A/N: Each chapter will be told with the present day and a flashback – so essentially you're getting two stories in one! The plan is for this story to be 8 chapters in length. Enjoy!
Emma Swan hated quarterly meetings.
It seemed kind of ridiculous for a food critic to attend a workshop on trivial matters such as "How to properly assess food" and "Dessert: Is there such a thing as too much sweets?". But as the head food critic for The Boston Herald, it was her job to attend the regional gatherings once every three months (no matter how often she tried to convince her boss that it really wasn't necessary). Having basically grown up in the kitchen – always surrounded by whisks and ovens and frying pans – Emma Swan knew good food (she didn't get into the best culinary school in the North for nothing).
Glancing at her form in the mirror, nose scrunched up in disapproval at the strict business wear, she smoothed out her darkly colored wrinkled skirt with a sigh. Her bare feet were cold on the hardwood of her apartment and she curled up her toes with a chill. Frowning once more, she turned away from the mirror, bounding towards her roommate's room.
"Hey, Ruby. Question," Emma spoke hurriedly as he barged into the brunette's room without so much as a knock, the door swinging wildly behind her and hitting the back wall with a thud.
Ruby exhaled – eyes rolling as always – continuing to fold up her too large pile of laundry and speaking without skipping a beat. "Ever heard of knocking, Em?"
"Can I borrow your black pumps?" the blonde questioned (blatantly disregarding Ruby's rhetorical question in haste), already digging through her friend's rather large collection of shoes.
"What's got you so dressed up?" Ruby asked, her laundry-folding coming to a stop, folding her legs up under her, before she added with a wink, "Hot date?"
"Ooh," she winced, her mouth coming down into a pouty frown, already knowing how much her best friend hated the meetings. "Who's the 'special guest speaker' this time? Rachel Ray?"
Emma snorted at her friend's attempt at joking (Ruby definitely had her own sense of humor), the black pumps dangling in her hands, her bracelets jingling against each other with her shrug. "I don't know. Normally they announce early, but this time they want it to be a surprise apparently. Probably just some old, bald guy as usual."
"Oh fun. Get his number for me?"
Emma laughed, picking up one of the fluffy pillows on Ruby's bed and chunking it at her before walking out, throwing her voice over her shoulder back at her friend who was currently drowning in her pile of clothes. "Shut up. I'll be back later."
Ruby gave a sharp squeal as the pillow made contact with her arms in an attempt to block Emma's attack. The two had been living together for years, thanks to their long standing friendship – and the fact that there was never a dull moment with their usual banter. Rolling her eyes, she gave a muffled yell behind closed doors. "Good luck!"
Slipping her heels on in the hallway, one arm braced against the wall for support, Emma finally took the time to glance at her watch – 11:25 A.M. With the meeting starting in thirty-five minutes and half way across the city – once again grateful that the get-together was being held in Boston this time – Emma knew that she better leave now if she was going to arrive on time (if there was one thing that was ever consistent in her life, it was that she was constantly late. Ruby often complained that she needed to get the phrase "better late than never" cross-stitched to hang in her room).
With one last glance in the hall mirror, she grabbed her keys from the bowl by the door, putting on her black peacoat to brave the autumn chill as she ran down the stairs towards her car. Exhaling into the breeze, Emma reminded herself that if she could brave the next few hours, she would be set for another three peaceful months.
If only she knew.
The meeting hall was already crowded by the time she arrived (tired and completely out of breath - traffic at noon in Boston was pure hell) and, checking her phone, Emma realized that she had arrived with one minute to spare. Just her luck. With a sigh she slipped into a seat in the last row (easier access to the exit as soon as it was over), unbuttoning her thick coat and shrugging it off in the stuffy room.
Not a second later she was pulled out of her thoughts by the screeching of a microphone, causing Emma to wince and grit her teeth.
She hated quarterly meetings.
With three short taps on the microphone, and another round of ear splintering feedback, the middle-aged man in charge took the stage, speaking a little too loudly. "Hello, all! We are just going to jump straight into things because we have a very special guest with us today. Our speaker is a Boston native. He graduated from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in the Professional Chefs Program. Most recently you may know him as the owner and head chef of the highly acclaimed and brand new Dockside Steak and Seafood restaurant right here in Boston. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to Mr. Killian Jones."
Emma's head quickly shot up, mouth hung ajar, her wide eyes easily finding his blue ones on the stage – that same smirk plastered on his face as the last time she saw him ten years ago (had it really been that long?). Checking to see if anyone had noticed her gawking (they hadn't. Most of the ladies were too busy swooning to notice her), she closed her mouth and swallowed thickly, swearing that her heart had stopped beating for a moment.
