A/N: So I wrote this for the Our Forever contest, but BOO! I was the only entry. Where'd you all go? I have a thing for solo entries, since the same thing happened with Waterloo.
Anyway, here it is. My high school best friend was the first person I ever told about my secret fic life. She's still one of a very small handful of people irl who know about it. This one shot is based on her real life job. I'm not lying. This is what she actually does FOR A LIVING. Her tweets about work are the best. So, Bibliobabe, this one's for you!
Many thanks to the incomparable arfalcon for beta'ing!
Standard copyright disclaimer: Characters are the property of Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended. Original plot and content is the property of the author.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?" Alice's swizzle stick hovers above her Dark and Stormy, a drop of rum and ginger beer sliding off the tip and back into the glass. As it always is on Friday nights, Brady's Pub is crowded and loud, but the space between me and my best friend has just gone deathly silent.
"I said, I got the job." I suck up a long pull of my Manhattan through the straw, just to avoid looking at her as I say it.
"Yeah, I got that part. Which job?"
Since I've applied for about a thousand in the past year, she's forgiven for not keeping track of which one I finally landed.
"I told you, the archivist position."
"That's what I thought you said."
"Isn't it great? I can finally quit the T-Shirt Hut and actually use my degree." Sort of.
"But…" Alice closes her eyes and shakes her head. "It's at a porn company, Bella."
"You're working for a porn company."
"I'm an archivist for a porn company. It's not like I have to take my clothes off or anything. I'll work in an office. It's perfectly respectable."
"Explain the job to me again."
With a sigh, I nudge my drink to the side and lean on the bar. "They need someone to design and implement a searchable database of titles. And then the inventory needs to be input and categorized—"
"The inventory. This would be the porn?"
"Yeah, this would be the porn. They need each title to be entered into the database and tagged appropriately so that they're searchable by certain parameters—"
"Content? Like, aside from the naked people having sex, what kind of content are we talking about?"
Alice has dropped her swizzle stick into her forgotten cocktail and now she's staring at me with those huge dark eyes. I look away, hooking my hair behind my ear and clearing my throat. The trick is treating it like it's any other product. Nothing the least bit embarrassing about it. Just business.
"Well, the customer often searches for movies with certain specific requisites in mind , and a properly designed database with adequately tagged content, will help them identify content that matches their criteria exactly."
"Like, what kind of specific requisites are we talking here?"
"Um…" It's just business. They're a product, no different than T-shirts or hardware or books. "Like maybe the customer wants something that features redheads. Or blondes." I clear my throat. "Or double penetration. Or mascot costumes. Or all of those things together."
Alice blinks. "And how will you determine how to tag the titles?"
I clear my throat again. "I'll review them."
"Tell me you didn't just get a job watching porn."
"Okay, I didn't get a job watching porn. But I do have to watch porn all day. As part of my job."
"OH MY GOD."
"Alice! Will you shut up?" All the office drones in identical oxford shirts in our vicinity have turned to stare at us. Well, at Alice. She's the one making all the fuss.
"I can't believe you graduated with a master's from Syracuse University and you just got a job watching porn."
I sigh. "I got a master's from Syracuse in Library Science at the exact moment libraries across the country are slashing their budgets. And now I've just got a job as an archivist. This is good news."
"An archivist for porn."
"An archivist building and implementing a cross-platform, searchable database for a multi-million dollar company. This could be the kind of practical experience that will get me in the door in corporate America. Since I'm never going to find a job as a librarian, I'm making a strategic shift into the corporate sphere and this is a vital first step."
"Well, when you put it like that, it sounds really sensible."
"It is really sensible."
"It's just weird that your new corporate strategy involves watching porn all day."
"It's just business. I'm sure it won't be weird at all."
It's totally weird.
I spend the first week on the job in a constant state of horrified embarrassment. I can't believe I'm actually watching this stuff at my desk, in my cubicle, in an office with other people. I blush super-easy and my face is about to become a permanent shade of tomato. I wear headphones so that no one else can hear the screaming and moaning. I face my chair into a corner, so that I won't accidentally make eye contact with a co-worker while on my monitor, a guy is jizzing all over a woman's breasts.
That was the first week.
Then fatigue sets in. I mean, you can only watch so many artificially enhanced platinum blondes with bad French manicures moaning theatrically while some tattooed thug with no neck pounds her from behind without mentally zoning out a little bit. My eyes begin to glaze over and my mind begins to wander until I can just skim, ticking boxes on my checklist as I watch.
Big Breasts: Check
Reverse Cowgirl: Check
Spanking: Check and check and check
Every now and then something scrolls across the screen to wake me up. Was that a foam finger? Maybe I should create a tag for sports memorabilia? Is there a kink for that? I quickly learn that yes, there is a kink for everything. I create the tag.
My new database is working great. My boss, Irina, is delighted. A former porn star herself, with a wicked head for business, she's determined to grow Volterra Adult Industries into an online Amazon for porn, the first name in internet smut. And I'm in on the ground floor. It's enough to make a girl proud.
Alice doesn't believe me, but after a few weeks, it really is just a product, to be reviewed, tagged appropriately, and archived in the database. No matter what the product is, I handle it like the calm, cool, kick-ass professional I am.
Then I see him.
The title is a few years old. Volterra has a lot of back titles to be entered into the system. This one was made over seven years ago. The production quality is pretty good, with lots of mood lighting and nice décor. (Tags: Romantic porn; porn for women). There's kind of a plot. (Tags: Art gallery; sculptor; patron; private showing). She's pretty and not too fake-looking. (Tags: Brunette; blue eyes; petite). And he… He is gorgeous. He distracts me so much that I have to rewind just to tag him properly. (Tags: Auburn hair; swimmer's body; good cheekbones; green eyes; those thigh muscles; pianist's hands; lips like an angel; the way he kisses her; the way he puts his hands on her; ungh…) And then what he does to her…
The content I view on the job is many things. But after several months, the one thing it is not is a turn-on. Like working in a coffee shop so long you can't smell coffee, I've ceased to be aroused by watching people have sex on a screen. All I see are a collection of tags to be sorted and entered.
