AN: You guys are blowing me away with the love. I swear I've had the biggest grin on my face for a week now. I appreciate every single reader, reviewer, tweeter, etc. Thanks!
Thanks to Nicffwhisperer, Kikki7, SusanQ, Vampshavelaws, Julie, KittyVuitton, Stephanie, Perry, Jaime, Nolebucgrl, and Sydney Alice for all of their help pre-reading/betaing and supporting my crazy ass. I have been playing with this right up until posting and any mistakes are mine.
He didn't let me finish, putting a finger over my lips.
"Sleep on it, Bella. Think over everything I said, and we can discuss it more tomorrow. I'm sure you will have questions and I certainly don't want you to rush your decision either way."
That silly man was just about to get his way, and he stopped me.
"Maybe I don't want to sleep on it." I would have stomped my foot if I'd been standing.
He sighed and then smiled at me.
"I do like your fire." He stood, pulling me up with him. "Come on, let me show you to your room. Please take tonight to think it over." He sounded melancholy, as if he thought I wasn't going to choose him.
Every cell in my body urged me to ease his sadness. It was overwhelming how much this practical stranger seemed to affect me. Overwhelming to the point of scaring me a little. For that reason alone, I kept my mouth shut and nodded in agreement. It probably was too impulsive of me to be so eager to say yes anyway. He was right to hold me off. It was a big decision.
When I replayed his words as he led me back inside, something clicked in my head.
"Wait...I'm staying here?"
He paused and turned toward me.
"If that's all right with you. You'll have a room to yourself."
I was simultaneously surprised I wasn't going to a hotel and somewhat disappointed he didn't want me with him tonight.
What was wrong with me?
I simply nodded my consent, and he continued on, leading me up the stairs and pointing out different parts of the house. It was all amazing, although I felt out of my element.
If I did stay with him, would I ever feel comfortable with this level of wealth?
We finally reached a bedroom, and he let me enter first. It was beautiful, in tones of beige and mauve. There was a bed big enough to fit ten of my old beds, topped with a duvet of dark rose and a mountain of pillows I wanted to dive into. I noticed my purse and luggage on the bed as I turned in circles, examining every detail of the room. A large vanity table ran along the wall opposite the bed, and there was even a chaise lounge in the corner.
"Nice accommodations," I teased.
Edward grinned. "I'm glad it meets your specifications, Miss Swan." He moved toward a closed door and opened it to reveal a private bath. "Everything you need should be stocked in here, but you can contact Hannah if there's something missing that you require." He showed me how to use the phone if I needed anything else.
It really was like a hotel, although I was uncomfortable thinking about Hannah as some kind of servant.
He remained silent as I looked around, but I could feel his eyes on me.
I turned to face him. "Can I ask you a question?"
"If I agreed to your…uh…proposed arrangement, is this how we'd live?" I waved my arms around the room.
He tilted his head and furrowed his brow. "What do you mean?"
"Separate bedrooms? Separate lives? You stopping by occasionally to try and knock me up?" My cheeks flushed as the questions spewed out of my mouth.
He strode over quickly, stopping right in front of me, and my breath caught as his eyes locked on mine.
"No." His hands slid up my arms to rest on my shoulders, and I shivered from his touch. "If you agree, you will be in my bed. Our bed. We will be together…in every way."
His lips were on mine before I could think, his tongue exploring my mouth when I gasped in surprise. He moved one hand down, tickling my spine before resting it on my lower back and holding me tight. His other hand cradled my head as his fervent kisses made me weak at the knees.
My body felt like it was on fire, and I moaned from the intense tingling sensation flowing from my head to my feet.
He groaned and pulled away, both of us panting as we stared at each other.
"I should leave now," he said, breaking the moment and leaving me standing there still breathless. He walked toward the door, pausing and turning back in the doorway. "Sleep well, Bella. I'll see you in the morning."
With that he left, closing the door behind him. My knees gave out and I fell back on the bed.
My fingers traced over my swollen lips, and I closed my eyes to remember how intoxicating his kisses were.
If he could do that with his mouth, how potent would the rest of the package be?
I grabbed a pillow and smothered my giggles as I rolled over onto my stomach.
Was this possible? Was it really happening?
