So, none of this is mine. I wrote the first chapter for a contest and now, I’m expanding it. What I own … a condo and too many books. What I don’t … Twilight and all its characters.
Up next will be the conversation with Dr. Rivara, Bella’s advisor, along with the shopping trip and preparations for the Black and White Ball. Not to mention, we’ll hear from Edward as he tries to understand his feelings. Plus, he’s going to do some shopping on his own.
I was sitting in my office, looking over a business plan for a new club. It seemed promising, opening in a nearby warehouse. It was playing off the recent popularity of mainstreaming BDSM lifestyle. “Bound and Gagged” had themed rooms, a dance floor and a private, VIP lounge with sultry performers giving demonstrations about the life. It was so outside the norm, but cutting edge in the same respect. The business plan was primarily for the club, which would be open to the public. The private lounge would be for members only and would not be open to just anyone. Members would have to be vetted before even considered entry into the lounge.
I liked it. I liked it a lot. This idea had my approval. I was in the process of making the funds available for the investment so they could break ground on construction.
“Edward, your father is on line one,” Angela chirped over the intercom.
“Oh, goodie,” I deadpanned, picking up the phone. “Hello, Dad.”
“Son,” Dad replied. “Your mother said you found someone. A date? Or the one?”
“Right now, she’s attending the benefit as my date. Mom ‘met’ her,” I chuckled, running my hand through my hair.
“Met her?” Dad chuckled. “She said that this girl was snoring in your arms.”
“Bella was in an accident and she had to take a pain pill,” I explained. “And she wasn’t snoring. Drooling? Maybe, but not snoring.”
Dad’s chuckles turned into a full-blown laugh. “So, when are we going to meet her? Surely before the benefit? That’s in a few weeks!”
“I know Mom said she wanted to take Bella out shopping for a dress for the benefit. I think that would be awesome since Bella probably doesn’t know what to expect for this benefit,” I said. “Maybe, after the shopping excursion, we could go out to eat.”
“Or you could come over for dinner at the house,” Dad suggested.
“Or that,” I snorted. “Let me talk to Bella. She’s at a meeting with her advisor right now and she’s got classes this afternoon. She’s a graduate student at Northwestern.”
“Beautiful and smart,” Dad mused. “Already a step above the Denali sisters. They’re pretty, but in a whorish-way. And I think between all of them combined, they have two functioning brain cells.”
“Kate’s pretty smart,” I said.
“Edward, she thought that the Battle of Yorktown happened in Lombard at the Yorktown Mall,” Dad retorted.
“Never mind,” I snickered. “I take that back and I think I lost a few brain cells admitting that I thought Kate was pretty smart.”
“Well, sooner the better when it comes to dinner, Edward. Your mother misses you,” Dad said.
“What about you, old man?” I quipped.
“Meh,” Dad said airily.
“Asshole,” I snorted.
“I know,” he replied. “I’ll talk to you later.” I hung up the phone, turning back to the business plan and making a few suggestions. When I was done, I asked Angela to schedule an appointment with the owners to discuss my changes before they begin construction for their club. When I was done with that, I went to the private dining room and saw my brother. He was talking to his assistant, a recent college grad, Jessica Stanley. He was laughing and picking up his plate, going to sit down. However, when my brother looked up at me, his eyes grew cold and he turned to leave, tossing his plate on a table.
Oh, hell no.
He’d been avoiding me since that incident with Quil. This shit ends now. I blocked my brother’s exit. He was bigger than me, stronger than me, physically, but I was the older brother and I was not going to be ignored. “Emmett,” I said. “A word?”
“Nope,” he said curtly. “I’ve got an appointment.”
“Yeah, with me,” I said, grasping his bicep. I glared at him. “Don’t trifle me, Emmett. We need to put this behind us. We can do it in the privacy of my office or here in the dining room.”
“You’re an asshole, Edward,” Emmett sneered.
“And I know that. I don’t want to make you look like a chump in front of our employees. I will, though,” I hissed. Emmett gave a tight smile to the crowd in the dining room. I slung my arm around his shoulders and guided him to my office. I closed the door, watching as Emmett fell down on to the leather sofa inside. “You know that I’m still your boss, right?”
“Something that you remind me of daily,” Emmett said. “You can be my boss, but we don’t have to interact.”
“What the fuck?” I snarled. “We’re brothers, Emmett.”
“I don’t know, Edward. You think I’m a pussy,” he yelled. “Just because I don’t resort to violence when it comes to our other line of work. Ever hear of the adage … you can catch more flies with honey then with vinegar?”
“I have, but in our line of work, you can’t molly coddle our enemies. Are you pissed because I killed that punk? If I had let him go, he would have been … it would have been catastrophic. He would have told his brother, his crew, our enemies, who we were, where the warehouse was and whole other slew of bullshit. I hate having to resort to violence, but it’s reality of our lives.”
