Bella swam lap after lap after lap, chasing away the vast amount of tension and anxiety that had built up within her. She had learned in dealing with her stepfather that physical illness from mental stress could be avoided if she exercised enough, and she had plenty of mental stress to work off.
Tomorrow she would be shopping for a new wardrobe. The day after that she would visit Wren and pack, and the day after that, she would be married and she didn't know or want to think about what would happen next. Once she had completely exhausted herself she took a shower, toweled off, brushed her teeth and hair, tossed on a tank top and pajama pants set and dropped into bed trying not to think of anything but breathing in and out.
Bella was just getting out of bed when the phone rang in her room. She picked it up puzzled at who would be calling her at just past six.
"Miss Bella." The housekeepers voice came through. "I have a Mr. Cullen on the phone for you.
Are you accepting calls this early?"
Lovely. He would not be her first choice of people to speak to first thing in the morning. What could he want? "That's fine Mrs. Platt. Please put him on." When she heard the click of the call transfer she spoke.
"How can I help you Mr. Cullen?"
"I called to tell you to expect Alice Whitlock at your home this morning at half past eight."
"She is my personal shopper and will be selecting your wardrobe personally."
"But I don't-"
He talked over her. "I'm quite sure you do as your current appalling wardrobe indicates. You will be ready for her and you will not give her any argument about what she chooses. You will behave with grace and dignity as befits the woman I choose for my bride or you will suffer the consequences of my displeasure. Do I make myself clear Isabella?"
Suffer the consequences of his displeasure? She couldn't help but grin at the ridiculousness of that phrase. What was he going to do, spank her? She didn't think so. Her tone was mocking as she replied, "Yes sir, Mr. Cullen sir."
"Don't be flippant with me. You will be quiet, respectful and well behaved or else."
"Or else what?" she couldn't help asking.
"Or else I will make your life so miserable you've forgotten how to be flippant. You will not embarrass me by behaving like a disrespectful whore in front of a woman in my employ who also happens to be my sister. If you are not capable of the proper behavior tell me now. She can simply take your measurements and pick out what she thinks is appropriate. I rather thought you would prefer to have some say but if not..."
Well that didn't take long. She'd wondered how long he could talk to her without insulting her. But she was not going to miss the chance to pick out something she actually liked for the first time in years. She softened her voice. No need to antagonize the person who held so much power over her. "I was just..." teasing you. "You don't need to threaten. I'm perfectly capable of civil behavior."
"Just be ready. 8:30."
Bella frowned at his words and the dial tone that followed. She shook her head and went to rid herself of the building anxiety with a swim. She had over two hours and it would take barely ten to get dressed and ready.
It was almost eight o'clock when Mrs. Platt came to the pool as Bella was climbing out. She expected she'd just have time to eat, shower and dress. "Mrs. Alice Whitlock and Mr. Edward Cullen arrived Miss. I tried to show them to the parlor but Mr. Cullen is awful insistent that he see you right away."
What? Why are they here so early? "They are early and Mr. Cullen knows it. He told me to expect them at 8:30, not 7:50. They will have to wait until I'm ready. I'd like some breakfast pastries, tea and coffee in the parlor please. Please tell them I will be down in fifteen minutes."
"I'll try Miss. but that Mr. Cullen is it? He was so demanding and insistent."
"Please do as I ask Mrs. Platt. I will be down as soon as possible."
She practically ran as she took the back stairs up to her room where she quickly washed the chlorine out of her hair. She opened the chest of drawers in the bathroom and put on a bra and panties. She opened the door to her room to let the steam out so she could see herself in the mirror as she dried her hair. She picked up the blow dryer and hairbrush and got to work drying the waist length thick hair, loving the way it felt as it feathered softly against her skin. She turned off the blow dryer, brush in hand and turned enter the closet on the far side of the bathroom when she saw someone very large out of the corner of her eye and shrieked, jumping back and throwing the brush at the large person, before realizing it was Edward. His eyes glinted with amusement and he caught the brush and offered it back to her smartly, handle first. Her heart pounded, trying to jump out of her chest it seemed, and slammed the blow dryer down on the counter. She shrieked again for good measure as the adrenaline pounding through her system.
"What are you doing up here?" she almost yelled as she snatched the brush back, pushing down the impulse to throw it at his head again, this time on purpose. "You're supposed to be waiting downstairs! And for that matter, you're not even supposed to be here today at all!"
His chuckle did not help her temper or her heart rate. "I know Isabella, but I wanted to speak to you before you meet my sister in law." His eyes raked her body and she blushed all over as she abruptly realized she was all but naked. She grabbed her robe from the hook on the wall and hurriedly put it on, fumbling with the brush in her hand that she was still holding in a white knuckled grip. She fumbled the brush, dropped it, hurriedly belted the robe, then picked it up again, avoiding Edward's gaze as he stood in the doorway and then catching his eyes anyway as she looked in the mirror to see him grinning hugely.
