“Anything in particular you’d like to capture?” she asks, wiggling out of her tube dress. Naked except for a pair of high heels, she sinks to the floor and crawls to him, placing her purse at his side before kneeling at his feet. “How about my lips around your cock?”
He takes a step back; he doesn’t like it when his food tries to touch him.
“I want to see you finger your cunt.”
She leans back and spreads her knees. With her index and middle finger, she opens herself to his camera lens, relishing the knowledge that she is the male gaze personified. They are small-minded, predictable creatures—even the smart ones. It’s good for her that they are, because she counts on this. This one, though is different. She’s enjoying herself, and that never happens. It’s the most exciting foreplay she’s had in years, and considering he’s fully clothed and hasn’t laid a finger on her, that says a lot. When placed in the context of her sexual experience, it says volumes.
She pushes her fingers inside herself and fakes a moan, biting her lip while flipping her hair over her shoulder. As easy as it would be for her to get lose herself with man, she doesn’t allow herself to do so. He’s nothing more than a means to an end—no different from the rest of them. Keeping her eye on her handbag—and by extension, her gun—she figures she’ll fuck this one first, then shoot him when he’s in a post-coital coma. The pretty ones are always so stupid.
Though Edward finds her assumptions about him mildly amusing, his patience is growing thin. She’s faking her pleasure, as she steals furtive glances at her handbag, as if he doesn’t know she’s keeping tabs on her gun. She is becoming increasingly annoying, and since it’s obvious she isn’t even going to give him a real climax to photograph, he sees no point in letting her live another second.
So he doesn’t.
Bella doesn’t know what to think. She replays her exchange with Edward in her mind as she changes out of her uniform, having no idea what to make of it, or more specifically, what to make of him.
He was disoriented when he appeared before her, as if he was lost, but rather than ask for assistance, he just stared at her. So Bella did what she is paid to do—she asked Edward if he would like a drink. His hand flew to his face, covering his mouth and nose, and before she could ask him what was wrong, he vanished. Though it wasn’t the strangest thing she’d ever witnessed while working, it definitely ranked among the top five.
As exhausted as she is after twelve hours on her feet in four-inch heels, she isn’t ready to drive home. The late-night air is cool, and the salty scent of the ocean breeze has always soothed her. She walks through the hotel, in the opposite direction of where her car is parked, heading to the boardwalk. Though she wants to take off her shoes and the feel the sand between her toes, she knows better than to go onto the beach by herself after dark. Once outside, she faces the water and closes her eyes. She relishes the dampness of the night air against her skin, happy in her solitude. That is, until someone interrupts her.
“I was rude to you at the bar earlier.”
As male voices go, this one is lovely, but since she’s off the clock and wants to be left alone, she doesn’t look at him. “Don’t worry about it. So many people are rude to me; I rarely notice anymore.”
“It saddens me that I’m now among them. I hope that you’ll permit me the opportunity to make it up to you.”
“I’m not in the habit of permitting casino patrons to do anything to me.”
She opens her eyes and sees Edward beside her. For a moment, she thinks she’s hallucinating. Now it’s her turn to stare, and because she doesn’t know what to say, she blurts the first thing that comes to her mind.
“Your eyes are different than they were at the bar.”
It’s a fact of which Edward is well aware—since seeing Bella a few hours ago, he’s fed. He wouldn’t trust himself in her presence were his thirst not sated, and red irises are an unfortunate after-effect of drinking human blood.
“The lights from the casinos make everything appear different than it is,” he lies. Even in his extremely limited experience with the opposite sex, he knows that she would probably consider his diet a deal-breaker.
“Isn’t that the truth?” She laughs humorlessly. “I’m surprised you even recognized me out of uniform.”
Until she mentions it, he doesn’t notice anything about her has changed. He takes a moment to study her appearance—her hair is still piled atop her head in a Gibson pompadour, but her face is scrubbed clean of make-up. Her almost non-existent skirt and bustier are gone, having been replaced with a long dress that falls to ground but leaves her shoulder bare. She looks fragile and young, and for a moment, he thinks he has been transported back in time—that the past hundred or so years haven’t happened, that he has blood coursing through his veins, and the world is still simple.
