A/N: Hello everyone, and welcome to our new story. We are really excited about this one, and looking forward to this adventure that will be quite a change of pace from Stupid Volvo Owner. This story is also being highlighted on FicSisters this morning, so we are also so psyched about that as well :) As well as a a brief description of how this story came about, there will also be a teaser for Chapter 2.
Hope you all enjoy :)
A blur flashed past Edward Cullen's office, with muttered obscenities he'd been expecting since he'd read the office-wide email minutes earlier. The door across from his slammed, followed by an audible "Argh!", and he watched as the source of the ruckus dropped her bag on the floor, the folders in her arm flew across the desk, and she sat hard in her chair.
Grabbing his jacket from the back of his chair, he powered off his monitor and made his way over to her door, tapping twice with his knuckles before cracking it open. Her face spun toward him with a few tears streaming down her cheeks, but those weren't any ordinary tears. Her eyes were nearly black, her jaw clenched, and her nostrils flared with every breath; she was angry, and deservedly so. "Come on, grab your purse and let's get out of here."
Bella shook her head, leaning back in her chair with a frustrated sigh. "I'm fine, Edward. I just need a few minutes."
"I've heard, and you're not fine. Let's go, first round is on me," Edward insisted, nodding toward the doors. She returned her gaze to him with a raised eyebrow. "And the second."
She sighed in resignation, glancing down at the mess she'd created on her desk, and nodded. "Yeah, I guess it wouldn't hurt to cut out five minutes early on a Friday like this. Wouldn't want to rip any pompous asshole's head off or anything when he arrives to gloat. And it's not like I haven't put in a shitload of overtime for absolutely nothing lately."
She was rambling, an indication of how angry she was, and for a good reason. Edward leaned against the doorframe, waiting as she stacked the folders into a pile again and then grabbed her purse from the desk drawer. She blew by him, noticeably ignoring the stares and whispers around her as they made their way to the front exit.
Five minutes later, they sat side by side at the bar just around the corner from their office building. It wasn't the first time they had done this. In the three years since Bella had come to work for Sherman & Associates Architectural Firm, she and Edward had developed both a professional and personal rapport. They admired one another's work, which had led to the occasional shared lunch or drink after work, and to what had become a genuine friendship. So the current situation was nothing new for them.
"Corona and a double shot of tequila," Bella said, removing the pin from her hair and letting dark waves fall around her shoulders.
Well, that was new. Only twice before had Edward seen her drink anything but a couple glasses of wine, or if it was a special occasion like her birthday, something along the lines of a Piña Colada. Once was when her landlord had opted to not renew her lease, even though she had never missed a rent payment, claiming damage to property. And the other was when her boyfriend admitted to cheating on her. Yet, even then, she'd only switched over to beer or liquor … not both.
She wasn't just angry, she was livid.
After tossing back her shot, she began shaking her head, her features still tight. "I've just had it, you know? I am so sick and tired of it all. You know how hard I worked on that design, and he did nothing. My ideas, my concepts, my work, and he gets lead? All because he's the bosses' nephew. And then, the cherry on top, I'm not even on the team. All that work, and I'm just going to have to hand it over. This is bullshit!"
Edward tipped his own beer to his lips and nodded. "I couldn't agree more. And everyone knows he spends more time on Facebook and texting his girlfriend than actually working. So, who knows, maybe him blowing this opportunity as we all know he will could be the last straw to open his uncle's eyes."
"I've already reached my last straw," Bella answered, flagging down the bartender to order another shot, while simultaneously taking a few prolonged swallows of her beer. "I can't stand the office politics anymore. When drive and hard work are overshadowed by who you know or are related to, this is not a place I want to be. Or can afford to be for that matter, if I ever want to get anywhere. I'm not content to sit on my ass and do the same boring thing that requires minimal thought or creativity, or fuck, even architectural knowledge whatsoever. A third grader's stick figures are more innovative than anything that asswipe could ever come up with on his own. I think it's time I start looking for a new job."
Her statement gave Edward pause, bringing him to set his beer down on the bar and turn his head toward her. "You're considering leaving?"
