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Faking It

by spanglemaker9

Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - Do Anything......................................................... 1 Chapter 2 - Elegantly Wasted..................................................6 Chapter 3 - Vicious World..................................................... 14 Chapter 4 - Long Way Down................................................20 Chapter 5 - The Battle of Who Could Care Less.......................23 Chapter 6 - Too Famous to Get Fully Dressed.........................28 Chapter 7 - Oh My God........................................................ 33 Chapter 8 - All These Things That I've Done............................37 Chapter 9 Girlfriend............................................................ 43 Chapter 10 Tenderness.....................................................51 Chapter 11 - Deeper Understanding.......................................58 Chapter 12 - Into the Ocean.................................................64 Chapter 13 Fame.............................................................. 70 Chapter 14 - Time of No Reply..............................................75 Chapter 15 - Jealous Again..................................................82 Chapter 16 - As the World Falls Down....................................89 Chapter 17 - Who Needs Shelter........................................... 95 Chapter 18 - Later Tonight................................................. 103 Chapter 19 - Magic Man.................................................... 112 Chapter 20 - Crack the Shutters..........................................120 Chapter 21 - Don't Move....................................................126 Chapter 22 - The Man With the Child in His Eyes...................132 Chapter 23 - If You Want Me..............................................139 Chapter 24 - Cold Hard Bitch..............................................148 Chapter 25 - Cold Hard Bitch Redux.....................................154 Chapter 26 - Here Comes the Heartache.............................157 Chapter 27 - Why Does It Always Rain On Me......................168 Chapter 28 - High and Dry.................................................. 175 Chapter 29 - Love Remains the Same..................................181 Chapter 30 - Something to Talk About.................................188 Epilogue............................................................................197 Prequel............................................................................. 209

Chapter 1 - Do Anything
Bella Can I get you anything, Miss Swan? Aro Corts gorgeous, auburn haired, 30-something secretary, Heidi, was asking me as she walked me towards Aros office. I swear I will never get used to such impossibly glamorous people paying this kind of attention to me. I still half-expected to be invisible to women like Heidi. No thanks, Im good. And please call me Bella, I told her, shifting from foot to foot. Well, youre a little early, and Aros not back from his lunch meeting just yet. And Mr. McCarty and Mr. and Miss Hale arent here yet either. Why dont I just show you into Aros office and you can wait there? Youll be more comfortable there. Heidi was smooth in her explanation, but she sounded anxious just the same, like I was going to throw a fit about having to wait. Geez, I was the one who was early. What was the big deal? Maybe in her world she was used to people throwing snit fits over things she had no control over. I guess thats what famous people did. Its really no problem, I shrugged. Heidi opened the door to Aros spacious airy corner office. The two walls were entirely glass, overlooking downtown LA. She motioned to the comfy leather couch along one wall. Over the couch the wall was covered with framed photographs of Aro and all his clients, the faces of rock royalty. We werent there yet, but I hoped we would be soon. Are you sure I cant get you anything while you wait? Some tea? I could send an intern out to Starbucks? Are you hungry? Im fine. Really. Well, please, dont hesitate to let me know I wont. I promise. She finally withdrew and I curled up on Aros couch with my feet underneath me. I could see there was a small stack of gossip and entertainment magazines on Aros desk. We were somewhere on the cover of all of them. I would never get used to that, either. My band, our faces, everywhere I looked. Me, my cousin Emmett, Emmetts best friend, Jasper and Jaspers twin sister Rosalie. Eclipse. How on earth did we end up here? It was all Emmetts doing. He was the one who sent that audition tape into the reality show, Americas Next Great Band. He saw the ad, saying they were looking for bands to be on the show, to compete for the top spot and a recording contract. He didnt tell us until after hed done it, and I told him he was crazy. We were just a little band from the tiny town of Forks, Washington, via Seattle. Theres no way wed make it onto that show, I insisted. I was wrong. We got the call and then our lives exploded. Off we went to LA and it felt like we fell through the looking glass. Three months of non-stop rehearsals, tapings and interviews. It seemed like every band there was more experienced and more polished than us. They came from New York, Chicago, LA. They had recorded self-released cds, they had done tours, they dressed cool. I felt like we were the joke, the cannon fodder destined to be humiliated and eliminated right off the bat. There to be the comic relief. But somehow, impossibly, we became The Little Band That Could. Every week, I was sure we were done for and every week we somehow survived. All the way down to the end, when it was us and that poser hard rock trio from New York. Ill never forget their lead singer, Damians, ever-present sneer vanishing into disbelief when they announced that Eclipse had won the whole damned thing. It was pretty freaking sweet. 1

For the three months while we were on the show we had lived in this little bubble. We were working so hard and never getting out in the real world. So when we won and started making the media rounds, it astounded us all that we had become instantly famous while we werent paying attention. America was apparently crazy for us. And as the lead singer, I was more recognizable than anyone else. So here we were, six months out since we came from Seattle and it was time to stop being the winner of Americas Next Great Band and start being Eclipse. So far all our time had been taken up capitalizing on having won the show, and now we were in the studio working on our first album and getting ready for the big release. Our brand new publicist, Aro, had some big plans for us beyond the show and thats why we were here today. Yes, we have a publicist. He costs a lot of money. No, I dont know exactly what he does for a living. I was snapped out of my reverie by the door opening and Aro entering with Jasper in his wake. Bella! he exclaimed on seeing me. Look who I found in the elevator! Jasper smiled from behind him and came over to fling himself on the couch next to me. He leaned over far enough to bump his shoulder to mine before slouching back into the cushions. I was glad he was here. Aro intimidated me a little and I was happy I didnt have to make small talk with him by myself until everyone showed up. Hey, Bells. Hows the new house? Jasper asked, pushing his wavy blonde hair out of his eyes with one hand. He needed a haircut. There wasnt a time I could remember when I didnt know Jasper Hale and his sister. Maybe they werent related to me by blood like Emmett was, but they might as well be. We had all gone through elementary, middle, and high school together in Forks, and when Emmett and Jasper formed the band, pulling Rosalie and then me in right after, then the three of them became my whole world, my best friends. If we werent together in school (and the school was so tiny that you saw everyone all the time) then we were together practicing, or just goofing around. There had been a moment when we were 15 when Jasper and I looked at each other and wondered if we should be together. After all, Emmett and Rosalie had been joined at the hip since we were 13, so it made a certain amount of sense. But it was too weird for both of us. Wed known each other too long, too intimately to ever be anything other than what we wereunofficial siblings. We never even tried to kiss. Thank God. Thats one memory I certainly didnt want to constantly be repressing! The house is good, I answered him. Its so cute. And it came furnished, so theres not much for me to do. And its not like there was anything from our old house in Seattle that I wanted! Its nice to have a kitchen again, and the backyard is really pretty. We had all finally moved out of the LA hotel and into more permanent living arrangements. I had a little rental house in the Hollywood Hills, the first time Id ever lived alone. I grew up in Charlies house in Forks, always with various band mates hanging out and crashing there. And then, a couple of years after high school we all moved to Seattle together, because Rose and I wanted to take some classes at UW and there were more opportunities for the band there. We rented a ramshackle old house in a crummy section of town and furnished it with curbside rescues and thrift store finds. My little house here in LA was the first place that was ever all mine. It was alternately thrilling and terrifying, like everything else these days. And your condo? I asked. Awesome. You should see the flat screen I just got. Emmett came over yesterday to watch the Mariners game with me. And you should see how Halo looks on it. Freaking amazing. I rolled my eyes. Well, at least some things were the same as they ever were. My boys still sitting around on a Sunday afternoon watching baseball and drinking beers. It just wasnt at my house with Charlie, anymore. We were interrupted by Heidi showing in Emmett and Rosalie, hand in hand. Ah! Aro exclaimed, standing and spreading his arms open to welcome them. Youre all here! Come in, come in. Rosalie, you look exquisite as always. 2

Rosalie gave him a tiny Mona Lisa smile and inclined her head at him. Emmett leaned over to fist bump Jasper in greeting. Seriously? I said, You guys are twenty three and you still say hello the same way you did when we were thirteen? Keepin it real, Bells. Emmett said, Just keepin it real with my homeboy, Jazz. Christ Rosalie muttered, For the last time, Em, you are white. From Washington. Hey, woman. I got nothin but love for you. But respect the fist bump. Rosalie shot me a look and we rolled our eyes in unison and I laughed. Homeboy Emmett cracks me up every time. Aro circled back around behind his desk and sat, spreading his stack of gossip magazines around to examine them for a moment. I guessed Aros age as late 30s, but he had that glossy well-maintained LA look that made pinning an age on him extremely difficult. He might have been 50 for all I could tell. He had sandy blonde hair that he slicked back into a ponytail and impossibly smooth tanned skin. His suit was dark charcoal with wide pinstripes with a bright pink striped shirt underneath. He went by Aro Cort now, but I knew from Heidi that his real name was Aaron Cortowski. He was truly selfinvented in that unique LA way. He even talked different, formal and sort of stylized, like he was from another time. No one in Forks was anything like Aro. He was like a whole different species. So, my friends, he began, looking up at us each in turn, I think its time we make a plan for what lies ahead for you. Ive been studying the band and your performances on the show. Ive had some consultants in to provide insight. We did a little market research Market research? Jasper asked. Focus groups, Aro explained patiently. What? You focus grouped the band? I asked, perplexed. Bella, what happened on the show was like catching lightning in a bottle. You were the young, unpolished, untried upstarts who took the show by storm and captured Americas hearts. Its our job now to find out exactly how that happened, so we can keep catching lightning in a bottle. Why did the viewers take to you so completely? What do they see when they look at you? What do they hear when they listen to your music? What do they think when they think about Eclipse? I nodded and tried to look like I understood what the hell he was talking about. If there was one lesson I had learned in my six short months in the music business in LA, it was that it is about way more than the music. That might be the only part the four of us were focused on, but if we wanted to be successful, it apparently required a whole army of people whose job it was to think about all the other stuff. It was all pretty much a pain in the ass, but when youve worked for something as long as weve worked for this; youre willing to put up with a lot of bullshit to achieve your final goal. So if the band needed to be focus grouped and we all needed user-friendly labels, then wed suck it up and do it. So? Lets hear it, Emmett said, Lay it on us, dude. We have discovered a few things about you, Aro continued, You performed brilliantly on the show, which goes without saying. But the audience had a visceral connection to you all that went beyond that. It had to do with your personalities, or at least the personalities you projected, and how you interact and contrast with each other. And thats what were hoping to clarify and expound on. I dont want you to feel like Im reducing everything about you to a single sentence, but its sometimes helpful to develop a shorthand for each of you. Ill go first, then. Tell me who I am, Emmett said, chin up, smiling, challenging. Aro looked at him a moment and decided to charge ahead, Emmett, the gregarious, jovial fool, everybodys favorite teddy bear. Emmett looked like he was trying to decide if that description pleased or insulted him. He continued before Emmett could formulate a reply, Jasper, the intelligent, handsome, soulful 3

brain of the band. Jasper started to smirk, but I smacked him across the back of the head. No way I was going to let that notion get too firmly rooted in there. Settle down, smartass! He punched my arm. Rosalie is the enigmatic, mysterious, sex goddess guitar genius. Rosalie showed no reaction to Aros description, as if none of that was any kind of surprise to her. And Bella is the face of the band. The beautiful girl-next-door lead singer. Emmett snorted. Rose elbowed him in the ribs. The face of the band? I asked with a start, Why am I the face? Were all equals here. And if somebody is going to be the face, shouldnt it be Rose? Shes so much hotter than me. Bella Rose cut in, shooting me a disapproving scowl. Rose, its just true, I protested. Aro held up a hand to interrupt us. Yes, in many ways, Rose is perhapsflashier. But we think the two of you are equally appealing to fans in very different ways. Rosalie, while you are stunning, and the guitar angle adds a whole new level of every-mans-fantasy to the mix, when we play you off of Isabella, its like youre an exotic wild animal, beautiful but also otherworldly and out of reach. Bella is our real girl, approachable and touchable. Either one alone in the band wouldnt work the same way. Its the two of you together, playing off of each other, that works so well. And Rosalies exotic beauty works better when shes distant, not too open. So Bella is the girl in front doing all the talking. Youre the lead singer anyway, dear. It makes sense for you to be in front. I could see what he was talking about, but it still didnt feel exactly right to me. And I seriously didnt like the idea of always being in front speaking for us. I looked up and locked eyes with Rosalie. She smiled and gave me a tiny nod. Ive known Rose since we were five years old. It made sense to her, I could tell. And she was eager to play her role. Well, if she was game to be a remote untouchable sex goddess, I suppose I could be the warm and cuddly girl next door. That was pretty much just me anyway, attractive, but not stunning. Certainly nothing as flashy as Rose. And aside from when I was onstage, when I slipped into my performance persona, I was clumsy, not graceful and sexy like Rose. I didnt know how to dress and Rose looked like a supermodel all the time. It would be easy to hate Rose for her perfection, but I didnt. Id known her too long. I understood what it was like for her to be hit on by 30 year old men when she was 13. I also understood what it was like for her to have absolutely no female friends outside of me, and what it was like for her to have to mistrust the intentions of nearly every man she met. And I knew Roses heart, how much she loved my boneheaded cousin, Emmett. How loyal she was to all of us. Yes, sometimes I felt a little invisible next to her, but I loved her fiercely just the same. Aro cleared his throat and continued; Now youre in the studio working on the album, which is very exciting. Its going well, I understand? Yeah, Jasper sat up, finally wanting to contribute something now that we were talking about the music again. We have a ton of our original stuff from our bar gigs back in Washington. Weve been playing it for the producers and theres a bunch of songs they want us to record, to see what comes of it. Were also writing some new stuff. Youre writing some new stuff, I corrected. Jasper was our musical soul, we all knew it. Youre helping me out on the lyrics, Bells, you know that. We have songwriters now. Real ones. You dont need me for that. Its always better when its us. The four of us, he said quietly. I shrugged. Well, I leave that to you and the geniuses at the label, Aro said. There will be some touring to 4

support the album of course. The label has thoughts; well talk more about that as we get closer. And Ill be looking for other placement opportunities as well. What are placement opportunities? Emmett asked, saving us all from having to ask the dumb question instead. Mostly the usual. Performing your first single on TV shows, the Superbowl, any other appropriate venues that turn up. Ill be working all angles. He paused here, looking down at his desk again before he went on. On that note, we should talk about branding. Ive explained your personal dynamic, as we see it. Well be looking for publicity opportunities to showcase you, to cement your public personas in the American consciousness. Public appearances, awards shows, presenting, that sort of thing. We also feel that Bella may have some crossover potential. Whats crossover potential? I asked. We feel you might have possibilities in TV and film. I laughed out loud at that. But Im not an actor, Aro. I just sing. He waved a hand dismissively. Just because you havent doesnt mean you cant. Nobody is an actor and yet everybody in this town winds up in a movie. Im not saying you have to, Im just suggesting we expose you in such a way that its a natural fit should you decide you want to pursue it. And how would we do that? Sending you to the Academy Awards, for instance. Having you mingle in the movie world, so you seem a part of it already. Then making the move wont seem like such a stretch. And why would I want to do that? Were a band. We make music. That stuff seems like it would just be a distraction. Plus it sounded so lame and boring, but I didnt say that part out loud. Anything that draws attention to you, Miss Frontwoman, draws attention to the band. What makes Bella famous makes you all famous. Thats how it works. The higher your profile, the better the band will do. I was silent for a moment, and then looked around at my band mates and friends. My family in every way that mattered. They looked interested; no one looked unhappy or uncomfortable. Jasper, as always seemed to sense what I was feeling. Look, Bells, no one wants you to do anything you dont want to do, but if showing up on a few red carpets and shit helps the band, thats no big deal, right? I shrugged. It didnt sound like the end of the world when he put it that way and if the rest of the band wanted me to play this game, then I would. What do I have to do? I asked Aro. Actually, first up is something for all of you, tonight. Theres a record release party for Taylor Swift at Geisha tonight. I think you should all go, be seen and photographed. Have some fun. These things can be fun, you know. He said that last part at me, seeing the face I must have been making. Tonight? I sounded as freaked out as I felt, I could hear it. Dont worry, Bella, Ill come over and help you get dressed. Well go together. It will be fun. Rose said soothingly, instinctively knowing what I was worried about. That made me feel better. It would be fun, getting ready together. Well, then, my little ducklings, Aro said, standing and clapping his hands together. Ill let you all go. It will be a late night, you should rest. Ill be in touch soon when I have more plans to discuss with you. With that, we were done and we all stood, saying goodbye to Aro and making plans for meeting up tonight, getting the details from Heidi. This part was such a freaking drag. I really had no interest in the promotional aspect of what we did. And to focus on it so deliberately frankly made me feel a little sleazy. But wed worked so hard to get here, all our lives really. And if this is what it took for us to stay here, and to have our music 5

actually heard by someone, then I suppose wed just have to stand back and let Aro work his publicist voodoo and make us famous. I would have to step up and take the lead in this part, apparently. Sure, I would do it, for us, for the band. I would do anything for the band. But it didnt mean I had to like it.

Chapter 2 - Elegantly Wasted

Bella Who the hell did that stylist think she was shopping for when she bought this crap? Rosalie swore as she flung garments out of my closet and to the side. This is all terrible. Good, its not just me. I couldnt make sense of any of those clothes. I lay back on the bed and watched Rosalie work. She was already dressed, in a red silk jersey wrap dress that clung to every voluptuous curve she had. Her golden hair curled and swayed gently around her shoulders, reaching the middle of her back. She really was a goddess. There was no one else like her. It was ten at night, but Rose insisted we were right on time, and no one who was anyone would be there any sooner than we were. Finally she surfaced with a black silk halter dress, At least it's black. You can do a lot with black. Well make it all about the shoes and jewelry. I hadnt even had that dress on yet. I shimmied into it and Rose tied the long ties behind my neck. The neckline was modest in front, coming all the way up to the bottom of my throat. But it fell away completely in back, leaving my back bared to just above my ass. I felt ridiculously exposed, but Rose insisted it was perfect. Rose, I cant wear a bra with this, I complained. Its not like my girls were particularly large, but the dress was silky and thin. If I got chilled at all, my... situation... would be painfully obvious under the thin fabric. Band aids, Rose said decisively. And sure enough, with two strategically placed sheer band aids, everything stayed smooth up front. She dug a pair of pewter colored strappy high heels out of my closet that Id also never had on. Rose, you know I dont do heels. Ill kill myself. You dont do heels on stage, which is different. But for something like this, all you have to do is stand there. You can manage. Youre a star now. You have to figure out the heels thing. And if youre really worried, Ill assign Jasper to mind you and prop you up all night. She found some long, sparkly dark silver dangly earrings which sort of matched the shoes, so I put those on too. Rose curled my long brown hair into fat curls and left them to cascade down my back. It was past mid back now; I hadnt had a cut in ages. I thought about shortening it, but Aro thought the length made me look sweeter, which was of course, good for my image. Rose applied some smoky grey eye shadow for me and a slick of shimmery pale pink lip gloss. Rose made me twirl in front of her, which I managed to do in my stupid shoes with only a tiny wobble. I was proud of myself. She declared herself satisfied and we called for the car that was scheduled to pick us up. Hed been waiting at the end of the block of course; we were never to be kept waiting long, so in minutes we were off to Geisha. Aro said it was some super cool sushi place and bar in Hollywood. Jasper and Emmett were supposed to meet us there, but when I saw the scrum of cars and all the people in their hot clothes loitering at the velvet rope in front, I wondered how wed ever find them in this mess. I got out first, and then Rose slid from the car. Rose linked her arm through mine and gave me a reassuring squeeze just as a wall of flashes blew up in our faces. The weirdest part was how they all called your name and talked to you like they knew you. In the past, if someone in Seattle had called Hey, Bella! Over here! How are you? then it was always someone I actually knew. Now it was just some guy with a camera trying to get a decent picture. You had to just smile and pose and block it all out. Rose was a freaking natural at this. She kept her right arm linked with mine and put her left hand on her hip. She had this way of placing her feet, 7

with one foot a little ahead of the other and her toes pointed out, that made her legs look absolutely amazing. She seemed to strike that pose automatically whenever she saw a camera. She shook her hair down her back and smiled. We stood there for a while, in the blinding barrage of flashing lights until Rose decided wed given them enough. She shot a text to Emmett to see where they were. Inside at the back bar came the reply. We made our way to the front of the velvet rope line. For us it was raised with a smile and we were ushered right in. See ya, line suckers. It was dark, crowded and really loud inside. I prepared to be miserable and wondered how long I reasonably had to stick it out. We fought our way through the crowds, which wasnt so bad when Rosalie took the lead. The oceans parted for her. She looked dismissively from one side to the other, not making eye contact and acknowledging no one. She was loving this role, I realized. It was like she was born for it. For me the fame stuff was kind of crazy, and sometimes it was a pain in the ass, but seeing Rose here now, I couldnt imagine her having spent her whole life in obscurity with us back in Forks or even in semi-obscurity in Seattle. This was where she was always meant to be. Finally we spotted Jasper and Emmett at the bar, leaning casually against it, surrounded by a scrum of scantily clad girls chatting them up. There was much giggling and hair tossing and eyelash batting. I couldnt believe the way these girls dressed here. If somebody dressed like that back in Forks, everybody would assume they were pretending to be a hooker for Halloween. But here its just what girls wore to go clubbing. And they were all so beautiful, even the trampy ones. They must spike the water in LA or something. I motioned to the groupies and rolled my eyes dramatically at Rose and she laughed. Emmett, being several inches taller than anyone else around him, spotted us weaving their way and pushed aside several of the near-naked girls like so much driftwood and made a path for us. Its our ladies! he boomed. The faces of the harem fell as they registered our arrival. Step off, bitches. Were just as famous as these two knuckleheads. Jasper and Em made a little space between them for us so we wouldnt get jostled and Jasper raised a finger to summon the bartender for us. He was there in a flash. I thought back on all the nights we spent playing bars in Seattle, spending the whole damned set break trying to get the attention of the damned bartender, Rose laying her tits on the bar in desperation when all else failed. It looks like well never have to wait for drinks again, I thought ruefully. The harem was eventually infiltrated by a few young hipster guys, angling to get close to me and Rose. For the time being, the decision had been made to keep Rose and Emmetts relationship under wraps. A sex goddess whos practically married just isnt as sexy, after all. So Emmett kept his hands off Rose at the bar. I thought hed have a problem watching guys make their moves on her, but amazingly, with Rose wrapped into her aloof new sex goddess role, she repelled them all without a word. She kept her chin up, her eyes focused in the middle distance, she responded to questions with brief one word answers and never smiled. She came across as so exotic and untouchable that no guy even tried. Just as Aro predicted, they came at me in droves instead. I was the soft, smiling, real girl. Jasper and Emmett seemed to be having endless fun watching me field one pathetic suitor after another. I should have just rebuffed them like Rose, but I guess Im too polite. I felt I had to respond to all their boring inane conversations, no matter how little interest I had. It was exhausting. And I was fed up. I finally slipped away from the other three and stalked off to find the ladies room. I kept my eyes down to discourage anyone from approaching me. I finally found the ladies room, tucked at the end of a short pitch black hallway (why do they always hide them?) and after a quick visit, I felt like I could manage a little more of this. Then maybe I could beg to go home. As I left the ladies room, I spotted a smaller bar back in this corner. I needed another drink. It was packed, but I hoped my newly minted celebrity would clear a space for me. It wasnt working. I was facing a wall of tall male backs hemming in the bar and couldnt squeeze 8

in anywhere. I was scanning the bar in each direction to see if there was a break when a voice, incredibly close to my ear, murmured, Can I get you something? I swallowed a surprised yelp and tried not to think of the shiver I felt at his warm breath on my neck. Oh, I was trying to get to the bar, I laughed breathlessly. Here, let me, he said, shouldering aside a guy twice his size, and he wasnt small. The guy started to give him shit for it, and then he caught sight of his face and backed down, making room for us. I sidled in next to him and realized that he must be somebody to garner that kind of reaction. He looked over to me and smiled in curiosity. What? Do I know you? I blurted. You look so familiar... I dont think so. Im James. Hi James, Nice to meet you. Im. Youre Bella Swan, from Eclipse, he grinned at me. Ah, yes. I am, I replied, blushing slightly, like I did whenever I was recognized. Then the way he cocked his head and squinted his eyes a little as he looked at me made the pieces shake into place. Oh! Youre that guy! From that movie! He threw his head back and laughed. Yes, Im that guy from that movie. I wonder if thats how Im listed in i.m.d.b?. Sorry I didnt recognize you. Your hair is different It was long in the movie, not real. This is me, he said, pointing to his short blonde hair, artfully tousled on top. Ohof course. Im such an idiot. Im still not used to living in LA. If I see someone that looks familiar, I just assume I know them, or Ive met them before. It never occurs to me that this is LA and there are actors here and if someone looks familiar its probably just because Ive seem them on TV. and I should stop rambling now. Youre not rambling. Youre delightful, he said softly, dropping his voice and leaning closer in to me. It made me feel ever so slightly uncomfortable, and I was just about to take a step back away from him when another voice interrupted us, this one so low, velvety and rich that I felt my knees get weak at the sound of it. So this is what held you up, James. I turned to look up at the most beautiful face Id ever seen. And Id seen it before. Edward Fucking record launch parties. All these stupid LA publicity parties sucked ass, but the record launches were the worst. The perfect storm of vapid actors and self-absorbed pop stars. Either one exclusively was bad enough. Mixed together they made you want to slit your fucking wrists. And Taylor Swift? What the fuck was I doing here? Thats right. Not my idea. James wanted to meet here. No doubt he had some fresh hot young piece of ass he was pursuing and she was here somewhere. I scanned the crowd one more time looking for him, with no luck. It was difficult to look too carefully while at the same time trying to avoid eye contact with everyone else in the room. But I was seriously not in the mood. It felt like every other person in this place was looking for an opening, trying to get close to me, to find a way to start talking to me. And I was alone, clutching a drink. This was bad. When you were as famous as I was, people thought it was strange if you were alone. Famous people always travel in packs, apparently. Pretty soon people were going to think I needed company, 9

and I most definitely did not. I dont care how much you loved my last picture, I do not want to stand around in this dark loud hipsters paradise and listen to you tell me all about your brilliant new project with the role that youre sure I would be perfect for. Maybe I should just bail. Go for a walk, or a drive. Or go the fuck home and watch TV. Wouldnt that be novel? Hanging out with James was most undoubtedly a bad idea. It always led to trouble. The drunk, high, random-sex-with-strangers kind of trouble. And the one thing I did not need more of at this particular moment in my life was that brand of trouble. I dragged a hand through my completely unkempt hair and took another deep pull on my beer. How the fuck did I end up here? Not just here at Taylor fucking Swifts record launch party, but here, at this point in my life? It had started great, and seemed to be going so well. And somehow it all just got away from me. I did some acting in college, and fell in love with it. I had enough positive feedback from my professors that I felt I really wanted to give it a try. Just a year, to see if I could make a go of it. And then if nothing happened, Id go on to medical school just like Dad hoped I would. So I moved to New York, crashed on the couch in a friends apartment and started auditioning. And what do you know, it happened for me. Well, not instantaneously. There were a couple of small roles in small shows at small theatres downtown. I paid for my Spartan existence by waiting tables. Then came the big one. I landed Hamlet at this tiny avant garde roach-infested theatre on the far west side. And I freaking nailed it. Then the Gods smiled on us and the Times reviewed it. And they raved. About me. The theatre sold out all 100 seats for every performance of the run in a matter of days. They extended the run. That sold out too. They moved the show to a bigger space and that run sold out. It was the must see show of the season. Because of me. I was touted as the next great talent of my generation. The next Brando. Whatever. What I remember most was the pure exhilaration I felt every night when I finally staggered off the stage after the curtain call. I had spent the last three hours transported, transformed, outside of myself, lost in the language and in the emotion. It was the best high Id ever felt. And I got to do it every single night. And they paid me to do it. I felt like Id won the fucking lottery. Agents came calling, offers came in. I did two other short run shows; both roles brought me more raves. Then came the call from Hollywood. At the time I thought the money would free me up to do more of the roles I really felt passionately about. Because as awesome as Hamlet was and as nice as it was to get a paycheck, it was a pathetically small paycheck, and New York was expensive. Genius roles at tiny theatres were not going to support me. I figured if I did it right, I could do good movies, roles that counted. And its still acting, I reasoned, just in a different venue. So less than a year after I moved to New York, I was off to LA and I fell through the looking glass. I did one or two small films, getting my feet wet, getting known. The buzz that started in New York followed me to LA. Everybody wanted me. I was drunk on it. Then came the movie that changed my life, Darkness Falls, a massive summer action blockbuster. Sure, playing an international hit man taking out terrorists and battling Russian mobsters was a long fucking way from Hamlet, but seriously, you say no to the truckload of money they back up to your house. And if Im being completely honest, that shit was fun. I was 22, hot as hell (yes, I am aware of it), and living in a real life 12 year old boys fantasy, complete with big guns, fast cars, hot chicks and massive explosions. For a while it seemed like life couldnt get any better. There was the inevitable Darkness Falls sequel, and I learned terms like movie franchise. There were other big roles in other big movies. I said yes to them all. I was having a fucking blast. This whole town lay down and opened her legs for me and I dove right in. I was out every night, drinking, partying. I didnt even have to try with women. I looked and she was mine. It was stupid how easy it 10

was. It was stupid how easy everything was. But after so many late night raves and five a.m. calls, somethings got to give. I started showing up late to the set, and sometimes not at all. People put up with a whole lot of shit from me for a really long time, which only made me push it farther, because I knew I could. Word got around town that I was a problem actor. I got labeled as difficult. Which only pissed me off and made me party harder. Fuck you all. Then I wrapped my car around a guardrail and ended up hospitalized for three weeks with a compound fracture of my femur, putting the film I was working on at the time on a temporary hiatus which turned permanent. They shut down production on the whole damned movie because the investors got wigged out by my accident and backed out. And now Im a big fat risk. Me, who was the hope of the new generation of actors. Nobody wants to touch me. Directors still talk longingly of my amazing talent, my natural rawness as an actor, and how theyd love to use me in this project or that project. But producers see my name and freak out. Im expensive. They see me and they see late calls and cost overruns and they have to take out special insurance riders in case I fuck up so bad I tank the whole movie. Then part three of the Darkness Falls trilogy is cast and some unknown 20 year old asshole gets my part. What. The. Fuck? Thats when I realized I was lost. And thats where I am now. I know I have blown it. I know I need to fix it. But I dont know how. And what the fuck am I doing? Im standing in this stupid fucking club waiting to meet James, the motherfucker who has single handedly been responsible for more of my fucked up nights than I can count. I knew I shouldnt have answered the phone when I saw his call come in. I should have let it go to voicemail. But Id just been lying on the couch at home, drinking, pondering how fucked up it all got, and how helpless I felt to do a damned thing about it. And if nothing else, James is one damned good distraction. I hoped he had a lead on something for after this. Because I sure as hell didnt want to hang around fucking Geisha all night. I took one last long drag on my beer and scanned the crowd again. Holy. Shit. She walked out of a deep dark hallway in her deep dark dress like she materialized straight out of the night. Long mahogany hair swirled around her pale bare shoulders. Her thin black silk dress skimmed every curve as it skated down the front of her body. And her face Her eyes looked dark, but it was impossible to tell in this hellhole. They were slightly smoky and wide. Delicate little pale features, high cheekbones and the most exquisite full lips, shimmering faintly under the bar lights. She turned half way to look back over her shoulder and I caught sight of the back of her dress. I drew in my breath sharply. Fuck. There was no back of her dress. Just the ties around her neck, tangling with her long sweep of hair, swinging over that endless expanse of ivory skin. Her back was exposed all the way down, you could almost see the swell of her ass beginning. I realized my fist was clenching my beer bottle so hard it was starting to hurt. Want. That. It wasnt even a fully formed thought, I just knew I wanted to go claim her and drag her out of here. It never occurred to me that I couldnt have her. Because I could have anyone. Its not bragging when its true. I ditched my empty on a nearby table and turned to go get her when I saw him. Fucking James. Talking to my girl. He was elbowing into the bar, she was stepping into the little space next to him hed made for her, turning her face up to him. Her whole face lit up with surprise and whatever she said to him made him 11

throw his head back and laugh. Fuck this. Damned if fucking James was going to steal her out from under my nose. I saw her first. At least I think I did. Fuck it. Who the hell is James anyway? He did two seasons in some CW teen drama before he finally landed his first film last winter. Im Edward fucking Cullen and I trump James Carter. I slipped up behind them and stood closer to her than I probably should. So this is what held you up, James. He turned, startled. So did she, her brown eyes widening with surprise when they met mine. Edward! There you are! Sorry, buddy. I ran into the delightful Bella here and lost track of time. I turned to her and flashed my patented most dazzling smile. Ive been assured its dazzling. Bella, is it? She blinked and said nothing for a moment. She absently reached up and touched her lips with her fingers. Dazzled. See? Told you. Then she seemed to find her voice. Bella Swan. Nice to meet you, Bella. Im Ed. Youre Edward Cullen. I know who you are. Of course you do. Everyone does. Your reputation has gotten ahead of you, buddy, James smirked, slapping his hand onto my shoulder, a little too jovial. I shot him a murderous look. He needed to be gone. Now. I dont know anything about your reputation, Bella said, Ive just seen your movies. Everybody knows who Edward Cullen is. Damn. There was absolutely no guile in this girl. Completely uncalculating. She must have just hit town. Bella and I were just getting things rolling, Eddie, and I hate to put a damper on the party. You wouldnt mind if I blow off our plans for tonight, would you? James edged closer in behind her as he fixed his beady eyes on me. What the fuck? He did not think he was scamming her right out from underneath me, did he? Im supposed to abandon the girl to party with a loser like you when she could be with me? I smirked, only sort of kidding. I took a step closer to her as well, leaning my head towards her and turning up the smile as I spoke. Bellas eyes flashed from me to James and back again as we worked through our little standoff. Thanks, both of you, but Im not really interested in partying with anyone tonight. In fact, I should go find my friends. Im sure theyre looking for me. Bella drew herself up and most decidedly took a step back from both of us. Was she blowing me off? Well, James too, which was awesome. But me? Shes going to go hang with her stupid girlfriends instead of scoring with a movie star? Who does that? Bells? Hey, there you are, babe. I thought I lost you. James and I both pivoted to examine the interloper. Tall, good looking, blond. And he clearly knew Bella really well. Well, fuck. Taken. Not that thats stopped me in the past. It all depends on what Bella does now. I turned and looked at her expectantly. Her delicate little chin shot up and she took a firm step right in between me and James towards Tall, Blond and Lanky. Hey Jazz. I just got waylaid at the bar. 12

Excuse me? Waylaid? So Im just some distraction? Fuck this shit. And his name is Jazz? What the fuck kind of name is Jazz? Bella slipped her hand into the crook of Blondies arm and he leaned down to plant a quick peck on her cheek. She looked back over her shoulder at me and James standing there like a couple of morons. Jazz, this is James and Edward, she said, like we were just any two losers at a bar. She laid her little hand on Blondies chest lightly, familiarly. This is Jasper. Okay, so his names not Jazz, but Jaspers not much better, in my opinion. Jasper nodded at both of us, his eyes intense. This fucker so had our number. James and I gave him terse nods in return. It was nice to meet you both, she said sweetly, before she turned away and left with Jasper. Did that really just happen? She blew us both off? I chanced a glance at James and his face was a mask of disbelief, anger, and jealousy. Im sure I looked the same. I was suddenly in absolutely no mood whatsoever to spend one more fucking minute with James tonight. So, that was a bust. Too bad. She was tasty, James smirked in the direction Bella had left. But Vickis here somewhere and you know shes always good for some fun. What do you say we round her up and head back to my place? I cast him a quick glance and felt disgusted. I wanted nothing to do with Vicki or James tonight. Although I certainly had plenty to do with them in the past. Actually, I was coming over to tell you that Im pretty beat. Im going to head out and go home and crash. James narrowed his eyes at me for a minute, trying to read me. Then he must have decided it wasnt worth it to give me shit because he just shrugged and grinned. Whatever. Ill keep her for myself then. I turned and pushed my way through the crowd, ignoring all the searching, hopeful looks from the people I passed. I didnt want to talk to another single person tonight. I was just going to get the fuck out of here and pretend tonight never happened. Bella My heart literally skipped a beat when I turned around and looked up into that face. I knew it already, of course. I go to movies, I read magazines. And everybody knows who Edward Cullen is. And thats what I told him, interrupting him as he started to introduce himself. I had always thought he was perhaps the most beautiful person on the planet. But hes a movie star, hes supposed to be. I was completely unprepared for my physical reaction to his flesh and blood presence. His emerald green eyeshow had I failed to notice the color when I saw him on screen? And that hair, the glorious copper colored sex hair. To be fair, Edward Cullens hair was sort of famous in it's own right, but no ones superlatives could capture what it was really like. How my fingers ached to dive into it and grip it hard. How it flopped seductively over one eye and he peered through it at me. And his lipsoh, God Id never seen lips like his. Soft, fullI could practically feel them against my own. I think I even subconsciously touched my own mouth as I gazed at him, much to my horrified embarrassment. He was living, breathing perfection. And perfection was staring at me like I was something to eat. Im not exactly worldly, but neither am I some untried virgin. I recognized the look in his eyes. James had it too. They both had the Chick Charm dialed up to high. What I couldnt figure out was why. Why 13

on earth would Edward Cullen of all people, be standing there coming on to me? It made no sense in any universe I could conceive of. Then he had to go and start talking. It was clear he felt like he had some sort of primacy over James. Like he felt that just because he was Edward Cullen that James should immediately surrender the field and slink away. Its not that I had any sort of interest in James sticking around, but he was there first, getting me a drink and talking to me. And Edward Cullen should be allowed to just shoo him away like a fly? I dont think so. But then James didnt back down and suddenly they were glaring at each other like Old West gunslingers at high noon. I felt like a bone being fought over by two angry dogs. It should have been flattering. Probably to a lot of the girls there, it would have been. But I didnt like it. It just had nothing to do with me. Just Edward and James working out their love/ hate frenemy bullshit and I was the shiny new toy they decided to tussle over. Fuck that shit. My feet hurt. I was ready to go home. And just like that, Jasper was there and I made my escape, leaving them both standing there glaring, at each other and Jasper. What the fuck was that, Bells? Jasper laughed as he slung his arm around my neck and led me back over to Emmett and Rose. I look over and youre being attacked by dueling movie stars! I wouldnt exactly call James a star. Hes only a little famous, I protested. But Edward Cullen! Hitting on our little Bella! Youve hit the big time, sweets! he laughed again and rubbed his knuckles across the top of my head, holding me in a neck vise. Fuck off, Jazz! Dont mess up my hair! Sorry. I had to give you a little shit. I wasnt going to come over, I mean, I thought girls would be all into that shit. But Rose was watching and she said she could tell you were getting pissed and she sent me over there. Was that okay? I rolled my eyes. It was more than okay, although you laid it on a little thick kissing my cheek like that. Yes, I will admit it was a little flattering at first, but then the next thing I know theyre beating their chests and playing fucking tug of war over me. And it didnt even really feel like it had much to do with me. Just their weird dynamic. And besides, I am not interested in being some piece of ass random hook up for some famous actor. And thats all it would have been. With either of them. Good girl, Jasper said, squeezing my shoulders. Random hook up. Random hook up. I kept repeating it in my head to keep myself from dwelling on those amazing green eyes, that wild, copper colored hair that my fingers itched to touch, his cheekbones, his lipsunghh. Stupid Bella. Edward is a movie star for a reason. You really think youre the only one to ever want to run your fingers through his sex hair? Stand in line. And stand in line you wouldwith every other woman here, along with all the ones out on the sidewalkand the rest of the women in LA, plus a bunch of the men, too. So he did seem attracted to you. It would have only led to one thing. And who wants to be some guys anonymous fuck? Or worse, just a pawn in his stupid game with James. Youre better than that. Damn right. Im better than that. And, hello?? Im a little famous, too! So what if he seemed to have no idea who I was. Maybe he doesnt like reality television. Whatever. I needed to stop thinking about Edward Cullen, as of now. Sooooo, little cousin, Emmett boomed, Roping in Edward Cullen, huh? Shut it, Em! What?" he protested, baffled, "We were all talking about it! Rosalie smacked the back of his head. Are you cool? Rose asked me with an intense stare. Oh, yeah. Im fine, I said with what I hoped was a nonchalant smile, determined to really mean it. 14

And I was determined not to think about Edward Cullen. Any more. As of now. I swear.


Chapter 3 - Vicious World

Bella Bella his voice was low and rough in my ear, his hot breath blowing across my neck, sending chills across my skin. His fingers were sliding up my ribcage, brushing the underside of my breasts, about to slip over my nipples. I arched into him, desperate for closer contact. His knee pushed in between mine and my thighs fell open for him. His weight pressed against me everywhere. He flicked his tongue out to lick a trail from my ear down to the hollow at the base of my throat. My hands fisted into his hair, pulling him closer. Edward. I shot awake, panting and faintly sweaty and.aroused. Fuck. That was hot. And inappropriate. And pathetic. Sex dreams about movie stars, even ones Ive actually met, are just sad. My phone was ringing. I fought my way out of my tangled damp sheets, pushing my tangled hair off my face and I snatched the phone off the bedside table. Aros office. I pressed accept. Hello? Good morning, Bella, it was Heidi, sounding far too sunny for this early in the morning, Is this too early? Um, no. Not at all, Heidi. Whats up? Aro was wondering if you were free to come in for a chat this afternoon around two? Oh, sure, yeah, I can be there. Great! The car will pick you up at 1:30. Really, Heidi, I can. Click. drive myself, I finished to the dead line. I flopped back on the bed. I needed a shower. Ice cold. * * * Bella, sweetness! Aro called out as Heidi opened the door and ushered me in. Emmett, Jasper and Rose were already there. Aro waved me towards the leather chair next to his desk, which was sort of weird. I usually sat on the couch. But I sat where he indicated. I glanced back at the others, but their faces held no insight. They looked as apprehensive as I felt. So, Bella, have you seen this? Aro asked as he spun his laptop to face me. The browser window was open to TMZ . And there was mewith Edward Cullen. It was from that party at the club two nights ago. I remembered the moment. He said something and stepped towards me as he did it, lowering his head so I could hear him. That was right before I pulled back from both of them and their head butting and left with Jasper. But the way the picture had been cropped, and the angle it was taken from, there was just him and me in it. The picture had caught me mid blink, so my eyes were lowered to the ground, and I was smiling just a little, and it looked so.intimate. It looked like we were together, sharing some really private moment. If I saw it and didnt know what was going on, I know what I would think, which was exactly what TMZ was thinking. The caption said Edward Cullen goes hunting againand snares a Swan. 16

Fuck. Double fuck. This was so far beyond awful. I felt sick, and angry. Who the hell would say that about me? And why? What gave them the right? I felt tears stinging my eyes and started shouting to keep myself from crying. Aro, it wasnt at all like it looks in that picture! I swear! NothingI mean nothing happened! Aro smiled and held up a hand to stop me. Bella, I know. And it hardly even matters. Lord knows, none of you owe me any explanation of your personal lives. I opened my mouth to vociferously object again but Aro cut me off. However, shortly after this hit the internet yesterday morning, I received a phone call, and I took a lunch, which brings us to an interesting opportunity. He leaned back in his chair like he was gearing up to tell us a story. Did I tell you I went to law school? I did, although obviously my life took me on a very different path. A friend of mine from law school also ended up as a publicist in LA, oddly enough, although he handles actors and I focus mainly on music. He and I have stayed friends although rarely do we work together on anything. This morning, though, we may have found a chance to do so. Aro leaned forward and clicked open another tab in his browser and a page of paparazzi photographs of celebrity couples spread out across the screen. You recognize these couples, dont you? He gave us a moment while we all studied the screen. Sure, Emmett piped up. Theyre all pretty well known. Whats all this about? Well, Emmett, you may be surprised to know that none of these people ever actually dated each other. He gave us a moment to absorb that, which was good because we needed one. Wait... I started, Thats Jennifer and. Yes. Fake. Aro said patiently. And Tom and Jasper sputtered. Fake as well, Aro replied. But thats Nick and Jessica, Rose exclaimed. Fake. Her face collapsed and she murmured softly, But I liked that show Aro gave her a kindly look. I know, dear. Its never fun to find these things out. What do you mean, fake? I pressed. My stomach was starting to clench in an unpleasant way. I had absolutely no idea where this conversation was headed, but I had a feeling I would not like it. These couples were never romantically involved in any way. None of them. Why would they pretend to be? There are many reasons these arrangements are made. For a long time it was usually to protect one or both parties sexual preferences. And that still happens. Sometimes its a rather formal arrangement, say for a highly rated reality show. But most of the time its simply that each party brings a certain kind of desirable publicity to the other. What matters is that theres something to be gained by both parties. So this is common? Common enough. Everything you see in the magazines? Thats all fake? I was stunned. Oh, no, no. By no means. There are plenty of genuine couplings in Hollywood. Love survives, even here. I just mean to open your eyes to other, more creative means of promotion. Promotion? I just kept asking stupid questions, my brain afraid to get at the root of what we were discussing, although my gut already had a pretty good idea and didnt like it. 17

Jasper, though, had no such fear. Just cut to the chase, Aro, and tell us what youve got up your sleeve. My law school friend, Laurent, happens to be publicist to Edward Cullen. And yesterday, after this tidbit hit the internet, I received a phone call from him. We had lunch, and he has made us a very intriguing proposition. Aro stopped and leaned back in his chair, flexing his fingertips together, fixing me with his steady, steel blue gaze. You and Edward Cullen. An arrangement. WHAT?? I shot out of my seat. Aro quickly held up a hand to calm me. Please, Bella, lets just discuss the whole thing in detail before you dismiss it out of hand. You want her to whore herself out to Edward Cullen?? Emmett roared behind me, I dont think theres anything to discuss! No, no, no, Aros patient demeanor never faltered. There would be no actual intimacy between them. He would never lay a finger on her, if she so chose. Will you at least listen to the situation before you refuse? I looked back at the others. Emmett and Jasper looked tense, but controlled. Rose looked calm, willing to listen. I trusted Rose and her instincts above anything else. If Rose wanted to listen, then I would listen. I took a deep steadying breath and raked my hands through my hair to push it off my face. I slowly lowered myself back into my chair. Explain it to me. All of it. Aro gave me a tiny smile and reached for a file on the right side of his desk. He passed it across to me and I took it with trembling fingers. I set it in my lap and opened it, leafing through the contents. It was a stack of magazine and newspaper clippings plus some pages printed out from gossip websites, all about Edward. Edward Cullen is an extremely gifted actor, perhaps the greatest of his generation, Aro began. Hes also a mess. Since he came to Hollywood four years ago, hes left a swath of destruction in his wake that has shocked even unshockable Hollywood. I suppose there have been others before him who have had more spectacular flameouts. But they werent as talented as he is and thus the loss was not as great. Its not so much the level of his destructiveness, its what it has consumed. He has gone from being the most sought-after actor in a generation to being virtually unemployable. Directors are still desperate to work with him. His talent is not lost. But studios wont touch him without very expensive insurance riders. In short, he has a massive image problem and its seriously in need of fixing or he risks losing his career entirely. He has had far more than his share of female companionship, but his name has rarely been linked with any one young woman long enough to make the headlines. Edward, it seems, does not do girlfriends. And thats where our sweet Bella comes in. You, my dear, are exactly what Edward needs to convince people hes back on track. Not just a steady girlfriend, which hes never had, but Americas new sweetheart. The girl every mother wishes her son would bring home to dinner. Emmett snorted in laughter, Do any of these people actually know you? I heard Rosalies hand make contact with the back of his head. But I didnt respond, my mind was too bust absorbing every damning word Aro spoke about Edward. Id had some vague sense of him as a Hollywood bad boy, but I had no idea it was as bad as this. I was reading headlines as I flipped through the stack of clippingsCullen involved in brawl at LA nightspot, Cocaine found in Cullens car after traffic stop, Actor Edward Cullen involved in serious car accident: hospitalized with injuries, alcohol believed to be involved.the laundry list of bad behavior went on and on. How he hadnt landed in jail or rehab by this point was frankly beyond me. But I guess thats what fame and money could get you. 18

Rose cleared her throat now and spoke up. And what does being with Edward do for Bella, exactly? Despite his issues, Aro continued, Edward is still a very hot social commodity in Hollywood. Quite possibly because of them, actually. He may have problems getting cast, but he certainly has no problem getting invited anywhere and everywhere. And hes still very much considered Hollywood royalty. In the very top tier of players in this town. Right now Bella, and by extension all of you, are very hot, but also balancing on the knife edge of being a flash in the pan. The show just ended a few months ago, youre all still fresh and new. People are waiting to see if you turn into bona fide, longlasting superstars or if you turn into a Trivial Pursuit answer. Now your job is to make the brilliant music that will cement your reputation. But my job is to make sure people are paying close attention to you when that music is released. And linking Bella to Edward will most assuredly make sure that happens. This goes beyond the usual curiosity people will have about two celebrities dating. There is also the story of a very bad boy being redeemed by a very good girl, and the public loves a good redemption story. Aro seemed to have finished laying out his argument in favor of thisthing. What the fuck are we even supposed to call it? My head was still swimming with questions and I had no idea how I even felt about any of this. Does Edward actually want this? Have you talked to him? I certainly didnt know him well after our brief encounter, but I really couldnt picture him being game for something like this. My stomach clenched unpleasantly and I worried for a moment that I was going to throw up. Laurent is putting the proposal to him right now, the same as me. If both parties are amenable, we can go from there. I felt a shiver of distaste at this cool, detached discussion of our potential relationship. Did people really do this? Enter into these polite, business-like arrangements? Through the looking glass. Seriously. I swallowed hard and squelched down the urge to throw up again. What exactly would she have to do? Leave it to Rose to hammer out the gritty details. Go to a few strategically planned dinners at popular restaurants, making sure to be seen and photographed coming and goingarrive together at a few parties like the one at Geisha the other nightgo to a baseball game or a concert togetherbe his escort to the various upcoming awards shows and movie premiers, pose on the red carpet together, that sort of thing. It really doesnt take much to link your names, then the gossip rags usually take over and start filling in the blanks for themselves. Youd be asked about him in interviews, of course, but wed prepare a few responses for you that would work for most questions. Its really not hard. And aside from perhaps holding his hand and allowing him to stand a little closer to you, theres really nothing compromising about it. Of course, sometimes others choose to include more public displays of affection. It would be entirely up to the two of you about how far to take the charade and how public to make it. I stood up abruptly again. Id heard plenty. Enough for today, thats for sure. I need to think about this, Aro. I dont need to decide right now, do I? Of course not, darling, he soothed, reaching out and squeezing my fingers. I let him, then I pulled my hand away and crossed my arms firmly over my chest. Go home and do some thinking. You should all talk it through together and see how you feel. Well talk later. I tried to give him a reassuring smile, but I was way too overwhelmed and Im sure it came out as a pained grimace. I turned on my heel and hurried out of the office. I couldnt breathe in there anymore. I sensed the others scrambling out of their seats to follow me. I passed Heidi in the outer office without a look and made a beeline for the elevators. I punched the button hard and waited, and thats where the others caught up to me. I felt Roses arm come down across my shoulder. 19

You okay? she asked quietly. Yeah, Im just freaking out a little right now. Its a lot to take in all at once. I know, Jasper chimed in, Who would have ever guessed that Nick and Jessica were a fraud? A nervous laugh escaped me, in spite of myself and the tension was broken. Emmett and Rose joined in the laughter. Leave it to Jasper to fix everyones mood. So, what do you want to do now, little cousin? Emmett asked, hands in his pockets. I sighed heavily. You know what? I really want to sing. Can we just go play? We could head over to the studio and do some more work on that new song weve been hammering out, Jasper suggested. No, not the studio. Nothing for the album. Just something fun, for us. Like we used to do. Then lets go to our place, Rose said. All our old equipment is stored there. Lets go have fun and make some music! We ended up in the great room at Emmett and Roses house (yes, they had a great room). The label set us up with all new equipment at the studio when we started working on the album, so all our ramshackle stuff from Seattle was stored at Emmetts. It took us a little while to get it all set up and cabled, but finally it resembled something like our set up had been in our living room in Seattle. I felt better already. What should we play? Jasper asked, tuning his bass. Ooohh, how about that Pink song? Rose suggested excitedly. We had such a good time working that up for the show. It was fun. And Emmett kicks the drum line! Emmett waggled his eyebrows at her from his stool behind his drum kit and spun his drumsticks around his fingers like he was twirling batons. Okay, lets do it. Count it off, Em. Jasper commanded. This was exactly what I needed. I reconnected with myself again for just a moment, all this crazy Hollywood celebrity stuff just falling away. It was just me and my family and a great song. I felt my head clearing the longer I sang. But every song eventually ends and I knew we had to talk about this. Emmett went and got us some beers and we sat on the floor in a loose circle. Jasper kept his bass in his lap, idly picking away at notes, mostly just to keep his hands busy, I knew. This was us at our most basic; the four of us, on the floor talking. We had always been like this. So, Bells, Emmett began Since Im the one whos actually your blood relative here, I feel like I should be looking out for you. How do you feel about all this? Thanks Em, I leaned over and patted his knee, But you know I think of us all as family. And it would be really helpful to me to hear what my family is honestly thinking. Emmett? He looked down at his hands while he picked at the label on his beer bottle for a minute, gathering his thoughts. With Emmett, this sometimes took a while. Well, on the surface, it seems kind of creepy and wrong. But when Aro explained it, what youd really have to do, it doesnt really seem like such a big deal, you know? And if the publicity really does help the band.,.. Jasper murmured. He scrubbed his hands over his face in frustration. Jesus, I fucking hate that we even have to talk about this. I know, I said, picking at a corner of the carpet, Its pretty dismal. But that part about us becoming a Trivial Pursuit answer sort of freaked me out. Everybody murmured in nervous assent. It freaked us all out. But lets be perfectly clear about one thing, Bella Rose said sharply. You dont do anything, I mean anythingyou dont feel comfortable with. You just say the word and we tell Aro thanks but no thanks. Sure, sure. But you all feel like it would be a good thing to do? I really needed to know what they 20

thought. If I saw revulsion or even disapproval in any of their eyes, I couldnt face myself in the mirror any more. They cast looks at each other and shrugged. It doesnt seem like such a big deal, I guess. If youre cool with it, Jasper said. I mean, youd probably be going to all that stuff anyway. So you have to sit next to Edward Cullen while you do it. Big deal. Emmett reasoned. And plenty women would find that to be incentive enough right there, Rose smirked. At that I laughed. She was right. Geez, so I have to spend time with a drop dead gorgeous Hollywood actor. What was so hard about that? So the press would talk about us and say a lot of stuff that wasnt true. It wouldnt be bad stuff. I wasnt going to pretend to be his sex slave or anything. I was going to pretend to be his girlfriend. His nice, normal, stable girlfriend. I was secretly more than a little worried about my own reaction to him, how wildly attractive I found him, how hed been flirting with me. But this was business. I was sure hed forget all about that and keep it strictly professional. I just hoped to hell I could. Okay, I said, steeling my resolve, Ill do it. Lets call Aro.


Chapter 4 - Long Way Down

Edward I stretched lazily and folded myself back into Laurents cushy armchair. I was still feeling a little hung over from last night. Hell, I think I might still be a little drunk from last night. But Laurent called and said there was an offer on the table that needed to be discussed immediately and right now thats all I needed to hear. So here I was, rumpled and unshaven, but present. I realized with a start that I still had my sunglasses on. I snatched them off of my face and folded them into my pocket. I wasnt about to become some poser who wore them inside. So Edward, Laurent began, fixing me with a look as he leaned forward, his elbows on his desk. Ugh, this was going to be long. I was hoping it would just be a good guest appearance or something, where I could just show up and not be a fuck up to succeed, and we could slap each other on the back and be happy. But no, Laurent looked like he wanted to talk. Laurent had been my publicist as long as Id been in LA, and I had kept him very busy, not in a good way. He looked visibly older than when Id met him. His coffee colored skin was more lined, there was silver in his short black hair and crows feet at the corners of his dark eyes. I wondered idly if I had done that to him. So, Laurent. I countered, smiling, trying to lighten the mood. It didnt work. Edward, the time has come for me to be blunt. Uh-oh. This wouldnt be good. You, my friend, have a problem. Jesus, Laurent, I told you last time. Im not a junkie or an alcoholic, I protested. He held up a hand, I know, I know. I believe you. I do. Thats not the problem Im referring to. I am referring to your image problem. Fuck my image, I snarled dismissively. Youve already done that, Edward. He said quietly. Ouch. He was sort of right. You know, of course, that youve become virtually unemployable in this town. I sighed and looked away out the window. Theyre all assholes. If I had a gig, Id pull it together. You know I would. Lets say youre right. But the problem is the gig wont come until youve proven that you can pull it together. So, to that end, Ive developed a bit of a strategy to rehab your image. I looked at him warily. Well, lets hear it. First, you tell me you can pull it together for a gig? Well, rehabbing your image is your new gig, so pull it together as of now. Behave yourself. No more trouble. Okay, fine. But honestly, Laurent, its not like I go looking for trouble. Im just living my life, hanging out, and it just finds me. Yes, well, its the living-your-life and hanging-out part we need to address then. Hanging out with someone like James Carter? When has that led to anything but trouble? Youre in a club every single night, Edward. Its time to try something different with someone different. I sat up a little straighter and stared at him. What are you getting at? He took a deep breath and looked down at his hands, folded on top of his desk. He reached up and pushed his dark framed glasses up, rubbing his eyes briefly before settling them back into place. Then he sat back and pulled a piece of paper from a stack on his desk and passed it to me. I took it and turned it around to read what it said. It was a print out from TMZit was a picture of me and that girl from the club the other night...Bella was her name. I felt a little clench in my stomach 22

seeing her face again. I was still thinking about that encounter a little more than I should be. I read the caption at the top of the photo. Edward Cullen goes girl-hunting againand snares a Swan. I didnt get it, and I didnt see what the point was in showing me this. So I hit on some girl in a club. Stop the freaking presses. Whats this mean? You dont know who she is? Shes some girl I met a couple of nights ago at some club. We talked for a few minutes, then she left with her boyfriend. He slid another piece of paper at me, a copy of an article from Variety. The headline said Eclipse takes top prize on Americas Next Great Band. And there under the headline was a glossy color photo of Eclipse, with Bella Swan front and center. Blondie was standing just behind her. Her fucking band mate. I guess youre out partying too much to see a lot of t.v. Laurent smiled. Her band won that talent competition a few months ago. Theyre huge right now. And that girl is Americas darling. Huh. Bella was a celebrity. How the hell did I miss that? She didnt act like anyone famous that I knew, thats how. Laurent, once again, what is the point of all this? Well, when I saw this piece of salacious gossip hit the internet yesterday, I made a call to an old friend from law school, Aro Cort. He happens to represent Eclipse. And its possible we could work out an.arrangement. Miss Swan is currently beloved in this country. Shes the quintessential small town girl who struck gold and hit the big time. Shes wholesome, sweet, and unspoiled. In short, shes everything you are not, and everything you desperately need. Then Laurents meaning sank in and I shot up in my chair. No. No fucking way. I slammed his press clippings back down on his desk. Fuck that shit, Laurent! Look, I know you guys put these deals together for social climbing celebrities, I know this shit goes down. But I want no part of it, got it? And Jesus, why the fuck do I need it? Why the hell do I need some fucking fake girlfriend? I can walk out the door of this building and get half a dozen women before I hit the corner! I agree, you could find half a dozen women to have sex with, Edward. Laurent said calmly. What you could not get is Americas Sweetheart as your girlfriend. And thats what you need. The fact that he said there was a woman I couldnt get stopped me mid-rant. And he was right, Bella had walked away from me at the club. That stung a little. I opened my mouth to say something and shut it again when nothing came out. I sat back down heavily. I stared at my hands for a moment, then I exhaled and looked up at him. Explain to me why I need this? Well, you need two things in conjunction. You need her and you need to become the man who would get a girl like her. We need people to see you as reformed and tamed, tamed by everybodys girl next door. No more clubs and drugs and taking women in the back of limos. Instead you take your sweet girlfriend out to a nice dinner. You hold her hand, you help her out of the car. You dont show up on the red carpet at the Academy Awards drunk and unshaven like last years debacle. You show up well groomed and sober, with your beautiful little girlfriend in a pretty dress, youre friendly to the reporters and you have your pictures taken. You take her shopping, you take her to baseball games Baseball? Its Americas favorite pastime, Edward, Laurent said, without a hint of irony. I sighed and sank back in my chair, staring out the window again. I could see the truth in what he was saying. And I could see the logic of his solution. I just couldnt believe it had come to this. Im 23

Edward fucking Cullenwith a fake girlfriend. Because Im too fucked up to get a girl as good as her on my own. And Id seen her face, Id watched her walk away from me. I really couldnt get a girl like her on my own. Pathetic. And acting out this charade! Jesus. On the one hand, she didnt suck. I could clearly recall the visceral reaction I had when I first laid eyes on her. That doesnt happen every day. On the other hand, if she was my fake girlfriend, that would prohibit any real fun. Ah, but who the hell am I kidding? That wasnt going to happen anyway. After all, she blew me off at Geisha and walked off with. Hey, what about Blondie?...I mean, her boyfriend? She doesnt have one. Aro assured me that she had no personal entanglements that would get in the way. Huh. Not her boyfriend? Well, maybe they just didnt call it that. But they were way too close to be just friends. Whatever. I guess it wasnt really any of my business. Does she even want to do this? Has anybody even asked her? Americas Sweetheart might be too honest and squeaky clean for a fake boyfriend. I couldnt quite keep the sarcastic sneer out of my voice. Aro was speaking with her this afternoon. Well talk later. Does that mean that you would be agreeable if she is? I dropped my head forward into my hands and stared at the floor. And you think this is it? This will work? If the media covers it, which Im sure they will. And if the public buys it. That will be up to the two of you to pull off. Then yes, I think it will help tremendously. I squeezed my eyes shut and pinched the bridge of my nose. Okay, fine then. Ill do it. Whatever. Laurent cleared his throat and then paused. Edward, theres one more thing. Yeah? Its the matter of your behavior when youre not with Miss Swan. What about it? Well, having Americas Sweetheart as your girlfriend wont do much to restore your image if youre seen partying behind her back and cheating on her. I sighed heavily. Fucking perfect. Not only would my girlfriend not be fucking me, apparently nobody else would be either. How the hell had I ever let it get this bad? Got it, I held up two fingers, Im a fucking boy scout. Glad to hear it. So what do I have to do? Well, Ill talk to Aro today and see what Miss Swan has to say. If her answer is yes, well arrange a date. Something simple to start with, maybe dinner." I said nothing, I just nodded absently, staring out the window, feeling stupid and shitty and just wanting this fucking meeting to be over. He pushed a folder and a small black box towards me, Ive taken the liberty of putting together some press clippings on Miss Swan. And Ive loaded the entire season of Americas Next Great Band on an ipod for you to watch. I suggest you spend a little time getting to know your new girlfriend. I stood up and snatched the package carelessly off his desk and bolted out the door. Once I was back in the safety of my car, I threw the package in the backseat and forgot it existed. I just wished I could forget the past half hour as easily.


Chapter 5 - The Battle of Who Could Care Less

Bella One more time, tell me so I stop fretting, are you sure youre cool with this? Rose sounded cool and calm on the phone, but I knew her well enough to hear the concern there. My first date with Edward was tonight and Rose had called for one last check-in/ pep talk. Im fine, Rose. Really, how bad could it be? Assuming the worst and we hate each other, all I have to do is eat and try and not scowl when someones taking my picture. Hey, remember I survived prom with Mike Newton. It surely cant be as bad as that. And at least Im fairly confident Edward will keep his damned hands to himself, unlike Mike. That finally got her to laugh. Are you getting dressed yet? Do you need my help? I laughed as I glanced at my closet. I probably could use your help but Ill manage. Thanks anyway. Do you want me to come with you? I will if you need me. Rose, its already going to be a stretch to make this believable. The last thing I need to do is to bring my best friend on my date. That would be weird in the extreme. Ah, youre right. Forget it. Anyway, call any of us if it gets bizarre and well come to the rescue. Okay? Okay. And you better call me as soon as you get home and tell me everything. Absolutely. I heard the buzz of my doorbell. Hey Rose I have to go, theres somebody at the door. Is he there already?? No, too early for him. It must be a delivery or something. Rose finally hung up after wringing a last promise for a post-date phone call from me and I ran to catch the door. Hi, Bella? chirped the tiny person I found on my front step. You dont have a fence, or a gate at the end of your drive, she said turning to point to my driveway. And you dont have a buzzer either. Umno I guess I dont... Anybody could just walk right up and ring your bell. Well, yeah, I guess so, but. But any crazed stalker could just come right up here and talk to you. I paused, trying to formulate a response, wondering if perhaps I was looking at one. Then I dismissed that thought. This girl didnt look like anybodys idea of a crazed stalker. She was incredibly tiny and exquisitely beautiful, with delicate porcelain features and enormous blue eyes, offset by her short artfully tousled jet black hair. She was wearing a short flippy skirt and a very expensive-looking brightly colored silk halter blouse and black pumps with extremely high heels. I didnt know much about clothes, but even I recognized the signature red soles of her Christian Louboutins. Crazed stalkers dont wear thousand dollar shoes. I havent really had a problem with stalkers yet, Miss? Her eyes flew wide with shock and she clamped her hand over her mouth. Oh God! Im sorry! You have no idea who I am, do you? I bulldozed right past the introductions, didnt I? Im sorry, my brain just gets ahead of my mouth sometimes. Well, all the time, really. Its okay," I laughed, because she was so busy apologizing for forgetting to introduce herself that she forgot to do it again. I just looked at her for a minute, waiting for her to figure it out. 25

Oh, God! I did it again! Alice! Im Alice! My blank face must have told her that meant nothing to me. Alice Cullen, Edwards sister, she added quickly. Oh! Hi. I didnt know he had a sister. Yes, and Im also his unofficial personal assistant and stylist. God knows, I wont take on either burden officially. So he got held up at a thing hes doing and hes going to get back to his place really late, and he still needs to clean up and get dressed, and your place is way in the opposite direction from the restaurant where hes taking you, which would probably make you really late, so I said I would come and get you and He sent his sister to pick me up for our date? I interrupted in disbelief. No, no! I volunteered. Well, more like I barged in and took over. Mostly I wanted an excuse to come over here and meet you. She stopped to eye me up and down, And apparently to help you get ready. I should have been offended by every bit of this, but somehow this insane little tornado of a person was completely disarming me. How on earth could Edward have a sister so cute and charming? I backed away from the door. Maybe you should come in. She beamed a huge smile at me and I finally saw a glimmer of resemblance between them, if only in the sheer dazzle-factor of their smiles. She was past me and on her way back to the bedroom like a flash and all I could do was follow in her wake. So, she said, standing in front of my closet with her hands on her hips and a look of extreme concentration on her face, What are you wearing tonight? I hadnt really picked anything out yet. Bella! she shot me an incredulous look. These things take planning! And well have to do your hair and your makeup.Okay, lets see whats here. I waved a dismissive hand at my closet, They hired a stylist right after we won the show to get a wardrobe for me, but honestly Ive never worn most of it. None of it really feels like it suits me. Alice scowled as she flipped through the hangers. Well, its no wonder. Who the hell did this stylist think she was shopping for? Paris Hilton? Ugh. None of this is right for you. Wait, I might be able to do something with this. She tossed a choice out on the bed and turned back to keep digging. All I could do was sink into a chair and watch the force of nature that was Alice tear through my room. She was high-octane, and quite possibly more than a little crazy, but I couldnt help but like her immensely. I wished Rose was here to meet her. She finally found a pair of skinny black cigarette pants and a deep blue silky blouse with a drapey neckline that she deemed acceptable. She settled on a pair of black peep toe patent leather pumps. I tried to explain my lack of any sort of natural coordination and that her brother might be in serious physical jeopardy standing next to me in heels all night, but she wouldnt hear my protests. She muttered something about giving me high heel lessons and spun off to my vanity to examine my cosmetic collection. She eventually had me seated with my hair up in fat hot rollers while she went at me with a smoky grey eyeliner. Hey Bella? I had only just met her, but I could already recognize that tone of voice. She wanted something. Yeah? Those clothes in your closet are really pointless. Would you mind terribly.well, can I go shopping for you? Please? She sounded so excited at the prospect, which was bizarre to me as theres nothing I like doing less than shopping, that I couldnt possibly turn her down. 26

Sure, Alice. That would be really nice of you. Thanks. She practically bounced up and down in excitement. And now it was my turn to ask the awkward question, because I had no idea how much or how little she knew about this situation. So, Alice, you know this isnt a.well, that were not really. That you and Edward are fake? Yes, of course. Even if he didnt tell me, which he did, I would have known. Because he doesnt have girlfriends. Oh. Oh. Like ever? Well, when we were in high school, there were a few. Although even then he was a bit of a man whore. And maybe when he was living in New York, Im not sure. But since we moved to LA and all this she waved a hand over her head that somehow encompassed LA, Hollywood and the entirety of the film industry, .happened, no, not one. She must have read the expression on my face, because she laughed, a clear tinkling bell sound. Oh, dont get me wrong, he never lacks for female company, he just doesnt keep them around long enough for any of them to gain a title like girlfriend. And he never does stuff like this with them.dinner, dates... Yeah, people will notice this for sure. I still must have looked stunned, or miserable or both, because she continued in a hurry. Please dont judge him too fast, though! My brother is a good guy, he really is. Just his movie career has made himdistracted. He really wants to get back on track. Hell behave, I promise. And I bet youll be great for him. The fact that he had such a remarkable sister who was clearly devoted to him just raised Edward a fraction in my estimation. There must be some tiny thing inside him that was good to earn her high opinion. Alice finished my makeup and was shaking out my long loose curls when I heard the doorbell again. Before I could even get up to answer, I heard the door open and Jaspers voice call through the house. Bells? You still here? Geez, Jasper, ever hear of personal boundaries? Who am I kidding? None of us had them with each other. Wed known each other for far too long, plus our years of communal living in Seattle had stripped away what was left of our personal space issues. It wasnt actually the least bit surprising that Jasper just walked into my house uninvited. I would have been more surprised had he waited for me to answer the door. Back here, Jazz! I called out. Alice shot me a questioning look and I whispered, Band mate. He made his way through the house and started talking loudly to me before he was anywhere near the bedroom. I was driving by your nabe on the way to Ems house and I thought Id check on you before the big date. Em challenged me to a Guitar Hero marathon. Seriously, what is that dude thinking? He knows I always kick his.. Jasper rounded the corner into my bedroom and stopped in his tracks when he caught sight of me and Alice. Actually, to be more precise, he stopped dead in his tracks when he caught sight of Alice. Because Im pretty sure in that moment that the ground could have opened up and swallowed me whole and Jasper would have never noticed. Hi, Jasper. This is Alice, Edwards sister. She was just helping me get ready. Alice, this is Jasper. Hes in Eclipse with me. I glanced up to Alice as I made the introductions and she was staring back at Jasper with the same single-minded intensity. Damn. Id read about shit like this happening to people, but Id never actually seen it in action. And I had never seen that look on Jaspers face, not in all the years Ive known him. It was so crazy intense 27

in there between them at that moment that I sort of felt like I should excuse myself and give them some alone time. I cleared my throat a little to remind them both that neither of them had actually acknowledged the introduction. Jasper snapped out of it first. Sorry. Yeah.Jasper. Nice to meet you Alice. He stepped forward and hesitantly held out his hand to shake hers. Dude, hes nervous about shaking her hand! I am giving him so much shit for this later. Alice pulled herself together and stuck out her tiny hand to meet his. Then she flashed that freaky Cullen mind-meld dazzling smile at him and I thought Jasper might jizz in his pants on the spot. Oh, man, stick a fork in Jasperhes done. I let them dangle for a minute, staring stupidly at each other and then I took pity on them and excused myself for one last trip to the bathroom before Alice and I had to leave. I lingered as long as I could, hoping that Jasper would man up and actually talk to her. I also needed one last minute to psych myself up for what I was about to do. I took a look at myself in the full length mirror and I had to admit, Alice knew her stuff. I looked pretty damned good, if I did say so myself. As much as I hated the heels, they made my legs look great. And these tight black pants didnt hurt either, I thought as I turned to examine my ass in the mirror. I still felt a little ridiculous that I would be trailing alongside the likes of Edward Cullen pretending to be his girlfriend, but as long as the press bought it, I supposed thats all that mattered. I stayed in the bathroom as long as I could reasonably manage, but if we didnt leave soon Id be late to meet Edward. When I came back in the bedroom, Jasper and Alice were standing togetherjust a little too close...talking in low voices. Nice work, Jazz! Um, Alice, I think we need to leave soon. Oh! She stepped away from Jasper quickly and the girl looked seriously flustered. I came over here to keep you guys on time and Im the one making you late! Youre right, lets go. She waved her tiny hands in front of her face distractedly as she scurried around, scooping up her stuff and getting us ready to go. Walk us out, Jazz? I asked softly. He turned and finally made eye contact with me for the first time since hed come in the house. Ah, man. He was a goner. It was all over his pathetic puppy face. Well, Id have to make sure I got Alices number tonight, in case the idiot didnt manage to do it for himself. I had a feeling Alice was about to become a very integral part of all of our lives. I fixed him with a meaningful look. I guess Ill see you tomorrow at the studio, huh Jazz? He blinked at me like he was underwater. Yeah, the studio. Ill see you there. He looked back to Alice. It was really nice to meet you, Alice. She looked down at her feet and then up at him through her long black lashes and gave him a little smile. It was great meeting you, too. I guess Ill see you around sometime?...You know, with Bella and Edward? Jaspers face lit up like clouds parting in front of the sun. Yeah, I guess you will. Until later then! Christ, these two were so fucking sweet they were giving me a toothache. Jasper managed to stay upright walking us out to Alices car, casting one last lingering look at Alice before climbing into his own car. Soon Alice and I were on our way to Edwards place. We were quiet for the beginning of the ride, me having multiple mini freak outs about Edward, Alice clearly lost in her Jasper-induced coma. Finally I decided to plunge in, because I knew she was desperate for it. You know, Ive known Jasper since we were five. Isnt that crazy? Her face lit up and she turned to look at me in eager desperation. 28

Really? Yeah, thats a long time. He seems reallyinteresting. She seemed to settle on interesting for lack of a better descriptive. Then her face clouded, as if she was remembering something unpleasant. Are you and he.? Me and Jasper?? No way! Not ever. Hes a brother to me. Seriously. Oh, I was just wondering, because he walked right into your house like that. I chuckled. Yeah, we've all been joined at the hips so long that weve lost all sense of personal space. Pathetic, really. One day maybe hell walk in on something really embarrassing and then hell be sorry! So you guys grew up together...where was that? And the rest of the drive was taken up with the Abbreviated Life of Jasper Hale, which fed Alices new obsession and also helped keep me distracted from dwelling on what I was about to do. We arrived at Edwards, at least Alice said this was it. All I saw was a tall brick wall running the whole length of the street on one side. At the break in the wall there was a short drive that led to a tall black iron gate. Alice leaned out of the window and keyed in a code on a little keypad and the gate swung open electronically. No freaking way. I cant believe this is his house. And I havent even seen the actual house yet. We pulled through the gate, and started up a curved drive lined on both sides with rows of some sort of tall spear-shaped trees, but didnt get much farther because Edward was there in the middle of the drive, leaning on the hood of a silver carWas that a Volvo? Seriously?....with his arms crossed, waiting for us. He looked bored and annoyed. He also looked amazing, in black pants and a very dark red dress shirt open at the neck and rolled up at the sleeves. He had on dark Ray Bans concealing his eyes. I pushed down hard on the butterflies that bubbled up involuntarily at the sight of him. I really, really needed to cut it out. And anyway, what the fuck was he up to meeting us in the driveway like this? Like he didnt want me to get near his house or something? I was irritated already and I wasnt even out of the car. Alice pulled up beside him and got out, running up to him and throwing her arms around his waist. He straightened off the car and wrapped his arm around her little shoulders, planting a kiss on the top of her head. Hey! Watch the hair! she smacked him away playfully and he chuckled. God, he was gorgeous when he was happy. Too bad he so rarely seemed to be. So, Alice said with a smile, gesturing towards me as I climbed out of the car, Ive brought her, all dressed up. Doesnt she look great? The smile hed just shared with Alice vanished completely and his face turned sullen as he looked at me briefly. Yeah, she looks fine. Then he addressed me, with no emotion in his voice, You ready to go? I felt completely invisible. He could at least pretend to be pleasant. I swallowed a lump in my throat. This was going to be a long, awful night. But Im a big girl and I can handle it. I squared my shoulders and crossed around the two cars to the passenger side of Edwards. Ready as Ill ever be, I said without looking at him. Hey, Alice?" I called to her over the roof of the car, "Thanks for helping me get readyit was fun. Alice beamed me that killer smile again, It was, right? See you soon? Can I call you tomorrow? I smiled back. Sure, that would be great. I took a deep breath and lowered myself into Edwards car. Well, whatever else happened tonight, Id gotten Alice out of this deal, and that wasnt so bad.


