I was hoping to post this on my birthday yesterday, but I wasn't able to send this out to Mags until the 14th, and there's no way I would ask her to speed it up when we both have hubbies to swoon over on V-day ;) Mags did all the cleanup... all mistakes after that are mine.

SM owns. I just like to make her characters cooler.


Chapter 7

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"Yes, Bella. You can totally do this. You are Bella Swan: independent, sophisticated, and proud. You will not re-check your phone twenty times between here and work... Ok, You'l check only three times between here and work, and you will not, under any circumstances let him see you break. You won't. Because that's not how Bella Swan rolls."

I sigh, ending my monologue to my reflection. I have thirty minutes to get to work. I plan on arriving there not a minute before or after nine. I will be professional. I don't want Edward... er... Mr. Cullen, to have the upper hand in anything today. If he considered this whole... thing a fuck and run, then so be it. It was good while it lasted, and I got laid, just like Rose said I should. I refuse to let what happened jeopardize everything I've been working hard on building for myself.

I've dressed in my best navy pencil skirt, burgundy blouse and heels. My hair is up and I'm all business as I walk into Cullen Energy and set up at my station outside my boss's door. I hear the telltale signs of life in his office and at nine twenty-three he buzzes me.

Deep breath, Swan.

"Miss Swan?"

His voice is sure and very CEO-like.

"Yes, Mister Cullen."

"Uh... let me know when my nine-thirty arrives. And if you, uh, could grab me a cup of coffee, I'd appreciate it."

That didn't sound nearly as commanding as the greeting. Hmm. Little does he know I called in a favor earlier this morning.

"I'll let you know, sir. Oh, and if you look around on your coffee table, I had Seth bring in your order from Starbucks right before you came into the office, since I was unable to do so."

"Oh, uh..."

"Is there anything else, sir?"

A few moments of dead air falls between us, and I hate this. I hate it so much.

"No. No, Miss Swan. That will be all. Thanks," he says, almost dejectedly, before signing off.

See? You can totally do this. Keep it professional.

When his associates arrive on time a little while later, I buzz Cullen and let them pass. I think I'm in the clear until his door opens and he marches out, his colleagues right behind him. The flash in his eyes when he looks at me nearly knocks me on my ass. He almost looks crazed, determined, affected... worried.

"Miss Swan, I'll be having my meeting in the conference room. I'd like you to go through the list of potential candidates for PA with me during a working lunch so we can schedule interview appointments ASAP," he says, starting to walk away.

Oh, Edward, how little you know me.

"Oh, Mister Cullen, there's no need. I took the liberty of scheduling interviews today for you. You'll have back-to-back interviews after lunch until five, and I rescheduled your client meetings for tomorrow."

Take that, Cullen!

He freezes, head turning slowly towards me. His eyes burn into mine with something unnameable. His jaw ticks. I know how that jaw tastes.

His expression becomes a cold mask. CEOward is back. "I see. How very... efficient of you. Very well. We'll do it your way. Gentlemen, if you'll follow me, please," he says, ushering the men away and through the double doors. The atmosphere changes, sucked out of the room as through a vacuum, and I'm left alone with no air to breathe.

What just happened?

Some of the worker bees glance over with curious eyes, and I quickly make myself look busy, when really, I'm just a puddle of nothing inside.

About ten minutes later I get a text. My heart skips to the sound of the buzz.

We need to talk.

The nerve.

Talk? Now you want to talk? That's fascinating. -B

You seem upset. You must allow me the chance to explain. -E

I don't think there's anything else you need to say. Your note said it all. -B

I don't want to apologize over text message. I need to see you. -E

You saw me this morning. I'm sorry, Mr. Cullen, but I have a ton of work to do before your first interview at one. Please let me work.

And with that, the texting is over. I'm a mess.

...

At lunch I eat at my desk, pouring over Cullen's schedule for the next few days. There's a lot going on: meetings all over the place, some of them with VIP's. It doesn't seem like Cullen will have much down time. Just as well. I need to get my replacement located quickly so I can go back to my little corner in cubicle land and return to being another corporate lackey. Just do my job, save my money, and get going with my real career.

Cullen doesn't return until almost the last few minutes of lunch. I'm mid-bite when he comes barreling in like a man on a mission.

"My office... now," he says with not even a glance my way. I set my food aside and rise, sweeping my skirt for crumbs before taking a deep breath, holding my head high, and entering his office... the office that smells so much of him my knees nearly buckle.

I stand right inside the office, next to the door and close it. He's three steps ahead of me. Before I even have time to respond, he has me pinned to the wall, his arms caging me on either side of my head, his body radiating heat that brings me back to Saturday night.

"Why are you so stubborn?" he asks gruffly, his voice making me vibrate in pretty indecent ways.

"What are you talking ab—"

"Stop. Just stop pretending like what happened didn't happen."

"You're the one who left, remember?"

"Yes, I know. And you won't let me explain—"

"Oh, let's see. You lost your cell phone. You were abducted by aliens. You came down with a bad case of amnesia—"

"STOP!" he growls, and it's not fair that he sounds so fucking hot when he's mad. So not fair.

My mouth snaps shut and his eyes zero in on my lips and my God, I think he's going to kiss me.

But no.

