All publicly recognised characters are the property of Stephenie Meyer; I've just fiddled about with them a little bit. All songs referenced are the property of the original songwriters. I don't own these things; however I do own an extremely battered and bruised looking laptop that willingly takes anything I seem to throw at it (or drop it on).
Well folks, what can I say…I'm back (yeah, yeah, I can already hear you groaning…"she said that last time, and then left us hanging!"). I'm not going to even make any excuses, you all know what real life and writers block can do to you. All I can say, is that over the festive break my creative thoughts seemed to get back on track, and the ideas just kept coming, which made it possible for me to finally get this chapter brought to a fitting conclusion.
My thanks go to momma2fan for providing beta'ing this chapter for me, she's been amazingly patient with me 'going dark' over the last 6 months (yes, it really has been that long!).
As I sat watching my beloved girl sleep after yet another chaotic day, I couldn't help but reflect on everything that had happened since I'd arrived at Hunter Publishing and how some of it had been totally unexpected.
It still pained me to recall the slightly hurt and confused look on Bella's face as I took my place next to Garrett in the board room, even though I'd warned her this was where I would need to be, it was as though she'd forgotten everything else I'd said about trusting me.
Leaning in to catch up with Garrett and find out exactly why he was here, he cut me off with a quiet murmur. "Don't panic Ed, I figured it would be a good move to bring the things from your safe personally and to take over advising Alistair on this one, because quite frankly that dumb shit he calls his son just bit off way more than he can chew."
"I hope you're right Gar." I sighed.
Looking me square in the eyes he continued, "Trust me Ed, you take a back seat on this one and let me lead. With all the incidents that have happened, even if some of it is inadmissible in court, as Bella's employer he has to take reasonable steps to ensure her safety in the workplace. You know this."
I knew what he was telling me was true, but I'd seen enough companies try to cover their own asses first and worry about their employees last.
Our discussion was interrupted by Alistair clearing his throat and starting the meeting. As Bella placed herself in the seat opposite me I tried to give her a look of reassurance, but she seemed to shrink into the seat looking tinier than she normally did. I wanted to climb over the mahogany table and take her in my arms. I wanted to tell her that I was going to fix it all for her and that she'd never have to be near that asswipe ever again, but at this stage I just couldn't.
Instead, I had to trust that Garrett was going to pull an absolute blinder with the way he handled this meeting and pray that Alistair would listen to what he was told and act accordingly.
"Would someone like to bring me up to speed as to why we're meeting here today? I'm assuming it's related to what you briefed me about earlier this week, Kate?" Alistair inquired, his brow furrowed in a mixture of concern and confusion.
Kate turned to look at Alistair and nodded, her jaw set firm. Only a tiny little twitch in her expression gave away just how pissed she was. She was Bella's mentor and the fact that she's not been able to protect her in the workplace from all this creepy fuckery was starting to take its toll on her.
From beside her, Bella took a deep breath before speaking in a voice that was barely audible in the huge conference room. "Sir, I suppose I should start from the beginning."
And so she did. Bella told him how James had been pursuing her for months, making subtle comments to her in the office, making her feel uncomfortable. How despite her telling him that she wasn't interested he had refused to listen. Everything spilled out across polished wood of the boardroom table from the night at Eclipse where he'd basically attacked her in the hallway and I'd stepped in, to the strange things that had happened since—like the missing manuscript and the butchered flowers and the note that she'd found in her work papers the day she went home.
Alistair sat back in the plush leather chair at the head of the table and listened intently to every word that Bella told him, yet his expression remained completely impassive.
"So, what is it that's forced us all to congregate today?" He questioned.
Bella opened her mouth to continue the story and tell him about the box, but was stopped by Kate placing her hand gently over Bella's and giving it a gentle squeeze, before sliding the box that had been delivered to Bella today across the desk towards Alistair.
"I think it would be better if you saw for yourself, Alistair, because this can't go on any longer." She sighed.
A small gasp escaped from Bella's lips and the colour instantly drained from her face at the sight of the box. Being seated on the other side of the table was killing me. I wanted to be the one to stop this from happening to her, I needed to keep her safe, but I had to follow Garrett's lead on this.
In a way I should be thankful that I had been allowed to sit in the room in the first place. The conflict of interest was glaringly obvious, but we had to show Alistair that while loyalties may be divided, our legal counsel would never be called into question with the advice we gave.
