Chapter 6 ~ The Party
Fridays were casual days around the office, which meant we could wear blue jeans if we so desired. On this particular Friday, I didn't desire any such thing. We did, after all, have a cocktail party and poker tournament after work and since I'd be seeing Edward for the first time in a few days, I didn't exactly want to appear too terribly casual.
Instead I chose a not-too-dressy, red, filmy skirt that fell to just above my knee and thanked God once again that I lived in Southern California where I could still wear such a thing in late-September. I could never have worn that skirt up in Forks. I topped it with a white, short-sleeved, crocheted top over a white camisole and slipped into sandals that showed off the pedicure I'd gotten the night before. Alice and I had made a trip to our local Day Spa, something we did monthly, for pedis and a waxing.
The day dragged on like no other before it. I'd had two conference calls with customers and the Sales Reps who handle their accounts and neither of them went very well. They were both startup companies who planned on doing a lot of business with us, which was great. The problem was that they didn't have the financials to merit giving them a credit line anywhere near what they wanted and I got to break that news to them. The options I laid out for them did not fall on welcoming ears, either. While I knew I had the support of the Executive Team on such matters, I also knew that Sales looked at decisions such as the ones I had to make in these instances as a detriment to the job they were trying to do. Around Con-Vert, Credit was often called "The Anti-Sales Department," which was not only unfair, it wasn't even amusing.
At 3:30, I looked at the clock on my desk for the umpteenth time and heard a knock on my door. I turned to see James. I think I faked a smile fairly well, though internally I groaned. I wasn't even sure why seeing him bothered me so much. Sure, I had decided against having any sort of roll in the hay with him, but it's not like he wasn't good for my ego.
"Hi, James. What's up?"
My smile faltered as soon as the question left my lips. I was seriously trying to find new ways to ask him what he needed from me, but everything I said came out loaded with the potential for double-entendre’. What can I do for you? How may I help you? Every sentence was worse than the last. Even How are you? sounded dirty once filtered through the filth of that man's mind.
He grinned but, thankfully, didn't take the bait. "I'm here about your budget."
"I swear," I said. "I was just about to hit send." And I did. I hit send, transmitting my email, with my preliminary budget attached, to James. "Sorry. I know it's kind of late in the day, but at least I got it to you on time."
"Yeah, that's fine. It's just some people were having trouble with the template, so I thought I'd check with you."
"Oh. Well, thanks, but no, I figured it out."
He shook his head as he sat down in front of me. "It seems like everyone waited 'til today to look at it, then I was getting tons of calls about it all at once."
I smiled and rolled my eyes. "Typical."
I returned his gaze while I waited for him to continue with what it was he wanted to say. He was dressed in jeans, in accordance with the day, and a soft blue shirt that matched the color of his eyes. I then remembered Edward's "instruction" to me about keeping him out of my office and I smiled again, dropping my eyes.
"Ah, Bella ... are you blushing?" James chuckled.
I waved my hand, embarrassed and slightly irritated that he thought himself the cause of my smile. "Just remembering something from a few days ago," I said.
"Mmm-hmm." I knew by his grin that he still thought he had made me blush. It set my teeth on edge.
"So Bella. What do you know about our new Director of Sales?"
My eyebrows raised and I might have blushed again. I felt exposed—like he’d read my mind or walked in on me in my underwear. James watched me, closely and curiously.
"Edward?” I cleared my throat. “Um ... not much. I know he's twenty-seven. He's from Chicago. He went to school with Jasper."
"Jasper Whitlock. He's our Graphic Designer." He nodded and I shrugged. "Anyway, I don't know much about him, really. Why do you ask?"
"Just ... look Bella, in spite of the fact that you refuse to go out with me-"
I cut him off. "James, do I have to kick you out of my office again?"
He smiled and shook his head. "No. What I was going to say is, I think of you as a friend."
"Um ... well, that's nice. Thank you." I had no idea what to say to that. James was many things, but he wasn't exactly a friend of mine.
"Anyway, just—you might want to ... watch yourself around him."
He sat forward in his chair. "Well ... I don't quite know how to say this, but ... I overheard something the other day. Tuesday, I think. He was talking to somebody in the bathroom while I was ... taking care of business, shall we say?"
I rolled my eyes. "James, what is this about?"
