A/N: I'm uploading this on the sly. Hope it works. Thanks to my PTB betas, Hammondgirl and mcc101180. I don't own Made of Honor or Twilight. No copyright infringement intended.

Mate of Honor

Chapter 9

I make it into the bar with one minute to spare. I know it's one minute, because when I sit at the table, a silver women's watch adorning a narrow wrist—and a pokey, pointy finger tapping it—appear right in front of my face. "You're late, Cullen."

I give Alice a smirk as I slide myself into a seat. "I'm right on time, Alice." I beckon for a waitress, and there's one at my side within thirty seconds. After ordering a drink for myself and another for each of the girls, I turn my attention back to the two women sitting opposite of me.

I've met Alice and Rosalie many times. I don't think they think very much of me…although sometimes I wonder if Rosalie, as bright, bubbly, and sweet as she is, thinks at all. She sips her drink through a straw as she smiles at me. She's tall, just under six foot, with legs for days and long, blonde hair. She's always friendly, and I truly don't think she has a bad bone in her body. As a buyer for a fashion company, I know she's responsible for helping to feed Bella's shoe addiction. It was Rosalie that told me how important Bella's red-soled shoes were to her, and she helped me get a deal on a new pair.

Rosalie is friendly and warm, where Alice is cold and calculating. Alice is small in stature, but more than makes up for it in presence. I believe she's some kind of high-flying executive, but I'm not sure what kind of company she works for. She's always managed to deflect whenever I've asked…so I've stopped asking.

As I look at them now, Alice's steely gaze fixed upon me and Rosalie blithely moving to the beat of a song that can only be heard in her head, I am struck by just how different they are. Despite their differences, these two are Bella's best friends—second to me. Strangely, as unalike as they are, they seem to complement each other. They kinda remind me of Pinky and The Brain.

"Right," Alice says officiously, and I gather the informal part of our evening is over. "Let's get down to business." She pulls a tablet from her executive-looking briefcase and starts frantically tapping, her nails making clicking sounds against the screen. "We need to arrange the bridal shower, bachelorette party, venues, catering, decorations, dress shopping, accessories, invitations, shoes, then schedule in time to break in said shoes…"

As she continues to prattle, I stare at her, gobsmacked. At no point in Jasper's research did he mention scheduling time to break in shoes. I thought that was just for horses?


She turns to me coldly. "Don't interrupt. Can't you see I'm organizing?" She huffs a breath. "Considering your…" she eyes me up and down "…genetics, I suspect I'm better qualified."

Rosalie slips the straw from her lips and glances at the both of us. "You're not letting him organize because he's Irish?"

I flick my gaze back to Rosalie, sure that my expression shows the same confusion that clouds Alice's. Tossing her long, blonde hair over her shoulder, Rosalie offers me a wide smile, then she resumes sipping her drink.

Closing her eyes briefly, Alice shakes her head before directing her attention back to the screen in front of her. "So..."

Alice continues to speak, and I let the words swim over me. After another beer for me, two more Cosmopolitans for Rosalie, and countless screen taps and a glass of white wine for Alice, she sits back in her seat, confident with her strategy. I say "her strategy," because that's what she's calling it.

Rose asks—again—if the responsibility for all of the planning should be placed upon me, because as she put it, "Mate of Honor trumps bridesmaid." Alice scowls and then proceeds to state what sounds like her bride-assisting duties resume, emphasizing with a poke of her pointy finger on the table that her knowledge, skills, and experience in organizing events in the past make her more than qualified.

By the end of it, I just don't have the energy to argue. I do, however, have the tab for our table and a number of tasks to complete.

After settling the check and bidding an officious Alice good evening, I help a slightly stumbly Rosalie into her coat. After slipping my arms into my own sleeves, Rose pats my arm gently.

"You know," she begins, turning suddenly and swinging her purse in a wide arc.

"You're a really nice guy."

I smile politely in return, steering her around a table that she nearly clears with her swinging bag, and offer a quiet apology to the couple whose drinks almost land on the floor. "Thank you. That's very sweet of you."

