Chapter 2 ~ The Cougar
Jasper was telling a most amusing story about a supposedly haunted house where he grew up in East Texas and Edward was looking at him as he related the tale. Looking at someone when they speak is of course the polite thing to do and everyone was being polite. Everyone except me. I was absorbed in Edward's profile.
He had a beautiful, strong jaw line, which at the moment was covered in five o'clock shadow. That juncture where his jaw met his ear and fell away to his neck was the sexiest, most delectable sight I had seen to date. One day, the urge to run my tongue along that area was just going to overpower me. I had known the man for all of three hours or so and already knew that as fact.
We had finished eating a large amount of messy barbecued goodness and sat back in our chairs, having after-dinner drinks and trying to digest a little before tackling whatever came next.
Considering the way they were looking at each other, I had the distinct feeling that what came next for Jasper and Alice would probably differ slightly than what was on deck for the rest of us.
"So, we never asked." Jasper smiled again—or was it still? It seemed the guy had a perpetual smile on his face. He looked around at the three of us ladies. "Do you all have, you know, boyfriends? Significant Others?" He looked at Alice. As if any of us needed reminding that hers was really the only answer he was truly interested in.
"No," Alice said, a tad more shyly than was her norm. Jesus, did she just blush while returning Jasper's gaze? Their infatuation was getting to be comical.
"Absolutely single," Rose announced, raising her glass and taking another drink to the notion of being single and free. I'd known her for at least ten years and I don't know that she had ever had a boyfriend. Her attention span was far too short.
Edward looked at me, his eyebrows raised as he asked, "And you? No significant other?"
I opened my mouth to speak, but Rose beat me to it. "Bella is a divorcee'," she said as she rubbed her hands together.
That was a much more economical explanation than the one I had been about to embark on. The one that ended in "and my divorce will be final in three months."
"Ooh, I like that term," I said, turning toward her with a glint in my eye. "Divorcee' … it makes me feel like, '1965-Reno-Rat-Pack-Cocktail-Parties'."
Rose raised her eyebrows at me and we raised our glasses to one another's in an unspoken toast to my description.
"Divorced, eh?" Edward's brows were raised as he looked at me. "Are you one of those 'wicked city women' my mother always warned me about?"
I winked at him. "You bet."
"Are you gonna vamp me?" He grinned.
I tried to remain coy. I tried to remain flirtatious. But visions of running my hands through the delightfully messy mop on the top of his head, ala' Lucy and Tennessee Ernie Ford in the I Love Lucy episode he referenced, flooded my mind and I felt heat rushing up my neck. I crossed my legs, both in an effort to seem casual and also so that I could clench my thighs together. I noticed his eyes drop to my knee, briefly, before returning to mine.
"Not in your wildest dreams," I said, returning his grin.
"Oh, I don't know. My dreams can get pretty wild."
"Really? I studied Jungian Therapy in college. Perhaps I could help you analyze them."
He continued to grin at me and started to say something, but stopped himself. His smile faltered as something obviously occurred to him. "Wait," he said. "You're divorced? How long were you married?"
"Thirteen years," I said, taking a drink and not at all caring for the direction the conversation was taking.
His look of shock actually made me chuckle a bit.
"Wait, what? That can't even be possible. Did you get married when you were like, twelve?"
I rolled my eyes. "How old are you, Edward?"
"Twenty-seven." Yeah. Great. Even younger than I thought.
I paused for a moment, blinking before I picked up my drink. "Yes, well. I'm a bit older than you."
"Well, okay, but not…" His eyes narrowed as he looked closely at me. He had his mouth open.
I felt my heart pulsing rapidly in my temple as I sipped my vodka.
"How old are you?"
Alice's exhale of astonished breath might have been heard down the street. "Edward!" She almost yelled. "You shouldn't ask such a thing!"
Wait, when did I become so old that it became an insult to ask me how old I am?
