Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight, and Drinou is the author of Collisions. I'm just the translator...
Chapter 23: Taking the hint
He leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on my cheek.
"I'm sorry for hurting you," he whispered in my ear before walking away. "Have a nice day, Isabella."
By the time I regained my senses, my apartment door was closing behind him.
Shit, what was that?
Three months later.
Lost in my thoughts, I was absentmindedly watching the snowflakes falling from my office window. Winter was really rough this year. It dragged on forever, and the busy streets of Manhattan had been covered with its white coat for several long weeks.
And what weeks it had been...
Everything had gone by so fast since that little "incident" involving alcohol. I had made use of a break to somewhat recharge my batteries at home in Forks, making my father overjoyed at the same time. Then I had started an internship here, at 5W, a rising public relation firm.
I had been working for them for almost two months now. Although initially my duties were hardly glorious, the arrival of a huge project, as urgent as unexpected, had required all available manpower; my nearly obtained degree in communication had allowed me to participate more actively within 5W. The stacks of files crowding my desk tended a little too much to prove it, unfortunately.
But with the outcome of this famous project, tomorrow night, I would also complete my internship. My eight weeks of immersion among publicists and communication managers were almost coming to an end. All I needed to do now was to try and score the goal that could glamorize my CV and help propel it a little higher in the pile of my prospective employers.
After all, in four months, if all went well, I would graduate. So why not anticipate a little, right?
In the meantime, unfortunately, I still had to keep my little side job as a waitress. My internship was truly fantastic in every way, except for the financial aspect. And to make ends meet, I had to cumulate the hours I was doing here at 5W during the day and put on my green apron after nightfall. Suffice to say that my social life was almost nonexistent.
Metro, internship, job and, if time allowed me, beddy-byes.
I couldn't wait to finally meet Alice somewhere other than between two cappuccinos. Perhaps we could even have a girls' night out. A dream! Especially given that she had extolled the virtues of a new underground cocktail bar with the theme of the Prohibition.
In retrospect, my last night out was a long time ago. And it had turned into a total fiasco. Three months later, I still hadn't figured out the strange turn that the heated discussion between Edward and I had taken. And to be honest, I had not attempted to get in touch with him to have an explanation. "But fear not, I won't bother you like this again..." he had said, and for once, he had kept his word. Although the curious side of me would have liked – just liked? – Okay, would have loved to know the true meaning of his words, I was too tired of this eternally conflicted relationship to try any approach. It was a lost battle; I had learned at my expense. So it was best not to bring up the words he had said when he had showed up at my place in the middle of the night, soaked as a keg of beer.
"Swan, I want a full report on the results of the last mailing at the 6pm meeting!" Carl bellowed. He was the communication manager in charge of the launch of Black Empire, the new fragrance from G&G, the current trendsetting brand. Incidentally, he was also my boss.
"The closure of the all-public part is only scheduled for tomorrow morning at 9, and the stats have not even been released yet. How..."
"Pre-closure!" he cut me off. "This product launch is the Holy Grail, Swan, the marketing coup long overdue for 5W to blast its corporate image and market share. We can't leave anything to chance, understood? Pre-closure in forty minutes! The stats will be in your box by then."
"Okay, chief! I'll start right away."
I cast a glance at the clock at the bottom of my screen. 5:20 pm. It was going to be a long evening once again. A very long evening.
A strong coffee, that's what I needed. A very large, very strong coffee...
The doors of the great hall of the Roosevelt Hotel had been open for several hours. The guests were strategically sailing between buffets and stands, enjoying the various activities offered during the evening. Stress, which was at its peak a few hours earlier, seemed to begin to gently recede within the organizing team. Everything was under control and, better yet, everything seemed to be going swimmingly.
"Swan, ready to wrap up your presence among us?" Carl called me out.
"Of course, chief. Do you need another gallon of coffee? An update on the inputs? Or an activity report?" I listed, ready to meet his request quickly.
"Nothing like that. Kevin has just informed us about a lack of demonstrators in zone 3."
I stared at him dubiously without quite understanding his request.
"Can you take care of tantalizing the ladies and gentlemen with the product?" he explained.
"You want me to spray perfume on the guests?"
