Welcome to my new story! This one will be a little different from what I've written before, so I hope you enjoy the change.

A million thanks to beachcomberlc for editing again, and also to Deebelle1 for not only pre-reading but making the fuckawesome banners too.

In addition, I'd like to thank The International House of FanFic for featuring Abandoned Heart on their "One from the Elevator." If you haven't checked out their site, do it! Great story recs.

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight or its characters. No copyright infringement is intended. The plot, however, is all mine.

Chapter 1

"Are you serious?" I mumbled to myself while staring at the nearly lifeless body next to me. "Nice choice, Bella."

This night definitely did not turn out the way I had hoped. Taylor or Tyler—whatever the hell his name was—fell asleep the second he came back from disposing of the condom. His snores were loud and obnoxious, but at least they meant I wouldn't need to make any excuses to leave. And why shouldn't he fall right to sleep? He got his. Too bad he didn't bother taking care of me.

I counted in my head as soon as the snoring started. When I reached one hundred twenty without a break in the noise I knew I was home free. I slipped out of bed and grabbed my clothing, pulling each piece on as I went. By the time I got to the living room of his small apartment, I was shaking my head in disgust. The ridiculously messy state of his bachelor pad should have given me a clue that he'd be selfish, but I hadn't looked around on the way in. In my experience, guys who kept their place neat were typically more giving, while the slobs only cared about themselves.

Oh well. Live and learn.

He seemed like a nice guy when I met him at the bar, but then again I was already three sheets to the wind. His South African accent and dark, good looks drew me in, and he wasn't a bad kisser either. By the time we'd made it to his apartment it's not like I would have had any other options anyway.

I made sure I had my keys, cell phone and wallet before letting myself out into the hallway. I gripped the pepper spray on my key ring in my hand as I walked down the dimly lit stairs and out into the crisp evening air. It was only a few blocks to my apartment, but you could never be too careful. My father taught me that, along with several self defense moves, before he abandoned me.

I'm sorry.

The note flashed in my mind before I had a chance to block out the memory. I squeezed my eyes shut so I wouldn't see what came next, effectively pushing the demons away. My eyes reopened once I had myself under control, though my hands continued to shake slightly.

I sighed as I hustled down the street. There was no sense going down memory lane after the night I'd just had. I still had enough alcohol flowing through my system to make me an emotional mess.

The loud crying started before I even had the key in the door of my apartment. It was like she had super senses. Maybe she did … she was a cat after all.

I dropped my keys and cell phone onto the table by the door before bending down to pick up the only one who would never willingly abandon me. She cried again but butted her head against my chin.

"I didn't even need to use you as an excuse tonight, Sandy." She meowed some more and licked my nose. I scrunched it up against her stinky breath. "I'll never understand why you do that, but thanks for the dermabrasion. No need for the Biore strips now."

She wiggled to get down so I let her go and made my way to bed. It looked like my Rabbit was going to get a workout tonight if I ever wanted to fall asleep since Tim or Tom or whoever the fuck he was hadn't gotten the job done. I definitely needed the sleep, which was why I thought going out on a Tuesday night had been a good idea in the first place. I figured I'd either end up getting a good release or getting so drunk I'd pass out. Neither happened, but my Rabbit wouldn't let me down.

The blaring alarm went off way too early. I groaned before slapping my hand over it and forcing myself to sit up. If I didn't, I'd fall right back to sleep. I had a meeting with my boss this morning about some big project she wanted me to work on so I couldn't be late. I was always the last one in the office anyway. As soon as I started moving from the bed, Sandy scrambled from where she was cuddled up by my hip and ran out of the room.

I dragged myself into the kitchen and made a cup of coffee which I chugged black—along with some ibuprofen—before I got into the shower to start my day. If it weren't for needing water in the fancy coffee maker, I'd just move it into the bedroom. The kitchen always seemed like it was so far away when I hadn't had a hit of caffeine yet.