"Ah … We have a cougar in our midst, eh? Should I be concerned?" He chuckled, looking down at his beer. His long fingers again played in the condensation on the glass.
Alice gasped and Rosalie chuckled along, but for an entirely different reason. "Oh, you've stepped in it now, friend." I heard her mumble.
Edward seemed to sense the change of vibe amongst us. He looked sheepishly up from under his lashes. "What did I say?"
"What did you just imply?" I asked, turning a chilly glare in his direction.
"I see...” He chuckled. “You don't like being called a cougar?"
"Of course I do." My voice dripped with sarcasm. "Why would I not love being compared to a predatory animal who crouches in the grass, only to jump out at poor, unsuspecting prey? Or, in this case, poor, unsuspecting men?"
He winked at me and grinned. "I'm not unsuspecting."
"And I'm not jumping on you."
Rosalie laughed out loud and Jasper seemed to be trying not to choke.
"Oh, come on." Edward was still smiling, although I wasn't. I truly wanted to smack that cocky grin right off of his mug. "I didn't mean anything by it. It's a compliment."
"And yet, oddly, I do not feel complimented."
"Again with the compliments, Edward?" Jasper asked as he shook his head. "I think you should just start trying to insult her. Maybe then it will come off as an actual compliment."
"Besides," Alice piped up, cheerily. "Everybody knows you don't reach cougar status until the age of forty. Bella isn't forty, yet." Her eyes darted to me, as if she were unsure. "Are you, Bella?"
I almost punched her. Instead, I smiled, albeit tightly. "No, Alice. I am not forty." I looked at Edward. "Yet."
He grinned, obviously enjoying my discomfort. "Why are you so embarrassed about your age? Forty isn't old."
I didn't know who I was going to punch first. But I wasn't about to again deny being forty because putting me on the defensive was exactly what he wanted.
Fucking salesmen and their mind games.
"I am not the least bit embarrassed about my age, Mr. Masen."
He chuckled, interrupting me. "Ah. It's 'Mr. Masen' now."
I continued. "It's just that now you've sort of made it a bone of contention with me."
His eyes twinkled at me. How the hell did he do that? "Stubbornly biting down on that bone, are you?"
I raised an eyebrow at him. "You betcha."
Edward put his hands up in the air, in mock-surrender. "Okay, okay. Please forgive me. I honestly meant no offense."
I was sure he didn't, just as I was sure most people who use that stupid term don't mean to cause offense. But they do. Who the hell decided to use that word in such a stupid context, anyway? I may have been single and thirty-eight years old, but in no way was I desperate enough for dates that I would have to pounce on some young lamb of a guy to get laid.
As if I was out on the prowl to begin with. I simply went out to have drinks with my friends. Jasper and Edward were the ones who came prowling over to our table.
Granted, they might have been drawn by the smell of drool emanating from our three mouths, but still.
I took a deep breath as he continued to gaze at me, a sheepish smile on his face. "Fine," I said, begrudgingly. "I'll take your bone out from between my teeth."
Everyone at the table burst into laughter and Edward shifted in his seat with a comical grimace on his face as he replied, "Um … thanks. I feel so much more comfortable now."
"Well, on that note guys," Rosalie stood from the table. "Much as I would love to sit here and listen to you all banter back and forth all night, I have a date I am now officially late for."
I stood to give Rose a hug and she whispered in my ear with a chuckle. "Give him hell, Bella."
"Oh, whatever." I replied softly. "Have fun on your date." As we broke our hug, I asked, "Is it that baseball coach again?" Rose had recently started dating the coach from Cal State Fullerton.
"Oh, hell no," she said, with a dismissive wave of her hand. "He's old news. This is someone new."
"Who is it?" Alice asked as she stood to give her a hug, also.
She shrugged. "Eh … I'll tell you if I think he'll be around after tonight."