“It doesn’t faze you, Edward,” he muttered, leaning forward and glaring at the throw rug. “Did you get sick about killing that kid? Or any of the other guys?”
“The first time I killed someone, I was violently ill, Emmett,” I said, leaning against my desk. “Dad was with me and he was adamant on teaching me a lesson. It was a mistake that I’d made and that mistake resulted in me killing a boy, just a few months older than me. I thought I was going to die. That my heart was going to fall out of my chest because of what I’d done. I was crying like a baby as I pulled the trigger. When Dad forced me to check for a pulse, I threw up all over the kid and I ran from that room, wanting nothing more than to pull the trigger on myself. Dad kept me calm and he talked me down. His team cleaned the mess and I was a murderer. Was this something that I wanted? Fuck, no. But, it’s our lives, Emmett. You’ve killed.”
“I have and I’m surprised that I haven’t shriveled up,” he said. “I’m not like you or Dad, Ed. You guys can turn on and off your killer instinct. One second, you’re charming and endearing. In the next breath, you could blow a hole into some guy’s knees. I can’t … that’s not me! I can’t even fathom going near Rose, or Mom, after I’ve done that.” He ran his hands through his cropped, curly hair. “No wonder Dad wants you to lead the family. You’re as cold as ice.”
“Only when I have to be,” I shrugged. “I don’t like any more than you do, but I’ve learned to deal with it. I only do it when it’s absolutely necessary.”
“Which seems like all the time with you,” Emmett spat. I arched a brow. “Sorry.”
“Imagine something happening to Rose. If someone attacked her, hurt her, threatened her or your family? You have the means, the power and the drive to vindicate her. What would you do? Leave it in the hands of twelve jurors or put that animal down?” I asked simply.
“I’d rip out their throats. No one touches my Rosie,” he hissed.
“You have that killer instinct, too, Emmett. But, yours is attached to your need to protect your family,” I offered. “Rose, Mom, Dad, or me, if something happened to one of us, you’d kill. Right?” He nodded. “I’m doing the exact same thing, but in a different context.” I sighed. “Emmett, we’re family, brothers. We’re supposed to be close. I’ve extended olive branches, but you keep me at arm’s length.”
“I know,” he muttered.
“Because I know I’m not good enough,” Emmett said, looking up at me. “Dad thinks I’m soft. Fuck, so do you. Rose wears the pants in our relationship and I’m a joke.”
“Emmett, you’re good enough. Your strengths are in this realm, our legitimate business,” I said, gesturing to our office. “It was your idea to include the real estate aspect to the company. Look how much business has boomed! Emmett, I love you. You’re my brother. The only one I’ve got. I’d kill for you, anything to keep you safe.”
“That’s true brotherhood,” Emmett snorted, looking up at me and smirking. “I feel the love, brother.”
“Eh, well, I’m working on the mushy stuff,” I shrugged.
“Mom said you met someone and that you’re protective of her,” Emmett said. “Does she have a name?”
“Bella,” I said, grinning crookedly.
“Damn. My big bro is grinning like a teenager in love. Where did you meet her?”
“At The Swan Dive. She was a server there. We went out a date and things are progressing from there,” I said, my grin widening. “Anyway, she was in an accident and her apartment was broken into. She’s staying with me for the time being.”
“Sweet,” Emmett chuckled. He groaned and he reached into his pocket, pulling out his cell phone. “Cullen.” I listened to him as he spoke with Jessica. “I’m on my way. And order me a cheese burger from that greasy spoon on Wabash … The Swan Dive. I want to check out how good their food is. Thanks, Jess.” He ended the call. “Duty calls. I’m sorry about being a douchetard, Edward.”
“I’m sorry about pushing you too hard,” I shrugged. “Things have been quiet and will probably stay that way until we get the new shipment from Russia after the first of the year.”
“We also need to interrogate Quil’s brother. If he’s ever found,” Emmett grumbled. His phone vibrated again. “Later, Ed.” He opened the door, barking into his phone. “WHAT?!”
I snickered, walking back to the dining room and getting myself some lunch. Unlike my brother, who could eat cheeseburgers and fries all the time, I had to watch what I ate. Yes, I liked to indulge, but I had to be careful. I inherited my grandmother’s bad cholesterol problems. Working out, eating right and maintaining a healthy lifestyle helped, but it would always be something I’d have to watch. Besides, eating five of Bella’s interpretation of Nonni’s cookies for breakfast was not a smart decision.
I’ll be adding an extra mile, or two, in my evening workout.
Sitting outside of my advisor’s office, I was idly playing with my new phone and bouncing my legs anxiously. Dr. Rivara’s door opened and she smiled at me. “Isabella, please! Come inside,” she said, guiding me into her office. “Would you like something to drink?”
