Disclaimer: Twilight and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. Any similarities to the original characters or themes from the books or media franchise are used here for entertainment purposes only.

Rated for serious (not really) adult content and language.

WARNING: This story will contain drama. This could be, but may not pertain to, the drama surrounding a couple entering a relationship with a twenty-two year age gap and how those around them will react to this news. Please consider this before continuing.

A/N: I apologize for the LOOOONG wait between chapters. I really wanted to get RwaV finished up, and we also took a long-overdue family vacation in there. I'm back now, and I will focus on this until it's over and then I'll move on. Probably to Foalin' Around! ;)

So, I left you as Bella emerged in her ball gown. Let's see what Edward has to say and check out this party, shall we?!


Chapter 11 | Masquerade

I'm uncertain how I refrain from rushing down the hall and pulling Bella into my arms, but I do. Never in a million years would I have imagined the dress she'd picked out to be as exquisite as it is. It fits her body perfectly, hugging every single curve down to her knees where it flares out. Its strapless neckline shows off her collarbones, and I find myself licking my lips as the desire to trail my tongue along them grows by the second.

My eyes continue to scan the length of her body, taking in how ample her cleavage looks and recalling with perfect clarity what her tits feel like in my hands. My cock begins to thicken in my pants, and I take a small step toward her, my hunger for her suddenly much more important to me than my appearance at this party.

"You like?" she asks softly, standing up on her tiptoes and doing a little twirl.

My knees fail me, and I stumble slightly when I see how low the back dips, exposing the lean length of her spine. I reach out, the backs of my fingers brushing the smooth skin of her shoulder blade before moving up her neck. A few curly wisps of her hair tickle my fingers, and I watch as goosebumps arise on her neck and shoulders.

She shudders, turning around with a bright smile on her face, and I cup her face in my hand. "You look absolutely stunning, Bella."

Her cheeks deepen in hue as she drops her eyes between us and grips my tie firmly in one hand. "Well, you clean up pretty well,yourself, Mr. Cullen."

My hands move up and down her bare arms as she lifts her gaze to mine. Her eyes are bright and full of desire as I continue trailing my fingers over every inch of bare skin. Naturally, this evokes a similar feeling in me, and it seems to be growing exponentially. I suddenly find myself not wanting to go to the party in favour of staying home and having my way with her.

This seems to be the direction my brain takes a lot lately, actually. Not that I'm complaining.

Bella's bright red lips turn up into a coy smile, her right eyebrow arching mischievously, and I lean in to kiss her, making peace with the fact that we'll be a little late for the party. Her breath shudders as my lips brush hers, and just as I'm about to close the infinitesimal gap between us, my phone rings. It's not just any ring tone, though, it's the one that signals that someone is down at the front door.

Slightly frustrated that we've been interrupted, I release a breathy laugh and shake my head. "The car's here," I announce, my voice low and raspy.

Bella pops up on her toes and kisses me chastely. "Well, that's probably for the best. I'd hate to have to redo my hair and all," she whispers, foreseeing how the next hour or two probably would have played out. "Besides, there'll be plenty of time after the party to . . . play."

Smiling, I take a step back and hold out my hand. "Shall we, then?"

Her eyebrows pull together and her lips purse to the right as she glances down at the floor. When my eyes follow, I notice that she's lifting her skirt slightly to show off her bare feet. It's then that I remember she asked me to go and pick up her shoes.

"Oh, right," I respond, feeling like a bit of a tool for having forgotten to give them to her. I turn to the hall closet, grab one of the boxes that are in there, and hand it to her after taking her exquisitely designed metal masquerade mask and setting it next to mine on the front door table.

She looks confused, glancing down at the big red bow I placed on the top of the pristine white box. This look only deepens when she takes the top off, bringing her gaze back to mine. "Edward, these aren't the shoes I asked for," she says, picking up one of the bright red shoes.

"I know," I respond quickly. "And I know I probably shouldn't have done this without asking, but I looked for the ones you asked for where you said they'd be before searching the rest of your apartment, but I couldn't find them anywhere."

A look of realization flashes in her eyes and she shakes her head. "That's right! I loaned them to Jessica a couple months ago." She hands me the box, and I hold it while she balances on her left foot to put the right shoe on, then the other. She seems elated as she takes her first steps in them, and then looks at me again. "How did you know these would go with my dress?" she inquires. "You didn't peek before you left, did you?"