As Alistair lifted the lid on the box and inspected the contents, his face finally gave away some emotion...disgust.
Turning his head to face me slightly, he spoke with an almost eerie calmness, "I'm assuming that you weren't the sender of this inappropriate gift, Edward?"
Thinking about it later I could understand why he had to ask me that question, but at the time I had to fight back the revulsion that I felt. Inside that box was nothing I would ever dream of buying my darling girl, she had far too much class for the tasteless item contained inside the deceptively elegant gift packaging.
"No, Sir, while I'm quite partial to surprising Bella with gifts and trinkets, I would never be as base as to send her such a vulgar and quite frankly, cheap item to her place of work." I growledout in reference to the 'stop sign red' pair of lace, crotch-less panties that were concealed within the thick cardboard walls and delicate tissue paper wrapping.
The irony was, I was planning on taking Bella on a lingerie shopping trip soon, but my preference for venue would be a little more upscale, something along the lines of La Perla, or maybe Agent Provocateur (as I'm sure Bella's was too). Nope, there was no way I would buy my beautiful girl something that made her look like an extra from Debbie Does Dallas.
Pausing for a moment, Alistair finally delivered his verdict on everything he'd seen and heard during the meeting.
"Bella, I understand why you are finding all of this upsetting. In fact, I'm surprised that there has been no visible impact of these events on the quality of your work." He stated honestly.
"The things you've been experiencing, nobody should have to endure in any setting, never mind when it invades their place of work. I have a duty toward you that I take very seriously, and I want you to feel safe while you're in my employ, but I also have a duty to my family, too. What I'm going to say next you may or may not be happy with so please, just let me say it without interruption from anyone."
I watched as Bella visibly shrank back into the chair, her shoulders slumped in visible defeat, no doubt mentally preparing herself for Alistair to defend James. If he covered that little slime balls ass, there was no way that I was going to allow Masen Platt to continue representing Hunter Publishing.
Hell, I'd empty my trust fund and pump it into the business to cover any lost revenue if I had to.
I was busted out of my self righteous internal monologue as Alistair began to deliver his final view on things.
"What I've heard today gives me great cause for concern, and I don't doubt for one minute that Bella is the recipient of some greatly unwanted attention, but apart from a few encounters where she has turned down my son's advances, there is nothing to suggest that he is the person behind these other incidents."
What the fuck? He's going to let him get away with it.
"However, I am in no way defending James. What I would like to see is for this to be managed through the proper channels. Bella, I think you need to talk to the authorities about what has happened. Give them all the evidence you have and let them look into it.
Hunter Publishing will give full co-operation to any investigation that the police conduct. For now, I need to remain impartial on the matter so I shall not be discussing the conversation that's taken place inside this room with anyone, including my own family." He concluded.
The rest of us in the room let out an audible sigh. The tension that had descended upon us when Alistair had begun to speak started to dissipate.
Bella thanked Alistair for being so fair given that she was accusing his son, which he brushed off quickly saying that he knew his son was no saint, but that to get to the bottom of this there needed to be some due process. He then gave her the rest of the day off to visit the police station and file a report.
While Bella went to lock up her workstation and gather her things for us to head over to the nearest precinct, I hung back with Garrett to close things off with Alistair.
"Alistair, I'm sure you're a little bit twitchy about potential conflict of interest knowing that Bella and I are dating." I started to speak but was quickly cut off.
"My dear boy, do you really think that if I was worried about impartiality you would have still been in the room during that conversation? Hell no! I'd have told Garrett to kick your ass out the door and off my account quicker than you could have blinked." He chuckled.
I appeared to be having another 'what the fuck?' moment, because my mouth just kept opening and closing, and trust me, being rendered speechless when you're a lawyer could severely limit your career.
Garrett slapped me on the shoulder to pull me out of my stupor as Alistair continued.
"I know that I may need your advice on how we handle this issue moving forward, but I know that you boys will handle the situation with my company's best interests at heart, and that the advice you provide will guide me correctly within the eyes of the law. No doubt my own HR team will need to be involved at some point. There is no way I will allow my business to be damaged by any of this, which is why I told Bella to speak with the authorities, rather than handling everything internally"
I nodded in understanding of where the man was coming from.