“No, thank you,” I said, taking a seat at her desk. “Thank you for meeting with me.”
“How are you feeling?” Dr. Rivara asked. “I can see you’re still pretty bruised. Any dizziness? Headaches? Fatigue?” Dr. Rivara was a practicing psychiatrist, as well as one of the head of psych department at Northwestern.
“I’m okay. I get tired quickly and my head hurts if I look at computer screens too long, but I’ll survive,” I shrugged. “I’m sorry about missing most of last week and for the drama with Dr. Gerandy.”
“Oh, please, Gerandy is an asshole,” Dr. Rivara snorted. “He thinks that all students are entitled little shits, especially if anyone receives special treatment. With your concussion, he believed you received special treatment and he wanted to stick it to you. He’s been dealt with. Another professor, Dr. Banner, will be leading your independent study in stats. Also, I wanted to talk to you about continuing your studies. You are one of the best and brightest in the program. I know that you’re planning on getting your masters, but would you consider continuing and getting a doctorate? We’d help.”
“Wow,” I breathed. “I can’t even … Can I think about it? I hadn’t considered the possibility. I know I’m only halfway through my program.”
“Of course,” Dr. Rivara smiled. “Now, I want to talk about some internship possibilities. I know you’re working with that shelter, but I think you need some more clinical hours. I have a partner, a colleague who is a therapist, not a psychiatrist like me. She’s looking for an intern. Paula is willing to work with you and your constraints of being a student. I took the liberty of looking at your schedule and she came up with some options.”
Dr. Rivara slid a piece paper across the desk. It was significantly less than my time at the shelter and it would be more time with emergency cases, which was what I wanted to focus on. “And this is an unpaid internship?”
“You’d be paid like a teacher’s assistant,” Dr. Rivara said. “Essentially, it’ll pay for books, perhaps parking on campus. But, it’s something. You’d also have more than enough time to get your work done for your classes.”
“I’ll take it,” I beamed.
“Excellent! Here’s Paula’s contact information. You won’t start until the winter quarter begins, in the second week in January. With everything you’ve had to deal with, it might be best,” she smirked. “We’ve got two weeks left in the quarter. Will you be okay with completing your assignments by then?”
“Since I’ve quit my job and stopped going to the shelter, that will work,” I said, slipping Paula’s card into my bag. “Anyhow, I have a class in a half hour. I have to print out a paper … crap!”
“What?” Dr. Rivara asked.
“I can’t go back to the library,” I whispered. “I … I was …” Shit, I can’t say anything.
“Were you attacked, in your accident, by the library?” Dr. Rivara pressed. I nodded. “Do you have a flash drive?” Again, I nodded. I took it out and handed it to her. She plugged it into her computer and with a flourish, printed it out for me. “Have you talked to someone about your fears? PTSD? You were as white as a sheet, Bella.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said, trying to keep my voice even. Dr. Rivara arched a brow. “I swear!” She shook her head, handing me my paper. “Thank you for printing this.” I slipped it into my bag and got up. We shook hands and I went outside. Jake was waiting for me. I sighed, following him out of the office and walking to my class. It dragged, as did my other class after lunch. As I was walking back to the car with Jake, my phone rang and I didn’t recognize the number, but it was local. “Do you know who this is, Jake?” I asked, holding up my phone.
“Oh, Mrs. Cullen,” Jake nodded. “The Boss’s mother.”
“Shit,” I squeaked.
“You might want to pick that up. She’ll keep calling until you answer,” Jake snickered. I wrinkled my nose, afraid that she’d be upset that I was with her son. I knew so little about him and his family.
“What do I say?” I hissed.
He laughed, swiping his thumb across the screen. “I’d start with hello, Bella.”
“Hello?” I parroted.
“I was just going to leave a message. I wasn’t sure if you were in class,” came the sweet, tender voice of Mrs. Cullen, the Boss’s mother. “I’m Esme Cullen and my son, Edward, gave me your number. I was wondering if you’d like to join me, Alice and my daughter-in-law, Rosalie, to go shopping for our dresses for the benefit. Edward said you’d be attending.”
“Now?” I asked.
“No, sweetheart. This weekend. I’ve made arrangements for a private shopping session at Nordstrom’s. Zafrina, our personal shopper, has pulled dresses and we need to go and decide which ones will work the best,” Mrs. Cullen explained.
“Oh, okay,” I murmured. “Um, when?”
“I’ll be by to collect you around noon and then after, we’ll be coming to my home for dinner,” Mrs. Cullen sang. “I can’t wait to meet you in person, Bella. Edward has been singing your praises and he’s over the moon for you, sweetheart. I’ve never seen my son act like this.”