Chapter 6 - Too Famous to Get Fully Dressed

Edward Bella let herself into the passenger side of my car and I slid into the drivers seat. I rested my hands on the steering wheel for a minute and drew a deep breath before turning the key in the ignition. I guess this is it. Lets do this insane thing. I hadnt seen Bella since that night at the club, nor had we spoken. Laurent and Aro had set up all the details between them. Now we were trapped together in this ridiculously awkward situation and I had no idea how we would fill the next few hours. As I had turned over our arrangement in my mind, it was clear to me what my motivation was, what I was getting out of it. What was less clear to me was Bellas. She didnt need fixing like me, she had an impeccable reputation. Hanging around with me wouldnt improve her image, it actually quite possibly could make it worse. The only thing I could come up with was that while I was a certifiable super star, and had been for several years now, she was brand new, this months hot new story. So she must be looking to secure her position in the upper pantheon of Hollywood royalty by dating one of us. That thought made me a little sad, as Bella hadnt really seemed part of that filthy, social climbing world when I met her at the club. I had been struck by how genuine and artless she seemed. But hell, this was Hollywood. There was only one reason people were here. To get famous. By any means necessary. Even little Bella Swan, apparently. Once again, I felt cheap and dirty. Allowing this girl to draft off of my fame on the way to her own while I drafted off her good behavior. This was some sick shit. I shot a surreptitious glance at her as we drove in perfect silence. She was gazing out the window at Beverly Hills slipping past, her face expressionless. I had to admit, Alice was right. She looked amazing. She had these skinny black pants on that showed off her perfectly shaped legs and a blue silky blouse that left her arms and lots of her neck and chest exposed. Miles of creamy skin, making my mind wander. It was going to complicate things that I felt this attracted to her. Because this was business. But hey, what hot woman am I not attracted to? And she wouldnt be here if she wasnt hot. So I figured Id be wanting to sleep with any woman who was pretending to be my girlfriend. What was going to be unusual was not acting on the impulse. I cant remember the last time I didnt sleep with a woman I was attracted to. Yeah, did I say already that this was some sick shit? And that I am one broken, fucked up individual? She seemed to be tired of the awkward silence, or maybe she was just a polite person and felt obliged to make conversation. So, where are we going? Fez. Its in Beverly Hills. French Moroccan, I replied tersely. I didnt intend to sound like such an ass, but it kind of came out that way. Oh. Nice. Do you like the food there? I glanced at her quickly. Ive never been. Laurent picked it. It opened last year, its hot, everyone wants to get in. There are always photographers outside on the sidewalk looking to snap celebrities. He thought it was a good choice. She looked front again, her face grim. I felt a little bad for being such a dick. I should hold up my end here. Look, when we get there, Ill park in the lot. Theres always a scrum of photographers that stake 30

out the parking lot entrance so just stay close to me. Theyll get in your face, but they probably wont touch you. I had meant to be reassuring, giving her a heads up about what we were walking into. I thought shed be grateful. But the look she shot me was horrified. Ill shut up now. Maybe wed have better luck with the whole conversation thing once we were eatingand drinking. Drinking would be mandatory tonight. We finished the drive in silence. I pulled into the parking lot and as predicted, a scrum of photographers loitered there. The parking lot was private property and so was the restaurant, so the only place they could approach us was on the sidewalk, and thats where they lay in wait. I took a deep calming breath as I killed the engine. Bella was twisting her hands in her lap. She looked even paler than normal. Are you ready? I guess. Just dont talk. We walk through them, we dont stop until we get inside. Put your sunglasses on. She blinked at me. What? Your sunglasses. Where are they? UmIwell, I dont have any with me. You dont? I never, ever left the house without sunglasses. That was your shield in situations like this. Sunglasses meant they got your picture, but no expression on your face. Bella looked like maybe she didnt even own sunglasses. Okay, well, never mind. Just look at the ground and follow me I started to get out and her hand moved to her door handle too. No. Stop. Wait for me. The whole point of this is to do it right. Ill get your door. She paused, thinking about that for a second then she settled back in her seat. I got out and quickly moved around to her side. I could hear the scrum of photographers jostling at the fence to see who had arrived. I must have been briefly visible to them through the hedges, because I heard one of them shout, Jackpot! Its Cullen! Yeah, fuckers, its me. And wait till you get a load of this. I paused with my hand on Bellas door handle, took a deep breath to prepare, then I opened her door. She looked up at me, trying to look cool, but her eyes gave her away. She was panicked. What the hell? Why did she look so miserable? I thought shed be all jazzed to be on the arm of a movie star. Wasnt that the point? Didnt she want to do this? The girl was a freaking mystery. I reached down and took her little hand and helped her slide out of the car. Before she had time to get cold feet I turned and led her briskly across the parking lot. As we came into their line of sight near the entrance the paparazzi went absolutely nuts. It was a free for all out there on the sidewalk as they elbowed and jostled to get the best shot of us. They began to shout our names, to shout questions. Were we dating? How long had we been seeing each other? Bella followed directions and trailed close in my wake, gripping my hand for dear life, eyes locked on the ground. I thought I felt her stumble a little once, but she didnt fall or slow down, so I didnt stop. I realized belatedly that I should have had my arm around her instead of dragging her behind me like this, but it was too late and we were almost there. We reached the gate that led to the little entrance garden of Fez and ducked inside. Ahhhinstant quiet. They couldnt follow us here, although I was positive there were media plants inside to catch the good stuff. But at least they had to be discrete and stay out of your face. The front door swung open to greet us. "Mr. Cullen? Welcome to Fez. Please come in. The hostess was tall, blonde, and balanced on ridiculously high fuck-me pumps. She was perhaps in 31

her mid 30s, perfectly preserved and beautiful. She had that look of a one-time wanna-be actress. LA was filthy with them. She came here in her 20s aiming for the stars and didnt quite make it. And now shes working the hostess podium at Fez. Her eyes lit up at the sight of me and her gaze unabashedly traveled my entire length as a smile played across her glossy red lips. I smiled back at her. Were so happy you could join us this evening, the hostess cooed, Ill show you to your booth and if theres anything at all you need, please dont hesitate to let me know. Bella stood patiently next to me, arms crossed over her chest. She narrowed her eyes slightly at the hostess and made a face. Youd better keep holding my hand, I whispered, prying one of hers away from her chest, We didnt ditch the media outside, you know. We followed the gently swaying ass of the hostess through the restaurant. It was dark, with candles on all the tables and huge swaths of brightly colored silk draping all the walls. Along the back wall were a row of booths, each one partially obscured with brightly colored sheer silk drapes. These were the prime tables for the special guests, specially set up to provide additional privacy for various nefarious deeds, but not too much privacy, so people could still see who you were with and what you were up to. Perfect. Bella got herself settled in the middle and I sat closer to the outside. There was a waiter at our side immediately, naturally, and I ordered drinks. I needed alcohol, and fast. The drinks arrived in a flash and we busied ourselves for a minute taking sips, getting comfortable. Bella glanced at the menu but seemed disinterested. When the waiter arrived, she ordered the first thing her eyes fell on. Well, here we are. Drinks are in hand, food is ordered, we have nothing but privacy in this little faux seraglio. What next? Bella met my eyes, clearly thinking the same thing. I drew a deep breath and with false cheer and a fake smile I asked, Sowhere are you from? It was such a lame, first date, get-to-know-you question. I was being sarcastic, I didnt really expect her to answer. But she did, with perfect candor. Forks. Its a small town in I know Forks. I interrupted her, surprise erasing my smart-ass smile. Im from Seattle. Oh. I didnt know that. Funny, I never really imagined you as being from anyplace. Whats that supposed to mean? Just that you seemed to sort of always exist just like this. You know, big movie star and all. Its hard to imagine you young, with a family. Although of course, I just met your sister. She shook her head and waved a hand to redirect the conversation. So, Seattle, huh? When did you leave? Five years ago. Did you spend much time there?" Sure, sure. We lived there up until six months ago. We moved a couple of years after high school, so Rose and I could take some classes at U Dub. So that would have beenthree years ago? It was better for the band to be in Seattle too. Whos Rose?" Our guitarist. And theres Emmett, our drummer, and of course Jasper, our bassist, who youve met. At the mention of our brief encounter at the club, her eyes flashed up to mine and she blushed ever so slightly. Seriously? The girl blushes? I cant remember the last time I saw a woman blush. It was hot. After a long pause while I slammed back my scotch and soda and Bella drew pictures in the condensation on her glass, she seemed to want to try polite conversation again. She cleared her throat softly. So, how do you know Forks, then? Well, Id heard the name, growing up in the area. And then in college, I wound up taking my car 32

there to get some specialty body work done. Turns out one of the best auto body guys in the Pacific Northwest lives in Forks, for some crazy reason. Bella dropped her eyes to the table and a tiny smile played around her lips. Jacob Black. Yeah, thats the guy. You know him? Yeah, I know him. Her eyes didnt lift from the table and was that.fuckshe was blushing again. No fucking way. Bella and Jacob Black. Huh. I wondered idly how all that fit in with Jasper. Bella didnt offer any more information and I decided not to dig. This was all awkward enough already. And it was her business, I suppose. Our drinks were refilled, although Bella had barely touched her first. I ran a hand through my hair and cast a glance around of the room and thats when I saw the guy, four tables away. I knew what he was the minute I laid eyes on him. I got a very evil idea and I felt a slow smirk spread across my face. Hey, Bella, I murmured, scooting closer to her with a smile, See that guy at that table over there? Dont look! I motioned nearly imperceptibly with my chin. She nodded. Hes media. Spying on us. I think we should give him a little something to report, dont you? Her eyes widened in alarm. Christ, was being touched by me really such an unpleasant prospect to her? Relax, its just for show. Youre safe. And before she could flip out or protest, I angled my body across hers and buried my face in the crook of her neck. See? No big deal, I whispered into her neck. She just about leapt out of her skin. Youre tickling me! she hissed. Hold still! But it tickles when you talk! she was squirming underneath me and trying to stifle a giggle. Quit wiggling! Okay, I wont talk. Ill just nuzzle. She started to squeal, but I slid my right hand up to the base of her neck and angled her head to the side, giving me better access to her neck. I trailed my lips along the length of her neck, just barely touching her. I meant to just goof around, give the guy a show and maybe get a rise out of Bella at the same time. But now that I was here, with my nose buried in her hair, her floral, slightly spicy scent was making me lightheaded. And her hair, what was that scent? Strawberries. It was such a simple girlish smell. I was used to women smelling like a complex mix of very expensive grooming products. Her silly strawberry shampoo was killing me. And there was this feeling when I touched her like this, like electricity, I could feel it sing along my fingers and down my spine. It was crazy, and intoxicating, and I didnt want to stop. My fingers subconsciously caressed the back of her neck and her eyes slid closed. I dragged my lips back up her throat with more pressure and when I got to the hollow under her earlobe, I gave it one slow open mouthed kiss and let my lips linger. She drew in a long unsteady breath. My own breathing was becoming ragged. I really should stop this. Id only meant to fool around for a minute. Id had no intention of starting anything. But she wasnt stopping me. And it felt really good. And I really wanted to. Ive wanted to touch her like this since the instant I laid eyes on her. I re-traced my path down her neck to her collarbone, this time with my open mouth. She softened in my arms. My left hand, that had been resting lightly on her hip, clenched into her and pulled her closer. When I got to the hollow at the base of her neck I dipped my tongue in lightly and licked her skin. She gasped. Her hand was slipping up my back, clinging to me. I gripped her hip tighter. I could slide my hand up her torso and be at her breast in a matter of inches. Or I could just slide it over the span of a hand and be touching her there. Okay, and now Im hard. My lips traveled back up her glorious pale neck and then along her jaw, letting my 33

tongue drag lightly along her skin. I could kiss her. Im almost there. Ive been staring at her mouth all night and wondering what it feels like, what it tastes like. And God, I want to. I pulled my face back just enough to make eye contact with her. Her hooded dark eyes met mine and then snapped open. Her spine stiffened and in one movement shed slid herself half a foot away from me. Okay, no kissing, apparently. Wh-what was that? she stammered. I held my hands up in front of me trying to diffuse the situation. Sorry, I got carried away. You smell really good. I tried a flash of the dazzling smile, but she wasnt having it. She scooted around to the other side of the booth in a flash. I have to go to the ladies room. I watched her as she strode across the restaurant. Then I watched the face of every goddamned guy in the place as they watched her cross the room. Fuck off, motherfuckers. Shes mine. Except shes not. And the point was, a girl like her wouldnt be mine. Thats why this stupid subterfuge. It was laughable, really. I could probably nail any woman in this restaurant if I wanted, starting with hostess, and theyd be ready, willing and eager. What Id just done to Bellas neck? If I did that to the hostess, Id have her undressed and flat on her back in seconds. But Bellashe freaks out and runs to the ladies room. So okay, maybe Laurent was right. She was different and too good for me. Or maybe it was that I was too bad for her. Except that she liked it. I wasnt being arrogant here. I knew arousal when I felt it. Bella was aroused. The way she felt in my arms, those goddamned sexy little sounds she made, she wanted it. But clearly she hated herself for it, so now shes in there doing God knows what in the ladies room. Probably planning her escape. I buried my face in my hands. This was such a mess. She was pissed, she didnt like me, and to top it off, I was wildly aroused right now. Fuck.


Chapter 7 - Oh My God
Bella Oh. My. God. Fuck. I latched the bathroom stall door and sat down on the closed toilet. I put my head down on my knees and squeezed my eyes shut. I drew deep breaths, trying all my old tricks from the early days of Eclipse, when I had horrible stage fright. Inhale slowly through my nose 1..2..3..4..5, exhale out of my mouth, 1..2..3..4..5. Slowly I felt like I was regaining some control over myself. I pulled out my cell phone and scrolled to Roses number. I had typed in the text, one word, HELP, and paused with my thumb over send. Why was I calling Rose? Up until a minute ago it had been going okay. Sure it was awkward and forced, but we were complete strangers pretending to be dating. It was bound to be awkward. Okay, so he was a dick, but not impossible to deal with. When I asked questions, he answered and for a minute there wed been conversing like real people. It was weird that Jake came up, of all people, but whatever. And then he kissed my neck I couldnt argue with the reason hed done it. Thats why we were here, to make people believe thats what we did with each other. And when I thought back, it really had started out innocent. I was even sort of giggling. And then it hadnt been so innocent. So he got carried away, why am I so freaked out? Because I did, too. Goddamn it. That had been the hottest, sexiest thing that had ever happened to me. And the feeling when he touched memy God. Like Id been zapped by lightning. Ive never felt like that ever. My skin still tingled at every point on my body that he had touched. And my panties were wet. Damn. Even after I pulled away, as I looked at him across the table, looking so damned stunning with that gorgeous sex hair going everywhere, all I really wanted to do was climb across the table and into his lap and keep going where we left off. This was bad. But its also not really his fault. Okay, so he started it, kissing my neck like that, but its not his problem that I cant control my reaction to him. I was just another stupid girl falling prey to the Cullen charm. I would have to be stronger than this. I could do this. I had to. I stood up and left the stall and checked myself in the mirror. I might feel like and earthquake just rocked my whole body, but I looked just the same, so thats good. I caught the woman to my left checking me out in the mirror surreptitiously. I could nearly hear her thoughts. Yes, bitch, Im here with Edward Cullen. And Im leaving with him, too. Yes, me. Suck it. Okay, leaving together only so he could drive me home, but she would never know that. For all she knew we were going home to have hot throw-down sexUngh..Must stop thinking about hot throwdown sex with Edward. I steeled myself again, threw my shoulders back and headed back to the table. The guy that Edward had ratted out as a gossip reporter was scribbling furiously on a piece of paper beside his plate. Hope you enjoyed the show, mister. It was all for you. Well, it was supposed to be for you. My damp panties told a different story. Edward was sitting at the table with his head in his hands. He had another drink in front of him and our food had arrived while Id been gone. 35

He looked up at me questioningly as I slid back into the booth. I shot him what I hoped was a calm, reassuring smile, even though the sight of him made my stomach clench and my heart speed up. He looked at me a moment longer then shrugged slightly and looked back down at his drink. I tried to focus on my food. It was actually delicious, chicken and couscous and a million other things in it. I wish Id paid better attention to the menu when Id ordered, I hadnt even read the description. But I was too keyed up to eat much, so I mostly just pushed it around my plate. Edward seemed equally disinterested in his dinner, he mostly just drank. Before I knew it he was paying and we were leaving. We still hadnt said more than a handful of words to each other. We stopped at the front door for a minute while the hostess pressed Edward with her sincere hopes that wed enjoyed our meal and that everything was exactly as wed hoped. She was still all but undressing herself for him and humping his leg and it was still pissing me off. Hey, bitch, this may be fake but you dont know that! Hes my date! It didnt help that he was fucking flirting with her. Right in front of me. It was all I could do to stand there and stare into space and pretend I didnt notice her simpering at him and him shooting her that crooked grin. Finally he had enough of her and we turned to leave. I could hear the paparazzi explode into noise the minute we walked out the door. When we got to the gate opening onto the sidewalk I could see that the scrum of paparazzi outside was even bigger now, like theyd sent out some sort of paparazzi radar signal that something good was going down. Edward scooped me under his arm as we walked out onto the sidewalk before I could protest and hustled us briskly to the parking lot. They were absolutely swarming around us, jostling each other and shoving, flashes going off in my face non-stop like a strobe light. The calls and questions were deafening. If Id been alone I would have been utterly panicked. But Edward squeezed my shoulder a little and pulled me in closer to his body and I let him and I felt safer. He kept his free arm out in front of me, hand spread out, to ward them off and keep anyone from actually touching me, and I was grateful for it. We slipped through the gate to the parking lot and they peeled off because it was private property and they couldnt follow, leaving us alone. Edward loosened his hold on me a little, but he didnt take his arm from my shoulder. We were almost to the car when he dipped his head in to whisper in my ear. His warm breath blowing across my skin made me erupt in goosebumps and my knees went weak. See that clump of bushes over there? One of the photographers must have scaled the fence, because hes hiding in there. Oh I said, because I had no other response to that piece of information and his nearness was making me positively stupid. How did he spot them? He must have some super sense that sniffed out paparazzi. Bella? His face was still just inches from my ear. Yes? Hold still he said, and then his mouth came down on mine. We were to the car by now, and with the arm he still had around my shoulders he turned my body into him and pressed me back against the car in one swift motion. The frisson of electricity Id felt when he had his lips on my neck was absolutely nothing to what happened now. Every single inch of me exploded against him. His lips moved firmly against mine. It felt commanding, but controlled, and I thought for a minute that this might really just be for the benefit of the photographers, no matter how I was responding to it. He felt and tasted every bit as good as I thought he might. And his smellwarm, a little spicy and something else which must have been just Edward. It was making me feel drunk. I felt his tongue slip along my bottom lip. Oh, God. This was so not for the photographers anymore. 36

My stupid traitorous body didnt care and my mouth opened of its own accord. His tongue slipped into my mouth and I met it with mine. He shifted the angle of his head and dove deep into my mouth and I gasped against him. My hands flew to his shoulders to steady myself, but then I realized I was gripping him hard, pulling him into me. His hands slid up to cradle the back of my head, his fingers knotting tightly into my hair. He moved forward into me and my back pressed into the car door. He kept moving and crushed himself against me. I could feel his belt buckle pressing into my stomach, his chest against my breasts. It felt so good, so insanely good. All I really wanted was to pull him into the car and do everything else. And now it didnt feel controlled anymore... at all. We were both snatching ragged little breaths in between our desperate kisses. My hands slipped up to the back of his neck and I finally got to touch the hair that had been calling to me since we met. I tangled my fingers in the hair just above his collar and made a tight fist. He growledgrowled... into my mouth and I swear I nearly came. He pushed his hips into me and his right knee slid in between mine. A small moan escaped my throat involuntarily as his thigh hit my center. I could feel his erection, hard and pressing against my hip. One of his hands left my hair and slipped down over my shoulder, and then lower, just skimming the side of my breast. I moaned again and thats when my brain woke up. Because there was only one place this was leading and that was a bed, with him and me in it. And that would be fantastic, but also very bad. Because Edward Cullen ended up in a lot of beds with a lot of women. And it did not matter that no ones hands and lips had ever made me feel like that. I was not about to become yet another number in the Edward Cullen Collection of Random Fucks. Maybe if I was still just some anonymous girl in Seattle and he was just some anonymous guy I met in a bar. Then maybe, just maybe, Id let myself do this, tumble into bed with this incredibly hot and sexy stranger, consequences be damned. But neither one of us was anonymous and this is complicated. Because we have an arrangement to deal with. Because I really like his sister, and Jasper might just love her. So I let go of his hair and stiffened in his arms for a second time tonight. He moved back a tiny bit, sensing my resistance. He pulled his lips from mine and I dropped my head quickly, so I didnt have to look at him as I gasped for breath. His breathing sounded just as ragged. He moved his hands to rest lightly, harmlessly on my shoulders. I didnt mean for that to happenlike that. He muttered, his voice sounding like gravel. I took a deep breath hoping I could trust my own voice. Lets just forget it. But Forget it I snapped, because if I didnt get mad I was going to cry. Look, lets I was about to go off on him, but of course, there were still witnesses, so I slipped out from underneath his hands and started around to my side of the car. He paused for a millisecond and then shot out in front of me, to get to the door ahead of me. He closed me into the car and crossed back around to the drivers side. I fought to hang on to my anger while I waited for us to be alone. He fell into the drivers seat and gripped the wheel hard before he threw a glance at me. He started talking before I could. Sure that got a little intense. But Im not sure what youre so unhappy about. Were supposed to be a couple. So a photographer just got a picture of us being a couple. Since youre in this for the exposure, I thought that would make you happy. Itll make you famous, right? And isnt that what you want? Isnt that why youre here? His voice was dripping with sarcasm. I drew in a sharp breath and my eyes narrowed at him. Fucking asshole. That is not why Im here. I couldnt care less what this does for me. I dont give a shit about the fucking photographers and the media and the gossip and being famous. I dont care what they say about 37

me, I dont care what the public thinks. But Aro is sure that what makes me famous will make the band famous. And thats a good thing. For them. I would do anything for them, even something I hate. Weve spent our whole lives making this music together. Now that we have our chance, Ill do anything it takes to make sure people actually hear it. Okay, I was being a little hyperbolic. There were definitely parts of tonight that I in no way hated. But I needed to gain control of this situation. And he needed to not touch me anymore. Even though right now I wanted nothing more for him to touch every inch of me. That wouldnt get us anywhere. He clenched and unclenched his jaw for a moment, staring straight ahead out of the windshield as he thought about what I said. I really didnt want to keep fighting, so I sagged with relief when he simply started the car and pulled away. We said nothing most of the way back to my house, which was really something, since it was a long way. Eventually I had to talk, just to give him directions, since he didnt know where I lived. So at least we were speaking, albeit tensely. My phone beeped in my bag to indicate I had a text. I pulled it free and glanced. It was Jasper. How is it going?- J I texted back. Long story. Tomorrow- B Edward glanced from my phone to my face and back again. Do you need to call someone? No, it was just Jasper. His face turned to stone again and he didnt speak for the last little bit of the drive. I had no idea where we stood. Was our arrangement still in place? Or were we done before wed even really started? But I was too upset and tired tonight to ask him, especially since he looked so angry and mean. I was just going to try to forget about it for a little while and figure it all out later. Besides, if we talked about this anymore tonight I was pretty sure I would cry and that would be humiliating in the extreme. We stopped at my house and I turned to him quickly. "Thanks for dinner," I muttered, before I scrambled quickly out of the car. I didn't want to linger to see what he would or wouldn't say. I turned and ducked into my dark front yard and hurried up the walk to the house and shut myself inside. The car lingered in front of my house for another few minutes before I heard him pull away. I finally let myself sag against the living room wall. Much to my dismay, I started to cry. Not hard, but tears leaked out from under my lids nonetheless. My phone rang. Rose. So? she jumped right in, Whats going on? I just got home, I sighed. Tell me everything! I will, Rose, I promise. But not now. It was tiring. Tell you what, get to the studio half an hour early tomorrow morning and Ill tell you then. This appeased Rose and I was able to slink off to bed and bury my miserable head in the covers. I wasn't going to sleep any time soon, though, I knew it. Between speculating about what tomorrow would bring and reliving every scorching touch from him, I tossed and turned the whole night, finally drifting into a fitfull sleep in the early pre-dawn hours. I dreamt of Edward, Edward's hands and Edward's lips, and Edward's sneering, angry words. I woke feeling just as close to tears as I felt last night.


Chapter 8 - All These Things That I've Done

Bella When I arrived at Sound Design Studios, where we were recording the album, it was so early that it was still nearly deserted. As a rule, we kept much earlier hours than your average rock band and always had. The security guard, John, was at the front desk, but otherwise the building was mostly empty. I greeted John and headed down the long hall to our studio. It was too early for either Butch, our producer, or Kyle, the sound engineer to be in yet, so the sound booth was empty and dark. I passed through it and into the studio itself. It was scattered with our instruments and equipment, all dark and shut off. The walls were dark with the foam soundproofing covering every surface. The studio had some homey touches added, which was nice since we spent so much time here. There were a couple of worn Persian rugs scattered over the bare concrete floor and there was a sagging, squishy couch in one corner. Thats where Rose sat, waiting for me. She had managed to ditch Emmett for a while by sending him out for coffee and bagels. It was at least half an hour before anyone else was due in, so we had plenty of privacy. She folded her impossibly long legs underneath her and turned to face me as I came in. She was dressed down today, in no makeup and her golden hair in a high ponytail, wearing ordinary jeans and a white t shirt and she still looked unreal. So she began as soon as I walked in the door, tell me everything. Jasper might be in love. That caught her off guard. I knew what I was doing, distracting Rose to put off talking about me. I knew I would have to eventually, just not quite yet. What? What do you mean hes in love? Just watch his face today when I mention Alice. Who is Alice? Edwards sister. How did Jasper meet Edwards sister? He stopped by my house yesterday while I was getting ready and she was there. What was she doing at your house? She came over to help me get ready and to drive me over to Edwards, I shook my head and waved my hands in front of me. It sounds a lot weirder than it was. Good, because it sounds pretty weird. She is a little crazy, but shes great. I think youll like her. You should have seen Jasper. He looked like somebody hit him with a shovel. Really? Seriously, Rose. It was like in a movie, with little hearts circling their heads and their eyes going all starry and birds singing and shit. Ive never seen anything like it. I had to leave the room. And he just met her? Yup. They were complete strangers. Although I suspect that wont be the case for long. Wait, Rose barked, pointing her finger at me, Were getting distracted. What about you? What happened last night? What are you trying to hide? I closed my eyes and sighed before falling onto the sofa heavily beside her. Ugh, Rose, it was awful! Awful in what way? 39

He was mostly a jerk. A total ass. He was so angry at having to be there. It was really uncomfortable. I mean, I wasnt thrilled either, but I was at least willing to try and be civil. But he was rude and bored and arrogant. And then. I trailed off, not sure how to explain the other things that happened, although I knew Id have to. There was no fooling Rose, though. She knew my face too well. What happened? Did he touch you? Yes. What did he do? Her teeth were clenched. It wasnt that big of a deal. At least not at first. There was a reporter in the restaurant, so Edward wanted to pretend to make out. And at first it was...just pretend. It was even kind of funny. But thenI dont know. Something changed. And then he was kissing my neck and I could feel the fierce blush flooding my face up to my hairline. Then it wasnt pretend anymore? she asked softly. I shook my head, my eyes squeezed shut. Just talking about it made it all come back, his lips on my neck, his tongue tasting the hollow of my throatthe memory was making my heart race and I hated my weakness. Then I took a deep breath because I hadnt even told her the really bad part yet. But we got past that. I made him stop and he did and we got back to dinner. But then, after dinner when were walking to the car It happened again?? Worse. Or better, I thoughtdepending on your point of view. There was a photographer hiding in the parking lot, and I think Edward just wanted to give him a show. So he kissed me. Rose let it hang there a minute, waiting for me to expound, only I didnt know what to say. Finally she prompted me. And? Oh, God, Rose I flopped back on the couch and let my head fall back, staring at the ceiling. The memory, and the heat, was flooding my system. I fought to control my breathing and calm myself down. That good? No one has ever, ever made me feel like that, I moaned, blushing again. I hated that my body always gave me away like that. Not Jake in all that time you two were..? I looked over at her and shook my head, Dont get me wrong, it was nice with Jake. Great, in fact. But this wasso beyond. And it was just a kiss. Ah, poor Jake. And poor you. This is complicated. I nodded my head, Very complicated. Her eyes snapped up to me. She could hear the guilt in my voice. She knew what I was torturing myself about. Did you kiss him back? she asked accusingly. I couldnt even answer, I just shut my eyes tight and nodded. I couldnt help it, I finally managed to whisper. Well, that makes it harder. Maybe you should pull out. I dont want you to be hurt. I saw the way he was looking at you that first night you met him in the club and I was afraid he wouldnt be able to keep his hands to himself. Come on, Rose. Its not all on him. I didnt exactly beat him away. And besides, I dont even know if were on anymore. We got in a fight in the car right after thatbecause of that. He said some awful things and I got pissed and said some awful things back and we didnt really talk the rest of the way 40

home. He might be done with me. And what I said to himwell, I dont think hell touch me again. Which is good. But it sucks a little bit, too. You know? Yeah, I know. Then she laughed and shook her head slowly. Only you, Bella. What? Only you could get into a fight with Edward Cullen, International Movie Star and Sex God, because he kissed you, when every other woman on the planet would be begging him for it. Yeah, well, thats why I fought with him. To keep myself from begging for it. I thanked God for Rose. That I had someone I could be so brutally honest with. It felt good to confess what I was feeling to somebody, and I knew she wouldnt judge me at all, even though Id acted stupidly and engaged in completely inappropriate behavior with a total jerk. So, now what? she asked. I just want to sing. I dont know whats happening next and right now I really dont care. I just want to forget for now. Okay. Then well forget. My phone rang. Alices name popped up in the caller id. How did she program her info into my phone? When did she manage that? And God only knew how she got my number. Hi Alice, I tried to keep my voice light, not knowing what, if anything, Edward had said to her. Rose perked up, watching me carefully. Hi, Bella! So can I steal you to come shopping with me today? She was preternaturally chirpy, so I guessed Edward didnt say anything yet. Well, were scheduled in the studio today until 3. We could go after that, I suppose, if you really want to. Yes, I do! Why dont I come and pick you up and well go from there? I agreed, knowing that another reason she wanted to come get me was that Jasper would be here. I gave her the address. Listen, Bella, Alice said intently, Is Rosalie there? What the fuck? How did she even know who Rose was? But then again, I didnt put anything past this girl. Yeah, shes right here. I looked at Rose and her eyes bored into me. Will you ask her to come, too? Um, okay. I put the phone to my shoulder, Rose, Alice is taking me shopping this afternoon and she wants you to come. Roses face was a mask of intense consideration as she took a beat to think. Yes, Ill come. Okay, Alice. Shell come. Great! she squealed with delight. Ill see you this afternoon! And she was off like a shot. That wasfierce. I could feel Rose and Alice sizing each other up through me and the phone. Now I really hoped they liked each other! Emmett burst into the studio moments later, weighed down with coffees and food and I welcomed the distraction. Why the fuck are we booked for a 9 am recording slot? he wailed. I mean, I know we used to take the early slots in Seattle, but thats because they were cheap and we were broke. Why do we have to do it so early now? Because, Jasper replied as he let himself into the studio behind Emmett, We work better in the morning. Maybe its all those years of practice. But well just fuck around and waste time if we start later. Emmett grumbled some more but consoled himself with a bagel. 41

What are we working on today? I asked. Jasper hooked a thumb at the control booth on the other side of the window. I was just talking it through with Butch and Id like to spend a little time working out something new I wrote. I threw a wave through the glass window at our producer, Butch, who I hadnt seen come in, as I took the sheet music Jasper handed me. It wasnt familiar to me. Whats this, Jazz? When did you do this? Um, well, he was rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably, I got it on paper yesterday. I shot him a look and a smirk. Yesterday, huh? You must have beeninspired. Shut up, Swan. I wrote a song. Are you going to sing it or what? Okay, okay. Lets get to work then Edward I woke up late, to the sound of Alices voice calling me. For once I wasnt hung over, just exhausted. The whole night with Bella had kept eating at me, making sleep impossible to find. I had tossed and turned all night, finally giving up and watching some lame old late movie on t.v. until I dropped off to sleep near dawn. I knew Id pretty much acted like a dick right from the start. Id known it while I was doing it. But at the time Id reasoned that she didnt deserve any special treatment from me since she was just as ruthless, just as mercenary as every other grubbing, social climbing little starlet in this town. Its how I convinced myself it was okay to paw her like that at our table. And it was how I reasoned that shed be okay with me kissing her in the parking lot. After all, it was all for attention, right? And she must want that if she was there with me. I was pretty much lying to myself, though. Mostly I just really wanted to kiss her, pin her against something, claim her. Ever since my lips made contact with her skin Id been wildly aroused, completely distracted, wanting a lot more. All that stuff about putting on a show for the photographer in the bushes was me just rationalizing what I really wanted to do, which was fuck her. And then she got pissed, and I got defensive and sarcastic. Then shed laid into me about how she wasnt one of those girls and her reasons for being there were all noble and shit, she was just doing it for her band, for the music, taking one for the team. Every word of it was true, I could tell. That was when I started to feel just a little bit bad about what Id done, which was entirely new territory for me. I sat up all night wrestling with this gnawing, unfamiliar feeling of guilt, this feeling I couldnt escape that Id done something wrong, which I didnt like. The tricky part, though, was that I knew she wanted me, too. I didnt imagine what happened by the car. Sure I started it, but she was giving as good as she got. It wasnt like I forced myself on her and assaulted her. Okay, maybe I forced myself on her a littlebut she liked it. But I still felt bad about it, which was weird. I guess it was because she was determined to ignore whatever had flared up between us and I pushed her anyway. Then I gave her a hard time for it, and I sort of insulted her. And back to what had flared up between usWhat. The. Fuck. Was. That? I had more than my share of experience with women. In fact, that was a laughable understatement. But I had no frame of reference for what happened last night. That electricity every time I touched her, the way my mind went completely blank when I kissed her and some sort of crazy instinct took over and swamped my senses, it was overwhelming. That kiss shook me to the coreand it was just a kiss. We kept all our clothes on and the only parts of her my hands touched was her shoulders and her hair but that currently ranked as one of the hottest sexual experiences of my life. How fucked up was that? Even now, twelve hours later, I could still taste her on my tongue, feel her under my hands, feel her hands gripping my 42

hair.Fuck. Now Im hard... I wondered if it felt that intense for her, too and remembering her responses, the sounds she made, the way she hung on to me, I thought that maybe it had. So if there was this immense, sexually charged thing between us, unlike anything Id ever felt before, how could I be expected not to act on it? Because, idiot, this situation were in is complicated, and that would just make it infinitely more so. That was something she seemed to understand and I was too boneheaded to acknowledge. Unlike me, she was able to act based on common sense, to do what was right and not be a slave to her sexual urges. And now I felt like a total dickhead, since she was being mature and making responsible choices and I wasnot. Man, I really hated feeling so bad about myself. I heard Alice calling my name again and I groaned and buried my face in the pillow, trying to avoid her for another few minutes. Why the fuck was she even here? She had her own place, supposedly, but she was almost never there, preferring to torment me instead. Truthfully though, I was sort of glad for her constant presence in my life. It was one of the only things in my life that still felt healthy and good. Edward? She was in my room now. I pulled my head free of the covers and opened one eye a slit to see her. What do you want, Alice? How did it go last night? Dont ask. Uh-oh. Uh-oh is right. What did you do? I picked my head up off the pillow and fixed her with both eyes. Why is it you automatically assume it was me who fucked up? She cocked her head to the side and smiled indulgently at me. Edwardcome on. I groaned and flopped back down. Alright. I fucked up. Tell me. Alice, this is sort of private. Whatever you did, pictures of it are probably all over the internet by now, so you might as well spit it out. I flopped over on my back and sighed, staring at the ceiling. I sort ofattacked hertwice. And then when she got mad and called me on it I gotmean. And I insulted her. I might have insinuated that she was a fame-chasing whore. Alice winced. She lowered herself to sit on the bed next to me and reached out to stroke my hand absently. Edward, she said softly, you know that youre broken, right? Well, fuck. Ouch. As if I didnt feel crappy enough. When your adored baby sister, whos viewed you her whole life with nothing but hero worship looks at you with that pitying expression on her face and tells you that youre broken, then you know youve hit rock bottom. I dragged my hands through my hair roughly and scrubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands. But Edward, she amended quickly, You werent always broken! I know the good is still there in you! And we can fix you! You can fix you. You just have to try. Thissituationyoure in with Bella, maybe it is exactly what you need. Laurent wants you to look like youve reformed. So reform already! Dont just act like you have! Do it! I sighed deeply. She was right. I knew she was right. But I felt so lost. And helpless. And overwhelmed. 43

Alice, I said softly, I dont even know what to do anymore. You cant fix everything all at once, so dont try. Pick one thing and focus on that. Fix things with Bella. Do that first. Any ideas on how I do that, munchkin? Im picking her up this afternoon to go shopping. Come with me. Talk to her. Apologize and start over. Youre going shopping with her? I raised an eyebrow at her. How did this happen? Yeah, Alice said, a tad defensively. I like her. A lot. And she needs some clothes. For a beautiful girl, shes really clueless about fashion. She needs me. Shes fallen into the clutches of the crazed fashion-obsessed munchkin! Shes doomed! I joked as I reached out and ruffled her hair. Alice screeched and slapped my hands away and I laughed, the heavy mood broken for the moment. I felt better that at least I had a plan. Now I just needed to figure out what the hell I was going to say.


Chapter 9 Girlfriend
Bella It was a great day in the studio. Jaspers new song really was inspired. I resisted razzing him anymore because it was truly one of the best things hed ever written and I wanted to work hard on it and get it right. There was such energy to the song, and to us as we worked on it. It felt like we were close to catching lightning in a bottle, that elusive creative moment when the magic happens. We didnt finish it, the song was in too raw a state this morning for us to get it nailed down in one day, but it was really coming along and shaping up to be something special. Butch seemed excited about it and said he had some ideas he wanted to try out before we did any more studio work on it, so we called it a day. We wrapped up on a creative high, all of us euphoric. We had a few minutes left on our schedule, plus Rose and I were waiting for Alice, anyway, so we started just playing and goofing around, unwilling to let go of our music high. Emmett suggested we play something off of our list of songs we called Not For Public Consumption. They werent on our regular song list because we didnt have the right instrumentation for them, or they werent right for me vocally or they were just stylistically out of left field for us. It was a bunch of songs that we saved for times like these, when we just wanted to have fun, relax, blow off steam, or loosen up. We never played them at gigs, we never considered recording them. Hell, we never even played them for other people. This was music just for us. So which one are we playing? Rose asked as she worked her way through a particularly difficult finger picking run on her guitar. She had freakishly agile fingers. Jasper was in many ways more musical than Rose, but he couldnt deny her natural ability on the guitar. And it was to his credit that hed never tried, even though hed been playing longer than her. Oh, lets do that blues song, the one with the great bass line, I suggested. Love Me Like A Man? Jasper asked. Yeah, thats the one! Jasper led us in with the driving bass line that cemented the whole song as Rose came in with the guitar line and Emmett chimed in on the drums. I had a great time singing it, even though my voice was terrible for blues. But it didnt matter. The lyrics were sassy and sexy and fun and it was a great way to wind down and loosen up. It was exactly what I needed. I hadnt thought about Edward Cullen or any of that bullshit for hours. We were all so wrapped up in playing together that we didnt notice we had visitors in the recording booth. Edward Were looking for Eclipse? Alice chirped at the security guard at Sound Design Studios. He gave her a look as if to say You really think Im just going to let you in? So I stepped forward into his line of vision. His eyes widened. Yes, its me. You would be amazed at how well that works. Ms. Swan is a friend of mine, I said, She said shed be here. She didnt exactly say I could stop by, but I left that part out. Oh... he stammered, after finding his voice again, Right. Theyre in studio D. Its down that hall, take a left. Knock at the booth. Butch is probably gone, but Kyle, the sound engineer should still be there and can let you in. I smiled and thanked him and Alice bounced ahead of me down the hall. By the time I caught up 45

Alice was already in the booth and making fast friends with the recording engineer. He nodded at me as I slipped inside and closed the door behind me. My attention was immediately captured by the voice coming through the speakers from the studio. Was thatBella? Her voice was amazing, clear and vibrant, a rich soprano. I looked to see where it was coming from and spotted her through the window in the studio. They were performing some blues song, Jasper perched on a stool in the middle of the room, driving the song with his bass line. There was an astounding-looking blonde Amazon slouched on the sofa picking out the guitar line, eyes locked with Jasper. The two of them were grinning like fools at each other, having some sort of musical call and answer. A huge beefy dark haired guy was behind the drum kit, lost in his own world. Bella was swaying behind the mic stand and singing. She was dressed simply, in jeans and a black Rolling Stones t-shirt, her long dark hair swaying around her shoulders and down her back. I felt punched in the stomach when I saw her. All I could think of for a moment was the feeling of her mouth under mine, her hands twisting in my hair, my fingertips brushing the side of her breast I really needed to stop letting my brain go there. Okay, to be fair, my brain had nothing to do with this. Whatever. Are they recording this? I murmured without taking my eyes off her. Ah, no, Kyle, the engineer shrugged, Theyre done for the day, theyre just goofing around now. This isnt really their style. I had to admit, Bellas voice, as lovely as it was, wasnt strictly cut out for the blues, but it hardly mattered. She was having fun in there. The song was flirty and sassy and she was playing it up, they all were really, having a good time with each other. It was fun to watch. Alice leaned in to whisper to me. The blonde girl is Rosalie. Shes Jaspers twin sister. And thats Jasper, you said you met him already. The big guy on drums is Emmett, Bellas cousin. Hes with Rosalie. Theyve all known each other since they were little kids. Her cousin? How did I not know this? And how did Alice? When had she done all this homework? But then again, nothing Alice did should ever surprise me at this point. Now I realized that Laurent had given me a file on Bella and an ipod with the entire season of that show she was on downloaded on it and Id never given any of it a second glance. If I had, Id have known her band mate was her cousin. And Id know how amazing her voice was and how she was sex on legs when she sang. Another thing to feel crummy about. I replayed Alices advice in my head. Start fixing. I would go home tonight and watch every freaking episode of that show. Bella now detached the mic from the stand and swayed over behind Jasper. She turned her back to his and leaned back against him in playful seduction as she sang. Her dark hair tumbled back over his shoulders and down his back as she slid down him a little while she sang. I never seen such losers, darlin Even though I tried To find a man who could take me home Stead of takin me for a ride And I need someone to love me I know you can She flipped around, laying her chest against his back and dragged her hand slowly through his hair. She trailed a finger along his jaw seductively before she sauntered back to her mic stand. He grinned broadly at her and winked. Dont you put yourself above me You just love me like a man Not her boyfriend, huh? Fucking right. Maybe it was some sort of friends with benefits bullshit, but 46

it was there. Whatever. I reminded myself that it was none of my business. Although I noticed some unfamiliar, unpleasant feeling curled in my stomach and my teeth were clenching of their own accord. Back at her mic stand, a smile still paying around her lips, she slowly slid down the mic stand as she sang the next verse. Oh they want me to rock them Like my back aint got no bone I want a man to rock me Like my backbone was his own On the last line she straightened back up, dragging the tips of two fingers up the mic stand as she went. Jesus fucking Christ It would be so much easier to do this right and behave myself if she didnt do shit like thatand look like thatand sound so fucking sexy. Fuck... it was going to take me a century to purge that image, and all the fantasies it evoked, from my brain. She sang the chorus again and then pulled her mic free as she sauntered over to the Amazon, Rosalie, and sang the next verse. I come home sad and lonely Feel like I want to cry I want a man to hold me Not some fool to ask me why She and Rosalie pulled fierce faces at each other and ended up cracking each other up. Bella doubled over for a second, her eyes closed as she tried to stifle her laughter so she could finish the song. I realized that it was the first time Id really seen her laugh. She turned front again and sang her way one more time through the chorus and relaxed back as Rosalie and Jasper wound the song down. They stopped and applauded each other, laughing and joking for a minute before Alice could no longer restrain herself and sprang through the door into the studio. Bella! Oh, hey, Alice! I didnt see you come in! Guys, this is Alice, Edwards sister. Alice, this is Emmett and Rosalie. And you know Jasper. I stepped into the doorway in time to catch Alice and Rosalie fixing each other with some crazy intense look. I had no idea what I that was about. I so dont get women sometimes. Bella caught sight of me over Alices shoulder and froze. Everyone else in the room turned to stare at me in silence as well. Nice. Awkward. She flushed a little and then seemed to find her voice. EdwardI didnt expect to see you here. And now I felt bad for barging in on her. Maybe I should have called her first. Maybe she was mad that I showed up unannounced. This was going really shitty so far. Rosalie, Emmett, this is Edward. And I think youve met Jasper. I fixed him with a glare and raised my chin a little. I so have your number, asshole. He shot the glare back at me. He had mine, too. But I didnt come her to have a standoff with Jasper. I took a deep breath and looked back to Bella. Can I talk to you for a minute? Um, yeah. Sure. Alice, just make yourself comfortable. Jasper, why dont you show her around the studio? Alice was off like a shot, talking a mile a minute to the other three. I backed into the booth and Bella followed. She pulled the door closed behind her. The sound engineer had left when they finished the song, so we were alone. 47

I exhaled and rubbed my hand across the back of my neck as I looked at the ceiling. Damn, this shit was hard. She stood against the door, arms crossed across her chest, waiting patiently with no expression. Look, Im sorry about last night. I made a lot of wrong, insulting assumptions about you. And I treated you disrespectfully because of them. I had no right to doany of that. She was silent for a moment, considering. OhOkay. Okay? Yeah, okay, she shrugged. You dont know me. I guess those were pretty safe assumptions to have made under ourcircumstances. But I shouldnt have, umtouched you like that. I couldnt remember the last time I felt this embarrassed. She flushed to the roots of her hair and looked at her feet. It seemed she was, too. I should have talked to you about it first, instead of assuming youd be okay with it. Right. Okay. No, thats fine, she stammered, still not raising her eyes. I get why you did it. It justum, yeah, whatever. Lets just forget it, okay? She finally managed to shoot a glance at me. Yeah, okay. Well forget it. Can we start this over? What? The arrangement? Yes. Can we try it again? She considered it for a moment. I think we can do this right, I said, trying to sound confident. I mean I can do this right. If you want to give it another go. Sure. Yeah, we can do that. She finally let a breath out shed been holding and relaxed microscopically. So did I. I shot her a small smile and the corners of her mouth twitched up a tiny bit. Okay, progress. Baby steps, but progress. So, are you up for something? Another date? Um, yes. Of course. Whats on the agenda? A baseball game. The Dodgers. Tomorrow. Baseball? she asked, surprised. Bella, its the national pastime, I said with mock sincerity and now she managed a real smile. The tension seemed momentarily eased. I allowed myself a tiny moment of triumph. I had at least fixed this much. Alright. Baseball it is, then. Ill text you with the details. The door burst open behind Bella and she staggered backwards into Alice. Oh, God, Bella! Sorry! I was just going to see if you were ready to go. She gasped and stepped back quickly. Are you guys still talking? No, no! Bella said quickly as she regained her balance. Were all done. Alice shot me a meaningful glance. I gave her a tight smile and a tiny nod of my head. Im working on it, munchkin. Alice seemed appeased. Okay! she barked, Rosalie is ready, so lets go! Youre in the clutches of the crazed shopping munchkin, now, I said to Bella, my voice mockingly serious, I hope you can handle it. Bella laughed out loud and allowed Alice to pull her out into the hall. I stood there for a moment, marveling at how good it had felt to make her laugh like that.


Bella So far the shopping trip seemed to be going okay. Rose and Alice were still doing this tense little dance around each other, trying to suss each other out, but it wasnt unpleasant. Shopping, at least this kind, for fancy clothes, was one of my least favorite activities, but Rose really enjoyed it and for Alice it seemed tantamount to a religious experience, so on that score, they were getting along fine. Everyone seemed to be studiously not mentioning Jasper, which was sort of humorous, I thought, since he was the whole reason the two of them were here together today. It had all started off a little weird and alarming, at least for me. Edward was the last person I expected to see at that moment, especially there at the studio, which was like my little personal world that had zero to do with him. And he would show up when we were goofing around on that blues song, of all things. I couldnt be knocking it out of the park on one of our own songs, oh no. I had to be camping it up like some old saloon singer. God, I think I even draped myself all over Jasper at some point. Gah..so embarrassing. We kept songs like that in our rehearsal repertoire for exactly that kind of thing, though. The rest of the band seemed to think they helped me loosen up on stage. I was a natural singer, but not always a natural performer. It had taken years for me to develop something like a stage persona and I still tended to be hampered by my own natural reservation. So Emmett and Jasper constantly sought out songs like that, ones that as Emmett put it, let me get my freak on. It was silly, but it worked. Songs like that did make it easier to unleash my inner rock star. I was just sorry Edward had to see me doing it. It was almost like he caught be singing into my damned hairbrush in front of the bathroom mirror. He was not at all what I was expecting today. I was ready for more arrogance and anger, ready for him to tell me that the whole arrangement was not going to work out. I was ready for it but the idea that he would do that felt oddly like a rejection, which was weird to me. But I didnt have long to analyze what that feeling might mean because thats not at all what he said. He apologized, which floored me for a moment. And when he explained that he misjudged both me and my motivations, I understood, at least a little, his behavior. I still thought it was sort of arrogant of him to assume anyone deserved to be treated like that, but whatever, it was progress, in a way. And far from calling the whole thing off, he wanted to go out again. So now I had that to think about and freak out about. Alice seized on the opportunity. Another date? Where to? Baseball game, I said tersely. Rose snorted but said nothing. Yeah, she knew me really well. Alice furrowed her brow in concentration. Well, thats our first priority, then. Something to wear for that. Alice, I protested, Its not a movie premiere. Its a baseball game. Surely I can wear my own clothes. I mean, something that I had from before. She gave me an appraising look. Are these your own clothes? Yes. Um, then no. We need to shop. I took a deep breath and tried not to take offense. After all, this was her world, not mine. She probably knew better. Rose stifled her laughter. She was amused by Alice, I could tell. I was glad for that, so I figured Id shut up and let Alice have her way. So we started at a boutique in Beverly Hills that Alice said was one of her favorites. Shed apparently called ahead for some sort of phone consultation, because there were several racks of clothes already pulled aside for me to try. Everyone there was on an intimate, first name basis with Alice, of course. I sucked it up and disappeared into a dressing room while Rose and Alice staked out 49

arm chairs facing the door. I appeared in each outfit and Alice passed judgment. They werent clothes I would necessarily pick out for myself if left on my own, but I had to admit that so far Alice was doing way better than that first stylist. Rose seemed to think so, too. She didnt say much of anything, but I saw her appraise each look and silently agree with Alices judgment each time. At one point I came out in a stupidly expensive pair of designer jeans (that I had to admit fit me better than any pair of jeans Id ever had on in my life) and a silky pink blouse. Alice looked torn. I held up a hanger. The blouse also comes in blue. Which one? Without a pause, Alice and Rose answered in unison, Blue. They turned to lock eyes and that was itAlice was in. I smiled smugly. I knew Rose would like her. We kept those jeans, I was wearing them tomorrow, Alice informed me. She also found a sleeveless knit blouse in green that she insisted was perfect for baseball, whatever that meant. Two hours later I had quite a haul of casual separates and a handful of slinky dresses. Alice said that now that shed seen me in some things, she would send over a bunch more clothes to my house to try on. Ugh. Fantastic. The helpful sales clerk started to ring it all up and I reached for my bag. Alices tiny hand clamped down on my wrist and she shook her head. Uh-uh. Edward pays. She said sternly. What? No way, Alice. That is so inappropriate. I cant let him do that! Of course you can. First, he wont even notice. Second, he told meahwhat happened last night, and he needs to make it up to you. I must have flushed six shades of red, because Alice grabbed my hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Bella, its not a big deal. Yes, he told me, but I saw it for myself online this afternoon. Its all over. Oh, my God, youre kidding! Thats not helping, Alice! Relax, Bells, Rose chimed in. You knew this would happen. So there are a few pictures online of you making out with the hottest man in Hollywood. Boo fucking hoo. Alice laughed and I shrugged. Rose was right. This was exactly what we were here for, so that people would know. It had just felt so personal when it happened, and now I find out that all of America had been looking at it all day. Ugh. We moved on to a shoe store next and Alice found some leather wedge sandals that she once again insisted were perfect for baseball, as well as several pairs of what she called essential heels. Again I whined about shoes with height and this time Rose and Alice double teamed me and argued their necessity, so I didnt stand a chance. There was something different about rich people shopping, I noticed. Well, there were a lot of things that were different, but the craziest thing was how they all treated us like we were visiting friends, not customers. Every store offered refreshments, a cup of tea, some hors doeuvres, a glass of wine. I said yes to the wine at the first store, just to get a little relaxed, and then we all kept saying yes after that, justbecause. We stopped for dinner at a tapas place and way too many pitchers of sangria later, the three of us were like long lost sisters and completely smashed. Thank God Alice had hired a limo for the day because she didnt want to deal with parking, or we would have had to make an embarrassing call to one of the boys to come get us. We staggered out of the restaurant at 11 pm, drunk and stupid, and poured ourselves into the waiting car. Alice, well drop you first, I offered. Wheres your place? 50

She waved an annoyed hand in front of her face. Im staying at Edwards right now. Why? Why not? His place is better, she shrugged. So we directed the driver to Edwards and commanded that he turn up the radioloud. We spent the drive singing along at the top of our lungs to bad pop songs and giggling like twelve year olds. The driver pulled up to Edwards gate and Alice stumbled out of the back seat to key in the gate code, then fell back into the car across my lap in the back seat. Bella, we need to give you the gate code! And a key! she said as if this was a critical piece of information that everyone had overlooked. Why would I need that, Alice? Cause youre Edwards girlfriend! Alice! No Im not! Okay, okay. Youre his pretend girlfriend. And thats as close as hes ever gotten! And thats pretty cool! We were to the house now, and my jaw hit the ground. Even in my alcohol-induced haze I was impressed. It was stunning, modern and multi-storied, with glass walls stretching endlessly in every direction. How on earth did one person use all that space? You guys have to come in with me! Alice squealed. And because we were all drunk, this seemed like a fucking fantastic idea. Which is how we ended up exploding into Edwards entry hall staggering and laughing like fools. Alice loudly tried to shush us, which only made us laugh harder, her included. We need more alcohol! Alice shouted. Alice, Im going to fall asleep on this floor where Im standing if I drink another drop, Rose wailed. Alice? Edwards low voice coming from the top of the sweeping main stairs ahead of us stopped us in our tracks. We were silent for a moment as all three of us stared up at him before we exploded into giggles again. He then realized exactly what he had on his hands and rolled his eyes with a little smile as he came down the stairs towards us. God, he was so fucking gorgeous. He was wearing a dark grey snug t shirt, dark jeans sitting low on his hips and he was barefoot. I was going to have to get out of here fast, since the drinking had seriously impaired my filter and my self control. A dangerous combination around Edward Cullen. Im sorry, I slurred at him, feeling suddenly really bad about invading his space like this. He must think Im a lunatic. We just got to drinking with dinner and And drinking with shopping! Rose added, helpfully. Yes, I nodded enthusiastically, and the drinking while shopping, and well.here we are. Yes, he smirked, Here you are. He was smiling and doing that dazzling thing again. Not good. Must escape. Or must sleep with him. Sleeping with him would be good, too. Sleeping with him would be great! No! No, escape is better! Must go home! Why are you here? I heard my own voice without realizing Id decided to speak. Edward scowled at me and looked confused. I live here, Bella. No, why are you here? When they hooked us up, they told me that you partied all the time and you were out every night. But youre here. And weve been out partying. Alice and Rose thought that was hysterical and fell into giggles behind me. He never goes out anymore, do you, Edward? Alice teased, her voice sing-songy. Yep, ever since Bella showed up, youve been such a good boy. Alice, shut up, Edward growled at her. Is that true? I asked, hooking my arm around his neck abruptly. When did I get this close to him? 51

I thought I was standing over there? Damn, he smelled good. Danger! He smiled down at me, something stirring in his eyes that I could recognize even through my drunken haze. He reached up to put his hands on my hips, steadying me. Crap. Danger! I gotta go home, I muttered, pulling myself away from him and stumbling. He reached out and caught my elbow. Alice, is the limo still here? he asked, still gripping my elbow to keep me from going over, which was good, because I felt like I might. Yeah, hes here, she said, and let loose a huge yawn. He can take me and Rose. Oh, shit! My truck! Its still at the studio! I wailed. Ill take care of it, Edward said quietly. What? How? Just give me your keys. Ill get it to you. Itll be there tomorrow when you wake up. I promise, he smiled softly, holding out his hand for my keys. I thought for half a second before fishing them out of my bag and turning them over. They werent going to do me any good in this state anyway. Thanks. No problem. Ill see you tomorrow. Okay. Rose? I slung a wobbly arm around her shoulders and the two of us staggered back out to the limo, throwing proclamations of lifelong love and devotion for Alice back over our shoulders and giggling. Edward stood in the open doorway, arms crossed over his chest, watching us until the car was out of sight down the drive.


Chapter 10 Tenderness
Bella The blinding LA sunlight pierced the tiny slit between my eyelids and I groaned out loud. For just a second I missed the eternal gloom of Forks. My eyelids felt like theyd been lined with sandpaper. And my teeth felt like they were wearing sweaters. And my head. Ugh. What the fuck? I laid perfectly still for a few minutes, eyes squeezed shut, letting last night reassemble itself in my brain. It started with shopping. Yes, with Alice and Rose. Trying on lots of clothes. Okay so far. I remember all of that. Ah, yes, rich people shopping. A glass of wine with every outfit. Hmmm Tapas. Yes, Rose and Alice laughing hysterically about the cute waiters ass in a tapas restaurant while we drank sangria. So. Much. Sangria. And now I feel like a freight train hit me. Wait. After tapas. Edwards house. I went to Edwards house? Christ, I am an idiot. I had vague memories of talking to him. Of him smiling indulgently at my drunk-ass self. Ugh. So freaking embarrassing. I cant believe I did that. Oh! My truck! I remembered that, leaving it at the studio and Edward said The world lurched unpleasantly as I scrambled out of bed and I clutched the bedside table to steady myself. I made it to the window and cracked the blinds. I squinted against the fierce LA sunshine and the accompanying stab of pain in my head. I focused and there it was. My ancient rusted red pickup truck, parked in front of my house. I still couldnt believe it had made the trip from Seattle. So what if it had taken me four days? Emmett, Rose and Jasper couldnt believe Id wanted to bring it, but it feltfamiliar. Comforting. Edward had brought it back to my house for me. Or maybe he had someone else do it. Either way it wasnice. Considerate. Hmmm. Edward Cullen had been considerate. I didnt know what to make of that. Coffee. Shower. Those two overriding thoughts intruded into my brain. And it was almost 11:30. I needed to get moving. We were supposed to go watch that baseball game today and hed be here soon. Thirty minutes later I was showered and had a cup of coffee in hand and feeling marginally more human, although still miserable. I was passing my desk on the way to the bedroom to get dressed when I caught sight of my laptop and something Alice said yesterday came back to me. Pictures were all over the internet. Of us. I sat, fired up my laptop and opened a browser window. My fingers paused over the search box. Finally I typed in Edward Bella and hit return. There were thousands of hits. My stomach hit my feet in dread. The first page of results were a string of all the major gossip websites, D Listed, Perez Hilton, Just Jared, TMZ, Pop Sugar, Entertainment Weekly I clicked on the first one up and there they were, dozens of pictures of me and Edward from our first date. Us walking down the sidewalk on our way into Fez hand in hand, us talking at the table, andoh, GodEdward leaning across me, his face buried in my hair, his lips dragging down my neck, my head thrown back and my eyes closed. My hand involuntarily crept up to touch the place on my neck where his lips had been and I felt my face flush at the memory. The memory that now apparently everyone in the country had shared with me. But there was more. The two of us walking back to the parking lot, his arm cradling me, his hand stretched out in front of us warding off the paparazzi. Then I saw the rest. Edward pinning me against the car, kissing me, his hands gripping me, my hands in his hair. A hot flush raced across my body. Crap. I was just starting to feel normal around him and then I had to go and look at this. I skimmed the short story accompanying the photos. It didnt take long for someone to snatch up Hollywoods new flavor of the month, Bella Swan, 53

lead singer of Eclipse, this seasons winner of Americas Next Great Band. Ultra-hot Hollywood bad boy Edward Cullen apparently wasted no time in making his move after meeting her at a Hollywood nightspot just a week ago. The two were spotted Thursday night heading into the exclusive eatery, Fez. Witnesses inside the restaurant report that the two were clearly romantically involved. They were all over each other. They barely even ate, because they were so busy making out, reports one fellow diner. Photos of Cullen and Swan snapped in the parking lot just after dinner confirm the steamy nature of the relationship. Hollywood insiders are taking bets on just how long Bella Swan lasts, given Edward Cullens notorious history with women. Reps for both artists had no comment. Fuck. Flavor of the month? So busy making out that we didnt eat? People were taking bets on how long it would be until he kicked me to the curb? Even though I knew every bit of it was a complete lie, it still managed to make me feel absolutely miserable. And humiliated. This part was way harder than I thought it would be. I felt sick to my stomach, and not just from my raging hangover. I clicked the browser window closed and exhaled. Well, at least it was working. Anybody seeing those pictures and reading that story wouldnt doubt for a second that we were involvedintimately. But I also realized that I was going to have to go into information lockdown while we did this thing. I couldnt bear to see people dissect usme like that. I felt so exposed and embarrassed. No, if we were going to keep dating, I was unplugging my laptop and leaving it that way. If I didnt know about it, it couldnt freak me out. With a glance at the clock, I realized I was way behind schedule. Edward was due in thirty minutes. I threw myself into my Alice-approved baseball outfit and faced the mirror for makeup. I looked horrible. You could see the hang over all over my face. I did a little eyeliner and of course, concealer for my drinking-induced dark circles. A little powder and lip gloss and I called it done. Nothing else would help anyway. My hair was still a little damp and I couldnt bear the thought of a hairdryer or a flat iron, so I pulled it up into a high ponytail. Then I slid on one of the many pairs of sunglasses Alice had picked out for me yesterday. She declared that they were a non-negotiable accessory, no matter what the outfit and considering the severity of my hang over combined with the relentless LA sunshine, I was grateful for them today. I examined Alices handiwork in the full length mirror. I had to hand it to her, the girl had the mad shopping skills. I looked good. But still like me. Like a much hotter, better dressed version of me. I was pleased to find myself, travel mug of coffee in hand, standing at the foot of my drive waiting on Edward right on time. I hadnt felt up to food yet, but I was nowhere near done with the coffee. Edwards silver Volvo turned the corner in front of my house and he killed the engine before stepping out. He paused for a second, then crossed around the front of the car and threw me a hesitant little smile. He was dressed casually, jeans, and a t shirt again. Why did he get to wear normal clothes and I had to endure a six hour shopping marathon for this event? Fashion rules were so unfair. But then his eyes skated down the length of me quickly and I suddenly decided that maybe Alice was on to something. He still looked so damned good. Must not think about those pictures. Must not. It didnt help. I thought about them and flushed all over. How are you feeling? he was trying to keep the smirk off his face and failing miserably. Shut up, I snarled, but without heat. He laughed out loud. That was the first time Id heard him do that when he was not in a movie. The sound was breathtaking. He settled me in the passenger seat and climbed back into his side. Um, thanks for getting my truck back last night. 54

Sure, no problem. He shrugged without looking at me. We drove for a moment in silence, but it wasnt uncomfortable. It felt like we were getting used to each other. Well aside from that ever-present overwhelming physical attraction I felt for him every time he was near me. But I was getting better at pretending it wasnt there, at least. So... I began, suddenly remembering something that puzzled me, Whats with the Volvo? Not exactly the kind of car I thought youd go for. He smirked. Yeah, my car before this was a Bugatti Veyron. Thats more like it. Why did you get rid of it? I wrapped it around a guard rail. And broke my femur in two places. And spent three weeks in the hospital. Oh. Yeah, oh, he gave a harsh little laugh. Thatahincident sort of precipitated this whole thing. He waved a hand between us to indicate our relationship. The Volvo was my attempt to turn over a new leaf. No more sports cars. I get it. Too bad. I bet you miss it Yeah, I do. And speaking of cars, the tone of his voice lightened considerably. What the hell is up with that antique youre driving? Hey! Back off my truck! I warned. But I was used to it. I had endured years of teasing from Emmett, Jazz, and Rose about my truck. Big Red and I go way back! Big Red goes back about a generation before you were born, I think. You drove that thing all the way from Washington? Its here, isnt it? And you need to show some respect for the elderly. Bella, seriously. I dont think that truck is safe. This is LA. What if you break down someplace when youre by yourself? Cell phones, Edward. He made an unhappy sound but he let it go. It was kind of nice that he sounded concerned about me Stop. No more thinking like that. Period. We were at the stadium now. Edward pulled up and a valet stepped forward to take the car. He looked like hed been standing there waiting for us. The manager of the ballpark materialized at our sides, grinning from ear to ear, delighted to meet us. He escorted us personally to our box. Him and a wall of huge security guards. There was a massive scrum of paparazzi in the parking lot, barely held back by security, screaming questions at us and snapping pictures non-stop. I bet Aro and Laurent tipped the bastards off, damn them. Although I suppose that was the point of all this. I wondered for a moment exactly how many people and how many phone calls it had taken to orchestrate the simple act of Edward and I attending a baseball game and I felt exhausted. Finally we were settled in our box alone. It was all glass on the sides and across the front, so we were clearly visible inside, like a big human fish tank. I tried to ignore the feeling that eyes were watching me from all sides, even though I knew that they were. Do you want something to eat? Edward was asking. I made a face and he laughed. Still hurting? A little, I admitted. You need a hangover cure. Hang on. He stepped to the door of our box and spoke with the young man from security who was standing outside. He nodded, happy to carry out Edwards request, and got on his walkie talkie to arrange things. Edward came back and we watched the pre-game festivities 55

below in silence for a few minutes. The security guard knocked on the door and Edward sprang up to answer. He handed Edward a paper bag and Edward gave him a wad of cash, thanking him profusely. Edward handed me the bag. Eat. "Whats this? Hangover cure. Just eat. I pulled the food out of the bag. It was a sandwich, scrambled eggs, bacon and cheese on a roll. In spite of my sensitive insides, my mouth started to water. There was also a cup of coffee and a large bottle of water. You need the protein and the grease. It will help. Trust me. Eat that, drink the coffee, then drink the water. All of it. I decided to do just that and dug into my sandwich. By the time I finished that and the coffee, I was feeling much better. Youre right. Its working. He shot me a smirk. I know a thing or two about hangovers. The game was starting and we both slouched half way down in our seats to get comfortable. Do you know how the game is played? Edward asked. I shot him a bemused look. I grew up with a single dad, plus Emmett and Jasper in constant residence at my house. Yeah, I get baseball Gotcha. So youre a baseball fan. Hmm. I didnt say I was a fan. Ive just watched a lot of it. Oh. I see. I hope this isnt too boring for you. I shrugged. Its okay. Well talk, I guess. He shot a look at me. Sure. Talk. I wanted to shoot myself. What a stupid boneheaded thing to say. Why the hell would he want to talk to me all afternoon? And now hell feel like he has to. Ugh. I focused on the game as hard as I could for a while and didnt say anything, trying to make up for it. Hey, Bella? Hmmm? Im just thinkingwell, it might look better if we hold hands. Is that alright with you? Oh, sure! I wasnt thinking. Of course. Edward reached over and plucked my right hand off my lap, twining my fingers in his. He rested our joined hands on his left thigh. Gah. Why the hell did that have to feel so damned good? I could hardly think of anything besides the feel of his fingers on my hand. So, he began, Tell me about growing up in Forks. I smiled at him. Edward, I didnt mean we actually have to talk the whole time. We can just sit here, or you can watch the game. Whatever. No, he protested quickly, I really want to know. I feel like I dont know a thing about you. And I feel like I should. Know something, I mean. Start with the band. How did you all meet? Our eyes met and I felt myself blush before I moved my eyes to look at something safer. Um, theres not much to tell, really. We all grew up together. Ive known Emmett all my life of course, because hes my cousin. We met Rose and Jasper when we started kindergarten. Jasper took some guitar lessons when he was six and got hooked. He taught Rose everything as he learned it. When we were twelve, Jasper and Emmett decided to get together and play in the garage. Rose whined till they let her play, too. Then she turned out to be better than Jazz, so she took over guitar and he moved to bass. Emmett heard me singing one night while I was cooking dinner and they drafted me to sing 56

with them. I was thirteen then. Weve been together ever since. Sometimes we slacked off, it took a back burner for whatever reason, but it never really ended. Then a couple of years after we graduated high school, we decided it was time to move on. And Rose and I really wanted to take some classes at U Dub, so we moved to Seattle. Why didnt you go to college right after high school? I looked at him for a minute to see if he was being sarcastic, but his face was completely open and curious. Both he and Alice had dropped a few things in conversation that made me think they came from money, Edwards movie earnings completely aside. As far as I could gather, Alice didnt have anything like an actual job. Clearly Edward just really didnt understand how wed grown up. Edward, I said slowly, My dad is Chief of Police in a town with thirty five hundred people. A civil servant. Jasper and Roses dad does small engine repair. Emmetts mom, my aunt Carol, is an elementary school secretary. His dad split years ago. Going away to college wasnt a realistic financial possibility for any of us. We all took some classes at the community college, but we had to work, too, so it was hard to get very far. Edward looked away, focusing on the baseball field. Im sorry, Bella. I didnt mean to be insensitive, I just didnt think Hey, its no big deal. Im not embarrassed or anything. We all did the best we could. And to be fair, the band was a big priority for us all, we didnt want to split up. If wed just quit and focused on school it would have been a lot easier. But you wouldnt be here, he said with a smile. I smiled back. Yeah, here is pretty good. I meant the big here, LA, the show, all of that. Somehow it came out sounding like I meant here with him. God, I am such a moron. He just smiled back at me with an expression I couldnt read. Edward Damn. Goddamn. I couldnt quite wrap my brain around the curl of emotion in my chest when she smiled at me like that. What the fuck? Was I developing some stupid crush on her? I couldnt deny that every time I touched her, and plenty of times when no touching was involved at all, I wanted to yank her to the nearest horizontal surface and bury myself in her. I was fucking desperate for her. But I was also getting pretty good at squashing that feeling down so that I could behave like a decent person. And I had to admit that I was getting pretty good at the decent person part. She was so much more at ease with me today than she had been that night at Fez. So that had to count as progress. But was there something more at work here than just desire? I wasnt very familiar with such things. All of this, dates and ballgames and talkingnot my scene. But I liked it. I think. I kept saying boneheaded things and stepping all over my dick, which was bothering the hell out of me. I mean, Jesus, that comment about college? I wanted to shoot myself. But she laughed it off and made so light of it that it wound up feeling like some freaking moment we were sharing. I was certainly acting out of character, that much I recognized. Dealing with her truck, getting her the hangover cure this morning, I was taking care of her, and it felt pretty good. And her gratitude felt great. But what was I expecting to happen as a result? Did I want her like that? That would be really awkward. I had no idea how wed sort that out. And lets be frank, I really suck at that stuff. The odds were pretty good that I would fuck it up massively. And then thered be no more of this. So maybe I should just forget it. At least while we had our little arrangement. Maybe down the line, someday. 57

Jasper. Fuck. I kept forgetting about him. And her. Laurent said she didnt have a boyfriend, but if I laid out everything Id seen, she had aJasper. Whatever it was that was happening there. So maybe this was all on my side. It had to be. I mean, she desired me, but I knew better than anyone how much desire can be divorced from anything like emotion. So that must be all it was for her. Desire. That she was determined not to act on. For Jaspers sake. Either that or she could simply tell that I was a hopeless bastard who was nothing but trouble and she was smart enough to keep her distance. Could I seduce her if I really wanted to? Sure, I was pretty confident that I could. That kiss by the carI could have her if I pushed. Picked the right moment, got some liquor in her, it would happen. But what good would that do? Well, it would be amazing, but aside from fulfilling my needs, what good would it do? Shed probably hate herself afterwards and then hate me for seducing her, and then Id hate me for making her feel so bad. So, no, seducing her was a non-starter. It figures that the first time I felt anything at all for a woman since I was in high school, Id meet her under these crazy circumstances and shes completely unavailable. And too good for me. Of course, now that Id convinced myself that she was out of my reach, I was also pretty sure that I liked her. I sank a little lower in my chair and grasped her hand a little tighter. At least I could do that much. I sighed heavily and pinched the bridge of my nose absently. Is everything okay? she asked softly. Sure, Im fine. Just a little tired. How are you feeling now? Now that I was getting used to fussing over her it was becoming a bit of a habit. Fine, much better. Okay, she said with a new brightness, Your turn. Tell me something about you growing up. Like what? Anything. How did you get into acting? Did you do it as a kid? No, not at all. I was into music as a kid. Piano. You play piano? she sounded very surprised. Yeah, well, I did. I dont do it much anymore. Like, not for years. Would you play for me sometime? Id love to hear you. I looked at her and she seemed completely sincere. Sure. Any time. So, no acting as a kid. When did it start then? College. Well, I was pre-med, but I took some acting classes for fun, and I loved it. You were pre-med? Please dont sound so surprised! She laughed, It is a little surprising! Im sorry. Did you finish? I pulled myself up a little and pretended to be insulted, but I was smiling. Summa Cum Laude from U Dub, thank you very much. Wow. Okay. So you have your pre-med degree, but youre an actor. What happened? I loved it, the little bit Id done in college. So I wanted to try it. I gave myself a year, and if it didnt work I said I would go to med school. And here I am. It worked. Well, here I am, I said dismissively. It worked when I did Hamlet. Being an unemployable famous bastard wasnt exactly how Id envisioned the acting thing working out. Edward, she said, her voice chiding me softly, Ive read what people say about your acting. Youre amazing. Ah, damn. Funny little feeling curling in my chest again. Without thinking I moved our entwined 58

hands up to rest on my chest over the spot. She didnt protest. Instead she turned slightly closer to me and curled one of her legs up underneath her. When I get to act, I said, keeping my eyes on the game, Which is the problem at the moment. Were working on that, though, right? God, she seemed so earnest, looking at me like that. Before I could register I was doing it, my free hand reached up and tucked a loose tendril of her hair behind her ear. Her amazing brown eyes widened slightly, but she didnt pull away. I quickly dropped my hand and threw her a casual smile, trying to brush off the moment. Bella leaned back into her chair and seemed happy to let it slide. Crap. I was going to have to do better than that. We focused mainly on the game for the rest of the afternoon, our little moment of mutual sharing finished. By the time I got home I realized I was sorry we hadnt talked more after that. Because I had about a million questions I still wanted to ask her.


