Once Upon A Desire


ONCE UPON A DESIRE
~/~
{PROLOGUE}
ONCE UPON A TIME
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful sales executive whose daddy was CEO of Swan Enterprises, making Bella the de facto princess of the realm.
Bella was promised to a handsome and decent man named Jasper Whitlock, who treated her kindly and fulfilled her needs in every single way, except one.
Meanwhile, there was an unfortunate lad of intense personality and copper hair who toiled away in the bowels of the company's IT Department, hoping one day to find a willing flesh and blood girl to share his decadent desires.
One day, during a tedious internet security review, Edward stumbles upon a discovery that changes everything.
This is their tale.


~FAIRY-TALE~
From any vantage point, I live a fairy-tale life. Loving parents who support and provide, a successful career in advertising on Madison Avenue, and a doting boyfriend who could not be more attentive.
Out to dinner, he pulls out my chair, hangs on every word, gazes lovingly. Later, in bed, he caresses me tenderly, treating me like a delicate flower. Thrusting politely, he climaxes.
"Did you come?" he whispers.
"Mmm hmm," I lie again, same as every other time he's asked.
I wait for his soft snores, then retrieve my laptop from under the bed. Opening my e-rotica account, I find release among forbidden fantasies.


^OUSTED^
Emmett ingests one-third of his burger in one bite. "Did you see the tits on our new boss, Eddie? Fuck, that woman makes my hard drive reboot."
"It's Edward, and she's not really my type," nor am I hers, I fail to add.
"Tits don't have a type, dude."
Emmett's a good guy. It's not his fault his iron man physique and puppy-dog loyalty have enthralled the evil Rosalie.
Leaving together for a drink after work, they don't invite me along. Just as well- I am expecting a phone call at 7, and this one knows better than to make me wait.


~INCOGNITO~
"Is the Secret Santa list ready for distribution?" Dad inquires, sharing a quick lunch in my office.
"Alice is working on it," I say, confident in my assistant's ability to pull off another successful holiday ball.
"We really should find her a great guy. She deserves it."
I can't answer, knowing how she looks longingly at Jasper every time he stops by my office.
Lunch is over; I return to my spreadsheets. The Google button tempts me. Never before have I succumbed at work, but my perversions intrude on my daytime hours more and more. I surrender and open the incognito browser to avoid discovery.


^ANTICIPATION^
"I'll expect the report on my desk Monday morning," Rosalie demands.
"I'll need longer if you want a thorough review." Fuck if I'm giving up my whole weekend to work on the corporate security review.
"I want thorough and Monday. Deliver it or I'll find someone else who can."
"Fine."
Grumbling, I start at the top, Charlie Swan, CEO of Boring. Fly fishing sites, Season 2 of Mad Men, Amazon.
Unproductive? Yes. Reportable? No.
Moving on…Isabella Swan. Zappo's, Open Table…boring apple from the boring tree.
WAIT, what's this? Incognito, my ass. I rub my hands in wild anticipation. Where have you been, Princess?


~FRANTIC~
Done posting my chapter, I close the browser. Retracing my steps, I check that the history file is clear and Google search doesn't auto finish "BDSM photos" when I type "B."
Satisfied my diversion is erased, I dart swiftly to the bathroom to avoid interruption. This arousal is far too intense to waste.
I slip into the last stall and frantically dig my way through layers of skirt and blouse and stockings and panties until finally my fingers make contact with slippery, needy skin. Forehead against the cold metal door, I rub myself harshly to climax.
Passing Alice's cubicle, I request, "Please e-mail me that Secret Santa list today."


^DECODING^
Grateful now for my heavy lunch, I willingly skip dinner to decode the keystrokes that unlock Isabella's covert travels.
Applying my algorithm to her hard drive, I am rocked back in my chair by the results:
^ 12:30 Google Search- BDSM Photos
The Holy Grail, the intimate yearning of the heiress to the throne, reveals itself to my greedy eyes. My heart beats wildly as entries fill my screen:
^ 12:35 bdsmgallery. com
^ 12:36 Submissive Photo Gallery
^ 12:55 e-rotica log-in screen/
She's no occasional visitor. "This is almost too easy," I think giddily, planning to retrace her every click.
^ 1:03 Publish_chapter/OnMyKnees/storyid_e638237/04/
"Oh, you dirty, dirty princess."


~DECISIONS~
Getting late. U ready? Jasper's IM pops up in the corner.
Ten minutes.
I finish my review and email the list back to Alice with my corrections. Commanding every detail is what sets me apart at my job, but also why I seek refuge in my personal life.
"Where should we eat?"
"I don't know; you pick," I suggest, hoping maybe he'll choose for once.
"What are you in the mood for?"
Someone to decide for me. "Chamberlain's?"
"Great," he smiles widely, so pleased he's drawn my answer.
"Coming to bed?" Jasper asks much later.
"Soon."
I steal away and log in, eager for the traffic and reviews.


^MANIPULATING^
Blocking my number, I dial tonight's girl. Somewhere in the 781 area code, subbie4u picks up.
"Hello?"
"No phone call tonight. Instead, I want you spread naked, laptop between your legs. Write me your darkest fantasy, 350 words exactly. No orgasm tonight."
"Yes, Sir."
"Tomorrow, if I get aroused when you read it to me, I might let you orgasm. Call at nine."
"Thank you, Sir."
That ought to keep her occupied. This one seems up to the task.
Alert! I've just intercepted a sent email from Isabella's IP address. I merrily manipulate the list and forward on to Alice.
Way too easy, but so much fun.


~SOARING~
The bar graph makes me squeal. 94 visitors, 215 hits since this afternoon!
I soberly remind myself that doesn't mean anyone's read a word, just clicked on a chapter or two. Holding my breath, I open "reviews."
32 new reviews! I try to tamp down my terror as I scroll through the feedback. The standard, albeit illiterate, entries bring a smile (at least someone's reading):
^He's so hawwtt!
^update soon :)
^im soooo horny
The last sends me soaring-
^I am on the edge of my seat! Will she or won't she? I might die if you don't update soon!


^PRIZE^
Transferring the files to a memory stick, I delete all evidence of Isabella's travels and my shadowy trail. Reporting her is the last thing I'd do. No, I have other plans for you, Princess.
I slide my prize into my pocket, tasty morsels to savor later, far from the prying eyes of Swan Enterprises.
Working efficiently into the morning hours, I plow through my review, providing sufficient evidence so nobody will doubt my diligence. I leave the finished report on Rosalie's desk as I exit.
I emerge from the lonely building into the new day's dawn. I fondle the plastic rectangle lovingly in my pocket all the way home.


~FORBIDDEN~
"Ready, Jasper?"
"One sec, Mr. Swan. I need to reset the coffee maker for Bella."
"I've told you a hundred times, call me Charlie, son."
I hear the rattle of their tackle boxes followed by the soft click of the front door.
Alone, there's no need to sneak the forbidden fruit. I open my laptop in the middle of the bed. Searching hungrily for a stern voice, I click my favorite- MasterAro. Delighted to see a new story posted, I choose Crawl To Me.
In the harsh light of day, I am overcome with shame. Though I am dripping, I deny myself release.


^SUBTLE^
Forgoing sleep for my newest sport, I insert the memory stick and brew a pot of coffee.
I seek to learn everything about Isabella. What is her kink? Which words inflame her passion? Which images arouse?
Following her path, I visit the submissive photo gallery. Her taste in provocative pictures tends toward the subtle. Wrists bound by leather, not chains. Eyes blinded by a silky scarf. A girl in stockings and stilettos, pushed to all fours by the hand of an unseen master. The tease of a feather, in place of harsh machinery.
Oh, do I love the way this girl thinks!


~CHASTE~
A chaste lunch with my wholesome friend Angela should cure me temporarily. We slide into our usual booth at Saul & Stella's.
"How's Garrett?"
"Great. He got promoted to manager!"
"What, so now he's your boss?" They'd dated since starting together at the accounting firm, but Garrett has clearly shown more promise than my sweet friend.
She giggles with embarrassed delight. "Yeah, that could be interesting at home, too! Yes, Boss. Let me serve you dinner, Boss."
So much for distracting me. Sensing my attention drifting, she gushes, "And how is your dreamboat? Do you think he'll pop the question at the ball?"


^REVELATION^
OnMyKnees posted four stories and favorited two authors. Feeling wealthier than Trump with the riches I've scored, I pull canned soup from the microwave. I couldn't possibly spare time for lunch preparation.
Riveted to my monitor, I read her oldest story first. A cautious first foray, its flowery language and third-person perspective distance her from the acts. She writes of hesitant but sure surrender to a highly regarded Dom. Her yearnings positively scream off the electronic page.
Command me!
Own me!
Deny me!
She seeks not pain, but redemption. She's been given everything, always. Her need speaks to me.


~WRITING~
Home again, I ponder Angela's words. Will Jasper propose at the ball? How will I answer this good, gentle man?
Each passing day, my need becomes greater. How much longer will words on a page suffice? Writing helps; my own characters act in my place. For now.
I type.
Happily Ever After, Chapter 5
Over Jason's shoulder, the Dark Prince approaches. He captivates me with dangerous green eyes alone; I follow his movement. Heart pounding riotously, I make an excuse to my fiancé and hastily exit, gathering my ball gown's train and shadowing his route down the deserted hallway.


^BOLDER^
Story two is bolder; kinky millionaire buys woman at charity auction. With her consent, she's blindfolded, naked, and bound to an x-cross.
Releasing her blindfold, he flips the medieval-looking hourglass on the table. "You have until the sand runs out to come. Otherwise, no orgasm."
He picks up the feather and runs it teasingly over her nipples, then down her slit. Stretched and bound, she can only come if he desires it.
Denial, her penance, she feels undeserving of release.
I am painfully hard for her fictional submissives, but even more so for the author herself. Tell me everything, Princess.


~RELINQUISHED~
Rounding the corner, I squeak as rough hands grab me tightly from behind. One closes around my waist and the other, over my mouth.
"Don't speak," he says urgently into my ear. "Did you bring the scarf?"
I nod, and he releases my mouth.
"You want this, then? Answer out loud."
"I want this," my shaky voice answers.
"Master," he says firmly. "Don't make me remind you."
"I want this, Master."
He holds his hand out and I place the scarf in it, understanding fully that I have just relinquished my easy, safe life with Prince Jason forever.
Easy for her to say, I think to myself.


^ALIGNED^
A Day in the Life, story three, tells of wifely submission on a Sunday afternoon. The shift to first-person is significant, she's in this one.
Master multi-tasks, but on-line poker and football don't satisfy.
"Izzy, come."
Dropping my book and slipping to the floor, I knee walk to his recliner and wait. Master snaps and points. I know what to do and I don't hesitate.
She's fine-tuning the psychological mastery; curt commands, hand signals, lewd acts in broad daylight, the diminutive of her own name! Her girls are safe but they desire complete dominance.
It's uncanny how her tastes align with mine.


~DISLOYAL~
Jasper will be back soon. I rush to complete my chapter with a disloyal pang.
Crossing my wrists behind me, he says, "Stay." Winding the scarf expertly, he binds them. "Down." A firm hand on my shoulder guides me to my knees. Pointing to his cock, he says, "Eyes here unless I command otherwise. That's your master now." I snap my eyes to the intimidating bulge in his tuxedo pants.
With one swift motion, my strapless gown is yanked to my waist and I am completely exposed to him, or anyone walking by. "Are you wet?"
"Yes, Master."
Positively soaking.


