Well, here we go again. It's been three months since my last update. Sounds like you're hearing my confession! Well, sometimes it is like that.
I hope you like this one. I won't dare to go to the extremes I did with my first fic. There will be some angst but no terrible separations this time.
Edward and Bella will always end up happy in my stories.
Thanks to beachlover, my very patient prereader, who is coming along for the ride again. Honestly, she must be loony for putting up with me but I can't do this without her now.
I will probably update Fridays Australia time, so most of you will get it Thursday and there will be an extra one this week - that is if I get some reviews.
Chapter 1 - Hot Manuscript
There was a very soft knock on the glass of my door. I looked up to see Mike Newton and immediately felt fear in the pit of my stomach. The sense of déjà vu was horrible and the scene I was replaying would kill me if that's what this was. Oh Christ, there it was in his hand, just like before. The sight of the unmistakable parchment envelope had me instantly breaking out in a sweat.
No, no, no, please no, he did not; he didn't take my only potential client right from under my nose when I was this close to signing her. That cocky son of a bitch! He had fooled me, I was sure he had no interest in this one and I stupidly let my guard down at a critical time.
With an apologetic smile, Mike gently placed the envelope on my desk before retreating backwards and quickly disappearing. My hands were shaking as I took out the letter, reading the blurring words as the blood pumped at my temples. Yep, they had signed her, that damn Cullen crest emblazoned across the base of the page like some medieval victory sign.
I was feeling a mixture of rage and defeat, wanting to tear the letter up and burn it, pretend I never got it, but I folded it back up, trying to compose myself with several deep breaths and walked out of my tiny office, the one with the shitty view, the one I was about to lose. I was going up to see the bastard and ask him if he felt good about what he had done and I might even punch him for the hell of it.
I locked my door, stood tall and headed over to the elevators. There always seemed to be one of these damn things available for me, trying to entice me upstairs, and I punched the button for level 20, right next to the shiny engraved plaque for Cullen Publishing.
I strode straight past the receptionist, Jessica, who only glanced at me before returning to her typing, and stormed up the hall to the man in the huge corner office. Unfortunately, my big entrance failed. He was leaning back and swiveling in his chair, running his fingers around the inside of a thick rubber band, his widescreen monitor turned sideways as two men on the other side of his desk watched seriously and nodded. I could see him talking but his office was so well soundproofed that I couldn't hear a thing. I caught his eye and he held up a hand and waved while his face burst in a huge cheeky smile. Cocky son of a bitch – he knew why I was here. I showed him my index finger and his hands clutched his chest. That was all I was going to get for now. I certainly wasn't waiting for his stupid meeting to conclude so I turned on my heels and walked back into the elevator, frustrated I didn't even get to blast him, the bastard!
Someone got in on level 15 and gave me the strangest look. I realized I must have been muttering to myself, a nervous habit I'd picked up since Cullen Publishing tried to destroy me. Well, maybe that was a bit too strong. They were just very good at using my exceptional skills at finding new talented authors and promptly stealing them from me. The thief in question was one Edward Cullen, son of the owner and heir to the crown, so maybe losing this office would be the best thing for my career so he couldn't keep tabs on my clients any more.
I put the key in the lock, opening up the silent space and looked at my incredibly clean desk. At university, I always pictured myself with chaotic clutter all around me, with manuscripts piling up and phones flashing with voicemail. The reality was different. The reality…yeah this particular reality was about to change when I would be working out of my apartment after the end of the month. Maybe I could be a mobile editor, meeting the client in his or her own space and maybe I would find a more personal connection, just like Edward Cullen did with his sexy, schmoozing, charismatic approach.
Who was I kidding! Once I couldn't afford to rent a small office like this I was finished.
That's the fucking reality.
The thought made my eyes fill with tears and I did something I never do, shutting the blinds so no one could see in and sat down, wallowing in pain while I looked at my shitty view. I only had two scientific manuals to edit now – that's it. I really was looking at the end of my business, a business that started with so much promise.
There was a knock at my door and I wiped my eyes to ready myself for battle because I knew it was the thief himself, come to gloat. Damn, I had to get up and let him in because I couldn't see out.
It wasn't Edward.
