Chapter 12: Date

Author Note: What up fans? Longer chapters are much easier to accomplish when on break. So I hope you enjoy this one! It's Bella and Paul's first date!

Mist is my beta and she is the awesomest. :D

I have some more notes to let you guys in on but you can read them at the end. Let's get started! Song for this chapter is "Date" by Marques Houston. How fitting!

Go forth and read, my lovelies.

Bella's POV

Today was proof positive that fate just loved to mess with people. When things were slow and boring and not much was happening, fate would leave you alone because what could it do with that? But when you really needed to go somewhere or do something, that was when you encountered road blocks.

Like the one, I was in front of now. After a long day of classes, all I wanted was to go home and get dressed. Tonight was my first date with Paul and Angela was waiting there to help me get ready.

And where was I? I was still in the campus parking lot because my stupid car wouldn't start.

This was all I fucking needed right now. I tried turning the key again, but no luck. It wouldn't budge.

I leaned back against the seat, glancing around at the nearly empty parking lot. Only a few cars and a motorcycle were left. If I'd recognized any of the cars, I might have asked someone for help. Jared was good with vehicles but his classes ended early on Fridays so he was gone and probably home with his family.

I was about to get out of my stupid car, wondering what the hell I should do when I heard footsteps and whirled around, ready to hit someone.

Jacob was standing there with his palms up in a sign of true. Fucking great. Like I really needed his smart-ass retorts right now.

"I'm not in the mood Jacob," I told him. "Please just fuck off, okay?"

He stepped forward tentatively, keeping his eyes locked like I was something he was hunting in the woods. "I'm not here to mess with you."

"Sure you aren't," I said, nearly laughing. "You're always here to mess with me. Tonight is not the night, though. I really need to get home."

He glanced around the parking lot and then said, "What's wrong with your car?"

I folded my arms. "It won't start. Why do you care? Don't you have someplace to be?"

For some reason, he looked just as frustrated as I did.

I ignored him, turning away, walking to the hood of my car, and lifting it. The hell of a lot of good this was going to do me. I knew absolutely nothing about cars aside from they needed gas and you couldn't drive on a flat. I tried once and it had been a disaster.

Maybe I could call Angela to come and get me, leave my car here and we could handle it tomorrow. After all, she didn't know anything about cars either.

When Jacob's voice came, again I nearly jumped out of my skin. I thought he left.

"Out of gas?" he asked me.

I glared at him. "No I'm not out of gas! I have a full tank. Why are you still here?"

He shrugged. "Want some help?"

I let the hood drop and turned to stare at him. Was he fucking serious right now? Since when had he ever wanted to do more than torture me?

Jacob lifted the hood again without waiting for me to respond. "You probably need a jump start. I'll pull my car over and we'll get you going."

"Why?" I demanded.

He didn't look directly at me. "Because you need a jump start like I said."

"Not that!" I half-yelled. "Why are you helping me?"

He didn't answer, just propped open the hood and went over to his car a few spaces down. I was surprised he hadn't ridden his stupid motorcycle today.

What the hell was up with him anyway?

A minute later, Jacob was pulling up right next to my vehicle, parked and got out of his car with a long jumper cable in his hand.

I wanted to scream at him. This was just way too weird.

"You don't have to do this," I told him. "You can just go home. It's not like you want to be here anyway."

"Trying to help," he muttered. "I know you have someplace to be. It's Friday night. Stand back."

I did as I was told but on the inside, I was practically screaming. This situation felt like giving a murderer a loaded gun after he already missed you and was promising not to shoot again.

Jacob Black had been my sworn enemy since the end of our freshman year. Now all of a sudden he wanted to pull a Good Samaritan act?

When the cables were in place, Jacob went back to his car. "I'm going to start mine and let it run for a few minutes," he said. "Then you can start yours."

"It's really not necessary," I said, wondering if he was doing this so he could hold it over my head later.

I let him do it anyway though, since I really wanted to get home for my date.

Jacob started his car, let it run and then told me to get in and start mine.

"Don't tell me what to do," I snapped at him.

I took a deep breath, turned the ignition and said a hail Mary when the car sprang to life. Relief ran to every corner of my body. Thank freaking God.

Jacob left his car again and went over to mine, checking under the hood again. "It should be fine now. I will remove the cables. Let your car run for about ten minutes and then you can head off. I'll hang around in case it dies again."

The appropriate response should have been thank you, but fuck that.

"You aren't going to tell me why you're doing this are you?" I asked.

When he didn't answer or look at me I said, "How do you know about cars anyway?"

"Dad used to be a mechanic," he replied. "Taught me everything I know. I practically built that motorcycle I'm usually on."

"So where's your big, fancy, Harley now?" I asked in a teasing voice.

He shrugged. "Didn't feel like riding it today. And it's not a Harley. Harleys are shit."

"Oh I forgot, it's a Jacob Black original," I said sarcastically. "That has to be better."

He nodded and tried not to smirk. "It is."

I was quiet after that, waiting for a comeback or a smart-ass remark, but nothing came. He just stood there, leaning against the edge of my car and checking his phone for the time.

I was tempted to back my car up and make him fall on his ass, but since he'd done me a favor by jumpstarting it, I left him alone.

Neither of us spoke again until the ten minutes were up.

"Alright," he said. "You should be good to go."

He put my hood down. "Have a good night."

Again, there should have been an appropriate response, like 'You have a good night, too' or something, but I really didn't trust him. I wasn't about to say anything that might stroke his stupid ego.

He nodded to me and got back in his car, then pulled out of the parking lot and left.

"God I hate him," I said out loud, but put that frustration aside and decided to leave.

My energy was better spent getting ready for Paul, not trying to figure out my stupid rival's ulterior motives.

Natalie's POV

"Come on!" Seth demanded, standing across the room from me in the basement of my house.

