A/N: If you want, feel free to listen to the Habanera from Carmen when the it begins in the chapter. The music goes along with Edward's actions.
Jacob Black leaves his BMW with the valet and casually makes his way through the Spanish-style garden that leads to one of the most exclusive haberdasheries in California. There is no signage outside what is rumored to have been Charlie Chaplin's dance studio, but anyone in the know within one thousand miles of this address finds J. Jenks when they are in the market for a one of a kind bespoke suit. The doors to the studio are heavy and wooden, and once pried open the air inside is cool and smells of mineral oil and cherry tobacco. Decades old exposed brickwork covers one wall, while the rest of the cavernous space is decorated in dark wood and leather. The floor is polished poured concrete and covered with Oriental rugs in tones of deep orange and burgundy. Leafy palms crowd at the corners and dapper manikins are artfully grouped in twos and threes.
Jacob sighs. He wants to take exception to the fact that he was bidden to accompany Edward Cullen, a failed mid-level executive, to this exclusive haunt. However, he has learned not to begrudge Isabella Swan in her carnal pursuits, and while he is not eager for the upcoming exchange, he is nevertheless determined to please his employer.
Meanwhile, with financial markets in a state of ruin, the high-end suit business has recently dried up and J. Jenks makes a point of greeting Jacob Black personally. He's primed with the knowledge that he will be in the employ of one of the most powerful financiers in the country, outfitting one of her boys. Indeed, he's always taken pride in making suits for SAF's managerial team and often assists young, aspiring executives with which cut might get them ahead and into the boardroom. For those sent by the CEO herself, those bound for the bedroom, he outfits exclusively for Ms. Swan's pleasure and judges his success by her return business. Mind you, he is desperate to ensure his continued success in this new post-apocalyptic business age.
A separate salesman takes Jacob's jacket and inquires whether he would like a cigar and a drink. When Jacob refuses both, he's offered either Columbian coffee or Perrier instead. Given a moment to reconsider, Jacob relents, opting for a scotch and soda. Isabella doesn't like her employees to drink on the job, but Jacob doesn't like Edward Cullen. Somehow, he feels the drink will level the playing field.
Since Mr. Cullen has made a regular habit of arriving late for his appointments, Jacob expects he will have time to review swatches and discuss cuts and finishing with Jenks at his leisure. But he barely has time to settle into a leather chair with a drink and a sample book when an anxious man in cheap sunglasses, a navy polo and slightly rumpled khakis walks tentatively through the door.
"What is it about this one?"
"He tries too hard."
Jacob cannot help but grimace. He's been trying since he was twelve years old. He knows Isabella Swan better than anyone in the world and he understands her motivations thoroughly, however he cannot bring himself to understand why she wastes her time with Edward Cullen. Jacob is quite certain the man couldn't manipulate his way out of a paper bag. He finds the fidgety guy obstinate and relentlessly morose. Nevertheless, Jacob reminds himself that Edward Cullen has not been chosen as his paramour, so his opinion serves no purpose. He must do his job and let the union run it's course. Isabella will accept nothing less.
Edward Cullen glances around the opulent showroom, not quite certain he's found the right place until he spots Mr. Black, Isabella Swan's unsuccessful master of happiness, seated in a leather throne, wearing a dark suit and a scowl. Edward decides then and there that Mr. Black is no more successful at bringing himself happiness than he is Bella Swan. Each time the two men meet it appears that Mr. Black is more taciturn than the last. Edward finds a small amount of pleasure in the power he appears to hold over this man and he can't help but grin as he takes off his sunglasses.
"Mr. Black?" he asks.
"Mr. Cullen." Jacob grumbles, setting down his drink. He stands but does not offer his hand.
"This is the gentleman we'll be working with?" Jenks asks, scrutinizing and surveying with what he hopes is an inviting air. He's relieved, having worked with far worse raw material and eager to effect a transformation that will please. "Right over here, Mr. Cullen! Can we get you a drink, my boy?"
"Um, I'm here for -"
"He knows why you're here, Mr. Cullen," Jacob Black interrupts with an exasperated sigh. "No need for gory details."