"I know it's not part of your transversal role, but if you do us this favor, I can promise you that you'll get a solid letter of recommendation for your future job interviews."
"How could I refuse such an offer!"
"Perfect. Find Kevin; he'll tool you up."
Come to think of it, maybe Carl's guidelines were not overzealous. "Evening dress required for all!" he had imposed. "Even for the team behind the scene." I understood why better now. I even suspected him of having planned his coup. Or else he could thank his caution because my jeans and sneakers would really have stood out awkwardly amidst the beautiful outfits. Instead, my little black sheath dress, embellished with crystals in the hollow of my cleavage, blended perfectly into the décor.
Armed with my little black and gold bottle, I zigzagged amid carefully selected guests, mostly from the New York fashion world.
"Sir, would you like to discover Black Empire, the new fragrance by G&G?"
With a little pressure, I sprayed a light cloud of perfume on a middle-aged man. Then I continued my walk and perfumed other guests while smiling.
You will have earned your recommendation!
"A note of Black Empire for you?" I suggested once more.
I turned toward the voice so particularly mesmerizing, which I recognized in less than a thousandth of a second. He was suddenly in front of me, his gaze radiating with surprise.
What a surprise, indeed...
"Edward?" I wondered. "But what are you doing here?"
A small smile appeared on his lips.
"I'm delighted to see you too, Isabella," he replied, a slight sneer in his voice. "You've returned to work for NYE?"
He indicated the black and gold bottle in my hands.
"Oh! Uh, no. Actually, I work for 5W. Well, I'm an intern and I'm doing them a small favor to compensate for a lack of staff," I spouted.
Wow, calm down Swan. Don't tell him all about your life either!
He nodded, his green eyes scrutinizing me.
"And you, what are you doing here?" I went on.
"Curious?" he smiled, small wrinkles marking the corners of his eyes. "I was invited. Or rather, my partner was."
I then saw the silhouette of a gorgeous blonde molded in a long ruby red dress, making her way toward us, a glass of champagne in hand.
"Edward, what are you doing?" she asked, grabbing his arm.
Her face was not unknown to me. I must have seen her before, without being able to place where. She was also probably wondering about me, for she was staring at me shamelessly.
"Your face is familiar to me... Ah yes, I remember... wasn't it her who had tried to kiss the carpet in your hall?" she asked Edward.
Suddenly, images of this highly shameful moment came back to me, bringing with them the identity of the skank. An urge to empty the bottle of cologne in her eyes swept over me. Seriously, what a... Ahhhh!
Bitch! You can say it.
"Isabella was one of our hostesses, indeed."
"I see that your career took off... Now you can stand on your own two feet?"
There are some slaps going to waste right now... Hit her already, dammit!
I glared at her, ready to get into a personal, ultra-violent vendetta, and which would obviously be fatal to her manicure. Edward was watching the scene with delight, and I was almost certain that a small mud fight between her and I wouldn't have displeased him.
I decided to catch her at her own game.
"Edward, I can hardly believe that this delightful, incidentally rude and obviously Botoxed bimbo is your partner!" I said in a mocked surprised tone.
"Isabella," he growled, frowning.
"Really? So you two are..." I began, pointing my finger at them alternately.
"Together," she finished for me, a victorious smile on her lips.
She clung a little more over the arm of her escort, making me boil further more. Edward turned his attention away, looking at something behind me, surely hoping to get over with this as soon as possible.
"What a lovely couple," I said with sarcasm. "It's new?"
"Isabella, this is not the time..."
"Edward and I are very happy," she cut him off. "We are living a wonderful story."
"Well of course!" I smiled bitterly. "Indeed, I can imagine that it must be nice to be with a man like him. Such a loyal, caring and thoughtful man."
"Are you jealous?" the dumb blonde giggled.
"I have to admit it, yes. A little. Passing after all those women who had the privilege of his favors... It must be quite rewarding."
A smile stretched my lips. I felt Edward's probing eyes on me, but I ignored him in order to bring the coup de grâce to my attack. A waiter passed next to me and I stopped him to pick one of his glasses of champagne. The peroxided blonde pulled away from Edward, casting me a furious glance, ready to gut me.
"I think it's worth celebrating," I said gleefully with a smile. "To the Cullen Corp. hall's carpet... The only thing I really regret from my old job!"