Rosalie told the guys it was nice to meet them and thanked them for the evening we had all shared. Then I watched as several men turned to watch her walk out of the place with a flip of her hair.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. I could feel Edward’s eyes on my profile, but I concentrated on the drink in front of me. Admittedly, I was stewing a bit. Apart from a general dislike of the word cougar and all its connotations, Edward's use of the word served to further remind me just how much older I was than everyone else at the table; how much older I was than him, specifically.
I had not been one to think much about my age before, let alone let it get me down, even after Jacob left me. Thirty-eight is in no way old and more importantly, I liked being my age. I liked the self knowledge and the inner strength that had come over the last ten years or so. And truthfully, I liked what those years had done to my appearance, as well. I took better care of myself and was therefore in better shape than I had been in my twenties. Maturity had also given my face a thinner, more sophisticated look. Gone was the baby fat that used to make me look like a chipmunk.
My attraction to Edward, though, was making me think about my age negatively for the first time. Why did he have to be so freakin' young? It made me feel old. And now that he knew just how old I was, I felt somewhat certain that any notion I'd had earlier about running my tongue along his jawline was pretty much out the window.
"Hey." Edward spoke softly, so that only I would hear him. Of course, Alice and Jasper probably wouldn't have heard anyway, seeing as they were huddled together and appeared to be discussing the fate of orphans in Darfur or something equally as important.
I looked up to find his intense green eyes peering into mine, a small smile on his face.
"I really am sorry about that," he said. "Sometimes I think I am being funny, but I'm the only one in the room laughing."
I had no choice but to smile back at him. The charming little fucker.
"No worries," I said with a shrug. "I'll live."
His smile got bigger. "I wouldn't even have started all of that if I really thought you…" I waited for him to dig an even deeper hole, but he recovered nicely. "Well, it's just that you're really so lovely." He chuckled. "And obviously, you can keep me on my toes, which means you must be a pretty smart cookie."
I quirked an eyebrow. "It takes an especially smart cookie to keep you on your toes, does it?"
He raised his beer glass to his lips and appeared to be in thought. Before taking a drink, he said, "Well yes, actually, it does."
I smiled sarcastically. "Well, you know … I've had many years on this planet in which to gain the knowledge it takes to match wits with someone who is so obviously well-armed."
He chuckled again and shook his head slightly.
"And, for the record, I am thirty-eight."
"Okay," he said. "But you didn't need to tell me that."
"Why wouldn't I?” I shrugged again. “You told me how old you are. It’s only fair."
"You really didn't want me thinkin' you're forty, did you?"
I let out an exasperated breath before I thought to catch it. "Yes, you caught me. That's exactly why I told you my age."
Alice interrupted us then, thank God. "Hey, Bella? Would you go to the restroom with me?"
That was, of course, girl-code for "I really need to talk to you about the hot guy in whose lap I am practically sitting, so please follow me into no-man's-land where we can squeal without fear of being heard by him."
Once in the bathroom, she wasted no time. "Oh my God, Bella!" I thought she might jump out of her skin in excitement and I smiled back at her. She was just too darn cute for her own good. "Jasper is just … Oh my God, Bella!"
I chuckled and checked myself out in the mirror, fluffing my hair with my hands. "He is a bit of a dreamboat, isn't he?"
She huffed. "Well, if that's not an understatement." She made her way into one of the stalls and spoke through the door.
"So listen. Bella? Um … Jasper and I were talking about, um … Well, we'd kind of like to get out of here and go someplace else."
"Yeah? That sounds good. I mean, he seems like a really nice guy, Alice." I chuckled. "And if not, I know where he works."
"Well, yeah, but … I mean, you don't mind if I leave you, do you?" Her toilet flushed, so I waited until she came back out to respond.
"Of course not, Alice." I watched as she washed her hands. "I wasn't planning to stay out late anyway. I've got some work to finish up."
She gave me a stern look. "Bella. It's Friday night."
