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The Plus One

Chapter Text

Rent day was not going well.

First the Nolan’s of all people had asked for an extension of time to pay. Apparently City Hall had screwed up and not direct deposited the Sheriff’s check. There was going to be a strongly worded letter to the Mayor in her future. Sloppy bookkeeping was intolerable. If Regina could not keep things running properly there were any number of other people who wanted the job.

By midday only half the people who were supposed to drop off their payments had showed up. Which meant they were going to have to be tracked down and shaken for the rent.

Unfortunately Keith Nottingham had turned up. Begging for an extension.

“But Ms. French...”

“No.” She held up her hand. “I don’t want to hear any more excuses. You have five days to get me your rent with the ten percent the late fee or I will take possession of that public disgrace you call a tavern and close it down. I’d be doing the town a favor getting rid of that cesspool of crime. Now get out.”

“But...”

“GET OUT!”

Nottingham practically tripped over himself leaving.

As he banged out the door of her office she heard Nottingham growl, “Watch your goolies, mate, she’s on a tear.” to whoever was waiting to see her next.

“All you have to do to avoid that is to have your payment in on time, Mr. Nottingham.” The Glaswegian accented voice that replied was soft. To those not as well acquainted with the speaker as Belle it would have been taken as politely deferential. It amazed her how many of the citizenry of Storybrooke missed Gold’s snark completely simply because of the tone he delivered it in.

Thank God. Finally someone who was not an idiot had come by. She quickly glanced at her reflection in the computer screen to make sure her lipstick was still okay.

A soft knock on the door frame came just before, “Ms. French, are you available? I’ve come to pay the rent.”

She quickly finished straightening her jacket. “Please come in, Mr. Gold.”

He was leaning rather more heavily on his cane then usual as he limped over to her desk. Glancing out the window she could not see any clouds, but that gait usually meant they were in for some bad weather.

“You know, Ms. French, I’d be happy to set up an electronic funds transfer and save us both the bother of my bringing you the payment every month.” He said handing her a thin envelope.

“Cash or certified funds only if there has been a prior default. It’s in your lease. Which I know you’ve read.” Belle removed the certified check from the envelope. After verifying it was properly filled out, she started to enter it into her spreadsheet.

“I missed one payment eight years ago.” Gold took a seat uninvited. From anyone else this would brought about a severe rebuke, but Gold was her best tenant and in addition could carry on an intelligent conversation. He could take liberties others did not. He went on, “And it was while I was still in the old shop. So technically I’ve never defaulted under this lease.”

“But then I would miss our engaging conversations.” She pulled his receipt from the printer and handed it over. “How are things in the fiber arts world?”

“We’re going to debut our new colorway line at Rhinebeck. Jefferson has done some sort of Star Wars tie in with some of the dye lots which Bae has declared to be ‘almost cool’. Or as cool as yarn can be.”

“I thought Bae was interested in the business.” She frowned. She rather envied Gold’s closeness with his son. So unlike her own relationship with her father.

“He’s thirteen now. It isn’t done to be too enthusiastic about your old man’s interests.” The smile that accompanied this statement suggested Gold was not distressed by this. “Or anything else come to that. He will deign to let me play video games with him. And he still likes traveling with me to the festivals and knitting conferences. I’m going to go back to doing more of those myself just to have an excuse to spend more time with him. Now that I can afford staff to man the booth it’ll no be as wearing as when I had to do it all myself. And I’m sure the staff won’t complain if I’m there to help out during breaks and such.”

“Additional expense though.” Belle pointed out.

“But most of it will be deductible and we’re doing well enough I can afford it now.” Gold smiled at her. “And I expect even more substantial increases in income over the next couple of years. I took your advice and found a Japanese company through which to market our yarn and spinning wheels in Asia. You were right about that giving us greater access to the market there than we were able to manage trying to deal directly. Even with the commission we’re paying them I’m projecting our net to be up fourteen percent this year alone.”

“Oh excellent!”

“Aye. Should be able to hire on a couple more people and still be able to hand out a very nice round of profit sharing this year.”

“That will do the town economy a world of good.” Belle said. “Especially with the cannery cutting back.”

“Indeed.” Gold agreed. “Was so pleased with this quarter’s numbers that I even splashed out on a new suit.”

And a very nice suit it was. She especially appreciated the tailoring of the trousers. “I noticed. Is that Armani.?”

“Dunhill actually.”

“You’ve really come up in the world since you showed up here ten years ago with your cute little business plan. Trying to rent that tiny shop on Main with the apartment above it. At the time you were wearing a suit that had to be older than you, even if it was perfectly tailored.” Belle remembered.

“Picked it up at a Charity shop. Tailored it myself.” Gold smiled shyly, “And I worked hard on that business plan.”

“Yes, I could tell. If you had submitted it in Business Administration 101 it would have gotten you an A.” She smirked. “Copied it from a textbook did you?”

“Off the internet actually.” Gold admitted. “Did the trick though didn’t it?”

It had, but not in the way he thought. She had not really expected the plan itself to work out, but had figured that anyone who could prepare that meticulous a plan was probably going to pay his rent on time. Which, fresh out of business school herself and trying to build a real estate development company separate from her father, was her top requirement in a tenant.

“Frankly you surprised me.” She admitted. “I figured you’d be lucky to keep the shop going. And here you’ve turned into an international business and one of Storybrooke’s largest employers.”

“It’s Storybrooke. The bar’s none to high for number of employees.” Gold chuckled.

 

The little chat she had with Gold proved to be the best part of her day. Which was not unusual, but between the screw up with payroll from City Hall and the cannery cutting back on hours, today had been particularly trying. Then when she finished chasing down the people who did not come in on their own, she checked her email and found an email from her father headed ‘Clear your calendar for the 21st!’

Fearing the worst she poured herself a glass of wine before actually opening the email.

‘Hey, Sweetheart! Victoria has come up with a wonderful idea to raise money for the foundation. We’re going to have a dinner and silent auction. She’s organized everything. All you have to do is show up and look pretty.’

Who the hell was Victoria? Presumably some new woman he had found. In the twenty years since her mother’s death, her father had a revolving door of female companions. Most of which she had been able to ignore.

And what did he mean ‘raise money for the foundation’? Her mother, while battling her own illness, had seen how hard it was on caregivers for other people undergoing treatment who did not have the French wealth. She had set up the foundation to provide respite breaks for caregivers. After her death they had continued to fund and oversee it in her memory. They had never tried to raise money outside the family for it though.

Clicking through to view the link he provided, it appeared that her father had decided to change that. He and this Victoria Belfry had organized some sort of grand dinner party with the proceeds to go the foundation.

Belle knew how these things worked. A great many rich people would show up, eat, drink and gossip, while they pretended to be benefiting charity. By the time all the bills were paid, very little would actually end up in the hands of the charity.

She was tempted to pound her head against the desk, but she still had the rent collections spread across it and that would mess up the stacks if she did. This was exactly the sort of thing her mother had hated and set up the foundation to get around.

The next paragraph got even worse.

‘Don’t worry about bringing a plus one. I’ve invited Gaston for you. Can’t have my girl showing up alone even if you are something of a spinster these days.

On her Bad Boyfriend Scale, one being early Mr. Darcy and ten being a flying monkey (whom she was pretty sure she had dated once, his name was Walsh) Gaston rated a solid seven. The only reason he didn’t make it to eight was that she had stopped having sex with him before he had contracted gonarehea and so had only suffered the embarrassment of having to be tested for it rather than actually catching if from him. There was no way in Hell she was going to spend the evening with that oaf.

She would have to come up with her own plus one.

Except her father was right. She had been single for awhile now. But it was by bloody choice. Gaston had just been one in a long line of men who had led to Bad Boyfriend Scale. The best of them, Will (he only got a two), had still been in love with his ex and had run back to her whenever she called. Belle had ended up going stag to their wedding and stayed good friends with both of them.

The rest had proved to either be after Papa’s money or just out and out jerks.

She was tempted to take a woman. It would appall her father’s friends of course, but it might get her father off her back about ‘finding a nice boy’ if he thought she was gay. She could probably talk Regina into coming with her in exchanged for a hefty campaign donation.

Of course that would mean admitting she could not get anyone else to come with her. She was not comfortable appearing that pathetic in front of Regina. The other woman would never let her live it down.

But it was not as though Storybrooke had a lot of dating options.

Archie was a nice fellow. But she occasionally went to him for therapy and Archie was far too ethical to accept a dinner invitation from a patient.

Unlike Victor Whale (a five, he was a cad but an up front one) with whom she had a three month on again off again affair until she discovered he was also carrying on with two nurses and the hospital bookkeeper at the same time.. After that she had to change her health care provider to the HMO in Castle Rock. It was worth the half hour drive to avoid him.

She supposed there were high end male escorts out there, but she had no idea how to go about finding one. She was getting desperate enough that she did a Google search, but all that turned up were clearly sex workers. And they were so obviously sex workers that there was no way she would be able to pass one of them off as a date.

It was time to admit to herself that she did not have any real friends. She had business colleagues, acquaintances and tenants. There really was no one she could ask.

Or was there? Her eyes dropped to the cashier’s check from Rumplestiltskin’s Yarns on top of her deposit pile.

Gold was presentable. She enjoyed their conversations immensely. Once you got past his shyness there was a canny business man and a well read, though clearly self educated mind. She would actually enjoy spending an evening with Gold.

Worth a shot at least.

 

The next day she dropped in at the offices of Rumplestiltskin's Yarns while she was out collecting unpaid rent. Gold now rented half of a renovated warehouse which included a storefront for retail sales. The production facilities for the spinning wheels, looms and other equipment they made was in back of the store. Spinning and dying operations shared space with classrooms that took up the next two floors with offices on the top.

She had been here before on inspection tours and always been impressed by the industry displayed. Gold’s people worked hard, but all seemed to be enjoying themselves. Unlike the soul sucking drudgery that emanated from the cannery. Even the people who were answering the customer service lines were knitting or spinning as they talked on the phone. Giving more of the impression of some sort of social event than a boiler room.

Gold’s assistant, Astrid, dropped the handful of wool she had been spinning when Belle walked into his outer office. She squeaked, “Ms. French! Are you here to see Mr. Gold?”

“Obviously.” The woman was a ditz, but she and her boyfriend, Leroy, did manage pay the rent on the bungalow they leased down by the marina on time.

