Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer & Little Brown Publishing own all rights
The January sunlight filtered through the light gauzy window drapes and subsequently, my eyelids. I attempted to flip to the other side of my bed and pull the covers over my head, only to find a barrier in my way. A very large, very manly barrier. My eyes flew open when the events of last night came rushing back to my no longer sleepy mind.
Edward. Edward Cullen. The man I hired to investigate my father’s death… is in my bed.
He had stayed, which was lovely and surreal all rolled into one. I blinked, wondering if I had imagined everything that happened. Everything we had done. Slowly, he shifted and snuggled down lower into the covers. I knew, without a doubt, that this was very real.
I could hear the distant sounds of china clinking and the voices of people preparing breakfast downstairs. Closer still, I heard a noise by the door and then someone subtly clearing their throat. Gasping, I sat up, grasping the sheet to my chest and looked over. Out of my peripheral vision, I could see my hair puffed out and doing crazy things on top of my head in the mirror that sat on top of my vanity. In the reflection, I could also see Edward behind me barely covered by the sheet and sleeping soundly. There, in the doorway, stood my baby brother.
His eyes took in the scene before him and looking bemused he mouthed, “Sorry?” to me. Yet he continued to stand there, looking anything but sorry.
Eyes flashing, I pushed a piece of hair behind my ear that had fallen in my face. I hissed in a low voice, “What are you doing?”
In a low voice, although not quite as venomous as my own, he asked, “I think the better question, dear sister, is what did you do? Or, rather who?”
Falling back onto the pillow, I rolled my eyes toward the headboard. Picking my head up slightly, I shooed him away with my hand, holding up a finger indicating I’d be downstairs in a moment. He closed the door silently behind him and I crept out of the bed. Edward rolled toward my vacated spot, snuggling his face into the pillow. I quickly grabbed light slacks and one of my father’s sweaters from my dresser, getting dressed in the bathroom. The sweater still held the scent of his cologne, I had taken it from the study after he passed. Rolling up the sleeves, I brushed my hair so that I was presentable. Exiting the bathroom, I saw that Edward was still deep in slumber so I quietly padded out the door.
I found Jasper sitting at the table in the dining room, newspaper in hand and bemused expression on his face. “Well, well, well Rosalie. Look what the cat dragged in.”
Despite myself, I smiled at him. “Well, well, well Jasper,” I mimicked back to him, resting my hands on the high backed chair. “I could say the same about you. How is it that we live in the same house yet I’ve barely seen you in the past week?”
“I believe it was Longfellow who said something about ‘ships that pass in the night.’ Although it looks like you were doing more than just sailing last night.”
I groaned. “Jasper, please tell me you weren’t in the house last night.” He grinned and shook his head, confirming that he was not, and for that, I was grateful.
“Is there any way can we just pretend you didn’t see that little scene up there?” I asked as walked over to turn on the radio, looking for a bit of background noise. Perhaps listening to music would effectively end the conversation. The Andrew Sisters were singing in three part harmony, “Give Me Some Skin, My Friend” and Jasper’s grin only got wider.
“You got some skin last night.”
I circled back around the table toward my regular spot and when I neared him, I playfully smacked his arm. I muttered, “So juvenile,” under my breath but loud enough for him to hear.
“Rosalie, come on. We all need to blow off a little steam every now and then. I, of all people, know this.”
“That’s wonderful, Jasper. I don’t really want to hear about your transgressions. Ever again, in my entire life.” Not looking at him, I lied. “It was nothing. Nothing. So please, let’s stop talking about…it. Now.” If I had been raised differently, I would have flopped into the chair that he held out for me. Instead, I sat on the edge.
“Okay, I’ll let you slide on the private detective currently snoozing away in your bed, for the moment. Tell me, has the man been earning the money you are paying him to find out about father’s death?” His tone implied that I was paying him for other services. He was lucky he carried the prestigious honor of being my brother or I might have considered kicking him in the family jewels. If I were being honest, no one was safe from the possibility.
