capitolo diciotto

Andare in basso

capitolo diciotto

Messaggio  simona80 il Dom 06 Mar 2011, 19:12

Chapter Eighteen
Bella treated Peter to a coffee that she paid for surreptitiously with a Starbucks gift card. A Starbucks gift card that had a picture of a light bulb on it.
When the two friends eventually crossed the threshold of Segovia, they were met immediately by a very pleasant looking Spaniard, who identified himself as the owner. Much to the owner‘s delight, Peter responded in Spanish.
Segovia‘s interior featured sunny yellow walls on which were painted images from Picasso‘s drawing of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. A classical guitarist sat in a corner playing arrangements by Maestro Segovia. And nearby, a series of long tables had been placed in a square in the very centre of the room, marking the reserved space for the faculty dinner. Its geometric configuration made it inevitable that all guests would sit facing one another.
Bella did not relish the idea of facing Professor Pain and if she thought she could have declined the invitation without insulting or drawing undue attention from the Chair, who had awarded her the M. T. Masen bursary, she would have.
Peter chose seats on one of the far corners of the table, for once again, he was conscious of the caste system and knew that his place was not one of honour.
While Peter discussed the menu and the wine list with the waiter en Español, Bella silently mused about Edward‘s jealousy and stealthily turned on her cell phone so that she could text him.
But there was a text waiting for her, which said the following:
Don‘t come to dinner.
Give Peter an excuse.
Wait for me at my place; the concierge will admit you.
I‘ll explain later.
Please do as I ask.
–E
Bella was staring at the screen blankly when she felt Peter nudge her. She quickly hid her cell phone.
―Would you like a drink?‖
She was remarkably distracted, he had noticed, and he was wondering if she was having trouble with Anthony. Or perhaps it had just been a long week and she really needed a cocktail.
―Um, it‘s probably out of season for sangria, but I‘d love some if they have it.‖
―Our sangria is excellent,‖ said the waiter, before leaving to place their drink orders with the bartender.
―Peter, I have a text from Anthony. I‘m sorry to be rude.‖
―No worries,‖ said Peter, busying himself with the menu while Bella quickly typed a reply.
My phone was off.
It‘s too late, I‘m already here.
You have nothing to be jealous of –
I‘m going home with you tonight.
And you will have me in your bed until morning,
-B
Bella deposited her phone in her messenger bag, praying silently that Edward would not be too cross with her.
Oh gods of all over-protective and jealous (fill in appropriate description of Edward and our relationship here), please don‟t let him make a scene.
Unfortunately for Bella and whoever was texting her, the messenger bag muffled the sound of an incoming text message, which arrived shortly thereafter.
Within twenty minutes, the rest of the guests filtered in. Professor Leaming and some of the other professors were seated beside Peter. On the far end of the table in the centre, Edward sat between the Chair of Italian Studies and Professor Singer.
Bella began sipping her sangria a little too eagerly, hoping she‘d be able to get a refill to help alleviate the tension that crackled in the air. And the sangria was packed with lots of citrus fruit, which pleased her greatly.
―Are you cold?‖ Peter gestured to the purple wool pashmina that was wound very chicly around her neck.
―Not really.‖ She slowly removed her scarf and leaned over to place it on top of her bag.
Peter politely averted his eyes as the delicate pale flesh of Bella‘s neck and v-neckline became visible.
She was beautiful and her body, although small, was blessed with generous breasts that provided her with very handsome, proportional cleavage.
She could not know this, but as soon as she removed her pashmina a pair of lively green eyes darted across the table, hungrily taking in her skin and her form, before making a hasty retreat.
―Peter, what‘s up with Professor Singer?‖ Bella kept her voice low behind her wine glass.
The waiter stopped by to refill Bella‘s drink.
Peter saw Singer sitting far too close to Masen, and he watched as Masen subtly moved his chair away from her. She moved her chair closer in response.
But Bella missed it.
―She and Masen had an affair. Looks like they‘re back at it.‖ Peter snickered and shook his head. ―I guess we discovered who put him in a good mood this week.‖
Bella‘s eyes widened and she felt instantly ill.
―So he was her - boyfriend?‖
Peter leaned in more closely, so that Professor Leaming couldn‘t overhear their conversation. Of course, the fact that a flamenco dancer had appeared and was now dancing to the strains of a loud classical guitar made his task much easier.
―Just a minute.‖ He passed a tapas plate to Bella. ―Try these. It‘s chorizo and manchego cheese, and crostini with Cabrales, a Spanish blue cheese.‖
She helped herself and then nibbled on the appetizers while she waited for an answer.
―Singer doesn‘t have boyfriends. She‘s into pain. And control. You know …‖ His voice trailed off suggestively.
But Bella didn‘t know. And with one look at the confusion on her pretty face, Peter realized that.
―Did you ever see Pulp Fiction? You know when the guy says, ‗I‘m gonna get medieval on your ass!‘?‖
She shook her head. ―I don‘t like Quentin Tarantino. He‘s too dark.‖
―Let‘s just say that Professor Pain likes to get medieval … in her personal life … on people‘s asses. That‘s what she‘s into.‖
Bella swallowed a piece of chorizo quickly. ―So that means that he –―
―Is a sick fucker like she is who gets off on pain. But he‘s a hell of a researcher, as you saw this afternoon. I try not to think about what goes on in his fucked-up personal life. I think that lovers should be gentle with one another. Of course, I doubt love comes into what they're doing.‖
Peter shrugged and looked around nervously before leaning more closely towards Bella.
―I think if you care enough about someone to have sex with them, then you should care enough about them to respect them as a person and not treat them as a thing. You should be responsible and careful and never, ever hurt them. Even if they‘re fucked up enough to beg you to.‖
Bella shivered and took a very large sip of her sangria, hoping it would calm her nerves.
―Some people want to be tied up, or treated like a baby or a dog. Some people want to role play and dress up.‖ He shook his head. ―I‘m sure some of it is harmless. But I can‘t relate to someone wanting pain and associating it with sex, which is incredibly pleasurable. Do you think Dante would have tied Beatrice up and worked her over with a whip?‖
Bella hesitated and then shook her head.
―When I was an undergraduate at St. Michael‘s I took a course on the Philosophy of Sex, Love and Friendship. We talked about consent. You know how everyone says that as long as an activity is between two consenting adults, it‘s okay? Our professor asked us if we thought a human being could consent to an injustice, such as willingly selling himself into slavery.‖
―No one wants to be a slave.‖
―In Professor Pain‘s world, some people do. Some people sell themselves into sexual slavery – voluntarily. So the philosophical question is - is slavery okay if the slave wants to be a slave? Can someone who is in their right mind consent to be a slave, or would you assume that that person is irrational?‖
Bella began to feel more than slightly uncomfortable having this particular conversation so close to Professor Pain and Edward, so she tipped back the last of her second sangria and swiftly changed the subject.
