Disclaimer: Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer. Anybody who wants to be a thief and plagiarize this story, please move on. It's just bad manners.
Rated M. Younger readers shouldn't be here.
Author's Note , July 16th 2012:
My thanks as always to Songster for her beta-ing skillz and gkkstitch and arfalcon for their amazing comments. All three of them made this chapter so much better.
I'm glad you're still here for the ride, I know it's been so long between updates. Thanks to all of you who have remembered me and sent me reviews, tweets and messages. I read them all and I can't tell you how much they mean to me. And a big thank you also to whoever nominated this story for Fic of the Week over at The Lemonade Stand.
So, someone is at Bella's hotel door in Paris and he doesn't seem to be too pleased... Let me know what you think of this chapter.
"Silence is worse; all truths that are kept silent become poisonous."
from:Thus Spoke Zarathustra
SUNDAY MORNING continued…
I'm frozen to the spot. I am vaguely aware of Jacob shifting uneasily next to me, but I am focused on the man in front of me. I see Edward suddenly straighten up, his presence growing exponentially with this small gesture. What is he doing here?
I try not to think about the fact that I'm calling him Edward.
"What are you doing here?" I blurt out, angry that I can be so easily distracted by him despite my best efforts.
His eyes, that have been fixed on Jake since I opened the door, now shift to mine. There's something different about them. I can't quite place what.
"I could ask you the same thing," he says in such a venomous voice that it startles me. Yes, he's been angry with me before – okay, in fact most of the times I've met him – but this takes it to a whole other level.
"Hey," Jake starts moving forward, "I don't know who you are, but watch your mouth."
I automatically move forward with Jake. I know it's stupid given that he's about twice as big as me, but I feel protective of Jake. I don't want this getting out of hand, and from the looks of both Jake's and Edward's faces it isn't going to take much for that to happen. It won't lead to anything good. I jump in to try and head off a situation that feels far too charged for this time in the morning.
"Jake," I say, grabbing his arm. "This is my new boss – remember I told you about him? He is from the Cullen Foundation. Actually, he is a Cullen… I mean, this is Edward Cullen."
I cringe inwardly as my rambling introduction is a clear indication of my nervousness.
I look up at the man standing in my doorway. His eyes are fixed on the hand that I have on Jake's arm. If looks alone could do it, he would be burning a hole in me right now, and I snatch my hand away before I realize how ridiculous I am being.
Jake is still scowling, but my words seem to have gotten through to him. Glancing again to the man in front of us, I hope that he too will settle some of the tension that's bouncing freely around the room.
Edward's stance is still rigid and his jaw tightens further before he says a rather stilted, "Pleasure to meet you."
It's clear these four words have taken an effort to say, and it's only now I see other signs of stress in his body. His eyes have shadows underneath them that I've never noticed before, and rather than the golden eyes I've been used to seeing they are now a mahogany color. I wonder if he has been taken ill. It would explain a lot. With that thought, my worries turn from whether he is angry with me, to the fact that he might be sick. I need to find out.
"Jake," I say, turning to my best friend. "Would you mind giving us a couple of minutes? I'll meet you downstairs in 20 minutes. And I need to finish getting ready and stuff." It's said as calmly as I can manage and I really hope he is buying this.
He turns to me, "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I'll finish up here and grab room service when it comes. Then we can leave, okay?"
He looks torn, but I've left him little option. He grabs my hand and squeezes it before he makes his way out of the room.
For his part, Edward Cullen lives up to the nickname Rosalie and Angela have given him. He barely moves out of Jake's way, which means that Jake is forced to turn sideways to get through the doorway.
I would roll my eyes at such childish behavior if I didn't just realize that I've effectively isolated myself with the person I'd rather not be alone with – certainly not when he looks so pissed.
Although it didn't end so badly the last time you were both alone together…
Snark not helping.
And the thought brings color to my cheeks that would probably match the dress I was wearing that night… I shake my head trying to dislodge the memory and try to look at anything but him.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Cullen?"
I glance up, and wish I hadn't. His darkened eyes are trained on me and the frown on his face deepens.