I pretended to trip over my feet, and the contents of my glass spilled across the minx's skintight dress.
In the teeth, Barbie!
Revenge is sweet after all. And so delectable.
"Oh, I'm sorry," I apologized mockingly. "How clumsy of me! The restrooms are just over there. Edward should accompany you since it's a place he particularly enjoys."
Beside me, I heard Edward stifle a laugh while I wiped my hands.
"I wish you a good evening. Edward, it was a pleasure to see you again. As for you..."
I trailed off, giving her a despising look.
Thereupon, with a happy smile on my lips, I left them to resume my perfume assignment, all the while hearing the raging squawking of the Barbie doll.
Hmmm ...What an enjoyable moment!
Who would have thought that such an unfortunate happening could turn out so well?
Bringing this minx down a peg had put so much balm on my heart that I finished my stroll around the room with a smile on my lips. However, I carefully avoided the danger zone, so as to not come across her again, or her escort. Holding my head up high once was okay, but it was best not to engage in round two so soon.
It was around three in the morning when the last guests left the great hall of the Roosevelt Hotel. The cleaning crew was still busy in there when the whole 5W team crossed the room, about to go celebrate the success of the evening at mad46, the lounge bar located on the 19th floor of the building. With the gruff thanks of my boss still in mind, I followed in their footsteps and entered the elevator, ready to sip a nice cocktail in their company.
Once past the first room, still crowded at this late hour, we accessed the terrace and entered a heated bubble opening onto the rooftops of Midtown. I was speechless.
The trendy décor and warm and cozy atmosphere provided by the burning braziers completely broke away with the urban jungle and snowy surroundings. A radical contrast that was breathtaking.
I had heard of these rooftop terraces landscaped into bar or restaurant before, but the often exorbitant price of the drinks had convinced me to go my way. And what a shame! The view of the buildings all illuminated was really impressive from the top of these nineteen stories.
The whole 5W "field" team gathered around a table and we clinked our glasses of champagne with dignity to the successful launch of Black Empire. However, the heat reigning in the small protective cocoon, added to the exhaustion generated in recent days, made the small alcoholic bubbles of my drink go directly to my head. Phew! I decided to go get some fresh air before I was completely tipsy, and I took the opportunity to explore the half-floor with a breathtaking view, praised just now by a waitress.
So I slipped out in the sly, my coat in one hand and my glass of champagne in the other, leaving the gentle warmth to reach the biting cold of the New Yorker winter nights.
The waitress had not exaggerated; the view was magical in here. I closed my eyes and let the cold wind drag on my face and bring to my ears the continuous buzz of the New Yorker streets, interspersed with muffled sirens. The city that never sleeps was aptly nicknamed. I tightened my arms around my coat, seeking a little heat while listening to the strange urban melody that could only be appreciated here.
"Are you following me, Isabella?"
I stifled a scream with my fist.
Edward, hidden in the shadow of the building, revealed himself a few steps away from me.
"For God's sake, Edward!" I swore. "You scared the hell out of me!"
He smiled, seemingly proud of the terror he had just inflicted upon me.
"I couldn't resist the temptation," he admitted, a carnivorous smirk on his lips as my heart was still pounding.
And one heart attack, one!
"What are you doing here?" I said aggressively, my voice still strangely raised in the treble.
"I went out to get some fresh air. Like you, I guess."
I gradually regained a more assertive posture, straightening up to face him completely. Under the effect of surprise, I had adopted a doubtful look that was a mix between defensive and ready to run for the hills.
"You lost your other half?" I inquired, scanning the darkness behind him."
"Half. You know, the tall blonde who was hanging on your arm earlier?"
"You mean the one you 'accidentally' splashed your champagne on? Half is not really the right word, but she's probably still fulminating against you, somewhere in Manhattan, I suppose."
If you say so, Cullen.
I preferred to leave it. After all, his private life was none of my concern. So it was best to keep it light, and for that I could thank alcohol.
"You know me, I'm such a clumsy girl!" I said with a mocked exaggeration.
"Yes, I think I know what you mean. Besides, after the demonstration that I witnessed earlier, perhaps I should be wary," he teased.
Edward Cullen in a light mood, this is something unusual, I mused.