“I’ll – I’ll just let him know.” She fled through the inner door.

Astrid did not keep her voice low enough not be heard from the outer office. “Ms. French is here to see you! Are we behind in the rent? Has shipping been parking on the right of way again? If she shuts us down Leroy and I won’t be able to pay our rent! We’ll be homeless!”

“Calm down, Astrid. I paid the rent yesterday right on time.” Gold said. “And if shipping has been parking in the right of way again I’ll be having their arses.”

Gold emerged from his office shrugging into his suit jacket. Today's was an older one with a pinstripe that he matched with an attractive burgundy shirt. “Ms. French, what can we do for you?”

She really did not want to say any of this in front of Astrid. “Do you have a few minutes to talk?”

“Of course.” He waved her into the office. He had a spinning wheel by the side of his desk with a half full spindle. Once they were seated he asked. “Was there something in particular? You’ve never stopped in between inspections before.”

“Do you own a tuxedo?”

Gold blinked. “Well, technically I have a dinner jacket.”

“What’s the difference?” Belle knew she was getting off track, but could not help it.

“An additional button and where it was made.” Gold responded. “May I ask why this sudden interest in my wardrobe?”

“My father is hosting a charitable dinner and silent auction and I was wondering...” She managed to keep her voice steady. “If you would like to attend. With me.”

“You want me to come to support your father’s charity?” Gold sounded confused.

“No. Well, if you want. It’s a good cause; respites for carers.” She took a deep breath. “But I have the tickets. I want you to be my guest.”

Gold blinked again. “Uhm, just so we’re on the same page here. Are you asking me to fill out your table so the dinner will look successful or is this a… date?”

“I’m asking you to be my plus one so my father won’t seat me next to my ex for the entire evening.” Belle told him. “If I have to listen to that oaf talk about his skill at American football for three hours I will end up wanting to put my dessert fork through my eye. Or possibly his.”

“Well we can’t have that.” Gold had the nerve to chuckle. “I would be honored to act as a bulwark against boring footballers and save those lovely blue eyes. Er, that is...”

He cleared his throat. “When is this event?

She gave him details. “It’s a two hour drive, so I’ll pick you up around five.”

“I look forward to it.”

That had proved significantly less uncomfortable than she had expected. Gold had not even asked for anything in return. At least not yet. She would owe him a favor of course. But Gold had always proved to be quite reasonable in the past. She was fairly sure he would not push for anything too extreme.

Chapter Text

Bae Gold was sitting on the chest at the foot of his father’s bed watching him get ready for his date. The idea of Papa going on a date was taking some work to get his head around. And that was before taking into account who he was going out with.

“Papa?” Bae felt he had to raise the issue. “Are you sure going to dinner with Ms. French is a good idea?”

“It’s a worthy cause.” His father finished tying his bow tie and gave it little tug. “And I get to spend the evening with a smart, attractive woman. We often talk when I drop off the rent, so I don’t expect we’ll have any trouble keeping up a conversation over the evening. I’m rather looking forward to getting to know her better.”

“But it’s Ms. French. She’s… “ Papa did not let Bae use the sort of words that the kids at school called Ms. French. He settled on, “Mean.”

Papa turned from the mirror with a frown. “Why do you say that, Bae?”

“Everybody says so. And she kicked the Hermans out of their house.”

Papa sighed. The sort of deep sigh that always came before he gave Bae an ‘important talk’. He limped over and sat next to Bae.

“Bae, do you know why the Hermans were evicted?”

“Uhm, they didn’t pay their rent?”

“And do you know why they fell behind on the rent?”

“They didn’t have any money?” Bae guessed. Now that he thought about he had never heard why the Hermans had money problems. “But Mr. Herman works at the cannery. For his Dad. Did his Dad not pay him?”

“I suspect Mr. Herman senior pays his son considerably more than he does other employees doing the same work.” Papa sounded disapproving. “However, even if he were getting double what other employees are making the Hermans would be living well above their means. Those cars they drive probably cost twice as much as the Caddy and they financed them. Not to mention Mrs. Herman doesn’t work”

“Cause she’s a Mom.” Bae put in. “Mrs. Nolan says there is nothing wrong for a Mom to choose to stay home and take care of her kids rather than working.”

“There isn’t.” Papa said, “But if that’s what you choose you need to be prepared to accept the financial consequences. Three people could live on what Mr. Herman makes, but only by scrimping. The Hermans do not scrimp. So when they fell behind on their rent they did not get much sympathy from Ms. French. Who also has expenses to meet.

“It’s no like she left them homeless.” Papa added. “They moved in with Mr. Herman senior.”

“But Ms. French… she treats everyone like that not just the Hermans.”

“Not everyone.” Papa licked his lips. “Bae, do you remember when you were sick and had to go to the hospital for several days?”

“Kinda.” He had been really little. Like kindergarten. They had still been living over the shop back then.

“When you were sick I wasn’t able to pay the rent. Those ‘saintly’ sisters who run the hospital would not take care of you unless I paid the cost of your treatment up front.” Papa’s voice was sour.

“Is that why you don’t like the nuns?” Papa would not even buy those candles Mrs. Nolan sold every year to raise money for the convent. Mrs. Nolan had told Bae she did not mind. That she understood if Papa had issues because of ‘the troubles’. Bae had not corrected her that they were Scots not Irish.

“It is.” Papa nodded. “It took all the money I had, including the rent. When I went to Ms. French and explained the situation, she offered to loan me three months income so I could stay afloat rather than lose the shop.”

“Everyone says Ms. French’s loans are unfair.” Papa’s story was confusing Bae.

“The interest rate was on the high side, but no more than most credit cards.” Papa shrugged. “She did not have to do anything, Bae. And we really would have been homeless. So just remember the next time you hear the other kids talk that Ms. French helped out when no one else would.”

Like most of Papa’s ‘important talks’ this left Bae more confused than anything. He was able to wave Papa off on his date without feeling too much trepidation. Ms. French might be a monster to everyone else in Storybrooke, but to Papa she was apparently just another business person. Papa could handle that.

Chapter Text

“You know I’da been happy to drive. You did not need to hire a limo.” Gold told her as they headed out of town.

“This way we don’t have to worry about how much we have to drink. Or how tired we are on the drive back.” Belle told him. “Besides Gus can use the work. Right, Gus?”

“That’s right, Mr. Gold.” Gus grinned at them from the driver’s seat. “I’m trying to save up for my own tow truck. So getting extra hours is great.”

“Still it’s an unnecessary expense.” Gold grumbled. “I was just talking to Bae about responsible money management.”

“Well, tonight you’re doing me a favor so just sit back and enjoy a little luxury.” Belle patted his arm.

Gold had been a great choice for a plus one. His ‘dinner jacket’ was tailored to perfection. No one was going to mistake that for a rental. He had added a bit of flair in the form of white silk scarf that had just a few threads of gold woven through it. When she had complimented him on the look he had shyly said, “Thank you. Wove it myself out of some of our yarn as a demo. Came out rather well.

“You are looking very fine yourself,” He added.

“Thanks.” She had not bothered to buy a new dress for this thing, but her white silk full length sheath with some gold accessories was classic and more to the point comfortable. Between them they made a very smart looking pair.

One thing she did want to mention. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention this is the first time we’ve been out. Besides Gaston, that’s my ex, being there, Papa doesn’t think I socialize enough.”

“I’ve been your tenant for ten years. We know each other fairly well.” Gold smiled slightly.

That was true. “So Robert, why do you own a dinner jacket?” Formal events were extremely rare Storybrooke.

“Uhm, people I’m close to call me ‘Rum’ not Robert.” Gold ducked behind his hair.

“So, Rum, I’m Belle by the way, the story of the dinner jacket?”

“Some knitting conferences have fancy dinners.” He explained. “Nine times out of ten I’m the only man in the room. Rather than try to figure out what to wear it’s easier to just show up in formal attire and call it good. And we’ve started to be nominated for industry awards. Works well for those events as well.”

The rest of the trip passed quickly. Belle was almost sorry when the got to the hotel the dinner was being held at. She was enjoying their discussion of surrealism more than she would the banquet.

Papa and a woman who he introduced as Victoria Belfrey were greeting people as they arrived. Ms. Belfrey proved to be another real estate developer who showed little interest in Belle.

She took that as a good sign. If the woman had designs on Papa personally she would have made more effort to ingratiate herself to Belle.

Papa stepped away from the receiving line to show them to their table.

And interrogate Gold.

“So, Gold,” Moe asked with false heartiness, “What do you do.”

“I own and run Rumplestiltskin's Yarns.” Gold told him. “We make hand dyed and hand-spun yarns as well as spinning wheels and looms. Our production facility and retail shop are located in Storybrooke, but we ship internationally from our website.”

Moe frowned. “You can make a living doing that?”

“I employ twelve full-time and another 8 part-time people and will likely add another two or three before the year is out.” Gold let that sink in and continued. “There’s been an upswing in fiber artists in the last two decades. Even hobbyists are willing to pay for well made equipment and we do custom design work as well. Our yarn lines have an excellent reputation. We have trouble keeping production up with demand.”

“Rum started out selling his yarn at craft fairs.” Belle added. “He built the business completely from scratch. He’s won all kinds of design awards.”

“Self made man, eh?” Moe smiled. “I am myself you know.”

Belle caught the slight raise of Gold’s eyebrows, but he responded smoothly, “Like father, like daughter then.”

“Oh no,” Moe chuckled. “I backed Bluebell completely. You could say I’m responsible for her success.”

“Really?” Gold had a good poker face. He was using it now.

“Oh look,” Belle interrupted. “Attorney General Spencer has come. You should go talk to him, Papa.”

“Yeah, I need to keep on that sucker’s good side.” Moe agreed. “Don’t want him investigating me again. The last time was a complete witch-hunt you know. He’s afraid I’m going to challenge him for the Republican nomination for Governor. You mingle now, Belle. Important people here.”

As Moe left Belle sighed, “Let’s get a drink.”

As she led Gold to the bar he commented, “I thought I read that your grandfather had made a fortune mining in western Australia.”

“Yeah, but he only had a few million.” Of course Gold would spot her father’s braggadocio. “Papa took that and turned it into hundreds of millions.”

“I see.” Gold tone was neutral.