"Should you need Masen Platt to provide legal support during this then we will ensure that you're fully covered for advisory services and for any formal representation on the matter, it will be handled by the best in my team." I assured Alistair. I may not like his son, but this man wasn't just a client to me, he was a friend and I would try to ensure that we steered him correctly if all of this blew up in his face.
Garrett went on to assure Alistair that he would work with me to hand pick the best we had to support on any issues while this was being investigated, and that if it was easier, we'd do things on a retainer basis rather than billing him by the hour. The last bit was thrown in quite cheekily, which finally gave the older man something to laugh at, but he also saw the sense in the suggestion so happily agreed.
We concluded our conversation, and I headed off to find my girl so that we could finally get this looked into properly.
Thinking about all the events of the day had left me exhausted, so Lord knows what it had done to my beautiful girl. We were spending the night at her place because I felt she needed to be surrounded by her own things. Yes, she had started to leave some bits and pieces at my apartment, but something just told me she needed to be here, with what was most familiar.
Walking into the office the next morning, I wasn't sure what was waiting for me. Would James be lying in wait for me the moment I stepped off the elevator? Would word have spread around the office about what had gone down yesterday in the board room? Would my colleagues still be speaking to me if the shit had truly hit the fan? Ultimately, I'd ratted out the boss's son to his own father, and some in the office would either think I was insane or trying to end my career early by causing waves this big.
My conscience was clear though. I did what I had to do because if I didn't stand up to James before things got completely out of hand, who knows what would happen next. The officer who took my statement at the station was sympathetic to the situation, and went on to assure me that I wasn't the first person to come to them with concerns of this nature about a work colleague. The only difference for me was that I was accusing a relative of my employer which meant that things needed to be handled a little more carefully in regards to filing a complaint.
With Edward by my side, I was able to tell the story without faltering. The officer was concerned that a number of the incidents could be viewed as circumstantial at best, although that soon changed when Edward produced the envelope containing all the evidence that had accumulated over the last month. As we left the station the sense of relief I felt was unbelievable, although it was still tinged with the lingering trepidation about what was going to happen next. The police would be examining the evidence and then conducting further enquiries, and they had urged me to file for a restraining order which Edward was going to get another department at Masen Platt to handle.
Edward had drilled in to my head that I had done nothing wrong, and that if anyone had an issue with the course of action I'd taken then that was their problem. I knew his words held nothing but the truth, to a certain extent, but I was still leery of what the fallout might be.
"Deep breaths," I whispered to myself, seeing as the mental pep talk didn't seem to have helped much.
Thankfully, there weren't many of my colleagues in the building yet, so I was able to make it to the sanctuary of my office without any reason to stop. I'd picked up a latte from the coffee shop across the street so that I could avoid having to go anywhere near the break room. I didn't want to run the risk of being cornered by James once again. I was pretty certain that by now he would know that I'd gone to the police and it was most likely going to result in one of two outcomes. It would either mean he finally backed off and left me alone, or he'd be so pissed that he would hound me even further.
Knowing how twisted things had been getting and in spite of the assurances that the police were going to be investigating things, I couldn't quell the sense of dread that had settled into the pit of my stomach.
Settling myself behind my desk, my eyes zeroed in on my phone. Before leaving the apartment this morning I had promised Edward that I would finally call my dad and tell him what had been happening. Yeah, that was a call I was just itching to make, but I'd given Edward my word that I would speak to Charlie in case he might be able to pull some strings on his end to get some traction on the investigation.
My fingers shook as I dialed the all too familiar numbers and waited for it to ring. Charlie must have been sitting right on the phone as the first ring had barely finished when the call connected.
"Bells? What's with calling me so early in the morning?" As usual my Dad got straight to the point.
Sighing deeply, I started to explain everything that had been happening. The words just spewed forth from my mouth like molten lava from the top of a volcano. While I'm not someone who would normally keep secrets from my father, this sorry tale of woe was not something that I was willingly telling him, yet by the time I finished I felt somehow cleansed.
The other end of the line was deathly quiet once I ceased my monologue.
"Dad? Are you still there? Please, say something." I pleaded while trying not to burst into tears.
A tired sounding sigh came from the other end, and for a brief moment I thought he was about to rip into me for keeping him in the dark over everything. Then he spoke. "Bella, do you need me to come down there?"
Okay, not what I expected, but I could work with that.
"No, Daddy, we're going to come and visit you when all this is has blown over." My voice is barely above a whisper, but the last thing I need is the Chief turning up and kicking up a stink because his little princess is the target of a complete moron who won't take 'no' for an answer.
