Beta: Stacyo72 and Maxandmo
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N This story was my entry for the TLS Angst Contest, but it unfortunately had to be withdrawn since the judges felt a review compromised my identity. It's important to realize that once a review is posted, unless it is a guest review, it can't be removed or edited so please think carefully about what you say, especially in an anonymous contest. Just admitting that you know the author, even if you do not mention any other identifying factors, is enough to have a story disqualified. That said, I still love getting reviews, so if you like this story, please don't be shy about saying so. The plan now is to post Irrevocable Trust as is and then to expand and continue it once I complete Tangled Up In The Mainline, which is about half way done.
I'd like to thank my two betas for this story, Stacyo72 and Maxandmo for all the hard work they did in getting Irrevocable Trust ready by the contest deadline. They did a great job and I am very proud of how it turned out.
A very, very special thank you to Sparrownotes24 for her support and advice the past few days. As I've said elsewhere, I am so grateful to have someone I could turn to who knows exactly what it's like to have this happen.
Lastly, thank you to everyone who originally reviewed the story and thank you for the kind messages of support I've gotten since this happened.
There are some fantastic entries in the TLS Angst contest, please make sure you check them out and leave the authors lots of love.
My cell phone buzzes with a text. I glance down and see it's from Alice, again.
Will you be making a deposit into my account today?
I sigh. Alice knows I deposit five thousand dollars into her personal account every other week without fail. If she is asking, then she has managed to overdraw the account, again. My response is succinct.
Yes. The funds will be there before 4 pm.
I'm rewarded with a TY! and a smiling green android staring back at me.
I shake my head. How could Alice blow through that much money in just two weeks? I pay all her bills: rent, utilities, credit cards, cell phone, travel expenses, spa treatments, salon bills, medical insurance, and co-pays for the dermatologist. All she has left to pay for are food and clothing. I sigh. I've never been to Alice's condo in New York and I've never seen Alice's closet, but I can imagine what it contains: clothing, shoes, purses, accessories.
I reposition my phone on my desk and look around my office. It's a cluttered but functional space. I have a beautiful view of the city behind me that I hardly ever notice. My desk is mahogany, not the real thing but a cheap composite. Piles of paperwork, neatly divided into corporate and personal business, border the edge of the desk. The Cullen family assets are astounding. The family made its fortune in the nineteenth century and has lived up to the adage of money makes money.
Carlisle, the current family scion, still runs the pharmaceutical company. He doesn't need to work but feels as though he should. He is also an M.D., although he has never practiced. His wife, Esme, spends her time chairing various social causes and redecorating the family's various homes. She and Carlisle are frequently gone during the cold dreary winters, choosing to spend the time on one of their many tropical properties. I know the island off the coast of Brazil is a favorite.
The next item on my to-do list is a folder filled with medical bills. Rosalie and her husband Emmett are trying for a second child. The co-pays for the fertility treatments currently total more than an average middle class American's income. I rummaged through the pile and pull the folder, which is labeled "Dr. Rosalie Cullen–McCarty Medical Bills."
Like her father, Rosalie graduated from Harvard Medical School but has never bothered to practice medicine. She supposedly spends most of her time caring for her three-year old son, Hunter. She blogs about being a stay-at-home mom and plans to write a book about her experiences. That will be a pretty quick read since she only cares for him when he isn't attending the most prestigious pre-school in the city or when the nanny isn't there.
I've just finished entering the bills into the accounting system when I hear footsteps approaching my office. I prefer being at the end of the hall, away from the buzz and hum of the pharmaceutical company staff. Although I'm technically an employee of that entity, I do much more. My position is CFO- Chief Financial Officer but my role here isn't fixated on the normal worries of budget projections and balance sheets. The Cullens make money. Profitability is never a question. My work focuses on tracking how much money is made from the various investments and resources, and where it's spent. Money flows from the corporation to the personal trusts and from the trusts to the individuals- Carlisle, Esme, Rose, Alice, and Edward- who spend it. I, along with my assistant and his assistant, pay their bills, take care of their properties and otherwise manage their assets. I'm compensated adequately, although there are plenty of times when the frivolous bills I pay far exceed my yearly salary.
The footsteps stop. I look up, a polite smile affixed to my face. I'm not surprised to see Carlisle and his son, Edward. After all, I booked and paid for his plane ticket. I expected that Carlisle would parade him around the office. The prodigal son returns, let's kill that fatted calf. What I didn't expect was how handsome that son had become.
"Bella? You remember Edward, don't you?" Carlisle is brimming with paternal pride over his Primo Figlio, the heir apparent, as he clasps his son on the shoulder.
I keep the smile on my face and respond as I rise and step forward to shake hands. My eyes sweep over the man in front of me. When I last saw Edward, he was a gangly but audacious fifteen year old about to start boarding school in Europe. That was a decade ago.
Standing before me is one of the most handsome specimens of masculinity I have ever seen. There are broad shoulders and hard muscles that the fabric of his custom Italian suit enhances, rather than hides. The riot of bronze colored hair I remember is shorter now and styled in a way that appears effortless, although it's not. His cheekbones and jawline have lost their pubescent softness and hardened to chiseled perfection. His eyes, however, are the same: a bright and engaging green that alludes to the charm and intelligence behind them.
Like his parents and siblings, Edward carries himself with the inherent grace of the very wealthy. Class differences in America are much more subtle than in other parts of the world but still, old money can be discerned when one knows the signs. Edward Cullen has always exuded those signs. It's not surprising that he has matured well. Carlisle and Esme are probably the most attractive people I have ever known. Their children should be just as beautiful as they are. If they weren't, it would be easy enough to get the right work done to make them so.
Shelly Cope, our receptionist, walks in to retrieve Carlisle for one of the senior vice presidents. He declares he'll return momentarily and asks us to get reacquainted in his absence.
Edward returns my smile. His voice is deep yet soft when he speaks. "Bella, it's wonderful to see you again. How are you?"
"I'm well, still here at Cullen Conglomerated as you can see."
"For which we are all very grateful. How is your husband?"
My smile falters for just a second. "Actually, Jake and I divorced two years ago."
It's customary upon hearing such news, for one to express their sympathies or otherwise communicate condolences but Edward does the opposite.
His previously polite grin transforms into a lascivious smirk that simultaneously confuses and excites me. "Really? So perhaps I can finally fulfill all my teenage sexual fantasies about you?"
I nearly choke on my surprise. His audacity exceeds my memories.
"I beg your pardon?"
Edward takes a step closer to me, entering my personal space. He towers over me, and I instantly feel both alarmed and aroused. I can feel my cheeks flame as I involuntarily take a step back towards my desk. His voice is smooth as silk as his eyes focus on mine with an intensity that leaves me breathless.
"Come on, Bella. Do you mean to tell me you didn't realize I had a huge crush on you? You remember the summer I interned here? I followed you around like a puppy all damn day."
I swallow hard and shake my head. "That was ten years ago. I had only just started working for the company." I take a deep breath and make an effort to regain my composure. "And you were, as you are now, my employer's son. It isn't appropriate for either of us to think such things."
My response seems to spur him on rather than cause him to retreat.
"So you are admitting that you've had similar inappropriate fantasies about me?"
He takes another step forward and I'm pinned between him and my desk.
I automatically raise my hands to his chest to push him away. I can feel his hard pectoral muscles flex beneath the lapels of his suit. His head is bent down toward mine, I feel exposed beneath his penetrating gaze. This is not good. I need to gain control before this situation gets even more out of hand.
My voice is firm and authoritative as I speak. "Edward! Don't twist my words! Back then you were the adolescent son of my boss and I was a newlywed. I would have NEVER entertained thoughts of that nature about a boy. You may be an adult now but you are still the boss's son and it's therefore still improper for either of us to consider a ….a …. dalliance of that sort. Now step back!"
Edward obeys my request and moves away from me but the half smirk doesn't leave his lips. "Of course, I would never do anything you didn't want me to do." He pauses, his eyes sweeping over me from top to bottom then back up before they meet mine. "I couldn't help but notice that you didn't say you didn't want it, just that it was improper."
I waste no time in moving to the other side of my desk so that there is a buffer between us. I huff and roll my eyes. "You are really full of yourself, you know that?"
"I'd rather you were the one full of me." I wanted to smack that smirk off his smug, gorgeous face and then plunge my tongue down his throat. What the hell was wrong with me?
I begin nervously moving the stacks of papers on my desk. "You should leave. I have a lot of work to do."
