AN: Thanks for my wonderful pre readers beachcomberlc and astonmartin823. They worked super fast this time on what is probably my longest chapter yet. Thank you lovelies!
I hope you enjoy this!
I loved being in New York, and from the looks of it, so did Heidi. This was her first trip, and I reveled in watching her face light up as she looked at her surroundings, taking in the familiar buildings and sights that she'd seen on television. We were on our way to Edward's condo on the Upper East Side. He would be joining us in two days time, while Esme would be joining us tomorrow to help look after Heidi while I was at the gallery for opening night of the exhibition and the charity auction.
Dave drove the big black SUV slowly past Edward's building. He pointed it out to us from the front, before driving around the block, telling us he was pulling into an underground parking garage, the entry being around the back of the building. He said he was also on the lookout for photographers of which he said there were none. Not surprising, given that Edward wasn't expected back in the country for two days.
Getting through the security gates in the garage looked like no easy feat, Dave handling that part of our entry into Fort Knox. But he left it to me to manage our way through the complicated security system that allowed us access to what looked like a private elevator, and then again at the front door of Edward's condo. I'm pretty sure it was a test Edward had asked Dave to administer, and while I was a bit slow the first time, I passed with flying colors.
As the three of us stepped in through the very heavy front door I silently lamented that it was Dave with us and not Edward showing me into the private space of his own home for the first time. But upon entering the foyer I was immediately taken aback- there, taking pride of place above a heavy wooden console table were three of my paintings hanging side by side.
My hand flew to cover my mouth as Dave stood next to me while I tried not to let my mind think about what Edward having those particular paintings could mean.
"He's had those for years." I looked at Dave incredulously. "You didn't know?" I simply shook my head, unable to say anything for fear of becoming a snot-sobbing mess. "He's got more around somewhere."
I nodded my head, knowing exactly how many he had and which ones they were. If he'd kept them all there would be twelve in total. I never once imagined it was Edward buying my paintings.
Needing a few moments to pull myself together, I walked away, turning towards the living space.
Edward's apartment was stunning, and huge. Walking across the parquet floors that followed a traditional herringbone pattern I was immediately struck by the incredible sense of space. It was light, and bright thanks to the ceilings that soared to a height not often seen in New York apartments, allowing for huge windows to line the walls. The space was in stark contrast to the darker wood and richness that had surrounded him in the White House. There was sleek modern furniture interspersed with gorgeous old wooden pieces that looked to have been reclaimed from ancient Asian temples or cathedrals, worn through use over time so they didn't look precious, but were probably worth a fortune. It was a little eclectic, but worked so beautifully in the vast space to make it feel grounded and warm. Interspersed with other modern artworks were my own, adding splashes of bright color.
As I wandered around, I pulled out my cell and dialed his number. He picked up immediately.
"You're in so much trouble."
"What? Why?" Edward sounded so worried, and so far away.
"It was you. It was you all along."
He said nothing for a few moments, I guess trying to figure out what I was referring to-surely he knew I was here in his home and would know what I had just seen. I heard him laugh gently after a few long moments of silence. "Yes, my love, it was me."
"When? How?" I asked, despite the fact I had some idea when he'd bought them, I just didn't know how.
"Mom. That day you met all those years ago I told her about you. I guess she remembered your name and that you were an artist because when she came across some of your canvases a number of years ago when she was in New York, she dragged me in to see them. I began buying some every time you showed in New York. They were the only thing I ever allowed myself of you. Are you mad?"
"Mad? Of course not." Did he realize he'd been unwittingly helping to support his daughter even back then? "Surprised, I guess. I just never thought it would be you."
"You knew there was someone?" He asked in surprise.
"Well, yeah, I knew there was a specific person who would buy a few of my works whenever I exhibited in New York, I just…it just never crossed my mind it could be you."
"Well it was," he chuckled. "What do you think of my place?"
"I love it. It's so not what I imagined. My paintings fit in perfectly."
"They do, don't they?" he replied with great purpose that sounded suspiciously like it was no coincidence that his condo in New York matched my paintings so beautifully.