"Yes, and if I finish the work tonight then I can have the rest of my weekend to myself." I didn't bother to tell her I planned to go into the office the next day.
"You're ridiculously dedicated to that job. I don't think they pay you enough."
I threw my arm around her shoulders as we made our way back out to the table. "Well, I'll be sure to pass the word along to my boss, Alice."
She giggled. "You really think he's a dreamboat?"
I tightened my arm around her. "I do think he's a dreamboat. But then, it doesn't really matter what I think does it?"
We arrived back at the table and Jasper stood, looking at Alice like a lovesick puppy. "All set?" he asked her, and she nodded.
"It was nice to meet you, Edward," Alice said as she shook his hand.
We all said our goodbyes and I stood, watching with a smile, as the new lovebirds walked out, hand-in-hand.
"I think I'm gonna get a cavity," Edward said. I turned my face in his direction, to find him sitting back in his chair. "They're just way too sweet."
I chuckled. "They are that." I stuck my hand in his direction. "Well, Edward, it's been an entertaining evening."
He raised his eyebrows. "You're not leaving are you?"
Since he wasn't shaking it, I pulled my hand back, slowly. "Well, yes, actually; I was planning on it."
"No. Stick around." He stood up next to me. "Let's go back into the bar and have a drink. You know, or ten." That damned crooked grin of his was going to be the death of me.
"Yes, I have found that most men like to drink heavily when forced to spend time with me."
"Sheesh," he replied with a roll of his eyes. "Seriously, let's have a drink together."
"I don't know." I eyed him cautiously. "We old ladies can't stay out very late, you know. Plus, I think a repeat of The Golden Girls is on Lifetime in an hour."
He shook his head with an exasperated chuckle. "You are never going to let me live this night down, are you?"
I winked at him. "Probably not, no."
"Please. Stay and have a drink with me. I think I owe you one. Plus, as you can see, I've been deserted. The man I was supposed to spend the evening with left with your little friend."
I quirked an eyebrow. "You were supposed to spend the night with Jasper? Shouldn't he have told Alice he's gay?"
Edward rolled his eyes at me once again. "Ha-ha. A drink?"
And out came the puppy dog eyes.
It was my turn to roll my eyes and I tried to stifle a smile. "Jesus, I’ll bet your mother gave you everything you asked for, didn't she?"
He smirked as we moved toward the bar.
The place was getting crowded, but we were lucky enough to find two empty stools at the end of the bar. Before we could order, the bartender brought me a fresh Grey Goose, on the rocks. My jaw fell open a little in surprise and I gave him a big smile as well as my thanks. He winked at me and smiled in response. Edward's mouth was also open as he stared at my drink before ordering a Stella Artois and turning toward me.
"What are you drinking?" he asked.
I looked down at my glass. "Um … Ice cubes."
His eyebrows shot up. "Damn, you don't fool around, do you?"
"Well, yes, I do … but not usually on the first date."
He chuckled as a beer was placed in front of him. He raised the glass to me. "Well, then, here's to second dates."
"So … Are you, like, a regular here or something?" He asked after we each took a post-toast sip of our drinks.
"No. I've been here a few times. This is the first time I've eaten here, though. Jasper was right—great food." I had not put two-and-two together and didn't realize the intent behind his question.
He motioned between the drink in front of me and the bartender. "So, what makes you so special then?"
I watched his hand as I shrugged and smiled. "I really have no idea."
His eyes were doing that twinkling thing again as he peered into my mine. I swallowed. Hard. It was probably fairly obvious, but what was I supposed to do? It was that or drool.
"Oh, I think I have an idea," he said.
"Do you, Kreskin? What idea is that?"
He looked toward the bartender and I followed his line of vision. The guy was looking in our direction while he handed drinks to some people in front of him. He quickly looked away when his eyes met mine.
"Uh-huh," Edward grinned. "He has a thing for you."
"He thinks you're hot."
I took a sip of my drink as I shrugged again. "Or maybe he's just a really good bartender and remembered what I drink."