I'd have rather thought that he'd be resentful for my unflattering words towards his companion. But no, he just seemed amused. This man was definitely inscrutable and totally unpredictable.
Still a little tipsy, I decided to take advantage of his apparent good humor. I raised my glass of champagne in his direction, a defiant look on my face.
"Especially since I'm armed and dangerous," I braved him, clinking the glass with the tip of my nail.
"Indeed!" he noticed. "How about we raise the white flag? It would be a shame to waste such a good champagne."
I arched a brow suspiciously.
"A truce, really?"
"Just long enough to save my coat."
"I thought so... That said, I guess I'm quite done with your wardrobe," I smiled.
He returned the smile.
"And forsooth, it's true that this champagne is delicious," I concurred, supporting my claim with a gulp of the sparkling liquid while leaning my back to the railing. "It would indeed be a pity to spoil it."
"A wise decision!"
He then came to lean on the railing as well, quietly watching the scenery.
What a strange feeling to find myself like that, isolated on this small belvedere, in the company of a smiling and friendly Edward Cullen. No attack, no cheap shot, at least for now. It was nice and really confusing.
I turned around to face the huge illuminated buildings, Edward at my side. The sound of a few laughs coming from the heated space below reached us from time to time, carried by the wind and, combined with the distant muffled traffic noises, I really felt like we were alone in the world, sheltered on this small secluded terrace.
"The view is magnificent here," I whispered.
I saw Edward shrug from the corner of my eye.
"It's similar to many others in this city."
"I've not been here long enough to be jaded by what surrounds me. Sometimes, I still feel like I'm just a tourist," I confessed.
"And where are you from, Isabella?" he asked, his eyes leaving the urban scenery to land on me.
I blushed. We had never exchanged anything about our lives. At least not as freely as tonight.
"I'm from a small picturesque town lost in the vast forests of the far north west of the country. Just the opposite from here."
"The state of Washington?"
"Indeed, it must be very different from here. I have to confess I don't know much about that region."
"Well, the Olympic Peninsula is the wettest part of the country. In other words we don't see the sun very often," I explained. "Just for that, I much preferred Arizona. Over there at least it doesn't rain 360 days a year."
"Arizona? It seems you've traveled extensively, Isabella."
"I wouldn't call it 'traveling' but I've liked living there a few years. And what about you? Where did you grow up?"
I saw his face, barely lit by the dim ambient light, tense imperceptibly.
Way to go, idiot!
Yet I should have known by now that asking personal questions to Mister Mystery was generally not a very clever idea. It was the best way to bring up the contemptuous asshole that he could be...
"I lived in Chicago when I was a child, and then I landed here," he listed quietly whereas I thought he would snap at me, despite the fact that his features were drawn.
I studied him for a moment, lost in his thoughts, his dreamy gaze staring at a point in front of him. For just a second I thought I saw the lost little boy again, so far from the arrogant man he showed to people.
"Edward, can I ask you a question?" I whispered.
He silently quit staring at the horizon and turned his eyes on me, nodding in a barely noticeable way to give his consent.
"Why... why do you always seem so... so sad when you mention your past?" I ventured.
His lips twitched into a smile that reflected no joy.
"I guess we all have our share of regrets."
His words vibrated with a certain emotion, all restrained, like they were smothered. As for his eyes, they were watching me, scrutinizing my reaction.
"You should go back inside to the warmth."
"What?" I wondered.
I had not even felt the cold numb my limbs to the extent of shivering. I tightened my arms around my body to calm its trembling and find a little warmth.
"True," I noticed while rubbing myself.
"Would you let me buy you a last drink at the bar?"
I remained speechless. I was expecting anything from him except an invitation. The surprise must have shown on my face for I saw his darken.
"Uh... It's getting late and I've been up for something like forty hours..."
Accept, dammit. You'll rest when you're dead.
"... But my glass is empty and I have to admit that I'm not against another drink, so why not?" I conceded, defeated by this dark and totally mesmerizing look.
He smiled. Just a slight stretching of the lips, yet it spoke volumes about his mood. Nonetheless he studied me for a moment in silence, as though hesitating.
"What?" I inquired, suddenly on the defensive.
"Can I ask you a question, Isabella?"
"Yes, of course."
