Disclaimer: The Twilight Saga and all associated characters are the property of Stephenie Meyer and Little, Brown & Company. Any and all original characters are the property of the author. No profit is being made from this story.
A/N: This story will be unlike anything I have ever written, dealing with themes that are not exactly everyone's particular cup of tea. So, if the idea of a Dominant/submissive relationship between two consenting adults is something that you are uncomfortable with, I suggest you turn back now. If, however, the idea of seeing two people grow, mature and find peace within themselves and with each other, read on, and let me know what you think.
As you can imagine, this is an All-Human story, set in an Alternate Universe to the one created by Meyer - there are no supernatural creatures in this story, and the only demons are the ones in their heads. I've tried my best to maintain as much character integrity in the story as possible, and though some relationships/interactions differ from Meyer, hopefully you will think I have succeeded in doing so.
"Master, is it strange that the only time I feel truly alive is when I wear your collar?"
I: SUGAR, SPICE and EVERYTHING NICE
It was autumn in New York.
The city had finally shed the final vestiges of Indian summer and there was a decided crispness in the air.
From the three-sided glass box of his executive office, Carlisle Wellesley Cullen could see the city laid out before him in all her glory – the red and gold brilliance of Central Park, the silver and grey of her sentinel buildings and the sharp black uniform of her army of dedicated serfs.
As Chairman and CEO of one of the oldest and most successful companies in the world, Carlisle was already hard at work, on a conference call at just past eight in the morning with a junior executive from the London branch of his family's historic company.
"China is where it's at, if you'll pardon the slang, Mr. Cullen."
Carlisle lifted a heavy blonde brow and turned away from the glass wall, levelling his assessing gaze on the young man on the video screen. "Is that so, Mr. Chase?"
Thousands of miles away in the London headquarters of Cullen Enterprise, James Chase nodded assertively. "Yes, sir."
He proceeded with his pitch, citing market trends and quoting various industry standards to support his stance. "Quite frankly, sir, I believe CE is making a grave error in not investing more heavily in that region, especially given the numbers that are coming out of that market."
Carlisle caught himself before he rolled his eyes. "Forgive me the old fashioned quirk of caution in big business, Mr. Chase," he began drolly, "but, you'll find that I require more than simple market trends to pique my interest, or that of the board. And given my scepticism where China is concerned, I suggest you check your numbers again. A thorough objective assessment on the link by Friday, two weeks from now?" he framed his words as a request, but they both knew it was an order. "Try Grant over at IRO; he owes me a favour."
There was irritation in the younger man's eyes but they both knew that his hands were tied. "Yes sir, Mr. Cullen. My department will get back to you by then."
Carlisle nodded in satisfaction and clicked off, just as his personal assistant knocked and entered.
"Vivian, perfect timing. Send a secure memo to Varner over at CE London. I want him to keep a closer eye on James Chase," he said, rolling his cuffs back down his arms.
"Is there a problem, sir?" she asked, slipping tortoiseshell frames on her face and making a note in her BlackBerry.
"Not if I can help it. The kid's a brilliant tracker, but a wildcard and I'd rather not get burned. Tell Varner to expect a call first thing tomorrow morning."
"Yes, sir. You have a nine o'clock at NYU – breakfast at The Torch Club," she reminded him. "Sasha McKinley is threatening to have your head if you reschedule on her again. I already buzzed Henry. Your car is waiting downstairs."
She handed him a travel mug and a thermos. "Green tea – don't make that face," she said when he did just that. "I know you've been here since six and I shudder to think of how much caffeine you've already had since then. Besides, you'll need to be as Zen as a sensei when Ms. McKinley hits on you while simultaneously asking you for money. She's looking for husband number five, you know."
"Thanks, Vivian," he replied with an affectionate smile.
Vivian Humphrey was the lifeblood of Carlisle's department. She had started out in the typing pool at CE in the late '60s and her steady efficiency had helped her move up in the company, even as her red hair and curvaceous body had invoked more than one envious detractor in the form of a pampered executive wife.
She had been assigned to his office when he first joined the ranks fresh out of business school twenty years earlier and, as he had advanced in the company and eventually taken over the position of Chairman and CEO from his father, he had brought her up with him. She was not overly impressed by his surname or his stock portfolio and kept his office – and life – running like a well-oiled machine.
"Anything else?" he asked, as she helped him into his coat.
