When I get back to work two days later, I find myself lying to Mr Whitlock, gilding over the fact that I completely missed the final day of the conference. I hope my embarrassment doesn't show as I reel off stories of interesting fabrics and imaginary contacts, knowing that none of them will ever call for an appointment. To my relief his attention is diverted when his son, Jasper, comes into the showroom, his wide grin and southern charm turning Alice into jelly as she tries to write a proposal.
"Hey, darlin'." He leans over her computer, reading her words out loud and making her giggle. I roll my eyes and stare at my own monitor, trying not to let the envy that's swirling around my body rise to the surface. It's not that I'm attracted to Jasper—even if he is a good looking boy—but their easy banter and secret smiles remind me of the way Edward was with me, right up to the moment he revealed himself as a big fat liar.
I've spent the past few days just existing. I get up in the morning, stare at myself in the mirror through unemotional eyes and go through the daily ritual of shower, hair, makeup and clothes. It grounds me somehow, stopping me from hating on myself too much, for berating myself for being such an easy lay.
In the evenings I eat a sparse meal, barely enough to make me full, and pretend I'm not waiting for the phone to ring. Even though I never gave him my number, he owns the goddamned hotel and could track me down so easily if he wanted to.
He obviously doesn't want to.
I smother my misery with too much wine and too-hot baths. Even then I remember the luxury of his bathroom, and the way he looked at me through the suds and bubbles. Knowing I was the one to walk away doesn't numb the pain a single bit.
A week later the embarrassment is only starting to fade, and I feel able to breathe for the first time in what feels like forever. I find myself smiling at my reflection, making an effort to look good for the new prospective client Mr Whitlock keeps raving about.
He's certain that he's come through the contacts I made at the conference, and I'm way too trussed up in my own lies to disabuse him of this fact. It does cut though, taking credit for a client that isn't even mine.
The project is big, according to Mr Whitlock's ramblings, and he wants all four designers to attend the meeting, with each of us taking down the information so we can work as a team. I allow myself to get excited; the thought of a huge project to sink my teeth into is the ultimate cure for my one-night-stand induced blues.
I need the distraction.
When I get into the office, the atmosphere is electric, and I notice we've all made an effort with our appearance. Alice suggests that we go out to a club later, since it would be sad to put all our effort to waste, and Jessie and Eric, the other two designers, agree immediately.
Mr Whitlock meets with the client first, and I can hear loud laughter coming from his office. It reassures me this isn't going to be one of those staid, boring projects, where the client is picky and hard to please.
Heck, it might even be fun.
Now that would be very welcomed.
At 11 a.m. we are all called in, and my eyes are immediately drawn to the big screen at the end of the conference room. I stare for a moment, the view familiar, in an unwelcome, spine-tingling way. I can feel my heart begin to beat faster as I absorb the images on the screen. The room is decorated with pale furnishings, all stark lines and uncomfortable couches. My eyes linger on a chair that's so familiar it makes my cheeks burn, and I remember the way it squeaked as I moved up and down until pleasure washed over me like the inward sweep of a morning tide.
A loud cough from Mr Whitlock makes me realize I'm staring at the screen like an open-mouthed loon. I'm too scared to look across at them, because I know from the way my skin tingles, exactly who our new client is, and I can't let him see me. Immediately I'm calculating the distance to the door, and wondering if I can make it without tripping over my ludicrously high heels.
"Bella, would you like to join us?" Mr Whitlock's imperious tone leaves me in no doubt this is an order, not a request. I swallow down the nausea that's threatening to rise, and turn my body around, staring at the floor as I walk over, sitting down in the empty chair.
"I'd like to introduce you all to Edward Cullen. He owns the Z chain of hotels."
Of course he owns the chain. Who would be happy with a single hotel, when you can have one in every major city? He'd clean up at Monopoly.
"Hello." Edward's smooth voice contains a smile. My gaze flickers over, making my heart stutter. He's even better looking than I remember; his brown hair is shiny and soft, and his features are hard and chiselled. His jaw is peppered with a layer of stubble, so delicious I imagine running my tongue along it, feeling it scrape me as I licked. He's so sharp he'd probably cut me wide open.