Chapter 11 - Deeper Understanding

Bella I shoved at the massive pile of clothes on my bed and sighed. Alice had them delivered earlier today and when they asked where to put them, I unthinkingly said Throw them on the bed, not quite understanding what was coming. And now there was this enormous mountain of designer clothes to deal with. Maybe I could just sleep on the couch tonight and deal with it tomorrow. Except that I had to dig something out of this pile to wear tonight. Because I had a date with Edward. I pointedly tried to ignore the butterflies that sprang up in my stomach at the thought of him. Christ, I was hopeless. Every time I thought back to that moment at the ballpark last week, when he held our entwined hands against his chest while he tucked my hair behind my ear, my spine turned to liquid. This was so very bad. Why did he have to start being soamazing? Considerate, nice, funnyit was so much easier to resist him when he was a bastard. But since the thing at the car had happened when he was being a bastard, apparently he wasnt all that easy to resist then either. I was going to have to get a handle on this. I could not fall for him. That would be a disaster. It was bad enough that for a moment Id entertained the idea of sleeping with him. Okay, lets face it, I was still entertaining the idea. Or maybe fantasizing was a better word. Thats a bad enough idea. Getting all warm and fuzzy about himterrible idea. Maybe the Jerk Edward would show up tonight and make it easy for me. Well, easier. After all, Jerk Edward looked just like Amazing Edward, minus the toe-curling smiles and considerate touches. We hadnt had a one-on-one date since the ballgame, although he had come along with the band to a television studio for an interview wed done a few days ago. Laurent thought it would make him look devoted and attentive to trail along after me to one of my things. There were no more open conversations between us, like at the ballgame, because we werent really alone much, but he had still been on good behavior. He drove me over and hung out in the greenroom until we were finished, then drove me home. Wed chatted about our press agents and the media, but nothing deep as the drive wasnt very long. But hed been friendly and polite, and didnt seem at all put out by having to play second fiddle to me, which surprised me a little. Since the ballpark, Id been dwelling on the snippets of information hed shared about his early life. Pre-med? That blew me away, I couldnt imagine it. But he had the degree to prove it. And he played piano. That fact drove me crazy. He was a musician. I was desperate to hear him play. I found myself frequently wondering how his big break happened. He mentioned acting classes in college and then it was fast forward to international movie star and I didnt know any of the in betweens, and I really wanted to know all the in betweens. I knew Id put myself on an internet ban while we worked through our arrangement, but I figured that only applied to gossip websites. I could poke around in other places. Besides, I reasoned, this was like researchfor our arrangement. I fired up my laptop and opened my browser, typing in Edward Cullen. Literally millions of hits. It was a little intimidating. The imdb website came up early in the list, so I clicked, figuring it was the best place to start. At the top were some bare bones biographical facts, birth date, home town, and a row of tiny thumbnail photos. Oh, look, theres me. That was fast. I made his imdb page. Freaky. I squashed down the feeling that I was being a little stalker-y right now. I mean if Im on his imdb page, then surely its okay for me to look at it, right? Next came a brief bio, only a sentence with a link to a longer entry, which I clicked on. Edward Cullen achieved worldwide fame with his breakout role in Darkness Falls after a much60

lauded start in theatre in New York, in a ground-breaking performance of Hamlet Theatre? New York? Hamlet? I entered Edward Cullen theatre Hamlet in the search box and hit enter. I got a list of links to newspaper and magazine articles and reviews of the production. Apparently this performance had turned New York theatre on its ear. I chose one from Backstage. It was an article about a small production of Hamlet that Edward was starring in moving to a much bigger theatre and extending its run after the rave reviews hed received. Huh. Next I hit youtube. I entered Edward Cullen Hamlet. I didnt find the whole play, of course, but there were plenty of clips of several scenes there, illegally filmed from the audience. I clicked on one. The quality was terrible, with a lot of bouncing and bad sound, but I still couldnt look away. There was Edward, a bit younger than now, for sure, but more importantly, fresher. I never would have thought to describe him as tired and worn out now unless Id seen him like this then. The change was noticeable. This was only 5 or 6 years ago, but everything about him was different. His face was radiant, his eyes brilliant. Sure he was onstage acting, but part of that had to be just him. There was such excitement and raw energy bouncing off of every inch of him. I compared it to my mental image of him on our first date at Fez, slouched in the booth, his face lined with exhaustion, his expression bored, his eyes hardened. I knew hed been living a hard and fast life for the last few years, but I hadnt had a sense before of the toll it was taking on him. It must be breaking Alices heart. Eventually I stopped noticing Edwards appearance as I became absolutely overwhelmed by his performance. I could suddenly understand what all the fuss had been about. Every tortured word he spoke felt like it was pummeling my chest. Never had an actor managed to reach out and grab me by the throat the way Edward did. It was remarkable, amazing, it left me breathless. I couldnt believe he was so talented. By the end of the clip, with Edward on his knees, barely rasping out the lines, his face contorted with mental anguish, I realized I had tears in the corners of my eyes. What the fuck? Clicking closed my browser, I swiped at my eyes. I felt a little embarrassed, like Id been snooping or something, which was ridiculous, since it was all over the internet. But it felt like some intimate part of him that he hadnt shown me, yet I went and sought it out. It would be hard to forget that when I saw him tonight. Like I needed any more reasons to feel nervous around him. As I powered down I checked the clock. Fuck. I was off schedule tonight. We had a movie premiere to attend. Not a huge Hollywood blockbuster, a much smaller, independent film, but still, there would be photographers, posed pictures, a red carpet. This stuff was definitely not easy for me, so I would need time to pull myself together. I started picking through Alices pile. I had to hand it to her, she knew her stuff. I liked it all, although again, it seemed like it was for a sexier, more confident version of Bella. I found a bottle green shimmery silk dress with skinny little straps and a drapey, sort of low neckline in front. I loved the color, although I was worried that it was maybe too revealing and clingy. Ah, hell, Id be wearing a t-shirt to this thing if I thought I could get away with it. Im sure that if Alice sent it, it was appropriate. Okay, so Id picked out a dress, I realized with a sinking feeling that I had no plan for my hair. I was standing in the bathroom looking at myself in the mirror trying to decide what the hell I was supposed to do with it when my door bell rang. I was hardly even surprised to see Alice standing on my front step with a curling iron. I had a feeling youd need me. I waved her in with a smile. Soon we were settled in the bedroom and Alice was hard at work with the curling iron transforming my long brown hair into fat loose curls that tumbled artlessly off my face. The end result was meant to look effortless, but it was amazing how long it took to do. So, Alice, I began cautiously, Jasper..? Her entire body transformed at the mention of his name and I had to dodge the curling iron to avoid 61

getting clobbered as she gestured wildly. It was like she had sparks radiating off her skin. Her eyes were alive and sparkling. Oh, Bella, hes so amazing! So youve talked since you met here that one night? I was pretty sure they had, but I didnt want to pry. And as close as Jasper and I were, he never dished to me about women, because come on, that would be gross. She looked at me like I was an idiot. We talk every day. A bunch. And weve gone out a ton, she ducked her head a tiny bit and smiled, looking ever so slightly bashful, Pretty much every night. OhSo you guys hit it off, then? She rolled her eyes and giggled, Thats an understatement! Ive never met anyone like him, Bella. Hes so sweet and talented and interestingoh! And so scorching hot! Im happy for you, Alice. And for Jasper. You guys make a great couple. Although I was about to argue with her about the scorching hot part. But then again, she didnt have the same mental image of Jasper that I did, of swimming at the public pool when we were thirteen and he was the very last boy to hit puberty. Yeah, scorching hot, not so much. But I didn't want to burst her bubble. Do you really think so? Alice gripped her hands hard. Because you are so important to him. You and Rosalie. It matters so much to me that you guys are okay with us. Im great with it. And Rose likes you, too. I can tell. Especially after Sangria Night. You rocked her world. Alice laughed her little wind chime laugh. That was so much fun. We have to go again soon. So what does Edward think about you and Jasper? Alices face got serious. He doesnt know about it yet. And if its okay with you, can you keep it quiet for a little while? He, umhe doesnt seem to like Jasper all that much, even though he hardly knows him. I just figured they could maybe get to know each other a little better first and then I can ease him into it. He is my big brother and he can be sort of stupidly protective of me. Why would he not like Jazz? Hes only met him a few times. I know, I know. I dont get it either, but I swear, Jazzs name comes up and he practically growls. He doesnt know anything about him personally, and Im sure everything hes heard from you is good, right? Yeah, of course. Jazz doesnt come up much, but I would have nothing but great things to say about him, so Im sure Edwards not getting it from me. I dont know, she sighed, some stupid mysterious guy thing, I guess. And they say were dramatic. Ill keep working on him, and if he hears enough good things from you Im sure hell come around. But until then will you keep it quiet? Sure, sure. No problem. Thanks. Bella, dont get the wrong idea. Edwards not a dick. Hes just made some dicky decisions lately. But I have to tell youhes changed since you showed up. I mean, maybe its the act, maybe hes just trying hard to behave, but he is behaving. No clubbing, no skanky women, no drunken brawls. Whatever it is, its working. I felt myself blush, and waved my hands dismissively in front of me. Im sure it has nothing to do with me, Alice. I know hes a good guy. Maybe hes just rediscovering that. Whatever. I like it. So thanks. I smiled back at her and she went back to my hair. I thought about what I wanted to say next, then decided to just jump in. I saw a clip of him in Hamletonline. I had no idea There werent really any words for how unreal he had been, so I just let it hang. 62

Alices face looked pained. I know. I saw him do it six times and every time it brought me to my knees. Hes so talented. Thats why this is so important, Bella. He was about to blow it all, his entire career, just being young and stupid, hanging out with idiots and getting into trouble. It would be a crime if he didnt act. You see, right? You see that theres so much more to him than just the stories and the bad reputation? I nodded wordlessly. It would indeed be a crime. Suddenly this arrangement was feeling like a huge responsibility that had been thrust in my lap. At the start I thought he just needed to be photographed hanging with a nice girl and doing nice things. Now I saw that it was much bigger than that. It felt like Edwards whole future lay in my hands. That talented boy in Hamlet needed saving and somehow it had fallen to me to help do it. And I wanted to, I realized. I wanted to help him. I just hoped I could. Bella Alice snapped me out of it. Yes? We need to start discussing the Academy Awards. Theres a lot of work to do. I was completely lost. The Academy Awards? On t.v.? What about them? Alice shot me an exasperated look. Silly Bella! Youre going with Edward! Hes presenting an award this year. What? I mean, I am? Of course you are. This is it, the Mount Everest of publicity events. And this year, with the feeding frenzy over the two of youits going to be epic. Her eyes got a dreamy far away look. So.. her tone switched into Alice-wants-something mode, I already let it be known to one or two of my contacts that I would be styling you for this. I hope thats okay? Of course it is, Alice. Who else would do it? Sweetie, you really have no idea. Stylists in this town would line up down the block and donate a kidney a piece just to have a shot at it. With the amount of media coverage the two of you will get that day I waved my hand dismissively, Alice, Im sure youre exaggerating. But regardless, I want you. She smiled indulgently at me. Good, because we need to start dealing with the dresses. Huh? Bella, youll have your pick. Seriously, every big designer out there, and most of the small ones, theyll do anything to get their dress on you that night. I took a moment to consider this. Really? Really. Ive already gotten a couple of calls, people wanting to send things over for you to look at. I think we should operate out of Edwards place. Your house is too small. This is going to take a couple of rooms at least to organize. Two roomsof dresses? Oh, yes. At least. And you should come over there that day to get ready. Theres not enough room here for the team. What team?? The hairstylist, the makeup artist, the designer will want to send a representative to help with lastminute alterations once youve chosen a dress, the jeweler will send people overIm thinking we should talk to Harry Winston. You know, classic but seriously expensive. Thats always good. This was making my head hurt. All of these people and plans for me to put on a dress and go to an awards show? Alice, its all yours, just set it up and tell me when to show up. She clapped her hands in delight. Yay! But its more than that one day, there will be fittings and Fine! Fine. Just tell me when you need me and well do it. Talking about it is making me hyperventilate, though! I still have to get through tonight. 63

Ah, tonight is nothing. Were almost done. Bella, this is going to be so much fun! I smiled, happy that she was so happy, although I couldnt for the life of me see what there was to be so excited about. Alice went back to curling my hair, but her face was blissfully distracted and she was humming to herself. I pitied Jasper. I had a feeling he would be hearing more than he ever cared to about me and designer dresses in the coming days. Eventually she declared herself finished with my hair and I slipped into the dress Id picked, which was indeed, very slinky. As in, it left nothing about what was underneath to the imagination. I wanted to chicken out, but Alice insisted it was perfect and picked out another pair of crazy high heels to torment me with. I didnt even bother to argue this time. I knew Id lose. She was finishing my makeup when Edward texted to say he was on his way. Alice fluttered around me for a few minutes more, checking and double checking her handiwork before declaring me done and heading to her car. I asked if she wanted to hang out until Edward got there, but she said she was meeting Jasper and with a racy wink and a huge smile, she was in her car and off. I walked down to the end of the drive to wait for Edward. I started meeting him at the street in the beginning in an attempt to keep this businesslike and impersonal, but I kept doing it because now that Id seen Edwards house, Id feel a little ridiculous having him knock on the door of my modest little bungalow. He pulled up moments later and stepped from the car to come around and let me in. He stopped as he rounded the front of the car and looked me up and down with an unidentifiable expression on his face. I prayed I wasnt blushing as much as it felt like I was. I was right, it was a little weird seeing him after Hamlet, like wed shared an intimate moment that he didnt know about. It didnt help that he looked freaking fantastic. He had on a charcoal grey suit that was tailored very close to his amazing body and a black dress shirt, opened at the neck. And the hairoh, God, the hair Sure, he looked a lot more worn than he had in Hamlet, but he hadnt lost one iota of his sex appeal. I wanted to unbutton the next button on his shirt and drag my lips down andStop! Umyou look nice, he said, opening my door for me. Thanks. I crossed in front of him to get in the car and caught a whiff of that amazing spicy Edward scent. GahDeep, cleansing breaths. We drove mostly in silence to the theater where the movie premier was being held. I didnt recognize what part of LA we were in. The damned city was so big and sprawling, I felt like Id never learn it all. My stomach clenched a little and I realized with a start that my internet searching and Alices arrival had totally distracted me and I had forgotten to eat anything. What was the last meal Id eaten? Was it really breakfast? Ugh. I was starving. Maybe there would be food there. Then again, this was LA where no one ever ate, so maybe not. You okay? Edward asked. When did he get so observant and considerate? Amazing Edward was clearly in attendance tonight. I steeled my resolve. Oh, yeah. Fine. We were there and now and Edward helped me out of the car before handing the keys over to the valet. We were met immediately by Charlotte, Laurents assistant, who guided us to the gauntlet of the red carpet and stayed near us for the whole hour we were out there. She ran interference with the reporters and photographers, setting up each little interview or blurb. No one got to us without going through Charlotte. I was certainly getting better at this part, standing, posing, answering questions, smiling, being ushered quickly to the next reporter to do the whole thing all over. It wasnt so overwhelming, but I still didnt really like it. I was tired of having to come up with a thousand ways to rephrase the same bland, non-committal comments about the band, the new album, Edward and I, for one insipid reporter after another, smiling the whole time, remembering not to slouch and not to fidget. The only nice part about 64

it was Edward. As we grew more comfortable with each other, he was easier about touching me in public, and I was easier about being touched. On the red carpet he stood close to my side, one arm curled protectively behind my back, his hand resting gently on my hip. Every now and then, if he had an instruction, or a piece of information to pass on, hed lean his head down close to mine and whisper it against the side of my face. I allowed myself this tiny window to enjoy it, and I really did. He also made the occasional joke, whispering a piece of salacious gossip hed heard about one female reporter once, or telling me the highly incriminating nickname another one had acquired making me giggle and try to stifle my laughter against his shoulder. I looked around vainly for food, as I was rapidly becoming famished, but there was nothing. I whispered a question to Charlotte and she told me there was a reception after the screening of the movie, where there would undoubtedly be food. Shit. Two hours to go. I felt faint. Finally we were called in to the theater for the screening. At least Id be off my feet. Edward led us to our seats and got me settled. The lights dimmed halfway and before I registered what he was doing, Edward reached into my lap and plucked my hand up and settled our joined hands on his thigh just like at the ballgame. It occurred to me for a second that it was dark in here and no one was likely to notice if he didnt hold my hand, but it felt too good, so I didnt say a word. Then the lights went out completely and the movie started. The instant it got dark, the low grade electric buzz I always felt when I was close to Edward shot up to epic levels. I was acutely aware of how close the side of his leg was to mine. It seemed like every nerve ending in my body channeled straight into my right hand where it was joined to his. This reaction my body had to his was embarrassing. I felt so tingly and flushed that it seemed impossible it wasnt noticeable to others, to him. I chanced a tiny glance at Edward. His head was tilted slightly in my direction and he was looking at me. His eyes looked black in the darkness of the theater. I didnt immediately look away. Whatever I was feeling before was amplified by a thousand now that we were locking eyes. He had to be feeling something, too. Slowly, I felt his thumb swipe across the back of my knuckles. My breathing hitched, my heart pounded and I prayed he didnt hear it. I cut my eyes back to the front where the movie was starting. Out of the corner of my eye I could see he didnt move, he was still watching me. His thumb began to make lazy passes across the knuckles of my right hand. I thought I might go crazy from the slow repetitive sensation. I thought maybe once the movie started it would break the spell, our attention would be re-directed. No such luck. It didnt abate, at least for me, one tiny bit. In fact, his thumb on the back of my hand made it worse, concentrated, focused. He shifted minutely and I could smell him, delicious and spicy. My stomach was still empty and the hunger, combined with the sensations I was being swamped with left me feeling faint. I raised my free hand to my forehead and bowed my head a little, squeezing my eyes shut against the lightheadedness. Instantly I felt him release my hand and his arm came down around my shoulders. He gripped my far shoulder and pulled me in close to him, whispering in my ear. Are you okay? Just a little lightheaded. I forgot to eat today. Stupid, I know. Lets get you out of here and find some food. But the movie Fuck it. They took our pictures, we were officially here. Now lets bail. He stood abruptly, reaching his arm down around my waist and pulling me to my feet and walking me briskly out of the theater and into the LA twilight.


Chapter 12 - Into the Ocean

Edward When we hit the soft, warm, darkening air outside, Bella took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She wasnt unsteady, she didnt look like she would pass out. She didnt really need my arm around her, so I could probably let her go. I didnt. I was a little glad to get out of that dark theater myself so I could clear my head. I mean, what the hell was that? The minute the lights went out I felt like I would crawl out of my skin if I couldnt touch her. I settled for holding her hand and rubbing her knuckles, but somehow that tiny innocent touch felt like some crazy hot sex act. I needed to get past this so I could behave myself. It certainly didnt help that she was wearingthe most un-fucking-believably hot slinky green dress tonight. It was like seeing every supple curve of her body slicked with shimmery green paint. And her hair, all curls and chaos. It begged for me to dig my fingers in and hold on tight. Goddamn Alice. The valet approached us and I gave him our ticket to have the car brought around. As we waited I heard a beep letting me know I had a new text. I fished my phone out of my inside suit pocket. It was James. Id been ducking him, and every other person I usually partied with, for weeks. Where the hell have you been? Are you coming out tonight? Heading to a party, hot girls. I glanced at Bella. She was distracted, looking for something in her tiny handbag, so I texted back. Im busy The answering ping came quickly. With Bella? Well, news of us was absolutely everywhere, Laurent was earning his paycheck making sure of that. I suppose I shouldnt be surprised that James knew, too. Yes Ditch her and come later. Or bring her along. Maybe she wouldnt mind if we shared He. Did. Not. Fucking. Say. That. I closed my eyes tight and pinched the bridge of my nose, trying to contain the fucking murderous rage I was feeling towards James at the moment. If he so much as breathed in her direction, I think I might really have to kill him. How fucking dare he? But then again, in all of James experience with me, when had any girl ever been different than that for me? Hell, that exact scenario had unfolded once or twice. Fuck. I felt sick. And dirty. And ashamed. She was way too fucking good for me. I needed to answer. I typed out a response and snapped my phone closed. Fuck off. That should do it. I exhaled and dragged a hand through my hair, trying to at least appear calm. Well, what are you in the mood for? Any kind of food you want, Im sure Ive been to a restaurant in LA that serves it. Bella made a little face and sighed. What? Maybe she just wanted to take her home and leave her alone. The thought of that was unpleasant in the extreme. I had her for the night and I wanted to keep her for all of it. Justrestaurants. Therell be photographers and shit. I just want some quiet. I considered this for a moment and the answer popped into my head. Lets go. I know just the place. She didnt argue and let me fold her into the passenger seat. Now that I was shaking off the horrible 66

feelings James texts had stirred up in me, I was feeling a little euphoric. Our carefully scripted date was now officially off the map, we were going rogue. For at least tonight, wed be together like real people. I was excited and stupidly nervous at the same time. We hadnt spent time together just because we wanted to yet. I was looking forward to it, I hoped she was. I took off west through the LA streets that were just lighting up with streetlights and neon. Bella leaned her head back against the headrest and closed her eyes. I hoped my guy was where I thought he would be. A few turns and we were there. Bingo. He was here. I pulled the car into a spot in a parking lot in front of a laundromat and killed the engine. Bella opened her eyes. We were on a fairly busy thoroughfare, cars zipping by in both directions, lined on both sides with parking lots and anonymous stores and fast food joints. I hopped out of the car and sprinted around to help her out. She looked around herself and shot me a puzzled look. Where are we going? Right here. You have to trust me. Do you trust me, Bella? She stared at me for a minute, but then smiled and nodded. I took her hand and led her to a truck parked at the edge of the lot. It was a white box truck, modified to serve food out of the back. One side had a panel that was raised and propped up, creating a take out window in the side of the truck. There was a clip lamp inside, providing a little illumination. There was my man, milling around inside. I led Bella over to the window. Hey, Jorge, I called. The middle aged Mexican man in the truck smiled when he spotted me. Eddie! How are you, man? Pretty good. Hey Jorge, this is my friend Bella. I put my arm around Bellas waist and ushered her forward. Bella smiled tentatively and said hello. Jorge raised his eyebrows slightly at the fact that I had company, but he said nothing, just smiled and nodded at her. What can I get for you tonight, Eddie? Can we get six of my favorite? You know how I like them. You got it, my man. Jorge turned away to get my order together. Were eating here? Bella asked tentatively. I smiled down at her. She was working hard at keeping her voice light, interested, even though her eyes clearly showed her uncertainty. She was a trooper. I'd never brought a woman here. With any other woman in LA, I wouldnt have dared. But I had a feeling Bella would be game. Oh, no, well take it somewhere else to eat it. I have a plan. Bella swayed towards the window with interest. It does smell amazing in there. You have no idea, I told her. This is like a religious experience. Jorge turned back with my order in a white paper bag. Hey, Jorge, you got anything to drink back there? Anything good? You know I dont have a liquor license, Eddie. Yeah, I know you dont have a license, but that doesnt mean you dont have anything to drink. Jorge pulled a face at me, but ducked down to the cooler that I knew lived under the counter and pulled out two Coronas. Perfect. I threw a generous wad of cash on the counter to express my thanks. Bella and I waved goodbye to Jorge and I led her back to the car. Will you hold out for a few more minutes? I knew she was practically fainting with hunger, but I also really didnt want to spend my evening with her eating in this crummy laundromat parking lot. Im good. So I gunned the engine and headed north for a few miles, then west again, weaving in and out of a 67

residential neighborhood. The houses grew larger and more spread out as the neighborhood grew quieter and darker. A few more turns and I found the short little street I remembered. I pulled the car off to the side of the road, killed the engine, and helped Bella and our dinner out. Between the sprawling yards of two large houses, there was a narrow dirt path. In the dark like this, if you didnt know it was here, youd never find it. Bella followed me for a few feet but then stopped. Whats wrong? Stupid shoes. The heels are really skinny and Im getting stuck in the dirt. Theyre not exactly cut out for off-roading. I turned away from her and crouched down. Climb on. What? Get on. Ill carry you. Edward, you cant carry me. Of course I can. What do you weigh? Like a hundred and ten? Just get on. Our dinner is getting cold. The state of our dinner seemed to convince her. She hopped up on my back, laughing, and I hooked my hands underneath her knees. Now this was more like it. Bella wrapped her arms around my neck and gripped the bag with our dinner in one of her hands against my chest. I started back down the path. It was fully dark outside now and moonless. There was light coming from the streetlights, but the farther I walked down the path, the darker it got. Then finally I could hear itthe surf. Is thatthe ocean? Bella asked in wonderment. Yes. Its the beach. How did you know about this place? I was at a party near here a few years back and I got really bored. I went out for a walk and found it. And this house here, the owners live in Europe, so theres almost never anyone around to care about what youre up to. We were to the backside of the houses now and the sound of the surf was unmistakable, but we couldnt see the ocean, it was too dark. There was a low wooden reclining beach chair about a hundred feet past the back of the house, down on the beach, so I headed there and deposited Bella on the sand. She sat down and looked up at me, patting the chair next to her. Her face was so excited and happyit made me feel that little curl of emotion in my chest again. I retrieved our bag and handed Bella one of the Coronas. She shocked the hell out of me by gripping the cap firmly and wrenching it off with her hand in one expert practiced move. Hot. Hot, I said out loud, since apparently I no longer have a filter. She shrugged and was quiet for a second and I suspected that if I could see better, Id see she was blushing. I fucking loved watching her blush. So whats for dinner? she bounced a little up and down in her eagerness. Fish tacos. Fish what? Youve never had a fish taco? Um.no. Jesus, Bella, you have no idea what youre missing. And Jorges fish tacostheyre the stuff of legend. People come from all over LA to buy them off that truck. Seriously? Seriously. Now, I handed her a taco, Eat. I had to hand it to her, it was an unfamiliar food to her and one that she didnt seem too enthusiastic about, but the girl dove right in to try it. She was brave. Oh.ummmm Whatever Bella was going to say trailed off in a string of happy eating sounds. 68

What did I tell you? Good, huh? She swallowed her massive bite so she could answer. Oh, my God. Edward. Thats like the best thing Ive ever eaten! Did you get more? I laughed but dug into the bag for another one. It was so nice to watch a girl eat for once. And Bella took a lot of pleasure in her food. I knew shed love this. We ate in companionable silence for a few minutes, sipping our Coronas, listening to the waves out there in the dark. It was pretty freaking perfect. This isum.amazing. Thanks, Edward. Its perfect. Fuck... And just like that there was no doubt about it in my mind any more. I had developed a serious thing for this girl. I am fucking hopeless. Im glad you like it. I thought you might. I trailed off, and the air between us suddenly felt charged, that same damned focused energy I felt at the movie theater, except now we were alone, in the dark. I imagined reaching across to her, closing the little gap between us, kissing her, leaning her back on the beach chair, pushing that incredible little green dress up to her waistUngh and now Im hard. She must have been feeling the tension too, because she let out a little gasp then sat up and leaned back suddenly. Had we really been leaning into each other like that? The moment dissipated and I exhaled, shifting a little to alleviate mysituation. I was glad it was dark. She cleared her throat as if to change the tone of the conversation. So she shot me a grin and raised one delicate little dark eyebrow, Eddie, huh? I pointed a stern finger at her. Only Jorge gets to call me that. She laughed. Any man who can make food like that could call me anything he wants. She looked out into the dark in the direction of the water. How cold is the ocean here? I mean, its the same ocean as in Washington, but its not as cold, right? Youve lived in LA for six months and you havent touched the Pacific? She shook her head. Well, I said, grabbing her hand, Lets go find out. We kicked off our shoes and I stripped off my socks and we headed down the beach. It sounded simpler than it was. This far down the beach there was absolutely no light from the street anymore and without a moon it was nearly pitch black. We could hear the waves breaking just in front of us, but we couldnt quite see them. Wheres the surf? she asked, gripping my hand for dear life. Im sure its out here somewhere. Just keep walking forward. I just want some warning. What if I get hit with a big wave? Id hate to ruin the dress. The swells arent that high. And if you get wet, Ill buy you a new dress. The sand grew packed and wet under our feet and then one step further and I abruptly felt cold water swirl all the way up my ankles as a wave rapidly surged in. Fuck! Fuck! Bella shrieked, and danced away back up the beach. Thats fucking cold! I laughed and raced back up the beach to catch up to her. I threw my arms around her waist and pulled her back up against my chest just because I felt like it and it felt right. It felt amazing, actually. After a fraction of a second she relaxed back against me and I held her for a minute there in the dark, staring at the blackness where the ocean was. I could smell her hair, the strawberries, underneath whatever product Alice had used on her. I tipped my face down and pressed my lips gently against the top of her head. She was so close to me, it would be so easyI could turn her just a little in my arms, tip her face back to me, press my lips to hers Lets walk! she said brightly, pulling free of my arms. Okay, then, maybe not. I tried to ignore the dismal disappointment I was feeling that shed pulled 69

away from what was clearly a moment. She slipped her hand into mine and pulled me after her down the beach. Well, she wasnt asking me to take her home, so at least there was that. I was pretty sure she was enjoying herself. And that made me happy. We walked down the beach in silence for a moment. I was dwelling on how good it had felt to have my arms around her and how lousy it felt when she pulled away. Her voice in the dark pulled me out of my obsessing. Hey, Edward? Hmm? I have something to tell you. Uh-oh. Nothing good ever came after someone said those six words. Yeah? Well, I went online andI saw you...in Hamlet. Well, part of it anyway. I was quiet for a moment while I thought about that. She was looking me up online? What was that about? Shes curious about me. Thats pretty good. And she saw me do Hamlet. I felt a curious mixture of pride and embarrassment. Proud because I was good then, and I knew it, and I wanted her to see how good I could be. Embarrassed because that was my fucking peaksix years ago. I started out like that and now no one will hire me. I thought all that but all I said was, You did, huh? Yes. Edward, that was amazing. I mean, Ive never seen anything like it. Ive seen some of your movies, but that was I snorted derisively. That was a long time ago, I finished for her. I couldnt keep the bitterness out of my voice. But youre still you. Youre still capable of that. I shook my head and looked out towards the ocean. No, Edward, she pulled me to a stop and looked up at me. She closed her eyes and shook her head a little, like she was trying to figure out what to say. I know youve had some problems, and that this, she waved her hand between the two of us, is intended to help fix it. I justI guess Im just glad youre trying. To fix it, I mean. Because youre worth it. Seeing what you can do, you shouldnt let that get away. Youre too good. I stared down at her, my mouth hanging open slightly. Damn. Now I think I might love her. She held my gaze for another heartbeat and then she turned front again and pulled me along after her. I needed to lighten the mood or else I was going to fall on my knees and beg her to be with me. And I wanted to hear her talk, so I decided to turn the subject back to her. You know, Ive been watching you, too. Laurent downloaded all the episodes from the show for me and Ive been watching them. You guys were fantastic. She smiled at her feet and shrugged as she turned us around, heading back where we came from. Thanks. What was it like when you heard you won? Surreal. An out of body experience. There was no good reason for us to have lasted that long. All the other bands were so good, and so polished. We were just these dumb kids from the sticks. No, you were great. When youre all togetherits like magic. I see what people saw in you. She shook her head, but she was smiling. It was all Jasper. I so didnt need to hear his name right now. But I sucked it up and feigned indifference. In what way? The strategy. The song choices. See every week there was a different theme, and you had to cover 70

a song that fit the theme. Every band had its strong points, the stuff they were really good at, but the different themes, thats what makes or breaks you. You have to pick just the right song, one that fits with the theme, but that also plays to your strengths and at the same time allows you to show off each member of the band in turn. Its incredibly hard. And it was all Jasper, finding the songs for us. Like for seventies week, he picked Dreaming by Blondie. Did you know it came out in seventy nine? Jazz did. We squeaked under the wire with it, but it was such a good song, we had to do it. Im certainly not Debbie Harry, but the vocal line is right in my comfort zone, so I couldnt embarrass myself, but whats really great about it is the drum line. Emmett kicked ass. Oh, and blues week! Talk about a ball-buster! So many bands totally fell apart that week. It was so hard. But Jazz, he picked this Bonnie Raitt song for us, but from later, her crossover stuff. So I could take the vocal in a more pop direction, which was much more comfortable for me. And it so happens that Rose can play slide guitar. She never gets to do it in performance, because its just not what we do. But that song had a slide guitar solo, so she rocked the house. Seriously, it was all anybody was talking about that week, Rose on slide guitar. Jazz was our savior, our musical genius. Like I didnt hate the guy already. And now I was thinking about him and Bella again, an unpleasant subject that Id managed to successfully ignore all evening. But now it made sense, her hesitancy tonight, pulling back from every intimate moment. Jasper. She paused and shot a glance at me. Im sorry, I was rambling! No, I want to hear it. Thats why I asked you. I love hearing you talk about your music. Its obvious how much you love it. We were back to where we started. Um, we should probably get going, she said softly. Im in the studio at nine tomorrow morning. Sure. I didnt mean to keep you out so late. I shrugged, heading back up the beach to the path. No, Edward, she protested, I had a really great time tonight. I threw a small tight smile at her. Im glad. But now she has to get home. For all I knew the fucker was waiting for her. It made my blood boil. We reached the beach chair and retrieved our shoes. She carried hers and walked barefoot back to the car. I opened her door in silence. Thoughts of Jasper had turned my mood black. Because now I had to admit to myself that I had some pretty powerful feelings for Bella. And he was standing in my way. Of course there was also the ever-present possibility that she didnt want me for her own reasons, Jasper aside. She as much as told me tonight that I was a giant hopeless fuck up. Maybe I was too fucked up for her to bother with. James texts came back to me and I flushed with anger and shame again. She would be right to stay away from me. We drove in silence back to her house, I was lost in my own miserable thoughts, and she seemed to not want to intrude. She scrambled out when I pulled up before I could get her door for her. She leaned back through the open passenger side window. I really did have a great time tonight, Edward. I did too, Bella. Ill see you soon. She flashed me a melting smile and ran barefoot up the path to her house, her shoes hooked over her finger. I watched her until she disappeared into the darkness before pointing my car towards home.


Chapter 13 Fame
Bella The sand was gritty under my feet and I was lost in the dark but I wasnt alone. I could feel and hear people completely surrounding me, moving past me, snatching at me as they went. I was feeling claustrophobic, despite being outside. So many people and all faceless, all trying to touch me, hang on to me. But there was only one person I wanted to find. I reached out, into the dark and the mass of people, searching for him. But it was so dark I couldnt see him. I could feel him nearby, and my hands were reaching out to touch him, but why couldnt I find him? Id had the same dream for the last three nights since Edward took me to the beach. One night, the first night I dreamt it, just when I was getting anxious that I couldnt find him, and panicky about the people snatching at me, his fingers made contact with mine and then the warmth of his body surrounded me as he wrapped his arms around me, just like he had that night. The last two nights I just kept reaching for him in the crowded dark and never finding him. My phone pinging insistently at me from the bedside table pulled me slowly from the dream and awake, but I was groggy and disoriented, still filled with anxiety. The phone pinged again and I registered the tone. I had a text. Who the hell would text me this early? I reached out half blind and swiped it off the table, checking the screen through squinted eyes. Rose. I sat up quickly, instantly fully awake and clicked to read it. Come early to the studio Well, that was ominous. That meant she wanted to talk about something in private. My stomach did an unpleasant little flip. If I was going to get there early I needed to move fast. My truck didnt do speedy and it was a bit of a drive from here to the studio. I threw myself through the shower and into an old cotton skirt and a white undershirt Id stolen from Jasper years ago. Damn, it felt good to be in something normal for once. I grabbed my sunglasses, which I was actually becoming very attached to, and headed out to my truck. My neighborhood was still quiet and sleeping, the grass still slightly dewy and the birds chirping awake in the trees. Right at the start of Bella and Edward, knowing how anxious I was about facing the onslaught of the press, Aro had leaked my address to the media, giving them the name of some high rise condo in Brentwood where his assistant lived, and so far, thank God, the ruse seemed to be holding. Cynthia was more or less my height with long brown hair and that, apparently, had been enough to throw off the random nosy photographer. So here at my house, there was never anybody around to disturb the peace of my tranquil little neighborhood, for which I was eternally grateful. No matter what I had to face out there, I could come back here and forget it for a while. I was so glad he had been able to arrange this little oasis for me for as long as it lasted. Forty minutes of miserable LA traffic and I arrived at the studio. It amazed me how bad the roads were even at this early hour. John said hello as I passed and waved me through. I found Rose curled up on the couch in our studio, her laptop open on her lap. I poked my head in the room, Hey Rose. Whats up? Rose fixed me with her steady emotionless gaze and turned her laptop to face me. I took a few steps closer so that I could see what she was showing me. It was a webpage, full of pictures of me and Edward. Us at the ballgame, me sitting turned to face him, him holding our hands against his chest and reaching out to touch my hair; us at that movie premier a few nights earlier on the red carpet, his arm around my waist, Edward leaning down to whisper in my ear, my face turned into his chest, a huge grin on my face; another shot of us on the red carpet, Edwards arm still around me, my whole body leaning 72

against him, my head turned away as I spoke to someone else, Edward smiling down at me, looking for all the world like he adored me I shifted my weight from foot to foot uncomfortably. So? Are you trying to say something, Rose? Im saying Im worried about you, Bella. This is not looking so pretend to me anymore. At least not for you. I swear to you, nothing has happened since that first night, I protested. Which was technically true, unless you considered the fact that every time Edward sat next to me I got aroused, and that he made holding hands feel like a sex act, and that I was pretty sure he was seconds away from kissing me that night on the beach. Im sure thats true, and these pictures dont really worry me much where hes concerned. Hes an actor, they fake feelings for a living. But youre not. Ive known you your whole life, and what I see in you in these pictures, wellits looking like theres something starting to happen there. I didnt say anything. I lowered myself to the couch next to her and kept my eyes on my hands in my lap. Rose sighed and then continued, her voice a little lighter. I know youre attracted to him, and believe me, I wouldnt judge you for a second if you decided to sleep with him. As long as it was just sex. As long as you werent letting yourself fall for him. Her voice deepened and slowed as she placed emphasis on the last part, staring hard at me again. I sighed and made myself meet her gaze. She was right, she had known me my whole life. And I knew shed be able to read my face like a book. Damn, she said softly. I knew it. Rose She held up a hand to stop me. Bella, you dont own me any explanations, you know that. Its just that I care about you, and I dont want you to get hurt. And this guy could really hurt you. Hes freaking designed for it. I know that, I really do. Why do you think nothings happened since the first night? Because hes wanted it, Im pretty sure of it. But I know what it would meanit would mean nothing. And youre right, at first I thought about it, letting it be just about sex. But I didnt do it then because I thought it would complicate the situation too much. And I didnt even like him, it was just lust. But nowhes just Hes what? Hes just turned out to be different than what I thought he was. More than I thought he was, much more. I dont know how it happened, because I was really trying hard to keep it from happening, but it happened anyway. I like him. So now I really cant sleep with him, because it wouldnt be just about sex any more. Not for me. Because now I was pretty sure I was crazy about him. But I didnt say that out loud. We were quiet for a moment while we both mulled over what Id said. So what are you going to do? Rose asked. What is there to do? Keep doing what Im doing. Not sleeping with him, and trying hard not to fall for him. At least any more than I already have. Im sorry, Bella. Please be careful. I dont want to see this guy break your heart. I know, Rose. I dont want to see that either. I paused for a moment, letting my head fall forward into my hands, and I laughed bitterly, mostly at myself, my own stupidity. How ridiculous is it anyway? That I could be stupid enough to fall for Edward Cullen, of all people? I mean, its such a lame clich. Just another pathetic fan girl mooning after the big movie star. Hey! Rose snapped, youre no fan girl. And that douche would be lucky to have you. Youre too good for him, Bella. 73

Rose, dont say that. Dont be mean. Hes not everything that you think and hes a lot more than youd guess. Hes a good guy, he really is. Geez, I know youve got it bad! Listen to you defending him! She rolled her eyes. Defending who? My head snapped to the door to see Jasper lounging against the doorframe. Cullen? Jasper! Its none of your business! Whats none of my business? You getting stars in your eyes for Edward? I am so not having this conversation with you Jasper. Bells, babe, its just because we care about you. Emmett said as he pushed past Jasper to get into the room. What the fuck, Emmett? Did you guys have a band meeting about this or something? I hated this feeling that theyd been discussing me, even if they meant well. Chill out, Bells, Emmett said, gently. Its just that you guys are everywhere right now. I mean everywhere. And knowing you as well as we do, we saw what was going on. And we got worried. It was sweet, in its totally maddening, irritating way. They really did care about me. I just hated that my emotions were on display like that, to them and the rest of the world. On the other hand, no one on the planet knew me as well as these three people. Just because they could see it didnt mean anyone else could. But Id really had enough of this discussion, so I decided to redirect as best I could. What do you mean everywhere? I sort of put myself on a media blackout. Are people buying it? Are we getting a lot of coverage? Rose, Emmett and Jasper exchanged nervous, knowing looks. Rose cleared her throat. You could say that, she said, turning her laptop back to me. These pictures are on Edward and Bella dot com. I shot her a stunned look before I snatched the computer away from her and scrolled up to see the top of the page. There it was on the banner. Edward and Bella dot com. A whole website devoted to me and Edward. What the fuck? What the hell is this? Who made this website? Rose shrugged dismissively, Who knows? Some fan. Its only one of them, anyway. What do you mean? I asked, my heart thumping in my chest. Oh, there are a bunch. Theres Bella and Edward dot com, Edward and Bella dot net Thats my favorite, Emmett chimed in, They always have the best pictures. And theres Belward dot com. Somebodys hoping that name gets traction, but it doesnt seem to be sticking, thank God. It sounds like a pharmaceutical company, Rose continued blithely. I was stunned. I had no words. People werent just buying it, people were eating it up. Yeah, Bella, Jasper said, You guys are like the new Brad and Angelina. Or the new Ben and Jennifer. Or the other Ben and Jennifer. Its major. He rolled his eyes and smirked a little. These are all new, Rose said, meaning to sound comforting, The websites and stuff have mostly cropped up this past week, but youve been the number one story on all those celebrity gossip shows. They cant get enough. I exhaled slowly and collapsed against the back of the couch. How did I miss this? Sure the press and the paparazzi were insane, but it hadnt occurred to me that it was translating into fame like this on a scale I couldnt conceive of. Objectively I was pleased. Its what we set out to do, and its always nice to achieve your goals. And, of course, it was supposed to be good for the band. Personally, it totally freaked me out. I hadnt really thought through to this part, being so famous. I didnt like the attention before and now it seemed like it would get exponentially worse. I had noticed that the paparazzi were a lot crazier the last few times Id been out with Edward, but I just hadnt made the connection. Somehow, stupidly, I thought it was all about him. I was feeling anxious and unsettled. I 74

wanted to vent, to talk about it. With a start I realized there was only one person I wanted to talk about it withEdward. The compulsion to call him at that moment was nearly overwhelming. And that feeling scared the hell out of me. I shot up off the couch, feeling frantic, Lets get to work! Come on guys! Jasper looked skeptically at me, but he was hardly going to argue since he was our usual taskmaster and was always the one to crack the whip to get us focused. You heard the lady, he drawled. Rose snapped her laptop shut and Emmett headed for his drum kit. I exhaled a little. I felt like this situation was perilously close to swallowing me whole, both the public part and the very private part. Rose was right to fear for my heart, it was in terrible danger. * * * Come on, Jazz. Im just saying, its a littlewordy, I said in my most conciliatory tone. No fucking way! These lyrics flow! And the song is about the words, he growled. Thats crap! Rose snapped, Thats the bullshit line you feed us every time you go all angsty songcrafter trying to channel your inner Leonard Cohen. Fuck you, Rose! Youre just pissed because theres no wailing guitar solo for you to showboat on! To an outsider it might have sounded like we were having a knock down drag out fight, but there was no heat in it, there never was. It was just how we worked our shit out, especially Jasper and Rose, being twins. But it was the end of a long day. Wed gotten good work done, but it was hard. And I was still strung out and wired by my discovery of those websites this morning. I wanted to escape for a little while and mentally regroup. Hey, guys, weve put in a good day," I suggested, "Maybe we should just call it a day and relax." Jasper rubbed a hand over his eyes and exhaled heavily. Youre right, Bells. Im done. Lets tackle this tomorrow when were fresh. Nobody else was arguing, so we set about packing up for the day. Our moods lightened the minute we said we were done and by the time we waved goodbye to John at the security desk we were actually laughing and joking with each other. We swung out of the double doors of the recording studio into the parking lot. Rose was in front and I was right behind her laughing at her spot-on impersonation of Aro when we were hit with a writhing wall of shouting bodies and strobing flashes. Rose instinctively flinched back and I whipped my head down against the glare. What the fuck was going on? It dawned on me as my chest seized up in anxiety. Press. Photographers and reporters were swarming outside the doors to the studio. Up until now the studio we were using for the album hadnt gotten out, so we came and went with ease. It seemed that now they'd found us. As I paused for a second to listen to what they were shouting, I understood that they werent here for Eclipse, they were here for me. Bella. Of Edward and Bella. I felt cold all over. My truck was on the far side of the lot. I was caught completely off guard and helpless. Rose reached behind me and grasped Emmetts wrist, pulling him to the front of our group. She leaned up and had to nearly shout in his ear to be heard over their noise. We have to get Bella to the truck. Emmett nodded and scooped me under his arm. Jasper pushed forward and flanked me on the other side. We plunged forward into the fray. It was the worst Id ever experienced. If Id been prepared to confront this, it would have been one thing. When I went out with Edward I was expecting it, I was ready. But at the studio I was in my own world, not that celebrity craziness. Then it hit methe 75

websites, and now this. This was my new world, my new reality. It would always be like this for me now. Fuck. As we reached the truck, Emmett yanked the door open and he nearly shoved me inside. I scrambled for my keys, my hands shaking, and popped the clutch as I turned the key. Nothing. Goddamned piece of trash! Why was I still driving this fucking truck? Rose shouted one word at me through the window. Hood! I pulled the catch and Rose yanked it up. She gave a few brief, practiced twists and jiggles and slammed the hood closed again. We had been through this many times over the years. I tried the ignition and it caught. Thank God for Rose. Well, for Mr. Hale, who taught Rose everything he knew about engines. She was the only reason my truck was still running at all. The media scrum never lessened, they surrounded the truck and us completely, three and four bodies deep. I didnt know how I would get out of here. Emmett and Jasper were attempting to herd them away from the sides of the truck so I could back out, but no one was moving. They were leaning over the hood, putting their cameras up against the windshield, snapping pictures, the flash going off in my face constantly. I felt panic rising in my throat and there was that damned impulse again. Edward. Edward. I wanted Edward. Desperately. Somehow I knew that if he were here, he'd know what to do and he'd be able to make me feel better. Well, he wasn't here and I couldnt have him, certainly not now. I would just have to manage on my own. I put the truck in reverse and let it just barely begin to roll back. The people behind me scrambled out of the way but only by inches. They were still surrounding my truck and I was terrified that I would hit someone if I actually tried to drive. By now the chaos had drawn the attention of John, so he came out, shouting at them, clearing a path for me. The uniform and the badge seemed to do the trick, even though he was only a rent-a-cop. They finally began to move out of the path he indicated. Finally I managed to edge to the parking lot entrance and out on the road. I drove for a mile or so, frantically checking my rearview mirror. I had some crazy fear that they were following me. Suddenly my unique, vintage truck felt like a bullseye, visible anywhere. My hands were shaking and I was afraid I might throw up. I couldnt drive anymore. I pulled the truck to the side of the road and dropped my head forward, gripping the steering wheel till my hands hurt with the effort. I squeezed my eyes shut tight against the tears starting to leak out, but it did no good. In moments I was sobbing, my shoulders heaving with the effort. I dont know how long I spent hunched there, weeping, but eventually my phone pinged with a text. Are you okay?- Rose I sniffed and swiped at my eyes. If I didnt answer shed panic. Im fine, just freaked. Do you want me to come over? It was sweet of her, but what I really wanted was to at least pretend that everything was okay for a little while, and that would be easiest alone. I wanted to listen to some music and just think. Thanks but Im okay. I just want to hang. See you tomorrow. I started the truck and headed towards home, desperate to find some semblance of normal.


Chapter 14 - Time of No Reply

Edward Id spent all day ducking James calls, and the calls of everyone else I normally hung out with. All the crap they wanted me to go do, clubbing, drinking, parties, sexI didnt want to do any of that shit. I didnt know what the hell had happened to me, but everything that used to appeal to me had turned to ashes in my mouth. Who am I kidding? I know exactly what had happened to me. Bella happened to me. All I really wanted to do was be with her, see her, talk to her, make her laugh. So Id been driving around all day, trying to distract myself so I didnt go show up at her recording studio like some crazy pathetic stalker. It was three days since that amazing night on the beach and I swear I felt like I was going through withdrawals. I knew this was complicated, that there were all sorts of obstacles in my path, and that I didnt even know what Bella wanted. But I knew she was attracted to me. And I know that the other night at the beach when I floated most of the night in denial, I had one of the best nights of my life. I just wanted to recapture that feeling. I wanted to get her alone, just us, in private, and push everything else away. It was late afternoon and it occurred to me I could just call her. I knew the band started early in the studio and usually wrapped up by 3, so she was done by now. I could just call her, and see if she wanted to do something. Like a date. No! Not like a date, shed freak out. We could just hang out. Would she think that was weird? Maybe. What about dinner? She needed to eat, right? Maybe I could just be really casual about it. Hey, Bella, Im going to grab a bite. Want to come? That was casual enough. Right? I let my head fall into the steering wheel. Motherfucker, when did I become such a fucking girl? I mean, was I really sitting here in my parked car torturing myself about calling a girl on the phone? Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Before I could girl out and talk myself back out of this plan, I snatched my phone off the passenger seat and scrolled to Bellas number, hitting send. It rang a while before bouncing to voicemail. Damn. I started driving again, completely aimless. Although I did notice I was making my way towards the Hollywood Hills. Where Bella lives. Coincidentally. I called again. Voicemail. But not straight to it, so her phone was on, she just wasnt where she could answer it. Maybe she just couldnt hear it. Could I stop by? That would be really stalker-y. Would it? Maybe I could play that casual, too. Hey, I was near your place, so I thought Id see if you wanted to grab a bite. Im such a fucking girl! I shouted to the inside of my car. And before I could change my mind, I turned towards Bellas house. I tried Bellas cell one more time while I sat in my car in front of her house, but it still rang then bounced to voicemail. I could see that deathtrap of a truck she loved so much further up the drive, so she was here. Unless she was out in someone elses car. If she wasnt picking up then clearly she wasnt free for dinner. I should just go home. Or out. Or something. But I didnt want to do something else, I wanted to see Bella. And now that I was here I was out of the car and striding up her walk before I could girl out one more time. I had never been through the yard to actually see her house, I usually just dropped her at the foot of the drive. Like most of these Hollywood Hills houses, the little front yard was filled with greenery, giant oleanders in this case, usually planted by the residents to provide more privacy and seclusion. I was almost to the end of the walk before I saw more than a glimpse of the house itself. When I did, I stopped and looked around, 77

slightly confused. It was tiny. A bungalow, really. And while a lot of these old 30s bungalows had been wildly converted and expanded into luxury homes, this one looked untouched. It was quaint in its way, but so small and.normal. Was this all there was? Did she really live here? Did I get the address wrong? No, there it was on the wall next to the door. As I climbed the steps and neared the door, I was assaulted by The Shins playing at an absolutely earsplitting level. I smiled, both because this explained why she wasnt answering her phone and because I loved this album. I rang the buzzer. And waited. I rang again. And waited. I knockedloud. And waited. Now I was slightly concerned. The house wasnt that big. How long could it take to make it to the door? Hesitantly I tried the doorknob. It was unlocked. What. The. Fuck? My stomach dropped to my feet and my heart began to pound its way out of my chest. I pushed the door open a little and stepped into her dimly lit living room. Relief flooded my system as soon as I made it inside. I heard her singingloudlyto the music that was nearly deafening now that I was in the house. I chuckled at the explanation. I followed the sound of her voice towards the back of the house. Fuck me, I was actually getting butterflies that I was about to see her. Passing through the little open dining room, I rounded the corner and finally spotted her in her kitchen, at the stove, with her back to me. She was facing the window over the back of the stove and sunlight was flooding in, washing everything in her cozy little kitchen, including her, with golden late afternoon light. She was stirring something with the spoon in her right hand, her left hand planted on the back of her hip while she sang along blissfully to Phantom Limb. She was wearing a bright Indian print peasant skirt, the kind of thing youd buy at a flea market for twenty bucks. She had on a tight white wife beater undershirt, ancient from the looks of it. The cotton was so worn that it was nearly see through, certainly it was not doing much to hide the deep blue satiny bra she had on underneath. As amazing as she had looked in all those glamorous clothes Alice bought her, none of them compared to this. Her long dark hair was pulled up to the top of her head in a messy knot haphazardly held in place with two chopsticks and she was barefoot. Long wisps of hair escaped the knot and floated around her face. In that moment, she looked like exactly what she had been this time a year ago, a part-time college student, a beautiful girl, singing in her cousins band, sweet, natural, unbearably sexy. Fuck. As I watched her silently, she shifted her weight to her right leg while rubbing her left foot up her calf, as if she had an itch. She pivoted to grab another spoon off the counter and stir a pot of something boiling on the back of the stove, never stopping her singing. Her movements were so light and fluid, she was so clearly in her element and happy, singing out loud to her song. Id never seen her looking so comfortable and at ease and happy. My mouth began to water at the sight of her. I was just standing there gaping at her like some creep. I mentally gave myself a shake. I had to pull it together or Id freak her out. I cleared my throat loudly to alert her to my presence. Her singing was lost in her strangled scream as she spun to face me, wooden spoon clutched to her chest, dark eyes wide and flashing, a blush of pale peach flooding her cheeks. She looked even hotter. Not helping. I quickly held up my hands in front of me to calm her and shot her a reassuring smile. Once she registered that it was me her eyes drooped closed and she sagged against the counter in relief. Oh my God, Edward! You scared the crap out of me! What are you doing here? I called. I rang the bell and knocked, but you didnt hear. Your door was open, so I came in. Bella, why the hell was your door unlocked? 78

What? she looked distracted, casting a glance at the front of the house while she reached for her ipod on its dock and lowered the volume to something tolerable. Oh, I got back from the studio a little while ago. I must have forgotten to lock it behind me. She shrugged casually. Jesus, Bella, thats fucking dangerous. For any woman living alone in LA, but especially for you. You may not have acquired any unhinged fans yet, but its only a matter of time. You have to protect yourself. She made a face, her eyes on her bare feet, looking miserably uncomfortable. She actually looked like she might cry. I was killing her good mood, I realized. She had some great groove going in her glorious sunny little kitchen, cooking and singing, and here I was reminding her again of how much everything has changed for her, and not necessarily for the better. I was used to this shit, but it was all new to her, and probably terrifying. I sighed and raked a hand through my hair. Im sorry. It was time to get on to the reason I was here, although the point was moot now, I saw. But still, I needed to explain myself. I took a deep breath and hoped I sounded more casual than I felt. I was just in your neighborhood and thought Id see if you wanted to go grab dinner, but clearly youre having guests. I waved a hand at what was a rather large amount of food she was cooking. Guests? Thats a lot of food, Bella. You must be having people over. Ill get out of your way. No, no guests! Its just me, she said quickly. She glanced down at her feet again, that killer blush diffusing her cheeks, Umdo you want to stay for dinner? Fuck, yes. Right now I never wanted to leave this kitchen as long as I lived. Well, yeah, sure, but are you sure youre not expecting anyone? I was thinking of Jasper, but there was no freaking way I would say his name. Why are you making all this food? She chuckled and shrugged lightly. I only know how to cook in Large I guess. I did all the cooking at home for me and my dad, Charlie. But almost always somebody was over for dinner. Emmet or Rose, or Jasper, or all of them. Charlie worked a lot, so my house was band practice Ground Zero. I was always cooking for a crowd. I still do it out of habit. You looked like you were having fun. You like cooking. It wasnt a question. Yeah. Its basic, straightforward. And the results are always pretty good, if I do say so myself. I guess you could say its my happy place. And I really needed my happy place today. So, she straightened up and looked at me, are you staying? I beamed at her Absolutely. Bella I tried to dispel my nervous butterflies. Edward was standing in my kitchen, looking inordinately pleased about staying to eat my humble little home cooked meal. My warning bell was going off, especially after my conversation with Rose this morning. I shouldnt have asked him to stay. When we were on our own, casual like this, thats when things gotmuddy and confusing. But I was so caught off guard, having him here in what was my very private place. And I just really wanted him to stay. After my startling discovery of those websites this morning and the horrible scene with the paparazzi this afternoon, Id had that overwhelming desire to call him. Id been thinking of him while I was standing at the stove, wanting with some part of myself to see him. And then, miraculously, he was in my kitchen, and I just didnt want to let him go. I exhaled, blowing the wisps of hair that had escaped my makeshift updo out of my face and attempted to keep it casual. Okay, can you open some wine for us? I asked over my shoulder as I dug the corkscrew out of 79

the drawer. He was happy to have some direction and sprung into action. I pointed him towards my meager little wine selection and he set about picking out a bottle. What are we eating? Chicken Alfredo. Sorry, nothing fancy. It smells great, he said, as he decided on a bottle to go with it. And Im starving. Well, I laughed, The one thing I can promise is that theres plenty. We worked in companionable ease for a bit, me finishing up the meal and directing him to the plates and silverware so he could set the table. It was early evening, but still very light out and the air was so soft and warm. It was a novelty I couldnt get over after a life spent in the rainy Olympic Peninsula of Washington. So I opened the French doors in the dining room that faced the backyard. All the early evening golden light from outside flooded the table and we didnt even need to turn on the overhead light. The backyard was a riot of shrubs and flowers, lush and green. It was one of my favorite parts of the house. There was a chorus of little bug and bird noises filtering in from outside. I scrolled through my ipod and found my Nick Drake playlist and hit play. There was just the bread left to carry out to the table. What else can I do? Edward asked coming back into the kitchen behind me. Nothing, just this and I have it. Go pour the wine, I said, without turning. Now that I was finished cooking, I reached up and yanked the chopsticks out of my hair, shaking it out as it fell down behind me. I scooped up the breadbasket and turned to head to the table. Edward was still standing where he had stopped, looking frozen. His mouth was open slightly, and his eyes looked a little glazed. He was staring at me with a slightly pained expression on his face. Edward, is everything okay? He blinked and blew out a breath, then flashed me his trademark movie star smile, the one that always made me go weak in the knees. Im fine, he said brightly, Lets eat! Soon we were settled at the table, sipping the perfect pinot grigio, thanks to Edward, and starting in on the alfredo and salad. Edward took a bite, closed his eyes and moaned. God, Bella, this is fantastic. I snorted in disbelief. Come on, Edward. You eat at the best restaurants in LA every single night. Well, aside from the nights you eat tacos out of the back of a truck on the side of the road. But in either case, this is nothing to compare with food like that. This is just dinner. He set his fork down momentarily to look at me. I met his gaze and there it was again, that freaky frisson, like an electric current down my back and all the way to my fingertips, whenever I looked at him like this. Danger. Im in danger. Bella, I cant remember the last time I just ate dinner. At someones house. Like a normal person. This is amazing. He took a sip of his wine and looked out the French doors to the backyard. This is all pretty great. I like your place, by the way. Itsunexpected. If by unexpected, you mean small and dinky, then yes, it is, I laughed. Well, I did notice that it seems a little modest. Not exactly a rock stars crib, he admitted, smirking at me from under the fall of his glorious bronze hair. Dont call me a rock star. And yes, the real estate agent dragged me though all these crazy places, big palatial fake castles, huge modern cavernous things, places with indoor pools and waterfallsit was insane. I felt lost in those places. I could never imagine living in a place like that by myself. I never hadlived alone, I mean. I was all for getting a place with the band here in LA, at least for a while. But Emmett said it would be beyond pathetic for us to all live together like in some sitcom. So I looked, but I hated everything she was showing me. Then I found this place in rentals on Craigslist and it was perfect. 80

Edward nearly choked on the sip of wine he was taking. You found your house on Craigslist?? Yeah. I mean, the realtor still arranged it all, got it all set up. But I emailed her the link. She couldnt believe this was what I wanted. But it feels right, you know? I fit here. Edward smiled at me again, his eyes soft, his face so beautiful I couldnt speak. Yes, you do. I looked back at my plate before he could see the blush creeping up my cheeks. I knew this was a mistake, having him here. But I couldnt regret it. I felt like I was walking headlong into my doom and I couldnt seem to summon the strength to care. So, he said, redirecting the conversation, You said you learned to cook doing it for you dad. Wheres your mom? I shifted a little uncomfortably at the question, but I kept my voice even. Gone. She met some minor league ball player in Port Angeles when I was eight and that was the last we saw of her. Seriously? Edward looked stunned. I knew why. Id heard all about the magnificent Cullens from Alice. Dr. Carlisle Cullen, one of the most talented heart specialists in Seattle, and Esme Cullen, successful interior decorator. Beautiful, perfect parents; loving, devoted relationship. Honestly with such a flawless family, it was hard to understand how Edward turned out to be such a mess. Usually I wasnt ashamed of where I came from, but it was hard not to feel a little insecure about my background in the face of so much perfection. Im sorry, Bella. That must have been hard for you, Edward had set his fork down and now he drew a hand over his eyes in frustration. Fuck. What? I couldnt figure out what had upset him. Every time we talk it seems like I say something boneheaded. That thing about college at the game, and now your mom. Hey, I reached out and put my hand on his forearm. Tingles. Stop it. You just had a different life than I did. Im not sorry about anything thats happened to me, since I like how everythings turned out so far. He smiled softly at me and relaxed. I quickly slipped my hand back into my lap. Touching him, even innocently, was intoxicating and dangerous. After that moment, we chatted easily through the rest of dinner, mostly about Seattle. Hed left a couple of years before I arrived, but wed been there close enough to the same time to have a lot of common memories. Did you ever go to Crazy Ricks? I asked him. That little coffee shop just off campus, on the corner of 11th? I fucking loved that place! I havent thought about it in years. It was my favorite. Rick made the best latte in Seattle, which is saying something. Edward sighed in memory. I remember now. The absolute best lattes. The foam was so thick your spoon would stand up by itself. Id forgotten all about that place. Thats not what it was really called though, was it? Oh, no. It was called Coffee Caf, or something totally generic and lame. But Rick was insane, so everybody just called it Crazy Ricks place. Remember how he would scream obscenities at you if you took too long to decide what you wanted? He threw back his head and laughed, totally free and relaxed. Like I wasnt crazy enough about him already. Now he was reminiscing with me about my favorite haunts back home. He was so fucking perfect for me, and yet so far out of my reach at the same time. Why did he have to be him? Why couldn't he just be nobody? Rose was right. He was designed to break my heart. Just not quite how she meant it. We polished off the first bottle of wine and were working our way well into the second. Dinner was mostly done, but still we sat, picking at the remnants of the food, sipping our wine, talking about home, 81

soaking up the golden twilight still filtering into the room. I wasnt drunk, but I was definitely feeling a warm glow from the wine. And I was enjoying staring at Edward a little too much for comfort and he was staring back, so I decided it was time to tear myself away and move back to the kitchen for clean up. Edward leapt to his feet and happily dove in, helping me clear the table. Edward I was glad to be busy, shuttling back and forth to the kitchen, carting plates and glasses. I needed a little breather. She just kept getting more perfect, and the pull I felt towards her, the compulsion to be with her, just kept getting stronger. If she hadnt shot up and started to clear the table, I think I might have leapt across it and attacked her. Of course, now every time I came back into the kitchen, I was treated to a glimpse of Bella standing in front of the sink with her back to me, exactly where she was standing before dinner when she had reached up as an afterthought and yanked those fucking chopsticks out of her hair, sending those glorious mahogany curls tumbling down her back. Then shed arched her back a little and run her fingers through her hair to shake it out. I swear I could smell her strawberry scent from where I stood across the room as she did it. My hands clenched into fists as I fought the impulse to just reach out and wrap that damned stunning hair around my hands and spin her around into me But we were having such a great evening. It was exactly what I wanted when I came over here. Me and her alone, with all the other bullshit repressed and shoved away. It was so easy between us like this, and I wanted to drag it out and enjoy it. Attacking her would likely draw the evening to a resounding and awkward close. So I tried to forget the sight of her hair tumbling down her back, and the sight of the wine-induced blush in her cheeks as we laughed over dinner. I would behave, help her clean up, and go home. I could at least do that much without fucking up, right? Right. Coming back through the kitchen, I snagged the last glass, left next to the stove, and stepped up behind her to set it next to the sink. She had been reaching up to turn the water back on, but seemed to change her mind abruptly and decide to head back to the dining room. She turned suddenly, and she clearly didnt expect me to be standing as close as I was. She froze, with her little hands drawn up in front of her in surprise. I froze, my arm still stretched out to the counter to her right. My brain was telling me what I should do, but the rest of me wasnt listening. I should drop my arm and get out of her personal space. I should shoot her an embarrassed smile and say something funny to lighten the moment. I should step aside and let her pass by to the dining room. I didnt do any of those things. I stood right where I was, trapping her between the counter and my body. I stopped breathing. So did she. Her chin was down, but she was looking up at me through her crazy long eyelashes. My hand reached up without my knowing I was doing it and my fingers skimmed along her jaw, just barely touching her face. I moved forward imperceptibly and we were touching along the entire length of our bodies. I felt like I was going to explode from the sensation, the warmth of her. I never made the decision to kiss her, but then I was lowering my head, nudging her chin up towards me with my fingers. I brushed my lips over hers gently, once, then again. This was so different than that night by the car, slow and intimate and sexy. I ghosted across her lips a third time, then stopped and pressed more firmly, gently opening my mouth over hers. Her lips opened readily underneath me. I tasted her bottom lip with my tongue, then slipped into her mouth. Fuck. I felt her tongue crash into mine and a moan escaped my throat involuntarily. I slid my hand around her neck to grasp the back of her head and I did what Id been thinking about 82

all nightI tangled my fingers tight into her glorious hair and yanked her into me. I grasped her right hip with my other hand and drew her hard against my hips. Her hands, which had been trapped helplessly between us now skated up my chest and she grasped my hair hard, pulling my head down to her. She wanted me. I could feel it coming off of her in waves. As much as I wanted her. And it was there again, that electric explosion, the same as the night I kissed her by the car. Except now it was heightened by my emotions, stoked from days and days of denial, and tension and desire. Never had I felt anything like this, like every nerve ending in my body was responding to her lightest touch. Never had I wanted anyone this badly. I ached with it. Was it this consuming for her I wondered? She arched her back and pressed further into me and at that moment I thought that maybe it was. Fuck this. Im done. I couldnt stop this, I had to have herall of her. Fucking consequences be damned. We were both gasping for air, so I broke off from her perfect, soft mouth and moved my lips to the tender spot on her neck, just below her ear. I flicked my tongue out gently against her and she moaned, her head falling to the side to grant me better access. My lips continued to skim her throat while my hands snaked to her waist and then up her torso. I was dragging that thin undershirt up with my fingers as I went. My fingertips felt electrified as I touched the soft silky skin of her abdomen and she gasped at the sensation. I wanted to sweep my tongue along her skin after my hands. I wanted my hands on that tantalizing dark blue silky bra that Id been staring at all night long. I just wantedMy thumbs brushed the underside of her breasts and her breath caught in her throat. I moved higher and ran my thumbs lightly over her nipples under the satiny fabric and she whimpered, arching further into me. My hands came up and covered her perfect breasts fully, squeezing her gently, moaning against her neck. Id never been so hard in my life. She moaned in response and pushed her chest into my hands. I skated my lips up her neck and along her jawline, back to her slightly swollen mouth and our lips crashed together again in another desperate kiss. My tongue plunged deep into her mouth and she let me in, arching back as I pressed harder into her. I pulled back a little and gently bit her full bottom lip, sucking it into my mouth as I reached down and grasped the backs of her thighs, just below her ass and pulled her in tight against me, pressing my erection into her stomach. She moaned against my mouth. Jesus, that sound almost made me explode on the spot, like a horny teenager. Instead I slid my hand down her right leg and pulled on the back of her knee. Her leg came up and I hooked it over my hip and pushed myself further in against her. This time we both moaned at the intimate contact. She tore her mouth from mine and whispered hot little open-mouthed kisses along my jaw as I gasped for air in the silky hollow between her neck and her shoulder. This was too much and nowhere near enough. Her mouth slipped up to my earlobe and she flicked it with her tongue. Then she drew my earlobe into her mouth andshe bit me. Fuck. Bella My rasping voice sounded far away and unfamiliar to me as her name was forced from my lips. I gripped her hair tightly in my hand and yanked her mouth back to mine. I slid my hand up her leg, behind her knee, my palm sliding up the back of her silky thigh, pushing her skirt up as I went. My fingertips were at the edge of her panties. I could feel the heat emanating from her core. A tiny tight strangled sound came from the back of her throat. My fingers brushed over her fabric covered center. Oh Christ, I could feel how wet she was through the material. Youre so wet I rasped against her mouth. I wanted to taste her. I would do that first. And then again and again. My hips thrust against her involuntarily and she thrust back against me. She gasped and gripped my hair so hard it hurt. But it felt good. Edward my name fell from her lips as a stifled little plea and I was nearly undone by it. I was going to make her scream it when she came. We needed to find a bedlike now. If we stood here another minute I would end up just taking her on the fucking kitchen floor, and Bella deserved better than that for our first time together. 83

Bellapleasethe bedroom I muttered against her lips. Yes. She whispered, gasping against my mouth, as I stroked her fabric covered center again with my fingertips. And then the doorbell rang. We froze. I pulled my face far enough away from her to make eye contact. Her eyes were wide, confused, frantic. We were panting against each others mouths. We heard the door open. Fuck. I hadnt locked it behind me when I came in, I had been so panicked to find her. I pulled my fingers away from her, her leg dropped off my hip, her skirt slipped back into place. Bella? Hey, Bells! Jasper. Fucking Jasper Hale. Bellas eyes went wide with shock and horror and she shoved me away from her. I staggered back and instantly mourned the loss of her body against mine.


