A/N My sincerest apologies for the delay. Thank you for sticking with me! Last chapter we left off with Emmett and Rose picking Bella up after she spent the day with "Masen". Major thanks to my amazing beta Robzbeanie and my awesome prereader CShepherd91. xoxo
Edward paced the floor in the grand entryway of the Cullen home in anticipation of Alice and Jasper's arrival. He was outraged – absolutely furious – that he hadn't been informed that Bella would be meeting Emmett face to face. As soon as Bella mentioned that Rose and her boyfriend would be picking her up from the business fair, he shot an angry text to Alice. Her reply of "GO STRAIGHT HOME NOW!" only made him angrier.
The fact that he could have changed his plans – invited her out somewhere, anywhere – to keep her away from his ridiculous and occasionally dangerous brother if he would have known in advance was eating him alive. He knew that in an everyday, ordinary situation, he wouldn't have the luxury of such things, but the situation he'd gotten himself into with Bella was neither everyday nor ordinary. Car keys clutched tightly in his hand, he was on the verge of ignoring Alice's demands and making a surprise appearance at the bar himself.
"Don't even think about it," Alice barked, as the front door swung wide open. "I'll have Jasper pin you down if I have to. You're not going anywhere near them."
"Why didn't you tell me that Emmett was picking her up tonight?" Edward hollered, his grip on his keys growing tighter.
"Because I knew you'd interfere. You don't get to decide where she goes and who she sees, Mister 1900's."
"I think I should have a say when the company that she's keeping isn't even human!" he snapped back.
"What were you even gonna do anyway?" Alice pressed, crossing her arms across her chest. "You said yourself that you don't want to lie to her any more than you have to – how weird would it be to have you and Emmett there side by side? There's no way you two could've pulled that off without setting off alarms. He would have said something, done something –"
"I just want her to be safe," Edward interrupted with a deep sigh, parking himself on the loveseat behind him. "You know Emmett."
"Alice saw, bro – it'll all be just fine," Jasper added. "We'd do anything we could to stop him from screwing up. With anyone, let alone Bella."
"And for crying out loud, Edward," Alice lectured, "She's my friend too, you know. Don't try to imply that you're the only one who cares. They're going to his bar – he's DJ'ing, the girls are gonna have a few drinks, and then Bella's going home alone early." As Alice spoke the words, Edward watched fragments of the vision play out in her mind.
"At least they'll be in public," he muttered.
"There is one little problem though –" Alice replied, casting a wary look in Jasper's direction. Almost instantly, a sedating wave blanketed the room.
"What do you mean, a problem?"
"She's starting to question things. We have to come up with a plan here, Edward – and quick."
Rose and Emmett waited in the car outside while Bella ran into her apartment to change and do something with her hair. A day outside in the damp and cold had left it limp and lifeless, so she threw it into a messy knot and stuck it together with a shiny flower pin her mother had made for her in one of her crafty phases. She grabbed her favorite little black dress and a pair of sparkly black flats, dumped a wad of cash from her tip pile and some essentials in a clutch, and headed back outside.
In the car on the way over, as Bella purposely studied Emmett in the rear view mirror, she couldn't help but notice the small affectionate gestures exchanged between Emmett and Rose. Her friend seemed so content and peaceful, but Bella couldn't stop her mind from racing. She wondered if perhaps she should take a page from Rose's book and relax, but she couldn't – there was something strange going on, and it was driving her insane that she didn't know what it was.
After the initial shock of meeting Emmett, and noticing the strange resemblance his eyes bore to Masen's and Alice's, Bella realized that the similarities between them ended there. Emmett was loud, outgoing, comical – a complete contrast to Masen. Although it was odd, she resolved to at least attempt to brush the thought that they were somehow connected aside, and chalked it up to simply having Masen on her mind.
"I've heard some stories about the trouble you two have gotten into – sounds like you're pretty wild there, Bella."
"What did you tell him?" she asked Rose playfully.
"Don't worry – just the story about the staff party. You know the one – with the margaritas and the box on your head?"
"I have no idea what she's talking about, Emmett," Bella replied, her cheeks getting hot.
"Well, you sound like my kind of people, Swan. I hope you like my place – that's it up on the left."
