Rose looked forward to their Saturday brunches. Saturday meant she got to sleep in late and wake up to smells like coffee and French toast wafting from the family kitchen, and the sound of happy voices in her home. Sleepily, she went over a mental list of what she'd accomplished in the past week. Color palettes were brainstormed, furniture was decided on, fabrics were considered for Pierce, and preliminary work was in development for Newton.
Awake and dreamy, she stretched in her bed of billowy soft comforts. Emmett drifted to her mind, and suddenly, she became clear-headed and alert. She got up, spent a little time on her usual routine, and put herself together in jeans and a sweater.
Downstairs, Bella sugared a giant bowl of sliced strawberries while food sizzled behind her on the stove. "Pancakes with a blackberry sauce and sides of maple sausage, toast, and fruit!" she announced. "I think there's a frittata in the oven, too."
"Where is everybody?" Rose asked. Surely those happy voices she'd heard weren't part of a dream.
"Alice ran out to pick up her dry-cleaning and Jasper's outside setting up the patio furniture. He told me to be the flipper and watcher. He always insists on doing everything."
But that was Jasper, Rose knew. He felt responsible for taking care of everything and everyone. The Hales had turned out to be a serious pair.
Rose took a mug from the drying rack and poured herself coffee. "Is the weather nice enough to be sitting outside?"
"It's gorgeous today." Alice came through the back door, slid off her designer sunglasses. "Not a cloud in the sky. I'd say spring is just as impatient to get here as we are to see it." She hung her plastic-protected suits on the hooks in the foyer.
Jasper pushed open the sliding glass door and stepped inside. "I think we're ready out there."
The doorbell rang.
"Are we expecting somebody?" Rose asked.
"I invited Emmett," Jasper told her.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she managed stiffly.
For once, Jasper didn't pick up on her changing mood as he headed down the hall. "It's just Emmett."
It wasn't just Emmett, she wanted to tell him, but held it in. She bent to check her reflection in the stainless steel vent above the stove, then realized she was caring too much about her appearance. She went back to her coffee. She wasn't trying to impress anybody, not even Emmett McCarty.
The door opened and his deep, rich voice floated down the hallway.
Emmett walked in, relaxed, smiling, and approachable. As he leaned against the counter, hooked his thumbs in his jean pockets, she noticed he was freshly showered. The edges of his hair looked damp and she smelled traces of wintergreen soap. Irresistible, she thought unhappily.
And he hadn't looked at her once since arriving.
He joked and talked with Jasper as if nothing had happened between them. There were no brief glances or secretive smiles. The bare walls were getting more of his eye action than she was, which was something she definitely wasn't used to.
The hard truth wrapped around her like a cloak of frost. It had all been a game to him. He probably grinned and smirked and kissed women all the time. She'd been saying as much, mostly to protect herself, but it hurt that she was right.
She turned away and went to assist Bella with the last bit of preparation.
"What's wrong?" asked Bella under her breath. "You look like you're about to invoke a second ice age right in the middle of our home."
"Nothing. I don't know. I'm uncomfortable."
Bella could see it wasn't the time or place to talk it out. "If you want to busy yourself, get out the stuff for mimosas."
As Rose went to the refrigerator and collected the champagne and orange juice, Jasper thankfully led everybody and the procession of food platters outside to the patio. But when she closed the refrigerator with her elbow, it was just Emmett and herself left in the kitchen.
She spared him a glance, catching the flicker of hopefulness beneath his polite smile. "Hey yourself," she said, unyielding.
He took her bad mood for sass and buried his smile in a sip of coffee. "Need help?"
"Nope." She strode outside, not caring how closely he followed.
"Yeah, by senior year we ran the football team," Jasper was telling Bella, who was helping herself to a pancake.
He and Emmett regaled the girls with heroic football memories. Alice made smart remarks on the side.
Rose watched them all, especially how Emmett fused right back with her brother. From now on he would be at every social gathering where Jasper was concerned. And while their conversations kept feeding off each other, punctuated by laughter, the past pulled her back like a demon; she felt like the teenage girl staring at them from the sidelines. The teenage girl who few people had understood.
Emmett's gray eyes, though they weren't looking at her, still did strange things to her insides. When he quirked his mouth a certain way, those eyes silently laughed. And she remembered all over again how skilled those lips really were. Hot and insistent and exploring.
