A birthday present for Cullen818, one of my most favoritest writers ever! This was supposed to be a one shot, but as usual, my writing got away from me. I can unequivocally say though, it will only be five chapters, one for each verse of the song that inspired it, Something in Red by Lorrie Morgan. Babe, I hope your birthday is as amazingly wonderful as you are!
Something in Red
I'm looking for something in red
Something that's shocking to turn someone's head
Strapless and sequined and cut down to there
Stockings and garters and lace underwear
The guaranteed number to knock the men dead
I'm looking for something in red
"Kate? Kate, are you here?" Bella flew in the door of her best friend's boutique.
"I'm right here, Bella. Where's the fire?"
"I need your help, like yesterday. The foundation is hosting a cocktail party for its donors tonight. I figured something I already had in my closet would do." Bella's face was flushed, her eyes crackling with a fire that Kate had only seen one other time in all the years they'd been friends. "Well, it would have been fine until today, but now I just don't…"
"Calm down, its okay," Kate interrupted, wrapping her arm around Bella's shoulder to soothe her. "I just got some new things in, what are you looking for?"
"I'm looking for fabulous, Katie. Something that will make me stand out in the crowd. I can't blend in tonight, I just can't!" Bella's voice rose again, her nerves on edge.
"It's him, isn't it? He's back."
"Yes, damn it, it's him! Please Kate, I know you don't approve, but I am begging you. I need your help; no one else has the skills I need to pull this off."
Kate escorted Bella to one of the chaise lounges outside the fitting rooms, getting her settled before bringing her a glass of water. Sitting down next to her, she waited while Bella took a few sips, her agitation abating.
"Now, tell me about the party."
"It's just a cocktail party for a charity fundraiser. We do need to dress semi-formal; the men are required to wear a suit and a tie. I'd planned to wear the black dress I bought from you last fall, but now I need something…more."
Kate patted Bella's leg absentmindedly, while doing a mental inventory of the shipment she'd just received. The cream halter? No, too casual. The aubergine a-line? The jersey fabric would be too warm. Her eyes lit up when she remembered two particular dresses. Hopping to her feet, she hurried into the stock room, checking the rack of dresses she'd just steamed to put on the sales floor. Flipping through the rack, she pulled out one, then the other. The deep turquoise dress had a low cut neckline filled with a matching sheer inset, its asymmetrical waist flowing into a handkerchief skirt that fell to mid calf. The color suited Bella.
The second dress, though, was simply a vision. Kate sighed. A dark scarlet, the strapless dress had been heavily detailed with sequins, creating a shimmering pattern of flames that traveled down from the V of the deep heart shaped neckline. The back plunged almost to the hips, the expanse of skin kept from being overt by strips of sequined fabric that twisted at the center, before returning to the sides. The tapered skirt came to just below the knee, a slit up the right side to mid thigh. She knew it was what Bella needed.
Carrying both dresses, she stopped to gather the undergarments and accessories needed to accent each one. She also grabbed a pair of natural stilettos that would compliment either dress. Bella still lounged on the chaise, her arm draped across her closed eyes. Setting everything into a dressing room, Kate roused her friend, calling her over. Bella gasped when she saw the two dresses, her fingers drifting longingly over the red one.
"I…I don't know Kate." With a reluctant sigh, she withdrew her hand. "It might be too much."
"Try them on. Irina is due back any minute from lunch; if you need alterations she can take care of it before the end of the day. Both are your size, though, so I doubt it." Kate stepped out, closing the door, before calling into her, "Put the turquoise on first and don't forget the shoes. I'm going to make sure Maggie has everything covered out front. I'll be right back."
When she returned a few minutes later, Bella stood on the small platform in front of the three-way mirror. She twisted her torso left and right, trying to see the full effect. Kate smiled, dragging over the cheval mirror on the other side of the room. With a grateful smile, Bella considered her reflection, her fingers drifting across the soft chiffon material at her waist. The color lent a golden sheen to her skin, highlighting the faint gold flecks in her deep brown eyes. Lifting her hair, Bella teased out small tendrils to curl around her shoulders.
"It's beautiful." She dragged her gaze from the mirror back to Kate. "So simple, but the fabric almost begs to be touched. This could work."
"It could work, but I think you need to try on the other one. Do it for me, even if you won't do it for yourself."
