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It was the best Christmas of my entire life, and it wasn’t just because Bella had worn an outfit to go with every sexual fantasy I’d ever had, though that was a big part of it. It was more that I felt part of a family for the first time in my life. As a child, Christmas had been dreaded. It was filled with fighting and lots of disappointment. By the time I was a teenager, my father was gone, and the fighting had died down, but the holidays made my mother sad. We were very poor and I knew she wanted more for us. Esme and I would never ask for anything, or just something small so she could feel like she got us our Christmas wish. After she passed away, Esme and I didn’t really celebrate at all.
Once I’d started acting and bringing in the money, I could have gotten pretty much anything I wanted for Christmas, but Esme and I still didn’t celebrate. First she was with Aro, then she had kids. When I’d started dating Tanya, we seemed to over celebrate Christmas. We went to every party and had a huge New Year’s Eve bash at our place. The New Year’s party became legendary. Ours was one of the biggest in Beverly Hills. So big in fact that in early December we’d started to receive RSVP’s even though we didn’t sent out invitations. When I told Jasper, he suggested I have the party anyway. He thought it would show that Tanya leaving hadn’t affected me negatively. I agreed. It was no work on my part anyway. The event coordinator Jasper hired took care of it all. I just had to show up.
I’d enjoyed shopping for Christmas gifts this year. I bought some things for Charlie, but it was much more fun to shop for Elizabeth and Bella. I knew that Elizabeth loved stuffed animals. I bought her one that you could call and send messages to. I felt like I was away from her so much, it would at least be one way I could be with her more often. I knew she wasn’t mine, but that didn’t mean I didn’t love that little girl. I’d even bought her a necklace to match Bella’s though I knew she was much too young to wear it. I wanted her to have something that commemorated our first Christmas together.
Bella shocked me with her gifts. I knew that I was incredibly difficult to buy for. I had everything I wanted. Hell, I probably had two of everything I wanted, yet she figured out something I wanted so much but didn’t have. The photograph she’d given me wasn’t the first time I’d thought of us as a family, but it was the first time we were ever seen in public as one. I remembered how conflicted I’d been at that time. I had feelings for Bella, but I didn’t want to be the guy who cheated on my fiance or the guy who left the mother of my child so I had been willing to sacrifice my own happiness for what I thought was the morally right thing to do. I was so glad that it had worked out the way it had, though, thoughts of Charlie not being my biological son still plagued my mind. No one had brought up taking a paternity test, but I knew it was on everyone’s mind.
The thing that had surprised me the most was the sexy lingerie. As a television and film star, I’d had my share of women throw themselves at me, usually in seductive outfits, but none even came close to how hot Bella had looked in those clothes. I could barely contain myself in bed. Luckily she hadn’t asked me to and had let me go wild, enjoying her in so many ways.
Even though I’d had the time of my life, something was off. When we weren't in the throws of passion, Bella seemed distant, lost in thought. I wanted to ask her about it, but I didn’t want to spoil the holiday.
I’d asked Alice about it on Christmas while Bella was nursing Charlie. “Go talk to her,” had been Alice’s response. That worried me even more. That meant that there actually was something to talk about otherwise Alice would have told me it was nothing or holiday stress.
I went upstairs to talk to her, but she was already in our room wearing this pink lacy number. Once I saw her in that, any coherent thoughts went out the window. I thought about it a few times between our love making sessions, but it never seemed the right time to bring it up. The morning after Christmas I knew the time had come to talk about it.
There was still a part of me that didn’t want to know. I’d been through this before. Tanya and I had never been close in the way that Bella and I were, but I recognized the pulling away. I realized that in Tanya’s case, it was likely because she had been having an affair with James. I pushed the thought of Bella having an affair from my mind.
“What’s on your mind Boss?” Emmett asked me sitting down at the kitchen table next to Elizabeth and me. Bella was upstairs nursing Charlie.
“Nothing’s wrong, I’m just concerned about Bella.”
“Why did someone else bother her?” he asked.
“Someone else?” I countered, my curiosity raised.
He swallowed and I could tell he was trying to figure out a way to tell me something he didn’t want me to know. “I didn’t think it was a big deal, or I’d have mentioned it. It was just a guy that kinda upset Bella when she and I were lingerie shopping.”
