Thank you as always to my awesome betas. And thank you for all the reviews!!
Bella couldn't believe it. As the games continued to play out on the poker table, things finally started to turn around. She continued to play just as Edward had taught her, although all that lip-licking was really starting to drive her wild. She raised and folded when she was "told," and somehow, it was always the right choice in the end.
How did he seem to always know what other cards the players had? It was as though he had x-ray vision. Maybe kryptonite was also his weakness. The only logical explanation Bella could give was the years of poker experience he supposedly had - but he didn't look that old. How old was he, exactly? Bella decided not to ask and instead focused at the task at hand: getting back everything she'd lost.
For the first time in Vegas, Bella watched as the chips came to her at the end of each game, instead of away from her and to another player. The players of all shapes and sizes that had stolen her money before now seemed to cower at her feet. None of their strategies seemed to be working. It was as though she was in a position of power and knew exactly what to do.
With as much money as Bella was winning, she was amazed at how much money Edward seemed to be losing. He told her to pay no attention to how he was playing, and for good reason. She wasn't keeping track, but she was sure he was losing almost - if not more - money than she had during her week-long stay in Vegas. The dealer, who recognized Edward from a previous night, asked about the sudden change of luck. Edward played it cool, of course, trying not to draw suspicion.
Bella, on the other hand, struggled to keep her composure and resisted the urge to jump out of her seat. Her winnings and promising future were all coming back in a rush. Each hand was another class at college or another rent payment. The thrill of winning was addictive, and Bella wasn't sure she knew how to stop. She knew she'd promised Edward she would quit when he said so, but if she was winning this much money now, she only imagined how much more she could win.
Suddenly, Edward picked up his chips and left the table, leaving Bella confused. As she glanced down at her chip pile, she noticed it was only about half the amount that she had initially told him she had lost. Edward was obviously expecting her to leave, but she didn't want to quit just yet. He had said he wouldn't be able to get all her money back at once, but it was so hard to walk away. Why did she have to quit now? Why couldn't they stay just a little bit longer, so she could bring herself that much closer to being debt-free?
Bella was about to bet another hand when she felt Edward come up behind her at the table. She was surprised, as she knew how much Edward had stressed trying to keep the illusion that they were not together.
"Let's go," he whispered forcefully. She wasn't sure if the other people at the table could hear.
"But -" she began, still not ready to come down from the high.
"You promised," Edward said with a stern voice, and she knew he was right. It took every ounce of strength for Bella to walk away with her winnings, but she did.
Away from the table, she had a chance to put everything into perspective. She was glad that she at least had some money back - much more than she'd had before when she'd sat down to lunch with Edward. She was still very much in debt, though, and couldn't quite shake the feeling of guilt that came from that.
When Edward offered to walk Bella back to her hotel for the night, she was initially surprised, thinking that only just a couple of hours had passed. The casinos made it a point for the players to not to know what time it really was. When she glanced at the clock at her cell phone, she was surprised to discover it was almost two in the morning. Upon realizing the time, she also couldn't help but feel guilty for abandoning her friends. She didn't want the night to end, but she knew retiring to her room was probably long overdue.
She knew she had to make each of the last few moments that she had with Edward count. Who knew if she would ever see him again? As they made their way to Bella's hotel room, she waited outside to enjoy her little bit of happiness before she would have to face the judgment of Jessica and Angela, waiting inside. If luck was still on Bella's side like it had been tonight, both of her friends would be sound asleep, and she could avoid any unnecessary interrogation.
"So, what did we learn tonight?" Edward asked, stopping just a few short feet of the hotel door.
"I learned that I'm not cut out for the high-roller Vegas lifestyle," Bella replied with a laugh. "I'm better suited for the cheap fifty-cent games of Texas Hold 'Em with the guys."
"Good," Edward replied. "I'm glad you were able to get some of your money back. You seem relieved now that the weight is off your shoulders."
"I am, somewhat," she said with a long sigh.
"You wish we could have stayed and won all your money, don't you?"
