Story Title: The Perfect Stranger
Summary: A wedding is supposed to be a happy occasion, but when the bride's family is trying to put a stop to Bella's brother's wedding, it's anything but joyful. But things are looking up when she meets a handsome stranger on a plane. Charming, intelligent, and incredibly sexy, Edward is everything she's looking for in a man, but is he too good to be true?
Pairing: Bella & Edward
Word count: 8567
Disclaimer: All things Twilight belong solely to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Perfect Stranger~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Don't be a stranger," Angela playfully ordered as we said our final goodbyes.
I gave her one big hug before making my way inside the airport. I'd had a lovely weekend catching up with my former roommate, but now it was time to head home and return to the drama that was the build-up to my brother's wedding.
It took me a few minutes, but eventually, when I'd figured out where I was meant to be going, I made my way through security and headed to the departure lounge.
Getting to the gate was a harder task than I thought, as everyone seemed to be heading in the same direction. I tried to hold my ground, but when people started pushing, I'd had enough. I was about to step aside until the initial rush had died down when some idiot pushed past with no thought to anyone else around him.
Caught off guard, I lost my balance. I pitched forward and would have fallen to the ground if not for the strong arms that quickly wrapped around my waist and pulled me back upright.
"Hey, asshole! Watch where you're going!" a deadly voice shouted.
Once I'd straightened myself out, I tentatively turned around to thank my savior, but all of my words melted away when I came face to face with the most handsome man I had ever seen.
He was so tall I had to lift my face to meet his eyes. His eyelashes were uncommonly long and dark. His eyes, I decided, were the most unusual shade of green I had ever seen: the color of emeralds, flecked with gold and hazel—unmistakably unique yet strangely familiar.
He was comfortably over six feet, with broad shoulders, immaculate fair skin, and the kind of perfectly chiseled features that wouldn't look out of place on the cover of GQ.
And don't even get me started on his hair. It was the most unusual shade of brown, with highlights of bronze and gold running through it that no bottle of dye could ever achieve.
I knew I was staring, but I couldn't seem to force myself to look away from him. Besides, I figured the dark-haired Adonis in front of me was probably used to it. And if the crooked smile that was playing on his face was anything to go by, then he knew I was blatantly checking him out.
"Are you okay?" he asked, concerned. The minute he spoke, I was gone. His voice was beautiful and unique with a sexy edge to it.
Swallowing, I said hoarsely, "Yes. Thank you for your help." My cheeks heated up in their tell-tale blush at being caught ogling him.
"You're welcome," he spoke before he turned, presumably heading to catch his flight.
Turns out, I didn't have to wait long to see the dark-haired Adonis again. I spotted him in the priority line for my flight, talking with one of the flight attendants. She was grinning from ear to ear, as enthralled by him as I'd been.
Not wanting a repeat of my earlier disaster, I waited until the lounge was almost empty before making my way to the front. Though the air hostess greeted me with a practiced, friendly smile, she eyed my passport strangely—definitely longer than necessary before turning a fake smile my way.
"Looks like today is your lucky day! You've been selected for an upgrade to first class."
"Really?" I asked, disbelieving. Things like this never happened to me.
"Yes, absolutely. This is your seat number," she said, pointing toward my ticket.
"Enjoy your flight, Miss Swan!" she added brightly before turning her attention to the passenger behind me.
Maybe my luck was turning around after all.
Making my way onboard, I was a little overwhelmed. I felt out of place in first class, but I tried to push my self-consciousness aside. When the flight attendant offered to escort me to my seat, I waved off her offer. I felt like enough of a fraud already without having her fussing over me.
When I located my seat, I noticed the guy in the seat next to me was facing the window, but there was no mistaking who he was. His hair was so distinctive I would recognize him anywhere.
I hurried to put my luggage into the overhead compartment, mindful of causing a disruption. However, my bag was bulkier than I anticipated, and I was struggling to get it into the designated area when a familiar voice spoke.
"Allow me," he insisted. Without waiting for my response, he took the bag from me as if it weighed nothing and effortlessly put it in place in less than ten seconds.
"Hello again," he said, smiling what I could only describe as a beautifully crooked smile.
"I guess we didn't really get the chance to introduce ourselves properly earlier," he added.
I looked up and smiled when I saw his hand held out toward me.
"I'm Edward Masen."
"Bella Swan," I replied and barely stifled a sigh as his warm fingers closed around mine.
"It's nice to meet you, Bella Swan."
I went to remove my hand from his and was surprised when he held on to my fingers for a moment longer than necessary.
Edward smiled again, and I couldn't help the blush that stained my cheeks again. I found it hard to look away from his piercing eyes, but when someone cleared their throat behind us, I quickly came back to reality. I ducked my head and sat in my seat.
"Can I get you a drink, Mr. ..."
I recognized the eager flight attendant from earlier. There was no denying the sickly sweet smile she had plastered on her face, but that disappeared when Edward cut her off.
"That's fine," he replied, swiftly dismissing her. If she didn't look impressed before, she looked even more displeased when he turned his attention to me. "What are you drinking, Bella?" he asked.
