So here it is, the second part of the previous chapter. It would have just been way too long keeping them together so I hope you don't mind that we split them up.
The song for this chapter was provided by AshesAshes. It's called "Heal Over" by KT Tunstall youtu*be/S9N-33T9Fvs and it's so very perfect for our Edward—darn you Dory for making me cry! I highly recommend you check out the words. Here is the pictease: i48*tinypic*com/161b72p*jpg Look who it is!
Thanks to our beta's, karenec, AshesAshes, LJ Summers, and jakeward. You amaze us with your use of the colors, strikethroughs, and the insert comment feature.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Chapter Twenty-Six: Expanding
The following day went much more smoothly, and I found that I couldn't wait to talk with Edward. He called me on his lunch, and I eagerly answered my phone.
"How is your day going?" he asked.
I sighed and sat back in my chair, taking a moment to stretch out the kinks from my back. "Much better than yesterday. Thanks. Yours?"
"Not bad. I have a question for you. My friends Emmett and Rosalie invited me over. How would you feel about coming with me to have dinner at their place?" he asked.
"Tonight?" I asked, taking a sip of water and clearing a spot on my desk so I could eat my lunch. I opened the packaged salad and frowned at it, wishing for something more substantial.
"Yes. If you're busy with work or have other plans, that's fine. I just thought I'd ask. I don't get to see them much; they're hardly ever home."
"What do they do for a living?" I asked, curious.
"Have I never mentioned them before?"
"Well, he's a model, and she's his agent. He's pretty successful so they spend more time jetting around the globe than they do at home," Edward explained.
"Wow, that sounds exciting. I don't have any plans tonight; I'd be happy to go with you."
"Should I bring anything?" I asked.
"I have a bottle of wine to bring. I think we're all set."
"What time is dinner?"
"Sounds good; that will give me time to go home and change."
"Do you want me to pick you up?"
"That would be great. I'll let Jacob know to expect you."
"Okay," he said and then chuckled.
"What's so funny?' I asked, returning his laugh.
"Just Jacob. I know he's the doorman, but I can't help but wonder if he's really much security."
"I know; that's why his nephew, Seth, is usually also around." I glanced over at the clock. "I'm sorry, Edward, but I have to go; I have a file to review if I'm going to leave on time today."
"That's fine. Have a great rest of the day, Bella."
"See you tonight."
The afternoon passed slowly, much to my dismay. I was waiting on several resources to proceed on my own case, which left me with time on my hands. I decided to use the opportunity to do a little investigating into Alec. Because I wasn't technically council for Harcourt, I had to tread lightly. I started by reviewing his financial transactions and billables through the firm. If I could find sufficient reason to explain why I was digging up dirt on what he was doing, I could dig deeper and actually look into his case files.
It was quarter to five, and I was deep in legal notes when I heard a knock on my door. My eyes snapped to attention and I tensed, realizing I hadn't locked the door. To anyone walking in the door, it would be clear that I was poking around in things I shouldn't have been. Because Alec had left earlier in the day, I hadn't felt the need to be overly cautious. When I didn't answer right away, Vanessa poked her head in. Once I realized it was only her, I relaxed. Had it been anyone else, things could have escalated rather quickly with questions I couldn't answer, and I wasn't far enough into my investigation to be able to explain my actions.
"What are you up to? You look like you're investigating a murder trial," she said with a laugh, gesturing to the mess that was on my desk. I had papers strewn all over—on the floor, on the desk—and boxes stacked on either side of me. "Can I help you with something?"
"Hey. You out of here for the day?" I asked, trying to change the subject. Vanessa looked at me and quirked one eyebrow. She knew something was up. I quickly stood and reached for my coat and purse, as if I was going to head out myself. "I'm about ready to go; do you want to walk out together?" I asked, hoping she would go along with me.
"Bella, what are you doing?" Vanessa was smart, and obviously, she wasn't going to let things go.
I took a deep breath and put my things back down, taking a seat again behind my desk. "Do you mind closing that?" I gestured to the door she had left part-way open. She gave me a look but did as I asked and came to sit in one of the two chairs across from me.
I looked at the papers in front of me, trying to figure out where to start. Vanessa hadn't been in the office during my exchange with Alec and Lauren, so I figured I'd start with what I'd overheard him saying on the phone. I knew I could trust her and that she felt the same way about how Alec conducted business.
