Edward was starting to feel the effects of a night without sleep. He was beyond tired and after he checked in with Alice, he was going to head home with some decent take out, pour himself a well-deserved glass of wine and digest everything Richard Weber had confessed to him. The man was easily intimated, it was no wonder Kozlov managed to maintain that kind of power over Weber. Once Edward had put the fear of God into him, the spineless man was willing to share everything he knew, or at least Edward hoped it was everything. It wasn't too difficult to imagine how a man like Weber had gotten where he was. Money was a powerful driving force, something Edward knew a lot about over the years. He'd seen countless men fall under its enchantment. The more they had, the more they wanted, and the more desperate they became to get it. Weber was exactly that kind of man.
The drive back to the office left him alone with his thoughts, and for once he was happy they didn't include Whitlock... at least not in the way they had last night. He'd spent the morning with Weber, trying to connect the dots to figure out who was involved in all of this, but they had reached a standstill. Edward got enough of what he needed from Weber, now he needed to ruminate on the information before sharing it with Whitlock. He knew Whitlock was holding back some key things to this investigation, so it was about time he gave him a taste of his own medicine.
Trust, there was that word again, it was hard to come by and even harder to give. 'Things in this world rarely turn out how you want them to, Edward.' Those words of Whitlock's played over and over in his head. He seemed to be of the same mindset.
Edward cast a watchful eye on Alice as he walked through the glass doors to the office. His plan for some much needed rest was going to be sacrificed. She was beaming while she sat behind her desk, and there was a twinkle in her eye as she handed Edward his messages.
"Out with it, Alice."
She tapped her pen on her hand, looking from him to the closed door of his office. "Visitor." She smiled.
He let out an exaggerated sigh, even with all of the distractions of the morning, Whitlock was still front row and center. He could feel his cheeks grow warm, which seemed to be a common theme when it came to that man. "Why did you let him in my office—"
"It's not Whitlock in there." She grinned, and as she said the words he realized what that closed door meant. He groaned, and set his shoulders, raising his posture as he contemplated what he should do next. He glanced out the window and then to the door. Sighing, he ran a hand through his hair leaving it a bit dishevelled, before making the decision to go in rather than run away like he wanted.
"Isn't it lunchtime for you?" he said to Alice, but she had already grabbed her purse out of her drawer and was heading for the door.
He took one last deep breath before entering his office.
"Mother," he said through gritted teeth. "Why are you here?"
"Can't a mother come to visit her own son?"
As was customary with each of her visits, Edward noticed a few of his things had been moved around in his office, better suited to his mother's taste rather than his own. When she left, Edward would move everything back to its place. Neither of them ever commented on this ritual of theirs, it was done unsaid, but it was always done, both setting their own precedent, and neither bending to the other's will. It was the nature of their relationship.
Esme Cullen was impeccably dressed, but it was understated as always. She wore a simple charcoal-color dress, with a v-neck that came down far enough to expose an elegant platinum chain with a single solitaire diamond setting. Edward had bought that necklace for her with the money he made solving his first case. She hardly ever removed it.
His mother had never looked her age, and today was no exception.
She closed her arms around Edward into a tight hug, pulling him down to kiss his cheek, and as he broke their embrace, she smoothed down his unruly hair. Something about this gesture made Edward feel like a child again. He was surprised she hadn't licked the palm of her hand first, given the chance, he was sure she would have. She gripped his cheeks between her hands, examining the purple and green bruises under his eyes.
"What has happened? Who did this to you?" she asked, but Edward saw through her mocking concern.
"Oh, right, like you don't know." He rolled his eyes, stepping out from under her scrutiny. "Jimmy would have called the house the minute I left the bar the other night. You know damn well what happened. You're here to check up on me."
"Watch your language, please," Esme said. "I'm not here to check up on you. I've missed you."
"So, Jimmy didn't call you?"
"Oh, he called," she said smiling. "Said you got into a 'tussle,' just like the old days." She laughed, and her laugh always soothed him. His mother had a way of diffusing tense situations, and whether it was a smile, a look or a lilting laugh like she had just done, the tension in his body always faded.
"What did dad say about it?"
"Your father's been tight lipped about this whole affair. He didn't say much, but he mentioned you're working with a partner on this case." Her eyebrow rose in question, but Edward refused to confirm or deny her comment.
She sighed. "Just because you and your father aren't seeing eye-to-eye right now, doesn't mean you can shut me out, too."
