capitolo otto

Andare in basso

capitolo otto

Messaggio  simona80 il Ven 04 Mar 2011, 13:07

Chapter Eight
Lobby was an upscale martini bar and lounge on Bloor Street.
Edward, in true Dantean fashion, always referred to the club as The Vestibule, although it had more in common with the lower rungs of Hell than with Limbo.
He did not want to bring Bella there, let alone Alice, for Lobby was his hunting ground, the place he always went to feed. Too many people knew him there, or knew of him, and he was afraid of what they might say. Of what might slip unbidden from blood-red lips.
But he felt comfortable at Lobby; confident that he could control the environment. There was no way in hell he was taking Alice and Bella into an environment that he could not control. For this one night, he would be Beowulf instead of Dante; warrior instead of poet. He would carry his sword unsheathed in his hand and he would slay Grendel and all of his relatives if they even looked in the direction of his precious charges.
Although he saw the sheer hypocrisy of it, he swallowed it whole to make Alice happy.
When Alice and Bella dutifully followed him out of the cab and towards the front door of Lobby, they were met immediately by a long line of people who were waiting to get into the club.
Edward ignored the line and went right up to the bouncer, a large African-Canadian man with dreadlocks and diamonds in his ears. He shook Edward‘s hand and greeted him formally.
―Laurent, I‘d like you to meet my sister, Alice Cullen, and her friend, Isabella Swan.‖ Edward gestured to the young women and Laurent smiled and nodded, stepping aside to let them in.
―What was that about?‖ Bella whispered to Alice, as they entered a modern and tastefully decorated black and white space.
―Edward is on the V.I.P. list, apparently. Don‘t ask.‖ Alice rolled her eyes and looked away.
Edward led them to the back of the club, to an exclusive area he had reserved known as the White Lounge, imaginatively named because of its monochromatic decor.
Alice and Bella obligingly sat on a low, white banquette, lounging back comfortably on the ermine covered cushions. From their perch, they could look through the large doorway and onto the dance floor that spread out at the centre of the other private lounges. But at the moment, no one was dancing.
Alice gave Bella an admiring glance. ―Bella looks beautiful, doesn‘t she, Edward? Really gorgeous.‖
Bella blushed an abnormal shade of crimson and began fidgeting with the hem of her Santorini blue dress. ―Alice, please,‖ she whispered.
―What? Isn‘t she, Edward?‖ Alice frowned over at her brother, who was shooting her a warning glance.
―You both look fine,‖ he said, admitting nothing and shifting slightly as if he were in pain.
Bella shook her head minutely and cursed under her breath, wondering why she cared so much about his opinions and why it was so difficult for him to be nice to her.
Alice shrugged. It was Edward‘s money. And if he didn‘t worry about throwing around almost two thousand dollars to make Bella just look fine then who was she to object?
Except that it was a tacit condemnation of her talent as a fashionista and so she took the remark very, very personally.
He‟s going to pay for that, she thought.
―So, Bella,‖ she began, making sure Edward was listening and watching him out of the corner of her kohl-lined eye. ―How was your date with Peter?‖
Bella‘s skin maintained its current shade of red. ―It was very nice. He‘s a real gentleman. Very old-fashioned.‖
She resisted the urge to turn to Edward to see what reaction he was having to her words.
She needn‘t have bothered. Alice was doing enough watching for both of them.
―And he took you to dinner?‖
―Yes. To the Nataraj, his favourite Indian restaurant. Tomorrow he is taking me to a double-feature at the Film Festival and then we‘re going to Chinatown.‖
―Is he cute?‖
Bella squirmed. ―If a rugby player could be termed cute. But he‘s handsome and has kind eyes. He treats me like a princess.‖
Alice and Bella turned to Edward, not quite sure they heard what they thought they heard coming out of his mouth.
Bella‘s eyebrows went up and she frowned and looked away.
Satisfied that she had gotten a reaction out of her brother commensurate with his most recent infraction, Alice turned around in her seat to check her make up in the mirrored wall behind them. She was dabbing her poppy-coloured Chanel-coated lips when she suddenly stopped, staring at someone who was walking in their direction.
―Edward, that woman is totally eye-fucking you! What the hell?‖
An artificially blonde-headed waitress approached them immediately.
―If a woman ever did that to Jasper in front of me, I‘d scratch her eyes out.‖
―Mr. Masen! We haven‘t seen you here in some time. Welcome back!‖ The waitress leaned down, exposing the top of her moderately endowed cleavage and resting a finely manicured hand on his shoulder, her coral coloured nails gleaming in the low and romantic light.
Bella scowled in spite of herself and wondered if the waitress planned on doing something to Edward with those fingernails or if she was just flashing them to scare Alice and Bella away.
The woman nodded at them. ―My name is Lauren and I‘ll be your server.‖
―Start a tab for me please. Drinks for the three of us are on me and one for Laurent and yourself, of course.‖ He placed a folded bill in her hand, effectively freeing his shoulder from her touch.
She smiled faintly and palmed it.
I have to admit it, he‟s smooth, thought Bella.
―Ladies?‖ The waitress asked, keeping her eyes fixed on Edward and smiling provocatively, the tip of her tongue just poking out between her coral lips.
―A Cosmo for me,‖ said Alice.
Bella froze.
―What would you like?‖ Alice nudged her.
―I - don‘t know.‖ Bella turned red and stammered, wondering what she could order that would not embarrass her in front of Edward. She couldn‘t exactly order a beer or start doing shots of tequila, which were her usual poisons.
―Two Cosmos, then,‖ said Alice. ―You‘ll love them, they‘re great,‖ she whispered in Bella‘s ear.
―A double shot of Laphroaig twenty-five year old, neat, please. And ask the bartender for a small shot glass of spring water. Flat, non-sparkling.‖ Edward ordered without making eye contact with the waitress, winking at Alice.
The waitress left and Alice began to laugh. ―Big brother, only you could make ordering a drink sound pretentious.‖
Bella giggled, if only because she liked the sight of Edward‘s irritated reaction at his little sister‘s characterization.
―What‘s Laphroaig?‖ Bella asked.