"Yes, Esme left a message to ask if you were free for brunch at the club on Sunday. She thought it would be a good time to catch up since the twins were going to be in the city for the weekend."
"How does she know these things?" Carlisle marvelled as they exited his office and headed for his private elevator. "Edward only called about The Met last night."
"It's called email," Vivian deadpanned. "What should I say?"
"Tell her yes, of course." He hit the call button. "It'll be nice. Esme hasn't seen the kids in a while."
"That would be wrong. She had dinner with them in Hartford last month when she went out for Vera's baby shower."
Carlisle's brow wrinkled as he stepped onto the elevator. "How do you know that?"
Vivian peered out at him over the half-moon frames of her spectacles. "I'd tell you but then I'd have to kill you," she replied with a droll smile.
Carlisle was still chuckling as the elevator made its way to the lobby of the building. Stepping off, he marvelled as always at the magnificence of the new building that housed the company his ancestors had built nearly three-hundred years ago.
The main lobby spread out over half a city block and outside, it was a sleek onyx lance that speared the New York skyline, a symbol of the colossal power of the Cullen family.
This was his fortress.
This city was his empire.
Carlisle Cullen was King.
"It's way too fucking early to be out here selling cookies."
Leah Clearwater was huddled in her leather bomber jacket, sucking the contents of her disposable Starbucks cup like a lifeline. She was in a makeshift carnival booth decked out in the violet and white colours of New York University in a prime spot in Washington Square Park, just beyond the shadow of the park's famous Arch.
Before her was an array of fresh-baked goodies, intended to tempt the harried New Yorkers that hustled through the park during the morning rush to part with their hard earned cash. She was half-asleep and near freezing in her skinny jeans, combat-boots and tight Pink Floyd concert-T, all in the name of charity.
Isabella Swan shot her friend a censoring glare as she straightened a display of chocolate frosted cupcakes. "Will you cool it with the profanities?"
Leah scowled in answer. It should have marred her face – instead, with her flashing silver-gold eyes and spiky cap of black hair, it only made her more fiercely beautiful.
"Besides, it's just about eight," Bella continued, glancing at the watch on her wrist.
"Exactly. Too. Fucking. Early. I'm half-asleep, Bella," Leah replied, nearly whimpering as she swallowed the last of her triple-shot latte.
"Well, maybe you wouldn't be half-asleep if you'd actually gotten some last night," Bella pointed out with a prudent sniff. "That T-shirt looks mighty familiar. Surely it couldn't be the same one you had on last night?" she added sarcastically.
Leah rolled her eyes and pitched the empty cup into a nearby garbage can with the precision of a NBA shooting-guard. "Whatever, Sister Mary-Stick-in-the-mud, need I remind you that me and this T-shirt are doing your overachieving ass a favour? I could still be doing the horizontal mambo with that guy from the bar last night. Instead, I hauled ass all the way from Brooklyn to help you because I promised. Should I leave?" she asked, lifting a perfectly arched brow.
"Don't make it seem like you're being completely altruistic, Mother Teresa," Bella shot back. "You think I don't know that you've got money riding on this bake sale?"
Leah gave a wicked grin and a carefree shrug. "I needed something to show for waking up at the ass-crack of dawn."
"How about the satisfaction of knowing you're doing a good deed?"
"Sticks and stones, Bella," Leah said, throwing an affectionate grin at her friend, "sticks and stones!"
Breakfast with Sasha McKinley had gone as well as it could have.
He had managed that Zen calm. Though, admittedly, it had less to do with the green tea he continued to begrudgingly sip and more to do with the fact that husband number five had already fallen into Sasha's slippery net.
Vasilii was a Georgian Prince Sasha had all but crowed with glee but, as evidenced by the utterly hideous canary diamond on her finger – or his choice in consort, if we were being completely honest – a royal bloodline clearly did not equal good taste.
"Be sure to stop by the Arch before you head back to your office, Carlisle," she invited before they parted ways outside the steps of club. "The freshman class are having their annual bake-sale. The proceeds go to Toys for Tots at Christmas."
It was more curiosity than a sense of civic duty that found Carlisle instructing his driver to meet him opposite the northern entrance of the park and making his way to the violet and white banners he could see fluttering in the near distance.
Business was good apparently. Most of the booths were busy, one in particular. As most of the customers were male, Carlisle found himself wondering if it was due to the baking skills of the blonde co-ed running the stall or her miniskirt that flashed toned mile-long legs encased in knee-high boots.
