A/N: Hey, anyone remember me? Yeah, I know, 3 months is a loooong time, right? Well, I'll be honest, I was feeling generally uninspired by this fic, and then I stumbled upon a chapter just sitting there on my hard-drive. It was all but complete, unbetaed, and I'm not even sure when I wrote it, but I cleaned it up, my beta cast an eye over it, and here it is for your reading pleasure. Sorting out this stray chapter seems to have kick-started my muses, and hey, I make no promises, but it could lead to the story coming off hiatus rather sooner than I thought! :) If you're still around, still reading, still care, please review and let me know!
(For disclaimer, etc. - see chapter 1)
When a man had money and power, there were few doors that would not open to him, especially when forced. Robert Gold was such a man and often felt pleased about it. Today of all days, he almost wished he were not so feared and respected, that answers were not so easily discovered. The plain and simple truth about Isabelle Hart, that was what Gold had come looking for today, and it seemed he may well have found it, it just wasn't what he wanted to hear.
All possible explanations had been accounted for when Gold started to look into the name Belle French and realised she was in fact a person that existed. The spelling he had assumed proved to be faulty, as the real first name was actually Belinda, but that was by the by. She wore Belle's face, and so they must be one and the same. That meant lies and deceit, things Robert had been loathed to accuse her of the more he fell in love with her, and yet, here was proof that something was amiss.
So many excuses could be made, and for both their sakes, Gold looked into them all. Could it be a strange coincidence, or perhaps a case of twins separated at birth, one gone good and the other bad? No, there was nothing to salve the wound forming in his heart. He had been betrayed and deceived, and the more evidence he found from Belinda French's life the more he realised his own foolishness.
She was a suspected thief and a grifter. There was a bounty on her head in more than one country, and aliases galore that went with her face. Belle, his dear sweet girl, was nothing more than a common criminal, and yet no matter how many times he read the evidence of it, Robert couldn't believe. He did not want to believe, neither in his own naiveté or Belle's ability to be so low, so cruel. Just when he had truly started to think he had found love again, all hope seemed loss. If he were a lesser man, Robert would cry. In fact, he might just anyway behind the closed doors of his own home. After that, of course, there would be consequences. He had to fully decide yet how to broach the matter with Belle herself but he would not let this stand, he could not. The only thing he had yet to fully discover was what her plan was here, what her goal might be in getting close to him. All offers to be lavish had been turned down, she seemed awkward in accepting any gifts or even praise. If money was what she craved, Belle could have managed it a lot more easily. Business secrets was the only other idea Gold could conjure, but once again, she could have got what she needed and been long gone by now if that was all she wanted. For some reason, Belle was planning a long game, it seemed. He just couldn't figure out why.
There was a quiet voice inside Robert's mind, murmuring childish falsehoods about true love and such. He would not listen. There was no way a woman like Belle could truly be in love with him, he had thought as much from the start. Slowly, she had made him start to believe in this connection between them, but no more. Now Gold knew exactly what she was and told himself forcefully that he would never trust her again, never be so easily led.
This is perhaps what hurt the most. Knowing that it must be his choice to send her away. Though here was proof of what she was, who she was, what she was capable of, Gold knew when he saw Belle stood before him again, he would still love her. Such feelings did not vanish in a poof of smoke just because he knew the truth now, they could never, and it would be foolish indeed to believe they ever would. Even criminals could fall in love, Gold was sure of it, since it was true enough that even men like him, seemingly so hard and cold, could be charmed by the right woman.
It was stupid, sentimental teenage thinking to allow himself to believe for a moment that Belle's feelings were real. The truth was she was playing him for her own ends, whatever they might be. He half expected to find evidence that she was mixed up with Regina Mills, though none came to light. What he did stumble across, thanks to his various contacts and forceful questioning, was that Belle was part of a team once. There had been rumours about a group hell-bent on taking down businesses and rich men that the law couldn't touch, for the sake of the poor unfortunates being down-trodden in technically legal ways. That team had a woman amongst their members that matched Belle's description and a man that could easily be Jefferson. Closer inspection showed another who could yet be the mystery person who called himself after Gold's son when he showed up here a while ago. They were all in this together, and Robert's blood boiled in his veins at the realisation of it.
"You little madam," he muttered, much worse words coming to mind but never making it past his lips as he read further.