Then he glanced at her, averted quickly, and flexed his jaw.
She downed her mimosa.
The meal carried on cheerfully—with or without her input. She couldn't stand to sit there like a fool in front of Emmett any longer while they lingered over coffee. Rose stood from the table and began to clear her plate, causing an abrupt lag in the chatter. Even Alice, who usually herded everyone to help out, raised an eyebrow.
With the grace of a well-mannered Hale, Rose pasted on a smile and offered to take a few other empty plates—to appear helpful rather than disruptive.
Inside, she wordlessly rinsed plates and stacked them in the dishwasher. Then she filled the sink with soapy water and took a sponge to the pots, annoyance rising to anger as she scrubbed vengefully. She shouldn't be giving Emmett two seconds of her time. She was too busy. Her life wasn't ready for him.
Alice and Bella came in eventually, stacking more dishes on the counter, watching her warily.
"They left," said Alice, dropping a pink slip of paper and a ring of keys on the counter. "Of course, Jasper's gotten out of cleaning up."
"He did do the cooking," Bella reminded. "And he had to give Emmett a ride home."
Rose paused and looked at the items on the counter. "What's that?"
"Your keys and receipt." Alice picked up a drying cloth and started on the pile in the rack. "Emmett brought the van with him today. All fixed up and working."
"What receipt? I haven't paid for anything."
"He said he took care of it. The paper is for our records." She handed the dried pots one at a time to Bella, who put them in their proper place and wiped down the counters.
Rose drained the sink, water and her thoughts circling in a dark descent. She didn't want Emmett doing her favors. She was going to fix that the moment she got the chance.
In a few minutes Fire and Ice would open its doors to the public. Leah was lining up clean glasses with the same enthusiasm one used when cracking knuckles before a fight.
Emmett tossed the rest of the sliced lime wedges into a container when a flash of blond hair outside caught his attention.
Rosalie threw open the door. She spotted him instantly and marched forward, fierce as a warrior angel sent to kill him. He froze, feeling a sharp tug of foreboding in his gut.
"We don't open for another five minutes," said Leah.
"Deal with it." Her blue eyes glittered dangerously and her blond hair was backlit by the sunset glowing hot through the windows. She waved a piece of paper under Emmett's nose and slapped it down on the bar. "What the hell is this?"
He was still getting over the magnificent sight of her. "For the van."
"Yes, I see it's for the van. Why does it have a zero balance?"
He straightened, grabbed a rag to finish wiping down the bar. He was catching on that her mood was a lot darker than her usual frost. But he couldn't figure out why, so he'd let her lead him down the path of hellfire and thorns. If anything, he was curious. "I took care of it. Free of charge."
"Oh, you took care of it." Her nostrils flared as she threw her purse down on the bar and dug for her wallet. "How much was it?"
"Wait a sec. I said it's on me."
"Forget it," he snapped. And he wasn't smiling now.
Her eyes took on a deadly glint, bewildering him. Women liked favors, he thought, didn't they? He was in no mood to play guessing games.
"What is this, some kind of IOU to call in when you're lonely at night? A kiss and a car fix isn't getting you one."
He turned to Leah, who silently watched the scene unfold with growing, unconcealed interest. "Could you give us a minute?"
"All the time you need." Leah folded her arms and leaned lazily against the back counter.
"Get lost, Leah."
"Fine." She pushed off the counter and huffed out. "I'll still be able to hear from the back," she muttered.
Emmett rubbed his temple. A headache started to form behind his eyes. "I thought you'd appreciate the gesture. Not storm in here looking like you want to kick my ass. Just when I think I understand women..."
"I'm not women. And I don't like owing favors to people."
"I'm not asking for anything in return."
"Really," she said in a tone showing how little she believed him.
"I'm straightforward. Have been since day one with you."
"That sounds exactly like what you weren't doing at brunch." Rose shifted, smoothing out her discomfort, but he could see that the annoyance was still there. "You barely looked at me."
"You're damn right I didn't. And believe me, it wasn't easy." His own reasons were running deeper than he'd thought. "I didn't realize how much I wanted you until Jasper was there and all the things going through my mind froze up."
