A/N I do not own it but S.M does, just taking her characters for a little spin. Enjoy!
"You look like a whore in that dress," Caius remarked, walking into my bedroom without bothering to knock.
"Well you look like an ass in that suit but you don't see me complaining," I snapped back. Silence greeted my response and I turned just in time to see his pale blue eyes frost over. "There is nothing wrong with this dress, if I recall correctly you are the one that brought the damn thing!"
A tight smile appeared on his face as he snapped his fingers at the maid hovering in the doorway. I groundmy teeth at the way he summoned her like a dog. "Alice, bring in the dress," he ordered in his best lord of the manor voice. The second she left the room he turned on me. "What have I told you about disrespecting me in front of the help?"
I raised an eyebrow in disbelief "Calling me a whore in front of the staff isn't disrespectful? Wasn't it you who once told me thatto get respect you need to give respect?"
Caius advanced on me but I stood my ground. "Control your tongue, Isabella, or I will control it for you."
My retort was stalled by the return of Alice carrying a garment bag from some expensive boutique with one of those long exotic names that meant absolutely nothing to me. As Alice unzipped the bag I caught a glimpse of red silk and my temper spiked.
"Oh look, whore red," I cooed mockingly.
He shot me a warning look. "You will wear this one tonight," he stated, consulting his watch. "I expect you downstairs in twenty minutes. I strongly suggest you make good use of that time and get your attitude in check."
My fingers cranked into claws as he turned and left the room. God, I just wanted to punt the back of his knees. And then what, a small voice whispered through my mind?
I jumped, startled as a hand touched my arm. "Are you alright?" Alice whispered.
I'd completely forgotten she was still in the room. I plastered on a bright smile, pretending I hadn't seen the flash of pity in her hazel eyes. I knew exactly what she was thinking, what woman in her right mind would put up with his crap.
"Simply perfect," I quipped.
"Let's get you out of that dress," Alice suggested softly.
Eighteen minutes later, I descended the marble staircase, head held high, daring Caius to have something snarky to say. I was loathed to admit that the dress was a beautiful creation, I just wish he would have asked me a little nicer to wear it. I got a nod of approval before he helped me into my shawl and whisked me out to the waiting limo. The car had barely pulled out of the circular driveway before Caius was on the phone, leaving me to stare out the window in silence. I didn't mind, these days I only spoke to him as needed. Funny, once upon a time I couldn't wait to see him or smell him, I could and would spend hours just listening to the soft lilt of his cultured voice. That voice whispering in my ear that he was all I would ever need as we made love in some exotic corner of the world, the same voice that would convince me my friends were nothing but users and jealous of what I had as he fastened some expensive trinket around my wrist or throat.
"Stop fidgeting," he ordered, ending his call.
"I'm not fidgeting," I growled.
Strong fingers gripped my elbow "What did you say?"
I turned, eyes falling to where his hand gripped my flesh. "I said, of course Caius."
He released me with a satisfied grunt and I fought the urge to rub at the stinging flesh "I hope I don't have to express how important this evening is." Pale blue eyes swept over me, taking in the dress, the smooth chignon that showed off the graceful lines of my neck, and the diamonds that glittered at my throat, wrist, and ears.
"Of course not," I mumbled barely containing the sneer that threatened to cross my face. As if I could forget, every function was an important event that I had to look and act my very best. God forbid, I did something scandalous like sneeze!
"There will be several potential investors ripe for the picking this evening," he continued, scrolling through his phone as he spoke. "There is one in particular we need to pay extra special attention too."
There was always someone we needed to pay extra special attention too.
"Who would that be?" I asked mildly. It wouldn't be the first time he'd used me to secure a deal, he'd dubbed me his secret weapon a long time ago. For some odd reason men were drawn to me, andI'd never understood why, in my opinion I was too pale and slight of build. My job was to stand by his side and make him look good, a brunette Barbie to be admired and coveted. It pleased him to noend when guys drooled over me, gave him a perverse satisfaction to be the envy of those males because he was the one taking me home.
"Jasper Whitlock," he went on. I tuned him out as he went on about Jasper and his money, I could care less about Jasper and his money. He was probably just another rich asshole use to getting his way. "Are we clear?" he asked.
"Crystal," I responded. You would think we hadn't done this before. I knew what was expected of me and would play my part well.
"Good," he said in satisfaction before making another phone call. I sighed and turned back to the window, wishing for the millionth time that he would finally get tired and set me free. I swear if I'd known then what I knew now I would have run the other way when he'd first approached me but I'd been young, just nineteen years old with a promising career as a cellist when we'd first met.
