“I need ten million dollars,” I said to Jasper when we were sitting in my office after Jake left.
“Sure, let me get my wallet,” he responded and was about to laugh until he saw my face. “Wait, you’re serious?”
“Yes. I need it in cash in 5 days.”
“This is about Bella’s ex?”
“I’m sure that Bella is scared, but he’s not going to win in court. I mean, the best he will get is two days a week. He’s not been part of her life for nearly two years now. He’s paid no child support, he doesn’t even know her. No court in the…”
“He has something on her,” I interrupted.
Jasper’s lips pursed. “What?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. She didn’t want to tell me and I didn’t press her.”
“So you’re just giving her ten million dollars?”
“Yeah, I’d give her all of my money if she needed it.”
He inhaled and exhaled slowly. “I don’t think giving him money is a good idea.”
“This is the first thing Bella has ever really asked me for. I’m not turning her down.”
Jasper leaned forward in his chair and spoke calmly. “Hear me out here a minute. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t give Bella the money for Jake, I’m just saying let’s think about it. Let’s weigh your options.”
I always valued Jasper’s opinion about both business and personal things. “Alright. I just don’t want to jeopardize Elizabeth.”
“I didn’t say we would.”
I nodded, calming down a bit more. “What are you thinking?”
“Well, I just think we should think this through. First of all, Jake must know that he wouldn’t actually get full custody of Elizabeth. He’d likely only get supervised visitation for a while since he’s not been in her life for so long. None of that would come with any sort of child support. Maybe, eventually, down the road, he’d get more custody and with that some money, but he doesn’t seem like a plan it out kind of guy. He seems much more impulsive. So that begs to question, why now?”
He did raise a good point. Bella had been in the papers for months. “I don’t know why now. Maybe he hadn’t seen her in the news. Not everyone watches that stuff. Or maybe he couldn’t find her like he said.”
“Oh bullshit. Everyone knew she lived here with you. And why not just go for custody. Why bring up something from her past?”
“I don’t know,” I repeated, getting more frustrated.
“And what exactly does he have on her?” Jasper fired back.
“I DON’T KNOW!” I shouted.
“Then we need to find out. We need to investigate.”
I shook my head. “I can’t do anything to jeopardize Bella’s custody of Elizabeth.”
“We won’t. We will hire some private investigators to figure out what’s going on with him.”
I sighed. He had a good point. Maybe finding out what he was doing would give us a better idea of what was going on. “I’ll talk to Bella about it.” I could tell from the look on Jasper’s face that he didn’t think that it was a good idea. “What?” I knew my tone was hostile.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Jasper remained calm. “What if she says no? What if it somehow blows up? I think it’s best if she truly has nothing to do with this.”
I pursed my lips. He had a point. It was good to protect her, but still. “Bella and I don’t keep secrets from each other.”
Jasper raised his eyebrows as if to say, “Really?”
I exhaled loudly knowing he was right. “Fine. But I don’t want to know anything about it either...well, I want to know if you find out anything.”
“Alright. I’ll get right on it.”
He stood to go. “But Jasper, I still want the money. If you don’t find out anything, if there is no way to stop this, I promised Bella I’d get her the money and I want to keep my promise.”
Jasper nodded. “I understand. I’ll work on it. It’s not like going to the ATM though, you know.”
Jasper left me in my study where I sat for a long time, just thinking. What had happened in the past year? This time last year I’d been engaged to Tanya. She’d been pregnant with Charlie, though she didn’t know it, or if she did, she was still drinking anyway. She and I fought about everything constantly. I’d been miserable.
Here I was, a year later, and everything had changed. Up until a few days earlier, I’d been blissfully happy. I had a two wonderful children in the house and a woman who in addition to being the most beautiful woman in the world, she was caring and supportive to not only me, but my son. It was the perfect life, the perfect family. I wasn’t going to let anyone take it from me. I would fight, do anything to keep the life we were building together and to protect her from anyone who wanted to do her harm.
I let my mind wander, going back over some of the most precious memories we’d built together. I recalled the first time I met her, and when Charlie nursed for the first time. I thought about our first kiss and our picnic. I couldn’t possibly remember each time we’d made love, but special memories seemed to flash through my mind like a pornographic montage. It wasn’t just about sex though. With Bella there was always more. I loved the way she played with the children, or attempted to cook dinner even though somehow, it always got messed up in some way. I loved the way she loved the simple things. Getting Tanya a Christmas gift had been a nightmare and in the end, I’d just told her to pick out what she wanted me to get her. With Bella, I’d enjoyed shopping and had looked forward to giving her her gift. I’d watched her face carefully as she’d unwrapped the present. For a moment she’d looked nervous, but that quickly faded into the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen. It was clear that she loved the pendant.
