A/N Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight.
No copyright infringement is intended.
I watched as the perfect drop of condensation dripped and rolled down the angled slope of my martini glass. There was something so fascinating about the way it seemed to have a singular focus on getting to the stem, like it was its only goal. I could certainly appreciate that; I was nothing, if not goal oriented. I picked up my cocktail just as the dewy drop completed its mission. Although I had found it fascinating, my need for another drink took precedence. The cocktail was perfect. It was slightly sweet with an ideal balance of tartness. The vodka was so smooth on the bed of my tongue and burned ever so faintly and it slid down my throat. This, the perfect cocktail, was why I loved coming here on occasion…The Top Shelf. That's exactly what it was. A top shelf bar stocked with top shelf liquor that was filled with what most would consider top shelf people.
I was a top shelf person. In my life, I had achieved much success. At twenty-six, I was the youngest executive in my company to ever be made VP of a one hundred million dollar store. I had worked my way up through the company, although, I wasn't oblivious to how some of my peers thought I accomplished this staggering success. They could pretend to be happy for my accomplishment all they wanted. Some of them even deserved a Goddamned Academy Award for being able to congratulate me with a straight face, all the while imagining me on my knees with a cock in my mouth or that same cock fucking my tits. Not just any cock, mind you.
Michael Newton's cock.
Michael Newton was the Regional VP of stores. He had been the first Senior Executive that I directly reported to after I graduated from college and began my career. There had never been anything remotely sexual or romantic between us. He was my mentor and I utilized his knowledge of our business as a way to leverage my own professional growth and development. I acted like a thirsty sponge in the beginning, soaking up every ounce of information that he would give me. As he grew in his position, so did I.
My record for success stands wholly on its own. I've taken two fledgling, smaller stores from near closure to making them profitable, thriving contributions to the company. I am very results driven and have sacrificed much in my own personal life to achieve those important results in my professional one. And, even though I understand that my success is the realization of the endless hours of hard work, meticulous strategy and my own fucking, sheer determination and intelligence…the black cloud of what people thought of me still loomed over my head.
Thinking about this, pissed me off just a little and I took another drink and emptied the glass. I motioned to the bartender to bring me another one. Two drinks was usually my limit. Especially, since I had come here alone. It's not like I don't have friends. I do. It's just that because of the nature of my job, I have relocated twice over the last few years and my good friends are not geographically convenient for girl-time and cocktails. The managers that report to me have occasionally invited me out with them. Most of them are around my age, so I guess they feel like we should have common interests. I never go, because it has been my experience that you don't mix your personal and professional life. I have always kept that unyielding line drawn in the sand… No matter what anyone else might think.
The bartender brought me my cocktail and I took a sip.
The tension in my body was beginning to dissipate as the effects of the first dink settled into my system. I looked up and across the bar, just quietly taking in my surroundings. It was inviting, and buzzed with energy. Not an overt energy, however. Some people sat in small groups making conversation…some people alone, like me, needing a place to come down from their day. The walls had abstract paintings in vivid colors placed in focal areas giving the room a contemporary, urban feel. There were several seating areas made up of plush chairs and leather couches for people to mingle and soft light illuminated the room from warm colored lamps.
I glanced at the people surrounding me. It appeared that they were mostly reflections of myself in varying forms. Professional, for the most part. Some were attractive…some were not. All had money; based on the overpriced twenty dollar cocktails we were all consuming. This wasn't a local neighborhood bar where one would throw back a few beers and where everyone knows your name. We were all people that preferred to surround ourselves with those that were like us; never really wanting to know anything but surface details about the others, just content to know that they were all familiar. It was pretentious, and in my own mind, I knew that, ultimately, I was being hypocritical.
I hadn't always been surrounded by the comforts that having money had to offer. I actually had a very humble upbringing. Humble was actually overstating it a bit. Thinking about my childhood raised a level of defensiveness inside me that I was familiar with. I was so far from that place in my life and I wasn't going to sit here and allow myself to feel like any less than anyone in this room! I picked up my glass and took another drink and glanced around the bar again to divert my attention.
That's when I saw him.