I'd been part of a classical music quintet with my boyfriend Edward, who played the violin. We'd put out a couple of CD's and often played weddings, corporate events, and private parties to get our names out there. One night we'd been hired to play at an art gallery opening, and I'd felt eyes on me the entire night but I shrugged it off, when you preformed for a living you pretty much signed on to be stared at. I was on my way to the ladies room when a tall male with a beautiful shade of white blond hair approached me. He'd introduced himself as Caius Salerno and praised my talent. We talked for several moments about music and some of the art pieces before he asked if I would honor him by playing for a small group of his colleagues the following week. The thing was, he'd only wanted me not the rest of the group. I'd taken his card and told him I would give him a call in a few days after I checked my schedule.
Edward had been less than thrilled about the opportunity; he'd seen me talking to Caius and hadn't been pleased. In fact, he'd even demanded I turn the offer down. We'd argued and I accused him of being jealous and possessive. I'd screamed that he needed to let me breathe but he wouldn't budge on his view. I'd given him the finger, literally and figuratively, and taken the job, and that had been my first mistake in a long line of many.
Although Caius knew I had a boyfriend it didn't stop him from going after what he wanted, every time I turned him down he tried harder. He'd pursued me relentlessly, sending exotic flowers and rich chocolates with handwritten poetry on the cards. After a few weeks, the gifts got more expensive and extravagant until my resolve had finally weakened. What was so wrong with one little cup of coffee? Except one little cup had turned into one long walk through the botanical gardens, and that had led to a gourmet dinner aboard his private yacht. Anything I'd so much as looked at, Caius had given me and in the end, I'd traded Edward for diamonds believing in the saying that diamonds were a girl's best friend. Funny thing about diamonds they sure as hell didn't console you when shit hits the fan.
The party was in full swing when we got there, at least this was going to be a lively one, I observed walking into the ballroom on Caius' arm. Some of these affairs were so dull it took sheer willpower not to yawn. Yawning was not allowed, it conveyed to your host that you were bored and it wasn't lady-like according to Caius. I'd made that mistake once at the beginning of our relationship, we'd been out to dinner with a client and I'd yawned. The man and his wife had laughed and brushed it off, even suggesting we'd been keeping some late nights *wink wink* I'd laughed along, not thinking it was a big deal. By the end of the night I'd known differently, it was the first time I'd faced his anger and it certainly hadn't been the last.
"I see Aro is here with his latest obsession," Caius observed, staring holes into his partner's back.
"Who?" I asked turning my head slightly to see what he was referring too.
"Victoria Dunbar." He said the name as if it left a bad taste in his mouth.
"Wait, the playmate?" I asked incredulously. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I caught a glimpse of the tall willowy red head dancing with Aro. She was just as beautiful in person as she was on paper, how he managed to keep snagging women like her left me in a constant state of bafflement. If he had Caius good looks I could understand but he was thin and pale with eyes the color of dirty dish water but then money could make anyone appear attractive. I stayed away from him as much as possible; he had this way of staring at you when he touched you that made you feel like he could see what was going on inside of you.
Caius wrinkled his perfect nose in distaste. "The one and the same, how he consorts with such trash is beyond me."
I opened my mouth to reply but another voice beat me to it.
"One man's thrash is another man's treasure."
"Marcus," I exclaimed, turning to face him "what a surprise!"
"A pleasant one I hope," he quipped, bending to kiss my cheek.
"Of course," I said with a smile "I thought you were out of town?"
Out of all of Caius' friends and associates, Marcus was one of the limited few that I truly liked. He was the most level-headed out of Aro and Caius. It was wonderful to see him in good spirits, poor man had lost in wife in an auto accident a little over a year ago. To say he'd been devastated would have been an understatement. After Didyme died he'd become an empty shell of himself, the only thing that had brought him out of his desolation was the fact his young daughter needed him. If not for Jane I suspected Marcus would have done something stupid, he'd pretty much told me so a short while after the funeral. Thank God for sweet Jane.
"My meetings wrapped early so I chartered a jet and here I am," he explained, shaking Caius hand.
"How wonderful, I bet Jane was thrilled?"
His dark eyes lit up at the mention of his daughter. "Over the moon was more like it. I very nearly didn't make it out the house tonight. However I would have missed this lovely vision in red," he said as hetook my hands in his and gave me a once over. "Agápi̱ mou, you look ravishing as usual "
"Ah, Marcus, flattery will get you nowhere," I chuckled.
He kissed the hands he was still holding and gave me a wicked grin. "Perhaps I need to try harder," he teased.
Caius cleared his throat. "Are you two done being foolish?"
Marcus sighed and released my hands. "You can be such a kill joy, old friend."
He ignored the barb. "Tell me how things went in Italy?"
