Dedicated to the new readers, especially Ancora Imparo83, anne-tu, tg10781, crazierthanu and pbjilly who are reading and reviewing every chapter. A special dedication to the readers who are pimping the story out. Thank you. Positive word of mouth is the greatest praise a writer can receive.
If you don't have me on author alert you might have missed my new 'summer fun' fic. The story is called The Bargain. It's a period piece, something new for me. But it is simple fun. I hope you'll give it a try. The first two chapters have already posted and the third will go up on Monday, 6/28.
Thanks, as always, to Kristi_28, lisainthesky21 and dorothysrubyslippers for the beta work.
Chapter 35 – Exposed
Saturday, November 28
I was once again awoken by the sound of my phone ringing. I reached over and grabbed the phone off the bedside table.
"Edward…" I whined into the cursed gadget.
"Edward, eh?" Angela's voice held notes of amusement and surprise.
"Ang!" I exclaimed.
"Yeah, yeah, don't 'Ang' me. Why did you think Mr. Cullen would be calling you at 8 o'clock on a Saturday morning?"
"Uh…" I was too confused with sleep to be having this conversation. I paused.
Angela waited in silence.
"How was the wedding, roomie?" Brilliant delaying tactic, Bella. I grimaced.
"Uh-huh…" Angela said with a sarcastic lilt in her voice. "Fine. But we're going to talk about this later." Changing gears, she continued, "I'm sorry for calling you so early, but the family has plans that last all day. I didn't want to forget to call you. I talked to Ben last night and he assured me that you were all moved in."
"I am. All unpacked and settled, too. Thanks for sending him over."
"You're welcome. He told me that he, Mike and Austin weren't your only assistants."
"Yeah, Alice and Jasper came to help. They brought Riley, too."
"And, Jacob Black helped. Do you know Jacob? He has a pickup and that made things a lot easier. He also brought some friends."
I finally gave in. "And, Edward showed up. Eventually. He got here later than everyone else, but really helped me set up my bedroom furniture and bought everyone lunch."
"Wow, Bella. So you two are making a real go of it?"
"A go of what?"
"You two are really dating, it's not just a job anymore."
"Of course it's a job, Angela. He's paying me, after all."
"Then why did he help you move? He didn't help me when I first moved into the apartment."
"I don't know. I guess our relationship is unique." I flinched at my use of the word. I almost felt strange saying it: like I was sharing something private or highly personal with her.
Instead of commenting, however, Angela yelled, "Coming!" to someone on her end of the conversation. "I have to go, Bella, I'm sorry. Everyone is meeting downstairs for breakfast. I'll be home late tomorrow night. Monday is going to suck at work."
I chuckled. "You should've taken an extra day off."
"I should have. Too late now...unless you want to talk to my boss for me. I think he'd be more inclined to agree to me taking another day if you were to ask."
"I'm sure that's not true," I disagreed.
"I'm coming!" Angela yelled again. "Ugh! Bella, I really have to go. Don't mention Monday to Mr. Cullen. We have a lot to do for the office Christmas party and Mrs. Cope wanted me to take lead on it, so I have to be there on Monday. I'll try not to wake you when I come home tomorrow. Have a great weekend!"
"You, too, Angela. I'll talk to you soon."
Eight hours later I had organized my things in the bathroom, acquainted myself with the system Alice and Riley had set up in my closet and drawers, gone grocery shopping, and bought new pillows for my bed. I was just throwing a load of laundry into the washer when the doorbell rang. I wasn't expecting anyone, so I was a bit surprised.
I checked the peephole and shook my head at the small figure standing outside my door with a very familiar garment bag thrown over her shoulder.
"Alice!" I hugged her when she stepped into the tiny foyer. "I'm glad to see you, but why are you here?"
"It's time to get ready for tonight," she explained, as if four hours were necessary for an evening out with friends.
"I was just going to take a shower," I told her.
"Perfect!" she exclaimed. "You go get cleaned up and I'll order us something to eat."
"I went grocery shopping today. There's a rotisserie chicken and salad greens in the fridge. We can have those."
