Chapter 7 – String of Pearls

Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer & Little Brown Publishing own all rights

EPOV

The next morning when I awoke, spooned up against Rosie, her flaxen hair tangled in my scruffy chin, I had to resist the urge to begin the morning the same way we’d ended the previous night. After all, I had a busy day ahead of me. The summer morning sunlight streamed through her gauzy ivory curtains and I breathed in the scent of her roses with complete contentment. I snuggled closer, and relished the fact that her skin against mine felt softer then the satin sheets beneath us. It had been over a week since I’d shared Rosie’s bed, and being here with her now made me realize just how much I’d missed it, especially after the turmoil of the last few days. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do for a fella, even when there wasn’t much sleeping involved. Twenty four hours ago, Rosie and I were still walking on eggshells after our fight, and I was a nervous wreck, anxiously awaiting the reunion with my parents that was ten years overdue. She’d forgiven me for our fight much more quickly than I’d thought she would. Not to mention, she’d helped ease the tension of the first awkward reconciliatory meeting between me and my parents. I watched her sleep and allowed myself the luxury of reliving a few moments from last night.

The sex had been different than before; in fact, it couldn’t really be categorized as sex. It was too emotionally involved for such a commonplace term. It was different because there’d been an underlying driving force, a need that went beyond base sexual desire. It was more of an insistent demand to soothe the aching in our hearts from the hurts we’d both endured. Last night was the closest I’d ever come to uttering those three words in earnest to anyone. They danced on my lips, fucking anxious and begging to be whispered in her ear, but instead I just buried my face in her hair and bit my tongue. Instead, I made love to her. I couldn’t say the words, but I vowed she’d never doubt how I felt about her. I showered every inch of her with reverent and hopelessly devoted attention because she’d been my salvation in so many ways, and I fucking adored her for that. In her, I’d found solace. In her, I’d found my future. She’d rescued me. Again.

You’re still the luckiest son-of-a-bitch in Chicago, Cullen.

I sighed and nuzzled her neck before slowly pulling away from her. Carefully, I slipped out of the bed and quickly threw on some pajamas and a robe from the extra clothes I kept in the closet. I crept out of the room and went down the steps toward the kitchen with the intention of surprising her with breakfast in bed. After a few knowing smiles and some polite ignoring of the obvious by Sam and Emily, I departed the kitchen with Rose’s breakfast tray and returned to her room, excited by the prospect of spoiling her a little more. I tiptoed into the room and sat the tray on the vanity before quickly taking off the robe and sliding back into the bed beside her.

“Hiya, dollface,” I whispered and nibbled her earlobe, my hand tracing patterns on her hip over the satin sheet. She stirred and murmured a groggy, breathy good morning then scooted back closer to me. I spent the next half an hour kissing her and feeding her, and just fucking worshiping her. She rewarded me with an offer to take a shower together, and automatically my lips twisted into a devilish grin. My grin fell when she reminded me I had an investigation to attend to that morning. I nodded in agreement; she was right. That didn’t stop me from trying to persuade her otherwise once we were surrounded by the balmy hot steam of the shower. I was persistent, but she stood firm and I was reminded again how perfect she was for me. She’d never let me push her around.

After the shower, I got dressed and called a cab since Emmett would be driving Rose to the office. We didn’t want to say goodbye, we still hadn’t really made up for the week I’d been gone. The shower didn’t help either. I kissed her goodbye with palpable reluctance and then left to wait downstairs for the cab to take me back to my past. Before long, I found myself pulling up to the Victorian red brick house with the semi circle driveway, the green shutters and mom’s roses edging the green lawn. My hands actually started shaking and I hastily lit a smoke, torn between the urge to stay in the cab and tell him to keep driving, and run right through that door like I’d never left. I decided I couldn’t do either. I paid the cabbie and got out. At the door, my hand reached out to ring the door bell, and action that felt slightly alien to me because technically it was the first time I’d rung the bell. I used to have the privilege of opening the door and just walking in. My shoulders slumped.

