A/N: So, another little story...this Bella is lovingly modeled after one of my r/l gfs, who is one of the most kickass women I know and has a heart the size of Texas. :)
No one reads this crap, but just in case, I don't own Twilight or anything that goes with it.
Prologue: What the Hell Was I Thinking?
I look around the room, taking in the sights and sounds. Pretty people wearing pretty clothes. Cocktails now. Dancing to begin soon. Holiday music and chatter providing background noise.
I see him standing across the room. I'm ashamed that after all that's happened, my eyes, my body are still drawn to him in a way I can't explain…can't deny…can't stop.
Why did I come here? What am I trying to prove?
"So, point out this Cullen guy," he whispers in my ear.
"He's over near the stage…hot, tall, messy hair," I whisper back.
"With the gorgeous blonde?"
"Yes, Jasper. Thanks for pointing that out," I remark humorlessly. He puts an arm around me and squeezes me into his side for a moment before letting go.
"Come on, Baby Swan. I meant standing with the gorgeous blonde," he clarifies gently.
Jasper has called me Baby Swan almost as long as we've known each other. I don't remember how it even started. I met him during college, so there's a good chance one or both of us were impaired when he came up with it, but, for whatever reason, it's stuck for the last seven years. He rarely calls me Bella outside of the office; it's almost always Baby Swan.
"Yes, that's him. And the blonde? That's Rosalie Hale, Mr. Hale's only daughter. He's been trying to push her and Edward together since they were kids, according to Edward. Looks like he finally got his wish," I say flatly. Rosalie has her arm wound through Edward's and he's bent down talking to her as he pats the hand she's resting in the crook of his elbow.
I remember how hanging on to Edward's arm feels – like you're protected, treasured. I remember how fucking good he smells when he leans down to talk to you like you're the only person in his universe. I remember what an asshole he can be.
"All right. Let's get started on this mission," Jasper says, interrupting my indulgent, bittersweet reminiscence.
"What mission, Jasper? There's no mission. You're just my arm candy for the evening," I joke, smiling up at him and taking a sip of my wine.
"Baby Swan, this is the best time to make old Eddie regret what he's missing," he says leaning close again and smiling. "You look stunning, I look stunning. Chances are he'll be jealous of one of us. He's looking over this way right now, as a matter of fact, so smile that pretty smile up at me again, sugar. And let me tell you how pleased I am that you asked me to escort you this evening instead of my Neanderthal business partner."
I laugh out loud and look up at Jasper. Thank goodness we're completely comfortable physically around each other….well, not that comfortable. We never went all the way, but we did round a couple of bases one drunken night during college.
And he's right about one thing: He is stunning. He has a headful of tousled blond curls and the brightest blue eyes – Texas skies, his mama calls that color. Tonight, he's wearing a black suit and a grey tie. We're coordinated – my strapless dress is gunmetal gray, with some beading around the top. Even I know this dress hugs my body in all the right places…all the places that used to drive Edward mad.
"Well, darlin'," I say, imitating Jasper's Texas drawl, "Edward knows Emmett because he has accompanied me to some of the meetings with the good ol' boys at Hale Software. And Edward knows that Emmett and I are friends, nothing more. Edward and I have barely even talked about you, except for me to say how close we are. So you, honey pie, are basically mysterious fresh meat to the eyes of everyone around here."
"Impressive accent, sugar. Has my mama been givin' you those 'learn to talk Texan in ten phone calls' lessons again?" he asks, lowering his head to whisper in my ear. Jasper is very good at making us look like a couple. We've pretended to be a couple before for various social occasions – and various exes.
"I refuse to answer on the grounds I may incriminate both myself and your mama. But someone did tell me recently that 'nothin' dries as quick as a tear' and if Edward doesn't come around, then he's 'about as sharp as a sack full of wet mice'," I laugh.
Jasper laughs with me. "Lord, she's still trying to get you in the family, isn't she?"
"Yup, especially since we were there Thanksgiving. You know what's scary? I've actually started using some of these quirky little expressions she's been teaching me – I don't even realize it until the words are out of my mouth," I say with astonishment.
"No! She's got you now Baby Swan. She'll sic Big Daddy on you next," he says, smiling and playing with the charm bracelet on my left wrist. I probably shouldn't have worn it.
