|The Harder they Fall
Author: Ironic Twist PM
Bella Swan had big dreams that were quashed by reality. Now, a momentary indescretion may cost her the little she has. Or maybe it will be the best mistake she's ever made. Edward Cullen's life is perfect. Well, almost. Perhaps these two can help each other out in an unorthodox way.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Friendship - Bella & Edward - Chapters: 56 - Words: 348,581 - Reviews: 10,697 - Favs: 5,293 - Follows: 5,566 - Updated: 09-21-12 - Published: 07-28-09 - id: 5257177
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Thanks to Project Team Beta for their work on this chapter. Visit them at http://community (dot) livejournal (dot) com/ptb_twilight/389 (dot) html
Thanks to Kara, AKA VampireGirl143 for her encouragement!
Disclaimer: All publicly recognized characters, setting, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
"Did you fuck him?" he asked. His voice was low and rough. He sat on the couch in his office, his legs stretched out in front of him, a glass of Scotch in his hand.
I flinched a bit at his crude statement.
"Why do you care?" I was tired of this screwed up game we were playing. It was absurd. Our arrangement had worked well for over a year, but I wanted something more. Not from him, necessarily. I understood, from getting to know him these past months that he was broken, incapable of a real relationship.
I grimaced. The truth of his statement was obvious, but I wondered why he bothered asking. I turned to the dressing room.
"Alice asked me to leave this dress here. I'm going to change." I proceeded to his dressing room door.
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Chapter 1, A Big Mistake
I heard the page as I was walking over to my locker to grab my smock before joining the rest of the cleaning crew.
"Swan, get your luscious ass in here!"
I slammed my locker shut and sighed. James was an asshole, but he was my boss and it wasn't in my best interest to piss him off by either ignoring him or complaining.
I walked to the door separating his office from the general floor. I looked in the large plate glass window that fronted his office and let James keep an eye on the crew. Usually he'd either be absorbed by the mess on his ridiculously huge desk (compensating for something, James?) or staring at the television in the corner. Today his swivel chair was canted off to the side and his head was back, eyes closed. He appeared to be sleeping but the page from just a moment ago let me know he was waiting for me. I took a deep breath and knocked. I saw his eyes pop open.
"In!" was all he said.
The smell hit me first as I opened the door. It was a combination of B.O. and moldy food. We were a cleaning company, for heaven's sake, you'd think that he'd have someone muck out this office from time to time. I exhaled sharply to clear my nose and held my breath as I walked towards his desk. He turned his head and watched me approach.
"It's your lucky day, Swan,"
"How so, James?" I asked.
Our relationship was hardly cordial. I swear he gave me this job nine months ago because he sensed my desperation and had hoped to use it against me. He didn't count on my determination to maintain a steady paycheck. Cleaning companies had notoriously high turnover rates. My fifteen months made me the third most senior employee currently working for Nomad Cleaning.
"Victoria's not available to head the crew tonight. I'm putting you in charge of the job for the evening. Don't fuck it up."
I was confused. Victoria was the only employee, besides James, who had been here longer than me. She was a vindictive bitch and loved giving me the crappiest jobs at every site. She held her position as Crew Chief over me at every opportunity.
"Looks like my GED trumps your BA, Swan," she had said to me when she found out I was a college grad.
However, I had noticed her car in the parking lot when I was walking to work from the bus stop. I knew she was here. James continued before I could say anything.
"Only you in the CEO's office suite, Swan. Don't let any of those filthy shits in there."
My mind was working fast.
"Are you sure, James? Victoria's been heading this crew for a long time."
I didn't want to piss her off, frankly. I needed this job so I would take whatever nasty assignment she forced on me. However I wasn't a masochist. I didn't need her making my life even more of a living hell if she decided that me being put in charge was a threat to her position.
"He's sure, Swan. Now fuck off!" Victoria's voice sounded from behind the desk.
Startled, my head jerked to where Victoria's face had just popped up. She had been down on the floor behind his desk the whole time. We locked gazes for a second before James reached out for a fistful of her curly, red hair. I gasped and fled. I could hear their laughter as the door slammed behind me.
I took a deep breath of the relatively clean air on the general floor and glanced around. The rest of the crew was assembled just waiting for me to start the van.