Chuckling, I take her hands in mine and bring them to my lips, kissing them both lightly. "I assure you I did nothing of the sort. Confession time?" She nods, and I step back, reaching out and opening the closet door.

There, on the floor are three other white boxes, dressed with varying colours of bows in black, blue, and ivory.

Bella's laughter fills the apartment, and she slaps her hands to her mouth. "You bought me four pairs of shoes?"

I shrug. "Well, yeah. I had to have a backup plan . . . or several, I suppose."

"So, why didn't you give me the black ones?"

"I, um, sort of fancied the red when I saw them, and when I saw the colour you chose for your lips, I knew they'd be perfect."

Her smile widens and she hops forward and kisses me hard, wrapping her arms around my neck and pressing the entire length of her body against mine. This doesn't help my resolve to get us out of my apartment in the next few minutes, but I revel in the moment for a minute as she continues to pepper my neck and face with kisses.

"I love them!" she assures me between pecks. "Thank you so much." Sliding down the length of my body until her feet are flat on the ground again, she looks coyly over at the other three boxes, biting the outer edge of her lower lip. When she looks at me through the corner of her eye again, I see her question lingering behind that familiar glimmer, and I nod.

"They're yours."

Before Bella gets the chance to throw herself at me for the second time, my phone rings again. And while I realize how ridiculous it might seem, my phone sounds oddly more impatient than the first time.

"You know, I never really pegged you for a shoe addict," I tease, grabbing our masks from the table before we step out into the hall and lock my door behind us.

Bella giggles, slipping her hand into mine. "And I never pegged you for a man with a foot fetish," she throws right back.

We step into the elevator and I pull her close, our linked arms hooked behind her back as I tilt my face down to kiss her. "There are a lot of things I never pegged myself as before now, Bella," I whisper against her lips.

She places her free hand on the side of my face, brushing her nose against mine lightly as she struggles to keep from kissing me . . . okay, so it's me who's struggling; she seems to be completely in control. "Are you suggesting I've corrupted you?"

"Corrupted?" I repeat, squeezing her hand behind her back and pulling her a little closer. "Mmm, no. I wouldn't say that." The elevator doors open with a loud ding, and I kiss her before leading her out. "But if that's what's happening, I'm rather enjoying every second of it." I laugh lightly as I lead her outside into the chilly December air, the smell of a winter rain hanging in the atmosphere.

Our driver sees us approach and is quick to open the back door to the white limo I'd booked for the evening. I allow Bella to step in first before following her, and it isn't long before the driver starts the car and pulls away from the curb.

When we've driven a couple blocks, Bella turns to me, looking excited, but nervous. "You okay?"

Bella smiles and nods. "Yeah. I think this is going to be a lot of fun."

I've known her long enough to hear the slight hesitation in her voice, so I prod her on. "But?"

"But," she continues, "do we tell people who I am? Do we tell them the truth and go public before we tell Dad? Or do we play the masquerade to its fullest advantage and keep my identity hidden? What if we choose the first option and Tanya shows up?"

The questions come out quicker and quicker, and, while I know they started off as an innocent inquiry, I have no trouble sensing her rising anxiety. It's not unusual to see her behaving this way considering how we've been careless and been found out on more than one occasion.

"We tell people whatever you feel comfortable telling people," I tell her honestly. It was never my intention to have her lie tonight; tonight was supposed to be about the two of us getting out and having a good time in a public setting without the fear of being found out, and I am going to make sure that damn-well happens. "If you want to introduce yourself as Bella, then that's what you're going to do. I just want us to have fun tonight."

Bella exhales, relaxing back against the seat and resting her head on the back, letting it fall in my direction as she smiles appreciatively. "Okay," she agrees. "Yeah, that sounds good."

Not wanting to ignore her other fear, I give her hand a squeeze. "And if Tanya does show up, we'll handle it. What's going on between us is none of her business, and I don't plan to include her in it now."

In addition to the conversation, we also decide to avoid any blatant acts of public affection. Dancing and hand-holding are deemed appropriate, perhaps even a kiss to the hand or cheek, but nothing that could easily get out of hand. Bella's worried about how this might be perceived with my divorce not being quite final, so I agree to her request.

