A/N – Yeah, it was definitely a cliffhanger, but we'll see some of what happens next in this chapter. Bella really is having a bad day, isn't she?
Thanks for all the reviews. I read them all and treasure them. You are the best readers, and you always make me laugh. Most people seem to think that Edward is going to be in some real trouble.
As always, everything Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer. I just make them drink coffee.
Bella put her hand over her mouth and slid back down into her chair. She absolutely could not believe that Edward was sitting across the room with the head of Volturi Literary – the very company that was trying to run Whitlock-Hale out of business by stealing their clients. She knew from talking to Alice that Jasper and Rosalie were upset over the authors they lost, but so far, they hadn't lost any of their "stars." Edward was, without a doubt, the biggest star in the whole agency. He was a New York Times best-selling author, many times over. But what broke her heart was that she knew he was Jasper's best friend. How could he be doing this to Jasper – or to Rosalie? Bella admitted to herself that Rosalie was a little scary, but she was still Jasper's sister and business partner. Finding out what Edward was doing would just devastate them.
And to think that she was in….wait. Was she in love with him? She was, she admitted, but how could she continue to be? She knew she'd never get past his betrayal of Jasper. How could she have a relationship with him if he took his business to Volturi? She would hate every book he published, just on principle. He'd grow to resent her lack of support. What chance would they have?
"Bella?" The voice coming from across the table startled her. In her mental ramblings, she'd forgotten all about Jacob Black. Oh please, she thought, please tell me I didn't say any of that out loud.
"I'm sorry Jacob. I thought I saw someone but" she swallowed hard "it wasn't the person I knew. I was mistaken. Sorry."
"It's OK, Bella. You just looked so upset for a minute."
She shook her head. "I was just confused when I thought it was my old friend. I couldn't understand how he could have changed so much. Now I know that I was just making a mistake."
It took all her willpower not to let a tear roll down her cheek. She hid it by pretending to sneeze.
"Bless you" said Jacob. "Are you chilled? Would you like to switch seats with me so you aren't in the draft from the door?"
It was tempting. If she changed seats with him, she wouldn't have to look at Edward. But, she admitted to herself, she wanted to watch him if for no other reason than so she could tell Alice every detail tomorrow.
"No, thank you Jacob. I think I'll stay here." Bella picked up her menu. "What are you going to have? I hear the mushroom ravioli is absolutely wonderful."
As Jacob looked at his menu, Bella took a sip of her champagne and glanced cautiously at the other table. Edward wasn't looking at her. He was sipping a glass of red wine and paying close attention to whatever Aro Volturi was telling him. Creepy old man, Bella thought. Even though Edward wasn't looking at her, someone else was. With an evil smile, Jane wrapped her arm around the back of Edward's chair before leaning in to whisper something in his ear, her eyes still locked with Bella's.
"Bitch" said Bella.
"Excuse me?" Jacob was giving her an odd look.
"I'm so sorry" Bella said. "I stubbed my toe on the table leg. Again. Please forgive my inappropriate language." What was she doing? That sounded incredibly stupid. But what was she supposed to say? Sorry, Jacob, but the man I fell head over heels in love with is sitting at that other table, being groped by a height-challenged bitch and seduced by his best friend's mortal enemy, who plans to destroy the company that just signed you to a long-term contract. Sorry about publishing your book and all, but it'll be tough to do once the company goes under.
No, better to go with the stubbed toe.
Jacob reached over and took her hand. "Bella, I feel like one of us has apologized every five minutes since we met. Let's just agree that you're a little klutzy, and I'm incredibly nervous, and accept that this night will be something to laugh about in the future."
She agreed with a smile. She just hoped he was right.
Across the restaurant, Edward wasn't having an easy time of it either. He was shocked to see Bella at the restaurant, especially when he realized she was apparently on a date with a guy that he grudgingly admitted was good looking. And what was she thinking wearing a blouse that low cut? He'd never seen her in anything like that before. She usually looked so tailored, so polished. She looked too, well, too sexy for a business meeting, so it had to be a date. Look, now they were sharing champagne. Why hadn't he thought about buying her champagne? Why, in heaven's name, had he ever thought that buying her coffee was romantic?
"Edward, I was just asking what your schedule is for your next book? Whatever you have planned, it can certainly be worked into our premiere client list." Aro swirled the wine in his glass and sniffed delicately before taking a sip. "For such a distinguished author, we can certainly work with any conditions you require."
"Yes, Edward" Jane whispered in his ear. "Volturi can be very…accommodating."
Edward tried not to cringe when he felt her arm slide around the back of his chair. What must Bella be thinking? He threw a quick glance over his shoulder, and found that Bella was most assuredly not worried about Jane. Instead, her date was holding her hand and looking into her eyes with an expression that looked like a…a…forlorn puppy.
"Dammit!" said Edward.
"Edward, what's wrong?" Jane frowned.
Edward thought quickly. "I'm sorry, I just realized I forgot to pick up an important package. At the post office. Today." He tried his best to look a bit sheepish. "My apologies for my rude outburst."
Both Aro and Jane seemed satisfied with his explanation. "Now Edward" said Aro "shall we discuss the financial incentives? Your particular talents are very valuable." He leaned towards Edward. "There is much to be gained by joining us."