―What‘s your dissertation topic, Peter? I don‘t think you‘ve ever told me.‖
He chuckled. ―Pleasure and the beatific vision. A comparison between the deadly sins associated with pleasure – lust, gluttony and greed – and the pleasure of the beatific vision in Paradise. Masen has been a great dissertation advisor, but like I said, I stay out of his personal life. Even though he‘d probably be a hell of a case study for the Second Circle of the Inferno.‖
Bella looked thoughtful. ―I can‘t understand why everyone just doesn‘t want kindness. Life is painful enough.‖
―I feel the same way, Bella, but that‘s the world we live in.‖ He smiled at her good-naturedly. ―I‘m glad your Anthony is kind to you. Just be grateful you found someone who isn‘t into the sick shit.‖
At that moment, they were interrupted by the waiter, who approached them to take their dinner order, so Peter didn‘t see all of the colour drain out of Bella‘s cheeks and lips.
She involuntarily peeked over at Edward and saw Singer whispering in his ear again.
Edward‘s eyes remained stubbornly fixed on the table in front of him, teeth clenched and jaw set. He picked up his glass of wine, sipped it and replaced it, all while Bella stared.
Look at me, Edward. Roll your eyes, pinch the bridge of your nose, tug at your hair … something, anything. Show me this is all a misunderstanding.
―Bella?‖ Peter‘s voice interrupted her thoughts. ―Do you want to share the paella Valenciana with me? They only make it for two. It‘s very good.‖
Now Peter noticed Bella‘s paleness and the fact that her fingers were trembling. ―Hey, are you okay?‖
She rubbed her forehead. ―Yeah. The paella is fine.‖
―Maybe you should go easy on the sangria. You haven‘t had much to eat and you‘re starting to look sick.‖
Peter was worried that he had shocked Bella with his salacious revelations and so he took great pains to distract her, telling her stories of his last trip to Spain and the beauty of Barcelona‘s Gaudi architecture.
Bella nodded as if on cue and even asked questions from time to time, but her mind was far away, across the table, trying to sort out who it was exactly that she had shared a bed with a week ago. And who had shared his bed before her …
And then she noticed that Professor Singer‘s left hand was hidden from view.
She couldn‘t bring herself to meet Edward‘s eyes.
But that didn‘t stop Professor Singer from noticing Bella. Their eyes met just as Edward‘s body began to twitch in reaction to something going on under the table.
Bella blushed and looked away, while Singer‘s face wore a look of inquisitive amusement that slowly morphed into an unblinking, fascinated stare.
Bella immediately made a feeble excuse to Peter about not feeling well and left the table, climbing the staircase to the second floor in order to visit the restroom.
She looked at herself in the mirror as she tried to process what Peter had told her. Her thoughts were a sordid jumble of words and dark images, some of which were from her past.
Why would anyone want to be hit? Edward and Jane … pain …control … Jane‟s fingers in Edward‟s lap … Jane hitting Edward … Edward hitting Jane.
Bella found herself leaning against the counter as her knees grew weak. She wasn‘t sure how long she stood there, eyes closed, before someone pushed through the door.
―Hello there.‖
Professor Singer smiled widely, showing rows of white, perfect teeth.
Bella marvelled at how the light glinting off Singer‘s red glasses tricked the brain into thinking that her eyes were glowing red.
―I‘m Jane Singer. It‘s a pleasure to meet you.‖ She extended her hand and Bella took it reluctantly, mumbling a response.
Jane‘s hand was cold but far from lifeless. She gripped Bella‘s hand firmly and for far too long. As she released it, she trailed a finger down Bella‘s lifeline as if she were intentionally measuring her.
Bella shivered.
Jane cocked her head to one side and squinted slightly.
―I thought you were expecting me. Do I make you nervous?‖
Bella frowned.
―No, I came up here to wash my hands. I think I‘m getting the flu.‖
―That‘s a pity. ‖ Jane smiled more widely and took a step closer. ―You seem healthy enough. You have lovely skin.‖
―Thank you.‖ Bella looked puzzled.
―Not at all. Not at all. Are you wearing lipstick or is that the natural shade of your lips?‖
Jane leaned forward at the waist and peered far too intensely at Bella‘s ripe, open mouth, their faces mere inches from one another.
Bella took a step backwards. ―Um, it‘s my natural colour.‖
Jane took another step forward.
―Extraordinary. You know, of course, that the natural shade of the lip is repeated across a woman‘s body in more intimate places. Your colour is so pleasing on your mouth. I‘m sure it‘s breathtaking elsewhere.‖
Bella‘s jaw dropped open.
―Look at yourself in the mirror. See how sweet looking you are. How could I not have noticed you downstairs? And fortunately, you noticed me too.‖
Jane took another step forward and dropped her voice.
―Do you like to watch?‖ she whispered. ―Did you like watching what I was doing to him under the table?‖
Bella reddened. ―I don‘t know what you‘re talking about.‖
―Flesh changes colour, you know, in response to increased blood flow. Like now. I‘ve embarrassed or aroused you, so your cheeks have grown flushed and so have your lips. But you‘re flushed elsewhere, aren‘t you? Your areolae and nipples.‖ She dropped her voice still further. ―And lower down, I‘m sure your beautiful pink pearl has swollen and glistened, finally peeking out to play … begging to be stroked and teased …‖ She licked her lips and smiled. ―I think you want me to tease you. You would make such a pretty little pet.‖
Did she just say what I think she said? Did she just talk about touching my …?
―You have nothing that I want.‖
That made Jane back up. Bella‘s sudden show of spirit was wholly unexpected.
―I am not interested in being anyone's pet. I am a human being, not an animal.‖ Bella did not know where in the holy hell she found the nerve to dispute with Professor Singer, but she found it.
Jane laughed.
―Human beings are animals, my dear. We share the same physiology, the same reactions to stimuli, the same needs for food, drink and sex. We‘re just more intelligent.‖
Bella drew herself up to her full height and glared down at her.
―I am intelligent enough to know what an animal is. And I am not interested in being fucked like one. Excuse me.‖
Bella sidestepped her quickly, heading for the door.
―If you change your mind, come and find me,‖ Jane purred.
―Not a chance in hell,‖ spat Bella, over her shoulder.
She fled, inhaling and exhaling very quickly as she began to jog down the hall, leaving the restroom far behind.
A quick pair of footsteps followed.
She let out a shriek as someone grabbed her and pulled her into a darkened room, closing and locking the door behind them.
She pushed against a hard chest before someone grasped her wrists.
―Isabella.‖
It was too dark to see his face, but of course she recognized his voice and the electric current that hummed up and down her arms in reaction to his touch.
―Please turn on the light. I – I‘m claustrophobic.‖ Bella‘s voice sounded to Edward‘s ears like that of a frightened child.
Her tone scared him.
What happened?
He released her wrists quickly and pulled out his iPhone, holding it up like a lamp to illuminate them.
―Is that better?‖ Edward suppressed the urge to ask what light had to do with claustrophobia as he wrapped an arm around her trembling shoulders and pressed his lips to her forehead. ―You‘re safe, Isabella. I‘ve got you.‖
Bella looked around and realized that they were in a broom closet.
―I saw Jane follow you. Are you alright?‖
―No.‖
―What did she do?‖
―She said I‘d make a good pet,‖ Bella whispered, her eyes downcast.
Edward scowled darkly. ―Are you going to be sick?‖
She closed her eyes and wiped a few beads of sweat from her forehead. ―I don‘t think so.‖
Edward quickly dimmed the light on his phone so that they were still partially illuminated, for he was worried that Jane would see the light under the door.
―This is exactly what I was afraid would happen. Why didn‘t you do as I asked?!‖
―I told you, I didn‘t get your message until it was too late. Edward, why does she want me?‖
Edward growled.