"Mom, I'm not ready to talk about things just yet. Okay?"
She stared at the cut on his knuckle, and Edward remembered nothing ever got past his mother.
"You went to see Richard Weber today."
"Did dad send you here?" Edward asked, outraged by this new tactic of his father's. "He called, didn't he? That asshat mayor—"
"Edward!" Esme put her hands on her hips. "You're not helping. You know how touchy that whole situation is. And no, your father did not send me here. Do you really think I'd come if he had? I'm worried about you." She dropped her hands, and closed the distance, only leaving the desk between them. "Do you think I'm ignorant to what that man does? I know who Richard Weber is. We may run in the same circles, but don't think for one minute I like that man. This is dangerous business, and even though you're an adult, I'm allowed to be worried about you, and so is your father." They stared each other down, both of their eyes narrowing, and then Esme's shoulders relaxed. "Just promise me you're being careful."
He could see the worry in her eyes, but he also knew she would let him make his own decisions. Edward always appreciated that about his mother. Growing up, she had never told him what he should do when it came to making the big decisions in his life. She knew what it meant to be independent, and it was a constant battle between his mother and father, but she always stood by Edward and never tried to run his life.
"I'm being careful," he said, and walked around his desk to pull his mother into a hug. "I'm going to bring Angela back to her mother."
"I know you will." She held him at arm's length, giving him the proverbial mother/son look. It lasted a few breaths longer than Edward would have liked, and she knew this. Shaking her head and laughing, she said, "What is an ass—Never mind!" She threw her hands up in the air. "I don't want to know." She started to laugh again, which brought a smile to Edward's face, but then she stopped abruptly. Edward cringed knowing what was coming next. "What I do want to know... is who this new partner of yours is?"
"He's not my partner," Edward said.
"Jimmy and your father seem to think so."
"Jimmy and dad are full of it. You know that more than anyone," Edward said in mocked disgust. "We're working together on this case, that's it."
"When do I get to meet him?"
"Why don't you bring him to Sunday dinner?"
Edward groaned. "I was going to talk to you about that—"
"Edward Anthony," she said, "don't think for one second you're getting out of dinner."
"I've got lots to do. This case—"
"Will still be there with a full meal in your stomach. This is non-negotiable. Your grandparents are expecting you."
Edward mumbled a curse under his breath.
"What was that?"
"I said, you're starting to sound like dad."
There was a knock on the door, and it wasn't a feminine knock, either. Edward groaned again knowing exactly who it was on the other side of his door. "Not now!" he yelled out.
"Don't be rude, Edward," Esme said, walking to the door and before opening it, she added, "I raised you better." She stopped short at the appearance of Jasper towering over her. Her head trailed all the way up his body and rested on his face, causing a slight blush from Whitlock.
"I'm sorry to interrupt you and your son, ma'am, but I have some news he'll want to hear." Whitlock held up his phone in his hand.
Edward's mouth fell open at the stranger standing in the door. Whitlock had smoothed down his hair, tucked in his shirt, and with those impeccable manners, Edward had to take a second glance at the man's boots to confirm who he was. It annoyed him how fresh Whitlock looked. He had been just as tired as Edward was when he dropped him off last night, but somehow he had managed to get a full night's sleep. It was a soldier's gift, Edward supposed, able to fall asleep anywhere and at any given time.
"And who might you be?" Esme asked with an amused tone.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Cullen. I'm Jasper Whitlock." He held out his hand as an introduction. Esme looked at him in amazement, and hesitated before taking hold of his hand. When she did, Jasper's face was filled with an ear-to-ear grin.
"Mr. Whitlock," Esme said, returning his smile, "the pleasure is mine." She held on to his hand, turning briefly to her son, and giving him an all-telling look. Edward rolled his eyes at the artificial display of niceties and sat down in his chair.
"Please, call me Jasper," he said, and dipped his head a little.
"Oh, come on," Edward said. "You two are being ridiculous."
"Good manners are nothing to mock, Cullen," Jasper said and winked at him over his mother's turned head. "I can't help it. It's how we're raised in the South."
"I couldn't agree with you more, Jasper. I was just asking my son about you." She glanced at Jasper's healing split-lip, which caused him to blush even further. "I understand the two of you have had somewhat of a disagreement. I trust it's all been resolved?"
"It has, ma'am. And I apologize for any problems it might have caused you and your husband."
Edward watched the whole exchange and was amazed by both performances. Each of them had managed to outdo the other with their honeyed words.