I shook my head, staring around at the room. As usual, I was having my own dance practice down here. The furniture was pushed to outer corners and walls of the room, and I laid out a large white dance mat. Normally, I didn't like people with me when I was practicing except for Bella. But Seth had insisted on helping me with my upcoming solos for a competition with my dance team.

Dating him was interesting. I was the kind of girl who didn't like to rush into things too soon. We hadn't even kissed each other yet. But, we had a lot in common, and the more I got to know him, the more I liked. He was as talented as I was and took his dancing just as seriously. I was surprised that a teenage boy who'd taken jazz, tap, hip-hop and ballet could still retain his masculinity so well, but he did, and that was one of the things I really liked about him.

I both hated and loved that we went to separate schools. It sucked because I couldn't see him all the time, but on the other hand, having some distance from each other was a good thing so our relationship wouldn't become too smothered.

I kept waiting for him to become stuck-up or self-centered since his brother was rich and famous, but he wasn't. He was humble and the two of us rarely discussed Paul. Our conversations were more about the kind of music we liked and our common love for dance.

He was perfect for me. It seemed extreme to say that since we were only fifteen, but it was how I felt.

"Will you just jump?" he said, holding out his arms. "I will catch you I swear."

I bit my lip. That was the other thing about Seth. He was tall for his age and lean, not big or bulky. I was short and small but had curves. I worried he might drop me if I let him help me with one of the lifts in my piece.

"Anthony is going to do it," I told him. "So we don't have to do that part."

Anthony was my partner in the duet portion of one of my dance groups' songs. He was just as good at dancing as Seth, but he was prideful about it, which I hated.

"I've seen," Seth said. "I went to your practice the other day remember? Now jump."

I sighed. "Okay fine. But if you don't catch me or if I'm too heavy, don't say I didn't warn you."

He restarted the music and I began my dance, swaying only my hips first and then my entire body. I then began to pivot on my heel and spin in a circle. I felt him watching me, but tried to focus on my moves.

I held my arms out in a long stretch, turning them inward as I skipped across the room toward him. He held his arms out, ready for me. As I approached, I took a deep breath, bent at the knees and sprung upward. As I felt myself start to fall, my stomach dropped, but he jumped forward and caught me, spinning me in a circle back toward the other side of the room. I clung to him, laughing with delight until we both started to fall and we tumbled onto the couch.

"Sorry!" I told him, still giggling. "Sorry, sorry, sorry!"

He was laughing too though, and pushed his hair back from his face. "Nah it's okay. You weren't supposed to grab on like that though! And I told you I'd catch you."

"Yeah you did," I said, grinning. "Thanks. Now I know I can trust you."

"And you couldn't before?" he asked curiously.

"Nope," I joked.

We laughed again and started to get up, but then I focused on his perfect face again. Man, his eyes were dark; so dark I could get lost in them.

"Natalie?" he said. "You okay?"

I nodded, not sure how to reply.

It only took him a second to catch on to where my mind was going. He sat up a little and cupped my face in his hands.

I grinned. Was this it? Was I about to get my first kiss?

He whispered my name again and the two of us were just leaning in when the door at the top of the stairs swung open and a voice said, "Natalie, honey, I-"

We both nearly fell off the couch in our haste to get up. Mom was standing in the doorway looking down on us, half-disapproving and half-amused.

"Uh, hi Mrs. Swan," Seth said awkwardly, helping me to my feet. "How are you tonight?"

"Doing fine, thank you, Seth," my mother said, coming down the stairs. "But call me Renee. I didn't know you were here."

"That's my fault," I said, stepping forward. "I brought him over to help with my practice and forgot to tell you first. Sorry, mom. I told Phil though."

"At least you told one of us," mom said. "But let's try to stick to the dancing, okay? I don't want to have to supervise you two. Frankly, I'm surprised you let Seth watch. Bella is the only one you usually let down here."

"I know," I said. "He was just helping with the lifts and stuff. Anthony would have come over but he's got a family thing."

"Ah, I see," mom said, taking a seat on the couch. "So where's your sister tonight? I was coming down here to speak with her assuming she was with you."

I grinned at Seth and he smiled back.

"What's up?" mom asked.

I started bouncing on the balls of my feet. "Bella's not here tonight. She's got to get ready for her big date."

I could tell by the shocked expression on mom's face that she knew nothing about Paul. I hadn't told her anything either, because it was Bella's business and I knew that since she wasn't close to mom, she wouldn't want her knowing about her personal life.

Now I'd blown it. I was so excited for her that I let slip she was going on a date. I hated that she wasn't close to mom, but I loved when she confided in me about something she didn't want mom or Phil to know. It made me feel special.

"A date?" mom said. "Really? I'm surprised. Bella hasn't mentioned anyone that I can remember."

"It's my brother," Seth said. "Paul Lahote. Tonight is their first date. Officially. But they knew each other before now."

"Seth!" I complained.

"You said something about it first," he said back.

"Wait…" mom said, staring at me with concern. "Isn't Paul the famous college dropout artist from CalArts? The one Angela is friends with?"

Seth frowned, probably not liking the way my mom had just described his brother. "Yeah. He is. Why?"

Mom sighed. "Fame and fortune. That can indeed be attractive quality in a man. I have to admit I thought Angela would date him though. I saw them getting art supplies at a Lowe's one day and she told me who he was but didn't introduce him to me directly. They seem to have a lot more in common since they both love art."

Before Seth could say anything, I quickly said, "Yeah but he likes Bella, so they're going out. End of story."

"Is that how she got her new job with that famous director fellow?" mom asked.

I put my face in my hands. Now she was going to down Embry who was a friend of Paul's and by association a friend of Seth's.

"Her new job has nothing to do with Paul," Seth said. "Her talent earned her that internship. Why do you connect the two?"

"Because when she texted me a few weeks ago about her new internship and I asked which director it was, she said a friend of Paul's, and when I asked her if it was the same Paul who is friends with Angela she didn't answer," mom said. "I wonder why that is."

"Mom," I said through gritted teeth. "That's enough."