I sat back in my chair and closed my eyes picturing her face. It had been happy, but there had been that quick flash of nerves. Had she been worried about the price? I chuckled. If she’d thought that had been expensive, what would she have said if I’d bought her the ring the saleswoman had tried to convince me to purchase.
Sometimes I was so thick. It all clicked into place. The look of concern on Bella’s face when I’d given her the box. She had to know it was jewelry. Was she worried it was a ring? Was she upset it wasn’t?
I’d been engaged to Tanya for over a year and not once during that entire time, did I actually picture us as husband and wife living together raising a family. I’d known Bella almost six months and there hadn’t really been a time where I didn’t picture those things. I knew deep down that I wanted Bella as my wife.
There were a million things to do before the party, most of them involving Jake, but when I had time, I’d come back to this train of thought and see where it took me.
It was less than twenty-four hours after Jasper had left my office that he had news. “I’m coming over. I don’t want this conversation on the phone.”
I made an excuse to Bella about having to catch up on some work things with Jasper. Once again we met in my office. “Well?” I asked trying to hide my anxiety.
“After I left yesterday I hired a few private investigators.”
“A few?” I asked in surprise.
“Yes, a few. This is ten million dollars we’re talking about, and Bella. Both of which I thought warranted the expense.”
I felt foolish. “Of course. I just meant I was surprised you hired more than one since you wanted to keep this discreet.”
“They are reputable. They work with quite a few celebrities. My eyebrows raised. “Cheating and what not.”
My mind flashed to Tanya. Sure would have saved me a lot of heartache if I’d hired one to follow her. Then again, I wouldn’t have Charlie or Bella, so maybe it had been a blessing in disguise.
“So the investigation is just starting,” Jasper explained. “They are surveilling him as we speak, but something came up immediately.”
“Elizabeth has a sister, well a half sister.”
My jaw dropped. “I don’t think Bella knows. She’d have mentioned that.”
“I don’t think Bella knows either,” Jasper agreed. “This little girl, Renee Evans, was born two months before Elizabeth.”
“So he cheated on her?”
“Are you really all that surprised?” Jasper asked.
I took it in for a minute. I was pissed. I didn’t like to think of Bella with Jake, but knowing that she was struggling and alone during her pregnancy while he was off playing house with another woman pissed me off. Then another thought hit me. If he was married, raising a daughter, a court might find that was a much more stable environment than a single mom living in the home of an actor. If that was the case, I’d marry her in a heartbeat. We’d show the court the most stable home around. It was the second time in twelve hours that I’d thought of marrying Bella.
“Do you think that the fact that he has another daughter might lower Bella’s chances for custody?” I asked, refocusing on the matter at hand.
“Normally, maybe. But not in this case. Just like Elizabeth, he hasn’t been in Renee’s life. Renee’s mother took Jake to court for child support. He hasn’t paid a penny. On top of that, he petitioned the court to terminate all parental rights so he wouldn’t ever have to pay a penny. It’s still pending in court.
It was like I’d been given a miracle. “So he’s basically a deadbeat dad?”
Jasper nodded. “I think, that given that information, he’d be lucky to get supervised visitation. If it weren’t for the other thing, I’d advise to just let this go and take your chances in court. When Jake realized that he wasn’t going to get any money, he’d run off again.”
“But there is the other thing,” I said coming down from my short lived celebration.
“Yes, and I’m working on the money for that. I still haven’t given up hope that the investigators will find something out, but just in case, I called your accountant and she said that she can get you most of the money by the thirtieth. The rest is tied up and there would be huge penalties. She can do it, but you know, you’ve had several offers on the Lamborghini. It would make up the rest of what she can’t get you, and then some.”
That car was amazing, though I rarely drove it. I’d bought it when I made it big. I thought I’d never sell it, but now, it was a simple choice. “Yeah, sell it.”
“Are you sure? You love that car.”
He looked at me and I raised my eyebrows. “No. I love Bella and Elizabeth. I like that car… well I liked that car. I don’t even drive it anymore.”
“True… and I’m sure you can always buy it back, or another one just like it.”
“Nah, I’ve always wanted a ‘69 Corvette anyway.”
He put his arm on my shoulder and smiled. “Hang in there. We’ll figure this all out.”
“Thanks Jasper. I’m going to keep the stuff about Jake and the other child to myself for now. I’ll tell Bella, but she has enough on her mind right now. She’s an emotional wreck. I don’t want to add to it that he’d been cheating on her before she even got pregnant.
Jasper left again and I actually did some work. I saw Bella at meals and we slept together. I didn’t make love to her at night. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, or that I didn’t find her attractive, it was just that it seemed so inappropriate given the situation.