"What do you mean 'who decorated?' I did," he scoffed. I remained quiet as I waited for him to fess up. "Okay, my mother may have purchased the knickknacks and cushions, but I picked the furniture."
"I love the furniture, it's so not stuffy, and Esme has excellent taste. That Missoni rug under the dining table is stunning."
"The Mis…the colored rug under the dining room table that just happens to go beautifully with that painting hanging on the wall right near it."
"That one's my favorite."
I chuckled lightly, not admitting to him that that painting came from a range I painted where I was a little obsessed with the color green, for reasons that I can now feely admit had to do with the color of his eyes. I wouldn't admit it at the time, though.
Heidi and I spent some time exploring Edward's condo, though 'condo' was a word I would have associated with something far smaller than this space. Edward's New York home occupied the top two floors of an incredibly exclusive, brand new building that was as secure as Fort Knox. The views over Central Park and beyond were breathtaking, the kitchen was to die for; practically industrial in size and function. I could imagine cooking for very large groups of people in this space. But it was the huge outdoor terrace that had me the most entranced. He was so lucky to have a space like that in this city.
I couldn't figure out why he would be so quick to give it all up to move to dreary Seattle. Knowing he had considerable wealth, though, maybe he was planning on keeping it as well. I could only hope.
Esme arrived the following day and insisted I spend some time by myself out in the open. She stressed that she didn't care what I did, be it walking around, shopping, sitting in cafés, whatever, as long as it was outside in the open. Whatever I did, I should take the time to appreciate, because there was no way that after tomorrow I was going to be able to do things like that so freely.
I ended up going shopping for clothes, checking out some galleries – something I loved to do but didn't get nearly enough time for – and spent some time just sitting in a café, sipping coffee, eating cake and people watching.
It was in the café that I finally allowed myself to pick up a magazine that I'd been avoiding for a few days. I'd learned long ago not to believe everything I read in gossip magazines, but old habits die hard sometimes, and I sat and looked at the cover for a few brief moments. I knew what the story was about; I'd had enough people call me this week checking in to make sure I was okay, to know that it wasn't good. My father, Alice, Angela and Jake had all been on the phone after yet another story speculating on Edward's love life was being bandied about. A love life they were currently speculating involved Chelsea Simmons…again. While I felt for Chelsea after the death of her father, she had seriously milked it just a little too much, throwing herself at him, even after she was told the truth of his relationship status with me and about our daughter.
While I trusted Edward implicitly, it was hard not to let the old feelings of jealousy and resentment bubble to the surface. Knowing that other people thought Edward was in a relationship with someone else was unsettling, and while I'm sure I had no clue about what my new reality would look like after tomorrow's press conference, I was glad that it would finally be out in the open and this sort of speculation would hopefully be behind us.
"Esme, would you mind zipping me up?" I called out through the bedroom door, as I heard her pass by.
"Not at all dear," she called back. "Oh!" She gasped as she entered the room, walking behind me and zipping up the back of my dress "You look gorgeous!"
I absolutely adored the dress, something I picked up in a little hole-in-the wall boutique this afternoon in the Village. It was white silk, printed with a gorgeous black watercolor effect over about a third of it. It was a bit arty, fitted to the knee, showing off my curves without being too overt, and I loved it.
"Thank you, Esme."
"I wish Edward were here to see you all dressed up." Esme sighed wistfully as she stood next me.
I simply shrugged my shoulder. There was nothing we could do about his absence. We'd made the decision together that he didn't need to be here for me tonight. He'd be here next time.
"You would have made a beautiful First Lady, Bella." I looked to Esme's reflection in the mirror in front of us; her hand was on my shoulder in what felt like a motherly gesture. But a rueful, almost knowing smile crept over her face.
Could she…did she know?
My face must have shown my suspicion because she simply nodded her head. "But I think we both know that was never going to happen?" I turned to look at her, my face asking the question I was unable to verbalize, just in case. "Yes, Bella. I know how you two really met."
"What? Why…" I was shocked, not to mention embarrassed and a plethora of other fleeting feelings I couldn't begin to identify.
"Don't look so horrified, dear. Edward told me just after you and Heidi left Nantucket."