I don’t know what shocked me more to hear, that there was a guy who upset Bella or that Emmett had been there lingerie shopping with her. Thinking on it further, I shouldn’t have been shocked that Emmett had been with Bella when she was shopping. I’d asked him to accompany her when she went out for her safety. I guess lingerie shopping was included.
“Tell me more about this guy. Did he try to grab her? Did he hurt her?”
Emmett shook his head. “No, it was nothing like that. I was waiting off to the side, talking to this sales girl while she was shopping and uh, I look over and Bella is talking to this guy. They were standing pretty close, like they knew each other. When I looked closer, Bella seemed upset so I walked over and the guy left. I asked her about it, but she said there was nothing to worry about.” He stopped talking. “Boss, I would have mentioned it if it seemed serious. I just figured it was some guy asking her something about you. Reporters do that all the time.”
“But this seemed different to you somehow?” I asked. Obviously if this type of thing happened all of the time, there was some reason it stuck in Emmett’s mind.
“Well yeah because usually she either tells reporters no comment or ignores them altogether, but she was actually talking to this guy. I could tell whoever it was, she didn’t want to be talking to him or seen talking to him.”
I was about to ask Emmett more about him, but Bella walked into the kitchen. She sat down and we ate, but my mind was racing. I was Edward Cullen, Hollywood heartthrob, yet all my insecurities came out.
“What if it’s another guy?” a voice inside my head said.
“It’s Bella!” I argued internally. “She would never cheat on me.”
“That’s what you thought about Tanya,” the voice countered.
“Bella is different, very different.” I reasoned.
“Yet it’s the same. You had concerns about your relationship with Tanya and you did nothing. Are you going to make the same mistake twice? You know there is something wrong. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Be a man and talk to her.”
The voice was right, and I planned on talking to her right after breakfast when we were alone. Emmett left and I was thinking of a way to bring it up, but before I could, Bella was summoned to the main gate for a package. I wanted to go with her, but she said that she could go alone. That confirmed it for me. There was something she was hiding.
I didn’t want to force her to let me walk with her, but I also didn’t want her to go alone. It simply wasn’t safe. There were lunatics out there, and sending Bella to the gates was dangerous. I picked up my phone and asked Emmett to meet her around front and walk with her.
While she was gone, I put the dishes in the sink and wiped down Elizabeth. I was carrying Charlie through the living room getting ready to put him down and take Elizabeth up to get dressed when Bella walked back into the house. There was something wrong. It was written all over her face. “Bella, what’s wrong?” I asked moving closer to her.
“We need to talk, Edward,” she said in what could only be described as a deflated tone.
Emmett offered to take the kids, so I walked toward my study and held the door open for her. She held an envelope in her hands. I assumed it held some sort of papers. Had she seen an attorney to see if she could get out of her employment contract? It was ridiculous if she had. I’d never make her stay here against her will. I couldn’t believe this was happening again. I thought we were so happy.
“Whatever it is, you can work it out,” the voice inside my head said. “Just talk to her.” I clung to that hope.
I motioned to a chair and I sat down in one next to her, rather than behind my desk. “Bella, what’s wrong? You can tell me anything.”
She nodded but didn’t say anything. She just stared down at the manilla envelope sitting on her lap. I heard her sniffle and realized she was crying. After handing her a tissue, and after waiting what felt like an hour, she finally spoke.
“Jake is back.”
“What does he want?” I blurted out.
“Elizabeth,” she said.
My heart sunk. I knew how much it had hurt her when he’d left her during her pregnancy and how much she wanted Elizabeth to have a father. I’d tried to be one for her, but there was no substitute for her real father. The real question plaguing me was, did Bella want him in Elizabeth’s life? And did Bella want him back in her life?
I had a million questions, but I decided to wait. Grilling her wasn’t going to help anything. I handed her a tissue from my desk. After dabbing her eyes and wiping her nose, she spoke again. “When I was out shopping for your Christmas present, he came up to me in the store. We only spoke for a minute, but he told me he wanted Elizabeth. I was so shocked to see him, I didn’t really ask him anything. Before I knew it, he was gone. I prayed that he’d just go away again. I know I should have told you, but I didn’t want to ruin Christmas for you too.”
“Nothing could have ruined Christmas. I spent it with you and our children. It was perfect.” I wasn’t happy that he’d approached her in the store, but her telling me that she wished he’d go away, relieved my fears that she wanted him back in her life as a partner.