She flashed him a killer smile as she caught sight of him standing on the periphery of her booth. She cocked her shapely hip out like a Hollywood vamp. "Like what you see?"
It was unclear whether she was referring to her selection or herself. Either way, her jade-green eyes were all-too-aware for a girl as young as she so clearly was under her heavy makeup.
"Just browsing," Carlisle replied neutrally, coming closer.
"Well, browse all you want. There's no price for looking... although I hope that's not all you'll do," she invited, with a flirtatious grin, before her attention was diverted by a customer actually making a purchase.
He wandered to the end of the table and was just about to select an innocent looking blueberry muffin, when a soft female voice sounded a warning from the next table over.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
Carlisle's attention shifted to a small brunette. Thick glossy chestnut waves tumbled out of a blue-grey crotchet hat and a chunky green scarf circled her neck to combat the early fall chill.
He lifted a brow in inquiry.
"Lauren talks a good game but, it's just that – talk," she explained, pointing to the blonde who had tried to foist her goods on him before becoming distracted. "Those muffins could break a plate-glass window… or a tooth," she continued dryly.
Her booth mate, a striking, leggy Amazon with flawless copper skin, shot them a curious look as she helped a customer. "She's right," she confirmed with a smirk, giving him a bold onceover.
A surprised grin slashed across his face and his apparent saviour gave a sheepish smile in return.
It was the smile that most caught his attention – bashful; shaping a soft cupid's-bow mouth in a heart-shaped face.
"So, what would you recommend?" he found himself asking seriously, drifting over to her table. Like her neighbour, she had an array of baked goods laid out neatly on the table – artistically frosted cupcakes and fluffy muffins in little boxes, and giant cookies, wrapped in colourful sheets of plastic. Whoever she was, she and her partner clearly took this bake-sale even more seriously than the blonde.
"Nothing off of that table," she muttered under her breath, and Carlisle gave a helpless bark of laughter.
"Duly noted," he said, still chuckling. "How about from off your table, then?"
The girl cocked her head thoughtfully and pointed to his travel-mug. "What're you drinking?"
Carlisle's brow furrowed as he looked at her then his mug questioningly.
"Seriously," she gave an encouraging smile, "what are you drinking?"
"Green tea," he admitted with a frown.
Her brow furrowed as she surveyed her selections, before she picked up a box containing a large muffin with caramelised apple bits on top. "Apple-spice muffin," she said, holding it out to him.
"Did you bake this yourself?" he asked sceptically.
"Yes," she nodded, still holding out her offering.
For some inexplicable reason, Carlisle couldn't resist the urge to bait her. "How do I know that this muffin won't break a plate glass window… or a tooth?" he asked. Teasing anyone, much less a complete stranger, was so uncharacteristic of him, but he was rewarded for his efforts by a beautiful blush that flooded her cheeks.
"You won't unless you try. If you don't like it, you don't have to pay for it. Chicken?" she challenged.
He watched the Amazon lift a questioning brow, as she listened to their exchange with half-an-ear.
"Hardly," Carlisle returned, taking the box from her hand. She watched him anxiously as he took a hearty bite and barely suppressed a moan. He swore he tasted ambrosia. The muffin was soft and moist but not too sweet. The taste of both sweet and tart apples and the spice of cinnamon, nutmeg and a hint of cardamom, exploded over his taste buds.
"This is incredible," he murmured in appreciation.
"Thank you," she beamed at the praise, utterly transforming her face into unforgettable beauty.
Carlisle felt a low visceral tug that rocked his very core. It was a reaction he had no business feeling for a girl so young, especially one who looked so achingly innocent. His gaze dropped like a stone from her face.
"How much are they?" he asked hastily.
"Three dollars each."
"I'll take all six," Carlisle offered. Fishing in the folds of his pea-coat for his money-clip, he missed the pleasant surprise that flashed across her face.
"Really?" she asked breathlessly even as she hastily packed the six muffins into a larger box.
He pulled a crisp fifty-dollar note from his clip and pressed it into her small cool hand, taking the box from her in one smooth motion. When her gaze was diverted as she sorted out his change, Carlisle seized the opportunity and walked quickly away.
"Sir?" her alarmed voice called after him. "Sir! What about your change?"
He cursed viciously in his head as that yearning became even more persistent, but he ruthlessly ignored it and her voice and kept walking.