"No, I've been considering leaving for a while now, in the back of my mind. I don't want to be one of those people who sits idle in a job that will get them nowhere, just because it's secure and they are too scared to take the shot at something better, you know?" Bella replied, shrugging her shoulders. "For three years, I've worked my ass off, and for what? To sit and do the same shit year after year. No growth, no challenge. Every time I strive for something better, all I'm left with is the self-doubt and wondering what I could have done better or different. This time, I know there was nothing. I did everything right, and I still got fucked over. I could do so much better than this shit, even if I have to work my way up from the bottom all over again. They are so archaic and misogynistic. We lost some great potential clients that could get the company's name in magazines because of their attitudes."
"That's very true." Edward's voice was somewhat distant as he distractedly nursed his beer.
That caused her to cock an eyebrow in question. "Am I wrong?"
"No, I just said that was true, Bella."
"Yeah, with that look."
"That one," she emphasized, pointing to his face. His thick brown eyebrows furrowed further, and her calling him out had him running his hands over his unruly reddish-brown hair. "See, I know that look. I've seen that look, and it always preludes something you have to say. So say it."
The last time she seen it…well, she didn't want to think about it. It wasn't the time or the place.
Edward schooled his features, but his game face was just as familiar to her. "There was no look. I was just thinking."
Bella turned on her stool, with her elbow resting on the bar to look at him. "Spill it, Edward."
"Wow, tequila makes you bossy," Edward taunted with a grin, causing her to narrow her eyes at him. His features turned serious again and he shifted to face her directly as well. "There has been something I've wanted to talk to you about for a while now. I put my notice in four days ago."
Bella's hand flew up to her mouth to keep from spewing beer all over him in her shock at his sudden revelation, her eyes widened as far as they would go, until she composed herself enough to swallow. "You what? You're leaving? Why didn't you tell me? And how didn't news like that spread through the entire building in thirty seconds flat? What the hell, Edward!"
"If you'll let me get a word in edgewise, I will explain," he replied, causing her to give a frustrated sigh and purse her lips with her eyes staring at the ceiling for a moment. Once she had brought her gaze back to him and folded her arms over her chest, he continued. "First of all, the partners asked me to keep it quiet for now, and they are still trying to throw numbers around to try and convince me to stay. I won't take any of it, because my mind is firmly made up, but I didn't want to distract you, either. Your focus was on this project, and I was so sure you were going to get it. And if you did, I knew what a huge opportunity that would be for you, so there was no way I was going to stand in the way of that."
"Edward," Bella interrupted, snapping her fingers in front of him to catch his attention. "You're rambling. What are you talking about?"
"I'm going freelance. I've stopped taking on new clients for the firm and I am wrapping up the projects I can within the next month, and anything else will be delegated out. And for essentially the same reasons you just gave," Edward answered with a shrug. "And what could be more of a challenge than starting your own business, right?"
"Wow, that's pretty amazing, and not to mention daring. You're serious about this."
"Very. I have been scoping locations for months, doing research on what is required for business licenses and such. I've just gotten the loan for the office space, and acquired a few potential clients that seem decently promising. Two of them were looking into hiring me again through the firm for expansions on previous projects, but when I told them I was not taking on any new clients, they declined on signing another contract. So I've been working on my bids for them."
"Wow, that's just… I don't know what to say. Besides congratulations, this is awesome. But why didn't you tell me?"
"Honestly, you were the first person I thought of to tell once I made my decision." He smiled at her, shrugging as that grin fell. "Then the Bowman Housing Development crossed your desk and I knew I couldn't distract you with my news."
She let his words sink it, took another long drink from her beer, aware that he was watching her. "If we're going for honesty here, yeah, if you had told me, I definitely would've been distracted." Try devastated; he was the only person aside from Angela and Ben at work she was friends with, yet she would've been excited and happy for him. It was such a huge step. "Still upset you didn't tell me."
She nodded absently, deep in thought when it suddenly occurred to her. "Wait a minute. That project landed on my desk almost a year ago, Edward."
"More like nine months," he teased, quick to smile when she only glared at him. "I was planning on telling you today regardless, even if things had gone well."
She rolled her eyes and tapped her shot glass on the bar top, quickly getting a refill. The look she leveled at him would have sent most men running for the hills. "I thought we were friends, Edward. Tell me if the situation was reversed, you wouldn't be upset?"
It was true; he would've been. However, the conversation was steering toward dangerous territory, so he decided to get to the point. "I wanted to ask you to be my partner."
