“Bachelor of the year, my ass,” I grumbled as I opened the door to my apartment, closing it behind me with more force than strictly necessary. “You would think that it’d be possible to meet someone who was actually interested in getting to know me, and not just the balance of my checkbook.”
With a sigh, I kicked off of my shoes, dropping my keys in the small bowl on the table by the front door. I threw the magazine with yet another article about me next to it even as I loosened my tie. I walked to the kitchen, grabbing a beer from the fridge before heading to my room. I took a long swig from the bottle, then put it down as I contemplated whether to order a pizza or something, or simply skip dinner altogether. I most definitely wasn’t in the mood to go out, tonight of all nights. Fucking Valentine’s Day.
Unbuttoning my shirt, I kept up a steady diatribe in my head about all the wrongs I felt I’d been dealt. It wasn’t my fault that people couldn’t see beyond the dollar signs in their eyes. Since I’d gotten my inheritance from Grandpapa Aro, every fucking woman – or man; I wasn’t particularly picky in that respect – I’d met had been after one thing and one thing only: money.
Well, okay, two things.
Because, unfortunately for me, I’d been placed squarely in the spotlight as soon as I went from Edward Cullen to Edward Cullen, heir of the Volturi fortune. My father, Carlisle, had changed his name to distance himself from the family, in hopes of giving me a chance at a normal life. I hadn’t even known I had grandparents still living when I’d gotten a summons to Italy to visit my grandfather at his deathbed.
Everything had changed after that visit, and even eight years later, I still wasn’t sure whether it had been for the better or worse. There had been very few friends who’d stuck with me through all the turmoil that came with the sudden – and drastic – changes in my life, but I knew I could count on every one of them.
With a sigh, I pulled on my pajama pants, having been so lost in thought that I hadn’t even been consciously aware of undressing. Finishing off my beer, I decided to grab another and just go read a book or something. I didn’t have anything better to do tonight.
Not like I had a date – or anyone even worth the trouble of going after.
I had just walked into the hallway when the doorbell rang. I frowned, wondering who it could possibly be for the doorman not to announce them first. Checking the peephole didn’t get me any the wiser, as all I could see were red roses. When I opened the door, I was greeted by Mark, the doorman, holding up a huge bouquet of blood-red roses – and by huge, I mean he had to hold onto it with both hands.
Quirking my eyebrow, I couldn’t quite keep from grinning as I said, “Why, Mark, you didn’t have to do that. A simple ‘have a nice evening’ would’ve sufficed.”
Mark chuckled, handing over the bouquet as he said, “Sorry, sir, but these came just now with specific instructions to be delivered to you at once. Also…” He put his hand in his inner pocket and fished out a bright, white envelope, which he handed to me. “I was to give you this.” He paused, eying the roses I was now awkwardly cradling in my arm, then said, “Someone sure does love you, Mr. Cullen, sir. I’ve never seen so many roses in one bouquet in my life.”
I balked at his words. Love me, indeed. Love my money, more like.
Clearing my throat, I said, “Thanks, Mark. Here…” I reached back inside, fumbling blindly in the drawer of the table for a tip. When my fingers closed around what I thought was a twenty dollar bill, I moved to give it to Mark, who smoothly slipped it into his pocket before bidding me good night.
Mark was a good guy, respectful of everyone and always very discreet. He was also very modest and didn’t much care to be put on the spot. I liked that about him, and it was for that reason he and I got along as well as we did. I stepped back inside, heading to the kitchen in order to find a couple of vases for my roses; there was no way I’d have one big enough to fit all of them.
Wonder who they’re from…
Putting the envelope aside determinedly, I took care of my flowers first, not wanting them to wilt by being without water for too long. Whoever sent them may or may not be worth my time in the end, but it wasn’t the flowers’ fault, and roses were one of my favorites, especially the blood-red ones.
Finally done with my task, I carried the vases one by one, spreading them around the apartment. I’d ended up with four of them. I picked up the envelope and tucked it in the pocket of my pajama pants before taking the last vase and placing it upon my baby grand piano – my one major splurge, aside from this apartment.