"As you know, it's Edward," he says in all seriousness, "and you could invite me in."
I continue to be amazed at his attitude towards me especially considering what we did only five days ago – no, don't go there. I manage to push the thought out of my mind as best I can. I can act in a polite fashion, even if he can't.
"Would you like to come in?" I ask, as I turn and walk back into my rather small hotel room.
I quickly scan the room and am horrified to see yesterday's bra on the back of the armchair. I quickly make my way over to it hoping that my body will shield it from unwanted attention. Just as I hear the click of the door behind me, I reach the chair and grab the garment, shoving it underneath the sweater also there. Suddenly the room feels a lot smaller than it did five seconds ago. I turn around to find Edward Cullen staring at the sweater I have just strategically repositioned. It does nothing to help my blush. Why does he make me feel so exposed?
Maybe because he has seen most of you, in a rather compromising position?
Great. Another reminder I could do without. With that, the temperature in the room seems to have increased by ten degrees. It's starting to feel rather oppressive in here.
He looks at the chair for another second before turning his hostile gaze on me.
"What are you doing here?" I repeat more weakly this time.
"What is the meaning of this?" As if by magic he has suddenly produced a sheet of paper from his suit pocket.
"I..." I am startled by his quick movement and shake my head to try and clear it.
My heart begins to beat a little faster. I need is to buy more time to get myself together, so I ask, "What is that?" I'm pretty sure I know what it is and I watch as he unfolds the paper. My suspicions are confirmed as I make out the print on the paper.
He takes a couple of steps forward. Any closer and we'll be touching and I can feel my body starting to react to his proximity. Memories of Tuesday night again flash through my mind – his closeness as he drew the silk dress back across my legs, his breath on my cheek. It all feels as if it were a dream in the cold light of this Sunday morning.
"Yes, your email."
His voice is sharp and condescending, and suddenly I am taken back to another time, another argument, that made me feel as if I was a small girl being told off for some foolishness. I am transported two years back, when James was critiquing the first draft of my PhD. His voice, as he questioned some of my proposals, was just as sneering. He talked at me in a way that so belittled me, I was sure there was no way I'd get my doctorate. I had been so upset and confused by this change in his attitude that I didn't see it for what it was. I didn't see what he was about to do.
The same feeling is creeping through me now. The feeling that perhaps I am somehow at fault seeps its way poisonously into my thoughts. But this isn't right. I am not ten years old. I am good at what I do, and I know I haven't done anything really wrong. Why should I be made to feel like this? I stand my ground and make an effort to push my shoulders back. I will not be intimidated.
"I believe I was perfectly clear in it."
"Not enough for my liking, Miss Swan." The use of my name, sans the title I have earned, reminds me of Laurent. Why does Cullen keep doing this? Why can't he use my proper title? Hell, with what we've done, why can't he call me Bella when he insists on me calling him Edward? A flash of hurt ripples through me at the thought. It hurts to think that he has been playing games with me, but if this is how he acts there's little reason to think that it's been anything else but that. It's followed by a surge of anger. I don't deserve to be treated like this. And I certainly don't want it. No, I need to draw boundaries and show him that I am no push-over.
"If you need it explained again, I'll be happy to do so." Clearly my anger is helping me channel my courage so I stick with it. "I am visiting a friend here. While here, I have been fortunate enough to make an interesting discovery related to my research." I am running out of breath, but I'm determined to finish saying my piece. "As soon as I did, I let you know, per my new contract. I think you're familiar with it."
I don't even try to keep the acidity out of my voice. If he is going to treat me like an imbecile, I am more than willing to stoop to his level and be equally antagonistic. Two can play at that kind of game, although I am somewhat surprised I have managed to make it this far. It's not a game I've ever been particularly successful at before.
I can see his jaw clench at my response and am inordinately pleased that I've managed to get to him in the way he has me.
Let's see how you like it, Mr. Cullen.
"And this is just pure coincidence, is it?" His tone hasn't changed. If anything it has become even icier.
"Of course it is."
"And you just so happen to be visiting this 'friend' of yours when you made your discovery?" As he says the word friend his tone hardens, dripping with condescension.
