A/N: This chapter of The Cocky Speaks is a companion piece to chapters 4-6 (The Magic of The Hair Comb, The OK Then and The Party) of The Cocky and The Cougar. And remember—you really need to have read the original to get much out of this.
This, like chapter one, is coming at you un-beta'd. My usual beta just has too much on her plate these days, so I am rutterless. Sorry. I wanted to get this to you and it's been in a holding pattern for too long, so ... here ya go.
I'd been working for Con-Vert for all of one day and Bella had already thrown me for a loop. I knew she was smart and I assumed she'd be a tough cookie in the office, but really I had no idea what I was up against until I witnessed her in her element.
Of course, as impressed as I was by her, I was still me and when I saw her standing in the conference room on that Monday morning, my mind immediately went to the gutter where it keeps a nice apartment. I would have sworn her mere presence had made the coffee percolate in front of her. She had on these patent leather shoes with a teasing little bow at the heel and I wanted nothing more than to push her tight skirt up around her hips have those shoes at my shoulders. She also had a thing in her hair which pulled it away from her face on one side. It was all I could do not to run a finger down that cheekbone and bury my face in her neck, so delightfully exposed to me since her hair was out of the way.
It wasn't just that she was beautiful, though. Witnessing her nail Jack's balls to the wall during our director's meeting almost gave me a woody. She was just so smart and on her game and she didn't let him push her around, even when it was obvious that he was trying to do so. You had to respect her for that. And she looked fucking gorgeous the whole time she was going toe-to-toe with him.
Who the hell was this woman and why couldn't I see straight when she was in the room? I'd certainly been attracted to women before. I had no idea why this particular woman had gotten under my skin so much having done, relatively-speaking, so little. Fuck me sideways, I wanted her. Big time.
I knew she wanted me, too. At least, I thought she did. Most of the time. Sometimes, though, she had me guessing and I thought maybe she was playing with me. Like when I went down to her office and found her talking to some guy with dirty-blond hair who quite obviously had the hots for her. Not that I blamed him, of course. I mean, Bella is hot. Any man would be an idiot not to notice. But not blaming him and not being irritated by his presence were two very distinct things. And she seemed almost ... receptive to him. Until she told him to get the hell out of her office, which almost made me laugh hysterically and, again, almost made me achieve wood.
I was really going to have to take a good long look at just why watching this woman yell at men was such a turn on for me.
I honestly had no idea what to think. I knew she was worried about our age difference and the fact that we worked together, but to me these were simple issues we could easily work around. In the back of my mind, I was afraid there was something else holding her back; some other road block I couldn't ease my way around.
I thought I had the upper hand. I knew she wanted me to ask her out after work on Monday and I intentionally didn't. If she was gonna play with me, I could play with her, after all. I knew I'd be seeing her on Tuesday morning, anyway. I was going to meet her in her office, under the auspices of her training me on the computer system or something ridiculous. I'll admit it—when I was standing in line to buy us both bagels that morning, I was damn near giddy with excitement over spending that time with her. I thought maybe we'd even be sitting right next to each other, so I could peer over her shoulder and smell her hair and maybe even get a look down her top. Or, you know, at the computer screen. Whatever.
Then she did it again. She totally threw me and had that silly Jessica train me. Jessica was harmless enough and seemed to know her stuff, but she was not the one I wanted to be sitting so close to. Plus, she was quite nervous. I made her blush several times, which was fun, but again—there was someone else I wanted to blush under my gaze.
By lunchtime, I was flummoxed. I'd just never had this experience with a woman before. Not that every woman I'd ever met wanted me, but ... well, if I wanted a girl, generally I got her. It just is what it is. I'd learned over the years what ammunition I had when it came to women, and I'd learned how to use it well. But the weapons I had at my disposal didn't seem to be working on Bella. Or even when they were, she'd just pull out a larger weapon of her own and I'd be left blown out of the water with no idea how it had happened.
I called Jasper and asked if we could go grab a bite together so that I could pick his brain a little. I knew he didn't know Bella much more than I did, but I really just needed to vent and try to get my mind around my own, rather foreign, thoughts.
"Hey, let me hit the head before we go," he said on our way out the door. "Too much coffee this morning."
"Yeah, and that's too much information, my friend." I grinned as we walked in.
We stood at the urinals for a moment in silence before he started talking again. I'd always thought it weird when guys actually talked while standing at the urinals together, but whatever. It was just Jasper.
"So what's going on with you? You sounded weird on the phone, earlier."
I sighed as I zipped up. "I don't know, man. It's Bella. She's got me ... thrown."
Jasper grinned, still standing in front of the urinal. Damn, I guess he did have a lot of coffee.
"Thrown? Edward Masen has been thrown by a woman? Wait, let me call the papers."
I washed my hands and grabbed a paper towel to dry them. "You think this is the type of conversation that goes on in women's rooms?"
"Probably." Jasper zipped up and joined me at the sink. "Shall I ask to borrow your lip gloss now?"
I scoffed. "As if I'd let you go anywhere near my gloss with those lips of yours. God only knows where they've been. You're only an inch away from an open sore at any given moment."
"Oh, please. Like I'd want to borrow your gloss, anyway. Your coloring is totally different than mine." We laughed as Jasper dried his hands.
"So what do you mean she has you thrown?"
I shrugged, crossing my arms in front of my chest. "Just that. I'm ... off kilter. I don't know, I just ... I can't remember ever feeling this way before. I think I like her, man."
Jasper stared at me, "Like ... like her, like her?"
"Yeah, like her, like her. I mean, at first it was just ... you know—I thought she was hot and I really just wanted to get in there, ya know?" Jasper nodded. "But then I made the mistake of talking to her."
Jasper nodded. "She's funny."
"Yeah, she is. And she's smart, and ... you know, don't get me wrong, she's kind of a pain in the ass, too. She thinks way too much."
Jasper laughed. "Which means she didn't let you fuck her the night you met her."
