Dancing in the Dark
If the words you say are right
If you pay the price
She'll let you deep inside
There's a secret garden she hides
"So," Jasper begins in a tone that makes my skin prickle. "Alice tells me you have a date with Isabella tomorrow night."
I curse under my breath and stir my coffee a little harder than is needed.
"It's not a fucking date," I snap back, making him smirk. "It's a charity event. It's art. She asked me because I like both of those things. That's all there is to it."
I storm away from him, throwing myself down on the back of the truck bed, hoping to God that the coffee will thaw my freezing ass out. I don't mean to be curt, but I've had at least six of the same conversations with Mama and Alice over the last week, and to hear it now from Jasper is just too much. I don't know why they can't back off. I'm tired of their knowing looks, subtle comments, and hushed conversations whenever anyone mentions or sees Isabella.
It's bad enough that the two of us dance around each other, trying our damndest to ignore the huge fucking elephant that appears every time we're in a room together, which, given the situation, happens a lot. What the elephant is exactly, I don't know. All I know is that when I'm near her, I'm different. I become self-conscious and tongue-tied. My attraction to her doesn't help, of course, but it feels so much bigger than that. I see it in her eyes when she looks at me. It's as if we have so much to say to one another, but we can't or don't know where to start. All of the unsaid words simply fall into the huge void that appeared between us the night Shortcake became sick.
For three days and two nights, I stayed at my daughter's side at the hospital. In fairness, Emmett understood about my not being at the club. Maybe it was my don't-fuck-with-me tone I used when I called to tell him he would need to cover me.
The scan on Shortcake's kidneys and bladder came back fine, and the antibiotics cleared her infection up quickly. I was never so happy to have Shortcake back at home with me. I had her sleep in my bed for an entire week just in case she wasn't completely well.
When she wasn't at Isabella's, of course.
While Shortcake was in the hospital, Isabella was a lifesaver. When she wasn't at work, she was with me, watching over my daughter with equal anxiety and protection. She made trips back to my apartment, collecting clothes, and stayed with Shortcake while I showered. We were ships passing in the night, talking in small, fleeting snippets, though neither one of us mentioned her touching my hand. That was two weeks ago, and we still haven't spoken about it. Truthfully, I'm not sure I want to. I have no idea what I would say to her. I'm acting increasingly like a school kid with a fucking crush, and I hate it. It was a small gesture of support that, ordinarily, I wouldn't think twice about.
But I do think about it.
I want to know if she felt the tingle too. I want to know if she thought about kissing me when she looked at my mouth the way she did, and I want to know why she looked so desperately sad when she pulled her hand away from mine.
Despite the fuckery that is our relationship, I'm seeing Isabella's confidence with Shortcake grow more and more every day. I can't deny it; she's wonderful with my daughter. She laughs and plays with her—as much as one can with a seven-week-old baby—and it's a pleasure to see. She dresses her, feeds her, and changes her. And her face lights up the minute she arrives at my apartment to take her. Her arrival is fast becoming one of my favourite parts of the day.
Jasper joins me on the truck bed, with his own coffee held in his gloved hands. It's colder than a witch's tit, but work needs doing. The week before Christmas is always a difficult time for Jasper's construction company. He's understaffed at the site of an add-on build and begged me to work for a week. I usually only do part time, but he's family, and I know he needs me.
He nudges my shoulder. "I didn't mean to upset you."
I sigh and take a sip of my coffee. "I know."
In my periphery, I can see him fidget. He's desperate to say something, but I wait, sipping my hot drink, watching the cars go by at the end of the street. It's mere minutes before he cracks.
"You like her, don't you?"
I can't help but smile. I shake my head before turning to him. "You're as bad as your wife. You do realise?"
He snorts. "She taught me well."
He waits then. This is his way. He plants a seed and allows it to grow, fester, while sitting at my side as innocent as can be. I exhale with a groan of frustration.
"Yes," I reply. "I like her." I glance at him furtively, panicked, but his face gives nothing away.
"So what's the problem?"
"What?" I turn to face him.
He shrugs and looks to the ground. "You like her. She likes you. What's the problem?"
"Seriously?" Disbelieving, I cough. "What's the pro—well, she has a boyfriend for one thing."
Jasper stares at me. He blinks, silent.
"She's Leah's sister," I continue. "She can be a pain in the ass, and I barely know her." I count each problem on my fingers, but even as I say them, I know Jasper doesn't buy any of it.
Honestly, I'm not sure I do. I bite down on my tongue stud in irritation.