He feels as if he is on vacation with his parents, and he’s looking at a girl he’d like to court, whose hand he’d like to hold (if she’d permit it) and whose cheek he’d like to kiss. That he’s in the presence of a girl who would sigh and blush at his flattery while refusing his advances, all the while reserving her virtue for the man who gives her his name. Even more confusing, he finds himself wanting to be that man.
“Most people don’t,” she adds, uncomfortable with silence.
Silence makes Edward uncomfortable, too, though for entirely different reasons. He should be able to hear her thoughts, but he just…can’t. Even more unsettling is the realization that he wants nothing more than to know what she is thinking. That he could ask her doesn’t occur to him. Instead, he focuses on her face while trying to ignore the burning in his throat and the tightening in his testicles.
“Did you lose much?” she asks.
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”
“You look like you’re in pain. Around here, that usually means one thing.”
“Well, yes. No one comes to a casino thinking he’ll lose money, but more often than not, that’s exactly what happens.”
“I imagine you see it all the time, working in one.”
“I’ve seen it my entire life,” she says, turning toward the water. “I grew up here.”
Her face is almost wistful as she stares at the beach, and it no longer matters that his gift doesn’t work on her—what she wants is obvious.
“Come for a walk with me,” he says.
“The only thing more dangerous than being alone on the beach at night is being on the beach at night with a strange man.”
His smile is brilliant. “You’re wrong about me.”
“Is this where you try to convince me you aren’t strange?”
“No. I’m stranger than you can begin to imagine; I’m just not a man. Though I can’t pretend I’ve always behaved admirably, I try not to bite unless the person in question deserves it.”
She laughs; if he’s feeding her a line, it’s the most creative she’s heard yet.
“I’m Edward, by the way.”
“Bella.” She extends her hand for him to shake.
Edward has never touched a human he wasn’t in the process of killing, and he isn’t entirely sure how to go about doing so. He knows Bella is fragile, that he could break her hand if he squeezes it too hard. He feels like a schoolboy, and before he can think better of it, he finds himself behaving like one—or at least, how he behaved when he was one. So in a gesture from another time, he bows his head and curls his hand around her fingertips, bringing her knuckles to his mouth. As he brushes his lips against her skin, he marvels at its heat and softness, wondering if he could capture them on film. He then realizes how cold he must feel to her. Panicked, he lets go of her fingers and drops his hand to his side.
He checks her face for signs of revulsion, but instead finds only a smile.
Encouraged, he decides to try his luck. “May I have permission to call on you?”
“Are you asking for my phone number?”
Her question confuses him at first, but then he understands—she must be worried about her reputation. He isn’t sure why, but he cares enough to do this the right way.
“No, I’m asking to call on you, but I could certainly call you, too, if you’d like. Ideally, I should ask your father–”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Edward says with sincerity. “Perhaps you have a male guardian who looks after you; I could ask him–”
“You were right; you are strange.”
After a moment, realization dawns on her face, and she begins to laugh. Edward doesn’t pretend to understand humans and can’t begin to imagine what she finds so entertaining, but he laughs with her anyway, knowing it’s more than likely what she expects him to do.
“Hands down, you win,” she says between giggles. “This has got to be the most amusing way anyone has ever asked me if I had a boyfriend.”
Edward isn’t sure how she got that from his wanting to ask her father permission to court her, but he doesn’t care, because it suits his purpose.
“Do you?” he asks.
“No. Therefore, I feel compelled to reward your creativity. My shift tomorrow ends at midnight. If you’re so inclined, you may call on me then. I’ll be waiting for you at the all-you-can-eat buffet.”
Edward smiles. As far as he’s concerned, the entire casino is an all-you-can-eat buffet, but he doesn’t tell her that.
“So you’d like me to take you to dinner.”
“I thought you weren’t in the habit of permitting casino patrons to do anything with you,” he teases.
“I’m making an exception for you because you made me laugh. See you tomorrow night.”
She runs across the boardwalk to the casino, she hopes he can’t tell she’s lying.
She would make an exception for him regardless.