"Oh honey, I'm just saying. I've told your sister a million times that there is no future for her in directing. She's proven it by getting a job through her new boyfriend and not on her own. He's famous, too which is pretty convenient, don't you think?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Seth snapped.

I stared back and forth between mom and Seth. He hated the way she was talking about his brother and so did I, but I didn't want to let him be the one to put mom in her place. That was going to be me.

"Mom, I don't like what your implying," I told her. "Bella isn't dating Paul because he's rich or famous. She likes him for who he is. Also, Embry wouldn't have hired her unless he thought she had talent. So please don't think Paul did that for her. Bella is capable of handling her own business. She just knew someone who pointed her in the right direction. She's talented, mom, and you'd know that if you watched some of her movies."

Mom folded her arms across her chest. "I've watched her movies before, dear. They are interesting. I just hope she can find what she's looking for. I still feel like she should have chosen a different path. It is convenient to me that she dates a man who is famous and best friends with a famous director."

"I think it's more luck than anything," Seth said, trying to control his voice. "Bella didn't even like Paul at first. He told me so. Renee, I respect you and I respect you daughter, but please don't imply that my brother wouldn't know if someone is using him. He would and he really cares about Bella. I'm surprised your assumption isn't that he should be dating someone famous."

"Of course it isn't," mom said, softening her tone. "I want my daughter to be happy. If Paul has chosen to date her then that's fine. I wasn't doubting your brother's intentions. I doubted Bella's. She wants to prove to me that she can….well…it's a long story."

Seth took a few deep calming breaths and then said, "You know what? I think I should leave now before I say something that gets my dating privileges with Natalie revoked."

"You don't have to," I told him quickly. "I want to finish rehearsal."

"Tomorrow," he said, then leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. "Goodnight, Natalie."

Before leaving, he glanced at my mom. "Goodnight, Renee."

I pouted as he went up the stairs and then closed the basement door behind him. Even mom stood up, looking nervous.

"Why did you do that?" I demanded angrily. "You scared him off! You can't talk about his brother like that! Or Bella!"

"I'm sure he's a charming man," mom said. "I just worried that Bella had the wrong motives."

"Oh I'm sure she does," I said sarcastically, my eyes stinging with tears. "I'm sure Bella is putting herself through dating another guy for his money and for her job. She's the kind of person who would use someone, especially after the way Edward used her."

That made mom glance away quickly and I could tell she was instantly regretting everything she'd said since she came down stairs.

Too bad, I was still mad at her. "If you're going to have certain opinions about Bella, at least tell her. But oh wait…you can't, because she barely talks to you and with good reason!"

Mom sighed in frustration. "Now Natalie, honey you can't talk to me that way. Whatever issues I have with your sister are not yours to address."

"Yes they are!" I demanded. "I'm tired of watching the tension between the two of you and so is Phil. He's on her side more than you are. One of these days, we are going to find out why you're so against her film career. It wasn't like this when dad was still around."

Mom flinched and I tried not to feel bad. Back when my dad was still alive, while it was clear mom didn't care for Bella's love of film, she never outwardly opposed it like she did now. There had to be a reason she wasn't discussing.

"I love both you and your sister," mom said. "I know I sounded horrible tonight. I just worry about her, that's all."

"I wish it were that simple," I said, shaking my head. "I may only be fifteen, but I'm smart enough to know it isn't. Once you decide to tell Bella why you're acting like you are, I hope you'll let me in on the conversation. I will always love you and I think Bella even does on some level. But if you aren't straight with her and soon, that love is going to turn into nothing but resentment and you're going to lose your oldest daughter."

Mom sat back down on the couch and buried her face in her hands.

I took that as my cue to leave and started up the stairs. Before I could reach for the door handle mom said, "Natalie, honey?"

I didn't look back at her. "What?"

There was a pause. "I will call tomorrow and talk to Seth. I will tell him I'm sorry for what I said and watch what I say from now on. I'm sorry honey."

I let out a breath I hadn't known I was holding. "Thanks mom. I'm glad. It's good that you can apologize to Seth and even me. But it's even more important that you apologize to Bella for a lot of things."

I left after that, shutting the door quietly before she could say anything else.

Bella's POV

"Are you sure I can't put any makeup on you?" Angela asked as she zipped up my dress.

That's right. A freaking dress for a date. I hated the damn things unless I absolutely had to wear them. They made me feel princessy which was so not me. But Angela thought that it would be a nice gesture for my first date with Paul.

"No makeup," I told her firmly. "I think the dress is going to torture me enough. What if he's not even taking me to a fancy place? What if I'm overdressed?"

"You won't be," Angela said. "It's a casual orange sundress nothing to fancy. It looks great on you. Have a look."

"Why orange?" I asked, avoiding the mirror. "I probably look like a carrot."

Angela laughed and studied my face. "No you don't. You look great. Plus orange is a fall color now look at yourself."

I turned around and looked in the full-length mirror. The dress she loaned me was spaghetti-strapped with a fitted top and a lose skirting that fell just above my knees. The top was darker orange and the bottom was mixed with yellow coloring. It was nice, but I really didn't think it was my color.

I grimaced and looked over at my bed where there were quite a few more of Angela's dresses laid out.

I went over and touched one similar to the orange dress I was wearing. "How about this one instead? Brown is darker and more slimming and still a fall color."

"Hmmm," Angela came and looked it over. "Not a bad idea. It'll match your eyes."

I smiled a little and she helped me out of my orange dress and into the brown one. Ten minutes and just the tiniest bit of eyeliner later and I was ready.

"I love it!" Angela said excitedly. "The brown dress was an even better choice. Paul is going to love it."

I turned in a circle, slightly lifting the skirting of the dress. "I hope so. This girly stuff is so not me."

"But it's your first date," Angela said. "It should be memorable."

"My first date with Paul," I corrected. "Not my first date ever. I can hardly remember that one."

Angela winked. "Exactly. But you will remember this one. I bet Paul is taking you some place super romantic."

