|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: 5,116 - Favs: 3,320 - Follows: 2,609 - 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.
A/N: Thanks to the awesome Mac214 for betaing and to my darling BellaFlan, Ms. Junkowski and DiamondHeart78 for pre-reading.
This is the final chapter. Please read the A/N below for more information.
Chapter 22: An Acquired Taste
On Saturday night I paced around my apartment as nine o'clock neared. After more than a week of believing Edward and I were through, his letter had thrown me for a loop.
The fact that he hadn't given up on us when I had filled me with guilt; all along I'd fashioned myself the most fully invested party in our relationship, but Edward's perseverance had proven me wrong.
You thought the worst of me, and that hurts.
I had thought the worst of him. But I still didn't know what I was supposed to think. His letter hadn't really explained anything, other than how much he missed me and that he wanted the chance to explain.
I miss you so much I can barely stand it.
Truer words had never been spoken.
Just then the doorbell rang, jolting me out of my head. I hurried to unlatch it, PV scurrying away in fear of being trampled.
Outside, Jake, Rose, and Emmett stood on my stoop, the latter's eyes widening when he spied me.
"Girl, you look . . ."
I glanced down at my printed pajama bottoms and fuzzy slippers. My hair was probably a fright as well since I hadn't showered. I'd been too busy pacing around and freaking out. "Oh. I should change."
"I like the pants," Jake said, giving me a winning smile. "Ducks are cool."
The three of them pushed past me into my apartment.
"Yeah, don't spiffy up on our account," Rose joked. She handed me a couple bottles of white wine, which I took gratefully.
"God, I need a drink," I said.
"Or three," Emmett rejoined.
Five minutes later, the four of us sat around my television, waiting for the show to start. I'd poured myself a giant goblet of wine and taken a few deep glugs to calm my nerves.
"This is so exciting." Jake put his arm around Emmett's shoulder and gave him a squeeze. Emmett snuggled closer. Their cuteness was borderline intolerable.
"I wonder what he's gonna do?" Rose took a sip of her wine and drew her feet up. "I mean, the show's live, right?"
"Yeah, he better have something good planned, or I'll still have to kick his ass." Emmett raised his clenched fist, and Jake laughed, which earned him an indignant look.
Rose rolled her eyes. "The day you kick Edward's ass is the day I join the Sisters of Divine Mercy."
Imagining Rose in a nun's habit after swearing off peen for life had me giggle-snorting.
"Thank you so much for coming over, guys," I said, drinking too deeply and wiping my resultant wine mustache with the back of my hand. "I don't think I could watch this by myself."
PV mewed from the floor, as if to let me know I always had her company—or maybe to express her irritation at Emmett and Jake for commandeering her spot on the couch. I gave her a sympathetic look, and she jumped up on the armrest and settled down.
"Oh, shit, here it is." Emmett grabbed the remote and un-muted the sound. My heart took a flying leap into my throat, beating hummingbird quick. There wasn't enough wine in the world to control my nerves now.
"Tonight, on America's Hottest Chef, who will win the grand prize and walk away with a six month contract at Chef Cullen's hot new Queens restaurant?" The announcer's dramatic question was punctuated by quick camera shots of Siobhan and Zafrina. I resisted the urge to growl. "America voted, and we have the answer for you in just under an hour.
"But first, we'll take a behind the scenes look at how Chef Cullen turned a run-down building into a world class eatery—we've got the first glimpse of what he'll be cooking up when the restaurant opens in two weeks' time . . ."
I realized I was gripping Rose's knee rather violently; she swatted at my hand.
"Sorry," I whispered.
Edward appeared on screen and my stomach plummeted. He did look tired; despite the makeup and the lighting, the circles under his eyes gave him away. But in his chef whites, standing with his hands on his hips as he surveyed the kitchen and the two women who'd made it to the finish, he also looked powerful. And hot as hell.
He was joined by Alton Brown, the Food Network's most endearingly annoying personality, who started asking questions about the show and Edward's experience filming.
"How does it feel to be coming to the end of this crazy ride?"
Edward gave him a small smirk. "The ride's not over yet, Alton."