Bella nodded, returning to the dressing room. Within minutes, Kate heard a muffled gasp and a sigh from behind the door.
"Well? Come out here and look at it in the mirror for the full effect."
Hesitant, Bella pushed open the door, stepping out into the lounge. Kate couldn't suppress the gasp that escaped her lips. Taking her hand, she drew her friend to the platform, turning her to face the angled mirrors. There was no contest. The dress looked as if it had been made just for her. The red strapless bra lifted her breasts, the dress molding them like a second skin. The pattern shimmered under the overhead lights, making it appear fluid, almost like the flames were moving across the silk underneath. Bella's skin appeared almost porcelain against the lush color, giving her an air of fragility. Kate lifted her hair, allowing the tendrils to fall loose again. The soft romantic twist created an aura of sexual vulnerability, her wide, luminescent eyes only enhancing the image. Bella was breathtaking.
"I'll take it," she whispered, so low Kate almost missed it.
The valets scrambled to move cars and assist the patrons for the Whitlock-Hale annual gala. Accepting the proffered hand in front of her open cab door, Bella stepped gracefully onto the bricked courtyard. With murmured thanks, she stepped through the glass double doors, pausing just out of the way to steady her nerves. It had been almost two years since she'd last seen Jasper, the night before he'd been assigned to a position in the corporation's London office. Despite their six month relationship, he'd left Bella behind, making no promises for the future. They'd stayed in touch via the occasional email, but he hadn't cut home even once, had never invited her to visit. Bella was determined to make him realize what he'd left behind.
Walking into the ballroom, her eyes cast about looking for her best friend, Rosalie Hale-McCarty amongst the guests mingling near the tables. Several couples moved around the dance floor in time to the jazz quartet that performed on a stage in the corner. Rosalie and Jasper were step-siblings, their parents' marriage merging the two large export companies. Bella and Ro had attended the same boarding school, becoming fast friends out of their combined efforts to thwart the restrictive rules designed to create perfect society girls out of the hedonistic girls.
Ro's gregarious husband Emmett handled PR for the New York branch, working closely with the advertising company Bella's father had left her when he died. She found the tall, curly haired man standing near a table full of executive, his statuesque blonde wife on his arm next to him. Gliding over to join them, she acknowledged the introductions Emmett made, catching the admiring glances of the men around the table.
"You look exquisite," Ro whispered in her ear, her eyes wide with appreciation. "If this is designed to show my brother what an ass he is, you've certainly done the trick."
Leaning closer, Bella whispered back, "Is he here yet?"
"He's over there, talking to my father." She slid her hand into Bella's giving a light squeeze, "Come on, you can come say hello to my parents. Besides, I want to see my brother having to pick his jaw up off the floor first hand."
Peter Hale stood when the two women approached, pulling Bella into a hug. He'd always treated Bella like family, even more so after her father passed away during the girls' senior year of school. Bella avoided meeting Jasper's eyes, choosing instead to focus on the sandy haired man next to him. She couldn't ignore the flash of desire that coiled in her stomach, though, just as it always had in his presence.
"Hey pretty girl, we haven't seen you around much lately. You need to come out to Greenwich more often. Charlotte, persuade her." Stepping back, Peter allowed his wife to hug her as well.
"He's right, dear. You need to relax more. Come visit us next weekend, spend the day by the pool. You could use a bit of color." She rested a soft hand on the younger woman's arm.
Bella kissed both of their cheeks before replying, "I can't make any promises, I have a big campaign to finalize before the end of the week, but I'll try. It would be nice to get away from the city for a few days."
Ro kissed her parents also, before acknowledging the tall blond man standing next to them.
"Jasper." She nodded, her voice markedly cooler.
"Good evening, Rose." He leaned over, placing a light peck on his sister's cheek, before turning to Bella, his hand fidgeting at his side. "Bella, it's nice to see you again."
Then, as if losing the internal battle, he reached for her hand, leaning in to place a kiss on her cheek as well. Bella's eyes fluttered shut, her breath leaving her with a quiet "Oh."
Before she could react, Charlotte spoke, shaking her out of her reverie. "Bella, dear, you were placed with us at our table, since you're like family. Why don't you sit here next to me? Dinner's due to be served soon. Jasper, be a good boy and go get Bella a drink from the bar."