Emmett remembered it well, and the shame that had followed. He didn't know how to keep it flirty and friendly with Rosalie without wanting more. Just a bar separating them now made his fingertips itch.
"When you say things like that, I don't—" She looked away, focusing on the scratched surface of the bar. "Look, Emmett. I have a serious problem with accepting favors."
Doing things for people was how Emmett operated, whether it was a favor or good deed. He'd never run across someone who openly despised his good nature. And just as his ire reared back indignantly, his eyes met hers.
Those light blue eyes weren't filled with hatred, but with... apprehension.
Emmett took her hand in his, holding firm when she made a halfhearted attempt to pull away. "I think I get it now," he said.
She didn't say anything, just looked at him with widening, suspicious eyes as he leaned closer and gentled his tone. "Some favors are about power. You don't like being under anybody's thumb." One of his hands began to stroke the back of hers, feeling the small nicks from hard work. Further proof that he was right. Rosalie preferred to do things herself.
"That's right," she said, a flush rising up her neck. She seemed embarrassed that he'd figured it out so quickly. "What, no smart comments or laughs?"
"No." Truthfully, he was sad for her. And with that sadness came anger and a wish to protect her from whoever had turned her cynical. "I want to know who he was."
Her elegant brows furrowed. "Who?"
"The bastard who did you that favor and used it against you."
Unconsciously, his grip tightened on her hand. When she made a small sound of protest, he let go. But he didn't apologize. He wanted to know.
"It doesn't matter. I should go."
Emmett grabbed her purse before she could gather it. "Your ex-husband?"
"No." She paused. "My mother. I see no reason to dredge up my dysfunctional childhood, but let's just say I'm used to gifts that aren't gifts, and expectations chained to them." She folded her arms across her chest. "Are you just going to keep my purse?"
He hadn't expected that answer, and his readiness to act deflated. What was the worst he could do? The woman was already dead. And the damage had been done. He handed Rosalie her purse. "It doesn't go with my outfit," he said dryly.
She shouldered it.
Emmett picked up his rag again. "I'll give you a bill for the van. I know this great little restaurant. Say...tomorrow night. Seven?"
Her expression fired up again, but her voice was level. "I never agreed to dinner."
"We can look over the bill during good food and wine until you're satisfied." His dimple winked out.
"Then I have terms of my own. If I don't enjoy our dinner date, you agree to leave me alone."
Emmett had to think about that for a moment. To give up trying was definitely something he didn't do without a fight. And he knew that even if he agreed, he'd be lying. Well, he'd just have to make sure she did enjoy herself to make sure he stayed truthful. "All right," he said eventually.
She turned, tossing him an unreadable look over her shoulder. "Don't be late."
Rose had looked away from him. She'd never looked away from anybody, hadn't expected him to understand her.
At least she'd gotten away with the last look, the one that sent men off with dashed hopes and crestfallen expressions.
It was easy to dismiss their feelings, but not when it came to Emmett. And in person, Emmett was a strong force, and his determined, ingenuous expression had a way of lowering her guard. Had a way of making her feel things, and she didn't know what to do with those feelings. Feelings in general never seemed to fit anywhere comfortably.
She wasn't sure if she really wanted Emmett to leave her alone, but she'd been very curious if he would agreed to.
Work was what she needed to stay focused on.
She'd spent the day familiarizing herself with Bella's plans for the Newton project and created several different tile patterns for Jessica to choose from. Then she explored accessories. Details, Rose knew, were so important.
Eventually she had to stop working and allow her mind to reset. Colors and patterns could mash into one big pile of muddled second-guessing if she didn't force herself to break away from the work and study it the following day with fresh eyes.
That's how she'd planned to operate with Emmett. Assess the situation, then go back to it with a clear head.
As she stood inside her walk-in closet, sore and tired, she was having trouble keeping a clear head and making any decision.
Keep it simple, she told herself when overwhelmed on any project. Keep it simple.
Her routine was solid, had been for years. As a Hale, she was a pro. She lotioned her skin until it was soft and satiny. And she spent time on her hair, getting the blown out waves to settle and shine and frame her face and shoulders. When she looked at herself, she was satisfied.
