select a mate for him.

He had protested, pointing out that he was busy, business was burgeoning, he'd get around to it! They ignored him, ordering Bror to start dating Eliette Kauthmin, heiress to mining and weapons manufacturing fortunes. The Directors had reasoned with him that not only was she would be a political and financial ally and expand the family's portfolios nicely, but she was also young, beautiful, the same species as him, and likely to produce many children.

But after that awful date, Bror prepared his arguements by researching the Kauthmin business and any information available about Eliette herself. Xaela helped him, of course, but she tried to keep her opinions to herself -- some of the information was terrible, even unsavory! She needn't have bothered, because Bror felt the same way. They discovered Eliette might not be as young as the Directors had indicated, and that she might have had a career as a starlet actress. There were also rumors that she had "acted" in pornography holos, but they had been destroyed by her family, making proving this possibility difficult.

She "officially" had a humanities degree from a significant university, but neither Bror nor Xaela could find her transcript of classes. They feared that meant her degree had been "purchased," rather than "earned."

They also learned that the family had faked it's past; they were "new rich" having risen up through the ranks of the Kathmin company. It seemed they had been the equivalent of peasants, and through deaths, fortuitous placement, and intrigue, they eventually took control of the company. To mask their background, they took the name of the family who had formerly owned the weapons manufacturer.

Bror brought his research to the Directors. They ignored it, asking him why it was important where the family had come from? The point was that a marriage made between the Xucphra and Kathmin would be one made in fiscal and political heaven. You MUST marry the girl, they ordered. And no excuses!

"But I don't love her! I'll never love her!" Even Xaela was surprised at her master's impassioned plea.

The Directors looked at him coldly, "This is about marriage, boy. What does love have to do with marriage?"

Dumbfounded, Bror shut his mouth. He wasn't going to get anywhere with them. They went on to explain that marriage was not about love. It was about political union with another powerful entity, hopefully in a manner complementary to both parties. As for love, they smirked at his idea. Love? That was something ephemeral and temporary. That's something you reserve for a mistress. Or a pet.

* * * * *

He recalled that before the date, he had yelled for his faithful Xaela. She had come running with a new shirt; she knew the one he was presented with by the valet was inappropriate, and so had hurried off to get a replacement cleaned and pressed. She forgave her master everything; she understood the importance of this date. He didn't want to go, but he would not have this Eliette woman report that he was unwilling or wanting in any way.

He needn't have bothered, of course. The woman was a boor. It was a complete waste of a Valentine's Day. Love or no love, he was NOT going to marry her.

* * * * *

Xaela had called for the masseuse so that her master could opt to have the stressknots in his body's muscles worked on while they discussed how to break the news to the Directors that he would not be considering Eliette Kauthmin for partnerhood. It would not be easy.

"I have an idea, Master Bror," Xaela's voice was calm, "but it will require you to invite another date with that woman." Bror didn't like referring to his date by her name. He somehow felt she didn't deserve a name.

He didn't open his eyes, "No."

"But her lack of refinement, her questionable career as an actress, and general lack of intelligence are not concerns to the Directors," Xaela knew better than to wheedle, so just presented the facts, "What could possibly persuade the Directors that she and/or her family's company is an unsuitable candidate for merger?"

"Tell me." She could tell Bror was very grumpy.

"Financial insolvency, political alliance with an enemy, or if she's barren."

Bror snorted as the masseuse pounded his spine, "She'll be barren. I have no interest in taking her to bed. But how to prove it?"

Xaela allowed herself a smile, "With all due respect, my Master, it might be simpler to work on the other two possibilities. It doesn't have to be completely real; a scandal would do."

Opening one eye, he peered at his housekeeper/secretary, "Ooh, tell me this is going to involve fraud ... I like fraud."

She shook her head, but smiled, "Not fraud. Simply deception. Trust me?"

He opened both eyes now and looked into his housekeeper's eyes, "Of course." And he meant it.

* * * * *

"Bror, sweetie, I like you, I really do. You're really hot, you're cute and all. Thanks for the invitation, but I have to wash my hair or something." Bror was very happy that the comlink didn't carry visual data. He was looking relieved yet perplexed. Whatever Xaela had done, it had worked. Eliette Kauthmin had rejected him! Normally, that would be a blow to his ego, but he was more happy that he would not need to explain anything to the Directors.