I was almost insulted by what he'd said. "It's not just that, asshole. I mean yeah, there's that, but it's not just that."
"Well, what, then?"
I shrugged again. "I don't know ... I get the feeling that she likes me and I almost asked her out, but then she'll say something that's just so ... it's like she won't allow herself to like me."
"Well, dude, can you blame her? I've liked you for years and I still try not to allow it."
"Ha-ha," I said sarcastically, leaning back against the sink.
Jasper sighed a little. "Edward, you guys work together. And I may not know her very well, but I know she's dedicated to her job."
"Oh, believe me, I know that. You should have seen her in the director's meeting yesterday. Hard as fucking nails, let me tell you."
"Yeah, see? She's not just gonna fall on her back like most girls you know. And you shouldn't want her to, anyway."
I raised my eyebrows. "I shouldn't?"
Jasper crossed his arms in front of him and gave me a look which clearly asked, Were you always this stupid? "First of all, Edward, are you ever going to grow up?"
"God, I hope not."
He shook his head, but smiled in spite of himself. "Second, she does work with you. And you don't want to make things weird around here. And I think part of what you like about her is that she's smart about that kind of stuff."
I nodded and looked at the floor. "Yeah, that's true, I guess. I mean, I understand why she feels that way ... Well, I understood it once my hard-on went away."
Jasper chuckled. "Plus, if you really do like her ... I mean, wouldn't you like to see if you're capable of having something more for once? More than just a quick screw and a 'See you around sometime'?"
I sighed. I knew he was right, of course. He usually was.
"Hey, there's this poker party thing on Friday night," he continued. "That could be a good way for you two to see each other again, you know, socially, without it having to be a date."
I looked back up at him and as I did so, my eyes caught sight of a pair of shoes under the door to one of the stalls. I had no idea why I hadn't noticed before that there was someone else in the restroom, but I was kicking myself for my stupidity. I jerked my head toward the door.
"Let's get out of here," I said. "I'm starving."
We were quiet all the way to my Volvo, but Jasper started up again once we were buckled up and on our way.
"You know who you should talk to? Angela Weber. She's a good friend of Bella's. Maybe she can give you some advice or at least tell you what Bella likes—movies, flowers, what kind of food—whatever."
Angela worked in the accounting department. I took Jasper's advice and tracked her down later that day. She was about my age, maybe a little older, with long dark hair. She was quite pretty in a wispy, pixie-like fashion, if far too thin for my taste. I found her to be very sweet and quite eager to share some insight into what made Bella tick. I think she enjoyed the prospect of Bella having a new suitor. She obviously really cared about and respected her friend.
"Bella is really great," she said at one point during our conversation. I was practically sitting on her desk while she sat in her chair, looking up at me. "She's a really good friend. Very loyal. And she'd do anything for me."
I nodded, smiling. That was a wonderful attribute.
"And if you do anything to hurt her, I will fuck you up." She wore a big smile on her face when she said that, her big eyes sparkling up at mine. And I totally believed her.
I spent the next couple of days on the road with two of the guys working under me who I'd discovered were two of our lowest performers—Jessie Ruiz and Morgan Frank. The intention behind my trip was to meet some of their bigger customers, as well as simply watch the men at work and see what I was dealing with.
I got along very well with Jessie. He was a few years older than I, but still young at heart and it was obvious he liked to have fun on his road trips, taking advantage of every golfing opportunity and never hesitating to have one last drink on the company dime. I talked to him about it over drinks on Wednesday night and he said, "Hey, if my job has to take me away from my family all the time, I may as well have as good a time as possible while I'm gone."
I raised my eyebrows at him and he shook his head. "I don't mean it like that. I love my wife. Nobody could hold a candle to her, believe me. She still rocks my world, even after seven years."
I smiled at his words. I couldn't believe it was true and wondered what he'd have to say in another five years, but it was still nice to hear those words, especially from the mouth of a salesman. My experience had led me to the conclusion that there were very few salesmen who believed in monogamy, let alone the sanctity of marriage vows.
Morgan Frank was a different story entirely. Divorced and forty-three, he was balding and had a slight potbelly. Additionally, after spending about three minutes with him, I formed the opinion that he was a complete blowhard. That impression was only confirmed after watching him with one of his customers. He flirted inappropriately and made a lot of promises I wasn't at all sure he'd be able to keep, but he did walk away with a smile on his face after practically bullying the purchasing manager into a huge order and promises of more.
"So that special packaging you discussed back there," I said in the car on our way back to the hotel. "Who do we have to talk to, to get that done?"
He shrugged as he switched lanes on the road and glanced over to me. "Someone in Ops, I'd imagine. I don't know, I'll look into it when I get back."
I stared at the side of his head, my irritation extremely hard to hide. "What do you mean? You don't even know who to talk to about this? Or if we can even do it?"
"Calm down, Boss." He raised his hand as he spoke and I wanted nothing more than to slap it away. "We'll get 'er done. I just gotta talk to the right people."
"And you don't know who that is."
He just shrugged again, completely ignoring the tone of my voice, which would have clued him into the fact that I wasn't happy with him. His arrogance kept him from understanding that my unhappiness was not a good thing for him.
"I'll tell you our real problem," he continued. "Credit. I don't remember what their credit line is right now, but I know it's not big enough to handle what they want to order between now and Christmas."
I was incredulous and he remained oblivious as I continued to stare at him.
"You just made a sale, not even knowing if we'll be able to fulfill it? What is their credit line?"
"I don't really remember, but I think it's only like a hundred K."
"Jesus Christ." I was officially livid. The man had just made promises to ship five times that much in product over the next three months, all of it with special packaging we weren't even sure we could create for the customer. I knew then that this man was not going to work for me much longer.
"Yeah, and you'll see—getting credit line raises takes a fucking act of god these days. That Bella Swan—have you met her yet? She's something else." He was shaking his head as he spoke and reached to light a cigarette.