Chapter 15 - Jealous Again

Bella I shoved Edward off of me in a panic. What the fuck just happened? I pushed my hands through my hair in an effort to clear the fog from my brain. My tank top was still pushed all the way up to my bra, exposing my stomach. I yanked it back down, feeling the blush flood my cheeks at the same time. Edward. Hed been kissing metouching mejust a second ago. The bedroom. Id been just about to lead him back to the bedroom. And Jasper just walked in I shot a look at Edward. He looked as much of a mess as I felt. His already crazy hair was in complete disarray, from my fingers clawing through it. He was still breathing hard and his lips looked slightly swollen. My fingers twitched. I wanted to reach out and curl my fist in his shirt and pull him in to me and Bells? Babe? You here? Fuck. Right. Jasper was here. I had to fix this. Try to act natural, get him back out the door fast, and then we can get back to Edwards eyes locked with mine. They were wide and intense, his jaw clenched. He seemed to be challenging me, but I didnt know why or what he wanted me to do. Back here, Jazz, I called, pulling my gaze away from Edward. I couldnt look at him right now and still focus. I winced when I heard myself. My voice sounded so forced and unnatural to my ears. Could Jazz hear that? I ran my hands over my hair to smooth it and hoped we didnt look as obvious as I felt we did. Hey, Bells, I was going to meet Emmett and Rosie for some dinner and I thought Id stop by and see how you were doing after this afternoon. Do you want to come. Jasper was talking loudly to me as he walked through the house, as usual, then he rounded the corner into the kitchen and stopped when he caught sight of Edwardstill standing closer to me than he probably should be, and both of us still breathing heavily. Jaspers eyes shot from me to Edward and back to me. He knew. Of course he did. You could practically smell sex in the air. Hey, Jazz. Edward came by to see if I wanted to go to dinner, too, but I was already cooking. And you know how I always make too much. So he stayed to eat and we were just cleaning up I sounded frantic, too bright. I was explaining too much, I was making it worse. And I could feel Edward growing black and glowering as he stood there. He wasnt helping me fix this at all. Of course, he wouldnt know about the conversation Id had with the band just this morning, warning me off him, pointing out how foolish it would be to get involved with him. You just came by? Jasper asked, straightening up. There goes the guy stare again. Edward squared off to face him and his chin went up. I could see a muscle working in his cheek as he clenched his jaw. Yeah, I was in the neighborhood. Like you. Edward and Jasper spent another moment staring each other down. I had to break this up before they started beating on their chests. So Ive already eaten, Jasper. Thanks anyway I intended to shuffle Jasper out of the house as quickly as possible, but suddenly Edward turned on his heel and brushed past me, headed for the door. Edward, are you leaving? I followed him through the house and I heard Jasper following me. You have company. I should go, Edwards voice was hard and forced through clenched teeth. You can stay I began. Im going, he said again, firmer this time. And with one quick motion, he was out the door and it 85

slammed shut behind him. I heard his car start and the sound receded quickly. Fuck. I fell against the door, leaning my forehead on it, closing my eyes. I was tired of fighting this. I wanted him, however I could get him, whatever I could have of him. And I thought he wanted me, too. I know he wanted me. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind five minutes ago that Edward wanted me. All I had to do was get rid of Jasper and then he could have had me. But he just fucking walked out, and he looked really angry. Why didnt he stay? Maybe it was a mistake, and he didn't mean to do it. Maybe the interruption made him come to his senses and realize that this was a bad idea. Maybe he could tell how I felt about him and he knew this would irrevocably complicate things. It must have been something like that or else why would he go when he clearly wanted me? I felt embarrassed and stupid, mostly because even if all that was true, I still wanted him. Pathetic. Bells... Jaspers voice was low and warning behind me. I didnt turn from the door, I just held up a hand in warning, Jasper, no. I dont want to hear it. But Bells, I thought you werent going to do this. What the hell? Jasper, I cant help it, okay? I know its stupid and destructive and a recipe for disaster, but I just I shook my head slowly, eyes on the floor. Hes going to hurt you. It would be one thing if you didnt care, but you do. I know you do. Yeah, I know, I know. Rose has said all of this. Its been well-covered, believe me. I tried to stay away, I really did. But hesWhatever, I drew in a deep breath and raised my eyes to the ceiling, running my hands through my hair in frustration, He left, and you saw him, he was really unhappy. We just got carried away, so its all a moot point. You probably just saved me from a terrible mistake, Jazz. Then I finally met his eyes and smiled, But you better not ever walk into my fucking house uninvited again. He grinned a little and shook his head at me. Im sorry, Bells. This wasJesus. This really sucked. Do you want me to stay so we can talk about it? He looked a little panicked that I might say yes. The last thing Jasper would ever want to do is to sit with me while I angsted to him about a guy. He hurried to add, Or should I call Rose? I let out a long, shuddering laugh, No, I really dont want to talk to anybody right now about what just happened. This is all humiliating enough already. Are you sure? Yes, just go. Ill see you tomorrow. I pushed him out the door. He leaned back in to plant a quick kiss on my cheek. Hang in there, Bells. You know we all love you, right? I know you do, Jazz. I smiled as I shoved him a little harder out the door. Edward FUCK!!! I slammed my fist into the steering wheel of my car as I sat at the first red light I hit. I could barely see to drive I was so fucking angry. Fucking Jasper fucking cock-blocking Hale! Goddamn him, that arrogant fucking son of a bitch! I wanted to rip him limb from limb and burn the pieces. Fucking asshole, just walking into her fucking house like he lived there. But Bellathat was so much worse. Her face when she pushed me awayfrantic and embarrassed. The way she desperately tried to cover up what had just happened between us, to keep Jasper from finding outwell, fuck. I figured when he walked in on us, that Id be dealing with some sort of unpleasant scene, just not that unpleasant scene. I was thinking there was a good possibility that he 86

might deck me, that there would be yelling and anger as Bella told him that she and I were together But no, she pushed me away and made as if nothing had happened. Not she and I. She wanted to pretend there was no she and I. So she apparently had some sort ofwhateverwith him that made her feel obligated to him, not me at that moment. Who the fuck cares? I had no moral qualms whatsoever about stealing her from him. I fucking relished it. But she had to want to be stolen. And it seemed she didnt want to be. Okay, then. So thats how it was. But damn. The feel of her against me, the taste of her on my mouth, I felt like I would never be able to get her off my skin. I closed my eyes and let my head fall back on the headrest and wallowed in the memory for a second. I was pretty certain that if I attacked her again and we werent cock-blocked by Jasper, that I could get her into bed. She really wanted to. I was also equally certain that shed kick me out the door as soon as it was over and pretend it never happened. So it seemed I could have her just for sex, if I so chose. And it would be just my damned luck that for the very first time in my entire life, that was nowhere near enough. Bella I paced around the confines of my tiny house for hours, wondering what I should do next. Call him? He wasnt calling me. Maybe he didnt want to talk. The way he stormed out of here, the look on his faceJaspers interruption must have made him realize we were making a mistake. Because if he wanted me, if he wanted to come back, he would have called, right? Or he wouldnt have left in the first place. I wondered what our situation was now. Were we still Edward and Bella or was that all done? Had I just blown the whole deal out of the water? My stomach dropped to my feet at that thought. I grabbed my phone and scrolled to his number. Id never called him, unless it was to sort out some logistic pertaining to a date. I wasnt sure I wanted to call him now. What would I even say? Beg him to come back and fuck me? As desperate as I was for him, some instinct of self-preservation kept me from sinking that low. Or worse, did I want to listen to him trying to let me down gently, apologize and tell me he got carried away and it was all a dreadful mistake? No, I really didnt think I could handle hearing that right now. Maybe I could text himjust to clarify where we stood. I mean, there were plans in place for the next few weeks. Were we still on? Alice was mobilizing all of LA in preparation for the Academy Awards. Certainly that was a reasonable excuse. It occurred to me that I could go through Aro and Laurent to sort this out, but the thought of that conversation made me blush furiously. Yeah, so I inadvertently almost fucked Edward even though I wasnt supposed to and now I need clarification on our status. That conversation is never going to happen. I wrote and re-wrote the text, trying for the perfect tone, apologetic, but not begging, Inquiring, but not hopeful. Every word seemed to take on immense import as I agonized. Finally at nearly midnight I closed my eyes and hit send. Are we okay?-B The answering ping came startlingly fast, like hed been waiting for it. Yeah, were okay.-E * * * I hunched as far down into the back seat of the cab as I possibly could as the driver negotiated the 87

crowded parking lot, trying to edge close to the door of the recording studio without hitting any of the scrambling paparazzi staked out there. I could just make out John coming outside, ready to meet me at the door of the car and herd me inside as quickly as possible. Id given up trying to drive my truck to the studio. I couldnt negotiate the paparazzi on my own to get inside, plus after it nearly left me stranded in the midst of them, I didnt really trust it anymore. It had been four days since that day with the paparazzi, and four days since The Kitchen, as I called it in my mind. Edward and I hadnt alluded to it in any way, although thanks to Alice in Academy Awards overdrive, Id seen him a couple of times at his house since that night. Alice had commandeered a guest bedroom and the neighboring office in Edwards house as her staging area, where she and her new assistant, Angela organized the non-stop flow of dresses arriving for my perusal. Yes, Alice had hired an assistant. To pick out one dress. For me to wear for one night. It seemed over the top and insane to me, but she kept insisting that this was how it was done, at least at this level of the business, whatever that meant. The first time I ran into him there, two days after that day, two days ago, Alice and I were just crossing his entryway to the stairs to head up to her staging area as Edward appeared at the top of the stairs heading down, keys in hand. I froze on the spot and Im sure my face turned six shades of red. He paused for a long moment, too, just watching me. I had absolutely no idea what to do next, how to act. He was a mystery to me. I couldnt begin to guess what he was thinking or what, if anything, he wanted. So I waited to see what he did, standing partially behind Alice, staring up at him like a moron. Bless her heart, Alice didnt seem to notice anything amiss, chattering away to Edward about our plans for the afternoon. He was the one to finally break, making some non-committal polite comment, something about hoping the dress search was going well and that we should make ourselves at home and that maybe hed see us later. Then he was down the stairs and out of the house. Okay. So I guess were pretending it didnt happen. Well, in case I was starting to forget, he was Edward Cullen. Edward Cullen, who doesnt do girlfriends and relationships. Maybe this was just how he handled girls the day after, even if we never actually closed the deal. Business as usual, nothing else to say about it. I was being stupid thinking that a few nice moments when we were alone together, when it seemed like we had a connection, meant anything at all. Clearly they didnt. Edward seemed determined to put it behind him, so I would have to do it as well. It took everything I had to make my feet move, to follow Alice up the stairs and pretend like I was fine. Luckily she was so excited about our project and the dresses that had been delivered that day, that she really didnt need any input from me, I just had to smile and nod occasionally and strip down on command. Id seen him again yesterday when I was over there to try on dresses. Again, he was on his way out as I came in. Again he was polite and brief and barely made eye contact. I cursed myself for how I let it make me feel. And now I had to face another day of this. Hunched in the back of a car, being driven from one location to another, trying to get from a car to a building spending the absolute minimum amount of time visible while hoards of paparazzi snapped pictures of me and shouted questions at me. I was exhausted and I felt utterly alone. Rose, Em and Jazz certainly worried about me, worried like crazy, really. But they were all still sort of anonymous. If we showed up together at an opening night or something, they were recognized for sure, but Jasper could still walk into a Starbucks alone without much fallout other than perhaps having to sign an autograph for a barista. So although they cared and desperately wanted to help me, they just didnt quite understand what had happened to me. Frankly, I still didnt understand either. Was this really my life now? I couldnt make a move out in the world. Everywhere I went there was this frenzy of cameras and 88

jostling bodies and grasping hands and people shouting my name, shouting Edwards name. So far the ruse about where I lived seemed to be holding, but I didnt know how much longer I could count on that. Anyway, they all seemed to assume I was staying at Edwards,so mostly thats where they waited for me. With Alice dragging me over there nearly daily to try on dresses, the charade that I was shacking up with him was fairly believable, and they got plenty of pictures of me coming and going from Edwards house. It prompted a worried phone call from Charlie, who saw something about it on the cover of US Weekly in the checkout line at the supermarket. Jesus, that was all I needed. I had to explain the whole dismal, sordid arrangement to him. It was definitely a low point in our daddy/ daughter relationship. He wasnt happy about it, to put it mildly, and that was with me leaving out the part about almost sleeping with Edward. But after I assured him that my big burly cousin Emmett was keeping a close eye on me, he backed off a bit. Hey, Miss? the cab driver asked, Are you ready? I nodded. The driver and John exchanged a few brief words and then John quickly opened the back door and scooped me out. We raced towards the door, Johns arm clamped tight around me. The bodies crushed in around us, the shouts became deafening. As the photographers jostled each other to get a better position, they invariably jostled us, so I was constantly being slammed into from the sides. They kept throwing themselves in front of us, sticking their cameras down under my face, trying to get a close up of me. But John and I just pressed forward, pretending they werent there, which was ridiculous, considering I was practically walking on them. John yanked the door open and we darted inside and he slammed it closed behind us. We paused for a second then we both exhaled. I rolled my eyes at him and grinned. Another day and Im not dead yet, John! He laughed nervously and I waved him goodbye as I headed off down the hall to our studio, trying to shake off the waves of anxiety those scenes always evoked in me. I couldnt understand how Edward had gotten so used to it. I didnt feel like I ever would. There she is, Miss Cover of People Magazine! Emmett crowed as I came in. Shut up, Emmett. I so dont want to hear about that today. Whats the problem? You dont like being the lead story on Access Hollywood every night for a week? Hey! I shouted brightly, Jasper! How are things going with Alice? Nice try, like thats gonna distract me, Emmett grumbled, but it sort of did. So have you guys done the deed yet? Rose chimed in, deciding to join in on my Emmett Redirection Project. And other peoples sex lives always redirected Emmett. Jasper smiled and didnt look up from his bass as he was fiddling with it. OhRose, do you see what I see? I was about to explode with laughter. Jazz, are you blushing? Shut the fuck up, Swan! he snarled half-heartedly, flinging his guitar pick at my head. He totally has! Rose crowed. Look at his face! Jasper pointed a finger at her, You shut the fuck up, too, Rosie! So I wasnt quite ready to give up on this yet. It was too much fun. Is it any good? Jasper gave in and quit trying to shut us up. He rolled his eyes and fell heavily onto the couch, getting that stupid, hit-by-a-shovel look on his face again. Geez, Bells, you have no idea. She does this thing Stop! I shrieked, my hands up in protest. I now officially know enough! Youre not supposed to actually tell me! Yuck, Jazz, what the fuck? Like I want to picture you like that with her! Shes my friend! I dont know enough yet, Emmett whined, dropping onto the couch next to Jasper. Tell me the 89

rest, man. Rose and I rolled our eyes simultaneously. Ugh, we are out of here until you ladies finish this shit, Rose snagged my arm with hers and steered me into the booth with her. Rose flopped into Butchs swivel chair and turned herself idly back and forth while I leaned on the control panel and picked at my fingernail. Butch and Kyle werent in yet, so we were at loose ends until somebody showed up. I rubbed my fingers over my eyes and sighed. It was nine a.m. and they were burning already. I had barely slept since The Kitchen. Every night those moments with Edward haunted me every time I closed my eyes and kept me awake for hours. When I did fall asleep I was assaulted by vivid, realistic dreams of him and me together, which was sort of great, but also completely draining. So Rose, I said to distract myself, What do you think of Alice really? I mean, it seems like she and Jasper He is so gone for her, Rose said with a chuckle. Its pathetic and adorable at the same time. I mean, I always thought Id have a problem with anybody Jazz got serious about. Mostly because you know me, I dont get along so well with members of my own sex. I snorted, Its not like its your fault if the bitches get jealous. She laughed. Yeah, still. I figured it would be this endless torture of having one of those insipid fan girls around all the time and me being unable to tell her to go fuck herself because of Jazz. And when I first heard it was Edwards sisterI mean, Edward Cullens sister? I dont know, with those genetics I guess I was expecting Someone just like you? I smiled. She chuckled. I guess. But then shes all tiny and adorable and pocket-sized. Shes just a lot different than I was envisioning. Dont get me wrong, shes kind of crazy and I dont know how Jazz stands the bouncing. But she doesnt irritate me, and shes not a bitch. Shes actually really nice to me, which is weird. She likes you. It helps that she may be one of perhaps four women on the planet who isnt deathly afraid of you. Im glad you like her, though. I do, too. It must be hard, I think, to come into this... I waved my hand to indicate the four of us, from the outside. But sheI dont know, she just seems to fit. Yeah, she does, Rose smiled and shrugged, So, what about Edward? Any more weirdness since the big weirdness? I had told her about The Kitchen because how can you not share that with the girl youre closest to in the world? She had been admirably restrained, though, asking only a few questions and not pestering me about it much since, although I knew it was eating her up to keep her mouth shut. I knew I blushed so I kept my eyes down. I see him sometimes when Im at his place with Alice trying on dresses. Hell be going out as were going in. We dont really spend time together. But hes always nice. Well, polite anyway. Has he mentioned it at all? No. And neither have I. That must be driving you crazy. Yeah. I feel like Im losing my mind sometimes. But hes clearly trying to send a message. He must have regretted it going so far, or regretted it happening at all. I guess I should be glad Jasper walked in on us. I mean, how much worse would it have been if wed It would have been much worse. Yeah, much worse, I mused softly. But you still want to, dont you? Rose asked. Ugh, so damned bad it hurts. Im crazy, I moaned as I buried my face in my hands. 90

No, just human. Half the world wants to sleep with Edward. Why should you be immune? Exactly because half the world wants to sleep with him! I just wish Id met him outside of all this. If I was nobody and if he was nobody. I could have done it, gotten it out of my system and filed it away in my box of racy memories from my young glory days. You think you would get it out of your system with one time? No, probably not. Id have to have more. And all that would do is fuck everything up. Which is why youre not going to do it, Rose said reassuringly. Right. Which is why I wont do it. Because thats who I am. The smart girl, who does the right thing. Who dates the right guys and avoids the wrong ones. Yep. Thats me. So why did I want so badly to do something really stupid? We were both quiet for a moment. Something was eating at me and finally I just spit it out. Hey, Rose, do you ever think that maybe were all too close? What do you meantoo close? I stared at my hands, uncomfortable. I dont know, just a little co-dependant, maybe? Like Jazz just walking into my house like that? Alice noticed it, too, the day they met. I mean, we all used to do that when we were kids, but Were not kids anymoreis that what you mean? Rose asked. Yeah, I guess. And like I was saying, about how hard it would be to come into this from the outside? I get it. But dont you think its changing? Rose said. Jasper has Alice now. And we all live apart. I think were getting our personal space. Maybe its harder for you to feel it because youre alone and Emmett and Jazz are so protective of you. Yeah, maybe. Rose snorted, Who am I kidding? Im the one whos most protective of you. I guess ever since your mom split, we all just wanted to take care of you. I looked up at her cautiously, and after a pause, I said, But Im not eight anymore. And I can take care of myself. I didnt even know what I was trying to articulate to her, or even if there was a point I was trying to make. All this stuff was just bubbling out of me. I loved them all so much, I didnt know how to survive without them around me. Was I really wishing theyd back off? Was this all some knee jerk reaction to Jazz walking in on me and Edward? Maybe. Maybe I just wanted them to look the other way while I did something reckless and dumb for once, something I knew theyd all disapprove of. Like getting involved with Edward Cullen. Or maybe it was that I was afraid that Id let the three of them fill up my life so fully that I hadnt left room for anyone else. Or maybe I was just fucking sleep deprived and sexually frustrated and I was taking it out on my best friends. I couldnt tell anymore. Rose reached out and gripped my hand, I know you can take care of yourself. Its just this crazy thing weve fallen into, and whats happening to you nowIts scary for us. We dont know how to handle it exactly. Everybody just wants you to be okay. I sighed and closed my eyes against the anxiety and exhaustion nipping at me, feeling defeated. I know, Rose. Its scary for me, too. Believe me. And I have absolutely no idea how to handle it either. Butch came in at that point, interrupting us and shortly after that Jasper came in to chase us back to the studio and get us down to business. Edward, my fiercly protective friends, and my sheltered little life all got pushed to the corner of my thoughts for the time being and it was a relief.


Chapter 16 - As the World Falls Down

Bella I flipped through the channels once more, barely registering what I was seeing flash by. Finally I growled in frustration and turned the tv off, throwing the remote down on the table. Pressing my fingers into my eye sockets I groaned and fell back on the couch. I was exhausted, still not sleeping well, but I could feel that sleep was hours off, if it came at all. Just one good night of oblivion, thats all I wanted. One night when I didnt lay awake for hours thinking about Edward, remembering that night, wondering, torturing myself about it. One night when I didnt wake up shaking and gasping every hour from yet another dream about him. Even worse were the paparazzi nightmares, when I was stranded alone, surrounded by faceless bodies, their hands snatching at me endlessly. I never got back to sleep after one of those. Until the past week falling to sleep had never been much of a problem for me so I didnt have a lot of coping strategies. I tried to think back on other nights when I couldnt sleep, to remember what Id done then to fall asleep. All I could really remember was a night when I was seven, the night before the first day of school. I was so anxious and excited that I couldnt fall asleep. I remembered my mother making me a glass of warm milk to help me relax. It was one of the few truly maternal memories I had of her. Warm milk? Well, I supposed it was worth a try. I headed to the fridge and was disappointed to find the milk container all but empty. Who the fuck puts an empty milk container back in the fridge? Oh, right. I live alone now. That would be me. Idiot. Years of living with Emmett had clearly rubbed off on me. Well, no milk was a big problem, because that would mean no coffee tomorrow and I had a nine a.m. recording session. Wasnt happening without coffee, especially in my sleep-deprived state. I checked the time on the microwave. 9:45. Not too late. There was a corner grocery a few blocks away that sold basic stuff. Theyd have milk. And if worse came to worse, theyd have Nyquil and that would make me sleep for sure. I could be there and back in five minutes and at this time of the night I was sure there wouldnt be any paparazzi staking out the parking lot of the Thrifty Mart. And maybe it would help to get out of the house and do something, instead of just hanging around here, thinking and making myself crazy. I grabbed my keys and my bag and headed for the door. I realized as I neared the front of the house that it was noisy outside, surprisingly so for this quiet neighborhood at this time of night. Was there a fire? Or did somebody call the cops or an ambulance or something? I opened the door and the explanation I found there made my breath die in my chest and my blood run cold. I was faced with the now-familiar wall of flashes and screams, except now they were in front of my house. They were everywhere, spilling all over the yard, out into the street. Calling for meyelling questions. I immediately started gasping for air, feeling my heart rate skyrocket. They know where I live. Alices comments about my house, that I didnt have a fence, or a gate on my driveway, that anybody could walk right upat the time it seemed like a ridiculous thing to worry about, but now I understood. I was completely exposed to them, nowhere to hide. I stumbled back into the house and slammed the door, throwing the deadbolt. I fell forward against it, trying to calm my breathing and my shaking hands. They werent leaving. I could hear them still calling out to me, waiting for me to go out again. That impulse to call Edward bubbled up again fast and furious and this time I didnt even try to deny it. I couldnt explain why, but I needed him, and no one else, and I needed him now. I scrolled to 92

his number and hit send with my shaking thumb. He picked up after two rings. Hi, Bella, his voice sounded relaxed and happy, not that distant, polite tone hed used on me for the past week. Thank God. Edward I realized too late that I couldnt trust my voice. I was crying and I didnt even know it. My voice was little more than a gasp. Bella? Baby, whats wrong? Where are you? Edward, theyre all over my housethe photographersI cant go outsideTheyre screaming at meIm sorry I called you, I just didnt know what to do. Its alright, Bella. Just stay inside. I have to round up Sam, my bodyguard; well be there to get you in less than thirty minutes. Its okay, dont panic, he said soothingly. I felt my heart slow down a fraction. He was coming to get me. Just dont answer the door or the phone. Make sure its locked. Ill text you when we get there. And Bella? he paused and I could hear the tension in his voice. I could practically see him squeezing his eyes shut and pinching the bridge of his nose, like I knew he would be. When we get thereI cant come to the door. Im sorry. It would only make it worse. Sam will come. But Ill be waiting for you in the car. Okay? Yeah, okay. Will you be alright until we get there? Yes. Im coming. Thank you. I sat in a tense little ball on the arm of my sofa for the whole time, not daring to move, just watching the minutes tick by. I could hear them still out there, talking and laughing, passing the time, waiting for me to go out again. I thought about calling Rose and Emmett, or Jasper, but this was out of their league. They wouldnt know what to do any better than me. But Edward did. And Edward was coming. Twenty six minutes later, my phone pinged. Were here I shot to my feet. There was a dust up outside, shuffling, shouts. I didnt dare look to see what was going on. There was a short sharp rap on the door. Miss Swan? Its Sam, I work for Mr. Cullen, a deep, muffled voice boomed through the wood door. I cracked it open and stared up at one of the largest people Id ever seen. He was bigger than some of the Quileute boys back at La Push and that was saying something. Step forward under my arm. Stay close. Ill get you to the car. He turned his side to me and lifted his right arm. I opened the door farther and slipped through the smallest opening I could manage and his huge arm came down over my shoulders, effectively shielding half my body. I turned my head into his massive chest and the sound of their shouts was somewhat muffled. Sam started us moving immediately. He kept his free arm out in front of us, creating a bubble for me. No one touched me. No one would dare. I didnt listen to their shouts, I just focused on moving forward with Sam, forward to where Edward was waiting. There was a huge black SUV with very dark tinted windows parked at the curb. I couldnt see anything of what was inside. As we got within five feet of the back door, it swung open. Edward was inside, his arms opened to me. Sam walked me right up to the opening and seamlessly released me as Edwards arms closed around me and the door shut quietly behind me. I heard the automatic locks engage. There was one more sliver of chaotic sound from the outside as Sam opened the drivers side door and slipped behind the wheel, then the locks engaged again and he started the engine. I knew it must be 93

a frenzy out there, but I could barely see it or hear it from the back seat. Edward didnt release me. I looked up into his face, into his leaf green eyes, looking down so gently at me. He reached up a hand and brushed his fingers across my cheekbone. I let out one long shaky breath. My throat constricted suddenly and a strangled sob welled up. I couldnt help it or hold it back. I completely fell apart, my whole body shaking with it. Edward curled me in against his chest, his hand reaching up to smooth my hair as he murmured little soothing sounds in my ear. Im sorry, baby, he mumbled. Im so sorry. I couldnt make sense of what he was apologizing for, I was just insanely grateful that he was here. And I was right. He was making me feel better, when I knew no one else could. My sobs finally tapered off into sniffles. I settled my head on his shoulder, my legs draped across his lap, one arm thrown across his chest. I never wanted to move from this spot with him. His hand was still stroking my hair and the motion was so soothing, and I was so tired. I slipped away. Edward Bellas shoulders eventually stopped shaking and her breathing evened out. I kept stroking her hair with my hand, kept my arm wrapped tightly around her. We didnt talk; I didnt think shed want to say anything right now. Somewhere on the drive back to my place her breathing slowed and I knew she had fallen asleep, which I was grateful for. Sam negotiated the front gate and we came to a stop in front of the house. Shes asleep, I said quietly to Sam. Im going to carry her inside. Do you want me to? No, I got her. Sam opened the car door for me and I gently maneuvered Bellas sleeping form into my arms so I could carry her. She shifted a tiny bit and turned her face into my shoulder, her little hands curled into the front of my shirt. Sam got the front door for me and I nodded goodnight to him as he shut us into the house. It was dark and quiet; Alice had apparently decided to sleep at her place tonight. She had all but moved in here for a while and now suddenly shed taken to sleeping at home again. Weird. I climbed the stairs as carefully as I could trying not to wake her. I stood in the hallway at the top of the stairs momentarily indecisive about which way to go. There was a guest bedroom to the left, one that Alice hadnt commandeered for dresses. My bedroom was to the right. I had absolutely no intention of laying a finger on her tonight, but I wondered for a minute if it might be more comforting for Bella to sleep with me. I mean, the way she was hanging on to me.But it might be seriously weird for her in the morning to wake up with me. And creepy. No, better to put her to bed alone, even though I wanted nothing more in the world than to curl up next to her all night and inhale the scent of her hair. I exhaled heavily and turned to the left, shouldering the door to the guest room open gently. I set her down as carefully as I could and then spent a good ten minutes trying to inch the covers down from underneath her body without waking her. She barely stirred. She must be exhausted. I pulled her shoes off and pulled the covers up over her. Her face was in profile to me, resting on the pillow, one of her hands curled up under her chin. Okay, I wasnt going to put her in my bed, but I would allow myself a few minutes to watch her sleep. Still creepy, but I figured shed never know. I gently lowered myself to sit on the very edge of the bed, then I reached out and brushed the hair that had fallen into her eyes away from her face. She had bluish smudges under her eyes, like she wasnt sleeping well. Her skin was alabaster white in the dim light of the room, pearly and almost translucent over her cheekbones, where there was an ever-present little hint of the peach color of her blush. Her full, dark pink lips fell open a tiny bit as her breathing deepened. Her eyelids began to flutter 94

and her fingers twitched slightly. She was dreaming. I was mesmerized. She let out a small gasp and then she said it, so soft it was barely a whisper Edward. My breathing completely failed in my chest and Im sure my heart missed a few beats. I stared at her, completely frozen for what seemed like an eternity. She said my name. My name. She was dreaming about me. Maybe it was because I was the last person she saw before she fell asleep, but then againmaybe not. I felt hope, hope that in spite of all the obstacles and problems, in spite of how fucked up and hopeless I was, in spite of all that, she just might want me anyway. I felt ecstatic and terrified at the same time. I was euphoric and horrifically anxious all together. I didnt understand the jumble of emotions swirling through me or what they meantand then it broke over me like the sun breaking through the clouds back home in SeattleI was in love with her. Bella I rolled my face further into the pillow and sought sleep again. It had been so sound and satisfying. I didnt want to let go. My fingertips became aware that these werent my sheets, then my face became aware that this wasnt my pillow. I cracked an eye and looked around. I had no idea where I was. I glanced down. At least I wasnt naked, thats always a reassuring discovery. I was wearing my clothes from last night, minus my shoes. Last nightthe paparazzi swarming my house, I called Edward, he came to get meI lost it after that. I scooted up to sit against the headboard and pushed my hair out of my face. The room was tastefully decorated in understated neutrals, the bed was all white. There was a decided lack of anything personal in the room, which made me think it was a guest room. A duffle bag lay on the floor at the foot of the bed. Glancing around some more, I spied a note on the table by the bed in unfamiliar handwriting. BellaYou fell asleep on the drive over. I put you to bed in the guest room. Alice went to your place last night and got some of your clothes. Theres coffee in the kitchen. -Edward Edwards house. Edward put me to bed in here. I was flooded with gratitude andI couldnt quite parse out everything I was feeling and I didnt want to try. I did want a shower, and my clothes were here. Correction: Alice picked them out, so I was sure there were none of my clothes in there, only Alice-approved choices. Well, Id have to make do. At least they wouldnt have been worn all day and then slept in. I sighed deeply, feeling more content than I had in weeks and scrambled out of bed to see if there was anything in that bag I could hope to wear without blushing. All the undergarments were lacy and stupid and impractical. I had complained bitterly about Alices insistence in dressing every part of me before. It seemed silly to worry about what was under the clothes, stuff no one ever saw. But Alice spouted some shit about it being a crime to wear my plain white cotton panties under a Zac Posen dress, whatever that was. So it seemed I was stuck with the sex fantasy lingerie, but the clothes werent as bad as I feared. The designer jeans I wore to the ballgame were in here, and after I rooted around a while, I found a sheer white cotton blouse with fancy little tucks and embroidery in front that was actually pretty cute. A shower helped tremendously, which was good, because it came back to me that I needed to be at the studio at nine and functional. Now I felt like, after some coffee, I might be. I pulled my damp hair into a messy low ponytail just to get it out of the way, slipped on the gold ballet flats Alice chose for me and headed downstairs, singing slightly to myself, the song I woke up hearing in my head. I 95

wondered where Edward was or even if he was still here. It hurt a little more than I cared to admit that he might have gone out without seeing me this morning. What happened last night had been so emotional, Id been so vulnerable, and hed beenperfect. Gentle, caring, soothing. It felt like things should be different now, but I wondered if they would be. Edward I loitered in the kitchen for an eternity, drinking way more coffee than I should, staring at the top of the stairs as if that alone would make her appear there. I briefly considered going up to her room to check on heragainbut I was pretty sure she was up now, so I figured Id better let her have her space. I ran my hand through my hair for what must have been the thousandth time this morning, trying to figure out exactly how I should proceed. My brain was a mess, but one thought kept piercing through the confusion all morning: She called me. She called me. Not Jasper. Not Rosalie and Emmett. Me. That had to count for something. When she was terrified and frantic, it was me she turned to, me who comforted her. And when she slept, it was me in her dreams, however I wound up there. It gave me a slim thread of hope to hang on to that I could make this happen. That I could peel Jasper away from her, and make her forget what a fucked up, bad risk I was. That I could somehow deserve her. I was worried that in the harsh light of morning she would re-think calling me. That shed call one of her friends to come here and get her. But then again, the media scrutiny might keep her from doing that. I was pretty sure after last night I could convince her to stay here for at least a few days. And then I would just see. Id see what she wanted, where she wanted to go. She loved her little house; I knew shed want to be there. It would make her so unhappy to give it up. But of course that place was impossible now, no security at all, it was way too.I was stopped by a sudden flash of inspiration. Id have to make some phone calls today and see what I could do. I heard her singing to herself before I saw her. A stunning wavering melody in her clear soprano voice. So beautiful. I closed my eyes momentarily, just soaking in the sound of her. I opened my eyes again to see her skipping lightly down the stairs, all flushed and slightly damp from the shower, and my heart turned over in my ribs a little. Hey. I said it quickly to let her know I was here. Her head shot up and a glorious smile broke over her face momentarily before she seemed to catch herself and dial it back a bit. But her immediate reaction made me bold and I didnt want the new intimacy wed found to vanish in the space of one awkward morning exchange. So I crossed the kitchen quickly and pulled her into my arms, kissing the top of her head. How are you feeling? She held still for just a moment before relaxing into me and wrapping her arms around my ribs. Better, thanks. Sorry I flipped out last night. Thanks for taking care of me. Theres nothing to apologize for, Bella. That must have been overwhelming and terrifying for you. Im glad you called me. Im glad I could help. We were quiet for a moment, wrapped around each other, and it was freaking heaven. But I didnt want to scare her away by going too fast, so I pulled away gently, reaching behind me to claim one of her hands. Coffee? I asked, leading her across the kitchen to the coffee maker. She sagged in relief. Yes! I have to be at the studio at nine and Im a mess. I guess I should call for a cab or something. Sam is going to drive you, I said quietly. And Bella? This afternoon, when youre finished at the studio, Sams agency is sending someone over to get you, someone who will be assigned exclusively to 96

you. You can interview people later to choose someone permanent, but we need to get someone on you right away. Things are getting crazy and youre not safe. She locked eyes with me a moment, like she was considering protesting. But she wasnt stupid, she knew this was a necessary evil and she just nodded, her lips a tight line. Frankly I was kind of furious that no one else had done this for her yet. The label, her publicist, they asked her to do this thing with me precisely to garner this level of attention. But then when it happened, they just left her unprotected and thrown to the wolves, with no one to watch out for her. That was fine. I didnt want anybody else watching out for her anyway. I wanted to do it. I didnt know you had a bodyguard, she said. Ive never seen him before last night. I dont use him all the time. I prefer to do things as normally as possible, if I can. I bring him in for high profile events, stuff with big crowds. And when Ive got a new movie out and my profile is high, I use him more. Hes on call 24 hours right now, just in case. She looked down at her feet, biting on her lip, clearly trying to imagine what her life was going to be like now with a bodyguard. It was different, for sure. But I was determined to try my best to help her balance it, find a way to be safe and still live her life. She was in this mess because of me. It was the least I could do. So, I said, trying to distract her with something happy, what were you singing just now? Is that for the album? Oh, no. That was an old Kate Bush song. I heard it a few years ago and fell in love with it. Id love to sing it someday, but Why dont you? Its not really right for the band. Its been done a bunch of ways, but Im partial to the original and thats mostly vocal and piano and none of us really plays. Jasper does a little, but not like that. And it would be weird to do it with a session musician, because the songs so intimate, mostly just the voice and piano together. So I just sing it in the shower. I was distracted for a moment by images of Bella singing in the shower and had to take a second to get my focus back. Im sorry the kitchen is pretty bare. I dont cook here, so theres pretty much just coffee. But Sam will be happy to get you something on the way to the studio. You dont cook? Like ever? No. Im not here much, and She smiled at me as she turned away, sipping her coffee. Yeah, I know all about it. Edward Cullen of the supercharged social life. Hey, Im reformed! Remember? I protested, laughing. She rolled her eyes and leaned back on the counter, chuckling. Sure, sure and Im the virginal girl next door who tamed the beast. Ive heard the story. I couldnt resist. I cocked an eyebrow at her and shot her a crooked smile. My voice dropped to a murmur. Virginal, huh? It sure didnt seem that way to me. I almost immediately regretted it as her eyes flew to mine and her face flooded with color. But then the space between us instantly crackled with sexual tension, and it was as if we were jolted right back to that moment in the kitchen, her body molded against me, her mouth under mine, my hand touching herI was a breath away from charging across the span between us and slamming into her when she dropped her eyes to the floor and drew a deep breath and let out a shaky laugh. Now Edward, you know you cant believe everything you read on TMZ. She shot me a smirk and the tension was broken. I exhaled the breath I didnt know Id been holding and quickly looked someplace else. So much for not scaring her away. We both laughed softly. The buzzer for the front gate sounded and then I heard the beeps indicating that whoever it was had 97

entered the entry code. Must be Sam coming to get Bella. I was missing her already.


Chapter 17 - Who Needs Shelter

Bella I leaned my head back against the smooth black leather seat of the SUV and closed my eyes, trying to ignore the sounds of shouting outside the dark windows. Sam was slowly, carefully navigating the car through the mass of paparazzi clustered outside of Edwards front gate. No matter how dark the windows were, somehow they knew it was me inside. I could hear my name, echoed over and over outside. Bella, are you moving in with Edward? Bella, how did you get Edward to give up the women? Bella, did you tame him with sex? Bella, are you in love? Shut. The. Fuck. Up. I knew I shouldnt care what they said to me or about me, but honestly, it was hard to pretend I didnt hear them. And to hear them now, when I was still vibrating inside from that moment in Edwards kitchenChrist. He still wanted me. I hadnt been sure. Since the night at my house, hed been so distant, so painfully polite. I was sure he regretted what happened, and was possibly regretting ever wanting me in that way. Because all traces of it seemed to be gone. But then, hed said that, then hed looked at me that way, then it felt like the air between us caught fire. No, he still wanted it, wanted me. He was just holding himself back, I guess for all the same reasons Id been keeping my distance from him. This is complicated, that would just make it more of a mess. Except I didnt care anymore. No matter how it might blow up in my face later, I still wanted him now, whatever small part of him I could have. I hated my weakness, but that wouldnt stop me from throwing myself headfirst over the cliff with him at the slightest urging on his part. I just hoped I could put myself back together once I hit the bottom. If he ever decided to touch me again. Miss Swan? Sam asked quietly. Hed been so silent during the drive that I completely forgot there was another person in the car with me. I felt like an ass for not being friendlier, although he didnt seem like much of a talker. Were almost there. Im going to pull up to the door. Stay put until I come to get you out of the back, okay? I nodded my understanding and slid my sunglasses into place, shouldering my bag securely. Sam exited the SUV and calmly moved through the shoving, jostling hordes before coming around to the back door to help me out. He was certainly better at getting me into the studio than John was, and John looked nearly faint with relief that he didnt need to worry about it anymore. It was the first time I wasnt absolutely terrified of the paparazzi, and it may have been my imagination, but with Sam there, they seemed to back off a bit, and not act so aggressively. He quietly, calmly escorted me into the building and I bid him goodbye and headed to the back, wondering what my security guard would be like, if he would make me feel as safe as Sam did. I liked Sam. He was so quiet, almost eerily so, but there was still something warm and reassuring about his presence. Even if he wasnt monstrously huge, which he was, I think he still would have made me feel safe. I liked watching him with Edward, too, for the few minutes they were together this morning. They seemed to have a quiet, understated sort of friendship going. I had only ever seen Edward around Alice, or that guy James, on the night we met and he didnt seemed like much of a friend. I liked knowing that he had people like Sam in his life. Rose and Emmett were already inside, chatting with Butch, and there was no sign of Jasper yet. I had debated all the way over what, if anything I should tell them about last night. There was really nothing any of them could do to help, and it would probably just worry them unnecessarily. And I was a little afraid theyd be mad that I called Edward instead of them. I still couldnt quite explain to myself 99

why Id done it. I just knew in that moment it was Edward I wanted, and no one else, and Id been right. It seemed best to not mention what had happened, at least for now. Of course I would have to explain the sudden appearance of a bodyguard this afternoon, but I had all day to figure it out. Id come up with something. The door to the studio swung open and admitted Jasper, his arm draped around Alice. She was telling him something, her little face turned up to him her voice racing along high and excited. He was looking down at her smiling, his features soft. They were adorable together, and clearly head over heels in love. I felt a little pang of jealousy, although I would never begrudge Jasper, or Alice for that matter, any happiness they found. Even so, for a split second I wondered what it would feel like if Edward looked at me like that. But that was a dangerous path to go down, even in my head, and I knew it. They looked up mid-laugh and spotted the rest of us. Its the little lovebirds! Emmett boomed. Rose rolled her eyes and stalked away, but she was smiling. Alice swung free of Jaspers arm to come throw her arms around me. Are you okay? she asked, her face growing serious. Of course she knew. Id forgotten Edwards note this morning. Alice went and got my clothes last night. Im fine. Much better today. It just sort of freaked me out last night. What freaked you out? Rose asked, rounding on us. UmI tried to go out for something last night and there were a bunch of photographers in my yard. A bunch? Alice squealed, I was there at midnight, over an hour after you left and there were still probably thirty of them hanging out. It was insane. Bells, why didnt you call us? Emmett was standing up, his face a mask of concern. I shot a glance at Jasper. He was watching me, his face intense, but he was saying nothing. He knew that Id called Edward, of course. He was probably with Alice when Edward called her. I couldnt tell what he was thinking. Umm, it wasnt so bad. I just needed help getting out. How did you do it? I took a deep breath and strained to keep my voice light. Oh, I called Edward and he sent his bodyguard over. I left out the part about Edward himself coming and sweeping me away to his house. Rose and Emmett said nothing; they just looked at me for a long minute. Well, as long as youre okay, Rose said briskly, before turning away. Shed clearly decided to back off and let me handle it myself. I sighed in relief. Hey, Emmett, Alice was calling to him from across the studio, You up for a re-match tonight, big man? Emmett snorted and rolled his eyes at her. Bring it on, little girl. Bring. It. On. Rose looked from Emmett to Alice, Dont tell me you kicked his ass at Guitar Hero, too? Alice nodded and Rose let out a peal of laughter while Emmett pouted. Youre my hero, little woman, Rose said through her chuckles. Alice pumped her tiny fist in the air in triumph. Hey, Rose, Alice bounced on to a new topic seamlessly, I forgot to tell you, I went yesterday and test drove the Nissan GTR. Alice had decided she was getting a new car, even though the one she had couldnt have been more than a few years old. Roses face lit up with excitement. And? 100

You were sooo right. It practically purrs! And so fast! I like it so much better than the BMW. Rose rolled her eyes, I cant believe you were actually considering buying that piece of trash. Im going back this afternoon. I need to pick a color and the options. Want to come? Fuck yes! But only if I get to test it out, too. Rose and Alice sat down on the sofa together, making plans to go buy Alices new car this afternoon. I stared at Alice another moment, just amazed. A month ago we had no idea who she was and now its like she had been one of us all along. After eighteen years of the four of us, in a few short weeks, Alice had made it the five of us. I looked over at Jazz and the soft expression on his face as he stared at her told me he was thinking pretty much the same thing. He looked up at me and I smiled at him. He looked away momentarily, as always, embarrassed to show his emotions, but then he glanced back at me and returned the smile. Jasper cleared his throat to break the mood and said, Butch has some stuff he wants us to clean up on First Sight. Okay? Alices song? I said, absently. I swear I didnt do it on purpose, but ever since Jasper had come in the morning after meeting Alice with the new song, Rose, Emmett and I had referred to it amongst ourselves as Alices song. I hardly even remembered it was called First Sight. Jasper knew we called it that, but he never did. At my words, Alice spun to face me, her huge blue eyes alight. What?? Jasper was giving me the glare of death. Oh, I was so done after this. Well, um, its just this song that Jasper came in with it the morning after he met you. So we call it Alices song since it was clearly about you, Rose said flatly. She fixed Jasper with a stare, daring him to make an issue of it with her. I sighed in relief. Better her than me. Alices whole face softened as she turned to Jasper, arms outstretched. Oh, Jazz! The two of them disappeared into a tender little embrace. Rose and I shot each other a look. Well, we might as well get some coffee, Rose said, This looks like it will take a while. We headed out to the booth, giving Alice and Jasper their private moment. I was looking back over my shoulder at Rose, thanking her for falling on her sword for me like that when I ran smack into a wall of massive man. He had dusky skin and jet black hair and in spite of his impressive height, a boyish face and amused, almost black eyes. He had a broad smile that lit up his whole face. He was laughing as he grabbed me quickly to keep me from falling over. Miss Swan? he asked. Um, yeah. Thats me. But its Bella. Okay, Bella. Im Seth. Sams agency sent me? Oh, yes! Right. Hi! Rose looked at me with her eyebrows raised. Rose, this is Seth. Hes going to be myum, my bodyguard. She shot me a stunned look. Youre getting a bodyguard? I sighed. Rose, you didnt see what happened last night. It was awful. Why didnt you call me, Bella? I would have come. And then you would have just been trapped in the house with me. Its not just last night. Youve seen the way it is when I come and go here. When I go anywhereIm finally figuring this out, Rose. Things have changed. And at least for now, I think I need Seth. Seth had been standing quietly through our exchange, trying to not listen even though he was only two feet from me. Sam told me about last night. It wont happen again, Miss Swan. Youll be safe, he said, serious and scowling. But his face was so young and open and eager that he had a hard time mustering much 101

gravitas. Im sure youre right. I thought you werent coming until this afternoon? I wanted to familiarize myself with the environs, since you spend a lot of time at this location. And I thought I could spend the afternoon patrolling the perimeter, to keep the undesirables at an acceptable distance. He said it all with an absolutely straight face and as much of a scowl as he could manage. I tried hard to stifle a smile and I nodded in solemn understanding. He must have only been a few years younger than me, maybe 20, but he seemed younger. Not that I didnt trust him, his size alone made me feel safe. And I liked him immensely so far. If I had to have a guy trailing me around full-time then Seth suited me just fine. I had a feeling that once I got him to relax off the familiarizing myself with the environs stuff, that wed have fun. Hey, Em! Rose called back into the studio. Come meet Bellas bodyguard. Hes bigger than you! Seth was dutifully showed off to all my friends, because lets face it, a bodyguard is kind of a cool novelty, and then we released him to go patrol the perimeter or whatever he was up to. Alice floated out of the studio, blissfully high on Jasper, kissing my cheek and promising to come meet me at three, since we had more dresses to look at. I groaned in anticipation of another long boring afternoon filled with formal wear. Then Jasper cracked the whip and we finally got to work on Alices song. Our time in the studio was drawing to a close soon, and Jazz, being his usual anal retentive self, wanted every note perfect. No matter how good it sounded, Jazz and Butch always found tiny imperfections, things to fix, things that could be done better, so our days here were packed and we were working like dogs. But it would all pay off when they put that first CD in my hands. I couldnt wait for that moment. I felt like Id been working towards it my whole life and it was almost here. It would make putting up with everything else absolutely worth it. * * * Alice showed back up to the studio at three, fresh from a round of meetings with designers, and she rode back to Edwards with Seth and me. Her get-to-know-you with Seth mostly consisted of chattering away at him about all the details of the genius new dresses being sent over for my consideration. Seths eyes looked glazed, but he nodded and um hmm-ed in all the right places, just like me. I felt his pain. But her monologue allowed me a little time to think, which was good. I still hadnt addressed, to myself or anyone else, the issue of my house. I had been turning the problem over in my head all day. I couldnt go back there, could I? At least not right now. It was likely completely overrun by paparazzi. I couldnt crash at Rose and Ems, because the same scrum of media would follow me there and no one was supposed to know about the two of them being together yet. Jaspers place was out, too. I was supposed to be Edwards devoted girlfriend, how would it look to be photographed coming and going from my single male band mates place? I think it all meant that for the moment I was sort of homeless. I figured Id head to a hotel, I just wanted to talk it over with Seth first and see what he thought, where he thought I should go. But that would have to wait until after this afternoons round of dresses. Jesus, I was tired of all of this. The pretending, the false fronts. I just wanted to be able to do one thing without having to think carefully about all the implications for publicity. But then again, if I stopped all the pretending, then there would be no more Edward. And Id do just about anything to be close to him, even in this stupid, false context, even if all Id ever get to be was the fake girlfriend. As Seth spent more time with us on the drive over, and more specifically with the force of nature 102

that is Alice, he began to loosen up and get chatty. He loved music and, although publicly he was too cool to watch a reality show, he secretly confessed to me that hed seen every one of our performances and was a huge fan. He couldnt believe hed been lucky enough to score a gig guarding me. He also confessed that this was only his second big gig on his own. Up until now hed only helped out on other jobs as backup. He only got sent over to me today because the situation cropped up so quickly and they needed someone immediately. I loved how young and eager he was. And I loved that he was a tiny bit star struck by the band. I decided on the spot that I didnt need to interview anyone else. Seth was a keeper. When we arrived at Edwards, Alice begged off for a few minutes to return a bunch of phone calls from designers. So while she negotiated the delivery of yet more dresses, I headed to the kitchen, hoping that Edward was exaggerating when he said he had no food on hand, because I would need sustenance before todays round of dresses. I wondered hopefully if Edward was here someplace. I hadnt seen or heard him, but the house was huge. He could be anywhere. I blinked in confusion as I opened the refrigerator. It was fully stocked, top to bottom. Everything was fresh, unopened. I was sure this morning that Edward had said he didnt keep food here because he never cooked. I closed the fridge and was turning to go see if the pantry was equally well-stocked when I heard Edwards voice, just inches from my ear, Hungry? I gasped and spun around, flushing to the roots of my hair, both from the surprise and the implication of his word, spoken in that low, sexy voice. Geez, you scared me! Make a noise or something before you sneak up on someone! He shot me his killer crooked smile, Then it wouldnt be sneaking. He didnt embrace me like he did this morning, but he casually ran a hand up and down my arm, How are you? Fine, I lied. Really, I was weak in the knees and brain dead because he was touching me, but I took a breath and tried to focus, I got a brand new body guard today. And I mean brand new. Hes adorable. Edward scowled. If hes too young or not experienced enough, we should have them send someone else. Oh, no! Im keeping him! Seth is awesome. So Seth is awesome? And adorable? he asked darkly. Like a Great Dane puppy. All big ears and legs and feet that are too big for the rest of him. Edward visibly softened. Hey, I need to talk to you about something. My stomach clenched in dread. This couldnt be good. I think you should stay here, at least for the time being. Your house isnt safe. Oh. My face went blank. That was not what I was expecting. Stay here? Yes. I could absolutely do that. Theres nothing Id like to do more than stay here with him. Whats wrong? Nothing, its just not what I thought you were going to say. What did you think I was going to say? I have no idea. I expected something bad, but thatswell, thank you. For letting me stay. Of course, Bella. You dont need to thank me. Thats whyum, he waved an awkward hand at the fridge behind me. I had the kitchen stocked today for you. I know you like to cook. This is all for me? Edward, you didnt have to Um, theres something else, Edward interrupted, looking down at his feet, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand, which I had figured out by now meant he was nervous about what he was about to say. While were talking about your house, I, ahI bought it for you today. I must have been really stressed or overworked or something because Edwards words were making 103

no sense to me. What? What do you mean you bought my house? I mean, I bought it. Well, not yet. Itll be a couple of weeks to finish up the legal stuff, but the agreement is in place and for all intents and purposes, its bought. What...wh-why would you do that? Bella, I told you, that house isnt secure. It needs a fence, it needs a gate and a serious security system. And you were renting. You couldnt do any of that to it. And I know how much you like it there, so I had my lawyer contact the owner and make an offer. My security company is already over there getting started, so the work can get done as fast as possible. The reality, and enormity, of what hed done finally burst on my poor overwhelmed brain. Edward, you cant just buy me a house! Its a house! Thatsitswell, its crazy, and inappropriate and way too extravagant, and Bella, its a very little house. And it was cheap. Seriously, this is not a big deal. And none of it would even be necessary if we werentwell, you know. So will you just stop? And let me do this for you? I opened my mouth to start another tirade but Edward took another step towards me, his eyes turning dark. He raised his hand and gently tucked my hair behind my ear. He didnt take his hand away, he just settled it lightly on my shoulder. Please, Bella? he said oh, so softly. Ungh. and I was done. I just let Edward Cullen buy me a fucking house. I couldnt even begin to ponder what that said about me and I didnt want to. I wanted to focus on the warm and fuzzy feeling that was now growing in my chest. Edward bought me my house. Sure, it was probably a completely insignificant amount of money to him, but it wasnt about the money. He did it for me, because he knew I liked my house. I was about to take a step closer to him and I didnt even know what I was going to do, when I heard Alices voice as she careened into the room. Oh my God, Bella! Alexander McQueen is sending over two dresses for you! I dont think hell be right for you, but just to try them on! she trailed off as she found us in the kitchen, practically standing against each other. Ooops! Sorry! Ill just No, Alice! I slipped out from in between Edward and the refrigerator and hurried to her side, We were just talking. Im good. Ohokay. Well then, lets go! There are some amazing things to look at today! I threw a smile back over my shoulder at Edward as Alice whipped me up the stairs. He was just standing quietly where I left him, his face unreadable. * * * Alice was flipping through one of her racks while I sat on a chair in nothing but my bra and underwear, waiting for her next choice. A month ago I would have felt awkward, embarrassed, out of my element, but Alice had beaten all of that out of me. There was no fight left. I just stripped off my clothes and put on whatever she handed to me. I had discovered, with Alice, its better if you dont fight. Hey, Alice? Hmmm? she was distracted, a million miles away. So Edward bought me my house today. I said it casually, figuring I could gauge from her reaction how significant this was. Her hands froze over a pile of taffeta, her eyes grew wide and she swung around to face me. What? 104

He bought my house. For me. He said it needs a fence and stuff and that I couldnt make it safe as long as it was a rental, so he He bought it? The stunned was wearing off and the disbelief was kicking in, apparently. I sighed and closed my eyes. See? I knew it. Its crazy, right? So ridiculously extravagant. I cant let him spend his money on me like that. Alice waved her hands frantically. No! No! Not the money! Who cares about the money? Ive seen your house, Bella. He wont even notice that kind of money. So what are you freaking out about? Because youre freaking me out a little bit. Alice waved a dismissive hand in front of her face and shook her head quickly, Nothing. Its nothing. Hes just being nice, thats all. The paparazzi stuff wouldnt even be happening to you if you werent doing this thing with him. He probably just feels bad, thats all. Yeah, I suppose, I shrugged, Thats what he said. See? Hes always gone a little overboard when it comes to gift-giving. Its what I love most about him. Now, she said, charging ahead, put this one on. I bet the color looks great on you. I dutifully stood up and shrugged into another ridiculous pile of lace and turned to be zipped up. But I noticed that Alice stayed distracted and her eyes looked far away for the rest of the afternoon and I couldnt figure out why. Edward Edward? Alices voice came soft and tentative on the other side of my door. I was sitting at my piano, the first time in.I cant even remember, and I wanted to avoid any uncomfortable questions as to why, so I quickly closed the lid over the keys and moved to the couch before I called for her to come in. Whats up, baby sister? The Academy Awards were tomorrow and Alice was so far gone into full-alert mode that I hadnt expected to see her surface until next week for sure, so I was curious as to what brought her to my room now. It also made me idly wonder where in the house Bella was if Alice was here. Having her under my roof this week had hardly done me any good since Alice had monopolized her completely when she was here. Alice came over to the couch and curled up next to me. So, Edward, she began. So, Alice? Um, Bella told me about youbuying her house. I raised my eyes to Alices. Her expression was tentative, uncertain. And? It seems a little out of character for you, thats all. It seemed like a nice thing to do. Exactly. What the hell is that supposed to mean, Alice? Dont get pissed, Edward, you know its true. Youre not exactly known for being nice to women. And buying a house for someone is a whole lot of nice. What are you getting at? Alice looked at me another beat and then dropped her eyes to her lap and exhaled. When she finally spoke again her voice was soft and fragile. I like her, Edward. I really like her. Shes my friend nowoutside of all this. She waved her hand at me. I know how this thing with you guys started, but IIm getting the feeling that its headed 105

somewhere else now. I sighed and closed my eyes, pinching the bridge of my nose. I really did not want to be sitting here discussing this with my baby sister. Alice No, let me finish. Im just worried. You dont have exactly the best track record with women. They arent always so warm and fuzzy about you after the fact. And I just she sighed and squeezed her eyes shut tight before finishing in a hurry. Dont break her. Thats all. Whatever happens, I want to be her friend afterwards. Please dont make that impossible for me. I raised my head to look at her. I didnt really know what to say. Was she asking me to promise I wouldnt fuck up? Because I couldnt. I really wanted not to, and I was going to try my best, but this was completely uncharted territory for me, I had no idea what to do and frankly, I was terrified. Finally I settled for the one thing I did know, hoping it would be enough to comfort Alice. I like her, too, Alice. I said softly, I think I love her. Her eyes abruptly brimmed with tears and she smiled. Then she flung her tiny body across the couch at me and threw her arms around my neck. Oh, Edward. Thats great! I knew you werent completely hopeless! Then before I could respond in any way, she was scrambling off the couch and over to the door. Wait till you see her tomorrow! Alice said, now fully re-engaged as the Stylist Nazi. Shes going to take your breath away! And she was out of my room in a flash. I laid my head back on the pillow and spoke to the ceiling. She already does.


Chapter 18 - Later Tonight

Bella It was only three in the afternoon and it already seemed like the longest day of my life, and according to Alices itinerary, we werent scheduled to be done until the wee hours of the morning. I would never make it. Currently the hair team was well into hour three of whatever they were up to back there. The makeup team was at work on the front of me. Alice hovered nervously around them all lest one tiny fleck of eye shadow end up out of place. Angela scurried around our rooms, coordinating the people coming and going. The Harry Winston people had shown up with my borrowed jewels for the night, which I hadnt seen yet. There was all sorts of official stuff to do with them and papers to be signed, because these things cost more than the house Edward just bought me and they were only on loan. Angela was getting them out the door and taking delivery of yet another gift basket. I swear, its like people didnt know what to do with their money, so they sent each other baskets full of luxury stuff no one needs. Ostrich leather custom embossed water bottle holder, anyone? Rose had come over to observe the operations and was reclined on one of the couches, munching on a bag of pretzels, just watching the proceedings and chatting with Alice when she could tear her attention away. Rose, Emmett, Jasper and Alice had planned an Oscar viewing party later at Rose and Emmetts place. Pizza, margaritas and an Oscar betting pool. Believe it or not, I was actually a little jealous, it sounded like more fun than actually going. But of course, if I was there I wouldnt be with Edward. And tonight I would be. Starting in about an hour until whenever we made it home from the last party, it would be him and me together all night. That made it worth while all by itself. The makeup people finished first, but I couldnt see how it looked because the hair people were still back there creating what they swore was a masterpiece. Alice had my dress hanging on a rack and was checking it over one more time for any tiny flaws. One of the makeup people came at me one more time with a little tin of something white and a brush. Alice, he said, how much of this do you want? She spun around and hurried to me to oversee the application of whatever it was he was holding. Just a dusting. I just want her to glow ever so slightly, not sparkle, Alice said, squinting and twinkling her fingers at me to indicate the magic effect she envisioned. The makeup artist took a deep breath and steeled himself for this monumental task, likely in fear for his life if he screwed up and let Alice down. Rather than brush that stuff on my face, though, as I was expecting, he started in brushing my neck, shoulders and chest. The soft brush tickled, but Id be damned if I would squirm one millimeter under Alices eagle eye. Hold! she barked, throwing up one hand. She examined me carefully, then crossed to my other side to look from another angle. Just another whisper on her shoulders and a kiss of it on her collarbones, Alice told him. I bit my lips to keep from laughing at her serious little face, but quickly stopped before I screwed up my perfect lipstick. He came in at me again, whispering on my shoulders and kissing my collarbones with the brush. I chanced a glance down at my chest to see what he was putting on me. It was some sort of faintly shimmery powder and the effect on my skin was remarkable. Wherever the makeup artist had brushed, my pale skin glowed like a pearl lit from within. It was kind of cool. So, Sam is going with you tonight, Alice was saying. We thought it might be better right now. You and Edward will be on your own once youre on the red carpet, but hell stay with you right up 107

until then. And of course you wont really be alone, because Laurents agency will have Charlotte with you the whole time to negotiate the line. The line? The press. You have to stop and talk to all of them. What about? Edward doesnt have anything nominated this year and Im a musician. What can we possibly have to say? Well, you have to tell them who youre wearing, of course! Thats all anyone is going to be interested in tonight anyway. That, and of course all the questions about how crazy you two are about each other. I flushed and looked down at my hands for a minute in consideration of that before gentle hairdresser hands lifted my chin again so they could finish their creation. They finally wrapped it up and Alice started getting me dressed. It all started, of course, with the perfect underwear. This time it was midnight blue lace panties and a matching strapless bra, trimmed with the same delicate lace along the top edge. Bella, Rose called out from the couch, You have to get that bra in every color they make. It makes your boobs look spectacular! Right? See, Bella? Rose understands the importance of a good foundation. I snorted softly and focused on getting into the dress without falling over and ruining it in some way. It was a loaner, too, but I got the feeling the designers staff was less worried about getting it back in one piece than the jewelers had been. They were so abjectly grateful that I was wearing the damn dress that I think they would have given me half a dozen of them if I asked. All the same, I wanted to take care of it. Alice helped shift it all into place and zipped me in and then she buttoned up the little row of covered buttons that concealed the zipper at the small of my back while I stepped into my crazy high dark blue satin heels. Did I say before that Alice had completely broken my will? I tried arguing that in a floor-length dress, no one would see my feet and that should mean I could wear something more comfortable, but Alice insisted that it would ruin the proportions of the dress, plus it helped me look in better proportion next to Edwards impressive height. So there I was teetering around, wondering how on earth Id last twelve minutes, never mind twelve hours. Damn, Bella Rose let out a low whistle once I was fastened into the dress. Alice, youve outdone yourself. Alice was practically bursting with excitement and pride. I took a quick peek at the dress in a mirror. It was a deep dark blue color, that I had worried at first was too dark and plain but Alice insisted that it set off my pale skin. She was right, of course. Alice threw around terms like silk satin and bias seaming and fishtail hem, which meant pretty much nothing to me. What I could tell for myself was that the dress had a very fitted top, all full of stiff stuff inside holding it up and in place, since it only covered the very top edge of my bra and it was strapless. The rest of my chest and shoulders were completely bare, displaying just about every inch of me that was legal. The dress stayed tight down over my hips and thighs and then, just below my knees, it flared away full, longer in back to make a little train. There was some sort of dark fluffy sheer net under the bottom to make the shape stay out and full. I turned to look at the back. It dipped low, baring all of me, and met in a V at the small of my back, where the little row of buttons started and continued to the top of my ass. It was beautiful. I tried on so many I thought I wouldnt even notice which one she finally picked, but this was perfect. Once again, Alice had managed to find the one couture dress that was perfect for Bella Swan, even though such a thing was an oxymoron. Now, for the jewelry! Alice squealed, opening the box the Harry Winston people had left. Rose shot off the couch to come look. 108

Holy shit! How much is that thing worth? she gasped. Alice shot her a look. Bella wont wear it if I say. Oh, come on! Tell! Not until its on her neck! Bella, Rose barked, Put the damned necklace on! Alice lifted it from the velvet lined box and fastened it around my neck. It was heavy and cold. And beautiful. I really had no interest in expensive jewelry, but even I could appreciate its beauty. It was a fine platinum open delicate filigree that covered my whole lower throat and upper chest. It was scattered all over with tiny diamonds, hundreds of them. Every time I shifted or breathed I felt like I sparkled. Nestled in the middle, suspended right in the hollow of my throat, was one enormous fat sapphire. Alice handed over the earrings, relatively discreet diamond drops. At first I worried that they were too small next to the necklace, but she said one or the other could be dramatic, but not both. I guess she knew the rules. So, how much? Rose prodded. Eight hundred and fifty. Thousand?? I managed to just squeak it out, one hand flying instinctively to touch the necklace. Shit, I better not do that, I might smudge it. Rose just whistled in appreciation. Its not just the diamonds, Alice explained as she adjusted it, although there are plenty of them in there. Its also platinum, which is very hard to work with. The detail of the filigree takes a million hours to do. And then all the little settings for the diamonds, plus that sapphire is huge. Does that I started, then I had to start again, afraid of the answer, does that include the earrings? Alice shot me a sharp look from under her lashes. No. With the earrings, its closer to a million. Shit. I was afraid to so much as breathe. Alice took one last turn around me to inspect. I looked back at myself in the mirror. I was suddenly glad a million pictures would be taken of me tonight because I was sure I would never look this good again as long as I lived. The hairdressers were right, it was their masterpiece. All the hair had been softly lifted off my face and curled up and to the sides, magically, invisibly, held back, piled up on the crown of my head, with a lot of it still falling long and curly down my back. It was arranged in what were meant to look like artless, tumbling waves and curls, although I knew for a fact, every twist and curl had been coaxed into perfect position and was immobilized there for the night. There were tiny little diamonds on invisible pins nestled randomly all through my hair, catching light just like the necklace. And somehow they made me look as if I had twice as much hair as I did. I looked at the back. There were all those waves at the crown caught up in piles and yet there was still so much hanging down in back. How did they do that? I pivoted back to face myself from the front again and the image staring back at me made me stop in my tracks for a second. Seven months, I whispered, reaching up absently to touch the edge of the necklace. What? Alice was distracted, still looking me over. I turned to look at Rose. Seven months ago, Rose. She raised a questioning eyebrow at me. It was seven months ago when I was still waking up on that miserable freaking futon in our house in Seattle, I rattled on, Seven months ago I was still working shifts at Sandwich Planet. Seven months ago we were still doing the Shower Chart! Rose was smiling in understanding now, but Alice looked lost. What the hell is a Shower Chart? 109

