Monday, July 22, 2013 | By: Drotuno

Pieces of You Chapter 11 & Pics

Chapter 11 – Everybody Talks
Cedar Key, FL – February
“I really wish the weather would make up its damn mind,” Jessica complained as we walked down the sidewalk.
I chuckled, nodding a little. She was right, though. It was February, and where most places had snow and freezing weather, Florida was having a fairly warm week. It was a change from the week before, which had been pretty cold. The sun was high in the sky and bright, making it warm. The gulf water was adding a touch of humidity to the air. At night, it was cool, but in the daytime, it was climbing to a hot eighty-five degrees.
As I shrugged out of my jacket, we rounded the corner, coming up on Joe’s. I had to smile at the sight before me. It seemed Jasper and Peter were taking a break between the lunch rush and dinner rush at the restaurant, and they’d pulled Edward in on it.
“Dear sweet God,” Jessica said with a chuckle to her voice.
“What?” I glanced over at her, but I knew what had caused her to blurt that out.

The boys were taking advantage of the sunshine. They were all shirtless, all sweaty, and all smiles as they, along with a few of the local fisherman I recognized, were playing basketball. Alice said they’d installed the hoop for Alec, but Jasper loved the game. It was something he and Edward had in common.
My head fell back with my laugh. Jessica was just a little bit older than I was and pretty. Her hair was light brown, but living in Florida had caused beautiful natural highlights to streak her hair. She was terribly shy and single, having taken care of her ill father for years. It was why she was working on the book about the history of Cedar Key – it was her father’s last wishes for it to be completed. And it was almost done.
“Is it true?” she asked in a whisper. When I tore my gaze from Edward taking a jump shot, she asked, “Was he really married?”
I smiled and nodded. “Yeah. He’s divorced now.”
As small as Cedar Key was, it didn’t take long for Edward to become the hot topic of conversation. The same had happened to me when I’d moved down here. It was a small community, so new people were welcomed, yet they were the object of curiosity. Edward and I were no different. Someone told someone else that he’d known me in Chicago, and on and on it went.
“I heard she cheated...”
I snorted, trying not to touch that subject, so I simply said, “Something like that.”
“Who would cheat on that?” she asked, grinning when I laughed.
“No one said she was the brightest crayon in the box,” I stated, smirking at my own inner musings.
Cheat on Edward? Never. Cheat with Edward? Our history couldn’t be changed, and I wasn’t sure I cared anymore. His devotion, his love, his amazing heart belonged to me, and he’d made sure to show me every damn day since he’d arrived the day after Christmas.
As we neared the guys, the trash talk, barks of laughter, and heavy breathing got louder. I spotted Alec and his friends – and of course, Bob – cheering from the sideline. I shook my head to clear it. Edward’s eyes met my own as he dribbled the ball at his side a few times and then between his jean-clad legs. He shot me a smile and a wink, pivoting quickly to take his shot. I tried to ignore the roll of the muscles in his back, the flexing of his arms, and even the sweat that was pouring off of him, but it was impossible, especially when the latter merely served as a reminder of what he looked like looming over me. Sweat always seemed to gather on his forehead, the dip just above his collarbones, and the center of his chest.
“Time out!” he called, passing the ball to Jasper. Edward trotted over to me. “Hey, Sunshine,” he breathed, kissing me quickly and giving Jessica a nod and a smile. “Jessica.”
“Hey, Edward,” she answered him. I wanted to laugh at how she looked at him, but her eyes betrayed her, drifting to Peter, who was laughing with his brother.
When I looked back to Edward, he was running an anxious hand through his sweaty hair.
“Bella, we’re almost done, but...”
My brow furrowed because he looked nervous. “What is it?”
“We need to talk,” he stated softly, looking down at his sneakers.
My heart constricted, but I nodded as I bit down on my bottom lip. “Okay,” I whispered, jerking a thumb behind me. “I’ll be at home. I left a few photos behind, and Jess is coming by to grab them. So...whenever you’re done...”