"He was talking about his ... Okay, I'm just gonna lay it out there because you need to know this. He was talking about his plan to get you in bed. He didn't seem to think he'd have to work that hard to get you there and that it might actually happen tonight. You're going to that poker-thing tonight, right?"
I nodded. I was no longer blushing. In fact, the blood was draining from my face with every word out of James' mouth.
"Yeah, so I wanted to talk to you about this before you left." He sat back in his chair.
I swallowed and cleared my throat. "So who was he talking to?"
"I don't know and I didn't recognize the voice. Maybe it was that friend of his. I don't know Jasper Whitman."
"Whitlock." I shrugged in an effort to appear unaffected by what he'd told me. Inside, my stomach was pitching fits. "It doesn't really matter what the man has planned does it? You should know that better than anyone."
His eyebrows flew up.
"Look, I appreciate your concern James, but ... well honestly, what am I supposed to do with this information? Someone wanting to sleep with me doesn't mean much on its own. You already know I don't shit where I eat and ... well, I can't control what men talk about in the restroom."
"Okay, well...” He stood. “I just thought you should know what kind of man you're dealing with, there."
"Yeah. Thanks." I wasn't even sure what I thought about any of this, let alone what I thought about James telling me all of it. Part of me was angry, part of me felt deceived. Part of me thought this was a lesson well-learned and better I found out now what Edward was really like, before he and I had actually done anything. Part of me thought that James' entire spiel may very well have been bullshit.
"Have fun tonight," he said on his way out of my office.
I chuckled, sarcastically. "Yeah. Thanks," I said again.
We all met at a cigar bar downtown. Having no idea where it was and unable to see the addresses of each building, I ended up parking on the street about three blocks away and I walked in circles for about twenty minutes before I found it. It was upstairs, above another restaurant. The room I walked into was dark, with four pool tables scattered throughout it. I was lead to another, larger room, though, where five poker tables were set up to one side. On the other side was a dance floor, some smaller tables and a bar I walked immediately toward. The best thing about these parties was the free booze.
I heard his voice before I saw him and it brought a new flight of butterflies to my stomach. I wanted to kick myself for feeling like a teenager.
"Let me guess," he said. I turned and Edward was smiling as he walked slowly toward me. "Grey Goose, on the rocks."
"You are correct and I am suitably impressed that you remember. Except I think I'll have a double." I eyed the bartender, who heard the exchange and grabbed a frosted bottle.
Edward stood beside me, his eyebrows raised. "A double, huh? Rough day?"
I smiled and thanked the bartender, looking down into my glass. "It was ... an interesting day." I looked him in the eye, my conversation with James replaying in my head. "An educational day."
"Well, here's to higher education." He raised his glass.
I raised my glass to his before downing a healthy swig.
"Isn't Jasper here?" I asked, looking around.
Edward nodded. "He is. Last I saw him, somebody named Victoria had him cornered."
"No ... you didn't leave him alone with Victoria."
He grinned at my alarm. "He's a big boy. I think he can handle himself."
"Huh. Obviously, you've not met Victoria."
"I did, actually." He chuckled as he swirled the brown liquid around in his glass. "Who is she, exactly?"
"She's a VP at Wicked Comp. They're our second largest customer."
"I know what she does." He turned toward the bar and rested his forearms on it. "But why does she walk around like she owns the place?"
It was my turn to chuckle as I turned to mirror his position. "I think she walks that way everywhere she goes. That's just ... her." I might have grimaced a bit when I said that. I definitely took another large drink of my vodka.
Victoria Camden had always rubbed me the wrong way. She was tall and pretty, with long, fiery red hair, and she seemed to have a perpetual smirk on her face—as if she was in on some joke that the rest of us were not only not privy to, but were probably the butt of. Plus, she was the definition of man-eater. She had worked her way through half the sales staff at Con-Vert and I knew for a fact that she consistently threw herself at Carlisle. To my knowledge, he detested her, maybe even more than I did, and had never—would never—fall victim to her prowess. We'd gotten drunk together one night and talked about her and his efforts to keep her at bay.
"How were your customer visits?" I asked, eager to change the subject.
Edward nodded and took another drink before he answered. "They went very well. I need to talk to you on Monday about credit lines. I have no idea what these customers have and I need to make sure they're high enough."
