EPOV – Chapter 2
Stupid, stupid, stupid… I chanted in my head like a mantra.
"Are you sure?" I asked, unsure if I was disappointed or relieved by the information.
"I'm sure," Inspector Howards confirmed. "Isabella Swan was never even on the same continent as Henry More. As far as I can tell, they only met on the flight from Los Angeles to Sydney. She was flying with her mother and they were transferred to first class but there wasn't any additional money coming out of her bank account for it."
"So what happened?" I asked.
"Apparently someone from inside the company had them transferred and the airport's employee was instructed to let them know that their seats were switched because of some computer error. The order came from the big boss's office. No one questioned it."
"They flew on an Air More plane?" I chuckled humorlessly. Son of a… he manipulated her.
"Yes, but I told you that before in my e-mail, haven't you read it?"
"I did… Ok, thanks for clarifying things for me. I'll talk to you later," I said, disconnecting the phone call.
When I first read the e-mail Howards sent me I couldn't believe it. The old man must be laughing at me in his tomb right now. According to this report, Isabella Swan never met Henry More until a couple of weeks ago. She worked through college because her scholarship didn't cover all her expenses and only took a loan in her final year. Money shouldn't have been a problem in her life if the Duke was a part of it, right?
Stupid, stupid, stupid… Well, genius, she's definitely not a gold digger. I didn't know if I should be happy because all of the obstacles I placed in my head to pursuing her were lifted, or if I should hang my head in shame for misjudging her. We'd barely met, but it only took me a couple of days away from her to realize that I wanted her, that I'd missed her.
Why do I want her like this?
One thing I knew for sure was that she was not going to forgive me effortlessly. I was prepared to fight for her, to see where things could go. I knew without any doubt that I had messed with her just as much as she had with me. The question was how I could regain her trust. She'd definitely think that I was the one acting with hidden intentions regarding her. Had I not deserved that?
She's interesting, fine. Is she worth all the trouble?
Innately I knew the answer to that question. I had broken up with Tanya as soon as we landed in London and I had jumped into a freezing river and carried her through the snow without any second thought other than making sure she'd be okay. That was the first unselfish act I had performed in a long time. Obviously, Henry More ruined it. In his defense, he did warn me.
I was interrupted from my musings by Jasper's loud entrance into the library.
"Do you know who your sister was with last night, or, should I say, this morning?" It didn't go unnoticed that he still referred to Alice solely as my sister.
"I believe she went out with Bella last night," I answered as calmly as I could. I was worried about them, especially considering there was someone trying to kill Bella. I wanted to ask him what could I do, it's not like she'd listen to me, any of them for that matter, regarding their safety.
"And you're ok with it?" he asked rhetorically. "Did you know that Alice didn't sleep at home? That I saw them dancing surrounded by a group of men, each one of them trying to cop a feel? They could barely walk in a straight line when they left the club. Did you know that one of Swan's gorillas actually put his hands on me when I tried to get Alice home?" he nearly yelled.
The irony wasn't lost on me, as I knew that a drunk Alice wasn't exactly safe next to Jasper. I had learned that the hard way.
"I would say that they were just doing their jobs, keeping them safe. Jasper, what is this all about?" I asked, my patience growing thin.
"So you don't care that your sister has befriended that little devil's progeny? I mean, greed really runs deep through the veins of that family."
"Jasper," I warned him, "I'd like you to keep that kind of thought to yourself."
"Are you defending her? She took almost everything away from us…" he started.
"If anyone in this room had something taken away from him, that person was me. I inherited only the properties attached to my Duchy, that was what I was lawfully entitled to, and I believe that if Henry More could have, he would have taken that away from me as well," I concluded.
I knew that the turning point in my relationship with Henry had occurred when he found out about Alice's pregnancy. The person I had to thank for that was standing right in front of me. Until then, Henry had ignored any trait he might have disliked in me. I knew he was uncomfortable with how aggressive I was in business. I have always been indulged and always got what I wanted until a couple of days ago. Henry More knew that and punished me for all the wrong reasons.