"Okay," she agreed. "I'll make the salads. Go take a shower."
It was three hours later before we were really ready. I had to hand it to Alice; the sleeveless, blue-sequined minidress with its plunging neckline was beautiful. I wasn't sure the glamour was really necessary, but Alice assured me it was.
"Bella, you're not just hanging out in a club, you're the girlfriend of one of the investors. An investor is who is well-known." She sighed heavily as she brushed out my hair, which we'd left long and loose. "You'd do well to remember that," she continued, her words heavy with import.
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean, Bella, is that you need to stop thinking of your relationship with Edward as 'just a job.' You…both of you, keep making mistakes because you keep thinking of your relationship in terms of 9-to-5.
"Look at Edward, yesterday. If Jasper hadn't called him, Edward would never have shown up here…"
"Jasper called him?" I interrupted.
"Yes, but that's not important right now. The thing is if Edward were thinking like your boyfriend, instead of your employer, he'd have beaten us here yesterday morning. And you, tonight...you were ready to wear 'any old thing' even though your boyfriend is the money behind the club where you'll be spending the evening. You can bet that someone like Tanya Denali would have pulled out all the stops if she were going to the club with Edward tonight."
I sat in silence, stunned by her words and my reaction to them. First, was the fact that her words had the ring of truth to them. I knew she was right. Second, came the disappointment that Edward's presence yesterday had nothing to do with him, or me, and everything to do with Jasper. Third, was my surprise at my disappointment and finally there was a rush of embarrassed jealously as I realized, once again, that someone like me didn't belong in the life of someone like Edward Cullen. He should be with someone like Tanya, someone who knew how to dress when dating a millionaire investor.
I moaned. "Alice, I'm not sure I can do this."
"What?" She sounded outraged. "Of course you can do this. Snap out of it! You've done a fantastic job so far, but it's time to ramp it up a bit. As far as the world is concerned you've been dating Edward for a month and a half, or so. A little hand holding and innocent kisses aren't going to cut it anymore."
"What are you saying, Alice?'
"What I'm saying, Bel-lah," she drawled out my name, "is that it's time for you and Mr. Cullen to be caught in a compromising position or two. Tonight, you shouldn't take your eyes, or your hands, for that matter, off him."
"Um, I should probably talk to Edward about this."
"I have a lot of respect for Edward, Bella, I really do, but he's a man. Men don't like to think that women are initiating when it comes to stuff like this. At least, not at first," she said in a completely inappropriate tone that made Bella roll her eyes. "Just take the lead tonight. Be physical with him. Men loved to be touched by hot women and you, my dear, look hot."
I was saved from having to answer her by the doorbell ringing again.
A quick look through the peephole told me that the guys had arrived.
I opened the door quickly. Jasper and Edward were facing one another, laughing about something. Jasper's eyes flickered to me and he froze. Edward followed his gaze and was similarly struck. Both men stood at the door, not moving though I'd motioned them inside.
"Hey, baby!" Alice said loudly, sliding into the foyer from my bedroom. Jasper's line of sight shifted when he heard Alice's voice, but Edward was still staring at me. It was starting to make me uncomfortable. Surely Alice would have told me if I had arugula in my teeth, right?
"Hi, Edward," I said softly, while Alice and Jasper shared an enthusiastic greeting. His eyes snapped to mine.
"Bella, you…I. Wow, you look amazing."
I could feel myself blush at his compliment. "Thank you. You look great, too." And he did. He was all in black tonight.
"Um, does anyone need anything before we go?" I asked, trying to play the proper hostess.
Alice cleared her throat and I looked over at her. She nodded her head in Edward's direction. He was shaking his head in answer to my question.
Oh yeah. Trying to be natural, I stepped next to him and laid my hand on his chest, adjusting his collar, which didn't need adjusting.
"Thank you," he said, accepting my unnecessary help. "Do you have a coat? It's cold outside."
I nodded and stepped over to the closet, pulling out a warm coat. Edward moved to my side and took my coat from my hands, holding it open for me.