"Let's go," I said as I grabbed the keys from the board on the wall by James' office door. "Sorry, everyone, we're a man short tonight." My announcement was met with only minimal grumbling. It wasn't unusual for us to be short handed but the rest of the crew knew that Victoria was here, too, and had hoped that meant a lighter workload for everyone. In my opinion, however, the lack of her charming presence would more than make up for the manpower shortage.
Nomad Cleaning had contracts with several large corporations in Chicago, but the most lucrative, by far, was Cullen Enterprises. We had a seven day a week contract and cleaned all 40 floors daily. Victoria cleaned the CEO suite by herself as James didn't trust anyone else. I hadn't ever been in it, but knew my job and was confident that the CEO wouldn't notice any difference – unless it was an improvement.
Pulling into the parking garage below the building, the crew jumped out and headed for the supply shed. After gearing up, we took the elevator and stopped at various floors so the cleaners could get out and start working. When I was alone in the lift, I used the key from Victoria's key ring to override the elevator controls which would allow me access to the penthouse office suite.
38… 39… 40. There was a soft chime and the elevator doors opened. In front of me was a tastefully furnished reception area. Two highly-polished wooden desks faced one another on either side of the room. A sitting area consisting of a brown leather couch and two suede upholstered chairs surrounding a glass coffee table sat between them. Banks of filing cabinets stood along the back wall flanking a huge set of mahogany doors. A plush carpet ran wall to wall in a muted mossy green. The artwork on the walls was obviously original – no cheap reproductions or prints here. Everything about this space was dignified. There were no piles of work on the desks, no discarded food containers, even the trash in the wastebaskets appeared artfully arranged.
After running the vacuum, emptying the trash, watering the plants and wiping away an invisible layer of dust, I approached the large double doors at the back of the room. A small brass plaque mounted on the wall identified the office as belonging to Edward Cullen. Using the passkey on Victoria's key ring I opened the door. It swung open with minimal pressure.
The CEO's office was something out of an interior design magazine. It was huge and looked more like a North Side penthouse than a place where business was conducted. The back wall was glass from floor to ceiling. A desk large enough to have its own zip code stood in front of the windows. Built in bookcases lined the two side walls. A quick study while I dusted the shelves told me that Edward Cullen was man of varied interests. Volumes of poetry shared the shelves with obscure reference books and trade periodicals. A few pictures, of what appeared to be family, were scattered among the literary offerings. A handsome older couple, with their arms around one another, was larger than the rest and I wondered if this was Edward Cullen and his wife. Another smaller picture showed two younger men, side by side. Sons, perhaps? Both looked to be about my age and were incredibly gorgeous, though very different from one another. The bigger one looked like a professional athlete, muscle-bound with dark, curly hair. The leaner one had a shock of unruly bronze hair and a crooked smile that made me catch my breath. Talk about genetically blessed!
As I moved to the opposite bookcase I found more pictures. One was a wedding picture. The big guy from the other picture stood next to a blonde, who was quite possibly the most beautiful woman on earth. Flanking him was the bronze haired man and a tall blonde guy. The women standing next to the blonde were pretty enough, but paled in comparison to the bride. Everyone appeared happy.
I sighed. Well, I suppose it was good to know that someone somewhere was enjoying life.
I continued cleaning the immaculate office. After fluffing the pillows that were scattered on the leather couches, replacing a used lowball glass on the dry bar and wiping down the big screen TV, I moved to one of the two closed doors that were on the same wall as the mahogany doors.
The left side door opened when I tried the handle. I stepped into what was obviously a combination walk-in closet/dressing room. I plugged in the vacuum and went to work on the carpeting while glancing around. The room had racks that held an array of men's dress clothes. Expensive clothes by the feel of them. A shoe rack stood against one wall. I snorted. How many pairs of black dress shoes did one guy need? A lone tuxedo hung in an alcove on one side. I suppose having access to a room like this was convenient for a busy CEO. I briefly allowed myself to imagine a life where attending charity balls and fancy business dinners was common practice.
I maneuvered around the step that was placed in front of a three sided mirror. I guessed Mr. Cullen's tailor made house calls. I started polishing the round wooden table in the middle of the space. Another picture stood here. It was more substantial than those on the bookcase in the main office. A pretty strawberry blonde woman smiled into the camera. Unlike the others this appeared to be a posed shot, not a candid photo. It was inscribed, "To Edward, Yours Tanya."