At first, I directed my anger towards Bella, but now, with the perspective of my newly-acquired knowledge, I knew I was the one to blame, and so was Jasper.
I had done what I had to do to protect my family, to avoid the suffering and the humiliation of public exposure. It was my cross to bear. Every day I prayed for Alice not to remember who she had spent that night with. Much to my despair, she continued to fantasize about him over the years, ignoring his faults, idolizing him. When Madeline came into his life I felt like in some way the universe was getting back at him. She was a tolerable lay, but she would open her legs to the highest bid. As she had thought I was still with Tanya, the heir of an Earl was the second best thing available on the market.
Am I a bad person? Probably. Does he deserve it? Most definitely.
I think I had an evil smile plastered across my face, because Jasper just stood there looking at me like I may have gone mad.
"So what? You're condoning this kind of behavior?" he finally asked.
"I suppose I am." I wasn't, but I would not let him see it. This sick connection he tried to maintain with Alice had to end. It had gone on for too long.
"So you're just going to stand there and do nothing?"
"Jasper, don't go there! She's a grown woman, I'm sure that didn't go unnoticed by you!"
It was our silent battle and I won - he left huffing. As soon as the door closed, I grabbed my phone to call Alice. I couldn't wait another second. It was half past midday and she took her time answering. My knee was bouncing nervously while I waited. I stopped as soon as she picked it up.
"Alice, where the hell are you?" The tension in my voice was palpable.
"I'm at Bella's," she answered nonchalantly, "we went out yesterday…"
"I gathered that when I saw you leaving together. Jasper told me he saw you yesterday as well…" I let the words linger to see if she'd take the bait.
"Of course he told you…" she said petulantly.
"Are you alright? Do you want me to pick you up? You didn't take your car last night," I said, finally letting my worry show.
"I'm fine, Edward. No, I don't need you to come pick me up…" she said, a little exasperated. Bella was awakening Alice's rebel side. She hadn't spent a night away from home since we had come back from the U.S. I shut my eyes forcefully trying to hold back the memories, and changed the subject.
"Have you forgotten about the New Year's Eve party? Mum came to ask for you and I told her that you were still asleep… Why didn't you come home with Jasper?" I was glad she hadn't. I knew she wasn't an impressionable teenager anymore, that her former experience had changed her more than a lifetime of experiences could, but she was a sensitive person and I was afraid…
"No, I haven't forgotten… he was being pushy," she stated in her defense.
"So where did you sleep?" The necessary question escaped my lips.
"I slept in a bed…"
"What bed?" I asked, exasperated. Jasper said that Alice had left with Bella.
They went home together and alone, right?
"What bed? Bella's…" That answer made something stir in me.
"In Bella's bed? As in… with her?"
"Now that you got me thinking about it, I'm all hot and bothered… She has that effect on the Mores, doesn't she?"
She did. Alice evoked a very vivid memory of Bella in my arms, naked and wanting, nearly begging for more. And in a matter of seconds I was hard.
I heard a muffled sound in the background that brought me back from my fantasy and reminded me that I was still on the phone with my sister.
"She's listening, isn't she?" And with all that morning's craziness, I almost forgot about the most important fact. "Tell Bella that the police came by to check some details about the night I went to pick her up at her uncle's." I decided to use my sister as a courier, considering it to be the safest way to get to Bella.
"Yes, she's listening. Ok, I'll tell her. I'll see you later."
The police came, early in the morning, to fill in the blanks. There was a lot that Bella didn't remember from that night, and unfortunately I wasn't able to give them more details than she had.
I had only seen her waving for me to stop and disappearing in the darkness through a track next to the bridge. Her hair had been dancing in the wind, that's what had called to my attention to her even in the darkness. I had stopped the car and run in her direction, and as I was approaching calling after her, I had heard a thud and saw her silhouette falling into the water. I had just acted without any second guesses.