Glancing around at all of the nearest exits, and taking into account which one would cause less attention, she almost considered leaving right then. When she had told him goodbye all those years ago it was with the intention of never seeing him again. Ever. That's one of the reasons she had never told him the truth – the real reason she had left - back then.
But now he was here. Back in town. Her town. Opening her dream restaurant (well, technically she wanted to open a bakery, but details) - and when she saw that cheeky grin once more on the stage, Emma remembered the reason she had hated him so much back then.
Although the room was silent except for his smooth voice, discussing flavor and savor and some other ridiculous nonsense, it felt like the entire room was ringing loudly in her ears. She couldn't look at him. She couldn't do this. She couldn't just sit here and listen to him give her advice on food.
(She was supposed to graduate. She was supposed to be the one on that stage. And he was now just a reminder of all she had given up).
She still hated him. So, so much.
Sliding down low in her seat, Emma tried her best to inconspicuously stick her headphones in her ears. If she was going to be forced to sit there, there was absolutely no way she was going to listen to anything he had to say (each word a knife to her heart and a remembrance of a different time, when she was carefree and young – all until the incident happened).
The minutes ticked by slowly, Emma never lifting her head once to glance his way (she didn't owe him anything), instead choosing to listen to Pandora and play Candy Crush.
She hated that game – but she hated him more.
Minutes rolled into the next hour and Emma was unaware that she had dozed off until the lady sitting next to her accidentally elbowed her in the ribs with her enthusiastic clapping. Giving a quiet groan and clutching her side as the burning subsided, Emma realized that it was finally over – and they were all clapping for him.
Taking her earphones out and stuffing them in her purse, Emma caught the end of the host's comments, breathing a sigh of relief that she had managed to avoid listening to Killian's lilted voice as much as possible.
"Let's give one more round of applause for the wonderful Killian Jones. He will be sticking around afterwards to answer any questions you may have. Thank you all and we will see you again in three months."
It didn't take long for the crowd to begin bustling, mostly women heading towards Killian – and it's almost guaranteed that they weren't going to go ask for his secret recipe either. Slinging her purse over her shoulder, Emma ran a hand through her blonde curls, sticking closely to the side of the walls with her eyes set on the exit. And then that's when she heard the voice that she had been avoiding all night, and he was calling her name.
"Emma? Emma Swan?"
With her heart rate increasing, Emma continued walking, purposefully ignoring him as best as possible until she felt his hand wrap around her arm (warm and soft and oh god she was in deep trouble).
"Swan, is it really you?"
Exhaling shakily and standing up a little straighter, she moved to finally face him. Better to brave it than to be known as a coward. Still avoiding his gaze (she wasn't even looking anywhere near his face but the intensity of the blue was burning straight through her soul), Emma gave a noncommittal shrug.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Jones." Her voice was formal and sharp, tone bitter and seeping with disdain. If he was going to try to hold one of those awkward "how have you been – it's been too long" conversations, she was going to attempt to keep it as brief as possible.
"You know it's just Killian, love. Gods, Swan. I can't believe it's really you! I thought I'd never see you again," his voice was light and full of complete joy, mirroring his eyes (no where near the reaction she had received when they attended culinary school together). When Killian moved in to give her a hug, Emma stiffened, taking a short step back to put some distance and keep the conversation professional.
"It's Miss Swan," she reminded him, tightening her hold on her purse strap until her knuckles began to turn white.
Killian playfully rolled his eyes, shy smile nothing like she had ever seen before. How much could he have changed in ten years?
"So what have you been doing all this time? I'm sure you have a world-class bakery somewhere, just like you always dreamed, correct?"
"I'm a food critic, Mr. Jones. Why do you think I am here at the quarterly food critic meeting? I can assure you it is not for fun." Once again, she bit out the words to him, finally connecting with his gaze to give him the glare he deserved.
"Well in that case," he started, tongue in cheek, reaching into his suit pocket to pull out a business card, "here is my business card. I just opened a new restaurant down by the waterfront. I'm sure you heard about it. I'd love to have you stop by sometime and give us a review."
Emma snatched the card from his hands, glancing down at it and then back up to him.
"Or if you would prefer, m'lady, you are always welcome to give me a call for some more enjoyable activities."
And there was the old Killian Jones, throwing a flirty wink her way as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his dark suit, tongue running obscenely across his bottom lip. Allowing herself to give in to the temptation just once, she swiftly admired his form. He was taller than he was in college; more built (and god, with those biceps he had to work out). His hair was shorter, messier and he had that whole "just rolled out of bed-sex look" going on for him.