After a little more back and forth banter, the camera cut from live action to a pre-recorded segment, detailing the development of Edward's restaurant. A montage showed the transition of the space from a dusty, dirty abandoned café to an elegantly appointed yet cozy enclave. Some of the fixtures I recognized—the mahogany bar gleamed under soft candlelight—but the walls were decorated with a tasteful nautical theme. Weathered netting adorned the wall opposite the bar, and an antique anchor hung above the door to the kitchen.
Thank God there were no buoys or stuffed fish.
Edward appeared in the frame, surveying his new establishment. He looked as content as I'd ever seen him. My chest welled with emotion; no matter what the future held for the two of us—at that moment I was proud. I glugged more wine, a comfortable buzz making my head fuzzy.
"Wow, it looks great," Emmett said. Jake murmured his agreement.
Edward gave a tour of the kitchen, and it hurt my heart to see the chrome appliances we'd polished together on our first 'date'.
"The focus of the menu will be seafood, prepared in a rustic, affordable style. We'll have fish and chips, of course, but we'll also feature a fusion of British and American cuisine.
"It's always been my dream to come back to America and open a restaurant, and I hope you'll join me and the rest of the staff here at . . . The Black Shell."
Edward looked at the camera pointedly, his eyes growing serious.
The Black Shell?
My mind went blank as the scene cut to the outside of the restaurant. The sign hung from hooks outside the door, lettering done in pub-style gold leaf. And under the words was a perfect replica of the tiny shell Edward had saved from the North Carolina beach. The shell that still sat on my dresser.
"Oh my God."
"What?" Rose's confused face turned to mine.
"It's . . . it's the shell."
I realized I hadn't told Rose about the shell, and I couldn't find the words to explain. I sat staring as the segment ended, the camera focusing again on Alton and Edward.
"The Black Shell—an interesting name," Alton said. "How'd you come up with it?"
Edward smiled. "It's named for a special person in my life . . . the most special person. I hope she knows that."
Alton nodded knowingly. "Oh yes, I think we've all read the magazine."
"I'm sure you have." Edward's brow furrowed. "Which is most unfortunate, given that that article was complete and total bollocks. They took all of my statements out of context and cost me my girlfriend—my real one—in the process. And when my lawyers get done suing the bleep off the bleeping bleep they'll be sorry they ever bleep—"
A collective gasp went up in my living room. I spilled wine all over my lap—the last thing I saw before the show cut away to a commercial break was Edward's pissed off face. Holy shit.
"That would have been so much more awesome without the five-second delay." Emmett was the first to speak. "Though those censors have pretty impressive reflexes."
"Um . . . that was crazy." Rose stared at me, wide-eyed.
"You guys . . ." I suddenly realized I was standing. "I think I have to go."
"Go where? Bella?"
"To . . . I have to talk to Edward."
Rose stood, tugging away the purse I'd slung over my shoulder. "Bella, he's shooting a live show. They'll never let you in there."
"I don't care. I have . . . I have to go." I tugged back the purse and raced to my closet, pulling out a pair of flats and grabbing my coat.
Emmett and Jake rounded the corner behind me. "Bells, it's ninety degrees outside. Doubt you need the down jacket."
"Oh . . ." I glanced down at it. "Right. I gotta go." I flung the coat at them and ran out the door, ignoring the protests that followed me into the humid night air.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. How could I have been so stupid? My quick walk became a run to the end of the street to hail a taxi.
You thought the worst of me, and that hurts.
Now those words had an entirely new meaning—I'd assumed he'd known about the article and never gave him the chance to explain. Never considered he'd not understood what I was talking about. Fuck.
A cab pulled up, and I hopped in, giving the driver the midtown address. Though I'd never been inside studio before, we'd driven by a couple of times, and Edward had pointed it out. I just hoped they didn't have tight security.
I gnawed on my fingernails and tried to make sense of the emotions rolling through me—all of this could have been avoided if I'd just had a little faith in him. I'd had none. I needed to make it right, but I worried it was too late. After everything he'd confided in me . . . What if I was in his position? Would he ever be able to forgive me for abandoning him?
