As always MrsK1981 is my awesome pre-reader with the patience of a saint – thank you! And to Megan my new reader/beta – thanks for spotting my silly mistakes.
As always – huge thanks to my beta's Marly580 and Mauigirl60: They help make this story.
Lastly to Pattinlethr – my amazing friend xo
Considering how bad last week had started, it ended on a good note. I sent my reworked column to Angela, who read over it before sending it on to Alec. To say I was nervous was an understatement, but in the end, I didn't have to worry. Alec liked the new column, deeming it print-worthy.
Thankfully, the column for the film review was published without any drama. My confidence was still shaken—knowing Alec didn't like my original work—so I hadn't wanted to submit the column myself. I finished putting it together alone; however, I still sent it to Angela to proofread before she sent it in.
All seemed to be going well—until this morning.
All week, I have been arriving at work earlier than I need to, desperate to show Alec that I'm the right person for the job. I'm not the only one who likes to come in early; each day this week, Angela and Ben have been here, typing away when I arrive. Angela admits to being a workaholic, and Ben says he enjoys the peace and quiet before everyone else comes in.
This morning, though, the whole office is eerily empty.
I walk to my desk, set up as normal and start answering emails. Nothing of interest, except one from Angela about our new column. While I wait for my colleagues to arrive, I once again lose myself in my work.
"Bella, where the hell were you?" I turn at my desk to see Angela and Victoria, both of them with concerned looks on their faces.
"I've been here since eight-thirty. What do you mean 'where was I'?"
"The office meeting? You didn't show and we got worried." Angela gestures to the office behind her, which is now full.
"What office meeting? How come I didn't know about this?" This can't be good. This means Alec wants to get rid of me. I start to panic. "Oh, God, what did I miss? Were you told to fire me?"
She looks shocked. "Fire you?" She shakes her head. "Of course not, why would you think that?"
She cuts me off before I can answer her. "Alec was looking for you, he asked me to send you to his office when you arrived."
"You better go, it was quite an important meeting. Here." She hands me my writing pad. "Take this."
I take the pad from her and make my way to Alec's office. It's a short walk, just to the other end of the room, but it feels like I'm walking in slow motion.
When I arrive, his assistant Jane just gestures for me to go straight in, a sympathetic smile on her face.
Knocking on the door, I go in as soon as I hear him shouting that it's okay to enter.
When I first started, Alec was an intimidating man. After hiring me, he told me not to be scared to go to him, and that his door was always open. Since I had started, I'd seen that he wasn't lying. I'd always found him approachable, and most of the time he had a smile on his face.
Now, he's back to intimidating: sitting in a large black leather chair, behind a grand oak desk. He silently watches me approach, gesturing to the seat in front of him, which I quickly sit in.
There is nothing joyful or friendly about the man sitting in front of me. His posture screams intimidating, reminding me that, as friendly as he is, he is still the boss. Leaning forward, his elbows resting on his desk as his chin rests on his hands, he looks at me, regarding me thoughtfully.
I can't help but fidget in my seat as we sit there in utter silence. I'm not sure if I should speak first or if I need to wait for him to say something. Given the stern look on his face, I know I'm definitely in trouble for missing the meeting. The only question is how much.
Finally, after some very uncomfortable silence, he speaks first. "Bella, you know why I asked you here?"
"So, care to tell me why you thought it was okay to miss the meeting that I specifically asked for everyone to be present at?"
"I didn't know about the meeting, Alec," I say quietly.
"I can't see how that's the case, Bella. The email was sent to everyone in the office yesterday afternoon, specifically asking for everyone to be here an hour earlier for the meeting." He leans back in his chair, his eyes still focused on mine. "I also asked for anyone who couldn't make it to let me know."
"Alec, I swear, I don't have an email about the meeting. I would have been here, I promise," I grovel, desperate for him not to discipline or fire me.
Doubt covers his features; he clearly doesn't believe me.
"Bella, this was the first in a series of meetings, and I need all my staff to be present at them. Things are going to be changing with the structure of the company and our publications, and I need to know all staff are in the loop." He stands and walks around the desk, leaning against the front of it. "I can overlook it this one time, but there will be more taking place over the next ten days and you need to be there. If you continue to miss them, then I'll be forced to start disciplinary action."
