A/N... So...let me explain. :D Before you start, I should tell you a little bit about this fic. First, it was originally JenRar's plot bunny. And I stole it, or she handed it over, whichever works best for you. Second, this fic is about cheating, (there's more to it, really) but if that's not your thing, or if it's a trigger for you, then this isn't the story for you. For those of you that know my "rules," then you'll know that I insist on a HEA and I don't write or read when Edward and Bella cheat ON each other. However, WITH each other is a different thing. ;) Third, I've been told repeatedly by my beta, JenRar, and my pre-readers, GooberLou, Beffers87, and inkedupmom that this fic requires a TISSUE WARNING. So take that into consideration.
Each chapter will be inspired by at least one song. Yes, there will be a playlist on my blog, but I'll tell you the title/titles before each chapter. The songs will have greatly influenced the chapter. That being said the first song is the most important song. It sets the tone for the entire story.
"Stay" by Sugarland
Chapter 1 – Stay
Chicago, IL – March
I shifted slightly on the bed, running my hands through the unruly mop of Edward's hair. The midday sun shone through the windows, turning the reddish-brown to an almost bronze color. My attention was split between watching him sleep and watching the clock. It was the weekend, but I was never able to sleep while he was here, especially in the middle of the day like right then. Every minute with him was precious, whether he was awake or asleep, and I never wasted a moment. As I lay there, I prayed the phone wouldn't ring...that she wouldn't call.
But she always did.
As if on cue, Edward's cell phone rang, startling him awake. With his eyes trained on me, an apology pouring out of his gaze, he picked it up, swiping his thumb across the Accept button.
"Yes, Jane." He reached for my hand with his free one, squeezing it gently as he listened to the voice on the other end. "Yes, I'm almost finished. I'll be there soon."
He frowned as I tugged my hand from his, moving to my feet and wrapping my arms around myself protectively.
"Yes, I know, but you really need to calm down. The showing will be fine." He gripped his hair frustratedly, the muscles in his sharp jawline rolling with every grit of his teeth. "No, you need to let James do his... No, he can handle it, Jane. I left him in charge of the classes before I left, so there's no need for you to—" He exhaled roughly through his nose as he glared down at the floor.
I could hear her screech over the speaker, and then it was suddenly cut off. Despite how the conversation had sounded, I knew exactly what words were coming out of Edward's mouth next.
"I've gotta go," he said quietly.
I nodded. "I know."
"Don't, Edward," I whispered, interrupting him. "I know. Lock up when you leave."
Before the tears could come, I hurried the few steps to the bathroom and quietly shut myself inside.
With my back pressed against the door, I heard him moving around in my bedroom, dressing quickly. His footsteps were muffled as he stepped to the bathroom door.
"I love you, Sunshine," he murmured. "I'm sorry."
Then he was gone.
When I heard the front door close and a car engine start and then fade away, I finally allowed my tears to fall. I shouldn't have been surprised, and I wasn't, but it didn't make it any less painful. She always won, she always knew how to pull him back in, and I was always the one left alone.
We'd been doing this for six months. We shouldn't have been, but we were. Everything about it was wrong, but it was impossible to fight, like swimming upstream, like fighting gravity, like telling my heart not to beat.
I slid down the bathroom door to the tile, wrapping my arms around my legs. Fuck, I hated it. I hated that he was tied to her, that he went home to her almost every night, that despite how beautiful and perfect we were together, he had to keep us a secret – a dirty, dark secret. He'd breathed life into me with love so big, so full that I'd lost who I was the moment our eyes met.
Groaning to myself, I sniffled, swiped at my tears, and let out a heavy sigh. I stood up, washed my face, and prepared to spend the rest of my weekend alone. I was a big girl. I'd made the choice just as much as Edward had, so I resigned myself to working the rest of the weekend.
Falling down on the couch, I pulled my laptop to my lap and began finishing up the layout for my article for the Tribune. Mr. Newton wouldn't be that shocked when it was turned in early. I'd developed a reputation for getting my work done ahead of schedule. When Edward was...otherwise occupied, I buried myself in a job that I honestly didn't really want.
Chicago, IL – May
"Hey, Sunshine?" I heard Edward call from the living room as I set our dirty dishes in the sink for later.
"Yeah?" I walked back into the living room to see him studying the folder of my work. When he spread out a few of my test photographs, I shrugged. "Don't start. Art only pays your bills. Not mine."
He smirked, but rolled his eyes. He was so beautiful, both inside and out. His hair was in complete disarray, his lean, muscular torso bare as he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. Sharp, intelligent green eyes scanned over what I'd had no alternative but to designate a hobby – my art. My job was taking pictures for the Chicago Trib, but my love was nature, people, animals...life.
"But baby, these are...good," he urged. While Edward was the owner of one of the most successful art galleries in Chicago, his opinion was valid, but unwanted.