But she noted, with further satisfaction when she answered the door, that she could make Emmett speechless. No flashy grins or smart remarks, and he wore a dark jacket and nice jeans that didn't have grease stains and scuffs. He cleaned up well, but there was no mistaking the vitality and gritty strength simmering beneath the pretty package.
He stepped inside, his eyes staying on her. "You look... nice." The last word sounded strangled. She turned and grabbed a light jacket from the hall closet. Emmett caught the way her top hung low in the back, revealing a path of pale, soft-looking skin. "Really nice."
"Thank you." Catching him off-guard was doing wonders for her ego.
It was a warm evening, and he had lowered the top down on the Jeep. The drive had a fresh breeze blowing through her hair. All her work was coming undone. But in the distance the sun died over the city in a spectrum of peaches, blues, and violets. It was a quiet thrill to chase it toward their destination.
He street-parked beside a restaurant that looked like a hole in the wall and a seat-yourself kind of place.
"There's not much to it," she said, eyes looking for a sign in front when there was none hanging.
"Wait till you taste the food." His confident grin returned and he led her to a table near the back corner of the dining area. A busboy promptly set out glasses of ice water and steaming bowls of lentil soup.
"It comes with every meal," he said, watching her as he stirred with his spoon to cool it off.
"It's more interesting than your average bread basket," she agreed in a tone that didn't reveal either disdain or pleasure.
Emmett was having a hell of a time figuring her out.
They blew the steam and sipped. "You probably wouldn't come back here. You're used to upscale places."
"Upscale, is it? You did go to private school with us, in case you forgot."
He shrugged once in agreement. "My mom had a good habit of sending back money. But money isn't always status. I'm talking about lifestyle."
She conceded he had a point, but she'd never admit it to him. "I might be used to finer places, but it doesn't mean I enjoy them." She slid her bowl aside when she was finished. She'd eaten every last drop just to prove her own point. "Where's the bill you owe me?"
"Right to business." He shook his head, unfolding the paper from his inner jacket pocket, and slid it across the table to her. "Relax, angel."
She looked it over. "Fifty-two dollars? You only charged me for a part."
"It was nothing." When her eyes narrowed, he said, "You could've replaced it on your own if you'd read a manual."
She drew out her checkbook. "You'll have to show me. What was wrong with it?"
"The starter motor. I replaced it. The battery was fine." He accepted the signed check without a glance, folded it away. "So, you don't like fancy places. Finding that hard to believe."
"Believe what you want."
She didn't miss the polite conversations at country clubs, the empty laughs on yachts, all the other activities meant to showcase status and draw out people's weaknesses. That's when it hit her. She was perfectly content right where she was, at this no-name restaurant with Emmett. She opened the ugly laminated menu, hiding the surprise she felt.
"What's good here?"
"I like the sampler for two. Comes with a little of everything." He didn't bother with the menu, but looked at her thoughtfully. "I believe what I see. You don't like to be pushed in a category."
"Is this a therapy session or a dinner date?" She put the menu aside and met his eyes.
"We're understanding each other."
"I'm not sure I really understand you."
The waiter approached. Emmett reluctantly leaned back and put in their order.
"Wine?" Emmett asked her.
The waiter listed a few, his pencil poised over his pad. When she decided on one, he turned to Emmett.
"And I'll stick with water."
Emmett sat back. "Ask me anything."
"This isn't an interview either." She had to admit he looked very good in his buttoned down shirt.
"Isn't it? Divorce, that must be hard to get over."
"That was the easiest part. It was the most polite and unfeeling separation. I didn't like him anymore and he didn't like a woman who couldn't adore him." Royce had been polished, educated, well mannered, and he'd bored her to death. Her wine was brought. She sipped, liked the dry taste, and sipped again. "You're thinking I'm a cold bitch." It's what her mother had called her, though at the time Rose had thought it ironic.
She saw he was definitely thinking something, the way his eyes considered her. "No," he said. "Calling a woman a bitch is just misunderstanding her on purpose."
She'd been trying to shock him, but he sat there undisturbed while fresh curiosity dug into her. "You're speaking like you know."
"My mom. Well, she was called a lot of things for opting out of parenthood. It looked like abandonment, I'll give them that. But she'd said goodbye to me. She didn't disappear or anything. We still keep in touch. People didn't understand."
