Contest entry for the Control. Possess. Seduce. Contest

Title: Blushes and Bruises

Rating: M

Summary: Two men want the same woman—the boss and the boyfriend. Two points of view.

Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable characters herein. No copyright infringement is intended.

Blushes and Bruises

The Boss

The interruption from my finance director was an annoyance. I didn't interfere in the daily activity downstairs, and I was busy, but he'd found something he wanted to show me. Apparently, this couldn't wait.

The financial report he placed on my desk looked like any other, except for an additional entry next to his finger. I shifted my glasses until the figures came into sharp clarity and then looked at him over the lenses.

"Who added this?" I demanded.

"One of the young financial lawyers—a female," he answered, with a disrespectful tone he might later regret.

"That's a lot of money, Marcus. Have you checked it?"

"Of course, Mr. Masen…Sir. It's a legitimate claim."

"…that you overlooked."

He fluttered his eyelids closed in that supercilious manner he used to show frustration. "It's new. A loophole."

"Then I'd like to meet this young female, since I'm looking at your salary." Tapping my finger where his had just resided, I added, "Right here."

His Adam's Apple moved as he acknowledged my threat. "I'll go get her."

Incredibly, he left without apologizing, returning with a young woman who was adjusting her jacket, looking terrified. I had never seen her before.

"This is Isabella Swan, Sir."

Isabella Swan was the name of the student we secured for her final year of financial law, lured with a job offer and tuition payment. She quickly grasped the opportunity before it passed her by, much like the way I conducted business.

I assessed her in a moment, beautifully groomed but dressed without a lot of expense. She answered my questions nervously, obviously in awe of me, something I found stimulating. Certainly, nothing about her irritated me. She was a very pretty girl with a sharp eye and the ability to stay abreast of current legislation, unlike my finance director, whom I would now keep on a tight leash until I could terminate his employment.

Promoting Isabella to associate was not unheard of, but unusual. She continued to save me money, so I wanted to keep her satisfied. Acting like a CEO who pressed the flesh with his employees, I would call at her desk and ask why she was still here and what she was working on. A little more comfortable with me now, she asked me to call her Bella, and I began to look forward to seeing her enticing smile. She was also astute enough to know a tight summary held my interest while the incidental details did not.

That Christmas, she brought a guest to the executive dinner and I had to shake the hand of a very unworthy suitor. The girl I had imagined bent over my desk with her skirt hitched around her waist turned all her smiles to him, and forgot about me. He fawned over her during the dinner and conversation, and thought himself entertaining. I made an effort to ignore his shenanigans until he took her to the dance floor, and then I left, disappointed.

Somehow, I managed to shatter an expensive mirror in my home that night, cutting my hand. With no memory of it, I allowed the cognac I consumed to take the blame for the accident.

I swung past her desk on Monday morning, and noticed the usual ponytail replaced by a mane freed to cascade over her shoulders. She was so immersed in what she was reading that clearing my throat made her jump and knock her pen to the floor. As she bent down to retrieve it, her hair parted, revealing a sizeable bruise where her neck met her shoulder.

The images that filled my brain almost overwhelmed me. His mouth there, his thumbs, inflicting injury in the throes of passion. Lost for words, I pointed to the mark and, in doing so, drew her attention to my bandage.

"What happened, Sir?" she asked, standing to attention.

"It's nothing. Why are you bruised, Bella?" Now she was lost for words, looking anywhere but at me, blushing, and covering the mark with her hair. "Did someone hurt you?" I asked, demanding an answer.

"No." Turning a brilliant shade of red, she echoed, "It's nothing."

Throwing the same words back at me left unnecessary tension hanging in the air between us. From her eyes, I could tell she had no intention of explaining.

"Very well," I said and walked away, but that bruise wormed its way into my brain and I came up with many versions of why it was there.

Some of them disturbed me more than others.



The boyfriend was still sniffing around her weeks later, just another corporate lawyer with a substandard "cum laude" pass from a degree paid for with daddy's money – not someone we'd consider employing. The deep rumble of his motorcycle outside the building would force me to peek out the blinds in contempt. He would cut the engine and remove his helmet, seemingly happy to wait in the cold, so I made sure he stayed out there long enough to suffer. There was always last minute information I needed before the next meeting, and my Bella would acquire it without hesitation.

Chuckling, I'd say to myself, "I'm not ready to let her go yet," as I watched him freezing to death. It was a fine game only I could win.

Bella would give me what I needed, and join him out front, clad in leather pants. I would have to find out where she changed into them. She was a sweet girl, offering a welcoming hug for his patience, and accepting the jacket he helped her put on.

I understood the appeal of this kind of transport, but my warm limousine with its television and comfort was infinitely safer for her. I hated him for risking her life on the back of his bike, but I could not admit that I watched them.

In spring, he was still picking her up, infuriating me. I cringed when I saw the tattoo so poorly fashioned that it crept out from the sleeve of his grubby looking tee. When I watched her investigate the inky disfigurement, most probably horrified, I knew it was time to act. I needed to separate my Bella from his clutches. I began to request her attendance at evening meetings and dinners. He would soon tire of his nights alone.

Her legs looked fantastic with the streetlights filtering into my car and I willed her to look up at me and raise the skirt so I could see the shape of her thigh. She changed position, sensually inviting me to keep staring, but she couldn't read my mind. My imagination had to complete the explicit part of the scene. Entering the restaurant, I may have misjudged the location of the small of her back and touched the cheek of her behind. She put me in my place immediately with an energizing flash of her eyes.

Oh yes, things would soon be progressing. I would make sure of it, slowly but surely.

The motorcycle stopped coming to take her home. I enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing I had played a part in ending that tedious relationship until something dawned on me. The bike's arrival was my way of knowing she was leaving the office. Finding her desk empty on nights when we had no appointments sent me into a rage, so I started calling her, requesting urgent information. Initially willing, she soon thought I would accept an excuse like having dinner. I made no attempt to disguise the anger I was controlling.

"Sir, may I speak with you?" she asked me early one morning. These surprise visits had become her way of apologizing and they were often full of ideas that made me money.

"Of course, Bella. Come in."

"I want to show you something."

Today, she came around to my side of the desk, and I swiveled my chair toward her, picturing her lowering her sweet backside to my lap. So close to me, I detected a whiff of female arousal, and glanced at the closed door, thinking all my Christmases had come at once. Taking my mouse, she leaned over the laptop. It was a Herculean feat to stop my hand from caressing that curve.

"See this new drive?" she asked, moving her hair back so I could see. For a moment, I was preoccupied with her neck, imagining my bruises there. Shutting off those thoughts, I tried to focus on the arrow, circling her target on the screen. "This is where I save the documents for each project. All my research and reports are here."

Watching as she opened and closed various folders, I didn't warm to the idea of all this being in one place. "There is some highly confidential information here. Who else has access?"

"No one," she answered, leaning on the desk. "Just you and I."

Sharing something with only her was titillating, but I wondered at its purpose. "So why are we sharing? Isn't it your job to provide answers to my questions?" I enjoyed reminding her that I was still angry at her inability to fulfil my immediate requests of late.

"Yes it is," she said with a faintly forced smile. "But I know you hate waiting, so this is more efficient for you. If I can't get to my laptop immediately, then you can look it up yourself."

Scanning the list in front of me, I found it held no appeal. "There are a lot of documents here. How would I find what I want?" I looked over my glasses into her eyes, seeing them sparkle as if she thought I meant to encourage her.

"I'll show you how to search," she offered, enthusiastically trying to sell the idea. "You can find anything you want based on an amount or a word."

As she took the mouse again, I covered her hand with mine. "Don't," I cautioned her, shutting the lesson down. A tiny frown worked a crease between her eyebrows and she stared at me. "I don't need training…from my lawyer…who I pay well to do this for me."

Her eyes opened wide but she retained her composure when I released her hand. "Yes, Sir," she acquiesced, with a hint of toxin in her voice. Standing up, she added, "I didn't imagine it would happen very often."