―Because of your doe eyes and your angelic face. She was watching you across the table and was probably excited by your shyness. Having you in the same room as her is the equivalent of dangling a lamb in front of a wolf.‖ He shook his head and cursed. ―Of course I wanted to keep you away from her. What kind of shepherd would I be if I allowed a lamb, my precious lamb, so near to a dangerous predator?‖
Bella stared at him for a moment.
―You weren‘t jealous of Peter?‖
Edward let out a sharp breath. ―Of course I‘m jealous. Jealousy is a new emotion for me, Isabella. I‘m not practiced in the art of dealing with it. But I would have begged him to take you to dinner somewhere else just to keep you away from her.‖
―Were you involved with Professor Singer?‖
His eyes narrowed and he pressed his lips into a thin line. ―This is not the place to discuss that.‖
Bella shook her head as a wave of nausea rushed over her. She had hoped that Peter was mistaken. But Edward‘s reaction told her otherwise.
―How could you, Edward?‖
―You‘re shaking. Are you going to faint?‖
―Why won‘t you answer my question?
―Isabella, your comfort and well-being is my only concern at this moment. I won‘t answer any questions until I am satisfied that you are alright. Although if you throw up, I promise to hold your hair.‖ He smirked at her slightly.
―I‘m not going to be throw up,‖ she murmured. ―Unfortunately, she‘s not the first woman to come on to me. I‘m more upset about the fact that you‘re hiding something.‖
Edward‘s eyebrows furrowed at her admission, but he quickly pushed his concern aside.
―Isabella, trust me when I tell you that you do not want to know more about her. Your mind should remain unpolluted.‖
―But it‘s okay for her to molest you under the table? That‘s how she noticed me, Edward. She caught me staring.‖
Edward‘s face reddened and Bella saw sparks in his eyes.
―She‘s goading me, Isabella. And for obvious reasons, I can‘t react and have a scene with her in public. I was hoping she‘d ignore you and focus all of her twisted attention on me. Clearly, I was wrong.‖
―Why did I have to find out from Peter that you were involved with her?‖
―Peter said that?‖
She nodded.
Edward swore an oath and began rubbing his eyes forcefully, as if he were blotting out a repulsive image.
―Today is the first time I‘ve seen her in months. She is part of my past; a past I will not repeat. Not if I lived forever.‖
―Peter said she likes pain. Were you - violent together?‖
Bella heard him clench his fists at his sides, as the tendons in his arms hummed in contraction.
―Yes,‖ he spoke through clenched teeth. ―I‘d like to tell you that she was Orpheus and I was Persephone, but that‘s not how it was. Nevertheless, I am not going to explain the dark contours of the underworld to you, Isabella. Not even a single thought of yours belongs there. But I will tell you that during one of my – encounters with Jane, she did something that caused me to lose my temper. And I gave her a taste of her own medicine. That act alone terminated our involvement and I was immediately flung out of her house.‖
―She hit you?‖
―More than once,‖ rasped Edward, grimly. ―That was the point.‖
―Edward.‖ His name came out as something akin to a sob and his heart was instantly pierced. ―How could you? How could you let her touch you, let alone hurt you?‖
He sighed and held her more tightly.
―Isabella, you do not want to hear this. Please forget what Peter said. Forget all about her.‖
Bella searched his eyes.
―What you said in your lecture about making love was really beautiful. But that‘s not what you want. Or maybe you think it‘s impossible for lovers to be like that.‖
Edward‘s eyes bored into hers.
―Of course it‘s what I want. Of course I think it‘s possible. I‘ve just never experienced it.‖ He cleared his throat. ―You are not the only virgin in this relationship, Isabella.‖
Bella looked at him in surprise. ―Then why would you want someone to hurt you? Haven‘t you been hurt enough?‖
He gave her a pained look.
―Edward, your life is like a series of locked, secret rooms. I have no idea what lurks behind those doors. And you won‘t tell me. I have to find out from your research assistant.‖
―I asked you about Jacob and you wouldn‘t tell me. So far we are even.‖
Bella winced.
―I told you about Renee.‖
Edward sighed. ―Yes, you did. And hearing about what happened to you in Phoenix hurt me far more than I can say. More than Jane and her parlour tricks.
He shook his head.
―You‘re right. I should have known that she would come to my lecture and I should have told you about her. I was afraid.‖
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and Bella heard his fists slide into the pockets of his trousers.
―I thought that when I told you, you‘d be so repulsed by me that you‘d run. You‘d realize I truly am a monster.‖
―A monster who still has goodness left in him. A monster who aspires to make love with a woman and treat her with tenderness,‖ whispered Bella.
She closed her eyes.
―Hearing about Professor Singer from you would have been far better than finding out like this. Or having it flaunted in front of me when you won‘t even look in my direction.‖
―I wear tremendous shame, Isabella, which is something you know precious little about.―
―You aren‘t the only sinner in this closet, Edward.‖ She opened her eyes and inhaled slowly. ―Which is why I can‘t hold your past sins against you. Do you still want her?‖
―Of course not!‖ Edward‘s demeanour immediately shifted to outrage. ―We did not have a relationship, Isabella; we had a couple of encounters. It was over a year ago and I haven‘t been involved with her since.‖ He sighed deeply. ―If you insist, I‘ll tell you more, but I can‘t do it now. Can you give me until after dinner to explain? Please?‖
She chewed her lip pensively.
Edward gently pressed his mouth to hers, tugging her lip free with his own and then slowly releasing her.
―Please don‘t hurt yourself, Isabella. It upsets me.‖
―I could say the same to you,‖ she breathed.
He shook his head guiltily.
―I will give you until after dinner only if you promise not to let her touch you.‖
―Gladly.‖
Bella exhaled deeply. ―Thank you.‖
―So you‘ll stay?‖
She shook her head. ―I can‘t sit across the table from her and eat paella. I have to go.‖
―I‘ll take you home.‖
―You‘re the guest of honour. You can‘t leave.‖
Edward ran his fingers through his hair as he thought for a moment.
―At least let me call a taxi for you. I‘ll try to extricate myself as soon as possible. My concierge will let you in.‖ He reached into his pocket and pulled out a money clip.
―I have my own money.‖
―Then let me give you my credit card so you can order dinner and have it delivered.‖
―I can‘t eat.‖
He sighed deeply and rubbed at his eyes.
She turned to leave, but Edward reached out and grasped her elbow.
―Isabella, wait.‖ He stared down at her, his eyes dark and sad. ―When I saw you walk into the lecture hall, my heart leapt. You‘ve never looked more beautiful. You looked – happy.‖ He swallowed noisily. ―I‘m sorry I killed that look. I‘m sorry I didn‘t tell you the truth. Do you think … you might be able to forgive me?‖
―You didn‘t sin against me, Edward. " Her eyes slowly began to fill with tears. "I‘m trying to figure out how deeply rooted your taste for pain is. And what that means for us. I feel like I have no idea who you really are. And that hurts.‖
And with that, she exited the closet.
-
The Fates favoured Bella on her return to the dinner party. While she fetched her things and made her excuses, Jane was still ensconced in the ladies‘ room. And another female professor was missing from the table.