Now he had my attention for an entirely different reason. "What do you mean?"
"Well, in word—she's a bitch. Watch, I'll politely tell her we need a credit line raise in order to ship what are going to be really great orders for the company and she'll make my life a living hell. All of a sudden there will be all of these hoops the customer needs to jump through—she'll probably ask for Financials and the customer probably won't want to give them 'cause they're privately owned."
I sighed and reached for my own cigarette from my jacket pocket. "Hold on a sec," I said, lighting up. "I know the Credit Policy. And yes, she will need to review their Financials if they want over a hundred grand. Are you telling me she doesn't have them already?"
He shrugged again. "I really have no idea. I'll find out when I call her tomorrow."
I sat back in my seat and exhaled heavily, trying to let the nicotine of my cigarette calm me before I started speaking again. I'm not sure it worked. "So what you are telling me is that A– You really have no idea if we can come through on the special packaging we just promised this customer, nor do you have any idea who to talk to to find out, B– This customer doesn't have anywhere near the credit line needed to ship them what they intend to order from us and C– You really have no idea if we can even give them the credit line they'll need because you haven't checked with the credit department."
He looked over at me as he pulled into the parking lot of our hotel. "You're kidding, right?" he asked, his eyebrows raised. "This is a fucking great sale, Masen. I just quadrupled our business with that customer. Did you forget that part?"
"It's not a sale if we can't actually ship it, Frank. I suggest that when we get upstairs, your first order of business should be to call Ops and talk to them about the packaging and call Ms. Swan and talk to her about their credit line."
He threw his cigarette butt out the window and took the car keys out of the ignition. "Yeah, great. Just how I want to end my day—being scolded by that schoolmarm."
I was astounded at the level of anger I then displayed, pointing my finger in his face. "It's not Ms. Swan's fault that you messed this up, Frank. You knew what our policies are before you set foot in that customer's building. It's not her fault you didn't feel the need to play by the rules."
"Again, do I need to remind you that I just made one hell of a sale? Isn't that what's important, here? I think you should try and help me work with Bella and get her to see things from our perspective."
"I am really not interested in what you think I should be doing in this scenario," I said coldly. "Ms. Swan has a job to do just like you do. Her job is to protect the assets of the company we work for."
"Yeah, too bad her job always seems to interfere with my ability to do mine."
I was truly afraid that I was going to jump over the center console and throttle the jerk beside me. It was odd that I was having such a reaction. It's not like I didn't have similar complaints about the credit department at most places I had worked in the past. But then, most credit departments weren't run by Ms. Bella Swan. "As I said, you have a job to do, just as she does. Now go do it and make this right."
He looked at me, coldly, before we opened our doors and walked silently into the hotel.
Friday really could not have come soon enough. Morgan had flown home Thursday night, much to my relief, and I was left with only a breakfast meeting with Jessie and his customer, Five and Dime. Once that was under our belts, we headed toward the airport and flew home. In spite of the fact that I could have kicked myself for being so, I had to admit that I was eager to see Bella that night.
I arrived at just after two in the afternoon and, after checking some emails and making a few calls, I headed to the antique district downtown. I had to be downtown for the poker party anyway, and I figured this was a good chance to do a little shopping. I really liked my new apartment, but I still needed to furnish the living room. The problem was, I was picky, and the perfect mid-century sofa and coffee table were hard to find. And forget trying to find a decent lamp.
I didn't find the furniture I needed that day, but I did find a wicked cigarette box, a lighter and an ashtray—all from the 'fifties, all beautiful and all things I could see in Frank Sinatra's Palm Springs home. I was excited about my find.
Just a tad early, I headed over to the cigar bar where we were supposed to meet and grabbed a cocktail from the bar while I watched a few men and one woman setting up the poker tables. Before long, a few familiar-looking faces straggled through but I still didn't really know anyone from Con-Vert, so while I joked a little bit with the bartender, my drink was my only real companion for quite some time. I kept my eyes open for any sign of Bella, but hadn't yet seen her when I decided to check out one of the pool tables and maybe keep myself occupied that way until she, or at least Jasper, arrived. As I racked up the balls and debated going outside for a cigarette before I started my solo game, a hand fell on my shoulder and a sultry voice whispered in my ear. "Would you like a playmate?"
I looked up and into the light eyes of a tall, quite attractive woman with thick, red curls that fell past the middle of her back. She was grinning at me lasciviously and leaning against the pool table. While she was quite obviously older than I, she was attractive and by all appearances interested in playing more than just a game of pool with me. Had I met her two weeks prior, I might have gone for the bait, even if we were at a company function. My mind was already set, though, on someone else.
This was indeed a company function, however, and the part of my job I did best was the part which required me to socialize with customers. I smiled politely at her and handed her the cue I'd been holding. "Would you like to break?"
Her grin widened as she set the drink she was holding on the tall table next to us and wrapped her fingers around the cue and a couple of my fingers along with it. "I don't usually break balls," she said saucily, walking toward the end of the table. "But I suppose I can make an exception."
I chuckled and watched as she bent over the table, wordlessly inviting me to look down the top of her dress as she did so. And I'll admit it: I took a short gander. Hell, I'm only a man. My eyes are drawn to these things. But I looked away and into the glass I held to my lips in short order. Honestly, I was rather proud of myself for looking away so quickly. Once I heard the crack of the balls breaking, I glanced around the room, looking for Bella, and discovered she had not yet arrived. Several people from Con-Vert had, however.
"I'm afraid I didn't sink anything," the redhead was saying as she walked toward me. She still had a sultry smile on her face as she placed the pool cue on its end in front of her and leaned it toward me. "I told you. I'm not so good at breaking balls."
"What do you usually do with them?" The words were out before I could even think about it. Sometimes my mouth just acts on flirtatious autopilot.
Light glinted in her light eyes as she smiled at me. "Buy me a drink and I'll explain it to you in detail."