Swallowing thickly, I started to turn away from him, completely scared shitless as to what we needed to talk about. But suddenly, his lips were at my ear.
“I don’t know what’s going through that beautiful head of yours, but whatever the fuck it is...stop it,” he whispered almost angrily in my ear. “It’s nothing bad, Sunshine. It’s just something we need to discuss. Am I clear?”
I couldn’t help but grin, letting a little laugh escape. “Yeah.”
Turning to face him again, I smiled and nodded. “Yes, Edward. Now let me get those pictures for Jess out of the darkroom.”
At the mention of the darkroom, Edward’s shameless grin curled up slowly on his face. His eyes darkened, and he gave me a wink. He did love that room, and for reasons that kept me from getting work done most days.
Rolling my eyes, I waved him off. “Hurry up and kick their asses, baby.”
His chuckle was sexy as he backed away, but I turned to leave anyway and walked back toward the condo, taking Jessica with me. She didn’t stay long, just enough time to grab the pictures that she wanted. Once she was gone, I busied myself in the kitchen, just simply to keep my mind from making up scenario after scenario as to what Edward wanted to talk about.
I heard the front door open and shut, along with, “Holy shit, what smells so good?”
Giggling, I said, “Food, silly. Go shower. This is almost done, and we can talk while we eat.”
Opening the oven, I checked the baking chicken, but when I closed it and stood back up straight, Edward was pressed behind me.
“Aww...” I whined and laughed at the same time. “’re all ew!”
He snorted into a deep laugh, but dropped a heavy, loud kiss to my neck. “You love it, Sunshine. Admit it.”
Spinning to face him, I stood up on my toes to kiss him roughly. “I love it when I make you sweaty. Go shower.”
His smile was silly and sweet and very sexy, but he backed out of the kitchen with raised hands of surrender, dragging his tongue along his bottom lip. “Going, going.”
I heard the shower come on, shaking my head at just how easy it had become between us living together. We used to fight in Chicago, but looking back, I could see it had been stress and the desire to be together when we really couldn’t be...or Jane toying with Edward. Now, we’d meshed our lives together really well. We were both busy – me with the paper and Jessica’s book, not to mention my own photos, and Edward with Mrs. Cope’s art classes.
Edward had outlined a complete plan for her. She was currently trying to decide whether to expand Sea Breeze for the room, or buy the place next door. Everything that Edward had planned out for her was exactly what she wanted to do, so they’d gotten right to work. Although, now they were in a holding pattern for the facilities.
By the time the shower shut off, I’d set the small table and pulled out the chicken. Edward walked out of the hallway, his hair still damp, but wearing a clean heather gray T-shirt and black jeans.
“Better, baby?” he asked with a grin.
I nodded, now nervous again as to what he wanted to talk about. “Sit. Everything’s ready.”
Edward opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but thought better of it and took a seat. When I set our plates down, he suddenly pulled me to his lap.
“Isabella...stop it. You’re acting like I’m about to ask for your head on a silver platter. I’m not. I promise,” he vowed softly in my ear. “You’re letting your imagination run away with you.”
I shifted sideways on his lap, grasping either side of his now clean-shaven, aftershave-fragrant face. I kissed him, but murmured, “Then...oh my God, Edward...please just tell me, ’cause I’ll never eat a thing...”
He grinned, wrapping his arms all the way around me. “What we’re about to talk about... It’s a joint decision, Sunshine. Promise me that first and foremost. Please?”
“Promise,” I barely uttered aloud.
He studied my face, reaching up to brush my hair from my face. “I talked to James this morning,” he started, looking a bit nervous. “He’s holding an art festival for the center, Bella, a fund raiser. He’s asked me to come up and help out.” He held me tighter before going on. “It would only be for a weekend.”