“Why now? Why all of the sudden does he want to be a father? Did he say anything else?” I felt bad about grilling her, but I was upset too.
“I...I don’t know...I mean…” I saw her cheeks turn pink.
“Bella, please. What did he say?”
“He said that I’d hit the jackpot with you and that he wanted his slice of the pie.”
“What would your relationship with me have to do with him and Elizabeth?” I asked, trying to work it out.
“Well Alice said that if he got custody, because I make so much more than him, I’d likely have to give him child support.”
“You told Alice?” I asked before I could stop myself. She was upset enough as it was and I didn’t want to make her feel worse, but it hurt that she didn’t come to me. I was glad she had her sister to confide in, but to know that she didn’t feel she could talk to me hurt.
“I told her when I got home from the store. I was going to tell you right then, but it was Christmas Eve, then Christmas...and you seemed to like your presents so much that I didn’t want to spoil our alone time. I’m sorry I should have told you right away.”
I pulled her onto my lap and held her tightly. “Yeah, you could have told me anything and it wouldn’t have ruined Christmas or any moment I spend with you. But I understand why you didn’t.”
She twisted on my lap and hugged me tightly. “I just don’t know what to do,” she sobbed.
“Well, first, let’s figure out exactly what he wants.” She nodded. “What’s in the envelope?” I asked, no longer afraid of its contents.
“It’s from family court saying that Jake wants custody of Elizabeth.”
“May I?” I asked, lifting the envelope from her lap. She nodded. I opened the envelope and began reading. I wasn’t an attorney, but it seemed pretty straight forward. Jake was suing for custody of Elizabeth and also for support.
There were several ways to proceed, but I first I needed to know what Bella wanted. “Forgetting the child support for a minute, do you want Jake to be part of Elizabeth’s life?” It was a legitimate question. I knew she’d wanted it at some point. Hell, I’d wanted, more than anything for a while, for Tanya to want to be a mother to Charlie. Now I knew she probably wasn’t capable of caring for a plant, but that didn’t mean that Bella felt the same way about Jake.
“No. I don’t want him to have anything do with Elizabeth. He wasn’t there for me when I was pregnant and struggling. He wasn’t there after she was born when I had to drop out of college and work all sorts of crazy hours to make ends meet. He wanted nothing to do with her until there was money involved.”
The fire of the Bella I knew was back, and it was a relief. This I could work with. We were on the same page. “Why don’t we contact Jake and invite him over to discuss this.”
I could tell from the look on her face that the idea of inviting him over wasn’t a pleasant one, but she nodded. “I don’t know how to contact him though. I don’t know his number or where he is staying.”
I picked up my phone and sent a text to the head of the security company that I’d hired both Emmett and Seth from. I’d asked him to get me information on Jacob Black.
“So, what happens if we can find him and he comes over?” Bella asked. “What do we say? I mean, I can’t just tell him that he can’t have her. He’s taking me to court.”
I understood her concern, and I wished I was one hundred percent confident I could make this go away, but I wasn’t. I didn’t want to give her false hope. “Well, I don’t think it can hurt to talk to him. We will know what he wants and maybe he will drop the whole thing.”
She nodded though she didn’t look like she believed me. I didn’t think that he’d drop it either. “And if not, we hire a team of lawyers to keep Elizabeth safe.”
“I just can’t imagine any judge taking her away from me,” Bella sobbed into my chest.
“I can’t either Baby. You’re a perfect mother. No judge in his right mind would take Elizabeth away from you, but I can imagine a judge giving Jake visitation and maybe even partial custody. That’s why it’s important to meet to talk. I want to settle this. If that won’t happen, I’ll make sure we hire the best lawyers.
She didn’t lift her head off my chest when my phone buzzed. It was a text. “That was quick. I have Jake’s number. Would you like to call him, or would you like me to?”
“I think that it’s best if I call him,” she said sitting up.
I copied the numbers into my phone and pressed send before handing it to her. I didn’t want the creep to have her number. It was bad enough he was trying to ruin her life and Elizabeth’s. I was all for a father’s rights. Hell, I’d have fought to the end of the earth for Charlie, and he might not even be mine biologically. Jake was different. He’d run off when Bella was pregnant. He wasn’t around for Elizabeth’s birth and he’d never even met her. She was eighteen months old now! He was no father to her. If anyone was her father, it was me. I’d only been with Bella a few months, but I was already thinking marriage. I’d be lucky to be able to legally claim her as my daughter if that was ever an option.