"We are not talking business now," Marcus said with a clap on Caius shoulder. "It's a party remember? Take this beautiful girl out on the dance floor and have a good time," he suggested, gliding away before Caius could utter another word.
I hide my smile behind a cough while he glared at Marcus's retreating form. When would he learn that he could not push everyone around?
"Insolent bastard," he murmured.
"He's just having fun."
He pinned me with an unreadable look "Wasn't aware he needed defending."
"I'm not defending him all I am saying is its good to see him back to his old self. A happy Marcus is a productive Marcus," I replied smoothly "And a productive Marcus gets the job done," I continued, knowing he couldn't find fault in my logic.
"Yes well there is that," he agreed, snagging two glasses of champagne from a passing waiter. "Don't drink too much," he warned at my first sip.
"Of course not," I echoed, barely resisting the urge to drain the glass just for shits and giggles.
We circulated the room much of the hour, saying hello to acquaintances and engaging in some idle chit chat. My face was beginning to hurt from all the smiling, I was starving, and Caius kept steering me away from the champagne tray. In short, I was pretty damn bored; and my eyes strayed to the dance floor where the band was playing a cover of Maroon 5's "Harder to Breath." Story of my life, I thought watching the couples on the dance floor wistfully.
"Why don't you go get something to drink," Caius suggested as a tall balding man waved him down. Oh, so now I could have something else to drink? Clearly I was being dismissed but I didn't take it personal, I could use a little space. His arm around my waist was starting to feel like an anchor.
"Would you like anything?" I ask with a smile just as the man drew abreast of us.
"No, thank you, love," he said, taking my hand and placing a kiss in the palm. "Don't be long," he murmured before brushing my cheek with a chaste kiss. I wanted to vomit but continued to smile as I excused myself.
"You're a lucky man," I heard his companion exclaim as I moved away. Yeah, he was lucky alright; lucky I didn't just…my thoughts trailed off as I spotted a set of double doors leading out to the veranda. A breath of fresh air was just what I needed to keep my game face up. This charade was really starting to wear me out, I didn't know how much longer I could…
"Hey, don't I know you," a deep voice said from just behind me. I turned and looked up at the tall dark haired male with the incredible green eyes standing before me. I was pretty sure I did not know him, I would have remembered, and dreamed, about that face constantly.
"I'm sorry, I don't think so," I responded, grimacing slightly at the breathless quality of my voice.
"You're Isabella Swan, aren't you," Mr. Amazing asked with a smile. God, even his teeth are gorgeous, I thought fleetingly.
"I am," I responded carefully. It wasn't uncommon for people to know my name, when you dated someone like Caius Salerno, everyone knew you.
"I'm a huge fan of your music, or at least I was until you retired," he went on, still sporting that amazing smile. Well that was a new one, it was rare I ran into someone who knew I was something other than Caius' arm candy.
"Thank you," I smiled "It's always nice to meet a fan," I continued, trying not to be distracted by his dimples.
"I have every CD," he gushed before launching into what pieces were his favorites. I smiled and nodded along, keeping a watchful eye out for my warden, last thing I needed was to deal with his temper tonight "I tried learning how to play," he admitted with a rueful smile, "but I could never get my fingers to do what they were supposed to do."
"Perhaps you just didn't have the right teacher," I suggested lightly.
"Maybe you're right," he said with a wink. "Do you give private lessons?"
"I'm sorry, I don't but I could put you in touch with some great instructors if you are truly interested."
"Maybe I'll take you up on that someday. It's a shame you don't play anymore, the music you and Edward produced together was pure magic."
It took all my will power not to flinch at the mention of his name.
"Do you two still keep in touch?"
"Edward and I lost touch a few years ago. I believe he moved to Europe to pursue other interests," I finally managed to say, hoping my smile didn't look as guilty as it felt.
We stared at each other in silence for a few seconds before he looked away. "Pardon me for staring but I just can't believe I am standing here talking to the Isabella Swan!"
My cheeks flushed at the admiration in his voice. Meeting him had certainly brightened my day, it was nice to know that someone still appreciated my talent. I rubbed my fingertips together missing the familiar callus that had come from hours practicing with the bow. I was no longer allowed to play because it didn't agree with my manicures.
"I'm Jas by the way," he said, holding out his hand.
"As in all that jazz?" I asked, as his larger hand engulfed mine.
"Something like that," he said, with a boyish grin "Do you go by Bella or Isabella?"
"Isabella," I replied, letting go of his hand reluctantly.
He repeated my name softly, rolling it around on his tongue as if it were fine wine. "Beautiful name for a beautiful lady," he said with a wink.
