Chapter 6- The Elusive Swan
I pushed open the wide double doors which led to the grounds behind the grand hotel, allowing the cool summer air to wash over me. I sighed, my foggy head beginning to clear.
Edward Cullen. How could I have been so stupid? All that blushing and flirting, I'd made a right fool of myself. As if someone as beautiful as him would ever have been interested in someone like me. My heart sank. It was all a trick. Some sick game he'd been playing all along. He'd recognised me from last week, and decided to play me. Make me believe he was a student, get me to admit how horribly nervous about my presentation I was, make me think that I'd actually done a good job in it, make me believe he actually liked me… I sank down on the stone steps which led down to the old fountain. The water drumming as it splashed the surface of the pool matched the fast beating of my heart.
No. It had been all for nothing. Edward was never going to give my department the funds we'd been fighting for. He'd had his fun, done his punishment, now he could go back to being that cruel and hostile angel I'd wrongly crossed last week.
The clicking of stilettos which had followed me finally made it out onto the veranda. Rose crossed down the steps in front of me and turned, hands on hips.
"What was that?" she demanded.
I lay my head against the cool stone pillar beside me. "That," I sighed, "was Edward Cullen."
Rose looked at me like I was insane. "You didn't know? The whole time you didn't realise that you were sipping champagne and flirting with Edward Cullen? Really, Bella? He was the only male young enough to be Edward Cullen, considering all the presenting students were female eye candy."
I nodded, my shame growing by the second.
"I've ruined it for the English department, haven't I?" I croaked. I was surprised to find that my throat had closed up, and desperately wished for another glass of champagne to quench it.
Rose hoisted her dress up in an unladylike fashion, and slid down onto the ground, a couple of steps below me. She grasped my hands tightly within hers.
"Your presentation was better than any other departments', Bella, even mine. Even if Edward Cullen is too stupid to see that, his advisors won't be. They're smart enough to know a good opportunity when it's practically handed to them on a plate."
I rubbed my thumb over Rose's knuckles in appreciation. She and Alice were everything to me, I didn't know what I was going to do when we graduated and Alice left for London.
"I'm such an idiot, Rose. James will never forgive me." I pretended that my biggest fear was falling from the pedestal James had placed me on, but truthfully, it was mostly my heart and my ego which were wounded. I had allowed myself to be so easily swept up by this guy; I had gotten so lost in his eyes. He'd taken me for a ride and like a fool I'd fallen for his smooth words and amazing hair. I cursed myself for acting like such a child.
Maybe this would never have happened if I'd just listened to Jacob. If I'd just accepted that he was all I would ever get. At the time it didn't feel like enough. Now I knew what having nothing felt like. Rose had been right last week, I hadn't moved forward with my life since Jacob. Perhaps that's because deep down I knew I would never do better.
Not that Jacob wasn't good enough. He was everything, kind, loyal, funny. I just didn't feel the overwhelming love for him that I'd read so much about. Sure, I loved him, but he would always be first and foremost, my best friend. I guess I realised that would never change. But I was eighteen then. I was young and naive. At twenty one, I should have realised that the kind of love I was seeking couldn't possibly exist.
This time last week I'd believed it did, though I wasn't kidding myself, I knew it was rare. But Alice and Jasper had found the chink in their armour, and it didn't look like either of them was fighting to fix it. So, I must have been wrong.
Rose patted my hand sympathetically, before jumping up from her step. Even in her tight dress and ridiculous heels, she still made it look graceful.
"What you need is another glass of champagne," she winked before disappearing back into the hotel. The sound of buzzing voices and a string quartet were now filling the night, and I realised the presentations must now be over. I suppose under different circumstances this might have been a truly lovely evening, had I not gone and screwed everything up.
The footsteps returned and a glass of champagne was passed over my shoulder. I took it gratefully, allowing myself a large, undignified swig. I gasped in relief.
"Thank you," I sighed.
"Not a problem," came that smooth, deep voice I'd come to know so well this evening.
