All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.
Billionaire Edward Cullen has a chance meeting with a beautiful and enchanting young woman. Before he can get her name, she flees Driftwood Bar.
Isabella Swan needs help and has been frequenting Driftwood Bar in hopes of finding someone to help her escape her captor. She meets a mysterious man who offers to help her before even hearing her story.
From two different walks of life, or so it seems, they find the love in each other.
Chapter 1—A Chanced Meeting
There are chance meetings with strangers that interest us from the first moment, before a word is spoken.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
I hated coming to Driftwood Bar, but Emmett insisted I meet him for drinks since it was his birthday. And who was I to argue; it was his day. However, each time I came to the bar, I was hit on by at least three women, excluding the waitresses, and slipped countless phone numbers. I shook my head as exactly that happened—a number written on the napkin of the beer that was sent over to me—as I looked at my watch. Once the waitress was gone, I pushed the drink and phone number away. I didn't want it.
As usual, Emmett was running late, and that left me people watching. There weren't many patrons at this hour, for which I was grateful. In an hour, the place would be bustling with people drinking, dancing, and just being rowdy. I leaned back, sipping my glass of white wine, letting my gaze wander. My sight fell on a blonde tramp with a smoking cigarette in her hand. She was talking up a well-dressed businessman who seemed oblivious to her game—not that I had personal knowledge of the game. I'd just witnessed it so many times and recognized the signs—the way she brushed his thigh with her free hand, laughing at whatever he was saying—she was trying to get him in bed, nothing more. I idly wondered if she would snag her mark. I wasn't going to find out; a noise from the entrance had me turning my attention to it. The bouncer was throwing a teenager out; Jasper, who was the bartender and my brother—probably carded the poor kid, and Rosalie had a strict policy on serving minors: if you did it, you'd get fired. I'd lost count of the number of employees she fired for giving a drink to a minor.
I was starting to shift my gaze back to the bimbo and businessman when she walked in. I didn't know who she was, but my heart stopped the second my eyes landed on her. She was beautiful, and her gaze shifted my direction briefly as she continued to the bar. I was staring right at her, but it was like she didn't even see me.
My eyes stayed on her and Jasper soon approached, taking her order. I was immediately jealous of him. It was irrational, my jealousy, but for some inexplicable reason I wished it was me instead of him, my own brother, serving her. Jasper produced whatever she had asked for fast, not even carding her. Interesting! He wouldn't risk our sister's wrath, so I hoped it was water or soda.
Turning, she took a sip of the clear liquid as she leaned back against the counter and carefully looked around the bar again. I saw a flash of fear before it was gone, being replaced with relief. Was she in some sort of trouble? She was sure trouble—trouble for me. I didn't date much, and those I did take out wanted one thing: my money. I hated it and, as a result, I didn't approach, much less stare so blatantly at any female. Despite my reservations, I couldn't take my eyes off her and felt drawn to her as I had never been to a woman. I had to figure out what was luring me to move toward her, but I stayed where I was and continued to watch her. Angelic—the word came unbidden to my mind as I studied her face, oval and symmetrical, and a danger to any man. Crap, she's spotted me. Not caring, I met her eyes.
An enchanting blush stole across her porcelain skin, and her cute nose wrinkled in confusion when she glanced behind her and then back at me, a perfectly arched eyebrow raised in question.
I smiled. Yes, beautiful, I'm looking at you. With a boost of confidence, I was on my feet and walking toward her before I had even comprehended it.
"Edward, where are you going?" Emmett questioned as he sat at the table I was vacating, having finally arrived.
Ignoring him, I wove my way through the growing crowd and brushed off the hands of women who knew me. I kept eye contact with the enchantress. Her eyes widened as comprehension lit them, and her lower lip disappeared between her teeth. Apprehension began to appear, and she looked like a doe ready to bolt. I couldn't have that—I had to get her to relax.
"Hey, Jazz," I shouted when I was standing next to her. Noticing the cherry stem next to her glass, i leaned over the counter to grab a couple cherries for myself. As I bit into the sweet fruit, I watched the apprehension melt off of her face.