Sam brought out the breakfast he had just prepared, with the assistance of Jacob who had returned from visiting his family. “Miss Rosalie? Should we set a place for… Mr. Cullen?” Jasper looked at me with raised eyebrows over the open paper, shaking it out and snapping it, folding it into quarters.
Sighing, I started cutting up the fresh fruit salad that was placed before me. How should I play this? I wish I had stayed in my room or woken him before coming downstairs. Jacob still stood by the kitchen door, looking at me, expectantly.
“No Jacob, I don’t think that will be necessary. Thank you.” He nodded his head once before heading back into the kitchen.
Jasper’s blue eyes met mine and once again I remembered his question regarding Daddy’s death. We all shared the same eye color, but Jasper and my father’s eyes were the same shape. They crinkled in the corners the same way and softened in the same way when they were concerned about me. In fact, Jasper resembled Daddy in more than just his eyes. His build, his stature, they all reflected Daddy. Although I had no memory of her, the portraits and photographs of her placed reverently throughout the house confirmed that I was, indeed, my mother’s daughter, in looks if not in personality. My mannerisms were more like my father’s, but looking into Jasper’s eyes was yet another silent reminder that our father was no longer with us.
“Rosalie? Did Edward Cullen find anything that would lead him to believe something happened with Cuthbert’s death?” his eyes probed mine and he leaned toward me, resting his hand on top of mine.
“So far, he hasn’t offered anything concrete. We went to the Gala last night and chatted with some of the… people in attendance to see if there was anything else we could find.”
Jasper’s mood shifted and he was perturbed. “Why would he bring you there to talk to those people? Rosalie, I don’t like it. I don’t like him putting you in harm’s way. It’s not appropriate.”
Defensively, I opened my mouth to rebut Jasper’s accusations of what he believed to be Edward’s ill-conceived plan. After all, I would have attended the Gala regardless. However, before I was able to get the first word out, Edward appeared in the dining room, wearing the same tuxedo he wore last night and looking not at all phased by that fact. His hair slightly hung over his eyes and he leaned over, kissing me on the top of my head. I automatically stiffened, not sure what to do in the situation.
What if he didn’t see this the same way that I did? Perhaps he considered it a one time thing, not to be repeated. I still wanted to work with him on a professional level but I didn’t want him to know the way he affected me, the effect he had on my heart.
“Jasper, I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Cullen,” I introduced my brother to my lover, wringing my hands nervously. What is wrong with me? I don’t get nervous.
The men chatted for a few moments while I tuned them out. I needed something to do with my hands, something to busy myself so that I didn’t have to meet his eyes. I decided to serve myself some more fruit salad, even though I already had plenty on my plate. The table held quite a spread, far too much food for just Jasper and I, but I didn’t feel comfortable asking Edward to join us for the meal.
“Shall I have Emmett drive you home, Mr. Cullen?” I knew it was a cold and detached question but I needed time to work everything over in my head. If he didn’t want me, I didn’t want him to be under the assumption that last night meant anything more to me than it did to him. I truly hoped that wasn’t the case but I didn’t know and I couldn’t ask, given the situation.
His voice told me that he’d pass on the ride, but I could understand the subtext. He didn’t want to be with Emmett, the morning after our tryst. Understandable. Emmett would question the detective as to why he was leaving in the morning, rather than last night. I couldn’t blame Edward for not wanting to deal with that sort of scrutiny first thing in the morning.
Emily appeared by my side with the coffee carafe, pouring me a large cup. I immediately took it into my hands, ignoring the heat coming off the cup and slightly burned my palms.
“Suit yourself. Emily, would you please get Mr. Cullen his coat and call him a cab?” I shrugged, trying to appear careless and fancy free. I took a big gulp of my coffee, not thinking of the consequences my action would cause. It seared my tongue and throat as the bitter liquid rushed down. That was a mistake.
Was last night a mistake as well?