From the corner of my eye, I see him stroke the varnished wood top of my desk. He completely ignores my request. He lowers his voice so that it's barely more than a whisper.
"Do you realize how many fantasies I've had involving you, me, and this desk? I confess, none of them were terribly original. I was only fifteen after all. Usually, I'd imagine me shoving everything off your desk and then laying you down on it while I climbed on top of you. When I was really horny, I'd picture you lying across it on your stomach while I took you from behind."
I'm so caught up in his words, our eyes locked together, that I barely register he has moved around to my side of the desk. He gestures to my black pleather executive chair.
"Sometimes, I'd picture myself seated in that chair while you knelt before me, your mouth taking all of me in. When I got a bit more experienced, I'd picture you on the edge of your desk, your legs spread wide while I traced my name on your clit over and over until you screamed it out loud." The thought of him there doing that makes my knees weak and my panties wet. I can visualize myself grasping his perfect bronze hair as he pleasures me with his mouth. I silently fight for control of my body, knowing I'm almost quaking with desire. Abruptly he walks back to the other side of the desk.
"But of course, you've never had those types of thoughts about me. That is, until today."
Before I can respond, Carlisle returns, apologizing for the interruption. The three of us exchange a few pleasantries, which seem flat and false after Edward's revelation. As they leave, Edward turns and says "Bella, you are always a pleasure. See you soon."
I'm so fucked.
Three days later, I'm in my office having an epic battle with my laser printer. I try persuading it to print, using a few choice words when it doesn't listen. It's then that I hear a throat clear behind me.
"Hearing you swear is a huge turn on for me."
I freeze as I formulate my reply. I'm sure he is alone given what he just said. I take a deep breath and square my shoulders. "Edward, regardless of what I was saying, or why, you cannot speak to me that way. It's -"
"Inappropriate," he interrupts. I can feel him standing just behind me. I know he's close enough that if I move a step, my back will make contact with his front. I have to force my body not to respond to his nearness. I still my shaking nerves and turn to face him.
He is even more heart-achingly beautiful than I remember. Another expensive suit adorns his perfect frame. He is the embodiment of understated affluence from the designer sunglasses atop his head to the custom made leather shoes on his feet. They say the clothes make the man but in this case they just enhance his already God-given beauty. His eyes take me in from head to toe, just as I've done to him. I can't help but squeeze my thighs together. I'm aching for him in way I haven't felt since my first years with Jake. I've spent the past two nights dreaming of bronze hair, green eyes, and that hard body. I'm frustrated and I know another night with my vibrator isn't going to fulfill me the way he could.
I'm just about to ask him to leave my office when my office phone rings. The caller id confirms that my day is just about to get worse.
Edward won't give me the space to get by him without pressing against him so instead I lean back and hit the speaker button.
"Bella, this is Rosalie. My mother and I are in Lugano and her cell phone is not working. Was the bill paid?"
I bristle, both at the brusque tone in her voice and the insinuation that I haven't done my job. I know I paid the bill and I paid it on time. I grab the mouse and click it a few times, bringing up the cell phone website. I confirm the information and relay it to Rosalie. I begin to remind her that she and her mother no longer have the same carrier, mostly because Rosalie felt they had spotty service, when Rosalie cuts me off, insisting that the problem isn't service.
"Rosalie, you are such a bitch."
I startle as the words that have been crowding my mind are suddenly said aloud. However, I'm not the one that spoke. I look up at Edward, who is still standing before me, a look of annoyance carving through the features of his beautiful face.
I hear a sharp intake of breath before Rosalie barks back. "Edward?! Is that you? This is none of your concern."
"Actually Rosalie, as the future CEO of Cullen Conglomerated, your attitude toward our loyal employees is my concern. Ms. Swan has already answered your question, and offered you a valid alternative to why Mom's cell phone doesn't have service, yet you refuse to acknowledge it. I suggest you take a step back and consider what Ms. Swan has told you. I know for a fact that carrier doesn't have adequate service in the Alps since I myself had problems when I was skiing there over the winter. Switch carriers and leave Ms. Swan to more important matters. Goodbye."
With that, Edward reaches past me and disconnects the call. He lingers for a moment, hovering too close for my personal comfort. My imagination springs to life and I picture exactly what he would look like above me, naked and thrusting. I blink for a moment longer than necessary and forcefully push the images from my head.
Abruptly, he backs away into what I would have thought of as an acceptable distance except now it feels too far away. His eyes are serious for once.
"You really should not let Rosalie get away with speaking to you like that."
I exhale sharply. "It's her way, she does it with everyone. It seems that she's not the only Cullen who could use a lesson on proper manners when speaking with employees."
The smirk returns and my evil mind conjures an image of him looking that way while I ride him hard. I turn away, desperate to get my thoughts in control.
"You're right. We Cullens are insolent and demanding. I don't know why you put up with us. Have dinner with me and allow me to make up for our transgressions."
I whirl around in surprise. "Are you insane?"
He smiles in amusement. "I hardly think an apology dinner is a cause for a mental health diagnosis. On the contrary, I've realized just how badly I've behaved. You are already under so much pressure to keep everyone here happy, the last thing you need is your future boss hitting on you. I'd like to change your opinion of me. I need to show you that I can be the type of person you'll enjoy working with rather than an inconsiderate philanderer."
"That's not necessary, Edward."
"Do you already have plans?"
I blurt out without thinking "No, J.J. is with his father this weekend."
Edward glances behind me to where I know the most recent school picture sits framed on my desk.
"Your son? How old is he now, seven?"
"Yes." I assume that was a good guess on his part. I doubt he remembers my son's birth. Edward graduated from the boarding school in Switzerland that year and then began his studies at The Wharton School of Business at Penn.
"So, you don't have any plans then? Please. I hate to think that I'm the cause of any unhappiness. Will you allow me to start over?"
I try to discern if there's any insincerity or ulterior motives lingering behind his façade of earnestness but I detect none. Edward always was a bit eager but he also had a logical, analytical side that would give him pause once he was past his initial impulsiveness. Perhaps he has finally seen that pursuing an old school boy crush on an older woman isn't in anyone's best interests.
"Okay, but nothing fancy." I caution. I don't want him spending hundreds of dollars. I've seen his credit card bills. I know he enjoys expensive wine and expensive settings.
"Agreed. We'll leave right from here."
I glance down at my poly/rayon blend off the rack dress, knowing already that I'm hopelessly underdressed next to him. We could go to McDonald's and I still wouldn't look right standing next to this haute couture god.
"That dress is lovely. Very appropriate for where we are going." Edward gives me a sweet smile that reminds me of the skinny boy who interned here a decade ago. He turns and walks out, leaving my office suddenly too quiet and too empty.
"Champagne?" I ask as our waiter scurries away to procure a bottle of Veuve Clicquot which has narrowly edged out a Perrier Jouet, after a lengthy discussion between Edward and the restaurant's sommelier. This is our fourth dinner in eight weeks and the first where he's allowed his natural proclivity towards lavishness to emerge. The restaurants where we've previously dined together have been modest yet well-regarded places, staffed by the latest up and coming chefs in the area. Tonight, however, we're at one of the most venerable eateries in the city and a personal favorite of Edward's parents.
"I'd like to celebrate, if that's all right. It's not every day one purchases their first home."
Edward gives me a boyish grin that sets my heart aflutter. As always, he looks remarkably handsome. His skin glows with just a hint of a tan, making his eyes appear even greener and his bronze hair more vibrant.
It's impossible not to return his smile. The waiter returns with the bottle, making the usual show of serving. I don't enjoy the fuss, although the champagne is delicious. I offer a toast to his new home. We talk a bit about the condo, a large loft space in a refurbished industrial building only a few blocks away from our office. We had closed a few days earlier. As the trustee for Edward's accounts, I worked with the attorneys and real estate agent to ensure the purchase went smoothly. Technically, his trust owns the condo and as trustee, I control the assets. It's my signature on the condo's sale documents, not his.
Management of the properties is usually the domain of Floyd, my assistant, but I'm the one responsible for the initial purchases. I refrain from mentioning that most people can't afford to buy their first home in cash. Such thoughts don't occur to the Cullens. Instead we discuss things like furniture and the condo's amenities including the on-site concierge and the indoor swimming pool and full gym.