"Howdy, Edward, what can I get you?"
"Water, no ice, and shaken …"
"Not stirred," a timid and distinctly female voice said from beside me before a delightful giggle resounded from the same direction.
"… With a lime," I completed. I turned my head and winked.
She blushed again, averting her eyes to study the floor.
"None of that," I whispered, leaning close to her and reaching out to lift her chin so her eyes would meet mine. The boldness of the action was out of character for me, and the moment my fingertips touched her, a tingle reverberated up them and straight to my heart. A gasp slipped through my lips, but my hand remained frozen where I touched her.
Her eyes registered shock when they were once again connected with mine. I wondered what was going through her mind. And there was something in the way her coffee-colored eyes bored into mine; they were calling to me. I had no idea why I did it, but I closed the short distance and brushed my lips across hers.
"Get away from me," she pleaded against my lips, "before we get hurt."
I drew back and stepped away, putting more distance between us, looking at her. Confused I asked. "What do you mean? Are you in trouble? If you are, I'll help you."
Her eyes went wide again as she peered over my shoulder, and when she spoke, her voice was lower than a whisper.
I didn't hear her over the din of patrons filling the bar to near capacity. If it weren't for her shaking head, I wouldn't have known she was turning down my offer.
Her physical reaction to my offer said otherwise. Momentary relief—like I had answered a pray—washed over her features before she stepped further away from me. Turning on her heel, she ran. Her cocktail and purse forgotten on the counter.
Her purse. I picked it up and stuffed it under my arm. I didn't even think about using my special abilities to track the mysterious young woman; I just gave chase. My head whipped left and right as I searched for her. When I'd reached the entrance, I hadn't found her and the bouncer hadn't seen anyone exit since he'd thrown out the minor. She had to be in the bar somewhere. Slowly, I made my way back to the counter, still searching. No sign of her. It was as if she vanished into thin air. Settling myself on a barstool, I grabbed the drink Jasper held out to me.
"Did you at least get her name?" he asked in his slow southern drawl, leaning on the counter in front of me.
"No. But she left her purse." I waved it in front of his face.
"See if her ID is in it."
I sighed and tried to figure out how the godforsaken thing opened. Where was Alice or Rosalie when I needed them? It took me a couple of minutes to find the catch, but I finally got it to unfasten. A folded sheet of paper tumbled to the counter along with a driver's license. Isabella Swan of Forks, Washington, the license read. What was she doing in Seattle? Family vacation? I blanched when I calculated her age—she was only nineteen. The furthest thing from my mind was what she was doing at the bar. What did enter my mind was the fact that I had briefly kissed a teenager—I was thirteen years her senior and it didn't matter that I could legally do as I pleased with her. I picked up the paper and unfolded it, reading:
Help me, please. Jacob Black is holding me captive. He's here with me tonight. I've tried to escape on several occasions, but one of his men is always with me, and they're faster than me. I tried the police, but they're no help as they don't believe me. Please don't contact them or anyone in Forks. I have no family left, thanks to Jacob.
I swallowed hard, looking up at Jasper and then back down at the message. Jacob Black. He was as notorious as they came these days, but nowhere close to the reputation of Al Capone. Black was small fries compared to Capone, though growing in reputation. Black ran a trafficking ring—smuggling drugs and humans into the States. Last I heard, he was doing five years for human trafficking. How had Isabella gotten mixed up with him?
"What is it?" Jasper asked, drawing my attention away from the brief message I was staring at in disbelief.
I couldn't find my voice, so I handed him the note. Isabella had left her purse on purpose. Was this her way of asking for help? Or was she accepting my offer? What was the cost to her? Turning and looking around again, worry for her settled in me and I didn't even know her.
I blinked and looked back at Jasper. He was not one to curse, and every time he did, it came as a shock.
"She's been in here several times over the last two weeks. She doesn't speak other than to order a couple of glasses of water and ask for a few cherries. She drinks them slowly and then leaves. Not to mention, she's here shortly before the rush and disappears into the crowd after, I'd say, two hours."
I glanced at my watch. It had been only twenty minutes since she walked in and she was gone.
