“Are you coming up?” she asked.
“Just for a moment.”
As Emmett rode the elevator with Bella, their conversation remained inconsequential. That changed the second Emmett stepped into her apartment, closing her front door behind him. Bella was still in the process of unbuttoning her coat when he spoke.
“How long have you been in love with Edward?”
Bella hung her coat in the closet before turning to face Emmett. When she spoke, her voice was barely louder than a whisper.
“Does he know?”
Bella couldn’t imagine that Edward was ignorant of her feelings for him, but at the same time, she’d never verbalized them. Unable to give a proper answer, she offered a small shrug instead.
“Is it mutual?”
“I think so.”
Though Emmett knew Bella well enough to be almost positive her relationship with Edward was not physical, he found himself wanting clarification of this anyway. He was fully aware that he and Bella had agreed to see other people; therefore, his curiosity had very little to do with a personal sense of betrayal. However, if Edward had been unfaithful to Rose, Rose certainly deserved to know this.
“Are you sleeping with him?”
“I can’t believe you’d ask me that.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“No,” she said quietly. “Physically, we’ve done nothing inappropriate.”
“Physically,” Emmett repeated, trying to wrap his mind around the significance of Bella’s subtle qualification. “Is he why you wanted to see other people?”
“Not exactly. I never thought for a second he would be interested in me that way. I did feel as though I was being emotionally unfaithful, and you were so unavailable to me then. I’m not blaming you for my actions, nor am I pretending they weren’t immoral.”
“Were you with me just to bide your time until he left Rose?”
“No, Em. I love you. And I believed I was in love with you…”
“But you didn’t end things with us when you realized you were in love with someone else.”
“In my defense, I did try to break up with you. You wouldn’t hear of it.”
“You didn’t give me all of the information,” Emmett snapped.
“I just didn’t want to lose you in my life. I never meant to hurt you.”
Bella placed her hand on Emmett’s shoulder, but he shrugged it right off.
“Hurt” wasn’t the right word. Emmett struggled to identify the many emotions he was feeling. He was relieved, but he was also angry and a little confused. Mostly, he realized he did feel betrayed—not so much because Bella had fallen in love with Edward, but because she appeared to have used Emmett for filler as she waited for Edward to become free.
“Your demeanor says otherwise.”
“My girlfriend just admitted she’s been in love with someone else for a good chunk of our relationship. Forgive me if I need a moment to process things.” Emmett flailed his arms in frustration. “I need to get out of here.”
Bella nodded, hating herself. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
Emmett opened the front door, before turning back to face Bella. “You’ve never lied to me. Don’t cheapen what’s left of our relationship by starting now.”
“Is there anything left of our relationship? I’d like to still be friends.”
“I’ll let you know,” he said, pulling the door closed behind him.
Bella had a fairly good idea where Emmett was headed. She grabbed her phone from her purse and frantically typed Edward a text message:
Emmett left Bella’s apartment on foot, hoping a walk in the cold air would clear his head. He wasn’t planning on returning to Pennsylvania Hospital, but when he found himself on Spruce Street, he found himself almost spirited back to Rose’s room. He poked his head in tentatively, not wanting to confront Edward in front of Rose. As far as Emmett was concerned, that could wait indefinitely. Offering Rose his support, however, could not wait. She was his friend, and though he’d always cared for her, now it was something more than physical attraction and respect for her intellect and more than even the need to commiserate as wronged parties. He felt fiercely protective of Rose, and would be damned if he let Edward hurt her any more than he had already.
Rose smiled when she saw him, and gestured for him to come closer. Emmett leaned over her bed and kissed her forehead, before sitting down beside her and taking her hand in his.
“I didn’t expect to see you so soon.”
“I had a change of plans.” He shrugged. “So, about work. I’ll file your short-term disability paperwork tomorrow…”
“Did you come here to talk about work?” she interrupted.
Emmett sighed. “No.”
Rose raised an eyebrow.
“Bella admitted to me that she’s in love with Edward.”
“Like that’s news,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“She claims it’s mutual.”
“Oh?” Rose pondered that for a moment. “Are they fucking?”
“And you believe her?”
“Bella wouldn’t do that.”
“Trust me on this one.”
“There are two kinds of people,” she explained, her voice completely devoid of emotion. “Those who are out for themselves and make no apologies for it—present company included, of course—and those who are out for themselves and pretend to be martyrs. You can wipe your ass with Charmin or you can use the fucking Sears catalogue; the end result is the same. Both have the potential to chafe, but it’s always worse when it happens from the Charmin. It’s so soft, you don’t expect it. No matter the method, your ass still gets bent out of shape.”