My fingers lingered over the petals of the roses, and I bent down to inhale their fragrance before leaning against the piano and opening the envelope, at last unable to contain my curiosity. Inside was a piece of cream, heavy stock paper with no indication who it might be from. The script was neat and careful…and vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it.
The note read:
Dear Mr. Cullen,
You are hereby invited to attend an intimate dinner for two at The Two Swans. I would be honored if you would join me tonight at eight. There is much we have to discuss, you and I.
I blinked, re-reading the note three times to make sure I was not mistaken. Flipping both the note and the envelope over several times to ensure I wasn’t missing anything, I frowned.
What the hell? Who sent this? And why?
Reading it once more, I rolled my eyes. Whoever it was wasn’t seriously expecting me to just…go, were they? I glanced at the clock, noting that it was already almost seven. I scoffed.
Yeah, right. Not gonna happen, sweetheart.
I shoved the paper inside the envelope irritably and tossed it on the piano before heading back to the bedroom. There was no way I would go. It was probably someone’s sick idea of a joke, anyway.
Snorting, I shook my head. Fine story that would be for E!
I decided to take a shower rather than jumping in bed with a book, wanting to try to relax and wash my irritations away. I was just rinsing off when I heard the doorbell again. I was tempted to let whoever was out there wait, but they rang the bell several times in succession, pissing me off. Toweling myself dry as quickly as I was able, but still with dripping wet hair, I pulled my pajama pants on again and hurried to the front door.
Without bothering to check the peephole, I flung the door open and was about ready to lay into the schmuck intent on interrupting my quiet evening when the words died on my lips. Right in front of me was a garment bag, dangling off of Mark’s fingers.
“Mark? What the hell..?”
Mark held the bag to the side, giving me a sheepish grin as he said, “My apologies, sir, but I was under specific instructions to deliver this to you at this time.”
I scowled. “Instructions? Again? From whom, I might ask?”
Mark shuffled his feet slightly, blushing. “Sorry, sir, but I’m not at liberty to divulge that information.”
I huffed, rolling my eyes. “Alright. So what’s this then?”
Mark explained that this had arrived earlier, and that it, too, had come with a note. He handed both the bag and the note to me and left before I was able to get him another tip to assuage my guilt at my outburst – it wasn’t his fault, after all.
Taking the garment bag to my room, I carefully laid it on my bed and opened it, revealing a very nice, tailored black suit with a white dress shirt and an emerald green tie that almost matched my eyes in color. I stared at it for a while, nonplussed. Whoever this person was seemed to know me well enough to know my preference for simple, classic styles. And either the tie was one hell of a lucky coincidence, or they knew the exact shade of my eyes.
I gently pulled the clothes out of the bag, holding them up.
It even looks to be my size and everything… What the hell is going on?
I wasn’t sure whether to feel flattered, intrigued, or freaked out. In all honesty, I felt everything at once. It took me a few minutes to remember that Mark had given me another note, but as soon as I did, I hastened to open it. Finding the same cream-colored paper with the same careful script, I sighed – again, no name or any indication who this was from.
Sitting down on the edge of the bed, I read the note.
Dear Mr. Cullen,
I hope you enjoyed the roses – I know they are some of your favorites. Please, accept this gift from me. It would honor me if you would wear it tonight for our dinner – I’d like to see how closely matched the tie is to your eyes. The moment I saw it, it reminded me of you.
Be at the front entrance of your building in half an hour.
I stared at the words, resting my hands in my lap and feeling at an absolute loss as to who was doing this. Not a single person came to mind – single being the operative word. I was certain none of my friends would pull anything like this on me. They all knew how I felt about dating and about Valentine’s Day in particular.
One glance at the clock told me that I would have to start getting ready if I was to make it on time. With a start, I realized that I was seriously considering going.
Just to see who’s doing this.
I sighed, running my fingers through my still-wet hair.
