Sunday, March 15, 2015 | By: Drotuno

Man Behind the Mask Chapter 7 & Pics

Chapter 7 – Sad but True
You're my mask
You're my cover, my shelter
You're my mask
You're the one who's blamed
Do my work
Do my dirty work, scapegoat
Do my deeds
For you're the one who's shamed

I'm your dream, make you real
I'm your eyes when you must steal
I'm your pain when you can't feel
Sad but true
“Sad But True” – Metallica
The heavy guitar and low bass gave me a rhythm to run. I needed to run off my stress, my nerves, and my need to scurry downstairs just to kiss Bella again. And again.
Shaking my head, I zoned out, pushing myself harder on the treadmill. It had been a long damn night without much sleep. I’d walked Bella to her door after she’d closed the bar, and we’d kissed again for what seemed like hours, and by the time we’d finally pulled apart, I could barely think straight – much less walk straight – up to my apartment.
Once my body had calmed down, my brain took over, and every insecurity, every concern, and every fear chased away the euphoria that kissing Bella had brought my way. She’d felt so damn good in my arms, and her mouth was like a drug to me. And that was just her mouth… I couldn’t imagine what the rest of her would do to me.
My legs started to burn as I tried to run away from it all, but essentially, I stayed in one damn place, which was pretty much my life in a nutshell. I focused on breathing, on putting one foot in front of the other, and on the music in my earbuds, not the thoughts of Bella.
The night before had been so fucking strange. I’d shown up at Charlie’s in such a piss-poor mood, and seeing James unable to leave Bella the hell alone had caused something in me to snap. All I could do, all I could concentrate on was getting her away from him. But now that I had, the question remained: Was I any better for her than he was?
My life was controlled clutter and chaos. It was a farce…at least up to a point. Everything I’d ever told her about me was true. Everything I’d ever asked of her, she’d given willingly. And sweet fuck, the way she’d looked at me, responded to me...
Movement suddenly caught the corner of my eye, and I almost fell off the treadmill when two people seemed to appear out of thin fucking air.
“Shit, fuck!” I gasped, stumbling off the treadmill and pulling out my headphones. “Seriously? Are you trying to kill me?”
My brother broke into a laugh, practically doubling over. “I knocked, bro…like four times.”
Rose’s smirk was short-lived. “And that’s why I have a key.”
“Yeah, well…” I panted, picking up my T-shirt from the rail of the treadmill to wipe the sweat off my face and chest as they sat down in my kitchen. “Scaring the shit out of me wasn’t exactly the reason I gave it to you. I thinking more like…I don’t know…watering my plants.”
“You don’t have plants,” Emmett pointed out. “And you let your fish die two years ago. Poor Ozzy.”
Rolling my eyes, I took a bottle of water out of the fridge, practically draining the whole damn thing. “Why are you here? I thought we were clear until we left on Monday.” I straddled a kitchen chair across from them.
Rose set a manila envelope down on the table, her face fierce. “I need to go over a few things with you. You won’t be happy.”
“Is this about James?” I asked, looking to my brother when he nodded with a scowl.
“Among other things,” Rose sighed. “First, I have your travel info for Monday. You guys will only be in L.A. for a couple of days, and then it’s right back here to finish up the album.” She slid my plane ticket my way, and I barely glanced at it. “Next, Aro spoke to Warren Milton about the video, and it’s a go. He loves the idea, which rubbed Aro the wrong way, but he can’t say shit. Warren sees it as a documentary of sorts. Now, since Bella has cleared us to use Charlie’s Pub, I had Uncle Jay draw up a contract for her. She’ll be rewarded handsomely for this, not to mention the record company will be providing extra security, bartenders, and servers for the days and nights we’ll be filming. We’ll use both real fans and paid extras.”
“Sounds…reasonable?” I questioned, simply because Aro wasn’t always reasonable.
Rose smirked. “Aro is walking a fine line with you guys, Edward. He knows that Radiant Eclipse brings him a shit-ton of respect and money. He also knows that your contract is essentially up when this album and tour are all complete. He wants you back, and in order to do that, he’s going to suck up to you…with ridiculously puckered lips to your ass.”
