Friday, May 1, 2015 | By: Drotuno

Man Behind the Mask Chapter 20 & Pics

Chapter 20 – Wherever I May Roam
...and the earth becomes my throne
I adapt to the unknown
Under wandering stars I've grown
By myself but not alone
I ask no one

...and my ties are severed clean
The less I have the more I gain
Off the beaten path I reign

Rover, wanderer
Nomad, vagabond
Call me what you will

But I'll take my time anywhere
I'm free to speak my mind anywhere
And I'll never mind anywhere
“Wherever I May Roam” – Metallica
Glancing up from the book I was reading on my tablet, I gazed around the bus. As bad as Edward had described it, it really wasn’t horrid. Sure, we were all packed in there, but it was quiet. We were all doing different things, staying out of each other’s hair as scenery dusted in snow drifted by out the windows.
Alec was stretched out along the back seat, eyes closed, earbuds in, listening to what was most likely classical music – something he and Edward had in common. My brother and Jacob were playing a video game up toward the front of the bus, and they were talking quietly into headsets as they blew up something or other on the screen. Emmett was sitting up front while Tony drove. Alice and Rose were sitting at the table, laptops open, gazes fierce, and nimble fingers on keyboards. It seemed those two never stopped working. The seat right behind Tony was occupied by Kate and Tanya, who seemed to be watching a movie on a tablet while cuddled adorably together.
Jasper was kicked back on the long seat across from me, acoustic guitar on his stomach and his legs stretched out. His feet were crossed at the ankles, and he was the epitome of laidback at the moment. Edward, however, was sitting at the end of the bench I was on. His long legs were stretched out in front of him in the walkway, while he, too, had his guitar in hand. Though, when he wasn’t playing, his fingers would skim over the skin of my feet and ankles as he kept them on his lap.
It was interesting to watch the dynamic between the two. They were so different in so many ways. Edward was a furrowed brow and a set jaw when they wrote or tested music, where Jasper was lazy smiles and what came across as indifference, but it wasn’t. It was far from it. Edward was dark, intense, with his ink and fierce gaze. Jasper was light hair and eyes, easy to laugh, and he let things roll right off him. They complemented each other so well with their differences that it gave me an understanding as to how the band truly worked. They were Radiant Eclipse’s heart and soul. They were the music, the words, and the drive. Edward pushed Jasper to write better, more complex riffs, while Jasper kept Edward from taking shit too seriously.
Christmas in New York had been amazing and so different than anything I’d ever experienced. I remembered my dad traveling around the holidays when I was young, but I’d never gone with him. With Edward, it had been fun and easy, despite the lack of the traditions that usually came with the holiday.
We’d spent most of Christmas Eve inside the hotel room. I couldn’t say I regretted a single minute. I didn’t feel I’d missed out on anything, simply because I’d missed him so damn much. We’d finally ventured out into the city in the late afternoon to at least say we’d seen New York at Christmas. We wandered around Midtown, taking silly pictures next to several sights – the tree and ice skating rink in Rockefeller, the New York Public Library, and Radio City Music Hall. We’d wandered until our feet hurt, and then we’d grabbed a cab back. We’d barely been recognized, simply due to the big, bustling city, but when we were, the people were excited and polite, gracious when Edward would stop to sign an autograph or take a quick picture.
There had been no Saturday Night Live, though Rose and I seemed more disappointed than the boys. The show’s people, who had been interested in having Radiant Eclipse on, decided to go with a different musical act. They’d invited the boys back for another show, but it would have to wait until the schedules could mesh better.
Christmas Day was the last day we’d spent in New York. The guys had had an interview and small performance on a talk show early that morning, and Rose had treated us all to Christmas dinner at a restaurant where she’d booked a private room. We’d gorged ourselves on the traditional foods, exchanged presents, and laughed until we were all hoarse.
My gaze raked over Edward’s form, landing on the gift I’d given him. It was a watch, masculine and chunky, shiny and sexy. It had been worth every penny I’d paid for it, simply because his face had lit up bright and happy when he saw what it could do. It showed more than one time zone, and I’d set one to Seattle time so he’d always know what time it was at home.
