A/N: I bet nobody thought they'd ever get an update to this story again, huh? It's been a year and a half and for that, I truly apologize. Before reading this chapter, I do have a few things I want to say:

First off, I'm sorry for the lack of updates. I completely understand if readers have given up on my story. Being a new mom has completely taken over my life (in a fantastically good way). I've spent a long time trying to figure out how to juggle a full-time job, being a mom, being a wife, and still finding time for me. Unfortunately, the "me time" is usually the first to go. My son is now 15 months old, and life has started to get a bit easier, but now we're adding a second one into the mix! I'm due with Baby #2 on Christmas Day.

Also, due to my crazy long absence, I've lost my amazing beta along the way. If my writing seems a little off from before, this is probably why. I'm also throwing out there that if there are any experienced betas who would like to take me under their wing to help with grammatical errors and story ideas, please message me!

Lastly, I can't promise when the next update will be (which I know truly, truly sucks). If you choose not to read this chapter and simply wait until that place and time when the story is finally finished, I understand that as well. I do want to let you know though, that I have never given up on this story. I didn't just simply get the writing bug again and start writing Chapter 27 a short while ago. This chapter has actually been worked on in tiny bits and pieces all throughout the past year and a half. So while I can't promise you punctuality…I can promise you dedication to finishing this story.

With all that being said, I've missed you all and am happy to be back in the FanFiction world again :) I hope you enjoy.


Chapter 27

I hate to turn up out of the blue, uninvited

But I couldn't stay away, I couldn't fight it.

I had hoped you'd see my face and that you'd be reminded

That for me, it isn't over.

- Adele

Edward's POV:

After seeing Bella at the VMA's the night prior, I had low expectations that I'd hear from her again. The situation was awkward, to say the least. My eyes landed on her in that gorgeous, lacey, black dress and before I could fully process what I was doing, I was standing in front of her…without a clue what to say.

Certainly, professing how much I was still utterly in love with her wasn't going to automatically win her back. I could already see in her eyes how much she wanted to flee from the situation. What she needed from me was the truth. An apology. But I couldn't give her that in the middle of a crowded lobby, thirty minutes before she was about to perform. At least not the proper one she deserved.

I had left Promises with a new resolve to start afresh. I was determined to be the type of man that I knew I could be – that Bella had originally seen in me. This wasn't just for Bella. It was for everyone that had put faith in me and knew I was so much more than some one-dimensional image on a billboard. But, most importantly, it was for me. Because, for the first time in a long time, I realized that I could be more. Edward Cullen, the rock star, and Edward Cullen, the man, could be the same person. I just had to find that balance, start making decisions for me – not based off of what other people thought of me - and finally be at peace with myself.

I was nowhere near at peace with myself yet. There were still too many wrongs I had to right. I knew I would never truly be able to fix everything. Realistically, I knew that my relationship with Bella was probably permanently broken. I knew what I did was unforgivable. But my heart hoped that somehow she'd see that I was a new, changed man. And maybe she could learn to love me again.

As I walked away from Bella in the lobby of the VMA's, I felt the slim hope that I had, for any sort of reconciliation with her, slipping through my finger-tips. And while it killed me to think I may have blown my one-and-only opportunity with her, I had to stay focused. I had a job to do. I may not have been able to control whether Bella chose to speak to me or not, but I could start to clean up the mess I had made for Bella during the path of my destruction.

When Aro first approached me about being a surprise opening presenter for Bella's VMA performance, I knew that if Bella had any inclination of Aro's plan, she would have shut the whole idea down. She was so stubborn that I was sure she would have even put a halt to her VMA performance, just so she wouldn't have to set foot on the same stage as me. My first response was an immediate "no." I had already put Isabella's career through so much turmoil, I wasn't about to do anything to risk it again. But the more Aro pushed the concept of this being the platform for my rise back to the top, the more I realized I could turn this around so that the focus was back on Bella, where it rightfully belonged.

I realized, as I gave my introduction speech, that this may be the only apology Isabella would hear from me. And while I hoped to God that she was listening to my words, they weren't meant just for her. It was for everybody else listening. I wanted to finally shut them up and leave her the fuck alone. I couldn't protect her when she needed it the most, but I'd be damned if I was going to let it continue. The message was loud and clear: None of this was Isabella's fault. She was too goddamn talented of a singer to be dragged down just by being associated with me. I was finally stepping up and taking responsibility for all my mistakes. And while I realized it was probably too late for us, I hoped it wasn't too late for her and her career.

After I stepped off stage, I watched Bella's performance, captivated, from the wings. Her eyes stayed closed as she tentatively sang out the first few notes, but her voice grew stronger with each line of the song. There was something about Bella…her voice…her music. Listening to her sing always made my heart stop.

Once her performance was over, I quickly left the show. I didn't need to stick around to see who won what awards. I certainly wasn't going to keep tempting myself by being around a bunch of drunk celebrities. And I wasn't going to talk to anyone or give any interviews. The night was about Bella. She deserved all the attention.

It was around 2am when I got the call from an unknown number. I had been lying in bed but was unable to sleep; my thoughts continued to swirl around Bella. Glancing at my phone, I was tempted to ignore the call, but something inside nagged at me to pick up. I was completely caught-of-guard and elated to hear Bella's hushed voice on the other end.

