AN: Hey bbs! I promised you a Christmas present and here it is. Chapter 1 of the novella I wrote for Alaskangirl, the winner of the Support Stacie auction. She has generously agreed to share her story with you. There are 5 chapters, and I'll upload a new one every couple of days. Enjoy!
"Now, Bella, I don't want you to argue," Charlie drawled and I did my best to try to keep a straight face—a non-argumentative face—on. In fact, I even plastered a downright sweet expression on. But inside, I was seething. Whenever my dad started out with an admonition not to argue, it typically meant I was about to hate whatever it was I was going to hear.
I'd come into the office today feeling like I had conquered the whole world. Summit Beverages, the tiny company my grandfather had started out of his garage, was gaining a huge market share on Coke and Pepsi, and I knew that my strategies and aggressive tactics had a lot to do with that. And today, my dad Charlie, the CEO, was going to tell me he was stepping down so I could finally take over.
I'd been waiting the last five years, doing everything that Charlie had assigned me, no matter how nasty or weird or impossible. I'd aced every task, and with the new quarterly sales figures for Summit out this morning, I had a feeling that today was finally the day.
Walking into his office, I'd felt on top of world before he'd uttered the words that wove a small niggling doubt into my mind.
"I've got something else for you to do," he continued, not even noticing that my eyes had narrowed in frustration and annoyance.
"What now?" I interrupted impatiently. I'd done the world's worst laundry list of crap in order to prove to Charlie that I could handle the CEO job. Sure I would be one of the youngest CEOs—and one of the few women—on the Fortune 500 company list, but I'd proved myself over and over. I was efficient and brisk and, most importantly, lethal.
Charlie lifted in eyebrow at my edgy tone, but I couldn't bring myself to apologize.
Finally, after a long gusting sigh, he continued. "My good friend Edward Cullen," he began, speaking as typically slow as he always did, "and I have worked out a deal. You're going to supervise the results."
"I didn't know you knew Edward Cullen," I nearly snapped.
He pretended like I hadn't so rudely interrupted, and ponderously kept going. "As you know, Edward is Emmett McCarty's agent. Emmett is going to be our new spokesperson."
My jaw dropped.
For about half a second, I honestly did try to reign myself in, but it was impossible. Shock and anger overrode any self-control I had left, and I launched myself verbally at Charlie. "A new spokesperson? Emmett McCarty? How come I knew nothing about this?" I nearly yelled.
"Oh, it's been in the works for some time," Charlie said sagely, not even reacting to my sudden outburst. "Must have forgotten to tell you."
Charlie often played the slow, stupid card, but I knew better than to fall for it. My dad was one of the smartest, quickest businessmen I'd ever met, and his Southern good 'ol boy act only served to help outwit his opponents. Underestimating him was typically one of the last things they did.
I nearly ground my teeth together. "So what is my job exactly?"
"Well," Charlie started, dragging out the first syllable until you could nearly iron a shirt on it, "Edward assures me that Emmett's a great fit for Summit. But he can be a trifle. . .spontaneous at times."
Great. An idiot. And even better, an idiot football player and his idiot agent. Clearly my main task would be to keep them both in line and make sure they didn't destroy all the market share I'd worked so hard to build.
"Oh?" I said.
"Bella," Charlie sighed. "You're a fantastic businesswoman. Better than me. And I'm fucking amazing. But you're shit with people. You bowl right over them—there's no subtlety, no give and take."
I tried not to be affronted and failed. "So you're assigning me this task so that I can learn to better work with the dumbass quarter of the population?"
Charlie didn't answer, he simply pressed his intercom and told Esme, his new wife, who also happened to be his secretary, to send in Edward and Emmett.
I'd heard a lot about Emmett McCarty. It was hard not to. He was huge in the NFL, and well. . .huge. Despite that he played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Summit's headquarters were also in Pittsburgh, we'd never met. But no matter. I already had him pegged. He was a testosterone-laden, small-brained troublemaker.
He walked in the room and yeah, I'd been right. He was an enormous hulk of a man, but he was also strangely boylike and had surprisingly twinkly blue eyes in a tanned face.
He shook my hand and muttered something about being glad to finally meet me. I agreed, though the feeling definitely wasn't mutual.
Then I turned to Edward, who stood behind him.
I hated Edward Cullen on sight.
He was gorgeous, with this shock of mussy, carefree bronzed hair and the most brilliant, charming green eyes I'd ever seen in a human face.
He lounged more than stood, and I found myself standing up even straighter when we finally came face to face.
"So this is Bella," he drawled, and considering his overall appearance, I was not surprised to hear the thick Southern accent. And it was definitely not an uppercrust Charleston accent. This guy sounded like he was from the Louisiana bayous.
"Miss Swan," I corrected stiffly as I shook his hand as briefly as I could.
I immediately knew I had to talk my dad out of the promotional deal. No doubt this Edward Cullen had snowed him with his Southern charm, and my whole opinion of the deal wasn't just going down the drain—it was already gone.
"Bella," Charlie chided, getting up from his desk and walking around to the two of us standing off in the middle of the room.
I managed to soften my features from glacial to merely freezing. "Mr. Cullen, it's nice to meet you."
The amused expression in those infernal green eyes told me that he knew I was lying through my teeth.