Hmm, I thought. This was not the same woman in the picture with the handsome older man from the bookcase in the other room. It also wasn't the blonde from the wedding picture. That must mean that the gorgeous bronze haired guy was Edward Cullen. It was likely that the big guy was his brother and the handsome older couple their parents. Edward Cullen had a lot of very pretty people in his life.
I took a quick look around and decided that this space was as clean as it could possibly get before shutting off the light and closing the door. I walked slowly to the door on the other side of the entrance. As I opened the door, the light flickered on automatically. I glanced around casually until my breath caught.
To say it was a bathroom would be an understatement. Nomad had a contract for cleaning a spa downtown and this bathroom put that full service salon to shame. The floor was tiled in an incredible beige marble with veins of rich brown running through it. Stacks of fluffy white towels stood on an elegant rack to the side of an amazing walk-in shower. A granite-topped sink ran the length of the short wall where an antique mirror hung. A discrete open cabinet held various men's toiletries including a razor and what was probably expensive cologne.
I rubbernecked for a moment before my eyes slid back to the walk-in shower. A few drops of water still clung to the clear glass indicating that Mr. Cullen had showered before leaving his office today. I noticed a damp towel and washcloth folded on the bench seat on the other side of the stall. I realized my heart was beating a bit harder as I contemplated the luxurious amenity. Could I…?
A quick look at my watch told me it was just after midnight. We'd been here just over five hours and weren't scheduled to leave until 3 AM. I thought back to my crappy studio apartment. The bathroom was miniscule and the shower barely dripped icy water. I hadn't taken a long or hot shower in what seemed like forever. Without conscious thought I approached the stall and ran my hand over the glass.
I would be expected to clean the inside of the glass and the tile. When I was younger and living with my parents I had always found it easier to clean the shower while, well... showering. I glanced quickly over my shoulder to make sure that I was alone. Of course I was alone. No one else here now had the key necessary to make the elevator come to this floor.
I quickly made up my mind. Pulling off my smock, I kicked off my shoes before shedding the rest of my clothing and taking a washcloth from the pile on the rack. I grabbed the glass and tile cleaner from my supplies. I opened the stall door and reached over to adjust the water. I sprayed down all the surfaces in the shower and stepped into the steamy stall. I quickly wiped down all the surfaces, leaving the wet glass for the end of my shower, when I could squeegee off all traces of my indiscretion.
I grabbed the bar of soap from the soap dish and lathered up the washcloth. I washed myself, enjoying the clean scent of the obviously expensive soap. I squirted facial cleanser into my hand and washed my face before tipping my head back to make sure my hair was thoroughly soaked before reaching for the shampoo bottle. As I lathered up my hair I closed my eyes and luxuriated in the feeling of being warm, wet and thoroughly clean. It felt amazing. I tipped my head back to rinse my hair.
"What in the name of…!"
My eyes snapped open and I looked to the open bathroom door. A man stood there, head turned resolutely to the side as he stared intently at the door jamb, one arm raised in front of him as if fending me off.
Heat that had nothing to do with the temperature of the shower flooded my face as I realized who was standing there -- the bronze haired man from the photographs in the main office! Oh. No.
James' words came floating back to me, "I'm putting you in charge of the job for the evening. Don't fuck it up."
Then I became acutely aware of the present situation. A delayed scream forced its way out of my throat causing the man in the doorway to turn his head to look at me. He quickly turned back.
"There's a robe in the closet," he said. "Make use of it." With that he spun on his heel and closed the bathroom door.
I quickly finished rinsing my hair as my thoughts dissolved into chaos. I'd fucked up. Big time. There was no way to salvage this mess. I'd be lucky if I only lost my job over this. If Nomad Cleaning lost this account because of me there's no telling what James might do. I turned off the water as tears started to trail down my face.
I stepped out of the stall and grabbed the towel I had taken earlier. I draped it over my hair and walked to the closet. A dark blue robe with the initials E.A.C. embroidered over the left breast hung on a wooden hanger. I quickly wrapped the robe around myself and scooped up my clothes from the floor. I wiped my hands across my face to get rid of the tears that were still there. I took a deep breath to try to calm my pounding heart and opened the bathroom door. I felt like a lamb being led to slaughter as I took in the form of Edward Cullen leaning against the newly fluffed pillows on the leather couch in his office. His head was down and he was pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. I took one step out of the bathroom and closed the door behind me.