AN: A huge thank you to my ficwife, Moni (Grope-Worthy Cullen) and to Stratan who Beta'd the heck out of the last few chapters! =)
"Hello, Ms. Swan?" a deep, yet musical voice asked.
"Yes, this is she. Can I help you?"
"I sincerely hope so. We met earlier today. My name is Marcus Preston, and I have a proposition for you."
"How did you get my number?"
"Your publishing office, my dear."
Even though he couldn't see her, she cocked her head to the side in confusion.
"Wait, wait. How did you know who I was?" She asked in confusion.
"Isabella," he started, "may I call you Isabella?"
"Sure, knock yourself out," she replied. Marcus laughed lightly.
"Do you think that Esme is the only one has worked with Lost Treasures? I recognized you almost immediately when you were at lunch earlier today, so I called and spoke with an acquaintance of mine, Brian Murray, to find out more about your stay in Chicago and how I could get in contact with you regarding a business proposition. You may not know the name, but he is the president of HarperCollins. He was very interested in what I had to offer."
"Really? And they just gave out my private phone number?" She asked incredulously.
"Well, it wasn't quite that easy," he chuckled. "I had to call in a few favors and sweet talk an intern who was working for Ms. Denali in order to get your number. It was well-worth it."
"That is a little disturbing, Mr. Preston. I can't for the life of me understand why you needed to speak with me directly. Tanya handles all of my press and publicity."
"Hmmm, while this is a business proposition, it also includes a personal gray area. I'd appreciate it if we could meet in person to sit down and discuss it in length. Perhaps for coffee?"
She took a deep breath and felt her brow furrow as she thought it over. She wondered what this personal area was about. Did he know about Jack? She honestly didn't think his tone relayed that idea. Her guess was that it had more to do with using her to mend fences with Esme, but she wasn't completely sure.
"Would this have anything to do with your relationship with Esme? I'm sorry, but I won't be used as a pawn in any way, Mr. Preston."
"Isabella, it's Marcus, please. I have no wish to use you as a pawn in any way, my dear, but yes, the personal aspect of this business arrangement also affects Esme and her family. I would really feel more comfortable discussing this in person. Please, could you meet with me and I will be happy to go into every tiny detail of my proposition."
Bella sighed, feeling herself cave. She was fairly certain that this had nothing to do with Jack. Her burgeoning curiosity took over her common sense.
"Okay, I think that's doable."
"So, then, you'll meet with me? On Friday?" He asked, sounding hopeful.
Bella swallowed and closed her eyes, pushing past her fears and insecurities to answer his question.
"Yes, I'll meet you."
"There's a coffee shop, at the Drake Hotel, called Lavazza. Does two pm sound alright with you?"
"Sure, I'll be there then."
"Thank you, Ms. Swan, you won't regret this."
"I hope I don't," she whispered to herself after hanging up.
She stood quietly looking out over the scenery before taking a deep breath and dialing the phone.
"Talk to me, babe," a slightly husky female voice answered.
"Hey, Tahn, I need your advice," Bella sighed.
"Wow, your tone of voice sounds serious. Is Sexy Daddy giving you a hard time again? I mean, just from looking at his pictures, babe, he could give it to me hard any day."
Bella shook her head and laughed lightly at Tanya's crass comment.
"No, it's not him. It's actually his ex-father-in-law, Marcus Preston."
She went on to explain to Tanya about meeting the Prestons at lunch and the bad blood between them and the Cullens. When she finished telling her about the phone conversation that she had just ended, Tanya was livid.
"So, you mean to tell me that I have a back-stabbing little hussy working as an intern? That shit is not cool. Giving out an author's personal information is clearly a breach of confidentiality. Trust me, Bella, I'm going to find out who it was and their ass is grass."
"I didn't tell you to get anyone fired, Tanya. I feel bad now," Bella whined slightly.
"Well, tough shit. You break the rules, you get your hand slapped. What if they had sold yours or someone else's number to a psycho? They had no right to do that. End of discussion," Tanya stated with finality. "You're too God damned nice for your own good, Bella. I swear you have no sense sometimes."
Bella cringed at her friend's abrasiveness, but knowing that was just how Tanya was, she took it with a grain of salt.
"Fine, consider it dropped. Now, what should I do about this situation I'm in now? I don't want to lie to anyone, but I also don't want to tell them until I know the whole story. How do I come out of this and not be the bad guy?"
Tanya sighed and hummed.
"Well, for starters, I would make sure you tell Alice and Jasper."
"I was already planning on that. I may be naive at times, but I'm not stupid enough to go into this without any backup. I've learned from my previous actions. Jasper would have my head." Bella grimaced.