We arrive at the banquet hall that the company had rented for the ball, and I hand Bella her mask before slipping mine over my face. She smiles, raising her hand and tracing her fingers over it. "It's beautiful," she says of the hand-painted black and gold mask. "I love the music notes. It's very you." Between us, she raises her hand, holding her mask. "Would you mind helping me?"

Always happy to oblige, I nod. Bella turns around and places the mask over her eyes. I reach out and take the black satin ties on either side and pull them back to fasten the mask securely. When she turns back around, and I see the mask on her for the first time, I'm completely blown away. Sure, I was sceptical that the unique mask may not conceal her identity given its thin metal construction, but it did, and the eye makeup she chose to wear really makes her brown eyes stand out.

I can guarantee that she's going to be the most beautiful woman at this party, and I'm not just saying that because she's mine.

My hunch is only proven right when we enter the grand hall and all eyes are on us. Women drop their classic masquerade masks to their sides and gawk while their husbands look on, trying to be discreet—and failing, I might add. In truth, I'm sure a part of all the ogling is due in large part to the fact that most of these people are my colleagues and recognize me while wondering who the beautiful stranger on my arm is.

As one of the hired servers walks by with a tray of champagne flutes, I grab two and offer one to Bella.

"Thank you," she says, taking a sip and looking around, her eyes wide and glimmering with excitement as she takes in our surroundings from the formal decor to the elaborate dresses that all of the women wore. Her smile grows wider as she admires the beauty of original architecture and elegant lighting fixtures that bathe the room in light, setting the scene for tonight's party. There are quite a few people dancing on the floor while the others mingle all around the room or near the bar.

Now, maybe I am being a bit biased, but there isn't a woman in this room that can hold a candle to Bella. It would seem that most, if not all, had chosen to wear a more traditional ball gown while Bella's is sleek and modern, fitting her body like a glove and showing off more skin than should be legal. Perhaps this just confirms the generation gap between them and Bella.

"Is it weird that I can totally picture everyone breaking out into Masquerade?" She looks up at me, her eyes locking with mine. She must see my confusion, because she quickly tacks on, "You know. From Phantom of the Opera?"

"Oh," I reply, choosing not to tell her that, while I'd seen it when the latest movie first came out, I didn't really remember it, nor stayed awake through it all. I do seem to recall the scene at the masquerade ball, and, after looking around, I can see how she'd think that to be a possibility.

"Edward!" a voice booms behind us, and we wheel around to find Emmett McCarty, my business partner and friend, and his beautiful wife, Rosalie, approaching. They're both wearing basic gold masks to cover their faces, but there's no mistaking either one of them. Emmett, for one, is extremely tall and broad-shouldered, while his wife is supermodel-esque with long blonde hair that flows down her back in waves.

Both of them glance to my left to see Bella before looking to one another and sharing a quick look. My separation from Tanya isn't news to them, and Emmett knew I would be bringing someone tonight based on how many tickets I had acquired, but I could see the two of them trying to figure out who she might be.

"Hi," Bella says, breaking the brief silence and holding out her hand.

Emmett is the first to grab it, and he smiles. "Hello. I'm Emmett, and this is my wife, Rosalie. It's a pleasure to meet you . . .?" He trails off, leaving his greeting open for her introduction.

Instead of giving into his silent inquiry, Bella arches an eyebrow and smiles. "Isn't the point of a party like this for everyone to remain anonymous?" she teases.

Emmett's laugh booms, gaining the attention of a few surrounding party-goers, and he continues to ask her question after question in hopes of learning her true identity. Emmett and Rosalie have both met Charlie on several occasions when he's been in the city visiting and has joined us for a few drinks. They know of Bella, but had yet to have met her.

Naturally, Bella does an extraordinary job of dodging Emmett's questions, giving him answers that aren't untrue, but just omit a few key details that might lead them to conclude who she is to me. This seems to be a talent of hers, as I've come to realize during the course of our relationship so far.

"B," she supplies, glancing up at me with a nervous twinkle in her eye. I place my hand on her back in hopes of assuring her that I've got her back on this, and she continues. "My friends all call me B."

"Friends," Rose pipes up, looking between the two of us and deducing our relationship. "Is that how the two of you know each other?"