^BREAK^
I retreat to the shower for a well-deserved study break. I stroke my slick shaft as Isabella's imagery replays: millionaire master tickling, teasing, then denying the high society beauty her orgasm after all.
One hand pulls my balls, the other speeds its motion up, down, around. Loving wife serving naked as a foot stool for fourth quarter, then spanked for burning popcorn. Eager blowjobs, enthusiastic swallowing.
My release comes quickly and powerfully. I grab a PB&J and some milk, and return to my entertainment.
Story Four. Happily Ever After.
Milk crashes to the floor as I realize what I'm about to read.


~EXPOSURE~
"Do you want to taste me?"
"Yes, Master."
"Beg."
"Please, Master. May I suck your cock?"
He unzips, and his glorious cock falls toward my face. I hungrily take him in and swallow him down. He cups my chin and says, "Slow it down, Princess." I take my time, using my tongue to lavish him with devotion. "Better," he says. I thrill at his compliment.
No time to finish the chapter. Horny as hell, I force myself into the exposure of my bright bedroom. I strip and spread open. My Dark Prince commands, "Come for me. Now!" and I'm gone.


^REVIEW^
Shit. Fuck. Damn. I finish wiping remnants of milk off my chair and floor. Few things smell worse than spoiled milk, so I change quickly and skid back into my seat.
HEA is by far her best work. Tortured princess, engaged to Jasper-substitute, enter tantalizing Dark Prince. His seduction tactics fill me with glee, my own plan falling neatly in place. With only four chapters posted, they haven't even met in person, but the Dark Prince already has her squirming.
Isabella hasn't a clue that she's writing our story.
I create an account, write my first review, click Send.


~FISHING~
"Catch anything today?"
"No, but Charlie hooked this"
"Charlie?" The appellation reveals their new familiarity.
"Yeah," he blushes. "He snagged a 25-pound striper!"
"Jesus, you actually had fun, didn't you?"
"It was pretty great," he admits.
I kiss my sweet Jasper.
"What was that for?"
My devoted boyfriend who, while I was home writing porn and masturbating to fantasies of cheating on said boyfriend, was sitting on a fishing boat with my Dad in the middle of Lake Bumfuck Nowhere, truly enjoying himself.
"You're way too good for me, Jasper."
He laughs. "I'm going to shower. Pick a restaurant."


^SHOPPING^
Hungry for something not from a can, and eager to gather supplies, I head out into the dark streets of the big city. Defaulting to Smilers, I peruse the hot entrée choices du jour.
"Edward, good to see you!"
"Abdul, how are you, man?"
We've exhausted our conversation topics, but it's nice to know a name, I guess. I choose a half-chicken, corn, mashed potatoes, and spinach. Mom would be pleased.
Eating at the window counter, I devise my route. The paper store is most important. Packaging will set the tone. I finish, discard, recycle, and wash my greasy hands.


~RELAXING~
After dinner, he's relaxing with some book, Yankees game drifting from the TV. Desire wells up in me for my kind, easygoing prince. I stretch out on the couch, my head in his lap.
"Mmmm," he says, stroking my hair and setting his novel aside.
"No, keep reading," I plead, returning both hands to his book.
Shooting me a curious look, he resumes reading. I wiggle my head, hoping to arouse interest, he's easy. Opening his clothes, I take him in my mouth. He reaches to pleasure me back; I replace his hands on the book every time.


^TIMELINE^
I return from my successful venture outside with a pleasantly full stomach and arms overflowing with packages. I plot out my timeline. Three weeks till the ball, perfect.
I prepare each piece with utmost attention to detail, exactly the kind of care her loving Master will provide. Gleefully, I regard my gifts. Secret Santa is ready for action. Oh, Isabella, he knows you've been very, very naughty this year.
My landline rings and I push speakerphone.
"Read." She's lucky, I'm already hard.
"….you need to be punished. Count while I flog…"
"Enough!" It's all too obvious after Isabella's understated seductions.


~POUTING~
Jasper shoots into my mouth and I swallow greedily. I look up to see a much unhappier face than I was expecting.
"You know I hate it when you don't let me touch you," he pouts.
"But I just wanted to give you pleasure." Why can't you just let me?
"Yeah, that's what I wanted to do, too. I'm going to bed."
Fuck, fuck, fuckety, fuck, fuck. I know he's beyond talking, and I don't know what to say right now, anyway, that won't just make everything worse.
Miserable, I reach for online understanding. Miraculously, the most perfect review has arrived.


^SOFTENING^
"You may come now."
"Thank you, Sir," she answers breathlessly, and I hear her climax through the speaker. Then, "May I call tomorrow, Sir?"
"We're through. You need to find someone else."
"Yes, Sir," she says dejectedly.
"Goodbye," I tell her, softening, then disconnect.
Ugh, she's completely killed my boner. I briefly consider cruising the usual chat rooms for my next phone girl, but I know even before trying, it will be fruitless. Now that I have found my real-life princess, nothing else could possibly satisfy.
I can be patient, because this year, I will get Isabella Swan for Christmas.


~FEEDBACK~
[BlackVelvet] omk- First Surrender is a provocative and well-written debut. Being a specialist in initiating newbies, I salute your characters' intelligence, mutual respect, and seductive language. Your dialog poignantly reveals a level of shared trust essential to every worthwhile D/S experience. In a word,you get it. I WILL be back for another taste of your delicious imagination. ~BV
Holy shit- a specialist in initiating newbies? Heat rushes to my lady parts. Giddy with his compliments, I visit BlackVelvet's profile. No stories, what a shame. I reply, then wait on the edge of my seat for his next message.


^WRAPPING^
I dedicate the rest of Saturday to the minute details of gift wrapping. I create a logo gift card using a generic S^S. I'd prefer to tease her with my new screen initials, but I won't show that hand so soon.
Alice set the Secret Santa email to auto-post at 9 am. My gift will be on Isabella's desk by ten. She'll marvel at my speed, but she'll first wonder why she received a gift at all. She'll realize she's no longer in control of everything, even at work. And I'll observe my own personal lab rat scurrying through her maze.


~HIS~
He unties my hands and motions me to stand, supporting my elbow. In one swift movement, he reaches under my gown and slides my panties to the floor. I am sure I will leave a puddle, and he has yet to lay a finger on me.
"When I go, you may fix your dress, but leave the panties there. Go back to your Prince, but know this: I will not touch you while you're his. Understand? Look at my face this time, Princess."
"Yes, Master," I choke out.
I post. No word from him. I slip into bed next to Jasper.


^CRITIQUE^
[OnMyKnees] Your compliments thrill me. I welcome your critique. What shall I call you? omk
The audacity of her reply reveals a restless desperation. Since you asked so sweetly, Princess, I whisper my voice into your ear.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
omk- The words are yours to command; my advice comes not from a writer, but from a dom. IMO, millionaire master is too harsh in his ultimate denial. The hourglass challenge was sufficient (and brilliant btw). If she'd been mine, the first touch of the feather would have drawn her release.
I admire your courage to seek guidance. You may call me Sir. ~BV


~TRYING~
Determined to make things right, I prepare French Toast, frothy lattes and sliced fruit before Jasper wakes. I resist my urge to serve him in bed. Subservience is the problem, not the solution. He joins me at the table as an equal.
"Sleep well?" I try.
"Not really," he answers miserably.
"I'm sorry" we both say together, then laugh uncomfortably.
"The Greenbriers are playing in the park at eleven. Concert, then lunch at The Pierre?"
He brightens and nods, and the heaviness in my heart lifts. Passing my laptop, I take Jasper's hand as we leave for our excursion.


^LISTENING^
Clicking on her profile, I gleefully note she's posted Chapter 5. She's not on alert yet; she'll have to earn that reward.
Delaying my gratification, I venture into the crisp fall day. The demanding pace of my run relaxes me, stretching and waking muscles too long languishing in a desk chair. Leaves swirl gently around my feet as I enter the park. A crowd gathers at Rumsey, and I slow to see who's playing. Greenbriers. Never heard of them. I resume running, until their first song tempts me. Turning my attention to the stage, I stop and listen.


~FALL~
He's beyond beautiful, the blond waves of his hair just brushing the collar of his yummy brown leather bomber. The half-open zipper reveals a navy crewneck sweater with just a hint of white tee at the neck. He's wearing my favorite designer jeans, the ones that hug him in all the places I'd like to put my hands right now. I settle for tucking one into his back pocket.
His arm tightens around me, and he looks at me, amused. "What?"
"Just thinking how lucky I am," I reply. He rewards me with the sweetest taste of fall and Jasper.


^BLOW^
Instinctively, I survey the diverse crowd. Couples huddled together under blankets, others dancing wildly, groups of teen girls screeching for attention.
His blond hair first attracts my attention, and my eyes curiously follow to the brunette he's kissing. So perfect is this pair that they might be posing for an Abercrombie ad, if only they were barefoot.
All at once, my solar plexus takes a direct blow. I've only seen her from afar in real life, and of course countless times in print, and never dressed casually. But it's unmistakably my princess, in the loving arms and lips of Prince Charming himself.


~HELL~
"Mmmm, missed you," he mumbles into my mouth, deepening our kiss.
"Jas," I groan, "Home."
"I have a better idea," he claims, grasping my hand. Jasper with a plan is a sexy sight.
He pulls me to The Pierre and throws down his Platinum card at Reception. "King room." An eyebrow is raised, a key slides across.
We're in bed, naked, five minutes later and he's nipping his way down my stomach. Enthusiastically, he licks and laps, trying too hard to please me. I perform my usual act, and he smiles proudly at his accomplishment. I'm going straight to Hell.


^FURIOUS^
Suddenly, they're off, giddy with their impromptu adventure. I follow at a safe distance as they dip inside the hotel. Spying through glass doors, I watch Jasper slip the key into his pocket and propel them to the elevators. I turn away furiously, banging my head repeatedly against the door.
My earlier relaxation eradicated, angry tension radiates through me. Frustration joins the melee; I am unaccustomed to being at the mercy of my emotions. I run homeward, hoping vigorous pounding will take the edge off, but with every footfall, I torturously picture them in their luxurious bed. I am livid.


~HAPPY~
Jasper's heartbreakingly happy tucking into his Prosciutto Panini at Two E. I force a smile over my Mediterranean Salad. Try harder, I chide myself.
"Sorry about the concert," he says smugly.
"Oh no, you're not."
"You're right," he says, eyes twinkling merrily. "You've got a little…" He taps the corner of his smile. I dab at the incorrect corner, and he leans in to clean the errant feta crumble with his mouth.
"Aren't you the brazen one?" I marvel.
Shrugging, he says, "I feel like a million bucks right now."
Damn you, Jasper. Couldn't you have just a single flaw?


^WITHHOLDING^
Impatient for the Dark Prince's progress, I open Chapter 5. He's brilliant in their initial meeting, the princess begs to service him; he withholds his touch until she eschews her perfect prince. He'll have all of her, or none, and I remind myself it's Isabella who's written him exactly the way she needs. Of course. Why would her fantasy Dom permit less than 100% devotion?
Her desperate conflict exposed, the edge of my anger softens. Who can blame her for trying to be happy with Mr. Right?
Emulating the fictional hero, I withhold (my words) until she chooses me.


~SIR~
Jasper grimaces through the torture scenes. "I don't get the popularity of this series. Degraded women, violent sex, hideous tattoos…ugh! It does nothing for me."
My eyes slide to him over my laptop screen, fighting to speak normally despite BlackVelvet's thrilling review. "I guess some people like that stuff," I shrug.
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir:
Just typing the salutation brings a warm rush and a cold shiver.
My imagination is possibly too harsh a Master, and obviously not as skilled with the feather as you must be. I hope you'll read further; I anxiously await more of your greatly appreciated insights. omk


^HARSH^
So, the tryst has ended, and my author 'anxiously awaits'. Good. And good.
[BlackVelvet] omk- I applaud your shift to first-person POV in ADiTL, but you waste the opportunity to reveal how this 24/7 power exchange affects you. You're a resentful stool for twenty minutes. Admit you burned the popcorn purposefully to draw your Master's spanking! Does he even realize he's been manipulated?
Excuse my ire; your Dom is unforgivably irresponsible. To have the great privilege of such devoted servitude and not correct her attitude with swift, appropriate discipline is criminal.
~BV
How's that for harsh and insightful, Princess?