I sighed at the thought, tearing my gaze from the sweet man who was rubbing my feet as his mind worked out notes and rhythms to gaze out the window. It hadn’t taken long, though nothing about our relationship had, but I realized it didn’t matter if it was a hotel room, the bus we were in at the moment, or our apartments back in Seattle… Everywhere was home when we were together. We were comfortable and easy. We relied upon each other, laughed and played, not to mention we loved. Hard.
It made me wonder about our future, made me consider decisions I never would’ve thought about prior to Edward coming into my life. I wanted to figure out us. I wanted to make Edward happy but keep some sort of normal in contrast to what he did for a living.
My tablet was tugged gently from my grasp and set aside. Grinning up at what seemed to be a cuddly Edward, I opened my arms for him. He draped himself on top of me, his head on my stomach, and my fingers immediately sank into soft hair as his chest settled between my legs.
I pressed kisses over and over to the top of his head as I continued to glide my fingers through his soft locks. I thought he’d fall asleep, but he shifted a little, setting his chin on my stomach. His eyes were soft green, mixed with a touch of gray that was coming in through the windows.
“Are we driving you crazy yet, angel?” he asked softly, grinning when I raised an eyebrow at him.
“That happened way before setting foot on this bus, Edward,” I told him, smiling when Jasper snorted softly across the way.
His eyes were closed, and he’d set his guitar aside, but he cracked open one eye to look my way. “Completely understandable, darlin’.”
Pointing at him but looking to Edward, I smiled. “See? Too late.”
Edward’s cheeks reddened, and I groaned internally. God, I loved that. It was so damned sweet, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to do wicked things to him. And I would have…if we hadn’t been on that bus. All the naughty things I wanted would have to wait until we checked into our hotel in Columbus.
“No,” I sighed deeply, leaning in to kiss his forehead and finally answering his question. “You aren’t driving me crazy, baby.”
Edward shifted again, and this time he slipped between the back of the seat and me, propping himself up on an elbow. He looked skeptical as he gazed down at me.
“You’re awful quiet,” he noted.
I laughed softly, reaching up to trail my fingers along his jawline. I kissed him briefly. “Shut up, Edward. I was just thinking.”
He smirked but waited patiently.
“I want to…” I trailed off, my gaze dropping from his, only to fall to the ink on his strong forearm. My fingers followed each swirl, each picture, all the way up until it disappeared into the sleeve of his black T-shirt. “I’m trying to figure out what I want to do…with this, the bar, you.”
Edward sighed deeply, but I had to kiss him for not panicking. Since the beginning, he’d been worried that I’d run from it all. And while I understood his trepidations, simply due to his past, I had to keep reassuring him that I was in…permanently. It seemed to be working.
He leaned in, kissing the tip of my nose and then my lips. “Any conclusions, baby?”
“No,” I said with a laugh, which made the sweetest smile curl up on his lips. “I know we need to discuss it…in detail, Edward. But…I don’t know. There’s…” I sighed a little, shaking my head. “There’s a part of me that wants to say ‘fuck it all,’ and pick up roots and stay right here, but I know I can’t. As much as I’m enjoying this, being with you, traveling, it’s not me.”
“I know,” he agreed firmly, and again, I could see he wasn’t scared, just very serious. “And I couldn’t do that to you, anyway, Bella.”
“But…” I urged, kissing him lightly. “I also know I don’t need to tie myself down to the bar. I don’t need to work, but I chose to, simply to keep my dad’s memories alive. Things have picked up a little since your video, but I’d love to release some of the responsibility of it all in order to have more freedom. I honestly don’t know, Edward. There has to be some sort of middle ground, a happy medium to it.”
He was nodding slowly as I spoke. “We’ll figure it out, angel. I promise. I’ve fucking loved having you with me the last few days. But I’m not blind to how grueling it can be or will get as the tour goes on…and on and on.” He smiled a little. “I also know that this will be the toughest tour, and it’s the last one under Aro. The next one, we can pretty much do as we please.” He sighed deeply, shrugging a shoulder. “If we can…survive this one, angel, then we probably can survive anything. Of that, I’m abso-fucking-lutely sure.”
“You two should do what Carrie and Alec did… Well, before she got pregnant,” Rose piped up. She grimaced when we looked her way. “Sorry, I just…couldn’t help but overhear.” She gestured a finger around the bus. “Before Carrie got pregnant, she’d travel with us off and on. And what I mean by that is, through her job, she would receive two paid weeks of vacation a year, so with those two weeks, she’d travel. She’d meet us wherever we were and then do it again when the next vacation rolled around. You…” She pointed to me. “You have more freedom than that, so you could essentially visit anytime you wanted. Hell, we could fly you out about halfway through each leg, which would be two more times after this one, if that’s what you wanted. Here,” she said, clicking the mouse of her laptop. “I just sent you the entire tour schedule down to the minutes.”
