“Will you come to the play party in three weeks? Mistress Beth will be sending out invitations soon, but I thought it more prudent to ask you firsthand, Sir.”

Again I have to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. It's sentences like that that always kill me. Her boss, who she knows is my close friend, and a Domme, is inviting people, but she is asking me to come? If she really were all about protocol, she would never do that. Or look me in the eye, for that matter. Not that I give a shit about that, but Raven is as fake as the flunkies get.

“Thank you, Raven, I don't know yet if we have time, I'll have to ask Bella first. Maybe we'll show up.”

As expected, my answer takes all the wind from her sails. Mentioning the fact that I have a fiancée always does, and the notion that I even consider asking her first must be among the most unthinkable things for Raven.

Thankfully, Beth's cheery voice keeps me from adding something sarcastic that might actually hurt the poor girl, and I turn with a smile to greet my dear friend.

“Eddie, so nice of you to drop by again!”

I snort, and after hugging Beth, I chuckle.

“So good to see you again, Bethany! I'm so sorry I couldn't make it sooner, but you know how it is, real life gets in the way.” Her murderous glare at using her full name actually makes me blanch a little, and I have to remind myself that I'm no longer her sub. I should also stay away from her playroom for the next few weeks, because I know she can be slow to forgive. Still, calling me Eddie of all things has to be met with equal nastiness.

Her grin at seeing me go white is as bright as ever, and after a moment it also reaches her eyes.

“I know, I know, busy times when it's been months since you showed up at any of our parties. Or even the Sunday munch. If I didn't know better I'd think you're trying to hide Bella from us!”

Raven is still eavesdropping, although she’s cut her flirtatious stretching to a minimum. Beth isn't happy when she's flirting with the customers, so she only does it behind her back. I have no doubt that Beth knows, but she's a more lenient boss than Mistress.

“Yeah, about that,” I start, then nod towards the café area of the shop.

“Why don't we talk about that over a nice shot of espresso? I'm still uncaffeinated, and cannot be held responsible for anything I say.” Beth snorts but leads the way, leaving me to nod at Raven again and follow her. We're alone as none of the browsing customers have settled down for snacks or drinks yet, and Beth mans the coffee maker herself. I'm sure she wants to spite me when she hands me my coffee with cream, no sugar, but I ignore her smirk. We sit down and both savor the delicious coffee, before she steers the conversation back to the previous topic.

“So my ever persistent employee already told you of the play party?”

“Yup.”

“You coming?”

“As I told her, have to ask the Missus first.”

Beth rolls her eyes at me, but her smile is friendly. “You're so pussy whipped, you know that?”

I grin at her in answer, but wisely hold my tongue. Beth takes that with a theatrical sigh, but I can see that she clearly approves.

“You know, sometimes I wonder where you'll end up with the balance shift between the two of you. Last time Bella clearly liked having your ass.” Of course the memory makes my cock stir, but I will my boner away quickly. Beth wouldn't approve, and if anything, I feel the utmost respect towards her.

“I guess she did. Not that I'm protesting.”

Her chuckle is bordering on nasty, and she regards me with mirth filled eyes over the rim of her cup.

“I wonder what you'd do if Bella decides one day that she likes bossing you around more than bending to your will.”

Bending to my will, my ass, since my colossal mess-up Bella hasn't done any bending of any sort that didn't come straight from her heart. As it should be, I have to admit, but sometimes I miss the times when I had to entice her into doing something that clearly scandalized her.

“If she wants it, I'll gladly spend the rest of my days kissing her feet.” Which she wouldn't approve of, because her feet are still a hard limit. I should find out why, as it sometimes peeves me that she doesn't let me suck on her toes when she's fresh out of the shower, but that view usually makes me want to suck on something else.

“Really?” Beth sounds moderately surprised. I nod.

“And what if she decides to never nurture that slight dominant streak of hers?”

