I do not own Twilight or its characters. Stephenie Meyer does.
Beta'd by Fran. Thank you for taking your time to edit for me.
When Edward left Bella to have a normal, safe, human life, everything changed in the blink of an eye. When he finds her again, she's not the same girl he once knew. In his opinion, she's living — recklessly; putting her life at risk and hiding something. Will Bella let him back into her life, and allow him to help her before it's too late? NM Alternative
Set: One year and six months after Edward left her in the woods.
She's Not the Same Girl Any More.
The club was dimly lit, and the music was pumping through the speakers. The air reeked of alcohol, sweat, and even drugs. Women were walking around scantily clad, carrying trays or sitting on the laps of the male patrons. Currently, there were three women on stage sliding up and down poles. I averted my eyes, knowing that Rosie was going to be pissed enough that I was here.
Jasper sat across from me with a pinched look on his face. I actually felt a bit of sympathy for the guy and wouldn't want to be in his shoes. Hell, I could smell the lust rolling of the people in here. I could only imagine what it was like for him. He was tapping his fingers restlessly on the table then clenching them into a fist before starting to tap again.
"Why did Alice send us here?" I asked under my breath.
He raised his eyes to meet mine. "She said there was something we need to check out for her. That we would know it when we see it," he answered in a tight voice.
"She does know what a gentlemen's club is, right?" I pressed.
He tossed me an irritated look and nodded curtly that I questioned his mate. If it was so important why didn't she come here herself?
Suddenly, a familiar floral scent hit my nose.
But it couldn't be her, could it?
I lifted my head and turned it in the direction it was coming from. It was fairly crowded so I couldn't spot who I was looking for immediately. Just then, a large group parted for a waitress to make her way through.
She was a small, with red hair, wearing a blue and black teddy with black, sheer holster stockings. That familiar floral scent all around her and as I looked up, I froze. I recognized the heart-shaped face, but her green eyes were unfamiliar. I could determine from here that she was wearing contacts; I was sure that she was wearing a wig too.
"Is that…" I trailed off.
I had to be wrong. There is no way she would ever step into a place like this.
"It can't be." Jasper murmured, but I could see that he was on the same page as me.
Her eyes locked with mine, and she stopped mid-step, wobbling slightly on her high heels. Her eyes widened, and she glanced briefly to my left at Jasper. Her expression had gone blank before she plastered a fake smile on her face while her eyes remained expressionless.
"Gentlemen, may I offer you a drink?" her voice was cool and detached.
"We are all set, thank you. Bella, is that you?" Jasper asked, quietly.
She turned her head to him. "No, sorry, my name is China." China pointed to her nametag that was pinned to her nightie strap.
I glanced away quickly, not wanting to stare at her breasts, and I was uncomfortable looking at her this undressed. I studied her face again before turning back to Jasper. He was watching her with narrowed suspicious eyes.
"Just so you know there is a one drink minimum here." China clicked her tongue against her cheek. She glanced slightly to her right and bit the corner of her lip.
I turned my head slightly, and there was a man in a dark suit watching us — closely.
"Whiskey on the rocks, please," Jasper gave her his order then kicked me in the shin.
"Same, but make mine a double and no rocks, I'll have ice. Shaken and not stirred," I blurted out nervously, the first thing that came to mind.
Jasper shot me an incredulous look as if to say, 'Are you stupid?' Bel…err… China's lips twitched slightly, and she snorted lightly.
"I'll be right back." She turned and sauntered off towards the bar.
"Hey, Mr. Bond, you do know that a drink on the rocks means ice and not actual rocks, right?" He shook his head and rubbed his temple.
"Oh. Right… I panicked, the last time I had whiskey it was from a hidden still in the woods." I shrugged.
I glanced over to the bar where China had her back to us. I whispered under my breath to my brother. "Am I crazy, or is that really Bella?"
"I believe 'yes' covers both of those questions." Jasper snickered slightly.
"Funny. Why the fuck is she, working in a place like this? Edward's gonna shit a brick if he finds out." I exclaimed. My fist came down on the table, and it groaned and shook under my force. Or should I say when he finds out. How can I keep this from him? Edward's going to see this in my mind — that I looked at his mate wearing next to nothing.
Aww, hell he was going to beat my ass if Rosie didn't first.
"Would you be more careful? You have to calm down." Jasper hissed. He sent me some calming waves.