Not yet, Cullen. You haven’t earned it yet.

I waited, but no one answered. I grasped the knob in my hand, figuring I’d maybe let myself in after all. I was surprised when it turned and opened. I’d have to talk to mom about leaving the door unlocked, especially considering the present circumstances. I stepped through the door and called out a hello, but again no one replied. I shut the door behind me and took in the small foyer. It was just as I remembered it, low ceilinged, square, and constructed entirely out of cherry wood. The paneling on the walls matched the hue of the floor and ceiling. The floor was covered in the grey and blue patterned Persian rug dad bought mom for their seventh anniversary. Dad’s dragon fly motif stained glass light hung above me, and even when it wasn’t lit, it had a blue glowing reflective quality. Opposite where I stood in the doorway, was a cherry staircase with a hallway on each side. I knew the hallway on the right led to my father’s study and the family sitting room, where dad would play pool and mom would read on the sofa. The hallway on the left led to the parlor, dining room and kitchen.

Suddenly, Mom came rushing from the back of the house and threw her arms around my waist, holding me tightly. I could sense her underlying reluctance to pull away, as if she were making up for lost hugs. I hugged her back warmly.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” she said smiling up at me.

“Hi, mom. Where’s Kate? She’s still with you, right?”

“She certainly is, Tuesday is her day off,” she exclaimed.

“Promise me you won’t leave the door unlocked, okay?” I asked.

“Nonsense,” she exclaimed, waving her hand dismissively. “Have you had breakfast?”

“Mother,” I said firmly, catching her eye and holding her gaze. “Promise me.”

“Alright, don’t worry, I’ll keep the doors locked. Now, have you had breakfast?” She asked again.

“Yes,” I said, my mind fell back to the vision of Rose with tousled hair under the blankets this morning. I smiled and mom quirked an eyebrow at me. Dammit, I’d forgotten how observant she was. I was out of practice and hiding my feelings about Rosie was nearly impossible anyway.

It’s pointless to hide anything from her, Cullen. Just be fucking honest.

Mercifully, she let it pass without comment. Maybe she felt the fragile threads of reconciliation we’d woven together yesterday were too delicate for direct conversation about my love life. Mom always did have a sense of timing.

“I was just finishing up my coffee, Edward. Why don’t you join me?” she persuaded and threaded her arm through mine. Arm in arm we walked into the dining room. A radio sat on the buffet, and “String of Pearls” added a cheerful soundtrack to the scene. The table was set with Mom’s everyday china, her cut crystal glasses sparkling in the sunlight, filling the room from the big bay window that overlooked the backyard. I saw two plates, one with a half eaten serving of pancakes swimming in syrup and the other held a variety of bright and cheerful and utterly boring fruit. A platter of eggs and bacon also sat there obviously untouched. I eyed mom suspiciously.

“Mom, you and dad couldn’t have eaten all of this.” I gestured to the eggs and bacon. She shrugged.

“You can’t blame me for hoping I’d have breakfast with my son, can you?” she said, pretending to be affronted. I chuckled.

“Get me a plate please, mom,” I said. I could always find room for eggs and bacon. She smiled and shuffled off to the kitchen, returning soon with a place setting. She pointed at a chair for me to sit down while I watched her happily dish up me healthy portions of eggs, bacon and English muffins. She tried to add fruit but I wrinkled my nose, and stuck out my tongue at her. She laughed pretty hard, and it was heaven to hear that sound again, and to be responsible for inspiring it.

“Did I miss Dad?”

“Yes,” she replied and handed me my plate. “He had patients scheduled early this morning, but he was hoping maybe you’d be here for supper.” I didn’t have to look up from the eggs I was devouring to know how much she was hoping, too. Her tone told me how optimistic she was.

“Sure, Mom. Do you mind if I invite Rose?” I asked knowing Rose would love that. I knew how much she missed family dinners.

“Of course.” Mom beamed at me and I knew that look. Crap. My collar felt a little tighter all of the sudden.