Before me was a very tall young man, much younger than I was, with an expensive looking briefcase that did not match the outfit he had on. His old jeans and shirt was just a little too short for him as if he had outgrown them. He had a mop of black hair and he had a look that was familiar, like the indigenous people near where I grew up, the Quileutes.
He took an anxious step back when he saw the look on my face and I had to apologize, telling him I thought he was someone else.
"I'm Seth." He said it as if I was expecting him and then stood there nervously looking into my eyes. It was feeling a little weird in the quiet of my oh-so-not-busy office.
"Would you like to sit down Seth? How can I help you?" He sat with the briefcase in his lap, clutching it with his huge hands.
"I have a story here and... it needs some work. I was told to come to you because you are a good editor." His eyes darted around my office uncertainly, looking incredibly uncomfortable and completely ridiculous on my standard visitor's chair that was too small for his huge frame. I had to stop myself from giggling. At least I'd stopped sniffling.
"That's nice of you to say that. I've actually just finished with my last client so I do have some free time."
"I know." The corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly and I started wondering who this person actually was. Just how do know I have free time, Seth or whatever your name is?
"Yes. I knew you would have a vacancy for me." Ookay, this was getting quite strange now. "So will you work on the story?"
God he was keen, but I needed this job and so help me, strange or not, I was going to make sure I signed him if the story showed promise. I think I could make a saleable read out of anything and a dollar a sale would really help my dwindling bank account.
I smiled at him as if we were old friends. "Of course, Seth, I'd love to. I can start reading straight away. Do you live locally?"
"So…we would be communicating by email then?" It was like pulling teeth to get a full sentence out of him.
"Probably, I trust you to make the improvements." What, probably? What?
"Are you…asking me to go ahead and start editing it?" Now I was mystified.
He nodded. "Yes." Why did this suddenly have a rotten smell about it? Was he for real?
"Seth, I'm an independent publisher so you would need to sign a contract for that, binding both of us exclusively."
I let out a long breath. Okay now I get it. Edward Cullen is going to come through that door any moment, telling me I've been punk'd and that this is not really happening. So disappointing, but I'd play along. It would probably be the only fun moment in an otherwise hideous day and I still had some sense of humor left, amazingly.
I stood up like the perfect little secretary and moved to my filing cabinets. "I'll get you a contract, Seth. Will you have your legal people take a look? I shouldn't be recommending…" He put his hand up to cut me off.
"No, I said I trust you." Well of course five minutes with me would tell you I'm completely trustworthy in punk'd land.
"Okay, I'll just show you where to sign then." For a second I felt like a loan shark, luring this young man into a sea of trouble. "Write your full name on the line above and put today's date right there." I pointed to the signature line, feeling stupid.
"Yes that's fine." Christ he wrote his name and signed it. They were going all out.
"Oh and I'll need your email address and your cell number."
"I'll email you." Right, of course you will.
"No problem at all, Seth, here's my card." He took it and then there was another awkward silence. I looked down and saw myself rubbing the palm of my hand with my thumb. That's my really nervous and frustrated habit that doesn't come out very often. "Are you going to email me the book?"
"Oh, no sorry, take the briefcase Miss Swan. It's the only copy, so please take care of it." He handed it to me and I nearly dropped it, not expecting the weight of the paper in there. If this was real, I'd be terrified.
"You did say 'the only copy' and it's on paper?"
"I don't understand Seth – the only copy?" This was silly now and I was losing interest in their stupid prank.
"The computer was…lost." More silence. Jesus.
"Right, well do you have any questions?" Let's wrap this crap up.
"No." He just sat there again, looking at me, probably trying to kill some time because Edward was surely about to arrive any minute. "Uh…I'll leave now, if that's okay with you, Miss Swan."
"Oh sure Seth, you'll email me your details tomorrow?"
"Okay, bye." He got up and walked out. He actually left without any proper answer or explanation, leaving me at a loss. My mouth fell open and it stayed that way. What the hell!
They didn't leave me waiting long though because soon there was another knock at the door and I jumped up to see which one of them it was – punk'd time!
"Did you forget something? Oh Edward it's you and lovely it is to see you." The cocky bastard tried to look surprised.
"Who's the guy?" God he was sickening.
"I don't know what you're talking about." What did he expect me to say?
"What is he doing out there?" He was peeking out the blinds and doing an unbelievable job of looking worried. He was good.
"Why don't you mind your own business?"