"No, it wouldn't. We're in total agreement," I said sarcastically, ending the conversation. I didn't have to say another word for her to see it was a good idea to leave.

That was the first night I dreamed of hurting Bella Swan, fucking her too roughly and leaving purple hand marks on her neck. I put it down to frustration.

I continued to treat her with disdain until I was scheduled to go to New York with only four hours of business and a weekend to play. When I admitted I could do with the break, she nodded, saying she hadn't been there for years. It was the perfect moment for my invitation.

"I need you to come with me, Bella."

Ohh…she blushed. The sweetest tinge of blood swept over her cheeks.

"Where would we stay?" she asked, looking past me, probably imagining somewhere glamorous.

"I have an apartment in Manhattan," I replied, knowing she would die for the view.

"I…I don't think that would be proper."

I almost snorted at her impertinence, thinking she could say no. The blush was now spreading down her throat and I felt my cock filling as I slipped into the dream when I had my fingers there, choking the life out of her.

"A hotel then," I offered, quickly backpedaling, very unlike me.

Struggling with an answer, she eventually said, "I think you should take one of the men."

"But I need you." I need your legs spread on my sheets.

"You can always call me if you need anything. You know I'll make myself available to you."

"But not in person."

Shaking her head slowly, she answered, finally meeting my eyes. "No. Not this time."

Opening and closing my fist under the desk did nothing to relieve the tension, so I dismissed her quickly. Seeing the ambivalence in her stance before she closed my door almost made me soften and call her back to try again, with more civility this time. Then I worried what would happen if she turned me down a second time.

I locked the door of my office and considered my options.

Requesting a copy of her contract, I received an email telling me that nothing had been formalized since she finished her internship. It was sloppy and incompetent, making me furious. I studied the workplace harassment policy, reading her right to say no if she felt uncomfortable or intimidated in any way. To try to coerce her would place me in breach.

I went to my bathroom and splashed water on my face, trying to make sense of why she affected me this way. With trembling hands, I looked in the mirror, studying the grays at my temple, the body still strong and lean from hours in my gym. There was no doubt I was mentally exhausted, chronically and bone-deep tired, and a weekend fucking Bella Swan in New York would have completely rejuvenated me.

Examining every moment from the time she came into my office until I lost control, I could still smell the scent of her arousal. There was no way I had imagined it when it was so unique, and I felt like I'd missed an incredible opportunity. There would be no peace for me now.

I left early that day in a purple haze of bruises and blood, and the next morning, there was a bag from a hardware store on the floor. Apparently, I'd gone out and bought three types of rope. Worried my housekeeper would find it, I should have thrown it out, but something made me want to hang on to it. I took it into the office and stashed it in a drawer of my desk.

Occasionally I would pull out the drawer and wonder what I was doing with a bag full of rope right next to me. I moved it to my bathroom cabinet in case someone saw it and asked a question I couldn't answer.

As the trip to New York drew closer, Bella fussed over me, always ready to drop what she was doing whenever I needed her. She had disappointed me, but it would only take her smile for me to imagine her as my partner. We would make a great team running this company.

I already knew a lifetime of having her would never be enough…if only she'd fucking stop fighting me.

Going to New York without her started to fill me with fear. I had been wearing her quick intelligence like armor and now it felt like going into battle, unprotected. There had to be a way to get her to change her mind.

Relinquishing every shred of my ego, I decided it was better to lay myself bare in private than fail in New York. I would tell her how much I valued her and offer her a bonus if we pulled it off. She could stay anywhere she wanted: with me, without me, as long as she was there for the meetings. Opening myself to her might even make her start to like me.

A new beginning.

"Can I see you before you leave?" I asked, hearing her exhale. "Do you have something more pressing?" God, I had already slipped into antagonism. Was it possible for me to change?

"Yes, I do actually. Can it wait?"

"I won't keep you long, Bella."

A second or two of silence and then, "Yes, Sir." I smiled, feeling the thrill of control.

She knocked before coming in quietly, and I noticed her beautiful bone structure and eyes, played up with more makeup than usual.

"Are you going out?"


The curt response made me get on with it. "So…Tuesday."

"I think you're ready."

"I'm not."

Blinking, like I was about to reveal something she'd missed, she asked, "What else do you need, Sir?

"You have to come with me…Bella. I don't think I can do this on my own. Stay where you like, do what you like, just attend the meetings."

"I can't," she replied, and gripped her bottom lip with her teeth.

"I'll give you a bonus." Her eyes closed for a second and she didn't answer. I had to beg. "Please."

"I'm resigning," she responded, cold as ice, not an outcome I had anticipated.


"It's time to move on," she answered, and I looked at her hand trembling on the desk. She snatched it into her lap.

The finality was reminiscent, clouding my vision. Another day, another girl. I had to get away physically, recoup, and plan my next move.

"Will you excuse me for a minute? I need the bathroom." It was such a mundane thing to say coming out of my inner turmoil.

She nodded and sat back, taking out her phone.

I tried to pee but couldn't, flushing the toilet anyway and washing my hands. Grabbing a hand towel, I looked at the drawer and smiled, remembering when I bought the rope. I'd given myself a choice of three colors: pink, blue and purple. Pretty colors for a pretty girl. I had already cut the purple one into sections. It had a lovely, plasticky feel I liked as I tied the slipknot I'd practiced, and imagined how quickly I'd need to get it over her head. With a bit of luck, I'd get to see it disappear as it blended into Bella's final bruise.

Adjusting my jacket to make sure the coil of rope wasn't obvious, I looked in the mirror and saw a new man. After running a hand through my hair, I gripped the door handle and breathed out…

The boyfriend

Depending on who you asked, it was either on our first or second date when Bella invited me to her work Christmas party. She said the first date didn't count since we didn't go to the birthday dinner together, but it did for me. I monopolized her from the moment I met her.

Bella was beautiful, ambitious and successful. At twenty-six, she had already made associate. When I asked how she'd done it, she said there was no secret. She just put in the hours, looking for ways to make the company money.

I was surprised by her honesty and quiet confidence. Hating everything about the city dating scene, she admitted she hadn't progressed past a first date in ages. I told her that since I came to Seattle, no one had interested me enough to seek more than a couple of dates.

She was unlike other young female lawyers I'd dated. They usually fell into two categories: those who networked to acquaint themselves with their competition, and those who were looking for sex. Bella was neither of those things, genuinely pleased to find someone she could talk to without having to translate everything into common English. Even though I felt comfortable talking about work with her, I found her story of growing up in a small rural community interesting; how an early aptitude for mathematics, and a police chief for a father, led her to a career in financial law.

As an associate, she was already making phenomenal money, but she lived simply, renting an apartment with a friend, determined to pay off her student loans so she could buy something of her own. I hadn't seen her apartment because, so far, she preferred to meet up in the city after work and that's where we parted company. She was fiercely independent, telling me she was able to take care of getting herself home safely, and I presumed she was protecting herself from uninvited sexual advances.

I could wait. Even though she acted like we were nothing more than friends, she still said yes to the third date without hesitation. I studied her carefully as she asked about me, watching her physical response to my answers. When I asked her how she remained single, she blushed, something I hadn't seen a woman do in years. Her blush showed a reaction to me as a man, not just a friend. I enjoyed watching her squirm and babble out something about long work hours, contradicting herself when she somehow found time to see me. This intriguing brunette was delectable in her embarrassment, enticing me to want her even more.

Date number four was supposed to be short, just a drink after work, a chance to catch up before the Christmas party, but we soon moved to a booth. She made it sound like I was saving her from a stuffy dinner with an older crowd of executives. I wasn't looking forward to a party with a bunch of strangers, but there was no way I was going to risk losing her by backing out now.

It was getting late when she touched her phone and sighed. I leaned across her to check the time and her fingers found their way into my hair. She looked at my lips, so I took advantage of the invitation and kissed her gently, pulling back and watching her eyes open. Her fingers traced down my cheek to my jaw, and I kissed her again with more intent, but no tongue.