I didn’t hear from Jasper the next day with the exception of him calling to say that everything was going well with the money and we’d have it in two days.
On the twenty-ninth, Jasper came over. Bella and Alice were out shopping for shoes or something to do with the party, so we met in the living room. “Did the investigators find out anything else?”
“They’ve been tailing him for a few days. He sure likes the ladies.”
I shook my head in disgust. “Well that’s not a surprise. He had two women pregnant at once.”
“Yeah, well he also has a thing for strippers. He spends a lot of time at strip clubs as well as talking to his bookie.”
“I guess that would help in court,” I responded. “What judge would give Elizabeth to a womanizing gambler who has abandoned two different daughters?”
Jasper nodded. “I don’t think it’s even going to come to that though. He might like to gamble, but he’s not any good at it.”
“What do you mean?”
Jasper opened a folder and dumped some pictures onto the coffee table. Jake was with some big guys in what looked like an alley. In a few pictures they were holding him by his shirt. “Apparently he has lost a lot and owes this loan shark Ciaus a lot of money, like over a hundred grand,” he explained. “It’s possible if we do nothing, those guys will take care of our problem for us. The investigator said that he heard them tell Jake that he had a week to make good on his debt or he’d end up in a wheelchair if he was lucky.”
“That would make him desperate. That scares me. If we don’t give him the money he will definitely go to the press with whatever he has on Bella.”
“True,” Jasper agreed. “But I was thinking more on the lines that desperation might make him easier to work with.”
I quirked an eyebrow. Jasper took a set of papers from his bag. “This is what I propose.”
I looked it over. Jasper had some great ideas. I grabbed a pen from the table and added a few notes. “I’d like to do this too.”
Now it was Jasper’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “You know you don’t have to do that.”
“Yeah, I know, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and I want to.”
Jasper nodded and put the papers along with the photos back in his bag. He called the next day to tell me he had the money. I asked Emmett to drive me over.
“You gonna tell me what’s going on boss?” Emmett asked.
“You gonna tell me what’s going on with you and Rosalie?” I countered. She’d been staying in the guest house for months now. There was no way she couldn’t find her own place. I more than suspected that the two of them had been hooking up. I looked over at him and he looked tense. “I’m just kidding man. Don’t sweat it.” He relaxed a little. “It’s Bella’s ex. He’s causing trouble and Jasper and I are trying to get the upper hand.”
“You should let me beat the shit out of him,” Emmett suggested.
“Don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind. It wouldn’t work though. He’d sue you, and then me. The press would be all over it.”
“Not if he just disappeared.”
Emmett’s words hung in the air as the car sped along the highway towards Jasper’s house. I had thought of that too. It would cost much less than ten million to just make him go away. The thing was, he was Elizabeth’s father, and as much of an asshole as he was, maybe someday she’d want to know him. It broke my heart to think of that, but maybe she would. And even if she didn’t, how could I look into her eyes as she grew up, knowing I murdered her father. “Nope. That’s not the way.”
“I was kinda kidding Boss.”
“Sure you were,” I laughed.
We pulled up to Jasper’s place and parked. He lived in a condo on the fourth floor. Emmett and I took the elevator. Jasper was standing at his door with it open. There was a look I’d never seen before on his face. He didn’t say anything until we came inside. “So, I...we… well someone cloned Jake’s phone.”
“Isn’t that illegal?” Emmett asked. I’d been thinking the same thing.
Jasper gave us both a look. “It’s kinda a grey area. It’s illegal to clone a phone for fraud, but we’re not committing fraud. Either way, so is blackmail, so I’m not all that worried.”
I had to agree to that. “So did you find anything else?”
Jasper nodded and held up an envelope. “These were on the phone.” I reached my hand out for the envelope. “I’m not sure if you want to look.”
I snatched the envelope from him. “Did you look?” He nodded. “Is it about Bella?” Again he nodded. “Well if you looked, I’m sure as hell going to.”
Jasper reached out and put his hand on mine. “Edward, what do you think is in here?”
I knew. It wasn’t hard to figure out. An ex was blackmailing a woman with something she didn’t want others to know. The fact that it was pictures left little room for it to be anything else. “I assume they are pictures of Bella nude.”
“Yes, and photos of her with Jake.” Jasper’s addition stung. Of course I knew she’d slept with him, but to know that they’d photographed it took it to a whole new level. “Now tell me, why would you want to see that. You won’t be able to unsee it.”
“How many pictures are there?” I asked.
“That’s hard to say. There were about half a dozen stills taken, but the video...it’s been broken down.”
“Video?” I said feeling sick to my stomach.
“If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think Bella knew it was being recorded.”
“You watched it!” I shouted.
