26.

It's Hard Not To Be Greedy

I woke up to Edward making constellations out of my freckles.

A fingertip drawn soft and smooth from one to another. Fluttering from shoulder to hip, drifting languidly down my leg as he traced all the blistered blooming scars he'd left all over me. He stopped to inspect the bandage on the bottom of my foot, ensuring that it was still firmly attached, before continuing his embellishments back up, getting distracted by my backside and cupping my bottom firmly. I blinked myself awake, a tumble of sheets and skin and ink in a chaotic mess before my eyes. Sunshine and the salty breeze billowing in through the opened walls.

"Did you know? Before you married him?" Edward asked, voice rough with sleep and hair wickedly disheveled, smoldering around the edges from the sun like a fucking angel.

"Of course," I mumbled, rubbing my face with my hands, floundering out of a blissful lavender scented sleep.

"There's got to be a reason, Bella. I don't understand." Still tracing my freckles, still hot enough to burn me and pretty enough that I'd let him ask me anything right now. "I'm in the dark," he claimed, despite his halo.

He scooped me off the mattress, settling me into his lap, my naked skin meeting the expectant erection he was sporting. I shrugged, trying to seem noncommittal and failing under his watchful eyes. Trying to remain focused, but really only wondering about that newly discovered barbell sitting somewhere just below me. I dug my fingers into his stomach and forced myself not to flex my hips in search for it.

"I . . . didn't really have a lot going for me when I met him." Edward shook his head at me, eyes pinching as he told me silently that it wasn't enough. "I owed a lot of money," I sighed, trying not to squirm.

"You don't strike me as a lynch pin. Or a gambler." He smirked, even though he was wrong. I was gambling here, naked in his lap in the middle of the day and I didn't even care that his invisible tattoo was burning fault lines across my skin. Didn't care that Jasper was off somewhere with Jacob and that Alice made my heart flutter like a newborn bird perched on the edge of its nest, wanting desperately to take flight but scared senseless that my feathers hadn't grown in yet. I was gambling on the slim hope that my thin shell could hold all of this inside after they were gone.

Betting on my resolve, which had never really been worth betting on to begin with.

"My mother died. Left me with a bunch of debt," I relented reluctantly. He raised his eyebrows in question and I gave in without hesitation. "A hundred grand in student loans and a house that wasn't even close to paid off. I only barely managed to keep the car, but I was drowning in collection notices."

"Didn't she have insurance?"

Insurance? If he knew her he wouldn't even bother to ask, but I did my best to swallow down all the residual resentment I had for the woman and tried to answer him as neutrally as possible. "Not nearly enough to cover her tuition, much less how many times she changed her major. I paid off the truck and had a little money left over, but I lost the house and assumed all her outstanding loans."

"I'm sorry to hear that. Do you miss her, aside from the money?"

I shook my head firmly. It's hard to miss someone who lets their selfish side take their own life, along with three others, in a burning ball of vaguely car- shaped wreckage inspired by a bottle of pills and not enough self control. She tormented me as much in her afterlife as she did from the waking one.

"And how does Jasper fit into all of that?" Edward asked, obviously sensing that the topic of my mother was closed.

"He offered me an out," I sighed. He had paid off every penny, in fact, and kept it a secret for a lot longer than he should have. It took nearly two years for me to notice the flat- out decline in those red- stamped envelopes and when I confronted him about it he only shrugged and told me that he hated the look on my face when I saw them.

"In exchange for this?" Edward flexed his hips, his dick slipping aside and the warm bite of metal suddenly rubbing right up against me. I tried to be subtle about the shift in my hips, sliding a steel ball sneakily across my clit and hoping he wouldn't notice, but he totally did. His eyelids fluttered minutely and he dug his fingers into my hips, forcing me to still.

"He doesn't get this part of me," I panted. "He's never seemed to want it."

"He's a fucking fool," Edward spat and sat upright underneath me. With an arm around my back he pulled me close and kissed me roughly, pinning my lips between my teeth and his lips rings. I used the moment to really dig my hips against him, rubbing myself forcefully against skin and metal hot as fire. Goddamn that felt amazing. Edward sucked softly on my bottom lip as though he was apologizing for bruising it and released me with a gasp.

"Do you feel like you owe him? Is that why you stay?" he asked, hands skimming my skin and I wondered if he could feel it, my TNT tattoo simmering just under the surface.