Edward and I sat up, and I grabbed my tablet. Edward shifted us until I was leaning against him with my back to his chest as I scrolled through my e-mail. He set his chin on my shoulder as I studied the itinerary for the next seven months.
Seven damn months.
The thought made me sigh deeply, not to mention squirm closer to Edward and nuzzle his scruffy cheek.
“What?” he asked, his arms wrapping around me.
 I shook my head, trying to figure out how to word the question, finally just blurting it out. “What would change? After you’re done with Aro? What would be the difference between this­­”—­I held up the tablet—“and a different tour?”
Edward’s mouth opened, but it was Rose who answered.
“Less stops,” she stated firmly, shaking her head. “I always thought Aro was an idiot for all these shows. I get it. We have the fan base, and most shows sell out, but fewer cities with bigger venues would be better. It would reach the same areas, but it would cut the cost of the stage crew. It’s expensive as all hell to roll out the stage, equipment, and the crew to every city. Even worse when we go overseas. It’s fuel, travel expenses, and salaries, not to mention insurance for workers and vehicles. We make that back with each show sold, but at what cost? These guys, by the end of the tour, are fried. They’re tired. If we cut a handful of shows out of each leg of the tour, they’d perform better, the road crew could take their time, and we’d still come out on top. Aro doesn’t see it that way. He only sees the money that’s rolling in. He doesn’t see that he’s burning them out.”
I gazed around the bus to see most everyone listening, my brother included.
“Bullshit,” Jasper muttered, sitting up a little. “He sees it; he just doesn’t care.”
Edward’s lips were at my ear. “What do you want to do, angel?”
Grinning, I turned and kissed his jaw. “Not move from this spot. Ever.” His chuckle shook us both, but I held up the tablet. “When I get home, I’ll show this to Tori and Garrett, and we’ll figure out the best dates, okay?”
I knew there was more to that question than just the current tour, but I honestly didn’t have the answer. We really did need to sit down and figure it out, but it wouldn’t be until their contract with Aro was over. However, Edward accepted that, opting to drop kisses to my cheek and neck.
“Speaking of Aro,” Rose sighed, shaking her head and turning her laptop around. “He’s probably going to be upset with your little Facebook friend, Edward.”
Edward laughed, turning her way. “Aw, Donna was cool. What’d she do?”
Grinning at Edward’s sweet defense of his fan, I looked over at the computer screen. Apparently Donna had friends everywhere on that page. There were pictures and videos from the shows they’d already finished. There were also pictures of Edward and me out and about in Manhattan, and those made me smirk up at Rose.
“They love you,” Rose said with a laugh, pointing a finger my way.
“Or they really hated Heidi,” I countered with a chuckle. “I’m just greener grass.”
Edward barked a laugh, but we both sat up to look. The threads on the Facebook page were filled with praise of the shows, not to mention how excited they were that I’d showed up on Masen’s tour. Apparently Masen looked sad up until Christmas.
Rose held up a finger, smirking a little as she changed to a different page. “What’s funny? The gossip sites are completely the opposite. They have their ‘sources’ who say you’re still with Heidi, but they also can’t deny seeing James out with her in public.”
“Too bad you didn’t find out who texted my phone,” I told her, wrinkling my nose.
That whole thing was still a mystery, though every last one of us had our suspicions. Rose’s uncle had called back just after we’d left New York to let us know that the phone number traced back to a pay-as-you-go phone bought with cash in Seattle. That was it. Nothing more. I assumed it was Aro, just because he probably had access to my information more than James or Heidi, but we couldn’t say for sure. Someone had wanted me to see that article, that picture of Senna and Edward. Someone wanted me to doubt him, and that wasn’t going to happen.
Jasper sat up, eyeing the screen, only to reach over and click back to the fan page. His grin was slow, lazy, and easy. “You know, your buddy doesn’t do a half-bad job on this thing, Edward.”
Edward laughed, but he nodded. “How’s she my buddy?”
“’Cause she’s your fan, doofus,” Rose answered with a laugh.