She got a martini and Gold a Scotch. Figuring that touring the silent auction display would pass Papa’s standards for mingling without actually requiring her to talk to these people she dragged Gold through it. Belle put in a bid on some antique books. To her surprise Gold was taken with a little Staffordshire ceramic sheep. “I’ve got a couple of Dresden Shepherdesses that belonged to my Aunts. They could use a wee lamb to go with them. Besides it’s a good cause as you say.”

“Be a better cause if more of the money actually ended up in the foundation’s coffers.” Belle grumbled. “I’m definitely going to insist at the next board meeting that any fund raisers have to be approved by the entire board.”

“I saw you were on the board of directors when I looked it up.” Gold sipped his drink. “'Tis fine work you’re doing there. Most of these people know dos like this are just for show and the publicity. The ones that really want to contribute will send their money directly.”

“You looked us up?”

“Uhm, yeah.” He looked embarrassed. “I don’t like to donate to charities that aren’t actually charitable. Your foundation rates very well in terms of actually making sure the money goes to help the carers.”

“Would you have donated if it didn’t?”

“No.” Gold looked into his drink.

“Not even to impress me?” She teased.

He shrugged. “I doubt you’d be over impressed by a man who was willing to lower his standards for the sake of doing it. Besides my mite probably isn’t going to impress you much anyway.”

“I wouldn’t be impressed by you compromising your standards, but you’d be amazed at how many men think otherwise.”

As they passed the bar heading back to their table, Gold asked, “Can I get you another drink? The same?”

“No, I think I’ll switch to wine.” She did not want to end up tipsy and she was going to be inclined to drink a lot tonight. “Papa has crap taste in wine so just bring me the best you can find.”

Gold pursed his lips. “You may no want to trust my choice on wine. When I’m buying it for myself I drink two Buck Chuck.”

“Then ask the sommelier.” She waved him off.

She had just settled into her seat, when Gaston appeared next to her and dropped into Gold’s seat. “Belle! It’s great to see you again. I’ve really missed you.”

“You have?”

“Oh yeah. I think about you all the time. The one that got away.” He smiled broadly. “What have you been up to?”

“Well I’m in the process of developing a new business mall just outside of Storybrooke...”

“That’s swell. The team’s looking to go all the way this season. I was talking to Coach just the other day and he said,” As Gaston prattled on Belle sighed. Where was Gold with that drink?

Luckily she only had to hear about the team’s strategic defense for a few minutes when Gold showed up with two glasses of red wine.

He frowned at Gaston. “Excuse me, but I believe that’s my seat.”

“Oh, I’m an old friend of Belle’s, if you know what I mean. We were just catching up. You don’t mind?” Gaston grinned up at Gold clearly expecting him to back down.

“I do actually.” Gold did not smile back.

He set the glasses of wine he was carrying one handed down. “The server recommended the Grenache. I hope you like it.”

“Thank you.” Since Gaston was still sitting there Belle gave in to the inevitable. “Rum, this is Gaston Chevalier. Gaston, Robert Gold, my date this evening.”

“My friends call me Gas.” Gaston stood and held out his hand. Smiling what Belle thought of as his ‘aren’t I a great guy’ grin. It went over very well in TV interviews.

And considerably less well with Gold. Who took the hand to shake but said, “How do you do, Mr. Chevalier. Belle has told me a great deal about you."

Oh, snap! Belle decided not to bother to hide her smile. Gaston was far too self centered to notice Gold’s snub.

He did however manage to realize that Gold was not going to let him continue sitting there. The seat on the other side of Belle was reserved for her father. Whom Gaston was not about to inconvenience. “Oh, there’s Attorney General Spencer. I’ve been wanting to talk to him about the election. He wants my endorsement you know. We can talk more later, Belle.”

“Not if I can help it.” She mumbled under her breath as he left.

Sitting down Gold took a long drink of his wine. “Ye might have mentioned that the oaf I’m suppose to be fending off for you is twice my size.”

He sound more aggrieved than fearful. Belle found herself snickering. “He’s not twice your size.”

She took a sip of wine. “One and three-quarters, maybe.”

“Yeah, that makes it so much better.” Gold gave her a half smile. “If I have to take my cane to him you’ll bail me out I trust?”

“Absolutely.” This was rather good wine. “I didn’t actually expect you to antagonize him you know. Just sort of hint him away.”

“That wasn’t antagonizing him.” Gold said. “Back in Glasgow if ye came back from the bar to another bloke chatting up your… the woman you brought to the pub, the standard response would be ‘Oi, mate, on your bike!’ followed by breakin’ glass if he didn’t move fast enough. I behaved like a right proper gent under the circumstances.”

“Why did you leave Scotland?”

“Same reason I eventually came to the States. Milah, my ex, got a job at a design firm in Liverpool. So we moved there. I was doing fine woodworking, so I could get work pretty much anywhere.” He took a sip of wine. “How did you end up in the States.”

“Papa decided to expand the business to the US when I was sixteen.”

“That must’a been hard.” Gold said. “Adjusting to an American high school from Australia.”

“Yeah, Papa enrolled me in middle of Junior year figuring it would give me ‘the American high school experience’, but I’d already studied most of the material and was bored out of my mind. And all of the cliques, and it was the sort of school where the cliques mattered, were already formed. So I spent a year and a half as that ‘weird girl from Australia’.”

Dinner actually turned out to be rather pleasant. With Papa seated between her and Gaston, he spent more time making nice to her father than bothering her.

She and Gold got into a very entertaining discussion about mystery writers. The woman on the other side of Gold turned out to be in publishing and joined in. Belle got the names of several new writers who sounded interesting.

After dinner when they were announcing the winners of the silent auctions. Belle once again got cornered by Gaston. “Really like to get together with you and catch up some more. You doing anything next Friday?”

“I’m afraid I already have plans.” She was pretty sure her linen cupboard badly need organizing.

“Well, I won’t be back in the area for a couple of weeks after that. Team’s on the road. Tell you what I’ll call you and we can set something up.”

Gaston was droning on about some endorsement he was hoping to get when Belle noticed that Gold had been cornered by Sidney Glass.

Crap!

“Gaston, I have to go.” She raced over to grab Gold’s arm. “I’m so sorry, Sidney, but I need Rum for something. You’ll excuse us?”

As she dragged Gold away, he asked, “What do you need?”

“To get you away from Glass. Sidney is the investigator Papa uses when he wants to get dirt on someone. What did you tell him?” She demanded.

“I didn’t say much.” Gold said defensively. “Margot, who handles our publicity and social media, says that if you don’t recognize who a reporter works for not to talk to them. He said he was independent, so I was trying to fob him on to her.”

“Thank heavens.” Belle breathed a sigh of relief. “I may have waive the pet deposit on that rabbit Margot been asking me about to thank her. Don’t talk to Glass. The man is a snake.”

At least getting Gold out of Sidney’s clutches had also managed to get her away from Gaston.

Gold won the figurine he had bid on in the silent auction. He seemed quite pleased.

On the way home Belle leaned back in her seat. “Thank you for coming with me. I actually enjoyed the part of the evening where I wasn’t talking to Gaston.”

“I enjoyed the evening as well.” Gold licked his lips. “It’s probably none of my business, but… “

As he trailed off, Belle told him, “If it’s none of your business I’ll tell you. Go ahead and ask.”

“It’s just that I don’t see why a woman who is as confident and poised as yourself needs someone like me to fend off the advances of a man you clearly don’t like.” Gold said. “Someone as pretty as you must have learned how to discourage men fairly young.”

The part of her mind where the socially awkward sixteen year old still lived preened. He thinks I’m pretty. Belle thrust it away to contemplate later (possibly with vibrator in hand). “The dynamic I have with my father is… complicated. You may have noticed Papa is a trifle… self-absorbed?”

“I did, yeah.” His tone was dry.

“My Mum was sick for a long time and died when I was fourteen. So Papa was pretty much the only family I had. I guess deep down I still want... to please him.” For him to love me was what she really meant. She had never talked about this with anyone but Archie before. She was surprised she could say this much to Gold.

“And Papa thinks I should be married. Or at least have a man around.”

“You’re not interested in that?” Gold asked quietly.

“Theoretically I’d like it too. I’ve just never met anyone where the relationship didn’t blow up after a few months.” She sighed. “I already turned down Papa’s plans for me to join him working at French Enterprises to go out and start my own business. Which I don’t let him have any say in. So that only leaves my private life for him to meddle with.

“He thinks he’s helping me. But his idea of a good man for me...” She grimaced. “Well you saw for yourself tonight. Papa really likes Gaston, so I understand why he keeps pushing him my way. What I don’t understand is why Gaston suddenly acts interested again. We were terrible together.”

“Have you looked in a mirror lately?”

Belle snorted. “Please. He’s a professional football player. Woman way prettier and more buxom throw themselves at him on a regular basis. If he’s decided he wants to settle down he could have his pick of them.”

“You’re underestimating yourself.” Gold cleared his throat. “But if you’re looking for a crasser reason, I can think of several hundred million of them.”

“You think he’s after Papa’s money? He’s a football player. He should have plenty of his own.”

Shrugging slightly Gold said, “Maybe he does. But from the way he talked it sounded to me like he lives a pretty extravagant lifestyle. He’s what, mid-thirties? That’s getting a bit long in the tooth for a footballer. If he’s looking for a cushy job to replace that, marrying the boss’s daughter is a quick way to the top.”

“That’s...” She considered for a moment, “Actually a very astute observation. And provides me with an easy way to get rid of Gaston.”

“Aye. Just find him a job somewhere.” Gold agreed. “Preferably far from you.”

“Rum, you have a sneaky side.” She grinned. “I like it.”

The rest of the drive home was filled with considerably less fraught quiet conversation. When they pulled up in front of pink Victorian. He said, “Thank you for inviting me. I can’t remember when I’ve had such a pleasant evening.”

“Even while you came close to a brawl with Gaston?”

He smiled. “I don’t get to play the white knight very often. Even then.”

“Thank you, Sir Rum for you timely rescue.” She held out her hand.

“The honor was mine, M’ Lady.” He took it.

She caught movement out of the corner of her eye. “Don’t look but I’m pretty sure I just saw the front curtain’s twitch.”

“Boy’s suppose to be in bed by now.” Gold growled.

“He’s thirteen. He’s probably curious about how the whole dating thing works.” She gently pulled him toward her. “Best not disappoint him. A good night kiss is customary.”