Pushing those questions out of my mind, I held on as the cab lurched down a particularly bumpy street. Finally, I saw the lights of midtown in the distance . . . but unfortunately traffic had come to a stand still. Grabbing a twenty from my wallet, I flung it at the cabdriver and hopped out of the car, walk-jogging down the street and catching the irritated stares of people I bumped into on the crowded sidewalk. Mid-town Manhattan swarmed with tourists and city-dwellers alike on Saturday nights. A couple that looked straight off the farm, fanny-packs and all, gave each other alarmed looks and me a wide berth.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck, shit," I chanted under my breath. "Sorry, sorry."
"Hey, lady, watch out!" a gruff voice yelled from behind me.
"I'm sorry, but I'm the black shell!" My explanation sounded crazy, but it was all I had.
Panting now with exertion, I finally rounded the corner and spied the door to Studio 22A. I reached for the handle, sighing in frustration when I found it locked.
I pulled harder, but it didn't budge. Ah, an intercom! I pressed the button, fidgeting nervously and trying to catch my breath.
"Food Network Studios," a voice answered.
"Hi, yes. Um. I'm Isabella. I'm . . . I'm Edward Cullen's girlfriend. His real one. Well, I was. I think I still might be. Um . . . I'm the one that he's talking about, and I really need to see him, so if you could just let me in . . ."
The voice cut me off, sounding irritated. "I'm sorry, but Mr. Cullen is in filming, and you're not on our list."
"Please . . . you have to let me in . . . I just need to see him. He doesn't know I love him, and I kinda just have to tell him and . . . please . . ."
Realizing I sounded like a desperate whack-job, I trailed off. What kind of half-baked plan was this, anyway? I expected to come here and just waltz in? I sighed and ran a hand through my hair.
Another voice came on, this one kinder. "Is this Isabella Swan? Bella?"
"Yes. Yes it is."
"You are on the list. Security will come down to escort you, but you'll need your ID."
"I have that!" I said, frantic with joy. I was on the list! I was on the list!
"Good. Just a minute, please."
I waited for about five before the door finally opened. A tall, uniformed man with a shiny bald head came to the door and opened it, his eyes widening before he managed to control his expression. I looked down . . . duck pants. Crap. Bridget Jones would be proud. At least I had a bra on. Thank God for small miracles.
"Identification?" he asked. I fished out my wallet and nearly threw it at him in my haste.
He handed it back to me and nodded. "Right this way. "
I followed his brisk pace, and soon found myself being ushered into a small room with a table full of food and a large window overlooking the studio.
"You can wait in here. It's almost over."
Quickly scanning the stage for Edward, I saw him standing with Alton and two women—Siobhan and Zafrina. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but there was a large monitor on the wall above the window. A few people milling around gave me strange looks, but one woman, a petite brunette with dramatic eye makeup, came over.
"Hi," she said. "Friend or family?"
"Um . . . friend. I'm Bella."
Her eyes widened in recognition. "Bella, Edward's Bella?"
Her smile grew wider. "I'm his stylist, Nick." She held out her hand. "Nice to meet you. Edward's said a lot about you."
"You, too," I lied. Edward never mentioned his stylist by name, but I knew he liked her. She seemed friendly enough.
She gave my outfit a once over, likely doubting my sanity.
"I left the house in a rush." My face reddened.
"Yeah . . . Well, I can see why you did. That whole thing was unexpected—of course they cut him off and tried to act like the outburst never happened . . . I think the producers even threatened to sue Edward. But the damage is already done.
"Right now, they're doing a retrospective of the show and profiles on Siobhan and Zafrina, and then they're going to announce the results. Though, if you ask me, neither of those idiots deserve to have a job at his new place."
Yes, I most certainly did like Nick.
"I wish I could see him," I sighed, eyeing the monitor.
She gave me a sympathetic smile, but then a boy with spiky black hair caught her attention. "We gotta go," he said, eyes darting to the door.
"Touch ups," she explained. I nodded, my eyes following them as they flitted out the door.
