Obviously not mine, I'm just having fun tugging at the puppet strings.
A big thanks to Project Team Beta for being my extra sets of eyes.


"Wow, this place looks fantastic!" I looked around in awe at the progress that had been made on the 100 year old theater currently being renovated.

"Yeah, we're pretty far ahead of schedule. She was hiding some great bones underneath to work with. The guys have been able to move through the plans pretty quickly," explained our project foreman, Ben, with a sense of pride as we stood in the center of the empty main floor, taking in the progress around us. "Once we got rid of her outer layers, it was smooth sailing."

It was the first time I had seen the place since walls started going back up. My last inspection during demolition was frightening. The company I worked for had just purchased this historic building with plans to renovate it into a state of the art concert hall to add to our collection of venues. We'd spent millions on the building itself and the cost of permits, plans and all the little incidentals that popped up only added to the tally, even before the first contractor stepped foot in the place. With that number added to the estimated costs of the refurb planted firmly in the back of my head, I nearly passed out at the sight of piles of wood and plaster that covered just about every square inch of the venue's main floor while the teams continued to add to the mess. It took so many calming breaths to stave off the panic attack I nearly had before walking in this morning that I thought for sure I'd pass out again, this time from lightheadedness due to too much oxygen.

Looking around this place now, I could see that I had no reason to worry. It had only been a few weeks and the structure was far from finished, but the changes were dramatic. The debris had long since been cleared away and new drywall had gone up, covering all of the new wiring and whatever else these guys hid in the walls. The potential of this place was already obvious but it would take a few million dollars more before it was finished. We could have cut costs, but we were determined to recreate the original splendor of the theater while adding top of the line upgrades. A building like this was designed for acoustics and it would have been sacrilege to not upgrade the sound systems to complement the construction.

I followed Ben away from the main floor and to a hallway that led to the backstage area. The noise levels died down as the sounds of power tools grew distant. I could see a number of decorative pieces leaning against walls or laying on tables, safely away from the dust that collected on every surface in the main construction zones.

Ben pulled a couple pieces off of a nearby table and held them out for my inspection. "We just got these back the other day. We were able to salvage most of them as requested and our expert was able to create replicas to replace the ones that couldn't be saved. Once they're stained, you'll hardly be able to tell the difference."

I took the two pieces from his hands to compare them side by side on my own. "Forget this 'when they're stained' business. I can barely tell the difference now." I looked up to see Ben smiling with pride and returned with a smile of my own.

Part of maintaining the historical integrity of the building was attempting to maintain its architectural beauty at the same time. Before demolition began, a team came through and stripped the building of its decorative elements. Window arches, railings and other adornments were salvaged and shipped out to a local company that specialized in refurbishing historical architectural decorations. Our hope was that when the doors finally opened to the public that it would feel as though nothing had changed since the day the doors originally opened nearly a century ago.

I spent another hour with Ben checking the progress everywhere else in the building, going over the plans yet again, and signing off on paint colors that were to be used in the few completed rooms backstage. Leaving Ben to return to his crew, I took one last look around from the balcony before heading out. From this vantage point, I could see the work going on below but was far enough removed that I could really begin to picture the completed theater in my mind's eye. I could see the crowds seated below, waiting for the dark red curtain to part as the lights dimmed. This place was going to be spectacular and I couldn't wait to start booking shows. I pulled a small camera out of my bag and began snapping photos from every conceivable angle. We wanted to document each step in the process of restoring this gem from the run down building we had found a few months ago to the grand hall it would be when we were finished.

After one last look around, I headed back downstairs and out the side door to the private alley where I had parked. I made my way into Seattle traffic heading back to the office. It was nearly ten in the morning when I pulled into the garage although I could have sworn it was much later having already covered so much ground this morning. I coasted into my spot and turned off the ignition before grabbing my purse and heading towards the lobby of the high-rise. Our company took up two floors, the 21st and 22nd. Live entertainment was only half of our business with a half a dozen radio stations in varying formats making up the other half. My position as assistant to the General Manager allowed me to dabble in both sides.

I nodded and half-smiled my greeting to the unnamed but vaguely familiar faces that joined me in the elevator to head to their respective places of employment. A half a dozen stops to allow my "neighbors" to exit the elevator and it was finally my turn. I stepped out and was immediately greeted the receptionist, Angela.