"Okay," he says matter-of-factly. "I get the boyfriend thing. But, surely, it should be up to Isabella. If she's happy with this guy, she'll tell you straight: back off. If not . . ." He trails off, leaving my mind racing.
"She's Shortcake's aunt," I mutter.
"So," Jasper retorts with a furrowed brow. "I'm sure there are hundreds of couples out there who started off being sister-in-laws and brother-in-laws, or whatever. Something bad happens like the loss of a partner, and there you have it." He pauses. "Thankfully your situation isn't that complicated, but you get my meaning. Besides, she's her stepsister. Stop over thinking it. Let it happen naturally. Your relationship could work. No biggie."
I stare at him, open-mouthed. "The fuck are you talking about?"
He laughs and shakes his head. "I'm sorry, dude. Did the r-word offend you?"
I narrow my eyes. "Fuck off."
He laughs louder. He knows I'm being purposefully obtuse, and he's finding it hysterical. I understand what he's saying. I get it. I've thought about it, and, honestly, I'm not a relationship guy. I don't know how I would be, and the whole boyfriend thing gives me the heebie-jeebies. Sex, I can do. Charm, I can do. Relationships and intimacy—other than when I'm on stage—is entirely alien to me.
"So what do you want?" Jasper asks, undeterred by my tantrum.
I rub my eyes and let out a long sound of who-the-fuck-knows. "I'd like to have a normal, uncomplicated life again, thank you."
He smiles gently.
I slap my palms to my knees and lift my shoulders so they bunch tightly. "I don't know, man," I answer honestly. "I'm driving myself insane. I like her, I do. But I've liked lots of women. I've slept with women I've known for a shorter time than I've known Isabella."
I shake my head in frustration and guilt.
"Does it feel the same as all the others?" Jasper asks quietly.
"Yes," I answer quickly. "No. Fuck. I don't know. All I know is I like her a lot, but then I think, what the hell can I do about it? She's amazing with Shortcake, you know. She really is, and when it's the two of us, she's charming as hell."
"She's hot, too," Jasper mutters nonchalantly out of the corner of his mouth.
I release a breath of laughter and give him a wry smile. "Yeah, okay, I concur. She's hot." I point at him accusingly. "It's your damned fault I'm like this anyway. If you hadn't said what you did at Thanksgiving about her being hot and shit, I never would have thought about her this way."
He cocks an unconvinced eyebrow.
"Fine," I concede with my palms up. "Maybe that's not true."
We sit silently for a few moments. The snow is still falling, but, after the rain that fell through the night, it isn't sticking.
"Don't be so hard on yourself," Jasper murmurs. "Things have changed." He fixes me with a determined stare. "You're not the same man you were when you made those choices, when you took those women home."
He's right. I know I'm different. I feel different. The night I found out about Shortcake something shifted in me. Something undeniably powerful. I have bigger, more important, more precious things to worry about than where my next lay is coming from. Not that that's what I want with Isabella. It's not. And, frankly, it scares the hell out of me.
When I finally speak, I'm unsurprised to hear my voice is small and weary.
"Weeks ago, I hated her," I mutter. "I despised everything about Isabella Swan, Attorney at Law."
My brother-in-law turns to me. "And now?"
I stare at the ground as a surge of realisation blooms in my chest. "I don't know what I'd do without her."
I don't mind wearing a suit.
In fact, I quite enjoy it. There's something irrefutably sexy about wearing tailored wool. The suit I own is fucking awesome. It's Dior and cost a small fortune. I've worn it, maybe, three times, but it was worth the money I spent on it. It's black. I wear it with a white shirt and a skinny black tie. My dress shoes shine so bright I can see my damned face in them.
I run my hands through my hair, trying to control its chaos. I fail miserably and grimace at the wayward spikes and curls I see in the mirror.
"Fuck it," I mutter, adjusting my tie.
I look good. In fact, I look fucking hot. Even with the steel in my ears, I'm almost respectable.
I spray myself with cologne and wander out of my bedroom into the living room to see Alice laughing at Shortcake who is sitting, propped up by cushions, on my sofa. The smile on my daughter's face is incredible. She's smiling at Alice, fisting her small hands, as her head wobbles unsteadily. It's the most beautiful silent laugh I have ever seen.
"What are you doing?" I ask Alice as I crouch down next to her, hypnotised by the look of sheer wonder on my daughter's face. Shortcake's eyes find mine, and the smile gets infinitely bigger.
I'm fairly positive I fall in love with her all over again at that very moment.
I smile back and put my finger in her hand. She holds it so tightly. My perfect, strong Shortcake.
"I'm blowing raspberries at her," Alice says, demonstrating with a loud, unladylike noise.
