Author's Note:

Okay my lovelies, this is AU. Belle is a university lecturer seeking to get her doctorate. Gold wants something from her and is prepared to pay very well to get it (no not that, you filthy-minded little scamps! That comes later). I've upped Gold's arrogance to eleven, as it's one of the things I like most about him, but he still has the same insecurities that make him act like an idiot on occasion. It starts off fairly innocuously, but there'll be murder and betrayal and even a little magic. I've followed Disney's BATB in that Belle's father isn't a florist, but an inventor. Mostly Rumbelle with a few other ships here and there.

I promised my readers in chapter 44 that I'd do a series of one-shots for this fic if it reaches 1,000 reviews. So, if you're new to this story, please feel free to send me suggestions for scenes you'd like to see.

Oh, and obviously I own nothing connected with Once Upon a Time. If I did, there would be far more Rumbelle happy-sexy times on the show, and I wouldn't have to write about them so much.

It was a fundamental aspect of his character, that when he saw something beautiful, rare and precious, he yearned to possess it.

He watched her as she ran along the platform, a laptop case in one hand, a small turquoise suitcase on wheels dragged behind her by the other. She was a pale beauty, chestnut curls bouncing past her shoulders, her slim body clad in a fitted jacket in rust-coloured velvet over dark blue skinny jeans tucked into brown leather knee boots. She moved out of his line of sight and he heard her stumble into the carriage, cursing softly under her breath as she did so. He smiled. He listened as she stowed her case and watched as she staked her claim to the seat across the carriage and facing towards him. She shrugged off her jacket and stowed it in the rack above, revealing a navy silk blouse that clung delightfully to her soft curves. She threw herself down into the seat with a sigh and pulled her laptop from its bag, along with a sheaf of papers and three thick books. He continued to eye her as she flipped open the computer, biting her lip in concentration. She tapped out a password, eyes roaming over the screen, and he turned back to his paper. There would be time enough.

Belle had turned on her computer and was waiting for it to boot up when she felt, very strongly, that she was being watched. She flicked her eyes upwards and surveyed her fellow passengers. There was a man in a suit across the carriage from her reading The Wall Street Journal, a smartly-dressed young woman playing some sort of game on her phone, two middle-aged men chatting quietly over coffee, sheaves of papers spread out between them, and a portly older man with his head back against the seat, snoring softly. None seemed to be watching her, and Belle gave a mental shrug at her own paranoia. She opened up the document she had been working on and started riffling through the papers on the table in front of her, pausing every now and then to write a sentence or make a note. The train shuddered as it set off and Belle made a grab for her books, upsetting the pile of paperwork and watching in dismay as it scattered over the floor. She muttered under her breath and slammed the laptop shut as she sought to retrieve her research. She was pre-empted by the man in the suit opposite, who had ducked to gather up the papers almost as soon as they had fallen. Belle gave him a grateful smile, stammered her thanks and held out her hands, watching him leaf through her papers with long, slender fingers as he scanned the titles.

"Ancient manuscripts in Latin and Norse runes," he spoke softly, with a slight burr in his voice. "Heavy going for so early in the morning."

"Yes, I really should have stocked up on coffee," she said with an uncertain smile. "I'm clumsy even when I've had a decent night's sleep."

He sat back down, deep brown eyes flicking over her. His hair was longer than normal, falling around his face, brown streaked with grey. She imagined his suit had been hand-made, as it appeared to fit him perfectly. He wore gold cufflinks and a large gold ring set with a pale stone on his right hand. The ring looked very old, and Belle eyed it curiously as she shuffled the papers into the correct order and took her seat.

"Not what I would be expecting to find in the possession of one so lovely," he said then, and she frowned.

"Would you be more comfortable if I were flicking through a trashy magazine and reapplying my lipstick?" she asked sweetly, and he chuckled.

"Touché," he said, amused. "That sounded less patronising in my head."