"I'll have a gin please," I said without hesitation. I needed something to calm my nerves.
While I was busy ogling Edward, I'd put my anxiety to one side, but now that I was in my seat, nervously twisting my fingers in my lap, I could feel my panic rising.
Once my drink arrived, I downed it in one go and heard a chuckle beside me.
"Nervous flyer?" Edward guessed.
"Am I that obvious?" I asked, trying to get my anxiety under control.
For some reason, I didn't want to appear weak in front of this man. He was strong and clearly very important. I wasn't basing this on his fancy clothes and obvious money. The way he carried himself screamed power, and he had an air of superiority about him.
"Well, it was either that or you're an alcoholic, considering the speed at which you downed that drink." He grinned a wonderfully crooked grin that did strange things to my insides.
"So, Bella, what brings you to Seattle?" Edward asked after a brief moment of silence.
"I'm returning home actually. I was visiting my roommate from college. She's living in Chicago now, so I was spending a long overdue weekend with her. What about you? Are you traveling home or away on business?" I asked.
"A bit of both actually. My family lives not far from Seattle. I haven't been back since Christmas so it will be nice to get home to see them. But I have some business to attend to first."
Although I was nervous about the flight, I quickly forgot about that with Edward sitting next to me. His very presence calmed my nerves, and he was being really sweet, keeping me talking, no doubt trying to distract me from the flight.
I was so caught up in the moment that I nearly jumped out of my skin when he reached out and took my hand in his when the captain announced the plane was about to take off. My skin seemed to buzz and burn where his fingers had skimmed.
We didn't speak again as the plane pulled away and taxied down the runway. It wasn't until after the seat belt sign flicked off and people had started moving around the cabin that we resumed our conversation.
We chatted quietly, speaking in low tones, mindful of disturbing those around us.
Normally, I was never comfortable around people I didn't know, but there was something about Edward that put me at ease instantly. As we continued to talk and get to know one another better, I learned that Edward was also twenty-six he was born and raised not far from Seattle but moved to Chicago for college, then stayed there after he graduated.
In return, I told him more about my home back in Forks, which Edward recognized immediately. I told him about my father, Charlie, and my stepmother, Sue, as well as my real mom, Renee, and our frosty relationship.
At first, I worried that my ordinary life would sound too boring to him, but the more I spoke, the more Edward wanted to know. He seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, so I continued talking, telling him about my interests and hobbies and how ridiculously clumsy I was.
Not only was Edward gorgeous and kind; he was charming, intelligent, and funny too. I couldn't remember the last time I'd smiled as much. Before I knew it, an hour had passed, and Edward ordered a bottle of prosecco after I'd expressed a dislike for champagne.
"So what do you do for a living?" I asked, genuinely intrigued. From his manner and caring nature, I had him pegged as a doctor, maybe a vet—a caring profession.
"I'm a lawyer," Edward said smoothly. "How about you?"
So it turns out, he did have one major flaw, I thought dryly.
Struggling to keep my expression impassive, I replied, "I'm a kindergarten teacher."
"That must keep you on your toes."
"They have their moments," I agreed. "But I love my job. I love making a difference."
"Before they're older and corrupt," Edward teased.
"Exactly!" I replied, a little puzzled by his choice of words.
"So what was that about before?" he asked, looking mildly amused.
"I don't know what you mean."
"When I mentioned I was a lawyer, you grimaced," he said, pulling a face that made me laugh.
Edward was certainly more observant than I gave him credit for.
"You're not in trouble with the law, are you?" he joked, but his humor did little to lift my spirits. Just the thought of my soon-to-be sister-in-law's obnoxious uncle dampened my mood immediately.
"No, nothing like that," I grumbled, feeling my anger return. "My brother's getting married this month."
"Surely that's good news." Edward paused thoughtfully, then nodded understandingly. "Ah, let me guess. You don't like his choice of bride?"
I scoffed. He couldn't have been further from the truth, and I told him as much.
"No, not at all. Rosalie's great. It's her family that's the problem. Well, one family member in particular is causing trouble. Her uncle is determined to stop the wedding."
Edward's smile vanished, and he looked away before I could read his expression. "What's his problem?"
"He's deliberately trying to cause trouble and talk Rose out of it. He's only jealous! He's some big lawyer in the city—cynical and probably a woman hater!" I joked, but Edward didn't look amused. If anything, he looked offended by my comments, so much so that I felt the need to defend myself.
"I'm not saying all lawyers are like that. He's just particularly nasty. He's doing everything he can to stop the wedding by putting pressure on Rosalie to call it off. He's not even met Emmett, but he's already decided he's not good enough for his precious niece!" I vented.
"Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, Bella," Edward interjected. "Maybe he's just looking out for her. For them both."
"And I'm not?" I snapped, letting my temper get the better of me. It wasn't Edward's fault, and I immediately apologized.