“Really?” I asked. “I mean, he seems … really?”
“He’s totally smitten, Bella,” Mrs. Cullen chuckled. “Noon and wear heels!” She hung up before I could respond.
“I don’t have any heels,” I whimpered into the silent phone. “I’ll break my neck.” I blinked over to Jake, pulling the phone away from my ear. “What have I gotten myself into? This is waaaay over my head. I’m meeting my boyfriend/fiancé’s family and …” I pinched my nose and sat down on a nearby bench. I opened my mouth and then closed it.
“Do you have someone you can talk to?” Jake asked. “Like a girlfriend or something?”
“Not really,” I shrugged. “I’ve been focused on my schooling and I’ve had blinders on. There are a few girls in my classes, but no one I’m really close to. Besides, what would I say? I’m kind of engaged to some big-time mobster and I’m being thrown into the lion’s den?”
“Esme is not a lion,” Jake snorted. “She’s a sweet as can be. She stepped up when my mom died and she helped my dad learn to cope with her loss, along with his own injuries.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I frowned. “When did she pass?”
“About five years ago. It was a car accident,” Jake replied, sitting down. “I was driving them home and some drunk driver crossed over the median. I was thrown from the car, only getting these scars. My mom was pinned and had internal injuries. She died in surgery. My dad, he had some rebar impale him and it severed his spinal cord. He’s paralyzed from the waist down. So, his wife died because some idiot couldn’t call a cab and he lost the use of his legs. Esme … she did everything to make things easier for my dad.”
“She seems amazing,” I whispered. “Like what a real mom should be.” I bit my lip. “Look, I need to get some books, but I refuse to go to the library. I can’t … I was …”
“Can I get them for you?” Jake asked.
“I’m certain that Edward would shit a brick if I was left alone,” I snorted.
“Wouldn’t that hurt?” Jake questioned, his brows furrowed. Maybe, he had some brain damage from that car accident.
“It’s a metaphor, Jake,” I said, arching a brow. He still looked confused. “Never mind.” I looked at my phone. “Perhaps I can do some research using sources online. If not, I’ll have to deal with going to the library.” We got up and continued our walk to the car. Jake put my belongings into the backseat, helping me into the passenger side. When we got back to Edward’s condo, I pulled out my computer and worked on my assignments. I was able to get the answers I needed from online resources, as well as my text books. As I was working, Edward’s cook, an older woman named Mrs. Cope, made a snack for me and told me what she was preparing for dinner. I asked if she needed help and she smiled warmly, shaking her head no.
Edward came home and we ate dinner. As we ate, we got to know each other. Edward was determined to know everything about me – my likes, my dislikes, allergies, bad high school memories and clumsy childhood debacles. I shared everything I could remember and he was entranced with my history. When I asked the same of him, he mainly focused on his childhood, a bit on his time in college. I was shocked that he had an Ivy League degree. He majored in finance and business at Dartmouth, completing his MBA at University of Chicago.
Edward was fucking smart.
He even taught a class as an adjunct professor in venture capitalism for the University of Chicago.
Holy shit … brains and brawn? Intelligence under that shock of bronze hair and jaw that could cut glass? Damn!
However, when I asked him about the other part of his life, he picked up the dishes and started washing them, effectively ignoring my questions. I got pissed, leaving him in the kitchen and continuing my homework in my bedroom. If he wanted to be a bag of douche, fine.
“Bella,” Edward said, an hour later. “I’m sorry about shutting you down.”
“You want to know everything about me, but you only share tidbits about you. How am I supposed to know about you? We’re supposed to be a couple, Edward,” I snapped, closing my laptop.
He huffed out a breath and sat down on the edge of the bed. “Bella, dolce, my world is dark and ugly. You are too good to know about that awful part of me,” he said, frowning. He looked at me and I could see the regret in his eyes. “If I had a choice, I’d not be involved in that part of my family, but it’s a massive part of who I am. The fact that you were hurt because of your association with me, tells me that you were touched by that darkness. You are beautiful, light, funny and so fucking smart.” He moved and took my hands, staring into my eyes. “Please, let me keep the ugliness away from you. As much as I can, dolce.”
“There’s going to be a time where that ugliness is going to spill over into our lives,” I said, making a harsh face. “It did … bringing us to this current situation. And if I want to understand your life, our lives, I need to be informed. Who do I trust? Who do I avoid?”
“You’re right,” he conceded. “But, for now, I want to ease you into my life. Do you trust me?”
“Not really,” I answered honestly.
“Okay, okay,” he snorted. “I will earn your trust, dolce.” He cupped my cheek. “Can I kiss you?”
“Tell me one thing about your other life,” I whispered. “What is it that you deal in?”