That time, Bella couldn't contain the cough. "What is it with you and making big announcements while I'm mid drink tonight?" She wiped her mouth, giving the bartender a quiet thank you for the towel he handed her.
"Lush." Edward's crooked grin when he said the word emphasized his looks and Bella found herself getting a little too warm. Dark green eyes, chiseled jaw, and one winking dimple made for a dangerous combination. She was far from immune.
"You really wanted to ask me that? Our fields are so different."
"All the more reason. Two fields are better than one, more potential clients." He nodded, rubbing his mouth with a few fingertips. She saw when he made another decision. "The offer still stands. Fifty-fifty all the way, you'll handle housing developments and homes, while I handle the businesses and high-rises, as usual. On the rare occasion that we have to collaborate, we'll divvy up the work."
"You're serious?" she asked again, still unable to believe what she was hearing, and becoming more stunned by the second. She noticed that he hadn't taken another drink since he made his big announcement. He wasn't drunk or even buzzed enough to make shit up.
"I've wanted this for a while now." Something about the way he said it, while looking her square in the eyes, caused a shiver of awareness to tingle down her spine.
He looked away again, picking absently on the label of his bottle. "It's always been a dream of mine to have my own firm, and I've been considering this course for a while now, you know that."
She did. They'd gone out for a drink with a few of their co-workers after her first month with the firm. Out of the four they hired, she was the only one to remain. He told her how he'd been working for two years with the company and that he hoped to make partner in another three. If not, he'd strike out on his own. At the time, she hadn't taken him seriously, since it seemed exceedingly ambitious. However, the same glint he had that night was in his eyes now.
"When did it get serious, to the point that you started making concrete plans and putting them into motion, I guess is the more accurate statement?"
Edward was afraid she'd ask that question. Bella always had a way about her that made him want to tell her everything. As they sat side by side, he wanted to do just that. "It was shortly after that night."
For a brief moment, he thought she had forgotten. Yet, when she seemed to remember, she was quick to turn away. "Look," he said softly after another minute of silence. "I know this was a lot to throw at you right now. You're angry and you've been drinking—"
"I'm not drunk."
Edward leaned away from her, aware that he'd been considerably closer. Too close. The woman smelled incredible, and even with the cloying scent of alcohol around the bar, he wanted more. Dangerous thoughts, so he moved away and watched as she tried to tell him she was fine. Bella wasn't much of a drinker, a lightweight. Having started the night with three shots and a beer, she was well on her way to tipsy.
"I know you're not," he lied and shook his head. "What I'm trying to say is, let's get out of here. You can go home and think about all this. If you're serious about leaving the firm, I want you as my partner. No one else I know has the same work ethic I do, or would work as hard as I intend to for the company to be a success as I know you would."
"Yeah, I need to sleep on it," she said, frowning a little. After another bout of silence, she nodded. "It's a big decision, and I need to weigh out my options. I have to make a list."
Edward chuckled, well aware of Bella's tendency to have a list for just about everything. When she first started, it was a cute quirk made her computer and desk look like a multicolor mess of sticky notes. Now she organized all her lists on some fancy app on her tablet.
"Shut up," she said with a scowl, but laid a hand on her rumbling stomach. "Oh God, that's attractive when your stomach is louder than the bar on a Friday night."
"All right, you should get some food in there. Come on, I'll walk you home." She looked at him warily, something warming in her sienna eyes. They heated to an intensity that had him draining the rest of his beer in one swallow. He offered his hand to help her off the stool and kept hold of it until they were out the door.
Once outside, she breathed in deeply, swaying toward him.
"Keep telling yourself you're not drunk, Bella," he said, shaking his head and chuckling.
"I'm not." She stumbled slightly, using his arm for support. His hands automatically reached out for her. "Don't say a damn word."
Edward chuckled, his hand firmly attached to her elbow as she straightened up. Once he was sure she wouldn't fall over, he slid his hands into his pockets to prevent himself from touching her further. "I wasn't even considering it."
The air seemed to grow cooler with every step they took, the sun having almost completely set, and her arms crossed over her chest as she continued to walk beside him. Yet, the atmosphere still seemed to sizzle with the magnitude of the situation, in essence their future, hanging between them. "I don't even know what to say about this right now, Edward."
"Don't say anything right now. Just take some time tonight, order some takeout and sleep on it. We can talk in the morning over breakfast."