Rose knew he hadn't grown up with a mother. And he'd been a favorite of their housekeeper, Mrs. Cope, when he and Jasper hung out at the Hale home after practice. His mother, she remembered, was a vibrant, eccentric woman who had picked Emmett up from school once, and her own parents' circle of friends had whispered snide comments about the adventuresome woman when she came to town.
"What else didn't they understand?" She circled the rim of her wine glass, burning to know.
"She isn't meant to be tied down to one place. She needs excitement and newness. I can't blame her for being who she is. I have a little of it in me too."
Almost too simple, she thought, to whittle down that kind of childhood loss. But then she saw...that he could forgive because his mother hadn't pretended.
The food arrived. The platter set between them was decorated with hummus and pita, falafel, pomegranate chicken and roasted meats, tomatoes and fried cheese, and salad. She decided to sample everything. Emmett waited while she helped herself before he loaded his plate.
He leaned over his plate as he ate, and a familiar memory stirred Rose. He used to eat a stack of six PB&J sandwiches for lunch everyday. She would sit at her own table with her friends and watch him in secret amazement as he inhaled each one. He still had a big appetite, with food, women. With life.
"When it all comes down to it," he said, "I have more of my father in me. Family comes first, and I'll do anything to make sure he has an easier life. He's a stubborn hellion, but he raised me right, and I'm here to repay it."
"I can't imagine any amount of stubbornness stopping you."
The food was delicious, the wine warmed her, and she found herself smiling and interested in what they talked about.
Emmett thanked the waiter when the man refilled his water. The meal was winding down.
"What made you get into Dazzle?" he asked.
Not many people ever asked Rose that. They knew her social status and assumed she was only playing at a career instead of building one.
"After Royce and I were over, I moved into my own place. A little apartment. It was nice because it was mine." She didn't notice at first when Emmett took her hand, but didn't pull away as he lazily played his fingers through hers. "I'd already made up my mind by then not to do something because my parents expected me to. It was never just about décor. That empty apartment was a fresh slate."
The low lighting of the place only deepened the gray of his eyes, made his strong feature more prominent. She could fold herself up in that warmth, relish the hint of danger beneath it. But she slid her hand from his, took up her wine again. "You see, Emmett, I won't be distracted. Not even by you."
His grin spread, sharp with a hint of wicked. "You're quite a woman, Rosalie. But that's one thing you're wrong about."
"Welcome to Game Night." Jasper showed off his game room to Emmett.
It was like old times when they'd horse around with the football after school and see what other kinds of trouble they could get into. Only now, their gaming equipment was refined and high-tech; their beer was better quality; and they could make their own rules for trouble.
The home had a refined luxury, but within Jasper's means. He saved diligently like his father had, enjoyed what he owned, and didn't squander like his mother. Jasper was more interested in taking pleasure in the things he owned rather than living wastefully, surrounded by useless possessions.
The billiards corner was Jasper's real pride and joy, with a plethora of gleaming cues hanging on the wall, and fresh chalk. He had Monday nights off, so Game Night became his tradition.
Emmett needed the pick-me-up. His date last night with Rosalie left him with a busy mind. He understood divorce, but when she told him how civilized the whole thing had been... People were entitled to break down, shed tears, have messy lawsuits. It was unnatural to feel nothing, but for Rosalie it was expected of her. Emmett had reached for her hand to soothe her, but mostly to prevent his fist from hitting the table.
They went over to the gaming consoles, beers in hand, to watch two friends duke it out in Smash Bros. A roar went up among the group whenever a player lost a life and bounced back. A pile of money started a modest bet.
The players were at an even score until Donkey Kong caught the Smash Ball and unleashed his power on Kirby, pummeling him off the screen. Mixed shouts of rage and cheers went up as the loser threw down his controller. The winner gloated while the money pot was counted out to his supporters.
"Let's play some pool," said Jasper. "I'm too restless for poker and I'm not willing to cough up money for Smash Bros. Stripes or solids?"
"Solids." Emmett grabbed a cue and some chalk.
They played a few rounds, their competitive streaks climbing.
"Who else is still around from high school?"
Jasper squinted down his cue and took a shot. "A few other crowds. Angela and Ben Cheney, Riley, Bree, Eric. I've seen them around."
"Angela and Ben got married? Good for them." Emmett circled the table, strategizing his next move.