I got dressed in my business casual attire, which consisted of a pair of formfitting khaki pants and a green silk blouse, threw my wet hair up in a bun and headed back to the kitchen. Since I didn't have a client-facing job, I never had to get dressed up like some of the other people in my office. It was nice to be able to stay low maintenance at work. It wasn't like I was trying to impress anyone. The last thing I needed was someone from the office hitting on me. I didn't date, and it would just make things awkward to have to fend off advances in the workplace.

I filled my travel mug with more coffee, this time doctoring it up with flavored creamer. I would actually enjoy this cup on the short walk to the office. I refilled Sandy's food and water bowls before gathering my briefcase and other essentials and heading out to work.

I got off the elevator in the lobby of the thirty-sixth floor and swiped my key card over the access panel of the door to the Human Resources department of Worldwide Insurance. When the lock clicked open, I entered the secured area.

"Morning, Bella!" Shelly's cheery voice sang across the enclosed space. I only grumbled in response. She knew I wasn't a morning person. "Rough night?"

I put my coffee mug on my desk and dropped my briefcase off my shoulder. It landed on the floor with a thud, and I cringed, hoping I hadn't damaged my laptop. "Something like that." I really didn't feel like discussing my disappointing one night stand with someone who had been happily married for longer than I'd been alive.

I started digging my laptop out of my bag when Esme breezed out of her office, perfectly put together and raring to go. "Oh good, you're here," she said as I set the computer on the docking station and turned it on. "I'll give you a few minutes to settle in. Just come in whenever you're ready."

"Sure, Esme. Let me just refill my coffee and then I'll be in."

She shook her head at me. "I don't know how you can drink so much coffee without putting something in your stomach. I swear, Bella, one of these days you're going to end up with an ulcer."

"That'll be the least of my problems," I mumbled under my breath.

Ten minutes later, with my notepad in one hand and a fresh cup of coffee in the other, I knocked on Esme's open doorframe. "Come on in and close the door," she answered.

Closed doors were the norm around here considering we tended to work with confidential information. I took a seat in one of the comfortable leather chairs across from Esme's desk. I always wondered why she had comfortable furniture in her office when every other office was stylishly outfitted with crap that looked good but gave you a backache as soon as your ass hit the seat. My best guess was if you were going to fire someone, you may as well make them comfortable while you did it.

I took a sip of my coffee and set it down on the edge of her desk, keeping my notepad in my lap.

"I have a big project that I need you to head up," Esme started in her no-nonsense voice. She was a sweet and caring woman, practically a mother to everyone in the office, but when something needed to be done, she didn't waste any time. "The corporate office has ordered Carlisle to 'find efficiencies and increase productivity.'" She rolled her eyes while finger quoting. "They've hired an efficiency expert to come in here and work with us to make changes. This will be announced to the rest of the office this afternoon."

"Okay," I said, still unsure of what this had to do with me. I took another sip of coffee while I listened.

"It's a six month project—" I noted that on my notepad "—and I want you to be the point of contact for whatever this guy needs. As our trainer, I know you can help him find the right people, set up meetings, create training programs, or whatever he determines we need to do." I nodded and she continued. "He'll be arriving tomorrow and getting started right away. You may as well block your calendar for the next few days to work with him until you can determine exactly what you'll need to help him with and what he'll be able to do on his own."

I continued taking notes as I scrunched up my nose, picturing spending the next few days or weeks locked in a conference room with some fat, balding "efficiency expert."

"Will he be set up on our systems?" I asked.

Esme nodded. "I already put in the request with IT to have him added as a contractor to our email and web systems, but you'll need to individually request any internal systems that he needs as you determine what they are. I assume at some point he'll need access to the underwriting workstation and claim files, but I'll leave all that to you."

We discussed some more details before I left Esme's office and got started on preparations. I rescheduled some one on one training sessions that I had coming up and booked a small conference room for the guy to use while he was here. We had some empty workstations that were set up for contractors, but I had a feeling this guy was going to need more space than a half cubicle.

After lunch, which I bought from the cafeteria but ate at my desk as usual, I attended the all-employee meeting headed by our regional president, and Esme's husband, Carlisle. He was a charismatic speaker and everyone loved him, but even Carlisle had trouble sugarcoating the fact that our corporate office thought expenses were too high. He tried to put a positive spin on gaining efficiencies. It fell flat even to my ears. When the employees were told it was likely for some of them to be chosen as experts in their departments and they'd need to spend time with this guy to help out, the grumbling was audible.

