A/N: OK, get your A/C on, even if we're in November, because the temperature here is about to rise dramatically. Just sayin'...
The girls with the red pencil behind this, who school my rogue commas and inconsistency back into plain English are, as usual, Eifeltwr, Black Hale and Peeptoe. They all rock!
A big thank you to my sisters in crime Lory and Debbie for still holding my hand. Lory should be very happy about this chapter if she doesn't kill me first.
Shout-out for this week: my little brother Dave, who's running the New York City Marathon and, of course, all the regulars out there. VacantWard is really touched by your support.
Disclaimer: Not mine. All Stephenie Meyer's genius. Plot is mine, though. I enjoy making them do crazy things.
BUSINESS CLASS GIRL - CHAPTER 15
[December 20/21] – Edward
Thirty-six hours. I have only thirty-six hours left to spend with Bella before I fly back to London for Christmas.
I used to love Christmas as a kid, my mum always made such a big affair of it and, with a party animal like Alice in the house, there was no way it would ever go down quietly at the Cullens'.
Growing up, I still loved it, because it meant home. Wherever I was, I'd get to go home and see my family. For the last three years, it meant that I'd get back to London and to a certain degree of anonymity, just hanging out with Alice and my friends. No security guards or throngs of squealing fans.
Suddenly, this year I hate Christmas. This Christmas will take me away from Bella, and there is nothing I can do about it. It will be the first time in nine months that I get to board a business class flight, and I will be alone. No Business Class Girl at my side or even on the same plane.
I can't very well get away with whining and order her to follow me to London instead. Just because she puts up with my antics, it doesn't mean she wouldn't pick up on an obsessive compulsive behaviour on my part. She'd consider the problem, talk me out of it and call a shrink, because that's what she does. She fixes my problems, whatever they are.
I don't want her to fix this problem. I just want to stay with her, because I can't bear to be stuck in my parents' house in South London for the next six weeks. Alice will be grilling me all the time about her and my mum will follow suit. Then my dad will throw in his tuppence, because of course, he'll have met up with uncle Russ a couple of times and they will have put two and two together. By the end, all of them will be laughing their arses off behind my back.
I know I'm whining and rambling; all the same, I can't bear to ruin Bella's holidays. She isn't talking too much about it, but I can see a change in her demeanour. She has a light bounce in her step, she smiles a lot more, she is relaxed and jokes all the time. She has even ditched her signature sarcastic answers and, every time I behave like a spoiled brat, she just shakes her head and chuckles, and lets me get away with it.
I don't even dare ask her directly why her mood has improved so dramatically, because I know, hands down, that she'd send me packing, with a vague, well-poised answer that reeks of law-speak from miles away.
You're dreading what the law-speak would do to your dick, Cullen. Admit it.
My designated victim, this time around, is dear old Emmett. Since I have to suffer through his merciless training sessions (and I have the beginnings of a perfectly toned six-pack to show for it), I should try to get some perks out of this, such as getting some insider information.
It's not like I even have to question him, deceive him, or pull some FBI-worthy tricks on him. This is a sheer stroke of luck, because, let's face it, clueless old me wouldn't know how to do subtle, not even with a 'Subtle for Dummies' handbook.
Emmett is looking forward to Christmas like a five-year-old, partly because, as Bella so eloquently put it: 'he is a five-year-old', but mostly because the holidays mean that Rosalie and Jasper will be spending Christmas with Bella and him.
The dire irony of this situation doesn't escape me for a second. Emmett gets his girl back, and I get to lose mine.
Except, Cullen, that she's not your girl yet, and may never be.
This is how, a mere day before the big Christmas party at Angela's house, I find myself cooped up in the gym with Emmett, still running miles and miles on the treadmill. I run, he talks. Easy.
"I'm really happy that Jazz and Rosie are coming over, we'll have a real blast," gushes Emmett, who can't keep still for a second to save his life.
I grunt my answer, unable to hide my disappointment, and happy that my impaired ability to breathe freely allows me to get away with being rude and grumpy.
"They've been our surrogate family for years, well, since BeeBee met them at Oxford…and our parents, well, they…" Emmett trails off.
I sense we're approaching quicksand, if even Emmett can't blurt it out freely. I stop running and turn to him, my face suddenly serious.
"Emmett, may I just ask…"
"Yeah, man, go ahead and say it. Where the fuck are they?" Emmett sounds angry.
"I thought your mum lived in Milan…" Or at least, that's what Bella told me.
Emmett shakes his head, averting his eyes from me.
"That would be BeeBee's mom. My mom…she's dead. She died when I was a kid."
I scrunch up my eyebrows, utterly confused by this revelation. It seems that Bella's family life is a lot more complicated than I thought. Without a word, I motion for Em to go on with his tale, since he doesn't look like he's shutting up any time soon.
