Lessons in Intimacy

A Night for the Betrayed

A Twific one-shot by Emily Bowden

"Why do you think he's not answering his phone, Jazz," Bella asked breathlessly; the adrenaline soaring through her veins as Jasper raced down the busy Chicago streets, early Saturday morning. Her leg bounced up and down relentlessly, her nerves getting the better of her. She had her thumb planted firmly between her teeth as she gnawed at the tender skin.

"I'm not sure, Bells," he answered, flicking on his blinker to make a right hand turn from Central onto Crawford Avenue. "What did he say to you again last night?"

"He didn't say anything to me; the call went straight to voice mail. And when he didn't show up to work this morning, I got worried and called you. I hope nothing happened to him."

Jasper grumbled, cursing the asshole under his breath. He'd been suspicious for a long time about Mike's extracurricular activities; he'd just never had the heart to tell Bella. He knew how much she cared for the asshole, and even though he didn't deserve her, Bella seemed happy with him. Jasper didn't want to ruin that for Bella based on suspicions and bad feelings. Unfortunately, he may not have much of a choice now. It seemed that Mike's behavior was coming back to bite him in the butt, and Bella was going to be hit with the harsh reality head on.

Jasper had known Bella since they were five years old, and he'd always thought of her as his little sister. They'd been through a lot together over the years, forming a bond between the two of them that could rival blood relation. They'd supported each other through his father's abuse and her parent's divorce. Her friendship with him never wavered; her devotion, unbreakable. When Jasper had met his soul mate, Bella had accepted Alice into her life with open arms. They'd become fast friends, both loving Jasper in such different ways, but fiercely in their own.

And now, Jasper couldn't help but feel like a traitorous piece of shit. He hated himself for not being the friend Bella needed, for not telling her that her boyfriend was a fucking cheating bastard. He just didn't think he could handle seeing the pain in her eyes, the agony the betrayal would cause her. So he played dumb, going on double dates with the couple like nothing was wrong. He pretended that he and Mike were great friends, when the reality was he wanted to choke the fucker.

"Argh," Bella growled as she slammed her phone shut once again. "He's not answering, Jazz. I'm getting really worried. Maybe I should call the hospitals." She flipped her phone open hurriedly, planning on dialing information to get the numbers of the local emergency rooms. But Jasper shot his hand over hers, stopping her frantic movements as he spoke.

"No, not yet," Jasper said softly. He had a feeling he knew where the fucker was, but he needed more information before he broke Bella's heart with his suspicions.

"Where did he go last night?" he asked, the wheels turning in his head. On one level, he hoped his suspicions were wrong, and that Mike's actions were just misunderstood. But Bella's next words confirmed Jasper's fears, and his grip tightened on the steering wheel as she answered.

"I think he was heading to Jessica's with the guys," she said as she sent someone a text from her phone. "She was having some sort of party, I think."

"Why didn't he take you with him?" he asked, his knuckles turning white with the strain of his grip.

"I don't know," she answered, frustrated. She gestured widely with her hands as she explained, an action that she only did when she was truly passionate about something. "I guess he wanted a guy night, or something. He just made plans and left, promising to call me when he got home."

If he got home at all, Jasper thought angrily. He knew why Mike went to Jessica's alone; it was because there wasn't a party at all. He hadn't gone out with his friends, like the cheating bastard had said; Jasper knew that because he'd seen Tyler and Eric at the batting cages last night, both high off their asses as they tried to dodge the balls flying out of the pitching machine.

Bella's phone beeped, indicating she'd received an incoming text message. She threw her phone open, eyes widening hopefully for the briefest of seconds. Her expression fell immediately when she realized the message wasn't from who she'd hoped it would be.

"Alice said he called in sick," she grumbled, falling back into her seat dejectedly. "She called into the office for me, asking what happened to Mike. Damn it!" she cursed, tossing her phone onto the dash board in her frustration. "If he could call into work, then why the fuck can't he answer the damn phone!"

"Bells," Jasper began, trying to prepare himself for her reaction to his admission. "I think Mike's been hiding something from you."

"What do you mean?" she said, whipping her head around to meet Jasper's tense posture. "Why would you say something like that?"

"I think he's been messing around, sweetie," Jasper said tentatively, reaching out his hand to comfort Bella as he drove toward Jessica's place. Bella pulled her arm away, her expression defensive.

"No," she answered flatly. "That's not possible. Mike loves me."

"Baby, I don't think he's been truthful with you," Jasper tried again, exchanging worried glances between her and the road. "I've heard rumors about him and Jessica, none of them good. I think he might be at her place now." Bella crossed her arms in front of her body, her face rimmed with anger.