"No, really," she insists, settling a hand on my arm and looking at me earnestly through red-tinged eyes. I start to feel uncomfortable, because she's Bella's friend, and it sounds a little like she's hitting on me. "You're a really nice guy."

I'm not sure what else to say, so I simply give her a small grin and thank her again. As I politely open the door for her, she smiles. "See? Nice guy." She sighs. "I'm not sure about this guy Bella's looking to shack up with." Rosalie huffs a breath, the next word coming out with her exhale. "Benno. I mean…" She stumbles down the step to the bar. "What the fuck kind of name is Benno, anyway?"

I chuckle, because the sentiment is familiar to me.

Rosalie shakes her head and mutters under her breath, "He's not good enough for her."

I stop in my tracks as Rosalie digs through her purse, emerging triumphantly with a tube of lip gloss. She pouts comically as she tries to plaster it across her lips.

I try to remain nonchalant as I question her. "What makes you say that?"

"Pssh." Rosalie waves the lip gloss through the air, and I'm amazed that she doesn't draw a streak across her face in the process. "He wants her to leave her friends. Her family. Her life. Her country." Rosalie's hand gestures become more sweeping with every declaration. "And she'll go, because she's a nice girl, and she thinks she should be where her husband is." Rose pauses, as if to ponder this. "I suppose that's the point of getting married, huh?" When I don't answer, she continues. "The point is, she's marrying him for the wrong reasons." She sweeps another hand. "Allll the wrong reasons."

I offer a steadying arm as Rose stumbles a little again, but she waves me off. "How do you know all this?"

She shrugs. "She told me."

This causes my head to whip around. "Told you when?"

"The other night." With another shrug, she pauses to look up and down the street, presumably searching for a cab. "Besides, he's totally the wrong guy for her."

I watch Bella's friend, desperately trying to hide the rising optimism that blooms in my chest. "But how do you know he's the wrong guy?" I clear my throat and try to appear diplomatic. It's probably a waste of time, but I doubt Rosalie will remember this conversation in the morning. "When I met him, he seemed...interested." I try to hold in the shudder that comes with the mental image of his hand on Bella's knee.

"Ah." Rosalie taps the side of her nose twice. She misses the first time. "I know."

Rose hurries off, and it suddenly occurs to me that I'm gossiping, much like a girl. What has this wedding thing done to me? I resolve to schedule a game of soccer with the guys as soon as possible, then go out for beer and belching.

Lengthening my stride to keep up, because Rose is surprisingly fast when tipsy and wearing incredibly high heels, I wrap my coat closer against the chill. Rose is muttering about catching a cab from the corner, because she's never had any luck finding one outside Antiqua before. As a yellow car slows to her frantic waving, I can't help but ask one last question.

"If this whole wedding is a bad idea, then why is she marrying him?"

Rosalie pauses, the door to the cab open, and stares at me, her blue eyes remarkably sober. "That one's easy." Her normal jovial expression is a little sad, although she's smiling. "She got tired of waiting."

As the cab pulls away, I start heading toward my office to pick up my car. I thrust my hands into my pockets in an attempt to ward off the chill, letting my fingers brush past my phone as I find my keys.

When I arrive at my office building, I cross the lobby and hit the button to call the elevator to take me to the underground parking garage. Flicking my keys around my fingers, my eye catches the keychain bearing the crest of my alma mater, and I'm reminded of one of my business professors. He made sure we understood two things:

One, know your strengths and use them to your advantage. Two, know your competition and their strengths…then make sure yours are better.

Pulling my phone out with my free hand and unlocking it, I send a text to Bella, telling her I'd like to meet her and Benno for lunch. I get one in return, giving me a time and place for later in the week.

I smile as the doors close and the elevator takes me underground. It's high time I got to know my competition a little better.

A/N: Thanks for reading. I know I'm slow on the updates these days, but believe me when I say real life is truly kicking my ass. Thanks to my girls on twitter and Facebook for your support these past few months, and to the special, gorgeous individuals that send me kind messages in secret - I'd be lost without you. You know who you are.