Trip of a Lifetime
Full Summary: What's a girl to do when she determines that there aren't any good men left? She creates them. Bella Swan was unlucky in love, so she started creating dream men in fiction. She wrote about the kind of man she'd love to meet and fall in love with, and for the amount of time it took to write her romance novels, she felt like she had a love of her own. It wasn't real, but in her opinion, real love wasn't something that was within her grasp, so the fantasy was better than nothing.
One day, suffering from writer's block, she went to the corner café for a change of scenery. When a cowboy tripped over her purse, she was so captivated by his appearance, that she had inspiration for a new character in her latest book. He walked away with only a few words in her direction, and all she had was the visual of his green eyes and wild hair to go on, but for her, it was enough to fuel her imagination.
The stars at night are big and bright…deep in the heart of Texas. Life holds mysteries that one can never fathom, and maybe there's such a thing as fate. Maybe, every once in a while, fate gives a hand to a lonesome cowboy and a romantic at heart…sometimes with a little help from a rabbit.
AH/OOC. Canon couples. Rated NC-17 for a reason like always. Saddle up…we're going for a ride.
A/N: I've posted this story on another site, but I love it, and if you never venture to those other sites, maybe you'll like it…hell, at this point I'm not sure who likes what, but here I am asking you to give it a chance.
If it doesn't hit home, then I'll pull it.
1. Writer's Block
"Yardley O'Shea, you're going to be mine. That other guy is just a distraction," Gustavo pronounced confidently. Yardley was thrilled, but everything in her told her that he was all wrong for her. He was too perfect. He was too beautiful. He was too strong. "You'll never have me. You don't have the capacity to love anyone other than yourself, and we both know it," she replied as she pulled away, her body on fire for him. She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he already had her, but he was going to have to fight for her. He was going to have to show her that he had it in him to love again. He was going to have to make her forget all about her boss, Michael O'Keefe.
"God, that's such a steaming load of shit," Bella said to herself out loud in her office at home. She was working on her fifth book and was having a lot of problems with it. She'd started writing romance novels as a hobby after having read bookshelves full of them over her lifetime. Somehow, she had been able to sell four, but the fifth one was proving to be a problem.
She had the same hero every time. He was strong. He was handsome. He didn't fall in love easily, but when he did, he loved with his whole heart, and he swept the heroine off her feet. Bella always hoped that the man she'd write into each book existed somewhere, but she'd never found him in real life. For all she knew, he didn't exist anywhere except in the pages of her books and the far recesses of her heart. That idea saddened her more than she wanted to admit.
"Fuck. I'm tired of this," Bella shouted as she slammed down the lid on her laptop having made certain to save the latest pages she'd written. It might not be Pulitzer material, but it paid the bills, and Izzy Wayne was making a pretty good living off of it. Izzy Wayne was her penname because if anyone she knew ever read the books she wrote, they'd never let her live it down.
Bella Swan was an associate professor of literature at a small community college in Texas. She taught the classics by day, and wrote the smut by night. Her meager salary as an associate professor led to a meager existence which caused her to think about what to do to earn extra money. Her love of cheesy romance novels led her to attempt to write one of her own. She submitted it to an on-line publishing house, and it was actually published much to her surprise. One book led to another, which led to another, which led to another. She may not have romance in her life, but she had it in her daydreams, and it got her through many lonely nights.
She dated, on occasion, but she was always left wondering if, in her head, she'd built up a romantic leading man that no flesh-and-blood man could ever live up to. The men who Bella dated didn't open doors for her. They didn't show up at her door with flowers or drive fancy cars taking her to four-star restaurants and sweep her off her feet. They took her to pizza joints or dive bars, and their cars were usually rag-tag pick-up trucks with more than one rust spot somewhere on the body. It was a letdown every time, but she continued to go out in pursuit of that ever elusive hero.