I described the previous day's events with Lauren and Alec, and Vanessa listened attentively. Then I went into what I found while digging through his case records.
"I've been reviewing the financials. I figured that was the best place to start so as not to draw too much attention. Ness, I can't believe some of the things he's been doing. So many expenses, so many "other" unexplained sources paid for services—all billed to the clients and not questioned. It's unbelievable." I shook my head in disgust.
"It's clear to me that he's billing the clients for far more hours than he's actually working. I have no idea how far back that goes, though; I'm barely through the most recent files. He's also billing them for items and services completely unrelated to cases. And I looked over his phone records. There are multiple calls to Jared Cameron. Do you remember him? He was the SFPD detective who was investigated several years back for corruption. Now, it's plausible that Alec had a valid reason for contacting Cameron on a single case. But multiple cases, prior to Cameron's investigation? That doesn't feel right.
"I also found expenses written off by the firm for numerous things that I can't link to any clients directly. Alec has multiple receipts for dinners, travel expenses, entertainment, and things I know for a fact he would never be a part of. So what's the explanation for that? I did link some of it to the Assistant D.A. and Judge Cheney—who we know has an uncanny habit of being the docket judge for most of Alec's trials. At best, his behavior is unethical; at worst, he's bribing them for judicial favors. The only thing I'm not sure of is how Cameron fits into everything. Taken individually, any of these things could be innocuous, but together . . . they're adding up."
After going through everything I had found, I took a break to let Vanessa process.
"Bella, you do realize if any of this gets out, the firm could face criminal charges from the state bar, right?"
"I know. And that's why I'm looking into things now. I knew Alec was up to something before, and after hearing him on the phone, I knew I had do something. I talked to Aro yesterday, and he's going to look in on the Harcourt case, but this goes deeper than that. Alec can't keep doing this."
"Did you mention anything to Aro?" she asked, clearly as concerned as I was.
"Not about this specifically. Until I have a concrete grasp on what he's been doing, I figured it's best to wait. But now, the more I look into things, the more evidence I find and I'm worried it may be too late. I need to build a case against him, and as hard as that's going to be, I don't think I have any choice."
"Well, count me in. I've been waiting to get my claws into that snake, and I'll be damned if I let him ruin my career. I'll do some digging and talk to some of my contacts. Maybe I can even get a tail on him." I could see the wheels in Vanessa's brain churning and the spark of excitement flare in her expressions. She was a brilliant lawyer, and there wasn't a case she'd lost since being hired on at the firm. I knew I could count on her to exhaust all means necessary to get the information she needed to build a case.
"Just be careful. We need to keep things quiet until we have something solid against him. Then we can take it to Charlie and Aro for the next step."
"You got it."
I glanced up at the clock and cussed silently under my breath. It was five-thirty and I was going to be late meeting Edward. I still had several papers I wanted to review before I had to go, and now that Vanessa was on board with things, I contemplated calling Edward to reschedule.
"What's wrong?" Vanessa asked, noticing my reaction.
I sighed. "I have plans with Edward tonight, but now, I'm not sure I'll make it. I'd like to stick with this."
Vanessa shook her head. "Bella, go. This can wait until the morning. Go. Enjoy your night and let me get some stuff together. We'll pick on Monday."
"Are you sure, Ness? I'd really appreciate your help. I'm supposed to meet some of Edward's friends tonight, and I'd hate to cancel on him."
"No problem." She stood and helped me clean up the papers. "So things are going pretty well for you two, huh?"
"Yeah, they are." I couldn't disguise the smile that crossed my face, or the slight blush that filled my cheeks as I thought about where things stood between Edward and me. We had come a long ways since we'd met, and I could honestly say I was happy for the first time in a long while.
She placed the last of the files in a box and closed the lid. "That's great, Bella. Edward seems like a nice guy, and I can really see the change in you."
I smiled as I reached for my things and locked the file drawers in my desk. I made a note on my calendar to pick things up with Vanessa on Monday, and we left the office. I made it home just after six and frantically tried to change before Edward arrived. He was at my door at six-thirty on the dot, and I sighed with relief when I was sitting in the passenger seat of his car.
"You okay?" he asked.
I nodded, taking a deep breath trying to steal the nerves that'd been building since Edward invited me. Meeting his closest friends felt significant, even though I had already met his sister, Alice, and his mother. "Yes. I was just afraid I was going to be cutting it too close. I got out of the office way later than I'd intended."