Am I really going to go through with this? When I have no idea who is behind all of this?
Biting my lip, I looked at the clock again, then at the suit next to me.
But that’s partly why, isn’t it? The intrigue.
With another sigh, I slowly stood up and got ready for my… my what, exactly? A blind date?
It was 7:40 when I looked down at my watch, tapping my foot impatiently. I was dressed in the suit and standing on the curb outside my building, feeling like an idiot. The note had said to be outside, but I had no idea what to do. Was I supposed to hail a cab? Was my mystery date picking me up?
Straightening my tie again, I glanced at Mark, who stood watching me surreptitiously from his post by the door. He grinned, then tilted his head to indicate I should look to the street. Sure enough, a black limousine was pulling up to the curb, a chauffeur stepping out and coming to the passenger side, opening the rear door. He smiled and gestured for me to get in.
I raised my eyebrows in surprise, wondering once again who had orchestrated all of this. Pausing with one foot in the limo, I looked at the middle-aged man holding the door open for me and started to ask, “Can you-”
He shook his head before I could finish and said, “I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know who reserved the limo for the night.”
At my questioning look, he grinned, tapped the bill of his hat, and said, “I was told to expect that question, sir. I truly don’t have the answer, though, I’m sorry. I’m merely hired on and told where and when to pick up and drop off. Now, if you don’t mind, sir, we have a schedule to keep.”
I nodded dumbly and got in, feeling a little stunned. Whoever was behind all of this knew me far better than I had first thought. Beyond stalking. Better, even. Who the hell..?
The driver wasted no time on small talk, however, and made his way quickly through traffic. We arrived at The Two Swans with two minutes to spare, and when I left the car, the man gave me a grin and bobbed his head in goodbye, saying he would see me after dinner.
The Two Swans was an upscale restaurant, which did little to reassure me that whoever I was meeting was in this for anything other than my money. Still, I was intrigued, and I could repress the faint hope I felt. Straightening my jacket, I walked to the door, a knot forming in the pit of my stomach with every step I took. A doorman opened the door for me, greeting me warmly and wishing me an enjoyable evening.
The hostess walked up to me the instant I stepped foot inside. She was dressed in a pantsuit and was all smiles and friendly manners. “Good evening, Mr. Cullen. If you would follow me, your table is ready.”
I blinked, surprised to have been addressed by name. Even after all this time, it sometimes brought me up short to have people talk to me as if they knew me when I had no idea who they were. It was one of the many downsides to my new life, unfortunately.
Clearing my throat, I nodded and followed her. As she led me to one of the private dining rooms in the back of the restaurant, I couldn’t keep myself from asking, “Excuse me, miss, but do you know who I’m supposed to be meeting tonight?”
She threw a secretive smile over her shoulder at me and shook her head. “Sorry, Mr. Cullen, but I was asked to leave the identity of your… date… in the dark. They’ll be joining you shortly, sir. Here we are,” she said, gesturing me inside a beautiful room, decorated in a discreet manner for Valentine’s Day.
As I sat down at the able set for two, the hostess poured me a glass of water and a glass of white wine – Beaujolais Blanc, my favorite – and then excused herself, closing the door quietly behind her. My hands felt clammy, and I could feel my heart rate increasing with every passing minute. Taking a couple of sips of wine to steady myself, I surveyed my surroundings. The room was really quite nice, classy with burgundy, white, and black decorations perfect for Valentine’s Day.
So busy was I with looking at what was around me that it took me a couple of minutes to realize that the single red rose that stood in a small crystal vase in the middle of the table held a small card attached to its stem. Putting my half-empty glass back, I gingerly took the card from the rose, turning it over to read. That same, neat script greeted me:
Edward, I’m so glad you came. I’m here.
Please, close your eyes?
Instinctively, I looked around me. If he or she was here, surely I’d see them? But I found nothing in the small room, of course. I felt a stab of disappointment, almost sure this was someone’s idea of a cruel joke, and I began wondering whether there was a camera hidden somewhere.
