Half way across the country, Bella finds it easy to ignore her problems. Out of sight, out of mind proves for the most part to be true, and as long as she stays a fair distance from her cell phone, she doesn't dwell on Edward. She thoroughly enjoys her trip, so much so that when Sunday morning comes around, she finds it difficult to say goodbye. Leaving Washington is rough, and knowing she will soon face Edward after ignoring him for the duration of the weekend only makes everything that much worse.
Ignoring a phone call is one thing. But when the target of her avoidance is standing just past the airport's security checkpoint, smile slapped onto his face, it's another thing entirely.
Her resolve crumbles as soon as Edward pulls her into his arms for a long, meaningful hug. "Hey, baby," he says. "Welcome home."
It's a bad choice of words. Chicago isn't home, and given their current situation, Bella can list a million places she'd rather be. The only thing good about the city is him, but she must remain firm in her decision to focus on her career. It's for the best. She's wasting her time.
Or at least that's what she tells herself.
She tolerates his attachment, pulling away as soon as it's acceptable to do so. "Hey. You really didn't have to pick me up."
Edward scoffs. "Why wouldn't I?"
"I could've taken the subway."
"Don't be ridiculous." He rolls his eyes before meeting hers. "I missed you."
She doesn't lie. She missed him too.
The two make small talk on the ride home. Neither address the fact that it's the first actual conversation they've had since the weekend began. Edward has every intention of bringing it up eventually, but things are going well and he doesn't want to ruin it. For this reason he allows himself to live in the moment, stealing kisses at stoplights and proving through soft touches how much he's missed her. He evokes the feelings of desire Bella has tried so hard to shut down, and she has no willpower left to fight him off. She realizes she doesn't want to.
Back at her apartment, sex proves to be easier than confrontation. Perhaps it's more than a distraction. For Bella, it's an apology. She's sorry for ignoring him, remorseful for thinking she could do things on her own. Being with Edward again only makes her realize how stupid it was to think she doesn't want this. The truth is that he's so much more important than some stupid career, and it's much easier to show him rather than to tell him. Her hips shift against his. She rides him greedily until they're both spent.
He waits until she's asleep to try out the words.
"I love you."
Can we talk? Will you come over after work?
Bella frowns at the text message from Edward. She must've forgotten to tell him about the game. It's probably for the best, she decides. This morning when she awoke for work, the bed was cold. Edward was nowhere to be found. It's so unlike him to just disappear. At the time she tried not to put too much thought into it, but now she wonders if there wasn't more to it. A million scenarios race through her head, and none are pleasant. Does he want it to be over? Did something happen while she was gone? Is there someone else? She might be overly insecure, but nothing positive ever comes from talking.
It never even occurs to her that it might be a good talk.
She quickly fires back a response.
I have to work late. Raincheck?
There's a knock on the open door to her office. Jacob stands at its entrance. He's dressed casually; his jeans and t-shirt are not what one might expect from a CEO. He wears his baseball cap backwards and reeks of freshly applied cologne. The attire is indicative of a social outing, not a business meeting. It makes Bella feel slightly uneasy. She's overdressed.
"Ready to go?" he asks.
"Sure," she says.
Bella stands, more than happy to jet out of the office a few minutes earlier than planned. The game isn't until seven, and it's only a few minutes past five. They weren't originally scheduled to leave until five-thirty, but after a busy day of playing catch up, she's reluctant to say anything about Jacob's timetable. Anything is better than being cooped up in a stuffy office with ten million things to do.
"I was thinking we could grab a bite to eat," he says.
"Sounds good. But what about the client?"
Jacob smiles. "He's meeting us at the game."
"Wonderful. That'll give us plenty of time to figure out a plan beforehand."
"Right." Jacob stifles a laugh, and the two step onto a crowded elevator.
They end up at the same pizza place Bella frequents with Edward. Jacob chooses the spot, and to Bella, it feels wrong being there with another man. She constantly reminds herself that the dinner date is strictly professional, but Jacob has a difficult time staying on task. He continually shifts the subject matter of their conversation to Bella's personal life and dances around the topic of whether she's seeing someone. He makes it clear that he's not. Each time it's brought up, she deflects.
"How was your trip?"
"I had a great time," she says. "It was a little hard to come back to Chicago, to be honest."
Jacob's face is etched with concern. "Do you not like it here?"
"Oh, I do. I love living here." She hesitates. "It's complicated."
"I understand." Or so he thinks. "Chicago can be very lonely."
"It's not that."
Jacob shifts his posture into a stance that's much more intimate. He leans across the table, keeping his voice low. "You know, Bella, I'm always here. If there's ever anything you need… or if you just want to talk."
"Thanks, Jacob." She smiles. "But, really, I'm okay."