"Okay then. I would take them with you and have them sit a distance away from you, but in plain view, just in case GrandPaw tries anything shady. It doesn't sound like anything horrible, but you know I like to cover every base. I'll see what info I can ferret out on my end. Maybe I can find out what Mr. Preston offered Brian. Maybe he needed a kidney or something."
"I think it'll be okay, chica," Tanya sighed. "Though, I would make sure to tell S.D. when you're finished. You don't want him thinking that you're hiding anything from him or being shady. That could work against you in the long run."
"S.D.?" Bella asked.
"Short for Sexy Daddy. God, I miss you. It's been too long. Damn job running me ragged. I think I'll be swinging by Chi-Town soon for a date. You gonna show a girl a good time, BellaBee?"
"I'll see what I can do, Tahn. I miss you, too," Bella sighed.
"Look, let me let you go. I've got an intern to hunt down. Give Jackie a kiss for me, and tell him Aunt Tanya says hello, okay?"
"Sure, sure. I'll make it extra slobbery, too," Bella laughed.
"That's my girl! Later, babe!"
Bella closed her phone and leaned against the railing of the patio. She'd try and talk to Alice and Jasper before they left and let them know what was going on. Her mind continued to turn though, wondering just what it was that Marcus Preston needed her for.
The next few days went by in a blur of hanging out as a group and visiting various spots in Chicago. Edward was still a little sore from his fall on Tuesday, so they kept their activities limited. Emmett and Carlisle continued to tease him mercilessly, while Jack expressed his pride in the fact that he tried. It was those words that made the aches and pains worth it.
Bella had managed to pull Alice and Jasper aside before they left and gave them a brief synopsis and they spoke in more detail over the phone the next day. Alice came up with the idea that Jasper could hang out nearby while Bella and Alice went to Lavazza. For once, Jasper agreed with one of Bella's ideas. He also thought that finding out what Marcus wanted before upsetting anyone else was a good idea. On Thursday night, Alice shared that she thought it would be best if they asked Rose to come along with them. Not only would it defuse any suspicion with the family, but having a Cullen there would also work in Bella's favor if anyone got angry that she didn't tell them sooner.
Bella told Rosalie about their plan during the drive to pick up Jazz and Allie from their hotel, which wasn't too far from The Drake. Rosalie was slightly annoyed that Bella didn't mention the plan ahead of time, but she understood Bella's reasons behind it. Rose also let Bella know that she would have her back should she need it when Bella told the rest of the family what had happened.
The three women made their way into the coffee shop just before two o'clock and noticed that Marcus was already there waiting for Bella. He raised an eyebrow when he noticed that her friends were with her. Alice and Rose took a seat on the other side of the room, giving Bella privacy, but also staying within line of sight. When Bella neared the table, Marcus stood and held a chair out for her.
"Thank you," she said quietly.
"I see that you've brought reinforcements with you. Very clever," he remarked.
"Are suggesting that said reinforcements are necessary? That doesn't instill much confidence in this meeting, sir."
Bella sat back in her chair and couldn't keep the small smirk off of her face. Marcus smiled warmly at her, and she could feel her defenses melting away.
"No, not at all, my dear. I just find that that was an intelligent move. You should always be prepared when walking into an unknown situation. My already high respect for you had increased exponentially. I can assure you, though, your friends are not needed in this case, but I'm happy to see their support of you all the same."
She bit her lip and studied him carefully. His silver hair was cropped short and his eyes were a beautiful slate blue color. He had crow's feet around his eyes and a kind smile. She sighed and folded her hands together on top of the table.
"Okay, so let's get down to business. What do you want from me?"
He smiled brightly. "Straight down to business? Why does that not surprise me?" He paused for a moment before continuing.
"I was to hold a charity gala here in Chicago, benefiting Lost Treasures. I would require your assistance in putting together any publicity for it, including your name recognition and photo ops."
"I don't understand what that has to do with me directly. Tanya handles all of the press releases and things of that nature." Bella gave him a confused look. Marcus folded his hands together and rested his chin on them.
"I don't know how much you are aware of, regarding my familiar ties with Esme, but we share a grandson, who has been missing for five years. My daughter, Victoria, was married to Esme's son, Edward. The divorce was messy and painful since they were already dealing with the loss of their child. Victoria's own childish behaviors made everything worse. She was spoiled and had, ahem, issues. When everything was finished and the dust settled, Esme placed the blame for Victoria's actions upon my shoulders for enabling her for so long. These past few years have been difficult, not only dealing with the loss of my only grandchild, but close family friends in Esme and Carlisle. Diane was heartbroken that Esme turned her away, even though she had nothing to with the situation, except guilt by association. I've watched my wife suffer without her best friend for too long, and I think you can give me the opportunity to attempt to make amends."
