A/N: Your eyes are not deceiving you. It's an update.
No excuses, just that RL went very, very crazy for long months.
Peeptoe and Unimaginative Olena crossed my t's and dotted my i's.
Disclaimer: Not mine. All Stephenie Meyer's genius. Plot is mine, though. I enjoy making them do crazy things.
BUSINESS CLASS GIRL - CHAPTER 22
"Emmie, as much as you don't want the preppy asshole around the house, it might, you know, look good if you actually showed up…" I cut in before he says anything else. Anything more stupid, that is.
"BeeBee…" he has the pleading look of the proverbial five-year-old who's been grounded on no PlayStation, no candies and no football.
"Don't BeeBee me, he might be my least favourite person on the planet right now, but it won't take him long to figure out where you've gone. Jasper can only entertain him for so long with tales of their Oxford stunts. Marcus is a baronet, not an idiot."
"Debatable." Edward's voice has a hard edge to it. I think it's safe to say that Emmett gained a supporter in his anti-Marcus crusade.
"Right. This is not the time for a pissing contest, Boss. Just let Emmett go home, then I will go home, deal with his Lordship, and then I will call Angela and ask her what the heck she knows about this clusterfuck."
"BeeBee, you sure about this?" Em's speaking to me, but he's looking at Edward, whose mouth is pulled into a hard, thin line, and whose eyes are narrowed to slits, like those of a snake coiled up to strike.
"Yes, I'm sure. There are a couple of things I need to do before I come back."
"Ugh, leave it. I don't wanna know." Emmett's snicker shakes Edward out of his momentary funk.
As soon as my brother clicks the door shut behind him, Edward turns and pulls me into his lap. Then his hands are on both sides of my face. "Now I can say a proper 'Good morning' to you, B."
This kiss is slow and languid, there is no urgency, there are no frantic breaths. I feel only his lips on my skin… and his hands in my hair. His nose skims my neck, sending shivers down my spine again. My limbs are tangled and aching from the awkward posture, but I don't care. I just feel my arms winding around his waist, and his hands gripping my waist, bringing me closer. Being human, I still need to come up for air and, as much as I hate it, I must break the kiss.
"That's one hell of a good morning, can I have another?"
He smiles against my lips. "As many as you want. All the mornings you want." His voice is serene, full of promise. Who knew the morning after would be so smooth? That is, net of any intruding peerage.
"So, this…Marcus, do you really have to go and deal with him now?" The hard edge is back. He sounds dangerous.
"Yes, Edward. I do. I might have an inkling of what he wants, and why he showed up unexpected and uninvited like this, but neither Jasper nor Emmett can effectively send him packing."
"And you can?"
I sigh. This answer is loaded with a backstory I haven't yet shared with Edward in its entirety. The backstory where Marcus is my prospective publishing editor.
"Yes. I have leverage. I have something he wants."
"I'll bet." His hold on me grows tighter. Little does he know that there is no competition.
"Not that way, Edward."
He scoffs, his disbelief painted all over his face. "I'm a guy, B. I saw the way he looked at you."
Right. The Christmas party.
"He was just…surprised to find me there. It's complicated."
Edward releases me, sits back against the couch and abandons his arms down his sides but doesn't stop staring at me, his eyes roaming all over my still rumpled figure. The man is evil incarnate, turning me into a mess while we're in a discussion about intruding exes.
"I think I can keep up," he answers, patting my bum with a satisfied smirk.
"It's also a very long story."
"I have time. Or so my assistant tells me," he insists, with a grin.
"I told you he's a commissioning editor now, right? Well, Ang sent my manuscript to him, among others. It looks like he wants to publish it."
"That's obvious. You wrote it." Edward says it as a foregone conclusion.
"It's not like that, Edward. He didn't know it was mine."
"He requested a coded manuscript. There was no name on his copy. It's not a standard practice, but it's so like Marcus to insist on this kind of thing."
Edward's eyebrows knit together. I can tell he's genuinely interested. "Why do you say that?"