"I can't imagine how," she countered, tartly, and he sat back in his seat, eyebrows quirking with interest. He was very slender, but there was something in the way he held himself that suggested wiry strength. She could not decide if he was handsome or not. His face was thin, but there was character to it, his eyes alight with intelligence and languid mischief. She blushed under his scrutiny.

"Teacher or student?" he asked then, and she smiled a little.

"Both, actually," she admitted, and he lifted his eyes to the heavens.

"Beautiful and smart," he sighed, pressing a hand to his heart in a mock swoon. "And they say dreams don't come true."

Belle sniffed. "I don't want to completely rock your world, but I'm also a good cook," she remarked, and his grin widened slightly, a brief curl of his lips.

"So, what is it you do?" he asked, and she smiled a little self-consciously.

"I'm due to start my doctorate this fall and I also teach part-time at the university to pay the bills."

"That must eat into your study time," he observed, and she shrugged.

"We don't all have a trust fund to fall back on."

His mouth twitched. "Indeed not."

There was a moment's silence then, and she opened up her laptop again.

"Do you teach at a university here in Boston?" he asked, and she smiled ruefully.

"Nothing so grand," she chuckled. "It's the Storybrooke campus of the University of Maine. You probably never heard of it."

"Storybrooke?" He gave her a strange, slanting grin. "I am acquainted with the town."

"I was surprised to find that the town was so small when I applied there," she admitted. "The population must increase ten-fold every time the semester starts. But it's very pleasant, and not too far away from my family. It was the curriculum that won me over, and now I find I don't want to leave."

"Do you still live with your parents?" he asked, and Belle shuddered with horror at the very idea.

"No, I got my own place with Dad's help when I started university. It was supposed to be my own little sanctuary, but I've ended up having to take in roommates to make ends meet. Not that I mind that; my friend Ruby is great fun and makes a mean…" She broke off, looking up at him. "Why am I telling you all this?" The question was more for herself than for him, but a slow smile spread across his face.

"Perhaps I encourage openness and verbosity." The smile could not prevent Belle seeing the glint in his eyes, but before she became uncomfortable, he changed the subject.

"How long are you staying in New York?" he asked. Suddenly wary, she gave him an appraising look.

"What makes you think I'm staying anywhere?" she asked, and he jerked his thumb over his shoulder towards the luggage rack. Now she was uncomfortable. If he knew she had stowed luggage, he had watched her coming up the platform, and somehow she did not feel that his questions were the innocent conversation of a fellow traveller looking to pass the time. She turned back to her computer.

"I'm there for two days," she said, with an air of finality.

"And where are you staying?" My God, was he ever going to let this go?

"I'm sorry," she said sweetly. "But I don't feel comfortable divulging that information to a complete stranger."

He laughed softly. "Very sensible," he said approvingly. "So – business or pleasure?"

Belle looked up at him. "Excuse me?"

"Your trip," he said mildly. "Is it business or pleasure?"

"Why do you ask?" she demanded, blushing slightly, and he bit his lip in amusement. She picked up one of her books and hid behind it. "I'm not telling you anything more, for all I know you're a colossal pervert."

He winced, inhaling deeply as he stretched in his seat. "Ouch! Very well, then I'll just have to guess."

Despite herself, Belle lowered the book. He was sitting forward, elbows on the table and fingers laced together. His eyes roamed over her face, and she met him stare for stare, raising her chin a little. He smiled slowly, amused by her defiance. She dropped her gaze and eyed the large gold ring on his right hand again, wondering how old it was.

"I'm guessing you're there for research purposes," he said eventually. "A small hotel, probably somewhere a little bohemian like the Village. You'll spend all day at the library or wherever it is you're going, then at night you'll head down Bleecker Street to a bar – jazz or possibly blues – and have a couple of beers before heading back…alone. Tomorrow, for breakfast, you'll have Eggs Benedict, then you'll repeat the whole performance." He sat back, a smug expression on his face. Belle closed her mouth with a snap.