"I was named after a character from one of my mother's favorite plays," I found myself blabbing unnecessarily and I immediately winced in embarrassment. I was fairly certain he did not care who I was…
"Oh," he said cutting across my thoughts "Which play would that be?"
"Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, it was originally published in the First Folio," I launched into a brief synopsis of what the play was about careful not to give to much away. I hated when people told me a whole story before I had a chance to read it, it was a huge pet peeve of mine.
"I'll have to put that on my list of things to read."
I smiled "I hope you enjoy it."
"I am sure I will," he said, returning the smile "Were you headed somewhere?"
"Umm yes, I mean no," I stammered, completely forgetting where I'd been heading.
"In that case," he tilted his head towards the dance floor "Care to dance?"
"Oh no I couldn't, I must…"
"Just one," he captured my hand in his, "and then I'll return you back to your boyfriend safe and sound."
Before I could muster up a refusal I was swept up into strong muscular arms and whisked out onto the dance floor. I stumbled for a few seconds before finding my rhythm, it helped that he was a strong dancer and guided me through my steps effortlessly.
"Relax," he mumbled low so only I could hear, "I won't bite."
Immediately my eyes went to his lips and I flushed slightly at the vision of them doing just that. In another time and another place I would have smiled up at him coyly and replied with a saucy comeback.
"So, Jazz, why have I never seen you at one of these events before?"
He shrugged "Not really my scene, too many stuffed shirts, ass kissers, and gold diggers if you want my honest opinion. I grew up in this world and the faces may have changed but the intentions are all the same."
"So why are you here now?" I blurted out.
He twirled me before bring me in close. "I came as favor to a friend," he replied cryptically. I could tell from the set of his face he would say no more on that topic, plus it was none of my business so I changed the subject.
"You dance well."
"I was raised in the south and my parents forced me through the cotillion process," he explained with another shrug of those broad shoulders.
"How dreadful that must have been," I said with a grin.
"Not as bad as one might think, it comes in handy when I am trying to impress a beautiful lady," he said just before twirling me again.
"Oh," I breathed when we were face to chest again. This man could get me in a world of trouble I felt it in my bones. "I don't think it would take much for you to impress anyone," I said with a small smile.
"You would be surprised," he said as the song ended.
Was he flirting with me, I wondered as he escorted me over to where Caius was talking to Marcus? Marcus saw us coming and he smiled saying something to Caius who turned with an expectant look on his face.
"Caius," I started "This is…"
"Jasper Whitlock," Caius exclaimed coming forward with a wide smile. My eyes widened in shock as I looked up at my companion. This was the Jasper Whitlock?
"Caius," Jasper acknowledged returning the handshake, his expression cooling several degrees as he regarded him.
"So nice to finally meet you," I just barely stopped from rolling my eyes as Caius went into ass kissing mode "You have been a hard man to track down."
"I've been out of the country on business."
"So I hear," he said, taking my arm and drawing me close to his side. I longed to move away, closer to Jasper, I already I missed his warmth"This is one of my partners, Marcus Kontos, and I see you've already met my beautiful Isabella."
I tried not to growl at that statement, I hated the way he said it; like I was a possession not a person, but then to him I was just that a possession. The corners of Jasper's mouth quirked into a smile as our eyes met and I knew he'd seen my reaction.
"Beautiful would be an understatement but yes, she was gracious enough to keep me company on the dance floor," he replied, shaking Marcus hand in greeting.
"And your toes lived to tell the tale," Marcus joked.
"More like one but whose counting," Jasper said with a grin.
Everyone laughed and Caius squeezed my waist in approval. Aro appeared with Victoria glued to his side and more introductions were made. I tried not to glare at Victoria as she batted her baby blues up at Jasper, clearly she was willing to ditch Aro if Jasper gave her the green light. I nearly breathed a sigh of relief when he merely shook her hand politely and returned his attention back to the trio. They engaged in idle chit chat for a few minutes before Jasper's cell phone went off, he checked the id and announced it was an important call he had to take but he promised to be in touch in the very near future. He took my hand before he left, raising it to his lips before saying. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Miss Swan, I do hope I will see you again."
"Likewise, Mr. Whitlock," I said with a cool smile, knowing Caius was watching our exchange like a hawk.
"Wow." Victoria breathed as he strolled away. I silently agreed with her choice of wording, it had taken all my will power not to swoon at his feet.
"It would appear our Isabella has done it again." Marcus said, throwing an arm around my shoulders.
"Yes," Caius said after a moment. "It would appear she has."
Something about his tone set off a warning bell in my head but before I could examine it closer Marcus dragged me out on the dance floor and I promptly shoved all thoughts of Caius the sour puss to the back of my mind. It was a party after all and I was going to take Marcus advice and have some fun.