I spun around, horrified. The fact that the footsteps hadn't consisted of clicking heels should have been my first clue that my new company wasn't Rose. Still, like the idiot I apparently was, I hadn't paid any attention to it. Now I regretted being so heedless.
His lips had curled up in that half-smile which set my heart beating double time. "Mind if I join you?" he asked.
I didn't get a chance to reply as he casually took a seat beside me on the steps. I would have thought someone like him would have been too concerned for the well-being of his suit to dirty it on the stone floor, Lord knows he definitely appeared that way the first time we met.
"It's quite a pleasant night, don't you think?" he asked politely, surveying the beautiful grounds. I took a moment to admire them myself. Beyond the great fountain stood acres and acres of open land, with trees acting as the barrier between the real world and the dream world of this hotel. The moon hung low above us, illuminating everything with a mysterious white glow. He was right, the night was wonderful, or it had been.
I stared straight ahead, not wanting to look at him, partly because I was angry with him, mostly because I didn't want to get drawn in by his façade like I had before. I could feel his gaze on me, obviously evaluating my silence. The atmosphere between us was tense. Not awkward, something else, but I couldn't name the feeling. I tried not to care. Eventually he returned to looking at the grounds, freeing me from his searching eyes. I released a breath I hadn't realised I'd been holding.
"Not very chatty when you're sober, are you?" he mused.
I slammed down my champagne glass and turned to glare at him.
"Was there something you wanted?" I growled.
He looked startled by my sudden outburst, leaning away from me with his palms up.
"Take is easy, Bella. I was just trying to have a conversation."
I turned away from him, focusing my scowl on the lapping water. "I don't want a conversation. Not with you."
His reply was harsher than I'd expected, the joking tone gone. "What? Because suddenly I'm a billionaire businessman," he said this as if the words were poisonous, "I'm not good enough for your company?"
That brought me up short. That wasn't the problem here, not at all! I angled my body towards him.
"You lied to me," I hissed.
"What makes you think that?!"
"You said you were a student!"
"I said no such thing!"
"You did!" I screeched, "You said you studied business and economics!"
"No, I said I did business and economics, which, in case you haven't realised, I do."
"Why didn't you tell me who you were?"
"You seemed like an intelligent girl, I would have thought you'd have enough common sense to put two and two together. Or at least have done some research before you came to my event"
"Well sorry, but the 'Edward Cullen Biography' isn't on my reading list!"
Edward ran a frustrated hand through his messy copper hair.
"You know, most girls would be thrilled to find they had spent an entire evening in my company."
I stood up, appalled. Who does this jerk think he is?
"Oh, well don't let me keep you from them. If you move fast, you might be able to have that American Studies girl in your hotel room by midnight." I was being stupid, I knew I was. I was giving him the satisfaction of knowing that his mockery had got to me, but I couldn't stop myself.
I turned on my heel and stormed back into the hotel. I thought I heard him call after me but didn't look back to check. Angry tears were already forming at in my eyes, threatening to spill over and ruin Alice's masterpiece. I walked straight through the lobby, stating my name harshly to the valet, who rushed off quickly to retrieve my truck. I ignored the critical looks I received as I hopped into the cab, slamming the door shut and ramming my foot down on the gas. I needed to be away from this place, now.
I drove faster than my truck was used to, the anger slowly seeping away, mortification taking its place.
What had I done?
If I hadn't completely screwed it up for the English Department before, I certainly had now.
"Stupid, stupid," I muttered all the way home. I'd made an ass out of myself and an ass out of my college. Why couldn't I have just been professional? When Edward had given me the champagne I should have just politely thanked him and left. I shouldn't have been flirting before. And I most definitely should not have insulted the one person who I had worked so hard to impress. Even if he had decided long before my little outburst that my department wasn't getting a cent of the money he was donating, that was no excuse for me to throw such a tantrum.
But he had really worked me up. It was more than a wounded ego. I'd had my fair share of embarrassment; high school had been an endless path of low self-esteem. But this felt so much worse. This really felt like a betrayal.
But why? I hardly knew the jerk.