She wanted to meet. She was giving me a chance to talk. My heart rushed with a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, she would let me fix this and make it all right. Our conversation didn't last long. After deciding on a time, we discussed various meeting places, but they were all vetoed by Bella. She didn't want to go any place in public, where the paparazzi could follow. Finally, she let out a heavy sigh and suggested I just come over to her loft.

While I knew it wasn't her first choice for me to be inside her home, I couldn't stop the images from playing through my head as I slept that night. I dreamt of walking into her place, apologizing profusely to her, and professing how much I still loved her. I pulled her into my arms, demanding she tell me she didn't love me, only to have her lips crashing against mine. We stood, tangled up in each other, kissing passionately, before I swept her up in my arms and carried her towards the bedroom, familiarizing myself with every inch of her body once again.

I woke up in the morning with a wet and sticky mess in my pants. I'm ashamed to admit it wasn't my first wet dream about Bella either. Not in the least.

I arrived at Bella's loft at 10am. After checking in with the front desk, I made my way up to her floor. I must have stood outside her door for a good 5 minutes trying to compose myself and calm my nerves.

What if she thought her phone call last night was a mistake and didn't want to talk to me?

What if she wanted to meet to tell me to stay the hell away from her?

For a split second I debated just turning around and walking back towards the elevator. For as much as I wanted to change, the insecurities and self-doubt still ebbed their way into the forefront of my mind. Before I let my fears overtake me, I steeled myself, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and remembered the words Dr. Uley told me.

This isn't about getting her back, Cullen. This is about doing the right thing. You need to apologize so that you can move on…so you can both move on.

Finally, I exhaled and shook my head and shoulders, feeling like a quarterback that was about to go in for a big play in the game. I rapped on the door and braced myself, knowing I was about to come face-to-face with her again.

All the what if scenarios I had running through my head didn't come close to the shock I had when the door opened.

Jacob Black stood on the other side of the door, staring at me wide-eyed. He was completely disheveled. His hair was matted and pointing in different directions. He was wearing the same outfit I had seen him in the night prior, his shirt completely untucked. It was obvious he had spent the night.

I had to push down the feelings of anger and jealousy that were quickly rising up inside of me. I had no right to those feelings. Not anymore. The images of Bella and Jacob together in magazines, which had set me off on one of my last benders, flashed briefly in my head. I thought back to Jacob appearing by Bella's side at the VMA's. Of course, he was her date. And then my mind replayed the scenes from the dream I had about taking Bella in her room. Except, instead of my hands and my lips all over her body…it was Jacob touching her, kissing her, making her cry out his name.

I felt sick.

"Are you fucking kidding me?!" Jacob yelled, turning back around to face the inside of the apartment. Glancing over his shoulder, I could see Isabella standing in the hallway. She was wearing jeans and a blue tank top. "This means I have to go see Vanessa now!"

A small smirk escaped from Bella's lips, but she didn't say anything; she simple shrugged.

Jacob sighed and ruffled his hand through his hair; as if that was going to suddenly make it look better. "You could have at least given me a heads-up," he grumbled.

Jacob brushed past me, not bothering to acknowledge me, as he walked down the hall to the elevator. I was left standing out in the hallway, looking in towards Isabella, who was staring back at me. We were both frozen in our spots. Eyes glued to one another, but neither of us speaking. It was as if both of us were waiting for the other to make the first move. To take that first step towards each other.

"Um, can I come in?" I finally asked.

"Oh, um, yeah…of course," she said, shaking her head as if she was coming out of a trance.

I took one step over the threshold, closing the door behind me. Unsure of where to go, or what to do, I stood waiting at the door. The space between us was vast, but I had the feeling Bella wanted to keep it that way.

I watched as Bella quickly shuffled her way over to the kitchen. Her head stayed down, as if she was trying not to make eye-contact with me. "Um, do you want anything to drink?" she offered, opening up the refrigerator door and looking inside. "I have water, coffee, wine, beer…"

The minute she said the last word, her head shot up from behind the refrigerator, giving me a horrified look. "Oh shit! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean…"

I waved her off and gave a small laugh. "It's fine, Bells. I'm not going to suddenly break down and go on a binge just because you mentioned alcohol around me."

She nodded but seemed to be studying me, as if she was debating if I was being sarcastic or not.

"I'll have water," I said and took a few steps towards the kitchen, closing a bit of the distance between us.

Bella pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge and placed it on the island that separated us. I took a swig and watched as she pulled another water bottle out and fidgeted with the bottle cap. She was more nervous than I was. I wondered why she had decided to invite me here, when it was glaringly obvious that this was the last place she wanted me to be.

I wondered what she was thinking at the moment. It killed me that the one person, who I could read like a book, was so closed off to me now, that I barely even recognized her anymore. She had built up such a large invisible wall between us that it was virtually impossible to reach her. And the person I saw behind that wall was just a shell of the Bella I once knew.

The warmth was gone from her smile and eyes. I had never seen Bella so guarded around anyone. I had to take another gulp of water to choke back the emotion that was building up in my throat. I did this to her. Here I was, trying to show Bella how much I changed…but I changed her. We were the two people who shared our hearts and souls with each other…and now we didn't even know each other anymore.

"Um, do you want to sit down?" she asked, walking towards the living room and gesturing to the couches.

I nodded and sat down on the large, white couch. Bella took a seat at one of the loveseats located on the other side of the coffee table –the farthest seat away from me. She curled up in the chair, feet on the seat cushion, hugging her knees.