"Why didn't you say anything to me?" she asked, hurt in her voice.

"Because, sweetheart, I was hoping it wasn't true. But now that the fucker isn't answering his phone after a night with her, I'm afraid the rumors are true."

"There was a party," Bella said, trying to convince herself that Jasper was wrong.

"No there wasn't, Bella," Jasper said softly, coming to a stop in front of a large building and looking at her fully.

"How do you know?" she asked, tears rimming her eyes as she pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, gnawing on it relentlessly. The movement was so tense, Jasper wouldn't have been surprised if she broke the fragile skin.

"I saw Crowley and Yorkie last night...without Mike, Bella."

She closed her eyes tightly, taking in a deep breath to calm her raging emotions. Her expression remained still, almost serene-like, as the tears spilled down her cheeks; she didn't cry out loud.

The truth was, Bella had known something wasn't right about Mike. He'd been so attentive to her in the beginning, taking his time to get to know her before he tried to push her into a sexual relationship. He said he understood her reasoning to take things slowly, wanting to be sure about him before she allowed things to progress between them. Men like that were uncommon nowadays. Besides Jasper, she'd never found a man that had been as patient as Mike.

It was after they'd finally had sex, about three months later, that Mike started to change. It was subtle at first, the differences only noticeable in hindsight. But looking back, Bella could tell that he'd begun to distance himself. Even in the bedroom, he'd started to withdraw. He wouldn't caress her body, taking his time to make sure she climaxed before he'd finished. He would just sate himself on her body without regard to her pleasure.

It was frustrating at first, but Bella took it in stride. She'd figured she just needed to spice things up a bit, and asked Alice to take her lingerie shopping. After spending half of her paycheck on several lacy bits of clothing, Bella was hopeful things would change. She'd dressed in a black, barely-there teddy, and made Mike a lavish dinner. She sat perched on her table amongst an array of mouthwatering food, hoping that Mike would ignore the goodies and ravish her instead.

When he'd arrived home and noticed her sitting there half naked, his mouth dropped to the ground, much to Bella's enjoyment. He'd scooped her up into his arms and took her quickly back to her bedroom. The sex that night was amazing, exactly what Bella had hoped for, but it was short lived.

By the next month, Mike was back to his same behavior, distant and neglectful. There were times where they didn't have sex for weeks. Again, Bella began to think about what else she could do to make Mike interested in her. She had tried sex toys and bondage, wearing black leather and dark makeup. She'd offered to watch porn, hoping that if they'd shared in something, he plug back into the relationship. She'd even shaved her pussy bare at Mike's request, but nothing pulled him back in.

For a while, she'd berated herself for not being enough for Mike. There was something about her that made him pull away. She thought maybe her hair was too long, and she cut it off to resemble the models he'd commented on in the latest Cosmo magazine. She had gone to the gym relentlessly, working hard to tone her body, but he never seemed to notice the difference. No matter what she did, Mike seemed oblivious to it all. Even though she knew he'd checked out of the relationship a long time ago, she continued to try, convincing herself that if she just changed a little more, he'd turn around.

"I've been so stupid," Bella chastised her self. "Stupid, stupid stupid..." she continued to mutter, accenting each curse with a slight slam of her head onto the back of her seat.

"Bella, stop it," Jasper replied hurriedly, reaching over to still Bella's self-deprecating attacks. "You're not stupid, baby. You've just been taken advantage of." Bell laughed humorlessly.

"Jazz, that's like saying I was too naive to know any better," she replied while wiping tears from her eyes. "I should have known – did know for a while now – that something was up with him, I was just too scared to admit it to myself."

Jasper reached out to Bella, and she scooted herself closer to his warm embrace. He rocked her for several minutes, whispering reassuring words in her ear each time she let out frustrated curse at herself.

"This is not your fault," he told her. "Mike is a fucking idiot. You deserve better." But no matter what Jasper said, Bella couldn't believe his words. Somewhere deep inside her, she knew that it was only a matter of time before Mike had left her for someone else. She'd been convinced for a while now that she was unworthy of any kind of devotion from a man, except the true friendship she shared with Jasper. She wasn't drop dead gorgeous, a type of woman men begged for. She was small, petite in her figure, which most men found attractive. To her, it roughly translated that she had small tits. Her hair was a dull brown, her eyes just as boring, and she'd never been the life of the party. She was average; completely and pathetically unremarkable.

"Let's go take care of this," Bella said in a stoic tone, wiping the last remnants of tears from her soaked cheeks.

"Are you sure?" Jasper asked, hesitant to have her be witness to anything they found in Jessica's apartment. It would kill him if she had to see Mike in the midst of passion with another woman because it would just cement the ridiculous notion that Bella wasn't good enough in her mind. And that fucker would be dead if he hurt Bella like that, Jasper would see to it himself.