―A single malt Scotch whisky.‖
―And the spring water?‖
―Just a drop or two to focus the taste. I‘ll let you try it when it arrives.‖ He hazarded a small smile in her direction and she turned away, looking down at her lovely shoes.
He followed her gaze and found himself entranced by her beautiful high heels. Alice had no idea how fine a purchase they had been. It was worth every penny just to see Miss Swan‘s lovely legs again, arched and lengthened by those exquisite shoes. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, hoping the movement would successfully dislodge his arousal from its current trap.
It didn‘t.
―I guess you can wait for the drinks, Edward. Bella and I are going to dance.‖
Before Bella could protest, Alice had pulled her onto the small adjoining dance floor, waved at the DJ and motioned to him to turn the music up and proceeded to dance with wild albeit pixyish abandon.
Bella, on the other hand, was uncomfortable. She could see that Edward had moved so that he could stare at her, leaning back on the banquette and watching, eyes intense and unblinking, and with a look of restrained amusement. She wondered if he had noticed the fact that she wasn‘t wearing traditional panties underneath her dress.
Is that something men notice? The absence of a visible panty line?
She couldn‘t look away as his eyes raked over her leisurely from head to foot, resting longer than necessary on her shapely bare legs and her red soled heels.
―I can‘t dance in these shoes, Alice,‖ Bella protested in her friend‘s ear.
―Bullshit. Just move your body and let your feet take a rest. And you look great, by the way. Edward‘s an idiot.‖
Bella turned her back on Edward, and then with flaming red cheeks began to dance, closing her eyes and letting the music take her. It was a remarkable feeling. As soon as she forgot about him and his piercing green eyes, she was actually able to enjoy herself. Marginally.
I wonder if he can see vestiges of my thong through the fabric of my dress. Scratch that. I hope he can see it. I hope it tortures him. Enjoy the view, jackass, because that‟s all you‟re ever going to get.
When the song ended, Alice bounded up to the DJ and smiled at him, asking him what his plans were for the next few musical choices. Whatever he said must have pleased her, because she pumped a fist in the air in a very unladylike manner and almost let out a yell.
―This is awesome!‖ She cried, as she crossed the floor to return to Bella, grabbing her hands and swinging her around.
Now that Bella and Alice were dancing and obviously enjoying themselves, a number of other people from various different adjoining lounges decided to join them on the dance floor, including a very handsome blond haired man.
―Hi,‖ he offered, moving in closer to Bella and moving in time to the music.
―Hi,‖ she managed, feeling her cheeks redden.
She thought about that old line about how women associate dancing with sex. This man, whoever he was, would no doubt be excellent at the latter, because he certainly and very heterosexually excelled at the former. It was breathtaking, actually.
―I haven‘t seen you here before.‖ He smiled at her. ―I‘m sure I‘d remember if I had.‖
Bella noticed that he had very white teeth and that his eyes were deep blue, as blue as her dress. She momentarily forgot to answer him as she focused on the startling blueness of his eyes.
―My name is Michael. And you are?‖ He leaned forward, his ear almost brushing against her lips in order to hear her response over the pulsing music.
She blinked a little at his nearness. ―Bella.‖
―Pleased to meet you, Bella. You have a beautiful and unusual name.‖
She nodded slightly to let him know that she‘d heard him and then she sent a desperate look to Alice, hoping she would come to her rescue. But Alice was too busy jumping up and down with her eyes closed, because she really loved the current song. It really was quite a sight.
―Could I buy you a drink after this dance? My friends and I have a table up front.‖ He gestured vaguely but Bella did not follow his gesture.
―Thanks, but I‘m with my friend.‖
He smiled, undeterred, and moved closer to her. ―Bring your friend with you. You have the most beautiful eyes. Like chocolate. I couldn‘t live with myself if I let you get away and didn‘t ask for your number.‖
―Um . . . I don‘t know . . .‖
―Please let me at least give you mine.‖
Bella‘s eyes darted towards Alice, which was a bad decision on her part, because it prevented her from seeing his foot move towards her. She ended up stepping right on his toes, which made him wince in pain and which pushed her off balance.
But he caught her by both arms before she hit the floor and held her close to his chest while she found her feet. She had to admit, he had a muscular chest. And very strong arms for someone who wore a suit. She was surprised.
―Easy there, Bella. I‘m sorry I cut you off like that. Are you alright?‖ He kept his left hand on her arm, and moved his right so that he could brush the curls out of her eyes. He looked down at her and smiled.
―I‘m fine. Thank you for not letting me fall.‖
―I‘d be a fool to let you go, Bella.‖
Bella noticed obliquely that his smile was not creepy. He seemed nice, even. His suit told her that he‘d come to the club after work and that he probably worked downtown for a large company or something – somewhere where they still demanded that young men wear suits and ties. And really nice shiny black shoes.
He was confident, she thought, but not arrogant. And his words, although carefully chosen, did not seem calculated. He was, perhaps, the kind of person who she could imagine dating for a little while, but doubted very much that they would have many interests in common. Certainly, dancing was not something she wanted to do very much of in the future. Although dancing with him . . .
She was far too shy to extend the conversation any further. She opened her mouth to speak her regrets, but just then someone grabbed her other arm and effectively body-checked Michael out of the way. Something sent a shock wave rippling across the surface of her skin and she knew immediately whose long, cool fingers wrapped around her bare upper arm.
―Are you alright?‖ Edward asked, speaking and looking only at Bella. His calm and concerned tone totally belied the inexplicable anger in his eyes.
His anger confused her, so she didn‘t answer. She looked dumbfounded, which Michael noticed immediately.
―Is this asshole hurting you?‖ asked Michael, straightening his shoulders and cracking a knuckle or two as he scowled at Edward. He made a move forward, looking rather menacing.
Bella blinked rapidly and then shook her head.
―She‘s with me,‖ snarled Edward, not even bothering to turn his head in Michael‘s direction.
Michael retreated slightly, for Edward‘s snarl was very fierce.
―Come,‖ he commanded, pulling her away from the dance floor and back to their seats.
Bella gave Michael an apologetic glance as she sat down.