But that's before I watch Eddie Masen have sex.
Because it's one of the tamer titles, it's focused heavily on foreplay, with a long, slow sensual build and pretty much zero kink. It's like a rom com, but with full frontal and penetration.
He doesn't throw her down and fuck her. He doesn't rough her up and dominate her. He worships at the altar of her body. And then he slowly, thoroughly takes her apart.
I'm a modern woman in my twenties. I've had men. A handful of boyfriends and a few ill-advised one night stands. I've had my fair share of sex. It's usually decent, often good, and occasionally really good. But nobody has ever done to me what he did to that woman in the video. I've never looked the way that woman looked when Eddie Masen was done with her.
By the end of it, I'm a panting, aroused mess. I take my lunch break early and walk laps around the park just to burn off the rampant desire firing through my system. Then I go back to my desk and watch it again.
I'm horrified at myself. This is business, not fuel for my personal spank bank. In a fit of righteous self-loathing, I slap the appropriate tags on the content and send it away into the murky void of the database, never to be looked at again.
But I think about Eddie Masen and that video all week. By Thursday, I'm desperate to talk to someone about him and I can't wait until Friday night Happy Hour. I call Alice. This is an emergency.
"I thought you said you didn't get turned on by this stuff."
"I don't. Not at all. Not normally. Most of the time, it's no hotter than watching somebody grocery shop."
"But not this time?"
"Not this time."
Alice sighs. "You know it's acting, right? I mean, the sex is real. Well, the insert-tab-A-into slot-B part is legit. But the reactions… They're faking it. It's never like that. Not in real life."
"Sure. Yeah, yeah. I know."
But do I? I can't shake the feeling that Eddie Masen is the real deal. That he's actually capable of doing that to a woman.
"It's just… I can't stop thinking about him."
"I can't believe you're developing a crush on a porn star."
"It's not a crush. And besides. He's not a porn star. He only made one, seven years ago."
"Oh, my God, you looked him up. Now you're stalking a porn star!"
"I am not! I just wanted to check out his resume!"
"You are in a dangerous place, Bella."
"Whatever. Order us another round. I'm going to the bathroom."
I swivel on my barstool, begin to slide off to the floor, and then I just keep sliding until I land in a heap, because there, on the other side of the bar, is Eddie Masen himself.
"Bella! Oh my God, are you okay?"
Alice scrambles down from her own stool to help me up. I crouch down, peering over the lip of the bar.
"Alice, look! That's him!"
"That's who? Why are you still down here?"
"Eddie Masen! That's him, on the other side of the bar."
Alice looks to where I'm pointing. The bar is a big open square, and there are bottles of booze and hanging racks of wine glasses between us, but that's him, without a doubt. He's a little older, because of course it's seven years later, but still every bit as gorgeous. A little rougher around the edges, with stubble covering his jaw and a weathered leather jacket covering his broad shoulders. He's talking to another guy, smiling and turning his beer bottle in slow circles on the bar. And wow, those hands…
"Shit, Alice, what am I gonna do?"
"What do you mean, what are you going to do? What are the options?"
I haven't really thought about that until she asks, but now that she has, there are only two answers: Sit here, staring at him and fantasizing about him, or…go over there and meet him.
"Hold my purse. I'm going in."
"You're what? No, Bella, wait a minute. He's a porn star."
"He acted in one porn, seven years ago. That's like calling you a professional au pair now because you did some babysitting in college."
"Yes, but he's a total stranger. He could be a freak. A pervert. A—"
"Or he could really be that good in bed, and I'm going to sit here, staring at him, thinking about it, and I'll never know."
"Or… he's probably not that good in bed, which is far more likely. And all you'll do is get mixed up with some random stranger in a bar for some disappointing sex."
"I've had hookups for worse reasons."
"I cannot believe you're considering this."
"Where's your spirit of adventure? You're supposed to be the fun-loving one."
"There's fun-loving and then there's crazy. This is definitely crazy."
"Okay, I won't go over there intending to sleep with him. I just want to meet him, to see if he's that hot up close."
"And you won't sleep with him."
"I didn't say that. I said I won't go over there with the intention of sleeping with him. But if it should happen…"
Alice rolls her eyes. "I still say this is a bad idea. How are you even going to manage this? He's with somebody." Her eyes go wide and she gasps. "He could be gay. Maybe that guy is his boyfriend. He is pretty. The pretty ones never bat for our team."
"He's not gay."
"He's an actor. Maybe he was acting straight."
"I'm not sure it works that way when sex is involved."
"Either way, he's not alone. You're just going to cut in?"
"No, we're going to move to that side of the bar."
She throws up her hands. "Oh, no. You are not dragging me into this insanity, too."
"It's just a conversation."
Alice narrows her eyes at me. "That's a low blow."
Alice was so drunk she could hardly stand up during our college freshman homecoming party, but she still managed to wander off with some random and questionable guy and get lost. Yours truly ditched the really cute poli sci major I'd been crushing on for a month so I could track her down, drag her home, hold her hair back as she threw up, and then put her to bed. And I covered for her when her parents showed up for a visit the next morning and she was too hungover to move. Alice owes me.
She doesn't say another word as she gathers up her purse and jacket and follows me around to the other side of the bar. At the corner, I pause and assess the situation. Eddie is on the left, his friend, on the right. They seem pretty deep into whatever conversation they're having. They're sitting more or less in the middle of this long expanse of polished oak. There are two open seats next to the friend and three next to Eddie. We sit next to Eddie.
Alice dumps our jackets on the third stool. I slip onto the stool next to Eddie, which he doesn't notice, of course, because he's facing the other way. I might have been all talk on the other side of the bar, but now that I'm here, with Eddie Masen, star of all my recent sexual fantasies, right behind me, my courage flags. What if Alice is right? Maybe he's a creep, or dumb, or boring. But if I don't talk to him, I'll never know.
