AN: Thanks to jcat5507 and Eternally Edward's Girl for their beta'ing and prereading. Gros Bisous to all of you for reading and reviewing. Major french snogs to Erron, who is probably in Lycraward withdrawl. He's all yours E xx
~~ SHIFTING GEARS ~~
Annecy - Semnoz 125km
By the time I reach the end of a Tour, history has taught me that I usually hate all of my teammates to one degree or another. Either they've pissed me off on the road-which isn't unusual-or they've annoyed me in the hotel in the evening or on rest days. That's the main reason why I refused to share a room with anybody else; the thought of having to go to sleep with Miguel's smooth voice assaulting my ears sends a shudder down my spine.
But that morning I'd have done anything to be rooming with him, because then I'd know if he'd managed to score with Bella last night. Even the thought of it made me want to hit something, and I had to jump under the cold shower in an effort to calm myself down.
When I walked into the hotel dining room, my anger had tempered, and I deliberately scanned the room to try and spot Bella. My efforts were rewarded when I saw her sitting alone at a table in the corner of the room, with a book in one hand and a small white cup of coffee in the other. She absentmindedly sipped and read at the same time, so engrossed that she didn't notice my approach until I sat down opposite her in the empty chair.
"Oh my God, you frightened me!" Her coffee almost spilled as her hands started shaking, which caused me to feel absurdly gratified.
"Hello, Bella." Despite my anger, I tried to smile at her, hoping that the result wasn't some sort of tortured grimace.
"Hi, Edward." She glanced up from her book. "How's the groin feeling?"
"It hurts, but I'll live." I opened the energy drink that I brought downstairs with me. "If I can make it through this stage, I think that I'll be over the worst."
"Do you need me to work on you before you ride?" she asked innocently, and I tried not to spit my mouthful over the pristine tablecloth.
"No, I'm scared of doing anything to aggravate it." I started to spin the lid of my drink around in my hands, playing with it while I tried to find a way to ask her about last night. She took another sip of coffee and returned to her book. I glanced at the title, my eyebrows rising up when I realized that she was reading 'The Third Policeman' by Flann O'Brien, one of the weirdest books I've ever had the misfortune to read. I'd only bought it because it was about bikes.
"Are you really enjoying that book?" I asked, and she glanced up again, sighing slightly as she placed the book face down on the table.
"I was," she replied pointedly.
"Did I interrupt you?" I rolled the lid over to her side of the table and watched as she stopped it with the heel of her palm. After she held it for a moment, I wiggled my fingers at her to encourage her to roll it back.
"No, Edward, clearly I'm delighted to see you," she snapped back. "Because obviously the world revolves around Edward Cullen and his amazingly gorgeous body."
"You think my body's amazingly gorgeous?" I could feel a smirk plaster itself across my face, and she sighed loudly.
"That's what you got from my sentence? Jesus, you're such a narcissist."
Her reply wiped the smile from my lips, and I caught the bottle lid and started to spin it in my fingers again. "Did you have a good time with Miguel last night?"
"I had a wonderful time. Miguel's a real gentleman."
"His wife certainly seems to think so." I watched as a pink flush stained her cheeks, and she slammed her coffee cup back on the table.
"What exactly are you trying to insinuate?" she spat her words, leaning back and folding her arms across her chest. "Because not everybody thinks with their dicks, you know. Miguel and I had a fun, platonic evening, which is more than I can say for you and Carmen Volturi."
I'd heard people being described as 'beautiful' when they were angry before, but Bella's fury lit up her face, making her eyes sparkle as she stared me down. I swallowed as I returned her gaze. Suddenly the room seemed unbearably hot. She continued to look at me, challenging me to respond, and I realized exactly what her facial expression was trying to tell me.
She was jealous.
Of Carmen Volturi.
I bit my lip in an effort to stop the smirk from returning to my face, although I couldn't do anything about the way my heartbeat was speeding up. Nor could I tear my eyes away from her. She was staring straight back at me, her lips moist and open. If it wasn't for the fact that the dining room was full of cyclists and workers, I'd have dragged her across the table and fucked her until she begged me to stop. And even then I might have carried on.
Christ, I needed to get control of myself. In an hour's time I had a race that would either make or break me, and if I couldn't get my concentration back I was sure to fail. I slowly dragged my eyes away from hers, taking a couple of deep breaths before I pushed my chair away from the table and stood up.
"Just so you know, there's nothing between Carmen and me, except history." I walked around to her side of the table and pressed the bottle top into her hand, somehow wanting to give her a memento of this fucked-up breakfast date. "I'll see you after the race."
With that, I stalked out of the restaurant, hoping that her eyes were following my every move.
The race was hard fought and bitter, and I ended up in a face-off with Riley Swan, neither of us willing to give way when we tackled corners and sped through hair-pin bends. Eventually, we reached a winding part of the road which was only safe enough for one cyclist to pass at a time, and I circled my legs faster in an effort to be the one to be in the lead.
Swan clearly thought the same, and we were neck and neck just before the path in front of us veered sharply to the left. I dipped my head and went all out, sensing rather than feeling, Swan matching me wheel for wheel.
