Conditions May Apply

 

 

 

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Conditions May Apply

 

Chapter 1

 

BPOV

 

I first met Eric Yorkie coming out of an elevator. He was rushing to get on and I was trying to get off. We collided and ended up grabbing each other’s cell phones. I had just finished an interview with a major construction company and he was on his way from court, He was a prosecuting attorney and I had just graduated with an accounting degree.

 

He called me to have us exchange our phones, where he then asked me to dinner. He was handsome intelligent, and everything I could want in a guy. Although, for all of his assets, he had even more downfalls. Eric had a time line for everything; from coffee brewing to taxi rides. So, after dating for exactly four weeks, we had sex. After four months, I met his parents. At our one year mark he asked me to move in with him.

 

Eric was predictable, it’s what I loved and hated about him. I knew he would call me to say good morning at exactly eight and I knew what color shirt he would wear every Monday. I also knew we would only have sex on Tuesdays and Thursdays between nine and nine fifteen, and only in the dark and only in the bedroom, shirts always remained on.

 

Even our meals were scheduled—Monday was spaghetti, Tuesday was meatloaf, Wednesday, pork chops; we never deviated from that schedule. While it made grocery shopping very easy, it left me with a much bigger problem when I began to gain weight. Eric didn’t like vegetables; he couldn’t even look at lettuce. He said his mother always cooked things in a particular way and she never gained a pound. She also never had a hot meal in her life since she was waiting on her husband hand a foot, but I digress.

 

We were headed for the two year mark when his mother brought up the question of marriage. Eric explained that several things would have to happen before he would consider getting married. One, I would have to lose twenty pounds. Two, he would have to make partner in his law firm. Three, we would have to have saved fifty-thousand dollars so that we could buy a house.

 

Don’t get me wrong, Eric wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t know when it came to how I look. He wasn’t cruel about it, just brutally honest. He did tell me I had a very pretty face and that I satisfied him quite well in bed. I decided he would be worth the effort because I still wanted to be married, have a house, and children of my own. Eric was the only offer I had and I strongly felt he was the only one I ever would have.

 

Eric was a fanatic about things being organized; from the soup cans all facing the same direction to my tampons being placed perfectly in the drawer. I hated how he never deviated from his check lists, I hated that his cologne had expired a year ago, however he kept using it. I hated that he still wore the same glasses he had in sixth grade. Again, he had his flaws.

 

I took all of his ‘conditions’, or prerequisites as I called them, and began to work my tail off to make at least two of them happen. I started by cutting my meal portions in half, and then I began exercising on my lunch break. It took nearly six months, but I finally got the twenty pounds off. Next, was the fifty-thousand he wanted to have saved. I took every hour of overtime that I could, I sold plasma, baked cookies for my coworkers, saved my tax return, and even had my cellular plan cut down to basic service. The biggest push was when my company had a contest for the most time and money saving idea, the winner would receive ten thousand dollars. I suggested job sharing, where two people shared a role; they each only worked part time. The company loved it because sick days decreased and since part time employees received no benefits, it was a win-win situation. Needless to say, I won the contest.

 

I will never forget the day that Eric made partner. He came home and swung me around in a circle kissing my entire face. I hadn’t told Eric that I had been able to save the money, but I just knew he would be so happy that all three of his conditions had been met.

 

We were scheduled to have dinner with our friends at a local upscale restaurant to celebrate. I went out and bought a very tight black dress that showed off my new body. Since I had to work that day, I told everyone I would meet them at the restaurant. I changed at my office and took a taxi. Once I arrived, I noticed that some of Eric’s coworkers had decided to join us.

 

Eric and I were the only couple in our group of friends who weren’t either engaged or married. I just knew that would change tonight.

 

As I took my place at the table, I heard gasps and wows from everyone at how skinny I looked. Eric even touched my backside and gave me a knowing look. I whispered in his ear that losing the weight meant that two of his conditions were met.

 

Finally after several bottles of wine were finished and toasts had been made, one of our friends asked the question. “So Eric, when are you going to make an honest woman out of our Bella?”

 

This was it, this was when all of my planning and hard work would pay off. I pictured it in my mind how he would drop down on one knee and ask me to finally marry him after two years. Sounds great doesn’t it?

 

However, that isn’t what happened, not even close. Eric waved his friend off and replied, “Bella and I are just fine. Why would I ruin things by getting married?”

 

I remember looking directly at him as he uttered each and every word. The truth was, he never wanted to marry me. He had set the goals high enough that he thought we, or rather I, would never reach them.

 

I read somewhere that everyone has a breaking point or hits rock bottom, as they call it, when they decide things had to change. In that moment, I hit mine. I will never forget the look on his face when I turned to him and said, “No, we are definitely not fine. Over, yes, but not fine.”

 

I left the table that night and took a taxi home. I packed all of my belongings and stayed in a hotel. I called my dad and asked him if I could move back home for a little while, he arrived the next day with my brother Emmett and his truck. They loaded up my boxes and drove me from Spokane to Seattle.

 

I had been living with my brother and his wife, Rose for a few months, when I heard through the grapevine that Eric was already engaged to someone else. She was eleven years older than him, had two children, and outweighed me by one hundred pounds. Clearly he didn’t want a wife, he wanted a mother.

 

I cried for days and started to eat everything in sight. Food was now my only friend and we got close, really close. So now I am single and fat, with no end in sight.

Chapter 2

 

BPOV

 

Growing up, I did all of the things that normal kids did, well, whatever was considered ‘normal’. My dad, Charles Swan, was a Boxing Heavyweight Champion on two separate occasions. He started boxing when he was in the Navy and caught the eye of a promoter who was looking for the next big thing. My dad turned him down at first, but once he was discharged, the guy called him up and the rest—they say—is history.

 

When my father met my mother, she was working in my grandfather’s gym, and he was there to train one day and well, a year later my brother was born. I followed four years later, and by the time I was six, Dad had boxed his last match. He loved the sport so much though, he took over the gym for my grandfather and started teaching boxing to young kids. He said he wanted to give them something to do other than run the streets. My brother, Emmett, followed in his steps and

was also a natural, but my dad made him go to college before going pro. He wanted him to have a way of taking care of his family, just in case something bad happened and he couldn’t box anymore. My brother took extra classes and graduated with his bachelor’s in Physical Education in two and half years. He turned pro not long after graduation.

 

Eric was never a boxing fan, but he did at least acknowledge that my father was a famous athlete and that he could knock him out. I was ten years old the first time dad let me help him fit someone for boxing gloves. My mother wasn’t too thrilled when I would ask to go help him at work. I had an appreciation for boxing, but it wasn’t a love of mine. I could tell you that if anyone decided they wanted to box professionally, they were in for a lot of hard work. I loved to watch, but I never had the desire to get into the ring and take a shot.

 

My mother, on the other hand, was very disappointed that my father wasn’t in the ring anymore. She loved to dress up, sit ringside, and brag about who my father was. She loved my father enough that she supported his decision to retire, and then she turned her attention to my brother—becoming the team mom on crack.

 

Emmett excelled once he went pro and he was the Heavyweight Champion for three years until he was involved in a car accident and his right ankle was crushed. Doctors repaired his ankle the best they could using cadaver bone, but his ankle was never the same. He was alive, thank God, but his boxing days were over. He thanked my dad when he came out of surgery for insisting he have an education.

 

Emmett was wise when it came to his winnings. Actually, Rose, his wife was smart when it came to his winnings. They didn’t drive flashy cars and her engagement ring wasn’t five carats, but their house was beautiful and they had no mortgage.

 

Emmett and my dad became partners in the gym. They wanted to expand it so that not just boxers but everyday people could come in and work out. Emmett also wanted to have fitness classes and a nutritionist on staff. They invested big and it paid off. The gym was a huge success and some very famous athletes came to use their facilities.

 

After I left Eric and my job, I went to work for a large accounting firm that was located downtown. Emmett and Rose refused to let me live on my own and insisted that I take over their guest house. It was far enough away from the main house that I had the privacy I needed. Even though I worked as an accountant, I did my brother’s books on the side. His business was a success and I was enjoying watching it grow.

 

I had been back close to a year when Emmett hired a trainer named Leah Kingfisher. She was the quintessential bombshell. Emmett liked her because she had taken enough nutritional science courses to be able to call herself a nutritionist. She convinced Emmett to let her open a juice and smoothie bar inside the gym. Emmett like Leah because she brought in business, men would come to work out just to look at her. Rose liked her because she was afraid of Rose.

 

When I first met her, she was nice to me. She took me to the side one day and told me she would be happy to design a workout and nutrition plan that would make me feel and look healthier. She never used the term ‘lose weight’ and I liked her for that.

 

Things were going well and I could honestly say that I would call her a friend, but that all changed after a staff meeting. Emmett had phoned me the day before and asked if he could meet me for dinner, so I met him at his favorite steak house. Emmett told me that an old friend of his was slowly winning boxing matches and he had his sights on the World

 

Heavyweight title. Since Emmett and our father had both held that title previously, he told the friend he would help him train.

 

The largest obstacle to overcome was that his friend had to increase his weight by twenty-five pounds. Now, if you have ever seen two boxers circle each other in a ring, you know that neither one of them have an ounce of fat on them. They are pure muscle. This guy was going to have to change everything he ate and his training in order to build muscle.

 

He and Emmett discussed him moving from Chicago to Seattle to begin his training. Evidently the guy came from money and relocating was not an issue. Emmett asked if I would do him a huge favor and quit my job to take over managing his gym. He told me he would match my present salary if I would do this for him. He was my only brother and it was never a question if I would help him or not. I mean come on, I would get to wear sweatpants to work every day, I failed to see the problem. The next day I gave notice at work, and then went to Emmett’s staff meeting.

 

Emmett informed everyone that he would be training his friend full time and that he was handing management of the gym over to me. Leah wasn’t happy to say the least.

 

“Are you fucking telling me I have to answer to Bella now?” She slammed her hands down on the table causing most of us to jump back a little.

 

“That’s exactly what I’m telling you.” Emmett stated as he rose from his chair walking around to stand beside her. “If you don’t fucking like it, pack your shit and get the fuck out!” He snapped and left the room.

 

When I was collecting the trash that was left behind, I overheard Leah tell the housekeeper, “What kind of bullshit is this when a fucking fat slob is in charge of a fucking gym? The only thing she knows how to press is her fucking dinner napkin.”

 

I chose to ignore her comment and went about getting payroll in order. I didn’t come in for her training sessions after that and I didn’t meet her at the juice bar for the morning testing. It had been Leah’s idea to have a daily special, she would make it up every morning and the staff would try it out. They were always good and she said they were healthy for you.

 

A week later, Emmett came in saying that his friend was coming by the gym the next day. His name was Edward Cullen and he would be bringing his current trainer/physician with him. However, nothing could have prepared me for the first time I met Edward.

 

I was sitting in my office doing payroll when I came upon Leah’s time card. The system we had at the gym was designed to be easy. Everyone had a picture name badge with a swipe stripe on the back. All you had to do was swipe the card on the main computer when you came in and when you left. For whatever reason, she couldn’t grasp the concept. She would either forget to swipe in or out, and some days she would forget all together. Today, however, I’d had enough. I was going to give her a written warning that if in the future she failed to swipe in or out she would be docked. I had the form already in my computer, so I filled in the appropriate boxes and hit print.

 

I waited to hear the printer engage until I noticed that the paper light was flashing on the computer. Normally, I would just get up and get new paper, but today I lost my shit.

 

“Fuck me sideways!” I shouted getting out of my chair and heading for the supply closet. I rounded the corner and ran smack into a solid wall of muscle.

 

“Alright, pretty girl, if that’s how you like it.”

 

His large hands completely wrapped around my upper arms. I took a step back and tried to get my balance, although he continued to hold onto me. My focus was still on his large chest. He was dressed in a black suit jacket, with a white button down shirt underneath. The top two buttons were open and I could see what looked to be a gold chain peeking out a sliver on the right side.

 

His shirt was slightly tucked into his loose fitting jeans. I followed the line of his jeans down to the top of his doc martin boots, the same boots Emmett wore nearly every day. Heading back up his torso and finally his face, I was blown away.

 

Forget GQ, forget Muscle Fitness, this man was Oh Gawd hot. His messy brown hair looked as if he had either made out with someone or had been running his hands thru it. His eyes were covered by a pair of black RayBans, but it was his smile that really set me on fire. It was slightly lopsided and had just a hint of arrogance. When he did finally reach up and remove the sunglasses, I literally melted on the spot. His eyes were green, a deep green.

 

I finally located my brain cells, stepped back further and opened my mouth to apologize. “I’m so very sorry…I have no excuse for saying that, you must think you’re in some bar or something.” I had my hands in the air, creating circles for…hell if I know.

 

“Actually, I find it quite erotic for a pretty girl such as you to drop an F bomb or two.” If I had any issues with his smile, I was fucked when it came to his voice; deep, masculine, confident with just a hint of cockiness.

 

“Yes…well, thank you for that. I’m Isabella Swan, the manager around here. I know that’s hard to believe when you just heard my sailor impression.”

 

He began to laugh and I liked it, I really liked the sound of his laugh. I extended my hand to shake his. “Pleasure to meet you, Isabella. I’m Edward, Edward Cullen.”

 

His long fingers wrapped gently around mine. His touch was gentle, as if he was holding a newborn baby. His hands were so warm and smooth, that was something I didn’t expect.

 

“Mr. Cullen, my brother told me you would be here today. Please follow me and I will take you to him.”

 

I motioned for him to follow me as I made my way to the back of the gym. Edward walked beside me, but when we walked past the juice bar Leah spotted us and quickly came out from behind the bar. Normally, she dressed in a razor back tank top, yoga pants with her hair in a ponytail. Today her jet black hair was loose, allowing her natural curls to flow down her back, and her makeup was heavier than usual. Leah had a dark complexion, so she never had to worry about

getting a tan, unlike myself who was so pale. She had traded her tank for a sports bra and a tennis skirt. I was pretty sure she had shopped in the little girls section for them. She blocked my path and placed her hands on her hips, her flat stomach glistening from the oils she had slathered on.

 

“Hello, you must be Edward.” Her eyes roamed up and down his body, her bottom lip now between her teeth. “I’m Leah Kingfisher, but you can call me anything you want.” Her eyes leaving no room for misunderstanding what her words really meant.

 

I looked away from her and noticed Emmett walking towards us. He noticed Edward and called out to him. “Cullen, you finally made it.” The two men hugged and Emmett led Edward to the back of the gym.

 

I turned my attention to find Leah adjusting her boobs. As much as I hated to admit it, she was perfectly suited for him.

 

They’re both physically fit and beautiful. I retreated back to my office to finish my paperwork.

 

I did confront her at the end of the day and had her sign the write up. I told her in the future she simply wouldn’t get paid if she didn’t clock in correctly. She apologized and also said she was sorry for her comments about my weight. She said she would make sure she followed my requests in the future.

 

I didn’t trust Leah, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was just something about her.

Chapter 3

BPOV

Two days after Edward arrived, a tall handsome man walked casually into the gym. I noticed him because he had cowboy boots, a huge belt buckle on, sunglasses covering his eyes and a Dallas Cowboys ball cap covered his hair. Leah noticed him as well, yet she pretended she didn’t, and I wondered what the hell that was all about.

He noticed me and made his way over. He had a casual sway in his walk yet he exuded total confidence.

“Morning, Ma’am. Jasper Whitlock, Edward Cullen is spectin’ me.”

So this was the trainer/physician. He was very polite, not at all what I was expecting.

“Good morning, we have been expecting you.”

He followed me to the private gym Emmett had built in the back. He had originally built it for his personal use, however, now it was for training Edward. Since his arrival, Edward was here every morning before six, and he never left before five in the evening. I had taken to getting here by five so I could get in a quick walk on the treadmill, and then I sneak off to my secret hiding spot.

Oh yes, it is true, I, Bella Swan, am a dark corner stalker. I don’t need a support group or professional help, but I could use a supply of heavy duty batteries, just saying.

The first time I saw a shirtless Edward Cullen doing rope skipping, I had to hold onto the door frame. Edward has some of the most well-defined muscles in his back that I have ever seen. He was rope skipping one morning while I was stocking fresh towels in the showers before the members arrived. I watched as his feet moved with absolute precision as the rope would pass twice under his feet. His calf muscles were so tight from the movement and his wide band shorts clung to his thighs. His back muscles quivered as he continued his workout. His arms at his side, his wrist bent and doing quick circles with the wooden handles wrapped tightly by his long fingers. I watched several beads of sweat slowly run down his back causing a wet area to appear just below his elastic band.

After that morning, I found a hiding place so that I could watch without him knowing. I would sneak away several times a day just to catch a quick glimpse of him, to fantasize about what it would be like to be close to him. Edward would never be interested in me and I was ok with that. Although, it would be a damn crying shame if someone didn’t watch that beautiful body.

It was a Thursday morning when Leah approached me. She was all smiles and giggles as she asked to speak with me privately. We went into my office and I closed the door before taking a seat to hear her out.

“Listen, Bella, I wanted to tell you that I just got in a new product and I don’t want this to come out the wrong way, but it’s a liquid fat burner.”

I could care less what she thought about me.

“I know you’re trying to drop a couple of pounds, so I thought you could try this and when it works for you then we would be able to sell it in the juice bar.”

I decided it was worth a try, besides what did I have to lose, besides the weight?

I shrugged my shoulders, “Sure, Leah. Thank you for thinking about me.”

“Oh gosh, Bella, that’s what friends are for.”

I followed her out to the bar, where she mixed several things together and then filled a tall glass. I was hesitant at first, but once I took a sip I found that it tasted exactly like a chocolate milkshake.

“Wow, Leah, this is really good.”

“See, I told you, just have one for breakfast and one for lunch and you will see a huge difference in your weight.”

When I was finished with the smoothie I went back to my office to catch up on some paperwork. Once done, I went around the gym cleaning and straightening up. I watched Leah shamelessly flirt with several of the men she worked with that day. Again, I could care less as long as she did her job.

~~CMA~~

One of the biggest changes for Edward was that Emmett and Jasper had him eating every two hours. One of my jobs was to bring him the protein snacks he had to eat. Sometimes it was a chicken patty, sometimes it was this brown piece of meat like thing that smelled awful and other times it was a smoothie that was pre-made in the refrigerator. I even had my cell phone set to go off every two hours.

Each time I would enter the room, I would make myself look at the ground. I didn’t want anyone to know how much I enjoyed looking at Edward. He, however, made it a point to talk to me while he ate the snacks I brought him.

Sometimes when I left and Leah was still there, she would try to talk to him, but he always blew her off. I could never figure out why he didn’t talk with her like he did with me. He always made it a point of saying goodnight to me, not just that, but he would say my name and he would always smile. With Leah, he would sometimes wave, but mostly he ignored her.

It was a rainy Sunday morning when I got to the gym, only to find Emmett was already there. I was somewhat shocked because he never got there before me. He was sitting at the bar with a cup of coffee in his hand.

“Hey, Sis, can I talk with you for a second?”

Walking over to him, I grabbed the shake Leah had made for me from the refrigerator. I was about to give up on them because I hadn’t lost a single pound. I had even increased my walks to twice a day.

“Hey, Em, what up?

He had a smile on his face that I could never get enough of. I truly loved my brother, he was the best and I was very blessed.

Shake in hand, I stuck a straw into the lid and took several sips.

“What are you drinking?” He asked pointing to the Styrofoam container.

“It’s a special shake Leah makes for me.”

Emmett grabbed the drink out of my hand, removed the lid and took a sniff of the shake. “Bella, why are you drinking this?”

I was surprised by his question, but I would always be honest with Emmett. “Leah said she got in a new fat burner and said that once it worked for me we could go public with it.”

Emmett sat the cup on the counter and started looking through the cabinets. “Do you remember what she said it was called?” He continued to look through cabinets, but was now slamming them shut.

“No, but I saw her use a scoop from a grey container.”

Emmett opened one more cabinet and found the grey container, turning it around and asking if it was the same one.

“Yep, that’s the one she used.”

Looking at the label this time, I could see Fuel 360 was printed in bold red letters.

“Bella, this isn’t a fat burner. It’s a calorie supplement, we use this to get Edward the calories he needs to build muscle. You’ve been bringing it to him in his smoothies.”

“So, it’s not a fat burner?”

“No, it’s exactly the opposite.”

I was so mad she had lied to me. But why? What did she have to gain?

“Listen, we’ll handle the she-devil tomorrow, I actually need to talk to you about something.”

Emmett handed me a bottle of water instead. “This is the best thing to have if you are trying to lose a few pounds.”

I knew this, every diet and health professional on the planet would tell you to increase your water intake.

“So…you know how I have been working with Edward for the past few weeks?”

I nodded my head yes.

“Well then, I’m certain this will come as no shock to you that he is interested in you.”

I blinked several time, my jaw hanging open like an idiot I’m sure. Edward wasn’t interested in me…no way. Emmett gave me this bewildered look when he noticed how surprised I was.

“Oh, come on, Sis,” Emmett practically whined. “He’s constantly watching you. I have the hardest time getting him to focus when he sees you walking around the room.”

My brother had always been the one man I could go to when I was younger and another kid was picking on me. He always protected me, but now he was just being mean.

“He asked me if I would be alright with him asking you out. So, I bargained with him that if you agreed to go out with him that he would have to be more focused.”

I could feel the tears forming in my eyes. I knew Edward wasn’t interested in me as anything other than Emmett’s sister and his snack go-getter. I knew this, I had accepted this.

I started yelling at my brother. “You know what, Emmett, I have always counted on you to be on my side, to take up for me. I never thought…”

The slamming of the side door caused me to stop my shouting. I turned to see Edward making his way over to the bar, his hair wet from the rain outside. Dear God, could he look any sexier?

I quickly turned my attention back to my straw and the cup that Leah had mixed up for me. I would find out what was behind her lying to me.

I felt him sit in the seat beside me. “Good morning, Beautiful,” his voice was thick with sleep as he murmured in my ear.

“G-good morning, Edward.” I responded with a whisper. I was embarrassed, if Edward knew the bullshit story that Emmett had just told me, he would be embarrassed too.

“Whatcha’ drinking this morning?” He grabbed my cup and took a big gulp.

“Oh shit, Edward…wait I had that in my mouth, let me get you a new straw.” I tried to jump up to get him a new one, but Edward was faster.

Looking directly into my eyes, he asked, “You’ve had this between those lips?” His pink tongue poked out and took the straw again into his mouth. I watched as he took another big gulp. “Mmm…so, so sweet.” Then he sat the cup down and got out of the chair.

“I’ll just leave you two to talk.” He slowly stepped backwards, still looking at me, with a devilish smile on his perfect face. Once he was behind the locker door Emmett continued.

“Listen, Sis, I always have your back, you know that. Edward thinks you don’t like him and he really likes you. I told him he was crazy of course.” Emmett had begun to wipe the counter, cleaning what, I wasn’t certain. “He said you never look at him or say two words to him. I told him you were just shy around new people, but it’s been a while, Bella, and you know what, he’s right. I just watched, you barely look at him.”

Coming out from around the bar, he wrapped his arms around me.

“Listen, Bells, Eric was a douche and you are better off without him. I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you that I’ve known Edward for a lot of years, and he isn’t going to hurt you.”

I trusted my brother, I knew he would never lie to me and would always protect me. I hadn’t noticed that Rose had sat down beside me. I wasn’t sure how much of the conversation she had heard, but I loved Rose nearly as much as I loved my brother.

“Bella, how about you and I head into your office and have a little chat?” Rose was telling me, not asking me.

Oh God…can this day get any worse?

 

Chapter 4

“So, it would seem that you and I have a date to get you ready for.” Again, it wasn’t a question, it was a statement.

I couldn’t look at her. Rose was always so very confident in everything—the way she walked, the way she dressed. I don’t think she had been nervous a second in her life.

“Bella, you are telling him yes, aren’t you?” Finally, a question.

“Rose, why would someone who looks like Edward, want to be with someone who looks like me?”

Rose abruptly stood up, leaned her body over my desk, and slammed her right hand on the top, before she pointed her finger in my face. “Oh, no you fucking don’t,” she growled while her hand slammed down repeatedly, emphasizing each word. “Don’t you dare say you aren’t pretty enough, smart enough or fucking skinny enough, you hear me?”

I had never had to stand up to Rose; we’d never really disagreed before.

“Rose, have you fucking looked at him lately? Have you seen how absolutely perfect he is?”

Rose didn’t back down as she now had both hands on the desk. “As a matter of fact, I have seen him, but more importantly, I’ve seen him look at you. You don’t look at him long enough to see him stop everything he’s doing and watch you anytime you’re within eyeshot of him.”

If only she knew how much I watched him.

“You think he’s perfect? You’re wrong you know. He has a scar under his right arm and another just under the kneecap on his right leg. When he boxes, he tends to drop his right elbow down too much. His uppercut is a little slow. Need I go on?”

I looked at her and rolled my eyes. “Rose, those are things that make him more interesting, not grotesque. Come on, even you can’t deny the fact that he could turn the head of every woman within a hundred mile radius just by existing.”

Her eyes locked with mine when she spoke her next words. “Bullshit, I don’t find him the least bit attractive.” She wasn’t lying and I knew this.

“But why me, Rose? Not when he could…”

“Oh, get off the fucking cross, Bella, somebody needs the wood!”

Rose was always one to have colorful analogies; she got most of them from her grandmother.

“You’re making an assumption about him by saying that just because he’s a handsome man, he couldn’t possibly be interested in you, and that isn’t fair or true. You’re judging him based on how he looks which is shallow as hell on your part, and you’re deciding for him what he wants. Have you considered for one second that perhaps he doesn’t like women who wear loads of makeup? Women who are freakishly tall, have fake breasts, hair color, nose jobs, and have chemical tans? What if he prefers a softer, natural woman, who has a curvier body rather than one who’s hard and bone thin?”

She was right; I was making a decision based on what the media projected and what Leah looked like. What if he did prefer all of those things, a woman who looked like me?

“Fine, perhaps what you’re saying is true. I’ll give it some thought.”

“I know it’s true. Okay, second order of business. Emmett told me about the shake thing with Leah. Any clues what the hell that was all about?”

“No, and I don’t know what to make of it. She’s a trainer and a nutritionist. She knows this stuff and she knew what that Fuel 360 was for, but it still doesn’t explain one thing.” Rose sat down and crossed her arms and legs as she listened. “Why would a personal trainer deliberately sabotage a weight loss attempt? You’d think she’d want the success under her belt, especially given Leah’s ego.”

I told Rose about the conversation I’d had with Leah. Rose agreed it was strange that she would deliberately lie.

“You know, Rose, it’s been my experience that where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and I’m going to get to the bottom of this.”

Rose left to go talk to Emmett, so I grabbed what I needed from the files before I turned to my computer and logged on to start my research. With the internet being so vast, it didn’t take long before I had literally opened Pandora’s Box and a rat came crawling out.

“Motherfucker!” I shouted as I grabbed the file and tossed open my office door to go find Emmett. He would never believe what I had just uncovered and the shit was about to hit the proverbial fan.

“Bella?” Seth called out to me as I passed the bar. Seth had been working weekends since his mother lost her job and couldn’t afford to pay for his boxing lessons. Emmett worked out a deal with him to do some work around here in exchange for lessons. “Can you get me some cups from the storeroom? I’m about to use the last one.”

The bar was very busy and he couldn’t step away so I went into the storeroom and grabbed several sleeves of cups. I ran back to the bar and opened the cabinets under the counter to put away the extras, when I noticed something very odd. Under the cabinet was a small black box with a grey cord attached that ran up the wall and connecting to the credit card machine. It was weird because the credit card scanner was supposed to be directly connected to the computer. I checked the connection and noticed the line was unplugged and the grey wire that ran under the counter was in its place.

“Emmett!” I shouted as I charged into the back room.

He and Edward turned in my direction, each of them covered in sweat since they had been sparing.

“What’s wrong, Bella?” Emmett questioned as he raised the rope and crawled under. Edward was only a step behind.

“I couldn’t figure out why Leah would deliberately lie to me about the weight loss drink so I decided to see what else she was lying about. I pulled her file, got a good look at her training documents and did a little digging.”

I handed him the first document. “She said she graduated from the University of Washington, Seattle with a BA in physical education. I checked her high school records and this clearly shows she dropped out of high school in her junior year. I also checked UW records to verify her degree claim and they have no record of her. I did a national search and no college in this country has any record of her graduating.”

I then handed him the next paper. “She then stated she has a certification in nutrition, another lie. This certificate is a complete fake, this school doesn’t even exist.”

I watched as Emmett began to remove the tape from around his hands. Edward stood there watching me, his green eyes taking in my ranting.

“Then I looked at what else she could be faking and I found that her car registers to a company out of New York, the Volturi Corporation. I’m still trying to figure out who the fuck they are.”

“I can answer that.” I had forgotten Jasper was in the room. He was always so quiet. “The Volturi Corporation just happens to be the corporate sponsor for Jacob Black, aka, the current Heavyweight Champion, aka, the cheese-dick fuck you’ll be fighting in New York. They’re bad news and have a reputation.”

I looked at Emmett who now had his head back, his hands covering his face.

“It all makes perfect sense now,” Rose spoke from behind me.

“Care to share with the class?

Rose crossed the room, taking a seat on the mat of the boxing ring. “Oh, come on, people!” We were all looking at her in confusion. “Oh, sweet Jesus! Am I the only person who’s ever paying attention?”

Rose rolled her eyes and threw her hands in the air. “Okay, please pay attention, I hate to repeat myself.” It was now my turn to roll my eyes. “Alright, Golden Boy here has his sights set on the title, currently held by the Boy Wonder, Black, although I have to wonder how he won it in the first place. GB makes it known that he wants to be trained by a former champion and points the spotlight here. Meanwhile, we’ve advertised that we’re looking for a personal trainer who’s also a nutritionist and wham, one appears as if by magic.”

Clearly I wasn’t following her as she looked at all of us with exasperation. “If you want to weaken an opponent, you hit him where it hurts most, correct?”

“Babe, I love you, but does this theory of yours have an end?”

“Ugh, good God! You send in the hot as fuck distraction, aka, Leah. She gets into GB’s head then distracts him from his training, maybe even fucking with him emotionally which would weaken him worse than anything else. Only what they didn’t count on was GB here finding Leah to be more annoying than hot.”

And suddenly the light bulb came on.

“Holy shit, Rose, you’re fucking right.”

Emmett started pacing around the room before pointing at Edward, “You fucked up their plans.” It looked as if Edward was still a little lost. Emmett lowered his hand, walking over to grab Edward’s water bottle. “They sent Leah here to cuddle up to you as a distraction, but when you didn’t fall for her, you fucked up their plan.” He then turned to me and pointed in my direction. “She saw that you turned his head instead, that’s why she lied about the Fuel 360. She thought she could make you gain weight and Edward would lose interest.”

Emmett got a far-off look on his face, which was quickly replaced with panic. “Fuck! Jasper I need you to run blood tests on him, she’s been making all of his protein supplements and snacks. We need to make sure she didn’t slip him something else.”

Jasper was quick to rise from his chair. “Motherfucker, you’re right.”

It was a blur of activity as Emmett instructed me to toss all the snacks and shakes Leah had prepared for Edward. He wanted to have new stuff sent in that she hadn’t touched. Jasper drew some blood and then started making phone calls.

I told Emmett about the box under the counter and we went out to investigate. Edward took one look at it and knew exactly what it was. It was then I found out that Edward had gone to college and studied financial planning. He had worked in a major bank until a few years ago when he decided he wanted to try boxing.

He showed us how to download the information in the box and what we discovered blew us away. Leah had planted the box and attached it to the computer. Every time a customer paid with a credit card, it would go directly into an account she had set up. She was stupid enough to place her information on the account. It took Edward two clicks of the mouse to end the transfers. She had been trying to bleed the gym dry.

Jasper returned an hour later with Edward’s test results. Everything they were able to test for looked good except for some enzymes levels that were strangely elevated. Jasper explained he wanted more extensive tests and another physician to review the results. He said he could only trust one other person, so with a quick phone call, Edward’s father was on his way. He would arrive in the morning and his mother and sister would follow in a few days.

It had been a very long morning and I couldn’t wait to get home and crawl into a hot bath. I noticed that Edward had changed his clothes and was sitting on one of the barstools. I made my way over and took a seat beside him.

“Edward, I’m really glad you’re still healthy. It could have been awful.”

Looking over at me, he smiled, “Yes, it could’ve been much worse. It still could be, actually, if she’s slipped me something they haven’t detected yet,” he said with a worried look.

“So, your dad’s a doctor?”

“Yes, he’s a cardiologist, actually.”

“How about your mother and sister, what do they do?”

His eyes moved to the counter, picking up his water bottle and taking a sip. “My mother is a housewife and my sister is a spoiled rotten bitch.”

I was taken aback by his words; most brothers adored their sisters, at least mine did.

“Edward, surely she can’t be that bad.”

He chuckled as he took another drink. “Well, you’ll get to meet her and then I’ll let you answer your own question.”

He looked down with a pensive look on his face, as if he wanted to ask a question, but was afraid to.

“So, Emmett said he talked to you about me.”

This time, I looked down, embarrassment setting in. “Listen, Edward, my brother can be a jokester when he wants to be, he was just trying to make me…”

“No, Bella, I should’ve done this a while ago.” His eyes now locked with mine, his body turned to face me. “That first day I saw you…well, you took my breath away. I tried to keep my distance, but you just kept pulling me in. I want to get to know you better, ask you questions about you, instead of your brother. I know training takes up all of my time, but can we maybe…watch a movie together or have dinner or something?”

I remembered Rose’s words from before. I took in a deep breath as the decision was suddenly clear. “You know what, Edward? I would love to see a movie with you.”

His smile was bright and his green eyes glistened as he reached across the bar and grasped my hand. His fingers were warm and soft.

“Really? Well then how about tonight, you game?”

It was my turn to smile as I responded. “Tonight would be perfect. Can you give me a couple of hours?”

“Sure, where shall I pick you up?”

I hoped he would agree with what I had planned, only one way to find out.

“How about you come to my house? I have an obscene amount of DVD’s in my collection, I’m certain we can find something you’ll enjoy.”

“I have no doubts. I haven’t seen a lot of movies lately,” he chuckled as he gripped my hand tighter.

I gave him my address and told him I would take care of everything. I left the gym and stopped by the grocery store and grabbed some items for dinner. There was a limited amount of food that Edward could eat right now. I could remember my mother spicing up my father’s bland food for him when he trained.

I made it home and took a shower before straightening up my living room and cooking us dinner. Just as I was lighting some candles, my doorbell rang. I crossed the room and said a small prayer; please, God, don’t let me do anything stupid tonight. Let me have just one good night with a beautiful man like Edward.

I opened the door and had my breath taken away.

Edward stood in my doorway holding a bouquet of multicolored tulips. ‘Hi’ had never sounded so good.

Chapter 5

BPOV

Edward stood in my doorway looking good enough to eat. The multi-colored flowers stood out against the dark color of his shirt. I thought he looked good in shorts and a tank, but nothing compares to him freshly showered and in pressed clothes.

“Hi.” I responded once I got my tongue to work.

“Please, come in.” Opening the door wider, I gestured for him to come in.

“Thank you.” He handed me the fresh looking tulips in a multitude of colors, they were so majestic looking.

“Can I get you anything to drink? I know you have restrictions…” I started to walk toward my kitchen. I needed to have the counter as a barrier between us, I needed to regroup.

“Water is fine, thank you.” His rich, husky voice responded.

When I was a little girl, my dad would have exhibition matches from time to time. He would go into heavy training and my mother would adjust the entire family’s meals to fit my father’s requirements. She would use a wide variety of spices to liven up the bland food my dad had to consume. So when we sat at the table, we all had the same food on our plate and could enjoy dinner as a family.

I should have stuck to the food she prepared. If I had, I wouldn’t be battling these thirty pounds.

Plating our dinner, I explained to him what I had used to make dinner.

“Bella, this looks amazing, much better than what is frozen in my freezer.”

As rude as it may be, I watched Edward eat with gusto. I couldn’t get over how his jaw would move as he chewed. Who knew eating could be sexy?

We didn’t speak very much during dinner. Edward seemed to practically inhale the chicken and vegetables on his plate.

“Oh my God, Bella, I can’t believe it’s legal for me to eat this. What do I have to do to convince you to cook for me every day?”

I giggled as he wiped his face with his napkin.

“I’m completely serious…you’re good for me, Bella.”

Ok, so anytime a guy, especially one as good looking as Edward, says cheesy shit like that, it does things to you.

“I’m certain we can work something out.” I smiled, my fork mid air in my hand.

Edward consumed every crumb of food on his plate, it was nice to see someone with a real appetite.

“Let me get these plates in the dishwasher and then we can have a cup of coffee or in your case another glass of water.” We both laughed and he took the final drink of his glass of water.

“How about you let me do the dishes, since you cooked?” He rose from his chair, his plate already in his hand.

“Oh no, its fine really, I have a habit of washing while I cook, so this is all that is left.” He continued to take his plate to the sink, but gave in to me as I repeated for him to go relax on the couch.

Edward took the hint and made his way into my living room. I quickly rinsed off the dishes, started the dishwasher, wiped off the counter, and then turned off the lights.

Edward stood looking at the pictures on my mantle—a picture of the last title shot my father ever won, my little girl body sitting on his shoulder. The next was of various boxers my father had trained since. Each one a winner to some degree.

I joined him as I handed him his glass, taking a drink from my own. “If I didn’t know better, I would question your obsession with shirtless tattooed men,” his tone complete teasing, his wink confirming it.

“You found me out, I have an addiction to half naked men sporting tattoos.”

I regretted the words once they left my lips, isn’t it against some law to talk aboutanother man’s body when you’re with a different man?

“Like shirtless, tattooed men do you? Good to know, Ms. Swan, good to know.” He chuckled as he scratched his chin.

“I am so sorry, that was so rude…” shaking my head, feeling completely embarrassed.

“No it wasn’t, I have several tattoos and I have been known to be shirtless during the day. It’s good to know I stand a chance at you looking at me.”

Oh, Edward if you only knew.

“So, Edward, you know so much about me, tell me about you. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

Edward turned toward me keeping his arm across the back of my couch.

“Yes, I have one sister, Alice.” His face became almost angry. “She’s an evil bitch.” His eyes were now boring into mine. Did I ask the wrong question? “Bella, I’m not going to beat around the bush here, I like you, a lot, and I want to make, for lack of better words, a formal declaration of my feelings for you. I want to date you, only you. I want to be able to have time like right now whenever I want. I want to kiss you good morning and take you to real movies. At some point I want to wake up after a night of great sex with you.”

His fingers found my hair, he began to twist it around his fingers.

“My sister thinks everyone is beneath her. She has no problem telling complete strangers how terrible something looks on them. She is vicious and vile and thinks I should be dating some shallow, plastic, social ladder climbingwhore. She will know immediately how I feel about you. She has this sixth sense about things; she will be hateful and say horrible things to you. Swear to me that you will not play into her game.”

I honestly didn’t know what to say, this absolutely amazing man wanted to date me—overweight, shy, plain Bella. There was no rhyme or reason why he would want to date me. He was on his way to being a high profile fighter. His name would be known in the boxing world and he would be surrounded by beautiful woman.

“Um…can…can I just clear the air about a few things first?” I had to avoid eye contact, I would lose my train of thought if I didn’t. “Why me? I mean Leah throws herself at you every chance she gets and she’s so…”

“Pathetic. Leah is one of those ladder climbing, plastic people that my sister loves. I want a girl like you, Bella. A girl who is real, with curves and a personality. Someone who can carry on a conversation that doesn’t include ‘Oh my God! This one time at the mall!’ He emphasized his point by changing his voice to mimic a valley girl.

“I have never liked girls who were bone thin and fake. I like that you have a real body, one that has curves and your soft skin drives me insane.”

His fingers traveled across my chin as he spoke.

“So what do you say, Bella Swan? Wanna be my girl?”

I looked him directly in the eyes as I responded. “I want to talk with my father and my brother first. I have a couple of questions for them about your training, the last thing I want is to inadvertently derail your progress.”

“I can see your concern, but I do have a condition, if you will, for making me wait.”

“Okay, that sound fair. What’s your condition?”

“I have been dying to kiss you for some time now, it’s all I think about. Bella, may I please kiss you?”

I smiled as I nodded. He wasted no time in grasping the back of my head and crashing his lips to mine. Edward’s lips were warm and soft and I could taste the hint of ginger I had used in his dinner. He kissed me with hunger and desire and it wasn’t long before I was completely lost in the kiss and him.

My hand was buried in his hair and I clung to him as if was drowning. I felt his fingers grasping my jaw and pulling me more into him. I nearly lost it when I felt his tongue touch my bottom lip. Eric had never given me an open mouth kiss, ever, and I had no idea how to kissEdward back.

I decided to treat this like dancing and just follow his lead. I opened my mouth and allowed his tongue to touch mine. He moved his tongue in and out as he massaged my tongue with his. I could so get used to kissing him like this. I was so into the kiss that I hadn’t realized he had shifted our positions and was pinning me to the cushions of the couch, his body pressing against mine. I was having nothing to do with that, and gently pressed my hand to his chest, pushing him away.

“I’m sorry,” I gasped as I pulled from the kiss.

“Did…did I go too far?” Edward’s breathy voice questioned.

What could I say? Oh shit, Dude, I cant have you try to lift me. Pfft, not in this lifetime.

“NO! No you…you’re perfect. I…I just need…” I quickly began to distance myself from him.

“Hey, it’s okay. I’m sorry if I pushed you.”

“You didn’t, I enjoyed that actually.”

We went back to talking about the different people in my photos.

“Hey, I meant to ask you, how did it go with confronting Leah on her theft?”

I had nearly forgotten about it.

“Well, my dad remembered that one of our members, Ben Chaney, works for the FBI here in Seattle, so he called him. Ben had a team go by her apartment, but she wasn’t home. They plan to be at the gym in the morning and make an arrest. Apparently, what she did is a felony.”

“Wow.”

“Yes, and I have to interview for a new trainer.”

“Do you have many applicants?”

“Yes, three so far, thank God for the speed of the internet.”

Edward said it was late and that he needed to get up early. He kissed me quickly and then said he would see me in the morning.

I locked the door after he left and then went to my cell phone, sending both Rose and Emmett both a text message.

Need to talk to you about Edward. Ill bring the coffee -B

Chapter 6

“I have coffee and donuts. I would have brought wine, but since it’s five-thirty in the morning, I thought better of it.” Rose stood looking impeccable in her matching workout gear, with her hair pulled high up on her head and her makeup looking runway ready.

“I’ll take the coffee, but pass on the donut.” I told her while reaching over to remove a cup from the carrier that contained three cups. Leaning back into my chair, I closed my eyes and allowed the hot bitter liquid to flow down my throat.

“Suit yourself,” Rose shrugged and then took a huge bite from the chocolate covered donut she had in her right hand, the edge of the donut leaving a dollop of chocolate on the corner of her mouth. I watched jealously as her pink, chocolate covered tongue ventured out to capture the sticky goodness.

“So, talk to me, what was up with that message.”

The thing I loved and hated about my sister-in-law was her bluntness. She held nothing back and always told it like it was. I smiled as I conveyed what had happened last night with Edward.

“Ok, so I don’t see an issue, your text made it sound like there was an issue.” Her face looked slightly pissed, her arms resting on the arms of the chair, her coffee still resting on the table, untouched.

“Well…”

I didn’t get to finish, as the door to the office swung open and in walked my father, Emmett and a man whom I was going to assume was Edward’s father. His features favoring those that I found most impressive about Edward. His hair color was lighter, his chin not as chiseled, and the eyes were definitely different.

“Bella, we need to use your office today so that Dr. Cullen here can do some investigating.” My father stood beside the man he referred to as a physician, the name solidified my assumption that he was Edward’s father.

“Oh, of course.” I responded as I began to clear off my desk, shutting down the program I had just opened, pulling away from my desk.

“I’m sorry to inconvenience you, and I only need a phone and the internet.”

I smiled as I picked up my cup of coffee, scurrying to get out of the way.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get to properly introduce myself, I’m Carlisle Cullen, Edward’s father.”

His tone was filled with respect and kindness. The sound of his voice was as if listening to an older version of Edward.

“Bella Swan.” I replied with a smile, my right hand outstretched and eager. His hand took mine quickly, yet very gently. His skin warm and soft, not a single callus could be felt.

“It’s such a pleasure to meet you. Edward has spoken very highly of you already this morning.”

His demeanor was warm and welcome. I had no doubts his patient load was enormous. Not only was he extremely handsome, he was also kind, a trait that isn’t always present in many physicians.

“We’re very happy to have him here, although I’m sorry about recent events.”

I watched as Carlisle’s face dropped slightly, the anguish of his son’s health marring the perfect features he walked into the room with.

“Yes, well that is why I need the use of your office.”

His change in tone wasn’t missed by myself or anyone else in the room. I felt so much worse as I moved away from him and out of the room, closing the door behind me.

When Emmett came on as a partner in the gym, he made several changes. One was the private area in the back, another were the rooms at the side of the building. Several of those rooms had hardwood floors, while others had spring boards like the ones found in high end gymnastic clubs. I wandered around the gym, with my office in use for other things, I thought it would be a good time to do a little exploring. The juice bar was hopping and I questioned if Seth needed any help, he waved me off, so I made my way further down the hall to a storage closet. Using my key, I opened the area and nearly fell over at the absolute mess it was in. Digging right in, I began to go through boxes and bins. I found several unopened containers of new towels, water bottles, and t-shirts all with the gym logo on them. Three hours later, I was sweaty, exhausted and yet filled with a huge sense of accomplishment, as the room was now organized and clean. I took the merchandise to the front of the gym and had Seth place it in the display counter to sell.

Just as I was about to find another closet that might need my attention, I saw two women enter the gym. It was clear by their appearance, and lack of gym bag, that they weren’t here to work out. In the lead, with cell phone firmly in hand and fingers flying across the screen, a Hermes bag secured at her elbow and over-sized sunglasses covering most of her face. I remembered that Eric’s mother had begged her family for the same bag, but with a six thousand dollar price tag, it wasn’t possible. The lady who walked behind her was a little taller, regardless of the stripper heals the first girl wore. Dressed more classically, with linen pants and hair pulled back in a low bun. She walked with grace, instead of the purpose that the first girl did. She was older, large in body weight but not fat. However, it was her bright green eyes and devilish smile that told me with certainty that this was a relative of Edward’s.

“Good afternoon, Ladies. May I assist you with something?” I asked crossing the floor, blocking them from going any further into the room.

The younger girl looked up from her phone screen, pulled her sunglasses off and looked me from head to toe.

“Do you…work here?

There was no mistaking her instant diastase for me. Her tone biting and repulsed.

“Yes, Ma’am. I’m Bella, the manager here.”

Her sneer increased as I held my hand out to shake hers.

“Hm…well, you would have thought there would have been a weight limit to work here.”

Her words, although truthful, cause me to pause and re-direct. The older lady looked around,apparently embarrassed by Ms. Sunglasses’ bitter truth.

“I’m sorry, and you are?” I chose to ignore, for now, the young girl and her comment. The older woman was strikingly beautiful. Her hair absolutely perfectly styled and her clothing was definitely high end. But that wasn’t what made her beautiful, it was her genuine smile. A smile that only a mother can give.

“Good afternoon,” she spoke softly as she extended out her hand to me, a large diamond resting on her ring finger. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that sunglasses was talking away on her phone, a sign that I could continue to speak without interruption.

“Hello, I’m Bella and you are?’

“I’m Esme Cullen, Edward’s mother. Is he here today? Carlisle said to meet him…”

The snapping of fingers brought the conversation to an abrupt halt. Sunglasses had her cell glued to her ear, while snapping her fingers over and over at the two of us. Demanding for us to, “Get Edward.”

I watch as Esme’s face fell and her body slumped. Before I could even open my mouth, a voice called out my name behind me. Emmett was making his way across the gym, Jasper right beside him, cowboy boots and all.

“Bella, Edward is looking…” I tuned Emmett out as I watched the expression on Sunglasses face. It was quick, yet very clear…pure disgust. Just as quickly as it had appeared, it vanished. Japer, the ever pleasant gentleman, tipped his imaginary hat in Sunglasses’ direction.

“Ladies, if you will follow me.”

Emmett must have sensed the tension from clear back in the training room. Sunglasses was just putting her phone in that oversized, overpriced purse of hers when she made her impression of the gym know to all around her.

“You would think that with the amount of money we are paying these hillbillies, that they could at least pump some fresh air in here.”

Just as Emmett was about to open the door, it flew open and a very excited Edward came bounding out. His face was full of love and relief as he took his mother into his arms, kissing both of her cheeks. As he placed her back on the floor, Carlisle said something to him that I was too far away to overhear, but he looked to sunglasses, nodded his head, and then took his mother’s hand in his before leading her from the room.

I had no trouble finding another storage area that needed attention. I was about half way through the organization, when Seth came and advised me that the guys had called a meeting and my presence was requested. I told Seth to give me a minute to clean myself up and that I would be right there. I dashed into the locker room and wiped off as much sweat and dirt that I could, before jogging carefully down the hall to my office. I apologized once I entered, as it was clear that I was the last to arrive.

“It’s fine, Bella.” Edward announced as he stood and pulled a chair out for me. I smiled and thanked him as I took my seat. Edward reached for my hand and squeezed it tightly. I looked to him, sending him a smile that I hoped would silently convey my thanks to him. However, the outburst that filled the room was like nails on a chalkboard.

“Oh, God, really, Edward? Kate is ready to pick up and come be with you, and you’re slumming it with this…?” Her hands gesturing in my direction.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Edward’s head drop. Just as I’m about to turn in his direction, he responds, “Alice, we’ve been over this a thousand times, I have never and will never want to be associated with Kate in any fashion.” The looks that were being passed between Edward and Alice, who I now know is his sister, were of pure hatred and defiance.

