His Dream Girl
There she was again.
As Masen stood waiting at the executive elevator, he watched as his dream girl came into view at the lobby entrance. He had taken to arriving at the same time each morning for the past week, knowing she would show up hectic and frazzled at precisely 8:43 each morning. Yesterday, when he came in early for a conference call, he still made it down to the lobby to see her arrive.
She took his breath away every time he saw her. She had glossy, thick, light brown hair, a tiny waist, and hips that just made a man want to grab and hold on to for dear life. She was radiant. Even though she was focused and hurried each morning she still had a fluid gracefulness in her movements. And she always smiled at the dozen or so people who crowded around the cattle car waiting to be rushed to their nine-to-five destinies.
He smiled to himself as he watched her balance her Starbucks' cup in her briefcase hand as she used her free hand to open the heavy, outer glass door. His smile fell as he watched her struggle. A Brooks Brothers suit, complete with a red power tie was towering behind her, rolling his eyes as she blushed and apologized over her shoulder for holding him up.
Once inside, Brooks Brothers whipped around her as she slowed her step to move her coffee to her free hand. He just clipped her elbow as he made it into the crowded elevator. The door slid closed as Masen watched his angel drop her briefcase as she struggled to keep her coffee upright. He reached her just as she was kneeling to reclaim the files that had spilled from her briefcase.
"Please, allow me to help."
She saw his shoes first, Italian leather.
She took in the razor-sharp crease of his suit and craned her neck to see that the rich, masculine voice wrapped in Armani was him. She had seen him at the executive elevator sipping coffee and chatting with other elite every day since she started production mediation between CWM and Sullivan-Reed a little over a week ago. He was so handsome, distinguished. Although he seemed to be at least a decade older than her, he had that little boy charm mixed with gentlemanly, old world flair, which just made her go weak in the knees. Every day, she would sigh just imagining how yummy he must smell.
Now she knew she was right- Aramis-yum.
Mortified, she quickly stood as he was in the process of kneeling.
"Oh please, don't bother yourself. Please, you'll damage you suit," she said.
He seemed not to hear her as he made short work of deftly sliding her papers back into her bag. He stood, giving her a smug smile as he handed her briefcase back, obviously proud of himself.
"There, all better."
She noticed how his eyes crinkled at the edges when he smiled. And the mischievous glint in his eye made her want to reach out, run her fingers through his untamed hair and pull him into a kiss.
She took a step back.
"Thank you, I'm so sorry to have troubled you. You're very kind." She smiled shyly up at him and then turned to punch the button previously illuminated by the ten people currently staring at the 'up' arrow above the elevator door.
Now that he had his girl's attention, Masen was not about to let her go so soon.
"Allow me," he murmured in her ear as he gently took hold of her elbow and led her towards the executive elevator.
Seeing where she was being led, she quickly started to hesitate and pull away.
"Oh no, I couldn't trouble you any further," she said.
He found her adorable as a little worry line appeared between her brows. He wanted to be the only one to take all of her worries away.
"It's no trouble at all; it's the least I could do seeing as that Brooks Brothers suit treated you so abhorrently. I need to redeem my sex so please allow my chivalrous gesture." His warm smile effectively washed away her previous reservations.
She nodded her consent shyly and they continued on. Two co-workers of Masen's, waiting at the lift, seemed quite intrigued by the drama that just unfolded in front of them. Masen was all business and he had never shown an interest in extracurricular activities in the fifteen years he'd worked in this building. The female smiled for her colleague while the man narrowed his eyes as his lips thinned.
As they approached, Masen suddenly felt protective of his little angel and his hand left her elbow to rest at the small of her back, thus drawing her slightly closer to him.
"Masen, that's a sweet little catch you just reeled in," Mark said as he focused his attention on the tight little brunette next to Masen. Masen felt her tense and he thrilled as she stepped into his side ever so slightly. He rubbed his thumb against her back for a brief moment just to communicate that he understood her discomfort and he had her.
Katelaughed in disgusted, "Mark, haven't youreached your month's quota for sexual harassment suits?"
Mark smirked at Kate as Masen spoke.
"Mark, good morning. Kate, it's good to see you, how is little Meredith?"
Sensing the strain between the two men, Kate picked up the conversational cue and ran with it. "Good morning Masen," she said smiling to include the woman next to him. "She's getting excited about her ninth birthday coming next month."