“Are things…serious between you two?” she asked with an equal mixture of concern about being nosey, and downright elation at the idea of it. I never liked lying to Mom, but at the same time I couldn’t very well admit that Rosie and I were basically shacking up and living in sin.

Tread carefully, Cullen.

“We see each other quite a bit,” I allowed, wondering how long that would appease her.

“How often is quite a bit?” she persisted and I got my answer. Not long at all.

“Every day,” I clarified, hoping that was clear enough and took a bite of bacon.

“You love her, Edward,” she said factually in the same tone I used for debriefing Sergeant Swan. What the hell? I cleared my throat and started to speak, started to say…something. Not to defend myself, there wasn’t anything to defend, but to just stop her train of thought. I wasn’t used to being the person getting the interrogation, I was used to giving it. Still she was my mother…and her parental rights afforded her some privileges. She took my silence as affirmation that she’d guess the truth. She was dead on again.

“Have you told her?” she asked quietly. I shook my head no. “I have your grandmother’s ring you know, should you ever have need of it,” she offered in her characteristic optimism. I very nearly choked on my English muffin.

“Okay, mom, that’s enough,” I begged and sat my muffin down. She smiled sheepishly at me and shrugged.

“Oh alright, Edward. I’ll stop. It’s just that I can see how happy she makes you, and I like to see you happy. I’m your mother. It’s my purpose in life.”

“I know, thanks,” I said awkwardly and tried to sound genuine. I was grateful that she cared but it felt too soon for this conversation, too soon to be having it with my mother. I hadn’t even discussed it with Rosie, so I quickly changed the subject.

“What do you say we go up to the room Marie occupied while she was here?” I suggested as I stood up from the table. She smiled, understanding my need to talk about something else and we left the dining room to make our way upstairs.

She led me to the door of my old room. Part of me was instantly sad that that the room was no longer mine, but what should I have expected? It was a selfish reaction and I tried to blow it off as I stepped into what used to be my bedroom. They had put wallpaper up, and it’s wispy fern fronds against the creamy white paper matched the pale green furnishings and bedding. I took another step forward and the floorboard under me creaked right where it always had. I could never sneak out of my room because of that damn board, it’s groaning protest against my weight could wake the whole house. I’d hated that noise in my youth, yet now, it was oddly comforting.

At least some things never change.

“I’m sorry, Edward. We packed up your things. You father thought it would be best.” Her thought hung in the air and I clenched my jaw. She meant best if my things weren’t a constant reminder to her. Dad had been right, of course.

“I have everything in boxes for you…” she trailed off apologetically.

“Don’t worry about that now,” I soothed. “Where are these letters and things you have of Marie’s?”

“Oh, wait. I’ll fetch them. I left them in your father’s office. I’ll be right back,” she answered and turned to leave the room. I watched her go, then turned to look at the room with a more critical eye. I hoped focusing on my job would help me get my mind off of my own guilt and mom’s interest in Rose. I started to search the room, hoping maybe I’d find something that had been overlooked. I began with the dresser, pulling out every drawer all the way and looking in the empty spaces left behind. I searched under the bed, between the mattress and box spring, between the headboard and the wall. Under the rugs. I pulled up the cushions on the sitting chairs.

I found nothing.

The closet, I’d forgotten the closet. I walked toward the closet door and threw it open. Empty. I sighed and leaned against the door frame, contemplating what to do next if the letters mom was getting turned up nothing useful. My eyes fell to the floor of the closet, to a hole in one of the floor boards, and a rush of memories flooded my mind. I pushed off the frame, and took a few steps forward into the closet. I knelt down next to the hole and stuck my finger in it, flipping the board up and out. As a boy, this secret nook under the floor had been my hiding place for my most precious treasures. Things like my marble collection and the playing card with the naked lady on it I’d swindled Mikey Newton out of when he’d bet me I couldn’t get Jessica Stanley to kiss me. I peered into the dark rectangular hole and put my hand in, wondering if some of my toys might still be there. Maybe a few had escaped the clearing out of my things. I felt fabric tied in a bundle and a book of some sort. I pulled both items out and sat on the floor, cross legged. The bundle took my notice first. I untied it and pulled back the fabric to reveal a collection of small trinkets and toys. I knew immediately that they were mine, things that had been under the floor for years. My most prized marbles, a tiny tin race car and a red wooden top. The nude Queen of diamonds was, ironically, nowhere to be found.