"Hey! There she is!" she said with a big smile while placing the phone back on its cradle.

"Is someone looking for me?" I asked, with my head tilted slightly in confusion.

"Nope," she laughed. "Not that I know of, at least."

"Sorry, I'm a little slow today. The way you said that I thought someone had been searching for me." We both laughed as I added, "Maybe I just have a guilty conscience."

"Yeah, we all know what a troublemaker you are. It's only a matter of time before they come looking for you," she teased.

Playing along, I exhaled sarcastically, "I know. I'm such a wild child; I don't know how you all put up with me."

As I reached behind the ledge on her desk to raid the ever present bowl of M&M's, I asked her to fill me in on anything I may have missed so far that morning. Angela wasn't exactly the office gossip, in fact she was quite the opposite as she refused to get involved in anyone's drama, but her physical placement in the building as well as being the person that fields every call in and greets every person that steps off the elevator meant she was the go-to person when you wanted a quick summary of what was going on.

She half-heartedly attempted to swat my hands away, but was too slow. As I popped a red candy into my mouth with a laugh, she gave me the rundown. "Peter scheduled a meeting with all the sales people for Wednesday. He didn't seem too happy this morning when he walked out of his office to let the sales managers know to inform their teams, so I'm sure it'll be a fun one."

I nodded and raised my eyebrows knowingly, having read the email Peter, the General Manager, sent to me on my Blackberry while heading into the theater this morning. A few clients had been complaining lately about feeling like their sales rep hasn't been giving them the attention they've come to expect from us. While it was a relative few that this rant would apply to on Wednesday, it wasn't going to be pretty for anyone to watch. This was a pretty relaxed and laid back industry, but some of our staff seemed to take that a little too far. It certainly raised suspicion when some of them started showing up in the office at 8:30 before heading out to meet with clients, not returning until after 4:00 having only two appointments on the books.

"Everyone's pretty excited about the summer schedule that was released today. Great lineup for all the venues. Good work, Bella," she said with a congratulatory wink.

I grinned back at her and responded with a simple "thank you." This was the part of my job that I loved most, making deals to get shows booked in all of our venues. It was why Peter and I worked so well together: radio was his baby and he focused most of his attention there, while the live entertainment side was my passion. We were both still involved in the other side, but the balance worked out nicely in allowing us to each focus more heavily in one area to make sure details weren't overlooked.

"Oh, and the new PD started this morning," she added, referring to the new program director Peter had hired to take over a couple stations.

One side of her mouth was pulled into a grin and the almost devious tone of voice caused me to furrow my brow and look at her, waiting for her to elaborate. Unfortunately this business was a bit of a revolving door, though mostly with salespeople, so new hires weren't exactly hot topics around here. This made her reaction all the more intriguing. She gave a quick look around to see if anyone was within earshot before leaning in a bit closer, a nonverbal cue for me to do the same.

"Have you met him yet?" I shook my head.

"Have you seen his picture or anything, maybe a headshot for the website or something?"

Again, I shook my head no. "I spoke to him briefly on a conference call a couple weeks ago while Peter was discussing hiring him and I've heard the air checks he submitted initially, but that's it. Peter handled that whole thing on his own since I've been so busy with the architect and designer on the theater job this past month."

"Well, the ladies around here are going to be spending a lot more time primping than usual," she whispered. "The man is gorgeous. I'm not even going to try and describe, it's something you have to see for yourself."

"Poor guy. I hope he's prepared for what he's gotten himself into." We both laughed and I shook my head at the mental image of the catty girls in our office fighting for space at the mirrors in the restrooms. Some of them were absolutely desperate for attention from anything with a Y chromosome. It was a great source of entertainment for the rest of us.

"So how's the new place coming along?" Angela asked, changing the subject.

My smile widened as I launched into the details of my morning. "Beautifully! I'm so excited about this project. I can't believe how great this place looks already. If they keep up at this pace we'll definitely be able to open on its 100th anniversary in the fall."

"Really? I can't wait to see it. As run down as it was when you guys found it, you could still see the potential. I'm sure you'll have it looking better than new when you're done with it."