The way my body came alive in his presence, it was tempting to take him up on his offer without the monetary additions he stipulated. In fact, I already knew I would have to talk him down from the exorbitant amounts of cash he wanted to give me. It was entirely too much.
After finally settling down, I opened my suitcase and retrieved some pajamas. I wandered into the bathroom, admiring all the gleaming fixtures and amenities before going through my nighttime rituals.
As I combed my hair, washed my face, and brushed my teeth, I tried to figure out what the downside to the situation was. Sure, it would be crazy and impulsive. But I'd never experienced anything close to the excitement, giddiness, and yes, arousal that I did in Edward's presence.
Was it insane for me to want to keep it?
My life prior to this day was either sad or mundane. Loss, irrelevance, and cast as a burden. That was my Forks life.
Was it wrong for me to want to give this a try?
My head fell back against the pillows and I snuggled under the cover, enjoying the fresh smell and soft feel of the luxurious bed. I briefly thought about Alice, and the fact I hadn't called her. I bit my lip and debated with myself.
I wanted to talk to her and get her opinion, but what would happen if she thought I was a lunatic for considering this?
I didn't want her to try and talk me out of it.
I decided to call her tomorrow, allowing myself more time to think about what I wanted without any interference.
When I closed my eyes and reflected over the last few hours, it suddenly became clear to me exactly what I might be giving up if I agreed to Edward's offer.
My eyes popped open and I stared at the ceiling.
It was obvious Edward and I had chemistry together. The air practically sizzled when we were in close proximity. But that had nothing to do with true affection.
Was I willing to enter into this arrangement, into a marriage, knowing he didn't love me and I didn't love him?
Our feelings could grow into love at some point, but was I willing to risk the chance they might not?
Edward said I always had a choice, meaning I could get out of the deal at some future point if I was no longer happy with the terms. But what if there were kids at that point? What kind of damage would be done if Edward and I split because of a loveless marriage? Was it right to form that kind of union and bring children into it?
I shivered slightly at the thought.
Was I ready to have kids?
It was obvious Edward was more than ready to start that part of the arrangement. I snorted to myself. It was probably because he wouldn't be the one carrying them around for nine months.
I liked the idea of having children. In fact, the idea of a large family surrounding me was usually only reserved for my dreams. Though I had never imagined it happening so soon.
What would it mean for school? When he said he wanted me completely devoted and invested in him and him alone, would it hinder my going to NYU?
My mind buzzed as question after question popped up.
I didn't know exactly when I finally drifted off, but when I bolted awake, the clock on the bedside table showed it was already noon. I shook off my lingering sleepiness and jumped out of bed. The hot sun shining through the windows indicated it would be a warm day outside, so I picked out Alice's khaki skirt, a blue and white sleeveless camisole, and some sandals.
After showering and dressing, my stomach rumbled with hunger. It was protesting my dinner consisting primarily of wine last night. I walked down the stairs, trying to remember my way.
I landed on the first floor and smiled at the sight of Hannah coming around the corner. At least I could ask for directions to find a sandwich or something.
"Bella!" She was at my side immediately, taking my hand with a smile. "Good morning, honey. Or, I should say good afternoon. I was wondering if I was going to have to wake you myself to get you fed. You hardly ate any dinner last night."
"Hello, Hannah." I followed as she led me into the kitchen area, which had a small table set up already. I glanced at the flowers and the nice place setting. "For me?"
"Yes, we aren't very formal for breakfast or lunch around here. Is this all right?" She seemed worried I wouldn't approve.
I nodded vigorously. "I hope you haven't gone to any trouble. I could just make myself a sandwich."
She chuckled. "Sit down, sweetheart. Let me take care of you."
I gave her a smile, sitting down at the table as she requested. Soon enough, I had more food in front of me than I knew what to do with. There was fresh fruit, an omelet, and croissants, everything tasting as mouth-watering as it looked.
Hannah plied me with tea and juice, until I couldn't eat or drink anything more.
"Where is Edward?" I asked when she took my plate.
"He's in his office. I'll take you there as soon as you're ready."
I stood up and straightened my skirt. "I'm ready."
I wasn't entirely prepared, but I was resolved to have this conversation and secure my future plans…one way or the other.