Edward handed her a drink as he tried to catch his breath.
What the hell was that?
While she sipped her Cosmopolitan and tried to process what had just happened, Edward leaned towards her, clutching his now half-empty glass. ―You need to be more careful. These places can be very dangerous for girls like you and you‘re a magnet for misadventure.‖
She stared at him.
―I was fine. And he was nice!‖
―He put his hands on you.‖
―So frigging what? We were dancing and he kept me from hitting the floor when I tripped!‖ She scowled at him. ―I didn‘t see you asking me to dance.‖
Edward leaned back, and regarded her with a slow and crooked smile.
―That would rather defeat the purpose of watching, don‘t you think?‖ His voice was velvety and seductive.
Bella tossed her hair and looked away from the intense Scotch-brightened shamrock of his eyes.
She saw Michael staring at her from the dance floor and she tried to indicate with her body language that she and Edward were not together.
A flash of understanding lit Michael‘s eyes and he nodded. And then he disappeared.
―I promised you a taste.‖
Edward slid closer to Bella and held his glass close to her lips.
―No, thank you,‖ she sniffed, turning sideways.
―I insist.‖ His voice was more forceful.
Bella sighed and tried to take the glass out of his hand but he held it fast.
―Let me feed you,‖ he whispered, his tone suddenly husky.
He sounded like sex. Or at least, what Bella imagined sex would sound like if it was sitting on a white banquette with shining green eyes and mussed copper hair and trying to press a cold glass up to her mouth.
Oh my Edward. Oh my Edward. Oh my Edward. Oh . . . My . . . Edward.
―I can feed myself,‖ she breathed, uncertainly.
―Of course you can. But why should you, when I‘m here to do it for you?‖ he countered, smiling even more crookedly.
Bella sighed. She didn‘t want to drop his precious Scotch by accident and so she allowed him to press the glass against the curve of her lower lip, which he did slowly and sensuously. She closed her eyes and momentarily fixated on the feel of the cold glass smoothness against her flesh.
He tipped the glass gently, until the smoky liquid penetrated her parted lips and flowed into her open and awaiting mouth.
She was surprised that he was being so forward with her; so sensual.
But she was even more surprised when the Scotch lit her mouth on fire, scorching her.
She swallowed quickly and then she gasped.
―That‘s awful!‖ she sputtered. ―It tastes like a campfire!‖
He slid backwards and analyzed her face. She was flushed now and choking.
―That‘s the peat. It‘s an acquired taste. You might decide it‘s a taste you want to acquire, once you‘ve tried it a few times.‖ He smirked at her, half of his mouth curling up.
She shook her head while she coughed.
―I doubt it. And by the way, I‘m a big girl and I can take care of myself. So unless I ask you for help, please leave me be.‖
―Nonsense.‖ He gestured vaguely to the dance floor. ―Grendel and his relatives would devour you like a tasty little lamb given the chance and don‘t bother arguing with me.‖
―I beg your pardon! Who do you think you are?‖
―Someone who recognizes naïveté and innocence when he sees it. Now sip your drink slowly like a good little girl and stop acting like you belong in a place like this.‖
Edward scowled at her darkly and finished his Scotch in one swallow.
―What‘s that supposed to mean, ‗naïveté and innocence‘? Exactly what are you trying to say, Edward?‖
―Do I need to spell it out for you?‖
He glared at her and dropped his voice to a whisper, leaning towards her with his lips inches from her ear. Bella‘s eyes rolled back in her head in spite of herself as his warm breath skimmed down her neck.
―You blush like a teenager, Isabella. And I can smell your innocence. It‟s more than obvious that you‟re still a virgin. So stop pretending to be anything else.‖
―You! You - !!!‖ Bella jerked her ear away from him as she tried to think of a bad enough word in English. Sadly, she lapsed into Italian. ―Stronzo!‖
At first, Edward glared at her with a furious look, but then his face softened and he laughed. He actually laughed! A throw your head back, close your eyes and grasp your belly kind of laugh.
Which just made Bella furious.
She sat there seething, drinking her Cosmo very quickly on purpose, and wondering how it was the case that Edward knew the truth about her, and from so short a re-acquaintance. Surely Alice hadn‘t . . .She shook her head. Alice wouldn‘t. That shit was personal and she wouldn‘t have spoken it aloud to anyone but Jasper.
And Jasper was too much of a Southern gentleman to ever repeat something like that about a lady.
While Edward grinned, Bella ignored him and bemoaned the fact that he had effectively cockblocked an opportunity to meet someone who looked like he was nice. Bella probably wouldn‘t have given Michael her number because she didn‘t do that sort of thing, but she wanted it to be her decision and not her professor‘s.
He really was a prick. And it was time he changed.
A few minutes later, their artificially blonde-headed waitress came over with a small gold box. ―This is for you.‖ She handed the box to Bella.
―I‘m sorry, there must be some mistake. I didn‘t order it.‖
―Obviously, dear. One of the guys at the bankers‘ table sent it. And I was supposed to tell you that you‘ll be breaking a heart if you send it back.‖ She smiled seductively at Edward. ―Can I freshen your drink, Mr. Masen?‖
―I think we‘re fresh enough over here, thank you.‖ He kept his eyes fixed on Bella, watching her as she turned the small box over in her hand.
She placed her drink down and then opened the box. In it she found a business card and a single, gold foil wrapped truffle. On the business card, she read the following:
Michael Newton, M.B.A.
Vice-President, Capital Markets
The Bank of Montreal
55 Bloor Street West, Fifth Floor
Toronto, Ontario
Tel. 416-XXX-XXX Email:
She turned the card over, and read the words that were written in a very confident hand,
Sorry we got off on the wrong foot.
The chocolate reminds me of your beautiful eyes,
Please call me: 416-yyy-yyyy.
Bella turned the card over and a smile spread across her heart-shaped face. He had made a joke. He hadn‘t thought her extreme awkwardness was a reason to reject her. And he hadn‘t called her a virgin as if it were a curse word. He had admired her eyes and compared them to chocolate.