Carlisle cleared his throat and then opens the meeting, effectively putting an end to the sibling battle. He started by saying that he didn’t hold the gym responsible for what had occurred, however, he was hesitant to continue training unless security measures were installed. He added that all of Edward’s blood work had returned with little clue as to what was really in the shakes he had been given, yet some of his heart enzymes were slightly high. He had discussed this with a colleague and it was decided that training would be taken down a few scales until the enzymes returned to normal. All of Edwards nutritional supplements would be placed in a locked room and only he and Jasper would have the key. Alice would be staying on and providing the supplements for Edward. It was at the mention of Alice’s name that Edward released my hand that had been resting his in his lap. I tried not to read anything into his action, but my gut was screaming at me to pay attention.

Nearly an hour later, the meeting was dismissed and Emmett was on his cell phone contacting one of his old college friends who owned a security company. Edward and Jasper left the room together, he never said a word to me or even looked at me as we all left. I chose to shake it off, after all he had just been told that his training was going to be affected by the apparent drug that was slipped into his drinks. I returned to the storage closet and with determination, cleaned and organized it. When the last box was in place, my cell phone began to ring.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Bella, it’s Edward.”

I smiled at the sound of his voice, I couldn’t help myself. His tone was so smooth and warm.

“Hey, everything going alright?”

The pregnant pause I received was the second red flag I would have today.

“Um…yeah, everything is alright. Listen, I know that we had plans to go out tonight, but with the arrival of my family, I feel like I need to spend some time with them.”

I interrupted before he could continue. “Of course you should hang out with them, your mother is wonderful and it would be rude of you not to take her to dinner or something.”

He thanked me and said he would give me a rain check. He ended the call with a quick goodbye. Being unable to use my office today, I knew I was way behind on my paperwork. Now with no plans for tonight, I decided to stay late and get caught up. One by one the clients and the employees began to trickle out. Rose gave me a wave at about six-thirty, as I opened the payroll and started to get that completed. Three hours later, I heard shouting coming from the back of the gym. Closing down my computer, I headed that direction to see what was going on. Hiding away in one of the corners that I used to watch Edward, I saw that only Jasper, Alice, and Edward were still in the room. Edward stood in his jeans and hoodie in the middle, his head down and his shoulder slumped.

Alice’s voice was full of venom as she pointed her finger into his chest as she shouted, “We let you have this dream of yours and you’re throwing it away on a skirt. A cheap, off the rack, plus size skirt at that.”

Edward’s head remained down, his body unmoving as Jasper spoke.

“You can’t deny that she is a distraction. Your upper cuts are slow and sloppy. Every time she walks into the room you miss a step. After she leaves it takes you too much time to get back into a rhythm.”

I had heard enough. He had lied about spending time with his parents, or maybe he had just gotten back from dinner. It didn’t really matter though. I reminded myself that he never once defended me today, not in the meeting and not to his sister. I grabbed my purse, silently leaving the building. One thing was for certain, Alice was right, I couldn’t sell fitness if I wasn’t living it.

Chapter 7

BPOV

“Bella?” Edward’s gentle voice called from my office door.

“Hey,” I said standing from my chair.

He looked tired and slightly slumped over, as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. I motioned for him to come in and have a seat. I walked behind him and closed the door. He was watching me from across my desk with something familiar on his face. I knew that look; the one where you have to tell someone something and it’s going to be news that you don’t want to deliver. Taking a deep breath and squaring my shoulders, I sat back down. I would never admit that I already knew what he had come here to do.

“Tell me.” I said my tone even, my emotions in check.

I watched as he began to fidget, a sure sign that he was extremely uncomfortable. He rubbed his large hands up and down his thighs, and then lowered his body so that his forearms rested on his thighs.

“Bella…I…um…”

Yep, my suspicions were dead on.

“You um…?” I prodded when he wouldn’t look at me anymore.

“I’ve been doing some thinking,” his voice firm now, clearly gaining his control. “I think we should take a step back.” His eyes fixed and his voice deep. The fingers that were fidgeting were now still as a statue.

In my limited experience with relationships, I knew that nothing I could say or do would have any impact on what he just said. Without even blinking I looked into his deep green eyes.

“I can imagine with everything that went on…”

He cut me off with his clipped words. “I just need to really concentrate on my training. This week has shown me that I’ve allowed myself too many distractions and it’s nearly cost me everything.”

I remained silent as he continued to voice his thoughts.

“I want to win the Heavyweight Championship and there are sacrifices that need to be made in order for that to happen. Relationships aren’t something that should even be on my radar right now. Jasper reminded me that training is hard. He said that he isn’t asking me to do anything that he himself isn’t doing. Hell, he even admitted that he hasn’t been out looking for girls since we got here. If my trainer can stay focused and refrain from relationships, then I have to, as well.”

I could feel the acid from my stomach rising into my throat, but my brain took over before my heart could react. “I completely understand your desire to win. After all, my father did it twice. Please know that I will still be here to help you with any training related issues you may have.”

The look on his face was one of utter shock. Did he think I would fall at his feet and beg him to be with me? If being with Eric for all of those years taught me anything, it was that life is too short to be in a relationship that only one of you is actively participating in.

When Edward said nothing in return, I rose from my desk and walked toward my door. “If there’s nothing else, I do have several projects I’m currently working on.”

He jumped to his feet and headed toward my open door. I needed him out of here, in case my resolve weakened and cracked.

“Bella?” He whispered as he stood still just inside my office. I smiled my best fake smile as I welcomed his question. “Don’t give up on me, let me win this and then I swear…”

I cut him off before he could make a promise he didn’t need to. I wasn’t going to be the girl who stood by in hopes that her prince would ride in and rescue her; that he would see the error of his ways and decided she was what he wanted.

“Edward…please don’t.”

He nodded his head as he silently left my office. Closing the door, I leaned my forehead on the cold metal of the frame. I closed my eyes and silently reminded myself that I was worth the risk, to someone at least…just not Edward.

As I sat down in my chair, I began to think about how things were when my dad was training. How he would encourage Emmett and myself to watch him sparing and even watch his smaller fights. I can remember sitting on my dad’s shoulders when he won the belt for the first time and how he has that picture from the New York Times framed in his house. How my mother sat in the audience of every single fight he ever had and how she proudly clapped each time he won, even when he lost the last time. How Emmett was always imitating my dad when he played with his friends.

I hadn’t noticed that I was no longer alone in my office. Rose and Emmett sat in a chair, while my father sat beside them.

“Talk to us, Peanut.” My father said in his calm voice, the term of endearment he had used my entire life. So I told them the reason for Edward’s visit. How I had taken his news and held my head high.

“You know Jasper has to be behind that decision, don’t you, B?” Emmett had shifted Rose slightly as he made his comment.

I looked into his deep blue eyes and couldn’t help but smile.

“It doesn’t matter, Em. Alice had her say, as well.” I said softly.

“But it does, B! He’s throwing away something that could…”

I raised my hand, stopping him and his pep talk. “Emmett, the last thing I want is to be in a relationship that has conditions. I did that with Eric. I waited for four years and did everything he asked of me, but in the end, I wasn’t what he wanted or needed.” I looked to my father as I continued. “Dad, when we were little and you were training, I never heard you ever tell us we were in the way.”

My father leaned back in the chair and crossed his ankle over his knee. “That’s because you were my inspiration.”

I let his words hang in the air for a moment. I could see the truth in his statement.

“Your mother was my biggest cheerleader, she made certain I got what I needed every day and pushed me out of bed more times than I could count.” He turned to Emmett and continued. “You know that feeling you get when you just know the fight is over? You’ve given it your all and you have nothing left?” Emmett nodded his head quickly. “The first time I fought for that heavy weight belt, I found myself punching air…connecting with nothing. Then I was on my knees on the mat, with the ref counting out loud. I looked over and Volterri was in the same position as I was, struggling to get back on his feet.”

The far off look on his face shows that he is remembering it as if it just happened.

“Then I look to my left and I see your mother standing on her feet, clapping like I was winning instead of about to lose everything. I saw the assurance in her eyes while her face was covered in a smile. It was as if a charge of electricity went from her face to my body. I can’t explain it…I was on my feet and had the same energy that I had when I entered the ring. Next thing I knew, the ref was holding my arm above my head and the fight was over. “

A chill ran down my arms as I listened to his story. He had never shared that particular one, but in that instant the light bulb inside my head went off. I knew exactly what I needed to do.

“See that right there is what I’m talking about.” I pointed at my father. “I want someone who would literally fight for me, fight for us to be together, not run at the first sign of trouble. I want the here and now, not the wait for me to finish this and then if I’m still interested…” I waved my hands in the air to emphasize my point.

Leaning back in my chair, I laid out the plans that had just come to me.

“Dad, when I was a little girl, I remember that the gym was the place to be. For me it was my second home. Now we have Cullen and his trainer using the back of the building for what…the next eight months to a year?”

My father and Emmett both nodded their heads

“When they’re gone, we still need to have a clientele to keep the doors open, right?” Again they nodded in unison.

“My thought is to renovate the gym floor. Bring in new machines, new trainers. Offer special rates for the firefighters and cops. Offer different classes to new members. Give them a reason to switch to this gym.”

My father and brother sat very still, while Rose had a huge smile planted on her face.

“All these changes sound very promising, but they also cost a great deal of money, with no guarantee of any return on that money.”

My smile now out shined the one Rose wore. I wanted to make this gym something to talk about. Have it be someone’s second home.

“Make me a partner, Dad, and I will take care of everything.” Dad didn’t blink an eye as he granted my wish.

~~CMA~~

For the next several weeks, I researched other gyms in the area. I interviewed suppliers of equipment and construction companies. In the end, it would take nearly every dime I had, but the gym would be amazing. I had no trouble avoiding Edward or his trainer. I did overhear Jasper talking about an exhibition match he had agreed to have Edward fight in. I rolled my eyes as I heard Alice trying to give him a pep talk. She was as fake as the extensions she wore in her hair. I didn’t trust her any further than I could throw her. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just knew Alice was hiding something.

It was late on a Friday night when Angela knocked on my door. She was one of the applicants that had answered my ad for personal trainers. She was hot, there was no other way to put it. But in my research, I found that people buy what they see. Women will choose a dress for the way it looked on a celebrity or a mannequin. They will buy a particular fragrance based on the commercials and the beautiful people who played their part. Fitness was no different. No one was going to come into a gym and want to look at a middle aged man with a receding hairline and a hairy back. Men wanted the pretty young thing to make them work harder or at least suck in their stomachs. Women wanted to see the muscle men, with the perfect colgate smile and sun kissed skin. It was all marketing and we bought it every day. I looked up and smiled at her, encouraging her to come in.

“Hey, you got a minute?”

“You’re in luck tonight as I’ve got two just for you.”

Angela fit in nicely around here. She was excited about helping people and she never complained about the clients she had or the hours she sometimes had to work.

“Listen, I have to tell you something and I don’t know exactly how to approach you about it.” I turned my full attention to her.

“What do you mean?” I questioned her, caution in my voice.

“Well, the other day when you and Edward had that talk, I overheard the whole thing.”

I rolled my eyes and started to return to the web page I was currently reading. “Bella…I have to tell you…I have to tell you that things aren’t as they seem to be.”

I crossed my arms over my chest, slightly angered that she was meddling. I had come to terms with the fact that Edward wasn’t interested in me.

“Then, Angela, please enlighten me. Please tell me your opinion of what’s going on.”

I was full blown angry at this point. I didn’t need every employee sticking their nose in my business. It was bad enough that I was once again placed on the back burner in someone else’s plans. Angela adjusted in her seat before she continued.

“Bella, if you would just shut up for a second and hear me out, it might change your perspective on things.”

Looking at the clock on the wall, I shifted my eyes back to hers and said, “You have forty-five seconds left.”

“Okay, so I know that Edward listened to Jasper when he told you that he needed to focus on his training. I know that Jasper told him that when Edward is training, Jasper follows the same rules he gives Edward.”

I gave her a puzzled look that she ignored and kept telling her story.

“Which is pure fiction as I know that Jasper is tapping the ass of someone in this very gym.”

She rolled her eyes and hands as she continued.

“Edward is fighting a kid from across town on Sunday night and I happen to know that someone paid the kid ten grand to throw the fight.”

My eyes widened and my mouth fell open. “How do you know that?” She laughed as she told me,

“Because he is fighting my step brother.” She had my complete attention now.

Chapter 8

“So let me get this straight.” Emmett started.

After we told Rose about the bribe, she had barely blinked before advising Angela and I that we needed to tell my father and Emmett. I purposely waited until Jasper and Edward had left that evening before calling them. The last thing I needed to see was a sweaty Edward.

“Your brother told you about the money exchange?” Emmett asked.

“Yes,” Angela nodded. “Danny, my brother, has a baby on the way. A guy that his girlfriend’s father knows, came into the place where he trains and told him he had an offer for him. Danny said he would do it because they have no insurance for when the baby comes.”

My father sat in silence for several minutes, then rose to his feet and walked out into the hallway. Several minutes passed before he returned, with his cell phone pressed to his ear.

“I agree, Carlisle. It sounds like a plausible plan.”

Emmett never took his eyes off of dad as we all sat in silence, patiently waiting for the call to end. Once he placed his phone back in his pocket, he returned to his seat.

“The chances of us finding out who this guy is that paid your brother are slim. The payment was in cash and therefore untraceable. However, I’ve spoken with Carlisle and he and I agree that something had to be going on for this to happen. Carlisle is going to tell Jasper that the most recent test results have shown some possible damage. He’s going to have him cancel the fight.”

I wish I could have been there when they told Jasper and Edward that the fight was off. To see the look on Alice’s face as they delivered the news. However, I had something slightly bigger to take care of.

When the ad for personal trainers went out, I not only got a response from Angela, but from two gentlemen, Paul and Stephen. Paul was a recent graduate with a bachelors in physical education and Stephen had been working for a gym across town that had gone under. Both men were incredibly handsome, with attributes to spare.

Angela had come to me with a rumor she’d heard from a friend of hers who worked for another gym. Seems the owner had ordered some gym equipment, but was having a cash flow problem. I was able to contact the supplier and grab the equipment for a fraction of the retail value.

I visited other gyms to see what programs they had to offer that might benefit us. I made appointments and visited with the local high school’s athletic department and gave the staff

a discounted rate to use our gym. The police and fire departments were very excited when I

offered them a free trial membership and special hours. I found an exercise group that was in search of a place to meet. I offered them some free space to try out and if they liked it, we would work out a deal. Everything seemed to be falling into place and I found that I had been able to not think about Edward quite so much.

It was early one morning when Angela and a very handsome man came knocking at my office door.

“Bella, this is my friend Garrett. Garrett, this is Bella.”

Garrett had that bad boy look about him, with the messy hair and the scruff on his face. His eyes, however gave the impression of being a little dangerous. “Pleasure to meet you. Angela tells me you are the reason my coworkers are moving over here.”

Angela explained that Garrett was a detective for the local police department. Seems that my deal was too good to refuse and the entire department enjoyed the early and late hours we now offered.

“I was working out the other night and I asked the kid running the desk if you guys offered any self-defense or martial arts classes. He said that you didn’t, so I contacted my friend Angela. She said that you were the new manager and could probably help me out.”

I wasn’t certain how I could help him. Hell, I was practically giving them the gym at cost as it was.

“Well, why don’t you tell me what you need and we’ll see if I can help you.”

He smiled this completely seductive smile that would stop traffic. His green eyes reminded me of Edward’s, however Garrett’s had a little something hidden, a secret that only he knew.

“Well, I would like to discuss a few things with you actually. The first being, making a deal to get those classes I asked about here. This isn’t the safest world that we live in and I have seen far too many sexual assaults to not do my part.”

His face took on a solemnness that touched me somewhere deep inside.

“I would like to start some classes here, using any unoccupied room that you may have. I have a close friend who teaches several martial arts classes, but has recently had an issue with the owner of the facility he was using.”

His words cause a hint of caution to arise in my thinking. If this friend of his had an issue with the owner where he was, could he be a trouble maker or worse a thief? I hadn’t made a deal yet, and before I did, I would find out what the issue was.

“So I would like to come to a deal, trading my services as an instructor for a full gym membership.”

His trade would most definitely be in our favor. We would lose nothing by consenting to this arrangement.

“That would be very one sided, my friend.”

The smile reappeared and his eyes began their dance of mystery. “Ah…but you haven’t heard my second request.”

The hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up and I nearly excused myself to seek out my father and brother. Something was very off about this entire situation. Glancing in Angela’s direction, her confident smile assuring me.

“See Bella, I have been coming to this gym for several months, even before the flyer at the station appeared.”

He leaned back in his seat, his arms dropping in a comfortable position at his sides, his leather jacket making creaking noises as he adjusted his position.

“I like to come in early in the morning and take my time getting my mindset in a place where I can deal with all the cases I’m given every day.”

He didn’t even blink as he told his story.

“You see, Bella, I have always been a suspicious and yet, curious person. Even at an early age I had my nose in everything.”

Angela was looking at her cell phone, the retrieval of it caused me to look in her direction. She smiled as she read what was on the screen.

“I noticed the new addition you’ve had in the gym. Boxing News magazine calls him the new kid on the block to watch.”

He didn’t even have to say his name, we all knew who he was referring to.

“I’ve watched women who usually come in here wearing wrinkled T-shirts and sweatpants, hair pulled back with those god awful hair bands holding back the fly-aways. Now, they show up in shorts and a sports bra, full makeup and perfect hair.”

I felt so stupid, even I hadn’t noticed this. I had always thought I was a detailed person, and completely aware of her surroundings.

“But you want to know what else I see?”

Sadly, my fear had turned into curiosity, a dangerous thing to happen. I didn’t think his question warranted an answer, so I remain still in my chair with my eyes open and mouth shut.

“I watch as a certain heavyweight hopeful watch the girl he tossed away.”

I couldn’t move, I certainly couldn’t respond as the breath left my chest. I could feel the anger and the panic begin to set in.

Garrett shifted his position, his face showing his understanding of the effect his words had on me.

“Bella, Edward is an idiot. He is more like a lap dog than the fighting machine he is trying to be.”

I wanted to tell him to shut up and get the fuck out of my office, but my frozen limbs wouldn’t let me do it.

“I heard everything he said to you that morning. I have to admit, that you shocked the shit out of me when you held your head high and showed him where the door was. You have a fire in you and I want to help you bring it out, let it guide you and make you even more beautiful than you already are.”

His body now practically hovering over my desk, his eyes mischievous and still with that hidden secret.

“And that is what brings us to where the scales become equal in this possible partnership. You see, Bella…” He stood and began to walk around my office, his words appeared to be rehearsed like he stood in front of his bathroom mirror and went over this speech several times. “…I’m up for a really big promotion at work. So big that it will take me to a level that I had never dreamed of achieving.”

He had my curiosity peaked at this point. What did any of this have to do with helping him get ahead at his job?

“I have all of the qualifications, all of the experience, everything really…except for one minor thing.” He turned his body and stood firm in the center of the room, his face locked with mine. “I have to appear to be in a serious relationship, so serious that marriage is just around the corner.”

A smile appeared upon my face, completely without my permission a chuckle joined it, keeping it company.

“Well if you are asking if I know anyone who is…” His boisterous laughter caused me to stop speaking.

“Bella, I’m not asking you for a date or a setup, I’ve been in a committed relationship for nearly six years.”

I was lost. I had no idea where this conversation was headed, or even how we got to this point. “Then wh…?”

“Then what do I need from you?” He smiled as he cut me off. “It’s more, what I can do for you. See…I’ve always believed that the easiest way to get over one man is to get under another. You need to show Edward that you’ve moved on. That you truly aren’t waiting around for him to get his shit together.”

He turned to Angela, as his point was still not getting through to me. He silently pleaded with her to help him out. With her genuine sweet smile she put her cell away and spoke the words that shocked me senseless.

“What Garrett is trying to say is that he needs you to pretend to be in a relationship with him, attend some functions that are coming up. In turn, he will pretend to be the new guy in your life, showing Edward that he is just a distant memory.”

I blinked at her several times, still completely in the dark. Had the both of them just forgot that he admitted to being in a committed relationship?

“Oh, for heaven sakes, Bella! Garrett is gay. He needs to be in a relationship with a woman in order to make the board at his work consider him for the job. Edward needs to see you being all touchy feely with a hot young body. It’s a win, win situation.”

It took me several attempts to get my mouth to finally work. Garrett did not come across at all as a gay man. My biggest argument was that Edward had called things off with me, he had tossed me away without a second thought.

“Bella, listen, I know you think that Edward has made his choice and I can see where your thoughts are with that. But please trust me, he may have said the words, but they came from someone else’s mouth.” It was Angela who then stood and moved around my desk. She pulled my keyboard toward her.

“What the fuck?” I complained to her, trying to take it back.

She slapped my hands and began to type. “Just watch…the security guy that your brother hired was a huge flirt. He showed me how to pull up the security cameras, even told me where to stand with him so that we couldn’t be seen.” She rolled her eyes as she continued to type on the keyboard. “I’m betting that he is currently in the corner by the laundry area, since I know he watched me walk into your office.”

My eyes shot to Garrett, who was now sitting back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head, elbows out to the side. A cheshire grin on his beautiful face.

“Yep, see for yourself.”

My eyes left Garrett’s face and focused on the monitor on my desk. Just as Garrett said, Edward was hiding in the corner, a water bottle in his hands.

“This is how I see it, you and I are seen around town, places I know my superiors visit frequently. I come by the gym a little more often and touch you in…not so innocent ways. I get my promotion and you get Edward eating out of your hands, give him a taste of what his world will be like if he doesn’t get his head out of his hot little ass.”

And so a deal was made. I would pretend to be in a relationship with Garrett and he would show me how to get Edward’s attention.

“So we are going to leave this room, I will open the door and let Angela go out first. You

will smile and look at me as if I hung the moon, feel free to pretend I’m Edward if you must. Because trust me, I will be exchanging your pretty face for Peter’s. Then I am going to kiss your cheek and trail my fingers down your arm only to capture your fingers, taking your hand in mine as I walk away, never once taking my eyes off of you. I will need you to continue to imagine it is your wally-bohunk instead of yours truly as you look at me lovingly.”

There were so many things wrong with this plan. What if Peter became upset or what if someone else turned Edward’s head? I had nothing to lose, Garrett would be giving the women in this neighborhood a sense of security in what he could teach them. If nothing else, I would do it for them.

“Everyone ready?” Garrett questioned, looking at the two of us. “Bella, adjust your boobs,” he commanded, reaching over to adjust my shirt.

I slapped his hands away, only to have him laugh at me.

“Oh, Honey, you can’t really think I want to cop a feel? Trust me your admirer out there has a better set of goods that I would be interested in.”

With my cleavage on display, Garrett opened the door and motioned for Angela to go ahead, he waited with a smile that if I didn’t know was fake, I would have swooned. His smile was erotic as he leaned over and kissed my cheek, causing me to giggle.

He leaned in closer and whispered into my ear.

“Whatever you do, do not look in the direction of the hall. Trust me he is watching.”

I took his advice and didn’t look in the direction he warned me of. I even did a little finger wave as he left the gym. It was just after lunch that day when a very large flower arrangement arrived. Angela was all cheerleader crazy as she made certain she announced who they were from loud enough that several patrons turned in her direction.

“Bella, he is such a sweetheart. You really got a good one.” Her words were followed by a wink. “Garrett wants you to check your cell phone periodically and smile even if it’s just at the colorful tabs of your apps.”

So I did just as she asked. I took every opportunity to smell the flowers and touch their petals. I even pretended to show Angela a text, laughing like a little girl with her. Angela assured me that Edward was always watching, but I never saw him. It was just before closing when Garrett came back in. He made a grand gesture of kissing my hand as he greeted me.

“I forgot to talk to you about something else this morning.” I kept my fake smile as I encouraged him to go on. “Something else I saw, that vile sister of his making you feel small.”

The conversation coming back to mind, my decision to get into better shape had taken a back seat to getting the gym reorganized.

“Let me help you, let’s make you look as good on the outside as you are on the inside.”

Garrett met me at the gym every morning after that, at four in the morning. He wanted us to have time to sweat and push my body to its limits without worrying about how I looked or who would be watching. He invited me over to his and Peter’s house one evening. I was admittedly nervous, until an even more handsome man opened the door and pulled me in. Peter was the

warmest human being on the planet. He showed me ways to apply makeup, to make my face appear smaller. He told me it was camouflage until Garrett was finished molding me. It wasn’t long before I found that I had made two really great friends.

Garrett was a hard ass when we were in the gym, constantly pushing me and making me so mad at times, that I was able to do better than the day before. He kept his word and two nights a week he taught self-defense as a free class to any lady who wanted to be taught. Word traveled fast and soon Peter’s martial arts classes filled as well. I was floored when I learned that the reason Peter was out of a job at the other gym was due to his sexual orientation.

One evening when Peter and Garrett had invited me over for dinner and cocktails, Garrett confided in me that he didn’t like the way Jasper was training Edward. He talked about how he wasn’t pushing Edward nearly as hard as he should be, giving him way too many breaks and not reviewing any material on any opponent he hoped to fight in the future.

I would have to take his word for it since I stayed as far away from them as possible. “Bella, I don’t trust Jasper.”

We were sitting on their back deck, cocktails flowing. Peter would only let me enjoy one drink. He didn’t want to distort all the hard work that I had completed.

“I had him checked out, but he is so clean that he squeaks when he walks. I don’t know what it is, but I will figure it out.”

His admission made my skin crawl. I didn’t trust Jasper either, but I was even more concerned with Alice. She was a contradiction in terms. Why would someone who considered themselves in such a high social status be hanging around a sweat filled gym, handing her brother his water bottle and making him meals? Shouldn’t she be shopping and having lunch with her snobby friends.

“I’d rather you weren’t alone with either one of them. I don’t think they’re dangerous, but I get the feeling that they’re watching you for some reason.”

I took his words to heart, I had already planned on avoiding the entire family at all costs. Besides hanging out with my new friends was so much better.

By the end of the second week of my ‘pretend’ relationship with Garrett two major things had occurred.

The first came after I was certain that the gym was empty and I had begun locking up the building. Garrett had called and said not to leave without him walking me to my car. He parked

his car blocking the entrance, keeping his engine running and headlights on. I opened the gym doors and began to secure the locks and alarm. Garrett took my hand and began walking me to my car.

“You know this is a very kind gesture, but completely unnecessary. Everyone left at least an hour ago.”

Garrett stood with me, my car door open, and my purse and gym bag freshly tossed in the back seat.

“Don’t be too obvious about it, but give me a hug and then look between the dumpsters on my left.”

The gym was large enough that the city gave us three dumpsters, however with all of the construction, two of them had been moved to the front entrance. I did as he said, and as I snuggled into his neck, I saw what appeared to be a man trying very hard to hide himself. I knew it was Edward by the hood of his jacket, it was made of a reflective material that was designed to be worn at night when the wearer ran or worked out. Garrett had deliberately kept his headlights on so that I could see this.

“See what I mean?” He spoke softly into my ear.

I pulled back and looked into Garrett’s eyes, the darkness making it nearly impossible to see much of his face.

“Ok, you remember when I told you that you may need to pretend it was Edward instead of me?” His arms tightening around my waist, pulling me close once again.

I nodded my head as he pushed my back into my car door, placing a kiss upon my lips. Of all the men I have kissed in my life, I can honestly say Garrett would rank second, regardless of the fact that he was a gay man, he was still a thousand times better than Eric. But Edward, as much as I hated to admit it, was the best kiss I had ever had.

Second thing that happened, Edward had a new fight, a legitimate one. One not set up by Jasper.

 

Chapter 9

For the first time in months I felt good about myself, about the person I had become. The renovation to the gym was complete and with an open house scheduled for the weekend, I was thrilled. My friendship with Garrett was more than just a ruse to fool Edward, he was a great friend and I couldn’t imagine not having him in my life.

However, the most significant part is that whenever I look in the mirror lately, I liked the brown eyes that were looking back at me. I was actually beginning to feel good in the skin I was in.

This morning the gym was alive with preparations for the open house. The carpenters had left early this morning, leaving behind fresh paint, new carpet, and shiny new machines. All around me were the sounds of progress, from the vacuum that roared in the back, to the music that echoed from the room down the hall that currently housed a group of older ladies who loved rocking it to the oldies. They were an amazing group, and several of them had mentioned how they got half

of their workout from just walking in the door and seeing all the muscled men. Overhearing that conversation was hard not to laugh at.

The district attorney’s office had phoned earlier in the week, informing us that

an anonymous source had posted bail for Leah. Garrett had exhausted all of his resources trying to find out who it was. Unfortunately, all that he could uncover was that it was paid in cash and that Leah had to wear an ankle monitor until her trial.

With Edward fighting this Sunday, I had to arrange all of his press releases. Many bloggers wanted to have exclusive interviews with him, but Alice would only allow her friends the opportunity. My father had shaken his head many times, questioning why Edward was allowing such ill management to occur. So, with the open house and the fight scheduled for the same weekend, it was very busy around here.

“Hello, Sweetness.”

I knew it was Garrett before he even touched me. I also knew that if he was touching me, that Edward had both eyes on me. I had perfected my reactions to Garrett’s embraces, although I felt bad for deceiving Edward. Garrett, however, assured me that men needed to be put in their place every once in awhile.

“So, I have something I need to discuss with you.” He whispered as I turned in his arms, his face flush from his workout.

“Sure, do we need to go into my office?”

“That would probably be best, give us some privacy and give Edward the urge to punch the fuck out of the speed bag.”

Garrett had told me that whenever Edward saw the two of us together, it caused him to need to release his pent up rage. Emmett confirmed it when he made a comment about an unusual dent in one of the locker room doors the morning after I saw Edward hiding behind the dumpsters.

Garrett held my hand as we walked in the direction of my office. It wasn’t until we had crossed the threshold and begun to close the door, that I heard the sounds of metal being hit several times. Garrett only chuckled and mumbled, “Idiot.”

Garrett took great pleasure in adding certain touches, such as closing the blinds that covered the windows which separated the main floor from my office.

“You know, he could just be frustrated with his opponent. His outburst may have nothing to do with me.” Conveying one of the many explanations that I had floating around my head.

“What he is doing about the kid he is scheduled to fight, and what he should be doing are polar opposites”

My father and brother had discussed the bazaar way that Jasper trained Edward. Only doing drills instead of reviewing tapes about his fighting style. Both agreed you needed to know your opponent inside and out—know what he ate for breakfast when he was five so to speak.

“You said you had something to talk about?” I asked changing the subject, tired of the one currently on the table. Talking about Edward, even if it was in a negative light, still caused me to think about him and right now I didn’t want to think of him.

“Remember when Angela said we would have some events to attend?”

I nodded and waited for him to continue. His hair was still damp from his workout and the tattoo of his family crest was visible on his left arm. I remember the night he told me about getting it, one of the few things he had done with his father.

“Well, there is an awards banquet coming up in a few weeks. I’m expected to make an appearance, show my Captain that I have that significant other that we spoke of.”

Garrett really wanted that promotion and since becoming better friends with him, I wanted nothing more than to help him.

“I need you to keep this to yourself. Don’t even tell your dad or Rose.” I shot him a questioning look, confused as to why I would have to keep this a secret.

“I need you to trust me. When you walk into that room, I want you to see for yourself just how much you affect that fighting machine out there.”

My eyes went wide and my mouth dropped open. Would Edward be at this event?

“The program is called, Community First. The good Dr. Cullen not only donated a chunk of cash, he also volunteered some time on one of their projects. The board has asked none other than Edward to give a little speech. They want to honor the family for all they had done. My superiors are treating it as an opportunity to show a personal side of us, thus the second reason I need to show up with you.”

No one needed to ask what the primary reason was. I would do as Garrett asked and keep the event to myself, I only prayed he was right.

~~CMA~~

It was overwhelming the amount of people who turned up for the open house. By the time the last visitor had left, two hundred new members signed up. The gym offered a gym bag stuffed with a number of sports related items to anyone who paid their membership in full at the time of sign up. We had only one of the hundred bags we had assembled left. As my father left to go home, he pulled me to the side and told me how proud he was of me.

Rose wanted to stay with me while Emmett and Dad went to the fight. Honestly, I had had more than I could take after the press arrived at the gym yesterday. Question after question about his plans on how to win were thrown at him. I was never more grateful for the bustle of what was happening on the gym floor, too busy to worry about the man in the red shorts who was standing on an official scale, signing the paperwork that Jasper handed him.

The fight was to take place at a sports complex a few miles away. It was neutral ground for both fighters. Rose found the fight online from a streaming website. I hooked the computer to the television that hung over my fireplace and with steamed vegetables and grilled chicken, Rose and I watch Edward touch gloves with his opponent and begin to fight.

As I sat on my sofa, my dinner long forgotten, my mind traveled back to the

fights I had attended for my father. How the smell of cinnamon, roasted almonds permeated the air, causing me to beg my mother to buy me a sleeve of them. How I would sit in my chair, watching the men around me screaming as the two men behind the ropes circled each other and then deliberately hit one another. I always thought my father was the bravest man in the world, still do.

Watching Edward not only gave me those glimpses of the pleasant memories from my childhood, but it let me see a side of him that I had forced myself to avoid. Watching how the muscles in his arms and back contracted and released with each blow. How sweat would trail down the strand of hair that clung to his forehead. His feet were doing the dance that every boxer knew well. The match didn’t last three rounds, Edward gave a quick combination and his opponent was down for the count.

A few hours later, my father arrived at my front door, he would be out of town for the first few days of the week and asked me to file the paperwork for him. I had gone with my mother several times when she’d done it for my father, but this would be the first time for me alone. After Rose went back to the main house, I sat with the paperwork in my hand. Edward’s elegant script signing his name in agreement to a fair fight. However, when I looked to the paperwork detailing his registering of hand, I noticed something very odd. The registration had expired several weeks ago. Jasper should have caught this when he filed the original fight contention application. I was amazed that the registrar hadn’t discovered this herself. Tossing the papers on my table, I closed my eyes and decided I would take care of the renewal myself in the morning.

However, just as I was about to head to bed, my doorbell rang. Turning the lights back on, I crossed the room and checked the security hole to find a tired Jasper on the other side of my door.

“Hey. Sorry to bother you so late, but your father said he gave the paperwork to you to file.”

I nodded as I began to open the door for him, but paused remembering Garrett’s words not to be alone with him.

“Just wait here and I’ll get them.”

I closed the door and secured the chain, if Garrett was suspicious about him, then I was as well. I gathered the papers, taking another quick look at the expiration date before heading back to the door. I didn’t like how something this big was missed and by someone who should have known better. Without removing the chain, I opened the door wide enough to hand the papers through and bid him a goodnight. Something wasn’t right about this entire situation and tomorrow I would do some research of my own.

 

Chapter 10

 

“Good morning, Registrar’s office. How can I help you?”

When I woke this morning the only thing on my mind was finding out why his hands registration was expired. Jasper had to know the ramifications of allowing the date to renew pass. Last nights fight could be reversed and a hefty penalty given.

“Yes, I’m calling on behalf of the training team for Edward Cullen.”

My mother once told me to be creative when name dropping, leaving out yours and pushing the face that covered the magazines. It tends to deflect the attention from the possible wrong you may be about to do and to the fantasy the person you’re talking to may have begun. Lets face it, Edward had the face that fantasies were made of.

“Oh yes, how can I help you?”

The tone of her voice alone told me her panties were off and in her mind she was bent over the desk, Edward pounding her from behind.

“Well, I was just going through some of our records and it seems that we haven’t received our latest registration. Can you check and see when that was sent out?”

Mom also told me to make everything appear to be someone else fault, make the person on the other end believe they are fixing someone else’s mistake. Gives them a sense of accomplishment, a story to share with their friends after work.

“Oh, I’d be happy to look that up, give me just a few moments.”

As I waited for her to return, I moved my attention to the guys from the fire station just down the street. Enjoying another of the perks we offered allowing them entrance into the gym before it opening to the general public. Garrett also took advantage, but this morning he had to run an errand for Peter.

As the elevator music continued to play, I watched as Tiny, one of the regulars was just getting warmed up. I had to smile as his name was a contradiction in terms as he was well over six feet tall, with muscle mass of Mr Universe himself. He was a bouncer for a local nightclub and taught an after school program at the high school. He was truly a gentle giant.

“Thank you for holding. I have the registration right here. It does show it was renewed about a month ago. But as we all know, the mail can be slow at times.”

I laughed with her as I agreed, keeping the conversation light and away from who I was.

“I can email this to you.”

I knew I had to think quick, giving her my email address was the same as giving her my name.

“Oh, is there anyway you can fax it to me? Our printer is acting funny and I have to get this finished before my boss comes in.”

Again making it appear like she was doing me a huge favor.

“Absolutely, but it will take a little while because there is some maintenance being done on ours.”

I thanked her profusely and added in that we sure miss our electronics when we can’t use them as we wish. I bid her a good day and hung up the phone.

As I moved my attention from the phone on my desk to the movement in the gym, my breath caught as I noticed the shadow that stood just outside the locker room door. I didn’t need to guess who it was since, his lanky form easy to recognize. Jasper’s eyes were looking directly into my office. My heart froze for a second and feared that if Garrett and Angela could hear the conversation I had with Edward, then Jasper could know who I had just called.

The ringing of my fax machine causing me to jump three feet in my seat and let out a small squeal. Pushing my chair back, I walked across the room and waited as the machine printed the document that I needed to see.

Scanning quickly over the document, I saw that the expiration date was nearly a year away. Edward’s oddly scrolled signature sat there perfect as the man himself. It wasn’t until the second time I scanned the document however, that I noticed it. On the lower left side was a place for a witness to sign. I had signed my fair share of these for Emmett in the past. It was common for a member of the family to be given the honor. It seemed like Edward wanted to keep that tradition alive. Only there was something seriously wrong with this particular signature.

I had to sit in my chair as the thoughts in my head took over. Warning bells were going off in my head and my body was trembling as I tried to rein in my pounding heart. I knew without looking up that his eyes were on me, watching to see if what I held in my hand warranted his spying on me. Suddenly, it made sense as to why he came by my house last night. He had been hoping I wouldn’t have looked at the documents in my possession. By locking that door, I had given him silent confirmation that I had. The situation had taken a completely different turn than I had first suspected. I needed help and I needed it now. Setting my shoulders and strengthening my resolve, I picked up the phone and paged my dad and Emmett to come to my office, immediately.

When I was a teenager, we had this drill where dad insisted we create codes for different emergencies. He wanted to have something that would appear normal to anyone else, but to us it would mean something. At the time, I was really into boy bands, but I was also a realist and knew that they wouldn’t be around forever. Dad agreed and we chose a song that if it was played throughout the paging system and not the sound system, then they know something was up. Furthermore, there were only three phones that had the ability to access the overhead page and they were in each of our offices.

Despite the braveness of my actions, I was trembling and could feel my body’s fight or flight system kicking in. Pressing the code that would grant me access to the program, I tried to keep my eyes down, keep Jasper from taking off like a bat out of hell. He would know something was up in about thirty-seconds.

Our intercom system had an announcement tone, three short beeps started, followed by the lyrics of the song that I had chosen all of those years ago. My brother hated Boyz II Men and he swore that if he ever heard it over the speakers he would beat the ass of the person who caused it to be played. I placed the

phone on my desk, adjusting the volume to the loudest it could go. I needed my daddy and I needed him now. Standing up and I moved across the room to open my door, “Motown Philly…back again…” lyrics sending my message loud and clear to the back of the gym. Jasper was now standing in the center of the machines, a confused look on his face. The exact reaction my father predicted the responsible party would have. Emmett surfaced first, his legs moving so fast and the words ‘dirty motherfucker’ screaming out of his vocal cords. My father was hot on his heels. I worried that as soon as Jasper got his bearings, he would bolt out of here like a sinner after Sunday service.

“Grab Jasper!” I shouted over the music, pointing at the man who was looking dazed and confused. Emmett didn’t question it and slapped his massive hand around the back of Jasper’s neck, his body dipping from the force of Emmett’s movements. My father had his arm around my midsection, effectively lifting me off my feet, and then placing me in my chair. He reached over and silenced the music that continued to blare at deafening volumes.

When all was silent, Jasper was against the wall, my brother holding him firmly. My father’s body was shielding me from the room. A sweaty and worried looking Edward, red gloves still secured to his hands, was standing in the door frame ready to take everyone on.

My father’s breathing was labored, a result of the adrenaline I was certain. He looked to Emmett, who only tightened his hold on a now pain ridden Jasper.

“What the fuck is going on?” Edward demanded from his position, his breathing labored as well, although from his workout more than the current events.

My dad’s firm voice answered him with the tone that every dad possesses. “Go back to the speed bag, this doesn’t concern you.”

Edward began to protest, but was effectively cut off. “You have no business in here. This is a matter concerning my daughter and you have no business where she is concerned.”

The room was silent minus the grunts from Jasper, as Emmett continued to trap him against the wall. You could tell by Edward’s face that he wanted to protest, but he shook his head and left the room.

“You okay, Baby?” Dad turned in my direction, his gentle touch encouraging my heartbeat to return to normal. I nodded my head, as he slowly backed away.

“What did the fucker do to you, Bella?” Emmett spoke through clenched teeth. He wanted to hurt him, I could tell, but we needed answers and the sorry piece of shit had them.

“Let him go, Emmett. We need him.”

Emmett gave him a quick, hard shove causing Jasper to cry out, before he released him. Blood was forming in the corner of his lower lip, he swiped at it and winced from the pain. With the men in the room, all fear was a memory. I was going to get to the bottom of this and get some much needed answers.

“Dad, do you remember last night when you dropped off the paperwork from the fight? You told me you couldn’t handle it because you were going out of town.”

Dad had texted me that his plans to leave on time had fallen through, my parents would leave later this evening instead.

“Well, call it being nosy or caring too damn much for the legal ramifications of this place, but I took a look at Edward’s registry of hands.”

I didn’t look at anyone as I admitted to my own brand of stalking, embarrassed to be caught with my hand in the cookie jar. Jasper closed his eyes and his body slumped as I confirmed his suspicion.

“I noticed that the expiration date had passed…”

My dad didn’t let me continue as he began to shout at Jasper. “Are you a fucking moron? Do you know the kind of penalty that they could slap on you, on this gym? How fuckin’…?”

“DAD!” I shouted, the fax gripped firmly in my hands. My father’s attention returned to me and the paper I held clenched in my right hand.

“Jasper?” My voice an eerie calm even to my own ears. However, he refused to look at me. “Jasper you can ignore me all you want or I can have Emmett toss you around my office for a while, but either way you’re gonna answer me.”

Dad walked closer to Jasper’s chair, kicking the leg, and causing him to jump. “Better answer the lady, boy.” His tone causing me to tremble slightly.

“I need to know why?”

Jasper was silent for a little longer, lowering his head he began his confession. “I have a twin brother.” His voice full of emotion and he took a deep breath before he continued. “He’s been in and out of trouble since we were kids,” his face met mine as he continued, pain and anguish plastered across his features.

“About eight years ago, he got hooked up with a couple of guys who were into some pretty hefty stuff. I tried to get him to leave them alone, but he wouldn’t listen. He ended up going to jail for eighteen months for fraud. When he got out it was less than three months before he was caught in a con scam and went back for three years. While he was in jail this time, he met this girl who was writing prisoners and he decided to turn things around, try making a life with her.”

My eyes never leaving his and I was willing to bet he was telling the truth.

“When he got out, the girl was waiting for him and he seemed to be a changed man. He got a good job and joined her church. He asked our grandmother for the money to buy her a ring and then asked her to marry him.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Alice had entered the gym. Edward was standing outside my office, his arms crossed over his chest. He had changed and was now in warm up clothes, his hands free from his gloves. Alice’s eyes went huge when she saw Jasper slumped in a chair in my office.

“It was about the same time a buddy of mine asked me to go down to the Cayman Islands with him. He was dating this girl whose parents had a house down there. he said there would be a huge party with all the booze you could drink and the girls you could fuck. I didn’t have anything else going really so I decided to go.”

The crashing of the door caused Emmett to spin around and grab a very pissed off Alice around the arm.

“Don’t hurt her!” Jasper was up like a shot and into Emmett’s face. Dad pulled Jasper back into his chair and Alice behind him.

“Everyone just calm down.” My father commanded.

“Jasper don’t say another word.” Alice’s voice was pleading, her hand reaching out to him. Jasper eyes were shining from the tears he was holding off.

“Baby, it’s alright. Bella knows…”

Jasper didn’t realize just how wrong he was. I knew something wasn’t right, but that was as far as it went. Alice pulled away from my father, wrapping herself around a now crying Jasper.

“I met this beautiful woman the first night I was in the islands. She was sitting on the deck of the house next door. She looked so sad that I had to make her smile again. We stayed up and talked all night long and I knew from the first time I saw her bright eyes that she was the girl for me. As the sun set the following night, I took her by the hand and asked her to marry me.”

When I first saw the signature on the witness line, I assumed it was an error, a forgery to be honest. Jasper and Alice always gave the vibe that they hated each other. I recalled the strange look they had shared when, I thought, they had first met. I had tossed it away because she was such an evil bitch and treated him as if he was beneath her.

“We were married an hour later by a local priest. I swore to her that once we got back home she could plan the wedding of her dreams, I just wanted to make love to my wife on the same beach I asked for her hand.”

It was a romantic story, a Hollywood dream come true, but it didn’t explain much more than their meeting. Why keep this a secret?

“The next morning, my brother called me from the states. Seems he got himself into more trouble. Alice offered to hire an attorney, but he insisted he had one already. When I asked him why he need me then. He told me that the attorney came with a price.”

Jasper looked to a now crying Alice, I wanted to feel sorry for her, but it just wasn’t in me.

“He informed me that a ticket for mine and Alice’s return was waiting at the airport and that we needed to get back to the states. Once we arrived, a car was waiting for us.”

My dad adjusted his stance, moving closer, placing a barrier between myself and Jasper.

“Hold on a second,” my father instructed. He turned to me and pointed to the phone. “Get Garrett over here now.”

He then turned in the direction of the gym floor and waved Edward into the room.

As Edward approached the door, my father placed his hand on Edward shoulder, his anger diminished and concern took its place. “This just became your business, since your sister is clearly involved.”

Edward crossed the room much like a proud lion walks across the Sahara. He was so graceful in not just the way he carried himself in the ring, but in the nonchalant way he walked across a room. Like a car wreck, I couldn’t stop watching him.

“While we wait for Garrett to get here, how about you tell Edward what you just told us.”

Hearing the story for the second time brought me no closer to understanding anything. The heaviness in the room, however, intensified as the leather jacket wearing cop walked with authority into my door. He crossed the room and kissed me square on the lips. Clearly having an urgent call did nothing to wave off the pretense of a relationship.

“Okay, what have you got for me, Baby?” Garrett sat in my chair, pulling me down to occupy his lap, his fingers weaving their way to rest on my shirt covered abdomen. My brother was situated in a way that cause Edward to fail to see the dramatic huff and eye roll at Garrett’s cavalier attitude and blatant display. Jasper gave him the shortened version, leaving out the romantic semantics we had all heard.

“So you had a car waiting..” Garrett prodded his attitude seemingly bored, like he had something more pressing to do.

“The car took us to…” Jasper started, but Garrett interrupted.

“No, you had a car waiting where? Disneyland? Mount Rushmore? What city did you fly into?”

Garett may have seem bored, but he was really paying attention, so much so, that I would have never questioned where the plane landed. I would have assumed Chicago, that is why I’m not a cop. Plus the fact that I don’t see Edward spying as much as Garrett does.

Jasper seemed to stumble over his words, “Um…New York.”

Garrett then tapped my hip, indicating for me to move out of his lap. I stood quickly, but not before I caught Edward’s hands clench in a fist and his body jolt.

“Let me help you out a little Jasper. Your emotions are going to cause you to leave too much out of the story.” Garrett began to pace around the room in the same way he had on the day we agreed to be in this fake relationship. This time, however, he was in complete control.

“Your little brother, James Matthew Whitlock.” He enunciated each syllable of the man’s name, like he wasn’t impressed with him.

“Record wiped clean once he turned eighteen, however the little piece of shit couldn’t keep his nose clean. Before his nineteenth birthday arrested nearly ten times for breaking and entering. Served three years after he stole more than a thousand dollars due to the felony clause. Out on parole for less than six months when he found a deal he just couldn’t pass up. Trafficking drugs from Miami to Savannah. To bad he wasn’t smart enough to keep his foot off of the gas as he entered the Georgia state line. Pulled over where the local Barney Fife, decided to be a hero and called his buddy that was just on the other side of the bridge working for border patrol in Florida. Juan Valdez brought his side kick Marmaduke and low and behold the drug dog found a very large stash of cocaine hidden under the back seat. Georgia is a no bullshit state and he was sent to prison for six years, only being paroled for good behavior after three. While he was a guest in the state of Georgia, he began correspondence with one, Kate Hunter.”

At the mention of the girls name, both Alice and Edward’s expression changed. Garett then stopped his tour of my office and looked directly at Alice.

“I take it you know her?” His voice teasing, and I remember the conversation where she told Edward someone named Kate was ready to join him.

“Katherine Michelle Hunter, social debutant from Chicago, by way of Greensport, Alabama.” I watched as Alice’s face contorted in a confused expression. The plot had taken a swift right turn.

“Her name is actually Katerina Volturi.” This time it was my father who gasped. Volturi was the name of the man who my father won the championship from. The story of my mother’s inspiration and my decision not to wait around for Edward to make up his mind.

“Kate seemed to have a little issue with keeping her nose clean, isn’t that right Edward?” Garrett’s eyes never meeting Edward’s as he continued to make his way around the room. I watched in shock as Edward’s face dropped and his eyes found a home looking at the carpet in my office.

“You however were too much of a gentleman to tell her family about her drug problem. Made an agreement that if she stayed away from you and your family, her secret would be safe.” Edward only nodded his head and I instantly felt the sadness radiate from him. “Too bad for everyone in this room, that her family was well aware of her issue. Hell, according to my informant, her cousin actually kept her in a constant supply.” Garrett then turned to a somber looking Edward.

“You would be surprised to know that you are familiar with more of her family than you realize. Don’t you know a Jacob Black?”

The mention of the name had Edward’s eyes locking with Garrett’s, a devilish smile taking up residence on Garrett’s face. If I didn’t know him better, I would swear he was being cocky for the sake of staking claim on me.

“Thought you might, Sparky.” His teasing banner wasn’t welcomed by Edward, or my father for that matter, as he cleared his throat.