Hannah led me up one flight of stairs, pausing when we reached a door next to the library. She turned back toward me and patted my hand.
"I'm happy you're here, Bella."
"Me, too," I told her.
She smiled again and knocked briefly on the door, before opening it and letting me walk in. I took a deep breath, finding Edward seated behind a large desk. He stood and gave me a nervous grin as he ran his hand through his hair.
"Hello, Bella. Did you sleep well? Have you eaten?"
It was a relief to see I was not the only one nervous. I smiled as I walked toward him, taking a seat when he motioned to one of the chairs facing his desk.
"Yes and yes. How are you? Did you sleep well?"
He sat down as well, resting his chin on his clasped hands while staring at me.
"As well as can be expected," he murmured. "I was worried I'd wake up this morning and find you'd run off screaming during the night."
I raised my eyebrow. "Were you trying to scare me off?"
He shook his head. "No, I was very much hoping you'd still be here."
I looked down at my lap, my fingers playing with the hem of my skirt as I tried to release some nervous energy. "We have to talk about this."
He sighed heavily, and I looked up to find him hanging his head. His sadness was palpable, and I realized he thought I was going to say no.
"Edward, let me get this out of the way to start. I'm going to agree with your proposal, but we need to discuss some things first."
The change in his demeanor was instantaneous. His face lit up, and he was out of his seat like a shot. I was scooped up in his embrace before I could blink, his face nuzzling my neck as he held me tight. My stomach flipped and my heart raced when he placed kisses under my ear, and I knew we'd never get any talking done if we were this close. My brain went straight to meltdown mode when he kissed me.
"You're saying yes," he whispered, his breath making my skin tingle. The slight undercurrents of desperation in his voice made me think he was trying to convince himself I was telling the truth.
I laughed and pushed against him lightly.
"Okay, okay. I'm sure there will be plenty of time for this later. We have to talk first, and I can't think with you so close. You make my brain go mushy."
He chuckled and let me go, a definitive bounce in his step as he strolled back to his seat.
"The feeling is mutual, Bella. Just so you know."
I doubted my presence affected him as much as his did me, but I didn't say anything.
He pulled two sets of papers out of a folder, handing me one and keeping one for himself.
"I think it will be easier to talk through, if we have everything down on paper. I had my lawyer draw this up, but we can amend things until we are both comfortable."
I gulped as I looked at the stack of papers in my hand. It was a real, legal document. When I looked back up at Edward, my whole body flushed.
He'd put on a pair of reading glasses, and I had never seen anything so sexy in my life. My mouth dropped open, and I hoped the drool escaping didn't blur the ink on the pages.
"Do you want to go through it point by point, or read it all through first?"
When I didn't answer his question, he looked over at me with a concerned expression.
"What's wrong, Bella?"
I clenched my thighs together and tried to calm myself down.
"You can't wear those," I blurted out, waving my hand at his face. I tore my eyes away, and looked down at my lap in hopes he would take them off quickly.
"I can't wear what?"
Didn't he understand I was about to crawl over the desk into his lap?
He chuckled. "Why can't I wear them? Do you have a problem with glasses?"
Yes, a big problem. I wanted to make baby #1 on top of his desk.
"They're too distracting and I need to focus." I sounded insane.
"They're distracting?" His lips curved into one of his smug smiles. "How so, Miss Swan?"
I huffed as my fingers dug into my thigh. He was obviously going to toy with me; I had to grin and bear it.
I could do this.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
He chuckled at my silence but seemed to want to ease my floundering.
"I apologize; normally I wear contacts, but I didn't put them in this morning." He held up his papers. "I need to be able to read this though."
I blew out a gust of air. "Fine, let's do this." I would just keep my eyes away from his face.
The first section primarily laid out the privacy clauses and agreement of non-disclosure. Some of the legalese was confusing, but I got the gist of what was written.
"So we aren't allowed to discuss this arrangement with anyone?" I asked.
How in the world was I going to keep this a secret from Alice?
"I'd prefer we kept it to ourselves, Bella. Not only for our sakes, but it would be awkward for any children we may have."
"But what are we going to tell people if I'm here all of a sudden and married to you?" I snuck a glance over at him, trying to keep my lust at bay.