Alice flags the bartender and orders seconds of our drinks. "I think we're going to need these," she says. We tap glasses and I drink half my Manhattan in one woozy gulp, Throwing Alice a tremulous thumbs up, I swivel toward Eddie on my barstool.
Half-standing, I lean across Eddie—way across—and reach for the stack of cocktail napkins in front of him on the bar.
"Excuse me," I murmur. I'm aiming for throaty and sensual, but I think I just sound like I have a cold. "My glass is dripping."
Well. That's not the opener I was going for.
But he turns his head, looks at me, and his eyes go a little wide. And Oh. My. God. If I thought he was cute seven years ago on video, that's nothing compared to the face I'm confronted with now. His eyes are green, a gorgeous color closest to moss, but way prettier. And he has those eyelashes that only guys get blessed with. The cheekbones, the jawline, the lips… holy hell, he's pretty.
My mind is a mess, overwhelmed with my attraction to the Eddie from seven years ago and the Eddie from right this second, who is staring at me and smiling.
Somehow an alert makes it through the rampaging lust, embarrassment, and speechlessness that has overtaken my brain. I haven't spent a ton of time picking up guys in bars, but this is a face and expression I know. In the thirty seconds that Eddie has turned his head and seen me, he's decided I'm attractive. This should make me feel great, overflowing with sexual confidence, but that's not what happens, because immediately I lose the power to speak.
Thirty more seconds pass as we stare at each other. He hasn't turned back to his conversation with his friend, so that's good, but he's not speaking, so maybe he's already decided I'm hopeless.
I laugh, a high, nervous sound. He laughs, too. Why are we laughing? No reason, it's just the only way we can acknowledge this simmering attraction that's suddenly sprung up between us.
"Hi," I say. So stupid, but I literally cannot think of another word to say.
"Hi." He's grinning now. His grin looks as dopey and awkward as my "hi" sounded. "Is your drink still dripping?"
"I just meant…" He gestures to my drink and the napkins I'm still clutching and I laugh again, and so does he, and GOD, we're a mess.
"Yeah, I got it. Um…"
"I'm Edward Cullen."
Oh. Edward Cullen. Not Eddie Masen. Of course that was a screen name. His real name is so much better than Eddie Masen.
And Oh! He just introduced himself!
"Um, hi. Bella Swan."
"Hi, Bella." He twists around enough to offer me his hand to shake. I laugh again. Oh God, can I please stop laughing? I take his hand—those pretty, long fingers—and shake it. His palm is rough with callouses, which is unexpected, but really, really hot.
"Um," he says, and then the awkward pause threatens to swallow us whole. Then he hooks a thumb over his shoulder. "This is Jasper."
Oh! Right. Alice. I'm here with Alice, who I've guilt-tripped into being my wingman on this suicide mission.
"This is Alice."
"Hi." Alice leans past me, beaming a cheery smile, to shake Edward's hand, like she's some real estate agent or something. Then she leans further, past Edward to Jasper, and shakes his hand, too, smiling even wider.
"Hey, there," Jasper says. His eyes skate right past me, but when he looks at Alice, he breaks into a wide grin. Jasper's pretty attractive himself, shaggy blonde hair and that broad, white smile. She's no longer sitting on the barstool next to me. She's moved to stand behind me and Edward, and she's slowly drifting toward Edward's cute blond friend.
Yeah, I got ya, girl. For all your judging, you are so undressing that boy with your eyes.
But Alice's sudden infatuation makes it easier for me to chat up Edward. If I could…you know…speak.
"So…" Edward says.
What do people talk about to people they pick up in bars? Why haven't I done more of this? I'm flailing. My one chance to speak to the object of my obsession and I'm bombing. The only thing that makes me feel better is that he seems just as lost as me. Which might mean he's nervous talking to me. Or it might mean I'm making him really uncomfortable and he's just trying to find a way to get rid of me nicely.
"You guys hang out here a lot?"
"Yeah, all the time. Wait. That sounds bad. It's not like we live here or anything. We just come on Fridays because it's close to both of our apartments. Sometimes we come during the week if it's been a really shitty week. Or if we need to…um, talk about stuff."
Like my inconvenient obsession with you.
Edward is smiling again, this gorgeous, crinkly-eyed smile that slays me.
"My new apartment is right around the corner, so we figured we'd check it out." He points vaguely at the wall, and I assume his apartment is in that general direction.
"You just moved to this neighborhood?"
"Yeah, I've been living above my workshop for years. But the business has grown a lot, and I've taken on an assistant, so it was time to move into a real apartment like a grownup."
"What do you do?"
"I'm a furniture maker."
His answer is so the opposite of what I'm expecting that I actually do a double take. "What?"
"I design and make custom furniture. Here, I'll show you."
He fishes his phone out of his pocket and opens the photo app. He swipes through a series of pictures of gorgeous dark wood furniture that looks more like art than stuff for your house.
"You made these?"
"Designed and made, yeah. Look at this one. I just finished it for a custom job. I was really pleased with it."
He swipes through to a picture of a bed. It's mammoth, with four towering carved wood posts and a headboard like the Cliffs of Dover. It's an epic bed. A bed that makes me think a lot of highly inappropriate bed-like thoughts.
"Wow, that's gorgeous. You're a real artist."
He gives a self-depreciating shrug as he closes out of his phone and oh my God, are you kidding me? In addition to the face and the body and the still-to-be-determined bedroom skills, he's a freaking artisan, who works with his hands and makes gorgeous museum-worthy furniture? Is he for real?
"So what do you do, Bella?"
Oh, don't go there. My eyes cut away and I'm sure I look guilty as hell. "Um… I'm a librarian."
"Aces. At the public library?"
"Um, no. I'm a…a corporate librarian. I always wanted to work in a public library, but with budget cuts there aren't a lot of positions open. What I'm doing now puts me on more of a…business track." A corporate librarian sounds like one of those jobs that's not really a job but that people actually have. Edward buys it, anyway. And did he just say "aces"? That's so lame, it's actually adorable.