"Did he happen to give you any hints?" I asked. "If he did, you could tell me you know."

"He didn't and no I couldn't," Angela replied. "Now go wait in the living room for Paul and I will hang up all the dresses."

I did as I was told, left for the living room, trying to ignore the butterflies in my stomach. Before sitting down on the couch, I quickly reached back, wondering if I should pull my hair back in a ponytail. If I did that after the half hour Angela spent straightening it she would kill me.

I could hardly believe tonight was my first date with Paul. I knew this was what I wanted. We'd been getting along much better since I found out he wasn't dating that Tiffany girl. I tried to keep my guard down as much as possible. I wanted to let this work. I wanted to trust him and believe he wouldn't turn out to be Edward.

A few minutes later, the doorbell rang and Angela ran into the room. "I'll get it! You sit there and look pretty."

I rolled my eyes. She was making more of a big deal out of this than I was.

She opened the front door and greeted Paul, who was standing there looking handsome in a black button down shirt, blue jeans and black dress shoes. His hair was gelled and his face was glowing.

Color rushed to my cheeks and I fought back a smile. God he was gorgeous.

He stepped into the living room and focused on me, his dark eyes smoldering a little. "Good evening Bella."

I stood up and smoothed down my dress. "Uh, hi. How are you?"

He stepped forward and pulled something from behind his back.

I gasped. It was a beautiful bouquet of red roses mixed with some foil wrapped candy ones.

"These are for you," he said, handing them over. "Don't get the real ones mixed up with the chocolate. I wanted to get you some without thorns but they didn't have any at that shop. I'm sorry."

I pressed the sweet scented bundle to my nose and inhaled. "These are perfect Paul. Thank you. You didn't have to get me anything."

"On the contrary," he said, offering his arm. "I did. I wanted tonight to be special."

I looped my arm through his and grinned. "So will you tell me where we're going?"

"Nope," he said cheerfully. "But I can promise you're going to love it."

Angela took my roses and handed over my purse and jacket. "You take these. It's a little chilly out. I will get these roses in some water. Enjoy your date."

"She will," Paul said. "I guarantee it."

We left together and he led me out to his black mustang. Behind it, Harry was a navy blue Mercedes with the passenger side window down.

I waved at him and he waved back, smiling kindly.

"How are the cars going to work?" I asked. "Or can you not answer that?"

"I can answer," Paul said. "We'll head to where we're going in my car and Harry will follow us."

"And what's he going to do when we get there?" I asked. "Pull up a chair?"

"You'll have to wait and see," Paul said in a teasing voice.

He opened the mustang's passenger door for me and I slid inside, hoping my nerves would calm the heck down.

There was only idle chitchat on the car ride to wherever we were going. All I noticed was that we were headed back toward Courtney's neighborhood, but as far as I knew, there were no restaurants there, so where the heck were we going?

Ten minutes passed and I kept glancing at Paul's side view mirror, making sure my reflection was okay. I kept hold of Paul's hand the whole time, and it made me feel a little less nervous.

We exited the highway that lead to Courtney's neighborhood, drove through it and started to slow down when we reached a gate that was covered in shrubs except for the main part, which lead to a clearing I couldn't see.

Paul stopped in front of the gate and entered a code, then winked at me again. The gates swung open with a loud squeaking sound. After crossing through the large iron gates, we pulled into the drive way of a large, white, two-story house set just on the edge of the woods. The house had tan brown trim, tan shutters and doors and lots of large windows on both floors.

"This isn't some kind of restaurant right?" I asked, feeling stupid.

Paul laughed. "Nope. You'll see when we get inside."

We pulled to a stop at the end of the driveway and I reached for the handle, but Paul stopped me.

"Allow me," he said, turning off the car and getting out.

I waited impatiently for him to come around and let me out of the vehicle. This gorgeous house was amazing and I hadn't even seen the inside yet.

Paul opened my door for me and offered me his arm. I took it and stepped out, still staring in awe at the house. Harry walked over to us after locking up the black Mercedes.

"I'll be out back," he said to us. "You two kids have fun."

"We aren't kids," Paul said cheerfully. "But we'll have a nice time. Thanks, Harry."

"No problem," he said, before heading off the side of the house.

"He's leaving us alone?" I asked. "Will he get in trouble for that?"

"Nah," Paul said. "He's never too far away. Now follow me I want to show you something."

Paul led me up onto the porch and then unlocked the front door. He pushed it open and gestured for me to go in first.

I took a step down and glanced through the marble foyer into one of the most beautiful living rooms I'd ever seen. Everything was so bright and clean. The couch against one wall was white, along with a white love seat. The carpet was the tan-ish color of beach sand. Against the other wall was a large flat-screen that took up most of it and had a few photos of people I didn't know and only a few I did. I quickly rushed over, looking at the photo of what had to be a younger Paul and younger Seth. Both were wearing matching red shirts and black slacks.

I glanced back at Paul, grinning widely. "This is your place."

Paul nodded. "It is. I was hoping to give you a tour before we start our evening."

I turned around, not wanting to miss anything. Even the ceiling fan was unique. The blades of the fan looked like large leaves carved from wood.

"I want to show you my man cave," he said, taking my hand.

"You have a man cave in your own house?" I asked. "Why? So you can escape yourself?"

Paul laughed and the sound made me shiver a little. "It's actually more of an art studio, but doesn't look like one."

He led me to a sliding door in a wall that a curtain in the living room was covering. It was so well hidden; I would have never known it was there. Paul pulled back the curtain and opened the door. Together we stepped out onto what looked like an indoor patio.

This room had green turf instead of carpet, plus a pool table, another small flat screen TV, all the furniture out here was wicker including the couch. There was a big open space to one side where blank canvases stood facing the wall. There were two more family photos on a back wall and a something large and rectangular behind the furniture that looked like a giant wicker basket. I suspected a spa or something.

"I pictured something so different," I told him. "I thought you would have black leather furniture and dark colored paints and photos of cars and girls in bikinis."