Shortcake's eyes narrow with laughter, and her mouth forms a perfect O. A small, soft cooing sound comes from deep in her throat. I blink.
"She made a noise," I blurt.
Alice snorts at my side. "Of course she did."
"I mean, like, a new noise," I reply. "Until now, all I've heard her do is cry, burp, and fart."
Alice chuckles at the side of me. She glances at me before doing a double take when she sees my suit. Her eyebrows rise to her hairline.
"Wow," she says with a wide mouth and a glint of mischief in her eyes. "Who are you trying to impress?"
I make a scoffing noise, ignoring her comment, and stand up, kissing my daughter on the head. I take a deep breath as I do, pulling her scent of powder and sweet almonds into my lungs. I miss her already.
Alice lifts Shortcake from the sofa and holds her close. I place my hand on my daughter's back. I sigh, feeling guilty. Last time I left her, she ended up in hospital. "Are you sure you don't mind looking after her?"
Alice rolls her eyes. "Are you kidding me? Between you and Isabella, I hardly get to see my niece anymore. Plus, the boys love having her over." She kisses Shortcake's temple and smiles. "It's nice to have another girl in the house."
I nod knowingly. "Another baby, you mean."
Alice smirks, looking towards the floor. "Maybe."
I laugh and walk over to the side table, picking up my keys and wallet. "I'm telling Jasper."
Alice shrugs. I look at my watch.
"What time is the car coming for you?" she asks, grabbing Shortcake's coat.
"Now," I answer. My stomach knots nervously, and my collar suddenly starts to feel a little tight.
"You look great," Alice says, reading my mind. "You'll have a great night. Everything will be great."
I push my hands into my pockets. "Great," I retort sarcastically.
"I'll text you later. Have fun. And we'll see you tomorrow."
I exhale and roll my shoulders. "Okay," I say resolutely.
I kiss my sister and my daughter goodbye and leave my apartment to go on my non-date with Isabella Swan.
The car pulls up to a large building that could, were it not for the huge windows, burly doormen, and red carpet, be mistaken for a warehouse. I step out, buttoning my jacket against the cold wind as I do. I walk towards the entrance, nodding politely at the doormen.
"Name?" the tall, weather worn goatee asks me.
"Edward Cullen," I answer looking past him to the glass doors where glamorous, ball gown and tuxedo wearing people drink champagne.
"Your name isn't here," Goatee informs me, pulling my attention from the goings-on inside. He chews his gum like a cow chewing cud and pins me with a stare that dares me to protest.
Isabella never gave me a name or an invitation to bring with me. I begin to open my mouth to tell the dude just that when I hear a familiar voice come from behind him.
"He's with me."
I look past Goatee. Isabella's walking towards us waving a rather official looking invitation. She hands it to the doorman with authority, telling him that I am a special guest of Caius', throwing me a small wink in the process.
It's at this point I realise I'm staring.
I'm staring, and I'm speechless.
Of their own accord, my eyes drift down Isabella's body from head to toe, drinking in every spectacular detail. And spectacular is right. She's a vision. Her hair is up, as it always is, but the parts that are down are softer than normal and elegantly tousled, framing her small face. The makeup she is wearing is minimal—despite it being more than I've ever seen her wear—simply accentuating the beauty that is already there. Her eyes look bigger, brighter, edged with thick, lush eyelashes. Her cheeks are blushed, and her lips are glossy and plump.
And her dress?
It's black. It's floor length. It's strapless. And it clings to every single part of her. I think it's silk, but I'd have to touch it to be certain.
I want to touch it.
I want to touch her.
I blink. Isabella's concerned eyes stares at me. I clear my throat and drag my brain from the gutter. "Yeah?"
"Are you okay?" She looks genuinely worried.
I smile and wave her off. "Sure."
"Well, let's get inside. I'm freezing."
I apologise and follow her in, unable to take my eyes from her ass which is smothered by a dress that is now both my favourite thing in the world and my worst nightmare. Its simplicity makes it outrageously sexy, and, in turn, Isabella. I follow her towards a table that holds a million glasses of champagne.
Yes, I think. Drink is an excellent suggestion.
She hands me a flute and smiles before knocking hers against mine. "Cheers."
I nod and take a long sip, keeping my gaze on her. The necklace she wears is diamante and sits perfectly in the dip of her collarbone, drawing my attention down to her chest, which, unsurprisingly, looks fantastic, too. It's the most skin I've ever seen of Isabella's, and I'm amazed at how soft and unblemished it appears.
"You look beautiful." The words are out of my mouth before I really register the need to say them.
