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LOST

Summary:
Edward never came back. Seven years later, Bella is a tough, heartless corporate girl in New York City. She has taken down many businesses and never lost. Now, she is about to take down C-CORP. Who is the mysterious owner? Who is "C"? She will find out, and she will destroy him. Who is the monster now? Can she be saved? The story is done. I will update everyday! THIS IS IT GUYS! THE LAST CHAPTER AND EPILOGUE! (SNIFF)


Notes:


11. COMPETITION

Rating 5/5   Word Count 7786   Review this Chapter

(Bella's POV)

"Bella . . . . Earth to Bella. Can you hear me?"

I snapped to attention. Simmons was staring at me. Apparently, my mind had roamed off again. Thinking that a vampire may have been lying next to me all night after a seven year lapse had a tendency to make my mind wander.

"Could you hand me the Merrill Lynch file?" He was smiling. Evidently, he had been asking me for it and I hadn't heard him.

I handed it to him and plunged back into my work again.

It was about 3:00 on Friday afternoon, the Friday before Thanksgiving, and Simmons and I were in my office putting together a proposal for the Board. Now that Christmas was approaching, our public relations department wanted us to put forth a more caring image. The premise was that if we changed our image somewhat to a tender and compassionate investment firm, that those companies that hated our guts would once again want to do business with us.

Some in the company felt we needed to reach out more into the community and do some non-profit work or donate money to under -privileged kids or something ridiculous like that.

I still didn't understand why I was put in charge of it. I was about the farthest thing from loving and caring this firm had ever seen.

We were just putting the finishing touches on an ad campaign that made us look like Mother Theresa, only much better dressed, when Simmons threw his pen down on the table and said, "I have been at the office since 7:00 this morning. I have got to get out of here."

I laughed and said, "We have about one more hour worth of work on this ludicrous waste of time and then we will have to get out of here anyway. We will be late for the Governor's Ball if we don't."

He smiled. "Ah yes, another ball." He laughed wryly. "I had no idea that working here would entail going to so many parties. I don't recall seeing that in my job description."

I nodded my head knowingly. I was pretty sure I hated the parties more than he did. I looked up at him. "Well, you seem to enjoy the girls that you take to the parties," I teased.

He leaned back in his chair with his hands behind his head. His smile was broad as he said, "That is one part I don't mind." His eyebrows raised a little and he let out a small sigh as he said, "I will enjoy spending the evening with Sasha."

"Sasha? What about the Gazelle supermodel?"

"Oh, Sasha is a model too, and she's pretty super." He laughed deeply.

I tilted my head and looked at him for a moment. "How old are you?" I asked.

He blinked his eyes in surprise. "We've been working together in one form or another for two years and that's the first personal question you've ever asked me. You really don't know how old I am?"

"Well, I always figured you were close to my age," I said defensively. "It's not like I did a background check on you."

He chuckled and said, "I'm 24. My birthday is in January. I am just a few months younger than you."

I tried to look at him with new eyes. He wasn't bad looking. Although, I still judged every man I saw against a much higher standard of perfection, so what did I know?

"This job must really cut into your social life," I said with mock sincerity.

He chuckled again and said, "It certainly doesn't help." He stretched his arms over his head and said, "But I am human. I make time for things that are important to me."

"Ouch," I said sarcastically.

He laughed and continued. "The worst part is that at most functions everyone assumes you and I are together. We are together so much of the time, it is hard to convince the ladies that there really isn't anything going on. They are always jealous of you."

I grimaced. "Jealous of me? The girls you date are Goddesses. How could they possibly be jealous?"

He straightened up in his seat and his look was warm. "You really don't see yourself very well, do you?"

At that moment, Sally came in with a stack of papers for me to sign. On top was a magazine. Without looking at it, I took it in my hands and said, "Sally, I think you forgot this."

She looked at the magazine and then said, "Oh no, Ms. Swan. That is for you. I thought you might like to see it." She walked swiftly out of the room with a happy smile on her face. She obviously thought the magazine was something I would be excited about. I laid the magazine down in front of me, and I slowly felt the panic rise as I began babbling incoherently.