I scrolled down the page, nodding a little. “You know…these are the people who count. They’re the ones going to shows, buying T-shirts and music. They’re the ones you should cater to.” I tapped the screen, looking between Edward and Jasper. “They’re your media. Yours. You should give them everything – time, pictures, interviews. They count. Not those vultures who stalk the corners, printing lies.”
Edward’s brow furrowed a bit, but he nodded. “And they would say exactly what they see… Hell, they already are. Look.”
He pointed to a few posts here and there. They were pictures that fans had taken with him or other members of the band. Some were excited, and they talked about how nice they were or how busy, or even what they were out doing.
“That’s true, B,” Mike agreed easily. “But you gotta watch some of them. While most just…talk about the shows or meetings, there are some…not-so-sane ones. They’re obsessed.”
My eyebrows rose up high. “Okay…” I dragged out the word.
My brother laughed. “You forget I was a fan first. I’ve seen some crazy shit on some of those pages. Girls who claimed they’d slept with these guys; girls who said they saw them doing stuff, though they had no proof. Guys who said they got into a fight with Masen or pulled Alec off their girlfriend. It’s all crap. Delusional, too.”
Alec laughed from his spot at the back of the bus, as did Edward in my ear, only he added, “I’m a lover, not a fighter.”
I placed my hand on his face playfully, pushing him away with a laugh. “Yes, but it does fit the Masen persona.”
He merely shrugged as he laughed at me. I rolled my eyes at just how much he didn’t care about that stuff, but I met Rose’s gaze, and she smirked a little, like she was thinking it over. But I sat back in the seat, lifting my tablet and running a gossip site search. I wanted to know exactly what they were saying.
I went back a few months, shaking my head at pictures of myself doing various yet completely boring things – working at the bar with Garrett, shopping, coffee with Tori… Hell, even driving in my car. The paparazzi became bored with me when they couldn’t catch me doing anything nefarious. There were a few articles that focused on Edward – or really, Masen – that spoke of the new album and the new tour, but one or two tried to make more out of his being out in public than it truly was, like the party in Buffalo with Senna kissing his cheek. I wanted to see what these so-called “sources” were saying…exactly.
Rose sat down beside me, sandwiching me between Edward and her and gazing over my shoulder. “See a pattern yet?”
I snorted humorlessly but nodded. “Oh, yeah. I notice when it’s about Edward, they skirt the truth. The whole Senna thing… Of course they left together! You all did. Of course they arrived at the same hotel. You all were staying there. They leave out just enough of the truth to make it sound…dirty. So my guess is there aren’t really any sources, this shit’s just skewed to make it look a certain way.” I flipped over to another screen, a different article, and this one was about Heidi and James out and about. “This bullshit, on the other hand…that’s ridiculous. This picture clearly shows them together. Body language can show you they’re attracted to each other, but the article is how they’re ‘leaning on each other over Masen’s betrayal.’”
I rolled my eyes so hard that I was damned sure I sprained an eyeball, but I shook my head. “This isn’t all Aro’s doing. This is James, too, but he’s using Heidi to do it.”
Rose nodded, smiling a little. “Yup, that’s my guess, too, because James is still in deep shit. Legally, he still can’t say much, but I guaran-damn-tee you, he’s letting Heidi’s people leak specific statements. Those ‘sources’ are probably her assistants. We stopped her at the show at Charlie’s, but we can’t stop her in public. Heidi never signed a non-disclosure statement outside the original video, which was idiotic…” She trailed off, eyeing Edward with a raised eyebrow.
“I’m aware…now, Rose,” he snarked back.
Grinning, I nudged him with my elbow. “Need me to sign one?”
“Fuck, no!” he grumbled, shaking his head. “In fact, I’d fear for whoever tried to make you spill a damn thing.”
The whole bus broke into laughter over that one, but he had a point. It wasn’t exactly a secret that I had no patience for the media.
Shrugging, I turned back to Rose. “I love how they’ve painted me this…other woman. And that Heidi and I have had words. Other than the day of the video shoot, I haven’t spoken to her. And neither of them have crossed the threshold of my bar.”
Rose sniffed, her face serious. “Let’s hope it stays that way. You’re using the security company I gave you, yeah?”
“Mmhmm,” I hummed, nodding a little. “They stay until closing.”
“Good,” Edward grumbled. “Keep it that way.”