"I took some new pictures before I left, so I'll email them to you once I get them transferred."

The phone rang, double beeping indicating an internal call, and Angela turned her attention away from me to answer. I reached over to grab one more handful of M&M's, dodging Angela's swat. "Yeah, she's right here. She just got in a few minutes ago." She looked up at me and rolled her eyes, a small chuckle escaping. I listened closer, trying to figure out who was looking for me and why.

"No," she replied teasingly to the caller. "No, you can't talk to her. She's keeping me entertained. I'm not giving her up yet." Another pause to allow the caller to talk and Angela let out a loud, quick laugh. "Sure it's an emergency. It's always an emergency. You're so full of it, you know that? Yeah, yeah, no one's buying it. Fine, I'll let her know you're looking for her but you know that's only giving her advance warning to go into hiding, right?"

I quietly laughed and mouthed, "Emmett?" to her as she nodded to me before yelling a loud, exasperated "goodbye" into the phone.

"You're being summoned," she laughed.

"Studio or office?" I asked, unsure of where he was at the moment since his on air shift ended nearly 20 minutes ago and I was unwilling to wander around the place searching for him.

"He's still in the studio, said to have you stop in as soon as 'her highness lowers her standards enough to commune with the peasants' - his words, not mine."

"Jackass," I mumbled as I pushed off of Angela's desk and dusted the M&M debris off of my hands. I could hear Angela laughing as I walked away, looking down at the multicolored spots stained onto my palm mumbling, "Yeah, 'melts in your mouth, not in your hands' my ass."

I gave up trying to will the spots away and pushed open the heavy glass door to the studio.

"She finally graces us with her presence," Emmett greeted with a goofy smile.

"Yeah, my standards can't get much lower, Em. What do you need?" I responded in false offense, referencing his earlier words to Angela.

"Can't I just be happy to see my girl on this beautiful morning?" he said batting his eyelashes, voice dripping in faux sweetness.

"No," I quickly replied without removing the look of suspicion on my face, earning a laugh from Jasper, who was standing a few feet from Emmett, and Kate who was sitting behind the board for her shift. "I know you too well, you want something. You're never this excited to see me."

"Fine, fine. Maybe there is something you could do for me," Emmett said while thrusting a piece of paper in my hand. I looked it over seeing that it was the press release announcing the summer concert schedule at our venues that Angela and I had been discussing only a few minutes earlier. A dozen shows had been highlighted with yellow or green highlighters. I looked up, giving Emmett his cue to continue.

"These are the ones I need tickets for. You see, yellow I just need tickets. I'm not picky. But green, those ones I need the best seats you can get for me." I glanced up to see a look of pleading on his face.

"You do realize that your ID will get you into every one of these for free, right?"

He rolled his eyes at my statement of the obvious. "I have been around for awhile, I am aware of that. But you know these ones will sell out or come close to it and if we walk in on our station IDs we take whatever's open if anything's open. I want a guaranteed seat. And for some of them, the green ones, I need good seats. Close seats. Count the nose hairs on the lead singer seats."

"Got a thing for rockers that you've never told me about, Em?" I teased.

"You're not as funny as you think you are." His face turned to pleading again, "Rosie will love me forever if you can hook me up on these ones."

"Only you would try and impress someone with free stuff that a girl could get on her own," I laughed at him, prolonging his torture. "I'll see what I can do. We haven't divvied up the comps yet, so I'll try and work my magic on which ones are staying behind for use here."

I was quickly swept up in a big hug with a big wet kiss planted on my cheek, "Thank you! I owe you one!"

I dramatically wiped away the saliva with the back of my hand after my feet touched ground again, "Yeah yeah, you always say that but never follow through."

I turned my attention to the other two. "So what's going on here? What's everyone up to?"

"Well, I'm trying to work and these two dipshits won't leave me in peace," Kate grumbled.

"View's too good from here. We don't want to miss the soap opera taking place out there," Jasper nodded to direct my attention down the hall. I followed his gaze until I stopped on a small crowd formed just down the way. A man I didn't recognize was standing with Jessica and Lauren. More accurately, it appeared that he was cornered by the pair. My view was partially blocked by the two as they tried to move closer and closer into his personal space, subtly competing with each other. His messy bronze hair and profile were all I could see but it was enough to back up Angela's earlier claims.