~CONFESS~
Holy fucking hell. Of course, he's seen right through my bratty wife, and he's called me (and my characters) out, 'swiftly and appropriately'. My mind instantly conjures a scene where BlackVelvet enters the kitchen, just as I've pulled the charred, smoky bag from the microwave.
"Make another," he says.
I do.
"Crawl to your Master with the bag in your teeth."
I'm confused. Which one? He smirks, then indicates my husband.
"Open it and hold it with both hands. Eyes down, don't move. Take pride in the humility of your service. Now, confess."
I don't trust myself to reply tonight.


^NOTICE^
Never before have I so eagerly greeted a Monday morning. Tucking SS1 inside my black leather jacket, I zip up and walk briskly to work.
"Excellent review, Edward," Rosalie begrudges. She still doesn't like me, but my thorough report reflects well on her. I settle into my daily routine, checking error codes and responding to trouble calls.
At nine exactly, the System Administrator e-mails the company-wide notice:
Your Secret Santa recipient is Mary Campbell, Accounting Department.
Identities will be revealed at the Holiday Ball on December 23rd.
Happy Holidays from Management!
I arrange Mary's poinsettia delivery for tomorrow.


~BUG~
Your Secret Santa recipient is Damon Stuart, Marketing Department.
I storm out to Alice's cubicle. "Pull up the list. Now! Something's gone wrong."
It's impossible. The list on her screen shows a blank by my name, same as every year. Upper Management doesn't do Secret Santa- it would be inappropriate.
"Alice, my email had a name. An assignment. How did that happen?" My jaw is clenched tight with outrage.
"I?…bug...?" stutters Alice, completely clueless.
"Get someone from IT up here to figure this out! I have a meeting this morning, but I want to know the full impact by noon."


^EMERGENCY^
"You're needed upstairs," says Rosalie without preamble. "Alice Brandon, Assistant to Isabella Swan. Emergency."
Hiding the interoffice mail envelope in my laptop case, I stride to the elevator. The doors open on 35, and I quiver with anticipation.
"Edward Cullen from IT," I say, holding my hand out to Alice. "What seems to be the problem?"
She stares open-mouthed but then remembers herself. "Sorry. Alice Brandon. I really hope you're good. I am in a shitload of trouble."
As she explains, I see my opportunity.
Reassuring hand on her shoulder, confident smile dazzling, "No worries."
She melts in gratitude.


~MORALE~
I struggle to focus in my meeting. It's not simply irritation about the Santa malfunction. In my haste, I've issued IT an open invitation to probe. Images of my illicit internet activity bombard me. I sip uselessly at my water.
Sliding my laptop closer, I discreetly log in to my Amazon account. What to get Damon Stuart? The gift finder recommends the latest nonfiction bestseller, a three-pound assortment of premium coffees, and a gift card to Amazon. I schedule three separate deliveries, one for each week of this exercise in employee morale-building, which ironically has all but destroyed my own.


^INNOCUOUS^
"Can I get you something while you work?"
"Water would be great."
Take your time, I muse, sneaking into Isabella's office, gift in hand. The décor is feminine but crisp, and she's tidy. Well-disciplined, I snicker. I slip the innocuous envelope to the top of her inbox. I should leave quickly, but the temptation to tarry is great. Photographs line her credenza- father/daughter fishing outings, college graduation, Isabella with Jasper at last year's ball. I've seen enough.
I'm fully engaged, sleeves rolled up, at Alice's workstation when she returns. I act desperately thirsty, chugging greedily. Her jaw drops once more.


~SCENE~
Mercifully, my meeting ends early. I encounter an odd scene outside my office. Alice faces forward, engrossed in her screen. Behind her, a uniquely beautiful creature crouches, one hand balancing proprietarily atop her chair, the other working the mouse in front of her.
"Alice?"
Both startled, their eyes shift to me. His malachite eyes suck every molecule of oxygen from me. He unfolds himself, rising to his full, impressive stature.
"Miss Swan, this is Edward. From IT."
I feel like Kevin Costner's character in No Way Out. Have I just met the very man who is to be my undoing?


^CORRUPTION^
"Thanks for coming so quickly," she nods. She doesn't extend her hand so I hold mine to my side.
"That's what we're here for."
"What did you find?" Her words are laced with anxiety.
"I was just showing Alice"I stop and smile warmly at Alice"…that the spreadsheet itself became corrupted, causing her macro to throw off several anomalies during the merge process."
Isabella does not fail to notice Alice's resulting swoon.
"What caused the corruption?" Curt, business-like, nervous.
"It happened in the file transfer between your computer and hers. If I could just have a look at your"


~MERCY~
"No!"
Shit, his eyebrows lift at my crazed interruption. Softer, I say, "I overreacted. This isn't a big deal. I don't want to waste any more of your time…Edward."
His name leaves my mouth, but I continue to feel its weight on my tongue and lips.
"I'm happy to help. Any time." He and Alice share another one of those looks and I feel irrationally, inexplicably….jealous?
"Thanks again," I extend my hand, hastening his departure.
He stretches his muscular forearm across and clasps me firmly, his eyes dancing with familiarity. I feel entirely at his mercy. "My pleasure, Miss Swan."


^PERIPHERAL^
Squatting to gather my belongings, I feel Alice's eyes on me.
"I guess your Secret Santa isn't so secret anymore," she quips.
"Nor is yours," I laugh.
"It never is," she laments.
Sincerely, I say, "I hope I got you out of the doghouse."
"You were great," she smiles gratefully.
"Does she know how lucky she is to have an assistant as technically savvy as you?" I ask.
She blushes bright pink.
"Okay, then," I say, slinging my case over one shoulder. "You know where to find me if you need me."
In my peripheral vision, Isabella glares warily.


~GIFT~
Who does he think he is, Mr. Chiseled Cheekbones and Rugged Chin and Careless Russet Hair? How dare those hypnotic eyes capture mine as if they know me intimately? He's clearly dazzled poor Alice, with his compliments and rolled up sleeves and gravelly voice.
I need to exorcise this guy from my head. Curious about the bulky envelope in my inbox, I unwind the figure-eight of red floss. An elegantly wrapped gift slides to my desk.
IMS:
An elegant hand deserves a fine instrument
.
S^S
Black wrapping gives way to an elegant fountain pen with a bright blue plume.


^THREE^
All day, I obsessively rewind and replay our first encounter. From every angle, our impromptu meeting was a warp speed upgrade to my humble plans.
Isabella senses I'm dangerous; that alone would be enough to entice her. But there's more. She's drawn to me physically. She can't help her response any more than I can help mine.
I'll have to be careful with Alice. I'm not who she needs. But I hope to free up someone who is.
I'm closing in on all fronts now: BlackVelvet, Secret Santa, and Edward Cullenin the flesh. That's three against one, Prince Charming.


~DENIED~
I close the lid with a sharp gasp. It's Millionaire Master's blue feather. Terror grips me. Does my Santa know what I've written? Who I am?
Not possible. Breathe, Bella. I work diligently until 5:30, but the feather beckons.
Opening the box again, I shake my head at myself. Paranoid much? This is simply an elegant pen from a very thoughtful gifter. I place it on my desk in its granite stand.
This IT guy has really set me on edge. I Google … Cullin was it? Ah, Cullen. Nothing interesting. Hmm, what about his personnel records?
Damn. Access denied.


^GOOGLED^
*Security alert* Attempt made from 41.03.134.06 to access restricted personnel file of Edward A Cullen
My head whips around to my screen as I realize what's happened. Isabella's just attempted to illegally access the confidential file of the one person in the company whose job is monitoring exactly such activity. Poorly played, Princess.
Curious, I run my algorithm through her browser. Fuck, she Googled me! All of a sudden, I'm not sure if I'm the cat or the mouse in this dangerous game we're playing. Ever protective of her, I delete the unauthorized activity from the server before heading home.


~SOLACE~
Jasper's working late, pulling together a presentation. I'm still feeling knocked off kilter by the enigmatic Edward Cullen. I pour a glass of Chardonnay and reach for solace through my keyboard.
[OnMyKnees] Sir: Your observations were astute. I do admit to (my character) feeling resentful (aka bratty) at being ignored, and disappointed in Master for not addressing the true transgression. I hope my fourth Dom is more deserving of your respect. I would be so honored if you would read and review HEA despite my previous shortcomings. omk
It scares me how much I need BlackVelvet to answer me tonight.


^VULNERABLE^
Despite serious mixed feelings about Isabella's investigations, I see she's vulnerable, and she's tapped out a desperate SOS to me, rather BlackVelvet. I won't deny her.
*PM*[BlackVelvet]:
omk-I fear you've misunderstood my criticism; it was your Dom, not your writing, that disappointed. I've seen exactly such sloppy behavior ruin many fine subs. You struck a nerve. But isn't that the power of good writing, too? I guess I'm asking you to take my critique as a compliment.
I look forward to reading your latest story, and I will be back in touch soon.
~BV
Hopefully, that will bring relief.


~CORRESPONDENCE~
[BlackVelvet] omk-HEA's story line intrigues and delights. Chapter 1 speaks poignantly to the nagging dissatisfaction of the Princess's vanilla life. It's painful to read the true extent of her/ (May I say your?) conflict. ~BV
[OnMyKnees] Sir: Your words warm me. Yes, I will fully own the Princess's feelings, but only inside the safety of my correspondence with you. omk
[BlackVelvet] omk- Ah, the dastardly Dark Prince makes himself known to the reader in Chapter 2. I DO like this one. Quite a bit, in fact! ~BV
[OnMyKnees] Sir: And that makes two of us! omk


^ROOTING^
As the night wears on, I anticipate her replies as eagerly as she does mine. She's playful and honest, yet respectful and deferential. I challenge her gently, with the sole purpose of drawing her out, compelling her to own her desires. By the time I review Chapter 5, I feel an intimacy with her that I've not enjoyed before with any woman.
[BlackVelvet] omk- Powerfully erotic first encounter! Heartrending how you've withheld from each what is needed most- his touch, her commitment. I'm rooting for the Dark Prince to get his HEA! ~BV
I'm actually nervous for her answer.


~HELP~
I don't have an answer for him. I want what he wants, but the Princess is befuddled, conflicted, and agitated. We've made so much progress tonight, I hesitate to disappoint him.
[OnMyKnees] Sir: Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but you deserve my honesty. The Princess is confused. I'm not even sure I recognize what her HEA would look like. Some author I am! omk
Send message. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
omk- Would the Princess like my help sorting it out? ~BV
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: I think she might. omk
*PM*BlackVelvet:
And you?
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: I know I would.


^CONFUSING^
*PM*BlackVelvet:
omk- It's agreed, then. We'll all do it together- you, me, the Dark Prince, and the Princess! It's late. Start tomorrow night? ~BV
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: I look forward to it. omk
Suhh-weeet! Isabella and I are co-authoring our own romance! I gleefully add the Dark Prince to my list of alter-egos. All four of me sleep soundly.
Work flies by. Isabella is sufficiently distracted by BlackVelvet that she doesn't worry about Edward Cullen. Am I jealous of myself? How confusing!
I receive a Starbuck's gift card from Secret Santa. My Santa? Rosalie. The secret? I reassigned her to me.