"I mentioned he's a baronet, right? Well, he's lived a life of privilege since infancy. He's used to being pampered and cuddled, sometimes even when he doesn't deserve it. He's a sneaky bastard, though, so he plays that card to his advantage whenever he wants to, but with the lineage and Eton education, a deep sense of justice and honesty has been ingrained into him as well. You know, the regular staples of an English gentleman."
Edward nods, but he looks none too pleased. "I don't understand how this has anything to do with your coded manuscript."
"There you have it – he'd never want his judgement to be clouded by external considerations, such as name and background, in a professional environment. God knows how many times his last name alone has tilted the odds in his favour when he happened to behave like a tosser. He knows what it's like to be treated unfairly. He just wants to ensure that there's no unfair competition."
"Sounds like a standard spoiled brat to me. A posh spoiled brat with a claim to gentility, to boot." Edward's accent when he says 'posh' makes me crack an involuntary smile.
"I know, I know. He's not a saint. I've known him long enough to be well aware of that. He's a pretty controversial bloke, but we used to get along at Oxford. Along with Jasper and Rose, he was my lifeline for years."
"From what I've heard, you did more than just 'get along'…" Edward's nose is a mere inch from mine, and his green orbs have narrowed to slits. Did Voldemort have green eyes? Because he looks rather wicked to me right now.
"Are we jealous, Boss? I told you we…were an item for a long time. But it's water under the bridge now. It was eons ago. I haven't seen him in years."
Edward huffs. "Back to the subject. I missed the link between the coded manuscript and the Christmas party."
"Oh, that. Right. He'd been invited to Ang's party to meet the author, but Ang didn't tell him it was me. Hence the big reunion scene at her party."
Edward huffs yet again, raising an eyebrow. "If you say so. But I still don't like the way he looks at you. If Emmett happens to punch him, I'll help."
I snicker, because it sounds hilarious. Jealous Edward is cute.
"You have nothing to worry about. Marcus is a spoiled high-class brat, used to getting what he wants. When I refused to fly to NY the other day, he thought showing up at my doorstep would be a good method to get me to sign with his company. Too bad he seems to have forgotten that I hate feeling pressured. I'll remind him," I conclude, nudging Edward's shoulder.
"Brr, now I'm scared. Remind me never to get on your bad side, B."
"Meh, I think you like my bad side." He flashes me a devious smile.
"I like all your sides, but your bad-ass side is devilishly hot. Can I have that for breakfast?"
"Sure," I shoot back, jumping off the couch, headed upstairs. He stops me.
"B, wait. I want to… That is, I meant…Bollocks. What I really want to say is…There's something I need to…Fuck, I'm rambling."
His tone gets me worried. This isn't now I pictured the end of this conversation.
"Edward, what's wrong?"
He grabs my hand, drawing me back closer to him, his eyes serious.
"There's…I…hell, I'm useless…Listen, I just realised…we…I…that is, we didn't…I didn't…"
I don't understand where this is going. Edward's sudden bout of inarticulacy doesn't help.
"Boss, a little help here, I can't follow you."
Edward pinches his nose, runs his hands through his hair and finally, when he's exhausted his usual array of 'My name is Edward Cullen and I'm bloody nervous' gestures, he speaks. "I went bloody bareback on you without even asking, ok? That's the thing. And now I feel like a tool. I'm a selfish fucking tool, and I disrespected you. Can you forgive me?"
I would flash him a blinding smile, but I'm afraid he'd misconstrue now, so I just move closer and hug him as tight as I can. I kiss his bare chest, running my hands on his back.
"There's nothing to forgive, absolutely nothing. I'm a big girl. I'm covered. Don't worry."
He holds me tighter, but one hand goes to lift my chin up so he can look me in the eye. "But…I mean, we didn't talk about it…and I just…B, I swear, I'm clean…I'm not…I'm not the sodding manwhore they make me out to be."