Bella was doing an internal dance of joy at the prospect of having sold all six of the apple-spice muffins she'd brought to the sale. They were an experiment of sorts, and so she had truly been wracked with nerves as she used the blonde Adonis as a guinea-pig. But, the muffins were a hit, clearly, as he was taking all six off her hands. She was looking forward to another uncharacteristically bold exchange with the total stranger when she looked up to hand over his change, only to see him striding quickly away from the booth.
"Sir?" she called out in alarm. "Sir! What about your change?"
If he heard her, he gave no indication, and Bella was left holding three tens and two crumpled singles in distress as she watched the tall broad-shouldered man disappear into the crowd. "That's weird," she muttered.
"What's weird?" Leah turned to her with a frown.
"My apple-spice guinea-pig. He bought all six of them, then just booked it without even waiting for his change," she said, showing her friend the crumpled cash. Her gaze drifted back out into the crowd, "Maybe I should try to catch him."
"What? Are you nuts, Bella? That's a thirty-dollar tip!" Leah snatched the money from Bella's fist and stuck it back into the lockbox that contained the morning's earnings.
"It's not right, Leah!"
"Oh, please," Leah waved it off, and set out six chocolate-chip muffins to replace the apple-spice. "Did you see that suit, those shoes?" she inquired. "That Hermès briefcase and the Rolex on his wrist were not knockoffs. Trust me, Bella, he can afford it."
Bella heaved a heavy sigh. She'd known Leah long enough to recognise when she was fighting a losing battle. Not to mention, her friend was probably right.
Things had settled down momentarily, so she gave herself over to her thoughts on their encounter.
Even a complete novice such as herself had been able to see the quality and expense of his garments. She had watched him with abject fascination from the corner of her eye as he perused Lauren Mallory's 'selection'. Tall, blonde and sophisticated, he was completely unlike anyone she had ever seen before her move to New York.
Her warning to him had been purely instinctive and completely uncharacteristic. She was still surprised that she had managed to speak coherently, without coming off like a complete fool.
His accent was crisp, cultured upper-class New York. Bella gave an involuntary shiver as she recalled the unfamiliar pull low in her belly and the flood of warmth in her core when he'd locked brilliant emerald-green eyes on her face.
Chances were that she would never see him again. There were nearly two million people on this island alone. But she knew she would not soon forget their five minute conversation, or that lean, foxy face with its high cheekbones and remarkable eyes that dilated with pleasure on tasting the muffin.
Bella gave a wistful sigh.
Leah's head whipped toward her. "What was that?" she demanded.
"Nothing!" Bella replied quickly, cursing the bright colour that suffused her cheeks – a dead giveaway.
"Geez, Bella, you can't lie for shit!" Leah said with a disbelieving laugh. "What was that schoolgirl sigh? Are you reliving your flirty play-by-play with the sexy blonde DILF?" she asked, flashing a flirtatious grin to a male customer who bought three oatmeal-raisin cookies.
"I was not!" Bella denied hotly, praying Leah would drop the conversation in front of the returning customers. Of course, her prayers were in vain. Leah Clearwater did not have an appropriate-conversation-according-to-context filter as part of her genetic makeup.
"Flirting, or reliving the play-by-play?" Lauren chose that moment to butt in. "Admit it, Bella; you were so totally flirting with the DILF! Who you poached from me, by the way," she added nastily.
Bella's jaw dropped in denial, but Leah cut in before she could defend herself.
"Put a sock in it, Lauren!" Leah growled. "The only thing Bella did was save the poor man a future involving dentures and Poligrip. She was doing her good deed for the day."
Lauren's embarrassed flush rivalled Bella's on Leah's insult. "Whatever!" she huffed, flouncing back to her table.
Bella rolled her eyes in annoyance and turned to her friend. "That girl is such a witch!" she muttered under her breath. "Thanks, Leah."
"No problem, Bella," she replied with a predatory smile, "I live to piss girls like her off…. Even though she was right; you were so totally flirting with the DILF!"
Colour completely suffused Bella's face, "For the last time, I was not flirting with the DILF!" she nearly shrieked.
"Oh, so you admit he's a DILF, though?" Leah continued mercilessly, hip-checking her friend.
True to form, Bella stumbled, and tried to ignore Leah's laughter. "You know what, Clearwater?" she huffed. "You put a sock in it!"