I took the pool cue from her and cleared my throat, putting my drink down and surveying the table in front of me. "Ah, but the drinks here are free."
She stood across the table, but in front of me, in an obvious attempt to pull my attention from the task at hand. She put a hand on her hip. "Well, I don't mind telling you anyway," she said. "My name is Victoria, by the way."
I sank the three ball and glanced up at her before I lined up another shot. "Edward."
"Edward." Her voice dripped with sugar as she sang my name. "I've not seen you at one of Con-Vert's functions before, Edward. Are you new to the company?"
I nodded and sank the one ball. "Brand spankin' new, actually. I just started Monday."
"Ah ..." She walked toward me and draped herself against the table at my side, completely—and intentionally—interfering with my line of vision. She leaned back, putting a hand on the table. "And what do you do, Edward, when you're not playing with balls?"
"Jasper!" I called his name as I saw him come into the room and he smiled, walking toward me. I had never been happier to see the man. I had no idea how to make a graceful exit from the claws which seemed intent on clutching onto me.
He walked toward us, smiling and glancing curiously at the woman next to me. He shook my hand when he reached us.
"Hey, Edward. Making good use of your time, I see."
"My word," Victoria said, still in the same sultry, sing-songy voice she'd been using. She looked Jasper up and down, practically salivating. "Where has Con-Vert been hiding all of you handsome men before tonight?"
"Uh..." Jasper looked at her, blankly, and I almost started laughing before I got the introduction out of my mouth.
"Jasper, this is Victoria."
"Hello," she said, holding a hand out to him. "Victoria Camden, VP of Purchasing for Wicked Comp."
"It's a pleasure." Jasper reached to shake her hand, glancing at me as he did so. I glimpsed the distinct look of fear in his eyes before I looked over his shoulder and watched as Bella walked into the room. She was wearing a knee-length red skirt which clung deliciously to the curve of her ass and her hair drifted behind her as she walked.
"I'm glad you're here, Jazz," I said, clapping him on the back while handing him my pool cue. "I need to go get another drink. Take over for me, will ya?"
Without waiting for a response from either of them, I hurried toward the bar where Bella was standing.
"Let me guess," I said as I approached her. She turned toward me and my smile widened in the face of hers. "Grey Goose, on the rocks."
"You are correct and I am suitably impressed that you remember. Except that I think I'll have a double."
I raised my eyebrows at her. "A double, huh? Rough day?"
"It was ... an interesting day." She looked me in the eye and I saw something there I did not recognize. It made me nervous. Crap. Two sentences in and I was already nervous. "An educational day."
I raised my glass to her. "Well, here's to higher education."
"Isn't Jasper here?" She asked, looking around.
"He is. Last I saw him, somebody named Victoria had him cornered."
She gave a little gasp, making me grin. "No ... you didn't leave him alone with Victoria."
"He's a big boy. I think he can handle himself."
"Huh. Obviously, you've not met Victoria."
"I did, actually." I chuckled, swirling the small amount of brown liquid which remained in my glass around. "Who is she, exactly?"
"She's a VP at Wicked Comp. They're our second largest customer."
"I know what she does. But why does she walk around like she owns the place?"
We were both leaning against the bar. "I think she walks that way everywhere she goes. That's just ... her." It was apparent from her body language that Bella didn't care for Victoria. From the little I'd seen of the woman in action, I didn't blame her.
"How were your customer visits?" she asked.
"They went very well, actually. I need to talk to you on Monday about credit lines. I have no idea what these customers have and I need to make sure they're high enough."
"Okay ... didn't the actual Reps on the account tell you what their lines were?"
I waved the bartender down, signaling to him that I wanted another Bushmills. "Honestly? They didn't know, for sure."
She rolled her eyes. "Why does that not surprise me?"
"What do you mean?" Of course, my thoughts immediately went to Morgan Frank and I knew what she meant.
"I mean, your staff has a horrible tendency to remain blissfully unaware of such matters." She waved a hand, as if to clear the air. "Let's not even talk about this now. We'll discuss it on Monday. I would just really rather enjoy this evening as much as possible."
I again raised my glass to the notion. I was hoping to have a lot of fun with Bella that night. And possibly the next morning.
"So, Edward." A small smile was on her lips and it just made me want to kiss her. Badly. "Do you prefer Ed? Eddie? Eduardo?"
"Hmm ... Eduardo might be kind of fun. But I prefer Edward, actually."
"Edward. It's such an old-fashioned name, really. Don't meet many Edward's anymore."
I shrugged. "I guess my parents were kind of old fashioned people." That was truly an understatement.
"It's nice," she said. "Traditional. Strong. It inspires confidence."
"Well, thanks," I said, a wide smile on my face.
"Honestly, it doesn't really fit you, though."
What the fuck? She did it again. I could almost feel the rug being pulled out from under me. "Gee, thanks."
"Well, I don't get the impression that you're exactly old fashioned, you know."
"Am I not strong? Don't I inspire confidence?"
"How 'bout I call you Teddy?"
"Yeah, you know, like Kennedy. His name was Edward, but we all called him Teddy."
"Ah, Teddy." I raised my glass, feeling a tiny bit better after that explanation. "Rest in peace, brother."
After we each had our drink in a toast to Teddy Kennedy, she continued. "So I can call you Teddy?"
I turned toward her, hoping I could still charm my way into her heart. Or at the very least, her pants. "Bella, you can call me anything you want. So long as you call me."
She was grinning at me when the song which came over the sound system caught my attention. It really could not have been more perfect, seeing as we'd just been talking about it the other day.
Sexy Motherfucker by Prince.
"Ah-ha!" I gasped, returning her grin. "My theme song."
"Really?" she asked. "Um ... have you ever actually listen to the lyrics? Beyond the actual 'Sexy Motherfucker' part, of course."
"Uh ... well, they're about how Prince wants to marry the woman he's singing to."