Sitting in a darkened corner of the room was possibly the most beautiful man I had ever seen. He was tall and appeared to be lean and muscular. It was hard to tell though, because he was wearing a tailored black suit. The striking contrast between the black color of his jacket and pale complexion of his handsome face was captivating. He had full lips, really full lips, the lips you always dreamed about kissing. I couldn't see the color of his eyes because he was looking down typing something on his Blackberry. His lashes were impossibly long. The kind of lashes that women spend countless amounts of money at the cosmetic bays every day in my store, trying to achieve. Yet, there was nothing feminine about them. He had bronze hair that appeared to be disheveled and the locks fell slightly across his forehead. I had the sudden urge to run my fingers through it and grasp it in my hands. My face flushed as this thought ran through my mind and I realized at that exact moment that I had been staring, quite unabashedly actually, at the beautiful man. Just when I was about to turn away, it happened.
His piercing green eyes were looking right at me. The eye contact was intense and, for the life of me, I couldn't understand why. An uncontrollable blush covered my face down to my breasts and all of a sudden, my heart leapt from its place in my chest to my throat and began to beat wildly. The breath I had escaped my lungs in a whoosh, and I consciously had to close my parted lips, so as not to look like I was gaping.
I quickly looked away and brought my glass up to my lips to take a drink in hopes of appearing to be doing something other than staring at the stunning man. My hand was shaking, betraying any hopes I had of not looking completely mortified that I had been caught basically ogling him. I could feel the blood rise to my face even more and could only imaging that my own damn bodily reactions were more telling than if I had actually continued to stare into his deep green eyes.
Just as I was about to put my glass down, throw some money on the counter and make a quick escape, I felt someone touch my back. It startled me so much that I jumped and dropped the glass. The remnants of my drink soaked through my dress and the glass fell and shattered on the hardwood floor.
I wanted to die.
"I'm so sorry," a masculine voice said from behind me. "I didn't mean to startle you. Please, allow me to get you another one."
I turned around and looked at the man. He appeared to be in his thirties and he was looking down at me. His hand was still on my back, which was making me even more uncomfortable than I already was. I guess he sensed it, and he pulled away.
"No…no… umm, no thank you," I finally managed to force out.
I reached over to the bar to get some napkins to soak up the cold liquid from my dress.
"I was just getting ready to leave," I added, hoping he would just walk away and leave me to my humiliation.
I grabbed the napkins and felt his hand reach over mine.
"Please, allow me."
Before I could comprehend what was happening, his hand was pressing into my lap with the napkins.
I felt like I was having an out of body experience, then, the reality of the situation hit me with full force. I was enraged that this jackass presumed he could touch me!
"Please take your hand off me," I said in a forced tone.
"Calm down," he said, laughing. As if he thought I couldn't be serious. "I'm only trying to help. It appears you might have ruined your dress."
That was the final straw for me. I just wanted to leave the embarrassment of this night behind. I tried to stand up from the stool, and in my attempt to be swift, I tripped on my heel.
"Goddamnit," I cursed, a little louder than I meant to.
Couldn't I escape with just a shred of my dignity? I felt the stinging of stupid tears behind my eyes. Before I would allow myself one more moment of what had turned into a ridiculous public spectacle, I grabbed my bag. I reached in to get the money when, again, the man placed his hand around my arm.
"Let me get that," he said. "It's the least I can do."
I was about to protest again. To be quite honest, this guy was really beginning to make me uncomfortable…and really pissing me off! Before I was able to convey that exact sentiment to him, I heard another voice.
"It would be the very least you could do. But. The. Lady. Said. No."
His voice was velvet. Velvet and silk, and any other ridiculously soft, beautiful thing you could possibly imagine. I was mesmerized by it momentarily. I knew it was him before I even turned around to look. Only the most beautiful man, with the most beautiful eyes, would have the most beautiful voice. I looked up and met his gaze. It was just as intense as before. I realized that I was holding my breath. The other man immediately dropped my arm and said, "Don't get your hopes up buddy. She might be hot, but she's a total bitch!"
Just like that, he turned to walk away. The beautiful man's green eyes darkened immediately and flashed with what appeared to be fury. His hands fisted at his side until his knuckles turned white. The intense reaction was a little unsettling. I didn't want to cause anymore of a scene than I already had. With a shaky voice, I plead, "Please, just let it go. I'm fine. I can handle myself."
Something seemed to register on his face, though I'm not certain what it was.
The flush had never left my face from earlier. If anything, it had only deepened in color. He took a deep breath and I saw him relax. Thankful that the unpleasantness was over, I placed my money on the counter. I turned to face him…to tell him thank you. Before the words could form on my lips he said, "Are you alright?"
Again, with the velvet. My heart fluttered.
"Umm...ye…yes," I managed to say.
I couldn't remember what I was going to say. It was all too much with him standing so close.
Come on! You can form a complete sentence without stuttering!