Of course no one would want to volunteer. It wasn't like their regular jobs would go away, and now they'd have to dedicate time to helping this guy find efficiencies. It would land on me to appoint people to help with the project. We all also knew there was the possibility of cutting jobs any time something like this happened. I wasn't too fearful for my own job, but I could understand an underwriting assistant suddenly becoming obsolete when a faster way to enter data was found.

Knowing I'd need to be at my best the following day when I met with this guy, I knocked back two Tylenol PM with my glass of wine before bed. It wasn't the greatest option, but I hadn't had solid sleep in about a week.

I was much more rested when my alarm went off in the morning, although it took me a minute to shoo Sandy off of my hair so I could lift my head. After my traditional first jolt of caffeine, I took a little extra time getting ready for work, drying my hair and leaving it flowing in loose waves down my back. I dressed a little nicer also, opting for a knee length black skirt and a deep purple blouse. I skipped pantyhose since the early September weather was still warm during the day but did add a touch of makeup.

Shelly's greeting actually elicited a smile from me as I began to set up my laptop, but I groaned as I saw two wrapped gifts on my desk. Every year I told them to let the day go by like any other day, but Esme and Shelly always made sure to acknowledge my birthday.

I opened a small box wrapped in colorful paper first after reading the tag, which indicated it was from Shelly. Inside I found a lovely beaded bookmark that would hang between the pages of whatever I was reading.

"Thank you, Shelly," I called over to her. "It's perfect."

"It's my pleasure, dear. I know how much you enjoy reading real books instead of those electronic things everyone has these days."

I gave her a smile as I started digging in to the larger package, which was from Esme and Carlisle. The gift bag contained a leather bound journal and an expensive looking pen. I wondered briefly if they conspired to buy me things for my two passions—reading and writing.

I placed the journal and pen on the end of my desk and went to Esme's open door.

"Good morning," she said when she saw me standing there.

"Morning," I responded brightly. "Thank you for the journal and the pen. They're great."

She waved me off as if her thoughtfulness was nothing. "Oh, Carlisle is meeting with the consultant this morning to go over the corporate goals, and then he wants to take us to lunch today so we can both meet him before you get started this afternoon."

I nodded my agreement and decided I could use the morning to tie up a few loose ends before I immersed myself in this new project. I proofread a revised training manual and then printed it out for Esme's approval. She returned it to me half an hour later with no changes, so I was able to distribute it to the appropriate department and cross it off my "to do" list.

Right around twelve fifteen, I heard the door lock disengage and Carlisle opened the door.

"Your access card won't allow you entry here, so you'll have to ring the buzzer for someone to let you in," he said as he led someone into our department. He came to Shelly's desk first and stopped to introduce the person, but I didn't hear a word he said.

My eyes were fixed on the guy I assumed was the consultant, who was neither fat nor bald. He was tall and thin but filled out his suit perfectly, with hair that ranged in color from brown to red to blond and was situated in an artful mess on his head. I noted a sharp jaw and high cheekbones along with a strong-looking nose. Something Shelly said made him laugh, and he threw his head back, letting out a rich sound that settled low in my gut.

And then he turned to face me, intense green eyes staring into mine with some kind of strange emotion. I forced my focus away from that.

I didn't do emotion, and especially not with someone I had to work with. I had carved out a safe little bubble for myself, and that was where I would stay.

Carlisle's voice broke our wordless interchange. "And this is Bella Swan. Bella, I'd like you to meet Edward Masen."

A/N: I will be posting on Mondays and Thursdays until the story is complete. Teasers will be posted on my Facebook page since the fanfic world seems to have lost most of our teaser sites. Link to Facebook is in my profile. If you have sent me a friend request and I have not responded, please PM me. If I can't see that you are 18 from your public profile, I may not have accepted your request.

The Twilight Science-Fantasy Contest is coming! Submissions are being accepted now through May 15, 2014. Search for author twiscififantasycontest on FFN.

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