I read the note again and sighed. Something about the script, the way my mystery person’s words seemed to plead with my heart, made me pause.
No, not a joke… but who, then?
With another sigh, I carefully placed the note next to my glass, sat up straighter, and folded my hands in my lap as I closed my eyes. I didn’t feel like I could do anything else. I had to know who was behind all of this, and if playing along was the only way to get answers, then I would do just that.
A little voice in the back of my head said, Sure, keep telling yourself that.
I heard the quiet click of the door as it opened and closed again, and it took everything in me to remain in my seat, my eyes firmly closed as I heard the hesitant shuffling of feet move closer. The sounds of a chair being moved and fabric brushing against fabric met my ears. Still, I did not open my eyes.
I heard a soft clearing of a throat and a wavering breath before a very familiar, masculine voice whispered, “Open your eyes, Edward.”
My eyes popped open, my jaw slack with surprise at the sight of Jasper sitting opposite me, all dressed up in an immaculate charcoal gray suit. He was blushing slightly, his eyes flickering nervously between my own as if gauging my reaction.
I wasn’t certain of my reaction myself, yet. I was stunned, to say the least. I blinked, and stammered, “J-Jasper, what..? You? You did all this?”
He nodded, his cheeks reddening further.
I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that Jasper – my best friend for the past twelve years – had orchestrated this elaborate ruse. To my knowledge, he was not into guys, but he’d always been accepting of the fact that I swung both ways. Not once, in all our time as friends, had he ridiculed me or made any remark that was anything less than supportive of who I was.
It was one of the main reasons we were still best friends after so many years. He’d been so steadfast – the one person I knew I could always turn to. He had also been the one person I’d known I couldn’t go to for the one thing I’d wanted most. It had been a secret I had buried deep inside me, one that I had carried with me for almost as long as we’d known each other.
Jasper cleared his throat uncomfortably, cupping his hands together as he leaned his elbows on the edge of the table. He propped his chin on his thumbs, his nose covered by his tented hands. He looked thoughtful for a moment, then sat back and wiped his hands on his thighs and said, “I didn’t know how else to tell you. Wasn’t sure you would have believed me if…”
He paused, frowning as he glanced away, muttering under his breath. He turned back to me with a sigh, the regret on his face puzzling me even more than I already was. Instinctively, I reached for his hand, which he had put on the table. He smiled a small smile when I squeezed his hand lightly.
“Thanks,” he muttered.
“Tell me what, Jazz?” I asked quietly. My heart skipped and then beat double-time as I waited for him to speak.
He looked down at our hands and spoke to them rather than to my face. Normally, I would have been irritated by something like that, but I had the feeling that this was the only way for him to get out the words he needed to say.
“That I love you… and I have for a long time. I just never…” He shook his head sadly, closing his eyes, and I could see him swallowing a few times before he started again. “It took me a long time to realize what I was feeling. Not just for you… but… in general. I didn’t want to admit it – especially not to you. Not after…” He took a deep breath and raised his eyes to mine. “Not after you came into all that money. I figured it out not long before you got the news about your grandpapa, and it didn’t feel right to tell you then. I didn’t… didn’t want you to think I was playing you. That I was only interested because you’d suddenly become rich.”
I listened in silence, too stunned to speak, even if I had wanted to. Jasper continued, “I thought it best to just remain your friend – I thought I could handle that. It wasn’t just the worry of how you would feel, if you might believe me a fraud or an opportunist… There was suddenly so much going on in your life. I mean… you remember. All the media attention?”
Jasper sighed, running his free hand through his hair as his eyes briefly flickered from mine before focusing on me again. “I thought I could handle just being your friend. That that was what you needed for me to be then. Someone steady, someone who wasn’t after anything from you. Not like some of the other people, who…”
His jaw clenched as he stopped talking abruptly, and I was sure his thoughts had gone to James, just as mine had. James, who had been out for a while, and who had been a close friend – or so we had all thought at the time. James, who, upon finding out about my new fortune, had “confessed his secret obsession” with me.