"He's never made me feel that way." I shook my head, gulping down my urge to defend Jasper, whatever he was responsible for. He'd only done his best to take care of me, lavishing me in return for what he deemed the ultimate favor, making sure that I reaped the benefits of our situation just as much, if not more, than he did.

"I want to hate him," Edward mused, running a hand down my face, sounding sad, "but I can't." "Don't hate him. He's everything to me."

Edward deflated back against the pillows and I looked at my hands splayed across his abs, all that intricate detail buried in his skin. The design was mirrored from beneath his belly button, something that looked like a tree sprouting beneath the faint trail of hair that meandered down his abdomen. From the tree spiraled two arcs of repetitive patterns, trailing along the side of his abs in monochrome black and grey tiles. Squares and rectangles in differing shades of overcast charcoal. Geometric flowers and delineated vines.

"What is all of this?" I marveled, tracing the endless lines with my fingers.

"The floor of a mosque I went to in Niamey." Edward glanced down at my hands, pressing back against the pillows and reassuming his hold on my hips. "It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. Then," he tacked on, fingernails to my skin.

"Will you send me something? Something pretty, when you go back?"

"When I go back?" He arched a cynical eyebrow at me.

"You are," I nodded at him, sure of it as my fingers reached the sprouting center of his tattoo, disappearing beneath me with the shining hint of metal if I pulled back far enough. I spread my hands back out across the mosaic, nails to his muscles and ground myself down on him and that barbell as though I was trying to prove a point.

Still squirming. Still on fire.

Still perfectly content to burn.

"Maybe not," he groaned, hands to my hips as he helped move me across his piercing, pulling me firmly against him with his eyes locked on my face and his cock trapped in the hollow of my thigh. "Come with me."

"I don't belong there," I sighed, not entirely sure if he was talking about another continent, or another orgasm. I pulled back to push against him, letting him sink his fingers into the joints at my hips tight enough to make my legs go numb. He nearly groaned, tugging me forward and licking his lips as my mouth dropped open.

"I want to watch you do that again," he demanded, even if it did sound almost like a request this time.

"You want so much."

"It's hard not to be greedy." He shot me a devilish smile, unapologetic.

Speaking of.

"Show me your bell. Please," I begged, thrusting my hips hard up against him, mashing myself into him mostly because he'd proven to be a bit of a sucker for it. He didn't disappoint.

Didn't hesitate. Didn't even blink.

He released my hips and grabbed the two lip rings, stretching them down to expose the soft inside of his mouth, white teeth and pink gums and a tiny bell inked there in the scant empty space between the metal hoops. Small and simple and so fucking obvious.

It had been in his mouth the entire time.

I'd probably licked it without knowing every time we kissed. So close yet so far away and I wondered if his tongue was the body part Alice had been referring to all along, the part he wanted me to get better acquainted with. Wondered if he could feel it inked there into his flesh.

If that's what he was doing every time he sucked those lips rings into his mouth while he stared at me.


I was sitting at the piano in the lobby that afternoon, trying to escape the metallic heaviness that had settled over everything when Carlisle found me. He ambled out of his office, looking distracted and excited and his face broke into a wide grin when he saw me.

"Ah, Bella. Just the person I wanted to see." He sat down beside me and smiled that winning smile in my direction, making me flounder inwardly. I didn't quite know how to react to him, knowing what I knew about Edward, not to mention everything we'd kept from him for the last five years. "I was hoping you'd give me a tour of your greenhouse. I haven't officially visited it yet."

"It's not mine," I hedged, not wanting to take any sort of responsibility that might fall onto Jasper later. "Alice only called it that on accident."

Carlisle chuckled. "She often says things before she thinks them through. I know you don't want to claim it, Bella, but it was the reason Jasper wanted this place so badly. By all accounts it sounds magical and I believe you should be the person to show it to me."

He helped me to stand and kept a firm hold on my hand as I limped beside him on my toes, out of the lobby and through the jungle, stepping underneath his arm to enter the greenhouse, damp air adding to that all around heavy headed feeling. I kicked off my shoes, the sole of my foot feeling tight and pinched. Edward had changed the bandage before he allowed me to leave this morning and ordered me with a stern face not to go swimming.

Doctor's orders.