“And you want to go,” I surmised in a whisper as I toyed with his soft T-shirt.
“I do, but...” He bent his head down so that he could look me in the eyes. “I... Bella, I’d really like it if you came with me.” When I didn’t say anything right away, he started rambling. “Look, I know you’re nervous about going back, but...I’d really like you to meet my family. We can pack up all my stuff and drive back in my car. It’ll be a permanent trip back to Florida, Sunshine.”
I took a deep breath and let it out. I knew he missed his family, despite how good we were. I knew that he needed his car, because sharing mine had proved to be a pain when we needed to be several places at once.
“When?” I asked, running my fingers through his hair.
“Next weekend.”
I leaned in, kissing his lips, and whispered, “Okay.”
“Okay, you’re going with me? Or okay, you’re sending my sorry ass by myself?”
Grinning, I said, “Okay, I’m going with you.”
“Good, ’cause it’s Valentine’s, and I’d hate to leave mine behind.” He smiled, squeezing me close when I wrapped my arms around his neck. But his smile fell quickly. “There’s one more thing...” When I silently waited, he said, “Jane had the baby, which means—”
“The media is crazy.”
“Yeah, you could say that, considering that Jacob is filing for sole custody,” he sighed, gently pinching my chin between his thumb and forefinger, his eyes so very green and somber. “I’m... Baby, I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m with you, so if the world can’t handle that, then once the fund raiser is over, we’ll come right back here and forget about all of it.”
I smiled at that. “You’re happy here?”
“I’m happy with you, Sunshine.” He smiled, brushing a kiss across my lips. “I’m happy wherever you are, but I’m happier watching you flourish here. I’m not sure that would’ve happened had we stayed in Chicago. Coming here was good for you, whether I like how you did it or not, but Bella...” He kissed me again. “We’ll do whatever you want to do.”
“We should go. You’re needed.”
Edward was quietly studying my face, his fingers gliding gently over and over the skin just above my jeans. His face was solemn, beautiful, and his eyes were so green, framed by long, dark eyelashes. His hair was drying slowly, but I reached up to play with the stubborn curl in the front.
“Are you sure?” he asked softly. “We don’t have to, Bella. The second it’s too much...”
“No, I’m sure.”
“Are you going ’cause you want to? Or are you going ’cause you think I won’t come back?” he asked nervously.
Tears welled up in my eyes at the fact that he knew me so well, because there was a bit of that fear in the back of my mind. In fact, that fear sort of stayed there, constantly niggling at my heart. I was afraid that keeping him secluded like we’d always wanted to be was cowardly, despite how much I loved having him all to myself. I was terrified that he’d finally decide that we weren’t what he wanted and he’d go home to Chicago.
“Oh God, you do,” he guessed in a shocked whisper, holding me tighter. “After all I... I mean... Sunshine, I’m not leaving you. Ever.”
“I know that, Edward,” I said with a sniffle, and part of me did know. “But old habits are hard to break.” My admission came out in a whisper, but it was true. Something or someone had always taken him from me.
He shook his head, seeming to come some sort of silent decision. “You’re not ready. And it’s okay. I’ll think of something to tell—”
I cupped his face to stop him, but shook my head profusely. “No, Edward. This is... It’s time. We’ve... I’ve hidden long enough. I’ve kept you from your family long enough.” He opened his mouth to argue, but I stopped him with my fingers on his lips. “Hush. It’s true, baby. It’s time. I love much. But it’s time that we deal with what we left back there. I know you’re not...that you wouldn’t...”
He smiled so sexily, but it was real and calm and sweet. “No, Sunshine, I wouldn’t.” There was a finality to his tone that didn’t let me argue, but he brushed his lips over mine, essentially setting me on fire from head to toe. “I love you, and I just got you back. Nope. Not going anywhere.” He popped my ass lightly, chuckling when I squeaked. “Eat. We’ll make plans, baby. I’m thinking no more than the long weekend to get everything done. Okay?”