Isabella blushes and runs a palm down the front of her dress. "Thank you." She looks me up and down, using her eyelashes to devastating effect, and swallows hard. "So do you."
I shift my weight from one foot to the other, unsure of what to do with her compliment, and push my free hand into my pocket.
We're silent then, staring at one another. The silence, however, isn't like the silences I have grown so used to with her. This silence is something else entirely. It's a silence, which makes my heart beat fast and turns my mouth dry. It's a silence, which is electric and hot and stirs something deep in my stomach. My body itches to do something, but I can't quite decipher what.
On the edge of a room filled with people I don't know, staring at the exquisite woman before me, I am simultaneously terrified and exultant.
I'm hard. I want to kiss her. I want to touch her. I want to fuck her.
"Would you like to look at the artwork?" Her voice trembles slightly, and I notice her eyes have become much darker.
With a mouth incapable of speech, I simply nod. She gestures for me to follow and leads me to a quieter part of the gallery. Dragging my stare from Isabella, I finally start to take in my surroundings. The place is gargantuan with whitewashed walls that complement the artwork, which adorns them. And, shit, once I start to take a closer look, I realise the artwork is unbelievable.
Isabella has brought me to a section of the gallery that houses the photography. Enormous black and white canvas prints of hands, faces, and other body parts litter the wall. The detail is magnificent, and, silently thankful of the distraction, I move closer to them.
"You like these?" Isabella asks after a moment.
I don't need to look at her to know she's smiling. I can hear it.
"They're brilliant," I reply. "Look at the light here," I point to one particular photograph, "The artist has a fantastic eye."
"I know," she answers, making me turn to her.
I laugh nervously when I see she's staring at me.
"Don't be embarrassed," she says softly. "Your passion is inspiring."
"I'm not sure about that." I stand at her side, still looking at the photographs, and sip my drink. "I like taking pictures," I confess. "I used to incorporate it a lot in my art."
"I remember," she replies. I know she's referring to the pictures she saw at Mama's house. "You should do it more often."
"I wish I could. I don't have a camera anymore." I haven't seen it since Emmett borrowed it to take some promo shots for the club.
"That's too bad," Isabella murmurs around the rim of her glass.
"Yeah." I stare at one particular shot of a hand on a breast. It's subtle in its sexual message. I like it. The one next to it shows hundreds of entwined hands. "I'd love to get some shots of Shortcake," I say. "I have tonnes on my cell, but I'd like to take some real pictures of her."
"I'd like a picture of the two of you together," Isabella replies. Before I can respond, she gestures with her glass towards the artwork. "You should get your work out there, Edward. You're just as talented as these artists."
I scoff and shake my head. "I think my art days are over. I don't get a chance anymore."
"You should make time," she retorts, seemingly annoyed by my excuse. "You've sold work before. If I knew you wouldn't freak out, I would have asked you to display some here tonight for Caius."
I narrow my eyes playfully at her. "Don't pretend like you know me," I chastise. "I wouldn't have freaked out."
She cocks an eyebrow.
"Much," I finish with a smirk.
She laughs and follows me as I wander towards the paintings on the opposite wall of the gallery. They are complex, angry pieces of work that, worryingly, I recognise in my own art. The colours are vibrant and passionate with heavy strokes, which demand to be noticed. Isabella walks a step behind me, stopping when I do. I can feel her eyes on me, leaving a trail of heat as they pass over parts of my body, and I like it. I like that she watches me. I like that she wants to watch me.
She stops in front of a large canvas named 'Need'. She cocks her head gently to the left as she takes it in. Her bottom lip disappears into her mouth, and her fingers twitch as if she wants to touch it.
I place my empty glass on an empty table. "It's a great piece," I say, standing behind Isabella, close enough that I can smell her perfume and see the light spattering of freckles on her shoulders. My index finger jerks, wanting to touch them. I wonder, briefly, what her skin tastes like.
"It is," she says with a long breath.
I move my head closer to her ear. "What do you see?" I whisper. I think she leans back towards me, but I can't be sure.
"Joy," she answers. Her voice is low. "The joy of desire. It's excitement and want. The first feelings of love, when you can barely contain it." She swallows. "The black isn't negative here," she lifts her arm and points to the curved black line of paint, which edges the left side of the canvas. "It's—it's how love should be. Obsession and yearning. The black is the pain of being apart from the one you need."
"Isn't that negative?" I ask, though how I manage it through the deep breaths I have suddenly begun to take, I don't know.
"No," she answers. She turns to me slowly, and I am staggered to see her eyes shimmering with unshed tears. "The pain of not being with them let's you know you're alive."