"Mm," I hummed noncommittally. "Yeah, 'cause you'll show them, right?" I asked with a hint of acid in my tone, already knowing the answer.
We both knew Jane would never allow my work in her precious gallery. She hated me – and not because I was sleeping with her husband on a regular basis. She hated that she'd been practically ignored in the spread I'd done on Sterling Gallery for the paper. Edward and Jane Cullen owned it together, and he ran it, but she called more shots than he'd admit. She was his primary artist, but the article had been about the other side of the gallery – the art classes, the special needs kids that Edward taught for free, the contests he ran for new, young artists. Jane brought in money through her art and connections; Edward gave it a good reputation and heart.
It was while shooting for that article that I'd met the amazing man in front of me. We'd tried and tried to ignore it, but the first few minutes after meeting, the entire gallery was filled with a sexual tension that made it hard to breathe. We'd flirted harmlessly at first, teased and laughed, and when I saw him with a few of his students, I'd never wanted anyone more in my entire life. He was sweet and patient and talented. A little twelve-year-old girl with Down Syndrome declared proudly that "Mr. Edward was her boyfriend." I was lost to him the second his cheeks blushed, and little Sarah had been the focal point of my pictures from that moment on.
Edward's face turned stormy, but he shook his head. "I could put you in touch with people. The right people."
"The same people that probably turned me down. Let it go, Edward," I sighed, plopping down on the couch next to him. "No. Thank you, but no. Maybe one day, I'll do it on my own, but I don't need you to call around for favors for your..." My voice trailed off when his gaze darkened even further.
"If the words 'other woman' pops out of your mouth, Sunshine, I swear to God," he snapped, standing up and starting to pace. His hands ran through his hair as he glared at me. "You... You think I like this? You think this is a fucking game to me, Bella? Well, I can assure you it's not."
There was a part of me that believed every word he said, knowing this wasn't normal, that it was just really fucking bad timing. The other part of me – the part I usually kept bound and gagged – told me he was enjoying having his cake and eating it too.
Instantly, he was on his knees in front of me, both hands holding my face, as if I were a priceless piece of art.
"You have to give me time, baby. Please," he begged. "I could lose everything. Everything, Bella. And it's not even about the money...or the gallery. It's about—"
"The kids," I interrupted him with a sigh. "I know."
And it wasn't just the kids, either, though for Edward, they were the most important. Jane's family and Edward's family had been lifetime friends. To have them divorce would cause rifts between them, especially with Jane's father, Marcus Sterling, being the governor of Illinois. He'd ruin Edward – destroy him. The man had connections everywhere, and he'd leave Edward the epitome of a "starving artist."
"I'm trying my absolute fucking best here," he continued to plead. "It takes time. I'm trying to set up a community art center for those kids to make sure that they're taken care of, but it's not easy. I have to do it on my own, because we're contractually bound, Sunshine. If I used Sterling money, then when – when, Bella, not if – I ask for a divorce, she could take it all away from those kids. And some of them...they've come so damn far."
Tears welled up in my eyes as my patience wore thin. "I hate sharing you with her."
"You don't," he vowed in a whisper, shaking his head slowly and brushing his lips lightly over mine. "She doesn't touch me, sweetheart. She hasn't touched me in over a year. She blames her medication, though I'm not so sure anymore."
I snorted at the word "medication." She needed more than medication... I voted electric shock treatment. The woman had serious issues. I'd heard her more than once lose her mind on the phone with Edward. She was almost abusive, but he'd go to her. Edward would mention needing to talk, suggest a separation, and she'd fall apart. He'd run straight to her, simply not to have that on his conscience.
He kissed me softly, gently wiping away my tears. "I'm yours. Only yours. And I swear to you, I'm doing my very best to get away from her."
"She knows, Edward," I told him softly, looking away from him.
"No, she doesn't," he countered.
I rolled my eyes. "I'd know," I argued. "How can she not? You're never where you're supposed to be, you lock your phone with a password that even the Pentagon couldn't crack, and you say you aren't sleeping with her. She knows. If she doesn't know...she suspects," I warned him, pointing a finger into his chest.
"She can suspect all she wants."
"If she knew, she'd destroy you," I sighed, unable to keep my hands off him. They slipped up his biceps, across his broad shoulders, and around his neck.
"The only one that can destroy me...is you, Sunshine," he said softly, pulling me to the edge of the sofa, his forehead meeting mine. "Please, please hang in there. I'm begging you, baby. Please. One day, I'll tell the world that you own me, heart, body, and soul. What do I have to do to make you believe how much I love you?"
His deep, sea-green eyes welled up with tears that matched my own. "I can't," he whispered, his voice catching on the last word. "You know I can't. The—"
"The art show is tomorrow, I know," I finished for him. "Remember? I have to be there, too," I reminded, my stomach feeling queasy at the thought of watching him all night with his hand in hers for public display.