“So, dear brother James finally gets his head on straight, finds a good little southern girl, and wants to settle down, pop out a few kids, and live happily ever after.

“Too bad the little girl who was so kind to write a poor innocent man that was sitting in prison was doing so at the request of her family. Or should I say, the family was actually writing him letters, telling him shit he needed to hear. I mean come on, he was caught with two million dollars worth of cocaine and he was a repeat offender. Didn’t anyone question why the parole board suddenly wanted to have a hearing for him, when clearly his parole date was nearly a year in the future.”

Jasper said nothing as he held Alice tightly.

“Furthermore, who in their right mind comes up to their friend and says ‘Hey, dude. I’ve got this friend who wants you to come and party at his house in the Caribbean. No questions asked, and don’t worry about how to pay for it, I’ve got it covered.'” His voice was raised and his tone completely condescending. However, he made a valid point, my red flags would have be whipping in the breeze.

“But you didn’t even question it when you had a black sedan picking you up from the airport, an airport you didn’t leave the country from?” Jasper was shaking his head back and forth.

“See I told you that you would leave too much out of this story. Not to worry, we will get it all cleared up. Get rid of some of the bullshit that’s floating around this place.” His attention turned to Edward as he spoke the last bit.

“You arrived in New York with your brand new bride, a car waiting to take you

to where your brother is allegedly waiting, which correct me if I’m wrong, he was living in Georgia due to his parole. But he is now in New York and in big trouble. Has a attorney that is going to cost you money, even though you had nothing to do with hiring him.” Garrett’s index finger was now pointing toward the ceiling, emphasizing his point.

“Furthermore, you had just married Ms. Dolce and Gabbana over here and could have simply pick up the phone and had her call her family attorney”

“But no…you placed your brand new bride in the unknown car and went willingly, no questions asked.”

Garett then walked over to where Emmett sat, “Hey, Dude.” A simple gesture, spoken as if all hell wasn’t about to break lose.

“You arrive at an address on Park Avenue, which is where all my friends on the NYPD take their detainees. You then, are taken to the penthouse of one of the most exclusive homes on that particular street, where you are treated like royalty. The new bride is shown to a room that is filled with more designer clothes that she can examine in a year and you are taken in a room where several men are seated in plush leather chairs. Including one Alexander Quil, or, as I and my beautiful Bella know him as, Peter.”

My mouth and eyes were competing for who could be opened wider. Peter was Garrett’s boyfriend, I would never have guessed him to be a drug dealer or criminal. Guess my perception on the people around me was severely broken.

“Calm down, Baby. Peter is one of the good guys.” Garrett winked at me as he calmed my panic with his words.

“So a plan is laid out for you. Seems that good ‘ole brother of yours has found his way into some more trouble. This time the stakes are higher, it’s his third felony and with the ‘three strikes rule’, he is looking at life in prison. Now with Kate being by his side and their news that a baby is on it’s way…which don’t fret my friend, it’s a complete fabrication to pull at your heartstrings—which clearly worked by the way.” Garrett had leaned down into Jasper’s side, conveying he was trying to be kind, yet failing miserably.

“Mr. Black will pull the strings that belong to the puppets he has in his employ. The charges will mysteriously be dropped and James’ record will be as clean as the day he was born. All will be forgiven and everyone will live happy ever after.” He enunciates the last part, as if it’s the most joyous event to ever happen.

“So, you agree to a deal with the devil.” Garrett is now facing Jasper, his elbows resting on the arm of his chair, waiting for Jasper to begin his confession.

Jasper nods his head and then begins. “They told me that if I helped them, they would make sure my brother would remain a free man, give him enough money so that he could move anywhere and start fresh.”

Garrett moved to the side his arms crossed over his chest, his stance determined. “I was to make sure that Edward would never be able to contend for a title spot.”

The room was silent as Jasper stood from his chair. He was facing his demons, the lies he told his friends and his family.

“Black thought that if we stayed in Chicago it would be easier to arrange fake matches, give Edward a big head so to speak. However, Black never counted on Esme wanting her son to succeed. When she mentioned moving him to Seattle and that she had already contacted Charlie, well, Black just about lost his mind. So even before the move, Black had his men do some research. He made Leah look good on paper with the fake documents, but she was too stupid to just take what Black was paying her. She got greedy and used the skills she knew as a street thief. She also got really pissed when she didn’t turn Edward’s head, even when she came into the shower one evening naked. Her ego couldn’t handle the rejection and it clouded her judgement. She told Black about how Edward was falling for Bella and so he sent her the instructions to make friends and try to help her out. She knew it wasn’t working when I saw him go to your house that night.”

My breath caught, I was seriously going to have to pay closer attention to my surroundings. Jasper had just admitted he watched my house…knew my comings and goings.

“Why would he care if Edward was interested in me?” The words left my thoughts and entered the room, all eyes turned on me, my surprise confirmed on each face.

“Bella, remember the story I told you? Every fighter has something they hold on to.” My father’s gentle words accompanied by the hand he placed on mine

I could only look at Garrett and his smug face. Everything that was being said was proving him right about Edward.

“So he had me take away his inspiration. I told Edward you were causing him to falter, but the truth was he was better when you were around, when he would talk about you. After I told him to drop you, his fight went in the toilet. So, we had to arrange a fake fight to give him some reassurance that dropping you was an improvement.”

“What fake fight?” Edward’s angry words joined the conversation.

Jasper’s head shot in his direction. “Remember the fight we had to cancel because of your heart?”

Edward didn’t move a muscle, the anger was clear as day. “Black paid the kid ten grand to throw the match.”

The silence that filled the room was actually needed. So much had been revealed that we all definitely needed a breather. I couldn’t look at Edward, couldn’t bear to see the hurt he must have been feeling. However, what he said next, caused the entire room to take notice.

“What about the fight last night? Was that one fake?” I turned to look at Jasper, his head shaking violently.

“No, Dude. Carlisle set that one up. You won that on your own merit, you had something burning in your belly and whatever it was, I hope you keep it. With the focus you had last night, you can defeat Black with your eyes closed.”

Edward’s eyes shot to Garrett, giving me all the confirmation I needed as to what was burning in his belly.

“So, all of this was for nothing! James will be headed to jail and Edward’s career will be over for nothing!” Alice was now standing and pacing, her mascara running down her once perfect face.

She was most likely right, Edward would give up training and move back to Chicago, my heart would heal eventually and Garrett would go back to Peter.

“Not necessarily.” Garrett the ever optimist and always with a plan spoke to the room. “Just hear me out before anyone says anything. I’ve had a plan in mind for a long time.”

Chapter 11

BPOV

Looking at oneself in the mirror can be the most mundane, yet awaking experience. Garrett made it a practice that each time we worked together it was done, so that he could make me watch what he was teaching me. Unlike my brother or father, Garrett was able to take my mind off the hard work of cardio and before I knew it, the parts I hated were over. When we had begun this journey of making me feel as good on the inside as he claimed I looked on the outside, I avoided looking at myself. Examining the fibers that fused together the person who standing with her hair pulled back, sweat pouring off her, and with sad and confused eyes.

“So let me get this straight, Peter is a cop as well.”

My head was still spinning after the revelation of a plan and pact that had been made. Even when the dust had settled and everyone had returned to their tasks, I was still trying to come to grips. We each had a role to play, a truth to conceal. Sadly, some truths were kept hidden from players within the game. Garrett had taken charge of that meeting, became a man I had never met, seemingly revealing new information every time he opened his mouth.

“Babe, were you not paying attention the first time?”

Garrett’s pet name for me irritated me at times. I guess it would been different if it were real. If feelings and sentiment were real, sadly, none ever would be.

“I’m sorry, Babe.” My tone biting and really pissy. This entire situation was just so bizarre. I was beginning to have issues distinguishing between what was real and what was make-believe.

“Excuse me for having such a hard time taking all this in. I mean hell, this shit would be turned down by Jerry Springer himself because it’s too fucked up.”

Garrett placed the barbell he was currently lifting back on the rack and looked me directly in my eyes, his smile assuring me that he understood. With a quick wipe of the sweat that was ever present on his face during his workout, he tossed his towel to the bench he just vacated, his swagger playful.

“Yes, Peter has been working on this particular case for a while now, it’s how we met actually.” His hands reached out to take mine from the stance of my hips.

“I can’t tell you much more about this case, since it’s an open investigation. As I said the other day, Jasper’s association with Edward made the perfect opportunity for the Black’s to get an opening. Edward wants a title shot that we know Black will never willingly give him. Every magazine in the country tells the same story that he only fights people he knows he can beat.”

I raised my hands to stop him. “I know about boxing. Jacob Black can protest all he wants, but if Edward defeats enough placeholders, he will be forced to give him a match.”

He pulled me close to him, my ears perked up and my eyes began to do small searches.

“Calm down, he isn’t here yet.” His fingers stroking my chin, the heat from their movement electrifying my senses. “The point is that if Edward doesn’t win, then Black gets to hold on to that title. Jasper would get to keep James out of prison and Alice would…”

That had been the area that hadn’t been explored. Alice seemed to be an innocent party in all of this, standing by her man all she was guilty of. Well, that and being a complete bitch.

“…get to keep her society ranking.” I finished for him.

“Don’t forget, she learned the friend that she was trying to set Edward up with was a complete fake. Her social standing appears to be very important to her, besides the fact she has yet to announce to Mommy and Daddy that she isn’t a Cullen anymore. She’s married out of her class and don’t forget that Jasper is at least ten years older than she is.”

He drops his hand, his look is far off, like he is considering his next admission.

“What I don’t understand is…”

Garrett’s expression softened. He knew why I had been dancing around this entire conversation, the weight of the truth had caused me to question everything that I had witnessed.

“Why he didn’t come banging on your front door, confessing he was an ass? Profess his undying love for you? Shout to the world that he wanted you to be his girl?”

I tried to smile, but the sadness that I had buried was now climbing it way to the surface of my facade.

“It’s stupid really.” My voice cracking with emotion, moisture begging to be released as I swallowed thickly.

“Hey,” Garrett’s massive arms wrapped around my body, gentle kisses littered upon my head. Taking several deep breaths, forcing the emotion back into its grave. Tears would do me no good. Edward’s lack of response should have clued me into the fact that Garrett was indeed a gay man and didn’t understand the straight man’s signals or lack thereof.

Pulling me back to look at him, his eyes searching mine, he would find only sadness there, sadness for the loss of something I never really had.

“You changed your mind? Or find a new target?” I couldn’t place the look he held in those eyes of his, bewilderment or hopefulness.

Lowering my eyes, the logo on the center of his chest became the object of my attention. The nail of my index finger tracing the lettering, memorizing it.

“I had started to hope.” My voice low and strained, the tears again rising to the surface. Pushing away from his embrace, needing the distance to get ahold of my emotions.

“Hope is this invisible illusion that we create for ourselves, truly believing that if we just have faith in it and do what is right and good, it will somehow magically happen.” I couldn’t even look at him or myself anymore, the lie that I had been living casting shadows of defeat on everything I had touched.

“In reality, it’s just a four letter word.”

Garrett’s next words neither surprised nor inspired me. It only confirmed that he was being a friend and suddenly it hurt that all I may ever be to anyone is just their friend, another condition that is applied.

“You say the words, Bella. We’ll stop what we’re doing and I’ll help you find someone else. But girl, I don’t think that’s what you want for one single second. You’re frustrated because he didn’t leap from his chair and confess to you that he had been this giant douche bag. Instead he acted just as I knew he would, the way any man who just found out that his best friend and confidant has been lying to him. To further find out that he has to continue to look him in the face every day for the rest of his life because somewhere along the way, he was even more deceitful and married his baby sister. Don’t think for a minute that he hasn’t stopped looking at you, but if this isn’t what you want, if you would rather put him and clearly yourself out of misery, just say the word and I’ll make it all go away.”

I had never really thought of how Edward would be handling the news of Jasper and Alice. I suddenly felt like a petulant child who was refused a second scoop of ice cream. Garrett took a deep breath and then continued.

“I didn’t think so.”

