Come morning, Edward decided he still wanted to ignore the previous night's conversation and take Bella out on the water. They needed the escape, the opportunity to get away from it all and just be.
She'd been quiet and withdrawn since they had woken up; his body wrapped around hers while she absently ran her fingers through his hair. When he asked if he had frightened her last night with the way he made love to her, she gave a silent shake of her head but offered no further explanation.
He hated being shut out.
Thinking back the events of the night before, he concluded that her ex had a hand in her sullen mood. His whole body tightened in anger.
"Don't bring your ex into bed with us."
Her fingers stilled, her body stiffened and she untangled herself from him, giving him a heated glare. "I'm not."
"Then what is it? And don't say it's nothing."
Bella debating bringing it up again considering his reaction last night but she didn't want it festering either. No, they had to deal with this and he wasn't going to use sex this time to distract her.
"There was a lot of press last night and-"
"Are you still worried about that?" Irritated, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up. After shoving his arms into the sleeves of his robe and tying it closed, he turned to face her. "How many times do I have to tell you to fuck the press? Nothing they say or do mean anything to me."
"What about me?" she asked, tightening the sheets around her like a shield. "Did you, for one-second, stop to think that maybe it means something to me?"
Edward sighed heavily and pinched the bridge of his nose. "It will be fine, Bella. There is nothing that they can do that we can't handle."
"We'll see about that, won't we?"
"I don't want to argue over this. Not today. I have plans for us and I won't have them spoiled by shit that doesn't matter."
She was still shooting daggers at him over her morning coffee. All she wanted to do was warn him about the impending media storm but he would have none of it; acting like a churlish brooding child who demanded his way or else. She wasn't about to fall into that trap again.
"Did you ever wonder why I never spilled to the press about Sam's secrets?"
"I thought we were done with this."
"No. You said you were done. I, however, am not. You've told me one of your biggest regrets about the past is that you didn't listen to me; you railroaded over my concerns so you better damn well listen to me now."
Edward heard the silent "or else" at the end of her sentence and froze. Now she had his full attention.
"Alright, I'll bite. Why didn't you ever tell Sam's dirty secrets?" he asked, saying the name of her ex with disgust painted on his tongue.
"I was paid well not to."
There was a sharp intake of breath followed by the slamming of a coffee mug. "He paid you to keep your mouth shut?"
"Not him. His father," she corrected. Leaning back in her chair, she toyed with her spoon in an effort to calm the anger the memory brought up. "When I walked away from the engagement, I walked away with nothing. The house was in his name. My job was working for him and his campaign. Every thread of my life was entwined with his. So yes, when his father came to me with his checkbook out, I took the offer. Thinking of the way they used me, the way they used my past for votes, the way they manipulated me did a good job of wiping my conscience clear."
"What do you mean he used your past for votes?"
Bella inwardly cringed. He would pick up on that and dismiss the rest. The deadly, scathing calm of Edward's voice was very telling of the storm that lay just beneath the surface. She would have to choose the words carefully.
"Why don't we have this conversation in a room where there aren't so many sharp objects?" she said with a nervous-edged laugh. "Come on." She grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the library; the one room in the penthouse that she knew relaxed him.
He went willingly, letting her lead him, letting her do this her way.
"Sit," she ordered, pushing him onto the sofa.
He raised his eyebrow at her and pulled her towards him so she stood in between his legs. "Tell me, Bella. No more procrastinating. How did he use you?"
She stepped away, removing her hands from his and walked towards the fireplace, absently picking up the small statues on it and inspecting each one before setting them back down again.
"Sam was groomed his entire life to be in politics. His father was a politician as was his father before him. It was only inevitable that Sam would follow in the footsteps laid out before him. I didn't realize at the time but every move he made was planned. It's probably the reason why he is the way he is, why he-"
"Stop making excuses for him."
"I'm not." She whirled around to face him. "I just-" Her shoulders slumped in defeat. "Anyway, I thought I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to marry Sam. I was naive. He announced our engagement at the same time he announced his intent to run for Assemblyman. It was a calculated move."
"He would be taken more seriously if he was getting married, starting a family."
"Yes." She sat down next to him with a sigh. "Sam had known about you, of course, but I never told him about Laurent...what he did to me. I had no idea the press would have any interest in me but I was wrong. A few days after his announcement, a news story hit the media about me...about what happened. I was horrified to say the least. When I apologized to Sam for not telling him, he laughed. He actually laughed. 'Who do you think leaked the story?' he had said."