"I hate to argue with you yet again, Bella, but Jasper and I sat at this bar for a good two hours before you even got here and the guy didn't remember what I was drinking."
"Okay, A—don't lie. You do not hate to argue with me."
Edward grinned and nodded as he sipped from his beer glass.
"And B—if he does think I'm hot … Well, the guy's got good taste."
We raised our glasses to that as he said, "That he does."
"And C," I continued softly, after swallowing a large mouthful of vodka. "You noticed when I walked in?"
He rested his forearms on the bar in front of him and looked over at me with the most gorgeous eyes I had ever seen on a man. It wasn't just the beautiful color, though, or the thick, dark lashes that surrounded them. They were … intense. Looking into mine, as they were at that moment, they made me feel … naked. It was almost uncomfortable.
"Of course I noticed," he said. "I tend to notice things of great beauty."
I felt a blush rising up my cheeks. I could not believe this nonsense. I couldn't remember the last time a guy had had this kind of effect on me. I felt giddy and excited. And nauseous.
And extremely turned on.
I chuckled in an effort to loosen the butterflies that were playing kickball in my stomach. "You are such a salesman."
"Well, yes, I am,” he said. “And I'm a very good one. But you know what makes me a good salesman?" He looked at me as if waiting for me to respond, but I simply watched his face as he spoke.
"I don't bullshit people. I get to know them. I get to know what they need, what they want. And then I sell it to them." He took a drink from his beer. "A lot of people misunderstand what it takes to make a good salesman. They think you automatically have to bullshit people or try to get them to buy what you're selling, not necessarily what they need. Those people don't
"So you never use your charm to make a sale?" I smiled.
"Oh I wouldn't go so far as to say that … I'm just saying," he looked pointedly into my eyes. "I don't lie to people."
I couldn't do it. It was hard enough to deal with the fact that the man was so utterly beautiful. The way he talked about his job was so passionate and smart and made so much sense and was just so … unexpected. I couldn't sit still and look into his eyes anymore. I was already blushing and I could barely think, let alone put two words together. Not under his fiery gaze, I couldn't. I looked down at my drink.
Edward, however, was having none of that. I felt his fingers under my chin as he tilted it up so that my eyes again met his. I watched as his tongue darted out to lick his lips before my eyes looked up again to his.
He almost whispered when he spoke. "So I wouldn't say someone is beautiful if it wasn't true." A crooked smile played at his mouth and he reached his index finger up to run it along my cheekbone. "I may be incredibly charming, but I don't just make shit up to get what I want."
With a shrug, he dropped his hand from my face. I could still feel the heated trail his finger left on my cheek.
"Besides," he said. "I have the feeling you and your friends noticed Jasper and me, as well."
I lifted an eyebrow. While that may have been a true statement, it still sounded pompous as hell. "Oh?"
He smirked into his beer as he raised it again to his lips. "Yep. Your little friend was practically bouncing out of her seat."
I smiled. It may have been a tad condescending in nature. "Well, if you must know, I did notice Jasper. I knew he worked with me, but I couldn't quite place him at first. And yes," I admitted as he peered at me. "Alice found him very attractive. So she was—excited about that."
Edward simply continued to look at me. I couldn't read the expression on his face, but he was again making me uncomfortable, as if I were under scrutiny.
"Alice can be … effervescent," I said.
He finally turned his eyes away from me, looking straight ahead. "Yes, I noticed."
"It's a lovely thing. She's energetic and fun to be around."
"Hey, I didn't say otherwise … I was just … curious."
His fingers returned to play in the condensation on his beer glass. I wondered if he knew exactly how sexy his hands were and how his doing that made my mind conjure up various ways I would love for those same fingers to play on my person.
"You didn't notice me? At all?"
I smiled at him. "I hate to burst your bubble, Romeo, but we could hardly see you."
He raised his eyebrows.