"We'll have to discuss exactly what we want to tell people. It shouldn't be too difficult to come up with something." He was more confident than I was. "And in the event that our agreement is no longer suitable for one or both of us, the non-disclosure will still be in place. Nobody should ever know about this except us, no matter what happens in the future."
I nodded and moved on. The next section dealt with the money. My mouth gaped as I read through everything he wanted to give me. It was laid out explicitly, including the terms he discussed last night all the way through bank accounts I would have access to while with him.
"This is too much, Edward. I don't need all this."
"It's not too much. I'm asking you to change your entire life for me. Not only that, but the hefty amounts will give us both security. I want to know you are with me because you want to be, not that you feel obligated. If you know there are millions in your pocket if you left, then I know you really want to be here if you stay."
This was about his trust issues.
"So it will give you peace of mind if I stay despite being independently wealthy?"
He nodded, and I pursed my lips in thought.
"How rich are you anyway?"
The smirk returned. "I have billions, so don't fret about the amounts on these pages."
I rolled my eyes. I should have figured.
"Fine, then. Give me millions." I looked at the page again. "But I hate this pay-as-you-go-for-the-kids thing. It makes me sound like a glorified incubator."
He frowned. "Well, I'd like to compensate you for providing me heirs."
I narrowed my eyes. "They would be mine as well. I think them having half my DNA is compensation enough."
He cleared his throat. "As you wish. We'll take out the compensation for children clauses."
I grabbed a pen off his desk and slashed through the offending lines.
My anger turned to sadness when I read the next section. He had laid out his wishes that if we ever separated, following the birth of any children, he would be granted sole custody of said children.
He wanted me to have the kids and then give up my rights to them?
That was a deal breaker to me.
What kind of mother would I be if I allowed this? If I signed a document saying I wouldn't fight with everything I had to keep my own children?
Not any kind of mother I wanted to be.
I shook my head and looked up to find him staring at me.
"I'm...I'm not sure if I can do this."
"What do you mean?"
I sighed at the worry in his voice and the frown on his face.
"Edward, any woman who would sign away the rights to her unborn children is not worthy of being a mother in the first place. It's insulting and a little worrisome this is even in the contract. If all you want is a surrogate, then go find someone else." I threw the contract on his desk and stood up. "I don't think I can be a part of this."
"Wait!" He stood and rushed over to me before I could make my way to the door.
I kept my eyes on the floor and tried to ignore the electricity when his hands gripped mine.
"You're offended by my asking for sole custody in the event we separate and have children, right?"
I nodded my head but still didn't look up at him.
"That actually comforts me, Bella."
I looked up at him then, watching his eyes for any signs of dishonesty.
"Then why? Why would you put that in there?"
"To make sure you did care."
My mouth fell open.
"You put it in there as a test?"
The disbelief must have been written all over my face.
"I swear. If you would sit back down, I'll show you."
I allowed him to nudge me back in my seat but kept my eyes targeted on him as he moved back around his desk and took out more papers. I took the pages from him when he handed them over.
These pages had this section re-written completely. He was being honest with me.
He nodded and smiled. "This, of course, is only in the event of our separation...which hopefully will not be necessary. But if so, our arrangement would be joint custody." He paused for a moment, allowing me to read.
"I would have to remain in New York." It was more of a statement than a question, but he answered anyway.
"Yes. I would want us to still reside near each other."
The unease I'd felt started to dissipate as I read the amended clause. This made much more sense and ensured we would both have control over our children's lives. I was still upset about the initial contract's wording though.
"I can agree to this, but stop with the stupid game-playing. It's difficult enough for me to build trust in you...in this whole situation. I can do without your tests."
When I looked back up, he was hiding a grin behind his hand.
"What?" I snapped.
"Nothing. You're just quite adorable when you're angry."
A jolt of lust shot through me as I imagined what he would look like angry. I bit my lip and forced myself to remain seated.
"Don't bite your lip." The low growl of his voice surprised me.
I wondered if my lip bite was the equivalent to him that his glasses were to me. I put that information in the mental bank for future use.
I snickered and released my lip as I kept reading.
"What is this traveling business all about?"