"Wait, what?" That rug just kept on slipping from beneath my feet. "Nah ... really?"
She was basically laughing at me now. She might as well have had my balls in her hands. "You really should listen to lyrics before you claim something as your theme song," she said.
"So, what's your theme song?"
She thought for a moment before replying. "Hmm ... how about 'I've Always Been Crazy'?"
"But it's kept you from going insane?"
She grinned and finished off her drink. "Yep."
"I don't think that's your theme song."
"Because I really am insane?" She winked at me and I thought I might swallow my tongue. I could not believe the power this woman had over me. I would also never admit to it and was determined to find a way to regain the upper hand.
"Well, maybe, but that's not what I meant." We both laughed before I continued. "I have the perfect song. 'The Most Beautiful Girl in the World'."
She groaned, but she was blushing, which only made me smile. She looked so lovely with that tint of red on her cheeks.
"Jeez, Edward. How many times have you used that line?"
"Why would that be a line?" Okay, yes, it might have been a line. But that didn't mean it wasn't true.
"Oh, please ... plus, are you obsessed with Prince or something?"
"What's wrong with Prince?"
I leaned in close to her ear so that I could say what I wanted to say without the people who now surrounded us hearing. She smelled of vanilla and it was making my brain swim inside my head. That was the only excuse I had for the words which I herd coming from my mouth next. "It's not a line, Bella." I almost whispered. "You are quite possibly the most stunning woman I have ever met. Honestly, you ... dazzle me."
Though I was mentally kicking myself for the admission, the smile she gave me in return only cemented the fact that she overwhelmed me. It only made me want to say more. "I 'dazzle' you?"
"You do. I have no other way to put it ... and believe me, I've thought about it. A lot."
She blushed again and it was all I could do not to wrap my hands in her hair and pull her to me. "You're either a really good bullshitter..."
I was a good bullshitter and I knew it. Nothing I had said to Bella, though, had been bullshit. In fact, I wished I could play my usual games with her; I'd probably have gotten her into bed already if I'd been able to. But while I had been having fun flirting with her and really got a kick out of our bantering back and forth, I found myself unable to manipulate her. She was too smart and my feelings for her were already too real. I knew we would have sex sooner or later—hopefully sooner—but when we did, I wanted her to really want to be there with me. I wanted her to want me as much as I wanted her. For quite possibly the first time in my life, it was important to me that she want me. I wanted her to know me and to want the man she got to know.
We were interrupted by Jasper, who walked up to the bar. Like me, he ordered a Bushmills and we watched as he downed the whole thing at once and motioned for the bartender to give him a refill. Finally, he turned toward me and pointed his forefinger at my chest. "You are an asshole and I will never forgive you for that."
I had known that was coming and I couldn't help but burst into laughter.
"Yeah, laugh it up, funny boy." Jasper was not amused.
Bella caught Jasper's eye. "Victoria?"
He nodded. "She had Edward here cornered by a pool table, trying to shove her hand in his pants, so he thought it would be funny to pawn her off on me. And apparently, my telling her a number of times that I am seeing somebody was not a deterrent."
"Oh ... no," she said. "She probably just looked at that as a challenge."
"Evidently," Jasper said, downing his second drink.
Carlisle had made his way to the middle of the dance floor and was getting ready to speak to the crowd. Before he did, I turned to Bella, trying to control my laughter.
"Would you like another drink?" I asked.
"No thanks. Not yet. I have to keep my wits about me if I plan on kicking your ass on the poker table."
Jasper and I looked at each other and I was laughing again. This woman had no idea who she was dealing with. I was a master at Texas Hold 'Em and had taken many a friend for many a dollar over the years.
While Carlisle explained how the tournament would work and what the prizes were, I ordered another drink and watched Bella as she listened to him. She still had a slight blush on her cheeks and her lips wore a soft smile.
I was hoping we would be seated at the same table, but Jasper was the lucky one sitting at her side. When I found out who was sitting at my table, it was all I could do not to grimace. Victoria slipped into the seat next to me, breathing into my ear. "Fabulous," she said. "Now we can continue our conversation."
I nodded and tried to smile while I took another drink. I just really hoped she was a lousy player, because I was already sick of feeling her hand on my thigh.
I shook my head at myself in wonder as the first cards were dealt. There was a time when I would have played along with what would obviously be an easy lay. Hell, even a month ago I would have done so. Even interested in Bella, I would have strung Victoria along, as well, not wanting to narrow my options. She was pretty and obviously willing. I just wasn't interested. Maybe Jasper was right. Maybe I was ready to grow up a little bit.
I almost shuddered at the thought.
Luckily, Victoria was the second player out of the game, so I didn't have to try and tactfully dodge her advances for long. Even after she left the game, though, she remained standing at the back of my chair, her fingers playing with the collar of my shirt. I honestly could not believe how forward she was. It was something which was rapidly diminishing her attractiveness in my eyes.
Before too long, I had eliminated the rest of the players at my table and waited for the others to finish up. I watched as Jasper and Bella played head-to-head, smiling at one another good-naturedly and goofing around while they played. I was incredibly jealous of his time with her and got up to get another drink and distract myself from my ridiculous feelings.
I assumed they must have finished playing when Carlisle announced a ten minute break and I turned back to their table to find that Bella had won. That meant, of course, that she would be at my table for the next game. I stood behind her at the table, my hands on the back of her chair.
"So now you just need to get through me," I whispered into her ear, startling her a bit.
"Just you? What about the three other people at the table?"
I sat down in the seat Jasper had vacated and waved my hand. "Ah! It's gonna be you and me all the way and you know it."
She peered over at me and spoke softly. "We are still talking about Hold 'Em right?"
"You can take that in any context which pleases you." I grinned, knowing exactly how I wanted her to take it.
We stood from the table and headed again toward the bar. "Well," she announced. "I'm going to need another drink if I'm expected to go head to head with you."