"Esme told me that you asked about my opinion of Edward." Carlisle mused softly, eyes distracted as he wandered through the greenhouse, his voice echoing off the glass. I tightened my mouth, unwilling to deny it and sort of curious anyway. Better to get the story straight from the horse's mouth, as it were.

I stood underneath the ancient tree, letting it rain pink petals all over me, and allowed Carlisle to ruin everything.

"Emmett is a good man, strong and dependable, but he's never shown much propensity for going above and beyond," Carlisle mused, sounding far away and thoughtful. I had no idea why we were talking about Emmett. "I owe much of our success to him, his determination and loyalty. He's happy to achieve the best but . . . he doesn't seem concerned with excelling. Edward, however . . . Edward has the potential to far exceed every expectation that I have of him." Carlisle stopped to inspect a trailing plant with tiny star- shaped flowers that were the oddest shade of lime green, fingering the soft leaves with a furrow between his eyebrows.

"Maybe your expectations aren't what he wants." I felt awkward defending Edward, knowing full well that I was only getting a glimpse at the very tip of the giant iceberg I'd been floating on for the last five years. Carlisle knew far more about him than I did and just from the way he glanced at me, eyes narrowed, I was certain that I'd struck a nerve.

"I'm trying to help him realize his full potential."

"He told me about your offer."

Carlisle lowered an eyebrow at me as though he hadn't expected Edward to do that. "We'd like him to accept. He's being very stubborn."

"Unlike Jasper?" I questioned, already used to staring the bull in the face and figuring that Edward probably learned all his tricks from his dad.

"They could both stand to learn something from your husband. He is a rare breed."

"I think both of your sons are starting to form some resentment. Your attachment is starting to show." I waved my bright red flag at him, daring him to charge.

"He's become just as important to me. I do think of him as a son. I find myself proud of his achievements and I look forward to the day he comes out."

Hold the fuck up.

"When . . . who comes out?" I stammered, blinded by panic.

"Jasper, of course." "You know?" I choked on my own heart. Spluttering and coughing and chock full of fear.

"Well, I've always known, Bella." Carlisle eyed me solemnly. "From the first moment I met him, if I'm completely honest. He wasn't quite so skilled at keeping it hidden in the beginning, his penchant for shoes notwithstanding. You've been quite the distraction all these years."

There it was again. Me as the distraction.

"Why have you allowed us to do this for so long? It must have become such a joke to you." My face reddened, imaging what he could have thought watching Jasper and I flirt with the facade of married life together. Carlisle smiled softly at me, the same smile he used on Esme when she did something particularly endearing.

"I admire your dedication Bella. I know very few people in this world who could ever compete with you. I also know that you make him a better person, though I don't quite understand how you've manage to improve on an already good thing."

"He doesn't need me. He's shines on his own."

"You speak the truth, as ever. His unveiling will be the spark that changes it all."

"Changes what?"

"Our world. I know these people," Carlisle nearly growled. "I know their prejudices and their intolerance. I know that the only way to make a point in this world is to smash that point to pieces and Jasper is doing just that without much help from me. He's going to take all of their assumptions and press it right up into their faces until they're forced to yield."

"You can't do this. He's worked too hard," I wavered, close to bursting into tears.

"Precisely, Bella. And his hard work is going to open the doors for so many others who would never have been given a chance. Don't you see? His success will prove them wrong, but he has to succeed first."

"And Edward? He has just as much to prove." I couldn't understand how one person could be so passionate about one side of the spectrum without realizing the validity of the opposite. How he feel so strongly about Jasper while brushing his colorful, capable son aside.

"I understand that this is not where Edward belongs. He hates this job, the computers and the phone calls and the board meetings. He belong in the trenches, in the blood and the guts. Not here."

"So you're trying to push him away," I mumbled.

"I'm not pushing him away, I'm pushing him to be as important as he possibly can. The same applies for Jasper, I'm hoping to uncover their full potential." He sounded almost excited and I really hoped that our life wasn't about to become a giant spectacle.

"You have to tell him," I begged. "Give him some warning. Please don't surprise him with this."

"Of course not. I respect him too much to even consider such a thing. Please don't cry, this will be good. In the end, you'll see."

I gulped down my tears, struggling to hold myself upright underneath a crumbling roof and falling down sky.

I had to find Jasper.