"Well," Esme said, "I'll leave you two to business, but before I go..." She threw a triumphant look her son's way before turning back to Jasper.
"Don't even think about it," Edward said, but Esme ignored him.
"Mr. Whitlock, when was the last time you had a home-cooked meal?" Esme asked, thrilled by her devious plan. "Would you like to join us for dinner on Sunday?"
"No," Edward volunteered for him.
Jasper didn't move a muscle, only the tic of his jaw was visible to Edward, but he saw it and he also saw the amusement in his eyes.
"Why, Mrs. Cullen, I would love to. Thank you, ma'am. I can't tell you the last time I had a meal that didn't come from a box, or cooked in grease, and from what I've heard, your Sunday meals are not to be taken lightly." His manners were dripping with Southern charm as he continued to lay it on real thick. His mother would see through it, but when he looked at her, all he saw was the blush on her cheeks.
Edward scoffed at the both of them. "He's not coming."
"Hush, Edward," Esme scolded. "He's my guest, not yours." She patted Jasper's arm, gripping it ever so slightly, before heading out the door. "I'll see myself out. Don't be late!" she yelled over her shoulder.
"Yes, Edward, hush up." Jasper grinned his infamous grin, and Edward fought the groan that wanted to escape his lips.
"So, what's this news, then?"
"Oh, nothing really, just wanted to meet the lovely Mrs. Cullen." Jasper was still beaming while he untucked his shirt. "The two of you are nothing alike."
Edward rose from his chair, casually walking to the door looking for Alice. When he didn't see her, he asked Whitlock how he had managed to get it in.
"I didn't break in, if that's what you think. I met Alice in the lobby, she came back up to let me in."
Edward was going to have to have another word with Alice. "Why are you here?"
"You missed me, admit it, Cullen."
Edward rolled his eyes at that familiar annoyance that was settling in when it came to all things Whitlock. It was a feeling he could get on board with, so he welcomed the irritation. Edward sighed. "Hardly. It was a welcome change not having you tagging along, invading my space."
"Where you been all morning?"
"I had a life before you came along, I still do."
"So, it's gonna be like that, is it?"
"Gonna make me wine and dine you first before you put out?" He smiled and wriggled his eyebrows.
At least Edward was growing accustomed to Whitlock's taunts, but he'd be kidding himself if he thought Whitlock didn't know where he was all morning. "Are you going to tell me where you've been up until now?"
Whitlock stretched with his arms over his head and grunted. "At home. It was a late night," he said, dropping his arms to adjust his belt. "What can I say? She kept me busy."
"Who?" The words came out before he could stop them.
"Oh, I doubt you'd know her. Doesn't exactly hang in your circles." He smirked. "If you know what I mean. And I'd bet my car, you do."
Whitlock was with a woman.
Every little comment, every innuendo and gut feeling which had led to this point with Whitlock was a lie. Edward had allowed himself to let his guard down about the man, knowing it was the wrong thing to do, but he still did it anyway. His instincts had been right all along. He had a new appreciation for his prudent demeanour, and for the wall he had built up these past few years. He was thankful he hadn't made a fool of himself in Jimmy's office last night. The doubting was finally over, and he was grateful for that, so what he didn't understand was where his irritation was coming from. Determined not to let Whitlock see it, he fought to sound as normal as possible.
"I'm sure I can imagine your type," he said. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some work to catch up on." He reached for the door, pulling it open as a signal to Whitlock, but he made no effort to leave. The bastard was still grinning, and watching Edward with a careful eye.
"That's it? That's all you've got?" Whitlock laughed. "I thought you had more in you than that."
"Well, that's one more thing you got wrong about me." He made a gesture for Whitlock to leave.
Whitlock folded his arms, rooted to his spot. "Come on, tell me about Weber."
"Sorry, I've got nothing." Edward was getting better at masking his frustrations with Whitlock, but his patience had run its course. He was on equal ground for once, and wasn't ready to give up his footing by telling Whitlock what he discovered this morning. "Just so you're aware," he said, still waiting for Whitlock to walk through the door, "dinner with my grandparents is a formal affair. Formal means no jeans, and you'll need a tie, Whitlock." Edward shoved Jasper out of the room when he started to protest.
"Looks like I'll have to borrow a suit, then!" Jasper said laughing.
Edward paused, giving him one quick smile. "I thought I was clear, I don't like to share. Ever," he said, and then slammed the door in Whitlock's face.