Edward grits his teeth. Jenks wraps an arm around Edward Cullen's shoulders ignoring the ignominy, leading him toward a fitting room in the rear. "What do you like in a suit?" he asks. No matter the answer he plans to accentuate the man's broad shoulders and give him more of an upper body presence – broadening the chest as well.
"Something dark… that fits?" Edward offers.
Jenks chuckles and Jacob rolls his eyes, following the procession with his glass in hand.
Edward's measurements are taken in a swift and efficient manner by the overly complimentary Jenks, a detail that leaves Jacob Black more sullen with each passing moment. He cannot help but wonder if this personal attention is by Isabella's express design. (It is not). He wonders if Isabella is bringing Edward to Carmen to make a statement, or out of sheer coincidence. (It is a coincidence that Isabella savors). He mentally ticks through each of his recent interactions with Isabella and his stomach roils. Lately he has been reduced to Edward Cullen's escort, while he is a much more significant part of his employer's life.
Jacob attempts to take solace in his scotch as he watches the measure of a man. He coolly compares inches and intentions. While Jenks sees centimeters and yards, Jacob Black adds up the days and weeks until he can move on with his life.
"Wonderful, Edward. You'll look simply scrumptious on Saturday. I'll see to the detailing personally... the darkest shade of blue to bring out those eyes... something very modern, slim cut. Wait until you see what I have planned for the lining."
Edward smiles outright as the small man leaves the fitting room at a jog. He isn't used to being fawned over and he feels awkward, yet oddly important.
"Don't flatter yourself, Mr. Cullen," Jacob grumbles from the corner, reminding Edward that he's being watched.
"Why are you here again?" Edward asks, stepping down from his pedestal.
"I do what I'm told. Remember that rule and you might even earn yourself a month or two."
"Why? So I can end up like you?"
Edward smirks and takes a seat and searches for his shoes. Jacob laughs, but Edward detects anxiety behind the man's bravado. After years attending to Angela, he is attuned to anxiety.
"You and I are nothing alike, Mr. Cullen. I'll be here long after you're just an unpleasant memory."
"Making her happy?"
Edward's question is tongue and cheek of course, but Jacob misses the sarcasm. Edward has unwittingly stumbled onto Jacob's deepest desire: to remain Isabella Swan's source of satisfaction long after the others have been forgotten.
"What is she to you?" Edward wonders aloud.
"She's my employer, and you'll watch your tone."
"No, that's not it at all. You're not in this just for money."
Jacob is struck by the quiet sincerity of Edward's voice. It offers his first inkling that the man is more than a well-intentioned, hypocritical failure. Edward's insight carries with it warmth and heart. This is not necessarily a pleasant discovery, and Jacob feels the need to bring the man down a peg.
"Neither are you, Mr. Cullen. Don't fool yourself. You're no saint. No one is in it just for the money. That's the excuse, but you're in it for the woman. We're in it for… well, you know what she's like."
"I think I do." Edward Cullen is convinced that Isabella Swan is like a narcissistic sociopath, but he's uncertain how that makes a lapdog of the man on the other side of the sitting room.
"Don't look so smug, Mr. Cullen. There's only one possible outcome for you. She'll grow tired. She always does. Your best option is to get what you can while you can. Figure out what you want, because the clock started ticking the minute she wet your dick."
"I've told her what I want."
Jacob pulls an envelope from his jacket pocket and leans it against the glass of scotch on the table at his side. He feels quite certain that Edward could do better than a doctor's appointment in Scottsdale, Arizona, but that is further proof of the man's incompetence and a clue as to why he's failed at life.
"About what you want: a car will be at your house at seven-thirty Saturday evening. You'll arrive at the Pavilion just ahead of her car. Wait at the curb to escort her inside. The rest of the evening is in how you play it, Mr. Cullen. Your reward is this envelope. There are airline tickets, a hotel reservation, and your wife's clinic schedule for this coming Monday."
Edward cannot take his eyes off the envelope. Its contents contain his worth as a human being. They contain his wife's last best hope. "You know that what you're participating in is immoral and insane, don't you?" he asks Mr. Black.
Jacob tucks the envelope back into his pocket, downs the last of his scotch and stands. "Who are you to talk, Mr. Cullen?"