One look at Bella‘s pale face and teary eyes convinced Peter not to try to convince her to stay. And when she offered a feeble and obviously fictitious explanation about an upsetting text message from Anthony, he didn‘t question her.
Until they were waiting outside the restaurant together in the chill November air.
―Bella?‖
Peter held the taxi door open for her.
―Yes?‖
―Singer followed you to the bathroom, didn‘t she?‖
Bella chewed on her lip and then nodded slowly.
He shook his head. ―She‘s a leech. A filthy, blood-sucking leech. I‘m so sorry, Bella. I should have followed you. Are you alright?‖
―I‘m fine. But I have to go home. I‘m sorry about the paella.‖
―Fuck the paella, Bella. All I care about is you.‖ He winced slightly. ―If you want to file a complaint against her, I‘ll take you to the Vice-Presidential Tribunal office on Monday.‖
―What‘s that?‖
―It‘s the office that handles allegations of misconduct against faculty and staff. If you want to tell the Tribunal about what happened with Singer, I‘ll help you.‖
Bella shook her head. ―I told her I wasn‘t interested. I‘m going to leave it at that. Unless something else happens.‖
―I understand. But you should know that I filed a complaint against her last year. Even though it was her word against mine, my harassment complaint is still in her file. She stays away from me now. It was the best decision I ever made.‖
Her smiled faded. ―I don‘t think I want to do that. But I‘ll think about it. And I'm sorry that happened to you.‖
―Don't worry about me. Have a nice weekend, Bella, and try to forget about this. If you need to talk, you‘ve got my number. I‘ll see you next week.‖
And with that, the cab made the two block trek to the Manulife Building.
While Virgil‘s words rang in Bella‘s ears, she checked her cell phone and found the following text message, which had been sent shortly before the professors arrived at Segovia:
Stay away from Prof. Singer.
Stay close to Peter – she despises him.
Be safe,
-E
-
When Bella entered Edward‘s apartment, she quickly turned on the lights and the fireplace, hoping to dispel the darkness that she felt creeping near her heart. But it didn‘t seem to help.
Truly, all she wanted to do was go home and curl up in her bed and pull the covers over her head. She wanted to walk away and forget. But she knew better than to hide from reality now.
She found herself walking down the hallway and into Edward‘s bedroom. She didn‘t want to snoop. Nevertheless, she got on her hands and knees in his closet, searching for the black and white photographs, wondering if Jane was in one of them.
But they were gone.
She searched every inch of his closet and looked around his bedroom and even under his bed. The pictures had been removed.
Hanging on the wall in place of the six photographs were six pieces of art, some abstract, some renaissance, one by Tom Thomson, but all beautiful and strangely – peaceful.
Edward redecorated.
She stood in front of his dresser admiring the reproduction of Botticelli‘s Primavera that was displayed over it, when her gaze alighted on an eight by ten colour photograph in a dark frame. She picked it up and gazed at it closely. It was of a man and a woman dancing. The man was taller, beautiful, elegant and commanding, and he was looking down at the woman with a wide smile and an intense, almost heated gaze.
The woman was smaller, blushing and staring at the buttons of his shirt. She was wearing a Santorini blue dress that was so vibrant it seemed to diminish all the other colours in the photograph.
How did he get a picture of the two of us dancing at Lobby?
Alice.
Bella quickly placed the picture back where she found it and exited Edward‘s bedroom, being sure to turn out all the lights.
She decided to sit on his sofa, near the fire. And then she decided to recline on the sofa. And before she knew what was happening, she had closed her eyes and fallen asleep, the stress of the day having taken its toll.
-
Edward was a chameleon of sorts, blending into his environment. He was charming and gracious to his colleagues over dinner. But all the while, his insides churned and his mind raced. He had to force himself to eat and to decline libation upon libation. Edward was convinced that he would be going home to an empty apartment.
Isabella was going to run.
It wasn‘t surprising – he knew it would happen eventually. He just hadn‘t thought that it would be this secret that would separate them. He was unworthy of her for multiple reasons, reasons he had hid cowardly.
It wasn‘t a question of love, for Edward did not believe that she could ever love him. He was unlovable. He had hoped to be able to court her long enough for their affection and friendship to bind them together, even in the face of some of his darkness. Now it was too late.
Nevertheless, after he bid his colleagues farewell, he walked back to his apartment, praying against his expectations that Isabella would be sitting by his fire.
He found her asleep on his sofa, her face an image of perfect peace. He was unwilling to remove that look from her face, so he sat beside her. He tried valiantly to be still, to resist touching her. But he couldn‘t. He reached out a tentative hand and softly stroked her long, silken hair.
He needed music. At that moment, he felt the need for melody and lyric to soothe his pain. But the only song he could think of that would match this moment was Gary Jules' cover of Mad World. And Edward didn't want to be listening to that song when Isabella left him.
Suddenly, her eyes fluttered open.
She saw that Edward was no longer wearing his suit jacket and tie, and had unbuttoned the top three buttons of his shirt. He‘d also removed his cufflinks and rolled up his sleeves.
He smiled down at her but his expression was cautious.
―I didn‘t mean to wake you.‖
―It‘s fine. I just dozed off.‖
She sat up slowly and rubbed at her eyes a little.
―You can go back to sleep.‖
―I don‘t think that‘s a good idea. I‘m fine, Edward.‖
―Did you eat something?‖
She shook her head.
―Will you eat something now? I could make you an omelette.‖
―My stomach is in knots.‖
He frowned slightly but refused to argue with her, for he knew a much bigger argument was on the horizon.
―I have a present for you.‖
―Edward, a present is the last thing I need right now.‖ She sounded frustrated.
―I disagree. But it can wait.‖
He shifted uncomfortably on the sofa, never taking his eyes off of her.
―You‘re wearing a scarf about your neck and sitting by a roaring fire, yet you‘re so pale. Are you cold?‖
―No.‖ Bella reached up to remove her scarf, but Edward‘s long, slender fingers caught her hand.
―May I?‖
Bella moved her hand and nodded slightly.
Edward leaned closer and Bella closed her eyes as his scent washed over her. He gently unwound the scarf from her neck with both hands and placed it on the sofa between them. Then he reached out tentatively to trail the knuckles of one hand down the column of her throat.
―You are so lovely,‖ he murmured. ―No wonder all eyes were on you this evening.‖
Bella tensed at his words and he quickly withdrew, stifling a sigh.
She looked down at her feet and realized that she had been so distracted when she arrived that she hadn‘t bothered to remove her boots.
But he hadn‘t said anything.
―I‘m sorry about putting my boots on your couch. I‘ll take them off.‖ She leaned down to reach one of the zippers, but Edward moved quickly to kneel in front of her.
―What are you doing?‖ Her eyes widened in confusion.
―I‘ve been admiring your boots. Very much.‖ He lightly grazed her high heels with his hands.
―Alice. She has great taste, but the heels are always too high.‖
―So let me free you.‖ He looked up at her through his eyelashes and her heart clenched.
He ghosted his hands up legs to her knees, where the tops of the zippers rested.
―May I?‖ he asked softly.
She nodded mutely as her cheeks exploded into flames.
Reverently, he slowly unzipped her boot, and then he gently ran his fingers down her calf to her ankle and freed her. He repeated this procedure on the other leg and then placed the boots next to the sofa.