With his hands on my shoulders, he turned me in his direction, “Now, you have an excuse for your absence tonight, correct?” I tried to smile and I nodded my head. I had invented an old friend from Portland that I was meeting for drinks tonight, several of the regulars asked if it was a guy and did they need to worry about me sneaking away and getting married in Vegas. I laughed it off…what a preposterous idea.

~~~~CMA~~~~

Peter and Garrett had a neighbor name Heidi. Poor Heidi had a huge crush on Garrett, not that any warm blooded woman with any form of vision would disagree. Garrett was a handsome man there was no complaint about that. He was strong, patient, and could put Fred Astaire to shame with his dancing skills. In fact we had used his desire to teach me to dance as extra workout time. All of his effort had made a huge difference, as I had been able to drop fifteen pounds. I had also learned to love my time with him, dancing and smiling, forgetting about the smoke and mirrors act I had to keep up while at work. Peter had insisted that I refrain from wearing black.

“Girl, every lady there will be wearing black, we want you to stop every conversation and start a new one when you walk in.” Heidi and I went shopping one Sunday afternoon, we found tons of black dresses, however just as we had given up hope, she noticed a single red dress hanging on a return rack just outside of the dressing rooms. Shoving me into the little area, Heidi stood outside impatiently as I poured myself into the mermaid style dress. Watching her eyes as I crept out of the stall, I knew this was what Peter had meant. The fit was tight until just below my knees, where it flared out in a sea of ruffles. The black appliqué adorned the bodice, so jewelry wouldn’t be unnecessary.

Heidi wanted me to be at her apartment by five thirty, she met me at the door with a glass of wine in hand. The banquet started with cocktails at six thirty, but Edward was not due to speak until seven. Garrett said we wouldn’t even enter the room until Mr. Golden Gloves took the microphone. Garrett hardly ever called Edward by his given name, always with a boxing reference. I never questioned if it was a jab or if perhaps Garrett had a crush on him.

I had learned that Heidi was retired makeup artist. She worked primarily for studios that produced horror films or action adventure. I was surprised to learn that making someone look hideous was far more difficult than to accentuate their natural features. What ever she had created in the past was nothing compared to the miracle that was staring back at me in the gilded glass of the mirror. Gone was the tired look of my eyes, in its place, seemingly flawless skin. My brown eyes so plain and ordinary, now shining and highlighting my face. Peter had his role in all of this as well. He may be an undercover cop, but the man was a genius at getting that dress to caress my curves instead of showing the still present fat rolls.

“Honey, my mother never left the house without lycra on her entire body.”

The stretchy items he handed me did amazing things to my stomach and ass. I would definitely be using these in the future.

It sounded so cliché, like every story you ever read about the homely girl who got a little color on her face and her hair styled just a certain way, making her feel like Cinderella. But it is so true, Heidi had place my hair atop my head, insisting that my neck was an area I kept hidden most of the time, she said we needed to give him a glance of the forbidden fruit. I was so grateful to all of these people that I didn’t even argue, only smiled and hugged a tuxedo clad Garrett, as he offered me the crook of his arm.

Princeton Manor was an old hotel built in the early twenties. A number of developers had come to the city council wanting to tear it down and build whatever they felt would benefit the city and honestly their pockets better. However, the mayor’s wife loved the hotel. She and the mayor had been married there and had found others like herself and had it placed on a historical registry. Tonight, it would entertain nearly a thousand of the city’s most influential people. The Cullen family had shelled out some major money for various city charities not only here, but in Chicago where they lived. The security that stood outside the building confirmed to me that the rumor was true, the governor of both Washington and Illinois were both in attendance.

Garrett had informed me that we would be seated in one of the first few tables and would need to cross the floor to nearly the front of the room. Security was very tight as he had to show not only his invite but his badge as well. Once inside the lobby, I could hear the applause and introduction of Edward. My pulse began to quicken as I watched the door to the room slowly and quietly open. Edward’s velvet voice filled the room as he began to thank everyone for coming. It was clear by his word choice that he had been educated well, exposed to functions such as this was most likely the norm.

“Smile as if you know a secret.” Garrett whispered, his breath causing the tiny hairs on my neck to tickle me. Pulling me closer to him, he leaned in further to include. “Bella, I don’t care if the man catches fire, do not look at him.”

Each word was spoken with intent and meaning, goosebumps began to form from his tone. Garrett was on my right, keeping a clear view of my left side open to Edward who was standing on a podium. Peter had been right, nearly every lady in the room wore a black dress, making a sea of black and glitter, an occasional strand of perks thrown in to mix it up. Yet here I stood in a blood red dress, leaving no room to imagine if I had panties on or not. The open back confirming that the bra was left in the drawer at home. Damn, if I didn’t feel sexy as fuck in it.

“Thank you, Mayor Meyers, your words are too kind.”

That was my cue to start walking into the room.

“Act like you own this room.” Garrett encouraged as he waved to a couple he recognized. “This organization has made it possible for…um…possible for…um.”

“We are going to sit and I need you to keep that smile on your face. Don’t look at him, do

you understand me?” With the smile still in place, I moved my free hand on top of Garrett’s, signaling to him that I understood. He pulled my chair out for me, placing a kiss to my cheek. From my position at the table I could see Edward in my peripheral, but I dared not to look in

his direction. Garrett kept my eyes trained on him, to everyone around us, we looked like two people deeply in love. Glancing around the table, I noticed that Peter and Heidi were also seated. Heidi mouth to me that I looked hot. This time I did roll my eyes. Edward continued to fumble through his speech, asking the room if anyone else was warm. I felt Garrett chuckle as he placed his hand on my bare back, Edward having a clear view of the intimate act.

“He’s adjusting his tie,” Garrett spoke into my ear. “I assure you it has nothing to do with the temperature in the room, more like the temperature in his slacks.”

Edward thanked everyone again and was met with a round of applause. Dessert was served, yet my dinner plate had remained untouched, my stomach too full of nerves to add an ounce of food to the mix. Reaching for my glass of water, a voice that I had avoided since our first meeting spoke from my left.

“Well it seems you’ve learned to push yourself away from the buffet, although your choice in dress is still tacky, only hookers wear red to an after six function.”

Alice was truly a piece of work. Even after everything that had occurred less than a week ago, she was still a snooty bitch.

“Say nothing, just smile and let’s go.” Garrett whispered into my ear.

I pushed out my chair, taking Garrett’s outstretched hand as I rose and said goodbye to everyone at the table. We had nearly reached the lobby door, when a softer kinder voice called my name. Stopping suddenly and giving a courtesy wait as Esme made her way to my side.

“I didn’t expect to see you here tonight, Bella. You look lovely.” Her words were real, it was evident in her voice.

“Yes, well Garrett invited me and with such a generous invitation from such a handsome man, who wouldn’t want to attend?”

Her smile was as real as her words, warm and genuine. How could a person such as Alice, come from a beautiful and wonderful person like Esme?

I felt Garrett softly tugging on my arm, I could feel the goosebumps rising, Edward was getting close.

“Esme, congratulations, but we really must be going.” Garrett spoke as he pulled me away. His steps were almost a slow jog. Pulling me firmly into an alcove that was near the valet stand. With my back against the brick wall, Garrett’s dark suit hiding my red dress, I watched over his shoulder as a frazzled Edward stood in the driveway, searching to his left and right. I watched as his entire body slumped and he waved off the attendant, slowly and defeatedly he walked back in the lobby doors.

“There is no way in hell that you don’t believe me now.” Garrett’s words were exasperated. Swallowing the large lump in my throat, I exhaled, and then nodded.

“Good, now we can make things interesting.”

Chapter 12

BPOV

It was just one of those mornings. It began with me stubbing my toe on the edge of my bed, followed by cutting the shit out of my leg while shaving. As I opened the doors to the gym, I managed to catch the edge of my cup of coffee on the door jam, causing it to plummet to the concrete below. Then just when I think that Karma is finished with me, I discovered that my fucking period was a week early and I left my gym bag at home. So, I did what any young and pissed off girl in my position would do, I slammed my office door, laid my head on my desk, and cried. I was glad it was still extremely early in the morning and that no one had arrived. Sometimes you just need to release the emotions that are built up inside. Spewing all the bad juju and allowing the good energy to take over. Oh, who the hell was I kidding? I needed a fucking candy bar and a heating pad.

I remembered that my dad always kept some pain relievers inside his desk so, with a wadded up tissue at my nose, I walked across the gym to raid his drawer and rid myself of this feeling of being twisted in half. Dad and Emmett had offices across from one another and I knew that my brother kept a small bottle of liquid magic in his desk. After retrieving the white bottle of pills from the bottom drawer of dad’s desk, I marched across the hall to Emmett’s, and took the Jack Daniels out of his filing cabinet. Twisting off the metal cap, I tossed three white pills into my mouth, and chased them with the amber liquid. I closed my eyes tight as the liquor burned a path down my throat. Wiping off the lip of the bottle, I returned it to its place among the various condoms and cold packs. It wasn’t often that I came to this end of the building, it was too close to what I had labeled the danger zone. The area that housed the private gym that Edward trained in.

While I was there, I looked around at the pictures that covered the walls in Emmett’s office. Photos that reminded me of a time when things weren’t so complicated, filled with more laughter than tears. A time where my heart wasn’t on the line, and I didn’t have to constantly wonder about the sincerity of those around me. Our trip to Catalina Island and the smile that graced the face of my mother since it was a surprise trip for her birthday. Emmett and I sporting our Mickey ears as we rode the rides at Disney World. Funny how as children we can’t wait to grow up and have more say in the way our day to day lives turn out. No one tells you that the rules are harder as adults, with harsher penalties. You just think that nap time will be a thing of the past and in reality it is. However, once it is something you can’t have, you crave it like none other.

A glance at the clock on the desk reminded me that Garrett and the men from his department would arrive soon and my torture for the day would continue. I wondered briefly if I could play the period card and get an excuse to skip the treadmill? Deep down I knew what his reaction would be—a smile, followed by orders to get my ass to work. I made my way back to my desk, the pain in my pelvis nearly gone. In its place, the warm feel of the grain alcohol filling the crevices of my soul. I knew that I would need to eat something soon or that warm, cozy feeling would turn into agonizing pain from lack of protection in my stomach. What I found perched in the center of my desk brought my movement to an abrupt halt. I stared at the tall, white cup with the emerald green logo splash across the center. I circled my desk as if a poisonous serpent was displayed, instead of a simple cup of coffee. The aroma of the fragrant drink filled me with a sense of anticipation for the rush that only caffeine could provide.

“It’s safe to drink.”

The sound of Garrett’s reassuring voice broke the silence that my curiosity created while also causing me to gasp in fright, grabbing my chest in a natural reaction.

“Jesus Christ, wear a fucking bell next time.”

My words forced by the increased amount of hormones surging through my body, encased by the fact my first cup of coffee was teasing me by sitting on my desk.

“Hey, don’t blame me if you’re too lost in thought to notice your surroundings.”

The hint of laughter left no room for question if he was serious or just being playful. His arms were crossed against his chest, his warm up jacket remained on, concealing the refined muscles that I knew to be hidden behind the black material. It really was a shame this fine specimen of a man was gay.

“I’m sorry. This morning has been a shit storm ever since my eyes opened.”

The cup on my desk still called to me, but since I wasn’t the one to purchase or to place it where it stood, it remained teasing me.

“Well that explains why you smell of Jack Daniels.”

Garrett stepped sideways and kissed my temple like he did every morning. It was a warm and welcomed gesture, but I would take any form of male contact that I could get at the moment.

“Yes, well today is one of those days where a judge would find me not guilty of a murder that he witnessed himself.”

Garrett took my hand, kissed my palm and then placed the still warm cup into my hand.

“I watched him walk in and then go back out to his car. A few minutes later he came back in and placed this on your desk. I guess that red dress hit the target.”

Thoughts of last night came flooding back, the confirmation of what Garrett had been trying to make me believe. Edward had most definitely been affected when I walked across that room. I now feared what Garrett had planned in my future.

“Last night was certainly eye opening.” I quipped, taking a slow and much needed sip of the hot coffee. Alice’s reaction to my dress should have hurt me, and anyone who witnessed the conversation would think I left to go cry in a dark corner.

“You’re right, it was reassuring that if this bitch gig doesn’t work out for Alice, she can certainly head to Hollywood and get a walk on role as a protective sibling.”

During the conversation that had taken place in my office, Garrett had explained how the best course of action was to let Black, and his team, think their plan was still working. Alice would continue to act like…well Alice. The training would continue as if Jasper was trying to get him ready to lose. Edward would save his rage for the ring and not for the demolition of the relationship between himself and Jasper. We would keep the knowledge of their marriage quiet until after the match that was certain to come from the Black camp. Alice was quick on her feet because we had not told a soul we were attending the event.

“Come on, Sweetheart, let’s get some endorphins flowing, it’ll make you feel better. Besides you have to let Rocky out there know that you enjoyed that cup of coffee he snuck in here.”

I refused to make a comment about Edward and the coffee. This game of deceit was weighing heavy on me and I wasn’t certain how much farther I was willing to go with it.

Since the gym was open to just emergency response personnel this early in the morning, they had a routine that they followed. Each day a different member would decide what music was played over head. Today was Garrett’s turn, he surprised me every time with what he chose to play. I said a cheerful good morning to the men in his division. Peter flashed me a smile and a wink. Like a determined student, I took my place on the machines and got to work. Our time was nearly up when a song I recognized came blasting over the speakers. Garrett shot up from the bench he was lifting on and sprinted over to where I stood stretching.

“Oh yeah, Baby.” He shouted as the volume on the music increased.

Garrett has hip movement that any belly dancer would die for and today he was swirling those said hips to the Latin inspired music that currently filled the room. Peter had been very encouraging when he showed me the feminine movements to the dance that Garrett had taught me. This particular dance was one of my favorites and before he could even reach me, my hips were moving on their own. Garrett took my hands and began to spin me around the gym, swaying and turning with precision to the music. I couldn’t help but laugh and have a great time. He would spin me and rock his hips with mine and to any onlooker who assumed we were an item, they would think we were having a moment of foreplay. With a final dip, Garrett leaned into my neck and told me he was going to kiss me and to let my arm slowly fall to the floor. When the final drum beat sounded, I found my back parallel to the floor, Garrett’s lips attached to mine, and our eyes locked. I chose to drop both arms slowly and sensually, my fingertips grazing the mat below. With my eyes still locked with Garrett’s, I felt his lips open slightly and the feel of his warm tongue as it caressed my bottom lip. His eyes closed briefly, followed by a growl from his chest, then he pulled us up into a standing position. Kissing my lips quickly, he turned and grabbed his towel and headed in the direction of the showers.

An hour later, Garrett stepped into my office with the look of a very pleased man written across his masculine face.

“I’ll see you at lunch time, we have something to…”

The sound of knuckles tapping the wood of my office door stopped the words that Garrett needed to tell me. He winked at me and then turned and opened the door to find a very beautiful and well put together Angela standing in the doorway.

“Well, good morning, Beautiful.” Garrett greeted her and kissed her cheek. She smiled and then touched his face, a look passing between them, I didn’t question it, they had been friends for a long time I understood.

“Hey.” She responded in her usual upbeat voice. “Bella, there’s a guy who wants to see you. He says you know him.” She spoke as she pointed over her shoulder.

I glanced through the open window of my office, my breath leaving my chest. Standing in the hallway of the gym was none other than Eric, my ex. Long gone was the confident attorney who once made my heart skip a beat. The man who had calculated every move and every word. Gone were the neatly pressed suits, crisp shirt and ties. There stood a man who looked as if he hadn’t slept in days, his clothes wrinkled and worn.

“Isabella.”

The last time I heard him say my name, it was to tell all our friends that we were, as he described, fine. It was that same discussion that lead me to dissolve our relationship and move back home.

“Babe, you need me?”

Diverting my eyes from Eric’s blue ones and back to the green of Garrett’s, my shoulders found their way into a stiff position. My hand reached out to find Garrett’s, needing to feel connected to something, someone. Eric’s eyes took in our intertwined fingers, united and not only the physical sense. Garrett would do anything I asked of him in this instant. With that knowledge, I found the courage to smile and invited Eric to have a seat.

“Eric, please,” I gestured to the chair that was available. “Have a seat, it’s been a long time.”

Eric walked slowly, his smile forced, and slumped down in his chair, defeated.

“Eric, I would like for you to meet Garrett, my boyfriend.”

Garrett reached over and took Eric’s outstretched hand. I noticed the grimace on Eric’s face as

Garrett’s grip sealed around his hand. “Babe, this is my ex, Eric Yorkie.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Man. I didn’t realize Isabella had moved on.”

Something wasn’t right here. Eric very rarely used my full name. He knew how much I hated being formal and honestly, I could count on one hand how many times he used it.

“Babe, if you don’t need me, I’m going to head in.” I wanted to laugh as I noticed Garrett slide his jacket on in a manner that made his gun visible. Who needed pissing matches when you’re paid to carry a firearm?

I shook my head, leaned over, and allowed him to kiss my cheek.

“I’ll see you at lunch. I have something very important to ask you.”

It’s sad really…he made that sound like he was going to pop ‘the’ question. I had never told Garrett how at one time I did everything in my power to get Eric to do just that. With a final kiss and an assurance that I would indeed see him at lunch, he closed the door to my office.

Eric lowered his vision to the top of my desk, his face drawn and sad. I didn’t want to spend any more time with him than I had to, so I broke the ice.

“So, you traveled a long way. To what do I owe the honor?”

His eyes slowly flicked to mine, deep sadness consuming his face. The Eric I knew was a confident man, a man with a purpose. The man before me was broken, depressed, and didn’t seem to have an ounce of hope.

“I made a mistake.” His voice low, but in the silence of the room, it resonated off the walls.

In movie after movie I have seen this very scene played out—guy takes girl for granted, she moves on, and he suddenly discovers that she was the missing piece to his life. He sees his life as some out of this world tragedy and he finds his way back to her. He admits his error, she rushes into his arms, and they kiss to the credits. It’s a great story, if you like the wash, rinse, repeat saga. I’ve always wanted my own brand of romance, one that Hollywood and Lifetime have yet to write.

“With?”

His eyes found mine, shock clear on his features. He really did expect the big screen version of this to play out. Comical really, but I refrained from laughing.

“Not doing what I should have. Not doing what was right by you.”

His admission should have caused me joy and happiness. I should have been dancing around the room, that the guy I gave so much to finally saw what he was missing. However, the truth I knew about the guy who was just down the hall, covered in sweat, and pounding away on either a sparring partner or one of many machines, was more real than the bullshit that was being thrown at me.

“She left me.”

Ah…the real reason he’s here. The Ms. Wonderful that he had found not a minute after I left, had done the same to him. He thought he could come and confess his woes to me and I would jump in his lap and tell him everything’s going to be alright.

“She packed up everything and just…left.”

Eric was a very skilled defense attorney. It’s a good thing too, because he really sucks as an actor.

“Sounds like you have some evaluating to do.”

It was honest, I wasn’t going to be cruel or play into his story. There was a slight possibility that what he was telling me was the truth, I highly doubted it, but would entertain it.

“W-what?”

I shifted my position, using those hormones that hadn’t even peaked yet to help give me the closure that I needed.

“Look, you and I were together for years, you gave me a list of things that you wanted me to change, yet you never thought it would really happen. I decided that my happiness was more important than being ‘fine’, so I left. Now you have girl number two, who, for whatever reason, has gotten sick of your shit and hit the road, as well. Perhaps, since the common variable in both situations is you, you might want to look deep inside yourself and figure out what you’re doing wrong. You can see that I have moved on and am very happy. I wish you the same. If there is nothing else then I will ask you to see yourself out.”

I watched and waited as he blinked his eyes and opened and closed his mouth several times. Without even a goodbye, he rose from his chair, and left the gym.

Garrett ended up calling me just before lunch and canceling. He had a case that he was working on and needed to follow up on some things. He insisted that I wait until he arrived after hours because he needed to show me something.

Slightly before it was the end of my shift, his green eyes appeared around my computer. “Hello, Gorgeous. Miss me?” His excitement was contagious as he spun me around in my chair, my laughter was a welcomed sound even to my own ears. He asked me how my day was and I filled him in on my conversation with Eric. He kissed my face and told me how proud he was of me. Plopping down on my desk, he leaned over my chair and took my face in his hands.

“Eric Yorkie, former defense attorney for the District Attorney’s office, recently separated from his position due to an extortion charge. Charges were eventually dismissed, but his job was not reinstated.”

Resting his hands on the arms of my chair, his eyes serious.

“His representation, one…Felix Volturi.”

My shock was clear in the gasp that left my throat. Felix Volturi was a name I had heard not that long ago. In this very room as a matter of fact.

“Yes, Bella, the same attorney who is representing Leah.”

I couldn’t move, speak, or even think. How in the hell did this whole situation get so crazy? All of this over a title shot?

“That’s why I couldn’t come for lunch, I was doing some checking. Seems that team Black is trying to cover every angle, checking to see if what is being reported is the truth. You gave Eric the necessary information he needed to report back to Black. But that, my love, isn’t even the best part in all of this.”

Without another word he turned his back to me, began typing on my keyboard, and then stood behind my chair. The image on the screen was split in half, each showing an empty room. After a couple of seconds, Garrett and Peter entered the room on the left of the screen, it was clear that the room was a corner of the men’s locker room. Garrett motioned for Peter to come closer, his cell phone in his hand. Garrett made a motion with his hand as if he was counting down from three. The opposite side of the screen now contained a very upset Edward, walking back and forth like a caged animal. Peter then moved closer to the wall and began to speak.

“So this is the big weekend, huh?”

Garrett moved against the wall and I noticed Edward stopped his pacing and moved closer to the wall that divided the two rooms. I knew that when we put the new carpet in the locker areas, we also had to replace the air grate that separated the wall. The contractor advised us that if there was a water or steam issue that it would help in locating it. Now I was glad, since it also gave a venue for this to occur.

“It’s all arranged. Her family will be out of town, so it’s the perfect time.”

Poor Edward was flat against the floor listening to each and every word.

“Gonna seal the deal are we?” Peter added.

“Don’t be an ass. Bella is the type of girl you take home to your family, not hide away in a cheap ass motel and fuck all weekend.”

“Alright, sorry dude, I didn’t know it was that serious.”

Garrett looked again at his phone, whatever was on the screen he was enjoying.

“Well, we haven’t said the ‘L’ word yet, but I hope to get a little closer, a lot closer actually.”

“You’re going to miss the fight you know. Cullen is going after the guy in the number four slot.”

“Yep, and while he is off wasting his time trying to be the next Mike Tyson, I’ll be snuggled up to my naked girl in an overpriced hotel, doing things that she will only share in her diary.”

“Alright man, well good luck with that, just be careful. If you fuck this up, I’m certain her brother will kill you.”

I waited as Garrett and Peter remained silent, trying to seem like they had left the room. Edward turned over onto his back, staring directly at the ceiling above. A few seconds passed and nothing, several more and still nothing. Then suddenly, he jumped to his feet and slammed his covered fist into the wall.

“Game on, Motherfucker.” He spoke to the empty room.

Garrett and Peter bumped knuckles and then waited until Edward slammed the other door closed.

Garrett reached over, hitting the spacebar, causing the frames to still.

“Now that you know his plans, here is what we are going to do.”

Chapter 13

BPOV

In the boxing world, ambitious competitors with the drive to become champions, challenged current place holders. Winning brought them closer to the ultimate prize. Edward would need to defeat each placeholder in order to petition for a heavyweight title fight. Earlier in the week, I pulled up everything I could on the gentleman who currently held the middleweight title. Stephen Poulos, was a seemingly out of nowhere hopeful. Originally from Greece, his speed seemed to be unmatched. Although his combinations could use some fine tuning, he would not be easy to beat.

Thursday night I walked into my father’s office, his eyes were glued to the video tapes of Poulos in a match from earlier in the year. This was routine for my dad. He would know everything about any challenger he went up against. In his own fighting days, he not only reviewed the films from his opponent, but his own as well. We had an entire room full of tapes and dad would use them to see where he was lacking, show himself what he was doing wrong. In my search of pain meds recently, I noticed the shelf that housed the new home for Edward’s tapes as well. I let my father know that I had personally handled all of the paperwork for the match. Now I had a role to play, a lie to live. A lie that I was growing tired of. I hated deceit, dishonesty in any form. I was ready to end the charade, and let Edward train in peace.

Keeping a low profile and avoiding the possibility of being seen by anyone close to the Cullens was easier than resisting the temptation to find a channel that was streaming the fight on the internet. I loved boxing, always have. Tonight though, I felt that this was a fight I needed to see. So resisting temptation, instead I laid on my couch with the television playing, tuned to a program I had no interest in. I watched the characters move about the screen, playing a part, entertaining the masses with their storylines. Tales of love and loss, hurt and triumph. I made my decision, the lie would end, and soon.

The program on the television must have been completely boring because suddenly a series of thumps sounded from my front door. Pulling my tired and half asleep body from the cushions of the couch, I flipped on the light switch, wincing as my eyes adjusted to the intrusion of the lights from above. My father stood on the stoop of my front porch, his eyes downcast, his right fist clenched around a black object.

“Daddy?” Anxiousness echoed from my voice, this was out of character for him.

“Is everything alright?” I rushed, concerned something bad had just happened. His eyes found mine and the angry look that rested there caused my stomach to tighten and the panic to set in.

My father didn’t wait for my composure to return or for an invitation to enter my house. Leaving me standing like a statue in my entryway, he walked with intent toward my television. Pulling something from his back pocket, he placed the black object into the player and pressed the button on my remote.

“Have a seat, Bella. We have a lot to talk about.”

Growing up, my father was a fierce fighter. However, when it came to disciplining myself and my brother, he would use the same line he just spoke. Honestly, I feared the disappointment in his voice more than any physical action he could have enforced. Deep down, my father had such a gentle soul and a caring heart. He loved without walls or barriers, yet had the ability to fight like a caged animal in the ring.

Crossing the carpet, my father’s back in my view, I tucked myself into the comfort of the couch. Displayed on the screen above my mantle were the faces of the late evening news. The blonde with the too straight teeth and the inhumanly perfectly hair smiled as she dispensed the tale of a shooting that occurred in a neighboring town. Her tone was no different than if she was giving away her secret to getting a wine stain out of your carpet. As my father turned in my direction, the picture changed from the beautiful face of the news caster to a completely blue screen and then what looked to be the beginning of a boxing match, the images frozen on the screen.

My father never spoke as I felt the dip of the cushions, the wave as he adjusted his position twice. My heart rate increased as the dread of the moment made its presence known. Something bad had definitely happened, I wondered if the blonde from channel six had delivered this news with a smile or was she as ignorant of what my father wanted to share with me as I was.

“Dad…did something happen?” The question should have been rhetorical, given that my father was here in the first place. My voice acting on its own, my common sense on a weekend vacation.

Leaning back into the couch, he cleared his throat, pointed the remote at the screen and then placed his free arm along the back of the couch behind my head.

The images on the screen came to life, a man dressed in a suit with a microphone in his hand. The lights above the ring flickered and the roar of the crowd sounded. I couldn’t count how many times I have witnessed this very event in person, cheering as I heard the music my dad favored as he made his way to the ring. I didn’t recognize the song that blared from my speakers, it was loud and angry, setting the stage for the demure of the person who would appear shortly. The flashing lights, the energy of the crowd was all a part of the game. Two men would stand toe to toe and battle for, at this point, a higher notch on the food chain.

A flicker of movement caught my attention, a red dress covered in sequins. It reminded me of the ones my mother wore as she lead the parade down the aisle. Angela had the body type to pull off such a short and provocative length. With her long slender legs and the toned lines of her body, she was nearly every man’s wet dream. As she walked she created an illusion, making everyone who was witnessing believe that she and Edward were an item. The sexy kitten and the back alley bad ass, a perfect combination. Yet just like the smoke and the lights that created the backdrop, their assumed involvement was a lie. Another chapter in the book that Garrett had created. Angela was being paid to appear to be Edward’s girl, the warm body who made all of his frustrations go away once the results of tonight’s battle came to pass.

Sleek red satin now graced the face of the screen, concealing the face of the man who hid behind the hood. The bouncing of his movements, the black of his gloves that stabbed at thin air, it was a dance that every boxer knew. At the end of the aisle, Angela stepped up to Edward, removed his cape, and kissed his lips. For just a moment I felt the sting of jealousy poke it’s sharp point into my chest. The flickering of the lights combined with the announcer now proclaiming the name of Edward’s opponent gave me a reprieve from the ache that kiss had created. As much as I loved to watch a match such as this, I was never more thankful that I could turn this off by a simple press of a button.

With both men now in the ring, the referee performed the time honored tradition of explaining the rules. I didn’t need the ability to read lips to know the instructions that were given.

When I say “break”, I want a clean break. In the event of a knock-down, you will be directed to go to a neutral corner.”

“Are there any questions?”

“You are both professionals so I expect a good, clean fight. Protect yourself at all times”

“Okay, touch gloves and come out at the bell”

The bell sounded and the crowd cheered for their favorite. My father and Emmett stood beside Jasper. My father remained silent, his face blank of any expression. This wasn’t unusual, he was a calculating man with an unbeatable poker face. Jasper was calling out instructions. I had asked my father once if he ever heard what his trainer yelled at him. He answered me with a kiss to my cheek and a tickle under my ribs. Emmett joined Jasper, but the crowd was too loud to understand what they were trying to convey.

What I did notice, however, was Edward’s stance. Every boxer had their own brand of shuffling, a way that they moved their feet. Some did more showing off, a form of intimidation or grandstanding. Just like professional dancers, the balls of the feat were the sweet spot and the heel avoided. Edward’s feet were firmly planted, his dance nonexistent. Moving from side to side, Edward did little to avert the blows that landed repeatedly across his face and chest. I stirred in my seat, aching to yell at him to fight back, yet keeping silent as the match continued. Round and round they circled each other, Poulos making contact with every punch he threw. Men yelling “bum” and other colorful words as the events continued. My father sat still and as silent as the dead while the tape played on. Mercy was on my side as the bell rang and the players returned to their corners, my father still firm in his stance, not a single muscle being moved as he took it all in. I didn’t dare speak as my father held out the remote once again and moved the events to the next round.

Edward waved off the water that was offered, not even removing his mouth guard as Jasper shouted instructions into his face. Edward never nodded his head or even blinked, only staring straight at his opponent. Both men jumped up as the bell rang again and the dance continued. Poulos was clearly ahead in points with round one in his favor.

Jab…Jab, Edward seemed to finally join in the game, only his target seemed to be the air that surrounded his opponent since he never connected with Poulos’ body. I caught movement from my father, his head moving back and forth on the screen. Frustration and disappointment colored his face. The horror story continued until the ringing of the bell, signaling the end of the second round. Taking in the breath I needed to speak, to beg my father to just tell me how it ended and what hospital Edward was most likely in. It was all in vain as his voice was clear and needed no interpretation.

“Just watch.”

My eyes went back to the screen, my heart in my throat, and fear coming out of every pore in my skin as I watched as the unthinkable happened. My dad jumped to the edge of the mat, propelled his body over the ropes, and pushed Edward’s body against the rope covers. Jasper tried to step in, but was no match for my really pissed father. Whomever was holding the camera, jostled the screen and closed the distance to see what was happening. Edward never pushed back while my father was less than an inch from his face, their noses almost touching. My hand was over my mouth as I listened to my father speak in a manner that no daughter should ever hear.

“What the fuck are you doing out there?” His hand stretched behind him, indicating the ring behind him. “Did you even show up?” His face was red and contorted in anger. Edward didn’t flinch and made no attempt to get past him.

“Tell me, do you have a fucking death wish? Do you want to let this motherfucker kill you and put you out of your misery? Or are you here just to waste my fucking time, play with my family until you get your fucking balls soft, and then hop on over to the next item on you’re fucking bucket list?”

Edward stood a little straighter, a fire sparking in his green eyes. His hands, however, remained at his sides, gloves resting at the red satin of his shorts.

“Or are you finally ready to face the fucking truth and find out what you’re really made of? Find out what matters the most to you in the fucking world?”

Edward lowered his eyes and as impossible as this sounds, my father moved even closer to him. It was silent, short, but incredibly clear as Edward lowered his head and briefly nodded his head. My father reached up and placed both hands on either side of Edward face, pulling his attention away from the floor and back to his eyes.

“Then you are going to apologize to this young man over here,” he nodded his head in the direction of Poulos. “We are going to forfeit this match and tomorrow…” Edward tried to pull away, realizing what my father was asking of him. My father would have none of it and pulled his face back to his. “Tomorrow you do what you should have done from the beginning and then, then you start training for real. You start training with me.” He released Edward’s face, cleared the ropes and jumped back down to the arena floor. Snatching a white towel from around Emmett’s neck, he reared back, and flung the towel over the rope, effectively ending the match.

I’ve seen forfeits before, mostly when men have been so badly beaten that they were laying in a pool of their own blood. Never in my life have I ever witnessed one in circumstances such as these. Edward crossed the ring, standing atop the forgotten towel, his gloved hand extended in Poulos direction. Poulos had already began removal of his gloves as he made his way to the center of the ring where Edward stood. Only the two men and the ref would know exactly what was said, but as the bell rang over and over and Poulos’ hand was raised in victory above their heads, before he took Edward into a manly hug with the free one.

The television was turned off, ending the circus that had just been performed before my very eyes. My father then turned his body in my direction.

“Bella, Edward isn’t the only liar tonight.”

My astonishment was as clear as day, my mouth gaping in disbelief of how he knew what he did.

“You’ve been playing a sick and twisted game with that boy for months. I’ve sat back and let you follow Garrett and his bullshit, but that ends tonight.” His raised hand in the air, his index finger pointing at my carpet, emphasizing his point.

“Knowing the truth never hurt anyone, it may bruise you a little, but it is always the best path to follow.”

I wanted to look at the floor, hide my embarrassment at being called out by my dad, but his eyes wouldn’t let me, they held me just as strong as he had held Edward’s face.

“You will be in my office no later than five tomorrow morning. No working out with Garrett, no worrying about opening the gym. Tomorrow you will tell Edward the truth about this fake as hell relationship Garrett talked you into.”

I didn’t dare argue because I knew my father would accept nothing but obedience. Leaning over he softly kissed my forehead, just as he always did when I needed comfort, the act bringing me some much needed assurance that his anger was at my actions and not at me as a person. I never had to question my father’s love for me, it was reflected in everything he did and said.

As I climbed into my car the next morning, I played last night over and over in my head. How I ever thought I could fool my father was beyond me. My mind was in such a disarray, I didn’t even desire the caffeine rush that normally began my morning. I arrived safely at the gym, the light from the street guiding my way. The back door was unlocked and the alarm was already secure. I didn’t have to check the parking lot to know that everyone was already here, no doubt waiting for my arrival. The feeling of being sent to the principal’s office would be a better choice than what I was feeling now. Admitting to Edward that this was all a well concocted plan to make him see what he was missing. Why would he want someone who had been lying to him everyday for the past few months? Hell, I would be lucky if he and his family didn’t sue us for what I had done.

Today would be a day of reckoning, a punishment for evil deeds. I would stand accused of the crimes I had committed against Edward. I prayed he would have a big heart and simply walk away from this gym, treating us as a bad memory, a learning experience. But as I rounded the corner that held the last ounce of security between myself and my father’s office, I knew I was about to be crucified.

“Bella, I can hear you breathing. Come in here, please.”

My father sat behind his desk, his face as emotionless as it had been just hours prior. Motioning with his hand for me to enter the room, more like a courtroom, where my father would sit as judge and jury.

“Close the door, Isabella Marie.”

It doesn’t matter how old you become, being middle named by your parent is never a good sign. Experience dictates that consequences are in direct correlation to actions. My actions, no matter the rationale behind them, were wrong. Edward had made a decision about his choice in continuing our relationship. As a responsible adult I should have respected it, not caused him to dwell on his decision by throwing another man in his face.

With a deep breath and a resolve to do the right thing, I turned to address Edward who sat uncomfortably in one of the chairs in the corner of the room. Had I not witnessed his flop of a fight last night, you would never be able to tell he had taken two rounds of punches. The only visible mark was a slightly red area below his left eye. His eyes were downcast, concentration written across his face. A grey winter cap covered his copper colored hair.

I tried to collect my thoughts, arranging my words so that I didn’t make a bad situation worse by speaking too quickly. I took in the occupants of the room. Edward was to my father’s right, Emmett to his left and surprisingly, Garrett and Jasper were against the wall behind me. Garrett was entirely too casual, his feet propped up on the back of the empty chair directly in front of him, his arms folded haphazardly behind his head. Jasper looked as bad as I felt, his face sad and full of worry, his hand covering the bottom half of his face. I completely avoided looking into Garrett’s eyes, what I was about to do would kill his plan to win his promotion. No matter what I said or did, someone was going to be walking out of this room hurt. Swallowing hard and trying my best to keep the tears at bay, I opened my mouth to speak.

“I…”

The sound of a male voice over road mine and I spun around to see that Edward was standing, looking directly at my father. Once he realized that I had tried to speak, his eyes turned in my direction, his expression unreadable.

“Bella, please let me get this out.” His voice was strong and confidant. He turned his attention back to my father, and then began again. “I have spent the last several hours going over what you asked me in that ring. Questioning myself over and over as to what I was doing and why I was doing it.”

Edward leaned his body over my father’s desk, his knuckles resting on the hardwood, his arms locked in place.

“My mother was a concert pianist. Growing up, she took me under her tutelage and not surprisingly I was a natural. By the time I was in kindergarden, I was being contacted by some big names in the music world. However, as I got older I learned that playing the piano was not a ‘manly’ sport and I was picked on and teased for it. My father decided it was time that I learned to defend myself and so he enrolled me in an after school program that offered boxing as one of the activities. From the first moment they placed those gloves on my hands I was hooked. By the time I was old enough to drive, I had three amuture titles to my name. My mother of course hated that I wanted to fight, while my father relished in the fact that his son was someone his colleagues bragged about. Once I graduated high school, I had a decision to make. Continue on to college or go professional. After a long talk with not only my father, but also a number of professional fighters, I chose to at least get my undergrad. I still kept up my training and boxed when the opportunity presented itself. With my BS in biology, my parents assumed I would attend medical school and become a physician just like my father. However, I informed my family that I wanted to at least try to get that title. My mom was worried, but told me that medical school would always be there, the opportunity to become something I dreamed about may not. That’s when she spoke of contacting you.”

Edward pushed off of the desk, his hands now at his side.

“Not once in my life have I ever regretted a decision I’ve made.” He turned in my direction, eyes locking with mine. “Until I told you I didn’t want you anymore.”

His body now completely faced mine as he moved closer to me.

“Listen, I know that you have moved on and I have no right to be saying half of the things I plan to say to you. But I refuse to live with any more regret.” His hands reached out for mine and my fingers joined his as if by someone else’s will.

“Bella, I need you to know that you have options.” His voice was so deep and masculine, causing a stirring within my body that I hadn’t felt in such a long time.

“You may very well be in love with Garrett and I’m too late for this admission to take place, but I didn’t want the sun to set on another day without you knowing.”

Edward turned his attention back to my father, his fingers still holding mine. “You were right when you said I didn’t show up last night. My body might have been there, but my mind was here.” He emphasized his point by lifting my hand. “From the moment I entered that arena, I was praying that she would be sitting in the crowd and not where I feared she really was.”

Charlie leaned back into his chair, his face twitching in confusion. “And where exactly was she supposed to be?”

Living with Eric for as long as I had, my father certainly was smart enough to assume that I was sleeping with him. That fact didn’t make this situation any easier.

“I think I can shed some light on that.” Garrett chose that particular moment to unwrap himself and stand up. He always seemed to be in the right place, saving the day, and sharing needed information with the rest of the class.

“You see, Chuck…” Garrett slid his ass to the edge of my father’s desk, making himself the center of the conversation. However, his words didn’t appear to sit well with my dad. Garrett had no idea that he knew of our dishonesty or the fact that he hated to have his name altered in any form.

“Charles, not Chuck or Chas. However, given the circumstances, you can call me Mr. Swan.” Dad rose from his chair, pointing to the vacant seat that Garrett had vacated, giving him silent directions to have a seat. Garrett’s hands flew up in surrender.

“See, here’s the thing.” Dad started. “When I first noticed that Garrett was paying attention to Bella, I was glad to see it. He was making her smile and with everything that had happened, it looked good on her. I also noticed that other men were also keeping an eye on her, watching practically everything she did. Hiding behind trash dumpsters, following her home every night, and waiting in their cars outside of her house, sometimes late into the night.”

Edward squeezed my hand, his eyes searching mine.

“I watched you struggle with your concentration until you knew she was in the building. How you ran a little faster when she was headed home early. How you left huge dents in my locker room doors when you saw Garrett kiss her. How you skipped out of drinks with the Governor of Illinois to rush to her house to make sure she slept alone.”

My head was spinning, partially from the confirmation of what I knew to be true, but also from the warmth and overwhelming calm that holding his hand brought me.

“You have regrets about lying to Bella, but it’s time that Bella got rid of hers as well.”

The room was so quiet, too quiet and I had all these perfectly placed together sentences that simply wouldn’t come out. Taking my father’s advice from when I was a much younger person, I spoke the only thing that my brain would let me.

“I’m so sorry.” My words trembled with confusion and frustration with the details that were presenting themselves. This wasn’t at all how I imagined this conversation would go. I had been ready to throw myself at Edward’s feet, plead my case, and beg for forgiveness.

His confusion resembled mine as my father began speaking again. “Their entire relationship is a farce. A lie originated to make you crazy with jealousy, while serving some kind of benefit for Garrett.” Before my father could take another breath, Edward began firing questions.

“But, I saw them dancing…kissing like two lovers. The red dress, the flowers, and dinner dates? The salsa lessons and spending time at his house…?”

Charlie crossed the room, placing his hand in the center of his chest. “Edward, ask her if it was real?”

Edward’s mouth opened and closed several times before he looked at me, his eyes questioning mine, pleading for me to deny it all. I couldn’t make my lips work so I returned his gaze as I slowly and deliberately shook my head.

“You don’t love him?” The words spoken, not certain if they required an answer, but I gave one anyway.

“No, he was just being my friend.”

The smile that colored his face brought a brightness that began to erase the gloom that had resided there only a short time ago. The glow of his joy spreading like wildfire around the room. One second I was looking into his deep green eyes and the next his hands were wrapped in my hair, while his lips secured to mine, commanding their corporation and leading them in the dance. My body so close to his that I could feel his muscles move as he caressed my back and neck. With reluctance and, honestly, the clearing of my father’s throat, I pulled away from his kiss. My breathing was labored from holding it so long, my heart racing at the shock of it all. But mostly I was just so damn grateful that he wasn’t stomping out of the room, telling me his attorney would be in contact. That and the fact that he had just delivered the most incredible kiss I have ever experienced.

“I’m going to ignore the fact that you just kissed the life out of my daughter right in front of me.” My dad’s hands were on his hips, his expression bordering on really pissed and yet completely amused. “If you’re still serious about becoming a champion, then you need to get your fat, lazy ass into that ring and ready for some real training. You can kiss my daughter again when we are done for the day. That is if you can still stand.”

Dad crossed the room and headed toward his door, insisting that everyone give us a minute alone. Edward’s smile never faltered and his eyes never left mine as the last person left the room.

“I want to do this right this time.” I nodded my head in agreement, he needed to train and by a person who knew how to win. “Have dinner with me, but please come into the gym when I take a break later. I’ll need another one of these.”

His lips closed in on mine once again. Just like before, I allowed him to lead us.

I was willing to follow him anywhere.

 

Chapter 14

“Are you sure your dad is over forty?”

I could feel the vibrations from Edward’s chest, emphasizing each word he spoke and I closed my eyes as I snuggled further into his massive chest. We were curled around each other, my body encapsulated in his protective arms. Edward had arrived just minutes after the timer on dinner had sounded. Baked fish and steamed vegetables took a back seat to arms and legs, rejoicing in being together once again. Words were forgotten as smoldering green eyes met brown, both sharing the same longing.

“I’m positive, why do you ask?”

Edward and I shared a plate of food, his refusal to allow any space between our bodies to exist. His face was full of pleasure as he would tease me with tidbits of white meat. Lips connecting over and over, chewing not a required action.

“Well,” Edward shifted his position, pulling me effortlessly to face him so that we lay side by side, my left leg between both of his, his fingers making slow passes across the exposed skin between my shirt and jeans. “Last night after the fight, he told me to meet him in the gym. After everything came out in his office, he told me to get warmed up. I thought he wanted to run some tired assed drills, but he shocked the shit out of me when he said we were going for a short run. Short for him being twelve miles, during which he never let me get ahead of him.”

Edward had the ability to make me smile, even as he made subtle touches on my skin while he spoke. I remembered having a similar conversation with Emmett once when he felt he was in better shape than dad. Charlie was a champion through and through. He worked hard and fought even harder.

“Then, when we got back, he tossed my ass right into drills. Hell, I puked twice before our first break.”

The more he spoke, the more I smiled. Edward wasn’t the first man my father took under his wing. Not a single one of them ever made it out of his tutelage without tossing their cookies.

“Then he did the strangest thing…”

I knew what he was going to say before he said it, so I placed my index finger over his lips and kissed his nose before I looked into his eyes and said, “He made you spar with yourself in the mirror.”

Edward jerked his face back, shock evident in his expression. “You knew about that?”

My mom had given him the idea. I think I was about four or five when she asked him to pick me up from dance class. He walked into the room to find me watching myself do as Madame instructed. At dinner that night, he mentioned it to my mother, she said he should try it, that way he would be able to see what his trainer was talking about when he corrected him.

“I took ballet for years. My mother told him to give it a try.”

I pulled Edward closer to me. Now that all of the deception was behind us, I wanted nothing between us. I needed to feel the heat of his body close to mine.

“It was strange to watch myself punching, actually seeing how I was dropping my left elbow.”

The silence returned, only the sound of Edward’s breathing was heard. His touch was soft as he wrapped a lock of my hair around two of his fingers and his socked foot glided up and down the back of my right calf. It was completely innocent, but so very erotic, causing goosebumps to form along my back and arms.

“I would do today over and over again if it meant that I get to be right here, in your arms, at the end of the day.” His admission wasn’t a surprise to me, Edward had made his expectations for this relationship very clear. He wanted me, us, and he wanted to win the next four fights.

“You know your father also had me watch a few tapes of my fights, including the one from last night.”

I smiled quietly to myself, my dad was meticulous about his routines. Poor Edward was only experiencing a small taste of what my dad had planned for him. I couldn’t count the number of men who had quit halfway through the training. If Edward survived, there would be no way he could lose.

“I watched as I stood there just letting him hit me over and over.” His fingers found mine that were resting on his chest, taking my index finger between his thumb and index finger, stroking it as he recalled the previous night’s events. “All I can remember thinking was that I couldn’t believe you weren’t there. That you were in the arms of another man, a man who had the fucking balls to stand up for what he wanted, for what he believed in. How he was enjoying the smell of your skin.” His fingers stilled as his voice changed, anger and regret now replacing his husky deep tones. “Loving you the way you deserved, being completely close to you in the way only lovers can. I didn’t feel any of the blows I received. Hell, the three jabs I did manage to get off were more to the images I imagined than to the man who danced around me.”

My smile faded as I too remembered the scene he spoke about. How seeing Edward completely give up before he even tried, the man broken and at the time I had no idea why. His confession that his mind was busy thinking of me, just as mine was thinking of him, warmed my heart.

“You never knew that I followed you to the gym every morning or how my focus went to shit when I knew you left during the day. How the planets aligned and my world returned once I could hear your laughter and see your smile. How I would listen to every conversation the second your name was mentioned. It wasn’t until I overheard Garrett telling his friend that he was taking you to a hotel and planning to sleep with you, that something clicked in my mind. Until that very second, I had convinced myself that you would have been so much better off with Garrett. With the look on your face every time he came into the room and the amount of time he spent in your office, I told myself that he had the room in his life to make you happy. But the idea of you lying in a bed, in a room that he had rented, and removing the clothing you wore, it was just too much. I couldn’t bear the thought of another man touching you the way I have wanted to since the very first moment I laid eyes on you.”

My heart rate increased as he continued to confess his deepest secrets. I wouldn’t let the illusion that Garrett and I created remain in his head much longer. He would know that his feelings were very much reflected in my own heart.

“I know that we have to be cautious outside of this house, but, Bella…” I wasn’t prepared for him to be so tired and yet so quick in moving me under him, his body tilted on his side, covering nearly half of my body. “While we are in this house, my apartment, or any quiet corner I can steal you away to, I swear to remind you how much I adore you.”

Edward didn’t need any sweet words from me, he didn’t need me to look into his deep green eyes and profess anything to him. Edward was a man of action, his lips captured mine, commandeering and dominating my every thought, every action. His warm body covered mine, engulfing my senses, creating a level of euphoria I had only read about. No actor that ever graced the screen could ever duplicate this moment. Two lost souls reached out to one another, defied invisible obstacles and battled the forces that worked overtime to keep us apart. I once heard that every perfect kiss is accompanied by the sound of Pavarotti filling the room with his haunting Italian voice. Mr. Pavarotti never appeared in the room as Edward kissed me, but the man who was here knew how a woman should be kissed. How the combination of tongue and teeth, roaming hands and tiny whispers, blended together to make this the kiss of romance novels.

Edward was right, this budding romance would need to be nurtured in secret. Locked behind closed doors and pulled curtains. To everyone outside our circle of friends we would need to appear to be just friends, friends who barely spoke.

“I don’t want to hide this, pretend that what I feel for you doesn’t exist.” His voice was strained, his kisses slowing to soft brushes against the skin of my neck and cheek. “I want to walk down city streets with your hand wrapped in mine. I want to watch as other men we pass shake their heads, pissed that they missed the opportunity to put the smile that highlights your face and colors the giggle that flows from your chest.”

Eyes flashed between mine, searching desperately to assure himself that his feelings weren’t one sided. That his inner desires weren’t wasted on the sins of his past. A past that chose to fight over being loved and love the girl whose eyes now reflect that same desire.

“But most of all…” The smile that has caused traffic to stop and women to lose train of thought, present company included, spread across his face. “I want to dance with the gorgeous woman who wore that red dress, placing my hands in places that will give every person who watches not a shred of doubt that she belongs to me mind, body and soul.” He lowered his head and used his teeth to gently nip at my pulse, driving his point home. The jerk of my body and the sharp intake of breath left no room for misunderstanding.

“That dress wa…wasn’t my idea.” Honesty is something we would have to hold onto and make a priority in the bonds that are being fused between us. Edward pulled his head back, my neck tingling from the punishment of not only his teeth, but from the stubble that had accumulated over the progress of the day. It was a welcome burn, reminding me that he was real and here with me. No longer living in the corners of the cold and dark places of my heart and soul. He lowered his face to within millimeters of my own, breathing in my scent, comforting us both.

“Then who is responsible? They are about to get a big fucking thank you from me.” He didn’t allow me to respond before his lips covered mine and his fingertips sought out places that have been neglected for far too long. Waves of emotion introduced themselves as they took up residence in my body. His lips and fingers didn’t stop, they didn’t falter or repeat themselves. They explored and memorized, taking special notes of the places that caused a reaction, whether by verbal or just a twitch of my skin.

“Garrett thought that I should stand out in a crowd, not fade into the shadows like the hundreds of other attendees.”

His exploration was not interrupted by my admission. If he chose to ignore me or if he heard every word I didn’t know. For a time that could not be counted, we lay in a silence that only lovers can hear. Taking from one another what we needed, yet leaving so much more behind. In the twilight of our discovery, we began to answer the questions that had been kept secret from the other.

“I know that what your sister did to you is unforgivable. but I also know that you’re a good man, one that does the good and just thing in every situation. So I have to ask, have you forgiven her?”

Edward had answered every question posed to him over the course of our time together. Asking his own when the lull in the conversation presented itself.

“Actually forgiving her isn’t something that will come easy, I know that. What I need for her to do, Jasper as well, is to sit our parents down and confess what has happened. I’ve been what I would consider generous in giving them one week past my title shot. Then, I’ll take my mom and dad aside and tell them myself.”

I wanted to ask him about his relationship with Jasper, but he began before I was given the chance.

“My relationship with Jasper will suffer the most. I trusted him and confided in him not only things about my boxing, but things about you and what I have planned for the future. He knows that our relationship is strictly professional now. As soon as the title fight is over, he knows I only want to see him at holidays, we will never be friends again.”

I empathized with Edward, being betrayed by someone you trusted. Seeing who they really are and how they really feel.

“I can tell you this, I’m a lot more cautious with the people around me, what I say and who I say it to. I know Garrett knows more than he is letting on.” Edward pulled us into a sitting position and looked deep into my eyes. “Bella, I know he has been a friend to you and he definitely helped get my head out of my ass, but I need you to swear to me that you’ll be careful what you tell him.”

I adjusted my body in the collapsing cushions of my sofa, Edward kept me from falling back.

“Edward, you don’t have to worry about Garrett, he’s one of the good guys.” I had to make him see the Garrett I knew, not the one who Edward saw kissing the girl he wanted.

“I know, Bella. I know everything he has done for us, but at this point taking people at face value isn’t something I’m willing to do. Just swear to me that you won’t tell him everything we say to each other.”

With a kiss to his lips and a promise I would take to my grave, I gave him not only my word, but the last piece of my heart.

 

Chapter 15

“I’ll never ask you to do something I’m not willing to do myself.”

Dad and Edward had been sparring for the past hour. Most trainers would have hired men who got in the ring to do drills like this, but not dad, he was completely hands on.

“When you train, I train.” His words were intended for not only Edward, but Jasper as well. In the public eye, Jasper would appear to be Edward’s trainer, with the goal of building him up only to fail in the end with the title shot against Jacob Black.

“Now, I’ve known Jacob since he was a snot nosed kid still pissing in his pants. Not much has changed in all of these years, he still pisses anywhere he thinks he can.”

A bead of sweat was trailing down Edwards temple, the same temple I had kissed repeatedly last night as we confessed to the type of relationship we wanted. Edward wanted it all, the nights wrapped around me and the days, when he could sneak away to kiss me wherever, and whenever, he could. I wanted the assurance that when this was all over we could be one of those disgusting couples that are so closely fit you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. To walk in the light with his hand tucked in mine, sending a message to the world that we shared a love that tested time.

In all of the years that I have watched my father mold young men into potential champions, I’ve never seen him quite as fluid as he was with Edward. It’s like watching a mirror image of the same boxer. When one threw an uppercut, the other reacted correctly. The punches that they exchanged were more of a dance than a fight for the upper hand. Their rhythm was the same, like two ballroom dancers in perfect sync. The sight was magical and mysterious and I found myself mesmerized until a throat cleared behind me, startling me from my observation. The voice that followed required the involuntary turning of my head and my complete attention. Angela stood behind me, her hair pulled into a high ponytail, her slender cheekbones highlighted her face, her deep eyes giving her a hint of mystery.

“Hey, your eight o’clock just arrived.” Her statement was directed at me, but her eyes were locked on the two men in the ring.

“Mmm…” her head shifted back and forth as she verbally stated her appreciation for the specimen of shirtless men in the room. “I so hoped to God he was gay.” Her voice was loud enough to bring the two boxers to a halt and the room went completely silent. Angela looked from me, to a shocked Edward, and back again. Not an ounce of guilt for her words carrying that far. “What?” She questioned, her arms raised in challenge. “Haven’t you ever heard that the hot guys are either taken or gay?”

Dad wasn’t interested in Angela’s latest revelation as he shouted across the room at me.

“Bella, that fella from the state’s office will be here today.” He held a water bottle up to his lips, while the tape on his hands was unraveling and dangling from his wrists.

“That’s why Angela is here. He just arrived.” I scooted out of my seat on the bleachers and made my way to the door, my eyes avoided looking at Edward.

“Then get your ass out of here, let’s see what he is after.”

A few days ago, we received a call from the state registry, they had been given an anonymous tip that our gym licensure wasn’t correct. They informed us they would be sending out a representative to perform an audit. Dad and Emmett agreed that it was a bullshit call. Garrett said he would put some feelers out and see what was really going on. Dad felt it was just another way Jacob Black was trying to intimidate Edward, to make him question training here. My job was to show him what he needed to see, but keep the professional face I had been trained to give. Giving my father a nod, I exited the private gym and followed Angela in the direction of my office.

Albert Stevens was a middle aged portly man, with silver framed glasses resting in the center of his face. His graying hair was absent from atop his head, leaving shinning skin that reflected the lights above. His suit was older, but clean. However, it was his shoes that stood out to me. Black leather dress shoes with various areas of wear about them. It struck me as odd that a man who worked for the state of Washington would wear shoes in such distressed condition. I plastered a smile on my face and false cheer to my voice as I crossed the room leaving Angela near the juice bar.