"Who?" Emmett demanded, joining me at the bar. His brows were drawn together and his lips puckered. He was mad that I bailed on him.
Jasper looked at me. I hadn't given him a name.
"The brunette you were ogling?" Emmett asked in a calm voice, the pissed-off look vanishing. He, like the rest of the family, wanted to see me find someone who made me happy.
"Yeah." I hadn't even noticed her hair color, just her and her beauty. "She needs help," I muttered softly, rubbing the back of my neck.
"It's you that needs help, man. What did you say to make her run?" Emmett asked, humor evident in his voice.
I could have any woman in this bar, but the one I showed interest in ran from me. Emmett knew this, as did Jasper.
The note passed in front of me as Jasper gave it to Emmett.
I once again couldn't find my voice at seeing the note. Her words were ringing in my ears: "Before we get hurt." She'd been worried that I would get hurt, that we both would get hurt. She'd sounded terrified as she said it. What she'd written—"He's here with me tonight"—hit me in the gut. I turned, scanning the bar for the face that had been plastered for weeks on the front page of every major newspaper across the nation.
"Hell, this is bad, Edward. You can't get involved," Emmett cried, making me turn back.
It was already too late. I was involved. I turned and faced my younger brother. Fear churned in my stomach; I was afraid for Isabella. "Em, I'm already involved. I told her I would help her before she bolted and before that note." I indicated the message he held. "I never imagined what kind of trouble she was in."
Emmett ran a hand over his face. "Hell!" His hand ran over his face again. "I've got your back. How can I help?"
I did a double-take. Emmett wanted to help.
"I don't have the slightest idea. We need more information."
"Got a last name?" he asked.
"Yes." I gave him the driver's license.
"I'll run her and see what I can find. Given her age, I might not find anything."
He wrote down the information on a bar napkin before handing me her license back.
"You know, there's a chance she'll be back tomorrow," Jasper whispered, conspiratorially. "Alice will be tending the bar, maybe …"
"Oh no. We're not getting Alice involved," I hissed as my brows drew together.
Jasper held up his hands, palms facing me. "We don't have to tell her anything, and we don't have to ask for her help."
Emmett and I glared at him. What was he trying to say?
"Alice has a way of getting people to open up and talk," he said pointedly.
"Your point." Emmett growled, actually growled, and slammed his hands hard on the bar top, causing several glasses to rattle.
"Let Alice be herself and maybe Isabella will share her woes."
Jasper was an idiot at times, but he did have a valid point. Alice was a talker. And the only way she would shut up was if someone freely shared something with her. It was worth a shot, but I had another idea and it might stand a better chance of working.
~ L.C. ~
I was at the bar earlier than normal, which was odd for me; I never came to the bar twice in the same week. I chose to sit in a dark corner, working on my laptop, to keep anyone from approaching me. It was my hope that Isabella would arrive before the rush like Jasper said she always did.
Alice kept glancing over at me but had yet to come over. However, and much to my disappointment, the female servers approached. My laptop wasn't going to save me from them. They all wanted the same thing—a date—which wasn't going to happen.
I glanced at my watch then back at the bar, and Isabella was just sitting down. It took all my willpower not to get up, saunter over, and order a drink like I had last evening.
With a hand motion from Jasper, Alice approached Isabella and took her order. I had expected jealousy to sweep over me again at my sister assisting her, but nothing of the sort happened. Alice looked to Jasper and he nodded at whatever she asked, pointing to the box under the cash register. A glass of water was soon set in front of Isabella along with her purse and a few cherries.
I smiled when Isabella opened the clutch. Her message was no longer inside. Unbeknownst to Emmett and Jasper, I had slipped my business card inside—my message—with my personal cell phone. She left the water untouched, got up, and walked toward me. I furrowed my brow in confusion, but she didn't see me as she continued to the short hall that led to the restrooms.
My business cell rang two minutes later, flashing my personal number. She'd understood my message.
"Hello, Isabella," I answered with a smile.
"Is this Edward?" she asked in a whisper, her tone tinged with fear.
"Yes," I replied.
"How are you?" I asked.