"It's the new guy, Edward," explained Jasper. "Lauren and Jessica haven't let him go for the past twenty minutes. He keeps trying to figure out an escape but so far, no such luck."

He and Emmett laughed at the poor guy's predicament as Emmett picked up where Jasper left off. "They started out down there," he said while pointing to a spot about ten feet from where the three were currently standing. "Every time he tries to end the conversation and get out, they latch on tighter and move in closer. He has backed away so many times that he has finally run out of room and has literally backed himself into a corner."

I listened to the two laugh while Kate mumbled things like "idiots" and "need to grow up, stupid Peter Pan syndrome" while paging down through the play log on the computer screen in front of her. I couldn't tear my attention away, it was the sort of train wreck we were used to seeing from these two but it never got old.

"So you guys decided to just let the poor newbie suffer it out on his own with the Wonderbra Brigade?"

At the new nickname, the two overgrown children howled with laughter. "Oh that's classic! I'm stealing that one, Jelly Belly." I wasn't sure how Emmett was able to speak through the belly laughs.

"Alright, everyone shut up! I'm going on air in 20 seconds. Zip it or get out!"

Emmett and Jasper quieted down, only a few small chuckles escaping. I pulled myself up to sit on the counter to Kate's left as she flipped the mic on to do her speed break, my legs dangling over the side as we watched the show going on outside the door. Kate pushed down on the button to turn her mic back off as the next song started and turned to see out the door. "You know, it never gets old watching them crash and burn. I'm going to be sad the day they finally give up."

"I don't think you have anything to worry about. I don't think that day will ever come. They'll be the dirty old ladies copping cheap feels of the young men who help them get their groceries into the car when they're 90." I glanced at Kate and we both started laughing at mental image.


Kate and I both turned our attention back to the door after Jasper's outburst to see the man giving a desperate and frustrated look in our direction. In what was an attempt to save face and make it appear as if he hadn't been leaving Edward to fend for himself for his own personal entertainment, Emmett opened the door and called out to him.

"Hey man, can you come over here? I need to talk to you about something."

The look of relief that flooded his face was obvious to everyone but Jessica and Lauren who each gave one last lingering touch to his arm and promises to see him around later as he quickly extricated himself from their entrapments and made his way over. The two girls headed off in opposite directions after shooting quick scowls in our direction for taking away their new toy.

He made his way through the door, head bent with one hand running through his hair, as if attempting to hide. Couldn't exactly blame him for trying given how he'd spent the better part of the past half hour. Jasper clapped him on the shoulder, "Sorry man, we should've warned you."

Edward laughed, shaking his head in disbelief. "Damn, they just don't take a hint, do they?"

"Subtle doesn't work with them," I informed him. His attention turned to me for the first time and my gaze was locked on the deep green eyes looking back. It was only a split second, but the effect was huge as if the earth had been knocked off of its axis. It took a lot of effort to turn my attention to Emmett when he snorted.

"Telling them flat out to fuck off doesn't work either."

Everyone laughing at Emmett gave me the perfect cover to laugh at myself. I internally rolled my eyes at my reaction, letting out a deep breath as my heart rate slowed back to normal just in time for Emmett to take initiative to introduce us.

"Bella, this is Edward. Edward this is Bella. She's the assistant to the General Manager and all around pain in my ass."

Our handshake broke as I turned to scowl at Emmett. "Oh, you're one to talk."

"What? I'm not the one that steals people's cars."

"I didn't steal your car. I moved it."

"You moved it to another garage!"

Our voices were getting progressively louder and I could hear the snickers from our audience as Emmett and I continued our stare down. My eyes narrowed at him and I cocked one eyebrow up as he puffed his chest in a show of dominance. I could hear Edward ask Jasper, "Is it always like this?"


"I swear, you'd think they were brother and sister the way they bicker and fight all the time," Kate added.

Emmett was the first to break our silence. "Stole it."

I held my hands up in front of me as I responded. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Who suspended my desk from the ceiling?"

Emmett's attention was drawn to my hand as he grabbed my wrist and pulled it closer for inspection.

"What the hell is this?"