The rims of our tires clipped each other, and the location of our crash, coupled with the speed that we were going, made us both fly off our bikes and into the soft vegetation at the side of the road. Before I even stood up and checked my injuries, I radioed the team to bring my reserve bike, watching with anger as the peloton caught up to us, and we lost our hard-won lead.
The team van arrived and I was given the new bike, feeling a wave of pain shooting through my groin muscle as I got onto the saddle. Each circle of my legs felt like agony, and I pulled in behind the sprinters at the back of the race. They tended to save their energy when we were in the mountains and, like me, were just pleased to finish the stage. With each revolution of my pedals, I could feel my dreams of the yellow jersey slipping through my fingers. I only just made it over the finish line.
By the time the coach arrived at our new hotel, I was barely able to walk. Hobbling into the lobby, I refused any help from the team doctor, noticing Bella standing there in her jeans and green polo shirt. Her hair tied back to reveal her lightly tanned face.
"You'd better follow me." She turned on her heel and stalked toward a door at the back of the room. She'd obviously heard about the crash.
"Did you want me to shower first? I'm pretty sweaty." I unzipped the front of my shirt to let some air in and she turned to stare at me, her eyes glancing down at the line of hair that began at my navel.
"I'll give you a quick rubdown and then you can shower," she replied tersely, turning to the array of bottles she had laid out on the table beside the wall. "I don't want that muscle to seize up any more than it has."
While she had her back to me, I peeled my lycra suit off and left it on the floor, grabbing a towel from the pile beside the massage table and wrapping it around my hips. Even getting onto the table was a struggle; the pain shot down my right leg as I lifted myself up onto the leather surface.
I may have let out a little curse or two.
"Swear all you like, Edward, but you're the one that caused this. You and my dickhead of a brother." She warmed the oil up between her palms and went straight for my strained muscles, the resulting pleasure and pain of her touch causing my breath to hitch.
"Have you heard how he's doing?"
"Better than you, but that's just luck." Her fingers were digging into the flesh at the top of my thigh. I started chanting my familiar refrain 'Grandma, Jasper, Farts,' in an effort to control my response. Even then I could feel myself start to twitch.
"You know, if the two of you met in a bar, I think you'd actually like each other. He's sweet and friendly and always good for a laugh. And despite your over-inflated ego, I think deep down inside of you, there might be a nice guy struggling to get out."
Her fingers dug into a particularly tender spot, making me almost scream in agony. I sat straight up, my eyes wide, as she turned to stare at me.
"You okay?" She was chewing at her lip again.
I nodded, unable to speak. I didn't want her to know exactly how much pain I was in.
"Did you want to take a break? There's a shower just over there." She pointed at the door behind her, and somehow I managed to limp my way over to it and drag myself into the stall, pressing the button to let the hot water pour out of the showerhead.
Standing was difficult, so I leaned against the cold tiles as the water cascaded down my body. The resulting steam filled up the small room until I felt like I was in the middle of a misty valley. Grabbing the shower gel, I washed myself as best I could, rinsing the suds away until my body was squeaky clean.
Switching off the water, I went to grab a fresh towel, freezing suddenly as I heard voices coming from the other room. The voice was familiar, although I couldn't quite put a name to it until I heard Bella's words reverberate through the door.
"That's bribery, Marco. You can't ask me to do that, I'm not that kind of girl." Her voice sounded agitated, and I could feel my hands ball into fists.
"I'm sure your brother's welfare is as important to you as it is to me," Marco replied, his voice low and tempered. "I think we would make a wonderful team."
"I can't believe you expect me to just give in to you." There was a watery edge to her voice that made me want to scoop her up into my arms.
"I'll expect to see you in my room tonight at midnight, where we can discuss your brother's future. Among other things."
A few moments later I heard the outer door bang. Assuming Marco had left the room, I wrapped a dry towel around my waist and walked out of the bathroom, seeing Bella leaning on the massage table, her head in her hands.
"Are you okay?" I kept my voice soft as I walked towards her, watching as her chest rose up and down rhythmically. Was she crying?
"Just give me a moment." She pushed herself up off the leather surface, running her hands through her hair as she tidied up her pony tail. Her eyes were rimmed with red and sparkling under the glare of the overhead light. I wanted to walk over and touch her face to wipe away the tear that was spilling out of the corner of her eye.
"Was that Marco Volturi I heard?" I wanted to ask her more to find out if they were in a relationship. I suddenly felt very protective of her.
"Please don't ask me." Her voice was still soft. "Let's finish your massage."
"Are you sure? I-"
"Edward, don't!" she snapped before taking a deep breath and standing up straight. "I can handle this by myself, but in the meantime I need to work on your muscles, otherwise you won't be able to walk tomorrow. Okay?"
"Okay." I agreed, wanting to do anything that would put the smile back on her face. I couldn't stand to see her cry. But as I laid back on the table and felt her firm fingers resume their work, all I could see behind my closed eyelids was the vision of her hurt face as she wept into her hands, and it made my stomach clench in anger.