"He did? Sonofabitch. That sonofabitch," Edward ground out through his teeth before he shot up of the chair. His breathing turned harsh and ragged as rage tore through him. He paced, his body primed to fight.
Bella shook her head and swallowed hard, aware the beast was rising. She forged on calmly, knowing she had to finish and hope for the best. It was too late to stop now.
"Again, his father. As it turned out and what I didn't realize was that I was vetted the minute Sam told his father about me. They had known all along. You see, Sam's father felt that Sam shouldn't have a high society wife but an average girl, one who could connect with voters. The fact that I had a traumatic past was a bonus, one they could use to hop on a platform that would resonate with the public. What Laurent did to me was reduced to a campaign talking point and now I am back in the public eye again…with you. It's only a matter of time before someone connects the dots and not only will I be splashed across the pages of the New York Post but you will too."
Something flew past her and shattered against the wall, then another and another in rapid succession. Bella jumped off the sofa and gripped his wrist tightly; a Faberge Egg was clutched in his hand ready to be launched next.
"Stop it!" she yelled, giving his arm a shake. "Just stop," she added in a softer tone. "I didn't tell you all this so you could destroy your damn house."
He dragged his gaze to meet hers, focusing on her warm brown eyes and felt the red haze of rage recede to a more manageable degree. It still wasn't gone, not by a long shot.
When Bella saw he was becoming less volatile, she slowly unlocked her grip and took the priceless piece of decorative art from his hand and set it down gently before cupping his cheek with her palm.
"He needs to pay." Edward's voice came out harsh and ragged. "They all need to pay."
"No, Edward." Edward may be very powerful but so were Sam and his father.
"Then how do I fix this?" His eyes looked bleak, desolate and determined. "How can I possibly fix this?"
"You can't." She gave him a sorrowful look. "I just-everything, all of it…it's going to be out there again. My past and now your past. Living through it again; it won't be easy for me."
He grabbed her then and wrapped his arms tightly around her, burying his face in her hair. "I'll fucking destroy any newspaper that dares to mention anything that causes you pain."
"Oh, I really wish you could," she said before taking a deep breath. "I really wish you could."
"We'll figure this out, Bella. I promise. I won't ever let you be hurt again."
The day was almost freakishly warm. The rays of the sun reflected off the glass atrium of The Winter Garden; the centerpiece of the World Financial Center. He took her through the atrium first, wanting to see the awe on her face as she took in the rows upon rows of the monstrously tall palm trees that seemed to grow out of the brown and white marble floors.
"This is one of my favorite spots in the city," he told her as they walked through the glassed half-dome towards the exit for the North Cove Marina. "It's hard to believe a little over ten years ago this spot was nothing but rubble, the entire building destroyed on 9-11. They rebuilt and it's stronger than ever; a true testament that anything can be restored if it's wanted badly enough no matter what tries to get in the way."
Bella let her eyes wander, feeling dwarfed by the ten stories of glass she was surrounded by and suppressed a shiver. "It is pretty amazing," she agreed, wondering if he was making some sort of analogy about their own relationship and their earlier conversation.
He led her out towards the marina where small sails mingled with large yachts and the sun shone shimmering pools of light off the gleaming white boughs. And there she was, his 69 foot Ferretti 700. Nestled in her slip, waves gently lapped at her as she bobbed on the water. Edward was glad he hadn't put the yacht in dry-dock yet.
It had been his first impulsive luxury purchase and he aptly named it The Bella. He had been in a morose, reflective mood when he christened the vessel; remembering how they always used to walk the wooden docks of the Jacksonville marinas, fantasizing about escaping and sailing the world forever, traipsing from exotic port to exotic port where she would take her photographs and he would forget the world outside of them ever existed.
The boat was a requiem for dreams he let slip through his impulsive fingers.
"Here we are," he said, urging her to climb the ladder to the deck.
Bella paused, startled at seeing her name in blue script decorating the side of the yacht. She looked up at him, fighting back the threat of tears.
"You named your boat after me?"