"Is she nine already? It was just yesterday when she was running around our pool in her little swimmers and sunhat at the company barbecue,"Masen smiled wistfully, remembering better times. Kate patted Masen's sleeve, remembering too, before stepping ahead of the men into the elevator.
Mark angled to stand next to the new ingénue, but Masen blocked him with his body placing his angel between the wall and himself. As the elevator began its ascent, Masen reluctantly dropped his hand from her but not before gently running his finger down her sleeve touching the side of her hand briefly.
It meant so much to her that he was so careful to make her feel safe and at ease. To have such kindness be the norm was unimaginable to her. She realized how far her little infatuation had taken her and knew she was going to get hurt if she didn't protect herself. Her eyes welled and she tried to swallow past the lump in her throat when she felt his finger run down her hand, causing her to look up into a warm, gentle smile.
It was too much.
Masen watched in curious alarm as a curtain came down over his angel's face after he found himself drowning in her tear filled eyes. What was going on in that mind of hers? Did he offend her? He started to take a step away but when he heard her breath catch,he stayed being sure to make no contact.
"Kate do you have a picture of Meredith?" he asked, eager to redirect her thoughts.
Kate smiled warmly and turned around to Masen digging for her phone in her purse. "This is her last week at her class field trip to the zoo," she said smiling as she handed her phone to Masen.
Masen took it and leaned toward his girl bringing her close to see the pictures.
She shyly tucked her hair behind her ear and leaned forward to look at this stranger's child. She loved being so close to him and soaked it up like the sun, savoring it to remember.
"She looked up at Kate and said softly, "She'squite lovely, she has your coloring, but I think she may be taller than you when all is said and done."
Kate took the phone back with a smile and said, "Yes, her dad is tall, I think she leans toward him in height."
"What lucky floor will be graced by such a beautiful presence?" Mark's oily voice cut in, filling the small cubical.
Masen bent his ear toward her and was rewarded with a "twenty-three" whispered across his collar. He reached over andpressed the button, giving Mark a smirk.
Kate got off at the fifteenth floor with a wave and a smile. Mark got off at sixteen, claiming he would be thinking of her above him all day. Masen stepped forward to push the 'close door' button. With a sigh, he turned back to his angel.
"Alone at last," he smiled.
"Excuse me?" she said with alarm.
Masen backpedaled quickly, kicking himself. "No, no, I'm sorry. I'm just really glad 'Mark the Mouth' is gone. I just want to talk to you. I've noticed you for a few days now and I think you're lovely."
He blew out a heavy breath, feeling foolish and out of his depth. He hated this feeling and had insulated his life to ensure he never felt put on the back foot. Yet, here he was, with this little slip of a girl, floundering in her presence. He ran his hand nervously through his hair and regrouped.
He sighed and smiled at her, "I'm Edward Masen."
Strangely, watching him squirm helped her to relax and return to her initial feelings of calm and comfort.
He had noticed her too.
"Bella Swan, it's nice to make your acquaintance, Edward," she said softly.
"Twenty-third floor, are you working for Emmett McCarty or Lauren Mallory?"
"Oh, um—Mr. McCarty," She said, smiling warmly, remembering something with humor.
No doubt, Emmett's been charming her pants off. He felt the heat around his collar.
"The McMann project?" He cocked his head trying to see how this young woman fit into a bank consortium meeting.
"No, the Sullivan-Reed project, I work for Marcus Sullivan. He's overseeing the laser project, but I am running the meeting rooms. Getting my feet wet so to speak." She shrugged tucking a silky strand behind her delicate ear.
Her face went white with shock, "Edward Masen, the M in CWM Technologies?" she gasped, biting her lip.
He laughed softly, "I get that a lot." He laughed harder when she shot him a pointed look.
She blushed causing him to sober. He leaned toward her and said, "Yes, I am, but I'm not as scary as people would like to make me."
She took a step toward him as the elevator bell dinged and the door opened. He reached his left hand forward, taking her hand before she could exit. Her breath caught as she looked at their joined hands.
He dropped his hold before saying, "Please, can I see you again?"
She smiled as she looked down. It thrilled her that he really liked her, but she knew this was as far as she could let this go. She would allow herself to cry later, but for now, she would keep it light.
"How about a coffee date?"
His eyebrows shot up with encouragement. "Name the time and place and I'll be there" He smiled.
"Well, how about 8:45 tomorrow in the lobby. I'll be the one trying not to spill my coffee." She giggled lightly at her little joke and picked up her briefcase, trying to keep her feelings locked tight until she could get away from him.