Edward has kept his word since our conversation almost two months ago and has been nothing but professional around me. He's now one of the Executive Vice-Presidents for Cullen Conglomerated, which, in his case, involves mostly shadowing Carlisle through his day in order to learn how to become the CEO. Carlisle's routine hasn't changed much over the years. There are morning meetings, mostly with attorneys to discuss the variety of class action law suits the company is always facing for one reason or another.
Afterwards, he has a smattering of appearances at charitable events, and finally, he has his daily meetings on the golf course. When Edward and I see each other at the office he is courteous and polite. He doesn't hover in my personal space and he never mentions his schoolboy fantasies. In fact, he never says anything that could be construed as sexual or inappropriate. I'm thoroughly frustrated.
I watch him as he saunters down the halls in well-tailored suits that drape over his broad shoulders and hug his lean muscular frame. I secretly ogle his ass when he bends over to pick up something a co-worker has dropped. I find myself staring at my desk, picturing him bending me over it, my skirt raised as he roughly takes me from behind. My nights are spent with my bedroom door locked as my vibrator gets the most use it's had in the three years I've owned it. If this continues, I should buy stock in a battery company, at least then I'd get something out of it besides the brief respite of a self-induced orgasm.
"Bella? Did you hear me?"
I snap back to the present. Edward is watching me closely. "You seemed like you were a million miles away."
I affix a polite smile to my face and banish thoughts of how sublime he must look naked.
"I'm sorry. My mind wandered for a moment. What did you ask?"
"I thought perhaps you'd like to see the condo in person after all the work you did in getting the deal done."
Alone in his apartment? My eyes search his to check for any signs of impropriety but I see none. Edward immediately understands my hesitation in responding.
"I swear I'll be a perfect gentleman. I don't mean to make you uncomfortable. I apologize again for my behavior during those first few times we saw each other. I'd like to blame it on the fact that I was overwhelmed by the idea that you are single again but it was still inexcusable."
I lower my eyes, momentarily ashamed that I'm the one whose mind has strayed into lewd and lascivious thoughts, yet again. I need to get over whatever ridiculous cougar crush I've got on Edward Cullen.
I glance back up and give him my sincerest smile while I lie through my teeth. "Edward, please. I've forgotten all about that. Let's just pretend it never happened. I'd love to see the condo."
Edward nods, his eyes pierce me with their sincerity. "I just have to say this once though; I think your ex-husband was a fool. My mother told me he left you for someone else and I can't imagine why any man would cheat when he had the love of such a beautiful, intelligent woman. "
My smile fades. "Esme is always so tactful. She's made it into an art form. What your mother said was that he left me for someone else. She never mentioned if it was a woman or a man, did she?"
Edward's brow furrows as he recalls his mother's words. I can tell by the way his eyes widen a moment later that he understands what I'm implying.
"Oh God, Bella. I had no idea…" he begins but I cut him off. I've already heard it a thousand times.
"I know. It's fine, really. Trust me, I had no idea either. In fact, even Jake didn't understand what was happening to him at first. We were so young when we got married and he's never been someone you'd think of as gay. Even now, most people don't realize that Paul is his boyfriend and not just his roommate when they meet them. They're not effeminate at all."
I allow my mind to briefly linger on the first time I'd met Jake's co-worker and how hostile he had seemed towards me. I had written him off as just a short-tempered asshole, not a jealous lover. I laugh and Edward looks at me curiously.
"I was just thinking, when Jake told me, I didn't believe him. I remembering yelling at him that he couldn't be gay because he never matched his shoes to his belt unless I told him to do so."
Edward looks down at his pants and I realize that his shoes and belt always match. "Is that supposed to be a sign you're gay?" he asks. "Because I can assure you that is most definitely not accurate."
I'm mortified yet I can't stop the hysterical laughter that comes bubbling up from within me.
"I think men who have their clothes custom-made don't fall under the same rules as the general populace." I finally manage to re-assure him between fits of giggles.
My joke lightened the mood and I'm amazed at how far I've come since Jake and I initially separated. There was a time when I could never have imagined laughing at the circumstances that caused my marriage to dissolve.
Dinner passes with pleasant conversation and in no time I find myself standing in front of the floor to ceiling windows of Edward's sixth floor loft. The space is exactly as I expected: renovated opulence with modern appliances. I make sure to tell him that the view of the city and the sparkling water beyond is nothing short of breathtaking.
I turn just as Edward approaches. He stands at a respectful distance and points out different landmarks. I surreptitiously watch him as his eyes focus on the landscape outside. He's removed his suit jacket, loosened his tie and opened the top button of his dress shirt. A hint of stubble graces his otherwise smooth skin and I find myself fixated on the way his jaw muscles alternately tighten and relax as he speaks. I want to glide my tongue from his ear down to his chin then gently nip it before I kiss his soft full lips.
"Bella? Did you hear me?"
Shit, he's talking to me and I'm staring at him like he's something to eat.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I asked if you'd like to see the rest of the condo."
"Yes, of course." I respond automatically, burying my desire for him under a façade of respectability.
He gives me the grand tour. The building has the usual hallmarks of a converted mill- floor to ceiling windows, exposed brick walls, high ceilings, and wide plank wood floors. There's a large, open living area, state of the art kitchen, dining area, two bedrooms, two baths, and an office/library. I find myself in that room standing in front of a desk similar in style to my own at work though I can tell this one is made from sturdier material. Immediately my thoughts return to my fantasies of him bending me over.
"It's getting late, I should get going." The words rush out of me as I turn to leave the room. My hip catches a pile of papers on the desk and they go flying to the floor. In my haste to pick them up I bump into a low file cabinet and knock what appears to be a handmade antique sailboat to the floor. I curse as Edward laughs.
"Relax. It's just a boat."
He bends over and I get an eyeful. Before I can tear my eyes away, he's straightened up and turned around, catching me. My cheeks burn with embarrassment. I can tell by the glimmer in his eye that he knows I was leering at his tight behind. I freeze and stare back. My guilt fires every synapse and makes my stomach churn. He breaks our gaze and turns yet again to pick up the papers, knowing that his ass is once again in my line of sight.
"You don't have to worry about anything in here, Bella. I want you to touch whatever you want. In fact, you can do whatever you want. Do you understand?" Edward's voice is deep and slightly strained. He straightens up but keeps his back to me.
I nod even though he can't see me. I don't know how or when but I've taken two steps toward him. Some part of me should be screaming to stop, to get out of here before I continue on my current path but I can't find my voice of reason. There's no trace of my conscience as my hands snake out. I stroke the soft fabric of his dress shirt, my touch light as a feather at first. I press my fingers and can feel the solid frame of his spine as my hands travel further. It's so quiet, there's neither music nor the hum of electronics.
The only sounds are the scratch of my fingers against the cloth of his shirt, our increasingly rapid breaths, and my heartbeat pounding in my ears. I trace the muscles of Edward's lower back, traveling even further down. My hands continue below the line of his belt. The thin material of his pants doesn't mask the firm muscles beneath the soft flesh of his ass. I fully cup both cheeks and we each stop breathing. Edward reaches back with one hand and encircles my wrists as he turns. His eyes burn into mine as he pulls my hands to his chest.
"Do you want me?" he asks, his voice low but strong.
I lick my lips as I nod in affirmation. Every part of me is aroused by him. My entire body aches with desire.
"Then take what you want, Bella," he demands as he releases my wrists, making my role in this crystal clear.
I understand his implicit directive. If I want this to happen, I have to be the one to lead. I watch my hands tremble slightly as I flatten my palms against his chest. They move slowly over the hard planes of muscle hidden beneath the fine texture of his dress shirt. Edward exhales as I inhale, his breath as shaky as mine, a silent admission of his own fears and hopes. It gives me courage. I dare to raise my face and meet his hungry gaze. His head is bent toward mine. His lips are slightly parted yet he doesn't move any closer. Even so, the look of desire in his eyes tells me that he wants this as much as I do.
I rise up on my toes and close the slight distance between us. My lips slide effortlessly over his, top over top, bottom over bottom. For just a moment there is nothing but the softness of his skin before I feel the pressure of my kiss returned. Our mouths move languidly as we discover the taste and feel of each other. Lips part and tongues delve as his arms finally embrace me. In my fantasies, Edward always fucks me fast and hard but the reality is entirely different. The pace is languorous, the caresses are gentle. Hands cascade over curves as the ache for more gradually intensifies with each pass. At last, we break apart, breathless and wanting.
"Bella, tell me, please," he both demands and begs at the same time.
"I want you." I respond and those words have never been truer. I want him in every way possible.