It was enough for her to waver. Her words said she really had to leave but her body language told me she wanted to stay. Instead of asking her to come home with me, I nodded and waited while she booked an Uber. Allowing her to take the lead had worked well so far and I wasn't about to change anything when I was already in over my head.

Kissing me goodbye, she said she had a great time tonight, touching my hair again, and groaning when the car's horn sounded outside. She said she would call me about Saturday night. Wanting to follow, I watched her get into the car, then ordered another drink. I needed to decompress and enjoy this feeling while it was fresh.



Thursday morning's email from the Bread of Life Mission was a desperate plea for volunteers to serve Friday night's dinner. The seventy-five-year-old homeless shelter always struggled to meet the needs of hard up souls in the city and the numbers tripled at Christmas time. Once I checked my workload, I booked myself in to help.

Less than an hour later, Bella sent me a text.

"What are you doing tomorrow night? Would you like to come Christmas shopping with me?"

It was the first time she'd called me for a date and my shoulders sagged, thinking about my response. I wouldn't lie to her but I didn't think she was ready for this, not when I was trying to impress her.

"I'm tied up until around eight."

"Are you snowed under?"

"Kind of."

"I could come to your office and we could leave from there if you wanted." The enthusiasm seemed to bubble out of her words.

"I won't be at the office."


"It's not a work thing." Christ!

It took a while for her to reply. "Okay."

Twenty minutes later, I knew she'd given up on me when I was acting like I was blowing her off, so I sent her a new text. "Can I see you after eight? I have some gifts I need to buy, too."

Within a couple of seconds, she replied, "No, it's fine." It was as if I could hear her saying the words. She was not happy about this at all.

"Are you angry with me?"

"I don't like the mystery."

Well, there was an honest answer if I ever saw one and it deserved an honest response. "There is no mystery. I'll send you an email to show you where I'll be. You can come with me if you want."

Forwarding the email I received this morning, I sat back and waited for her to make the next move.

Not long after, Bella called and announced, "I've registered as a volunteer. Now what do I do?"

Grinning like an idiot, I replied, "Give me your ID number and I'll book you in. You'll have to dig out your oldest, most comfortable shoes."

"Do you volunteer every Christmas?"

"Yeah." I guess it was the most likely assumption and a good place to start. There was no reason to elaborate while I was still being honest. "Can I pick you up from your office, around six?"

"Sure. Will you be driving?"

"No, I don't have a car."

"Oh, what happened to it?"

"I don't own one…I've never really needed a car in the city." Bella would have to learn about the bike eventually, but I hadn't found a reason to bring it up. She had a car and we both used the city's transport system, so it shouldn't be a deal-breaker.

Stumbling over her response, she replied, "Well I don't drive my car into the city either, so I guess I'll see you at six."



Seeing Bella come out of work in jeans and gym shoes made me smile. I took her hand and kissed her cheek because she was no longer the lawyer, just a girl ready to give something back.

I should have known it would rain all day Friday and the traffic was standing still through Downtown, so I had to substitute the light rail for a cab. Anyway, the rain gave me an excuse to hold her against me under my umbrella.

Standing around in our uniforms of long sleeved t-shirts and aprons, there was a sense of excitement among the volunteers as we received our instructions. One staff member demonstrated how much food to serve on the tray, reminding us they were expecting three hundred people tonight and giving out extra could mean that some would miss out. Bella watched all this closely, occasionally glancing at me nervously.

She had been upset when we saw the line of people in the rain and now she could see them waiting, not only for the doors to open, but for a spot to vacate inside.

They assigned me to serving duty while Bella delivered the trays to the tables and brought back the empties to be washed. She soon worked out this was not a restaurant where you stayed to chat. People spoke while they ate and then left to secure shelter for the evening.

Basic human needs—that's all we could provide for the vast majority of these people. Some of them would be dead in a year, others would never rejoin society, and the lucky ones would listen to the counselors or connect at a religious service and turn their lives around.

Two weeks of this was enough for a mentor to crack through my stubborn sixteen-year-old head and make me go home before I became involved with drugs. He had plenty of examples to show how I would end up. That one month away from home was life changing, and I went back a different person, finally appreciating what I had instead of grumbling. I studied hard all through high school, followed Dad into a career in law, and mended our relationship.

It was nights like tonight that I repeated the words to myself, "There but for the grace of God go I."

Those words became my second tattoo.

It was well into the dinner service when I saw Bella approach with one of the staff clutching an arm around her shoulder. She was nodding and crying, taking comfort from the woman's words. When I caught her eye and frowned, she veered off to the bathroom, leaving me to wonder what had occurred. She came out with a brave smile; joining the line and having me fill her next two trays with food.

"Are you okay?" I asked, worried about her. She just nodded and walked off to deliver them. As soon as we finished the shift, I grabbed our jackets and Bella's bag, noting she was still subdued. "Please tell me what happened. Did you hate it so much?"

"No," she answered, pulling her jacket on. "It's just…come on, let's go somewhere happy."

"How about the Christmas tree?" I asked as we headed out the front door. "The Macy's windows are pretty cute, too."

Cupping my cheek, she smiled and answered, "That's exactly what I want to do."

It was still raining so I hailed a cab about a block from the Mission. Once we were inside, I put my arm around her and she turned to me. "I don't know how you go back."

It was a normal reaction but at least she was talking now. "They can't operate without volunteers."

She leaned her forehead against my cheek, and said, "I must be a terrible person, because I didn't expect them to be so gracious and refined. They treat each other with respect and…" Looking up at me and exhaling a shaky breath to fortify her, she continued.

"One of the men was so skinny, so drenched, and he sat down and said, 'Good evening, gentlemen.' I was near him, removing a tray, and he asked me if he could have one more potato. I looked at one of the others who was delivering near us and she shook her head slowly. I had to say I wasn't allowed to give him any extra and then…" Her eyes filled with tears and she sucked in a lungful of air. "…one of the other men gave him his potato."

"I know," I said, holding her tighter. "Come on. Shush. It makes you grateful for what you've got."

Wiping her cheeks, she nodded. She was even more beautiful to me with eyes full of tears and red blotchy patches on her cheeks, because of the reason behind them. I pulled her closer, and she sighed, melting into my embrace.

When we got out at Westlake, the rain had miraculously stopped. All the trees were covered in lights and the carousel was glowing and full of happy children. We watched it for a while before moving on to the Christmas tree with the Macy's star high up behind it.

I didn't think it was that cold, probably because I'd grown up in Chicago, but Bella was starting to freeze. Just behind the tree, there were a few steps that gave me an idea, so I lifted her and placed her down one step higher than me. Then I opened the front of my jacket.

"What are you doing?" she asked, probably thinking I was crazy, but she didn't stop me when I started on her buttons.

"We're going to share body heat."

She gave me her answer with her eyes and I wrapped her arms around me inside my jacket. She was the perfect height now and all the good bits lined up just fine. I rubbed her back and felt her hands moving either side of my spine. We stared at each other, and all I could think of was sharing the heat inside her mouth.

"This works so well," she said, staring at my lips.

I hummed in agreement, letting my hands explore lower, feeling the shape of her ass. The move perfectly aligned our mouths, and as I leaned in, she mirrored me and our tongues met at the same time as our lips.

Swept up in the kiss, the heat built inside me as she pushed her leg between mine, and soon we entered dangerous territory when I couldn't hide my reaction. Instead of recoiling in embarrassment, she pushed herself against my erection and moaned.

I mumbled into her neck. "Are you still cold?"

"No, but I want more of your heat."

"Oh, I'm gonna give you all of my heat," I answered, moving my hips so she understood. "…but maybe not here on the sidewalk."

Smiling, she removed her arms and started to button her jacket. Looking down at my…hips, she replied. "It's just as well it's long."

"Oh, it's long," I said to tempt her.

"I know…but I was talking about the…jacket that needs to hide the fact."