“I-If you’re sure?” Gold’s eyes went wide.

“Yeah.” She had kissed enough losers in her day. A white knight would make a nice change.

It was actually a very good kiss. He kept it gentle and chaste.

As she watched him until he got inside the house. Not quite sure why she suddenly was feeling a little disappointed that the evening was over.

Chapter Text

The next day she got a package from Amazon. Inside was a very nice copy of Sonnets of the Portuguese with a card that read, ‘Thank you for a lovely evening. Rum.’

Which showed both foresight and good manners. She had to say she much preferred getting a good book to the roses most of her dates sent her.

But she did not give Gold a lot more thought. Until Wednesday when she wandered into Granny’s for lunch. She usually took it to go. Less chance of being disturbed by one of her tenants.

As she approached the counter Gold came up to her. "Ms… that is Belle, I was wondering if you would like to join me for lunch?” He nervously gestured toward one of the back booths with two place settings and a pot of tea.

“Sure.” A girl had to eat after all. The shy smile her agreement earned her surprised her.

Nobody but the waitress came up to bother them. Ruby kept giving Gold questioning looks, but he ignored them.

“Thank you for the book.” Belle said after their order were placed and Ruby walked away shrugging to her Grandmother in exchange to an unspoken conversation between them that Belle interpreted to mean, ‘What’s going on there? – No clue.’

“I hoped you would like it.” Gold was doing a little nervous twitch of his thumb and forefinger. “Have you read it before?”

“I have, but it was back in college, so I’m enjoying just reading it for pleasure. Have you?”

“Just finished it recently.”

Their discussion of the book caused lunch to stretch for over an hour. They split a piece of Granny’s carrot cake to justify hanging on to the table so long. Gold insisted on paying. “You treated Saturday.”

A remark that caused Ruby’s eyebrows to fly up into her hairline.

She was not exactly surprised to find Gold waiting on her at the diner Friday when she stopped in for lunch. It became a thing with them meeting, without actual prearrangement, every couple of days. Talking about books, music and Storybrooke business activities.

Ruby started holding the back booth for them.

So she was surprised to get a phone call from him where he asked, “I was wondering if I could set up an appointment with you this week?”

“Aren’t we having lunch today?”

“I certainly hope so.” Gold said shyly. Then he went on with more confidence. “But there is a business matter I’d like to discuss with you.”

“And you can’t do it over lunch because?” She knew he would be calling in the favor she owed him at some point. She should not feel so disappointed when he finally broached the matter.

“I’m no comfortable discussing business during a… social occasion.”

“Okay.” They set an appointment for the following day. And lunch went off with a pleasant discussion of a book about the Impressionists Rum was reading.

Gold arrived for the appointment with a thick binder. Looking rather uncomfortable. “I wanted to discuss some plans for expansion with you, Ms. French.”

“Ms. French? What happened to Belle?” She asked sharply. His going back to formalities did not sit well with her.

“This is a matter for my landlord. I was no sure if she would be wantin’ me to be so familiar.” Gold did not meet her eyes.

“If your landlord is ‘Ms. French’ who is ‘Belle’?” It was an interesting distinction.

“My friend, I hope.” Gold glanced up and then back down at his binder. “'Tis an awkwardness I had nae taken into account when we started… dining together.”

“I think friends can do business together.” And if push came to shove she realized she would rather lose the business than the friendship. “Now what’s this about expansion?”

“We’re at our production capacity now. Over capacity actually. Inventory is starting to intrude on the retail space and I’ve got the spinners using the classroom when we don’t have classes going.”

He opened up the binder to show her some drawings.

“Now I’ve been speaking with Mr. Lapitch next door and he’s thinking of closing his shoe repair business next year when his lease is up.”

“He is?” Belle frowned.

“Aye. His daughter lives in Santa Fe and he very much wants to move down there to be nearer the grandchildren. If you could see your way clear to letting me take over that space, we could move the offices, store and classroom into it and have nearly twice as much space for production in the building we’re in.” Gold pointed to a floor plan in the binder. “It’d mean taking out some interior walls and a bit of electrical work for more dye pots, but it would be an easy fix.”

Glancing over the plans, Belle asked. “Wouldn’t you want to have some connecting doors between the offices and the production facilities? The way you have it set up you’d have to go outside to get between them.”

“That’s a load bearing wall.” Gold told her. “Putting in connecting doors would require major structural work and aside from thinking you might not want to alter the building that much, it’d triple the cost of the alterations. That’s more than I’ll be in a position to spend with the increase in rent and additional equipment.”

“For my best tenant I think I might be prepared to undertake the changes and amortize them over your lease.” This was not even a real favor. She would do as much for any tenant taking over the shoe repair shop. If anything he was doing her a favor. She would not have to find a new tenant. “I would expect you to take a five year lease on the shop. We could extend the lease on your current space to run concurrently with the new space.”

“Five years with an option for another five year extension?” Gold suggested.

“I believe that might be possible.” She agreed. “What sort of new equipment are you thinking of buying?”

 

A couple more months went by having lunch with Gold a couple of times a week. Talking to Gold regularly seemed to make the rest of her life go more smoothly. The last rent day had even been marginally pleasant. Although she realized after she looked over the books, collections had gone about as normal, it was just that lunch with Gold had eased her temper and made it easier to get through.

They had talked today about getting season tickets to the Fathom Events performances a theater in Castle Rock would be showing in the fall. The drive would be a nuisance right at what passed for rush hour, but Gold had rather tentatively suggested that they go early enough to get dinner before hand.

Going to Castle Rock for dinner and a show would get her out of the rut she had been in lately. Going with Gold promised to be fun. She was checking out the Fathom site for the event list when she got a notice of an email from her father.

The subject was ‘Special weekend!’

Oh, God, what now?

‘Bluebell, guess what? Your old man is going to honored by the National Family Foundation Conference for his work with the foundation. It’s part of a weekend long conference at a resort in the Bahamas. Figured you, me and the rest of the board should take it in. Aside from the honor there’ll be a bunch of great contacts there. I’m inviting the usual gang and thought I’d ask Spencer as well. You know, butter the guy up a little.

Will you be bringing that Gold fellow? I’m inviting Gaston anyway, so don’t feel like you have to.’

This time Belle actually did drop her head to the desk. Just what was she going to have to do to convince her father that she did not want Gaston? There was really no way out of going to this thing. Aside from familial duty she was on the Board of Directors for the foundation. Although why on earth was this conference honoring Papa? Yes, he had kept the foundation going after Mama died, but he did not actually do anything beyond writing an occasional check and showing up for the annual meetings. She attended more board meetings than he did and she openly admitted her position was strictly honorary.

There was only one option. By the time she got through this thing she was going to owe Gold enough favors for him to end up owning that building.

At least Astrid did not freak out when she showed up at Gold’s office this time. “Mr. Gold is down talking with Dove about an order, Ms. French. If you’d like to wait in his office I’ll get him for you. Would you like a cup of tea?”

It was a surprisingly good cup of tea. Served in a proper tea cup with a saucer and a biscuit. Clearly Gold had trained the ditz well. Gold came in wearing a leather work apron over his waistcoat. Which he swapped out for his suit jacket as he greeted her. “Belle, what brings you by?. Not that it isn’t always a pleasure to see you, but you’re usually working this time of day.”

“You may not think it’s such a pleasure when you hear why I’m here. I need a plus one again.”

He retrieved the cup of tea Astrid had left for him and sat in the chair next to her rather than behind his desk. “Another charitable do?”

“Yes. My father is being honored for his work with the foundation.” She took a breath. “You’d be my guest. I’ll cover the expenses of course. But it would be for the whole weekend.”

“Could I let you know in a day or two? I’ll have to make arrangements for Bae. He’s too young to leave on his own that long so I’ll need to see if he can stay with a friend. Usually Marco or Tillman are willing to have him when I don’t take him with me on trips, but I’ll need to check.” Gold said. “I dinnae like you paying for everything. At least let me pay my share.”

“It’s in the Bahamas.” Belle told him. “And it’s an inclusive resort. Papa will be paying for the resort. I’ll have him book us a suite. They always have two beds. I’ll owe you enough for just agreeing to go that I insist on picking up the rest of the costs.”

“The Bahamas?” Gold looked completely nonplussed. “Do I need a visa for that? Can I get one quickly enough?”

“Just your passport.” She sighed. “And your armour. You may have to fight off Gaston again.”

Chapter Text

Papa insisted on checking Bae’s duffel to make sure he had everything he needed to spend the weekend with August. And added a hoodie and extra underwear like Bae was some kind of little kid who couldn’t pack for himself. Bae would have groused about that if he had not had other more important things on his mind.

He followed his father back to Papa’s room where Papa was packing his suit bag. Papa had bought two new shirts to go with his dinner jacket along with a new pair of swim trunks and some tropical weight trousers. Clearly he was trying to impress Ms. French. Although if that was the case Bae privately thought he should have gone with a little more flair. Those were definitely Dad clothes.

None of which made Bae more comfortable about this trip. Licking his lips he finally came out with, “Papa, Ms. French isn’t forcing you to go with her is she?”

“Forcing?” Papa looked startled. “How on earth could she…? Bae, where did you get such an idea?”

“August.” Bae admitted. That Ms. French was coercing Papa to go out with her was the least awful scenario August had come up with.

“And just how does August think Ms. French is forcing me to go on a luxury weekend in the Bahamas?”

Put like that like that did sound unlikely. But Bae was worried. Papa looked after all the people who worked for him as well as Bae. Nobody looked after Papa and if Ms. French was taking advantage of him… Well, Bae was not sure what he could do about it, but he had to try. “That she’s threatening to evict the business if you don’t, uh… spend the weekend with her.”

That got a half smile from Papa. “I take it August has finally gotten past the ‘girls are icky’ stage.”

“Yeah.” Papa had insisted on having a couple of conversations about girls and how Bae was going to start feeling about them awhile back. Bae had to admit it was better to be forewarned even if he still found the whole sex thing confusing as all get out.

Sitting on the bed, Papa motioned for Bae to join him. “Even if Ms. French evicted us, I’d just find another location. It would interfere with business for a time, but it would hardly shut us down.

“And to answer the rest of your concern,” Papa put an arm around Bae’s shoulder. “I’m going out with Ms. French because I… enjoy her company. She’s bright, well read and has a wicked sense of humor. We get along rather well.”