I take a step away from him to try and give myself some space to think. This conversation has taken an unexpected turn, and I'm not sure what exactly we are arguing about. Why is he focusing on Jacob? This all feels so... off. However, I do feel a pang of guilt. I don't particularly want to lie to him about the order of events, and remembering Angela's advice, don't want to break the terms of my contract either. I tread lightly around this.
"I haven't seen Jake since I've been in the UK, and this was a good chance to catch up. He might have mentioned that he was involved in an interesting project. I can't remember." I add, my voice breaking slightly, at the end. Why do I have to justify myself like this? What's the big deal?
"I see," is the only response I get, and again it piques my anger. I hate how I'm being made to feel for following up a good lead. So I probably should have told him before I left, but I only delayed informing him by a small amount. I just wanted to be sure this wasn't a red-herring. Surely he should be pleased with my using my initiative? So I add, "Any researcher would jump at the chance to see any new discoveries for themselves."
My doubts about what we are now discussing make my voice falter. He closes the distance between us again and I am trapped between him and the bed behind me. Not somewhere I want to be.
I glance down and see his hands are clenched. The level of his anger seems so extreme considering it's only been a minor delay in telling him. Okay, I'm not surprised he's annoyed that I didn't tell him before coming out here to France immediately, but really, is it so bad? I told him within 12 hours. But his reaction is so exaggerated that it makes me wonder how stable he is, and the thought worries me even more.
"Yes, I'm sure. Especially if there is also the chance of her seeing such a 'good friend'." There it is again. Sarcasm, and another biting jibe at my friendship with Jake.
Maybe he is jealous.
Get a grip. That's not possible.
I decide to ignore such unhelpful thoughts and stick to the argument that he started. I remind myself that I haven't done anything gravely wrong. Okay then, so I'll call him out on it and see what he does.
"Why are you so angry with me? I've told you about my discoveries."
He looks momentarily taken aback and baffled by my question before his eyes turn inky black. I've never seen eyes that do that. It's not possible, is it? What's wrong with him? I've never seen him like this.
I don't get the chance to think more about this as he says, "That clause is put in there for a reason." His voice is rising. There's a ferocity in his words that he seems to be barely in control of. "I expect you to follow the terms you've agreed to." He brings his hand down loudly onto the bedside table next to us and the noise makes me jump.
"And I did!" I manage to find my voice after the shock of his actions.
He shakes his head as he straightens up to his full height. There's something menacing in the movement – different from when he intimidated Jake a few minutes before. Everything about this conversation is turning south. If I'm being honest with myself, I'm now a little frightened. He is being so aggressive it's beginning to scare me a little. This is someone who could lose it if pushed. For the first time, I wonder if I'm actually safe here alone with him. This isn't the same as the other encounters we've had. They were charged in a different way. Here, now, he seems dangerous. What I know about him hardly screams 'safe and reliable', does it? Our encounters on the Underground, him finding me at work before I knew who he was... Wait, he knew who I was...He came after me.
I feel sick. How have I allowed myself be lulled into forgetting about this? Everything about this, our moments at work, in private... Oh no… Remembering these moments alongside his behavior now paints them all in a very dark light. Oh Christ… I feel sick. What have I done? How have I been sucked into this? Have I misread these moments? And I don't want to even think about what that in turn means about me. I am filled with self-doubt again.
My downward spiral is simultaneously interrupted and refueled.
"Then tell me why I don't believe you?" His hand comes down again, the sound reverberating from the nightstand, and I cringe and jump back against the bed. His erratic behavior is genuinely scaring me.
"Did you spend the night with him?"
Wha… what? I just don't get what he is saying. I feel as if I'm missing the key to this situation. It's my turn to look perplexed. Where does this question come from?
But before I can really grasp this thought my indignation kicks in. What business is it of his?
I meet his gaze, jaw set. "How dare you ask me that. It's no business of yours."
The fight seems to vanish from him. The atmosphere has shifted again. It is still intense but has taken on a completely different dynamic.