"You're a wise woman." I followed her to the bar, but I was really in search of food. I was drinking a lot and knew I needed to eat something. I didn't want to get sloppy in front of Bella. Plus, I really wanted to win the poker game.
There was a plate of vegetables sitting on the bar and I picked up a few slices of bell pepper while she ordered her drink. "I see you survived sitting next to Victoria for an hour," she said, a glint of mischief in her eye.
"The longest hour of my life," I grumbled, chewing.
She patted my cheek as I smiled. "Ah, poor baby. Having a beautiful woman come on to you all night is so difficult, isn't it?"
"It depends on who it is. I'm beginning to think Victoria isn't a woman at all. She's more vampire than human."
"Hmm ... I'll have to remember that you don't like women who bite."
My eyes flew to hers and I think I might have been the one blushing then. I couldn't think of a witty comeback. I couldn't think of anything besides her biting various parts of my person. "Well ... I mean ... it depends."
She laughed at me. "Uh-huh."
What the hell was wrong with me? Had it been Victoria who said those same words to me, I would have had no problem maintaining my composure and would probably throw a little sexual innuendo back a her. With Bella, though, it was different. This wasn't a game to me anymore. Shit, it had stopped being a game to me about an hour after we met, though I didn't even know it at the time.
I recovered myself and grinned at her. I may have been in an unusual position, but I so enjoyed our little games of one-upsmanship. "So would you care to make a little side-bet?"
Bella eyed me, cautiously. "What kind of bet?"
"I don't know." I was teasing her. I knew what she thought I was going to wager, and Lord knows I wanted to get her into bed. But not like that. When I got Bella into bed, she wouldn't be there because she lost a bet. "The possibilities are endless, really. A back rub? How about a home-cooked dinner, to go along with that bottle of Petrus?"
"Hmm ... you're awfully presumptuous, you know. There are three other people playing with us."
"Pshaw!" I waved my hand in the air, dismissively. "You've obviously never played Hold 'Em with me before."
Her expression was wary, but I knew she would agree. It was written all over her. I smiled as I knew I was getting to her. "Dinner, huh?" she asked. After several moments, she held her hand out to mine. "I have the feeling I may regret this, but ... it's a bet."
"I have the feeling that neither of us are going to regret this," I replied, bending to speak into her ear. "No matter who actually wins."
"Well, the good news is that I now have an even better shot at tasting that Petrus."
"Well, isn't this nice?" Carlisle stepped up beside us. "The Director of Sales and the Director of Credit actually shaking hands. It's great to see you on such friendly terms."
"Yes, well, he's only been here a week." Bella grinned. "He hasn't had time to really piss me off yet."
"Wait 'til I kick her ass at the winner's table. Then she'll really hate me."
Carlisle laughed and patted my shoulder. "I don't know Edward. I hope you're good. Bella never loses at these things."
I raised an eyebrow at Bella and she merely smirked in return, biting into a carrot. I swallowed at the symbolism. "Is that a fact?"
Carlisle and she both nodded. "That wine is as good as mine, bud," she said.
"Well, let's get you two to the table and get this party started." Bella and I followed Carlisle to the table and sat down beside each other. My leg accidentally brushed up against hers as the first cards were dealt and I felt her react with a subtle shudder, which made me grin in triumph.
"Sorry. Don't let me distract you." I whispered.
"Taking poker lessons from Victoria?" she asked. "People who can't really play well always seem to try to distract me. It never works."
The look in her eyes as she gazed into mine almost made me swallow my tongue. Again.
And so it went. For about two hours we played and bantered and flirted and did our best to distract one another without being obvious to the others around us. From the looks I was getting from some of the guys around me, though, I didn't think our efforts to fly under the radar were working very well. We kept making each other laugh, loudly, and she was giving me unmistakably flirtatious looks throughout the game. At one point I practically leaned and sang into her ear. People would have to be dense not to think something was up.
Finally, Bella was out of chips and out of the game. I grinned at her as she gave me a dirty look, crossing both her arms and her legs. I was halfway home and only had to get rid of some guy named Robert and she was mine. Well, at least she'd be mine for the time it took to have dinner.
"I like Italian food," I leaned and whispered in her ear. When I did so, I couldn't help but glance down at her legs. Her knee was now exposed since she'd crossed them and the site had me practically drooling all over her. So much for maintaining my cool, post-victory.
She noticed, too. She knew exactly what sort of power she wielded over me and she used it to her advantage. She shifted in her seat a little and, as she did, her skirt rode up on her thigh, exposing more of her silky flesh. I had to clear my throat and I heard Jasper laughing at me from behind us. Jackass.
Of course, I lost the hand. How the hell was I supposed to pay attention? I turned my head to Bella. "I know what you're doing, you know."
"What am I doing?" she asked, innocently batting her eyes at me.
"You think you can distract me?"
"How am I distracting you?"
"You have such a devious mind." I couldn't hep but chuckle at her and she responded in kind.
"Yeah ... you know, I don't think you know me as well as you think you do. And if you do know me that well after only a week, you'll have to excuse me because I am going to jump off a tall building now."
I laughed at that and totally lost track of the game. I just wanted to focus on the light sound of her laughter, the way the tendons of her neck stretched gloriously when she threw her head back; the feeling of her hand of my arm.
I lost two hands before I tried to get my head back in the game. "Let me focus on this hand, please," I pleaded with her.
"Hey, I am not keeping you from focusing on anything." She uncrossed and crossed her legs, looking me in the eye.
"Oh fuck me..." I muttered. I was only half-joking. She had great legs and I wanted nothing more than to run my hands up her silky thighs and wrap them around me.
She spoke softly into my ear. "Well, I really think we should have that dinner first." I looked at her and she shrugged. "I have to keep up some appearances, after all."
I swear she was trying to kill me.