~DISTRACTED~
I try to be attentive during Jasper's presentation, but holiday sales projections could not hold a candle to the promise of BlackVelvet's words.
Later, Dad notices I'm distracted. "Bella? The florist?"
"Sorry, Dad. That's all set."
"Have you seen this?" He places the bulky report on my desk as he rises to leave. His name at the bottom right raises my hackles. Edward A Cullen.
"No, why? Is there something…interesting in there?" My palms are sweaty.
He smiles knowingly. "The usual. You okay, Bells?"
I nod and close my door after him. Opening the report, I turn frantically to S.


^DIRECT^
Thankfully, Isabella stayed off the internet today so I don't have any last-minute cleaning tonight. I decide to treat myself to a real meal and pick up a nice steak, a baking potato, and a head of Romaine.
Back home, I set up the laptop at the kitchen counter so I'll know exactly when she messages. My steak is sizzling, my potato is baking and my Caesar is tossed when I hear the first alert.
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: Is this a good time? omk
*PM*BlackVelvet:
omk- Yes, thanks. I notice your Princess is engaged. Are you attached as well? ~BV


~ATTACHED~
"Isabella Swan, no activity."
Strange entry. Why not list Zappo's, Amazon, CNN? What is he playing at?
HOLY SHIT. He knows everything and he's planning to blackmail me! Tucking the report in my desk, I pack up and head home. It's Jasper's Hold 'Em night so I'm all alone with my laptop, and I've logged on seconds after arriving.
Am I attached? Isn't that the 64-Million-Dollar-Question?
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: Not engaged, but there is a…Jason. omk
Wait. Shit.
Wait. Shit.
Wait. Shit. Is he mad?
*PM*BlackVelvet:
omk: How well does he know you? ~BV
Snort. Not half as well as you.


^BINGO^
The blinking cursor mocks me as I wait for her answer.
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: As well as he can know me without knowing any of this. omk
Fuck it, I have to know.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
omk- Is "any of this" a possibility with him? ~BV
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: No way. omk
I release the breath I'd been holding.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
omk- Okay then. Let's talk. ~BV
And we did. All night. And it was awesome.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
omk- I guess it comes down to this. What happens if the Princess chooses Jason? ~BV
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: It feels like she's giving up too much. omk
BINGO!


~BIGGIE~
I cannot believe I just wrote that, or even thought it. I've never admitted that before. His answer was swift.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
omk- You all right? That's kind of a biggie right there. ~BV
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: The hugest. I should go. omk
*PM*BlackVelvet:
omk- I'm here when you're ready. ~BV
My revelation crushes me. Deep down, I know Jasper isn't my HEA Prince. But is there a real live man who could ever measure up? A flesh and blood man who could be my loving partner in life while fulfilling my profound need to be dominated?
"Hi, honey. I'm home!" Jasper.


^PLAYING^
"Isabella Swan needs you," Rosalie greets me, the second I walk in. "Another emergency."
Fuck me. I palm my special memory stick. Straightening my tie and rebuttoning my cuffs, I arrive at her office. Alice shrugs. This isn't Santa-related.
"Step inside and close the door, please." I see my report on her desk. She fights to appear in control, but she's clearly spooked. "What are you playing at, Edward Cullen?"
"Excuse me?" I am truly caught off guard. There's literally nothing in that report about her.
Despite my panic, the feather pen perched on her desk makes me insanely pleased.


~OMISSION~
"You prepared this report, did you not?"
"I did. Is there something in there that's upsetting you?" he asks, intense green eyes probing.
"More like what's not in here," I say cautiously.
"Ah." Understanding dawns, and I see a glimpse of the man who dazzled me so thoroughly yesterday. "Miss Swan, I take my responsibility very seriously, and this review can reveal corporate security risks. But I'm not out to embarrass top executives by reporting their virtual shopping trips or other…harmless escapades." I swear his eyebrow rise.
"So you just omit data at will?"
"If it's deemed harmless, yes."


^DISMISSAL^
I don't like her uneasiness with me. I gamble. I set my memory stick onto her desk and slide it across.
"Miss Swan, I promise you, I'm not your enemy. Everything I found is on there. Keep it."
She laughs mirthlessly. "How do I know there's not another copy?"
"Doesn't matter. I just handed you my own pink slip. I neglected to report your browser activity, then I willfully wiped the server clean. That's grounds for dismissal."
Shocked, she looks up, steely eyes softening.
Wanting her trust, I add, "That's a pretty stupid tactic for a blackmailer, wouldn't you agree?"


~MISJUDGED~
Pocketing the memory stick, I feel more confused than ever about this beautiful man. I see now that he's been protecting me, not making nefarious plans. Furthermore, he's just entrusted his future with Swan Enterprises in my hands, and the only discernable reason is to prove he's honorable.
I can't begin to understand why he's gone out on this limb, but I'm extraordinarily grateful.
"Edward, I apologize. It seems I've misjudged you terribly."
His face relaxes into a winning, and dare I say, sexy smile. I stand, extending my hand, and he grasps it firmly. "No hard feelings, I hope?"


^CAUTION^
"Not at all," I say, still gripping her hand. "But remember, I'm not the only person in IT. You should curtail your internet use at work."
Her brown eyes widen, searching mine for clues. She'll know for certain tonight when she plugs in the stick. Then what?
Isabella does not so much as send an email for the rest of the work day. Her caution pleases me. Now that we message directly through e-rotica, I don't want her taking risks at work. I trudge home and hope BlackVelvet will be summoned tonight.
No communication from OMK. Nor Wednesday, nor Thursday.


~MORTIFICATION~
Dinner out? Jasper IM's at 5:45.
Too tired. Walk me home now?
We make quesadillas and catch up. No drama with Jasper. He settles in to read. I hold my breath and insert the memory stick. I need to know.
Shame. Humiliation. Complete, utter mortification. Incognito betrayed me! Edward's known everything for days!
I swiftly delete my stories and favorites. As if by deleting them, the dirty thoughts were never mine.
Unfortunately, I can't erase Edward's memory. I ponder deleting him from my workplace. He hasn't done one thing to hurt me. But how can I ever face him again?


^IMPATIENT^
There's bad news and good news. I haven't heard boo from Isabella, but I'm still gainfully employed Friday at five. BlackVelvet has grown impatient, though, and I break my self-imposed silence.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
omk- Where are your stories? ~BV
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: I was discovered at work. omk
*PM*BlackVelvet:
What happened?
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: IT guy nosing around.
Ouch.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
So he told everyone?
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: He told no one.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
I wonder why not.
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: I think he might actually be a good guy.
How tempting it is to type- He's good and bad and exactly what you need.
Patience, BlackVelvet.


~TIMER~
Pleased to have reconnected with BlackVelvet, I push Edward Cullen from my thoughts. Jasper and I dine at my parents' Sunday night. They so love this boy for me.
Monday brings another gift.
IMS:
There's never enough time to play.
S^S
Torn paper reveals Boggle. I flip the box around, amused. Contents: 16 letter cubes, base, timer.
GASP.
The timer is puny compared to Millionaire Master's. Flipping the hourglass between my fingers, I am haunted by his message.
Alice knocks.
"Hey, is this a weird gift?"
"Why? You love word games."
"Yeah."
"I'm going to lunch."
"Okay," I answer absently.


^LUNCH^
I can't believe Alice called and invited me to lunch. I am tempted to ask if Isabella knows. We meet in the lobby and walk two blocks to Clark's. Alice is sweet, bubbly, and smart, but there's no spark. I already know who I want.
After, I ride up to Alice's floor and walk her back to her cubicle.
"Thanks, Edward. I had a really nice time," she gushes.
I hear a gasp and turn to see Isabella standing in her doorway. My eyes drop to the timer she's absent-mindedly flipping, over and over.
"Edward, can I see you please?"


~SECRETS~
What is he doing with Alice? What has he told her? Are they mocking me?
"Miss Swan?" I close the door around his large form and lean against my desk.
Forcing my eyes to his, "You know about me."
He nods once and uncrosses his arms.
"Have you told anyone?"
"No, and I don't plan to."
I exhale loudly. "Alice?"
"Never!"
Tears burn my eyes.
He takes a step towards me, palms up. "I told you, I'm not out to hurt you."
"It's just so humiliating."
He braces my elbow with one hand. "Everyone has secrets."
"Tell me yours, then."


^STRANGER^
"No."
Not yet.
"I already traded you something," I remind her.
"That's supposed to even things out?"
I cup both elbows now and find her eyes. "Tell me, is it so terrible that I know? The sun rose this morning, the building's still standing…"
"But you're a stranger, and you know me better than" She looks away.
"Maybe I don't have to stay a stranger. Maybe it would be nice to have someone to talk to once in a while who knows this about you."
I burn to pull her closer but that would be inappropriate on so many levels.


~FRIENDS~
"So, what? We go out to lunch and I tell you how I'd like to crawl around for men?"
He quirks an eyebrow. "Well, sure, that could be fun. Or I could beat you at Boggle." He's eyed the game.
Who is this guy? I wonder again. He's not repulsed, he's not condescending, he's just accepting. It's so liberating!
The first tear slips out. He tentatively smoothes his thumb over my cheek. "Hey, I'll let you win, if it means that much," he laughs lightly.
I think I have a new friend. A super hot, sweet, protective, smart, open-minded friend.


^BOGGLED^
"Here's my cell number. It's safe. Nothing else is. Understand?"
She nods and tentatively takes my number.
At my desk, Rosalie pounces, "What did she want?"
I shrug, "She was boggled by her Outlook account."
EAC-Boggle & lunch tomorrow. My place, noon. Pls?-IMS
IMS-Do you like turkey?-EAC
My Secret Santa has left a gift. I greet the new memory stick enthusiastically, knowing Rosalie is watching.
BV doesn't hear from omk tonight, but EAC is okay with that.
Tuesday at noon, I appear with two turkey sandwiches, chips and Snapples. We sit at the small round table in her office suite.


~READY~
"Thanks for bringing lunch."
"Thanks for inviting me."
"So, should we…" I indicate the Boggle box.
"Sure," he says agreeably. I grab paper and two Bic pens.
I shake the tiles and set them down. Pulling the 3-minute timer from the box, I shiver recalling Millionaire Master. Edward must remember the hourglass scene.
"I'll handle that," he says, palm up. Just like that, he takes charge.
His beautiful eyes flash to mine one intense instant before long delicate fingers brush against mine, capturing the timer.
"Ready?" he grins.
For what? This game? Your fingers? You to be in control?
"Yes."


^TIED^
"GO!" I say, flipping the timer and holding it possessively between two of my fingers as the sand begins to funnel downward.
She's watching the sand and I'm watching her face and nobody's writing down words. She's thinking of her millionaire and his feather. She knows I'm staring at her, and she knows I know what she's thinking. Time ticks away, sand drains out.
"Time," I call superfluously.
Her eyes shift to her empty paper, embarrassed. "I didn't do so well that round."
"Looks like we're tied then," I say, causing her to look up.
Finally, she smiles at me.


~STUFF~
"How about we give it another try?" I ask. He nods and flips the timer. We both begin scratching words down the page until he calls 'time' again. We call out our words and count up our scores and we're almost normal people playing a regular game. After three rounds, we're done and hungry.
"So," I say between bites, "tell me the other juicy stuff you left out of your report."
He chuckles. "Not mentioning any names, you've got your garden variety porn, a few serious shopping addictions, fanfiction, celebrity stalking-"
"Oh? Who?"
He rolls his eyes, "Robert Pattinson, mostly."


^ISABELLA^
"He's dreamy," she tortures me. "You know, you kind of…never mind. So, what would one find in your internet history, Edward Cullen?"
"Absolutely nothing at work," I say sternly.
"Okay, I get it. And home?"
Not so fast, Princess. "I'm sorry; I just don't know you well enough yet."
"Oh!" she exclaims. "So you do have a guilty pleasure?"
"Yes, Miss Swan."
"Bella."
"Actually, I'd prefer Isabella, if that's okay."
"Nobody calls me that."
"Even better," I say.
She regards me curiously. "Why Isabella?"
"That's how your name appears in the system, so that's who you've always been to me."