He made a face. "That's more of a rock star type of décor. I'm a beach slash spring time type of guy. I like everything bright and serene. It helps me focus better when I paint. When I'm in here painting, Sue can go over my scheduling things with me and Harry can also chill and watch television over there. Or sometimes we play pool together. This is Seth's favorite room. He and Harry call it my man cave."

"Well, your living room and this place clearly take up the whole first floor and they're amazing. What's upstairs?"

"The kitchen also helps take up this floor, but I'll show you that last. Upstairs are all the bedrooms and bathrooms and something really cool I want to show you. Follow me."

We went through the living room again and turned right, heading up a carpeted staircase. I could tell the same white sandy colored carpet was spread throughout the house. At the top, there was a long hallway with more photos of his family and artwork. I stopped in front of one. It was a family photo of Paul who looked about eight or nine, baby Seth wearing a black onesie, a tall, dark-skinned man with black hair and a short, slim woman with the same black hair that fell to her waist.

Paul noticed my observation and cleared his throat. "This is my mom and dad. And of course, Seth and I."

I giggled. "How adorable were you two? Where do your parents live?"

"In Burbank," Paul said. "Not too far away from here. I visit whenever I can."

"How do they deal with their son being a celebrity?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Same as anyone else who's known me for years and is close to me. They're proud of me and make it out to my shows when they can, but they don't make a big deal about it."

I didn't see how they couldn't make a big deal about it, but decided not to question it. He led me down the rest of the hallway and we stopped once we arrived at a door on either side.

Paul pointed to the left. "This is Harry's room, but he keeps it locked because he has weapons in there. Some kind of paranoia thing. On right here is a hall closet where we both keep all our coats and other stuff."

"What kinds of weapons are in there?" I asked Paul, feeling stupid.

He laughed again. "Mainly guns. Nothing you need to worry about. Sometimes we go to the shooting range together so the worst he has is a few rifles."

He led me to down another hallway to the left and into a room at the end where he turned on a light. Inside this room was clearly his own home gym. There were tread mills, punching bags, weights, weight machines, ab machines, aerobic mats and of course, yet another flat screen television. What irked me the most though was the art on the walls. Even in his home gym, he didn't leave the walls bare.

"Let me guess," I said. "You painted those?"

"Only a few of them," he said. "I'm not so prideful that I display only my own work in my home. Some of them are Leah's and some belong to other artists I've met. A few are classics."

I nodded, trying not to be jealous that his ex-girlfriends paintings were in his home. It wasn't like they were still dating. He probably just admired her work.

We left the home gym and went toward another room. Paul squeezed my hand. "Now I want to introduce you to the master bedroom."

My body stiffened. Was that some kind of invitation? Or was this still about a tour?

Paul had to practically push me into the room since my legs weren't quite working properly, but once I was inside, I found myself in awe again of how beautiful his home was.

At the back of the room there was a large, circular king size bed with black and grey sheets and black, white, and grey pillows. Even the bedframe was circular and only about two feet from the floor.

Everything else in his room was the same contrast of black, grey, and white, from his ceiling fan, to his couch, to the paint colors to the coffee table in the corner. There was another large, wall-length curtain on the left and I wondered if something stood behind it.

"What do you think?" Paul said. "Nice right?"

"It's beautiful," I told him. "The bed looks amazing. I thought you wanted everything bright. This room isn't."

"Changed my mind for my bedroom," he said. "But the white and grey help balance everything out. Come with me and I'll show you the best part."

"I don't see how it gets much better than this," I said, but followed Paul anyway.

I couldn't believe I was actually in his bedroom. Not that anything was going to happen, but I couldn't keep my mind from wandering to the possibilities. This room alone was big enough to be split into two bedrooms.

Paul pulled back another curtain and I gasped. The area above his indoor patio below was a huge white marble balcony with a spectacular view of the rest of the townhouses and condos in his nearby neighborhood. At night, it would probably be even better.

I stepped out onto the patio, vaguely noticing more wicker furniture with cushions and another flat screen television on the wall before the balcony started. When I reached the end, I just braced my palms on the marble railing and stared at the nearby houses and people walking. Out in the far distance, I could just make out some of the larger buildings in downtown Los Angeles.

"Pretty amazing isn't it," Paul said, putting an arm around my shoulders. "I love living here. It's gorgeous. I had this place built and designed just how I wanted it. It took about a fifteen months but it was worth it."

"I can see that," I told him, smiling. "Your home is unbelievable, Paul. Thank you for the tour."

"There's a little more," he said. "But I want to go ahead and get you down to the kitchen so we can start our date."

"What can top this?" I asked.

"You'll have to see."

I reluctantly followed him back into the house, taking one more look around his gigantic bedroom.

"The master bathroom has a shower big enough for two people and a spa tub that's about five feet," Paul said as we went downstairs again. "I love soaking in there. It's the best."

An image came to mind of Paul relaxing in his hot tub. His golden skin would be glistening from the water and steam would be coming from his beautiful chest. I had yet to see him with his shirt off, but I knew on instinct that his body would be as perfect as his face.

"I bet," I replied, grinning to myself.

We passed the foyer and entered his dining room slash kitchen, which I didn't know how I'd missed when I walked in since it was so large. The first half was a dining room with a wooden table large enough for six and a gorgeous chandelier with six arms and a candle on each end. There was only one piece of artwork: a large six-foot tall painting of a mountain landscape.

Again, I left his side so I could walk over and get a closer look. The colors were an extraordinary mix of browns, golds, yellows, reds and whites. I sometimes wondered how painting, drawing, sculpting and sketching could be looped into the same school with film and directing. They seemed like two totally different platforms. I couldn't create something this gorgeous if I tried.

"I love this one," I told Paul. "How long did it take you?"

"That was about a six hour job," he said, coming over to stand beside me. "But not consecutively. I took lots of breaks."

"You're so talented," I said. "I really don't know how you and Angela do stuff like this. Not even after knowing her for as long as I have."