He lifts his hand up again, and I close my eyes expecting him to slam it down again on the desktop. Nothing happens. There is silence. I take a peek and see him looking wide-eyed at me. He raises his hand up again, and I can't stop myself from flinching. The frown on his face is immediate but not directed at me so much as to his hand. He stands stock-still, locked into that position. I'm not sure he's even breathing. Instead, he looks as though he is trying to figure something out. His hand is still, halfway between us. It seems as if he has made up his mind about whatever caused him to pause and slowly he brings it forward again. His movements are deliberate and tentative while the rest of him is tense. He is watching me closely as he extends a finger. I try to move away from it. But with nowhere to go it soon finds me and traces a path down my left cheek. I feel as if I am on fire, his finger scorching my already sensitive skin. He, on the other hand, visibly relaxes.
I think I must be echoing the wide-eyed look on his face. I am trying to work out what he is doing. I just wish I knew what he wanted.
"I won't hurt you. You have to know that," he whispers.
"What?" I whisper back. "No… no, I don't… What's going on?"
"I hardly know myself," he says, more to himself than to me. What does that even mean? I shake my head and fix my gaze on the carpet under my feet. I don't want him this close to me. I can't think straight when he is, especially when he is touching me. A part of me wants it… I can't breathe… It's too much. Too claustrophobic. I can't stand it. It scares me. He scares me.
No, I push that thought aside. I can't do this. I need to breathe. He unnerves me so much. I never know where I am with him. My thoughts and emotions battle for my attention, each pulling in opposite directions. Any time spent with him feels as if I'm on a roller coaster.
His finger is still slowly stroking my cheek and I move my head to one side, lifting my hand at the same time to brush his hand away.
He offers no resistance and even steps away from me.
I take a deep, cleansing breath of air, but it's not quite enough. My eyes are still trained on the carpet. I can't look at him. I don't know what to think. The seconds tick by and the silence between us seems to be growing to a deafening roar. I would give anything not to be here. I don't know what to do. I risk a look in his direction, and what I see is certainly not what I was expecting. He is looking right at me and I am caught in it against my will. His expression isn't making it any easier for me to decipher what the hell is going on. In fact, for want of a better word, he looks… pained. But what do I say to this man that captivates me so and terrifies me at the same time? The silence is oppressive now.
He quietly sighs and says in a soft voice, "I am truly sorry for my behavior just a moment ago."
My mouth might be hanging open now. And I'm pretty sure that he isn't going to get a response from me. There is no way I can string two words together following that. Edward Cullen just apologized to me? Mr. A. C? I might have to call Angela and Rosalie right away. I wonder if he'll say it again so that I can record it…
"I don't like surprises," he continues.
"Surprises?" Does he mean my being in Paris, or my seeing Jake? And as soon as I think this, I want to know. "What surprises?"
He just remains silent. It's infuriating. Finally, he opts for a cryptic response. "I was unprepared."
"Unprepared for what?"
"My reaction to finding you here." None of this is making any sense, and I spot the beginnings of a scowl creeping across his face. He suddenly wipes his hand across his face and I realize how still he has been all this time. "No matter. Now that I'm here you'd better show me what you've found." And just like that the shutters are back up. If I didn't know any better I might be tempted to think that I never heard the apology fall from his lips. Rosalie and Angela are never going to believe this.
We're approaching the entrance of the catacombs when Jake's cellphone beeps with an incoming message.
The journey from the hotel can hardly be called pleasant, but both Jake and Mr. Cullen have been uncomfortably polite to one another, each overemphasizing their willingness to ignore their encounter in my hotel room.
"Why don't you guys go down? Leah's just texted me, I'll be there in a minute."
Although I am hardly enthusiastic about this suggestion, I know Jake probably needs a break from the effort of being civilized to someone who has been rude. He's always had a low tolerance for that kind of behavior.
I lead the way down into the labyrinth beneath Paris. I have to concentrate on my directions and only worry that I've taken the wrong turn a couple of times. This has the benefit of helping me forget who it is I am guiding down here. It is only as I approach the final section of tunnel that I realize that I haven't really heard anything from him, and suddenly I'm worried that I've lost him en route. I quickly turn around to see if I can find him.