Well that's just fine. Apparently, scaring her silly put him in a jolly good mood. Peachy. "About what?" she asked. Her heart was still racing from fright, but his nearness was persuading her body to feel arousal instead. What was worse, was that no matter how irritated she wanted to be with him, that smile on his face was so charming that she wanted to smile at him in return, which made her more irritated since smiling at him was the last thing she wanted to do. She gripped her hairbrush more firmly wishing again that she could throw it at him.
"About getting our story straight. As far as Alice is concerned, we met a few months ago and now cannot bear to be parted from one another. I thought you might prefer that to the alternative."
"Oh." She paused to think that over. "I guess I don't have any objections, but I don't understand, wasn't Jasper aware of our...circumstances? Didn't he tell her?"
"He and Emmett have agreed to keep their understanding of our situation to themselves, for now."
"Oh." She felt remarkably unintelligent all of a sudden. Her heart was still racing from her scare earlier as he stepped closer, too close. He lifted his hands to pull her hair from where it was trapped against her skin under the robe. He pulled it to the front over her breasts and trailed his hands down through it's length, the backs of his hands brushing against her barely clothed body lightly. He took a step closer and brought it up to his face, smelling the fragrance of freesias from her shampoo. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth as she reacted to his nearness. He was wearing the same cologne as yesterday, heaven help her.
"Your hair is lovely. I wondered how long it was." He ran his hands through it twice more and she felt herself relaxing at the pleasure the action brought. She felt chill bumps erupt over her scalp and over her chest as his hands stroked her hair and indirectly her breasts. "You should wear it down." His eyes heated and she suddenly felt over warm.
A bit stunned by his unexpected compliment she responded awkwardly with a shrug, "It's heavy. It's easier to have it up, and no one cared how I wore it before."
"Someone does now." He turned to go saying, "Alice is waiting. Don't be long."
"I'll be down shortly." And she turned to the mirror considering her hair. It was just a plain brown, its length and texture were pleasing but not special. Shrugging away the compliment uncomfortably, she put it back up into it's usual bun, more for a lack of knowing what else to do with it than anything else
At least there was one person in that family who wouldn't hate her on sight. That would be a nice change.
Bella turned to her closet to try and find something that wasn't horrendously ugly. Bulky, ill-fitting power suits were out. There was a high waist pair of jeans from several years ago that...yes! Still fit. And for a shirt...one of her pajama camis in white left untucked that fell to her hips and...she looked farther back...and teared up. A men's flannel shirt. Charlie. Softly she ran her hand down the sleeve of the predominantly red and white flannel. Taking it from the hanger she put it on and then wrapped her arms around herself, the shirt sleeves hanging over her fingertips. Bella gently rolled up the sleeves and exited the room, not bothering to look in the mirror, and not remembering to put on her glasses.
She made her way down stairs to the parlor, stomach growling. Edward was standing facing the doorway and a petite woman Bella assumed to be Alice had her back to the entrance. She had short black hair spiked up all over and slightly curled up at the ends. Bella heard her laugh at something he said and the bell like sound cemented Alice's image in Bella's mind. She was like a real life Tinkerbell, Bella thought with an inward laugh. Edward gently turned her around as he saw Bella come in and once Alice was no longer facing him, he gave Bella a stern look over the top of the pixie's head, but why? Her clothes? Well she was dealing with quite a few things lately, he could deal with this until she had more appropriate clothes. It was such a minor thing. Bella turned her attention to Alice as she glided forward with a sprightly step, "I bet she dances well," Bella mused. Alice's arms extended to wrap around Bella and smiled as she said, "Bella right? Oh we're going to be the best of friends. Any one who Edward could fall in love with so quickly must be special, and I can see you are. We're going to have such a wonderful time shopping today! When Edward asked me to get you ready for your honeymoon I was so thrilled!"
Edward laughed, "Alice, let her breathe. You're going to have all day together. I have business to get to but I wanted to see Bella this morning. You know I can't bear to be away from her for long."
Wow. Bella was stunned. A smiling, laughing Edward. It wasn't a menacing or superior laugh either. His green eyes sparkled mischievously and she fought to keep from falling under his spell. Just acting, she reminded herself. But for a moment, she couldn't help but wish it was real. That she could let herself go and just enjoy the pretense of being in a loving relationship. She'd never had one before. Her mother had loved her, of course, and she'd had a few casual friends at school, but never this. She hadn't had an opportunity to look for one either. Once her father had determined his only use for her was as a bargaining chip in some business deal, he made sure Bella never had the opportunity to form emotional ties with anyone. And he seemed to have done a good job making sure Edward would never become close to her, although they would certainly be intimately connected…but Alice…Bella yearned for a friend. And while she wouldn't be able to develop confidences with her, share secrets like best friends do in movies or on the TV, Bella could have fun with Alice, and be herself. Maybe they would have fun…even if they did have to go shopping.