I yanked my hand back to see what he was talking about. "M&M's."

"I thought they were supposed to melt in your mouth and not in your hands?"

"False advertising."

I had nearly forgotten that we weren't alone when Edward spoke up. "You should sue."

I traced the stains with my pointer finger, maintaining the deadpan tone of the conversation. "I'm thinking about it. Just waiting for my attorney to return my call."

My laugh finally broke through as Kate mumbled, "I work with morons," before shooing us all out so she could do her break before the spot block.

I slid off of the counter and we all stepped outside the glass doors and into the hallway. Emmett finally got me into a headlock, pulling me into his chest. "Lunch at noon, ya in?"

I attempted to push away but it was no use. Instead, I used my limited field of vision to keep my legs moving as we walked down the hallway. "No can do. I have a lunch meeting with one of the reps from William Morris."

"Aro?" he asked, finally releasing me.

I ran my fingers quickly through my now mussed up hair. "Yep."

"Watch out for that dirty old man," he warned, teasingly.

"I can't help it if he loves me. Everyone does." I shrugged nonchalantly then gave him a big goofy grin and batted my eyelashes just as we stopped outside my office door. Jasper rolled his eyes at our banter while Edward watched on with a crooked grin that turned my legs into Jell-O.

Pinching my cheeks and speaking to me as if I were a child, Emmett retorted, "It's because you're so damn loveable."

I playfully pushed him away as I opened my door. "Get off me, you freak."

Turning back to the trio before they continued down the hall, I called out, "See you guys later! Edward, it was nice meeting you."

Emmett and Jasper both threw a hand in the air to wave without looking back while Edward turned with a smile, "You too, Bella. I'll see you around."

I dropped my purse into an empty chair just inside the door as I made my way behind the desk. Absentmindedly, I flipped through the stack of mail that I had picked up from my desk as I sat down. I leaned down to power on the computer before turning my attention back to the mail and started opening each piece. In the quiet of my office, I found myself beginning to analyze my reaction earlier. While it wasn't a completely foreign reaction, it was something I hadn't felt in quite some time and to be honest it was considerably stronger than any other time I could recall. I shook my head, berating myself for getting so caught up in my thoughts.

It's not like you haven't seen a gorgeous man before.

I couldn't figure out what it was about him that made me feel so off kilter. Looking back, the situation could have been very awkward and it disturbed me that I felt that way. I wasn't the most extroverted person in the room, but I wasn't exactly socially stunted either. I was thankful that I could always count on Emmett to be a distraction because I had a feeling that had I met Edward one on one I would've frozen. I felt bad for not speaking to him all that much, but the teasing from Emmett allowed me to just be myself rather than retreat into my head as I overanalyzed everything as I was prone to do.

His voice I had heard before, obviously. His air checks were fantastic and we knew he'd be a great fit with our stations. Even his conversational voice was impressive in that quick introduction we'd had during that conference call. I had tiptoed into Peter's office to leave copies of the offers I had sent out that day before heading out to a meeting with the designer to once again go over new seats for the theater renovation. Peter interrupted their discussion for a moment to "introduce" us. We spoke for just a minute, the three of us, before I had to head out the door and I couldn't ignore the fact that his voice piqued my curiosity. One thing learned quickly in radio, though, is to never make assumptions about what a person may look like based on the sound of a voice.

Maybe that's why my reaction was what it was? Simply that the combination of inhumanly gorgeous and a dead sexy voice threw me off. Yes. That had to be it. Eye candy was just that, eye candy. Nobody expected anything beyond something to look at, right?

Pleased with my conclusion, I shoved the mail aside and entered my login information into the computer. I had just enough time to check for urgent emails before changing my clothes for lunch. Casual the standard in this office, so I had to keep a couple more professional ensembles on hand for meetings such as this afternoon's.