Suddenly the media, what they were going to dig up, what they'd piece together, it didn't matter anymore. He named a boat for her. That meant more to her than all of his words and actions put together. Words could be scripted, actions rehearsed but this…this wasn't some contrived set-up to win her or confuse her. This was from the heart. This was real.
Once on board, they were greeted by a man that could have been anywhere from thirty to forty years old, with a broad smile and a sun-weathered face.
"Mr. Cullen, I just cleared with the Coast Guard and everything's a go."
"Thanks Mick," Edward said giving his hand a shake. "This is my girlfriend, Bella."
"Pleasure to meet you, Miss. If you need anything at all, please ask me or my first mate, Jeff. He's up in the cockpit."
"Thank you. It's very nice to meet you," Bella greeted him before she cast a sideways glance to Edward.
"You're giving up control of your boat?"
Mick coughed to cover up a laugh. "On that note, I'll cast off, Mr. Cullen." He tipped his hat and climbed the stairs back to the cockpit.
"Why, Bella, I think I'm offended," Edward teased as he turned to her. He placed his hand over his heart and pretended to look affronted. "Did you just call my Ferretti a 'boat'?"
"Hmm." She grinned, tapping her forefinger against her chin and looked around. " It's a vessel used to travel by water, ergo, it's a boat."
"Let's have a tour of my boat then, shall we?"
He placed her hand in the crook of his arm and escorted down the wooden lacquer steps into the main was open and airy with one continuous mid wall to ceiling window that brought in the sun at all angles. A large leather couch sat across from an equally upholstered wraparound settee and glass tables sitting on a pale ash wood floor. On one side was an entertainment center and the other a sleek galley with a buffet bar inlaid with the same white leather stitching as the couches.
He showed her the two guest quarters which were rarely ever used and then finally into the master suite. Two large Bergdorf and Goodman bags rested on the gold toned comforter of the king sized bed. Bella looked at him questioningly.
"You went shopping for me?" The sense of déjà vu was strangling and Bella could literally feel the color leech from her face as she fought to swallow the bile that invaded her throat.
Edward is not Sam, she kept repeating to herself.
Sam would not name a boat…er…yacht after you. He would not pine after you for ten years and he definitely would not make you dampen your panties every time he eye-fucked you.
"Ah, well not exactly." Edward cupped the back of his neck and gave a sheepish grin, completely oblivious to her internal freak-out. "I gave the personal shopper your sizes and told her you would need clothes fit for being on the water for a couple of days."
"You didn't have to buy me clothes, Edward. I could've packed my own."
"And deprive me of the joy of buying you things?"
"No buts. I wanted to do it and it's done."
Bella sighed. This wasn't a particular battle she wanted to fight. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." He smiled victoriously as he walked towards the bed and grabbed a bag. "Let's have a look, shall we?"
Edward handed her the bag and watched as she bit her lip and reached inside. Her curious expression changed to confusion when she pulled out a jewel blue negligee.
"I wasn't aware lingerie was fitting for a couple days on the water," she said, her lips tilted upward and a wicked gleam in her eyes.
"No, but it is fitting for the nights even if you only would be wearing it for five minutes." Edward's pupils dilated with lust as he watched her glide her hands over the garment in a provocative manner. He was tempted to demand her to put it on at this very moment.
Bella looked through the rest of the bags and sure enough, he had thought of everything; all of it designer. She felt uncomfortable accepting the clothes. Subtly, she tried to find a tag on the sweater just to see what it had set him back.
"If you're looking for a price tag, you won't find any. I gave instructions that the clothes be delivered without them."
"Why would you do that?"
"Because I know you, Isabella." He pulled her to him and wrapped his arms around her. "Don't over think it. Just accept it. Now," he said letting her go to retrieve a box wrapped in silver from one of the drawers. "This is for you as well."
She took the box from his hands. It was heavier than it looked. She looked at him questioningly.
"Go on," he prompted with a smile.
Carefully, she opened the wrapping to reveal the box underneath it. It was a camera. Not just any camera. It was a professional grade Nikon; one she knew cost thousands of dollars, one she would have bought for herself if she could afford it. But no matter how much it made her drool, she couldn't accept it.
"I can't," she said with a frown as she shut the box and sat on the edge of the bed, placing it beside her. "This is too much."
"You can and it's not." He sat down next to her and pulled her to him, kissing her temple. "I bought this for you a few days ago when I saw you struggling to get just the right shot with that old camera of yours. I know you have trouble accepting gifts but this is as much for me as it is for you."