I wanted to kill him. "Christ…I…" I looked down, not wanting to see the look in her eyes. "I don't know what to say." I'd rehearsed my response to this exact scenario over and over in my head so many times. But I'd just failed epically at the first hurdle.
"There's nothing to say, Bella." She began to chuckle. "Honestly, I couldn't give a shit." Esme swore? "There are two hundred years' worth of skeletons in the Cullen closet. This doesn't even come close to being scandalous in comparison."
"God, yes," she scoffed as she moved to sit on the edge of the bed. "The problem you have is the way the media operates these days."
"Tell me about it. This Chelsea crap that's been all over the news this week – I've been trying not to let it bother me and for most part it hasn't, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't." I wasn't sure if Esme was the best person to speak to about this given her relationship with the Simmons', but I couldn't help but feel the need to open up to her.
"Chelsea Simmons is a social climbing bitch who has been trying to get into my sons' pants for years – both of them. I can only imagine she's seeing her final chance slipping away from her and she's been getting desperate. You on the other hand, are an honest, hardworking woman who has done a tremendous job raising her daughter alone. I couldn't be more proud of you than if you were my own." She stood and walked towards me before placing her hands on my cheeks. "I'm so glad my son has you back."
"Thank you, Esme," I replied, taken aback at her heartfelt words. "Does…does Carlisle know?" I don't think I'd be able to look at him if he did.
"Oh, goodness no. He's a bit too straight-laced so we'll just leave it between us."
"Thank God," I sighed in relief. I couldn't imagine Carlisle knowing and the treatment I would get if he knew.
"Now. Tell me what it was like." The look on her face had turned wicked.
"What what was like?" I asked, hoping she wasn't asking what I think she was asking.
"Being paid for sex. Was it exciting?"
"I bet it was," she replied, her face full of excitement, her voice urging me on.
"I can't…I can't talk to you about that!" Good God!
"Why ever not? Let an old girl live vicariously."
"Absolutely not!" I exclaimed. Holy crap. Just when I thought I had Esme Cullen figured out, she threw a curve ball at me.
The gallery was packed for the exhibition and auction. I had ten canvases on display; the three larger ones would be auctioned off publicly later in the evening, along with canvases from two other artists. The crowd here tonight was a little different from usual, a little less 'art scene' – though there were still plenty of them – and a little more 'society', always willing to come out and be seen if there was some charitable cause to donate to. The charity we were supporting tonight helped homeless kids, and I was really excited to be donating to such a wonderful cause.
By half way through the night I had sold four of the seven canvases that weren't being auctioned off, so I was beyond excited. I spoke to many people, mostly gallery owners and other artists whom I had become familiar with over the years, as well as other admirers of my work. But it was the auction that everyone was most excited about, so when the long-time gallery director, Harry Clearwater, tapped the microphone, the crowd quickly hushed and gathered as best they could around the small stage.
Harry had been the gallery director for as long as I'd been painting. Longer. I had a lot to thank him for. His support had been invaluable to my success in the art world and I looked up to him like I would a grandfather. He stood in front of the crowd in his garish orange suit jacket and signature red bowtie.
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the McGivern Gallery. We are here tonight thanks to the very kind hearts of three wonderful artists." Harry glanced to the side of the stage where I stood with the two other artists who had donated their work.
"Each of them have long been supporters of this gallery and the many charities we have been associated with over the years, donating a lot of time, money and effort. Tonight's charity, of course, is the Children's Housing Trust, a wonderful organization that has opened our eyes to the plight of young people in this city and across the country, whose lives have been irrevocably altered due to abuse, neglect, or devastating circumstances.
"Our artists this evening are Isabella Swan, who has donated many paintings to various charities since her career started fifteen years ago, Simon Farrell, a more recent addition and a very talented up-and-coming artist, and finally, Josey Farrington. Josey has been a long-time supporter of the Children's Housing Trust and is exhibiting here with us for the first time in nearly twenty years." We received a round of applause and then Harry introduced the auctioneer for the evening before letting the proceedings get underway.
The crowd was absolutely fantastic, and really got into the spirit of the event, with all nine canvases sold during the auction. It was one of Josey's paintings that received the highest bid, but I didn't fare too badly myself.