I could tell from the tone of Charlie's voice that he's not happy about me shooting down his suggestion.
"Well I can't just sit here and do nothing given my position. Let me make some inquiries with the precinct you reported it to, and I'm going to run my own background checks on this so called...James Hunter. Call it a policeman's intuition, but I have a feeling there will be something dodgy in this guy's background that's been made to go away."
"Alright, Dad." I concede. If I give him this then he might back off a little.
"Now perhaps you'd like to enlighten me a bit more about this 'we' business. I'm assuming that you're talking about this Edward you mentioned when you were telling me about this whole powder keg? Although I must say, I'm liking him so far from what you've told me of his actions thus far." I could just picture Charlie's sour expression as he made that final admission. Nobody would ever be good enough for his only daughter, but it sounds like my bar room angel may have landed himself in Daddy's good graces with his fiercely protective nature.
Then it dawned on me, I'd never actually told Charlie about my relationship with Edward until this phone call, and even then, I'd kind of glossed over things in favor of giving him the details of James behavior. I palmed my face at my complete thoughtlessness, and disregard for our relationship. I'd just been so caught up in the whole whirlwind that had happened ever since that first meeting with Edward that calling my Dad had been the last thing on my mind.
"I'm sorry, Ch...I mean Dad. I should have called you more often, told you about Edward. He's the amazing man who helped me that night, and he's continued to help me since that night in the bar...he makes me feel safe. I promise to bring him down to meet you soon, I'm sure you'll get along with him really well. Just please don't do anything to scare him like make him ride in the back for the cruiser." Jesus, now I couldn't shut up!
Silence reigned supreme on the other end of the phone yet again. I knew my dad was a man of few words, but I needed him to say something. He finally broke the silence, and my hope of Edward getting away lightly when we visited was promptly squashed like a bug on a windshield.
"You have my word. I'll only polish my service weapon in front of him...the shotgun will remain in the gun cabinet," he teased in his best 'Chief' voice.
Oh, fuck my life! This was going to send Edward running for the hills.
Cue uncontrollable guffaws from the peanut gallery on the other end of the phone.
"I'm hanging up now Dad!" I griped into the phone.
"Bells...Bells! I'm just yanking your chain girl. I'm sure Edward and I will get along just fine. I'll even reign in the old protective dad routine." He assured me once his chortles had died down.
"You promise?" I asked weakly, praying that I'd managed to avoid Charlie going all Chief of Police on my boyfriend.
After repeated pledges to behave himself, I bid Charlie farewell, telling him that I'd call at the weekend to confirm details about mine and Edwards visit to Forks.
The office was still pretty empty, so I decided to enjoy the peace and get on with making some further revisions to a manuscript. Two hours later, I realized that I hadn't moved since I'd hung up from my phone call and I was gasping for a cup of coffee. Heading out for the staff room to get my caffeine fix, I noticed that Angela wasn't at her desk so she had to be off running an errand as her terminal was switched on and there was a half empty cup of tea there. I grabbed her mug to get her a fresh drink since I was heading to the kitchen anyway.
Lost in thoughts of the manuscript I was working on, I added cream to my coffee and started to stir. The hairs on the back of my neck started to rise as James' voice spoke in a low and menacing tone.
"Isabella...you might think you're being clever by running to my father about what you 'think' I've been doing, but we both know that there's an undeniable attraction between us. All this effort so that your little boyfriend doesn't find out the truth is futile. There's no way that your word will be believed over mine, so you might as well just retract your allegations. Just remember who I am. It's only a matter of time."
His last words hung in the air laced with threat. I stood there frozen to the spot, pretty certain that he had made a quick exit, once again leaving me in no position to back up a claim of him hounding me. The hand that was gripping the mug started to sting as the heat broke through the surface of the china, yet I couldn't bring myself to let go. Somehow the burning sensation was giving me something to focus on, grounding me rather than letting me fall apart yet again.
This was never going to go away.
With a heavy heart, I turned back toward the door with both mugs and headed back to my office, dropping Angela's fresh cup of tea off at her desk as I went past. She still wasn't back, and I wondered for a moment what might be keeping her, but I had the rest of the manuscript to get through so I trudged back to my desk.
Ten minutes later there was a soft knock at the door before it opened just a crack and Angela stuck her head around.