The club that Emmett DJ'd at was a lot different from the Metro. It was loud and dark with heavy bass, colored lighting and strobes flashing everywhere. Emmett was treated like a celebrity of sorts – girls stopped and stared as he easily made his way through the crowds and guys moved quickly out of the way of his massive frame.
"VIPs up here," Emmett called back towards Bella over the music. Rose followed along on his arm up a narrow staircase, to a loft looking over the packed dance floor. Bella was stunned at how gorgeous the pair looked together – Rose glowed as Emmett protectively maneuvered her through the thick crowds, his hands gentle on her waist. They belonged on the cover of a magazine, and it was clear by the reaction of those around them that Bella wasn't the only one who thought that way.
"What do you drink, Swan?" he asked once they were seated – a waitress instantly appearing.
"Oh – um, a vodka cran?" Bella replied and started digging through her purse for cash.
"Lightweight," he teased, sending a wink in her direction. "Two tequilas, a vodka cran and a gin and tonic for the ladies. On my tab." He nodded to the waitress, slipping a bill onto her tray.
"I'm a lightweight? Where's yours?" Bella scoffed.
"Em doesn't drink. He's on a special diet for body building and stuff," Rose yelled out so Bella could hear, cupping Emmett's knee in her palm. "He's got a blood pressure condition, too – feel his hands – he's always so cold!"
"It's just the price you pay for looking this good," he shrugged, stretching his muscled arms over the back of the lounger.
"Is he always this full of shit?" Bella chuckled at Rose. It was clear to Bella that Emmett had quite an ego, but it seemed to be all in good fun.
The drinks arrived and conversation was easy – as soon as the first round was done, another appeared instantly in its place. Bella watched Emmett and Rose getting cozier on the couch and she still couldn't help but feel like something wasn't quite right about him. Looking around at the other attractive guys in the room, Bella noticed they didn't have the same spark – the same something that she couldn't put her finger on – that both Emmett and Masen shared.
Somewhat overwhelmed by her thoughts, Bella guzzled down the last inch of her drink and dragged Rose off to the bathroom.
"I don't even have to pee, B, but oh my God! What do you think of him?" Rose asked breathlessly, pulling Bella into the stall with her.
"He's funny and definitely hot. I like him," Bella replied, unsure of quite how to word her suspicions.
"I can tell there's a but," Rose pouted, her back turned on Bella while she did her business. "I know you, and I know you have a but."
"Ok – you got me. There kind of is," Bella sighed. She knew how excited about Emmett Rose was – the last thing she wanted was to burst her best friend's bubble. "It's just – do you think there's something weird about him? This is gonna sound crazy, but I noticed the same thing with Masen today."
"I met Masen, honey. He and Em are nothing alike," Rose replied firmly, following Bella out of the stall.
"I know – but their eyes are the same! And this blood pressure thing? Is that even real? And the way people act around them, and just the way they move so smoothly – I don't know what it is," she rambled, taking her frustration out on a sheet of paper towel she used to wipe her hands dry. "Maybe I'm just paranoid – I really do like Masen. I like both of them. I'm sorry – I'm not trying to be a downer."
"You're never a downer, B. I do sorta know what you're saying – he is different, but I think it's a good thing, you know? He's got priorities and goals and stuff. I just feel like I'm being pulled to him – and we haven't even had sex yet."
"Get out!" Bella teased, knowing this was actually a pretty big deal for Rose.
"I'm not kidding! He said he's on a celibate streak – something to do with a mental awareness cleanse?"
"And how are you making out with that?" Bella snorted, finding this idea of a "cleanse" another odd detail that was just too hard to believe.
"I'm tolerating it. He's lucky he's as hot as he is. I just keep telling myself that he'll be worth it."
"Guess we'll see, hey?" Bella said wearily, linking her arm in her best friend's. "Maybe they both will be."
"I put you in a really awkward position, and I'm sorry, B. It was weak."
The time had finally come for Bella to face the music with Mike. She'd ducked out of the club early, knowing that working the day shift alone with Mike would be tough. He'd been extra helpful during her shift – clearing her tables, refilling drinks for her customers if she didn't get there right away, and ringing up tabs for her without even being asked. She had tried to avoid getting caught with him alone during the day, but when it came time to cash out Mike had cornered her – insisting that they finally smooth things out between them.