Why were my toys tied up like this? I knew I hadn’t left them that way; it was much too studious and neat for it to have been me. I took a closer look at the fabric and realized it was a handkerchief. On the corner, stitched very elegantly in pale blue silk thread were the initials RK. My eyes flickered to the book and I opened the cover, flipping the first few pages until I saw print. On the third page, scrawled in less than perfect handwriting in black ink a single line read simply:

My Diary.

RPOV

Emmett was humming a tune under his breath while he drove downtown to the La Bella offices. He and I chatted for a few minutes but then I was lost in my own little world. He had asked me the same question three times, before I muttered an answer which did not answer his question at all. After joking with me about it, he gave up on his attempts at keeping the conversation alive.

My thoughts were focused on Edward, as they usually were when we were apart. I felt like a lovesick fool but I rather fancied myself as one. Edward and I finally did fall asleep in the early morning hours and while our activities cut into my normal sleeping time considerably, there was nothing better than waking up to find Edward by my side. When he was near, the lack of sleep was unimportant; I’d rather have him than any sleep at all. I felt his fingertips tracing large circles on my hip and I rolled toward him, mumbling and stretching my body before his lips further roused me. Our noses kissed and he nuzzled his face into me. My eyes were shut but I felt him as he skimmed his nose along my face and my neck and I wrapped my arms around his body. He breathed in deeply, his chest rising and expanding, before pulling back and kissing me once more. Opening my eyes, I found his face inches from mine, his eyes studying my face and lighting when my lids opened. I’d never felt so adored.

The mornings were usually rushed. I would rise with the sun and then push us through the morning routine, except for those very rare occasions that I allowed him to bring me back to bed. There was always the rush for something else, constantly moving along to the next thing. It’s how I operated. That morning, I surprised the both of us by snuggling into him more and letting my lips brush over the curve of his collarbone. We were together again and I fully intended to enjoy every moment I spent with him. We shared a lazy breakfast in the room and there was little that was more sexy than Edward feeding me fruit with his fingers. When I told him that, he grinned that incredibly wicked grin at me. After breakfast I suggested a quick shower together, where I had to remind him, repeatedly might I add, that we both had places to go that day. I nearly gave in on more than one occasion but the promise of later seemed to appease him, for the time being. I loved sharing a shower with him and it was something we didn’t do nearly enough. Smiling to myself, I thought, We need to remedy that.

Looking around, I remembered that I was in the car and I saw Emmett staring at me in the rear view mirror. After assuring him that I was fine and turning redder at being caught having such racy thoughts, I opened my window a bit with the crank on the door. Now was not the time to be daydreaming of him and I chided myself. It was high time that I cleared my head and my thoughts of Edward and focused on La Bella. At least for the day.

The weekly staff meeting was scheduled every Tuesday afternoon. I often worked from home on Mondays so Tuesdays were when I was guaranteed to be in the office. That particular day I needed to get there a bit early to run over some figures with Ben, our primary account auditor. He had been with the firm that worked with La Bella for years and knew the ins and outs of our business nearly as well as my father had. Looking at my notes I saw that I’d be meeting with Ben at half past eleven and the staff meeting with my product development team was scheduled for after lunch. Squaring the papers together on my portfolio, I tucked them into the front pocket and scrawled a few notes for new product ideas on the notepad before shutting the folder.

Before long, Emmett pulled the car in front of the office building and, taking his hand, I stepped out of the car and walked purposefully into the building. Claire was at her desk near my office, the keys of the typewriter hitting the page at an extreme pace. “Good morning, Miss Hale. I was just typing up the notes from the meeting with the California office. Can I get you anything?”

