A/N: Hello and welcome to my new story! I'm quite excited to share it with you.
I'm very grateful to Pamela Lorraine for her feedback and cheerleading and Ninkita for lending me her editing prowess. The GORGEOUS banner for this story was created by Diane (obsessedtwibrarian)
I've got a few things to say, but I'll catch up with you at the bottom.
DISCLAIMER – Twilight and its inclusive material is copyright to Stephenie Meyer. Original creation, including but not limited to plot and characters, is copyright to the author. No copyright infringement is intended.
All remaining mistakes are mine. My research is heavily dependent on Google and a couple of TV shows, so, while I will try to make everything as realistic as possible, I might exercise creative license here and there. Cope, okay?
CHAPTER 1 : HOLDING ON
I shifted slightly, burying my cheek deeper into the pillow. Leaving my eyes closed, I tried to fall back into the restful sleep I'd enjoyed through the previous night. It wasn't often that I had the pleasure of losing myself in the dark oblivion of slumber so thoroughly. The amount of scotch I'd chugged at the party last night might've had something to do with it, though.
Another thing it was definitely responsible for was the pounding headache that was slowly inching its way into every fucking nook of my skull.
Groaning, I tried to shun my impinging consciousness away and cringed at the dull pain spreading through my brain, but it was futile.
Sounds and smells began to trickle into my senses, and when a woman's groan echoed mine, my eyes popped open immediately. Squinting against the light, I attempted to make sense of what was going on.
I was greeted by the sight of a mess of strawberry blonde curls spread over the opposite corner of my bed. I blinked slowly, my hungover mind struggling to run a hundred miles an hour as I tried to piece together the circumstances that could've led me here.
Before I could cast my thoughts back further than the party, the blonde head moved, and its owner turned onto her back. She wiggled, probably trying to get comfortable, only to let out a sigh of defeat before opening her eyes.
She looked at me and smirked, obviously more in control of her sanity than I was.
"Hey there," she greeted, patting my cheek before pushing herself into a sitting position.
As the jumbled pieces of my thoughts clicked into the most plausible explanation, I quickly ducked my head under the covers, breathing a sigh of relief when I saw that I wasn't naked, but had my sleep pants on.
A sly chuckle from the bathroom had me looking up in surprise. My partner-in-sleep had helped herself to the spare toothbrush in my cabinet and was applying a generous dollop of paste to it. She was wearing her own T-shirt with nothing but a set of lavender lacy panties, but the sight of some clothing on her body was enough to give me immense relief.
"Nothing happened, Cullen," Tanya muttered and then stuffed the toothbrush in her mouth. She threw me an eye-roll before walking back into the bathroom.
I fell back onto the pillow with a quiet moan, scrubbing my palms over my face to force myself to gain some much-needed coherence. Try as I may, I couldn't deny the relief I'd felt when she confirmed my supposition about last night. A moment later, I had gathered enough strength to pull myself to my feet. Stretching slightly, I scratched my head before heading into the kitchen. I poured myself a glassful of chilled water and chugged it down, savoring the cool liquid as it flowed down my parched-as-hell throat.
When Tanya walked into the room, I took the opportunity to head into the bathroom and freshen up as best as I could. Grabbing the bottle of painkillers, I helped myself to two pills, hoping to get some much needed relief from the pain that didn't show any signs of relenting just yet.
When I returned, Tanya was applying a huge spoonful of blueberry jam to a slice of bread. Once satisfied with her sandwich, she turned to me. She offered me a bite with a sweet smile that others might've had . . . did have trouble refusing to, but somehow, I'd managed to remain immune to her allures.
And that brought us to the question I needed an answer to, right away.
"Care to share how you found your way into my bed?" I inquired, sipping at the cup of coffee she had just passed my way. I took a seat on the stool, placing my hands and my cup on the counter and awaiting her answer.
Tanya shrugged. "You were passed out cold as soon as Jas and I deposited you on the bed. You woke up after a little while, though, complaining vehemently about how uncomfortable your jeans were and why I ever let you buy them. I saw your sleep pants lying around, so I handed them to you." She grinned. "You were so pleased with my help that you said I should stay here instead of driving home so late. The least you could offer me was a roof for the night in return for the pajamas— those were your exact words."
I rubbed my forehead, trying to remember what she was describing. Everything after the end of the party was pretty much a blur, but I could feel some bits of the conversation in question creep back into my memory.
"I meant that you could take the guest room, Tan," I murmured, shaking my head. "You had me worried there for a second."