"You did. I want no part of your stupid game with Jessica. I've dealt with enough of that crap of my own – you know that," Bella replied, her irritation obvious as she counted out her float.
"I know and I'm sorry. It won't happen again. I cleared things up with Jess, too – told her we're just friends and that I'm an asshole."
"Well, at least you're aware." Bella gave Mike a playful nudge to the ribs. He had been a good friend, a good boss and someone that she felt safe and comfortable around. She knew that she couldn't hang on to the grudge forever – he appeared sincerely apologetic. "Get out of my way though, dude. I need that mirror."
"Where you going?" Mike asked, as Bella started touching up her makeup in the staff room mirror.
"I have a date."
"A real date?" he teased. It was fairly common knowledge amongst her closer friends that dating wasn't something Bella did a lot of.
"Is that so hard to believe?"
"No – it's just not your usual, I guess. Who's the guy?"
"His name's Masen. Remember that palm reader, Alice? He's her brother," Bella replied, watching to see Mike's reaction to that in the mirror over her shoulder.
"Oh really?" Mike asked, his face lighting up. "Is he a clown?"
"You're not funny," Bella replied, tapping loose eye shadow from her brush.
"Does he shoot himself out of a cannon?"
"Still not funny," Bella replied dryly, but the smile turning up on the corners of her lips showed that she was cracking.
"He's a stockbroker or something, Mike! Quit it – I actually really like him."
"Well that's no fun, but good, B. I'm happy for you. Text me if he turns out to be a creep and I'll come pick you up."
"Deal," Bella said with a smile. She doubted she'd need him, but she thought it was sweet that Mike had her back. "Now get out of here – I need to change."
"I know a quiet place – a coffee shop, if that's alright?" Masen asked. He'd arrived a little earlier than expected at The Metro, just as Bella had finished getting ready. The pair had taken off in his vehicle – a silver Volvo that Bella found ridiculously modest in comparison to Alice's luxury sports car – and had settled in for the drive while making comfortable small talk.
"Sounds good. I could use a coffee– it was busy at work today." Bella yawned, stretching out a little in her seat. She noticed how impeccably clean the car was – not a speck of dust or dirt to be found.
"Do you like your job and what you do?" Masen asked.
"Um, yeah? I think so," Bella replied, caught a little off guard by his question. "I don't know – it's not what I ever imagined I'd be doing, but it's alright."
"What would you rather be doing?" he asked, keeping his eyes on the road. Bella was getting so caught up in the smoothness of his voice – the casual way he handled the steering wheel, the way his jaw moved as he spoke – that she found coming up with a coherent reply to his deepening questions increasingly difficult.
"I always wanted to be a chef – back at home I worked at the diner in the kitchen for a while before they put me up front," she began, remembering the small truck stop and the faces of the regulars who frequented it. "Everyone thought it was stupid to go to school for something like that though – sometimes I kind of wish now that I'd never listened. What about you? Do you like what you're doing?" she asked, taking herself out of the line of fire.
"I've done a lot of different things. But right now, I'm the happiest I've been in a long time," Masen replied, as he looked over at her with a smile.
Once they arrived at the coffee shop, the conversation between Bella and Masen steadily flowed. They were seated in cozy leather chairs, a fireplace flickering behind them. Bella felt warm, comfortable, at ease, but the questions in the back of her mind were starting to scream at her. She wanted to open up to Masen – to start off on the right foot with honesty and openness – the two key things she knew were missing from relationships past.
"Have you dated a lot?" Bella asked, swirling her spoon in her mug of hot coffee.
"No, not really. I guess you could say I'm old fashioned?" Masen answered with a nervous chuckle. Bella could tell he was uncomfortable with the subject. It didn't make any sense to her – the way women reacted to his very presence, his insanely good looks and his polite and thoughtful manners – he had no reason to be so uneasy.
"Ok – that's it," Bella said, putting down her coffee mug and tossing her hands in the air. "I need to figure this out. What's your deal?"
