Last one! Thanks for tagging along for this short, mostly pointless, but hopefully fun little story about kilts. I especially love all you kilt enthusiasts (read: kilt pervs) who appreciated that the kilt stayed on last chapter ;-)
Thanks once again to burntcore for taking the beta reigns.
Now let's get on with it, shall we?
What felt like a mere ten minutes after falling asleep I woke up with a start and scrambled to find the clock. Just as I'd feared I was already running late for the day's meetings. An awkward moment ensued as I tried to figure out how to handle leaving. Did I wake him? Let him sleep? Leave a note?
Unfortunately, the one thing I wanted to do—stay—was out of the question. My boss would have my ass if I skipped out. So instead I tried to wake him. Whisper his name, nudge, whisper, nudge, nudge. No reaction beyond a slight mumbling before he turned over. I threw my clothes back on and tried again with no success. I mentally berated myself as I started for the door then went back to the bed. Sat down then stood up. I couldn't make up my mind and had no idea what the protocol was for this kind of thing.
Time was running short so I opted to leave a note, although deciding what to write took way too much time until I hastily scrawled an apology that I had to leave or I'd be late to my conference. With shoes in hand I gave one last longing look at the bed and the body half covered upon it. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted the kilt haphazardly thrown on the chair in the corner and wondered if I could sneak out with it. Laughing at my absurdity I stepped barefoot into the hall—then immediately regretted the note. For a moment I debated knocking on the door but I was already too far behind.
I growled in frustration as I turned and trudged toward the elevator, afraid with each step that someone would walk out of their room and see me in my very first walk of shame. I made it to the bank of elevators unseen but I wasn't lucky enough to have an empty car. A man was already inside, smirking at me as I ducked my head and tried my best to hide, hoping he'd ignore me.
No such luck.
"Shit, Cullen strikes again," he said.
He was laughing to himself but it was clear he wanted my attention. I stiffened at his words though I tried my best to hide the effect. I couldn't help but wonder even though I knew he was trying to get a reaction.
"I swear the women just flock to that smooth bastard. I don't know how he does it," he said, still laughing.
Without thinking I glanced over at him and immediately turned my attention back to the slowly increasing numbers above the door.
Three floors to go, two floors, one floor. His continued chuckling made me uncomfortable, and when the doors finally opened to my floor I pushed my way through them and sped down the hall. I didn't realize I was shaking until I struggled to slip the keycard in the slot.
Inside the room I took my first full breath and closed my eyes until I calmed down. Once the moment had passed I rushed to my suitcase. I didn't have much time to think about how Alice and Rosalie's night had gone, but since the room was empty it was obvious theirs took the same turn as mine.
For a split second I contemplated messing up my bed just to buy some time with those two.
Thirty minutes later I was rushing out of the hotel with slightly damp hair and jumping in the cab the hotel had called for me after deciding that traversing the parking garage here and then finding a spot there would take too much time—time that was quickly running short.
I sat down in the conference room and had just enough time to catch my breath and hit record on the digital recorder before the panel moderator stood behind the lectern and introduced the speakers. With my backup rolling I allowed myself to space out a bit.
At first my mind wandered to the night before, and I had to press my lips tightly together to keep the goofy smile from spreading across my face. A fluttering in my stomach made me fidget. All too soon my thoughts took a turn and I started to fret over whether we'd been too obvious, who had seen us, and what they must've thought. What I had been so sure about last night I now questioned, letting my self-consciousness get the best of me. This time I fidgeted for a new reason—the worry over how people might look at me when I walked back into the hotel later. For some reason it felt like everyone knew and everyone cared, no matter how unrealistic my logical side knew it was.
Then there was the question over whether I'd ever see him again. We hadn't talked about it, and I'd left with just that note—no phone numbers, no email addresses.
As the worst-case scenarios began to take over, my brain decided to pile on. My curiosity returned to the man in the elevator. I had no idea who he was so I knew I shouldn't give his words much credence, but at the same time I recognized that I barely knew Edward. For all I knew, he could be the kind of guy who does this sort of thing every weekend, as much as I wanted to believe otherwise.