He picked up her right foot and began massaging it lightly with both hands.
Bella moaned in spite of herself and then bit her lip sharply in embarrassment.
―It‘s alright to voice your pleasure, Isabella.‖ He smiled up at her. ―It reassures me that I‘m doing something that doesn‘t repulse you.‖
―Perhaps I don‘t like seeing you on your knees, Edward,‖ she whispered.
His smile faded.
―When a man kneels before a woman, it‘s a gesture of chivalry. When a woman kneels before a man, it‘s unseemly.‖
Bella moaned once again involuntarily. ―How did you learn to do this?‖
He gave her a puzzled look.
―How did you learn to massage feet?‖ she clarified, flushing more deeply.
He sighed. ―A friend.‖
Probably a black and white photograph friend, thought Bella.
―Yes,‖ said Edward, as if he had read her mind.
She looked down at him in surprise.
―I would like to extend my attention to the rest of your body, but I don‘t think a full massage would be possible for us, at least not now.‖ His eyes darkened slightly as their eyes met.
He switched his attention to her other foot and lowered his eyes.
―I already hunger for your body, Isabella. I‘m not strong enough to touch you chastely, not when you‘re laid out before me wrapped only in a bed sheet. But someday, perhaps.‖
They sat in silence for a few moments while Edward worked on Bella‘s feet. At length, he sat back on his heels, cradling her feet in his lap, running light fingertips up and down her stockings.
―I‘ll drive you home, if you wish, and we‘ll talk tomorrow. Or you can stay here. You can take my room and I‘ll sleep in the guestroom.‖
His face wore an expression of uncertainty.
―I don‘t want to prolong this,‖ she offered, quietly. ―So I‘d like to talk, if that‘s alright.‖
―That‘s fine. Can I offer you something to drink?‖ Edward motioned towards the kitchen. ―I can open a bottle of wine. Or I‘ll make you a cocktail.‖ He gazed at her fixedly. ―Please let me do something for you.‖
A flame ignited in Bella‘s middle, flaring up and passing over her.
―Water, please. I need a clear head.‖
He stood up quickly and walked to the kitchen. Bella heard him wash his hands in the sink and then the sounds of the refrigerator and freezer doors opening and closing.
He returned to her with a tall glass filled with Perrier, ice, and lime.
―Um, Edward, can I have a female minute?‖
―Take as long as you need. Come to the fire when you‘re ready.‖ He smiled at her gravely.
She padded down the hallway with her drink and Edward assumed she was using this opportunity to steel herself for the next fucked-up revelation from his miserable, haunted existence. Or maybe she was going to lock herself into the bathroom and demand to speak to him through the door.
Not that he would blame her.
Bella‘s mind was traveling at light speed. She didn‘t know what Edward was going to say. She didn‘t know what she would say in response. It was quite possible that she would learn things about him that would make it impossible for their relationship to continue, and the thought crushed her. For no matter what he had done, she loved him.
What if he wants what he had with Jane, with me? Could I walk away?
She smoothed the hair at the back of her head, tracing a finger along her old scar.
This is the one line I will not cross. Not for Edward. Not for anyone.
Bella took a deep breath and returned to the living room.
Edward sat in his red velvet chair, staring vacantly into the fireplace. Dressed as he was and brooding in his magisterial armchair, he looked very much like a character out of one of the Brontë‘s novels.
As Bella watched his hands clutch the armrests tensely, she silently prayed to Charlotte that Edward would be one of her ilk and not of her sister‘s.
Pardon me, Miss Charlotte, but Heathcliff terrifies me. If Edward belongs to your sister Emily, then beg her to choose another Isabella for him. Please.
From where Bella stood, he could not see her. She paused, wondering if she should clear her throat to alert him of her presence.
―Come warm yourself.‖
How had he heard her? Could he actually read her thoughts?
She walked towards him and made as if to sit on the carpet in front of the fire, but his hand shot out to stop her.
He forced a smile.
―Please. Sit on my lap. Or the ottoman or the sofa.‖
He still doesn‟t like me on the floor, Bella thought. She hadn‘t objected to the idea of sitting at the hearth. But the mere idea more than offended him.
She eschewed his lap for the ottoman and sat quietly, gazing at the blue and orange flames.
Edward shifted in his chair, wondering why she wanted to be so far away from him.
Because you are a monster and she‟s afraid of you.
―Why don‘t you like me on my knees?‖ she asked.
He flinched.
―Perhaps in light of tonight‘s conversation, you can divine the reason. A reason multiplied and strengthened by what you told me at your apartment.‖ He paused and looked at her pointedly. ―Besides, I want us to be equals.‖
―We are not equals.‖
―Nonsense. All human beings are created equal.‖
―You will always be the professor and I will always be the student,‖ she sighed.
―You won‘t be a student forever, Isabella. And I shall sit in the front row when you deliver your first lecture. As for your professor prejudice, if you prick us, do we not bleed?‖
―And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?‖ Bella countered.
Edward sat back in his chair and indulged himself in a small smile.
―See? You are very much my equal. I only claim the advantages of age and experience.‖
―Age doesn‘t necessarily make you wiser; it depends how you‘ve used your time.‖
―I‘ve made bad use of it, as you well know. While you‘re industrious and bright and only at the very beginning of what promises to be a long and brilliant career. And far too wise and too good to make my mistakes.‖
She fell silent, pretending to be mesmerized by the dancing, licking flames.
He cleared his throat.
―Jane didn‘t hurt me, Isabella. She left no scars.‖
Bella turned her troubled eyes to look into Edward‘s. They were a lively, earnest verdant.
―Not all scars mark the skin. Why Jane, Edward?‖
He shrugged and looked away. ―Why do human beings do anything? Because they are looking for happiness. In this case, she promised raw, intense pleasure through pain. I needed the diversion.‖
―You let her hurt you because you were bored?‖ Bella felt instantly ill.
Edward‘s features immediately hardened.
―I don‘t expect you to understand. But at the time, it was either pain or alcohol. And I was not about to do anything that might get back to Carlisle and Esme. Incidentally, Isabella, perpetually available but mindless orgasms can become tiresome.‖
I‟ll remember that, thought Bella.
―The way she was with you at the lecture … and then at dinner … she doesn‘t act like a woman scorned.‖
―She despises weakness. And she can‘t accept failure. It was a harsh blow to her reputation and her massive ego when she failed to control me.‖
―Is she your equal?‖
―Hardly. She‘s a soulless, heartless succubus, Isabella.‖
Bella looked back at the fire.
―I was not about to jump into something with Jane without testing it. And we never got beyond the test. In other words, although she behaved in a particular manner with me, I was not her pet in the strict sense.‖
―I don‘t even know what that means.‖
―I am trying to explain this to you without tainting more of your innocence than is absolutely necessary. Do not require me to be explicit.‖ His tone was suddenly clipped and cold.
―Do you still want what she offers?‖
―No. It was a disaster.‖
―With someone else?‖
―No.‖
―But what about the next time the darkness comes? What will you do?‖
Edward stared at her. ―You dispel the darkness, Beatrice.‖ He cleared his throat. ―Isabella. I thought I‘d made that clear.‖
―Tell me she isn‘t in one of your photographs.‖
―Absolutely not. Those pictures were of women I liked.‖
―Why were you thrown out of her house?‖
He gritted his teeth.