“She’s pretty, too.” Bae was trying very hard to talk around the whole idea of sex and his Papa.

“She is.” Papa smiled shyly. “Way out of your old man’s league.”

“So you like her?”

“I do.” Papa nodded.

“I mean like like.” Bae clarified.

“Uhm, well,” Papa looked embarrassed. “I suppose I do. I have no idea if Ms. French feels the same way.”

Which kind of brought up August’s other idea as to why Papa might be going out with Ms. French. Bae had been just a little afraid that August’s idea that Ms. French was Papa’s dominatrix might have some truth to it.

August read a lot of fanfiction that was rated higher than either his father or Papa approved of. Bae had shown August how to wipe his history so that he would not get caught having read it. Bae himself stuck with the teen and under stuff, not because he was afraid of getting caught, but because Papa trusted Bae and unlike August’s father did not check on what he was looking at on line. So Bae did his best to deserve that trust.

Even so he knew enough to know that fanfiction was not really reliable about stuff like that. So he had found a website that claimed to be an introduction to BDSM. It had emphasized consent and limits and aftercare. Which sounded a lot better than some of the stuff August talked about being in the stories.

Bae was certain that he did not really want to know if his Papa was into that kind of thing. Making it even tougher to figure out how to ask if Ms. French was a responsible Dom.

Vague would just have to do. “But she treats you… nice?”

Papa gave Bae a searching look. “Of course. She’s a little… reserved. There have been a some men in her past who have behaved very badly toward her. So it’s only natural she’s going to be slow to open up. But that’s all right. Slow just means we get to know each other better.”

To Bae’s relief that sounded a lot more like dating than anything kinky.

Unless it meant Ms. French was the Sub.

Bae was not going to think about that. And, “I’m going to tell August he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

“Thank you.” Papa said. “Gossip in Storybrooke is bad enough without August adding to it. Where does the boy get these ideas?”

“He reads some unusual fic.” Bae admitted.

“So you’re okay with my going away for the weekend with Ms. French?” Papa asked in a very serious tone.

“Yeah. As long as she’s nice and makes you happy, I think you should keep seeing her.” Papa deserved to be happy. And if Ms. French ended up as Bae’s Step-mom, well he was pretty sure Papa would not let things get that far unless he was sure she would be a good one.

“Shouldn’t you be calling her ‘Belle’ rather than ‘Ms. French’ though?” Bae asked.

“I do when I’m talking to her.” Papa smiled and pulled Bae into a hug. “You’re an awfully good kid, you know that?”

Chapter Text

Gold insisted on driving them to Boston to catch the flight. His stodgy old Caddy was surprisingly comfortable. He was a good road trip companion too. He did not mind if she read rather than talked. Although he enjoyed it even more if she read aloud to him. The time passed easily.

She knew enough about the difference in how she and Gold viewed money not to give him his ticket until they were in the line for security.

“You bought first class tickets?” Gold looked shocked.

“Well I wasn’t about to fly coach.” Belle responded. “We could have gotten picked up by the company’s private jet, but that would have meant six hours in the company of Papa’s sycophants, including Gaston. To avoid that I’m willing fly commercial.”

Gold shook is head. “I only ever bump up from coach to business class if the flight’s goin’ to be longer than six hours. It’s terrible what they charge for first class.”

Belle laughed. “Tell me that again after the flight.”

About two hours into the flight as he sipped tea out of a real tea cup, Gold admitted. “I’ll grant you first class is far more comfortable. But I don’t think a wider seat and a decent cuppa is worth what they’re charging.

“But I still want to reimburse you for my fare. Although I find I don’t have any qualms about letting your father pick up the costs of the room. He apparently spent $85,000 on that portrait that he’s giving to the foundation.” He shook his head. “I’m thinking the carers would far rather have had the dosh.”

“Probably.” Belle agreed. “At least he didn’t give the thing to me. It’s a terrible painting.”

Regrettably the boat to take them to the island the resort was on was a charter, so it was no longer possible to duck the other guests. “At least Gaston isn’t on this trip so that’s something.” Belle commented.

“And we got out of Nassau without running into Bae’s Mum.” Gold added. He had gotten a bottle of sparkling water from the steward and poured her a glass. “Drink up. You need to stay hydrated in this heat.”

“Your ex is in Nassau?” This was more interesting than the water.

Gold shrugged. “Very possibly. She works for a cruise line and travels throughout the Caribbean. I’m pretty sure the last but one letter Bae got from her was from Nassau.”

He sipped his own water. “That was last Christmas though, so it’s hard to say where she is now.”

Belle was on the verge of inquiring further about the illusive former Mrs. Gold, when her line of thought was interrupted by, “Belle, Darling, it’s so good to see you! And this must be Robert. Your father didn’t mention you’d taken up with a silver fox.”

Well there were worse people who could have descended on them. “Yes, Ella. Rum, this is Ella de Vil a ‘friend’ of Papa’s.”

Gold managed a polite greeting with only minor startlement. Given that Ella was still sporting her trademark half white and half black hair style and was wearing a full length fur the origin of which Belle could not begin to identify, he deserved full points for effort.

“So tell me all about yourself, Darling.” Ella demanded. “Moe said you run some little store in wilds of the north where Belle has buried herself?”

“Rumplestiltskin’s Yarns.” Gold sidled a little closer to Belle. She took his arm possessively. Desiring protection from Ella was a not uncommon reaction among men with strong senses of self preservation.

“We make...”

“Some of the most gorgeous yarn imaginable.” Ella suddenly became less over the top. For Ella anyway. “I used some of your cashmere in my collection last fall. Your designer, Jefferson, promised me I could have a special colorway for some sweaters this fall.”

“If you’re from Dalmatians, we should have your order ready in a couple more weeks.” Gold looked less skittish now that he was talking about yarn.

“Oh excellent. That will give us plenty of time to get it knitted up.” Ella turned back to Belle. “You really need to fill your father in on Bobby here’s background, Darling. He’s got the completely wrong end of the stick. Not that he isn’t pretty enough just to keep for that alone. Now I must toddle off to the bar. I’m parched.”

She left in a swirl of white fur.

“When you said friend of your father’s...” Gold seemed a bit overwhelmed by the woman.

“Papa has had a number of ‘lady friends’ since Mama died.” Belle explained. “Ella has been around the longest. Mainly because she doesn’t mind the other women he takes up with. I have to wonder what he’s been telling his friends about us though.”

“That I’m a scrounger. Especially if he knows you haven’t let me reimburse you for the dinner or this trip.” Gold dropped his head and murmured. “Pretty sure he thinks I’m your fancy man. And is wondering at your taste.”

“Is that going to be a problem?” She really did not need to be dealing with Gold’s bruised ego along with her father this weekend.

Gold shrugged. “Makes no difference to me. Not like I deal in the circles your father does. Ms. de Vil is the only one I’ll likely run across again. Though I rather wonder about your taste as well.”

“Let’s just say I appreciate a good conversationalist. And man who not only knows how to negotiate a deal, but honors his agreements is rare enough to peak my interest.” To her surprise she found herself smiling at him.

Gold shyly smiled back. “For the record, spending time in your company is a pleasure. You certainly don’t owe me for it.”

The room was not bad. A one bedroom suite put them in kind of close quarters. But there were two bathrooms.

Gold was more impressed. “It’s bigger than the apartment over the shop Bae and I lived in when we first moved to Storybrooke. And look at that view from the balcony.

The seaward view was enough to make up for the close quarters.

“I’ll take the fold out.” Gold said as he went to hang his suit bag in the closet and took out his toilet kit.

“You’re sure? They can be uncomfortable and...” She was not sure how to broach the issue so she just came out with it. “Will it bother your leg?”

“Can’t imagine they’ll have an uncomfortable bed in a place this posh.” Gold was checking out the bathroom. “Look at that tub! It’s got a Jacuzzi.”

“You didn’t answer my question about your leg.” Belle pointed out.

“It’s just the ankle. The rest of my leg is fine.” Gold told her. “And what gives me problems is when I over work it or let the muscles get chilled. Which is not going to be an issue in this climate.”

“So you live in Maine?”

Gold shrugged. “We’ve got central heating. It’s not like I work outside.”

“You’ll tell me if that bed gives you any problems.” Belle insisted.

“Yes, ma’am.” Gold smiled.

They were just about finished unpacking when there was a rap on the door. Followed by a loud, “Belle, Sweetheart, I need to talk to you.”

Belle did a quick scan of the room to make sure there was nothing sitting out that suggested Gold would be sleeping on the couch and opened the door. “What’s up, Papa?”

“Sidney has something you need to hear about your ‘friend’.” Her father brushed into the room and stood glaring at Gold.

Who returned a bewildered shrug at her questioning look.

Sidney had followed Papa into the room looking more than a little uncomfortable. He cleared his throat. “As I was explaining to Mr. French there were some irregularities in the background check on Mr. Gold he requested...”

Papa!” Belle fumed. “How could you? Siccing your stooge on Rum like that!”

“You’ll thank me when you hear what he found out.” Papa nodded knowingly.

“First his name isn’t Robert.” Glass went on. “It’s Rumgally.”

“No it’s not.” Gold put in. “I changed it with the Register's Office when I turned sixteen.”

“And he was taken into custody in connection with a massive confidence scheme where he tried to claim he was the heir to,” Here Glass had to consult his notes, “The Isle of Rhum?”

“It’s the Isle of Rum.” Gold corrected him. “And I was taken into care in 1976 because my father was running a confidence scheme where he was trying to pass me off as the lost heir of the Bullough family.”

“You admit you’re a con man.” Moe jabbed a finger at him.

“My father was a felon who spent most of my childhood imprisoned for fraud.” Gold dropped his head hiding behind his hair. “I was more or less a prop in his scheme.

Belle had already done the math in her head. “You were eight? How did that work?”

“I was seven. He didn’t tell me how the scheme was suppose to work.” Gold shrugged. “He made me memorize some information about Kinloch Castle and dressed me up in a fancy public school uniform. As long as I parroted the information correctly I avoided the back of his hand. What I mainly remember is a couple of the marks gave me cake and tea and I felt rather bad deceiving them.”

“Still like father like son.” Moe declared. “You can’t trust someone who comes from that kind of background.”