"Oh, sort of, I guess," Bella replies with a smirk as my thumb strokes the skin of her back above her dress. "We, uh . . . we go way back. Old friends, definitely."

Em seems satiated by her introduction and drops his interrogation, instead letting the conversation shift to Bella complimenting Rose's dress and vice versa. While I'm certain we could introduce her properly to them without Charlie finding out in just a few short days, I think Bella's still a little nervous that somehow it'll get back to him. I understand her need to tell him first—I want that too—so I go along with her wishes, even if it means tonight we'd be playing an interesting game of avoidance with my colleagues.

"If you'll excuse us," I say, interrupting their conversation before Emmett can ask another question Bella will have to dodge. Yes, she's really good at it, but I can sense it makes her slightly uncomfortable still.

Placing my hand on the small of her back, I lead Bella toward the bar to get another drink. She orders a vodka and cranberry juice while I request a glass of scotch. "I think you handled that very well," I tell her.

She giggles before taking a small drink. "He's quite curious, isn't he?"

I laugh in response. "He can be," I inform her, tipping the bartender. "Can you blame him, though? He hasn't stopped asking me questions about what's happened to make me so happy in the past few weeks. Naturally, he suspected I'd met someone, and when I failed to confirm or deny anything, he took my silence as all the confirmation he needed. And now that he's seen me with a beautiful woman on my arm," I continue, placing my hand on her hip and pulling her toward me, "well, I think it's piqued his curiosity to its limit."

"Well, I suppose I can't fault him for that." She looks around the room again and smiles. "This really is amazing. It's like something right out of a fairytale."

Feeling particularly corny, I finish my drink and set my glass and Bella's on the bar top before taking her hand and pulling her toward the dance floor. "Then I think it's my duty, as the handsome prince in this particular fairytale, to sweep you off your feet on the dance floor."

Bella giggles as I spin her out onto the floor before we begin to sway a little more rhythmically to the live classical music filling the room. She moves gracefully, and I hold her body close to mine; my right hand rests happily on the small of her back, directly above the swell of her perfect ass. Every breath she takes has her breasts brushing against my chest, and I find myself shamelessly glancing down at them, loving how her dress fits so snug that it pushes them up and in. I want to touch them so fucking badly.

"Eyes up, Mr. Cullen," she chastises playfully, the fingers of her left hand teasing the fine hairs at the nape of my neck.

My own fingers curl against the fabric of her dress as my desire for her swells by the second. "My apologies, Miss Swan," I whisper under my breath, dropping my face next to her ear. "I just can't help myself when you look the way you do." My lips graze the shell of her ear, and her fingers tighten in my hair while her entire body shudders in my arms.

"You sure do know how to sweet-talk the girls, don't you?"

I shake my head, spinning us once more on the dance floor. "Just you, Bella," I respond, straightening up and staring deep into her expressive brown eyes.

Her lips twist up into a coy smile as her cheeks fill with colour. "You're going to get so lucky tonight."

We share a few consecutive dances, and when the music shifts to something a little more upbeat, Bella excuses herself to use the washroom. I take this opportunity to grab us a couple more drinks, and as I wait at the bar, Emmett shows up, clapping his hand down on my shoulder. He's alone, having left his wife somewhere—most likely with several of the other executives' wives.

"So," he begins, "your date seems great."

I nod in response. "She is. I really like her."

"She's younger," he states confidently. "Not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, I think it's great. Every guy should hook up with a hot young co-ed at least once." He must interpret my look of annoyance for what it is, because his eyes widen behind his mask. "Shit. No. I didn't mean to imply that she was a passing phase . . . though, if she is, that's fine too." He's rambling now, and deep down, I know he didn't mean any harm with his statement, so I cut him some slack.

"Relax, Em. It's fine."

He breathes a sigh of relief and then arches an inquisitive eyebrow at me. "So, uh, how old is she?"

"Old enough," I reply.

"Okay," he says, drawing the word out slightly. "But how long has she been 'old enough'?" He uses his fingers to make air quotes, and I roll my eyes.

"Does it matter?"

Laughing, he shrugs. "Nah. Not really. But, like every other guy that's laid eyes on her tonight, I'm trying to live vicariously through you."

