A/N: Here is my entry for the Twilight Secrets and Lies Contest. I wanted to write a story about journalists, as those are some of my favorite fanfics. Politics are touchy, but I was up for the challenge of marrying the two. After all, politicians are some of the best liars, and we know they keep plenty of secrets.
This story turned out to be an adventure for me, which was at times—easy, complicated, and completely out of my comfort zone. I was so mad at the characters some days that I considered abandoning the story and starting something new. However, I’m glad I stuck with it and finished the story.
I want to thank everyone who wrote and contributed their words for the contest. I loved reading all of the entries. Major thank yous to the Secrets and Lies Contest team who hosted a fantastic contest. All of your hard work is greatly appreciated.
Thank you to everyone who read or reviewed the entries and gave us a chance to win you over once again with these characters, we all love so much.
I owe a huge thank you to Hadley Hemingway, who wore two hats for me with this story, as pre-reader and beta. It was wonderful to work together, and I thank you for all of your support. xx
Title: This Week with Edward Masen
Summary: Talk show host and political analyst, Edward Masen, uncovers Washington’s insider secrets for a living, but will he be able to keep his own under wraps? AH
Twilight – Rated: M – English – Romance – Chapters: 1 – Words: 13,133 – Published: May 20, 2018 – Bella, Edward – Complete
DISCLAIMER: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
Something warm and soft nudges my arm.
I crack open an eye as she shakes me awake.
“Hmmm?” I look around in the dim light of my bedroom.
“Your phone is going off,” Bella mumbles then turns on her side and easily drifts back to sleep.
I roll over toward my nightstand and grab my phone from the charger. I can barely see in the dark but manage to hit the correct button to answer the call while my eyes adjust.
“Hello.” My voice is raspy with sleep.
“Edward. It’s Jasper. We’ve got a problem.”
He sounds like he’s been up for hours and running on too much caffeine. I rub my hand over my face, not ready for my day to start so early. “Yeah, what’s the problem?”
“Our third round table guest for today’s show cancelled.”
“Who?” My eyes blink and focus on the red digital numbers of my bedside clock, which reads 3:32 a.m.
“Eric Yorkie from the Times. He was scheduled to be a satellite from New York, but his wife went into labor. They are at the hospital, and he just called to let me know they are in for a long morning. He can’t make it.”
“So, what are our options?” I run a hand through my tousled hair and sit up against the headboard.
“I don’t know. Do you know anyone else from the Times? Or maybe the Journal? We have less than five hours until we need them in studio or at least where we can get them set up for remote from somewhere.”
I look over at Bella’s sleeping form. Her face is always so peaceful and angelic. My fingertip lightly drifts down her arm.
“What about someone from the Post?” I wonder.
Jasper sighs. “At this point, we’re short on time and desperate.”
“I think she would be okay even with the late notice.” I push her hair away from her face.
“She? Why am I not surprised?” Jasper chuckles like he knows me.
I mean he does, and he doesn’t.
Jasper Whitlock is the producer of my Sunday morning television show. We instantly clicked when first introduced, and we’ve been working together for over a year. He’s my right-hand man and an indispensable part of our team.
“Let me see what I can do.”
I end the call with Jasper and focus on Bella’s sheet-covered, naked form. She’s a sexy siren who has me helplessly under her spell. Her long dark hair spills all around her and onto my pillow, bringing a smile to my lips. I love having her here with me. The fact my pillows will smell like her for days is another bonus.
The smile slowly falls from my face, and I’m filled with regret for what I’m about to do. I hate to ask. We promised to never cross this line. However, my frustration with not being able to acknowledge her publicly or professionally is approaching my limit.
Maybe this would be a step in the right direction. None of our friends or family know we are dating and have been for almost a year.
It’s a long time to keep a secret, and I’m exhausted from the half-truths and deception. We steal nights and dinners alone at my place when we get the chance, with the occasional weekend away from Washington’s prying eyes. However, it’s never enough—at least for me.
With great reservations, I agreed it would be best for both of our careers. My agent, Shelly Cope, is all too eager to keep my single and available image out there. She claims it’s good business, as our ratings continue to climb each week, but I’m always more worried about the impact on Bella.
On our first official date at my place, she shared her concerns over keeping our relationship private. While I was reluctant at first, I know how gossip and speculation can snowball and detract from building credibility in this town. She didn’t go into details, but I suspect she’s had her fair share of dates looking to use her for their own personal advantage.
Bella has huge aspirations, and with her connections, I have no doubt she will achieve them. Her talent runs deep, but detractors always try to wave the flag of nepotism in her case, which reaches all the way to the White House.
I can only imagine the impact on her fledgling career when her dad’s fishing buddy decided to run for governor and won, bringing his family and friends along for the ride. After eight years as Governor for the State of Washington, Harry Clearwater went after the presidency. He won by a landslide and became the first Native American president.
During the time he was governor, Bella was busy getting her degree at Harvard, then she took an internship with the Boston Globe. She moved to Washington, D.C., several years later, only to be completely caught off guard when the Clearwaters, the Blacks, and her father moved to town, high on their presidential election win.
Now it seems as if she’s always standing in someone’s shadow. I know the whispers bother her, and she wants to be recognized for her own accomplishments. Women have a hard enough time establishing credibility in this business on their own, but President Clearwater eclipsed Bella’s shot at a fair chance.
With my own small amount of notoriety from my column for the Wall Street Journal and my Sunday morning show, I don’t want to add to her troubles. However, now I’m having second thoughts about keeping our relationship a secret. I’ve been feeling this way for months, but there never seems to be the right time for a discussion about making our relationship more public. I want to ask her to marry me. I’m ready for more—a commitment, but the secrecy of our relationship leaves me stuck with how to proceed. How do you go from zero to marriage in the public eye without having a negative impact on both of our careers?
My biggest stumbling point is her father, Charlie Swan, who is the Deputy Director for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. If I had to guess, I would bet he already knows about us. Hell, he probably has a special file on me he keeps in a locked drawer of his desk, waiting to pounce when I least expect it. I know his type. He’s a protective father, but I don’t blame him for using his position to keep tabs on his daughter.
Bella is a reporter for the Washington Post with great instincts. I love to hear her tales of how she tracks down sources and gets interviews no one else can. She’s real and genuine, which is a rarity these days, especially in Washington. Her stories grip you, whether she is demanding justice for those in need or blowing the lid off another corporate cover up.
Her mentor and former professor, Carlisle Cullen, from Harvard, keeps pushing her for more. He always encourages her to dig deeper and constantly sends her ideas to pursue. Between Carlisle and her boss, Emmett McCarty, who is always prompting her next great story, I know she will achieve her very own Pulitzer Prize sooner rather than later.
I slide back down beneath the covers, letting my hand drift over her sensual curves, pausing at her hip, then moving closer. I gently pull back the sheets to reveal her naked form and start a trail of small kisses on her shoulder up to her neck.
“Bella,” I whisper, when I get close to her ear.
“Mmmm,” she moans, then whispers. “You need to go?”
“No, I still have time.”
She tilts her head back, giving me greater access, and rolls onto her back. My lips follow her movements and leave hot, wet kisses along her collarbone before moving lower to her chest.
“Edward,” she gasps, feeling my scruff on her creamy skin. “Again? Am I dreaming?”
I chuckle and reposition myself on top, nudging her legs open wider.
“Always. I’ll always want more,” I tell her softly.
My cock moves through her folds as I slide back and forth finding her ready for me. I let the head of my cock rest at her opening then slowly push inside.
I growl out my pleasure as there is no better feeling in the world than this. “Oh, Bella. Fuck.” My voice echoes too loudly across the quiet space.