And then I remembered the words that were escaping me.
"Thank you," I said, because I really meant it.
"I could have handled myself though," I added, because I didn't want any man to think I needed to be rescued.
Even if he was the most beautiful man in the world.
"You're welcome," he said. "I'm sure you could handle anything."
I didn't know what to say to him then, because now I wasn't only distracted by the velvet, I was also distracted by the warmth of his breath as it whispered across my face.
"I really should be getting home," I finally managed to get out.
Even though, I could have stayed there in that spot all night, listening to the velvet and breathing in the subtle fragrance of his breath that still lingered on my cheeks.
And then, I remembered…
I was mortified!
His mere presence had made me forget my earlier humiliation from the previous moments in this room. I needed to leave. I felt the blood rising, once again, to my face. Of course, he noticed me blushing.
"Are you sure you're okay…?" he asked, as if he was missing a word at the end of his question.
I realized that he was fishing for my name. Not wanting to give too much information to this man, who was for all intents and purposes, a stranger to me.
Even if in that moment, he felt like someone more familiar.
"Bella. My name is Bella," I told him. "And yes, I'm fine."
His eyes grew intense again and I had to break the stare.
"It's a pleasure to meet you Bella. I'm Edward."
I put my handbag over my shoulder, still intent on making my escape. He seemed to read my body language and politely stepped to the side before asking me "May I at least walk you to your car?"
I wasn't really expecting that, and honestly, I wasn't exactly comfortable with a man I didn't know making that kind of gesture. Besides, hadn't I just told him that I could handle myself?
That won't be necessary. I'm sure I can manage." He smiled down at me with this crooked smile that made my pulse quicken.
"I believe I have already agreed tonight, that you are entirely capable. I wouldn't be doing it for you. I would be doing it for me. I want to leave as well."
I allowed his words to sink in and reasoned with myself that I couldn't force him to stay here, if he really wanted to go.
Keep telling yourself that. Maybe you'll actually believe it.
As if he knew it would make it easier for me, he started making his way for the door. I took my keys out of the side pocket of my purse-just in case-and followed suit. He held the door open for me in a chivalrous manner.I walked outside into the crisp fall air, breathing in deeply and allowing the slight chill to cool my face that was still blushing. I made my way to my car because it was parked near the front of the lot, close to the bar.
"Nice car," he said, smiling at me with that same crooked smile from inside. And just like before, my pulse quickened.
"Thanks." I said, smiling back at him; happy for the first time that I actually splurged on the blue BMW. Having the car had always felt a little exorbitant, but I reasoned that you get what you pay for…I'd made a career on that reasoning as it were.
"The color suits you."
I didn't really know what that meant, but I blushed nonetheless.
"And now, it suits you even more," he added.
I was slightly taken aback at his words. I wasn't sure, but it felt like there were more to them than I understood. And, I didn't like not understanding…even if part of my mind and body wanted to continue standing next to him saying confusing things with his velvet voice.
"I really should be going," I said quickly.
The reasonable and responsible part of my mind was finally winning out.
"Thank you, Edward,," I said as I unlocked the car. It didn't escape me that the sound of his name forming on my lips, felt good. Right, even. I had to shake that off and get the hell out of there!
You are not that girl.
"No, thank you Bella." His voice was just above a whisper.
He leaned forward, maintaining eye contact with me the whole time, and opened the unlocked door to my car. I wasn't even going to allow my mind to process how good my name sounded…coming from velvet.
"It has been a pleasure," he added. "Have a safe drive home. Goodnight."
I quickly sat in the car, placing my handbag in the passenger's seat.
"Goodnight, Edward." It was little more than a sigh, as I looked up at him from my seat.
He politely shut my door and stepped away from the car.
I turned the key in the ignition and began to pull away. I should have been worried. I should have been chastising myself for allowing a strange man I didn't know anything about to walk me to my car in the dark. I should have been suspicious of his motives…but I wasn't. I hadn't felt any of those practical feelings of self-preservation. I was only able to feel excitement and, oddly enough, the most peculiar sense of calm in his presence. I didn't understand it. I decided that I wouldn't be able to completely understand it right now. So, I pushed the thoughts to the back of my mind until I could process it all later.
Later, when I wasn't still reeling from the feeling of him being so close.
Later, when I didn't still feel the intensity of his stare or hear the soft velvet of his voice.
I saw Edward in my rearview mirror watching me drive out of sight, and the thought of not seeing him again, both relieved and disappointed me at the same time. I allowed the conflicting feelings to settle as I made my way home.