"How come you're still here?"
I frowned, not sure of the meaning of his question.
"What do you mean?"
My concern deepened when he took his eyes off me to answer, preferring to look somewhere next to me and not encounter my gaze.
"Well... I've not been very respectful towards you, yet you're still here tonight, willing to have a drink with me?"
I was speechless once more. How to respond to that when I could not even explain it to myself? Maybe I was a tad masochistic to accept all this? Go figure.
Just a tad?
"Well, actually, I don't know..." I hesitated, devoting a sudden admiration for the shoes of my interlocutor.
I felt the fire make my cheeks blush despite the freezing cold and I regretted not having let my hair loose so I could hide behind it. Fortunately, the faint ambient light did not really allow for noticing such details.
But then again, why should I be ashamed? I had not gone after him, and we'd found ourselves here, together on the roof, by pure coincidence. It was best to confess the truth, at least the part I was able to pinpoint.
"Part of me tells me to flee and stay as far away from you as possible," I continued with more confidence, "while the other, more curious and mindless, can't help but stay."
His gaze reflected some incomprehension.
"Why do you want to stay then?"
"One must know how to live dangerously, so why not?"
He narrowed his eyes, as if trying to understand my words.
"You're so enigmatic, Isabella."
"Me, enigmatic? Likewise!" I replied, taking offense and offering him a small smile shivering with cold.
"Let's not stay outside, you're freezing. Here, take my coat."
"No, it's okay, I'll warm up."
He didn't give me the time to protest furthermore. He took his long black coat off and put it around my shoulders. For a few seconds our bodies were mere inches from one another and I felt like the air was suddenly charged with electricity.
I closed my eyes, enjoying the exquisite warmth provided by his coat.
"Thank you," I whispered, engulfing half my face in its collar and discreetly nuzzling it to relish the slightly lemony fragrance emanating from it.
Edward put his arm on my back, and with a light pressure he prompted me to move forward. We silently made our way back to the heated part of the terrace downward and then, crossing the room, Edward led me to the bar.
My colleagues from 5W were still gathered around a table celebrating their success. One of them spotted me and winked at me, raising two thumbs up while doing so. I laughed inwardly as I thought about what she must imagine. If only she knew...
"Would you rather sit at a table or stay at the bar?"
I hesitated a few seconds, but all things considered I preferred that we stay in the 'neutral' zone near the bar rather than isolate ourselves at one of the tables in the room.
"Here will be just fine," I said, pointing at the two vacant stools at the counter.
I quietly settled on one of the stools, removing the coat Edward had placed on my shoulders. I thanked him with a smile and handed it back to him. The almost summer heat in the room had allowed me to warm up quickly. Besides, my own coat soon became unnecessary as well. I took it off and placed it on my lap when the bartender came to us.
"Hello, what can I serve you?"
"Champagne?" Edward suggested.
I pouted a little. The bubbles from my last glass were still dancing in my head.
"Uh, no thanks. I'd rather have a mojito."
"If I may," the bartender said, "I recommend you a Mad Mojito, Miss. It's a specialty of the house made with rum, lemon, soda, mint and coconut chips, served with a chocolate stick."
"Uh... all right then, why not – I'll have a Mad Mojito. Let's get mad!" I joked.
"And one Lagavulin," Edward ordered.
"We have a 16 year old, Sir."
"It will do," Edward approved.
I was inconspicuously watching him, sitting on his stool, when he turned to me. He stared at me for a long while, as if he was appraising me from head to toe. Soft warmth took over my cheeks under his inquisitive gaze.
"What's the matter?" I asked, ill at ease.
"I was just thinking it's a nice coincidence," he smiled as he continued his 'evaluation.'
"You, here, tonight."
"Oh! Uh... Yes, indeed. That I came across you here, I mean. I had to go over the guest list a hundred times for various mailings, so finding you here was not really planned."
"Does it bother you?"
"You being here?"
He nodded, his eyes locked with mine.
"No. Well... I would have done without the little skirmish with your girlfriend but..."
"Tanya is not my girlfriend," he retorted in a reproachful tone, his stare suddenly harsher.
"Yet she seemed convinced otherwise earlier," I whispered.