Once I’m deep inside her, she pulls me flush against her body and wraps her legs around my waist.
“Edward.” She moans as her fingers grip my hair pulling my head closer. Her gentle pants fan across my face, then she presses her lips to mine. Her kisses are insistent and tender as her tongue gently probes my lips, prompting an opening.
I grant her request and savor her intoxicating taste while our tongues tangle together.
She’s right. It does feel like a dream, with only the soft moonlight filtering in through my bedroom window casting sensuous shadows across her body.
My bedroom is awash in shades of gray and blue, but nothing is more beautiful than Bella’s silky, unmarked skin and sexy curves.
I pull back to watch her respond as my hips set a slow pace, performing a dance we’ve perfected over this past year.
Those three little words linger on my tongue, but I know this isn’t the right time to tell her. I’ll wait, but in the meantime, I need to show her how I feel.
In the dark early morning hours, I make love to her. A hypnotic trance falls over us as we move together as one. I’m in no rush, wanting to draw out her pleasure for as long as possible.
Long, slow strokes in and out of her warm, wet body leave me wanting more. Always wanting whatever she’s willing to give. I’m entranced by the sway of her breasts as I watch them dance in the moonlight.
Her hips tilt upward to meet mine with every thrust. “So good, Edward,” she grits out.
Bella’s breathing speeds up, and she tightens her grip on my shoulders. I quicken my pace, knowing it won’t be much longer for either of us.
I pull away, and her arms fall to her sides. “Sweetheart, hold onto the headboard,” I whisper.
She reaches above her head as she braces herself.
I move to my knees and grab her hips, changing the angle as I enter her body over and over. Her response is immediate.
“Ah—” Her muscles tense as her back arches off the bed, pushing her chest in the air, nipples puckering with her arousal.
My hand moves between us where I know she’s helpless to my touch.
I watch her eyes close at the new sensations. Bella moans deeply, then her muscles tighten around me when she falls over the edge into complete bliss.
Two more thrusts and I empty myself inside of her body. “Bella!” I roar as my voice echoes off the walls of my bedroom. My body covers her as I nuzzle her neck and try to catch my breath.
I pull out, not wanting her to be uncomfortable, but feeling the loss of her body already. Grabbing the box of tissues on my nightstand, I hold it out for Bella.
She shakes her head. “I’ll just get up.”
I take a few for myself and watch as she gets out of bed and heads to the bathroom in the dark.
After a brief moment, I hear the toilet flush, and she makes her way over to me.
I pull back the covers. “Come here, Sweetheart.”
She crawls past her side to the middle and molds her body to mine.
I leave several kisses on her sweaty forehead then wrap my arms around her, thinking there’s no better place on earth than right here with her.
My fingertips gently follow the smooth curves of her back over and over as my mind tries to figure out any other way to solve my morning show problem.
We’re both silent for a while, and from the sound of her breathing, I wonder if she’s fallen back to sleep.
“Bella,” I whisper.
Oh, good. She’s still awake.
I clear my throat, a little nervous at what I’m about to do. “I need to ask a favor.”
Jasper knocks on my door. “Five minutes, Edward.”
“He’s almost ready,” Lauren tells his retreating figure as she puts the final touches on my hair and makeup.
I watch her study my hair in the mirror then grab another can, using plenty of spray as she tries to tame my unruly, coppery mess.
“Is there any hope?” I wonder.
She winks. “Oh, Edward. There’s always hope. I just want you to look your best.”
“Well, if you can’t make me presentable, then no one can.” I smirk.
She removes the cape and brushes away the hair clippings from my morning trim. “You’re all set. Go knock ‘em dead.”
“Let’s hope not. I think they would cancel my show then,” I tease and lean down to kiss her cheek.
She pretends to fan herself then begins cleaning up her station. “You know what I mean, Mr. Heartbreaker—dazzle America with your good looks and charm. Your brains are just a bonus.”
“Now, you and I both know the people awake on a Sunday morning to catch our show are immune to me. I’m just another pretty face.”
“You keep telling yourself that, but I’m pretty sure your female demographic continues to increase with every show.”
I chuckle, then stand and slip on my suit jacket. “Thanks, Lauren. There’s nobody better than you,” I praise, then adjust my tie, turning to notice her blushing.
“Get out of here. I know for a fact you say that to all the girls,” she giggles.
I leave Hair and Makeup, heading down the hallway and opening the studio door.
After a quick look around, I see Secretary Platt is already sitting at the desk.
“Good morning, everyone.” I walk onto the set and slide into my chair.
One of the female interns walks over to adjust my microphone. “Let me just check and see everything is working properly, Mr. Masen.” She bends over, giving me a full view of her ample, tanned cleavage.
I can’t help but smirk at her attempt to gain my attention. “So, is it working?”
She leans closer to my ear. “You tell me.”
I watch her stand upright then turn, swaying her hips as she walks back behind the cameras awaiting further instruction.
“Two minutes, Edward.” Jasper snaps me back from distraction to focus on the show.
I look across my desk and find one of my favorite people. “Esme, I’m so glad you could be with us this morning. You look beautiful, as always.”
“Thank you, Edward. You only need to ask, and I will do my best to be here.” Esme is forever the polished professional as she smoothes down her blouse and checks her hair one last time.
“Save it for the camera, you two. Cue the opening music,” Jasper says into the microphone of his headset.
I look down at the papers in front of me and glance over my questions as we listen to the pre-recorded voice speak over the music.
“Now, it’s time for This Week with Edward Masen. Here’s your host, Edward Masen.”
The music fades out, and Jasper cues, “On you, Edward, in three, two, one.”
I take a deep breath and look into camera one as the red light illuminates, and I give America my signature crooked grin.
“Good morning, and welcome to This Week. I’m your host, Edward Masen. Joining us in the studio today is Secretary of Education, Esme Platt. Good morning, Madam Secretary, and welcome.”
“Thank you, Edward. It’s always a pleasure to be here.” Esme’s eyes reflect the sincerity and kindness she always exudes.
“We have a lot to cover this morning. First, let’s talk about our public school system. You have a lot of critics out there. Is it broken?” I ask.
Esme is already shaking her head. “Absolutely not. American education certainly has its fair share of shortcomings but in no way should be considered broken. We, as a country, continue to make huge strides in education, especially when we look at it generationally. My parents’ generation included some of our nation’s first high school graduates. My peers were busy breaking down barriers, and most were first generation college students themselves. Our children then became the children of college graduates with ambitions of their own, as their children will also have one day.
“If you look in the field of chemistry or biology, for example, the curriculum has evolved from students memorizing the periodic table to writing chemical equations to performing their own experiments to today’s students, who are mapping DNA and more. We continue to make progress and improve our system.”
“Don’t you think this may be why America is having trouble keeping up? To use your example, a teacher seventy years ago only needed to be adept at having students memorize various elements of the periodic table, while today’s teacher needs to not only know something about how to map DNA, but also how to teach it?” My concern is evident in my tone.
Esme nods. “We are asking a lot of our teachers, and we continue to train and adjust college curriculums to reflect this. Most of our secondary education teachers focus on one or two subjects, which helps them to become experts in their fields of interest.”
“Then how do you explain our current teacher shortage? What are we doing wrong? We can’t drive down the road today without seeing a billboard looking for substitute teachers. Surely a shortage of teachers isn’t far behind.” I push her a little more.
“Edward, I wouldn’t say there is a shortage of teachers yet. However, we would be wise as a nation to tap into alternative demographics and find our teachers in other areas. For example, our nation’s veterans are a wonderful source of experience with an advanced skill set. Due to their training, some in math and science, they are ideal candidates who are typically organized and disciplined, which can be helpful in the classroom.”