Out of frustration, she grabbed her jacket and her laptop and walked out into the cool April afternoon walking down the block from her tiny apartment to her favorite coffee shop. She ordered herself a cappuccino and settled into a couch in the corner to try to adopt a change of attitude with her fifth novel. She hoped that maybe a change of scenery from her small apartment would bring with it a raft of fresh ideas.
As she sat on the overstuffed couch at the coffee shop and contemplated the next step in the romance of Yardley O'Shea, Gustavo Alvarez, and Michael O'Keefe, she couldn't help but overhear a conversation at a nearby table.
"You do this every damn time. You build up a romance in your head, and you make it too hard for the object of your affections to live up to it. You scare them away. Edward, I'm trying to help you here. I can't bear to see you in pain again over another woman," the young brown-haired woman facing Bella told the bronze-haired man sitting across from her with his back to Bella.
"Rabbit, it wasn't anyone's damn fault. Rosalie's a sweet young woman, and she fell in love with Emmett. It just happened. I'm not wastin' away at home lickin' my wounds, I promise ya. And, since when in the hell do you have any business givin' out advice to the lovelorn like Dear Abby? Must I remind you of that stupid asshole you dated two years ago? What was his name? Jackoff… Jackleg… Jerkoff," he replied in a distinctive Texas drawl that made Bella's heart lurch and brought a small smile to her face. The hint of sorrow in his voice tugged at Bella's own heart.
"His name was Jackson, and he was a really great guy. We just wanted different things. I realize that these things happen, but you cannot tell me that you don't rush headlong into relationships and give yourself completely to every one of them before you actually get to know the girl. You need to be more guarded about matters of the heart. You're a fierce businessman who has made fortunes ten times over, but when it comes to women, you're like a love-sick teenager. Remember what happened with Heidi," the young woman remarked.
Bella felt for the man because, she too, had tossed her heart in the ring too early and too often, only to have it handed back to her scarred and bruised. It was her plight, she supposed, to go through life living without that one true love. That was why she wrote him in love stories. She wrote the man she hoped would someday come along, knowing he likely wouldn't.
Her editor, Jasper Whitlock, was a nice enough man over the phone when they'd spoken. They'd never met in person, but he was constructive in his critique without being critical of her story lines. He seemed to know what would sell, and he'd always been supportive, never delving into her personal life, only addressing issues with regard to the story and perhaps a bump or two along the way where Bella hadn't been paying enough attention and had botched a plot point. Based on those phone conversations, Bella wondered if he was the romantic-hero type. Unfortunately, she'd likely never meet him in person to find out for herself.
"Heidi was a mistake, and we both know it, but I'm not rehashin' that shit with you here in a coffee shop. Maybe I'm a little naïve when it comes to love, but I see what Momma and Daddy have, and I'm gonna continue to hold out hope for the same thing. Shoot me. Somewhere out there, Alice, is a woman who wants the same things I do. Now, if you're done bitchin' at me, I need to get back to the ranch. I've got a conference call at 3:00 that I need to get ready for and I've got a long drive. You sure you don't want me to come along and meet this guy? He could be a serial killer or a rapist, you know," the man suggested. Bella still hadn't seen his face, but the voice was enough to grab her attention.
"Now, don't be silly. I ran a background check on him and everything, and he's legitimate. Let's get together next week for dinner. Momma called and wants us over for the weekend when they get back," the young woman announced. He shook his head in agreement, and they rose from their chairs to leave. Bella immediately lowered her head and went back to her story willing herself not to stare at the man as he walked passed.
"Yardley, I've traveled the world looking for a woman like you. You're all I want. I was a fool to leave you, and I'll never make that same mistake again. O'Keefe only sees you as someone to warm his bed and bow to his every whim. He'll never love you. You're someone I could fall in love with," Gustavo told her capturing her face in his hands. Yardley tried to look anywhere except into his soft brown eyes because she knew that she would succumb to him if she did."
"Fuck," Bella heard next to her. She'd plopped her bag down at the end of the couch and someone had tripped over it. She looked up from her laptop and saw the bronze-haired man on the floor at her feet.