I tried not to question his character with no real basis, but once the seed was planted it was hard to not wonder.
When it came down to it, my biggest hang up about the night before was me. In the light of day and separated from the situation, I couldn't help but question myself. I cursed the conference once again because I knew that it was the distance that made me doubt everything. If I'd been able to stay and talk through a few things with him maybe some of last night's confidence would've carried over.
At three o'clock the last seminar of the day ended. I hopped into a cab and made the ten minute trek over to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to meet the girls. The cabbie idled by the curb in front of the iconic pyramid where I could see Alice and Rosalie waiting for me.
From the barely contained smirks on their faces as I approached, I knew they'd been waiting all day to attack me with questions.
"Sooo," Rosalie started, dragging out the word in encouragement for me to begin.
I scanned the entrance area to the museum, avoiding her eyes. "So what?"
"Don't pretend you don't know," Alice said. "Last night?"
I shrugged. "What about your night?"
"You really want to go there?" Rosalie asked. "You know I don't spare details."
I scrunched my nose and glanced at the school group lingering within earshot. "Yeah, maybe not."
She hooked her arm with mine and led me inside, Alice snickering behind us. I was able to buy a little time as we paid for our entrance and had a cheesy group picture taken to be superimposed over a stock image of the pyramid.
My respite lasted until we made it to the lower level.
"You going to see him again?"
I glanced over at Alice and looked away. "I don't know. I mean, probably not. I don't even have a way to get in touch with him."
A strange twisting in my gut accompanied the words. As much as I questioned my behavior, it still hurt to think I'd never cross paths with him again.
"What do you mean? You didn't even trade numbers?"
A few people turned to look at us and I held up my hand to show my wristband to the staff member guarding the doors to the exhibits.
"We never got around to it last night!" I whisper-yelled.
"And this morning?" Rosalie asked.
"I had to leave. I was running late."
She looked at me critically then her eyes widened. "Did you sneak out?"
"I told you, I was running late!" I glanced around to make sure no one was paying attention to us. "It's not like I didn't try to wake him up to say goodbye. He wouldn't budge so I had to leave a note."
Both girls started laughing and Alice said, "Isn't it the guy who's supposed to sneak off in the middle of the night without a word?"
Rosalie snorted and added, "She probably broke his little tartan heart."
I could feel my face heating up with a blush. "Thanks, guys. Really."
"Oh, come on, you know we don't mean anything by it," Rosalie said, bumping her shoulder with mine.
"I know. It's just . . ." I trailed off.
Alice gave me a sympathetic look. "It's okay. We know."
"And who knows," Rosalie said, "you may see him again one day."
Ready for the conversation to end I pretended to read the little information plaques placed by each artifact in the display cases. Taking my hint, the girls did the same and the three of moved from one section to the next.
I was in a room dedicated stage outfits from dozens of different artists when I felt someone move in behind me.
"Not that I doubt you could pull it off, but you don't seem the 'gypsy' type."
My breath caught in my throat at the sound of his voice. My heart raced in double time and it took a few seconds before I was able to compose myself enough to speak.
Without turning around to look at him, instead focusing on Stevie Nicks' dress in front of me, I joked, "I'm just pondering the little known effects of heavy drug use. This thing looks like it was made for a third grader. Even Alice couldn't fit into it and I'm pretty sure she's part leprechaun."
He barked out a laugh and I worked up the nerve to turn to him. His eyes were shining—he was smiling, happy. He didn't seem upset at the way I handled leaving, and I breathed a little easier.
I was still nervous though. All those fears that had distracted me all afternoon raced to the forefront of my mind, but they were difficult to hang onto when he reached out to gently push a stray lock of hair out of my face and let his fingertips linger against my skin.
"You left," he said so quietly I could barely hear him.
I had to look away from him, all of a sudden finding my shoes to be the most interesting thing in the room. "I'm sorry. I tried to wake you but I was running late."
"I sleep like the dead," he said with a chuckle. "I'm not sure a Mack truck driving through the room can wake me once I'm out."
Someone bumped into him, reminding us that we were blocking foot traffic. He led me out of the way so we'd have a little more privacy. "I'm sorry. I wish I would've gone about this better."