"I have to finalize everything tonight," he said regretfully.
With perfect timing, his phone rang shrilly from the kitchen counter. His eyes closed in frustration, and he let out a heavy breath before getting up to answer it.
"Yeah, James," he answered with a bit of relief in his voice, which made me smirk and shake my head. "No, I want the kids' art to be on display tomorrow night in the east room... Well, don't let her! Goddammit, James... Yeah, I know. Look, do what you can. I'll deal with it when I get there. I've got a few more things to get done before I get back. If the caterers show up, you know where everything's going."
With a few more instructions to James, Edward finally ended the call and set his phone back down on the counter. He rubbed his face roughly with both hands, only to slide them up into his hair and grip. Heated green eyes locked onto me, his mouth set in a thin line.
"I need this show to work for me. I know it's for Jane's new pieces, but I can get the word out about my community art center. I can put the bug in the right people's ears to get the ball rolling," he rambled softly. "And in order to do that, I need the kids' work to show. Right now, she's trying to get James to pull it down, shift shit around..."
I bit my tongue so hard that I almost tasted blood. I'd already said my piece on Jane's suspicions, but there was something about how she always knew things. He needed to show the kids' work, so she was going to take it down. She knew when he wasn't where he said he was, so she called with the most ridiculous claims. I was pretty fucking certain she knew. Or...she at least made it her life's goal to take away any bit of happiness that Edward seemed to find. Even if I wasn't desperately and irrevocably in love with her husband, I'd still hate her.
Swallowing thickly to keep from saying anything I'd regret, I simply said, "You should go. You say this community center will help you get away from her, then fight for it, Edward. Go make sure she doesn't ruin those chances. Besides, those kids have worked hard, and you never know what a little press coverage can do." I smiled weakly, pointing to myself, but even I felt its falseness, and I stood up to go get dressed.
I got as far as my bedroom door before finding myself turned around and my back pressed into the doorjamb with two very strong arms caging me in.
"You don't believe me, do you?" he asked, his voice an incredulous whisper. His eyes swirled to a darker green as he studied my face. "You think..." He licked his lips and swallowed nervously. "I'm fucking losing you."
My nostrils flared as I glared more at his chest than his face. "It's been eight months, Edward, and nothing's changed. Nothing. You're not one step closer to getting away from her than the day we met. What do you think I should believe? If the roles were reversed, what would you believe? Hmm?" I finally met his gaze, and he flinched back a little. "I love you. That won't change. You've ruined me. That's what I believe." I shrugged a shoulder. "Anything other than that, I'm really...confused. I'm losing patience. I want to be completely selfish. And there's a tiny part of me that dies every time you walk out my door to go to her. Another part is finally realizing that dreams of 'love conquers all' is just that...a dream, a fairytale that we were told as children."
Bracing one hand on the wall behind me, his other cupped my face. "I wasn't prepared for you, Bella. I thought...I assumed I'd spend the rest of my life in a marriage of convenience. We were practically an arranged marriage. There's no love there. There never has been. I get to work with art like I love, but she doesn't share the passion for it, only for her own work, for the public recognition. So I poured my heart into the kids, Sunshine. But then..." He huffed a humorless laugh, dropping his forehead to mine. "But then you show up, like this bright beam of light, and I realized what a waste my life had become. I love working with the kids, but inside...I was dead. Do you understand?"
"But it doesn't change anything, Edward!" I argued back.
"It does, Bella! It changes every-fucking-thing!" he yelled, pushing away from the doorway. "Christ, sweetheart. You have no idea how badly I want to just snatch you away from here, from her, from everything I've ever known. But I can't. Jane's parents, my parents, the Denalis...they're all invested in Sterling. Jane will kill herself."
I poked his chest hard. "She's not that fucking fragile, Edward. Mark my words. You'll see it eventually. She knows you're fucking around on her," I ranted. "You may have a marriage of convenience, but she seems to know when you want away from her. She knows she'd be nothing without you. She'd be just another artist peddling her shit. She'd be no better than me."
We were silent as we glared at one another. The air crackled with the electricity that seemed to define us. I'd come to assume it was just us – sexual energy, passion, and pure love. Because despite how upset he was, he was looking at me like I was the only thing that mattered, like he couldn't breathe without me.
"I'm not just fucking around," he finally stated through gritted teeth, his eyes almost black with his temper. "I love you. I love you more than I ever thought it was possible to love someone. Is what we're doing wrong? Probably. Can I stop myself? Not an ice cube's chance in hell. I need you, want you, love you too much to stop. Maybe that's selfish, but I don't fucking care. But I can't lose you, Sunshine. I just can't. I'm doing my best to set things up in a way that will allow me to walk away with a clear, clean conscience so that when I'm free, I can be the man you need me to be. I don't need the wrath of Jane's father to follow me to you. I'll kill him if he tries to ruin you, and he will try, Bella. Trust me. I don't want the bitter feelings that my family will have to follow me to you, because they will. They'll blame me for ruining everything. And I want to be able to take care of you, like you deserve, and I can't do that penniless."