―I did something that in her world is absolutely unacceptable. And I won‘t lie and say that I didn‘t enjoy the look on her face when I gave her a taste of her own medicine.‖
Bella shuddered.
―Then why is she still after you?‖
―I represent her failure, her inability to control. And I possess certain skills.‖
She flushed and fidgeted with her hands.
―She was also interested in my pugilistic abilities. When she learned that I was a boxer and that I was a member of Oxford‘s Fencing Club, she wouldn‘t leave me alone. We share those interests.‖
―I can‘t be with someone who hits, Edward.‖
―And you shouldn't. It is not in my nature to be violent with women, but rather to be seductive. Jane was an exception. And if you knew the circumstances, I think you‘d forgive me.‖
―I can‘t be with someone who wants to be hit. Violence frightens me, Edward. You need to understand this.‖
―I thought that what Jane offered would help me deal with my problems.‖ He shook his head sadly. ―Isabella, nothing is as painful as the moment in which I had to look you in the eye and admit my sordid entanglement. I wish for your sake I had no past. I wish I was as good as you.‖
Bella looked down at the floor.
―The thought of someone being hurting you … treating you like an animal …‖ Her voice began to tremble as her eyes slowly filled with tears. ―I don‘t care if you had sex with her. I don‘t care if she didn‘t leave any marks. I can‘t bear the thought of someone hurting you on purpose because you wanted them to.‖
Edward pressed his lips together tightly, but said nothing.
―The mere thought of someone hitting you makes me sick.‖
He clenched his jaw as he watched two lone tears slide down her cheeks.
―You should be with someone who will be kind to you.‖ She wiped at her tears with the back of her hand. ―Promise me you will never go back to her. Or someone like her.‖
Bella couldn‘t look him in the eye, but her little voice was surprisingly determined.
Edward gazed at her sharply.
―I promised that you wouldn‘t have to share me. I keep my word.‖
She shook her head. ―I meant – ever. After me. Promise.‖
Edward growled. ―You say it as if it‘s a foregone conclusion that there will be an after.‖
She wiped away another tear.
―Promise me you won‘t let anyone abuse you in order to punish yourself. No matter what happens.‖
He gritted his teeth at that remark.
―Promise me, Edward. I will never ask you for anything. But promise me this.‖
He nodded stiffly. ―I promise.‖
Bella relaxed immediately and hung her head, physically and emotionally spent.
Edward had been watching her very closely, the alternating flush and paleness of her skin, the way she had fidgeted and pulled at her dress. It hurt him more than he thought possible to see her so upset.
And the sight of her tears …
The Angel was weeping over the Monster.
The Angel wept because she was grieved at the mere thought of someone hurting the Monster.
Without a word, he pulled her onto his lap.
He pressed her head gently against his chest and waited until she relaxed her body.
―No more weeping. I‘ve seen enough tears from you to last a lifetime,‖ he whispered, pressing his lips to her ear. ―And I am not worth a single one.‖
He sighed deeply and shook his head. ―I‘ve done a very selfish thing in pursuing you, Isabella. You should be with someone your own age who is your equal in innocence. Not with some twisted Caliban like me.‖
―There are moments when you are my equal in innocence.‖
―When? Tell me.‖
―When you hold me in your arms. When you stroke my hair,‖ she whispered.
His face wore a thoughtful expression.
―If you don‘t want me, all you have to do is say so. And it will be as if I never existed. I don‘t want you to be afraid of what might happen if you reject me. I promise I‘ll let you go, if that‘s what you want.‖
Bella was quiet, for she did not know what to say.
―I know that I am controlling and as you put it, commanding.‖ Edward‘s voice was low and strained. ―But I would never do to you what she does. I won‘t hurt you, Isabella. I feel protective of you.‖
He gently trailed his fingertips up and down the exposed flesh of her arm, feeling the skin raise underneath his words as much as underneath his touch.
―I was more worried about what she did to you, Edward.‖
―No one has worried about me for some time.‖
―Your family does. And I did, too, you know. Even before I came to Toronto.‖
He pressed a light kiss to her lips and Bella reciprocated softly.
―My past indiscretion notwithstanding, my tastes run to inflicting mad, passionate pleasure on my lovers and not pain, I assure you. Someday I‘d like to show you that side of me. Slowly, of course.‖
Bella chewed at the inside of her mouth quietly, trying to find the right words.
―I need to tell you something, Edward.‖
―Yes?‖
―I am - not as innocent as you think.‖
―What‘s that supposed to be mean?‖ he snapped.
Bella raked her upper lip with her teeth nervously.
―Sorry, Isabella. You took me by surprise.‖ Edward rubbed at his eyes.
―I had a boyfriend.‖
He frowned at her. ―I know that.‖
―We, um, did things.‖
His eyebrows shot up.
―What kinds of things?‖ His question emerged before he could consider it and so he swiftly retracted it. ―Don‘t answer that. I don‘t want to know.‖
―I am not as innocent as I was in the meadow, which means that you have – um – an idealized and false perception of me.‖
He considered her admission for a moment. He wanted to know the specifics. But he was worried about what she might say. The thought of someone else, of him, coaxing pleasure out of her, or even touching her, infuriated him. He was far from certain that he could handle whatever confession she was burning to make.
―You were my first kiss. The first to hold my hand,‖ she whispered.
―I‘m glad.‖ He took her little hand in his and pressed his lips against it. ―I wish I had been all your firsts.‖
―He didn‘t take them all.‖
Bella closed her mouth quickly. She hadn‘t meant to say that.
Her use of the word take made Edward think murderous thoughts. If he ever found himself in the same room as him he would rip his throat out with his bare hands.
―When you didn‘t come back I started dating someone. In Seattle. And things, uh, happened.‖
―Did you want those things to happen?‖
Bella squirmed.
―He was my boyfriend. He was – demanding. And impatient.‖
―That‘s what I thought. He was a manipulative bastard who seduced you.‖
―I have a free will. I didn‘t have to give in.‖
Edward was thoughtful for a moment. Jealousy – the idea of her hands and her lips wrapped around someone else – or someone else‘s mouth on her. Her body …
―I have no right to ask this, but I will. Did you love him?‖
―No.‖
He tried to hide his secret relief at her answer by lifting her chin.
―Don‘t ever touch me or let me touch you unless you truly want me. That‘s a promise I‘d like to exact from you. Right now.‖
She blinked back at him in surprise.
―I know what I can be like. So far I‘ve kept my passions in check. But I‘ve been forward with you, I know, and on more than one occasion I‘ve made you uncomfortable. It would trouble me to discover that things progressed between us solely because you felt coerced.‖
―I promise, Edward.‖
He nodded at her. ―Isabella, why won‘t you let me call you Beatrice?‖
―It made me sad that you never wanted to know my real name.‖
Edward gazed at her intensely.
―I want more than that, Isabella. I want to know the real you.‖
Bella smiled.
"So do you still want me, Isabella? Or would you rather I let you go?" He tried to keep his voice steady.
―I still want you.‖
He kissed her softly. Then he placed her on her feet, taking her hand in his and leading her to the kitchen.
When she was comfortably seated on one of the bar stools, he walked over to the counter and picked up a large, silver dome.
Bella‘s mouth dropped open in surprise.
What in the world?