Angela had a natural sway to her hips, it wasn’t the kind that many females exaggerated to give a kettle show to any man that might be walking behind her. It was just the way she was built. It gave some of the men and, I was certain, women a little something to look forward to as they worked on getting in shape. Mr. Stevens was not so subtle in his reaction to the sculpted ass, as she checked in on one of her regular clients. The only comfort I had was that his pants looked to be a polyester tweed blend, a solid barrier keeping his hands from coming in contact with his cock, something I wanted nothing to do with.

Mr. Stevens kept his face tight, as if he had just sucked on a lemon. His intention was to scare me, make me quake in my black heels. He was off his mark. I’ve dealt with meaner and more aggressive alley cats than he could presume to be.

“Mr. Stevens, I presume.” Old spice hit my nose as I got within a comfortable conversation distance. I held my hand out, trying desperately to ignore where those fingers of his had just been. “I’m Isabella Swan, manager, how are you?”

Just because he was scowling, didn’t mean I would become a fumbling idiot. Our records were as clean as Monday morning laundry, it was one thing we always made sure of. He could crawl around in the ductwork if he wanted to, he would find nothing out of the ordinary.

“Ms. Swan, I will need complete access to your files,” he stated brusquely. A man after my own heart, straight and to the point.

I walked around him, adding a little attitude as I responded, “Would you like a private desk as well?” My eyes flicked to his as I passed him, ‘fuck you’ reflected in my eyes.

“No, I will want you in the room to answer any questions I may have.” The slightest hint of surprise evident in his voice.

“Very well then.” I unlocked my office, leaving the door open to him as I glided to the side of my desk. With my very best Vanna White impression, I invited him to take a seat. Mr. Stevens placed his well worn briefcase in the center of my wooden desk, flipped the metal clasps, the thud resounding around the room as he entered the combination into the spin lock. My chair rocked from the force of his weight, I would have to purchase a new chair if he did that again.

Moving away from my desk, I set myself in one of the vacant chairs that faced him, crossed my bare legs, and waited for his next instruction. Dad had already told me what he would want to see and those very files were stacked neatly, ready for his probing.

“I took the liberty of having all of our credentialing ready for your review.” It struck me odd as to why he would want to see a form that was issued by the same office he was representing. There was more to his story, he was looking for something that wasn’t written on any form or kept in any drawer.

“Oh, yes, well…I can see you prepared for my visit.” His hand fumbled for something in his case. “Your licensure has always been free from formal complaints, so this shouldn’t take very long.” He was nervous, the tone of his voice and how he looked confused gave him away. I wanted to know more than anything what he was really up to.

“I’ve heard from a recent article that the new golden boy, Edward Cullen, has rented some space from you.” His eyes didn’t meet mine, his fingers still busy with the items inside that briefcase. “Seems rather odd to me—a man with his means, using a gym of this caliber, when he could rent space from more modern facilities, in bigger cities.” Mr. Stevens may have been very good at his job of issuing registry of hands and license for gyms to operate, but the man should avoid playing poker. His quivering voice and absence of eye contact were dead giveaways to what he really wanted.

“Very true, Mr. Stevens,” I uncrossed my legs and squared my shoulders, my poker face on the other hand was perfect. Years of growing up with my father and brother followed by a one sided relationship with Eric helped to perfect the craft. “However, it isn’t my business as to why Mr. Cullen chose to rent the private gym space we have here. It’s my job to make sure the place is clean, his ability to come and go in a secure and private manner is followed, and to collect his fees at the first of every month. If Mr. Cullen wants to run around his space in pink tights and ballet slippers, as long as he isn’t cooking meth back there, I could care less what he does.”

Mr. Stevens took a brief tour of the place, not a single note was scribbled down as to any issue he found. His face did purse slightly as I lead him into the gym where Edward was training. Jasper was sitting against the ropes, his cell phone in hand while Edward looked very cozy wrapped around Angela, his nose buried in the crook of her neck. The closure of her eyes, to an onlooker, would suggest that she was enjoying it, but to those who knew the real relationship between the two, she was picturing Ben, the cop that Mr Stevens had bumped into as he back away from the water fountain. Edward added a squeeze to her ass, a move that would, no doubt, give Mr. Stevens all the information he would need to report. In my mind there was no question anymore as to who that was.

I bid Mr. Stevens a good evening, escorted him to the front doors, and waved him away, his rear tail lights the last I hoped to ever see of him. The activity inside had quieted dramatically as closing time neared. Edward and my father had intentionally had a short day, in order to avoid the possibility of Mr. Stevens seeing the pair working together. With a final farewell to the last member of the gym, I locked the doors and turned out the main floor lights. I was ready to get out of this tight skirt and heels, have a quiet dinner, and a little conversation with Edward.

The blinds that normally covered the windows to my office were now open and Dad, Emmett, and Garrett were sitting in various chairs within my space. As I took another step toward the office, I was jolted off the floor, and found my back pressed against the far wall. Edward’s mouth covered mine, his hungry kisses silenced any screams I may have let out. His hands grasped both of my ass cheeks, while his lips descended lower along my jawline.

“Her ass is all wrong, too tight and not soft enough,” he groaned against my skin.

I smiled into the silence, as his fingers massaged into the flesh there again. “Then you shouldn’t place your hands where they don’t belong.” My words breathy and sad.

Edward pulled away immediately, his eyes flicking between mine. “Baby, you don’t…” His look of worry diminished as the laughter I was holding back came flowing out. His smile was golden as he smacked my ass and set me on my feet.

“What did the cheese dick have to say, Bella?” My father, another man who got straight to the point. Garrett chuckled at his choice of words and lack of filter.

“Honestly, he wanted to see what Edward was up to.” I rounded my desk, Edward right behind me. He sat in my chair first, and then pulled me onto his lap. I have never liked when other couples did this, but I needed to be closer to him. “He didn’t even look at the files I pulled for him. He check out Angela’s ass, and then asked me about Edward training here. He saw the display in the training room and finally left.” I shrugged my shoulders as I finished speaking.

Garrett tossed a photocopy of what looked like a check across my desk. Emmett reached out and stopped the sliding sheet of paper.

“Our new friend Al, seems to be having some financial issues.” Garrett resumed his signature position, leaning back in his chair, sunglasses clipped and dangling from his shirt. “He recently lost his shorts in a nasty divorce. Seems he loves him some naked ladies and his ex-wife didn’t appreciate him spending so much time and money on the girls dancing on poles.”

That would explain his worn out shoes and his fascination with Angela’s ass.

“That check was deposited into his account only minutes after he arrived here. His phone records indicate several text messages to one particular number while he was here.”

That explained what he was messing with inside his briefcase.

“Who?” Edward questioned, rubbing his thumb against my knee under the desk.

“One William Black.”

My dad snorted and Emmett cursed under his breath.

“So it’s true. Jacob Black is behind all of this? The attempt on my career and the separation of Bella and myself?”

Garrett nodded his head and continued, “I think it’s much more than that, but I can’t prove it.”

“Why?” Edward wanted to know. “Why do all of this shit just to get me to quit? He’s a champion. He has just as much chance of beating me as everyone else I take on.” Edward was confused and frustrated. I could feel the vibrations of his voice under me.

“Black is a champion because he only fights guys he can beat. He’s too big of a pussy to take on any real fighters. If he can get inside your head, destroy what we are trying to build, he won’t have to face you in the ring.” My dad wasn’t only a tough man, but a man of wisdom and reason. “We have to keep him thinking that he’s done exactly that—gotten inside your head and that your interest with Bella is gone.”

How I missed it before was beyond me. Why did he want Edward’s attention away from me? “Why me, Dad? Why would this Black guy care if Edward and I are together? He doesn’t know me.”

Dad looked to Emmett this time, gone was the confidence he had only thirty seconds ago, a silent conversation passed between them. Emmett finally turned in my direction, an apologetic look on this face. “When I was fighting, he and I had the opportunity to be at a competition. He caught sight of you and began running his mouth about having you as his real prize. I knew he was just taunting me, exactly what he’s doing to Edward, getting inside my head. However, that wasn’t the case. About a week after I knocked him the fuck out at the competition, letters and gifts started showing up at the house. Black made it clear to us that he was interested in you. Dad and I felt it would be better if you never knew. We didn’t want you to get your hopes up that a guy was paying you any attention. Especially when we knew it was fake and only a way to get back at me.”

Dad and Emmett exchanged another look and I knew that wasn’t the end of the story.

“We heard that he was engaged to another girl, but every few months another letter would show up, along with red roses, like a message that he was still interested in you.”

I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat, my shaking body alerting Edward that this wasn’t what I expected to hear. “So what do we do next? How do we handle this?” I pointed to the paper on the desk. The answer came from the man holding me together.

“We keep doing what we’re doing. We keep pretending that Angela and I are fucking, that Jasper is training me, and setting me up to fail. Then when I get him in that ring and I beat the shit out of him, I show him in a very clear way that not only did he lose the title, that he has no chance with my girl either.” His words were strong and assuring and as crazy as it sounds, I felt better and more confident that all of this would work out. That for once I would get my happy ending…conditions free.

“All right, you have a rematch soon with the Greek. You have to win, and I mean win big, knockout preferred. You have to be on your game and solid. I can show you how to win, but it’s up to you to do the work.”

Garrett agreed to continue monitoring all the players involved. Once this was over, the evidence we had against Mr. Stevens would be turned over to the state attorney generals office. For now, I would keep my distance publicly from Edward and continue to have a ‘relationship’ with Garrett. As the men stood and shook hands in agreement, the look of challenge that passed between Edward and Garrett didn’t slip by me. I would have talk to Garrett about telling Edward he was gay. It wasn’t right for me to just tell anyone his secret…even the man I was falling in love with.

 

Chapter 16

 

Red lights cascaded all around me, whirls of skirt material flowed from the dancers that surrounded me. Garrett was all smiles and in command as he led me in dance after dance.

Edward had kissed me sweetly as I left him at the gym this afternoon. Sweat trickled down his forehead and on to his chest, rendering me speechless as I watched its decent. I was crazy stupid for that man. I would have done anything in the world to be wrapped round him, but we had to keep up a pretenses. Black was watching Edward’s every move and mine, by what I thought was association. Now, after my brother and father’s confessions, I had my own reason to be in the spotlight.

“Babe, you have to relax, have fun.”

Garrett had been very cocky when he reminded everyone that he and I needed to be seen in public. Now that Edward was training with heart and determination, it was more important than ever to keep up the mask.

So here I stand, or rather dance. A typical and extremely normal event that Garrett and I shared previously. In truth it gave me confidence and a hell of a workout. We had done this countless times before, however, with my heart in a lonely apartment on the other side of town, it just wasn’t the same.

“I’m sorry.” I wasn’t really, but I was grateful to have him willing to do this. “I’m just not in the mood for this.”

Garrett dipped me backwards as the latin music came to an end. My hair landing several strands in my face, his eyes flicking between mine. “I know. Your mind is on the golden gloves back at your house.” He raised me into a standing position, a gentle kiss to the corner of my mouth. “I’ll admit, he does rock the whole half dressed thing.” He shrugged one shoulder, trying to hide a smile, but failing miserably. “But you have to admit, Sweetheart—I’m so much hotter.”

I’ve come to love Garrett’s candor when it comes to Edward. Where Garrett is devoted to his boyfriend, he would, given the right circumstances, give my boyfriend a go. That’s if Edward were dead or unconscious.

“Let’s get something to drink and then we can trade blow job stories while we braid each other’s hair.” Garrett pulled me behind him, pressing through the couples who awaited the next song to begin. We emerged to find the line at the bar nearly non existent, Garrett ordered a beer for himself and a club soda for me.

“So, tell me what is going on in that pretty head of yours?” The bartender slid our drinks to us, leaving with a wink and a head nod. Garrett cleared his throat as the young man moved to the next customer. “Bella?” He prodded, getting my attention back to the conversation. “Talk to me,” his voice soft, yet audible above the song playing overhead.

I lowered my eyes briefly and watched the condensation that trickled down the side of my glass, free to do as it pleased, I envied it. How silly was it to envy a single drop of water? “It’s just that I hate hiding. Sneaking around like Romeo and Juliet.”

His eyes locked on mine as he took a drink from his beer. “Well yes, I can see why you’re upset. That particular story had a frightful ending.”

I shoved at his shoulder with mine, the smile that morphed on his face created one on mine as well. “Ass!” I scolded, more teasing than accusing.

“It’s just that I want to be there for him, not just to make him dinner or catch him here and there with a kiss or a hug.” My brow furrowed in aggravation, frustrated at the situation I found myself in. “He deserves to have a girl that he can have by his side, cheer for him like my mother did for my dad. Instead, I have to sit on my sofa and hear about all the details, after the fact. I won’t get to watch as his hand is raised in victory or hug him while the media conducts their interviews.”

I looked at Garrett, confused by the soft smile playing about his face. “Listen,” I placed my hand on his arm, giving our surroundings a quick glance over. “I understand that I am being completely selfish, I mean I should be grateful that we are as close as we are.” My eyes flashed between his, pleading for him to not find me a sniveling little brat. “But something deep inside me wants so much more.”

Garrett adjusted his position on the bar stool, his cheeky smile hitting all new heights. “What would you say if I could make that wish for you come true?”

The confusion that decorated my face was all the answer he really needed.

oooooOOOOOOO~~~~~~~CMA~~~~~~~OOOOOOOOooooo

“There, not bad if I do say so myself.” Heidi boasted, her hands resting on her hips, a pink strand of hair adorning her face, new since the last time I saw her.

Garrett made me wait until the day of the fight before he would reveal what he had planned for me. Edward and I spent the night before kissing and bringing each other to the brink of insanity. Emmett had warned me before leaving the gym that getting him ‘worked up’ may increase his testosterone levels and make him fight harder. Edward had tickled the shit out of me as I made him swear that he wouldn’t go home and rub one out. Fucker made me promise the same thing. The thought of having sex with Edward both thrilled and frightened me. Sex with Eric was always planned, never lasted longer than a car commercial on the television, and always left me wanting more. How would it be with Edward? Fantasy depicted that since he was everything I ever wanted, that he would be the perfect fit; able to bring me to orgasm with only words or commandments. But what if? What if he was hung like a mosquito? Or had no idea how to find that mystical place that is rumored to be buried deep inside a woman. One that with a gentle touch, it had the ability to make her go blind momentarily from the intense orgasm that would follow. What if he too would leave me with only my vibrator and porn collection?

But here I sat, covered in silicon and enough makeup to make any drag queen cringe. Garrett picked me up from the gym, making a show if honking his horn and revving his engine. I had given up asking where we were going days ago, he would only tell me that I was getting a new look. Well…he was completely right.

Heidi moved to the side, exposing the large mirror that hung behind her. There, sitting in the chair that I once occupied, was a completely different person. Garrett had left me with Heidi saying that when she was finished, my mother would be by to take me to the arena. I tried to argue, stating that Black would be expecting to see me there, but Garrett and Heidi only laughed as he turned and left.

“Oh. My!” My mother’s eyes were huge as she entered the room. Heidi was cleaning up her supplies and I was trying not to have a panic attack from my reflection.

“Heidi, it looks so…so…” My mother—for the first time ever I think—was at a loss for words.

“Real?” Heidi answered, her attention not taken from her task.

“Good Lord, if I didn’t know it was my daughter sitting in that seat…” Mom’s voice proved to me that she was as shocked as I was. “I mean, I know Garrett said you did makeup for movie sets, but I thought you just applied some powder or something…not…not this.” My mother emphasized her words by pointing at me.

“Actually, I’ve transformed some very beautiful Hollywood starlets into some gruesome creatures for the big screen. Makeup is makeup, you can use it in any direction you can imagine.”

Mom helped me into the car and along the way we stopped to pick up Rose. It was a sight to see her react when mom introduced us. When I said hello in my own voice, Rose jumped back several inches and then began to laugh.

The arena was a crazy mess, the press was literally everywhere. Mom and Rose were dressed in cocktail dresses and I envied them, but tried to remind myself that at least I was able to sit in the audience and witness first hand when he won. Mom and Rose showed their passes to the security guard that stood blocking the entrance. His arms were folded across his massive chest, his black t-shirt stretched to it limits across his booming muscles, ‘security’ was written in white blocked lettering. He never questioned my presence, just told me to have a good evening.

When I was a little girl, I wasn’t allowed in the dressing rooms. Dad had always told me that he felt it was too much to have me back there, but I always got to sit beside my mother as we watched the fight. Emmett would always be on my left and my mother on my right. So tonight, getting back here and being able to see him and what happens was a dream come true.

The narrow hall smelled of sweat and mold, not much different than the men’s locker room at the gym. The blue lights in the ceiling led the way to the end of the hall where Edward and his people awaited. Mom had my arm tucked around her, guiding me. I shuffled my feet as I made my way closer to the door, closer to the man that stood just inside.I ignored the conversations that were coming from the room, the bright light inside escaped as Rose opened the massive steel door, its hinges creaking in protest. There, standing in his bright red shorts, his hands being taped by my brother, was the true man I did all of this for. The man who I claimed to ignore and only wanted his rent money every month. The man who made my insides soar and my heart beat faster. He was listening to Jasper, my father is off to the side. It was then that I noticed the official, the same man who performed the weigh in earlier today. Dad said he didn’t trust the guy, so Angela played the hot girlfriend role; popping her gum and typing on her cell phone. However, I knew she was teaching a class tonight. It had been scheduled for months, long before this fight was. I walked closer and could hear Jasper reminding Edward of the ‘bullshit’ moves; moves my father told him to forget he had ever learned.

Emmett finished the taping and turned around, calling out to Rose which got everyone’s attention to our presence in the room. Edward looked in our direction quickly and then cast his eyes back to his hands. I couldn’t lie to myself as I admitted it hurt to have him do that. To not see that twinkle in his eye when he looked at me. However, the reflection in the mirror over the sink behind him reminded me that it’s a good thing he didn’t recognize me. It meant my disguise worked perfectly.

Emmett took Rose into his arms, making a huge deal about kissing her senseless. My father kissed mom on the cheek, it was tender and completely them.

“Edward, there’s someone I would like you to meet.” My father’s voice rose, a little loud considering his proximity to Edward. “This is my father-in-law, Ike.” He motioned in my direction.

Edward lifted his eyes again, a small and completely fake smile appeared on his face. The official decided that everything must meet his standards, excused himself, and left the room, dad telling him to have a good evening.

With the official now on the other side of the metal door, dad turned to Edward and in a few words made that fake smile as genuine as the feeling I have in my heart. “Edward, now I must tell you that my father-in-law is very much buried in a cemetery just on the outskirts of town. But I have always thought Bella had his eyes.” The silence was brief and his confusion increased. “Don’t you think?” my father continued.

Edward took a long, hard look at me. You could see the gears in his brain moving in rapid speed as his eyes flashed between my mother and myself. She was smiling like she was the only one that knew the secret. I was about to open my mouth when his confusion cleared and a very real smile brightened his features. “Bella?”

 

Chapter 17

“In this corner, weighing in at one-hundred-ninety-eight pounds, with a ten and two record…from Athens, Greece…Stefan Poulos!”

The announcer—who had been doing this since I was little—carried out Edward’s opponent’s name. I had asked my father once if they taught that man to talk like that in school, he only smiled and said that indeed they did, but in a special school that his little girl would never attend.

The lights from the overhead bars illuminated Poulos bright blue trunks, the greek flag adorned the satin material, confirming his nationality. His hair was darker than I remember from the video, but that could have just been the distortion of the camera. Bouncing on the balls of his feet, his glistening skin reflected the lights. Poulos was a handsome man with olive colored skin and sharp features.

Those thoughts faded away as Edward’s introduction song began. The drums and guitar began at the same time, the tempo slow to build but once it crests, the rest of the band joins in and the scratchy voice of the lead singer cries out over the music. The theme of the song is simple, words easily heard,”Sleep with one eye open, hugging your pillow tight.” It’s a clear message that this will end in someone losing consciousness.

Edward’s trunks are black this time, something I noticed after he discovered that I had painted on this disguise of an elderly gentleman. His thick chest also glistened with sweat, but unlike Poulos, I craved to touch it. I treasured the moisture that I had managed to collect when I reached out to touch him. We didn’t kiss, that would have been too weird, but the way he took my hand and promised he would make this quick was all the assurance I needed.

“Have all this shit off by the time I’m done with the press.” Was his firm instruction as the official came back into the room, letting us know it was time to start.

Edward’s matching robe never made it passed the outside of the ring. He’d confided in me that he hated wearing that thing. Said it made him feel like he was going to bed, instead of to work.

“And in this corner, weighing in at one-hundred-ninety-nine pounds, with a 10 and 1 record…from Chicago, Illinois…Edward Cullen!”

Again with the elongation and dramatics of the announcer’s voice. It was crazy if you thought about it, men bragged about how much they weighed when they got in situations like this; granted it was ninety nine percent muscle. Women on the other hand, would rather cut out their own tongues than to admit what they really weighed, myself included. Although, since getting back in the gym and all the help I’ve received from Garrett, I’m ten pounds less than the day I left Eric. Seems I just needed the right type of inspiration, motivation. Edward Cullen was all that. Although, he confessed that he still enjoyed the little bit of hips that I had, but he was happy if I was comfortable in my own skin.

Jasper placed the mouth guard to Edward’s lips, fist bumping hands to gloves. The officiant recited the rules as my mother took my hand in hers, clenching them gently as the bell sounded. Edward left his corner, intense concentration on his face. This was a different man than the last time he faced Poulos, he was quicker and more sure of himself as he landed the first jab, then another. The tautness of the muscles in his arms and back, captivated my attention, imprisoning my thoughts and fantasies. The sweat that danced down his back, emphasized the strength he used in every move he made.

Jab…jab, uppercut…uppercut, and then a quick jab. The men around me were yelling at each boxer, their own method of encouragement. In part, living vicariously through them, perhaps lost in dreams of days gone by, a lifetime of regret. On the front row sat a group of people who resembled Poulos and I questioned if they were his family. A beautiful and very voluptuous girl sat with her tan legs crossed glistening from lack of hair and the abundant moisturizer she applied. Her skirt was short and her heels high, however her chest looked to be man made and quite well done. Next to her, sat an equally beautiful woman, her skin showing age and I guessed her to be either a sister or perhaps his mother. Their eyes locked on the action of the men inside that square circle, eyeing each other, lives outside of this building completely forgotten. Then there were the reporters who knelt around various places on the floor. Photographer after photographer snapping photo and shooting video, all hoping to catch the money shot that would sell the most copies in the morning, shouting to the world who had been victorious and who went home bruised and bloodied.

Suddenly the referee stepped between the two boxers and ushered them to their respective corners. Jasper offered Edward some water, but he refused, frustration exuding from him. Clearly he wanted to continue his assault on his opponent. He continued to keep his muscles warm by bouncing on the balls of his feet, completely ignoring the words that Jasper was yammering into his ear. In a quick and bold move, he locked eyes with me and winked. The young girl that sat behind me gasped, obviously thinking it was directed at her.

The official spoke with one of the judges and with a quick nod of their heads, the bell once again rang. Edward tapped the rope twice with his glove, as if getting my complete and uninterrupted attention, then, with the determination of a skilled warrior, took off into the center of the ring, landing an uppercut that sent Poulos sailing backwards. The crowd was on their feet, the roar of the spectators canceling out any ability to hear what the officials were saying. I watched as the referee pushed an excited and aggressive Edward back to his corner. Again, Jasper offered him water but Edward ignored him. He watched with a stoic face, his feet no longer bouncing as the referee began to point and count to Poulos’ prone body. The coach was slamming his hands on the mat, trying in vain to get Poulos to get up, but it was no use he was out cold. Edward’s intro lyrics resonated in my mind, “Grain of sand, were off to never never land.” Poulos was knocked out in the first round of the match.

Mom and Dad insisted we leave immediately. Reporters were already storming the ring, as well as fans who had bet on the wrong boxer, cursing and tossing ripped pieces of paper. As we struggled against the weight of the crowd, I ventured a look behind me just in time for the moment that I had really come to see, Edward’s hand raised in victory.

~*~CMA~*~

My house was so quiet compared to the arena, my ears were still ringing as I removed the silicone that gave my face the wrinkles of an old man. It had all been worth it, all the cold material and itching of the sweater I had to wear. There was no way Black would have known I was under all that makeup, not when Edward himself had passed me over. With the final hairpin removed from my hair, I took the opportunity to scratch my scalp, groaning as I felt as my nails relieve the tension that had built under the wig and hat. I closed my eyes, a smile creeping on my face at the memory of a very excited and completely happy Edward, both hands raised in victory as the flashbulbs exploded around him. The look of pride on my father’s face as he left the arena, allowing the rouse of Jasper’s training to be continued and believed. Somehow I knew my father was a giggling schoolgirl on the inside, proud of the fighter he had created and molded. Edward still had two people to battle, but with the kind of determination he showed tonight, it stood to be an easy path. One that would make Black look like a bitch if he refused to defend the title against him.

As the night grew later, I questioned if Edward had forgotten his instructions for me to be waiting for him. My hair had completely dried on its own after my shower and the clock over the mantel showed it was nearing midnight. I couldn’t be mad, this was a high night for him. I knew that everyone would want a piece of him, a quote for their blog or twitter post. Tonight was a huge victory for Edward, one of many I was willing to bet.

In the depths of my heart, not celebrating with him did hurt just a little. So, as I watched the water level rise in my glass of ice, my mind was off in the distance, dancing and laughing alongside of him. Sadly, tonight would find me alone in my bed, a good slice of a trashy novel as my only bed companion. There would be plenty of nights that I would share with Edward, laughing, arguing and simply enjoying his presence. I switched off each light that I passed on my journey to my bedroom, securing the front door with the lock and chain. With a heavy sigh, I turned to walk into the darkened room, but the sounds of a heavy knuckle rapping against the wooden door startled me. A tiny piece of me hoped it would be him, prayed it would be.

I raised myself on my tip toes,checking the peephole to make certain it wasn’t some uninvited guest at this late hour. With a wide grin and unbridled earnest, I struggled to open the locks and that stupid chain. After three attempts and a “hold on I’m trying”, the door was finally open and the man who owned every square inch of my heart stood in the light of my porch overhang. His hair was completely covered by a black beanie, his face blank and his eyes were…determined.

I opened my mouth to question what was wrong, but he was much quicker and I found myself swept up in his arms, the glass of water I carried crashing to the tile, as his lips dominated mine. The door slammed shut, I know this only because I can feel the air that moved against my bare legs. Legs that are wrapped around the very firm waist of this amazing man, who is reminding me how sensitive my neck and shoulders are. Between his lips, teeth, and the prickles of the scruff of his three day old beard, another superstition he and Emmett share, my body is coming alive, my heart racing as if I am running at top speed uphill. Edward doesn’t ask what I want, what I need. I know where this is going, what is about to happen. The combination of his win and all of the testosterone that is racing around in his bloodstream guarantee that he wants to fuck me until I can’t stand. I’ll feel this into next week.

My mattress bounces from the weight of our bodies as he continues his journey and exploration of my skin. He stops briefly to tug at the collar of his t-shirt, pulling it over his head and tossing it on the bed beside us. I can’t help myself as I take the opportunity to remove the woven cover that hides his hair. Not many men can pull of this look, but hell let’s face it, Edward would look good in a trash bag, decorated with burlap and dog shit. Grabbing those curls that have grown in so nicely in recent weeks, my eyes find the life that is pulsing behind them. He wants me, it’s clear as day and I revel in the notion that he desires me in this way. Not just to occupy a step on the ladder of progression, or to pencil in an event on his daily calendar. This would change who we are, how we look at one another, how we feel for each other.

I once read that two people can fall into bed with each other, but one will rise out of it with feeling for the other, sometime hate and sometimes love, the line between the two emotions is very thin and blurred at times. I know without a doubt that I will leave this bed in the morning even more in love with him than I am right this very moment.

“If you need me to stop, please tell me now.” His voice was raspy, laten with male aggression, the overabundance of hormones seeping out of his pores. His masculine scent, that I relish and find comfort in, is more intense and I crave it. I want to bathe in its intoxicating properties.

“I…” the words I need to convey seem so juvenile and rehearsed. To tell him that I have dreamed about this moment, fantasized about the first time I found myself in this position. My hesitation causes him to stop and look into my eyes, his chest heaving from his desire.

“Bella, if you don’t want this…” he swallowed thickly, his body pulling away slightly. “It’s okay, maybe…” his voice fades as he pulled away almost completely.

“Edward?” My voice quaking in concern, the overwhelming desire to fix the sadness on his face.

He shook his head, his eyes still fixed on the pattern of my comforter. “Maybe you don’t feel the same way for me as I do for you.”

Edward was a grown and confident man, every sports magazine listed his height and weight, his stature as that of a well nourished and proportioned athlete. But as he sat back on his knees, face lowered and confidence from earlier nearly non-existent, it was the voice of a scared little boy that hit my ears. This…this was something I refused to allow to go on any longer. Edward didn’t need to say the words, his body spoke more eloquently that his tongue ever could. This glorious man loved me as much as I did him, it was time I allowed him to show that love in the most sensual way.

“Come e’er,” I commanded breathlessly. “You need to finish what you started.”

His movements were calculated as he hovered over my body. Fingers weighed each and every touch. Lips and tongues memorized every freckle, blemish, and goose bump. Clothing was removed as eyes locked and lips brushed. My own fingers traced the muscles that I had watched ripple with exertion. Now, they brought me pleasure and assurance. Words of admiration and appreciation were whispered softly against warm flesh. Bodies so close that the ability to tell what belonged to whom was no longer an option.

My past sexual encounters had been lackluster at best, brief and not nearly satisfying. Never had I been able to orgasm with Eric; he was finished before I really got started. Edward, however, was a patient man, he savored every intake of breath. He enjoyed making my body come alive, whether by a kiss on the back of my knee or a long and languid exploration of the juncture between my naked thighs. His fingers spread my body open as his tongue introduced itself to my pleasure points. Yet, the most sensual moment happened as he placed me on my stomach and slowly kissed from the tip of my shoulders to the soles of my feet and back up again. The feeling of warmth and contentment reigned over me as he slowly slid into me for the first time. Edward had worked my senses up so high, that my muscles were relaxed, my body ready for him. I felt the fullness of a man who was well equipped and could bring me intense pleasure. All that pent up frustration and reactions to events of this evening once caused his movements to be swift and forceful, now gave him the control to bring me pleasure over and over again.

The novel I had planned to read this evening was about a young woman who had found this wonderful man who took her to a fine hotel, filled the room with fragrant flowers, and lit the room with enough candles to create a mood and perhaps heat the room to a comfortable temperature. It was the perfect setting for a fictional first time, one that would cause any woman who read it to swoon and silently pray for a man like that. But as I watched Edward sleeping soundly, the sheets lying haphazardly across his hips and his hair in thirty different directions, I was glad for what I had. He didn’t bring me flowers or take me in a romantic setting. He came and gave me what I needed, he took from me the fear that this would be another hum drum and unsatisfied, one sided fuck. He left me with confidence, in a state of euphoria and with the biggest fucking smile on my face.

 

Chapter 18

Drizzly mornings, especially Monday’s, always placed me in a situation mood, one that I’m certain I shared with half the population of Washington. I was running late, it was instinctual, particularly with not knowing what awaited me behind the glass doors of the gym.

Edward had taken all of yesterday off and we’d spent it in a little bubble we had created, dressed only in each other touches and adoration. Ringing cell phones and growling stomachs weren’t enough to rip that connection apart. We’d been completely lost in each other, savoring every moment as if it would be the last.

My call log on my cell phone was full, my Geiger counter on what to expect when I entered the office today. Angela had phoned several times, never leaving a message or sending a text. Rose and Emmett only sent a thumbs up sticker and a respectable smiley face that appeared to be winking.

The dull hum of the machines competed against the top forty hit that was playing overhead. The beat catchy, with lyrics that spoke of ‘don’t believe me, just watch’. It was all business and all an illusion, as I knew my family was waiting to pounce like wild animals. The gym had it’s hidden secrets, its cement walls kept the truth about Edward and I from the public and, more importantly, the competition that hid in the shadows, waiting like a coiled snake about to strike. I questioned the validity of the supposed threat of Blacks involvement, I just hadn’t voiced that to anyone, not even Garrett. It seemed odd to me that no communication had come from his team, not trash talking or PR exchanges. Yet, all men involved on this end felt it was only a matter of time before we heard anything.

Angela sat perched with her legs crossed, hair in a perfect high ponytail and her tanned bare midriff on display for all the sweaty, fifty-something’s, currently watching her from their positions on various treadmills and elliptical machines. It was humorous really—the thought that she would have a single thought about even one of them—considering who was currently warming her bed. keeping that tight, toned midriff with the activities she shared with Rose and myself. Until this past weekend, I lived vicariously through her abridged stories. Feeling deep in my heart and soul for someone to take such time and consideration for another individual, I imagined it only happened in made for TV movies and dime store paperbacks. Spending an entire day in bed, in the arms of the man I loved, changed my thought process and allowed me to believe that happiness was something I deserved and had achieved.

I voiced a quick good morning to, not only Angela, but those sweating gentleman who would certainly be enjoying a cold shower later this morning. Relief filled me momentarily as I placed my purse on my desk, no one had followed me in, ambushing me for details of my activities. Maybe, just maybe everyone would silently wonder and forgo the inquisition. Sadly, that was not the case. A few minutes later, while attempting to begin my morning walk through, a still perched Angela who, shockingly, had been joined by Rose, began a conversation that was voiced loud enough to carry to my ears.

“You know? You would think that a fight that ended so quickly would be front page news this morning.” Angela would seriously need to work on her acting skills, her dramatic emphasis required fine tuning. However, I suppose acting lessons would be a waste of time and resources due to her choice in occupations.

“Instead they are focusing on the face that our poor, heavyweight hopeful appeared to be alone in his celebration, no girlfriend in sight.” Her dramatic sigh was enough to have my eyes shift to their perusals of the newspaper resting between them. There in bold, block style letters stood the headline: Heavyweight Hopeful; Big Win, Celebrates Alone.

The involuntary smile was now permanently etched in my face, a clear and undeniable statement that the celebration had been thorough and far from alone.

‘Local boxing hopeful, Edward Cullen, kicked butt and took names this past weekend, in what was the shortest match this reporter has ever witnessed. Three months ago, when these two faced off, Cullen appeared to have left his fighting spirit at home, failing to deliver even a single punch. The not so surprising forfeit came after several unanswered jabs landed on Cullen. Many felt as if this would be just a continuation of that previous match, with Cullen failing once again to bring his ‘A’ game. However, from the first ring of the bell, the appearance of a caged animal made his presence known. While Cullen may have shown what he is truly made of, his long time girlfriend, Angela Weber, was not in attendance. Sources close to the boxer report she was previously engaged in a work related event. However, this reporter questions why anyone close to this apparent fighting machine would miss out on even one single second of any match he was involved in. Or is there trouble in paradise? One can only imagine the pressure behind dating an up and coming boxing legend. Could this be the beginning of the end, as Edward was reported absent for the majority of his victory party. Reports have Ms. Weber heading to her east side condo, where Cullen never showed? Only time will tell as we all wait for the next match to occur. When that will happen has not been determined as of post time, representatives from the second place holder, Patrick O’Shea had no comment to give.’

Pretending to not be interested was the first thought that passed through my brain. Deflection was out of the question, since everyone knew where Edward had spent his down time. Walking away was also a fleeting thought as two sets of eyes were now trained on me.

“So are you and Edward fighting, Angela? Or is the dark headed guy that I’ve seen you making eyes at new competition?” Rose was a cold hearted bitch who, unlike Angela, could head off to Hollywood and act with the best of them. I turned around and reached for the coffee pot that always made my morning a little better, although, how much better can my life get? How can this much happiness be given to one single person? How can one person love another so completely and without motive?

“Oh, we just decided to see other people that’s all.”

Before any further obtuse or malicious comments could be voiced, the front doors opened and in walked a very excited blonde girl, who was talking a mile a minute on her cell phone. It reminded me of the first day Alice and Esme walked through those very same glass doors. The blonde didn’t skip a single ‘no’, as she scanned the room looking for something or someone. Seth, who had just finished loading a mammoth amount of dirty towels into the washing machine, noticed the blonde and dressed in his best smile, questioned if she was lost and if he could help her. I watched as she gave him a look as she ended her call, her pretentious smile matched his as a few words and bats of eyelashes on her part were exchanged. Seth, being the well mannered kid that he is, motioned in my direction for the young lady to head in.

“Ms. Swan, this,” he pointed in the girls direction. “Is Jessica. She’s looking for Edward.” His expression silently telling me she had shared more than just her desire to see the hot new boxer.

“Oh, I see. Is Mr. Cullen expecting you?” My voice was cheerful, professional. As I looked at her Colgate and, dare I say, cosmetic dentist enhanced smile, I found myself questioning where I knew her from. Her face seemed familiar, yet strange.

“Not a scheduled appointment, no. But we recently shared a connection and I was unable to follow up with him after.” Her eyes widened as she relayed her story. I paused as she spoke, I knew where Edward had been and where he had not been. He certainly had not been socializing with other females. Then, watching her wink as she finished her sentence, the night of the fight came into my mind’s eye. This was the girl who sat behind us, the one who thought Edward had made eye contact with her. Now, here she stood all powdered up and hussied out.

“I see.” Her honesty, while refreshing, would be her undoing. “Well, Ms. Jessica, I will need to check with Mr. Cullen before allowing you into his private area. It’s a security measure, I’m certain you can understand.” The words and the empathy were fake and I realized that I would need to join Angela in those acting classes if I wanted to continue down this path.

“Oh, of course.” She was quick to respond, her face hopeful as she took her eyes from my face and began to take in the room around us. Youthful eyes full of wonderment, adventures yet to be had, places dreamt of but not visited.

“Very well, if you will excuse me.” I motioned to the closed door to the private training area. It took all of my willpower not to fall over laughing and ignore the smile that had found a home on my face. I could walk in there and tell Edward that the young lady he motioned to at the fight was waiting for him to continue any facet of a relationship he would throw her way. I could walk in and have a little fun with him, tell him a pretty young girl was claiming he was the father of her baby. While all of those scenarios would be a good laugh and a nice slice of entertainment, it could backfire in my face, causing an interruption in my new and welcomed sex life. I couldn’t blame Jessica, she was going after what she wanted. I give her props for having the determination to pursue this. I for one would never have had the courage to do as she was.

Entering my code onto the keypad, the sharp peep and green illuminating light flashed my clearance to enter the room. While the machines caused a roar in the main gym, inside the private area, the large fans whirling above coated the room in the soothing sound of the moving blades. I closed the door quietly, not wishing to interrupt any planning that may be going on, my eyes located the two large bodies setting in the corner. With a laptop on the floor between them, both sets of eyes trained intently on the activities on the screen. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what was playing. It didn’t matter that none had contacted the O’Shea team, Dad was already studying him. Patrick O’Shea, a Irish born street fighter who turned pro about six years ago. He was tough as nails, fought dirty and was know to test the limits of what the officials would let him get away with. He had balls of steel and wore a bad attitude during every match. Rumors spread a while back the Patrick would throw a match if the prize was good enough. I knew by the way dad was shaking his head in disgust that Patrick was the current star of the screen.

Green eyes flashed in my direction, the white smile that I had been greeted with early this morning grew wider by the second. Earlier thoughts of playing a trick on him were long gone and in their place were fantasies of positions we had yet to explore. Edward had flipped a switch deep within me, unleashing a passion I never knew I possessed. Judging by the look in his eyes, Edward was conjuring up some of his own desires that I was certain involved little to no clothing on both of our parts.

“Bella, you need me?” Like getting caught masturbating in the bathroom by your parents, the moment lost more potency than any shouts of your name from the other side of the door. My father’s face was serious, as if he could read both of our minds. Ignoring the desire to deny that I needed anything, turn coat, and tell poor Jessica that Edward had left the building, I found my center and pushed away from the spot on the floor that seemed to glue my shoes in place. Dad pushed the laptop away and rose to his feet, letting out a groan, mumbling under his breath that he was ‘getting too old for this shit’.

“Actually, my business is with Mr. Cullen, it seems he has a visitor.” With my hands crossed strategically across my pelvis, my face was as serious as I could get it.

Edward’s smile disappeared and confusion set in. “Me?” His brows furrowed, his voice confused, index finger pointing at his chest.

I nodded and then explained the entire story about Ms. Jessica. Edward’s face went from confusion to horror. His hands rested on his jean covered hips and small snips of his hair peeked out of his backward ball cap. Resistance was on my side as I kept my hands from grabbing his face and kissing the uncertainty away.

“So, she is standing at the juice bar, waiting to see you.” I confirmed, my dad sick of the conversation long ago had moved to place a call to who I could only guess was Patrick’s trainer.

“Baby? What do I tell her?” His voice was concerned. He admitted he hadn’t even seen her in the crowd, the action he had done was meant for me and my eyes. He never fathomed it would be misconstrued.

“Actually, this is a long shot, but it just may give us another degree of deception.”

With my preoccupation with Edward and his features, I had missed the fact that my brother was very much in the room. Emmett moved from his seat on the bench, he too would have been looking a video footage, but for reasons only he could give. He was in more casual attire today, jeans and a grey beanie, the hint of his tattoo sneaking out around his shirt collar.

“How do you figure?” My mouth spoke before my brain could tell me it was or was not a good idea.

Emmett placed his own laptop down, shaking his head in frustration at my disbelieving tone. “Well, according to my wife this morning at breakfast, Angela is cheating on our boy here.” Emmett moved his head in Edward’s direction, a slight smirk now gracing his lips. “We can use this girl who is macking on him as retaliation for Angela’s whorish ways. You know revenge sex is some of the best sex, or so I’m told.” His shrug ended his statement and began my disbelief.

Edward moved his entire body in disgust, “Em, that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.” His hand made a downward motion and the backs of his fingers connected with Emmett’s chest. “I’m not going to play with some girls feelings just to help me win a fucking title.”

Both men suddenly were red faced with anger, open mouths ready to spew more threats at each other.

Dad stepped in, placing his hands on each of their chests. “Hey, you two. The enemy is outside, you’re on the same team. Now settle down.” As quickly as the fire between the two began it was quenched and forgotten. “Now, while I agree with Edward about how we treat people, I also agree with my son, we can use this to our advantage.”

Both men looked puzzled, I joined them on that front. Dad looked at each of our faces as he waited for us to get a clue.

“Just as we’ve made everyone believe that Bella and Garrett are together, we toss a little line to the press that an unnamed female has become the love interest of the new up and coming boxer. One more avenue for them to follow and ignore the real story of Edward’s involvement with Bella.” Not a word was said as we all looked at one another, the idea was so simple it was stupid and, yet, completely brilliant.

Edward pulled his cap off, combing his hair back, and then replaced the hat. His grin was a pleasant sight as he nodded his head and everyone agreed. “I have to admit, that is a brilliant plan.” Edward praised, as his smile returned.

Dad’s chest pushed out in pride, his smile competing against Edward’s for most square footage. “I have another brilliant idea, involving everyone in this room right now,” his tone grew serious. “Tonight, I am taking all the beautiful women in my life to a nice restaurant, while the two of you study every match that Patrick has entered into the past eighteen months. I want the two of you to tell me everything about him—what he had for breakfast that morning and when the last time he got laid was. If he makes a single move, I need you to have a counter move.” With the latter he looked directly at Edward. With a plan in motion for the guys, he wrapped his arm around me as we headed back into the main gym.

Rose and Angela were now standing beside a rather rough looking Alice. Her once fashionable appearance, now downgraded to yoga pants and an old T-shirt. The sight before me made me question what was happening. Dad, ignorant of the situation, continued to direct me in the direction of the girls.

“Hey, Dad.” Rose called as she moved from her chair, raising to kiss dad on his cheek. Alice found the opening of the front door suddenly very interesting, refusing to look in my direction.

“Hey, Baby girl, you got plans for tonight?”

Rose shook her head, the end of her ponytail swishing against her shoulders. Dad went into detail about how he was taking us all out to dinner, giving no room for excuses and told us to dress to impress.

Alice continue to act as if she was bored. I glanced around and noticed that Jessica was nowhere to be seen. “Hey guys, where did Jessica go?” I looked around as I awaited an answer, an answer that came from the least likely source.

“You mean Pitch Perfect?” Alice questioned, her boredom showing in her voice as well.

All eyes turned to Alice, mouths opened in surprise.

“What?” she responded, uncertainty in her tone, her eyes flicking back and forth, and a look of disgust about her face. “You’re talking about the girl with the bad split ends, right?”

It was sad how she chose to focus on the negative, giving her a nickname before ever finding out her story. “That girl has a name and I would gamble to say a family. It’s really tacky of you to say what you just did about someone you don’t know.”

Alice didn’t respond, just took her keys in hand and walked to the back of the gym. Angela explained that not a second had passed since the door had closed before one of the regular police officers came in, catching the attention of poor lonely Jessica. Apparently, she’d tossed on a smile, adjusted her breasts, and asked the guy out for coffee, her brief encounter with Edward long forgotten.

~*CMA*~

Appletree Inn, was a very prestigious restaurant and bar in the area. It boasted to be the place to be seen, catering to the upper crust and the social elite of the area. Dad had been friends with the owner from early childhood so anytime we had an event to celebrate we came here, even with reservations being like locating a unicorn—nearly impossible to obtain.

Mr. Summitt, Gil as he insisted we call him, directed us to a corner table, the wait staff scurrying to assemble the perfect table the Inn was known for. Dad and Gil greeted each other with a gentleman’s hug, laughter and smiles all around. Once seated, Gil snapped his fingers, ordering the waiter to bring over a bottle of the house wine.

Gil was older looking than my father, with his silver hair coiffed in a modern style, his clothing tailored and definitely not off the rack. His cologne the fragrance of a much younger man, fresh and manly, not spicy like most older men. His smile and compliments were genuine, my mother’s laugh, however, was not. Years ago, my mother had introduced Gil to a friend of hers from high school. Gil found her not to his liking and only took her out the one time. My mother’s friend, unfortunately, was ready to pick out wedding rings. Renee took the side of her friend and has ‘hated’ Gll on principle. He, however, has never showed an indifference toward my mom. On the contrary, he showed her respect and kindness.

Gil insisted we have anything on the menu, on the house, of course. He came by several times checking to make sure we had everything we needed and to tell stories about the antics he and my father would get into as kids. Some of them I had heard before and some were new. Edward sent several text messages telling me he was missing me and that he would be waiting to hear when we left the restaurant.

Angela was picked up outside Edward’s apartment in hopes that the media would be paying attention so that she could be seen getting into a car dressed to the nines, while he returned later to an empty house. It all seemed rather childish to me. Tomorrow would resume regular training, therefore, we would spend our nights apart the majority of the time.

Gil had just sent over the most decadent cheesecake I had ever seen. He suggested a particular brand of champagne be served with it, but my father declined him spoiling us any further. He laughed and back away just as our waiter appeared with a large bottle wrapped in a pressed towel, manners in place and smile on display.

“Simon, you can take that back to the bar, it won’t be needed.” Gil assured the bow tie wearing waiter.

“Um, sorry Mr. Summitt, but this is from the gentleman at the far table.” He nodded in the direction of a table against the wall.

Sitting between two very beautiful redheaded women was a very handsome man, his chiseled jaw and sharp eyes made my breath catch in my chest. He had one of those smiles that you were either born with or spent an exorbitant amount of money to achieve. His dark eyes, however caused me to feel a chill all over my body. “He wishes all of these beautiful ladies a good evening and would like to come over to introduce himself.”

Gil started to speak, but the expletives that left my father’s lips caused my attention to return to him. His face was angry, full of hate and discord, tossing his napkin on the table he began to rise from his chair only to have Gil place a firm hand on his broad shoulder. “Not here Charlie. Keep your battles inside your gym.” My father’s eyes never left the dark haired man as he approached the table.

“Good evening everyone.” His voice deep and very masculine. His eyes telling a story of being genuine, but that smile…that smile was that of a used car salesman.

“Mr. Swan, it has been a long time, I hear you have a new tenant in your facility. Nice to see you trying to keep the doors open.” The poor waiter still stood beside the table, ready to pour that champagne.

“Black, I didn’t expect to see you here this evening. Isn’t this place out of your neighborhood?” My father fired back, keeping his voice friendly, for Gil’s sake I was certain.

“Well, I had some business…” his eyes flashed to mine. “…to attend to and I knew this was the best restaurant in the city. I just happened to be very lucky to have the opportunity to meet these beautiful ladies tonight.”

His eyes never left mine as he spun what I can safely garner was a complete bull shit story. I didn’t need an introduction, but by the manner in which the man shifted, I was about to get one.

“Hello, Beautiful. I’m Jacob Black, and you are?”

 

Chapter 19

In rapid successions of repeated tapping, the blank face of the man who held my world, hitting the speed bag trying dispel his anger. His red graphic tee was frayed along the edges, years of wear shown in the loose stitching. Knuckles taped, sweat running in free lines down his face, some traveling down several strand of hair, his concentration too fixated to care. Edward hadn’t said a single word after my encounter with Black was revealed. At first, I felt it was just his way of dealing with the news, processing the fact the threat from him is real. Now, I wasn’t sure what to think. Frankly, I was a little scared he would either explode or tell me I was causing more issues than I was worth.

Jacob presented himself as a man who was accustomed to getting what he wanted. It was doubtful he had ever been told no in his entire life. Deep inside I knew I had given him a challenge when I didn’t drop to my knees and beg for his attention. Instead, I reminded him that he had two women who were waiting for him at his table and it was rude to keep a lady waiting. Black showed his callousness as he lowered his voice and advised me that the women in his current company were far from ladies and for the right price would do anything he wished. Further letting me know that he had his eye on one particular lady and had every intention of pursuing her to the fullest.

“Ms. Swan, I am a dedicated man. I work hard at everything I do and everything that I deem important.” In another world or perhaps another time, I would have been flattered; instead it disgusted me that he acted in the manor he did. Ignoring his company and openly engaging me at a time where he was imposing, not to mention that I suspected he already knew of my ‘relationship’ with Garrett.

Jacob tried to pay our bill, however Gil stood proud as he informed him we were his guests for the evening and our dinner had been taken care of. Jacob then placed a card on the table beside me, leaning over and whispering in my ear that his personal number was on the back and to call him when I was ready to be shown the world.

Edward had been standing at the speed bag for almost an hour as everyone watched and waited. When he repeatedly ignored my calling of his name, I turned and left the room. After all I did have a job to do. With determination in my steps, I pulled open the door, ignoring my father as he tried to talk with me. Barely making it past the juice bar, I noticed the monstrosity that sat in the center of my desk. White roses, at least three dozen, ostentatious and ridiculous. Reading the card would be a lost cause, I already knew whom they were from.

“Seth,” I called to the passing teen. “Take those flowers to the ladies next door at the salon.”

Turning left, not waiting for a reply from Seth, my father’s office on my radar. Those roses would have a lingering smell, a scent I couldn’t handle right now. When I phoned my father and asked for his help in moving my things out of Eric’s house, it wasn’t just his muscles and vehicle that I desired. For as long as I could remember when I was afraid I sought out my father. His distinct scent most comforting to me. It’s what I need at the moment to feel grounded, able to clear my thoughts, and understand what was going on. All the deception had begun mounting on me. Sometimes I had to remind myself what the truth really was. It was sad that I couldn’t just walk around in public with Edward by my side; everything he was doing now was for the next fight, the next win. I was no stranger to this, I lived it alongside my mother. But the lies were becoming too broad to bear.

His chair was the same as it was when I was a little girl. Worn from all the years of use; comfortable and stable just like my daddy. Blocking the music pumping from the main floor, I closed my eyes as I shut the world away. The peace I found won’t last long, there’s always an issue that demands my attention, but for just a moment I wouldn’t think of anything, anyone.

I left the room before I could be paged. The flowers are absent when I enter my office, only a hint of their scent remains. I know this won’t be the last I hear from Jacob, yet I don’t know if his interest is truly in me or if he is smarter than Garrett thinks and knows the truth about Edward and I. Was this just his way of getting in Edward’s head, mess with his focus? Because if that was the case, it’s working. The longer Edward avoids me, the more my mind conjures up the worst of explanations. However, it was his choice to remain silent when I called for him. Everyone left me alone for the most part, only a few phone calls that I needed to field, decisions about nonsense was ever present in my world. They provided a nice diversion, a way to make the time go faster.

For a man as big as Edward is, his knock on my closed door was nearly silent. Only the movement of the slightly ajar door moved my eyes from the spreadsheet I had read a dozen times in the past hour. Dressed in a shirt and jeans, his eyes carried so much sadness I couldn’t understand. Those sad eyes closed for a moment as he secured the door, engaging the lock. My heartbeat quickened as I steadied myself for my worst fear to become a reality. The silence remained as he walked from the door to the chair by the desk. He finally slumped in a heap, like a defeated man about to be punished for something he didn’t do.

His eyes were closed and his head was back, yet he remained silent. I waited him out, allowing him to speak first. I expected something along the lines of ‘it’s me, not you‘, or ‘Bella we want different things‘, or perhaps even ‘you’re a distraction and I can’t afford distractions‘. None of that came out, though what did -left me speechless.

“He can give you the time you deserve, be seen with you in public, take you on trips.”

I knew whom he was referring to, there was no need to elaborate. The words were directed at me, yet I felt as if he was talking to himself. I waited just a minute more, giving him have ample time to get it all out before it was my turn. When Edward’s eyes finally met mine, I took that as my cue to begin.

“You’re right, he could give me all of those things and much more.” Somehow in my mind I had assumed that people who looked appealing to so many, as Edward did, had huge amounts of self-confidence. They never needed assurance that things were good in their surroundings. I had never pegged Edward as having an insecure bone in his body, yet here they were, showing me how real he was. “He could send me a million roses, take me to the finest restaurants the world had to offer.” Leaning back in my chair, I swallowed the emotions that were brewing inside my chest. “He would also give me constant worry that when he was away from me, that another woman was beside him. Or bring home something that could harm me. None of that really matters though.” My voice was strong, my personal confidence enough for the both of us. “Edward, I hate everything about him. The ten minutes of actual time I spent with him, I found myself wanting to get as far away as possible. I was appalled that he cared so little for any man that I may be seeing to send flowers to imply his attention. Yes, you’re right, he could give me the world. But you know what?” I stood from my chair. “You are my world and you give me everything I need.”

The smile was slow but certain. The glint in his eyes that I once wondered was just a part of him or if it was all for me, returned. I questioned it no more. “Good to know.”

The confidence returned and brought the cocky smile with it, what was once a grin was now megawatt. Gone was the sad sap that locked the door. Now, my Edward sat across from me. “I’ve spent the past few hours trying very hard to keep myself from getting into my car and finding the motherfucker and letting him know who warms your bed at night. I decided to save this rage I have inside. Save it for the night when I look him in the eyes and tell him how you have a comma shaped birthmark just inside your pretty, pink pussy. How after I kick the living shit out of him, I plan to lick that very spot until you pass out from pleasure—pleasure my fucking tongue will bring you.”

How do you respond to that? My rationale went from him deciding I was too much work without enough payoff to being the rage behind his desire to win. This went beyond just a mutual like. It was almost a declaration of love and devotion. This was…real.

“Charlie reminded me it was give and take when dating a beautiful woman.” A small gasp escaped my throat; I had never considered myself beautiful. The recipient of his comment was clear. Edward thought I was…beautiful. I couldn’t help but let my smile shine, all red cheeked and teeth on display. “I’ll gladly accept every stare and every turned head, as long as I get to keep you as mine.”

His words came from deep in his heart, a place buried behind his perfect chest—the same chest I found so much comfort on. Today was certainly a day of revelation; finding out Edward had doubts, but had such strong feelings for me.

“Bella, when we’re alone, I don’t want any pretending.” My smile dropped as my face took on the look of confusion. “I need to be able to ask you a question and get an honest answer. I want no secrets between us.”

I wanted the same thing. “I’m always honest with you, Edward. In all the craziness we have around us right now, honestly is the anchor keeping me in place.”

Edward rose from his chair, stepped around the desk and sent a quick look out the open window behind us. Members continued their workouts without a care in the world. However the reality of the Black situation, it was questionable if one of them were here to ‘check’ on things. “We’ll finish this particular part of our conversation much later this evening.” The tone of his voice gave me chills and a clear picture of what the night had in store for me…us.

Dad and Emmett came into my office just as Edward was about to leave. The mood we had created vanished with the strategic planning plain in my father’s eyes. “Edward, have a seat this involves you most of all.” Dad’s authoritative voice commanded and even as a grown woman my instinct to instantly obey was still ever present. “We’ve just come to an agreement with the O’Shea team. The fight is in eight weeks.”

When my father said ‘we’ it was conveyed that Jasper had called whomever he needed to.

“Eight weeks?” Edward interrupted. “Are you crazy? I can’t be conditioned in only two months!” There was a fine line between fear and exhaustion, but both can take away your will to continue and feed your mind with irrational thoughts. They can give you the worst thing possible, self-doubt.