He chuckled. "I hope my invitation tonight didn't cause any problems."
I shook my head. "Not at all. I'll pick things back up on Monday."
As we headed to Pacific Heights, Edward told me about his day. Before I knew it, we were parked and Edward was helping me from the vehicle and squeezing my hand as we walked into the lobby of Rose and Emmett's building.
"I'm glad you came with me tonight."
I looked up at him and smiled, slightly nervous. "I am, too," I murmured softly.
We were both quiet on the ride up to the eleventh floor, but he never stopped rubbing soft circles on my hand. I felt a new wave of nerves wash over me as he knocked on their door. I tried to shake off the anxiety, but Edward must have sensed my skittishness. He leaned over and spoke quietly in my ear.
"You have nothing to worry about. They're going to love you."
I gave him a grateful look as the door opened to reveal a tall, well-built man with closely cropped blond hair, bright blue eyes, and deep dimples. Edward stepped forward, letting go of my hand to embrace the guy enthusiastically. "It's good to see you, Emmett," he said.
"Good to see you, too, Edward." Emmett returned his hug and looked over his shoulder to me. "And I see you brought a date."
Edward stepped back and took my hand. "This is Bella Swan. Bella, this is Emmett McCarty."
"Nice to meet you, Emmett," I said. His friendly smile put me immediately at ease, and his handshake was nice and firm.
"Nice to meet you, too. I can't think of the last time we met someone Edward was seeing. Come inside."
Edward handed the bottle of wine we'd brought to Emmett, and I followed them into the apartment. In the kitchen on the right I could see a tall woman with medium brown hair and honey colored highlights.
"Since when you do cook, Rose?" Edward asked.
She looked up, her expression warm and welcoming. "Since never. We found this amazing personal chef service. We call ahead of time to let them know when we need food; they prepare it, drop it off, and I just heat and serve."
Edward chuckled. "That sounds more like the Rose I know."
She dried her hands on a towel and walked over to us, giving me a friendly smile before hugging Edward. He hugged her tightly and when she stepped back, he took my hand and introduced us.
"Bella, this is Rosalie Hale. Rosalie, Bella Swan."
"It's very nice to meet you," she said and I murmured my agreement. "Let's go into the living room."
She ushered us down the long hallway to the open dining room and living room area. "I like your place," I said to Rosalie.
"Thank you. I wish we were home more to enjoy it."
"Yes, Edward said you travel a lot."
"We do. Emmett and I spend more time in New York, Paris, and Rome than we do here. But San Francisco is home, and we can't quite give up the idea of settling back down in the city when he retires." She stepped over to the bar. "Would you like something to drink, Bella?"
"White wine, if you have it."
"Of course." She poured a glass from the bottle that had been chilling on the sideboard, and Emmett fixed Edward a drink without even asking. They all seemed very comfortable and relaxed around each other.
When we were all seated in the living room with our drinks, Emmett spoke. "So, what is it that you do, Bella?"
"I am a lawyer; civil litigation."
Emmett chuckled. "I'd say I'm surprised, but Edward really does have a thing for smart women."
"So he's said." I glanced at him, amused by Emmett's candor, and he shrugged at me.
"Some guys go for hair color or body type; I find a woman who can speak intelligently a real turn on."
"I didn't say it was a bad thing," Emmett protested. "Just funny."
"How did you two meet?" Rosalie asked.
I took a sip of wine and glanced at Edward, hoping he'd tell the story. He put his arm around me on the back of the sofa and leaned back, taking a sip of his Scotch. "Well, I was at Leah's—"
"How is Leah, by the way?" Emmett interrupted. "Still with the hot blonde?"
"Yeah, she and Sam are both doing great. Anyway, I was sitting with Sam in the back when the door opens and this woman walks in. She had the longest, most amazing legs I'd ever seen, and was dressed in a little black trench coat and heels. She looked far too classy to be in Leah's place. She took a seat at the bar and ordered a drink, and before I knew what I was doing, I was sitting next to her."
Rosalie and Emmett both laughed at his story, and I switched my wine glass to my left hand so I could touch Edward's knee with my right. It was interesting hearing it from his perspective.
Edward sipped his drink and continued. "I tried to strike up a conversation with Bella, but she didn't even look at me before ripping into me for drinking McCallans, despite the fact that she was swilling down Drambuie. She was fierce, feisty, and the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen."
