He explained this to Bella as the town car turned onto Broad Street.
“Don’t worry.” She laughed humorlessly. “I won’t embarrass you.”
“Oh, Bella baby, no.” He squeezed her hand. “That’s not what I mean. I just want you to understand that this is an obligation more than anything else, and that I will be required to make the rounds. As much as I wish I could spend all evening dancing and flirting with you, it probably won’t happen.”
“I expected as much. It’s okay. I’m more than capable of amusing myself. Besides, I’m sure Edward will keep me company while you and Rose do your thing.”
Emmett decided to ignore Bella’s comment about Edward, as he was certain she did not mean it maliciously. He leaned into Bella and kissed her quickly on the lips. “I don’t deserve you.”
After their car pulled up in front of the hotel, Emmett carefully helped Bella out of the back seat. She stood by his side with perfect posture, dutifully playing the role of over-educated arm candy. When the smile painted on her face began to hurt, she tugged on his sleeve and whispered that she needed a cigarette. He nodded and she took her leave, grateful to have a few moments to relax her shoulders and her facial muscles.
Edward watched her make her way to the stairs, and after a suitable break in his conversation with one of Rose’s colleagues, followed Bella outside. For several moments, he stood inside the glass doors and stared at the vision before him. Bella’s dark hair was piled on top of her head in loose curls that fell in tendrils onto her shoulders, and her make-up could only be described as sultry. The midnight blue silk of her dress floated around her body in a sudden burst of cold winter air, and she pulled her black pashmina more tightly around her shoulders.
Edward was selfish enough to want to pull the cashmere wrap from her shoulders so he could see what was beneath it up close, knowing the bodice of her gown was both tight and low-cut. As he walked through the door and began to close the distance between them, he saw her lower lip quiver. Her shivering ignited his chivalry, forcing the lasciviousness that was previously at the forefront of his mind to simmer beneath the surface. He removed his tuxedo jacket and placed it over her shoulders, eliciting from Bella a smile that was genuine even as she maintained her ruse.
“Are you following me?” she teased.
“Hardly. I just wanted to check up on you, and when I couldn’t find you inside, it occurred to me you might be out here wasting perfectly good carcinogens,” he explained with a smirk.
Bella may have been fake-smoking, but her laughter was real. “Am I that predictable?”
“Actually, I’m kind of surprised. Given the presence of so many of their clients, I would think Emmett and his team would be on their best behavior.”
“Oh, they are.” Bella flicked the ash off the end of her cigarette. “It just gets…stifling after a while. I don’t do well having to be on all the time, if that makes sense. I can stand there smiling and nodding; I can even laugh at appropriate moments and make polite conversation with other wives and girlfriends. I know my sole purpose for being here is to help Emmett schmooze, but it’s not something that’s a part of my natural skill set. It’s exhausting, and I wanted a moment to be myself.”
“Then you should actually be yourself.”
“That’s what I’m doing,” she insisted.
“Then why do I get the feeling you’re fighting every natural instinct you have?” Edward took the cigarette out of her hand and deposited it in the smokers’ outpost. “No one can see us out here, there’s no need to pretend.”
Bella wanted to contradict him. Indeed, the person whose opinion mattered to her most of all could see her; he was looking right at her. Furthermore, Bella doubted Edward wanted her to succumb to the natural instincts she had in his presence, which at the moment were telling her to touch his hair and press her body against his. Fake-smoking was the least of her deceptions.
“You make it sound as if you’ve never maintained a charade because it made other aspects of your life easier for you.”
“I haven’t,” he insisted.
“Right. I find that hard to believe.”
Edward thought about what Bella was suggesting. The only ruse in which he’d participated lately was the one in which he pretended he wasn’t developing romantic feelings for Bella. If the Herculean effort it took him to resist touching her was any indication, his deception did nothing to make things easier for him. Quite the contrary—he could think of one thing that was getting harder by the minute.
“It’s true,” he insisted. “You on the other hand…well, I have a hard time believing smoking is the only thing you fake.”
“We’ll start with the basics.” A loose tendril of her hair drew his focus, and he decided where he wanted to begin. “Your hair color?”
“Real,” she confirmed.
He’d suspected as much. “Ah. The drapes match the carpet.”
“Just so you know, there is no carpet.”
“Really?” Edward asked, his interest more than a little piqued. He’d spent more time than he cared to acknowledge picturing the junction of Bella’s thighs. This tidbit of information could prove quite helpful in ensuring the accuracy of his wank fantasies.
Bella’s sheepish smile answered his question.
“Wow,” he muttered. “Wait, where was I?’
“You’re easily distracted. Have you ever spoken to your health care provider about the possibility you have ADD? This isn’t the first time you’ve been unable to follow a simple conversation.”
Edward snorted. “Right. Never mind the fact you’re being a huge tease is distracting to me. So, the hair color is real.” His eyes trailed from her face to the lapels of his jacket, which Bella was holding together over her chest. Still staring at where her breasts would be if they weren’t concealed by his jacket, he raised an eyebrow.
“Stop it.” She rolled her eyes. “They’re real, too.”
“Thank you, Jesus.” Edward folded his hands as if he was in prayer, and Bella smacked him lightly on him shoulder.
“You can be such a douche.”
“Ouch,” he whined, pretending to wince in pain.
Bella smacked him again. “You have a fiancée, you know. Go speculate on the silicone content of her breasts.”
“Well, you see, I wouldn’t have to speculate on that, would I? I know she’s been…” Edward pretended to cough. “…surgically enhanced.”
Bella was dumbfounded. “No way.”
“Way. She had them done between undergrad and B school. We weren’t together at the time, so I don’t feel as though I have a right to complain, but I kind of liked them better before.”
When Edward realized he was discussing Rose’s tits with Bella, he felt bad, but not for the reasons he should have. He didn’t care that he’d just revealed something personal about Rose, even though he was completely aware he had no right to do so. He was more upset by the precious time he’d wasted doing so, which he could have used to discover more about Bella. He returned to his list.
“The sex kitten lip bite?”
“Real. It’s a bad habit I’ve had my whole life. I do it whenever I’m nervous or feeling too exposed.” She looked at him perplexedly. “You actually think it’s sexy?”
“Very much so.” Edward wasn’t at all ashamed to admit this.
“Huh. Emmett hates it.”
“Fuck Emmett,” Edward said without thinking.
The air between them was charged with an electricity that excited Bella but also made her extremely uncomfortable.
“I do fuck Emmett.” She giggled nervously. “Regularly, in fact.”
Bella’s statement was meant to serve as a reminder to herself as well as a news flash to Edward. Though her face was flushed and her panties were wet from an inappropriate conversation with the personification of her impossible dream, she wasn’t one of those pathetic women who placed their lives on hold while they mooned over a man they knew they would never have. Bella had a man—and quite a good one at that—in her life and in her. Lately, he’d even become attentive. There was no good reason for her to be flirting with Edward.
Evoking the memory of her boyfriend worked, to a point. She’d successfully managed to slow her racing heart, until Edward took a step toward her. He knew the question he was about to ask was inappropriate, but didn’t care. It was something he’d wanted to know since the moment Bella admitted she fake-smoked.
When he found his voice, it was breathy even for a whisper.
Bella felt the color drain from her cheeks. “What about them?”
“Fake or real?”
Bella bit her lower lip and looked over at the door, carefully avoiding eye contact with Edward.
As far as Edward was concerned, she’d just answered his question.