“Weapons,” he answered, sighing deeply. “My grandfather also dabbled in drugs, but my father didn’t want to deal with that. We got out of that business and we deal with weaponry. However, we sell to other families and mercenary groups. We try avoid selling guns to gangs, to kids.” He looked up at me, his green eyes contrite. “These weapons provide protection for the family’s turf. It’s classified as protection racketeering. We use our legitimate business as a cover up for our illegal dealings. Laundering money through those transactions and providing locations for the illegal sales.”
“Anything else?” I asked.
“Illegal gambling, too,” he grimaced. “But, that’s under my Uncle Stephen’s jurisdiction. He wanted a slice of the pie and that’s what my father was willing to give him. He’s not very good at what he does and the FBI is watching him. We’re warning him to be careful, but he doesn’t want to listen.” He blinked and sighed. “I don’t want to tell you anymore. Ever heard of plausible deniability?”
“Kind of,” I shrugged.
“We’re good at hiding our tracks, but the least amount of information you know, the better,” Edward said. “Just know that I’m trying to keep you safe, dolce.” His large hand caressed my cheek. I leaned forward, allowing him to brush his lips with mine. His movements were tender, gentle and so very sweet. Edward Cullen was a huge dichotomy. He was a mobster, able to kill people and have people killed at his whim, but the fact that he was so reverent with me, shocked me. Pulling back, his fingers traced my cheek and he smiled crookedly. “Thank you, Bella.”
“Why are you thanking me?” I asked, arching a brow.
“I’m thanking you for just being you,” he said. “And for understanding my reasoning for why I can’t tell you everything.”
“I don’t understand, but I know you have your reasons,” I shrugged. “For now, tell me about your family. I’m going shopping with your mom, Alice and Rosalie on Saturday for the Black and White Ball. I would like to know what I’m walking into, if you know what I mean.”
Bella was ravishing, amazing and everything I wanted in a woman. I could feel myself fall deeper and deeper for her. Was it love? Not yet, but it fucking could be.
“My family,” I chuckled, looking at her. We had left the bedroom and were in the family room. Some music was playing, a fire was lit and we were both drinking some wine. “We’re close. Very close, but a lot of that has to do with our way of living.”
“And isn’t Alice my doctor?” Bella asked, sipping her merlot.
“Yeah. Her husband is my bodyguard, and occasionally, yours,” I replied. “But, he’s also my first cousin. His parents, Peter and Charlotte, are related to my mom. Charlotte is my mom’s sister.”
“Oh, wow,” Bella murmured. “Is Jacob related to you?”
“Not by blood,” I answered. “Jacob’s grandfather, Ephraim, was my grandfather’s bodyguard. Billy, Jacob’s father, worked for the family until his accident and Jacob became involved as an enforcer once he graduated high school.” Bella nodded. “But, my immediate blood family is my mother, Esme, my father, Carlisle and my brother, Emmett. Jasper is also close with our family, bringing Alice along with him. And Emmett is married to Rosalie.”
“Should I be worried?” Bella giggled. “I met Alice and she’s pretty cool, for a doctor.”
“She’s a force to be reckoned with. She can command a room,” I snorted. I remembered when we had a huge blow-out and we had several injuries, some requiring surgery. Alice, despite her short stature, put all of us to work and we didn’t lose anyone, though we were afraid of losing Jacob and Emmett’s body guard, Seth. But, Alice managed to stabilize them in the secret clinic we had and performed surgery on Jacob’s leg, removing a bullet and stitching it closed. “Alice is probably the most easygoing person you’ll meet. She’s fucking brilliant. She graduated high school at fourteen and went to medical school at eighteen.”
“Damn,” Bella sang.
“Yeah,” I said. “She and Jasper married relatively quickly after she finished college. I think they’ve been together almost twelve years now? I can’t believe it’s been that long.” I shook my head. “Now, my mom will love you. I think she already does.”
“She’s only spoken to me once and saw me while I was using you as a pillow,” she deadpanned.
I barked out a laugh and gave her a wry little grin. She shrugged, curling up on the couch and idly playing with the hair at the nape of my neck. “Well, you can use me as a pillow any time, dolce.”
“Good to know,” she smirked. “What about Rosalie?”
“Ugh, I’m not going to lie and say she’s great. She’s self-centered and very protective of the family,” I grumbled. “She’s going to give you a hard time.”
“Fabulous,” Bella said sarcastically. “Should I bring Jacob with me?”
“Probably. She hates him and thinks he’s …” I trailed off, not wanting to finish my though. Rosalie thought Jacob was really dumb, using the ‘r-word’ to describe him numerous time. Jacob may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but he was loyal and willing to do anything for our family.
“I can imagine what she described him as,” Bella growled. “He’s not. He said that he has a learning disability and dyslexia. That does not make him stupid. He just needs extra help when it comes to academic endeavors. I was too quick to judge him and I see that now.”