"Yes, Jasper. If he is up there and hasn't answered his phone, I know what he's been doing. I'd rather see this for myself."

She didn't give him a chance to argue or object. She opened the car door and was walking up to the building before Jasper even managed to eject his seatbelt. He scrambled to catch up to her, barely making the elevator as Bella stood against the back, tapping her foot and gnawing her bottom lip raw.

Jasper wanted to give her reassurance; tell her that maybe his assumptions were just misplaced. He wanted to hold her hand, comfort her as she anxiously stood there afraid of what she might find. He could see the silent tears running down her face in droves, and she made no motion to dispel them. She just stood there, quietly crying, and anticipating heartbreak.

The ding of the elevator indicated that they'd reached the fifth floor, and the doors swung open to reveal a vacant hallway. Jasper made a motion to step out onto Jessica's floor when he felt Bella stop him. He turned to look at her questioningly and the apathetic look on her face pulled him up short.

"I think you should wait for me," she said softly, not meeting his eyes but staring blankly into the hallway.

"Why?" he argued. "No, Bella. I want to be there for you."

"I know you do," she said, looking at him for the first time since they were down in the car. There was a faint hint of the girl that Jasper had known since diapers behind that absent expression as she tried to offer him a solemn grin. "I'll be fine. If Mike is being a two-timing whore, than that is something I will deal with. I don't want you to get in the middle of it, please?"

Jasper didn't respond. Inside his mind, he was trying to find a logical reason to object. He knew that Mike didn't have the balls to harm Bella, and if Jessica went off the handle and tried to start a cat fight with her, he knew Bella could handle her on her own, evidenced by the countless times she'd had him begging uncle throughout the years.

"I'm going to wait right here," he said in a firm tone, pointing to just outside the elevator doors. "If you need me, I'll come."

Bella nodded, giving Jasper's arm a tight squeeze in appreciation. She stepped onto the floor and turned toward the end of the hall, in the direction of Jessica's apartment.

She stood outside the door, listening for sounds that could hint to what was going on inside. Everything was quiet and she started to wonder if anyone was home.

Only one way to find out...

She knocked on the door, the sound resonating down the hallway. She chanced a quick peek at Jasper for reassurance as she waited for someone to answer. He stood stoically by the elevator, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed in front of his chest. He offered her a warm smile, but it was conflicting with his tense posture. Bella sighed and knocked again.

"Hold on," she heard Jessica call from behind the door. "I'm coming." There were several clicks as she unlocked the door. She swung it open and for the first time, Bella's stomach rolled.

Jessica was standing in the doorway with nothing on but a towel. Her hair was wet and there were beads of water pooling along her skin. Jessica looked a little surprised to see Bella standing there, but she quickly recovered her shock by plastering a sickly sweet smile on her mouth.

"Bella! What are you doing here?"

"Looking for Mike. Is he here?"

"Ummm," she said as her eyes widen slightly. And Bella knew right then that he was. "He was here last night, but I think he left with Eric..."

"Cut the shit, Jessica," Bella said as she pushed her way into the apartment. "I know he's here."

She took in the scene around her as Jessica babbled incessantly behind her, looking for any traces of Mike's presence. The apartment was clean, not one beer bottle or plastic cup left behind that would have surely accompanied one of Jessica's infamous parties.

"You cleaned up pretty fast," Bella mentioned. When Jessica looked confused, she clarified. "You know, from your party last night?"

"Oh, yeah...well, I had a couple of friends help me out before they left."

Bella rolled her eyes as she walked further into the apartment.

"Where is he, Jessica?"

"I don't know what you're —"

"Baby, have you seen my cell phone?" Mike asked as he walked out of the bedroom in nothing but his boxers. His hair was damp, indicating that Jessica hadn't been alone in her shower. He paused, wide-eyed, as he saw Bella standing in the middle of the living room.

"Hey, Mike," Bella said with a fake grin. "I've been looking for you."

"Oh, well...umm...I can't find my phone so I thought I left it here at the party, so I...uh...came back to Jess's to see if it was here."

"Hmmm," Bella said with a thoughtful expression. "Well that makes sense. I wonder though, why did you come in your boxers? Don't you have any other clothes, or was it like a toga party last night?"

"Toga," Mike proclaimed, nodding his head in agreement with a wry smile on his face. "Yeah, I got pretty drunk and ended up spewing on my Toga. Jess washed it for me, so...yeah." He seemed relieved that Bella was buying his excuse. That arrogant swagger he had about him returned in full force as he sauntered over to her with a cocky grin. When he was about a foot away from her, Bella placed her palms on his bare chest, halting his movements.