"Scared. He's meeting me here. I think he knows I'm trying to get away from him."
"How did you meet him?" I followed her lead by not using Black's name; there was no telling who was listening.
My hand balled into a fist as Jasper set a glass of white wine in front of me. He eyed me curiously but said nothing as he went back to the bar.
"They've been gone for three years. He either put a hit on them or killed them himself. Either way, my parents are dead."
"You?" I needed to know she wasn't being abused by Black.
"Unharmed," she said with a quiver in her voice.
Like hell! She wasn't unharmed. Physically she wasn't, that much I could tell from last night and before she went to the restroom, but emotionally—I shook my head. There was no way.
"Isabella, do you really believe that?" I asked.
"I don't know what to believe anymore." She sniffed. "He has me terrified of my own shadow."
I pinched the bridge of my nose. I wanted to kill Black. No one deserved to live in constant fear. I had to think of some way to help her and fast. Looking up, I saw Rosalie walk past me. Emmett was going to murder me, but unless another option presented itself, I'd have to take Isabella to Rosalie until closing time. I closed my laptop and slid it into the case next to me. "I want you to do something for me."
"What?" she asked, with a hint curiosity mixed in with her fear.
"When you leave the restroom—"
"How do you know where I am?" There was panic in her voice.
"I'm at the bar and have been for some time, waiting for you to make an appearance."
"I've—I've got to go," she said suddenly, ending the call.
Shit! I realized my mistake right as it left my mouth. I had to act fast. Motioning to Jasper, I left my laptop bag on the table. He'd get it and secure it behind the bar. I was outside the restroom door when it opened, and Isabella stepped out.
"I'll be the first to admit that I'm an idiot," I said, reaching a hand out but not touching her.
She shrieked, jumped, and backed away from my outstretched hand, dropping the cell in the process. It crashed to the floor, pieces going every which way. The phone didn't matter; she did.
"I don't work for him," I added, my hand still out for her to take or not.
I let out the breath I didn't know I was holding the moment she took hold of my hand. Drawing her slowly to me, I recited a spell to conceal the both of us. I wrapped my arms around her and smelled strawberries in her hair as I hugged her closer to me. "You can trust me. I won't hurt you," I whispered against her hair.
Someone yelled in the main part of the bar. Isabella stiffened in my arms. She had no way of knowing no one could see us.
"He's here, and he's mad that I'm not obediently waiting for him," she whispered as she started to shake. "I can't go out there."
"Did anyone see you come back here?" There was calm in my voice, and Isabella relaxed some against me.
"No. The guy he has on me today is a little absent-minded, and once he starts drinking …" She trailed off.
I knew what she was saying. Quite a few of my associates were like that. They got scatter-brained after two or three drinks. Okay, there was no avoiding it; I needed Rosalie's help. My earlier thought about Emmett murdering me came screaming back into my mind. I chose to ignore it and swept Isabella up into my arms. I walked straight up the roped-off stairs and, after removing the concealment spell, into the owner's office, startling Rosalie.
"Edward!" Rosalie screamed. "So help me, if you're about to kick me out of my office so you can—"
"I need your help," I said, cutting her off. I cradled Isabella closer to me. "This is Isabella. She's in trouble. One of your patrons was harassing her. I found her in tears in the hall." It was a lie but far better than telling Rosalie the real reason I'd brought the girl to her office.
"Oh, sweetie," Rosalie cried when I sat down on the plush leather couch. Isabella had left my embrace the moment I sat and was sitting next to me. "Did the person hit you?"
Rosalie sat on Isabella's other side.
"No," Isabella answered in a low voice. "He threatened to kill me."
I drew in a sharp breath at the same time Rosalie did.
"Edward, call down to the bar and see if Jasper or Alice witnessed or heard anything. If they did, call the police," she instructed as Isabella collapsed into her open arms.
"I'll go down, instead," I said, getting up. I closed the office door behind me.
Emmett was just coming up the stairs. I was soooo dead. "I figured out how you can help with the Isabella situation, other than running her name," I said before he could ask me why I was coming out of his wife's office.