I frown gently, concerned. "Isabella?"
I reach for her hand at the same time she reaches for mine.
The loud, rather high-pitched voice hits us both like a freight train, and Isabella snatches her hand from mine so quickly I doubt it was there to begin with. A wide smile appears across her face when she looks around me to where the voice came from. I follow her gaze. A tall, blonde man, wearing more makeup than Isabella is almost skipping towards us with his hands waving and shaking in front of him. He manoeuvres around me and pulls Isabella into a huge hug, kissing each cheek twice.
"Caius," she says brightly. "How are you?"
"Oh, darling," he replies with all the drama of a Broadway show. "I swear I've aged ten years in the past month." He places a hand on his chest and lifts his eyes to the ceiling. "I'm stressed. I say it every year that I'm not going to do it. But here I am, doing it."
"The place looks fantastic," Isabella placates with a small laugh. "It's wonderful."
"Yes." Caius' eyes suddenly land on me, and the corner of his mouth lifts in a way that makes me feel a little uncomfortable, as if I'm being sized up for . . . something. "And talking of wonderful," he purrs. "Who is this?"
Isabella rolls her eyes playfully. "Caius, this is Edward Cullen. Edward, this is Caius. He organises this event every year."
I hold my hand out, and Caius takes it. "Nice to meet you," I tell him.
"The pleasure is all mine," he answers with a lick of his lips.
My face begins to burn under his scrutiny.
"Where's Marcus?" Caius asks Isabella with a raised eyebrow and a pout.
Isabella fidgets uncomfortably. Her eyes flick quickly to mine before she answers. "He's still in London. He'll be over this weekend."
Caius sighs. He keeps his stare on me while he speaks to Isabella. "If I were you, honey, I'd tell him to stay where he is."
I can't help but smile when Caius winks at me. Isabella catches my expression and laughs into her hand. She's clearly embarrassed, but the pink hue that washes over her cheeks is lovely.
"Caius," she admonishes. "Behave yourself."
He waves her off. "Never. Make sure you bid." He kisses her cheek again, and, in a whirl of aftershave, blonde hair, and waving hands, he flounces across the gallery to another unsuspecting group of people.
I push my hands into my pockets and shake my head. "Wow."
"I'm sorry," Isabella says with a small chuckle. "He's terrible."
"He's . . . different." I smile, watching her friend work his way seamlessly and flamboyantly from one person to the next. "How do you know him?"
My head snaps to her. "He's a lawyer?"
She laughs and takes another flute of champagne from a passing waiter. She hands it to me. I notice she doesn't take one for herself. "He's an incredible lawyer," she tells me. "But he only did it to please his father who, incidentally, has more money than God."
I nod, impressed. "No shit."
"He loves art," she continues. "That's where his heart truly lies. He has four galleries now. Those photographs you liked. Those were his."
"Yeah." Isabella sips her drink and wraps one arm across herself. "He does so much for the AIDS foundation. He's really wonderful."
I glance at her then, catching her watching me. Her eyes are clearer than they were before Caius interrupted us, but the brightness I saw in them when I first arrived is still to reappear. I take a step towards her.
"Hey." I gesture towards the painting that seemed to affect her so much. "Are you okay?"
She nods. "I'm fine." Her gaze wanders across my face searchingly. After a moment, she exhales, relieved, as though she's found whatever it is she's looking for. "I'm so glad you came."
I smile and tap my glass gently against hers. "Me too."
After we have circled the gallery a couple of times, we are taken up to the next floor where at least thirty large, round tables, draped in white and decorated with shining silverware and white lilies, wait for us. Like the gentleman I am, I pull Isabella's chair out for her and sit myself at her side.
I pull my napkin from the table as a bowl of soup appears in front of me. "I'm starved," I confess, aware that I should wait for the other eleven people on my table to receive their soup before I begin. I tap my spoon against the table gently.
Isabella smiles knowingly. "Start," she whispers. "It's fine."
The soup is great, as is the lamb that follows. The dessert, however, is in a league of its own. The Crème Brûlée is perfectly sweet and melts in my mouth, ending a meal that was well worth the one hundred dollar donation I paid for it. Even though Isabella makes idle chit chat during the meal, she is still completely enchanting. She makes me laugh, and she listens intently when I speak about, well, anything. She asks about Shortcake and goes utterly gooey when I tell her about my daughter laughing. I talk about my mom, which I seldom do, while Isabella cups her chin in her hand, taking in every word.