Wincing, I looked down at the table to allow Edward time to show himself to the door. I was surprised to feel a finger graze underneath my chin. He tilted my head up and looked me dead in the eye. I nearly threw myself into his arms but instead I sat there, unmoving.
“I’ll be seeing you, Rosie. Sooner rather than later,” his eyes shone and he winked at me before walking toward the front foyer. On his way, he grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl and bit into it. I sat there, momentarily stunned.
Jasper whistled and leaned back in his chair, propping his feet out in front of him. “I have to say, Sis, that sure doesn’t look like ‘nothing’ to me.”
I made a face but didn’t answer him.
We sat in silence, I mulling things over in my head, while he read the paper. After excusing myself, I returned to my room. My unmade bed with two indentations on the pillows was yet another stark reminder of what had happened between Edward and myself. I walked to my vanity, intent on picking up the cosmetics that had tumbled to the floor the night before. A knowing smile swept across my face as I thought about how he had propped me up, ravishing my body with his mouth. I found the bottles had all been neatly lined in front of the mirror. Probably Emily. She was so good to me.
I heard her footsteps approaching and heard her moving outside of my room. She knocked softly and when I acknowledged her, she peeked her head in.
“Miss Rosalie? Are you ready for me to make up your bed?”
“No, Emily. Not yet, thank you.” I wasn’t ready for the reminder to disappear just yet. Although from his parting words, Edward was planning on seeing me quite soon. I would not mind that at all.
I sat on the side of the bed where he slept. Looking at my nightstand, I saw that he had left two cigarettes resting where the pack had been. I couldn’t help but smile at the random thoughtfulness. Most men would have plucked a flower from the vase in the hallway, perhaps left a note with it resting on the pillow. It had already been established that Edward was not like any other man I’d come across. I took one of the cigarettes and put it between my lips, finding the book of matches I had in the drawer of the stand.
With a few short sentences this morning and two cigarettes on my nightstand, his character was firmly established in my mind. Edward Cullen was one of the good guys. A genuinely good and caring man had been in my bed. Leaning back on the bed where his body had laid just a short time ago, I smoked my cigarette and smiled.
When I got home, I stripped off that damn penguin suit as fast as fucking possible and got right into a hot shower. Rose’s perfume lingered on my skin, and I almost kicked myself when I realized I’d be washing the scent of her off of me. What I was anxious to wash off was all that Brylcreem shit. While I scrubbed my head with shampoo, I pushed away my thoughts of Rosalie and forced myself to buck up and start doing my job. I turned my attention to the amount of information I had gathered over the week, which, in all honesty, was pathetic. The few leads I did have were vague and not fitting together, but I knew Rosalie felt strongly that something had happened, so I would keep chipping away until I found the piece I was missing.
The only information I did have to work with was a threatening letter I found in dead guy’s desk, and a whole lot of people that were shocked that dead guy was dead. Slim pickin’s.
The staff at the mansion all said they had been treated well by Mr. Hale, and that he was well respected by everyone from Sam to Emmett. Not one of them did I suspect of lying to me, and I was damn good at reading people. His employees at the La Bella offices were no different, going on and on about what a generous and kind man he was. How he treated everyone as an equal and how they are truly saddened by his passing. They asked if I could please pass along their condolences to Miss Hale, and to be sure and tell her that they are all behind her as the new CEO. I nodded yes and promised, but grew more pissed that I wasn’t getting anything I could use.
Yesterday, before the Gala, I had gone to the country club and talked to his tennis and golf buddies, who were all very helpful and obliging. His golf cronies kept insisting they were shocked at the news that a heart attack was to blame. He was in excellent health, never missed a round of eighteen holes. Mr. Hale always insisted on carrying his own clubs, leaving his caddy to rake bunkers, repair divots and forecaddy his drives and blind shots. He tipped the same regardless, so even the caddies spoke will of him.
