Chapter 1 – Two Simple Tasks
A/N – Happy Holidays! This is a goofy short fic, which will post every day from now to New Year's. It is unbeta'ed as I wrote it as a tribute to the fabulous Sunflower Fran. She is amazing, and I can never really give her the proper thanks for her support and keen eyes on Volturi B&B and my other stories. Hope you enjoy – all characters belong to Stephanie Meyer. Mistakes and goofiness are all mine.
EPOV - My world was normally divided into clear zones of safety and absolute terror. So, while I never let my guard down completely, I wasn't too worried about not having a scout outside my office. I was on my way to the copy room, despite the fact that making copies was way below my pay grade. Unfortunately, my last assistant Seth had given his notice right before Thanksgiving and it was turning out to be near impossible to find a replacement who could deal with the uniquely menacing threats of our work environment.
But, as I was saying, my office area was usually a relatively safe zone. It was only when I ventured off my floor to supervise the enemy-populated areas that I had to be constantly vigilant of an attack.
I had forgotten that this week all the rules had changed, and nearly walked into an inescapable ambush.
I was walking down the hall, looking down at some spreadsheets when I heard the first ominous click, followed in quick succession by another. I knew I was surrounded and outnumbered before I even looked up, so my objective was to find an escape. It would be impossible to avoid being seen by the herd, I could only hope to use the advantage of speed and agility. In order to accomplish this, I had to swallow my fear and look straight into the danger. It would do me no good to try and avoid eye contact, the way all the so-called experts' advice. I could only hope a brisk walk down the office hallway would save me from being eaten alive today.
Swallowing so hard I could feel my silk tie moving along with my Adam's apple, I stared into the face of danger. There were four of them, all blond and all over six-feet-tall in their ludicrously high-heels. That was my advantage, wingtips could usually outrun pumps or whatever they were calling women's shoes these days. I noticed the tiny flare of a surgically-modified nostril as ice blue eyes locked on mine. It was like being caught in a sniper's scope.
For a moment I allowed myself to be intimidated by the stares and lowered my gaze, but that only made it worse. I could feel the papers in my hand getting soggy from my sweaty hands as I caught sight of silk and lace encased breasts, bare midriffs of perfectly toned muscles, and (dear-God!) bejeweled g-strings.
They were just on the other side of my office door. Perhaps if I made a mad dash, they would be too busy posing to stop me before I could get inside and lock myself in safety. But, no, that hope was dashed as they moved in synchronization down the hall. The swaths of exposed skin shimmered in the office's florescent lights, making them look more alien than usual. Their cleavage jutted out in front of them. Due to the excellent design of the bras they were displaying, the eight breasts bounced only slightly in steady rhythm as they marched toward me.
"Eddie!" one of them cried, making me wince. She raised a red-taloned hand and wiggled her fingers at me in a beckoning gesture.
Abandoning all pretense of having any other goal than to get away from this horror, I grabbed the nearest office door handle and flung myself inside, gripping my spreadsheets to my pounding chest and bracing the door with all my body weight.
I had flung myself into an equally dangerous area in my haste to escape. The gorgeous blond sitting behind the desk was only slightly less frightening than the pack out in the hall, even fully clothed. She looked up from a laptop she had been furiously typing on to meet my eyes with a mixture of disgust and frustration. Her blood red lips pursed together in a scowl before she spoke.
"Another model attack, Edward?" Rosalie's voiced dripped in disdain. She knew of both my fear and my enemies' quest to devour me, but had no sympathy.
Though I wished she would allow me my weakness, in fairness, I could understand her point of view. Rosalie was, by most standards, more beautiful than any of the models we hired and had spent nearly her entire life warding off attacks from the opposite sex. It was only within recent years that females had become aggressors and harassers to rival men.
That was part of the problem. She had years of experience defending herself, I had not had to develop the skills or strength that she had earned.