She carefully unwrapped the truffle and popped it whole into her mouth. Heaven. How did he know she loved expensive chocolates? It had to be fate. She closed her eyes and savoured the deep, dark taste, licking her lips to make sure she didn‘t miss anything. An involuntary groan escaped her mouth and she shook her head.
Why couldn‟t I have met someone like him my freshman year in Seattle?
Bella placed the business card back inside the box and tucked it into her purse.
Meanwhile, Edward was gnawing through the knuckles of his right hand like a crazed animal.
Once again, the sight of Miss Swan enjoying life‘s little pleasures was one of the most erotic things he‘d ever seen. The way her eyes grew wide at the size of the truffle, the flush that painted her pretty cheeks in anticipation of tasting it, the way she moaned with a half-open mouth, and the way her tongue darted out to pick up the traces of cocoa that clung to her ruby lips . . . it really was too much.
So of course, he had to ruin it.
―You didn‘t just eat that, did you?‖
Bella whipped her head around. She had forgotten Edward was there. She‘d been in her own chocolate induced haze of almost-orgasmic ecstasy.
―It was delicious.‖
―He could have put anything in it. Don‘t you know not to take candy from strangers, little girl?‖
―I suppose it‘s alright just to accept apples, Edward?‖
Edward frowned at her non sequitur. He was missing something.
―I‘m not a little girl,‖ she huffed.
―Then stop acting like one. You‘re not going to keep that, are you?‖
He gestured to the gold box that was poking out of Bella‘s tiny handbag.
―Why not? He seemed nice enough. And he gave me his work number.‖
―You‘d do that? You‘d pick up a man in a bar?‖
Her eyebrows knit together and her lower lip began to tremble. ―I wasn‘t picking him up, Edward! And I‘m sure you‘ve never picked anyone up in a bar before - and taken them home with you, which, I might add, I‘ve never done. Not that it‘s even a shred of your business, Professor Masen.‖
Edward‘s face grew very red. He couldn‘t contradict her; he wouldn‘t be that hypocritical. But something about what had just transpired between Miss Swan and Grendel-the-blond-banker really got under his skin. And he didn‘t know why.
He quickly waved to the waitress to order another drink.
For her part, Bella downed her Cosmopolitan and ordered another, willing the fruity but potent mixture to make her feel better and to help her forget the cruel but beautiful god who sat achingly near to her, but who she could never have.
When Alice returned, collapsing in exhaustion between Edward and Bella, Bella stood up and excused herself.
She exited the lounge area and entered the back hallway, looking for the ladies‘ room. Edward‘s arrogance and condescension truly infuriated her. He had no right to be like that. He didn‘t want her, but now he didn‘t want anyone else to have her, either. What was his problem?
She was so fixated on this puzzle that she didn‘t see a man standing in the hallway and she ran right into him, springing backwards and careening dangerously towards the floor. Luckily, he caught her.
―Thank you,‖ she murmured, looking up into the amused face of Laurent.
―No problem,‖ he said, releasing her immediately.
―I was looking for the ladies‘ room.‖
He pointed with his cell phone. ―Other direction.‖ And then he returned to the text he‘d been composing before she ran into him.
She turned to go, but he called after her. ―Hey, Isabella, are you Italian?‖
She turned around. ―No. I speak some Italian, but no. I‘m American.‖
Laurent nodded. ―My girlfriend is Italian. She‘s Italian-Russian, actually.‖
―That‘s an interesting combination. What‘s her name?‖
―Irina. I‘m trying to send her a text. She just called to say she wanted to surprise me here but I told her no. Now she‘s mad at me.‖
―Why did you tell her no? I think this place is nice.‖
Laurent looked slightly embarrassed.
―Some of the women who come in here are a little – aggressive. With me, sometimes, but especially with your friend.
We have a name for the many women who hang on his every word - Masen whores. I don‘t like my woman seeing other women hanging on me. Although he gets a lot more attention than I do.‖
He noticed her horrified expression and continued quickly. ―Not that I‘m saying Masen encourages them. But from the waitresses to the customers, the ladies have a hard time leaving him alone.‖
Bella walked towards Laurent.
―Is he here a lot?‖ She asked quietly.
Laurent eyed her carefully, wondering how much he should reveal to her.
―You should probably ask him that. But I will say that some of the girls who come in here are very nice. He‘s usually pretty discerning.‖
But not always, Bella thought, the idea making her stomach sick.
When he saw that she looked disappointed, he tried to comfort her. ―Hey, we‘ve all been there, right? And now that he has you, he‘s not going to entertain those blondes anymore. He never really carried on a conversation with them, anyway. He‘d just smile and they‘d drop their panties.‖
Inside the club?
Bella looked down at her hands and fidgeted with her fingernails. ―Um, he doesn‘t have me. He doesn‘t even smile at me. I‘m just a friend of his sister from high school. And not blonde, obviously.‖
She looked so sad with those big brown eyes and that trembling lower lip that Laurent tried to think of something to distract her.
―Isabella, would you be able to help me say something to Irina in Italian? She‘ll get over things quicker if I make some grand gesture.‖
She smiled shyly. ―It‘s just Bella, Laurent. Edward‘s Italian is better than mine. You should ask him.‖
Laurent shot her a look. ―Are you kidding? Like I‘m going to ask him to translate some sweet nothings to my woman? No way. That shit is mine.‖
Bella laughed. ―Sure, I‘ll translate whatever you want.‖
Laurent handed her his phone and she began entering the words in Italian. She giggled slightly at some of the more intimate sounding phrases, but on the whole Bella was impressed that Laurent, for all his toughness and rough edges, cared enough about Irina to tell her how much he loved her and to reassure her that he was keeping the other women at bay. No Laurent whores for him.
She was just finishing the text, when someone came up behind them.
Bella looked up into a familiar pair of angry emerald eyes.
―Mr. Masen,‖ Laurent acknowledged him.
―Laurent,‖ Edward growled.
Bella wasn‘t sure her ears were working. It sounded like Edward had rumbled low in his chest like a growl, but that was impossible.
She pressed send on the phone and then handed it back to Laurent. ―There you are. Now we‘re all set.‖
―Thanks, Bella. I‘ll send a drink over to you.‖ Laurent smiled and hugged her shoulder in thanks, then disappeared around a corner.