He grinned at her, his eyes glinting mischievously, as he placed the great domed plate in front of her.
With a flourish, he removed the dome.
Resting in the centre of a silver plate was a large pie.
―Homemade apple pie,‖ Edward said, eagerly searching her face for her reaction.
―Pie?‖
―You said no one ever baked a pie for you. Now someone has.‖
Bella stared at the dessert incredulously.
―You made this?‖
―Not exactly. My housekeeper did. Do you like it?‖
―You had someone bake a pie just for me?‖
―Well, I had hoped you would share it. But if you insist on eating the entire thing …‖ Edward chuckled.
Bella covered her mouth with her hand and closed her eyes.
―Isabella?‖
When she didn‘t respond, he started speaking very quickly. ―You said you liked pie. When you told me about Phoenix, you said no one made you a pie before. I thought …‖ He stopped, suddenly very unsure of himself.
Bella‘s shoulders shook as she silently began to cry.
―Bella? What‘s wrong?‖ His voice was frantic as he watched her weep again.
He walked around the counter and enveloped her shaking figure in his arms.
―I‘m sorry,‖ she found her voice.
―Sweetheart, don‘t be sorry. Just tell me what I did so I can fix it.‖
―You didn‘t do anything wrong.‖ She wiped her tears. ―No one has every done something like this for me before.‖ She gave him a half-smile. ―You heard what I told you about my last Thanksgiving in Phoenix and you tried to fix it. When everything was happening at the lecture and the restaurant with Jane, you had a present waiting for me.‖
―I didn‘t mean to upset you. I was trying to make you happy.‖
―They‘re happy tears. Sort of.‖ Bella giggled nervously.
He hugged her one more time and then released her, smoothing her hair back behind her shoulders.
―I think someone needs dessert.‖
Edward cut a large serving a pie and then he held a fork in front of her.
―I‘d like to feed you. But I will understand if you‘d rather I didn‘t.‖
Bella opened her mouth immediately and Edward gently fed her a small piece.
―Mmmmmm. It‘s really good,‖ she spoke with her mouth full and then smiled slightly as she brushed the crumbs from her lips.
―I‘m glad.‖
―I didn‘t know you had a housekeeper.‖
―She‘s only here twice a week.‖
―And she cooks?‖
―Sometimes. I go through stages. Obsessions, really, but you knew that already.‖ He winked at her and smiled. ―I‘ve never asked her to bake a pie before. This was her grandmother‘s recipe. I won‘t tell you what she put in the crust to make it flaky.‖
He grinned at her until she smiled back and then he continued feeding her.
―What about you? No pie?‖
―I‘d rather watch you enjoy yourself. But this isn‘t a proper dinner. I wish you‘d let me cook for you. Or at least prepare a fruit and cheese plate.‖
―Charlie used to eat a slice of cheddar cheese with his apple pie. I‘d have a slice of that.‖
Edward gave her a puzzled look, but immediately rummaged in the fridge and soon presented her with a substantial piece of aged Vermont white cheddar.
―Perfect,‖ she murmured.
After she had finished her pie, she sat quietly, wondering if she should go home. She really didn‘t want to, but perhaps after so many tears and so much drama he wouldn‘t want her to stay.
―You didn‘t respond to my note,‖ he said sadly. ―The note I sent with the gardenias.‖
―I sent you an email.‖
―But you left something out of your response.‖
Bella paused for a moment.
―I didn‘t know what to say about the taming part.‖
―You told me the dialogue with the fox was your favourite. I thought it would be clear.‖
―I know what the fox meant. But you …‖ She shook her head.
―Then I‘ll tell you. I don‘t expect you to trust me. But I would like to earn your trust. Maybe once you trust me with your mind, you‘ll begin to trust me with your body. That‘s the sort of taming I have in mind. And I want to pay close attention to you … to your wants, needs and desires … and take my time attending to them.‖
―How will you tame me?‖
―By showing you with my actions that I am worthy of trust. And by doing this.‖
Edward stood in front of her and clasped her face in his hands, bringing his mouth closer to hers. She closed her eyes and she held her breath, waiting for their lips to meet.
But they didn‘t.
Warm breath from between Edward‘s curled and parted lips floated across her mouth.
Her tongue peeked out, slowly wetting her lower lip in anticipation.
The feel of Edward‘s breath across her wetness caused a shiver to shoot down her spine.
―You‘re quivering,‖ he murmured, pushing more warm breath across her mouth.
Bella felt herself blush against his hands, the warmth traveling across her face and down her neck.
―I can feel you flushing. Your skin blossoming in warmth and colour.‖
He stroked her eyebrows and she opened her eyes, staring into large, dark green pools.
―Your pupils are dilated.‖
He smiled against her mouth, barely grazing her lips.
―And I can hear your breathing speed. You know what that means.‖
Bella searched his eyes.
―He said I was frigid,‖ she whispered. ―Cold like snow. It made him angry.‖
―Only a boy who knew nothing about women could be so blind and so ridiculous. Never think that about yourself, Isabella. I know for a fact that it‘s far from true.‖
He smiled at her gently.
―I can tell when you‘re aroused, like now. I can see it in your eyes. I can feel it on your skin. I can – sense it.‖
Edward traced a single finger across her eyebrows to relax them.
―Please don‘t be embarrassed. I‘m not. It‘s tantalizing. And very erotic.‖
―What are you doing to me?‖
―I‘m building desire, Isabella.‖
She closed her eyes and inhaled his scent. Aramis and peppermint and blessed Edward.
He chuckled. ―I think you‘re telling me that you enjoy my cologne.‖
He leaned down so that her nose was able to skim his neck. The scent of Aramis was stronger there.
―Do you like it?‖ he whispered against her ear.
―Yes. How did you choose it?‖
―I didn‘t. It was a gift.‖
―From whom?‘
―I‘ll tell you later. Now, Isabella, tell me what you want. You‘re flushed and your heart is beating rapidly and I can hear your breathing come quicker. What do you desire?‖
He cupped her face in his hands again and brought his mouth close to hers. Close, but still not touching.
―I want to kiss,‖ she breathed.
He smiled. ―I want to kiss, too.‖
She closed her eyes and waited.
And still he would not move.
―Isabella,‖ he blew across her lips.
She opened her eyes.
―Take what you want.‖
She inhaled sharply at his performative contradiction.
―If you don‘t initiate on occasion, I‘ll conclude you don‘t want me. That I‘m being demanding. And after a night like tonight, the only person doing the demanding should be you.‖
Edward‘s eyes were wide and dark, and they pierced her.
She surprised both of them by wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him closer until their lips met.
His hands trailed down to her lower back and he wished he could caress her naked flesh.
She teased his bottom lip and clumsily drew it into her mouth, copying an act he had performed on her before. She was less skilled, but he was no less pleased.
Her unhurried ardour surprised him and within a moment, he felt his own skin heat and his own heart race.
She would be his undoing.
For as his tongue expertly explored her mouth, he wished nothing more than to part her modest knees with one of his own and press himself against her. And then sweep her into his bedroom and fraternize …
Edward pulled away, placing his hands on her bare forearms.
―I have to stop.‖ His breathing seemed laboured.
He leaned his forehead against hers and exhaled deeply, closing his eyes.
―I‘m sorry, Edward.‖
―Never apologize for acting on your desires. You‘re beautiful and sensual. And very, very arousing.‖
Bella blushed more deeply.