I grabbed my purse and shiny new house key, and turned to see that Alice and Jasper had preceded us out the door. I smiled at Edward and started to follow the happy couple, but Edward stopped me by grabbing my free hand.
"You really do look amazing tonight."
I was about to thank him again, but he pulled me to him gently, settling our joined hands alongside my thigh. I tilted my head up to look at him and met his lips, which were descending towards mine.
The kiss was different, somehow, from the ones we'd shared before. His lips were soft on mine. There was a familiarity about this kiss. There was no urgency. He wasn't rushed or performing. He was just kissing me.
And it left me breathless.
He raised his head, but didn't step away. Instead, he slid his arm around my waist and let me out the door with a hand on the small of my back.
The music was pounding and Edward and I had danced for what seemed like hours. Following Alice's advice, I made sure I was in close proximity, if not touching him, all night. But the evening was winding down. It was nearing one o'clock and Alice and Jasper were heading home.
"You're sure about your clothes for the week?"
"Yes, Alice," I promised. "And, if I have a problem I'll let you know."
Satisfied, she nodded once before hugging me. "You did great tonight," she assured me, referring to what I had assumed was my new, more realistic approach to appearing to be Edward's girlfriend. The irony of that statement didn't elude me. "He's going crazy!"
"What?" Edward was going crazy? He'd stuck close tonight, but I didn't think he was crazy. And, when did crazy become the goal? Was it the goal? Now I was confused, or maybe just fuzzy from the cocktails.
Alice shot me a wide grin and a bawdy wink before waving goodnight to Edward and following Jasper to the back door of the VIP section. I watched her leave in consternation before glancing back at Edward.
He was looking at me, but he'd been looking at me most the night. Of course, I only knew that because I'd been looking at him. Suddenly, I was confused. I must have frowned because Edward asked if I was okay.
"Fine," I told him with what I hoped was a more natural expression on my face.
"Great, let's dance one more and then head home."
Edward led me to the dance floor, and we came together for one last dance. Mindful of Alice's suggestion and feeling a little wanton thanks to the sexy music and drinks I'd consumed, I took the lead, running my hands down Edward's chest and up his arms, pausing at his biceps before repeating the pattern.
Edward seemed surprised at first, but rallied gamely. He bent close to me and said, "What exactly are you doing, Ms. Swan?"
I threw my head back and laughed. "Stepping up the game, Mr. Cullen." I tilted my head indicating another patron whose cell phone was out and aimed in our direction.
Edward glanced over and then returned his gaze to me. "Then get to steppin'," he entreated with a huge grin.
Once again, I ran my hands up his arms, pausing at his biceps before wrapping my arms around Edward's neck. His arms slid around my waist. His large hands and long fingers stroked my back from my waist to the top of my ass. I rocked into him in time with the beat, and he seconded my movements with his hips.
I rested my head against his chest and could feel his heartbeat against my cheek. His arms tightened around me briefly. I rose up on my tiptoes and kissed him right below his jaw. I could feel his pulse quicken under my lips.
His hands slid down in response. He pressed them into my behind and pulled me against him. I could tell we were garnering stares, as the rhythmic light display from the club's overheads was disrupted by the flashes from various cameras. Tilting my head, I pressed a kiss to Edward's lips and felt him respond. We stood swaying on the dance floor kissing and touching until the song ended. As the music morphed into something more upbeat, Edward took my hand and pulled me from the dance floor.
The ride home was quiet. We agreed that tonight's outing put to rest any remaining rumors that Edward was still in jail. We discussed Jasper and Alice, briefly. Edward mentioned wanting to talk to Jasper about their relationship. Not that he disapproved, but he feared that his friend was moving too fast into something serious just a few weeks after his broken engagement to Charlotte. I understood his concern, but didn't really share it.
We arrived at my new building. Edward parked the car and got out to open my door for me. We held hands as we walked inside and rode the elevator or my floor. I twisted the key in the lock and stood before the open door.
"Um, do you want to come in? Have a drink?"