"I understand," I murmur. I can't believe I've managed to muck this up twice in a matter of weeks.
"Bella, look at me, please." I do as I'm told. "I don't want to do this—you've proven yourself to be a very good writer and you fit in great with the team—but these requests are coming from higher up so I need to follow the rules."
"I understand, Alec, and I appreciate you letting me off with this one warning." He stands, and I take his lead and stand as well, "I promise I won't miss another meeting."
He offers his hand to shake and I take it. "Thanks for understanding, Bella. I hate doing things like this, and I like you, but this comes from above me."
"I know, Alec, thanks."
"Have a good day, Bella."
And just like that, I'm dismissed.
I find Angela and Victoria at their desks, waiting for my return. I explain to them what happened, and ask them to fill me in on what I missed. Turns out, Alec had a right to be pissed. The paper is getting some new big bosses, who want to make some changes. Rather than making the changes on the spot, they're phasing them in slowly so that employees have a chance to get used to them.
Angela gives me some work to research, but I can't focus. I have a look through my emails and calendar, but there is nothing from Alec scheduling the meeting from today. I even check the trash to make sure I haven't deleted it by accident, but it's not there. I try not to worry too much about it. It's in the past now and there's nothing I can do about it – I need to focus on the present and proving my worth at the paper.
My stomach feels like it's in my throat; I'm not used to making mistakes at work, and I don't like it. I may not have enjoyed my job at the library, but I took pride in what I did, and I was good at it. Part of me expected it to be the same here.
My main passion is writing, and this job means too much to me. I'm lucky to be given a chance so early in my career, especially with so little experience. I knew this would be a challenge, but I didn't want to lose my opportunity over some small mix-ups.
Forgetting about my bad start to the day, I focus back on the task at hand.
Alec still believes in me; I just have to prove I'm worth it.
The volume of paperwork on my desk is ridiculous; I can barely see my desk. And as off-putting as it may seem, I can't hide the smile from my face.
"Dude, why are you smiling? It's going to take us ages to wade through all this!" Emmett flops back onto his chair with an exaggerated sigh.
"Don't you see this is a good thing?" I pick up a pile of pamphlets and hold them out to him. "These are all jazz bands that are interested in playing at our club. Our club, Emmett. We have enough here to hold jazz nights every week for the rest of the year!" Over the last few days, the mail has come piling in, all sorts of DJs and bands asking if we were hosting any future nights. Our hard work is finally paying off.
"So, the Jazz night was your baby, bro. What do you want to do?"
"Well, I don't think we should do it weekly. I think if we do a night on the last Sunday of every month, then we could be onto a winner." I look up at my brother, waiting for his reaction.
He frowns as he looks at the paperwork. "But we have enough for every week?"
"Yes, but people won't come every week. If we do this once a month, we'll garner more interest."
"Yeah, good point. Plus I suppose people don't have the cash to go to events on a weekly basis, right?"
We throw ourselves into our work, setting up a series of jazz nights until the end of the year. It's coming to the end of September now—I think giving us until the end of the year is a good timeframe. If they continue to be a success, we'll make them a regular thing.
Hours later, we stop for a late lunch. "So, have you planned your big date night with Bella yet?"
As much as I want to, as ready as I am, I've still not admitted my feelings to Bella. Our relationship has moved faster than it would under normal circumstances, meaning I've not been able to treat her, to romance her, as much as I would have liked to. Something which I plan to rectify.
I shake my head. "It's impossible to find time where we're both free. That issue with Alec last week really threw her, and now she's putting everything into her work, desperate to show him she can be a good journalist."
"How's her schedule this week?"
"I don't think she has anything major going on, why?"
"Why don't you book this Saturday? Riley and I can handle the club."
"I don't know—"
"Look, just do it. She's stressed with work and you're worried about telling her. You both need this night, and I'm offering Saturday. Just go for it." Emmett finishes the last bite of his sandwich and throws his trash in the bin.
"You're not gonna let this go, are you?" I say, a small smile forming on my face.
"Nope." He grins.
"Anytime, just remember this when I need a favor, right?"
I chuckle. "Yeah of course."
The rest of the afternoon passes quickly as we plan the jazz nights for the next few months. Although the band we had the first night drew in a good crowd, we choose another few bands for variety.