I push him back toward his desk and pin him against it as I finally fulfill my fantasy of kissing and licking his angular jaw. My tongue and lips trace the path from ear to chin and back as he tilts his head back in acquiescence. I place one leg between his but my narrow dress prevents me from creating the friction I need so very badly. His hands settle on my hips as he pulls the fabric up from there, allowing me to spread my legs just enough to rub against his thighs. I still need more, I have to feel him.
"Edward, take your clothes off. Please."
One side of Edward's face lifts in a half smirk.
"Not here," he responds.
My confusion is evident. Was this some game to get me to admit I wanted him? He looks down at the desk on which we are half leaning, half mounting before his eyes meet mine. There is conviction in them.
"As much as I want to make my high school dreams a reality, I don't want it to happen in here tonight. There will be plenty of time for that later."
With that, he takes me by the hand and leads me down the hall to the spacious master suite I saw earlier. His large bed dominates the room and we're drawn to it. We stand before it in the semi-darkness as his fingers unhurriedly loosen and then discard his tie then begin a torturous path down the front of his dress-shirt. When it finally falls to the floor, my hands roam across his chest, exploring the dips and swells of muscle under the soft patch of hair covering his sternum. We kiss, our pace once again lazy as I feel his hands undo his belt. I hear the clatter of metal as the buckle meets hardwood. One hand automatically slides down to trace the indent at the juncture of his hips and thigh. I feel only skin and I know he is naked before me. I want to feel him pressed against me but instead he breaks our kiss.
"Your turn. Please."
A sudden wave of uncertainty hits me. I don't have a five hundred dollar a month trainer in addition to an expensive membership at an exclusive gym. Instead, I have a scarred, slightly round belly, the mark of my introduction to motherhood, as well as thighs that touch at the tops even when my knees don't. I didn't plan this so I'm not wearing fancy lingerie. I'm sure my underwear is cotton, not silk, and I'm not positive my bra and panties are even the same color, let alone match.
"Bella." Edward's voice pulls me back from the dark recesses of my mind.
"You're a beautiful woman. I'm not interested in girls. You are the one I want.
Reassured by his words and brazened by the dim lighting, I take hold of the ends of the tie on my wrap dress and pull. My dress pools to the floor, revealing my flawed body to him. His hands stroke and caress, each touch igniting my skin and extinguishing my doubts. My bra and panties are somehow discarded. We fall onto the bed and I can feel all of him. Our most intimate parts finally touch the other's skin and we both gasp at the contact, he's hard and heavy against my thigh. His head lowers to my chest allowing his tongue to encircle and lave one breast while one hand traces an identical path on the other. His other hand wanders lower, awakening every nerve in my body. I moan as the pull of his mouth combined with the feel of his fingers creates jolts of electricity which all collide and magnify. There is no part of me that isn't throbbing or quaking as a result of his touch. I return his soft caresses with long strokes until his head lowers even further and I lose the ability to function as his tongue finds long neglected places. I writhe and thrash against the sheets as the sensations build until I'm crying out as wave after wave of pleasure crashes down upon me. The rip of a wrapper reconnects my body and mind to the present. I open my eyes in time to see Edward hold the condom up between us.
"Okay? he asks.
"Yes," I answer honestly. "I want this."
I watch as he rolls the condom onto his considerable length. I cannot help but reach down and stroke him a few times before he moves to align our bodies. Although it has been a while, Edward's attentive touch has me ready. Any fears that he will not fit are vanquished as he pushes in effortlessly. He rocks his hips into me until he is fully seated. I push up as we set a steady rhythm of long strokes. He worships my body, his words of passion a hot litany in my ear. The angle changes and it feels so good. Our thrusts increase in speed and intensity as we both approach our climax. I fall over the edge first, moaning and gasping as another powerful orgasm rips through me. Edward curses and moans my name as he follows me moments later. We lie like that for precious minutes until he finally slips out and rolls off me. He disposes the condom and returns to lie next to me, his arm encircling me. His lips capture mine in a soft kiss while his eyes bore into me.
"Tomorrow morning I'm fucking you on the desk."
Our phones almost simultaneously buzz, signaling that we're both receiving incoming texts.
"Ignore it," Edward murmurs as his tongue sweeps over the outer shell of my ear.
It's been nine weeks since I first gave into my desire for him. Our relationship, for that is what this has somehow become, has defied my understanding at every phase. I was certain that it would be only a one-time thing; once we had each other, this crazy attraction would fade and we could put it behind us. But the one night became two nights and then more nights and more weekends followed, and I had to change my definition from one-time to short-term fling. Again, I assumed it wouldn't last long. Even though the sex was phenomenal, he would eventually grow tired and move on to someone closer in age and social station. Yet, we continued to spend more and more time together. It was no longer just sex but also dates to different places around the city and nights spent talking. Hearts opened, minds connected and eventually the words were spoken. Edward Cullen and I were falling in love.
Joint custody meant that my son spent every other weekend with his father as well as two nights during the week. At first I stayed with Edward only on the weekends without J.J. but then it progressed to the weeknights when J.J. was with Jake as well. Last month we crossed the significant barrier of actually introducing Edward to my son. I stood by in awe as Edward and J.J. bonded over Legos and baseball. Suddenly, Edward was more than my lover. He was my boyfriend. There was only one hurdle left; no one in either Cullen Conglomerated or in Edward's family knew about us. This was not because of Edward's wishes, but rather mine. Edward wanted to shout it from the rooftops but I did not share his positive attitude. I was sure that an announcement of this relationship would be met with suspicion and even outright derision by not only co-workers, but members of the Cullen family. I would be portrayed as the gold-digger trying to sleep her way into better pay and perhaps even a better life if I could manage to land the Cullen family golden boy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I didn't love Edward because of his wealth and potential power, but rather despite them.
Edward's phone rang but he steadfastly ignored the call. Instead, his hands swept over my bare flesh, leaving a trail of burning desire in their wake. His mouth played with my collarbone, nipping and sucking on the sensitive skin.
"Edward, at least see who it is. Perhaps it's important."
"It can't be so important that it needs to interrupt our lunch hour," he mumbles. "They can wait. I've got forty-five more minutes to ravish you." I can feel his smile against my neck.
"Thirty-five. We need to be back in the office in forty-five." I correct him but I'm smiling as well. These midday interludes are becoming more frequent, despite my fear that someone at the office will catch on. "You're turning me into a sex addict," I add.
"Good. That's been my secret evil plan all along," He jokes as his hand drops lower.
This time, it's my phone that rings.
"Don't," He warns but I hear the defeat in his voice.
"I have to. I have responsibilities," I remind him as I reach across the bed to grab my phone from his nightstand.
I miss the call but check the text. "It's the office. The verdict was reached. They want me back immediately. I'm sure yours says the same thing."
He groans. "Does it really matter? We always win and even if we didn't we'll just appeal."
"We can't appeal. This is the highest level, that's why it's called Supreme," I remind him as I attempt to slide out of the bed.
He holds on to my hip, his grip firm. "Then what's done is done. At least let me make you come. Please?" His fingers push into me as his voice drops to a whisper. "I love you."
An hour later I'm sitting in the large conference room surrounded by various vice presidents, the board members, our team of lawyers, and Floyd, Carlisle, and Edward. There is tumult and chaos, charged by disbelief and shock. Edward's voice rises above the others, his anger directed at his father.
"I can't believe you didn't tell me about the letter! You've known about it for months. That one document changes everything. We were supposed to have this in the bag and instead the entire future of Cullen Conglomerated is now in doubt."
"We were trying to have it thrown out as evidence. Its origins are unknown. We argued that it could be a forgery. There are no other supporting documents. We've scoured our own archives; we've executed our rights to examine their evidence. It's one piece of paper alone in a sea of otherwise opposing data." Carlisle's voice is calm but his face is tight with the tension we all feel.
Edward rises from his chair and begins pacing the length of the room. "A piece of paper, Dad? A personal letter from your grandfather to the CEO of the largest cigarette manufacturer in the United States outlining the known health risks of using certain additives in cigarettes- additives supplied to them by Cullen Conglomerated! They have us. We are caught red-handed giving cigarette companies dangerous products- poisons- that were used to make cigarettes even more addictive."
"The letter was dated fifty years ago Edward. We haven't done business with any of those companies or supplied those products to anyone else since the early 80's when my father took over."