"You were amazing last night," I said after a brief moment of silence, finally feeling like I needed to break the ice.

Bella shrugged and took a sip of water. "Well Aro's happy with it; that's all the matters."

"His isn't the only one that matters," I challenged. "Everybody's talking about your song this morning, Bella."

She kept her eyes down, picking at the paper on the water bottle. "That's only because of the speech you gave."

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat; this wasn't how I had intended for our conversation to start. "Honestly, Bells, I wasn't trying to take the spotlight off you. I felt everyone needed to know the truth…you deserved it. But you have to believe me…I didn't mean to make you more uncomfortable."

Bella glanced up at me, briefly meeting my eyes, before shifting her focus back to the bottle in her hand.

"I…" she paused, seeming to mull over the choice of her words. "I appreciate what you said."

I let out a sigh, feeling a bit of relief lift off my shoulders, but it was still nothing compared to the heavy weight of all the guilt built up inside of me. I had come here to tell her everything…but now that the opportunity I had dreamed about for the past 30 days was finally a reality, my throat suddenly closed up. I didn't even know where to start. I scrubbed my hand over my face; when I looked up, she was staring straight at me. This was it.

"Bella, I did so many things to hurt you. And no 'sorry' is ever going to fix it. But I'll never stop apologizing. I need you to know that I made all those horrible choices…but that wasn't me. And I never want to be that person again."

Bella pursed her lips and nodded her head. She remained silent and I realized that she was waiting for me to go on. I took another deep breath and composed my thoughts.

"When I went to rehab, I thought I was just going to be able to kick this drug-addiction and I could get back to my normal life. But I realized I had to deal with my own problems first.

"I lost myself, Bella. Somewhere along the way, the lines got blurred between who I really was and my persona. When you met me, I was fully enjoying being portrayed as the womanizing, bad boy. But when I was with you…you saw right through me, Bells. I could just be me around you. But the more and more those two worlds collided…I just didn't know how to be the Edward Cullen the media expected, and the real Edward Cullen. I thought I could just turn one persona off and the other on. But pretty soon I just didn't know what was real anymore.

"I'm not telling you all of this to make excuses for what I did. But it helped me understand why I started using drugs as a coping mechanism."

Bella quietly nodded again, barely blinking. For a second, I wondered if she had even been paying attention to a word I was saying. She was so stoic. Finally, she cleared her throat.

"This is a lot to process," she said, hoarsely.

"I know. I had 30 days," I smiled, ruefully.

"And now?" Bella asked, tentatively meeting my eyes again. "Who are you…now?"

"Right now…I'm a guy trying desperately to make amends and dig myself out of the hole I buried myself in," I said, sadly. "I'm still trying to figure it all out. But I'll tell you one thing, Bells. When I was with you…I was real. We were real."

Bella let out a small sob and quickly covered her face with her hand. "I'm sorry…It's just all too much right now."

"I know we can't go back to the way things were," I rushed on, feeling I had to clarify myself. I didn't know how much longer she'd give me, and I needed to share as much of my heart as I could with her. "But I need to make this right. I need you to know that I'm trying hard to be the man you first saw in me. That's who I want to be. I can't take it all back…but God I wish I could. I would give it all up, Bells – the fame, the fortune - if it meant I didn't have to make those same mistakes. It wasn't worth losing myself. It wasn't worth losing you."

"Stop!" Bella cried out. Her whole body shook as she gasped for breath and frantically wiped at the tears on her face. "I can't do this right now! I can't, Edward!"

I didn't think it was possible for my heart to break any further, but as I watched Bella, trying so hard not to cry in front of me, I felt a stabbing pain in my chest. I wanted nothing more than to go over to her, pull her into my arms, and tell her that everything was going to be all right. But I couldn't.

"I thought I was ready…" Bella continued, between shallow breaths. "To see you…to hear what you had to say…for closure. But this is all just ripping the wounds open again. I want to know why. I want to know everything. But I'm just not ready."

I lowered my head and ran my fingers through my hair, yanking at the ends hard. I had to squeeze my eyes shut, unable to look at her anymore. It was too much to bear.

"Please forgive me, Isabella," I whispered. "I'm so sorry. So so fucking sorry."

How would she ever be able to forgive me, when every time I looked at her, I knew I'd never be able to forgive myself?

I glanced back up at Bella. She was using the bottom of her palm to wipe away the tears from her face. Her eyes locked on mine and she continued to stare at me; her gaze piercing right through my soul. I couldn't look away if I tried. I don't know how long we stayed staring at each other. The room was silent except for the sporadic sniffles that came from Bella as she tried to compose herself.

It seemed as if she was searching for something inside me. For what, I wasn't sure. But I prayed to God that whatever she was looking for was still there.

After a few minutes, Bella finally broke eye contact and turned her head to stare at the wall. She remained silent, and it seemed as if she was trying to gather her thoughts. I didn't dare speak.

She let out a heavy sigh, with an almost final resolution, and turned back towards me. "I forgive you," she rasped out.

My heart leapt out of my chest as she uttered the last words I had ever expected her to say to me.

"Bella, you don't have to say it if you're not ready…" I rushed out, but she put her hand up to silence me.

"I can see you've changed. There's a peace about you that I haven't seen in a long time…maybe even ever," she said wistfully. "What happened…happened. We've all been through the fall-out. But whatever deep, dark place you were in…I don't want you to stay there."

