AN: sorry about the delay… I've been working on this for a while but after so long I couldn't force my beta to read it. I'm not a native English speaker and I never read what I write, so this unedited text is somewhat "rough". This means, it is probably overwhelmingly filled with grammar errors and some typos. But, after so many reviews and PMs asking me to finish this, I felt like I owe you something… So I decided to at least publish what I have left and finish this project. Please, keep that in mind, and be kind if you're willing to leave a comment.
There was a time I thought I could do anything. A time when dreams were possibilities and love was the ultimate representation of an endless source of bliss. I've never witnessed romantic love while growing up, so I regarded it as a remote, elusive and exclusive even state of mind. As something that only the truly illuminated could share and enjoy and endure. Disguised as rationality, I built myself a castle of expectations, with big walls defending my heart, as important things should be carefully protected. I thought there was a great dose of reason and reality cementing that wall.
To some people, being in love becomes you an ignoble being. It's sick, and perverted, and painful, and overwhelmingly irrational. And then there was Emmett, and now my dad. Good men, great men who were loved and loved back fearlessly. And that got me dreaming, which in turn forced me to suppress the dream again. Because I've always surrounded myself by the wrong kind of people. There was Mike, someone I was engaged to just months ago but no longer remembered as a lover, and now there is Edward, who made me feel too much and empty all at the same time.
Bringing my family over for Easter was the best. Even though my dad was a little grouchy the first couple of days, everything was alright afterwards. And we did what regular families did. We chatted and laughed and planned and hoped. And it was everything I needed and dreaded. The feeling of normalcy was addictive.
Edward was there the whole time. He was curious about how 'regular' families socialized. He even survived the best cop's stance I've ever seen my dad wear. And I dreamed again in his arms.
On the third day after my dad's arrival, Edward had to go to London for a couple of day on work, and I used that time to go over some work with Greta, always under the supervision of Professor Walker. He, too, seemed to grow more suspicious and we were all on edge.
There was a soft knock on the door, interrupting us.
"Dr. Swan, should we keep the lunch schedule?"
"Of course," I answered almost briskly.
"Ten minutes, then."
"That will be fine, thank you."
And as the door closed softly behind Cheryl, our new employee, I instantly got up and made my way towards the door as well.
"I'm starving, aren't you?"
"I could eat," said Professor Walker. "We have so much to go through" He added pinching the bridge of his nose. "My life was a lot easier when I was a teacher."
"I can only guess how much wider you can broaden your interests while teaching your students." Greta said politely, but the splinters were still there, and I didn't appreciate it. There seemed to be an edge new to her over the last weeks. She was struggling to keep her bit of newfound power.
I hadn't told anyone yet, but I had Greta under surveillance for the past few days. J texted me he needed to meet. As my family was at home and Edward was close by as well, we chose to meet in a café in London.
"I find that remark offensive, Greta." I felt the need to defend someone who was growing more and more like a friend.
"Of course you do. Bella, what's wrong? You're not yourself lately. You're different ever since you're under Edward Cullen's influence. Professor Walker here is smart enough to know which side to choose." She added pointing at him, who was dumfounded by her tirade. "I think you're being manipulated. Have I ever failed you in any way? Wasn't I trust worthy and helped you out from the first day? I knew you were the heiress from the beginning, but no one suspected a thing, not from me anyway."
I paled at her speech. I was far from being over the James Hunter's promotion. "I am grateful for your help, but you have to admit that it's not enough. I could use all the help I can get. Professor Walker is working tirelessly with us from the beginning; so he deserves to be treated with respect. You have to remind yourself that even though I value your opinions I'm entitled to my own."
"I concede you're right about that. But His Grace never dreamed that you could get involved with Edward More Cullen!"
"His Grace would never have guessed that you could even dream thinking this way let alone dare to talk to me in such a manner. And still, much to my own surprise, here we are. I don't like surprises, Greta. You should know me by now well enough gather as much. I may not possess a lot of experience and may even be completely naïve when it comes to business, but I can guarantee you, I'm no fool. You've changed as well, and I have hoped we could remain in friendly terms with each other. My relationship with Edward is private and I wish you could respect that. Aside from that, as I said many times before, you're a valuable asset to this company and we're lucky to have you. I know you're struggling with this new developments but don't let your personal feelings interfere with your work."
"Of course, you're right." She said, her tone remorseful, "I worry about you."
"I know, but it's my life, my Company, my decisions. Please, please respect that." I sighed. "I have to leave for a couple of hours in the afternoon after lunch. Greta, please use that time to respond to my correspondence. I have no wish to participate in any social events this week. After that, you're free to enjoy some time off. Professor, once I'm back, we're going over the MorePharm issue. Let's resume around 3:30 pm?"