"Until you came over to our table, all I could see was your ass."
He chuckled. "Oh. Well, good thing that's one of my finer qualities."
"You think so?"
"Jesus, you are one cocky son-of-a-bitch." I laughed as I shook my head.
He laughed with me, but said, "I don't think it's a good idea to call Jesus a cocky SOB, Bella."
"Ha. Well, I hear our god is a forgiving god. Lucky for me." I continued laughing.
He stood and moved his stool a little bit away from me. "Well, I'll be over here anyway. Just in case of a lightening strike."
I laughed again as I took another drink.
I almost choked on it, though, as Edward asked his next question. "So why did you get divorced?"
When I recovered, I asked, "Excuse me?"
"What? Sore subject?"
"Well…" I thought about it. It wasn’t really a sore subject. At least, not anymore. I just wasn’t used to people asking me about it so directly. "Not really, I guess. I was just taken by surprise. I mean, how does one transition from discussing the glory that is your ass to my divorce in a heartbeat?"
He chuckled again. "Well, we can continue discussing my glorious ass, if you prefer."
In truth, I did prefer that subject matter, but I decided we probably should move on anyway. "Um—well … My husband cheated on me ... They're going to get married soon; they have a baby." I chuckled to myself, thinking again about Daddy Jake. "It all worked out in the end."
"And me, what?"
"Have things worked out for you?"
"Most assuredly." I nodded.
He peered at me. "You're happy?"
"Quite.” I nodded again and looked at him, a bit shyly. " Besides, I wouldn't be here with you now, if not for his cheating. I'd be home, with him. So it's all good, right?"
He raised his eyebrows and sat back, looking at me. "Well, then," he raised his glass. "Here's to your philandering ex-husband."
I smiled and raised my glass while keeping my eyes on his.
It was only a moment before I had to turn my eyes away. I could feel another blush moving up my cheeks and I was embarrassed by his intense scrutiny. I felt like I was twelve years old. It was fairly ridiculous.
And excruciatingly embarrassing.
And extremely hot.
I cleared my throat.
"Looks like you're empty," Edward said.
I looked down at my glass. "Yes, it would appear so."
He moved to wave the bartender over, but I put a hand on his arm to stop him. He turned his head quickly to look at my hand there and I dropped it just as quickly as I felt intense heat emanating from his forearm.
What? The fuck?
I cleared my throat again before finding the breath to speak. "I think I've had enough, actually."
"No, really? You want something else? Club Soda maybe?"
I shook my head. “Thank you, but I should get home."
I didn't want to go home. I wanted to stay there and banter back and forth with Edward all night long. I wanted to watch his fingers and dream of them playing across my skin. I wanted to look into his green eyes and feel my heart flutter at his gaze. I wanted to watch his lips as they sipped his beer and wonder how they would feel on mine. I wanted to gaze longingly at that chiseled jaw of his. I also wanted to know what was going on behind those intense green eyes. I wanted to know how his mind worked and what brought him to Con-Vert and how many siblings he had and what he was like as a kid and if he preferred football or basketball, rock and roll or R&B. I wanted so many things.
And I had known him only a matter of hours.
And I was going to see him at work on Monday.
"I actually have some work I need to get done tonight." That is what I said. I felt it was a safer explanation for my departure than "You are scaring the bejeezus out of me and I feel the need to run like the wind."
"Work?" he asked, a comical look on his face. "On a Friday night?"
I smiled and shrugged. "I know, it's pathetic. But I have a project I have to finish tomorrow and in order for me to do that I need to do some background work tonight."
He shook his head, but downed the rest of his beer and pulled a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket, placing it on the bar.
"I must say though, Edward. It was a real … experience hanging out with you tonight."
He chuckled. "Well, that sounds dubious."
I smiled and started to speak again, but he cut me off. "Don't say good night, yet." I felt his hand at my back as we moved toward the door. "I'll walk you to your car."