I started to speak, unsure of what I'd say, when he stopped me.
"I'm really glad I didn't miss you . . . that I got to see you before we left."
He seemed a little nervous. "Listen, can I call you? Maybe we can see where this goes?"
His request caught me off guard and I turned into a stuttering mess. "I don't kn—I mean, really? Is that—"
Now it was his turn to be unsure. "Sorry, I thought you—nevermind . . . I just thought . . ."
Great, so neither of us was capable of coherent communication. But my concerns weighed heavy.
"Last night . . . well, it's just not something I normally do. So, I guess I'm struggling a little because I don't know what's supposed to happen next." There, honesty.
He reached for my hand and stroked my fingers. "There aren't any rules. Whatever we want to happen next is what happens next. And last night wasn't something I normally do either, okay?"
He must've read all my doubts and questions in that single word.
"Yes, really," he said, watching me intently. "Why? Did I do or say something that made you think otherwise?"
"No, no, you didn't . . ."
He regarded me for a moment, tilting his head slightly to the side and scrunching his eyebrows. "I didn't . . . did somebody else say something?"
Again I stuttered a few false starts before he said, "Bella?" urging me to answer him.
I looked away, embarrassed that I had allowed a stranger to get to me, even if only a little.
"Um, there was this guy on the elevator who kind of insinuated . . ."
His head dropped back and he whispered, "Fucking James."
"I'm sorry," I said, taking notice of how many times that phrase had been uttered in the past ten minutes.
He tapped at his phone for a few seconds before holding it up for me to see. "Was it this guy?"
I skimmed the faces in the picture seeing him, Emmett, Jasper and a couple guys I didn't know, but there on the far end was the man from the elevator.
"Yeah, that's him."
He nodded as if expecting my answer. "He works with us. He always tries to be that guy and is known to pull shit like this when someone pays attention to one of the guys rather than him. I'm sorry if he made you uncomfortable, but I swear to you that he's full of it."
"Don't worry about it. I understand. And that wasn't even really . . ." I trailed off, not wanting to finish and say that wasn't the issue because I knew it would open the door to an uncomfortable conversation about what my actual issues were.
"Is there anything I can do to change your mind?"
He looked so sincere that that it was nearly impossible to not just say "to hell with it."
"I just don't know how it'll work," I said, almost wanting to cry at the thought of it because with him in front of me like this, all I wanted to do was make it work. "I don't live here . . . and neither do you . . . how-?"
I stopped when he started grinning. He had this little bounce as he shifted his weight from side to side as if some secret was just trying to burst out of him.
"What?" I asked, his reaction starting to make me self-conscious.
"You weren't paying attention at all last night when we were all in the bar talking, were you?"
I started to protest, but I knew he was right. More importantly, I knew that he knew he was right. "Well, it was kind of loud in there," I justified.
He shook his head and laughed. "I live less than an hour from you."
I wasn't expecting him to say that. "What?"
He laughed again and leaned closer, lowering his voice to a level that made my whole body shiver. "Were you so distracted by the kilt that you didn't even bother to read my shirt to see which PD I was there representing?"
"You're serious," I said, stunned.
He nodded. "So, about that whole seeing where this goes thing?"
I couldn't have stopped the smile from spreading if I'd wanted to. "Yes! Yes, of course!"
He laughed at my exuberance and pulled me in for a long overdue kiss. It was a little awkward since we couldn't stop smiling, but it was perfect. All attempts to hang onto a little bit of seriousness failed as neither of us could help but break into grins and laughter each time out lips touched.
The next hour was spent hand in hand touring the exhibits until he and the other guys had to leave for the airport. As guilty as I'd felt that he'd postponed their flight so he could come find me before they left, I couldn't help but be flattered at the effort. Alice, Rosalie, and I saw them off somewhere around the third—or was it the fourth?—floor, then collapsed into a fit of schoolgirl giggles as soon as they were out of earshot.
There was yet one more day left of my conference. I was still eager for it to be over so I could go home. The only difference was that my reason for heading home at changed: I had a new relationship to nurture and a really cute boy in a kilt to enjoy whenever I wanted.