"My company is based here in New York, but I do have to travel occasionally. Mostly back and forth to L.A., although sometimes overseas. I want you to travel with me as long as you are physically able to."
"You mean until the point where I'm waddling around with a basketball in my belly?" My hand automatically went down to feel my tummy, and I wondered what it would be like to have a baby in there.
He chuckled and nodded. "Yes, something like that."
"But what about school?"
I looked up again when he didn't answer me. He was frowning and scrunching his forehead.
"I assumed college was your way of escaping Forks, but with our arrangement that particular avenue would no longer hold as much value to you. I guess I'm selfish and would prefer you were completely invested in us. Besides, you would have to quit anyway when you got pregnant."
"What?" I flipped through the pages, trying to find where he laid down that insane rule. "For your information, pregnant women go to class every single day, all over the world. If you think I'm just going to sit around the house all day waiting for you to come home, then you have the wrong girl. I would be bored out of my mind and would likely start throwing around your precious works of art for entertainment."
His face paled a little as I got my point across.
"It's not set in stone, Bella. No need to get upset. That's why we're discussing this. I'll worry if you are off traipsing through this city by yourself."
I took a couple breaths and tried a calmer tactic. "While I'm unsure exactly what direction I'd like to go in terms of a degree, I still want to take at least a few classes. I'd like the experience. I won't overload myself, maybe just a class or two a semester."
He nodded slowly. "I understand. College can be a very fulfilling and rewarding experience, and I certainly don't want to hold you back. However, I want us...this...to come first." He paused and stared at me for a moment.
"My taking classes won't interfere with giving you attention."
Damn needy man.
He sighed. "I must insist that transportation is provided for you. I would be out of my mind if I thought you were riding in subways and cabs alone. Also, in the event you are due to deliver mid-semester, I would prefer you take that semester off."
It was becoming clear exactly how much of a control freak Edward really was. He manifested his concern and insecurities into manipulating everything to his will. I wondered if he was this way with everybody close to him.
Was there anybody else close to him?
I was accustomed to having complete freedom, having nobody but myself to answer to. It was going to be a massive undertaking for me to change my independent behavior and allow him to take over part of the reins of my life.
"Edward, you need to understand that all of this is completely new to me. I haven't had anyone to really answer to or keep track of me since my mother passed away. This is going to be an adjustment for me, and you are going to have to compromise if you really want this to work."
"I understand," he said, giving me a smile. "I don't want to push you away by being too domineering. But I also want to add that there are plenty of other activities you can pursue outside of academia. I'm sure I could teach you anything you could learn at NYU, and probably better." Smirks all around. "Plus, I imagine my mother will corral you into helping with her charity projects."
My anxiety came back at the mention of his mother.
"Well, I'm flattered by your modesty regarding Edward Cullen University, but I think I'll stick with NYU for now." I took a couple breaths as he chuckled. "So your family lives close by?"
He nodded. "Yes, Emmett is my brother and also works at CWI. He lives here in the city. My parents have a place here but spend most of their time at their home in Connecticut."
"Are they going to be upset about you being with me?"
"No. Why would you think that?"
"From what I've read, your family is old money. Won't your parents be upset that you're marrying some nobody girl from Washington?"
He laughed and shook his head. "My mother will be ecstatic that I'm finally settling down. She's been harping on me for a decade about grandchildren. I'm sure she will love you. In fact, she can be a little overwhelming at times, so please let me know if she's smothering you. I will tell her to back off."
I scoffed. He was lucky he had a mother to care about him and it saddened me he took it for granted. It also didn't escape my notice that he didn't talk about his father. I wondered why he was left out.
I turned my attention back to the document, making changes in regards to my academic pursuits and reading on. I paused at the next section, where I found an extensive medical history for both Edward and myself.
"How did you get all this information about me?" Anger bubbled inside me.
"I told you I did background research. It wouldn't have been very prudent of me to go into this without knowing of your health and any possible genetic abnormalities in your family history. Mine is all there as well."
The nerve of this man. I glared at him.
"You could have just asked me. This is private. You even have my damn gynecological exam information."
It wasn't that there was anything embarrassing in there, but to see my dearth of sexual experience in black and white was a little humiliating.
He held up his hands, but the smirk never left his face.