"I should go," he answered. "It's late and I have a few things to get done before work on Monday."
"Okay. Well, thanks for tonight. I had fun."
"So did I." Edward smiled at me and before turning and walking back towards the elevators. He stood waiting while I stood watching. When the doors opened he glanced my way one more time. He grinned when he caught me staring and gave me a two-fingered wave before stepping onto the elevator and heading home for the night.
Tuesday, December 1
"Bella!" Esme called from a table near the windows of a small restaurant near her office as I approached the hostess.
"Ms. Swan?" the hostess inquired.
"Yes." I smiled at Esme's enthusiastic greeting. She waved in return.
The hostess led the way to Esme's table, offering me a drink as she did. I requested water and the hostess left as soon as I was settled.
"I'm so glad you're here," Esme admitted, standing to kiss my cheek before settling down once more. I picked up the menu.
"I have some great news, Bella. I hope you find it just as exciting. I secured office space for the Literacy Project. It's not a lot of room, but it's a start."
"That's terrific, Esme."
Esme nodded. "It is!" she agreed. "The best part is that it will be convenient for you."
"For me?" I was confused.
"Oh, I'm sorry! I'm getting ahead of myself. You see, with the funds we raised at your presentation, as well as matching donations from several corporate sponsors and a nice sized grant we were able to snag, we're much closer to starting up than I had anticipated at this point. We're going to need staff on hand right after the New Year. I was hoping, Bella, that you would accept a part time position as we get off the ground. It won't be much, but several of the donors at the dinner expressed their confidence in you and intimated that their continued support was ensured if you were directly involved."
"What are you saying?" I needed Esme to speak plainly.
"Well, it would only be ten hours a week or so. Essentially you'd be responsible for creating the literature we'd use to continue garnering funds. There might be a few mini-presentations, lunches and so on—PR work. You'd be in charge of that aspect altogether. And, like I said, it would be convenient for you. The space is being donated by CE so you'd actually work in same building you work in now!"
Esme paused and I took the opportunity to ask "You want me to work for you?" I could tell that Esme hoped it was confusion and not reluctance she was hearing in my voice.
"Well, yes." She was obviously nonplussed by my hesitancy. "I mean, you did such a good job. And Edward has mentioned that your job with him is only part time."
"Edward knows about this?"
"Well, no, we haven't had much time to talk. I've been so busy, and Carlisle was adamant that I not 'talk business' on Thanksgiving. Honestly, Edward probably doesn't even know about the donated space as it was arranged with CE's Community Outreach Officer, not Edward specifically."
"Edward's company donated space?"
"Yes, it's not unusual for big companies to have extra office space in their buildings. And, donating that space is an inexpensive way to support good causes. It's a tax write-off. It's really not much, but you'd have your own office in the suite and could set your own hours. You'd have to share an assistant for now, but when things really take off your hours could increase and eventually, you'd be able to hire your own. What do you say?"
"I'm flattered, Esme, I don't know what to say."
"Say yes! Please, Bella. I'd love to spend more time with you since you and my son…" she trailed off. "And, your presentation is one of the reasons we're so close to opening our doors already. You're perfect for the job!"
My thoughts whirled. Should I accept? Did I want to? Well, the answer to the second question was a resounding, "Yes!" Encouraging reading and making a difference in lives were two things that had always appealed to me. PR, Esme had said. Public relations held much more interest for me than teaching. But accepting another job, another job in Edward's building…. What would he say?
I looked up at Esme. "I…uh…I should probably discuss this with Edward first."
Esme frowned. "Bella, I love my son, but you really don't need his permission to take another position. Especially one that is as flexible as this."
Wow! I remembered when Rose had said almost the same words when I mentioned telling Edward about my plan to spend time with her this week.
Esme continued, "I promise that you'll be able to tailor your hours around the time you spend in his office. Unless…" she hesitated, "you two are having problems?" I could tell she was uncomfortable with the flow of our conversation.