She had me with her smirk, so I laughed and buttoned up. "Macy's windows and then shopping?"

"Okay," she answered with a pout. I know I could have pushed this further, but I would wait one more day, because tomorrow night she was mine.



Bella requested I come in a cab and call when we were approaching so she could meet me downstairs. Dressed in my dinner suit and ready to throw on my heavy coat, I didn't get a chance to make the call to say we'd arrived. She must have been waiting downstairs somewhere, barely giving me enough time to get out and open her door. I couldn't see what she was wearing under her chocolate brown coat, but she wore more makeup than usual and had her hair twisted and curled.

Lovely. It wasn't a word I often used to describe women, but there it was—she was lovely. She gave me a lovely smile too and thanked me, sitting down like a lady, tucking her legs in last. After checking them out for a second before closing the door, I sped around to the other side so I could get up close with her perfume, making no secret of the fact I liked it. When she threaded her arm under mine and wrapped her fingers around my elbow, I covered her hand with my own. I hadn't felt romance like this in a long time and I was ready to enjoy it.

We checked our coats and I ogled the dress with its suggestion of cleavage. I told her she looked stunning and she echoed the statement about me, sliding her hand into mine.

When we walked in, I saw the possessive look the big man gave her. Bella introduced us and he looked me over, disapproving, squeezing my hand so hard I almost told him to fuck off. He kept away during the party, however. The food was excellent, the wine even better, and I was the date of the beautiful young associate.

Bella was affectionate all night, never out of contact with me during the mingling and drinks, touching my arm at the table during dinner. A little drunk, she asked if I'd like to dance after watching a few other couples on the floor. When she realized I knew what I was doing, the look in her eyes gave me all I needed to turn every movement into a dance of seduction.

As soon as the boss left, I asked if she wanted to leave, and called a cab to go to my place. She snuggled up close and kissed my neck, tormenting me with her sexy perfume. Soon I had my hand on her thigh, wondering when she'd stop me. Instead, she opened her legs and allowed me to discover the bare skin above her stockings. Then she whispered she was wet, a declaration I had to investigate, and I slipped a finger into the side of her panties. She let me touch her the whole way home, while I used her breaths and her fluttering eyelids to guide me. It was erotic, made more so by the cab driver knowing exactly what was going on.

She had my belt undone before we reached the door of my apartment, and started on my tie as soon as we were inside. When I took my shirt off, she gasped, taking her time getting acquainted with the ink on my shoulder while I removed her dress and introduced myself to her tits. I sat naked and ready on the bed, getting harder as I watched her release them from her bra.

Watching my hands feel her tits and my tongue lick her nipples, she announced, "I…I don't give it away to just anyone, you know.

I growled as I slid her underwear down just enough to expose her clit to my tongue.

"Oh fuck…Uh…I'm very choosy about men, so consider yourself special," she said as her knees weakened and she grabbed a handful of my hair when I sucked.

"I always did," I responded, stopping to tease her, sliding the panties all the way down.

"So you should." Now we were both naked, she glanced from my eyes to my ink to my erection. She chose my cock, touching and tasting me before taking me into her mouth.

I groaned, watching her lips enclose me. "Why didn't I meet you when I was eighteen?"

"That would have been…terrible timing," she replied, making sure I got the full view of her tongue on me, then she climbed over, kissing my ink. "I like you now."

"I like you, too," I declared with my hands moving over her ass.

"You wanna finish what you started in the cab?" she asked, with her lips touching mine and the delicate strip of her pubic hair brushing against my cock.

"If you finish what you just started," I answered, only half-serious, ready to bend her in half and fuck her until she screamed my name.

"Deal," she said quickly, laughing as I rolled her on her back.

"This is a good deal," I added, kissing her with my fingers in her pussy and her moans in my mouth.

Bella Swan had no inhibitions, probably because she was fucking gorgeous naked. Fascinated by my ink, she asked me to explain the reasons I chose the various tattoos. The standout for her was the stylized bike, just a chopper front with wings, like streamers, flying behind. In sharp black, it was a nice piece of art.

As I told her about my passion, it became obvious that she knew about bikes, and she liked that I rode one instead of owning a car. A friend of hers had lured her over to the dark side years ago and she appreciated the power and danger of two wheels, instead of four. She thought bikes were sexy. She said the same thing about my ink.

"'There but for the grace of God go I.' What does it mean to you?"

"I did something stupid, ran away from home at sixteen and ended up starving at a homeless shelter in Chicago. They talked me into going home." She calmly listened, rubbing her thumb over my ink. "You're not shocked?"

"My father's a cop, and kids run away all the time." Smiling softly, she said, "Lucky for me, you went home. Some never do."

She ran her fingers through my hair, comforting me without pressing me to go on, but I thought on it. If we were going to keep dating, and I wanted that more than anything now, then she would need to accept my commitment to this part of my life.

"I volunteer regularly, Bella, usually on the third Saturday of the month at City Hall Park. It's an outdoor food thing for the homeless, put on by the Mission. If they're desperate, they ask me and I'll work at the shelter in Pioneer Square, too. Most people wouldn't understand, so I don't broadcast it.

"I see the lines of homeless people, close to our office building, and it takes me back to that time when I was the one who needed food and somewhere to sleep. In my case, it was only brief and not in the freezing conditions of winter, but I like to think they saved my future as much as my life, and I have to help.

After a soft kiss, she smiled. "I admire you, and that makes you even sexier if that's possible."

Looking at her, I wondered how I'd ever found such a woman, and kissed her with everything I had.

Bella stayed with me all weekend while we pleasured each other. We took the time to come slowly and the orgasms were intense. We fucked hard and I did make her scream. We were battered and bruised by Sunday night.

When I took her home on the bike, we had to find something for her to wear. What a picture she was in her heels, a pair of my jeans, an old jacket, and my spare helmet. She wouldn't let me come in, saying we both had work in the morning. I rode back, threw my keys on the counter, and started a text, telling her she was fucking fantastic, but I didn't send it. Finally, I thought I'd found a woman I could get serious with, and I didn't know if I'd ruin everything if I told her.

"Hi there," I said, calling her Tuesday morning when I couldn't wait any longer. "Got any plans for tonight?"

"Well, I'll probably finish about eight. I'm usually wary of men who check all the boxes, but I'm dying to see you. I can't get you out of my head."

Smiling, I loved the way she was so candid. "I'd pick you up from your office, but I only have my bike."

"That wouldn't be a problem."

I guessed she meant to park the bike and catch a cab, which was fine by me. "You could call me when you're ready to leave."

"I think that would be perfect."

She met me out front in leather bike pants. I was damn sure she hadn't worn them into the office.

"Quietly confident, were we?" I asked, teasing her.

"I brought them in yesterday, just in case," she said with a smirk, feeding my ego. "Guess what happened to me?"

"What?" I asked, handing her a helmet.

"The boss saw my bruise," she answered, pointing to the side of her neck. "He asked me if someone hurt me and I was so embarrassed, I turned crimson."

"Oh shit. I am so sorry."

"It's okay," she said, running a finger over my jaw. "Please, hurt me like that anytime."

I stood there caught in her stare, reliving the moment she screamed at me not to stop when I lifted my lips from her skin, startled when I saw the color. I never meant to give her a love bite but there were similar marks on her tits. She bruised easily or my cock would have been black and blue from what she did to me.

"So, what's the CEO like?" I asked when our conversation easily fell into work over dinner, wanting to know how friendly she was with him.

"He insists on everyone calling him 'Sir.' He's moody and stubborn; sacked his PA months ago and hasn't replaced her, so we all have to deal with him directly. He can be nice, but he's usually intimidating."

I snorted at the word "intimidating" but I wasn't about to comment on how I saw him.

"What do you know about him personally?"

"Nothing really. I've never heard anyone talk about his personal life. He's a workaholic, so I guess he could be divorced."

"He's doubled that company's size in the last five years, you know."

"Oh, you did some homework?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.