"Whatever," I cut him off, preferring not to get into the details of his pseudo relationship with said Tanya. "Your presence at the launch did not bother me; it just surprised me."
"Me too," he admitted, smiling at me once again. "A lovely surprise."
Strangely, my epidermis chose this exact moment to tint a pretty bright pink on my cheeks.
Uh... Did he say what I think he said?
Without a doubt.
"You look ravishing tonight," he went on, his smile still proudly settled on his lips and in which I didn't notice any sign of arrogance or contempt.
Just a natural and absolutely... – uh... liquefying? – ... captivating smile.
MAYDAY... We just lost Bella!
"Oh... Uh... Thanks," I stammered, my cheeks reddened, when the barman brought us our drinks.
Just at the right time!
I threw myself on my cocktail as if to hide behind it, trying somehow to conceal my embarrassment in my glass. Why did I always have this tendency to lose control of my body in his presence? A compliment from him and I melted on the spot with my cheeks on fire. Pathetic!
I took a sip of my cocktail to give myself a minute of respite and I grimaced. This stuff had really an odd taste.
"A problem?" Edward inquired as he casually sipped his whiskey.
"It's... peculiar," I stated for lack of a better qualifier for my cocktail while glaring suspiciously at the little white chips floating on the surface.
"Actually, I was not referring to your drink."
"Oh... And what were you referring to then?" I asked with concern.
He put his glass on the counter and turned to face me.
"I meant your reaction, Isabella. Why are you suddenly so... troubled?"
Oh Lord... Were we really back to the place where we had to reveal the truth and nothing but the truth? I thought this was reserved for the isolation of the roof terrace... but I was wrong.
I started fiddling my dress nervously with my free hand while tightening my grip on the damn cocktail.
"Isabella?" he asked, his voice showing a slight inflection that I recognized as anxiety.
I looked up and met his eyes. No doubt, he seemed strangely anxious about my silence.
"Third round of the minute confession?" I said, hoping to lighten the mood and my heartbeat.
"Something like that, yes."
"All right," I whispered. "In that case, let's play fair. So let's just say that in your company I always tend to look for... how to put it? ... To look for the moment when... Good God!" I cried out, embarrassed.
"When?" He pressed.
"When you gonna turn into an arrogant asshole," I blurted out.
Done and over with. Can we go now?
I wasn't lacking the desire to flee the place without looking back. Quite the contrary.
I nodded, slightly upset in front of his face both surprised and contrite.
"Yes, Oh!" I confirmed, swallowing another sip of my dubious tasting cocktail. "I never know where I stand with you. You can be so unpredictable..."
"So you like to live dangerously, while remaining on your guard."
"Uh, yeah, that's about right."
"It was only a compliment, Isabella. Nothing more."
"Maybe, but there's no way of knowing with you."
He turned his attention to his glass of whiskey and, with jaw clenched, he emptied it in one gulp. He motioned to the bartender to have another one.
"Would you like something else?" he cut me off a little curtly.
Uh... You, naked, lying on the bar, with some salt on the abs, tequila in the navel and a lemon wedge further south, is it possible?
For the first time in what seemed like forever, I gave myself a good mental slap. It was clearly not the time to ramble.
"No thanks. I'm good."
I put my glass still full on the counter, keeping only the little chocolate stick in my hands, twirling it nervously between my fingers.
"Bella!" a female voice called me out from behind.
I turned and spotted Sacha, my thumbs up colleague from earlier, motioning at me as she walked toward us.
"Good evening," she said to Edward once at our level.
Then she turned to me and went on:
"Most of the team is ready to leave, and since you came here with me, I wanted to know if... I'm giving you a lift or... if you..."
She nodded conspicuously toward Edward.
"I will escort her," Edward asserted without even consulting me.
"Edward..." I tried to protest before my colleague interrupted me.
"Wait a minute, Edward... The Edward?" Sacha whispered, as unobtrusive as a bull in a china shop would be.
I turned white on my stool, nodding surreptitiously to confirm the identity of the man sitting next to me while praying inwardly for her to shut up.
"Pleased to meet you. I'm Sacha," she introduced herself.
Edward eyed the hand she was offering him with an unfriendly look then turned his stare to the glass that the barman had just dropped in front of him and took a sip, not giving her the time of day.