"Oh, shit, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have….crap. Are you okay?" she asked as he rose from the floor. She felt herself redden as the man looked at her, but she found it hard to come up with a quip to cover her embarrassment. He was quite handsome, and he looked quite pissed off.
He rose from the floor and dusted off his jeans. "Miss, maybe you wanna put this thing on the couch next to ya. I could have broken my damn neck with it just sittin' here in the middle of the floor," the man suggested harshly. Bella felt guilty, but she couldn't help but ogle him as he handed her the bag. He had deep green eyes and a crop of hair that couldn't be styled in the fashion he wore. It had to be natural. It was unruly and sexy as hell.
"I'm so sorry. I just…I wasn't….I'm sorry," she stammered. She wished that she, herself, could come up with some of the witty repartee that her heroines usually did. She couldn't.
"Well, be careful next time," the man snapped as he walked away. She watched every step he took and noticed how the blue jeans, t-shirt and cowboy boots fit him well and highlighted a very attractive frame. She was sure her mouth was hanging open.
"Ignore him. He's just in a bad mood like usual. Hi, I'm Alice Brandon. Have you ever modeled?" the brown-haired woman asked as she sat down on a chair across from Bella startling her as the door closed behind the handsome man. Bella removed her glasses and laughed. The thought of modeling was a foreign concept for sure, and she was certain that the woman either had faulty vision or was teasing her because of the accident that had just occurred.
"Hi, I'm Bella Swan. Modeled? No. I'm a teacher at the community college. I seriously doubt that anyone would ask me to model so much as a band-aide," Bella replied as she tightened her ponytail. Modeling was the furthest thing from Bella Swan's mind.
"Well, if you ever want to make any extra cash, here's my card. You're stunning. Big brown eyes and mahogany hair. With a little of the right touches, you could be a dream in print. Have a nice day, Bella Swan," the woman called after she flicked her card at Bella. Bella looked at it and saw that she was a clothing designer with her own design studio. There was a name, phone number, and a website. She laughed to herself and tossed it into her purse without a second thought.
She turned back to her story. She'd left Yardley and Gustavo on the verge of a heated kiss. How to proceed without sounding trite was beyond Bella, especially since she was thinking about the man who'd just walked out of the coffee shop after having tripped over her bag. If she closed her eyes, she could see him as a hero in one of her books. That's when inspiration struck her.
"Gus, all of this was easy before you left, but since you've been gone, there's another man who has caught my attention, and it's not Michael O'Keefe. You're right about him, of course. I've met someone new and his name is…" Bella tried to remember the man's name because he was the perfect spoiler for her story. She thought back to the conversation she'd overheard at the next table and tried to remember. "Edmond…Edwin…Edward. That was it, it was Edward," she remembered.
"His name is Edward Carson. He works with our agency, and he's here. He doesn't take off. He told me he's been looking for someone like me. That's what you're up against. I won't be taken in again by your smooth talking. You're going to have to actually give more of yourself if you want to win my heart," Yardley replied as she threw the flowers back at him and slammed her door in his face. It was what he deserved. It was the only thing Yardley could do under the circumstances".
Bella scrolled up through the story and read what she'd written and realized she had a problem. Yardley had succumbed to Gustavo in a previous paragraph but now with the revelation of another man in the mix, Bella had to rectify it.
"Well, I did say he'd have to fight for her. Let's see how it plays out," Bella told herself as she sipped her drink. An hour later, she had Yardley settling into a bubble bath ignoring her ringing phone. She decided that she'd leave the characters where they were and go back home because she had to go to dinner at her father's house out in the country that night, and she didn't want to be late. She thought about how sad it was that her Friday night ritual was pizza with her dad and then a late movie on Pay-Per-View when she got back home. That was, unless he had an emergency. She'd spent more Friday nights sitting alone eating pizza at her dad's place than she cared to think about because he'd had one thing come up or another.