Masen, any plans for the New Year?
Masen! Bella! How’s it touring together?
Mike, is it difficult being the youngest member of the band?
Bella, how long will you be traveling with Masen?
“Everyone, back up!” Emmett snapped, seemingly impatient with all of them as he tried to get us from the bus to the hotel.
Between Emmett and Tony, they were a wall of defense that couldn’t be breached. Security wasn’t really Tony’s thing, but due to his size and his longevity with the band, he did it anyway, if only out of loyalty. They did it at restaurants, gas stations, at the shows, and at the hotels. They’d get us inside safely, without having cameras and microphones shoved in our faces, not to mention fans overstepping their welcome or rude assholes who felt the need to prove something by picking a fight with one of the band members over who was in line for coffee first. The latter was something that happened more often than I’d have thought, but with Emmett’s and Tony’s presence, not to mention Masen’s stone-cold glare, the jerks usually backed down.
We’d just arrived in Nashville. It was the last show I’d see before going back to Seattle. Due to weather and traffic, we’d gotten there with just enough time for everyone to clean up, eat something, and get over to the arena for sound check.
Columbus had been fun. Radiant Eclipse had played to a sold-out show. Masen and the boys had worked the crowd into a frenzy. Even Viper’s Venom had come out onto the stage to play with them – something they were considering doing again because the fans had liked it. And considering tonight was New Year’s Eve, they wanted to give them something extra.
The thought of Senna and the rest of the members of Viper’s Venom made me smile, simply because they truly were…different. Senna had apologized to me profusely about the picture of her and Edward – or Masen, really – saying that he’d been nothing but polite, that she didn’t know which rumors to believe, and she’d promised she meant no harm. She was also well aware that her lifestyle wasn’t something Masen was interested in, but she’d said a girl could dream. I liked her, if only because she was honest. She also had a guy she’d been leading around on a leash, so it seemed she’d moved on.
Emmett guided us through the hotel lobby and into the elevator. Edward was quiet, but he tended to get that way before a show, I’d noticed. And being pressed for time wasn’t helping matters.
Once we were inside our hotel room, I eyed him for a moment when he simply said, “You can have the first shower.”
No “angel,” no smile…nothing.
“Is this a preshow thing, Edward Cullen? Or do you think you could at least look my way?” I asked him, sounding just a touch snarky, but he’d been pretty snippy for the last few miles of the ride. When his shoulders sagged, I added, “Or is this the same thing you pulled on me when you were packing to leave?”
He fell down onto the edge of the bed, glaring at the floor, and I knew I’d nailed it. Walking to him, I forced his gaze to meet mine.
“It’s our last night, Edward, but not the last. Nothing about this trip has scared me or swayed my opinion. Is that what this is?”
That beautiful blush colored his cheeks, along with a flash of his sweet, nervous half smile. Slowly, he relaxed the fists on his lap and wound his arms around my waist. Sometimes he was too easy to read.
“You know what scares me?” I asked into the top of his head as his forehead pressed to my stomach, but he pulled back to look at me. “The band’s eating habits. That’s some scary shit.”
He grinned. “We don’t exactly have a choice, angel.”
There he was, back with his sweet tenor.
“That tour bus has a fridge. Try storing more than beer and sodas in there. An apple won’t kill you. Hmm?”
His cheeks tinged pink again as he nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
Cupping his face, I asked, “You know what else scares me?”
His brow furrowed when he shook his head.
“This…this grumpy thing you do when we’re about to separate. You did the same thing at home when packing, getting all prickly when I was trying to help you. Stop it. I don’t like it, and it’s not necessary. I hate it, actually. It’s like you’re pushing me away so it won’t hurt. It’s gonna hurt, but that is some Masen bullshit right there. Edward wouldn’t do that to me.”
Deep, contrite green gazed up at me, framed by a heavy brow. “I don’t know if I can let you go,” he said so softly that I almost had to read his lips.
“You have to,” I whispered back, brushing a light kiss over his mouth. “I have responsibilities at home, baby. And you’ll be home in six weeks.”
“Only to leave again.”
“Then, I’ll take what I can get. And you will, too, Edward.” I sighed deeply at the fear and the worry. “We’ll survive this tour, baby. You said so yourself. There is light at the end of this tunnel. I’ve seen Rose’s plan for you guys once you’ve severed from Volturi records. The tour would be say…thirty shows, instead of sixty. That’s way easier to deal with.”