“Thank you, Claire, but I’m fine. I’m expecting Ben Cheney here in awhile. Will you let me know when he arrives?”

“Certainly. Also, Miss Hale…” She turned in her chair and stood, moving toward me until she was directly by my side. Leaning in, she spoke in a hushed tone, close to my ear. “The lawyer from Jasper’s trial called and asked that you call him at your earliest convenience.” Her discretion was appreciated and had not gone unnoticed by me. Claire had also been with La Bella for quite some time. I knew when to hold on to someone that was good to me.

I smiled gratefully at her. “Thank you for the message. I’ll ring him this afternoon after I wrap up the meetings.”

I got to work quickly. Ben arrived soon after I did and since it was nearly lunch time, we walked to the local deli and had lunch before returning to the office to further discuss La Bella’s finances. He assured me that our performance was on track with what we projected. Surprisingly, even though the war was still going on, La Bella was thriving. Ben and I spoke about the numbers from the previous year and the increase in sales thus far for the current quarter. Everything seemed to be on the up and up and I was grateful to have him talk me through, each step of the way. I’d learned a bit about this aspect of the company while my father was alive but I wanted to be kept abreast of all things involving the company now that I was the CEO. It was a lot of responsibility, but I was able to rely on the wonderful people who worked for and with La Bella.

I walked Ben to the double doors near the front of the building. I always tried to make my presence known to the employees and I found the best way to do this was to constantly walk around and be seen. I shook Ben’s outstretched hand when we reached the door, thanking him once more for all of his work and dedication to La Bella. After accepting my regards to his wife, Angela, he tipped his hat and walked out onto the street.

The staff meeting went smoothly, as I expected it would. I shared some of the information I had learned from Ben and my thoughts on the new bubble bath. We were updated on some older projects that were coming to a close and Leah shared her proposal on a new product that was in the beginning developmental stages. After requesting cost information and specs from her, we wrapped up with good things that happened during the week. It was something my father used to do at every staff meeting. We’d share a good event that happened, whether it be personal or work related. He felt that it helped him learn more about the people who worked in the company and I agreed. That week I heard about a new grandchild, a wedding, and a variety of other topics, all of which made me smile. Daddy always stressed the importance of knowing your staff well and I made notes as people spoke so I would remember to send a congratulatory card.

Once our meeting was done, I asked Claire for some privacy as I went into my office, shutting the door behind me. Sitting down at my desk, I took a folder out of the top drawer which I had labeled simply, “Jasper.”

I dialed the lawyer’s office, it was a number I knew by heart now, and his secretary put me through immediately. The Hale name was one that came with respect, despite all that had happened with Jasper. I played with the framed picture I had of Jasper and me on my desk. The picture had been on the desk when my father sat here. I had changed very little when I’d moved into his office. Really, the only difference was that the smell of Cohibas was slowly being replaced by the smell of roses, and another of my mother’s old compact mirrors now resided in the main desk drawer along with a tube of lipstick. I hoped that those would be the only noticeable differences between my leadership and his, as well. Tracing my fingers over Jasper’s face once more, I wondered if his lawyer would be able to work his magic. He was the best of the best in Chicago and the name that came back to me from more than one person when I was researching lawyers.

“Miss Hale? Are you there?” Marcus’ voice questioned, snapping me out of my thoughts.

“Yes, I’m here, Marcus. Thanks for taking my call.” I sat up straighter in my chair, picking up the pen next to my folder.

“Of course, kid.” He immediately got down to business. “Now here’s the deal. I’ve been keeping my ear to the ground and I think we’ve caught a break. Did you see the paps a few weeks ago, the stories about cops on the take?”

I hummed my confirmation. Of course, I had. It was big news that there were dirty cops in town. No one expected it and I knew it was something that had kept Charlie Swan both busy and steaming mad.

