|An Acquired Taste
Author: Magnolia822 PM
Arrogant British celebrity chef Edward Cullen made an impression on NYC caterer Bella Swan long before either one of them became a success. Now, armed with her cat and a devious practical joke, Bella's plan may turn up the heat for both of them. ExB OOCRated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Humor - Bella & Edward - Chapters: 22 - Words: 89,903 - Reviews: 5,128 - Favs: 3,350 - Follows: 2,618 - Updated: 10-06-11 - Published: 05-17-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7000756
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: SM owns it all.
Thanks to Mac214 for her awesome beta help and to Ms. Junkowski, BellaFlan, and DiamondHeart78 for prereading!
Chapter 19: An Interesting Turn of Events
Monday morning, I dragged myself out of bed missing Edward. It hasn't even been twenty-four hours, I chided myself in the mirror as I flossed. But with the shower behind me and the still-rumpled sheets on the bed visible through the door, I couldn't stop myself from . . . reminiscing.
An hour later, I sat in my office with next week's produce order.
Emmett knocked and popped his head in.
"What's up?" I asked.
He strode toward my desk with a rolled up something in his hand.
"Read it and weep," Emmett said, slapping a magazine down on my desk. "Looks like your boy's playing for my team after all. Oh, and I'm famous."
I glanced at the headline and grimaced.
Edward Cullen's Gay Romp Across Manhattan—A Star Magazine Exclusive!
Under the caption was a picture of an irritated-looking Edward staring at two men on the dance floor of a club—even in the grainy photo I could distinguish them as Emmett and Jake.
"Pictorial evidence, bee bee," Em said, trying to hide his smirk behind his hand. "And doesn't Jake's ass look fine?"
"I can't see it with your hands in the way," I grumbled. "And anyway, that's not the point! It was a private party. Which one of your idiot friends sold this photo to this trashy magazine?"
Emmett's grin morphed into a pout.
"Why do you assume it was one of my friends? It was probably one of Jake's."
"Oh, I am so gonna tell him you said that."
"Please do," Emmett replied, his expression growing devious. "I'm in need of a good spanking."
Emmett left to get coffee, leaving me to stare morosely at the picture in front of me. Finally, my curiosity got the better of me, and I flipped it open to the article. Instant regret.
America's Gayest Chef was spotted out at a club last weekend in New York, and Star has the photos to prove it! The sexy man's man shot icy daggers at two guys getting hot n' heavy on the dance floor. Could it be Chef Cullen has an appetite for jealousy?
I groaned, both at the bad writing and its implications. This was my fault. Edward came to Emmett and Jake's engagement party to find me, after all. And the worst part was, out of context, Edward truly looked the part of the jilted lover. Would he be pissed or blow it off like he usually did?
Glancing at my phone, I realized Edward was probably in the middle of filming. I hadn't seen him since early Sunday morning before he'd left for breakfast with his father, but we'd made plans to meet up tonight. It probably wasn't worth worrying him about it, especially since we'd expected something like this to happen. We just hadn't expected a photograph.
^_^ AAT ^_^
"Are you sure it doesn't bother you? Won't it hurt your image?" I glanced over at Edward, willing him to give an honest answer.
Edward took my hand and drew me closer to snuggle against him. The two of us were lounging on his couch after dinner, and I'd finally gotten the courage to broach the subject. I needn't have worried; he already knew about the article, probably thanks to his agent. "It'll blow over in a week or so. Believe me, worse things have happened than me being accused of shagging blokes."
I sighed. "You're right. It's so stupid, anyway; it's not like it's an insult."
"No," Edward agreed. "It's not."
"What did Jane say?"
His eyes clouded over for a second before he replied. "She's a little pissed off, but she'll get over it."
"Did you . . . um . . . tell her . . . " I wanted to ask him if he'd told her about our romance, relationship, whatever the hell this was, but I stopped myself. For some reason the idea of labeling things made my stomach twist uncomfortably; it was too soon, right? Why would he have told his publicist about something so new? And once this was labeled, it would start being real—really real—with the potential for disaster should things go wrong. Knowing my history with men, that was only a matter of time.