“Listen, Son, if this were McPherson you were going up against, then I would agree.” McPherson was the current first place contender against Black. He could call for a match today if he wanted, but he made more money by sitting in that seat. “But if we thought O’Shea was a dirty fighter, McPherson is much worse.” Dad added, the slightest edge to his voice. “O’Shea will use deception to his advantage. We’re going to need to keep our eyes and ears open with this kid.” I felt the sting of worry in my chest.

What would I do if Edward was seriously injured?

CMA

“Where the hell do you come up with this nonsense, Bella?” Emmett chastised as we spoke during dinner. With Black’s recent appearance and clearly made intentions, we had to be extra careful. Garrett was busy at his office, trying to get information we could use against O’Shea and McPherson. So my brother decided he wanted to have dinner with myself and Rose, being seen in public with anyone except the one man I really wanted to be with.

Angela and my guy were across town, visiting a bar that Garrett had suggested. He’d been able to find out O’Shea had been arrested a few times in that particular bar. Currently, one of Rose’s twitter followers was posting pictures of the pair holding hands across the table. Angela had texted me that if she heard Edward say my name one more time she was going to be seriously ill.

“I do posses the ability to read, Emmett. It’s scientifically proven that women are better at smelling certain things faster than men. Get over it! Besides, I’m better at more than just fishing out bad smells than you.” Due to the many nights I spend alone, I had taken to reading random articles on Facebook. One in particular informed me that women have the ability to smell certain aromas—in certain instances—several minutes before men can. One item in particular was antifreeze.

“So you’re trying to tell me that, antifreeze, something you have no idea what it even is, you can smell before I can?” His disbelief and calling out would be his demise as Rose’s brow began to rise. Rose could be one of the sweetest ladies on the planet, until you upset her.

“Are you trying to say that men are more knowledgeable about chemicals?”

My brother was a rather large man. Pure muscle and, according to Rose, oozed sex appeal. She had been in love with him from the very beginning. Their relationship was straight out of the pages of any bestselling romance novel—compassion and instant attraction.

“No, Babe, I’m trying to say…” Emmett didn’t stand a chance, if Rose wanted to prove a point he might as well throw in the towel or, in this case, hit himself over the head with a shovel to keep from digging a bigger hole for himself.

“Just because we don’t bathe in the stuff, our perfume bottle collections lack the stuff inside them, doesn’t mean we don’t know what it’s for.” Rose’s words were final and Emmett knew when to quit.

I couldn’t help the smug grin I wore, small victories might be all I’d ever got with him, so I would gladly take every single one of them. I was so blinded from the smoke leftover from that small battle, I failed to see Garrett approach the table until his lips hit my cheek.

“Hey, Beautiful.” The empty chair beside me now housed his body, his arm securely around my shoulders. It felt wrong to be here beside him, like I was doing something amiss. “Just smile as I tell you this.” His lips trailed down my jaw, causing a shiver to pulse through me. “I’ve been sitting outside watching,” his eyes met with Emmett’s, his smile in place as if he was sharing the latest sports scores. “The dude in the corner, dark hair with the magazine rolled in his hands…” I refused to look at the man he was describing; instead I leaned into Garrett and fixed my sight on Rose and her diamond pendant. “He left the gym a few minutes after Bella did, tailed her to the pharmacy she stopped at and then here. He sat in his car talking on his cell phone for about ten minutes before he came in. He then ordered a diet coke and told the waitress he was waiting for someone.” Garrett leaned back in his chair, so calm and casual.

“Maybe he’s telling the truth.” Emmett rationed.

Garrett picked up a piece of my hair, caressed it between his fingers, and then winked at me. “I’d believe that if I hadn’t known to where the call was being placed.” His eyes flicking between mine, twice back and forth, then down to my lips.

“Where was the call placed?” My brother’s voice was quiet and concerned.

“Sarah Black.” Garrett replied, his eyes still dancing with mine.

“You gonna tell me who Sarah Black is?” Emmett’s voice was gruff with frustration.

Garrett dropped his eyes from mine, directing them at Emmett. “Jacob Black’s mother. Apparently Sarah and William have been having some marital issues. She has been questioning his whereabouts for several weeks now.” Emmett made a motion for Garrett to continue. “She feels that Jacob is helping dear old dad in finding pretty young ladies to fill his empty evenings. Dad has bankrolled Jacob’s title shots, thus placing Jacob in his debt.”

One of the more enlightening aspects of boxing I had recently learned was the enormous cost of putting a championship title match on. It’s the primary reason there are so many commercial ads on the ring skirt. Millions are required for not only the event to happen, but when you have a champion, like Black, who refuses to get out of bed for less than a few hundred thousand. There are advertising costs, if it’s televised, which most big fights are—featured also on cable and pay-per-view. Then the promoters want a cut, the champion gets a slice of cash—win, lose or draw. Before the first light is even turned on in the arena, a very large amount of money is placed in a trust. The bigger arenas, like Madison Square Garden, can run a promoter millions to rent out for the fight. It’s a wonder tickets don’t cost more than they do.

“So this guy is tailing Bella and reporting back to Mrs. Black? Bella hasn’t had any contact with William. Why would they be interested in her?”

Memories of my dad’s last fight came to mind. A man with hair so black it was nearly blue in the lights, his face bloody, with eyes closed as his cheek hit the floor of the mat. My father’s arm was raised in victory.

“Emmett!” I gasped. “Dad’s last fight.”

The table became quiet as Emmett pondered my words. “But, Bella that was mom who got Dad on his feet, you were too little. Why would he be interested in you?”

Rose once again was the voice of wisdom. “Because she is a carbon copy of Renee at her age.”

All eyes turned to Rose and mouths went silent. Dad had said many times that Mom and I were mirror images of one another when they were first married. He often joked that he was grateful that I got my looks from her and not his ugly mug. I, of course, had disagreed from the beginning. My argument was that my eyes were the same as my fathers, unlike the blue of my mother.

The man was still seated as we gathered our things and left the restaurant. I rode home in silence with Emmett and Rose. I could pick my car up another time, preferably when it was daylight. Was all of this about a man who wanted to relive his glory days? Some vain attempt to change the outcome of a fight he lost? And if it was, what would he have to gain? He couldn’t recreate the match, and Edward wasn’t my father’s son. It just didn’t make sense.

My house was just as I left it. Emmett had insisted on walking me around the pool, not trusting the nameless man from the restaurant. As I closed my door, telling Emmett for the hundredth time that I would be fine, I closed my eyes, and leaned my forehead against the wood panels of the door. All I could think about was how screwed up everything had become. With a deep breath and the memory of the cold beer I knew was in my refrigerator, I turned with my head still touching the door about to push off, when I felt lips press against mine…Edward.

His soft and tender lips, which always took me to a higher level, were replaced with hard, domineering, and possessive kisses. His agenda was made clear as he hoisted me up against the door, my t-shirt was pulled up and over my head, tossed to the floor without regard. His fingers dug into the flesh of my hips, my feet were hanging behind him as he gave me no room to secure myself to him. His fingers left my left side only to rip and tug at the snap of my jeans. He allowed my feet to touch the tile floor only for a single moment, as he pulled them from my body, exposing only one leg before he returned my back to the solid door. Slightly frightened, but oh so turned on, I allowed him to continue, taking from me what was needed.

His tongue entered and left my mouth, giving my body a preview of what was about to come. It should have made me feel strange that I wasn’t actually participating; yet I was breathless.

“Mine,” was the mantra he repeated over and over again. “Motherfucker can’t have her.” Was the last clear sentence I heard, before he shoved his cock into my dripping core. Every other time we had been together, it had been tortuously slow and all consuming, but tonight it was raw and wild, I fucking loved it. What kind of woman did that make me? Allowing a man to take me against the door, with my panties still technically on, only pushed to the side to expose me to him. My head and back pounded again the door, with a bruising I knew would make an appearance in the morning.

The feel of his hands as he held me by my ass cheeks, so damp from my arousal that I just knew his fingers were wet, yet he didn’t stop, not even when I cried out after each orgasm. He just kept pounding and repeating, “Mine”. It was true, I was his. I knew I would go through hell and back for him. Nearly everything I had been doing for the past six months had been for him. Misconstrued at times, but still all for him.

His movements slowed, his thrusting became sloppy and I could feel his body tremble with his orgasm. The groan I had witnessed several times in the past resonated from his chest and vibrated against my throat. With a final thrust he settled his face into the crook of my neck, as he slowly allowed my legs to fall down his jeans.

Soft and careful kisses littered my face and lips and I knew he was coming back to me. “Bella?” I feared what was coming by the remorse in his voice. “I’m…”

The old Bella, the one who allowed the people around her to give her guidelines, would have accepted what he had to say, taken his decision and forgone what she needed. But that Bella stayed behind, locked away in Eric’s imagination. “Don’t you dare cheapen this by saying you’re sorry!”

The silence that followed diminished my anger. His response brought a smile to my face. “I was going to say that I’m so in love with you.” He pulled away, showing the joy on his face that his voice was filled with. “But I think I’ll ask for another go, your tone is turning me on again.”

Edward didn’t take me against the door again, instead, he lead me into the bathroom where the garden tub was full of hot water and bubbles. For over an hour we talked, kissed and caressed each other, being together in a quiet and peaceful venue. We would deal with the Jacob, Sarah and William Black’s of the world when the sun came back out, giving us time to clear our heads and recharge.

For now, we would just…be.

Chapter 20

“Well, I sure as shit wouldn’t just sit back and do nothing!”

My father’s words echoed off the walls, the anger pouring off him. His face was red with rage and pent up frustration. I knew it was coming the second he walked into my office. Jacob had sworn he was a persistent man, his gift proved that. Now, the white box had been tossed across the room, its contents in a heap on my carpeted floor. Shiny, blue satin with black lace edging, beautiful and flattering to many a woman’s physique, but the reasons behind the gift were all wrong.

“If the crazy motherfucker had sent this kind of shit to my wife, I would have posted my own bail before I tore the bastard in half!”

Even with my father screaming at the top of his lungs, I couldn’t look away from the upturned box.

“What the fuck do you want me to do!? Bella isn’t my wife and we can’t fucking send golden boy in to defend her honor.”

Dad had demanded Garrett get to the gym as soon as he found the box. Garrett made the mistake of showing up with a smugness attitude, but my dad wiped that away in half a second.

“No, she isn’t your wife, but this entire circus was your fucking idea!” Dad roared as he pointed his finger in Garrett’s direction. “As for the golden boy,” he snickered. “…he would have kicked Jacobs sorry ass, too.” Dad looked at something behind me, reverted his attention back to Garrett, and then motioned for him to exit the room. “We’ll finish this in my office.”

A chill blew past me once I was alone in my office. Everything was out of my control. I had gone from hiding behind my weight, trying to win the love of a man who was incapable of doing so, to hiding behind another man who would never have the slightest interest in me just to protect another. I may only be pretending this time, but deep inside it felt like I was once again conforming to conditions.

“Bella?” My mother’s soft voice startled me.

“Mom…what?” My hand rested against my chest, the adrenalin peaking in my bloodstream.

“I’m sorry, I thought you heard me walk in.” Her smile was always a huge comfort for me, a beacon to call me home.

“Sorry, Mom, I was lost in thought.” I released the air that had gathered inside my chest, moving back to my desk.

“Well, you father called and said some things happened this morning. He thought you could use your mother.”

How he had known I needed her, I had no clue, but that wasn’t important. What was is that she is sitting across from me now. “He’s right, I could use your advice right now.”

Our eyes locked, hers full of love and the desire to take it all away; to make my life better. Mine were filled with uncertainty and fear. Fear that this would all end in destruction, burying my heart in the rubble.

“How about you tell me what has happened?”

Never breaking eye contact, I began the story of how a simple delivery turned my world upside down. “I was trying to get here a little early, get in a workout before everything got crazy. When I came into my office, I heard banging on the glass door. I looked at the monitors and saw this guy dressed in a suit carrying that box over there.”

I pointed to the offending object that hadn’t moved since dad tossed it in the corner. Mom’s eyes left my face and followed my line of sight. Her expression changed from a sweet calm to inquisitive.

“I pressed the intercom and told him we would be open in an hour, he waved and placed the box on the ground. I waited for a few minutes before I opened the door. When I got inside, I noticed the card that was taped to the top.”

I picked up the card and passed it to her open hand. She carefully opening the card, I watched as her eyes flicked back and forth as she read the printed letters.

“My dearest Isabella. Seeing you last evening has awoken a passion I have tried to ignore for some time now. As I lay in my bed last night, I fantasized about how you would feel wrapped around me, lost in the passion I could so easily bring you. In those fantasies, I pictured you wearing something like this. So tonight, when you are all alone, sleeping between those cold sheets, place this against that wet pussy of yours and let it bring you to climax, just as it did for me.”

She tossed the note back on my desk, her face contorted with disgust, yet she said nothing for several minutes. She looked to the box, the satin of the fabric, and then back to me. “Well, I’m certain you won’t be taking his suggestions. He’s a narcissistic young man, just like his father. My good friend, Charlotte, once referred to his father as a ‘self licking ice-cream cone.”

I couldn’t help myself as I burst out laughing at her analogy, mentally picturing a man licking himself and enjoying it.

“There’s the smile that was missing.” Her voice back to joyous. “Now, about this Black situation.” She rose from the chair, her blue skirt fluttering around her knees. “From what I understand, the men in our lives are under the impression that William has developed an obsession with you, just as he had for me years ago.”

Just like Garrett stood and walked around, allowing his thoughts to be verbalized, Mom made her rounds as she spoke. “See, I have a really hard time believing the theories that have been floating around. First, the idea that William and Jacob share anything more than DNA is absurd. William has worked very hard to get to where he is now. When he lost that fight against your father, it opened a door to take over the family business and buy out a competitor who stood by William’s side, even giving him the woman he calls his wife, Sarah. Now Sarah is no prize, never was. I always felt it was a damn good thing she came from a family of means. Sarah may have been born with a face that only a mother could love, but she’s also a stern woman, one I would never cross. As for Jacob, well we both know how your father and brother feel about him.” Her eyes returned to mine, looking like a lioness protecting her young.

“My question however…” her eyes narrowed, “…how did Garrett know who the man in the bar was speaking with? Don’t get me wrong, it appears he’s doing a good job in the detective department, but why would he have an eye on Sarah Black? Last time I checked, excessive bitch wasn’t a crime.”

She raised an interesting question, one I hadn’t even fathomed.

“Furthermore, how is he able to be at your beck and call in an instant? Don’t detectives have to go out and investigate other crimes? He’s always here when you need him.” Her hands were in the air in a questioning stance. “He has the answer to every question, which is odd considering the amount of unsolved crimes in existence. He’s never too busy to be here whenever you ask him to be or even when you don’t. There’s just something that doesn’t fit about Garrett.” Mom took her seat again, crossing her legs at the knees. “What I do know for certain, your father is right. Edward would have killed Jacob for what he did, title or no title, that boy is head over heels for you.” Her index finger pointed at me. “Keep him around, he’s good people.”

CMA

Mom convinced me to take lunch out with her; a change of scenery would do us some good she said. What started out as a long lunch, became shopping at the surrounding stores and not returning to the gym at all. In the end it was a much needed distraction, allowing me time to absorb the points she had made. I decided that going home and forgetting about the events of today, even if for one night, was definitely on the menu. After securing the doors and setting the alarm, I began to remove my shoes and skirt as I walked toward my bedroom. Just as my skirt hit the fibers of the carpet, I came upon a sight that made me both smile and gasp.

Edward laid haphazardly across my bed, pillows gathered under his head, white t-shirt covering all those muscles he worked so hard to maintain. Denim jeans covering the place that brought me such ecstasy. Those green eyes sparkled with mischief and desire, all for me.

With his boxer stealth he was out of my bed and across the room before I could blink, covering my neck with his hot, open mouthed kisses. He pulled back enough to slip off his t-shirt and my blouse as well. Only my bra and panties covered my secret parts. Dipping down, he grasped my ass in his strong hands, pulling me into his groin as he turned us both, my bed his intended destination.

His lips were as strong as the rest of him, forceful yet precise and disciplined. Edward knew where to kiss me to bring out my desire. Where to place his hands so that I would scream for more. Women don’t come with operating instructions, still, Edward had a complete and clear understanding of every inch of my body.

I reached around, unhooking my bra, releasing my breasts from their satin prison. Only for them to be replaced by his mouth on my left nipple and his hand on the right. My back found the coolness of the sheets a nice contradiction to the heat that was raging between us.

His cock pressed against my pelvis and I longed to set it free. I wanted him take me and remind me that when all the lights go out and nobody’s looking, I am his.

“I missed you.” His voice gruff with his emotions. I loved the raspiness of it, filling me with the desire to do completely naughty things.

I pulled his face away from my tits, a devilish smile taking over my labored breathing. Edward leaned back on his heals, unbuttoning those jeans knowing what I needed to do. With a hard shove on the denim, his hardened cock sprang free, the shiny pink head calling for me to pay homage to it. With a wink and lick of my lips, I dove for it. I took everything that could fit in my mouth, moaning in pleasure as I felt him on my tongue. With one hand, I took one of his balls in hand, it felt so silky and hard and it deserved it’s own attention. I removed his cock from my mouth, stroking up and down with the moisture left behind, and took both balls into my mouth. The expletives that came freely from his mouth were the only assurance I needed that he was enjoying it as much as I was.

“Bella, holy fuck!” His words only encouraged me to return his cock to my mouth.

Giving oral sex was never on the top of my list, actually the thought was rather disgusting. But with Edward, it was something I needed to do, it wasn’t a chore or an obligation, but a carnal need.

“Baby…” He wasn’t able to get anything else out as he pulled me away from his glistening manhood.

My panties were pulled away and replaced with his fingers rubbing frantically at my clit. My eyes rolled back in my head as he slid into me, so gently this time. Kisses trailed from my cheek to the tip of my bare shoulder, his fingers never stopping where we were joined. Edward built me up several times before he allowed himself to come inside me, whispering how much he wished things were different; how he wanted the world to know that we were together.

CMA

In the pitch black of the room, later that night, with our legs intertwined and soft touches of fingers to chests and arms, Edward began his confession.

“I hated not being able to do anything to that motherfucker!” The raspiness had returned, causing my desire to peak as well. “Charlie told me to save the rage, to use it to train hard and fight harder.”

His fingers never stopped their exploration of my arm. He was silent for several minutes and I had assumed he had fallen asleep, but that sexy voice broke the silence.

“He wants an exhibition match.”

My eyes flew open and I raised up on one arm. “What?” I questioned, surprise in my voice.

Edward adjusted his position, mirroring mine. “O’Shea wants to do some charity event where we trash talk and go three rounds. Emmett and Charlie think it’s good way to let Black know what’s coming his way.”

CMA

Murphy’s gym, the largest and, coincidently, oldest gym in the area, was agreed upon as the venue for the charity event. With the sparring match as the main event, several family oriented activities were also planned. Our gym would be sponsoring a raffle to win a full membership that included personal training and boxing lessons if the winner chose to participate. I had ordered tons of merchandise to be given away to anyone who attended. Angela would be manning our information desk, the fact that the majority of the attendees would be male had nothing to do with placing her in that position, or the request to wear booty shorts. A local brewing company would be sponsoring a beer tent and a local rib shack would serve barbeque. It should prove to be every red blooded man’s wet dream rolled into one night.

Emmett was going to be standing beside Angela as ‘muscle’ if anyone got out of hand. Alice mentioned that it was a brilliant idea on my part to ‘pimp them out’. I was trying very hard with Alice, she was in a bad place, a place I knew she’d put herself into. Yet no one deserves to be under that amount of unnecessary pressure. I should hate her; should be resentful of everything she’d done, but I couldn’t be. I wasn’t built to be spiteful. Besides, she might be family one day. I understood that she’d fallen in love with a man, given her heart and body to him. In a sadistic and twisted way, she and I were very alike; we’re both living a lie to protect the men we love.

Events like these bring out some very interesting people. Men who seemed to know everything about the two boxers, yet nothing about the kid their eight year old had over to their house last weekend. Women who have no moral compass and were willing to do just about anything to get the attention of one of the participants. I wanted to believe that Edward would never be swayed, but our relationship is new and I’m very familiar with the way men operate. Rose advised me to relish in the fact that Edward’s admirers could only imagine what he’s like outside of the ring. I, on the other hand, have firsthand experience with just how skilled he really is. I’m holding on to that, on to the words he whispered in the quiet of the morning before he left earlier in the day.

It’s been three weeks since the box arrived at the gym. Angela had taken care of it, I told her to use gloves due to his revelation of having it near his business. Smaller and less personal items had arrived since then. First, a t-shirt with Jacob’s name on it, followed by a gym bag from the place he trains, and then several gift certificates to stores and restaurants. All of them are being used for two things, one to add fuel to Edward’s fire and second to use as giveaways for this event. I’ve chosen not to read the cards that accompany them since the first one left me feeling very uneasy. Emmett let Edward keep them, again using it to build his rage. I know it’s working, his passion for me is stronger after each package arrives, his need is raw and I thrive on it.

All of this planning brings us to the calm before the storm. Angela is flirting her cute behind off, giving demonstrations on everything we have to offer. Emmett is telling ladies we can create a workout program that works specifically for them. He’s also gotten a few numbers and requests for his autograph on some pretty revealing places.

Dad is practically sitting on his hands as he allows Jasper to coach Edward. I can see how bad he wants to be in the center of things, giving advice or telling him to tone things down and save it for the real fight. I’m just trying to stay busy, keep out of everyone’s way and, honestly, avoid running into Jacob.

Last week he announced that he would be attending the exhibition, causing ticket sales to skyrocket. He even bragged that he would be doing this as a fan and waved his standard appearance fee. Why he even needed to add that is disgusting. Everyone who follows sports or celebrities knows they charge a premium to make an appearance. Hell, even my dad did for several years after his last win. But to tell everyone that he isn’t, is just a ploy to make him seem like a good guy and not the evil twisted creature he really is.

I tried to put that behind me, after all, this was a charity event. Raising money for a local teen center that had recently lost their main supporter. Dad had asked that I make certain the water bottles were placed by the ring before the match. Just outside the ring was an area where the two fighters would be signing autographs and taking photos with fans who paid their admission fee. The local news channel would be here to promote and do a few interviews before the actual fight started. Edward was due here at any minute as O’Shea was back in the locker room warming up. His trainer had been scurrying around all day mumbling under his breath in words I could hear, but not understand.

The crowd waiting to get in was at least one hundred people deep. I was glad they had chosen this gym as I cringed at the thought of all the food and drinks that could have been spilled on my new carpet. Taking a final count of how many stacks of brochures we had for the gym, I glanced up in time to see Edward and Jacob attempting to enter at the same time. Where Edward walked with authority and style, Jacob was all about the flashes of camera, his hand raised to wave at seemingly everyone. Edward’s eyes were covered by his signature sunglasses, but the determination was covering his very nice features. Edward stopped at the entrance and motioned for Jacob to enter first. As the cameras took in the conversation, I could feel the joy bubbling inside as I heard his polite, yet completely trash talking statement.

“Age before beauty.”

The sultriness of Edward’s voice still did things to me deep inside. Just as I was about to allow myself to melt into a puddle, warm arms wrapped around me, followed shortly by the smell of leather.

“I have such great timing,” Garrett’s voice reverberating in my ear.

Since the conversation I’d had with my mother, I’ve questioned everything about Garrett. It’s true that he seems to appear just in the nick of time for nearly everything. He always has the answers to the unspoken questions and always has the solution to every problem, as if he knew it would happen, like a sixth sense if you will.

My eyes trailed off back to the two monstrous men who had, by now, entered the lobby. Edward was bent down talking to a little boy in a wheelchair, one of the youth that the center helped out. Jacob, however, had his pen out and was signing the t-shirt of a robust woman, but his eyes were on me.

“All right, let’s give him something to watch.” Hard fingers pressed on my chin, pulling my face in Garrett’s direction, it felt wrong—forced. Thin lips connected firmly to mine and his palm pressed to the side of my cheek, capturing my attention and turning my head in the process. My eyes closed out of instinct, but I was taken aback when a wet tongue slipped into my mouth, doing a full tour of the inside. Our lips weren’t connected completely and anyone who was watching could see his tongue massaging mine. Garrett was once again playing a part, showing Jacob that I’m in a relationship. But my worry, my fear—what is it showing Edward?

By the time Garrett released me the crowd had already funneled into the ring area. Without a single word, he left the room and headed into the back. The voices of cheering fans were building with the excitement of the moment. Each set of eyes searched for their favorite, desperate to catch a glimpse of their prize fighter.

I watched as, just like in a competition match, each fighter was weighed and measured. I listened to the conversations between the two competitors as they sized up one another. O’Shea was a big guy, hard and bald. His green and black trunks glistened from the interior lights and his bouncing movement.

“Round two,” he taunted over and over. He was trying to get into Edward’s head, psych him up for what is promised to come. “I’m gonna take that win, and then I’ll take your girl.” This got cheers from the crowd, giving O’Shea the reaction I was certain he was after. Angela made her presence and distaste known by wrapping her slender arms around Edward, kissing him in much the same way Garrett had me. Even though she was my friend and I knew she thought Edward was too much of a pretty boy for her, I couldn’t deny that the action bothered me. Edward remained stoic, his eyes fixed on O’Shea’s face, giving him his own form of intimidation. Edward’s arm muscles flexed as he moved his feet back and forth, captivating me.

O’Shea’s team has begun setting up around the ring, getting his gear where they could easily grab it and handing his gloves over the bottom rope. If this were a real event, all of this would be done in the dressing room out of the eyes of the general public, but due to the circumstances, the gloves would be done ringside. After the third member of his team walked by, it dawned on me that I hadn’t delivered the water or spit pails. I pushed off the wall and scurried passed the growing crowd, grabbed my tools and forced my way into the ring.

When I was a little girl, I loved to make sure my dad had his water bottle and several towels ready for him. I felt so important to be a part of his team. Funny how all these years later, I still felt that way.

I rounded the final corner and found O’Shea’s team members milling around a plastic bag lying on the floor. As I sat the buckets and bottles down, I noticed several rolls of what looked to be plastic kitchen wrap. I found it odd, but didn’t question it. Just as I was about to turn and deliver Edward’s supplies, I caught a distinct smell coming from that bag on the floor. It was slightly sweet, but with a chemical smell. It was faint, so I just assumed the bag had been used for something else.

“Thanks, Love.” O’Shea’s coach had joined the ringside team. His smile was yellow from what I assumed was too much coffee drinking, but as he walked past me, that sweet smell increased. Feeling completely uncomfortable being on the enemy’s side, I smiled and walked away in a hurry.

I didn’t look at Edward, or Jasper, as I placed the identical items on his side. I knew that I would give everything away if I did. Without a single word, I hurried away just as fast, looking for a familiar face. After a few ‘excuse me’s’ and several stepped on toes, I finally saw my father and brother. Dad’s eyes met mine and a quizzical look formed on his face.

“Baby? What’s wrong?” Emmett turned as dad spoke, the look on his face held as much concern as my father’s had.

“Nothing, just didn’t like being around the other team.”

Both men smiled and dad pulled me into a hug. Mom and Rose had reserved us seats close to the ring. With my father and brother on either side of me, we began to find our way to the girls.

The announcer for the event was another one of the kids from the center; a sanctioned official was present to help the kid with the calls. The youth couldn’t have been more than fourteen and he looked adorable in his shirt and bow tie. The young man, who was introduced by the official as Taylor, had each boxer touch gloves and then go back to their corner.

Not a minute after the gloves touched, that sweet smell returned, this time churning my stomach as the smell had changed slightly. “Does anyone else smell that?” I asked no one in particular.

Mom turned to me, took a sniff and then scrunched her nose up. “Oh my, what is that smell?

Rose leaned over, repeated my mother’s actions and at the same exact time we all announced, “Antifreeze?”

Dad pulled his arm from around my mother, as his eyes met Emmett’s. Both shouting ‘fuck’ at the same time they sprung from their chairs. My father’s feet hit the floor and then jumped over the patrons sitting in the row before us. Emmett was hot on his heels, yelling Jasper’s name.

Angry spectators tried to stop my dad and brother, but they were little, to no match for the seasoned athletes. Confused voices sounded around me as dad ran at full speed toward Edward’s corner. A large lump began to form in my throat, I knew something big was about to go down. Why would dad react that way? What was the significance of the smell of antifreeze? It was most likely nothing as that particular chemical had no place in the gym. Perhaps it was someone with a bad case of body odor or a trash can that needed to be attended to.

Emmett climbed into the ring, pulling at the official to come to the side. Scanning the ring, I noticed the O’Shea team huddled around him, oblivious to the clatter my father was making. The official held up his hand as my brother and father spoke animatedly to him.

“What’s going on?” was asked over and over around us.

“Honey, I’m sure as soon as your father knows, he’ll come over and tell us.” Mom’s reassuring voice tried to comfort and dissolve my confusion. She placed her hand over mine, stopping the trembling I didn’t even realize was happening.

After listening to what my father and brother had to say, the official called O’Shea over and had him extend out his gloves. Edward and Jasper stood quietly in their corner, Dad and Emmett beside them now. Four strong men standing united like the four horsemen. The referee examined O’Shea’s gloves as he was joined by several men in suits. O’Shea’s trainer stood with hand on hips. His crew was looking at each other, nervous glances passing back and forth. Something told me that whatever that smell was, it was directly related to his gloves.

As one of the men in suits pulled a pair of latex gloves from his pocket, the two crew members began to move back to the floor, trying very hard to leave quietly. Security noticed the chaos and stood behind the men as they packed to leave. A large plastic bag was brought from the back and handed to the man with the gloves, who had a pair of scissors that he used to cut the laces. The referee was waving his hands wildly and pointing to the O’Shea corner. Then, in a move that left my chin touching the floor, Edward’s hand was raised in victory.

CMA

“So what happens now?”

After the gym had cleared out and the fans got their fill of autographs and food, Mom and I left and went to our gym. Neither one of us could figure out exactly what had happened. Dad promised he would tell us everything once the coast was clear.

Now, we’re sitting in his office, empty pizza boxes and beer bottles surrounding us. Edward kept to his water and chicken salad. “Well, his place standing has been placed on a suspended level. He will be drug tested and questioned by the police.”

Edward kept his fingers running up and down my arm, grounding me, bringing me a small amount of comfort.

“I’ll be surprised if he’s able to walk away from this without serving jail time.”

When dad first arrived, he explained the smell of antifreeze and a banned drug, Mortitis, have the same chemical smell. Emmett cut in telling how the guys who were working along side of O’Shea weren’t his usual staff. They had been hired by a nameless guy who paid cash for them to wrap O’Shea’s hands in plastic wrap before placing the gloves on his hands. Seems the Mortitis reacts with the skin, rendering the recipient unconscious. Since it was banned in the US, when the DEA got involved, the three thugs began to sing like birds.

“Yeah, you should have seen them telling the cops to fuck off and suck their dicks. Tune sure changed when DEA and immigration walked in.” Dad mused, shaking his head back and forth.

“Who paid the men?” My mother asked from my father’s side. Everyone looked in her direction, sharing the same question.

“I can answer that.” The confident, cocky voice was a forgotten player in this twisted game. Garrett took his place on the other side of me, patting my leg as he took his seat. “The payment was made in cash and the men only knew him as ‘Sir’. Mr O’Shea received quite a chunk of money, although he may never see it, since he’s being deported back to Ireland.”

Garrett once again knew all of the answers and yet he was sitting here only hours after it all went down and not back at his desk writing a report. “The DEA is involved due to the nature of the drug, as it is banned here in the US and many other countries. The boxing Commissioner has already made it known that he intends to strip him of his title and uphold Edward’s win as a sanctioned title fight.”

Mom opened and closed her mouth several times as Garrett told us what he knew. It was when he leaned back in his chair and slipped his entire hand on my thigh,that she finally began to speak.

“Garrett, why are you here exactly?” Frustration and anger coated my mother’s question. Garrett kept his cool as he only glanced in her direction. “I don’t understand how you are always here, with us—with Bella, to be specific.”

Garrett tried to answer her, but she held up her hand to silence him.

“You have an answer for everything and yet you never leave us long enough to perform any detective work. You play the part of boyfriend, almost too well, as you seem hell bent on showing Edward how to properly kiss his own girlfriend.”

While my mother made some very valid points, I couldn’t allow her to make him feel bad for covering for Edward. I would apologize later to Garrett for outing him. “Mother, please stop…it isn’t like that. Garrett is only helping us, besides……” I lowered my eyes, afraid to see the look on his face as I betrayed his trust, “…Garrett is gay.”

Like a band of musicians coming together for the crescendo, ‘No he’s not!’ was heard from every direction.

I glanced first at Edward, then to my father. Anger, complete and unmistakable anger, on everyone’s faces.

“Is that what you told her, Garrett? That you are gay.” Edward’s voice venomous, the rage barely contained.

I turned my attention to Garrett, his once cocky attitude was now replaced with regret. I could see it in his eyes, in the way he was shifting and swallowing hard.

“Garrett?” I pleaded.

With a huge intake of breath, his eyes focused back on mine, “I can explain, Bella.”

Chapter 21

 

“It isn’t what you’re thinking.” Garrett pleads. “Give me a chance and I’ll explain everything.”

Silence filled the room and every eye was on the two of us. Edward’s body vibrated beside me, electricity sparking from the room around me.

“Go ahead.” I spoke, hoping I wouldn’t live to regret this.

Garrett stood, removed his leather jacket, and then tossed the discarded leather in a heap on his empty chair. He exchanged his typical, calculated pacing for his still as a statue pose, the hair on the back of my neck now joining him in attention.

“I’m not gay, Bella. Never have been. I’m sorry for lying about that, more sorry than you know.” His head dropped and for a brief second I felt sorry for him. Garrett had become my friend and helped me to become more comfortable with myself.

“I’m not a detective either.” My eyes searched his, trying desperately to find the truth, some reason for why he’d done this. “I actually work for the Boxing commission.” Any movement that happened prior to his confession died as soon as they materialized. “I also work for Sarah Black.”

Mom, who sat beside my father, had a knowing look on her face. Dad, however, had his brows furrowed and I could feel the rage build in him from across the room.

“A few years ago, the commission received an anonymous tip that William Black was paying potential competitors to either throw a fight or not seek a title shot. We’ve monitored the bank accounts of the top two contenders and unless they have something in a foreign system, they are clean. Until recently, we thought we just had someone with an ax to grind against Black.”

Dad and Emmett had matching postures, arms crossed with muscles on display. Jasper, who had remained quiet with a sobbing Alice at his side, wrapped his arm around her and I just knew there was so much more to the story about those two than what they had admitted.

“What changed?” Edward questioned, disbelief in his voice.

Garrett’s eyes whipped to Edward’s. Their stare became a standoff of wills and determination. “A phone call from Sarah Black.”

The shift in the room began with my mother’s huff. She had made it clear to me that Sarah was an interesting person. However, I was intrigued as to why a phone call from the mother of a champion would cause any alarm.

“Let me guess, she wanted to sing the praises of how her son should have his name on a monument somewhere?” By her tone alone, I knew she was being facetious, she had no cause to be upset with her as she admitted earlier.

“Not, exactly.” Garrett drew out the latter; emphasizing that indeed there was so much more. “She’s helping us actually.” His rebuttal was frank, causing everyone in the room to sit up a little straighter. “According to Sarah, her husband has been seeing different women on the side, having torrid affairs while she turned a blind eye. Recently, she discovered the deception was greater than she was comfortable with, an act of betrayal involving her son. Now she’s doing everything she can to help us catch Black, so she in turn will have the last laugh so to speak.”

Emmett hadn’t spoken much during this meeting, but that all changed as he asked the one question I doubt anyone else had thought of. “Black may or may not be paying competitors off, but he still had to fight to get to where he is. Nobody handed him the title.”

I shifted in my seat, any belief in what Garrett had just confessed was gone out the window. I was about to get up and leave the room; to tell Garrett to get out of my life, when my father gave me the look, the one that makes you feel like a little kid again.

“Emmett you have a valid point, but let me ask you this. When you were fighting your way to the top, you had sponsors, correct?” Emmett nodded his head in the affirmative. “Those sponsors took care of you and paid your bills so you could train.” Emmett nodded again. “So imagine for a moment that all of your sponsors have told you they’re ending their contracts with you, taking that money away. You’re close to a title shot—so close you can taste the win. Now, it seems like you’ll never get there, never recover from the disappointment. Just when everything seems dismal, a man you’ve never met before makes you an offer you can’t refuse. He’ll pay you the winning purse and get all of your sponsors back, all you have to do is toss the match.”

Emmett stood up, his arms flailing as he spoke. “Fighters don’t just throw fights! We train hard and love to fight, it’s not about the money.”

Garrett interrupted. “It’s not to someone who has money, but I have over a dozen boxers who are willing to do just as I described to take home that much money. To someone who has no money, no college education and no real family, several hundred thousand can go a very long way.”

A lump had formed in my throat. It was impossible for me to understand how anyone could throw everything away for money, yet it was all true.

“What about Edward?” Rose interjected. “He has sponsors and I haven’t heard about them threatening to leave.”

Instead of looking at Garrett, my eyes found the handsome face of the man I could do nothing but love. “Really, Rose? Can you name one sponsor he has?”

My eyes stayed on his face, the calmness eery. My assumption was that Jasper took care of the money from the sponsors, yet Edward never wore any logos on his person. He had no commercials or any photo appearances. Emmett always had to autograph gloves and photos sent to him by the various companies. His clothing was supplied by his largest donor, gloves by whatever sports company was carrying him. Not Edward.

“Edward threw a big wrench in Black’s game. By not having the traditional backing, he caused Black to seek other avenues. Enter Jasper and his baggage, designer as it may be. With him marrying Alice you’d think Black would have come up with a different plan; he did in a way. By making Jasper seem less appealing to the Cullen family, running the risk of getting attorneys involved and effectively leaving him high and dry—no money, no boxer and no wife.”

Alice wiped her red, runny nose, only clinging tighter to Jasper’s arm.

“So who are your sponsors?” Rose quizzed Edward.

He didn’t move his gaze from mine, “Ask Garrett. He seems to have all the answers.”

Taking Edward’s hand in mine, I listened and nearly lost my breath. “Edward doesn’t have any sponsors. He doesn’t need them. According to American Trust, he could buy that belt from Black if he really wanted to. Once Black found this out he needed a new approach.”

Boxing has always been an expensive sport. Champions, such as my father and brother, get money if they win, lose or draw. It’s big money, sometimes millions of dollars. If Edward didn’t need money to support himself, and by Garrett’s own admission he didn’t, then money wouldn’t sway him.

Edward’s hand tightened on mine, making me look back at him. “Remember when I told you I worked for a bank before I decided to do this?” I nodded, my eyes never leaving his face. “Well, that wasn’t entirely true. I worked in the bank that my Grandfather willed to me.” This changed nothing for me, Edward could be as wealthy as he is portrayed to be or as poor as the homeless under the Fifth street Bridge, I would still feel for him as I did ten seconds ago.

“Black knew he would need more than some trumped up charges on a ex-con. He would need to be prepared for the possibility that the fight just might happen. So he paid O’Shea to try and poison him, not enough to end him, but enough to scare him a little. With what happened tonight, I know we have to remain diligent in what we have been doing already. Keep Black think…”

“No!” my mother interrupted, standing from her chair with authority. “We have allowed you to manipulate and lie to this family long enough. Taking your word for everything and never questioning the validity of what you’ve said. In my eyes that makes you just as guilty as Jacob.” Her face was red with anger. “No, Garrett, we do things my way from now on.” She had just the slightest hint of attitude in her voice, all that was lacking for the full effect would be the whirling snap. “If he thinks that having Bella around would be in Edward’s favor, then we have to benefit from his deception.” I wasn’t certain I liked the tone of her voice. I knew she had a plan, but then again, so did General Custer. “He has been sending Bella a lot of attention lately, thinking she’s dating you, trying very hard to catch her eye. I think we can use that to our advantage.”

Garrett tried to interject, but mom kept on going. “Oh, honey, I’ll give you the floor as soon as I’m done. First, I want to know something.” Garrett swallowed hard then took in a labored breath. “Why tell Bella you’re gay?”

I had planned on asking him myself when we didn’t have such an audience, it would seem mom wasn’t willing to extend that courtesy.

Garrett ran his hands over his face and into his hair. This was so weird to watch as he always seemed in control. The person who now sat in his chair was a complete stranger, a side I had never seen. “At first it was just to play a role, much like telling everyone I was a detective. However…” His eyes found mine, a new emotion present there. “As everyone in this room already knows, you can’t help but fall in love with her.”

For years I prayed that Eric would say he truly loved me, wanted to be with me for the long hall. But to hear Garrett admit his feeling to me, left me cold and unable to return his sentiments.

“I had planned on telling you when the investigation was over; to make certain you knew you had options. I want you to know you didn’t have to settle for a boxer who might be too wrapped up in himself after he lost the title, unable to give you the dreams that you have.”

On one of our many fake dates, I had confessed to Garrett that I wanted a family of my own. A house with a fenced in yard that kept the dog and kids safe. I wanted a husband who could sit beside me as we marked off all the events that life had to offer.

“What gave you the impression that she didn’t have choices?” Edward rose from his chair, dropping my hand in the process. “She’s always been in control of our relationship. She’s always had a choice to kick my sorry ass to the curb and find someone who was better for her, who could give her a ring on her finger in the next year and bless her with as many babies as she desires.” His voice was heated, his words heartfelt, they also took me completely off guard. I had imagined Edward to be confident and not the worrisome man he portrayed. “You’ve always had a choice, Baby.” He dropped down in front of me, kissing me gently. “I’m so grateful you chose me.”

“I need to say something.” Alice’s tiny and trembling voice broke the moment. “I never wanted this to become what it has. I wanted to help Jasper keep his brother out of jail and give him a good life, let the baby grow up in a good home like we did.” Her words voiced to Edward who was still on his knees before me. “I’m sorry to you, Bella; to everyone really. I’m not asking for forgiveness, I know none of you would offer it up, but I’m hoping that after this is all over we can start fresh, Jasper and myself.” Her hand went to her pelvis. “And anyone else who happens along.”

Edward was on his feet and across the room, kneeling at his sister’s feet. “Are you having a baby?” The excitement too big to be missed as she nodded her head frantically.

“Mom and dad are coming next month and I am telling them everything. We’re hoping they will be so excited about being grandparents that they’ll overlook the fact I have kept this from them.”

*~CMA~*

Mom’s plan was so simple it seemed impossible. Use a man’s greatest weakness against him, apparently that seemed to be me. My part was the most difficult in my opinion. Play a game of cat and mouse, with the cat being a snake in disguise.

When she told us precisely how we would turn the player into the played, I asked one question. “If Edward were to fight Jacob this very minute, could he win?”

Without hesitation my father spoke with confidence, “It would be a very close match. Having the upper hand would place Edward in the lead.”

So here I sit, perched at my desk with a cell phone ringing in my ear. No matter what, after four rings and no voice mail I was ending this call.

“Hello?” The voice that made my skin crawl sounded through the receiver.

Edward who had wrapped himself around me offering to be my rock, told me over and over that he would gladly train harder if I didn’t want to go through with this. Something inside me, something deep, scared and begging to be released made me feel as if I had to see this to fruitration.

“Mr. Black?” I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, praying that he couldn’t hear the nervousness in my voice.

“Ah…the lovely, Ms Swan.”

Many women would consider Jacob to be a handsome man with an equally sexy voice, I would have to disagree.

“It’s Bella, just plain Bella.” I could hear him take a deep breath on the other end of the phone, Edward pulled my hair to the side as he placed feather light kisses along my neck. My eyes closed again, but for entirely different reasons this time.

“You could not be more mistaken, you, mon chéri, are perfection.”

I would like to say that after my time with Eric, I could judge when a man is lying, Garrett’s admission would have me retracting that statement. Jacob Black was a prick, nothing fancy about it, just your standard issue prick.

“To what do I owe the honor of your call? Have you finally decided to see what I have to offer you?”

Edward’s fingers found the sliver of skin just above my jeans, with equally tender pressure he trailed his digits in lazy circles. “Actually, someone reminded me that when one receives a gift, no matter the appropriateness, you should always thank them. So I’m calling to ask you to meet me for a cup of coffee.”

After several minutes of carefully laid innuendos he agreed to meet me in the next few days. I told him I would text him with the details later in the week.

*~CMA~*

Sals was a family diner located far enough away from my house that I felt I could shake anyone who was inclined to follow me. Having Emmett and Edward in cars around me guaranteed that. I played with the silver spoon, lazily stirring the coffee that I would never touch. I purposely told Jacob a time a few minutes after I arrived. I checked my watch just as the bell above the door rang out, alerting me to the arrival of the man in question.

“You know Bella, I would have taken you to a much better place than this, cost isn’t an issue for me.”

I stopped my stirring and placed the spoon on the napkin provided. “I have no doubt, however I invited you and cannot afford the places you frequent.”

Jacob slid into the vinyl across from me. His suit was far too dressy for this corner restaurant. His million dollar smile on full wattage, cologne that I’m certain was imported, yet smelled too spicy for my taste.

“Bella, you would never have to worry about the cost of anything when you are on a date with me.”

He tried to reach out to take my hand, but I discretely pulled them into my lap. “Yes, well this isn’t a date and since I already paid for two cups of coffee, we will keep to what I can offer.”

“So this is just a thank you?”

The waitress brought the coffee pot and a fresh cup, pouring the hot, dark liquid into the white porcelain.

“As I said on the phone, I neglected to offer my gratitude, now that I have, you can stop sending the gifts.”

A few men in the corner recognized Jacob and began to point. Cell phones came out and I knew it wouldn’t be long before we were all over the social media.

“Excuse me, are you Jacob Black?” A small boy who had ordered a chocolate milkshake in celebration of getting a good grade on his spelling test questioned. He and his father sat down only a few minutes after I did and I heard the excited young man tell the waitress his story.

“I am, young man, now go on back to your father.”

Edward would have invited the little boy to sit with him, sign anything he had and even pickup the tab for that acquired milkshake.

“Jacob.” I cautioned, I couldn’t help myself.

He looked between me and the boy, pulled a pen from the inside of his pocket and scribbled his name on a napkin. “There, are you happy, Bella?”

I wanted to tell him to fuck off, but given present company it wouldn’t have been good for little ears and besides he would have taken it as an invitation. “Yes, thank you.”

After the boy had the napkin in hand shouting to his father what he obtained, Jacob turned back to me, “You do realize I don’t just give my signature away to just anyone?” His voice low and menacing.

“Really? Why is that?” Even though I already knew the answer—it was all about the money.

“Bella, men pay money for me to sign their shit.” Just when I didn’t think he could get any cockier.

“Not a very smart idea if you ask me.”

Jacob smiled as he leaned in. “Why do you say that?”

Some men are just too easy, dangle a prize in their face and they soon forget everything else. “Well, the way I see it, if you forget about your fans and only pay attention to them when they have money in their hands, someday they’re going to forget about you.”

“So tell me, if I asked you to put on a tight black dress and a pair of mile high shoes would you go to a respectable dinner with me?”

How the conversation went from autographs to pornographic was beyond me. “I would have to say no.”

Jacob leaned back into his seat. “No?” he questioned, not believing my answer.

It was my turn to lean in, “You see, Jacob, you’ve come to expect a certain kind of performance, if you will, when it comes to women. Short skirts and even shorter IQ’s. You couldn’t care less if she spoke a clear thought, as long as she can get you to where you want to be. Which, correct me if I’m wrong, is without a single stitch of clothing on and her mouth full.” The half smile that took up residence on his face told me I was right on target. “I’m a girl who appreciates the simple things in life, like having a decent conversation that doesn’t end in ‘can you pass me a towel’. Eating at places like this, not because I have to, but because I choose to. And most importantly, keeping myself true to the one person that matters…myself.”

*~CMA~*

After leaving the restaurant I didn’t feel like going home, so I drove around for a while. Mom’s plan worked as I left Jacob with a open mouth and a question in his head. Getting him where we wanted him was going to give me more enjoyment then should be allowed. Before I realized it I was sitting in the parking lot of Edward’s condo. I knew where he lived, but had never been given the opportunity to step inside. He’d always come to mine as the paps were a permanent fixture on his street. Tonight, I just didn’t care. I needed to be close to him, to assure him that I shared his desire to be together, that I shared his belief in us.

His building was gated, but he’d shared the pass code with me weeks ago. Taking the hat and wig from my disguise earlier, I let myself into the lobby. Learning that your boyfriend has more money than imaginable can cause you to rethink events, words spoken and yet not regret them. The door man nodded in my direction, I waited for him to say something but he never did. Standing outside the elevator bank, I had the overwhelming desire to look around. I caught my reflection in the polished chrome that decorated the walls surrounding the area. Large floral arrangements shared, not only their beauty, but their delicate fragrance. A soft ding announced the arrival of the elevator, as soon as the door opened I stepped inside and pressed the button for Edward’s floor. Considering recent revelations, I didn’t blink an eye as I noticed it was the penthouse.

Edward stood in his foyer, shirtless and in track pants. His hair a disheveled mess as if I had woken him from a deep sleep.

“Bella?” I heard as I pushed past him, not bothering to wait for an invitation. As nice as the lobby was, the living area was to die for. Edward didn’t give me an opportunity to scope out his private space. His arms were around me, hugging me tight, giving me exactly what I needed in that very moment.

“He is a complete tool.” My voice was muffled since my face was pressed to his massive chest, the smell of him completely relaxing me.

“And this is news?” he mused.

I pull away slightly, casting a look into those green orbs. “I just needed you to know that Jacob Black could never be a man that I could have any real feelings for. Never love with all my heart and soul. I need you to understand just how much you mean to me.” His face softened, eyes flicked between mine. “I love you, Edward. Always.”

 

Chapter 22

My Nana once told me, “Every now and then you just need a good cry.” What she failed to tell me was after the cry was over, you were left with a clogged nose and puffy eyes. The problem was still there and nothing about it had changed. Then, not only was the problem staring at you square in your face, but your head was killing you.

With the board’s final decision being made public, team Edward had begun strategizing even more. Workouts were longer and harder. When he wasn’t training, he was watching tapes of not only McPherson, but Black as well. This left zero time for the two of us to be together. Even our nightly phone calls had been absent since the news had come out.

Rose had pulled me aside a number of times, asking me what was wrong. I lied, telling her one bullshit excuse after another, too afraid to admit the truth…even to myself.

Once Edward took on McPherson and won, he would have a clear shot at Black. But then what? Edward’s home was in Chicago. His family, friends, everything, were waiting for him back there. Now with his apparent pulling away, it left me wondering where we stood.

Today, well, it had been just too much to deal with. It all started with a water main break out in front of the building, causing the entire block to be without water for the entire morning. Patron after patron demanded I do something about the water issue as they needed showers to get to work. Then the icemaker in the juice bar decided to malfunction and stop producing ice. Since ice is a major component in smoothies, you can imagine the issue. Angela snagged Emmett’s truck, going two counties over to get enough ice to keep us running.

Blood red roses—they were beautiful, expensive, and the delight of any girl who was blessed to receive them. Sparkling crystals were added to several petals, designed to mimic rain drops, a floral trick I saw on the internet once. Alice had intercepted the delivery guy at the door when she was returning from lunch. I had stepped in to help with the juice bar, trying keep clients happy with free smoothies for the inconvenience of the lack of water, when she placed the floral masterpiece on the crowded counter.

I knew who they were from. I also knew I should throw them in the trash or at the very least, take them next door just to be rid of them. I’d never been a big fan of flowers, something I’d disciplined myself to believe since the receipt of them wasn’t something that had happened very often. I was ready to take that first step in their disposal, avoid reading the card I knew would be cheesy and full of sexual pretenses.

“How very high school.” The voice, liquid gold in disguise, able to turn my insides to melted goo. I shifted my vision from the delicate buds to the face of the man who was seemingly avoiding me. I knew it was bullshit, he wasn’t hiding from me. I’ve been around this sport long enough to know he has to work hard if he wants to win. But it’s the tone he used, as if he were looking down on the thought of someone sending a girl such as myself a beautiful collection of flowers. What? I don’t rank high enough to deserve a grand gesture such as this one? Or maybe he completely forgot how I’ve been doing everything in my power to help him defeat Black.

“Oh, who got the flowers?” Bernice Loveless, a pleasant middle aged woman who first came to the gym for self defense classes. She took a liking to the elliptical machines and now works out everyday. Bernice took the liberty of touching the side of the crystal vase, caressing it as if it were a child’s face, tenderly and with reverence. “My ex-husband never sent me a single stem,” she began, her fingers continuing their exploration of the glass. “‘Course that could be a small reason why he is an ex.” Her eyebrows flicking quickly. “That and his inability to keep his dick to himself.”

Edward huffed, took a bottle of water from the bucket under the bar, and then turned back toward the locker room door. Swallowing the tears of frustration and pent up anger, I grabbed the tiny sealed envelope that carried my name and shoved it into my pocket.

“It’s your lucky day, Mrs. Loveless. I’m allergic to most flowers and was about to throw these in the trash.” I emphasized my complete lie with several sneezes. Her joy was bigger than the four inch heels she wore when she worked out. She admitted to reading one of those rag magazines about a certain celebrity who ran everyday in heels to help with her balance on stage. Mrs. Loveless gave it a try one day and was convinced it made a difference for her.

“Are you sure, honey?” Already taking the arrangement into her arms, the strap of her bag falling down into the crack of her elbow.

“Please,” sneeze. “You would be saving me a terrible night of allergic reactions,” sneeze.

The vase was larger than her eighties style hair, but she had a little bounce in her step as she proudly carried the flowers to her car. Stepping from around the bar, I didn’t bother to make sure Seth had everything under control. My need to release this frustration was greater than my business sense.

I could take Nana’s advice and find a quiet corner to crawl in, let the tears fall and take time to regroup, get my head back in the game. As wise as Nana was, it was Emmett’s voice that I honed in on. Wrapping my fingers around his muscled biceps, I pulled him in the direction I needed him to be, completely ignoring his protest that he was talking with someone.

My first punch did little to move the red bag. The second stung my hand, but the bag moved slightly, only serving to mock me. Each punch after that could be felt all the way to my toes. Pain, frustration, insecurity, loneliness, and uncertainty, you name it. Each punch represented a different emotion.

“Stop!” Emmett yelled, placing himself between my fists and the bag. “Let me tape your knuckles or you’re gonna trade one hurt for another.”

I complied because I knew he was right. Tomorrow would suck if I couldn’t open my fists to work. With the ease of a pro, the tape swirled around my knuckles, the only sound was of each tear he made with his teeth.

He grasped the bag with his hands and nodded in my direction, “Now, kick the shit out of it.”

Twenty minutes later, I found myself in a sweaty heap on the floor, the adrenaline from earlier completely gone, exhaustion and relief in its place.

“Feel better?” My brother questioned from above me.

I opened my eyes, waited for my breathing to return to normal, and nodded my head in the affirmative.

“Good, ’cause you were acting like a spoiled brat.” He tossed as he dropped a towel onto my face. “He has a life outside of your relationship or have you forgotten that?”

The rage I felt earlier was nothing compared to the amount I now had building in my body. I sprung to my feet, fighting the small wave of dizziness from the sudden movement, spun around and tossed the towel back in his direction.

“Everything isn’t about Edward-fucking-Cullen!” Emmett caught the towel with ease, his eyes never leaving mine, the look of anger matching mine.

“Actually, everything is about him right now, and for the next several months, until we get him that title shot.” He tossed the towel to the floor. “You need to get over yourself and the fact that he can’t kiss your ass every time he’s near you. Hell, Bella, you knew what you were getting into when you agreed to help him.” He pointed his finger to the center of my chest.

“Kiss my ass?” I yelled, pointing at myself. “I don’t expect him to kiss any part of me!” My words trembled, emotions falling out with the words. “Fuck, Emmett! I’m sacrificing my goddamn soul for him and this title shot.” I tried to rip the tape from my knuckles, failing miserably. Emmett moved closer, taking my hands in his and easily removing the offending, sticky material.

“You’re right, Bella. You are giving more than anyone else.” His voice was softer, caring and full of the love I knew he had for me. “Wanna talk about what’s going on?” He balled up the used tape into his closed fist, before pulling me into his massive arms.

“You’re right also, I am being a brat.” I knew better than to feel this way, training was brutal, but it still didn’t excuse his cavalier attitude on the main floor. “I’m just so sick of this shit.” My voice cracked at the end.

“Hey,” Emmett pulled me away from his chest and looked me deep in the eyes. “Let’s get out of here. I’ll take you somewhere we can toss back a few beers and you can tell me everything.”

Locking up the gym, normally done alone or while standing beside someone, went much smoother with the help of my brother. With a final click of the dead bolt, we headed toward his truck.

“I texted Rose to let her know not to expect me.” His glasses covered eyes never left the road as he shifted gears. Emmett had to wear glasses while driving ever since his accident that ended his career, he tried to hide them from most people, a flaw in his seemingly perfect physique. “She wants me to get you back to your happy spot, and kick the shit out of whoever took your smile away.” He had always been protective of me, keeping me safe just the same as dad had. How would he feel when I told him the person responsible for my grim and, in all honesty, bitchy behavior was me.

Lottie’s Lounge was a town institution by many accounts, offering the average Joe a quiet place to have a beer after a long day, solace from the battles we all faced. The current owner, Cameron Mattox, and great-grandson of the late namesake, Lottie Mattox, trained with Emmett a few times a week. Cameron was nearly as built as my brother and father, the only difference, his arm sleeved in tattoos and long thin hair with hair ties keeping it tucked neatly at the nape of his neck. Judging by appearance alone, one could label him a gruff biker type. However, once you were able to get past his hardened exterior you’d find the heart of a giant.

“Dude!” Cameron calls from across the bar, causing several patrons to turn in our direction. Still dressed in work clothes, dusty boots and aged ball caps. With no clear recognition of who we are, they one by one returned to the tall glass of comfort resting in each of their hands.

“Hey, good to see you.” Cameron greeted Emmett, the pair of them exchanging one of those handshakes men do in an attempt to be cooler than just the standard greeting. Like some sort of secret signal that all is well or perhaps just an excuse to hug each other in public.

“I see you brought the beauty of the family.” Cameron pulled away from my brother, gently placing a kiss to my right cheek as he hugged me just as easily. “Bella, so nice to see you again.”

My smile was real this time. Cameron is a good guy with no hidden motives, no expectations of a promise to fulfil later. Just a good a decent guy.

