AN: This is not a totally original plot, it's heavily inspired by the Harlequin romance "Dark Star" by Nerina Hilliard. Hope you all enjoy, rated M for smut, (later) should be a nine part series. Feedback is greatly appreciated and if you'd like to prompt future chapters, please feel free to do so on my tumblr. (See my profile)
Belle glanced up, a faint smile on her lips as Ruby Lucas dumped a large pile of papers unceremoniously on her desk. Her friend was scowling and her hazel eyes were downright icy.
"Everything okay?" Belle asked innocently, although she knew perfectly well the source of Ruby's ire.
"No, everything is not okay," Ruby snapped, crossing her arms in front of herself. "One of these days…I am going to punch that old bastard right in the nose. Just you wait." She seated herself on Belle's desk, seething. Ruby Lucas was not a woman who took condescension lightly. It didn't matter if she dressed provocatively or flirted with the deliverymen, she was a woman who demanded respect. And usually, she got it.
But Mr. Gold, their boss and the head of Spindles Inc., rarely gave respect to anyone. The Scotsman was unpleasant on the best of days and intolerable on the worst. To Mr. Gold, all were beneath him, either ants to be crushed or peasants to serve. Arrogance was one trait Ruby Lucas could not stand.
"Honestly, I don't know how you deal with him on a daily basis. The Vatican ought to canonize you," Ruby picked up Belle's Starbucks mug and helped herself to the mochaccino. Belle shrugged.
"It's not that hard," She replied. "I'm just indifferent to him and his moods."
"Actually, it is hard," Ruby disagreed. "Everything he says is just dripping with disdain. We're all just bugs to him. How do you not let that get to you?"
Belle shrugged again. "I think the trick is," She said sardonically, retrieving her Starbucks mug from Ruby's red-tipped fingers. "Realizing that it's rarely personal. If he treats everyone that way, he's not attacking you directly."
"He's still an ass," Ruby said flatly and Belle grinned, conceding.
An earsplitting buzz filled Belle's small office and Ruby hopped off of her desk, fleeing to the lounge. Belle calmly stood and easily walked to the door of her employer's inner sanctum. She wasn't totally impervious; there was a little shiver of apprehension as she entered Mr. Gold's large office. She immediately saw that his temper was not pleasant; his brown eyes were flashing and he was drumming his fingers along his silver-tipped cane agitatedly. He was standing behind his desk, rummaging impatiently through the chaos of papers on his desk.
Belle had once made the mistake of commenting to Ruby that she found her employer mildly attractive. Ruby's reaction was disbelief and merciless teasing. It was a stretch to say Belle had a crush on the man—his ill-temper and distasteful demeanor prevented that, besides, she was engaged and had no time for silly office crushes. What she meant, was that when he wasn't growling at someone or glaring at interlopers, he could be very nice to look at. He had almost leonine features and a sort of pantherish grace when he walked, an impressive feat considering his need for a cane. Still, his physical appearance could only go so far.
"You wanted me, Mr. Gold?" Belle asked politely.
"I would not have buzzed for you if I hadn't wanted you," Mr. Gold snapped at her, his Scottish brogue coloring every syllable. "Where is the Mills contract?"
Belle's lips pursed slightly as she crossed the room to the file cabinet against the wall. She produced a thick folder and handed it to Mr. Gold.
"You asked me to put it away last night," She said blandly.
There was an odd pause as Mr. Gold glared at her, as if irritated at being cheated from snarling at her. His eyes fell to the contract and his brow furrowed. Flipping through the contents, he turned away from her.
That was the difference between her and Ruby, Belle reflected. Ruby wore her heart on her sleeve and every emotion she possessed appeared readily on her face. Belle was not one to ever lose her temper and held tight control over her emotions, keeping a cool mask at all times.
"All right, you may go," Mr. Gold said finally, waving a hand to dismiss her. Belle left, resisting the absurd urge to giggle. She attributed it to insanity or perhaps a side effect from resisting the urge to tell her boss to shove it.
It was about noon, so Belle stretched luxuriously and picked up her purse. She trotted into the lounge where Ruby was hiding.
"Lunch, scaredy-cat?" Belle teased.
"Yes, please," Ruby groaned, immediately standing. "I am starving, controlling the urge to murder really builds up an appetite." The two strolled out of the office and went across the street, to Granny's Diner. They ate there nearly every day due to its convenience and good food, not to mention Ruby's grandmother ran the place and always gave them free coffee.
"So, how's Garrett? Any progress on the wedding planning?" Ruby asked as she hit the crosswalk button and waited impatiently.