"And what would that be?" he asked, following me back down when I pushed past him.
"Don't kill me."
"Why … Rosalie's involved!" he roared.
"No, not in the way you're thinking. I had to do something. Isabella is with your wife." I turned, facing my younger brother who towered over me from his position on the stairs. He was slightly taller than my six feet, two inches, standing at six feet, five inches, and from the second step he was a good head taller.
Emmett descended and took purposeful toward me as I back away. "If she gets hurt, you're dead. Understand?" he asked through clenched teeth, his hands balled in tight fists.
I swallowed and nodded. If our roles were reversed, I'd be just as mad. I turned and continued on my way to the bar with Emmett following.
"Why is she with Rosie?" Emmett asked when we were at the bar.
"Jazz," I shouted, briefly ignoring the question.
"Edward, what's going on?" Alice asked, coming over when Jasper didn't. "You're never here this early, and then you disappear. Plus, I know you were here last night. What's up with you?"
"I needed to talk to Rosalie," I lied, knowing Emmett wouldn't call me out. "Now, Em and I need to talk to Jasper about something."
"Okay," Alice said, her brow furrowed and her lips turned down, a drastic contrast to her usual smiling face. "I've got the bar, Jazz. Take a break."
Jasper looked over his shoulder just as another yell came from somewhere in the crowd. "You lost her, Embry. I'm going to kill you."
A patron shouted "gun" and the bar was in chaos a second later. I dropped to the floor, like many of the patrons had done, slowly making my way around the edge of the bar.
Two shots rang out as I heard Emmett telling a dispatch operator what was going on, his shield number, and the address of the bar. "Shots fired," Emmett whispered. "Send medical and backup."
Emmett pulled his ankle-holstered gun and passed it to me, drawing his sidearm a second after I had the Glock in my hand. He popped up and shouted, "FBI! Drop the weapon."
A wild shot had Emmett ducking. "Stay here, Edward," he said before giving chase, following whoever had fired.
"Is everyone all right?" Jasper shouted from atop the counter in the eerily quiet bar.
No one answered.
"Police and medical teams are on their way. Everyone will need to stay," he continued after another moment.
I stood and looked around. Disbelief and fear were written on all the patrons' faces that I could see.
"Get Rosalie, Edward," Alice instructed.
I nodded and rushed back to her office, my task forgotten. "You're needed downstairs," I said the moment I entered. "A patron was shot."
Rosalie nodded. This wasn't her first time through a shooting. She released a trembling Isabella and walked out of the office. I trusted she'd send the cops up if they needed my statement or Isabella's.
"Jacob?" Isabella questioned the moment I sat next to her again.
"I can't be sure, but I think so. Does the name Embry mean anything to you?"
She nodded, bringing her knees up to her chest, hugging them. "I liked when he was assigned to escort me places." She wiped at her face. "Embry was nice and let me go off on my own, though I knew he still followed me. He was trying to help me get away," she said in a rush.
I wrapped my arm around her shoulders, barely registering the fact that she flinched at the contact. I didn't know what to say that would comfort her. We sat in silence for nearly a half hour before a knock came at the door and Rosalie escorted two officers into the room. I reluctantly let go of Isabella, going to one side of the room with one officer while the other talked with Isabella.
"Were you in the bar when the shooting happened?" the officer asked.
"Yes," I answered before going over what I had seen and heard.
"What's your relationship with the young woman?" he asked, motioning to Isabella with his head.
"I met her here last night. She and I bumped into each other again tonight and got to talking," I said. It was the truth, and they didn't need to know everything. "She started crying and I brought her up here to my sister-in-law, thinking Rosie would be able to help."
"Okay. I think I have everything I need from you, Mr. Cullen. I'll be in touch if I have more questions." He handed me his card. "Don't hesitate to call if you remember anything more."
I nodded as the officer's partner came over to speak to me. "Marie says you're a friend."
Marie? My eyes went to Isabella. She was again sitting on the couch with her knees drawn to her chest. "I am."
"She's afraid to go home by herself, and we still have a lot of statements to take."
"I'll take her home. Better yet, she'll be staying with me."