“It’s nice to see you outside of the gym. You look right at home here.” I kissed the side of his face in return, feeling the weight of my crazy life slipping slowly from my shoulders. His return smile, the one he wore every time I’ve saw him, a permanent fixture I have no doubt.

“Hey!” He pulled away and leaned against the wood bar. “As long as I can still attract women such as yourself, it’s all good.” I knew he was teasing, complimenting me to get me to smile and enjoy my time in his bar. It still felt good to hear another male say nice things about me.

“What can I get you guys? First round is on the house.” He placed both of his tattooed hands on the bar, ready to grab a glass and go. The script writing, Live fast, love hard, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse, decorated each of the fingers of his left hand. “Cam, we’re gonna need a vodka and cran for Bella and whatever you have in bottles for me. And an order of your wings and fries for the both of us.” Cameron nodded his head, sliding open a refrigerator door grabbing the first bottle he came to. With the ease of a seasoned professional, he tapped the cap of the bottle against the bar top, the hissing sound of escaping carbonation was followed almost instantly by the clinking sound of the cap hitting the floor.

The interior of the bar was without a doubt, years in the making. Paneled walls peeked through endless amounts of collected pictures, old tires, rusted musical instruments and the occasional inspirational poster. Over the bar, held the centerpiece of the collection, the front end of a nineteen fifty seven Chevy, complete with working headlights and fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view. Several spotlights illuminated the candy apple red painted hood and chrome accessories. In the far corner stood a British inspired phone booth, shining brightly in its red glory. We sat at one of the tables in the back corner, the table top decorated in pennies, the use of the coin gave the term ‘putting every penny back into the business’ an entirely new meaning.

“You don’t get to say a single thing until you’ve finished off your first drink.” Emmett spoke before tipping his bottle back, drinking nearly half of it in his first attempt.

Not wanting to be left behind, I took an equally long sip from my straw, the tartness of the cranberry causing my jaw to tighten, while the vodka numbed my throat. With my eyes closed and the world placed in the hold position, I took my brother’s advice. I cleared my head and concentrated solely on sucking on that straw. No deception, no conditions, just fruit juice and mash. Each moment enriched by the selfishness I took. There was nothing to be won or lost in drinking, only an illusion of relaxation brought on from the fermentation process. Allowing your body and soul to avoid feeling responsibility and sense of purpose.

As the tell-tale sound of my empty drink filled the silence at the table, I opened my eyes, setting the glass of red tinged ice down. Emmett’s eyes looked questionably at my face. “You good?” The nod of his head in the direction of my glass. “Another?”

I affirmed with a nod of my own. Cameron set a new glass on the edge of the table with a wink in my direction as he walked away.

“So, wanna tell me what going on with you lately?” Emmett leaned in, his new beer remained untouched as I told him everything—my fears , my disgust, but mostly my hurt pride in Edward not seeking me out as much as he had before. Admitting how I knew what was going on and yet still felt left out, cast away.

“Bells, you know that’s complete bullshit.” He finally took a sip of his new beer. Our food was delivered to the table, steam floating above the fried wings resting on french fries, the sauce marrying in pools with the fat used in the cooking.

“I know,” I placed a fry into my mouth. “Doesn’t change how I feel or the fact that he was an ass today.”

Emmett stared off into the distance, chewing his bite of food slowly, a slow growing smirk forming.

“What?” I demanded, curious to know what the hell was so funny in this situation.

Shaking his head, he took more fries into his mouth and washed it down with a drink of beer before he responded. “I wish you could spend a day in the ring with him. Listen to the way he talks about you, tells us how cute you are when watching television with him or, hell, how cute you are doing a million other things.” He shook his head again. “It’s going to get much worse before it gets better.” His eyes locked with mine, index finger pointing in my direction. “You need to swear to me that if you’re planning to end this shit with him, you do it now. As in tonight.” Sincerity colored his features. My brother was no longer setting across from me, replaced by one of Edward’s trainers.

“Don’t worry, Emmett. If anyone is going to end this thing, it will be him.” I spoke nonchalantly, although on the inside my body lurched at the idea. Emmett was about to raise his fingers to his mouth with another bite of chicken, when he suddenly reached for his pocket and retrieved his cell phone. I had taken to leaving mine on silent as anyone I wanted to talk with was at the gym with me.

“Well, speak of the devil and he shall call.” Emmett pressed the keys on the face of his phone, a new smirk on his face. “Did you miss me, sweetness?” Emmett teased into the phone. Silence filled the air for the briefest of moments.

“Um…Emmett, I um..this is Edward. I have a problem.” Emmett continued to eat as he listened to a very nervous Edward speak.

“Don’t worry, Bro, the burning will go away once you’ve taken the medication for a few days.” I wanted to smack my brother, but I wanted to hear what Edward was about to tell him worse. I remained quiet and continued to listen.

“Seriously, Emmett, I can’t find Bella! Her car is at the gym, but it’s locked up tight. She isn’t home and she isn’t answering her phone. Do you know where she could be?”

Emmett’s eyes glanced from his nearly empty plate to my face. The look of ‘I told you so’ slowly crept in. He adjusted his position in his seat and lifted the phone to his mouth. “I happen to know that my sister is currently having dinner and drinks with a devastatingly handsome man.” He could barely keep a straight face as he emphasized the word to describe himself.

“Fuck!” Edward shouted. I glanced around the room, but no one seemed to notice. “Do you know this guy? It can’t be Black ’cause you call him a used tampon.” The thought of what he just described made me nearly choke, however accurate it may be.

“Nope, it ain’t Black.” Emmett tipped his bottle back, his tone clipped, not angry but in a way that gave no further suggestion.

“Listen, if she is seeing someone else…” silence fell on the table, my eyes pleaded with Emmett to shut this down.

Emmett shook his head holding up one finger. “Well, she did get a pretty massive amount of flowers today, which did not come from you.” Emmett held his tone and it was a good thing Edward couldn’t see his face, the smile sinister.

“She hates flowers. Anyone who knows her is aware of that.” Edward’s tone was flat. Yet it surprised me he had picked up on my dislike of cut flowers. “Alice told me that she thinks I hurt Bella’s feeling today. I’m not sure how, but she said she was doing some major damage to a sparing bag with you.”

Emmett wiped his mouth with his napkin. “You did and she was.” He spoke noncommittally. It wasn’t cute anymore and I gave him the look that told him to stop.

“So do you know this guy? The one she is having dinner with?” Edward’s tone broke me,

Emmett could see my face shatter. “Dude, she is having wings with me. She is too fucking stuck on your ugly mug to date anyone else. Although you might want to think before you speak when it comes to your girl.”

Emmett and I decided it would be easier for me to ride home with him and hitch a ride back with him again in the morning, especially considering the amount of alcohol I’d managed to drink after Emmett hung up with Edward. I didn’t even try to fight the smile as it washed over my face. Cameron continued to keep my drink full, almost without my consent. It was when I needed to go to the bathroom and bumped my hip against the table I knew it was time to go to bed.

As I closed my eyes that night, very much feeling the effects of uncounted drinks, my cell phone chimed. I nearly ignored the message, but it would sound again if I didn’t clear it. Two words illuminated my screen, cementing a permanent smile and allowing the ill I felt toward to him fade completely away.

I’m sorry.

~*CMA*~

When I asked my mother what she would like for her birthday I expected her to say she didn’t need anything, but she surprised me when she asked to have lunch with Rose and I. She specifically requested a new restaurant on the other side of town. A friend of hers was one of the investors, so getting a reservation wasn’t an issue.

Pascals boasted about bringing a ‘slice of France to the Pacific Northwest’. Rose insisted on driving us, dressed in our Sunday best—also specifically requested by mom—arriving to a waiting valet. Inside customers were taken back one hundred years to a time when ladies wore hats and gloves and gentlemen opened doors and wore a jacket and tie. Lace table cloths, ferns in the corners, and full table settings, including teapots, awaited our arrival.

Mom insisted on ordering for everyone, as the only person seated who could read and speak French. I didn’t ask what I was eating, it was good and didn’t move on my plate. Our waiter wheeled a dessert cart over complete with a candle filled birthday cake. The entire restaurant erupted in singing happy birthday, it was the happiest I’d seen my mother in weeks.

As the last slice of cake was given to the table, another waiter approached, cloth wrapped bottle in his hand. “Pardon me, this is compliments of the gentleman seated in the far corner.”

I refused to turn and look behind me, the feeling of deja vu just too strong. With my fork slicing through the chocolate cake, a red rose made from buttercream became a casualty.

“Please ask the young man to join us.” My mother’s tone laced with disbelief, maybe a little anger.

The feeling of dread wrapped it’s talons around me, taking away my ability to breathe and to think rationally.

“Isabella, don’t you say a single word. Do you understand?” Her instruction was clear, her attitude showing in the way her teeth clinched with her direction. There was no real point in answering; I had nothing to say to him.

“Mrs. Swan, how nice of you to ask me to join the celebration.” Jacob’s voice was undeniably husky, gruff, and very sexy. His cologne again pungent and, yes, very appealing.

“Mr. Black, please take a seat.” My mother motioned to the empty chair to my right, my eyes remaining on the pile of crumbs that was once a beautiful slice of sin and chocolate. Rose pulled her phone out, not a single doubt who she was texting. Out of the corner of my eye the chair moved and Jacob’s statuesque body slid into the leather material with ease.

“Isabella.” He began only to be interrupted by my mother.

“Mr. Black, I did not ask you to join us to socialize or exchange pleasantries.” Her hand rested on his designer sleeve, her engagement ring glistening in the sunshine, its rays casting through the heavy lace curtains. Originally the diamond belonged to my great-great-grandmother. When my father asked mom to marry him, he commissioned a jeweler to redesign the ring. It’s her favorite of all the jewelry he has given her. “While the delivery of an overpriced bottle of champagne is a friendly gesture, the venue you chose isn’t.”

Her choice of words were harsh and direct, yet her voice was soft, her smile deceptive. Diners around us saw a beautiful woman, looking at a much younger man, a gentle touch to his arm and a kind word to his ear. Yet, without even looking, I knew that her grip was tense, bordering on painful, and her eyes were black, cold, and deliberate. “You came into the restaurant twenty minutes ago. The beautiful woman, who is still sitting at your table, had her arm wrapped around yours, you kissed her twice, once on her forehead and once on her hand. You showed her affection until you heard the singing and saw my daughter.”

I wanted to look up, see for myself if he had yet another girl to add to his collection, something I feared he had planned for me. “Now, you disrespect the young lady by sending a gift to a table of women none of whom your date knows. Furthermore, you have been very direct in your desire to have a relationship with my Bella. How is she to give you what you wish when she seems to see you with a different woman on a daily basis?”

Jacob adjusted in his seat and I heard him taking a breath, as if to say something in rebuttal. Mom, however, was quicker. “Now, you are going to take this bottle back to your table, apologize to your date and I will consider not placing a call to your mother.”

Something shifted in his demeanor, the mention of his mother causing him to be even more uncomfortable, if that were possible. “You’re completely correct, Mrs. Swan. I didn’t think this through. Please excuse my rudeness and have a pleasant birthday.”

He forgot the champagne, but left the table as if his ass was on fire. Rose requested the check, but the waiter informed her it had already been taken care of. He then placed a single white rose across my mother place setting, a white note tied to the stem. With a raised brow, she removed the bow and opened the letter. A slow smile replaced the furrowed brow. She glanced in my direction and handed the card to me.

Mrs. Renee,

My girl hates flowers, but her mother loves them. I sincerely hope you enjoyed your meal, take a chocolate soufflé home, my mother loves it. Lunch is on me…enjoy.

Edward

 

Chapter 23

 

Edward was sleeping soundly, face scrunched into his pillow, mouth slightly open and snoring horribly. Maybe a photo to the tabloid magazines would discourage some of his female fan base. I could see the headline now Boxing hottie, looks more than just disheveled in bed.

He’s tired, I know this, dad has really turned up the heat on him. The fight against McPherson was in less than two weeks. Once, and I do mean once, he defeats him, he will be in the number one position to challenge for the title. ESPN has been discussing nothing but the possibilities, yet nothing has been mentioned from the Black camp.

Reporters are already swarming around the gym, fans standing outside waiting to get a look at Edward as he comes or leaves. Women begging for an autograph on various body parts, offers of marriage or any favors he may require. It’s funny really, listening to women having little or no shame when exposing their chest like it’s Mardi Gras and Edward is holding beads. Don’t they know he won’t remember them an hour later, regardless of how fantastic their assets are?

His snoring has grown louder, I nudged him last night when he woke me. He doesn’t remember it, of course. Knowing I won’t get any more sleep tonight, I crawl out of bed and head into my living room. This certainly won’t be the first night I’ve slept on the couch or at least attempted to as the horrible noise seems to echo in the acoustics of this house. Maybe if I can drown him out with the sound of the television, I can get another hour or so. I aimed the remote at the flat screen, while adjusting the pillows I had neatly fluffed before heading to bed last night. The bright light of the television illuminated the room. Sounds of the same channel as the previous night caught my attention, it’s the early morning reporter for ESPN. Pictures of Jacob Black, being escorted out of what looks to be a hotel, three officers surrounding him as he is placed in the back of a police car.

“No news from Black’s officials after the arrest of the current champion. Reports say police officers were called to the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas on an excessive noise complaint early Sunday morning. When officers entered the suit, they found the entire room to be completely upturned. Furniture in rubble, holes in walls and an enraged Jacob Black, still in the process of destroying anything in his path. He was taken to county jail for processing, after being tasered when he resisted arrest. Officer Douglas stated due to his enraged condition, blood was obtained to determine the presence of any illegal substance that would cause the incident.”

I didn’t hear Edward getting up, not until the toilet seat hit the back of the tank followed by the sounds of water hitting water. Edward was too comfortable sometimes, leaving the bathroom door completely open as he took care of business in there. He even walked around naked after he showered. Ironically, I don’t mind that one too much. How would his groupies handle it if they knew Edward belched really loud nearly every morning as he scratched his balls?

“Morning, babe.” His voice full of sleep as he leans over the back of the couch to kiss me. “I know I kept you up with my snoring. I’m sorry, I’ll make it up to you.”

I can think of at least ten things he could do to make it right, none of them could be spoken in mixed company. “It’s not your fault. You didn’t snored until dad took over your training.” My father’s style of training was different than most. Edward admitted to puking twice during his run. He assured me it would all be worth it if he won.

Edward didn’t respond, so I looked up to see him watching the television screen. He was shirtless, with his hair everywhere, muscles on full display, a trace of morning wood and his left hand absentmindedly playing with his junk.

“Did you see this?” he asked as he jumped over the couch, landing with a bounce beside me. Edward didn’t wait for my response, only turned up the volume as the reporter continued to talk about the Black arrest.

“Why would he lose his shit in Vegas?” He questioned, “He has all his basic requirements, food, water and hookers.” The latter spoken with disdain. As the reporter continued to retell the story, Edward pulled me into his arms, wrapping me in the comfort only he could give. “I bet it has to do with a girl.” He whispered into my ear. “I know I would flip out like that if anything happened to you.”

I kept what Edward said on repeat the entire morning. Mom came in with Dad, a girl behind them I had never met. She was older, professionally dressed with stiff posture and an even stiffer bun in the back of her head. The three of them passed the juice bar where I had plopped down the moment I arrived. “Isabella Marie, my office, now.” Dad spoke in his no nonsense voice. My entire name being tossed out like that could never, in any light, be a good thing.

I slumped my shoulders, pulled myself away from the counter, and walked as if the hall was the Green mile instead of a passageway to his office. My dread was unfounded, I knew I had done nothing wrong, yet when a parent uses a tone of voice associated with discipline, it does tend to allow the dread to fill you inside.

Mom was talking on her phone when I came through the door, Dad sitting behind his ancient desk listening to her side of the conversation. Mom closed her phone and turned in my direction, “Oh Bella, glad you’re here. This is Maggie Siobhan, a reporter for Boxing Weekly. She is doing a feature article on the possibility of Edward being in the number one spot.” Maggie smiled tightly as she extended her hand out to greet me.”I’ve assured her we would be helpful with any information she needs.”

In my mother’s simple words, she was telling me to give only the answers that are public knowledge, share nothing of the game being played behind closed doors. “Of course, Ms. Siobhan. Will you follow me to my office where I keep all the files?”

Maggie thanked my mom for all her help, Dad looked at her in contention, “Isabella when you’re finished with Ms. Siobhan, I need to see you back here.” I nodded my understanding, and then led us back down the hall.

Activity in the gym was picking up and several of the regulars stopped me to ask a question. Maggie—as she insisted I call her—kept writing things down in her tablet. Once inside the office, I closed the door and offered her a drink, which she declined. “I have his official records locked in my filing cabinet.” I was about to tell her to give me just a moment and I would retrieve them, but she interrupted me.

“I have all his statistics.” Her voice nasally and irritating, a scowl on her face as she sat in the chair.

“I see…” Really I didn’t, but I was at a loss for words.

“Tell me Isabella, does Edward have many female companions?” Maggie relaxed in her chair, gone was the stick straight back and professional demur.

“I’m sorry, I’m not certain what you mean.”

With a flip of her hand, “Oh, I think you know exactly what I mean. How many girls does he have around the gym? A girlfriend, if you will.” Seems Maggie wasn’t a fan of the label of girlfriend made evident by the sour puss face she was displaying.

“Well as of late, he has a gaggle of girls who wait in the parking lot for him to appear each morning and evening, screaming his name like a whore on her knees” I hadn’t meant to say it quite so crudely. “However, to answer your question truthfully. Yes, he is dating a girl from the gym here.” Telling the truth whenever possible in these situations was the correct direction to go.

“Is this the relationship with one of your trainers?” Her tone snobby and bored, and quite honestly, pissing me off “A little hard to believe, wouldn’t you agree?” Maggie picked her nails as she furthered her question. “He is a very handsome man, from a family of means and yet you honestly think he only has one girl who warms his bed?”

Shifting my stature, my no nonsense expression firmly planted on my face. “My job is to file his paperwork, have the gym in perfect working order for his use and set up any promotional events he, or his team, ask me to do. What I’m not responsible for is tucking him, and whomever he is hooking up with, into bed every night.”

Maggie never looked up from her cuticles as she continued, “Yes, but surely you’ve noticed a girl or two hanging around while he is training, giving him inspiration as he works out.”

I had no idea where mom and dad got this idiot, but I was seriously doubting she really worked for the magazine as she claimed. “Listen, I know you work really hard to stay on top of your job, much the same as I do.”

Maggie’s eyes flashed to mine, a bored look fresh on her face. “Actually, my father owns the magazine I work for. I’m trying to break away from the simple, stagnate and oh so boring stats and score humdrum we have now.” Poor Maggie, most people who read the magazine she was trying to change, did it just for the reasons she spoke against.

“Well, I wish you great luck with that.” Not bothering to hide the sarcasm in my voice. Her article would be hidden behind the hemorrhoid cream advertisement in next week’s issue.

Shortly after I said a very happy goodbye to Maggie, Garrett swaggered his way into my office, a large black case under his right arm. “Afternoon, Beautiful.” He sat roughly in the armchair in my office, not waiting for me to invite him.

“Well, to what do I owe this honor?” I motioned with my hands in his direction.

“Well, we are still dating in the eyes of certain people.”

The door to my office opened suddenly and in walked my parents and Emmett, no Edward to be seen.

“What do you have for me?” My mother barked at Garrett, not bothering to slow her gate or look anyone in the eye.

Garrett, who had been slouching in his chair, now sat straight as a board, his cocky demeanor gone, the obedient school boy now residing.

“I-I, um, well you see, no one is commenting on why Black lost his shit and tore up his hotel room.”

This was a new side to Garrett, always so confident and arrogant, now a fumbling idiot in the presence of my mother. “Garrett.” His name came softly from her lips, as he turned slowly in her direction. “Honey, I’m not going to bite you.” Her face loving and in my experience, dangerous. My mom, possessed a tender nature, yet could mess your world up if provoked. If she truly felt Garrett was holding back than this was about to get ugly.

“He was arrested for assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and destruction of property. Now, the property charge was dropped only because the hotel was contacted almost immediately with a settlement, which rained very heavily in their favor. Blacks PR people have remained very silent about the event, with one exception.” Garrett’s eyes now looked to my father and brother. “He’s going to fight the number one contender.”

Shock didn’t have enough time to settle in as my door swung open again and an incredibly sexy Edward marched in. His hair slicked back from his shower, tight black t-shirt and strategically placed jeans, which rode suggestively on his hips. I could smell his shampoo and cologne from where I sat, the essence of him stirred emotions deep inside me.

“Hey, guys. What did I miss?” He walked directly over to where my mother sat, leaned over, and kissed her cheek. “Hey, Momma,” he voiced to her, leaving me unable to concentrate, yet leaving a warm smile on her face.

“Garrett was just telling us what he knows about Black.” Emmett answered for him.

Edward walked around my desk, leaning over as he interrupted Emmett, “Hold on man.” His lips found mine, a small mischievous smile playing about his lips. “Jump up, Babe,” he tapped my thigh three times. I was too stunned from his new found confidence to argue. I stood as he shifted our positions, pulling me onto his lap.

“So what do we know?”

Garrett repeated to Edward what he had shared earlier. Edward swirled my chair as he caressed the skin on the edge of my pants, intensifying the sexual tension he had created when he walked in the door. Edward’s face was pensive as he listened to Garrett and my father toss different theories back and forth.

“No, your both wrong.” Edward broke in finally, catching everyone’s attention.”This has nothing to do with his family or worrying about losing his title.”

Emmett shook his head in disagreement. Garrett was still trying to drive home his point of this being about criminal activity and Dad was agreeing with Emmett that it was his fear of losing his title to McPhersons or even the possibility of Edward. Dad was certain Black wasn’t in physical condition to take on a contender.

“Gentlemen, answer me this.” Edward spoke over the three conversations going on simultaneously. “What is the one thing in a man’s world that would cause him to spend all of his money, keep him awake at night and, in certain situations, lose his mind?” He counted off each point on his long fingers. My mind thinking, not about the valid point he was making, but the magic those fingers possessed.

My father, the older and somewhat wiser of the group, answered first. “A woman.”

“Exactly.” Edward agreed, a glint starting in his eye as he reclined back into my chair.

“As right as you may be about that, it doesn’t explain why he tore up a hotel room. He hasn’t tried to contact Bella since his encounter with Renee.” Garrett added, an argument brewing in his tone.

“Didn’t you say something about a young girl he left sitting at his table?” Edward presented to mom.

Her eyes grew wide as she turned to Garrett, “Who was the girl?”

Garrett shuffled with the screen of his cell phone. “Tanya Denali, 21 from a small fishing town in Alaska. She was attending school at UDub until about six weeks ago, when she stopped going to class. Her dorm mate hasn’t seen her in the last three weeks, ever since she started a new job.”

Mom and I looked at each other with wide eyes, “Bella, what is the one thing to make a girl give up her dreams, toss away her future, and abandon her morals?” The question didn’t need answering, but it was just too much to pass up.

“A man who is promising her the world.” Jacob had the means to do just that for this Tanya. It would explain why he hasn’t contacted me in a while. Maybe this new girl was giving him what he needed.

“Exactly.” She mimicked Edward. Silence filled the room which once roared with discussion. Every mind absorbing the new information, categorizing each detail. “It would certainly explain why the gifts have stopped.” She added rolling her shoulders. “Or…” her eyes went blank, index finger raised as well as her brow. “What if Black was playing a game as well?”

Edward turned his body in her direction, taking me with him. “Shower her with gifts, get her attention and then let her hang. Taking the three day rule when you meet a girl, to a whole new level.” Edward added, his facial expression copying hers.

“As crazy as this sounds, it would also explain why Maggie Siobhan wanted an interview with the staff and not the boxer.” My father added.

Garrett’s head shot in his direction, “Maggie was here?” Garrett, always the one to have first hand information, appeared to be left in the dark with this one.

“She called yesterday, asking if we could let her in to do a simple interview with us. She declined any words from Edward.” Mom’s face again going blank as she told her reason for Maggie’s visit.

“You’re definitely right on that one. Boxing Weekly has been in the red for more than a year now. With Maggie being such a liability in the past, now trying to change the content level of the dying magazine. They lost their top billing reporter two months ago. After that, sales have been dismal.” Garrett supplied as he again scrolled through his phone. “Let me guess, she wanted to know about Edward’s personal life?” Garrett questioned me.

“She asked if he was seeing anyone besides Angela, only she never named her specifically, only referred to her as the trainer we have around. She asked if any other girls hung around him.”

Edward gripped my sides, nipping at the skin on my shoulder. “You’re more than enough for me.” His gruffly spoken words sent chills down my arms. I turned in his direction, placing a quick kiss of approval to his lips. I know Edward loves me and wants to be with me. Yet deep inside, as more and more wins appear under his belt, I know our time is limited.

Two days later, in an early morning news report, Black finally made a statement. He confessed to making some very poor decisions, apologized to the hotel and to his parents and supporters. Something about him had changed. He seemed defeated, lost. I know it can’t be me, but it has to be more than just busting up a hotel.

“Lastly, I have instructed my representatives to seek sponsorship to promote and produce a championship match. I’ve decided it’s time to earn the respect of my fans and followers. I will defend my heavy weight title against the winner of next Sundays competition between McPhersons and Cullen.”

I could feel my insides tremble. This is what Edward had wanted all along and now it’s clearly in his grasp. I’m happy for him, he has worked so hard for this, devoted so much to achieving this goal. Selfishly, I ponder, but where do I fit in all of this?

Edward and I won’t see each other outside of the gym for the week leading up to the match. Dad insists on building the testosterone, creating a caged animal. His efforts however are creating two, as I’m craving him like crazy.

As I sat in my office, trying to think about anything except for the sweaty, muscle flexing man who holds my heart and ovaries, a knock at my door causes my head to snap up. “Hey, these came for you.” Alice stood just inside the door, a large bouquet of white roses in her hands. I motioned for her to place them on my desk. Alice and Jasper are scheduled to meet with her parents the week after Edward’s match. Where they will come clean about the secret marriage and baby on the way.

I don’t have to guess who the flowers are from, they have Jacob written all over them. I don’t want them anymore than the previous gifts he sent over. But as Alice hands me the card, her diamond wedding band glistening in the lights from the ceiling, it hits me.

“Oh my God.” I say as I take the card, not really paying attention to anything in the room anymore.

Alice jumped back slightly, freaked out by my sudden outburst. I wasted no time in calling my mother, telling her my theory of why Black lost his shit and is turning over a seemingly new leaf.

I don’t wait as I hear her voice on the line, “Mom I know what happened to Black.”

Chapter 24

 

How could we have missed what was clearly standing right in front of us? All of our theories pointed to female involvement.

I looked around my parent’s’ living room and felt a sense of purpose, a common thread binding us all together.

“I did as you asked me to, Renee, I called the county clerk’s office in Vegas.”

Mom had called Garrett first before assuring me that she agreed with my suspicion of what really happened in that hotel room.

“The lady I spoke with told me I was the third person who had called about the marriage license; which was issued just after eleven o’clock the night before the arrest. She remembered the couple well since the gentleman made a big show of tossing money around the office. He was very happy, but she felt it had more to do with his inebriated state and less to do with the young lady, who didn’t smile the entire time.”

Somehow I got the feeling we were only touching the surface of what was really going on. “The ceremony was performed fifteen minutes later in a wedding chapel only a few blocks away. Nothing special about the ceremony, no Elvis or Marilyn Monroe impersonators officiating; just the owner of the chapel and the limo driver as witnesses.”

Something wasn’t right about this; even shotgun weddings had more substance.

“Wait…” I interrupted, “…let me get this straight. We have a complete nobody, from nowhere Alaska, who meets an infamous boxing legend then heads off to Vegas, completely under the radar; the boxer, who up until this time, was as clean as a surgery floor, gets blind assed drunk and trashes a hotel room on his wedding night?”

Edward slipped into the room as I continue, his face showing the exhaustion his body was dealing with, yet his special smile he reserved just for me was gracing his beautiful features.

“Still, the girl isn’t shouting from the top of the Space needle that she is married to him. Now suddenly, he decides to take on a contender…it just doesn’t mesh.” I finish as Edward sits on the sofa beside me.

“Let’s not forget the delivery you received today.” Mom adds, pointing at the white envelope resting on my lap. I had chosen not to open it until everyone was present.

“You got more flowers?” Edward questioned as he wrapped his arm around me, guessing pretty well since he hadn’t seen them.

I nodded my head as I held up the envelope.

“Why would a man, allegedly married less than a week, be sending flowers to another women, who historically refused him?” Emmett joined the discussion, his face twisted in confusion.

“Who were the other two people looking into the marriage license?” Dad spoke from behind my mother, looking in Garrett’s general direction.

Garrett turned around to face my parents, a smile in place as his joy of knowing the answer returned. “The first was Black’s personal attorney, the one he thinks his family doesn’t know about,” snickering, he continued. “The second and, in my opinion, much more influential, Judge Meyers, district seven in New York City. The same state in which daddy dearest is planning to run for Senate.”

I had forgotten about his interest in running. He had the financial backing and the right officials in his hip pocket, including the Mayor of New York City.

“So daddy is once again going to cover things up, make this marriage just an error on paper, pay the girl to keep her mouth closed and he becomes the hero once again, able to pursue Bella.” Dad surmised, anger on the edge of his voice.

“Not exactly.” Garrett responded, a glimmer of evil in his eyes. “While I can agree with you as far as getting the marriage annulled and the girl paid off, it isn’t going to happen.” My attention shifted from Edward’s fingers dancing along my neck, to the handsome face of Garrett.

“Jacob isn’t boxing because he’s trying to a good guy, he’s boxing because he’s broke.”

Every eye went wide and a few jaws slackened.

“He has been spending large amounts of money to keep up with his lifestyle and his Dad’s money is tied up in getting ready to run for office and his mother.” Garrett shook his head repeatedly. “Mrs. Black is tired of being used, both by her son and husband. She knew about Tanya, even had a hand in introducing them you could say. I can’t give away any more details of the relationship between the two women. Just know when the news hits the media, grab some popcorn as this is going to be one hell of a show.”

Edward pulled me closer, both of us needing the closeness after that. “Bella, what did the letter say?” He whispered in my ear. I had nearly forgotten about the envelope with the new developments. I picked it up and slid the flap open, pulling the paper out slowly. I had my suspensions of what it is going to say, his usual request for dinner or a drink.

Beautiful Bella,

By now you have heard the news of my return to the ring. I do this not to create an issue for you and your family business. But as a much-needed appearance for you and all of my fans. It is my intention to attend the match between Cullen and McPherson, it is my desire for you to seek me out, allowing our eyes to meet across the squared circle. I want you to see how much your presence in my world would make me complete. I don’t expect you to join me in my ringside view of the match, as you will certainly be viewing with your family.

However, I do have enough confidence that you will want to join me and sit in the reserved seat I have just for you, beside my family, as you watch me defend and win my title. Allow me to shower you with all the love and treasure a beauty such as yourself desires.

Love Eternally,

Jacob Black

Edward took the letter from my fingers, read it over again, and then placed it in his pocket. I didn’t question his actions, as I knew exactly what he was going to do with it. He would take the rage he had racing through his body and use it to destroy the author.

“Why is he inviting Bella to watch a match in his corner when he has a wife? Wouldn’t she be attending?” Emmett hadn’t really caught up in the conversation.

“Either he’s arrogant or they have an open marriage.” Rose chimed in, not really believing the words coming from her own mouth.

“Neither actually,” Garret cut in. “I guess I can tell you this much.” Leaning over with his forearms resting on his thighs, papers rolled in his left fist. “When she got the call from Tanya about Jacob being arrested, Sarah wanted to know what happened. Tanya had no issue telling her every single detail. Sarah then called her old friend Jonathan Meyers, who is making the annulment; take longer than your standard case. Jacob has been assured by his personal attorney the paperwork will be final in a matter of days, plenty of time before the match. However, he has failed to secure several things. One being Tanya’s signature, since she is conveniently traveling with Sarah in an undisclosed location, it would be impossible for officials to find her before the fight happens. Second, he has an attorney who doesn’t play by the rules, including when dealing with Jacob. He is well aware the document hasn’t been signed by Tanya, yet he is keeping it to himself. My guess is to run up more of a fee for himself.”

If this was all Garrett could comfortable reveal to us, I couldn’t wait to hear the entire story. “So, Renee, what do we do next?”

Garrett knew who to go to for a true game plan. It was funny really, all these large, dangerous men sitting around this room, all waiting for a tiny woman to give them our next move.

“Well, Bella, you’re going to ignore his request, even when the ticket he refers to comes. Trust me girl, he is crazy enough he will send one. He expects this, you’ve always denied him and it makes him crave it more. It’s also going to mess with his concentration. He is cocky, but even that won’t be enough for him.”

I swallowed hard, fearing what Edward was thinking. Would this be too much on him as well? Would this be a distraction? I swore silently to myself I would make certain he knew where my heart belonged.

“Garrett, I think we will need to use your friends makeup service again. Dress my baby up in a manner only Edward will appreciate. Second, it’s time Edward and Angela have a falling out. Give Jacob a reason to think Edward has just caught his girl cheating on him. We’ll make it public, tip the media off. Edward honey, your job is simple…I’m going to need you to defeat McPherson.”

~CMA~

In a matter of hours, the news of Jacob’s return filled not only the sports channels, but traditional media as well. The very next morning a phone call from an official with the Boxing Federation notified us of a venue change. What was once a simple place setting fight had turned into a televised event.

As requested, Angela and Edward had a huge fight in the middle of a well-known restaurant; paps were able to photograph the entire exchange including Angela’s glass of water being thrown in Edward’s face. The following morning, the breakup was the top news story, pushing aside an earthquake in a village I’d never heard of. Edward was even captured walking with his head down and looking depressed as he entered the gym the next morning. What the public didn’t see? How I attacked him once the cameras were no longer able to see him. Assuring him of how I really felt about him.

Just before I left at the end of the day, a large box was delivered. Inside was an incredibly beautiful sapphire necklace along with a note telling me Jacob couldn’t wait to see me in just the necklace, but for now I was to wear it to show him I was thinking of him. He went on further to say it would be our little secret. Not only would I not be wearing the necklace because of who sent it and the symbol behind it, but it really wouldn’t work with what Heidi had planned for me.

~CMA~

Northern Lights Arena, the largest building available on such short notice, buzzed with anticipation. Tickets had sold out in under an hour, as the media frenzy began. Showtime had procured the rights to broadcast on cable and satellite.

The night before the fight, Edward and I laid in the darkness of his bedroom, holding hands, kissing and assuring each other this would all be over soon. There was no sex of any kind as per Dad’s rules.

With the very public breakup between Edward and Angela, Mom wanted to send Black a mixed signal. Heidi came through once again as she prepared me to be present during the fight. I noticed Jacob as soon as I neared the ring. He sat in the front row, no new bride in sight, not that I was expecting her to show.

He looked to Garrett, who stood proudly with his elbow extended to me. With a quick nod, he smiled and laughed just a little. It was a cocky move, my mother’s plan was working; give him just a hint that things were turning his way.

Heidi had placed me in a blonde wig and spray tanned me to unbelievable dimensions. My nails were more like talons, glued on for the evening. The bra she lent me had more padding than a brand new mattress. I had gone from a B cup to a double D. Not even my own mother recognized me.

I had contacted the promoter and managed to get seats directly behind Black. My shirt was so tight, I had to take calculated steps to avoid ripping it.

“Well, who do we have here?” Jacobs’s cavalier voice questioned as we walked around him. I chewed my gum, exaggerating every pop and smiled the best toothy grin I could. Heidi and Garrett spent several hours helping me to add a few Italian words to my dialect. We knew he would notice me, being the bastard he is, he may even try to get my number. I would make it impossible with my lack of speaking English.

“Hey, Mr. Black. This is my very good friend Sophia Ducati.” Garrett pulled me into his side, completely possessing me while wiggling his eyebrows.

“Ah, Ms. Ducati, what a pleasure to meet you.” Jacob extended his hand in my direction.

“si ha un piccolo cazzo.” (You have a small dick) I spoke low and in my best-disguised voice.

“What did she say?” Black questioned, wonderment in his eyes.

“I have no fucking clue, that the best part. She can’t bitch if I can’t understand her.” Garrett laughed, his free arm smacking Black in the chest.

“Tell me, since your date can’t understand us…” Black look around him, “…what happened between you and Isabella Swan?”

The sick and twisted bastard was making this too easy. “Well, she called me up and said she needed some space. Said she had to really think about what she really wanted in a relationship.”

Before Black could say anything further, the lights and music of the approaching event began. It took me a second to get the skirt just where I wanted. As I sat, I noticed Black pull out his cell phone and type a text message. With complete certainty, I knew he was planning to increase his pursuit of me

Black metal formed the light cage above the ring. Several sponsorship banners lined the empty space provided. Red and blue lights danced across the spectators faces as music blared from speakers in the corners. Bright, white lights made the mat of the ring seem magical, like a stage ready for actors to perform.

I caught movement beside the ropes, the referee for the event was taking his place as onlookers took their seats. Edward’s heavy metal music began to play as the crowd came alive with cheering and cameras flashing. Off in the corner, I could see the booth where ESPN and Showtime were hosting a live broadcast.

This time, there was no leggy girl beside Edward, another falsity to trick Black. Edward was well aware of where I would be seated and how I wouldn’t look like myself. Last night we spoke of having me keep the disguise on, waiting for him in his condo.

Edward took his position in his assigned corner. I held my breath as he looked in Blacks direction, giving one quick nod to him and a longer glance in my direction. We had agreed he would tap the top rope three times with his glove when he noticed me. The smile and shaking of his head was added, I amused him I’m sure. Then there it was, 1..2..3, taps on the top rope.

The sound of Dropkick Murphy’s filled the arena, causing the crowd to lose their minds. I watched as even the sportscasters seemed excited. McPherson appeared, the spotlight cast in his direction, reflecting light off the shiny robe he wore. Just like Edward, there was no beautiful girl.

The noise faded away as I watched Jasper prepare Edward, placing his mouth guard inside his mouth, surrounded by those perfect lips which had caressed mine only hours ago. The two men faced one another, sizing each other up. A pissing match my father had labeled it.

With only a few inches between them, the much smaller referee began his spiel.

“When I say “break”, I want a clean break!” He pointed at each man. “In the event of a knock-down, you will be directed to go to a neutral corner!” His hand touched each boxers glove as he spoke.

“Are there any questions?” Neither man moved.

“You are both professionals, so I expect a good, clean fight!”

“Protect yourself at all times!” Of all the instructions a boxer was ever given, this is by far the most important. Dad has shown me clip after clip of a boxer who dropped his glove for one reason or another, only to receive a knockout punch.

“Okay, touch gloves and come out at the bell!” McPherson ignored Edward’s attempt to touch gloves, a clear indication of how this match would be.

Edward returned to his corner, Jasper again with the fake instructions. My father sat nervously with my mother across the room. It was however, the double take my mother gave me which gave me the biggest smile.

I was startled by the ringing of the bell and scooted my ass to the edge of my seat, my skirt long forgotten. Edward’s focus was completely on his dancing opponent. Dad said he was wiry, giving the illusion that he was quick. Edward picked up on McPherson’s technique as he stepped twice with his left foot before throwing an uppercut.

Nothing exciting happened the first round, they were mostly feeling each other out. It would have been a huge disappointment if the match was over in the first few minutes. I’d be pissed if I had paid for tickets and that happened.

It was the middle of the second when it first happened. McPherson hopped twice on his foot and tried to throw an uppercut. Edward pissed him off when he moved to the right, causing him to swing at air. McPherson retaliated by smacking Edward in the back of the head.

This move was a huge taboo in boxing; you never smack someone upside the head like that. Many, many matches had been called when this happened. The ref made each boxer go to his own corner and cautioned McPherson not to attempt this again.

With the signaling of the next round, both boxers came out in a rage. McPherson again attempted to throw an uppercut, which was again averted by Edward. In a bitch move, McPherson wrapped his gloves around Edward’s ears and began to pull him forward, releasing him only to smack the piss out of the back of the head again.

What happened next would go down in history as receiving the most hits on a YouTube video. Edward looked him square in the face, mouthed “you hit like a bitch” and proceeded to catch the side of McPherson’s jaw with a powerful jab, sending him flat to the mat, out cold and lifeless.

The noise level as the ref held Edward’s hand in the air was off the charts. I stood in my four inch heels, my mouth open and my mind completely blank. Reporters rushed the ring, snapping away at the champion.

Edward was handed the belt and a reporter tried to start an interview. Edward jerked the microphone from him, turned in our direction and pointed his still gloved hand at Black.

“I beat him,” he pointed at McPherson, who was still receiving medical attention.

“You said you would fight the winner of this match and I’ve just fucking won against one of your bitches.” This was a side of Edward I didn’t know, without a doubt he was heated and pissed, and so fucking hot.

“Are you gonna keep your word? Or run off like the punk ass motherfucker you really are?”

Jeers rang out as the crowd enjoyed Edward calling Black out. The poor guys in the sound booth were working overtime to bleep out Edward’s curse words, I found them…interesting.

Black rose from his chair, buttoning his suit jacket as he stood. Taking the ten steps between him and the judges, he took the microphone one of the sound guys offered.

“You got lucky tonight, boy.” Black taunted. Edward made no move to change his posture.

“You won’t be so lucky the next time.” He added, his free hand diving into his pants pocket.

“Get ready for some real pain, motherfucker.” He finished and then tossed the microphone to the floor, stomping in retreat down the aisle toward the exit.

“Check mate.” Garrett spoke, astonished. My mother’s face agreed.

Chapter 25

 

A long white table sat covered with several bottles of water, pens, and note cards. Large media banners, looking more like a bed sheets than standard backdrops, were hanging behind the table. Lights flashed as each competitor took his respective place at the table.

Jacob dressed in his signature silk suit, teeth out shining the fancy material. With the pride of a great lion, he moved about the small opening as he pulled his chair to take his throne.

Edward wasn’t far behind, however, he strutted in as if he was attending a football game or other sporting event. His black t-shirt and dark jeans a polar opposite to his well dressed opponent. He too, took his time, smiled for the camera flashes and adjusted his stance.

I watched as Jacob’s eyes searched the room, looking for something or someone. His face fell slightly, when my father and Emmett could be seen against the side of the room. Emmett’s arms were crossed and he was nodding his head every so often when dad would say something. It would be too bold of me to suggest Jacob was looking for me, regardless of his increase in attention and gifts.

Every major boxing match sported one of these events. A small glimpse of the two fighters, who they were in and outside of the ring. This was a reporter’s wet dream, a chance to ask the questions everyone was thinking; to get to the core of the reason behind each contenders words.

Following my mother’s advice, we settled onto my living room couch, ESPN on the flat screen. To an outsider, it looked as if we were huddled in for a movie marathon and not a boxing press conference. Even if I weren’t trying to avoid Jacob, I still wouldn’t have attended this circus. Reporters are notorious for making stories where there isn’t one. The last thing I wanted was to be mistaken for winking at Black when in reality I had a lash caught in my eye.

This was supposed to be a form of organized chaos, each reporter given thirty seconds to ask a question and then move on to the next. However, just as every other time these two faced one another, it was just chaos.

“Before we get started, I’d like to make a comment.” Jacob leaned over speaking into the microphone, which rested in a stand on the table. “I’d like to apologize for my opponents lack of proper dress.” Camera flashes continued, as a smug look covered Jacob’s face. “He is still very inexperienced as to what is expected of him.” Jacob leaned back in his chair, a satisfied look replacing his smugness.

“Actually, I had to lend my suit to your daddy. Passed him coming out of a no tell motel on the way over.” Edward responded his stance casual, arms folded at the elbows and parallel to his chest. His body language matched his attire.

That satisfied look fell like a bowling ball from Jacob’s face. Jeers sounded from spectators and certain less professional reporters. It was Edward’s turn to wear the smug grin, which was an appropriate accessory.

“Gentlemen, may we continue in a more serious nature?” The moderator, an older man with glasses and a massively bad comb over, interrupted.

“First question is for our champion, Mr. Black.” The moderator nodded at grey suited man, his lanyard indicated he was from Boxing Daily Magazine.

“Good morning, Mr. Black. It’s been rumored that the display shown by you and Mr. Cullen at the end of the fight a few weeks back was rehearsed. Can you confirm or deny this?”

Jacob had taken on a softer stature, leg crossed over the other, an elbow resting on the table while his fingers held up his chiseled chin.

“I have reviewed the video many times of that particular evening. I’m embarrassed to admit it was not my finest moment. I allowed my emotions to rule me. But to answer your question, no, we did not plan for that exchange to happen.”

“I’m sorry, but I will need to interrupt this time,” Edward pulled the microphone closer to him. “You overestimate Blacks ability to have a clear and conscious thought. If something such as this had been planned, we would still be rehearsing.”

Jacob being the public player he is, laughed and point a finger in Edward’s direction, silently giving him the ‘you got me kid’ gesture, clearly for the audience’s attention.

“Rolling stone magazine,” Mr. Comb-over called. A tall man, who looked as if he should be at band practice with his leather pants and belt instead of here, rose from his chair.

“Mr. Cullen, sources tell us you recently had a bad, and very public, breakup with your long time girlfriend, Angela Weber. Is there any hope for a reunion or is there someone new warming your bed?”

Edward looked to the cloth covering the table, shook his head twice and then look directly into the camera. “Angela Weber is a good and honest woman. She and I will always be friends. However, no, we both agree there is no point in a reconciliation.”

“Muscle…” Mr. Comb-over began. Edward interrupted by placing a hand on the man’s arm.

“Hold on, Donald Trump, I wasn’t finished.”

This time he turned in Jacob’s direction. “Don’t worry, though, Jacob has years of experience being on his knees and sucking whatever dick he needs to get him what he wants. I’ll call him if the need arises.”

Question after question, no future answer with quite the same caliber as the first few. I was about to turn off the flat screen when Edward was asked a question by a surprising source.

“US Weekly magazine, good morning, Gentlemen.” The girl was tiny, with blonde hair and a short tight dress. Edward’s arms were crossed against his chest, reclining in his chair, Jacob in a similar fashion. “According to our research, Mr. Black has been seen in public with a Tanya Denali. The same Ms. Denali who Mr. Cullen dated for a time.”

My mouth dropped as I held the remote pointed at the television.

“Oh good, Lord!” My mother cried. “They attended first grade together, how the heck does that count for anything?” Her arms were flopping in the air. How she knew this and I didn’t, I had no idea.

“Really?” Edward shouted. “Is this the best you can do?” He stood and faced Jacob. “US weekly is a tabloid. They print shit we all laugh at. Call our girlfriends and tell them what they print is pure bullshit.” Tossing an empty water bottle behind him. “Want to see how a professional gets the media stirred up?” He questioned, a glint in his eye. My mother was so excited she was certainly going to pee on my couch.

“You,” he pointed at Jasper. “Go home to your wife, man.” He pointed behind Jasper. Extending his hand to shake his.

“You, sir,” he pointed at my dad. “Come take your place where you deserve to be.” Edward pointed to Jasper’s now vacant seat. Dad pushed himself away from the wall and walked tall toward the table.

“Former champion Swan needs no introduction. He has held this title longer than any man setting here. I’ve chosen to train under his expert eye.”

Shouts rang out from every direction. Mom began to move her arm in a circular motion, doing a terrible impression of Arsenio Hall.

“Mr. Swan! Mr. Swan!” The crowd shouted, camera flashes like lightening strikes.

“You,” dad pointed at a man in the front row. “I remember you from my own interview some years back.”

Slowly the man stepped forward, nodded his head reverently and asked his question.

“Sir, congratulations on the appointment, do you have a comment for our readers?

Dad looked at the man, took a deep breath and leaned forward so he could see Jacob.

“Black, I’ve known your family for many years. Fought your old man for more than just a belt.” He tapped his fingers on the table, his eyes never leaving Jacob’s. “I’m gonna give you the same advice my father gave him.” Jacob’s face changed to a scowl at the mention of his father. “You’re doing this for the wrong reasons, you’ve surrounded yourself with the wrong people, time to quit while you’re ahead.”

“What the fuck would you know about my fucking father!?” Jacob’s calm facade a piece of history, in its place, a raging bull full of anger and hate.

Dad face showed the entire press corps he had gotten the reaction he wanted from Black. “I know your dad wasn’t enough to beat me and he, just like you, aren’t enough to get the girl you really want.”

Mom picked up the remote and turned off the broadcast. “Now that we have him just where we want him, let’s see how crazy he becomes?” Her eyes looked off in the distance. “If he is anything like his father, and by the way he has been so far, I have no doubt he is going to crave your affections even more.” Turning, she took my hands in hers, eyes violet, skin camouflaging her true age. “William tried to turn my head for months. Wanted me to leave your father for him.” She rolled her eyes at the thought. “Jacob’s gifts will become more personal and with greater meaning, you will continue to ignore them, driving him to limits I not even sure he knows he has.”

~CMA~

Just as my mother predicted, Jacob had a hand delivered gift for me the very next day. A white satin bow was wrapped securely around a large cream box, SAKs in gold letters along the edge. A hint of vanilla escaped as the top of the box was opened. Inside, a single bright blue ticket, Jacob’s picture square in the center, his face void of any emotions, eyes dark as night, and more evil than Satan himself.

Lying delicately in the cloud of cream tissue, fabric so soft you would swear it was cotton. Thin and yet not translucent, bright blue with lines of silver weaved into the fabric. I pulled the dress from the box, tissue paper fluttering to the floor below. I was in awe.

The dress was simply beautiful. I didn’t care who it came from, I wanted to be buried in this beautiful dress, it was that well made. My love affair with the dress was short lived as my mother snatched it from my hands, shoved it back in the box, and then disappeared into my father’s office, Garrett in tow.

I watched in wonderment as the man who once turned the heads of every woman in the room, with his cache style and killer smile, now walked behind a woman twice his age, married to a man who could snap his neck. He does this with a walk which resembles a fourth grade school girl, hands held behind her back.

My phone has rung off the hook, young men and women who once heard the official news of my father’s involvement with Edward, now wanted a place in his gym. His ego has busted with the new attention, Mom says he is back to the man he was when they first married, I have no wish for her to go any further in her description. I’m happy though, for my parents, for Alice and Jasper, as odd as that sounds and for the future and whatever it may hold for me.

Mom and Garrett finally finished strategizing; they honest to God cracked me up with their hushed tones and overexertion of laughter. I waved to my mom as she walks out with the last class of the day, a workout class with music from the late eighties to the early nineties. No matter what they call it, it’s getting men and women up off their couches and moving their bodies.

I have one final spreadsheet to fill out and then I could head home, kick off my shoes and pour myself a glass of wine. As I saved my document, I noticed movement on the darkened gym floor. With everything that has happened lately, I wasn’t taking any chances. I sprung from my desk chair, cell phone in hand, and dashed to the door to lock it. Just as I engaged the lock, I heard his voice.

“Baby, it’s me.” Edward’s whisper soft voice called from the opposite side.

I twisted the knob and pulled the door open as fast as I could. Edward entered the room and switched the light off as he picked me up, crossing the floor to my desk.

I relished the feel of his hard body against mine, muscles moving with use. My back found the top of my desk, legs spread with Edward between them. He was as quick in the sack as he was in the ring, my pants and panties on the floor evidence to the fact.

His tongue circled my clit, fingers spreading my lower lips and teeth nipping at the tender flesh. There wasn’t time to warn him of my orgasm as it rushed from my body.

“Edward…” I stated as I tried to lift my head. All the muscles of my body completely limber from the hormone release.

“Hmm…” he muttered, lifting his shirt over his head and wiping his chin as he lifted his leg to climb on the desk with me.

“Hi.” My lust filled mind responds.

His smile was electric and I craved it. I wanted the time we had together to never end. If I could, I would press pause on the outside world and ignore all of the obligations we both have.

“Oh, that won’t do, you can still form words. I still have lots of work to do.”

Before I could blink, he had pulled my pelvis off my desk top and slid his knees under my butt cheeks, his cock sliding inside my drenched folds with ease. My legs were on either side of his waist, his massive hands holding me by my hips. His rhythm was addicting. I’d never tried this position before, but I loved it; he was able to hit that legendary Promised Land deep inside me. He let go of my left side as his finger traced my clit, up and down, tapping it quickly causing my second orgasm to enter the stage.

Edward was a seasoned athlete, his stamina a direct reflection of the endurance he’s worked so hard to build. Without wasting a moment, he slips off my desk and flips me over, swiftly entering me from behind. The change in position caused him to hit different angles, was nearly overwhelming. He pulled my chest away from the hard wood of the desk, his hands cupping my bare breast. My nipples were standing at attention, begging for his touch.

Edward has always had a way with his fingers and my nipples, it was if he knew just the right sequence to pinch, pull and on occasion bite, just a little. The combination of his cock in my core and his mouth wrapped around a nipple is a guaranteed orgasm. But that’s the easy way; Edward hardly ever takes the easy way to give me pleasure. He pushes my body to find new avenues, striving for the golden ring of utter bliss.

“Bella…” he pants into my ear as he pulled me against his chest.

“Yes…” I can barely get the word out, I’ve just screamed from the orgasm he pulled from my body.

“Nope, you’re still talking.”

Edward pulled me to his lap, his naked ass in my leather chair. Pulling me down on his still very erect cock, my fatigued hands resting on the back of the chair behind his head.

“Ride me, baby.” He commands.

It’s a struggle, but I bend my legs, finding friction against his pelvis, my clit rejoicing in the sensation. His mouth, which was previously telling me how good my pussy felt, now informs me of how my tits were perfect in his hands.

Feeling his fingertips digging into my hips, his up strokes much stronger and I knew he was getting close. He was good, he would hold off until I cried out, but I had nothing left to cry out with. As my body convulsed in its final orgasm, he again called my name.

“Bella…?”

I shook my head no, there was nothing left. He grabbed my pelvis and in three long and deep thrusts he spilled inside me.

~CMA~

One week…

In one week, we would either have a new champion or a successful defender. The Vegas poles were fifty-fifty between the contenders. Jacob stood to walk away with nearly a million dollars for just showing up. It was that way with every title shot. The champion would benefit, win, lose or draw.

After our sex marathon in my office, Edward held me as he regained his breath. It was several long minutes before I was able to talk, making him smile with pride. I don’t know if it was the liberation of the endorphins floating around my body or the way Edward caged me in his arms, but whatever it was, I found the courage to ask him the question I feared the most.

Edward, what happens after you win?”

He adjusted us in the chair, our naked bodies still connected. “Well, there will be a lot of interviews…”

I pulled back to stop him, this wasn’t the path I had in mind to travel. “No, Edward.” My eyes searched his, begging to find the truth residing there. “I mean…what happens to us?”

His pause was too long for my comfort. I felt embarrassed for giving so much of myself to this man who, by omission of words, told me what I really didn’t want to hear.

I pulled away, my pride in shreds and slowly dying in the corner. I had to get away, distance myself before the tears began to fall.

Wait…” He pulled me back to him. “I’ve never really had time to think beyond the fight in New York.” His eyes were genuine, with a hint of realization my question had stirred.

Edward and my father left for New York this morning. They would stay in a house rented by his family. The pictures he forwarded to me, showed nothing less than what I imagined. Rose and I would fly out Friday night, arriving in the wee hours of Saturday morning. The fight would be Sunday and all of this would come to an end.

Granted, plans were already in place to expand the gym even more. Enrollment in the proposed boxing school was already at nearly one hundred. The only area of uncertainty was what Edward planned to do after.

I didn’t want to cloud his focus with the talk we needed to have. It could wait until the following week. He needed to get his mind and body in the right frame of mind to beat the living shit out of Jacob Black.

“Bella?” Angela called, her head poking around my office door.

“Hey,” I smiled in her direction, my fingers stopping momentarily to see what she needed. “What’s up?”

“Uh, well, you have a visitor.” She pushed the door all the way open revealing a tall blonde standing beside a much shorter, much older, woman. I stood from my desk and rounded the corner, walking with my hand extended.

“Hello, I’m Bella.” I started, about to ask how I could help them when the older lady pushed past me.

“I know who you are. Jacob has spoken of you many times.”

Not waiting for an invitation, she circled around one of my chairs and sat with the same grace Esme would have.

The blonde stood looking at her feet. Her hair was pulled back in a tight, low ponytail and her sweater hung loose around her torso.

“Ah…I’m sorry,” I turned directing my question to the older lady. “Who are you?”

Angela ushered the blonde into the room and closed the door behind her. The older lady smiled as she crossed her legs, “I’m the woman who is going to help Edward win the fight.”

Chapter 26

 

Another knock on my door halted the angry words I wanted to say to this woman. How dare she march into my office and say she was going to help Edward win. Where was she when Leah pulled her shit and nearly cost him everything? Was she sparring with him in the ring for twelve hours a day? Fuck no, she wasn’t.

Angela peaked around the door before letting whomever was behind it in.

“Sarah?” My mother entered the room, dodging Angela. “I thought that was you. It’s been too long.”

The woman my mother referred to as Sarah, rose from her chair, a new attitude across her face as she welcomed my mom’s embrace.

“It has, Renee. You still look good as ever.” Gone was the brassiness of her voice. In it’s place an almost giddy and happy tone.

“I don’t have to guess why you’re here, honestly I expected you a month ago.” Mom pulled back from the embrace, her hands on Sarah’s shoulders, looking at her with compassion. “You’re a Saint for hanging in there as long as you have.”

Part of me was growing with anger, the remainder was colored in confusion. It was clear Mom knew more about this situation than she had originally let on. I was beginning to feel more like a Chess piece, than her daughter.

“I’m no saint, Ren. I’m just not willing to be taken advantage of any longer.” Sarah turned away and settled back in her chair. Where once sat a graceful lady, now was a pissed off woman.

A second ago I’d labeled myself pissed and confused, now I was one hundred percent confused and pissed about it. Someone needed to give me some answers.

“Bella, honey this is, as you’ve gathered, Sarah Black—Jacob’s mother.” Sarah huffed, rolled her eyes, and crossed her arms across her designer suited chest. Her juvenile actions, caused my eyebrows to rise and look to my snickering mother.

“Sarah, maybe you should tell us the whole story.” Mother’s voice was a pitch I’d never heard before, it was almost comical.

Movement from the back of the room changed my focus. Still standing like a nervous bride on her wedding night was the blonde. Her eyes fixated on the carpet and her fingers gripped so tightly together I worried they would fall off.

“Tanya, can we get you anything?” Mother asked in the voice she saved for when she found me upset. The blonde never looked up as she shook her head back and forth rapidly.

“Tanya Michelle Denali-Black, what have we been working on?” Sarah corrected from her seat, her head turned toward the girl.

As if by divine intervention, Tanya’s head popped up, her posture straightened and her hands dropped gracefully to her side. “No, Mrs. Swan. I’m absolutely fine, thank you so much for asking.” With the poise of a beauty queen, she walked over and sat in the chair beside Sarah.

“Much better,” Sarah smiled. “I’ve been working on making her more confident. To go after what she does and does not want.” Pure pride was evident in her voice and features.

So at least the rumors were true, Jacob had married this girl. But why was she here?