~SQUIRMING~
Edward stands, gathering his trash and mine. "Back to the grind."
"This was fun. We should do it again."
"You have my cell," he reminds and cautions me.
"Yes, sir," I salute. I mean it to come out teasingly, like 'yes, Mom' but the word is simply too charged to not detonate between us.
He stops dead in his tracks. He locks those intense eyes right on mine and holds me, squirming, in his thrall. Then he smiles at me, the exact smile my Dark Prince smiles when he knows the Princess is following him down that long, dark hallway.


^VISIT^
It's not my fault she called me 'Sir' but I suffer the consequences. She cuts off Edward and BlackVelvet for two whole days. Finally, Friday, a text invitation arrives.
E- Lunch today? My treat. –I
I- Sure. Where & when? –E
E- Your desk @ 1. –I
I'm neat but my workspace can use some sprucing. Rosalie will have a cow if she gets wind of our…date? Luckily she and Emmett are still out when Isabella visits my cubicle.
"So this is where it all happens," she teases.
"Yes, would you like a tour?"
"Nope. Let's blow this popsicle stand."


~BEREFT~
How am I riding in the elevator, walking out the building, getting a booth for two at Mad Max's with him? How am I not telling Jasper, if this is all so innocent?
Why am I staring at his bare forearms as he cuts his fried chicken, wondering how the rest of his muscles ripple under today's blue button-down?
Why have I not slept three nights in a row, thinking how thrilled and predatory he looked when I called him "Sir"?
Why do I feel bereft when the elevator opens on his floor and we part ways for the weekend?


^DON'T^
Lunch is a painful exercise in gentlemanly restraint.
I remove her jacket, but don't tuck in her blouse's exposed tag. I glide in against the window, but don't breach the equator bisecting our table. I envy the spaghetti strand wriggling into her mouth, but don't capture the disappearing end with my lips. I roll my sleeves to attack my fried chicken with cutlery, but don't tear the meat off the bones with my teeth, don't savor the taste of the marrow or the crunch of the crusty crumbs.
I don't brush my rock-hard cock against her Prada-clad ass in the elevator.


~FIGURES~
"Slave driver keeping you late again?" I overhear.
"Oh, uh, no…it's the ball. Flowers…band…food." Poor Alice. Jasper has her totally tongue-tied. I walk out to rescue her from further embarrassment, coat slung over my arm.
"Alice, you should go. Rest up. Next week is going to be a bear," I warn.
"Have a good weekend," she offers, scurrying away.
Jas automatically takes my coat and holds it open chivalrously. "I was thinking we could go to Mad Max's for dinner tonight," he suggests proudly.
"Great," I respond.
Figures, the one time he chooses, it would be that place.


^HUNGER^
I pour myself a hasty bowl of Raisin Bran and tip a splash of milk into the bowl waiting on my kitchen counter. Grateful for my forethought in preserving her deleted work, I insert my Isabella memory stick and tuck into my cereal while her unfinished story pops onto the screen.
As my snack squelches my immediate physical craving, HEA unearths a lustier hunger. My lunchtime boner re-emerges greedily and I'm ready before the Dark Prince can say, "Beg."
Pants and boxers at my ankles on the tile floor, I imagine Isabella on her knees.
One more week. Patience, Edward.


~RAVENOUS~
"Good evening. Booth for two, please." Jasper's charm and splendor momentarily distract the hostess. But her judgmental eyebrow indicts me. "This way," she snipes, spitefully leading us to the crime scene.
I slide into "Edward's" seat, immersing myself in his lingering presence. Attacking my fried chicken with a vengeance, I consume every available morsel of meat.
Jasper marvels in amusement from the safety of his meatloaf and vanilla shake. "Somebody's ravenous tonight."
Ravenous, indeed. I burst into the ladies' room.
Still hungry, Isabella? *nod*
Remove your stockings and spread your legs. *whimper*
Make yourself come for me. NOW, Isabella. *groan*


^FEELINGS^
I wake Saturday morning with the delightful realization that if all goes as planned, there will be a warm body in bed with me this time next week. My satisfaction will no longer depend on my imagination and my own left hand.
Reflecting back on how this whole obsession began, with my accidental discovery of Isabella's fantasies, I realize that I no longer regard her as the mouse to my cat, or the marionette to my puppeteer. I have grown genuine feelings; I truly care about her.
Indeed, I am as ensnared as she in this dark dance of desire.


~HARMLESS~
"We'll make a day of it at Bloomingdale's."
"Nah Jas, you'd be bored silly. Final fitting, then shoes, makeup"
"Okay, I get it," he chuckles. "You don't want me."
My gut twists, but I don't dispute the accusation, aloud or otherwise.
Edward snippets engulf me once I'm outside. Devilish eyes delight in making me writhe. Wicked fingers surreptitiously graze along neck and shoulders as a coat is innocently removed. A "harmless" body stands available on a moment's notice.
Catching sight of myself in a window display, I startle at the wild eyes of a junkie desperate for her next score.


^SURREALITY^
The boundaries grow murkier until all can be revealed. Edward Cullen's role is trusted friend, but Isabella's triggered my Inner Dom. I renew my resolve to be her safe harbor of hidden secrets, her innocuous, platonic co-worker.
Emmett's invited me out Saturday night with his friends, and I appreciate the distraction. I laugh when he admits to liking Rosalie, but also being scared of her. I'm home and in bed by midnight.
Sunday afternoon, omk messages me.
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: How do I know if I can trust the Dark Prince? omk
Surreality: omk's asking BlackVelvet if Isabella can trust Edward.


~RESPECT~
*PM*BlackVelvet:
omk- You seem to be an excellent judge of character. Please clarify, you are asking about real life, right? ~BV
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: Very real. Guy at work. A mistake could have huge consequences.
Edward has already risked his job at Swan. But if things go south between us, he could expose me. I'd lose everything, including my family.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
Most importantly, can you trust that he will respect both your physical and emotional well-being, even above his own desires? Are your darkest secrets safe with him?
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: So far, he seems to be keeping my secrets to himself.


^RESPONSIBILITY^
Isabella is beginning to trust Edward, but BlackVelvet has a responsibility as omk's voice of experience. Fact is, with preferences tending toward the subtle, I've worked with a few submissives in person, but I'm relatively unknown among dungeon masters. Still, Isabella should ask questions.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
Obviously, there's only so much you can know until you give this a chance. Favorable references from prior submissives are helpful, but every couple's chemistry is different. Can you get a feel for his experience level?
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: Honestly, I don't even have proof that this is his scene. It's just that he reads so…predatory.


~PREDATORY~
*PM*BlackVelvet:
'Predatory' as in Dateline? *alarmed*
I love it when BlackVelvet's sense of humor seeps out.
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: 'Predatory' as in he's either picked up the mannerisms of my written characters with freaky accuracy, or they just happen to be his natural state.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
Sounds like you're already ensnared. Stay cautious, omk. Observe carefully. Ask questions: Any disgruntled ex-girlfriends roaming the halls? Is he harboring any deep, dark secrets of his own?
Ensnared? Try clamped between iron jaws! I wouldn't know what happens down in IT, but I've never seen or heard anything to raise suspicion. As for his secrets…


^WARRING^
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: He hasn't exactly been forthcoming about his secret desires.
I want to beat the crap out of BV. My warring personalities are beginning to threaten my sanity. I helpfully remind BlackVelvet that if Edward doesn't get the girl, neither does he. BV kindly throws me a bone.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
It's critical for trust to flow both directions. When he fully reveals himself, you'll know you have his trust.
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: I hadn't considered his vulnerability, beyond job security. It feels like he holds all the power.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
Sweet omk, the dominant has nothing at all without the submissive's acquiescence.


~CINDERELLA~
OnMyKnees sneers at me, as if to say, "What do you think I've been writing about all this time?"
I snark back, "Writing it and living it are two different universes."
OnMyKnees: "Think about it, Princess. Who's been doing all the summoning and who's acting the part of loyal subject?"
Isabella: "So, Edward's toiling away in the basement while I live the high life on the 35th floor?"
OnMyKnees claps gleefully: "By Jove, I think she's got it! Just in time for the Royal Ball!"
Isabella: "We're acting out some twisted real-life version of Cinderella?"
OnMyKnees: "If the shoe fits…"


^PARADOX^
The cursor blinks maddeningly. What's going on inside that head of hers?
*PM*BlackVelvet:
Still there?
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: Sorry. Digesting your words. You just flipped my whole concept on its head!
*PM*BlackVelvet:
OnMyKnees understands this. What's the Dark Prince waiting for in HEA?
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: It's clear now. The Princess has to fully commit herself to him.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
Exactly. And he's only in command until she decides otherwise.
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: What a delicious paradox!
Perhaps understanding the balance of control in this new light can give Isabella the courage to step forward and make her choice.
*PM*BlackVelvet:
Are you ready, omk?


~REAL~
Ready? I flash back on Edward's knowing smirk as he took the Boggle timer from my fingers and challenged me with the same inquiry. Truth be told, I've been asking myself the same question for weeks now.
I know I've been stuck. And Jasper's certainly not the one to extract me from this quicksand. BlackVelvet's not exactly real, but Edward Cullen sure as hell is.
Sinewy, capable muscles and treacherous, glinty eyes and taunting, sweet lips and unapologetic, messy hair and uncompromising, nonjudgmental loyalty and warm-blooded, sex-oozing, confident man real.
Deep breath, Isabella.
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: Ready as I'll ever be!


^CRESTFALLEN^
*PM*BlackVelvet:
Attagirl, omk! I must admit, I'm crestfallen not to have a chance at you myself.
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Sir: I'll confess the same. Who knows, if this guy disappoints…?
*PM*BlackVelvet:
Please believe me when I say this- I truly hope he doesn't. You deserve your HEA. ~BV
*PM*OnMyKnees:
Thanks for everything, Sir!
BlackVelvet signs off, understanding full well he's just been effectively dumped for Edward Cullen. BV's momentary setback is eclipsed by EC's enormous gain.
Monday morning, I see to my final Secret Santa gift for Mary, $25 in scratch tickets. I hope she'll get lucky. I hope we all will!


~ROUTINE~
My Secret Santa likes routine. Exactly at 10, the mail clerk drops off a flat box, wrapped in his trademark paper.
IMS:
So many ways to tie this; hope you find one that's pleasing.
S^S
Nestled in tissue is a silky jade scarf that slinks luxuriously through my fingers. Did you bring the scarf? …tie this…pleasing… I shudder. Still coincidence? I'll know in 4 days.
Whatever else, my Secret Santa is incredibly generous, and I feel a twinge of guilt at shortchanging Damon. I hop on Amazon, there's still time. My cell phone beeps.
I- Thought we discussed this! -E


^VELVET^
E- Relax, just a quick errand! –I
Fine, but stay out of trouble!
Take heed, Princess. Edward Cullen is watching.
Remember me? The predatory, secretive, real life guy you're ready for?
I'm dying to know how the scarf and gift message were received, but I have a lunch "meeting", so I can't poke around right now.
Riley and I were inseparable until his parents sent him away in 8th grade, hoping to Prep School out the gay. He's still a close friend, and my most trusted sartorial advisor.
"You've really gotta wear a black velvet bowtie?" he clucks disapprovingly.