“Soldiers as teachers?” I’m sure she can hear the doubt in my voice.
“Absolutely. Our veterans are the first Americans ready to step up and serve when needed. They will answer the call if only we ask them.” Esme beams with pride for our veterans as I recall her husband was killed abroad while fighting for our country.
I proceed carefully. “I would imagine having trained military as teachers would also help with gun violence in schools and students’ safety.”
Esme’s face grows serious with concern. “Yes, our schools are under attack from outside and within. It is very difficult to administrate a future event when you never know if it could happen or when it might. We clearly have children in crisis who believe violence, gun violence, is the only answer. It is a very small number, but we need to reach out to them before the situation escalates. We have a lot of students to protect, and President Clearwater is focused on how to make that happen.”
“Madam Secretary, isn’t funding really the root of all of this? Why our children are falling behind and their safety is compromised? Teacher pay is always dwindling. How can you expect to attract qualified teachers, as well as ask them to take on an armed intruder during classes?”
“Edward, teaching our children is a huge task. Today fifty million American students attend roughly one hundred thousand public schools and are educated by over three million teachers. The scale alone is overwhelming. Our current climate is one where businessmen and politicians feel the need to use their money and influence to fix a supposedly broken system—which is what they would like for you to believe. Unfortunately, they are only focused on higher test scores and giving the American student an advantage in the global market. We need to educate all students, not just the top tier.”
“With all due respect, isn’t your boss, the President, in that particular group?” I wonder.
Esme explains. “President Clearwater knows we need to step back and let the people closest to the issues take over. He is always supportive of local school boards and teachers, and he knows they need to be given the ability to make the decisions of what is best for their communities. As a country, per pupil spending is some the highest in the world, but our test scores and graduation rates don’t reflect the added financial support. Throwing more money at the problem doesn’t hurt, but we need to use it wisely.”
I nod my understanding. “What about the lottery? Weren’t those funds supposed to be earmarked for education?”
Esme glances down at her notes. “There is a good deal of misinformation out there in regard to the lottery and education funds. If a state-funded lottery gave everything to education, there would still be a shortage. In the President’s home state of Washington, with a state budget of $38 billion, the K-12 budget is $7.8 billion, but the lottery allocates $131 million to education. Unfortunately, there’s quite the shortfall, and most of that lottery money goes toward college grants, which means K-12 schools barely see any of it. So, while lottery money helps, state legislatures are the ones that allocate funds from taxes for most of our public schools.”
“Madam Secretary, we are almost out of time. Please have the final word.”
“Edward, I want Americans to know they are not alone in the fight to keep our nation’s students safe. The President is looking into more funding, so our schools are a safe place for students to learn and grow. Parents, educators, and administrators have our complete support. They should contact their local state representatives and school boards about the issues which matter most. Lawmakers need to hear their voices because they can’t make the best decisions without local input. We will continue to find ways to update and improve our current system, but we can’t do it alone.”
“Thank you for being with us this morning, Secretary Platt. It’s always a pleasure.”
“Thank you, Edward.”
“Up next, our round table discussion. Our subjects this week: our children, gun control, and education.”
“Cue the music. Mics are cold.” Jasper counts us down. “Three, two, one, and we’re clear. Two minutes for commercial. Round table panel, please take your places,” he instructs.
I shake Esme’s hand while an intern helps to remove her microphone. “Thank you so much for coming in to do the show this early on a Sunday morning.”
“It’s no trouble at all, Edward. Have a wonderful rest of your day, and tell your mother ‘hello’ for me.”
“Absolutely. If you get a chance, I’m sure she would love to hear from you personally. Please, give my best to the President.”
Her eyes light up. “Will do.”
I watch as she departs the studio, and my three guests take their places at the desk.
Lauren steps up next to me and blots powder with a puff across my forehead.
“Am I sweating?” I wonder.
“You’re getting a glow under these lights,” she chuckles.
“I thought a healthy glow is supposed to be good.” I wiggle my eyebrows suggestively.
“Why is everything always about sex with you?” She moves to the corners of my nose, upper lip, and chin. “Haven’t you ever heard of the phrase, ‘never let them see you sweat’?”
“Okay, you win this round.” I give Lauren a wink as she scurries off the set.
A quick glance at my guests finds Tanya smirking at me, while Reverend Newton is trying to chat with Bella. I catch something about him saying, “he thought she was still in high school,” and another comment about “how he remembers her having those awkward teen years.” Apparently he knew her when she was younger? It makes sense as her mom and stepfather also live in Florida. They were probably contributors to his campaign for governor.
Bella’s wearing a polite smile; however, she looks like she would love to be anywhere but here. Or maybe that’s her “I would like to wring his neck” face? Let’s hope it’s Newton’s and not mine.
Oh, dear. I could be in deep shit.
“Good morning, everyone.” I try and extend an olive branch before Jasper takes over again.
“Hello, Edward.” Tanya leans in to kiss my cheek, but I manage to dodge her puckered, advancing lips.
“Tanya. We don’t want to upset Lauren again. There’s no time for her to remove lipstick from my face or clothing.”
She laughs and lets her hand rest on my arm giving it a squeeze. “Now, Edward. That only happened once. Surely she has forgiven me by now.”
“I always try to stay on Lauren’s good side.”
“Well, maybe later then.” She slides into her chair next to mine and blows me a kiss. “How do you like my new suit? I bought it especially for you and your show today.”
She tugs on the sleeves and adjusts the lapel of the gray jacket then fluffs her long blonde hair.
The suit fits her like a glove, leaving little to the imagination. “It looks custom.” I offer an easy, non-encouraging compliment.
She moves over closer to my chair. “It is. I had it tailored on my last trip to New York. We should pick a weekend and go sometime. I know this great little place in the Village you would absolutely love.”
“Won’t your husband have an issue with a trip like that?” I raise an eyebrow at her.
“Oh, Edward. He does him, and I do me. Sometimes we do each other,” she chuckles. “We have one of those “Don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of marriages. He doesn’t ask, and I don’t tell.”
My eyes shift to my other two seated guests, who I’m positive have heard our entire exchange. Reverend Newton is too obvious as he gives Tanya’s new suit a thorough once-over, and if I’m reading her correctly, Bella’s mask of indifference is anything but indifferent. I watch as her fingers fidget with a few papers on the desk in front of her, and she takes a series of deep breaths.
Reverend Newton gives Tanya a smarmy grin while his eyes twinkle with delight. “You’re a feisty one.”
“Okay, Edward. We are coming out of commercial. On you, in three, two, one—” Jasper points, and on cue, the red light of camera one illuminates again.
“Welcome back to This Week. Joining me in the studio this morning, for our round table discussion, is Washington insider and founder of Together We Stand, Tanya Denali.”
“Good morning, Edward. Thank you for having me. Again.” Tanya squeezes my thigh, and I jump at the unexpected contact.
After pushing her hand off my leg, I clear my throat and move along with the introductions.
“Also joining our discussion this morning is Former Governor of Florida, Reverend Michael Newton.”
He gives me a quick nod. “Thanks, Edward. I’m glad to be here.”
“Finally, rounding out our discussion panel, reporter for the Washington Post, Isabella Swan. Welcome.”
“Thank you for inviting me.” Bella is polite, keeping her professional veneer intact.
“In light of my discussion with Secretary Platt earlier, what is really going on with the American public school system, Tanya?”
I feel her shoeless foot come in contact with the opening of my pants leg, and I move out of reach before she gets any farther.