"I was five years old, and my dad was deployed in Europe. He was transferred to one of the bases in Italy, and that's where he met BeeBee's mom. They got married, and two years later there came BeeBee."
"And?" I can't help asking. All this talk about being deployed, and being transferred, is ringing a few bells.
"And it didn't last. Don't get me wrong - Renee is a good person, but she's flighty. She couldn't put up with the life she was supposed to lead with my dad. One day, she'd had enough and went back to her family, with two-year-old BeeBee in tow."
"Emmett, what's your dad's profession?" I know I must sound like a complete idiot, but by now I need to get all the pieces together.
"Eddie, my dad is a senior officer in Her Majesty's Navy, deployed to NATO bases all over Europe for all his life. We lived like nomads, and Renee wouldn't put up with the confines of being an soldier's wife."
Ouch, Cullen, HM Navy? That would explain the Dartmouth training gear…
This is the longest and most serious talk I've ever had with Emmett, and questions keep popping up in my head. I'm thankful that Bella herself is nowhere to be seen, because she would no doubt see this as an unmitigated breach of her privacy.
Of course it is, Cullen.
"And what about Bella? What happened to her? Who took care of her?" I fire away quickly, my voice clipped and anxious.
Emmett heaves a deep sigh, and then answers me, bracing his hands on the treadmill bar.
"She lived in Italy with Renee. My dad paid for her education, until it was time for her to go to university…then she put her foot down, because she wanted to leave Italy for good. It was her decision to go to England. She wanted so badly to get into Oxford that she worked her ass off all through high school. Although…" Emmett trails off again, looking bashful.
"What's wrong, Emmett?"
"My sister bowled my world over the day she was born," he says, his voice low, a half-dreamy, half-guilty look on his face. "I was a snotty seven-year-old who thought that girls had cooties. When my dad dragged me to the hospital, I was in for a surprise. I looked once at this cute, rosy little thing and…" he trails off briefly and then continues, "…and without warning, she smiled at me, or I thought she did. She owned me, from day one," he ends, on a serious note.
"Emmett, what happened…you know, after?" I ask, my resolve and my voice wavering. I'm probably crossing every possible boundary of Bella's privacy.
"Eddie, fuck, I hardly ever saw her. From the day she turned two years old, to the day she took up residence in Oxford, I didn't celebrate a birthday, a Christmas, a fucking Hallowe'en with her. I missed her. I failed her and now…"
Whoa. Talk about life-altering revelations. This explains a lot of Emmett's big brother behaviour. He is making up for lost time. Until Alice moved to Milan three years ago, I have lived in close and sometimes annoying proximity with her for most of my life and we are thick as thieves, even now that we live worlds apart. That's why I can't even imagine what it must have been like for Emmett to live away from Bella all these years.
"Emmett, do you mean to tell me…that you never lived with Bella before now?"
He shakes his head again. "No, never for long, and never with any degree of permanence. I visited her a lot when she was at Oxford but, being the jerk that I am, she wasn't even my main motivation. I was trying to get into Rosie's pants, you see, but she wouldn't give me the time of day. So I persisted…and persisted…and persisted."
And just like that, the mere mention of Rosalie's name shifts the tone of the conversation. Gone is serious, remorseful, soul-searching Emmett, enter eyebrow-waggling Emmett. I swat his arm, trying to stop him before he ventures into TMI-Land.
"And where the heck did you live, all that time?" I ask, because I still have some blanks to fill in. I also sound slightly irritated. Hell, he left Bella to fend for herself all those years.
"Charlie wanted me to go to college in England, too, but I've never really stomached the prim and proper atmosphere of your Harry Potter schools," he sneers, and then catches himself, realising that yours truly attended one such school for years.
"Sorry, man, no offence. My mom was American, so I went to school here in LA, till I busted my knee and ruined my chances to play in the NFL."
I nod, while I'm still trying to wrap my mind around this and I realise that some pieces are still missing. What strikes me most, though, is that Emmett and Bella are content with spending Christmas with their closest friends, and don't seem to regret the absence of their parents from the picture. This is a far cry from Christmas at the Cullens', a far cry indeed.
A few hours later, after one of Emmett's very satisfying steaks on the deck of the Swan siblings' house, I'm padding back to my own humble abode to finally crash.
Dinner was fantastic, but Bella bailed. She called Emmett to say she'd stay out with Angela, and I lingered after dinner in hopes of catching a glimpse of her, but had no such luck.
Strange. No matter how long the day gets to be, Bella always makes a point of getting back home for dinner. The fact that she's going out with Angela instead does make me suspicious. Emmett is unfazed, though, which slightly mellows me out and persuades me to write this off as a 'girls night'.