"What do you mean?" Masen replied cautiously.
"You never eat, you're practically flawless. Spill it – you're hiding something, or something – I don't even know!"
"I don't think I –"
"No!" Bella interrupted, trying to keep her voice down but finding it difficult with her rising frustration. "Don't try to be all coy with me here. Something's up. I know it."
Bella watched as Masen licked his lips and shoved his sleeves up his toned forearms. He looked concerned – even hurt. "I'm sorry if I have offended you somehow, Bella. It has never been my intention."
His eyes met with hers and she could feel the sincerity radiating through his gaze. It was becoming pretty clear to Bella that Masen was keeping something from her, but he wasn't trying to hurt her with whatever it was. In fact, by the pained expression on his face, it looked to her like it was hurting him to hide it.
"You haven't," Bella sighed. "It's just that I – I really like you, and I feel like there's so much about you that I don't know – like you're keeping things from me."
He nodded slowly, focusing his attention on his knuckles. "I am," he answered softly. "You're special to me, Bella. I know I've only just met you, but I want you to know that you are."
"I want to be around you, and spend more time with you," Bella replied softly. "But I can't do that if you don't come clean. I've been hurt, and I need complete honesty."
"I understand," he spoke, swallowing hard. "My life is just – it's very complicated. I'll tell you everything there is to know about me – just please, Bella," he pleaded, "Give me some time. It's not easy for me."
"I think I can do that," Bella resigned. She didn't want to let him go, and although she didn't get the answers that she so desperately wanted, it was progress. "There's still a lot about me that you don't know either, I guess."
"I want to know more about you, too. I genuinely hope you'll give me the chance."
"Tell me everything!" Alice had been waiting patiently for Edward's return – the moment he walked through the door, she burst up from the living room couch and met him at an inhuman speed.
"What can I tell you that you don't already know?" Edward huffed.
"Oh please – I'm not that rude, Edward. Me and Jas were, well, busy," she replied with a giggle.
"What else is new?" he groaned, scrubbing his face with his palms. "It went alright – good even. We sat and talked for at least a few hours, but you were right – she's on to us. She's going to give me some time to open up, and I started to a bit with minor things, but I just don't know how on earth we're gonna do this, Alice."
"Was there a kiss?" Alice asked slyly, wide-eyed and grinning.
"A small one, but for crying out loud – can we get to the important matters here?"
"Fine. But you're no fun. I spoke to Esme and Carlisle while you were out – they're coming back in a week or so, give or take a few days. We're gonna plan a trip to the cabin."
"And this involves Bella how?"
"We're gonna invite her along, silly." Edward watched as mental pictures of snow falling outside the tall windows of the cabin and a roaring fireplace flashed through Alice's mind.
"Right. So we get the girl alone, bring her to a remote location in the woods, and tell her that we're all vampires?" Edward asked incredulously.
"No – it really isn't. It's the safest way. We'll all be there. If it goes really badly, we'll have Esme wipe her clean."
Edward paced the floor a moment, contemplating this plan. As much as he hated to admit it, it made sense. Wiping minds took a great toll on Esme, but being out at the cabin was the safest place for it. If the reveal went poorly, they could erase a small period of time around it if they played their cards right. "Can you see it?" he asked.
"Fuzzy isn't what I want to hear," Edward muttered.
"We haven't even asked her yet to come though, or nailed down any certainties. I'll let you know as soon as I see more. Wait – I know!" Alice perked up, not at all distracted by Edward's lack of confidence. "How about I'll invite her, instead of you? That way it'll be a bit more low key, right? I'll see if she wants to hang out at the shop for a bit tomorrow, and I'll take care of it then."
"Ok," Edward sighed, still not entirely convinced that this was a foolproof plan. "I suppose the sooner the better."
Bella woke to the sound of a text alert just as sunlight started peering through her sheer curtains. Alice wanted her to come by the shop and visit for the morning, so she figured she'd make the trek over after she had the chance to enjoy the comfort of her bed for a few more minutes. Not even five minutes after Alice's text arrived, she received one from Masen asking her if she'd slept well.
