"So I told him, 'look, if you don't want to talk about marriage yet, okay, that's fine. I know that commitment is scary and you just want to enjoy your twenties and not look that far ahead. I understand. But what I don't understand is why you haven't managed to fill out a single job application in almost two months. I can't keep paying the whole rent every month. I'm going to run out of savings soon, and then it'll cut into my tuition!' And then Mike interrupted me and told me that I was basically blackmailing him into proposing by threatening him with homelessness." Bella sighed exasperatedly as she pushed the last of the dirty sheets down the hotel laundry shoot.
"What a jackass," Angela shook her head. "I hope you told him off."
"Well," Bella continued, as they each took ahold of the laundry cart and continued down the hallway. "I told him that I didn't appreciate being vilified and that if he found me that reprehensible he could get the hell out - it's not like I'd miss doing his laundry or washing his dishes."
"Good going!" Angela stopped pushing the cart and held out her hand for a high-five.
Bella waved away her friend's praise, but a small smile turned up her lips. "So then he told me that I had to be delusional to go around acting like the responsible one when I'm blowing money on something as impractical as art classes. And then I told him that was rich coming from a guy who wants to be a musician. So then he said . . . well, anyway, long story short: we broke up."
"Thank God!" Angela raised her hands to the ceiling as though thanking the heavens. "Just make sure it sticks this time. If you guys make up and get back together one more time I'm going to rip out all my hair."
"Oh lord, don't do that," Bella shook her head. "Nothing about my pathetic love life is worth that much energy. Trust me."
"Please, please, please, just promise me that you won't get back together with him!" Angela insisted. "He can be such a jerk, I just don't understand what you see in him."
"He can be a jerk," Bella agreed with a decisive nod. "He really can be. But he's also smart, and creative, and he can be really kind, and he was my first love, and…"
Angela made a retching sound as they came to a stop in front of the elevator. "Oh God. Gag me." She pushed the button to go down and then turned to glare sternly at her friend. "Look, Bella, plenty of guys are smart and creative - and, amazingly, some of them aren't total assholes. And maybe Mike can be kind, but when's the last time he actually was kind? And as for him being your first love, you're absolutely right; the two of you have been dating since sophomore year of high school. That's almost ten years, which is why it's not a good sign that he's still breaking out in a cold sweat any time you so much as mention the word 'marriage.' He's not a good guy, Bella. Maybe he was in high school, but he's not the same person any more."
"Well," Bella looked down, fixing her gaze on her tennis shoes. "I don't know if I believe that. But it is getting harder and harder to remember why I'm in this relationship."
"You mean why you were in that relationship," Angela corrected her firmly. "You really ought to stay over at my place tonight."
"It's okay," Bella sighed. "He's staying at Tyler's place, and anyway, I already changed the locks."
"That's my girl!" Angela said proudly. "But I want you to come over anyway. I'm not letting you out of my sight for five minutes. I know that bastard. Give him five minutes and he'll be at the door sweet-talking his way back into your bed. Stay at my place for a few nights. If he shows up there, I'll mace his ugly mug."
Bella giggled. She'd been incredibly depressed about the breakup, but Angela could always make her laugh. "Okay," she said with a smile. "I have a late shift tonight but I'll come over as soon as I get off?"
"Yes!" Angela clapped her hands excitedly. "Movie night! I'm gonna eat so much junk food. Technically that's your job, since you're the one who just went through a breakup, but just in case you shirk your duty, I'll be there to pick up the slack."
"Oh good," Bella said drily as the elevator dinged and doors slid open. "Although," she added as they pushed the cart into the elevator, "if I binged on junk food every time Mike and I broke up, I'd weigh half a ton."
"This is true." Angela conceded.
At first they were too busy struggling with the cart to notice that the elevator was occupied. It wasn't until they had finished tugging the cart over the threshold that Bella noticed the incredibly handsome bronze-haired man already inhabiting the elevator.