I thought of this and a half-dozen other ways to defend my cowardice, but each died on my lips under her gaze. Finally, I just lowered my eyes to the floor and whined like a bullied child "Why do they have to be here?"
Rosalie snorted and I heard the click of her keyboard keys as she replied, "Because your sister is a marketing genius and Esme Esoteric is going to have the most-talked about Valentine's Day catalog next year. You won't be whining when you get the next earnings report, little brother. "
I could not argue with any of these facts. Five years ago, my sister and I had decided to make a go of turning our mother's secret hobby of designing lingerie into a real business. Between Rosalie's marketing and my financial acumen, we had transformed an at-home start-up into a fledgling empire that rivaled long-established brands.
What normally made it work for me was that I didn't have to be involved with any women aside from my mother and sister. They both understood that the sight of our product made my throat close up and my blood pressure skyrocket. I could barely function around females when they were fully clothed. My sister's 'genius' idea for our next catalog – to shoot in the office to convey the message that professional women could be sexy under their pants suits and that lingerie gives you confidence to succeed– was going to make for a very difficult week.
"I should have used my vacation time," I mumbled to myself as I paced back and forth in front of her desk.
"You never use your vacation time," Rosalie responded. "And you couldn't now anyway. We've got production deadlines to meet, which means I need you to manage our supply chain, not to mention end of year reports, which you insist only you can do."
"Mmmm…" I hummed to myself, closing my eyes and rubbing my temples, as I tried to recall the latest balance sheet I had prepared. The image of the profit column slowed my pounding heart to a near-normal rate. In the background I could hear Rosalie going on about my needing an assistant, and a temp agency. I ignored this, knowing there was no way we could get a qualified temp this time of year. This suited me just as well, as doing everything myself would probably take less time than trying to train someone who we wouldn't be keeping on anyway.
"…And we need one more model," Rosalie continued, while clicking her mouse. I assumed she was cleaning out her e-mail, which was her favorite way to multi-task when we talked.
"What?" My eyes snapped open, my knees locked together, and my pulse quickened once again. "How can we need more? They're already crawling all over the place!" I objected.
"We've got blonds all over the place," Rosalie scowled at her screen. "We need a brunette to balance them out."
"I saw a brunette earlier," I protested, though I knew there was no way I was winning this battle. We had decided long ago that I did not have any input into the product design or the marketing, which was normally fine with me. I had never stepped foot on a catalog shoot before, and would have much preferred to kept my distance. The fact that models were in my safe area, and my sister had thought it would be funny to introduce me to them, made for an impossible situation.
"You saw a Hispanic brunette," she countered. I frowned, trying to figure out how this made any difference. "We also have a raven-haired Asian-American, an African-American, and a Middle-Eastern, but we need a pale brunette."
"Don't tell me white girls with brown hair have their own affirmative action groups now?" I groaned.
"Shut it, or I'm going to put you in charge of sensitivity training next year," Rosalie snapped, meeting my eyes for a second before returning to her screen. "This is actually the photographer's request. He said the blue teddies would look best on someone with dark hair and pale skin."
"Racist," I mumbled.
"Whatever," Rosalie said, waving her hand once again. "You want to fight with him on that, go ahead and talk to him out in front of all the models we currently have."
I groaned again. Statistically speaking, having one more model around was less dangerous than trying to talk sense into a catalog photographer who considered himself the Annie Leibovitz of lingerie.
Rosalie closed her laptop and looked up at me, holding my gaze. This was clearly getting serious.
"I need you to make the decision and get the paperwork taken care of with the agency," she told me. I waited for her to tell me she was joking, but her expression remained serious.
"Rose," I whined, sounding like the child version of myself that had fought with her over whose turn it was to do the dinner dishes. "How am I supposed to chose a model and deal with their paperwork? I practically need emergency care when I'm in the same hallway with one of them."
She narrowed her eyes at me. "Seriously, Edward, you need to grow up," she said. "You're a CFO for what will soon be a multi-million dollar corporation that makes its millions selling women's intimate apparel. I'm not asking you to get up close and personal with any of these women, I'm asking you to be professional with them."