Jasper held her chair for her, leaning to whisper in her ear, "Still prefer Zinfandel?" His breath teased her skin, wafting the tendrils that rested there. She repressed a shiver of passion, responding with a wordless nod.
When he returned with her glass, she thanked him, returning to her conversation with Peter and Charlotte. Bella stiffened, though, when he pulled out the chair next to her and sat down. She'd hoped for the opportunity to talk to him, but now that it had been offered, she found herself at a loss. She realized her idea to dazzle him, then leave him wanting more, had been a miscalculation. She'd underestimated the way she'd still respond to him, even after the way he'd hurt her in the past. When Peter and Charlotte stepped to the front of the room to speak to their guests, Jasper took advantage of their absence.
"Bella?" When she didn't answer, he laid his hand on top of hers, receiving a glare from Ro. Ignoring his stepsister, he leaned closer to whisper in her ear, "Bella, we need to talk."
She looked at his hand covering hers and fought back images of the way his sun-kissed skin had felt under her questing fingers, the warmth of his body when it moved above her. She pulled her hand away, placing it in her lap. Her eyes returned to her hosts; her voice coming out in a low murmur.
"Not now." She tried to ignore him, offering polite applause when Peter finished his welcome speech. When he reached for her hand under the table she pulled away, her voice firmer than before, "I said, not now."
Frustrated, he sat back, but not before whispering in her ear again, "Fine. But you will talk to me tonight."
"Shaking her head at Ro's questioning glance, she turned her attention to the plate of food that had been set in front of her. The few bites she tasted turned to cardboard in her mouth, so she resorted to moving it around to give the impression she'd eaten. When the server returned, she allowed him to clear it away, then stood, excusing herself. Reaching the safety of the ladies' room, she collapsed into one of the chairs in the waiting area. When the door flew open, she didn't even look up, knowing Ro had followed her.
"What did he say to you?" Her eyes flaring with anger, she paced the small room. "So help me, if he's upset you again, I will castrate him this time; I don't care how much you prize his manly organs!"
Stifling a laugh, Bella grasped her friend's hand. "Ro, it's fine, I promise. He wants to talk, that's all. I can do this. I just need a minute to compose myself. For almost two years I've held onto a thread of hope I probably should have snipped a long time ago." When Ro shook her head, she squeezed her hand, "I just need a minute to compose myself. Maybe talking to him will give me the closure I need to move on."
Deflated, Ro met Bella's pleading stare. "Fin, but I mean it, I'll treat him like one of Daddy's prize bulls if he steps out of line again!"
Bella laughed outright at that, Ro joining in.
"Just go, I'll be out in a minute. I need to check my makeup."
Bella stepped out of the restroom, skirting the door to the ballroom to go to the bar in the main lobby. Settling onto a stool, she ordered another glass of wine, steeling herself for when she had to face Jasper. Emmett found her there a half an hour later, nursing a third glass.
"Bells? Ro sent me to find you. You okay?"
"I'm fine, Em. I just needed a bit of liquid courage."
"Well, enough of that. Ro is schmoozing one of the Cooper executives; come dance with me. It'll buy you some more time before you have to return to the table."
Bella accepted his proffered hand, allowing him to tuck it into the crook of his arm. They walked into the ballroom, Em spinning her, then pulling her close. For a large man, at well over six and a half feet, he moved her gracefully around the crowded floor.
"I must say, you could stop traffic tonight. Most of them men can't keep their eyes off you; most of the women are envious." She thanked him, her eyes locked on the other side of the floor, where Jasper danced with his mother. Noticing her inattentiveness, Emmett followed her gaze. "So, you want to tell me what's going on with my brother-in-law? Ro won't talk about it, growling at me if I bring it up. All I know is that you were together, then Pete shipped him off to London with no notice. Did things end bad?"
Sighing, Bella returned her attention to her dance partner. "Things didn't end at all, Em. Maybe I thought there was more between us than he did, I don't know. I thought he'd ask me to go, or at least invite me over once he got settled, but it never happened." She tilted her head back to look up at the man she considered a brother. "He stayed in contact, but he treats me like a friend, nothing more. I just need some answers."
"Well, don't look now, but I think you're going to get them," he whispered, before greeting the man who had joined them on the floor.