The police were very insistent in asking whether I was sure it wasn't just an accident considering it was dark and she could have tripped. But I knew without any doubt that we hadn't been alone. How could they justify the phone call she had received luring her to that place? It had been a calculated move.
I understood why her life was in danger after the reading of the will. I had been one amongst many shocked people in that room. I had probably been even more angry than most, given the surprise and the loss.
The relevant question to ask was who knew about the will before its reading? If I could figure that out, then I'd have the puzzle solved. The problem was, at the time, after my testimony, the police probably considered me the number one suspect. Had Bella jumped to the same conclusion they had? I knew they were just doing their job, but I nearly lost my carefully-crafted composure.
Things couldn't get anymore fucked up than they had in the last week, could they?
I made some business calls before lunch. Although the market reacted positively to the fact that one of the biggest economic empires of the world was kept intact, everyone was speculating whether the new heir was going to keep the same administration board Henry had kept and the same direction. I knew without a doubt that Bella wasn't going to change anything for now – she didn't have the experience or the expertise when it came to finances. I could almost pity her, had she not inherited without any effort what I'd worked my entire life to achieve. It was going to be tough on her and I wondered if she was resilient enough to manage her new situation. I didn't want her spirit to break and I honestly was beginning to wonder if I should warn her and guide her. As this thought came to mind I drew back from it. She'd never trust me or come to me for help. Could she trust me? Facing temptation, would I go against everything I was taught?
I'm a predator.
I sat in my chair waiting for lunch to be served. Carlisle sat at the head of the table with Esme at his right side and Jasper to the left. Madeline sat in front of me and next to Jasper. There was an empty seat next to me, Alice's.
"Where's Alice?" Carlisle asked.
"She's not coming for lunch, we can start without her," I said casually, picking up my spoon.
"Oh, what a shame! Maybe she forgot we were supposed to make the final adjustments to my dress," Madeline told my mother with feigned innocence. I almost rolled my eyes in her direction.
"Where is she, Edward?" Mum asked.
"We saw her leaving the club last night with Isabella Swan," Madeline said rudely, meddling in the conversation.
"Yes, she's befriended Father Thomas's niece. She seemed like a perfectly amiable young woman."
"Amiable young lady is the new expression for gold digger?" Jasper intervened.
"Son," Carlisle interrupted, "you're insulting a dead man's memory. Henry More was a friend of this family and I always trusted his judgment. He left both Alice and Edward settled comfortably for life and he made sure to leave a generous amount of money for all his relatives. The woman you're referring to was the descendant of his lifetime love, one that he rejected," he added calmly. "His choice didn't come as a shock to me as it was for most of our social circle."
"Oh, we all know about Mary Thomas's story," Madeline teased mischievously.
"You ought to know that you shouldn't believe everything you're told, Madeline," Carlisle scolded her. "Anyway, Edward, you never answered your mother's question."
"Alice is fine, she slept at More Park and will probably have lunch there with Be... Isabella."
Jasper noticed my Freudian slip and smirked. Bastard. If he held Bella in better account I'd bet that he'd be singing some childish song about Edward and Bella kissing… I almost wished he had, since we were all on edge.
"I heard Isabella is a model," Madeline restarted. "She has quite plain features and I honestly think that she was only noticed because she was the public date of a reclusive billionaire. In fact, if not for wearing one of Alice's creations, I think she'd have gone completely unnoticed. No one ever heard of an Isabella before."
"I disagree," Esme said. "I think she has that kind of classic and ethereal beauty. She's not exuberant and she probably wouldn't be the first woman to be noticed in the room, but once you did, her face is hard to forget. She has the perfect image for the a.m. campaign. I believe Edward thought so, too. I believe we talked about it…"
"Really, Edward? And what captured your eye?" Madeline asked.
"She's naturally beautiful, even without make up. On her, it only enhances her strong points, she doesn't have imperfections to hide…" And I left my words to her interpretation. Her eyes narrowed slightly, letting me know that she understood what I meant by it.