"Sorry, it's been an exhausting day. I had Emmett on the phone last night, worrying about this big meal with the family next week, and Mr. Big Shot has finally decided to grace us with his presence. Rosalie shouldn't have to put up with this so close to the wedding. This is supposed to be the happiest time of her life, and he's ruining it." By the time I came to the end of my rant, I was practically out of breath.
"And fifty percent of marriages last," I added, by which Edward looked amused.
"Do you truly believe it will last?" he asked.
"Of course. They might be young, but they're meant to be together." I was adamant.
"But how can you be so sure?" Edward seemed genuinely interested. "How do you know it isn't young love or their hormones getting the better of them?"
"If you saw them together, you would understand. Sure, my brother might not have got the highest grades in school or be made of money, but having the perfect boyfriend doesn't guarantee happiness. Rosalie had that before. She had a boyfriend from the right family. Royce certainly played the part of the perfect boyfriend, but that's all it was—an act." I shuddered just thinking about Rosalie's cruel ex.
"What did he do?" Edward asked, but I could see he was fighting to keep his expression neutral.
"He's a vile excuse of a human being who abused her physically and mentally. He beat her up and tried to force her to do things she wasn't ready for."
Tears welled up in my eyes as memories of Emmett bringing a battered and bruised Rose to our house resurfaced.
"He did what?" Edward yelled, and I was startled to see the fury on his face. "Why didn't anyone stop him?"
"We didn't know, Edward! Like I said, Royce was a very good liar; he did everything he could to cover his tracks. Then one day, his mask slipped. Emmett saw him being rough with her and put the pieces together. He'd been in love with Rosalie since they were kids but stayed away after Royce warned him off—told him he wasn't good enough for the precious Cullens. Emmett accepted that they could never be any more than friends, but he refused to stand by and watch what Royce was doing to her."
"What did he do?" Edward asked, thankfully seeming calmer now.
"He beat the shit out of him and got locked up in jail for it. Can you believe that? After what that scumbag did, my brother was the one who ended up in jail. If it hadn't been for Rosalie threatening to go to the police about Royce, he'd still be in jail now!"
"So this guy, he got away with it?" Edward was snapping again, as if he couldn't help it. I could almost see the effort he made as he tried once more to rein it in.
"It was Rosalie's choice. Emmett tried to persuade her. We both did, but she's stubborn. She wanted to forget all about him and move on with her life."
"And they got together?"
"No, not right away. It took a while for Rosalie to trust him. What Royce did damaged her confidence. When she was ready, she gave Emmett a chance."
"And they're happy?" Edward asked.
"Ridiculously happy. You only have to look at them to see that Emmett worships the ground she walks on. I'd give anything to have what they have." I sighed wistfully. As I came to the end of my confession, I realized I'd said too much. "Sorry, I got carried away there," I admitted, embarrassed. I'm sure he wasn't interested in any of my family dramas.
"Don't be sorry. I like hearing what you're passionate about. That said, to play devil's advocate, what's the rush? Why not wait a few years? If they love each other as much as you say, surely they can wait."
"I understand what you're saying, but why wait? They've found each other, so why not celebrate it? Have you ever loved someone so much you'd do anything for them? Do anything to be with them and make them happy?"
"No, I haven't," Edward said solemnly. "Have you?"
"No, I'm not so lucky. Renee says I have my head in the clouds, waiting for the perfect man to come along and sweep me off my feet, but I know it will happen. Perhaps it's stupid to hold out, but that doesn't mean I'm giving up hope of finding the one," I confessed in a soft voice.
"It's not stupid, Bella," Edward assured me before swiftly changing the conversation. "So tell me about Emmett? What's he like?"
"He's the biggest guy you could meet. Intimidating if you didn't know him, but underneath it, he's a big softie."
"You're close," Edward surmised.
"Absolutely. He's the little brother I never wanted but the best brother there is. I remember the first time my dad introduced the two of us. My mom had been gone awhile, and Dad had just started dating Sue. I was used to it being just the two of us, so needless to say, I was somewhat apprehensive about the idea of a stepbrother, a much younger one at that. I'm ashamed to admit I was a bit of a brat about it. I planned on being difficult, but then I met Emmett, and he won me over with his goofy grin and cheeky dimples.
"He's always been there for me. He's my best friend and the best man I know. He's very protective. I remember one time, this boy from my class was giving me hassle. All year, Mike had made my life a living hell. If there was a way to humiliate me, trust me, he'd try. He made the mistake of trying it in front of Emmett one time after school." I laughed at the memory of Emmett marching up to the school jock. "I don't think he ever got over the humiliation of being beaten up by a twelve-year-old. Emmett was half his size, but you should have seen him take on the school's quarterback. He got grounded for a month when our parents found out, but Mike never bothered me again."
"He sounds like a good guy," Edward commented. "A good husband?"
"The best," I answered automatically. "He'll look after them. I know he will."
I was unaware of my slip until my gaze met Edwards shocked one.
"Them?" he repeated, his eyebrows raised high. "Well?" he said, drawing me in with those piercing eyes of his that were quickly becoming my undoing. It was no wonder he was a lawyer. I had a feeling he could extract whatever information he wanted with a single look. I nervously bit my lip at the prospect of telling him something for which I'd been sworn to secrecy.