Of course, the fact Belle was technically a career criminal didn't actually prove she was lying when she said she loved him. It was just that much more likely, given the circumstances, that she was playing him for a fool. The problem Gold was having was understanding what the end game was in all of this. If they were working for Regina, that might make sense, but after weeks of working at Gold Industries, Belle had to have gathered whatever Intel she needed, be it based in the business or even in Gold's personal files. She had access to his office, his apartment, she had even been to his town house. She had charmed him like a pro and he knew that whatever she might ask him he would tell her - so what was she waiting for?
It was too confusing, too many arguments falling on either side of the line, it left Gold quite bewildered. It ought to make sense for Belle to be the bad guy in all this, for her to be using him, pretending to love him for her own ends, though he didn't want to believe it. On the other hand, if she were this horrible person, why had she not made her move, taking any of the ample opportunities that had come her way to defraud him, trick him, accuse him. It made even less sense for her to be bad than it did for her to be good, and Gold put a hand to his head, feeling the pain of his own confusion then.
In the end, the only way to know for sure if Belle was a liar was to confront her. She could try to talk her way out of things if she was indeed a practised conwoman, but Gold would know. He was ready for her now, wary of her ways. Yes, he and his dear, sweet Belle needed to have a conversation. By the end of it, he would know for sure if she was simply running from her past, or running a scam on him and his business. He hoped for both their sakes it was the former rather than the latter, he just couldn't quite believe it right now.
A plan was in the works. The extended team had been on it for hours, gathering all their Intel together, figuring out who was best used and at which part in the con. Regina knew Reul Ghorm of old, but had never seen Ruby. She knew Archie by reputation but probably wouldn't suspect him of any nefarious dealings, whilst the rest of the team would do best to stay out of sight where she was concerned. As for Gold, he knew them all, but as yet it seemed he suspected not a one, especially not his beloved Belle.
They were pulling together a twisted plot. Snow and Charming took the reins, but everybody's contribution was taken into account. Using the resources available via Gold Industries, and what they already knew about Regina, it was possible they could both ruin her reputation with the general public at large, and dethrone her from the head of her business too. It wouldn't be simple, not at all, but it was starting to look achievable. Belle listened intently to all the plans and gave her agreement to everything, even when David asked something of her that almost seemed too much.
"Well, wouldn't it just be easier if I told Robert the truth sooner rather than later?" she checked. "We know for sure how much he cares about me, how much he trusts me, and he hates Regina..."
"I don't doubt he cares, Belle," said Jefferson kindly, even as he cut her off. "But a lot is hanging on this con. If we don't keep him out of the loop until we're sure we have Regina in place... We're risking so much more than just ourselves."
Belle knew he was right. Her father, Snow and Charming's baby, August's father too. Family and friends that had nothing to do with this world, including Ruby, Archie, and Rheul, who had been dragged into this mess. It could all fall apart from her being selfish. Belle felt sick.
"I'm sorry, Belle," said Snow, looking truly apologetic as she wrapped an arm round her friend's shoulders. "I know its tough for you, but just as soon as we have things in motion, you can figure things out with Gold."
Charming made a huffing sound, like he doubted that were possible, or maybe just wondered why anyone would want to make a relationship work with a man like that. Belle couldn't be angry with him, he just didn't understand. David was a man with a cause, and Gold had always been the enemy. Belle knew better now, at least she believed she did. It was that much harder to explain to the others.
Her cell phone ringing made Belle jump and she frowned as she pulled it from her pocket, seeing it was indeed Robert calling. Taking a deep breath she moved into the empty kitchen and accepted the call.
"I was just thinking about you," she said sweetly, smiling because she knew how much difference that made to the sound of a voice on the phone.
"Quite the coincidence," he told her with a hint of a chuckle. "How are you, Belle?"
A hundred answers ran through her head, and yet only one could be given.
"Happy to hear from you," she said softly. "I so enjoyed our date last night."
"As did I," he replied easily, pausing a moment before the point of his call became clear. "Would you think me a silly old fool if I said I already missed you, dearie?"
Belle smiled widely and yet there were tears behind her eyes she just couldn't control. It felt so good to hear him say these things to her, and yet broke her heart at the same time, given the circumstances.
"Of course not," she told him, clearing her throat so she might better speak. "Honestly? I miss you too."
"Then why don't you come over, Belle?" he suggested like the most natural thing in the world - to him, she supposed it was. "Come to the house, we can have lunch together, just keep each other company."