I barely have the time to shut the door behind me, when my phone goes off, loud and shrill. I answer without thinking. Since it's not Bella's ringtone, I basically don't care who's calling.
"Is that the polite manner to greet your only sister?"
Crap. It's Alice. I brace myself.
"Sorry, Alice, I just got home and answered without looking," I blurt out, fumbling with my keys to back up my story.
"Yeah, or you didn't care who was stepping on your nuts, because you knew bloody well it wasn't Bella calling…" she giggles, fully aware that she's called my bluff.
I groan, defeated, but somehow pleased that my sister still puts up with my antics, as much as Bella does.
"I should be pissed with you for saying that, but I'm not…" I tell her instead, fully aware that stroking Alice's ego always appeases her.
"Edward, I really love you, you're my only brother, but I need to bolt and run to the airport in two hours, so let's keep this quick, right?"
I sigh. I understand her perfectly, and I am, once again, thankful that she is cramming into her tight schedule the time for a psychiatric help session with her obsessive compulsive, clueless, lovesick brother.
Lovesick, Cullen? Didn't you want into her pants?
"Right, Alice. Thank you for helping your clueless idiot of a brother. I owe you."
She snickers. "Oh, you'll owe me big time, but not for what you think," she adds suggestively.
I groan, frustrated and nervous. "Bollocks, Alice. I'm dying here, have some mercy."
"Okay, Edward. Now listen to me. Be yourself, there's no need to overdo. That alone would screw you up - she'd know you're up to something."
I nod to myself and hastily retort. "Wait, you mean I can go with my ripped jeans and my Doc Martens?"
She hisses. "Edward, before I hang up on you. Now is not the time to fool around. This is no premiere, but your agent will be there, a lot of business contacts will be there," she starts to enumerate.
"Bella will be there!" I growl back. "That's the only person there that matters to me!"
"For heaven's sake, Edward! I'm not even supposed to tell you this…but…" she sounds anxious.
She sighs. "All right, but this has to go in the vault, because I promised and…look, I promised."
She promised. What? To Whom? This sounds ominous.
"Promised to whom?"
"All right. This is a big night for Bella, it's not just some lame Christmas party with too many Hollywood stars all in the same place. Don't screw this up for her. Don't be an insensitive jerk, or a clueless caveman, or both. If you can, that is."
"Bollocks, sister. No pressure, eh?"
She chuckles, but I can tell she's nervous. "Exactly, no pressure. And the answer is no."
"But I didn't ask any questions," I protest.
"Yet. You are dying to ask why it is such a big night for Bella," she retorts quickly.
Dammit, Cullen! You're too obvious.
"And….?" I try, in one last-ditch attempt to weasel some information out of her.
"And it's none of your business. Now, find those dark-washed Emporio jeans, the ones from the photo shoot…and the grey shirt…no, the white Ralph Lauren button down…and please, please, please…NO GODFORSAKEN BEANIE!"
Alice is on a fashion high right now, and has wilfully blown any chance I had (if any) to keep questioning her about Bella.
I guess I'm on my own with this one. I'll look dapper and put together, though I will still have no clue what's going on. This should be nothing new to me – having no clue about things – but to be clueless where Bella is concerned…it makes me nervous, scared and irritable.
So this is how, twelve hours later, forsaken and kept in the dark by my own sister, and mulling over all the things no one ever bothers to tell me, I'm nursing my craptastic mood and a beer on the deck of Angela's mansion.
I scan the crowd like a bird of prey, stalking my way among this throng of nameless people, my eyes wandering here and there, restless and hungry, yearning to see one face, one pair of eyes, one mouth, one wonder. Bella.
Where the fuck is she, anyway?
The universe is definitely plotting against me tonight. I've been here for two hours and there's still no sign of her. Now that I think about it, Angela is nowhere to be seen either, which is rather strange for the mistress of the house.
I start second-guessing myself. I should have offered to drive Bella here.
Moron, her brother is driving her here. You are not needed, Cullen.
We are neighbours, we could have car-pooled.
In the backseat of the Viper, seriously?
I should have called her to check on her.
Then, out of the blue, as my vacant stare scans the crowd again, more out of habit by now, I finally spot Angela with two guys I've never seen before. The three of them are standing on the far side of the deck, by the swimming pool. One is a well-built, dark-haired man who looks to be in his early- to mid-thirties. The other guy looks much younger, with sandy blond hair and a dimpled smile. They are both talking animatedly with Angela and they are all looking in the direction of house, as if they were waiting for someone.
Then, Ang waves a hand and, with a mega-watt smile, motions for someone to join them. A cloud of purple and cream appears on the deck, moving in quick, but graceful and steady steps. This vision is none other than my Bella.
Since when is she yours, Cullen?