"Really, Mike?" Bella sighed, her hands going to her hips as she glared at him ruefully. "Toga? Do you really think I'm that big of an idiot?"

"Bella," he said in a placating voice.

"No, Mike. I'm done. You can have this whore," she spat, gesturing to Jessica's obnoxiously outraged expression. "How long have you been fucking her, huh? No, forget that. I don't want to know. I'm sure whatever you say will be a lie. But I want your shit out of the apartment by tomorrow morning."

"Baby," he said, trying to reach out his arms towards her in offering. "You don't mean that. You're just angry. Let's go home and we can talk—"

"No," Bella replied flatly. "There is nothing left to talk about. I've seen enough. I've been through enough of your bullshit and I'm done."

She turned on her heel, making her way towards the door. She hadn't noticed before, but Jasper had come down the hallway and was waiting outside the apartment door, not bothering to look sheepish for disobeying Bella's order. He didn't say anything as their gazes met, but he had his fists buried in his jean pockets, probably in an attempt to keep them away from Mike's face.

"I knew it!" Mike jeered as he saw Jasper waiting for Bella. His face was panicked, desperate, like he was trying to grasp at straws to lessen his guilt. "I knew you were fucking him. All this time, you've been the whore, Bella. Not me!"

Bella froze from her retreat, her chest panting as she tried to steady the rage boiling inside of her, a result from his outlandish accusation.

"You know what, Mike?" she asked, turning slowly to set her eyes on him hopefully for the last time. "I'd never be that cruel to do that to you. Jasper has always been my friend, nothing more. But he has always meant more to me than you."

With that, Bella turned on her heel, and walked out the door.

Jasper drove her home in silence. Neither of them said a word, but like they always had done, they each seemed to know what the other needed automatically.

Jasper needed to comfort Bella, take care of her, reassure her like a big brother would his devastated sister. Bella needed to distance herself from everything, needed to get away from anything that reminded her of Mike and forget.

Jasper drove towards her apartment wordlessly. When they arrived, he grabbed her house key from her limp fingers, and went inside to pack her a bag, leaving Bella alone with her painful reality. Grabbing the basics, he loaded a duffel bag with her stuff. While he worked, he called Alice.

"She hasn't really said anything," he told her after a quick recap of what had happened. "She hasn't even cried."

"She's known this was going to happen deep down inside her," Alice answered. "Subconsciously, I think she was prepared."

"How could anyone be prepared for that kind of betrayal?" Jasper asked, affronted that Alice would make such an assumption.

"She never really loved him, Jazz," Alice replied sympathetically. "Not real love, not like you and me."

"But she cared for him," he told her solemnly then said a quick goodbye, returning to the car within five minutes.

Bella stared out the window the entire drive over to Jasper and Alice's place, not saying a word. It was almost like she was going catatonic. She was expressionless, emotionless, but her mind was running a million miles a minute.

What was it about herself that seemed to repulse a man? What attribute did she possess that seemed to be the repellant? It must be the same quality she shared with her mother, for in all the time she'd known her, the woman had never managed to keep a man for longer than six months. Her father was the record holder at eight years, but he'd left her eventually, just like all the others had.

"Don't do that." Jasper's stern voice pierced the silence. "Don't sit there and blame yourself, Bella. This is not about you."

"I'm not," she lied, still staring out the window blankly.

"I know you better than that," Jasper told her, reaching his hand over and grasping her wrist. "You are a beautiful, intelligent woman that any man would be lucky to have. Don't put Mike's idiocy on yourself."

"Mike's not the idiot," she declared blandly. "I am."

The next two months were hard for Bella, but like the great friends they were, Alice and Jasper were with her every step of the way. She'd let her apartment go, moving in temporarily with her two best friends. She hated to impose, but after their incessant pleading, she relented and took the spare bedroom.

The both of them had been great during her recovery, making sure she never felt like the third wheel. She was so grateful to the pair of them, and when it was time for her to move out into her own place, she couldn't help but feel a twinge of remorse that their time together was over.

"We'll still see each other every day," Alice told her as she hugged Bella, empty boxes and crate paper spread out around them. They had just finished unpacking the final box of dishes and arranged them in the cabinets that resided in her new kitchen.

"I know, but I'm really going to miss you guys," Bella told her, wiping a tear from her bottom lashes. "It's been so nice having you two around all the time."

"We are just a phone call away," Jasper told her, wrapping his arms around her from the back, making a Bella sandwich, and placing a small kiss atop her head.

The three of them enjoyed the afternoon, making small talk as the rest of Bella's things were placed in their new locations. It was after they'd shared a greasy pizza that the subject of dating came up for the first time in months.