“Did you find anything to his detriment after he learned long division?” Belle asked Glass.

“Well, no arrests I was able to find.” Sidney admitted. “He was raised by a couple of lesbians.”

“Aunties Flora and Maggie,” Gold was apparently willing to defend his aunts where he had not been himself. “Wonderful women. Better parents ye could not have.”

Sidney had the decency to look embarrassed. “He dropped out of school at sixteen.”

“I left school with my certificate and got an apprenticeship.” Gold corrected him. “The Aunties would have had my hide if I'd a dropped out of school.”

“And there were some pretty severe financial problems about twelve years ago.” Sidney finished reading his notes.

“Medical bills.” Gold explained. “That’s when I hurt my ankle and Milah’s insurance didn’t cover Bae’s birth. Took us a couple of years to pay them off.”

“I knew about the debt.” Belle turned on her father. “From the credit report I got when he first became my tenant ten years ago. Papa, I hope you’re not suggesting that he’s worked like dog these last ten years to turn a little yarn shop into a successful multi million dollar business just to set up some kind of sting on me, because if you are I’m going to insist you get a neurological examine. That kind of paranoia is an early symptom of dementia.”

“I’m just trying to protect you, sweetheart.” Papa insisted.

Where had this concern been when Gaston was treating her like dirt and Hans was using his relationship with her to raise money for his family business? She bit that back and instead growled. “By going after the first man I’ve found who actually treats me kindly? You’ve got a funny way of doing it.”

“Belle, it’s all right.” Gold said softly.

“No, it’s not bloody all right.” Belle snarled. “He only sicced Sidney on you because he’s a snob. If you came from some impoverished noble family like your father claimed he’d have started planning the wedding.”

“He’s your father and he’s worried about you. If Bae took up with some girl with my background I’d be concerned as well.” Gold’s voice got even softer. She doubted anyone but her could hear him. “You don’t want to say anything you’ll regret.”

He had a point. She would probably would regret it. And end up apologizing to her father which she hated to do.

Instead she turned on Sidney and demanded. “During this background check did you happen to turn up anything about Rum’s current financial situation?”

“Rumplestiltskin’s Yarns is worth something over three million.” Sidney glanced at her father and added accusingly, “Which was in my report. I couldn’t get as good a grasp on the rest of his worth because he’s got a chunk of it in trust for his son, but it’s at least another mil.”

“Based on the last financial statement he gave me more like two. Which is about ten times what Gaston is worth, Papa.” She had checked after Rum had brought it up. It explained a lot. “So maybe you should have Sidney check him out.

“Now if that’s all you have to say, I’m going to head down to the beach. Surf’s up and I promised myself I’d ride some waves before I head home.”

With that she turned and marched into the bedroom. Slamming the door behind her. The nerve of her father!

Her father was saying something she could not make out, but she could hear the door open. Presumably he was leaving. She was able to hear Sidney say, “No hard feelings?”

“Nay. You were just doing your job.” Gold came back with. “But if you’ll take some advice? Belle’s on the board of French Enterprises. You might not want to antagonize someone who could very well be your boss someday.”

“That ship’s already sailed.” Sidney sighed.

“Might be able to get it back if you could use your influence with Moe to get him to start treating her like the intelligent woman she is rather than an errant teenager.” Gold suggested. “It’s in his interest too. She’s his only kin. Family is important. Best not to fratch with them.”

After the outer door closed there was a soft tapping on the bedroom door. “Belle? You all right, Dearie?”

“I’m mad enough to chew nails.” She opened the door. “And you are far too forgiving for you’re own good.”

Gold shrugged. “Glass did me no harm. Maybe even some good. At least now you know all my dirty little secrets. And I don’t want to be the cause of a rift between you and your Dad.”

“Rift’s a long time coming.” Belle told him. “I decided a long time ago I wasn’t going to let him manage my life. I just can’t get him to understand that!”

“I’d say you made your position fairly clear just now.” Gold pointed out. “Why don’t we go down to the beach? You wanted to do some surfing and the sun and water will help you… clear you thoughts.”

Settle down he meant. She suspected he was managing her like he would have his son, but at least he considered her opinions.

Gold wore a white t-shirt with his swim trunks. “I was never pretty enough to bare all, and I live in Maine. Parts of me hasn’t seen sunshine in a decade. The less skin I show the less there is to burn. And lovely as that suit is, you should no be running around without protection for all that pretty fair skin. Here let me help you with your sunscreen.”

It had been a long time since anyone looked after her like that. Having him spread sunscreen across her back and down her legs felt really good.

“You’re sure you don’t mind my leaving you here while I surf.” Belle asked as they waited for the rental people to get her a surf board.

“Not at all. Been a long time since I’ve had nothing I need to do but relax and read on a beach. I’ll get us one of those beach umbrellas. Might even take a dip between chapters.” He smiled. “Go. Enjoy yourself.”

The waves were bit on the puny side. But they were good enough to get in a couple of runs. Taking a break she came back to find Gold reading on his phone, stretched out on a lounge chair in the shade of a large beach umbrella. He had an empty lounger set up next to his with a thermos of ice tea and an empty glass waiting for her.

“A girl could get used to this kind of service.” She told him as she poured herself a glass.

“I can’t take credit.” He gestured toward the resort behind them. “There is an energetic young woman with the concierge’s office who for a small remuneration snapped her fingers and made everything appear. All I did was go in search of a beach towel.”

“Knowing how to delegate is also a skill.” Gaston would have sent her to find the waiter to order his beer.

Gold shrugged. “You should reapply your sunscreen. Here let me get your back again.”

The feel of him rubbing lotion down her back and legs left her wondering just what other services Gold might be prepared to render. She quickly quashed that idea and asked. “What are you reading?”

“The Financial Times.” At her look, he quickly added. “It’s not my beach reading. I got an alert that today’s issue has a piece on wool futures.”

He paused clearly unsure about something.

“What?” She asked.

“There’s a not very flattering article about your father as well.” He handed her his phone. “Apparently the press release about the award he’s receiving caused them to do some background research.”

“They found something wrong with the foundation?” Belle started skimming the article.

“No, the foundation is clean, it’s...” Gold licked his lips. “Well, your father seems to have been inflating his net worth rather a lot. He’s badly in debt.”

“Oh is that all.” Belle got to the end of the article without finding any surprises and went back to the top to read it more carefully.

“You knew?”

“Yeah. That’s another part of the reason I divested my interest in French Enterprises once I got control of my Trust Funds.” There was nothing in the article she did not already know. Still, “Papa will be livid if he sees this. Luckily he doesn’t read the Financial Times.”

“It will come up on any alert he has set for news on the business.” Gold pointed out.

“So no worries.” She handed his phone back.

“Belle, I’ve got an alert set for postings about my business and according to Bae and Margot I’m barely internet literate.” Gold was aghast. “Even if your father doesn’t do it himself he’ll have someone in his social media department who does.”

“He does but they only show him positive stories.”

Gold was silent for a moment. “I see.”

“Still think I shouldn’t fight with my father?” She asked tensely.

“I don’t think you should fight with your father because it will make you unhappy.” Gold said softly. “I don’t care about your father. But you clearly do. I just wish there was more I could do to help.”

“Archie says that I have to acknowledge who he is and see if I’m still willing to have a relationship with him with those limitation.” She put her head down on her arms facing Gold.

“And do you?”

“Well I don’t want to not have a relationship with him.” She sighed. “It’s just so hard.”

“Yeah, it is.” Gold settled back into his lounger.

She suspected they were not talking just about her father at this point. But he did not push her to tell him more than she wanted to so she would return the favor. There was something comfortable about just being here together.

Chapter Text

She got in another couple of runs before they had to go back and get ready for the evening. Gold let her have her choice of shower or tub. She took a nice long soak while he showered in the other bathroom.

By the time she was done with her bath he had already changed into his formal shirt and trousers. This shirt had little pleats that complimented his slim build.

“Is that a new shirt?”

“Aye.” Gold ducked his head. “Thought I might need more than one over the weekend.”

“It looks good.” He looked good. Man cleaned up really well.

The cocktail party was just getting started when they arrived. Gaston was set up in a corner of the room posing for photos with whoever wanted one. Belle was more than a little pleased to note that his tuxedo was no where near as well fitted as Rum’s.

“What can I get you to drink?” Gold asked.

“One of the colorful fruity things.” Belle decided. “It’s a tropical vacation after all.

“I’ll make sure they put one of those wee umbrellas in it.” Gold headed off to the bar.

She found a table off to one side that gave her a view of the party so that she could escape people she did not want to talk to before they got to her.

While waiting in line Gold appeared to be drawn into conversation with Attorney General Spencer and Anna Frost. Knowing Anna it was probably more of an argument than a conversation. About the time Gold got their drinks Anna started grinning and Spencer started to get very red in the face and gesture violently.

Gold nodded abruptly at Spencer headed back with their drinks.

Hers was something with colored layers complete with a hunk of pineapple with an umbrella stuck in it and a plastic monkey hanging off the side. It was probably a deadly mix of alcohol and she intended to enjoy it thoroughly.

“What was all that about with Spencer?” She frowned in Attorney General’s direction. He had cornered Sidney Glass and was still gesturing wildly.

Gold took a sip of his Scotch. It did not even have ice cubes. “He was arguing with that young woman about Obamacare. Pulled me into the conversation by asked me as a small business owner how I felt about Obamacare.”

“And?”

“I told him.” Gold glanced at Spencer who was now being led away by his assistant. “He did nae take my answer well. Apparently he’s not used to having someone tell him how the world works for people who work for a living.”

Or people disagreeing with him Belle guessed.

Gold glanced back her way and asked, “Was that all right? I don’t usually speak out like that. It’s just that he asked and well, bein’ here as your guest and all...”

When he trailed off she prompted. “Yes?”

“May have gone a little to my head.” He chuckled with embarrassment. “I mean I know you only brought me because you didn’t want to be paired with the oaf, but if you think I’m good enough to pass for your… uhm date, well...”

He trailed off.

But it was clear where he was going. Belle was offended on his behalf. “Rum, you’re as good as anyone here.”

He snorted. “Compared to most of this crowd my money is barely pocket change. And they can tell I’m a jumped up Glasgow gutter brat, who’s only here rather than dead or in jail because the two kindest hearted women in the world took me in and made somethin’ of me.”