"How did you do that?" she asked softly, almost without realising she had spoken aloud. He smirked.

"I'm merely observant, dearie, whereas you drift along with your nose in a book and your head in the clouds."

"Knowing what I like to fortify myself with before a day of studying isn't observant unless you've seen me do it," she remarked. "So it does make me wonder if you've been stalking me."

He chuckled. "And how would I accomplish that? Have we met before?"

Sudden inspiration struck her. "Do you know my father?"

He raised an eyebrow. "And he is?"

"Maurice French." She watched for his reaction, and he inclined his head, a spark of interest flitting over his face.

"The inventor? How interesting," he purred. He steepled his hands, tapping fingertips against his lips. "I've heard of him. We've never met, however."

"Do you live in Boston?" Belle felt that it was high time she asked him some questions.

"Not anymore." His brows twitched, and he was hiding his smile with difficulty.

She waited for him to offer the information she sought, and when he remained silent she prompted him. "So? Where do you live?"

"Do you have a sudden desire to stalk me?" he asked, amused, and she pulled a face.

"Hardly." She drew out the word, almost a sneer, which seemed to amuse him even further. He was enjoying the verbal fencing. She shifted her position slightly and looked him in the eye.

"My turn," she declared. "I'm guessing you're in New York for a business meeting and you will eat dinner at some swanky restaurant and will also be going back to your hotel alone." She smirked, but the smile didn't leave his face.

"Well, as we're both going to be alone this evening, perhaps we should try to remedy that." He leant forward again, fingers sliding against one another rhythmically, sensually. "Have dinner with me."

"No thank you," she said firmly. "I'm here to work, not to socialise. Particularly with someone who creeps me out. And with that, sir, I bid you good day." She picked up her book, averting her gaze, secretly amused at her lofty dismissal. She heard his soft chuckle, but refused to look up again, her eyes on her work. He turned back to his paper, but continued to watch her when she was distracted. She had a tendency to bite her lower lip when she was concentrating, or suck the end of her pen. He watched her deep pink lips pursed around the end of her biro or with her small white teeth digging into their softness, and the brief thought flitted through his head of what she would taste like if he were to press his own lips against hers. She raised her eyes to meet his every so often, deep pools of clear blue ringed with thick lashes, and he would smile and avert his gaze as she blushed prettily.

Belle was a little unnerved by the encounter and by her reaction to his occasional glances. She nonetheless tried to concentrate on the task at hand, and by the time the train reached their destination she had managed to write several pages of what she hoped would turn out to be insightful comments on her research. Upon arrival at the station, she made sure that she exited the train well before the strange man, and kept looking over her shoulder as she walked briskly from the station and hailed a cab. He was not following. She checked into her hotel on 30th Street and threw herself down on the bed with a sigh, feeling drained. Within half an hour she had refreshed herself with a cup of coffee, and gave herself a mental shake before gathering her laptop and papers together and heading back down to the lobby.

"Miss!" called the concierge, and Belle turned with a smile. "A gentleman wanted to leave you a message."

Her heart plummeted and began thumping painfully somewhere in the region of her stomach. How the hell… "What message?" she asked, her mouth suddenly dry.

"He wanted to know if you had time to see an old man for dinner." Relieved, Belle grinned widely at the familiar voice, and turned to throw her arms around the tall, slightly plump figure behind her.

"Dad!" She hugged him tight, breathing in his familiar scent of tobacco and cologne. "What are you doing here? How did you know?"

"I spoke to Ruby and she told me where you'd be," he said, squeezing her. "Do you know your phone's going to voicemail again? Anyway, I have a meeting with George, so I thought we could spend some time together."

George Spencer was her father's patent attorney. Belle found him to be a slimy, odious man who made her flesh creep, but he was, she had to admit, very good at his job. It was because of Spencer that her father's last four inventions had actually made them some money, although at the rate he and her mother spent it, she wasn't sure it made much difference to the family finances. She grinned up at her father.