Oh, what the hell. It's not like he would tell anyone.
"I shouldn't say anything, but I'm too excited to keep it in. Rose is pregnant." I beamed.
"Oh!" Edward seemed temporarily speechless, but he quickly recovered. "Congratulations. That explains the rush to the aisle. Are your parents making them get married?"
"Hardly. They don't even know about the baby."
"Emmett's old-fashioned, and although it wasn't exactly planned, he wants to do things the right way. I'm sure people will judge them, but what business is it of theirs? Rosalie's family are hardly squeaky clean themselves," I replied defensively.
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing," I said quickly, brushing his observations aside, but Edward was undeterred.
"If you're worrying about me going to the cops, this is strictly off the record. Scouts honor," he promised, holding his hands up in surrender.
Needing a break from Edward's intense stare, I sipped my drink slowly while considering my next sentence very carefully.
"Let's just say Emmett's future in-laws are hardly law-abiding citizens."
"So what, they've had a few scrapes with the law?" Edward offered.
"It's a bit more serious than that," I admitted sheepishly. I felt wrong talking about the Cullens like this, but there was something about Edward that made me open up to him without question. "I don't know much. Emmett won't tell me the details. He doesn't want me involved, but I'm not stupid. Besides, I've heard things, whispers around town about their activities. In a town as small as Forks, gossip is inevitable. I've heard the rumors about their less than legitimate businesses and people miraculously disappearing once they've gotten on the wrong side of the Cullens."
"So they're part of some sort of gang?"
"They're not a part of a gang, Edward. They're part of the mafia! Rosalie's dad is the leader of the mafia!"
I don't know how I expected him to react, but Edward seemed unfazed by what I had told him. If anything, he seemed even more intrigued, but I suppose that was the lawyer in him wanting to know all the facts.
"Wow, that's something you don't hear every day. Your brother is quite literally marrying into the mob. How do you feel about that?"
"It doesn't matter what I think of their illegal activities. As long as they keep Emmett out of their dodgy dealings, I don't care."
"Is that even possible? I'm no expert, but if what you say is true, surely he won't have a choice."
"Honestly, I'm absolutely terrified that Emmett will get caught up in the family business, but he's smart, and I hope he can stay out of it. From what I can gather, some members of the family are less involved than others."
"That's very understanding of you. I'm not sure many people would be so open-minded."
I shrugged off Edward's praise. "Rose makes him happy. That's all I want for him, and besides, despite their obvious flaws, who am I to judge them? Just because they do bad things, it doesn't make them bad people," I justified. "Although I will admit one of the brothers terrifies me!" I shuddered while Edward appeared to be fighting a smile. "It's true! Jasper's very perceptive. I think he knows I'm on to them."
After that, our conversation turned to much lighter topics, and once again, I lost track of time listening to his smooth voice. It was like we were in our own little world, so when the captain's voice came across the speakers, announcing that we would be descending toward the runway, we were both startled.
I felt a strange pull at my heart at the thought of saying goodbye. I couldn't explain it, but I was devastated at the thought of having to let him go.
We were both quiet for a few moments. I'd like to think we were both disheartened at the prospect of saying goodbye. The next half an hour was a bit of a blur, and before I knew it, the plane had landed, and we were collecting our luggage.
Edward, of course, insisted on helping me with my bags.
"Shall we?" He held out his arm, and I took it unsteadily as we walked toward arrivals.
"So, I guess this is where we say goodbye, then..." My voice trailed off once we stepped outside.
I looked up, and Edward looked at me intently, a playful smile tugging on his lips as he said, "Or you could give me your number, and I'll call you."
"Oh!" I said, surprised but nonetheless elated as we exchanged numbers.
"I've got a feeling we'll be seeing each other again." Edward dipped down to kiss my cheek. I was still recovering from the feeling of his lips against my skin, and when I looked up, I caught sight of him getting into an expensive-looking black car, and then he was gone.
I'd like to say I heard from Edward right away, but that would be a lie. I heard nothing the next day nor the day after, nor any of the other days that followed.
That didn't stop me from checking my phone excessively.
It sounds ridiculous, but I felt a connection to him, and I thought he had too. Was that the reason I couldn't stop thinking about him?
When it came to the end of the week and still, I'd heard nothing, I was heartbroken. Embarrassingly, I attempted to call him myself, but my call went straight to voicemail, where I left an awkward, panicked message, then immediately deleted it.
Thinking back to our time on the plane, I was sure he'd felt the same attraction, but perhaps he was just humoring me? I think I made the common mistake of being flattered by his attention and thinking that I was winning his heart as he had mine.
In the meantime, I tried my best to put Edward Masen to the back of my mind. After all, I had other things to worry about.
Today was the day of Rosalie and Emmett's pre-wedding dinner.
I was dreading it and tried to get out of going, but Rosalie was having none of it.