"I just thought it'd be a good way of messing with you. You're too serious sometimes. You need me to pull you out of your funk. When you got shit-faced last night, I knew it was time to jazz things up a little bit. This was the best idea I could come up with. There was no other hidden agenda." Her face softened, ice-blue eyes gentling with a shimmer of pity I'd seen in them often. "Edward, don't you think that after six years of pursuing you in vain, I'd realize and accept the fact that I don't have a chance?"
I sighed, placing my cup down and rubbing at my temples. "Tanya, we work together. The Bureau has a poli—"
"I know about the Bureau's policy," she interjected, dismissing my excuse with a flick of her wrist. "Still, I can name at least five couples currently in relationships—from mindless fucking to serious commitment—right there in our office. When you want it to work, you can make it work." She laid a hand on mine, pulling it down from my temple to rest it on the counter. Leaning in, she ducked her head to meet my gaze. "You don't want to be with me. That's fine. Well, not fine, but you know what I mean. But if you've ever considered me a true friend, at least respect me enough not to lie to my face."
A huff of breath left my lungs, guilt flaring in my chest. "I'm sorry, Tan."
"I don't understand why you won't tell me . . . why you won't trust me," she continued softly. "Whatever it was, whoever it was who hurt you in the past, you can't move past it until you really try to let go. And you're not letting go, Edward. You know it's not healthy to hold on to the memories of someone who's long gone from your life, especially when they don't let you move on and just . . . live."
I looked away and she sighed, relenting for the moment, though I knew that another little intervention would be on her mind soon enough.
Tanya thought I needed to cope with the pain that'd been imposed upon me by someone in my past. She was right . . . in a way. If it had been as simple as that, I probably wouldn't have been as stuck as I was now. I would've dealt with it and at least begun to move on.
But it wasn't that simple.
I had been hurt by someone.
That someone had been me.
It was hard to deal with and put myself behind.
Thinking about the past always left my mind awash with memories—memories of the deepest brown eyes that shimmered with hope and joy, of a wide smile that one simply couldn't help but return, and of the rosy tinge that bloomed over her face every time I touched her.
My girl . . . who'd defied all norms since the first time I'd met her.
"I mean, come on! Who cares about all that crap?" she complained, gesturing animatedly with her free hand while the other held onto her glass of red wine. Her rich brown eyes were alight with the same passion that ignited her words. "It's her life, her relationship. Her parents may say what they like, but I told Angela that we could know a person for years and still never truly grasp what they're like. On the other hand, sometimes . . ." she paused, leaning closer as though about to tell a secret.
I leaned in, too, eager to listen to whatever she had to say.
"Sometimes, even a single meeting is enough to feel the connection that could hold you together for the rest of your lives," she murmured with conviction, and I felt my lips pull up into a smile of agreement.
When Garrett had set me up on this blind date, I hadn't been too sure, never having done this before. The girl wasn't even someone he knew directly. It was through a couple of common friends that he had heard of her single-and-ready-to-mingle status and decided to intervene. I almost considered cancelling at the last moment. But as soon as my date had walked in, wearing a deep blue dress that hugged her lithe body in just the right places, I'd thanked my lucky stars and planted my ass firmly in my chair.
As we greeted each other, her ruby red lips stretched into a smile that somehow added another dimension to the mesmerizing beauty of her face. Eyes wide and dark and deep, mahogany hair falling in loose waves down her back . . . she captivated me from the first moment we started talking.
We'd been talking freely throughout the meal, and now, as we waited for our dessert, we had landed up on the topic of the imminent nuptials of one of her friends.
On another day, with another girl, I probably would've been freaked out by the topic of marriage and love at first sight connections on the first date.
No, I definitely would've freaked the fuck out.
Today, though, I couldn't find any panic or awkwardness inside me. All my thoughts were solely focused on the beautiful, slightly strange, and very interesting girl in front of me, and how even though we hadn't parted ways yet, I could already feel the longing to see her again and soon.
Somehow, during my inner monologue, she realized exactly what she had been chattering about for the last five minutes. Her mouth fell open in horror.
"Oh my God!" she groaned. "I'm so sorry. I promise I'm not some crazy stalker who wants to marry you tomorrow. Not that you don't seem like a good enough man to marry! It's just that you asked about the friend who set me up with you tonight, and these days, all she can talk about is her upcoming wedding. You must think I'm crazy, talking about all this on our first date, an—"
"Breathe," I interrupted, reaching out to grab her hand in mine. I stroked her fingers lightly while she did as I'd asked. "I know you're not crazy, and I know you're not a stalker. I also have a cousin who recently had the wedding of her dreams. Though I don't get a chance to speak to her more than once in a few months, I still knew every bit of the arrangements through the grapevine comprising of my mother and my aunts. So I know how the wedding buzz works. It's like a tornado, isn't it? Sucking everyone around in its vortex," I joked, and she giggled in agreement.