Obsession with what I was worth, as it turned out. He had tried to get money from me at every opportunity, all the while stating he loved me but demanding to be catered to. When I finally had had enough, he turned to the only other lucrative venture that knowing me could provide him: the media.
James had stabbed me in the back, sold me out for a few grand and his name in the tabloids. It had stung, a lot, and it had been Jasper’s unwavering friendship that had pulled me through. I’d distrusted everyone for a long time after that, and over the past few years my distrust had been justified – except for a very few people. And Jasper had been foremost among those.
We sat in silence for a few minutes, my hand still covering his. Tentatively, he turned his hand and entwined our fingers, his eyes on mine with a questioning look. When I didn’t pull away, he gave a small smile and cleared his throat again. He took a sip of water before saying, “Anyway… it wasn’t too bad. For a long time, things went okay, and it almost was as if things hadn’t changed, you know?”
I smiled, nodding. I did know. Jasper and I had continued being best friends, neither of us allowing what had happened in my life to come between us – or so I had believed. Now, I could see that that hadn’t quite been the case after all.
“Then when I saw you going out again, having your heart broken and your trust betrayed… it hurt to see. I wanted so much to tell you, but I was so scared of how you’d react. I couldn’t stand the thought of losing your friendship, Ed, so I chose to stay quiet,” he said.
He looked at me with pleading eyes, silently begging me to understand. I swallowed hard, trying to keep a solid grip on my emotions. I was torn between wanting to comfort him and wanting to rail at him for keeping this from me.
But then, you’ve been keeping your own secrets, and for far longer than he has. Hello, Pot; meet Kettle.
I frowned, my voice gruff with emotion as I asked, “What changed? Why now?”
Jasper gave a small huff, shaking his head as he said, “What hurt more than seeing you with other people was seeing you close yourself off to the idea of love being even a possibility for you. You gave up on it… when I wanted nothing more than to have the chance to love you the way you deserve. I knew I had to tell you, had to come clean with you if I was to ever have that chance, but…”
He shrugged, looking down at our hands again. He smiled a small smile as he let the fingers of his free hand trace over the back of mine, almost as if he were making sure that he really was holding it.
He glanced up at me again after a minute, and said, “I agonized over how to let you know – for months. I tried… several times. But I couldn’t get the words out. It took me awhile, but eventually I figured out that maybe if I could get you alone… somewhere away from prying eyes and somewhere that wasn’t home to either of us… then perhaps I could. I just had to get you here. And I figured, what better time to tell you than today?”
We stared silently at each other for a moment. Jasper shifted uncomfortably in his seat, ducking his head as he said, “Say something, Ed. Did I completely screw this up?”
My laugh was shaky at best as I shook my head in disbelief. No one had ever done anything like this for me before, and I had to admit that it made me feel special – desired, even. Jasper closed his eyes, turning his head away from me as his cheeks flushed red again. Letting go of his hand, I watched his brow furrow and his jaw work hard as if to keep his emotions at bay.
Slipping out of my seat, I knelt down next to his and cupped his cheek, gently coaxing him to look at me. Well, to face me, anyway, as he continued to hold his eyes closed. I brushed his cheekbone with my thumb, sighing quietly before leaning in, softly pressing my lips to his.
His eyes flew wide at the contact, his mouth forming an ‘o’ in surprise.
“Jasper, I have a confession of my own to make. I’ve been in love with you for years – since before all the mess started with that stupid inheritance. I thought you were straight, so I never said anything.”
He blinked, a look of amazement on his face as he stared at me. I grinned crookedly and said, “I couldn’t stand the thought of losing you, either.”
“So…” he whispered.
Leaning closer until our lips were barely touching, I murmured, “So, to answer your question, no, you did not screw this up. Thank you, for doing all of this – for finally letting me know.”
He let out a soft whimper, then pressed his lips to mine even as his hands flew to my face, keeping me there. I didn’t mind – I couldn’t think of a better place to be right in that moment.