Edward Cullen. The most gorgeous guy she'd ever clapped eyes on. Tall, with just the perfect amount of lean, powerful muscle gracing his broad frame, he had startling green eyes, spiky bronze hair that was cut movie-star style, and a chiseled, dangerously attractive face. She stared at him, and found that he was looking back at her with one of his trademark Edward Cullen expressions; there was soft amusement on his lips and raw sexual hunger in his eyes.
Oh my God. If he hadn't been watching her, Bella would have fanned herself. She had to be flushed red as a tomato. She shared a sideways glance with Angela, who was ogling Edward just as enthusiastically as Bella was.
Edward Cullen was one of the hotel's wealthiest guests, and, given that the hotel was located in Manhattan's priciest zip-code, they had no shortage of wealthy guests. He was some kind of … businessman, or something. No one asked too many questions or talked about his line of work much, actually, which was probably a bad sign. But with a face like that, Bella could forgive him anything.
His whole family was loaded, from his uncle Carlisle Cullen to his brother Emmett Cullen, who was married to a Hollywood starlet of stunning beauty. But it wasn't the size of his wallet that attracted Bella, more like the size of his one-sided dimple when he flashed a devil-may-care grin that was shockingly boyish, given how harsh and downright threatening his face could be when he was angry.
He had never been angry at her. She had seen Edward yelling at his brother a few times when she went up to deliver the dry cleaning, but he had never been anything but excessively polite to her. That was impressive in and of itself, given the way most guests at the hotel treated her like a sub-human cleaning machine that was hardly worthy of eye contact, let alone pleasantries.
There had even been a few times when she got the impression that … but no, that was ridiculous. Edward used that hungry grin on everyone. It was practically his trademark. If, once or twice, she had gotten the impression that he was undressing her with his eyes, following the outline of her body under her unflattering maid's uniform… well, that was just her overactive imagination. She should save that kind of thinking for late nights, alone in her room, when Mike was out drinking with the guys, and she felt a trembling, insatiable lust for a man who was only about a million miles out of her league.
Unwillingly, she found her gaze drifting to her own reflection in the elevator mirror. She was pretty, she supposed, but it was nothing to write home about. It was an ordinary-pretty. Nice face, nice brown eyes, nice alabaster-white skin, nice shiny brown hair, nice figure. A very nice smile, if she did say so herself, but all one had to do was compare her to the heart-stopping Rosalie Cullen, Edward's sister-in-law, to see how very unremarkable Bella's good looks were. Edward was used to glamorously gorgeous women. Bella had seen enough of them in his presidential suite to know his type. Mousy maids were not his type.
Still, she enjoyed those moments when their eyes met and, however foolishly, she felt an electric connection between them. It was exciting, heartening, made her feel like she had romance and excitement in her life even though she didn't. Not really. Well, there was always Mike. Bella sighed.
The elevator dinged as it reached the lobby, and Edward shifted to leave, but before he did he turned and flashed her a knowing smile. "Good to see you Bella," his gaze shifted to Angela and he nodded politely before stepping out of the elevator. The doors closed behind him and Bella and Angela turned to each other, eyes wide.
"He remembered your name!" Angela gushed.
"He remembered my name." Bella repeated, with a giggle that was very out-of-character and actually sort of embarrassing. "He said it was good to see me."
"I'm telling you Bella," Angela said as the elevator stopped at the basement level. "There's definitely something going on there."
"Yes, he's the only polite billionaire we've ever waited on." Bella countered. "We can't read into everything he does just because he's incredibly handsome."
"No, it's more than that," Angela insisted. "He's always looking at you, he remembered your name, he helped you when you tripped that one time."
"Good manners, that's all," Bella waved a hand emphatically as they tugged the laundry cart out of the elevator.
"Well then how come he didn't remember my name?" Angela said, and then smiled when Bella raised her eyebrows. "Speaking as someone who is insanely jealous right now - I really think he's in to you."
"Yes, well," Bella said as they pushed the cart down the hall, "speaking as someone who thinks you're delusional, let me just say, even if he were attracted to me - which he is not - it's not as if anything would ever actually come of it. He's got a different woman in his hotel suite every night, and what I want, what I really want, is a solid, dependable, one-woman kind of guy that I can build a good life with."