"I don't care about the money, Edward," I sighed frustratedly, but I knew he was right about the other things. I would be deemed a whore to not only his family, but to Marcus Sterling. I worked at the Trib, the same newspaper that reported just how connected the governor was. It was the same paper that supported his almost outdated ideals. Suddenly, I sagged in defeat. "I don't know how much stronger I can be."
"I know, baby," he whispered, gathering me into his arms, and I nuzzled into his chest, inhaling deeply the scent of him – man, cologne, sex. "I'm sorry. For all of it. All of it is my fault. We should've waited, but..." He took a deep breath and let it out, and I listened to the thump of his heart as I hugged him close. "I couldn't help it. You deserve so much more than this, Sunshine. And I want to give that to you. I swear."
I nodded. It was all I had left. There wasn't much more to say anyway. It was all moot. I loved him, he loved me, but the avalanche of bullshit that would descend upon us if he just walked away from everyone and everything was something neither of us wanted. I didn't want him to lose everything he'd worked so hard for, and I didn't want to steal him from his family, either. I didn't have much family, so that was unfair, as well.
I squeezed my eyes closed when his phone rang again, bracing myself to let him go. Taking a deep breath, I said, "Go, Edward. Before she drives James insane."
Edward snorted, cupping either side of my face. "I love you, Sunshine."
"Love you, too," I answered instantly.
He answered his phone while tugging his shirt and shoes back on, all while arguing with Jane over the children's artwork.
The next evening, I found myself dressed up, camera in hand, and standing along the back wall of Sterling Gallery with Angela, my friend from work.
"She's such a primadonna," she snorted, jerking her chin toward Jane. "And her art's not that good."
Grinning, despite how uncomfortable I was, I leaned closer to her. "Art is subjective to the patron, Ang."
"One man's trash is another man's treasure?" she countered, laughing when I nodded. "But dear, sweet Jesus, her husband is some fine eye candy."
"That's very true," I murmured, shaking my head. I'd tried to ignore his presence all night, but it was virtually impossible when I felt his eyes on me.
"Okay, okay, see...this is what we need," she instructed, pointing across the gallery. "We need pictures of that. The money and power that Sterling Gallery comes from is insane. Edward and Jane may be twenty-seven, twenty-eight...the young and elite, but their families are...the backbone of Chicago."
I lifted my camera, taking shot after shot of the extremely well-dressed, extraordinarily powerful group of people now surrounding Edward and Jane.
"Edward Cullen's parents, Carlisle and Esme," Angela noted, pointing out the blond gentleman and the gorgeous woman by his side with hair that matched Edward's. "He's partner at Cullen and Denali. And that's their other son, Emmett Cullen – the big guy with the bombshell-blonde model wife standing next to Edward. Rosalie Cullen.
"Then there's the Denalis, with their daughters, Tanya and Kate," Angela went on, again noting everything in her notebook so she could type up everything later. "Kate just had a baby. Her husband's that actor, Garrett Fields. Can you imagine? All those children went to the same school...Edward, Jane, Tanya, Kate, Emmett, and Rosalie. Even Garrett went with them. Look at them. They would've been so popular." Her voice took on a droll tone to it, and I couldn't help but laugh.
Surreptitiously, I snagged a few photos of just Edward as he laughed with his brother and sister-in-law. He was so very handsome in his tux, his hair still in its usual state of disarray. Through my camera, I fought my smile when his eyes locked onto the lens directly and his face went from a mask, an expression of feigned interest, to something that took my breath away. His eyes raked over me, his tongue snaking out to drag sexily across his bottom lip, and his head tilted as he mouthed the words, "I love you," across the room. And I was happy to note that no one saw him. I snagged that picture, too.
Angela and I wanted to make sure to grab a photo of the kids' art from the east room, and of course, Jane's new work, which was...interesting to say the least. As people roamed about the gallery, we caught snippets of different conversations here and there. Edward explained to a few people about the community center idea, and some seemed interested. But just as Angela and I were deciding whether or not we had enough for our article, Jane's simpering tone met my ears.
"Oh, yes!" she gushed. "Edward and I are now trying for a family. We've been trying...for ages. I can't wait. You'll have to put me in touch with your doctor."
My eyes shot up to see who she was talking to, and it was Kate Denali-Fields, who smiled sweetly her way. However, Edward's face was fucking livid. He looked like he could spit fire as his gaze kept flickering between me and his wife. And my heart shattered into pieces because I wasn't so sure who I believed anymore.
Sniffing once, I looked to Angela. "I'm going to use the restroom before we go. Okay?"
"Yeah, sure. I'm gonna ask a few more questions. I'll meet you outside," she explained, taking my camera case with her.