Nodding, I got up from his lap, but not before kissing him one more time. Once I was seated across from him, I asked, “What’d she have?”
“Hmm?” he hummed, picking up his fork.
“Jane... What did she have? A boy or a girl?”
“Oh,” he said, smirking a little. “A boy.”
My brow furrowed. “And why is that funny to you?”
Grinning, he shrugged a shoulder. “Because Jacob Black only has girls – two, to be exact – and his wife, Leah, can’t have any more children. He wants a boy, and he may fight for this one. And he may or may not know that Jane never wanted kids...”
I tried not to laugh, but I did. “Oh.”
Edward snorted at me, but took a bite of his dinner. There was something fitting about Jane going through another heavy court battle, only this time, she’d be on the defense, but I didn’t say that aloud.
“And...” he started again with a laugh. “I may or may not have...handed him my brother’s business card...along with that fact.”
I almost choked on my bite of mashed potatoes, trying not to laugh. But Edward’s pride-filled grin was too much.
“Edward,” I started to reprimand, but I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. Jane had practically ruined Edward’s career in Chicago, and she’d taken away the gallery he’d built.
His eyebrows raised up, but he didn’t say anything.
I smirked, shaking my head. “Never mind. Love you.”
He smiled back. “Love you, too, Sunshine. Now eat. We’ll talk about Chicago later.”
Chicago, IL – February
“Don’t stress over it, James,” Edward spoke into his phone as we sat in the back of the cab. “Worst case scenario is that I’ll help you first thing in the morning.”
I chewed on my thumbnail as I gazed out the window. I was nervous and almost sick to my stomach. I’d barely gotten any sleep the last few days. Coming back to Chicago, while completely necessary, was bringing back every anxious feeling I’d had just before leaving here. I’d had an affair with a married man, the same man who was rather well-known, and he’d gone through a nasty divorce because of it. I was damned certain I’d still be seen as a whore, the other woman, despite the fact that his ex-wife had cheated too. I knew we had the complete support of Rose and Emmett – we talked to them almost on a daily basis – but I wasn’t sure about anyone else in his family, and that scared me to death. And we’d be meeting them all on Sunday – the day after tomorrow – at his parents’ house.
My hand was snatched gently away from my mouth, soft lips kissing the tip of my thumb. Edward’s furrowed brow and dark eyes told me everything – to calm the hell down, to stop worrying, that he was worried for me and, most importantly, that he was there for me. I narrowed my eyes as his sexy smirk curled up his lips, only for his tongue to swirl around the tip of my thumb. He grinned, going right back to his conversation.
“No, we just got here. We’re heading to my house now. I’ll call you in the morning. I’ll help you finish setting up,” he told James over the phone, squeezing my hand and setting it on his lap in order to keep me from chewing it completely off. He paused for a moment, listening intently. “No, I spoke to Garrett just before I got on the plane. He’ll be there, but later, so be prepared for what comes with him.”
I snorted, but aimed it toward the window, where I could see we were winding through my old neighborhood. My heart constricted at the fact that we were going back there. There were so many memories in that little house having to do with the man sitting next to me. The fact that he’d rented it just because it had been mine still blew my mind.
“Just call Laurent over at the security agency. He’ll know how to handle the media and the fans, should Garrett’s presence leak,” Edward stated authoritatively.
When we pulled in my old driveway, I saw Edward’s sleek, sexy black car sitting there. My hand squeezed his as he ended his call.
“James, relax. You’re doing fine. Call if you need anything, but I’ll see you in the morning. And no, don’t tell Sarah. I want to surprise her. Later, man.”
I didn’t move out of my seat as Edward tossed the cab driver money. Only when my hand was tugged gently did I slide slowly out of the car. Edward shoved his phone into his pocket, gathering me to his side as the driver pulled our bags out of the trunk and set them down in front of us. But I could only stare at the house, because when I’d left in tears, I never thought I’d see the place again.