~JEALOUS~
Jasper joins me for lunch in my office. "What's this?"
"My Secret Santa gave me Boggle. Wanna play?"
"I have to pick up my tux, but I could squeeze in one round."
I grab my new feather pen.
"Crazy pen."
"Secret Santa."
He tips the timer. I have zero physical response.
He spies the gift on his way out. "Beautiful scarf. Don't tell me"
I shrug apologetically.
"Jesus, I'm actually feeling jealous of this guy!"
I don't mention the temptation downstairs whose sly grin forces me awake at night and whose penetrating eyes set me quivering with a single glance.


^FAIRY^
I tell Riley all the sordid details. We know each other's proclivities. Annoyance clouds his face.
"So, what? I'm your fairy fucking godmother?"
"Don't pout, Rile. Come on, I'll let you in the dressing room!" I lift and lower my eyebrows.
"You're such a tease, Cullen. I'll wait here, thanks."
I model for him, shaking my ass as I turn. He swats me playfully. Tightening my tie, he says, "Fuck, Edward, she is one lucky Princess."
"All set, Mr. Whitlock."
My head whips around to a staring Jasper. He flashes an I'm-okay-with-your-gayness smile.
"My competition," I clarify.
"Bippidi-boppidi-boo!" Riley chants.


~AFTER-HOURS~
I follow Jasper into the walk-in closet, where he carefully hangs his tux and arranges his accessories for Friday. I pass my new green scarf along the row of blouses, seeking the perfect match. Going for festive, I pull a red blouse from the rod and drape the scarf experimentally.
It screams Christmas and makes me hunger for Italian. Before I can edit them, my thoughts turn to Edward and I'm reaching for my cell to send my first after-hours text.
E- Pizza Pete's, tomorrow at noon? –I
I- Sure.
I studiously ignore the accusatory glares from my boyfriend's clothing.


^RISK^
Isabella's text takes me by surprise as I hang my black tux and prepare my vest and studs. The very idea that she's messaging from her domicile to mine sends a chill down my spine. I'm not just an at-work obsession anymore. Edward Cullen is spilling over into her home life.
I answer her invitation immediately. Yes, Princess, I am here for you, 24/7.
Pete's is casual; our tryst will be anything but. It's a test.
She knows a mistake with Edward will have huge consequences for all involved. Tomorrow at lunch, she must conclude that I'm worth the risk.


~GREETING~
I conveniently arrange to run an errand before lunch and spare us both another awkward trip through Swan Enterprises together.
Not that there's anything to hide, I rationalize.
Arriving early, I snag a window table. Edward's face lights up as he spies me from outside. In the two seconds it takes him to navigate the door and pivot toward me, my mouth begins watering. He peels the buttery black leather down his arms and wraps it around his chair.
I rise, but then realize there's no appropriate way to greet him. Shaking hands is too cold, hugging far too intimate.


^EAGERNESS^
I spy Isabella through the window at our appointed time. She's obviously arrived early to secure this prime table, and I smile at this latest proof that Isabella truly is a born submissive. Without even realizing it, she's avoided my major pet peevetardiness.
Her eagerness pleases me greatly, as does the fact that she's unwittingly wearing my mark around her neck.
As I push through the door, the merry symphony of jingling bells rouses me. I remind myself stringently that Isabella is not my submissive. Quite the contrary, she's my boss's boss's boss's boss. She stands to greet me.


~TOPPINGS~
"Hungry?" the question a lame substitute for a proper welcome.
"Always," he smilesDear God, suggestively?and gestures me toward the counter.
"So what toppings do you like?"
"Mushroom and pepperoni are my favorites, but I'll eat just about anything but olives."
I'm grinning like a fool, and it's not just because Edward likes mushrooms.
"What?" he asks, my mirth now spreading contagiously to his own face.
"Nothing," I lie, trying to erase my smile and my blush.
He places two fingers under my chin, lifts it, and brooking no argument, demands, "Tell me."
Ungghh. What was the question again?


^REFRESHING^
Not your sub. Not your sub. I repeat the mantra, but somehow the words aren't sinking in. She's driving me absolutely crazy with her grinning and blushing, and I'll be damned if I'll let her off the hook. What is it about pizza toppings that has her so jazzed?
The light bulb flicks on just as she begins to answer.
"It's just so refreshing that you answered my question about what you like," she admits. Then immediately, she's embarrassed. "I told you, it's nothing."
"It's not nothing," I correct her, gently relinquishing her chin. I'm pleased she doesn't look away.


~ORDER~
"It's important to you," he explains. "How could you ever hope to please someone if he won't tell you what he wants?"
This time, I don't try to contain my smile. Edward understands what I really want and it's as natural as breathing for him to give it to me.
"Order our pizza, Isabella."
This is a test. He's already named his preferences, and now it's up to me to decide.
"Large mushroom and broccoli, for here."
"Well done," he winks, pulling out his wallet.
I bask in the compliment as if I've just resolved the Middle East Peace Crisis.


^INGREDIENTS^
I'm pleased with her choice of broccoli over pepperoni. Okay, it's just a pizza topping, but it's also a statement that she won't lose herself in trying to please someone else. She obviously doesn't like pepperoni, and that's fine. I like that she didn't order half pepperoni/half broccoli; that's a cop-out.
Having mentally exhausted the over-analysis of the ingredients, I lead her back to our table with the drinks, and we display our order number.
"Have a good weekend?" I ask, knowing only about the time she spent chatting with BV.
"It was mostly about getting ready for the ball."


~SAFER~
"And are you?"
"Am I what?"
"Ready for the ball?"
I can't be sure what he's asking, so I go with the safer answer. "Yes. I've got my dress, shoes, beauty appointments…"
He shakes his head and chuckles. "It's so much easier to be a guy."
"Tell me about it," I respond.
The server arrives with the pizza and arranges it between us on the table. Edward cuts me a slice, then takes one for himself.
"So, have you figured out who your Secret Santa is yet?" I ask.
He laughs. "I saw the list. Remember?"
"Didn't help me much."


^CAPABLE^
"Is that scarf a gift from him…or her?" Behave yourself, Edward.
"Yes, and I think it's a him."
Amused and interested in her presumption, I ask, "Oh? How did you deduce that?"
"I'm not sure. Something about the messages. They're almost…seductive. The wrapping is unmistakably masculine. And there's an elegance and playfulness about all the gifts that lead me to the conclusion that they were given by a man who is confident in his choices."
Note to self: don't underestimate Isabella. Sure, she's the Boss's Daughter, but she didn't get where she is without being capable in her own right.


~FORTUITOUS~
"I'm starting to think maybe you should apply for a job as a criminal profiler. You seem to have this person nailed."
"I hardly think being proficient at the fine art of gifting is criminal behavior."
"I think someone might have a little crush on her Santa," he winks.
"I don't know about that, but the system glitch certainly provided me with an incredibly generous benefactor."
"How fortuitous for both of us then."
My eyebrows furrow in confusion. "It allowed me to meet you," he explains, nibbling a piece of crust.
Stop blushing.
"By the way, your boyfriend thinks I'm gay."


^ATTACK^
She chokes briefly, soothing herself with water.
"Sorry. Here," I offer my napkin. "You okay?"
She nods yes. "Why would he think that?"
She doesn't even bother to ask how I know Jasper's with her. They're royals. Their long-standing relationship is common knowledge.
"My friend Riley and I were tux shopping yesterday when he stopped in."
"Your…friend?"
My antennae are up, and it's not nearly as pleasant as when other body parts ascend.
"Yes, my very gay friend." I set down my slice and prepare for attack.
"This might be a good time for you to share your guilty pleasures."


~SCARF~
Say something, Edward.
I've basically just threatened him: Tell me your secrets or I'll assume you're gay. He's searching my eyes. What are you looking for, Mr. Cullen?
His lips turn downward. "You disappoint me."
I am speechless, utterly desolate.
"I was under the false impression that you understood me."
"I'm sorry," I sputter uselessly. "I didn't mean"
"Don't!" He turns his gaze out the window, away from me. I am in actual, physical pain. I can do nothing but wait.
"Give me your scarf," he says evenly.
Immediately, I loosen the knot and deliver it into his outstretched hand.


^KNOT^
My fist closes tightly around both her scarf and wrist. She hisses at the unexpected capture. I pry the silk loose with my other hand. Holding her firmly in place, I deftly knot the scarf around her wrist. With one final tug, I show her in no uncertain terms exactly who I am.
Pulling her toward me, I lean across the table so my lips are lined up with her ear. Our hearts are pounding riotously. Goose bumps cover her neck.
Softly, coolly, menacingly, I whisper, "See you at the ball, Princess."
I rise and leave her without looking back.


~COCOON~
Fortunately, I'm seated when the tsunami of arousal pulls me under. I sit and stare dumbly at the knot. Time has stopped, my world has tilted.
Reality has just collided spectacularly with fantasy. Edward Cullen has morphed into the Dark Prince before my very eyes. With one straightforward knot, he's thrown down the gauntlet. I reach for my purse to go, when my eyes alight on his jacket.
Wrapping myself in his leathery cocoon, I'm surrounded by his scent. Unsure how I'll face him, I must return the jacket. It's probably for the best that he's not at his desk.


^JACKET^
With the maelstrom of emotions coursing through me, it's no surprise I don't notice the absence of my jacket at first. Too late now; hopefully, Isabella will retrieve it. Unless, of course, she hates my guts. Damn, I liked that coat.
Way to be her friend, BlackVelvet chastises. Friends don't do bondage over pizza.
Despite the cold, I walk a lengthy circuit before returning to the office. I find the jacket wrapped around my desk chair.
"Why is Isabella Swan delivering your jacket down here?" Rosalie demands.
So, the Princess has brazenly paid an unannounced visit to the lion's den.


~BUSTED~
Every time my hand moves, I suffer anew the tautness of his impromptu bondage. A constant reminder.
This day mercifully over, Jasper and I ride the elevator to the lobby.
"Wasn't that scarf around your neck earlier?" Jasper asks.
Edward steps out of the elevator directly across from ours. He's concentrating on his zipper, and looks up just barely in time to avoid colliding with Jasper.
"Oh, hey. Weren't you at the tux shop earlier?" Jasper's so observant today.
Edward's eyes immediately drop to my wrist and the telltale scarf poking out my coat sleeve.
I'm so busted.
"Hello, Isabella."


^STUMBLING^
That she's still wearing my knot tells me everything.
"Edward. Hi," she stumbles. "Meet Jasper Whitlock, VP of Sales. Edward Cullen, IT."
Jasper looks irritated but shakes my hand. "Nice to meet you, Edward."
"Likewise," I say. "Well, have a good evening." Turning to go. I hear Jasper mutter, "VP of Sales, Bella? Really?"
The locking zipper teeth force the scent of Princess up from the lining. She wore my coat!
Isabella deals with the awkwardness by ignoring me for two days. Oh, to be a fly on her office wall when she opens Santa's final gift at 4:45 Thursday.


~STUD~
IMS:
Grant me one dance
Ladies' Choice?
S^S
It's the smallest box yet, and it takes me a moment to realize I'm looking at an onyx tuxedo stud. My Santa has some serious game.
I make us grilled cheeses then retreat to my study. Too many men swirling in my head; I need to be alone for a while.
Alice and I meet bright and early in the ballroom. It's transformed into an enchanted castle worthy of a Disney animation.
"You're amazing, Alice. Swan Enterprises is so fortunate to have you."
"Thanks, Miss Swan."
"Listen, Alice, I need a favor."


^TENSION^
Tonight's the night. Secrets and Santas will be exposed. Nobody's productive today, and I'm certainly no exception. I've never felt more keyed up.
A mistake could have huge consequences. So right, OnMyKnees.
My usual jog does little to relieve the tension. I allow my thoughts to drift in the shower. I harden recalling my tug on the knot. I visualize Isabella visiting my lair, jacket in hand, incurring my co-workers' suspicion. I relive the sweet victory of seeing my bondage still marking her, even as she leaves with the "VP."
I burst, imagining Bella's reaction tonight when everything comes together.