I made it to the restroom, locking the door with shaky fingers before I lost my dinner into the toilet. My brow broke out into a sweat as I moved to lean against the sink, trying to catch my breath. My hands were still shaking when I rinsed my mouth out and pressed the dampness to my heated cheeks. When I looked into the mirror, I saw someone defeated, someone that didn't know herself anymore, who screamed used and an easy target. Popping a mint into my mouth, I straightened my dress, ran my hands through my hair, and then finally unlocked the door.
Standing right outside was a tall, intimidating figure. She carried herself with a grace and confidence most women never found.
"Bella Swan, right?" she asked, smiling softly and holding out her hand.
"Uh, yeah," I replied, shaking her hand briefly. "Rosalie Cullen."
"Meh, just Rose," she countered. "You did the article on Edward...the art classes."
"I did." I nodded, smiling at her. I liked her; she wasn't what she appeared to be.
"Thanks." I started to step away, but she grabbed my arm.
She sniffed, shooting a glance around her, but locked her sharp blue eyes back on me. "Do you love him?" she asked in a whisper. My heart fell into my stomach, but before I could deny anything, she held up a hand. "Don't. I've watched him. I saw him say it to you. I've known Edward just about my whole fucking life, and trust me, he doesn't say those words lightly. I despise Jane, that insipid, pompous, gold-digging bitch. Save the lie for everyone else. Do you love him?"
With wide eyes, I simply nodded once.
She closed her eyes and sighed deeply, giving the hallway a quick glance. "This is gonna suck, Bella. It'll suck bad. The repercussions are...fucking huge. If I were you, I'd take an extended vacation."
"I don't think it matters..." I said, stepping back from her.
"Ugh, please tell me you didn't just buy that bullshit she just spewed..."
"I should go," I muttered, but trailed off when Edward appeared in front of us.
Much to my surprise, Rose reached over and smacked the back of Edward's head. "You are such a fucking idiot! Are you trying to ruin her life, Eddie?"
His eyes narrowed on her with the sneer attached to the nickname I knew he hated. "What the fuck are you talk..." He froze, eyeing us both.
"I gotta go," I barely said aloud, but was stopped with a warm, gentle hand on my arm.
"Bella, wait...please," he whispered right in my ear from behind me. "It's not true...what Jane said."
I rounded on him, my temper just about a hair away from snapping. "Go be with your wife, Edward. It's her night," I ground out through my teeth. Jerking my arm out of his grasp, I walked back through the gallery and out the front doors.
I dropped Angela off, promising that we'd get together first thing Monday to put the article together. I'd print the pictures, and we could choose which were the best. If she thought something was wrong, she didn't mention it. The drive home was a blur.
Sitting on my front steps, his bow tie undone, his tux jacket discarded, was Edward. He met my gaze with dark, worried eyes. I simply stopped in front of him.
"Why are you here?" I asked softly, unable to find it in me to fight with him, but it was probably inevitable.
His eyes narrowed on me as he remained sitting on the step. "You think I'd let what happened back there go, Sunshine?" he asked, his voice deep, raspy...dangerous.
"Well, it should be all over, Edward. Your sister-in-law knows all about us now, and soon, Jane will, too," I stated, stepping past him to unlock my door. "Get in here. We're not doing this on my front lawn."
He stood, ran a shaky hand through his hair, and walked into my house, pausing just inside, but he spun on me once the door was closed. "This isn't over, Bella," he practically growled, pressing me into the door. "The things Jane said...they aren't true. She was showing off in front of people. She feels some sort of need to keep up with everyone else. I swear to fucking God, I'm not even sleeping in the same room as her!"
I groaned, squeezing my eyes closed at the battle of wills that was waging inside of me. I wanted him, loved him, and every inch of me yearned to believe him. And I wasn't sure that it mattered anymore if he was lying. The lies simply patched my cracked heart. It usually made things okay...as long as he was right there.
"Fuck, you looked so beautiful tonight," he whispered, trailing a finger down my neck and across my exposed shoulder. "It was all I could do not to..."
"Not to what?" I asked, still feeling a touch prickly. "Tell your family? Or take me on your desk in the gallery's office like the whore I am, the whore you've made me?"
I jumped when his fist connected with the wood of the door by my head, leaving a perfect imprint of his knuckles behind.
"You chose this, too," he yelled. "And if you believe Jane, then there's nothing I can say, is there?"
"If Rose is any indication of how I'll be received, then I'm fucked, right?" I countered, laughing humorlessly.
He snorted, rolling his eyes. "She's very easy to misread, Sunshine. She's actually happy about it. She despises Jane. She always has. Our secret is safe."
Edward stepped back, allowing me to push away from the door and fall down onto the couch. I set my purse and camera bag down onto the coffee table, gazing up at him. The word "secret" made my hackles rise, but there wasn't much I could do to change it. I was and always would be a deep, dark, dirty secret.