"So, I'm guessing you like to read?"
That's an easy one, because of course I do. Edward tells me what he's reading right now and I've read it, so ten minutes fly by as we discuss that book, and another twenty fly by as we discuss other books we've read. Then we segue into the movie adaptation of a book we both read and we're in perfect agreement about how much we hated the movie and how much they messed up the book.
In addition to the face and the body and the adorable smile and the artisan's hands, he's funny. Smart. And a reader. How can he be real?
But he's sitting next to me, drinking a Lagunitas IPA out of the bottle, in a leather jacket that looks like he inherited it from his grandfather, and he's smiling at me like a totally hot guy who is totally into me, and he's real. This is real. Holy shit.
The next thing I know, we're talking about music, and that band that played in the park last month (we both agree they're highly overrated) and the sad proliferation of neck beards in our generation and then we're talking about local politics and then national politics and oh… Edward Cullen is perfect. Just perfect.
It's ages later, and he's deep into a story about work, when he delivered a custom piece to a former TV actor, only to be stuck dealing with his much younger—and not very bright—wife.
"First of all, she answers the door in her underwear."
"No, not really, but as good as. But she's in a crop top and shorts that are smaller than some underwear."
"Was she trying to seduce you?" That thought makes me irrationally angry. This guy is not mine, no matter how hot I find him or how well we seem to be hitting it off.
"No, she wasn't. Not that that hasn't happened, but no, that's just how she dresses. Like, all the time, I guess. Whatever. So I tell her I'm there to deliver her husband's chair and she looks at me like she expects me to have it in my hands, and asks 'Where is it?' I explained that it was in my van and then she got really confused."
"What's so confusing about furniture delivery?"
"Well, I figured that out eventually. Turns out she'd never seen furniture that hadn't come from Ikea. She thought all furniture came flat-packed."
"Yes. She was astonished that she didn't need a hex key to put it together."
I dissolve in laughter, unconsciously holding onto Edward's arm as I do. When my laughter subsides into breathless giggles, I look up to find him watching me, smiling, and I'm breathless for a whole new reason.
It's such a…moment. I've heard about this—wordless communication with a near stranger, but it's never happened to me before. Not even close. But right now, Edward and I are communing on some new level I didn't even know existed. I've known him for an hour, but I already can't remember not knowing him. It doesn't feel like meeting a new person, it feels like rediscovering one who was there all along.
I'm not even sure how much time passes, but eventually I notice that the bar around us has grown very quiet and empty. And I also notice…
"Um, I think we've been ditched," I tell him, pointing to Jasper's empty bar stool.
Edward cranes around to look. "For real? Jasper left?"
"With my friend, Alice, I think." You go, girl.
He turns back to look at me and all the conversation and laughter of the past hour evaporates, leaving behind this sexual awareness that feels so close to ignition, it's like tinder. I can't breathe and my mouth has gone dry. When I lick my lips nervously, Edward's eyes drop to my mouth and immediately, my nipples go hard. Damn. He looks back up to my eyes and I can see his Adam's apple bob as he swallows. His mouth is slightly open and the tip of his tongue sneaks out to touch the corner. My thighs tighten up with desire and I squirm on my barstool. His eyes are still on mine and every second we stare at each other, the heat ratchets up another notch until I'm about to combust. This is a communion, too, but an entirely different kind.
"I want to kiss you right now," he murmurs.
I am beyond speech. I manage just one dip of my chin, and then he's surging forward, hands grabbing for the barstool on either side of my hips, and his mouth is on mine, and…holy hell. The lips feel every bit as good as they look, soft, strong. When I reach for his face, his light stubble scrapes my palms and if I don't have this guy, all of him, tonight, I won't survive it. Then he angles his face and opens his mouth. I open, too, and when his tongue touches mine, I go molten. A shiver runs through me and he moans, the softest, sexiest sound, straight into my mouth and down my throat.
In a fog, I feel his hands release my barstool and fasten onto me instead. He slides off his barstool and then he's between my knees and my back is pressed into the bar. I grab a handful of his hair at the back of his head, thick, silky, and springy. His hand slides down the back of my thigh, and it's the most natural reaction in the world to lift my knees and hook my heels behind his hips. Now we're pretty much grinding on each other, which feels fantastic until a throat clears behind us.
It's the bartender, hands spread on the bar and looking so bored with the two of us.
"Last call," he says. "You know the saying. You don't have to go home but you can't stay here. I'm thinking you two won't want to."
We look back at each other. Edward blinks. Despite the astounding good looks and the wicked kissing skills, his shell-shocked expression tells me he doesn't usually do this kind of thing. Well, he looks turned on and shell-shocked, which is perfect because that describes what's happening in my brain to a T.
"Um…" he says.
"You said your place was close?" I whisper.
He nods, his eyes darkening with lust. Holy shit, we're doing this.
Thank god his place is close. He pays for our drinks and leads me out of the bar by the hand. We walk the two short blocks to his building at top speed and in complete silence, like words might break this spell.
The building is three floors, a reclaimed industrial space, and Edward's apartment, half the floor, is on top. He ushers us in and locks the door behind us. I take one brief look around and note big windows, tons of open space and not much else.
"Nice place," I say, even though I really have no idea if it is or not.
I look at him and he looks at me. Then he's on me, kissing me again, pulling me up to my toes, backing me into the door. I'm so distracted by his tongue and all the things it's doing to mine that I don't immediately realize that he's picked me up, that my legs are wrapped around his hips, that one of his hands is on my breast. For an endless stretch of minutes, I'm pinned there, the cold steel at my back and the hot man between my legs. I'm clutching at him, grinding on him, lost in kisses and lips and tongue and hands and more more more. He's everywhere, gripping my hips, sliding around to stroke my ass. His mouth roams over me, too, kisses on my mouth, my cheek and chin, my earlobe and jaw, down my neck as far as he can reach without letting me go and then back up. Everything falls away. There's only the dark and this man and his hands and mouth and me. I've been reduced to my desire for him.