Quickly, we both lose ourselves, the afternoon passing far too quickly. Emmett, who has never really been a jazz fan, starts to get excited about our plans. While I know it's not the music he's excited about, I can't help but grin along with him.
This club is our baby, and seeing it become more popular as the months go on is amazing. Before we opened the club, we had watched numerous others fail, whether from a poor location or just bad management. We poured everything we have into this, and couldn't be happier that instead of failing, we actually seem to be a popular venue within the city.
We manage to get bands booked up until early December when we decide to stop. I'm eager to continue, but if I don't leave soon, I'm going to be late picking up Bella.
Gathering up some paperwork to take home with the hope of finishing tonight, I head toward the car. Bella's now working later hours during the day, which is going to come in handy now that I'm going to be spending more hours with the promo for the jazz nights.
I try Bella's phone as I pull out of the garage and curse as it goes straight to voicemail. I've left a bit later than I wanted and I hate the thought of Bella left waiting for me. I know she won't be alone; she's reminded me several times that she leaves early compared to some of the other journalists, but it's the principle of the matter. It's not right to keep her waiting.
I try her phone a few more times to no avail, finally deciding to leave her a quick voicemail letting her know that I'm on my way.
I pull up outside Bella's work expecting to see her waiting for me at the front door to her office. The security guard that usually keeps her company waves as he sees me arrive, but he's alone. He points his finger upwards, telling me that Bella's still up in her office. Nodding my head in acknowledgement, I remain in the car, knowing she'll be down shortly.
Five minutes turn into ten, which then turn into thirty. I'm close to going in to check what's keeping her when my cell starts ringing.
The phone barely rings once before I answer it. "Bella?"
"Edward, God, I'm so sorry! Are you here?" She sounds flustered and out of breath as she pants into the phone.
"Yeah, I've been here for half an hour. Is everything okay?"
"Umm… yeah, I just got delayed with work and didn't realize the time. Babe, I'm really sorry but I'm not ready to finish. Alec's given us another article for this week, so we're all staying back to get some of it done. I've just gotten out of a meeting so I didn't have my cell."
"Oh, uh, okay. What time do you want me to come and get you?"
"No need, I'll get a lift off Angela or Alec."
"I don't mind, Bella."
"I know, but we're on the same route home, so there's no point in you coming back if you don't need to."
I huff unintentionally. "Okay, fine. Do you know what time you'll be home? Do you want some dinner kept?"
"We're gonna order something and eat while we work, so don't worry about me." She pauses and I hear her talking to someone in the background. "I think I should only be a few more hours."
I glance at the clock; it's been such a long day. "Okay, well do me a favor and just text or call or something to let me know when you're on your way home."
"Of course." More mumbling in the background, "I'm really sorry, Edward. I really didn't notice the time."
"I know you didn't. I'll see you later then, okay?"
"Sure, see you later."
We both hang up, and I chuck my cell onto the passenger seat. I know I shouldn't be pissed, but I can't help it. Such a wasted journey—had I known, I could have remained at work and finished the details for the jazz nights.
After dinner, I throw myself into work. Emmett sits with me for a while and comments on some of the bands, but leaves most of the decisions to me. We've missed the last Sunday for September, but we decide that's not necessarily a bad thing as it gives us more time to plan for the end of October. We both discuss the main points, agreeing on how we want the night to run and whether we want to make any changes. After the success of the first one, we decide not to change a good thing and keep everything the same.
When we're finished, Emmett heads to the living room and sets up his space on the couch with his Xbox, and I know I won't get anything more out of him for the rest of the night.
I still can't seem to turn my mind off, and since I'm not really in the mood to be shooting bad guys with Emmett, I continue working.
I manage to contact the jazz band for October and I'm ecstatic when they tell me they're free. I provisionally book them in, promising to contact them on Wednesday when I'm back at the club, to confirm all the details.
Happy that I've achieved a decent amount of work for the night, I finally file my paperwork and join Emmett in the living room.
He hands me a controller, which I decline. "You heard from Bella yet? It's getting late."
I check my phone, again. "I'm aware of how late it is, thanks. And, no, I haven't heard from her yet. She said she had a lot to get through and she would text me when she's leaving."