"She already has. Puts him on the phone every damn time she calls me. And Big Daddy says I'm the daughter you were supposed to be," I say, dissolving into giggles and leaning into him again. Jasper is the youngest of five boys and is the baby Big Daddy felt sure would be a Texas princess. He has decided that I should marry Jasper and fulfill that role even though both Jasper and I have told him that we are just friends.
"Uh oh. Here comes Cullen and he's detached himself from the blonde. Would you like me to stay or go?" he asks, serious, leaning his face close to mine again.
"Stay, please. I'll introduce you," I answer quietly. He puts his arm back around my waist. I put on the smile I've been practicing in front of the mirror for days.
"Bella, happy holidays. It's nice to see you. I wasn't aware you'd be here this evening," Edward says in his smoother-than-velvet voice as he approaches us.
"Hello, Edward. Happy holidays to you as well. Mr. Hale invited me when I met with him a few weeks ago. I'd like you to meet Jasper Whitlock. Jas, this is Edward Cullen, the Executive Vice-President of Hale Software," I say sweetly. To his credit, Jasper looks at me intently and pulls me more tightly to his side before handing me his drink so he can shake Edward's hand. To an outsider, it would look like Jasper was captivated by my every word.
"Jasper Whitlock. You're the Jasper….Whitlock….as in McCarty and Whitlock?" Edward asks, confused, as they shake hands. His eyes shoot to my face. He knew that Jasper is one of my closest friends, but not that he is technically my boss. Edward is not pleased.
"Yes, sir. Emmett and I own the advertising firm and, thank the good Lord, were smart enough to hire Baby Swan here when we first started out. She's my good luck charm. And we always have had fun together," Jasper drawls, smiling first at Edward then at me. I smile back and hand him his drink, which he takes after letting his fingers linger over mine a little longer than necessary. I put my arm around Jasper's waist, accidentally gripping so hard that he jumps a little. I loosen my grip slightly and rub over the spot where I hurt him.
Edward nods. "I saw you laughing as I was walking over. I'm glad you're enjoying yourselves," he says, not at all looking glad about anything. His voice sounds cordial, but the acerbic undertone is hard to miss. His smile is bitter…but still beautiful.
"Yes, we were discussing how my mama likes to call Bella every week to teach her funny Texas colloquialisms, planning to turn her into a Whitlock. Right, darlin'?" Jasper says, laughing lightly and looking adoringly at me again.
"I…but…I thought you were just friends," Edward stammers. Ha! This caught him off guard. Good. I know it's petty, but I do hope it bothers him to see me, think of me with someone else.
I shrug and smile. "Things changed, Edward," I state simply.
"Damn lucky for me," Jasper says quietly, but loudly enough that Edward hears.
I smile at him before turning back to Edward.
"Edward, how have you been? I saw you and Rosalie earlier. She looks well," I say politely, hating that we are reduced to these pleasantries after everything we've said to each other in the past.
"I'm fine. Rose is fine. Bella, I really need to speak with you privately," he says, his earnest green eyes boring into my brown ones, pleading with me.
"Oh, Edward. Let's not discuss business tonight," I say lightly, pretty proud of myself for keeping my composure. But I am still clinging to Jasper like he's my flotation device in this stormy sea of fuckedupness I'm drowning in.
Unseen by Edward, Rosalie is approaching from behind him. He reaches out to grasp my arm – the one that's not clinging to Jasper – and bobbles my hand enough that a few drops of my red wine slosh out of the glass.
"Bella, I'm sorry," he says, taking a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe off my hand. "But it is imperative that I talk to you – alone – for a moment." He's not smiling anymore; he seems almost desperate. I can't imagine why. We said everything there was to say.
"Edward, my father wants to speak with us," Rosalie says, sliding up beside Edward and putting a possessive arm through his. She does not look pleased to find him in my company.
"I'll be right there, Rose," he answers, not even sparing a glance her way, continuing to look at me.
"He wants us now, Edward," she says, more sharply than before. Defeated, Edward closes his eyes for a second before looking at me again. His face now stoic. His eyes guarded pools of green, betraying no emotion. That's a look I recognize. He nods stiffly to Jasper and me and turns to walk away with Rosalie.
"Well, we can probably kiss the Hale Software account goodbye," I remark wryly to Jasper after they walk away.
Texas skies search my face before Jasper responds. "Bella, I could give a fuck about the goddamn stupid account. The firm will survive without it. I'm concerned about you…and about making that motherfucker sorry he ever let you get away."