It was STAR magazine, and on the cover was Vaughn . . . and he wasn't alone. I was walking with him and he had his arm around me. I could tell the picture was taken as we were walking into a restaurant last week. The headline across the top read "It's love for the Sexiest Bachelor Alive." A smaller caption below said, "Sorry ladies, we all wanted him, but it looks like he has found true love with investment tycoon Isabella Swan."

Simmons could only see the reaction on my face. He showed great concern as he took the magazine and turned it around to read it. His eyes grew very wide and then he exclaimed, "Wow!"

I heard a garbled squeak and realized it was me.

"This is a really good shot of the two of you," he assessed. He opened the magazine and found the article and began reading.

Thomas Vaughn, (27) the hot quarterback of the New York Giants, is apparently off the market. Friends say, this time it's for good.

He has been seen around town with the lovely up and coming star of the money world, Isabella Swan (25). The couple

have enjoyed many romantic moments around the city, from

Broadway shows, to the Ballet, and eating at the famed restaurant Tavern on the Green.

"This is the real thing." A close friend told STAR magazine.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there are wedding bells soon." Another

close friend has secretly told us that they are waiting until after the

football season for the big announcement.

Some have speculated that Swan may not be ready for

marriage, and that is the reason for the delay. She is still seeing

her old flame Michael Simmons (24) on a regular basis and to

add intrigue to the love triangle, she and Simmons are co-workers.

Vaughn has reportedly demanded that Swan stop seeing

Simmons, and that has caused some tension in the relationship.

She was also recently seen at the exclusive club Northsix

dancing hot and heavy with an unidentified male. She left the club

with him and didn't return home until almost 4:00 in the morning.

Vaughn was said to be furious, but wants very much to work things

out with Swan.

Swan has been frequenting boutiques that specialize in bridal

gowns no doubt looking for just the right dress for their big day. "I

am so happy for them," a family member has stated. "Thomas

wants a big family, and they intend to start having children very soon after the marriage. . . ."

I began beating my head on the desk. Simmons looked up from the magazine and said, "There's still a page and a half left. Do you want me to keep reading?"

My voice was garbled as my face was buried in my hands, and laying on my desk. "Read one more word, and I'll kill you where you stand."

"Do you want to see the rest of the pictures? There's one of you walking into some clothes store, and another with you and that huge Emmett guy walking out of Northsix, and another of you and Thomas coming out of the ballet, and, hey . . . there's one of you and me at the Waldorf party!" His shoulders slumped as he said, "Oh man, I wonder if Sasha has seen this yet. I will have to do some fast talking to get out of this one."

He smiled then and said, "On the other hand, this might get me some play. I am in a love triangle with the Sexiest Bachelor Alive. My social standing has just risen considerably."

"Shut up or die," I said with my face still down on my desk.

"Why are you so bothered by this?" He asked me.

I lifted my head to look at him incredulously. "Well, first of all, not one word of that article is true, and second of all, I want to be respected and revered in the business world. I want to be feared and admired. Now, all I am is a hussy stuck in a love triangle with a co-worker and out all night with another guy, and the sweet innocent Thomas Vaughn is trying to tame me and then apparently stick me in a house so I can bear him 6 children!"

He winced a little at my tirade and then said, "You are reading too much into this, Bella. It will all blow over soon."

I stood up and pointed at him and said, "This is all your fault! This never would have happened if you hadn't tried to make me act human!" I started wandering aimlessly around my office. I began babbling again.

"Being human has never worked out very well for me. I am just no good at it. It's a train wreck every time I try!" I was throwing my hands up in the air as I paced around.

Suddenly Sally beeped in. "Ms. Swan, Mr. Vaughn is on line one." She said it with a smile in her voice and it just made me angrier.

Simmons stood up. "I will leave you two to discuss if you're having six or seven children." I threw a stapler at him as he ducked out of the room.

I picked up the phone and growled out a hello.

"Damn, I was hoping to get to you before you saw it." He sounded very frustrated.

"How did they get all this?" I bellowed.

"Bella, I swear I don't know. I actually don't think they talked to anybody. I am pretty sure they made it all up. I am so sorry. I never saw anybody taking our picture."

I just sat there pinching the bridge of my nose with my fingers. I could feel a serious headache coming on.

Very hesitantly he said, "Do you still want me to go to the Governor's Ball tonight?"

I let out an exasperated gush of air. "I don't know Vaughn . . . "

He was silent for a moment, and then he said quietly, "I don't want to make things harder for you. I'll just talk to you tomorrow."