"Dad?" she called as she let herself into her father's modest home. He was someone Bella could never figure out. She knew he dated someone when he had the time, but he never had anyone over on their Friday nights and never mentioned anyone's name. She secretly hoped that he wasn't as lonely as she was because that was too much to think about. She wondered if her father was a romantic man when he was dating a woman, but the thought was far too disturbing to her, so she pushed it out of her head.
She walked into the kitchen and found a note on the table. "Bells, I'll be late. Gotta pregnancy test a herd of cows at the Johnsons' place. Order the pizza. It's your turn to pick. Dad." Bella let out a sigh of frustration and called the local pizza joint. She ordered the same thing she ordered every time they had dinner, and she went to the refrigerator to find the same six pack of beer inside. She pulled one out and went into the living room, turning on the television to find it on a sports channel. She quickly dialed it to the local news and took a long sip of the beer in her hand.
She thought about the handsome man at the coffee shop earlier in the day and wondered what he did on Friday nights. He appeared to be a confident, successful man, but based on the conversation that she overheard between him and the woman who Bella deduced was his sister, he was a sucker for love just like Bella. She remembered that the woman, Alice, had told him he went headlong into love and got his heart broken a lot, and she could relate to him completely.
The fact that he was a very handsome man made Bella wonder what women found unattractive about him because in her eyes, he was perfect. His hair was just the right amount of disheveled. His eyes were just the right amount of green. His body was just the right amount of perfect. How a woman could find a flaw in him was more than Bella could understand. The way he filled out the blue jeans and the easy glide he had in the cowboy boots told Bella that he had a lot going for him. She sighed at the memory and turned back to the news seeing that rain was coming their way.
When Edward Cullen pulled up in front of the barn that April day, he wasn't happy to see his best friend and ranch foreman hanging on the fence waiting for him. He'd made peace with the fact that Emmett got the girl. Rosalie was a beautiful woman, but she really wasn't Edward's type to begin with. She was funny and had a strong personality, but she wasn't what he was looking for in the first place. He was actually relieved when he'd caught her and Emmett making out in the barn at a family barbeque because confrontation with a woman wasn't a strong suit of his. Truth be told, Emmett had helped him climb off the hook with regard to Rosalie Hale.
He crawled out of the pickup and walked toward the barn waiting for yet another attempt from Emmett to apologize. "Em, just save it. I told ya on more than one occasion that the girl wasn't right for me. I'm glad you two hit it off. Now, did ya get those mares up like I asked?" he began hopefully heading Emmett off before he began yet another speech about how sorry he was about the way everything had gone down.
Edward no longer thought about the blonde who'd fallen for his best friend. He'd been thinking about the brunette with the glasses at the coffee shop in town the whole way home. He was so embarrassed at falling over her bag because he was looking at her instead of where he was going, that he hadn't had the chance to ask her name or anything else. He chalked it up to another missed opportunity and left, but he could see her big brown eyes in front of him and wondered what secrets they held. She appeared to be flustered when he tripped over her bag, and the fact that her face flushed bright pink when he spoke to her only solidified her image in his mind.
"I got 'em up, and they're in the barn. I think Maisy is gonna foal over the next few days. You might wanna get Doc Swan out here to check her. She's actin' pissy," Emmett called. He felt guilty about Rosalie, but they'd hit it off, and it wasn't something either felt they had control over.
"I'll call him when there's a reason to call. Now, did that new stud get delivered?" Edward asked as he pulled work gloves on to begin cleaning stalls. It wasn't a glamorous job cleaning up the barn, but the ranch was his and he took its care and upkeep very seriously. His business ventures were one thing. Caring for his horses and cattle was another.
"He did. He's a big som-bitch. He was pretty gentle when I put him in the stall. You've got three mares in. Do you want me to put 'em in the breeding pen, or are you gonna do it yourself?" Emmett asked as he pulled on his gloves and followed Edward into the barn to help clean stalls.