―I can savour your bouquet without tasting your wine. But I can‘t kiss you again. Not right now.‖
They stood frozen in time for several minutes, until their breathing slowed. And then Edward opened his eyes and stroked her cheek.
―Whatever you want, Isabella. Tonight, I‘m yours. Do you want me to take you home? Do you want to stay?‖
Bella smiled up at him. ―I‘d like to stay.‖
―Then I think it‘s time for bed.‖
He gently lifted her to her feet, extending his hand towards her with a smile.
―Doesn‘t it seem strange to you, Edward? Sharing a bed with me?‖
―Not at all. I want you in my arms and in my bed every night.‖
Bella was quiet for a moment as she picked up her messenger bag.
―Does that bother you?‖ Edward whispered.
―No. Maybe it should.‖
―I don‘t think so. I‘ve missed you this week, Isabella.‖
―I missed you, too.‖
―I sleep better when you‘re in my arms. Being around you builds up my tolerance. It‘s easier to control my – ah - desires.‖ He smiled at her warmly. ―But it‘s your choice where you sleep tonight.‖
―I‘d like to share your bed,‖ said Bella shyly. ―If you‘d let me.‖
―I‘d never deny you that, Isabella.‖
Edward switched the fire off and turned out most of the lights and then he led her down the hallway to his bedroom.
She sat on the bed nervously.
He turned on the lamp on the bedside table and then he began unbuttoning his vest and removing his gold watch from his pocket.
Bella watched in silent fascination at the fish-shaped pendant that hung from the chain.
―What‘s that?‖
―A watch,‖ he smirked at her, opening it and checking the time.
―Yes, I see that. I meant the fish.‖
―A fob. You use it to pull the watch out of your pocket.‖
He walked over to the bed. ―Hold out your hand.‖
Edward placed the watch, chain and fob in her hand. She opened it and read the inscription on the inside of the cover.
―To William, my beloved husband. Who was William?‖
Edward‘s expression cooled. ―My mother‘s father. He died before we left Chicago. Somehow, my mother inherited his watch. I think everything else went to her siblings.‖
―You have aunts and uncles?‖
―They wanted nothing to do with us or with me after my mother died. So I want nothing to do with them.‖
Bella nodded as if she understood.
―What was your mother‘s name?‖
―Elizabeth Masen.‖
She handed his watch back with a smile.
He placed the watch carefully alongside his cufflinks, and then picked up the framed photograph from on top of the dresser.
He handed it to her.
―You have a picture of me under your pillow. I thought I should return the favour. Although I liked this one so much, I decided it needed a frame.‖
Edward was smirking as he removed his vest and disappeared into the closet.
Bella racked her brain to try to remember when he could have found the photo under her pillow. And then it came to her.
―How did you get this?‖ she called to him.
―I should be asking you where you obtained a picture of me from my days on Dartmouth‘s rowing team.‖ Edward stood in front of her, dress shirt untucked and unbuttoned, exposing the tight t-shirt that clung to his chest.
Bella flushed and looked away, silently ruing the day men decided to wear undershirts.
Watching him undress is even sexier than watching him in a little purple towel.
―Um, Alice had it on her bulletin board. And the first time I saw it, um, I took it.‖
Edward leaned down to lift her face up so that he could examine her expression. ―You took it? You mean, you stole a picture of me from Alice.‖
―I know I shouldn‘t have. But I‘d never seen anyone like you before. And you had this wonderful smile on your face. I was seventeen and stupid, Edward.‖
He looked down at her and smiled. ―Stupid or smitten?‖
Bella rested her eyes on the floor.
―I think you know, Edward.‖
―Alice took pictures with her phone while she was visiting. She sent all of them by email, including several of you. And a couple of us.‖ He smiled. ―This one is my favourite.‖
He examined her closely. ―Don‘t you like the picture?‖
She seemed flustered. ―You look nice.‖
He took the photo out of her hand and carefully placed it on top of the dresser. Then he took her hand in both of his. ―What are you thinking? Tell me.‖
―The way you looked at me while we were dancing. I don‘t understand.‖
―You‘re a beautiful woman. Why wouldn‘t I look at you?‖
―It‘s the way you looked at me.‖
―I look at you like that all the time. You just don‘t see it.‖
He kissed her softly.
―Do you need something to wear to bed?‖ He brushed her hair back from her face.
―I brought something.‖
―Why don‘t you take the bathroom? I‘ll finish in here and then wander down the hall.‖
Bella picked up her messenger bag and disappeared into Edward‘s master bathroom.
When she was ready, she opened the door and discovered that he had turned out all the lights. She stood in the doorway, backlit in white light.
―Stop,‖ said Edward. He was lying on his side in bed and staring at her.
Bella looked down at her clothes and fidgeted nervously. She hadn‘t known what to wear. Most of her pyjamas were too juvenile to wear in front of Edward and she didn‘t own any lingerie for sleeping. Not that she would have been brave enough to wear lingerie to bed with him. So at this moment, she was clad in a dark blue v-necked t-shirt that was large enough to hide her chest and a pair of athletic shorts that had Seattle University‘s logo on the front right leg.
―You‘re exquisite.‖
Bella shook her head and reached over to switch off the light.
―Wait. Standing there, in the light, you look like an angel.‖
She nodded to indicate that she‘d heard him and then she turned out the light and silently joined him.
Edward immediately pulled her into a warm embrace and as he did so, she realized he was wearing a t-shirt and shorts, too.
They were quite a pair.
But now their naked legs could tangle together blissfully under the sheets.
He kissed her tenderly and then leaned back on the pillow, sighing in pleasure as she rested her head on his chest, wrapping her left arm around his waist.
―I‘m sorry you‘re lonely, Isabella.‖
She gave him a puzzled look.
―Earlier this week when we were talking on the phone, you mentioned that you feel isolated. That you don‘t have any friends.‖
Bella winced slightly.
―What if I were to buy you a kitten or a rabbit? Someone to keep you company at your apartment.‖
―Edward, I appreciate the thought, but you can‘t just throw money at my problems.‖
―I know that. But I can spend money to try to make you smile.‖
He kissed her again.
―Kindness is worth more than all the money in the world, Edward.‖
―You shall have it. And much, much more.‖
―That‘s all I want.‖
―Stay for the weekend. Here. With me.‖
She hesitated only for an instant.
―Okay,‖ she whispered.
He smiled, relieved.
―How about a fish? They‘re the new companion animal.‖
She laughed. ―I don‘t think so. I can barely look after myself, let alone another poor creature.‖
He lifted her chin so that they could see one another.
―Then let me look after you,‖ he whispered, eyes intense and unblinking.
―You could have any woman you want, Edward.‖
He looked at her with a puzzled expression.
―I only want you.‖
She rested her head against his chest and smiled.
―Being without you, Isabella, is like enduring an endless night without stars.‖
Chapter Nineteen
Two almost lovers were tangled around each other, their naked legs entwined in a large bed under an ice blue silk duvet and white Frette sheets. The woman mumbled in her sleep, moving fitfully while the man remained still, eagerly drinking in the pleasure of her company. And listening to her whisper his name and other equally intimate things ... things he absorbed in silent wonder.

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Data d'iscrizione : 01.01.11
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