"Sorry. I was only being thorough. Besides, if we're married, there's no need to be private about these things."
"Yeah, well we're not married and maybe I don't want my children to get your smug genes." I threw my pen at his head, but he ducked out of the way. "Asshole," I muttered under my breath.
"Be careful, Isabella. Your foul mouth actually turns me on."
Apparently I'd said it louder than I thought.
I reached for another pen off his desk. The one I grabbed looked really expensive, and I wondered how aerodynamic it was.
He sat there calmly, watching me.
Always watching me.
"If you are done throwing your tantrum, you'll see we are both perfectly healthy."
His inference that I was acting childish really raised my ire.
"I don't know, Edward. I'm not sure if you can keep up with me. You are getting old. I may have to go look for something on the side." I stared at him in challenge.
The sight was spectacular.
His hands gripped his desk, and my imagination of what his anger would look like didn't even come close to reality. Fiery eyes, clenched jaw, flushed cheeks, flared nostrils, tousled hair. His rage was darkly beautiful, and likely would have scared most people.
It didn't scare me.
I smiled sweetly, while giving myself an internal high-five.
I was pretty sure he growled at me.
"You will do nothing of the sort. If you would turn to the next section, it clearly states that we will be monogamous to one another."
I flipped the pages while tittering at his reaction. Yep, it really was in there. He thought of everything.
Not that I would have ever cheated in the first place. That wasn't me, but he didn't need to know that…yet.
"What if you don't satisfy me?" I asked with feigned innocence, taking in his tensed body and heavy breathing.
He chuckled ominously, igniting a flurry of tingles in my abdomen.
"You will be more than satisfied, I promise you that. I would wager that you will be the one trying to keep up with my appetite."
Ooh, the gauntlet was thrown.
I wanted to grab his shirt and pull him over the desk. The way the man oozed sex, I had little doubt there would be any complaints in bed. It was still fun to play with him though.
"I guess we'll see."
"Yes, we most certainly will."
I moved on to the next section, sighing again at his controlling ways.
"Neither party will use contraception until after the birth of the first child, and at that point only upon mutual agreement," I quoted.
He sat back in his chair and folded his arms.
"Is there a problem with that?"
"No, I guess not." I could hear the weariness of my own voice.
I was reminded again that this arrangement was loveless; it was his means to an end.
"What are you thinking?"
I looked up, finding his expression softened. I played with the pen, hesitating to answer.
What if I voiced my fears and didn't like his reply?
"Doesn't it bother you at all? Going into this without truly knowing each other or loving each other?"
He leaned forward again. "I suppose I could have gone about this in a more conventional way, courted you in a normal fashion, until we were both positive of our future together. But patience is not one of my virtues. I knew from the first moment I heard your voice that I wanted you. Then after reading your words, I had no desire to wait any longer. I very nearly flew to Washington myself to get to you, only Alec talked me out of that." He paused and grinned. "I know you feel the same spark of attraction to me as I feel for you. That's how great romances start, right? Attraction? And I think we have that covered in spades."
I blushed, knowing he was right about the attraction part. It calmed me somewhat that he was not dismissing the idea that what we had could grow into love.
"Okay," I said softly, feeling more hopeful than ever about this becoming a real relationship.
We continued on, with only one other part of the contract making me think twice.
"I don't like this part about you having authority to make decisions on my behalf unilaterally," I told him.
"That would only ever come into play when I thought something was hazardous for you."
I shook my head at his explanation.
"What if your idea of hazardous is different from mine? I think I should have some input about all decisions that affect me."
"You will. I want this to be a partnership."
I had a feeling he and I were going to butt heads a lot over what he deemed best for me.
When we'd gotten through the last page, we sat silently for a few minutes.
"Well, what do you think?"
This was it. The moment of truth.
Do I take my tuition money, forget all about Edward, and try to live a normal life?
Do I take a risky plunge that could end up being either the biggest mistake or the most rewarding experience of my life?
I stared at his hopeful face and knew with everything inside me this was where I belonged.
Bella makes her choice. Do you agree or disagree? Why do you think Edward is the way he is?
You will learn more about Edward's past in the next few chapters.
I think I'm sticking with Wed/Sun updates for now. It works better with my schedule.
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