Oh great, now I felt guilty. I was letting these vultures win. I didn't really care about being with Vaughn tonight, but I didn't want to slink around in the shadows either.

"How about this," I said. "Can you just meet me there? It will be so much better than pictures plastered all over the tabloids tomorrow, showing us getting out of the same car. I don't suspect the paparazzi will actually be allowed in the party."

I could hear the relief in his voice. "That's a great idea. I will be there around 8:00. I can't wait to see you."

I knew I should say I can't wait to see you either, but I was still the world's worst liar. I settled for something neutral.

"Yeah, I'll see you then." Probably not exactly what he was hoping for.

It had been two days since Vaughn had kissed me. I wanted to tell him that it was over and that I needed to end this, but he made me promise him five dates. Tonight was number four. I really hated to hurt him. He had turned out to be a very nice guy. Any girl would be lucky to get him. The problem with Vaughn's kiss had been weighing on me, but nothing like what had happened the next morning. Or didn't happen. That was the problem, I just couldn't make sense of it.

I couldn't stop thinking about how much my blanket had smelled like him and how cold the carpet was. I rubbed my temples. I knew I had to forget about all of it. I was actually more than slightly worried that I was going crazy. Hallucinations were a clear sign of a sick mind. It had been so long since I had heard his voice in my head. I thought that meant I was improving.

I rubbed my hands over my face and looked at my watch. I would be late if I didn't leave soon. I cleared my stack of papers and signed all the ones Sally had given me. I then gathered my things, threw the stupid magazine in the trash, and went home to get ready for another party I didn't want to attend, wear a dress I didn't want to wear, and be with a man I didn't love. This human thing was highly over rated.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I arrived at Rockefeller Center and was met by a mob of photographers. I was so terrified that I almost told my driver to keep going. I jumped out of the car and began running the best that I could through the huge, crushing mob. They were screaming my name as they pushed cameras in my face and kept asking where Vaughn was. The flash blinded my eyes and all I could see were bright white dots in front of me when I groped forward and felt the door handle and escaped into the building.

I didn't stop running until I was safe in the elevator. My breathing slowly returned back to normal as the elevator went to the top floor where the Rainbow Room was located. I warily put one foot out to see if the cameras would start flashing, but nothing happened. I was safe. I walked out acting as if nothing had happened when I was met by Simmons.

He seemed very excited about the whole thing. "Man, that was crazy out there, wasn't it? The second I stepped out of the car they all started screaming your name and asking where you were. I would have got past them pretty fast if Sasha hadn't stopped to pose for pictures."

I looked to his right and saw a very exotic looking girl staring down at me from what looked like six feet of nothing but legs. The slit in the side of her dress went all the way up to the top of her thigh. I gave Simmons an appraising look. I mentally noted that this girl would probably last two weeks before he moved on.

I shrugged out of my coat and began walking to the coat check. Simmons and "legs" followed me. "There isn't anyone in there taking pictures, is there?" I gestured to the dining room.

He was shaking his head before I finished. "No," he said. "The coast is clear."

I took a deep breath and walked in. A few heads turned, but for the most part, no one took notice. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Simmons led the way to our table and I laid down my purse and went to speak to a few people I knew. Dinner wasn't going to start for another twenty minutes or so.

The Rainbow Room, located on the top floor of the Rockefeller Center, was built in the 1930's and many considered it to be one of the premiere hot spots in Manhattan. It was one of my favorite places. Probably because it was nice, but non-pretentious. It had a revolving dance floor, but my favorite feature were the windows that surrounded the entire restaurant. I stood at the windows and looked at the view. I could see the ice skaters far below and could just make out the gold statue and waterfall. The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree had already been delivered and crews were hard at work putting on thousands of lights for when the tree would be lit next Thursday, on Thanksgiving night. A light snow was falling and it made everything very soft and peaceful. I laid my hand on the ice cold glass and felt myself imagine it was Edward's hand. I instinctively pulled away from the window and walked to my table. I was grateful that Edward wouldn't be at the Ball. At least not in person, the place he held in my heart didn't count.