After a geniunely felt goodbye, he switched channels to receive a message from Mirax Terrik Horn, with whom his family often did business in rare art and reproductions. Mirax had a real head for trade rumors and analysis, and he sent a lot of business her way simply because her data and reports were so useful to him. Being the daughter of smuggler Booster Terrik and the wife of his nemesis Corran Horn, one would think that Bror would avoid the woman. But Bror was not one to let petty emotions get in the way of his business dealings.

"Bror, I just want you to know, your credit is always good with me. You don't need to worry about paying me immediately." Mirax's voice was filled with concern.

Huh? "Mirax, what are you talking about? Did Xaela forget to transfer credits to your account? That's not like her!"

There was silence, but the normal transmission crackling continued, indicating the line was still open. "Mirax? Are you there?" He worried that something might have happened to her, and he started to try to track her to make sure she wasn't injured or otherwise unable to speak.

"Yeah ... Bror, I'm sorry if this is coming to you out of the blue. I assumed you knew ..." Mirax's voice was now full of confusion. "It's just that ... well, I heard that the price of Bacta had fallen because of the invention of new curative ointments on Ithor ..."

HUH?!? "Mirax ... what are you saying?" But this time, the connection had broken and instead of the background hissing he expected, he simply got dead air.

Now he felt panicky. Something had happened that would adversely affect the price of Bacta?? "Xael-"

Before he could call out her name, she was already there. She gestured for him to enter the surveillance-proof chamber. Once there, Bror started cursing loudly, "Why wasn't I told? What's this about some new ointment from Ithor?? I'm not prepared, don't you realize what this means for Xucphra? For Thyferr--"

He stopped because Xaela was sitting calmly, as she usually did, but there was mirth in her eyes. The two stared at one another for long seconds before Bror suddenly understood, "You? You created a rumor that is killing our profits??"

"Master," sometimes Xaela's impeturbability was maddening, "what would it have been worth to you to not have to see Eliette Kauthmin again? A million credits? Two million?"

Bror blinked at her, "You lost two million credits on our stock to make me financially unattractive?" So THAT'S why that woman doesn't want to see me anymore!

"Eight million so far, Master, and rising," it was not Xaela's nature to hide information from Bror, especially when asked directly, "but all will be recovered; I given the command to sell some other stock I purchased on speculation. Don't be upset; you remember the things that would make her unpatalable to our Directorate? It turns out those same things would make you a non-candidate for the Kauthmin Directorate, as well. And it's much simpler to control our financial rumors than to trash theirs."

He remembered what she had said to him about using scandal and deception to get rid of Eliette Kauthmin, "Well put, and not that I'm ungrateful, but this is not an insignificant loss, Xaela. You're the accountant, you should know this! Why wasn't I tol--"

"Yes, Master," she interrupted him simply, "I've purchased Kauthmin Mining and Manufacturing stock, before the share prices rose due to rumors of a merger with Xucphra. I also sold it in intervals, shortly before rumors that such a merger had been nixed hit the share floor. The stock sales are not traceable to me or to Xucphra." He liked that Xaela never looked smug.

"Final tally?" How could he ever have doubted her? Reliable, trustworthy, how come women aren't like Xaela?

"We can stand to lose another 15 million credits before it becomes uncomfortable for us, Master. And when it's revealed that the Bacta-replacement ointment is simply a rumor (based somewhat on research rumors I took care to plant), our prices will spike, then stabilize."

There were times Bror wished Xaela was not a servant. True, part of her uncanny abilities and compatibility with Bror were due to her privileged upbringing and education. But a lot was just her native talent. She was a genius in many things, including being sneaky. Perhaps it was endemic to her entire species; he often found members of that race to be remarkably clever.

A thought passed through his head, and it was vaguely disturbing. He suddenly understood what the Directors were telling him: marriage and love were exclusive commodities. Find a girl who will make a good matron, and marry her. Save love for something else.

Too bad, he watched her leave the room, she'd otherwise be the perfect matron for Xucphra ...

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