The employee break room television was flipped to CNBC; the market looked flat, according to the crawl at the bottom of the screen, continuing a recent trend.

That meant the board of directors' meeting this next week would be dicey. The directors - some of which were corporate officers and directors of the parent corporation as well as the smaller Volturi Financial Services, Inc. – would be very itchy about the financial models for projected earnings for next quarter if this flat market did not improve soon.

And this meant that Bella would be required to crunch more data through her spreadsheets between now and the board meeting, and that her two bosses would be breathing down her neck for the duration. When the market was up, the place nearly made money without much effort; when the market softened, the old dogs would have to learn some new tricks in order to keep the guys at the top of the ladder and investment analysts at the big brokerage houses happy.

Bella checked her cell phone for the time after fixing a mug of green tea; the market had just closed, and she had at least another ninety minutes of work ahead of her, barring any complications.

She couldn't call them "unforeseen" complications knowing only too well that management would probably demand some new of her based on the current market. Been there, done that, have a lot of canceled dates and late evenings crunching numbers at the office to show for it.

The president's administrative assistant can be heard going over the schedule for the board room with the other administrative assistants. It's a sign that the business day is wrapping up and that the management team is beginning its quarterly "pre-game" preparation for the board meeting next week. There will be a lot of lunches delivered to the board room as the executives review the numbers and their presentations collaboratively before they meet with the really big dogs.

Really big dogs that really bite and draw blood, the kind that can chew up and spit out investment bankers and corporate officers alike.

Returning to her desk with her mug of tea, Bella settled in to crunch more numbers. The financial models don't look promising when compared to the business's performance over the last decade. No matter which scenarios she punches in, the projected outcomes are flat at best.

Not good. She might as well call her friend Angela and tell her she'd be tied up this weekend; odds were even or better that she'd be working all weekend because of these crappy models.

She leaned back in her chair and stretched. Wow, she hadn't even realized the building had cleared out and the sun had set. She packed up her laptop and briefcase and shut the lights off; she could have heard a pin drop, it was so quiet in her department.

Walking down the corridor between corporate buildings, she looked out the windows toward the parking lot. There were only a handful of cars in the 500-car lot, and one of them was hers; it was parked in pool of light like an island in the middle of the dark pavement.

She felt deeply alone at that moment.

Lost in her thoughts, Bella was staring so intently at her lonely car in the lot that she nearly walked into someone in front of her at the exit door. She jumped with a start and sputtered, "Oh! Excuse me! I'm so sorry!" holding her hands out in front of her as if to protect the person from further indignities against their person.

A rather tall person, too, Bella noted as she looked up; he was very attractive, with a tousled mop of hair that didn't fit the carefully groomed corporate mold at Volturi. His jaw was lean and square, covered with a light stubble that was more than a five o' clock shadow – again, a feature that didn't conform to the corporate mold. He offered a wry smile which reached his eyes; they were a deep mossy green, not a color Bella had seen before.

"No problem at all, no harm, no foul," he said to her as he reached forward and pushed open the exit door. "I take it you're on your way out for the evening?" He gestured out the door as he held it open.

"Yes, all done for the day. Thanks very much," she whispered, her throat clenched for some reason; she couldn't take her eyes off him, either.

She finally got a grip on herself and thought about her personal safety; she was all alone and didn't know this person at all. As large as he was, he could easily overpower her; she pulled her car keys out of her pocket and gripped them as if they were weapons. She hoped that security had live video camera feed covering the lot, just in case.

"I can call security if you'd like to have one of the on-duty guards escort you to your car," he volunteered; he was looking at her intently, as if he'd read her mind. She wondered if her caution appeared on her face; she could feel a faint blush on her cheeks, her forehead a bit tight.

"No, that's all right, thanks, I should be fine to get to my car." She hoped she put him at ease.

"Well, have a nice evening," he said with a smile.

"You, too," she choked out as she stepped through the doorway and began to walk toward her car.

Huh, there actually were gentlemen here at Volturi after all, Bella thought. Most of them were so preoccupied with themselves and their career that simple niceties like manners were forgotten.

She looked over her shoulder to see if the door-opening gentleman walked out behind her - no, he'd continued on down the corridor toward the executive office wing. By the time she reached her car and looked back at the building complex, she could no longer see him through the bank of windows along the corridor.

He'd vanished.

~ o ~ O ~ o ~ O ~ o ~ O ~ o ~

Bella was up at six the next morning and on her treadmill watching Bloomberg television by 6:15 a.m. for her weekday walk and morning update. The markets in Asia closed down and Europe was trending flat to down. Damn, she'd have to be in the office early this morning; she was sure that even now, at least a couple of the corporate officers were doing the very same thing somewhere else around town - running on a treadmill, watching the overseas markets and coming to the conclusion that new financial models would be required.

And they'd be calling and emailing Bella the moment they stepped off their own treadmills, as soon as they could get their hands on their bloody "CrackBerries."