"I wanna wait to use him until I get the vet out here to check him. I trust the guy left the papers," Edward asked as he pulled out a pitch fork and tossed it into the wheelbarrow to begin. Emmett grabbed another wheelbarrow and began shoveling sawdust into it to go behind Edward and prepare bedding for the horses that were in the barn. Edward had given the remaining hands the day off since it was Good Friday.
"He did. What's botherin' ya? I can tell it's somethin'," Emmett called as he turned on the radio in the barn. The two men had been best friends since senior year of high school, and even though Edward had gone to college and then law school, they had remained close. The fact that Edward returned to Texas after law school and bought a ranch then hired Emmett to run it while Edward pursued other business interests didn't bother either man. The only thing that had come close to causing a rift in their friendship was one Rosalie Hale. Edward had dated her, and Emmett fell in love with her at first sight. They were working their way through the awkwardness, but it wasn't easy because a woman had never come between them in their eleven years of friendship.
"I tripped over this woman today. Well, it was her bag. I was having coffee with Alice, and this woman left a black bag in the middle of the floor, and I got the toe of my boot caught in the handle and fell. Anyway, I was so damn embarrassed about it that I sort of bitched at her. She was real pretty, and I didn't even really talk to her. You ever do that?" Edward asked as he moved from one stall to the next.
"You didn't ask her name? What the hell is wrong with you?" Emmett asked as he unloaded sawdust behind Edward. He was glad to hear that Edward was interested in other women. It likely meant that they were through with the Rosalie incident.
"Son, I just told ya that I tripped over her bag and was sprawl-ass on the floor of a coffee shop in Dallas. You think I'm really gonna ask her for her number?" Edward asked sarcastically.
"Why the hell not? It was a great icebreaker. You know…Since I already fell for ya, what's your name, beautiful?" Emmett tossed out.
It was something Emmett could do, but not something Edward was good at. Once Emmett said it, Edward saw the missed opportunity and cursed himself for letting it get by. He'd likely never see the beauty again, but it was something to think about for the future.
"Yeah, well, it's easy for you. I served Rosalie up to ya at a family barbeque. Now, I gotta go take a conference call on a merger I'm tryin' to negotiate. You got this?" Edward asked. He still had time to take the call, but he wasn't ready to talk about his inadequacies with the fairer sex that morning.
"That's what you pay me for, Boss," Emmett called as he walked into a clean stall and began shoveling sawdust. It was the way the men worked, and it worked for them.
"Okay, boys, sounds like we have a deal. Shove it to the lawyers and let 'em chew on it. I'll talk to y'all next week," Edward called over the phone as he hung up. The conference call had gone well, and he had just acquired a fertilizer manufacturing plant outside of Lincoln, Nebraska. He'd been interested in expanding the agriculture branch of Cullen Industries, and the fertilizer plant was a way to go.
After he hung up the phone, he thought about the brunette and wished to hell that he'd had more sense about him to ask her name or her number or sit down with her and buy her a cup of coffee. He wanted a marriage like his father and mother had, but at the rate he was going of late, he wasn't going to find the right girl anytime in the future. The women who were interested in him were usually after his money or his notoriety. He knew that his dream girl wouldn't care about anything like that.
Just then, his office phone rang. "Cullen," he answered. He had a big office in Dallas in a high rise building that he visited about once a month. He preferred to do business from his ranch in Tyler. His secretary, Angela, would route calls to his home phone and take care of things in the office. He paid her well, and she earned every penny.
"It's me. You messed up with that girl today," his sister sang through the line. He wanted to play dumb with her, but if Alice was calling to point it out, he was hopeful she'd done something to salvage his screw up.
"Now, Mary Alice, I don't rightly know what you're talkin' 'bout," he drawled through the phone to aggravate his little sister. She had taken diction lessons to rid herself of her Texas accent saying that it made her weak in the eyes of New York fashion buyers, but when she got a few drinks in her, the accent came back strong. Edward loved to tease her about it.