Bella dropped her legs to the ground, and leaned in towards me. For the first time, I saw a bit of that warmth return back to her eyes. "I want you to be happy, Edward. I want so badly to believe that you've turned your life around. And I want to be happy too. But I can't do that if I keep reliving the pain from the past. So I need to forgive you – not just for you…but for me."

I let out a shaky breath, trying hard not to let my emotions get the best of me in front of her. This is why I would never stop loving Bella. Even after everything I had put her through, she was still able to forgive me. Not because she had to, but because she knew we both needed it.

And this is why I had to finally let her go. Because she needed it.

"God, Bella, you don't know how much I want to just hug you right now," I breathed out. Bella gave me a sad smile, making it clear that this was still a boundary she would not let me cross.

"So what now?" Bella asked; obviously feeling the need to change the subject. "What are your plans?"

"I'm still focusing on my recovery…one day at a time. I ruined a lot of relationships these past few months, so it's gonna take some time working to build them back up. I have a lot to prove, to show that I can be different. That I am different," I said, with a more steely resolve. "As for The Volturi, we're set to resume the European leg of our tour in a few weeks."

Bella's face widened with surprised. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"

"No," I said, honestly. "But it's business."

"Edward…" she said, hesitantly.

"I've already set up a plan with my therapist at Promises," I said, trying to reassure her. "Am I nervous? Hell, yeah! Which I guess is a good thing…I'm not kidding myself that this recovery is going to be easy. But I've got a strong support system around me. I'm going to set up weekly phone-sessions with Promises, I've got the rest of the gang there to help me, and my parents are going to alternate flying to different cities to be there for me as well.

"I guess it's a lot of babysitting," I said, shamefully. "But I haven't really proven I can be all that mature."

Bella looked at me, and for the second time I could see the warmth glow back in her eyes. "I think you're showing just how mature you are by putting all these plans in place, Edward."

"Yeah, well the show must go on, right?" I said, snidely. "What about you, Bells? What are your next plans?"

Bella shrugged. "I'm sure James has some fabulously awful idea up his sleeve for me."

I was concerned from Bella. I had put her entire career in jeopardy these past few months and, while I knew she was fighting like hell to get it back, I was worried she was starting to lose some of that fight in her. The Isabella Swan that I saw last night had laid everything out on the line. Today she just seemed defeated.

"Are you happy?"

Bella looked at me, surprised. "That's a loaded question."

"With your career, I mean."

She looked down and went back to peeling at her water bottle. There were now flecks of paper all over her legs. She stayed silent, seeming to mull over her answer, before she looked back up at me and gave a small shrug.

"Are you happy?"

No.

I'm getting there.

I don't know if I'll ever be happy again.

I couldn't say any of those things to her. So I simply followed her lead and kept my focus on the bottle in my own hand.

And so there the two of us sat…lost in our own thoughts, but unable to voice any of them to each other. I hated, after so many months, finally being this close to Bella and yet still feeling so far away. She had forgiven me…it should have been enough. So why did it feel like everything surrounding us was still unfinished?

Bella interrupted the awkward silence in the room by clearing her throat. She stood up and brushed the tiny pieces of trash off of her legs. "Um…speaking of my career…I have a meeting with Aro later today, so I should probably get ready…"

I realized this was my cue to leave. I reluctantly stood up and walked to the door with Bella following behind me. There was still so much left unsaid hanging in the air between us. I didn't want to leave because I knew that the minute I stepped outside that door, Bella would most likely be closing it on me permanently. I just couldn't bear to say goodbye.

I stood with my hand on the doorknob, unable to walk away from her quite yet. She stood inches away from me, fidgeting with the bottom of her tank top. I wanted so badly to place my palm on the side of her face and kiss her one last time; to taste her lips; to feel her breath against me. A small lock of her brown hair had fallen over her eyes and, before I even realized what I was doing, my fingers reached out to brush it away from her face.

Bella immediately went rigid, which caused my hand to drop in midair. She wouldn't even let me touch her.

"Sorry," we both gasped simultaneously.

"I didn't mean to…"

"It's my fault," I cut her off. "It wasn't my place."

My place. My place used to be beside her. My place used to be inside her. And now…I could even fucking touch her.

I scrubbed my hand over my face and sighed. "Bella, thank you…for giving me a chance to apologize. I know it's not enough…but I'll never stop trying to fix it."

"Just fix yourself, Edward. That's all you need to worry about."

"Is there anything I can do to help…with James and Aro, that is?"

Bella gave me a small smile. "When have I ever let you help me with my career, Edward?"

And just like that, I saw a bit of that fight come back to her. She was just as determined to do this on her own as ever. She was just as stubborn. She was just as amazing, if not more.

"Don't lose that spark, Bella. And don't ever let them make you forget who you are. You're the best goddamn singer I know, Bells – you remember that."

Bella bit her lip and nodded. I could see the tears threatening to spill out of her eyes once more.

"Take care, Edward," she whispered.

I swallowed the lump that had been rising up in my throat and gave her once last, lingering look. For months I had been haunted by my last memory of her walking out on me. This is how I wanted to remember her now.

"Goodbye, Bella," I said, hoarsely.

Before my emotions could betray me anymore, I quickly turned around and walked out the door. Knowing full well that I was walking away from the best thing that ever happened in my life. And knowing that I had no other choice.