I settled on a couch close to the screen; Nick and the other stylist appeared on stage and went to work powdering and prodding. I could have sworn Edward looked in my direction.
Someone turned up the volume on the monitor, and all but the show's stars remained on stage. I shot daggers at Siobhan, with her stupid contacts and her stupid straightened hair, wondering how much they'd paid her off to tell lies about Edward.
With the cameras rolling again, the one on our monitor focused on Edward. His face seemed lighter somehow, his eyes crinkling around the edges as he smiled.
"Now," Alton began, "The moment we've been waiting for . . ."
He pulled out an envelope and stood, confronting Edward and the two contestants. Siobhan smiled placidly as if nothing weird had happened.
"America voted," Alton said, "and the winner of the six month contract at The Black Shell, as well as a fifty-thousand dollar cash prize is . . . Zafrina Alfonso!
Murmurs erupted around me, and the camera panned to Zafrina, who clapped her hands and jumped, her tits bouncing underneath her chef whites. The acidic scowl on Siobhan's face could have peeled paint. I never thought I'd be happy to have Zafrina win, but after the week I'd had, she suddenly seemed the lesser of the two evils. How strange.
"Thank you, America! Chef Cullen, I promise to make you proud," she exclaimed, giggling.
Edward gave a slight nod. "We'll see."
"Hey," a voice said from beside me, "come with me."
It was the black-haired stylist guy. I nodded and stood, following him out of the room and, I realized, my heart hammering, toward the set. He turned around and pressed his pointer finger two his lips, indicating I should stay silent.
From my vantage, I had a great view of the entire proceedings—Alton offering his congratulations to Zafrina as Edward stood to the side, watching with an unreadable expression.
Then he turned his head, and our eyes met. The cameras must have stopped rolling because he smiled at me—a tentative, boyish smile that made my heart hurt. And I could barely keep myself from running into his arms. He quickly crossed the set with long strides, holding his hand up when someone tried to get in his way.
"Hi," I said. "Um . . . hi."
"You watched. And . . . you're wearing pajamas."
I nodded, trying to find any words that would make this better. I had nothing. "Edward, I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry. Please forgive me for being so stupid."
He reached out and drew me into his arms. I let out a sigh, the tension draining from my body as I hugged him back. He responded just as fiercely, the hesitation replaced with strength.
"I'm sorry," I said again. I'd never stop saying it. He stopped my mouth from rambling with a slow, sweet kiss. It was like we'd never kissed before—I poured all of the love and desire and pain I'd felt in the past week into it, gripping him so tightly he'd understand I never planned to let him go again.
"I didn't know, Bella," he said as we broke away. "The whole time I thought I was talking about you. That's why I was so bloody nervous the night before . . . I'd given the interview without clearing it with you first, you know, about going public." He touched my chin and swept his hand through my hair. "I thought you'd be mad, and then when you called, you were even angrier than I'd imagined. I couldn't understand it. And when you were upset at the marriage thing . . . well . . . I really felt like a blasted idiot. Though in retrospect I suppose it was a bit soon . . ."
I shook my head. "I thought you were just going along with them. I was so angry, I couldn't see the truth. I should have trusted you. I'm so sorry. God, can you ever forgive me?"
He sighed and cupped my face with his hands. I couldn't stop touching him—his shoulders, his back, and his arms. "It's not all your fault. I should have told you about the stupid interview in the first place. I should have told you before that I love you." His voice grew low and husky, and his eyes blazed with desire that was tinged with a bit of fear.
"I love you," I told him, kissing his smooth cheek, then his lips. "I love you, too. I'm so sorry."
A throat cleared, and I tore my lips away from Edward's, finding myself staring directly into the face of Alton Brown. Behind him stood Siobhan and Zafrina, both of them looking equally scandalized. Siobhan in particular looked a bit green around the gills.
"You do realize we're still filming, don't you?" Alton gave us a small smile.
"Still filming?" I squeaked.
"Yes. Still filming."
My desire to have the earth swallow me whole had never been quite so strong. I felt faint, only standing thanks to the grace of Edward's arms.