Belle swallowed hard and peered out into the room where her extended team continued to plan and plot. They were doing good things here, it all mattered, but it was killing her by degrees to be amongst it too much.
"Sounds wonderful," she told Robert then, finding her next smile was a little more genuine. "I'll be there soon."
Best to take her chances at happy moments whilst she could.
Everything seemed fine when Belle arrived at the house. She wasn't even feeling particularly nervous by that point, just an odd excitement about seeing Robert again. He loved her, he had said as much, and now to admit to missing her already, it all had to be a good sign. Though she doubted it every time the thought came into her head, Belle was still holding onto the hope that if he really loved her as much as she loved him, that he would be able to forgive her when the truth came out. It was still not a conversation she much looked forward to having, but between their feelings for each other, and the fact that Regina would be in the dust by then, Belle hoped it would be enough to tip the scale. If she was lucky, Robert would hear her tale of woe and forgive her, if she could just keep him believing the truth of her heart, even as she spun so many other lies about her life.
On the doorstep, he had greeted her with a sweet kiss. Belle wondered at how brief it really was but chose to think it had more to do with their standing where they could be spied on by the neighbours than anything else. Robert was not ashamed of her, she was sure of that. It was just nobodies business but theirs what they got up to, that was all.
They sat together in the living room, each with a cup of tea, all civilised, warm and cosy by the fire. Robert started making small talk and Belle was happy to go along with it, though she couldn't help thinking something wasn't quite right. She blamed her own paranoia, but he just didn't seem as he had been the night before, as if he was holding something back or perhaps something was bothering him.
"Robert, is there something on your mind?" she asked after a while.
"Now why ever would you ask me that, Belle?" he replied, meeting her eyes with a rather intense gaze that wasn't altogether as she would expect. "Whatever would be on my mind?"
Belle's heart skipped a beat as her senses screamed what exactly could be bothering him. She didn't want to believe it, and unless he actually came out and asked her straight, she wasn't about to reveal anything. The team had just now finalised their plan and it was imperative that Robert knew nothing of it until such a time as nothing could be reversed, accidentally or otherwise. Belle trusted the man she loved, but the team still had their doubts about how he would react when the truth came out. If Belle could just keep things under wraps a little longer...
"I don't know," she forced a smile, trying not to let her nerves show.
"I'm sure that you don't," he smiled back, perhaps a little too widely. "So, here's a curious question that's been puzzling away in my head," he said, sipping his tea as if nothing at all was amiss. "When did you change your name from French to Hart?"
Belle had a mouthful of tea and swallowed it swiftly when she heard the question.
"I- I don't know what you're talking about, Robert," she told him softly, wishing she had managed to speak with more conviction when his smile twisted to something less charming.
"Oh, you don't?" he asked, putting his cup and saucer down onto the table hard enough to make a clatter.
Belle jumped with the surprise of it, her nerves already shot given the turn in the conversation. Robert knew something, or he thought he did. Belle wished she could tell him the truth now, despite his obvious anger. Maybe she could make things better if she just confessed all, but she couldn't. This was so much bigger than her relationship with him, it involved her whole team and others beyond it. So much was at stake, more than she could bear. She had to keep on lying, even though it broke her heart.
"Robert, I don't understand," she told him, looking earnest as ever.
Belle already knew she was fighting a losing battle, the hardness in his eyes when he looked at her then, like steel blades piercing her heart. He was angry, oh so very upset, and he knew she was lying. Still, he couldn't know everything, and she mustn't reveal anything more than he had already figured out for himself.
"Oh, she doesn't understand," he said, as if to an audience that wasn't there. "Funny, because she was so intelligent at her interview with a woman that wasn't' even there!"
He started yelling somewhere in the middle of the accusation. Not that it was really just a charge against Belle, it was a fact that couldn't be denied. Her interview was non-existent, entirely fabricated to get her the job. How Robert had come to realise this now, she hadn't a clue, though Belle suspected it all stemmed back to Killian Jones and his using her real name at the diner last night. She tried to think quickly, but she still wasn't fast enough.
"Robert, please..." she urged him - he didn't listen.
"Don't you use your sweet girlish tones and looks on me, madam!" he snapped at her, on his feet now, practically breathing fire. "I know what you are! Well-practised LIAR!"
Belle swallowed hard, tried to rally all her strength - it appeared she was going to need it.
To Be Continued...