"Not for taking pictures of us!" she said aghast, her face reddening with the vein of her thoughts.
Edward threw his head back and laughed. "No, you silly, beautiful girl. Though, if you wanted to, I wouldn't be opposed to the idea as long as they were kept private." His face turned serious as he gazed at her. "You still have that photographer in you, Bella. She was full of joy. Light, happy and unconventional; seeing the world so differently than the rest of us. I want to see her again. I miss her."
His words touched a chord in her; an open wound she had thought long since closed, a wound that hadn't started to knit itself closed until now. She felt the burning sting of tears behind her eyes.
"I love it," she whispered, turning towards him. "Thank you."
She kissed him then; hard and sweet, pushed him down on the bed and straddled him. The depth of open emotion in her watery gaze before she lowered her head over his made his breath catch. It was the first time since they had gotten back together that she had taken the initiative with him and he reveled in it.
An hour later, they stood on the deck of the yacht watching the city skyline as they rode past. Bella leaned forward against the rail; her face turned up to the sun and the wind blowing the tendrils that escaped her ponytail. Edward thought she had never looked more beautiful; the glow of their recent lovemaking still fresh on her face.
"So where are you taking me?"
"We're going up to Cold Spring. It's a great place to catch some of the autumn colors that are beginning to show and I have a feeling you'd really enjoy it."
It was something she would enjoy, immensely. Living in the southern parts of the country most of her life, she never had a chance to see autumn firsthand in all its colorful glory and now with the camera, she could capture it all.
"Are you sure you don't want to spend the night at my place?" Edward asked Bella one more time when he braked in front of her apartment late Monday afternoon.
"I can't," she answered honestly. Their weekend get-away was exactly what they needed to re-connect on a deeper level but she was still feeling cautious about giving him free reign. She couldn't let herself give up everything she achieved. She was striving for a balance.
His lips flattened into a thin line and his hands tightened on the steering wheel. "I see."
"Don't do that. This isn't about you. I just have a lot of things to do before going into work tomorrow." She noticed he only looked marginally relieved. "Now, can I please have my phones back?" She held out her hand and wiggled her fingers. He had taken them and had them locked in the safe aboard the yacht. No interruptions, he had told her when she had complained.
"Not yet." He leaned in closer to her and cupped the back of her neck with his hand. "Our weekend isn't officially over until I do this first."
His kiss was hot, searing and felt like a brand. The way his tongue encapsulated hers, had her moaning deep in her throat and her body itching to plant itself on his lap. He groaned into her mouth and with a quick click, he undid his seatbelt and pressed closer to her.
He was making it very, very hard for her to be good.
Her hands found his hair and used it as leverage to hold his head in place so she could be the aggressor. He pulled back, panting; his eyes bright with lust as he stared at her. His surprise was evident.
"You continually surprise me, Isabella," he whispered, his voice gruff.
She continually surprised herself; she thought when she realized she very nearly jumped him in broad daylight, in his car. Her panties were soaked with the thought.
Damn, I'm going to have to invest in more underwear if we keep this up.
"Look at us." Bella gave a nervous laugh. "Fogging up the windows of your car like a pair of teenagers."
"Just like the old days." He shook his head and gave her a goofy smile that was so uncharacteristic of the Edward he was now.
Bella could still feel the pressure of his lips on hers as she made her way into her apartment.
"You know this has the potential to be a giant media clusterfuck don't you?" Alice said contemplatively as she sat cross-legged on the sofa, drinking a glass of wine.
"Yeah," Bella nodded, thoughtfully running her finger around the room of her own glass with a frown before. "Is it too much to hope that I'll pass under the radar?"
"No, but it's not very realistic. You may have a few days max before it all hits."
"Damn it," she muttered under her breath and grabbed a throw pillow, hugging it to her chest. "I don't have time for this. I have a make me or break me campaign on the line and my company is finally moving into Edward's building tomorrow."
"That should be interesting." Alice's eyes were full of mirth. "Sky rockets in flight," she began singing. "Afternoon delight."
"Ali!" Bella threw the throw pillow at her.
"Think about it. Quickies in the office and oh, he can probably shut down the elevator and you know...chica chica bow bow." Alice made an exaggerated pumping motion with her body.