"Well," Alton said. "I take it this is your real girlfriend, then?"
Edward glanced at me, and when I smiled, he nodded.
I heard someone scoff behind Alton, and I turned my gaze on Siobhan. "Oh, get over yourself, stupid lemur woman. Go play with your monkeys."
Just imagine the headlines tomorrow.
^_^ AAT ^_^
"So it was all Jane?"
Two hours later, Edward and I finally arrived back at his apartment. At first the studio execs weren't very happy with his little stunt, but they'd relaxed once they got wind of the show's ratings, which had apparently gone through the roof. Twitter had exploded, and the entire Internet buzzed with the story of Edward Cullen's nearly sabotaged romance. My #duckpants were now infamous, destined as fodder for fashion "Don'ts."
The stuff of legend, or so Rose told me when I gave her and Emmett a call to let them know I hadn't been arrested.
"Mmm hmm. Her and her cousin Marcus—he was one who did the interview." He used air quotes to emphasize his ironic one. Yes, I remembered the name of the reporter—Marcus Starr . . . Jane Starling. I hadn't thought anything of the similarity before.
"Hmm. I bet they're gonna fire that guy. And Jane, what a bitch!"
"She's mental," Edward agreed with a sigh. "And also fired. The strangest thing was she seemed to think I'd be okay with it all. Daft cow."
"It's too bad you can't get rid of Zafrina as well."
"Actually," he said. "Funny you should mention that."
"My lawyers have gone over my contract, and there appears to be a caveat. It states I'm required to employ the winner of the show for six months—it doesn't list the job position."
"So that means . . ."
"It means The Black Shell has a new busser."
"Oh my God!" I laughed and hit his arm. It was just too good. "Does she know this?"
"I do not want to be there for that meeting."
"No, I don't believe you would."
We settled down onto the sofa, and I reached out so I could rub his back. He groaned and hung his head forward.
"It's been a shit week."
"Believe me, I know."
"You deleted all my messages?" His voice held more than a hint of irritation. My hands slowed and dropped to my sides.
He turned back to me and frowned. "That really hurt me. You wouldn't even listen." My stomach hardened like a rock.
"I let my insecurities get in the way of everything else—how I felt about you. I . . . I won't blame you if you can't forgive me." It hurt to say the words, and tears prickled at the corner of my eyes.
"I never said I couldn't forgive you." Edward rested his hand on my knee. "You forgave me once." He smiled wistfully. "You gave me a second chance."
"But this was different," I said softly. "We were just kids back then. I . . . I didn't really know you. Tonight, when I saw what you did . . . naming the restaurant and all. I realized what I must have put you through . . . God."
"Bella," he said, sighing, "what happened wasn't all your fault. I said it before—I should have been honest about the interview I'd given and about my feelings for you. Yes, you jumped to conclusions, but I can see why you did. Still, if we're going to do this," he gestured between us, "I can't have you running away when things get hard. I need to know that you trust me. That you believe the things I tell you."
"I do," I replied. "Maybe you can't believe me right now, but I do. I'll show you."
"And I promise not to keep secrets from you."
Edward wiped away the tear that had fallen on my cheek with the pad of his thumb.
"That's enough of this for now. I'm knackered." He yawned, and I bit the inside of my cheek, not knowing where we stood after everything.
"Oh . . . yeah. I should probably go."
Edward frowned. "You're not going anywhere."
"Not unless you want to."
"Okay then. Stop it. You're staying here with me. I've had about enough of sleeping alone."
He waggled his eyebrows, and I laughed, my chest lightening. But the heated kiss he pressed against my lips instantly erased the laughter.
"God, I've missed you," he moaned. "And these duck pants. Though I wouldn't recommend wearing them on national TV again."
"I missed you too . . . so much." His hands drifted up my sides, and I reached for the hem of his shirt, wanting to feel his skin against mine.
Suddenly, it occurred to me: we hadn't seen each other since I'd gotten my test results back, though Edward had gotten his the week before we broke up. The idea of having sex without a condom . . . well, it sounded pretty damn good.
I kissed him harder and pressed his pelvis into mine.