Bella's POV:

I sat in an empty boardroom of Sony Music's New York headquarters, tapping my foot nervously, and waiting for my meeting with Aro. As hard as I tried, I couldn't clear my head from all the events that had happened earlier in the day. From the moment Edward had walked into my apartment, I was put on edge. Even, now, hours after he was gone, I still felt as if I was holding my breath…waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When I first woke up, it had taken me a few minutes to wrap my head around everything I had done the night prior. At first, I had wondered if my phone call with Edward had been a dream. But a quick check to my recent call log on my phone, made me realize that not only had I talked to Edward…but I had invited him over to my apartment.

As I raced around my room, trying to make myself look presentable, the feeling of dread continued to rise up from my stomach to my throat. And when the doorbell rang, I had to cover my mouth, unsure if I was going to throw-up or scream in terror.

What was I thinking letting him even take one step back into my life?! If this was for closure, why did I feel like I was about to rip open every wound I had tried so hard to close?

And then there he was…standing in the doorway, waiting to be let in…still as gorgeous and fresh-faced as the night prior. Who was this new Edward? He seemed to have an inner-peace inside him that I couldn't quite pinpoint. I wanted so badly to believe that this was the real Edward. The Edward Cullen that was here to stay. But looks can be deceiving…and Edward had deceived me far too many times.

I wanted to stay, relishing in this new calm aura that seemed to be radiating from him…and yet, at the same time, I wished desperately to flee the entire situation. It seemed as if lately, my mind and my heart could never figure out how to feel about Edward. He was his own anomaly.

When Edward finally began talking, the last thing that I expected to hear, so directly from him, was the truth. I had prepared myself to hear the remorse and apologies. And even though I, so desperately, wanted to know why everything fell apart, when he began to open up about all of his insecurities and inner-demons, the truth of everything was just too raw to handle. He had 30 days to process everything about himself; I couldn't do the same in 30 minutes.

And yet…I still forgave him. It wasn't something I had prepared to do when he first walked in the door. I was prepared to hear his apology and give myself the closure I needed from him to let myself begin to heal and move on. But as our heartache lay exposed between both of us, I realized that I would never fully be able to move on from Edward. Reliving the past only brought up all the old pain that I had spent months pushing deep down inside of me, trying to ignore. And seeing this new, honest Edward, caused a fresh wave of torment, thinking about what might have been. I was finally seeing glimpses of My Edward again. Only he wasn't mine…and he never would be again.

We were broken too far beyond repair. The best thing to do, for both of us, was to focus on fixing ourselves. Edward had already started to do that. And as much as I had been trying to, I realized I was never going to fully succeed unless I let my heart forgive him. I had clung so tightly to the anger, hurt, and bitterness. And while I couldn't simply erase all those feelings, I knew it was time to start letting go. It's so funny how much I refused to be seen as the victim of the relationship in the media. And yet, if I was really honest with myself, I painted myself into that role with Edward. Maybe, in our own different ways, we were both victims. But it was time to move out of those roles. I had been wallowing in self-pity long enough.

I frowned, thinking back to Edward's question of if I was happy. Not surprisingly, he also avoided the question when I deflected it back to him. I had to believe that we would both get to that point again someday. Deep down, I knew my conversation with Edward was the first step I needed to get back on that path.

So why did I only feel sadness when I said goodbye to him, and closed the door to that chapter of my life?

My thoughts were broken as the door to the conference room opened, and Aro and James strode in. Aro was beaming from ear to ear, while James stood rigid and tight-lipped behind him.

"Ah, Isabella!" Aro exclaimed. I stood up, as he walked over to my chair, grasped my hands, and gave me a light kiss on the cheek. This was certainly the friendliest greeting I had ever received from him. "Everyone it still raving about your incredible performance last night, my dear! We couldn't be more proud! Isn't that right, James?"

Aro took a seat in the rolling chair next to me, while James gave a quick nod and pulled out the chair across the table. I was glad to have a table separating myself from that disgusting pig. He was glaring at me, and while I refused to make eye-contact with him, I could feel his gaze roaming all over my body. I shuddered, revolted by the thought of him

"Isabella, I know that you've felt your career has been put on the back burner the past few months," Aro began. "Truthfully, it has. You were unfortunately under a lot of scrutiny from the press and I was hoping that by trying to keep you out of the spotlight, the media storm would eventually die down. I realize, now, the mistakes I made when handling that situation. It was wrong of us to not put out a release on your behalf, and I understand how unsupported you must have felt. I apologize."

I glanced over at James, who was furiously biting his cheek. I could only imagine how much he was inwardly screaming, "I told you so!" I wasn't sure if he was more irate with me or Aro at this point.

"What we need to capitalize on now,"Aro continued, "Is the positive press that you're finally receiving. Now's the time to put your career and music back on the fast track. I wanted to meet with you today so that we can finalize your plans for the upcoming months. James, what have you been working on?"

I turned and stared smugly at James. Yes, James, tell us what great plans you have for this "no-talent bitch."

James cleared his throat. "Well, I had a fantastic deal with VH1 for Isabella's own reality show…but she's refused any sort of negotiations with them." He shot me a deathly glare, but Aro only nodded at him to continue. "The initial reaction to the Candies campaign was rather positive. Isabella has become quite the sex symbol and to continue capitalizing on that, I've set up more photo shoots for her with Maxim and Esquire."