"Don't play hick on me. That brunette with the purse that you tripped over? I talked to her. What's wrong with you? She's the kind of girl you should be goin' after, Tex," Alice chastised. She knew that her brother was looking for his "Miss Right," and if he was too blind to see it, as recent history had confirmed, she'd step in and give the fates a hand.
Edward chuckled at her nickname. She'd called him Tex most of her life. "Alice, I tripped and fell. How the hell do ya turn that into a meet and greet?" he asked.
"Well, no worries. I gave her my card and told her to call me. I have a feeling she will. If she doesn't, I'll go back to the coffee shop every Friday until I run into her again. I have a feeling about you two," Alice told him. Alice and her "feelings" were well known in the family. They were rarely wrong.
"You do that little thing. I gotta go. I need to call Doc Swan to come out and check a new stud I just bought," Edward informed trying to get her off the line.
"Did you say Doc Swan? Who's he?" Alice asked.
"He's the large animal vet I found. He's been out a couple of times, and he's really good. Now, say good-bye, Alice. I'll see ya later," Edward called as he hung up.
It was too much of a coincidence in Alice Brandon Cullen's mind that the woman she'd met at the coffee shop was named Bella Swan and the vet who her brother used was also named Swan. She smiled to herself seeing that maybe there was a bigger hand helping her out. Her brother needed all the help he could get.
"This is Dr. Swan. I'm probably out on a call right now. Leave a message and I'll get back to you. If this is an emergency, page me at 903-555-6247 with a call back number," Edward heard through the phone line. It was 7:00 PM on a Friday night, and he had nothing better to do than to call the vet to come out and check a new horse.
"You're fucking pathetic," he said to no one but himself. His housekeeper was off in Juarez visiting her sister for Easter, and his parents were in Paris. He and Alice had made tentative plans to get together over the weekend, but Alice broke the date when a guy she'd met on-line had decided to come to Dallas to meet her over the weekend.
"Doc Swan, its Edward Cullen. I got a new stud horse that I'd like you to come out and give a once over before I breed him to any of my mares. Can you call me so we can set up a time? I know its Easter weekend, so early next week is fine. Thanks," Edward called into the voicemail system hanging up.
He walked to the refrigerator and pulled out a casserole that Maria had left for him and put it in the microwave to warm. "Well, this is a great way to spend a Friday night. Fuck," he moaned to himself as he leaned against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest waiting for the beep.
He settled in at the kitchen table and reviewed quarterly reports from the various divisions of Cullen Industries as he ate his dinner. At 9:00 PM, he settled on his bed and turned on the TV, falling asleep to the background noise as he did most nights. That night, instead of the dreamless sleep he was used to, he tossed and turned with the image of a beautiful brunette with big brown eyes laughing with him at his kitchen table. He woke with a start, and turned off the TV not getting much more sleep that night.
Saturday morning, Bella woke at 9:00 AM and looked around her small apartment. She lived in Dallas, about an hour and a half from her father's home in Tyler. They'd moved to Texas when Bella was thirteen. Her mother and father had divorced when she was young, and Bella and her father lived with his parents in a small town in Washington State while Bella's father attended veterinary school. After his parents passed away, her father decided they needed a change of scenery, so they sold the farm and moved to Amarillo, Texas. When Bella went to college, her father decided to move to Tyler and set up his practice there.
Her dad had lived in Tyler for seven years and had made a name for himself as a top-notch large animal vet. He was sought after and worked a lot, which was why Bella wasn't surprised that she didn't see him the night before. She left his house at 9:00 PM after he called to tell her that he wouldn't be home anytime soon and that he was sorry. It wasn't anything she hadn't heard before.
That Saturday morning, she got up, made coffee, and pulled up her latest manuscript to see where she'd left her characters the afternoon before.
"His name is Edward Carson. He works with our agency, and he's here. He doesn't take off. He told me he's been looking for someone like me. That's what you're up against. I won't be taken in again by your smooth talking. You're going to have to actually give more of yourself if you want to win my heart," Yardley replied as she threw the flowers back at him and slammed her door in his face. It was what he deserved. It was the only thing Yardley could do under the circumstances."