~ESSENTIALS~
Manicure. Pedicure. Makeup. Hair. I fasten my royal blue gown and fill my clutch with the essentials. Key. Amex. Lipstick. Phone. Onyx stud.
Last, but not least, I roll the scarf tightly and tuck it inside.
"You're stunning," Jasper says, offering his arm.
"You're not too hard to look at yourself. The white tux suits you." Guilt wrenches. I know what the evening holds for my guileless Prince Charming.
We exit the cab and the ballroom doors are pulled open to receive us. Dad throws his arms around us both and winks. "You two look perfect together."
Not helping, Charlie.


^LURKING^
I lurk on the outskirts, cautiously avoiding the Princess's migration pattern. I hide among 850 employees, enjoying caviar and shrimp cocktail. I forego signature martinis and champagne, keeping a clear head.
I feign surprise at Rosalie's reveal and thank her profusely for the gifts. I question fifty people before finding Mary Campbell. She's overjoyed- one of her scratch tickets yielded $1000!
Jasper accompanies Isabella everywhere, and they stand out easily from the crowd. I watch her locate Damon Stuart, knowing she won't meet her own Santa until Ladies' Choice at 10 pm. Nor will Edward Cullen greet her before then.


~HURT~
It's 9:50 and Jasper's holding me close as we waltz. I brush his right hip and feel the hard squarish object in his pocket. My eyes search frantically for Alice. I finally see her three couples away, and she's watching, waiting.
"Jazz, we need to talk." Fuck this is so hard.
"Hmm?" He's holding me trustingly against his body.
"You are a perfect, wonderful man, and I love you dearly"
"Mmm, so far, so good."
"But we're just not each other's Happily Ever After's."
"What?" He pulls back, alarmed now.
"You don't deserve to be hurt. I'm so sorry, Jasper."


^CRUSHED^
I'm just about to make my approach, when I see a strange dance taking place between the Princess and Prince Charming. They've stopped moving and they're standing arm's length apart, arguing quietly. Inching closer, I discern snippets of conversation.
"Don't do this"
"You deserve better"
"But I love you"
"Surely you've noticed"
Holy shit. She's breaking up with him! It's agonizing to witness this excruciating exchange, as much as I'm delighted that the door is now open.
The band leader announces Ladies' Choice, and suddenly, Alice appears before Jasper. He's far too polite to reject her, though he's utterly crushed.


~MONSTROUS~
This is so much more hideous than I'd imagined. This man, who's never hurt me once, expected to leave here tonight with his fiancée. Instead, he'll be alone. Or God willing, with Alice.
I fully realize Alice can't simply take my place and expect Jasper to be hunky dory right away, but I strongly suspect their fondness for each other will grow unchecked with me out of the picture. In fact, it's the only reason I'm not feeling monstrous.
Like Prince Charming searching for the foot that fits the glass slipper, I seek the shirt with matching squares of onyx.


^CHOICE^
Her eyes search the sea of white shirts encircling her, hunting for a tiny black square to fulfill an unspoken promise. I catch her eye but she walks past swiftly, seriously attending her mission.
Snagging her by the crook in her arm, I say, "Dance with me, Isabella."
"It's Ladies' Choice, Edward," her lips quirk into a smile.
"Then choose me."
To her credit, she looks pained. "I can't right now. I'm"
"Looking for a missing stud?" I say, pointing to the squares lining the center of my shirt.
Shocked, she sucks in a giant breath. "You're my Secret Santa?"


~SLIPPER~
"You tell me," he says. "Does it match?"
Stepping closer, he opens his vest revealing the empty buttonhole at his waist.
My hands are jangling from nerves, but somehow I manage to reach inside his shirt, knuckles shaking uncontrollably against his soft, cotton tee. I poke the stem through the inside layer, and fasten the outer buttonhole around it.
Glass slipper, meet foot. I snap my hands back to my sides once I realize they're still resting against his stomach.
"It's really you."
"How could it have been anyone else?"
"Honestly, my brain stopped working the day I met you."


^PEGGED^
"You truly didn't suspect me?"
"Do you actually believe I would've gushed forth about my Santa at Pete's if I'd've had any clue it was you? Sheesh, fishing for compliments much?"
"I was just having a little fun. I have to admit, you totally had me pegged! Seductive, unmistakably masculine, elegant, playful, confident."
"How could I possibly not have known after I'd practically drawn myself a treasure map with a huge 'X' on your forehead?" She rolls her eyes in exaggeration.
"Don't feel bad, Isabella. I dazzled you."
"I don't begin to understand what you do to me, Edward Cullen."


~BORED~
"I just worked a little Nutcracker-style magic and brought your fantasies to life."
"Do you have any idea how twisted up I've been over your double entendre gifts?"
"Hey, they're all innocent."
"They're all dirty."
"Maybe that was just your 'sub…conscious' talking.
"Oh really? You were innocently flipping that timer? Tying me up at lunch?"
"Are you accusing me of corrupting you?" he draws out the word with a devilish smirk.
"Oh. My. God! You were behind the whole thing from the beginning! The corrupted spreadsheet."
"I was bored."
"Seriously? What are you, five? This is a multi-million dollar corporation!"


^ACQUIESCENCE^
"You know, you're wasting our dance." I spread my arms in invitation, hoping she'll leave this subject and let me hold her properly.
Setting aside her annoyance, surprise, curiosity, and self-flagellation, she steps willingly into my orbit. Intertwining our fingers, I create an unbreakable connection. My right hand draws the sleek curve of her hip firmly into mine. I'm not interested in maintaining a polite margin between us. There's been far too much space already.
Her left hand automatically takes its rightful place on my shoulder. I lead firmly and Bella follows effortlessly, answering my body's demand with perfect acquiescence.


~NAGGING~
I'm more floating than dancing. He guides me expertly, fortunately; I'm utterly dazed by tuxedo-clad Edward, his manly scent, and the feel of his body pressed against mine.
Edward's complete acceptance of my dark desires fills me with a singular gratitude. And yet, there's a nagging feeling. Something BlackVelvet wrote.
I fight through the enchantment and tip my head up to Edward's face.
"Edward, I never apologized for my behavior at lunch. I had no right to lay that ultimatum on you."
"Still suspect I'm gay?" he asks wryly.
"No, but I really need to know your secret now. Please."


^GUESS^
"I think you could probably guess."
She laughs lightly. "I've been guessing for weeks." She presses again, "Please?"
"Let's just say I'd find better uses for that feather than keeping score."
"So, what? You like women to crawl around for you?"
This is it. All the marbles.
"Yes, Isabella, I do. Quite a bit, actually," I answer, measuring her response.
A sharp intake of air, then, "You've done this before?"
"Yes."
"And you know what you're doing?"
"Yes," I assure her. "But there's no 'one-size-fits-all' set of rules. Each couple has to negotiate limits and build their own trusting relationship."


~WAITING~
"And you want to do these things… with me?" I ask timidly.
"Oh, hell yes," he assures enthusiastically.
"We'd only do what I'm comfortable doing?"
"What we're both comfortable doing."
I channel BlackVelvet's concern, "You'll keep me safe, physically and emotionally?"
"Yes, if… you're totally honest and don't shut me out when you're upset."
I nod, and he gently pulls my head to his chest, caressing my cheek with his thumb.
Swooning, my eyes blink closed, then open. For the first time, I notice his bowtie. My eyes flutter upwards into his waiting, knowing gaze.
It can't be.
"Black Velvet?"


^AWED^
It's an awed whisper, delivered to my ears on a cloud of hope.
"In the flesh."
She whimpers and goes limp in my arms. Too much to process all at once. My beautiful Princess, finally aware of who I am and all that I can be for her. I tighten my grip.
"You've been right under my nose, this whole time?" she murmurs into my chest.
"36 floors down, but yes."
"Edward Cullen is Secret Santa is BlackVelvet…"
I chuckle, "Don't forget the Dark Prince."
"I don't even know where to begin."
"Don't worry, Princess. I'll take it from here."


~MASTER~
With that, Edward/BlackVelvet takes charge. Dipping his face, he captures my lips possessively, his tongue dominating mine. I'm acutely aware of every contact point with his solid bodylips, chests, hips, thighs, knees. His arousal presses against me without apology.
I want everything all at once, all the real and fictional alter egos I've been craving, all of whom inhabit this one spectacular man. Delirious with desire, I ache to please him.
"Princess, did you bring the scarf?" The question brings a chill of recognition.
I open my clutch and press the scarf into his hand.
"Yes, Master," I shiver.


^CROWDED^
The Dark Prince might ravish her right here on the dance floor, but for Edward Cullen's protective vigilance. BlackVelvet holds us all to the strictest standards of behavior.
DP: She's brought the scarf, dumped the Prince, and called us Master.
E: She's a frightened bird who's just given up everything she thought she always wanted.
BV: She needs a trusted friend who won't let her regret this monumental choice.
1700 eyes, three of me, at least two Bellas, and one jilted prince are far too many intrusions on this pivotal moment.
"Follow me," I command. "We're not doing this here."


~FOLLOWING~
He offers a corner of the scarf and I understand I'm to grasp it. Between thumb and forefinger, I pinch the familiar symbol of his indisputable possession, and Edward tugs me forward.
Grateful for his initiative, I follow obediently, clutching tightly to my silk life line. The delicate slice of fabric may just as well be metal collar and leash. I won't let go until he commands it, and he bloody well knows it.
I trail behind his sure, broad shoulders; he leads until the hallway swallows us. I don't look back to see how Jasper is faring without me.


^CHOMPING^
My pulse races as I drag my eager captive. The Dark Prince chomps at the bit to tango with his Princess, but first, there's a delicate ballet to be danced by Edward and Isabella. A pas de deux on sexually explosive crack.
Before she sinks too far into submissive mode, I lead her toward a marble bench. "Have a seat."
She blinks up at me with wild, hungry eyes from the stone slab.
The Dark Prince rears up, but I wrest him back. Not yet.
I drop to one knee before her so I can properly measure her response.


~SLOWLY~
"Isabella, before we go any further, I must know. Are you still his?"
Without hesitation, "No…" Panic! Am I supposed to say "Master"? "Sir"?
He smiles and grasps my hand comfortingly. "It's okay. It's just us right now."
Breathe, Bella.
I nod.
He leans in and proposes, "You want this? You want me?"
"Yessssss."
"Do you trust me?"
"Yes!"
"You shouldn't," he says sternly. "Not yet. That's why we're going to set ground rules and take it very, very slowly."
Ever hear the joke about the masochist who says to the sadist, "Hurt me"? The sadist smiles and says, "No!"


^MANGLED^
"First things first. Take out your phone."
Surprised, she complies.
"Is there a friend you can text to let her know you'll be coming home with me?"
Sharp intake of air, then a quick nod. She's thinking what any smart girl would be thinking right now. When she winds up missing, her good friend will know where to direct the police for the bits of her mangled body.
"Go ahead," I direct. Her fingers shake noticeably over the tiny keys until finally, she's finished.
"Good. Now, can I assume your writing is the extent of your experience in this realm?"


~WELCOME~
Blushing madly, I nod yes.
"And that everything you've written is fair game?"
A gush of lubrication now graces my lacy thong. He's asking my permission to do all the things omk wrote about? I cannot breathe. My mind races through each story, but it's all a whirl of timers, feathers, blindfolds, scarves, commands, crops…I'm dizzy. Thank God I'm sitting down, though the marble slab offers little comfort, nor do his piercing eyes.
"Isabella!" His severe voice cuts me back to reality.
"Yes," I answer swiftly and unequivocally. I can't imagine anything he'd do to me that I wouldn't welcome.