Fuck, he was beautiful. And the disheveled look he was sporting in that tux was not helping me at all. Neither was the slight stubble that was making an appearance this late in the evening. Edward Cullen oozed sexuality out of every damn pore. The sad part was he hardly knew it, which only made him that much more attractive and sexy.
I sighed deeply, fighting my own body, because despite how confused I was, my heart and body craved him. "What do you want, Edward?" I asked, and he fell at my feet to his knees, but he didn't touch me.
"You." His answer was instant, sincere, and full of such longing that again, I had to fight with the urge to not just take him.
"No," I told him, shaking my head. "I mean...in the great big scheme of things. What do you want?"
He was quiet for a moment, his eyes raking over my face, but he sat back on his heels. His hands balled up into fists in his lap, but he spoke slowly, his head bowed. "I want simplicity, Sunshine. I want to be free. I'm tired of playing a role, of being someone I'm not. I hate the pretentiousness and falseness. Somewhere along the way, I've forgotten why I got into art. I hate it. If I could teach kids for the rest of my life, I'd be happy. If I could fall into your arms every night from this moment on, I'd be happy. I want to stay," he urged, locking those deep, soulful green eyes with mine.
"But you can't," I finished.
"I can't. And I hate that, too. You've never asked me for anything, except that, and it's the one thing I can't give you," he said, emotion making his tone thick and sad. "And I can't give it to you, because I have to protect you...from all that surrounds me. I can give you tonight, Sunshine. Rose is covering for me, but..."
My shocked gaze met his. "All night?"
He nodded, smiling at the prospect. "Yeah."
It was too much to resist – having him all night to myself. I'd craved it, needed it from the get-go, and the mere idea caused every bit of doubt, worry, and sorrow to fade away to the back of my mind, where I bound and gagged it once again. I shut it all off for just one night.
We moved as one, lips colliding, hands grasping for purchase anywhere, on any body part we could reach. Edward kissed me stupid, with a desperation that matched my own. Whispers of love and want and need and apologies filled my small living room. He broke away from my mouth to trail his lips, teeth, and tongue down my neck.
"You'll stay. You'll hold me all night?"
The sound that left him sounded like a wounded animal as he pulled back to meet my gaze. "Yes. But let me love you first, Sunshine. Please. I need it. I need you..."
I could only nod in acquiescence, my gaze following his tall form as he stood up in front of me, offering me his hand.
"Please, baby," he pleaded one more time, and unable to stop myself, my hand slipped into his.
When I stood, he slid the zipper of my dress down, and it pooled at my feet at the same time I quickly rid him of his tux shirt. I was left in nothing but my underwear. Reaching down, he scooped me into his arms and carried me into my bedroom, setting me gently in the middle of my bed. He backed away just enough to kick off his socks and shoes, and there was nothing more tempting than him standing there in nothing but his black pants. Nothing. His muscles twitched under my gaze. Edward was fit, lean, but not overly muscular. He was defined and perfect in every way. Even more, his cock was hard, the outline of it showing proudly from behind the black fabric.
I went to reach for him, but a strong hand gripped my wrist, and he simply shook his head. "No, baby. Not tonight. This is for you."
I gave in. Completely. No one had ever made me feel as beautiful and loved as Edward did. No one. I was by no means virginal when we met, but my past relationships had never given me a sense of power that being with Edward gave me. His sounds, his reactions, his complete attention to every detail of my body was something that made everyone before him insignificant. And if this ever ended, then I knew for a fact that no man would measure up to Edward. Ever.
He urged me to lie back, and I did. Strong, knowing, nimble fingers grabbed the waistband of my thong and stripped it slowly down my legs. He dropped it to the floor, only to kiss his way up my leg, his nose inhaling deeply where I needed him the most, followed by his tongue.
My thighs fell open, my hands threading into his hair to hold him to me, to guide him. And it wasn't like he needed instructions, because he was so very good at making me come with just his mouth. When one hand braced my leg open, holding me down, and the other sought out my entrance, slipping two fingers deep inside me, I knew he wanted me to come fast and hard.
His mouth worked me over like he couldn't get enough, his eyes almost black as he stared up from between my legs. When my core clenched hard around his fingers, he hummed encouragingly, curling his fingers just right.
Stars flooded my vision when I came. My words spilled out of me, and not one of them made any sense. I felt his grin against my stomach as he kissed his way back up my body, taking the time to nuzzle each peaked nipple.
"I love when I can make you incoherent," Edward purred against my collarbone. "I love when you speak in tongues."
I snorted a weak, breathy laugh. "You speak better...tongues than I do..."
His laugh was beautiful and, for the moment, free and easy. "I should hope so, Sunshine," he said with a chuckle still lacing his words as he lay beside me with his head propped up on his left hand. His right hand, however, was touching, soothing, calming my still-shuddering body as I came down from my high. "Bella, baby...look at me," he said softly, tilting my chin his way. He swallowed thickly, leaning down to brush a kiss across my lips, and I could smell my scent still clinging to his skin. "I love you...so fucking much. And I'm so sorry I got us into this."