I find him all right, as I walk right into his chest, hitting my head on his arm. The pain in my temple is throbbing already. Was he reaching out for me to stop me from falling? I am disoriented. How can a man be so… so… solid. It's true I've not met many bodybuilders in my limited experience, but that image doesn't fit Edward Cullen at all. Wait, what was I doing? Oh, yes, I was looking for Edward. And here he is with his arms around me. What? Why is he doing that? He's looking at me all concerned. I wonder why that is? My head hurts.
Everything seems to be a little off kilter. I look around and slowly the world seems to right itself as I focus on the tunnel around us. I remember where we were going. How can banging my head on the side of his arm reduce me to this state?
"Are you alright?" And I am mortified.
I clear my throat, "Erm, yes. I'm sorry, I don't know what happened." I think I might be concussed. My head is all fuzzy, and the only thing I seem to be able to concentrate on is the comforting smell that seems to surround him. I wonder what cologne he uses.
These inappropriate thoughts make me aware of who is in this confined space with me. And of course that brings to mind Tuesday night. He seems reluctant to let go of me but does so as I wriggle out of his hold.
"You turned around so quickly. Was anything wrong?"
"No, I, er, thought I had lost you back there and you were so close. I hit my head on your arm..." I trail off as I reach to touch the bump I can feel forming there.
"No you didn't. You knocked into the wall," he replies, his head cocked to one side.
I know I didn't. I know I slammed into him. Why would he say differently? Before I can question him he smiles and continues, "Anyway, are you sure you're okay now?"
I nod, still embarrassed, and turn back. "We're nearly there."
I've spent fifteen minutes giving Edward Cullen the tour of the room, and we're now standing in front of the dot pattern that has me so wound up. I'm just finishing up about the caves in Southern France. I glance up at him to see him staring intently at the drawings. He looks as if he is angry at them now.
I wonder again what's wrong with him, and that reminds me of something.
"Are you well Mr. Cullen?" He looks as startled at my question as I feel. I didn't mean to ask him, but I realize that it's been bothering me since I saw him at the hotel.
He composes himself quickly. "Of course. Why do you ask?"
"You seemed, urm, tired… You're eyes…" Where am I going with this? I'm going to sound insane if I tell him that they've changed color.
"What about them?" He is scowling.
I shake my head. "Oh, nothing, forget it. I thought… really, never mind." I need to change the subject before I make a fool of myself. "So, what do you think about all this?" I wave towards the wall in front of us.
He continues to look at me for a couple more seconds before turning back to look.
"It is certainly curious, but likely a coincidence, don't you think?"
His reactions to everything so far are strange. I'm not sure exactly what I expected. I think it's that he doesn't seem very surprised by anything I've showed him. He's taken it all in his stride. Yes, he's inquisitive and asks the right sort of questions, but it's all very polite. Why can't I get a handle on him? It is infuriating.
I am in the middle of explaining to him the various theories I've come up with about the dot patterns and their counterparts in the caves, when he suddenly straightens up and looks to the entrance to the chamber. I stop mid-sentence and look over my shoulder to see what's happening. As far as I can tell, there's nothing. Nobody is even standing at that end of the room.
I'm about to turn away when Jake's figure emerges from the darkness of the entrance. He sees us and heads over. "Hey Bella, I'd like to introduce you to someone." Following him is an attractive woman about my age, thin, with black hair cut into a short bob.
As they approach, Edward swiftly moves forward, almost standing in front of me, before he steps quickly back to where he was. His stance is rigid as Jake approaches, although Jake doesn't seem to notice anything. He's too excited.
"Bella, I need you to meet Gianna Rossi. Gianna, this is Bella Swan from the British Museum, and erm, Edward Cullen…"
"From the Cullen Foundation?" Gianna immediately asks. Cullen's reputation precedes him, and this reminds me that a lot of people would kill to have him as their patron. I should be thankful instead of feeling stressed and socially awkward at the behavior of my boss.
For his part, Cullen gives a stiff nod confirming her suspicions.