Shortly before dinner began, I saw Vaughn walk in. He looked flushed and out of breath. He straightened his tie as he scanned the crowd. I looked at him sadly. Most likely, he was the Sexiest Man Alive. "Alive" being the key word in that sentence. It would be just too perfect that I fall in love with him and have those kids. One or two, not six or seven. I always had to do things the hard way. Once again, I tried to will myself to fall in love with him, much the same way Jake had tried to imprint on me before I left for college. No such luck.

The smile on his face was unmistakable when he found me and began striding to the table. He kissed the top of my head and said, "I'm sorry, that was terrible out there. I don't know how to fix this."

I smiled meekly. "Let's not ruin a perfectly good evening by talking about this. They can stand out in the 34 degree weather and wait for us to come back out in three or four hours. That ought to bring some justice to the world."

He laughed and gave me his easy smile. "You're right," he said. "Let's enjoy the evening." He looked me up and down. "And how could I not, with the most beautiful girl in the room on my arm."

After dinner, the Governor stood up to give his speech. It was long-winded and excruciatingly boring. One would think that the sun didn't rise on New York City without the help of the Governor. Thankfully, he finished. Unthankfully, that meant that the dancing was beginning. The emcee announced that the entertainment for the night was some singer named Micheal Buble'. I had never heard of him, but everyone else around the table seemed very excited. He sang mostly songs from the 40's and 50's, and apparently the majority of his songs were very romantic. A night full of love songs. I took a deep breath and plastered a smile on my face.

Vaughn stood up and put his hand out to me. The look on his face made me want to tell him the truth of how I felt right away, but I knew this was not the place. I stood up slowly and we walked hand in hand to the dance floor. He held me very close. I could feel his heart pounding through his tuxedo, and I thought, was this how it was for Edward? Were my emotions this transparent for him to read? I winced inwardly as I realized my emotions had been 1,000 times easier for Edward to decipher. I had made it so easy for him. I had never been interesting. He never had to fight for my affection. I was just a boring, clumsy human.

Vaughn was holding me close to his cheek when it became very obvious that he wanted to ask me something. I pulled back and looked at him. He was having a war with himself. The kind of war in which you very much want to know the answer to something, but aren't sure if you want to hear the answer, or how the person will react when given the question. Maybe he would make it easy for me. Maybe he would ask me right now how I felt about him and I would be able to give, hopefully, a kind but honest answer. Finally, he took a breath and asked me.

"Bella . . ." He swallowed and then said, "Did you really stay out all night with a guy you met at Northsix?"

No matter how I felt about him personally, I didn't want him to think I would do such a thing. I shook my head and said reassuringly, "Vaughn, it wasn't like that. He was an old friend that came into town unexpectedly. He asked me to go with him. We did stay out all night, but we did things like visit the Empire State Building and hang out at Times Square. It was all very innocent."

I could feel the weight lift off of Vaughn's shoulders. "Thank you for telling me," he said warmly. "I know that until we have five dates I shouldn't ask you anything like that but . . ."

I interrupted him. "It's okay, I am glad you asked me. I would rather you know the truth than think I was that kind of girl, especially when I haven't even invited you up to my apartment."

He pulled me close to him again and I was glad he didn't pursue the whole hot and heavy dancing thing that was also reported in the magazine. Leave it up to those dumb vultures that that was the only thing they told the truth about. That would have been a little hard to explain. I also felt bad at my hypocrisy about sounding so virtuous. I knew that if a certain vampire still loved me and wanted to come up to my apartment, I wouldn't be able to get the door opened fast enough.

The saxophone was playing softly and the man's voice was so smooth. It created a very romantic mood with the beautiful chandelier, the lights turned down low casting a soft pink hue, and the soft snow that was falling outside. I looked around me and saw many couples, including Simmons and Sasha, having a great time. I envied them.

I was brought out of my thoughts when Mr. Buble' began singing that song. It was the same song that I had heard on the yacht that had ended the night for me. The same one that Edward had played on the piano while he sang those beautiful words. Can't I just have one night free from Edward? I shouted to myself.

Suddenly, there was a hand on Vaughn's shoulder, and a velvet voice behind him.

"Pardon me, but may I have this dance with the lady?"