But another part of me (the part that wasn't certifiably insane and full of self-doubt) really, really wanted to hear Edward say those words. The stupid ones like exclusivity, girlfriend, partner, love-of-my life . . . Just kidding about the last one. Right.
"What?" Edward cocked his head to the side, and my face grew hot.
"Uh. Iwonderedifyoutoldheraboutme?" The words rushed out in a jumble, uttered mainly to the bit of lint on my pant leg.
"Sorry, I didn't quite catch that." He tickled my side, making me squeal and bat his hand away.
"If you told her about me." I said, once I'd escaped to a safe distance.
Edward smirked, his green eyes mischievous in the soft light of the room. "Oh, I heard you the first time."
"I did tell her, as a matter of fact," he replied casually. "Told my father as well."
A deluge of emotions washed over me, threatening to stop my heart . . . but giddiness definitely predominated. To keep from grinning too widely, I bit down on the insides of my cheeks. Ouch.
"Oh, really? What did you say?" I tried to strike the same nonchalant tone, but even I could hear the eagerness in my voice. God, I was such a freaking girl.
"I told them both I'd met someone very special. Well," Edward said, smiling, "met again."
"And what did they say?"
His looked away quickly, and I almost panicked, worrying it hadn't been good.
"Jane wanted to use our relationship as damage control. I told her no."
I didn't know how to reply to the comment, so I waited for Edward to go on, trying to keep from fidgeting too obviously. My nerves made my palms sweat and my heart race.
"It's just . . . I don't want to use this, you know? It's nobody's damn business. For once I have something I want to protect outside of this whole ridiculous circus. I'm calling the shots, and I get to decide who gets a glimpse into my personal life." The exasperation in his voice wasn't leveled at me, but it filled the room with palpable tension. His whole body seemed coiled and ready to lash out. It would have been hot if I didn't feel so bad about the whole thing.
Reaching out to touch his shoulder, I tried to think of a solution. "But if it's a matter of hurting your career, I don't mind. I mean, it would be invasive, sure, but I'm an adult. I can handle the pressure if it means getting everyone off your back."
Edward moved to face me, taking my other hand between his. "I know you can. I don't doubt that at all. But I just want this . . . between us, with no one breathing down my neck or asking me bloody questions about what it's like to snog you. Or worse. And you might be able to handle it, but you won't like it. Trust me, those people have no decency."
"I'd do it for you."
"Thank you. I appreciate that," he said with a smile, leaning forward to kiss the side of my mouth. "But this is a matter of standing up for myself. You made me see I could change things for the better."
"Yeah." He kissed my knuckles softly. "And I want to start right with you. Everyone who doesn't like it can sod off."
I could see his point; he'd lived so many years letting other people control his public image, and he was finally taking a stand. My brain started to go a bit off track when Edward flattened my palm and placed more small, warm kisses on the sensitive skin there. Damn him, he was totally distracting me.
Not wanting to end the conversation before we'd completed it, I drew my hand away, kissing him on the cheek to let him know the motion hadn't been meant as a rejection.
"I understand, I think."
Edward smiled a little more easily, and some of the tension left his shoulders.
"But it . . . it makes me happy you told Jane. And your dad."
I nodded. "Yeah."
Edward's brow furrowed a bit, indicating something else was on his mind.
"I feel . . . like we've been only talking about me, what this means for my life," he began, his eyes focusing somewhere off to the side and then back to mine. "I haven't asked you what you want - from this." He gestured between us. "From me."
My heart thrummed quicker, and I bit my lip . . . shit. This was The Relationship Talk, wasn't it? Crap, why had I instigated it?
"What do you mean?" As soon as the question left my lips, I could have kicked myself for being such a coward.
He ran a hand through his hair. "I mean . . . I know it's soon. But I feel this going somewhere. I don't know where, and I need to know if you're on the same page because I can't stop thinking about you. The thought of this just being . . . a fling is just . . . I don't want to see you with anyone else."
It was even better than I'd hoped. "Are you saying you want us to be exclusive?"
I almost made a joke about how the mighty man-whore had fallen, but the vulnerability in his eyes stopped me. He'd put himself out there, and now it was my turn.