Bella thought back on the night before. After she'd confronted Masen about the obvious secrets he was keeping, they still managed to spend the rest of the evening talking and laughing as though they were lifelong friends.
She allowed her mind to drift back to the end of the night – after Masen had driven her home, he walked her to the front door of her apartment and commented on the flimsy security system. Bella had turned around to give a snarky reply after she removed her key, and there he was – leaning in slightly towards her face, one forearm propped against the doorframe beside her. Their eyes locked and Bella felt the air whoosh from her chest as they both stood frozen still. He'd leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek, his lips cool. As quickly as he'd caught her off guard, he'd backed away – uttering a simple, "Goodnight, Bella," before heading back towards his car.
While she threw on some clean clothes, Bella debated calling Rose to fill her in on "the big cheek kiss" but couldn't bring herself to do it. The moment felt too precious to share. She knew that somehow her well-meaning friend would crack a joke and it would be tainted. Something as simple as a peck on the cheek had her stomach flipping in circles – had her feeling like a princess – and it was equal parts strange and incredible at the same time.
Giving up on buying food and drinks for her new friends, Bella stopped for a coffee for herself then headed straight for the shop. She was anxious to see if Alice had anything to say about Masen's and her date. Even though Bella knew it was kind of shady to dig around with his sister, she couldn't help but be curious.
"Miss me yet?" Bella called out, pushing the heavy purple front door of Palmistry aside.
"Of course. But more importantly," Alice started, her voice rising with a hint of a giggle, "Masen's on his way over so I gotta ask you quick – how was your date?"
"Good. It's just – I don't know." Bella watched as Alice's face fell. "I really like him – a lot – but I feel like he's got some big walls up. Something's just off. I shouldn't be saying this. He's your brother, and –"
"No!" Alice cut her off, her smile returning. "It's fine Bella, really. Like I said before, he's shy and he's different. We're all kind of an odd bunch."
"Well, I guess I fit in then," she chuckled.
"You know what? I know just what will help. You need to come camping with us!"
"Uh, camping?" Bella asked nervously.
"Don't worry – it's not like backwoods or anything. We have a gorgeous cabin about an hour out of the city. It's the closest to camping that our family gets, but it's always fun. We're all going next weekend – our parents will be back then and there's plenty of room. What do you say?"
"I don't know –" Bella paused, weighing it out for a second. "I guess it would be a good chance for more time with Masen, and a break from the bar."
"Exactly! My family is a good time – it'd be a new experience to say the least, right?" Alice said excitedly.
"Ok. I'll see if I can get the time off, but only if it's ok with everyone else. I don't want to intrude or anything."
"Nonsense. It'll be perfectly fine. Speak of the devil!" Alice said with a wink as Masen walked through the door carrying a small bouquet of flowers.
"Hi – thought these would brighten the place up a little. It's all doom and gloom in here," he said, shutting the door behind him. "Bella –" he said, surprised. "I'm glad you came."
"Just stopping in for a visit – think I'll stick around awhile." She smiled, as the combination of nerves and excitement she felt in her belly anytime Masen was around returned.
"Bella's gonna come with us next weekend – that'll be awesome, right?" Alice said eagerly.
"Only if it's ok with everyone though – I don't want to impose," Bella insisted, fidgeting nervously with her fingers.
"It's perfect," he said softly with a grin.
"That reminds me – I've gotta get this box unpacked. I have someone coming in for a crystal reading at 4:00," Alice said, picking up a box marked "fragile" in bright red pen. "Masen – do you think you could help me with the –" She made it halfway to her heavy wooden table, but suddenly stopped dead in her tracks – the box crashing to the floor. "Oh, no," she gasped.
"Alice? What's –" Masen started, then froze mid-sentence. Bella looked back and forth between the pair as they stared at each other with wide eyes, looking as if they'd seen a ghost.
Mere seconds later, the door of the shop banged opened wide. A petite woman with long auburn hair and a tall blond man burst through the door, wearing a beaming pair of wide smiles on their faces.
"Alice! Edward!" the woman shrieked out happily. "It worked! We're back early! Surprise!"
Thanks again for sticking around after this wait. I always love to hear your thoughts. I hope to get the next one out much quicker…won't leave you hanging here too long! xoxo