I rushed to reassure her. "Oh, no! Nothing like that. It's just…" I was starting to panic. Spending more time in close proximity with Esme increased the likelihood that I'd say something inappropriate. But the chance to work in public relations for a small nonprofit was exciting for me. Should I turn her down? The thought gave me an unexpected sick feeling. I realized that I was excited about this opportunity. Furthermore, the job I had with Edward had an expiration date on it, surely. The experience that this job would provide could ensure I continued to eat when Edward moved on….
"Yes. Yes, Esme, I'd love to work for you."
Esme smiled broadly. "Wonderful! I can't wait to introduce you to the rest of the staff! Your starting salary is really very low, I'm sorry. $14,000 a year to start…"
"$14,000?" I exclaimed. The mention of a salary surprised me. I thought this would be a volunteer position. I was only hoping that the experience would make me more employable in the future.
Esme looked uncomfortable. "I know it's not much, Bella. The average salary for a Director of PR in a nonprofit is in the mid-50s, but that's full time. You'll only be working a quarter of that so, $14,000
"Director…? Wait! I'm not complaining! I'm just surprised. I thought it would be a volunteer position. And Director of PR? Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. We'll rely on volunteers for much of the work that we'll be doing, but most of the executives will have modest salaries and, of course, the support staff will be paid."
My head was spinning. An additional $14,000 a year? A small piece of me was rejoicing. A much larger piece was stunned.
Lunch was a blur after that. Esme and I agreed on a tentative work schedule where I'd spend two mornings in the office unless I was entertaining donors at lunch or giving a presentation. She agreed that the rest of my work could be accomplished over the phone.
We walked out of the restaurant together. "Bella, you must tell me what Edward says when you tell him. I'm sure he'll be very proud of you."
I wasn't so sure, but smiled at her anyway.
"I will. I have to say, this lunch wasn't at all what I was expecting."
"I'm sorry to have surprised you, but I'm so excited by the way everything is coming together. It's going to be wonderful!"
Esme kissed my cheek and hugged me quickly. "I really need to get going, Bella, and I'm sure you want to share the good news with Edward."
"I'm sure I'll be seeing you over the holidays. Elizabeth asked me to remind you about dinner this week. Wednesday or Thursday is good for her. I'll text you the number. Bye, Bella."
Esme jumped into a large black Mercedes and, with a final wave, was gone.
I sighed. Pulling out my Blackberry, I hit the button for Edward's speed dial.
"Hey Edward," I said, as soon as he greeted me. "I was wondering if you'd be home tonight? I thought today would be a good day for a random dinner at your place."
Edward and I sat in his kitchen enjoying the dinner I'd made for us. I'd grilled some scallops on his grill pan and paired it with salad greens and a homemade lemon vinaigrette. We were enjoying our dinner with a lovely Pinot Grigio Edward had chosen.
"So, Edward, your mom asked me to help out with the Literacy Project today."
"That doesn't surprise me. She was really impressed by your presentation."
Here goes nothing.
"Yeah. Still, I was surprised. I never thought that she'd offer me a job based on one presentation." I tensed waiting for Edward's reaction.
Silence. Then, "She offered you a job?" I was learning to understand Edward's inflections. It worried me that the last time I'd heard this particular tone was after I'd given him my resignation letter.
"Yes. Director of PR, if you can imagine." I smiled, as if nothing were amiss. I wasn't asking his permission, after all.
Edward wiped his mouth on the napkin he'd had on his lap and laid the napkin and his fork on the counter before looking at me.
"Was she upset when you turned her down? I can talk to her if you like." His voice was low with forced calm.
I raised my eyes to meet his. He knew what I was going to say before I said it. I could see the muscle in his jaw twitch in suppressed aggravation.
"I didn't turn her down, Edward."
He stood up and walked around the counter where we were eating in the kitchen. His placed a clenched fist on the counter and pinched the bridge of his nose with his other hand.
"You can't work for my mother while you're working for me, Bella."
"Why not? You rarely need me during the day and I'm only committed to ten hours a week at the Literacy Project. The days are flexible, so if something does come up I can work around it. Besides, I'll be based out of your building, since CE was kind enough to donate the office space." I hoped adding that little bit of information would placate him as I could see that he was trying to stop himself from exploding, like he had when I tried to resign.