"Um," he mumbles into my neck between kisses. "I would really like to take you to bed right now. If you want to do that."
I fist my hand into his hair, pulling his face back up to mine, and kiss him hard. "I would really like to do that."
We are a mess, unbuckling and unbuttoning, pulling clothes free and off, stumbling, tugging at each other, staggering through his dark apartment until we're next to a large mattress on a low platform.
"I haven't moved all my furniture in yet," he says.
"I don't care."
Then he pulls my shirt up over my head and flings it away into the darkness. His hands come up to my breasts as he leans down to kiss me again, kneading gently as I go to work on his belt buckle. When I get that undone and the button fly on his jeans open, I reach in and take hold of him. He breaks our kiss and hisses.
"God," he mutters. I squeeze and stroke. "God!" he says louder, his head falling back. And as much as I like the look of him helpless in my hands, I don't want this to be about a handjob. Oh, no.
All it takes is a nudge, pushing his worn jeans down off his hipbones the smallest amount, and Edward takes it from there. His head jerks back up, his hands slide around my ribcage, and then his fingers, those incredibly nimble fingers of a craftsman, have my bra unhooked and dispatched into the darkness.
How long has it been since I've slept with someone? Alec, in my last year of grad school, I think. Meeting men as a working twenty-something is a bitch. My dry spell has been significant. That's got to be what's powering this need in me, because I am not, as a rule, a highly sexual creature. But with Edward's hands on me, with his kiss drugging me senseless, it feels like I've only lived to get into this bed with him, and I won't be complete until he's buried in me.
My breasts are bare, but he doesn't linger on those. His hands find my hips and he yanks me in tight against him, kissing me with a languid thoroughness that undoes me. His tongue is a blatant, obscene precursor of what he's about to do to me, and I melt, helpless and needy in his arms. His hands come around and clutch at my bottom, and then he bunches my skirt up with those long, talented fingers until his bare palms are pressed against my ass.
Oh, yes. I'm pretty sure my hips grind on him of their own accord and I do not care. Never in my life have I wanted a man as much as I want this one, right now. I slide my own hands down his bare back, a landscape of elegant musculature and bones, and down into his jeans, hanging loose on his hips. I find his ass, too, and pull him in close, so close I can feel the hard ridge of his cock against my belly.
"Oh, yeah," he mutters, and then I'm airborne, lifted by him like I weigh nothing, and tossed back onto his bed. I land in a huff and he's on me, his body covering mine, his weight pinning me down. His jeans have slid down enough and my skirt has ridden up enough that we're nearly there. With a couple of small movements, he could be inside me, which is a thought that makes me arch up under him with desire.
But Edward backs off unwilling to leave anything between us. He leans up on one hand and tugs at my skirt, now no more than a rumpled wad of fabric twisted around my hips.
"Off," he says, brooking no arguments.
"Jeans, too," I say breathlessly.
He kicks them away as I shimmy out of my skirt underneath him. When he lowers himself over me again, he's naked, and so am I. A spear of longing shoots through me, so acute, so intense that I'm breathless with it. I've never wanted anyone—anyone—as much as I want him right now.
"Hang on," he mutters, feeling behind himself blindly. For a condom, I realize belatedly. And that prosaic detail almost brings me back to reality, but not for long, because I'm watching him sheath himself in the near-darkness, which is mouthwatering, I won't lie. My thighs have spread for him shamelessly. I'm laying here on his bed, exposed and waiting, offering myself up to him to plunder. And then he does.
No preamble, no time wasted on gentle touches or superficial endearments. He leans over me, lines himself up, and thrusts in.
Speechless. No sound, no words. My mouth falls open helplessly. It could be a soundless cry of pleasure, it could be a labored gasp for breath. It could be all of those things. I don't have a chance to gather my wits or catch my breath because he's relentless, hammering into me with a decadent, bone-melting power that leaves no corner of me untouched.
He's so matter-of-fact about it, hooking an arm under my knee and hauling my leg up, a move that has me moaning in shameless pleasure. The strength and power of him overwhelms me. I don't have a chance to participate in this, to employ any of those Cosmo tricks in my dusty arsenal. I'm just…taken. So thoroughly and completely that I'm helpless. I'm still overwhelmed, battling for each breath I drag into my lungs when my climax surges up and takes me completely by surprise. No gentle build, no searching for it, chasing after it. It's just there, a massive tidal wave, arcing over me and dragging me under. I hear myself, my own voice crying out in a way I never have before.
I'm still lost in that dark void of pleasure when his entire body goes as rigid as steel. He hisses through his teeth and lets out a strangled groan, before collapsing down on me, gasping into my hair.
It might be five minutes or a day later, I can't tell. But finally, he rolls away, flat on his back. When I can force myself to turn my head to look at him, his eyes are closed and his arm is flung up over his head. We're not even square on the bed. We fell across it at an angle and that's where we still are, flung like debris in an explosion.
That's exactly what happened here. Some elemental combustion of lust that has blown us both to bits.
And not once did I think about Edward in that video. I wanted to see if the real man measured up to the one on that video, and from the moment he kissed me, I forgot—completely—about that other him, that image I had of him.
The sex we just had was nothing like that slow, sensual, gently lit exploration in the video and I didn't care in the slightest. Because the real Edward is better. There's a man behind that face and body and I really like him and—oh my God, I am so fucked.
I work for the company that owns his video. I've seen him have sex on camera. That was the whole reason I approached him in the first place.
I. Am. The. Worst.
This is such a gross ethical and moral violation. I know things about him that I wouldn't know if I hadn't found them out via my super weird and invasive job. And he doesn't know I know them.
I sit up, even though my body is still tingling and weak. Edward lays a hand on my back, right between my shoulder blades, and slides it down my spine, finally curling it around my hip.