He's nervous. He's afraid that I'd believe the lie; that I'd fall for the artfully contrived ploy, for the public persona that the gossip rags are sewing onto him like a second skin. He forgets one vital bit of information.
"Edward, I believe you. I know you're clean. Even if I didn't, I'd believe you. I trust you."
His face lights up like a Christmas tree. Wonder Boy just had an epiphany. I think.
"Of course I do."
"But how? Why?"
"You want me to explain why I trust you?"
His face scrunches up. "No, how the hell do you know?"
This time I can't help snickering a bit. The guy is really clueless.
"Boss, who do you think arranges your doctor's appointments? Who picks up the results of your medical tests? Don't you remember you just went through a whole slew of them, because you're in between filming? There's your answer."
He blanches. He's realised I looked through his medical info even before he was boning me. I think his NerveMeter is going on overdrive. Poor Edward.
"Oh, bollocks. You picked up my urine and blood tests from the doc's office. How embarrassing."
"Hey, says the one who got down to his boxers in front of his new assistant. And don't tell me you didn't know what you were doing."
He scratches the back of his head, a faint smile on his lips. "Yeah, guilty as charged. Sorry I freaked out, B."
"No probs, Boss. Just don't do it again. Breakfast? I can't kick ass on an empty stomach."
An hour later, Edward absolutely insists on walking back to the house with me. At first, I try to politely decline. He insists some more. I cave, with one stipulation. He'll sneak in through the basement into the gym. I don't want him exposed to Marcus just yet. There's no need to give his Lordship fodder for his snide comments, and no need to rile Edward up either. I can handle this on my own.
As expected, I find Marcus and Jasper in the living room, chatting and snickering like idiots just as they used to do at Oxford. Marcus jumps up from the couch the moment he sees me.
"Just the girl I was itching to see." Smooth bastard. Not that it's going to do him a whole lot of good.
"Knock it off, your Lordship. What's the occasion?" I don't bother to approach him, and choose to wander into the kitchen to fix myself a well-deserved gallon of Earl Grey instead. Needless to say, he follows me.
"I come bearing gifts," he announces, waving a box wrapped in shiny red paper in front of my eyes.
"Oh, do you work a side job as one of Santa's elves now? Has your father cut back on your allowance?
He laughs and plops down on one of the kitchen stools, pushing the package in my direction.
"BeeBee, don't be like that. I was in the area and I just wanted to see you and give you this, for Christmas."
I sit across from him at the kitchen island, unwrapping the present. "Um, why would you have that sudden urge, just when I said I wouldn't sign the book deal until February?"
"You thought I would do something so underhanded? That was business, this is a social call."
I shake my head in disbelief. Social call my ass. "Social call? What is this, a Jane Austen novel? Marcus, I might – and I say might – be glad to see you, but you can't cannon-ball into my life whenever you take a fancy to it. And please, cut the 'I was in the area' bullshit. I can see right through you."
The opened package reveals a very old, rumpled, faded and almost consumed Pearl Jam t-shirt. I remember this t-shirt. It's from the first Pearl Jam concert I ever went to. And of course, Jasper, Rose and Marcus were right there with me. Marcus had gotten me the t-shirt, on the wave of an unshakable 'You need to celebrate your first Pearl Jam gig properly, girl.'
The t-shirt was mine, but the rascal snuck it away at Oxford, never giving it back. It became one of the many unresolved things between us when we broke up and drifted away. I'm still irritated that he showed up uninvited, but I can't help being moved by the gesture. It's his typical convoluted way of trying to mend a fence – the fence that these years apart have erected between us. Still, I shouldn't feel so emotional about this. It should be the final insult that sends package and all flying into his face. How dare he? Why is he doing this now? Rationally I should resent him, but I can't. Blame it on my blasted sentimental disposition. Also, it would be easier to dislike him and send him packing. I don't do easy. Ever.
"How did you?.." are the only words that manage to escape my stunned mouth.