“Sunshine,” Edward said softly against the side of my head, “you okay?” When I nodded against his lips, he released me and picked up our things. “Come on, baby.”
Walking inside that house was an all-out assault on my emotions – the fights, the tears, the sex, the love. It was all right there, because Edward hadn’t changed a damn thing. He’d kept my furniture just the way I’d had it, merely moving his own things in.
“Nothing’s changed,” I whispered, mainly to myself as I gazed around, but tall, dark, and calm stepped in front of me, strong arms caging me in at the front door.
“Nope. Not a thing,” he whispered back, bending a little to look me in the eye, but his lips twitched a little.
Ducking out from under his arm, I looked around. The smell was all Edward. There wasn’t anything left of me there, but it just looked right, even though I knew we’d be packing his things up before the four-day weekend was over.
“I wanted you here for so long,” I said, turning to face him.
“You think I don’t know that, Sunshine?” he countered, stepping closer. “It killed me to leave here when I had no choice.”
“Is that why you rented it?” I asked, turning back around to give the place another glance. “To prove some sort of...point?”
“No.” He laughed low and sexy, wrapping his arms around me from behind. “Okay, maybe a little, but I really just couldn’t let you go, baby. I just needed...something of yours.”
I nodded, an apology on the tip of my tongue, but I knew better than to blurt it out. He’d begged me to stop saying I was sorry for leaving Chicago. He wasn’t sorry. He promised me that it had given us both space in order to do what we had to do. He understood what it must’ve looked like from my point of view. In fact, he was proud of me for everything that I’d accomplished since I’d moved to Florida. He was my biggest fan, my most enthusiastic cheerleader. And that thought made me almost stupidly happy.
Biting my bottom lip, I spun in his arms and grinned up at him. “No one can interrupt us here now.”
“Nope.” He smiled crookedly, his hands gliding down his down to my ass and squeezing. With a move he’d perfected ages ago, he gripped and lifted me up so that I could wrap myself around him. “Not a single person. And even if my phone rings, I won’t be answering it. Not tonight.” When I held his face and pressed my forehead to his, he brushed his lips across mine. “See...I have plans tonight, Sunshine.”
I moaned aloud at the deadly, sensual tone that met my ears. Running my fingers through his hair, I asked, “Oh yeah? What plans?”
He started walking with a purpose, aiming toward my old bedroom. When he got to the bed, he dropped me into the middle of it, wearing a small smile, though it was a touch contrite, as he braced himself over me.
“I plan on making up for the night of the art show, Bella. That’s my plan. I want to wake this damn bed...with you in my arms tomorrow morning, just like we’d wanted to that night,” he stated, his eyebrows raising up in question until I nodded dumbly. “Of all the memories that are in this house...that one is the one I wish I could erase.”
“Early,” I reminded him with a smirk. “We need to be up early.”
“I don’t...” He huffed a laugh. “I don’t give flying fuck what time we’re getting long as we get up together.”
I giggled, wrapping my arms around his neck and pulling him down for a kiss. “Then shut up, Edward. We should get in this ‘damn bed’ soon.” I was truly teasing him, considering it was just barely sunset outside.
He lowered most of his weight down on me, settling in the cradle of my thighs. Despite the clothes between us, I could feel his want for me pressing in just the right spot.
“Mmhm,” he hummed, dragging his tongue along his bottom lip. “Early to bed...” He thrust gently against me, causing my breathing to stop for a moment. “Early to rise, baby...”
My head fell back with my laughter at his juvenile joke, but the second his lips, teeth, and tongue met my neck with kisses and soft promises of what the night held, I was lost to him.
I’d been impressed with Edward’s art classes at Sterling the very second I’d met him, seen him interact with the kids. To see his dream, his idea in full swing was insane.