"Bella?" Mr Whitlock's prompt reminds me I'm the only one who hasn't shaken Edward's hand. I grin secretly when I think I've shaken a damn site more of him than his hand, then chastise myself as Edward's eyes meet mine, amusement dancing in his smile.
"Mr Cullen." I reach out and give him the briefest of shakes, but when I try to let go, he curls his fingers around mine.
"Please call me Edward."
His voice is pure seduction.
It's sweet torture.
"Edward." I say it like a sulky teenager. His grin grows.
"It's a pleasure, Bella." His lips make love to my name, and my knees start to shake. He takes his jacket off, his shirt snug across his muscled chest, and he rolls his sleeves up to reveal strong, tanned arms.
We all sit in the conference room for two hours, discussing his vision for the new hotel design. He drops in words like 'bold, zingy wallpaper' and 'accented soft furnishings' his eyes sliding to mine as he speaks. My gaze keeps moving to the screen on the wall, which is now scrolling through photos of the inside of the Z's flagship hotel, and every time the penthouse flashes, up my cheeks get a little hotter. As the team start to talk budgets and deadlines, the nausea starts to bubble up inside, until I push myself to standing and run out of the door, heading for the bathroom where I start to heave.
As I lean over the toilet I try to process what has just happened. I can't understand why Edward has chosen Whitlock Interiors to bid for his project, when we are a relatively small fish in an ocean-sized pond. I try—and fail—to ignore the nagging voice telling me I was booked into his hotel under the Company's name, because it leads me to one, horrifying, electrifying and absolutely amazing conclusion.
Edward Cullen is here because of me.
The door to the bathroom opens with a creek, and I hear Alice's heels clicking as she walks across the tiled floor. She pushes the cubicle door open and tries to comfort me, stroking my hair as I bring myself under control. Her silent support is enough for me to garner enough strength to stand up.
"So that's Edward." Her face splits into a huge grin. "Wow, Bella, he's smokin'."
I roll my eyes. "That's Edward." I'd told her all about him over a bottle of wine the night I got back. When I was able to speak through the sobs.
"Mr Whitlock asked me to check on you. He wants you to come back to the meeting. He's very excited you made such a good contact at the conference." She tries to restrain her laughter, but makes a poor show of it.
"I can't go back in." I'm mortified. "The last time I saw him I flounced out of his hotel suite in a huff."
"Well you obviously made an impression on him, if he's willing to spend a fortune just to see you again." She pulls me over to the sinks and helps me clean up, reapplying some lipstick and wiping away my smudged mascara. By the time we are finished, I look half human again.
"Now listen to me; you go in there with your head held high, Bella Swan. You did nothing wrong, so just work it, okay?"
I smile at her pep talk. Squaring my shoulders, I follow her back to the meeting, ready to look the sexy, hotel owner man straight in his gorgeous, emerald-colored eyes.
I won't be intimidated.
The meeting ends soon after my reappearance, though I do my best to enter into the discussions, meeting Edward's gaze with my own, challenging riposte. He seems amused by my newfound strength, his eyes soft as he watches me speak, and I try not to melt under his speculative glances.
"Bella, could you see Mr Cullen out?" Mr Whitlock asks as the meeting ends. "Since you're the one responsible for introducing him to the company." I can feel approbation radiating from Mr Whitlock.
Of course I'd love to show Edward out. After all, how much worse could this day get?
I stand up and gesture at the door, my smile forced as I meet Edward's gaze. When he gets to his feet, he towers over me, in spite of my heels, and I try not to remember his raw, brute strength as he took me over and over again.
"This way Mr Cullen." I keep my tone light.
"Edward," he corrects.
"As you wish." My fake smile grows.
We wend our way through the main showroom, heading for the industrial steel door that opens on to the street. Edward must have come through the service door earlier; if he'd used this entrance I'm certain I would have seen him.
When we get to the exit he pauses, his hand tugging at his hair. He looks like the Edward I remember just before I left his suite; awkward and embarrassed and unable to find the right words.
"Thank you for coming, it was a pleasure to meet you." I reach out to shake his hand, trying to cling to a measure of professionalism. But it's hard when the mere touch of his skin sets off sparks in my core.