My mind was still wheeling with this discovery. Bella was a sweet, quiet and shy girl — what happened to her?
"Here you go, boys. Drink up." She placed the glasses down in front of us.
Without a second thought, I did what she asked and picked it up and downed it. It burned and tasted awful. I spurted a bit and coughed.
"Why did you do that," Jasper whispered too quietly for her to hear.
Bella… China — whoever, was looking at me with large wide eyes. She picked up the glass and cleared her throat. "Would you like another, Sir?
"I'm good. Thank you." I shook my head. I tapped my fingers on the table with enough force to make Jasper's drink splash.
"We are leaving in a moment; can we get our check, please?" Jasper asked.
"Sure, I'll be back in a moment to get you your change." She dug in the tiny apron that barely covered anything and placed a small slip of paper on our table.
The moment she was gone Jasper pulled out a wad of cash and left it on the table. He had to have left Bella…China, at least a two hundred percent tip. He took his glass and placed it on the table behind us, where a group of college boys were too focused on the stage to notice.
"She won't take that." I pointed at the tip, remembering how hard it was for Edward to spend money on her.
"She'll have to if we aren't here for her to give it back to us. Let's go." Jasper stood up swiftly.
I followed him to the door where the man in the suit stopped us. "Leaving so soon, gentlemen?" his voice was scratchy. I gave him a once-over and that was all it took to figure out that this guy was a complete sleaze ball with red-rimmed eyes and greasy, slicked back, black hair. I spotted powder around his nostrils. The sight of him made me ill.
"We have to get back to our wives," Jasper spoke through clenched teeth.
"I understand. I saw you two eyeing our China Doll tonight. Are you boys interested in her?"
His sneering grin made me want to punch him in the face. That was my baby sister he was talking about.
"We might be, especially for a friend of ours. What exactly are we talking?" Jasper inquired.
He ignored me when my head whipped around to glare at him. What, or should I say who, is he talking about. Edward will kill this guy if he finds out that Sleazy was trying to sell Bella's virtue.
"We have special rooms if you know what I mean. For a little extra, you can get some private time with one of the girls. Play your cards right, they may present you with other bonuses. Our China Doll hasn't been broken in, but for the right price, I'm sure she may be willing — everyone has a price." He licked his lips and watched as she moved through the room.
He was a dirty old man using beautiful women to make a buck.
"We will keep that in mind." Jasper's eyes were nearly flint-black, by now. I'm sure mine were identical.
Sleazy smiled and clasped us both on the shoulder then winced slightly. He shook out his hand as if it was injured. I seized this as the opportunity to shake his hand, crushing it just a tad. The guy hissed under his breath and gave me a forced smile. He left us quickly before Jasper could offer his hand.
I looked over my shoulder to see China…Bella — man, this was confusing, was headed our way with a pissed-off look on her face. In her hand was the tip Jasper had left. We quickly ducked out before she could reach us.
We hung around until the club closed. The streets of Portland were quiet at this late at night, but still not safe, especially for Bella, who tended to attract danger. We stayed in the shadows where we had a good view of the employee exit, so we could see when Bella left.
"For the last time, would you calm down, you are driving me crazy over here," Jasper hissed. "You're getting as bad as Edward."
I grumbled, but he was right. I had turned into a worrywart. But hell, if I was worried about something, it had to be something, right?
"Fine. Speaking of our dear brother, I'll calm down as soon as you tell me how you plan to block all this from him," I retorted.
His face stilled when it dawned on him. "Fuck." He growled.
Precisely my point.
Edward just might kill the messenger.
"What was Alice thinking?" I complained.
Jasper shot me another look — this time it was telling me to back off. I leaned against the side of the building and folded my arms in front of me.
"I'm assuming that Alice wanted us to help Bella in some way. We will wait here for her, and offer her some more financial assistance and whatever else we can do for her," Jasper explained with a hint of irritation.
"She would never take it. And that still doesn't tell me how we are going to block our minds from Edward. Your wife, as sweet as she is has fed us to an angry lion. Edward is going to be beyond furious when he finds this out," I vented.
"Well, he has no right to be … He wanted her to have a human life, and that is what she is doing. He has no right to judge how she is living her life. Besides, he should know. This might be Alice's way to push him to fix his mistakes," Jasper answered back.
He pulled out his phone and hit a button before bringing it to his ear. He scowled when no one answered. With an irritated sigh, he stuffed it back into his pocket.