I pulled up into my parking spot outside the apartment, and lay my head across the steering wheel of the truck. I took a deep breath, trying to clear my head. I finally remembered Rose. She would have returned to the veranda only to find myself gone with that egotistical Cullen in my place. No doubt, she'd wonder where I was.
I leaned over to the passenger seat, only to find my clutch bag not there. Panicked, I searched on the floor, in the dashboard, under the seat, in the back. It was nowhere to be seen. With a new horror, I realised I'd left it right there next to him. He had my bag, my phone, my ID.
I pulled my hand through my long curls, leaving them in disarray.
"Great. Just great. Perfect" I spat. Perhaps he'd be a decent person and mail them to me. Somehow I very much doubted it.
"Bella!" I called. She didn't even falter as she strove through the lobby.
Her soft voice sounded wrong as it barked her name to the valet, who promptly rushed off to retrieve her car. I paid no attention to the curious looks we were receiving, my eyes only following her as she made her way to the valet, who had just pulled up in the most awful red truck, and held out the keys.
Even as furious as she was, she muttered a thank you as she took her keys from the valet. He reluctantly handed them over, looking as though he believed she was unfit to drive in her current state. Part of me hoped he might stop her and force her to spend the night here. If I'd managed to catch up with her, I would have insisted she did too. But I felt slow and exhausted, as if the very presence of this strange girl had drugged me and I could no longer think with coherent thoughts.
I watched as she pulled out of the hotel. Not once did she look back in my direction, though I urged her too.
Before we'd argued, she'd simply been the most attractive girl at the event. The girl I'd hoped to take back to my penthouse suite by the end of the night. Of course, when she spoke about her subject, she really piqued my interest, with her confidence that was neither arrogant, nor smug, and her passion which was overwhelming. But it wasn't until she had yelled at me, when she'd looked at me with such fury in her beautiful eyes that I was truly taken in by this mysterious creature.
I wasn't used to women speaking to me in any way, other than their pathetic, dim-witted attempts at flirting. I never really cared for what they said anyway. So long as by the end of the night they were in my bed, it didn't matter whether they had a brain or not.
Sure, I'd had my share of intelligent girls as well as brainless ones, but neither had ever dared to stand up against me. After all, I'm Edward Cullen. As I'd pointed out to Miss Swan, they'd all do just about anything to simply be in my company.
But not her. She couldn't stand the sight of me. Discovering that I was the owner of a multi-billion dollar business had repulsed her so thoroughly that she'd left in protest of my company. It was absurd. I understood why women wanted to be with me when they knew who I was; I was a wealthy man with a lot of perks to offer. But, no one had ever reacted like that to my identity.
Sure, sometimes the rumours could be off-putting, but I'd done my best to control them, and it didn't seem like Bella had any clue who I was when I first met her, so how could she possibly have heard any of the rumours that went with it. I couldn't understand why she was suddenly so angry to learn my identity.
And yet I could. I was a monster, a disgusting leech. I'd done some terrible things in my life which I could never undo. And she had seen right through me. Known exactly what I was. And in all her beauty and pureness, she ran.
Good, I thought harshly. Someone who can speak so lovingly about anything shouldn't be anywhere near someone like me.
I raked my hands through my messy copper hair. I'd given up on attempting to fix the disarray long ago. I returned to the veranda where we'd argued, and sank back down on the step we had just been sitting on.
Her champagne glass sat still and untouched where she'd slammed it on the concrete and I unthinkingly swigged its contents down in a swift gulp, all the while glaring at the unseen eyes who glared back at me in my mind.
I don't care, I told myself. She's nothing, a no one. And if she thinks she and her stupid department are getting a cent of my donation…
I sighed. I couldn't deny her that. Repulsion or not, she'd given her heart and soul to that presentation, and she deserved the donation, more than any of the other departments.