“And now you run a successful business.” Belle pointed out. “Everyone else here is successful because their grandparents had money or position. You’re successful because you did the work. And did it without ill treating your employees. More than that you have a child who actually likes you. Half of the people here would give most of what they own to have the sort of relationship with their family you have with Bae. Hell, I’d trade my inheritance to have Papa feel about me the way you do Bae.”

“Your father… “ Gold paused. He clearly did not want to give her empty platitudes. “Cares about you. I’ll grant you he’s too… self absorbed to really get to know who you are. But that’s no on you. The failing is his. And it’s his loss. At least he tries. The only time I ever heard from my father was when he came up for parole and he was looking for a statement supporting his release.”

“Did you give him one?”

“No.” His tone was harsh. “After the Aunties took me in and I learned what it was like to actually be cared for I realized how little I meant to him. I’m not as forgiving as you think I am. As long as he was imprisoned he wasn’t in a position to hurt me or any one else.”

He took another swallow of Scotch. “So what is the plan for tonight?”

Recognizing a deliberate change of subject, Belle told him, “This is going to be one of those buffet things where we try to grab food between various entertainments. You want to try for the sushi bar or the local barbecue before the comedian gets started?”

They decided on trying the local cuisine. But on the way there Gold got distract by a couple seated at one of the tables and stopped to comment to the woman. “Your shawl is lovely. Beautiful workmanship. That’s no an easy pattern to pull off.”

“Thank you.” The woman smiled and spread her arms to better show off the shawl. “I made it years ago when Ulysses was deployed in Afghanistan. Took my mind off him being away.”

“Aye, that yarn is from back when I did more of the spinning myself. I think that was one of our first attempts at incorporating gold thread with the wool.” Gold fingered the edge of the shawl the woman was holding out. “Glad to see it’s wearing well.”

“You’re Rumplestiltskin?” The woman gasped.

“Robert Gold actually.” Rum held out his hand. “But I run Rumplestiltskin’s Yarns. Still do some of the spinning.”

“I love your yarn.” The woman gushed as she grasped Gold’s hand with both of hers. “And I have one of your looms. It’s a dream to use.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“Can I get a picture? So I can prove to my Knit Night group we met.” She handed her phone to her husband.

“Uhm, all right.” Gold seemed embarrassed.

After they left the couple, Gaston descended on them. “You guys know General Homer?” He was clearly looking for an introduction.

“No, the woman is apparently one of Rum’s groupies.” Belle grinned.

“What?” Gaston asked in disbelief.

“One of our customers.” Gold told him. “Brand loyalty is an important marketing angle so we have a forum on Ravelry and a Facebook page. They call themselves the ‘Rumplers’.”

“Oh, well, Moe wanted me to let you know he and Ella are saving you seats at their table after you get your food.”
.
Her father behaved as though there had been no earlier confrontation so Belle chose to meet him half way and did the same. Ella, who for all her over the top act was quick to pick up social on social cues managed not only to keep the conversation frivolous, but seat everyone in such a way that Gaston was as far from Belle as possible.

The dessert trays were being passed around when the band started playing, The second number was “Behind Blue Eyes”.

“Hey, it’s our song.” Gaston announced. “C’mon let’s dance, Belle.”

“It’s not our song.” Belle declared.

“Sure it is. ‘Cause of your eyes.” Gaston was holding out his hand now.

“Go on, Bluebell. Dance.” Her father put in. “Gold won’t mind. It’s not like he can dance with you.”

Gold pursed his lips, but said quietly. “It’s up to Belle, of course.”

She sighed. Best give in and get it over with. “You sure you don’t mind?” She asked Gold.

With a tight smile he told her. “Not at all. As your father pointed out I can’t dance with you.”

As Gaston led her out to dance, she sent her father a look that said, ‘We will discuss this later.’ It was enough like her Mum’s that he apparently got it as he shrugged and turned back to Ella.

“I don’t think you quite understand what this song is about.” She told Gaston as he gathered her into an embrace for a two step. Or rather she told his breast pocket. They were poorly matched for slow dancing. “Although I’ll grant you it’s becoming more accurate over the years.”

“Well there is always something going on behind your gorgeous blue eyes.” The smile he said this with was probably supposed to be boyish. It was starting to verge on leering.

“Rum is a lot more sincere when he gives me that compliment.” She told him as he spun her.i
Gaston was frowning when she came back to closed position. “Yeah, what’s the deal there, Belle? I mean he’s lame. He can’t like surf or hike or anything with you. And it’s not like you’re interested in yarn. What do you see in him?”

“For starters he’s monogamous.” She told him sharply. “And I was never interested in football either. Rum doesn’t expect me to live in his pocket. He’s a smart business man. And he likes to read. We talk about that. Heck, I’m pretty sure he read Sense and Sensibility because I told it was my favorite book.”

“Probably trying to get in your good graces.” Gaston said darkly. “How do you know he’s not after your money?”

“I’m pretty sure he’s not.” Unlike you, she did not add. “Rum’s idea of well off is different than ours, Gas. He grew up poor. To him money is security not a way of keeping score. His business is doing well. He’s got one of the nicer houses in Storybrooke. His son’s college fund will pay for any school Bae wants to go to and he can afford to send him to private school now. About the only thing he’d do with more money is expand his production and he’s expects to have the capitol to do that by next year.”

“He’s got a kid?”

“Baden, he’s thirteen.” Belle nodded. “He’s a nice kid. A little leary of me. I think he’s worried I won’t treat his Dad right.”

“Guy’s got a lot of baggage, Belle.” The song was coming to an end.

“When you’re my age you’re not likely to find a man who doesn’t.” Belle said. “And I don’t regard Bae as ‘baggage’. More by way of a good reference. Rum’s a great father and he and Bae adore each other.”

As they walked back to the table. Belle added. “You know Gaston. Papa likes you. If your looking for a job you’d be better off just asking him for one. Going through me isn’t going to get you anywhere.”

“It’s not like that, Belle.” Gaston denied.

“Yeah. Whatever.”

 

When they finally made it back to their room, Gold was viably lagging. “Did you do too much today?” She asked.

“No.” He denied. “It’s just what with Bae’s school schedule I’m not used to late hours. Don’t feel you need to accommodate me if you want to do something though.”

She did not. But she was not really tired either. She got into bed and read for awhile, but she was definitely feeling antsy.

She found her mind returning to the beach this afternoon and the feel of Rum’s hands as he rubbed on the sunscreen.

Oh. That was what was bothering her. And she had not packed her vibrator. Thinking it was only going to be a couple of nights and embarrassed at the prospect that Gold might see in the close quarters of the hotel rooms.

She could manage without it she supposed. But the prospect of her own hand rather paled.

Especially when she considered that there was a much more satisfying option just on the other side of the bedroom door.

She would not bother him if he were asleep. She would just take a little peek into the other room and see. Maybe ask if he needed help making up the bed if he was still awake.

He had sofa bed made up, but was propped up reading something on his phone. He glanced up as she padded across the room. She took it for encouragement when his eyes scanned up and down taking in her short silk nightie. But he quickly brought his gaze up to her face. “Belle? Can’t you sleep? Would you like me to make you a cuppa? I always bring my own tea when I travel so it’ll be a decent one.”

“That’s sweet of you.” And it was. He looked absolutely adorable in plaid pajama pants and a t-shirt with a spinning wheel and the caption ‘Spinning, ‘Cause knitting wasn’t weird enough’. She went over and sat beside him on the pulled out couch. “But I was actually looking for a goodnight kiss.”

“Uhm, all r-right.” Despite the stammer he was not slow to lean in for a repeat of the gentle kiss they had shared the night of the foundation dinner.

It was even better the second time around. Belle slipped her hand into his hair and went in for another. This time licking at his lips.

Rum clearly had no problem with that. Soon they were making out like a pair of horny teenagers. Rum took the incentive to shift them to lying down on the bed, pulling her on top of him.

His hands were starting to wander. Tracing the curves of her hips and waist.

Belle was shifting around to get her hands under his shirt when her knee hit one of the metal bars holding the pull out together. She grunted sharply.

“Are you all right” Rum stilled immediately and pulled his hand away from her hip.

“I think the other bed would be more comfortable. And it’s bigger.” She slid off the bed and held out her hand.

Rum smiled and took her hand. “Whatever you what. Although you may have to give me directions for what you have planned that requires more space.”

“Mr. Gold, you have a naughty mind.” She tapped his chest with her finger. “I like it.”

She started to lead him to the bedroom, but he pulled away from her. “Uhm, I need to get...” He was blushing a little as he went to dig around in the pocket of his suit bag. Coming up with a small box around which was tied a fancy bow of gold yarn.

How very responsible of him to bring it up first. “Why are the condoms gift wrapped?”

He blushed even more. “Gift from Jefferson. He said it had been so long since I went away with a woman I probably wouldn’t remember them.”

Glancing her way. “And I wouldn’t have. I did nae think this was what you had in mind.”

“It wasn’t.” Might as well be honest. “Changed my mind. I hope that’s all right with you?”

“Whatever you like, my dear.” He grinned. “At this point I’m just hoping I don’t wake up in the middle of this and find it’s another dream.”

“Have you been dreaming about me?” She started leading him into the bedroom. If so it was a good sign. Mutual interest and all.

“I have.” When they reached the bed his arms went around her and she found herself being scooped up and deposited on it. For a wiry little guy he was strong. “And verra embarrassing it is to have to be changing my sheets in the middle of the night like a randy school boy.”

He leaned over her and caught her lips in another kiss. Then moved slowly across her chin and down her neck. Pausing to suck on a spot just under her ear that sent a jolt through her. She actually squealed.

“Good? Bad? Too much?” He asked.

“Do that some more.”

Which he did. By the time he worked his way down to her breasts she was practically writhing. Rum was breathing hard, but grinning in the most self-satisfied way. He slipped the strap of he nightie down to uncover her breasts and went back to kissing and sucking.

Belle ran her hands through his hair. She loved the feel of it. So soft. She was so caught up in what they were doing she missed that his hand was between her legs until he brushed against her clit.

“Oh, Lord!” She arched into his hand nearly coming from that first caress.

The gentle brushes continued. Tipping her over the edge into hard pulsing fireworks.

As she caught her breath, he stroked her thighs and hips. Gently kissing along the edge of her jaw again. “All right?”