I just shrugged. There was nothing wrong with checking out her employer when I had access to the information.

"He's really clever. He has a gift for finding ideas worth buying or investing in. It's my job to make sure he gets the best price and the maximum return."

"You've done pretty well yourself," I said as I took her hand in mine.

"I know I'm lucky to have this opportunity and I'm not going to blow it."

"Just be careful you don't burn out. If he's a workaholic…"

Her smirk cut me off mid-sentence. "Maybe I need someone to distract me."

"That's me," I said, tapping my chest. "I'm that guy."

"Yeah, I think you are," she agreed, her smile filling me with confidence.



I thought that my billable hours would be the thing that kept us apart, but Bella's one client made damn sure he got his money's worth. She would put in a twelve hour day, and just as I'd pull up outside, he would need her again. He'd leave me freezing my ass off for twenty minutes before she came out, full of apologies and hugs. I couldn't take it out on her—the man was using unfair tactics. I told her he planned it, and asked if he ever touched her or said anything provocative. She spluttered at the question, saying he was never like that.

Fucker. He wasn't going to beat me. I had youth on my side and I was the one with her on the back of my bike. Her arms were around me as we rode away.

Soon he was scheduling meetings at night where he required her attendance. There were dinners she couldn't get out of. We were lucky if we could scrape two nights together during the week.

Without knowing it, he did us a huge favor because we started to appreciate the time we did have. Both list makers, we wrote down the things we wanted to do, prioritized and followed them, and our lives filled with variety and quality time.

I had some very private gifts delivered to her office. Then I'd seduce her on the phone when she called to thank me, giving her ten minutes of "blush time" as I described what I planned to do to her. Getting her worked up like this during the day made her ready for anything when she came home and I took her to places I don't think she'd ever explored. Pretty soon, she was proposing her own ideas and I wholeheartedly went along, knowing she'd fuck the life out of me afterwards.

There was always a sizzle around us, ready to ignite. She really had a thing for my ink, encouraging me to get more—a matching shoulder. I was still thinking about it.



"Meet the parents" appeared on the list and we rode for three hours through spectacular scenery and forests to small town Forks. I suggested we take her car, but Bella wanted the exhilaration of the ride. She said she'd ridden bikes back home and that her father had given up trying to stop her.

I can't say Charlie Swan looked happy when he and Renee walked out to greet us, but it was obvious he doted on Bella and only wanted her happiness. As the conversation turned to her job, Bella admitted the hours she was working, and Renee sighed, looking to me for a solution. The only thing I could say was that no one in our profession worked nine to five. By the end of the day, they could see I was devoted to their daughter and 'The Chief' asked me to bring her back for a whole weekend so he could take me out fishing.

Forks was a peaceful place compared to the city, and I actually looked forward to coming back. I didn't know much about fishing, but I always tried to learn from the experts, and The Chief's trophies proved he knew how to catch a fish.

That night, neither of us was interested in anything but sleep as we lay together in my bed. Bella turned to me with a lazy finger tracing my tats. I opened my eyes to look at her and she said, "They liked you… almost as much as I love you."

"You love me?" I asked, knowing I should have said it first, softly cupping her jaw.

Moving over me, with her tits warm and soft on my chest, she answered. "Yeah, I'm sure now."

After a slow kiss, I responded, "I thought you might have guessed when I rode for six hours to meet your parents. I'm already sure I love you."

She ran her fingers through my hair and smiled. Then, without saying another word, she lay her cheek on my chest and sighed. I couldn't believe how comforted and fulfilled I felt, knowing this girl loved me.



I took the bike out of the equation, certain its arrival was setting the jerk off. Now we were either on the bus or I'd park a block away and come on foot, and just when we thought we were free of him, the phone calls started. He became the boss who wouldn't stop interrupting his employee's life.

"Oh God!" I heard her call out in frustration as I was coming out of the shower. "No amount of money is worth this!"

"What's up, now?"

"That was him again. It's ten o'clock and now I have to find him some ruling from 2012!"

"Tell him you'll get it to him in the morning."

"He wants it now," she hissed, making a fist of her right hand.

I was falling asleep each night, waiting for her to come to bed, and he was keeping it up, relentlessly trying to either break her, or break us.

"My parents are coming in on Friday night, Bella. You have to say no if he pulls this shit!"

"I know. I will!" I could hear she was close to crying. He was exhausting her.

"Bella, come here." Opening my arms to her, she came to sit in my lap. "He has to let you have time for family…there has to be balance."

Nodding, she sniffled and settled in my arms. This had to stop. Jerking me around was one thing, but I would only take so much when it came to her, huge paycheck or not.



My parents were in good form, they seemed to like my girlfriend, and the menu was great. As if the evil bastard was watching us, the moment the server arrived with the food, Bella's phone started to ring. She looked at it and sent him to voicemail.

It didn't take long for him to try again. I watched and breathed out slowly, waiting to see what she did. Four rings and she answered, listening to what he said.

"I can't, I'm having dinner."

'Atta girl. She followed the words to the letter. We agreed she would give him no further information, nothing he could use to argue against.

"No," she said quietly and hung up the call. I squeezed her hand under the table.

He waited twenty minutes before he called again. "I'm still…having dinner." I heard the waver in her voice as she looked to me for support. "I'm sorry. I'm not available tonight." Holding my breath, I could tell she was struggling because she was not supposed to apologize. I took her hand and kissed it, reminding her that I loved her.

When she hung up, she dropped her head in her hands in frustration. It looked like he was going to ruin our night, whether she did as he asked or not.

"What is going on, Bella?" my mother asked, glancing at Dad who had been watching this awkwardly.

"It's my boss. He expects me to be on call every evening."

"Just turn off the phone, baby," I offered, although I knew it wasn't that simple.

Shaking her head, she mumbled, "You know that's not wise."

"Are you on call?" Mom asked, wanting clarification.

Bella shook her head and answered, "Only informally. He's always working and he expects me to keep the same hours."

Never one to shy away from a fight, Mom sat straight up and opened her mouth, ready to wade in.

"Mom, Bella works for Masen."

The table was suddenly silent as both parents stared at me, expecting me to continue.

"You know of him?" Bella asked.

Mom snorted and answered, "He's married to my cousin."

Bella's eyes tracked from my parents to me as if we were joking. "Why didn't you tell me you're related?"

I raised both hands in my defense. "He's no relation of mine. Before that Christmas party, I hadn't seen him in… twelve years. They haven't lived together for a decade."

Bella frowned and posed the next question to the three of us. "They didn't divorce?"

Dad was quick to answer. "Oh no, Vicky Masen lives to torment him. When he cheated on her, he cited a mental breakdown for his behavior. It was certainly possible, given the strain he put himself under, so she took him back, still hoping he loved her. When it happened again, she delivered a carefully constructed letter of intent, and left the country. He knows she can and will take a sizeable chunk of his wealth if he tries to divorce her, and she now lives in Hong Kong…having fun spending his money without him. She hasn't been back here in years."

As Mom nodded, Bella sat back and thought about what they'd revealed, like pieces were falling into place. "Who is her attorney?"

"I am," Dad answered with pride.

"My advice to you, Bella…" Mom added, leaning forward, "…is to leave before you burn out, or want to kill him." I was pleased my mother spoke up. I needed her help since Bella was already showing signs of burnout.

"You're probably right," Bella mumbled and let out a big sigh, and I put my arm around her shoulders. These past few months had been rough on her.

Masen never called back, but I felt his presence when Bella continued to ask questions about him. Their innocent nature revealed how little she knew about her boss. Mom didn't really have a good word to say about the man, and neither did Dad.



Bella was logged in the rest of the weekend, trying to give Masen a way to access the kind of information he called her for. Project folders contained the history of his initial interest, her research, recommendations and the outcome. As far as I could see, everything was at his fingertips. It was impeccable work.

She wasn't in bed when I checked my phone at five. She came in to say goodbye at six.

"You know it won't make any difference. He wants you to get it for him."