"It's a lot worse when you're the Maid of Honor," she replied with a smile, obviously relieved that I wasn't running away.
To be honest, it'd surprised me, too—the easy manner in which I could brush aside her dating faux-pas. But it was something about her . . . something that pulled me in, something that made me want to get to know her more and more . . . even if it was details of her friend's wedding.
Tanya's voice brutally ripped me out of my recollection. I wordlessly pushed my mug toward her, the twinge of familiar regret burning in my chest.
Six years ago, when I'd had to make a choice, I'd chosen to let her go.
She had no choice but to let me go.
It would've been easier to move on if I'd made a mistake, or if she'd given me an ultimatum.
The reason that some part of me was still stuck back in time was because there had been no wrong choices.
Every day when I woke up, the what-ifs plagued my mind endlessly until I was distracted enough to push them away.
There had been very few women in my life since then, and none of them had lasted longer a couple of dates. I hadn't picked myself back up enough to commit myself to someone again. That was why I didn't want to have anything more than a friendship with Tanya. We worked together, but more than that, she was my friend . . . my best friend in the last six years. If we decided to take the plunge to something more, it could never just be a fling. Tanya expected more, deserved more, but I was not the man who could give it to her.
I could try, but if I failed, I would lose her.
And I wasn't sure how I would deal with another loss.
Sensing my discomfort, Tanya kept our conversation light while we finished breakfast. She had just pulled on her jeans from last night, and I was contemplating a shower when my cell phone rang.
I frowned when I saw the name flashing on the screen. I turned it toward Tanya and she shrugged in confusion before motioning for me to pick up.
"Morning, Boss," I said into the phone.
"Edward," McCarty's deep, gruff voice replied. "I hope you've managed to ward off that hangover by now."
I rubbed my forehead, hoping that I hadn't embarrassed myself too much in front of him last night. "It's fading away . . . slowly."
"Look," he started, then paused. There was a distinct note of discomfort in his voice and that worried me. McCarty was always calm and collected. If he was rattled, something big had happened. "I know it's your day off, but we've got a case. It's high profile, and I need my best team on it."
I winced, but resigned myself to my fate. "Alright, Boss. I'll tell the others to be at the office, while Tanya and I head over to the crime scene."
My eyes met Tanya's, and she glowered, obviously having caught the drift. I winced again, shaking my head helplessly, but she knew as well as I did that you didn't simply say no to Assistant Director Emmett McCarty.
"Thank you, Edward," McCarty told me. "I'll text you the address in a moment. First responders and local PD are already there. You can take the charge from them once you reach."
"Understood," I confirmed. "What's the case?"
"Billy Black was found dead an hour ago. There's some ambiguity about murder vs accidental death."
My eyebrows shot up, having heard the name several times in the news. The man spearheaded a massive empire comprising of several companies in different sectors. He was one of the wealthiest men in the country, and self-made, too—no inheritance had helped him get where he was; he had earned it all in his lifetime. I was sure he had his connections well established in the government. No wonder McCarty was wound up about the case. High-profile was an understatement.
"We'll be there," I replied before we hung up. My headache intensified at the thought of the hectic mess today was bound to turn into, but there was nothing I could do except soldier on.
I briefed Tanya on what McCarty had said. She decided to head over to her place to get ready, and once she left, I quickly showered the stench of last night's party off me.
After dressing in my jeans, a button-up shirt, and a jacket, I grabbed my gun and badge on the way out. McCarty's message came in just as I was sitting in the car. I punched the address into the GPS, thankful that Tanya's apartment would be on the way. Once I'd picked her up, I pressed down on the gas as we headed over to the freeway. The painkillers finally started to kick in, and I breathed a sigh of relief as the headache began to subside, albeit slowly.
Black Manor stood at the end of a long, winding driveway. I didn't know shit about architecture, but just the look of the mansion was enough to tell you that a lot of planning and even more money went into its construction. The garden out front was filled with people dressed to the nines and chairs covered in white satin and peach ribbons arranged in neat files.
"What's going on here?" I muttered as I pulled into a parking spot.
"You don't know?" Tanya looked at me in surprise. "Who am I kidding? Of course you don't know," she stated haughtily, rolling her eyes. "Do you even think about something other than work? Watch some TV, maybe?"
"Can you get to the point, Tan? I mean, no biggie, we've just got a cadaver waiting for us in there. He's probably not in a rush, huh?"
Tanya didn't appreciate my sarcasm, glaring as we stepped out of the car. She did however enlighten me on the wealth of information I'd apparently missed out on while burying my head in my cases. "Jacob Black, Billy's son and heir to the Black empire was going to get married today."