Edward returns to Jenks later that week for a final fitting and finds that he enjoys the comfort of a custom suit. It is not only the tailor's platform that adds height to his already lofty stature, but the sense of ease and confidence that comes with a complimentary cut and adequate arm room. He gains an inch just from the admiration he sees reflected in J. Jenks' eyes and the friendly nods from the other attendants in the studio. It takes every shred of his practical will not to simply wear it home, clad in new clothing and armed with new meaning.
Furthermore, he feels a new sense of purpose at home that week as he helps to pack for the trip to Scottsdale. He is proud that he will bring Angela to one of the finest authorities in breast cancer for an evaluation. He makes certain she is not only packed, but also armed with medications, inhalers, nebulizers, wound care supplies, and stacks of medical records. Once again he falls into the role he has carved out for himself in this world: he is saving his wife. He is within an inch of fixing the situation as much as is humanly possible.
"I'm going to make this okay," he murmurs as he gives Angela her final dose of medication one night.
"I don't know."
"I know. I know it, Angie," he insists with a kiss to the forehead.
Angela is relieved that Edward's take-charge attitude has returned. It was the character trait that convinced her to marry him and the one she feared she'd drained from his soul. She muses that maybe now that she is leaving this world he is gaining back what she'd taken. With this thought she is almost able to smile.
Edward interprets the light he sees in his wife's face as evidence that he is pursuing the right course of action and he works doubly hard to make sure that the trip will, in fact, take place. He needs to make certain to give Isabella Swan what she might want. This mental leap from his wife to his John, or Jane as the case might be, is made with heretofore unheard of ease. Edward is armed with a worthy excuse a sincere wish… and a newly realized sense of licentious control.
Stacks of unpaid bills and past due statements are swept aside for the time being as Edward's laptop takes center stage on his desk. He spends the long hours after Angela is asleep for the night no longer juggling finances, but visiting websites that leave his cheeks red, his mind reeling and his conscience stubbornly in question. Nevertheless, he is determined not to fail at the task at hand and with Google and bits of string as his guide he works far harder than he had when he was eight and learning the Boy Scouts Six.
When he needs a break, his inquiries turn more personal and he types Isabella Swan's name into the search engine. He is gifted with layer upon layer of information: from her Wikipedia page to news of her most recent dealings in Washington, D.C. on the very afternoon that Edward last visited her office. If he's learned one thing about his former employer it is that she possesses a story that would be told between the lines, so Edward studies carefully, searching for the tie that will bind rather than the key to her heart.
Edward had called on his sister Rose and her husband to watch Angela while he was at the opera, but on Saturday evening he opens his front door to find his mother on the doorstep instead. Edward's stomach turns and his palms go clammy. He's never wanted to shout at his sister for her lack of support more than he does in this moment. Meanwhile, Esme Cullen's face glows with pride, unexpectedly dazzled by her son's appearance. She is certain Edward looks as handsome as her husband ever did in his youth, yet more refined than Carlisle could ever dream of becoming.
Edward finds it difficult to find his voice or to look his mother in the eye.
"Edward, Son, you just took my breath away!"
Esme holds out her arms and Edward has no choice but to acquiesce to a hug. He avoids eye contact and as he searches for something sincere to say to his mother.
"This is a work function?" Esme asks as she releases her hold on her son and pulls him into the house with her.
Uncertain how to answer his mother without guilt, Edward distracts himself with the contents of his pockets. He searches as if he's forgotten something. He has not, of course. He has his wallet, cell phone, and a condom in his inside jacket pocket. Four long strips of red silk are carefully folded inside the side pocket in his trousers.
"Oh, sorry, Mom."
"Are you alright?"
Esme's question is such a loaded one that Edward feels the sudden urge to collapse at his mother's feet and beg for forgiveness. He does not, of course. Instead, he tries on a stiff smile. "I don't know, Mom."
"Is there something riding on this event?"
"Edward, Honey." Esme takes Edward's hesitant hands in hers. "My God, look at me, Son. Take a deep breath. You're one of the hardest workers I know and you are good at what you do. Everything is going to be fine here at home. Go and have a good time. There's no one on the planet that deserves to forget everything for a few hours more than you."