"I found it at the bottom of my closet the night I got back to NY. I didn't even know I still had it. I thought it'd been lost through one move too many. But then, there it was, as worn as I remembered it. I thought it was time to return it to its rightful owner. And I'm truly sorry for barging in like this."
I hug him and thank him again. There is just too much history between us. Besides, I can thank him and still kick his ass.
"You're not sorry, this is exactly what you wanted to do. Get me all emotional so I'd eat up whatever sob story you wanted to feed me," I shoot back, nudging his chest with my pointer finger.
He smiles, giving me a visual that reminds me exactly why I fell for him six years ago. "True. It's an excuse. A sorry one, at that."
"Well, you must have lost some of your shady ways, then."
"Or you just know me better than anyone." I keep sipping my tea in silence. There is no good answer to this. Silence is safer.
"So, what's the real occasion, Marcus? Officially, I am still on holiday."
"I want you to sign that bloody contract, okay? I couldn't bear it if you signed with another company. I want that book. I want your book. Isn't this reason enough?"
Because I am feeling the spirit of the season, I fix him a cup of tea and hand it to him before answering. "You know I hate to feel pressured. And shouldn't you sort this out with Ang, anyway?"
He looks embarrassed, hiding his face behind his mug. Mouse is in the trap. This tells me two things. First, Ang doesn't know; which means that her skinny ass is safe, this time. Second, Marcus knows he's forcing my hand. There must be something else at stake.
"I kind of…sort of…sold you on as a done deal to my boss. So you see, you're stuck with me whether you want to or not." His shaky voice ends on a cockier note.
"What makes you think so?"
"The fact that you can't resist me." The smart ass is back. Too bad his timing is all wrong, almost as wrong as his assumptions.
I heave a frustrated sigh. We're going round in circles. "Are we really talking about my book here, Marcus? Because I have a feeling we're not."
With a fluid motion, he places his mug back on the counter, tents his long fingers in front of his face and levels me a serious look.
"Are you really satisfied with the life you're leading here, BeeBee? Aren't you settling for less? I can't see you being content with running errands for the latest Hollywood heartthrob. There is so much more out there for you. If you were with me, for example…"
I hope he's saying that for the sake of argument only. Otherwise, I might be inclined to forget that I'm usually a non-violent person. Usually.
"There's no going back, Marcus. You can't mean that."
"Maybe I don't agree. Maybe I don't care."
"Well, as it happens, I care." A third voice, ice-cold and unwavering, fills up the room. I don't have to turn towards the door to see that Edward is back. His timing, much unlike Marcus's, seems to be perfect.
Of course I care. The sodding bastard is trying to steal my girl from under my nose, and I should take it with a smile? Never. He's going down. He doesn't need to butter me up with glamorous stories about publishing B's book. Of course it must be fantastic. Of course he's chomping at the bit to publish it.
I might still be fuming in secret because she won't let me read it, but I know, hands down, that it must have potential. And this high society freak in a designer suit and artificially snow-white smile smells business. And he wants into B's pants, that's as clear as day.
Fuck the good old times at Oxford. Fuck the fact that Jazz seems to trust him. I don't. The bastard finally speaks, his cold eyes still fixated on Bella.
"Edward Cullen, I believe," he says smoothly, standing up and extending his hand to greet me. I don't even take the trouble to return the courtesy.
Arms crossed over my chest, I lean against the counter, intent on looking like the picture of ease in B's kitchen. My move is not lost on Marcus who, in turn, does stand a bit straighter. B's irritated eyes are trained on me, and a frown that says 'what the heck are you doing here?' is etched on her beautiful face. I know, I know, I just hi-jacked her conversation with the ex. So sue me.
"And you must be Marcus Goldsmith. What brings you back to LA so soon?"
Read between the lines, baronet. You are on my turf. This is my girl. Sod off.
"He came to pester me. And to bring me a present." Bella waves an old t-shirt in front of me.