"Please, Bella," she begged. "I need you there. Can you believe my uncle Tony's actually looking forward to meeting you?"
"Don't be absurd," I replied dismissively.
"It's true. He tried to hide it, but you should have seen the way his eyes lit up when he saw your photo. This is huge. Tony never shows an interest in anyone. You could be just the thing he needs to..."
"Rosalie, no!" I interrupted, sensing where she was going with this. "You're not using me as bait to win your uncle over!"
"You might not be saying that when you see him. He's quite the catch," she proudly stated.
Perhaps a few days ago, a handsome man would have caught my attention, but all week, the only thing I'd thought about was Edward. To be quite honest, I was nursing a bruised ego.
"It doesn't matter anyway. I'm off men," I said bitterly.
"Since I met the perfect guy, who turned out to be just as disappointing as the rest," I countered.
"Oh, Bella, you never said. What happened, and how am I only hearing about this now?" she demanded.
So I told her everything—how I met Edward, how I fell for him, how excited I'd been when we'd exchanged numbers. I couldn't stop a few stray tears from falling when I told her I'd heard nothing since.
Though she tried to be optimistic, we both knew I was being given the brush-off loud and clear.
"Well, it's his loss anyway. If he can't see what an amazing person you are, then you're better off without him," she said defiantly. She was a good friend.
"Speaking of losers. You will never believe what I heard today," she announced suddenly. I was unprepared for the next words out of her mouth.
"Royce died in a car accident this week!"
"Yeah, his car was a complete wreck. His body was apparently unrecognizable. They had to use dental records to identify him."
After Rosalie's bombshell, I barely had a chance to process what she'd told me before it was time to start getting ready for dinner.
I was a little unsure of the outfit I'd chosen. It was a dark blue knee-length dress, tight fitted and totally unlike anything I'd ever worn before. But the blue silk made a nice contrast to my pale skin, or so Rosalie told me.
Tonight was all about seizing the moment, and even if it was only for one night, I was determined to forget about Edward Masen.
I had one last look at myself in the mirror before grabbing my purse and begrudgingly making my way to the restaurant.
The Cullens had booked a table at one of Port Angeles' most exclusive restaurants that screamed money and influence. Though I usually hated these types of places, I couldn't deny how beautiful it was. I was so dazzled by everything that I could barely take in the huge chandeliers, black-suited waiters circulating with champagne, and elaborate table displays.
All of the women were immaculately groomed, clothed in expensive dresses and even more elaborate jewelry, while the men were dressed in equally smart suits.
It was like getting a glimpse into another world.
Making my way inside, I spotted Rosalie and her mother straight away.
Esme Cullen wasn't the sort of woman who could blend in to the background. She was absolutely beautiful and looked far younger than her forty years.
When I went over to join her, she pulled me into a gentle hug. "It's lovely to see you again, Bella. You look beautiful," she complimented.
Not long after, her husband, Carlisle, came over and greeted us. I'd never realized how green his eyes were before. My thoughts immediately turned to Edward before I berated myself for thinking about him.
Suddenly, I noticed Rosalie's expression change to delight. Intrigued, I looked across the room, and my heart stopped dead in my chest. I did a double-take.
Standing just inside the doorway, he was a fantasy come to life. I couldn't believe he was here. Part of me was horrified, but a larger part was thrilled. He looked more gorgeous than I remembered. How that was even possible, I wasn't sure. He looked magnificent in a beautifully tailored suit that fit his body perfectly.
His gaze swept over me slowly before his glinting gaze met mine.
"Tony, I can't believe you made it!"
I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach when I heard the excitement in Rosalie's voice.
Edward was Rosalie's uncle!
I was still in complete shock.
Apparently, I was the only one.
Edward didn't look shocked. In fact, he looked downright smug. He looked completely calm and oblivious to the chaos that was running through my mind.
When he reached us, Esme grabbed him by the shoulders and kissed both cheeks.
"Auntie Esme." He laughed as she embraced him like a son before Rosalie started to make the introductions.
"Edward, this is Bella. Bella this is my uncle Tony, or Edward, as he's known to everyone else." She laughed, completely unaware of the death stare I was sending his way.
I was barely listening as Esme explained why Rosalie called him Tony. Apparently, it had something to do with Edward's middle name being Anthony, but to be honest, I didn't care.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Bella," Edward said smoothly, a smile tugging at his lips. He extended his hand toward me, pretending not to know who I was. I didn't know if I was mad or relieved.
For a while, I couldn't speak. I just stood there, looking horrified as I thought about all the things I'd said when I thought Edward was a stranger. My stomach churned, and I was terrified that I might actually throw up.
"Ahhh, Bella, I see you've met my younger brother," Carlisle said as he looked down at me, his green eyes dancing in amusement.
"I have." My voice sounded casual to my own ears, but I was reeling from this new development.
Looking between Carlisle and Edward, I saw the similarities much more clearly now. Although there was quite an age difference between the two of them, they were obviously related, and I felt like an idiot for not noticing it sooner.