Emmett and I chuckled, but I shrugged, saying, “So what? No amount of ass-kissing is going to keep us, I don’t think. Unless he gives us complete control. He produces the records, and that’s it. No more puppet master. Which means…” I held up fingers, ticking off my points one by one. “No more feeding the media with bullshit, no more Masen is a crazy, drunk, man-whore, no more…idiotic events, interviews, and videos.”
“Yes, all of that,” Rose agreed. “And he’s hating it. But he’d rather keep you in any capacity than to lose you completely. You guys want control, and you want to produce your own stuff. It’s understandable, considering how much you guys have grown and improved since the beginning. Plus, you’re older now, so it’s almost expected, which is what the critics are whispering.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I figured.”
“You, Alec, Jake, and Jasper have to sit down and truly decide what you want to do. Technically, you can write your own ticket, and Aro can’t say shit about it. Or…you can completely separate from Volturi Records and go out on your own,” she stated firmly. “It looks good either way, because if Volturi doesn’t agree to your terms, then you leave. That’s that.”
I noted that she didn’t say James, but I’d known her long enough to wait. She was fuck-awesome at her job, and I trusted her totally.
She flipped open the manila envelope again, pulling out a stack of papers. “Now…the ugly shit.” She glanced to Emmett when he shifted a little in his seat. “If your accusations toward James last night didn’t alert him, Emmett’s manhandling of his dumb ass did. I can’t be mad, though. I’d had my uncle look into James’s contracts. In order to get rid of James, he’d have to be paid off…a ridiculous amount of money.”
“So pay it. I want him gone.”
“We can do that, though I honestly don’t think he deserves shit.” Rose pulled a page or two to the front of the stack in her hands, setting them down. “But good call on the non-disclosure, brother-in-law.” She smirked, winking my way. “He did, in fact, sign one. He’s not to speak publicly of any Radiant Eclipse business, financial earnings, or band members’ private affairs. Which means,” she urged, holding up a finger when my mouth opened to speak. “It means that if Heidi and James are leaking info about you or your family…or any other member of the band, he’s not only liable, but his days as a member of Radiant Eclipse are over.” She sighed deeply. “We just have to prove it.”
“How do we do that?” I asked, my temper rising. “I have nothing to say to Heidi, and we can’t prove they’re doing anything but texting each other.”
“Ah, but we can. It’ll just take time. Uncle Jay has a private investigator firm on his payroll. He’s going to put them to work. Like immediately.” Her smile was wicked. “They’re going to insert themselves in not only the media to get to James, but in Heidi’s life – a new maid or something – but I don’t want to know. The less we know, the better it’ll look at the end of the day.”
“How long?”
“Not long, bro,” Emmett stated. “You just gotta finish recording the album. I’ll watch your back when we travel and when you’re at the studio. I’m hoping that by the time we go on tour, you’ll have a new drummer. Which, by the way, that Mike kid was the bomb-diggity.”
“No shit, right?” I asked with a laugh. “He’s only seventeen, though. And his mother…hates musicians.”
Rose and Emmett laughed, but it was Emmett that spoke through his chuckle. “Well, she must love you.”
“No, not at all.” I frowned, shaking my head. “Just another reason Bella should stay away from me.”
“Don’t do that, Edward,” Emmett sighed, folding his arms across his chest. “Bella’s not fragile, nor is she blind as to what you are. Actually, she’s pretty damn protective of you. I thought she’d pimp-slap James last night before you showed up. And it’s not about Masen with her. She likes you, fool. So…who gives a shit if her mom doesn’t like you? In fact, who fucking cares about any of it as long as you two are cool with it?”
Grinning, I nodded. Emmett would always be my big brother. Never mind that he was my head of security.
“And,” Rose added, smiling my way. “I will make sure to keep her in the loop as much as I can. I know how shit looks, so…I can cushion some of that for her.”
“Thanks,” I whispered, smiling over at them. “I…I’m… I’m supposed to have dinner downstairs with Bella and Mike tonight. I just…I’m…”
“Take wine for Bella. And something sweet for the kid,” Rose suggested. “You’ll be fine. That Mike thinks the sun rises and sets out of your ass, so it won’t matter. Bella, though, she likes you. You, Edward. Not the lead singer of some band. You. So…” She sighed, a sad expression coming over her face. “I know about her dad, sweetie. It was an ugly thing, and she’s wary of the media, if only for that reason. But…” She held up a finger. “She’s not shy, and she’s not afraid of speaking up, which she probably did when we all left the bar last night.” I laughed, nodding a little. “Oh, yeah…she wasn’t happy that I stepped up to James,” I told them, and that thought only brought the kisses back to the forefront of my mind, and I felt my cheeks heat.