"Bed?" he whispered.
We hurried to his room and fell onto each other, a rush of hungry lips and hands. I kissed his firm torso and moved lower, licking a stripe up his hardening cock as he watched, face flushed. I liked the way it leapt at the sensation, and so did it again, using my hand to work him to firmness as I sucked and licked at the head. Edward groaned, and I grew wet, not even needing his touch. But wanting it.
We wrestled on the sheets, mouths finding each other again as he rolled on top of me and nudged between my legs. After all that had happened between us, he still wanted me. Thank fucking God.
"Condom?" he asked.
I shook my head, and he smiled, sliding inside without another word. His eyes rolled back in his head.
"God, I missed this."
"Fuck . . . me too," I panted. The warm, slick sensation of his bare cock inside me increased my arousal to fever pitch. It didn't take long until I was grinding against him, grasping with my arms as he moved with forceful strokes.
He kissed my neck, then moved back and sucked one of my nipples into his mouth, giving it a light, biting tug. And then he was back, fucking me into the mattress with a single-minded purpose and a hazy, glazed look of lust in his eyes.
"Fuck, Bella. I'm gonna come." The hint of disappointment in his voice made me want to kiss him senseless. So I did.
"Do it. Inside. Please." I wrapped my legs tighter to hold him to me as he began to thrust more rapidly, shaking the bed with the force. He cried out and drove in to the hilt, which was more than enough to inspire my own orgasm. I came with a muffled sob into his shoulder, the pleasure almost unbearable.
We lay for a few minutes, our breathing settling as his cock softened inside of me.
"That was awesome," I said.
"Sorry I didn't last . . ." Edward smiled sheepishly.
"Um, I didn't either, if you didn't notice."
He looked a little proud. "Well, good."
We grinned at each other, and I knew . . . I just knew . . . we would be okay.
^_^ AAT ^_^
I woke up early that morning; Edward still slept, his handsome face relaxed, mouth slightly parted. After pressing a quick kiss to his forehead, I padded to the kitchen for coffee.
As the pot brewed, I sat at the bar and checked email on my phone . . . a mistake. I had about a million of them—my parents, employees, even high school friends I hadn't heard from in years. All of them wanted to know about Edward and me. I sighed and closed the stupid thing. Maybe I should just take a full page ad out in the New York Times, get it done in one fell swoop.
Then I noticed the stack of boxes on the kitchen counter—the boxes containing the gifts Edward had sent me. Looking over my shoulder to assure myself he was still asleep, I found the scissors and approached the pile.
Maybe he wouldn't want me to open them now. I hesitated for an instant before curiosity got the better of me—they were mine, after all—and slid the blade under the packaging tape of the first box.
Inside, I was surprised to see a small kitchen appliance I didn't immediately recognize. When I read the instructions, I smiled.
A cotton candy maker. And a note.
Do you remember our Coney Island 'date'? I wanted so badly to kiss you. You looked beautiful with ketchup on your mouth (though I continue to detest the stuff).
The next package contained a bottle of the same wine he'd brought me from Napa, and a similar, ridiculously romantic note. Box after box contained items that recalled the times we'd spent together, and I kicked myself for not opening them when he'd sent them.
I laughed at the one that contained another forty or so cans of Savory Salmon cat food.
For our daughter, the note read. I miss her. And you.
Finally, in the last box, I uncovered a small glass Mason jar filled with sand. My breath caught in my throat.
From our beach.
Dropping the scissors on the counter, I turned on my heel and almost ran back toward the bedroom. A sleepy, just awoken Edward lay tangled in sheets.
I held up the jar of sand.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading. As always, I'd love to hear what you think, so let me know!
Yes, this is the final chapter, but there will be an epilogue to follow. HOWEVER, it will NOT be included at the end of the story here; I'll create a separate story for it on my ffn profile. So, if I'm on your author alert, you'll get a notice. If not, check my profile in two weeks.
Much love to anyone who's read, rec'd, and reviewed! And a special thanks to Mac, Diamond, Flanny, and Ms. Junk for all of their help through the process. I couldn't have written this without you.