Emmett nods but doesn't say anything. We fall into a comfortable silence as he loses himself in the game.
Jake starts whining from his bed, reminding me that I haven't taken him out for a walk tonight. Begrudgingly, I get up and go get his leash.
"Wanna take Jake for a walk with me?"
"Umm…" He looks up to me. "Actually, yeah why not?"
I grab my phone in case Bella texts me while we're out, managing to get the leash on an excited Jake, and we all head out.
I rub my eyes with the heels of my hands, trying to clear my head. It's now almost ten o'clock, which means I've been working for nearly fourteen hours. And with only breaking for a short lunch, it's been a long-assed day.
Since it's so late at night, there's barely any staff left. I can see the light shining from Alec's office and Angela is still typing away furiously next to me. I think I've reached my limit for the day. My eyes hurt, my neck is sore from not moving all day, and my hands are aching.
I knew that by going into journalism, I would be putting in some serious hours, but I wasn't expecting it to start so soon and to hit me so hard.
Angela said that I was eased gently, but now with Victoria leaving soon, I need to step up a notch. She wasn't kidding. I'm probably putting in a little more effort than I need to, but after the incident with my article and then missing the important meeting, I can't take any chances. That's not saying there isn't a lot of work that needs to be done. The volume of research and work that goes into each column is unbelievable. It's tiring, it's hard, and your work is criticized and picked at, but I love it. It might have been a long day, but this bad day beats any good day I had at the library.
"Are you beat?"
I look over to Angela. "Yeah, I think that anything I write now will just be absolute garbage. I don't think my brain can take any more information on local entertainment." I yawn, emphasizing my point, and lean back in my chair.
"Well, I can take you home." She looks at her watch. "In about twenty minutes?"
I frown; I was hoping to leave soon. "Yeah, that would be great. Thanks, Angela." I can't really complain, I told Edward that I could…
Shit! Edward! I haven't even called or texted him since I spoke with him earlier.
I grab my purse, pull out my cell and speedily dial Edward's number, noticing the numerous missed calls I have. It rings several times before going to voicemail. I hang up without leaving a message and press redial. Same again. I curse, throwing my phone on my desk.
I take a deep breath, pick up my phone and send a quick text to Edward, letting him know I'll be getting a lift with Angela within the next thirty minutes. For a few minutes I watch my phone, waiting for a response, but I'm severely disappointed.
With a small groan, I throw my phone back on my desk. Edward is taking all these extra preventive measures to make sure I'm safe from my stalker, and I seem to repay him by throwing it back in his face. He's tried calling numerous times, yet I've been so caught up in work, I've not even had the decency to let him know that I'll be even later than I thought.
I nod. "Yeah, just forgot to let Edward know that we're running late."
She looks confused. "So, you're only a few hours late and you have to report to him?"
I've not told Angela about my stalker, so of course my anguish seems a bit over the top to her. "Not report, exactly, I just told him I wouldn't be too late. And now it's after ten."
She sighs. "I'm sorry, that came out bitchier than I meant. I'm just so used to working these hours that I barely notice anymore. I won't be much longer, I promise."
I pack up all my stuff and patiently wait as Angela finishes whatever she's working on. Fifteen minutes later, she's still furiously typing, showing no signs of even slowing down, nevermind stopping. My eyes keep glancing to my phone, which remains dark and silent, causing an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach.
I'm not sure whether Edward's silence means he's ignoring me, pissed that I never let him know I was staying later, or whether it just means he's fallen asleep.
I hope for the latter.
"Bella, Angela, I hope you guys aren't staying much longer?" Lost in my inner thoughts, I didn't notice Alec pack up and walk in our direction.
"No, we'll be leaving soon." I smile softly at him.
"Umm…actually, if it's okay with you Bella, I was hoping to stay about another half hour." She looks sheepish at her admission and I begin to wonder how she can spend so much time in front of here a computer without going demented.
My disappointment must show.
"Bella, we live in the same general direction, right?"
I turn to Alec and nod.
"So, why don't I take you home. You look dead on your feet as it is."
My shoulders sag in relief. "Alec, that would be great. Thank you."
Angela smiles as I gather my things.