She leans in closer as if we are having a private discussion over dinner. “Edward, despite what Secretary Platt would like to believe, it’s in trouble. A simple call to your congressman or woman isn’t going to fix it. The system needs extensive updating in terms of technology and resources in every school. The money isn’t there, no matter where we search in the budget, and we need to be open to new ways of doing things. Business as usual isn’t going to cut it this time. Our students deserve the best, and if the money comes from private donations, then so be it.”
“What is the cost then when you allow big business to be directly involved in the classroom?” I prompt my panel, hoping someone else will jump into the discussion.
“Edward, I can answer that.” Looking over at Bella, I know I should be more encouraging, but I don’t want to play favorites, or everyone will see right through me.
“Yes, Isabella?” I glance back down at my questions and work hard to keep my face neutral, but internally, I’m beaming with pride she’s here.
“I believe the easy answer is that parents and educators lose their voice. To expand, big business has a way of taking over. A perfect example is charter schools and the privatization of education. In a large-scale study completed several years ago at Stanford University, they looked across 25 states and found only 17 percent of charter schools provided a better education than traditional public schools, while 37 percent offered children a poorer education. When special interest groups invest in public education, their money comes with a great bias. School reformers are only interested in the contracts and profits for putting their products in our schools, whether they are needed or not. The education sector now represents nearly nine percent of our country’s domestic product, with for-profit education valued at $1.3 trillion, making it one of the largest American investment markets.”
Reverend Newton clears his throat. “What Miss Swan is trying to say is correct.”
Trying? Bella isn’t just trying. She nailed the answer. A quick glance over at Bella confirms she feels the same way. I hear her let out a slow, deep breath while minutely shaking her head. My viewers won’t notice it, but I can feel her frustration with the Reverend is growing.
“How so?” I invite him into the discussion with an encouraging nod.
The Reverend’s chest puffs out as he begins putting forth his expert opinion. “We can’t run our public school system like we do a business. There are many types of business models. For example, you run a computer company differently than you run a restaurant. True success in the business world is measured by money, and some businesses don’t make it. They fail, which isn’t an option for our children. Democracy and justice are the core values of our public school system, not profit, expansion, and market share.”
Tanya jumps back in the conversation to steer it in her direction. I swear she pushes her chest out to grab my attention while she makes her point. “Edward, without additional funding from the private sector, we will continue to use outdated teaching methods, coupled with antiquated textbooks and other classroom materials. America used to be the leader in education, and now we are playing catch-up to the rest of the world. The divide will only become greater if we choose not to move in a new direction. We need to take advantage of our resources in an effort to make up the inadequacies.”
Tanya finishes her statement with a wink, and I mentally review her words. Take advantage of resources? Make up for inadequacies? I don’t think she’s still talking about education. It’s time to move on with this discussion and change the subject.
“Funding and its origin for our public school system is a major hurdle for our nation, but what about gun control and our children’s safety?”
Anyone but Tanya. Please.
Reverend Newton speaks up first. “We have to make our schools into hard targets, and right now, they are too easy. I think Secretary Platt’s idea for recruiting from our veterans as teachers is an excellent idea. They are already trained in combat and would be willing to put their lives on the line if necessary.”
“I can’t believe you are recommending turning our schools into a war zone,” Bella huffs.
“Miss Swan, you clearly don’t understand the situation at hand. Our children are in crisis, and we need to use whatever means we have at our disposal to keep them safe. Let me guess. You don’t have any children, do you?” Reverend Newton raises an eyebrow in her direction.
What an idiot. I can’t believe he would attack any woman for her opinion based on whether she has children or not. Hopefully, Bella won’t let him off the hook. I recline in my chair and hope she takes control.
“Whether I have children or not isn’t the issue. I believe most Americans can still have an opinion on the subject, regardless. Arming our teachers is a mistake, as is putting a gun in a classroom. How long until it falls into the hands of a student? Furthermore, our teachers would much rather take a bullet to protect our children before they would ever consider putting a bullet in one attacking them. They aren’t wired that way. There are so many issues here, and most of them end up pointing toward a child in crisis who needed someone to intervene on their behalf, long before the situation escalated to a point where they felt violence was the only answer. Mental illness is a serious issue, Reverend. Hopefully, your next campaign platform will include reforms. However, it isn’t just a mental illness issue. Around the world, women continue to be at a disadvantage, yet they don’t consider murder as an option to solve their problems. Most suffer at the hands of their fathers, uncles, brothers, and husbands. It isn’t in their nature to take up arms against others when they feel they’ve been wronged, unless there is no other choice.”
Reverend Newton chuckles. “Despite being a woman, Miss Swan makes some valid points.” His tone is condescending, but Bella misses the part when he rolls his eyes.
I can tell immediately he misreads my expression as one of agreement. I’m sorry, Reverend. We aren’t good ol’ boys standing on a golf course at the thirteenth hole making jokes about women, which I’m sure is a normal occurrence for him. I don’t subscribe to sexism in any form.
Hopefully, Bella realizes this as well, but I swear, if she was a cartoon character, I would see steam shooting from her ears at this point. Even Tanya seems a bit put off by the Reverend and continues to make Bella’s point in her own way. “Edward, women, like everyone in America, have the right to bear arms. As citizens of this country, the Second Amendment grants us this freedom. While some would like to take guns away, it isn’t going to happen—which is the true reality.” She eyes Bella. “Some idealists need to learn to accept those facts.”
I check back over my notes. “Tanya, doesn’t your organization receive funding from the National Rifle Association?”
While clearly happy to have my attention again, she is a bit ruffled by my question. Not to worry, Tanya is a pro at deflection. I can’t help the small smile on my face. This should be good.
Her eyes never leave mine as she defends her foundation. “Together We Stand receives funding from many resources, domestic and abroad. We represent a wide range of interest groups and do our best to advocate for the voices of this great nation and the world. Industries like defense, finance, and healthcare spend considerably more in comparison. The issue isn’t the contributions of the NRA or other gun rights groups, but the fact that the competition, gun control supporters, contributes so much less. The number is nearly forty to one.”
Tanya raises her eyebrow waiting for me to challenge her comments. I know she loves a great debate, which is one of the reasons why she’s a frequent guest. Not to mention our male demographic loves her, or maybe it’s just the sight of her. However, before I can reply, Bella clears her throat, getting my attention, and jumps back into the discussion. I hear Tanya let out a heavy sigh next to me.
“Edward, most lawmakers on Capitol Hill received campaign funds from the NRA, specifically Republicans like Reverend Newton. When those contributions can be as high as one million dollars, it is easy to understand their motivations for shutting down gun control laws.”
My focus shifts back to unveiling some of the Reverend’s funding secrets.
“How about that, Reverend? Are you in bed with the NRA too?” I prompt him for an answer that I’m sure he doesn’t wish to reveal. Let the backpedalling begin.
“The push and pull is on both sides. If Miss Swan thinks the NRA owns Republicans, then we need to take note Planned Parenthood owns the Democrats. The contributions from both groups are almost identical. The double standard is clear here. When Democrats support a special interest group who aborts millions of children a year, they are doing so from a place of conscience and ideological purity. However, when Republicans defend our Second Amendment rights, they have somehow been bought and paid for by a dissatisfied special interest group who only wants to profit off the carnage.”
I can’t believe he’s trying to deflect by playing the Planned Parenthood card. However, just like I thought, he won’t admit to taking funds from the NRA.
Bella continues to take the Reverend to task. “A recent poll of Americans conducted by the Post found fifty-seven percent believe the main issues surrounding mass shootings are directly related to identifying and treating mental health issues, while only twenty-eight percent blamed inadequate gun control laws. You would be a fool not to believe this nation’s citizens really understand the issues at hand.”