"Not really," Belle sighed. "He's been really busy lately. I'm hoping tonight we can at least narrow down a location." Exactly two years ago, Garrett Gaston had proposed to her during a candlelight dinner at his apartment. She'd accepted immediately, happy to finally take a step towards adulthood and planning a life with someone she cared about. But the engagement had dragged on and lately, Garrett hadn't expressed much enthusiasm in thinking about their wedding.
"He doesn't like the idea of moving out of his apartment," Belle commented as the walk sign flicked on. "He wants me to move in with him."
"Do you want to?" Ruby questioned, tripping slightly as her bright reed heel got stuck in a crack in the street.
Belle made a face. "Not really. I don't like his apartment. It's small, it's cramped, the kitchen's rubbish, and it's all Garrett and no me. I don't even have a drawer of my things or anything. Besides, we both will be starting a new life together. It makes more sense to find a new place together and start our new lives there." She opened the diner door for Ruby and the two stepped inside.
Mr. Gold didn't know what drew him to the grubby little diner that day. He presumed it might have something to do with a rather nasty argument he'd had with Regina Mills and her band of attorneys. The resulting fight had produced an irritating power struggle that Mr. Gold had eventually won, but still left a bad taste in his mouth. He had a desire to go somewhere where no one knew him, where he would run into none of his contemporaries. He took into account that some of the peons that worked for him might recognize him, but the fear his employees had for him ought to ensure quiet and privacy.
Belle and Ruby did not notice their boss slip into the diner and take the booth behind them. Mr. Gold recognized the lilt of his secretary's voice but endeavored to ignore her and her companion, flipping through the latest Economist and sipping his black coffee. Idle work gossip didn't interest him.
"So here's a fun lunchtime question," Ruby commented, biting into her chicken Panini. "What do you think Mr. Gold is like in bed?"
Mr. Gold choked on his coffee.
Belle snorted. "Really, Ruby? Weren't you just telling me ten minutes ago how you hated him, now you want to sleep with him?"
Ruby shook her head vigorously. "No way. I'm just wondering and I would like your professional opinion on the matter, since you're around him the most."
"I don't exactly meander in his office every day and start asking about his sex life," Belle said dryly. "Somehow I don't think that would go over well."
"You never know," Ruby grinned. "You know what they say about Scotsmen!"
Belle blinked. "What do they say about Scotsmen?"
Ruby shrugged, polishing off the rest of her sandwich. "I have no idea, I just made that up. But hey, that can be sexy. You know, Braveheart, Mel Gibson and all that. Sexy."
"Mel Gibson was American," Belle said point-blank. "And lived most of his life in Australia. You should be talking about how sexy Australians are." She said with a wink.
Ruby laughed as Granny came over to their partition and poured them more coffee. Belle considered Ruby's teasing comments.
"The thing about Mr. Gold is," She said decidedly. "Is he's a good boss—if you can stand his mood swings."
Mr. Gold's lip curled.
"What's his first name, anyway?" Ruby asked curiously, stealing one of Belle's French fries.
"Angus Uisdean Gold," Belle said promptly. "Although I've never heard him use it and I've never heard anyone call him Angus."
Ruby sniggered. "A.U. Gold? Seriously?"
"Absolutely," Belle replied. "I think it's an old family name, very Scottish. In any case…" Her lips quirked. "I'll admit it, I think he's attractive. Accents are lovely and he pulls off a suit marvelously. But frankly, he knows nothing about women. I'm sure he appreciates their aesthetic appeal in classical art, but he wouldn't know how romance a girl if he tried."
"Ha, I'd love to see his face if he heard that," Ruby snickered, mouth full of potato salad.
"Geez," Belle rolled her eyes but then grinned. "He'd probably take it as a compliment."
"Oh, would he," Mr. Gold murmured darkly to himself. He'd heard enough at this point. He quietly paid his bill, stood, and limped towards the door. His unsavory secretary and her annoying friend noticed nothing. This did not improve his already bad temper as he rather wanted to see the horrified looks on his employees when they realized he'd heard everything.
He didn't really care if his employees liked him or not although his secretary's beliefs about his skills with women rather stung. He supposed he rather deserved her condemnation, still, something about her merry voice rankled him.
Never mind. He had other things to worry about. The only thing that mattered was Sidheag, and how he would get it back.
Sidheag. He could still see its ancient stone walls, the beautiful sparkling waters of Loch Katrine, the drizzly weather, so rarely allowing the sun. He could feel the harsh and unforgiving winds, the cruel beauty of Scotland in the spring. He hated this city with its crowds and misery. His flat was large and luxurious enough, but it still confined him. He wanted to go home. He would do anything to do so.
And it seemed he would have to. Regina Mills would see to that.
