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Title: Chapter 10: Past Tense

Sacharissa - April 13, 2008 03:46 AM (GMT)

For just a moment, the years melted away, and she was 16 again, and in the throes of First Love. She closed her eyes and melted into the kiss, allowing the heady rush of young love to overwhelm her senses. All too quickly, reality intruded with the strident ring of a telephone.

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Bronte jerked back, her heart pounding. Swearing softly under his breath, the man reached for the receiver. Bronte took the momentary distraction to move to the other side of the room, placing the solid mass of the desk between them.

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“What?” he asked curtly into the phone. After listening for a moment, he continued. “No…I’ve got everything I need. You can go home now. I’ll lock up.” He hung up and turned to face her again.

“It’s been a long time, Bronte,” he said softly. “I’ve missed you.”

“What are you doing here, Bastien?” she responded, hoping her voice wasn’t revealing just how shaky she felt.

“Me? I just bought this magazine. I figured it was a great opportunity,” he answered with a shrug.

She was reminded of another time…another innocent reply…Me? I just happened to be in the neighborhood…

She shook her head. “That’s not an answer. What are you doing here?”

“I really was looking for a good opportunity,” Bastien answered slowly, his voice dropping to an intimate rumble that sent a shiver or response up her spine. “I was presented with five or six possible magazines that might be good candidates, but when I saw your name on the roster of this one, there really was no other option.”

He held her gaze in a heated stare that took her breath away. She swallowed hard, trying to regain some semblance of control. He had always had this affect on her. From the first moment she had seen him all those years ago - dressed in tight jeans and black leather, leaning against his motorcycle – he had stolen her breath – her common sense – her heart…No! Do not go there! It’s over!

“I’m married!” she blurted out.

“I know,” he chuckled knowingly. “Eighteen years. Three kids.”

“How do you know that,” she demanded suspiciously.

“I’m you boss, now. Remember? I bought this magazine. Personnel files come with the job. However, just because you’re married now doesn’t mean…”

“No!” Bronte interrupted him. “I’m married to a man I love. What we had is over!”

Bastien frowned, a look of pain shot across his face, and then was gone. “Don’t you think I know that?” he said raggedly. “Don’t you think I’ve been cursing myself for twenty years? I know it’s over!” He paused for a moment, to gather himself. Then he continued.

“What I was going to say was that just because you’re married doesn’t mean we can’t work together. You’re a good journalist, Bronte…one of the best. You’ve won the Gootentaugen Award for Excellence in Journalism for two years running. When I saw your name on the list of writers, I knew that Sim Life Weekly was the opportunity I’d been looking for. Together, we can make this the premier magazine in the country. Please say you’ll stay.”

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Bronte searched his face, trying to read him. Could she work for him? Could she? After all that they had shared in the past? With two Gootentaugenson her resume, Bronte knew she could have her choice of assignments. If she quit her job at the magazine, she could easily find another somewhere else. But if she quit, she’d have to start over. She’d been working on a series of articles that promised her a real chance at third Goutentaugen. And besides, Bastien was right…Sim Life Weekly had a real shot going national and sending her career spiraling straight to the top.

But could she work for him? She had worked so hard to bury the past. She’d been so sure she had succeeded. Yet here he was standing in front of her – eyes that promised paradise and a voice like chocolate velvet - waiting for an answer. But she wasn’t eighteen anymore. She wasn’t the same naïve little girl who’d been crushed when he’d walked out of her life.

She was a grown woman with a loving family and a great career. She hadn’t worked so hard and so long just to walk away now! She could do this! It would take more than Bastien St Clair and his smoldering looks to chase her away! She was made of sterner stuff than that!

Sticking out a defiant chin, Bronte looked him straight in the eye. “Yes, I’ll stay,” she answered him. “But our relationship must remain strictly professional! I won’t risk my family chasing a dream that’s been over for twenty years.”

“Agreed,” he responded. “I’ll respect your wishes. I just…I just want a chance to build something here. I think we can do a lot with this magazine.”

Bronte watched him for a long moment. Finally, she nodded. “Alright,” she said. “I’m glad we could come to an agreement. I love this job, but I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment if it came down to a choice between it or my family. Family wins hands down.”

“I understand,” he said softly. “I promise to keep things strictly professional. You won’t regret it.”

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For another moment, she held his gaze. “OK. Well…it’s getting late, and I’d better get going. I’ll…I’ll see you tomorrow.” She paused for a moment, and then added, “Good night, then.”

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“Good night, Bronte” he responded as he watched her head for the door. Just before she slipped out, he stopped her.

“Bronte, I’m…I’m glad you found someone. I’m glad you’re happy. You…you deserve to be happy.”

Without turning to him, she closed her eyes and swallowed. Her hand gripped the door knob. “Thank you,” she whispered. “…I…I…Thank you…” She didn’t ask him if he was happy. She couldn’t. She didn’t know if she could take the answer – whatever it was. And so she slipped out of his office and into the gathering darkness.

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