Vowing to make it up to herself after the board meeting next week, Bella cut her treadmill and stretching time short and hit the showers. She was already stressing out; she tried to do some deep breathing exercises while she stood under the warm water, mentally imaging rinsing stress away like the shampoo rinsing out of her hair.

She went for her safety wardrobe - white cotton button-down blouse with navy skirt and navy pumps - and skipped doing anything but drying her hair and putting it up in a simple twist. There wasn't time for anything more; she'd have to check her wardrobe tonight after work to make sure that her safety wardrobe was prepared for a week of early mornings.

Her phone was already flashing with messages by the time she pulled her travel mug away from the coffee maker at 7:10 a.m.; at 7:30 a.m. she was at the office, at her desk, checking her phone and booting up her laptop.

So predictable, like Pavlov's dogs - there were several requests from management team members for new projection models based on several new assumptions. It was going to be a long day.

It was going to be a long week.

~ o ~ O ~ o ~ O ~ o ~ O ~ o ~

Aro strode into her office at 10:30 a.m., bearing a fresh mug of coffee. You know what they say about Greeks bearing gifts, she thought to herself.

"Yes, Aro?" she asked as he parked himself in the guest chair after placing the mug on her desk next to her travel mug. She and Aro knew each other well enough that they'd long dispensed with the formalities of greetings.

Besides, it seemed pointless and inefficient to wish someone a "Good Morning" when the morning hadn't been good and was beyond redemption.

"I'll assume that Marcus and Caius have already got you running through hoops with new numbers this morning."

"Yes, just like the last so many quarters before a board meeting," she said. "What's up? You're not usually the one asking for new models; what's going on that you bring me coffee?"

"Ah, your psychic powers are still phenomenal, Bella, sharp as always."

"Aro, cut the crap. I'm under the gun here, crunching as fast as I can. Whatever it is, save us both time and just spit it out. Besides, I can tell whatever it is will be bad since you're not only reduced yourself to getting me coffee, but flattering me as well."

Bella hadn't looked up from her monitor until that moment; she gave him a sideways glance from under a furrowed brow, check his body language.

Aro's brow knit as he looked down at his shiny loafers; he picked at a piece of lint on his suit pants and then crossed his arms over his chest. His lips pursed as if he was holding something back.

Whatever this was he was about to drop on her was bad; the signs were all there. He was so transparent.

She saved her work and turned around to give Aro her full attention, grabbing a pen and a legal pad as he continued to stew.

"Well, management wants to look at some other options for improving the financials; the trend is flat and softening, and the company needs to take some proactive measures to improve profitability going forward."

"Yeah, I know that, Aro, I can see it in the models I'm working on and report to management. What don't I know already? More specifically, why are you involved?" Aro was the chief legal counsel for the financial services subsidiary; he wasn't a number cruncher, although what he did required solid understanding of the financials and occasional financial modeling.

"We may need to have some other corporate vehicles ready immediately following the board meeting, which means we may have some additional new corporate governance* work done by the meeting. It'll be skeleton work, just the bare bones, but there will need to be enough prep work completed to allow for a solid presentation to the board." He didn't look up as he unfolded his arms, clasping his hands in his lap.

Ah. That's the worst part, right there; he's unfurled a bit. But there's more if he still won't look in my eye, thought Bella.

"Okay, what else? There's more, yes?"

He looked up this time, as if gaging her reaction. "The investment bankers have been pushing some products we've not used before; they will be part of the new corporate vehicles as well. I'm going to need to you to help me ensure the banks' documents are only boilerplate and not altered. It shouldn't be much additional work, but it's a new and additional concern, nonetheless."

"On the face of it, it doesn't sound like much - but then, what are the options here? Management says 'jump' and one can either ask how high or find the exit."

Aro is now completely relaxed; his forehead has softened and a tiny smirk formed on his lips.

"I'll email you the details and you can ask me any questions after you get a chance to look at them. Let me know when you're done reading through them so we can discuss timing." He rose and smiled, then turned and walked out of the office.

You're welcome, she though sarcastically. She'd give even odds that she'd have to put in 16 hour days on Saturday and Sunday with this new assignment.

My life, fucked again, she crabbed to herself. At this rate she might have to give up the idea of ever having a date let alone a relationship.


~ o ~ O ~ o ~ O ~ o ~ O ~ o ~

* Corporate governance - the processes by which corporations are established, directed, administered or controlled. This is particularly important in large conglomerate or corporate holding company structures, as the nature of the relationship between subsidiaries and the parent corporation is extremely important. See Wikipedia entry on Corporate Governance for more information.

Author's note: This work is un-beta'd. For more author's notes, see femmemalheureuse [dot] posterous [dot] com / corporate-vampires-authors-notes-chapter-2 (remove the [dot] and replace with period, remove spaces for URL) - see also author's profile.