It was black when I pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant a few minutes early, ignoring the eager valets by the entrance. I popped in my contacts and then went to wait for J inside the restaurant. Though I was in a hurry to be
done with this depressing necessity and back with my family, J seemed careful to keep himself untainted by his baser associations; i had a feeling a handoff in the dark parking lot would offend his sensibilities.
I gave the name Jenks at the podium, and the obsequious maftre d' led me upstairs to a small private room with a fire crackling in a stone hearth. He took the calf-length ivory trench coat I'd worn to disguise the fact that I was wearing Alice's idea of appropriate attire, and gasped quietly at my oyster satin cocktail dress. I couldn't help being a little flattered; I still wasn't used to being beautiful to everyone rather than just Edward. The mattre d' stuttered half-formed compliments as he backed unsteadily from the room.
I stood by the fire to wait, holding my fingers close to the flame to warm them a little before the inevitable handshake. Not that J wasn't obviously aware that there was something up with the Cullens, but it was still a good habit to practice.
For one half second, I wondered what it would feel like to put my hand in the fire. What it would feel like when I burned___
J's entrance distracted my morbidity. The maftre d' took his coat, too, and it was evident that I was not the only one who had dressed up for this meeting.
"I'm so sorry I'm late," J said as soon as we were alone.
"No, you're exactly on time."
He held out his hand, and as we shook I could feel that his fingers were still quite noticeably warmer than mine. It didn't seem to bother him.
"You look stunning, if I may be so bold, Mrs. Cullen."
"Thank you, J. Please, call me Bella."
"I must say, it's a different experience working with you than it is with Mr. Jasper. Much less... unsettling." He smiled hesitantly.
"Really? I've always found Jasper to have a very soothing presence."
His eyebrows pulled together. "Is that so?" he murmured politely while clearly still in disagreement. How odd. What had Jasper done to this man?
"Have you known Jasper long?"
He sighed, looking uncomfortable. "I've been working with Mr. Jasper for more than twenty years, and my old partner knew him for fifteen years before that.... He never changes." J cringed delicately.
"Yeah, Jasper's kind of funny that way."
J shook his head as if he could shake away the disturbing thoughts. "Won't you have a seat, Bella?"
"Actually, I'm in a bit of a hurry. I've got a long drive home." As I spoke, I took the thick white envelope with his bonus from my bag and handed it to him.
"Oh," he said, a little catch of disappointment in his voice. He tucked the envelope into an inside pocket of his jacket without bothering to check the amount. "I was hoping we could speak for just a moment."
"About?" I asked curiously.
"Well, let me get you your items first. I want to make sure you're satisfied."
He turned, placed his briefcase on the table, and popped the latches. He took out a legal-sized manila envelope.
Though I had no idea what I should be looking for, I opened the envelope and gave the contents a cursory glance. J had flipped Jacob's picture and changed the coloring so that it wasn't immediately evident that it was the same picture on both his passport and driver's license. Both looked perfectly sound to me, but that meant little. I glanced at the picture on Vanessa Wolfe's passport for a fraction of a second, and then looked away quickly, a lump rising in my throat.
"Thank you," I told him.
His eyes narrowed slightly, and I felt he was disappointed that my examination was not more thorough. "I can assure you every piece is perfect. All will pass the most rigorous scrutiny by experts."
"I'm sure they are. I truly appreciate what you've done for me, J."
"It's been my pleasure, Bella. In the future, feel free to come to me for anything the Cullen family needs." He didn't even hint at it really, but this sounded like an invitation for me to take over Jasper's place as liaison.
"There was something you wanted to discuss?"
"Er, yes. It's a bit delicate.. .." He gestured to the stone hearth with a questioning expression. I sat on the edge of the stone, and he sat beside me. Sweat was dewing up on his forehead again, and he pulled a blue silk handkerchief from his pocket and began mopping.
"You are the sister of Mr. Jasper's wife? Or married to his brother?" he asked.
"Married to his brother," I clarified, wondering where this was leading.
"You would be Mr. Edward's bride, then?"
He smiled apologetically. "I've seen all the names many times, you see. My belated congratulations. It's nice that Mr. Edward has found such a lovely partner after all this time."
"Thank you very much."
He paused, dabbing at the sweat. "Over the years, you might imagine that I've developed a very healthy level of respect for Mr. Jasper and the entire family."
I nodded cautiously.
He took a deep breath and then exhaled without speaking.
"J, please just say whatever you need to."
He took another breath and then mumbled quickly, slurring the words together.
"If you could just assure me that you are not planning to kidnap the little girl from her father, I would sleep better tonight."
"Oh," I said, stunned. It took me a minute to understand the erroneous conclusion he'd drawn. "Oh no. It's nothing like that at all." I smiled weakly, trying to reassure him. "I'm simply preparing a safe place for her in case