Bella ignored Edward and walked right past him.
―Where do you think you‘re going?‖
He followed her.
―To the ladies‘ room. What‘s it to you?‖
Edward shot out his hand and grasped her wrist, grazing the pad of his thumb across the veins that were pulsating underneath her pale skin.
She gasped.
He moved her until they were hidden in a long, dark corridor, and he pushed her back up against the wall. He continued to hold her wrist, drinking in the feel of her quickening pulse beneath his fingers, and placing his other hand on the wall next to her shoulder.
He could feel her heartbeat. Every movement of the blood coursing inside her veins, throbbing quickly underneath his touch. It was intoxicating.
Bella was trapped.
Edward leaned in, inhaling her scent and licking his lips, but his eyes were far from happy.
―Why did you give him your number? He lives with a woman, you know. And now he‘s buying you drinks and calling you Bella?‖
―That is my name, Professor Masen! You‘re the only one who doesn‘t use it. And at this point, even if you wanted to use it, I wouldn‘t let you. I think you should have to call me Miss Swan forever. And what are you talking about, me giving him my number?‖
―You entered your number into his phone. Do you really put yourself out there with multiple men all at the same time?‖
Bella shook her head, too angry to respond and tried to duck under his elbow, but Edward caught her.
―Dance with me.‖
―Not a chance in hell.‖
―Don‘t be so difficult!‖
―I‘m just getting started being difficult with you, Professor Masen.‖
―Watch it, little girl.‖ His tone was a warning.
Bella waited a moment for the chill his warning gave her to travel up and down her spine and then dissipate.
―Why don‘t you just stick a knife into my heart and get it over with?‖ She whispered, looking him straight in the eye. ―Kill me.‖
At the sound of those words Edward released her immediately and reeled back.
―Isabella.‖ Her name rolled off his tongue as something between a reproach and a question. His eyebrows knit together and Bella saw a furrow form between them. He looked very upset. Not angry, but upset. Wounded, perhaps.
―Am I so evil? That you would say such a thing to me?‖ His voice was low, just above a whisper.
Bella shook her head slowly and put her head down.
―I suppose I deserved that. But I have no wish to harm you, Isabella. Far from it.‖
He looked down at her intentionally submissive posture and his eyes quickly sought her mouth. He watched her lower lip push out slightly and tremble. Her chest was heaving and her eyes were darting around nervously. He could smell the scent of adrenaline rolling off her. Her flight reaction.
She‟s frightened, you asshole. Ease up!
―You mentioned before that I hadn‘t asked you to dance. Well, now I‘m asking.‖ He softened his voice considerably. ―Isabella, will you do me the honour of dancing with me? Please?‖
He flashed her a winning smile and tilted his head a little so that he was looking up through his eyelashes. A signature panty-dropping move.
But it was not having the effect he so desired.
For Bella would not lift her head.
He reached out to smooth his fingers gently across her wrist, as if he was trying to apologize to her skin. Not that her skin would have accepted his apology.
Bella clutched at her neck instinctively, suddenly feeling as if she was experiencing physical whiplash from his emotional caprice.
Edward gazed at the hand that fluttered against her milk-white throat and once again he saw her blue veins quiver with every heartbeat.
Like a hummingbird, he thought. So tiny. So fragile. Be careful . . .
―I‘m partial to the way your skin looks in that dress. Blue is your colour, it seems.‖
She swallowed noisily and her eyes flitted, looking for an exit.
―Please,‖ he said, his eyes shining warmly.
―I can‘t dance.‖
―You were just dancing.‖
―Not slow dancing. I‘m a disaster. I‘ll step on your toes and injure you with these pointy heels. Or I‘ll trip over you and end up on the floor, and you‘ll be cross and humiliated. And you‘re already angry with me.‖ Her lower lip began to tremble more rapidly.
He took a step closer, and she pressed herself more tightly against the wall, almost as if she was trying to disappear right through it in order to escape from him.
He took her hand and regally lifted it to his lips.
And then with a smile firmly on his face, he inched closer, leaning down and bringing his mouth to her ear.
Bella‘s skin vibrated with his nearness, and the feel of his breath across the shell of her little ear.
―Isabella, how could I stay angry with such a sweet little lamb? I promise I won‘t become cross or humiliated. You‘ll be able to dance with me.‖ His whisper was bracing and velvety, sexual and seductive, Scotch and peppermint. ―Come.‖
He took her hand in his and the same familiar spark coursed up and down her skin.
As he waited for her to respond, he felt her tremble beneath his touch and he wondered at the strange reaction she was having to him. She was looking as if his charm was actually working, even though she‘d been terrified an instant before.
He couldn‘t deny that he felt the same spark that she did; he just didn‘t want to consider it.
―Please, Professor Masen,‖ she breathed, fixating on one of his shirt buttons, unwilling to meet his gaze.
He drew back so that he could see her. And he frowned.
―I thought we were supposed to be Edward and Isabella tonight.‖
―You don‘t really want to dance with me. It‘s just the Scotch talking.‖
Both of his eyebrows shot up at that remark and he had to bite back a very harsh retort. She was pushing his buttons, almost as if she knew which buttons to push and when.
She was surprising him.
―One slow dance. That‘s all I ask. And I won‘t ask you again.‖ His voice grew cold and his eyes hardened like stones.
―Why would you want to dance with a virgin?‖ She whispered, suddenly fascinated by the bows on her shoes.
He shifted his weight between his two feet. ―Not just any virgin, but you, Isabella. And I thought you might want to dance with someone who wasn‘t about to molest you on the dance floor and take liberties with you in front of a club full of sexually aggressive men.‖
Bella‘s eyebrows shot up in surprise but she said nothing.
―I‘m trying to keep the wolves from descending.‖
So you say, thought Bella.
He had not made a joke; he was looking at her seriously, his intense green eyes boring into hers.
―One dance with me and my scent will be all over you. That should be an improvement over the current state of affairs.‖ He smiled faintly. ―And if I‘m very lucky, no one will bother you for the rest of the evening. And then I won‘t have to guard my precious lamb so closely.‖
She frowned at his final characterization but relented, realizing that he wasn‘t going to give in. She imagined that at this stage of his life he was used to getting his way – always.