A black sedan pulls into the driveway alleviating Edward's need to respond. Instead, he finds Angela in the bedroom and leaves her with a kiss and a disingenuous promise that everything is settled for their flight the following afternoon.
The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is a study in mid-twentieth century architecture, but the blazing lights glowing from within cast a golden aura on the fountains that decorate the square, creating a sense of grandeur far greater than the box-like building might otherwise inspire. The crowd is noticeably sparse this evening since those with the extra cash for opera seats are investing in gold futures or stashing their funds in the Caymans these days. The couples that sweep by take little notice of the solitary man in the well-fitting suit. Likewise, Edward doesn't much notice the ebb in the opera crowd. He's watching a black limousine roll to a stop in front of him and feels as though his heart is beating in his throat and his conscience has called it quits.
He clutches at the strips of silk in his pocket and reminds himself to stand tall. Dressed to the nines, he is indistinguishable from the rest of the crowd. He belongs. He knows what needs to be done. He is prepared... and can't help but chuckle at his old Boy Scouts motto.
He finds he is not prepared, however, for the long, bare legs that emerge from the limousine, or the graceful curves of a body draped in figure-flattering red silk - cut sky high and dipping jaw-droppingly low. Edward catches his breath, quietly stunned by the slender, radiant woman who smiles brightly as she takes the hand her driver offers to help her from the car. The diamonds around her throat and dangling from her ears sparkle in the light from the concert hall. A warm breeze blows through her loose wavy hair and makes her gown ripple around her frame. Red fabric rustling against milky white skin and Edward sees right through Isabella Swan. He understands the inspiration for her choice of dress - the same inspiration for the scraps of red he's stashed out of sight - and he is borne on a wave of confidence. Clutching the silk strands in his pocket he strides toward his former employer and offers his hand.
Isabella is likewise pleased with Edward's appearance and lets herself smile as she takes him in from head to toe. Of course, she has all but guaranteed she would be satisfied. Nevertheless, a suit does not make a man, and Edward fills the fabric well and finishes it off with touches like artfully unruly hair, a close shave and shined shoes. He looks impeccable. So does she. They make an exquisite couple.
Isabella offers her arm, but Edward wraps an arm around her waist instead.
"I expect you to behave, Mr. Cullen. You must conduct yourself with decorum this evening."
"Is that what you'd like?" His lips brush against Isabella's ear as he asks and she shivers.
"What I'd like? That's not for me to tell, but for you to guess. Of course, one wrong move in public could jeopardize the rest of your weekend plans."
After Edward's week of online research, he is almost certain he can please Isabella Swan. Her words don't anger, but instead present a challenge he feels he can meet.
After several days of deep deliberation, Edward is so attuned to Isabella's presence and her carnal desires, not to mention her resume and recent exploits, that he expects all heads to turn as she walks by. However, financiers are not movie stars and while they control the world, they manage to do so in popular anonymity. Bella is granted no more than a few sidelong glances from admiring men, but her stature and importance seem lost on all in attendance besides Edward Cullen. He feels a sincere need not to let her significance be overlooked.
"I admired the way you handled Washington."
Bella raises her eyebrows. "You noticed?"
"You fucked me five hours before you met the President. I paid attention."
"To be clear, you fucked me, and you fucked me well."
Edward grins. Isabella's hand brushes against Edward's hip. The sparse crowd becomes something of a crush as patrons merge together underneath tremendous crystal chandeliers. He feels the swell of her breast against his chest. He holds the sweep of her hip in the palm of his hand.
"Jacob Black doesn't like me," Edward muses.
"You don't need to mind Jacob Black. Do you know Carmen, Mr. Cullen?"
The opera is one of the many things Edward studied over the past week, yet he plays dumb.
"Is this the one where the manipulative bitch takes advantage of an unsuspecting soldier? Yes, I think I know it. My younger sister studies music."
"Why is a woman a bitch when she gets what she wants?"
Edward does not look at Bella as he replies. "Perhaps when the bitch destroys lives to get what she wants, then that name is the one that fits the best."
"Men make their own decisions, Mr. Cullen, yet they are quick to blame the outcome on the fairer sex. Please tell me, whose life is destroyed in this story?"