"How am I supposed to do that?" I asked, absolutely at a loss.
"Fake it 'till you make it, Edward." She replied. "If you can't get over your fear, act like you're not afraid. You've watched Madmen, channel your inner Don Draper." As if this was the last advice she needed to give me, Rosalie opened her laptop again and began typing away.
I considered this, then shook my head. "That doesn't sound professional," I said. "That sounds like a way to get sued for creating a hostile work environment."
"It's about balance," Rosalie said, still typing. "You can't keep running away like a little boy. You're neglecting your work and you're bothering me. All of us in management have to pick up the slack now and then. I've given you two tasks: find one new model and get yourself an assistant so I don't have to listen to Mom sob over you working too hard." She looked away from her screen just long enough to roll her eyes. "You've got three interviews today," Rosalie finished.
"What!" I exclaimed. "How can I have interviews? I haven't set any up."
"I set them up," Rose said. She clicked to a different screen as she continued. "I'll send you the resumes for the assistant and links to the virtual portfolios for the models now. Any one of these women would be fine, I'm just asking you to make two simple decisions and then live with them until we get this catalog out. If at that point, you feel like the assistant isn't working out, we don't need to keep them on, but I'd really appreciate it if you would try to have an open mind. You may find you like having someone to do your grunt work and allow you to focus on the big stuff."
I scowled, thinking that would never work. Having someone else try to do some of my work just gave me more to worry about, not less. There was no way I could trust anyone but myself not to mess things up.
Just as I opened my mouth to argue, Rosalie's phone buzzed. "Yes," she said, hitting the intercom button.
"Bella Swan is here for Mr. Cullen," came our receptionist's Angela's voice. My tie suddenly felt like a tightening noose. I was certain there was less air in the room than there had been a second ago. How on earth was I going to face a model on my own?
I focused on my own breathing as Rosalie directed Angela to have Ms. Swan wait in my office. She then started talking to me, but the words were drowned out by the screaming panic of my subconscious. I wasn't sure if she was talking about the models' past experience or continuing her lecture about my needing to mature. If I was lucky, I'd end up having an aneurism and avoid this unpleasant business by being wheeled out of the office by some EMT's.
I decided the best I could do was pretend to be listening and nod my head. Somehow I don't think Rose was buying it. She rolled her eyes again as she forced some the necessary HR papers in to my hand and pushed me out of the office.
Thank goodness the hall was clear this time. I was able to take a few, deep steadying breaths with my hand on my own office doorknob.
I could do this. I would channel my inner Don Draper. I would act like a chauvinist asshole so the model could not sense my fear. I had a brief stint Drama-club in college, this was just a part I needed to play for a few short weeks until the catalog was done. Yes, I could do this.
I turned the knob and stepped into the room, looking down at the papers to remind myself of the model's name. Bella Swan – ugh, what a fake name. Beautiful swan-someone's agent was trying way too hard.
Not interested in anything else her profile might say, and not bothering to look for her head shot, I entered my office. As I stepped inside, I forced my eyes to rise from my shoes to the brunette who was standing in my office.
Obviously she had been briefed about our concept of an office setting. She was dressed in a demure navy suit with sensible pumps. As my eyes traveled up her body, I could tell she would be the perfect model. She had the classic hourglass figure. I made a thorough investigation, just to be professional, taking in the curves of her legs, hips, waist, and chest several times, while she stood silent.
Satisfied with what I saw, I just needed to hire her and get her down to wardrobe, hopefully having as little interaction with her as possible.
Time to channel my Madmen persona. I squared my shoulders and tried to pull off an arrogant smirk. "You'll do," I said. "What size bra do you wear?"
A/N – Poor Edward is a little distracted. You probably realize what he's got wrong, but let's allow him to use his drama-club skills and dig himself into a nice little hole, shall we? See you tomorrow!