A/N: Thanks so much to mcc101180 and itlnbrt for sprinkling magic beta dust all over this. TwiSnFan is the sweetest friend who pre-reads all of my stuff. I don't always remember to thank her here, but most of it wouldn't see the light of day without her help.
Mate of Honor
The limo pulls up in front of Alice's apartment building, and I let myself out of the car, telling the driver I'm fine when he makes a move to open the door. As I'm heading toward the entrance, the glass doors are thrust open and three giggling, smoking-hot women burst onto the street.
I stop dead in my tracks, because one of the women is—hands down—the most beautiful woman I've seen in my life. Sure, she's hot—wearing a short black dress and really, really high-heeled shoes, but her expression is so carefree and relaxed. And when she sees me and gives me her biggest smile of all, rushing toward me all twinkling eyes and soft, flowing hair, I'm pretty sure my heart stops.
"Hey!" she says, throwing her arms around me and pressing her face into my neck. "Thank you so much for doing this."
I hold her tighter, never wanting to let her go. "My pleasure." I pull back, and her hands slide down my arms as she releases her embrace. "You look fantastic."
She grins and cocks her head to the side. "This old thing?" Reaching forward, she brushes off the front of my shoulder, right near my chest. It causes my heart to skip and the front of my pants to probably do the same. "You clean up nicely yourself."
"This old thing?" I tease back. She giggles, and I take her hand, leading her to the limo. After again waving the driver off, I help her into the backseat. I chuckle when I hear her gasp as she slides in, then I turn to the other two women waiting. Alice is nodding in approval.
"Nice, Cullen," she says in her low, cool voice. Knowing Alice, this is the best I'm going to get. I offer her my hand as she gets into the car. "Very nice indeed."
"Hi, Edward." Rose reaches up to give me a quick hug. "This is great! Thank you so much—Bella's really excited."
"No problem." I help Rose in, too, before slipping in behind her. There's a spare seat next to Bella, so I take it, grateful for the chance to be near her. I pull out a bottle of champagne from the bucket where it's been chilling and pour glasses for all of us.
"To our girl!" Rose holds her glass aloft, and we all tap them together.
The girls chat animatedly as we pick up more of Bella's friends, and by the time we arrive at the Japanese restaurant, there are twelve of us in total, including a couple of Bella's coworkers, and her cousin, Maggie, who has flown in from Oregon. Maggie, who is younger than Bella and me, has had an open crush on me since high school. It seems that little Maggie is all grown up now, because as she thanks me for a glass of champagne, she glances at me from beneath her lashes…and I've seen that look before.
I try to keep my distance as we're seated at the restaurant, but somehow I end up sitting between Rose and Maggie, the latter becoming increasingly open with her flirting as the table works through countless plates of Japanese dishes and bottles of champagne. She keeps finding reasons to lean across me to talk to Rose, squashing her boobs into my arm which I try really hard not to look at, considering they're practically right there in my face. On about the sixth time, Bella catches my eye from across the table and holds her glass up to me, giving me a wink. I try to grin in return, but I'm sure it looks forced. She laughs, and I roll my eyes.
When Maggie excuses herself to go to the bathroom with one of Bella's coworkers, Rose leans in closer. "This is great, Edward. B's having a great time."
"Thank you," I say, plucking a piece of tuna from the platter in front of me and stuffing it into my mouth. Emmett's right—it's nice, but I'd love a steak right now.
"She keeps going on about that gift from your uncle, you know." Rose sips from her glass, and I notice she's not knocking them back as quickly as the other girls. "I have to say, though, not too subtle of him."
"The fact that it was already engraved?" I ask, shaking my head slightly.
Rose blinks. "No, the fact that it was a letter opener."
I grab another piece of sushi, and I'm reminded of Mrs. Cope saying something similar. I tell Rose as much. "What's so great about a letter opener?"
"Ah," she says, conspiratorially leaning forward. Although she speaks quietly, I can still hear her among the noise of the restaurant. "It's the significance of it being a cutting implement." When I give her a blank look, she continues. "Superstition says that it is incredibly bad luck to give a bride a present that cuts. You know…" she waves her hand "…knives, scissors, letter openers."
"Okay," I say, drawing the word out. "Bad luck. What else?"
She expertly lifts some rice with her chopsticks. "It's the significance of the cutting. It's said that a gift that cuts severs ties. Like, the ties made during a marriage." She giggles. "The fact that the item doing the cutting is marked with your last name? Genius." Her eyes are alight as she pops the rice into her mouth.