No wonder the women still threw themselves at him. Those ten years had definitely been good to him.
Catching herself, Emma pulled herself back into the professional shell, lifting her chin to give him a curt goodbye. "We will take it under consideration. Have a nice afternoon, Mr. Jones."
Turning on her heels, Emma exhaled to the rhythm of the clenching and unclenching of her fists, ignoring the voice calling from behind her ("Hope to see you again soon, Swan!").
She really hated quarterly meetings.
Ten Years Earlier
She was so late.
It was not a good first impression to be late on the first day of college classes (especially when you had already practically begged the Dean to let you in because you applied too late). Emma had tossed the idea around for too long before finally deciding on the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts – the summer after graduating high school.
Late admission made you look bad. Being late to the first day made you look even worse.
After circling the parking lot for ten minutes just praying for a place to open up (it wouldn't, it was already past 8:00 A.M.), she finally decided to park in the grass, ignoring the "No Parking" sign and barely cutting her car off before sprinting towards the classroom.
By the time she had arrived at the classroom, Emma was completely out of breath, her chest tightening promptly inside – she was so worried about being late that she had barely had time to concentrate on how nervous she actually was. College was going to be different from high school. All of her friends were scattered throughout the United States to Stanford and Princeton and even Harvard. Starting culinary school meant a whole new set of friends. New people to surround herself with.
With a huff, Emma slung the door open (her blonde hair matted to her sticky forehead – she probably looked like a complete wreck). All eyes turned towards her and she could feel her face growing redder by the second.
"Well, good morning, Miss…?" The professor gave a sigh of annoyance before digging around on the desk to find the roster.
"Swan. Emma Swan."
The professor – Emma glanced behind her towards the white board to read 'Miss Mills' written across it – slid her glasses back up her nose to give a stern look towards the blonde. "So glad you could finally join us, Miss Swan. I'll let it slide because it's the first day but don't be late next time. Why don't you take a seat in the back next to Mr…?"
Miss Mills took the moment to scan the roster once more before a male voice from the back finished the sentence for her.
No. No way. This could not be happening.
Sure enough though, when Emma set her vision towards the back, blue irises and a cheeky grin where all she could see (already burned into her memory from countless days of attending high school together). Emma could feel the frustration boiling up inside. This was supposed to be a fresh start. But no, the universe apparently hated her and out of all of her classmates, Killian Jones – her biggest rival – had chosen to attend the exact same culinary school as her.
Sulking (internally, at least, she did not want Killian to have the privilege of thinking he had already won), Emma made her way back to the last table, intentionally scooting her stool further away from him before plopping down with a groan.
Through her peripheral vision, Emma could see Killian turn towards her, sticking his hand out jokingly for her to shake.
"Killian Jones," he teased. The bastard was a complete idiot, "introducing" himself as if she didn't know already who he was.
She did not give him the satisfaction, keeping her eyes focused on Miss Mills and the annoyingly long syllabus that she was droning on and on about.
When she didn't abruptly respond, Emma heard his chuckle (dark and throaty and it just ate at her from the inside out hearing that laugh again). "Ah, come on, Swan. I'm just trying to be friendly."
Emma felt like exploding. Was he seriously pulling this stunt already? Willing herself to stay calm, she cautiously turned towards him, whispering low so that they would not disturb the rest of the class.
"Out of all the culinary schools in the world, you just had to pick this one."
Killian clicked his tongue, shaking his head, smug look and all. "Now, now, lass. I applied early in our senior year. If I remember correctly, on graduation night, you still had yet to apply to a school. So the proper question would be, why did you pick this one?"
He was right. God, she hated to admit it (she'd rather die from a thousand burning suns that admit to his face that he was right). Instead of responding, Emma pulled out her notebook and pretended to take notes, feeling him scoot closer towards her so that their stools were paired, thigh-to-thigh. The heat that was him radiated against her and she felt a lump in her throat the size of Boston that was almost impossible to swallow. (She would be lying if she said that he was not attractive. He was – and he knew it. But every single time he opened his mouth was a reminder of what made him, well, less attractive).
Leaning in close, she could feel his lips barely ghosting against her ear, speaking so low that only she could hear. "Just couldn't stay away from me could you, love?"
"Shut up, Jones," Emma spat, eyes still focused forward.
"Nonetheless," he shrugged, moving back in his stool, and purposefully grazing his finger against her bare arm, feeling the pride swell inside at the goosebumps that covered her flesh. "I am not disappointed, Swan. Rivalry makes me a better man, and an even better chef."
Unable to stand it any longer, Emma finally angled her body towards his, bringing a smug look upon her face to match his, eyebrows arching just the same. "We'll see about that."