"Damn," he says, still slightly breathless. "This was, um, unexpected, but totally, totally amazing."
Until he finds out I watched a porn he was in and fantasized about sleeping with him until fortune threw him into my path and I actually did it. I am a terrible person.
I slap my hands over my face. "This is the absolute worst thing I've ever done," I mumble into my palms.
"I can't… God... I am so…" I lurch off his bed, fumbling in the dark for my clothes, just desperate to escape this awful, sick feeling. I feel like a stalker, a pervert, like I took advantage of this perfectly nice guy. Awesome. He's an awesome guy. I didn't expect to like him so much. He's really great, and I'm a creepy, lying pervert. Oh, God…
I find my skirt, and then my shirt. My bra and panties are a lost cause in this darkness, but I don't care. My jacket and flats are over by the door, along with my purse. I have literally no memory of losing any of that stuff. From the second he put his hands on me, it was like I became incapable of rational thought. Thoughts of any kind, really. I exercised no judgment or reason. I wanted and I took. Alice was right to try to hold me back.
"Bella?" Edward's sitting up now, arms propped on his knees as I stagger through the darkness of his apartment stuffing myself back into my clothes. "Are you seriously leaving?"
"I'm sorry." That's entirely insufficient. For everything. For cutting out now, and for approaching him in the first place. But nothing I add will make it better and if I explain everything, it will make it so, SO much worse. I just need to get out of here, away from him, and forget this ever happened. If I can.
"I can't…" Edward stops and rakes a hand through his hair. Then he scoffs. "Sure. Yeah. Go. This was fun."
His scathing sarcasm makes me feel even worse, if possible. But it's still not as bad as it would be if I told him the truth, so I don't. I don't say another word as I grab my bag in one hand and my shoes in another and run out the door barefoot.
Alice calls at lunchtime the next day. I'm eating at my desk, too embarrassed to risk facing other human beings.
"So?" she says with no preamble.
"So yourself. I'm thinking you have as much to share as I do."
She sighs, sounding ridiculously dreamy. "Jasper is just…" Sigh…
"So you guys…"
"And he's so nice. Smart, too. He's a graduate student, getting a PhD in history. Can you believe that?"
"He sounds awesome."
"We're going out again tonight. He wants to take me to this sushi place downtown that he loves—"
Alarm bells sound in my head.
"You can't see him again, Alice."
"What? What are you talking about?"
"Because he's Edward's friend and I bolted on Edward last night. You were right. I was being seriously inappropriate and—"
"I never said—"
"—it's such a gross ethical violation. I can't believe I did that."
"I suspect the porn industry isn't so strict about its ethical guidelines."
"But he's not in the porn industry. He's an incredibly nice guy who's just living his life, but I went over there with an agenda. I slept with him with an agenda. I'm the worst."
"I think you're being a little hard on yourself. He slept with you, too. I saw his face when you said hello. He was interested in you all on his own."
"Because he didn't know why I was there. If he knew I watched him in a porn first…" I shudder, unable to even finish that sentence.
"So you slept with him?"
"Yes! Were you not listening? I stalked him like a creep and I slept with him and now I'm so—"
"Was he as good as he looked in the video?"
I'm speechless. "Um…I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know? You slept with him. Were you so drunk you forgot?"
"I wasn't drunk." And oh, God, I remember every frantic, sexually charged minute of it in vivid detail. "I just… while it was happening, I was so caught up in it, I sort of…forgot. About him in the porn. It just didn't cross my mind."
"What do you mean, wow?"
"I mean, the guy was so hot on camera that you felt compelled to check him out in the flesh. So to speak. And then when it actually happened, he was so hot in reality that he made you forget why you were there in the first place."
"That's a whole lot of hot."
"Yeah, it was."
"And you're really not going to pursue it any further? Because, I gotta say, I saw the two of you talking and there was a serious connection happening. You were so caught up in each other that you didn't even notice when Jasper and I said we were leaving."
"You told us you were leaving?"
I sigh and press my fingertips against my temple. I didn't drink all that much but damn, do I feel like I've got a hangover today. "Yeah, he was amazing. In more than one way," I concede. "But don't you see? I met him under false, and seriously creepy pretenses. If he ever found out, he'd be disgusted with me."
"Don't you think you should let him show you himself what he thinks about it?"
"No, I don't." Because right now I'm just a rude one night stand. I couldn't bear to see him look at me with disgust.
"Well," Alice says with a dramatic sigh. "You'd better come up with a plan, because I am for sure seeing Jasper again and he's his best friend."
"Then I can't be your friend anymore." I don't mean that, of course, and Alice knows I don't because she laughs.
"Fine. Wallow in your solitary misery while I'm out banging my hot new boyfriend, torturing yourself with thoughts of the hot monkey sex you could be having if you weren't such a coward."
"I'm not a coward, I'm a creep. And I'm trying to do the right thing here and be less creepy."
"Okay, whatever. Listen, like I said, I'm seeing Jasper again tonight, but do you want me to come over tomorrow night and fish your self-pitying ass out of the bottom of a pint of Ben & Jerry's?"
"Ugh, I wish. I have Irina's party tomorrow night, remember?"
"Ah, yes, you have to tell me what a fancy porn industry event looks like. What are you wearing?"
"That black strapless thing I have. The short one."
"I bet you'll look like a nun compared to everyone else."
"It's not that kind of industry event. She's just hosting a cocktail party for her new distributors. Suits and ties all around."
"Hmmm, too bad. Call me and tell me about it later."
"And don't wallow."
That, I can't promise.
It turns out that a cocktail party full of porn distributors is slightly more raunchy than your average corporate shindig, but only slightly. In the end, this is business and these people are all about making money at it. So while the guys might make a few more off-color jokes than normal, the conversations invariably shift to market shares and earnings vectors and distribution channels and I'm so bored I could put my own eye out.