"That's what every woman says," Angela shook her head, "until she finds out that a guy like Edward Cullen is interested in her."
"That is an absurd generalization." Bella said. "And anyway, there's Mike." She sighed as they entered the hotel laundry room, which was occupied by over half-a-dozen maids.
"Mike? How is Mike an issue? Bella, get with the program. He's your ex."
Bella was about to respond when they were interrupted by Jessica, a co-worker and on-again, off-again frenemy of Bella's. She was on her way out of the laundry room, with a basket of freshly pressed towels on her arm. "Mike? What about Mike?" The petite girl tucked a dark curl behind her ear and sighed with annoyance. "Don't tell me you've broken up with him again. Bella, you really need to stop jerking that poor guy around. It's really manipulative. If you don't want to be with him just cut him loose properly so that he can find someone else." She rolled her eyes, turned on her heel and strode away.
" 'Someone else'" Angela repeated, with air quotes. "Someone like her."
"Ssshh," Bella hushed her friend. Jessica was barely out of earshot. "I feel bad for her. She just went through a nasty breakup."
"Sorry for her?" Angela's eyes nearly bugged out of her head. "She has a crush on your man - well, ex-man."
"Yeah, well, trust me, that right there is a sign of terminally low self-esteem, and I speak from experience."
This time Lauren interrupted. "Low self-esteem?" Lauren was another co-worker, and she was less frenemy than flat-out nemesis. It couldn't be proved, but Bella would bet good money that Lauren was the one who had framed her during last year's Missing Silverware Debacle and nearly gotten her fired. In the end, management had decided that there wasn't enough evidence against Bella, and she'd been able to keep her job, though now she fantasized about shoving Lauren off the grand staircase almost as frequently as she fantasized about sex with Edward Cullen.
Lauren tsked. "I wouldn't have thought you had low self esteem Bella. After all, what's to feel bad about? Your boyfriend who would rather drink with the guys and perform for the girls than come home to you? Your art career that's never going to get off the ground, dooming you to life as a professional maid until the day you die? Oh, I know, it must be your father, the shut-in with no job at all."
Angela positively bristled; if she were a cat her tail would have been spiked like a bottlebrush. "Excuse me?" she started, but before she had a chance, Bella had already rounded on Lauren, her jaw clenched so tight she thought her teeth would crack.
"You see that washing machine over there?"
"That's where I'm going to drown you if you ever talk about my father again." Without giving Lauren a chance to respond, Bella pushed past the girl and Angela followed her.
"Crazy bitch," she heard Lauren mutter.
"Take a hike," Angela snapped back, and, with a few more muttered insults, Lauren left the laundry room. Under most circumstances Bella was the quiet and compromising type, but she had learned quickly that with Angela there was no such thing as compromise: only victory or defeat. And there were few things that riled Bella the way an insult to her father did.
She and Angela sorted the laundry in silence for a moment before Angela spoke. "Well, I'm impressed, Bella. Changing the locks on Mike, flirting with Edward, threatening Lauren's life. You're on a roll today."
"Yeah, except I didn't flirt with Edward, I stared at my shoes unable to speak until he got off the elevator. Big difference."
"Alright, well, tonight we'll watch some rom-coms and tomorrow you can try again. I'm clocking out now - you'll be at my place as soon as your shift is over?"
"I'll make a quick stop to pick up junk food and then I'll be there." Bella promised.
"Cool," Angela grinned as she took off her white maid's apron and let her hair down from the high ponytail she kept it in. "Catch you later."
Bella sighed as her friend departed. Angela was one of the best things about the job, especially on a day like this when Bella was feeling a little low. Unfortunately, Bella had four more hours of work left. Her shift ran until 10 pm, and she already had the beginning of a headache. Still, at least there was the encounter with Edward Cullen in the elevator to mull over, and since he wasn't checking out until tomorrow, there was always the chance that she might run into him again. Even if she didn't, she could fantasize about him, and thoughts of Edward Cullen had a way of making a long shift short.