"Shall we head over to our table while we wait for the others to arrive?" Esme suggested.
"Yes, I'll just run to the ladies' room first," I said quickly before making my way to the restrooms, which were thankfully empty.
Overwhelmed, I fell against the wall, breathing heavily. Oh, God. What had I done?
I can't believe I'd spilled Rosalie's secrets to someone determined to put a stop to the wedding. He had all the ammunition he needed, thanks to me and my big mouth.
And to think I actually thought for one second Edward returned my affections. All along, it was a trick to get information out of me, and I'd fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.
I felt physically sick, and I tried to control my now erratic breathing.
After some minutes, I stood up, fixed my hair, and straightened out my dress before I planted a fake smile on my face and made my way back to the table.
I didn't know how I was going to look Emmett in the eye.
I expected to hear shouting from the restrooms once Edward spilled his poison, but when I returned to the table, only laughter resounded. I noticed Rosalie's other uncle, Jasper, and his wife, Alice, had arrived along with the rest of my family.
Emmett came over, looking worried, and grasped my hand.
"Are you all right, Bella?" he asked.
"I'm fine," I replied, looking down. His concern made me feel terrible, and I swallowed back the guilt as I sat down in my seat—conveniently across from Edward!
Whatever happened tonight, I was determined to be there for Emmett and get through whatever Edward or Tony or whatever the hell his name was had planned.
I made the mistake of meeting Edward's eye. For a moment, he looked concerned, but his trademark smirk soon returned.
While the rest of the table settled into easy conversation and playful banter, I couldn't relax as I thought about all the things I'd told Edward when I believed he was a stranger.
After we'd finished our starters, talk inevitably turned to the upcoming nuptials.
"So what about you, Edward? Will there be a Mrs. Masen joining us for the big day?" Sue cheerfully asked.
I snorted inelegantly, not even attempting to hide my disbelief. "I pity the poor woman," I muttered under my breath, which earned me a disapproving look from Sue.
I heard a few low chuckles around the table, letting me know I'd been far from subtle.
"No, there's no Mrs. Masen right now. I'm still hopeful that one day, there will be. You know, not all women hate me," Edward joked, staring across at me.
"You just haven't met the right woman yet. You'll know when you find her." When Sue reached across the table and patted his hand reassuringly, I wanted to throttle her. "Now when's our Bella gonna settle down? That's what I want to know," she added, sending a pointed look my way. "You're not getting any younger."
"Don't start, Sue." I glared across at her. "I'm happy on my own."
Dad spoke up. "Come on, Bells. There's no need to be so defensive. Sue means no harm."
I felt like the room was closing in on me, and just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, Rosalie spoke up. "She's just upset her dream man hasn't called yet, but there's no saying he won't be in touch."
She was trying to help, but her words of encouragement made it worse.
"Maybe he's busy or he got held up on whatever business he had to take care of," she added.
I could feel myself sweating. I purposely avoided looking at Edward, who know doubt found the whole thing one big joke.
"What's this? You've met someone?" Dad homed in on me like a laser.
"N—No," I stammered, looking everywhere but at Edward.
Sue thrived on any hint of gossip. "You didn't mention anyone. Why didn't you tell us?"
"Because there's nothing to tell, so just drop it, okay? It's for the best. He's not the person I thought he was. He's a liar anyway!" I said shakily, taking a swig of my wine. I glared across at Edward and downed the rest of my drink before reaching across the table to pour myself another one.
The rest of night continued much in the same way. Dinner was torturous, and sitting directly across from Edward didn't help. Every look and comment felt like a personal dig at me. I felt like I was walking on eggshells around him. He was toying with me, I was sure.
Was there some sort of retaliation for telling the mob's secrets? Had I effectively broken some unspoken treaty? I wasn't sure.
Then there was Jasper. Throughout dinner, I could sense him watching Edward and me closely. It was a little unnerving, to say the least.
If the looks he sent me were anything to go by, it was obvious Edward had told him everything I'd said.
When the main course came out, I forced as much of it down as I could after Dad commented on how I'd barely touched by starter. I could hardly tell him the reason for my sudden lack of appetite, so instead, I forced every morsel down. I was relieved when dessert was finally served and I could plan my escape from this disastrous evening.
Of course, that wasn't the end of the evening. Oh, no. Carlisle and Esme insisted that we make a toast to the happy couple.
At that moment, Edward had to dig the knife in further. He tipped his chin, beckoning a waiter, who hurried over. "Can I have a bottle of your finest Prosecco?
"Indeed, sir. I will get it right away," the eager waiter replied.
"Excellent." Edward smiled across at me. "You'll have a glas, won't you, Bella?" he offered.
If I didn't know any better, I'd think he was trying to be nice, but I knew he was toying with me.
His mind games aside, there were bigger concerns to deal with, and when the waiter came to fill Rosalie's glass, both she and Emmett sheepishly looked for an excuse to avoid drinking.
It turns out, they needn't have bothered.
Edward was quick to step in.
I nearly choked on my own drink when he smoothly announced, "Rose, you know you shouldn't be drinking that."