"Of course." He smiled.
Greta knew she was being dismissed, but held back a response. She had already slipped enough for a day. So, she composed her face, and left quietly, excusing herself, and skipped lunch.
"When were these photos taken?" I asked J perplexed.
"So they're in a relationship?"
"I believe they're lovers, yes."
"She's a little…" and I had to stop myself from making a silly, old-fashioned comment. Jay smiled in response.
"She's a little old for him. But I don't think he's after her physical attributes as much as other things she can provide him."
James Hunter and Greta, my supposedly prim and proper Greta, were having a very torrid, yet private affair. That explained a lot.
"He was recently promoted, yes. And I've always questioned myself why would you let something like that happen. You had no idea, had you? This is how the world works. People trade assets."
"She's probably feeding him with information he shouldn't know, and now he's deep in my legal department!" I placed my hand over my cold moist front, forcing myself to swallow hard. This was so complicated.
"Probably, but, on a brighter note, he has virtually zero benefit from taking you down, or harming you in any way. If His Grace, Lord Cullen became the late Duke's heir, Hunter would probably be biting dust by now."
"What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean. His Grace is not a candid man. He's ruthless. I think they were born already feeling some sort of animosity towards each other."
"Because they're alike," J completed. "Never forget that."
"Do you think Edward has some sort of agenda?" I asked softly, having difficulty to voice my biggest fear.
"Honestly, I don't know. Should I keep tabs on him as well?"
"He'd probably know."
"Probably. Actually," he cleared his throat, "I have kind of been doing that so far, and I'm pretty sure he's not aware of it."
"Why have you? I didn't ask you to."
"You asked me to find out who tried to assassinate you, so I thought I might as well cover all fronts." J replied unapologetically.
"And do you want to know?"
"What he's been doing?"
"I trust that if you had found anything relevant you'd probably had told me by now..."
"I knew he wasn't the one who tried to kill me, considering he saved me…"
"Well, I wasn't so sure, but after checking all the facts I really did rule him out as a suspect." He paused, "but then again, don't you want to know? If he's going out with another woman? If he's using whatever he knows about your companies to gain some sort of profit aside?"
"Is he what?"
"J, don't play games, I'm in no mood for that."
"You know that some don't find you a suitable CEO." I laughed. I was pretty sure no one thought I was good enough. "His Grace is being particularly active suppressing a number of rumors surrounding your lack of interest in business."
"Why is he doing that?"
"Perhaps to help. I'm just not sure if you'd like what he'd done."
"In what way is he helping? What are his methods?"
"You've realized where I was getting. I don't know everything, because he's very good at what he's doing. There were employees relocated, several loans denied, and some rather forceful intimidations."
"Rowland Hall, 29, son of Joseph Hall, 62, both of them work on MorePharm. The father was a very astute man on his youth, and climbed easily on the corporal ladder. His son, not so astute, used to be on the current Duke's friends. He started the rumor on the right circled that you were going to sell the company."
"Why would he say that?"
"Because, in a time when no one knew that you were going to be more than a new rich girl, this kind of suspicions forced the market into a near frenzy, and your stocks went down… Hall wanted to be the main buyer."
"I've always thought that the main reason for the crash in MorePharm's shares was the fact that it virtually has no new products, and we're on the edge of losing most of our patents."
"You have twivirin, now."
"You do corporal espionage, don't you?"
"On occasion, if needed. By Henry's request."
"You don't work just for me." I added a little miffed.
"I never take accounts that may cause conflict of interests. It's not how I do business."
"But you were telling me about Hall…" I interrupted.
"Well, yes. They have been buying over the last 10 years the shares Henry More sold when he went public. He rarely used his own money to keep his businesses afloat. Every time he needed some cash injected to the Company, he just sold small pieces of it, but he never wanted to sell them to the same person because he wanted to stay in control. Hall knew this, so he created several fictitious companies, to buy the shares. Henry didn't notice this, and honestly neither have I."
"But, Edward did…"
"Yes, and he wasn't very pleased with it. He told them to back off. They didn't."
"Hall had a little side business. He imported counterfeited beauty products from China, creams, perfumes and the like, which were sold in several Spas and beauty salons. He established useful connections over the years. That's how he managed to buy so many shares. The storage house he rented by the piers burned down yesterday. The insurance company was not informed of the damage and the owner will probably be paid in cash for his silence."
"I'm not following you… Are you suggesting Edward was behind this?"
"There was an anonymous call to the police stating that the fire began after an explosion… And that Rowland had suffered third degree burns in the process. I have no doubt that Hall will be implicated in this."
"Why do you think Edward is responsible?"