I try to conceal my interest by shuffling my papers around; however, I’m hanging on her every word. Tanya writes the word “soapbox” on one of the papers in front of her then smiles at me when our eyes meet. She rolls her eyes, but I’m sure she’s jealous someone else is getting her camera time. I know she prefers to be the only woman on the panel.
Bella is not to be deterred and still on a roll. “However, I want to address the Reverend’s point about donations from the NRA not being anymore significant than those from Planned Parenthood. While that statement may be true, the part of the picture your viewers are missing is the amount of money spent outside of direct campaign contributions, which totals around fourteen million dollars. Gun lobby groups spend ten times that amount, in excess of one hundred forty-four million dollars, supporting candidates through advertising on television and the internet, in an effort to convince voters to reject anyone who supports gun reform.”
The Reverend narrows his focus on me then gets a sneaky grin. “I’m not sure I understand why Miss Swan is on this panel. Her presence is not that of objective reporter but simply a mouthpiece of the White House’s political agenda.”
I try and keep my facial expression neutral as I figure out a way to defend Bella’s presence without falling down a rabbit hole and revealing our relationship or my own bias, but she beats me to it.
“As an American citizen who secured the right to vote, thanks to the 19th Amendment, I have just as much right to sit here and debate you as anyone else would. The fact that you rely on personal attacks instead of facts and figures to argue your position, Reverend, reveals the shaky ground on which you stand. Good luck in your next campaign. You’re going to need it.”
Jasper cues me to wrap up, and I feel immediate relief we have finally made it to the end of the show.
“I’m going to stop us there as we are out of time for today. Thank you to all of my guests, including Secretary Platt, and to you watching us at home. Until next week, I’m Edward Masen.” I give our viewers a final crooked grin.
“Cue the music,” Jasper instructs, and we hear the show music begin. “Mics are cold. Hold your places—we still have video rolling.”
“Edward, did you want to grab a coffee together?” Tanya winks then slides her hand over my knee under the table. “We could do breakfast or whatever. I’m free for the rest of the day, and we could unwind together. If you know what I mean.”
“Uh—“ I look over at Bella and find her lips pursed as her eyes look around the studio at anything except Tanya or me. I’m positive she’s heard Tanya’s invitation, and I can only imagine what she’s thinking.
It isn’t Tanya’s first invite, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Unfortunately, my reputation as a player proceeds me, and part of that is Shelly’s doing. She makes sure I receive invitations and attend only the most advantageous Washington parties. I understand it’s her job, but the constant networking and photos can be challenging at the best of times. There’s constant scrutiny and speculation about my personal life, but I try to just roll with the flow, and let people think what they will.
I notice the Reverend scoot over to speak with Bella. “I hope I didn’t make a pretty girl like you cry, Isabella. I’m sure you’ll make some guy really happy one day.”
When the music ends and Jasper declares the show is over, and we’re clear, I watch Bella stand and remove her microphone. She hands it to the intern and storms past me.
I remove Tanya’s hand from my knee. “Not today.”
“Someday, Edward. I know you can’t resist my charms forever.” She leans in and plants a kiss on my cheek before I can get away.
“Tanya.” I reach up and rub my cheek to find red lipstick on my fingertips. “Do we have some tissues?”
The intern from earlier materializes out of thin air holding a box out for me. I grab a few and start wiping away on my cheek. “Did I get it all?”
She searches my face. “For the most part.”
“I need it all off. Can you help me? What’s your name?” Without a mirror nearby, there’s no chance I’m going to catch up to Bella without Tanya’s lipstick still on me.
“Heidi, and sure. Can you bend down a little? You’re so tall. And handsome.” She giggles and goes to work on my cheek. “There. All better. Definitely not your color.”
She lights up. “If you need anything else, just ask. I can be extremely helpful.”
I know I need to follow after Bella, but I don’t want to make a scene. So, I continue making my way to the studio door giving my congratulations to everyone. Once in the hallway, I notice Jasper trying to catch up with me.
“Hey, is something wrong with Miss Swan? She left the studio so abruptly. The guys in the booth thought she was great. Maybe she can be a regular guest.” Jasper matches me stride for stride.
“Let’s not discuss this now, Jasper.” I shrug him off, and he turns back toward the studio.
I make my way through the maze of hallways and cubicles until I locate the green room, where our guests get ready for the show, only to find Bella grabbing makeup containers from the illuminated, mirrored countertop and throwing them in her bag. I close the door and lock it, hoping no one will interrupt.
“I can’t do this anymore, Edward,” she fumes.
“I’m sorry. I’ll never ask you to be on the show again. I needed a favor. Just this once.”
She turns around and looks at me like I’ve completely missed the point. Maybe I have.
“The show? You think I’m upset about the show? The show is just the final straw that broke this camel’s back. I saw you eyeballing that intern on the monitor before I ever set foot in the studio, and how about the flirting with the Hair and Makeup woman when I was sitting directly across from you? And Tanya with the innuendos? Whatever is going on between the two of you, I want no part in it. You’re no different from Newton and his good ol’ boys network who subtly demean women by reducing their worth on your show to their appearance only. Women fight this battle for credibility everyday in the world, and I never would have guessed you would perpetuate the problem. I’m done.”
“What do you mean you’re done?”
“Um, let’s see. I’m finished. I’m through. Or here’s a better one. This—” she points between the two of us, “—is over. I can’t do this secret relationship, or the lies that accompany it, any longer. Whether they are lies by omission, little white lies, or lies of deception, they are eating my sanity alive, one bite at a time.”
“Bella, please, you don’t mean that,” I beg.
“Oh, trust me, I do. I’m so sick of living in everyone’s shadow. What about my career? Well, for once, I’m going to be selfish and do something for me. I didn’t tell you, but a week ago, I was offered a position in our Berlin office.”
I fall back into one of the makeup chairs, feeling as though the wind is completely knocked out of me.
Her eyes continue to scan for her things. “Emmett has been after me for an answer, and I really didn’t know what to say. But I think it’s crystal clear for me now. I’m taking the position. I’m pretty sure you can understand my desire to put myself first. You’re quite the pro at that yourself.”
I look up at her, wondering how all of this went so wrong. “Bella.” I go to reach for her hand, but she pulls it away from my grasp.
She shakes her head. “I need to prove it to myself and everyone else that I’ve got what it takes without my father pulling strings or my connections to the President and his family.” Her eyes fill with tears. “Or that I would sleep with a talk show host in order to secure a guest spot on his Sunday morning show to further my career. I want to be taken seriously, Edward. I deserve that. I deserve better.”
We are sleeping together. Shit.
Anger surges through my veins. “Did Newton say that? Or Tanya?”
“We both deserve better. This isn’t a relationship. This is us, doing whatever this is—a few late nights here and there when we can find the time. We aren’t roommates. I don’t even have a drawer at your place. I move around D.C. with a bag of essentials, just in case you decide to throw a breadcrumb in my direction. I have no claim on you. As far as everyone knows, we are only acquaintances, business ones at that. And it hurts more than you can ever understand. I don’t know why I ever thought I could keep our relationship a secret. It’s killing me.” She loudly zips up her bag with a flourish.
“Bella, why didn’t you tell me before now? How can you think you have no claim on me?” I try to follow her reasoning.
“Oh, I don’t know. Just ask every woman, married or single, in a fifty-mile radius, probably even farther—if they think they have a chance with you. You certainly don’t act unavailable. I get it now. I understand why I shouldn’t be here witnessing you flirt with anyone with boobs or a skirt. And before you say it, it’s not just me being jealous. It is absolutely heartbreaking to watch, and I can’t do it anymore. I thought it was more about your career, but the truth is, it never was. You like your image and have no plans to change it.”