"It's true, she has a flawless skin," my mother concurred.
"I think her strongest feature is her eyes," Carlisle said.
We all stared in his direction, surprised that he participated willingly in this sort of conversation. Like him, what I had first noticed about her were her eyes…Although after the night we had spent together, I had grown particularly fond of her breasts and her long legs. I began to imagine how it would feel to have them wrapped around me, and that wasn't an appropriate thought when you had your mother sitting next to you…
"She's not a model, though," I said, clearing my voice. "She's a doctor."
"What kind of doctorate did she take?" Madeline chuckled. Esme looked at her a little annoyed, finally starting to see through the polish.
"Actually, she works at a hospital in Seattle," I answered, unaffected by Madeline's words.
Both my parents gave approving nods. Jasper sat in silence, looking at me quizzically. Sensing a lost battle, Madeline changed the subject.
"When I arrived this morning, I saw a police car in the entrance. Was there something wrong?"
"They found my car," I answered. And it was the truth, my car was found by the police close to the bridge.
"Someone stole it?" she questioned with a fake horrified expression.
I nodded and kept eating. Everyone at the table knew what really happened but kept that information to themselves, Jasper included. I avoided the subject, not really being able to wrap my mind about how I felt about it. The only one who had been able to yank some details out of me was Alice, while applying some pomade to my feet. She played dirty sometimes. Talking about feet, they still hurt like hell.
I forced myself to eat the rest of my meal in silence. Esme and Madeline were going through every insignificant detail about the New Year's Eve party, occasionally asking Jasper his opinion. Carlisle looked in my direction with sympathy; the poor man was suffering as much as I was. I knew he disliked Madeline, that he didn't find her fit for our family, but like the good man he was, he was allowing Jasper to make his own mistakes. Hitting thirty must have made him desperate.
I always regarded Jasper as a brother. We grew up together, got drunk together, he gave me the confidence to chase after my first crush. If not for what happened seven years ago, nothing would have changed. But my sister was and still is my first priority, so I always watched her like a hawk since then. I failed to protect her once and I had to make sure it would never happen again.
I knew that my sister loved my brother, and that fact was what kept him alive over the years. He didn't force himself upon her, but she had had nowhere near the necessary state of mind to make her own decisions, so in my opinion, he did take advantage of her. Punishing him the way he deserved meant having to come clean to my family about everything, and I'm not sure we could handle it. What would that do to my mother and father? We were finally a family, Alice was back home after a long period of neglect by my mother. It took her years to mend after my biological father's traumatic death.
My relationship with Jasper had grown silently strained over the years. I had only confronted him once about what happened. Discoveri that your sixteen year old sister was pregnant was not something I was equipped to deal with. God forgive me, but I was relieved when she had an abortion. Anyway, Alice wanted to forget, and so did I.
I looked at Jasper's relationship with Madeline as an opportunity. I confess that I even encouraged him to propose to her – it's twisted and Machiavellian, but I'm not ashamed of it. Besides, keeping her in the family would probably prevent her from talking about what she had seen that night. She wouldn't want people to know that her fiancé had a thing for his own adoptive little sister, right?
After my torment, I excused myself and went back to work. It was particularly difficult to concentrate on anything aside from Bella. My feelings were divided – on one hand, I was remorseful about the way I had treated her. On the other, I was still angry due to the fact that even though she hadn't planned on it, she still had everything I had wanted. I was actually planning to let the old man die before I tried to get to her again, but I should have known that he'd want to place a more effective barrier between us. 12 billion reasons, to be precise.
At 5 p.m. sharp, Mum called me to have tea in her favorite sitting room. I was beginning to resent this family gatherings and was praying for the holidays to be over when Alice arrived, bringing with her a very self-conscious Bella. She knew that she was being evaluated, and even though she managed to keep her back straight, some signs were there.