I let it sink in for a moment, then when I see Rose wink at me, it's confirmed—she's on my side. And Rose has something I don't have—inside girl information.
"In that case…" I lift my glass to her, just as she did in the limo. "To severing ties."
She clinks her glass against mine and nods firmly. "To severing ties."
By the time the food has been eaten, dessert has been devoured, and more champagne has been drunk, I'm feeling pretty confident about my bachelorette-party-organizing skills. The girls are having a great time—and have gotten significantly more vocal since we arrived—and they're now ready to move on. I stand and clear my throat.
"Ladies," I greet them, giving my most charming smirk. "I trust you've enjoyed your evening so far?" I'm met with raised glasses, high-pitched ascents, and giggles. I take that as a yes. "We're about to move on to the next part of the evening, so if you'll just gather your things, we'll get going. The limo is waiting out front."
Having cleared the tab earlier, I watch the girls head for the door and make sure they don't leave anything behind. Alice hangs back, grabbing me firmly by the elbow. I have to look down at her—even in heels she's small. She examines me seriously. "You booked everything, right?"
"Yes," I reply proudly. "They're expecting us."
"Perfect," she says brusquely. She pats me awkwardly on the arm. "Yes. Good."
I roll my eyes at her retreating form and make my way out of the restaurant to where the driver is trying to herd the girls into the limo. Once the last of them have been hustled into the waiting car, I slide in after Alice and the sound of eleven tipsy women is amplified in the closed space.
On our way to the next location, I hand out the gift bags. The girls all squeal, causing me to cringe, and immediately tear into their cupcakes, sending Jasper's meticulously tied ribbons flying around the car. A couple find their way into Bella's hair, and she bats her lashes at me from across the vehicle. She's smiling, really smiling, her cheeks flushed and eyes shining bright.
She's so fucking beautiful, it makes my chest clench.
"So where to next?" she asks excitedly, unweaving the ribbons from her hair and combing it with her fingers.
"Oh, it's a surprise!" interrupts Alice before I can answer. Her voice is rich with as much enthusiasm as I've ever heard from her. "And Edward organized it all by himself."
I throw Alice a half-grateful smile and beam at Bella. She claps her hands and turns her attention to one of her coworkers. Leaning back in my seat, I take in the sight of my girl, surrounded by her friends and completely, utterly happy. Not wanting to ever forget how happy she is in this moment, I mentally catalog it.
After a while, the limo slows. The driver comes around to the door, and I exit the car first. I throw him a quizzical look. "Are you sure we're here?" I ask. He raises an eyebrow and nods his head.
While we're having this exchange, the girls all pile out, squealing, clapping, and jumping up and down, hair and breasts bouncing.
"Are you sure?" I ask the driver again. This can't be right.
"Absolutely, sir." He tips his hat and nods in the direction of the building. "I'll park down the street. Please text when you're…done." He shakes his head ever so slightly. "Enjoy your evening."
Bella's last out of the car and comes to stand beside me. She grips my arm and stares up at the glowing pink neon sign. "Um, Edward? This was your idea?"
I gape, my mouth opening and closing like I'm sure one of those fish we ate at dinner did right before it knew it was about to become sushi. I pull out my phone and hold it up to the woman who is staring at the establishment with a look of what can only be called steely determination.
"Alice?" I call, and she turns around. I shove the phone, the screen displaying her message, in her face. "This isn't…"
"Oh," she says with a shrug. "Fucking autocorrect." Rose grabs Alice and drags her toward the doorway where Bella's friends are streaming in, grinning at the bouncer.
I glance apologetically at Bella, who looks like she's about to piss herself laughing. "Come on," she says, dragging my sorry ass toward the door. "Can't back out now!"
My hand is stamped by a guy whose hand holds mine for a beat longer than necessary to do so. "Welcome to ladies night at Club Pimp."
I kind of want to throw up, because this isn't some kind of high-end, exclusive beauty club.
I'm here, crowded into a room full of women and men who are eyeing me for longer than is probably appropriate, and the men…performing on the stage leave absolutely no doubt in my mind.
I'm at a fucking strip club…and there's not a naked chick in sight.
A/N: Thanks for reading!
My health has taken a beating lately, and sweet messages help me get through otherwise bleak days. Not all of them read this, but to my girls: thank you. You know who you are.