"I think it's time," Alice declared, taking the tip of her pizza crust into her mouth for one final bite. "You need to get out there, Bella. There are plenty more fish in the sea."

"I don't know..." Bella said hesitantly, smiling slightly as she caught the glare Jasper was shooting at Alice. But like she'd always done, Alice ignored his silent protest and kept on.

"Come on, Bella. There's this one guy at work that I think you'd love!"

"No blind dates," Bella said firmly. "I'll agree to put myself out there again, but a blind date is one thing I will not do."

"Fine," Alice agreed then squealed as she clapped her hands together incessantly. "Let's go out tonight. There's a new club downtown and I'm sure it's filled with hot guys. We'll get you all gussied up and make a night of it. Please?"

"Oh Jesus..." Jasper muttered, taking the plates back into the kitchen and leaving Bella to the mercy of his relentless girlfriend.

"Come on, Bella. It's about time you got out there. And I mean, the clothes you wear don't exactly accent your body. I know you have a nice figure cause I've seen you in yoga pants and a tank. I have the perfect outfit for you: fitted skinny jeans with the rock-awesome top – deep plunged and totally revealing. It will showcase your curves while highlighting your breasts, and I think —"

"Fine!" Bella relented. "We'll go. But I want to make one thing clear to you. Please don't push a truckload of guys on me while we're there. Let me find one that I'm interested in and take it from there, okay?"

Alice nodded in agreement, her head bobbing up and down so fast in her excitement, she looked comical.

"And, you need to understand that this may take some time," Bella continued. "I'm not looking for anything long term by any means, but I don't want to just shack up with some random guy cause I'm drunk and horny."

Bella hadn't noticed that Jasper had walked back into the room, but at her last statement, he turned back toward the kitchen looking a little green. Alice laughed at his reaction while Bella buried her face in her hands, mortified.

The girls had decided to get ready back at Alice's place. Bella's apartment still looked like a disaster area, and the outfit Alice wanted to try on her was there anyway. Bella loaded her makeup and essentials in a small bag, and made it to Alice's by seven o'clock that evening.

For an hour and a half, Alice worked on Bella's appearance tirelessly. She plunked and prodded, turning Bella into a gorgeous bombshell who was ready to put herself out there among the masses and see what kind of fishies she'd catch.

The club was packed, every booth and seat taken. Luckily, Alice was friends with one of the waitresses and had a booth booked for the three of them earlier in the evening. Bella spent most of her time there alone, for Alice had dragged Jasper off onto the dance floor for most of the night. The time by herself suited Bella's mood, though, so she didn't mind. She liked the opportunity to people watch, a favorite past time of hers.

It was when she was watching a group of young twenty-somethings acting foolish over one of the bar tenders that she first caught his eye. He was standing by the bar staring in her direction. He wore black suit pants and a matching jacket, with a deep emerald shirt unbuttoned to reveal part of his chest. His hair was in a styled disarray, but it just added to his look. His features were chiseled, angular, and statuesque; at least they seemed that way as far as she could make out. She'd never had the best eyesight in long distance, especially when she'd had a couple drinks in her, but she could've sworn he was watching her intently.

Not to bring too much attention to herself, Bella looked away from him, continuing her perusal across the crowded floor of the club. Occasionally, she'd glance back in his direction, but once she'd catch is gaze again she'd look away.

As time went on, she really wished that Jasper and Alice would come back to the booth. She'd had a few more drinks and really had to pee, but was afraid to leave the booth. She didn't want to be the reason they lost their seats.

Drumming her fingers on the table, a fresh apple martini in front of her, she began searching the crowded dance floor for Alice and Jasper. She could barely make out the bouncing bodies, and she knew it was nearly impossible for them to see her, but she was hoping that by some form of telepathy, if she stared in that direction long enough they'd know to come back.

A sudden movement from the door caught her gaze, and she looked to see the bouncer letting in another group of people from the long line outside the club. Her heart froze when she saw Mike walking in, Jessica perched on his arm like a good little girlfriend.

Bella thought she was going to be sick. She hadn't seen Mike since that day at Jessica's and she had no intention of meeting them now, even more so since it seemed that they were officially together now.

Forgetting the booth, Bella stood abruptly from her seat, heading away from Mike and Jessica and rushing toward the dance floor. Maybe if she found Jasper and Alice, the three of them could find a back door in which they could leave from. That way, they could avoid passing by Mike again. She didn't want to see him and definately didn't want him to see her. Jasper would know what to do, she hoped. He always knew how to take care of her.

Glancing behind her to see if Mike had seen her, Bella continued to hurry toward Jasper and Alice. She didn't see where she was going and didn't realize it until it was too late, but she'd run right into someone in her oblivion, and she automatically began apologizing for her clumsiness.