"Bella," he began, "I don't think it is a good idea for you to work for both my mother and me."
"Why not?" I asked. I noticed my own tone was starting to match his.
"Don't you think it sets up all kinds of possible awkward situations?"
"Do you think I'm not capable of doing my job for you and working for your mother at the same time?"
"I think that if you start to spend more time with my mother you're going to become too comfortable around her."
"Too comfortable? Why would that be a problem? Wouldn't the two of us developing a certain level of comfort actually be beneficial to the arrangement you and I have?"
He changed tactics. "What happens when I need you during the day, and you are working for my mother?"
"Have all your former girlfriends been at your beck and call twenty-four seven, Edward?"
"Our situation is different, Bella. Don't make me say it."
"Say it, Edward," I gritted out through clenched teeth.
"Fine!" he finally exploded. "I pay you to be at my beck and call, Ms. Swan, and I pay you well! Twenty hours a week, no constraints on which twenty."
I inhaled in an effort to keep my cool, but he was coming dangerously close to saying something that we'd both regret.
"So which is it, Edward? You don't want me to work for your mother, or you don't want me to work at all?"
"You pay me to date you!" My voice caught. Suddenly this job seemed less worthy of respect than the one I had cleaning his bathroom.
"I pay you to assist me. The fact that much of that assistance happens outside the office is beside the point. Your job is to make my life easier."
"What about my life? What about what I want? I'm hardly stocking up experience that will be useful to me in another position, Edward. There's nothing I do for you that I can put on a resume. I have to think about my future, too, you know! What happens when you no longer need me? What happens to me when you meet the woman you want to complicate your life? How happy will she be with your former fake girlfriend working in your office?"
He didn't answer and his silence was all I needed to hear.
"I'm going home," I informed him. "We have dinner plans with your grandparents on Thursday. I'll call your grandmother tomorrow and cancel them."
I stalked through his home gathering my things as I went. I couldn't believe how far I'd scattered my possessions: my shoes in the living room, my purse in the foyer, and my coat in the closet down the hall. Once I had everything, I called a cab and then stood in the foyer and summoned the elevator. A second after the chime sounded indicating the elevator had arrived, I heard a glass shatter in the kitchen. Rolling my eyes at Edward's epic immaturity I boarded the elevator and hastily pushed the button for the lobby.
Wednesday, December 2
My phone rang early Wednesday morning. I groaned as I reached over to answer it. I had been so wound up when I got home last night that I couldn't sleep. Angela could tell something was wrong, but I didn't want to talk about it then.
Remembering my awkward conversation on the phone with Angela on Saturday, I checked the caller ID before answering: EDWARD
I groaned again and flopped back on the bed. I seriously considered not answering it, but decided avoiding him was just delaying the inevitable. And, I didn't want to descend to his level of immaturity.
"What?" I answered, my voice surly. Just because I was willing to talk to him didn't mean I'd be gracious about it.
"I need you to come into the office first thing this morning. Have you spoken to my grandparents yet?"
"What? Why? And no, I haven't. It's…" I pulled the phone away from my ear to check the time and groaned once again. "It's 5:30 in the morning. Why are you calling me now?"
"I assume you haven't seen the papers yet. Don't cancel on my grandparents, and don't take the bus. How soon can you be ready?"
"Edward, what's going on?"
"I'll explain everything when you get here. I'll send Demetri for you. Tell Ms. Weber I said not to talk to any reporters or photographers. It isn't likely that she would, but just remind her. Chances are they'll leave when you do, anyway."
"Here? You're at the office already? Why do I need to tell Angela not to talk to reporters?"
"Demetri will be there in an hour." With that, Edward hung up. Something Edward said struck me suddenly. They'll leave when you do.
They? Who? Reporters? Were there reporters here? At the apartment? Why?