Without realizing it, I groaned out loud, causing Aro and James to both stare at me.

"This has nothing to do with my music," I explained. "That's why I refused to be a part of a reality show. I think the focus right now should be on my music and I think that the reaction from last night's performance only proves it."

"Isabella's right,"Aro agreed. I could see that James was fuming with that statement.

"I think the fact that her next single is becoming such a huge hit already shows that the focus is still on her music. However, she still needs to be in constant media circulation as well, "James countered.

"But why does it have to be the same typical lingerie and bathing suit pictures?" I argued. "I think there's a way to be tasteful and still be sexy. Look at the classic pinup pictures! They were sexy because they showed just the right amount of skin, while leaving something to be desired."

"I think Isabella is on to something here,"Aro said. "Why don't we keep the photo shoots scheduled with Maxim and Esquire. However, let them know that we plan to do a retake on the classic pinup shoots of the 1920's."

I was inwardly gloating. I couldn't believe that Aro and I were on the same page when it came to my career, and more importantly, James couldn't either! For once, it was two-against-one when it came to James's ideas – and if he wasn't going to listen to me, he HAD to listen to his boss!

"Quite frankly, I'm disappointed that you haven't put much thought into Isabella's career, James..."

Me either, Asshole.

"We need to be pushing her music harder than ever…"

Take that, Motherfucker!

"I'd like Isabella to go back on tour…"

You hear that, Douchebag?!

"…starting in two weeks with The Volturi in Europe."

WHAT THE FUCK?!

"No!"

"Hell, no!" James and I both exclaimed at the same time.

Aro nodded, grimly. "I was expecting this reaction from you, Isabella. James, however, I had thought you would be on board with such a huge opportunity."

"With all due respect, Aro,"James said, quickly composing himself. "Isabella has already been the opening act for The Volturi two times already. That show has been played out. I have plenty of other artists that are more deserving to get their big break opening up for them. Isabella, however, needs to headline her own tour. She's done being an opening act."

"I couldn't agree more,"Aro said. "Which is why I plan to make this a double-headline tour."

"No!" I protested again.

"How does this help Isabella's new image?" James argued. "We're simply throwing her back to being aligned with Edward Cullen all over again!"

And now I was back to agreeing with James. What the FUCK was going on?!

Aro turned his chair so that his full attention was on me, now ignoring James. "Isabella, I'm going to be very frank with you. The past few months have not been kind to either you or The Volturi. Last night, the VMA's sparked enough interest for both of you again, but neither of you are safe. Both of you are at a precipice in your careers where one wrong move could send you into oblivion, or the right move could put you both back on track to the top. I believe that this is the right move.

"I'm taking your career very seriously, Isabella. I now see the error in my ways from before. I plan to manage your continuous promotion in the United States while you're gone, and James will oversee your success in Europe. I plan for you to return from Europe as an A-list celebrity. Everybody will have to take you seriously."

"Nobody will take her seriously!" James spat. "Let's just be honest, Aro, you need her to gain positive press for The Volturi. This has nothing to do with Isabella's career. Everyone will see that Isabella has gone running back to Edward and your star-child will quickly have all his sins forgiven! Isabella's just collateral damage in all of this – just like she was before!"

Aro's eyes darkened. He continued staring at James, but directed his words to me. "I assure you, Isabella, that is not my intention."

"Would you like me to put out a press release saying they're back together as well? I'm sure Isabella would be more than happy to pretend to fall back in love with Edward and only have her success measured by who she's fucking. Wouldn't you, Isabella?"

"That's enough, James!" Aro barked. He pinched the bridge of his nose and mumbled something to himself in another language.

I felt like a ping pong ball being bounced back and forth between Aro and James. Here they were, arguing about the fate of my career, and I hadn't been able to speak up once! What the hell did they think they were doing?!

"Isabella, would you mind if I spoke with you alone for a few minutes?"Aro quietly asked.

"Absolutely not, Aro!" James roared. "She's my client and any decisions regarding her career will be made by me!"

"I think I have a bit of say in my own career!" I finally spat out, sick and tired of the two of them deciding my life.

I glanced between Aro and James, unsure of what to do. I was absolutely opposed to hopping back on tour with The Volturi after everything that had happened. I may have forgiven Edward, but that didn't mean that I wanted to go back to having a relationship with him again. I thought this meeting was going to be about making my own name for myself…and instead Aro simply wanted me to go back on Edward's arm, as the doting girlfriend. There was no way I would fake that. And if Edward was honest about changing his image, I knew that he wouldn't agree to it either.

James seemed to voice all of my reservations. However, it had already clearly been established that James did not have my best interests in mind when it came to my career. He wanted me to fail. So, obviously, something about this situation made him nervous – enough to go toe-to-toe with Aro.

"James, I'd like to speak to Aro alone."

"You're a fucking idiot, Isabella!" James said, jumping up out of his seat. "Don't pretend you're above this whole sexy image of yourself one minute, and then agree to whore yourself out for publicity the next!"

"James, wait outside!" Aro's voice boomed, echoing in the large conference room.

"This is so fucked up!" James mumbled. He stalked to the door and slammed it behind him with such force, it caused me to jump. Aro remained silent and seemingly unnerved beside me.

"I apologize for James's outburst, Isabella."