Leaning forward, I ran my fingers through the errant hair that had flopped onto his forehead. "I want that too," I admitted. "But it's gonna be crazy . . . your schedule, mine. We'll have to make time for this to work."
"I'm willing if you're willing."
"I'm definitely willing."
"When we do come out publicly as a couple, it'll be on our terms," he said.
That sounded good to me. I nodded, still feeling a little shy. A couple.
Edward's expression brightened considerably, and before I knew it I found myself straddling him, our mouths crashing together in an awkward, messy kiss. Hands clutched at my back, drawing me closer as I angled my head for better access. Making out on the sofa had never been so good—add a little dry hump—instantaneous heaven. But there's only so much dry humping one can do in jeans without chafing, and so we made quick work of those.
"Condom?" he asked, nearly panting.
We broke apart as Edward left to fetch one, and I made a mental note to talk about STD testing and the like—and not just for him. Since I hadn't been tested since Felix, and he'd been screwing the secretary from hell . . . Yeah. Testing was probably a good idea.
Edward reappeared, ripping the package with his teeth as he made his way toward the couch, his cock bobbing with each stride. I had to stifle a giggle.
When I finally sank down onto Edward, both of us moaned. His tongue teased one of my nipples as I rode him slowly, wanting to prolong the moment. My boyfriend. Edward Cullen. Who the fuck could have guessed it?
His hands guided my hips as he rocked up to meet my movements, and when I looked into his eyes, I didn't see the boy I knew so long ago. That person didn't exist anymore, and that was okay.
Because the man was so much better.
^_^ AAT ^_^
July morphed into August in a blur of weddings, functions, and Edward.
Once Kate settled into life at La Vie I didn't need to oversee everything, which did a good deal to free up my time, especially early in the week. I looked forward to the oncoming fall when business settled down and became much more manageable. While the spring and summer provided us with most of our capital, by the beginning of August I was always fried.
Edward and I weren't exactly hiding our relationship—in fact we went on several public dates but always managed to evade the paps, mostly because of the exclusive restaurants and bars we frequented. And so we settled into a somewhat random routine of late night visits and lazy Sunday afternoons, sometimes punctuated with a dose of Emmett, Jake, and Rose.
It was kinda weird how well Emmett and Edward got along after Emmett's initial "size-up." The two of them fought jokingly over which one of them made a better boyfriend for me, finally conceding that Edward won by virtue of being straight. Apparently my little white lie was destined to be fodder for humiliation for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, Edward didn't often bring up my drunken email stunt; it had, after all, brought us together.
The tabloid rumors about Edward died down, and we didn't see any untoward articles on him for almost a month, but at the same time, the ratings started slipping. Though Edward never directly told me, I overheard him talking to Jane one night—arguing, was more like it. I couldn't hear the details of their conversation, but I gathered she wasn't happy. And that meant the producers weren't happy, either.
I hated to think our strategy of laying low was affecting Edward's career, but he was also incredibly stubborn. In any case, The Food Network launched an aggressive advertising campaign in early August, plastering Edward's face all over the city—I even saw a poster in the Nordstrom ladies'. I couldn't turn on the television without seeing a commercial for America's Hottest Chef.
Week after week, America voted off contestants. Edward got more irritable with each episode, until finally there were only three contenders left—Garrett, Siobhan, and Zafrina.
I sat down to watch the show and prepared to spend the rest of the evening voting off Zafrina. Both Edward and I hoped Garrett would win—or even Siobhan. She and Edward had apparently been getting along well, and though she was by no means a great chef, her skill outweighed Zafrina's by leaps and bounds. She'd even stopped talking about lemurs constantly. Edward figured he could deal with either her or Garrett in his kitchen for six months. Zafrina, not so much.
Just as I'd snuggled up with my bowl of popcorn, the phone rang.
It was Edward, or as I liked to call him recently, Mr. Grumpy Pants.
"Hey, you," I answered, flipping on the TV.
"Where are you—still at the studio?"
Edward sighed. He'd been down there most days this week. While he'd sent me flowers and silly presents to make me smile, it just wasn't the same. "Yeah, unfortunately. I'd rather be with you."