"Because I only found out about it when I started following him. He told them he knew what they were up to, and warned them there would be consequences to be paid."
"When was that?"
"A couple of weeks ago…"
"J, it may have been an accident. All you've said is circumstantial. Have you seen anyone connected to Edward surrounding the building or something like that?"
"Bella, he's too smart for that. Rowland's still at the hospital if you want to know. Why don't you pay him a visit? If you do it right, he'll sing like a bird."
"Jesus." I exhaled in shock.
"On a brighter side, he was never seen with another woman since Tanya."
"Why are you telling me this?" I was getting more confused by the minute.
"He's no saint, but I actually think he loves you." J smiled at the thought. "It's really funny, when you think about it, that this man is actually capable of love, and that he fell in love with the most unlikely woman!" And with that he actually burst out laughing.
I was distraught by J's revelations. Greta and James… Edward… Could he really be responsible for burning down a building with a living person inside it? I cringed at the thought.
When I came back to More Park it was rather late. I couldn't force myself to go back. I texted Rose I was running late and switched off my phone.
"Mathew, please dismiss everyone. Could you take me somewhere? I need a drink." I asked as I was returning to the car.
"John is not going to like this."
"So?" I asked.
"Is this a date?" He asked smirking, and for the first time I noticed he was kind of handsome. His features were still boyish, but were also pleasing and refreshing.
"It's unethical to ask you out on a date, considering you're my bodyguard."
"Thank didn't seem to bother Whitney…"
"Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner starred the movie 'The bodyguard'…"
"I've never seen it, I just know the song."
"I will always love you," he sang completely out of tune, and that made me laugh.
"Never do that again…"
"You laughed, so I'm good. Not a date, huh? Okay, I can live with that. There's this pub, 30 miles away from the Park, with good food, great beer and some live music. Are you up to it?"
"But if we're drinking, who's driving?" I asked. He seemed to ponder my question and shrugged his shoulders.
"We'll call John for that. We're stopping by my place first to get my car though, this one has GPS tracking."
"Sweeter words have never been said…" I smiled.
I was hoping for drinking until oblivion, but I actually found myself having fun. Apparently Matt was a regular and knew everyone. I chatted and managed to relax. That felt like my element, with poor regular good people.
Around my fifth shot, I decided. I was going to market twivirin, I'd do it really well, and as soon as I got the company on the right track again…bam I'd sell it.
Henry would be proud.
"This thing is closing down. We should probably call John," I told Mathew who in turn mad a sour face. "I'll tell him I gave you a direct order."
"That I was only too eager to comply." He added with a glint of mischief and stood up.
"Matt, I don't think I can walk…" I said slurring my words.
"You've had a bit more to drink than I did."
He supported me all the way outside, where two black Mercedes with a furious John awaited us.
"Come on the back with me," I asked, to protect him from a huge lecture. John was fuming but didn't say a word. I was hushed to the car and fell asleep over Matt's shoulder just two minutes later.
When I woke up I had strong arms encircling me, carrying me through a familiar flight of stairs. I knew without opening my eyes who was carrying me because I'd become more and more aware of his scent over the past days.
"Edward?" He didn't answer me. He was compressing his lips into a thin line. He was probably as mad as John. I should be the one furious. Shouldn't I? But in my very drunken state, all I could remember was J's last words, he loves you.
"Do you love me Edward? Really love me? Do you want to make pretty babies with me?" I asked roughly. "Could they be kind and good and compassionate?" I blurted all out without a thought.
I could see the surprise in his eyes, as he lowered me onto the bed. And with that, all the anger he'd been exuding before as replaced by something else. He took a few steps back, deep in thought, pondering what he was going to say. I knew he was angry, and worried, and probably jealous, but I didn0t want him fo feel any of those things. I didn't want to feel that way myself.
I desperately needed a shower. I felt so dirty all of a sudden… So, to prevent him from talking, I did what I always did when my mind was fogged and I was around Edward… I sat up clumsily and slowly, as methodically as possible at the time, began removing my clothes: first my socks, then my shirt, and finally my skirt pooled by my feet. When I got to my underwear, my bra became somewhat of a challenge for me.
"Bella, what are you doing?" he inquired softly.
"I feel grimy, I need to shower…"
He hesitated for a while, and could easily guess what he was thinking. The sleeping together with no sex was my rule…
"I'm really not that drunk…" I reassured. But I was… and he knew it.
Even so, he approached me softly, and with very skillful hands unhooked my bra. "Do you need help with anything else?" his voice was so low and seductive.
Since I was completely uninhibited, I pointed to the unusually sexy panties I was wearing. He caught his breath exhaled slowly, his beautiful green eyes were smoldering. "Will you regret this tomorrow?" he asked hesitantly.