Despite my chattering about myself, I ache to ask questions about her family, her life, but something holds me back. I want to know everything. I want to know about what gives her the drive and passion she has. I want to know what it is that fills her with the sadness I see when she thinks I'm not looking. I want to know if Marcus makes her feel all of the things she saw in that painting, and, if not, why not.
I hope she'll tell me in her own time. I want her to trust me.
I stop mid-sentence and finger the stem of my champagne glass. I look at her and exhale.
She smiles. "What?"
I shrug. "You're quiet."
She laughs. "It's hard to get a word in." She touches my forearm when I cringe with embarrassment. "I like hearing you talk. You have a calming voice."
My face creases with puzzlement. "Calming?"
She pushes her hair back, avoiding my gaze. "Yeah. It soothes me."
"That's nice and all," I retort. "But I'd like to know more about you."
She takes a large gulp of her drink, finally finishing it. "There's nothing to tell."
I make a disbelieving sound somewhere between a snort and a scoff. "Bullshit."
She eyes me warily. "Honestly. It's all very boring."
"Boring? Really?" I smile in an attempt to relax her, but I know it's fruitless. I move closer to her. "Come on. Tell me something about yourself. Anything. Tell me what you were like as a kid. What you were like at school? Tell me about your family, your paren—"
"Edward," she says, almost pleading. "Don't."
I watch her fidget and worry her lip, which I'm starting to recognize as a sign of her discomfort and anxiety. I know I've pushed as far as I can tonight, but I can't deny that it's frustrating as hell. I scratch my thumb across my forehead, defeated.
"Fine." I huff and finish my drink, moving back into my seat, away from her.
She leans towards me. "I'm not trying to be difficult," she murmurs. "Really, I'm not."
I stay silent, keeping my eyes on the white linen tablecloth. I'm pissed off. A part of me can't understand why, but a bigger part is hurt and annoyed.
"Look at me." Her voice is soft, apologetic.
Unable to refuse, my eyes slide over to her. Lines of concern etch her face, but she's still beautiful.
"Can we please enjoy the rest of this night?" She places her hand on mine, and the tingling begins in earnest. "I've loved every second."
The side of my mouth curves upwards at her words. My thumb whispers over her knuckle. "Sure."
A loud banging emanates from the corner of the room where a large balding man holding a wooden hammer stands behind a lectern.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he begins, sounding a lot like a circus ringmaster. "I'm sorry to draw your attention from the wonderful food and delicious champagne, but time is marching on. We are about to begin the auction."
Rapturous applause fills the room before he starts waxing lyrical about Caius' hard work and his continuing support of the AIDS foundation. Presented to him is a plaque, commemorating seven years of tireless charity work. He accepts it graciously, while Isabella claps and whoops louder than anyone else. His speech is surprisingly modest and swift.
The auction is fascinating. Nothing goes for less than two hundred dollars. Caius' work sells quickly. I bid three hundred on the photograph of hands but lose out when it sells for four. Trying to outbid other people is exhilarating. I've never done it before, but I find I love it. Isabella laughs at my eager competitiveness.
By the end of the auction, the artwork has raised over twelve thousand dollars. The room pulses with excitement and more champagne is poured. A band strikes up, and the dance floor starts to fill.
I tap my feet and slap my hands on my knees to the beat of Stevie Wonder's Superstition and watch with amusement as the guys on the dance floor play air guitar in an effort to impress the women around them.
"You should get up there," Isabella teases as we watch one particular man rock out with gusto. "Show them how it's done."
I shake my head and grin. "Nah. I wouldn't want to embarrass them."
She laughs. "You're so modest."
"What?" I ask in mock hurt. "You've never seen me dance, so how do you know?"
Her cheeks redden, and her attention is suddenly on her lap.
"I mean it," I continue, tormenting her further. "You should come to the club. See what it's like."
She smirks and bites her lip. "I don't think so."
"Why?" I ask, scooting to the edge of my seat, moving closer to her. "You afraid you'll like it?"
She speaks so quietly, I almost don't hear her. I watch her mouth as it forms the words: "I know I'll like it."
Her stare pins me to my seat. I can't move. I lick my lips and swallow. The ache in my dick starts again, and I silently berate myself for being so fucking predictable.
The familiar opening bars of Secret Garden fill the room. Ordinarily, I would bitch and grumble about how no one should ever touch the Boss, but I can't find it in myself to care. I hold my hand out to Isabella.
"Dance with me."
I don't ask, and she doesn't hesitate.
She takes my hand, and we stand together. I lead her to the dance floor, and, for one brief moment, I forget what I'm supposed to do. Regaining myself, I place my hand on her waist and pull her closer, while clutching her small hand tightly in mine. The fingers of her right hand hold my shoulder, and her eyes never leave my face.
