Author Note: This was supposed to be an entry for the Control. Possess. Seduce. contest but the "hosts" disallowed it after it was approved by the validator. I strongly disagree with their assessment. It's complete and utter bullshit to claim that this story is actually an Edward/Tanya pairing with Bella secondary. But, I can't do anything about it if they refuse to be reasonable. I've certainly learned my lesson about which contests to avoid!
After being a judge in the Cheaters contest and seeing how other authors determined the pairing when there are multiple parties, I am even more convinced that it was bullshit to disallow my entry.
Chapter 1 - Tempted
Oh my God, could you move any slower? Hurry up, hurry the fuck up!
This is why I always make it a point to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. With only two lanes open through security, it's taking freaking forever to snake through the line. Maybe I shouldn't have stopped at Dunkin' Donuts after I printed out my boarding pass, but I wasn't sure what my food options will be once I get through security.
Finally, it's my turn. I set my carry-on bag on the table, then grab a plastic bin for my purse, coat, shoes, and the bag with my breakfast. When the TSA agent motions me forward, I step into the capsule and assume the position for the body scan.
"Stay here a minute, Ma'am," someone says when I step out. Great, another delay. "Do you have anything in your back pockets?"
"No," I reply in confusion, stepping aside to wait.
A female agent shows up about 15 seconds later and pats down my backside with the backs of her hands. "I guess it was just all of the bling on your jeans," she says with a smile. "You're free to go."
I hurriedly grab my shoes off the belt and slide my feet into them, then pick up the rest of my stuff. By the time I've made it to gate C-4, they've already called my boarding group, so I join the line then make my way down the jetway. Setting the bag with my donut on an open seat, I lift my suitcase into the overhead bin then get settled into my seat.
Spreading a napkin on the tray table, I pull out the chocolate-frosted Long John, my stomach growling as I look at it. As I take a bite of the vaguely phallic-looking pastry, immediate flashbacks to last night leave me trying desperately to stop the inappropriate hysterical laughter bubbling up inside me.
I must be losing my mind.
By the time we push back from the gate, I've finished my breakfast. I stuff the bag with my trash into the seat pocket in front of me and stow my tray table. Closing my eyes, I lean my head back and take a deep breath, trying to relax for the two-hour flight.
As I take slow, even breaths, I become more aware of my body — specifically the ache between my thighs. As if I need the physical reminder that I've had sex. I'll be unlikely to forget the things I did over the past 24 hours for a very, very long time.
My conscience won't let me forget.
My descent into debauchery actually began a few months ago, when my boss got an email asking if he could be a grader for a question on one of the actuarial exams required in our field.
I'm sure you're thinking, don't the test takers just pencil in little bubbles which are then graded by machines? Well, yes, for the multiple choice questions. But some of the exams include written answer questions that need to be looked at by a human being.
My boss had graded in the past, but when he was unable to do it this year, he gave them my name instead. He told me that grading would mean a free trip to a warm location in the dead of winter — he'd been to Orlando, Scottsdale and Las Vegas in years past — and that volunteering within the profession would look good to the higher-ups at our company. How could I refuse?
He neglected to tell me that I'd receive my first batch of approximately 275 papers to grade on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, and that I'd have to FedEx them back no later than the Monday after the holiday. I had to bring the stack of papers with me to Thanksgiving dinner with my family, and while everyone else was in a food coma watching football, I was parked at the dining room table trying to decipher the sloppy, rushed handwriting of 20-somethings who've been using computers their entire lives. And then I had to bubble in their scores.
My boss also neglected to tell me that the second step, Central Grading, would take place two weeks before Christmas. Given that exam results were never released earlier than mid-January, how was I to know that? I still had baking, shopping and even more wrapping to do, and wasn't happy at the prospect of losing an entire weekend where I could be doing something productive.
This year's Central Grading was being held in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, beginning at 3pm on a Saturday. Since I was flying all the way from Seattle, the only way I could make it by the designated start time was to take the red-eye flight leaving late the night before. I landed in Charlotte before sunrise, waiting about an hour and a half for my connecting flight to Southwest Florida International Airport.