“Well, that cop that took Jasper’s confession? Aro? He was one of those cops! Guy is singing like a lark to save his own hide. The judge on Jasper’s case has already said that the confession is inadmissible! That means OUT, kid. Can you believe it? Aro even went on record and said that they had your brother and a couple of other poor little rich boys over a barrel.”

I sat up straight at the end of my chair and stared at the picture of the two of us together. “I… I don’t even know what to say! What happens now?”

“Now, all I have to do to get Jasper acquitted is create reasonable doubt. I have to present an argument at the trial that the mob was giving your father the ol’ shake down and that will give us reasonable doubt we need. Rosie, it’s a way for your brother to be acquitted. It’s our best case for keeping Jasper out of jail. There’s no way I can put him on the stand. We’ll be taking our chances with Aro and the jury.” He took a deep breath before wrapping up his thoughts. “So, there you have it. The trial is next week. It’s not in the bag just yet but the judge on the case happens to like me. Very much. As long as things play out the way they should, I’m hoping we’ll be as golden as that hair on your head, kid.”

My mind was running with all the information he just provided. “I can’t tell you how much this means to me, Marcus.”

“Look, kid. Up until this point, you know we didn’t have much of a chance, and I know you were looking for a miracle. Now that you have one, you have to deal with what you know and what you feel inside. I might be able to get him acquitted, but it’s going to be up to you whether or not you ever see him as not guilty. You know what I mean?”

“I think so, Marcus. He’s my brother and I love him. He’s all the family I have. But we still have a lot to deal with. Thanks to you, hopefully we’ll be able to do that. I owe you so much-”

He cut me off with a short bark of laughter. “No need to tell me. You can express your gratitude by passing my name along to any of your colleagues or friends that need a lawyer. Word of mouth is always good for business.”

We said our goodbyes and I got up and searched the corner of the room, where I kept a pile of the newspapers for the past few weeks. I usually held onto them for any information about La Bella I might have missed but this time I pulled the articles that Marcus had mentioned, putting the clippings into the folder before returning it to the drawer. Leaning back in my chair, I let out a long sigh. It was a long day but a productive one. Now that it was nearly done, I finally allowed my thoughts to return to Edward.

I knew he had probably spent his entire day at his parent’s house and I couldn’t help but wonder how things had gone for him and the investigation. I was certain that there had to be more than what Carlisle and Esme knew about the situation and my heart ached for Marie and the baby she never even got to hold before her passing. It reminded me of my own mother passing during childbirth with Jasper. Jasper never had the chance to know our mom and I guess somehow my mind connected helping this baby to helping him.

Just as I was getting antsy and considering calling the Cullens, the private line rang. Eagerly, I picked it up and lifted the receiver to my ear. “Hello, La Bella Cosmetics, Ros-”

Edward’s impatient voice cut off my standard greeting. “Rosie, baby. It’s me.”

“Hi! How’s it going? Did you find anything? How’s your mom?” I threw question after question at him as I listened intently for his response. I immediately bristled when I heard him chuckle lowly. “Don’t laugh at me! Share!”

He decided to indulge me and I could hear the smile in his voice. “It’s going well. I found some things that will definitely be of use. And as for Mom and Dad, they are both doing well. In fact, I’ll tell you more… in a little while? When you come here for dinner with us?” He asked the question like there was some way I would deny the invitation.

The smile on my face could surely touch both of my ears and I happily sighed my reply, “Yes! Of course. I can’t wait to hear more stories from Esme about you.” He groaned and I laughed at his attempts to sound surly about that. I knew he enjoyed it just as much as I did. “Oh and I spoke to Jasper’s lawyer so we’ll have to talk about that later too. When do you want me?”

His answer was immediate. “Now. Always.”

“Well, I don’t have a special machine from the future that will do that for me,” I joked as I started collecting my purse and a few folders I had to bring home that evening. “I’ll call on Emmett; he should be in the building by now.”

“Until then,” he spoke lowly into the phone.

I blew a kiss into the phone. “I’ll be there soon, my darling.”