Bella returns at just the right moment, putting an end to this awkward conversation, and I pull her to me. She takes her drink from me with a smile and looks between Emmett and me. "What are you boys talking about?"

Emmett grins guiltily, and Bella reads his expression like a book. "Ah," she breathes, "still curious, huh?" Emmett shrugs, gaining another smile from her. "Well, I'm sure you won't be kept wondering for too much longer." With that, she loops her arm through mine and nods back toward the dance floor.

We leave our glasses on a nearby table—it's possible we won't see them again, but that's all right; it's an open bar—and I pull her back into my arms. The band plays another slow song, and we move smoothly, our bodies pressed close once more.

"I know we've only been here a couple hours," Bella says wistfully, "but I'm having a really good time."

I spin her and then pull her back into my arms while she laughs. "I'm glad, because I'm also having a great time." I release her hand for a minute while we dance and bring it up to stroke her face, grazing the thin metal of her mask with the back of my finger in the process, and she licks her bottom lip. This act draws me in like a moth to a flame, but because we'd agreed to refrain from any major shows of affection that could start churning the rumour mill, I hold steady, and we make do with smouldering glances, soft caresses, and whispered signs of devotion that cause my already-heightened desire for her to mount further.

I feel like I'm on cloud nine with Bella in my arms, and the exuberant smile on her face tells me she's right there alongside me. Of course, harsh whispers cut through the happy haze that shrouds us, drawing our attention across the room . . . to where Tanya is currently making her way through the crowd of people with me in her sights.

Or, more accurately: Bella.

Tanya must've come prepared to go unnoticed for a bit, because she's wearing a gold gown she likely bought months ago before I cut off her access to my credit cards. Her face is half-hidden behind a solid black mask, and her hair is piled on top of her head intricately. She'd be lost amongst a sea of others just like her if it weren't for the fire in her eyes as she storms toward us.

Naturally, Bella's not oblivious to the impending drama, and she offers me a nervous smile, laying her right hand on my chest. "I'm going to make myself scarce. I'll come find you in a bit." As she walks away, she lets her hand drag across my chest, almost as though she's staying connected to me for as long as possible before she's forced to let go. I want to follow her, to tell her not to run away, but I decide to just deal with Tanya before she can make an even bigger scene.

It catches me off guard a little when Tanya doesn't stop to confront me, but instead makes a move to follow after Bella as she weaves between party-goers, trying to lose herself in the crowd while watching over her shoulder. I recover quickly, grabbing for Tanya's arm and stopping her.

Her eyes find mine, and I can see just how angry she is. It doesn't surprise me in the least. What does surprise me is that she even has the audacity to think she's allowed to be angry about my moving on.

"Let me go, Edward," she seethes, trying to pull her arm free from my grasp. "You can't stop me from finding out who she is."

"Tanya," I start to say, trying to keep my voice low and calm. It wavers slightly as my irritation rears its head, but I manage to keep it at bay for the moment. "You need to leave."

"I'm not going anywhere until I find out who your little . . . friend is."

Exasperated, I lead Tanya through the room and out onto the terrace. A few drops of rain are beginning to fall, and the night air bites at the skin on my face as I release her arm and stand between her and the door. "Tanya, you need to let this go. How did you even get in here?"

Tanya smirks, but only briefly before her anger resurfaces. "All I had to do was mention your name at the door. Didn't expect to hear you'd be here with someone. The moron you have letting people in thought I was your 'plus one.' I came here to talk to you in a civilized manner, but when I heard you'd be here with a . . . date . . . well, I got pissed off."

"You, of all people, have no right to be upset with what I do and who I do it with," I remind her through gritted teeth.

Tanya rolls her eyes. "You sure do seem to be having a hell of a time in the wake of our separation."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning you've seem to have acquired a taste for younger women," she says, crossing her arms. "I never thought you'd be the type to go through a mid-life crisis."

While she doesn't outright name Bella, I can tell that's what she's alluding to. Does she also suspect that it's Bella who's here? Tanya never was good at paying attention to anyone but herself, which meant she oftentimes missed what was going on directly in front of her, unless it benefitted her in the slightest.