Shortly before 11am, the hotel shuttle pulled into the driveway of my resort hotel. I really hoped that the hotel would have my room ready — there was a 3pm check-in time — so that I could take a much-needed shower after my all-night travel adventure.
Luckily, my room was already available when I arrived. Smiling at the front desk clerk, I took my room key and wheeled my small suitcase toward the elevator. Once inside my beach-themed room, I set my bag on the metal rack and pulled out a fresh set of Florida-appropriate clothes.
After my shower, I was starving, so I decided to check out the poolside restaurant for a quick bite to eat. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, with the temperature in the upper 70s — so much better than the drizzle and cold I'd left behind in Seattle. Maybe this trip wouldn't be so bad after all.
Since I hadn't slept very well on the plane, I settled in for a short nap after lunch, setting the alarm on my phone. I woke feeling refreshed then made my way to one of the hotel conference rooms to meet the rest of the group and get started.
The head of the exam committee welcomed all of us, then went over the rules for the weekend. Once all of the exam papers had been received back, the scores had been compiled and a tentative pass mark set. In Central Grading, all papers within 20% of the pass mark — either above or below it — would be regraded, to ensure the scoring was accurate and consistent.
After his introduction, we broke into small groups, by question. There were four of us in total who'd graded question #14 — Eric Yorkie, Mike Newton and my grading partner, Tanya Stratten. I would be regrading papers that she had looked at before, and vice versa. As long as my score was within some small tolerance of hers, we could just average the two. Further apart and we'd have to go over the answers together and reconcile our scores.
It was all I could do not to stare at Tanya as we were introduced. My older sister, Rosalie, was a beautiful woman, but Tanya was absolutely stunning, with her long, golden blonde hair, hazel eyes and tanned skin. With that tan, I was surprised to learn she was from Chicago.
"Has everyone done this before?" Eric asked, looking around at the rest of us.
"I haven't," I replied shyly.
"The idea is to get through the papers as quickly as you can, so you have time to enjoy a mini vacation," Tanya explained. "I always try to get around two-thirds completed the first night. I'm planning to break for dinner around seven if you'd all like to join me in the hotel restaurant."
"Um, sure," I smiled.
"Great! We can see how you're coming along then. We don't have to finish up until 10am on Monday, but ideally you should be ready to reconcile scores by noon tomorrow. I know the guys usually plan a tee time by mid-afternoon," she added, rolling her eyes.
"Sounds like a lot of work."
"But the harder you work, the more time there is for fun," Tanya pointed out with a wink. We exchanged our room numbers and cell phone numbers, then I took my new stack of papers back to my room. At least it was quite a bit smaller than the stack I'd graded over Thanksgiving.
Luckily there was a small round table in the room where I could sit and work. I set my phone alarm for 6:45pm then pulled out the answer key and got started.
By the time my alarm went off, I was more than ready for a break. I freshened up quickly then headed downstairs to the restaurant. As I looked around the room, I spotted Mike and Eric waving me over.
"How's it going, Bella?" Mike greeted me with a smile.
"OK so far, but I wish I didn't feel like I'm deciphering code to read some of the handwriting."
"No doubt," he chuckled. "I think it's gotten worse the last few years, too." He smiled at me again, and if I hadn't known better, I'd almost think he was flirting with me. But that rarely happened — especially when someone who looked like Tanya would be joining us shortly.
"Hey guys!" Speak of the devil… I turned around, looking up at Tanya as she approached the table. Moments later, I spotted the man beside her. The first thing I noticed about him was that he was quite tall, definitely over six feet. The second thing I noticed was the fact that he was drop dead gorgeous.
"This is my boyfriend, Edward." Eric quickly stood up, dragging a fifth chair over from a nearby table, as Tanya introduced all of us to her boyfriend.
"Pleased to meet you, Bella," he said, grasping my hand lightly and bringing it to his lips. He smiled and I was struck dumb. Of course, I shouldn't have been surprised that Tanya's boyfriend was as hot as she was. I'd just never seen a man who looked quite like him. His eyes were green, his hair an unusual shade of red mixed with brown, and artfully messy. His skin was pale, especially in contrast to Tanya's tan, and he had a strong jaw and amazingly kissable lips.