I shook my head and took a deep breath. "Aro, I can't do what you're asking me to do. I know, since the beginning of my career, my name has constantly been linked with Edward's. And I'm not stupid – it's going to be a long time before that fully goes away. But I thought you would understand that now's the time I need to make a name for myself. I need to distance myself from Edward as much as possible."

"Isabella, please believe me when I say that I understand your concerns…and I do agree with them. But, at this point in time, it's simply not that easy."

Aro looked me directly in the eyes and sighed with resignation.

"I rarely admit my mistakes to many people, and I'm about to do so twice with you today. I was wrong for trying to make you a pop artist. I thought that pairing you with James would be the best move for your publicity, and once you made a name for yourself, we could market you as the rock artist that you wanted to be. I believe your true talent lies in the music that your write. I just didn't trust the public enough to understand that about you at first. I was wrong."

"So trust my instincts now, Aro,"I implored. "Putting us back on tour together won't help."

"You're looking at this emotionally. And from your perspective, I understand why you're against this…but look at this from an objective point-of-view. The public loves a good redemption story. Last night proved that they want to see you and Edward succeed. This tour will garner so much more revenue and publicity than either of you could ever do on your own. People will be swarming to see both of you back on top. Right now, both of you need each other."

"I understand that this is a huge money-maker for you, Aro. But you're doing it at the expense of people's lives and emotions. Have you even discussed this with Edward? He's trying to remain sober and you're asking him to go back to pretending to be someone he's not!"

"I'm not asking either of you to pretend. Quite frankly, I don't even think the public would buy into a fake relationship. I'm asking you to be real and be yourself. You are absolutely right that the public loves the songs you write. They love them because of your honesty. I think this tour will have you writing and singing some of the best music yet. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved."

"You see it that way. I see it as playing with fire," I countered. "Let's forget about all my concerns for a second. Edward needs a strong support system with him this tour. He doesn't need me around to confuse him."

"Oh my dear, Isabella,"Aro said, with a twinkle in his eye. "You don't think I've already thought about that? You are the biggest support system he'll have! Having you on tour with him every day will be the biggest incentive for him to stay sober!"

"So you're using me?"

Aro shook his head. "I'm doing no such thing. I've already told you – you both need each other right now."

"I don't need Edward to help my career, Aro! I can and will do this on my own!"

Aro sat back in his chair and pointed his fingers up to his lips, silently contemplating. Was this it? Was he about to give me an ultimatum? Was I about to lose my career?

"Isabella," he began after a few minutes. "I know we met shortly after your accident and you had concerns about James as your manager. How do you feel about him now?"

I hate him.

He's a lying, dirty scumbag.

He scares me.

I mulled over my choice of words, unsure where Aro was taking this conversation. Finally, I decided to be straightforward. "I want out. He doesn't have my best interests in mind and has made it perfectly clear that he can't stand me."

"I told you that if you still had issues with James, I would place you with a new manager. Why haven't you addressed any of this with me?"

"Because of the contract," I explained. "He holds it over my head any time I try to go against his wishes."

Aro looked at me, surprised. "What contract?"

"The contract he had me sign when I asked to get off The Volturi tour. He made me agree to keep him as my manager for one more album."

Aro angrily drummed his fingers across the mahogany table; he seemed to be deep in thought. "Tell me, Isabella, do you have a copy of this contract?"

I shook my head no.

"Seeing as I knew nothing about this contract James decided to make with you, I will have to check into the actual authenticity of it. This was not something arranged by Sony, and first and foremost, your contract to Sony overrules whoever your manager is here at the label.

"Isabella, I'll make a deal with you. You know that I only manage the highest grossing acts for the company. I plan to continue to give you the right publicity you need, here in the United States, while you're over in Europe. If you headline this European tour, I have absolute faith in you that you will return on the same level, if not bigger, than The Volturi. I promise you, that when you come back, I will take over as your manager. This contract with James will be null and void."

"If you have that much faith in me, why can't you just take over as my management now?"

Aro smiled. "I can't just take everyone's clients that I want around here, Isabella. It's understood that once a musician reaches a certain level, then they'll receive top management – you need to get to that level first."

"James has been screwing up my career since day one!" I argued. "How the hell am I supposed to go over to Europe with him for a month and expect to come back as successful as you predict? Why can't you travel with The Volturi and help oversee me? Why does it have to be him?"

"I'm too old to travel with my clients; that's why I have Demetri." Aro looked away from me, towards the door that James had just stormed out. "Besides, I have business that I need to take care of here and it would be better for everyone if James was in Europe. If you ever have any concerns while you're over there, you can contact me directly. Do this tour – and I promise you – everything will be cleared up when you return."

I sat and mulled over his proposal. Just a few minutes ago, I had been so adamant that I would never return on tour with The Volturi. And now, he actually had me second-guessing myself. This had the potential to be one huge disaster. I would be stuck, for a month, traveling in close quarters with James and Edward – two men that I wanted to stay far away from for two completely different reasons. I could already picture the countless ways that I would end up getting destroyed.

But then I thought back to Aro's words he had just spoken to me: "You're looking at this emotionally."

Hadn't my career taken a turn for the worse when I let emotions control every choice?