“Edward, I had to. I had to see what it was. I um, didn’t watch it all. Well, I did, but I watched it in fast forward.” He took his hand off the envelope and reached over to his desk picking up a phone. “It’s on here. It was also on this flash drive the investigators found in his glove compartment and on a laptop in Jake’s apartment. They left them in tact so he wouldn’t know but once he’s at the party, they will get both.”
He handed me the phone. I stood there with my mouth open. I was sure it was illegal, but I didn’t give a fuck. I was glad I had it. “So those are the only copies?” I asked.
“All the ones that we found. We’ll talk to Jake tomorrow to make sure that there are no more. I am having the paperwork drawn up for the deal we’ll be offering him. I’ll have it to you before the party so we can go over it all and have you sign your parts.” He turned and picked up a black bag. “But, just in case it all goes to hell, I did get the money.” He handed it to Emmett.
I didn’t sleep at all that night. I kept thinking of all of the things that could go wrong, and I kept thinking about the pictures and video of Bella. The envelope was in my safe in my office. I’d thought about looking inside of it a dozen times. In the end, the only reason I didn’t was because it felt like an invasion of Bella’s privacy.
New Year’s Eve was a blur. I tried to keep busy working out and reading lines, but my mind kept drifting back to Jake. I felt anxious all the time and I wondered how Bella was holding up.
I went up to the bedroom to check in on her. I’d been trying to give her space this week, and to be honest, I kept away from her because I hated lying to her, but I knew what Jasper and I were doing was for the best.
I should have gone up earlier. The moment I saw her my blood pressure lowered. She looked amazing standing there in her bathrobe and I told her so. I knew she’d be the most beautiful woman at the party. I stared at her for a moment. I knew that everything I was doing was right. I left her alone to get ready with Alice.
Jasper came over before the party and I looked over the papers. He really was a genius. I signed the parts that I needed to so that when Jake was here, everything would go faster. “What if he doesn’t agree?” I asked as Jasper was leaving my office, the nerves coming back again.
“We’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse,” Jasper said in a terrible Marlon Brando impression. I thought back to Emmett’s suggestion of making him just disappear. Maybe it hadn’t been that bad of an idea. “I’m kidding,” Jasper said breaking character. “It’s the best offer he’s going to get, but if he doesn’t agree, you can always give him the money.”
Our meeting had relaxed me some. Jasper was right, it was the best offer Jake was going to get. Maybe this all would work out.
During our meeting, guest had begun to arrive and the house was filling up. Kate told me that it was time to get Bella and make our entrance. She and Alice were in the bathroom as I’d expected. What I didn’t expect was to see so much of Bella’s breasts. They were nearly popping out of her dress. Half of me wanted to oogle them. The other half of me wanted to take off my jacket and cover her up.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Almost,” she said. She handed me the necklace I’d gotten her for Christmas. “Will you put this on me?”
I fastened it around her neck and turned her around so I could see. The four diamonds lay on her breasts. “As if people need more reason to stare at your chest,” I teased her.
We made our entrance to the party and mingled with everyone. I knew some of them well, but most were just acquaintances. Bella was perfect on my arm, smiling and making small talk though I could tell that she was worried. She kept looking around the room, I presumed for Jake.
Around eleven, I felt my phone buzz in my pocket and glanced at it. It was from Jake saying he was on his way. I’d texted him earlier to tell him to give his name at the gate.
I pulled Bella into a corner “I don’t think he’s coming,” she said looking nervous.
“He’ll be here,” I whispered back before taking a deep breath. “I’ll tell him to meet you in the garden” I wanted them to meet in the garden so reporters wouldn’t see them. That was the truth, well part of the truth. The other part was that I wanted to meet with him first, without Bella there. What was about to happen was far from legal and I wanted her to have no part of it. I’d make her an accessory after the fact when I came clean about it, but now wasn’t the time.
At 11:30 I got a nod from Emmett signaling that Jake was here. “It’s time,” I whispered in Bella’s ear. “Emmett will meet you in the garden.”
“I’ll see you at midnight?” she asked looking up at me. Her eyes were wide making me want to protect her from everything.
Just over Emmett’s shoulder, I saw Emmett nod his head signaling that Jake was at the front gate. I looked back down at Bella. “I’ll be there.”
She left, walking onto the patio while I headed for my office. Emmett walked with me while Jasper went to the front door to wait for Jake. I went behind my desk and opened the safe. Taking out the black bag, I handed it to Emmett. “Take this to Bella. She’s in the garden. Don’t let her out of your sight until I get there.” He started to walk out the door. “Emmett,” I said calling him back. “If anything odd goes down and you have to choose between the money or Bella, let the money go.”
He looked me in the eyes. “Goes without saying, Boss.”