Our house in Seattle was a dump and the hot water heater was for shit. Only the first shower of the morning was actually hot. After that the most you could hope for was tepid. So we had this rotation chart, so we all got a shot at a hot shower every four days. And if you were more than fifteen minutes late for your shower, you lost your spot on the chart and had to wait another four days, Rose was remembering with me now, Emmett was forever missing his spot and trying to hit me up to share mine. As if. Rose, I said softly, That was only seven months ago. She stared back at me for a moment, smiling broadly, gripping one of my hands in hers. Neither one of us could believe we were here. Alice looked from me to Rose and back, clearly not understanding the charm of reminiscing about something like the Shower Chart. Sorry, Alice, I said, pulling myself back to the present, I was just having a pinch-me moment. Im good now. No, youre amazing! she trilled. Knock em dead, Bells, Rose said firmly. Well, Alice exhaled, Edwards probably waiting. Youd better go down. You mean youre not going to come down and take pictures of us like at the prom? Alice laughed. Trust me, sweetie, you will be the most photographed woman in the world tonight. Rose nodded solemnly at her side in agreement. I didnt need to hear that right at this moment. It gave me butterflies. Rose handed me the little jeweled bag that only had room for a compact, a lipstick, and my phone. She grasped my freshly manicured hands in hers briefly. Have fun! She gave me a wink and they both scooted me towards the door. I would have to walk slow, I realized, as my legs were essentially immobilized down to my knees. And I really hoped there werent many stairs. I got as far as the top of Edwards staircase and then paused there for a moment to consider how best to negotiate getting down them without humiliating myself. Then I saw Edward. He was leaning against a wall in the entry way at the bottom of the stairs toying with his phone while he waited. Id seen Edward in all manner of clothes at this point, but Edward in a tuxedo officially took my breath away. He seemed to have tried to tame the sex hair a little tonight, but it only partially worked, which was fine with me. Alice deserved major kudos for Edward, too. She managed to find what looked like a traditional basic black tux and yet it still showcased every inch of Edwards magnificent body and it didnt look the least bit stodgy or traditional on him. It looked fucking hot. Unreal. Then he looked up and saw me. His hands froze on the phone, his mouth dropped open a little ways, his eyelids fluttered, he said nothing. Holy shit. Ive made Edward Cullen speechless. I felt more powerful than I ever had in my life. And now I felt confident enough to walk down the stairs. I understood suddenly why Alice had strangely not wanted to come down with me. She wanted me alone when Edward saw me for the first time. Sneaky little girl. I stopped at the bottom of the stairs to look at him. Edward Holy. Fucking. Shit. I was hanging in the front hallway, killing time, waiting for the endless Alice marathon to finally conclude when, without warning, I looked up and there was Bella at the top of the stairs. I seriously couldnt breathe or move for several moments. My mouth went dry and my palms got sweaty, like I was some teenaged kid on prom night. My chest actually hurt when I looked at her, she was that 110

fucking beautiful. The dress was spectacular, dark blue and tight, hugging all her curves on the way down, and leaving miles and miles of her creamy pale flesh exposed. Her dark hair was held back in some beautiful satiny curly pile that Im sure took a century to do, but plenty of it was still down, which was good, because I wanted to be able to touch it and run my fingers through it all night long. And she sparkled. It was mostly from that killer necklace that Alice had scammed from Harry Winstons, but her hair did, too. Even her skin seemed to faintly shimmer, like she was lit from withinlike moonlight, I realized. The deep blue dress, her pearlescent skin, the hundreds of tiny shimmering diamondsBella was the night sky. And breathtaking. At first I was frozen and breathless but when she started to edge her way down the stairs, I was flooded with desire for her. Fuck this. I wasnt behaving any more. She wanted me, I sure as hell wanted her. Fuck everyone else. This girl would be mine. Tonight. I pushed off the wall and crossed the entry hall with three long strides. I met her at the base of the stairs and in one motion slid my hands up behind her neck and pulled her mouth nearly to mine. Im tired of trying to stay away from you, I growled before I crushed my mouth on hers. She gasped in surprise, but then immediately melted into me, her hands flying up to my shoulders to steady herself as I thrust my tongue into her mouth. I slid one hand down the long bare expanse of her back letting it rest at the base of her spine where my fingers encountered some interestingly placed little buttons. I pulled her body up along mine and she moaned softly. Fuck. We werent going to get very far at this rate. With a supreme effort I pulled my lips away from hers and looked down at her. Her dark eyes were half closed, her mouth was still a little open. Fuck. Me. I wanted to drag her upstairs right now. I couldnt believe we had this whole endless thing in front of us. Ahthis was probably not the best time for me to start this, I murmured. She straightened up a little, recovering herself, and she shot me a little smile, looking up at me roguishly. Youre probably right. Plus, you know if you mess me up, Alice will cut you. I laughed and the spell was effectively broken, except I didnt want it to be, not all the way. I didnt want her for one second to stop thinking of me and what we were about to do together. I wanted this whole day and night to be one long, torturous, delicious session of foreplay. So I leaned forward, my lips just barely skimming along her jaw until I reached her ear. Then I guess well have to finish thislater. I exhaled against her skin and felt a gratifying shiver run through her. Then I pressed my lips against the little hollow beneath her ear and let them linger there for just a moment, her diamond earring brushing the side of my nose, before I pulled back to look at her face again. She looked stunned and drowning in lust. Perfect. She let out a long shaky sigh. Later, was all she whispered. I put a finger under her chin, tilting her face up to me, locking eyes with her and holding her gaze. Later, I said firmly. She nodded slowly, her eyes never leaving mine. I stepped away and took her hand. She fell into step beside me, still half in a daze. I walked her to the front door where Sam was waiting just outside with the car, a low black sedan this time, so it would be easier for Bella to get in and out of. Alice thinks of everything. I needed to buy her a new car or something to thank her for Bella tonight. I settled Bella in the car and crossed around to climb in the other side. As soon as I got settled, I reached over and picked up her hand, turning it over and raising her wrist to my mouth. I left a lingering kiss right on her pulse point. She smelled amazing. Her head fell back against the seat and she stared at me with a hazy expression. I thought we were waiting till later. Until later, yes, I said against her skin, thrilled beyond words that she just said it again. She was 111

going to be minelater. But you can hardly expect me to keep my hands entirely to myself all night when youre next to me looking like this. She blushed lightly and I was delighted to discover that she blushed on more than her face. But I lowered her hand and contented myself with merely holding it, chastely resting our joined hands on my thigh. Except touching Bella in any way never felt chaste. How long until we get there? she asked after she exhaled heavily. A couple of hours maybe. What?? Well, the Kodak isnt far, but with so many cars arriving, you have to sit in traffic forever. And they want to time your arrival for the telecast. So Charlotte is there, coordinating with the Oscar people and Sam until theyre ready for us to pull up. She sighed and sank back against the seat. But we have liquor, I said brightly, motioning to the built in bar, and theres a t.v. So thats what we did. We drank and we watched the Oscar preshow on the t.v., and it was fun, because everything with Bella is fun. She made snarky comments about the pre-show hosts and the red carpet coverage and rolled her eyes at their momentous pronouncements about hemlines and I kept pouring us gin and tonics. It was probably smart to watch t.v. because as much as I wanted to drag out this whole seduction thing, being alone in the back of this car while touching her, kissing herno, wed never make it to the show. Bella got bored with the pre-show at some point so we channel surfed and she was delighted to find some old repeats of Shark Week on. So we amused ourselves watching sharks rip seals to bits. Did I mention that everything is more fun with Bella? We sat in queue forever it seemed, with Sam on his cell non-stop with Charlotte coordinating our arrival as the car inched along at a snails pace. Finally word came to move our car into position. I could see a few couples exiting cars just ahead of us and pointed them out to Bella, so she could watch and know what to expect. There were Tom and Katie, and then came Will and Jada. Okay, were up. Sam stopped the car and came around to my side first. Bella suddenly remembered Alices instructions and scrambled for her lipstick to retouch, which was good, because I kissed it all off of her at home. Fuck, yeah. Sam opened my door for me and escorted me around to Bellas side. The crowd in the stands went absolutely nuts when I came into view and the press along the line began to jostle each other furiously. All the p.a.s on the red carpet with their headsets and walkie talkies burst into a flurry of action. I could feel the anticipation thick in the air. I was used to out of control crowd reactions and this astounded even me. It was like a massive wall of nervous energy all focused on us. I hoped Bella would be okay. Sam opened Bellas door and I reached down to take her hand. She looked up at me with those rich brown eyes and smiled with far more enthusiasm than I hoped for. She carefully unfolded herself out of the car and took a minute, shielded by my body to smooth out her dress. I wanted to help, to run my hands down over hips, too, but I behaved myself. Instead, I slipped my arm behind her back and leaned down to plant a tiny kiss on her cheekbone. She smiled up at me and I felt my chest contract and then we turned to face the gauntlet. It was pretty much an endless string of brief chats with reporters and posing for pictures while photographers screamed at us. Charlotte met us as soon as we left the car and carefully orchestrated our slow progress down the red carpet. While we spoke with one person, she would walk a few feet further ahead and set up the next few chats. Then she would come back to us and politely disengage us from whomever we were talking to (because everybody wanted to keep the two of us all night long) and usher us to the next reporter. Bella was a champ. None of this was remotely interesting to her but she dutifully recited over and 112

over the name of the designer whod made her dress, that Harry Winston provided her jewelry, and much to my surprise and delight, she managed to mention several times that Alice Cullen was her stylist. I already loved her, but her devotion to my sister, who hadnt always found it easy making friends with other women, probably because of me, earned her my eternal gratitude. I suddenly wanted her to meet my parents. Never in my life had I had such an impulse, but I was so damned proud of her, and I desperately wanted Esme and Carlisle to see for themselves how spectacular she was. My mother would love her, I just knew it. I never took my arm away from Bellas back and when things got really tedious I traced little circles with my fingers on her hip or on the bare skin of her back or on the nape of her neck under her hair. She would lean closer in to me every time. At one point, I noticed her gaze getting a little blank, and I leaned into her placing my lips just above her ear. Later. She flushed lightly and turned her body into me, reaching up to grip the lapel of my jacket with one hand and she sighed, her eyes closed. God, this was endless. I wanted her so badly. And the damned awards show itself hadnt even started yet. Bella As many interviews as I had done in the last six months, nothing prepared me for the marathon that was the red carpet. First there was the endless talking to reporters, but nobody for too long. Oh, no, Charlotte would show up after a minute or two and shuffle us on to the next one. Then there were the pictures, endlessly standing, turning, angling, so that they could all get their shot, screaming our names over and over. I wasnt one for keeping tabs on who was where in the Hollywood social hierarchy, but even I noticed that they kept Edward and me out on the red carpet far longer than anyone else. The reporters were nearly losing all semblance of decorum as they shuffled and elbowed to get their shot at us. Although Id been handing out my rehearsed answers about Edward and me for weeks now, all of a sudden, when they asked (and they all asked), I would open my mouth and nothing would come out. All of those platitudes Id been using (Were good friends We enjoy spending time together We have a lot in common) all seemed ridiculous in the face of what was happening between us, what was about to happen. Because there was later. Holy shit. Did that really happen? Did we say that? Agree to that? Im pretty sure we did. Every time I thought about it, and I was thinking about it pretty much constantly in spite of the distractions around us, my knees got weak and my panties got damp. And in case I did manage to pull my thoughts back to the present, Edward was there, glued to my side, his hands never leaving me, constantly reminding me that he wanted me, that he was thinking about it, planning it. He was making little patterns on the skin of my back with his fingertips, squeezing my hip, leaning down to whisper Later in my ear. I didnt know how I would make it through the coming hours. Eventually I was nearly hanging from him, hed made me so boneless and weak. And thankfully Charlotte decided theyd gotten enough of us and ushered us inside to where a pre-show reception was taking place. There was a server at our side in moments and Edward snagged us two champagne flutes. I thought Id have a minute to just stand here, drink a little, and frankly, stare at the magnificence that was Edward. But Charlotte leaned forward and whispered in my ear that there was a makeup and hair person whod been sent here to touch me up, on Alices command. I rolled my eyes at Edward and set 113

down my champagne to follow Charlotte, but his arm snaked out and reached around my waist, pulling me to him abruptly. Slowly, deliberately, he lowered his mouth to mine and kissed me, long and lingering, slipping his tongue in to taste mine, right here in a room full of all of the fucking Hollywood elite. I felt like every pair of eyes in the room was on us. And yes, I could tell that every woman in the room was jealous. The room was filled with familiar faces, women I had watched for years in movies and on tv, and at that moment, every single fucking one of them wanted to be me. Bitches. He pulled his head away and smiled lazily at me, his eyes lowered. Since theyre going to fix your lipstick anyway. Then he winked and released me to Charlotte. Nearly staggering, I followed where I was lead. By the time I got back, restored to perfection, the reception was breaking up and people were making their way into the theater. Edward slid his arm back around my waist and leaned in. I missed you. I actually had to talk to other people. Oh, poor baby. Next time well trade and you can go get your eyeliner touched up and Ill talk to Michael Eisner. He chuckled. Deal. Hes so boring, youll wish youd stuck with the makeup. I was never happier to see a seat in my life. Just because Id quit fighting Alice about the heels, but it didnt mean I had gotten used to them. My feet were screaming at me. Edward lowered me into my seat and took my hand once I got settled. He wasnt satisfied with that level of contact for long however, and instead reached his arm across my shoulders so he could trace circles there with his fingers. I could smell him now, spicy and Edward-y, and the warmth of his arm around me enveloped me. It was making my head swim pleasantly, that and the feel of his fingers on my skin. I still couldnt believe it. Hed said later. Id said later. Tonight. We would be together. Roses warning tickled around my brain a little, I knew I was being stupid, but I was tired of pushing him away when I wanted him so badly. So Id take him, whatever I could have, for as long as I could hang on to him. I knew at some point our arrangement would end and hed move on. And it would utterly break my heart, because I was crazy in love with him. I kept trying to squash it down and pretend it was just lust and desire, but I was lying to myself. I was completely, totally, madly in love with him. All the more reason for me to run screaming. But it was too late. Id made my decision to be with him. I just had to hope I could put myself back together again after he was gone and I fell apart. But I wasnt going to waste a second of tonight with him worrying about it. The presentations began, and I paid some attention. The musical numbers were boring. Between being on the show and everything that had happened afterwards, Id had absolutely no time to see movies lately, so most of the ones up for awards were a mystery to me. And Edward wasnt in any of them, so I was even less interested. I was much happier focusing on him, the warmth of his arm, the feel of his fingers, the tickle of his breath when he leaned over to whisper to me. Eventually one of the stage managers came to pull him away to go backstage in preparation of his awards presentation. He turned to look at me and I shot him a frown. He leaned in and took my face in his hands, kissing me again, although more gently than at the reception. Save my seat for me, beautiful. And dont forget aboutlater. I sighed against his mouth, Trust me, its hardly left my mind all night. He shot me his dazzling crooked smile. Thats exactly what I want to hear. He slipped one hand down my neck and let his fingers trail down my throat, over the big sapphire resting in the hollow, and down to the front edge of my dress. Hed been watching his fingers make their descent, but when he hit the edge of my dress he paused and looked up at me through his lashes. Holy shit. The thought of those fingers, slipping lower, without all of these impossible clothes between us I felt ready to crawl out of my skin with desire. 114

With a sigh he stood up and followed the stage manager out of the theater. I collapsed back in my seat and tried not to miss him miserably. I wondered if we were as obvious as I felt. Was everyone watching him nearly undress me? Were we on tv doing that? I didnt care. Let them watch. None of it mattered, except me being with him. The show dragged even slower without him there. I wondered how the others were doing. Were they all wasted yet? I pulled my phone out of my bag and texted Rose. Guess where I am? After a moment, she responded. Saw you on tv! You looked beautiful. Wheres loverboy? I smiled at her response. Backstage. On soon to present. You ok? I saw the way he was touching you. Looked intense. I paused for a long time, trying to formulate my answer, which in and of itself probably tipped her off. Finally I wrote it and hit send. I know what Im doing. Okay Leave it to Rose. Shed said her piece, issued her warning, and now she was done. She would pass no judgments on what I chose to do next, regardless of what shed said. Eventually Edward showed up on stage to present the award. It was disconcerting to see him up there, being on, performing in a way. Under the lights, with all of his charm on full-throttle, I felt once again how ridiculous it was for me to be with him. He was so beautiful and perfect. Everybody wanted him. He could have anyone. Why me? Well, you wont be keeping him for long, you know. Yes, I know. I couldnt explain why I had him right now, all I could do was enjoy him as long as it lasted. And then he would move on. Because he was Edward Cullen, and there was no way he would stay. He didnt stay for anyone, ever, and he sure as hell wouldnt stay for me. I was still mulling over my sudden discomfort, staring at my hands in my lap when Edward suddenly slipped into the seat at my side. He was leaning into me, his arm across my shoulders, his lips at my ear, in seconds. Miss me? I turned to look at him, not quite able to keep the sadness off my face or out of my eyes. Yes, I said simply. He narrowed his stunning green eyes and a little crease formed between his eyebrows. He lifted his free hand up and brushed my cheek. Baby, whats wrong? I shrugged and tried to shake off my sudden dark mood. Nothing. I was just thinking too much. He smiled at me and shook his head. Dont think too hard, Bella. Just be with me. Well, there you go. He just told me what I already knew. I wont promise you anything, dont ask for anything, just enjoy it. Well? I did already know that. So thats what I would do.


Chapter 19 - Magic Man

Bella It seemed for a while as if the awards ceremony might never end. Id never really paid much attention before, and I couldnt believe how many categories there were. They just went on and on. It ran over, of course, but eventually it did end and we were escorted out and piled back into the car with Sam. I half hoped we could sneak away now, but then remembered Alices itinerary. There was some party afterwards and attendance was apparently mandatory. Sure enough, as soon as the car pulled up at our next location, here came Charlotte to escort us inside. But first I was assaulted again by my hair and makeup person to touch me up so I was presentable for all the pictures that would be taken inside. So whats so important about this party we have to go to? I asked, trying not to sound too whiny, as the makeup girl messed with my mascara. Edward shrugged nonchalantly, Its the Vanity Fair After Party. And? Everybody goes, he said simply. The makeup girl finished up and Charlotte walked us through security and up to the entrance. The tuxedoed attendant manning the door with a clipboard cast one beaming look at us and waved us inside. No checking that list for our names, apparently. We were beyond lists. There was a long low-ceilinged entrance hallway leading to the party itself. The hall was lovely, with very low golden lighting and rows of tiny white votive candles on the ground flanking a long white carpet running the length of it. There was a group of three people ahead of us and as soon as they rounded the corner into the party and we were alone, Edward slipped his arm around my waist and gave me a tug to pull me to the side of the hall, into the shadows. He turned me in his arms to face him and pulled me in tight against him. I felt the air leave my chest in a rush and my head swam. I couldnt think when I was this close to him and he was touching me like this. Hey, were here long enough to let them take a few pictures of us and then Im getting you out of here. This, he waved a hand at the opulence and glamour surrounding us, is by no means the highlight of the evening. This, he leaned in and said the last bit almost against my lips, is just act one. He closed the distance and kissed me lingeringly. I gripped his lapels in my fingers, pulling him closer. His hands slipped around to my bare back to caress my skin and he moaned against my mouth. Then he slowly, painfully pulled away. Damn. This is fucking torture, he muttered. I nodded breathlessly. He slid a hand up my back, under my hair, gripping the back of my neck and touching his forehead to mine, eyes closed, before releasing me and leading me by the hand down the hall and into the party. It was a fairyland inside, all the tables, covered in gold tablecloths, were set with a million flickering little white candles and beautiful towering centerpieces of branches and red berries in cut crystal vases that caught the flickering golden candlelight and bounced it all over the room. A blanket of tiny twinkling white lights covered the ceiling. One of the many uniformed hosts met us at the entrance and escorted us to our table. Resting on top of the white china place settings were small rectangular ivory place cards with our names in simple calligraphy side by side, topped with little gold ribbons. I dont know why, considering all the other ways our names were linked, but seeing those place cards side by side made me ridiculously happy. I cast a quick glance around the table as we sat down. No one else was sitting there at the moment, but we had neighbors, evidenced by a scattering of abandoned champagne flutes and someones Oscar, left guarding their place alone. I wondered who our glittering, famous table mates might be. 116

So Edward, I asked abruptly, surprising myself, If we hadnt had our arrangement, who would you have brought tonight? The minute the words left my mouth I was sorry I asked, sorry that Id reminded him of the formal nature of our relationship and terrified of who Id hear him name. Which supermodel, which stunning actress was supposed to be sitting in my place? Please dont say Megan Fox or Blake Lively or. He looked sideways at me and shrugged. Alice. Oh. Really? Im sorry she couldnt come because of me. Dont worry about it. She didnt care. And I offered to have her brought over for this, the VF party is always a big deal, but she said she was going to hang out at Rosalies and watch it on t.v. He shook his head in disbelief. I was sort of surprised. Alice is never one to turn down a party like this. I knew why, of course. It wasnt Rose and the Oscars that was the draw, it was Jasper, but I said nothing. Tonight was like a dream and I didnt want to spoil it. We should get you something to eat, he said suddenly, pulling me to my feet. Im not really hungry. I dont want to hear it. Although fish tacos on the beach was one of my better nights in recent memory, Id rather not end up there tonight. And besides, you need your strength. He cast me another rakish smile and dragged me off in search of one of the many waiters with trays. We did our best to keep it brief, but absolutely everyone wanted to talk to Edward, and me by extension. I stood and made polite small talk with more movie stars than I ever thought possible, considering that until very recently I never imagined having to stand around and make small talk with movie stars at all. It was sometimes a surreal experience, suddenly being approached by someone who was already so familiar to me from the screen, but still a stranger in real life. But they were all so nice and gracious to me. Me, who just seven months ago was just concerned with making it from my Intro to British Lit class in time for my shift at Sandwich Planet. I finally began to understand what Aro felt I would get out of being with Edward. I was nobody, and now, because I was standing by his side, I was the most important somebody in the room. It made it hard to take anything anyone said to me even a little bit seriously, even as they told me over and over how talented they thought I was, and how they couldnt wait to hear the new album. But this was all a part of the business, apparently, so I put on my happy face and my best manners and I played along. Most people really just wanted a chance to schmooze with Edward, to bask in the reflected glow of his fame and magnetism. But I was delighted to see a few producers come over to tell him how good he was looking, and how happy they were to hear he was doing so well. They all shot me kind, appreciative smiles and greeted me warmly when Edward introduced me. Several of them spoke briefly with him about upcoming projects, trying to gauge his interest. Tonight wasnt a night for making deals, but I could sense the eagerness. They could see he was back in the land of the living and doing well and they all wanted a piece of him. Although for most of the night Edward hadnt seemed interested in anything except getting his hands on me (not that I was complaining), I noticed him engaged in those conversations with producers, excited, energized in a way that he wasnt about anything else. He wanted it. He was eager to get back to work. I loved seeing him actually passionate about something. I hoped all of this meant good things for him, that people were ready to give him another chance. Everything would be worth it if that happened for him. Eventually I lost all track of time. The night had become a blur of champagne and tuxedos and air kisses and We should have lunch soons. It had to be two or three in the morning when Edward leaned in and whispered, Lets go home. 117

My breath caught in my throat. It was finally later. Edward texted Sam to bring the car around and we made our way slowly out of the party, gently disentangling ourselves from all the hugs and handshakes. We made our way out of the hall and back through security to where Sam had parked at the curb. I leaned heavily on Edward all the way to the car, sure that my feet would never be the same after this marathon. He folded me gently into the back seat and crossed around to his side. As I hoped, the second the car door closed behind him, he slid across the seat and wrapped his arms around me. He leaned in and kissed the side of my neck and slid slowly up to my ear, reminding me of my first night alone with him at Fez. Except this was so much better because we werent going to stop. He shifted over and planted one soft, quick kiss on my lips before sitting back. I shot him a puzzled look. What happened to later? He put his finger to his lips and nodded his head at Sam in front of us. Ah, we werent really alone. Sigh...Wed have to wait until we got home. He sighed, too. Edward reached out idly and picked up my right hand, slowly twining his fingers in mine. He played with my hand for a moment, turning my palm up and tracing his fingers over the center. Then he dipped his head down and gently pressed his lips to the center of my palm. He lingered there for a moment, then opened his lips slightly and let his tongue slip out to touch my skin. I shuddered and let my eyes slide closed. He continued on with my fingers, slowly kissing his way down each one before gently drawing my fingertips into his mouth and sucking, flicking the sensitive pads with his tongue. When he finished with my fingers, he turned my hand over and traced patterns on the back with his lips and his tongue. Then he slowly continued up my arm, lingering on my wrist, on the sensitive pulse point, where he sucked gently and blew his hot breath across my skin. He traveled achingly slowly up the entire length of my arm, kissing, dragging his lips and his tongue, nipping gently with his teeth, enflaming my skin and my nerves with every inch that he touched. He stopped again in the inside of the crook of my elbow and let out a low moan against my skin that I felt through my whole body, before stroking the tender skin at the crease with his tongue. It was crazy, it was just my arm, he was just kissing my arm. And I felt nearly undone by it, swamped with desire, aching for more. I was starting to twist slightly in my seat, clamping my thighs together against the heat at the center. Edward continued on, slowly, tongue and lips, up to my shoulder, holding my hand in his lap to still my arm, touching no other part of me. He crept up over the curve of my shoulder and into the crook of my neck. I could hear his labored breathing as he struggled to maintain his slow gentle pace. He skimmed his lips past my necklace, up my neck to my earlobe and stopped, still holding my hand tightly. I think I have to stop now if you want your clothes on when you get out of the car, he murmured in my ear. I couldnt respond, I couldnt even open my eyes, My head was thrown back, Edwards face was pressed into my neck. His free hand crept across me and gripped the back of my neck, holding me tight against him. I could feel his shaky breaths warming my hair and skin. I prayed he would stay right there. He did. His fingers caressed my neck, tangled gently in my hair, he rested his forehead against my temple, eyes closed, breathing deeply. Another few minutes and mercifully Sam turned into Edwards driveway and keyed in the code. We pulled up to the house and Sam stepped out to help me from the car. I drew in a deep breath, trying to right myself. I could barely speak, and managed to squeeze out only the most basic niceties to Sam before Edward took my hand and led me into the house. We walked into the entry hall and as Edward turned to lock the door and re-set the security system, I set my little bag on the side table and crossed the hall to the foot of the stairs. The house was only dimly lit, Alice being gone for the night. My insides were in knots. I was both unbearably anxious to be alone with him and inexplicably terrified at the same time. I didnt know what to do with myself, so I 118

just stood there, arms limp at my side, facing away from him, willing my breathing to slow down and my heart rate to steady. I heard him cross the hall slowly and step up behind me. I could feel the heat from his body, he was standing just a breath away from me, but not touching me. Then he reached out and closed both hands over my wrists at my sides. My eyes fell closed at the simple contact. Edward moved forward to close the gap between us, the whole length of him coming up against my back. His hands began to slide up my arms as he lowered his head to whisper in my ear. I was so stunned earlier tonight when I saw you here that I never told youyoure the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I leaned back against him, my head falling onto his shoulder and he kissed the nape of my neck softly. His hands rounded my shoulders and then gripped them. With a slight pressure, he turned me around to face him. His eyes were half closed and nearly black, his face angular and dramatic in the dim light of the entry hallway. His hands gripped me hard by the back of my neck. He seemed to be restraining himself a little, holding back in some way. Bella his voice was a raspy whisper, I want youso badly but if you I didnt want to hear the caveat, to hear him tell me that this wouldnt mean anything, that there were no strings. Id already made my decision, for better or for worse. I wanted him. So I leaned my face closer to him and cut him off, placing my fingertips against his lips briefly. Yes, I whispered. He required no further encouragement. His mouth came down over mine, his lips hard and eager. His tongue was pushing in, my mouth opened for him, I thrust my tongue back against him and a little moan escaped my throat. I felt his hands, scorching hot to my over-sensitized skin, slide down my bare back to grip my waist and pull me in tight against him. I reached up to grip him by his hair, so silky on my fingers after a long day and night of staring but not touching. God, I wanted him for so long like this, and now he was finally mine. We need to move this somewhere more appropriate, fast. He muttered against my mouth. He stepped away from me and pulled me after him to the staircase. I paused for just a second to consider how I would negotiate getting up the stairs, since my dress still had me hobbled to the knees. While I was in the middle of looking at the floor, mulling over my options, I felt the air sing past me as my feet abruptly left the ground. I was cradled in Edwards arms as he began to climb the stairs. He nuzzled my neck and planted tiny kisses there as best he could while keeping one eye on the stairs. We reached the top, but he didnt set me down, he just carried me straight down the hall and around the corner to his bedroom, where I had never been. He shoved the door open with a foot and carried me to the center of the room before setting me down carefully. It was dark, but I was aware of a large space, and a wall of glass, and some pieces of furniture at a distance, but not much more. His lips found mine again immediately, his hands gripping my waist again, the force of him pressing into me, nearly bending me back. His tongue crashed against mine, plunging deep inside my mouth. One of his hands slipped back up my back to grip my neck, so he could control the angle of my face against his. I fisted my hands in his tux lapels and suddenly was aware of all the layers of wool and silk and cotton between us. I pushed his jacket back off his shoulders and his hands released me just long enough to let it slide free to the floor. We were both nearly breathless from the kiss, and his lips left mine to trail down my jaw to my neck. I drew in a long, shallow rasping breath, hanging onto his shoulders. He reached the edge of my necklace and his fingers reached up, closing around it, starting to yank it down and out of his way. Even in the haze of our arousal, I had the sense to stop him. Dont hurt it. Its worth twenty times what my dad makes in a year, I murmured. Edward chuckled against my neck and the sensation sent a shock wave through me. 119

Well, then, I guess Ill need to be more careful. He straightened up and put his hands on my hips, slowly turning me around. I felt his long agile fingers brush the hair off my back and over my shouldersuch a gentle, sensual gesture. Those same fingers went to work on the fussy little clasps along the back of the necklace, finally freeing me of it. I felt the lightness the minute it left my chest. Take off your earrings. His voice was low and soft behind me, but just commanding enough, and with a hint of sensuality to make me shudder and grow wetwetterfor him. I did as he asked and turned to place them in his hand, over the ridiculously expensive necklace. He stepped a few feet away to lay it on somethingmy eyes now adjusting to the dark realized that it was a grand piano and I had a flicker of surprise, then he was back before me. I seem to recall some little buttons in a very sexy location that might need my attention, he whispered. I shot him a smirk and turned my back to him, peering over my shoulder at his head, bent in concentration, his hair falling forward. I felt his fingers go to work at the base of my spine on the little row of buttons. He managed to brush my bare skin probably far more that was strictly necessary, but I wasnt arguing. These fucking things have been tormenting me all night, he muttered, Every time I put my arm around you, there they were. And I was imagining what would happen if I unbuttoned them and let your dress fall off you He lost his sentence in a groan. I hate to tell you this, I said, stifling a giggle, but what happens after the buttons is a zipper. The buttons are just for show. These fancy clothes are a mystery to me. He laughed, too, but then he found the zipper and eased it down and I felt the sudden shift in pressure when my dress was released from my body. I stopped my laughing and caught my breath and so did he. Edward froze for just a second, then he let go of the dress and it fell with a quiet whoosh down over my hips into a puddle around my calves. I turned back to him and he made a soft little sound in his throat at the sight of me in my strapless midnight blue bra and panties and satin high heels. I usually would have felt exposed and awkward to be stared at like this, but with Edward, at this moment, I felt beautiful and sexy and powerful. He reached up his hand and I took it and stepped free of the pile of silk and net. Fuck It escaped his chest like a rumble. He reached out to grab me by the waist and he yanked me forward. I stumbled a tiny bit in my heels, but I only fell into him. I reached up to grip his hair again to steady myself and pulled his face back to mine for a searing, desperate kiss. His skimmed his hands up my now bare midsection to my breasts, cupping his hands over me, caressing me over my bra, his thumbs sweeping over the bare swells above it. I moaned into his mouth and arched against him. He made a low sound in his throat, squeezing me harder. Baby he rasped against my cheek, youre perfect. Edwards hands left my breasts and he thrust them into my hair forcefully. Invisibly placed pins and the tiny diamonds mounted on them scattered wildly around us, and cascaded to the floor. He kept digging in, twisting his fingers. It almost hurt but I wouldnt have stopped him for the world. The larger pins, holding the whole miracle in place, came loose and my hair began to fall down behind me. He raked his fingers through it, gathering it up, twisting it around his fingers, loosening every curl, while he kept kissing me like I was water and he was lost in the desert. I let go of his hair to move my hands to the front of his shirt, desperate to finally feel his bare skin against mine. I pulled his bowtie free but I got confused trying to open the shirt, because they werent buttons. He pushed my hands away and with one firm yank his smooth flawless chest was bared to me. 120

I shoved the shirt back over his shoulders to follow the jacket. He got momentarily stuck getting his hands free of the cuffs, but then his long perfectly muscled arms were back, snaking around my waist, pulling me against him, crushing my breasts against the smooth warm skin of his chest. I angled up on my toes to wrap my arms around his shoulders, kissing him hard coaxing his tongue deep into my mouth, luxuriating in finally being able to feel his skin pressed against mine instead of just imagining it. He wrapped his arms fully around me, nearly pulling me up off my feet, like he couldnt get enough of it either. He began to walk backwards, pulling me towards what I now realized was a huge bed against the far wall. He moved until his legs met the mattress, then he turned me in his arms and I was being lowered, until I was lying down, with my knees bent over the edge of the bed. Edward didnt follow me immediately. He stood there at the foot of the bed for a minute, gazing down at me, still in my midnight blue bra and panties and my blue satin heels. I just lay still, looking up at him in the dark. Fuck, youre the most exquisite thing Ive ever seen, he murmured. His hands moved to the waist of his pants and he freed himself of them and his shoes until he was standing above me in only his boxers. Even in this light I could see the enormous bulge of him pressing against the fabric. I hadnt even allowed myself to guess at what he was like therebut now it seemed he was as perfect there as everywhere else. Edward suddenly dropped to his knees at the foot of the bed. He slipped my shoes off and involuntarily, I moaned in relief. He chuckled softly, gently caressing each of my feet briefly before he moved on. Then I felt his mouth, hot and wet, against my left calf and I gasped at the sudden, sensual sensation. Just like earlier in the car, he began to work his way slowly up my leg with his lips and tongue, slipping his fingers up along the underside of my leg as he went. I moaned and reached a hand down to stroke his hair. The other I fisted in the bedspread, to keep myself still under the onslaught of his mouth. When he reached the hollow of my left thigh, where my hip began, he shifted and began again with my right leg. I could feel my panties completely soaked through and I was twisting with need. This time, when he reached the top of my thigh, he slid one hand from the side of my hip slowly over and down over my heated core. I heard him suck in his breath. Oh, God, youre so wet. For you The words tumbled from my lips without my knowledge. I was out of my mind with the desire to feel him there. His fingers hooked around the sides of my panties and he began to slide them down. I shifted my hips to allow them to scoot all the way down, over my knees, down my calves, and off. And then I felt his hot breath ghosting over me, his hands sliding back up my thighs, pushing them apart. I fell open for him. With one sudden stroke, he licked my folds and I gasped, my hips bucking under his mouth, my hand fisting hard in his hair. His hands came up to grip my hips and pin me down. Shhhh he whispered against me, and that sensation nearly drove me mad, All for me, baby. Youre all for me. For you I repeated mindlessly, my eyes squeezed shut. His tongue flicked out again and I moaned, but he continued, licking, stroking, sucking, all the way up to the sensitive little bud of me. There he lingered, working me gently. I felt a finger slide into me, then another joined it. He curled them, thrusting, searching, his tongue never leaving me. Oh my fucking God. ThisI had done this.this had been done to me beforebut never, ever like this. Edwards fingersEdwards tongue.oh, God. I wouldnt last long. I could already feel the vibration low in my stomach. Then I felt him draw my clit into his lips and he sucked gently and I was thrust over the edge, gasping out his name, arching off the bed, fisting my hand in the bedspread. Waves of pleasure ripped 121

up my chest and down my thighs, out to the very tips of my body. I even think my toes curled. As I floated down from my climax, I felt Edward move up the bed, hooking his hands under my arms and pulling me further up to rest my head on the pillow. His lips came down on mine and I opened for him, tasting myself on his tongue. I felt his erection pressing hard against my thigh and I reached down with my hand to stroke the length of him through his boxers. I was desperate to touch him, to bring him into this storm of sensation with me. Through the haze of desire my brain managed to note that he was big, so much bigger than I would have guessed, and bigger than anyone Id been with. I moaned in anticipation, eager for more already. Uhhhh.oh, Jesus. He broke off kissing me and buried his face in the crook of my neck as I closed my hand over him through the fabric and squeezed. His hips thrust gently against my hand as he groaned. I wanted to feel his bare skin, and I wanted him inside of me. I pushed the waistband of his boxers off over his hip awkwardly with my free hand on one side, but he did the rest, angling himself to slide them all the way down. And he was free, pressed hot and silky and hard against my thigh. His hand skimmed up my stomach and gently cupped my breast, squeezing. I kept stroking his length while his fingers began to circle my nipple encased in my bra. Then he eased the cup down and I fell out, exposed to him. He raised his head and moved over me, kissing his way from my shoulder across my chest to the swell of my breast. He kissed and nipped until he was hovering over my nipple. He exhaled and I tightened the fist I still had in his hair and the hand that I had on his cock. He drew my nipple into his mouth slowly and sucked until I thought Id go mad from wanting him. I felt his hands slide underneath me on the bed, searching for the clasp. I arched my back to give him access and he released me, tossing my bra away from us. Now free to roam, he moved to my other breast and teased and sucked my nipple until they were both hard and aching. I tightened my fist on him and stroked hard. I want to taste you, I murmured softy. I dont think Id ever been so forward in my life, but I was beyond thinking, this was pure instinct and desire. And without a doubt, I had never wanted anyone or anything as much as I wanted Edward at this moment. Fuck he groaned softly against my collarbone as his hips pushed into my hand. Bella, theres nothing I want more than to feel your mouth on me. Jesus, he gasped softly, just the thought of it makes me nearly come. But tonight I want to be here when I do. Then he reached a hand down to gently slide a finger inside of me. My mouth fell open as he stroked my hyper-sensitive skin and I arched my hips against him. Oh, GodEdward BellababyI wanted to drag this out all night, taste every inch of you, but I need you. I cant wait, he murmured into the side of my neck. Nowplease, Edward He reared off of me and reached to the table by the bed. After a moment of fumbling, he had rolled on a condom and returned to me. He stretched out along me, half over me, returning to kiss my mouth, nibbling, nipping my bottom lip, sucking it gently. I gripped his shoulders, trying to pull his body over mine. He sensed what I wanted, and shifted his weight, settling himself between my thighs. He never stopped kissing me, moving to my cheek, my jaw, my neck when we needed to catch our breath. I felt the tip of his cock slip along me and stop at my entrance, pushing gently. My legs fell open further to receive him. We both stopped breathing and he slid in, the whole long glorious length of him, stretching me, filling me. I let out a long shuddering exhale at the sensation. He sucked his breath in through his teeth. Oh, God, he whispered, So tight. He gave a small thrust of his hips and mine rose to meet him. He stopped moving for a moment, gasping for breath and control. As the initial wave of sensation passed, he began to thrust into me, long 122

and slow, pulling almost all the way out each time before pushing back in. I moaned and arched under him, my breasts pressing into his chest. He reared up above me, and straightened his arms completely, and the shift in the pressure against me added a whole new urgency to our thrusts. I could feel the tightening starting already. I couldnt believe he could do this to me, that my body responded to him like this. Bella, open your eyes. Look at me, his voice was a ragged rasp. I opened my eyes and looked up at him. The sight of him, long and lean stretched above me, every muscle in his perfect arms and shoulders flexed and straining as he pushed into me, his eyes half closed and black with lust, his mouth open as he dragged in uneven breaths, his hair in wild disarray from my fingers he was the most beautiful thing Id ever seen. I wanted to touch every inch of that smooth skin and straining muscle. I ran my hands down over his shoulders, down the rippling, straining muscles of his back, gently digging in my nails as I went. He hissed at the sensation. I gripped his hips with my hands and pulled him tighter into me, wrapping my calves up around the back of his thighs. Dont look away, baby. I want to see your face when you come, he was murmuring. I did as he asked, keeping my eyes on his as his thrusts picked up, and it was so intimate, the two of us, our eyes locked the way our bodies were locked, the most intimate moment of my life. The only sounds in the room were our gasps and moans as we worked closer to our edge. We were so perfect together, every inch of him nested into me like we were carved to compliment each other, every move he made was matched by my body before I could even think about it. Bella.Im so closeI want you to I am too.oh, god, Edward And I felt myself clamping down around him as my climax roared through me again. Bella, I. And Edward fell over the edge with me, pounding unevenly into me and gasping, collapsed against my neck. I lay there in his arms, under his weight, floating, for what felt like an eternity, sure that Id found paradise there, wrapped in Edward. I felt him twitch inside me and he exhaled heavily, rolling free of me. He took care of the condom and was back over me in an instant. He stroked his hand from my temple over my cheekbone and down to cup my jaw, his eyes never leaving mine. He leaned in and kissed me, long and slow and gentle, stoking my cheekbone with his thumb. That wasamazing, he murmured against my mouth. Mmmm Ive neverit was never like I found myself unable to come up with a superlative that could adequately describe how beyond anything Id ever experienced that was. Edward chuckled low against my neck, wrapping his arms tight around me and rolling, so he was on his back and I was nestled in along the side of him, my head resting on his chest. I never want to let go of you, he said softly, pressing a kiss into the top of my head. I felt boneless and blissfully content, unable to do more than lightly trace my fingers over Edwards ribs. He had his head thrown back on the pillow, one hand buried in my hair, twisting it around his fingers, the other idly rubbing my arm draped across him. I wanted to lay awake with him all night, talking, and kissing, and doing that a whole lot more, but I had just had one of the longer days of my life and it was now near dawn and I was more exhausted than I could remember being in ages. So while I was laying curled into his side, thinking how exquisite, how very right it felt to be pressed against the warm solid length of him, I fell asleep.


Chapter 20 - Crack the Shutters

Bella Dimly, I heard a tapping, soft but persistent. I cracked my eyes. Edwards room was unfamiliar to me in the shaded morning light creeping around the closed shades. I felt the heat of him still curled around me. I was on my side and he was flush against my back, one arm draped heavily across my waist and his face buried in my hair. There was the tapping again. Someone was at Edwards bedroom door. I glanced over my shoulder and saw he was still sleeping soundly. I was momentarily distracted by the beauty of his sleeping face. He looked younger, softer, like that boy in Hamlet again. His face was so peaceful, there was a whole level of anxiety and tension that he must carry all the time that was absent in sleep. I wished I knew what to do to make that face happen when he was awake. Tap, tap. Someone wanted him. Maybe it was Sam and he was supposed to be someplace. Or it might be Maria, the housekeeper, who Id met a few times this past week. I hated to wake him to answer it, so I slid carefully away from his body and free of his arm. He sighed a little and rolled onto his stomach, his arm splayed out where my body had been. I found my panties quickly at the foot of the bed where I remembered Edward stripping them off of me before hewell, better not think about that right before I answer the door. I was stuck about what else to put on. My dress was out. I settled on Edwards wrinkled tux shirt, laying in a pile on the floor near my dress. I stuffed my arms into the sleeves. There were no buttons, I realized. Of course not, I got confused when I got there last night, it had been shirt studs, not buttons. And those studs were long gone, scattered across the room when he ripped his shirt openfuck Stop! Inhaling deeply to clear my head, I wrapped his shirt closed across my front and clamped my arms across my waist to hold it there. Well, I was covered. It would have to do. I hurried to the door and cracked it open to see Alices black hair and sparkling blue eye staring back at me through the sliver. Her expression was a little wary, cautious, but not surprised to see me there. Until that moment, I hadnt considered how Alice might feel about this, me and her brother very decidedly blurring the lines of our arrangement. I got the feeling the night before that she was sort of throwing me at him, but maybe she didnt intend for me to tumble straight into bed with him. Just like all the others. Suddenly I worried that she might not approve of what Id done, or worse, be angry with me. Umhey Alice I managed to whisper. She looked like she was working hard to keep her face smooth. You werent in the guest room, so I figured.The Harry Winston people will be here soon for the necklace. Oh! Right. One second, I closed the door softly and hurried to the piano to retrieve the expensive pile of jewelry discarded there. Edward was still sleeping. I ran to the door and slipped out into the hall, blushing a little at what a clich I must look like, wearing nothing but Edwards tux shirt, my hair a God awful mess of ruined hair style and post-coital chaos, my makeup probably smudged all over my face. I wordlessly handed the jewelry over to Alice. Um, Alice? I began. She looked up at me, one little eyebrow cocked in response. Imwell, I dont know how you feel about, umme and Edwardand this. Her face softened and she smiled broadly, Bella, its great! It is? Yes! she rolled her eyes at me. Frankly I saw this coming a mile away. 124

You did? Mm-hmm. Im just surprised you held out as long as you did. Edward can be very persuasive. I blushed and looked down at my bare toes, thinking that persuasive was a completely inadequate word to describe what Edward could do, but I didnt say anything. There was a lot I wanted to say, a lot I was thinking and worrying about, but while Alice was my friend, she was also Edwards sister. So I couldnt exactly say that the fact that her brother was a man whore terrified me, that I was frantic that I wouldnt be enough to hold his attention, that hed be lured away by the countless other women who wanted him, that I was already wondering how long I might reasonably hope to keep him before he moved on, that I wasnt even sure what to expect when he woke up this morning. No, I couldnt say any of that to her. She seemed to understand that, though and she merely reached out to squeeze one of my hands. Youre good for him, she whispered. I looked up at her, sure that my fear and anxiety must have been written all over my face, I just hope I can be enough for him. Just be you. Dont worry about the rest. I nodded and bit back the tears I felt hovering in my throat. It was almost what he had said to me last night. Just live in the moment, take what you can get and dont worry about the future. And thats what I would do. So, I said lightly, trying to shake off my gloom, what was the word last night? Was I a disaster? Her face transformed, lit from within. Oh, Bella! she squealed, gripping my hand harder as she rose up on tip toe in her excitement, You were a hit! The most talked-about woman of the night. Everybody loved your dress, your hair, everything! They raved. It was all over the news, all over the gossip shows and the red carpet coverageall anyone talked about was you! I smiled, happy for her happiness. I was glad I could do her proud, because it was really her success. All I did was show up and not fall down. Im so glad, Alice! You deserve it! We deserve it. You inspired me. Theres a ton of stuff you should see. Ill bookmark it online and we can look later. But not today. Edwards got nothing today. Nobody schedules anything major for right after the Oscars. So hes all yours. Enjoy! I blushed at her gift and all that she was implying, but I choked out, Thanks. Alice scampered down the hallway, the priceless Harry Winston trailing from her fingers. I slipped back into Edwards room and closed the door quietly behind me. Edward was awake, lying on his side, propped up on one elbow. Christ, he was beautiful. The blanket covered his legs and hips, but his beautiful body from the waist up was exposed. He was so sculptural and flawless, his smooth skin taut over his gently toned muscles. His jaw was scruffy with the shadow of his beard, but it only served to give him a raw, dangerous edge. And damn, that hair. The sex hair was deadly enough when he was out of bed and fully dressed, but now, when he was naked and it really was sex hairmy knees felt freaking weak. He watched me slip into the room with a slow, sexy grin spreading across his face. I woke up alone, he said, softly, And I didnt like it. Edward Bella stood there leaning against the closed door looking like every goddamned sex fantasy Id ever had come to glorious life. She was wearing nothing but my tux shirt, wrapped closed across her front, and she had one of her arms across her waist to hold it there. The shirt stopped mid thigh, exposing the rest of her long, creamy fantastic legs. Her hair was a beautiful mess, a dark, chaotic halo around her 125

face, tumbling down over her shoulders and back. Her eye makeup was smudged, but it only served to make her eyes sultry and smoky. My dick sprang to life instantly at the sight of her. I wasnt kidding when I said waking up alone made me unhappy. When I woke up and stretched my arm out, finding nothing but empty bed, my stomach fell, thinking Bella had changed her mind or regretted it and fled in the middle of the night. Then Id heard low female voices in the hall and realized where she was and the flood of happy relief I felt was embarrassing. Alice, she said by way of explanation. She pushed off the door and walked slowly across the room, dropping her arm, letting the shirt fall open in front. A long pale sliver of her body was bared, and I caught a glimpse of her midnight blue panties flashing. I sucked in my breath sharply. Yeah, we were definitely headed for round twosoon. Apparently Harry Winston wants their necklace back, Bella shrugged and the shirt fell further open. I could see the swells of her breasts beginning. Last night definitely went too fast. I didnt get to spend nearly enough time on those. I planned to rectify that oversight immediately. Let them have their fucking necklace, as long as they leave what was inside of it. Come here, my voice was low and ragged with desire. She hopped up on the bed without hesitation, on her knees in front of me. Jesus. I was afraid Id race through this encounter as well, I was so fucking desperate to be inside of her already. I sat up and reached forward, grabbing her by the waist and yanking hard. She lost her balance and fell into me with a shocked little gasp. I turned her as she fell, so she was angled across my lap. I raised one hand and fisted it into her hair and crashed my mouth down onto hers. She moaned and softened against me, her arms snaking up around my neck, pulling my head down to meet her. I slipped a hand around to her stomach and brushed the sides of the shirt out of my way, laying my palm flat across the smooth bare skin of her stomach. Her muscles trembled a little underneath my fingers. I fucking loved how her body responded to my touch. I slid my hand up her ribs, letting my fingers dip into each little hollow as I made my way up until I was cupping her glorious breast in my palm. I massaged gently while I kissed her deeply. I drew circles around her nipple with my fingertips, closer and closer but not touching her hard little nub. Bella hissed against my mouth and arched her back towards me, begging me to touch her. I gave her what she wanted, but only for a moment, rolling and pinching her nipple gently. She gasped at the sensation. I pushed on her hips to get her back on her knees before me. Grasping the back of one thigh, I swung her leg over me so she was straddling me, but still on her knees. I gripped her waist and pulled her forward, nudging aside my shirt with my nose. She started to shrug it off her shoulders but I reached up quickly to stop her. Dont. You wearing nothing but my shirt is the sexiest fucking thing Ive ever seen. I want you just like this. I reached out with my tongue and licked her on her sternum right between her breasts. She sighed in anticipation and her head fell back, eyes closed. I went to work, kissing and licking, sucking and gently biting, focusing first on one perfect breast, then the other. I covered every inch of her milky skin except her nipples, saving them till last, until she was fisting her hands in my hair and yanking hard, moaning and arching her pelvis against me. I wanted to slip my fingers inside her and see how wet she was, but I waited, to drag it out. Finally I drew one hard little pink nipple into my mouth, reaching over at the same time with my fingers to pinch and roll the other one. She moaned. Edward she whispered. I fucking loved hearing her say my name like that. It was my new favorite sound. I pushed down on her hips, so that as she squirmed against me, the tip of my head rubbed against 126

her. Her head fell forward on my shoulder and she ground herself down on to me. Fuuuck. I hooked my fingers into her panties and started to work them down. She had to shift off me for a moment to get them free, but then she swung her leg back over me again, straddling me, lowering her slick wet folds down to press against my rock hard dick. Now it was my turn to throw my head back and moan. The sensation ripped through me and my hands gripped her hips so hard I was afraid I might hurt her. I whipped my hand out, searching for the drawer in the bedside table. I had to get inside of her, as soon as I could. I snatched a condom free and used my teeth to rip the package open. Bella hooked her hands around the back of my neck and levered herself up and away from me enough to allow me access. She pushed my face back and kissed me hard, pushing her tongue deep inside my mouth. I was fumbling blind trying to get the damned condom on, reaching around behind and underneath her, but I didnt want to move her for the world. She lifted her head and drew my bottom lip into her mouth, sucking and gently biting, and I moaned. Finally, I was fully sheathed. I gripped her hips hard and drove her down over the length of me in one sharp move. She cried out. Did I hurt you, baby? N-no, she gasped, her eyes shut tight, her forehead against mine, Oh, God, Edwardfuckyou feel so.good. I thrust up into her once and her head fell back. I could feel the tips of her hair tickling my thighs. She thrust her hips into me and I knew this wouldnt take long. I was so hard and throbbing already. We quickly found a rhythm, thrusting against each other, both of us slightly sheened with sweat from the exertion. I could feel it starting to build inside me already. I desperately wanted her to come with me so I slipped a hand down in between us and found her clit with my thumb. She gasped at the sensation and ground herself harder into me, her fingers digging into my shoulders. I wanted to hold on, but that was all it took for me, I was arching and gasping in my release. Involuntarily, my teeth found her skin, biting down on her shoulder as I came. I felt Bella tighten around me and then she was there with me, gasping my name and gripping my shoulders, rocking into me. Her spine gave out as she rode out her orgasm and she slumped boneless into my chest. I wrapped my arms tight around her ribcage, rocking us gently back and forth as we floated on our mutual euphoria. Shes mine. I was swamped suddenly by the intensely possessive feeling. I did feel like she was mine, now that she was with me like this. Some women might have been able to be with me like this and then head straight to another mans bed, but not Bella. I felt like I knew her well enough by now to know this about her. No, if she was with me like this now, she wasnt with anyone else. So whatever there was or used to be between her and Jasper, it was over now, I was sure of it. Hell, maybe it had always just been some lingering ancient history between them. Who the hell knows? Whatever. He was her past, but Im her present. Anyway, it was her future I was worried about now, our future. Although I had about zero experience with how real, healthy relationships were supposed to work, some rational part of me knew I should probably get this all out there and talk about it, address it head on. We were supposed to talk. I was supposed to tell her how I felt about her, tell her I wanted her to be with me for real. But what the hell was I supposed to say? Spill my guts to her, tell her Im in love with her and I want her to commit to a serious relationship with me? Thats a freaking joke. Me, asking her to commit to a serious relationship. Me, whos never even had one. Me, whos still terrified by the very thought of it, no matter how much I want it. Me, whos sure to screw it up. By anyones estimation, even my own sisters, hell, even by my own, I was a very 127

bad bet, a heartbreaker, a whore. I had absolutely nothing to offer her, no assurances I could make. If I were her, theres no way Id get seriously involved with me. Sad, but true. Id probably warn her to stay away from me if I didnt want her so desperately. And I had no idea how she felt. Yes, I knew she wanted me. Yes, I knew the sex between us was unreal. But did she even want to be with me like that? Or was I just a fling for her, something fun and forbidden? I knew I was being a little cowardly, not confronting her now that wed taken this step. But if I laid it all out there now and she said noI couldnt bear the thought of her walking away from me already. So right now all we had was sex. Lucky for me, I could do sex really well. Plus, I reasoned to myself, the deeper in we got like this, the longer we were together, the harder it would be for her to leave. So Id take her like this and hope to God I could make her fall in love with me like I had with her. The irony was not lost on me that it was I, Edward Cullen, whod studiously avoided any woman ever laying claim to me, who was now stuck here angsting like a teenaged girl about where I stood with Bella. Talk about karma coming back to bite you in the ass. I suppose I had this day of reckoning coming. And if I were honest with myself, considering how Id lived my life up until now, Id earned myself a broken heart, not blissful happiness. I felt Bella turn her face into the crook of my neck and sigh. It was heavenly to stay there, sheathed in her, holding her, her body curled around me, but I did need to clean up. I gave her hip a tiny nudge and she slipped off me to curl up on her side in the bed. I dealt with the necessities and returned to her side, urging her head up so I could slip my arm underneath her. She obliged, resting her head on my chest and throwing her leg over mine. I wondered just how long we could stay here tangled together, before the world intruded. At that moment, her stomach growled audibly, giving me my answer. She ducked her head into my shoulder and I laughed at her reaction. Bella, are you trying to tell me something? I felt her shrug. Im kind of hungry. But I dont really want to leavethis. I pulled her in closer. Me either. I can call Sam and have him bring us something. She brightened at that thought, Really? Christ, Bella, yes. I have enough money to make just about anything happen. Just name it. But all I said was, Yeah, sure. What do you want? A cheeseburger, she said decisively, With bacon. And fries Done. How about a milkshake to go with it? Ooh, yes! Chocolate! Sounds good. Ill call him, I said, shifting a little towards the side of the bed for the phone. She rolled away a little to stretch lazily, which was sexy and turned me on, like every move she made. And I suppose I need to get cleaned up, she said. I dragged a hand over my face, wondering suddenly how bad I must look. Because I felt great. Yeah, I guess I should do that, too. Bella shot me a look out of the corner of her eye. Are you going.do you have plans today? Yes, I said decisively. She looked back at the ceiling. Oh. Her voice was cold. Instantly I felt her distance, felt the walls go back up. Crap, even a hint of the real world and shes pulling away from me again. Oh, no, I couldnt let her slip away so soon. In one swift move, I rolled over on top of her, pinning her underneath me. I have very definite plans to keep you here as close to me as possible all damned day, preferably under me. 128

I bent my head to kiss her under her ear and she laughed, wrapping her arms around my neck. I sighed internally in relief as I felt her warm to me again. Well, I suppose I could clear my schedule, if lying underneath you is whats on the agenda, she sighed and rolled her eyes dramatically. Lying? Like you would just lay there? I cocked an eyebrow at her. Wont I? she asked, her voice full of pretend innocence. I suppose you could try, I smirked. Then I slipped my hands up to her waist and tickled her lightly and she squirmed under me, shrieking and laughing, making all sorts of interesting things brush together. And thenyeah. We didnt make it out of my room for the rest of the day.


Chapter 21 - Don't Move

Bella For the second morning in a row, I cracked my eyes open to the sight of Edwards bedroom around me and the feeling of Edwards body curled against mine. I couldnt remember the last time Id felt so content. His breathing was slow and even behind me, which I knew meant he was still deeply asleep. I loved that I knew what his sleeping breathing sounded like. Yesterdayoh my God. I could hardly wrap my brain around yesterday. Wed barely left this bed. Id wandered into Edwards bathroom eventually to take a shower, but it hadnt taken long for Edward to join me and then it was like the bed, only upright (mostly) with water. Edward left the room only to meet Sam when he brought us food. And it wasnt just sex, although there had been plenty of that. We had talked and laughed and teased each other... I even sang to him when he asked me to. Christ, I was in so deep. I squinted at my cell on the side table. The alarm beeped, which was what woke me up. Fuck, I had a photo shoot today. Well, as perfect as our little bubble was, I knew wed have to leave this room sooner or later. I sighed and tried to figure out how I should approach this. For the last week that I had been crashing at Edwards, in the guest bedroom, I came and went as my schedule dictated, and since wed been in the run up to the Oscars, I hadnt really had to wonder about the appropriateness of coming back to Edwards house every day. Alice was dragging me there anyway. But now I didnt have any other reason to be there, and now I was certainly more than a casual houseguest, and, wellI was worried that if I just showed back up this afternoon after my shoot, unannounced, that it might feel like I was assuming too much, moving in too fast, pushing myself into his life, or something. And if he sensed I was trying to stake some sort of claim on him, he might freak out. DamnI had no idea where we stood outside of this bed and I had no idea how to bring it up. I was terrible at this part, keeping it cool, pretending it didnt matter. Especially when I was hopelessly in love. The alarm reminder beeped again. I had to get moving. I began to edge out from underneath Edwards arm until it suddenly clamped down hard over my waist and he pulled me up tight against his chest. You were going to let me wake up alone two mornings in a row? he growled into my hair. God, his voice was sexy when he first woke up. I smiled and curled my back into him. I have to go. Photo shoot. Really? he asked with a flicker of interest. What for? CD cover, so its important. He was quiet for a moment. I could almost hear him thinking behind me. AhhHow longwhat time do you think youll be done? Um, Im not really sure. Late afternoon, probably, I got the feeling that he wanted to make sure I was coming back here, but that he didnt want to ask me straight out. But then I was worried that I was trying to read way too much into the tone of his voice. But then I decided that I needed to know where the hell to go this afternoon, so I was just going to have to suck it up and put it out there. Do you want me to come back over here? When Im done? He rolled me slightly in his arms so I could finally see his face. He was grinning broadly. I want you to come back here, he said softly, before he lowered his face to kiss me. It was a soft, sweet kiss, but in what was already becoming a familiar pattern with us, it was beginning to escalate and his hands were starting to wander in delicious ways and I was in serious danger of sinking back into this bed for 130

another twenty four hours. AhhhEdward? I really have to go, I murmured against his lips. He growled low in his throat and moved to my neck. His hands were moving up my ribcage. My eyes were sliding closed, my hands were creeping into his hair The alarm reminder on my cell went off again. Havetogo, I whispered. He exhaled heavily against my shoulder before he rolled away from me just enough to let me up. Sorry, I just cant keep my hands off of you, he said, smirking. I wasnt exactly complaining, I said as I leaned across and kissed his lips briefly. He reached out for me again, but I scooted back off the bed quickly before he could snag me and pin me. He flopped back dramatically on the bed and shot me a scowl as I headed to the bathroom. I stopped at the door to look back at him over my shoulder. Jesus. He was perfection, lying there like that, his body halfexposed, arms flung out at his side, head thrown back on the pillow. My whole body caught fire again at the very sight of him. It was all I could do not to crawl back into bed with him and just stay there. He narrowed his eyes at me a bit. What is it? I shook my head and tried to smile, to dispel the lust raging through me just from looking at him. I promise, I said, when I get back, I want your hands all over me. And Im putting mine all over you. He flashed me his wicked half-smile, Im holding you to that promise. * * * Isabella, darling, lower your chin a smidgeyesand now raise your eyesyesand look over here, Demetri, the photographer, turned back to the camera once he got me just as he wanted me. I held still and took shallow breaths. Jasper, lean in against her back a bit moreyes. Emmett, move your hand an inch overno, the other hand. Now, move it to the rightno, the other right. Now we all held our breath and didnt move. The shutter went off a million times, making funny popping noises. Then Demetri moved me microscopically and it started all over again. So, Bells Emmett murmured, trying not to move his lips, how were the Oscars? It sounded like an innocent question, but I heard the tone of his voice. It was loaded. Fine, I returned flatly, Long. Dont move your lips! Demetri barked. We were quiet for a minute, posing and holding, not breathing. Okay, Demetri said, Id like to do some of the girls. Gentlemen, can I have you step out? Jasper and Emmett exhaled happily and headed for the catering table without complaint. Oh, how I envied them. Id been in hair and makeup for two hours before this ever started and wed been at the picture-taking part for nearly three hours now. It was tedious and insanely boring. Demetri spent a few minutes setting up the shot of me and Rose he wanted. Rose was curled up on the ground, her legs folded up in front of her. I was sitting on a low box behind her, my arms draped around her and my chin resting on her shoulder. And in this sliced up t-shirt they called a dress that the stylist had put me in, my legs were entirely bare on either side of her, the dress hiked all the way up to my hips. The whole thing was a little too girl-on-girl action for my tastes, but Jasper and Emmett were giving us thumbs up from across the room, making cat calls and snapping pictures with their camera phones, clearly enjoying the show. Considering they were blood relations to each of us, it was 131

wildly inappropriate and gross, but also funny. Eventually they were more interested in the chocolate clairs than they were in us and they turned away. We relaxed a minute while Demetri adjusted his equipment and swapped out cameras. So? Rose whispered. What? Spill. Spill what? Bella! You think I cant tell? I mean, even if you hadnt vanished off the face of the earth since the middle of the Oscars, I would still be able to tell just looking at you! Rose! How can you tell? She shrugged. I dont know. You knew the minute Em and I did it. Okay, she was right, I did. And besides, she continued, I watched that makeup woman spend half an hour this morning covering up the bite marks on your neck. I swear I felt the blush in my fingertips. It was only compounded when Demetri barked, Isabella is all pink! Makeup! Fix her! The makeup woman dutifully appeared at my side, face powder in hand to fix what no makeup could cure, but it bought me a little recovery time. She scampered back out of the shot and Demetri resumed his fussing. Youre not answering the question, Rose said softly. Soyes. You and him? Yes. .And? Ladies! Can you get back into your pose, please? Demetri interrupted. We did as he asked and we were quiet for a moment. Demetri adjusted and fussed and took a million shots. Unbelievable, I whispered. What was? Him. Us. Unbelievable. Ladies! Lips! We were silent again, but Rose couldnt contain herself. How unbelievable? Like mysteries of the universe revealed kind of unbelievable. LIPS! I rolled my eyes at Demetri but I shut up and posed and a few more minutes went by in silence. Was it just the other night? After the show? Rose murmured, eyes on Demetris lens. I didnt answer right away, until Demetri paused to adjust a light. Rose, we didnt get out of bed until this morning. Rose was silent as the shutter went off a million times in our faces. Holy shit, she finally whispered. Yeah. Demetri seemed tired of telling us to shut up, Okay, gentlemen, your turn. Ladies, take a break. I straightened up gratefully and stretched, balanced precariously on my high heels, which in reality were just a spike heel with a sole and a few tiny straps holding them to my feet. I smacked the back of Emmetts head as he and Jasper passed us to take our places. Its gross to make cat calls at your cousin, I snapped. Then I pointed a stern finger at Jasper. And its even grosser when its your twin sister. 132

Oh, come on, Emmett protested playfully, It made you feel pretty, just admit it. Gross, Em. Just gross, I said, but I was smiling. Gentlemen? Today? Demetri was whining. Rose and I got drinks at the catering table and spent a few minutes making fun of the boys as they struck their poses and shot sexy looks at the camera. Man, I hope we didnt look that ridiculous just now. Damn, Emmetts hot, Rose sighed. I wrinkled my nose but said nothing. So, she was right back on target, like a heat-seeking missile, What happens now with you two? I sighed, I have no idea. Are you guys like, a couple now? For real? I sighed and looked down at my hands. There was the million dollar question. I dont know, I answered, shrugging, Sometimes it really feels like we are. But this is Edward and Edward doesnt have girlfriends. Thats what everybody says. So Im trying not to assume anything. So, whatyoure just going to float along in this state of denial? Roses voice got infinitesimally sharper. I sighed heavily, Rose, I know what Edward is and what he isnt. I walked into this with my eyes wide open. Hes not promising me anything and Im not expecting anything. I just want to be with him and enjoy it, for as long as I can. Im going to try not to think further than today. And when its over? And he moves on? Ill put myself back together and go on. Look, Rose, I know its the stupidest thing Ive ever done, and Ive never been that girl, the one who makes all the wrong choices. I just cant help it. I cant stay away from him. I really did try. She threw her arm around my shoulder briefly and squeezed, I know you did, Bell. Youve never been that girl. And I really do get it. Im just playing devils advocate, I want you to be sure of what youre getting into. But whatever you do, you know Im cool, right? Yeah, I know, Rose. And I love you for it. So, are you still staying there? Yes. I thought this morning, that maybe I shouldnt. I dont know, I didnt want to be presumptuous, and I was afraid he would be weird about it. But this morning he said he wanted me to come back today. So I will, for now. I mean, I cant stay at my house yet anyway. You know you could always stay with us, Rose interjected. Yeah, but with me comes the media. And people arent supposed to know about you and Em yet, remember? Right. Hadnt thought of that. You could stay with Jazz. And then TMZ posts pictures of me leaving Jazzs house in the morning when Im supposed to be dating Edward. Also a no. Its okay, Rose. I want to be with him. Rose gave me a long stare, her anxiety apparent on her face. Just try to take care of yourself, honey. Ill try, I said, almost a whisper. But I knew there was no way I could protect myself in this. It was too late and I was in way too deep. * * * Rose and I were wiggling out of the last of the ridiculous, tiny outfits when Jasper popped his head in the door of the dressing room. 133

Jazz! Get the fuck out! Rose shrieked, throwing her discarded blouse at his head. Shut it, Rose. Like I havent seen every bit of it before. Hustle it, girls, Felix from the label is here and he wants to talk to us. Rose rolled her eyes, but we both got back into our street clothes quickly and headed back to the lounge just off the studio. Emmett and Jasper were already there with Felix. We had a rotating cast of young, hipster guys from the label that dealt with us. Felix was a bit more regular than some of the others. He was probably in his late twenties, but he dressed like a nineteen year old skateboarder with ironically nerdy black framed glasses and his black hair in a stupid emo haircut that was way too young for him. Hey, kids! he greeted us. He always called us kids even though he was at most, five years older than us. I have some big news for you. Rose sat down on the arm of the couch next to Em and I moved to stand behind Jasper. Whats the story? Jasper asked. Well, with all theah, attentionBella has gotten you, the label has decided to bump up the release date for the album by a few weeks. Jasper exhaled through his teeth and rubbed the back of his neck, But were not even done in the studio yet. Felix waved his hand dismissively. You nearly are. Butch says its coming along great and you can wrap it up fast. Its a little tight with the new release date, but we should be able to make it. Well have to, because theres more. What else? Emmett asked. Youre going out on tour. Soon. Felixs announcement, which he was clearly excited about, was met by a long moment of stunned silence by us. But I finally began, I thought we werent slated to start the tour for three months. That was before we moved the release date up. And youll still play those dates. Were just adding a sort of mini-tour to coincide with the album release. Ten major cities, a few dates in each. Sort of whetting the appetite, if you will. Or cashing in, The words were out of my mouth before I realized Id said them. Felix stared at me for a moment before responding, Well, Bella, that was the point of your whole relationship with Cullen, remember? And its working. Of course were going to cash in. Thats what we do. I clenched my jaw and tried not to blow up. I hated this, these strangers brainstorming in offices somewhere about how best to capitalize on what was going on between me and Edward. Especially now that so much more was going on. It made me feel dirty, and made everything between us feel cheap. I nodded tersely, Of course. Is that a problem for you? he asked with a slight edge to his voice that hadnt been there before. Rose reached out and snagged my hand, giving me a squeeze. No. No problem, I said tightly, So when do we leave? Three weeks. What? Jasper and I responded in unison. We would have liked to send you out sooner, but the logistics were just too daunting to arrange. You have to finish the album, rehearse the new show We have to put together a whole new live show in three weeks? Emmett asked, horrified. Were leaving town so soon? Jasper asked. I knew what he was thinking of, because it was what I was thinking of. He was wondering about Alice. I was wondering about Edward. 134

Youll have days off between cities, time enough to come back to LA if you want, Felix said briskly, There will be a ton of promotional work to do, and well be fitting that in around the tour dates. But still, a whole new show in three weeks? Along with finishing the album? Now it was Jaspers turn to freak out about that timeline. Felix beamed what he thought of as his most appealing smile. Lots of work to do, kids! You start rehearsals tomorrow, in the evenings after you finish in the studio. I sank down onto the sofa next to Emmett. Felix clapped Jasper on the shoulder before he left to chat with Demetri. I leaned my head back on the sofa and stared at the ceiling. Three weeks? We were leaving on tour in three weeks. Edward and I had just started and now I was leaving town. What would happen to us? Was there any us at all? It was completely ridiculous to hope that hed want to continue this in any sort of long-distance situation. So what then? Id leave for the tour and then Id never hear from him again. The thought of it made me feel ill. I knew going into this that I would take whatever time Edward was willing to give me and not ask for more. But I had really hoped for so much more than three weeks.