Edward stops pacing and runs his hand through his hair in frustration. "We're still responsible! The studies show that people who smoked those particular brands were five times more likely to die of cancer than smokers who didn't use those brands. Five times more likely than other smokers! That's like ten times more likely than the general population! Women who smoked those cigarettes were eight times more likely to have children with birth defects. That letter confirms that our company knew that at the time and sold those products anyway."
"Again, there is no other document that incriminates Cullen. We have no idea where that letter came from and its authenticity could be neither verified nor disqualified by the forgery experts. It shouldn't have been allowed as evidence. Without that letter there is no other proof that the people here knowingly sold dangerous products," Carlisle reiterates but his voice doesn't carry the strength of conviction.
Our lead attorney Jenks clears his throat. "Unfortunately, the court did choose to allow the letter and the verdict cannot be appealed. I have made preliminary inquiries to our insurance carriers, but it appears they will refuse our claim based upon the criminal nature of the evidence."
"Criminal?" Edward's eyes open wide. He begins pacing again. "Are you saying we could go to prison?"
Jenks raises his hands in front of his pot belly in a reassuring gesture. "No, no! Of course not, Edward. As your father said, Cullen stopped manufacturing those additives decades before the present management was in place. In cases like this, the only course of action the court can take is reparation for the plaintiffs."
"Reparations which will most likely not be covered by our insurance company?" I ask, speaking for the first time since we entered the room.
Jenks acknowledges me with a nod of his head. "That's correct, Bella."
"When will we know the exact amount?" I continue.
"The court will determine the award within the next week. However, the prosecution has asked for ten billion."
"Ten billion dollars?" I repeat, stunned by the amount. I sit back in my chair. It feels as though the weight of that sum is pressing down upon us all.
Jenks simply nods again as we digest his words. It's one thing to study the domino effect in school, but another thing entirely to see it in action.
Five days later the Supreme Court of the United States conferred an award of 9.8 billion dollars to the claimants of Newton et al vs. Cullen Conglomerated. As expected, our insurance company denied our claim. Within twenty minutes of the announcement, the stock value of the corporation, only twenty-five percent of which was publicly traded, dropped from one hundred and twenty dollars a share to under two dollars. The Cullen trusts, which owned the majority of the stock, lost close to sixty million dollars in those few minutes. Within a week, we had closed all but one factory. Two thousand employees worldwide lost their jobs. Our product line was slashed, leaving only our signature brand of over the counter medicines. We can no longer afford to research new medicines so we sold the R&D division, along with several patents, to our chief rival, Volturi Pharmaceuticals. Although money was now precious, we met with marketing strategists to redesign our logo and image, in the hopes of saving our remaining product line. All the goodwill Carlisle had assessed through years of generous donations to charitable causes was destroyed as the press crucified the Cullen family, portraying them as blood thirsty monsters.
Those of us who worked for Carlisle knew that was untrue, but it didn't save most of the jobs. Headquarters was reduced to a skeleton staff of less than ten. I hugged a crying Shelly Cope as Carlisle helped pack her belongings. She had started in the secretarial pool back when typewriters were still common. Like many Cullen employees, her 401K plan invested heavily in Cullen stock. Shelly's retirement savings had been reduced to almost nothing.
Now, at sixty two, she was suddenly in need of a job. My assistant Floyd survived the cut but his assistant did not. Floyd took on more and more of my regular duties as I struggled to save Cullen Conglomerated from crumbling into dust. I was responsible for coordinating a court approved payment plan that would allow Cullen to pay the damages over the course of five years. We hoped that we could avoid filing for bankruptcy by doing so. Despite our wealth of assets, banks refused to loan us money under the premise of "doubtful future earnings forecasts." Within a month I had preliminary arrangements to sell ninety percent of the corporation's assets in order to cover the reparation payments. Carlisle and Edward made the difficult decision to sell the landmark skyscraper which had housed the corporation for over a century. We would lease back just one floor as our office space.
"Bella, do you still love me even though I'm only a poor millionaire instead of a wealthy billionaire?" Edward jokes one night as we lie in bed after an intense round of lovemaking.
I gently slap his arm before I massage his bicep. "You know I've never cared about that. I love you because you're a hot young piece of ass," I joke back.
"You are obsessed with my derriere, aren't you?" Edward smirks as he stands and wiggles for me.
"It's very nice," I respond as I lean forward and give it a good smack. I'm glad his mood has shifted. It's been a while since I've seen him this light-hearted.
"Nice?" he asks incredulously. "It's far more than just nice and you know it. You think I didn't see you checking me out every time I bent over?"
Despite the months we've been together, I feel my cheeks heat with embarrassment as I think back to my lust filled frustration when he first returned. Edward laughs as he climbs back onto the bed and hovers above me.
"I told you before; I had a secret evil plan. I had an epiphany that day Rosalie called you in your office – you remember?"
"Mmmm..hmmm. I do remember her call from Switzerland, complaining about phone service."
He continues as his lips softly graze my cheek before trailing down to my neck. "I realized then that I was being too aggressive and it was pushing you away instead of drawing you in. I wanted you so much and I knew you felt the attraction between us. You were only resisting because of propriety's sake so I played hard to get and it worked." He smiles proudly, like a little boy who expects to be rewarded for tying his shoes by himself. His smile is disarming, and it's been weeks since I've seen it so I can't help but return it with a wide one of my own.
"You cad! So am I to understand that you were bending over and hovering just outside my personal space on purpose?" I laugh as my hands roam over his body.
We kiss softly and slowly until he pulls back and gazes into my eyes. I'm overwhelmed by the love I feel and see reflected back at me.
"Absolutely. You were worth the wait." He strokes my cheek. "You have been my rock through this disaster. I don't know what I would have done if I didn't have you with me, fighting for me, for my family. I felt so guilty about what my great-grandfather had done. At first, I just wanted to give up and let the company be destroyed. It seemed like a small penance in exchange for the lives lost due to my family's actions."
"Hey!" I place a fingertip over his lips. "YOU and your family didn't create this problem. You weren't even aware of what happened fifty years ago. If we were all held responsible for what our ancestors did, the prisons would be full of innocent people and no companies would be in business. We will do everything to save Cullen Conglomerated and if we can't salvage it, you'll still be okay."
He kisses my finger. "How much cash is left in the trusts? I've been afraid to ask."
"You were right when you said you're a millionaire. There's about five left."
"Five million each? That's not so bad. We can re-build with that and then there's still the real estate." Edward continues to kiss my fingers and I find it hard to concentrate.
"No, I meant five million all together. Floyd has the exact numbers since he's been doing most of the bookkeeping. Your parents' trusts are worth two million and each child has about one million. That's still a lot of money Edward. I know you took a bad hit when the stock plunged but you're not poor and the family as a whole is still worth almost fifty times that when all the properties are included," I explain.
He nods. "Good. We can definitely sell some of the real estate if we need more cash."
He stops and I can tell something else is bothering him. His whole body tenses before he rolls off me. Our fingers are still entwined. He rubs my knuckles for a moment before glancing up to meet my eyes.
"Edward, what's wrong?"
"I want to tell my family about us. Bella, it's been almost five months and I'm tired of you treating our relationship like it's a dirty secret. I can understand if you don't want to be seen out in public with me given the negative press coverage, but my parents…" He trails off. "I know you originally were concerned about people seeing you as a gold-digger but there's hardly any gold left at this point. Even if there was, I don't care what anyone else thinks. We love each other and I want everyone else I love to know how much you mean to me. Please." His green eyes pierce my heart.
"I've never been ashamed of this, of us. I just couldn't believe that someone like you would want more than a fling. We're different ages, different classes…"
Edward makes a disapproving sound and I raise my hand, silently requesting that he let me finish.
"I know now that none of that matters to you and you're right, with everything that's happened no one could accuse me of trying to sleep my way to the top. I don't care about socialites or the press. I love you and I'm proud of the person you are. So, yes, we can tell your family about us. You're right. It's time."
"I can't believe you kept the same carrier as my mother even after you knew she had problems there."
"Well, when I signed the contract, Lugano wasn't really in my travel plans," I tease. "It's fine. We're almost home and the service should resume once the plane lands."
"I warned you before we left. Even Floyd agreed with me." He persists but I know he's not serious.
"There was no time to switch carriers and it's not as though I couldn't use your cell. As long as I could get in touch with J.J., it's fine."