"Okay, you're angry."
I snorted. "And you are a lying bastard, Edward."
His shoulders slumped like I'd hurt him. "Oh, that's a bit harsh. It's not personal Bella, it's just business. I have a job to do."
"One time might be business, but three is personal, and I really need to know how you did it." I was furious now and I took a step toward him, looking up at him, challenging the answer before he even delivered it. "Did you sleep with her?"
He acted as if he was appalled. "No, of course not! I would never do that! We get the same manuscripts as you do and when you start to show interest… well we trust your judgment."
"So you steal them from me?"
"Bella, it's just easier to convince them they'll make money when we have the track record behind us." You are kidding me.
"You just said that out aloud, Edward Cullen," I said glaring at him. "You know perfectly well they would make more money with me. I can get them 30% for an e-book. What do you offer for paperback, eight percent?" I took a step forward and he moved back towards the door.
"Seven, but they get more for hardcover." He thinks I'm stupid! "Anyway, the print runs are much larger than your little audience."
"More for hardcover!" I was standing up to him, ready for a fist fight at this point. "Just how many new authors get a shot at hardcover Edward? Do you tell them that any books printed but not sold will cost them?"
"We're not trying to rip them off, Bella." God now he was glaring back, shaking his head. "They can read the contract and quite frankly, we know how to sell books."
I puffed myself up in front of him. "I think…I can predict how well a book will sell, Edward. We don't need corporate America to sell books anymore. I could run your whole business out of this office!" Yeah that would have been great if I could have made a success out of my own business from this office.
Why is he smirking at me? Fucker! "Don't worry, my father has no doubt you could. Let me take you to dinner, please. You can tell me off while we eat."
"No!" One day I'm going to say yes and he'll shit his pants backpedaling.
"A drink then."
"No, I have a new manuscript don't I."
"Anything interesting?" That's it - I can't stand this any longer!
"Just get out of my office right now!"
"Carlisle wants to know if…"
"Tell him no!"
"How do you know…"
"Fuck off Edward! Out now or I'm calling security!" I pushed on his chest.
He looked defeated all of a sudden and held my hand to his chest. "It's really not personal, Bella. Please believe me."
I pulled my hand away, because for a moment, he looked sincere and it rattled me. "But it's the same outcome for me isn't it?"
He actually had a tender look in his eyes. "I'm sorry." He put his hand out as if he was going to touch my arm and I stepped back.
He looked at me for a moment, sighed, then left and the door gently clicked shut, leaving me in the silence and gloom. I let out a deep breath and shook my head. The bastards were close to beating me and I'd have to accept Carlisle Cullen's offer to edit for them. They had starved me into submission and it was all for nothing, giving up a good job at Macmillan's to start my own business and follow my dream. So…fucking…depressing.
"I'm worried about her, Dad. You didn't see her face. She looked like we've trampled on her soul." I was in my father's office, trying to illustrate how this plan of his had affected a young woman who deserved better.
"Oh Edward, stop being so dramatic, I'm going to offer her a huge salary. She just needs to come to terms with the fact that it was a stupid idea to go out on her own so young. You'll talk her around." He's so matter of fact. Does he realize just how far she's fallen?
"She hates me. I saw it in her eyes and she flinched and jumped back when I tried to comfort her. Is this really worth it?"
"I want her. You know she's a natural at what she does and we need that kind of young talent if we're going to succeed in the digital world. God knows I don't want the opposition getting their hands on her. I want her with us." Jesus he treats her like a product.
"I'm not talking about that. She was so vibrant when she moved here from Macmillan's. Now she's beaten and she needs to know she didn't fail. We fucking stole her success from her."
"It's business son. You won, she lost, end of story. She'll be fine." Fuck.
"I told you she hates me, me personally, not just Cullen Publishing. She thinks I went after her." He'd really set me up as the bad guy here.
"I'll tell her it was all my idea once she's ensconced in the office next to you. How's that?" He put his arm around me in that condescending way. "Now come up with something, son. You need to pull out all stops because I want her here within the month."
"She just said she has a new manuscript, Dad."
"Well find out who it is and sign them quickly! You'll be fine, Edward. It's what you do best." He actually nudged me in the direction of my office - sometimes he could be such a prick.