"I'm still going to try," Trying to stay positive, she said, "I can't go on like this."

"No matter what happens, you know I love you, right?" I asked, kissing her cheek. Her smile encouraged me to kiss the other one and then her lips. When the kiss spiraled out of control, she moaned.

"Oh God, what are you doing to me?" she asked when I moved to her neck.

"Present it tomorrow," I groaned, palming her tits. "Let me make you forget him." She put both hands on my neck, ran them over my shoulders, down my chest, and pulled the sheet away, exposing my erection. She handled it with utter devotion.

"You may have the most beautiful body I've ever seen," she said, seductively looking up to my eyes. "But what I want to do with you is going take time and I have an appointment with IT in twenty minutes. I promise I will make it up to you tonight."

She pecked me on the lips and left me with a hard on and a promise I'd be thinking about all day.

Bella was crying on the phone by nine, telling me how he put her in her place without acknowledging the amount of work she'd done. Having left the building, she was able to use more appropriate names: asshole, fucking arrogant pig, idiot, and I relaxed, hearing a more normal reaction to his antics. And they were antics—acting like he didn't know what an asset she was, pushing her away with his need to control her.

"I'm going to look for another job."

The relief I felt was staggering and I said something I hadn't planned. "And you're going to move in with me."

It took only a couple of seconds for her to answer, "Yes, I am."

How was that so easy? Did she love me the way I loved her? Was this how a relationship progressed when you found the one? Her parents liked me. Mine thought she was adorable. We had so much in common. The sex was incredible.

"That's my girl." Right then I knew…I knew I was going to ask her to marry me. Twenty-seven was not too young to get engaged. "Call me when you want me to pick you up."

"I will, and thanks for making me feel better. I love you so much."

"I love you, too. See you tonight."



We moved Bella's belongings the following weekend. It was a remarkable week where she had every night free, and I jumped at the opportunity to romance her. We took the bike out to Lake Sammamish one evening and ate dinner at the picnic tables by the lake. It wasn't that far away but we came back refreshed, like we'd been in a different world for a while.

I cooked one night. She cooked another. We got to spend uninterrupted time together even though her phone was always on.

We had dinner with Bella's roommate, Rose, and her new boyfriend, Emmett, whom I'd met once before. Rose told us she was expecting Bella to leave, saying she'd felt her absence for a while now. It made Bella's decision easy, so we decided to move her immediately.

I was clearing out half the wardrobe while Bella packed her things away when she said, "You know I swear he knows I'm leaving."

Trying not to let her see me sigh, I knew who the he was. Masen was never far from her mind.

"How could he know? You haven't been for any interviews yet."

"It feels like he's given up on me. No after-hours calls?"

"We should be enjoying it. It could start again in five minutes."

"I've been working on an investment of five million dollars and I feel like I'm the one pushing him to go forward. This is an incredible deal."

I sat on the bed and looked at her. "That's not your job, babe. If he's cooling on the idea, then let him pull out. He might know something he hasn't told you."

"Under normal circumstances, he would be asking me to go to New York with him to finalize the deal."

"Sorry, that I don't like," I replied, possessively.

She came over and sat in my lap, grabbing a chunk of my hair, just how I liked it. "It could force me to declare my loyalty. He might fire me when I say no."

Rubbing her back, I explained, "He can't do that. The law protects you if you feel threatened or uncomfortable."

"Okay, so I just say no?"

I thought about it for a second before answering. "You would have to tell him why."

Laying her head on my shoulder, she said, "Maybe he won't ask me. I really hope he doesn't ask me."

Before the end of the week, she had her answer. He invited her not only to accompany him, but to stay at his apartment. When I heard that, I was ready to confront him, but she managed to stop me, quickly explaining that he backed down and said a hotel would suffice. She actually felt bad letting him down, but I could see he was still playing games with her, only using her kind heart against her now.

Her hours increased while she managed every detail for him, telling me there was no way she would resign until the New York deal was done. She was happy again, immersed in a world that fascinated her, while Masen played Mr. Nice Guy, lapping up the attention. She said she wanted to leave with a good recommendation after a big successful deal, but she had no time even to think about applying for another job. I started to wonder if she was changing her mind. We'd been so close over the last two weeks, so united as a couple, that I'd been ready to propose, and he'd taken over again, hampering my forward momentum.

He asked her to come in for a couple of hours the Saturday before he was leaving for New York, and I knew what that meant. I warned her I'd be angry if she missed our date tonight but she told me to calm down. Everything was done. He just needed to go over the negotiations one last time. Her resignation would be in his hand before the end of the week. She promised.

At five o'clock she called, profusely apologizing and asking if I could meet her at the office and go from there. "Please don't be angry with me. This is almost over."

My patience had reached its limit. If she didn't come downstairs, I was going up and she'd have no job by the time I was finished. It was very amusing, imagining him turning up to his big meeting with a black eye.

Explain that bruise, fucker. Tell 'em how you earned it.

Shaking my head and seeing sense, I realized he could be laying a trap, having me charged with assault and disbarred when he'd only be in our lives for another week.

I parked the bike in the next block and was outside in fifteen minutes, waiting because there was no sign of Bella. Walking up to the doors, they didn't open so I tried waving my arms at the sensor without success. I cupped my hands to the glass, seeing no security guard at the station. Saturday. I couldn't get inside without a swipe.

Texting her, I asked, "Where are you? I'm downstairs."

She returned my text right away. "I'll be there in a minute. Just putting my makeup on."

A grin spread across my face and I settled down, hungry from the smells wafting from nearby restaurants. She was going to trouble to look good for me, not that jackass.

Remember this next week, Masen. You lost. I won.

I was checking out the menu of our restaurant when a car pulled up out front and the flaming hair of the passenger in the back seat caught my eye. When the driver got out and opened her door, she swung her long legs out and took his hand, smoothing her slim skirt before looking up at the building.

The golden tan was new and her hair was longer. She looked pampered, as if she'd come straight from a spa. Vicky Masen didn't look like she was here to have dinner with her estranged husband. There was something menacing about her. That was until she saw me.

"Edward!" She welcomed me with a genuine smile and a kiss to both cheeks before she appraised me. "Look at you, more gorgeous than ever. Tell me what you're doing here."

"Waiting for my girlfriend."

"Really, this late on a Saturday? He's getting worse," she said, shaking her head.

"What does that mean?" I asked, finding her expression disconcerting.

"Esme called. I'm sorry, I would have intervened before had I known there was another one. "

"Another one?" I queried, just as my phone pinged with a text.

Reading Bella's words, I felt fantastically relieved. "I've just resigned. I won't be long." She'd actually done it!

"Bella's not the first bright young thing who's had to endure his disgraceful behavior and I've kept away for far too long, so I decided to fly in and surprise him. I'm going to remind him of the repercussions that follow such actions. I'm sorry if he's put you two through hell."

"I don't think you have to worry anymore," I replied, showing her the text.

Frowning as she read it, she opened her bag and used her swipe tag on the doors, then moved quickly to the elevators, swiping again and pressing the button for the top floor.

"Why are we rushing?"

"He won't like this. He doesn't allow anyone to resign. He terminates them. His PA didn't even come back to clear out her desk and we never heard from her again. God, I wonder what poor Bella is going through now." Vicky was anxiously watching the numbers change, and I started to wonder what we'd find up there. Bella could be in tears by now. Looking at me and gently holding my wrist, Vicky said, "He's a control freak." I sighed, agreeing with her observation.

The doors opened and I followed her to the corner office, ready for a fight with Masen. She didn't bother to knock, just opened the door and walked right in.

Bella was sitting on her own in his office. She didn't look shaken or angry, but she blushed when she saw me.

"What are you doing here?" she whispered.

"Where is he?" I whispered back.

"In the bathroom. He's upset."