He had been saying something else to Alice that Bella didn't catch, deep in her thoughts, but he suddenly came close to Bella and she involuntarily took a step back as he entered her personal space without warning. She looked about and noticed Alice was slightly back and to the side, watching them with a smile. Bella looked at Edward to find his eyes warning hers and he leaned down to her ear and whispered, "Play along! I'm your loving fiance remember? I won't see you all day so I'm going to kiss you good bye now before I leave."
Her thoughts raced to catch up to his words as his arms came around her, one at her waist and one along her back, hand reaching up and entangling in the hair at her nape, pulling slightly to tip her head up as his mouth came down…and her thoughts stopped. His cologne dizzied her up again before his mouth touched hers and Bella's hands raised by instinct. One hand moved around his shoulder, holding him close and the other reached to tangle in his hair, so soft. His head slanted against hers and one hand came up to close around the back of her neck to tilt her head to the side so he could possessed her mouth deeply, making it his, staking his claim. And she was helpless to resist. If this was how good he made her feel, it would be well worth it to play along, to be his, if only for a while. She could play along; he made it easy.
He pulled back and for a moment she resisted, not ready to leave his arms or his lips, drunk on the feelings he brought forth from her. She tried to hold him closer, but he was stronger than she and then she remembered, "Just acting." Alice clapped her hands happily, "Oh Edward, I'm so glad you found her. You're going to be wonderful together, I can just tell. Now go on. We'll see you later."
Edward nodded to her and gave Bella a look she couldn't decipher before turning to go, his hand firmly holding hers saying, "I'll just let Isabella show me out." She walked with him to the door where he stopped, and turned to face her with such a determined look on his face that she took a half step back. He bent down to kiss her again. She was hooked now, she didn't know if she could ever say no to Edward's kisses again, her new favorite drug. Edward's hands came up to Bella's face, holding it slightly tilted, fingers threading through her hair as his lips toyed with hers, drawing a moan of pleasure from her. As he pulled away She realized he'd pulled her hair out of it's neat bun and it was now cascading down her back with random pins still stuck here and there. How did he distract her so utterly with his kisses that she didn't notice where his hands were? How did he do this to her?
With a cocky grin he said in a voice too sexy to be fair, "It looks lovely down Isabella. Leave it that way."
Oh! She wanted to smack him! So why was there this silly grin tugging at her lips? Using her fingers to try and find all the pins, she made her way back to Alice.
"Bella…Oh, you have such lovely hair!"
"Um…thanks? Edward seems to prefer it down and decided to do it himself before he left." Bella shrugged ruefully.
"Do you prefer it up?"
"Well, it's so heavy and long…I like it, but I'm not sure what else I'd do with it to be honest."
"Oh, well don't you worry. We'll take care of that before you go on your honeymoon. Let's get your clothes sorted out and we'll handle your hair later today. We'll start with your closet and see what we've got already and what we can toss and then head out."
"This way then."... She didn't really have much of anything she wanted to keep. "I really don't have much I want to keep. I'd rather just start fresh."
"Closet?" Alice asked. Bella pointed through the bathroom and Alice walked through the door to the closet beyond. As Edward had guessed, the majority of the outfits therein were power suits, business dress. There were a few casual clothes but they were all out of date. She didn't go out much except on business with her father, and even that wasn't too often. Her purpose there was to listen in unobtrusively and fill in her father on anything helpful she might overhear. She was glad to be through with that activity.
"Oh, my! Well this won't do. Alright, Edward said you wanted to give whatever you won't need any more to Oxfam, is that right?" Alice asked, while still looking through the clothes, her back to Bella.
"Yeah, sure. That's right." She really wasn't attached to much in there. The clothes were armor, and had served their purpose; they didn't show off curves much, and Bella honestly didn't think she looked that great in them, but that was what had been appropriate for her life the last few years. They had a lot of bad memories attached to them anyway and she was sure she wouldn't wear them if she didn't have to. She hoped the charity would get the clothes to someone who would actually enjoy having them.
"I do have a couple things I'd like to keep, but I'm fine with tossing the rest."
"Well why don't you pull out what you want to keep and put them in a suitcase; you're leaving in a few days right?" At Bella's nod she continued, "I'll just go get the boxes in my car and we can box these up to give away."