“I…I’m sorry,” he groaned, reaching for my face and pulling me in for a heart-stopping kiss. “I’ve liked having you with me… I just…”
“Selfish,” I teased against his lips, which turned up into a smile as he nodded. “Good. You can be as selfish as you want, but you also have to be practical, Edward.” I pulled back to hold his handsome face in my hands. “I wasn’t prepared for you, you know.” I raised an eyebrow at him. “And this,” I said, gesturing between us, “is the best thing, the best feeling. Ever. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone, but it came out of left field. We can figure out a sense of normal, baby. And if this…me joining you every couple months, living for phone calls, video chats, and online games, is our normal, then I suppose we’d better get used it, but that includes having to let each other go, if only to promise to see each other again soon.”
“Love you, too,” he murmured, smirking up at me. “So…nothing scared you off?”
“Not enough that I won’t do it again,” I vowed, squishing his face until his lips were all pooched, so I planted a loud kiss on them. “One day, I’m gonna leak a picture of this shit to the Masen fans. Your buddy, Donna, would eat it up!”
He cracked up. “Shut up, Bella.”
Letting go of his face, I backed out of his fighting grasp. “Now, you have a show to get ready for, and your fans don’t want you all grumpy. And then you’ve got a New Year’s Eve date with your girlfriend, Edward, so I suggest you get your sweet ass in gear.”
He pushed off the bed, and I didn’t move quickly enough. I suddenly found myself tossed over his shoulder.
Clothes were quickly and roughly removed between heavy, deep kisses. The steam from the shower fogged up around us as we stepped under the spray. We knew we didn’t have a lot of time, but neither of us voiced it. Hands gripped and soaped up skin, shampoo made us slippery, but nothing felt as good as when Edward lifted my leg and set it on the side of the tub, only to slip into me from behind.
My head fell back as I groaned with the delicious tug he was giving my hair, never mind what his free hand was doing to my nipple piercings and eventually my clit. I came so damn hard, and he wasn’t that far behind me. He came with a string of curses, declarations of love, and I was pretty sure I heard another apology in there.
His breathing was heavy as his forehead fell to my shoulder. “Yeah, so not done with you, angel. I don’t think I’ll ever be…done.”
My head fell back to his shoulder, and I turned to kiss his neck, lapping up the droplets of water clinging to his skin. “Good to know, Edward.”
His chuckle shook us both, but he sighed deeply. “We’d better get dressed.”
I stepped out onto the stage, shaking my head at how intimidating it was to gaze out at all the now empty seats. The show had been amazing, one of the best, but I tended to say that every time I watched them perform.
The guys were cleaning up and tending to the fans with the backstage passes. I found myself wandering the arena.
Marcus was busy starting to pack everything up. My brother’s drums were already in their cases and being rolled to the trucks, along with every amp, cord, and guitar case.
“You okay, B?” I heard behind me, and I turned to smile at my baby brother. He looked tired but so very happy. “What’cha doing out here?”
“I was just…staying out of the way,” I said with a shrug but then pointed around the enormous empty space. “It doesn’t scare you? All those people…being in front of them show after show?”
He laughed, shaking his head. “Oh, yeah. It scares the shit out of me…until the music starts. And then… Well, I don’t really see them as much as the other guys. I’m not up front, you know?”
“You’re happy?” I asked him.
“Very.” He came to me, wrapping his arms around me. “Are you, B? Are you happy?”
I nodded, standing up on my toes to kiss his cheek. “Very.”
“Good, ’cause that’s all he worries about, you know,” Mike whispered, his brow wrinkling as he jerked a thumb behind him toward the back. “He’s not anything his stage presence portrays. So…don’t you dare believe anything you read. That guy…he’s all about you, B. And that’s the truth. If he wasn’t, if he was any different, I’d have handed him his ass ages ago.”
I laughed but hugged my brother hard. “Thanks, Mikey.”
“Mmhmm,” he hummed against my head. “Now, let’s get out of here before Edward thinks you’ve run away.”
We turned toward the back stairs of the stage to see Edward standing there.
“I wouldn’t blame her if she did,” he said through a chuckle.
“Well, obviously you don’t know how stubborn my sister can be,” Mike countered. “B, Edward…Edward…Bella…” he introduced mockingly.