“Then I'll gladly have her spend the rest of her life at my feet.” Both scenarios seem equally unlikely to me, and I wouldn't even want Bella to be more submissive than she is now. A little time outside the playroom might be fun sometimes, but the way she was behaving at the beginning made me realize that we both are ill-suited for anything going even vaguely towards 24/7. I like being in control, but I can't take responsibility for both of us.

“What are you thinking that makes you frown like you just bit into a slice of lime? Don't worry, I'm sure Bella'll be always happy to spank you if you just ask her enough.”

I sigh and shake my head, trying to disperse the unease that always grips me at the thought of screwing things up again, this time for good.

“I'm sure she wouldn’t need a lot of persuasion. Speaking of which, I need your help.”

Beth sends me a pointed look because I've evaded her question, but she nods for me to go on. “Sure.”

“As you well know, her birthday's in a month, and I need to get some things without letting her know what I'm up to.”

“Don't worry, I won't rat you out if you're concerned about that.” I laugh at her comment, although I don't fully believe her. I'm happy that after four years of underlying resentment towards the girl who I've always been in love with, Beth has changed her attitude quickly after meeting Bella, but now they've joined ranks against me. The irony of that doesn't escape me, that now my former Domme and current sub are best buds, but at least Bella has someone to talk to. Even if I feel that Beth should be on my side, always.

“I don't think she'd listen to you, my girl likes surprises. Although not much of a surprise there as she'd be terribly disappointed if I didn't make good on my promise.”

Beth's laugh has a clearly taunting note.

“Edward, really, a vibrating, remote controlled butt plug and a corset?

You're a hopeless sap, you know that?”

That doesn't deserve an answer, so I try to ignore her nasty grin.

“And a romantic weekend getaway in the mountains, honey moon cabin package.”

Of course the official part of my present fuels her amusement further.

“Cabin, getaway, and mountains means a hut in the woods where no one can hear her scream, right?”

My snort confirms my ulterior motives.

“I asked Bella's mom what she thought of that, and I'm now officially accepted as perfect son-in-law material. I have no idea how you always come up with such abstruse scenarios!”

“Because that's what I would think of first, and in this aspect we're very much alike, you and me.”

We share a smile before she goes on.

“So what about do you need my help? Sounds like you have everything planned already.”

“More or less,” I nod. “I already have everything except the corset.” Beth frowns at me for a moment. “You know that you need her measurements for that? Not like the slapstick comedy grope move where the lusty husband walks into the lingerie shop and shamelessly asks the shop assistant to model half of their matching sets because he can't decide what to buy his frigid wife who'll never wear it anyway? Although, if you'd walk into Victoria's Secret, the skanks would likely fall over themselves to offer you a cat walk show.”

I make a face, and Beth laughs loud enough that Raven sticks her head in to see what is so funny.

“I really don't know why you constantly have to shove my face in the fact that for whatever reason, women want to throw themselves at me. I don't even do anything to make them think I'd want them! Even before I had Bella I've never been interested.”

Which made bar hopping with Jazz a real pain in the ass, always. You'd think that seeing me reject ten skanks in a row would make the eleventh look for a different target, but no. And I really don't want to think about that at the moment. Or ever.

Beth saves me from having to bash my head against the table by redirecting our conversation.

“So, corset. Not quite your field of expertise.”

I shake my head, laughing.

“I just know how to get her in and out of one. But I know that you have a thing for anything tight and restricting, so I'm coming here begging for your help.”

“Begging, huh?”