They search. They darken. They burn.
I try to move, to dance. I struggle.
She'll let you into the parts of herself
That'll bring you down
She'll let you in her heart
For a split second, looking down at her, I'm weightless. Isabella's hold on me is the only thing keeping my feet on the floor. She moves her hand gradually from my shoulder to my neck and lightly fingers the ends of my hair. Shivers of goose flesh erupt across my body, and my chest constricts. It's as though I've climbed the peak of a rollercoaster. I'm at that moment where you hold your breath and cling on for dear life before you begin to plummet back to Earth. I know I'm squeezing her waist, but she doesn't complain. In fact, she moves closer to me. There is nothing between us now. Her body presses tightly to mine, moulding perfectly.
With her so close, I realise how small she is. How fragile and soft she is against me. I lessen my grip and move my hand around her waist, resting it on the small of her back, where her spine curves deliciously to her ass. I wait for her to tell me not to, to move it away.
But she doesn't.
We barely move to the music. We sway a little, staring at one another. Her fingers touch the skin of my neck. It's so gentle, so sensual; I have to fight back the growl, which bubbles at the back of my throat.
Moving our hands towards her face, I push a piece of hair behind her ear before resting my finger lightly against her cheek. Isabella's eyes close momentarily, and the spell that seems to have captured me breaks, allowing me to speak.
"What is this?" I ask quietly as she leans into my touch.
"I don't know," she replies, and I can't help but be relieved.
She's as lost and confused as I am.
My lungs start to work overtime when she moves her head and rests it under my chin. It's a gesture so intimate, so alien to me that I can barely comprehend it. The scent from her hair, however, is magic. It's sweet, but not overly so. It captivates me as it enters my nose and rests deep and warm inside.
I lean my cheek against her head and try to regain some sense of what the hell is happening. The deep heat I have come to experience in my stomach when Isabella is around, blooms wider, fiercer into something I can neither describe nor name. It ripples through me, leaving me speechless, terrified, but somehow desperate for more. My knees don't feel wholly stable, and my heart has never beaten so fast. I wonder if she can hear it through my jacket and shirt.
I listen to the words of the song, and the sensation of having Isabella so close. I allow myself to drift along on whatever it is occurring between us. It's contentment and bliss, I think, and I secretly want it to continue forever. But it doesn't because the song ends, and a new one, faster than this, begins. The wave of disappointment I feel is undeniable
Isabella lifts her head, as if waking from sleep and looks up at me with heavy, desiring eyes. Her voice is thick. "Can we go?"
There is no inflection, no underlying message to her words, but my body doesn't care. It reacts as I expect it to: immediately hard and wanting. I nod, mute, and, before I can register it, we're walking hand-in-hand down the stairs of the gallery towards the exit. Once Isabella gets her coat from the cloakroom, the goatee door attendant waves us down a cab, and we bundle ourselves into it. Isabella gives the driver her address, then turns to me.
I'm still astounded and altogether bewildered by what is happening. I'm running to keep up, but I like it. I want it. My body fizzes with adrenaline and anticipation. I look down to the seat between us to see our hands still clasped together.
Isabella scoots closer to me and lifts them. Slowly. Oh, so fucking slowly, she puts my hand to her mouth and kisses my knuckle. Then the next one. Then the next one. Her lips purse in a way that makes my body flinch and twitch with need. They're soft, wet, and gentle, and affect my body like a match to kerosene.
"Christ," I mutter.
Her gaze finds mine, all chocolate and thick lashes, and I am once again lost.
"Come here," I whisper, and she does. Her compliance makes me powerful, heady.
I cup her face in my hand, tracing the apple of her cheek with my thumb and gently draw her towards me.
"If this isn't what you want," I say, searching her face for doubt, "you need to tell me now."
Like Jasper said, I need to make sure she is complicit in . . . whatever this is. She has more to lose than I do.
Silently, she wraps her fingers around my wrist and shifts infinitely closer. "I want."
I don't know who moves first.
All I know is Isabella's lips are suddenly pressing against mine while my heart thunders in my chest. When my brain finally catches up with my body, I release a breath, sighing into her, closing my eyes so I can revel in the feel of her mouth. We stay, glued together for mere seconds, before I part my lips tentatively, asking to deepen, to have more. Isabella responds by flicking the tip of her tongue against mine, and I grunt loudly.
I lose it.
