This is gonna be a quick one. Looks like 3 chapters, all relatively short. I have the 2nd almost done (just finish up the last part of the last scene) and then I'll write the 3rd. I'll try and get those done quickly so I can update once a week.
Thanks to burntcore for stepping in to take the beta reigns on this one!
Oh, and I don't really need to tell you all that I'm not Stephanie and I don't own anything, right? I mean, we're all smarter than that, right? Okay, good.
"Is that . . . bagpipes?" I asked, looking around but seeing nothing aside from my friends and dozens of cars parked in tight, little spaces.
"Who the hell plays bagpipes in a hotel garage?" Alice asked as she pushed her now useless sunglasses on top of her head and moved to stand next to me. The two of us continued to glance around, unable to pinpoint which direction the sound was coming from due to the echo.
I turned when Rosalie tapped the trunk to get our attention. "Who gives a shit? As long as whoever it is isn't practicing in the room next to ours."
The hotel lobby was mercifully quiet, the mystery bagpiper remaining outdoors. I spaced out as Rosalie took over check-in thinking about the million things to do and how little time I had to do it.
"Here is your parking pass," the hotel employee said as he slid a hang-tag across the counter. "Keep this in your car, and if you can, try not to leave the garage or you may not have a spot if you return too late. We have a special event taking place in the hotel this weekend, so the garage will fill up quickly."
"Fantastic," I mumbled as I took my key card from Rosalie and we headed off to find our room.
The elevator was slow in arriving, and when it opened three old men with bagpipes stepped off. Rosalie turned with a quirked eyebrow and her nose scrunched in disgust as if to say, "You've got to be kidding me."
Our room was on one of the upper floors, and the curtains were pulled back to frame the fantastic view of Lake Erie, the football stadium, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not bad, Cleveland. Not bad.
With little time to spare, I freshened up quickly, cringed at the amount of cleavage showing, shoved my luggage into the closet, and left my friends behind to relax while I headed to another hotel across town.
I was still a little bitter. I'd been given just a week's notice that I had to attend a conference for work, and by that point the hotel hosting the event was booked solid, as were most of the other hotels in downtown Cleveland. By a stroke of luck my travel agent managed to find a single available room not too far away. It was still a pain, but things started to look up when Alice and Rosalie decided to burn a couple vacation days to join me.
Playing the part of devoted employee, I was prepared to spend the evening networking with all the right people and schmoozing with others my boss hoped to work with in the future, all the while counting down until I could make my escape. Free food, a live band, and an open bar were all that people seemed to need in order to ignore that this was simply one giant sales pitch. As long as someone else was footing the bill they were more than happy to stick around.
I gave one last discreet tug at my dress, still uncomfortable with how much skin I was showing, and glanced around the ballroom. I spotted an executive my boss had been trying to get ahold of in recent months, and claimed the last available seat at his table. I introduced myself to my tablemates—a couple of whom I fortunately knew already giving me an easy in—and conversation shifted to business talk where it stayed for most of the evening. After dinner I found myself wandering from group to group, fresh drink always in hand, discussing everything from which companies in our industry were going under to new tricks others had found success in streamlining their operations. Just after ten, I was mentally exhausted and ready to unwind so I said my goodbyes and made a bee-line for the door.
A cab was already waiting in front so I slid in and gave the driver the name of my own hotel. As soon as I sat down I realized just how sore my body was from so much standing and walking, and I wasted no time in kicking my shoes off and wiggling my toes. It was delightfully painful, and I momentarily contemplated walking into the hotel barefoot.
The ride was quiet, but the silence was something much appreciated after an evening of people, noise, and music. With nothing to occupy my attention and the alcohol still in my system I found it difficult to keep my eyes open. We'd only turned the corner when I realized traffic was at a standstill and my curiosity woke me up. From what I could tell there had been both baseball and basketball games that evening and I arrived just in time to catch the post-game rush.
As we neared my hotel, the driver was forced to reroute. Police cars and buses idled in front of the main entrance, blocking the lanes in one direction, but I could only catch a glance as we passed by. We looped the block in order to get to the entrance from the other direction. When the cab stopped at the red light at the opposite end of the block, my jaw dropped. Men in kilts, what seemed like hundreds of them, walked the street and loaded onto buses. As the light turned green and the taxi continued onward, I saw them gathered in groups on the sidewalk and pouring into my hotel.
The driver stopped just in front of the lobby, but I was too dumbfounded to notice until he read off my fare. The noise of dozens of conversations snapped me out of my stupor and I clambered out, reaching behind me for my purse.
"Have a nice night," the cab driver said as he pocketed the cash I'd handed him.
I offered a small smile. "Thanks. You too."
Before heading inside, I took a moment to try to figure out what was going on. Down the block, it looked like people were still streaming from a building near our hotel, many carrying instruments to be loaded onto large box trucks. It appeared that there'd been some sort of concert.
As I neared the crowds I noticed a mix of men and women, maybe a third of them—mostly men—in kilts. Many of them wore t-shirts bearing the logos of various police departments.
Not that I had any idea what being a cop had to do with wearing kilts. I sure as hell never saw my dad sporting one . . . unless I blocked it out, which was entirely possible. No one, especially not me, needed to see Charlie's knobby knees peeking out from a skirt.