Rose chuckled. “Must’ve been a helluva make-up session, though.”
Grinning, I shrugged. “Maybe.” My smile fell quickly. “I don’t want her hurt, though.”
“It’ll never happen,” Emmett vowed, his face fierce and angry. “I told James to stay away from my brother’s girl. Contract or non-disclosure…or whatever… I’ll kick his ass either way. She’s been good to you…to us for letting us use her place and all. She’s good people,” he said, repeating what Jasper had said. “And the boys love her, even Jake, who she shot down…not that he gives a shit. He’s fooling around with his dad’s nurse. James, though, will learn to deal, or I’ll break his hands.”
“You miss the wrestling team, don’t you?” I teased, laughing when he reached over and ruffled my hair.
Nah, this is much more fun.”
I nodded, standing when they did. Emmett had been slotted for UW’s wrestling team but got injured just before he graduated high school. His Olympic dream was shot to hell, so he simply came with me when Aro found Radiant Eclipse, and he’d never bitched or complained once, even when our parents hit the fucking roof.
“Oh,” he said, turning to face me before he reached the door. “I called Dad.” When my eyes narrowed, he held up a hand. “He said he had to work last night, which is why he didn’t show.” He paused for a second. “Funny that… ’Cause when I talked to Mom, they’d had dinner plans…”
“’Kay,” was all I could say to that for a moment. “He’s not gonna stop drinking…unless something forces his hand. I should’ve let nature take its course the night he wrecked, but I just… He was so fucking scared. And Mom…I couldn’t see her handling it, especially had he lost his medical license.”
Emmett sighed heavily. “Drunk and on-call. I don’t even… Anyway, I just wanted you to know. I have no fucking idea what to do about it, but still…”
I nodded. “I can’t make him do shit. I’ll finish out what I have to do to settle the case, but…” I shrugged a shoulder. “I have my own life and problems, and in a few weeks, I won’t have his problem to cover for anymore.”
“You gonna tell Bella?” Rose asked.
“You said I couldn’t!”
“I think she’s pretty trustworthy, Edward.” Rose chuckled a little, but the humor evaporated quickly. “She’s had one of the biggest celebrities living right above her, free for the taking, and she’s done more protecting than speaking. She could’ve filled her bar with fans and media in order to boost business, but that’s not her. Though, she doesn’t really need the money.”
“Huh? Why?” I gaped stupidly.
Rose grinned. “You don’t know?” she asked, laughing when I shook my head. “That father of hers left every penny to her, right along with this building and the bar. Meaning…she has control over the rights to his music. Anytime it’s used, sampled, or played somewhere, Miss Bella gets a check.”
Grinning, I laughed a little. “Good for her!”
“Yeah, I figured you’d like that shit. She’ll get a portion of that when we record here, too, just so you know. Jasper wants to play a tribute song to Chainsaw Charlie, so we’ll need permission.”
“Fair enough.” I smiled, walking them to the door. When I opened it, I couldn’t help but smile at the pretty little brunette standing on the other side with wide eyes. For the first second or two, I thought it was because I’d surprised her, but I realized that her eyes were raking over every inch of my bare torso, almost as if she was reading every tattoo I had etched into my skin. “Angel…”
“Oh, hey! I didn’t realize you had company, Edward. I’ll come back…”
“No, no… They’re leaving,” I sang, reaching out to grab her hand in order to keep her right there in my kitchen. “You…can stay.”
Rose giggled, pushing me a little out of the way. “Hey, Bella… I’m going to call you next week to go over the contract for the video shoot. It’ll be when we get back from L.A.”
“Um, sure. Anytime. I’m here.”
Rose kissed my cheek, and Emmett gave me a rough hug before they left. When the door clicked closed, leaving Bella and me alone, the air in the room felt like it was thick, heavy.
“Everything okay?” she asked, glancing from my face to the door.
Nodding, I stepped closer to her. “Yes,” I whispered, smirking a little as she backed up a step for every one I took toward her. “Just…business…” I stopped when her back met my door. “Am I making you nervous, angel?”