Her eyes are filled with defeat as she looks sadly into mine. “Goodbye, Edward. Good luck with chasing your dreams. It’s time for me to have a shot at mine.”
I’m stunned in disbelief as Bella throws the strap of her bag over her shoulder, opens the door, and walks out of the room and my life. She leaves our past year together behind her and never looks back.
I hear the bar stool next to me scrape against the floor as a new customer takes a seat.
My eyes are blurry, and I’m numb from the whiskey. I look over to see Jasper next to me.
“What can I get you?” The bartender waits for his order and sets a napkin at his spot.
“Sam Adams,” Jasper tells him and looks over in my direction.
A fresh beer is placed in front of him, and I can feel his eyes on me. I stare blankly ahead waiting for what I know is coming.
“So, you and Miss Swan, huh?”
I sigh in defeat. “How did you know?”
“She’s the only one you didn’t flirt with in the studio this morning.”
I shake my head. “I’m an idiot.”
“Wow, it must be serious,” he concludes and sips his beer.
I shrug. “I thought it was. I had plans, and now I have none.”
We sit in comfortable silence nursing our drinks.
“Where is she headed?”
Jasper nods. “She’s in a tough position. It makes sense.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
“What can I do?”
“Did you try and stop her?”
“Well, no. Wouldn’t that be me putting my career before hers?”
“Did you ever tell her how you feel?”
I shake my head.
“So, she thinks she is just what? A casual hook-up? Man, Masen. You are an idiot. Isabella Swan isn’t the kind of woman you let slip through your fingers.”
“I have no idea what to do. She doesn’t want whatever we had.”
“And what was that?”
Realization at how badly I’ve messed up our relationship from the beginning starts to set in, and I’m utterly lost as to my next steps.
“It was all a secret. No one knew.” I throw back the remaining contents of my glass and wave the bartender over for another. “I thought it was what she wanted. I agreed with her it would be best.”
“Well, somewhere along the way, something changed.”
My head is moving up and down, and my lips can’t contain the truth. “I think I fell in love.”
Jasper gives me a sad glance. “Sounds like she did too.”
“What should I do? Wait for her to come around and realize breaking up was all a mistake?”
“I think if you want a real relationship with real possibilities, you better start at the beginning. No secrets or lies this time, and I think you know where you should start.”
Even in my whiskey haze, I know what he’s saying. It’s time for me to do something I should have done a long time ago.
It’s been months since I’ve heard from Bella. I leave voicemails, send text messages and emails, but all I continue to get is radio silence.
I scour the Post daily with the hope I will find her words and have some insight about her life now.
I’m desperate for any type of contact, which is why I find myself waiting on an uncomfortable plastic chair for over an hour in the J. Edgar Hoover building.
I watch as the receptionist ends her call. She finally looks up at what I’m sure is my hopeful expression. “He has a minute for you. Right through those doors and all the way to the end on your left. I’ll buzz you in, then you should be able to locate his office.”
“Thank you.” I move to stand in front of the double doors and hear the buzz of the lock disengaging. I give her a glance and proceed through following her directions.
The blood is pounding in my ears with every step I take. My mouth goes dry when I locate the correct door and raise my hand to knock.
A few quick raps and I hear a deep voice beyond the door. “Come in.”
I turn the knob and step into Deputy Director Charles Swan’s office.
His eyes glance my way briefly as he continues with the paperwork spread out on the desk before him. I’m unsure whether to sit or stand, and he must sense my hesitation.
With his glasses perched on his nose, he addresses me without looking up. “Have a seat.”
Moving to one of the two chairs in front of his desk, I’m really unsure where to begin, but know I need to start somewhere.
I clear my throat hoping to find some courage, but he beats me to the punch. Like father, like daughter.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Masen?” The gruffness of his tone is unsettling. If his goal is keep me at complete unease, then he is doing a fine job.
“I want to speak with you about your daughter, Isabella. Well, Bella.” My hands start to sweat and fingers fidget.
“I’ve been in a relationship with her for the past year.”
He pauses his work to look me over narrowing his eyes.
I can tell by the look on his face as he leans back in his chair, this isn’t new information.
I take a deep breath and continue. “And, recently, it came to an end. A few months ago actually.”
His moustache twitches as he shifts in his chair causing it to creak and studies me carefully.
“I didn’t want it to end. I want to ask Bella to be my wife. I thought that was the direction we were headed. So, when she decided we were through, I was shocked. I still am.”
There’s a long awkward silence between us.
“Mr. Masen, I’m not sure how I can be of assistance. Apparently, my daughter let her wishes be known, and I think you should respect them.”
I groan in frustration. “I did this all wrong. I never should have agreed to keep our relationship a secret. I just don’t know how to make things right again. And now she’s in Berlin, and she refuses to reply anytime I try and make contact. Have you heard from her?”
Charlie clears his throat. “It sounds like you’ve got quite the task ahead of you then. Is there anything else?”
“Anything else?” I’m sure my mouth is gaping like a fish. “Yes, did you see the show? My show. The one she was on?”
Charlie sighs and tosses his glasses on his desktop. “Mr. Masen, I’m not a fan of Sunday morning television. I really don’t have time for your nonsense. You clearly have issues with rejection. Perhaps you should see someone for treatment, or will I need to pursue a restraining order on my daughter’s behalf?”
“A restraining order?” This conversation is heading into areas I never imagined. When Charlie doesn’t blink, I realize I have made a huge mistake by coming here today, and I know it is in my best interest to cut my losses and leave. “No, a restraining order won’t be necessary.”
“Good.” Charlie puts his glasses back on, continues with his paperwork, and ignores my presence.
“Thank you for your time.” I say, barely above a whisper, and leave his office.
With my tail between my legs, I sit on a bench outside the building and try to figure out my next move.
“He will be right with you. Go ahead and have a seat. Can I get you anything? Coffee or a bottle of water?” The blonde looks me over from head to toe and winks.
“No, thanks.” I walk into the office and take one of the offered seats.
It isn’t long before I hear a huge, booming laugh coming down the hallway. When I look up, I see Emmett McCarty grinning from ear to ear in the doorway of his office.
“Edward Masen! Now, why on earth would a television star be waiting in my office?”
Emmett walks around and sets a stack of files onto his already cluttered desk, then sits heavily on a chair that has seen better days. “Is this visit business or pleasure?” He looks over my rumpled, unkempt appearance.
“Uh…” I should have planned this meeting a little better, but I feel completely resigned and defeated.
Emmett nods his head. “It looks like you could use a friend. Let’s go grab a drink.”
We navigate the hallways and offices of the Post and take an elevator down to the main level. He leads me to a pub only a short distance away.
“Emmett!” The bartender calls out as we walk through the doors into a dark, cavernous bar, littered with only a handful of patrons this early in the evening.
“Liam! How are you?” They reach toward one another and shake hands.
“I’m on the right side of the dirt.” He laughs and points to two spots at the bar. “What can I get ya?”
We take our seats, and Emmett looks me over then turns back to Liam. “Give us a couple of fingers of whiskey. We may just try to drown the devil.”
I look at him in confusion as Liam places two glasses filled with whiskey in front of us.
Emmett pats me on the back. “From the look on your face, you don’t know that song by Jack White and Elton John, 2 Fingers of Whiskey,” he chuckles.
“It doesn’t matter.” Emmett picks up his glass and waits for me to do the same. “What are we drinking to tonight?”