"The soldier. Jose, right?"
"Just like a man," she scoffs. "You're wrong, of course. Carmen, or the bitch as you call her is the one that dies in the end."
Edward and Isabella arrive at her box in the first row of a private balcony just as the lights are dimming and the orchestra is queuing. Edward's heart beats in double time as Isabella takes her seat, crosses her legs and looks up at him expectantly. If he is to act, it has to be quickly and it has to be now. It has to be to the resounding applause for the conductor and to the first notes of the strident overture.
Falling to one knee as if to tie his shoe, Edward slips one of the strips of crimson silk from his pocket. He's practiced in the dark and with chair legs, but never with a human being that held his fate in her hands, or with a one hundred-piece orchestra playing just to his backside.
Quickly, before he can think twice and before it begins to look like he is lurking on the ground, he grasps Isabella's ankle, pulls it to the side and ties and tethers it in a quick rope shackle. Reaching across, he repeats his actions with her other ankle and another strip of silk. Edward and Isabella are both proud of his performance as the overture builds to a crescendo, the curtains open and Edward takes his seat.
From the corner of his eyes Edward sees Bella flex her thighs, testing the ropes. He is certain that this time she is not playing when she cannot ease her way out of the bindings. He watches with internal glee as the corners of Isabella's mouth twitch. Her eyes flicker in the light from the scene unfolding below and Edward would desperately like to know what is going on behind them.
Behind those big, brown eyes Bella is pleasantly surprised. She'd expected a quick fuck in a back hallway once she was able to get Edward angry enough to make a move. However, the situation has shifted and Edward Cullen is beginning to prove himself more adept than she'd imagined.
"I think you'll find I'm a pretty quick study," Edward whispers in Isabella's ear, coming close enough to her thoughts that he startles her. He reaches across her body and presses her wrist against the armrest. Silk is wound and tied in a shackle in record time.
Isabella clasps Edward's lapel with her free hand. "Are you very certain about this, Mr. Cullen?"
"I'm guessing you have a bat signal to get Mr. Black over here if I'm off on this hunch, but yeah, I'm pretty certain."
He has no trouble prying Isabella's hand from his jacket and he presses her wrist against the armrest and goes to work with his last strip of silk. Edward sits back and smiles. He has effectively imprisoned Isabella Swan, CEO of SAF Global, in her seat with her hands immobilized and her legs spread to the air and the orchestra.
Thrilled and strapped into her preferred position, Isabella gamely pulls against her tethers, once again testing her bindings. Edward Cullen has indeed learned his ropes. Bella's heart pounds as the air vibrates with Bizet's music. Cool silk falls away from a long leg and an errant strand of hair falls across her face. Edward is suddenly the one walking the line, and he looks dapper and confident as he does so. Overly pleased, Bella takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, savors the moment and waits.
Below her a lover is impatient and unwittingly determines her destiny.
And Isabella waits.
An army regiment regards cigarette girls and an unsuspecting soldier's fate is sealed.
And she waits.
Isabella glances at Edward, but he is on the edge of his seat, engrossed in the opera playing out before his eyes instead of regarding her. He leans forward and studies the action on the stage. Isabella cannot lean. She cannot brush the hair from her face or cover her thigh. She will not say his name. She cannot. He must come to her.
Edward chuckles along with the rest of the audience at the story unfolding before them. Bella does not laugh, nor does she enjoy the first scene of the opera. Instead, silent fury flows through her veins turning Bella's cheeks pink and her palms sweaty. Carmen appears on the stage below and the sounds from the orchestra grow as anxious and angry as Isabella Swan. If Bella's ties were loosened she would slap Edward Cullen across the face. She would destroy him for her humiliation. She would disgrace him in front of his family and his friends.
Just as Isabella's fury is poised to consume her from within, the first lilting strains of Carmen's Habanera pierce the air like a hot knife and Edward turns his attention back to his former employer. Isabella watches him look her over from head to toe; from her shackled ankles, to her exposed thigh, heaving chest, stray hair and hot temper. He licks his lips and Bella's emotions are a tangle of rage and desire.
Edward slowly slips back in his seat and rests his hand over Bella's on the armrest. He runs his fingers over hers. His trousers rub against her bare leg.