"Okay ... Didn't the actual Reps on the account tell you what their lines were?"
He waved to the bartender. "Honestly? They didn't know, for sure."
I rolled my eyes. "Why does that not surprise me?"
"What do you mean?" He ordered a Bushmills, neat, before I answered him.
"I mean, your staff has a horrible tendency to remain blissfully unaware of such matters."
He raised his eyebrows at me and I waved a hand.
"Let's not even talk about this now” I said. “We'll discuss it on Monday. I would just really rather enjoy this evening as much as possible."
He smiled and raised his new glass to the notion.
"So, Edward." I changed the subject again. "Do you prefer Ed? Eddie? Eduardo?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Hmm ... Eduardo might be kind of fun. But I prefer Edward, actually."
"Edward. It's such an old-fashioned name, really. Don't meet many Edward's anymore."
He shrugged. "I guess my parents were kind of old fashioned people."
"It's nice. Traditional. Strong. It inspires confidence."
"Thanks." He grinned.
"Honestly, it doesn't really fit you, though."
His cocky grin faltered. "Gee, thanks."
"Well, I don't get the impression that you're exactly old fashioned, you know."
"Am I not strong? Don't I inspire confidence?"
"How 'bout I call you Teddy?” I replied, completely ignoring his question.
"Yeah, you know, like Kennedy. His name was Edward, but we all called him Teddy."
"Ah, Teddy." He raised his glass. "Rest in peace, brother."
I couldn't help but raise my glass alongside his. It seemed the polite thing to do. Not to mention the fact that I'd always had a lot of respect for Teddy Kennedy.
After we each had our drink, I continued. "So I can call you Teddy?"
Edward turned to me, the full force of his beautiful green eyes burning into mine. "Bella, you can call me anything you want. So long as you call me."
I grinned and started to say something snide about the cliche he’d just tried to use as a line, but then I heard it—the song that came over the sound system.
Sexy Motherfucker by Prince.
"Ah-ha!" he gasped. "My theme song."
He grinned lasciviously at me and I laughed.
"Really?" I asked, trying to hold back a laugh. "Um ... have you ever actually listen to the lyrics? Beyond the actual 'Sexy Motherfucker' part, of course."
"Uh ... well, they're about how Prince wants to marry the woman he's singing to."
He had a confused and extremely comical look on his face that made me laugh again.
"Nah ... really?"
I nodded, still chuckling. "You really should listen to lyrics before you claim something as your theme song."
Edward chuckled, himself. "So, what's your theme song?"
"Hmm...” I thought for a moment before replying. “How about 'I've Always Been Crazy'?"
"But it's kept you from going insane?"
"Yep." I grinned and finished off my drink.
He stood back on his heels and regarded me for a moment. "I don't think that's your theme song."
"Because I really am insane?" I winked at him and he laughed softly.
"Well, maybe, but that's not what I meant." We both laughed before he continued. "I have the perfect song. 'The Most Beautiful Girl in the World'."
I groaned and dropped my eyes, not wanting to see the heated green of his right at that moment. I may well have been blushing again. I'd blushed more in that week than in the previous ten years, combined.
"Jeez, Edward. How many times have you used that line?" I looked up to him when I felt I'd be able to do so without swallowing my own tongue. Or his, for that matter. He was still looking at me, intently.
"Why would that be a line?"
"Oh, please ... plus, are you obsessed with Prince or something?"
"What's wrong with Prince?"
I really didn't know what to say and I looked down at the floor. I didn't have to think about it long, though, as I felt Edward's warm breath in my ear.
"It's not a line, Bella."
I looked up and his face was so close I could have kissed him quite easily. I probably would have, had we not been in the middle of a company function. Thankfully, he pulled away slightly as he continued to speak softly.
"You are quite possibly the most stunning woman I have ever met. Honestly, you ... dazzle me."
My smile had a mind of its own. "I dazzle you?"
"You do." His smile was dazzling, itself. "I have no other way to put it ... and believe me, I've thought about it. A lot."
I couldn't look away; my eyes searched his. All I found was heat. "You're either a really good bullshitter..."
He raised his eyebrows. "Or?"
I couldn't answer him. There was no way my mind would allow for the possibility that he was being completely forthright with me. My heart, though, was pounding out the possibilities.