Irina made me come so I could talk up her brand new searchable, sortable title database, since she's super proud of it. But generally, I describe one or two of the highlights and then she gets so excited that she charges in and does the rest of the talking for me. That's for the best, as she's much better at it. She's Amazonian-tall, tottering on vicious spike heels, with a silky fall of platinum hair and her amazing body wrapped in a tight red dress. And when she's chattering animatedly about her new database? You can't take your eyes off her. This is her show, I'm just along for the ride.
While she's got a passel of suits thoroughly enraptured, I take advantage of the lull and hit the bathroom. She's rented out an event room in one of the fanciest hotels in town, all part of her effort to rise above the sordid connotations of the industry. She takes this as seriously as the biggest Fortune Five Hundred companies do, and it shows in the sophisticated event she's put together.
I'm just making my way back through the lush oak-and-marble lobby of the hotel when a familiar voice behind me stops me in my tracks.
"Don't tell me…you're married."
I turn to face Edward. He's leaning on the archway leading to the hotel bar, arms crossed over his chest, hard eyes raking over me from head to toe. He looks good. So, so good. He looked mouthwatering at the bar the other night, but today he's even more delicious, in a pressed white dress shirt and black pants.
"What are you doing here?"
He hooks a thumb over his shoulder. "The hotel is thinking about commissioning me to design a new custom bar for them. I had a meeting."
Of all the dumb luck.
"So you're married, right? I was just your girl's night out fling?"
I shake my head. "I'm not married."
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. I'm starting to panic. There's a room full of porn industry execs behind me who all know me by name, and if he figures that out, he's going to figure out the rest in a millisecond.
"So, what then? Why was I the 'worst thing you've ever done'?" he asks, unfolding his arms to airquote.
"No! Not you. You were not the worst. Not at all. It was me. I was just…it was wrong of me to be there."
He scowls and pushes off the doorway, advancing on me. "Do you…Are you crazy-religious or something? What the hell was so wrong about what we did? I'm pretty sure you were into it until five seconds before you bolted."
I open my mouth to protest, but before I can, I hear another voice behind me.
"Edward? Oh my God, I haven't seen you in ages!"
Irina's heels click rapidly across the marble floor behind me. I close my eyes and groan.
"Irina?" he says.
"Hey! You look fabulous, as always." She plants her hands on his shoulders and kisses his cheek.
"Same to you. You look gorgeous, as always." He's saying all the right hey-old-friend things to her, but his expression is still puzzled, as he tries to work out me and Irina in the same place, both in cocktail dresses.
"I see you've met my new secret weapon, Bella."
He swivels back to look at me. "You know Irina?"
I flinch, like he hit me. "I, um… I work for her."
Irina slings an arm around my shoulders and yanks me into her side, her rough approximation of a hug. "She's single-handedly wrangled my entire back catalogue into her brilliant new database. I'm telling you, she's going to revolutionize the industry."
"Database," Edward says flatly. "So that would be like a…library?"
"Yes! And imagine each title has a Dewey decimal number, like in an online catalogue, and you can search it in the same way. It's brilliant. It's going to totally revitalize my backlist sales."
He stares steadily at me. "Which would make you sort of a…librarian, right?"
I can barely speak around the lump of mortification lodged in my throat. "Kind of. Yeah."
Irina turns to me. "You know, Edward could have been a star."
"Irina…" he groans, but not in a don't-you-dare-tell-my-secret kind of way, more of a please-not-this-again kind of way.
"I got him on screen once after college, but that was all. Damned shame. Look at that face."
"I can see that."
He looks at me again. "I bet you can. In fact, I bet you have." I'm sure my face is the color of a tomato and I'm doing my best to melt into the floor and disappear, but it just won't work. To my surprise, Edward doesn't look disgusted. Or even mad. If I'm not mistaken, he looks like he's trying to suppress a smile, which is really confusing.
"Listen," Irina says. "We need to catch up, but I have a room full of distributors in there and I can't keep them waiting."
"Sure, no problem," he says with a shrug. "It was good seeing you, Irina."
She starts backing towards the ballroom. "But I'll call you. We'll get together soon for drinks and catch up, yes? Garrett will insist." She's talking about her husband, Garrett, also a former porn star. Who apparently also knows Edward.
"Absolutely. We'll catch up soon." Then he reaches out and takes me by the arm. "Hey, Irina, I'm going to borrow your secret weapon for a minute, okay?"
Her eyes flick from me to Edward and she grins. "Sure thing. See you soon, Bella."
Irina turns and strides back into the ballroom, leaving me and Edward standing in uncomfortable silence, his hand still curled around my arm.
"Come on. I'll buy you a drink. We need to have a conversation. A proper one."
I don't protest as he tugs me into the hotel bar and to a small table in the corner. It's pretty empty, so the waiter is on us in an instant. He orders a beer and I barely squeak out a request for wine, my eyes fixed on my lap the whole time.
As soon as the waiter departs, I look up to see he's already watching me.
"Edward, I am so, so sorry. I know what I did is just awful. Nobody's more horrified at my behavior than me."
He's silent for a second as he mulls something over. He's already surprised me. I figured as soon as he'd put two and two together, he'd have walked away without looking back.
"What you did," he says slowly. "So, can I assume you've seen…erm…my work on film?"
My face goes an even brighter shade of red. I'm going to melt soon. "It's my job," I mumble. "I watch the content and tag it with the appropriate descriptors."
I can't take it anymore. I hide my face in my hands. "It's just…I saw your video and you were so… and then…"
"So, that night at the bar, you knew who I was?"
"Yeah." Then a thought occurs to me and I drop my hands. "Not like that! I wasn't stalking you or anything creepy like that. Well, anything more creepy than having watched you have sex on camera. I was telling the truth when I told you I go there all the time with Alice. We do. And then I looked up, and there you were. And I couldn't resist. I'm so sorry."
The waiter appears with our drinks and we fall into brittle silence while he sets them in front of us. We're pointedly not making eye contact. It's painful. The waiter withdraws, the only one of the three of us who's smiling, and I drink half my wine in one gulp because oh God, I need it. Edward turns his beer glass in circles with those long, nimble fingers I know so well.