"Have lunch with me." He trips over his words, disarming me with his intensity. He's amazingly sweet when he's like this, all shy and stuttering. It's such a contrast to the hot, dominating Edward who took me to such great heights. I'm not sure which side of him I like more.
"Why?" My voice is quiet as I ask him. I really want to know.
"I have some things I want to say." He shrugs, then smiles again. I find myself agreeing with a nod of my head.
We end up in the local deli, squashed in the corner at the tiniest table you could hope to find. Edward orders a pastrami on rye, and I order a chicken on sourdough, but neither of us eat much, both picking at the bread as we try to make some sense of it all.
"I never meant to make you feel bad," he explains when the waitress leaves, lifting a can of coke to his full lips. "I saw you the moment you checked in. I wanted to get to know you."
I blush when I remember exactly how well he got to know me.
"You certainly managed that."
He clears his throat, pushing his half eaten sandwich away. "I drank a little too much. I apologize for my lack of chivalry. I tried to make up for it the next morning."
"Was there even a robbery, or was it all a lie to keep me captive?" I tilt my head and stare at him enquiringly. He has the good grace to blush.
"There was a suspected theft. It turns out the cash was placed in a safety deposit box the evening before. The gentleman concerned was rather the worse for wear and remembers nothing."
I raise my eyebrows. "That was very ... convenient."
"I admit I asked them to keep the room locked for a few hours." He chews his lip.
"You wanted an action replay?"
"No!" His protest is firm. "I wanted to talk to you. I knew you were trying to escape." There's a twitch on the corner of his mouth. "I admit it comes across as slightly stalkerish ..."
"Slightly?" My lips quirk. "It sounds psychotic, like that serial killer who killed for company." When his face falls I realize I may have taken this line of reasoning a little too far. I quickly change the subject. "So what happened to getting to know me? We spent the morning having sex." I swallow hard as I remember riding him, feeling his hardness pulse inside me.
"Bella." His voice holds a warning. I catch a glimpse of his commanding persona, the one who took over in the hotel room. It makes me tremble.
"What?" My voice is a whisper. The diner empties around us as lunch hour draws to an end. I'm not sure if I should be leaving too, or if Mr Whitlock would want me to schmooze the client.
I choose to schmooze.
"So what happened?" I ask. "How did we end up having a one night stand?"
"You happened. I couldn't keep my hands off you. You were like a drug, pulling me in until all I wanted to do was be inside you, above you, underneath you. Not that I regret any of it, but I wanted more. I wanted to get to know you. It wasn't just about sex."
The waitress brings over the check, slapping it on the table between us with a huff. We are clearly eating into her clean-up time. Edward glances up at her and her demeanor immediately changes. She simpers as she asks him if he wants anything else.
He shakes his head, inflicting her with a smile glorious enough to melt the polar ice caps. He hands her a fifty, telling her to keep the change. When we walk out into the afternoon air, her antagonistic persona has transformed into goo.
We stand outside the deli, my black, patent shoes kicking at the dusty sidewalk. I guess here is where it ends. He's given me an apology—not to mention a massively lucrative contract—and it would be churlish not to accept.
I glance up at him, shielding my eyes from the bright glare of the sun. "No hard feelings?" I offer him my hand to shake.
He curls his fingers around mine and as I try to withdraw, his grasp gets tighter. He pulls me toward him, our bodies brushing, and the familiar longing stirs between my legs.
"We're not finished here." He speaks like he has a throat full of gravel.
"We're not?" I lift an eyebrow. I'm determined not to show him how much he affects me. I will my heart to slow, my breath to start, the flush to disappear.
"I want to show you something." He tugs at my hand. As we approach the road, a black car pulls up, the driver climbing out and pulling his sunglasses off.
Edward all but pushes me into the backseat.
"Take us to the downtown Z please." His voice softens as he looks at me. "There's something I need to show Miss Swan."
I swallow hard, my mind racing with the possibilities. I'm wildly turned on and fuming with anger. It's a dangerous combination.
"You're taking me to a hotel?" I ask him archly.
"It's not like that ..." he stutters deliciously, and I want to climb on top of him. He's driving me crazy.
He's silent as the car pulls away, merging into the midtown traffic. His chiselled jaw is full of tension, his body taut and ramrod straight.