We were interrupted by Jasper, who walked up to the bar beside Edward. He also ordered a Bushmills and we watched as he downed the whole thing at once and motioned for the bartender to give him a refill. Finally, he turned to Edward and pointed his forefinger at his chest.
"You are an asshole and I will never forgive you for that."
Edward bent over, laughing.
"Yeah, laugh it up, funny boy." Jasper was not amused.
I caught Jasper's eye. "Victoria?"
He nodded. "She had Edward here cornered by a pool table, trying to shove her hand in his pants, so he thought it would be funny to pawn her off on me. And apparently, my telling her a number of times that I am seeing someone was not a deterrent."
My expression soured. "Oh ... no, she probably just looked at that as a challenge."
"Evidently," Jasper said, downing his second drink. His friend laughed again, beside him.
I noticed that Carlisle had made his way to the middle of the dance floor and was getting ready to speak to the crowd. Before he did, Edward turned to me.
"Would you like another drink?" he asked.
"No thanks. Not yet. I have to keep my wits about me if I plan to kick your ass on the poker table."
Both Edward and Jasper laughed incredibly loud at the notion and I looked at them quizzically. I decided to let them believe what they wanted to believe, however. They would find out soon enough what a great player I was. And I would delight in showing them.
Carlisle cleared his throat and asked for everyone's attention. He thanked us all for coming and explained how the tournament would work and what the prizes were. Although anyone who made it to the final table would win something, the Grand Prize was a bottle of 1961 Petrus from his private cellar and I wanted that wine more than anything. Carlisle was quite the wine connoisseur. I had toured the cellar in his home more than once and he always served the best at his dinner parties. I had never had a Petrus, though, of any vintage. I knew enough to know that 1961 was one of the best you could find these days, though.
Plus, I just wanted to win.
While Jasper and I were lucky to be seated at the same table initially, Edward was at a completely different table altogether. I grimaced as I saw that Victoria was sitting right next to him. As he sat next to me, I heard Jasper chuckling.
"Serves him right," he muttered so that only I could hear him.
I tried to laugh about it, but knowing that she probably had her hands all over him under the table didn't leave me the least bit cheerful about the situation. I was happy to be seated next to Jasper though, as we kept each other entertained and laughing throughout the first round of the tournament. That is, until it came down to just him and me, playing heads up.
We were almost even, as far the money in front of us. I had a few hundred more dollars than he, having taken all of Ben Cheney's stash in the last hand.
"You realize that whatever friendship we had when we walked in here tonight is now completely out the window right?" I winked at him as I glanced at the two cards laying face down in front of me.
"Friendship?" he asked, with a grin. "What friendship?"
We split the first four hands, although the stack of chips in front of me gained a bit more height with our bets than his did. On the fifth hand, Jasper went all in. I was tempted to fold, since there were two aces showing after the dealer dealt the turn card, but I didn't. There was something in Jasper's eyes that told me he didn't have either of the others and since I was holding two Kings, I felt confident.
I was right. He had nothing. Zippo. The silly boy had tried to bluff me.
He shook my hand, grinning ear-to-ear as he did so. "I blame all the Bushmills," he said.
"Really?" I replied. "Cuz I blame your inability to bluff your way out of a paper bag."
"Yeah well, really it's just that I have to take a wicked pee and needed the game to be over."
Carlisle announced a ten minute break before the final table would commence playing and Jasper quickly made his way out of the room, presumably to find a restroom. I felt Edward come up behind me at the table, his hands on the back of my chair.
"So now you just need to get through me," he whispered into my ear. The warmth of his breath startled me.
"Just you? What about the three other people at the table?"
He sat down in the seat Jasper had vacated and waved his hand. "Ah! It's gonna be you and me all the way and you know it."
I peered up at him and spoke softly. "We are still talking about Hold 'Em right?"
"You can take that in any context which pleases you." He grinned.
I stood from the table and he followed in kind. I needed a cocktail. Or some air. I needed distance from the inviting words that still hung in the air.
"Well," I announced. "I'm going to need another drink if I'm expected to go head to head with you."
"You're a wise woman," he said as he chuckled and followed me to the bar.
Once we arrived and I had ordered a drink, I turned to him. "I see you survived sitting next to Victoria for an hour."
"The longest hour of my life," he grumbled.