My theory was cemented when, at one point, she pushed her chair back, slightly, and bent down to the floor to pick up a napkin. She put her hand on my leg and as she rose, her breast also lightly brushed my thigh. As she sat up and pulled her chair back in, she trailed her fucking hand across my thigh. That was it. My pants became uncomfortably tight and it was all I could do to just sit there, my jaw clenched tightly. I had to get out of there. And hopefully, I could convince Bella to go with me.
I pushed all of my chips in front of me. "I'm all in."
Robert grinned as he pushed a matching number of chips into the pot and my face fell as he flipped his pair of Kings over. I groaned even louder and buried my face in my hands when the dealer dealt the river card—another King.
The other end of the table erupted in raucous celebration over Robert's win as Bella patted my back.
"Ah ... Second place is very good, Teddy. You should be proud."
I finished off the drink which was sitting in front of me and gave her a pointed look. "Actually, I think you should be really proud of yourself ... Isabella."
"I gotta say, I'm not hating myself right now." She smirked at me. It was adorable.
I turned toward Jasper who was laughing behind us. "And you—thanks for rooting for your old friend, buddy."
Jasper held his hands up. "Hey, you started it by sicking that—woman—on me."
"Where is she, anyway?"
"Why?" Bella asked. "Feel the need to donate an extra pint?"
"Actually, I just want to make sure I adeptly steer clear for the rest of the night."
Jasper looked around, then said, "She's hanging on to Robert now. Apparently, she prefers to spend her time with winners."
Carlisle spent several minutes announcing the awards which would go to the winners, but I wasn't paying much attention. I was thinking about Bella and how I might get her to agree to come home with me. Or to at least see me the next night. We'd had fun playing with each other all night. I was hoping she would now be focused on how well we obviously got along instead of our age difference or any other distractions. To that end, I asked her and Jasper if they'd like to have one last drink before we left.
"No way, guys," Bella said. "I've had three drinks and a handful of carrots for dinner. I do have to drive home at some point."
Jasper ran a hand along his neck. "You know, she has a point, Edward. I honestly shouldn't have anything else, either." He checked his watch. "Plus, I'm supposed to stop by Alice's on the way home and I'd really rather she not be asleep by the time I get there."
"Jeez. I am surrounded by lightweights."
"You guys have a nice weekend," Jasper said as he made his way across the dance floor and toward the exit.
Looking at Bella, smiling in obvious enjoyment of the evening, I thought perhaps it was better that nobody wanted to stick around. I bent to whisper in her ear, asking if I could walk her to her truck. She looked slightly flushed as she looked up at me and it was all I could do not to bend down and kiss her pink cheek.
We walked in silence for about half a block before I leaned down toward her. "So do you think we're far enough away from work people for me to hold your hand?"
She smiled, even as she shot me down. "Let's give it another block."
"Boy, you're a tough one, aren't ya?"
"Not so tough. Just ... wary."
I laughed and grabbed her hand anyway. I knew she wanted me to, despite her protest. She just let her mind get in the way too much. "Oh, trust me. You're tough."
As if proving me right, she didn't pull her hand away.
"Where the hell did you park anyway?" I laughed. "Nova Scotia?"
"I told you to bring your hiking boots." She chuckled, the sound making me smile even more. The soft feel of her small hand enveloped in mine made me warm inside. I had held girls' hands before, of course, but could not recall a hand ever feeling just so perfect; so smooth and soft and strong yet fragile at the same time. By holding her hand I felt I was keeping it safe for her and the feeling made me want to keep every inch of her just as protected.
To say that these were odd feelings for me would be the understatement of the century. Half of me wanted to let go of her hand immediately and run the other direction. The other half wanted to whisk her off to the Bahamas and forget all about poker games and age differences and work related nonsense. All of me felt like a bit of a schmuck for feeling this way over a woman I barely knew and certainly did not have a handle on.
"So ... when are we having dinner?" I asked, abruptly. "Are you free tomorrow?"
She looked up at me with a smirk on her lips. "You didn't win, remember?"
"Well, I still beat you. I think that at least merits an appetizer or two."
She was shaking her head, but I knew she would give in. She couldn't not feel what I was feeling. "Uh, that was not the bet. Besides, you cheated."
"I didn't cheat. I just used some extra weapons from my arsenal." I bent down to speak into her ear. "I think your weapons are far more deadly than any of mine." I chuckled as she broke out noticeably in goosebumps. "Okay, well ... how about we just go out to dinner anyway?"
"There's my truck," she announced, and just as I thought I had her in the palm of my hand, she slipped through my fingers. I could almost see it happening before my eyes and I could only stand motionless, helpless to do anything to stop it.
"She says, changing the subject rather abruptly." I pulled away from her slightly and she did not respond. "Are you still thinking?"
She still chose not to respond which was, of course, a response in and of itself. I sighed in irritation. I could not believe she would just drive away in that bucket of bolts she called a truck and disregard the great time we'd had that night and the connection we very obviously enjoyed with one another. I needed some Dramamine or I'd soon be suffering from motion sickness due to the push and pull of this relationship.
"Bella, we just had a lot of fun, didn't we? It wasn't the poker, it wasn't even Jasper. You and me—we have a lot of fun together." I leaned one hand against the passenger side door of her truck as she gazed up at me, confusion etched across her face. I took her hand in mine again as I spoke. "Bella ... This isn't all my imagination is it? I mean, I think it's pretty obvious that we're attracted to each other." I bent my knees slightly so that I might look her in the eye and find a bit of the truth I searched for. I couldn't read what I found there. "I'm not imagining that, right?"
She shook her head and uttered a soft, "No."
She cleared her throat before speaking more assuredly. "No, you're not imagining it."
I knew it. There was no way I could have just created all of our chemistry in my head. I know when a woman is attracted to me. Also, I'm not that inventive.
"Then what is it? What's wrong? I mean, is it really just the age difference?"
"I don't even know, really ... I'm just—I'm nervous."
"I make you nervous?" I gave her a cocky grin and she pulled her hand from mine.