Emmett gave me a broad grin, and I couldn't help but smile back. "And you've been seeing each other since?" he asked.
Edward and I looked at each other and I could see he was struggling to explain the dynamic between us. I swallowed a sip of my wine and spoke. "Edward is pretty persistent, and I haven't made things easy for him. But yeah, we have been seeing each other since."
"Well, I don't know if it helps, but you'll never find a better guy than Edward," Rosalie said. "He's honestly one of the nicest guys I have ever met."
I squeezed Edward's knee. "I think I'm starting to figure that out. How did you and Emmett meet?"
She laughed, and it lit up her face. "Well, he was a young, cocky model, and a complete pain in my ass. I had just taken over as his agent. We were on a shoot, and he was wearing nothing but a pair of minuscule briefs and body oil when he asked me out on a date."
"You should've seen the look she gave me." Emmett smirked at his wife. "She started ripping into me about how unprofessional I was being, and how there was no way in hell she was ever going to go out with me."
"I could see him getting turned on. He just kept getting harder and harder the more I yelled," she said breaking into laughter.
Emmett chuckled and said, "Of course; once I realized she was noticing, I knew I had the upper hand." Emmett winked at her and she laughed harder.
"You've never had the upper hand, baby, but I'll keep on letting you think that." They kissed affectionately.
"I was a bit concerned about dating a client, but he was just too irresistible to keep turning down. He asked me out for months, and eventually, I caved. It was worth it, though."
"We got married about six months after we started dating," Emmett said. "I know it seems fast, and a lot of people questioned it, but neither of us could imagine being without the other."
"So, with Rosalie as your agent, you must spend a great deal of time together," I said.
"We do. It's rare we're apart for more than a few hours a day, to be honest. It works for us."
I nodded, finding their connection very endearing.
Edward spoke up. "Yeah, until you wake up one day and pretty boy has lost his charming good looks."
Emmett laughed, and Edward winked at Rose. Obviously, there must have been some joke I was missing out on.
"What do you plan to do once Emmett retires?" I asked, genuinely interested.
Rosalie spoke. "We're thinking about opening our own modeling agency. Emmett isn't just a pretty face; he has a business degree, and I think we could be pretty successful. We know the industry inside and out and have a lot of contacts."
"I didn't realize you were planning that," Edward said taking a sip of his drink. His fingertips softly caressed my shoulder, and I leaned into him more, liking his touch.
"It's something fairly new, but we've been talking about it a lot lately. We're both thinking about the fact that we're not getting any younger, and that we should start thinking about kids soon."
Edward shrugged. "Emmett's thirty, and you're thirty-three, Rosalie. That's hardly ancient."
Rosalie frowned at Edward, and I wondered if she was uncomfortable about him bringing up her age.
"Of course not," she said. "But it is something to consider. Experts say that a woman's fertility drops off sharply after thirty, and after thirty-five, you're really setting yourself up for problems—for both you and the baby. Besides, we're hoping to have two or three, and that really means we need to start now."
I twisted my glass in my fingertips, suddenly feeling awkward and very uncomfortable. I thought about how quickly I was to approaching thirty, and how Riley and I had been on a similar track not so long ago.
"Well, best of luck," Edward said. "You know I'm looking forward to both of you being home more, and to being 'Uncle Edward.'"
Rosalie laughed. "Yes, we know. We know you'll spoil them rotten."
"Absolutely," Edward said. "And teach them early on to like modern art."
He glanced over at me, and I gave him a tight-lipped smile. "Yes, I'd imagine you'll have them in the museum before they can walk," I said, desperately trying to keep the emotion I was holding back out of my voice.
Edward frowned and his fingers softly rubbed my upper arm, no doubt sensing I was fighting to keep things in check. "Well, they say it's never too early to start."
Rosalie and Emmett both laughed, and she turned to say something quietly to Emmett. Edward turned to me and murmured in my ear, "Are you all right?"
I took a deep breath and nodded. "Yes. Thank you, though." I rubbed his knee, appreciating that he'd noticed I was struggling. He gave me a long, serious look, but didn't comment further. Instead, he leaned forward and kissed my temple, his lips lingering there for a moment.
"Excuse me, I need to use the restroom," I said quietly. Edward instructed me to head back down the hall toward the front door.
"It's on your right."
In the bathroom, I took a moment to compose myself. When I returned to the living room, Rosalie informed us dinner was ready. "Would you like to have a seat at the table?"