His smile slipped and he ran his left hand through his hair. He watched her eyes sadden as she watched the nervous movement. Before he could figure out her mood change, she was off the elevator. He held his hand out to brace the door, leaning out to hear her soft words.
"Thank you again for all of your kindness this morning. I'll carry a smile all day, thinking of you," she said sadly and then was gone.
Masen leaned in just as the door closed in front of his nose looking at his reflection as he ran his hand nervously through his hair. The gleam from his wedding band caught his eye.
"Damn, I fucked up." He dropped his head against the reflective door.
Lifting his head with resolve, he pulled out his phone.
He looked at his reflection and shook his head.
"Emmett! I need your help . . ."
Bella moved her eyes to the top of the same prospective page for the fourth time. As she started the second paragraph, a tear dropped to the middle of the page.
Damn him. He's married—MARRIED!
Of course he's married; he's gorgeous, sweet, attentive—gorgeous. She was probably tall and svelte, a polished, sophisticated woman who looks good wrapped in his arms in the annual Christmas picture.
She sighed and put her head in her hands.
Why was he so sweetto me? Gah, he's a cheater!
That was the saddest part. She misjudged his character. He was not sweet and noble as she thought, but a smooth operator and she should have seen it coming.
Her stomach flipped leaving her feeling sick.
"Ms. Swan, are you all right?"
She sat up and looked into Mike Newton's eyes. Mr. Newton was a nice man. He had showed her his kid's pictures the first day.
Kids. He probably has the required 2.5 running through a white, picket-fenced mansion, with a dog. Don't forget the dog.
"Oh, Mr. Newton, thank you, I'm fine. I—um—just received some bad news on my way into work. I'll be okay," she patted his hand and stood to get her bearings. She needed to set this aside and put on her professional hat.
She cleared her throat, "Mr. Newton, could you get me another notebook? I need to replace a page."
"Of course," he said relieved to help.
She walked down to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, she saw a glassy-eyed, foolish woman staring back at her.
She careful splashed water on her face before reapplying her makeup. She straightened her shoulders, practiced a confident smile, and swung the door open ready to take that conference room by storm.
She walked three steps down the hall before she came face to face with Mr. McCarty.
"Good morning, sir," Bella tried for confident but wasn't sure she pulled it off.
"Ms. Swan, just the woman I was coming to see," Mr. McCarty said falling in step with her.
"Um, how can I help you?" she said as they rounded the corner to the expansive room of cubicles.
He slowed, buying more time. "I have some concerns," he said sternly.
"Concerns?" she asked, alarm creeping up her spine.
"I think we need to talk about the direction of the next few meetings. Do you have some free time today?" He asked as he waved as Carlisle Cullen's secretary, Mrs. Cope as she passed. She was rumored to be retiring this year.
Bella waved too. "Um, I have an hour for lunch or anytime after five." She offered.
"Lunch, I think we should nip this in the bud," he said nodding to himself.
"One o'clock?" she asked.
"One it is, in my office, please." He said with a smile.
"Should I deviate in this morning's meeting?"
"What are you covering?"
"Mr. Newton will be going over the financials for the first quarter and Mr. Murray will be going over the logistics of first quarter production," she said smoothing her hand down her skirt.
"That should be alright. Take notes, if we need to tweak things down the road, we will." He said as he began walking away.
"Yes, sir," she called after him.
Bella knocked on Mr. McCarty's door.
"Come in," Mr. McCarty called.
She stepped into a spacious office with a wall of windows displaying Puget Sound.
"I'm glad you're here," A velvet voice said from the corner.
She turned toward the sound.
Mr. Masen, Edward stood from the couch as she turned toward him.
"Whatare . . . Mr. McCarty?" she asked feeling cornered by these men and not liking the feeling one bit.
"I set this up, Ms. Swan. Please don't be mad," Mr. McCarty held his hand out to stop her from running.
She tried to breath. "Mr. McCarty, I should go," she said backing toward the door.
"No, please, just hear me out!" Edward took a panicked step toward her before adding softly, "Then if you want, I'll never bother you again."
"Ms. Swan, Bella, Edward is my best friend and I know you need to hear what he has to say." Mr. McCarty motioned to the couch near the corner.
She didn't look at Edward but took the three steps to the couch, lowering herself to sit tentatively at the edge.
Edward moved to sit next to her. One slender finger pointing to the club chair had him altering his direction, copying her tensed and perched position.
Mr. McCarty moved to the door.