Vicky stood still, scanning the details in the office, waiting for her husband. She briefly smiled at Bella in a protective way. When the bathroom door opened, Masen stared at his wife, and then Bella, obviously uncomfortable at being surprised like this, but soon straightened his back. When his eyes landed on me, his expression filled with hatred and I smugly returned his stare as if we were competitors assessing each other, only I'd already won. After a twitch from the side of his mouth, he turned back to his wife.


"It's been a long time, James. You look tired."

Raising his arm at Bella, he commanded her, "You can go now."

Bella's mouth dropped open and she snorted, shocked he was ending two years of service like this.

"Yeah, let's go," she agreed, taking my hand. "I'm so sorry I kept you waiting, Edward." I didn't waste any time getting her to the elevator and away from Masen. "You know he actually begged me to go to New York? I was even feeling sorry for him until he officially dismissed me with the hand. Who the hell does that?"

I was full of the euphoria of never having to deal with him again. We could finally go back to being the couple we were. Maybe I'd even propose tonight.

"So that was Vicky Masen. Why was she there?"

"She came here to protect you. Mom called her and apparently he's done this to other employees."

"Doesn't surprise me, but she didn't need to. I can handle myself. That man has given me some wonderful anecdotes for the start of my legal career."

"You won't be unemployed for long, baby. You survived Masen!" I said excitedly, wrapping my arms around her waist.

"I did!" She laughed and kissed me, freer than I'd seen her in ages. After we collected her personal property from her desk, we came out into the air, hand in hand, feeling refreshed and jubilant. "Let's not stay in the city tonight, Edward. Let's ride."

She must have read my mind. I smiled and nodded, knowing I would propose tonight.

The Boss

"Sit down, Victoria. Make yourself comfortable." The woman before me was more beautiful than the girl I married fifteen years ago, and well aware of it. The elegance she cultivated had reached its prime. The silken shirt was the color of sunset at it's richest moment. It matched her open-toed shoes perfectly, and played up the red in her hair, which was even more vivid than I remembered. Bella's companion had the family coloring, the "bronze" in the hair, but Victoria amplified hers to make a statement about who she was. My wife. Still trying to control me.

"Why are you here?"

She sat in the chair Bella has just vacated. "I had a call from Esme Cullen."

Hmm, Diddums told Mommy I left him out in the cold?

"I'm worried about you, James. Are you having another 'breakdown'?"

The sarcasm that dripped from that over-used word made me turn away and open my blinds. Bella would be leaving.

"I've seen the HR reports. You sacked your PA and she never returned for her final check? What happened to her?"

There she was, my Bella, almost skipping alongside him when they turned to the left. I filled my lungs and released the air slowly, seeing the grave mistake I'd made in assuming I had ended their relationship. Letting her go like that took a lot of willpower and now I was at the point of extreme frustration.

"Talk to me, James. Did you banish her from the city; pay her a sum of money to keep her quiet about the reason she left?"

"I know exactly where she is and no money changed hands."

I could still see the happy couple, walking along the street together, holding hands, and I automatically clenched my own hand into a fist when they stopped at his bike.

"You can't get away with this archaic behavior. Someone is going to sue you for unfair dismissal and then everyone will know how you treat your employees. It's embarrassing and suicide for the business."

He handed Bella those leather bike pants, which she dragged on over the pants she wore to the office. She put on a jacket and helmet, climbed on behind him and they rode off. I noted he revved the engine loudly, probably for my benefit, when they turned the corner and headed south.

Hiding my defeat and building rage, I turned to my wife and said, "Cut ties with me, Vic, and walk away. No one is stopping you."

"Never. I won't lose a company founded on my blood, sweat and tears. I worked too hard to support your dream, James. Do you even remember how we lived in those days?"

I could never forget the excitement of that time of my life. We had nothing and yet we had unlimited love, potential for ideas, success, and money. I just couldn't maintain a life outside the business when nothing else interested me. My wife found out I was one-dimensional and boring, gradually retracting her affection as I spent less time at home, forcing her to find other pursuits. Eventually, I did have a sort of mental breakdown, the result of stress and the absence of a home life. It caused me to stray and get caught.

Victoria saw the indiscretion as a cry for help, encouraging me to become her husband again, trying to love me. It didn't last long when the company was my obsession. I became more unlovable and less inclined to apologize for it. Victoria retreated from me sexually and I strayed again, effectively ending the marriage, but not the business partnership. She would never give up what was rightfully hers.

"Yes, of course I remember it. I remember it all."

I remember wanting to kill her at the time, but my control was better in those days.

"Then why do this to someone associated with my family? She's Edward's girlfriend. Were you expecting me to ignore it when you fling it in my face?"

The words, "Edward's girlfriend," coming from her lips, did something to me. I felt the last of my heart shrivel and petrify in my chest. Standing behind Victoria, here in my office after so long, I lost my grip on reality and let my hand venture into the pocket where the rope was screaming at me to use it.

I replied with a grunt, wondering why she thought this had anything to do with her. It was time I showed her she was insignificant. Sliding the rope in my hand felt wonderful and it was completely silent. Unsure why that mattered, I shook my head and smiled.

"This behavior stops now, James, or I'll have you removed as CEO so you can seek treatment. No one has to know it's anything more than a vacation, but I can see the signs. You're unravelling again and this time…"

I stopped her chatter quickly, forcing the loop over her head and yanking it tight with all my strength, feeling an incredible rush of pleasure. The crack was a surprising bonus, a tendon snapping or a bone breaking, but the sound came with the realization that she was dead instantly, without struggle, or gurgling noises, or even a scream. Last time was much more drawn-out and gratifying.

Sitting back in my chair on the other side of the desk, I was disappointed how little she bruised. It was a lesson learned. The two experiences taught me I have to take time if I want a perfect result. Next time I'd have more control.

Now, for the body. It would be more challenging getting her out of here, but hardly impossible. It was part of the allure last time, driving with a dead body in my car, risking discovery by being pulled over or having an accident. I released a lot of that tension during the manual labor of digging a grave. I should probably take Victoria to the same part of the forest and follow the instructions that appeared in my head, probably from some macabre movie I'd forgotten from my adolescence:

Divide the ground and remove the top few inches in sections. Lay them out in a grid nearby. Digging down until you're waist deep takes time but wet earth is easier, if a little heavy. Place your charge at the base in contact with the earth for speedy decomposition, then cover her up with a deep blanket of mother earth to avoid animal invasion. Tamp the soil down but don't obsess over a slight mound because it will soon sink back like new and the patchwork top will fuse together and hide where you've been.

This time I should try dismemberment to see if the mound was reduced, but thinking about it, I couldn't do that to my Victoria.

Then something happened that made me laugh, as if the first murder intervened to ruin the success of the second. Jess had been in charge of maintaining my private vehicle and I hadn't assigned that task to anyone else.

For the first time in years, my car wouldn't start. The battery was dead.

The Boyfriend

We took off without a plan, riding down to Tacoma and then over the Narrows Bridge. I was hungry, so when I saw the sign to Gig Harbor, it looked like a perfect place to stop. Five minutes later, we pulled off our helmets to breathe in the air and soak up the view: a pretty marina and deep blue lake, with forest hugging the edges of the town, and Mt. Ranier looming as if it was nearby.

Before I could suggest it, Bella said, "Let's stay here tonight, Edward. It's beautiful."

When I nodded, she hugged me, then took out her phone and found us a room. We could actually see The Waterfront Inn from where we stood, and the longing look in her eyes must have matched my own. Like its name, it was perched on the edge of the water.

"Watch this." she called out, holding her phone up to me. "I'm turning it off."

I laughed and took out my own. "Good idea. I've got everything I need right here."

"I love you," she said with a radiant smile and a sweet kiss for her boyfriend.

The owner recommended a seafood restaurant close by and was kind enough to make a booking for us, since it was "getting late." When I asked about breakfast, he apologized that they did not provide it through the hotel, handing us a discount coupon for a local cafe. He tried to make up for it by saying the contents of our fridge were complimentary.