"May I cut in?" Jasper asked, his deep bass voice rumbling behind her.
Emmett looked to her for approval, taking her silence for yes. He leaned down and kissed Bella's cheek, whispering to her to be strong, then handed her off to Jasper. Bella settled her hand against his chest, the fingers of her other hand curled around his. She looked at the broad expanse of his chest, the tailored suit accentuating the toned muscles that tapered to narrow hips. He rested his free hand on her hip, the pads of his calloused fingers teasing across the bare skin of her back. They moved in tense silence, one song fading into another before he finally spoke.
"Are you so mad you won't even look at me?"
Shocked at the anguish in his voice, her eyes flew up to meet his, the same pain reflected in his eyes.
"I'm not mad, Jasper. Or at least, I'm not mad anymore. You did what you had to do, I just wish…," her voice trailed off, hesitant to put to words all the feelings she'd bottled up.
"What, Bella? What do you wish?" he urged, pulling her closer to him, their bodies almost touching, attraction sizzling between them.
She dragged her eyes from his, unwilling to allow him to mesmerize her once again. Shaking her head, she closed her eyes, her head resting on her hand, the sage, musk, and mahogany scent of him washing over her. She'd been wrong; she couldn't do it. The pieces of her heart that he'd left behind called out for him to put them back together.
Muttering a curse, he took her hand in his, pulling her from the dance floor and out to a secluded alcove away from prying eyes. When he had her alone, he took both her hands in one of his, lifting her chin with the other.
"Look at me, Bella." When she met his eyes, he continued, "What do you wish, sweetheart? I need to know." When she still didn't answer, he huffed in exasperation. "Fine, if you won't talk, I will. You want to know what I wish? I wish I'd have stood up to my step-father when he insisted only I could handle the emergency in England. I wish I'd never gotten on that plane to London. I wish I hadn't let so much distance come between us. But, more than anything else, I wish I'd trusted my feelings enough to tell you how much I love you."
She didn't notice the tears spilling from her eyes until Jasper wiped them away. "Ssshh, baby. Please don't cry. I'm so sorry." He wrapped his arms around her, cradling her against his chest. "I never meant to hurt you. I'll go back to London; I won't bother you ever again, but I knew when I saw you tonight, I couldn't lie to myself anymore. Tell me what you want me to do."
Bella sniffled against his jacket, trying to compose herself. Jasper was holding her; he'd said he loved her. Now he wanted to leave again? She pushed away from him, to search his eyes.
"You don't have to go back to London?" she hiccuped, her voice breaking with emotion.
"Not unless you want me to. I can't stay here, though, knowing you don't want me. I meant it, Bella, I love you."
Bella cupped his face in her hands, leaning up to capture his mouth with hers. She poured all her buried feelings into it, showing Jasper what she couldn't find the words to say. He groaned in response, pulling her up against him, his desire evident. When the kiss ended, he rested his forehead on hers, struggling to catch his breath. His heart lept when she finally spoke.
"Please don't go. I love you, too. I've always loved you. It almost killed me when you left; I won't survive if you leave me again."
With a whoop, he picked her up, spinning her around in her arms, peppering her face with kisses. When he set her down, he took her hand and pulled her toward the bank of elevators across the lobby. Laughing, she tripped along behind him.
"Where are we going?" she questioned while he jabbed at the buttons, impatience filling his actions.
Pulling Bella through the doors before they'd opened all the way, he pushed the button to close them, then the button for the sixth floor. Jasper pulled her to him, answering before claiming her mouth again.
"To my room. I want to make love to you all night, then fall asleep with you in my arms while the sun rises over the city. I don't want to live another minute of my life without you."
Much love and thanks to my amazingly awesome beta, nails233! Thanks for being there, even when I dump things on you at the last and smooches to butterflybetty for her infinite patience while I hog up our writing time with randomness.
Please check out the stories in The Writer's Coffee Shop's Romance Contest for original fiction. Layne Faire has an awesome little slash supernatural posted with a lot of potential. Writers were limited on what they could post, so there is still a lot to be seen. Since she and I share a brain, I know she would be eternally grateful if you would check it out, and possibly read, review, and vote for it when voting opens in the Supernatural category on August 18th. Voting is on the left side of the home page on TWCS.