"Is there anything I can to do to help, Rosalie?" I asked, and she shook her head.
"Top off your wine if you'd like it, but other than that, no. I have everything under control."
We took our seats, and as the conversation moved on to other topics, I relaxed. Dinner was very good, and I made sure to tell Rosalie how much I enjoyed it.
"So, we went to the National Gallery of Modern Art when we were in Rome last week, Edward."
Edward groaned. "I am so jealous; I haven't been there in years. The Kandinskys were on loan when I was there, and I wished I had been able to see them. Please tell me you saw the collection." I enjoyed his obvious enthusiasm.
"We did. They were extraordinary. Emmett really liked the Klimt though."
Edward turned to Emmett to ask him about the Klimt piece, and Rosalie asked me a question about my work.
When the discussion wound down and dinner was over, we took our freshened drinks back into the living room, and I asked a question that had been on my mind for a while. "How did the three of you meet?"
Emmett looked at Edward. "Edward and I were roommates our sophomore year at Berkeley," he explained, and Edward nodded in agreement. "He disliked me at first, too."
"Really?" I said. "Why?"
Emmett rolled his eyes and snorted with laughter. "Edward though he had me pegged. He took one look at me and thought he knew exactly what type of guy I was."
Edward spoke up quickly. "In my defense, when I walked into our dorm, his side of the room was completely covered with pictures of half-naked cheerleaders. He was shirtless, doing one-armed pushups for Christ's sake. Yes, I assumed he was a jock."
"No," Emmett retorted. "You assumed I was a brainless jock."
"That's true," Edward said. "And I still feel bad about that."
"You should." Emmett grinned to show there were no hard feelings. "That's all right; I figured you were gay. Not that I had a problem with it; it just meant we were both completely wrong about each other."
"Just because I was studying art history didn't mean I was gay," Edward chastised him. "Have you seen some of the girls who take art history classes? Even if I hadn't been into art, it would have been worth it."
I laughed, picturing a younger Edward turning girls' heads left and right. I wasn't hard to imagine that he had been highly sought after.
"So, what changed your mind?" I asked Emmett.
"About thinking he was gay? I met his girlfriend, Heidi. Has he told you about her?"
"Yes. The microbiologist, right?"
Edward nodded and Emmett spoke. "Hottest chick in a lab coat, ever. Edward always managed to find the most extraordinary women; I can see that hasn't changed."
I thanked him before I asked my next question. "So all it took was finding out he had a hot girlfriend to make you friends?"
"No, not really," Edward said. "It was actually my stats midterm that did it."
"That's right!" Emmett boomed. "This poor fucker was struggling in the class. He had a 4.0 in everything else, but statistics was just not his thing. He wasn't failing, but he was panicking that he wasn't going to have a perfect score for the semester. When I realized how freaked out he was, I told him I'd help him out. You should have seen the look he gave me—like the very idea of it was the most ludicrous thing ever."
"Hey, once I saw you knew what you were talking about, I listened," Edward protested.
"You did. And you got a 3.95 in the class because of me, too."
"Absolutely. I owe you big time."
We spent the rest of the evening laughing as the three of them reminisced. Rosalie met Edward through Emmett, and apparently, the three of them spent a great deal of time together. I was surprised to find that I didn't feel left out, despite how much time they spent regaling the early years of their friendship and all the things they've done together. They seemed happy to catch me up on all of their old stories. By the time we left, I felt like I'd known them much longer than a few hours.
Edward was relaxed, and I could tell he was happy as we drove to my apartment. When I invited him to stay at my place, he readily accepted. He didn't comment on the fact that we stayed in the guest bedroom, and I appreciated that he didn't push things. We both fell asleep quickly, and, in the morning, we were reluctant to get out of bed.
Before Edward left, I walked him to the door, and he leaned forward, pressing his forehead against mine. "You make me happy, Bella."
"You make me happy, too."
We kissed goodbye again before I reluctantly let him leave, surprised by just how lonely my apartment seemed without him.
Rose and Emmett are cute, yeah? Bella's finally entering into Edward's world and that's a good sign. What do you think about Bella digging into Alec? Smart to bring Vanessa in on things? Tell us what you think, what you'd like to know, or what you hate. We love to hear what you guys have to say. See you next Thursday!
Feel free to stop by to chat or look for teasers in the following places:
Facebook Group: Discordia's Library
Twitter: DiscordiaWrites and kharisma2