The lobby was packed so tightly with people it was nearly impossible to move. After the tenth person gave me a full up and down look I realized that somehow, in a sea of kilted men and women, my form fitting "little black dress" made me the oddball.
We were herded toward the elevators like livestock, and though it took a while, I finally made my way onto one. When it stopped on the fourth floor most of the people got out, but just as many got on. On my floor, groups were wandering up and down the halls, beers in hand as they caught up with one another.
I ducked my head and maneuvered the crowd until I found my room, moderately annoyed that Rosalie and Alice were M.I.A. since we'd had plans to meet back here when I was done. There was no way to see over to the bar while I was downstairs, but I was pretty sure that was where I'd find them. I dropped my bag of clothes just inside and turned around, ready to reverse my path. The wait for the elevator took forever but I had a little more breathing room than it did on the trip up. That didn't last long, though, since we had to stop at every floor to pick up more kilted cops and drop them off on the fourth floor.
By the time I made it to the main level, the crowd has dispersed significantly. It was still busy, but not wall to wall people like it had been just ten minutes ago. I assumed most must have found their way to the party going on a few floors above.
I searched each group of people that I passed, and as soon as I made it to the bar area, I stood on my tiptoes trying to peer over the heads of those inside. Alice would be impossible to find, but Rosalie was always hard to miss. With my search unsuccessful, I stepped further inside, scanning all around me as I started dialing my phone. Calls to both girls went to voicemail and I couldn't help but grumble.
"Lost?" a voice asked from behind me.
I turned around, finding myself at a loss for words. The first thing I noticed about the man towering over me was the eyes; even in the dim lighting of the bar I could tell that they were a vibrant shade of green. My field of vision expanded to take in the kind of face I'd usually expect to see in an ad campaign for Armani—rugged, handsome, with an angular jaw sporting a couple days' worth of growth. His hair was purposefully messy, the color I couldn't pinpoint . . . light brown, maybe some blond in there, perhaps some red. I wasn't sure how much of the shade was due to the light, but it didn't really matter.
My perusal continued as I noticed that he, too, was wearing a kilt. His navy blue tee with a small, simple white logo on the left side of his chest made it look so casual and laid-back. I'd never given much thought to the appeal of a kilt before, but clearly I'd been missing something good. Damn good. Tartan was officially my new weakness. A visual aphrodisiac.
Though my assessment only took seconds. I started to blush when I realized I'd been ogling. Then it occured to me that he'd been doing the same thing.
"Lost?" I repeated. "No, not really."
One side of his mouth pulled up into a crooked grin. "Well, clearly you aren't here for the Tattoo," he said, motioning to my dress with a wave of his hand and another appraisal of my body. "You looked like you could use some help."
"Tattoo?" I asked, having no clue what he was referring to.
He laughed and motioned to his kilt. "The reason for this. The International Police Tattoo . . . a concert of sorts that's held every year over at the Cleveland Public Auditorium. What about you? What brings you here?"
I looked down at my dress and felt self-conscious at how it made me stand out in the crowd. "Oh, uh, conference for work across town. Now I'm just trying to track down my friends."
"Let me guess . . . tiny little sprite with lots of pink and sparkles, and a blonde Amazon in painted-on red?"
The laugh lines at the corner of his eyes crinkled in amusement. Remembering how many people passed through this hotel just a short while ago, his accuracy confused me. "Yeah," I said slowly, and he held his hand out for me. I looked at it and back up to him to see him roll his eyes before reaching down to take my hand.
"They're upstairs with my friends. C'mon, I was just headed up there anyway."
I hesitated for a moment, but his smile was so disarming that I was sure I'd do anything he asked. I nodded decisively and allowed him to lead me from the bar. I said nothing as we walked through the lobby; others called out their greetings to him as we passed. I tried to come up with something to say to keep conversation flowing, but I was too distracted by the feel of his warm, rough hand wrapped around mine.
He pressed the button to call the elevator, but didn't let go of my hand. I didn't want him to, and I realized I was thinking too much about such a simple gesture, but it didn't stop me from loosening my grip to give him an 'out' should he want to take it. Instead, he tightened his hold, and I fought back a smile.
As we stepped onto the elevator and others crowded around us, I realized that we hadn't exchanged names. I felt like an idiot asking him with so many people within listening range so I tugged his hand until he leaned down close enough that I could speak quietly.
I still kind of felt silly simply because this was a formality that should've been taken care of long before I left the bar with him. He looked confused, and there was probably a smoother way to broach the topic, but I blurted, "I'm Bella."
He grinned as he leaned back to look at me again. His free hand brushed a stray hair away from my face, making me melt. "Bella," he repeated, testing the name and smiling his approval.
I didn't say anything, I just waited. A moment later he leaned closer so that he could speak directly into my ear making my heart race from his proximity and the tickle of his breath against my skin. "I'm Edward."
A/N: So in her notes to me, burntcore mentioned that the only way that those two games would have been on the same day (not to mention let out at the same time) is if the Cavs made it to the playoffs. Hell, I had no clue (it's a toss up which sport I dislike more, baseball or basketball) and I figured an even remotely canon Bella would be even more clueless than me, especially as an out-of-towner here. But I thought I'd mention it here just in case any of you who DO like either or both sports would notice ;-) I also figured she wouldn't know or care that the stadium her room overlooked was the Browns.