I nodded, agreeing with her. “Well, I’m warning you that Rose will not be very easy to get along with. The only person she can stand is my brother. She barely tolerates me and she’s sweet to my mother, but when her back is turned, the talons come out.”
“She sounds like a total bitch. Reminds me of Victoria,” Bella said, finishing her wine. “Uncle Jimmy is totally snowed by her. He loves her and doesn’t see how she treats me. However, he would always choose me over her. I think he’s with her because she puts out.” She got up and sighed. “I probably should get some sleep. The wine is hitting me harder than I thought.”
I stood up, helping her to her room. She smiled, kissing me sweetly before ducking inside. I leaned against her closed door, wishing I was in there with her. I wanted to hold her, but that would take time. However, talking with her made me realize that I needed to take steps to find an engagement ring for her and Nonni’s ring was not the right fit. Bella deserved something special and exquisite, just like her. Only for her.
Tomorrow, I was going shopping. I had an engagement ring to purchase for the woman who would bear my name and it was going to be longer than a damned year.
The rest of the week flew by and before I knew it, the weekend had arrived. Edward and I continued to get to know each other over dinner and he was excited to have me spend time with his family after I went shopping with his mom, sister-in-law and cousin-in-law/doctor.
On the other hand, I was nervous as fuck.
What the hell am I walking into?
“Bella, you need to eat something,” Edward said. He was sitting in the kitchen. He was wearing a pair of black jeans and a white button-down. On his face were a pair of chic black glasses, accentuating his jawline and unruly bronze hair. “Don’t overthink this trip.”
“I’m trying not to,” I said, poking at my breakfast. “And how am I going to afford this dress?”
“It’s already paid for, dolce,” Edward smirked. I gaped at him. “Bella, my mother is paying for all of the dresses. Even if she didn’t, you have a shiny black credit card in your name in your purse. Use that …” He arched a brow over his frames. “Now, I’m going shopping as well. I have to get a new tuxedo for this shindig. I’ll have my phone on me. Jake will be with you.”
“In the store?” I snickered.
“He’ll be on patrol outside with Rose and Mom’s bodyguards, Felix and Demetri. They’d rather gouge out their eyeballs than go into some high-end boutique in an expensive department store,” Edward laughed. “If I didn’t have to get a new tux, I’d be with them, probably polishing my gun or something.”
“Is that some euphemism for masturbation?” I quipped.
He rolled his eyes. “No, Bella. I’d really be polishing my guns. And I don’t want to masturbate. I want to make love to you,” he said, getting up and kissing my temple. My cheeks warmed. “Why would I have a date with Rosie Palmer and her four sisters when I could make love to the woman in my life?” He kissed me again and before I could comprehend what he had said, he was gone.
I sat and stared at my breakfast until Jake came upstairs. I heard the distinct sound of heels behind him. I turned around seeing a gorgeous older woman with caramel colored hair, warm, hazel eyes and smooth porcelain skin. She was dressed exquisitely in a pair of black dress slacks and a long red winter coat. “Bella?” she smiled, walking toward me. I slid off the stool and she hugged me, kissing both of my cheeks. “You are so gorgeous, sweetheart.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Cullen,” I blushed.
“Esme,” she chided gently. “Mrs. Cullen was my hateful mother-in-law. She was a shrew.” Esme shuddered, wrinkling her nose. “I’m glad that we’re going out today. We’re going to have so much fun today with all the girls. Alice is waiting in the car, but she’s on a call regarding a patient. Rosalie is meeting us at the store.” She took my hand and smiled tenderly. “I’m so happy my son has meet someone as special as you.”
“You barely know me,” I chuckled.
“Bella, I know what my husband and my children do. I would be remiss if I didn’t do my homework,” she chuckled. “I know that you lost your father at a young age, just prior to your high school graduation. You went to school and are currently a graduate student at Northwestern University. You’re a hard-worker, obviously very smart, beautiful and you care deeply for my son. The rest, we’ll learn as we get to know each other, but I have a feeling you will be a permanent fixture in our family, sweetheart.”
Everything about this woman was welcoming, kind and motherly. I nodded, but I was slightly freaking out that she’d run a background check on me. Though, with their history, I wouldn’t put it past her or Edward to do the same. Shaking my head, I stepped out of Esme’s arms. “Let me get my coat and purse.”
Esme smiled crookedly, looking like Edward and making my heart clench and butterflies attacking my belly. I went to the closet, grabbing my coat and purse. I slid on a pair of heels that were in my closet, thanks to the private shopper Edward employed, and swiped my cell phone, which had been charging on the console table in the foyer.