“That’s quite a metaphor. Are you trying to tell me your ass is broken?”
“There’s nothing wrong with my ass. It’s the rest of me…” she closed her eyes and sighed.
“You’re going to get through this.”
“Is it awful that I want them to pay?”
“No. It’s a huge betrayal. Anger is to be expected. Eventually, you’ll get over it.”
Rose knew Emmett was right, but she had no desire to get over it. What she wanted to get was revenge.
Ten minutes after sending the text message, Bella received a call from her doorman telling her an Edward Cullen was waiting to see her. She spent the five minutes it took for him to knock on her door wondering how he got to Rittenhouse Square from Olde City in so little time, a question which served as her greeting when he appeared before her.
“I didn’t come from the hospital,” he explained. “I came from home.”
“Yes, and you live in Olde City.”
“Actually, I’ll be basing out of the Westin until Rose and I figure things out.”
“You’re going through with it.”
“I have to. I can’t stay out of obligation.”
“You do realize when she’s discharged she’ll be unable to care for herself at first. She had major surgery; the human body doesn’t just bounce back from something like that.”
“I’ll hire a nurse for nights and stay with her during the day. If I go home and sleep beside her, it sends the message that everything is okay, that we’re going back to how things were. I don’t want that, and when Rose realizes that I have feelings for you, I doubt she will want it either.”
Bella nodded, still barely able to wrap her mind around how much things had changed in the past twenty-four hours.
“I didn’t come here to discuss Rose,” Edward explained. “I got your text message. What exactly does Emmett know?”
Though she’d promised herself she wouldn’t make any declarations to Edward while he was still engaged to marry another woman, Bella was emotionally exhausted. Hiding her feelings had been quite taxing, and though she knew it wasn’t fair to Edward, she couldn’t deny them any longer.
“That I’m in love with you.”
Edward closed the distance between them in two large strides, pulling Bella into his arms and holding her tightly against her chest.
“You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to hear you say that. Since the moment I saw you, you’ve been all I could think about, all I wanted.”
He cupped her face in his hands and slowly pressed his lips against hers. The kiss was brief and gentle; it presumed nothing. After he pulled away, Bella found herself wondering how a chaste, tongueless kiss from Edward somehow managed to affect her more than past sexual encounters that went much farther physically. When she opened her eyes, she found find Edward staring at her intently.
“I love you, too.”
Edward wrapped his arms around Bella’s waist, and she rested her face against his chest. He wanted to do much more than briefly touch his mouth to hers, and the restraint he exhibited shocked even him. As much as he wanted to explore both sets of Bella’s lips with his tongue, he didn’t want to mar the beginning of their relationship by turning something so meaningful into something he knew would cause Bella great pain.
They stood like that—arms entwined with their bodies pressed together tightly—for several minutes. Finally, Edward found the will to speak.
“May I stay with you tonight?”
Bella’s eyes grew wide, and he realized how she was interpreting his request.
“I promise to be a perfect gentleman. I’m just not ready to let you go.”
It went against everything she believed, but she was unable to say no to him.
For the first time since he’d arrived, Edward looked around her apartment. “I can’t believe I’ve never been here before.”
“It wasn’t appropriate; you were engaged.”
Edward cringed. “Technically, I still am engaged.”
“I know,” Bella admitted, lowering her eyes.
“Hey, look at me.” Edward gently nudged her chin, and her gaze met his. “It won’t be for long. I’m not going to make you the other woman.”
Bella smiled and nodded, not wanting to verbally acknowledge that he already had made her the other woman.
They spent the rest of the evening talking about everything and nothing. When it was time to go to sleep, Bella went to the bathroom to change into sweats out of a bizarre sense of modesty. When she reemerged, Edward was waiting for her in bed. Her breath caught in her throat as she took in the sight of his muscled chest, and the light smattering of copper hair that formed a path which disappeared beneath the covers.
“Got anything on under that?” She sounded panicked.
“Yes. I said I’d be a gentleman, remember?”
Now relaxed enough to tease him, Bella moved toward the bed. She marveled at the beauty of his upper-body. “You weren’t kidding about the squash.”
She pulled back the covers and settled into Edward’s arms. He held her, but would only do so at arms length. Even though she was fully clothed and his embrace avoided touching her where he wanted to most, her simple proximity made him hard. Determined to conceal his arousal from her, he did not hold her as tightly as he would have liked. Still, the comfort he felt while close to her was beyond description. He closed his eyes and dreamed of a day in the future when Bella would invite him to her bed to do more than just sleep.