"Shall we meet here at eight?" she asked happily. "I'll set an alarm on my phone so I don't miss it – you know what I'm like."

He chuckled and tapped her nose. "Eight on the dot."

"So, how's Mum?" asked Belle, when she and her father had ordered their food. They had decided to eat at a steakhouse; Belle knew of her father's carnivorous tendencies and, after a day of studying, was fairly ravenous herself. Maurice poured her a glass of wine.

"She's in the Keys," he offered. "A short break before the end of the summer."

Belle quietly thought a break from what? She chose to eat a breadstick so she wouldn't be tempted to criticise her mother, which she supposed was a sure-fire way to get indigestion. She decided to change the subject.

"Did you get the go-ahead on your new design, Dad?" she asked enthusiastically. "Was George impressed?"

"We're still waiting on the searches," said Maurice modestly. "But it's looking promising. George said there are a number of government agencies that might be interested. He thinks it has 'international significance'." His fingers made air quotes around his words, and Belle grinned.

"One of these days you'll have to explain it to me," she said, taking a mouthful of wine. He waved a dismissive hand.

"Never mind that, how are things with you?" he asked. "Is the study here for your doctorate? I thought you didn't start until next month."

"I don't," admitted Belle. "But it never hurts to get a head start. Besides, once I get carried away with something, it's difficult to stop, you know me."

He chuckled. "And how are things in Storybrooke? How's Ruby?"

Belle grinned. Maurice had a soft spot for her roommate, mostly because Ruby baked him her Granny's special recipe chocolate-chip cookies whenever he visited.

"She's fine," she allowed. "In dire need of a decent guy – she keeps dating morons."

"How's Gary?" he asked then, and Belle frowned slightly. Her boyfriend was a bit of a touchy subject. Her mother made no secret of the fact that she thought he wasn't good enough for Belle, and although her father had never said anything (and never would unless she asked), she suspected he felt the same. Gary was a personal trainer; they had met in university, but he now worked at a local gym and coached football at weekends. Belle saw him two nights a week, three if it was a special occasion. Despite the fact that they had been dating for three years, she felt no desire to increase the amount of time they spent together and wouldn't contemplate the notion of him moving in. She enjoyed her freedom and time with her friends, and besides, they were both too young to be settling down, she told herself. She helped herself to more wine.

"He's fine," she said nonchalantly. "Busy with football tryouts. I'm seeing him Saturday."

He nodded lightly, not pressing the issue, sensing her discomfort and slight pulling-away. He grasped her hand, squeezing it tightly.

"It's good to see you, darling," he said sincerely. Belle beamed.

She enjoyed the two days she spent in New York. Throwing herself into her work during the day, she managed to locate a number of previously unknown sources for her research, as well as finding some interesting works on ancient superstitions, and she considered the trip well spent. After dining with her father on the first night and kissing him goodbye, promising to visit in a few weeks, she spent the second night at Terra Blues in the Village. It was her favourite bar, and she spent the evening listening to live music and drinking bottles of Grolsch as she swayed in time to the beat. She had scowled to herself when she recalled the strange man's assured statement as to her preferred way to spend an evening in New York, but figured that as he wasn't likely to find out she might as well enjoy herself.

Belle downed the last of her beer, debating whether to buy another. Something, a slight prickle in the back of her skull, made her turn her head, and in the corner of the room she saw him, seated at a table of dark, polished wood. He was watching her with a slight smile on his face, and she turned away hurriedly, pushing her empty beer bottle round in anxious circles, leaving a trail of moisture on the table top. She could feel him watching her, his gaze burning into her from behind, and felt inexplicably drawn to him. Her heart thumped painfully, her breathing quickening. She tried to ignore the feeling, but her insides were squirming with something she couldn't put a name to, and after a couple of minutes she slid from her stool almost without thought. When she turned, the corners of his mouth twitched upwards, his expression hungry.