We rode down in the elevator and got into the waiting Range Rover. It was black, sleek and sexy. A large man with dark hair and a pair of sunglasses was sitting in the front behind the wheel. Another large man was in the passenger seat. He was almost white blonde and very pale. He hopped out when Esme came down, opening the back door and helping me and Esme into the backseat. “Thank you, Felix,” she said, smoothing her coat. “Alice, put that phone away. You’re off this weekend! Surely, Chicago Med can survive forty-eight hours with its chief of emergency medicine.”
“You’d be surprised,” Alice said, sliding the phone into her purse.
“You’re the chief of emergency medicine?” I asked. “I mean, I knew you were a doctor, but the chief?”
“Temporary,” Alice chuckled. “The real chief is out because he had a heart attack. I was the most senior member of his staff. So, I’m the de facto chief until he returns. And I can’t wait. I hate all the bullshit paperwork. Blech …”
“You could have said no, Alice,” Esme snickered.
“I could have, but you know that’s not me,” Alice retorted, giving her a knowing smile. “I hate being idle. Makes me twitchy and things have been quiet, save for your incident.” Alice shot me a grimace. “No ill-effects from your concussion?”
“Headache, mainly, but other than that, not much,” I shrugged. “The bruises are almost gone, too. I barely had to spackle today.”
“Your complexion is perfection,” Esme crooned. “The perfect shade of peaches and cream. Most women would kill for your skin. Hell, I would kill for your skin.”
“You don’t even look a day over thirty,” Alice cackled.
“Botox, dear,” Esme smirked. “And one hell of a sex life. The things Carlisle does with his tongue.” She shuddered and grinned wickedly.
Who was I to judge? I never met Carlisle. Maybe he was hot?
“Esme, you’re squicking out Edward’s girlfriend,” Alice chortled.
“Thanks, Alice,” I deadpanned.
“Gotta look out for my girl,” Alice said, tucking her hair behind her ear. “And you’re making me uncomfortable, too. Esme, I love you like another mother, so I don’t want to imagine Carlisle’s tongue on your pussy.”
“ALICE!” I wailed. “I’m trying to …”
“There was a line, Mary Alice Whitlock. You’ve crossed it,” Esme snorted. “Bella, you have to know. We’re highly inappropriate and have a tendency to take things too far.”
“Not when Rose is around. She’s such a killjoy,” Alice muttered. “I don’t know if Edward warned you, but Rosalie Cullen is a bitch.”
“Alice,” Esme chided.
“What? She is! I was around before she was and she still gives me the cold shoulder, like I don’t belong,” Alice said, arching a brow. “But, whatever. I have a feeling that Bella and I will be great friends. Right, Bella?”
“Just don’t mention anything else about people in this car doing the nasty and we’re good,” I snorted.
“Duly noted,” Alice nodded.
We arrived at Nordstrom’s and were escorted by Felix to the boutique where we’d be trying on the dresses. He nodded to Esme, saying something in another language. Esme replied in kind, turning to an elegant, but exotic woman who was waiting for us. “Zafrina, it’s been too long,” Esme smiled.
“A week?” Zafrina quipped.
“Too long,” Esme giggled. “You remember Alice, right?”
“I’ve got some gorgeous pieces for you, Dr. Whitlock,” Zafrina beamed.
“And this is Edward’s Bella,” Esme breathed. “Someone has finally tamed my older son! Isn’t she exquisite?”
“Beautiful,” Zafrina said. “And I know of Miss Bella. Mr. Cullen asked me to outfit her in new clothing.”
Esme shot me a look, shocked at this revelation. “My apartment was broken into and almost all of my belongings were trashed, including my clothes,” I said. “Let’s just say that it has not been a good couple of weeks.”
“Alice, did you know about this?” Esme asked.
“I examined her after her accident,” Alice said. “Yes, but I can’t break doctor/patient privilege, unless I get expressed, written consent from the patient.” She draped her arm around my shoulders. “I got your back.”
“You two are as thick as thieves,” Esme snickered. “I’m just glad that you’re okay, Bella and that my son is taking excellent care of you.” Esme blinked back to Zafrina. “Is Rosalie here?”
“Tia is helping her try on her first dress. She was quite anxious to get started,” Zafrina replied, rolling her eyes. “Do you want to start, Esme or …”
“I already know which dress I want. I just need it tailored to fit me,” Esme said, waving her hand airily. “Let’s focus on my girls. I want them to look gorgeous for this benefit. Bella, you go first.”
Zafrina smiled, leading me to large dressing room. I removed my coat and hung up my purse on the hanger. There were several black and white dresses in the room. “Wow,” I whispered, fingering the luxurious fabric.
“I’m not sure what you liked,” Zafrina said. “I think we should start with this one.” She pulled a black mermaid dress with black sequins. I wrinkled my nose. “What’s wrong?”