I patted his cheek as he smiled. "Ah, poor baby. Having a beautiful woman come on to you all night is so difficult, isn't it?"
"It depends on who it is. I'm beginning to think Victoria isn't a woman at all. She's more vampire than human."
"Hmm ... I'll have to remember that you don't like women who bite."
He chuckled and looked a bit flustered. "Well ... I mean ... it depends."
I laughed. "Uh-huh," was all I said.
"So would you care to make a little side-bet?" His eyebrows were raised as he looked at me.
Cautiously, I asked him what he meant by a side-bet.
"I don't know." His fingers played at his lips, as they were wont to do. He had a teasing glint in his eye. "The possibilities are endless, really. A back rub? How about a home-cooked dinner, to go along with that bottle of Petrus?"
"You're awfully presumptuous, you know. There are three other people playing with us."
He waved a hand in the air. "Pshaw! You've obviously never played Hold 'Em with me before."
I looked at him as I thought it over, wary of what I was getting in to, but also excited at the notion of being "forced" to dine with Edward. "Dinner, huh?"
He nodded, a grin on his face. After several moments, I put my hand out toward him.
"I have the feeling I may regret this, but ... it's a bet."
His grin widened as he shook my hand.
"I have the feeling that neither of us are going to regret this,” he said. “No matter who actually wins."
"Well, the good news is that I now have an even better shot at tasting that Petrus."
I was startled by the feeling of a hand on my shoulder.
"Well, isn't this nice?" Carlisle stepped up beside me. "The Director of Sales and the Director of Credit actually shaking hands. It's great to see you on such friendly terms."
"Yeah, well, he's only been here a week," I said, grinning. "He hasn't had time to really piss me off yet."
"Wait 'til I kick her ass at the winner's table," Edward said. "Then she'll really hate me."
Carlisle laughed and patted my shoulder. "I don't know Edward. I hope you're good. Bella never loses at these things."
Edward raised his eyebrows and looked at me, curiously. "Is that a fact?"
Carlisle and I both nodded.
"That wine is as good as mine, bud." I bit into a carrot I had grabbed from a plate of vegetables that sat in front of me.
"Well, let's get you two to the table and get this party started."
Edward and I followed Carlisle to the table and sat down beside each other. I felt his leg brush up against mine as the first cards were dealt.
"Sorry. Don't let me distract you." He grinned over at me as he took his cards in hand.
"Taking poker lessons from Victoria?" I asked. "People who can't really play well always try to distract me." I looked in his eye. "It never works."
He was still grinning as the game began.
It did work, though. I was incredibly distracted. Edward's leg brushed up against mine several times during the first two hands alone. At one point, the Kings of Leon song I Want You came over the sound system and he, having already folded his hand, proceeded to sing it under his breath. I tried to concentrate on my cards, but shifted slightly in my seat and cleared my throat once or twice. At one point, I threw him a look while he sang and he gave me a far-too-innocent face in response.
"What?" he asked.
I cleared my throat again and muttered, "Nothing." I then promptly lost the hand.
I glared up at him and he smirked at me.
"What?" he asked again.
"I hate you," I said and he laughed. I looked over to see Carlisle watching us intently, a smirk on his face as well.
I was the third person out of the game. Robert Castillo, the Warehouse Manager who, along with his Full House, was my undoing, received several high fives from various people, most of whom had either lost to me that night or during previous games. I noticed that Victoria was one of those congratulating Robert most exuberantly, which just gave me yet another reason to find her distasteful.
"I like Italian food." Edward's breath was hot as he whispered in my ear and it made me shiver.
Jasper brought me another drink, although I hadn't asked him to do so. I smiled up at him as he stood behind me.
"Thanks!” I said with a smile. “You read my mind."
He rubbed my shoulder, briefly. "I figured you might want to drown your sorrows."
I sat back in my chair and crossed my legs while I watched the next hand play out. I noticed that Edward's eyes drifted down to my thigh and while it hadn't been my initial intention, I thought it might be fun to give him a taste of his own medicine. I shifted in my seat a little, making my skirt ride up higher, exposing more of my thigh. Jasper chuckled behind me and it was Edward's turn to clear his throat.
As he lost the hand, Edward turned to me. "I know what you're doing, you know."
"What am I doing?" I gave him the innocent look.
"You think you can distract me?"