She shook her head, laughing a little.
“Do I stink? I’ve been running…”
“I know. I heard you. But…no.” There it was again, her eyes raking over my chest, arms, and stomach.
“Are you here to rescind your invitation for dinner?” I asked her, and that got her attention.
Her sharp, dark eyes shot up to my face as she frowned up at me. “Why would I do that?”
“I… You could’ve changed your mind, Bella.”
Fuck, the urge to press her into that door was almost overwhelming. There was an electricity in the air around us; it pushed and pulled at me to lean in.
She smiled, shaking her head again, but her hand twitched a little at her side. “I didn’t change my mind, Edward.”
I couldn’t stop the sigh of relief that I let out heavily, nor could I stop the grin that quirked up my face.
“No, Edward.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I don’t know!” Her giggle was utterly adorable, as was the slight pink on her cheeks. “I can’t think.”
Swallowing nervously, I nodded in understanding. “But I don’t wanna think…”
She was too beautiful, too sweet, and apparently, my lack of shirt was rendering her unable to function properly. A part of me said to back up, to back away and let her breathe. The other part of me heard, “Me, either,” come out of her mouth so softly that it almost wasn’t audible.
“Bella, I…” I started to beg her to stop me, to put an end to the charge that seemed to graze across my skin, simply because she was so close. But when her hand reached out to touch my chest, warm fingers ghosting across my ink, I couldn’t stop myself.
My lips met hers, and she welcomed them, a small whimper escaping her. And that was all the encouragement I needed. My hands spread across her hips, flexing like I had to touch as much of her at one time as I could, but it wasn’t enough. Sliding them to her back at the same time that her arms slipped up around my neck, I moaned softly. Her fingers dug into my shoulder and threaded into my hair, and I pulled back just a little.
“More…I need…”
“Yes,” she breathed, pulling at me, and without thinking, I let my hands skim down to her sweet ass, giving it a good squeeze before lifting her up. “Oh, God…” Her head fell back to the door with a soft thump, and I immediately needed to taste that soft, sweet, creamy skin where I could see her pulse pounding.
“I know,” I breathed against her throat. “Tell me to stop, angel. You…I…”
Her fingers gripped my hair, pulling me away from her neck. Instead of making me stop, she pulled my lips to hers. Everything in me surged forward, pressing her into the door, gripping her ass to bring her closer, and letting my tongue claim, taste, take. She let go of my shoulder, placing her hand on my jaw.
“Edward,” she mumbled, slowly pulling away.
I placed three more soft kisses to her lips, finally able to see, and when I met her gaze, I chuckled at the look of desperation that matched my own. “I’d say I’m sorry…”
“Don’t you dare,” she whispered, smiling a little as she seemed to be perfectly content in my arms up against that door. “That was…”
“What I’d been thinking about all fucking morning,” I finished for her, and she giggled and nodded. “You’re beautiful.”
“So are you,” she replied, trailing fingers across my ink. “I want to read you like a book.”
I laughed, giving her a wink, but I pulled her off the door and walked her into my living room, only to fall onto the sofa. “Read on, bookworm.”
“No!” She laughed, her head falling back. “I can’t. I want to, but…”
“Ah, she remembers why she’s here!” I teased her. “A good kiss can kick-start the brain…”
“Among other things.”
“She speaks the truth,” I whispered against her lips, shifting my hips a little. It was no secret how she made me feel. In fact, she was pressing deliciously down onto me.
She smirked, forcing me to look her in the eye. “No, I came up here to find out if there was anything you wanted for dinner tonight. Or if there was something you couldn’t eat.”
“I don’t like Brussels sprouts, angel. Otherwise, I’m pretty easy to feed.”
“Got it…no tiny little cabbages.” She nodded once in mock seriousness. “Mike wants spaghetti, and he likes the sauce made from scratch, so I gotta get to work.”
“You spoil him.” I said with a chuckle, but I didn’t let her up off my lap just yet. She made me very happy right there.
“I can’t help it. We were a team growing up.”
Smiling, I nodded. “Yeah, Emmett and I were the same way.”
Bella’s eyes were warm and soft and beautiful as she smiled at me. She reached up, raked her fingers through my hair, only to kiss me briefly. “Six o’clock, Edward.”