I smile up at him and sniffle a bit as I look around.
Edward's secretary Jane waves to me from a few feet away. I pull Jasper over to her and make the introductions. We are a little closer to the stage now and Mr. Hale, Rosalie and Edward all walk up the side stairs and into the middle of it. Rosalie steps in front of Edward and grabs both of his hands, wrapping his arms around her middle. Although Rosalie is smiling, Edward looks more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I chuckle to myself. That's one of mama Whitlock's favorite sayings and I know she'd be proud of me using it.
Mr. Hale takes the microphone in hand and begins to speak.
"Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the Hale Software holiday party. We hope everyone is having a great time and I'm going to let the band get going in just a few minutes. But first, I have a very special announcement to make. After years of friendship, at last the Hale and Cullen families are making a joint venture. My daughter, Rosalie, has accepted the marriage proposal of Edward Cullen!"
Cheers and applause erupt around the room. I feel like I'm going to throw up. I feel dizzy – everything seems to be tilting sideways. I need to sit down. He proposed….to her…after…how could he?
"Steady, sugar," Jasper whispers in my ear, supporting my swaying body with the arm he still has around my waist. I'm in a full-body panic, heart racing, ears ringing, knees knocking. Edward seems to be frantically searching the room with his green gaze, until his eyes light and stick on mine. He looks apologetic…sad. I whimper quietly.
"Bella, look at me and smile. Show that yellow-bellied, two-faced, son of a bitch that he can't get to you," Jasper says quietly. I rip my gaze away from Edward's magnetic stare to look up at my friend and smile the most painful smile of my life.
"There now. That'll do. He can't see your whole face. I'm gonna kiss you and you try not to throw up on me, okay? Nod," he orders. I nod and he bends down to press his lips lightly against mine. He pulls back to smile at me, then looks toward the stage. Mr. Hale is still talking, but I'm no longer listening to what he's saying.
Jasper starts talking to me again, but continues to look at Edward while I continue to look at Jasper….I can't stomach looking at Edward or Rosalie right now.
"He's still looking at you. Put your hand on my neck and pull me down to kiss you," he says. I do, my lips meeting Jasper's again.
"Jasper, I can't….I'm going to cry," I whisper, pulling back a few inches from his lips and raising my prickly, teary eyes to meet his steel blue ones.
"Don't you dare, Baby Swan," he answers, smiling gently down at me. "I'm going to kiss you once more – open mouth, but no tongue. Then I'm taking your hand and we are getting the hell out of here like someone has lit the desire fire right under our reproductive parts. That cocksucker will think that we can't wait to get out of here and go fuck each other's brains out. Got it?"
"Yes," I whisper. Jasper lowers his lips to mine again, really kissing me good this time. Damn, he's a great kisser. I wish I was attracted to him. My life would be much simpler. Well, not really, since I'm his employee. But, still, I can enjoy the kiss for the moment. Except that he's watching. Fuck, that distraction didn't last very long.
"Goddamn, Swan, it's been a long time since we kissed, huh?" Jasper laughs against my lips. "I kind of wish you weren't hung up on that lily-livered, pond-sucker dicktard so we could go fuck each other's brains out. I'm gonna grab your hand and haul ass out of here in just a second. I will look at the stage and tell you if he liked the show. You do not look up there under any circumstances. Understand?"
"I understand," I whisper, fresh tears collecting in my eyes.
"Hold it together for another minute, Baby Swan. When we get in the car, you're free to lose your shit," he says, grabbing my hand and intertwining our fingers before lifting our hands to his lips to graze my knuckles. He turns, swinging his gaze back toward the stage, then leads me by the hand quickly out of the room. I make it without looking back at Edward.
By the time we get our coats and are waiting for Jasper's car at the valet stand, I'm barely hanging on. Jasper helps me into the car when it arrives and then gets behind the wheel.
"Motherfucker, here he comes," Jasper says, looking out the window on my side. "Stay or go, Bella?"
I hear Edward yelling my name as he comes out the automatic doors of the hotel.
"Go, Jasper, please," I beg hoarsely. "Go!"
We take off quickly and I breathe a sigh of relief as I let the tears finally start to fall. I look in the passenger side mirror and see Edward standing where I just was…one hand in his hair, his face contorted as he calls my name once more.
Another A/N: Please review - next chappy up Monday. Thanks for reading