I look at her again and my jaw goes slack. I might have to crouch down to the floor to retrieve it and snap it back in place. I start pacing towards her, but she can't or doesn't see me. She makes a beeline for Angela and the two unidentified guys. Ang salutes her with that silly air-kiss thing she does in public, when she wants to look fashionable, and then motions to the two suits. If they were clad in black, they could be mistaken for FBI agents.
A second later, Bella turns to look at one of the guys, at the taller, older one. She steps back a little, clasping her hand over her mouth, in utter astonishment. I hear an astounded, happy squeal of delight.
Cullen, did Bella just squeal? What the fuck?
The tall, dark-haired guy also steps back a little and takes a long, appreciative look at Bella. Too much of an appreciative look for my liking. My inner caveman is blowing dust off his club and is preparing for war. Then, something utterly inexplicable (to me) happens.
Mr. Tall Dark Stranger hugs Bella, and she hugs him back. Then, he lifts her and twirls her around like a doll. Seriously, what the heck is this fucker thinking, getting so stinking handsy with my Bella?
Wait, Cullen. What if they know each other?
Bella's laughter echoes in the distance to reach clueless old me. She is talking animatedly to Mr. Tall Dark Stranger and to Angela. The sandy blond-haired guy watches from the side-lines, utterly forgotten.
Guess you've got company tonight, Cullen.
I throw one last, longing look at Bella. She looks utterly breathtaking tonight. I wonder if Alice had something to do with this. Maybe she did. I can't tear my gaze away from her. Her mahogany locks are full and shiny, cascading free down her shoulders. Her dress is indescribably gorgeous, and strapless. Her neck and shoulders are on full display, and my hungry gaze wanders down her curves.
Guess this visual's just taken the concept of 'raging hard-on' to a whole new level, Cullen.
Her eyes are twinkling with laughter and something else besides. I wonder if she's getting tipsy. I hope Mr. Tall Dark Stranger won't force her to drink white wine, because it gives her a headache.
I move closer, but not enough to attract attention. I step into her field of vision, but she still doesn't see me. After all, I'm just her boss. She's off the clock, having fun. Possibly my only chance of not screwing this up for her is to make myself scarce, and get impossibly plastered.
Plastered it is, Cullen. Let's find booze.
BCG's POV [December 21/22]
Em is speeding along the PCH as the streets, the people and the all-around twinkle of Christmas lights disappears behind us in a colourful blur. We're late for Angela's party, much to my displeasure. I'm feeling uncomfortable in my skin in this unbelievably gorgeous dress and, on top of that, I'm getting performance anxiety.
My freshly lacquered nails are tapping on any available surface and the rhythmic noise finally gets on Em's nerves.
"BeeBee, will you fucking stop that?" he growls, his giant foot stomping on the accelerator, again.
"Sorry, Em…it's just that…tonight…" I stammer, unable to come up with a more coherent answer.
Em shakes his head, looking at me from the corner of his eye.
"I wonder, is it just Ang's Beverly Hills mansion that gets you so nervous every time, or are you actually worrying about something real, for once?" he says, only half-chuckling.
"I told you, Em, there's a lot at stake tonight. What if I make a complete fool of myself in front of those people?"
I am meeting the two guys from the publishing houses that are purportedly interested in my work. Tonight is not just meet and greet, it might pave the way for a brighter future.
"Not possible, Hot Stuff. Not looking like this. Eddie's gonna throw a fit when he sees you!" he comments, waggling his eyebrows.
"What the hell has Edward got to do with this, Emmett? It's my fucking book we're talking about, who the heck cares about my boss right now?" I'm growling, and I'm being very dismissive towards Edward but, at this point, he's ranking very low on the list of my priorities for tonight.
"Whatevs, BeeBee, whatevs," replies Emmett, as he deftly winds the Viper down the slope of Angela's mile-long driveway.
As we cross the threshold, Em does something terribly out of character. He gathers me close to him, and kisses my forehead.
"Little sis, I'm not loitering around to ruin your evening, I'll go mingle. Now go, and charm those guys' pants off."
I open my mouth to protest his last sentiment, but he retorts quickly, "And I don't mean that literally!"
Before I can thank him for the positive reinforcement, he's off to score the first of his ever-present margaritas.
I move my way through the little crowd inside the house, dodge a few unwanted interlopers, and look around trying to spot the hostess herself. Her gaze catches mine first, though, from outside on the deck. Two guys are standing on either side of her, drinking and chatting. These two must be my business meetings for tonight.
While I move closer to them, I'm also scanning the crowd to locate Edward, but to no avail. This is the last I'll see of him for a while, and I want to spend some time with him before he goes home for the holidays.
Eventually, Ang gets a hold of me.
"Bella! There you are, finally!" she exclaims, maybe a little tipsy, as she hugs me quickly and moves to make room for the two guys beside her.