She nodded, letting her head fall back for a moment and feeling the breeze tease her hair. "There's nothing like pancakes and bacon to start fresh after a day like this."
Edward smiled. "Exactly, plus it'll help with your hangover."
"Not drunk." She scratched her cheek with her middle finger, but said nothing else for the next couple of minutes. The silence was heavy and his fingers were twitching in his pockets to reach out for her, but always managed to catch himself first. "This is me," she said once they reached her apartment building. He nodded and looked up, thinking it was time to leave. When his gaze returned to her face, she was watching him with those heated eyes again. The dim lights overhead casted shadows on her face, but they managed to highlight the wetness of her naturally pink lips after she licked them. The nervous way she tucked her hair behind her ear showed that she was just as hesitant to let him go as he was to leave, but he knew he had to. "You want to come up? Maybe talk over pizza or something?"
Edward sighed, shaking his head. "I really should head home. We need some time to think, don't you agree?"
Bella nodded and took a step closer to him, slipping her arms around his waist. "Thank you for allowing me vent, and for the drinks. And as for the rest, yeah, we do."
Edward held his breath, trying not to inhale the scent of her hair as he embraced her in return, but in the end, he couldn't resist. She always smelled so damn good, and it did nothing to help his racing mind and heart. Her eyes rose to meet his and her face inched closer as he felt her fingers curl around the fabric of his shirt at the small of his back. With a relenting groan, he closed the small space between them, his mouth slanted over hers. Her lips were pliant under his, tasting of cinnamon and alcohol. His hands captured her face, his fingers sinking into luxurious hair. She didn't take long to respond with a moan as her hands moved to clutch the lapels of his jacket to pull him closer. He felt her long lashes feather along his cheek, only adding to the heady experience.
"Come up," she gasped once their lips parted, shivering in his firm hold. He only shook his head, pressing a lingering kiss on the corner of her mouth.
"You know why I can't. You have a lot to think about," he murmured, desire coursing through him, his body protesting as he tried to pull away. God, he wanted her. "And you've had too much to drink." Her hands attempted to hold him captive, her eyes on his. "And this… this can't happen." Another word tumbled from his lips, but she was still too lost in his touch to hear it.
"Edward." Bella watched as he walked away, one hand clenched into a fist before he stuffed it into his pocket. He looked over his shoulder, a matching heat in his eyes he could undoubtedly see in hers.
"I'll meet you at the diner around nine. Good night, Bella."
Bella tossed her keys on the table, her purse slid to the floor with a thud. Her back leaned against the door behind her, as confusion reigned supreme in her mind. Why had Edward stopped and denied her invitation? She groaned. Her body was still warm from the press of his, a feeling she wouldn't soon forget.
She stumbled away from the door, a reminder that perhaps she did have too much to drink. Beer and tequila chasers were not typical of her, not since her college days. Yet, she knew Edward had held back for more than that reason.
You still work together, she reminded herself. The company clause is the reason. "Maybe," she said aloud.
Thinking clearly was not feasible with alcohol and little food in her system. She had worked through lunch to make sure she was ready for the meeting, the one that went south fast. How she made it through all four hours of it without killing the weasel known as Eric Yorkie was beyond her. She had always prided herself on her strength and ability to remain professional, but it hadn't stopped her from imagining her hands wrapped around Eric's throat every time the word "we" fell from his mouth.
Her fingers worked the buttons of her blouse open, as she searched for a menu for the Thai place a few blocks away. Soon, the rest of her clothes fell to the floor on the way to her bedroom, that time searching for something comfortable to wear. She grabbed an oversized t-shirt from her dresser, placing her order before washing her face and pulling up her hair.
As tempting as it sounded, a pint of Cherry Garcia was not on the menu since she drank, but she was determined to indulge her sweet tooth. If she couldn't have the taste of Edward's lips on her tongue for the rest of the night, at least she'd have some chocolate.
Once in the kitchen, she pulled out the ingredients for brownies, something she hadn't made in months. The housing project had taken up most of her time, and she often brought work home. There was little time for anything else, especially a damn social life. "And for what?" she growled, setting the bowl in her mixer a little too hard. "For that lazy little shit to lead the damn project."
For several minutes, she worked on making brownies and avoided thinking too much about earlier. She needed full brain capacity before she went there, and that required food. She buzzed in the delivery boy a few moments after popping in her brownies into the oven. She nearly moaned at the scent of food, famished.