I took his indecisiveness as rejection, and stumbled around him to the bathroom.
"It's not that I don't want to," he said behind me as I was trying to slam the en suite bathroom's door. "It's that you've been skittish about sex with me…"
I bit back the tears. Was this man the dream I dreamed?
"I love you, really love you. And strangely, I'm not afraid of the possibility of making babies with you. I know they'd be pretty, good, kind and compassionate… just like their mom." His voice was nearly unrecognizable.
"Edward…" I moaned helplessly. How could he say that? My head was spinning, all my senses were strangely aware even in my state of drunkenness. And well, since I was going to hell, I might as well enjoy it.
"C'etait le coup de foudre… we never stood a chance," he argued, to both our sakes.
He took me in his arms and kissed me passionately as his hands explored my back and my bottom. Before I knew it, my legs were clasped around his waist, and he was turning himself and placing me over the sink. As we kissed, he just separated himself from me enough to take his clothes off. He pushed his shirt over his head without bothering with the buttons, and I felt almost feverish with his urgency. Afterwards, he struggled with his belt and trousers. My hips really grew alive, and began grinding him furiously, completely soaking his black Armani boxers.
I was lost for words, fighting for some air. He really made it difficult to breathe, with his voracious kisses and caresses fueled my libido into such a frenzy I was nearly gasping. So when he untangled himself away from me, and licked, sucked and kissed every inch of my skin, from my collarbone, to my breasts, and making a slow, tortuous descending path through my belly, and forced my thighs open for him, I was in too deep to notice how exposed I was.
"Up!" he commanded, forcing me to lift my hips to facilitate his movement as he pulled my panties down. "You're so beautiful like this." He said as he kissed my inner thighs, "you know you're always in control. I'm literally on my knees," he said breathing deeply and exhaling his soft breath against my vagina.
"Your pussy is all pink and perfect. And wet… you're already ready to take me…" and he slowly circled it with his tongue, removing any coherent thought I could aspire to. His ministrations grew less calculated as his arousal became more evident. His left arm around my right leg held me tightly, almost forcefully into place, while his right hand concentrated in filling me, first with just one finger, moving slowly and probing, and then he added another and finally another. I could feel my orgasm coming, so he slowed down, and removed his fingers from their prior occupation, and started touching himself. It was so erotic… with his boxers still on, and his cock rebelling against its confines and pulsating in his hand.
"I really need to come…" I asked, I felt my throat tighten… I asked for an orgasm!
"Your wishes are my orders…" He breathed against me. Thirty seconds later, I was calling out his name, with the best orgasm I've ever experienced. As I looked down, he was completely disheveled, grinning like a fool, so sure of himself. He kissed my thighs, my belly, my breasts all the way up to my lips, when I manage no remove my hands from his hair.
"I really thought for a moment you were going to rip off my hair…"
"I'm glad I didn't, I kind of love it." I teased, embracing him and stealing another kiss. "Let's shower…" I said between kisses, jumping onto his lap, so he could carry me.
"You lost weight," he remarked as he placed me down and water cascaded around us. He frowned for a second before kissing me again. I could feel his erection against my belly, and all I wanted was to feel him inside me. There were little droplets of water slowly descending his body, and it was so erotic. I took him in my hand and slowly began moving up and down. He moaned against my lips as his hips established a faster motion.
"Hold me tighter…" he demanded, andI did… "Uh…" When his movements grew erratic I forced him to sit over the tiles.
"Bella…" he pleaded completely frustrated. I knelt in front of him before asking again for him to sit.
"You're killing me here…" I interrupted his grumpiness with a kiss, clumsily sat astride him, grabbed his cock in my hand, and positioned myself. His eyes were open wide with expectation, but he didn't manage to keep them open as he slowly penetrated me. His eyes instantaneously closed, and his head fell back hitting the wall. If he noticed, he didn't show. After what it seemed like a long time, his grip on my hips loosed just a fraction, and he allowed me to move.
"Baby, just like that." He said thrusting his pelvis up, matching my movements, kissing and even biting in carefully selected spots, as his hands explored my back, my bottom, always forcing me to come closer to him, to thin the gap between our bodies.
"You really have to come, Bella… I can't hold back much more. Come on, baby." He said gripping me tighter and kissing. My movements assured that my clit was getting the friction it craved. That position was so intimate. For once, we were equal lovers, giving and taking…
"I love you so much…" and that truly took me over the edge. With a hoar of victory, he came a few seconds after, pulsing inside me. On a new level, it felt like he was branding me as his own. And for the first time, I welcomed the feeling with no second thoughts, and no regrets.