I fiddle with my cell phone, eager to check in with my son once we're on the ground. Edward and I had decided to celebrate six months together by spending a long weekend in his family home in Switzerland. We were both eager to put the problems at Cullen Conglomerated out of our minds, even if it was only a temporary respite. Our mini-vacation among the snow-capped Alps had been perfect in every way and further cemented the increasingly apparent fact that Edward was my future. I couldn't imagine spending the rest of my life without him.
Now that his family knew about us, we had no other obstacles to worry about. I didn't think either of us was ready to commit to marriage yet but our path was becoming inevitable. I feel the plane's wheels hit the tarmac and moments later we are approaching our gate. I smile and take his hand in mine.
"I love you, Edward," I whisper before my lips flutter over his in a soft kiss.
"I love you too, Bella," he responds just as my phone beeps repeatedly indicating I have several texts.
I sigh, both with relief and annoyance. "Back to reality."
I check my phone and am surprised to see several messages from Floyd. Now that our relationship is no longer a secret, I had told Floyd of my weekend plans. I can't imagine why he'd be texting me when he knew I was out of the country. I read through the texts as Edward gathers our carry-on bags. None of them make any sense.
"Edward, what do you make of these texts? I think maybe Floyd sent them to me by mistake." I hand him my phone as we exit the plane and walk down the hall toward the gate.
He scrolls through and his expression is puzzled.
He reads one aloud I checked online and the transfers are complete.
Then another: They're on to us, don't come back!
And another: I got away; I'll meet you as we planned.
"Isabella Swan?" A firm voice asks.
I look up as I walk through the door into the terminal. A small group of people, some in suits and some in police uniforms are standing directly in front of Edward and me.
"Yes," I answer tentatively, sudden fear for my son gripping me.
To my utter shock, the man that asked my name steps forward, holding a pair of handcuffs.
"Isabella Swan, you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent; you have the right to…" My head swims as the detective cuffs me and reads me my Miranda rights. I have no idea what's happening or why. My purse and carry-on are confiscated as Edward demands to know what's going on.
"Mr. Cullen, your family is waiting for you downstairs. They can explain the situation to you. We need to transport Ms. Swan to headquarters for processing."
I finally find my voice. "What? I don't understand. I haven't done anything. I swear, Edward! Please, Edward!"
Two officers in uniform, one female and one male, begin forcefully walking me away from Edward. I can feel the eyes of everyone in the terminal on me along with the hush of whispers. Edward frantically follows us, shouting promises that he'll get me out of this. We reach an elevator and security won't let him on. As the doors close, the last glimpse I have is of him being restrained by two TSA officers, his face reflecting the fear and confusion I feel. I try so hard to hold it together and ask again for an explanation but get nothing but hard stares. I tell them my father is a police chief, hoping they'll see that I was raised as a law-abiding citizen. I ask for my phone call and again I get silence.
The doors open and I'm blinded by flashes of light.
"Isabella!" my name is shouted over and over again by strangers behind large lenses and bright bulbs.
"Where's your boyfriend?"
"Where's the money?"
The police lead me through the crowd of reporters to where a squad car is waiting outside. One of the officers is pressing my head down so I can't raise it even if I wanted to. I'm jostled and shoved as more questions I don't understand are hurdled at me. The door of the car opens and I'm suddenly pushed in without warning. I bang my head on the door frame and I know without seeing it, I'll have a bruise. I've always prided myself on being able to maintain my calm in tense situations but this is a whole new world and I'm scared. I can't fathom why I've been arrested or what they think I could have done that would merit so much attention. I don't see Edward anywhere. I don't hear his voice shouting for me and I can only hope that he'll be waiting with Jenks at the station.
"Ms. Swan, I'm Detective De Nali. Do you know why you're here?"
I look at the woman seated at the desk across from me. She's got that hard edge to her that screams cop. She's attractive with blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair but she's too intimidating to be described as pretty. I clear my throat.
"They said I'm charged with embezzlement and fraud. I don't understand. I've never taken so much as a paper clip from the Cullens."
She raises her eyebrow in such a way that I know she's already convicted me in her mind.
"The evidence against you is very solid. Your best hope at a getting a reduced sentence is to cooperate in this investigation."
"Sentence?" I repeat, incredulously. "I didn't realize there had already been a trial. I'm innocent. There's been a mistake."
She continues as if I haven't spoken. "You won't need to go through the trauma of a trial if you plead guilty. Tell us where your boyfriend is, testify against him, and we'll see what the prosecutor's office can do for you. These are federal crimes so you're looking at time in a federal penitentiary and I can assure you, the days of the country club prisons are long past."
I want to hold my head in my hands but I'm cuffed to the table. I look down at them and see the remnants of ink from when I was fingerprinted. I can't process any of this.
"My boyfriend? Edward was right there with me when I was arrested. I assume he is somewhere in this station waiting to see me."
Her lips curl in a derisive sneer. "You are something. I wasn't referring to the handsome yet gullible Mr. Cullen. I meant your real boyfriend, James Floyd. We have the texts and emails; we know you planned this together. You seduced Edward Cullen, stole his family's money and then planned to escape with your real lover, James Floyd. "
The air rushes out of me as though I've been punched in the stomach. It takes a second for me to piece it all together. No one ever calls my assistant by his full name. He is always just Floyd. My skin turns cold then hot as I realize that I've been framed. My brain spins in one direction while my stomach churns in another. I try to warn her that I'm going to be sick but I can get the words out in time. I turn my head and vomit all over the floor.
"I want to speak with Edward," I repeat for the hundredth time.
I have no idea whether it's night or day. I've been sitting here for hours while Detective De Nali and others grill me. When I'm allowed a bathroom break, a uniformed woman comes with me, her eyes never looking away. There is no privacy. I've been stripped naked and searched, including cavity searches, in what was the single most humiliating moment of my life. My forehead throbs from the bruise I got getting into the police car. I have no appetite, which is a good thing since my stomach is still swirling. I'm thirsty and my throat is still raw from when I threw up. However, I've refused water, having seen too many CSI episodes. I don't know why they'd need a DNA sample but I'm not taking a chance. I've asked for an attorney because the only ones I know are Jenks, who works for the Cullens, and my divorce lawyer, who would not be able to help me fight federal charges. I want my dad, I want my mom, my son, and most of all, I want Edward so I can tell him I've been framed. I can't imagine what he must be thinking.
"Mr. Cullen has been informed. He has no interest in speaking to you." Detective De Nali's voice is as cold and harsh as the look in her ice blue eyes.
My heart breaks just a bit more at her words. He believes the lie.
"Why can't you see I've been set up? James Floyd is the real criminal, not me!"
The door opens in a rush and a very young man in a sport-coat, tie and khakis walks in. He is tall and lean, with floppy blond curls framing his handsome face.
"Please don't say another word Ms. Swan. I'm Jasper Whitlock, your court-appointed attorney from the Public Defender's Office." He turns to address the detectives. "You know my client had already requested an attorney present. You cannot be in here harassing her without her legal representation."
"Go ahead and review the tapes, Mr. Whitlock. We've just been babysitting. We haven't asked her any questions since she requested an attorney. She's the one that won't stop demanding to see Edward Cullen. You've got twenty minutes." Detective De Nali and her cohorts rise and exit the room with a slam of the door.
"How old are you?" I blurt out, my voice sounds as raw as my throat feels.
Jasper Whitlock places his briefcase and another messenger bag on the table and looks up at me with a slight smile.
"I'm twenty-five and yes, I graduated from law school and passed the bar and I've tried cases before. Here." He sticks his hand in the messenger bag and pulls out a bottle of water. I hesitate to take it. "Another CSI fan? I assure you, this will not be used against you. I'm on your side. I'll personally dispose of the bottle at my home if you'd like."
"You're not from here?" I ask, noting his deep Southern drawl. I open the bottle and take a long pull. It tastes like heaven.
"I'm from Texas originally, but I've lived here for seven years. I don't mean to seem impolite Ms. Swan, but we only have twenty minutes before the van arrives to take you to your arraignment and we've got a lot of ground to cover."
"It's Bella, please. Just one more, what time is it?" I ask.
"It's a little after seven in the morning. Court opens at eight. And please call me Jasper, Bella."
I nod as Jasper sits down across from me. For the first time, I learn just how bad this situation really is. On Thursday, while Edward and I flew to Europe, all of the cash in the Cullen trusts were transferred to a bank account in Switzerland. The money was then withdrawn and the trail disappears. On Friday, Alice and Esme discovered their accounts were overdrawn. By Saturday, when I spent the day with Edward as he taught me to ski on the Swiss equivalent of a bunny slope, the investigation had started, culminating with my arrest on Sunday as we arrived back in the U.S.