Sighing deeply, I cupped his face. "Like you said, I've been there every step of the way." I frowned, pulling and tugging at him until I could unbutton his pants and work the zipper down. Once he was settled between my legs with nothing more between us, I said, "I really want to just...forget. Please...give me that tonight. Okay?"
"Anything," he whispered, lining himself up and sliding slowly inside me as far as he could go. He froze, his forehead falling to mine. "Right here. This is home, Sunshine. I can be me...right here."
Tears welled up in my eyes at the ancient sadness in his voice as he slowly swept his long eyelashes open to gaze down at me.
"I love you," he whispered, starting to love me slowly.
"I love you, too, Edward."
"Nothing...no one outside of this room will ever change that."
Nodding fervently, my emotions took over, and I drowned them all in kissing him. We were, for the moment, one being, one entity. He moved slowly, deliberately, taking his time. Edward could be a fierce, forceful lover, passionate in every touch, kiss, and word uttered. He could be playful and sweet, making me smile. Or he could bide his time, causing every inch of my skin to light aflame until I was begging to come. That night, he was the latter, drawing out every second we were connected. And I clung to him like he'd fade away. I clung to him even when we were both completely covered in sweat, blissfully sated, and still connected in the most intimate of ways. I fell asleep in his arms just like that.
It was the most content I'd ever felt. And I should've known it wasn't real, that it wouldn't last, because I was rocked awake by the shrill sound of Edward's phone not even two hours later. Three o'clock in the fucking morning.
Edward's eyes snapped open, his mouth turning down into a frown, but he scrambled to answer it.
"For fuck's sake," he muttered before putting the phone to his ear. "What?" he growled, reaching for me, but I knew it was coming. I could hear Jane's screech from the other side of the fucking bed. "Jesus, Jane... It's three...they wouldn't have just left you. They're there somewhere."
His head fell back, but snapped up when I stood from the bed. I pulled my robe on, sitting on the edge of my mattress, my back to him. I shook my head slowly. I was done. Completely and utterly over it.
"There's no fucking way they would've left you at the motherfucking bar, Jane. Call Rose's phone... What do you mean you left your shit in Tanya's car?" he yelled, and I didn't even need to turn around to know he was either gripping his hair or pinching the bridge of his nose. "So you can't even call a cab... No, I'm not home! You know I went to Emmett's!" He groaned, and I closed my eyes as soon as the next words out of his mouth hit the air. "I'm on my way."
Suddenly, he was kneeling in front of me, looking petrified.
"Get out," I said slowly and softly.
"What?" he gasped.
"I said get out," I stated firmly, meeting his eyes. "I can't..." I shook my head, tears filling my eyes. "It's not fair, Edward. I won't do it anymore...not until you're free of her."
"Bella, please," he begged, his hands on my legs, but I pushed him away and stood up to give myself distance.
My heart hurt at what I was about say, but once I was leaning against my dresser, I wrapped my arms around my middle. He walked to me, placing his hands on either side of me on the dresser.
"Sunshine, I love you. I'm sorry. Please, please don't do this..."
I was shaking my head as he begged. "I can't do it. I can't. It kills me that you go to her every time. If you love me, then you'll figure out how to get free of her, but until then...I can't do this anymore, Edward. It hurts too much. I don't want to share you."
His hands cupped my face gently. "Bella, please don't... I don't know if I can breathe without you. You... Give me more time."
"I've given you time."
He groaned, looking pained as his forehead fell to mine, but his hands still cradled my face. "I'll fix this, I swear it. But don't...don't cut me out of your life, Sunshine. I'm begging you. I won't survive it."
The sob that I'd been holding back finally erupted, and for a moment, I clung to him desperately. "The only way to fix this is to be free of her, Edward. I love you too much to share, but in order to maintain my sanity, I can't do this with you anymore. I'm...ruined. I'm not this person. I never was, and you made me forget that." I pushed at his bare chest until he relented. "Just...go. Lock up on your way out."
Like the coward I was, I hid in the bathroom as he dressed, told me he loved me one more time, and then I collapsed to my knees when the front door slammed shut.
Chicago, IL – June
"Hello?" I answered my cell phone at my desk at work.
"Yes, I'm trying to reach Isabella Swan."
"This is her," I said distractedly as I leaned over to smell the flowers that had been delivered that morning.
Edward had been nothing if not attentive since I'd kicked him out the night of the art show. Even though we hadn't seen each other in person, he communicated with me in some way almost daily. The flowers were something new. He'd go from apologies to declaring that he missed me, to simply saying he loved me. His emails from a secret account were more detailed. He'd started a game plan and was telling me almost step by step what he was up to. The best news for him was that the community art center was almost a go. Some investor he couldn't reveal because they hadn't committed yet.