Belle walked over slowly, hips swaying, her gaze locked on his, his eyes gleaming with a dark light as he watched her approach. He held out his hand slowly, palm upwards, fingers curling out towards her invitingly. Belle's lips parted in surprise as she moved closer, almost as though she was having an out-of-body experience, almost as though she was not in control of herself. She found herself unable to pull her gaze from his. His eyes were almost black in the dim light, the tiniest flecks of gold sparking within them. Mesmerised, she watched herself place her hand in his, her fingers sliding across the warm, smooth skin of his palm as he curled his fingertips around her wrist and drew her towards him.

"I want you, Miss French," he whispered, his voice low and throaty. Belle shivered, her breathing suddenly heavy. She could feel the heat from him, could smell his scent as his spare hand reached out to slide around her waist, pulling her closer so that she was standing between his legs. She felt as though she was rooted to the spot, that she was trapped there by some strange force that was making her touch him, her hand sliding up his arm to his shoulder. He bent forwards, her eyes on his lips as they reached for hers, and it was then that a high-pitched ringing started.

Belle jerked awake, momentarily confused, wondering if a fire alarm was going off. She sat up hurriedly, looking around herself. She was in her hotel room, alone. No mysterious stranger, no noise other than the alarm clock alerting her to the fact that it was seven o'clock and time to get up. Belle sighed with relief and flicked the switch to turn off the alarm. She blushed slightly as she remembered her dream; it had been a while since she had had one so vivid, not to mention so…intimate. She had certainly never dreamed about Gary that way, and she felt suddenly guilty that her first almost-sex-dream was about a man whose name she didn't even know, rather than her steady boyfriend. It was all rather distracting, and she threw off the covers, determined to get in a couple more hours of study before catching the train home.

She kept a sharp eye out on the train, but the man she had met was nowhere to be seen. Belle supposed that she ought to feel relieved. He had certainly made her feel uncomfortable at times, and she recalled the way his eyes had seemed to bore into her and rake through her memories, as though he could read minds. She had half-expected to come across him while she was there, and when she hadn't she felt something which, if he hadn't been so irritating, she might have mistaken for disappointment. She sighed as the train pulled into Boston, and pulled her case behind her as she made her way to the bus station to get home to Storybrooke.

Belle arrived back at the small house she shared with Ruby as the time was approaching eight-thirty, and dragged her case tiredly into the hallway. Her roommate stuck her head around the kitchen door with a grin, long dark hair framing a pale, beautiful face.

"Belle! You're back! How did it go?"

"Good," nodded Belle, taking off her jacket. "But tiring. Have you opened the wine?"

"Do bears crap in the woods?" asked Emma dryly. The tall, blonde woman was leaning against the wall next to Ruby, holding a glass out towards Belle. Emma Swan was a police officer, but managed to swap shifts on a regular basis with Mei-Ling, a fellow cop, so that she could make Friday's girls' night with Belle, Ruby and Snow. The latter was hovering in the kitchen, a smile on her pretty, delicate face. Snow's full name was Snowflake, courtesy of her pagan parents to their daughter born in the depths of a New England winter, and her skin was pale enough that it suited her. The petite schoolteacher pulled out a chair so Belle could sink into it with a sigh.

"Where are we so far?" asked Belle, taking a slurp of wine. Heaven.

"Somewhere between 'what animal would you be?' and 'if there's a gun to your head and you had to bang one of your colleagues, which would it be?'" said Ruby with a grin. Belle chuckled.

"This was a planned topic of conversation?" she asked, amused. Ruby folded her arms.

"Well, it's easier for you than most of us," she complained. "You've got that fine piece of ass Graham wandering around. I have to put up with Granny's short-order cook." She mimed vomiting into her glass.

"All my colleagues are female," put in Snow. She took a drink. "And trust me, I'd take the gun over any of them."