"How am I distracting you?"
"You have such a devious mind." He shook his head, chuckling.
"Yes, well...” I chuckled, as well. “You know, I don't think you know me as well as you think you do. And if you do know me that well after only a week, you'll have to excuse me because I am going to jump off a tall building now."
Edward laughed and hadn't even noticed he had cards in front of him and was expected to place a bet. Once he noticed, he hurriedly folded.
I bent close to his ear. "Um ... do you realize you just folded a suited King and Queen?"
"Huh?" He looked flummoxed. "Really?"
Jasper and I both laughed.
"Okay, so now I know. My humor is a better distraction than my legs. I'm not sure how to take that, actually."
"Well, take it as you have a really great sense of humor—and let me focus on this hand, please." He was still grinning, though.
"Hey, I am not keeping you from focusing on anything." I uncrossed and crossed my legs.
"Oh fuck me..." Edward muttered.
I made a pretense of looking down to adjust my skirt so that I could speak softly into his ear. "Well, I really think we should have that dinner first."
He looked at me and I shrugged.
"I have to keep up some appearances, after all." I said, a sly smile on my lips.
He shook his head and groaned while both Jasper and I chuckled, Jasper patting my shoulder.
As the next hand was dealt, I looked up to see that Victoria was shooting daggers at me through her eyes from her standing position, behind Robert Castillo.
"Jesus," I said, almost under my breath. "You sure bring out the beast in women."
Edward tried to focus on the cards in front of him and the grinning face of Robert across from him, but managed a "Huh?" in my direction. I didn't reply, but watched the hand play out. Edward won and took quite a stack of Robert's chips in the process.
Jasper leaned down to whisper in my ear. "Edward is really good at this game, darlin'. You're gonna have to break out the big guns."
I simply nodded.
When I saw that Edward was betting cockily with a pair of twos in his hand, I "accidentally" dropped the napkin from underneath my glass of vodka. As the turn card was placed on the table in front of the dealer, I pushed my chair back slightly and bent down to the floor, placing a hand lightly on his thigh. As I bent to retrieve the napkin, my breast lightly brushed his thigh, as well. As I sat up and pulled my chair back in, removing my hand from his thigh by trailing it lightly across his pants, I looked over to see that Edward's jaw was clenched. I could swear he was breathing heavier than he had been a moment ago.
He pushed all of his chips in front of him.
"I'm all in," he said.
Robert grinned as he pushed a matching number of chips into the pot. They both turned their cards over and Edward groaned as he saw Robert's pair of Kings. He groaned even louder and buried his face in his hands when the dealer dealt the river card—another King.
The other end of the table erupted in raucous celebration as I patted Edward's back.
"Ah ... Second place is very good, Teddy. You should be proud."
He finished off the drink that sat in front of him. "Actually, I think you should be really proud of yourself ... Isabella."
He said my full name rather pointedly and I grinned into his smirking face.
"I gotta say, I'm not hating myself right now."
Jasper laughed behind us and Edward turned toward him. "And you—thanks for rooting for your old friend, buddy." He pushed his seat back and stood. He then pulled my chair out for me as I did the same.
Jasper held his hands up. "Hey, you started it by sicking that—woman—on me."
"Where is she, anyway?" Edward asked, quietly.
"Why?" I asked. "Feel the need to donate an extra pint?"
"Actually, I just want to make sure I adeptly steer clear for the rest of the night."
Jasper looked around, then said, "She's hanging onto Robert now. Apparently, she prefers to spend her time with winners."
"Well, hell. It was worth losing, then." Edward said.
Carlisle spent several minutes announcing the awards that would go to the winners. Edward and I each won a bottle of wine, just not the Petrus. Instead, he was to go home with a bottle of Chimney Rock Cabernet, which I knew was very good. I would receive a bottle of Artesa Pinot Noir as my third place prize. We would pick them up at work on Monday.
As things wound down and people made their way toward the exit, Edward decided to have one last drink before he hit the road and asked Jasper and me to have one with him.
"No way, guys” I said. “I've had three drinks and a handful of carrots for dinner. I do have to drive home at some point."
Jasper ran a hand along his neck. "You know, she has a point, Edward. I honestly shouldn't have anything else, either." He checked his watch. "Plus, I'm supposed to stop by Alice's on the way home and I'd really rather she not be asleep by the time I get there."