"Miss Swan, my name's Rita. I'm with Art dot com. We were interested in two of your pieces. We're willing to buy the rights from you in order to use them."
My eyebrows shot up and I laughed nervously. "Okay," I said, dragging the word out. "Which ones?"
"The Chicago skyline at night, and the one you called 'Masculine Beauty.'"
I grinned and rolled my eyes. Of course Edward's anonymous photo would be the other one. There was no way to tell it was him, but it was the long, lean, muscular lines of his back and broad shoulders that I'd taken of him months ago. He was silhouetted against the setting sun coming in through the curtains of a hotel room where we'd met early on.
"If it's okay with you, Miss Swan, I'll email you the contract. Just sign them and send them back."
"No problem," I told her once she'd clarified all my information. I squealed after hanging up the phone, but immediately picked it back up to call Edward. It went to voice mail. Feeling disappointed, I sighed and called my mother instead.
"Bella-boo, I was just about to call you!" she answered excitedly.
"Yeah? What's up, Mom?"
"Well, I wanted to tell you the good news. Phil signed on with the Arizona team. We're moving!" she rattled off quickly.
Grinning, I shook my head. My mother was childlike sometimes, but she was nothing if not supportive of those she cared about. My stepfather, Phil, was a baseball coach – batting coach, specifically. After my father had died when I was twelve, she'd moved us to Chicago, where, a few years later, she met Phil. They'd been perfect together, and just as I was accepted to Northwestern, they got married and moved to Florida.
"That's awesome! Give Phil hugs and kisses from me, okay?" I told her.
"I will. Anyway, I was calling to tell you that you're welcome to use the Florida place anytime you want, sweetheart. We're keeping it...renting it out."
"Good to know," I told her. "I've got good news, too."
"You're seeing someone?"
My heart shattered a bit, but I shook it off. "No...but I sold two photos today!"
Her squeal made me laugh and pull the phone away from my ear until she quieted down.
"Excellent! Tell me all about it."
Chicago, IL – July
"You've reached the voicemail of Edward Cullen. Leave a message..."
I frowned, looking at the phone before dropping it to my desk at work. I hadn't heard from him in what seemed like forever. Even his texts and emails had tapered off. I assumed I'd just gotten used to him always being there.
When my phone rang, I snatched it up. "Hey."
"Sunshine," he sighed, like he'd needed to hear my voice. "Jesus, I'm sorry. I've been so busy. The art center is kicking my ass. Getting it ready, making sure that it's in the right location, that I've got enough people to run it..."
I smiled, shaking my head. "Good for you, then. That type of busy is okay."
His chuckle was sweet and music to my ears. "I've moved in with Emmett and Rose, Bella."
"What?" I gasped.
"Yeah...that's the other reason I haven't gotten in touch with you. I've been slowly separating from Jane," he said softly. "I'm sorry."
"You're serious?" I asked him, my eyes narrowing in disbelief.
"Dead serious," he stated, his voice taking on that firm, dangerous tone. "You asked for me to be free. I'm doing the best I fucking can, Sunshine. I love you. I mean that."
I so wanted to say it back, but if I did, it would be followed by pleading and begging to see him, and I couldn't do that yet.
"Baby, you still there?"
"Yeah, Edward," I whispered, squeezing my eyes closed. "I want—"
"I know," he interrupted me softly. "I get it, Bella. But know I'm trying, okay?"
I nodded stupidly, swiping at my tears. "Okay."
Hope swelled up in my chest, and it kept me buoyant for the next few days...until Angela slapped the society page down on my desk on Friday afternoon.
Young Art Moguls Announce An Impending Arrival
They'd used one of my photographs from the art show, which only added to my heartbreak. Edward stood in his tux next to his beautiful blonde wife, smiles plastered on their faces. The blurb was quick and to the point, stating that Jane Cullen was expecting the couple's first child.
That day, I turned in my notice to Mr. Newton, changed my cell phone number, and called my mother. It was time to get out of Chicago.
A/N... Before there are mobs and pitchforks, just know that this fic will flip-flop POVs with Edward and Bella. So...Edward's next. You'll find out what's going on in that gorgeous head of his. Plus, if you've read anything else I've written, then you know that there's always more than meets the eye.
As of right now, the posting schedule looks like it'll fall the same as HtL did – Mondays and Thursdays. If that changes, you'll know. Or you can ask me on FB or Twitter...the links are on my profile.
I need to toss out a quick but HUGE thank you to all my girls. JenRar, who makes me a better writer and offered up this plot on a silver platter. Beffers87, who makes me the prettiest things and helps search for music, not to mention pre-reads. And GooberLou and inkedupmom who both have snatched this story up and can't get enough. Love you!
I'll see you Thursday. Until then... Mooches, Deb. :)