"Do you want me to touch you?" he asks as he leans close. "I think you do."
Music swells and Isabella's heart skips a beat. She hasn't felt this vulnerable in many years, a fact that brings with it palpitations and voluptuous uncertainty. Edward's hand slips from the armrest to Bella's exposed thigh and fingertips skim along her skin, gently rubbing back and forth.
"I think I got that part right. Would you agree, Ms. Swan?"
The Habanera surges again and there's a chance that if Isabella weren't bound she would have jumped in her seat. The loose strand of hair hangs across her nose, but the only thing she is aware of is Edward's hands and her bindings.
"You don't say?" Edward asks.
"Watch yourself, Mr. Cullen," she murmurs, doing her best to keep her voice cooler than her blood.
"Watch my hand as I touch you? Certainly, Ms. Swan. If you say so."
Edward's hand moves to Isabella's inner thigh, caressing, drifting higher. The drape-like fabric is easily pushed aside, slipping out of the way like a gentle red tide. Edward follows Isabella's unwitting instructions and enjoys the slow reveal of alabaster skin. He enjoys the rise and fall of Bella's chest and the gasp that erupts from her parted lips when he ventures higher.
"You wanted me here, right?" he asks as his fingers barely whisper against her sex. "In here?"
When Bella doesn't offer a snappy reply, Edward eases more fabric out of the way; leaving both thighs uncovered, and places a hand on one of her bare knees instead.
"Funny, I was sure I knew what you wanted," he chuckles.
Bella watches Carmen seduce Jose with words of caution and the voice of a siren. The sultry melody winds around her limbs along with the silk and Edward's hand burns where it lies.
The word escapes her mouth almost of it's own accord and it is the only syllable she has to utter. With one deft movement his hand is back where it should be, his lips are against her ear, and both offer just the lightest hint of his presence. Whispered promises and deft fingers are interwoven with French lyrics dripping with the prospect of sensual pleasure. The music builds slowly and so do Edward's movements: his tongue joins his lips behind her ear, his fingers probe and rub and circle close to where Isabella would like them, but never hitting home. His shoulder brushes against a bare arm, the sleeve of his jackets creates unintentional friction, and Isabella's skin is on fire, exposed, throbbing, underneath only the cover of darkness and thin layers of silk.
"I'm not certain I know how to please you. With force? With will? With a play at power?"
Edward nips at Bella's earlobe and his finger finally dips. Bella gasps. The music continues and the thousands present all around them are unaware.
Driven by his own actions, Edward forgets the game. He knows only what he wants in this moment and he nips and sucks and explores more freely: along legs, along the deep "V" of her gown, slipping beneath the edges and rejoicing at the swell of her décolletage. Bella closes her eyes, letting the music and the man take over, gladly bequeathing minutes of her life to give in and let go. She is proud that her own will and determination have provided her with a sweet escape, a moment of perfection, lips and hands and filthy pleasure in a refined disguise. A smile hovers at her glistening lips and she aches with delight.
All too soon, the Habanera is over, the silk of her gown is swept over her thighs, and Edward's touch disappears. Isabella opens her eyes to find the man once again focused on the actions on the stage as if it had all been a wish instead of reality. Her smile grows and she suppresses laughter. He's clearly won, but she is not finished.
The first act draws to a close, and as Jose unties Carmen's wrists on the stage Edward deftly releases first Isabella's wrists and then stoops to free her ankles. Once liberated, Isabella stands and peers down at the handsome man crouching at her feet. She is far from sated, yet incredibly satisfied.
"Come with me, Mr. Cullen."
"I've had enough."
"You'll rise and take my hand without argument. Now."
Edward does as he is bidden and leads Isabella from the box, down the aisle and out into the hall. The sudden light is shocking and Isabella's hand on his ass is unexpected.
"Lead me to the car, Mr. Cullen. I've given the bat signal, as you call it. Jacob Black and I are taking you for a ride."
A/N: Thanks to all of you for waiting for this one. Thanks to SereneInNC & Obsmama for rocking my world. And thanks to SCOTUS for making this country a little more equal for us this July 4th.
Until next time, ~BDC