"Huh," I deadpanned as we walked along the stone-lined path leading to the main door of the mansion. "Guess this puts a damper on the celebrations, then?"
"I'd say so."
"McCarty said there wasn't clarity on whether the death was a murder or just an accident. I wonder what could've possibly happened with so many people in the house," I mused, and Tanya nodded.
"You and I both know that numbers could go either way, really. The more the merrier or the fewer the finer," she quipped, making me smile for a second.
"Let's find out," I said, and we stepped inside the house through the open door.
We entered what was obviously the living room. Little groups of people were scattered throughout the large room, hushed discussions floating through the air. Their state of clothing indicated that most of them were guests who'd come for the wedding. Also present were the local PD officers, who were interviewing the guests—or more like getting them to calm down and answer the required questions succinctly, while side-stepping nosy remarks and gossip about the family involved.
The inside of the house was just as elaborate as the exterior. The furniture and the surrounding décor screamed of the bucket-load of money spent over them. Personally, I didn't care so much about any of it, but I suppose to someone with a taste for this sort of shit, the various shades of brown fabric and wood would make quite an impression.
"Whoa," Tanya muttered as she took in the sight, while my attention shifted to the huge, circular staircase toward our right.
Just then, a deputy officer came rushing toward us. Tanya quickly made introductions, and he directed us to head up the stairs before his assistance was requested by a forensic technician who looked quite confused. We assured him that we would find our way from there on and started climbing up.
It was only when we landed on the second floor that we realized that the staircase led up to another floor above. Surprisingly enough, there was no-one except the two of us in sight.
"I'll head on upstairs," Tanya suggested, and I nodded.
I stepped further into the corridor while she left me. From what I could see, there were three rooms on this floor, two on one side and one on the opposite. The first door was slightly ajar, and I could hear some movement on the other side of it. The remaining two doors were firmly shut.
For the rest of my life, I would wonder exactly what it was that pulled me toward the first room – simple curiosity or something else equally intangible. I would never have my answer, but I would also never be able to deny that there was indeed something that tugged me closer to the room and its occupant.
Because, by this time, it was glaringly obvious to me that the crime scene wasn't here, but on the floor above. The absolute lack of activity in this hallway and the surrounding rooms made that clear.
Still, my feet moved in the direction of that half-closed door.
Maybe it was my subconscious, or maybe a gut instinct, the likes of which had led me to many successes in my previous cases.
Whatever it was, I was helpless to do anything but follow it.
With a gentle hand, I rapped on the door, unwilling to startle the person inside who was probably in there to gather themselves in the midst of the overwhelming tragedy.
My knock was met with no response, and the urge to find out exactly who was there on the other side of the door flared. Unable and unwilling to wait any longer, I pushed the door open and walked in.
For all my intuition and instincts, the sight that greeted me on the other side was one I hadn't even dared to imagine.
Standing before me was a woman with thick, mahogany hair glinting in the sunlight streaming through the huge window as it hung down to her waist in soft waves. She was looking into an ornate mirror, seemingly lost in her thoughts. She hadn't even noticed me standing behind her.
Her face was a mask of aloofness. The dark red shade of her lips stood out against the paleness of her skin, and the flush on her cheeks was so familiar that it sent a painful jolt of recognition down my spine.
I must've made some sort of a noise, because awareness suddenly flashed in her eyes . . . the deep brown pools I could've spent countless minutes staring into, and six years ago, I had done just that.
But what sent a brutal pang of pain ripping through my chest was her attire.
It felt as though time had frozen to an abrupt standstill, the world fading away completely, as she turned to meet my gaze. Her impassive façade fell dramatically in the wake of the astonishment that echoed my own.
And as I stood in front of the only girl I'd ever loved while she was wearing a wedding dress, only one word left my lips in a breathless whisper.
A/N: * * Did you all look at the genre? 'Suspense.' That's what it's going to be. There will be a lot of questions and no quick answers. That said, I won't be dragging it out, either ;) So sit back and enjoy the ride with Agent Cullen.
* * Updates will be on the 10th, 20th, 30th of each month, with teasers in between in my Facebook group. Come join us at 'Fanfiction by ForeverRobsessed' if you're interested. Link is on my profile here.
* * For all the WIP-wary readers out there, I have more than half of this story written. So you can rest assured - there will be no abandoning on this project. I'll stick to the update schedule to the best of my ability.
Until next time,
FIC REC - The Second Son of a Duke by For3verImmortal - Lord Edward is the second son of a duke and on one mistaken night, his fate and the fate of a Viscount's daughter is forever intertwined. Set in 19th century London.