Hello, my ladies. It took a little longer than a week buuuuut it's a bit longer than normal *spirit fingers* so it kind of balances out, right? Just remember, we're burning slowly so don't kill me. Thank you all for your wonderful reviews, PMs, messages, and love. I appreciate it so much. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight, blah blah. Steal Assward and I'll haunt you.


"You remind me of—"

"A princess?"

Angela flicked the hair she'd just finished curling over my shoulder, scoffing. "Uhh, no. I was going to say Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman."

"Bitch." I looked at her in the reflection of the mirror in my little bathroom. "Are you telling me that I look like a prostitute?"

The little shit didn't even have to think about her answer. "A high-priced courtesan, my little Eliza Doolittle."

I couldn't help but laugh at her, taking in the slash of red on my lips she'd recommended to balance out the black color of my dress.

"You're a fancy slut tonight, Fella," Ang laughed as she put the finishing touches on the ends of my hair.

After an hour and a half of hair and make-up—and making each other laugh for the first time in over a week—my best friend had helped me finish my physical transformation into a respectable citizen. For the night at least.

Gone were the jeans that I'd broken in five years ago. No sloppy ponytails that were constantly falling apart halfway through the day. And I had make-up on. It was a miracle upon a miracle that I didn't look like the hot mess I usually did on my days off.

I'd spent one afternoon looking for a dress online, ordered it with all the hope in the world that it'd fit, and thank-you-Mary-and-Joseph, it had. I don't even think I'd spent so much money on my prom dress but whatever. The nearly three hundred dollars would still be chump change compared to what everyone else spent for the damn gala.

Guh. I still wanted to vomit thinking about it.

"You got everything you need?" Ang asked, smoothing the lace that overlapped the top half of the strapless black material.

Spying the simple black clutch I'd fished out of my closet, I had to think about the five things I'd stuffed in there. My license, cell, cash, debit card, and lipstick. "I think so."

"You put some condoms in there?"

Dear Jesus, I almost choked. "What the fuck for, Ang?"

"Has it been that long that you don't remember what condoms are for?" She laughed.

I rolled my eyes and took a step away from her, wobbling on my black heels for a split second. "Shut up. I'm probably going to be sitting there with a bunch of old men that haven't gotten boners in a decade, bored out of my mind."

"You never know," she argued with a smile.

Oh, but I did know. Jasper had already warned me the day before during lunch that these types of events were really painful for those who didn't give a crap about the upper echelon of society.

Whomp.

Forty minutes later, after I'd left my car with the valet of the swanky hotel, I realized just how right I'd been when I told Angela about the types of men I'd see. With the exception of that jackass Laurent from MSC I spotted right off the bat and the other two men he'd been speaking to around the bar, every other male was old enough to be my father. Shoot me now.

The room was beautiful and elegant. The women, many of those who weren't much older than me—gold-digging whores—in their shimmery, fitted gowns and exceptionally polished skins only added to the radiance. The place was exactly what I'd envisioned. Crystal glasses, fancy hors d'ouevres, and too many plastic surgery enhancements.

Where the hell were Jasper and Alice?

"Goodness gracious, is that my young friend Bella?" a voice asked from behind me.

I turned around slowly, not knowing who the hell would refer to me as their young friend, only to encounter the only other female in the room besides Alice that I knew I liked. Mrs. Cullen.

"Hi," I told her feeling a little relieved to find an ally.

Wearing a dress that looked like it had three layers of skirts underneath and an asymmetrical shoulder, she looked like a knockout. Maybe a little young but.. still amazing for her age. Not at all like a jail-hopping woman who had bred mister I-eat-pizza-with-a-fork.

She grinned wide, thrusting her hands out to wave me forward. "You look stunning," she said as she pulled me into a hug. "I love your dress."

I didn't know about stunning, but I'd take a compliment where I could get it, so I squeezed her back into a hug. "Thank you. You look great too."

"I look like a belong in a Disney movie with this monstrosity." She pointed at the bottom of her dress when she pulled away. "But thank you for the compliment, Bella."

I smiled at her and shrugged. "I think you look good."

Mrs. Cullen waved me off, managing an indulgent smile at the same time. "Quit flattering me, girl. I've already had half these sweet-butts trying to brown their little noses by telling me how great my gown looks." She rolled her eyes. "I might not have to wipe for days by the end of tonight."

Holy fuck.

Did she just—? Did she—

Mrs. Cullen laughed loudly at herself.

Yes, yes she had just talked about wiping her ass. What the fuck?!

I snorted, and then laughed so hard right along with her that several people around us turned around to see what was so funny. They would never even guess, which made it all the more perfect.

Those piercing green eyes that she'd passed down to Mr. Cullen—my boss, obviously not her husband—met mine after a long minute, the lines that reached outward from the corners made them seem even more mischeivious. "Edward would get so mad at me if he heard," she sighed. "Thank God he's not here."

This woman was out of control and it only made me laugh longer and nod my head in agreement.

"He probably would."