The Children's Center for the Arts was amazing. They’d taken an old theater, as well as a few buildings on either side, and created an entire school. The art festival was scheduled to run for a few hours both Saturday and Sunday. Not only would some of the kids’ art be auctioned off for fund-raising, but the dance and music classes would be putting on a performance. Saturday’s events were by invitation only, with the hopes of high dollar donations. Sunday’s events, however, would be open to the public.
As promised, Edward and I had woken up together in my old bed, though it had been at an ungodly hour. The sun had just started to shine a bit of light through the city streets when we’d arrived at the art center. There was a change of clothes hanging in the back seat for later, but for now, Edward was all business, all in control and in charge, and completely focused on helping James get ready for the weekend.
After helping set up some chairs and tables, I stepped out to the car to grab my camera bag. Edward had begged me to take pictures of the invitation-only event. He’d cleared it with James and the security guy, Laurent, that I was to be the only camera allowed on the premises. In fact, the media wasn’t permitted in today, but they were already gathering out front because Garrett Fields would be attending.
I walked back inside, taking a few random shots in order to adjust my lens, only to see a sight that brought a smile to my face.
“Mr. Edward!” Sarah gasped, rushing to him, and he wrapped her in a huge hug. “I’ve missed you!”
He cupped her face, dropping a kiss to the top of her head as his face went from utter concentration on the best way to display the kids’ art to adorably sweet. “I’ve missed you, too, pretty girl. Have you grown?” he asked her, wearing a falsely suspicious face.
I couldn’t help but giggle when she beamed with pride and nodded at him, and I shot off several pictures.
“She’s missed him,” I heard beside me, and glanced over to see James watching his little sister and Edward. He smiled over at me. “But even I have to admit the change in him. He’s always been good with the kids and good at his job, but now...he’s free.”
Smiling over at James, I nodded. I had to agree with him a hundred percent, because even I’d seen the changes in him the very moment he’d showed up on my doorstep in Florida. He was free and easy, laid-back and calm, and so very sweet. It was like the weight of the world had been lifted off of him since his divorce.
“No,” James said, slowly shaking his head. “You think it’s due to getting rid of Jane. It’s not. I should know. I saw the two of you the day you met. Nope, sweetie, it’s all you.” He shot me a wink, grinning as he walked away.
I huffed a small laugh, fiddling with my camera, but Edward walked up to me with Sarah’s hand held in his. I smiled at the both of them.
“Sarah, do you remember Bella? She took pictures of us one time?” he asked her, placing a warm hand on my shoulder, and she grinned and nodded.
“It’s good to see you again, Sarah,” I told her. “How have you been?”
“I’ve been painting. Wanna see?” she asked, letting go of Edward and reaching out for my hand.
I heard Edward’s sweet chuckle behind me as Sarah led me to the hallway. She pointed up to her name, where there were about twenty hanging pictures.
“Mr. Edward taught me that,” she whispered, smiling widely.
She was all things good and sweet, and she made being back in Chicago all the worthwhile. Meeting his friends and family seemed to step down a notch or two on the importance ladder, because she and her fellow classmates were the reason we were truly here. Making sure they had a place to learn and grow was the goal.
“Are you Mr. Edward’s girlfriend now?” she asked secretively.
“Yes.” I giggled, because her disposition was contagious.
“Do you love him?”
“Very much,” I stated with conviction, nodding a bit. I took a couple of shots of the art on the wall, gazing back at her.
“I’m glad. ’Cause he was sad. He’s not now,” she told me softly.
Of anything that we’d gone through, of all the accusations, that one hurt. A lot. To know that little Sarah had seen his pain when I left made me almost sick.
“Sarah?” James called her gently from the end of the hallway. “Baby girl, it’s time to get ready. Do you need help?”
She nodded, but didn’t seem to want to move from my side.
“I have to change, too. Want me to help you?”
She grinned and nodded. “Okay, James. Miss Bella will help me!”
And just like that, I had a new friend that barely left my side all day. She’d seek Edward and me out if James was busy, but she stayed pretty close as I roamed around on the outskirts of things to take pictures. Some were to be sold to the media, but James and Edward wanted them for the walls of the art center. I even shot a few videos of the musical performances for them to have, which ate up the memory on my card.
I glanced around to see Edward in a serious discussion with James and Laurent. I didn’t want to interrupt them, especially when Edward's voice raised.
“Who, dammit? Who invited him, James?” Edward snapped, trying his best to keep calm.
“Shit, Edward...I wasn't thinking. I just sent the printer the same list as the ribbon cutting ceremony,” James defended, but grimaced when Edward's hand shot to his hair.
Not really sure what that was about, I turned to Sarah. “Sweetie, I need to go out to Edward’s car. Will you be okay by yourself?” I asked her.
“I’m okay,” she told me, pointing toward a group of her friends.
“Okay. I’ll be right back.”
The car keys were in the center’s office, so I made my way down the hall, filling up the last few bits of memory on the card with a few random shots of people here and there, milling around as they waited for the auction to begin. When the last shot froze on my digital screen, my brow broke out into a sweat, because now I understood what was making Edward lose his mind. Right there, supposedly hidden away, was Marcus Sterling – Jane’s father. But it wasn’t Jane’s mother that he was groping against the corner wall. The girl couldn’t have been more than twenty-one, with raven-black hair and dark eyes. She was smiling at him with a flirty bite to her bottom lip.
My head shot up to take a look in the direction of the real thing, and Marcus’s eyes met mine briefly. However, I continued down the hallway toward the offices, grabbed Edward’s keys, and stepped out the back door into the parking lot. I needed to hurry, because I was damned certain I didn't want to run into that man without Edward nearby. I opened the car door, rummaging in my camera bag for a new memory card, but I glanced up when I heard the back door of the center slam shut.
My hands shook as I quickly changed lenses and removed the full card, hid it, and then popped the new one in, because Marcus Sterling – the governor of Illinois – was walking my way. And suddenly, I was trapped, alone, with no help in sight.
“Hand over the camera over, Miss Swan,” he demanded, and I stood up straight to stare at him like he was crazy. “I was told specifically that there would be no media here. You have no right to those pictures.”
I smiled, leaning against Edward’s car casually, even though inside, I was scared to death. “I’m not media. I’ve been hired as a freelance photographer, Mr. Sterling. And I’m not giving you my camera.”
He smiled, and it was nasty and evil and condescending. “Oh, Isabella...I’m sure you get paid. For your services, that is. ”
It was a slap in the face – and pretty much what I’d expected from him – but I stayed quiet.
“I told Edward that he’d pay dearly for his little whore...”
I snorted. “How’s your grandson?”
His face turned a puce color as he glared at me, a sneer curling his mouth. He stepped toward me, but a voice off to our side blurted out, “I wouldn’t do that, Marcus.”
My mouth kind of fell open at the sight of the man walking causally toward us. The last time I’d seen him was on the big screen at the movie theater close to my old house. Garrett Fields was extraordinarily handsome, dressed in a flawless suit, and smoking a cigarette.
“You touch her, and Edward will have your ass plastered all over the media...and most likely this parking lot.” Garrett smirked, shot me a wink, and leaned next to me on Edward’s car. “Can you take that chance, Governor?” he asked, taking a long drag on his cigarette and blowing the smoke directly at Marcus.
“She doesn’t have my permission for photos,” he countered, pointing to me. “I’ll sue her for everything she’s got, which isn’t much without Edward.”
I saw everything that Edward had ever told me about Marcus Sterling in that one moment. He was spoiled and arrogant, believing his power was everything, that he could just demand what he wanted and have it handed to him. He was also a hypocrite of epic proportions. He claimed I was a whore, but he’d been caught feeling up a twenty-something-year-old girl. Everything that Jane was, she owed to the man in front of me, especially when he was joined by a large man in a suit.
“Aw...look, it’s Felix the guard dog,” Garrett taunted, but frowned when Felix stepped to me, grabbed my camera, and popped out the storage card, handing it over to Marcus.
“Hey!” I protested, but Garrett put a hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t,” he warned me with a shake of his head. “Felix gets...protective of Marcus.”
Marcus smirked, pocketed the card, and turned around, with Felix on his heels after handing me back my camera. Once he was inside, I looked up to Garrett.
“Tsk, he’s an ass. Thinks he owns the damn world,” Garrett muttered, tossing his cigarette butt down on the asphalt and stepping on it with what looked to be very expensive shoes. “Sorry about your pictures,” he said, his voice and face filled with sincerity.
“I’m not,” I stated, reaching into the sleeve of my dress and pulling out the real storage card from where I’d hidden it against my wrist. “He got the empty one.”
Garrett laughed, holding out his hand. “Now I get it. It’s nice to finally meet you, Bella. I’m Garrett.”
Grinning, I shook his hand. “Now you get what?”
“What Eddie sees in you,” he chortled, but his face took on the look of a child in trouble. “Look, um, I’m not supposed to be smoking. You won’t tell, right? Katie’ll have my ass. She’s been after me to quit since she had Irina...”
“Tell what?” I asked smirking a little before grabbing a new empty card.
“Oh, yeah,” he sighed dramatically, draping an arm around my shoulders. “You’re gonna fit in just fine. Let’s get you back in, though.”
We walked toward the back door, but it was suddenly slammed open, a raging, pissed-off Edward looming over us from three steps up.
“That stupid, fucking bastard,” he snapped, his eyes landing on me. “He was never supposed to get a goddamn invitation. What did he say to you, Bella? Did he really steal your shit? ’Cause I swear to fucking God...”
Garrett laughed. “Calm your ass, Eddie,” he soothed, shaking me by the shoulders. “Your girl is slick, man.”
Edward’s eyes were narrowed at the nickname he hated, but he glanced between us. “Wait...what? Felix said...and Marcus was...”
Garrett lifted my hand and turned it over. In the palm was the full card. “You might wanna hold that until you’re outta here. But Marcus didn’t get shit from her.”
The tension started melting away from Edward, and he stepped down and stopped in front of me.
“You’re okay?” he asked softly, his eyes searching my face...for what, I didn’t know. “I'm so sorry. I didn't know he'd be here, I swear. Did he threaten you, Sunshine? Tell me.”
“I’m fine, Edward,” I said, shrugging a shoulder. “He said some nasty things about the two of us, but that’s all. I promise.”
“Don’t believe shit that bastard says, Bella,” Garrett stated.
“I didn’t.” I grinned up at Edward, who smirked back before kissing my lips.
“I see you met Garrett,” he said with a chuckle, backing up to hug his friend.
“Pfft,” Garrett scoffed, rolling his eyes. “Bella and I go way back.”
Another piece of Edward’s past just slid into place. Despite his fame, fortune, good looks, and career, Garrett was a lot like Rose. He was real and kind and down to earth. Meeting him, being accepted by one more person that was important to Edward, gave me hope for tomorrow, where they’d all be gathered at Edward’s parents’ house.
Edward snorted, reaching for my hand. “Come on, guys, the auction is about to start.” He raised an eyebrow at Garrett. “And you should go wash your hands. You smell like smoke, asshole. Kate will beat your ass.”
“What’s he talkin’ about?” Garrett whispered to me, pulling out a breath mint and a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer.
Giggling, I shrugged. “No idea.”
Garrett grinned, smacking Edward’s back. “I like her. We’re keeping her. She’s good people.”
Edward chuckled, but pulled me to his side, kissing my cheek softly as he led me back inside. “Yes. Yes, she is, and yes, we are.”


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