“Bella, in order for you to understand how I can help Edward win, I need to tell you about not only my past, but some of your own family as well.” This lady had more personalities than Sybil; she had arrived as a callus old biddy, then long lost school friend, and now Dr. Laura.

“Please do.” I encouraged.

“Many years ago, and I’m vain enough not to admit how many,” she smiled and looked at my mom. “I met your mother and we became friends.”

Mom took her seat in the corner. “She and I were at a stage in our lives when everything seemed possible. We were young and carefree.” The blissful look was shared by them both.

“Your mother was very much attracted to the bad boys, where I preferred the more gentlemanly ones. One night she convinced me to go with her to this seedy little pool hall where she wanted to have a night out.” Mom shook her head and lowered her gaze.

“However, before we even made it in the door, a fight had broken out and there were men slugging each other all over the place. One man in particular, was knocking guys out cold with just a single punch.” A dreamy look came over Sarah’s face.

“Your mother dragged me away, but not before I too had been bitten by the bad boy bug. I gave up looking for the opening of doors and love notes. Instead, I was now looking for a man who could protect me and show me his strength, not just his money.”

Honestly, it was creepy to hear a woman the same age as my own mother speak this way.

“So when my father let it be known he was sponsoring a young boxer, I volunteered to go to the matches with him. In those days, it wasn’t as flashy and socially acceptable as it is now for a lady to be present.”

“At first my mother was appalled and tried to forbid my father from taking me. But he insisted it would be in my best interests to attend with him. Little did I know, he was setting me up for the horror which would be the rest of my life.” She shivered in her chair, the callous lady returning.

“The fight was a Saturday night, I sat beside my father, scared and excited all rolled into one. Men dressed in suits sat around us, while others dressed more relaxed in athletic attire.” From her description, things had changed little since then when it came to those who watched boxing.

“A man stood in the center of this contraption my father called a ring, which I found odd, given it was square and not a circle. It was a second later when I first laid eyes on William.” Her tone said it all; she was instantly attracted to him.

“He won the fight, of course. Afterward, his friend and trainer introduced him to my father and myself. A small part of my soul floated away and into his body when he kissed my hand.

He showed up at our house for dinner and my mother loved him instantly. He asked if he could take me to a movie and everything just seemed to fall into place.” Her eyes were off in the distance, a hint of sadness introducing itself as she continued.

“My father agreed to sponsor him and I was so excited when he would call me his girl. I phoned Renee up and invited her to his next fight.” Mom crossed the floor at this point, her chair dragging behind her.

“I introduced him to my best friend after the match.” She took my mother’s hand. “Although I got the distinct impression Renee didn’t care for him much.”

“William noticed this as well and began trying very hard to get her to like him. He said it was important my best friend approved of him.” Mom gave Sarah a sad smile as we listened.

“It was maybe a month or two later, when my father managed to get William a fight with a heavyweight contender. It was only an exhibition match, but William was excited. As a matter of fact, he told me he loved me after he found out.”

“I begged Renee to come along, she was reluctant, but finally agreed. As the boxers took their place in their corners, I told Renee how William had confessed his love for me. But when I looked at Renee’s eyes, she was staring open mouthed at the man William was about to box.”

No one needed to tell me this part, I had heard this before. The night my parents met, my mother had dreamily admitted she couldn’t take her eyes off my dad. Since he was still in the Navy at the time, it was a couple of months before they actually got together.

“A week later, William asked for my hand in marriage. My father agreed and even had designs on grooming him to take over the family company.” I tried to remember what company Jacob owned, but came up blank, so I continued to listen.

“We married three months later and I became pregnant almost immediately.” Sarah lowered her face for just a moment and then continued. The stone exterior she walked in with was now reinforced with titanium.

“We had just moved into the house my parents built for us and I was six months along when William came home with…” She swallowed hard at the memory. Angela walked out of the room, returning with the bottle of Jack Daniels my dad kept in his desk. Pouring her a coffee cup full.

“Thank you,” she whispered to Angela after she drained the cup.

“With a newborn baby boy wrapped in a blanket.” Her hands and voice trembled at the memory. An audible gasp escaped from my mouth, followed by the slap of my hand over my lips. Mom cast a sorrowful look my way.

“He confessed he’d only married me to further his career and the baby was his.” Her voice cracking slightly.

“William had been seeing many, many women while with me. The little boy was a product of an after fight fuck he’d had in the shower with one of the girls who hung around the gym. The same night he claimed to love me.”

In the history of stupid questions, I managed to ask the king of them all. “What happened to the little baby?”

Sarah’s eyes flashed to mine, but mother shook her head and responded for her.

“Bella, the baby was Jacob. Sarah is not his biological mother.”

Okay, what can you really say in this situation? I mean sorry…but for what?

“He completely changed that night. He shoved the baby in my lap and began telling me what a terrible person I was; that I was nothing to look at and the measures he had to take to even sleep with me.” By the look on her face, this wasn’t the last time he spoke to her in that manner. She was the product of a verbally abusive relationship. There was no point in asking why she stayed or put up with it, most of the time, victims didn’t have a clue.

“I became so distraught, I went into premature labor.”

This time, I wasn’t going to ask what happened to the child. Jacob didn’t have any siblings, so the answer was clear.

“The birth of my baby was rough and there were complications that left me unable to have more children.”

It was silent for several minutes. We all needed it, a moment to show respect for the tiny life which was no more.

“William didn’t even follow the ambulance to the hospital and my parents were in Paris for vacation. So I called the only person I knew.” Mom pulled Sarah into a hug, I couldn’t think or move. Who did I know that would kill William for what he did?

“When my father found out, he tried to reason with me. He told me that men have needs, which must be met. I later learned he had invested heavily in William’s career as a boxer. It was my first lesson that money was more important than anything.”

“So William continued to win his fights and father continued to bet on him and pay for his training. I didn’t go anywhere near William unless we had to make a public appearance.”

“Renee visited me more and more often. I noticed William would linger in the house when she was there. I told her to be careful, but she told me not to worry. Charlie had already made his intentions known and your grandfather had given his blessing.” Somehow, I couldn’t imagine my dad just letting all of this happen.

“Just before they were scheduled to fight, William came home with a broken arm and had to pull out of the championship fight. Your dad went on to win the title for the first time not long after. As bad as things between William and myself had been, watching Charlie Swan win the title and subsequently the kiss to end all kisses was too much for him.”

My parents had shown me the tape. The first time my dad won the championship, he did as every winner does and thanked the entire world. My dad, however, had pulled my mom into the ring and placed a kiss on her that even by today’s standards was pornographic. I do seem to recall him pointing at someone and mouthing something to them as he left the ring. I would have to review the tape to see what he’d said.

“William trained night and day for a years before he challenged the third place contender, just as Edward had done recently. When he defeated everyone in his path, he called out Charlie and challenged him.”

Wait…I remember this. This was the fight where they were both on their knees struggling to get a glove on the rope. My mother stood in the center of the aisle and cheered for my dad. He shot up like a volcano and won the fight.

“After he lost to Charlie. He crawled into a bottle and the bed of some nameless girl. Jacob wanted to be just like his rotten father, so he began to fight as well. He also began treating women just as he was taught by his father.”

Explains why Jacob is the way he is, but…”There’s more, isn’t there?” I asked.

“Of course there is more.” Sarah scoffed.

“My father died a month later, leaving my mom so grief stricken she passed within days of him. William tried to step up to the plate as head of my father’s company, only to discover my father had left everything to me in his will.”

“I kept the same people in charge and gave William a monthly allotment. He tried every way he could to get more money out of me, even billing me for Jacobs training.”

“He started making deals behind my back, trying to get enough capital to buy his way into the board of directors,” Her tone changed again, fueled by pure anger. “As good a boxer as he is, he sucks as a businessman. His last bright idea is sitting in this very room.”

All eyes centered on Tanya who had remained silent. Her smile grew, yet her body showed equal sadness.

“Mr. Black came to see my daddy when I was just a little girl.”

It was faint, but if you listened close enough you could hear it. Tanya had a speech impediment.

“Daddy was looking for more businesses to invest into. He had heard Mr. Black was in line to take over Volturi manufacturing.”

Like the sunshine on a spring day the heavens opened up and the planets aligned, giving me clarity to the unanswered questions I had in the back of my mind. Sarah was a Volturi, one of Forbes magazine’s top five companies in the world. They were also the cash cow for Jacob’s bank accounts. Tanya was a Denali, of Denali oil. The largest producer of petroleum products in the US. They owned more land which sat over oil pockets in the US than all the sand in the desert. Hell, there’s a mountain range named after the family.

“He wanted to make sure the family would always be taken care of,” her voice faltered for a moment as she looked down and then back up again. “But no man wants a wife who can’t get her words out correctly.” I had no clue how severe her condition was as a child, but it was only slight as I listened now.

“Mr. Black made a bargain with my daddy; he would have his son marry me and in return, my father would pay him a handsome dowry and when the time came, some leverage to overtake a company.”

“However, there were stipulations.” Sarah added, her finger raise and head tilted.

“Yes, there were stipulations on both sides.” Tanya agreed. “First, Mr. Black would get half of the money when the two of us were introduced. If I didn’t like Jacob, for any reason, the deal was off. If I did, the contract would be signed.”

The slow and cautious opening of the door interrupted Tanya’s side of the tale. Garrett’s spiky hair crept around the edge of the door until his curious eyes came into view.

“Garrett, about time you arrived, boy.”

Just as he tip-toed around my mother, he walked with caution to Sarah’s side, kissing her cheek and taking a long glance in Tanya’s direction. I don’t think anyone else saw how Tanya looked away from Garrett or how her breath caught in her throat, but I did.

“I’m sorry, . I was making certain Jacob had checked into his hotel room.” His eyes flashed several times to Tanya.

“Take a seat then, Tanya is filling everyone in on her story.”

Tanya took a deep breath, blinked her eyes and settled her shoulders. “Daddy knew even the most honest man could be bought for the right price, so he added a few stipulations in order for William to get the rest of his money.”

“The one I counted on the most was one my mother had suggested. My parents were old fashioned and even with their arranged marriage, they wanted to insure I would have a good man. So dad included a clause for faithfulness. Once I reached the age of courtship, Jacob was to act like a man in a committed relationship.”

Tanya looked in my direction. “How old are you now?” I questioned.

“The morality clause took effect three months ago, on my twenty first birthday, the day I married Jacob.” Her voice trembled, she knew he hadn’t followed what he promised to.

“Tanya, you know he has been sending me gifts. I have people who would testify he’s been actively pursuing me for a while now.”

Sarah jumped to her feet and slammed her hand on my desk as she raised her voice in response. “It’s more than just catching him sending a few flowers or winking in your direction! Hell, I could’ve had him jailed when he hired that idiot Jasper Whitlock. I want more than to just see him and his son behind bars!” Her face was so close to mine I could see the gold flecks in her eyes.

“I want him to suffer publically, to feel what it’s like to hide in a house you hate. To cringe as you walk down the street and wonder how many of the women you’ve passed have just fucked your husband.” She repeated slammed her hand down on my desk as she spoke the last three words.

“I want him to pay and then pay some more! I want for him to hurt, like I did as I held my dead baby in my arms. I want him to sit on the street corner and beg for his next bite of food.

“I’ve planned and waited. I’ve watched as he’s made mistake after mistake. Taking Jacob to Vegas and then drugging him so he would marry Tanya.” She pointed in Tanya’s direction.

Tanya rose from her chair, giving an angry and ranting Sarah a hug. They stood together, locked in a kindred embrace, with no one saying a word as they exchanged whispers.

“Jacob had changed his mind about marrying Tanya.” Sarah started, voice low and under control. “Said he wasn’t ready for being with only one woman, unless that woman was Bella Swan.” Both ladies turned to look at me.

“He’s never denied his attraction to you. On the contrary, he’s going crazy with you ignoring him. He watches and waits for you to be alone. Imagine his delight when you were helping during the charity event. An event he wasn’t going to attend until he received word you were. Garrett has assured me, you had no interest in Jacob or his gifts.”

“But William didn’t care about what Jacob wanted. He sent Tanya a message asking her to meet him in Vegas as Jacob had something special planned. He told Jacob they were going to Vegas to indulge in all ‘sin city’ had to offer. Only once they arrived, William slipped a drug into his drink and rushed he and Tanya off to a wedding chapel. They were married before midnight.”

Tanya returned to her seat. “I was glad I didn’t have to stand in front of thousands people, I’m not a fan of crowds. After the wedding, he was so happy. He kept telling me everything was wonderful. Once we were back in the room, however, he collapsed into the pillow and was out cold.”

What a way to spend your honeymoon.

“But then Jacob woke up and realized what had happened. He knew about the stipulations in place and the implications.” Sarah and Tanya were looking at each other, both sharing the same deception from men who once swore to love them.

“After the cops left, I called Sarah. I knew she could help me more than reaching out and having daddy pay another person to take care of me.” Tanya reached out, grasping Sarah’s hand.

“I took her away, hid her from the attorneys and the media. I gave her the strength to go forward and get what she really wants, what she deserves.”

With three quick squeezes, Sarah released Tanya’s hand and continued.

“Garrett has been following my instructions, reporting back to me what you all have been doing here. Good work hiding from him, Bella.” Sarah added.

“I’ve dealt with every problem which has arisen; from Leah trying to get back into bed with William, to the Boxing Federation getting too nosy.”

Something was missing. What would suddenly change a wife who had accepted her husband’s way enough to want revenge, besides a girl from nowhere Alaska. There had to be more.

“Sarah, what I don’t get is why you’re doing all of this? I mean you have all the evidence you need to put him away, embarrass him as you say. Why go any further?”

She rose from her chair, pointing at the bottle which Angela had placed beside her.

“I’m gonna need another drink to tell this part.” Angela ignored the cup and handed the entire bottle to Sarah. I watched her tip the bottle back, a sight to behold I tell ya.

“William never cared if I knew about his affairs, he did as he pleased. I was grateful he went to have someone else to touch his dick and left me alone. About two years ago, he began an affair with a new person, a high ranking official. I’ve ignored plenty of women over the years we’ve been married, but this one in particular I just couldn’t turn a blind eye to.

“I had him followed to confirm what I already knew and found out he was not only screwing someone new, he was also stealing money from my company.

“It’s one thing to disrespect me, but to steal from the hand which already feeds you is too much. Now I want everyone to know how big of a scumbag he is. I want the men who stood behind him during his announcement of his intent to run for Senate, to know exactly who they’re backing.”

Oh Lord, I had completely forgotten he was a candidate for US Senate. All of this would take away any hope he had of winning the seat.

“All the players are ready for the big reveal, we just need the perfect venue. This fight has provided just what we needed.” Her cavalier attitude was addictive, she had the confidence she needed and all the proof.

“So what do you need from us?” I leaned back in my chair, ready to help this ladies plan.

Sarah smiled, “Well Jacob, like most athletes, has a pre-fight ritual. For him, he will watch porn and call me.” How twisted to know your son is watching porn as he is dialing your number.

“When he calls me, I will mention that his attorney has been leaving voicemail messages regarding his beautiful new bride. He will learn moments before the fight he is still very much married to Tanya.”

As twisted as this sounds, I liked how she operated.

“What do you need me to do?”

Her smile was electric as she tipped the bottle of Jack against her lips.

“Well…”

CMA CMA CMA

Friday was a whirlwind of activity. Weigh ins were scheduled to air in thirty minutes, however, mom and I needed to head to the airport.

Securing my desk for the weekend, I was just about to grab my purse when my phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Did you get my gift?” His voice was unmistakably erotic.

“Yes.”

“Are you planning to wear it?” A hint of cockiness began to take over.

“Do you think it’s appropriate?” I returned feeling bold.

“I picked out the dress myself, of course it’s not appropriate. But I don’t give a fuck! I want you to wear it and I want to see you sitting beside my father as I win.”

“You know, there’s a fine line between cockiness and confidence. I’m not sure where you stand.”

“Trust me, baby, you will never confuse my cock with anything. Now wear the fucking dress!”

I didn’t have time to respond as the line went dead.

 

Chapter 27

The gentle swaying of the limo created an almost lulling effect. It did little, however, to calm my nerves and assure me this night will end in victory for more than just one tired fighter.

I drank in the sights and sounds of the busy metropolis. The crosswalk filled with people trying to get to their destinations, ignoring the world, which stood around them.

Madison Square Garden came into focus. It has a long history of being the oldest sporting arena in the city. For me, it’s a blast from the past. This is where I watched my father’s hand raised high in victory, only recently was his opponent reminded. I have no clue why I never found who he defeated to be an important fact. I suppose I was more lost in the grandeur of the situation, the latent romance of the time.

As the limo door opened, I pulled, for the millionth time, at the hem of my much too short dress. Never in a hundred years would I have chosen this for myself. Although beautiful, it showed off more of my body than I was comfortable revealing. However, this was part of the ‘take one for the team’ plan, as I had labeled it.

“Good evening.” A black suited man, with a white wire peeking out from behind his left ear, stood at the entrance. Two massive pillars of men stood behind him, escorts for the evening.

Edward had insisted on the added protection tonight. With all the men in my life preoccupied, he’d hand selected these two for the job. Under the cover of night and two beefcakes, we began our journey to what Showtime advertised as the biggest night in boxing in the last twenty years. They were showing a record number of pay-per-view purchases to prove their point. Every boxing magazine, blog, and former champion would be in attendance tonight.

Circular beams of light illuminated the concrete below my feet since no exterior light was available in this narrow hall. I could hear and feel the rumble of the crowd, as the arena grew closer with every step.

My job was to wait for a signal, a text message from my mother. We wanted Jacob to notice that the seat he reserved for me remained empty, to leave no doubt that his pursuance of me had all been in vain.

He placed a call to his mother, just as she’d predicted. It was now confirmed he knew he was still very much a married man. One who was in complete violation of a contract he signed with a quite powerful man. Another crack in the focus he needed.

Tanya and I were housed in the same hotel. Far away from the city, and registered under Heidi’s name. She had travelled with us, spending the past few hours perfecting the look we were both sporting.

Garrett swore to my father he would come with us, but I felt it had more to do with him getting closer to Tanya, than anything to do with me. The attraction between those two was blinding and storybook wonderful. Tanya’s father was also invited to watch, although he and his legal council would be enjoying a private room, with Sarah and her team and one surprise guest, as well.

The music stopped and the announcer began his speal. Weigh in had been the standard testosterone filled dog and pony show. Jacob flexed his muscles and Edward shot a smug look in his direction. Warnings were issued and bets placed, it was show time.

The first round was mostly showboating; small jabs here and there. Edward looked like the picture of calm, where Jacob was more cocky than skilled. For the first time, I looked to the chairs which border the ring. There are two empty, one beside William, whose cigar hung from his lips, hair slicked back and his suit in place. He also had a girl who couldn’t be more than eighteen at his side, her dress barely covering what God gave her. She looked bored, her cell phone getting the attention she should be giving the ring.

The second beside my brother, who was also dressed in a black suit, with Rose in a hot pink dress; which would cause a Monk to wolf whistle.

Girls with large breasts and even larger signs over their heads, sashayed around the ring, announcing the end of the first round and the beginning of the second. Edward came out strong, landing a smack to the head, the cue I’ve been waiting for.

My phone vibrates in my hand, its message I don’t even need to see. Time to take back my life and the life of the man I love.

Wall one and two motions for us to go as I look to Tanya, take her hand and begin the walk down the center aisle. Just as the fighters before us, the crowd is split, allowing nothing to block our path. Tanya’s hand is shaking, mostly from nerves I would guess. We spoke in the elevator, she planned to sign the annulment papers and see what a real kiss from Garrett would be like.

“He wants me to be free from any other man’s claim to me.” She smiled shyly as she confessed this just a while ago. “I told him I would hold him to it.” Garrett had kissed her forehead, a gesture I found to be sweet and romantic.

The ref had momentarily stopped the match, cautioning Edward to avoid cheap shots in the future. With Jacob turning to take a drink of water, Tanya and I slid from the aisle to the one seat beside his father, just as Jacob looked over.

I wish I could list all of the emotions which played on his face or to tell you how his eyes blinked numerous times as he took in his wife wearing a dress he’d purchased and sent to another woman. How his eyes found our hands tangled together, smiling with such pleasant features.

Jeers from behind me reminded me a fight was in progress. The referee came over with a warning to Jacob as he had also forgotten about the match going on. Edward walked around the ref, pulled his mouth guard out, and smiled at me.

“Great dress, baby.” Then blew me a kiss.

In an instant, the jeers became whistles and verbal high-fives. To onlookers, who have no idea the dress in question was sent by the man who has my body on overdrive, they assume he is being a guy.

Last time you wore a red dress, it was meant to drive me crazy, to render me speechless.” He spoke as he kissed my shoulder. Once we’d landed, a black SUV picked us up, waiting inside was Edward, he pulled me into the very back seat, where we stayed horizontal until they dropped us off at the hotel.

If I remember correctly, it worked like a charm.” I snuggled down into his neck, sucking up as much of his masculine scent as possible.

So will the one you’re going to wear.” He drew figure eights on the back of my arm.

Edward was right, the dress did more than just get me a second look, it sent a message to Jacob, one he would remember for the rest of his life.

Jacob was visibly shaken, most of his punches missing their target. He looked more like a drunk nerd trying to dance at a wedding than a Champion defending his title. Round two went to Edward.

Round three started with nothing to separate it from the previous two. Until I caught Emmett’s eye, he motioned for me to come sit in my seat, the one on Edward’s side of the ring. With only seconds left in the round, I stood and walked in his direction.

I would never say what happened next had anything to do with the amount of thigh showing or how low in the back my dress went. But as I reached Emmett’s side, a crash sounded behind me as Edward’s body hit the mat.

He wasn’t down for long, maybe to the count of three, but the hit from Jacob was solid, causing blood to fall from his lip.

“Here, put this on.” Emmett pulled me to my seat, his suit jacket extended to me. I’m not too proud to say, I placed the jacket around me, relishing in the warmth it brought with it.

Barely ten seconds into the fourth round, Edward was all over Jacob. Uppercut after uppercut. Jab after jab. Finally, he pulled back hitting Jacob in the jaw, directly on target as he fell helplessly to the mat.

The ref didn’t get to continue the count as the bell sounded ending the match. Jacob’s trainer and another man, I guessed to be his manager, sprang into the ring to help him to his feet. Edward’s punch was lethal enough to require the area above his eye to be cut, so the eye could be opened.

For the next five rounds, the punches seemed pretty even. Concentration remained in the ring as the fight continued.

However, as the tenth round began, I could feel something shift in the air. Both fighters were breathing hard, missing a punch or two every now and then. Suddenly, Edward fired off a series of body blows, their effect on Jacob apparent as his body jerked with each one. The one final uppercut Edward lands on Jacob’s jaw, sends him flying across the ring and to the mat. It would have been a knock out, except Edward had given the last of what he had of strength with the blow. His body joining Jacob’s on the mat, his eyes closed.

The referee was counting to ten, with both men in jeopardy of losing the match. Jacob is first to turn over and crawl to the edge where I am sitting, struggling to place his gloved hand on the rope.

Edward is beside him, struggling to even raise his head, his face sharing the bloody image.

To my left, a single hand grips my shoulder. My mother’s violet eyes were looking into mine, imploring me to do something. Suddenly, it’s all clear in my head. Turning back to the ring, the referee count at six, I stand from my chair and the jacket slips from my shoulders.

Inching closer to the metal railing, which borders the ring, I begin to jump up and down, clapping and chanting…

“Way to go, baby!”

“You can do this!”

“Hit him again, hit him again.”

“I love you, Edward.”

Twenty years ago, in this very same arena two men faced each other. One wanting to finish his career undefeated. The other, to prove to a girl he could win her heart. And just like that battle so many years ago, the girl who was in love with a champion stood and cheered as if he had been winning all along.

Edward eyes locked with mine as I blew him the most over exaggerated kiss in the history of them and on the count of nine stood up and claimed his victory

The sound of cheers was deafening, people seemed to come out of everywhere as Jacob slumped back onto the mat, the loser of not only his title, but a number of things as the night would show.

Flashes were blinding as an American flag was draped over a very sweaty and bloody Edward. A championship belt draped over his shoulder as microphone after microphone was thrust in his face.

Suddenly, every single light in the building went off, for ten seconds you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. A spark of light flooded the arena from the overhead monitors around the building.

There in the center of the screen sat the face of Sarah Black, or rather Sarah Volturi as she very sternly insisted she be addressed.

“Hello, Sunshine.”

I glanced over to see William Black standing beside his son, medical personnel attending him.

“My congratulations to Mr. Cullen, you fought hard and deserve the title, unlike the ungrateful bastard you defeated.”

Men were running around, trying to unplug the satellite feeds, to no avail. She had planned this and accounted for every possible issue.

“William, since I have your attention and that of nearly a million paying viewers, let’s get to the heart of why I’ve done this.”

William stood with his hands on his hip, just under his jacket. Head tilted back to watch his soon to be ex wife.

“Darling, you will notice I’ve invited a few guests of my own.” Some of the house lights came on showing about one hundred uniformed New York City Police. “You may not have noticed my dear friends from the Federal Trade Commission.” Countless suited men stood in line with many of the officers.

“See, you have lived your life always trying to fight your way to the top. Caring little for the lives you’ve destroyed.”

My father pulled me into his arms. Edward was still in the ring, his warm up jacket adorning his body.

“Your reign of terror ends today.” Her features showed the entire room she meant business. “All these years I have sat back, let you have your fun with whore after whore. Ignored your playboy ways, even taking in your bastard child when his mother left him on the top of your desk after you fucked her one last time.”

Announcing to the world Jacob wasn’t Sarah’s was more effective than asking everyone to hush. William Black, calling Sarah a fucking bitch, only caused sour looks to be sent in his direction. Yet the silence remained, giving Sarah the floor.

“You got greedy and, might I say, really sloppy. You tried to do for your son what you could never get for yourself. Problem was, he didn’t have your willingness to work hard, so you paid off the competition. Gave him a false sense of what being a winner was. You showed him, by your actions, what kind of man he turned out to really be.

William was yelling at people to turn off the feed, but police officers stood blocking their way.

“You trusted a whore to do a seasoned professional’s job. By allowing Leah Kingfisher to befriend one of the sweetest, most mature, and caring women I know and degrading her and humiliating her. You had her plant a machine, which would rob her family business of daily income, in the hopes they would suffer such a loss, they would need to close the doors to their business. What you didn’t expect, was the target of these scams to find Leah cheap, dishonest, and unworthy of his time.”

I looked to Edward as he turned his head in my direction, two fingers placed to his lips, kissing them gently, and then touching the skin over his heart, mouthing, “I love you,” in my direction.

“You found the one women who would sell her own soul to the devil at the right price, yet scream to the nearest Priest for redemption.” Sarah leaned in closer to the screen as if to speak with William in a hushed voice. “Before you bailed her out, she spilled her guts to the authorities. Then she came to me with more information. When you cut her off,” she tapped her chest with her finger. “I paid her handsomely.”

I remember the day we found the equipment under the cabinet, used to steal money from our account. How was it only months ago and not the years it seemed? I was so uncertain about, well, everything then.

“Now you stand there, screaming the foul words you always use at me, the world watching your every move. Every corporate mogul you have ever tried to do business with, is about to know the real you.”

Jacob was now sitting on the chair used during the break periods of the match. A towel wrapped around his neck and an ice pack over his left eye.

“Mr. Denali, I believe you have some business to discuss not only with William, but his bastard as well.”

From her left came a dark haired man, tall with well tailored clothing. A single silver ring on his left hand.

“Billy, we had a signed contract. A handshake between two men who wanted the best for their children. You were also given a large sum of money, the balance of which was transferred into your account the morning our children were married. You and I both know there is solid proof you, and your son, violated several clauses. Including your son trying to get into the pants of another woman before the ink dried on the marriage license. I’ve had my attorney file a lawsuit and a judge just ordered the account where the money was transferred frozen until we have our time in court. Furthermore, my attorney is, as we speak, helping my daughter sever any ties she had to that man you call your son.”

Mr. Denali had a fist of papers, which he tossed at the camera as he spoke his last words.

Sarah returned to the camera, just a hint of a smile gracing her face. “William, before I let the Feds and local police have you and Jacob hauled off to jail, I have one more item to share with the world.”

A very beautiful, middle aged women came onto the screen. Her short red hair and modest makeup accented her features.

“Mr. Mayor?” Sarah called. A larger man rose from the second row, his blonde hair and pale skin hiding his features. “Ah, there you are.” She cheered as he entered the ring to stand beside William.

“You see, when Leah came to my home, she had some very interesting tales to share with me. She told me of other women you brought to her bed and children you paid support to. But one thing she shared with me, caused me to investigate her allegations.” Pulling something off the floor and handing what looked to be a file to the other lady.

“Oh, I nearly forgot.” Her eyes dancing in the camera. “Caius, you know this beautiful woman, don’t you?” Her hand extended in the direction of the pretty lady. “Of course he does, everyone. It’s his wife of twenty five years, Lauren. Lauren, say hello to your lying, cheating, criminal husband.”

In a move only found, until now, on trashy talk shows, Lauren raised her middle finger.

“Close enough.” Sarah shrugged her shoulders.

“Caius, recently you stood before the citizens of your city and publically announced your support for his bid for the Senate seat in his state. You both stood there and spoke of family values and how getting back to basics was important.”

A police officer was already placing handcuffs on William, another was reading him his rights.

“Now let me share with everyone what Leah shared with me, which I confirmed with a reliable source.”

Photos began to span across the screen, pictures of William on his knees servicing Caius. Another with Caius bent over a table, William pounding into his behind. Yet another with heated kissing.

“The voters may not care about the personal lives of its officials, but Caius’s wife certainly does.”

Lauren had her own set of papers in her hand, an angry look about her face. “You will hear from my attorney, don’t come home as you’re no longer welcome.”

I stood in complete shock. Sarah could overlook the various women, but have a relationship with another man and it was all over. Just as quickly as the lights went out and the monitor came on, the opposite happened, not before a satisfied Sarah had one last thing to say.

“Edward, you didn’t deserve to have your win clouded with all this negativity. As you told me before, this would be the best way to celebrate the victory you felt you could obtain. Now go and finish this night in a way that will make history.

Edward blew a kiss to the now blank monitor, taking the microphone from the announcer and turning toward me.

“Isabella Swan,” he handed the belts to my father and ran a towel over his sweat drenched hair. “You and I have hid in the shadows for far too long.”

Jacob, who was also being placed in handcuffs and read his rights, became slack jawed and shock colored his face.

“That’s right, Black. She has been my girl this whole time.” He waved his hand in a wide gesture “Tell me, how does it feel to be lied to, betrayed by the people you trusted the most? To be turned down by the only girl you ever considered caring for?”

The question was rhetorical, he really didn’t care for an answer. Turning back to me, he smiled and continued. “Baby, you once asked me what I wanted to do after I won this fight.” He lowered his head for only a second. “I lied.”

He looked deep into my eyes as he confessed. “I have thought of nothing else since the moment you and I began this love of ours. What I have planned, what I want above all else, isn’t this belt.” He pointed to where dad stood with his prize. “It isn’t the money I will walk away with after this.” His brow furrowed. “Because in the end, all this doesn’t mean a fucking thing if I don’t have you.”

Movement from my right caused me to look away. One of the men I thought was security, moved closer to me, white gloves covering his hands. He extended his hand out to me, as a ladder was pulled from under the ring. Two other men moved closer and assisted me, and this short assed dress, into the ring, avoiding showing the world my panties.

Edward took my hand, dropped the towel and the largest smile I’ve ever seen him wear grew on his face.

“I want you when you first wake up and your face is fresh from sleep. I want your tears when you watch a sad movie or are so happy at one of life’s precious moments. I want the cry of ecstasy as we share all the joys of being together. But most of all, I want to watch you walking toward me, wearing a white dress you will only wear once. Swearing to love me forever as I place my life in your hands.”

He dropped to one knee, his green eyes never leaving mine, “Will you marry me?”

 

Chapter 28

“Come on baby, one more push.”

Sweat was coating brown tendrils of hair and pale skin, over gritted teeth.

“I can’t, I can’t.” She cried shaking her head from side to side, exhausted from the labor, which has been going on for nearly twenty hours.

“Yes, you can.” I assured her. “Come on, the harder you push, the sooner we get to meet this baby.”

After Edward won against Jacob and asked me to marry him, Jasper received a call from a boxer in Italy who wanted him to work with him. With Alice being very pregnant and no job to speak of, he had no choice but to take it.

Alice was, unfortunately, too far along in her pregnancy to follow him. Esme and Carlisle had offered to drive from Chicago to get her, but a recent complication vetoed that decision.

Accepting Edward’s proposal, meant I accepted his family as well. Alice would be my sister in law and I had the choice to embrace it, or fight it. I chose to have a happy life, and forgave.

Edward insisted I move immediately into his condo. With practically the entire world knowing about us, he wanted to experience everything. My father’s reaction, however, I’m certain he could have lived without.

Dad was not happy with my living arrangements. So Edward moved Alice into the condo, which seemed to smooth the situation slightly. He gave us one week to have a wedding date.

“Okay, I can see the head.” Alice’s midwife announced.

Alice and Jasper had chosen to have a homebirth and midwife. Once her water broke, the call went out to the family. Carlisle and Esme arrived first. Esme took her seat beside her daughter while Carlisle sat on his hands. I can’t imagine how difficult this would be for him, having all his medical knowledge and not being welcome to use it.

Edward had called Jasper and the airline. With their financial situation, Edward didn’t blink an eye when he booked the flight for him. Everything seemed to be progressing until we learned that a massive storm had grounded all flights out of Rome. Jasper was rerouted to another airport, but the only way to get there was an overcrowded train. Last we heard, he was an hour away from the airport and would be cutting it close to catch his flight.

So that placed me in the cheerleader position as Esme was trying to catch a little sleep before the big event.

“I changed my mind!” Alice shouted. “Daddy bring me drugs. Please,” her sobs escalated as she begged him.

Carlisle rose from his chair and crossed the room. The look of both torture and pride painted on his face. Kneeling beside her and taking her hand from me, he placed his free hand on her stomach, rubbing large circles around and around.

“Allie, do you remember when you were about six or seven and you chose to remove your shoes and go run to the swing set in the back yard?”

Alice’s crying stopped, her tired eyes fixed on her father’s face. His hand continues to make the large circles on the perimeter of her belly.

“It was my birthday, my party had just ended,” she added, a glint of laughter in her voice.

“Yes, it was,” his eyes gleaming as well. “You ignored my advice to put your shoes back on and went running across the yard.”

She placed her head back on the pillow, closing her eyes, “Much like I did with having this baby.”

When Alice’s blood pressure began to rise, her midwife made her stay in bed. Carlisle wanted a physician brought in, but Alice argued.

“You will soon learn, children don’t come with any instructions. Nor will any two children act alike. Being a parent is a constant state of learning and adapting.” His hand stopped briefly to feel something in her lower pelvis, then just as quick resumed the circles.

“The day you chose to run across the yard, I knew I had to let you see for yourself the dangers which lurked on the ground surrounding the play area.”

Alice began to breathe deep again, something she did as a contraction hit her tiny body.

“I didn’t remember seeing the patch of sticks on the ground until I felt the sting in my foot.” She panted as she closed her eyes tight once again.

“I knew the second you let out the gut wrenching scream what had happened. Your mother dropped a stack of trash as she too ran in your direction.”

Esme hearing her name being said startled awake, coming over to see what was happening.

“Even in pain, you refused to let me look at your foot, telling me over and over not to touch it.”

Alice was half laughing and half grunting as she began to push with the contraction.

“I told you I had to look at it in order to help you.”

Alice blew out the breath she had used to help her with this last attempt at delivery.

“Once you finally agreed to let me see it, you begged me to leave the sliver of wood inside the bottom of your foot,” he shook his head with a warm, fatherly smile on his lips. “Do you recall what I told you when you begged me for drugs then?”

Alice shook her head, no, sweat was once again covering her face.

“I told you it would hurt more for me to give you pain medicine than to simply removed the sliver of wood.”

Taking her face in his hand, he softly said, “It’s too late to give you any pain medicine. Let me help you pull this baby out and make this feel better.”

Alice’s eyes searched her father’s, and then, with a slightly defeated nod, she agreed.

Carlisle leaned over, gently kissing her forehead. I looked at the midwife; her expression was one of disbelief at the notion of what was about to go down. He handed the hand he was holding to Esme, and then situated himself beside the midwife.

“Bella, I need a bath towel.”

Obeying his request, I got two out of the linen closet, handing them both to him with pride on my face.

“Baby girl, grab onto the end of this.” He handed her one end of the towel. “Son, I’m gonna need some of that strength you have.”

Edward had been keeping out of the way, silently watching first the midwife and now his father’s every move.

“Okay, Ally, on your next contraction, I need you to try and pull the towel out of your brother’s hand.”

Alice nodded her head, while Edward took the opposite end of the towel, wrapping it around his wrist and then bunching it in his fist.

The midwife stood behind Carlisle, a baby blanket in her out stretched arms.

“I’m ready, Daddy.” Alice said, complete conviction and confidence in her voice, and on her face.

Edward adjusted his stance, his eyes locked with a now determined Alice. Her breathing became deep and after a few cleansing breaths, her face showed determination as she pulled hard on her end of the towel.

Carlisle’s hand was still on her belly, his circles were concentrated on the tip of her pelvis. Alice’s face was red with exertion.

“This the best you can do?” Edward’s deep voice teased. All of her tugging hadn’t moved him a centimeter. In what I can only contribute to sibling rivalry, she adjusted herself in the bed, got herself a better hold on the towel and called him something along the lines of a “nut sucker” and again began to pull on the towel with new inspiration.

Carlisle stopped his circles on her pelvis in time to announce the baby was almost out. The midwife handed him various items as he told Edward to keep egging her on.

Alice didn’t need it though, just as she was about to call Edward another name, the front door burst open and a filthy, disheveled Jasper walked in.

I moved back and gave my spot to him. Edward dropped the towel and opened his arms for me as the tiny cry of a baby filled the room.

“It’s a boy.” Carlisle announced, emotion streaking his voice

The midwife took over examining the baby, as Carlisle encouraged Alice in delivering the afterbirth. Once the baby was clean and weighed, the midwife handed him to a waiting Jasper.

“Son, you want to do the honors?”

Jasper’s eyes never left the face of his new born. He walked slowly, cradling the tiny, grunting bundle and placed him gently in his mother’s arms.

“Happy birthday, Colton Davis Whitlock.”

Colton would not see the inside of his crib that his auntie Bella got him for another day. Between all the adults in the room who wanted some time with him, he wasn’t laid down except to change his diaper.

After the room was cleaned and the midwife packed her equipment and left, it was early morning. Still awake from all the excitement, I went to the kitchen to make myself something to eat. I hadn’t been there a second, before Edward was behind me, wrapping his massive arms around me.

“I was hoping you would like to come help me dirty the sheets on our bed.”

I loved the way his lips felt against my skin as he spoke, awaking the naughty girl who lived deep inside of me.

“Aren’t you tired?’ I giggled slightly as he turned me around to face him, his lips finding mine.

“Never too tired to love you.” He whispered across my cheek as he lifted my body to rest on the kitchen counter. His eyes were bright with the love I knew he had for me. I lifted my hand to rest on his shoulder, the diamond on my left hand twinkling in the kitchen light.

He had left me speechless with the ring he had chosen. I still find myself lost in the brilliance of the rays of light, which danced like millions of rainbows. Edward caught me looking, not for the first time, and definitely not the last.

“Want some breakfast with me?” trying to change the subject.

“Hmm…” He paused as he took my hand in his; rubbing his thumb over the diamond I loved so much. “I was hoping to get a chance to talk to you about what I want.”

I tilted my head down to catch his eyes, his attention focused on what he wanted to talk about.

“Something wrong?” I tried very hard not to let even a sliver of doubt into what had become a storybook romance. I wanted to have the type of relationship where you never needed to worry about the other shoe dropping.

“Not wrong per say, I’ve just really been thinking about where to go now that we’ve gotten engaged and I’ve finished what I set out to do.” His green eyes searched mine; his hands rubbing softly up my thighs.

“Okay, I’m sure you’ll want to start training again soon.”

He placed a single finger to my lips, shaking his head fiercely. “I don’t ever want to fight again. I plan on retiring the belt in the next few weeks.”

I pulled back, shock on my face. My father had retired the belt about a year after he won for the last time. Give the younger generations something to fight for, he’d said.

“I want to marry you, spend three weeks somewhere completely isolated and naked the entire time. I plan to spend as much of the vacation as I can kissing and getting very acquainted with every inch of your body.”

What a wonderful idea, Edward in nothing but a smile. No agendas or meetings, and not a single minute in the gym.

“Then, I’d like to move back to Chicago and finish school.”

My brows furrowed, I was under the impression he had a degree in Business. “What do you mean finish school?”

“Well, when I was in college, I was originally pre-med. I changed to business so I could graduate and still train. Now, I want to go back to med school.”

His eyes had a look of determination; he had given this a great deal of thought. I knew I could object to moving away from Washington, but why? If this was something he really wanted, I couldn’t stand in his way.

“Okay, but you get to break the news to Charlie.”

 

Chapter 29

The white lace was butter soft against my skin, creating the feeling of anticipation and excitement the day will bring. I believe most girls dream of the day they’ll take their Daddy’s arms and walk with shaking hands and brimming tears, inching closer to the next chapter of their lives.

Years ago, I worked so hard to have Eric fall to his knee, with our friends all around and profess his choice in me to spend his life with. Eric obviously wasn’t the man for the job, he lacked so many things, checks on a list I thought I could live without.

Now I’m older, and, hopefully, a little wiser. I’m more comfortable with myself and the woman I’ve become. Someone once said, to really know yourself is to be comfortable in the skin you’re in. When I started my journey, I blamed myself for the failure in my relationship, for not being the type of girl men sought out. But I was wrong, there is no ‘type’. Women come in all shapes, sizes, colors and social standings. We all laugh, cry, love and hate.

And for every different woman out there, there is also a man, or many men, who want to have the girl, even one who doesn’t fit into any social molds. One who manages to not only walk to the beat of her own drum, but to build the very drum she uses. One that is comfortable in the skin she wears.

After taking one last look in the mirror, I knew deep inside I’ve reached my comfort level. I’m not only happy with the person I’ve become, I love her, and so does the handsome man who is waiting for me just on the other side of the courtyard.

“Oh, my, God! You look…”

I’ve heard this over and over this morning. First with Rose and then nearly every person who’s walked into the room. I haven’t been able to decide if I’m offended by their lack of ability to finish the description.

When Edward chose to walk away from boxing, announcing his desire to move on to the next challenge in his life, most of his fans thought he meant marrying me.

However, when he walked, dressed in a lab coat, into one of Chicago’s teaching hospitals, word traveled fast. Edward tried to gain admission using the proper channels. When he hit wall after wall, he swallowed his pride and called his father, who immediately made a call.

I didn’t see him much for the first two years we lived in Chicago. It was hard and several times I contemplated moving back to Washington, but I never did. Instead, I joined a gym, made nice with the owners who admitted they were nearing financial rock bottom.

I contacted my father, who flew out the same day. He spent a few hours in the gym. People recognized him, took pictures and lit up social media. Edward found out my father was in town and what I was doing. He took a quick break and came over, where the frenzy went wild.

For the first time in over ten months, the amount of new customers outnumbered the inactive clients, they ended the month in the black and offered me a job.

Using the same techniques I had for my father’s gym, we noticed a steady increase in memberships. Edward would stop by as often as he could, but it was when he accepted an internship with the Chicago Bears, that the sky literally open and the sun came out.

Edward mentioned he liked the equipment over at the gym I worked for a little better than the state of the art stuff they had at the training field. So you can only imagine what happened when the town started to talk about professional athletes who visit a private gym over the free one they can use.

A year and a half after I started at the gym, the owners broke ground on an expansion. When the wait time for a machine became too long, they knew a bigger facility was needed.

As hard as I worked at getting the gym to its current glory, I worked just as hard to improve myself. Not just on how I felt about the person I had become, but the one Edward saw naked every once in awhile.

That’s the reason words eluded almost everyone this morning. I’m not the same girl who stood in the middle of a boxing ring and said yes to the man of my dreams.

“Beautiful?” I questioned, raising an expectant eyebrow at my father.

“You passed beautiful the second you were born.” My father’s words, spoken from the truth within his heart, were tear inducing. They hit me in a place where only he could.

“You know it’s not too late to cancel all of this and move back in with your mother and me.”

It was his attempt at levity in an effort to lighten the moment, but I knew him too well, he’s dead serious. He never wanted me to grow up or fall in love with another man. But he also knew it was a natural progression in life.

“Daddy, Edward has always put me first. He loves me without reservations.”

Even with his grueling schedule of fifteen to twenty hour days, he never let me forget how special I was to him. We hadn’t been in Chicago more than four months when we received word I was being called as a character witness in a case against Jacob.

Because I had overheard the conversation between the assistants during the O’Shea match, my testimony may become relevant in a lawsuit between Black and the gym owners. Yet, just as suddenly as it came out, it vanished. A high price paid by Sarah Black, or should I say, Congresswoman Sarah Black.

After all the ‘skeletons’ came out of the closet in the Jacob and William Black scandal, an out crying was voiced for a new attitude in Congress. At first, I was happy for Sarah, having finally gotten revenge on her lying, cheating husband.

It was however, the voice of a woman in the checkout line at my local grocery store which changed my outlook forever. Sarah Black’s photo was on the cover of the newspaper, her hand raised high by a man I had never seen.

“Now why do you suppose she stayed with a man like that all of those years? I mean the money was hers, she could have picked up and left him high and dry.”

Her friend beside her, who was more interested in the unknown man than the fact that a woman had just won a seat in Congress, grinned. “Are you kidding? A sympathy vote is the cheapest one. You spend no time traveling around, no money raising campaigns, you just sit back and let every scorned woman march behind you, pushing you into the seat. If you ask me, Sarah Black is brilliant—a conniving bitch, but still brilliant.

In the end, if this was what Sarah had really been after, the lady in line was right, she was a conniving bitch.

As for William and Jacob—Jacob was found guilty of illegal betting. With his ability to spend money faster than it came in, he would have someone bet on a match he was in. Since he’d already paid the guy to throw the match, he won from both sides.

William pled guilty to theft, the first time he ever told the truth about anything. Due to the amount he stole, he received the maximum sentence of five to fifteen years. Last we heard, his first attempt at parole was unanimously denied.

“I’m seriously jealous of just how skinny you’ve become.” Tanya’s glowing skin radiated in the sunlight which poured in between the blinds. She and Garrett were finally able to profess their love for one another. When Tanya finally signed the divorce papers, what seemed like a second later, Garrett had whisked her off to meet his parents. They married three months after the divorce was granted.

“Oh, you are normally much thinner than this.” I said as I hugged her, avoiding the large basketball shaped belly as she was carrying her third child. She and Garrett wasted little time starting a family. Nine months to the day after their wedding, she gave birth to their first son. She was a natural mother in every way, even surrounded by two small boys, she looked poised and completely in control.

“Thank you for letting me share in this special day of yours.”

Tanya, as it turned out, had a knack for event planning. She started simple with children’s birthday parties and corporate picnics. Now she’s gained notoriety and has planned some elaborate a-list celebrity weddings.

She called me when she read the news that Edward and I had set a date, said she would cancel anything which got in her way, including the birth of the baby growing in her.

“Now, I do believe it is time for you to go and take the walk of a lifetime.”

~*CMA*~

French doors were all that separated me from the man who has seen me at my absolute worst and best. He waited patiently as I found myself, held my hand as I stumbled and encouraged me when I wanted to quit.

When asked what type of wedding I wanted, only one image came to mind. I wanted only one thing…Edward standing at the end of the isle, smile in place and a promise on his lips. I could’ve given two shits about colors, flowers, or what everyone would be eating.

I chose to wear my mother dress, holding on to the luck I knew it would bring me. It had to be altered of course as styles had changed and puffy sleeves weren’t something I wanted to wear. Tanya found a dressmaker who specialized in restoration. The final product was a beautiful, form fitting, satin and lace ensemble which looked to be from the early forties instead of eighties.

Edward wanted us to be married in the backyard of the house he’d purchased for me. While in the final stages of his internship with the Bears, the Seahawks posted an opening on their team. Edward interviewed without telling me, knowing how much I wanted to be with my family.

That night, he’d taken me to dinner telling me to pack the house as we were moving to Seattle. I decided right then and there it was time to set the date.

“Wait,” I instructed just as the doors were about to open, the sounds of the wedding march penetrating through the wall. I turned to my dad after handing my bouquet to Alice, who had recently opened her own flower shop.

Oh Alice, how could we ever forget her?

Alice joined Jasper in Italy where he was training the current heavyweight world champion. But as they were applying to the Italian government for Alice to stay for an extended amount of time, it was discovered their marriage wasn’t legal. Six months after arriving at Rome International airport, she, and her son, boarded a plane and returned to Chicago.

She could have sat back and let her parents support her and her child, but she didn’t. Jasper sent her a rather large check from the first win of his new athlete; she took that money, invested it and went to work. Saving every dime she could, while Jasper continued to send money after each win. She was eventually able to open her own shop in downtown Chicago. Jasper returned to the city during the Christmas holiday’s, where he proposed all over again. They married at city hall in a quiet ceremony, attended by the judge and his secretary as the witness.

“Daddy, I don’t want you to ever think I don’t love you the most.” My eyes searched his. He was my hero, the first man I ever loved. The man who taught me to reach for the stars and catch them.

“Bella, you will always be my little girl, but it’s time to be his wife.” Words spoken softly, full of promise and permission. It was his way of saying it was okay to love another man.

I would like to think, just as every bride I’m sure, that my wedding, the walk especially, was full of magic. The tall pines which bordered our property, secluded us from the reporters who took every opportunity possible to catch our picture. Row after row of arches were covered in vines with yellow and white flowers, white chairs sectioned off with satin ribbon, all put together from a vision Alice had in her mind.

But it was the man who stood at the end of the aisle, in a black tux with a bright smile, which caused it all to fade away. All three hundred guests, friends from Chicago who’d worked with Edward and colleagues of Carlisle’s, team members from both Chicago and Washington, all vanished in the instant I laid eyes on the man who would make every single dream come true.

“Who gives this woman to this man?”

Tanya had arranged for the clergy to perform the ceremony here instead of a church since neither Edward or myself subscribed to any one brand of religion.

“We do.” There was collective roar from my side of the guests seating. I would later learn, my Dad had Emmett orchestrate all my friends and family to join with my father in the giving of my hand. He felt the majority of them had one thing or another to do with my views on life.

When Edward and I considered how we wanted our vows to go, I reminded him of the first time we met. I admitted how embarrassed I had been when the words “fuck me” were the first he’d ever heard fall from my lips.

That night, as the exhaustion from my busy schedule was finally draining me, Edward jumped to his feet, pulled the covers back, and did as my slip of the tongue commanded him all those years prior.

Here, standing before him in a way that I had only ever dreamed of, imagined and wished for with my deepest heart’s desires, Edward Cullen looked in my eyes and swore to love me every second of forever.

 

Chapter 30

“Again!” Emmett shouted, his hands on his hips while he stood in the center of the ring. His rushed movement to the corner of the ring brought Edward to his feet and over to where two young boxers stood, hot pink gloves attached to tiny hands.

“Jordan, you’re still dropping that elbow before you punch.” Tender words from the heart of a father, wishing he could take the gloves from his child and guide her movements. “Remember how I showed you?”

Jordan Marie Cullen had come into the world fighting. Born at thirty weeks, she never let her prematurity or anything else, not even her tiny stature, stand in her way. Her cousin, Caitlyn, and current opponent, arrived two months later. From the moment the girls looked at one another they were instant buddies. Rather like twins than cousins.

“I’m tryin’, Daddy.” Her dark hair pulled back in a braid, had thousands of tiny whispy’s creating a halo around her head. Her T-shirt one size too big for her, yet she insisted on wearing it. She never left the house, or her bedroom for that matter, without a gym logoed shirt on her body.

“I know you are, Princess.” I cringed as the term of endearment fell from his lips. I know why he’s doing it, trying to ignite the fire which lay deep inside his little girl.

She didn’t say a single word, her death glare enough to send a crystal clear message of her rising temper. Our daughter may have come into this world screaming at the top of her lungs and kicking at anyone who touched her, but from the moment Edward took her in his arms, it was as if a silent bond had formed between them; she stilled instantly, enamored by his presence. She wanted everything Daddy had, including boxing gloves.

I could recall with perfect clarity the day I told Edward he was going to be a father for the first time. We had moved back to Washington where he’d accepted the position of team doctor for the Seahawks. The weather was complete shit and he wanted me to stay home to avoid the deplorable conditions. I guess if I really thought about it, Jordan probably got a little of her determination from me, as I’d given him my own set of daggers at his suggestion.

Rose and Emmett had helped me contact the owners of the team, asking for their help in telling Edward the news. During pre-game, when the cheerleaders were firing T-shirts out of potato launchers, they broadcasted that the team had a special announcement. Edward was looking at the ankle of the kicker who had tweaked something in practice the week prior. On cue, the announcer called everyone’s attention to the jumbo screen at each end of the field.

“Your Seattle Seahawks home team is proud to announce its upcoming addition to the family!” In the center of the screen was the actual pregnancy test I had taken, CULLEN written in black sharpie on the left side, directly above the plus sign. Edward was concentrating on the ankle, ignoring everything going on around him. Sadly, the poor injured kicker had to divert his attention to the screen.

I will never forget how Edward’s eyes had scanned the screen over and over. Or the frantic way he searched around him, looking for me. My face replaced the test, offering happy congratulations to Dr. Cullen. With the team forgotten, Edward tried to leave the field to find the press box and me. Two massive linemen blocked his path, as I revealed myself from the sideline.

I remember how he took me into his arms, spinning me around in several circles, then realizing how his actions could have messy consequences.

“You’re pregnant?” His eyes had searched mine as his fingers caressed the edges of my face, sending delightful waves of comfort down my body.

“According to the four home tests and a rather unpleasant lab visit, yes, I’m pregnant.” I wasn’t being facetious. With each additional test I took, I feared the result would somehow be different.

Caitlyn, following every step Jordan took and begged my brother for a pair of gloves, too. Now, two four-year-old girls battled, face to face, in the center of the ring, over who was going to ride the new go-cart, which had arrived today.

A year after the girls were born, Dad suffered a major stroke, spending months in rehab learning how to walk and talk again. Edward held me as I cried when we received the news. Then, when the dust settled, I thanked him for days for moving back to Washington. Which resulted in the birth of our second daughter, Madelyn, or Maddie as she preferred.

Where Jordan is a spirited tomboy, Maddie is the card carrying prissy girl. She detests dirt of any form and refuses to wear anything in drab colors or own a pair of jeans. She plans her clothing out days in advance. My mother loves it, even encourages it.

“You look good, baby.” I shout as Jordan took her stance, gloves raised and feet apart. She refused to drop her concentration, something Dad had taught her as Edward would rather her not be in the ring.

He had been asked many times to do a charity match, but he always declined. Instead, he donates some money, refusing to step in the ring again.

Although he was grateful that his decision to come to Washington and train in our gym brought us ultimately together, he regrets the way our initial interaction progressed.

“Bella, it was pure fucking luck we ended up together. What if one of us had decided the fight wasn’t worth it anymore, gave up and really moved on?”

He was right of course, if I had the opportunity to do it all again, I wouldn’t have gone down the same road. Even though Jacob and William Black, needed to serve some time in jail, who’s to say it wouldn’t have happened anyway?

I’d started my journey believing I deserved more out of life than what Eric was willing to give. I was confident in my decision to leave him and his conditions behind. During my self-discovery, I learned I could stand alone and be confident in myself. But having someone beside me, someone who brought out the best in me and challenged me to be a better person and not limit me by highlighting my flaws, was even more special.

Not everyone could look back and be grateful for the fight they fought to get where they were. Alice and Jasper found living in the same house wasn’t for them and divorced last year. Jasper still sends her a check every month, but hasn’t been back to the states since the ink dried on the divorce papers.

She is dating a guy she met while picking up a package at the post office. Carlisle and Edward hate him as he doesn’t keep a job for any extended period of time. Alice doesn’t know it, but Jasper has been emailing Edward, admitting he regretted not trying harder to keep Alice. Who knows, maybe he’ll grow a pair and try to win her back.

Sarah Black’s time in government was short lived. She learned not long after taking the position she had a spot on her lung and died less than a year later.

William and Jacob are still in prison, their original sentences were extended when they were convicted of mail fraud, some scam they began running while incarcerated.

“You know this little man you’re carrying is going to have his work cut out for him.”

Edward had come home one evening and cornered me after the girls went to bed, asking me if we could try one more time for a boy. Well, with the looks that man can give, you can imagine how difficult it was to say no.

“Rose, I could say the same for you.” I rubbed her protruding stomach, which wasn’t far behind mine. Just as with our first pregnancies, Rose and I were once again pregnant together.

“They are amazing, aren’t they?”

Edward and Emmett stood inside the ring as Caitlyn and Jordan circled one another.

“That they are, willing to do anything for those little miracles.” I nodded my head in the direction of the ring.

“Both of them hate being in there, but what those little girl want—”

It was true. Edward didn’t like being in here, but Jordan did. And one thing about both men, they would do anything for the women in their lives.

This is my life, surrounded by people who love and care for me. A family who depends on me and a man who loves me. I have a home filled with laughter, a place where I feel safe and wanted, where I’m free to be myself and no conditions apply.