I stared at him, my wide, panicked eyes meeting his concerned ones.
This was the moment he'd been waiting for all night. Tears inexplicably worked their way to my eyes, and I looked down, unable to witness the fireworks about to take place.
"You've got a few years 'til you turn twenty-one yet," he added smoothly.
"Oh, don't be a bore, Edward," Carlisle warned, but Rosalie and Emmett happily went along with him while I let out the breath I was holding.
It was a let-off for now, but for how long did Edward plan on making me suffer?
The next hour dragged by painfully slowly, and I was vaguely aware as the restaurant emptied until there was only our table and a few other couples lingering.
Even then, the family seemed in no hurry to leave, so while they were busy discussing some last-minute changes to the seating plan, I made a beeline for the restrooms.
This time, there was a lady already in there. She smiled sympathetically when she noticed my downtrodden expression.
"Are you okay, Miss?"
I didn't have chance to reply before someone came barging inside.
Not just anyone.
"Hey, you can't be in here!" she complained, but Edward paid no attention.
"Get out," he ordered menacingly. I sensed she was about to protest, but one look at Edward's face seemed to cut short her argument. She left, but not without sending an apologetic smile my way.
I didn't realize I was pacing around the room nervously until Edward came over and gently touched my arm. I felt the same thrill rush through my body at his touch, but I pushed him away.
"Are you okay?" He sounded concerned.
"Don't touch me!" I yelled.
"We need to talk, Bella."
My eyes widened. Was he for real? After everything he'd put me through tonight, he now wanted to talk?
Sheer anger all but took my breath away. "How can I believe a single word that comes out of your mouth?"
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Edward barked, his nostrils flaring, his fists clenched.
"Since the moment we met, you have done nothing but lie to me!"
"Now, hold on a minute," Edward shouted.
"No! You hold on!" I demanded, alcohol making me brave. "I don't care who the hell you and your family are. That doesn't give you the right to use me and lie to my face," I accused. "You made me believe you were this perfect guy, when all that time, you were just playing me to get information to use against me and my family." I sounded as defeated as I felt.
Edward, meanwhile, was struggling to keep his expression neutral. In fact, he was smirking, almost as though he found every word I was saying amusing.
I turned on my heel and would have stomped back to our table had Edward not taken hold of my shoulders and spun me around, not forcefully but enough to halt my escape. Then, before I could even come up with a response, he had me pinned up against the wall. I let out a small gasp when he pulled me against him, the movement abrupt and almost rough, a sharp contrast to the playfulness in his eyes.
My heart was beating rapidly in my chest; I was sure he could feel it. I could feel every part of him pressed up against me. And I mean all of him. He was too close for me to think straight.
"Are you done?" His expression was downright smug.
I glared up at him, suddenly furious, but before I could come up with a witty comeback, he grabbed the back of my head and planted a firm kiss on my surprised lips.
His kiss was not sweet or calm. It was devouring, hard, and desperate. It was as if he'd wanted to do that for a very long time and he had just now lost complete control and had actually done it.
I was too startled by the kiss to respond at first, and I remained unmoving under his caress for the briefest of seconds, too dazed to do or think anything. Then my senses took over, and I responded to the kiss on instinct and need.
I heard myself make a sound I had never made before—somewhere between a gasp and a groan. A part of me was aware of how wanton I was being, but I didn't care when Edward deepened the kiss, tasting and exploring as his hands drifted down my back and cradled my hips, drawing me even closer to him.
Unable to control myself, I reached up and tangled my hands in his hair. He licked my bottom lip, asking for entrance, which I readily gave. His tongue swirled inside my mouth. Then he took my bottom lip between his teeth. Our mouths pressed together, as our tongues explored one another's.
We clung to each other, but when we finally separated to catch our breath, we were both breathing heavily. I stumbled but Edward pulled me securely against him. I fell against his chest, my body still tingling with the aftershocks of his kiss. I tried to control my now erratic breathing and get my head together. I looked up at him, nervous and a little angry.
"Why are you doing this?" I asked, confused by his sudden mood swings.
"You know why, Bella. You feel it too." He released my waist abruptly, reaching out to tenderly take my face in his hands.
He went to kiss me again, but I pushed him away.
"I need answers, Edward. I don't know who you are! I don't know what's real anymore. You've got to consider it from my point of view. I thought my luck was finally turning around when I met this great guy on a plane. I thought we had something special, and then you were gone without another word. Was it a set-up from the start? Did you only start talking to me so you could get information from me?"
"Bella, I won't lie to you. I've done some digging into your family. I had to know who Rose was marrying into. I'd seen your picture, but that's all. When we bumped into each other at the airport, that was pure coincidence. I got you bumped up to first class, not to extract information from you but because I wanted to get to know you." Edward took a deep breath before continuing. "I live and work in a hard, cynical world, Bella. I deal with difficult, sometimes nasty people on a daily basis. And then I met you—this beautiful, caring, funny woman. It's incredibly selfish of me to plunge you into this situation, but I can't help myself. I knew that I wanted you from the moment we met. Ever since that day, I haven't stopped thinking about you," he told me sincerely. "And I would have called you sooner, but as you can see, that was a little difficult." Edward reached inside his jacket pocket to pull out a phone that now had cracks running across the screen in every direction.