Chapter 22 - The Man With the Child in His Eyes

Bella Why am I on stage right? Jasper asked, hunched over the floor plan of the stage for the new live show, Im always stage left, Rose is stage right. Felix sighed and rubbed a tired hand over his eyes. I was sure he was working hard, too, getting us ready for the tour, but honestly, he wasnt the one rehearsing for fourteen hours a day, so why did he seem so exhausted? The sound guys liked the amp set up better this way. Were really behind on these plans. Can you just deal? Jasper made a face that we all recognized. Well, all of us but Felix. Weve been doing this for ten years and Im always on the left. Its just weird, thats all. Jasper was pretty laid back about a lot of thingsunless it had something to do with music or performing. Then he was a big fat neurotic, perfectionist, OCD mess. To Felix, whether Jasper stood on the right side of the stage or the left while he played certainly couldnt have seemed at all important. But Rose, Emmett and I sensed Jaspers spiking anxiety instantly. Its weird for me, too, Rose said abruptly. I look to my left at Jazz, for the cues. Its going to throw me, she looked at Jazz and gave him a tiny nod of the head. Jazz threw her a tight smile. Felix might have argued with Jasper, but if Rose double-teamed him, theyd get their way. Besides, Rose knew that Felix secretly lusted after her and she wasnt above using it. Felix looked up at Rose. She cocked one blonde eyebrow and her lips curled in a tiny smile at him. Emmett snorted softly behind me. He loved watching Rose work over lustful guys. And Felix was getting worked. Emmett figured they deserved it for lusting after his girl, and he was usually right. Alright, alright. Ill tell the sound guys they have to reconfigure. Whatever you need, Rosalie. Anything else? I stuck my finger downstage center, Id re-think that platform you want me on unless you want to see me fall off of it and into the audience. Felix scowled at me, Bella, I think youre exaggerating this whole clumsiness thing youre so worried about. Uh, no shes really not! Emmett laughed. I glared at him, but I chuckled. Fine, Felix huffed, rolling up the floor plan, Ill take your concerns back to the production supervisor and well see what we can do. He was gathering up his stuff and shoving it back into his messenger bag, still casting surreptitious glances at Rose, as the door to our rehearsal studio opened and Aro breezed in, looking like his usual fresh, flawless, immaculate self even at this hour. I leaned back on the couch and took a deep pull on my throat-soother tea, trying to soak up as much vocal rest in this break, if you could call it a break, as possible. Hello, darlings! Aro was bright and cheery, Are we all excited for the tour? Were pretty freaking tired, honestly, Jasper said, But thats not your problem, Aro. What brings you by? Aro sat down in the seat Felix vacated as he left for the day. Hed no doubt be back tomorrow with more tour details to overwhelm us. Time was short and all the preparations were in a full out rush to the finish. Just some promotional events were arranging in your first few cities. I thought Id go through them with you now so you know whats coming. 136

It was 8 pm and we had at least two more hours of rehearsal for the stage show before there was a chance I could get out of here and there was really nothing I wanted to do less on my one break of the night than talk about publicity. But if we didnt do it now, wed just have to do it afterwards, so we all scooted closer to Aro and let him go through it. It was a whole lot of the usual, interviews, appearances on some morning talk shows, a few marketing tie-ins he was hoping to sell us onso boring. We were saved when the stage manager appeared and starting whining about how much we still had to work on tonight. Aro conceded and said hed catch up with us later about the rest. As we were all dispersing back to our positions for rehearsal, Aro caught my arm. Bella, a word? Sure, Aro. Whats up? I stopped and looked at him expectantly. Laurent and I have been chatting about your arrangement with Edward, he said, his voice blithe and unconcerned. My blood stopped in my veins. Were both extremely pleased. The two of you have done a wonderful job of selling it and its worked out for the both of you better than we ever could have hoped. You know, of course, how high your profile is. Interest in you and every move you make is at a fever pitch. It will all translate into positive attention once the album is released, Im confident of that. And now that theyve moved up the release date, its all falling into place perfectly. I could say nothing, I just nodded. And Laurent is thrilled with what its done for Edward. Scripts are coming in, projects are under consideration for him again. Well, that was good to hear. If it helped Edward then thats what I hoped for. So why did I feel like the next thing out of Aros mouth would end me? Well have to discuss the details, plan an exit strategy, but I think well be looking at a timeline for ending the set-up soon. Ending it? I wondered how my voice could sound so impossibly calm considering the screaming in my head. Nothing too abrupt, of course. But its served its usefulness. Im sure youll be relieved to stop pretending. I know you didnt like it. And, he stopped and chuckled, shaking his head, this show of restraint on Edwards part must be tedious for him. Im sure hes eager to return to his usual pursuits. I felt sick, and weak in the knees. Wh-when? the turmoil in my chest finally manifested itself in my voice. I hurriedly took a sip of my tea to cover it. Oh, we havent settled on the exact timeline. Well talk some more, look at your calendars, pick a time that works for everybody. It sounded like we were planning a fucking lunch date. How could we be standing here talking about me and Edward breaking up like it was some business meeting we were all trying to squeeze in? My face must have given me away because Aro squeezed my hand and gave me his concerned face, which wasnt all that convincing. Nothing you need to worry yourself with, dear. Just focus on the rehearsals and the tour. Leave the rest up to us. He kissed my cheek and cast a wave at the rest of the band and then he was gone. I muttered a hurried excuse to the stage manager that I needed the ladies room and I nearly bolted out, ignoring the curious gazes behind me. Once I was locked in the bathroom, I slumped against the door and willed myself not to cry. Aro said it was just he and Laurent talking. Maybe they hadnt said anything to Edward yet. But when they did? What would he say? This last week with him, as busy as Id been, as little time as Id had to spend with him, had been amazing. Every night Id spent wrapped in his arms, curled up on his chest after the most mind137

blowing sex I had ever or would ever experience. And it seemed like he liked me. I kept such a careful check on my emotions, constantly reminding myself not to hope, not to expect, not to read anything into what he said or did. And yet When he touched me casually, the way he looked at me just before we fell asleep, the way he kept me in his arms all night longit felt like he cared. I couldnt imagine that he could be with me like this if he didnt feel anything. But then, Im not Edward Cullen. And there was plenty of history that proved he could. Maybe thats what made Edward so deadly; he made you feel like it was more when it wasnt. I had no idea what to do. Should I say something? Tell him that Laurent and Aro were planning our demise? Ask him what would happen after that? But didnt I know what would happen? I would go my way and he would go his. Maybe if he wasnt quite bored with me yet, he might want to drag it out a little longer. But then again, I was leaving on tour in two weeks, so there really wasnt a lot to hope for there. If I brought it up now, it would just force the uncomfortable truth to the forefront and taint the little bit of time I had left with him and I couldnt bear that. If all I had were these last two weeks, the few hours I could squeeze in around my brutal schedule, then I wasnt about to spoil it by talking about this. I felt my heart start to break a little every time I thought of it, but I would keep it to myself. And Id keep Edward just as I had him, frozen in this little bubble of happiness, until the last possible moment. Before I left town, I knew Id have to talk to him about it, and I would. But until then, he was mine, or at least I could pretend that he was. Knowing how I would proceed didnt necessarily make me feel better, but at least I could move again, and I felt like I could face him tonight and pretend it was okay. And, I thought with a heavy sigh, I could get back to rehearsal. * * * It was late when I finally got back to Edwards, and I figured Id try our favorite room first, so I headed for his bedroom. The door was closed, but I heard music inside. My hand was poised over the handle, momentarily wrestling with whether I should knock or walk in when the music that I thought was the stereo abruptly stopped. Then there were a few piano chords, replaying what Id just heard, tentative, working it out. Holy shit. That was Edward, playing the piano. I quietly turned the door handle and slipped in the room as soundlessly as I could. The piano was situated so that Edward was turned mostly away from me. He was seated on the bench, his torso curled forward. He was wearing a white t-shirt and faded worn jeans and he was barefoot. His head was dipped low over the keys, his wild hair falling forward, half obscuring his face. His hands how had I not noticed how beautiful his hands were? Those long, elegant fingers, stretched out, flexing, dancing over the keys. So beautiful. I could hardly breathe he was so beautiful. I needed to let him know I was here. He hadnt played for me yet. He might not want to share this with me. I cleared my throat softly. His head jerked up and back over his shoulder. For just an instant I saw an expression flash there that Id never seen before; intense, focused, slightly scowling, but not unhappy. Then in a heartbeat it cleared and his face lit up with his beautiful smile. My breath caught in my throat that it was meant for me. Hey, he said softly, reaching his hand out and beckoning me closer. I crossed the room and wrapped my arms around his shoulders from behind. He leaned back against me and tipped his head 138

back into my chest, turning his face up to me. I leaned down and placed a soft kiss on his lips. He reached a hand up and pushed into my hair, grasping the back of my neck, pulling me down to him, kissing me back. Im glad youre back, he murmured against my lips. Me, too, I replied, smiling. He pulled my arms free from his chest and scooted over, motioning me to sit next to him. I sat down, pressing the side of my thigh against his. I heard you playing when I came in, I said, It was beautiful, Edward. I had no idea you could play like that. He shifted a little, uncomfortably. Thanks. Im really rusty. Its been.damn. Its been a long time. What were you playing? He looked down at his hands and fingered the edge of the keyboard for a second, Ahjust something that Ive been working on. Itwell I ducked my head so I could see his face. He was still looking down at his hands and then he reached up and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. He was nervous. Edward? Its just something that Iah, Christ! he exhaled loudly, blowing his hair up off his forehead. He silently reached up to the top of his piano and slid some loose pages across to me. Manuscript paper, all filled out with a composition, by hand. Edwards hand. It was in pencil, heavily corrected, erased and rewritten in some places several times. Did he write this? Did you write this? No! I mean, I did a little composing when I was younger, but Im not that ambitious right now. No, this is just something I arranged. A song You said you liked it. I looked closer, letting the notes play in my head. I flipped it back to the first page. Written in Edwards handwriting across the top was The Man With the Child In His Eyes. Oh my God. The Kate Bush song. The one I sang that morning after I first stayed here. The conversation came flooding back to me. I told him that I couldnt sing it with the band because it was really meant for voice and piano, and it couldnt be just anybody on piano. Because it was so intimate. Hed arranged the piano part for me. So I could sing it with him. My throat began to constrict. Dont cry, dont cry. I really felt like I was going to cry. This was justsonice. I was being flooded with emotions and responses and reactions and it was all I could do to hold myself together and not start blubbering uncontrollably. Bella? His voice was soft and uncertain. I hadnt said anything, I realized, I was still just staring at the music in my hand. Edward, I cant believe you did this, my voice came out as a whisper. You said you wanted to sing it, but you couldnt do it with the band, He leaned a little closer to me, his arm snaking around my waist, and his voice dropped, soft and intimate in my ear. Will you sing it with me? I closed my eyes and let out a slow, shuddering breath. I would need to pull it together to find my voice. I had to sing this with him, after he did this for me. I wanted to sing it with him. I looked up to meet his gaze and I nodded. He gave me a minute to look through the music, to familiarize myself with his arrangement and I struggled to pull myself together, get my voice back under my control. Ready? he smiled. I nodded. Edward started, playing the first few opening notes, the haunting melody on the piano I knew so 139

well. There were other instruments in the song, mostly strings, so Edward had altered his arrangement to pick up the slack and it was beautiful. My vocal was supposed to start right on the heels of his first notes but I was so caught up in watching him play that I was late. I rushed in: I hear him Before I go to sleep And focus on the day thats been I could feel Edwards playing pulling me along, supporting me, leading out my vocals and resolving my phrases, responding to me. It was intimate. Every bit as much as I thought it might be. After the first verse, the piano swelled, grew richer, louder and the sensation of it in my chest practically forced the chorus out of my throat. Id never had such a visceral experience singing. Id never felt so wrapped into the music around me before. I reached out and placed my palm flat on top of the piano, so I could feel his playing vibrate through my hand, up my arm and into my chest. I launched into the second verse and I was aware of the lyrics as never before. I felt them in my heartand they hurt. Hes very understanding And hes so aware of all my situations When I stay up late hes always waiting But I feel him hesitate Oh, Im so worried about my love They say no, no, it wont last forever But here I am again, my girl Wondering what on earth Im doing here Maybe he doesnt love me I just took a trip on my love for him I felt my throat constricting with the truth of it, but Edwards surging piano was pulling me along and I was thrust into the chorus again. Then the vocal was done and it was all Edward, his breathtaking piano finishing the song. I watched his fingers move up and down the keys, his shoulders rocking with his effort. He finished the last notes, his fingers stilled. The vibration of the music still hung in the air. I made myself raise my eyes to him. It was pointless to try to hide my tears. He reached his hands up and cupped my face, slowly drawing his thumbs under my eyes to swipe them away. Edward I began. The words failed me, so I leaned in and showed him how I felt, pressing my lips against his. I reached out and tangled my fingers in the hair at the base of his neck and pulled his head closer to me, deepening the kiss, slipping my tongue over his bottom lip. He opened his lips under me and pushed his tongue in against mine and I was sinking into the sensation of him, the exquisite taste and feel of him underneath me. It was too awkward, sitting side by side like this, I couldnt get close enough to him. I stood and turned, swinging my leg over his, straddling his lap and settling down there, digging both hands into his hair. He moved his hands to my hips, pulling my pelvis in against his. I could feel his erection against me already and I was desperate for him. Edwards lips left mine and started a hot descent down my neck to my chest. His hands slid up my ribcage, pushing my shirt up, skimming my skin. He broke away long enough to pull it over my head. I whipped it up and off my hands and shook my hair to free it before I pitched the shirt to the floor. His hands slid behind me and in a brief, practiced move, he unhooked my bra and it quickly followed my shirt to the floor. I grabbed his face in my hands and crushed my mouth against his again, desperate to have him in me soon. But Edward had other plans. He suddenly grabbed me by the waist and lifted me up as he stood, until I was sitting on top of the piano, my legs hanging down over the keys. Discordant notes 140

rang out as the backs of my legs brushed the keys. Edwards fingers went to work on the snap of my jeans, opening them and slipping them down and off my legs as I lifted my hips to help him. I felt a rush of heat as I imagined what he might do next. I was so wet for him already. He slid his hands all the way up the length of my legs as he returned them to my hips, looking up at me through his dark lashes. I moaned softly at the sensation. He placed one hand on the center of my chest and pushed gently, laying me back on the piano. The lacquer top was cool against the skin of my back. I was nearly trembling in anticipation. I gasped as I suddenly felt Edwards mouth, hot and wet on the inside of my thigh. He was working his way upwards, leaving a trail of open-mouthed kisses up my leg. I writhed underneath him, my center feeling swollen with desire for him. His lips left me for a minute and my wet skin cooled a little. Then without warning I felt his mouth on my panties, over my clit. My back arched and I moaned involuntarily. Edward He kissed and sucked me like that for a minute until I might come that way, without ever getting my underwear off. But just when I thought I might, he stopped and hooked his fingers in my panties over my hips. I lifted them just a little, so he could slide them down and off me. His mouth returned to my thigh. I want to taste you, Bella. Can I taste you? He was teasing me. He knew he could. He already had, so many times. Tell me you want me to, Bella. Oh, God. Your mouth, Edward. I want your mouth, I moaned. He didnt give it to me, not yet. Instead without warning I felt two fingers plunge inside me. Fuck! I screamed. Well get to that, he muttered, working his amazing, agile fingers in and out of me, curling forward into me, while I fisted my hands against the top of the piano. And then he finally gave me his mouth, pressing his tongue right to my swollen clit. I cried out again and he tightened his free hand on my hip, holding me still. His tongue began circling me, stroking me and I felt the tremors starting inside. Come against me, Bella. Just like this, he whispered against my most sensitive skin. And then he sucked gently on my clit and I did as he asked, exploding on his hand and tongue, screaming his name, arching against him. He slowed and eased his fingers out of me while I floated down. I heard him unzipping his jeans, heard him fumbling with something, but I couldnt open my eyes yet, I felt boneless, made up of nothing but skin and nerves. His hands gripped my hips again and he was pulling me forward and down. The piano let off a cacophony of sound as my ass hit it on my way down. I opened my eyes. Edward was sitting on the bench again, and his clothes were gone, his erection bulging, already sheathed in a condom, ready for me. I slid down off the piano and onto him, feeling him fill me, all the way up to the edge of me. I was still swollen and tender from the aftershocks of my orgasm, and I gasped at the sensation of him against me, inside of me. Edwards eyes fluttered closed and he bent his head to rest his forehead on mine. Slowly I began to rock against him. So good he murmured, Ill never have enough he didnt sound like he was talking to me, but to himself. It felt good to hear that he was as overwhelmed by us together as I was. It was earth-shattering to me, but I didnt have nearly the experiences to compare it to that Edward did. But it seemed as if it was just as extraordinary to him as it was to me. That had to mean something, didnt it? And the songit had to mean he cared about me, at least a little. I couldnt believe he could do that for me, or touch me 141

like this and not feel at least a little of what I was feeling. I would hang on to that hope. Bella, I lovethe way you feeluhh, Baby he trailed off in a groan as I ground myself into him. Our pace was picking up, I could feel his urgency as he slipped one hand to my shoulder, cupping it, holding me still as he began to thrust up into me. He gripped the back edge of the piano stool with his other hand, providing himself with leverage, so he could thrust the rest of himself up into me. My head fell back and I let him set the pace, driving us towards the edge again. Touch yourself, he muttered, his lips against my throat. Come with me. I slipped a hand down in between us and found my clit as he pushed up into me. I felt it start almost immediately, I was so ready for it. Edward, I Me, too, Baby. Almost He was gritting his teeth as he pounded, his face against my neck, and then with a gasp he was coming. I felt his teeth close over my shoulder. I loved it when he bit me there while he came. It hurt a little, and it would leave a mark, but it felt good, too. His teeth pushed me over the edge with him and I came again, gripping his shoulders and shaking. I sat curled against him, slumped on the piano bench, floating down. His hands stroked my back and played with my hair. He was planting soft kisses against my neck where he just bit me. Well, he murmured into my neck, you just helped me live out the fantasy Ive played in my head at every piano practice Ive had since I was thirteen. I laughed at the idea of a teenaged Edward having raunchy piano lesson fantasies. Really? He pulled his face away enough to smirk up at me. Yes, really. I cant believe theres anything you ever wanted to do that you havent already done. But Im glad you saved this one for me. This one is all for you, Bella, he murmured, pulling my face down to kiss him gently one more time. All for you.


Chapter 23 - If You Want Me

Edward I was at my piano again. I had played more in the past week than I had in the previous five years. I wasnt being serious now, though, just plunking away at Bellas song, re-working some chords, killing timeremembering. Bella on my pianothat really was the fulfillment of a teenaged fantasy, and fulfilled in the most exquisite way imaginable. Every time I sat here, I couldnt stop thinking about it. When she sang with me, I was so fucking nervous to show her what Id done that I almost chickened out. In the end, I couldnt even spit the words out, all I could do was show it to her and see what she did. What she did was sing with me and it wasfuckI had no words for what it felt like, playing, hearing her voice wrap around me like that, answer my notes, finish what I started, take off and fly from where I launched her. I was undone by her. Just being away from her every day left me so strung out and anxious for her. She was like a drug to me, and far more addicting for me than any of the actual drugs I had done. Fuck, I nearly told her that day at the piano, while I was buried in her, that I loved her. It half came out before I caught myself. But even I know that the first time that you tell a woman that you love her, it should not be while your dick is in her and youre about to come. So I back pedaled; it was just too soon and too much was left unresolved. She was leaving on tour in a week. I still didnt know what the fuck to do about that. Realistically I knew that this was bound to come up for one of us. She would go on tour, I would go on location (assuming I ever got cast again), but I hadnt expected it to crop up so soon. We just started and now in a week she was leaving. Here I was, facing this immovable deadline and still I couldnt seem to get anything resolved. As soon as she told me about the tour I knew Id have to say something to her before she left town, confess, lay myself bare before her and hope for the best, even if it all felt too soon. But I hedged, waiting for my opening, the right moment, and it wouldnt come. It didnt help that I hardly saw her at this point. The band was doing double duty, spending the first half of their days in the studio finishing the album and the second half, well into the night every night, rehearsing the new live show, only to start all over the next day at the crack of dawn. The schedule was brutal and Bella was exhausted. Most nights she showed back up at my house at nearly midnight, half asleep on her feet. All I could do at that point was fold her into my arms and take her to bed. It seemed hardly the time to start some big gutwrenching conversation about our futureespecially if it went badly. There it was, the other thing holding me back. Abject terror. There were moments when we were together when I felt like it was so clear, that she cared for me, too, that this should be easy, effortless. And yetBella was a blank slate. She never let slip even the most casual reference to her and I being together like this beyond today. I rarely even heard her utter the word us and never, ever in any sort of future tense. Hell, half the time I was still surprised and delighted when she showed up here at night. It hardly made sense to me. She came to me every night, we had the most mind-blowing sex Id ever experienced, filled with tender touches and whispered endearments. We slept together completely tangled around each other like wed never be separated. The few minutes we spent together around the house in the mornings before she left were filled with casual affection. But she never verbally made reference to the two of us as a couple, we never once spoke about what had changed between us and 143

what it might mean. For every delicate stroke of her fingers along my jaw while she stared into my eyes in a way that made me feel like shed happily spend the rest of her life looking at me like that, there were a million other moments when she casually spoke of her future plans without a single mention of me in there anywhere. And so here I was, still unsure. And she was leaving. And I was going to have to take the leap and speak, knowing there was a pretty good chance she would just give me a pitying look and a smile and tell me that shed had fun, but that it would be best if we just ended this whole thing when she went away. And that would end me. The front gate buzzed, and I was grateful for the momentary distraction from my morose thoughts. I headed down to the front hall and buzzed the visitor in and waited by the front door. It was a messenger, with a fat manila envelope. I could see it was from my manager, Marcs office, by the letterhead. I signed for it and was flipping open the back clasp when my cell buzzed. Hi, Marc, I said, wedging the phone against my shoulder as I flipped the envelope open. Did you get it yet? Marcs voice, usually so calm, slow and deliberate, sounded slightly frantic and clipped. The envelope? Yeah, it just got here. Im opening it now. What is it? An offer, Marc said, short and to the point, and yet those two words hung heavy over the phone line. What for? I slid the script out and flipped it over. The title meant nothing to me, I hadnt heard of it before. I got a call this morning, Marc said, from Martin Scorseses people. He wants you, Edward. Specifically you. For the lead. I stared at the script in my hands, my fingers tightening on it. Really? Me? Is it any good? I was stalling, trying to calm myself down and stay cool. Martin Scorsese would hardly be bothering with crap and, helloIm completely unemployed. Scorseses worst film was still infinitely better than anything I had on my horizon. Jesus, Edward. Beyond good. This is the kind of role that wins you an Oscar, Marc sounded breathless, stunned at this sudden turn in my fortunes. I was silent for a moment, absorbing this, still staring at the script like a moron. Read it today, he wants to talk to you as soon as youve gotten through it. And youll have to head to Italy as soon as possible Wait. Italy? Why? Hes in the middle of filming something else at Cinecetta Studios. He wants you to fly over as soon as you can to do some readings with potential co-stars. They want to lock down the principal casting quickly. Whats the rush? Why did they only approach me now if the schedule is that far along? Marc gave a rueful chuckle, Apparently Marty has been kicking and screaming to have you do this since the script landed in his lap, insisting that theres no one else who would work in the part. But the studio and the producers were balking, refusing to put up the cash unless he picked anotherahem more reliable lead actor. Seems you chatted with one of those producers at the Vanity Fair party. Arnold Goldman? The name tickled my brain a little, maybe I remembered it. I was getting a flash of a tall balding man with a barrel chest and a huge white smile. I remembered him shaking Bellas hand vigorously, and Bella charming him completely. I think by the end of the conversation, she had him reminiscing to her about how he met his wife in college. I dont remember a single word being spoken about work, 144

just another casual party conversation. That guy? I said, disbelievingly, I didnt know he was connected to Scorsese. Well, I dont know what you said to him, but he went back to his partners last week and greenlighted the whole project, told Marty he could have you and anything else he wanted. Marty is beside himself. It was Bella, I said quietly. What? Bella. She was the one who talked to him. She did this for me. Well, then Im buying that girl a drink or a car or maybe her own island or something. Because this is it, buddy. Youre back. Im back. Because of Bella. Bella I was slumped on my stool at the mic, tired and achy and really ready to be done. Wed been at this for hours without a break. But now that the tour and rehearsals were bearing down on us, just over a week until we left, our studio time was drawing to a close and wed chosen to jettison tonights live show rehearsal in favor of staying in the studio and trying to push through and finish this one unwieldy song. Ready or not, we needed to finish the album. Mostly it was done. We all felt really good about the songs and the performances for the most part, there were only a few rough patches to clean up. And of course now, when time and tempers were running short, was when it became impossible to reach a consensus about any of those little details. Id sung this damned intro a thousand times. I knew it wasnt quite perfect, but it was pretty damned close. Butch kept saying he could fix it in the mixing, but Jasper kept insisting I sing it differently, looking for the magic fix. Except I knew he wasnt really questioning my vocal, he was questioning his writing. But since he was unwilling to fess up to that and address it, we just kept doing it over and over, hoping to solve something with my vocal that no vocal could fix. I was ready to throw his damned ass out the window. Roses temper was deteriorating by the minute, Emmett was bored, even poor Seth, slouched on the couch in the recording booth, looked ready to slit his wrists. Jazz, I exhaled, if I havent sung it the way you want to hear it, maybe we should rewrite it. Are you saying its my problem? No, I squeezed my eyes shut and reminded myself that I really did love him, even when he was being a perfectionist dick. Its justI dont think I can give you what youre looking for. Maybe if we switch it up, well all be happier. He opened his mouth to protest and my cell vibrated audibly. He glanced down at my pocket as I fished it out. Cullen? I looked a little sheepish and hit accept, turning away from him to talk. He threw his hands up, exasperated, and flopped onto the couch. Edward? Whats up? Are you finishing up soon? Not officially, but I think our time here is limited, I rolled my eyes in Jaspers direction. We were going to have to wrap it up soon or kill each other. Why? Can I pick you up? I smiled and blushed in spite of myself, Sure, whats up? I wanted to take you out. Dinner, maybe? Have you eaten? No, I havent eaten, but wont it be too late? By the time you get over here and we get out 145

everything will be closing. Not for me, he said casually, Itll be fine. So can I come get you? Um, yeah, sure. Sounds great. Was this a date? Like a real one? Was Edward Cullen taking me out on a date? I could almost hear him smiling through the phone. Great. Ill be there soon. Whats up? Rose asked. What? Oh, Edwards going to pick me up for dinner. Like a date? she asked. I guess. Rose, weve been out to dinner before. Yeah, but you werent sleeping with him then. Rose! I screeched. Emmett snorted and Jasper rolled his eyes dramatically. So I guess this means were done here? Jasper said sarcastically. Jazz, were not getting anywhere. Why dont we let Butch and Kyle work on it some and see what it sounds like tomorrow morning, when were fresh? Before Jasper could respond, the door was flung open and Alice projected herself into the room. Jazz! she shrieked, before falling onto his lap. He grinned ear to ear as soon as he saw her and opened his arms wide to receive her. So, Jazz, I said with mock sarcasm, I guess this means were done here, huh? He shot me a sneer, but then relented and smiled. Youre right, Bells. Lets just listen in the morning. Im sorry Im being such a hard ass. Its just, you know I know, Jazz. You want it perfect. And well get it there. Tomorrow. Rose and Emmett visibly exhaled and began packing up their stuff in relief. Ooh, so youre finished? Alice squealed. I was just coming to steal Jasper away and feed him. Bella, do you want to come to dinner with us? Rose? Em? What about you? Were game, Rose said. Forget Bells, Jasper said, Shes a lost cause. Your brother is on his way over to get her. Oh, but why dont you guys just come with us? she asked. I shot her a stunned look. What, and out you and Jazz to Edward, Alice? I was laughing a little. She shrugged, Im tired of sparing him. He has to find out sooner or later. And if youre there, hell behave himself and be nice. I think youre giving me way too much credit, Alice, I said. No, she said softly, smiling at me, I really dont think I am. Thanks for the vote of confidence, but can I beg off tonight? Rose rolled her eyes at me, Want him all to yourself tonight, Bella? Were just so busy. I never see him anymore. Do you mind? Rose shrugged, Nah, go soak up Loverboy to your hearts content. She looked at me then and her eyes were kind. She knew what I was thinking. Time was short. Ah, well, Alice said, Another time. Well definitely all go out before you guys leave town. She looked miserable at the thought, although Im not sure why, since I knew Jazz was planning on hightailing it back to LA for every break to see her. Well, Im definitely ready for some wine and I think Em is going to start chewing on the sound proofing if we dont feed him soon, Rose said, straightening up from her gear. Bells, will you be okay alone here until Edward shows up? Emmett asked. Butch and Kyle are still working, I said, pointing to the recording booth, Plus, Seth is here. He stays until hes relieved of his duty. Your very own guard dog, Rose snorted. 146

More like a lap dog. Or a really over-eager Jack Russell terrier, Jazz laughed. Youre just jealous because I have a bodyguard and you dont! I stuck my tongue out at him childishly and, laughing. Seth poked his head in the room. Are you guys wrapping up? Yeah, I said, but Im waiting for Edward. Can you hang out with me for a few more minutes? He gave me his enormous open smile and came to flop down on the couch next to me. Sure thing, Boss Lady Emmett gave Seth a somber look and raised his fist to him. Bro? Seth gave him a serious little nod bumped his fist with his own. Bro. Christ, Seth, not you, too! I wailed. Emmett, you are a bad influence on that sweet boy! Rose was laughing as she linked her arm in Emmetts and dragged him from the room after Alice and Jasper. When Edward finally arrived, he found Seth and I engaged in a vigorous game of slap hands. Seth had been feeding me some line about how he was a natural for bodyguard work because his Native American heritage gave him superior Spidey senses and reflexes or some shit like that. I countered that the only reliable way to judge reflexes was a game of slap hands and the next thing we knew, I was kicking his ass at it. I may not be graceful, but Im fast. We were giggling like little children when Edward walked into the studio. He just stood in the doorway watching, an amused smile creeping across his face. My stomach plunged to my feet at the sight of him and I marveled that he still had that effect on me. Seth stood abruptly, as if suddenly remembering his responsibilities. As far as I was concerned, his only responsibility was to keep me entertained until it was time to leave, but he clearly took the whole guarding-my-life thing a bit more seriously. Are you okay then for tonight, Bells? Yes, Seth. Thanks. Tomorrow, 8:30? See you then! He nodded at Edward as he jogged out the door. Nice professional relationship youre developing there, Ms. Swan, Edward drawled as he pushed off the door frame and came further into the room. I gave him a mocking haughty glare. You have your own bodyguard. You can be all distant and professional with him if you want. You leave my Seth alone. Your Seth? Yeah, thats about right. More playmate than fierce protector. Youre just jealous. My bodyguard could kick your bodyguards ass. Edward laughed and it made my heart fail a little, like it always did. He seemed relaxed and happy tonight, and it made me practically giddy anticipating the rest of the evening together. He was looking around himself at the studio with interest and I realized that he hadnt been here since that one brief visit the morning after our first date. Well, this is it, I said, waving a hand around us, Its a little rough around the edges, but weve gotten so comfortable here, Im really going to miss it. This is where the magic happens, huh? he said. We can only hope its magic. He circled around the piano in the corner and idly trailed his fingers over the keys. He plunked out three notes, almost as a reflex action. Then he glanced over to me where I was still sitting on the couch. Would you sing your song with me again? he asked softly. Whatnow? He shrugged, Sure. Is it okay? He nodded his head at the booth where Butch and Kyle were still 147

hard at work. Sure, its fine. Believe me, theyre not listening. Theyre swamped re-mixing the intro we recorded today. Theyll be at it a while. Edward slid onto the piano bench and I crossed the room to come sit beside him. I hummed a few quick scales to loosen my voice back up after having had such a long workout today. All I needed at this point was to blow my voice out. I leaned in against him a little when I was ready and he smiled softly at me with an unreadable expression on his face before beginning. He played it from memory, much to my amazement. I came in on cue this time, and I was much more pulled together, since I wasnt about to break down sobbing like the first time he played it for me. The symbiosis, the emotional connection, was just as strong as it had been in Edwards bedroom. I still couldnt get over this feeling of being fully surrounded in the music, feeling it pushing my vocal, Id never felt anything like this, and I loved it. I realized with a mixture of happiness and dread that it probably had something to do with how I felt about Edward. Thats why it affected me so strongly. We surged through the song and finished, just looking at each other for a moment, smiling stupidly. Thank you for my song, Edward. I love singing it with you. You dont know how much. I like that it makes you happy. Thats why I did it. Bella he looked for all the world like he was going to say something else, his brow furrowed, his eyes dropped, he swallowed hard. My heart began to pound in fear. Edward? Is everything okay? I got a script today, he said abruptly. Really? Is it good? He snorted softly and rolled his eyes. Its fucking great. Martin Scorsese is directing. Hes asked for me personally. My eyes nearly popped out and my jaw dropped, Oh, Edward! I didnt really think about it, I just threw my arms around his neck. I had a moment of second-guessing, worried that I was being too supportive girlfriend when I had no stake to that claim. But his arms came around my waist immediately and he buried his face in the crook of my neck, so I think my reaction was the one he was hoping for. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that Edward was remarkably isolated. He had no genuine close friends that I had seen, and outside of Alice, I was probably the only person he had to share this news with. It made me feel miserable for him. That is so fantastic, Edward! Imwell, Im proud of you. Its all because of you, Bella. You did this for me. Thank you. I tightened my arms around him, glad that he wasnt looking at my face right now, because I was about to cry again. You did this. Its your talent. It was always there. I just helped you clear the debris away so people could see it again. He pulled back now and smoothed a hand down the side of my face, his eyes locked on mine. He leaned in slowly to kiss me, gently, softly. Im still saying thank you, he whispered against my lips. Youre welcome, I whispered back. I almost said it. Its because I love you. The words were right there, hanging in my throat, begging to be said. But I didnt say them. This moment was perfect and I didnt want to ruin it. Just like in my song. Maybe he doesnt love me Well, I couldnt say it, but I could feel it. I slid my hands up to the back of his neck and tangled my fingers into his hair, pulling his face back to me, pulling his lips to mine. He kissed me back eagerly, his hands sliding to my waist, his fingers digging in. His tongue was in my mouth, dancing with mine. My hands slid down from his neck, over his shoulders, down over his chest. I let my fingertips drag over his abdomen as my hands skated lower and his muscles jumped and I heard him gasp against my 148

mouth. My hands crept lower, skimming past the waistband of his jeans, down over the fly. He was hard by the time my fingers got there. He pulled his mouth from mine, breathing heavily, pressing his forehead to mine. Ahwhatever you have planned, Im going to remind you that there are still people in the room next door, his voice was low and raspy. Fuck, I muttered, because I had forgotten and I was fully intending to drop to my knees and blow him. Well do that later, he chuckled. I sat back and opened my eyes. He was mostly recovered, although still bulging slightly against his zipper. I loved that Id gotten him all hot and bothered and couldnt resist messing with him just a little more. I leaned forward and placed my lips near his ear, my bottom lip just brushing his earlobe. Promise? His hands tightened on my hips, I swear, he muttered, Does Kate Bush know that her song turns you into a wanton woman? I chuckled, my lips still against his ear. I heard him groan softly. Its not the song. Its this hot piano player I know. Hes got these freaking amazing fingers Alright, he said loudly, shooting to his feet, We need some private time, clearly. I laughed at how jumpy Id made him, but I let him yank me to my feet and drag me out of the studio. We never made it to dinner. * * * It was our last day in the studio. Bittersweet. On the one hand, wed worked really hard recording this album and I was glad to have it done. On the other hand, the experience had been amazing and I was sad to see it end. Butch, our producer, had become our musical guru. I hated to think that I wouldnt see him every day now. Hell, Id even miss geeky Kyle, the recording engineer. And it was time to move on. Wed been squeezing in rehearsals for the live show as much as possible around recording and there was less than a week before we were scheduled to go. As it stood, we were only in the studio for a few hours today, a few last clean ups, and then we were on to the stage show rehearsalfor as long as it took. I hated every minute that took me away from Edward, even if I was excited about everything that was happening to us. Seth pulled up to the entrance and we went through our now-familiar routine of getting me into the studio while being seen as little as possible. I had developed all kinds of coping mechanisms to block out the shouts and the jostling. Its not that I didnt hear them, I did. I just found ways to set my brain on autopilot, so I just moved without thinking. It helped a little, I just hated having to walk through my life trying to stay numb half the time. Seth flopped down on the couch to shoot the shit with Kyle. Theyd struck up an unlikely friendship over some graphic novel they were both obsessed with. I was glad. It meant that these endless days werent quite as painfully boring for him as they could have been. I headed into the studio to get some tea and get settled. I jumped out of my skin when I realized Jasper was already there, standing at the piano, looking at me. Jesus, Jasper! You scared the crap out of me! Why the hell are you standing there like a statue? Its creepy. Jasper didnt answer right away. He had his ipod in his hand. There was a docking station sitting on the piano. He plugged it in and looked at me with his intense stare as he hit play. My stomach hit my feet as I heard the song that filled the room. Me and Edward, playing my song. What the hell is this, Bells? 149

I fumbled, not sure what to say, feeling embarrassed that something so personal was exposed like this. You know I love that song, I said, stalling. Whos that playing with you? Jaspers voice sounded tinged with some emotionwas he angry? Suspicious? Jealous? I realized what it must sound like to him. He thought I was recording with someone else. Its Edward. Jasper sucked in his breath through his teeth. Holy shit! Thats Cullen? Who did the arrangement for you? He did. Edward did that? Jesus. Well, this complicates things, Jasper ran his hand over the back of his neck as he looked at his feet. Where did you get that, Jazz? Kyle. He ran tape on you the other night, he said, distracted. What? Fuck! Why did he do that? He came back in the room and heard you warming up. He didnt know what you were up to, he just didnt want to miss it in case it was important. You said it complicates things. What things? I said, getting mad now at the invasion of my privacy, It was just something nice Edward did for me because he knew I wanted to sing the song. It has nothing to do with us. Jasper dropped his hand and looked back at me, exasperated. Butch was impressed. He passed it on to the label. They want to put this on the album, Bells, as a bonus track. Oh, no! my hands flew up in front of me, as if to ward off the idea. Absolutely not! Edward didnt do it for the band, he did it for me. We cant do that. Its not right. Well, this recording has shot all over the damned label and they have their teeth in it now. They want it. And fuckwhen they find out its Cullen on there, theyre going to piss themselves, Jasper trailed off in thought. Jasper, its not ours to use. They cant have it. Dont you see? I was horrified that all those faceless people, I didnt even know how many, had been listening to our intensely personal moment. I felt violated. Bells, its really good. Theyre right about that. Ivedamn, Ive never heard you sound like that. People should hear you sing like that, hon. Ill admit, it adds a whole new level of weirdness that its Cullen playing with you, but we can deal with that if it means getting you and that vocal out there. Jasper, I just He held his hands up to stop me. Bells, will you just talk to him? Ask him? If he says no, then its done. The label cant argue. But will you just try? I sighed, seeing how badly he wanted this. Have Emmett and Rose heard this? What did they say? They heard. They want to use it. I felt outvoted. They all wanted it. The label wanted it. So what if it was one of the most intensely personal, intensely emotional moments in my life? Well, all I could do was ask him. After all, I reasoned, even if Edward said yes, he had agents and lawyers and the logistics of it would probably end up dissuading the label from pursuing it. That made me feel better. I would ask and in the end, it probably wouldnt work out anyway. * * *


I waited until we were nearly asleep. Id stalled all day. I didnt mention it when he called me midday. I didnt bring it up when he met me for my dinner break during rehearsal with fish tacos from Jorges stand. I didnt bring it up after I got back to his house that night. I waited until after wed made love and we were laying curled around each other, naked and drowsy, in the dark, almost asleep. Edward? Hmmm? The other day? When you came to pick me up at the studio and I sang my song? Yeah? he sounded slightly more alert now, like he could hear that I was headed somewhere. I hated this. I was terrified hed feel like I was trying to use him, exploit him. I was sure people did it to him all the time and I really didnt want to be one of them. I didnt know anybody heard us, but Kyle did, and he recorded it. The label heard it. He was quiet for a moment. Then he said, And? They want to put it on the album, I was whispering now, rushing through it. I told them no, Edward. I swear. But they all want it, so I said Id ask, but just say no and theyll leave it alone, I promise. Im so sorry, Edward. Why are you sorry, Bella? his voice was soft and gentle, which made me relax a little. He didnt seem angry, which surprised me. It was just something personal, Edward. It has nothing to do with all that. And I dont want you to think I was trying to take advantage of you or something Bella, I know youre not trying to take advantage of me. I know you better than that. Yes, its personal, but if they want to use it, they can. Really? Are you sure? Im sure. He squeezed my shoulders. I was disappointed that he gave it up so easily. Maybe it felt more intimate to me than it did to him. I was so desperate to protect it from the outside and he seemed to have no problem with the whole world being privy to that moment. That hurt more than a little, now that I let it sink in. Well, I said, trying to keep my voice light, Im sure there are a million legal problems, clearances and stuff. The label will talk to your people and I bet it will all fall apart in the details and never happen. Ill tell them to give it to you. It wont be a problem, he said quietly. Hes just giving it away. Giving us away. Fuck. Edward I was trying to sound off-handed about it, like it wasnt that important to me, but when Bella asked me if she could put our song on her album, I was freaking thrilled. Sure, it was personal and I wasnt crazy about the whole world hearing me and her together like that. But on the other hand, it tied us together even closer and that was worth it. Wed be together, in her world, in a way that was tangible and permanent. Shes mine. I couldnt resist the opportunity to lay claim to her in this way, in front of the whole world. I would always be on her first album. That was huge. It had to mean she cared about me. Shed never allow it otherwise. I felt elated. I just had to sort out with her what wed do when she left town, and we could figure out some solution to that. I could come see her, she could come see me. We just had to sort out the logistics. Wed talk before she left, Id make sure of it. And now for the first time I felt like it might be okay, she might be mine. 151

Chapter 24 - Cold Hard Bitch

Bella All night. We were going to be here in rehearsal all night. As nervous as I was, even I thought our new live show was in pretty good shape. But as usual, Jasper the Perfectionist had his knickers in a twist about the arrangement on one of the new songs. What we did in the studio wasnt quite working live and now he wanted to rework the whole fucking thing. Id hoped we could wrap it up by dinner time so I could go spend some time with Edward, but that was looking unlikely. And I really needed to talk to him. After last night, when he gave away my song, I was more pessimistic than ever. We needed to talk. I needed to ask him what, if anything, he saw happening between us next. At this point I was pretty sure of what he was going to say, but all the same, I needed to do it and get it over with. Like pulling off a band-aid. It would hurt like crazy at first, but then maybe I could start getting over him. Yeah, right. There hadnt even been much time today to think about my song. I texted Jasper when I woke up this morning to tell him that Edward said yes. By the time we got to rehearsal at nine he said the label was all over it, getting it cleared to make it on the album. Butch was doing his best to clean up the imperfect track he had. The mic was in the wrong place, the balance between the vocal and the piano was sometimes uneven, but I flat out refused the suggestion of recording it with Edward again, even if wed had the time, which we didnt. Jasper said he liked the raw quality of the take we had anyway. He said it was more emotionally charged. You can say that again. So while I started out the morning emotionally strung out about the song, wed gone straight into rehearsal and it had been a marathon all day. There hadnt been time to think about anything else, which was good and bad. Jasper was hurriedly scribbling chord changes on the lyrics sheet, head bent, completely absorbed. Rose had her head tipped back against the wall, eyes closed, catching a breather. Emmett had surreptitiously pulled out his Gameboy. I was debating whether or not I should slip out for another cup of tea when my phone vibrated. Edward. I slipped to the corner of the room, out of earshot, trying not to irritate Jasper any further. Hello? Bella? Hows it going? I groaned in response. Edward chuckled. That good, huh? Just a long day. Hows it going with you? I heard Edward exhale into the phone. Well, I talked to Scorsese. Instantly I perked up. And? Its done. The parts mine. Edward! I shrieked as softly as I could manage. I could hear the happiness in his voice through the phone. I know. Its pretty amazing. Im here with Marc having dinner to celebrate. I was calling to see if you wanted to come but Yeah, Im not getting out of here any time soon, I moaned. There was a long pause on Edwards end of the line and I could hear the tension in it. Edward? I finally said, to spur him on. Im going to Rome, he said abruptly. 152

Rome? Yeah, Martys shooting there, and he wants me to fly over and do some readings. When...when are you going? it was taking everything I had to keep my voice even. Was this it? The clean break? Umas soon as Marc can shove me on a plane, he sounded tense and uncomfortable suddenly. I see. Listen, Bella he sounded like he was leading into something big. Shit. Not now. Not on the phone. I couldnt handle that. I knew it had to happen, and now apparently it was going to happen tonight, but I had to stall at least until I wasnt here in rehearsal surrounded by all of these people. Hey, Edward, I interrupted him briskly, concentrating hard on keeping my voice emotionless, I have to get back to rehearsal. Theyre calling me. But I need to talk to you about something later. Wait up until I get back? Okay? He said nothing for a long moment. Okay, sure, he said finally, his voice distant, have a good rehearsal, Bella. And he was gone. I felt my eyes prick with tears. Fuck. My hand came up to my chest of its own accord, pressing against my breastbone, trying to alleviate the tightness I felt there, like a band around my ribs. But it didnt help. I felt like I was suffocating just the same. The stage manager called my name, trying to get me back into rehearsal, and I had no choice but to take a deep breath and go. * * * Look, you fucking prick, weve been at this since nine this morning with almost no breaks! Rose, shut the fuck up! Theres work to do! Jasper snarled back. It always got ugliest between the two of them, since they were the closest. It was ten p.m.. Everybody was strung out and exhausted. Jasper, quit fucking torturing us! Even the label says we sound good! What the fuck is your problem? Rose, if we just If we just stay three more hours well get two notes closer to perfect for you. No, Jazz. Im done! We are all pretty beat, bro, Emmett said gently. Jasper knew that when one of us took sides with Rose he was done for. He sighed heavily and looked at the ceiling. Im sorry guys. I guess Im just really nervous about this. I know you all are. And you want us to be perfect. I know, Jazz, I said, trying to play peacekeeper so we all went home still speaking. Yeah, pretty much. But Rose is right. I should just let it go. I threw my arm around his shoulders. I swear it will be the first thing we tackle in our sound check in Chicago. Our sound check in Chicago Jasper said, shaking his head. Doesnt it blow your mind? I laughed, Yes, it does, a little. Its going to be amazing. Look, Jazz, why dont you call Alice? Im sure she wants to spend as much time as possible with you before you leave town. He nodded, looking appeased. We talked a little more about what still needed to be done before we left town and made a plan for the next day with the stage manager before we all headed for the exits. I checked the time on my cell on my way downstairs with Seth. Not so very late, maybe I could still meet Edward. I scrolled to his number but hesitated before I called. Hed sounded so distant on the phone at the end. Would it be really awful if I surprised him? He did call to ask me to come. And I just wanted one more normal moment with him, even if I had to share it with Marc. Later, when we got 153

back to his place, we would talk, wed say what needed to be said, but I just wanted to share this celebration with him before that happened. I was still mulling it over when Seth opened the back door of the SUV for me down in the parking garage underneath the rehearsal studio. Seth? Hmm? If I wanted to know where Edward was heading tonight, could you find that out from Sam, or would that violate some sort of bodyguard professional code of conduct or something? Seth snorted his laugh. Sam will tell me if I ask. Do you want me to ask? I thought for just a minute. Yes. Within a few minutes we were headed for some ultra chic restaurant and nightclub in West Hollywood. I wondered if I should go home and change. I was just wearing jeans and a sleeveless blouse, although they were Alice-approved. But it would take forever to get to his place and back and I didnt want to lose another minute of his company wasting time changing clothes, so I just slicked on a little lip gloss and ruffled my hair and hoped for the best. It was Saturday night and traffic in West Hollywood was horrible. It took us forever to get there and even longer to maneuver the SUV close enough to the front door for me to exit without creating a scene. I worried that hed already be gone by the time I was inside. Seth finally opened the back door and scooped me out of the back seat and through the raised velvet rope and inside. Sam said Edward sent him home after he dropped him, so Ill hang and wait for both of you. You know the drill, Bells. Text if you need me, he said, shooting me a tiny salute and a grin. I hated that hed picked up calling me Bells from Jasper and Emmett, although I loved that he felt comfortable enough with me to use it. It was late enough that the diners were clearing out and the dancers were taking over. The music was loud and the interior was dimly lit with pulsating colored lights. There were barely clad, writhing bodies everywhere. I had no idea how I would find Edward in this mess. And Id been noticed. People were smiling at me, talking to me. I was trying to be brief, shake them off and move on, but I still had such a hard time being impolite. I couldnt get more than a few feet before someone else was claiming my attention. I wondered briefly if I should go get Seth just so I wouldnt be alone. Bella? It was a familiar voice, but not the one I hoped for. I turned to find James, that friend of Edwards, drink in hand, smirking down at me and standing a little too close. It is Bella! Its so great to see you again! I smiled with as much warmth as I could muster. The guy gave me the creeps a little, but I tried to be pleasant, Hi, James. Great to see you again, too. Did you come to find Edward? Um, yeah. Have you seen him? James chuckled and cast his eyes across the crowd around us. Yeah, hes here somewhere. You know how it is. No, I didnt know how it was, but I didnt really care. I just wanted to find Edward. Bella, it was great to hear about you and Edward. A little surprising, but great. His words were sincere, but not his voice. I smiled slightly at him. Why surprising? Well, you know Edward. You just dont seemquite his type. Really? I knew I should just walk away, but I couldnt help it. Part of me wanted him to keep talking, so I could hear what he had to say. Dont get me wrong, beautiful! he said quickly, reaching out and running his hand down my bare 154

arm. I suddenly wished I had long sleeves on. Just the girls hes known in the pastthe girls weve known in the past, were a little morewell, just different. What the fuck was he trying to say? What was he implying? The girls weve known? Was he saying that he and Edward had Holy shit. Nothing about Edwards past should really shock me, but I was shocked. I tried not to let it show on my face, though. I didnt want to give James any satisfaction. I can see what drew him in, though, James was still talking, leaning into me, his voice dropping to what Im sure he thought was a seductive register. I felt a chill skitter down my spine. Theres something sosweetand entrancing about you. Delectable. Thats what I told Edward. Its really too bad he decided not to share. Edward was talking about me to James? Like that? I flushed cold all over. And James was still leaning in, his hand was still on my arm, stroking lightly up and down. I was getting goosebumps. II really should go find Edward, I stammered, desperate now to get away from James. Suit yourself, beautiful, although I think he might be busy, James murmured, his hand slipping up over my shoulder. He reached up and ran the backs of two fingers down my cheek. I stood frozen like prey transfixed by a snake. If you get lonely, come find me. I didnt answer, I just stepped back and turned away, pushing through the crowd of bodies, trying to put as much distance between us as possible. My mind was struggling to grasp all that James had been implying. I couldnt think about it, wouldnt think about it. It didnt matter. I just needed to find Edward. People were still trying to stop me, touch me, but now I shook them all off. I wanted out of here. I wanted Edward. Through the press of bodies I saw a row of booths against the side wall and I headed in that direction, thinking that maybe he was in one of them with Marc. Between bare shoulders and backs I caught a glimpse of tousled bronze hair and let out a huge sigh of relief. I pushed between two barely legal girls in not much more than their underwear and finally caught sight of Edward. Edward slouched in a booth.with a woman draped across his chest. Long red hair spilling down her back, over his hand which was splayed across her bare skin. His eyes were closed, his head half reclined, a slight smile on his lips. Her face was turned up to his, her hands were tangled in his beautiful hair, my beautiful hair. As I stood frozen in place, unable to so much as blink, she pulled his face down to hers and their lips met and his hand fisted into her hair My breath stalled in my chest. My mouth opened but I couldnt speak and I couldnt draw a breath. I felt like a steel band was clamped around my ribs. No aircant breathe. So many people I cant breathe. I had to get out of there. I stumbled back a few steps and into a girl. She snarled a curse at me, but I didnt hear her. I shut my eyes against the sight of Edward and her and spun around, shoving bodies out of my way. Escapeescape. I had to get away and I was feeling panicky. I was moments from falling apart and I couldnt do it here. Seth. I needed Seth. My hand was gripping my cell so hard I was afraid my fingers wouldnt work. He was in my speed dial and with trembling fingers I typed one wordHELP. I pushed forward to the door, looking for him, willing him to appear. Please, Seth, pleasecome and help me get away. I could feel people all around me starting to look, to whisper. I was making a scene. Bella? That hated voice was in my ear again. James, catching me around my waist, restraining me, pulling me up against him. I leaned away, but I couldnt find the strength in my arms to fight him off. Its okay, Bella. Ill take care of you, sweetheart, he crooned in my ear, his hot breath skittering down my neck, making me feel sick. No, my voice sounded strangled and far away and weak. I raised my hands to push against his 155

chest, but he only slid his arms up to wrap them around my ribcage, trapping my arms against his chest. I cant Sure you can, beautiful. He wont miss you. Or maybe we could go join them? Best of both worlds, gorgeous. I had to get out of here, away from him, away from that, the horrible, awful thing unfolding behind me. Let her go. James raised his head to stare up at the massive shape of Seth and he fixed him with his beady stare. Shes fine, boy. Bella and I are old friends. Seth, please... was all I could get out. Seth didnt need to hear any more. He reached out and with one swift move disengaged James arms and scooped me up close to his chest. He turned on his heel and began to half-carry me to the door. James grabbed Seth by the shoulder, and Seth spun, keeping me pinned to his side under his arm. His free hand snaked out and wrapped around James wrist, twisting slightly. James winced. Give me a fucking reason, he snarled at James. James raised his other hand, palm outstretched, in surrender and Seth released him, flinging his hand away in disgust and causing James to stumble slightly. Get me out of here, Seth, I whispered. Were almost there, Bells. Hang on, his voice was hard and tight. He turned us again without another look at James and headed us towards the door. I felt the air of the outside hit my face as we pushed through the last crush of bodies. It felt cool after the inside. The SUV was right outside the door, half up on the curb. Seth swung the back door open and practically lifted me into the car before he shut me in and slipped behind the wheel. I could feel the crushing misery nipping at my heels. I was about to fall apart, I could feel it coming, and once I did, I would stay that way for a while. I needed to be someplace safe, and there was no place to go. I wrapped my arms around my midsection and squeezed hard, willing myself to stay in one piece. Where to, Bells? Seth asked softly. I dont know. Roses? Jaspers? I shook my head. Even in this fog of pain and disbelief, I knew that Edwards very public display was about to bring a crushing amount of media attention down on me. Not Roses, not Jaspers. Not home. And not Edwardsnot ever again. I need a hotel, but I dont know where I know where to go, Bells. Itll be okay. Seth started driving and he got on his cell, speaking softly, so I couldnt make out who he was talking to. I sat in the back seat, my arms still wrapped around my stomach, rocking slightly, trying to hold myself together. Dont think, dont think. Not yet. Once youre inside you can fall apart, but not now. Seth pulled up under a covered entryway. A bellhop came to Seths window and Seth said a few words to him. A moment later, another man in a suit approached. He spoke briefly with Seth and then handed him a hotel pass key. He stepped out of the car and gave the keys to the valet before he came around to the back door. He leaned in to me. Sunglasses, Bells? I obeyed him, fishing them out of my bag and putting them on. He patted my knee briefly and 156

slipped his arm over my shoulder. He led me quickly, quietly through the dim lobby. I was aware of pulsating music, candles flickering, people mingling. Even the fucking hotel lobbies were like clubs here. Seth hurried me past all that and then we were in the elevator, then in the dark grey sleek hallway. Seth swiped the key and let us into the suite. I stumbled forward into the room, blind to anything around me. Bells, Rose is on her way. Im just going to call her and let her know which room were in. Ill be right outside in the hall, Seth said, touching my shoulder lightly before leaving the room. I heard the door click behind him. I lost the strength to stand anymore and sank to my knees. The tightness in my chest was unrelenting. Cant breathe. I could feel the sob struggling to make its way up my throat. I fell forward onto my hands, gasping for air, for relief from this crushing misery. It wouldnt come. I finally fell apart.


Chapter 25 - Cold Hard Bitch Redux

Edward I was fucking miserable after I got off the phone with Bella. Here I was supposed to be celebrating my glorious new revived career with Marc and all I could do was dwell on how that had not gone the way Id wanted it to. Her voiceso hard and distant. And she had to talk to me about something? Fuck. Not good. Not good at all. I thought putting our song on her album meant we were edging closer to something real and now one phone call made me doubt everything all over again. I told her about Rome hoping that it might be my segue into a bigger conversation. I was going to ask her to come join me there as soon as she had a break. But then she shifted gears and bolted off the phone. I had a terrible sinking feeling that I knew exactly what she was going to say to me later. Well, Id have to suck it up and at least try to enjoy myself. Marc was here to celebrate and he deserved a decent night after everything Id put him through. So when he suggested scotch after dinner, I said sure and I tried to keep my tone jovial and light. Marc was one seriously uptight guy by nature, soft-spoken and organized, not at all what youd expect of an agent, but he was damned good at his job. One of the best in the industry, really. During my long dark period, hed managed to keep me working longer than anyone else in his position could have, and Id always be grateful for how hard he worked, and how loyal he was to me. Many agents would have dropped my ass cold by now, but Marc stood by me. When he said he believed in my talent, I believed him. Marc was telling me about the other project Scorsese was working on and we were on our third scotch when a familiar voice drew my attention away. Well, well, well. If it isnt Edward Cullen. I was starting to think wed never see your face in a club again. I turned in the booth to look up at James, standing in front of our table, hands hooked casually in his pockets. I felt a flare of rage at the sight of him, stemming back to that text about Bella, the night we went to the beach. But he seemed to hold no animosity towards me, he was grinning ear to ear in fact, apparently delighted to see me. I had just enough scotch in my system to be feeling magnanimous and apparently so did Marc. James Carter! Marc cried expansively. He was funny as hell when he was drunk. So completely different. Sit with us! Have a drink! Marc was waving James into our booth, motioning the waitress over. He decided that individual glasses of scotch were taking too long, so he requested the whole bottle of Bowmore Single Malt and some glasses. James cheerfully slid into the semi-circular booth across from me, with Marc between us, and poured himself a drink. Well, I still wanted to rip his heart out for ever daring to look at Bella, but she wasnt here and Marc was feeling friendly and I didnt want to make an ugly scene, so I figured Id suck it up and be friendly. But I reached out and poured myself three fingers of scotch, to make it easier. It hardly mattered in the end if I was willing to be friendly or not, since it was clear James was only marginally interested in my presence. He was focused on Marc, trying to ingratiate himself there. Yeah, I bet you want him to represent you, fuck head. In your dreams. But Marc was feeling friendly and chatty, so I sat back and did my part to keep the conversation lively and I drank. A lot. An hour later and Marc and James were trading funny stories about the director of James first film last year. Marc was one quiet motherfucker, but he knew where all the bodies were buried in this town 158

and if you could get him talking, he had great stories, and James had gotten him talking. It was fun and entertaining, and thanks to the liberal amount of scotch Id had, I was actually enjoying it. Well, as much as I could enjoy it without Bella here. But I was trying not to think about that right now. My head was spinning pleasantly and I was just becoming aware of the fact that I couldnt really feel my face anymore when I felt the seat beneath me shift as someone slid into the booth next to me. Immediately I felt a hand on my thigh, gripping hard. There you are, James. Ive been looking everywhere for you! I swiveled my head slowly and it took a beat for my eyes to focus on Vicki, leaning into me but looking across the table at James and smiling broadly, But look who youve found! Edward! She looked at me now, her blue eyes wide and bright, her glossy lips curved in her best seductive smile. Right on cue, the tip of her tongue shot out to lick her bottom lip. And this is Marc, Edwards agent, James said. Vicki leaned across me to reach out and shake Marcs hand, pressing the side of her breast into my chest as she did it. Her long curly red hair fell forward over her shoulders and brushed my cheek. I inhaled and smelled expensive hair products. Her hand slid up my thigh an inch and I leaned back against the back of the booth instinctively. Vicki looked good, as she always did, her skin smooth and pale, her red hair a long chaotic halo around her face. She was wearing some tiny skin-tight dress and her breasts were practically spilling out of the top, her cleavage obscene in its bounty. I remember a time when Id found her extremely hot, a time when Id been intimately acquainted with those bountiful breasts and all the other parts of her, but now all that shit felt like it happened to somebody else, in someone elses life. Now I just felt a little claustrophobic because she was sitting too damned close to me and I was drunk. I tried to shift further to my left, away from Vicki, but it was hard to do it and not be obvious, and when I leaned away, she just followed and leaned back into me. Finally I gave up, figuring she was harmless enough. She didnt seem to be paying me much attention anyway, focused, like James, on Marc. Well, she was a struggling actress, too. Marc was definitely someone to know. So I sat back and let James and Vicki pay court to him and when Vicki poured herself a scotch and poured me another three fingers, I happily accepted and drank. The next thing I was aware of, Marc was stretching his arms over his head. It didnt seem like much time had passed, but something about the conversation told me it had. Fuck. Did I just black out? Well, my friends, I think Im turning into a pumpkin, Marc said as he dragged his hand over his face, Its time for me to go pour myself into a cab and sleep this off. After all, I have a contract to negotiate for you tomorrow! Marc smiled at me and I tried to smile back, but with the whole not-feeling-my-face thing, Im not sure if I pulled it off. James and Vicki were talking to Marc, maybe cajoling him into staying longer, maybe saying goodnight. I couldnt tell. Everything and everybody sounded so far away, underwater. Fuck, I was wasted. I was dimly aware of that fact, but not sure what I should do about it at this point. And then stupidly, I was drinking again. Vicki poured me another and put it in my hand and I wasnt even aware Id drunk it until I felt the burn of the scotch down my throat. I needed to stop, and get the fuck out of here. But I honestly wasnt sure if I could get myself out of here and of course now I remembered that Id sent Sam home. That meant getting a cab. Fuck. Maybe if I sat here for a bit and sobered up Id do better. So I leaned back against the booth and waited. With a start I realized Vicki and James were still there. Vicki just said something to me. Did I just black out again? I had the disconcerting sensation of having just lost time. I felt my mouth moving, heard my own muffled voice. I was talking to them, I had no fucking idea what I was saying. Every inch of me felt numb, but even through the haze I felt it, Vickis hand, back on my thigh, squeezing, moving up. Fuck, I had to get out of here. I picked my head up off the back of the booth and 159

the room spun around me. I closed my eyes and just thought about breathing. When I opened them again, James was gone, but Vicki was still there. She was pressed up against me, her breasts flush against my chest, her breath warm and smelling of scotch, wafting across my face. She was talking to me, her voice low and seductive in my ear. I felt my skin prickle in response to her whispered breaths in spite of myself. Fuck. She was coming on to me. I needed to get out of here and I wasnt sure if I could do it on my own. Her voice was still there in my ear, only snatches of what she said were making sense to me. Eddie.so hotremember that time?....how you always liked it when I with my mouth.. Her hands were on the move, all over my numb skin. She was sitting between me and the end of the booth, so I was going to have to get her out of my way before I could hope to get up out of this booth. And then I had to get out of the club and outside and into a cab. Fuck. I was exhausted just considering it. I put my hands out to ward her off, but she pushed into me and somehow my arm was around her. The room spun again and I had to close my eyes against it. I have to go, I finally heard my own voice, but it sounded like I had cotton in my ears. Stay with me, sweetie. You wont be sorry, Vicki was crooning. I could feel her lips against my ear and I wanted to shake my head at her but I couldnt do that without the room spinning out of control again. But Bella Shes not here. Not here. Not here. My mind wandered off down the rabbit hole after Bella and when I came to again I was sure Id blacked out this time, I just didnt know for how long. I could feel hands in my hair and I inhaled sharply, hoping that somehow it was her. But it felt all wrong, the wrong hands, the wrong smell. Bella. Bella. And then something warm and dark on my numb lips, her tongue pushing in, her hands pulling my head down, the room spun. I clenched my hands, disoriented, not sure exactly where I was or what was happening. BellaBut none of this felt familiar or right, not her lips, not her hair in my hands, not her smell Bella..


Chapter 26 - Here Comes the Heartache

Edward Fuck I turned my face into the pillow trying to escape the misery currently ransacking every inch of my body. The tiny movement made the whole room spin and my stomach roiled unpleasantly. Hung over. Badly. My throat felt like cotton, my mouth felt like dirt, my eyes were gritty and I was fairly certain I was going to have to throw up in a second. No, make that right the fuck now. I lurched off the bed, ignoring the spinning, ignoring the pain, and managed to make it to the wastebasket by the bed before everything came up. My throat burned with bile and the stale, revolting taste of scotch. I heaved until I was empty before I collapsed back on the bed and waited for the room to still around me. What the hell did I do to myself? I opened my eyes enough to make out the clock beside the bed. 1:15. The room was bright with sunlight, so that meant it was the afternoon. I was still in my clothes, although I was completely unkempt. The bed was empty, but of course it was the middle of the day, Bella must have had to leave for rehearsal hours ago. How fucking embarrassing that shed seen me this fucked up. Had she? I had no memory of coming homeoh, waitI had a flash of fumbling in my pocket for the front door key, but nothing else. What about the rest of the night? I was so fucked up, I must have had a hell of a lot to drink. The beginning I was perfectly clear on. Dinner with Marc. Gotcha. We had cocktails before dinner and a bottle of wine with the food. That part was all good, I remembered all of it. We were happy, celebrating the Scorsese project. Well, I was morose because of that lousy tense phone call with Bella, but the night was celebratory, nonetheless, and Marc ordered scotch after dinner. I remember James showing up later, joining Marc and me. We kept drinking, more scotch. The night started blurring from that point, as I had passed over into serious intoxication. It occurred to me now, of course, that since Id started spending time with Bella, all my hard-core partying nights had come to an end, and the heavy drinking along with them. Clearly I couldnt hold my liquor the way I once had. Too bad I realized that now and not last night. Getting this wasted was a stupid, amateur move. I kept searching back in my brain, trying to piece together what little of the night I could recall. I hated not being able to remember, it made me feel uneasy. I remember Vicki joining us. Andoh, shit I remember Vicki sitting too close, touching me, and me being too wasted to get up and leave. And then she kissed me. Jesus Christdid I kiss her back? I let my head roll back on the pillow. I am such a shit. It was all so fucking unclear, but I know it happened, Vicki kissed me. But what did I do? And what happened after that? I could remember almost nothing after that, but I knew I had to try to piece it together. I couldnt remember getting out of the booth, but I must have because I did remember standing in the middle of the club, crowded by bodies on all sides, my arms around someone. Someone with red hair. Fuck. Thats not good. I couldnt remember anything else from inside the club, but I did remember falling into the back seat of a cab. And then I remembered a flash of the drive home.shitVicki was there in the back seat with me. I groaned and ground the heels of my hands into my eyes. Holy fucking hell, please tell me I didnt take her home and fuck her. Oh please, God, dont let me have been that much of a shit. I forced myself to sit up in bed, although every inch of my body protested. I looked around my bedroom furiously. There was no sign of Vicki, at least there was that. No sounds from the bathroom, 161

no clothes discarded on the floor. I was still mostly dressed, although everything was untucked and rumpled. She didnt appear to be here, but why the fuck were we in a cab together? I cast a guilty look at Bellas side of the bed. Was she awake last night when I got back? Oh, Christ, did she see Vicki? I needed to pull it together and call her, explain that.fuck, explain what? That I got so stinking drunk that I couldnt remember whether or not Id fucked somebody else? I didnt think I had, but what was all that shit with Vicki that I was remembering? As I sat staring at Bellas side of the bed, it dawned on me that something was not right about what I was seeing. The housekeeper had been in yesterday and changed the sheets. Bellas pillow was still perfect, no wrinkles, no indent from her head. With a knot in my stomach that was only partly from the alcohol, I reached out to grab the pillow and I pulled it up to my face and inhaled. Just the smell of laundry. No strawberries. She wasnt here. She didnt come home last night. Fuck. As bad as all of this was, that realization just made it infinitely worse. I found my cell phone still in the pocket of my pants. I scrolled through to her number and hit send. It rang several times and went to voicemail. I hung up, with no idea what I should say. If she wasnt here, she wouldnt have seen Vicki, if Vicki had been here. So where the fuck was she? I scrolled to her number again, this time deciding Id send a text and see what kind of response I got. With no clue as to what she may or may not have seen, if there was or was not anything to have seen, I decided to just try a straightforward question. Where were you last night? Call me. E While I waited I checked my missed calls. There was a whole scroll of them from Laurent, no doubt stuff about the Scorsese project, and two from Alice, but not a single one from Bella. She didnt come home, she didnt call. She didnt even let me know she wasnt coming. I was hurt and furious. But did I have the right to be angry? Was I allowed to be worried? We never spoke about us, we had no understanding in place about our relationship. She owed me nothing. Fuck this. Yes, she does. Shed spent every night in my bed for two weeks. I was worried. And if she was okay, then I was pissed. Except I was the dick that might have fucked somebody else last night, so where the hell did I get off being a territorial asshole? I rolled out of bed and figured Id better shower and clean up. If she hadnt called back by the time I got out, Id try again. Half an hour later and I felt marginally better. But still nothing from Bella. I texted again. Im worried. Please call. E I called again. Voicemail. This time I spoke, although my voice sounded like sandpaper. Bella, Im worried about you. Where are you? Can you call me? I brushed my teeth and threw on some clothes and went downstairs to make some coffee. I checked my phone again. Nothing. I texted her again. Where are you? Please call. E I drank my coffee staring at the wall, trying to ignore the knot of dread forming in my chest. I was having a hard time coming up with any scenario in which this was not bad. Finally my phone pinged that I had a text. It was from Bella. Check your email. Rosalie Now I was panicking. Why the fuck was Rosalie texting me on Bellas cell? I switched to my email and opened it. The last thing to show up in the inbox was from Bellas email, but the subject line said From Rose. I opened it. There was only a link to a website, which I clicked, rapidly growing annoyed 162

by this bullshit. TMZ. Fuck I felt the world drop out from underneath my feet. There was a picture of me in a booth at the restaurant last night, Vicki draped across me, kissing me. My eyes were closed, my hand was splayed on her bare back, her hands were in my hair. I had only the barest impression of that moment, I was nearly unconscious from the liquor. But thats not at all how it looked. I scrolled down. There were so many other pictures. A picture of me surrounded by people in the club, on my feet, my arms flung around Vickis shoulders. A picture of me and Vicki out on the sidewalk, my arm around her shoulders, her arm around my waist. I didnt remember that at all. A picture of me in the back of a cab, the door still open, Vicki lowering herself in beside me. And, oh God, no.a picture of Bella. She was inside the club. What the fuck was she doing there? And goddammit.... James was standing behind her, pressed up against her, his arms around her. Her face was contorted, it looked like he was restraining her, like she was trying to get away. A flash of burning fury raced through me. That motherfucker. He touched her. He grabbed her. There was another picture, of Seth facing off with James, his huge hand wrapped around Jamess wrist, his face full of rage, Bella cowering under his arm. I was shaking with rage and misery. Shed been right there, just yards from me, and I was too wasted to even know it, too wasted to help her when she needed me. Seth had to rescue her. She must have come to meet me to celebrate after all. And look what I did, what I let happen to her. Nausea roiled through me and I scrambled to the sink just in time to convulse into it again. My system was empty, though and all I could do was heave up burning bile as my body fought to purge the effects of the wretched images Id just seen. I sank to the floor, my back sliding roughly down the cabinet, my throat burning, my eyes watering. I was a fucking worthless piece of shit. How could I do this to her? All of it. The drinking, Vicki, Jamesand the fucking paparazzi had recorded every single moment. It was bad enough that it all happened, I also managed to publicly humiliate her. It was unforgivable. As I slouched there on the floor, letting the self-loathing and misery close over my head and drown me, my phone pinged in my hand with another text. It was from Bellas phone again. She was there. She saw you. Stay away. Rose Bella I was aware of my phone going off faintly across the hotel room. I thought it might be early afternoon, but the blackout curtains were drawn over the windows and I hadnt slept at all, so it was hard to tell. I rolled my head a bit to look at the clock. It was 1:32. Rose quickly snatched up my phone and silenced it, which was fine with me. I was certainly in no shape to talk to anyone. She came over to the bed and sank down to my side. Bella, hes texting, looking for you. I dont think he knows that you were there. Do you want to talk to him? I shook my head violently. Everything inside me was screaming yes, wanting nothing more than to reach out for the phone just to hear his voice, but I couldnt do that. Rose was silent for a moment, but I could hear her grinding her teeth, which meant she was thinking hard about something. Are she began, then quit. She was silent for a bit, but then she decided to start again, I cant believe Im saying this, but are you sure? 163