Harry once again took the stage to thank all of his guests for coming. "By my calculations we've raised just over forty seven thousand dollars for our charity this evening, a wonderful result." Harry looked up to a portion of the crowd who had become quite rowdy during his speech. They were bustling about, clearly letting some newcomer through.
And that's when I saw it, the bronze hair of Edward Cullen.
My…boyfriend? My boyfriend was here. In public, and his eyes were set on mine as I stood just off to the side of the stage. My heart rate picked up just because it was him.
How the hell did he get here? Wasn't he supposed to be in LA right now, just about to board his plane home?
Edward stopped on the other side of the crowd, his eyes not leaving mine.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," Harry continued after nodding to acknowledge Edward's presence. "Thank you for your support, and please enjoy the rest of your evening." Harry finished up, leaving his place on the podium and immediately turned his attention to the VIP who had just walked into his gallery. I saw them happily greet each other, as if they knew each other well, warmly shaking hands. Harry looked over in my direction, his expression a little nervous as he turned back to Edward. Then Edward nodded in my direction. I couldn't figure out what they were talking about and I wasn't quite sure how I was going to contain myself in public with him in the room. It had been two damn long weeks without him. How in the hell had I made it over seven years?
I was standing and speaking to Josey Farrington, trying desperately to listen to what she was talking about – something about some artists' retreat in Arizona – but I couldn't stay focused on her as my body buzzed with nerves.
Edward stayed speaking to Harry for what was probably only a few minutes, but felt like an hour. He seemed to extricate himself and I nervously looked around me, trying desperately to stay focused on the conversation I was having and trying not to make it so obvious that I wanted to jump him – which is probably what every female in the room was thinking about, to be quite honest, based on the hair flicking and surreptitious boob rearrangements that were taking place. All with the exception of Josey, who continued to ramble on about the retreat as if one of the most famous, not to mention drop-dead sexy people in the world wasn't heading in our direction.
Edward made a rather obvious and completely unapologetic – by the looks of things – bee line in my direction, brushing past people quickly as they tried to capture his attention and have him stop to speak to them. Men in suits followed carefully behind him, scanning the crowd and making sure people weren't able to get closer than necessary.
Oh God, what was he doing? How was I going to keep myself composed and not try to jump him in front of all of these people?
As the attention followed him across the room, the closer he got to me, the more everything else around me just faded away, to the point I wasn't even sure whether Josey was still speaking or not.
His eyes landed on me, before darting to Josey, who apparently was still standing there.
"Excuse me, Ms. Farrington, do you mind if I speak with Isabella alone for a moment?" Edward suavely asked Josey, putting on his charming trademark smile, lightly touching her elbow as he did.
"Not at all…Mr. President?" She looked into his face and seemed to become a little dumbfounded. "Bella…?" Josey backed away slowly, blinking at Edward, a look of bewilderment on her face. It was almost as if she hadn't even noticed he was in the room until that moment.
With one hand casually in the pocket of his dark suit pants, Edward's eyes seemed to burn into me as he stood in front of me, leaving a polite distance between us. There was a smug smirk on his beautiful face that gave me the impression he was up to something.
"Good evening, Isabella," he drawled, his eyes twinkling and his body looking heavenly in his almost black Armani suit, white button-down casually unbuttoned at the neck, leaving just a hint of hair showing at the top of his chest.
He looked good enough to eat
"Ed…Mr. President," I corrected quickly. I couldn't help but smirk back, lifting my eyebrow in question as to what his game was this evening, in public, in a room full of about three hundred people, including some minor press.
Edward leant forward and whispered in my ear, sending a shiver throughout my entire body, my nipples immediately standing to attention for him. "You know there's only one place I like you to call me Mr. President, my love." He pulled back and smirked cheekily at me. "You look stunning by the way." His eyes looked a little far away as they dropped to the floor and slowly lifted as he took in my heels and my dress. It was as if he was mentally undressing me.
"What are you up to?" I questioned suspiciously as his eyes slowly lifted to mine. I was pretty sure we'd drawn a rather large audience, but I didn't give a damn. It had been two weeks since I had seen my boyfriend, and my attention was wholly on him.