"Mr. McCarty?" Bella called.
"Do you still have concerns or was that just a ruse to get me here?" she asked.
"My concerns are with the second quarter planning. I'll have Janeane set up an appointment with you for next week." He swished a finger between the two seated, "Sort this out, I want my office back." He smiled warmly at her and she saw the concern for his friend register in his eyes when he looked at Edward before leaving the room.
The sincerity she saw in Mr. McCarty made her resolve to listen to Edward and try to not to hurt him She turned to him expectantly, but she couldn't look into his beautiful eyes. She was afraid to see his pain or worse, the desire he showed while in the elevator. One would cut her to the quick; the other would be her undoing. She chose instead to focus on his hands resting on his knees.
His wedding ring was gone. A white indented strip remained to testify toits place of importance.
Her heart jolted at the sight and just as quickly sank, leaving her slightly lightheaded.
He cleared his throat.
"I'm sorry to take these underhanded measures, but I needed you to hear me. Please don't be upset with Emmett. He just wants me to be happy. He's my best friend since college," he paused causing her to look up, "He's also my brother-in-law." He added watching her tense.
He wanted to sit by her, hold her hand. If he could just feel her, he could get through this.
"He and I were roommates through undergrad. We got a house for our graduate work. When we walked for our masters, his family came from England to support him. That's when I met his sister, Tanya. We hit it off instantly, but she was based in England and I was here. We kept a long distance relationship for four years. By that time, I was working here, back when it was Cullen and Whitlock. She got a job offer in Seattle and snatched it up immediately."
He looked at her to see how she was handling this. All he saw was reserved judgment and an expectant look for him to continue. He guessed that's all he could hope for.
"We lived together for two years and married when we wanted to start a family," he continued. "It was the miscarriage that lead to her diagnosis—ca—cancer, ovarian cancer. I lost her a year later."
Bella reached out, taking his hand and giving it a squeeze.
He looked up expecting pity but found relief painted across her face. He frowned and she smiled shyly.
"I am truly sorry for your loss, Edward. I'm sure if you loved her, she was a wonderful person." She was surprised just how much she meant that. "But I'll admit I'm a tiny bit relieved," she added.
"Relieved?" he asked, turning his hand over and watching her slender fingers slide between his.
"Relieved that I didn't misread you, relieved that you're not a sleazy, cheating, womanizer," she shrugged and started to withdraw her hand, but he held fast.
"You have some experience with sleazy, cheating, womanizers," he stated.
She nodded, "Caius Reed."
Edward moved without thought to her side. "Did he hurt you? Are you all right?"
She smiled. So sweet. She patted his hand resting on top of hers.
"He scared me mostly. I put in my resignation with Marcus and he made me tell him why I was leaving when I had such a promising future" she looked at him, "his words, not mine. After that he took me under his wing, kept me in his division and on his projects. Caius gave me a wide birth, as ifI was Medusa, herself," she laughed softly before adding, "and under Marcus' mentorship, here I am," she shrugged at that last.
"I'm glad you're here," he lifted the hand he had been holding and kissed her knuckles. She wanted to lay her cheek on that lowered head.
Find comfort in him.
With his head still bowed he whispered, "I will always love Tanya, Bella," her heart stopped in her chest before he continued, "but I saw you for the first time at the bank of elevators. A small, rumpled lady tucked the tag of your blouse into your collar. Instead of being upset by someone touching you, you turned and thanked her, laughing. As you talked with her, you shared half of your muffin. You walked onto the elevator, letting her go first and when the doors closed you were talking like fast friends. I missed my lift and stood there with people teaming around me thinking, "Tanya would love her. She and Tanya would have been best friends." It broke open my heart—and here I am," he shrugged suddenly feeling exceptionally vulnerable.
She touched his soft, thick nest of auburn hair with one finger, "Ask me again. The question you asked when I was leaving the elevator, ask me again." She whispered breathlessly.
"Please, can I see you again?" he asked swallowing thickly.
She smiled as she looked down. It thrilled her that he really liked her. She was well on her way to loving him.
"Yes, when?" She looked at him in challenge.
"Coffee?" he asked as he held her hand to his mouth.
"Dinner," she smiled coyly.
Ah, the promise one little word held.
"Tonight?" he challenged back.
"Gah, yes," she sighed out with relief.
He pulled her to him and and kissed her soundly, possessively, with an abandon formed from relief and joy.
After all these years spent lost at sea, he had finally found a reason to come home.