Bella knew the disappointment was written all over her face. "I would be lying if I said I'm completely happy with my winnings. I'm still in debt, and that's so hard for me to swallow. You have to understand that I've always been the responsible, penny-pinching girl. It still hurts knowing that I had a single moment of weakness, but now I'll have to pay for it for quite awhile."
Edward reached out to put a hand on her shoulder. Even though there was a layer of fabric between them, when his fingers made contact, Bella felt a slight chill move down her arm and all over her body. It was the first time he'd touched her, and not surprisingly, it made her completely weak in the knees. He stared deeply into her eyes, and she was completely frozen as they stood, only inches apart. She couldn't speak.
"Bella," he said, his grip tightening slightly. "We will find a way to get the rest of your money back."
"H- how?" she stammered. It felt like she had used every muscle in her body just to form one simple syllable. She was surprised that anything had managed to come out of her mouth at all.
"I don't know," he admitted, "but we'll figure it out. I promise. We had to stop when we did. I know it hurt, but I'm glad you were able to walk away in the end. I didn't want to have to worry about you getting caught."
"Okay," she said quickly, still fighting as hard as she could just to form simple words. Talking had never been this difficult before.
They stared at one another with their eyes locked, and she was so afraid to look away. Even though he was looking directly at her, he also appeared to be lost in thought - as if he was mentally struggling with a secret of some sort. The silence was deafening to her, though, and she knew she would have to think of something quickly, before the moment was lost.
With every ounce of strength she had left in her, Bella fought as hard as she could to form a complete question. "Do you think we could see each other outside of this casino sometime?"
Edward suddenly broke eye contact, looking down, and she worried that she had asked the wrong thing. He let out a sigh, but then resumed eye contact with her once more. "I know what you're doing, Bella, and you don't want to get involved with a guy like me."
She could feel the tears pooling in her eyes at that statement, but was unsure of how to react. "I don't understand."
Edward again appeared to be lost in thought, making mental calculations to determine his next move. "I'm not the guy you think I am."
"Do you not like me?" she asked pointedly. "Just tell me. I can take the rejection."
"No!" he cried, almost a little too loudly, before returning his voice to a low, seductive volume. "That's the problem - I like you too much. From the moment I saw you, I was just so drawn in by you. You're more entrancing than you might realize."
Bella couldn't help but blush at his comment. She felt herself relaxing a little bit, knowing that he felt the chemistry between them, too.
"But we can't be together, Bella," Edward continued. "I know it doesn't make any sense, but if you knew the truth, you would know it was for the best. If you only knew what kind of person I really was..."
As he trailed off and looked down once more, he let his chilled hand drop from her shoulder; she hated the immediate warmth that rushed through her arm. She was unsure of what to do next - all she wanted was to be close to him. It had only been just a few seconds, but her body felt empty from the immediate lack of his touch. Without thinking, she grabbed his hand, their fingers intertwining, and a sudden rush of calm came over her as the coolness surged through her once again. For another moment, she felt complete.
"Everyone deserves happiness," she whispered softly, her eyes searching for his.
Now Edward was the one struggling with his words. "Bella ... I ... you don't ..."
Their eyes met once more, and shock waves overtook every limb and bone in her body, almost paralyzing her. Their faces were mere inches apart, but the distance was still much too far. She felt an irresistible magnetic pull between the two of them, drawing their bodies together. She didn't want to fight it anymore, and it seemed as though he didn't either. He moved closer to her, too, his eyes no longer wavering in self-doubt. She closed her eyes, bracing herself for the inevitable impact of their lips that she'd been longing for since their tantalizing poker game earlier.
Suddenly, without warning, a loud voice behind her broke their trance.
Bella caught a quick glance of Edward's face - a mixture of relief and disappointment - as she spun around to find Jessica and Angela standing in front of her, their hands filled with shopping bags and assorted souvenirs. They were not inside the hotel room, like Bella had hoped.
"There you are," Jessica snarled, a clear look of anger upon her face. "What happened to meeting up after lunch?"
"Thank goodness you're okay," Angela said with concern. "We were worried when we didn't hear from you.