"My father had a stroke Sunday morning, Bella."

I think I hear screeching tires, but it's probably my brain halting to a sudden stop.

"What? Are you serious? Cullen, if this is some kind of a sick joke..."

Before Cullen can reply, there's a timid knock. Cullen moves away at the speed of light, turning around and dragging his hands through his riotous hair. I take a moment to compose myself and open the door.

"Oh, there you are, Bella. I think there's someone here for an interview? She's waiting outside. Should I let her in?" Giana from three cubicles down asks, wide-eyed.

"Give us a minute..."

"Yes, let her in."

We both speak at once and Giana looks like a deer in headlights, poor girl.

"Let her in, Giana. Thanks," I say gently, giving her a small smile.

As I reach to open the door and exit I hear Cullen's final words.

"We're not done, Ms. Swan. And no. I'm not joking."

He sounds rejected and broken. And I feel like an asshole.

...

I really do feel like shit. I see potential candidates revolve in and out of his office for the rest of the afternoon until right around five. Cullen buzzes me back into his office, and I look around to see the few employees remaining are already packing up to leave, giving me small waves as they exit.

Here we go.

After knocking quietly, I enter, trying to gauge Cullen's demeanor. It's been a long day, and I have some apologizing of my own to do.

He sits with his head in his hands, fingers tangled in his hair, sleeves rolled up to his forearms... ink visible. He's worn out, and I feel terrible. I want to go over there and straddle him in his fancy executive chair and hug him. I just want to feel him close. But I stay rooted in place, silently begging him to look at me.

When he finally raises his head, sad eyes on me, I freak out. Oh, no. Has something happened?

"How's your father? Have you heard anything?" I whisper, but even that sounds damn loud in this space between us.

He takes a deep breath and blows it out hard and fast.

"He's fine. He's been in his own private room since this morning. We were just waiting for some tests to come back. So far, everything's negative, but he did suffer a moderate stroke. He'll be in the hospital for a few more days." He leans back in his chair, head resting against it, eyes closed.

I inch closer, taking small steps towards him until I'm standing right next to him. I want to touch him so bad, to offer some type of comfort.

"Why did you come to work today? Why didn't you just stay with him?"

"The doctors said he was stable, and he basically kicked me out. Nodded his head when I asked him if he wanted me to leave. He can be a stubborn ass sometimes."

"Sounds like someone I know," I say, trying to lighten the mood. It works. I can see a tiny lift on one side of mouth.

"I'm sorry I didn't call you. It was a mix of stuff... time got away from me with everything and..."

I shush him; my fingers impulsively rest on his lips. With eyes still closed his hands slowly lift and reach out to find my hips. As my own hands finally comb through his hair — something I've been dying to do since entering his office, Edward moves forward until his head presses against my stomach and his tattooed arms wrap around my middle. It feels good... amazing... I never want to leave.

"I should be apologizing to you," I admit.

"Why? You've done nothing to apologize for. You only reacted to my lack of communication. I wanted to call, Bella... but I don't know. You've been a little skittish with the whole you-me thing and I guess I worried that dragging you into a family emergency and asking you to be with me would be too much too soon for you. So, I let it go. I figured I'd see you today and explain, but I guess I should've known you'd be pissed. You're hot when you're pissed, by the way."

I chuckle as I massage his head. He's trying to lighten the mood, too.

"Only when I'm pissed?"

He looks up at me, chin on my stomach. His deep green eyes slay me, as always.

"Not just when you're pissed."

Damn being professionally personal. I move to slowly sit on his lap, lowering my head until my lips meet his. The kiss is soft and gentle, until it's not. A deep need blossoms between us, and I can no longer deny it. But my sensible self, though bound and gagged by my horny self, manages to break through, the words 'you still work for him,' echoing in my head. I slow down the kiss until I can gently push him away.

He looks a little confused, damn kissable lips all pouty and adorable and swollen.

"We can't do this here. Not while I work for you," I say carefully, easing the crease between his eyes with my fingers.

"Well, that's easy. You're fired."

Yup... I can hear those screeching tires in my head again.

.

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A/N: Well, now I really think there's only one more regular chapter, then an epi ;) Did Edward redeem himself? ;)

Fic recs:

Part of me by Luckirishtart: loving this so far

In Your Room by Layathomemom: Newly completed... Love it

And some of the entries for the Ho Hey Contest make me happeh:

The Maybe Valentine

High Maintenance

I'm still reading my way through some fo the other entries... You should read them too u/4392156/Ho-Hey-Contest

Some reviewers were asking what's up with Bella of Victoria. Here's the plan: I mentioned once before that I've learned I can't write 2 stories at once like I used to... i just don't have that kind of time anymore :( So, my plan is to finish this one up, and go right into BoV. That will most likely be me last fic (for a long time, I won't say ever). You know me, it might take me a while, but I never EVER abandon fics. Not my style. Don't like it as a reader, I won't do it as a writer.

Thank you, kind reviewers. You guys just overwhelm me so much with the reception you've given this story. I'll end it here because I hate obnoxiously long A/Ns. Till next time ;)

Join me in my FB group "DH78's Fic Corner"... picspam, tattoo talk, exclusive teasers, etc etc. We have loads of fun over there.