An hour later, with her hunger sated, she grabbed her iPad and started her new list, with pros and cons at the top of each column. However, Edward's green eyes were the first thing that popped in her head. The look she caught in them an instant before his lips met hers earlier was reminiscent of that night, the one he made clear that he remembered as clearly as she did.
Nine months before, just the two of them out for dinner after work. A couple of drinks, a few laughs, and one unexpected kiss goodnight in the parking lot. It started with a gentle and innocent brush of his lips on her cheek, lingering for a moment before her face turned and their mouths met tentatively. It began soft, but quickly escalated as the one they'd shared downstairs had, but just as abruptly ended. They'd stared at one another in shock, each seemingly surprised by the want that still lingered in the other's eyes even once the kiss ended. It then soon shifted to a look of despair in them both.
The clause. It struck them simultaneously that no matter how much they might have wanted this, it could never be as long as they worked at Sherman & Associates. There was zero tolerance for interoffice relationships, and they'd seen that clause enforced twice, just in the time that Bella had been there. Although he'd mentioned at dinner that night that the three year goal he'd set for himself had passed with no hope of becoming partner any time soon, and he was strongly considering his next course of action, it wasn't happening any time in the immediate future. So, regardless of their desires, a relationship beyond what they currently shared could not be pursued, and neither of them wanted the other to be their dirty little secret.
Yet clearly, the desire was still there. It became obvious by that kiss outside of her building. Her thoughts returned for just a moment to replay it, positive that he said "yet" after declaring it couldn't happen.
Meaning it couldn't happen yet.
Settling on the couch and tucking her legs beneath her, she shook her head to try to clear her thoughts and focused on her list. Obviously, the first "pro" would be the amazing opportunity it would present. Without the office politics, she wouldn't have to worry about a repeat of that afternoon. At least if she lost a client, it would be because someone else's ideas were better, not that hers were great, but not with her presenting them, and that was something she could live with.
Also high on the pro list was that she could trust Edward. He admired her professionally and she knew he would never screw her over that way. Another plus was the possibility of working on the Cliffside house for a famous actress out in California. It would've been hers, but the men at the firm made her believe her vision wasn't feasible. Bella knew she could pull it off with minimal adjustments, but they wouldn't hear of it. They also would not allow her to work on it as architects in the firm were not allowed to take on "side projects", especially with former potential clients, while working for them. She knew the actress hadn't found an architect yet. The house would get the national attention and she wanted to design gorgeous and innovative houses. She would be able to work on the projects she wanted. Off the top of her head, she could name five prospective clients that wanted her but refused to work with the firm.
Yet, she had to be realistic; there were also cons. She shook her head and went back to the list. It also meant the probability of working at least eighty hours a week for the first of year of business. They first had to build a sufficient client list that would justify hiring interns and other architects. To give them more of an edge and make them a one-stop shop sort of business, they could consider bringing in a landscape architect since they often consulted with them. Again, they would need to be more established.
Long hours would a con, but the pro would be working on projects that interested them. She continued in the same manner for a few minutes, putting off the inevitable.
There was something that was both a pro and a con. The attraction and pull between Edward and Bella was still very much present, even after months of setting those feelings and desires aside. They would have the freedom to pursue a relationship, one they'd ignored for the sake of their careers. It was a pro since the desire was so potent and to finally be able to have what they wanted would be a relief in many ways. It was also a con because if their relationship went awry, could they continue to work together?
Also, working with someone you're attracted to is a difficult task when you can't do anything about it. Going into this thing, knowing there was even a possibility of something more while working together even more directly than they already had been, would they be able to remain professional?
Almost immediately, she rolled her eyes and removed that one from the list. She and Edward had always been able to remain professional and maintain a friendship through the most hectic of situations. Even after that kiss, they had risen above and worked in very close proximity to one another without even so much as a lingering brush of their hands since. So why should this one be any different? They didn't even bring personal issues into work, and had saved them until they were on their own time. Professionalism was not even a concern for them, regardless of how much she wanted him, or vice versa.
She looked at the list one more time, her mind approaching dangerous territory. Quickly, her fingers typed in something in the Pro column.
Teasing Edward by wearing the black skirt he claims he hates would be fun. Laughing at her dirty mind, she erased it from the list, but not before realizing what it meant. She had made her decision.