“Hello, Jake?” Bella said pulling me from my thoughts of a happily ever after with Bella. We’d have to deal with this first. “It’s Bella.” There was a silence. “I got the papers and I’d like to meet….You would?” she asked, shocked. “Oh, um okay.” She looked at me and mouthed, “When?”
“Today,” I mouthed back. In theory I should have taken more time to prepare, made sure that I had my ducks in a row, learned everything, but in this case, we didn’t even know what he wanted.
“How about today?” she said. “Sure, um, I’m not sure where.”
I wanted him here, on my home turf. I also didn’t want Bella to go off alone to meet him. “Here,” I said.
“We can meet where you had my papers delivered. You obviously know the address,” Bella said in a curt tone.
I really didn’t want him seen entering the estate, but I also didn’t want Bella or I seen meeting with him in public. I wasn’t even sure that the press knew who he was. Him driving through the gate would draw far less attention than the two of us seen sitting with him in some coffee shop.
“Alright, I’ll see you in an hour,” she said and pressed the button. She’d looked so calm and collected while she was making the call, but the moment she pushed the red button, tears started to fall.
I didn’t say a word, just held her. “We’re gonna make it through this,” I said to her, believing it one hundred percent. We would make it through this and anything anyone else threw at us.
She got up after a bit and went to get ready. I called Jasper and told him about what was going on. Even though, in theory, it had nothing to do with me, this would be media fodder if it got out. I also called down to the gate and said to let in Jacob Black.
I paced in the living room and nearly jumped out of my skin when the door opened and Jasper came in. “I don’t know if you need me here, but I wanted to support you.”
“Thanks. I don’t want to overwhelm him. I mean, it’s not like I want to make the asshole comfortable, but I don’t want him on the defensive. Maybe you can go hang out with Alice and I’ll text if I need you.”
I saw the expression on his face that confirmed that he and Alice still weren’t speaking. “I’m just going to wait in your study.”
Bella came down the stairs just then, Alice was right behind her. “Hello,” Alice said to Jasper.
“Hey,” he said back. The two of them stood there for a minute awkwardly.
“Alice wants to talk to Jake…” Bella started to say.
“No, I want to fucking tell that asshole off for what he did to you and Elizabeth! How dare he leave and then come here and demand custody!”
“Calm down bumblebee,” Jasper said moving closer to her. For a moment she relaxed, then tensed up.
I thought she was about to tell him not to call her that, or hit him, but the doorbell rang making everyone turn to look at it.
I turned and walked to the door taking a deep breath before opening it. I needed to keep calm.
“Hey, if it isn’t the famous Edward Cullen,” Jake said walking into the house. His eyes looked a bit glassy and I swore I smelled pot. “I’m surprised you answer your own door.”
He stuck out his hand to shake mine, so I shook his. “Bella is in the living room,” I said leading him from the foyer.
“It’s nice to meet the guy fucking my ex. You sure downgraded though. I mean, you had Tanya Denali and you traded her in for Bells?”
I’d have punched him in the face had we not rounded the corner back into the living room. Bella was standing there, looking nervous as ever. I didn’t want to be the one to blow this thing. Alice and Jasper were standing next to Bella, both of them shooting daggers at Jake.
“Hey Alice,” Jake said walking toward her. I followed him into the room and stood next to Bella.
“You’ve sure grown up! Dayum!” he said taking a step back and looking her over head to toe. “Bella’s got my digits. Call me so that we can get together sometimes. I’ll show you what she was so addicted to.”
This time I thought it was Jasper who was going to punch him in the mouth. I’m not sure that he wouldn’t have if at that moment Emmett wouldn’t have walked back into the room with Elizabeth. She was holding a blanket in her hands.
“Is that her? My daughter?” Jake said turning to face her.
“Daddy!” Elizabeth said, and for a moment my heart dropped. She started toddler running. I felt like I was going to throw up as everything seemed to move in slow motion. I knew Jake was her father, but I was the one she called Daddy.
I should have thought it through. She’d never met Jake, and certainly didn’t know he was her father. She ran right past him and over to me, throwing her arms around my legs. My world started to spin again.
I looked up at Bella who had tears in her eyes and at Jake who looked like he wanted to kill me.