How the hell was I going to make peace with her when she thought I was that asshole she couldn't trust? It didn't matter that I had no choice in the matter, I still lied to her, telling her I wouldn't touch her clients while I was going behind her back and telling them it was too risky to choose someone so inexperienced. It didn't take much really.
Whatever friendship we started when she moved into the building was long gone now. She really despised me and I didn't blame her. We backed her into a corner so I could see why she wouldn't give me the time of day, and now my father expected her to accept his offer when we were the ones who drowned her in the first place. I was guilt ridden about the whole thing, especially since I should have fought harder against his plan to make her submit and join us, but the truth was I liked her more than I cared to admit and I wanted her close to me, even if she hated me. I'd take any tiny crumb from her in preference to never seeing her again.
Maybe I'll go down later and ask her to dinner again.
I put the fake contract in my top draw and packed up early since there were no messages or emails and I felt lonely so I rang Jake.
"What are you doing tonight? I need a few drinks and a good fuck."
"You're so romantic Bella; you just sweep me off my feet."
I started to giggle. "Are you interested or not?"
"Ah, Thursday is boys' night. We're going to the Collins Pub."
"Oh, that's right, Thursdays, I forgot, maybe another time."
"I could come round later." I could hear the smirk in his voice.
"No, don't worry. I don't want you to think I'm using you."
He laughed. "I'm not complaining! I told you, no strings attached works for me and we do have an agreement. Look I could be there by say 11:30?"
I loved his enthusiasm and even though we both knew this sexual relationship was going nowhere, I looked forward to seeing him and I smiled. "Okay, 11:30 sounds good."
I looked around my empty office and my eyes landed on the briefcase. I wonder why Edward didn't say anything. Did he realize he'd pushed me too far and now he felt guilty about the prank? Well, it is a very nice briefcase, so I decided to take it home and he could whistle if he wanted it back. It was mine.
When I got home, the first thing I did was look in the fridge for something to eat. I found some left over noodles, which still smelled good, and they went straight in the microwave in last night's bowl. This was becoming a pattern, me coming home on my own, with no plans, eating some form of take away and feeling sorry for myself. When I was at Macmillan's, we were always going out somewhere, but it seemed since I started the business, my life outside of work had stopped. At 26, I should have a boyfriend, getting serious even, and instead I used a 22 year old for sexual release without emotion, always at my apartment. What did that say about me? Who knows, but a few glasses of wine would numb me enough to forget about it for a while. The first one chased the noodles down nicely but when I poured the second I had to find something to do. Staring out at the rain was just going to make me more depressed.
Then I saw the briefcase and it interested me. What was in there that was so heavy? I flicked the latches and it made a lovely noise. Inside was something silver, like a fire blanket. When I opened it, I found a box inside. I then lifted the lid and saw it contained something like a ream and a half, maybe 700 pages! The first one had only one word 'Fire'. I took a sip of my wine and turned it over, placing it face down in the lid of the box and finding a full page of justified type and half-inch margins, paragraph breaks but no chapter title and no page number. I quickly fanned the pages and saw more of the same. No…page…numbers! Just what was this? Was this the real prank, a huge novel out of order that I had to reorganize? Was this the final test before Carlisle offered me the job he knew I was unable to refuse?
I could not help myself, I had to see what was in front of me, and so I started to read. An everyday life appeared in the words, commonplace and normal but written in detail as if the writer was looking from outside, observing but not experiencing. As I read, I felt the calm of total absorption take me over, for this was no ordinary story. I was already hooked and nothing had happened yet.
The writing began to shift, as if another author had taken over and the commonplace soon became compulsion, when withdrawals were setting in and there was a pressing need for the next fix. This was definitely written about a male planning something heinous and I worried that I was about to read the details of a rape. It was horrifying and mesmerizing at the same time, like watching a car crash.
Every page I turned, I placed carefully in the lid on the left and I found no discontinuity, every page seemed to be in order. It must have been around the 30-page mark when the drug of choice began to show itself. The work began to become sexual, deviant even, the complex rush associated with thrill and release leaping off the page. There was no way this person would be able to stop and I couldn't stop because I wanted that same release. Jake could not get here fast enough now.