"I didn't say you make me nervous. I said I'm nervous."
Sure. "Okay. So what are you nervous about?"
She looked up at me with wide eyes which made me think of Bambi. Which again made me feel the need to protect her. Which again made me feel like a schmuck.
"Well—Edward ... Were you—were you talking about me, earlier this week? In the men's room?"
Talk about feeling like a schmuck. "Excuse me?"
She looked at the ground, kicking at the cement and fidgeting in obvious nervousness. "It's just ... I heard something. I heard you were talking about me and I—I feel like an absolute idiot here, Edward. But what I heard wasn't exactly complimentary and ... well, not like I wasn't nervous enough about this whole thing before, you know?"
The only discussion I could think of that she might have been referring to was my "girl talk" with Jasper in the restroom a few days prior. But I had no idea how she would have heard about that conversation to begin with. Assuming she had the men's room bugged or something equally as odd, try as I might to recall all details of the conversation, I didn't know why she would think that what I'd said wasn't complimentary. And really, I had been talking to a friend of mine. Did I even owe her an explanation for things I'd said to a friend?
"What did you hear, exactly?"
She grunted, obviously frustrated. "Can you please just answer the question?"
"Well, I haven't been in the office for a few days, so I assume this must be about the conversation I had with Jasper the other day ... I can't believe I'm standing here discussing what I thought was a private conversation between me and a friend of mine."
She sighed and leaned back against the car door, obviously still frustrated. "I know. I'm sorry, Edward."
We stood in silence for a moment while I grasped for an idea of what to say to her. I didn't want to show my entire hand so early in the game, but I had no real idea what all she already knew and what doubts were consequently running through her head.
Suddenly, she stood up straight again. "Just forget it. Forget I asked. I'm sorry." She started walking around the truck to get into the driver's side, but I grabbed her arm to stop her. I couldn't let her leave with things as unsettled as they were then. Especially not after the really great night we'd had up to that point. We couldn't leave things so awkward and I couldn't leave things unsaid.
"Why would you even be upset by what I said, Bella?"
She looked up at me almost warily and I watched as her features slowly softened, her eyes filling with moisture and with kindness. She ran her tongue over her lower lip. "I have the feeling I have been misinformed," she whispered.
I reached a hand out to brush a strand of hair from her face, tucking it behind her ear and leaving my fingers there. She had tiny, perfectly formed ears with small, silver and garnet, drop earrings hanging from their lobes. I pinched her earlobe softly, as I had been wanting to do all night.
"You want to know what I said?" I asked, still staring at her ear.
The shaking of her head brought my eyes back to hers. "It's not my business, Edward. I'm sorry I brought it up."
I nudged her toward the truck, moving to stand in front of her. I leaned one hand against the truck and held her beautiful face in the other, her cheek soft beneath my thumb. I wanted so to kiss her, but I tried instead to explain myself.
"Bella, you said what you heard was not complimentary so I'm gonna tell you the truth. What I said to Jasper is that I like you. I really like you. I said that I haven't felt like this about somebody in a very long time and the fact that we've only known each other a few days was causing me to panic just a little. Because I don't get it. I don't even really know you and honestly, you're kind of a pain in the ass sometimes, but I can't help it. I can't help what I feel. I want to know you." I bent to kiss her soft cheek and smiled as some strange, buried sound called to me from within her chest.
I spoke into her ear, holding her close to calm the slight trembling of her body. And in that closed distance, in that lack of space, the smell of Bella enveloping my senses, her soft skin beneath my fingers beckoning to me, I couldn't hold back. My mouth opened and words poured forth that shocked me with their stark honesty. I laid myself bare in front of her and I didn't care about consequences.
"I fucking dream about you, Isabella. I dream about your smell and how soft your skin is and how you tasted when I kissed you last week. I see you and I want to feel your hands on me. I want my hands on you—all over you. I want to taste your skin." I allowed my lips to touch her neck, just softly, just below her ear. My eyes closed when I heard her gasp at the contact.
"The more I taste the more I want to taste." It was all too much, the feeling too heady, and I was drowning in it. I kissed her again, more insistently, where her graceful neck met her lovely shoulder, causing her to moan softly.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, tangling her hands in my hair. I bent toward her, my lips meeting hers eagerly and passionately. Whatever doubts I had only moments before were flung to the wind as she returned my kiss arduously. Her tongue darted out to meet mine and as our lips and tongues danced together, my mind left my body completely. All I knew was Bella and that moment. I felt the heated silk of her skin as my fingers drifted beneath the bottom hem of her blouse to graze across her hip and I couldn't help but grip her ass in my hand, pulling her to me. The soft fullness of her sweet curves pressed against me as I strained to pull her even closer to me. I wanted to envelope her; to be lost in her, and in the feel of her in my arms, forever.
As our kiss ended, she buried her head against my chest. I held her to me with a hand at her neck, my heart pounding beneath her hands which rested against me.
"Jesus," I said, when I could speak coherently. "If this is what it's like to kiss a cougar, I think I need to look for a job at the zoo."
"Ah—you always know just the right thing to say, don't ya?" Her chuckles almost broke our sexual tension. But not quite.
After several more moments, my breathing almost even, I pulled away only slightly, to smile down into her eyes. "Not my imagination," I said.
Her hand came to my face and I saw my confirmation written all over hers. It was not my imagination.
"Well. Isn't this cozy?"
I dropped my hands from her and stepped back at the sound of Victoria's voice.
A/N #2: A note about my update schedule...
Since I have finished The Cocky and the Cougar and you all know how that ended, I can now finish this, as well. There will be between seven to ten chapters of The Cocky Speaks, in total. What I can not tell you is how often I will be able to update. I have a few other writing projects I am working on, two being other Twifics and two being my original work, which takes priority over everything else in my life. But I will update as often and as quickly as possible.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this peek into Cocky's brain and an explanation as to what really went on in the bathroom with Jasper. Love ya's!