"Sorry to disturb you, Bella, but I've just had a call from Alistair's assistant. He'd like to see you in the conference room right away." Her voice was laced with concern, which made my stomach sink. My guess was that Junior had indeed pulled the wool over his daddy's eyes and talked his way out of everything, and I was going to be shown the door.
I nodded my acknowledgement, made sure that my purse was locked away in my pedestal and made the long walk to find out my fate. As I walked across the floor toward the door that would potentially make or break me, I could feel eyes watching me. I tried my best to hold my head up high, and ignore the stares as I reached my destination.
From somewhere to the side of me I picked up the nasal whine of Jessica and Lauren speculating on what was going on.
"Did you see the 'legal team' arrive in full force earlier?" Jessica asked in a not so hushed whisper.
From beside her Lauren snorted, "Certainly did, and judging by the direction Bella's walking I'd say it involves her."
"Maybe she's screwed up someone's manuscript?" her sidekick guessed.
The last thing I needed was them speculating on what was going on, the shreds of truth that they knew would be twisted into something salacious and spread around the office like wildfire. As I reached my destination, Lauren's final words made me freeze.
"That...or she's been up to something she shouldn't have. You never can tell with these quiet mousy types."
I was convinced even more so that no matter what happened in the board room, my reputation at Hunter would be ruined.
Knocking on the door tentatively, Alistair's deep voice bid me to enter. I pushed on the heavy wooden doors, and gingerly made my way into the room, only to stop in my tracks once again. Already seated around the ridiculously sized conference table were Alistair, Kate, Garrett and James, but there was no sign of Edward which surprised me a little given that he'd been so instrumental in opening Alistair's eyes to what had been going on.
"Welcome, Bella, thank you for joining us. Would you please take a seat?" Alistair greeted me warmly while gesturing to an empty seat to the right of the giant table next to where Kate was sitting. Garrett was occupying the one next to Alistair, and then opposite me was James, who was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Alistair cleared his throat to garner everyone's attention, before he spoke; "Over the last twenty-four hours, I've been given a lot of information about a situation that has been unfolding for some time, and it has provided me with plenty to think about..."
His monologue faltered as the door to the conference room opened slightly and in slipped my angel, looking sharper than I've ever seen him before, in not only his attire, but the way he cast his eyes around the room, narrowing in on the cocky look that James was casting out. Edward's gaze moved around the room, giving an almost imperceptible nod of acknowledgement to Garrett at the head of the table with Alistair, and the faint trace of a smile as he acknowledged me.
Rather than take a seat, he opted to stand by the doors, presumably to observe from the periphery and be seen as neutral.
Alistair resumed his speech; "As I was saying...I've had quite a lot to consider since yesterday.
A small resigned sigh escaped his mouth before he continued, "I find myself in a position that I never ever thought I would be in. James, you are my son and the one I have been grooming to take over for me when the time is right. Bella, you have proven to be an incredibly hard working and loyal member of my staff who I have no doubt will go on to great things in the publishing world. This is an impossible situation and I'm forced to make decision I am neither comfortable with nor happy about, because it's clear that you both remaining working in this office cannot continue."
The look on Alistair's face remained impassive as he cast his eyes between me and his son. James continued to smirk at me from across the boardroom table and I wanted nothing more than to smack the smug look of satisfaction from that torturous bastard's face. This was it, he'd won, he'd gotten away with it and everything I'd worked for was ruined.
"In all honesty, my hands are tied on this matter. I have to do what's right for my company, while also being mindful of my family and my employees. I'm sorry Bella..."
His words faded into the background as the realization hit me, this was it. My career was over because that slimy bastard had convinced his dad that it was all on me.
The room around me erupted into absolute chaos.
A/N So there we have it my lovely readers, you know what was in the box, Alistair has reached a decision...but then I go and spoil it all by leaving you with a big fat cliffie. You didn't honestly think that I'd make this easy on you did you? I know you've probably all got your theories on what Alistair's decision was and what the devil happens next….and I'd love to hear them!
Once again, huge, huge apologies for me being awful with this whole updating stuff. While I love the writing process, the writers block I've had has been crippling (plus two tiny terrors don't make it easy to find my mojo). Hopefully I'm now back on track, and I promise you that Ch19 is already started.
Till next time folks, leave me some love or just some constructive views. Either way, I'm happy with just knowing what you think.