A noisy vibration at my feet startled me out of my thoughts. I glanced down and spotted the black clutch bag I instantly recognised as Bella's from earlier this evening. I picked it up and unthinkingly pulled the blackberry from its pocket, not pausing to consider how Bella might feel if she knew I were rifling around in her belongings now. The screen light seemed dim in comparison to the moon. A picture of the blonde I'd seen Bella with earlier, caller ID told me her name was Rose, flashed up and faded multiple times. I stared each time, deliberating what to do. Do I return the purse to Bella's friend and be done with her? Or keep it for myself and hope she has to track me down to retrieve it. I found myself leaning towards the latter…
I quickly shook my head, dispelling that idea. I wanted rid of that girl, I didn't want to have a part of her with me and the knowledge of our impending meeting when she retrieved this part hanging over my head all the time. I decided to seek out her friend, slipping the phone back into the purse and returning to the hotel foyer.
Inside people were talking and laughing as the string quartet played softly, creating a relaxed atmosphere which contrasted the thoughts in my head at that moment. The university had done a good job hosting this event, yet I still cursed them for it. I knew they had the facilities at Brown to host it at the campus; I'd been a student there. Just because they were so desperate for what I had to offer, they made such a great effort to impress me? That just made the effort false. Just like everything and everyone else in my life. It was all false interest, false caring, false everything…
I scanned my surroundings for the blonde as I made my way towards the presentation room when a figure stood in my way.
The corn-silk blonde in the pink dress from one of the earlier presentations I couldn't remember looked up at me with what I suppose she thought was a sexy smile, although it seemed to resemble more of a grimace.
"Hi," she purred, her nasal voice ringing in my ears.
I didn't bother to reply, instead scanning over her head for Bella's friend Rose. She didn't seem to notice my ignoring her. Either that or she didn't care.
"This hotel is really something, isn't it? It's so pretty, don't you think?"
I continued scoping the room, spotting many interested eyes scoping me back, but never landing on the eyes I was searching for.
"My parents bring me here all the time when they visit, although I prefer something more modern and high tech."
I still refused to look at her, although now I was simply trying to make a point for her to go away.
"I've stayed in the penthouse nine times, although I couldn't get book it for tonight. I suppose that's where you're staying, huh?"
I spotted the blonde at the far corner chatting with a large burly man I knew to be my brother, Emmett. He guffawed stupidly at something she'd said, and I felt a sick feeling down in the pit of my stomach knowing that he was probably going to try and charm her into my penthouse using my name, something he very frequently did when I took him to business events.
No way, I thought. I'm going to make sure the penthouse is occupied before he could even tell that girl he's related to me.
I turned back to the corn-silk blonde and raked my eyes over her slowly. She was skinny, and possibly attractive, if you go for the kind of girl who tries way too hard, wears way too much makeup and not enough clothes. I decided she'd do, slipping Bella's clutch inside my jacket and out of sight.
"Well, there's no reason we can't share." I murmured suggestively.
Her eyes lit up as she caught the hint in my words.
"Lead the way," she grinned, delighted that she'd finally got a response.
I placed my hand on the small of her and guided her towards the elevator, glancing back quickly at the blonde and Emmett back in the corner. He was staring at me now, and shaking his head with a sad look on his face. It was one I was all too familiar with and didn't want to have to face now
I quickly turned my gaze back to the corn-silk blonde and smirked as the elevator doors opened and we stepped in. The second the doors closed behind us she was draped over me, and I instinctively pushed her up against the back wall. She looked up at me, clearly proud of herself for being tonight's "catch."
"I'll make sure tonight is a night you'll never forget, Mr Cullen," she whispered in my ear. I rolled my eyes. Like I've never heard that before. She would be lucky if I even remembered what she looked like by this time tomorrow. Still, so long as she made me forget the other girl on my mind…
Not once did I think of anything but the elusive Bella Swan that night.
Hi all! It's been a while. I finished exams a couple of weeks ago and have since just been getting myself back on my feet. It's been stressful but I'm so glad it's over. I still have coursework due in over the following few weeks so I'm not completely free but I like to take breaks from that and write chapters so there hopefully won't be such a large gap between this and the next one. Anyway, thanks for reading, as always :). See you soon!