"Well, it really is an honor. There are areas of my work that I think would interest the Foundation. I'd love to talk you about it. Maybe when we've finished down here, I could tell you more…"
As she speaks I can see a change come over Edward. He seems to shift from being aloof to mirroring her body language.
"Why of course, Dr. Rossi. Your reputation precedes you."
And that just about takes the cake. He barely knows this woman and yet can address her by her appropriate title. In contrast to my scowl, Dr. Gianna Rossi simpers.
"Mr. Cullen, honestly, I hadn't realized that you were aware of what I've been working on."
I can't help but stare at the bald-faced self-promotion that's taking place in front of me. I hate that a tiny part of me admires her single-mindedness. Glancing at Jake, I can see that he is none too impressed either. He politely clears his throat.
"Gianna, I wonder if you could tell Bella about…"
He is cut off rudely by Cullen, who decides that this is the moment to engage with the sycophant and begins to, for want of a better word for it, flirt with Gianna. He leans closer to her and in a tone that can only be described as seductive says, "In the field of blood-letting rituals in Southern Italy, you are in a league of your own."
However skilled Gianna is at promoting herself, even she is not immune to the Cullen charm, and I can see her cheeks redden. I know how that feels and it makes me feel nauseous. Was I so easily seduced? Maybe he does this with all female researchers that come his way. Jealousy blooms out of nowhere, filling me up with it's poison, and I have to turn away to look at the wall. Unfortunately, I am still privy to their continuing conversation as Gianna regains her cool composure.
"Well, I have worked very hard at it. I think it also helped that I started volunteering at sites when I was only 15. I find it so fascinating."
"I can tell. Your dedication is impressive."
I can't believe the audacity of the guy. I am standing next to him and Gianna. How could he be this insensitive – do I mean so little? I am fuming, and from the look on Jacob's face he has had about as much as I have of this. He politely tries to cut in on their conversation again, "Gianna…" but Cullen continues speaking over the top of him, asking Gianna what her favorite site has been. His behavior is so rude; it's almost embarrassing. I wonder, for the millionth time what's going on with him. Now it seems as if he doesn't want Jacob to ask Gianna anything. It's so weird. Meanwhile, Gianna seems oblivious, pleased to have a potential patron's attention.
She is saying, "Oh, it's definitely what I'm working on at the moment. The Sicilian site has been very…"
"That's what I wanted to ask you about," Jake cuts in, trying to get Gianna's attention, but again Cullen cuts him off.
"Shall we go back up and you can tell me all about it?" His hand is on her elbow, guiding her out.
I turn back to my work, pleased that I no longer have to be saddled with the infuriating man and wondering what it is that Cullen seems to be so wound up about? Is he so afraid that Jake is competition for his latest conquest? Jake has had enough too it would seem and he stands in their path before they can leave.
With no preamble Jake asks Gianna, "Can you tell Bella what you told me?" Cullen looks as though he wants to tear Jake's head off.
She rolls her eyes at him and says somewhat grudgingly, "Can't it wait Jake?"
"Come on, it won't take a minute. Then I promise, I won't hassle you anymore."
She throws an exaggerated, apologetic smile to a livid-looking Mr. Cullen.
"Sure." Sighing she walks up to me, and without ceremony starts to tell me about a burial site she's been investigating in Sicily. She is describing the six-foot stelae that are placed all around the area they are excavating. Some are in better condition than others, and they've managed to get some good impressions from them. "The best one we have is a bit of a mystery for us as it's so unlike any of the others in style. If we didn't know better, it would be easy to say that it was from a completely different era. But dating proves that it's not."
"What's the pattern of?" I ask, as the hairs on my arm seem to start to tingle. I feel as if I'm about to hear something momentous.
"Well that's just it. It's of nothing really, a series of dots with the outline of a hand next to them."
I step to one side, revealing the wall paintings to the full view of all.
"Like this?" I ask, already knowing the answer.
The homage in Chapter 12 was Jake's reference to Leah's opinion of Macs over PCs. It was borrowed from jenjiveg's brilliant story Inappropriate Touching. This has unfortunately since been taken down, but mem4375 was the closest person to get the reference.
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