Bella narrowed her eyes. "So you are planning to use me," she accused.
Marcus sighed. "No, Isabella, I want to use the Gala as a means to an end. You are just along for the ride."
He smiled sadly at her. For some reason or another, Bella believed every word that he had said. She shook her head.
"I don't see how any of this will help. If she hasn't given you the time of day before, what makes you think she'll change her mind now?"
"I'm going to publicly ask her to co-host the event with me. She'll be pressured to accept and thus have to spend time with us. I haven't figured the rest out yet." He looked at her with an adorable confused look; one that she had seen on Jack many times.
Bella shook her head. "As much as I may feel for you, Marcus, I cannot betray Esme like that. As soon as I have the chance, I'm telling her all about this meeting. I want you to be aware that I won't allow her to be blindsided. That being said, Lost Treasures means the world to me and I will do whatever I can to help make your Gala a success."
Marcus rested his hands in his lap and gave her a serene smile.
"I would expect nothing less, Isabella. Warning Esme ahead of time will not change my course of action. This pettiness has gone on far too long. It's time to bury the hatchet."
"I do have one question, Marcus. How did you convince Mr. Murray to add this Gala to my schedule? I'm supposed to be unavailable."
He gave her a sheepish look and reached into the breast pocket of his suit.
"I promised him this," he said as he slid a folded piece of paper across the table to her. She unfolded it to find a check made out for $500,000 to The Lost Treasures Foundation. "In addition to a matching $500,000 at the Gala."
Bella's eyes widened and she looked up at him in shock. "A million dollars? You're donating a million dollars to Lost Treasures?"
He nodded and his eyes shone slightly with unshed tears. "I donate a large sum every year and can't think of a more worthy cause. If you and this Gala help me heal old wounds in addition, then that's a small price to pay."
Bella sighed and briefly wondered how the hell she was going to break this to Esme and not cause World War III.
Marcus looked at his watched and grinned.
"It has been enlightening Miss Swan, but I need to be heading out soon to pick my daughter up from the airport."
Bella's eyes widened. "Victoria?"
Marcus shook his head.
"I haven't spoken with her in almost two years now. Last I knew, she had checked into a rehab near her mother in Phoenix. I'm speaking about my younger daughter, Irina. She's mine and Diane's daughter. She's Victoria's exact opposite in every way. I feel horrible even thinking it sometimes, but she's the good daughter. Victoria always was a problem child, and I admittedly made it worse by spoiling her to make up for my absence in her life."
He sighed and gave her a sad smile.
"You have a son, don't you, Isabella?" He asked and she could only nod slowly.
Marcus stood and reached for her hand. "Treasure every single day with him and never take a moment for granted."
He laid a gentle kiss on her fingers and stepped away from the table.
"It was a pleasure, Miss Swan. I look forward to working with you."
He smiled one last, kind smile before leaving the coffee shop. She barely had any time to digest what had just happened before Rose and Alice descended upon her with a million questions. After spending another hour in the shop speculating and coming up with a game plan, the general consensus was to break the news to Edward first and then Esme second.
Alice hopped up to her feet and grinned.
"You know what you need, Bell?" She asked excitedly.
"Oh, no," Bella groaned. "What now, Al?"
Alice exchanged a mischievous look with Rose and they pulled Bella up and out of the coffee shop.
"Seriously, where are we going, guys? I'm not in the mood for surprises. I just want to go home and curl up with Jack."
"We'll be quick, I promise," Rose smiled. "We just need to make a quick stop."
An hour later, the girls left Victoria's Secret with a bag for each of them. For the first time, Bella was actually excited about what she purchased.
Later that night, after everyone Esme and Carlisle had retired for bed, Jack curled up with Bella on the couch opposite of Edward, who was propped up with a ton of pillows. Her hand absentmindedly ran through the boy's hair and he hummed a contented sound. She heard a soft laugh come from Edward and looked up to see that he was smiling adoringly at her and Jack.
'Is it worth it?' She thought. 'Is potentially falling in love with him worth the heartache I'll feel at the end of the summer?'
His eyes moved up to hers and he sent her a brilliant smile that made her breath catch in her throat.
The better question to have asked would have been, if it was even possible to avoid it happening any longer.
Within a few minutes, Jack was out cold. Bella shifted her body towards Edward and sighed. He looked at her questioningly.
"What's wrong, Bella? You look like you have a lot on your mind."
She sighed and nodded. "I need to tell you something, but I'm afraid that you'll be upset with me."
His brow furrowed and he cocked his head to the side a bit.
"Now I'm intrigued." He gave her a hesitant smile, obviously preparing for the worst.
She took and deep breath and let it out slowly before continuing.