Yes, Im sure. Theres nothing for him to say, Rose. What is he going to say? Sorry? Try to convince me to come back into his bed again? And what would that get me, except maybe another few days with him? I had a feeling this was ending. I didnt think I had to stop and take a deep breath, I didnt think it would happen quite like that. I didnt think he would do that to me. I had to quit talking because the tears were threatening to fall again and I really wanted to stop crying. I leaned my head back against the headboard and closed my burning, swollen eyes. We were silent for a long time, our shoulders touching. Finally, I cleared my throat experimentally. It was still rusty and raw from the crying. Rose turned her head to look at me questioningly. How...how did you know what happened? I asked her softly. She was quiet for a minute, before she answered slowly. Seth heard people talking in the club when he was looking for you inside. He pieced the story together. Andthere are pictures. Online. Pictures. Of course there were. Because its not bad enough that this happened, it has to happen to me in front of the whole fucking world. I closed my eyes and exhaled, trying to keep myself steady so I could keep going forward and not retreat back into sobs. I need to get out of here, I whispered. Rose sat up abruptly, Lets go to my house. No, Rose. Out of LA. I cant stay here while this thing blows up all around me. Im leaving for Chicago tomorrow. Screw the rest of rehearsals. Well have to be good enough. I was scheduled to fly out in a few days anyway. I would just go now. I could hide in a hotel room in Chicago just as easily as I could in LA. And maybe I wouldnt hear quite as much about it there. Ill go with you. You cant go alone, Bella, she said quickly. Rose, you have your interview with Guitar Player magazine tomorrow. You cant miss that. Her face contorted with anxiety for a minute as she recalled that. She had a complete lack of interest in all self-promotion, but that interview was important to her. Shed been reading the magazine since she was twelve. It was her bible. And they were doing a feature on her. She wanted it bad. Jazz will go, she said gently. I nodded. Jasper would do just fine. Its not like I planned to sightsee or even talk to anyone. Rose just wanted someone to order food and keep the world away. Jasper would do as well as anybody. Frankly Seth could help however I needed him to, but I knew Rose would want one of us there. Ill call him and set it up, she said, sliding off the bed. My phone vibrated in her hand again and she glanced down at the screen. She looked up at me and cocked an eyebrow. Its him again. I closed my eyes and shook my head. He needs to know what happened. Do you want me to tell him? she asked softly. I nodded, my eyes still squeezed shut. She headed out in the hall with my phone. I stared hard and unblinking at the wall. There was so much to do. In a weeks time I was performing in our first live show in support of the album, in front of an audience. It seemed impossible to contemplate at this moment, but I knew it was going to happen, one way or another. I had to get through this. I simply couldnt give in. Repress. There was no other option, really. I had to compartmentalize this, put it away so I could not only function, but perform. There was too much at stake, too many other people that I cared about who were relying on me to step up. If I fell apart, everyone else went down with me. Couldnt happen. Besides, its not like I didnt know this was coming. Maybe not quite like that, but I knew it was 164

pretty likely that when I left on this tour, Id be alone when I did it. And thats exactly how it worked out. I kept telling Rose that I went into this with my eyes wide open, that I knew what I was getting into. So now it was time to be a big girl and deal with the consequences. I drew a deep shaking breath and pushed myself into a sitting position, leaning back on the head of the bed. I pushed my knotted hair out of my face and rubbed my eyes with the heels of my palms. I would move forward, starting now. Maybe when things quieted down a little I would allow myself to look back on all this and examine how I felt. And maybe by then I could actually bear to do it. Edward I paced the living room, cell in hand, trying to psych myself up to do this. Not to call Bella again, that was a lost cause and I knew it. I had to call Vicki. I was fairly sure I hadnt slept with her, but the fact was, I couldnt remember. There seemed to be no evidence of her in my house or in my bed, but God knows, Id fucked plenty of women in the back of a car before. And I knew we were alone in the back of that cab. I knew it ultimately didnt matter. The Vicki thing had been very public, there were pictures all over the internet, more than just that one website. And then there were the people in the club who saw it go down. They saw me making out with some chick. They saw Bella there. They saw Bella making a hasty exit. And everybody was talking about it. It was on every fucking gossip website and entertainment show. As far as the world was concerned, I did it. And Bella seemed to feel that way, too, since she wouldnt take my calls. I could hardly blame her. Every time I thought about it I felt sick. I still needed to talk to her at some point, I knew that, at least to apologize. She didnt take my calls and shed completely vanished from my life, so I was not nave enough to hope that I could somehow fix this and get her back. No, it was done, she was gone. But I couldnt just leave it. I had to try to say I was sorry. But first I needed to know exactly how bad it had been, and only Vicki could tell me that. I still had her number in my cell, although I couldnt remember the last time Id used it, if I ever had. So before I could freak myself out too much, I just hit send. I must have been in her cell, too, because she picked up right away and knew it was me, crooning into the phone. Hi, Edward. This is a first, a phone call the day after. Tell me what the fuck happened last night, I snapped, with no preamble. What do you mean what happened? What do you think happened? she was immediately on the defensive, all traces of seduction gone from her voice. I cant fucking remember any of it, thats why Im asking. So are you going to tell me or not? Why are you so freaked out, Edward? Its not like it never happened before. And if I recall, you seemed to like it last time. Vicki, just fucking tell me! I roared into the phone. There was silence on the other end for a long beat. Is this about her? she finally asked, her voice sharp. Who? You kept saying her name. Bella. Fuck I wasnt talking to Vicki, I just muttered it to myself as I dragged a hand over my eyes, but Vicki heard it and chuckled softly into the phone. No fucking way. Edward Cullen is in love. I sighed and dropped my head back, Shut it, Vicki. And just leave her out of it. She said nothing and I was on the edge of ending the call in defeat when she finally spoke again, 165

softly. No, nothing happened. What? Nothing, she said, I mean, I kissed you, but you pushed me offwell, as best you could in your condition. I tried to convince you, but you were adamant. You wanted to get out of there. Eventually you pushed past me and got up out of the booth. And then what? What about the rest of the pictures? What happened? Vicki said nothing for a long time. Please just tell me! Okay, fine, I felt bad for you. Satisfied? You were trying to get out of there and you could hardly even stand up. And you didnt have your bodyguardyou were fucking helpless. So, yes, even though youd just turned me down flat, calling for some other girl the whole time, I took pity on your sorry, pathetic ass and I helped you out. I got you out of the club and into a cab and I told the guy how to find your place. I dumped you out at your front door and I went home. End of story. I exhaled heavily in relief. Thank God. It was still bad. Awful, in fact, but at least I hadnt done that. Thank you, Vicki. I appreciate it. Im sorry I was such a Shit? she provided helpfully. I chuckled a little, in spite of myself, Yeah, I was a shit. Im just really. It sounds like youre fucked, Edward. Yeah, I replied, squeezing my eyes shut, I think I am. * * * I lay on the couch, contemplating exactly how I was going to find Bella to apologize. She wasnt at her house, for sure. And she wasnt at Roses or Jaspers, because of this media shit storm Id created. I figured she was holed up at a hotel somewhere, but which one? Her cell phone was an exercise in futility. I was sure Rose had confiscated it and turned it off at this point. My cell buzzed in my hand and I scrambled to answer it, even though the rational part of my brain knew it wasnt her. I glanced at the screen. Of course not. It was Laurent. Well, time to face the music. I hit accept. Laurent? Edward! Where the hell have you been? What the fuck happened? Id never heard Laurent say fuck before. This must be bad. I exhaled heavily. Laurent, its not what it looked like, although I know that hardly matters at this point. This is very bad, Edward. I know. I know it is. I want to try to fix it. I have to talk to Bella, try to apologize. Laurent, can you find out where she is? He sighed and was silent for a moment. Honestly, Edward? Im not sure her people will even take my call right now. This is that kind of bad. Can you try? Just try, I realized I was beginning to beg, but I didnt care. I can try Aro. Hes a personal friend. He might talk to me. But he might not. His job now is to circle the wagons, just the same as me. Okay, just let me know what he says, I said, rapidly losing steam. Edward, while were talking about this, we should discuss whats to be done. Weve been working very hard at rehabbing your image and we were succeeding. To say this is a set back is a gross 166

understatement. I know, Laurent. I swear, Ill do whatever you need me to do to make this better. But first I have to talk to Bella. He went on like I hadnt spoken, The public nature of what happened definitely throws this round to her, but if we work fast, dig deep, we might be able to salvage something. What are you talking about? Edward, this is about to turn into a PR war. The media will be all over the both of you, looking to see who did what, whos really at fault. Like I said, initially this is all on you, but if we can dig up something on her, tarnish the sweetheart image a little, it would help swing things back in your favor a bit. I wanted to climb through the phone and wrap my hands around his neck and squeeze until he shut up or stopped breathing or both. Leave. Her. Alone. Edward, dont concern yourself with this part. Ill come up with a plan and well talk about how to proceed, Laurent was still brisk and business-like, apparently unaware of how close I was to killing him. I said leave her alone! This isnt her fault. None of it. Ill take the heat and Ill do what I can to make it better. But Laurent, let me make one thing fucking crystal clear. You back off Bella. You go after her in any way and were done. Laurent was silent for a long minute, digesting my outburst. I was still shaking with rage. Then you need to lay low, he said, deciding to ignore the uglier parts of my little speech and focus on my pledge to fix it. And by laying low, I mean out of sight. We cant afford for them to catch a picture of you so much as talking to a woman, even if shes your own mother. You go into hiding until this quiets down. That will be no problem. Now will you just call Aro and see if hell tell you where she is? I talk to Bella and I vanish. I promise. Five minutes later, as I was still hunched on the couch gripping my cell, holding it against my forehead, it pinged with a text. Aro wont tell me where she is- L. Fuck. Who else might know where she is? Someone who would still speak to me? Seth. He wouldnt speak to me, but maybe he would speak to Sam. I scrolled to Sams number and hit send. Yes? This is what I love about Sam, a man of few words. I need to find Bella. Can you ask Seth? Sam was silent for a long time and I wondered if Id just grossly overstepped my bounds. Then I decided I didnt care. He might not tell me. Hes very protective of her. Dont tell him its for me. Will you just ask him, Sam? I have to find her. Ill ask. Thanks. I sank back on the couch to wait. Fifteen minutes later Sams text came through. Hollywood Roosevelt, Room 1202. I shot up off the couch and snatched my keys off the table by the front door as I raced to my car. Bella After three hours of Xanax-enhanced sleep, I rose and showered. I felt numb, no longer connected 167

to my own body, but I didnt dwell on how I felt. I only focused on keeping myself moving. Rose insisted on doing my hair and makeup. I protested loudly, but she pointed out that the very last thing I needed was to show up on TMZ pale and disheveled and running away to the airport and I had to admit she had a point. So I let her blow my hair out and secure it in a low ponytail and make up my face to hide the puffy eyes and the blotchiness. I certainly looked a whole lot better than I felt. I looked perfectly fine. Jazz arrived late in the afternoon. He was never one for talking about feelings and I could see from his face that he was praying I wasnt going to subject him to weeping and emoting. He had no worries. There would be no more of that. I was on emotional lock down. He stepped out in the hall to talk with Rose for a little bit and then they came back in to discuss plans. Our flight was tonight. Rose brought me a couple of changes of clothes and some toiletries from my house and she said shed go buy me whatever else I needed when we got to Chicago. Rose and Emmett would join us there in two days. My clothes made me think of Alice, whod bought them all for me. Alice. I didnt know what to do about her but I knew Id have to figure it out. She was my friend and she was with Jasper, part of our lives now. But she was also his sister, and I couldnt talk to her just yet, it was all too close. Rose was putting together a bag for me with the things shed brought over when Jazz stuck his head back in the room. Hey, Aros here to talk to Bells. Bell? You up for it? I closed my eyes and exhaled heavily. No, I wasnt. But real life was going to march on, whether or not I was ready. I nodded slightly and Jazz withdrew from the door, letting Aro in. He looked impeccable as always, his navy pinstriped suit contrasting flamboyantly with his ice green shirt and lime tie. He flashed me his preternaturally dazzling white smile and gave me a look that was meant to be sympathetic, but Aro wasnt much of an actor. Bella, darling. How are you? He crossed the suite quickly and came to stand at the foot of the bed where I sat, picking my hands up off my lap and clutching them briefly in his. He knew all the particulars, at some point Rose had called him and filled him in. I was glad I hadnt had to do it. Im okay, Aro. Whats up? Since I wasnt about to bare my soul to Aro, I figured Id better cut to the chase and get to why he was really here. Because I was sure he didnt come to comfort me. Well, our little project has taken a rather unexpected turn, so its time we discuss our next steps. Although I suppose, he mused, mostly to himself, that it took an unexpected turn when you actually got involved with Mr. Cullen. In spite of my Xanax hangover and the haze of my emotional lockdown, I was able to raise my eyes to Aros and shoot him my best withering stare. He seemed to sense hed pissed me off and backed down a fraction, smiling again. Bella, sweetness, when it comes time to end an arrangement like this, finishing it needs to be handled as delicately as starting it. I stared at him for a second, wondering where the hell this was headed. Rose was apparently wondering, too, because I saw her out of the corner of my eye coming to lean on the bathroom door frame. Whats that supposed to mean? I asked, my voice low and still a little raspy. Certainly the break was sudden and unplanned, so well have to act fast, to position ourselves properly. Position ourselves for what? Theres a public relations war brewing, my dear. And we need to do what it takes to win it. Now, Edwards very public display certainly throws the ball in your court at the outset, but things can turn on a dime and we cant be too cautious. 168

What the fuck are you talking about? Were over. What else is there to say about it? The words nearly made me choke, but I spit them out anyway through gritted teeth. The media will find plenty to sayabout both of you. We need to make sure its all the right things about you. This could wind up being highly advantageous for you if its handled properly. Remember Tom and Nicole? That break up did wonders for her career. I couldnt believe I was hearing this bullshit. I was in the middle of a full-on emotional collapse and Aro was talking about using it to further my fucking career. I sat like stone on the edge of the bed, fixated on the pattern in the carpet at my feet, trying to formulate some sort of response to him. Aro took this as an invitation to proceed, so he did. Now, there should definitely be a mourning period, thats easily handled with you being out on tour. But when you get back, well have to be very careful choosing your next partner. These things His words finally began to sink in and I found my voice, raising my head to stare at him in shock. You want me to do this again? Bella, he said patiently, if you make the wrong choice of partners on the rebound, the results can be disastrous, just ask Britney. No, its best to keep this strictly business. Ill start compiling a list and by the time you get back from the tour well have a choice made and the details all worked out and then we can. Stop. Stop what, dear? Stop this. All of it. Im fucking done. My voice didnt sound familiar to me, it was so strong compared to how I felt. Rose was crossing the room to stand near me at the corner of the bed. Im done, Aro, with all of this shit. No more publicity stunts and fake relationships. Never again. And Edward... I almost lost it, saying his name, I choked momentarily. But I swallowed hard and pushed on, the Edward thing is done, too. No fucking publicity war. I dont give a shit what anyone says about me or him or it. Im not answering questions about him, Im not talking about it. Ever. Are we clear? Roses hand found my shoulder and she squeezed lightly. Aro just blinked down at me with no expression. Well, that will certainly make handling this more difficult, he finally said. I dont care. Theres nothing to handle. Its over, my voice wavered at the last bit and Rose took that as her cue to jump in. Aro, shes got a plane to catch. Well talk about it more when we get back, she said, snagging his elbow and propelling him towards the door. Alright, Rose. Well talk later. But she better understand something. Laurent may be my friend, but hell be looking for any way possible to keep this thing from tarnishing Edwards reputation any further, even if that means making Bella look bad. Proceed with caution. Aro threw one last look at me over his shoulder before he left the room. My shoulders slumped and I dropped my face into my hands, my momentary show of strength had fled me completely. Rose came back to the bed and ran her hand over my hair. Fuck him, Bella. And you did the right thing, telling him to shove it. I just wish wed done that the first time. I thought about that for a minute. Did I wish that, too? That Id never done it? That my only encounter with Edward had been that one brief conversation at Geisha? I thought back over everything, fish tacos on the beach in the dark, Edward smiling at me across the dinner table in my house, Edward kissing me at the foot of the stairs on the night of the Oscars, singing with Edward while he played my song for me... No, as much pain as all of those memories brought me at this moment, I knew there was no way I would ever wish that none of it had happened. 169

We needed to go soon, but I could tell Rose was anxious about leaving me. She gripped my shoulders hard and made me meet her gaze. I sniffed and swiped under my eyes with my fingers briefly and looked up at her. Say the word, Bella, and Im coming with you, she said. Dont be silly, Rose. I have Jazz and Seth. Ill be okay. Youll be there before you know it. Ill be fine. I have to be. Im so sorry, Bella, she said suddenly, her voice softening as she pulled me into her arms, I wish I hadI wish Rose, theres nothing to feel sorry about, I said, as calmly as I could. Her tenderness was weakening my stony reserve. I needed to stay firm. You warned me. You did your best. And you still came to pick up the pieces when it turned out exactly like you said it would. Of course, Bells. Just because I warned you doesnt mean I wont be here for you anyway. Thank you, I whispered into her shoulder. Love you. She squeezed me hard and let me go just before the waterworks started again. I took a deep breath to get myself back under control. Rose departed and Seth went downstairs to have the SUV brought around. Jasper prowled the room nervously while I checked the bag Rose had packed for me. Jasper wandered out into the hallway, hands in his pockets. He looked back into the room and held his hand out to me. Bella? Its time to go, babe. Are you ready? I stopped and closed my eyes, taking a few deep breaths, steeling myself for the outside world, preparing myself in case there were paparazzi downstairs. I slipped my sunglasses on, my shield to keep myself from the prying eyes of the world, then I walked forward and took Jazzs hand. He wrapped his arms around me and pressed his lips to my forehead. I allowed myself just a second to lean into him and be comforted, but only a second. Any more than that and Id fall apart again and I was done with that. I straightened up and stepped back. Jasper smiled slightly at me before he slid his arm protectively around my waist and led me towards the elevator. * * * Edward Thankfully the paparazzi hadnt found out yet that Bella was staying at the Roosevelt. If they had theyd be swarming the place but it was relatively quiet, unlike the fucking zoo I faced outside the gate at my place. Id never seen it so bad, and I was sorry as hell I didnt have Sam. But it was definitely better if I was alone for this. I sat in my car for a minute, just shy of the covered overhang in front of the entrance, trying to see who was coming and going. As I watched I saw Seth exit the front door and speak with the valet for a minute. My heart soared at the site of that overgrown kid. If he was down here then she was up there. A minute later their large black SUV was brought around and Seth hopped in to organize something. I decided to move before he could see me. I jumped out of my car, ignoring the valet and leaving it parked by the curb. I sprinted through the lobby and towards the elevators, keeping my head down and my sunglasses on, hoping I could make it without attracting too much attention. So far so good. I got in and punched 12. I had no idea at all what I would say. I had no expectations, no plan. I just needed to see her one more time, to tell her I was sorry. I knew it wouldnt change anything, but I had to say it before she was gone for good. The elevator stopped on twelve. I took a second to figure out which way the rooms went and turned 170

left. I reached the next corner and had just turned into the hall when I saw Jasper, standing in the hall, hands in his pocket, looking through the open door back into her room. He pulled one hand from his pocket and reached a hand towards the open door, beckoning to her. Bella? Its time to go, babe. Are you ready? My feet wouldnt move. I wanted to back away before I saw it, but I couldnt. Bella, her dark hair pulled back, her sunglasses on, her face as flawless and beautiful as always, stepped forward, taking his hand. His arms wrapped around her, his lips met her forehead, her body sighed into his. I finally made my feet move, silently retreating the way Id come, back to the elevators. The one I came up in hadnt left yet, so I staggered in and hit G. I fell back against the side and closed my eyes. My heart was thudding out of my chest. I knew they werent back together already, it wasnt possible. But seeing her with him like thathow tenderly he touched her, how comforted she seemed by his touchit hit me then. They fit. It was so clear. He was perfect for her so much better than me. And he would never do to her what I just did. Hed be there for her, like he had been her whole life. I needed to stop being a selfish bastard and do the right thing here. The last thing she needed now was me, shoving my way into her life, pleading for forgiveness. Maybe the best thing I could do now would be to just stay out of her way and let her get back to the life she would have been leading if she hadnt entered into this fucked up arrangement with me in the first place. All I brought to her life was chaos and media and misery and I had nothing to offer her in return. All this time Id been trying to get him out of my way, but maybe it was me that needed to get out of his. Well, I could do something about that, at least. I could take myself as far away as possible, The elevator hit the lobby and I bolted out the way Id come, racing back to my car, still sitting by the curb. Once I was safely locked inside, I pulled out my phone and scrolled through to Marcs number. Marc? Its Edward. I know Ive been stalling, but Im ready to go to Italy now. Book me on the next flight, text me the details. Im gone, too.


Chapter 27 - Why Does It Always Rain On Me

Bella Atlanta Wed been out on the road for four weeks. Four long miserable blank weeks. I functioned. I performed. I did my very best, although I knew there was no way to give my all. After all, I couldnt actually think about any of the lyrics I sang. Personal connection to the music was out of the question. So I focused on the technical aspects, and the notes, staying in tune, moderating my breathing, negotiating that deathtrap of a set they came up withwhatever it took to get through the performance in one piece. It amazed me but for the most part my act was successful. They told me that tour was a hit, and that we were doing great. Nobody seemed to be aware that I was a zombie. Or maybe it was just nobody cared. We were in the greenroom of the Fox Theater, waiting for our set to begin. Emmett and Jasper were huddled under the monitor, listening to the local band opening for us, trading comments and critiques. Rose was filing down her nails so they didnt get in the way of her playing. I was, as usual, sitting on the couch, staring at a wall, trying to think about nothing until it was time to go on. Hey, kids! Felix burst into the room, all smiles, a cardboard box in his arms. Of all the people the studio could have sent to mind us out on the road, did it have to be Felix? He was my least favorite. Hey, Felix, Jasper called across the room. Emmett raised a hand in greeting. Gather around, kids. I have something special for you, Felix called, setting his box down on the table. Emmett, Jasper and Rose crossed the room in a hurry to Felixs side. I sighed and uncurled myself from the sofa, not really caring at all what Felix had to say, but knowing I was expected to participate in whatever this was. Well, kids, this is a big day for any recording artist. One youll always remember, Felix said, popping the top on the box with a flourish. We all instinctively leaned in as one to see what was inside. Emmett, Rose and Jasper all gasped in unison. There it was. Stacked in the box, rows and rows of our first CD. Roses hand shot out and snatched one off the top greedily. Emmett and Jasper crowded in over her shoulders to look at the little cover with her, forgetting for the moment that there was a full box of copies in front of them. The three of them began to ooh and ahh over every inch of it, the photo of us on the cover, the artwork, even the freaking typeset. Jasper pulled it out of Roses hands and opened it, sliding out the booklet inside the front cover. They began to flip through it, as delighted as kids at Christmas. Felix stood watch over them, beaming, drafting off this happy moment of theirs. I silently reached into the box and pulled out a copy for myself. The cover photo was nice. I remembered that day, that moment, the four of us in Demetris studio. In between set ups and shots, I had told Rose all about my first night with Edward. I had rolled out of his bed that morning after those amazing twenty four hours together. My breathing picked up and got shallow. I flipped the CD over. On the back was the requisite list of ten tracks, all the songs wed worked and slaved over. But my eyes skimmed past them all to the bottom of the list, to the bonus track. I knew it would be there. Rose had tried to get it pulled right after the Epic Meltdown, but the album had been rushed through production as it was, to be ready for release in conjunction with the tour. By the time she made the call, 172

it was too late and there was no going back. I knew it was there, but it still stopped my heart to see it. Track 11. The Man With The Child In His Eyes- Bella Swan and Edward Cullen Arr. E. Cullen The chatter of the others grew faint and muffled in my ears. All I could hear was the roar of my own blood in my veins, the rapid pounding of my heart in my ears. I was dimly aware of the conversation around me slowing to a halt, of Rose, Emmett, Jasper and Felix stopping to stare at me, and then of them all quietly slipping out of the room to give me my moment alone. I tried to swallow back the emotion, to stuff it back down, but it wouldnt go, I couldnt repress it. Before I even registered I was doing it, my arm was arching back, whipping forward, the CD was smashing into a million pieces against the wall on the other side of the room. * * * Dallas Rose and I had just joined Jasper, Emmett and Seth in the green room after getting ready, Emmett was twirling his drumsticks and the local band who was our opening act was half way through their set. Rose was trying to fix my hair, I was staring into space, letting her. Jane, our road manager, came through and handed each of us our mail bundle. The label collected our mail for us while we were away and it arrived every few days at the venue in packets just before the show. Mine was pre-sorted into various packages. The first was a fat wad of fan mail, which I swore I would get to one day. Another packet contained various propositions and offers from Aro, appearances, endorsements, all for my consideration. I skipped that, too. The last stack was personal mail mostly bills and letters. It included a large manila envelope from a law firm. I didnt recognize the name. I opened it and pulled out a sheaf of papers. I skimmed through them quickly. It was a stack of legal documents I didnt understand. I went back and read through the first page carefully. The deed to my house. Paper clipped to it was a card from a security company with the security codes for the front gate and the house. Last out of the envelope was a set of new front door keys. My house. I held the deed in my trembling hands for a minute, trying to process. My house. That Edward bought for me. I fucking hated the thought of that place now. It only made me think of him, it would only ever make me think of him, and now I fucking owned it. It hardly seemed possible that when he bought it for me, I thought that it meant there was something real beginning between us.The sorrow that Id been pressing down for weeks momentarily bubbled up and drowned me. I heard the rest of the mail in my hands hit the ground and scatter. I clenched the house keys in my fist so tightly that they cut in to my skin. I didnt feel the pain, but I felt a sticky warm trickle of blood seep between my fingers. The back of my neck tingled and my vision went black as I sank to the floor. * * * I came awake lying on the couch in the greenroom, but I kept my eyes closed, not yet ready to face the world again. I could smell Roses perfume, so I knew she was next to me, I could feel her fingers gripping my left hand. My right hand throbbed with pain and cold. I realized I was gripping an icepack. There was a cool washcloth pressed to my forehead. I could hear muffled voices, right outside the door, raised in argument. I cracked my eyes open and saw Rose. Her body was facing me, her hand gripping mine, but her head was turned towards the door, listening intently. Her face was set like stone, furious. 173

I could have the doctor here in ten minutes. One shot will do it. Its totally harmless. Shell feel fine, just relaxed and happy. Perfectly able to do the show. People do it all the time. That was Felixs voice. There is no fucking way we are doping her up to do the damned show! That was Jasper, sounding perhaps angrier than Id ever heard him. Well, what do you suggest then, Jasper? Felix snapped, his annoyance plain. Cancel tonight. Shes sick. Period, Jasper growled back. Weve got some days off coming up, add a fucking show then if its that important. But Felix started again, but Emmetts voice, a low snarl, cut him off. Shes sick, Felix. Back the fuck off. There was a long moment of silence from the hall and then footsteps receding. Roses frame relaxed microscopically and the corner of her mouth twitched up. I closed my eyes again and sank back into welcome oblivion. * * * Denver International Airport I pushed my sunglasses up a little and rubbed my eyes with my fingertips before letting them slide back down into place. I was inside, in the First Class lounge to be exact, but I really didnt want to be bothered by anyone, and you never could tell when someone would accost you, even in the First Class lounge, so I kept my sunglasses on and my baseball cap pulled down low, shadowing my face. Seth could chase off anybody who decided to bother me, but he was slouched in a chair a few feet away, snoozing, and I didnt want to bother him unless I had to. Jasper, Rose and Em had gone back to LA after Denver, since we had five days off. But I never went back there. I couldnt face it yet. I usually just cooled my heels in the next town, hanging out in the hotel, waiting for them. Id see them in a few days when they caught up to me in Detroit. Well, Id see Rose and Em. Jasper had to stay in LA an extra day this time for a photo shoot. A solo photo shoot. Because while everyone had been focused on me and Edward, the most unbelievable thing had transpired. Jasper had become a heartthrob. We realized it after the first few tour dates, when the stage door was absolutely mobbed with screaming teenaged girlsall screaming for Jasper. It must have been something about the shaggy blonde hair, the dreamy blue eyes, and the fact that he wrote our music. That gave him some sort of soulful, sensitive artist vibe that the girls just went wild for. It was freaking hysterical to behold. It was one of the few things that made me laugh in these last few weeks; the sight of poor Jasper being mauled by screaming, weeping teenagers. I was undoubtedly still the center of everyones fixation. After all, I was involved in a rather scandalous relationship meltdown with the hottest man in Hollywood, and Jaspers fame was decidedly more Tiger Beat in nature, but still, he was famous in his own way. Emmett never, ever let it go. He constantly suggested that Jazz phone up the Jonas Brothers for some advice on how to handle unruly packs of thirteen year olds, or that Jazz should maybe spend some time hanging out at the Claires Boutique in the mall, to better understand his target demographic. Jazz hated the ribbing and the screaming girls frustrated and embarrassed him to no end, but he was holding up alright in the face of losing his anonymity. His newfound fame meant that he had his own hoard of paparazzi dogging his moves. They were much tamer than what I dealt with, but nonetheless, his life was fairly thoroughly invaded by them. Due to the increased scrutiny, on one of his trips back to LA to see Alice, someone got a shot of them 174

out to dinner together and their relationship was officially outed. Alice, rather than be upset about it, was grimly satisfied, delighted to publicly stake her claim on him and to break the hearts of teenaged girls across America. They made the gossip columns for a while and she gleefully forwarded each and every mention of it to Jasper, much to his chagrin. At about the same time that Jazz and Alice went public, Rose chose to stage her own personal rebellion against Aro. We were at some event, standing there, having our pictures taken, as usual, when out of nowhere Rose seized Em by the face and stuck her tongue down his throat. And that was that, the sex goddess was officially off the market. Aro and the label execs were all pretty bent out of shape that all of us were going so far off script, but none of us cared anymore. We were all tired of pretending. I took a sip of my water and looked up at the tv playing over the bar. It was some entertainment news showof course. And sure enough, right on cue, they started playing a story about me and Edward. Fuck. I thought once they had Jasper to chase around, I might have some relief, but they never seemed to get enough of me. I glanced around the lounge at the smattering of other travelers, but no one was paying attention to the tv. They were lost in their books or newspapers or laptops. I knew I should just keep my head down and ignore it, but curiosity got the better of me and I looked back at the tv to see what they were saying. The reporter, if you could call that blonde, plastic, twittering bobblehead a reporter, was spouting all the usual crap, that I was broken hearted but persevering, bravely soldiering on through the tour, while Edward was hiding out at an undisclosed location in Europe. They hadnt been able to determine yet whether Edward had any company in his seclusion. I told myself that it was all crap and lies, but I still felt the twist of the knife in my chest when the plastic girl said that last part. I couldnt help but wonder if that red haired woman was with him, wherever he was. I looked down and stared into my water glass. I had to be honest with myself, I wasnt getting over this. Not even a little bit. Id been through breakups before and even at the worst, lowest moments, some part of me had known that I would get through it, that there would come a time when I was okay and over it. But I couldnt find that part of me now. It felt like I would always be stuck right here, hopelessly in love with him, unable to let it go and move on. I chanced a look back at the tv. They were showing footage of us on the red carpet at the Academy Awards. Fuck. Anything but that fucking night. I couldnt take it. Why couldnt Paris make another sex tape or Angelina adopt another baby so theyd have something else to talk about? This just kept getting worse and worse. I dropped my head down on my folded arms on the bar and prayed for our flight to start boarding. * * * Seattle Our triumphant homecoming. Thats what Seattle was supposed to be. And it pretty much was. Wed been scheduled to do three shows in Seattle but they sold out so fast that the label added a fourth, which also sold out in record time. Suddenly everybody in Seattle was a fan of Eclipse, everybody reminisced about having seen us play in tiny local bars just last year. Of course, I couldnt remember those armies of Eclipse fans when we actually had been playing in front of twenty people on Sunday nights at the Dugout. Well, no matter. The actual fans as well as the recent converts were all cheering our return and our success. Because we were undoubtedly a success. The album sales were through the roof. Of course, although no one breathed a word of it out loud, I knew a decent part of that success could be directly attributed to me and the Epic Meltdown. The arrangement with Edward had certainly worked its magic 175

as far as that was concerned. Word had leaked out early on about the bonus track, about me and Edward performing together on it, and the public was salivating to hear it well before the CD was actually released. Once it hit the market, the sales were astounding. It seemed everybody wanted to get their very own piece of my heart for their personal listening pleasure. The tour had been a huge success, too, probably for the same reason. Sold out shows in every city. Everybody wanted to come and get a glimpse of me, to see if it showed on my face, I guess. I tried not to think about it. I was still on lockdown. I had a mantra I repeated to myself whenever it got too bad. Emmett, Rose, JasperEmmett, Rose, JasperNo matter what happened, I needed to hold it together for them. They couldnt do this without me. If I failed, we all went down together. Id come close enough that one night in Dallas, I couldnt let it happen again. I just had to make it through Seattle and then we were done, back home to LA for a while. But for now I was still in Seattle and at least for today that was okay. I stared out my hotel window at the sheets of rain pelting the glass. Of course it was raining. I dont know why I expected any different. I guess my six short months in LA had spoiled me for sunshine. You couldnt tell if it was morning or afternoon out there. I started a little at the sudden knock on the door, even though I was expecting it. I turned and headed for the door, moving faster than I had anywhere but on stage for weeks. I undid the catch and threw the door open and for just a moment, the vise around my ribs that had been there for weeks eased just a little and I drew in a deep breath, smiling at the face I found there. Jake! Bells! I launched myself up at his ridiculous height, throwing my arms around his neck and planting a kiss on his cheek. His massive arms curled around me, nearly crushing me in his embrace as he pulled me up off the floor, my feet dangling. Damn, Jake! Dont break me! He laughed, but set me back down and pulled back to look at me. The brilliant white smile dimmed on his tanned face. You dont look so great, Bells, he said with concern, I thought fame was supposed to agree with people. I rolled my eyes a little and slapped his arm playfuly, before pulling him into the suite behind me and closing the door. Well, its nice to see you, too, asshole! And its not the fame, Jake, its all the rest. He nodded, but said nothing. I wasnt sure how much he knew about everything that had happened. I waved a hand at the couch and he sat, snagging my hand and pulling me down to sit next to him. It really was great to see him. He was so familiar, so easy. I found myself curling my feet up underneath me and snuggling into his side, just like I used to a year ago when hed come visit in Seattle and wed crash in the living room to watch movies. Jake and I had ended as a couple when I left Forks for Seattle, but he would never leave my life, I knew that. Hed known me literally my whole life, always there, just like Em, Rose and Jasper. The end of us hadnt been his idea, and I secretly suspected that he still harbored feelings for me, but he never let on if he did. He said he wanted to stay friends and I took him at his word and over the years, Id been insanely grateful that he did, especially now. He stretched his long arms across the back of the sofa. So, tell me everything, Bells. Whats it like being so damned famous? I laughed and gave him a playful shove. You should know me well enough by now to know I couldnt give a shit about that part. 176

Oh, come on, youre not even a little excited by all the pictures and the red carpets and the magazine covers and shit? he was laughing, teasing me. He knew I wasnt. I wanted to hang onto our light, easy banter and respond with something funny and sarcastic, but out of nowhere, I felt a surge of sorrow well up and I couldnt control it. Jake, I nearly choked, if you knew what it was like sometimeshow its been for the past six weeks His arm came down around my shoulder and he pulled me into him. Hey, Im sorry, Bells. I didnt mean to upset you. I know all about youand, um Edward Cullen. You do? He nodded, then snorted a little with laughter, Whod have ever guessed you and that movie star? But yeah, Emmett told me all about it. Im sorry. I can see by your face that its really done a number on you, Bells. I sighed against his chest, drawing a little strength just from being so close to him. I hadnt felt so safe since.no, better not go there. Its not justhim, Jake. Yes, thats miserable, but its all the rest, too. It would have been bad enough if it just happened to me in private. But having to live it all out in public like this, having all these strangers dissect every word I say and every move I make and they tell these lies like you cant believe. It astounds me what people write about me. I try not to let it get to me, but its hard. And Im so tired. My voice got high and pinched on the last part. I would not cry, not now. Jake rubbed my back gently and I felt him kiss the top of my head. Im sorry its been so hard for you. Youre not really cut out for all this craziness, huh? In a way, it would have been better if it happened to Rose instead. Shes hard as nails. But youre so soft, so openyou always were. I lifted my face off his chest and pulled back to smile up at him. He always just got me. Jake reached a hand up and stroked my cheekbone and I leaned into his hand a little, letting my eyes close. I sighed with relief at the sensation, the comfort of it. I hadnt realized how much Id been craving and missing just this kind of simple contact. I felt Jakes lips on my forehead, lingering there. His arm around my shoulders tightened incrementally, and suddenly I could feel it in the air between us, Jakes desire. I froze, unsure of what I should do, of what I wanted to do. It felt so good to be back in Jakes arms. Could I do it? Could I turn my face up to him and let him kiss me? Being back with Jake would be easy, I knew it. And I knew that I would find comfort and respite from all this with him. I could escape my life a little, retreat back into what Id been then, when it had all been so simple and straightforward. But had it ever really been so simple? That was why I broke up with Jake when I moved to Seattle. Id always been moving on, my eyes on bigger things. Jake had wanted me to spend my life with him in La Push, and stay just like I was. Even then, when I was nobody, without a clue about how my life would turn out, I knew I wanted to see more of the world than Forks and I wanted to be more than that girl. For better or for worse, I was too far down this road to turn back now. Id come too far, changed too much. I couldnt turn back the clock. Sure, it would feel good to revert to that for a little while, but I would only be hiding from reality. And it would be so unfair to Jake, to use him, to hide in him that way. He loved me, in many ways, but now clearly, in that way, still. And I didnt love him. Because I was still fucking in love with Edward. Goddammit. I didnt want to be, but I was. Jake was still pressing his lips gently against my forehead, waiting for some hint from me. It came in the form of my tears, leaking out of my clenched eyes. 177

Im sorry, Jake, I just cant. You know I would take care of you, Bells, he murmured. I know that. And I wish I could. God, I wish I could. But I justI still You still love him, Jake finished my sentence for me softly. I nodded, the tears coming faster now. Jake let out a huge sigh and lifted his face away from mine, conceding defeat. But Jake was still Jake. He wrapped his huge arms around me and pulled me in tight against his chest and held me there while I cried myself dry for another man. I dont deserve you, Jake, I choked out between sobs. But youll always have me, Bells. I promise. I buried my face in his chest and prayed for the memory of Edward to let me go, knowing that it never really would.


Chapter 28 - High and Dry

Edward Can I get you anything else, Mr. Cullen? Another drink, perhaps? It was the fucking flight attendant again, leaning down into my face just a little too close, holding my gaze too long, too intently, and of course, flashing her cleavage at meagain. I sighed and closed my eyes, effectively shutting her down. No, thank you. I said tersely. She hadnt left me alone since wed taken off from Rome. I knew she was angling for a session in the first class bathroom or some shit like that, but I was seriously not interested and I didnt know how many times I had to say it before she would just fucking leave me alone. Not that she wasnt hot. And if this were six months ago, hell yeah, wed be in the bathroom now doing God knows what. But that was six months ago and for better or for worse, I was not the same. In that way, I suppose I was much better. No more random sex with flight attendants in airplane bathrooms. That had to be an improvement. The drinking, the drugs, the anonymous sexit all stopped with Bella and hadnt started back up since shed left. Not that it wasnt tempting. At first all I wanted to do was to get trashed and stay trashed for as long as humanly possible. I wanted to go get another Bugatti and finish what Id started back when I broke my leg. Anything to stop the misery and escape. But on my flight over to Italy, Id made myself sit and think in spite of the pain I was in. I was on my way to meet with Martin Scorsese about my lead role in his new movie. It was by far the biggest thing that had ever happened in my career. I wasnt just back to where Id been, I was far surpassing it. It would be stupid to throw everything away and sink back into dissipation because I lost Bella. It was because of her that I got it all back anyway. For her sake, I needed to hold it together professionally. I owed her that. Yes, in terms of my career and my public behavior, I was definitely better. But in almost every other way, I was infinitely worse. After I spent a couple of weeks in Rome with Scorsese doing readings for the film, I just stayed on. It seemed easier to hide out in there than to face LA again. To face my empty house. To face Alices wrath. To face Bellas screaming absence from my life. I didnt enjoy Rome. Hell, I didnt even see it. Mostly I just lay on the bed in my hotel room, being miserable. I watched Italian daytime television. And since I didnt speak a word of Italian, that meant I spent weeks watching gibberish. But I stayed out of trouble and out of the limelight, and that was important right now. The public meltdown was in overdrive and the last thing I needed was the media dogging my every step, blowing up every order I placed for coffee into some hot and heavy affair with the barista. So I hid, and I mourned, and I felt lousy about myself, reliving every moment of my time with Bella, examining each juncture when I could have done it right and instead did it all wrong. The hiding out in Rome had the unexpected benefit of throwing water on the worst of the public relations fire Id created. Laurent had been right about that. I gave the media absolutely nothing to work with. The studio handling the Scorsese project had a moment of anxiety when the whole thing broke, but when I showed up promptly in Rome to work and I did nothing but work, they relaxed and the whole thing moved forward. In that respect, crisis averted. I hid from everyone, including Alice. She called non-stop at first, and I let them go to voicemail. I just couldnt face her anger. I already felt bad enough on my own, I didnt need her to remind me that I was a completely worthless shit. I texted her to let her know that I was in Rome and that I was okay, but nothing personal. I would call her when I got home and hope that I could fix things with her then. It was the best I could do. 179

But I couldnt hide forever. Once word spread that Id been signed to the Scorsese project, a flood of scripts and offers had come into Marcs office. I needed to go back and deal with my career, now that I had one again. The plane began its descent into LA and I steeled myself, wondering what I would have to face now that I was back home. Watching the lights below us grow larger, I wondered if Bella was down there somewhere, and how she was doing. And against my will, I wondered if she was thinking about me, even a little. * * * The front gate buzzer pulled me away from my listless unpacking. Id gotten no further than moving my toiletries out of the suitcase and into the bathroom. I was sorely tempted to just leave everything else for Maria to deal with. I couldnt imagine who could be at the gate at this hour. Nobody knew I was back except Alice. Id texted her from Rome just to let her know I was coming home. It might be her, which I both dreaded and looked forward to. I knew that conversation would be ugly and unpleasant, but I still missed her and I wanted to see her again. I just hoped we could get past this and she could forgive me. If I lost her, too. I hit the button for the intercom. The voice that came back at me was the last one I ever expected to hear. Its Jasper. What. The. Fuck? I didnt respond on the intercom, I just buzzed him through the gate and waited by the front door as he made his way down the drive. I heard his car door and opened the front door to meet him. He stopped on the front step, a few feet away from me, just staring. And I stared back. I couldnt imagine what the hell had brought him here, of all people. He finally inhaled deeply, like he was steeling himself, and he spoke. Explain it to me. What she saw that night. Explain what happened. What? Why the hell do you want to know? And why should I tell you? If I was puzzled before, now I was absolutely baffled. And annoyed. How dare he come here and confront me about shit that was none of his business. Jasper exhaled in frustration, started to say something, then stopped himself, squeezing his eyes shut. He didnt want to be here, talking to me about this, that much was absolutely clear from his body language. Mine wasnt much better, arms crossed tightly over my chest, chin up, eyes narrowed. Well, at least we were on the same page about that. Jesus, just tell me. I have to know if Im gonna. He trailed off, then started again on another tack, Because Alice is completely ripped up about this and shes at me constantly telling me there was no way you would have done what it looked like you did and that Wait a minute. Alice? Alice? What the hell did she have to do with this? Yeah. Shes been really upset and shes defending you to me like crazy and if what she says is true Why have you been talking to Alice? How did he even know Alice outside of Bella? And Bellas been away for six weeks. Jasper just stared at me for a long moment, like I was speaking a foreign language. Shit. You still dont know? he finally said. Know what? I know you havent been talking to Alice, but when it hit the media, I figured 180

What about Alice? I snapped. Me and Alice. Wereyou knowtogether, he finally spit out awkwardly with a shrug of his shoulders. The word just hung there between us. Together. Jasper and Alice. Together. My brain wheeled wildly while I tried to process that piece of information. And then my brain just fucking shut down and my vision went red and the next thing I knew my fist was connecting with Jaspers jaw with a loud and satisfying crack. Fuck! he cried out, his head snapping back as he staggered backwards. His hand shot up to his jaw. I lurched forward, maybe I was about to deck him again, I wasnt really thinking, just acting on some wild animal impulse to end him. Are you fucking crazy? What the fuck did you do that for? Jasper was shouting. How could you do that to her? Alice is her friend! I hardly recognized my own voice, it was nothing but a low growl. Friends with who? What the fuck are you talking about? Jasper had retreated a step when I first hit him, but hed gone no farther and he looked like he was going to square off and hit me back, which was just fine with me. He was a little taller than me and I was distantly aware that I only knew how to fight in movies, which is all fake, and he grew up with Emmett, so he could probably do some serious damage. But I didnt fucking care. Let him do his worst. Shes friends with Bella! How could you do that to Bella? Do what to Bella? What the hell are you talking about? You and Bella! What the fuck do you think? What about me and Bella? I just stared at him a minute, still glowering. How could he not know what I was talking about? Slowly, Jaspers expression began to change. His eyes grew wide, he lost his aggressive stance. Are you telling me.did you think that Bella and I had some kind of? Yeah. You were together the night I met you. What? He looked genuinely baffled and I suddenly got the feeling he really did have no idea what I was talking about. When you came to get her. You were together. Fuck, Jasper breathed out heavily. His face fell. Really? You really believed that? Fuck. Well how about you fucking set me straight since there seems to be a hell of a lot I dont know? Jasper turned and cast his unseeing gaze up the drive while he dragged a hand through his hair. He exhaled heavily and turned back to face me. Ive never been with Bella. Not ever. But what about that night? And the way she is with you You and your dickhead friend were freaking her out that night. So I played it up a little to get you to back off. I had no idea that wed ever see you again. And the way we areI dont knowChrist, weve known each other since we were kids. Shes like my sister. I said nothing, I just stared at him and processed. Dude, he continued with more force, hands raised in front of him for emphasis, I swear. Not ever. Not once. Not even close. Ive bought her tampons, for Chrissake! Its never been like that. Okay, okay. I got it, I finally said, thinking back on all the time I wasted being jealous of a phantom. I ran my hands through my hair in frustration. Please dont tell me you thought that while you were with her, Jasper said, with more edge to his voice. No... no, I figured it was over by the time she and I. I couldnt even finish talking about it, so I changed the subject, So you and Alice, huh? Why didnt Alice tell me? 181

Because you hate me. She thought youd be pissed, Jasper reached up and rubbed his jaw where Id decked him, God knows why she was worried about that. I hated you because of Bella, I snapped. Yeah, Im figuring that out now, he sighed, then he shook his head, closed his eyes and chuckled softly. So, I said, losing my fucking patience with him, you want to tell me why youre really here? Because Im guessing you didnt come to tell me about Alice. I told you. I want to know what happened that night. Why? You tell me first. Jasper crossed his arms over his chest. Stupid, stubborn, arrogant bastard. I still hate him, Bella or not. Youd better come in, I said, stepping back and waving him past me. We were still standing in front of my open front door, having this whole standoff on the front steps. He hesitated for just a moment and then brushed past me into the entryway. He stopped there, arms crossed over his chest again, inside but making no move to get comfortable. Nothing happened that night, I said abruptly, I was drunk, beyond drunk, which is a shitty excuse, I know, but its true. I was blacked out for most of it. But Vicki swears nothing happened. I knew her from a long time ago, she came on to me, she kissed me, I tried to leave, but I was too fucked up. So she got me in a cab and dropped me at home. I woke up alone that morning. Jasper said nothing for a long moment, he just looked at me. Thats it? Yeah, thats exactly what happened, I sighed. So, yeah it was stupid getting that wasted, but you didnt actually sleep with her. It sounds like you didnt do anything. Why didnt you try to explain it to Bells? You just vanished. I sighed and rubbed the back of my neck. I so didnt want to go into this with Jasper, of all people. But he didnt really seem to want to go into it either and yet, he was here to do just that. I sensed this was important in some way, so I sucked up my discomfort, the dislike I had for him, and pushed on through. I came to her hotel, the day she left. I saw her in the hallway with you. Please tell me you didnt think. No. At least not then. But I thought you might, someday. If I stayed out of the way. And I thought you were better for her than me. I was feeling really fucking miserable about what Id done. That shed seen that, that James had messed with her at the club. It should have been me there taking care of her, not Seth. But I was in the back, too wasted to move, getting felt up by some desperate starlet. Shes better off without me, the disgust in my voice surprised even me and Id been living with it for six weeks. Look what Ive done to her life, I continued, all the paparazzi and shitnone of that would have happened to her if not for me. Jasper stared at me for a long minute. It felt like an hour. Id just laid my inner fears and insecurities bare to a guy I hate and I could see him turning it over in his mind, judging me. I shifted nervously under his intense blue gaze. Alice says you love her, he finally said. There was no point in denying it so I just nodded tightly, I do. Finally I just couldnt take it anymore. I spilled my guts for him, he needed to do the same for me. Jasper, just fucking tell me why you came here. Is she okay? He gave me another of those endless stares before he slowly shook his head. No, he said on his exhale, no, shes not okay. Whats wrong with her? my voice was tight, my heart beating fast. If something had happened to 182

her it would have been in the news, I would have heard. Wouldnt I? Jasper finally looked away from me and his face contorted in anguish. Shes broken herself to pieces for us, he said softly. What do you mean? All this shit, she did it for us. They told her she had to get out front and take the lead, so she did it, he was rushing the words out now that the floodgates had opened, They wanted her in this twisted set up with you so she did it. She asked us all what we though, if any one of us had told her not to, she never would have done it. She didnt want to do it. But we told her it was okay and so she said yes. The personal stuff with you is whats really ended her, but if she hadnt agreed to the set up in the first place you never would have gotten a crack at her, and none of this would have happened. And we told her to do it. That song? She didnt want that on the album. It was way too personal for her, it meant too much to her. But I pushed her, I made her ask you, and now she cant even look at our first CD and her personal shit is all over the radio. And now what? Shes lost every shred of a normal life, shes hounded night and day by the media and the fucking paparazzi. Her whole life is spent hiding in the back of some limo or in some hotel room. Shes like some fucking circus animal. She lives her life in a cage until we drag her out and shove her on stage to do her thing, then its back to the cage till the next time. I mean, what the fuck kind of existence is that? Jasper paused to draw breath and I could see how upset he was. What he was telling me was killing him. And in that moment, I began to hate him a little less. The album sales are through the roof, he continued, and when they send the sales figures over, I cant even fucking look at them. Because we paid for that success with Bella. I cant undo the rest. I cant make her anonymous again. I cant get her privacy back, I cant make them stop hounding her. But you he trailed off and turned his head to stare hard at me again, his eyes intense and glistening, the muscles in his jaw working, as if making up his mind about something monumental. If Alice is right about youif you didnt fuck around on her, if you love her.then maybe I could give her back you. He quit talking, looking spent. I was speechless, just trying to absorb everything hed said, his raw pain while hed said it. Yes, there was never anything romantic between them, I could see that now. But there was no denying he loved her, the same as Emmett did. And seeing her in pain was killing him. Suddenly I was sure I didnt hate him anymore. And she was in pain. Because of me. Id spent so long unsure if she felt anything at all for me, thinking that she had been just fine when I walked away, that she was better off without me. But according to Jasper, that wasnt the case. She was just as broken as I was. Does she I had to stop and close my eyes and clear my throat before I could continue, Are you sure its me she wants? Jasper looked at me, dumbfounded, Youre kidding, right? When that shit went down, she was shattered. She still is shattered. For you. I felt lightheaded and sick, elation swamped with misery, and all of it tinged with panic and desperation. There had to be a new name for tangled, fucked up feelings like this. I had to find her, talk to her, beg her, whatever it took. She had to let me back in, she had to let me try. Where is she? Did she come back with you? He shook his head, No, she stayed on a few days in Seattle to hang with Jake. Jake? Jacob Black? Her ex? Fuck, that was all I needed now. Jasper looked surprised that I knew who he was but he nodded, Dont go flipping out, though. Jakes a friend. Yeah, they used to be together and Im pretty sure Jakes still carrying a torch, but that ship has sailed for her. Believe me, I wish he still had a shot with her, but right now, theres nobody in her head but you. 183

I have to talk to her, I muttered, intense and single-minded. I felt practically panicky with the impulse to find her. I wouldnt rest until I did. He nodded, his lips tight, She flies in tomorrow morning. Shes going to her place. Thats all Im giving you. You have to do the rest. I nodded soberly. It was enough. I would do whatever it took for the rest of my life if I could just fix this. Jasper said nothing else, he just turned and headed for the front door. He had his hand on the doorknob, then paused to look back at me. And call Alice. Shes beside herself worrying about you. Yeah, I will, I said quietly. I wondered if I should say thanks. Was that appropriate in a bizarre situation like this? First I had to fix it. If I could fix it, Id thank him later. Besides, Jasper didnt look like he wanted to hang around for my thanks. Hed done what he came to do and now he looked positively desperate to escape. That was fine with me. Because I had a whole lot of thinking to do tonight. Jasper jogged down the front steps and hopped into his car. I closed the front door and leaned my head against it, listening to his car recede down the drive. Tomorrow. Tomorrow I would see her. And I would try.


Chapter 29 - Love Remains the Same

Edward Sleep had been impossible. I was way too keyed up to sleep. Jasper said she was coming back today and that she was going to her house, but he didnt say when. I made myself crazy looking at flight schedules online, trying to guess which flight shed choose, when I could reasonably expect her to show up at her place. But the fact was that I had no idea. This is how I found myself doing a sick stalker drive-by of her house at the earliest hour I could hope to find her there. What I saw made my blood run cold. For Sale. The sign was tacked to the brand new red brick fence that now surrounded the property. The fence that I had installed. And worse, slapped on the bottom of the sign was a sticker: Sold. Shed sold her house. I knew it was because of me and I felt fucking miserable. I put my car back in gear and let it roll forward, my mind blank. As I coasted past the new gate at the end of the drive, I saw it. Her truck was parked in the drive where it had probably been the whole time she was away. But what caught my eye was the open cardboard box sitting on the ground beside it. Was she there now, packing up her stuff? Was she alone? Seth was probably with her. Except after a quick survey of the driveway and the street, I couldnt see any sign of the black SUV or any other car, for that matter. Just her truck in the drive. I pulled the Volvo to the side of the road and killed the engine. I didnt think, I just moved. I keyed in the security code at the gate and it sprung open under my hand. Yes, I memorized the security code before I sent her the package. Im not proud of it. I also had a set of her keys. Hey, I did buy the fucking house. And the gate. As I got closer, I saw the box was filled with books. Definitely her stuff. I really hoped Rosalie wasnt with her. That would suck, since Im pretty sure Rose would kill me. I tried not to speculate or let myself get too worked up, I just moved up her walkway to her front door. Which was slightly ajar. What the fuck? Again? Did she think that just because she had a fence and a gate now that she didnt need to bother with the fucking front door? For a cops kid, she was shockingly trusting. Taking a deep breath I stuffed down the annoyance. Thats not why I was there and it was a distraction. If by some gift of the gods I could fix this and get her back in my life, then I could chastise her about the door. Besides, the door made the next part a little easier. I just walked into her house, as quietly as I could. It was silent inside, no voices, no music, no singing. I was struck with the contrast to the last time I walked into her house like this, when I found her singing in her kitchen. On instinct I followed the same path to the kitchen. And there she was, standing at the stove, her back to me, looking out the window. My throat closed up and my breath stopped momentarily at the sight of her. I couldnt believe I was finally here in the same room with her again. She was perfectly still, her dark hair down, curling over her shoulders and back. She was simply dressed, jeans and a dark t-shirt. I couldnt see her face, but something about the set of her shoulders, the tiny tilt of her headher whole body looked sad. I knew instinctively what she was thinking about, because its what I was thinking aboutme and her in this kitchen, that night. 185

I still had absolutely no idea what I was going to say, but I opened my mouth and started talking anyway. I was here to fix it, so I figured Id start with explaining. Bella, I swear to you that nothing happened with her that night. She screamed and spun, her hands flying to her chest. Bella I always loved the back yard here, and the view from the kitchen window. It was so lush and green, but in a wholly different way than the Pacific Northwest. The contrast was even starker now, since Id just left Seattle this morning. It was all summery and alive out there, all the time. The kitchen was my favorite room in this house, even before Christ, everywhere I turned, everything I saw, made me think of him. And now that I was back in LA, it was going to be infinitely worse. Just driving down the fucking street and looking out the window at the view passing by would make me think of the time Id driven down this street in Edwards car with him. Pathetic. Certainly he wasnt wasting time thinking about me anymore. After that initial flurry of texts and voicemails, which Rose thankfully saved me from by promptly deleting them all, I hadnt heard a word from him, unless you count the deed to the house arriving from his lawyers, which I didnt. It was hard to believe hed so thoroughly taken over my life for weeks and weeks and then he was just gone. Like he never existed. Except Edward Cullen always existed. Our relationship and the Epic Meltdown were somehow still big news, so I couldnt watch network TV because there was always some gossip show running commercials featuring it. Renewed interest in all things Edward meant that all his old movies were in heavy rotation on cable TV, so I couldnt watch that either. Even though our song was a last minute addition as a bonus track, all the interest in us meant that radio stations were actually playing it, in addition to Alices song, our official first single, so I couldnt listen to the radio. I had yet to hear myself on the radio, another life long dream that had to be delayed. And forget magazines. I couldnt even glance at the covers in the stores because there he was, there we were, on all of them. That wasnt really so much of an issue anyway, because its not like I went into stores these days. I didnt go anywhere. I holed up in hotels and I avoided the world unless I had an interview or an appearance that I couldnt get out of. This wasnt exactly how I imagined it would be when I was daydreaming back in Forks. At least the house sold fast. I called back to LA almost the minute I recovered from my collapse and had it put on the market. The closing was in two days, so I had to come over as soon as I got back to town to clear out my stuff. Id only brought a few boxes of personal things when I moved down from Seattle, so there wasnt all that much to do. Rose and Seth wanted to do it for me, or at least come help, but I knew it would be hard for me and I wanted to be alone for this, so I made Seth bring me over straight from the airport and drop me off. I knew he was probably just sitting in the SUV a couple of blocks away, though, just in case. It was harder to be here than I thought. This kitchenit felt seeped in memories of him, even though he was only here that one night. It was almost like I could still feel him here. Bella, I swear to you that nothing happened with her that night. I screamed and spun around. Edward. Standing unannounced in my kitchen. Again. My brain was spinning while my heart pounded. He looked tired and haggard. He had purple smudges under his eyes, his jaw was covered with stubble, his hair was too long and a mess. He looked amazing. My body responded to the sight of him in spite of myself. 186

What was he doing here? How had he found me? Why did he come find me? And what the fuck was he talking about? Wh..what? He inhaled sharply, like he was steeling himself. I swear to you, nothing happened with Vicki that night at the club. I looked down at my feet, because when I looked at him I couldnt think, I couldnt even breathe. I knew Id probably have to face him someday, that wed end up at the same function or something, but I thought that day would be a long way off and I really thought Id have some warning. I wanted to be strong, I wanted to be in command of myself. But his unexpected appearance in my kitchen when I was least expecting him was blowing all of that to bits and I was afraid I was looking like every bit of the shattered wreck that I was. Vicki. He called her Vicki. Why was it so hard to find out her name, to hear him say it? Why did he come here to tell me about her? And how the hell could he say it didnt happen? I was there. Edward, I finally said, surprised at how level my voice sounded, considering my hands were shaking, I was there. I saw you with her. I kept my eyes firmly on the floor. If I was going to have even a chance of getting through this conversation now, I couldnt possibly look at him. I was drunk, he said in a rush, incredibly, stupidly drunk. I know thats a horrible excuse, but its true. Hell, its no excuse, its just an explanation. I dont know how I ended up so wasted. I was blacking out for most of the night. I barely remember anything. Then how do you know She told me. She said she kissed me but I pushed her away and told her no. That was all. You just saw the very worst moment. She helped me get home and she left. I didnt even know what had happened until the next day when I realized you didnt come home. He didnt sleep with her. I took a second to think about that. But he still left me so what did it matter what he did with her? That horrible tight crushing feeling in my chest was coming back full force. Why was he doing this to me? Did he feel bad about the media and the mess? Did he need me to absolve him or something? Did he want me to make him feel better, tell him that it was alright, no big deal? Why are you telling me this? Much to my dismay, my voice was pinched, wavering and watery. I was crying, damn it. I felt rather than saw Edward take a step towards me and instinctively I took a step back. BellaIm so sorry I hurt you. I should have been there for you that night and instead he closed his eyes and dragged his hand over his eyes. Then he drew a deep breath and started again, I know its unforgivable, what happened that night and what I did, but I hopethat maybe you could find a way to forgive me. Because Bella, I love you. At those words, I looked back at him. His eyes were impossibly sad and pleading, his whole face twisted in pain. I heard the words, but it was like they were another language or I was underwater, and the meaning just wouldnt sink in. Nothing that was happening here fit with what I thought I knew just a few minutes ago. Edward got tired of me and ditched me for some tramp in a bar. Edward left me without a backwards glance and didnt think of me again. Thats what happened, right? But now Edward was standing in front of me looking for all the world like his heart was breaking and telling mehe saidhe said he loves me I was faltering, I could feel it. The walls Id built up so carefully all these weeks were crumbling under his onslaught. I spent so much energy repressing all of this just so I could function and now hed come and blown it all apart. I closed my eyes tight and balled my hands into fists to stop them from shaking. I could feel hot tears streaking down my face. My throat constricted so hard that it hurt. Bella, please his voice was soft and I heard him take another step closer to me. I stepped back 187

again, not ready to let go of my hurt and anger. I was afraid to let go, terrified of him and how badly he could hurt me if he so chose, how badly he had already hurt me, apparently without even meaning to. I knew if he touched me I was lost, I could never deny him. And then Id be helpless before him, he could destroy me if he wanted to. Edward took another step forward, I retreated. He kept creeping forward. I took one more step back and hit the counter. I should have told you right from the start, he said gently, But it was all so screwed up, how we started, and I didnt think you could ever feel for me what I felt for you, so I didnt tell you. So many timesso many times I should have told you how I felt, I wanted to tell you how I felt. Just pleaseI love you. I heard a sound, a strangled whimper, and I realized it came from me. Im afraid, I whispered, my voice pained and raspy. He was only an arms length away from me now and still inching forward, never looking away from my face as I stood there and shook and cried and gasped for air. I know. I am, too. But, baby, I love you. I dont know how to do this, and Im terrified, but I'm more afraid of losing you. I want to try. Just let me try. Please dont give up on us yet. He finally reached out one hand and brushed his fingertips softly along my cheekbone. I turned my face into his hand in spite of myself, the blissful relief of his touch. I winced against the pain and fear I felt. He brought his other hand up to cup my other cheek. He was so close that I could feel his warm breath across my face, and I could smell his intoxicating scent. I wanted to touch him so badly that it hurt in my fingertips, I wanted the comfort I knew Id feel if I gave in to him, the comfort I could find nowhere else, with no one else. I felt the ghost of his lips brush against mine and I let my breath out in a long shaking exhale. I was right. Lost. I knew I couldnt hold out against him if he touched me. I didnt know anymore if I wanted to hold out, or even if I should. That wasnt true, I knew I didnt want to push him away, I wanted to hold on tight and never let him go. So I did. He took another step into me and pressed on my lips with his and I surrendered. I reached up and wrapped my hands around his wrists as he cradled my face, to steady myself. He angled his mouth over mine and I felt his tongue on my bottom lip. I sighed into him, my body instantly remembering this sensation, as I opened my lips to him and he slid inside. It was soft and so easy, gently tangling lips and tongues. I felt my chest release, the pain of weeks slipping away. Edwards hands slid around my neck to cradle my head and his fingers knotted in my hair. He pulled away just enough to rest his forehead against mine, eyes closed, Oh God, Bella I missed you. I love you so damned much. His mouth came down on mine again and his words finally began to sink in. He loves me. Edward loves me. The sensation of our kiss combined with the power of his words did me in. I love him. I have loved him for so long. And he loves me. I reached up and grasped his face in my hands, pulling him in tighter to me, kissing him back, pushing my tongue against his. He moaned softly and wrapped his arms tightly around my ribs and pulling me up against him, practically lifting me off the ground. When we couldnt breathe anymore, we broke apart and Edward buried his face in my hair, inhaling deeply. I kissed softly along his scratchy jaw to his ear around slid my fingers through his hair. I love you, I whispered against the warm skin of his neck. He paused and pulled back to see my face. I love you, I said it again, firmer, looking into his eyes, the green shadowed with worry and fatigue. He reached a hand up to smooth it down the side of my face, softly, reverently. 188

I love you, Bella, he murmured, his eyes intense on mine, Youll never know how much. He kissed me again and it was changed, charged. What had started out as a balm for the pain, comfort and reassurance, heated and grew desperate. Six weeks without him. I wanted him, needed him. Edward pulled his lips from mine, tracing them to my earlobe where he nipped it before moving lower, kissing my neck, licking my skin, sighing in relief against me. I closed my eyes and let my head fall back. I heard myself moan and I buried my fingers in his hair, holding him tight to me. It was like he could read my mind. I need you, he murmured into the crook of my neck. He picked up his head and met my eyes, then slowly swiped his thumbs under them, pushing away the remnants of my tears. I reached up and took his hands away from my face, twining our fingers, and began leading him through the house, back to the bedroom. He pulled his hands free and closed the gap to me, wrapping his arms around me from behind, burying his face in my hair, as we staggered forward. I love you he whispered over and over, gripping my hips, kissing the skin between my neck and shoulder. I pushed the door open to my tiny bedroom, quiet and untouched for weeks and weeks. The wooden blinds were nearly closed, but the brilliant LA sunshine crept into the room in hazy golden slits. We reached the edge of the bed and Edward grasped me by the hips, spinning me roughly around to face him again. He reached up to grasp the back of my head before crushing my mouth with his. I moaned and pushed my tongue hard against his, feeling his desperation and lust, feeling my own. He moved forward into me and I hit the bed and fell back. He came with me, falling on me, pressing me into the bed with his delicious weight, his lips never leaving mine. His knee pushed in between mine and I opened my legs to him, letting him settle into me. He groaned into my mouth as his hips pressed into mine. His hands slid frantically down my sides to the hem of my shirt, pushing it up, his fingertips making the skin of my stomach burn where he touched me. I writhed under him, desperate to feel his skin on mine. I released his hair and moved to the buttons of his shirt, but I was having a hard time making sense of them with him crushed against me like this. Abruptly Edward reared up off me and rapidly unbuttoned it himself before ripping the shirt off and throwing it away. He reached down and grasped my t-shirt where it was bunched underneath my breasts, pulling it up and over my head. He paused for a moment, up on his knees, looking down at me as I lay beneath him in just my bra. His eyes were half-closed and dark with lust in the dim half-light of the room. He slowly reached out a hand and dragged his fingertips from my shoulder, across my collarbone, down between my breasts and over my ribs. Fuck, youre so beautiful. His voice was low and ragged. I pushed myself up off my back, reaching up to grab him by his hair and pull his face to mine. I kissed him hard, tracing his bottom lip with my tongue, then gently biting down on it. He hissed before kissing me back, pushing me back down on the bed. I felt his hand reaching down, gripping the back of my thigh, hitching my leg up. He thrust his hips into me and we both gasped in unison. He was hard and pressing on my core. Fuck, I needed him. So bad. Right now. Edward my voice was little more than a hoarse whisper. Now. He sat up again, just long enough for both of us to wiggle out of our pants, before he was on me, kissing, stroking, caressing. I felt him pushing his boxers down before he kicked them free. He lifted up just enough to hook his fingers in the sides of my panties, yanking them down over my hips. I squirmed beneath him, shimmying them down to my feet and kicking them away. I couldnt help myself I had to touch him. My hand slipped between us and wrapped around the hard length of him, squeezing hard, in one long stroke. He groaned and squeezed his eyes shut against the sensation, his head falling forward onto my shoulder. 189

I stroked again and his hips thrust against me. I released him and gripped his shoulders, feeling every muscle tense under my fingers, as I felt the tip of him slip along my opening. Then in one swift motion he pushed into me to the hilt. I moaned and arched against him and he fell onto me, crushing me beneath him, wrapping his arms fully around me as he thrust deep into me. And we were together again, joined in this most intimate way, but it was so much more than it ever had been before because he was mine, truly, and I knew it. I wanted to cry with the realization of it. He loves me. He must have felt the same electric connection between us because he muttered into my neck. I love you, Bella. So much. He pushed up slightly onto his elbows and began to thrust against me. I met him and the pace picked up. This wasnt slow or easy, this was us clinging to each other, making physical what wed just declared. This was us, wiping away weeks of pain and longing and denial. Edward, I I could feel my climax bearing down on me faster than I could imagine. I know, baby. Yes He thrust into me hard twice more and I was over the edge, groaning and gasping, twisting my fingers in his hair. Bella and he followed me over, thrusting erratically into me as he came. His shuddering arms gave out and he collapsed on to me. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and my heels around his calves and held him tight to me. I didnt want a breath of air in between us. He buried his face in the crook of my neck, breathing heavily, intermittently planting tiny kisses on my neck. Love you, he rasped. I love you, too, I whispered, gripping him harder. I felt him twitch inside of me and reluctantly I loosened my hold on him just enough to let him slide out of me and settle down next to me. We lay still for a few minutes, eyes closed, dragging in long breaths, until Edward spoke and broke the silence. Im sorry, Bella, he sighed. I feel like I cant ever say it enough. Like I cant ever make it up to you. I shook my head. We have to let it go. Please, I turned my head to look at him. He was on his side, propped on his elbow, pressed up against me. His eyes were shadowed with sadness. If were going to go forward together, then I dont want to look back anymore. He closed his eyes for a moment and nodded reluctantly. I sensed he was willing to prostrate himself eternally for this, but I was being truthful. I wanted to leave it behind. It didnt matter anymore. We would talk about it all soon, to put it to rest, but not now. Now there was just us, just this. We would start again, for real. Edward lay back, nestling his face in my hair beside my neck, one leg thrown over mine, his arm clamped around my waist, his fingers stroking my side. We lay there for a long time, drifting, recovering. I was thinking. There was something playing around the corners of my mind, something bothering me. I hadnt even quite sorted out what I was feeling and thinking yet, but I knew I wanted to say it, and get it out there now, while we were putting things to rights. Im sorry, too, I murmured. He stilled next to me. What are you sorry for? I had no faith in you, I said, trying to find the words for what I was thinking, You may not have told me you loved me, but I think you were showing me all the time. I just didnt believe it. I made up my mind about you from the very start. I didnt think you would ever be capable of feeling like that 190

about someone. Isnt that awful? Suddenly I felt perilously close to tears. My voice started to crack on the last words I said. Edward levered himself up on his elbow again to look down into my face. He reached up and smoothed the hair away, running his hand over my cheek and down my neck. I have never given anyone any reason to think I was capable of more, Bella. Why would you be any different? he said softly. I wasnt capable of it until I met you. I reached up and grasped his face in my hand, shaking my head. Thats not true. You always were, you just didnt know it. He smiled down at me indulgently. See? I dont care what you say. You have more faith in me than anyone Ive ever known. I laughed a little, Well, maybe now I do, even if I doubted you once. So are we even? His eyes grew intense as he fixed them on mine. You love me, he said quietly. Ill be eternally in your debt for that, Bella. My heart felt like it would explode clear out of my chest. It was like a dream, laying here with Edward, seeing him looking at me like this, saying he loved me, being so damned grateful that I loved him. It was everything that I never even dared to hope for. I pulled his face roughly down to mine so I could kiss him again. He pressed back against me, kissing me slowly, lingeringly, enjoying it, savoring it. After all, we had all the time in the world now. We belonged to each other, completely. At that moment, his cell phone chimed from the pocket of his pants, thrown somewhere across the room. He groaned and dropped his head to my shoulder. Fuck you, whoever you are. Were not leaving here, he growled. Well, we cant hide here forever, I murmured, stroking his hair lightly as reality intruded into my thoughts a little. The house belongs to someone else as of the day after tomorrow. I have to get my stuff together and get it back to my hotel. Edward was quiet for a moment and then he abruptly shoved up off the bed and sat back on his heels, pulling me up to a sitting position to face him. I was startled by his sudden movement, wondering what he was up to. He reached out quickly and gripped my face between his two hands. No hotel. I want you to come back home with me. His face was fierce, his eyes intense. I sat there staring at him for a moment, my mouth hanging partly open. Edward just asked me to move in with him. My brain quickly spun through all the reasons why it was a terrible idea. We just got back togetherlike twenty minutes ago. And wed been together before under the most peculiar, dysfunctional circumstances. It was way too soon, it was way too fast. Edward had never been in a serious relationship before and we should go slow, and build this over time. I could hear what everyone would say, all the warnings they would give me, that it was crazy and he wouldnt stick it out and I would get hurt. I stared back into his eyes, into his urgent, hopeful face. Fuck everyone else. I listened to what everyone else said about Edward before and I ignored what I saw for myself and all that had done was break both of our hearts. I know Edward. I love Edward. My Edward. Yes. The word slipped from my lips. His face split into his dazzling smile before he surged forward and crushed me in his kiss.