"Jeez. I am surrounded by lightweights." Edward said this, but was smiling anyway.
"You guys have a nice weekend," Jasper said as he made his way across the dance floor and toward the exit.
Edward turned to me. "So can I walk you to your truck?"
"Sure," I said. "But I hope you brought your hiking boots."
He laughed and as we walked out I saw Victoria again. Indeed, she stood next to Robert Castillo, her hand stuffed in his back pocket. However, she watched us intently, daggers still flying out of her eyes.
We walked in silence for about half a block before Edward leaned down toward me. "So do you think we're far enough away from work people for me to hold your hand?"
I smiled in spite of myself. "Let's give it another block."
He whistled, good-naturedly. "Boy, you're a tough one, aren't ya?"
"Not so tough.” I shrugged. “Just ... wary."
He laughed and grabbed my hand despite my protest. "Oh, trust me. You're tough."
I didn't pull my hand away.
"Where the hell did you park anyway? Nova Scotia?"
"I told you to bring your hiking boots." I chuckled. We walked silently for a minute or so and I concentrated on the feeling of his hand around mine. I had never known a man's hand to be so soft as his, yet it felt strong around mine—protective.
"So ... when are we having dinner? Are you free tomorrow?" He asked, breaking me from the pathetic fantasy I had just begun to entertain. It revolved around his hands.
I looked up to meet his sparkling eyes. "You didn't win, remember?"
"Well, I still beat you. I think that at least merits an appetizer or two."
"That was not the bet.” I shook my head. “Besides, you cheated."
"I didn't cheat."
I glared up at him.
"I just used some extra weapons from my arsenal." He bent down to speak directly into my ear. "I think your weapons are far more deadly than any of mine."
I blushed as he chuckled into my ear, making my flesh break out in goosebumps.
"Okay,” he continued. “How about we just go out to dinner anyway?" He let go of my hand and his arm went around my shoulders.
For some reason, my earlier conversation with James chose that moment to come barreling to the front of my mind.
"There's my truck," I said, seeing it next to the curb, about half a block ahead.
Edward let out a heavy breath of air. "She says, changing the subject rather abruptly."
I didn't respond and he dropped his hand from my shoulders.
"Are you still thinking?" he asked.
Again I said nothing and he sighed in irritation.
"Bella, we just had a lot of fun, didn't we? It wasn't the poker, it wasn't even Jasper. You and me—we have a lot of fun together."
We approached my truck where it was parked on the street and stopped by the passenger-side door. I looked up at him as he leaned against it with one hand.
"Bella ... This isn't all my imagination is it? I mean, I think it's pretty obvious that we're attracted to each other." He bent his knees slightly so that we were almost at eye-level with each other and looked at me intently. The look in his eyes took my breath away. "I'm not imagining that, right?"
I shook my head. "No." My voice was soft.
I cleared my throat, finding my voice again. "No, you're not imagining it."
Edward smiled. "Then what is it? What's wrong? I mean, is it really just the age difference?" He took one of my hands in his.
"I don't even know, really ... I'm just—I'm nervous."
"I make you nervous?" His smiled turned into another cocky grin and I pulled my hand out of his.
"I didn't say you make me nervous. I said I'm nervous."
He chuckled and leaned his back against my truck. "Okay. So what are you nervous about?"
I looked up into his smiling eyes and I felt like a complete jerk for what I was about to ask. But I had to. I couldn't just pretend James hadn't told me what he'd told me and go along my merry way.
"Well—Edward ... Were you—were you talking about me, earlier this week? In the men's room?"
He straightened his stance and his grin vanished. "Excuse me?"
I looked at the ground and kicked my feet at the cement. "It's just ... I heard something. I heard you were talking about me and I–" I sighed and made a strange noise, in frustration. "I feel like an absolute idiot here, Edward. But what I heard wasn't exactly complimentary and ... well, not like I wasn't nervous enough about this whole thing before, you know?"
His eyebrows came together as he peered at me. "What did you hear, exactly?"
I again grunted in frustration. "Can you please just answer the question?"
He sighed and leaned his weight against his hand on the truck again, turning his body to face mine. He looked at the ground for a moment. "Well, I haven't been in the office for a few days, so I assume this must be about the conversation I had with Jasper the other day." He looked at me from beneath his lashes, his head still down. "I can't believe I'm standing here discussing what I thought was a private conversation between me and a friend of mine."