"Well, Yardley O'Shea, I think we're going to have a change of plot. I think one Edward Carson is going to get the girl this time. Now, what should Edward Carson look like? Oh, that's easy," she commented to herself out loud. She pulled up her character outline and added Edward Carson, and then she went on to describe him.
"Bronze hair, green eyes, muscular build, full lips, tall, uh, how about he's a cowboy and a jingle writer. That make's sense. He writes jingles in his spare time, and O'Keefe Advertising buys them for some of their ad campaigns. If Yardley had to go to his ranch to pick up his latest composition for her boss's big beer campaign, she could actually find out he's a cowboy. Hmm. That sounds delicious. Edward Carson on the back of a huge…uh…type of horse. Shit, I know nothing about horses," Bella realized as she thought about the back story for Edward Carson. All the while, she was picturing the man from the coffee shop in her head. The visual made it much easier to describe the latest character in her book.
Just as she was about to begin researching horses, her cell rang. She looked at the screen and saw it was Jasper Whitlock, her editor. "Hello?" she asked. She was nowhere near her deadline, so she wasn't sure why Jasper was calling her.
"Bella, hey. It's me, Jasper. Look, I happen to be in Dallas this weekend, and I wondered if maybe we could meet. I'm here visiting a friend for Easter and thought it would be a good idea to meet face to face. I think it would make us working together a whole lot easier. Are you free for lunch today?" he asked. Bella was immediately nervous. She'd dreamed of meeting him, but knowing that she'd never have a chance to go to New York, she put it out of her mind. It never occurred to her that he'd come to her.
"Oh, uh yeah. That sounds great. Where?" she asked as she closed her laptop and rose from the couch. They made plans to meet at a nearby restaurant at 1:00 PM, and hung up.
"What the fuck am I going to wear?" she complained to herself. She made her way back to her bedroom and looked through her closet finally settling on a black skirt, tan blouse, and black knee-high leather boots with a small heel. She quickly showered and dressed, opting to put her hair up in a loose bun instead of trying to curl it. She arrived at the restaurant ten minutes early and gave her name to the hostess.
"Uh, I'm Bella Swan. I'm looking for Jasper Whitlock," she told the young woman. The girl looked at the seating chart and smiled leading Bella to a table in the back. Bella saw a very handsome blonde haired man in jeans and a t-shirt with an easy smile. He rose from his seat and extended his hand as she walked up to the table.
"Well, now isn't this lucky. I've met two beautiful women in as many days. It's a pleasure to meet you face to face, Bella. Please, have a seat," Jasper offered as he pulled a chair for her. It was as Bella suspected. He was very much a gentleman, and he would have been a good model for a romantic hero if it weren't for the fact that he was her editor and would likely recognize himself in the story. The thought made her blush.
"So, what brings you to Dallas?" Bella asked as she secured her purse under the table making certain that it wasn't hanging out in any way to trip any passersby. She didn't want a repeat of the coffee shop from the day before.
"I'm here meeting a woman who I got acquainted with on the internet. I was researching the area because I'm going to transfer down here when Eden opens the new branch office. I was on a tourism site and asked if anyone had any suggestions for housing in the West End which is near where the office is going to be. This young woman responded and then gave me a lot of information about other nearby neighborhoods and places to eat and shop. She and I started corresponding on a regular basis, and I finally decided it was time to meet her, so here I am," Jasper told her.
Bella marveled at how lucky some woman was and then decided to get to know him better because he seemed like someone she could be friends with easily, and she didn't have any friends who she could count on. She had acquaintances at school, but they weren't the type of people she could call at the last minute to get a pizza or maybe give her a ride to DFW. Jasper Whitlock seemed like he could be that kind of friend.
"Well, she's a lucky girl. So, when is the office opening down here?" she asked. She'd received a letter from the publishing company announcing that a branch was being opened in the southwest. Bella didn't read the letter close enough to remember if it mentioned Dallas specifically, so she was pleased that it was.