"Mi scusi, bella."

"I'm so sorry. I wasn't watching where I was going."

"It's alright," a velvet, heavily accented voice told her as large, warm hands encased her upper arms to hold her steady. "Who are you running from, little one?"

Bella looked up to see the man from the bar standing in front of her. He was incredibly handsome, with these vivid green eyes that seemed to radiate warmth and protection. He smelled like masculine musk, hot and inviting, and she felt her mouth water slightly in his presence. She was stunned for a moment, her mouth unable to formulate words.

"You seemed in quite a hurry. Is someone bothering you?"

"N-n-no," Bella stammered finally, taking a small step back away from him to gain the distance her rapid pulse desperately needed. "I'm fine. Just saw someone I didn't want to see."

"Is this someone who will hurt you?" the man asked, his tone concerned.

"No," Bella reassured. "Just an old boyfriend."

"Old boyfriend?" he asked, emphasizing the first.

"Yes," Bella replied. "He cheated on me with the girl he's with. Really don't want to see him right now, seeing as I'm pathetically alone."

It was then that Bella began to chide herself. Why in the hell was she telling this beautiful stranger all of her dirty, boring business?

"What a fool," he told her bluntly. "That man must be a complete idiot to let you go."

Bella blushed, "I don't think he sees it that way."

"Clearly he doesn't see at all. Such beauty and grace...like I said, he is a fool."

"Thank you, but I think you are the one who is not seeing clearly. Excuse me..." Bella stepped to the side and around the stranger, making her way toward the dance floor once again. She hated to be rude to the man, but she knew what he was doing: trying to win her over with flattery. There was no way that someone as gorgeous as him would see her for anything more than an easy lay. And frankly, that's not what she wanted. Maybe it's what she needed, but knowing her, she'd get emotionally involved despite herself, and another disappointment at this juncture would just hurt more than she could afford.

She stood on the edge of the dance floor, looking over the bobbing bodies for a sign of Jasper's curly hair. She knew she'd never be able to make out Alice; she was way too short to be seen over the sea of heads. But Jasper stood at approximately six foot two, so she was hoping that at least he could be recognized.

"Well if it isn't freakin' Isabella Swan," a high, obnoxious voice said beside her, and she turned to see Jessica Stanley standing there with a satisfied smirk on her face. Mike was beside her, looking anywhere but at Bella. He had his hand around Jessica's waist, but he seemed reluctant to have it there. She could see Jessica's hand on top of his, holding his arm there resolutely, showing Bella that he was finally hers. Bella rolled her eyes, and turned toward the dance floor, ignoring Jessica out right.

"Here alone?" Jessica asked, but Bella refused to answer her. "That figures. Mike had always said you were the loner type."
"Jess..." Mike chided, but Bella turned and rounded on her with a vengeance before he could attempt to defend her.
"And what is to be said about you, Jessica?" Bella spat. "That you only take your men as filthy seconds? That you can't get one on your own so you have to steal those that don't belong to you?"

"He belongs to me now," Jessica retorted vindictively, pulling on Mike like he was sort of a prize to be won.

"He sure does," Bella replied, looking at Mike as he stood there silent as Jessica continued her shameless rant. "Tell me, Jess, how do my sloppy seconds taste?"