"All of the five million dollars is gone?" I ask as Jasper gives me an odd look.
"The total was just under two hundred million."
I'm stunned. "What? That's impossible. After the stock crashed, the Cullens lost most of their liquid net worth."
Jasper sighs. "Bella, according to the records the police seized, in the past three months, you and James Floyd sold all of the Cullen properties except their home here. The house in Lugano closed the day you left Switzerland. Your signature appears on all of the documents."
My entire body shakes uncontrollably as another wave of nausea threatens to overwhelm me. "I didn't. I swear to God, I didn't. The documents were forged."
Jasper reaches over and gently taps my hand for just a moment. "I believe you. Unfortunately, the prosecution has a strong case. In addition to your signatures on the real estate documents, there are texts, emails, and other correspondence between you and James Floyd dating back as far as six months, indicating that you were romantically involved and that you planned this together for quite some time. Given that his whereabouts are unknown, you are considered a flight risk. I doubt the judge will set bail."
"What will happen to me?" I ask as I sniff, trying to hold back the tears that have been threatening all night.
"After the arraignment, you'll most likely be sent to the federal holding facility about forty miles south of here. There will be at least one preliminary hearing and then an actual trial, unless you plan on pleading guilty."
I shake my head as I finish my water bottle. The bile in my stomach still threatens to erupt at any moment.
"What happens if I'm found guilty?"
"You are looking at a sentence of anywhere from ten to twenty five years in a federal penitentiary with about two thirds of that to actually serve."
Jasper's words echo through my head as the room goes black.
I watch in both surprise and disappointment as the petite figure walks into the visitor's room at the detention center. I've have tried for two weeks now to get Edward to see me, just once. I want so badly for him to believe that I'm innocent. I'm convinced that if he just talks to me, he'll know how much I love him and that I could never betray him or his family. When I was told I finally had a visitor, I was hopeful that it would be Edward.
Alice sits down opposite me on the other side of the table. There is no glass separating us but I'm once again cuffed to the table. I'm glad I'm already seated so she can't see the ankle cuffs they make us wear when we have visitors. For all intents and purposes, the detention center is a prison. I have a single room, thanks to Charlie's connections, but other than that there are no creature comforts and no way to pretend this is something other than jail.
"Bella." Alice's hazel eyes are filled with sadness.
"Alice, thank you for coming." I pause and I can't stop myself, "Is Edward with you?" my voice breaks when I say his name.
Alice sighs. "This isn't a social call. I'm here to ask… No, to tell you to stop trying to contact him. Edward is… well he is taking this very hard. We all are. As if what happened to the company wasn't bad enough, we have no money left and we can no longer afford to keep our family home. Did you know that James Floyd stopped paying all our bills months ago? Credit cards, taxes, we owe far more than we have in cash. The property taxes on our house alone are over one hundred thousand dollars in arrears. Everything has to be sold just so we can eat and pay our bills. I had to move back from New York. My mom and I are trying to find jobs. Do you know how hard it is to find something when your degree is in Fashion History?!" Alice pauses and closes her eyes. . "I know that we still have more than some, and we are all healthy and we are all grateful for that. This isn't so much about us losing our money. Beyond all that, you broke my brother's spirit as well as his heart. Please stop torturing him. I don't know why you wanted to destroy us, but you have. Let him be." Alice stands to leave.
"Please, don't go! Alice! I swear; I was framed. I had nothing to do with this! Please, just like you, my life has been destroyed too and I don't know why I was set-up. I'm incarcerated, my son turned eight and I missed his birthday. He told me I must be a bad person if I'm in jail. I had to explain that sometimes bad people make it look like good people did their bad things." The tears well in my eyes. "Alice, I love Edward. He and my son are everything to me. What motive could I possibly have? Do you really think I would have left them for James Floyd? All I wanted was to be with Edward and J.J. Think about it logically. Please, if he'll just hear me out for a few minutes, I know he'll see the truth." I pull on my cuffs, chafing my wrists. I want to place my hands on her arm as I plead with her.
"I'll tell him what you said Bella. But don't expect him to come."
With that, Alice turns and leaves. I continue to write to Edward.
Late day sunshine streams into the visitors' room. It has been two weeks since Alice's visit. My knee shakes under the table as the buzzer sounds, the door opens and this time Rosalie walks through. The butterflies in my stomach drop in disappointment. I don't expect anything other than a tongue lashing from her. Rosalie stops and we stare at each other across the room. . As our eyes lock, the buzzer on the door sounds again. It opens and I'm drawn to the most beautiful sight in the world, Edward. My heart pounds in my chest as I drink in his presence. I take in the minute differences. His hair is shorter, his face looks pale and worn, yet his clothes are as impeccable as always.
I'm surprised to see Rosalie take his hand in hers as they make their way toward me. By nature, she is not an openly affectionate person and I interpret her gesture as protective more than reassuring. My nerves threaten to explode. I have waited so long for this chance and I don't want to ruin this opportunity. My eyes fill with tears and my throat closes around the lump that has formed there. I try to calm myself with a deep breath as they at my table and sit.
Although we are less than two feet apart, Edward will not make eye contact. He keeps his gaze affixed to the table.
"Edward…." I begin but I'm immediately interrupted by Rosalie, her teeth bared as she pronounces her clipped words in a harsh tone. She leans over the table, her face only inches from mine.
"Listen to me, you thieving whore we are here only to tell you one thing. Leave Edward alone. If you don't, we will ask for a restraining order and you will face even more charges. Nothing would please me more than to see you rot in jail forever. You have done enough damage to my family and I won't let it continue. Cullen gave you a good job with generous benefits; we took care of you through your pregnancy and your divorce. You had a nice middle class life but it wasn't enough, was it, you greedy bitch? You envied us; you resented us for being rich. You manipulated Edward and the rest of us so that you could destroy everything we had. We trusted you, we handed you the keys to the entire goddamn kingdom and you stole it! I'm sure you were behind the letter that damned Cullen Conglomerated. You had ample opportunity to plant evidence, didn't you? You knew Edward was the only one who might discover what you were up to so you seduced him. Edward was so busy chasing your skirt; he never noticed you were robbing us blind. It won't work this time. Edward isn't your gullible target anymore. Don't think you can convince us that this is some horrible mistake. We've seen the evidence. You are guilty and you will pay for your crimes."
Rosalie finally backs away. She was so close that I can feel spit on my face. I try to rub it off with my shoulder. A handkerchief appears in front of me. I look up and see Edward's arm extended toward me but his eyes are still cast downward. I take the handkerchief as best I can while cuffed and lean forward to wipe my face.
My voice is no more than a whisper as I hand it back. Edward's gesture forms a seed of hope that maybe he doesn't agree with Rosalie's unforgiving opinion of me. Rosalie huffs in aggravation.
"Let's go. There is nothing more to say."
"No. I want to talk to Bella alone for a moment."
My eyes fly up. Edward replaces the handkerchief and folds his arms in front of him in a stubborn signal of defiance. They argue for a moment before Rosalie huffs yet again and backs away toward the opposite side of the room.
Finally, Edward looks me in the eye and I'm paralyzed as I see the complete apathy in his eyes. The beautiful mischievous gleam that was the hallmark of his intelligence and charisma is gone. He is broken, he doesn't believe in our love.
He clears his throat before his velvety voice fills my world again for one final time.
"Bella, for the past month I have tried to figure out what was real and what was an act. The prosecutors allowed me to read the emails and texts between you and James Floyd."
He pauses to clear his throat again. He looks down at the floor and I unconsciously shift my feet under my seat, hiding the ankle cuffs.
He continues. "I went further than that. I had what's left of our IT department check the ISP addresses and I saw with my own eyes that those messages were sent from your work computer and your phone. There's no denying this Bella. I saw your signature approving the sale of almost all of our properties and the transfer of the funds from the trusts. You did it."
He stops, his hands wringing together before he runs one through his hair. My fingers ache to feel its softness.
"I could forgive you for that. In fact, I have forgiven you. It seems I never really knew what motivated you. I never understood that you hated us and that you thought we flaunted our wealth and I'm sorry we were the cause of such resentment. What I can't forgive is how you pretended to love me. You used me. I read it all, Bella. I read every email where you told James how you would close your eyes and picture it was him fucking you instead of me."