"Are you going to watch?"
"Yep. I got my popcorn and my cell phone ready to speed dial. That biatch is going down tonight!"
Edward chuckled on the end of the line. "A single-handed coup?"
"Nah, I'm making Rose and Emmett vote tonight too. Oh, and my parents." I'd finally told my mom and dad about Edward, making my mother swear under penalty of death not to gossip about us to all her friends. She was now Edward Cullen's Number One Fangirl, and I figured she'd already started planning our wedding. My father expressed a little more reticence about me dating a celebrity, but I knew he just wanted to protect me. He'd even sent me a new can of pepper spray.
I was slowly coming around to the idea of them getting back together, but I still worried my mom would break my dad's heart again. But that's the risk you take when you fall in love.
The sound of Edward's voice brought me out of my distracted thoughts.
"Thanks. Ah, anyway . . . How was your day?"
Even thinking about the twelve-hour shift I'd just finished made me exhausted. I yawned.
"Tiring. Alec dropped a Caesar salad on the bride's lap."
"When are you going to fire that tosser? My blind Aunt Mary would be a better server."
"Already done." Though I felt a bit bad about it, Alec had reached the end of his luck at La Vie. "And you never told me you had a blind Aunt Mary."
"It's a figure of speech."
"No, it's not. You're just weird."
"Takes one to know one."
I snorted and petted PV, who'd just leapt up on the couch and presented her belly for a rub. "And you're also changing the subject."
"I know. It's just . . . walls have ears."
"Oh, right." The commotion in the background rose to a dull roar.
"I really have to get back to work," he admitted. "I just wanted to hear your voice."
"I miss you." We hadn't seen each other for several days. Edward had done a photo-shoot and interview with the cast the day before for the front cover of Entertainment Weekly, so he hadn't been able to stop by. And with the way the rest of our weeks seemed to be shaping up, I wouldn't see him for a few more days. Which sucked.
"I miss you too."
"Well, I'm done at eight on Wednesday."
"I'll pick you up."
"You don't have to do that. I'll take a cab."
"I'd really rather pick you up."
I rolled my eyes, grinning despite myself.
"You're so stubborn."
"No. I'm just practical."
"Practical? Driving your forty-thousand dollar car to pick me up at work when I could just as easily take a cab is practical?"
"It is when it means I get to see you sooner." His voice was so low I could barely make it out. My heartbeat quickened when I realized what he'd said.
"Okay. Pick me up, then."
I hesitated for a second before hanging up, other, more important words dancing on the tip of my tongue.
But I lost my nerve.
On Wednesday, Edward arrived earlier than promised. He parked in the back alley and poked his head into the kitchen door.
"Hi," he said, a smile turning up his lips.
"Hey!" I dropped the frosting bag I'd been using and wiped my hands on my apron.
Edward strode inside and hugged me tightly, and I raised my head for a hello kiss that left me boneless.
Irina rolled her eyes. "Would you two get out of here? I'm sure the future Mr. and Mrs. Smith-Klein won't appreciate my vomit in their cake batter."
"Eet is a new trend," Laurent quipped.
"Not one we want to be famous for," I assured him, untying my apron.
Edward had already entered the kitchen and was sniffing and poking at the frosting bowl.
"Get," I said, slapping him on the shoulder. "I'll be ready in a few." Luckily, I'd brought a change of clothes.
^_^ AAT ^_^
The nondescript door to the bar looked almost as if led to a tenement, but inside the space was lush, decorated in deep reds and browns and filled with beautiful people.
We sat at the mahogany bar and had a couple of drinks and some food, but Edward's initially playful mood had become tense. I attributed it to the fact that America had voted Garrett off last week's show (though I wasn't technically supposed to know yet), and silently thanked God the whole thing would be done in just another couple of episodes.
"Hey," I said, reaching out to touch his face. He leaned into the caress, his mouth opening and planting a light kiss on my palm.
"I'm sorry," he said. "It's just . . ."
"The stress. I know."
"I'll be better," he muttered. "You look beautiful tonight, by the way." He ran his hand up my bare leg, stopping and pulling at the edge of my skirt.