One of them is a lean, youngish bloke with blond hair and blue eyes, and he's smiling shyly at me, his boy-next-door dimples in full view. He's sporting a row of pearly white, perfect teeth, that look straight out of a toothpaste ad. Somehow, he doesn't give the vibe I expected from a publishing shark. A perfect gentleman, he stretches out his hand to shake mine as Angela is introducing him.
"Bella, I'd like to you meet to Michael Newton, from Newton Publishing."
"Please call me Mike, I've heard so much about you, Isabella," he says politely, shaking my hand a tad too long for my liking.
"It's a pleasure Mike. Please, call me Bella," I reply. I'd like to say that I know his publishing house, or I should say his father's, very well, because they've made a bunch of blockbusters in the last year, but Angela cuts me off again, pointing to the other guy.
I only have the time to register this guy's tall, lean and muscular frame, his jet-black hair and his dark blue eyes, before a shock of recognition courses through me. I'm not the only one though, because his eyes are as wide as saucers, too, as we both pace back to stare at each other.
Damn, I know this guy! Like, I know him very well! And I haven't seen him in….five years? Six? It's a small world…
"Marcus? Is that really you?" I hear myself say, through an embarrassing and stunned squeal.
"BeeBee? Oh my gosh!" It's really him. It's Marcus. I nod, incapable of forming words. "It's really, truly you! Let me look at you!"
Angela's gaze waltzes from me to him, back and forth, as if she was watching the final match at Wimbledon from the Queen's box.
Marcus hugs me and I find myself hugging him back. After all, it's a great feeling to be reunited with a fellow troublemaker after almost six years. Then, without warning, he twirls me around like a feather, and I laugh outright. The feeling of seeing him again is exhilarating.
Marcus was Jasper's roommate at Oxford. Of course, he quickly became entangled with everything Jazz, Rose and I used to do. Marcus also played bass guitar in Jazz's band, and happened to be one of the blind dates Jazz set me up with. It worked, for a while…until Marcus graduated, and we fell out of touch, without bitterness, without much drama. We just grew out of each other, and moved on to other things and other people. I never thought I'd see him again, let alone that Angela would know him.
But why is he here, with Angela? He must be the other guy…the other publishing house guy…and from which publishing house? If the Newton kid works for his father's business, then Marcus works for…
"BeeBee, I can hear the click of the wheels turning in your head. Whatever you're stewing over, just say it," he quips, diverted.
"You haven't lost your touch, Mr. Goldsmith…That's refreshing and, of course, it's great to see you. The years have treated you kindly." I can't help teasing him, that's the way we always were.
He smiles genially at me. Funnily enough, Angela and Mike are nowhere to be seen now. I guess I'll catch up with them later.
"BeeBee, you are really a vision. I had no idea you'd be here. So…what I read…at Angela's insistence, I take it…"
"Yes, that's my manuscript, Marcus, but I'm not going to believe you didn't know. And I take it…you work for LB Books, now? Congratulations!"
His face grows serious. "Thanks, BeeBee. I've been very lucky to get this job, I'm where I always wanted to be."
For a split second, I feel a surge of envy towards Marcus, while I ponder whether I could say the same. Am I really where I always wanted to be? Maybe not, but I feel like I'm slowly getting there. Faced with my silence, Marcus keeps talking.
"I really didn't know the manuscript was yours. I always insist on having them codenamed, I don't want my judgement to be clouded by names. If it's bullshit, it doesn't deserve to be printed…"
"Even if the Prime Minister wrote it," I finish the sentence, reliving one of his favourite sayings from our stint at Oxford. He's always been a righteous guy, and I'm pleased to find that he hasn't changed.
He smiles again. "It's just…it's almost surreal to see you again, and to find that…"
"Marcus, what's with the hesitation?"
"BeeBee, listen, if this makes you uncomfortable in any way, if you feel that my judgement will be influenced in any way, I'd rather pass this account to another editor rather than…"
I feel my eyebrows scrunching up. "Hm, that would be a big no for me, Mr. Goldsmith, or should I say Sir Marcus?"
Yes, Marcus is a baronet. It happens in England, and you can't even choose not to be one, if you are born into one of those families. Nonetheless, Marcus always had a rebel streak and hated the mere mention of it. Needless to say, Jazz and I always made a point of using his title as much as we could.
He scoffs, but his eyes look playful. "That's a low blow, BeeBee, but my offer still stands. I'll disappear if you don't want me working on this."
"Marcus, as matters stand, there's nothing to work on. I thought this was only a meet and greet."
I try to snap myself back into business mode. This is an important negotiation, after all.
"True. I see that working with Jasper has turned you into a shark," he says, his tone still playful. Wait, how does he know?
"Have you been keeping tabs on me, Sir Marcus?"
He huffs, and scratches the back of his head with his left hand. He winks and says, trying to sound convincing, "No?"