“Hey Elizabeth,” I said picking her up.
“Tittle!” she said holding out the blanket. I smiled at her and tickled her stomach for a second.
“Sorry Boss,” Emmett said walking up to us. “I guess I wasn’t doing it right.”
“It’s alright,” Alice said moving over to me. “Why don’t I take her for some cookies.” She took her from my arms and left the room with Jasper in tow before I could say a word. I guess she didn’t want Jake to get to see her.
Emmett stood there a minute longer. He glanced up at Jake, seeing him for the first time. I could see the recognition.
“Emmett, this is Jake. He’s Elizabeth’s…”
“I’m her Father,” Jake finished for me. I couldn’t bring myself to say it. I wanted to say sperm donor, but once again, I didn’t want to make a bad situation worse.
“I’m Emmett. It’s my job to protect Bella. I’m very good at my job.” Emmett puffed up a bit and stood between her and Jake. It made me smile and Jake scowl. “Call if you need me,” he said, either to me or Bella or both of us. Emmett stood there for a minute longer then walked out of the room following Alice into the kitchen leaving the three of us alone.
“Please have a seat,” I said, indicating the couch. I’d had every intention of leaving the two of them to talk, but after that comment to Alice, I didn’t want Bella anywhere near him, let alone by herself with him.
Jake sat in a chair and I sat next to Bella on the couch. After a moment she spoke. “I wanted you to come over because I want to know what this is really about. You can’t possibly all of the sudden want to be a father.”
“Why is that so shocking? I saw a picture of you and her on the internet and I was thinking that I was missing out. I mean, it seems you two have quite the life. Why shouldn’t I have this life? I want to live in a place like this, too.”
“How would having custody of Elizabeth let you live in a place like this?” Bella asked.
“Well, I talked to my attorney. He says that if I have custody, you’ll have to pay child support if you make more money than I do. The papers said that you’re his nanny. He’s got to be paying you right?”
I paid Bella quite well, and I made a mental note that perhaps one way out of this would be to let her go, not pay her at all. If I married her, she’d be here anyway. I had to wonder if he’d be entitled to any of that? I didn’t think so, but I wasn’t a lawyer. I also didn’t know if Bella would like the idea of being financially dependant on me.
“He is paying me. Is that what this is about? Money?” Bella asked. Jake sat silent. “Cause if this is, how much? How much would it take for you to go away?”
“I’m not saying it is, but I know how much money this guy makes per movie. Ten million wouldn’t even put a dent in it. Then I’d be so rich, I’d probably forget all about the custody hearing and not show up.”
There were two things that hit me when he spoke. First, he’d said the word ‘probably’, which meant that he still could and would show up at the hearing. The other was that he’d likely be back for more money when that ran out...and with a guy like Jake, it would run out.
“No deal,” I said. Bella looked up at me in shock. There was hurt and confusion in her eyes. I’d explain to her when we were alone. I wanted to focus on getting my message across to Jake.
“That’s a shame. I’ll probably get more than that in the long run,” Jake said standing.
I stood too. “Bella is an excellent mother and you haven’t been around at all. You’d be lucky if a judge gave you visitation for a few hours a week. Besides, you can’t possibly think I have ten million dollars lying around.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of Bella’s chances in court. She’s been hiding my daughter from me for months. I’ve been trying to contact her, but she moved with no forwarding address and her cell phone was disconnected. How’s that going to look in court?”
It was true, Bella had moved and her number had changed and was unlisted, but that was for her safety and for the safety of Elizabeth. A judge would have to understand that, wouldn’t he or she? I was about to say something else when Kate walked in the room. She was the party planner that Jasper had hired for our New Year’s party. I’d forgotten that I’d scheduled.
“Mr. Cullen, I’m sorry to interrupt. I just have a few questions about the party. Do you have time for our meeting?”
Bella looked at me. “It’s fine Edward. Go take care of the details. It seems that Jake and I are almost done talking anyway.”
I didn’t want to leave her alone, but the conversation wasn’t going anywhere. Talking to him wasn’t going to help. I’d need to hire an amazing attorney along with some private investigators who could dig up dirt on Jake. I had no doubt that there would be something to find.
“I’ll just be right in my study,” I said to Bella as Kate and I left the room. It was more for his benefit than for hers. I wanted to make sure that he knew I was close and that I wasn’t going anywhere.