We're pulling onto the hotel forecourt when he finally addresses me, heat burning from his verdant eyes. "I want to take you up to the penthouse. It isn't a trick and I won't lock you in. I'll even wedge the door open if you like."
I bite my bottom lip as I stare at him, intrigued at his suggestion. I'm desperate to see whatever it is he wants to show me. We climb out of the stationary car and he grabs my hand, pulling me alongside him. Our heels click as we step onto the marble floor in the entrance, and I glance around, surprised at how much it resembles his other hotel.
"McDonalds in hotel form," I murmur, and he tries to suppress a grin.
"It needs a woman's touch," he replies, and I laugh out loud.
The elevator car is empty when it arrives and we step inside. The mirrors reflect numerous Edwards and Bellas back at us, and I marvel at just how handsome he is in his tailored suit.
"Can we start again?" His lips are almost touching my ear. His breath tickles my neck.
"What do you mean?"
"What's that emergency contraception you take after a one night stand?" His face screws up in thought.
I frown, confused. "We didn't need emergency contraception. I'm covered, we talked about that."
"I want to wipe the slate clean, erase all the consequences of that night. Let's begin over like it never happened."
I look up at him. His expression is earnest. I reach out and cup his chin.
"Plan B," I whisper.
The elevator pings and we exit into the penthouse. He pulls a card from his pocket and slides it in, the whirring of the lock telling us it's released. He pushes the door open and we walk into a lobby that's hauntingly familiar.
I reach for his arm and curl my fingers around his bicep, holding onto him as he pushes open the door to the suite. My heart beats in anticipation, my blood running hot as we step in unison onto the plush cream carpet.
I gasp. I literally gasp, before my lips tilt into a shit eating grin. I look around the room, my eyes wide, and I tighten my grip on his arm.
"You listened," I sigh, taking in the bold, zingy wallpaper plastered to one wall, and the comfortable sectional sofa in the corner. The windows are framed by beautiful curtains, the view of the city like a canvas behind them.
"I heard every word." He moves in front of me and rests his hands lightly on my hips. "It wasn't just about sex."
I can't tear my eyes away from his heated gaze. The air fizzes between us like a freshly opened can of soda. His actions have touched my heart, making me want to throw myself at him in the worst way.
"You did this for me?" Sentimental tears sting at my eyes. I hardly know this man yet he affects me in the worst way.
The best way.
"For us." His voice catches. "Can there be an 'us'?"
I think of our night of passion, and the sexy morning after. I remember the way his face dropped as I flounced the room. I recall the way he stared at me in our meeting, his eyes dark and dangerous, and his stance predatorial. He's the perfect mix of sexy and sweet, determined and reticent.
"It's definitely up for negotiation." I arch an eyebrow and he smiles. His head tips toward me as his mouth claims mine, his soft kiss melting into something passionate and hot.
I curl my fingers into his hair, my tongue brushing against his. My body grinds against him as he hardens against my belly. He moans into my mouth and it turns me to jelly, the ache between my legs throbbing and insistent.
I push him toward the sofa he so thoughtfully bought and smile as he twists me round, his fingers rough as he grasps my waist.
"You're forgetting who's in charge here," he chides as he pulls at my zipper, releasing my silk dress until it's a pool of fabric at my feet.
"At this rate we're going to need a Plan Z." My words are breathless as his hands dip beneath my bra. His laughter vibrates against my neck.
"Works for me. When we run out of letters we'll use numbers." He unclasps my bra and my breasts fall heavily into his hands. His thumb brush against my nipples, making them peak, the sensation shooting straight between my legs.
I fall against the sofa, the fabric soft on my back. "Fuck Plan B," I moan, as his hand pushes between my thighs.
"My thoughts precisely."
A/N - Thank you SO MUCH for reading-this wouldn't be any fun without you guys. I've loved your reviews big time.
Loads of love to Fran for beta'ing, and to Sparrow for pre-reading and making such an excellent banner.
If you want to download a PDF version of this, I've made a pretty one and will post it on my wordpress account (links on my profile).
Finally, I'll be posting a new story very soon. I'll post some teasers over the next week or so in my facebook group so feel free to join, the links are on my profile again. You'll find me there, flailing over Dior Rob photos.
Thanks again, and see you soon I hope!