"Don't worry, Mr. Swan, I'll definitely charm little Bella here in no time," Edward drawled and I clenched my fists together.
If I'd hated him before, there were no words to express my loathing for him now. How dare he slouch into Summit and speak patronizingly to me? I was the heir apparent. Everyone treated me with courtesy.
Okay, maybe it was more fear than respect, but I'd take that, too. Edward Cullen wouldn't know fear or respect if they came up and bit him in the ass.
"I'm going to take Emmett over to legal and get some papers signed," Charlie said, putting his arm around Emmett, who beamed happily, no doubt thrilled at netting several million dollars to shill Summit beverages. "You two just sit here and get acquainted."
The door closed behind Charlie and I congratulated myself that my control held and I didn't rip his head off. Instead, I smiled, politely, distantly, and let him know that under no uncertain terms would we be 'getting acquainted.'
Of course, Edward was thick and obtuse and missed my clear signal to not speak.
"We have a press conference in an hour," he announced, and after throwing that bit of bait out, walked over to a chair and sat down. He didn't even stay upright—not that he'd been upright since he'd entered the room—but slouched down low in the chair, propping his shoes right in the middle of Esme's beautiful coffee table.
I glared at him, said nothing, and kept my position in the middle of the room.
A good minute of uncomfortable and awkward silence passed before he spoke again.
"You know, I pegged you for a real bitchy ice queen the moment I entered the room, but really, you're an even better actress than I'd initially imagined." The amusement that laced through his tone made me want to commit a homicide, right here in my dad's luxurious office.
I clamped my lips together and said nothing, but of course he continued. I looked at a spot on the carpet and tried to pretend that I was ignoring him. But, really, I was listening intently with a sick fascination.
"Just look at you. You couldn't even be buttoned up tighter if you wanted to be. I'd heard all the stories that you were a prim, prissy control freak, but god, I think if I loosened one strand in that old-maid bun of yours, you'd lose your shit."
I almost automatically raised a hand to make sure that every strand of hair was perfectly in place like he said, but I forced it to stay where it was at the last second. I didn't want him to know I actually cared what he said.
It wasn't as if what he was saying was anything new. I was the frigid, cold one. Friendless. Boyfriendless. Obsessed with work. I smoothed down my tight, straightforward, exceptionally plain black suit, and tried to think of why I liked being the way I was.
There was never any drama, never any fuss. I never got hurt. Of course, my personal life was a tomb, so how could I possibly get hurt?
I pushed that thought away. There was no way that Edward, with his drawling insults, was right.
But I couldn't let it slide. I just couldn't. He'd pushed a button inside of me that I hadn't even known existed. I had a temper, but it only came out to play when I was pushed to my limit. Like with Charlie earlier. And with Edward now.
"Are you done with your psychoanalysis or shall I fetch a couch?" I replied coldly, adding just a touch of sarcasm to my tone.
"Oh baby, I could definitely keep going. I bet you like the lights off during sex, right?"
"You. . .you. . .you," I stammered, my fury so great I couldn't even the words out. "That was definitely sexual harassment," I nearly yelled. "And I'm crazy if I don't report you."
"Oh, you won't," Edward said glibly and carelessly, smiling at me again. "Secretly, you're crazy about me."
I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself before this got really out of hand. Unfortunately, every time he opened his mouth he said something ridiculously outrageous that managed to push another one of my buttons.
"We have to work together for the next week or so. Really, I'd like to keep this as businesslike and professional as possible," I told him, not bothering to hold back the patronizing tone in my voice.
"Oh but it's so fun to give you crap," Edward laughed. "Just to see the expression on your face."
"It's not proper," I insisted, half-knowing what a stuck up priss I sounded like and no longer even caring.
"I've found it's a lot more fun not to be," Edward observed, slumping down even farther in the black leather chair. I hated myself for noticing how well his jeans fit his undeniably muscular legs. I wished that he was as ugly and crude on the outside as he was on the inside, but yeah, that was so not happening. This guy could give a Brad Pitt a run for his money.
"Fun has nothing to do with it," I argued. "Business is not about fun."
"Don't you find your business fun?" he asked in a rather amazed voice.
"It's a privilege and an honor to work for my father and it's very rewarding, gratifying work."
Edward closed his eyes. "You're making me tired with all your SAT words. I bet you couldn't say a sentence with only one-syllable words. Your private prep school soul would roll over and die."
I rolled my eyes, and opened my mouth to retort something—anything—but the door opened again and Esme walked in.
I hated the way that Edward's now wide-open eyes took in Esme as she sashayed across the office floor. I knew she was beautiful and she definitely knew she was beautiful, but despite that, I loved her anyway. She was like the mother I'd never had, and I'd been thrilled when Charlie and Esme got married. Now I just needed him to retire to spend his life with her so I could get my hands on his company, finally.
"Charlie says to meet him downstairs. The press conference will be starting soon."
Edward bounded up off the chair, clearly not adverse to looking energetic in front of lovely and fragile Esme. He just didn't care what I thought of him. How flattering.
Esme glided back out the door, and Edward turned to me. "Shall we?" he imitated in my best prissy voice, holding out his arm to me. I seethed with loathing as I purposefully snubbed him and stomped out the door in front of him. The next week could not possibly pass soon enough. Working with Edward Cullen was going to be hell on earth.