I poked his side at the same time Edward reached for him, but he darted around us and rumbled down the stairs, laughing on his way. I shook my head slowly at my little brother, eyeing Edward. He was out of his stage clothes, wearing worn-out jeans, a gray thermal shirt, and his leather jacket. His hair was still damp from his shower. He looked like my Edward again – normal, sweet, and loving. Masen had been washed away the second he’d yelled, “Thank you, Nashville! And Happy New Year!”
Masen gave his all on the stage. After attending a handful of shows now, I clearly could see that much. He’d pour sweat, blood, and soul out into the audience, giving them all he had inside. He’d take that couple hours of show time to be free, to express everything from love, to hate, to politics, to fictional stories. They were in every word, every note, and every drop of sweat each member of the band had within them. He’d let go of everything just to make sure the fans were happy. I couldn’t imagine how exhausting that was.
My brow furrowed, and I glanced back out over the empty arena seats.
“Angel? You okay?”
I nodded, leaning back against him when warmth and leather surrounded me from behind, not to mention sweet kisses pressed to my cheek and then my lips when I turned his way. Suddenly I understood where his cranky mood had come from prior to the show. He’d told me more times than I could count just how much he needed me to come back to himself after a show. And even though I knew I needed to get back home, if only to figure out what to do with my schedule, my bar…fuck, my life, I hated leaving him.
I also knew we were supposed to go out with everyone, to celebrate New Year’s, but I couldn’t share him. I just couldn’t.
Spinning in his arms, I molded myself against him. My arms wrapped around his waist beneath his jacket, and I inhaled the scent of him, that perfect guy smell – leather, aftershave, and soap. It was Edward perfection. It was the scent that was slowly fading away at home – his car, his apartment, and sadly my apartment. I wanted to bottle that smell and douse every inch of my life with it, if only to keep his love, warmth, and sweetness around me twenty-four-seven.
“Angel…Bella, what’s wrong? You… You’re kinda freaking me the fuck out.” He hugged me back, burying his face in my neck.
My giggle shook us both, only because he was just awkwardly adorable sometimes. “I love you,” I mumbled into his chest, and when he whispered it back against my skin, everything came spilling out of me. “And I wanna be selfish with you, and I don’t wanna go out, and I don’t wanna go home tomorrow… But I know I have to, but…but…and I’m sorry about earlier…”
I could feel Edward’s smile, his light chuckle. “Shhh, Bella. I needed my head pulled outta my ass.” He shifted a little, pulling back and cupping my face as he shook his head slowly. He seemed to be eyeing me for a second but then pressed his lips to mine briefly. “Look at me, angel,” he said firmly, but his eyes were warm, green, and sweet. “I’ve… I’m…” He licked his lips, biting down hard on the bottom one for a second before finally forming the words he wanted. “Dammit, Bella… You’ve given me back…me. I know you think Masen and Edward are the same, but I don’t always feel that way, baby. It’s harder to reconcile here.” He tapped his temple. “Especially when I’m out here, doing what I do. But what doesn’t change is that…you’re… You’re it for me, Bella. So…whatever it is that you want…I’m in.”
I brought his face to mine and pressed a hard kiss to his lips. I could truly hear what he was saying, and what he wasn’t, but it wasn’t the right time for it.
Swallowing nervously, I met his warm, concerned gaze. “I’ve been trapped in that magic bus as you called it for over a week, Edward. I’ve seen, heard, and smelled more than I should have.” He grinned, but I went on. “And as much as I adore my baby brother, I want to wrap myself up in you until I have to get on that plane. ’Cause once I’m home, I’m swear to God I’m gonna figure out how to trudge along until you come home, until I meet you back out in the world again, and how we can survive this.”
“We will,” he vowed, sounding much more confident than when we were in the hotel. “I hate being apart, but…this…us… It’s just everything to me.”
Smiling, I kissed him again, only to squeak when he scooped me up into his arms.
“C’mon, angel. We’ll go be selfish,” he growled sexily against my lips, smiling into the kiss when I laughed.
I knew that this time the next day, I’d be back in Seattle. Reality and responsibilities would come crashing back down on me. I wasn’t kidding him; I really did want to change things at the bar, but I had to talk to some people first. As Edward toted me through the halls of the arena, I absorbed every second, every touch, and every smile and kiss, if only because I’d be without them for almost six weeks.
We could do this; we had to.


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