It wasn‟t always that way, though, was it Edward?
―What shall we dance to?‖ He smiled at her somewhat equivocally, as he followed her into the lounge, ghosting a hand to her lower back. ―I‘ll request whatever you want. How about Nine Inch Nails? Maybe a little Closer to God?‖
His face broke into a grin that was meant to show her he was kidding.
But Bella wasn‘t looking at his face, she was watching the floor so she didn‘t trip and embarrass herself and Professor Masen in front of the other patrons.
As soon as the name of that song left his lips, she froze and a chill passed over her skin.
He nearly ran into the back of her she stopped so suddenly. Through the ghost of his fingers he felt the coolness of her body and immediately and swiftly regretted ever pronouncing those three little words.
He stopped and looked down at her pale little face. And what he saw troubled him deeply.
―Isabella, look at me.‖
Her breathing hitched.
―Please,‖ he added.
Obediently, she raised her deep brown eyes to his and looked up at him through her long eyelashes.
He saw fear and radical unease on her face and something inside of him twisted. He felt pain.
―It was a joke. And in poor taste. Forgive me. I would never request that song for a dance with you. It would be the worst form of blasphemy, to expose someone like you to words like that.‖
Bella blinked in confusion.
―I know I‘ve been a bit of a – stronzo tonight. I‘m sorry. But don‘t be afraid. I‘ll choose something nice, I promise.‖
Unwilling to release her for fear she might bolt, Edward brought her over to the DJ‘s booth and slipped him a bill, whispering his request. The DJ nodded and smiled, saluting Bella and flipping through some compact discs.
Edward walked Bella out to the dance floor, and then pulled her in close, but not too close.
He noticed that her little hands had begun to sweat and that she was starting to shake.
It didn‘t occur to him that perhaps she was having this reaction because of the song he had mentioned. No, his only thought was that she was completely averse to him, apart from his physical charms, and he‘d gone and made it worse by being insulting and overbearing with her when all he really wanted to do was protect her from the wolves that had descended to sniff at her skirts.
Why the hell do I feel the need to protect her? She‟s not a child. She‟s not even a friend.
―Relax,‖ he leaned down to whisper, his lips brushing against the skin of her cheek accidentally.
He felt her shiver in his arms at his touch and again he regretted that he had ever been harsh with her. She was a delicate little thing and clearly quite sensitive. He shouldn‘t have mentioned the fact that he had observed that she was a virgin. That was a boorish thing to say. Esme would have been appalled at his lack of gentility, and rightly so.
Perhaps he could make it up to the delicate Isabella by dancing with her nicely and showing that he could act like a gentleman, after all.
Edward placed his left hand comfortably at the small of her back and flexed his hand. Immediately, he felt her heart rate quicken and her breathing speed.
He held her left hand in his right and made sure that she could feel his chest against hers. Strong and hard met gentle and soft, as they brushed against one another through their clothing. Close, but not too close. Edward was now on his best behaviour.
And then the music began.
Bella didn‘t recognize the song; the woman was singing in Spanish and she hadn‘t heard the words before, although she recognized the phrase besame mucho and knew that it translated as kiss me a lot. The music was a slow, Latin jazz and they swayed to it gently, Edward moving her across the dance floor like an expert.
She blushed deeply at the fact that he had chosen this song for her.
I kissed you a lot, Edward, for one glorious evening. But you don‟t even remember me. I wonder if you would remember my lips . . .
Certainly, this song was much better than the alternative. She‘d almost lost her dinner on the dance floor when he mentioned that song.
And then she blushed again as she felt his pinky finger graze the top of her barely there panties through her dress. She wondered if he knew what lay beneath his little finger, and the thought that perhaps he knew made her skin explode in heat.
She hid her eyes by keeping them determinedly fixed on the buttons of his shirt.
―It would be better if you looked me in the eye. It will be easier for you to follow my lead.‖
She looked up and found him smiling down at her, a wide and genuine smile that she remembered. Her heart fluttered and she smiled back, dropping her guard (but not her special panties) for only an instant.
Edward‘s smile slipped as his eyebrows furrowed. ―Your face is very familiar. Are you sure Alice never introduced me to you on one of my visits home?‖
Bella‘s eyes grew wide with what looked like hope. ―Alice didn‘t introduce us, no, but we. . .‖
He interrupted her. ―I could have sworn I‘d met you before. We . . .‖ He shook his head slowly as his eyes filled with confusion.
―Edward?‖ She prompted, looking up at him and trying to tell him the truth with her eyes.
He smiled at her. ―No, I guess we haven‘t. But you do remind me of Beatrice, from Holiday‘s painting. Why do you have it?‖
If Edward had known what to look for, or if he had been better at reading her reactions, he would have seen that she looked slightly ill and that any hope on her face had just been erased.
She bit her lip absently, and then hazarded a brave smile. ―A – friend told me about that painting. That‘s why I bought it.‖
―Your friend has good taste,‖ he said, smiling at her again.
Something about her answer displeased him, but he dismissed his displeasure as having to do with the fact that she was so tense in his arms and wouldn‘t relax.
He sighed then and brought his forehead to hers, his warm breath on her face. He smelled of Scotch and peppermint and something distinctively Edwardian and potentially dangerous.
―Isabella, I promise I won‘t bite. You don‘t have to be so anxious.‖
She stiffened in his arms, even though she knew he was trying to put her at ease. But he had upset her countless times and she was fatigued by it. She was not some marionette on a string that he could toy with for his own mercurial amusement, and just because some blond-haired banker sent her a truffle.
―I don‘t think this is very professional,‖ she began, her eyes suddenly afire.
His smile disappeared instantly and his eyes flashed to hers. ―No, it isn‘t, Miss Swan. I‘m not being professional with you, at all. I suppose it‘s no excuse for me to claim that I wanted to dance with the prettiest girl in the club?‖
She looked up at him and her lovely red mouth opened slightly. He watched her blink and press her lips together.