Belle chuckled.

"How was New York?" asked Emma, and she shrugged.

"I saw Dad," she said. "Got loads of work done, listened to some blues, drank a few beers, and met a really infuriating man on the train."

"Do tell," said Snow, wiggling her eyebrows. Belle frowned.

"First of all I think he started out by insulting my intelligence," she began. "Then he creeped me out by guessing what I liked to have for breakfast and how I spent my evenings. He was incredibly arrogant." She took another drink and let her head roll back as she started to relax. Emma and Ruby looked at one another.

"And?" prompted Emma. Belle looked up in surprise.

"And what?"

"You wouldn't have mentioned him if it wasn't important," said Emma, the light of an unexplained mystery in her eyes. "Do you like this guy?"

"What? No!" Belle protested. Ruby gave her a flat look, and Belle blushed.

"No, it's not like that," she insisted. "Did I mention the part where he totally creeped me out? It's just – I can't stop thinking about him. It's like I think we didn't finish our argument properly, or something." She sighed, taking another drink. "Anyway, it's not like it matters. I'm unlikely ever to see him again."

The other three shared glances, and Belle decided to steer the topic of conversation away from her.

"So, Emma," she began. "Any more news on the guy front with you?"

"She boinked August," announced Snow, and Emma glared at her as Ruby and Belle squealed.

"Details!" demanded Ruby, and Emma rolled her eyes, the look she gave Snow promising retribution later.

"We went on another date, we had fun, I jumped him." She drained her glass with an air of finality.

"No, no, no, you needn't think you're getting away with that!" scoffed Ruby. "What was he like? Does he have a nice butt? Did he want to do anything weird?"

"And more importantly," put in Belle. "Are you going to see him again?"

Emma frowned thoughtfully. "Let's see, in order of being asked…Not bad, yes, no and maybe."

Ruby gave her a disgusted look. "Dammit, Swan, getting information out of you is like pulling teeth! Are the criminals you arrest this annoying?"

"They're usually too stupid to keep their mouths shut," remarked Emma, pouring herself more wine and offering the bottle to the others. "I'm not that dumb." She grinned at Belle. "No wonder Belle's keeping quiet about this mystery man – you guys wouldn't let her forget about it otherwise."

Belle scowled, and Ruby turned back to her with a grin.

"Come on, Belle, tell us about your new love," she said sweetly, batting her eyelashes.

Belle sighed and took another swallow of wine. "You're not gonna let this go, are you?" she asked, with a hint of defeat in her voice.

"No," they chorused, and she rolled her eyes, putting her glass down determinedly.

"Okay, what do you want to know?"

"Everything!" announced Ruby, as if it were obvious. "Height, weight, build, inside leg measurement, likes, dislikes, weird fetishes…anything you can think of!"

"I don't know all that!" Belle protested, and chewed her lip. "Let's see – he wasn't that tall. Thin, very well dressed, I mean, seriously well dressed – he even wore cufflinks. On business of some sort, staying in New York. He said he'd heard of Storybrooke. We talked for a little while about what I did. He guessed that I liked blues and jazz…that's it. I don't even know his name."

Three faces looked at one another with expressions Belle couldn't quite interpret.

"There's something else," said Snow shrewdly, and Belle sighed.

"He asked me out to dinner. I said no," she added hastily, when they looked interested. "Like I said, I doubt I'll ever see him again."

"Pity," remarked Emma. "It'd be nice for you to get out of the rut you're in."

Belle frowned, but secretly agreed that her relationship with Gary, though pleasant enough, was not exactly the fireworks she had been hoping for. She was fond of him, certainly, but she wasn't sure that she loved him. After three years together, she thought this was a little sad.

A/N: There will be sex in this fic – eventually, it's a slow burn. Hope you enjoyed. I always appreciate feedback.

Coming up: Belle has to cancel a date in order to do Graham a favour, with interesting consequences