"I know.” I sighed and leaned back against the door. “I'm sorry, Edward." We stood in silence for a moment before I stood straight again. "Just forget it. Forget I asked. I'm sorry."
I started to walk around the truck to get into the driver's side, but Edward grabbed my arm.
"Why would you even be upset by what I said, Bella?"
I faced him, looking up into his eyes. He looked so sweet. There was no arrogance, the cocky grin was gone. His voice was soft as he spoke and it made me feel the same. I knew in my heart that while Edward may have indeed been talking about me the other day, the gist of that conversation was not at all what James had relayed to me.
"I have the feeling I have been misinformed," I said.
He reached a hand out to brush a strand of hair from my face, tucking it behind my ear. His fingertips left a heated trail behind them.
"You want to know what I said?" he asked.
I did. But I shook my head anyway. "It's not my business, Edward. I'm sorry I brought it up."
He put his hand on my face and nudged me toward the truck, moving to stand in front of me. He leaned again against his hand on the truck, my body now trapped as he still held my face with his other hand, his fingers hot against my skin. His face was so close to mine I could feel his breath against my cheek when he spoke his next words.
"Bella, you said what you heard was not complimentary so I'm gonna tell you the truth. What I said to Jasper is that I like you. I really like you. I said that I haven't felt like this about somebody in a very long time and the fact that we've only known each other a few days is causing me to panic just a little. Because I don't get it. I don't even really know you and honestly, you're kind of a pain in the ass sometimes, but I can't help it. I can't help what I feel. I want to know you."
He bent his head forward and kissed my cheek softly. My breath caught in my chest and I heard a soft, simpering sound come from deep within it. It barely sounded like me. He spoke directly into my ear, the moist heat of his breath causing my entire body to shiver.
"I fucking dream about you, Isabella. I dream about your smell and how soft your skin is and how you tasted when I kissed you last week. I see you and I want to feel your hands on me. I want my hands on you—all over you. I want to taste your skin."
His lips touched my neck, just below my ear, and I gasped at the contact, at the meaning behind his words.
"The more I taste the more I want to taste."
He kissed me again, where my neck meets my shoulder, causing me to moan softly. He pulled his head back to look at me and I reached up to tangle my hands in his hair.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, not knowing what else to say.
When he bent toward me, my lips met his with an eagerness born of desire and passion and a longing I'd long been trying to bury. It was born of the need to convey all of those things to him. What started out as soft and sweet, hesitant and questioning on his part quickly morphed so that his passion matched mine. His tongue darted out to meet mine and as our lips and tongues danced together, my mind left to travel some place over Brazil or something. I thought of nothing, but felt everything. I felt the coldness of the hard metal and glass against my back. I felt the heat of his fingers as he first gripped the hem of my top tightly, then let his fingers drift underneath it to graze across my hip before moving down to the curve of my ass, pulling me to him. I felt the silkiness of his hair between my fingers as my hand fisted there. I felt the hardness of his torso pressing against mine as I strained against him in a futile attempt to get closer. I felt the fever of my blush covering not just my face. I felt my thigh rub against his as my leg moved to try to pull him more tightly to me. I felt more than heard the low groan that emanated from his chest. As we broke our kiss, I felt his breaths, coming rapidly across my face and the top of my head as he looked up to the sky.
I buried my head against his chest as I tried to catch my own breath and his hand moved up to my neck through my hair, holding me to him. His heart pounded through the thin material of his shirt. I dropped my hands from his hair and they lay against his chest also, absorbing the heat that emanated from him.
"Jesus," he said, finally. "If this is what it's like to kiss a cougar, I think I need to look for a job at the zoo."
I had to chuckle, the sound absorbed by the gorgeous body in front of me. "Ah—you always know just the right thing to say, don't ya?"
After several more moments, he pulled away slightly and looked down into my face. "Not my imagination," he said. He smiled, his breathing almost even now.
My hand went to his face, my fingers trailing the beautiful bones beneath his cheeks before moving to his jaw.
"Well. Isn't this cozy?"
I gasped lightly and Edward dropped his hands from me as he stepped back at the sound of Victoria's voice.