“You know what I mean.”The mirth in her look tells me she knows exactly what I'm talking about, which is more than I'd admit right now. If she'd let me, I wouldn't let Bella leave the bedroom without wearing a corset ever again. At least for anything involving sex.“What do you have in mind? I vaguely remember that you were taunting her with having her wear it underneath her clothes at the birthday party with her parents.”I nod, but I know that's a bad idea. I wouldn't be able to keep my hands off her, and as much as Charlie tolerates Bella's choice to be with me, I don't think it's wise to take PDA to that level in front of him.“Actually, I'm planning on getting her two. I mean I can't very well send her over to you for measuring and expect her not to know why you need those details, but I don't think she'd expect me to shamelessly abuse the situation like that.”Beth chuckles, although I'm not sure if she approves of my plan. “Okay, two. The question remains the same, what do you have in mind?”“For her birthday present I thought about some less restricting, shorter one, you know like the satin underbust corsets that also made it into the H&Mracks?”“You mean the fake, 'I'm so hip because I wear a corset' ones?” I grin at her disapproving tone.“Exactly, only a real one. Just short. Maybe one that she can wear to work, too, over a blouse. Nothing that restricts her too much, but still keeps her in the right mind frame.”“Mind frame, huh? You know, many women just like wearing corsets because they make them feel more feminine, or because they like the added support.”“Oh, sure, like you never think of anything remotely sexual when you let Gerard help you tighten the laces?”For a moment she sends me that look that means that she'd dearly like to spank me for that remark.“I think it would be a disservice to him if it wouldn't turn me on when my slave touches me.”“And what makes you think that Bella's any different when I help her with her corset and send her off to work with a whispered promise to have her ride me hard before I help her back out of it again?” Beth smiles, pacified again.“Touché.”“And I won't make her wear the corset if she doesn't like it. But I know she's been looking at some online, so I don't think that will happen.”“She showed you?”I shake my head, and steel myself for the tongue lashing that will inevitably follow now.”“No, it came up in her browser history.”Beth's glare is deadly.“Tell me you did not go through her computer.” Sighing, I shake my head.“I was just checking my emails, too lazy to get my own laptop, while Bella was upstairs getting ready for work. I only peeked at the last visited links in the URll bar.”“Accidentally violating her privacy, wow, one of these days I'll actually believe you when you tell me something 'just happened'.” Her scorn grates but I can't really say anything to defend myself. We both know she's not referring to Bella's visited links, or some minor slip in the playroom.“That won't happen again.”“You sure? Because the way you're in denial and shut down when someone even mentions Jasper's name, I'd say you're trying too hard to make it seem like you're over everything.”“Beth, that's enough.”I know I'm pretty much confirming her suspicion with my sharp response, even though it's not true, but I can't even think about him without losing it, let alone discuss what happened. Not even with her.“You know how it is with denial. It's like with diets. First you don't dare to eat a single piece of chocolate, and when you snap, you devour the whole bar and lick the foil clean.”I don't know what's worse, her taunting voice or the way she looks at me, her eyes narrowed but her gaze intense.“You know what Bella means to me. She's everything to me. It's not like I'm missing anything when I'm with her.”And I won't, ever, change my mind, I'm sure of that. This is my one chance of forgiveness, and I'm not going to ruin it all just because some very small part of me might yearn for a little variety sometimes -I snap myself out of it before my train of thought can run any further. I'm not angry at Beth, I'm angry at myself, but she still snorts at the face I must be making.“Relax. Just rattling your cage a little, no need to snap my head off.” We both know that she did a lot more than that, but since she's willing to let it slide, I don't protest. Once again Beth saves the day by returning to discuss my plans.“That's one corset, what about the other?”Quickly ordering my thoughts, I nod at the other room where Raven is doubtlessly still trying to listen in on our conversation.“If we want to go to a play party, Bella needs something to wear. As much as I love having her naked, I don't think she'd appreciate showing up at a party in just a leather collar.”“What do you have in mind?”“Black leather, high, you know, like the ones that lift and squish her breasts together? And have the bottom down to her hips. With knee high boots and a short skirt she should feel dressed enough, but if she wants to do more than chat and observe, I can still do a lot to her without having to peel her out of the corset.”Beth nods her approval.