Into the deafening silence, Edward speaks. "So you're sorry because…you watched a porn I was in seven years ago as part of your job?"
"Yeah. And then I introduced myself to you because of it. Really, I'm not usually this person. I'm always the uptight, ethical one, and—"
"It was the other way around."
"I introduced myself to you first."
"You did? Oh, that's right, you did. But only because I shoved myself in your face."
He smiles then, just a tug at the corner of his mouth. "Only because I didn't have time to shove myself in your face."
"Really?" I'm blushing again, but now for a different reason.
He meets my eyes now, and nods. "If you hadn't come over and sat down next to me, I would have gone over and sat down next to you."
"You would have?"
"That's generally what I do when I want to meet a beautiful woman."
"Jasper and I were trying to figure out how to play it so we didn't come across as creepers when I turned around and there you were."
"Wait… you saw me first?"
"I think I did. What does it matter?"
"You don't care?"
"That you saw my video? No."
I'm stunned. Speechless. "Seriously? You don't think it was a terrible invasion of your privacy?"
"Bella, you're not the only person who's seen it, you know that, right? It's a porn. Lots of people have seen that. It's kind of the point of them…to be seen. So how can it be an invasion of my privacy?"
"But I saw it in a professional capacity. It was wrong of me to get fixated on you. Wrong to approach you. It was a gross ethical violation."
"The porn industry isn't exactly stringent about its ethics."
"That's what Alice said," I mutter.
"You were fixated on me?"
"Um, yeah. You were…it was… unforgettable. You don't think that's gross of me?"
"I think it's flattering."
Heat is washing through me again, but it's a different, much better kind of heat. The kind of heat Edward sparked in me last time I was talking to him at a bar. "You do?"
He puts his palms flat on the table and leans forward. "Look, let's just clear the air about this and get it over with. I went to college with Garrett, Irina's husband. He was my roommate. He got hired to do a film shortly after graduation, and that's where he met Irina. I became friends with her, too. About a year after that, they asked me if I'd be interested in trying it out. Money was tight, my business hadn't taken off yet, and honestly? It sounded fun. One of those things you could say you did once when you were young. I don't share it at parties, but I'm also not ashamed of it."
"You shouldn't be," I whisper, which makes him smile again.
"They wanted me to do a few more, but once was enough for me, so I hung up the body oil and chalked it up to a once in a lifetime experience. End of the story. Your turn. Explain how you ended up working for Irina."
I shift in my seat and fold my hands on the table. "I got my master's in library science last year from Syracuse, but libraries are slashing budgets everywhere and I couldn't find a job. I was working at the T-Shirt Hut when Irina called and offered me this. Building the database and cataloguing the collection."
"Interesting way to put your degree to work."
"I'm being serious."
"So am I. It's a creative solution. And Irina's obviously proud of the work you've done."
"I'm good at my job," I say with a twinge of pride in my voice.
"You should be. So… here we are."
He's got those fantastic green eyes fixed on mine and it's making me lightheaded and giddy. He's not mad. He's not horrified. Actually, he might be turned on. And that idea is…well.
"Here we are," I whisper. My mouth has gone dry.
"Do you get…um, interested in a lot of the guys in the videos you watch for work?"
I make a face. "Eeew no. You'd be surprised at how boring it is after a while."
He leans in again. "So what was different about me?"
"Everything," I say on an exhale. "Just, the way you touched her, and the way it unfolded."
"You know it's all choreographed, right?"
"I know. Still, there was just something about you. Something different."
"Can I ask you another question?"
"Anything. It's the least I can do."
"Let's assume you hadn't gotten around to archiving my video yet, and Jasper and I had gotten our act together and crossed the bar first…"
"Would it still have happened the same way?"
"I said 'yeah.' From the minute I met you, I pretty much forgot the reason I'd done it."
"So you weren't thinking about my…erm…onscreen performance during our...?" He waves a finger between us.
I shake my head. "Not for a second. The real thing was too overwhelming."
"Well, now I'm really flattered. I thought so, too." He clears his throat. "That it was, um, overwhelming."
As our eyes meet across the table, desire ignites again, just like that night at the bar, just before he leaned in and kissed me. My stomach clenches pleasantly. Actually, lots of things clench pleasantly.
"You're really okay with this?"
"I'm really okay with this."
"Good, because I like you."
He grins. "I like you, too."
"I'd ask you if you want to have a drink with me, but we just had one."
"So we did. If you had asked me out for a drink, what would we do after our drinks?"
"Well." He shrugs one shoulder and slides a hand across the bar, snagging my fingers in his. His thumb runs up the side of my index finger and then slowly sweeps across my knuckles. Holy hell, I'm so turned on just by that one tiny touch. "I might ask you back to my place. After our drinks. What do you think you might say to that?"
"I might say that sounds really nice."
He raises a hand in the air. "Check, please!"
It's a little bit later, after he's paid the check and I've retrieved my coat and made my excuses to Irina. When I exit the ballroom, he's waiting there, and my whole body fires up in anticipation. Edward's looking at me like we have the most delicious secret between us. Which, I suppose, we do.
He smiles and puts his hand on the small of my back, steering me toward the door. Then he leans in and whispers in my ear.
"So, we've already tackled your fantasy. What do you say we tackle one of mine next?"
I turn my head to look at him and his face is so close to mine. I'm lost for a minute, in green eyes and long lashes and cheekbones. I'm blushing…again. This man will have every inch of my skin permanently pink. "What did you have in mind?"
"Well, I hate to sound like a cliché, but I can't help it. I've always had a thing for sexy librarians."
"Hmm, well isn't that lucky?"
He grins, which makes me smile and now we're smiling at each other like a couple of happy idiots. "I think so."
"Good to know my degree is finally useful."
"Oh, yes," he says, sliding a hand down my arm until his fingers intertwine with mine. "We'll put that degree to very good use."