Edward unexpectedly stepped towards me, his body making contact with mine as he pulled his hand out of his pocket and slipped his arm around my waist, pulling me so I was now flush with his body, his scent helping to calm my jittery nerves. "I'm saying hello to my beautiful girlfriend, whom I haven't seen in two weeks."
"But…" I began to protest, but my words were cut off by his warm, heavenly lips which were now covering mine. I couldn't help but moan at the pressure or the pleasure, or both, whatever. All sense just left me. I was vaguely aware of the noise around us changing; it seemed to get louder. There were maybe even some gasps of surprise. But I really couldn't care as I relaxed into Edward's body and let him kiss me.
The hand that wasn't around my waist touched my face, his fingertips softly caressing my jaw bone before slipping into my hair just behind my ear. I held onto the lapels of his expensive suit jacket just so I didn't accidentally put them on his ass. I was at least coherent enough to realize that would probably be a very bad idea right about now. He groaned as he pulled me in tighter against his glorious body, the feel of it so familiar as his lips slowed their exploration.
Edward pulled away before resting his forehead against mine.
"What are you doing here?" I asked in breathless confusion, my eyes fluttering open so I could take in his green orbs. I was vaguely aware of a flash, but I couldn't bring myself to care. Was there more than one?
"I had to show them, Bella. I couldn't just tell them in the morning at the press conference. I wanted to show them now, let them see how much I love you. How much I want you." Them, he kept saying it like I knew who they were. I guess it was the public. The media. The world. "Photographs can tell so many different stories – and if the past week has shown us anything it's that they can be misconstrued. But that kiss…that kiss will only tell one story, and it's that I'm with you; that I love you. Let that be the picture that's on the front of every newspaper and magazine tomorrow morning as I declare my love for you publicly. Because it's very likely that the way I feel for you will be overshadowed by the news of our illegitimate daughter. So let tonight be about my love for you."
"But…but what about the plan?" I asked, my brain still trying to process his previous words.
"Screw the plan. So what if the public finds out part of our story twelve hours ahead of the plan?" With his forehead against mine, he grinned down at me.
"I love you," I whispered to him, enclosed in our precarious bubble.
"I love you too," he replied before pressing his lips tenderly to mine again.
"What do we do now?" I asked. I had no clue how to handle what would come next; all of a sudden everything Thompson and his PR people had taught me seemed to just disappear.
"When you look up, put a smile on your face, because every single person in this room will be looking at you. Everyone with a camera phone will take a picture if they haven't already. Photos of that kiss are probably all over Twitter as we speak. Every photographer has already taken our picture and will continue to do so. And the really nasty paparazzi will be here in less than two minutes." I took a deep breath, preparing myself for the inevitable. "Oh, and people are going to want to speak to you. There may be some shouting. If you don't want to respond, then don't; just ignore them. I've already told Harry that I will be whisking you away, so don't worry about any farewells. I have a car out back, and men waiting just behind us who are going to get us out the back exit. I believe it's that way?" His head motioned towards the back of the gallery.
I nodded. "Out through the stockroom," I confirmed. I heard Edward release a soft, almost frustrated groan, but I couldn't figure out why.
"Are you ready?" He asked, smiling reassuringly.
"As I'll ever be?" It was at the point I looked up and I let the world into our bubble. The world I had once inhabited was over; I was now living in Edward's world. I smiled, but kept my head down as we held hands and made our way out through the noisy crowd, through the back of the gallery and into the black car that awaited us, leaving behind a bewildered crowd of people scrambling to make sense of what they had just witnessed.
AN: Yeah so on the paintings – it was always going to be Edward who was her buyer. I'm a bit sappy like that. I actually wrote the gallery scene months ago and have been trying to figure out how to get the rest of the story to work with it – hence the reason I didn't kill off Carlisle, and the reason I went with the Chelsea drama instead. I needed a reason for Edward to act irresponsibly and just show up at the gallery and claim her!
Next chapter isn't really written yet (it's a bit of a mess), so yeah, there'll be a little wait.