Chapter 30 - Something to Talk About

Edward I rolled onto my stomach and instinctively reached an arm out for Bella, like I had every morning for weeks. Except on all those other days, I was dismally accepting that I wouldnt find her there and this morning I fully expected to. But I was met with bare, rumpled sheets. Fuck. My stomach plummeted. Please no. Please dont let her have changed her mind and run away. I sat up in bed and dragged a hand across my face, trying to summon the mental fortitude to open my eyes and face the situation. When I did, and I looked around the room, I realized that I was looking at Bellas jeans still draped casually over the back of the arm chair near the bed where shed discarded them last night. Okay, that was reassuring, but I still wanted to find her quick. I was afraid she was like a mirage and if I looked away for too long, shed vanish. I scrambled out of bed and dug a pair of sweats and a t-shirt out of a drawer and dressed quickly. As soon as I opened the door to my bedroom I was assaulted by the smell of bacon cooking. She was still here. I was pathetically grateful. When I reached the end of the hall, I heard the soft sound of her singing floating up the stairs. I slowed to a stop and closed my eyes. She was singing. In my house. I tried not to sprint downstairs, but it was hard. As I rounded the corner into the kitchen, I spotted Bella at the stove wearing one of my t shirts and her favorite grey yoga pants that shed left here. Her hair was a loose, chaotic mess around her shoulders and back. She had one knee bent and her hand on her hip while she hummed and poked at the bacon and pancakes she had underway on the stove. I love her. Fuck, do I love her. And shes still here, so everything that happened yesterday was real and she loves me, too. It was all such a blur. The emotional confrontation in her house, our desperate tumble into her bed. Then wed been incapable of much more coherent thought or conversation. Id just left the house with her and brought her back here and straight back to bed where we held on to each other and whispered and slept. I slipped up behind her silently. She gasped with surprise when she felt my hands touch her waist, but before she could jump too far away I slid my arms around her, pulling her up flush against my chest. Why do you always sneak away from me in the morning? I murmured into her hair. She chuckled and relaxed back against me, gesturing lightly with her spatula. Sorry. Early riser. I didnt want to wake you. You looked so tired. I sighed into her neck, I havent slept too well lately. She was silent for a moment before she said, Me neither. She reached back up behind herself with her free hand, running her fingers into my hair. I closed my eyes at the sensation and nearly moaned in delight. Thats all done, I said firmly. Yes, it is. Where did you get all this food? Seems like you forgot to cancel the grocery service before youum, left. Of course not. Alice usually did that stuff for me, but we hadnt been talking and I just ran to Rome in a panic. I felt terribleagain. Alice. Another disaster Id have to put to rights soon. Bella nudged herself free of my arms to turn the pancakes over. I moved to lean on the counter next to her where I could watch her. I noticed my copy of Eclipses CD on the counter near the stove. I knew I left it out on the table in the livingroom, but I couldnt figure out why shed brought it in here. 192

Found this, huh? I said softly, dragging it closer to me across the counter. Her eyes cut to it briefly, nervously. Umyeah. Im sorry, I said impulsively, About the song. I hesitated to say anything more, not sure if Jasper was okay with her knowing of his involvement, what hed told me. Bella was quiet for a long moment, focused on her cooking. I thought, when you said yes, that it didnt matter to you that you didnt care, she finally said, not looking at me. I thought when you asked me that it meant you did care, I said. She finally looked up at me and when our eyes met we both laughed. Fuck, I dragged a hand through my hair and pushed of the counter so I could wrap my arms around her again, Im such an idiot. We both were. I guess thats what happens when you start out lying. I never felt like I could trust what was happening. I rested my chin on her shoulder, Trust me now. I love you. Madly. I couldnt see her face but I could feel her smile nonetheless. I know, she murmured. We stayed that way for a moment, my arms around her, just enjoying the moment. I couldnt believe Id almost lost this, that I might have gone the rest of my life never having my arms around her again, never feeling her pressed against me. The thought was too terrifying to contemplate so I pushed it away and fervently hoped I would never have to face it again. She sighed and let her head fall back against my shoulder. I tightened my grip around her and let my thumbs brush back and forth across her stomach. Just that tiny touch sent my brain off in all kinds of unwholesome directions. Hungry? she finally said, pulling free of me to lift the pancakes off the skillet and onto a plate. She next retrieved the bacon and arranged it on the two plates she had set up next to the stove. I was momentarily bemused by all the kitchen stuff I apparently owned and had never seen before. She cut the heat off on the stove and moved the pans off the burners. I reached out and trailed my fingertips down her spine. Hungry? I suppose soin a way. Her head fell back a little and she exhaled. Edward I stepped forward, to press myself against her back again, Bella I reached up and brushed the hair off her neck, bending down to kiss a trail to her ear. She reached forward, bracing both of her hands on the counter, still grasping the spatula. I was already hard and I knew she could feel it pressing against her ass. With a clatter, the spatula hit the floor and Bella spun in my arms, wrapping her arms around my waist, her lips finding that sensitive spot under my ear that she was so good at working with her tongue. In an instant, the tables were turned and I was pliant putty in her hands, weak in the knees and desperate for her. She ran her hands up my sides, pulling my t-shirt up with them. I raised my arms obediently and she stripped it off of me. Hungry, Edward? her whisper was low and husky as she returned her lips to my neck. Fuuuck. Hungry for what, baby? Y-you. Hungry for you, I muttered thickly, my eyes closed, my head falling back. She was running her fingers up and down my back, digging in a little with her nails, making me arch against her in response. I still had her pinned against the kitchen counter, an arm braced on either side of her, but suddenly I was the one who felt captured. Me? she was still murmuring against my skin, but her voice was amused, teasing. And what do you want me to do? To feed you? I dropped my head forward on to her shoulder, breathing hard. She was not going to go there with 193

me nowwas she? Her hands made another sweep down over the small of my back and lower, onto my ass, where she gripped me and pulled my hips into her. Oh, she was. Anything, baby. Just touch me, I whispered. Touch you? she was whispering, too, moving her lips from my neck to my collarbone and lower, onto my chest. I moaned into her hair. She chuckled lightly at the sound and I could feel the vibrations of her voice across my skin. Bella I murmured, What about breakfast? I really couldnt give a fuck about food right now, but shed been working on it and it seemed like I should ask. But I felt like I would die if she stopped touching me now. Ill re-heat, she said darkly. Thank God. She shifted her lips over to my other nipple, flicking her tongue across it, as she ran her hands down over the backs of my thighs. And while I was reveling in the feeling of that, with my eyes closed, I felt her skim down the front of me as she dropped to her knees. Just the thought of that nearly made me come, never mind what she was about to do down there. I opened my eyes and looked down at her, on her knees before me, leaning back, looking up at me. She raised her hands to my hips and with her eyes never leaving mine, she hooked her fingers into the waistband of my sweats and slid them down over my legs. She had to unhook them from my massive, straining erection, a sly smirk on her face at the sight of it. My fingers clenched down on the countertop on either side of her head. She looked up at me through her lashes, her lips slightly parted. What do you want me to do to you, Edward? Tell me and I will. Oh, fuck. Please dont say it like that. I felt a tremor course through my legs at her words. On second thought, yes, say it just like that. I want. I squeezed my eyes shut for a minute before I could go on, Oh, fuck, Bella. I want your mouth on my dick. She smiled up at me, not moving. The she slowly placed her hands on my thighs to steady herself, leaning forward until I could feel her breath on my twitching cock, but she still didnt touch it. Then youd better put it in my mouth. Fuck. Me. She just kneeled there, waiting for me to do it. This couldnt be right, could it? I mean, we just got back together. Wasnt sex still supposed to be all reverential? I should be worshipping her body, gently, respectfully. Not like this, raw and a little deviant, andoh, fuck, who am I kidding? So fucking hot. Cautiously, I reached one hand down to steady my cock and with the other, I gently cradled the back of her head. Jesus, this was so different than if shed gripped it with her hand and put her mouth on me herself. This was me, doing it to her. Slowly, exercising every ounce of self-control I had, I pushed my hips forward until the tip of my cock brushed her bottom lip. Her eyes never left mine as she opened her mouth further. I slid the head into her soft, hot, wet mouth, trying not to grip her head too hard, trying not to just pound into her. She opened her mouth farther and I slid deeper in. She moaned and I felt her tongue rake the underside of my cock. I froze, dropping my chin to my chest and squeezing my eyes shut, struggling not to just explode on the spot. Stop, I rasped, Hold still, justjust a second. Oh, God, baby I got a tiny hold on myself and then gently tightened my grip on her head, urging her further on to me. She opened up and took me in. She never moved on her own, she just gave herself up to me and let me do every bit of it to her. And goddamn, it was hot. I began to gently draw out and push in rhythmically, careful to go slow and be gentle. She took me a little deeper with each thrust, sucking my shaft and swirling her tongue around my head with each pass. I wasnt going to last more than a few 194

more seconds, I knew it. Finally she slid her hands from the front of my thighs where shed been lightly bracing herself around to my ass, gripping me, pulling me deeper into her. She sucked hard at the same time and her teeth scraped along my length and I was done. OhfuckBella. I gasped, as I thrust erratically. I had to let go of my cock to grip onto the counter again so my legs didnt give out, but she had me firmly in her mouth, sucking my explosion down her throat. When I had sputtered to a shaky finish, she took one final pass down the length of me before she released me and sat back on her heels. She caressed the backs of my thighs gently, looking up at me, smiling saucily, proud of herself. She had every fucking right to be. I stroked her cheek gently with my fingers, still unable to string so much a two coherent words together. I hoped my soft touch on her face was sufficient to express my gratitude for that, which was easily the most intense blow job I had ever received. Baby I muttered, finally finding my voice, that wascome here. I reached down and gripped her shoulders, roughly pulling her to her feet. I pinned her against the counter and crushed my mouth down onto hers, thrusting my tongue into her, tasting myself on hers. I slid my hands to her waist and began to work my t-shirt up her ribcage, needing her to be naked with me. I was pleasantly flipping through my mental erotic rolodex, trying to decide what I wanted to do to her first when the intercom for the front gate buzzed. Motherfucker. Who is that? And can I fucking murder them? We need to get out of here, go on vacation somewhere private where no one can find us. Johnny Depps got the right fucking idea with that private island in the Caribbean. I needed to ask him how he found that place. I exhaled heavily, pulling away from Bella and leaning past her to press the intercom button over the kitchen counter. Yes? my voice was like sandpaper, but I didnt care. I just needed to get rid of this delivery person, or repairman, or whoever it was so I could get back to everything I planned to do to Bella right now. The voice I heard on the intercom seemed designed to kill my rapidly recovering erection on the spot. Edward? Its Rose. Let me in. I whipped my head around to look at Bella. Her eyes were wide and intense. Youd better put some clothes on, she whispered. I hit the button to open the gate then turned to retrieve my clothes from the floor. I was back in them and relatively put together when we heard Roses jeep pull up in front of the house. Why the hell is she here? Bella murmured, almost to herself. Um, I began, realizing with a sinking feeling that there was a whole lot that I hadnt filled Bella in on yet, It might be because I decked her brother. Bella rounded on me, eyes wide, What?? I started to respond, but the pounding of Roses fist on the front door killed the words in my throat. I looked at Bella, who stared back at me, open-mouthed for another moment. Then I started for the door. Might as well get this over with. No, Bella finally spoke, holding up her hand, Id better open it. She scooted in front of me and I let her, but I stayed close on her heels. No matter what, we were presenting a united front. We were a team now. Bella took a deep breath and I put a steadying hand on her shoulder as she opened the door. Edward Rose had launched into whatever she planned to say, but the words died when she realized she was looking at Bella. Emmett stood behind her, his face just as surprised as Roses. Bellawhat the hell are you doing here? Rose barked. Then she took a quick glance over Bellas unkempt hair, our rumpled clothes, my hand on her shoulder, and she rolled her eyes. Maybe you guys better come in, Bella said tensely, stepping back to let them in. 195

Rose swept past me and fixed me with her rock-hard stare. Damn, this woman hated me. But then again, with what shed dealt with for the past several weeks, I suppose I couldnt blame her. Whats going on, Rose? Bellas voice was high and strained. Rose spun on her heel and jabbed her finger at me. I got this crazy phone call from Alice last night, saying Jasper came home with his jaw fucked up and he said you did it! And that you actually thought he was sleeping with Bella? Bella pivoted to look at me, her face stunned, What the fuck? This was so not how I wanted this conversation to go. I tried to make my expression as conciliatory as possible. Okay, yes, I shrugged, with my hands up in front of me. I may have thought you were sleeping with Jasper when we met. Bella gasped in horror and her hands flew up to cover her mouth. But in my defense, the two of you made me think that, the night we met! I said quickly, before this whole disaster could get further out of control. That stopped her in her tracks for a minute, because she knew I was right, she was remembering that night, too. And after that? she finally asked. I wasnt sure. I thought there might have been some history between you guys. I mean, the way you are together, the way he walked into your house. You knowthat night in your kitchenOh, fuck I threw my hands up in frustration, feeling like an idiot for having to explain all this stupid shit to her. She just stared up at me, blinking, for a minute, clearly remembering. Then her expression changed, like she suddenly understood something. So when he came in that night, you thought Yeah, I thought. I finished for her, The way you shut down, it was like you were hiding it from him. Bella shook her head, eyes closed, Just because they warned me away from you. Rose snorted and crossed her arms over her chest. Bella was quiet for a moment, digesting what I said. Finally she went on, Did you think that after you and I .? No! No, once you were with me, I figured it was done. After.after that night at the club, I thought that maybe you guys would get back together. And I thought he was better for you than me. Bella blushed to her hairline at the direction this conversation had taken and I seriously wanted to end it, too. I chanced a glance over at Rose and Emmett, where they still stood by the stairs. Of all the ways I had imagined finally telling all this to Bella, I never imagined having Rose and Emmett as an audience. Rose stood there, eyes locked on me, looking furious. Emmett looked endlessly amused, like he was watching some great movie. Look, Bella, can we just talk about it later? I pleaded, reaching out and taking her hand, I promise, Ill tell you every single embarrassing boneheaded thought I had. Its just not important anymore. Its all in the past. Her face softened and she looked like she was more than willing to let it go, but then Rose piped up. But you punched Jasper! I swiveled to look at her, I thought he was with Bella and then he tells me hes dating my sister! So, yeah, I might have lost my mind for a minute. I think its understandable. Emmett nodded sagely behind Rose. He seemed like he might be on my side a little bit, but I knew hed still cheerfully pummel me if Rose told him to. 196

Rose opened her mouth to issue her snappy retort when I heard keys in the front door lock. I groaned and rolled my eyes. Great. Fucking brilliant. There was only one person who had keys to my front door, and whod let themselves in unannounced. Alice was here. We all turned towards the sound of her voice, andof course, because this morning cant suck enoughJaspers voice, too. Are you sure we shouldnt have called first, Al? Jasper was asking. He wont care. And I suppose I should warn him that Rose is on the warpath. Plus I want to see if hes talked to her yet and kick his ass if he fucks this up. Hes avoided me long enough, Alice answered him. Then they appeared around the corner and stopped, staring at the four of us, who were staring back at them. Jaspers jaw was a mess, an explosion of purple bruising covering the whole lower half of his face on one side. Bella gasped at my side and I groaned quietly. I really just wanted to kick all of these people out of my fucking house and take Bella back to bed. Things were simple when it was just her and me. But Bella came with aposse. One that inexplicably now seemed to include my own sister. And if she and I were going to have a future together, it clearly had to include them. So as much as I wanted to tell them to all go mind their own fucking business, I knew we needed to sort all this shit out, get everybody on the same page and start fresh. Jesus, Jazz, you look like hell! Rose shouted, then cast her stink eye at me. Damn, Edward Emmett muttered softly. Did he actually soundimpressed? Bella finally spoke up. She raised her hands, palms out, one facing Rose and Emmett, one facing Alice and Jasper. Okay, everybody take a step back, she said calmly, Clearly there were some misunderstandings. But I think its all sorted out now? She raised her eyes to me questioningly. I rolled my eyes but I nodded. Jasper snorted and looked away, arms crossed, but he nodded tersely, too. So then, Edward knows I never slept with Jazz, she blushed to her roots just saying it out loud and I felt the ridiculousness of my mistaken assumptions all over again, And he knows Jazz is with Alice. She took a deep breath before she went on. And you all should know, Edward and I are back together and Im moving in. Bella I decided it would be best to just say it, put it out there and deal with the shit storm now while everybody was already upset, so I just did it. Edwards eyes shot to me in disbelief, like he couldnt believe I just blurted that out. I just shrugged back at him, slightly apologetic. He softened and smiled, silently reaching out and grasping my hand, squeezing my fingers. I took strength from that. There was a long pregnant pause while no one in the room said anything. Are you fucking crazy? Rose snapped first. The others werent far behind, all speaking at the same time. Are you sure about this, Bells? from Emmett. Already? from Jazz. Wow, that was fast, from Alice. Jesus, Bella, Rose interjected, Youre just going to take him back? Just like that? What about what he did? Edward was glaring at Rose. Rose was staring at me with her jaw open. Ugh, I hated this part. But Id made my choice, and if they loved me, they would just have to learn to deal with him. Because he was here to stay. It wasnt what it seemed, Rose. Edward explained it all to me, I said softly, hoping she would just accept what I said and leave it alone. No such luck. She rounded on Edward, eyebrows up. 197

Oh, really? So what exactly did she see, if she didnt see you making out with another woman? Edward sighed, Not that its any of your business, but I was beyond wasted. I dont even remember half the night. She kissed me, but I shoved her off. Thats all. Bella just saw the worst part. You were drunk?? Thats your excuse? Rose was beside herself. Rose I started, but Edward touched my arm to stop me. Yes, I was drunk. I know its a fucking lousy excuse, but its all I can say. Bella has forgiven me for my fuck up and were moving on. Another long pause while Rose pulled herself together for another attack. Then I guess we should, too, Emmett finally spoke into the silence, laying a hand on Roses shoulder. As it always had, it seemed to work, calming her down, taking the wind out of her sails. I loved her for her fierce protectiveness, just like I always had, but she needed to understand that this time I was making my own choices, no matter what any of them thought. She stared at me a little longer. I looked back at her hard and nodded my head slightly. I love you, Rose, but Im okay. Were okay. He loves me, I love him. Its okay. She looked between Edward and I and conceded defeat. She said nothing. No one said anything. The awkward silence began to stretch out, to fill the room. Then Emmett cleared his throat slightly. Hey, Bells? I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead, trying to ready myself for the next round of angst-filled discussions. Yeah, Em? Do I smell bacon? There was a beat, then Rose, Jazz and I burst out laughing. Fucking perfect. Yes, Em, you smell bacon. Do you want to stay for breakfast? Everybody? I swiveled around to take in Alice and Jasper across the room. What else is on the menu? Emmett asked eagerly. Pancakes. Jasper was across the room like a shot. Bella makes the best pancakes, he said to Edward as he headed towards the kitchen. Edward watched him brush past with a scowl. I took a deep breath and turned to Edward. Can you get everybody set up in the dining room while I finish breakfast? He looked at me blankly, eyebrows drawn together. I pointed over his shoulder towards the dining room. The dining room, Edward? The one that seats ten? Ive just never eaten in there, I guess, he said with a smile, shaking his head. Okay, then. All kinds of firsts today. I turned to head to the kitchen, because if Emmett and Jasper were staying, I needed to make a hell of a lot more pancakes. But Edward reached out quickly, wrapping his arms around my waist. Hey, Im sorry. For all that shit. Every stupid idea I had in my head. I shook my head, Youre right. We did it on purpose that night. I remember. He shook his head in return, No, I should have asked you, talked to you.fuck. I should have talked to you about so many things. And I will. Well talk about all of it. Once we get all of these people out of our fucking house. I laughed and stretched up to kiss him briefly. He tried to hang on to me, but I wiggled free. Breakfast first. I said quickly, heading to the kitchen. Rose fell in behind me to help.


Edward I stood there for a second longer, watching Bella disappear into the kitchen. How the hell did our blissful reunion morning turn into this freaking cast-of-thousands soap opera, culminating in a huge sitdown breakfast in my untouched dining room like we were some twisted version of the Waltons? I shook my head in disbelief. Well, this way to the dining room, everybody, I said brightly, waving them towards the beautiful room my mother had decorated and that Id never had cause to use. Jasper started in, but then changed direction and came to a stop a foot away from me. He fixed me with that intense blue stare again. Look, they know I came over here and we had it out. But the rest of it? All that shit I said? he looked painfully embarrassed. It goes to the grave, I reassured him solemnly. He looked relieved and turned to head into the dining room after Emmett. Alice was behind him and she stayed put, glaring up at me with her angry little face. So I said to her. She and I had a lot of shit to talk about. Dont you so me, Edward. What the fuck? Alice, there is so much shit we have to get through right now that I dont even know what you mean when you say What the fuck, I sighed. She laughed in spite of herself, Jesus, youre right. Lets start with you not calling me for a month. Dont ever do that again. I hired a private investigator to spy on you in Rome just to make sure you were alright! I burst out laughing. Alice, I texted you. You knew where I was! But you werent calling me! All that stuff went down and you just vanished! Everybody was thinking the worst of you and I was trying so hard to believe the best, since you told me how you felt about her! But it would have been soooo much easier for me if youd explained it to me yourself! I know, I sighed, and Im sorry, Alice. I was justfuck. I couldnt face it. I felt like Id let you down as much as I had Bella. Her face softened and she cocked her head to the side, reaching up to put her hand against my cheek. Its okay. Were cool now. So you and Bella? Its okay? I grinned ear to ear like a fool Yeah, its great. Although after this morning I have about a years worth of explaining to do to her. But yeah, its good. Im so happy for you, Edward. Its just.well, shes perfectfor you. We smiled at each other in silent understanding. And while were airing dirty sibling laundry, I said finally, waving a hand in the direction Jasper had disappeared What the fuck, Alice? She had the good grace to blush lightly and look away. Im sorry I didnt tell you, Ed. You just seemed to hate him so much! I couldnt bring myself to tell you! I hated him because of Bella, Alice! I know, I know! she said, rolling her eyes a little. Then she chuckled, Its like some sort of twisted Gift of the Magi shit, right? I laughed at her analogy then slung my arm around her shoulders, so glad she was here and we were good again. Yeah, a little. So, you and him? Its serious? Alice sighed, looking towards the dining room where I could hear Emmett razzing Jasper about his messed up jaw. Damn, Edward. So serious. Okay, then. Its a good thing that were all straight, finally. 199

Yeah, its great, she agreed. Okay, round one is up! Rose shouted, catching everyones attention. Alice pulled free of me to join Jasper in the dining room. I headed into the kitchen. Rose had just exited with a platter of pancakes. Bella was busily pouring out more on the pan. I slipped up behind her and put my arm around her waist. Hey. Crazy morning, huh? She sighed and shot me an apologetic look. Im so sorry it just sort of exploded on us like that. Im used to them but you must be Hey, they come with you, I said softly, wrapping my other arm around her and turning her to face me, And in case you didnt notice, one of them, the little crazy one, came with me. So theyre all just going to be part of our life now. I like the way that sounds. Our life, she was smiling up at me, her gorgeous face soft and radiant. Me, too. And Bella? It is our life. You and me. I know we still have a lot to talk about and a lot of catching up to dofuck, we have to go on a real fucking date for once. We havent done anything the right way and I know youre taking a big risk here with me. But I want you to knowIm in. All in. I love you and Im not going anywhere. I waved a hand at the voices coming from the dining room. No matter what happens or who gets in the way. Bella blinked, her eyes a little watery, Nobody will get in the way of us again. I promise. Im holding you to that. And I promise, too. I leaned in to kiss her gently. It had been a whole hour at this point since Id kissed her and I was pretty desperate for closer contact, so I deepened it, tightened my grip on her. She was leaning in to me, kissing me back, wrapping her arms around my neck when we heard Rose clear her throat from the door. Seriously? You guys cant make it through breakfast? her words were sharp, but her tone was infinitely more cheerful than it had been earlier. Thats when I knew that eventually she and I would make some sort of peace. She held up her hands in front of her, I just need the syrup. As you were. She snatched it off the counter and left the room again. I sighed heavily. This, I said, as I leaned in to kiss Bella lightly underneath her ear, will just have to wait until later. Bella closed her eyes and sighed against me, God, I love it when you say that word. She turned back to the stove and I watched her work for a minute. Yes, we still had obstacles in front of us. People, strangers who didnt know either of us, would always say horrible things about us, and try to tell the story of us. There would always be an army of Hollywood bottom feeders and music industry hangers-on with a vested interest in driving a wedge between us. Our own lives would be a hindrance, rather than a help in keeping us together. But in this moment, I knew we would do it. Wed defy the odds, rise above the lousy gossip and heartless opportunists. Wed both seen the alternative now, bleak existences without each other. And there was nothing I wouldnt do to ensure Bella stayed in my life for every single minute of it. She glanced back over her shoulder at me and smiled, her eyes going soft, and I knew in my gut that she was thinking the same thing at that moment. I returned her smile before I picked up the platter and turned to go join our family.


Edward I re-tied my bow tie for the third time and gave it a few tugs until I had it laying more or less the right way. It wasnt perfect, but I was sure Alice would attack me before I left the house and make sure every inch of me measured up, so I might as well leave it for her to fix. The stylist had just finished my hair twenty minutes ago, but youd never know it. It had instantly sprung back to its usual chaotic, unruly state. I was secretly proud of it, how it refused to bend to the will of hair care products. I ran a hand through it, which only made it worse, then told myself sternly to keep my damned hands off it tonight. It was no use. I always ran my hands through my hair when I was nervous, and tonight I was pretty nervous. I checked the time. I needed to get downstairs. No one had come looking for me, but if I wasnt in my position, standing in attendance the second Alice decided Bella was done, shed take me apart. I headed down to the entryway to see where everyone was. The TV was on to a football game in the living room, I could hear the sounds of Jasper and Emmett shouting at the TV about a call they didnt agree with. Jasper mentioned that he and Alice had plans for later, after Bella and I left, but the guys must have decided to come hang out here while we got ready, since Alice and Rose were up there with Bella anyway. I thought about heading in there to watch the game with them, but Alice would want me right here when Bella finally made her appearance. I passed the kitchen and there was Seth, sitting on a barstool reading a comic book, his giant fist buried in a bag of chips. He looked up and smiled as I passed before returning to his book. It figures that Bella and I couldnt have an employee, we had to have a freaking house pet. Bella even moved him into the pool house. He was here all the time. If he wasnt officially on the clock, then he was sprawled in the living room, watching Family Guy re-runs with Bella. But as much as I grumbled and rolled my eyes about it, I was secretly glad he was never more than a few minutes away from her side. Since my career had re-booted last year, I was away on location way more than I wanted to be and I couldnt stand the thought of her being here alone. Seth might be the overgrown adolescent little brother I never wanted, but he was good at his job and devoted to Bella. If he was there, she was safe. Is the car here, Seth? I asked. Waiting outside, he replied promptly. Just waiting for the munchkin to finish terrorizing Bells and we can hit the road. Did I also mention the complete lack of professional decorum? But there was no sense fighting it. Bella was simply incapable of keeping anyone at arms length, and I loved that about her. Hell, wed have never even happened if she had done what she should have and kept me at arms length, where I belonged. I was grateful every day that she hadnt. It was the same reason our house was filled with her band, more often than not. Shed made a lot of noise early on about needing her space, how it was time for them to all get their own lives and quit living in each others pockets, but that hadnt lasted long. They were family, and its hard to keep your distance from family. And when one of them was dating Alice, who couldnt stay out of anyones business, well, it was inevitable that we were all intruding on each other all the time. I had oddly gotten used to it. And again, I was glad she had them around when I couldnt be here. The last year had been phenomenal for both of us. Once rumors from the set of the Scorsese movie began to circulate, and the buzz about my performance got out, the scripts just flooded in. I couldnt read them fast enough. I tried to be discerning, but there were so many good ones, amazing parts, it was hard to say no. And Bella was so damned supportive, encouraging me to say yes to whatever roles I 201

wanted to take, even if it meant the schedule was hard on us. The Scorsese movie alone wouldnt have been enough to kick-start my career, though. The rest was all Bella. When the studios saw that I never went back to my old ways, save for that one disastrous night in the beginning, they had the confidence to sign me again and thats when life got really crazy. Okay, so there may have been one other incident, when I beat the shit out of Kid Rock at the VMAs. Sorry, but he staggers over drunk off his ass to meet Bella and proceeds to accidentally rub up and down on her tits. Justin Timberlake was at the next table. He saw that shit go down and he totally agreed with me. Kid had it coming. Aside from that memorable night, Bella and I pretty much lived a life of quiet domesticity. Well, when we were in the same place at the same time. Her schedule wasnt much better than mine. The first album had dropped in the middle of all that shit last year and that helped propel it into the stratosphere. It didnt hurt that it was damned good. Eclipse had defied expectations once again by actually following through on their early promise and being good. Great, really, but I guess Im ridiculously biased. They had toured for what felt like the whole fucking summer and fall, and once they got back to town, theyd gone straight back into the studio to start work on the follow up album. But at least while they were recording, she was home every night. The album was almost done though, and another tour loomed in our future, which meant more separation. I dreaded it. We both hated spending so much as one night apart, but in our lives, it was inevitable. So we had instituted the One Week Rule. At the end of a week apart, if we werent headed home yet, then one of us had to be on a plane to see the other, even if it was just for a day. A day hardly put a dent in the longing, but it didnt hurt that the reunion sex was always amazing, and it kept us from going too crazy. The rest of the time, we stayed flexible and tried to mold ourselves around each others lives. If she had time off and I was on location, she came to Vancouver and kept herself busy writing songs in my trailer. She had finally gotten brave enough to try writing on her own and damned if my girl wasnt brilliant at it. If I had a break and she was on the road, I went with her and hung out on the bus and read scripts and spent time with Alice, who went everywhere Jasper went. It really didnt matter, so long as Bella and I got to be together. The byproduct of our dual success was that we still hadnt been able to get away for something exotic and romantic, Paris, or Ibiza or something, just the two of us. But I had plans to remedy that soon. I heard Alice laughing at the top of the stairs and turned to look to where she stood, just behind Bella. Jesus, every time I looked at her it was like I was seeing her for the first time. All the air left my lungs and I felt lightheaded and euphoric. Bella stood at the top of the stairs, looking back over her shoulder at Alice and Rose, a little flushed, just recovering from a giggle fit with them. The dress this year was another stunner, although I think Ill always be partial to the blue dress from last year and every exquisite memory that went with it. This years was emerald green, satiny, fitted around the top, with a gently flaring skirt, billowing out in a train behind her. There was a trail of delicate little flowers made out of the same fabric as the dress, starting at a point on her right hip and angling up across the front of her and up and over one creamy bare shoulder. The flowers were set with sparkling little emeralds that caught the light. Her hair was caught up in an artfully tousled loose twist that somehow managed to look both like something out of the last century and something wholly contemporary at the same time. It was finished with a green jeweled comb on one side. Once again, there was some stupidly expensive display of jewelry draped across her neck, this one a network of diamonds with irregular dripping emerald pendants. She recovered from whatever Alice and Rose had said that made her laugh and focused her attention on me, waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. She seemed lost momentarily, just as I had been when I saw her, and I was grateful for her all over again. How I ever managed to win the love of this girl was beyond me, and I would never stop thanking her for it. I swallowed thickly and tried to 202

stay focused. There was a very long day and night ahead of us. Bella took a deep breath and started down the stairs towards me. She had spent so much time in the spotlight this past year, dressed up, being looked at, being the center of attention in any room she walked into, that she had developed quite a bit of confidence when she moved that didnt used to be there. She swayed gently down the stairs, not even glancing at her feet, her dark eyes locked on mine, her lips curling slightly in a seductive smile, her dress billowing up the stairs behind her. Her quiet confidence in her own beauty, the subtle swagger in her walk, was admittedly a turn-on. But then again, there was very little about Bella that wasnt a turn-on for me. She reached the bottom of the stairs and crossed the hall straight to me, unhesitating, slipping her hands up my chest as soon as she was in arms reach and gripping my lapels in her fists. She pulled down hard and my mouth came down on hers, sweet and urgent. I reached up quickly to grip her hips and pulled her closer, sinking into the sensation of her tongue slipping past my lips and into my mouth. Fuck. She could completely undo me with a kiss. Hey, hey, hey! Alices sharp bark from the top of the stairs pulled us both out of the fog of lust about to envelop us. Bella backed up a tiny step, but never took her eyes off mine, smirking. We just finished your lipstick, Bella! Alice snapped. And look what youre doing to Edwards lapels! Let go! Hell wrinkle! And what the hell is wrong with your tie, Edward? Did you tie it with your feet? Bella chuckled but we let go of each other and backed away a few steps. You look stunning, I whispered. The color matches your eyes, she whispered back. Alice flew down the stairs towards us, going to work re-tying and smoothing and straightening. Relax, munchkin. We didnt do any more damage than last year and everybody thought we looked great then, I smirked. Are you telling me I slaved for weeks last year to create the most beautiful woman the red carpet has ever seen and you spent the whole night molesting her? Bellas blush and my shit-eating grin answered her question, but I added for good measure, You have no idea, Alice Ugh, no more! I beg you! she said, rolling her eyes, working on my tie. Rose descended the stairs and sailed past Bella on her way to join the boys in the living room and she said breezily, Yeah, I heard it was quite the marathon. I stared after her, slack-jawed, for a second, then looked to Bella, who had the good grace to look embarrassed. But hell, that was pretty funny. And so what? I fucked her senseless for thirty six hours straight. Like thats something to be ashamed of? Hell, no. I fully intended a repeat performance tonight. You seem all reformed, but really, youre still a complete animal, Alice grumbled. She cast a look over her shoulder at Bella, I dont know how you stand it. I like it, Bella muttered softly. Fuck, yeah. I know she does. Alice kept fidgeting with my tie, so I stared over her head at Bella until she felt me looking and returned my gaze. Later, I mouthed at her. Her face flooded with color and she smiled back at me, her eyes nearly devouring me. I gloated over the reaction I had elicited from her. Finally Alice declared us done and we headed for the door. Seth unfolded himself from the kitchen counter and stashed his rolled up comic in his jacket pocket, coming to get the door for Bella. Are you guys going to hang out here? Bella asked casually over her shoulder, like it wasnt the least bit peculiar that all these people were just loitering in our house as we left for the night. And really, it wasnt peculiar, once you got used to it, which I had. 203

No, Alice replied, Jazz and I are going out. Youre not watching us on TV? Bella was surprised. Nope, not tonight! Hes got something special planned, he says. Been sneaking around making plans for weeks! Alice was smug and happy, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet. You mean someone has managed to keep a secret from you? I asked, astounded. I know! she exclaimed, I keep telling him he was only able to pull it off because its Oscar season and I was distracted. Hed better not ever count on that again! Well, have fun and call me tomorrow and tell me all about it! Bella said, kissing Alices cheek before following me out the door. The drive to the Kodak was as endless as ever. We drank, we watched TV. And when we ran out of Deadliest Catchs to watch, I molested my girlfriend for a while, and that was fantastic. Although I ruined the lipstick. Shed have to fix that when we got there. Charlotte met us at the sedan and we began to work the press line. Bella leaned into my arm and instinctively turned herself to her best angle for the endless pictures and I mostly just stared at her with a stupid grin on my face, drinking in how great she looked. Like last year, everybody wanted us, so we were out there for what felt like hours. Bella complained that her feet hurt, but Charlotte took no pity on her and just herded us to the next reporter. They never tired of asking us about our relationship. Bella and I had perfected our answers at this point. Were very committedwe feel very fortunate to have each otherits very difficult to manage our busy schedulesblah, blah, blah. These encounters with the press had been awkward and difficult for a while last year when we first got back together. The reporters were shameless, always asking us the worst questions, trying to elicit some sort of emotional reaction from one of us. But we kept our game faces on, refused to comment about the past and would only talk about our happy future together. Luckily gossip reporters have the attention span of goldfish and the relentless media cycles are always producing new scandals. When I refused to give them anything new to sink their teeth into, they quickly moved on to some other cheating Hollywood spouse and went back to trumpeting us as the unlikely love story of the decade. Whatever. I was just happy that theyd stopped throwing Vicki in Bellas face. Charlotte finally caved to Bellas whining about her feet and we were released from the tedium of the press line and ushered into the obligatory champagne reception. Bella got stolen away from me to get touched up, so I fielded all the directors, producers and writers who came at me, under the guise of a friendly hello and a handshake but really to talk about their next project. A lot of them sounded really interesting and I wondered how Id possibly find time to do everything that I wanted to. I guess there are worse problems to have, like last year, when all I had was time and not a single job on the horizon. Finally the show itself got underway and Bella and I got settled in our seats for a four hour snooze. Except this year was different, because I was nominated. I wasnt really thinking about it too much. When I say that stuff like that isnt why I do this, I really mean it. But even I had to admit that it was a little exciting, and everyone in my life was excited about it so I would enjoy it, however it worked out. We were somewhere in hour two. Bella was leaning into me, whispering in my ear, describing the filthy things she intended to do to me later, and I was working hard on keeping my face completely passive and expressionless and my dick limp, in case the cameras were on us. Thank God Im such a good actor. Jesus, I never would have guessed that she had it in her when I first met her. Americas sweetheart, my ass. She was a goddamned harlot, at least with me. And I fucking loved it. I was losing the battle with my dick under the onslaught of raunchy images she was pouring into my head and I prayed that they didnt announce the nominees for Best Actor any time soon or I was in real trouble. She was broken out of her x-rated narrative by the vibration of her phone with a text. She turned away from my ear to fish it out of her bag, her expression absolutely calm, like shed just been reading me a fucking grocery list, instead of describing how she would like to slide her fingersstop. She 204

bowed her head for a moment to read the text while I took deep breaths and concentrated on making everything relax. Oh, my God! she breathed. My head snapped up at her tone. What? Whats wrong? Bella? She looked up at me, her face glowing, as she turned her phone so I could read it. It was from Alice, just two words. Jazz proposed!- A Can you believe it?? Bella squealed softly, trying to keep her delight quiet less she draw attention to us. No. No, I really cant fucking believe it. That motherfucker! I tried. I really did try. After all, we got off on the wrong foot, under all kinds of wrong assumptions, none of which were really his fault. I knew that intellectually. And for both Bellas and Alices sakes, I tried to leave all that behind, I really did try to like the guy. Sometimes I actually did. He was alright. But right now I wanted to fucking murder him. Tonight was my night! How dare he jump on it like this! The little black velvet box in my breast pocket felt like it was burning a hole right through to my chest, taunting me. I sagged in my seat, my mood suddenly black and Bella noticed immediately, of course. Hey, whats wrong? she whispered, Arent you happy for them? Thrilled, I muttered. You dont sound thrilled. Is this about last year still? I really hope not, because you know that No! No, I know. Its not that, I promise. Then what? You dont like him and Alice together? No, theyre great. Hes oddly perfect for her. So whats the problem? His timing is lousy, I growled. She looked puzzled for a moment. Because of tonight? Because of the nomination? I dont give a shit about the nomination. Look, Im fine, I promise, I said, quickly, trying to recover my mood, or at least not give away how miserable I was. Ill explain later. Im really happy for them. Text back and say congratulations from both of us. Well go out to celebrate later this week. Bella seemed pacified by that and she went to work texting Alice back, a huge grin on her face. I slumped in my seat and scowled. All my plans were shot to shit now. Tonight was our night, mine and Bellas, it was the night we started. What better night to ask her to marry me than tonight, when we were back where we started, celebrating all that she had done for me? But I couldnt very well propose to Bella on the same night that Jasper proposed to Alice. It would look like I was stealing his thunder. I tried to cut him some slack. After all, how was he to know? We had put together something like a friendship, but we were in no way confidantes. He didnt know what I was planning and I sure as hell didnt know what he was up to. Hell, for all I knew tonight was meaningful to them in some way as well. Although that would mean imagining things about him and my sister that I really didnt want to think about, so I didnt speculate too far. But still, Id been screwing up my courage to do this for months, made all kinds of plans, mobilized an army of people to make tonight spectacular... I felt utterly deflated. As I sat there stewing while Bella happily texted back and forth between Alice and Rose, wouldnt you know it, they announced the nominees for Best Actor. Bella gasped and threw her phone into her bag, fully alert and at attention. She reached over and gripped my hand in encouragement. I took that as my cue to pull it together. I straightened up in my seat and carefully assembled my expression, knowing the cameras would be all over me for every second of this. I had to put on a good show even though my thoughts were now a 205

million miles away. The other nominees names were read out and I gave a gracious nod and a little smile at each, recognizing their talent, their worthiness to win this thing instead of me. My own name was read out and I gave a modest smile of acknowledgement and gratitude. Its-an-honor-just-to-benominated, and all that. Bella was ecstatic, beaming and gripping my hand so hard it almost hurt. I turned to smile back at her, momentarily stunned by her beauty and the fact that she was here with me, supporting me, rooting for me, completely one hundred percent on my side. God, I loved her. Okay, so tonight being a bust was not the end of the world. Id find another way to make the proposal meaningful on some other night. The important thing was that I had her, she was mine and she loved me. And while I was sitting there, staring at her like the dumb, love-struck fool that I am, I became aware of her staring back intently at me, expectantly. Did I miss something? Edward? she said, shaking my hand a little, Edward, go! Its you! Its me? Its me. I needed to get up and walk up there, but first I had to do this. I reached forward with both hands, sliding them around the back of her neck and pulling her forward. I leaned into her and kissed her, brief and soft. I love you, I whispered. She looked like she was going to cry. I love you, too. Now go! I beamed at her and shot up out of my seat, heading towards the stage. The next few minutes were a pleasant blur that I would barely remember later. The presenter, an actor Id done a film with a couple of years ago, happily handed over the statuette, shaking my hand and clapping me on the shoulder. It was heavy, the lights on stage were blindingly white. I wandered through a brief, unrehearsed acceptance speech, trying to thank all the usual suspects, Marty, Marc, Laurent, but my mind was elsewhere. My eyes searched the audience against the glare until I finally picked out the green of her dress. Thats when things began to come back into focus. Because while a lot of people helped me out with this, there was only one person I really needed to thank. So I did. And last, before they start playing my exit music, I have to thank Bella Swan, for having faith in me when almost no one else did. She always knew I could do this, and this is for her, I paused for a second, trying to control my voice, which was starting to crack a little, Bella, without you there just wouldnt be a point to anything. I love you, baby. She was crying, I could see it from the podium. I wanted nothing more than to get my arms around her and run away out of here to somewhere we could be alone, but that wasnt going to happen. I couldnt even go back out and sit with her. I was escorted off the stage by a blonde model who looked like a twig in a gold dress. Once we were in the wings a stage manager with a head set took over and after a brief congratulation, I was whisked to the media room. Charlotte descended on me almost immediately, practically bursting with excitement. At that very moment my phone started to vibrate incessantly in my pocket and the next several minutes were taken up with accepting everyones congratulatory phone calls. Marc was beside himself, buzzing with plans and ideas. None of it seemed quite real to me yet. Winning in and of itself hadnt been that important to me. But it meant a lot to the people around me, so I was happy for them. And even if I didnt really care, I could clearly understand what this meant. For the rest of my career, I would no longer be just the actor, Edward Cullen, I would be the Oscar-winning actor, Edward Cullen. Fuck, when I died, thats probably the first thing they would say on the news reports. I looked down at the Oscar in my hand. That was a fucking sobering thought. Yes, Marc and Laurent and Charlotte were right to be excited, everything would be different now. Its just that my mind was somewhere else, out in the audience with a girl in a green dress. Charlotte led me to an area set up for the media Q&A. I stood at the podium with my surprisingly 206

heavy Oscar next to me, and smiled and tried my best to focus on the questions coming at me from the pool of reporters while cameras flashed. I glimpsed Seth slipping into the room, standing along the back wall, manning his post, as always. Id have to tell him my plans for after the awards were off, unless I could wiggle out of here. I leaned over to whisper in Charlottes ear, Can I get out of here now? She looked back at me, horror-stricken, Of course not! Theres hours of this to go, Edward! This is a huge night! Fuck. I couldnt take hours. I needed Bella now. I raised a finger to get Seths attention and slipped away from the podium and the questions just long enough to speak to him. Can you go get Bella and bring her back here? And call the restaurant, tonights off. He looked surprised at that last part, but he nodded and disappeared to go find Bella. I gave myself back over to the media circus for a while, wishing I could cut out but knowing I was trapped. I answered the same damn questions for what seemed like forever, patiently smiling and posing, and answering again, the whole time my head completely somewhere else. Eventually as I scanned the back of the room one more time, I saw the flash of green. She was here. I squinted to focus past the bright lights. She was beaming at me, her face so happy and proud, and my chest felt like it would explode. Fuck this. I was doing it tonight, everything else be damned. If it caused some family drama, Id deal with it, if Charlotte blew a gasket about me cutting this short, so be it. Id never been more sure about anything in my life as I was that I wanted to ask her to marry me now, tonight. I wasnt letting this get away. Suddenly I knew just what I wanted to do. * * * Bella Unbelievable. I still couldnt believe it had happened. Edward won. I was flooded with a warm, blissful feeling every time I thought about it. And what he said up theresaying it was all due to me, declaring he loved me in that completely public way.Not that I doubted for a moment that he loved me, but to hear him say it in that settinghow could I not burst into tears? At that moment, I felt like my heart would explode out of my chest with love for him. There just wasnt enough room inside of me for how much I loved him. I was still trying to repair the damage to my face and get the waterworks under control when the texts started coming in. Emmett and Rose first, then Alice and Jasper right after. We all celebrated together as best we could via text, but where I really wanted to be was with Edward, wherever he was back there. I knew he would be facing a fierce gauntlet of media, but for the best possible reason, so I would sit patiently out here and find him later in the evening, maybe at the after party. Then I caught sight of Seth along the side wall of the theatre, motioning to me. He had come to get me, but I was stuck until a commercial break. They dont like to see people getting up out of their seats and walking out on the telecast. So I had to wait until a break, when a stage manager came to get me and swap in a seat-filler, because empty seats dont look good on the telecast, either. Finally I reached Seth and I threw my arms around him with a happy, silent squeal. Can you believe it?? Its pretty awesome, Seth said, trying hard to restrain his glee and remain professional. But fuck professional, I wanted him to celebrate with me! He asked me to come get you. They have him all tied up in a bunch of media stuff. I figured, I said, as Seth started to lead me to the backstage. I held up a finger to stop him just 207

outside the media room as my phone buzzed again with another text. Checking the screen I saw it was from Edwards mom. Esme and Carlisle were watching at home on TV in Seattle and were beside themselves with pride. I grinned ear to ear as I took a moment to text her back, sharing my own happiness and pride. I was so grateful for them. They had come to LA to meet me earlier in the year and Esme and I hit it off right away. I probably would have liked Edwards mom no matter what, but she and I had a genuine connection as well. And she filled a void in my life that I hadnt even realized existed until I met her. I finally felt like I had a mother again. We talked at least a few times every week. We finally made our way into the media room and there he was, up at the podium, his hand curled lightly around the statuette next to him as he calmly answered one inane question after another. To anyone else they would think he was his usual, fully engaged, charming self, but I could tell he was bored out of his mind and only barely paying attention to anything happening around him. He was so beautifulhe still took my breath away. And I was so damned proud of him. He might play it off as no big deal, but he worked so hard on that role and this was huge for him. His whole career would be different now. And hed probably be even busier, which would mean more time apart, I thought with an internal groan. But I would never stand in the way. Wed just find a way to make it work, just like we had so far. He was answering another question about what it was like to work with Scorsese (didnt somebody just ask the exact same question?) but his eyes were scanning the back of the room non-stop, squinting slightly against the glare of the lights. His eyes met mine and he stopped abruptly. I felt the same electric thrill I did whenever we looked at each other. He smiled softly at me and I smiled back. Then he started talking again, hurrying through the rest of his rehearsed answer. I wanted him all to myself for a while so I could congratulate him properly, but I knew it would be hours and hours before I could hope for that. Charlotte was pointing to another reporter so they could ask their question when Edward suddenly left the podium without a word, heading straight for me. I was delighted, but Charlotte looked horrified. He reached me in just a few moments, skirting the cluster of reporters who were scrambling to follow his unexpected movements. He stepped up in front of me, his arms instinctively snaking around my waist pulling me up against him. I slid my arms up around his shoulders, hugging him hard in return. Im so happy for you, I whispered into his neck, turning my face, trying to hide from the cluster of frantic reporters just behind him. Its all you, baby, he murmured against my shoulder. Its plenty of you, too. Quit being so modest. He laughed a little and then pulled back to look at me, Lets go. Go? Go where? Out of here. Come on. I want to be alone with you. He was smiling, off-handed, oblivious to the jostling crowd right behind him. Charlotte had just come to a panicked stop behind him, her eyes wide and pleading with me. Edward, you cant just go. Charlotte needs you, I said. He groaned and rolled his eyes, Bella, I just want to be with you. I cant deal with a whole night of this. Come on. Please? I said soothingly, Charlotte needs this. If you cut out on her Laurent will have her head. He sighed heavily, but it seemed to work. He wouldnt do anything to fuck over Charlotte and he knew she needed him to do this. Fine, he said. Then he turned over his shoulder to address Charlotte, One more hour, Charlotte. Thats all you get. Then were gone. 208

But Edward she started to wail, but then she saw his face, that intense set of his jaw he gets when hes made up his mind about something and she just sighed heavily, deciding to make the best of what she had. She snagged his arm and began to pull him back to the front of the room. One hour, Bella, he said softly to me. Stay here? Of course, I said, where else would I go? Someone kindly fetched chairs for Seth and me and we settled ourselves down in the corner to wait it out. I could see why he was bored, it really was endless and inane and even under the best of circumstances Edward easily lost patience with this stuff. But he seemed particularly keyed up and antsy tonight, for reasons I couldnt figure out. Maybe it was winning the Oscar, but if that were the case, then why was he so eager to get out of here? He had seemed really angry about Alice and Jazz earlier. That was bizarre. He and Jazz still werent best of friends, but all that shit from last year had seemed completely forgotten. I was sure he was no longer jealous of Jazz in the slightest. And he said he was happy for them, so I really couldnt understand why Alices text had made him so angry. I would get him to talk to me about it later when we were alone, but it still didnt answer why he was so desperate to get out of here. Something was definitely up with him, I just couldnt figure out what. Seth was no help, all busy on his cell phone sorting out some big plans he must have had. Finally Edward was shooting Charlotte a look that said enough and she knew well enough not to push him, so she stepped in and wrapped the whole thing up with the media, while Edward slipped off the podium behind her and headed towards Seth and me. When he reached us he passed Seth the Oscar. Can you deal with that? he asked offhandedly. Seth looked delighted, turning it over in his hands to examine from all sides. Lets go, Edward said tersely, putting his hand on the small of my back and propelling us towards the door. Seth had made all the requisite phone calls, so the sedan was pulled up and waiting down in the parking garage, once wed negotiated the endless levels of security and Oscar personnel. Edward helped me and all of my dress into the back then he closed the door on me while he stood outside and started talking to Seth. What the fuck? What were they talking about and why didnt he want me to hear? I was starting to get slightly annoyed. Eventually they finished up their mysterious business and Edward slipped into the back seat with me. He ignored my pointed, questioning stare, choosing instead to lean over and plant a nonchalant kiss on my lips. But he was bouncing his leg up and down nervously. Edward never fidgeted. If he was nervous, he took it out on his hair, raking it with his fingers compulsively, which he was doing non-stop tonight, but he never fidgeted. What the fuck was up with him? What the fuck is up with you? I finally spit out. What? What do you mean? his voice was cool, but his eyes were intense. You! Youre all jumpy and fidgety. And look at your hair! He self-consciously ran his hands over it to smooth it, but it didnt help. Im fine, he protested. You dont seem fine. Its just.winning. It sort of threw me for a loop. Thats all. Everythings cool. I looked at him skeptically. I knew that wasnt it, but he clearly wasnt going to share, so I let it go. It was making me a little bit nervous. On the one hand, I never doubted Edward. I trusted him implicitly. But on the other, I couldnt come up with a good reason for his bizarre behavior and that was scary. We drove in silence for a while, Edwards knee bouncing continually. I stared out the window in silence trying to figure him out. Eventually I realized that we werent anywhere near the after party venue yet and we should have been by now. In fact, we werent even in the right neighborhood. Where the hell were we? Seth, where are we? Did you miss a turn? I asked. 209

Edward reached out and put his hand on my knee. Hes taking us someplace else, he said quietly. I got chills. What the fuck? Where? What for? Edward sighed heavily and raked his hair again. Its a surprise. Can you just wait till we get there? A surprise? Oh, Edward was up to something. Okay, so that explained the mysterious behavior, but not the anxiety. Why would he be so anxious if it was a good surprise? Okay, Ill shut up. Surprise me, I finally said with a little smile, because its not like I had a choice. I was absolutely baffled though. What kind of surprise would he have cooked up on the night of the Oscars? He knew that wed be busy all night, even if he hadnt won. And it was so late already, where could we be going? Everything was surely closed at this hour. I chanced a look at him, but he was staring straight ahead, that little muscle in his jaw working. I wanted to reach out and smooth it with my thumb, to make him relax, but I knew not to bother right now. We still drove on, well out of the business district now, surrounded by dark houses and streets. Where were we going? When Edward finally spoke into the silence it startled me. Bella, will you close your eyes? Close them? Yeah. I want to surprise you. Please? Damn him, whipping out the please with that freaking soft voice. He knew I couldnt resist him when he pulled that shit. The first time he ever pulled it on me he ended up buying me a house. I smiled a little in memory. Okay, eyes closed. He smiled back at me and squeezed my hand. I closed my eyes. Seth drove a little longer then I felt him pull over and heard him kill the engine. Okay? he asked Edward. Yeah, Edward responded. Just sit for a second, Ill be right back. No peeking. Okay, but this better be good, I smiled, eyes still shut tight. I heard him hesitate and linger another second, but he didnt say anything. He got out of the car on his side and crossed around to mine, opening my door. I moved to get out, but then I felt one of his arms slipping under my knees and the other coming around behind my back. I started to protest, but then he was lifting me out of the car and carrying me off. Edward, what the hell are you doing? I shrieked. Shh, not so loud, he murmured, Youd have a hard time walking here, so I figured Id help. Huh? Where the hell were we? He carried me in silence for a few more minutes and then I heard the surf and I knew exactly where we were. I opened my eyes without asking if I could, but I knew what Id see. The backs of those big fancy houses receding behind us, the twisting little path down to the beach, a long low reclining beach chair ahead of us. There was a partial moon tonight, unlike that night, so although it was still very dark and dim, I could see the ocean and the waves breaking, not like the last time we were here. Edward, what I stammered, What are we doing here? Umsurprise, he muttered again, still nervous. Well, I amsurprised. But I dont get it. Why did you bring me here? Wed reached that beach chair by now and Edward carefully set me down on my feet. I felt faintly ridiculous, standing on a dark beach in my green satin gown, my train trailing out behind me on the sand. My heels were sinking into the sand, but I didnt say anything, I just waited, staring up at Edward expectantly. 210

He exhaled heavily and raked his hair, clenching one fist. Bella, I then he seemed to lose steam and he trailed off. Edward, whatever it is, even if its something bad, you know you can talk to me about it. But youre starting to scare me a little. He looked back to me and his features softened a little and he finally smiled. He reached up his hand and stroked his thumb down my cheek softly and I smiled encouragingly, leaning instinctively into his hand. I love you, Bella. You know that, his voice sounded a little shaky. I just nodded, terrified of what he was about to say. My brain flew through a million completely ridiculous possibilities. He had a terminal disease. He was going on location in Antarctica for six months. He wanted to give up acting and go make shoes in France. Everything I could come up with was crazy. And none of it made any sense with tonight and here. This isnt..exactly how I pictured tonight going. I had this big elaborate plan and thenwell, it all got shot to shit. But I really wanted to do this tonight. Tonight was important. He was picking up the tempo now that hed started talking, rushing along a little. He reached forward and snagged my hands, holding them between both of his. He stared at the ground between us for a second, then he drew in a deep breath and looked up at me, his chin still lowered. Bella, will you marry me? I blinked twice, my eyes fixed on his face, feeling his hands gripping my fingers, waiting for his question to shift around in my head and make sense. Oh, God I gasped. The relief I felt that it was nothing horrible momentarily swamped me. I pressed on my chest hard with my hand to slow my heart back down. Bella? His eyes grew concerned and his forehead furrowed. He peered closely at my face. Then I got it. ChristEdward just asked me to marry him. And I was standing here staring at him, gasping like a fish out of water. Without warning, my eyes flooded with tears. EdwardOh, god Edward, yes. Yes? his eyebrows shot up, like he had maybe actually doubted what my answer would be. Finally the happiness overwhelmed everything else. Edward wanted to marry me. Yes! Then I launched myself across the little distance separating us, throwing my arms around his neck. He laughed out loud, his arms immediately seizing me around my waist, pulling me up off my feet. Oh, my God, Edward, yes! I felt him bury his face in the crook of my neck and inhale deeply, like he was calming himself down. Jesus, Bella. I love you. He sounded nearly faint with relief. I pulled away enough to look into his face, dumbstruck. Were you actually afraid I wouldnt say yes? His eyes cut away briefly to the water then back to me. Well, I was pretty sure you would say yes. But its still a hard question to ask. Ive been getting up the nerve for months. My heart melted, imagining Edward nervous and fretting about asking me a question with such an obvious, easy answer. Well, obvious to me, I guess. Edward, I said softly, taking his face between my hands, I love you so much. Of course I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I cant imagine living a second of it without you. He said nothing, just stared down at me a long moment. I wished it were lighter so I could see his eyes better. Bella, he finally said, Nothing in my life had an ounce of meaning to me until I met you. Everything I am, I owe to you. I just want to spend the rest of my life trying to make you happy. Youve already made me so happy, Edward. I leaned up on my toes and kissed him, soft and lingering. When I pulled back, he reached up and ran the back of his finger gently down my cheek, his face lit up with emotion. 211

Then without a word he reached into his tux jacket and produced a little black velvet box. My breathing hitched at the evidence of his planning and the tears started up again. He opened it and turned it so I could see what was inside. Breathtaking. And unexpected. I honestly had never thought once about what sort of ring Edward would pick out if he were to go ring shopping. But I suppose if I had to guess I would have thought platinum and contemporary, with a giant diamond. But this was completely different. It looked old, turn of the century maybe, a filigree in a lovely ivy pattern and set in the center with a surprisingly modest diamond. I adored it. It was my great grandmothers, Edward explained, pulling it free and pocketing the empty box. He reached for my left hand, Esme sent it to me a couple of months ago. Shes been about to blow waiting for me to do this. She expects a phone call tomorrow. I laughed, but it came out sort of blubbery since I couldnt seem to make myself stop crying. Its so beautiful, Edward. He looked up at me through his lashes, his breathtaking smile lighting up his face as he slid the ring onto my finger. My wife, he said softly, clearly delighted at the idea. He still held my left hand, so I slid my right arm around his waist, drawing myself up against the length of him. In spite of the sweet, romantic moment, I felt the spark of heat between us at the contact and I suddenly couldnt wait to get him home and really celebrate. I craned up and whispered into his ear, Maybe you should take me home now, husband. His eyes fell closed and his head fell back a tiny bit. Gotcha. When he opened his eyes again to look at me, his face was dark with lust. Lets get the hell out of here, Mrs. Cullen. I smirked, Okay, Mr. Cullen. But you should know, Im keeping my name. He laughed and pulled me into his arms. Fine, Ms. Swan. Im still taking you home and to bed for the next twenty four to thirty six hours. Promise? He leaned down and kissed me hard, Never doubt it. Or me. I never will, I said. Then without a word he leaned down and scooped me back up in his arms, heading back up the beach to the waiting car.


Bella! Is there any more sopresatta back there? Mike shouted from the front. Geez, Mike, I havent even set my bag down yet! I laughed as the back door of Sandwich Planet swung closed behind me, Give me a sec, okay? Sorry, he shouted again, Eric called in sick so were short up here and I havent been able to get back there and check. I pulled the handle on the walk in refrigerator and scanned the shelves on the left until I found what I was looking for and grabbed it. I scooted through the small, cluttered steel kitchen, throwing a smile to a very busy Tyler, who was furiously assembling churascos, and through the door to the front counter, tapping Mike on the shoulder with two rolls of sopresatta . Thanks a million, Bella. I know youre not supposed to clock in for another fifteen, but Sure, sure, I sighed, Let me just get my apron on and wash my hands and Im good. Mike smiled at me in relief. I ducked into the back and prepped as quickly as I could for my shift, stashing my bag on a shelf, scooping my hair up into a ponytail and donning my orange Sandwich Planet apron. Seriously, orange? Is there a person in the world who can wear this ghastly color? It sure isnt me. Mike looked nearly faint with relief when I appeared to start my shift early. There was a semi-large line of customers, so without a word I dove in, taking orders and assembling sides. Jessica was already there, running the register. Now that I was there to retrieve the food from the pass through window as Tyler finished it, Mike excused himself to the back so he could re-stock Tylers supplies. It wasnt a massive crowd, but a steady stream that didnt let up until well after lunch, keeping us humming. Absolutely no time to get any reading done for British Lit or to work on those lyrics for Jaspers new song. It was nearly 4 pm before things began to quiet down. Jessica and I needed to re-stock the front, wipe everything down and clean up the various messes that had accumulated all afternoon, but she and I were a good team and we made quick work of it. We were able to chat and laugh a little while we worked, which always made things go faster. She was sort of a ditz, but she was a good person and by far my favorite person to work with. Then my least favorite person to work with sauntered through the door. Lauren. Freaking bitch. She nodded wordlessly at Jessica and me as she headed to the back to clock in and stow her stuff. She was supposed to be on in fifteen, but I knew it would be half an hour before we saw her bony ass up front. No, shed hang out in Mikes office for as long as possible, flirting and looking to ingratiate herself with the manager. Of Sandwich Planet. Way to aim high, Lauren. You working all night tonight, Bella? Jessica asked me. Yeah, till closing. No gig? No, not tonight. We got bumped to Sundays at the Dugout. Speaking of which, I said, pulling a folded up flyer out of my jeans back pocket, Will you come on Sunday? We have to keep the numbers up at the door or hell cut us from the roster completely. Jessica took the flyer and smiled, Sure. And who knows? Maybe I can rustle up a date, which would make two. Maybe you could ask Mike, I said casually, knowing there was nothing shed like better in the world than to bring him and also that there was nothing she was less likely to do than to get up the nerve to actually ask him. It was killing her that that skank, Lauren was back there right now flirting with him. Id nudged her in this direction before with no success, but it didnt stop me from trying 213

repeatedly. She blushed and said nothing, just kept her eyes on her magazine. Hows the new song coming? she asked. Way to distract, Jess! I laughed, Its coming slow. Im just so busy with classes and Im trying to pick up extra shifts here. Jasper wants us to finish recording the demo, but studio time is so freaking expensive. When are you just gonna give it up, Bella? The smug snarl came from over my shoulder. I mean seriously, arent you getting a little old to play at rock star? I turned to glare at Lauren, where she was leaning on the opening to the kitchen. Im twenty two, I spat. Like I said Lauren said with a smile. Geez, Lauren, be more of a bitch, why dont you? Jess snapped over her shoulder. I chuckled and turned to join Jess at the counter. Lauren rolled her eyes but she backed down and wandered over to the register, attempting to look busy. Jess went back to flipping through her magazine. I stared straight ahead out of the plate glass front windows at the people streaming by on the sidewalks of downtown Seattle. I have to get the fuck out of here, I thought with a sigh. Damn Jess breathed. What? I asked. Come check it out, she said, motioning to her magazine. I leaned down and braced my elbows on the counter, our shoulders touching, so we could look at it together. It was some glossy entertainment gossip magazine, not the sort of thing I generally read, but Jess was all about this stuff and hell, anything to make the time pass faster. Jess was examining a spread of pictures from some ritzy Hollywood party. I looked closer, to where she was pointing, and recognized Edward Cullen, in all his Hollywood superstar, bedroom-eyed, sex-haired, kissable glory. He is just so fucking hot! Jess sighed. I chuckled at her dreamy tone, but nodded in agreement. He is that, I said. Because thats not even an opinion. Its a fact. Hes hot. Everybody knows that. The hair. Jess moaned. The hair is pretty extraordinary, I agreed. I wonder what it feels like. Jesus, Id like to find out, she muttered. Lauren had been trying to ignore us and finally with a huff, she gave up, coming up behind us to see what we were ogling. Oh, him. Yeah, totally hot, she said. Amazing. Alert the media. Lauren and I just agreed about something. What I wouldnt give for just one night, Jess murmured. One night, I said with a smile, settling in to enjoy our little game. It was kind of like talking about what youd do with the money if you won the lottery, I could do a lot with one night! You know what? Forget one night. Id take his clothes away so he had to stay naked in bed for days, Jessica giggled. Mmmm, I agreed. A twenty four hour sex marathon. Just to get warmed up! Jessica laughed. Lauren snorted softly at me, Why are you wasting time lusting over some untouchable god in a magazine when you could totally nail that hot guy in your band? I swiveled my head to fix her with a stare. Are you talking about Jasper? I asked. I would hope I dont mean the other one. I mean, isnt he your cousin? That would be so gross. 214

And illegal, she sniffed. Then her expression changed, grew nastier, if possible, But then again, maybe thats why youve never tapped the blond hottie. Youre hung up on your cousin. I straightened quickly, intending to tear her to pieces, but Jessica was too quick, flinging herself between us, a hand on my shoulder. Thats enough, Lauren. That was so wrong. Just back the fuck off. Lauren held my gaze for a minute before she gave a bored shrug and turned to the kitchen. Jess watched her go with a pained expression, guessing, probably correctly, that she was headed back to flirt with Mike some more. You cant let her get to you, Jess said, turning me to the front. I fucking hate her, I snarled. Jesus, what I wouldnt give to be able to quit this lousy fucking job. If we could pick up enough gigs for the band to live on, to be able to just play, no crummy part time jobs to pay the bills. That was my scorching hot fantasy. But it was still a long way off. We had a little recording time logged on the demo, but there was still a lot more to do and studio time was so expensive. Sometimes it felt like wed never get there. Jess and I finished out the shift in peace. The night stayed quiet, which was good and bad. It meant we didnt really need Lauren up front which was good, but it meant she hung out in the back with Mike instead, which for Jess, was very bad. I wished I knew how to get her to make a move, because I had a feeling she could land him if she just tried a little. But wed talked about this a million times and it was fairly hopeless. Jess spent the rest of her shift hunched over her magazine, fantasizing about Edward Cullen. Hey, whatever gets you through your night, I say. Lauren stayed mostly out of my way, which meant Jess and I got stuck with the brunt of the closing duties, but it was more peaceful that way. Our house was mostly dark when I got in at nearly midnight. Everybody must have already gone to bed. I scooped up the mail from the floor inside the front door as I came in. God forbid anyone else in this house sort it for once. I had mopping duties tonight, so I felt sweaty and my back was killing me. I needed to unwind a little before I went to bed, even though I had class at 9. I headed straight to the kitchen, opened the fridge, grabbed a beer and popped off the cap before I sat down at the table and began to flip through the stack of mail. Tuition bills from U Dub for me and Rose. Freaking awesome. I wondered how long I could put that off. The power bill, my truck insurance... fuck, why does everything have to come at once? Wed never be able to scrape together enough to get the demo finished. The last envelope was long and narrow, with a return address from Los Angeles. It was made out to Emmett McCarty/ Eclipse. Well, it had Emmetts name on it, but it also had the band name so I figured it was fair game. And I was dying to know what the hell it was. I popped the back of the envelope open and slid out the letter inside. * * * My fist pounded six times on Emmetts door before I heard anything from inside. Finally Rose groaned. What the fuck? she muttered, but she opened the door. She was wearing just her underwear and a tank. Emmett was sprawled in bed behind her, a sheet pulled up to his waist and I really didnt want to know what he had on, or didnt have on, under it. Jesus, Bells, Emmett groaned, I just fell asleep. What the hell do you want? Bells? I heard Jaspers voice behind me and turned to see him wandering out into the hall in only his boxers, scratching his stomach and yawning. Fuck, Jazz. How about some pants? I growled, throwing up a hand half-heartedly to shield my 215

eyes. He ignored me and came over to where I was leaning in the doorway of Rose and Ems room. Whats going on? he asked. Hmmmm, I murmured in a sarcastic tone, one finger tapping against my chin, I was just wondering why we got this letter today saying that Eclipse has made it to the final selection round on Americas Next Great Band? I waved the letter over my head. Rose and Jasper just stared at me slack-jawed, but Emmett sat bolt upright in bed. No fucking way, he murmured. Rose and Jasper swiveled to stare at him, open mouthed. So you did it? You sent in a tape of us? I asked. Um and now Emmett had the sense to look a tiny bit apologetic, Yeah, I sent in the tape a few months ago. Emmett! I screeched, Why the hell didnt you ask us? Youd have just told me there was no way wed make it, he said defensively. And Id be right. We wont make it! Have you seen the bands that make it onto that show? Theyre all but signed artists. We cant compete with that! We made it into the final round? Jasper asked, finally awake enough to catch up. Yeah, I said, but theres still like 50 bands. Do you really think well be in the top twenty? Us? Come on! Which tape did you send in? Rose asked. The one from Jones Tavern that we taped last year, Emmett said. Oh, Em! I wailed, Thats the one where I tripped over Roses amp cable and nearly broke my neck! Theyre probably laughing their asses off at us right now! Yeah, but Bells, Jasper said, Thats also the show where you hit that crazy note at the end of that song and theres no way anybody remembers anything that came before when they hear that. Emmett nodded in agreement. Whats the big deal, Bells? So I sent in the tape. No harm done. And hey, we made it into the final round! Thats pretty good. Yeah, just dont get your hopes up, Em. There is no way were making it onto that show, I said, turning to head to my room. Jasper shrugged and returned to his bedroom, too. I started to get ready for bed trying not to think of a room full of TV executives watching me get my ankle tangled in Roses cable and flail wildly for a minute before righting myself. I had a lot of clumsy embarrassing moments in my life, but that one was a blue ribbon winner. And a bunch of faceless TV people were in some room in LA watching it, no doubt thinking it was a joke wed even applied. Emmett was a fool if he thought we had a chance. * * * For next class I expect you to have finished Moll Flanders and be prepared to discuss it, people. My English Lit professor cast the evil eye over all of us as my stomach sank. I was nowhere near done with Moll Flanders. I probably had a good 250 pages left. I could see that I would be up all night trying to get it read before the next class. As I shoved my notebook in my backpack and gathered the rest of my stuff, I wondered for the thousandth time why I was doing this to myself. A nearly full time job at the sandwich shop, nearly a full load of classes, plus the band. What did I really think I was going to do with my stupid college degree anyway? If I were smart, Id just drop out, but I really hated giving it up. And besides, the band seemed to be going nowhere fast these days. At least if I had a degree, I could get a real job one day. That thought depressed the hell out of me. The depression settled in solid as I left the class room to face the miserable grey late afternoon and the chilly drizzle. How could it be this miserable in the beginning of October? It would only get worse 216

from here. It felt like forever until Id see a sunny day again. I trudged across campus as quickly as possible, but not fast enough. By the time I reached the commuter lot the drizzle and the mist had soaked me. My hair was a frizzing mess around my face and my shoes were squishing. Big Red didnt like the cold and wet any more than I did. It took three tries to get the engine to turn over. I was about to give up and call Rose to come get me before it finally caught. I patted Big Red on the dash soothingly. One day Ill retire you to someplace warm, I promise. The drive home did little to improve my mood, since Big Reds windshield wipers were malfunctioning and I had to squint to see the whole way. I cast a despairing glance around our street as I pulled up to the curb. The houses looked shabby and run-down under the best of circumstances, and in this weather, this place looked like the absolute end of the road. And our crappy little rental house was the worst of them all. Pieces of it were actually falling off. All three of the bands clunker cars were already parked in the drive and spilling onto what could be euphemistically described as a lawn along side of the house when I got there, so I left Big Red on the street. I was surprised that the rest of the band was all at home at the same time. Between school and our jobs, that very rarely happened. I didnt think Id see anybody else until I got to the gig tonight. The gig. I groaned. I wanted to stay in, warm up and read. But we had a gig, so I was going to have to get cleaned up and dressed up. Ordinarily I was never sorry to perform, but tonight.. I slammed Big Reds door and nearly wiped out on the slick wet grass before I made it to the front door. I shoved it closed behind me before realizing that Id just walked all over the mail with my wet muddy feet. I could hear voices in the living room and it just annoyed me. You know Im not the only one in this house capable of sorting the goddamned mail! Chill out, little cousin, Emmett chuckled from the doorway, Crappy day? Yeahno. Just long. And Im wet and tired. And we have a gig tonight. Yeah, he nodded his head in understanding, Id like nothing better than to stay in tonight and get good and drunk, but we have adoring fans to please. I snorted at his joke and rolled my eyes. Wherere Jazz and Rose? Guitar Hero, he said succinctly. I nodded sagely. We wouldnt see them for hours, then. Im going to go see if theres anything edible left in this house, I grumbled, heading back to the kitchen. Good luck with that, Emmett snorted. I chuckled and waved a hand over my shoulder at him, shivering slightly as I made my way to the kitchen in the back of the house. This place had never been properly insulated and was horribly maintained. At the least hint of inclement weather, the wind just whipped through the cracks in the walls and the badly fitting windows. It was only marginally better than being outside. Emmett was right, the kitchen was indeed bare. It was hard to keep anything stocked with him around. He vacuumed up food like there was no tomorrow. When I worked a shift at the sandwich shop, I just ate there, but I was on my own tonight. I could head out to the pizza place up the block, but that was $2.50 for a slice. If I could tough it out till we got to the bar, I might be able to con the bartender into a free order of sliders. Hmm. I was standing there, trying to assess my level of hunger, if $2.50 was worth three more hours of starvation, when the phone rang on the wall next to me. I groaned, because almost no one called the landline except bill collectors. Well, no one else in this house was going to face it, so I took a deep breath and picked up. Hello? Emmett McCarty, please, the voice was clipped, efficient. Definitely a bill collector. I wondered 217

what kind of hot water hed gotten himself into now. I decided to stall and fish a little before I threw Em to the wolves. Um, Im not sure if hes here right now. May I ask whos calling? Are youis this Bella Swan? I started a little, wondering how hed have my information. If that bastard had put me down as his guarantor or something, I would have his freaking nuts. Um, yeswhats this about? Bella Swan from Eclipse? Now I was really puzzled. Because this guy sounded like hed heard of us. And nobody had heard of us. We were a small time bar band from Seattle and we were constantly losing the few gigs we had. Yeah, thats me. Who are you? Well, Ms. Swan, the mystery man said, and I could practically hear the smile in his voice through the phone, I think I have some very good news for you. * * * Jazz was hunched forward at the waist, his too-long, shaggy hair half concealing his eyes, curled over his guitar as he focused intently on the fingering pattern he was trying to copy. Rose stood to his side, arms crossed over her chest, smirking evilly at her twin brother. You can try, baby brother, but you are soooo not taking me down, she smirked. Rosie, Im three minutes younger than you, Jazz rasped through gritted teeth as he tried to hold his focus. And you need to stop trash talking me. Oh, are you going to cry like a little girl, Jazz? she laughed. My God, woman, you are pure evil, Emmett boomed from where he lay sprawled on the couch, watching their game. And I fucking love it, baby! Rose threw him a kiss over her shoulder before she turned her attention back to staring down Jazz and ruining his concentration. Honestly, I dont know why anybody bothered challenging Rose to this game. It was a lost cause. She could trounce us all. I stood quietly in the arched doorway to the living room, just watching them for a minute. Theyd pushed our instruments out of the middle of the floor so theyd have room for the game. Emmetts drum kit was set up in front of the defunct fireplace. The collapsing squishy couch wed rescued off the curb last summer was against one wall, Emmetts feet dangling over the scuffed arm. Jazz was moments away from losing, his whole body tense with concentration. Rose was watching the screen, watching him go down in flames, her eyes alight with the thrill of the kill. Emmetts head lolled back on the arm of the sofa, watching Rose with a soft smile on his face. I loved the three of them so much. I took just a moment to drink them in, as they were now before I opened my mouth and changed our lives, hopefully forever. We made it, I finally said softly. They didnt seem to have heard me, as at that moment, Jazz lost spectacularly and Rose fist pumped the air in triumph. We made it, I said again. Whats that, Bells? Jasper asked without taking his eyes off the TV. We made itto the top twenty, I qualified. Emmett swiveled his head to look at me now. What did you just say? We made it onto the show. Rose and Jasper froze in unison and pivoted to stare at me. 218

What? Jasper whispered. Emmett scrambled up off the couch to stand behind Rose. Americas Next Great Band. That was them, on the phone. We made it. We have to go to LA next week. There was a long moment of silence as the three of them stared at me and I stared back. Oh, God, Rose finally whispered. Are you fucking kidding me?? Emmett shrieked, his voice several octaves higher than he would have liked, Im sure. LA? Were going to LA? Jasper murmured. To be on fucking TV! Rose yelled. And then the tense disbelief that had held us each to our places snapped. Emmett whooped and seized Rose around the waist, hoisting her up in the air. Jasper swooped forward and pulled me in to a fierce bear hug as I laughed uncontrollably. Emmett screamed at the top of his lungs repeatedly while Rose chanted TV! TV! over and over while she clung to his shoulders. She scrambled free of his arms and grabbed my hands and we twirled in a circle, like we hadnt done since we were little girls. Famous! Were going to be fucking famous! she shouted as I shrieked and laughed and grew dizzy and Jasper and Em high fived each other and bro-hugged. There in the cluttered living room of our drafty run-down shabby house in Seattle, we all reveled in our shining moment of success, the one that had taken so damned long to find us, and we dreamt of the new lives that were waiting for us in the sun and warmth of California.