As she left Bella pulled out the few things she wanted to keep. A few chemises, a long sleeve blue sweater, a couple khaki pants. Not much, but then, she'd only worn them when she was not working and when Phil was away from home. She didn't want him to see her figure and try to whore her out. He didn't hesitate to use her in any way possible, she didn't want him to even consider that option. She'd only worked around his associates for a couple days in normal attire several years ago and she had been disgusted by the men's leering looks. She gradually changed her attire to make it look as though she gained weight, and had not been bothered by such looks in years which was a relief. Though, she didn't really comprehend why they would look at her in such uncomfortable ways, she was certainly nothing special. Bella closed the suitcase and put it on the floor on the far side of the room, then moved around the bed back to the closet where she began the process of removing clothes from the hangers, folding them, and placing them on the bed.
Alice returned with the boxes and a tape gun and tossed them on the floor. "That should be enough I think. What did you decide to keep?"
"I put a few things in the suitcase over there." Bella nodded her head towards it as she kept working. She wondered if Alice would argue with her about keeping them.
Alice opened the suitcase and held up each item as though trying to imagine it on Bella. "Well, they're certainly not high fashion, but I think they'll look well enough on you. So Edward said you met at a business meeting?"
"Yes. He was so arrogant!" Bella skirted the truth, trying to blend it with fantasy. What would have happened if she'd accepted his advances? "Stupid Bella. Your father would have talked to you and told you never to see him again or you would never see Reneesme again."
Alice laughed. "Yeah, he said you blew him out of the water the first few times he talked to you, but he brought you around eventually. He said he went through your father to set up a surprise date at the park with you?"
"Oh thank God." "Yes! I was totally surprised, but he was so earnest I couldn't resist staying and we had a wonderful time." "Must change topic!" "But we've only known each other for such a short time. I'd love to hear what you know about him and his family. And how did you and Jasper get together anyway?"
It worked. The pixie was totally distracted and Bella got a great deal in the bargain: all the intimate details of Edward's life from an inside observer.
As they worked Alice shared how she had met Jasper. She had been sitting up late in a coffee shop as she sketched clothing designs when Jasper came in. Their eyes met and time stood still. They'd known there was something very special between them and had been practically inseparable ever since. Jasper had only been in town briefly but decided to live there on a semi-permanent basis while he courted Alice.
"How long have you known M…Edward?"
"Oh, about two years now."
"What do you think about him?"
"Oh he's wonderful! He's going to be such a good dad too. You should see him with Emmett and Rosalie's kids! And he's really sweet with Esme. I think he's a bit too quiet and serious, but hopefully he'll loosen up now that he's with you…Oh! Have you heard him play the piano yet? No? Well he's simply amazing. But I'm sure he's told you plenty about that."
Not really no. Our conversations are more about him telling me what I will and will not do. New topic please. "What do you think about his family? I'm so nervous about meeting them."
"Oh, you'll love them, they're just wonderful. Carlisle and Esme are the most loving parents. Esme is so motherly and nurturing. She's made me feel like her own daughter. Do you know about the rest of the family?"
"Well, Edward has told me a few things, but I'd love to hear more from you."
"Okay, well, Emmett, you've met him?"
I have? "I'm not...um...maybe? We've not been introduced"
"Well, he's huge, but he's a real teddy bear on the inside. He's married to Rosalie. She stayed in the states with her kids for this trip. She can come off as a bitch sometimes because she doesn't trust easily and she says exactly what she thinks, but you always know where you stand with her and she's as loyal as they come. They've got three gorgeous kids. There's the twins: Samuel and Benjamin, they're three. Andrew is the newest. He's nine months old."
Keep her talking. More information for me that way and less chance I'll say something wrong. She seems happy enough talking though. "Are you and Jasper planning on kids?"
"We're trying actually. What about you and Edward?"
Taking a moment to translate her response into the world of fiction Edward had set up, Bella replied slowly, "Well, Edward is a bit older than me, so he's hoping for children pretty soon. We just decided not to do anything to prevent them."
"Oh yeah, not not trying. Jasper and I will probably do that after we have our first."
"Not not trying?" That made a funny sort of sense when she wrapped her mind around it.
"Well, I think we're about finished. Let's head out." They took the boxes of clothes down stairs and asked Mrs. Platt to arrange for charity to come pick them up. Then the torture of shopping began.
A/N So yea, I'm not necessarily back, but I was able to write some more so I thought I'd put up a chap. No idea when the next one will get up but it's mostly written so maybe less than a month. I know it was short. My apologies. Thank you all for your kind encouragement. I'm still having headaches daily but they're pretty well controlled with medicine so I seem to manage fairly well. Leave me love if you please. I like to know if there was something you enjoyed or laughed/snickered at/cried at, though I doubt this was a crying chap for anyone. Cheers!