I went to my window and looked out. It was dark still, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Still curious, I stepped out onto the balcony and looked over the railing. Gathered below was a small knot of people, photographers from the look of their equipment. I stood staring at them silently for a moment before one of them looked up. I couldn't hear what he said, as I hastily pulled my head back over the railing. I could see flashes going off, however, and wondered how they found me and why they bothered.
An hour later, I was ready to go. Despite not knowing what the hell was going on, I took my cues from Edward's cryptic call and dressed as inconspicuously as I could. Figuring dark colors would be less showy I wore a midcalf length black skirt and knee-high black boots along with a heavy, black trench coat that was a recent addition to my wardrobe, thanks to Alice. My hair was down, and I had sunglasses perched on my head in case I needed them.
I wrote Angela a note and taped it to the front door. I didn't want to wake her and wasn't sure she'd be up before I left. A quiet knock sounded on the door. I checked the peephole, fully expecting to see Demetri, so I was very surprised by who was actually there.
I quietly unchained and opened the door.
"Felix?" I stepped aside to let Edward's Chief of Security into the apartment.
"Hi Bella. Mr. Cullen asked me to help you get to the office." He eyed me up and down quickly, frowning at my high heeled boots.
"How fast can you walk in those boots?"
I glanced down. "They're very comfortable. I'll be fine. What's going on?"
"All I know is that Mr. Cullen called me an hour ago and asked if I could start early today. He sent Demetri to pick me up and we came right here for you. Are you ready?"
"Okay, this is what we're going to do. I'm going to call Demetri and let him know we're coming down. He's double parked right out front. The photographers aren't allowed on private property, so they're all standing on the sidewalk. Even though it is fairly dark, I want you to put on those sunglasses as soon as we're in the lobby. Keep your head down and don't let go of me. I'll lead you to the car. The windows are tinted, so once you're inside they can't see you."
"You're scaring me."
"Don't be scared. Don't show them your fear; that will only make it worse. I'm sure, whatever it is, it'll blow over quickly. These things always do."
Felix pulled out his phone and called Demetri as we made our way downstairs. As soon as we were in the lobby I could hear the sounds of the people gathered outside. I slid my sunglasses down over my eyes and felt, more than saw, Felix slide his arm around me, pulling me snugly against his side.
"Ready?" he asked.
I nodded and we started forward. Felix pushed the door of the building open with his left hand, keeping me tight against him with his right. As soon as we exited the building flashes started popping all around. I lowered my head and closed my eyes, letting Felix guide me to the car. Everyone was yelling at me, but besides my name, I couldn't make out anything else they were saying, since they were all talking over one another.
There were a few photographers outside the main entrance of CE, but we avoided them by simply pulling into the garage. Demetri stayed downstairs while Felix accompanied me to the 40th floor. He walked me into Edward's dark office. Edward wasn't there, but I could hear the shower running.
"Will you be okay here alone, Bella?"
"I'm fine. Edward's showering. I'm sure he'll be right out."
Felix nodded. "Okay, I'm going downstairs. Please don't hesitate to call if you need anything."
Felix nodded again before stepping back onto the elevator and disappearing behind the closing door.
I looked around the office. Edward's coat lay over the back of the couch and there was a bottle of Scotch on the coffee table as well as a glass. I frowned and wondered if Edward had been in here drinking last night. I hung up my coat and laid my things on my desk before wandering over to the window to watch the sun rise.
It was only a few minutes later when I heard the door. I turned to face him. He was wearing the blue bathrobe that he told me to wear the first night I met him. He had obviously run a towel through his wet hair. It stuck up all over his head. His feet were bare. He started walking through the office towards the dressing room. He stopped as soon as he realized I was there.
"What's going on, Edward?" I asked.
He sighed heavily and walked over to the couch. He beckoned me closer. I walked over and took a good look at him.
"Did you sleep last night?"
"I came back here to do a few things after you…left last night. I ran out for a bite at the diner a few hours ago," Edward chuckled mirthlessly and I remembered his confession that he hadn't eaten at a diner in years until I made him go, "when I saw this on a newsstand."