"Don't stay too long, Angela. You already spend enough time here as it is," Alec scolds her. She nods her head but has already turned her back to us, her attention back on her work.
We walk at a quick pace toward Alec's car, both of us seemingly just as eager as the other to escape the office. As much as I enjoy my job, more than eight hours a day is too much for me.
We try to make light conversation in the car, but it dies out not long after leaving. Apart from work, it turns out we don't have too much in common. We sit in silence for the remainder of the journey, with the quiet sounds of the radio filling the car.
We pull up in front of the apartment and I'm disappointed to see most of the lights are out. I was hoping Edward would still be awake, waiting for me, but the chances are now looking slim.
I pick up my laptop and purse and step out of the car. "Thanks so much for the lift, Alec."
"Anytime, Bella, you know that. You know you don't have to work so late, right?" He looks worried, as if my working hours will suddenly scare me off.
I laugh softly. "I know, Alec. But I like to put the work in when it's needed." And after my mishap with the article and missed meeting, I feel the need to put the extra time in, although I don't say that out loud.
"Okay, well goodnight, Bella. I'll see you nice and early tomorrow." Somehow he manages to say this with a smile on his face, even though I know he must be feeling as tired as I am.
I quietly groan. "Yes, Alec, bright and early."
He laughs at my tone as I close the door, watching him as he pulls away from the apartment. Once his taillights have faded to darkness, I quietly make my way into inside.
The hallway is almost in complete darkness. A small lamp has been left on, presumably by Edward, so I'm not totally blind. I dump my stuff, take off my shoes and make my way to the bedroom. A soft glow creeps from under the doorway, helping light the route for me. Either Edward has fallen asleep with the light on, or he's left another light on for me.
I quietly open the door, peeking into the room. A smile crosses my face as I see Edward, sitting in bed in only his boxers and a pair of reading glasses. Papers are strewn over the bed as he studies them, not noticing my arrival.
Or so I think.
"That didn't look like Angela in the car."
"Umm …what?" Angela?
"Your last text. You said you were waiting on Angela finishing up, and Angela was going to give you a lift home. I'm pretty sure that wasn't her in the car with you." His voice is smooth, not giving anything away; his eyes remain focused on his work in front of him.
I don't answer him right away, not sure where he's going with this. His eyes flicker to me a few times, but not for long enough. His work is clearly more interesting.
Eventually the silence becomes unbearable. "She decided to stay late to finish something at the office. Alec was leaving and he lives in the same direction, so he offered me a lift."
He nods slowly.
"Edward, what's this about?"
"Nothing." He shakes his head, letting out a sigh. "I mean, I was just wondering why I wasn't able to pick you up, but it was okay for another guy to bring you home."
"That's what this is about? The fact that Alec gave me a lift home instead?" I refrain from rolling my eyes at him knowing it wouldn't improve his mood.
"I just don't get why you lied about it, Bella." He finally looks at me, and the expression on his face stops me from making a snarky comment back. His eyes lock with mine: wide, dark and vulnerable. The conversations about Lauren and her cheating come flooding back, and I remember how her lying was the start of their decline: how she said she was out with her friends, having lunch with her mom or shopping.
I don't answer him.
Instead, I step fully into the bedroom, closing the door behind me. His eyes follow my every move as I walk to the other side of the room. Stopping next to his desk, I step out of my shoes, pants and shirt, leaving me in my underwear. I walk to the bed and gather up his work into a pile, placing it neatly on his desk.
I crawl onto the bed, remaining on top of the covers, stopping when I reach his side. He remains still, his eyes on my form but his body stiff as he refuses to acknowledge my presence. I lift his arm, placing it around my shoulders, and snuggle up to his body.
"Edward, you have nothing to be jealous about," I say softly.
He sighs, his arm tightening. "It just brings back memories I can't shake yet."
"I didn't mean to come across as such a dick; I was just expecting Angela, and it kind of threw me." He pulls me closer to him, and I know I'm forgiven.
"I'm not her. I would never betray you like that."
Her name doesn't need to be spoken, but we're both thinking it. The trust in our relationship is still a major issue, something we both need to work on. I tilt my head back and look at the man sitting next to me.
The effects of her infidelity will only disappear with time.
Last chapter everyone had their theories…what's everyone thinking now?