“Sounds good to me. So you think we'll see you in three weeks? It would be the ideal occasion, just a few people, most of whom she already knows, no big deal. Charlotte and Peter already said they'd come, I'm sure Charlotte will be happy to keep Bella company the whole evening long after they're done with their shibari demo.”“Like I'd have anything else to do than keep Bella company?” Now her smirk is as nasty as it gets.“No, but knowing you, you'll try to talk her into doing something, even if it's just a quick blow job outside. I'm sure Bella will be grateful if Charlotte's around to run interference so you won't get too pesky.”“Like I'd do that.”“Don't even bother denying it. I know that look on your face. Bella in a real, tight corset, I wonder if I shouldn't call her before and ask her if she wants to dress up here, or else it's likely you won't even make it into the car.” That might just be true. I wonder for a moment if I should surprise her with the corset, or have her try it on a day or two in advance. Then we'd have all the time in the world for me to get used to her wearing it.And at that point my cock is rock hard again. Fuck.We keep talking about this and that for a while longer, and gradually the monster in my pants falls asleep again. Time flies, and I have to hurry to make my shift, but before I can take my leave, Beth holds me back. I eye her askance, and the serious look on her face makes me grow cold.“You need to talk with someone. I understand if you don't want to talk with Bella, although I'm sure she'd appreciate you coming to her. But just denying anything happened only makes things worse.” For a moment I'm ashamed that we even need to have this conversation, but then the low simmering resentment is back.“Do you really think so little of me that you expect me to randomly jump some guy again when the itch gets too strong?”She scoffs, and I'm insanely relieved when I see that it's true derision.“No, of course not, and I don't even expect you to jump Jazz should the opportunity ever arrive. Edward, I'm not questioning your sincerity, or your conviction. And I'm not here to make it all better, for you. But just think for a moment how Bella must feel. Whatever you feel, she's still friends with Jasper, and I know you two spend time with him and Alice. Don't you think that it kills her every time she has to sit next to you while you ooze resentment because she once again made you come along. Your self-doubt and misgivings are a festering wound that you need to heal for her sake, if not for your own. You can't just wait for it to go away, because, surprise, it won't.”I sigh and rub the bridge of my nose. She's right. Of course she is, she's Beth. I hate it when she reads me like I'm an open book, but then she's stuck with me through the second most horrible time in my life, when Tanya discarded me like a used rag. Not even Bella knows me as well as Beth does. I hope that will change one day, but that's not a topic that I can freely discuss with Bella.Beth judges my silence right, and she briefly hugs me before she steps away, dismissing me.“Go save some lives. And think about what I've said. Play party, munch, talking. Of course you can go see a shrink, too, but you know I'm a lot cheaper, and you don't have to tell me first that you're a not-quite-so-closet pervert, I already know.”I nod and mumble a quick thank you that sounds more ungrateful than she deserves. Because I am grateful, but the fact remains, this is something I have to get over myself. I can't always rely on someone else when Bella needs me strong and confident.Chapter 4It's already pitch black outside when I finally get home, once again exhausted. Tonight I'm lucky, the heavenly scents of a freshly prepared meal already greet me when I open the door to our condo.I find Bella at the stove, stirring some sauce or other. She smiles at me when I hug her from behind, burying my face in her hair until she is all I can smell. I try to be as pesky as possible and steal a kiss from her, but she laughs and gives me a peck on the nose before she tells me to shower as I'm apparently reeking of antiseptic. Grumbling, I dash up into the bathroom to take care of that, and by the time I'm back, the pasta is already waiting for me on the table.We eat in companionable silence while we watch the evening news, and once we're done I flop down on the couch and do some channel surfing while Bella is working on one of her articles, her laptop balanced on her thighs. Some re-runs of Miami Vice keep me occupied for a while, but before long I'm getting bored.It's weird how bland and normal our evenings are, more often than not. Just like any other couple in the city. We work, we come home, we eat, we watch TV, and maybe we even have sex before we go to sleep, or not. I used to laugh at Emmett when he told me that he really enjoys just being home with Rose, just spend time together. Now I'm exactly as much of a sap as he is. I can lie here forever and watch Bella as she nibbles on her bottom lip while she clicks through some articles, then types like a fury for a while before she goes back to scanning her source material. I wish I didn't have night shifts at least twice a week, so I could spend every evening with her like that.