My fingers dug into Vaughn's palm as my tell-tale heart stopped, then started again, and then began pounding furiously. Vaughn turned to him, and then back at me wondering what he should do. Edward didn't give him a chance to decide. Without me ever seeing it, Edward was standing in front of me, holding me close. Vaughn looked at him with a barely calm facade and out of the corner of my eye, I saw him look at me. I know he wanted me to refuse this dance. I knew I should look at Vaughn and reassure him, but I couldn't tear my eyes away from the angel face that I hopelessly loved.

Edward moved us away from Vaughn and turned his back on him. He moved so gracefully on the dance floor that I didn't have to think about the steps.

He put his mouth so close to the side of my face that his cold breath tickled my ear, "Your dancing has improved," he whispered.

I kept waiting for his face to come back into my view, but his mouth stayed right next to my ear. I closed my eyes and tried not to move enough to make him stop holding me so tightly.

"Do you remember this song?" His mouth was moving on my ear again.

"No." I lied.

I felt him freeze for a moment and I was so afraid he would pull away, but he recovered quickly.

"Yes you do, Bella," he pressed.

"No, actually I truly don't." My voice was thin and high.

He chuckled. "You are still a very bad liar, but I will try to revive your memory."

Unbelievably, he held me tighter and I felt passion taking over all my other senses. He grabbed a handful of my dress at the small of my back and his other hand laced his fingers through mine and held it tight to his chest. His lips ran along my ear just long enough to send a shiver coursing through my entire body. My heart was awake, wondering where this feeling had been for so long. I could feel him, smell him, taste him . . . .

His voice far out shadowed the man at the microphone as he began singing to me.

I know your image of me is what I hope to be,

I've treated you unkindly, but girl can't you see?

There's no one more important to me,

So darling can't you please just see through me?

Cause we're alone now and I'm singing this song for you.

The band played on even though the words were over, and I was so grateful for the moment, whatever he would give me. I didn't care what this did to me later. I would deal with it then. He was my only brand of heroin. My arm, that I had been concentrating so deeply on just laying on his shoulder, tightened around his neck and I wanted to place my lips on his so desperately that I had to bite my lip and bow my head to keep from trying. I could tell the song was ending and I never wanted anything so much as I did for that song to keep playing for the rest of the night, for the rest of forever.

It seemed that he could sense the song ending too, and his face traveled over my cheek and then moved back farther until his mouth was behind my ear. I felt him inhale deeply and brush his lips along my neck so quickly that I could not be sure that it had really happened. He brought his face around to me again and his cheeks seemed flushed somehow. His chest was moving up and down rapidly, and I saw him swallow hard as his nose brushed against mine, and then the song ended.

I looked into his eyes and they were smoldering. They were dark and almost ferocious in their stare. I felt my breath catch as I held onto his gaze. He brought my wrist up to his face and inhaled so deeply that his eyes glazed over with an inhuman yearning and I tightened my grip on his fingers.

"You look beyond beautiful," he hoarsely whispered.

He brought his face closer to mine and said, "Can I dance with you again tonight?" I wanted to answer yes in a way that didn't involve words when suddenly I heard Vaughn's voice.

"The song is over, Cullen." He was fighting to keep his voice calm as he stepped closer to me.

Edward let go of the handful of dress he held behind my back, but he ran his fingers along my side as he brought his hands down to rest in his pockets. His eyes still had never left mine. I was trying to remember Vaughn's name when all of the sudden, I heard a voice bellow behind me.

"Bella, I was hoping that I would get another chance to dance with you before I was sent home!"

I reluctantly turned my head and saw Emmett looking very dashing in his tuxedo. I smiled and Vaughn looked at him with wide eyes.

I knew I should introduce this new brother, but I looked at Vaughn and still couldn't recall his name. I opened my mouth and drew a blank.

"It's Thomas Vaughn," I heard Edward whisper in my ear.

"Right. . . um, that is . . . uh, Vaughn, this is the friend I was with at Northsix. He is Edward's other brother. This is Emmett."

At that moment, a woman carrying a tray of desserts and drinks was bumped by someone on the dance floor and the dishes and glasses all began to topple off the tray in different directions. Emmett took one quick step to the side and caught all four drinks and the two dessert plates without spilling a drop. It all happened so fast that I had to replay it in my mind to catch up. Vaughn was beyond amazed. Edward just stared at his younger, but bigger brother and slowly shook his head with a condemning look.