"It's not that different from what you do with directing and writing screenplays," Paul said. "I think that requires much more effort. You're still using your creativity. When I see something, I'm inspired and I have to paint or draw or sketch it. When you see something or think of something, you write it down to use in your films. You come up with a whole cast of people and decide what all those people are going to do. You're brilliant, Bella. Don't sell yourself short."

"Thank you," I said. "And I guess you're right. They aren't too terribly different."

"Like I said, yours requires more work. I can only imagine what it takes to put all that together."

"I'll have help," I told him. "Producers, editors, sound people, light people, camera people, make-up people and all that. But it'll get harder once I'm on my own. Right now I'm in a school full of people with those kinds of majors so their job is to help."

"You'll make it," he told me. "I just know it. Now, I hope you're hungry."

"I am," I said excitedly. "What are we eating?"

He held up a hand and walked into his kitchen, which was filled with very nice stainless steel appliances and you guessed it, more artwork. He went into his refrigerator and pulled out a few bowls, setting them on the counter.

"Now I've already prepped everything," Paul said from behind the door. "But I've got to cook the chicken and stuff. I hope you like chicken piccata. Is that okay?"

I couldn't hold back my smile. "You cook, too? Is there anything you don't do?"

"Guys," he said, wagging his eyebrows. "Don't swing that way. Not that there's anything wrong with people who do."

I laughed. "Okay smart ass. Well can I help with dinner?"

"Nope," he said. "You just sit there at the dining room table, look beautiful, and keep me company. Or you can sit up here at the breakfast bar."

Walking further into the kitchen, I did notice had a little bar table right in front of the sink that over looked his living room. I pulled up a stool and watched him start washing his hands.

I leaned onto my elbow. "Oh and by the way chicken picatta sounds amazing. I'm not allergic to anything so fire away Chef Paul."

He winked again. "You got it, beautiful. I hope you don't mind that we didn't go out for dinner. I wanted our first date to be memorable and I figured if we went to a restaurant there might be paparazzi or I might run into a fan. I wanted it to be just us."

"I don't mind at all," I said honestly. "I love your place. My little two-bedroom with Angela seems so-"

"Don't do that," he cut me off. "I have only owned this place for two years. I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth. My talent helped put me here. And yours will, too someday."

"Where did you live before you moved here?" I asked him.

"In a small studio apartment," he said, unwrapping chicken cutlets in a bowl. "When I was first discovered, it was at an art contest in Anaheim. I thought I was crazy for entering, but I really wanted the $5,000 grand prize. Oh, and to show off my work at of course. Sue was there and she was looking for new talent to promote. She's pretty famous for her art work as well, even bigger than me, but she wanted to do more management than entering her work in art shows and galas and stuff. Any role someone plays in the coordination of an art show, whether it's set up, break down, PR, or hosting Sue has been there and done that."

"That's pretty awesome," I said.

"Yep," Paul agreed and poured me a glass of water from the fridge. "Here you go."

"Thanks." I took it from him. "So Sue was already in management when you met her?"

"Yep," he answered. "She just didn't have anyone in particular to manage. She's very picky and with good reason. She wants someone who will reflect well on her. For the contest that day I entered this painting I'd been working on for weeks. It was a carnival portrait with every animal you can think of, people in the background cheering, trapeze artists, people on stilts, you name it. When I saw the competition, I wasn't feeling confident. The other contestants were older than me and I was only a sophomore. But I presented well and I was stunned when they called my name. So were my parents. You should have seen them. They brought out the big $5,000 check, I also won an interview with a local art magazine. I remember my parents crying and congratulating me. Before I left, Sue came over to talk to me and said how impressed she was by my painting and talent. She wanted to see more of what I could do. This wasn't just any contest I won because I've won several. This one was huge and she knew that. I beat a few people I considered professional level even though it was an amateur competition. A few days later my parents, Seth and I went to meet Sue. I brought her some of my best pieces. I still remember her reaction. It was like…she'd never seen artwork before."

I couldn't keep myself from smiling as I listened to his story. In all the time I'd spent with Paul we mainly talked about me. I hadn't given him the chance to talk about himself much. It was fascinating to hear about his life before his fame and his passion for what he did. It reminded me of the same passion I felt for film-making.

I wasn't sure what was happening, but I felt so warm and comfortable on the inside. The more time I spent with Paul, the less he seemed like a celebrity.

Paul dropped coated the chicken cutlets with flour and put them into the hot pan, then continued with his story. "After seeing those, she told me she was considering hiring me to work with her. I could hardly believe my luck. Sue has been around for a while and been everywhere. Anyone else in my class would kill for that kind of job. My parents were skeptical at first because of course, I'm their little boy and everything even though I was almost twenty-one. Before I could even decide, Sue wanted to see more of my work and a portfolio. After that, she was sold. Sue said she would be willing to work with me even though I didn't have a college degree yet. My parents weren't thrilled, but after my twenty-first birthday they left the decision up to me. Taking more risks than ever have in my life, I withdrew from CalArts and decided to go work for Sue. I started booking art shows left and right, making more and more money from contests. It took about a year for me to blow up big and the next thing I knew I was traveling, I was promoting, I was teaching, I was hosting my own galas and shows. I could hardly believe it."

"That's incredible," I told him. "You took a big risk and it paid off. Look how many people love you now."

"Exactly," he replied, starting to cut up potatoes. "My parents took a while to get on the band wagon but after a while they had to go with it. I loved what I was doing too much and they could see I wasn't going to go back to school. Seth was completely supportive from the get go. He's always been in my corner."

I traced shapes in the sweat on my water glass. "So…tell me the circumstances behind Harry getting hired. I haven't heard you mention him yet."