She shook her head. ―I don‘t believe you.‖
―What, that you‘re easily the most beautiful woman here? With all due respect to my baby sister? Or that I, cold-hearted bastard that I am, would want to dance with you to something sweet?‖
―Don‘t make fun of me, Edward,‖ she snapped at him.
―I‘m not, Isabella,‖ he snapped right back.
He flexed his arm across her lower spine, and she gasped because it did something to her on the inside.
He knew it, of course, and had expected a reaction out of her. What he did not know was that he had touched her there before; that he had been the first man to ever touch her there. And her skin had never quite recovered from his absence.
He watched her subsequent irritation with no little amusement. ―When you‘re blushing, and not frowning at me, and your eyes are large and soft, you look very pretty. You‘re attractive at all times, but in those moments, you look like an angel. It‘s almost as if you are . . . you look like . . .‖
A sudden look of recognition passed over his face and Bella stopped dancing.
She squeezed his hand and looked up into his eyes, willing him to remember. ―What, Edward? Do I look like someone?‖
The look on his face disappeared and he shook his head, smiling at her indulgently. ―Just a passing fancy. Don‘t worry, Miss Swan, the dance is almost over. And then you‘ll be free of me.‖
She ducked her head. ―I only wish I could be,‖ she mumbled to herself.
―What‘s that?‖ He brought his forehead close to hers, so close that they were almost touching. And then without thinking about how intimate the action was, he released her hand and slowly pushed a lock of hair behind her ear, the backs of his fingers trailing across the skin at her neck much longer than was necessary.
―I feel like Cinderella tonight. Alice bought my dress. And my shoes.‖ She tried very hard not to let what she was feeling show on her face.
He withdrew his hand immediately.
―Do you really feel like Cinderella?‖
She nodded and smiled faintly.
―It takes so little to make you happy,‖ he muttered, so low Bella couldn‘t hear.
Edward cleared his throat.
―Your dress is quite lovely. But I thought your favourite colour was purple.‖
She looked up at him in surprise. ―How did you know?‖
―Your apartment is covered in purple. I divined it.‖
Bella bit her lip and looked away.
He wanted to make her look at him; only at him.
―Your shoes are exquisite. They must be four or five inch heels. You‘re much taller now.‖
He smiled at her as his eyes traveled from where the top of her head lined up with his chin and down to her shoes again.
―I‘m worried I‘ll fall,‖ Bella breathed.
―I won‘t let you fall.‖
―Alice is very kind.‖
―She is. As was Esme.‖
Bella nodded.
―But not me.‖ His remark came out almost as a question, and his eyes sought hers earnestly.
She looked up at him in surprise. ―I never said that. In fact, I think that you can be very kind, when you want to.‖
―When I want to?‖
―Yes. I was hungry, and you fed me.‖
Twice, thought Bella.
―You were hungry?‖ Edward‘s voice was rough, horrified and he stopped dancing immediately. ―You‟re going hungry?!‖ His eyes hardened into two cold green jewels and his voice cooled to the temperature of water sliding over a glacier.
―Not starving, Professor, just a little hungry – for steak. And apples.‖ She smiled shyly, hoping to soothe his sudden show of temper.
Edward was far too upset to notice the remark about apples. His very stomach was lodged in his throat as he contemplated the reality of graduate student poverty – a reality he was all too familiar with - and the poor and hungry Miss Swan. No wonder she was so white and so thin.
―Tell me the truth, do you have enough money to live on or not? I will go to the Chair of my Department on Monday and have him increase your fellowship if you tell me you need it. I‘ll give you my American Express card tonight, for God‘s sake. I won‘t have you hungry. I won‘t.‖
Bella blinked, for his reaction astonished her.
―I‘m fine, Professor. Truly. I have enough money if I‘m careful. It‘s just my apartment that makes cooking a problem.‖
Edward slowly began dancing again, leading her gently across the floor.
He looked down at her lovely shoes. ―Will you be selling those to a consignment store to buy groceries? Or to pay your rent?‖
Bella frowned. ―Of course not! They were a gift – from Esme. They‘re all I have left of her, Edward. I would never, ever, part with them. No matter what.‖
Edward nodded and his anger seemed to lessen somewhat.
He brought his face close to hers and lowered his voice. ―Will you promise me that if you are ever desperate for money, you will come to me? For Esme‘s sake?‖
Bella looked away, nervous and conflicted.
―I know I don‘t deserve your trust, but I am asking for it only in this one respect. Will you promise?‖
―Is it so very important to you?‖
―In the extreme. Yes.‖
She swallowed noisily. ―Then yes, I will promise.‖
―Thank you,‖ he breathed.
―Alice and Esme were always good to me, especially after my mother died.‖
Edward looked at her. ―When did your mother die?‖
―Senior year of high school. I was already living with my Dad in Forks by then. She was in Phoenix.‖
―I‘m sorry.‖
―Thank you, Edward.‖
And then she moved her mouth as if she was going to say something, but stopped, thought better of it and then bit her lip roughly.
―It‘s alright,‖ he whispered, ―you can say it.‖
He gazed into her eyes encouragingly and for a moment Bella forgot what she had wanted to say.
―Um, I was just going to say that, um, if you ever need someone to talk to – about Esme, I mean. I know Alice is going back to Seattle. But I‘ll be here. Um, obviously. Not that it would be very professional, but I will be around. Um. Yeah, that‘s it.‖
She looked away, and he felt her whole body tense as if she was steeling herself for something awful to happen.
What have I done to this poor little lamb? She‟s terrified I‟ll lash out at her or something.
Edward resolved to lavish her with kindness . . . at least until the song ended and they began to inhabit their professional roles once again. And then he would be distant, but gentle.
―Isabella, look at me. You know, I don‘t have any prohibitions against people looking me in the eye. You can make eye contact.‖
She glanced up at him hesitantly.
―Thank you, Isabella. That‘s a very kind offer. I don‘t like to talk about certain things, but I‘ll keep you in mind.‖ He smiled at her again and this time the smile remained. ―You have both charity and kindness. Two of the most important of the heavenly virtues. In fact, I‘m sure you have all seven; I won‘t even bother counting.‖
Especially chastity, they each thought to themselves, independently.