"Are you sure?" he asks.
"Positive," she says. "Now, let's talk about this client."
Bella successfully steers the conversation back to what's important, and the two finish their pizza before taking a cab across town.
The stadium is already crowded when they arrive. Jacob escorts Bella to a bank of elevators leading to Newton's private box, and once upstairs, he introduces her to the man in charge. Mike Newton isn't much older than Jake. The two have a lot in common, and even before tonight, their partnership was almost imminent.
There's little talk of business to be had. Jacob assures Bella it'll come after. All they have to do is watch the game and enjoy themselves, and with the alcohol from the open bar, doing so isn't hard.
"How'd you learn so much about baseball?" Newton asks Bella during the sixth inning.
"My dad raised me," she explains. "Sports were a part of our everyday life."
"She's impressive," he says to Jacob. "If you had introduced me to her in the first place, I probably would've given you our business a long time ago."
"So do we have a deal?" Bella asks. She's beaming with optimism.
"We have a deal," Newton confirms.
Bella puts her hand up in the air to give Jacob a congratulatory high five. He takes it a step further, pulling her close for a hug. It lasts a little longer than it should, but in all of her excitement Bella doesn't even notice. Newton does the same. Hands are shaken, beers are passed around, and an appointment is made for the contract to be signed.
"Really, Bella," Jacob slurs at the end of the night. He insisted they go to the bar next to the stadium to celebrate after the game. Initially Bella said no, but Jacob wasn't having it. He damn near dragged her inside. "I don't know what I would do without you."
"Please." She dismisses his compliment, taking another sip of her Long Island. "You could've handled that one on your own."
It's true. He could've, but Jacob has an agenda of his own. He's focused on another kind of partnership, one that has nothing to do with Embry & Black. There's a reason why he needed to get Bella alone. The excuse to get her out of the office and away from prying eyes worked like a charm, and he knows if he plays his cards right, getting her into bed will be just as easy.
He orders another round of shots.
"We make an excellent team," he insists.
"I suppose you're right." Bella smiles. Under normal conditions his compliments would make her uncomfortable, but the booze has taken its toll.
"I'm serious," he says. "Me and you. You and me. We could be unstoppable."
"Black and Swan," she jokes.
His hand slides to her knee. "Jacob and Bella."
She pushes it away. "Jacob," she warns.
"What?" he asks, feigning innocence.
"You're drunk." And as much as she doesn't want to admit it, so is she.
"I'm not." He composes his confidence. "I mean it. We could be good together."
"You're my boss," she reminds him.
"Exactly." Jacob grins. He has her exactly where he wants, or so he thinks. "Which means I can give you things others can't. A promotion, a higher salary… It's yours. But I need to know you're there for me, whenever and however I need you, one hundred percent."
They're promises he's not sure he can keep, but he makes them anyway. Even intoxicated, she knows better. "I can't do that."
"I have someone." It's a matter of fact. She's spoken for, and even if she weren't, they still wouldn't have a deal.
"Who? Dr. Cullen's stepson?" Jacob laughs.
"Edward," she confirms.
"I suspected as much. Bella, I've done PR for Carlisle long enough to know how he is. You're wasting your time."
"You don't know that," she argues.
"It's like we were talking about earlier. The city is lonely, so let me take care of you."
"What would we tell people?" She doesn't know why she even asks. She's not considering it. There's no way.
He shrugs, and his hand is back. It's higher this time, teasing the hem of her dress. "For now, we wouldn't."
"I think I should probably get going." Bella stands. Her balance is shaky, but her mind is clear enough to know she needs to get out of the bar and away from Jacob. She regrets those last two drinks. Jacob sees the way she wobbles when she walks.
"Let me take you home. I'll call a cab," he offers. His intentions are clear as his hand moves to the small of Bella's back.
"It might be better if you don't," she snaps. Her apartment building isn't far. She can walk.
Jacob has no intentions of letting her off so easily. He follows her out of the bar and into the street. "Bella," he calls out, grabbing her by the arm. "I want you to think about this."
"What is there to think about?" she demands, stopping dead in her tracks. The street spins. It's crowded with rowdy sports fans, but no one seems to notice them. "You're offering me a promotion in exchange for sex. Do you know how much trouble you can get in for shit like this? What are you even thinking?"
He isn't worried. "I'm the CEO of a PR firm, sweetheart. I can spin my way out of anything."
"You're unbelievable," Bella spits, picking up her pace again. His arrogance is causing her to sober up quickly. "I work my ass off for you, Jacob! I've sacrificed everything for my career! My father is dying in Washington and I'm here, working for you. I thought you were going to offer me a promotion based off merit, but the only fucking job you care about is a blow job!"