"Wow!" Vaughn said breathlessly. "Listen, do you play ball? We could really use you. My offensive line is weak and I got hammered out there on our last game. Your reflexes are so quick, I doubt anything could get past you. I could get you a try-out with the coach."

Emmett's eyes brightened until he saw Edward standing behind Vaughn emphatically shaking his head. Emmett looked at Vaughn remorsefully. I actually felt bad for him. I couldn't imagine how much fun he would have on a football field.

"Sorry man, it sounds awesome, but I have an old injury." He moved his arm around and winced like he was in pain. "I am a big fan of yours though. Jasper and I love to watch you play." Emmett gestured behind him and Jasper waved from the background. "Nice to see you again, Thomas," Jasper said politely.

There was an awkward silence as Vaughn turned his attention back to Edward. Vaughn grabbed my hand as he said, "If you don't mind, I am going to dance with my date now." His message came across loud and clear. Emmett, however, didn't seem to care.

He stepped up beside me and said, "Actually, Thomas, I am leaving tomorrow, and I was hoping that I could dance with Bella for a little while."

Vaughn looked down with a frustrated sigh, and then turned up to my face to see what I wanted to do. "Your decision," he said softly.

I was still more than slightly dazed from my previous dance. My heartbeat had not yet returned to normal. There was another vampire I wanted to dance with so much more. I kept thinking, would he actually ask me to dance again before the evening was through? I managed a small smile at Emmett and then turned to Vaughn and said, "Do you mind if we dance for a few minutes?"

Vaughn opened his mouth to speak, but Emmett grabbed me around the waist, lifting me off the floor at least a foot, and began twirling me around. He quickly led me away from the group, and into the middle of the dance floor.

A new song was just starting and Emmett's eyes lit up. "Hey Bella, do you know the rumba?"

"The what?" I asked.

He chuckled as he pulled me close and squared our hips exactly in front of each other. Then, he began a series of steps forward and backward precisely in time with the beat of the latin song. He put my arms around his neck and then put his hands back on my hips, leading me flawlessly through the moves. I smiled in spite of myself. This was actually kind of fun.

The bongo drums and trumpets filled the room as we glided around the room. The words floated out and Emmett sang along:

When the rumba rhythm starts to play,

Dance with me,

Make me sway.

Like a lazy ocean hugs the shore,

Hold me close

Sway me more.

Like a flower bending in the breeze,

Bend with me,

Sway with me.

When you dance you have a way with me,

Stay with me,

Sway with me.

Did all vampires sing and dance flawlessly? I realized that somewhere Vaughn was watching the whole thing, but I was concentrating so hard on following Emmett that I didn't dare look away. I wondered if Edward was watching, but just thinking of him almost caused me to lose my footing, so I forced my mind to other things.

"I am going to miss you, Emmett."

"Ah, Bella, I‘m going to miss you too." He looked like a little boy who just lost his puppy.

"Actually," he began. "I am not going home quite yet. The three of us are leaving to go hunting as soon as we leave here tonight." He shook his head. "Edward and Jasper haven't been hunting since they got here. Edward is doing all right, but it isn't the smartest thing for Jasper to go that long."

I blinked my eyes in astonishment. "They have been here almost a month. Why have they waited so long?" I asked.

Emmett stared at me strangely like I should already know the answer. "He didn't want to leave you, Bella."

For a small moment, my heart quickened and then I realized what he was getting at. "He was probably afraid I was going to try some underhanded trick over the weekend while he was gone, right?"

Emmett gave me a look that meant I had it all wrong. I saw him glance anxiously across the room and I followed his gaze. I couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. He cleared his throat and said, "Like I was saying, I am going to miss you too, Bella. I hate to think I won't be here to see you do something human."

I lifted my chin defensively. "Hey, I'll have you know that I haven't had stitches or a broken bone in years."

"Just a broken heart," he said softly.

I completely lost track of the steps and came to a complete stop as I pulled back and stared at him.

"Don't Emmett," I said quietly, but firmly.

He pulled me back and began dancing slowly as he said, "You have to talk to him, Bella. I saw you two dancing just now, that was some serious heat. You are totally in love with him."

I narrowed my eyes and said, "Tell your family that I love them and miss them. Tell Alice I love her." Then I turned around and began walking away from him. He caught me and pulled me back once more and said, "I'm sorry, I will be good." He swung me around and lowered me effortlessly into a dip as the song ended.