And he thinks chastity is something to ridicule, thought Bella.
―I haven‘t really danced like this before,‖ she said softly.
―Then I‘m glad I‘m your first.‖
He squeezed her hand and smiled at her warmly.
Bella froze.
―Isabella? What‘s wrong?‖
When Bella didn‘t answer, Edward was afraid that she‘d just had an aneurysm. Her eyes glazed over and her skin grew very cold. He watched as the virulent blush that had spread across her cheeks not two minutes earlier faded completely, and her skin became a translucent white, like rice paper over bluish veins.
She wouldn‘t look at him and when he flexed his hand against her lower back, it was as if she couldn‘t even feel it.
When Bella came out of her trance or shock, or whatever it was, Edward tried to get her to talk to him, but she was too shaken to do so. He had no idea what had happened, so he waved to Alice and asked her to take Bella to the ladies‘ room.
And then he went to the bar and ordered another double, drinking it quickly before they returned.
Soon after that, Edward made an executive decision and decided that it was time for the three of them to go home. He knew that at a certain point in the evening the men would become drunk and grabby and the women would become drunk and horny. He didn‘t want his baby sister and the beautiful and virginal little Miss Swan exposed to either sets of behaviour.
So he settled his tab and then asked Laurent to provide them with two taxis, with the full intention of paying the taxi driver for Miss Swan‘s cab and instructing him to wait outside her residence to see that she entered safely. And then Edward would accompany Alice home in the remaining cab.
Alas for poor Edward, Alice had a mind of her own.
―See you at home, Edward! Good night, Bella! Thanks for seeing her home personally!!‖ Alice shouted, as she hurled herself into one of the cabs, slammed the door behind her and handed the cabbie a twenty dollar bill so that he would peel out before Edward could move.
Edward was now pissed in a very different sense, since it was obvious what Alice was trying to do. Nevertheless, Alice was less likely to run into some ne‘er-do-well in the lobby of the Manulife Building than Miss Swan was on Madison Avenue. So he couldn‘t fault her foresight.
Edward helped Bella into the cab and then climbed in after her.
When they stopped in front of Bella‘s building, she dug through her tiny handbag to find some cash. Edward waved her money aside and instructed the cabbie to wait for him.
He walked over to Bella‘s side of the cab and opened her door, and then he proceeded to escort her up the steps of her building. They stood there, in the soft porch light, while she tried to find her keys.
She dropped them of course because he made her nervous and this time Edward picked them up for her, trying keys in the lock until he had successfully opened the door.
He returned her key ring to her and brushed a finger across the back of her hand. And then he stood staring down at her with a funny look on his face.
Bella inhaled sharply and began to talk to his black pointed-toe shoes, which were a tad too fashionable even for Edward, because she could not say what needed to be said and look into his beautiful but cold eyes. It occurred to her that Jasper would have called those shoes roach-kickers, because that‘s what they would have called them in Texas.
―Professor Masen, I wanted to thank you for opening doors for me and for asking me to dance. I‘m sure it was demeaning for you to have to behave that way to a student.
I know that you‘re only tolerating me because Alice is here and that when she‘s gone everything will go back to normal. And I promise I won‘t say anything – to anyone. I‘m really good at keeping secrets.
I‘m going to look for another thesis director. I know you don‘t think I‘m very bright and you only changed your mind because you felt sorry for me. Because of where I live. So I will find someone else and then you won‘t have to waste your valuable time on someone you have contempt for.
I know I‘m beneath you and that it pains you to have to talk to a stupid little virgin. Goodbye.‖
With a heavy heart, Bella turned to walk into the building while still looking at the floor.
Edward moved to block her path.
―Are you quite finished?‖ His voice grew very harsh.
She looked up at him, wide eyed and trembling.
―You‘ve delivered your speech; I believe courtesy demands that I be given an opportunity to respond to your remarks. So if you please . . .‖ He moved out of the doorway and then stood, staring down at her with an expression of almost carefully concealed fury.
―I open doors for you because that is how a lady is supposed to be treated and you are, after all, a lady, Miss Swan. I haven‘t always behaved like a gentleman, but Esme tried her best.
As for Alice, she‘s a sweet little girl, but romantic and sentimental. She‘d have me crawling through your window every night like a teenage boy, if she had her way. So let‘s leave my family out of this, shall we?
And as for you, if Esme adopted you like she adopted the rest of us, then that tells me she saw something very special in you. She loved to collect broken, gifted children. She had a way of healing people through her love. Unfortunately, in your case, as in mine, she probably got there a little too late.‖
Bella raised her eyebrows at this last statement, wondering silently what it meant, but she did not have the courage to ask him.
―I asked you to dance because I wanted your company. Your mind is good and your personality is charming. If you want another director, that‘s your prerogative. But frankly, I am disappointed in you. I never thought of you as a quitter.
And if you think I do things for you out of pity, then you don‘t know me very well. I am a selfish and self-absorbed creature, who barely notices the concerns of any other human being. Damn your little speech, damn your low self-esteem and damn the program.
Your virginity is not something to be ashamed of and it‘s certainly none of my business. I just wanted to make you smile and . . .‖
Edward‘s voice trailed off as his hand found Bella‘s chin. He lifted her face gently, and their eyes met.
He found himself moving towards her, his face approaching hers, their lips inches apart. So close that she could feel his warm breath on her face.
Scotch and peppermint.
They both inhaled deeply, drinking in one another‘s scent.
She closed her eyes, and her tongue darted out quickly to wet her lower lip.
And then she waited.
Out of the darkness, came Edward‘s voice, rather than his kiss.
―Facilis descensus Averni,‖ he whispered, his ominous and preternatural words striking her very soul.
And then, just as quickly, he stood up very straight, released her chin, and walked back to the taxi, slamming the car door behind him.
Bella opened her eyes to see the cab pull away. And then she leaned up against the door for support, her legs turning to jelly and her knees giving way.
Chapter Note: Edward is quoting Virgil, from The Divine Comedy. Virgil tells Dante "the descent of Avernus is easy," which means, "the descent to Hell is easy."


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