"As if a Cullen is any different." Jacob rolls his eyes. "Seriously, Bella. If that hot blonde can't keep Emmett's attention, do you really think you'll be able to hold onto Edward?"
She comes to another halt. Her apartment complex is within eyesight. Jacob has Bella right where he wants her, and he knows it. His hands are on her again—grazing her arms, her hips, her sides. He leans in to make his move. She's weak.
"Don't touch me." The words come out in a slur. As she tries to bat his hands away, he pulls her closer.
She can't do it. She won't. It doesn't matter that it's just sex. The idea of being with someone else is unfathomable. Her stomach turns, nauseated from the thought of betraying Edward in such a way. It doesn't matter that the insecure part of Bella's brain wonders how many other girls he's been with since they started screwing around, or that he'd never have to know. It's not going to happen. She hates herself for even getting into this situation in the first place.
She's been so stupid, so careless.
He tries to kiss her, but she turns so that his lips graze her cheek. She pushes him away, harder this time. Scared eyes land on the city's only familiar face.
His fists are clenched. Edward doesn't acknowledge Bella. All of his attention is focused solely on Jacob. Smug eyes stare straight into his, and it takes every bit of self-control he has not to swing.
He opts to shove instead. "Keep your fucking hands off of her."
Jacob shoves back. "Do you mind, Masen? I'm fucking busy here."
"Busy doing what? Forcing yourself on drunk girls?"
Jake laughs. "Well, who would know better than you?"
Edward's knuckles collide with Jacob's jaw. The punch packs so much force that Edward almost takes his adversary to the ground. His fist throbs, but it's easy to ignore the pain. A gash across Jacob's lip begins to gush blood. He barely recovers before swinging back, but Edward's sober reflexes are much stronger than Jake's. He ducks. The punch misses its mark, and Edward hits again. "If you ever touch my girlfriend again—"
"Edward, stop!" Bella screams.
"Go inside. Let me handle this," Edward insists, sending Jacob to the ground.
She does the opposite, forcing herself between them. "Calm down," she begs. "Please."
Bella distracts Edward long enough to allow Jacob to pick himself up off the pavement. He wipes the blood from his face and looks Bella dead in the eyes. "Forget what I said, babe. You're not worth the fucking trouble."
He storms off, leaving Bella and Edward alone on the sidewalk. She doesn't know where to begin other than to insist that she can explain. Much of the situation is obvious. Edward was waiting for her. He's been waiting outside of her apartment for hours, worried sick. His entire body shakes with anger as he follows Bella inside.
He raises his voice again, fighting back the moisture that threatens to invade his tear ducts. His initial adrenaline rush is fading fast, and the reality of the situation has started to settle in. "Jesus fucking Christ, Bella. What the fuck was that? How could you do this to me?"
"I didn't do anything! He came onto me!"
Jacob might've been the one coming onto her, but she put herself in the position. "You told me you were working late, not going out on a fucking date!"
"It wasn't a date. I was working. I promise, I can explain."
"Then maybe you should start with why you're so fucking drunk. You can't even walk straight!"
She reaches for his hand. It's swollen. Already his knuckles look black and blue. "Please, just calm down."
He yanks his hand away. It's difficult not to wince from the pain. "I just saw some asshole try to force himself on my girlfriend. Do not tell me to calm down."
For weeks she's waited for Edward to make some sort of grand gesture—for him to tell her how he feels. She never imagined it would be like this. It makes her giddy. She's too drunk to treat the situation with the demeanor it warrants.
"Since when am I your girlfriend, anyway?"
He isn't amused. "Let's not kid ourselves. When weren't you my girlfriend? I've had feelings for you since the first time we met."
Her emotions turn on a dime. She begins to sob, but anger overpowers everything else. "Then why didn't you tell me?" she demands. "Why did you lead me to believe I was nothing more than a convenient fuck?"
"It was never that," he insists. "You've always been more."
"Oh." It never occurred to Bella that the reason Edward never put labels on their relationship was because he thought he didn't have to. That it was so blatantly obvious, he felt he didn't need to define it aloud.
"Have you seriously been under the impression, this entire time, that we're only fuck buddies?"
She realizes, once again, how ignorant she's been. "Edward, I—"
"You know what? It doesn't even matter now. Don't worry about it."
"What do you mean?"
"I guess the joke's on me. You only thought you slept with a hobo, but I really did fall in love with a whore."
AN: This chapter took A LOT out of me. I'm sorry to go so long between updates. Thanks so much for reading. ILY. also, thanks to ooza, mshavisham, livieliv79 and abadkitty.
I wrote a o/s for the angst contest, Darts in the Dark, which is on my profile now. Check it out! It'll be continued when the Gap completes.