So really I only had one clue…the threatening letter I had found in Mr. Hale’s desk. It didn’t make sense to me that it was intended for Mr. Hale. He had enough resources to come up with cash at a moment’s notice, no matter how large the sum. Why would he let a situation get out of control enough to warrant getting a warning in the first place? Besides, Stevie’s uncouth offer to Rosalie to bump off the killer indicated that at least he didn’t know why Hale was dead, or who was responsible. Then again, Stevie Torrino wasn’t the only mob boss in Chi-town.
So where did the letter come from? It had to belong to someone else. Someone who needed help and had come to Mr. Hale perhaps? Someone who was refused that help? That would at least give me a motive, which was something I really fucking needed at this point in the case.
I was getting desperate for answers. If something didn’t pan out soon, I was going to have to call my father and interview him about his connection to the Hale family.
I pushed the thought away as I finished washing up and turned off the water, the warm droplets rolling off of me and onto the white porcelain of the footed tub. I pulled a thick blue towel off the nearby rack and quickly patted myself dry before stepping out of the tub and wrapping around my waist.
After I brushed my teeth, went in search of my smokes and lit one as I dressed in my grey flannel suit. I had to go out, to the place where I did my best thinking. Once I was dressed, I put my Colt in the holster under my suit jacket and shrugged into my black wool overcoat. I swiped my hat, smokes and flask off the desk and headed to the dive that had the best Chinese food in town, Hwang’s.
Hwang greeted me like an old friend, or his best customer, when I walked in his tiny, greasy, green wallpapered restaurant. I moved to my usual table by the kitchen and sat down. “Ahhh…Mr. Cullen, sesame chicken today?” Hwang guessed when he came to take my order and pour me a cup of coffee. Not that he needed to guess or take my order, I always had the same thing, twice a week.
“And a side of hot and sour soup, Hwang, thanks,” I added before he scurried into the kitchen.
The radio was playing “If I Didn’t Care” as I pulled out my flask and took a swig, then reached for my smokes. I slowly pulled one from the pack and brought it to my lips while I imagined Rosie smoking the cigarettes I left for her. I envisioned her ruby red lips pulling gently as she inhaled, and parting softly as she exhaled. I hoped her bullshit this morning was just an act for Jasper’s sake. I realized with surprise that I’d be more than a little disappointed if last night had ruined whatever it was we had between us, and that really fucking scared me. It was too late to head for shore now, I was in too deep, and if I didn’t keep paddling towards her, something told me I’d drown.
Getting fucking soft, Cullen, knew all along you’d never make it out of this case in one piece.
Sometimes I wished I could tell myself to shut the hell up. I was grateful when Hwang brought my meal and I didn’t have to think anymore. At least the food and my hunger took my mind off Rosie…for the time being. Again I forced my attention back to the case. Unfortunately, after wolfing down my serving of the best sesame chicken in Chicago, smoking a half my pack of Lucky’s, and wasting an hour scrutinizing every possibility of the Hale case from every possible angle, I still wasn’t any closer to the answer.
You’re losing your touch Cullen. Time to make that fucking phone call.
I tried to procrastinate a little longer and played with the fortune cookie Hwang had brought with my food. I never ate them; I hated the taste of the cookie. Breaking open the cookie’s shell, I pulled out the little piece of paper and squinted to read the tiny red writing.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Lao Tzu”
I hung my head in defeat as I scooted my chair away from the table and stood dejectedly. I pursed my lips and glanced over at the payphone, which, of course, no one was fucking using.
Damn my shitty luck.
My feet dragged as I trudged over to the phone hanging on the wall by the ladies bathroom. I plucked the receiver off the hook and positioned it between my ear and my shoulder. Plunging my right hand into the pocket of my coat, I searched for the nickel I knew I’d dropped in there yesterday after buying smokes. My hand didn’t feel the cold metal of a nickel however. Instead, it felt the crumple of paper.
I pulled two small slips of paper from my pocket and examined them carefully. As I read the receipts I held in my hands, my mouth went dry and my eyes widened in shock. I grabbed the receiver off my shoulder and thrust it back down on the hook. I turned and strode back to my table, carelessly tossing some bills down from my wallet to cover my food, and then sprinted towards the door.