“Bloody fantastic!” She reached down to strip off his pajama pants.

He was trembling a little while she helped him roll the condom down his length. Even so he managed to ask. “There’s lube in that box if you think we need it.”

“Not a chance.”

Having him inside her was actually better than his hand. He finished so soon after she came a second time that he must been deliberately holding back until she did.

They ended up in an exhausted heap. She was fairly sure she could no longer feel her legs. Rum was breathing like a bellows.

Even so he slipped his arms around her and asked quietly. “May I stay?”

“If you like.”

 

Based on past experience, she expected the next morning to be awkward as hell. But when Rum greeted her with a smiling, “Good morning.” and a kiss on the forehead things just seemed right.

It helped that they did not have to share the bathroom. “Because I’m starving. Do you suppose there’s any chance this place serves a full English rather than just cheese and fruit?”

It was not a full English, but the breakfast buffet did include eggs, potatoes and several kinds of meat along with all sorts of fruit and breads. Belle loaded her plate and grabbed a bowl of yogurt and granola as well.

She was trying to figure out how to balance toast on top of her eggs and sausage when she noticed Gold was watching her with a little smile that on another man would have qualified as a smirk.

“What?” She asked.

“Nothing.” He quickly denied. “Would you like me to take your toast? I can manage two plates.”

“I’m hungry.” It was a pile of food. “I got a lot more exercise than usual yesterday.”

That came out before she thought about it. She blushed when she realized how it must sound. The little smile definitely turned into a smirk. She added. “The surfing. I meant the surfing.”

“Of course.” Gold nodded. Handing her a bread plate.

If he was going to take that attitude he could just carry the toast for her. She added a couple of small pastries as well.

The smirk got a little wider.

They ate in silence for a few minutes. She caught Gold smiling at her over the edge of his tea cup a couple of times. By the time she had polished off about half of her food she reached the conclusion that they were going to have to talk about last night.

Which if he took wrong was going to make for a very awkward trip home.

Ease in. “All right, some of my appetite may come from activities later in the evening.”

“I’m choosing to take it as a compliment.” Gold held out the bread plate. “More toast?”

Munching another piece of toast gave her time to consider her approach. “I really enjoyed last night.”

“So did I,” Rum smiled at her.

“No, I mean really got off on it. I never realized my neck was an erogenous zone.” She lowered her voice. “And the hand job after was fantastic.”

She had expected him to puff up with pride. Instead he was frowning. “You’re giving me a lot more credit than I deserve. I’m thinking maybe I should have taken my cane to Gaston after all if you’re that impressed with a little foreplay.”

“Take the compliment, Rum. Finding a man who’s willing to be generous in bed is something of a miracle.” That ex-wife of his was an idiot to walk away from this man.

Well Belle was not such a fool. “So I was thinking maybe we could make last night a regular thing. We’re both adults with no other commitments. I’d like to think we’ve gotten to be friends this last couple of months. Why not enjoy each others company in bed as well.”

“If that’s what you want.” Gold was staring at his plate not meeting her eyes.

“You don’t sound very enthusiastic.” Belle frowned. “If you don’t want a relationship we can call last night a one time thing and just go back to being friends.”

“No, I do.” Suddenly Gold sat up and squared his shoulders. His voice was still soft, but it took on a firmness. “And if that’s all you want I’ll… I’ll take it. But...”

He licked his lips. “I’m… quite fond of you, Belle. And I had hoped… I’m very happy to be your friend, but I would very much like the opportunity to become more. But if you don’t think that… you could feel that way about me, then I’ll accept whatever you are comfortable with and not push for more.”

Stalling Belle ate a few more bites. This was proving more complicated that it had looked last night. Most men would be more than happy to just get regular sex and not have to worry about feelings.

Except that was part of what she liked about Rum. He was not like most men. Chewing on her lip she decided to go for broke. “I’m thirty-four.”

Gold cringed slightly. “I’m fifty. Not quite old enough to be your father.”

“That isn’t why I brought it up.” She went on. “I don’t have a lot of time left if I’m going to have kids. And I would like to have kids.

“So if you’re thinking of some kind of long term relationship,” And it sounded very much like he was, “I’m going to want a commitment fairly soon. I don’t have time any longer to just muck about.

“Also, while I know I started off ahead of the game because I had money from my Trust Fund to set up in business with, I did work hard to build up my business. I’m perfectly happy to share the benefits of that with a partner, but I’m going to want protections in place making sure that if that partnership breaks up, what’s mine stays mine.”

“So,” She speared a piece of fruit, “If either of those are deal breakers I’d just as soon not to even start something. I’ve been burned before too often.”

“I’d gathered that.” Gold dropped his eyes shyly. “I’ve no problem with a prenup as long as it works both ways and I get to keep my business and Bae’s trust fund is protected.”

“Sure. That’s only fair.” If he was going to be this reasonable she might throw in the building he rented as well.

“As for children,” He looked up then, catching her eyes. His voice was soft. “I would love to have weans with you, Belle. But I’m no willing to be an absentee father. No child of mine will grow up without a father. So be sure you’re willing to have me in your life forever, at least as a co-parent, if we go down that road.”

Forever was a pretty big ask. Belle took a moment to consider. From the tone of his voice this was actually more important to him than the financial issues of a prenup. If Bae was anything to judge by he was a good father. Giving her hypothetical kids a father who actually wanted to be a hands on Dad might be a good thing.

Taking a deep breath she told him. “I think that might be a good thing for the kids. Having two parents in their lives.”

Gold smiled like she had just handed him the moon. Reaching out to take her hand he told her. “Aye. You’d be a wonderful Mum.”

Even though she found herself gazing into his eyes like a mooning school girl she retained just enough awareness to notice that rat Sidney get up from a table off to their left and scurry out the door.

After a moment they went back to eating. Gold was smiling the cutest little smile. “When we get back to Storybrooke I’d like to have you over for dinner so you can get to know Bae. I think you’ll like each other.”

She had not even thought about that. “Rum, I haven’t had anything to do with teenage boys since I was a teenager. And I could barely talk to them then. I’m terrible at making friends with people. How am I going to get to know him let alone get him to like me?”

Because she knew that if Bae objected to her, she’d be lucky if they could even go back to chatting when Gold dropped off the rent.

“You never had any trouble talking to me.” Gold shrugged it off. “I know you, and him, and I’m sure you’ll get along. He’s already by way of approving.”

“He is?” She was skeptical. If Papa had brought home any of the floozies he took up with after Mama died she would have been a complete bitch to them.

“We talked before this trip.” Gold stole one of her pastries off the bread plate. “He said as long as you’re ‘nice’ to me and I’m happy, he thinks we should keep seeing each other.”

The puppy dog eyes he turned on her made her melt a little. “I haven’t been this happy in a very long time, Belle. And I promise I will do everything in my power to make you happy as well.”

She believed him. Looking into his eyes she was willing to set aside her usually caution and take him at his word.

She had it bad. Good thing she had insisted on that prenup before this. Because in her current state she might not have done the sensible thing.

 

There was nothing interesting on the conference agenda until after lunch. So they decided to spend the morning at the beach. Surf would not be up for another couple of hours, but they could just enjoy the sun and sea in the meantime.

Rum slathered her in sunscreen again. “Especially if you insist in laying out in the tropical sun rather than getting under the umbrella shade like a sensible woman.”

Despite his words he did not nag her to join him in the shade, where he retreated with his phone to read.

She compromised by settling her lounger just outside the umbrella’s shade to soak up some rays.

With the result that she had her top undone and was laying on it on her belly to when her father suddenly loomed over her.

“Papa!” She shrieked, grabbing at the hooks of the top to fasten them up. “Give a girl some warning!”

“Nonsense, Bluebell. I used to change your nappies.” He was grinning like a fool.

She rather doubted that. They had a full time nanny until she went off to boarding school. But her father dropped to her side and enveloped her a hug.

“You shouldn’t be surfing. Not in your condition. Why didn’t you tell me I was finally going to get a grandchild from my beloved daughter?” He scolded. “Do you know yet if it’s a boy? When is he due?”

“I have no idea.” Belle told him curtly. “Because this grandchild must be coming from some other daughter I’ve never met.”

“Now, Bluebell, no need to be coy about starting a baby before the wedding, these things happen, Sidney overheard you talking about it this morning.” He was grinning even more. “So glad you’re being sensible about the prenup. I’ll get my lawyer on it right away. Where do you want to have the wedding? This would be a great venue.”

“We’re no where near planning a wedding yet, Papa.” She hoped that this wouldn’t scare Rum off. Thankfully He looked surprised but not frightened. “And I’m not pregnant.”

“But Sidney overheard you talking about it, Sweetheart.” Papa said.

“Mr Glass eavesdropped on a very private discussion about the future of our relationship and jumped to incorrect conclusions.” Rum put in. He was using his ever so soft and polite tone that masked his snark. Clearly Papa no more caught his actual meaning than the people of Storybrooke. It occurred to Belle that the way people underestimated Rum would make them a killer Good Cop/Bad Cop negotiating team. She would have to keep that in mind for future deals.

“No baby?” Papa looked so disappointed.

“No, Papa.” Belle told him firmly. “If you ask very nicely Rum might let you practice your grandfathering on his son though.”

Papa perked up at that. “He’s thirteen right? Does he like football?”

“Proper football.” Rum looked amused. “I’ve tried to raise him a good Ranger’s supporter, but the little traitor’s been following Revolution lately.”

“Oh, it’s easy for me to get to Boston.” Moe rubbed his hands together. “I’ll get us tickets. The four of us can go to the games. And maybe I can take him fishing. Leave the two of you some time alone. Yes, just the thing. I’ll go check on the game dates right away.”

As Moe bustled off Belle said. “I didn’t think he’d take me up on it. Don’t feel you have to agree.”

“Bae would love the chance to see a game or two live.” Rum shrugged. “And if your father wants to take him fishing I’ve no objection.

“What I can’t believe is that the prospect of grandchildren was all it took for him to overlook my ‘bad blood’ and plebeian origins.” He shook his head. “Makes me feel a little like that prize ram of Ruth Nolan’s.”

“Poor wee lamb.” She leaned over and kisses him. “Don’t worry. Your shepherdess is here to take care of you.”

“I will follow meekly.” He grinned. And stole another kiss.

She doubted that. Which pleased her very much.