Edward places his elbow on the table and pinches the bridge of his nose. His shoulders shake slightly as he struggles to keep his composure. I'm stunned. Jasper told me about these emails but not the contents.
"Edward! You can't believe that I really sent an email like that! James Floyd must have somehow hacked into my computer. He wrote them. We've been together for six months. How can you even doubt my feelings for you? Does our love mean so little that you cast it aside the moment we face a test in our relationship? Why didn't you come to me as soon as the police showed you this supposed evidence?"
My voice is no longer nervous or timid. I'm angry with him. After all my early misgivings, I committed to our relationship only to have him trust Microsoft Outlook more than me?
"Bella, I told you I saw them all, including the one where you assured him that you always made me wear a condom so that he would be the only one really inside you."
I can feel the blood drain from my face. No one outside of the two of us and my gynecologist knew that I couldn't take birth control pills and that I didn't want an IUD. Edward and I went back and forth regarding the different options before deciding that condoms were the easiest choice. Edward's face is a picture of loathing as he echoes my thoughts, "How could he fake an email like that? How would he know what kind of birth control we used?"
I shake my head, unsure how this could be. I fish for ideas. "Maybe he eavesdropped on some of our conversations…"
"Bullshit! You fucking lied. I know now that you think I'm spoiled and conceited and that you couldn't wait for this game to be over so you could be rid of me. You said your only regret was that you wouldn't get to see my face when I found out that this was just a con."
Edward raises his eyes and his dead gaze pierces what's left of the pieces of my broken heart. I'm sickened by what he's told me.
"Well, you got your wish but it cost you the money and your freedom. Rosalie wants you to rot here. I want you to rot in hell." He rises from his seat and begins to walk away. It's over.
"NO! I was framed. Think about it! You can't believe what we have is a lie. I love you! What about J.J.? I'd never abandon my son. James Floyd is the one who did this, not me!" I'm frantic. I pull against the restraints and try to stand but it's no use.
Edward never looks back. The buzzer sounds as the door opens and then shuts.
"What about Floyd's assistant? Have you had any luck locating her?" I ask.
We are seated around a table in a small conference room. It has been six weeks since my arrest and the trial is underway. The prosecution has presented their case and it's clear that I will be convicted unless there is a miracle. Jasper, my father and I are desperate to find any shred of evidence that could prove my innocence. Charlie has taken a leave of absence to help.
"Victoria DuBois?" my dad reads her name from a paper in front of him. "She is apparently backpacking through Europe and can't be located. The police have named her as a person of interest in the case."
"She's a suspect?" I ask and a bubble of hope surges through my belly.
My dad looks up and my hope dies when I see the resignation in his eyes as Jasper responds.
"Not officially, but even if she does become a suspect, her guilt doesn't prove your innocence. The prosecution would argue that the three of you were accomplices. Our only chance would be if she were arrested and confessed but as of right now, we don't know if she was even involved. She was laid off with the rest of the company's employees, wasn't she?"
I nod. There is something that bothers me. I picture Victoria, a pretty redhead in her late twenties who always dressed in the latest fashions and kept her makeup perfect and her nails polished, airbrushed and jeweled.
"Dad, did you say she's backpacking?"
My father nods. "I spoke with her mother myself. She said that's why she can't get in touch with her. She doesn't have a cell phone that works over there and she only calls once in a while. Her mother was a little ticked she was staying in hostels and such. Said she had enough money from when she cashed in her retirement plan that she could afford to stay in nice hotels instead of living like a nomad."
I freeze. "Her retirement plan? All of us lost our money when the stock crashed. She had only been with the company for three years. How could she have enough to travel through Europe when people who worked for Cullen for forty years lost everything?"
My dad and Jasper exchange a look. "I'm on it."
Three days later, my father holds reports showing that Victoria DuBois had sold all of her Cullen stock one month prior to the Supreme Court verdict.
I examine the spreadsheets my voice rising in excitement. "She invested it all in Volturi Pharmaceuticals. That stock doubled when they bought the Cullen assets. She cashed out her plan a month later for close to fifty thousand dollars." I look up from the table. "Victoria had insider information about the verdict. Either she leaked that letter or James Floyd did it. "
"What about James Floyd's retirement fund?" Jasper asks.
"Floyd didn't have a 401k plan," I answer.
My dad huffs. "Yeah, because he knew he wouldn't need it if he was stealing two hundred million."
"And yours?" Jasper continues.
"My plan is probably worth a few thousand now. I lost almost my entire investment."
"There's more." My dad offers and Jasper and I turn our attention back to him.
"I tried to see if I could find any other relatives. DuBois's parents are divorced. Her father is a French national who has spent the past twenty-five years or so living in the Caribbean. He has a son, a Laurent DuBois, by his second wife. This Laurent DuBois seems to be a con-man. He has had several arrests but no convictions for crimes ranging from identify theft to counterfeiting. His specialty seems to be forgery. His whereabouts are also unknown."
"I know they're siblings but are they close?" Jasper asks as my excitement level rises.
"It seems Victoria spent her summers and school vacations in the Caribbean." Charlie flips over some pages and pulls a photo from the folder. A teenaged smiling Victoria is standing next to a cocoa-skinned boy with dreadlocks.
"This is him?" I ask.
"Do you have a more recent picture?"
Charlie pulls out a mug shot and I gasp.
"I've seen him at Cullen! He was there a few months ago, we were in the elevator together and I tripped getting on. He kept me from falling. He was dressed as a maintenance worker and I remember he had a West Indian accent." Maybe for once in my life, my clumsiness has done me some good.
"Was this before or after Victoria had been laid off?" Jasper asks excitedly.
I think for a moment. "After! Definitely after! I was in the middle of a project for the reparations payments when I needed to go to the archives. That's why I was in the elevator at that time."
I see a genuine smile cross Jasper's face. "That's good, Bella. This could be the break we need to throw some doubt on the prosecution's accusations. It doesn't prove your innocence but we may be able to get a hung jury."
Jasper turns to my dad. "We need to find these two. If just one confesses then the case against Bella crumbles."
I sit in front of my laptop in my office, trying not to look at the headlines scrolling along the bottom of the screen. The trial is over, Bella Swan is guilty and she is going to prison for a long time. James Floyd seems to have gotten away; there is no sign of him or a trace of my family's once considerable fortune. I need to focus on rebuilding – both Cullen Conglomerated and my personal life. I'm determined that I won't let what she's done fester and contaminate me. I glance down at the business card Detective De Nali gave me. She made it very obvious that she would like to be more than just acquaintances. I turn the card over and push it away. Seeing her would only remind me of how and why we met. I don't want that.
"Mr. Cullen?" I look up as Garrett, the lone surviving member of our IT department, knocks on my door. I wave him in.
He holds a file up. "A few months ago, you had asked about the security camera tapes and I told you they were erased and reused every twenty four hours."
I nod, remembering that brief flicker of hope that perhaps Bella wasn't lying, that maybe she really did love me. I'm an idiot.
"It seems that my assistant had ordered an additional cloud backup of the cameras due to some threats Cullen received during the lawsuit case. It was forgotten during the layoffs. All the camera records you wanted are there."
I swallow hard. "Show me."
It takes almost five days to weed through all the data for the past year. We find security recordings of both James Floyd and Victoria DuBois entering Bella's office when she wasn't there. It takes time, but thanks to the date stamps, we can prove that James sent the damning emails from Bella's computer. We can also tell when certain emails were accessed, including the private ones when Bella and I debated different types of birth control. We discover footage of Floyd and DuBois passionately kissing in a back stairwell on several different occasions. Lastly, there is footage of Laurent DuBois inside Cullen Conglomerated. I even see the moment Bella trips into the elevator. It unfolds exactly as she described on the witness stand. At the time, I had thought it was a desperate attempt to confuse the jury. While she was in the archives, he and James Floyd disappear into her office. I wish there was footage inside the individual offices but even without it, I know. Bella is innocent and I'm the worthless ass that didn't believe the woman I claimed to love. My girlfriend is in jail, her life destroyed, because I didn't have faith in her. I think of all the letters she wrote, begging me to trust her and how my reaction was to threaten her with a restraining order. I abandoned her.
It's two in the morning. I haven't showered in over a day, I haven't shaved in three but the only thing that matters now is freeing Bella. I arrive at the police station twenty minutes later. A sleepy Jasper Whitlock is waiting outside. We shake hands before I give him the flash drive with the security camera recordings.
"You need to see this."