We danced two more songs, and then I saw Vaughn get up and begin walking towards us before the song ever ended. But, before Vaughn was halfway across the dance floor, Jasper came up behind us and took my hand and said, "Would you like to dance?"

This time I didn't even attempt to look in Vaughn's direction. I just nodded and smiled as I turned to face Jasper and waved good-bye to Emmett. I was curious as to what was really going on, but I kept quiet as Jasper shyly put his arm behind my back, and began dancing in a small circle. There was a good 12 inches between us.

"You aren't going to sing to me too, are you?" I said playfully.

For a moment, he looked confused and then he smiled broadly. "Well, I could try, but I doubt you would want to hear it."

I smiled back. "I was starting to think that all of you could dance and sing. I was going to suggest you take your act on the road. Women would have the show sold out pretty darn quick."

He looked away embarrassed and I waited for a few minutes as we danced in complete silence before I asked him a question.

"So, what could Edward possibly have said to you that would convince you to come dance with me?" I raised my eyebrow speculatively.

He looked very innocent as he said, "What are you talking about?"

I pressed on with my line of questioning. "Did he promise you that he would let you leave and return to Alice?"

His mouth twisted slightly and he said, "In case you haven't noticed, it is taking two of us just to keep up with you." He gestured to the corner where Emmett stood. "This week it took three of us and you still managed to have the upper hand." He looked at me seriously and said, "I am not leaving any time soon."

I narrowed my eyes and looked at him suspiciously, "He promised you something. You wouldn't have come over to ask me to dance on your own. I remember how you always acted around me, I remember on my birthday . . ."

I sucked in air, hoping that it would take back the words I had just said. I closed my eyes against the absolute stupidity. "Oh, Jasper, I am so sorry. I never should have said that."

His eyes tightened as he shook his head. "No, it's all right. I am the one who should have apologized long ago. I can't help thinking that this whole mess is my fault. If I had been," he seemed to be searching for the right word, "If I had been stronger, none of this would have happened."

The song was ending and I was confused. "What do you mean, Jasper?" I felt that this was the key to something important that had always been nagging at me in the back of my head.

He looked at me with nervous eyes, and then shrugged his shoulders indifferently. "I don't know, Bella. I guess I am just feeling very guilty for that night. I am sorry."

I saw Jasper glance quickly out of the corner of his eye in Emmett's direction, and I turned to see what he was looking at. Emmett had caught up to Vaughn, as he once again attempted to cross the dance floor to me now that the song had ended. I saw Emmett say something that he personally found very funny and then slap Vaughn on the back. Vaughn stumbled forward and had to take three steps to balance himself. It looked as if he had the wind knocked out of him, but Emmett, seemingly oblivious, began talking a hundred miles an hour about something as he pulled Vaughn out into the lobby.

I turned back around to cross-examine Jasper some more, but he wasn't there. Edward was.

"That was a perfectly executed play," I said softly. I meant for it to come out stronger, but it was the best I could manage.

"What do you mean?" He could play innocent so well.

"Jasper protects the ball, while Emmett goes in for the interception, and then you steal the ball."

His crooked smile appeared and my chest tightened painfully. "Let me get this straight, you are the ball in this scenario, right?"

I suppressed a grin as I tried to look serious.

He smiled again and said, "I assure you, I haven't the faintest idea as to what you are referring, all I know, is that the most ravishingly beautiful woman in the room was standing on the dance floor all alone, and I knew I had to do something to stop such a tragedy from continuing."

I looked at him warily.

He touched my cheek and said warmly, "Monday can be business as usual. You can do your worst in the conference room. But tonight, could you give me just one more dance?"

He put his hand out to me and I knew there was no resisting. I forgot how to breathe as my whole body screamed to be in his arms again. I placed my hand securely in his as he slid his other hand behind my back, and I couldn't stop a sigh as I melted against him. I told myself I would leave my other hand resting innocently on his shoulder, but who was I kidding? I ran my fingers along the ridge of his strong, marble shoulders, and rested my fingers on the back of his neck. My thumb ran along his cold skin, and my head screamed out how dangerous this was for me. Seven years of work would now be washed away when he left, but my heart refused to listen. Right now, my heart was winning every argument.