Oh my God, did I actually think that? He was Tanya's boyfriend — I should not have been thinking about his lips.
A waiter delivered our menus and as I looked over mine, I couldn't help but sneak peeks at Edward over the top of the page. I could've sworn he was looking at me too, though his eyes always turned away quickly. Or maybe I was just seeing things.
"So Bella is a first-timer," Tanya said to her boyfriend after we'd placed our orders.
"Yeah? You do look young," he said, nodding toward me.
"I'm 26," I defended myself. For some reason, I didn't want Edward to think of me as a child. I'd always been horrible at guessing ages, but he was perhaps a decade older than me. "I just finished up the exams earlier this year."
"How did you get involved with grading so soon?" Mike asked.
"Oh, um, someone tried to recruit my boss, and he gave them my name when he was unable to do it."
As we chatted, both Mike and Edward seemed interested and engaged in what I was saying. Mike just seemed friendly, the very definition of an all-American guy. It was Edward that I really couldn't figure out. He was here with Tanya; why would he pay so much attention to me?
After dinner, I went back up my room to work more on grading, keeping in mind Tanya's goal to get about two-thirds of them done tonight. I stopped around midnight, hung the room service card with my breakfast order outside my door, and turned in for the night.
Around 11:30 the next morning, I got a text from Tanya letting me know that she'd finished with her stack of papers and was hanging out poolside. I texted her back to let her know I had just five more to go, then I'd join her outside.
"Hey, Bella," she greeted me with a friendly smile when I found her seated at a small table near the bar. "I thought we could order lunch, then figure out how many scores we need to reconcile while we wait for our food."
Tanya and I had just started eating when the most perfect male specimen I'd ever seen in my life stepped out of the pool. I tried not to stare at his sculpted physique — and likely failed miserably. He walked up behind Tanya, leaning forward and planting an upside-down kiss on her red-painted lips.
"Edward, you're dripping water everywhere!" she giggled, shoving him away. He grinned, then winked at me before pulling out a chair and sitting down between us.
"How's it going, Bella?" he asked.
"Um, OK. It looks like we only have a couple dozen papers to reconcile."
"We'll be done in an hour or so. Edward was hoping to get some sightseeing in this afternoon," Tanya added, turning to me.
"Is that why you came along on the trip?" I asked curiously.
"Any excuse to get out of Chicago weather in December," he replied with a smile. "Why didn't your boyfriend come with you?"
"Oh, um, I-I don't have a boyfriend," I answered, a little embarrassed to admit that to this Greek God. The fact was, I'd never had a lot of luck with the opposite sex.
My older brother and sister, twins Jasper and Rosalie, took after our mom's side of the family, with her German and Swedish heritage. Both were tall and attractive, with light hair and blue eyes. Meanwhile, I was petite, with dark hair and even darker eyes; I looked nothing like any of them. Growing up, when Mom was out with the twins and me, without our dad, she'd occasionally get asked whether I was adopted.
I'd also been awkward and clumsy as a teenager, and if that weren't enough, I'd had no curves to speak of. I only had B cups now, but back then, I'd been relentlessly teased for how flat-chested I was.
With a high school nickname of Ugly Duckling — thank you, Dad, for our last name of Swan — it was no wonder I'd made it to graduation without ever being asked out on a date.
"No boyfriend?" Edward repeated, looking shocked. "Too busy concentrating on your career?"
"Something like that," I mumbled.
After high school, I had accepted an offer of a full scholarship to attend a small liberal arts college. I'd failed to note, however, that the school had a female-to-male student ratio of about 7:1. With the odds against all of us, the quiet, studious brunette wasn't going to grab the attention of the few male students away from the vivacious, outgoing blondes. I was 23 before I had my first boyfriend.
When our waitress stopped by to check on us, Edward ordered lunch for himself. He finished not long after Tanya and I had, then excused himself to swim a few more laps while we worked. As he walked away, I tried not to drool at his backside. I really needed to get a grip and stop drooling over a guy who was so obviously taken.