^LIMITS^
This night is panning out beyond my wildest dreams. Permanently untethered from the White Knight, she's jumping in with both feet.
Her stories provide a rich palette, ample opportunities for all kinds of scenarios. With outer limits thus mutually defined, there's no need for the heavy duty talk until these have been exhausted.
"Good. We'll consider those our limits for now."
I let her chew on that for a minute.
"You'll need a safe word. You're familiar with the term?" BlackVelvet knows she is, but I need to confirm.
"I am."
"What will it be then?"
Wait for it
"Boggle."


~QUESTIONS~
He chuckles appreciatively at my word choice.
"Now for the nitty gritty. I've been recently tested and everything's clear. I'll assume you're the same, pending clinical reports?"
I snort. I've been in a monogamous relationship with the most loyal human being on Planet Earth for the last three years. You could serve the Queen of England off my coochie. Ugh, Buzzkill a little bit.
"Yes."
"What questions do you have for me?" he asks patiently, channeling BlackVelvet perhaps.
I have at least a bazillion questions for Edward, but only one stands out at the moment.
"Okay if we go now?"


^FLUSHED^
"Sure," I answer, rising to my feet and offering her a hand. I'm surprised she doesn't ask the obviouswhat to call me.
Out back, I hail a cab, usher Isabella into the back seat, and climb in. I lace my fingers through hers and pull her hand to my knee. I'd love to lay it right on top of my hard-on to show her what she does to me, but I have all the time in the world for that.
Isabella is keyed up, flushed, alive.
"I just realized I never told you how ravishing you look tonight."


~UNKNOWN~
The taxi rushing us to Edward's isn't the horse-drawn carriage, and it won't turn back into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight. Just the same, our late-night ride is nothing short of enchanted. This whole situation seems too good to be true, a veritable real life fairy tale.
I never got this far in my story, so I can't say what happens from here. The idea of venturing into the unknown with Edward Cullen, my BlackVelvet, my Dark Prince, excites me beyond anything I've ever imagined. And I've imagined plenty.
Disney-style lovebirds flutter and foretell our Happily Ever After.


{EPILOGUE}
^TOGETHER^
Three weeks ago, Isabella Swan was just my boss's boss's boss's boss. And then I discovered the kinky vixen she'd locked away from herself. Just in time to save her from a life of repressed desires and a woefully bland existence.
And she rescued me, too, from toiling away in my little dungeon. From deluding myself that what I thought passed for a relationship was nothing more than a contract. From depriving myself of a real connection to a real girl who wants everything from me.
And now, together, we have a chance at a real life Happily Ever After.
~INTERLUDE~
And thus our pair rushes silently through the night, very much together yet lost in separate bubbles of hope. She, that this dangerous, mysterious fantasy might become her worthy partner. He, that this vulnerable, bodacious Princess might prove to be his life.
What of our vanilla Prince with his overeager drive to please? Will he thrive under the ministrations of his ex's deputy? And what of Rosalie, whose much oppressed underling just became her boss's boss's boss's Dom?
Will Charlie ever recover from his breakup with Jasper?
Stay tuned to see who gets to live Kinkily Ever After!
THE FIRST END


If you'd like to see what happens next, slide right into Kinkily Ever After, the non-drabble sequel
If you're interested, there's a reworked, non-Twilight version of this story entitled Once Upon A Temptation by Kaye P. Hallows, which can be yours on Amazon and Barnes & Noble (in paperback and e-book versions). Each chapter is exactly 100 words (by my count), the 'Bingo conversation' is incorporated, and large chunks of OUAD have been 'remastered' as they say in the music industry. Come visit me at the book blog!
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33 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, Lolo! Glad you enjoyed the fairy tale!

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  2. I remember this from ffn I loved it all over again thank you

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    1. Nicky- so happy you enjoyed it. Hop on over to KEA if you're interested in watching where the story goes from here!

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  3. Okay, let's try this again. I tried posting earlier this AM, but lost the whole damn review when I sent to publish. LOL.

    Last summer I was looking for something to read, and I happened upon OUAD. I had not, up to stumbling upon OUAD, actually read a drabble fiction. This story definitely changed my mind.

    The first few chapters drew me in, and I was off any running. I did not stop until I had read from beginning to end. Whew, chalked that day up as an epic fail on my part. I was so enthralled with the story line that I accomplished nothing for the day. Even though it was written as a drabble, you were able to get the story across masterfully.

    I was fascinated how Edward happened upon his "Princess" a few floors up, and once he decided to go for it he seemed to take a "no holds barred" attitude. See what you want and just go for it. What I really liked was the way in which he was leaving no stone unturned. He definitely put a lot of thought and care into the choice of the Secret Santa gifts--from the choice of the gifts to the care he showed in the presentation of said gifts. Yeah he saw what he wanted, and pretty much put himself out there. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    Although these two did not know one another, it was beautiful the way their friendship unfolded in such a short period of time. Edward had been guiding Isabella to embrace her inner desires, without her even realizing it. He did it so subtly, and in such a teasing, humorous fashion and caring manner, Isabella did not even see herself being caught in the snare that Edward was fashioning.

    As for Isabella, I was happy to see that she could finally realize that she was a submissive and totally doing a disservice to Jasper. Yeah, Jasper was a caring, considerate individual, but much to vanilla for Isabella. I glad she was finally honest with Jasper, even though she struggled internally with the idea of what is acceptable in "normal" society, at least she knew that breaking it off with Jasper was the only option. Even if she had not broken it off on the dance floor of the ballroom and possibly had stayed a while longer, the ending of their relationship was inevitable. They were too polar opposites. Both wanting and needing what neither could provide for each other. I think Isabella just arrived at this conclusion (with Edward's assistance) sooner.

    When she left the dance floor with Edward, and their eventual cab ride to his apartment, I am sure that Isabella was "scared skinny". After all she was embarking into unknown territory with a virtural stranger. I thank goodness that Edward had the wherewithall to recognize her confusion and hesitation, as well as the anticipation that she felt for the unknown. He was able to somewhat soothe her fears, and assure her that things would not progress too quickly, as she was definitely in unchartered waters.

    Instead of being too forceful or dominating, he was able to waylayed some her fears, and simply showed here a small peek of what could lie in store for the both of them if she placed her trust in him and allowed him to guide her through the new and exciting adventure.

    So........ I just wanted to let you know that I loved this drabble, and I look forward every week to KEA chapter postings.

    Even though I have read OUAD, I need to purchase it in E-Book form. PS, I especially enjoyed the outtakes. I believe my favorite was the "Meanderings of the Black Leather Coat", OMG what a hoot!

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and words.

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    1. Claudia, WOW. Your words have knocked me sideways. Thank you so much for your generous compliments and insightful comments about my story. I can't believe you went through that whole process twice! That's dedication! Of course, you're free to download this version any time, but I hope if you do decide to look for Once Upon a Temptation that you will enjoy some of the improvements I made in the story when I published. Every chapter is honed exactly to 100 words, and there were some timing issues I finally ironed out, adding some new things and deleting what felt (to me) to be distinctly Twilight (or RP). Additionally I included the whole BV Bingo chat in the book where it actually happened. The two outtakes (in OUAT form) are over at my blog for the book, which you can find at onceuponatemptation.blogspot.com and they're mostly the way you remember them from the original. Feel free to enjoy, download, whatever.

      I look forward to seeing you as I continue to post KEA on into the foreseeable future...because forever seems to be just the beginning for these two! Thank you so much, again, for your loyalty to the story and your unbelievably kind words. XX B

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    2. Born on Halloween:

      When I have a few extra minutes in the very near future, I would like to leave you my thoughts on KEA. I enjoyed the drabble; however, I like the way you expanded KEA into a more traditional fiction. I have laughed, felt a few tears slip from my eyes (especially when Isabella, and, Edward (because of his intuitiveness) realize because of circumstances dictated, that she has lost much more than Jasper--a boyfriend--but all the people that they shared together. Much like a divorce, usually the couple friends don't remain. Anyways, I will leave a review at the KEA site soon.

      When I was in college, I thoroughly enjoyed creative writing courses (if I am being honest, the only classes I really succeeded at). Anyways, stumbling upon FanFiction, and the amazing writers to be found on these sites, has spurred my interest once again. You and many of the other fantastic and talented writers have inspired me. Possibly, I will sit down soon and put "pen to paper".

      Thank you again for sharing your talents.

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    3. Claudia, that's exactly how I got started with this writing craze too. Hit me up any time on FB (Born OnHalloween) or over at FF (bornonhalloween) and we'll chat. I'm so excited to have helped inspire your writing bone. By the way, have you read my story about a college writing class- Comp Sem 101? ;)
      xx

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  4. Thank you for sharing your story. Writing in drabbles never appealed to me until now. It is a talent in and of itself. I look forward to starting the sequel.

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    1. Ariel, thanks so much for your note. My favorite reviews are the ones where I've opened up a new door, whether it's the writing or the subject matter. Happy you've enjoyed this. The sequel is NOT a drabble...you'll see. ;)

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  5. WOW!! i loved this story cant wait to start KEA tomorrow :)

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  6. Hi - I'm new here and wanted to read Once Upon A Desire. Can obtain a PDF or Mobi so I can read on my kindle? Just thought I would ask. So many talk about his story and I just saw it on CaraNo's site and was hoping to read :) Thanks!!!!

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    1. KC- Unfortunately I don't have this version in Mobi or Pdf, but it's all here on one page. If it helps, my non-twi version of this story (Once Upon A Temptation by Kaye P Hallows) is available free of charge on kindle right now. Hope you'll get a chance to enjoy the story one way or another! XX BOH

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  7. How Machiavellian of Edward to pursue Bella from four different perspectives: Edward Cullen, Secret Santa, Black Velvet {love that one} and Dark Prince! See, this is why I stopped reading FF at work {just in case}, but I still stalk Rob {can't resist} LOL! Diving into KEA now...no more peeking {BAD Rita}!

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    1. You are a bad, bad girl, Rita. What is Master going to do with a girl who peeks? Better tighten the blindfold, that's what! Thank you for your philosophical insights here. We haven't seen the last of E's split personality!
      xxxx
      b

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  8. Excuse my french, but... fuck me sideways, that was BRILLIANT!

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  9. so wonderful...i always liked kinkward! your blog wont let me open KEA though, sad panda...rubell

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    1. So happy you're enjoying. Hopefully you've gotten KEA open by now. If not, let me know!

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  10. Well you have thrilled me again! Love that he advised her as BV and turned her fantasies into reality as Edward (playing the dark prince/SS). Cannot wait to continue onto KEA.

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    1. ACE - WOO HOO! So happy to see you here and know you enjoyed the start of it all!
      xo

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  11. Didn't seem to work the 1st time...
    Followed over here from FF on your rec for this story. Has acted as an appetizer for my smut appetite. Mmmm yum. ( have started the seq.and have had a start on the entree.

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  12. WOW!!! Your writing is amazing. The amount of information and heat you portray in just a few words is nothing less than extraordinary.

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    1. So happy you're enjoying.
      Loads more for you to read...
      x
      b

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  13. Any chance of getting a pdf of this one too??

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  14. Born, this is so cute and so much fun. I'm glad I finally read this. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Well hey, Daph!! So happy to see you here and glad you enjoyed it!
      xo

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  15. Just as much fun as the first read through, Born darlin'! And thanks for the pdf *MWAH!*

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    1. That was sweet of you to drop me a note here, bb. Glad you enjoyed it.
      xo

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  16. This may be the third time I've read this yet I still am eager to turn the "page". Another one of my favorites of yours. I own On e Upon a Temptation and love that as well. It seems I love all your stories!

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