He moved his face so that our cheeks were touching, and then he pulled me so close to his chest that I had to take shallow breaths. He pulled back slightly and I felt his fingers run slowly down my back.

"Why are you trying to stop me from dancing with Thomas?" I asked quietly.

I could feel the rumble in his chest and he stiffened as he said, "Would you mind if we didn't talk about him for the next three minutes?"

I blinked my eyes in surprise but did not press the subject. He was right. This was a precious three minutes. I closed my eyes and although I knew it would hurt all the more, I turned my forehead into his cheek and closed my fingers more tightly around his. I was playing the fool. I knew it. I didn't care. I would have 70 more years to suffer the consequences, but right now, was enough. Let him use me for this dance. Let him take in my scent, let him try to appease his guilt, let him relive old memories, let him have one more dalliance with a human, I didn't care. I didn't care what the reason was. I was in Edward's arms, and I would stay here as long as he seemed to want me.

I had not been paying any attention at all to the song, when suddenly Edward began singing softly right into my ear:

I can only give you love that lasts forever,

And the promise to be near each time you call.

And the only heart I'll own,

Is for you and you alone,

That's all, that's all.

I can only give you country walks in springtime.

And a hand to hold when leaves begin to fall.

And a love who's burning light,

Will warm the winter night.

That's all, that's all

All I have are these arms to enfold you,

And a lifetime can never destroy.

If you're wondering what I am asking in return, dear,

You'll be glad to know that my demands are small.

Say it's me that you adore,

For now and ever more

That's all, that's all.

As we danced and he sang to me, I saw our future laid out in front of me. A million tomorrows filling me with supreme happiness. I saw our nights, alone and filled with magic and I gritted my teeth at the absolute yearning overtaking me. I saw me surrounded by the love and belonging of his family, I saw me running beside him, the whole fantasy was laid out in a complete and perfect vision.

I felt his arm tighten around me. The song was ending. No, please no. I begged and pleaded to just let time finally stop for me, just this once. My arm tightened around his neck and he answered by letting go of my hand and wrapping both arms around me and holding me so tightly against him that I whispered his name.

"Edward."

"Bella." His whisper was rough and full of emotion.

The song was over. I closed my eyes and leaned my forehead on his chin. I knew Vaughn was coming. I looked up and said, "Was it you?"

Edward's brow furrowed and his eyes searched mine. He didn't know what I was asking. Then Vaughn was there, standing a few feet from Edward with his arms folded. I wanted to ask him if he had come into my apartment that night. If all the things I had dreamed he was saying to me, he had actually whispered into my ear. I wasn't ready to let him go.

Edward pulled back slowly and Vaughn grabbed my hand. I jumped at how warm it felt. "Thank you," Edward mouthed the words to me, and then he turned and left. I saw Jasper and Emmett meet him at the elevators. Edward stared at me one more time, and then turned and left. I looked at Vaughn and said, "Do you mind if we sit down for a few minutes?" He ran his hand over my cheek and he frowned.

"Your cheek is so cold."

I brought my hand up to touch my face and nodded. The cold, I never felt. To me, it was burning. I swallowed hard and let him lead me back to the table.

At the end of the evening, Vaughn wasn't going to let me leave alone. We set our teeth and walked off the elevator, but to our surprise, there was no mob. Not one photographer anywhere. As we walked out into the frigid air, I noticed tiny bits of metal reflecting in the snow. I bent down and my eyes widened in shock as I realized what they were. There were tiny pieces of lenses and shutters and flashes scattered everywhere. The cameras had been destroyed and smashed into oblivion. Memories of Edward saving me long ago came flooding back. He had one more save to his credit.

I said goodnight to Vaughn and left him standing in my lobby. I don't think this evening turned out the way he had planned.

I was in bed for a good two minutes before it hit. It was a big one. It took my breath away and I rolled on my stomach and curled in on myself as I held my middle. I felt like I would split in two. I didn't even attempt to stop the tears. It was worth it, I kept telling myself. And it was. Even though it tore and ripped at my insides, I lay in that bed reliving every second of being in Edward's arms again. I was so thankful for fresh memories. I would take better care of these. I wouldn't try so hard to forget them. Now I understood how time could ravage even the sweetest parts. I would take care of them no matter the cost.

I was still curled in a ball, crying and remembering, as the sun shown in my window.