Seeing nothing in my inbox that required my immediate attention, I made my way to the small closet in the corner of my office to grab the suit that had been dropped off from the dry cleaner's just yesterday. I reached for the bag of supplies at the bottom of the closet and headed into my private bathroom to change. I stripped down to my underwear before pulling on the pantyhose, followed by the skirt and camisole. I quickly took a brush to my hair. I pulled it into a low ponytail in one hand before twisting it up and clipping it into place, allowing a few pieces to fall out and frame my face. After a light coating of makeup to touch up and a quick spray of perfume to cover up any lingering construction smells that may have latched on during this morning's tour, I grabbed the jacket and headed barefoot back into my office. I picked up my heels, placing them next to the door as I laid the jacket on the chair with my purse. I moved back behind my desk and picked up the phone, dialing into my voicemail box.

After clearing my voicemails, I sat back in my chair. My mind wandered back to this morning's reaction yet again, without my permission. I was beginning to frustrate myself, angry at myself for acting like I was back in junior high school with my first real crush.

A crush? Was that what this was?

I grumbled to myself at how quickly my earlier rationalization had crumbled. Now was simply not the time for something like this. Bad timing was an understatement of epic proportions. My professional life kept me busy enough already, and my personal life had no room for any more distractions.

I looked up at the picture on my desk, pulling the frame a little closer. My fingers slowly traced the face that stared back at me. The smile in front of me made me smile involuntarily in return. I couldn't afford to screw anything up.

Resolved, I pushed back from my desk and headed over to the door. I slipped on my shoes as I pulled the suit jacket on, buttoning the three buttons before grabbing my purse and heading out the door.

These types of lunches were practically unnecessary and served mainly as an excuse to socialize. It wasn't something I could complain about though as the friendly conversation had led to many wonderful working relationships.

Fresh out of college, I had been working for an entertainment buyer on the east coast. The owner took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. When I interviewed, my job was primarily administrative, but he wanted me to understand fully what the business entailed and invited me to a similar lunch so that I could better understand the relationships that made his business the success it was.

I was nervous and way out of my league and therefore very quiet once introductions were made. I took the opportunity to watch and learn. I had expected serious discussions with numbers being passed back and forth until contracts were hashed out. Instead, I found that the first thirty minutes through appetizers were spent with the two men catching each other up on their families. As the entrees were placed before us, discussion had shifted to work but still no mention of our primary purpose. Instead they laughed about office drama, changes in the industry and some gossip about the competition. As the time had passed, I had slowly opened up more, joining in their conversations and joking with them.

It wasn't until desserts were ordered that they really began talking business. I laughed internally at how it seemed like an afterthought, almost as if they realized they wouldn't be able to write off the meal until they mentioned something truly business related.

There were a few artists that we were interested in booking and I had spent the week going over Pollstar records and our own historical data to analyze ticket sales, profits and asking prices. I had written up a report two days prior for my boss to look over in preparation for this meeting. I listened as he mentioned the artists as well as the time frames we were looking at but was shocked when he turned the rest of the discussion over to me. His encouraging smile was all I needed as I picked up where he left off, comparing the information I had compiled to the stats of our local market. The rep gave me his full attention, asking questions when he had them and listening intently as I elaborated.

There was a long silence once I was finished as the rep pondered everything I had laid out for him. My heart was beating out of my chest as the quiet slowly allowed for the realization to hit that just months out of college I had been handed the responsibility of making what would potentially be a multimillion dollar deal. A wide grin spread on the rep's face as he clapped me on the shoulder while looking at my boss and saying, "I think I might have to steal this one away from you. She knows her stuff. Fax over the offers to my office ASAP and we'll get started on the contracts."

That was six years ago and the rep was the same one greeting me with a hug as soon as I stepped into the restaurant. It always felt like I was dealing with a long lost uncle rather than a business associate. The working relationship we had developed was a model that I attempted to recreate with as many of my contacts as I could. For the most part, I was successful in creating this type of friendship although there's always a few that keep their distance. Peter liked to tease that I used the whole sweet and innocent routine to draw them in and sucker them into doing whatever I asked, especially the men. I argued that it was simply that if you felt like you were dealing with a friend, you were more willing to work with them and give them the best deal to keep the business relationship healthy.

Our lunch followed the same pattern as that initial one six years ago and before I knew it I was back in my office, and more importantly back in my jeans, pulling up the template I kept on my desktop to write out the offers. By the time I worked through my pages of notes it was time to leave. I quickly packed up my things and shut down my computer. Turning out the lights and locking the door behind me, I headed out for the night. I had big plans with the most important person in my life.