It was fire, the key was in the title, this man's sexual obsession was watching and causing fires and I realized the writer either intimately knew a true pyromaniac or was one himself. No one could merely Google this stuff. Evading capture was a big part of the excitement; the dirty secret was almost orgasmic itself but he was unable to drag himself away from the flames, putting himself in extreme danger from the actual fire or the law as he savored the fire's destructive beauty while he came in his pants. His flames licked, kissed, embraced, climbed and attacked and it was pornographic.
How would you rate something like this? I'd never felt these kinds of feelings from something that wasn't human but yet I could understand it so easily. He made me understand it.
I was beginning to see a way to split the chapters. The shift back to his everyday self created a break that was interrupted by something tripping the next event. It was hard to tell how fast time was passing but the events were increasing, showing a mental state that was disintegrating as the normal was present for less time while the evil became stronger. Was it evil? I would have to read a lot more before I could make that judgment.
Shit! Suddenly he made a mistake by spilling propellant on himself when a feeling so strong pulled me out of the work. I was about to pee my pants because three hours had gone past in a blink. I ran up the hall and just made it, sitting down to the feeling of blessed relief. This hasn't happened to me since I was a teenager, when I discovered the classics and lost whole weekends to their lure.
I quickly returned to the book and I realized I hadn't taken a single sip of my wine and the pile on the left must have been 150 pages. I was powering through something I never wanted to end.
Was he burned? Was this where I'd find out he was writing about someone who was killed in a fire? I didn't get what I expected because instead of this being a bad thing, he wrote of the exquisite torture of withstanding the feeling of being burned for as long as possible. This was the pinnacle of the deviancy and I was now out of my depth. I couldn't understand how this kind of agony could make you orgasm. I'd read plenty of S&M but there was no way this could be pleasurable.
He wrote how unpredictable fire could be, how you could never be a step ahead of it because of its intelligence and playfulness. He merely tried to guide it, embracing its nature and accepting its true force. Now I couldn't tell if he was courting capture or fire or death itself but I needed to find out, I yearned to see him write it, but he'd pulled himself out of the situation at the last minute and escaped.
A new paragraph would switch him back to the normal self and a brand new day, albeit a bandaged new day. Instead of welcoming this relief, I wanted to skim until I could see the telltale signs of him changing, needing my own fix, because I knew maybe next time it would get him as there was no margin for error and he was putting himself right in the middle of the error zone.
I wanted him dead but I needed him to explain the appeal and make me understand it. I also wanted to fix him. Christ I was so invested in the character already that I knew he would stay with me for years. Where had Seth or the Cullens obtained this manuscript?
I kept reading, totally enthralled, until there was a knock on the door. It was 11:30 already! I opened the door and pulled Jake inside roughly; kissing him with a passion I hadn't felt in years. He was impressed with my eagerness and stiff within seconds and we fucked each other stupid on the couch and then on the bed. Tonight I let myself go like an animal in heat, having multiple orgasms, thinking of predators ravaging me. I didn't even kick Jake out; I fell asleep, totally spent.
The next morning I awoke just as his shower was finishing. Jake came out naked, rubbing his hair with a towel and smiled when he saw I was awake. He dropped the towel on the bed and quickly dressed while I watched his 22-year-old perfection.
"Did you take something before I came over last night, Bella?"
"I was reading porn. Did you like it?"
"Did I like it…fuck can we do that again?" He grinned.
"You bring that cock and I'll bring the porn."
"Hmmm, I like that you put that image in my head right before I go to work. It's going to be a hard day today. Literally! You ring me alright?" He picked up the towel and threw it at me, leaving without a kiss. That was fine with me. It wasn't his kisses I needed - I was going back to my book.
Well, what do you think? Please leave me a review for a quick chapter update.
Before you bash me, yes this is a Bella and Edward love story. Jake's just convenient temporarily and, hopefully, won't cause trouble between them.
It will just take Bella a little while to accept Edward as anything but the enemy.
I hope you are all reading 'Dancing in the Dark' by jaxon22 - genius.
Also did you catch 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' by pattyrose
and her outtakes for 'An Indecent Proposal'?
Really going to miss 'In Your Room' by LayAtHomeMum - seems to be winding up now.
Can't believe I only just discovered 'Sex Gods and Single Girls' by bannerday - so funny
or 'Accidentally in Love' by Missus T
or 'Missing in Action' by xxxKittyMasenxxx
If you haven't, you must read all of them.