The room was a pleasant surprise, and so were the jets on the huge tub in the bathroom. There were chocolates and a bottle of Maison Bleue in the fridge, which would retail for $45 in Seattle. Nice touch. The front doors opened onto a sitting area about twenty feet from the water with a couple of big timber chairs. If I hadn't been so hungry, it would have been the perfect spot to kick back with a beer for sunset.

We walked the short distance to the Marketplace Grille, ordered a bottle of wine and shared the bruschetta and the oysters. I failed to come up with the words to propose when Bella was so animated about her release from the tyrant. Then she switched to the future and all the things we could do now she was free. I saw opportunities passing me by while I devoured my scallops and finished off Bella's northwest salmon fettuccini.

Why was this part so hard? Did every man struggle like this, even if he was sure the woman was everything he'd ever want? It's just two wordsmarry meisn't it?

We didn't linger at the restaurant and strolled slowly along the lake, enjoying its tranquility. Bella stopped to point out tiny lights, showing homes in the hills above the town, hidden during the day by the trees. I put my arms around her and imagined living up there where the view must be breathtaking.

"This would be a great place to buy an investment property."

"It would," I responded, holding her a little tighter.

"I mean it's only an hour from the city. When I get a new job, I'm going to check it out."

"We could look around tomorrow."

"Great, thanks," she said excitedly.

"I know I don't earn as much as you do, but I do all right. I'd like to be part of that investment."

"You would?" she asked, turning to face me with a smile on her face.

Take that as a yes, Cullen. It's now or never.

"I want to invest in us. I want to marry you."

For a moment, her teeth gripped her lip as if I'd embarrassed her.

Shit, she didn't know how to respond. I'd blown it, assuming too much.

"I want to marry you, too."

I dropped my cheek to her head and squeezed her tight when the relief was so overwhelming. Then I laughed and looked into her big brown eyes, expecting me to say more, but I had nothing.

"I'm terrible at this."

Smirking, she said, "I should hope so. I wouldn't be happy if you were good at proposing."

"I guess that's true," I said, laughing, only now accepting that she'd just said she'd marry me.

"You are very good at other things," she murmured and kissed me, dragging her nails down my back, igniting the flame between us.

"Jacuzzi?" I asked, getting turned on thinking about it.

"If we make it that far," she added, gripping the hair at the back of my neck and pulling me into a passionate kiss.

When we came up for air, she hugged me and I looked to the sky and thanked whoever was up there for bringing this woman into my life and making her fall in love with me.

It took us an hour to reach the hot tub, and by that time, there was music playing in our room. People were outside on a huge deck over the lake while we were having loud proposal sex. I opened the wine and took in two glasses while the water filled the tub. Then I went back for the chocolates, never expecting she'd ask me to smear her tits with chocolate and lick it off. I hesitated when I saw the bruises come up, but she pulled my hair and begged me to keep going while she rode me.

Bella Swan fucking me without a care in the world was a sight to see and, once again, I gave thanks for a woman who loved sex like she did. She told me I had increased her sexual appetite. I was just grateful to be on the receiving end, and glad we had the music playing to drown out that particular orgasm.

We pulled the chairs together outside, finishing the wine in our toweling robes. It was very quiet and I wondered how long it had been since I felt completely happy like this. I picked up her left hand and kissed her ring finger, asking her if she'd ever looked at engagement rings.

"I might have looked at some on the internet," she answered, with no readable expression when I looked up from her hand. I frowned, so she clarified. "Girls do that when we're in love, Edward. We dream."

"Was this a recent internet viewing?" I asked, getting cocky now.

"Yes… very recent. When I moved in. I thought that meant we were serious."

"You know I'm dumb sometimes. I could have saved myself a lot of self-doubt if I just thought like a woman."

She pulled my chin to her and kissed me, saying, "I'll teach you."

"I'm sure you will," I responded, putting my glass down so I could kiss her as a fiancé should.


Armed with my discount coupon, I left a sleeping Bella and found the Devoted Kiss Cafe up the road. I ordered croissants, bacon and scrambled eggs, coffee, and then Belgian waffles for the hell of it. We were celebrating.

There was a realtor a couple of doors up, so I perused the images of the properties for sale. They were mostly big rambling homes with price tags to match, not really what I had in mind. According to the map in the catalog, there was a smaller house two streets back, and since I had a couple of minutes, I decided to take a run up and have a look. It was an odd sort of place with a jumble of extensions, married together by vertical siding.

I started to walk back, thinking of sizzling bacon, stopping in my tracks when I glimpsed the view from the front of the house, obscured by the roof in front. Similar to our hotel, it looked directly up the length of the lake, over the marinas and on to Mt. Ranier. With its location, an easy walk to the water and restaurants, a new multi-story home, even a small one, would turn this into something worth three times what they were asking.

I had to get back to Bella.

My order was ready and I added a newspaper, shoving it under my arm with the realtor's catalog, so I could juggle the coffees and breakfast-to-go container. As I placed the coffees on the ground to open our door, Bella opened it for me, greeting me with a beaming smile and a kiss. I dropped the newspaper and catalog on a chair and we took the breakfast to the small table outside. They had nicely packaged it with two sturdy cardboard plates, cutlery and napkins. The food itself was presented so we could serve ourselves and I kissed her when I saw how pleased she was with my order.

As we ate, I told her about the house I'd seen.

"Did you bring their pamphlet back?" she asked and I tipped my chin toward the chair inside. She came out, lifting the catalog and glancing at the headlines of the newspaper, turning sheet white and sitting down, reading the whole article.

"What's happened?"

Visibly shaking, she handed the newspaper over and sat back in her chair, glassy-eyed.


Looking up at Bella, I struggled to swallow the mouthful of food before reading the paragraphs below the headline.

"Mr. Masen called police to report the murder last night, with no memory of what happened to his wife. Victoria Masen's neck was broken when she was viciously strangled with a piece of rope that Mr. Masen denied was his, although a hardware store bag was collected from the bathroom at the crime scene, containing the same rope with a receipt dated two weeks ago. Security footage shows James Masen leaving the store at the time of purchase. He denies that he had any plans to kill his wife, but police are now linking the murder to another missing person's case involving Mr. Masen's former private assistant, Jessica Stanley, who has been missing since she left his employ. Police are urgently searching for a male aged 27 and a female aged 26 to assist with their investigation."

Reading it again, it was hard to pinpoint my emotions. Even though she and Vicky hadn't been close in years, Mom would be a mess, coming to terms with the loss of her cousin. Dad would already be compiling evidence for the prosecutor. He'd be determined to see Masen brought to justice and I would offer my help in any way I could. Now, instead of a leisurely morning riding around Gig Harbor, we'd have to return to Seattle and face a day of questions from the police.

Bella jumped up, mumbling frantically while she turned on her phone. "We have to call in and tell them we had nothing to do with the murder. This looks like we've run from the scene of a crime." Her phone pinged several times and she said, "Oh God, I've got fifteen messages. I'll call Dad. He'll know what we should do."

Overwhelmed, my mind couldn't get past one fact. I went inside, sitting on the bed and taking her hand.

"Bella, before you call him, I want to ask you a question. Dad said Vicky hadn't been back here in years. Vicky herself told me yesterday she hadn't seen Masen, in her words, 'in too long,' and that she'd flown in to surprise him. He may be telling the truth that he had no plans to kill her."

Clutching my wrist, she replied, "What's the question, Edward? Do I want to hear this?"

"It's more than one question and you may be the only one who holds the answers. What's he doing with the rope? Think back to two weeks ago. Vicky told me he was a control freak. Was that when you said no to New York? Why would he go into a hardware store to buy rope and then leave it in the bathroom of his office? You said yourself he was in the bathroom, upset after you resigned."

"Say it… say it out loud. I can take it."

Only yesterday, we'd been joking about her surviving Masen, and now…

"Who do you think the rope was meant for, Bella?"

"Oh my God," she answered with her hands covering her mouth and her eyes closed. All I could do was reassure her with the safety of my arms and let it sink in.

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