“I’m there,” I promised her, nodding when she stood up from my lap. “I’ll bring dessert, angel.”
She grinned and nodded. “Okay.”
It took a second for me to be able to stand after having that gorgeous thing on my lap, in my arms, and kissing me stupid. Hell, I could still feel her fingers tugging deliciously at my hair; my scalp still tingled with it. When I grimaced, trying to adjust myself, I caught her staring.
“I’d say I’m sorry,” she started, but I pulled her to me, pressing my lips to hers.
“Don’t you dare,” I repeated what she’d said to me.
Her laugh was soft and easy as I wrapped an arm around her shoulders and led her to the door. As we walked by the kitchen table, my phone vibrated across the top. I snatched it up, frowning at the fact that it was my dad. I was too pissed at him for missing more AA meetings to talk at the moment, and I wasn’t going to interrupt the best morning I’d had in ages. Bella had taken the fears I’d had woken up with and the shitty news that Rose had brought my way, and she’d wadded all of it up and thrown it out. No, my dad could fucking wait.
I felt a warm hand on my face, turning it from the glare I was giving the phone to a worried expression on her face.
“Where’d you go?”
I shook my head. “Nowhere.” She glanced at the phone and then my face, and I could see that she wanted to ask, but just being how she was, I knew she wouldn’t. “My dad, angel. And I just don’t want to deal with him right now. It’s a long damn story. And I’ll tell you all about it, but not today. Today is too damned important. You’ve put me in a fuck-awesome mood, and talking about him would screw that up. Okay?”
She smiled, but I could see she was still worried. “Whenever you’re ready…”
“I know. Thank you,” I whispered against her lips. “Now…go on. I’ll be down there at six. I’ve got to run a few errands. Call or text if you need anything.”
Her smile was warm and sweet when she gave me a small wave before walking out my door. A glance at the clock told me I had a few hours before I had to be downstairs for dinner.
In the shower, where thoughts of Bella had me so hard it was almost painful, I gave in and wrapped a hand around my throbbing dick. It didn’t take much to take care of the problem. I’d just had the most beautiful woman wrapped all around me and pressed against my damn front door as we kissed like we were never going to stop. And I wouldn’t have stopped had Bella not slowed us down, which was perfectly fine with me. I was completely content go at whatever pace she wanted.
Once I was out of the shower and dressed, I grabbed my keys and looked at my phone. Shaking my head at a few more missed calls from my dad, I ignored them and left my apartment. With traffic and the few stops I had to make, I found myself racing the clock.
I was a minute late when I finally knocked on Bella’s door. It was yanked open, and I chuckled at Mike, standing there in a Metallica T-shirt. The smell of garlic and sauce hit me like a brick wall, and suddenly, I was a starving man.
“Traitor,” I teased him, pointing to his chest, and he grinned.
“Yeah, well…I’m a huge Lars fan.”
“Yeah, he’s an amazing drummer. Funny fucker, too.”
“C’mon on in. Bella’s blowin’ up the kitchen.”
“Shut up, ass!” I heard from my right, but when she caught sight of me with wine, she practically sagged.
“Hey, angel, I brought wine.” I kissed her temple.
“Hey… you didn’t have to…” she sighed but then cracked a smile when I held it up. “But I’m glad you did. Glasses are in that cabinet, and no, Mike can’t have any.”
“Aww, B…”
“You don’t even like it!” she argued, rolling her eyes up to me when I chuckled as I poured us two glasses. “Please ignore him. He’s leaving after dinner anyway…some hot date.”
“Best of luck, then,” I said with a laugh his way, flinching when Bella tossed her towel at me. “What’s her name?”
Bella tsked my way, but I shot her a wink, turning back to Mike when he answered, “Lauren.”
Mike chattered on about his girl as he set the table for us, and I leaned against the counter next to Bella as she brushed garlic butter onto bread and popped it into the oven.
“Almost ready,” she whispered. “And forgive my brother. I think he’s hoping to cash in his V-card tonight. Though, I honestly don’t want to know about it.”
I snorted into my wine glass, especially when Mike froze for a second. “Not cool, B…and like I’d tell you…”
“Hmm,” she hummed, but her amusement was adorable.
“Dammit,” he growled a little, shaking his head and pointing my way. “This guy gets more play than a rich man at a strip club with a wad of cash… Now he knows I’m a loser.”