"Listen you bitch, Mike came to me because he obviously found you lacking in what he needed. Face it, Bella, you lost Mike because you couldn't give him what he wants."
"That's funny," the voice of a silken god said behind Bella, and she felt warm, strong arms wrap around her waist in a protective embrace. "I find that Bella has everything that I need. Perhaps your Mike is just interested in the less...how would you put this, piccola?" The stranger looked at Bella over her shoulder questioningly, making Bella look at him as if he was her ultimate savior. "The less demure type. I prefer my women with some class."
Jessica stood there slack-jawed for half a moment, taking in the beauty of the man, no doubt. The look of admiration on Jessica's face as she stared at the man sparked a bit of jealousy in Bella, and she felt herself melt into the stranger's warm embrace, bringing her hands up to rest gently on his strong seemed to pull herself together at the sight of Bella's actions, tightening her own grip on Mike even more so. Jessica scoffed, putting her free hand on her hip as she looked at Bella's impromptu companion in distaste. Bella noticed that Mike was paying more attention now, his expression becoming slightly territorial as he glared at the man's arm wrapped so tightly around Bella, her hand gently rubbing his skin in silent thanks.
"Class?" Jessica asked with a snort. "More like frigidity."
"What is that supposed to mean?" the man asked smoothly.
"Let's just say that from what Mike said, Bella reverts back to the stone ages with her beliefs about sex. She is so completely boring she failed to hold his interest. I, on the other hand, can play into a man's most erotic desires. She wasn't enough for him, so he came to me."
Bella was so embarrassed by her words, and she couldn't help but glance at Mike questioningly to see if that was how he really felt about her. He was looking down towards the ground, not meeting her eyes. To Bella, that simple avoidance confirmed what Jessica said as truth. Not that she really cared about what he thought of her any longer, but if he'd truly divulged that information to Jessica of all people, how could she ever live that down? And now for it to be brought up again in front of this stranger, this man who'd obviously seen Bella's discomfort and came to rescue her...Bella was mortified.
She heard the stranger laugh low in his chest behind her, the sound reverberating along her back and down her body silkily. "That's funny, because I seem to find my Bella most adventurous. In fact, I don't think I've had a better lover. Why just the other day she...never mind. That one's between me and you, isn't it, piccola."
The stranger bent his head toward her, placing small kisses along the skin right under her ear. As his warm breath rushed across her flesh, Bella couldn't help but close her eyes at the sensation. His grip on her tightened as he continued to lavish her, moving his mouth up to her jaw, and towards the corner of her mouth. She tilted her head automatically, granting him better access to her sensitive skin.
Bella heard an exasperated sigh, but couldn't find it in her heart to care. She forgot about Mike, she forgot about Jessica. In that moment, her sole focus was on the way his lips felt on her skin. It didn't escape her notice that this man, this stranger, felt better to her in that moment than Mike ever had. The way he held her, the way he kissed her – even though it was not on her lips – it was tantalizing, sensuous.
When he finally pulled away from her, she held still for several moments, feeling for a second like her world had stopped spinning.

"I think they're gone," his gentle voice crooned in her ear. Bella's eyes flitted open.

"W-what?" she asked, breathless.

"Your friends," he said, gesturing toward the spot where Jessica had stood with a glance. "They're gone." Bella turned to look, realizing that they'd left without further incident.

"They are not my friends," she told him, staring blankly at their vacated spot with a heavy sigh.

"So I noticed." His comment sent a sudden rush of embarrassment over as the memory of Jessica's words replayed in her mind like a deprecating recorder stuck on repeat.

"Oh my God, I'm so embarrassed. What you must think of me..." She brought her hand up to shield her face, attempting to hide her shame in any way possible.

"I don't know why you should feel so," he told her. "It was pretty obvious to me that they were the ones with the issues." He reached toward her, pulling her hand away so that he could see her better. He saw her discomfort and shame so clearly in her expressive eyes, ones woven from heat and passion that it made his breath stutter in his chest for a brief moment.

"I can't believe that just happened," Bella said on a shaky laugh. "Jasper is going to kill Mike..."

"Who?" the stranger asked, a hint of something in his tone that Bella couldn't place.

"Jasper: a friend of mine. He's here on the dance floor with his girlfriend. It's who I was looking for when Mike and his hoodrat interrupted me."

"Hoodrat?" the man asked on an incredulous chuckle, his heavy accent making the word sound ridiculous to her ears. Bella smiled.

"Well, what term would you use to describe her? Whore? I guess slut works, too."

"I think in my country, she would be called a donna trasandata. Or perhaps even as bad as a puttana, but don't let my nonna hear me talk like that; I'd be in deep do-do, as you Americanos say." Bella laughed, enjoying his refreshing sense of humor. The man smiled at her warmly, liking the way her laughter sounded. "But in your native tongue, I think I would classify her as absolutely dull and unremarkable."

"Really?" Bella chuckled. "I'm afraid to ask what you would call me then..."

"Exotic, mysterious, sensual...beautiful...just to name a few..."

"Now I know something's wrong with you," Bella laughed, trying to hide the fact that his words made her stomach flutter.

"It's the truth, Bella. I'd never lie to you." He reached his hand up to the side of her face, rubbing her cheek with the pad of his thumb. "What a befitting name, bella..." The way he looked at her made Bella's heart hurt. Not because of any ill feelings she held for him, or due to her embarrassment, but because his eyes held such tenderness she felt his sincerity. It made Bella gasp inwardly, her world shifting on it's axis and making her feel dizzy.

"You don't even know me," Bella told him on a whisper, her eyes fixed on his as he bore his gaze into hers.

"I don't need to," he replied. "I see you clearly enough." His words were a play on her earlier objection, she knew it. Was he being coy, or being genuine, she didn't know. And if she was honest with herself, she didn't care.

"Bella!" Alice's voice called with extreme worry, and Bella turned to see her tiny friend rushing toward her, an agitated Jasper following in her wake. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Bella told her as Alice wrapped her small arms around her in a shaky embrace, effectively taking her away from her knight in shining armor.