"Yeah. A lot of the in-crowds settled here, surprisingly. Rode on their trust funds to college, partied hard and passed just enough, then moved right back."
"You're a trust fund baby."
Jasper grinned. "Not denying it."
"At least you're doing something with it. You and Rosalie." He'd been trying to get on the topic of Rose without forcing it.
Emmett wanted to ask him what had really happened to Rosalie's marriage. But he couldn't do it without keeping his anger leashed. Truth was, more than protective instincts crackled in him. He felt an ache for the young woman she'd been.
"Neither path we chose is without hard work. If I'm a chef all my life, I won't be sitting with my feet up unless I start an empire." Jasper shot a stripe dead-on and sent it home.
Emmett observed the precision of it, reevaluated his options in the game. Ruthlessness, he thought, must be a Hale quality.
When the third game broke a tie, Jasper in the win, it was late. They called it quits.
While Jasper kicked everybody out, Emmett hung back and asked about the video game systems.
Jasper slid a PlayStation game in, eager to show it off. He stretched out, crossing his ankles on the coffee table.
Emmett did the same and they played in contented silence. They were two soldiers battling aliens on some abandoned space ship.
Jasper's jaw clenched in concentration and his fingers pushed over the buttons of the controller to navigate throughout the game. Seeing the fierce expression instead of the easy smile wasn't encouraging to what Emmett wanted to discuss.
In his simplified, straightforward way, he blurted it out.
"I took Rosalie out last night."
"Thanks, bro. She needs to get out more. All she cares about is work."
"Yeah-" He shook his head. "No, I mean like a date."
Jasper swore at his soldier that tumbled into gunfire. "I hate this game sometimes. Wait, what?"
Emmett hadn't been playing anymore, and when Jasper's character died, the Game Over menu dripped red on the screen.
"I kissed her, too."
Jasper turned to him. "You kissed Rose."
"Whatever you're playing at, it's not funny."
"I'm not laughing..."
Jasper chucked his controller across the coffee table. "What the hell am I supposed to say to that?"
"You could be okay with it."
But Emmett knew, as Jasper got up from his seat and paced, his friend's temper was sharpening at a vicious rate.
"Jesus, Emmett. I didn't realize moving back meant taking advantage of Rose the second you see her."
"Look, I'm trying to be straight about this."
"But you crossed a line." Jasper stopped to stare, his blue eyes hardening to ice in the same way his sister's did. "I should beat the shit out of you."
"I figured you'd want to." Emmett got up, facing him man to man.
Jasper didn't want to beat Emmett up, never thought he'd have to. "Well how the hell did you expect me to react? It's been great catching up with you. It's like a day hasn't gone by. But then you moved in on Rose."
"If you're going to punch me, then just do it and get it over with." And if he remembered Jasper at all, he knew the guy needed a good explosion before there could be any attempt at calming down.
It was fast, faster than Emmett expected when Jasper's fist rammed into his face. Surprise and the jab of pain sent him into the side of the couch. He tasted salty copper, and the drop of blood stained his finger when he reached up to find his lip sporting a fresh cut.
In a moment of riled defense, he threw a punch back, the impact sending Jasper into the coffee table and knocking over empty beer bottles.
They glared at each other, fuming and dully aware of the blooming bruises.
"I'm going to take her out again. She's going to say yes again."
Jasper's fists clenched. "That's impossible." He still couldn't quite wrap his head around the idea of his sister with his friend. What the hell, he wondered, was Rose thinking?
He picked up the beer he'd been drinking, chugged a third of it, then held the cold bottle to his cheek. "Why her? Why can't you find some other chick?"
"You think Rosalie is replaceable?" Emmett grabbed his own beer, finished it off. He knew at that moment she wasn't. "Look, I'm still Emmett McCarty, your friend. Minus a football career and a good shoulder."
Angry lines in Jasper's face only deepened. "Yeah. I remember the same-old Emmett McCarty. If you hurt her—"
"I don't want to hurt her." It was the only honesty he could promise.
There was nothing else left to be said. Emmett left.
A/N: Ruh roh, things are getting heated! Thanks to MyImm0rtal for betaing and dollegirl for prereading. Any mistakes found are completely mine.
Thanks for reading!