“Oh, he knew…” She giggled, grinning his way.
“Stop!” I laughed, holding up my hand. “First…” I pointed to Mike. “At seventeen…no play. None. Like a pitifully dry desert. Trust me, Mike.” Bella’s eyes shot to mine, and I could see that bit of information came as a shock. “Nope. Didn’t cash in my V-card until I was close to nineteen.” I shrugged a shoulder. “Loser or not…it’s the truth.” I turned back to Mike. “I was too into music, not to mention just busy as all hell, and I was a skinny little fuck, so…no. And second, not as much ‘play’ as you’d think, buddy.”
“But you and Heidi Summers,” he stated, his mouth hanging open. “And the chicks on tour…you guys must…”
I shook my head as we all took a seat at the table. “Heidi and I are done. We’ve been done for few months now, and before that, I’d been on tour for almost five months. And I don’t touch the fans…or should I say groupies. There’s a difference, truly. Fans are normal. Groupies are…insane. A few of the guys used to go there…or they did once upon a time, but not now. Alec’s married to a really nice girl named Carrie; he met her at the bank he uses. They’ve been together for years. She’ll sometimes go on the road with us. Jake, despite his flirting with Bella, is actually pretty damn taken. He just loves to hit on girls. Leah – his girlfriend – is the nurse who takes care of Jake’s dad. Jasper and Alice have been together since our first record. She was our costume person, but now she handles just about everything that Rose can’t.”
“And James?” he asked, passing the bowl of pasta my way.
I sneered, biting my tongue. I didn’t want to ruin Mike’s idea of us completely. I really liked the kid, and I loved his enthusiasm over the band and music in general. It would be like outing the fact that Santa Claus didn’t exist.
“James is…”
“He’s a pig, Mikey,” Bella stated firmly, pointing her forkful of perfectly coiled sauce and pasta at him. “Don’t use him as someone to look up to.”
Mike gaped at her, but I shrugged a shoulder. “Your sister can spot bullshit a mile away.” I smiled at Bella. “And James reeks of it. Not to mention he pushed his limit with her last night, which just about got his ass beat…”
“By you?” Mike asked with a laugh.
“By Bella,” I answered, grinning at the scowling girl next to me. “But my brother more than anyone…”
The conversation shifted from there, and it was easy and fun. When we’d had our fill of spaghetti and garlic bread, I pointed to the box I’d set on the counter, telling them it was filled with real authentic Italian cannoli. Mike practically inhaled two of them before his phone went off. He kissed his sister’s cheek, taking Bella’s car keys, and gave me a fist bump before leaving us alone in the kitchen.
“Coffee?” she offered, and I nodded, unable to keep my eyes off her when she got up from the table to pour us two cups. When she sat back down, she stirred in sugar to her cup, looking up at me. “You’re really sweet to him. You didn’t have to tell him that stuff.”
“He’s a good kid. He’s easy to like. And nothing I said was a lie, angel,” I sighed, smiling a little.
“Even the V-card stuff?”
Especially the V-card stuff. It wasn’t until we started to gain a small following in Seattle that I started getting attention from girls. It was hard to say no to,” I said with a grin. “But that shit gets old really fucking fast. It was why I welcomed the whole relationship with Heidi. I’d thought it would work, that we were exclusive and safe.” I shrugged a shoulder. “Alec was already married by then. Alice and Jasper were inseparable. I kinda liked the idea of it all, but she wasn’t…” I sighed, looking over to Bella, who was watching me closely with warm, dark eyes. “I should’ve known better. We fit with the fame side of shit, Bella – you know, parties, premieres, award shows, concerts – but outside of that, we were too different. Heidi preferred Masen and all the shit that came with him, not the guy I am on my downtime. She liked attention, too, so I should’ve known leaving her for months at a time would be…a mistake.”
Bella huffed a laugh, but it was humorless and a touch angry. “Seriously? You’re excusing her from cheating?”
“No, not at all. I’m simply saying that maybe we used each other for completely different reasons. I knew it way back then, and I should’ve done something about it, even though we’d had fun in the beginning. But she saved me the trouble when I went away to rehab.”
“Did you care about her?” Bella asked, poking at the cannoli on her plate.