Edward pulled a folded tabloid from the pocket of his coat. He opened it to the cover and held it out to me.
I inhaled sharply as I saw my own face staring back at me. The headline read, "Cinderbella" and in smaller letters underneath were the words, "How did this Cleaning Woman Snag Chicago's #1 Bachelor?"
I sat down slowly, my eyes fixed on the paper.
"I have a theory. Our contract with Nomad is almost up. The job went out to bid, and a competitor came in with a better price. Maintenance contacted Nomad to tell them that their services would no longer be needed once their contract was done. I'm sure, once they knew they were losing the job anyway, your former employer went to the tabloids to make some money off your story."
I started to open the paper, but Edward reached out and stopped me.
"Bella, there's nothing in there that you need to see."
"I have to know…" I trailed off.
With a frown, Edward removed his hand. I opened the paper. More headlines glared out at me, "The Pauper Princess," "The Prince and the Peon." Pictures of Edward and me were plastered across the page. These weren't the flattering, pretty pictures that the papers usually showed of us. Instead these were the shots that made us…well me…look my worst. Eyes half closed, hair flying out, dressed in junky clothes...
There wasn't much text to the article, and what was there was attributed to "sources close to Bella." What it said was basically true. It listed my dates of employment with Nomad and noted the date of my first public appearance with Edward at the Fortune Party: October 15. There was even a copy of the picture of Edward and me leaving that party with me wearing his coat. Crude insinuations were made, but nothing was stated as fact.
They'd even garnered a quote from Tanya Denali:
"I always suspected that Edward was cheating on me-late nights in the office. Who'd have thought he'd sink so low as to sleep with the cleaning lady?"
"Hmmf. I thought she wanted people to believe she broke up with you."
Edward shrugged. "I guess she figured she'd get more exposure or sympathy playing the woman wronged at this point."
"I…I'm sorry. I…I'll tell them…" I trailed off. I didn't know what I could say that would make this better.
"You don't have to tell anyone anything, Bella."
"We lied to your family. They're going to be so hurt."
"We didn't really lie, Bella. We said we met at work. Which was true. Emmett and Rose knew the truth, as do Jasper and Alice."
I nodded unhappily. "But your parents, your grandparents. They're going to be…"
"It won't be that bad, Bella. My parents love you, my mother especially. My grandparents, too. You're the first girlfriend I've had whose ever been invited to my grandparents' house."
"I guess you don't have to worry about me working for your mother anymore. She won't want a cleaning woman to be her Director of PR."
"Bella, you got that job based on your abilities. And I'm sure my mother will still want you to take it. I was wrong to give you a hard time about it. I'm sorry. I'm not completely sold on the idea, but..."
I looked up at him with watery eyes. His acceptance of my opportunity, along with the churning emotions I was feeling and my lack of sleep converged to send tears spilling down my face. Edward reached out and pulled me to him, rocking me gently. Leaning back he stroked my hair and made quiet 'shushing' noises. I curled up on the couch next to him and laid my head on his chest.
The room gradually brightened, but he made no move to get up and get dressed. I blinked sleepily as the slow, steady beat of his heart lulled me to sleep.
I held Bella on the couch as she drifted off to sleep. As sorry as I was to see her story exposed in a way that caused her embarrassment, I was glad that she and I were no longer fighting. I hadn't slept at all last night worried that she'd refuse to see me anymore, contract or no.
Mrs. Cope came in at 7:30. She stood in my doorway quietly until I acknowledged her with a small nod. She nodded back before whispering, "I'll hold your calls." She shut the door quietly, and I settled back more comfortably on the couch, once again falling asleep with Bella in my arms.
I tried something new with this chapter. Readers are having trouble with the timeline, so I'm trying to make it easier to conceptualize the time with dates scattered throughout the chapter. Hope it helped more than it distracted. I'm sorry that my writing isn't good enough to make the timeline more clear.
So, if you don't know why Bella was whining into the phone at the beginning of the chapter you didn't review the last one. Shame on you. ;) The review reply with the mini moment is available on page 75 of the Twilighted thread for this story: