Wednesday, March 11, 2015 | By: Drotuno

Man Behind the Mask Chapter 6 & Pics

Chapter 6 – Beautiful People
Hey you, what do you see?
Something beautiful, something free?
Hey you, are you trying to be mean?
If you live with apes man, it's hard to be clean

The worms will live in every host
It's hard to pick which one they eat most

The horrible people, the horrible people
It's as anatomic as the size of your steeple
Capitalism has made it this way,
Old-fashioned fascism will take it away
“Beautiful People” – Marilyn Manson
The studio was a din of noise. The producer was working with James and Jacob, laying down the bass-line track of the song we were recording. Glancing up at the clock, I noted I had a few hours before I needed to head over to the AA meeting.
“Got a hot date?” Jasper teased softly, giving me his lazy half-smile as he tuned his guitar.
“I wish,” I sighed, shaking my head. “AA meeting tonight.”
He paused what he was doing for a second, studying my face, only to nod and go back to work. “If you like her, ask her out,” he stated cryptically, picking a note and glancing back at me. “Bella. She’s good people, dude.”
Nodding, I smirked a little, but I didn’t say anything. Bella was definitely “good people.” She was more than that, and the more I saw her, the more I got to know her, the more I liked her. She was strong, independent, and kind. Even more, she was sweet and beautiful, and I’d almost fucked up the day before.
Knowing Kate and Tanya the way I did, I tended to forget how it looked – how they looked around me. I’d forgotten all about the pictures from Music Mania Magazine. And the look of pure disgust on Bella’s face as she thought… Fuck, I couldn’t imagine what she’d thought. Well, I could, but I didn’t want to; the idea was disturbing.
Groaning softly, I sat forward, my elbows landing on my thighs and my hands gripping my hair. Jasper started picking away at a song I didn’t know, and my eyes drifted over to watch him. Spinning around on the piano bench, I added to it, and he grinned and nodded. We played for a few minutes, but then he stopped.
“Not this album,” he stated, frowning as he looked to the window in the control booth. “Not a fucking chance. Aro doesn’t get this shit. He can have the list we’ve set down, but not this one.”
Nodding in agreement, I whispered, “The next one is on us. That’s gonna be either career suicide, or it’ll skyrocket.”
Jasper shrugged a shoulder. “I’m not sure I care anymore.” He continued to play – this time, it was for the song we were about to record – but his voice was low and soft. “We’ve given Aro plenty, and this is the last album, but look at him. He’s working James and Jacob. Now,” he sighed, jerking a chin. “Jacob will go wherever we go, but James?” He shook his head slowly. “His ego will get the best of him, which makes him a shaky part of this band.”
“Well, he wasn’t part of us from the start anyway,” I pointed out, pulling sheet music closer to make a change here and there. “Had Jared stuck with us, it would’ve been different. James is Aro’s boy.”
Jasper nodded again, because it was true. Jared, Jacob’s cousin, had decided not to stick with Radiant Eclipse when we’d been approached by Aro back in the day. He’d played drums for us for the fun of it, but he’d had other aspirations, having been given a scholarship to Oregon State. Hell, the bastard was probably knee-deep in his residency at the hospital by now. It was what he’d wanted, and we’d respected that. James was brought in as a studio drummer, but he’d fit in okay and he was pretty damn good, so we’d kept him. Technically, though, he wasn’t a part of the writing or creative process; he simply played what we told him.
Jasper and I continued to tweak the song, but we stopped when Aro stepped into the room.
“Boys, boys,” he called us, wearing the slick smile he always wore when he was working. “Take a break for a moment. Let’s talk.”
The man exuded money and power, with expensive suits, his Rolex watch, and the fuck-awesome Aston Martin he drove to the studio every day, though he was way too creepy to make even that beautiful piece of machinery look good. The man was short and pale, with his hair pulled back into a ponytail that went out of style about thirty years prior. And the fucker had a mean streak, but he hid it well. Actually, he hid it behind fake smiles and well-paid lawyers.
“I just got off the phone with L.A.,” he started once we were all giving him our attention, and I waited to see which part of L.A. he’d meant. If it was Marcus, then we’d discuss the tour, but if it was the directors for the videos, then I needed to brace myself for possible idiocy. “Warren Milton has listened to the few tracks we’ve finished, and they have some amazing ideas for the videos.”
Internally, I groaned.
“Here we go…” Jasper sighed, rolling his eyes. “Hmm, what will it be this time? Vegas? Strip clubs? Satan worship?”
I hid my laugh behind my hand. “Depends on the song,” I muttered back. “Ten bucks says you probably nailed at least one of them.”
He grinned, but we turned our attention back to Aro.
“They want to discuss possible strip club locations for the first release,” Aro stated excitedly, clasping his hands together.
I held my hand out, and Jasper grumbled a string of obscenities as he smacked a ten into my hand.
“No strip clubs,” I grunted, tucking the bill into my front jeans pocket.
“Oh, think of the possibilities, Masen,” Aro crooned, smiling widely.
“No.” I waved a hand, shaking my head. “First, this isn’t fucking 1987, and we’re not Motley-fucking-Crüe. Second, it’s been done way too much. It doesn’t even fit the damn song, which is about playing music live, paying respect to talent from before us, filling small bars with fans, and…” My eyebrows shot up, and I turned to Jasper, who was grinning up at me.
“Think she’d let us do it?”
“I…I don’t know,” I murmured, shrugging a shoulder. “Maybe? I mean, what’s the worst she could say? No?”
“Charlie’s?” Alec piped up with a grin. “God, that would be perfect! We could actually film the whole thing as a small venue show. Send out invites to—”
“Wait! I wasn’t finished,” Aro interrupted.
“No strip clubs!” I snapped, holding up my hand before he could say something else. “None. Fuck, aside from James, I don’t think a single one of us has set foot in one in like three years. No.” I turned to my band, ignoring James’s glare. “Think about it, Aro. It’s a cheesy idea, and you know it. But filming an entire show in an up-close and personal venue…not to mention kind of raw and unplugged. Oh, tell me you can’t see DVD all over that shit…”
“But Warren—”
“I don’t give a fuck what Warren Milton wants, Aro. It’s a played-out concept.” I stood up, starting to pack my shit up and leave, because I was in no mood for this bullshit today.
“Masen, Masen, Masen,” he crooned, walking to me and placing both hands on my shoulders. “Okay, whatever you want… I’ll talk to Warren, throw the idea of a small-show video his way. You seem to have a place in mind…”
“Maybe, but I’ll handle it,” I grunted, shaking my head. “But no strippers. I’m not fucking kidding. We’ll embarrass ourselves.”
I wanted to tell him I was tired of the man-whore I had to pose as in those damn videos. The mere thought of filming something like I had with Heidi a year ago made my eye twitch. It had been hot and new and sexy then, but now, the thought of pretending to have sex with someone I didn’t even know made me ill.
Suddenly, Bella’s gorgeous face came to mind, and I realized my want for her was nowhere near pretend. She was caring and sweet, but she was sexy as all hell, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep that closed up inside. I wanted to tell her, but I wanted to protect her – from myself and my world as much as I wanted to protect her from the other evils out there. I wanted to kiss her so badly that my hands shook some days, but I also wanted to play the piano every night to put her to sleep.
All these thoughts were swirling in my head when Rose finally stepped into the room. “Aro, we’ve got to get this track down, edited, and mixed before the guys leave for L.A. next week,” she stated firmly but in a way that pulled Aro out of my space. “Plus, the producer is ready to start. He’s getting a little impatient.” She pointed toward the window of the sound room, and the guy was pacing on his phone.
“Fine, fine,” Aro chanted, smiling up at me as he patted my shoulder. “I’m just trying to do what’s best for Radiant Eclipse, son. That’s all. But if you say no—”
“I do.”
“So do I,” Jasper added, getting up from the chair and stepping up to the amp to plug in.
“Yeah, it’s a little cheesy, A-man,” Alec admitted, but he was the most tactful of all of us. He shrugged a shoulder before flipping a few switches on his keyboards. “I mean, I get it. Our fan base is mainly women, but I would think we’d cater to them, not insult them. I like the small-concert idea. Can we work on that?”
Jacob pulled his bass guitar over his shoulder, saying, “We could do a whole…thing, Aro. Like interviews and backstage shit, not to mention some interactions with fans. Personally, if it was my favorite band, I’d rather see them play, talk about music and shit, not fumble around with chicks so plastic they’re flammable.”
Grinning, I couldn’t help but snort, but I loved my boys. I had since we’d all met in high school. It had been, and always would be, about the music, not the fame.
“Damn, and I was looking forward to the strip club,” James grumbled from behind his drum kit.
“What? Last night wasn’t enough?” Jake taunted with a grin, ducking when James threw a drumstick at his head.
Alec picked up the stick, handing it back to James, saying, “C’mon, drummer boy… We need more cowbell…”
That broke the tension as the lot of us exploded into laughter. I could see that Aro wasn’t happy about having his idea squashed, but he had no choice. He may have had control on most things – like marketing, promotion, and publicity – but we had creative control if push came to shove. I’d been lucky enough to have Rose handle that shit back when we’d first been signed. She’d told us horror stories about talents who had lost everything because they’d signed over too much control. Before we’d done anything, she’d brought her uncle in as our lawyer, and Jason Jenks was a no-nonsense bulldog when it came to contracts. And Aro hated him, which is why we kept him on speed dial.
I picked up my guitar and strapped it on, plugging into my amp. I tested a few notes, adjusted my distortion, and looked to Jasper. “Let’s get this song down. I’m done with today.”
Rose walked to me, smirking as Aro stepped out of the room. “It’s a brilliant idea. Let me know what Bella says about using Charlie’s. If she has questions, have her call me, and I’ll explain how the contract would work.”
Nodding, I looked down at my fret board, testing a few finger positions.
“Oh, and Edward,” Rose whispered, her face fierce. “You know I sign off on all the bills – hotels, cars, cell phones,” she said, leaning on the last thing. “I just was going over a few of them. Most are clean. Alec calls and texts with his wife, Jacob checks on his dad, and you and Emmett are pretty much the same. Guess who James has gotten chatty with…and not just lately…”
My eyes narrowed on her. “Who?”
I bit my bottom lip, my temper rising to the surface. “When’s his contract up?” I asked her. “I want him gone. And didn’t he sign a non-disclosure?”
“Not sure, but I’ll find out about all of it.” She nodded once. “I know you’re not heartbroken over Heidi, but…it’s obvious those two are up to something. Let me see what more I find out, okay?” She ruffled my hair. “Hey,” she said firmly, making me look up at her again. “You got something good in the works, brother-in-law. Bella’s good for you. Anything outside of that is bullshit. And it’s bullshit I will personally handle. Drummers are a dime a dozen, baby. That fucker can be replaced in the blink of an eye. And don’t think I won’t force the issue if I think my boys are in harm’s way.”
“Thanks, Rose.” I smiled tentatively.
“Yuppers,” she sang, giving me an evil smile. “Now, go get ’em. This is one of my favorites of the new stuff, so I’ll hang around for this one. Plus, I’ve got to get you out of here in time to get to your meeting. And then I want you to go see your girl.”
“She’s not my girl, Rosie.”
“She should be.”
Grinning, I felt my face heat up, but I nodded her way before getting back to work. It took another hour to get it perfect, and my temper was still on the surface of things when I finally packed up and left the studio. I’d calmed down a little by the time I reached the church for the AA meeting, but it only flared up again when I didn’t see my dad attending.
By the time I made it to Charlie’s, I was almost beyond reason with my anger. Between James and Heidi sneaking around behind my back, the shit Aro tried to pass off as creativity, and my dad not showing up to the meeting that he had chosen would be best, I was on fire. I wanted to see Bella, drown in the calm that she brought to me.
The bar was fairly busy when I walked in, though I was happy to see that it was mostly people I knew. Jasper, Jacob, and Alec were fiddling around on the stage, and it looked like Bella had again let Jasper play the Fender that had belonged to her father. My best friend looked happier than a pig in shit. The girls – Rose, Alice, Tanya, and Kate – had taken over a table in front of the stage. Emmett and James were at the bar. It was the latter that had my temper flaring.
James had his charm on high, working both Tori and Bella. Even Garrett was eyeballing the bastard as my brother tried to lighten things up with a joke, but it was Alec who stepped up to the bar.
“Yo, James… That’s Masen’s girl. You might wanna back off a bit,” he told him, which only resulted in a snort from James.
“Masen has more pussy than he can shake a stick at,” James countered, and that made Bella’s face go fierce with her temper. I’d never seen her truly pissed off. It seemed the girl was as mellow as they come, even with the bad day she’d had yesterday.
“From what I hear, so do you,” she stated calmly, smiling when that brought him up short.
“I hold my own, but I’d rather hold you…”
“Get used to disappointment,” she told him, which caused catcalls to ring out around the bar.
“Whatever,” James muttered, slipping off the stool, but he shot me a grin when he caught sight of me. “Oh, there he is now. What’cha been doin’, Masen? Or should I say…who?”
“Your mother. She said to tell you hello,” I stated with a grin, unable to stop myself. “And that she’s too tired to make you dinner.”
Alec barked a laugh. “Yo Mamma jokes never get old.”
“Mm,” I hummed as I took a seat at the bar. “Sad part is that Mrs. Allen wouldn’t turn me down. That crazy old cougar hits on me every time she sees me.”
Emmett chuckled, gripping my shoulder and pulling me closer. “Did Dad show?”
“Nope.” I sniffed, practically shaking in anger, but it toned down a bit when Bella stepped in front of me. “Hey, angel,” I sighed in relief at the sight of her. “Ignore the trash talk.” I waved a hand around the bar.
She smiled. “You think I’ve never heard men insult each other? You’ve sorely underestimated me.” She studied my face, her brow wrinkling a little as she set a beer in front of me. “Though, it looked like it pissed you off.”
“I’ve been that way all day. But I’d lose my shit if anyone upset you.”
“What? The Masen’s girl thing?” she asked with a soft laugh. “Nah, I know his type.”
“What type is that?”
“Hmm,” she sighed deeply, her eyes drifting to the fools playing around on the stage. “Oh, let’s see… He’s overly confident, not exactly unattractive, but his charm is his biggest weapon. He’s way too concerned about how he looks, and he considers himself an outsider. He wasn’t a member of the band originally, and he will never fit in, so in order to keep up or make himself feel better, he uses women. He has the need to be the center of attention, but he won’t be, simply because even his career choice of being a drummer puts him in the background. And he’s insanely jealous of you. Well, of Masen. So it wasn’t about me, because he hadn’t said much to me before Alec told him to back off. He’d mainly been flirting with Tori, who declined him over and over.”
Grinning, I shook my head. “You scare me, ’cause that’s pretty damn close. I can’t imagine what you’d say about me.”
“Masen or Edward?”
She smiled, leaning on the bar in front of me. Music kicked up on the stage as the guys fucked around.
“They’re similar but different,” she started, laughing a little when I scoffed. “Oh, but they are. You don’t see it, but some of us do.”
I waved her on as I sipped my beer for liquid courage, and she caught my hand and put it back down on the bar top. It took all I had not to keep touching her.
“Masen is…a bad boy, and he relishes it. Even when he’s in a relationship, he pushes that image. He’s smooth and confident and truly doesn’t give a fuck what people think about his actions. He’s a huge presence in a room and incredibly talented as a songwriter and performer. He could walk in anywhere and own it. Women want him, and men want to be him.
“Edward, on the other hand,” she continued softy. “He’s much more low-key. He’s quiet and loyal to family and friends, and he seems to never want to upset anyone. Privacy is tantamount to him, and that’s probably because he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. While he’s a touch awkward about some things, he’s very sweet and polite. Where Masen is very bold in his talent, Edward is naturally talented. It’s subtle, even when he’s simply playing lullabies to help his neighbor to fall asleep.”
“Did it help?” I asked in a whisper.
“Very much.”
“I’ll do it anytime you need it.”
She smiled, shaking her head, only to keep going. “Together, they’re the perfect storm. They could have any woman in the room.”
“I don’t want just any woman.”
“I didn’t say you did, just that you could.” She smirked, taking my empty mug away. She poured me a fresh one and set it down in front of me.
I wasn’t sure what to say to that. I opened my mouth and then snapped it closed again. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask her out, but an outburst exploded behind me.
“Hey, Mase! Did you ask her yet!?” Jacob whisper-yelled across the room.
“Well, I was going to,” I mumbled, shaking my head at being interrupted.
“This place would be fucking awesome!” he babbled loudly.
“Oh,” I sighed, my hand hitting my forehead. “That’s what he meant.” Bella’s giggle made me smile. “I guess I have to ask now,” I said through a chuckle, meeting her curious gaze. “You can say no, angel, but we’d like to know if we could use your place… We’re thinking of doing like a concert/documentary video thing. And the size of this place is perfect, not to mention the musical history attached to it.” I pointed to the walls with the instruments and pictures of Charlie.
“Oh, um,” she sputtered.
“Fuck, I’m always asking you for some shit,” I grumbled. “Forget it…never mind.”
“Hey,” she said with a laugh. “I’ll tell you when you’ve overstepped, Edward.”
“That hasn’t happened yet?”
“No.” Her smile was sweet, but honesty shone in her dark eyes. “So…when? And what do you need from me?”
“In the next few weeks, and it’ll be a show, so there will be more customers than usual. Rose said she’d explain more if you need it…”
She smiled. “Okay.”
“Okay? As in okay we can do it? Or okay, Rose will explain?”
“Just okay, Edward. Relax.”
Chuckling, I nodded but turned to my band. “She said okay.”
There were cheers and celebratory catcalls, not to mention chants of “thank you” aimed Bella’s way. Tori was excited, but Garrett scowled, not that Bella paid him any attention.
“What did you think Jacob meant?” she asked, smiling my way. “You looked confused.”
I opened my mouth to finally ask her out, but Mike came bursting through the door of the kitchen.
“Oh my fucking hell, the whole band’s here!” he exclaimed but then shoved his sister. “You let me go to the movies without telling me Radiant Eclipse was all here!?”
“Why do you think I let you go?” she countered with a cheesy grin. “Don’t fangirl on them, Mike.”
“Aw…B,” he groaned.
“You want to meet them?” I asked him, smirking when he nodded, giving his eye-rolling sister a side glance. “C’mere.” He walked around the bar, and I guided him by the shoulder to the stage. “Guys, this is Mike, Bella’s younger brother. Mike, meet Alec, Jasper, Jacob, and James.”
He was a little flustered when the guys shook his hand.
“Mike plays drums,” I told Jasper. “That’s his kit behind you.”
Jasper’s mouth quirked up in a smile. “Yeah? What’choo know, kid? Get back there, and let’s see what you can do.”
Mike practically tripped to get behind his kit, but he followed Jasper’s instructions as, aside from James, everyone picked up an instrument.
“Get up here, Mase!” Jacob called. “Let’s test the acoustics for this place since Bella said we could film here.”
“Film what?” Mike asked, looking wide-eyed between us.
I hopped up on the stage, explaining the video to him, and he was practically vibrating with excitement. I’d have to make sure Bella brought him here for the shoot.
“What songs do you know?” I asked him.
“All of them.”
I grinned at Jasper and Alec when they chuckled. “Fair enough. Then pick your poison, Mike.”
When the kid started, Jasper and I locked gazes. Mike was good. Damn good. Hell, it could’ve been James back there, and we wouldn’t have been able to tell. Actually, he was better, stronger, adding in touches of his own, but still maintaining the beat we needed. We jammed with him for a few songs, some of our older stuff, and some songs that we all loved. I sang along with Jasper, giving Bella a wink when I caught her leaning against the table of women.
Once we stopped playing and the boys started to pack up, I saw that Bella was alone behind the bar, but James was talking to her. She gave him a placating smile as she shook her head at him, which pissed me the fuck off.
“Edward,” Jasper warned me, but I jumped off the stage, walking toward the bar.
“What’s the matter, James? Not used to being turned down? Or are you just a glutton for punishment?” When he turned to me, I said, “Leave her the fuck alone. She’s not your type.”
“And what type is that?”
“Oh…prostitutes, strippers, women with low self-esteem, my ex-live-in-girlfriend…” I drawled, grinning at his shock. “How is my ex, by the way?” I heard Rose hiss a string of curses, but my temper couldn’t be stopped.
James grinned, ignoring my question about Heidi, but jerked his thumb toward Bella. “She says she’s not your girl, Masen. I figure that’s free game.”
“Not that it’s stopped you before.”
“What can I say?” he said with a grin.
“You can say goodbye,” I heard behind me, and Emmett stepped closer. “That’s enough, James. Bella’s not interested, and we’re leaving so she can close up.”
My brother didn’t give him a choice, grabbing his shoulder and gripping fiercely. Emmett and James had never been friends, but my brother protected him because it was his job. However, I could see that my brother was just about to break his neck as he pushed him toward the door.
As everyone slowly left, Mike bounded up to his sister, who smiled proudly at him, even though I could see she was a little unnerved. “B, did you see?”
“I did. You were really good,” she told him. “Now…go on upstairs. I’m about to close up.”
Mike nodded but looked to me. “Thanks for that. It was a blast!”
“Good job, Mike,” I praised, giving him a fist bump before he left out the back of the bar.
When the place was empty, there was tension in the air.
“Bella, I’m sorry…”
“You didn’t have to do that.”
We spoke over one another, and I shook my head, gazing down at the floor.
“Edward, look at me,” she ordered, and I locked eyes with her. “I could’ve handled James. I don’t need—”
“I know!” I interrupted, throwing my hands in the air. “I know you can. I’m the one who can’t handle it.” My hands slipped into my hair as I started to pace, and I gripped hard. “Normally, I can ignore him, but not today. It’s been a shit day, and it’s you. You’re too good for him. And fuck me to tears, you’re too good for me, too.”
“Who says?” she countered.
“I do. You told me what you see about me. Let me tell you how I see you, Bella,” I said, swallowing nervously when she narrowed her eyes on me. “You’re fucking beautiful, and it’s natural and flawless and perfect. There’s nothing fake about you, and in my world that’s so rare. Sometimes, I look at you and it hurts.” I placed a hand on my chest. “You’re the most selfless, kind, and gentle person I’ve ever met, but you’re not naïve. You’re extremely smart, and you can read bullshit a mile away. Your ex wants you back, but you don’t encourage him, only because you don’t want to hurt him. You’re the most amazing listener I’ve ever met, and you make me want to blurt out all my shit, just to get it off my chest.”
“Go ahead.”
I snorted, shaking my head. “You don’t want to hear it.”
“Try me, Edward.”
I was still shaking my head, but I couldn’t shut the fuck up if I tried. “I’m tired of my life, Bella. I’m so fucking tired of being a puppet for a man who has no fucking idea what Radiant Eclipse is about. I’m tired of being something I’m not. I’m tired of going to AA meetings when I don’t need them. And I’m tired of getting fucked over. I don’t give a fuck that my ex cheated with James! That’s their problem. Hell, they’re probably perfect for one another. Both selfish as fuck and mean.”
Bella grinned, biting her bottom lip.
“But it bugs the shit out of me that they might be leaking shit about me to the public. And I can’t have that. I have too much to protect, and I sure as shit can’t have them anywhere near you.”
I huffed through my nose roughly, finally giving in to touch her. I pulled her hand so that she was sitting on the bar stool in front of me. Lightly, I touched her face, simply looking at her.
“I told you… You’re too good for him. You’re too good to be ‘Masen’s girl,’ too.”
“Yeah, but no one’s asked me about Edward’s girl.” When I froze, locking gazes with her, she smiled a little. “See… I don’t know Masen, except what’s on TV, and I’ve been told by a very good source that he’s pretty much a man in a mask. But I have this new neighbor…and he’s pretty great, despite how he sees himself. It’s the man behind the mask I’m interested in – the one who practically breaks his neck to help me bring in groceries; the one who gets embarrassed when he’s flirting; the one who sometimes comes into my bar just to keep me company on slow nights; and the one who played the piano for me yesterday morning so that I wouldn’t be dragging all night long at work from lack of sleep.” She shook her head. “Masen is fine. He just gave my baby brother the best night of his life, being able to jam with his favorite band, but it’s Edward who can’t seem to get the courage to ask me out.”
Laughing softly, I pressed my forehead to hers. “How?”
“Your brother, who’s a hot mess, by the way.”
“He is that.”
“He was worried about you.” She smiled up at me but pulled me closer. “He thought I’d shoot you down, simply because I don’t like the media.”
“It’s a legit concern, angel,” I whispered, wanting so badly to kiss her, but not until I knew for sure that it was what she wanted. “I don’t want to hurt you. And I most definitely don’t want you to be uncomfortable.” I stayed standing close but pulled my head back a little. “Unfortunately, my job is…public.”
“I remember.” She chuckled. “I also remember what it was like for my dad. It wasn’t all bad.”
“God, I hope you mean that, Bella,” I whispered, squeezing my eyes closed. “Because I’d hate for you to regret this.”
“Regret what?”
“This,” I said, my lips pressing to hers because I couldn’t take it any longer. I needed her kiss like I needed air. And I couldn’t help the moan that escaped me when her hands gripped my shirt and bicep and she returned the kiss with a push of air against my cheek, but it was her legs that pulled me closer. Something in me broke loose, and my hands shot to that ponytail, gripping it so I could turn her head. Tongues twisted, tasted, claimed. There were teeth involved, scraping deliciously over lips, and she felt incredible against me.
I slowed us down, or I was going to ravish her right there in her bar. We were both breathing heavy, and Bella’s eyes were dark as she opened them, but her tongue dragged across her bottom lip as if she were savoring, making the kiss last longer.
“You kill me,” I breathed before kissing her again, but as deep and sexy as it was, I ended it just as fast. “Please, let me take you out before I leave next week.”
“I can’t,” she panted but cupped my face when my heart sank. “Not because I don’t want to, but my brother’s here and I have to work. I have an idea, though.” I nodded against her forehead, and she smiled. “I’m taking tomorrow off to make dinner for Mike. You’re welcome to join us.”
“Yeah, definitely. He’ll probably go out with his friends after, but I want him to eat more than pizza while he’s here.” She grinned at my chuckle. “You, too.”
“So dinner tomorrow,” I reiterated, smiling when she nodded. “Are you sure, angel? About this…about me? You said I could have anyone in the room, but I only see you in every room.” I shrugged a shoulder when she cupped my face. “It’s true. I… It won’t be easy. I’m not easy to deal with—”
“You’re busy, Edward. That doesn’t make you a bad person,” she countered. “You think I don’t remember my dad running off all over the world? I do. I didn’t like it, but we learned to deal. I missed him terribly, but he called me just about every other night. I’ll miss you, too. It’s only been a month since we met, but I already kinda like having you around.”
“This is different, Bella. You’ll see things, read things that will test your faith in me. I don’t cheat, but I have to play a part.”
“I’m aware,” she said with a nod. “I’ve seen you in concert. Masen is a sexy fucker on that stage and with his fans.”
Chuckling, I shook my head. “I want this. I want you…so badly, Bella. I just…I don’t want you to get hurt. And I damned sure don’t want it to be me who does the hurting. It would kill me.”
“You know, I’m just as human. You have a lot of faith in me to not go blabbing.”
I scoffed. “Would you?”
“Case closed.”
We stared at each other for a moment, but I asked, “You’re sure?”
When she nodded with that adorable smile, I kissed her again. This time, I took my time learning her mouth, her lips, the way her tongue felt against mine. When I pulled away, I pressed a kiss to her forehead.
“I wanted that the second you saved me from the paps that first night.”
She giggled. “Yeah, I wanted that the day you signed your lease.”
Chuckling, I wrapped an arm around her and pulled her off the stool and onto her feet. “C’mon, Bella. I’ll wait for you to close up, and I’ll walk you to your door.”


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