Paul frowned. "Ah, damn. Yeah that's a painful story. You see, I know self-defense and everything. I've been in martial-arts since I could walk and that's what my dad does. He teaches self-defense classes and karate. But one night I convinced Sue to leave one of my art shows early and that I would meet her later. I figured I could pack up my car myself and head home. I was out in the parking lot loading up my car when someone jumped me. It was a guy and the police never caught him. I managed to hold my own, but I was on the ground long enough for him to take a few of my paintings and get away. I never saw his face because was wearing a ski mask. I told Sue about it because I had to and she immediately decided to hire me a bodyguard. Like I told you before I didn't like the idea at first. I'm a man and we're supposed to be able to take care of ourselves. Sue convinced me that added protection would be a good idea, especially if I didn't want to risk losing any more of my artwork. We interviewed a few people and when I met Harry we just clicked. Ever since we've been literally inseparable. Even my family considers him family."

"I'm glad," I said. "And I'm glad you weren't hurt any worse than you could have been. I'm starting to feel a little less skeptical about the guns upstairs now."

Paul laughed. "Don't worry about those. Harry is always armed but he wouldn't hurt a fly unless he had to."

"Where is he now?" I said, looking around. "It's weird that he just disappeared on us. I'm used to him standing right behind or beside you."

Paul nodded toward his backyard. "There is a small house out in the backyard that's about the size of a bed and breakfast. Harry stays there when I have company over and need to be alone or if I want the house to myself. He gets up on occasion and patrols the area and I send him texts periodically so he knows I'm safe. He's very thorough. I'm grateful for him."

When I finished my water, I sat the glass aside.

Paul took it and said, "Want more? Or a glass of wine? I was saving the wine for dinner but you can have a glass now if you want."

Geez. Alcohol, too? He was going all out wasn't he?

"I'll wait on the wine," I said. "More water is fine."

He filled my glass again and then focused on his cooking. He told me his mom told him how to cook and she ran a small family restaurant in Burbank where Seth works part-time as a server. It amazed me again how normal his family was compared to his big celebrity life.

"They get their benefits from what I do, too though," Paul said, like he was keeping pace with my thoughts. "My parents love this house. My art studio slash man cave is dad's favorite. There's a hot tub in the back and he likes the pool table. Mom enjoys reading on the balcony."

"That's nice," I said, watching him put asparagus on the mini grill next to his stove. "I'm glad they're such a big part of your life still."

"It makes my life feel more normal when they're around," Paul said. "I almost forget I have a different life now. Until Sue starts texting or calling."

I leaned onto my elbow again. "So she's the one that sets up all your galas, shows, events and stuff like that?"

"She books them," Paul corrected. "But sometimes she will help out the curators if they don't have a clue. Sue likes to have things set up in a particular way depending on the venue. I have to say, she's never made me look bad. When it comes to contests or events where there are more than one artist, she has less of a say in how things look, but she always wants to make sure I'm well set anyway."

"You're lucky to have so many people who have your back," I told him. "You've got Harry for protection and Sue does the business side of everything. Your family supports you."

Paul smiled at me. "And now I have you. Believe it or not, having you around has meant a lot to me as well. Even when we don't get along."

I leaned back in my chair and folded my arms. "Oh yeah? Why is that?"

He took his chicken out of the pan and put it on two plates. "Because I have something to look forward to. I have someone who makes me smile for no reason. Now we're finally on our first date, I'm going to have a lot more reasons to smile. "

I could practically feel my heart melting in my chest. He really was one of the sweetest guys I'd ever known. So much had changed since I'd accepted his proposal for a date. It felt like we were two different people. In that moment, I knew it was because my guard was finally down. I was allowing myself to like Paul and allowing him to like me.

I wanted to slide off my chair, run around the bar and kiss him. I wanted to thank him for caring so much about me. I wanted to see what it felt like to be closer to him now that my guard was down.

But all of that seemed like moving way too fast, so instead, I said, "Thank you. That's really sweet."

"I mean every word of it."

It only took Paul about twenty more minutes to whip up some mashed potatoes he'd prepped, plate everything and set it on the table before pouring two glasses of white wine.

"I hope you like this kind," Paul said, putting the cork back in the bottle. "It's Barefoot Moscato. I figured you would like something sweet."

"Well I like you don't I?" I said, sliding off the barstool.

He beamed again. Damn…I would never get over the perfection of his teeth. "Well thank you. I'm glad to hear that."

I walked over to the table and he pulled out my chair for me. I took a seat and stared at the delicious food on my plate. The chicken picatta was covered in a lemon sauce and surrounded by mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus.

My stomach growled and I instantly dug in, taking a bite of the chicken breast first.

Paul was watching me carefully. "If it's awful, you can tell me. I promise my feelings won't get hurt."

But it wasn't awful. It was perfectly cook and tasted delicious. I immediately went for another bite. "This is excellent, Paul and I mean it. Maybe you should have become a celebrity chef instead of a celebrity artist."

He grinned and started eating. "Nah. I like to cook but not 24/7 like my art. Besides, I only know how to cook basic things. Nothing too fancy."

"I could help," I told him, taking a sip of wine. "When my dad died, I kind of took over helping mom in the kitchen. She taught me a lot. Then when she met Phil, they restarted dad's old catering business. I can make all kinds of great dishes. I just choose not to when I'm at my place because I'm usually in a hurry so I make something quick."

"Same here," Paul said. "I'm not usually able to just sit around in my house for large periods of time. Sometimes I wish I could, but I'm so used to traveling I think I would go nuts if I had to sit still."

"Where are you going next?" I asked.

"Possibly Detroit," Paul said. "But I don't have all the details yet. Sue is working them out for me and she'll let me know. I told her not to send me anything tonight though. I wanted to focus on you."

That made me blush and made Paul look very satisfied with himself.

"Do you think Sue will like me?" I asked nervously. "It's just that…she hasn't really gotten to know me that well. Since she's such a big part of your life I want her to know me as someone other than the girl who went crazy on you at your gala."

"She knows you're more than that," Paul replied. "I told her. But yes I think she's going to like you. Harry does. He thinks we're a good match for each other."