"We just saw Mike and Jessica. She was saying something about seeing you, and things got a little ugly."

"Alice bitch slapped her," Jasper said on a growl, looking at Alice expectantly.

"You what?" Bella asked, alarmed.

"Well, she was just running her mouth, and you know how much I love you, Bella. I just couldn't let her go off on you like that without you there to defend yourself." Alice continued to ramble on and on until Jasper physically stopped her, pulling her aside to work his voodoo magic in order to calm her down.

"These are your friends?" the man asked her, his face incredibly close to hers once again. Bella's heart leapt at his proximity, and she glanced up at him as she nodded sheepishly.

Alice returned, regretful and apologetic for her sudden reaction to Jessica's petty behavior. The last thing she wanted was to make matters worse for Bella, and as she began explaining that fact to Bella, Alice noticed the strange man standing behind her in an almost protective stance.

"Who are you?" she asked the man, looking him up and down like she was judging if he was worthy based on his outward appearance.

"Oh Alice, Jazz, this is..." Bella trailed off. She'd never been properly introduced to him, now that she thought of it.

"Edward," the man said. "Edward Volturi. Nice to meet you both." He held his hand out toward Jasper in respect, shaking it firmly in a gentlemens' grip, then took Alice's hand to place a small kiss atop of it in greeting. Neither Jasper nor Alice had said anything, just stared at Edward like he had two heads or something, completely stunned.

"Edward helped me out of a sticky situation with Mike and Jessica earlier," Bella explained. "He..." but she couldn't finish. How did she explain what had just happened?

"I put them in their place, is that how you say it?" Edward said, turning toward Bella to make sure he got the American expression right. Bella laughed, nodding her head in confirmation and inwardly grateful it seemed she wouldn't have to give her friends the details behind what just happened.

"That's good to hear," Jasper said with a wide smile for the stranger, then glanced at Bella with a knowing smirk. "Are you ready to go, Bells?"

"Um, sure," she said, giving a cursory glance toward Edward.

"We'll meet you at the car," Alice told her, pulling on Jasper's arm when he seemed reluctant to go. Bella watched as Jasper bent down to Alice, whispering something adamantly into her ear.

"He seems very protective of you," Edward said, his voice close to her once again, sending chills down her spine.

"He is," she replied, turning to face him. "He's like a brother to me; always has been."

"It's good to have someone in your life to guard you when needed," he told her with an intensity in his eyes she couldn't place.

"I guess it is."

"It was nice meeting you, Bella. I hope to see you again very soon." He took her hand and brought it to her mouth. He placed a warm kiss on the top of it, slow and sensuous, the feeling giving her that strange rush she'd felt earlier when those same lips were on her neck.

Before she could react or respond, she watched him give her a sly wink with a smile, then turn toward the VIP section, disappearing behind the curtains.

Bella followed her friends out of the club, all three of them done for the evening. As she walked, Bella's thoughts were focused on Edward. He was mysterious and enchanting, almost too much to be true. His words to her were sweet and kind, more than she'd ever heard from any male. Perhaps he'd just seen her as some sort of damsel in distress, and that was why he'd said those things to her – to boost her wounded ego after Jessica had so thoroughly demolished it.

That had to be it, Bella thought. No one such as he – Edward Volturi, Italian sex on legs – would ever be interested in someone like her. She couldn't even keep a man like Mike Newton – the resident boy-next-door – interested in her, apparently.

The cool night air bit on Bella's bare arms as they walked toward the corner, Jasper hailing a cab as Alice bounced like a rabbit against the cold. Bella dug both of her hands in her back pockets of her jeans in order to keep her fingertips from frostbite. The front of her jeans were too tight, and she'd never be able to get even a pinkie into the pockets there without busting her fly open.

As she stood waiting for an available car, her thoughts on Edward, Bella's finger brushed up against something thin and rough lining the back of her pocket. Curiously, she pulled it from her jeans, seeing that it was a flat, rectangular card – a business card.

On the front was the name of an Italian restaurant called Mia Rosa with a time for a reservation for seven o'clock the following evening. Confused, Bella turned the card over to find thin, slanted handwriting.

Mia bella, please meet me at my familia's resturante tomorrow evening.

I look forward to "getting to know you"

~ E. Volturi

I might continue this story later once Sing For Me Sweet and The Betty Chronicles are done if there is a big enough request for it. Thank you to all of you who donated to the Fandom4Preemies. Your contribution means a lot to me personally, and I was honored to use my love of writing for a good use...other than meeting the needs of pervy people all around the world ;) Thanks to Suzie55 for being the beta to this awesome nugget of Italian fuckery...