Bella laughed at the image. "You're a good friend Ali, the best."
"Why? Because I have a dirty mind."
"No, because you made me laugh when I needed to, made me stop worrying, if only for a little while." She stood up and looked towards the phone. She had been delaying this but she knew she had to do it and soon. "I think I'm going to have to call Emmett and let him know about all this before he finds out from someone else."
The other end of the phone was silent, eerily so. Emmett was loud, boisterous, and quick to find the bathroom humor in any situation. What he was not was prone to long silences of any nature no matter what kind of mood he was in. The fact the she heard nothing but the sounds of harsh breathing when she dumped what had been happening over the past few weeks didn't bode well. At all. It was a good thing then that she left quite a bit out.
Why the hell was Rose suddenly on the phone?
"Rose, what's going on? Where did Emmett go?"
Bella heard something crash loudly in the background and she cringed.
"You told him about Edward, didn't you? Oh shit...wait...he's coming back."
"YOU KNEW!" Emmett's booming voice came across loud and clear over the miles separating them.
"Calm down, Em, you're scaring the boys."
"Give me the phone, Rosie."
"Not until you promise to be rational."
"I'm not promising anything. Now give me the God damn phone!"
"Sorry, Bella, I tried," Rose told her. Away from the phone she added, "Behave yourself."
Not good, not good, Bella thought and braced herself.
"Listen Emmett, I know-"
"No, you don't know.! How could you...Jesus Christ…how could you go back to him after all the shit he put you through? After everything he-"
"He says he loves me and I believe him."
"Really?" Emmett chuckled but it was dark and nasty, brittle. "Love? He left you to rot, left you to nearly die by the hands of that asshole step-father of his. He never saw the shell you became or sat by your side in the hospital praying you would pull through and wondering how to keep from falling apart if you didn't. He never nursed you through the nightmares for months afterward. He-"
"He didn't know," Bella sobbed into the phone, her brother's words hitting a chord. "He didn't know."
But Emmett continued as if he didn't hear her. "He didn't have to watch you sell your soul to a man who wanted nothing more from you than to be a pawn in his political game, watch you change into someone you weren't."
She sucked in a sharp breath. "You knew about that...about Sam?"
"Of course, I did. Do you think I'm blind? Don't you think I paid attention?"
"You never said anything." Or did he? She couldn't remember. She blocked out most of those days out of self-preservation. Now it seemed like everything was coming back to haunt her.
"I tried but you were so stubborn you didn't want to hear it and I was too afraid of losing you again to push too far. Now I wish to God I did. It's all going to come out again isn't...all that shit with Laurent...all because of Eddie Masen?"
"It's Cullen now," she said automatically without thinking.
"I don't give a rat's ass if he changed his name to Ghandi. It doesn't make him a new man and it certainly doesn't change what he's done to you."
"I only told you to give you a heads-up, Emmett, so you wouldn't be blindsided. I'm not asking you for advice on my love life...or your blessing."
"You know I have half a mind to fly up there and give him a piece of my mind and drag your ass back down to Florida," he said and paused a moment then sighed. "But...I know it won't change anything."
"The heart wants what the heart wants, right?"
"And yours wants Masen...Cullen...whatever." His voice sounded resigned and utterly defeated.
"It's getting there. We're taking it slow," she said.
"If he fucks up again, I'm lambasting him into the next century. Do me a favor and tell him that for me."
"I will. So, am I forgiven?"
Emmett snorted. "You know I can't stay made at you for long even when you do something monumentally stupid."
"Good and you do me a favor, don't be pissed at Rose. I swore her to secrecy."
"Yeah, yeah. Fine. I know how that girl code works."
"Thanks, Emmett. I love you."
"Love you too, Bells. And you call me for anything, okay? I don't care for what. I know I wasn't around much when you were a kid but I want to be there for you now."
Knowing Bella's company was slated to move into his building today, he didn't want to have this meeting in his office but he didn't want to risk being seen or more accurately being overheard in public. There was no help for it though. This meeting had to happen today. Even if he was only recently made aware of the situation, this conversation was years in the making.
Edward didn't bother standing up when Tanya gestured the two men into his office. They didn't seem to look wary or threatened in the least.
That was about to change.
His smile was broad and predatory as he greeted them. "Hello, Gentlemen."