We both burst out laughing. I can't stay mad at him, he's too funny when he behaves this way.
"You're as lousy a liar as ever. Who told you?"
"It's a small world, BeeBee. Do you know who took your place as Russell Devlin's golfing partner after you left him high and dry?"
"That, again? Am I ever going to live that down?"
He smirks. The bastard knows something. "Marcus, out with it, if you value the finer bits of your anatomy!"
"Oh, and you're as ruthless as ever! My father tried replacing you - that's how I know. Russell sent him packing. Apparently my father's skills are not up to par with yours."
I can't help a small, satisfied chuckle. I guess Russ will have some bones to pick with me next time I'm in London…
"Let's get back to business, Your Lordship. What do you propose, since my agent left me high and dry, now..?"
Marcus recovers from his hearty laugh. His face straightens as he lapses into business mode, too.
"I'll be frank, BeeBee. Not that I have an alternative, you'd call me on my bullshit in a heartbeat. Listen, we really want you on board for this. You'll find the terms to your liking, I'm sure. If they are not, I'll talk to legal and make them to your liking. As I said, we want you on board, and soon."
A thrill courses through me, this could be a breakthrough, this could be my ticket to where I want to be. I did not check my rational side at the door, though, and I have some questions for Marcus.
"Who is we? And why should I choose you over Newton Publishing? What's in it for me, for my work?"
Marcus drains his beer and heaves a deep breath before answering me.
"We is the top management. I'm Commissioning Editor, Bella, and I make the choices. The final say is mine, but let's say that the management looks over the major decisions. You are one of those major decisions. You should choose us over Newton because that kid over there doesn't know a book from his portable gaming equipment, and he's in this business because he's his father's son. Besides that, they want you on board for a number of despicable reasons."
I cross my arms in front of me, as my brain turns into full speculative mode. There's a lot of thinking and plotting ahead, and I luckily steered clear of the booze all night.
"Tell me those despicable reasons, why don't you?"
"Right. I guess you could find out, if you put your mind to it, but I'll spare you the digging. They're making big money with filming rights, rather than with publishing per se. Every single one of their authors has been encouraged to sell the filming rights to their works, because of the new onslaught of notoriety and reprints the books would get. Luckily for them, they've signed a few readable things, and a lot of crap. But those who wrote the crap are…"
It all clicks into place. I cut Marcus off swiftly. "The ones who wrote the crap are…otherwise associated with the showbiz, and their crap sells itself like Britney's drunken pics on Popsugar and Perez Hilton..."
Marcus nods, smiling proudly at me. "You can say that again. Which prompts me to think, most forcibly, that they actually want to sign you on because…"
"Bollocks, Marcus, because of my boss?" I whisper, utterly shocked, and more than a little disgusted.
"Yes, BeeBee. That would be one of the reasons. That, and there's so much potential in your work that even those imbeciles could see it …" he trails off.
"Marcus, let's leave Newton Publishing out of the question for a minute. I'd much rather know why you want to sign me on. By the way, the fact that we know each other, isn't that going to be a problem for you? To me, it screams conflict of interest from the rooftops…"
He shakes his head, chuckling. "You're never going to lose the lawyer streak, right? Good for you, BeeBee, good for you. I guess it won't be a conflict, if we don't want it to be. Do we want it to be?" he asks, suddenly serious, and I know for a fact that he's referring to a lot more than a book deal. I ponder this for a second.
Could my past with Marcus come back to bite me in the ass? Would I rather he step down from handling this, and end up in the hands of someone else, someone who doesn't know me? Definitely not.
"Marcus, I trust you. I always have. This won't be a problem - you and I know that very well. If anything, try not to kick my ass too much, I have an ego, too, you know."
"Oh yes, you do…and it has its own postcode! So, do you want me to stroke that ego of yours, while I gush about all the genius you've poured into your work?" He counters, still smiling genially at me.
"Marcus, there's an honest half-way between ass-kicking and ass-kissing, you know that, right?"
We fall back into the easy, light-hearted banter we used to share at Oxford without a hitch. We have an almost endless, relaxed and fun-packed conversation, which quickly becomes one of those multi-faceted affairs where you start hundreds of topics and never manage to wrap a single one of them. We both lose track of the time, while we're trying to recap a black-out that lasted several years in one evening. Needless to say, both Angela and Mike Newton are still nowhere to be seen.
After a long while, one of the waiters strides past us with a tray full of champagne flutes. Marcus silently stops him and motions from me to the glasses.
"Does this qualify as white wine? Or can you down a few bubbles, as a celebration?"
"I'll have just the one glass, thank you. I need my wits around me, Sir Marcus," I quip, pleasantly surprised that he still remembers my tastes and quirks so minutely.