I grab the back of her head and kiss her with everything I have. Our tongues meet hard, flicking, rubbing, swirling, tasting, and exploring. I have the overwhelming need to get closer, to consume her, and allow her to do the same to me. My arm snakes into her coat and wraps around her body, pulling her nearer. My hand skims across the silk of her dress, across the curves and dips of her waist. She feels phenomenal. Her hands fist in my jacket, gripping tightly, and her leg hitches over my thigh. She moans softly when my hand grabs the back of her knee and pulls it up further.
I'm so fucking hard. Painfully so.
I pant into her mouth and growl when my hand wanders slowly up the back of her thigh, feeling her soft suppleness. She pushes her hips into me, telling me she feels the heat, too. She wants me just as much, and that knowledge makes me kiss her harder. I want to touch higher, my hand wants to see just how much her body wants mine, my fingers ache for it, but part of my brain remembers that we are in a cab, and we're giving the driver one hell of a show.
I smile against Isabella's eager mouth, and she slows. "What?" She's breathless, gorgeous, and flushed.
"Maybe we should wait until we're inside," I say, glancing at the driver.
She smirks and flushes brighter. "Good idea."
She shifts back, adjusting her coat and dress, and touches her lips and hair.
"You look perfect, Ballerina Bella," I tell her, pulling her hand to my mouth and kissing it just as she did mine.
She stares at me, wide-eyed. I chuckle. "What did I say?"
She shakes her head. "Nothing. It's silly."
"Tell me," I press.
"It's just . . . my mom used to call me Bella. That's all."
My smile drops quickly. "Shit. Sorry."
"No," she insists, moving her mouth back to mine. "I like it. I like you saying it."
Minutes later, the cab pulls to the front of Isabella's building. I throw a twenty at him, and, with Isabella's hand back in mine, we hurry to the door and into the lobby. We're laughing as we throw ourselves into the elevator. I'm light and giddy. It's unexpected, but I relish it. I've never felt this way before. I'm high. I'm a kid again. The woman at my side is stunning. She's reckless and sexy. She's blown my mind. The Isabella Swan of weeks ago is a distant memory, and I couldn't be happier.
The doors are only part way closed when Isabella pushes me against the wall of the elevator and kisses me in a way that makes my head spin. Many women have kissed me, but none of them has shown the hunger that Isabella does. She pulls me. She pushes me. She's heat and need. My hands find her ass, and I squeeze and tilt my hips. She moans. I know she can feel my cock.
I want her to feel it. I want her to know what she does to me. I want her, and I'm not ashamed of it.
A bell rings, telling us that we have arrived at her floor. We freeze, mouths still connected, breathing each other in. Gradually, Isabella pulls back. She fixes her hair and smirks when her eyes travel down to my crotch.
"I don't know what you're smiling about," I murmur, liking her hungry stare on me. "This is all your fault." I wave my hands towards my dick, and she giggles into her palm. I smile and run my fingers through my hair in an effort to calm down.
"Well," she purrs, pulling her door key from her purse, "we'd better do something about it."
I watch her, open mouthed, as she sashays out of the elevator, and drop my head back against the wall with a loud thump. How the fuck does she manage to change so quickly? She's cute and girly one moment and sassy and wanton the next.
I rub my face with my palms as a culmination of longing, guilt, and panic starts to radiate through me. My conscience starts wrestling with my libido, throwing question after question at me, demanding answers. I push my fingertips to my temples in an effort to silence them. But they persist.
What am I doing? What are we doing? What will this mean for us? I'm not stupid enough to realise that everything will change once we sleep together. If that's what's going to happen here. How will we move forward? Will she want more? Do I want more? What about the most important person in all of this? Shortcake. The most important, precious person in my life. She's all that matters. She deserves better.
I close my eyes. I hold my breath. Gradually, like a whisper on the wind, I hear Jasper's voice from yesterday: stop over thinking it, Edward. Let it happen naturally.
I exhale, mentally exhausted. "Jesus."
I take a couple of calming breaths and straighten up, putting my hand out to stop the elevator door from closing. I stride out into the hallway and all but run into the back of Isabella.
"Hey," I chuckle, taken by surprise. "What are you doing?"
I move to her side so I can see her face better when she doesn't reply. What I see sends a shiver of panic through my entire body. She looks thoroughly terrified. I follow her gaze down to the far end of the hall to her apartment where I see a tall, dark haired man standing at her door. He's watching us carefully with a sombre expression.
"Who is that?" I ask, but I know the answer before she gives it to me.
Holy here he is, but I don't care because that kiss was ossim, Batman!
Prepare for fireworks!
Sorry for the late update, but FF net was being a stubborn bitch over the weekend.
Huge snogs and hugs to Purelyamuse for being my grammar warrior princess. You rule.
Follow me on Twitter: sophiejax