"I had coffee today with Marcus Preston."
Edward's eyes widened and his mouth popped open in shock. He recovered quickly and narrowed his eyes, anger glinting on the surface.
"Continue, please. I need to hear the story behind this," he said, his voice shaking slightly.
"He called me on Tuesday. Remember the call that I took outside?"
Edward nodded slowly, not removing his eyes from hers.
"He said that he had a business proposition for me that involved The Lost Treasures Foundation. He had already called and spoke with my publishing house's president to get the okay on the project, so I was sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place. He bribed someone to give out my phone number and called to ask me if I would meet him somewhere for coffee so that we could iron out the details. I didn't want to involve any of you just yet since I wanted to wait and see what he was playing at."
She watched his his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed.
"Well?" He asked. "What did he want?"
"Ultimately? He wants to get back into your mom's good graces because he and Diane miss her."
Edward scoffed and rolled his eyes.
"So, what? Are you going to let him use you to accomplish that?" He asked angrily.
She narrowed her eyes at him.
"No one is using me. Thanks to Marcus working a deal with Mr. Murray, I am pretty much obligated to helping him. He wants to pull off a major fundraiser for Lost Treasures in honor of his grandson. He hopes that not only will it add awareness and funds to Lost Treasures, but help mend ties with Esme. He wants to ask her to co-host it with him."
Edward pursed his lips in thought. "Did you tell him about being Jack's mom?"
Bella shook her head. "No, I didn't want to make that decision without you."
"But you went along and met him without talking to me?" He asked sarcastically.
She sighed. "I told you, it was business. And utter curiosity. I'm telling you now because this is the first opportunity that we've had to be alone today. Please don't be angry about this. I didn't mean any harm."
He sighed and his eyes softened.
"You know it will get back to him eventually. I really don't want to have to deal with that when it happens," he sighed.
Bella observed him quietly.
"Why? He seems like such nice man. I mean, from what I gather, he did a bang up job of raising his daughter, but he's not solely to blame for that, is he? Is there some other piece of the puzzle that I'm missing?"
Edward shook his head. "Not really. There was just so much bad blood and mud slinging during the divorce. I had my demands and Victoria had hers. Neither one of us would back down or compromise. Marcus knew what she was doing was wrong, but he stuck with her and hired her the best lawyers money could buy. It ended up costing our family a lot financially and emotionally to get her out of our lives. My mom won't forgive or forget that, and I can't really blame her."
"He mentioned her in conversation, and I almost panicked," she laughed lightly, trying to break the tension. "Apparently he cut all ties with her and hasn't spoke to her in two years."
She looked up and saw surprise written all over his face.
"Huh," he murmured. "I guess he finally had enough of her as well."
Bella reached over and took his hand. Their gazes met and she smiled at him.
"I know you guys have been hurt, but don't you think that maybe he might be right? That it might just be time to heal the wounds that are still there, under the surface?"
Her other hand caressed Jack's hair and she looked down at him and sighed. When looked back up, Edward was studying their clasped hands.
"Maybe you're right," he said softly. "If nothing else, having Jack come back into our lives, bringing you with him, has made me believe in miracles." He smiled slightly and shook his head.
"It definitely won't be overnight, but we can try."
Bella smiled brightly and squeezed his hand, happy that they were one step closer to healing the old wounds completely.
Edward smirked at her and cocked his head to the side.
"What?" She asked.
"You're the one who has to tell my mother, though."
Bella laughed and tossed a pillow at him, careful not to wake up Jack. Edward laughed loudly and then covered his mouth quickly when Jack stirred.
"Huh, maybe we should get him to bed," he said quietly, while standing up. He put his arms under the boy and easily picked him up. He started up the stairs and towards his room.
Bella sighed and leaned down to tuck him in. "I remember when it used to be that easy."
She straighten up and noticed the sad look on his face. She quickly realized what she had just said and placed a hand on his arm.
"Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to remind you about everything and make you sad."
He shook his head. "No, don't be sorry. It's going to take some time, but it'll heal. I mean, it won't ever go away completely, but one day I'll be able to listen to you talk about the years I missed and be okay. I want to know everything I missed, I really do. It just hurts, you know?"
"I feel so selfish sometimes, considering what you lost, but I can't wish for it to have never happened. He's my whole life," she whispered, gazing down on the sleeping boy.
Edward took her by the hand and led her out of the room and down the hall to hers.
"Goodnight, Bella," he said as he wrapped her in a warm hug. She placed her head against his chest and breathed in deeply. She hugged him tightly before letting go.
"Good night, Edward," she whispered back and then watched him turn up the stairs to his room. She leaned against the doorway and smiled goofily before turning in for the night.