"It's rightfully yours, BeeBee. A little late, maybe, but yours nonetheless." Who says 'nonetheless' in everyday conversation other than Jasper? And the guy's a lawyer, that comes with side effects.
"Will you be thinking about it, BeeBee?" Bella huffs. Did this Marcus fellow never learn the phrase 'no pressure'?
"The deal? Just so you can save your arse? I so feel the love here, Sir. I should tell you to fly back to NY, tail between your legs. I am tempted, in fact. So very tempted."
B looks serious. No, wait. She looks deadly. Her tone is level, calculated, her eyes never leave Marcus's face and she's not batting an eyelid. Scary. And fuck me, she's hot. Wickedly hot. I shouldn't be thinking about boning her while she's arguing with her ex in her kitchen, but I am.
One-track mind, Cullen.
"You wouldn't, BeeBee." Marcus finally catches her drift. My girl has an iron will and I'm damn proud that she's standing her ground, instead of letting this Marcus fellow order her around just because they have history.
"Marcus, I meant what I said. I need to think this over, and the fact that we're friends won't fast-track you anywhere. If I do sign with you, it will be because your company is the best option for me and for my work. You will hear from my agent."
Marcus moves closer to her, throwing a cursory glance my way. It doesn't take a scientist to see that whatever he's about to do will be some kind of stunt to rile me up. Let's see how B will like this.
"Tell me you're not doing this because of him," he spits, his tone condescending. Bad move, bad move indeed.
"Despite what you think, I can make my own damn decisions."
"So you expect me to believe that you're happy here, picking up his laundry, keeping him on track? You could have the world at your feet, BeeBee."
The tosser got one thing right – Bella deserves the world at her feet, but if anyone's doing that for her, it's going to be me. Get over it, your Lordship.
"Maybe I don't care what you believe, Marcus. I advise you to keep this professional. You are irritating me." Her tone is scathing. If the guy doesn't take a hint now, he's a notch or twenty more clueless than I am.
"This isn't over, BeeBee. I want that book." It's like watching a tennis match on the telly. They throw one-liners at each other, but my girl definitely has the best shots.
"No, this isn't over. Angela will have a field day discussing this with your board." Marcus is pale as a ghost. Not that he had a lot of colour to start with.
"And he stands there without saying a word?"
That's enough. I'm done with trying to be polite. I throw a sideways glance at Bella, a fair warning of sorts.
"Bella is perfectly capable of fighting her own battles. Besides, I'm enjoying the show too much."
"Marcus, get out of my house. And call my agent next time you want to see me. Oh, and thank you for giving me back MY t-shirt."
"You're as much a spoiled brat as you ever were, Marcus. And you're pissing my little sister off. Do as she says. Leave, before it gets ugly." Emmett just re-emerged from wherever he was. Good timing, coach.
Marcus gives Emmett a covert stink eye but keeps pleading only with Bella. "Isabella, please…I didn't mean to…" Nice try, Marcus. Nice try. Too bad you blew this.
"But you did it anyway, Marcus. I'm not the same girl I was six years ago. Stop ordering me around. You will do well to remember this; otherwise I don't see any way we can interact professionally in the future. Please, leave. Angela will deal with this."
"I just don't want you to regret any of this, BeeBee."
"I won't. But you could, from the looks of it. You will hear from my agent, Marcus. Goodbye."
Once the tosser finally leaves, Bella collapses on one of the barstools and grabs her mug.
"Well, I daresay that ended far better than I imagined, right?"
My girl is a fighter.
A special thanks to all of you wonderful people who read, reviewed, favourited and alerted and waited such a long time for this. The next chapter is in the works, but as I said to some of you, I can't promise regular updates. They will come as and when I get chapters done.
The very very special thanks from the bottom of my heart goes to my friend and sister from another mister Robsmyyummy Cabanaboy. I know a swarm of you came over here thanks to her and her wonderful stories. What can I say...she is one of the dearest friends I made in this fandom. And she likes gelato. Nuff said.
See you all soon...I hope!