"Thanks." My gaze caught his, and he raised his eyebrows suggestively, sliding his hand just barely under the hem.
"You're such a perv."
"That's why you . . . like me," Edward replied with a grin.
"Indeed. One of the reasons." My heart thrummed stupidly in my chest.
The evening seemed to lighten up after that, but when we got back to Edward's, he went straight for the wet bar and poured himself another tumbler of Scotch. I hadn't seen Edward drunk since the night of the Black Eyed Peas lyrics, but he seemed determined to get smashed.
"Help yourself," he said, gesturing towards the liquor. I shook my head.
"Are you okay?" I asked, running my hand up his arm to massage his shoulder. The ice tinkled quietly in the glass as he shook it.
"Fine," he replied. From the tone of his voice, I could tell he wasn't eager to talk. Since it was late, and I had an early morning, I headed to bed while Edward remained brooding in the living room.
When I finally felt the mattress dip beneath his weight, it was well after three. Why was he acting so strange? Neither of us spoke, although we were both awake. He tossed and turned until I prepared to bludgeon him with my pillow, but finally his arms sought me out. I let him draw me close with a satisfied sigh.
"I'm sorry," he whispered against my hair.
"It's okay. What's—" He cut off my question with a hot, searching kiss. Even in my groggy state I responded, feeling myself grow wet as he rubbed me lightly through my pajama bottoms.
"Can I have you?"
"Yes," I whispered as his hands and lips moved wantonly against me. "Fuck, yes."
The irritation I'd felt earlier vanished as his tongue, fingers, and cock made me forget my own name.
I didn't remember falling asleep after making love, but when the alarm finally rang at seven, I gestured wildly and almost knocked it off its perch. The stupid thing blared "Don't Worry, Be Happy," like that was an acceptable song for a mid-week wakeup.
Stupid piece of crap.
I grumbled and reached my arms overhead in a vigorous stretch but noticed Edward wasn't there.
"Edward?" I called out, sliding out of the bed and rummaging for my slippers. He didn't answer, but the bathroom mirror looked fogged. Maybe he'd just gotten out of the shower.
I padded out of the bedroom and called his name again, but no one answered. Figuring he might have gone down to the gym for a quick workout, I poured myself a cup of coffee and grabbed a croissant from the breadbox.
Twenty minutes later, Edward still hadn't returned, and I needed to get ready for work. Sighing, I pushed the newspaper aside and stood.
Just then, I noticed a note on the counter I'd previously overlooked.
I had a few things to take care of. Please have some coffee and breakfast, and I'll see you later. I miss you already.
An hour later, I left the building and headed to the train, fiddling with my iPod. No matter how much music I bought from iTunes, I could never find an acceptable "Going to Work" song. Emmett always made fun of me for flipping through all of the music I owned to get to something better.
Finally, I settled on Lauren Hill, swaying my hips a little as I hustled down the stairs—I could hear the screech of the train brakes as it approached.
"Shit," I cursed as I fished for my wallet. My Metro card had expired. I went over to the kiosk to swipe my credit card, but by that time, the train had already left. While I waited for the next, I decided to buy another cup of coffee. It was sure to be shitty, but with the night I'd had I needed the caffeine.
"Cream and sugar?" the vendor asked me.
"Just cream, thanks."
I perused the magazines as the vendor filled my cup; just then, something caught my attention. A shock of red hair and a telltale smirk made me grab for the magazine.
But I couldn't understand what I saw.
Edward Cullen: America's Hottest Chef—Bachelor No More?
The cover showed Edward in his chef whites smirking at the camera. And right next to him, with straightened red hair and the largest blue eyes I'd never seen (since they'd been apparently hiding behind coke-bottle glasses) . . . was Siobhan.
The lemur woman.
But damn, I never knew she had tits like that!
Hands shaking, I flipped to the article.
Amidst swirling rumors of a secret gay lifestyle, Edward Cullen has finally decided to lay the gossip to rest.
"I'm not gay. And yes, I am seeing someone," said America's Hottest Chef. The 'someone' in question is Siobhan Callahan, a contestant on Cullen's culinary program. Apparently the two started getting cozy once the vote-offs began . . .
What the fuck?