"Okay... I see you didn't lie to me about him. I'm giving you a lift?"
"Your apartment is on my way, I'll drop you," Edward cut her off, planting his gaze into mine.
"Good night, Sacha," he curtly dismissed her.
"Actually, it suits me better," Sacha replied. "I think I will get lucky with Kevin. I leave you with this dear Edward. Good night to you both!"
And she disappeared as if she'd never been there.
"You didn't have to be so rude, you know," I accused him.
"I don't like to be bothered. So you spoke to your friend about me?"
"Once or twice, on occasion," I evaded.
"And what occasion, Isabella?" he asked, a smirk on his lips as he brought his face to mine.
This attitude, as familiar as it was on his part, instinctively put me on my guard.
"None in particular. I spoke of you, period. There's nothing more to say."
"Relax, Isabella. You're so... tense. I'm flattered."
"That you spoke of me, even though it must not have been very complimentary."
I raised an eyebrow. He had caught me in flagrant delicto of mud-slinging and he was flattered. I must have missed the boat.
"It means you've been thinking about me," he enlightened me, "if only just a little bit, during these few months."
He smiled genuinely, his eyes rooted to mine.
"And I like this idea a lot."
He leaned toward me a little more on his stool, until his face was next to mine, his mouth close to my ear.
"A lot," he whispered.
I closed my eyes as his warm breath caressed the thin skin in my neck while an internal alarm started screaming in my head.
What game was he playing now? I didn't know whether it was the resumption of hostilities between us, or if he was just being engaging. All he managed to do was put me ill at ease.
I sighed. "Being you" seemed such a good answer.
"Playing. I'm no longer in the game, Edward, so stop."
"Who told you I was playing?"
"This last drink was a bad idea," I countered. "I'd better go."
I put my glass down and stood up. Edward grabbed my arm.
"Wait, don't go."
I froze, static, casting him a questioning look.
"I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable," he confessed, seeming suddenly embarrassed in turn. "I just wanted... Damn! It's as if I really don't know how to behave with you. I'm sorry, please, stay."
We stared at each other in silence for a moment, during which I studied his features. He suddenly looked more concerned than a player. Was my presence at his side so significant to him? This man managed to confuse my mind with just a glance.
"Sorry and Please? All of that for my little ol' me and within one single sentence. Wow!" I bantered, purposely lightening my tone.
The smirk that appeared on his lips strengthened me in my strategy.
"You deserve them."
"Is that so? And Sacha doesn't? Poor girl."
"I don't know Sacha, but I do know you. And yes, you deserve my apologies."
"You don't really know me, Edward. No more than I know you."
"Yet I've entrusted you with more things about me than I have told the people around me, over the past decade."
"How so?" I inquired as I sat back on the stool.
Edward took a sip of his whiskey, and for a few seconds he seemed lost in his thoughts.
"I do know you," he blurted abruptly, amazingly avoiding my question.
"No, you don't. What you know about me, it's not what I am."
"I already know that you like challenges, otherwise you wouldn't be here."
"Challenges?" I laughed. "You're not a challenge, Edward."
"And what am I then?"
Good question. A friend? No, not really. A lover? That was perhaps the case for a split second on that damn couch in his office. An acquaintance? Even that was not the right qualifier.
"I don't know," I admitted. "You're too complex to define to fit in one box."
"Still the arrogant asshole, right?" It was his turn to laugh.
"You've got it," I smiled back.
I tried to suck down at my tampered cocktail again while Edward was lost in contemplation of his almost empty glass.
"I only know that," he whispered, looking serious.
"That," he repeated, making round trips between us with his hand while staring at me intensely. "My rules, Isabella. These are the only ones I know."
"That's all I am."
I refused to believe it. I had already seen so much more in him. His words and attitude tonight proved that he was much more than that. Hidden somewhere behind the mask of control and arrogance, there was someone else; I was certain of it.
"That is not true," I declared.
"What a stand. Yet thou art proof, Isabella."
"Precisely, I'm the proof that here and tonight, you're not an arrogant asshole."
A shy, almost embarrassed smile appeared on his lips, followed by a short silence during which our eyes remained connected.
"Would you teach me your rules, Bella?"
Huge thanks to my beta Lizzard43 for everything.