Sidheag would not be out of his hands for long. He set his teeth together as he returned to his office, beginning to pace. The terms of the contract were ridiculously specific, unfortunately there was no way around that. Even if he could, Regina Mills was ready to pounce, to snatch up any excuse to wrest control over his ancestral home from him. He wouldn't allow it.
He had to get married and he had a month to do so.
At five, Belle was more than ready to go home. She got the oddest look from Mr. Gold when she asked if there was anything else he needed, as if he wanted to say something but decided not to. He'd waved her off and relieved, she'd picked up her purse and exited, looking forward to dinner.
Belle couldn't afford a place on her own. Thanks to her father, her credit card debt was so awful she couldn't afford any major purchase, let alone a house or apartment. The only reason she had a car was thanks to her friend Mary Margaret's sympathy.
Mary Margaret Nolan, formerly Blanchard, had gone to Belle's university and had been her hall's residence advisor. Belle didn't much like partying, so she'd often spent her Friday nights keeping a bored Mary Margaret company while she was on duty. The two had become fast friends. She was a kind, sweet friend and Belle loved her dearly. When Belle and her father had started arguing, Mary Margaret had been an empathetic ear. When Belle could no longer live with her father, Mary Margaret had offered her a place to stay and Belle had happily accepted.
Belle hated the idea of being a bother and a nuisance to Mary Margaret and her husband, although neither had ever indicated that. She paid rent to the Nolans, babysat their ten-year-old-daughter Emma for free, and did whatever housework she could. She began to find a family amongst the Nolans, began to feel protective and loyal to them. It wasn't as though she didn't love her father anymore. But she couldn't deal with his irresponsibility anymore. She was tired of hiding her credit cards and cash.
Still, it would be a relief not to burden the Nolans any longer. They never said anything, but their finances had gotten worse. Belle had seen David and Mary Margaret whispering together urgently after dinner, eyes tense and worried.
The sooner Belle married Garrett, the better.
Belle opened the door to the Nolans' small house and was immediately barreled into by a ten-year-old nymph.
"Oof!" Belle gasped out as Emma Nolan wrapped her small arms around Belle's waist. "Hello, to you too!"
"You have to hide me, Belle," Emma said in an anguished voice. "Mom's trying to brush my hair." Belle examined Emma's golden locks and saw that they were matted and tangled.
"Well, don't you think it needs it, little swan?" Belle asked, fingering a twisted lock, calling Emma by her special pet name.
Emma huffed. "You don't see any of the knights of the round table getting their hair brushed, now do you?"
Belle giggled. "I'd have to reread Le Mort d'Arthur to confirm," She said promptly.
"There you are," Mary Margaret appeared in the foyer, arms akimbo. "Get back upstairs, young lady. Your hair's a rat's nest and I will not stand for it any longer."
Emma moaned in despair. She dragged her feet up the stairs, complaining the entire time. Belle giggled again.
"When she gets a sword, she will be unstoppable," Belle commented to Mary Margaret who smiled grimly. Belle's expression faltered when she noticed the dark circles under her friend's eyes.
"What's the matter?" She asked concerned.
Mary Margaret waved a hand. "It's nothing. I just—had to go to that evil loan place to pick up some groceries because my card was declined. I know David's going to be annoyed again…"
Belle's heart sank. "Mary Margaret, you should've told me, I have a little money to spare, I could've gotten the groceries this week!" She protested.
"Absolutely not," Mary Margaret said firmly. "You already pay rent and half the utilities, I should at least be able to cover food and housing." She turned before Belle could argue the point, marching upstairs to wrestle with Emma's hair. Belle followed, intending to pursue the conversation.
Mary Margaret however, immediately changed the subject once she reached her daughter. "Don't you have a date tonight?"
"Yes," Belle started to reply right when her cell phone buzzed. She pulled it out of her purse curiously and twisted her lips together.
"Or not," She sighed. "That was Garrett. He just texted to cancel, says he has to work late at the office."
"Again?" Mary Margaret said worriedly. "That's the third time he's cancelled." She gently pulled a comb through Emma's locks who looked put out but tolerant. A large fairy tale book lay on Emma's lap and she fiercely read a battle scene.
Belle raised her shoulders half-heartedly. "I guess it's his busy season," She exhaled. "I really wanted to see that movie too, and I was hoping we could at least narrow down a location tomorrow…"
"What about tomorrow night?" Mary Margaret suggested. She'd finished the battle with Emma's hair and was now braiding it.
Belle shook her head. "No good, he's got a conference or something."
"Well, how about visiting him during his lunch hour?" Mary Margaret persisted. "His office isn't that far from yours, right? You could bring him lunch and surprise him. I used to do that for David during college and he always loved it."
Belle brightened. "That's a good idea! I think I'll do just that."