Bella dropped her eyes and released her grasp from Edward, feeling an overwhelming sense of embarrassment as her body temperature returned to normal. She knew the moment that she'd shared with Edward was over, and she would now have to face the consequences of her actions. But as she opened her mouth to speak, she once again discovered that she was having trouble with her words.
"Let me explain," Edward said as he moved closer to Angela and Jessica. "By the way, my name is Edward."
Bella watched as her friends' expressions of worry and anger turned to calm and excitement. It seemed as though Edward had the same effect on them as he did on her. She couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy as his attention was no longer focused solely on her.
"Hi, Edward," Jessica said with an innocent smile upon her face. This was definitely the happiest that Bella had seen her since they had arrived in Vegas.
"You see," Edward began, extending his arm, "while I was walking through the casino, I saw Bella trip and fall." Both Angela and Jessica giggled, knowing full well the extent of Bella's clumsiness. "I wanted to make sure she was all right, so I stayed with her all day today, helping her around where I could. I apologize for keeping Bella from you both. I was just worried that if I let her out of my sight, something bad would happen. Please don't be angry at Bella. It's my fault for being so overprotective."
Upon hearing his story, Jessica and Angela looked at each other, letting out small squeals.
"That's so sweet," Jessica said, turning back to Edward.
"Bella is so lucky to have found a guy like you," Angela said.
"And now that I know she's in good hands," Edward remarked, "I will be leaving, as I'm sure my family is worried about me, too. It was a pleasure meeting you, ladies."
"Bye, Edward," the girls said in unison.
As Edward started down the hallway toward the elevator, Bella reached out and grabbed his arm. She wanted any excuse to feel his cool skin upon hers once more before he left.
"Wait," she whispered to him, hoping her friends wouldn't hear. "When can I see you again? I don't even know how to get in contact with you. I don't want to just leave it at this."
Edward chuckled and gave her a sly smile. "Don't worry. I have a feeling we'll be seeing each other again very soon. For now, though, you should spend time with your friends. They're the reason you're here, after all."
Bella wasn't exactly happy with his response. Yes, she had been neglecting her friends, but none of that seemed to matter now. She just wanted to be with Edward, even though it seemed that he had other plans. She could only hope he was right and they would see each other again soon. Maybe he knew something she didn't.
"Thank you for everything," Bella choked, trying to fight tears of happiness and sadness at the week's events. "I hope I'll see you soon." She reluctantly released her grip on his arm, letting the warmth overtake her body once more.
When Edward was completely out of her sight, she turned around to see Jessica and Angela standing there, completely giddy. They had huge smiles on their faces, and their eyes were incredibly wide.
"Ohmygosh, Bella," Jessica squeaked. "Edward is so hot! I understand why you didn't call me back now. I totally would have done the same thing. So what happened? You have to tell us everything."
Bella stared back at them for a moment as she examined their excited faces. She would have loved to tell them every single wonderful detail of the night's events, but she knew it would be impossible to tell them the good without telling them the bad. She was sure that once Jessica and Angela learned the truth about her gambling, the smiles would fade and their anger would take over. She also couldn't help but harbor resentment at the two of them for their impeccable timing at ruining what could have been the greatest kiss of her life.
Bella sighed as she made her way inside the hotel room. "Maybe tomorrow, guys. It's been a really rough day, and I just want to go to sleep."
She caught a glimpse of both the girls' faces as they instantly shifted from excitement to disappointment.
"Of course," she heard Jessica mutter, knowing the thrill was almost completely gone now. "Don't tell us anything. We're only your best friends." Bella knew she couldn't win, no matter how hard she tried.
Perhaps soon they would learn the whole story. For now, Bella wanted nothing more than to fall upon her bed, close her eyes, and replay the magical - albeit short - moment of intensity that she and Edward had shared.
Yes, I've teased you again. I'm sorry, folks. I couldn't resist!
Want more? Come play on the Twilighted forum thread where I post teasers: http://www(dot)twilighted(dot)net/forum/viewtopic(dot)php?f=33&t=6993
Chapter updates may be slower as I've got various other things going on, but I will try my best. :)