Smirking, I tilted her face up with my fingers under her chin. “Are you asking if I loved her?” I asked her, and she nodded but shrugged, which I’d learned was Bella’s way of saying it wasn’t her business. “I cared about her, angel, but it wasn’t…”
Bella smiled a little. “I understand.”
Studying her face, I smirked, asking, “Garrett?”
Her nose wrinkled a little, but she nodded. “Yeah, we were friends first, and it was comfortable and fun, but he got…serious. But it wasn’t… He wanted to take the next step, just because he thought we should, and I wasn’t there…at all. And it wasn’t fair to him when I didn’t feel the same. I feel we’re better friends than…more.”
I pulled her to me, kissing her forehead. “You’re too sweet for your own good, angel.”
“He wouldn’t agree with you…not when I first broke things off with him, anyway.”
“His loss. My gain.”
“Heidi’s too.” She smirked over at me. “Is it true she called you Masen, not Edward?”
Grinning, I shook my head, simply because I figured out what Tanya and Kate had been whispering to her that day in my apartment. “Heidi chose to call me Masen, Bella…not that I encouraged her otherwise.”
“But me? Why? You didn’t even know me…”
I cupped her face, kissing her softly, which was becoming more and more addictive since the first one last night. She tasted sweet, like the cream and chocolate from the cannoli, but warm and what was quickly becoming as familiar as the back of my hand.
When I pulled back, I kept her precious face in my hands. “I don’t know. It was just…different. You’re different. It felt right. And now, I do know you…or we’re getting there, and I’m so fucking glad to know that I made the right decision to hide in your bar that night.”
Her giggle was soft, shaking us both. “Poor thing. You looked like a deer in headlights.”
Grinning, I said, “Not headlights…crosshairs.” I sighed deeply – in want of her and in a touch of nerves at my next question. “I’m going to ask this one more time, Bella, because this isn’t a game to me, and I’m not fucking around. I really want to see where this…us…can go. Are you sure about this?”
Bella took my hands from her face, holding them in her lap. “You expect me to run away?”
“I hope to God you won’t, but I’ll understand if you do.”
She tsked, frowning and shaking her head. “Edward, if I wasn’t sure, I wouldn’t have invited you to dinner with my brother. You wouldn’t be here right now.”
I shifted in my chair, slipping my fingers into her hair at her neck, pulling her to me…all of her. I guided her until she was astride my lap, my lips barely separating from hers. She kissed me back, but I could feel the little smile on her lips.
“Thank you,” I whispered, meeting her dark eyes when she pressed her forehead to mine. “For the invite and for dinner.”
I kissed her once more and helped her to her feet. “I should get home. It’ll be a long week for me. Walk me out?” I asked, holding out my hand and smiling when she nodded and slipped her fingers through mine.
We walked outside, and as soon as the door closed behind her, I had Bella pressed up against the door and was kissing her as if my life depended on it – almost but not quite as intense as when I’d had her in my apartment just that afternoon. When I finally pulled back enough to breathe, I rested my forehead on hers, taking in her scent and the feel of her breath as it puffed out against my cheek.
“Go back in before I drag you upstairs,” I groaned, reaching up to rake my hand through my hair, my gaze moving over her face as her cheeks turned pink and she smiled. “You’re way too tempting, angel, but I… I don’t want to rush any of this.”
I grimaced at my babbling, thinking she’d laugh, but I needed her to understand this wasn’t just something I did all the fucking time. She was more…way more…important than just getting off. Getting off was easy and ridiculously empty, and that wasn’t what this was. The things Bella made me feel were new but amazing and comforting and scary all at the same time. I could be me with her, and it was freeing. I wanted to relish it. All of it.
But she didn’t laugh. She smiled so warmly, it took all I had not to push her back inside when she stepped closer.
“Good night, Edward,” she said softly, kissing me once more sweetly before I stepped back. She turned the knob, stepped into the apartment, and smiled before the door closed, leaving me alone on her doorstep.
I took the stairs two at a time, my smile growing until I stepped into my place. Despite the list of things I needed to do before I left on Monday, my mind was a whirlwind of just…Bella. There were things I wanted to do with her, things I needed to tell her, and experiences I wanted to share with her. Words and notes started to form in my head, and before I could lose them, I rushed to the piano to snatch up a piece of paper and got to work on something new, something that reminded me of Bella.


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