Annoyed that I'm here with Tanya while Bella is God-knows-where hiding inside, I glare and am unable to keep the venom from my tone. I don't mean to engage her further when it comes to my love life, but I've had enough. "Well, thirteen years with you, darling, and I was bound to need some kind of outlet. Who better than someone whose body has yet to be affected by gravity?"

Tanya's eyes widen to the point that, had this been a cartoon, I'd be able to see steam erupting from her ears and nose. I'm uncertain what she'll unleash on me next, but I refuse to back down. I won't out my relationship with Bella, but I won't deny that I've moved on either.

I'm surprised when she doesn't bring up my date, though I can tell she wants to. "I got the papers, Edward," she shoots back. "Jasper dropped them off last night."

"Good."

She eyes me defiantly, and I fear what's coming out of her mouth next. "I'm not signing them."

My eyebrows shoot skyward, and my jaw drops simultaneously. "Excuse me?"

"I mean it. I've spent thirteen years married to you, and I'm not walking away with nothing."

I'm unable to contain my laughter, and it draws the attention of a few people just inside the door. "Then maybe you should've thought about that before screwing around on me."

Tanya tries to feed me the same excuse that she's been forcing down my throat for the last few months about how I pulled away first and drowned myself in work, but I put a stop to that right fucking quick. "Be that as it may, if you'd have just filed for divorce, we could have come to some kind of amicable agreement." She opens her mouth to protest again, but I cut her off, pointing my finger at her and leaning forward until I'm right in her face. "Sign the papers, Tanya, or so help me God, I'll find a way to make the judge force your hand."

Behind me, I can hear the countdown begin, signalling that the stroke of midnight is upon us. Without another word, I turn on my heel and storm back into the ballroom, leaving Tanya on the terrace, and look around for Bella. I'm still so infuriated that Tanya would show up here like this, but when I find Bella by the bar, sipping another glass of champagne, as the crowd says "fifteen," it dissipates a little—not entirely, but enough for now—and I push my way through the crowd. She must sense my presence, because she turns to me, smiling, and makes her way toward me, finishing her drink and setting the glass down on her way over.

With less than ten seconds left, we reach each other, and I pull her into my arms, holding her close as though we were dancing again.

"Is everything okay?" she asks.

"Eight!"

"It is now," I reply.

"Seven!"

Bella's hands move up my chest, tugging on the lapels of my suit lightly. "You didn't push her off the terrace, did you?" she teases.

"Six!"

I laugh, shaking my head, and curl my fingers into her hips. "No."

"Five!"

"I assure you I did nothing of the sort," I continue.

"Four!"

"That's good."

I tilt my face down toward Bella as the countdown nears the end, and she looks at me with wide, nervous eyes that also hold a glimmer of excitement.

"Three!"

"What are you doing?" she asks, looking around. Her gaze freezes to the left, and I follow it, finding Tanya watching us. This reignites my earlier feelings of irritation, and I'm even more certain of what I'm about to do. "We shouldn't."

"Two!"

I turn her face back to mine and brush my lips over hers. "Perhaps not, but I think we've earned it."

"One! HAPPY NEW YEAR!"

Before she can protest further—not that I think she will, if I'm being entirely honest—I press my lips to hers, pulling her hips against me again. Her fingers tighten around my lapels, and she steps onto the tips of her toes to deepen our kiss. Auld Lang Syne begins to play, the sounds of the string instruments filling the grand ballroom as everyone rings in the New Year around us.

That familiar hum of desire vibrates through my veins, filling my entire being and electrifying the surface of my skin. Bella moans against my mouth, tugging on my lapels to pull me closer, even though it's impossible, and my arms wrap around her waist, lifting her off the ground slightly.

Breathless, I stop kissing her, resting my forehead against hers as she tries to catch her breath and feeling her warm breath fan across my face and neck. "What do you say we get out of here? Head back to my place for the night?"

Smirking, Bella looks up at me through her lashes. "My place is closer."


A/N2: So, there's the long-awaited masquerade ball. Was it everything you'd hoped? Next up is the long-awaited drama: Charlie learns the truth. How's he going to react? Well, it's time to find out. Stay tuned next week and be sure to check out the Fictionator's site next Monday for a chapter 12 teaser!

PLEASE review and let me know what you thought! I've missed hearing your supportive words! You guys are what keeps me going! Even when I feel overwhelmed with real life stuff ;)

See you next week!