I shrug my indifference.
Emmett laughs. “To women it is!” He clinks my glass with his and takes a sizeable sip.
I watch him set his glass back on the bar and wonder how he knows.
“Let me guess.” He waves his hand toward my appearance. “This is about the fair Miss Swan.”
The look on my face must give everything away because he yells back to Liam. “You better bring the bottle, Liam, and leave it.”
I take a tentative sip from my glass, knowing whiskey is now a bit of a slippery slope for me.
The warm burn down my throat and in my chest feels good. At least I feel something this way.
I turn to Emmett. “How did you know?”
“Edward, I’m a reporter at heart. I have great instincts. Plus, it doesn’t ever hurt to have a little inside information.”
“She told you?” I’m shocked Bella would say a word to anyone.
“No. Not in words. But when she finished your show, I had an immediate answer about the Berlin job. Now, I have pretty good powers of reasoning and deduction. I doubt anything the Reverend or Tanya Denali could say would prompt a decision, but what if there was someone else?” His eyebrows shoot up toward his hairline.
My shoulders slump in defeat. “You saw the show?”
Emmett nods. “She texted me, letting me know she would be on the guest panel. So, I couldn’t help but see how the other half lives.” He sharply elbows my side.
I cringe at the new pain in my ribs, as if the broken heart in my chest wasn’t enough to endure.
“Was it that bad?” I’m not sure I can bear any more criticism at this point, but maybe enough whiskey will help me to no longer care.
“No. It was a great show, and I’m proud of her. She held her own.” He finishes his glass and pours another finger.
I shake my head. “When Newton started personally attacking her, I was going to jump in and shut him down.”
He holds his hand up stopping me. “But, you didn’t. I get it—you play devil’s advocate. You need the fireworks for ratings. It’s part of the show. Don’t worry. Bella’s tenacious and a master at debate. Let me ask you something else. How long?”
I tightly close my eyes and sigh heavily. “Almost a year.”
“Wow, you two are good. I had no idea, and I talk with her every day.”
“Still?” I perk up as I may have finally found an in with Bella.
“Not since the move, but at least once a week.”
I watch my finger circle the rim of my glass. I want information, but I’m not sure if I can handle the truth. “Is she doing okay?”
Emmett sips his whiskey and looks straight ahead, watching my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. “Bella’s happy doing what she loves. Does it get any better than that?”
My eyes meet his reflected ones. “No, it doesn’t.” I throw back the remaining whiskey in my glass and grab the bottle for a refill, knowing it’s going to be another long, lonely night. I reach over and clink my glass with Emmett’s. “To the end of secrets and lies.”
He shakes his head. “You better slow down, or you will need to move to Nashville because you’re turning into a sad country music song. Let’s try this another way. I know you’re not into swimming, since you’re sitting here drowning your sorrows, but what about running?”
“I’m not running away from anything. She’s the one who left.” I remind him.
“No, I mean morning run or jog. I could use a new running buddy, and drinking whiskey isn’t a sport.”
“You underestimate my ability to make the impossible possible.”
“If you ever want another chance with Bella, you’re going to need to pull it together. Maybe running will help you focus.”
I immediately sober at the mention of her name again. “You think I’ll get another chance with Bella?”
“She will return to the States eventually. Will you be ready when that day comes?”
I set down my glass and mull over his words. “I’ll see you in the morning. Where do you want to meet?”
I’m busy typing out my interview questions for this week’s show, while half-listening to CNN news, when the sound changes to an alert, and a breaking news graphic fills the screen.
“Good evening. We apologize for interrupting our regular programming, but we have breaking news this evening out of Berlin. Two American journalists are being held hostage by an unknown group at this time.”
Did she say Berlin? I grab the television remote and crank up the volume.
“Our sources tell us there is low quality video and a statement being read by one of the journalists, but we are unable to share it with you. We do have a still from the video which shows two women. We will put that up on the screen now.”
“Son of a bitch!” Terror fills me with my immediate recognition. “No, no, no!” I can’t believe what I’m seeing or hearing.
“The first is believed to be a photojournalist, Rosalie Hale, from New York. The second woman appears to be Isabella Swan, a reporter for the Washington Post. Some of our viewers might know Miss Swan as she is the daughter of FBI Deputy Director, Charles Swan. I’m told, in the video, Miss Swan is indeed the one reading a statement.”
I grab my phone and dial Emmett immediately. He doesn’t pick up, and I’m forwarded to his voicemail.
After the beep, I leave a message. “Emmett! Have you seen the news? Fuck! Call me!” I end the call and return to listening to the broadcast, trying to gain any information possible.
“Also seen in the still are armed guards. Their identities are carefully concealed, but hopefully we will know more about whoever they are soon. Hold on. I’m told we are being joined now by our correspondent at the White House, Pamela Brown. Pamela?”
“Come on, Pamela. Tell me she’s okay and coming home.” I beg, while glued to the coverage.
“Good evening, we know very little about the current status of American journalists, Rosalie Hale and Isabella Swan, or who is holding them. However, we have been told when the situation is under control, we will most likely hear from Jacob Black, the President’s Press Secretary.”
“Pamela, do you have any idea of the content of the statement which we are told Miss Swan is reading?”
“Unfortunately, no. We did see Deputy Director Swan arrive at the White House moments ago, but understandably, he isn’t making any comments. We are positive negotiations are taking place for the women’s safe release.”
My phone starts vibrating, and I answer it immediately, seeing it’s Emmett. “What in the ever loving fuck, Emmett?”
“Calm down.” He tries to be the voice of reason, but I’m quickly coming unhinged.
“You expect me to calm down when she’s being held at gunpoint by some crazy terrorists? Fuck! This is my fault. Do you know what they do to Americans? Let alone journalists. Or even worse, women!”
“It isn’t your fault. Stop that train of thought right now. Charlie is doing everything possible on this end. We just have to wait.”
“Emmett, I’ve been waiting. I’m sick of waiting. I don’t think I can wait another minute.” I collapse on my sofa and stare up at the ceiling.
“You can, and you will.” His voice is unwavering.
He’s right, and I do. Minutes turn to hours. Hours turn into days. Days turn into weeks until we finally gain insight into the situation.
My phone rings, and I answer it immediately. Emmett texted me earlier saying there’s news, but I needed to be at a computer for this conversation. “Tell me.”
“Hello to you, too.”
I’m too impatient to exchange pleasantries. “Come on, Emmett. What do you know?”
“The others in the photo. They aren’t terrorists, but guards.”
“What?” I stare off in disbelief.
“They are armed guards keeping them safe while negotiating their needs.”
“Guards? I’m not sure how I’m supposed to believe that when they refuse to let them leave. Have we figured out where?”
“Yes, we’ve located them, but my current understanding is they won’t be released for a couple more weeks.”
“Okay, I’ve got it. Is that it?” I hope there’s more.
“No. I’m going to send you an email with some attachments. You are not to share these with anyone. They are exclusive copyright to the Post. Understand?”
I’ve been nodding my head the entire time. I’ll agree to anything at this point. “Yes, Emmett. Yes!”
I stare at my inbox until Emmett’s email finally appears, and I click to open it.
“Call me if you need to talk,” he says and ends our call.
I set my phone down next to me as my eyes rake over every breathtaking image of human suffering imaginable. No, not just human, female suffering. There’s picture after picture of women, including mothers of every age, with children hanging on to them for dear life. Children who I’m certain are orphans. The pain, sadness, and despair are reflected in their eyes and faces. I’m positive these are the work of photojournalist, Rosalie Hale.
I scan through all of the photos and finally open the document file.