"Uh, I'll be moving down in early June, with the offices opening right after the Fourth of July. We've contracted space in Cullen Towers. So, tell me about yourself," Jasper prompted. The two sat for the next two hours and chatted as if they were old friends, asking each other about their lives and answering in kind. The time passed quickly.
At 3:00 PM, Jasper looked up and saw the woman who had caught his interest four months earlier as he began his research on the Dallas area. She was breezing into the restaurant with a friendly smile on her face that mirrored the one on Jasper's. Bella looked over her shoulder and saw a familiar smile approaching them.
"Oh, my goodness. This is serendipity, now isn't it? I had no idea you were the woman who Jazz was meeting. So, you're a writer?" Alice Brandon asked as she kissed Jasper's cheek feeling pleased with the unexpected turn of events. She'd felt a pang of jealousy when Jasper asked if she minded if he had lunch with one of his female writer's that he hadn't met face to face. He assured her it was a business relationship and that he was only interested in Alice. She'd dropped him at the restaurant and had agreed to pick him up at 3:00, but she couldn't resist the temptation to go inside and get a look at the writer for herself.
"Oh, hi, uh, Alice," Bella stammered. She was shocked. Once she saw the two of them gazing into each other's eyes, she knew that they were truly a good match. Maybe she could use some of the connection she saw on their faces as inspiration for the connection between Yardley O'Shea and Edward Carson. Then she remembered that Jasper would be reading the book, and that Edward was Alice's brother, and she wondered about the decision to write a similar character into the story.
"So you two know each other?" Jasper asked as he pulled a chair out for Alice to sit for a moment. He was happy that the women knew each other, but he was very anxious to get Alice alone again. There was chemistry between the two of them that Jasper had never experienced in his life, and he wanted to explore it more before his all-too-short visit came to an end the next afternoon.
"Bella's purse tripped my clumsy brother yesterday at a coffee shop. I gave her my card because I'd love to get her to do some modeling for me for my winter collection. I have the feeling you had no intention of calling me as I asked, but now I know how to track you down to pressure you into it. Most fortuitous for all concerned," Alice surmised as she took a sip of Jasper's water.
"Uh, I still don't think me and modeling are two words to be said in the same sentence. Now, I better go. I've got research to do for my next book, and I've got papers to grade before Monday," Bella announced feeling her face blush at Alice's comment.
"Why don't we move to the bar for a little bit and you can tell me what your story is about. Maybe I can help you with your research," Alice volunteered. Bella looked her up and down and decided that the topic was likely one which Alice would be as unfamiliar as she.
"I need to research horses and ranches. Are you familiar with either?" Bella asked as she picked up her purse from the floor preparing to flee and leave the couple to themselves.
"Of course I am. My brother's a rancher," Alice announced surprising Bella and Jasper. The three moved to the bar and had a beer, and Alice told Bella what she knew about breeds of horses and the difference between a filly, a mare, a stallion, and a gelding. Bella found the subject fascinating.
"I should give you Edward's number, and you can call him and talk to him about this stuff. He'd be more than happy to answer any of your questions," Alice volunteered. She thought it was one of the best ideas she'd ever had, but she could see the hesitation on Bella's face. She decided not to mention too much about her brother other than the fact that he was a horseman and he was single.
When the trio parted on the street, Bella had given Alice her phone number, and the two had made plans to get together for dinner the next week. Alice had a triumphant smile on her face as she and Jasper climbed into her car and drove back to her condo for time alone.
When Alice let Jasper into her condo, she quickly excused herself to freshen up and as soon as the bathroom door was closed, she phoned her brother. "Edward, pick up," she called knowing he was home and likely avoiding her phone call.
She waited a moment and then decided to torment him. "Okay, be stubborn. I have information on a topic that I know you have an interest. You will definitely want to call me back. Oh, but don't do it tonight. I won't be answering," she informed and hung up. If her brother wanted to screen her calls, she could play the same game.
E/N: I await your decision…xoxo