It was her turn to roll her eyes dismissively, not giving a single fuck about anything. "He hates these things, you know." I did, but I didn't tell her that. "Either way, I'm glad you managed to come."

"Thank you for inviting me." I knew these dinners cost what I made in a week most of the time.

"Mrs. Cullen!" the unknown voice sang out from behind me.

Like a true professional, Esme Cullen, plastered a winning smile onto her face and waved the person forward. Even her arm movements were elegant. But the next words that came out of her mouth in barely a whisper were far from it. "Here comes the biggest brown-noser of them all." She smiled wide like she hadn't just said anything. "Whitlock."

Oh my God. This woman was going to kill me. I snorted again, turning around to see Jasper and Alice making their way toward us slowly. Dressed in a tuxedo that I'm sure he was itching to get out of and followed by Alice, who had the cutest little baby bump beneath the silk maxi dress she had on, they were both grinning.

"Were you talking badly about me?" Jas asked right before he pulled Mrs. Cullen into a hug while I did the same to Alice.

"I would never," she grinned, hugging him back.

Alice snorted against my ear. "I find that hard to believe."

We switched partners in the hugging party. Jasper lifting both of his eyebrows before pulling me in. "Ms. Swan you clean up nicely."

"I take a shower occasionally."

He shook his head as he pulled away to wrap an arm low across Alice's back. "Edward?"

Mrs. Cullen made a face. "I saw him speaking to the CEO of that social media website a few minutes ago." Someone called her name out again and she sighed. "I must go mingle with the social climbers, children, but I hope to see you again later." She paused. "Save me a dance, Whitlock."

"Always do," Jasper grinned at the retreating figure.

I raised my eyebrows at the couple. "Ready to get this shit over with?"

I'd wondered about ten times what the likelihood of me dying would be if I stabbed myself in the eye with the dessert spoon on the table.

After the fourth speech, I'd decided that I could take living out the rest of my life with only one eye over having to sit through another damn speech by men who made incredibly corny jokes about shit that went right over my head.

It also didn't help that I'd gotten stuck sitting between douchebag Laurent and Jasper. Obviously Jasper wasn't the problem, we'd kept shooting each other bug eyes every time someone made a crack about their summer home. The problem was the handsy asshole sitting next to me that kept giving me these disturbing side glances.

When he wasn't trying to "accidentally" touch my knee, thighs, or hands.

Someone was going to get stabbed, but whether it was me or Laurent, I wasn't sure.

The grimy little hand made its appearance right by my wine glass. Again.

"Bella is it?" Laurent's pretentious ass asked.

Not giving a single crap that I was being rude and a bitch, I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. "Yes."

Those grimy little fingers tapped the table. "You're friends with the Cullens?"

Was this jackass for real? I watched him shift his lower body in my direction. "Yes." Kind of.

"I've never seen you at one of these before," he had the nerve to say.

Oh dear lord. First the loosey-goosey hands and now he was trying to sweet talk me. I had the fight back the urge to throw up on him only because I wasn't sure whether he didn't recognize me as Mr. Cullen's assistant, or if he really was just that dumb.

My money was on him being that dumb.

"I'm kind of antisocial," I answered him, keeping my gaze trained forward so that he wouldn't get a single impression that I was interested in having a conversation with him.

"Why would a pretty thing like you be antisocial?" he cooed.

Holy shit.

"Bella, you wanna bust a move before you nail that asshole in the balls?" Jasper whispered into my ear at the exact moment I was going to give Mr. Pepe le Pew the bitch brow.

I tilted my head over to see his smiling, noticing for the first time in the last few minutes that there wasn't anyone speaking anymore.

"What about Alice?" I asked him, knowing that if I was his wife and he asked someone else to dance with him, I'd probably get pissed. Then again, I wanted to get away so badly, I'd take Alice's wrath over the moron on my other side.

"She's gassy," he replied without missing a beat.

The music was slow, sweet Sinatra. Well, shit. It could be gangster rap. I was up and following him onto the dance floor, my hand on his elbow. Tall, great Jasper, with his blonde hair pulled back into a low ponytail spun me into him, grinning way too wide.

"How much longer are you staying?"

He made a face. "Hour tops. I want a Rally's burger like you can't imagine after that sorry excuse of a five course dinner."

So true. Each portion had been the size of an ice cream scoop. Delicious but so, so small. My stomach was still grumbling. "I'd kill for Rally's burger and fries," I moaned in agreement.

"Come over to our place," he suggested right before turning me in a slow spin.

As soon as I was back in place, I looked over his shoulder and spotted Mr. Cullen—my boss—off the edge of the dance floor in conversation with two much older men. He was talking but those cooked broccoli colored eyes were on me. I couldn't help but smile a little, waving my fingers with the hand I had on Jasper's shoulder.

He didn't wave back but the corner of his mouth tilted up just a bit into that secret little smile I'd grown fond of.

"What are you grinning at?" my past and future boss asked.

"Your best friend," I answered. "He's over there talking to some old guys."

"That's all he usually does," he chuckled. "Boring."