The back door opened, and Bella stepped out with a few others. They exchanged good-byes before going separate ways. Bella started down the street with her head down, as she pulled her leather jacket tightly around her to block out the cold wind.
"Let's go." Jasper started following behind her.
With a sigh, I stepped from the shadows, and we made our pursuit. Bella's shoulders stiffened, and she started to walk a bit faster.
"We're scaring her." I grabbed Jasper's arm, planning on stopping. "She's not scared. She's determined and a bit irritated, but I think she knows it's us," Jasper answered back.
Bella took a sharp turn into a dark, damp alley before coming to stop. We entered after her cautiously. She turned to face us, fiddling with something under her coat. She looked up, and her eyes darted around as if she was searching for something or maybe someone. She frowned slightly before her gaze settled on us. Her frown turned into a harsh glare.
I hid my amusement that she didn't seem a bit afraid of us as a normal human should be … In a dark alley with two vampires late at night.
"Could you explain why the two of you are following me?" she huffed in irritation.
"We know it's you, Bella, you can't fool us." Jasper responded first.
She snorted and arched her eyebrows. "I wasn't trying to fool you. While at work, I'm China, but, that still doesn't explain why you are following me."
"China as in China doll. Is that a reference to how breakable you are?" I snickered.
She rolled her eyes and started to tap her foot impatiently. Apparently, she had lost her sense of humor while she was gone.
"How was the whiskey, Emmett? It looked a little too strong for you." She countered with a smirk.
I scowled because my stomach was still unhappy with me about that.
"Why are you working there? The Bella that I remember wasn't the type to set foot in a seedy place like that, let alone work in one. Are you that desperate for cash? Are you in some sort of trouble? Let us help you," I lectured, reaching into my pocket to see how much cash I had on me.
Bella's eyes narrowed and she bit back furiously. "I'm not that same Bella Swan anymore. I also don't need your charity. I can take care of myself just fine, thank you. In fact…" She dug her hand into her pocket and pulled out the wad of money Jasper had left for her. "Take it. I don't want anything from you out of guilt or pity, or for whatever this is for." She held it out and shook it looking angrier every second that it was still in her hand.
I glanced at Jasper to see what we should do. He was staring back at her unmoving. With a defeated sigh, I reached for the money. She let it go the second my hand touched the bills. I quickly grasped her by the elbow causing her to jump. She sneered and pulled back sharply. Luckily for her, I didn't resist, or she would've gotten hurt.
"Now if you don't mind, I would like to go home. I have school in the morning, and unlike vampires, I need to sleep."
"Bells, I can't let you leave until you promise me you'll find another job. Somewhere that is safe. You'll get hurt, working at a place like that," I argued.
Her eyes had softened for only a split second before they hardened again. "I'm not quitting my job. It isn't your place to make this decision for me. Please, go back to wherever you guys are now, and go back to pretending that I don't exist anymore. I can take care of myself."
She took a step around me and headed back out to the street. Her footsteps echoed on the dirty pavement.
"Bella, wait," Jasper called out quietly.
She stopped and heaved an exasperated sigh before turning around slightly. "What?"
"I never got to apologize to you for what happened. I owe you a big one, and it should have come much earlier than this." Jasper gave her a sad smile.
Bella returned a heartbroken smile and shook her head. "It wasn't your fault. I never blamed you for what happened. I was a clumsy girl, and you were just acting on instincts. I know it wasn't personal." Her shoulders rose and then dropped in a shrug.
She walked away without looking back, turning right where the alley met the sidewalk and disappeared from view.
"So what do we do now?" I pocketed the cash.
"We go home and find my wife to see what this was about," Jasper answered.
"And Edward? You know the idiot still loves her." I prodded.
Before heading into a lion's den, we needed a game plan. That much I knew.
"We're not going to be able to hide this from him, so I don't see the point in even trying."
Jasper said as he led the way to my Jeep.
"I'll rock, paper, scissors with you." I said as I followed behind. "Loser has to tell him."
A/N: So why is Bella working in a strip club of all places? Why would Alice send them there, if Bella was just going to refuse their help?
Note: Portland as in Oregon, in case you are wondering.
I plan on updating once a week(Fridays). I'm also going to something a little different this time and put previews on Facebook rather than at the bottom of the chapter. Previews will be either Tues. or Wed.
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