“See ya in a few days, Hwang, thanks!” I shouted as I opened the door and ran out to the sidewalk, nearly knocking over a old woman loaded down with groceries. “Sorry ma’am,” I apologized and tipped my hat before running to the curb of the street. Of course it took me forever to hail a goddamn taxi. I had to resort to pulling out a five spot and waving it around before an Irish bloke finally pulled over for me. I jumped in his cab and blurted the address from one of the receipts.
“And step on it,” I ordered firmly.
“Aye, Sir,” he nodded, and stomped on the gas, weaving his way through the traffic as best he could.
I turned to stone in the back of the cold cab as I concentrated on the meaning of this turn of events. Obviously the coat I had on was not mine, but it looked just like mine. There had to have been a mix up with the coat check at the Gala, I realized. I must have been so caught up in Rosalie that I didn’t notice last night. I looked down at the black coat buttons and examined them. They were smooth and rounded along the edge. The buttons on my coat had a pattern stamped into the plastic all the way around, like a dime.
I had no idea who’s property the coat, and the receipts I’d found inside the pockets, belonged to. What I did know is the receipts showed the purchase of two items, Foxglove seeds, and a mortar and pestle, on the same date a little over two weeks ago. Items that would be innocent enough, if they hadn’t been purchased on the same day. I knew the likelihood that any of this was connected to the Hale case was next to nothing, but it was suspicious in and of itself and worthy of further investigation. If I could find out who had made the purchases, then at least I’d find out who’s coat I was wearing, and at the very least, get my coat back.
The cab pulled up in front of the Ace Hardware store on Ontario Street, and I threw more money at the cabbie. “Wait here, I won’t be long,” I said and got out.
The hardware store was brightly lit and I quickly scanned the sales floor above the rows of stocked shelves for a clerk. To my left, standing behind the counter, I saw a young woman with strawberry blond curls and delicate freckles dappling her cheeks.
I smoothed my expression as I strode towards her and tipped my hat. “Pardon me, Miss, but I don’t suppose you could help me, could you?” I purred as I leaned an elbow on the counter top and pushed my hat up with one finger, flashing her my best crooked smile.
“Cer..certainly,” she stuttered and blinked.
I’m certain you can as well.
I pulled the receipts from my pocket. “I’m trying to find the owner of this,” I said as I pushed the first receipt toward her, she picked it up and began examining it.
“You see, it seems he is also the owner of this coat. This morning, I discovered that there must have been a mix up at the Children’s Hospital Gala I attended last night, and this gentleman must have my coat. I don’t suppose you were the person to help him with this purchase?”
“I sure did,” she offered eagerly. “He came in about 3 weeks ago, and wanted to buy these here Foxglove seeds. I thought he was crazy! Who plants flowers in January?” She said and rolled her eyes. “We didn’t have ’em in stock, we don’t carry any garden seed in January. But I told him we could order some in for him from the Burpee’s catalog.”
“Do you happen to remember what he looked like, Tanya?” I murmured as I caught sight of her brass name tag reflecting the hideous ceiling lights.
“Oh sure, he was a real looker. Curly honey blond hair, and blue eyes. About your…build,” she confessed and gulped on the last word.
Holy shit, honey blond curls and blue eyes…?
“Ever see him before?” I asked, my tension mounting.
“No…never,” she admitted, “I’d remember him too.”
“Any idea where he might live?” I asked, hoping she’d say something to prove my suspicion was unfounded.
She flushed, “No, I don’t. Sorry, Sir,” she said regretfully.
“Well thanks anyway, sweetheart,” I said and gently pinched her cheek before turning and walking back out to the cab.
As instructed, the cab was still there waiting for me. I ran to it and got in, ordering him to get me to Rosalie’s house as fast as fucking possible. As I took out my gun and made sure it was loaded and ready, I realized that if anything happened to her before I could get there, I would be the one the coppers would be looking to pin a murder on, and I’d be guilty as goddamn sin.