The officers nodded and followed Rosalie back downstairs. Rosalie returned a couple of minutes later with two bottles of beer and a Coke.
"You don't look old enough to drink," she said, offering Isabella the Coke.
"I'm not," Isabella said with downcast eyes, accepting the offered drink. "I turned twenty today."
"Well then, happy birthday," Rosalie said, saluting Isabella with her beer.
I did the same and downed my beer fast. "We should get going," I said, kissing Rosalie's cheek. "How long will the bar remain closed?"
"At least three days, maybe longer. I'll call my insurance company tomorrow. They'll let me know when I can reopen."
"Let me know if you need any help with cleaning up."
I offered my hand to Isabella. With a sad smile she accepted it.
Once we were in my car and driving away from the bar, Isabella spoke. "I don't have anywhere to go."
"You're coming home with me."
"I couldn't impose."
"It's not an imposition," I replied. It didn't even dawn on me that this was out of character for me. I never took a virtual stranger home for the night.
"I'll take your couch, then."
"I can't let you do that. You'll sleep in one of my guestrooms."
"A real bed," she muttered in awe.
I didn't think I was meant to hear. Glancing over at Isabella, I saw there were tears glistening in the corners of her eyes.
"Thank you, Edward," she said in a small voice. "It's been a long time since I've slept in an actual bed."
It was a good thing we were stopped at a light. I was starting to see red again. What had the bastard done to this sweet girl? "Where did you sleep?" I asked, trying to remain calm. I'd have to go for a long run once I got Isabella settled. Hopefully, Ms. Cope would stay until I returned.
"On a chair or couch, every so often in the bathtub—really anywhere I could find that was out of the way," she said with a wave of her hand, her voice devoid of any emotion, like it should have been obvious to me.
My hands tightened on the steering wheel. She slept in a goddamn bathtub! What else had befallen her and for how long? "When was the last time you slept in an actual bed?"
I heard her swallow. "Three years," she whispered, covering her face with her hands as her shoulders started to shake.
I groaned and pulled into an empty parking lot. What was with me and putting my foot in my mouth around her? First, by saying I had been waiting for her; and second, forgetting that her parents died three years ago. "Come 'ere," I said after shifting the car into park.
Isabella collapsed against me, clinging to me as tears wet the front of my dress shirt.
"Like I said, I'm an idiot," I whispered against her ear. "I didn't think before I spoke. I'm sorry."
I stroked her hair and the strawberry scent I smelled earlier assaulted me. Leaning down, I inhaled. It was intoxicating the way the fragrance clung to her silky tresses.
When I pulled back and looked down, she was gazing up at me. My breath caught in my throat. Even with a tear-streaked face she was every bit the angelic beauty I thought she was the previous evening. I lowered my head, my lips grazing hers in a feather-light caress.
She shivered in my arms.
"I won't let anyone hurt you ever again," I whispered in promise.
"You can't mean that," she said, freeing herself from my hold.
I blinked. What had I said now? I felt like hitting my head against the steering wheel repeatedly when I recalled what I'd said. Did I mean it? "I do. I'll protect you from Jacob."
Isabella shook her head. "No. I can't let you."
"I offered you my help last night." I pointed out. "Your note said you needed help. Well, love, help found you."
"It was a mistake for me to elicit help from a stranger." There was alarm in her voice again. "What happened tonight was my fault. He always gets clingy when he thinks he's going to lose me."
"The shooting wasn't your fault. He chose to carry a gun. He chose to use it. He'll face the consequences for his decisions."
"Still, it's my fault. Had I been waiting where I should have, it would have never happened."
"You don't know that for sure," I said in a soft voice, cupping her cheek and caressing it with my thumb. "He could have found another reason to draw his gun out, and it still wouldn't have been your fault."
"You might be right, but I think you're wrong. It was my fault."
I sighed. "How about I tell you some things about me," I said, letting my hand drop from her face.
"I'd like that."
I extended my hand. It seemed a little silly to be introducing myself after I had briefly kissed her twice, but I had to start somewhere. "I'm Edward Cullen."
A/N: Comments and reactions are most welcomed.