I glanced at Mr. Cullen once more before Jasper pulled me into another turn that led me toward the middle of the dance floor. We stayed there for two more dances, giggling and smiling at each other for long minutes. It wasn't until the song ended that I felt a hand on my shoulder. "Can I cut in?"

It was Mr. Cullen. Well, the older Mr. Cullen. Looking way too attractive for a man that was old enough to be my father in his mid-sixties. Whew.

Jasper graciously bowed out, slapping the older man on the back. "Take her for a spin."

What was with these assholes making it seem like I was an object?

I rolled my eyes at my friend slash boss and settled into Mr. Cullen. He seemed to be about the same height as his soon, so I had to crane my head back. "Hi, Mr. Cullen."

"Isabella, it's a pleasure to see you here," he smiled.

"It's a pleasure to see you here, too. You look very nice."

The DILF winked. "You make an old man feel like a million bucks."

Gawd. These Cullens.

By some miracle, I got passed from one man to the other song after song. They were all kind if not quiet to me, introducing themselves as owners of companies I hadn't heard of or important people that I still hadn't heard of. At one point, I spotted Mr. Cullen again off to the side of the floor talking to his mother and frowning. But what was funny was that it looked like he was getting scolded for something. Ha.

So it was a surprise when I was about to ask to bug off from the next dance when my partner, some president of Something-Somethng Enterprises, took a step away with a small bow. "I leave you in good hands, young lady."

Well, shit. I think part of me was expecting it to be jackass Laurent coming to seal the deal on my misery, but it wasn't.

Tt was Mr. Cullen—my boss—standing behind me.

I think for a split second, a second so small, I forgot to breathe. I mean, I saw him in suits everyday. Every single day. So Mr. Cullen in a tuxedo should've been a drop of water in an overflowed bucket. Old news. Besides the one time he'd worn suspenders, I couldn't remember ever really feeling affected by his attire.

Or you know, his looks in general.

But Edward Cullen in a class, beautifully tailored, expensive-as-shit tuxedo with a freaking bowtie blipped on my map. Just a little.

He held out both hands toward me. "Would you like to...?" He simply raised his eyebrows to end the sentence.

Shiiiit.

I nodded once, taking that step toward him, and flashed him a smile that might have still been under the influence of his tuxedo. "Of course."

His hand clasped mine, the other going to rest on my hip while my free hand went up to his shoulder. With an insistence that surprised me, he pulled me in closer to him than anyone else had, including Jasper. The warm heat of his body through the layers of clothing was inescapable.

And so was the clean, spicy smell that was pulsing off of him.

He smiled, that little, shy smile before guiding me into a sway. "Have you had a good time?" he asked in a low voice, his mouth at level with my temple even in three-inch heels.

"Besides having to sit next to Laurent—," and listen to those awful speeches, "it hasn't been so bad." As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I remembered what Jasper had told me about that asshole and psycho Kate. Ruh roh.

He stiffened slightly. "You had to sit next to him?"

"Unfortunately." I sighed, noticing how close my nose was to the neat little bowtie he was rocking. Ha. "And you?"

He made a small noise in his throat. "I've been ready to go home for at least an hour," he whispered. "Our secret, Isabella."

Like the ten other ones we had. I couldn't help but laugh right before snickering. "We're heading to Rally's soon, if you can get out of here without getting in trouble with your mom."

"I can leave whenever I want," he noted in an uppity voice.

Pffft. My chest rumbled with a suppressed laugh. That woman had everyone wrapped around their finger. Fat freaking chance. "You sure about that?"

He pulled back just enough to meet my eyes in a challenge I wasn't accustomed to. With a shape of his lids that I'd never seen before since he was usually it was him bulldozing me to do his bidding. "I'm sure."

"Well then, work your magic, Mr. Cullen, and you can come stuff your face with us." I raised an eyebrow. "But you can't cut the burger in half."

I'm not sure but I replayed the words in my head. Did I sound like I was flirting? Jesus Christ, I hoped not.

Mr. Cullen scowled, the hand on my hip relaxed just a fraction as his thumb happened to graze my hip bone. "When are you leaving?" he asked, his voice sounding a little huskier than normal.

"Soon, I think."

He nodded right before raising our hands up to spin me in a slow circle, pulling me in respectably close again. We were too close for me to see what he was looking at but it was impossible not to feel the tension that crept over the hard muscles that covered his shoulders.

"Is everything okay?" I asked him in a low voice, looking to the side to see what was bothering him.

It took him a second too long to answer. "Everything is fine."

But it wasn't. I knew him too well to know when he was full of shit—well, he was usually full of shit but sometimes more than other times. Like right then. I'd come all the way to the damn gala and bought a damn dress to be moral support for a man that had once upon a time been a complete jackass with me and who had, over time, become less of a jackass and more like a weird friend. And friends took care of each other. They brought them back from the brink of their troubles if they could.

I guess it was my turns to take the reins from Jas for the moment.

I tipped my head back to look up at him, waiting for the moment that he looked down at me.

It took a second for him to look down. Both of my eyebrows went up. "Have you ever dipped your fries into a shake before?"


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