"What is there to celebrate?" A velvet, husky voice suddenly whispers in my ear, sending crazed shivers down my spine. I know this voice.
This is all I manage to croak, my voice shaking in a hushed whisper, as Marcus's stare turns icy and his stern figure seems to tower over Edward. I know Marcus, and I know that look. He is sizing Edward up, and doesn't like what he sees but, being the gentleman that he is, he keeps any and all commentary to himself, and proceeds to take his leave.
"BeeBee, it was nice seeing you again. I've monopolised your time for far too long. We'll arrange a meeting with Angela whenever convenient," he says, his voice level, as he says goodbye with a one-armed hug.
"I'll see you later, Marcus. Don't be a stranger."
"Oh no, BeeBee, not now that I've found you again," he answers, over his shoulder, as he walks away from me.
"What's the celebration for?" Edward's voice is still whispered, his words urgent, but almost slurred. Nonetheless, another shiver that has nothing to do with the December chill runs down my spine.
I haven't felt this exposed all evening. I feel boneless and find that my breaths are becoming increasingly shorter. I turn halfway to look him in the eye, as he is still standing behind me, his frame almost circling me.
"Marcus is…a very old friend, Edward."
"I am sick of your old friends, Bella. They creep up from everywhere," he murmurs, his words icy and spiteful, as he turns to finally face me.
The sight before me almost knocks me breathless to the floor.
I know bloody well what Edward looks like. His face is plastered all over LA, I take care of updating his photo book, I spend countless hours with him on set and at photo shoots and yet... And yet, I've never really allowed myself to have a good look at him. I've never given him a proper once-over, to be perfectly honest. Rosalie would probably have me committed if she knew this. I have countless opportunities to ogle a movie star without being accused of being a stalker or a crazy fangirl, and what do I do? I exert a constant Herculean effort not to do it, on a daily basis, seven days a week.
Jasper always says that I have a masochistic penchant for martyrdom, I think this proves it beyond any reasonable doubt. And yet...why do I do this? Why do I torment myself? I do it because my emotional connection to Edward is already a greater risk than any other I've run into in my life. I don't need to multiply this risk tenfold by basking in his glorious looks.
And yet…He's towering over me now, and I can't help but look. His unruly locks, an undefined shade between golden brown and auburn, are spiked up in ten different directions, no doubt the result of his relentless pulling and raking through them. He must be very nervous tonight. His eyes, which are normally a breathtaking shade of bluish green, are now blazing like wild emeralds, alive and glinting with an emotion I can't pinpoint. The perfect, sculpted planes of his face are hard-set, his trade-mark uneasy frown in full display.
I wouldn't normally dare look beyond this, because I feel trapped and burnt by his keen, almost angry gaze, but I need to regain some composure before I speak again and, to do so, I let my eyes wander past his face, down to his now well-toned figure. He has ditched his usual t-shirt for a crisp, white button down shirt but, strictly in character, he's not wearing a jacket, the first two buttons are undone, and the shirt is un-tucked from his dark-washed jeans. I spy a familiar eagle-shaped logo in a corner of his denims – Emporio Armani. The denims must be a goodie from Alice.
"Look at me, Bella, my eyes are higher up," he says, his voice still painfully husky. This is not helping my resolve and, because I can't figure out what his deal must be, I comply.
"What's wrong, Edward?"
His frown melts away for a second, as his blazing, hooded eyes search mine and his hand moves a wayward tendril of my hair away from my shoulder, and back behind my ear. His hand rests on my bare shoulder for a second and a shock, like the gentle buzzing of a mild electric current, courses through my cold skin. His own eyes fall shut, cutting off my only way to read his countenance.
"You bailed on me again, that's what's wrong," he retorts, his voice as hard as steel, his words slurred. He has definitely been drinking.
"I…I didn't see you earlier, Edward. I was looking for you."
"You didn't look well enough, Mr. Tall Dark Stranger had you in his clutches all night," he slurs again.
"Edward, you're not making any sense."
My tone is slightly irritated. Whatever does he mean, Mr. Tall Dark Stranger?
"Bella, please, stay with me tonight? I fly back tomorrow and I won't bother you for a month. Please just talk to me, Bella. Please?"
Edward is completely drunk. I hope Emmett didn't have anything to do with this, or I'll kill him. There's no use arguing with a wasted guy, and figure it's probably best to humour him.
"Of course I'll talk to you, Edward, but maybe you need a cup of coffee?"
He flashes a crooked smile at me. "Coffee sounds good," he answers, his balance dangerously shifting to one side. We're luckily at the French doors to the deck, and he can lean onto the doorframe.
"Come with me. I'll take you to the kitchen. No one will bother us there."
My main concern is that Edward makes it safely away from the sparse crowd that's still chatting the night away around the house and that as few people as possible (preferably none) see him in this state. The kitchen is my safest bet. The caterers must be long gone by now and no guests would think to venture into that area of the house.