I removed myself from the biggest tour of the year because I couldn't handle being on tour with my ex-boyfriend. I willingly signed a contract with James, knowing it wouldn't turn out well, because I was willing to do anything to get away from Edward. I refused to defend myself to the media, even as I watched my entire career go down the drain. I had worked so hard, and for so long, to get my music heard and be taken seriously – yet I was the one that had so easily thrown it all away over a broken heart.

For so long I had Charlie guiding me and my career. Then Edward became my mentor. Hell, I even went to Jake looking for advice. I was constantly seeking others to help me make the best decision.

Maybe it was time to start looking out for myself and trust that I could do this on my own.

I weighed the pros and cons in my head, deciding which would be the best choice for me. If I said no, and walked away…I would either be walking right back into James's slimy grasp…or Aro would make sure that I left for good. If I said yes, I could still be walking into a trap with James…but Aro also had made me a promise…

And Edward…I shook my head, deciding I couldn't even factor him into my decision. If I did, my emotions would be controlling me all over again.

I bit my lip and looked at Aro. "No fake relationship, right? Not even alluding to it."

Aro nodded. "Correct."

"And I can sing whatever I want to?"

"As long as you keep writing new material while you're on tour," Aro smiled.

I looked Aro straight in the eye, as this last question was my deciding factor. "And when I get back…James is out of the picture for good?"

"I promise."

I took a deep breath and nodded. "We have a deal."


James POV:

I paced around my tiny office, cursing to myself and smoking the last of my cigarettes. It was late and the rest of the staff had left the building hours ago, but I was still trying to come up with a plan after everything happened today. More like an explanation for Mr. Denali. Aro had royally fucked me over with Isabella Swan, and part of me couldn't help but feel maybe that had been his intention all along.

Did he know about Mr. Denali's plans? I shook my head, reasoning with myself that if he had any clue that I was trying a coup d'état on him, he would have fired me already.

So what the fuck happened in that board room to make me lose all control over Isabella Swan's career? And how was I going to get it back?

I stabbed the end of my cigarette into my desk, not even caring that I was leaving a burn, and thought back to the events earlier that day. I had walked into that board room, overly confident that I was quickly on the path to Isabella's "self-destruction."

For weeks now, I had been subtlety letting Aro know that Isabella was being less than cooperative when it came to her music. I had planted the bug in Aro's ear that Isabella was choosing the wrong song for her VMA performance. And while that bit of the plan backfired, it still didn't hurt me, since Aro believed I had finally talked some sense into her. There had been a few other opportunities that Aro wanted me to present, which I always conveniently "forgot" to mention to her. All Aro needed to know was that Isabella was continuously passing on these great offers.

I was utterly dumbfounded when Aro presented Isabella with the idea to go on tour with The Volturi, and irate that he hadn't decided to at least consult with me about the decision first, before dropping it on both of us at the same time. What sneaky sort of plan was this man up to?

Of course Isabella joining The Volturi for a double-headline tour was a no-brainer. It would instantly skyrocket her career back to the top, and give her all the positive publicity she could ever hope for. The sales revenue would be off the charts, and I could only imagine the millions of dollar signs that danced around in Aro's fat head. Isabella would have been an idiot to turn down that offer. But I was banking on the fact that she was an idiot and would most certainly put her career second to her pathetic romance with Edward Cullen.

When Aro asked me to leave the room, I couldn't help but feel uneasy. Why did he need to speak with her alone? What sort of scheme were the two of them collaborating on?

I wasn't a fool. I had clearly heard Aro tell Isabella that he planned on handling her promotion in the States if she went on tour; I knew exactly what that meant. Aro sat on his throne at the top of the food chain around here. He could have his pickings of any artist he wanted to, and since he was the Head of Sony, he only chose to work with the talent that would produce him with the most money. He was planning on Isabella becoming the next biggest act for Sony. And he was promptly going to steal her out from under me.

Not if I can help it, Mother Fucker. Your days are numbered. By the time you have any clue what's going on, you'll be thrown out of the top floor of this office building so fast, you'll come begging me for a job!

There was just one problem with my plan. Isabella Swan. How did that bitch manage to thwart every move I made?! She didn't even have a clue what was going on! But now the stupid cunt decided she wanted to go on tour with The Volturi! And I was going to be shipped off to Europe with her.

I scrubbed my hand over my face, completely frustrated. This may have thrown a wrench in my plans…but it certainly wasn't going to stop me from making my way to the top. Isabella may have been given a great opportunity, but I would be with her every step of the way to make sure she fucked it up. And Aro would be across an entire ocean to even know what was going on.

When Denali had first approached me, everything was strictly business. I was doing whatever I needed to do to advance my own career; if there happened to be collateral damage along the way, then so be it. But now it was personal. I didn't trust Aro anymore. And I couldn't wait to see his face when he realized I stole his job right out from under his nose.

And Isabella Swan…It was now my personal mission to take that bitch down. By the time I was done with her, she'd be begging to suck my cock for just one more of her measly songs to be on the radio. I palmed my hand over my hardening dick, thinking about all the demeaning things I'd make her do while I sat in Aro's chair in that huge office.

My pornographic thoughts were interrupted by the phone ringing. I swallowed hard and composed myself, knowing full-well who was on the other line. Even though I had been waiting for his call all day, I was still dreading it.

I cleared my throat and picked up the receiver. "Mr. Denali, we have a problem."


A/N: So there you have it. The good news is we'll get tons of E&B interactions from here on out – and (my favorite) sexual tension. :)