“A Home for All, by Isabella Swan, Reporter, Washington Post-Berlin, Germany…”
I gasp in relief as my eyes fill with tears, and I rapidly glance through pages and pages of her words. I scroll back to the top and start reading, knowing I should slow down and savor her words, but I need answers.
After the first page, I let out the breath I’ve been holding when I learn she’s in a refugee camp, witnessing the horrors the women there are experiencing. Sexual violence is the largest problem in the camps for women, and I pray no one has laid a hand on Bella. The personal accounts, which she describes so eloquently, leave me heartbroken and angry that these crimes are taking place under all of our noses with no relief or end in sight.
It’s been over eight months since Emmett emailed me Bella’s words and experiences. I’ve read the entire four-part series so many times, I think I could recite it by heart. While I haven’t seen or spoken with her in almost a year, I wouldn’t miss her arrival back to the United States or this ceremony for anything in the world.
I wasn’t exactly invited, but I’m hoping my presence isn’t entirely unwelcome. Emmett asked if I would like to tag along, and I had my plane ticket booked before he could finish the question.
We are in the Low Library Rotunda at Columbia University, in New York City, on a drizzly afternoon, awaiting the luncheon and the announcement of this year’s Pulitzer Prize winners. The room is a virtual who’s who in journalism, and I’m honored to be recognized by so many in attendance.
I’m wearing her favorite dark gray suit and white dress shirt, paired with the blue tie she gave me as a birthday gift. I would like to call it my lucky suit, but I suppose the next few hours will tell me how lucky it turns out to be.
My nerves are on high alert as I look over the room of attendees. I’ve been successfully dodging one person in particular, Charlie Swan, as he makes his rounds.
“She’s here.” Emmett pauses next to me then nods toward the entrance.
I know he’s blathering on and on about people and which table we are sitting at for the luncheon, but none of it registers as I watch her make her way into the room.
Bella is more beautiful than I remember. Her long, dark hair is pulled back in a ponytail and the blue lace dress she’s wearing show off mile-long legs in high heels. She looks well-rested and glowing as she greets her fellow nominees.
“Do you think she will come this way?” I wonder.
Emmett chuckles. “Yes, she’s sitting with us at the Post table, with Charlie.”
I pull my eyes away from Bella for a moment and check to see Emmett nodding. “You need to bury the hatchet with him.”
“Easier said than done.”
“What are you doing here?” The gruffness of his tone never wavers.
Speak of the devil, and he will appear. “Hello, Deputy Director Swan.” I put out my hand, hoping for a handshake, and give him the crooked grin, which is usually foolproof, but he just narrows his eyes.
“He’s my date,” Emmett explains, just as Bella arrives behind her father, looking shocked to see me.
Her now angry eyes move over to Emmett. “What do you mean, ‘your date’?”
“Hello, Bella. I’m so glad to see you safe and back on American soil. Congratulations.” He moves around Charlie, who still hasn’t taken his eyes off me, and sweeps her into a hug.
A wave of jealousy rushes through me at how easy his interaction is with her.
She melts in his embrace then pulls away. “Oh, Emmett. I missed you so much. I want you to meet someone.” She steps back and turns to a gorgeous blonde standing behind her. “Emmett McCarty, I would like to introduce you to Rosalie Hale. My favorite partner in crime.”
Emmett stumbles over his greeting but manages to get out a few words. “Congratulations on your nomination as well, Miss Hale.”
“Thank you. Emmett, maybe you could show me to our table?”
“Sure. Sure. I can do that,” He holds out his elbow for her to take, then they weave through the room, leaving us with Charlie.
Bella clears her throat. “Dad, why don’t you go ahead? I’ll be right there.”
“Are you sure?” He looks me up and down.
“Yes. I won’t be long.”
My mind is a scrambled mess, and I’m not sure what to say first.
“Edward,” she starts.
“I love you,” I rush out.
“What did you say?” Her brow furrows in confusion.
I reach over and hold her hand in mine. “Bella, I love you.”
She lets out something between a snort and a laugh. “That’s what I thought you said.”
“There’s so many things I want and need to say to you, but that is the most important one.”
“Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.”
“Bella, I’m sorry for… for everything. This probably isn’t the right venue to have this conversation, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to tell you. I’ll go, if my presence here is making you uncomfortable. It’s your day, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to tell you how proud I am of you and your accomplishments. I read every word, and you are absolutely deserving of this award. Congratulations.” I bend down and kiss her cheek, then pull away to check her reaction.
“You read every word?” She looks up into my eyes, where I hope she will see nothing but the most sincere truth.
“I don’t want to come off like a creepy stalker, but I could probably recite it for you if you need proof.”
I think I’ve stunned her speechless, so I continue.
“Bella, I want us to try again. No more secrets or lies. There’s no one else for me. There’s never been anyone else but you. I was just too much of an idiot and let you slip through my fingertips.”
“And you’re Emmett’s date?”
“Technically, yes. But from the looks of it, he has forgotten about me and only has eyes for Miss Hale now.” I look over at our table and see them both smiling then turn back toward Bella. “Don’t be angry with him. When you left, I was devastated, and he was there when I needed a friend. He gave me hope.”
“Yes, that I would get a second chance to do this the right way with you.”
“Edward, it’s been a year. What if I met someone else?”
My smile falters. “Did you?”
“No, but it’s a possibility.”
“Oh, I know. However, I’m not going to miss this opportunity now. Bella, would you like to go out on a date with me?”
“The more public, the better.” I love this idea of finally being with her in the public eye.
“Like a hockey game?”
“If that’s what you want. I’m sure I can find my Blackhawks jersey again.”
“What if we get caught on the Kiss Cam?”
“Then I’ll leave you breathless and everyone else jealous.”
“You know, that wasn’t a date for us. I was on a blind date that went south, and you were wooing possible guests for your show.”
“Then all the more reason for us to have a do-over. Do you still have the Capitals jersey I bought you?”
“Yes, I think it’s in storage. Maybe we should head over to our table?”
I look around the room and notice we are some of the last few still standing.
“You want me to stay?” I need to hear it from her lips, and my eyes search hers, which are twinkling with excitement.
“Yes, Edward, and for the record, I love you too. I never stopped.”
“Oh, Bella,” I gasp in relief and pull her into my arms. “I missed you so much.”
I haven’t let go of her hand since we started talking and have no intention of doing so for the rest of the day and beyond. I give her a quick peck on the lips then lead her over to our table.
When we arrive, I pull out her chair and help her settle into her seat, then I sit in the one next to her. We sit closely, but I’m sure her father, on the other side, can hear me. “Is it too soon to ask you to move in with me?”
Ever since she mentioned her stuff being in storage, I can only focus on getting her to agree that our living together would be a great idea.
Charlie huffs, and Bella giggles. “We’ll see, Edward. Let’s not give my father a stroke tonight. I’ve got an award to claim, and we’ve both waited a long time for this day to come.”
Emmett must hear us because he can no longer hold back his opinion. “Sounds like a lucky suit to me.”
I wrap my arm around Bella and move my seat closer to hers.
She looks up at me with a hesitant expression. “I hate to ask, but what about Tanya?”
“Sweetheart, she’s never been my type. Tanya is a persistent flirt. There’s absolutely nothing between us. Plus, I prefer Pulitzer Prize winners. You look beautiful.” I give her a kiss just as a flash goes off nearby.
A young kid, who could be an intern, holds up a camera toward our table. “How about a picture, Mr. Masen?”
I pull Bella a little closer and squeeze her tightly into my side, making it obvious I’m with her. “As many as you want.”
Don’t forget to check out the photo gallery for this story.
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