I started to speak, but Edward put a finger against my lips.
"I know you have more questions, and I will try to answer them, but there are things I can't tell you. Not because I don't trust you, but for your own safety."
"I'm not a bad person, Bella. Yes, I've done bad things, but everything I've done has been for the good of the family. I try to stay out of it as much as I can, but there are times when I have to intervene."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
Edward looked reluctant but finally answered. "Let's just say that my position allows access to certain individuals who could come in handy when necessary."
"You mean bribery? Corruption?" I guessed. Edward nodded. "Have you killed anyone?" The question had been at the back of my mind ever since I realized who he was.
"Yes. But they were hardly innocent," Edward justified.
"Do you really want to know? Trust me, it's better for you if you don't know all the details."
"I suppose you're right," I agreed. Maybe it was best to stay in the dark about certain aspects of Edward's life.
As I thought about everything he'd told me, I realized it made no difference in the way I felt about him.
I knew it was too late for me. I had already fallen in love with him. I loved his height and strength. I even loved his dedication to his family. I loved everything about him.
I wasn't totally naïve, though. I knew there were things about him that I didn't know and perhaps never would, but it didn't change the fact that I loved him anyway.
"I have to ask…" I paused, unsure how to ask what I wanted to say. "After what I told you about Royce, he suddenly turned up dead a few days later. That's no coincidence, is it?" I watched Edward for any signs of guilt, but he gave nothing away.
"It's what we do, Bella. I couldn't let him get away with what he did to Rose. He got what he deserved," Edward said, not a hint of remorse.
"Does Carlisle know?"
"I had to tell him. As head of this family but also as Rose's dad, he had the right to know. I didn't go into detail. That's her story to tell if and when she's ready. I just told him I knew Royce had hurt her."
Though I knew Royce was an awful human being, I still couldn't help feeling a little guilty about the repercussions of my actions. As if he could sense my guilt, Edward was quick to reassure me.
"Hey, don't go wasting your sympathy on that scumbag. He got what was coming to him. We protect our family, Bella. I won't apologize for that."
"Do they know about baby too?" I asked. If Edward felt the need to tell them about Royce, what else had he told the family?
"Of course not. That's Rosalie's news to share. Everything you told me that day is between the two of us," Edward assured me.
"Oh." I was once again confused. "I saw the looks your family were giving me. All night, they were watching, waiting for me to slip up. I was certain they were in on it too. I felt like they were laughing at me!" I admitted.
"They were laughing at me, not you. They could see I was attracted to you, and you were giving me the cold shoulder. They thought it was hilarious."
"Well, how was I to know that? All night, I was on edge, worrying about what you were thinking and planning. How you were going to retaliate!"
"Is that what you thought? That I was threatening you?" He seemed horrified at the suggestion.
"I honestly didn't know what to think. I don't know what the rules are, Edward. The only thing I've got to go on is what I've seen in the movies, where people talk and they end up dead."
"Bella, I'd never hurt you. You know that, right?" Edward seemed hurt by the suggestion.
"I know that now. But at the time, I thought you were teasing me, what with all those funny looks and gestures. Then when you insisted on the Prosecco, I was sure you were trying to be funny."
"I was trying to be nice," Edward explained. He blushed, which I found really adorable. I loved his softer side. "I can be nice when I want to be, Bella. Very nice."
He was so close I could feel his breath on my lips, smell the delicious scent of his aftershave, and his eyes looked so dark and determined that I couldn't look anywhere else.
Edward brought his lips to mine softly, not even a kiss but a brushing of lips. His mouth touched mine again but for a little longer this time. His hands grasped either side of my head, holding me close and kissing me deeply but still softly, licking my bottom lip, asking for entrance, which I readily gave. His tongue swirled inside my mouth.
His lips found mine again and again, his kisses unhurried and much gentler than the kiss we had shared moments earlier. I realized he was showing me how he felt with that one kiss.
"God, Bella, I have waited so long for you. Only for you," he mumbled against my neck as he placed warm kisses up and down the column of my throat before returning to my lips.
The kiss went on endlessly, and yet it still wasn't enough. And while it would have been very easy to stay in Edward's arms, I realized we had been gone a long time.
I tried to pull away, but then he kissed me again, and I forgot what I was going to say.
Somehow, I managed to find the will to pull away from Edward. I buried my face in his neck for a moment, breathing in the wonderful scent of him.
"We should stop," I warned. "Everyone will wonder what's keeping us."
"Oh, I think they'll figure it out." Edward smirked.
Tonight, I knew I'd taken an irrevocable step, one that I might someday regret, but right now, as he pulled me into his arms and once again lowered his mouth down to mine, I truly didn't care.
A/N: Please leave the writer encouragement in the form of a review and a thank you for entering our contest.