I was momentarily aggrieved when she drew her hand back from mine. I wanted to take her hand as a peace offering, but she rejected me. She sat awkwardly as far from me as possible, but as she spoke, I read her body language and it told me that she wasn't indifferent. Mum and Dad tried to make her feel as welcome as possible considering the situation. Madeline never stopped attacking, but Bella defended herself graciously, impressing me and gaining, without knowing it, the approval of my parents. Jasper kept his gloomy face throughout the whole exchange. Bella was growing restless, looking at the door almost imperceptibly, and I kept watching her, studying her. My cool mask was only shaken when she told Madeline she was leaving for the U.S. in a few hours. My heart skipped a beat, and for a fraction of a second I considered throwing her over my shoulder and imprisoning her.
She left hurriedly after Alice, who was acting even more peculiarly than usual, and I knew that if I wanted to have any chance with that woman - if I decided that I wanted to pursue her romantically, that is - I'd have to start cleaning up my act without any further delay. As soon as she stood up I chased after them, still hobbling a little, almost resorting to a guilt trip to slow her down since my feet were injured because of her.
"Let me walk you to your car," I said, trying to get her attention. "You have to know I didn't mean it," I told her as she was about to get into the car. She paused nts and turned to face me, incredulous. She looked at me, daring me to look away, and I looked back, trying to convey the sincerity of my words. She had to know. She stepped closer infinitesimally before answering my silent apology.
"It's fine, Edward. Sometimes we say things we don't mean to. I know that I owe you my life, and that fact is enough for me to let go of that subject. Perhaps you should, too. I know everyone seems to think otherwise, but I never meant to take anything away from you. I didn't even know you existed until a few days ago. God, I didn't even know about Henry…" she drifted off.
"I'm starting to believe you…"
"Oh, really? And what made you change your mind?" she asked sarcastically.
"You'd never left the States prior to your trip to Australia, and Henry More refused to travel outside the UK for the last couple of years. He became quite the hermit after his wife died..."
"And it's kind of hard to be, how did Millie put it? Oh, right, intimate with someone you've never seen before," she interrupted my justification abruptly. "When did you ask to have my background checked?" she nearly shouted at me, almost losing her calm.
"The day after the party in Sydney," I admitted. After my conversation with the Duke, I had had to know exactly what kind of relationship she had with him and why he wanted to keep me away from her.
I know now… that hypocrite loved her, not like a grandfather loves a granddaughter, but like a man loves a woman. He loved her and left everything to her because she was his living Marie.
"That's just great! So all of this time you knew…" she huffed, accusatory. We both looked at my sister, who was looking away, pretending to ignore our conversation. Bella lifted her eyes from Ali first, and as soon she did, my sister winked at me, passing on her support.
"So this is what my life is going to be like from now on?" she asked, frustrated. I swallowed hard and made a Herculean effort not to touch her, thinking about how she had rejected my touch previously.
"I'm really sorry, more than words can convey. You have to believe me," I nearly begged, "I only found out today, when my investigator mailed me your background check."
The honesty thing wasn't going the way I expected. Manipulation was something I was better at.
"I'll give you the same credit you gave me. No more, no less. I really should get going, Edward," she said, stepping away from me. "I'll see you around."
"I'll let you go, for now."
A plan, I needed a plan.
For some reason I stood in the entryway of my family's home, anguished as I saw her driving away, consciously putting a long distance between us.
I should hate Isabella Swan for all the mess she's creating in my life, except that I couldn't.
Stupid, stupid, stupid…
Who was I kidding, she was my siren singing to me, and I had never had a choice.
Ok, what do you think? Here's a little something I wrote only to let you know more about the Cullen's dynamic as a family. They're a little creepy in a way, aren't they?
As I'm still in the process of finishing chapter 18 mainly for lack of inspiration to portray properly the new characters and I may have gone a little carried away by Renée… Night shifts and sleep deprivation made me extra cranky and it became visible in what I write.
So what do you think about this chapter? Please leave a review and let me know… it might inspire me writing the following chapters (blackmailing much? He he).