“How will I walk?” I asked. I clasped my knees together and waddled. “I don’t think so. And I have a big ass. So, let’s go for something A-lined?”
“You do not have a big ass,” Zafrina chuckled. “That would be me. I’ve got a lot of junk in the trunk.” She put the dress on a rack outside and pulled out a white strapless gown that looked too much like a wedding gown, but I decided to put it on. I walked out and listened to Alice and Esme fawn over me. But, Zafrina recognized my scowl. “Do you like the dress, Bella?”
“Too bridal,” I shrugged.
“Maybe you can keep this one on the side for when Edward pops the question,” Esme squealed.
“Please, Edward’s never going to get married,” came the sour voice of a gorgeous blonde standing on another podium. “She’s his flavor of the week and you’re wasting your time and money on that skank.”
“Rosalie Cullen!” Esme barked, clearly very angry with her. “I can’t believe you’d say that.”
“Oh, please. Edward’s still fucking all the Denali sisters. I’m surprised his dick hasn’t shriveled up and fallen off,” Rosalie said, smoothing her dress. “Get tested, little girl. You might catch something from Skankward.” Esme shot up, grabbed Rosalie’s arm and dragged her off the podium. Rosalie looked scared as they disappeared.
“I think Bella’s right about this being too bridal,” Alice said, trying to diffuse the situation.
“There was a black/white strapless sheath that I liked,” I said, trying not to take Rosalie’s comments to heart.
“I’ll help her, Zafrina,” Alice murmured, guiding me back to the dressing room. Inside, we could hear Esme ripping Rosalie a new asshole. Alice leaned in. “Rose was out of line. I can see a difference in Edward.”
“Is he really sleeping with the Denali sisters?” I hissed.
“No! And I can assure you, as his physician and with his permission, he’s clean,” Alice hissed back. “You’re not the flavor of the week. I can see something more with Edward when he looks at you, Bella.” She unzipped me and helped me into the dress that I liked. I held it up as she zipped it up and smiled widely. “Now, Edward is going to shit his pants when he sees this.”
I turned, looking in the mirror in the dressing room and was honestly shocked at sexy I looked. My collarbones were pronounced and my boobs were perky. “Damn. I have cleavage,” I breathed. I cupped my breasts and giggled. Turning, I ran my hands down my sides, cupping my butt. “And it makes my ass look great.”
“If I were a lesbian, I’d fuck you,” Alice smirked.
“Thanks, Alice,” I retorted. She smacked my ass before dragging me out of the dressing room. She pushed me onto the podium where Rosalie was standing. Zafrina was fawning over me and I knew this was the dress. As Zafrina and Alice were discussing hair, makeup and accessories, Rosalie stomped out and shot me a hateful, spiteful glare before leaving the boutique. She damn near ran over Zafrina as she was bringing me a pair of earrings to try on, not even bothering to apologize.
Esme came out and her face was red with anger. Her caramel hair was ruffled and she was still seething. “I honestly don’t know what my son sees in that woman,” she spat. “She’s so vindictive.” She looked at me, smiling, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Bella, that dress is perfect for you.”
“Thank you,” I said, shifting uncomfortably. “I was thinking this was the dress for the benefit.”
“Excellent,” Esme beamed. “But those earrings are all wrong. You need something understated, but classic. Simple diamond studs would be perfect, with a matching diamond tennis bracelet.” She whipped out her phone, tapping something on the screen. “Zafrina, we’ll take this for Bella.”
“And for shoes?” Zafrina asked.
“Black, peep-toe Christian Louboutin’s,” Esme nodded. “With a rhinestone clutch. Send it to the house, along with the dress once it’s tailored. It’s just a touch too long.” She narrowed her eyes. “I think I saw something. I’ll be right back.” She sashayed away with Tia, Zafrina’s assistant on her tail. Zafrina was marking the skirt so it could be hemmed.
“What just happened?” I asked.
“I think Rose had ass handed to her by the classy, but deadly Esme Cullen,” Alice snickered.
“Deadly?” I squeaked.
“Do you think that Edward and Emmett are the only ones who can fire a gun or take someone out,” Alice smirked. “And you handled that she-beast like a pro. You’ll fit in perfectly with us, Bella.” She hugged me, grinning widely. “Welcome to the family!”
A/N: Rose is an uber bitch. Up next will dinner with the family and leading up to the benefit, possibly getting to the benefit. We’re going to experience dinner in Edward’s eyes and hear Bella’s take on Edward’s family later. Though, I think we can all agree that Rose is just downright rude. Just saying …
Pictures of Bella’s dress are on my blog. You’ll see all the women’s dresses once the benefit chapter is posted. They are all gorgeous. Leave me some loving and thank you for reading!