Edward grabs my hand and holds it in a steel grip while I'm guiding him through the immense maze that is Angela's house. In the kitchen, he ungraciously plops down on a stool at the breakfast bar while I scavenge around for coffee fixings.
The air between us is tense, crackling with an uneasy intensity that I cannot place. His earlier words do sting a bit. He sounded almost…jealous? Possessive?
That can't be. I dismiss the thought under the heading 'wishful thinking' and pour two mugs of black coffee. I'll forgo the cream and sugar, Edward needs a hit of liquid sanity and I need something stronger than Prince of Wales, even if I probably won't sleep for a week after this.
In the nick of time before I grab the mugs and turn to place them on the counter, I feel his shaky breaths on my neck. I'm trapped, again.
What is this, a game of cat and mouse? Why do I have to be the mouse?
"I've waited all night to get you alone, Bella, and I won't walk away empty-handed…" he trails off, his strong hands tracing lazy, hot patterns on my bare shoulders.
I stand perfectly still, the mugs of coffee utterly forgotten. Suddenly, I feel something hotter, softer and definitely sexier graze my right shoulder, moving higher and higher along my neck. Edward is leaving a trail of kisses on my shoulder.
Edward is kissing me.
The monumental shock of this realisation hits me. Rationality abhors this and most forcibly wants me to run for the hills. My baser instincts and the part of me that caved in to Jasper's informed assumptions and admitted to her desires to 'shag the boss', are doing a victory dance around Angela's kitchen.
And, as if that weren't enough, my conflicting halves are, on cue, debating about the pros and cons of this. BeeBee is worried and ashamed, because this is a step closer to being that girl. LA Bella thinks this is pretty cool, but is afraid of jinxing her job.
In the midst of this heated debate, Edward helpfully solves the conflict for me, as he spins me around to face him.
"Stop thinking, B. Stop thinking," he croons, his lips dangerously close to my earlobe.
I close my eyes, and just give in to this feeling. Edward feels me relax in his grip, and continues his path to eternal glory.
"Fuck, B. I had to watch you from a distance all night. I had to watch you in this dress all night…" He sounds positively incoherent, but I don't care anymore. My brain is off the clock.
Then, his hands cradle each side of my face, and his eyes bore deep into mine, alight with sheer determination. He doesn't look plastered right now - he's a man on a mission.
There's a slight frown on his forehead, but it melts away quickly as his thumbs smooth over my flushed cheeks.
"Beautiful, beautiful Bella…Isabella…my girl…"
He slurs the 's' in my given name into an impossibly long, strained sound that's the sexiest thing I've ever heard. I never thought much of my name, that is, until now.
Without warning, his lips caress mine. Once, twice, they begin a dance that strips me of all residual brain activity. I respond, caress upon caress, nip upon nip, until this escalates to a whole new level and I find myself pressed between his lean frame and the door of Angela's fridge.
I am surrounded by Edward. His fingers thread through my hair, his arms encircle me, his body traps me, until I am boneless putty in his hands, shivering all over.
There are no sounds around us except my ragged breaths and Edward's strangled moans. He's driving me crazy barely by breathing and I wonder whether he realises the effect he has on me.
For all he claims he's clueless, he must have some mad mind-reading skills.
"I feel it too, B. This is the effect you have on me. Feel it, and don't walk away," he whispers again in my ear, when we finally come up for air, both of us reluctant.
His hips thrust most eloquently into my side and now I feel it. I feel him. I feel all of him, his arousal long and hot, pressed against me, and barely contained by his snug denims.
I heave a laboured sigh, as I nuzzle his neck. "Edward…"
I can't come up with anything smarter than this, but it's apparently enough to get him going.
"Don't ever deny me again, B," he pleads, his voice cracked by emotion as he holds me impossibly close, nuzzling my neck in turn.
Another fiery frenzy of kisses ensues, as his hands travel down south, to circle the shape of my breasts, encased in the floaty silk of my dress.
"Beautiful, beautiful Bella…Isabella…my girl…"
He slurs again, as the door slams open with a booming shout.
"BeeBee? Time to get you home, Miss Literary Genius!"
Edward abruptly releases me and eyes me warily, his face a conflicted mask. Is he regretting this? Possibly, because the next thing I know is that he storms out of the room without a backward glance.
Emmett. Gah! There must be 50 ways to kill your brother. Too bad Simon & Garfunkel didn't cover those, as well.
Public Service Announcement. I have started putting together some visuals for this little story, and they are all in this Photobucket album. Click away, you know you want to...There's the Tiger, as well..
http:/ s1110 (dot) photobucket (dot) com / albums / h457 / LaMomo76 /Business%20Class%20Girl/