"It's only our first date, but I think so, too," I told him. "I'm glad I gave you a chance. I just hate that it took me so long to give you one."

"All I care about is that I got one," he said. "I want to think of tonight as starting over. We can get to know each other all over again. Except for the hard stuff. You don't have to talk about your dad."

"Thanks," I replied brightly. "I do have one more question though. I hope you don't feel like this is an interview."

"You could ask me a million questions and I would never get tired of answering," he said. "Shoot."

I finished my helping of mashed potatoes first. "Your brother and my sister. I think they are officially an item. If anything happens to that, where do you think it'll leave us? They're teenagers and I don't know if it'll last long term. But they will still have to see each other if we are still dating."

Paul wiped his mouth with a napkin. "Seth is not the type to be bitter or resentful toward old relationships. Neither am I. I taught him that doing that keeps you from enjoying a new one. It's why I'm still friends with my ex, Leah. If Natalie and Seth do break up, it'll more likely be because they found other people. I can't see my little brother dumping her for some other girl or cheating on her. If there's one thing my parents taught Seth and I it's how to treat a woman."

"Good." I felt relieved for my sister's sake. "I'm glad for that. Not that I'm doubting your brother. I've only met him twice but he seems great."

"He's a good kid," Paul said. "To answer your question, what happens with them is their thing. It won't affect us. Our problems are ours and theirs are theirs. I have to admit that I see us together more long term than them."

"Why is that?" I asked.

Paul reached over and took my hand. "Because you and I have known each other longer and we're older. Plus I haven't been this serious about a girl in a long time. I really care about you, Bella."

My mind immediately flipped back to how my last relationship had crashed and burned. It wasn't exactly my fault. But my father's death, my mother's lack of support, my resentment toward my stepdad and Edward's betrayal were all the lined up dominos that kept me so closed off for so long.

Allowing Paul to take me on a date was huge for me. I wasn't the kind of girl who said yes very easily anymore. The truth was that he stirred something in me as well. Why else would I have agreed to go out with him after keeping myself single for almost two years?

"I care about you, too," I told him honestly. "But just be patient with me, alright? I'm a little on the weird side when it comes to this kind of stuff."

"I'll be patient as long as you need me to," he said and then stood up. "I'm going to grab dessert from the fridge. You don't have to start on it yet. It's a good idea if it sits at room temperature for a bit anyway so it won't be too tough."

I finished the rest of my chicken while he was gone, savoring the delicious flavor. I suddenly felt excited, like a kid who was promised a trip to an amusement park. I blushed for the millionth time, and my stomach started doing flip-flops.

Paul did mean a lot more to me than I realized and maybe he had all along. I just refused to let myself feel anything until the other night when he picked me up after Courtney's party.

"Okay," he said, coming back into the room and setting down two tall glasses on the table. "I hope you like chocolate. I probably should have told you what I was making in case you have any allergies, but I really wanted everything to be a surprise."

The two tall glasses were filled with a five-layer chocolate brownie, chocolate mousse, whipped cream dessert garnished with a sprig of mint and chocolate shavings.

"This is one of my favorites," Paul went on. "I'll wait for you to finish your asparagus though before I dig in."

On impulse, I got to my feet and turned to face him, watching his handsome face in anticipation.

"Hi," he said. "Is there a problem? You like chocolate, right?"

I nodded and leaned in closer, catching the wonderful scent of his cologne. He smelled like heaven and his skin was so smooth. Without allowing myself to think twice about it, I stretched up on my tiptoes, captured his face in my palms and pressed my lips softly to his.

At first, he was so shocked his body just stiffened, but once he realized I wasn't going to stop, his arms came around my waist, and he let out a groan. I noticed during our kiss that his lips tasted a little sweet from the white wine and that was perfect.

As our lips moved together, I pressed my body closer to his, wishing we could just mold ourselves together and become one person. He felt so strong and warm that I never wanted to let go.

I finally did, and when I stepped back, the expression on Paul's face was like nothing I'd ever seen.

"Um…thank you. But…what was that for?"

I grinned. "I didn't want to wait until the end of our date to kiss you. So I did it now. Surprise!"

He smiled back. "Well I'm definitely surprised. I thought I would make the first move and that I would ask you first."

"That's very sweet of you," I said. "But I wanted to do it this way. Any objections?"

He leaned his forehead against mine. "Not at all. Especially since now I know I can kiss you without permission and I will get to do so again before the night is over."

"That you will," I agreed. "Now let's sit down and enjoy our dessert together. I want to hear more about your life before the date is officially over."

"There will be more of them," he said. "I can promise you that."

I sat back down in my chair and abandoned the rest of my vegetables, pulling my dessert forward and taking a huge bite.

Of course, it was perfect like the rest of this evening had been. The fluffiness of the whipped cream was a nice balance to the rich, fudgy, chocolate brownies.

"So?" Paul said. "Is it horrible? Am I as good at cooking as I am at kissing?"

I laughed. "Let's just say you're a man of many talents."

End Author Note: Guys. I loved this chapter and I hope you did, too. We got to see some of Paul's background and finally a glimpse into Natalie and Seth's relationship.

Yes! Renee is the way she is for a reason. We will find out. YES! We WILL see Edward in this story, but only briefly. Paul is going to meet him, too. I know you're wondering how the HECK Jacob is going to fit in to this story. Well WAIT AND SEE!

In the mean time, SPOILERS!

Chapter 12 spoilers:

There is much skin to be viewed in this chapter. :D

Angela drops a bombshell on Jared about her previous relationship.

Jared brings along a surprise volunteer to the third mural project.

Chapter 13 spoilers:

Trouble from Bella's past appears at an indoor carnival.

The dunk tank at the carnival contains a surprise guest. And a surprise scene! (I'm using the word surprise too much.)

Paul makes Bella a promise.

I can't say anymore other than the plot is beginning to thicken. Please leave me reviews. I LOVE IT WHEN YOU GUYS DO!

Xoxoxoxo

Cam