"Yes, please Aro" Edward replied. "I'd be very interested in finding out exactly what you have to offer."
Aro and Jane both smiled. "For you, dear boy? The world."
It took everything Bella had to remain professional and keep her focus on Jacob for the rest of the dinner. She reminded herself that this was her responsibility. She was his literary agent, and she was celebrating one of the most important moments in his writing life, at least so far. She wasn't sure exactly what Jasper would have told him, had he been there, so she talked about some of the plans they had for his book. Before long, she was laughing at Jacob's stunned expression when she mentioned book tours and screenplays, and all the other things she was sure would result from his manuscript.
She managed to eat maybe half her dinner, knowing that if she didn't, there was no way she'd be able to drive home. When they finished, she picked up the tab even though Jacob tried to pull out his credit card.
"Jacob, please, this is a business dinner and Whitlock-Hale is pleased to have the chance to celebrate with you. I'm just sorry Jasper couldn't join us. I know he was looking forward to it."
He stopped arguing and put the credit card away. "Thanks, Bella. This has been a fantastic evening. I don't think I need a car. I can just float all the way home." He did have a cute grin, she had to admit.
She allowed Jacob to pull out her chair, and she steadfastly refused to look at Edward's table as they exited the restaurant. Jacob, ever the gentleman, opened her car door.
"Bella, before you get in the car, I just wanted to thank you again. And I wanted to say that I've enjoyed this evening with you so much. It's so exciting, about the book, and having an agent. But I also really enjoyed your company, and" he looked at her with those big puppy eyes "I'd like to ask if we could do it again. Without the business part of it. Just you and me."
Bella smiled at him, and meant it. He was a sweet boy, and she would enjoy working with him, but that was all there was to it. "Jacob, I'm very flattered but I'm your agent. I think you're fun, and I think we're really going to enjoy working together, but this is a business relationship and I think its best we keep it that way."
Jacob had just written his first novel while working full time, so he knew something about persistence. "Maybe after the book is published, you'd reconsider?"
"Jacob, I'm….involved with someone." Bella realized in that moment that her feelings really hadn't changed. They were coated in anger right now, but underneath it all? Still there. "I love him very much."
Jacob held up his hand. "Say no more, Bella. I'm sorry if I offended you."
She laughed. "Didn't we just say we weren't going to apologize to each other anymore? I think we can be great friends, Jacob. Now, you'd better get me back to my car. I didn't realize how late it is. As your agent, you should be insisting that I behave responsibly."
"Well, in that case, get yourself in the car, Ms. Swan" he laughed in return.
About 20 minutes later, Edward thanked his host for the evening. "I've enjoyed meeting you, Mr. Volutri."
"Please, call me Aro." The older man flashed a crooked smile. "I'd like to be able to welcome you, formally, to Volturi Literary. Quite frankly, we're anxious to publicize our new relationship with you. We will most certainly roll out the proverbial red carpet."
"I have no doubt, Aro." Edward leaned back in his chair. "But frankly, I need to discuss this situation with my lawyer and my accountant. Due diligence, you know."
"Understood. When can I expect to hear from you?"
""Can we say two weeks?" Edward held out his hand. "It certainly won't be any longer than that." They shook hands.
"Edward" said Jane "Perhaps you could walk me to my car?"
Edward was a gentleman at heart, so he couldn't quite say no. "Of course, Jane."
He knew what was coming.
"Would you like to follow me back to my apartment?" She was definitely on the prowl. "We could share some…coffee."
Coffee thought Edward. "I'm sorry, Jane. I never mix business and pleasure."
"I mix them all the time, Edward. You'd be surprised how well it works." She ran a hand up the lapel of his suit, but he gently took her wrist and stopped her.
"Jane, I'm….involved with someone." Edward knew his feelings were as strong as they were before. He was upset that she was on a date with someone else, but really, they hadn't said anything about being exclusive. Perhaps he was being unfair. "And I love her, very much."
"Oh well, your loss. We'll see each other often enough once your contracts are signed. I am a professional, Edward."
A professional what is the question, Edward thought. He held her car door and then walked to his silver Volvo.
Getting in his car, Edward took a minute to rest his head and close his eyes before putting the key in the ignition. The look on Bella's face when she saw his dining companions was etched into his brain. He could just imagine how it must have looked. No doubt she was sure he was in bed, figuratively, with Volturi. He shuddered to think that if Jane had her way, they'd be in bed literally as well. How would he explain? Then he remembered her face as she laughed with Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome. Maybe he didn't owe her any explanation at all. Maybe he should just forget the whole thing.
No, he couldn't do that. Edward knew, even at this early stage of what he hoped was still their relationship, that Bella was as important to him as the air that he breathed. He wanted those beautiful brown eyes to sparkle for him, and he hoped that once again, soon, he'd watch as those eyes slipped shut as his lips moved to press against hers. Knowing he wouldn't fall asleep anytime soon, he started the car and drove to get a cup of coffee on his way home.
A little red car idled in the drive-through lane. Inside, Bella sniffed back tears of unhappiness and frustration. She needed a cup of coffee or she'd never make the long drive home. She looked up when she saw the Volvo pull in behind her. With no idea what to think or what to say, she pulled up to the window and took her latte from the barista.