Word Count: 10,401
Pairing: Edward and Bella
Summary: Infuriating. Cocky. Mouth-watering. All words Bella Swan would use to describe Edward Cullen, owner of Cullen Construction, and the arrogant friend-of-a-friend she just can't seem to get rid of. The question is, does she really want to?
Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
It's hot and crowded, neither of which is my thing. It's not that I don't like people. I do. It's just that I like them in small doses. Aside from my best friend Alice Brandon, most of my friends live inside the tattered pages of the books lining the walls of my living room. Second Sunday is an exception I make each month, when the main road in my area of Seattle closes down for the day, creating a festival-like atmosphere. The food's good and the music's better, and it's a tradition Alice and I have had for years. We come to eat and drink, shop the sales, and listen to small-time bands looking for a big break.
"Watch it, lady," a frat kid beside me murmurs when my elbow taps his beer.
"Lady?" I scoff. "Seriously? I'm, like, a few years older than you."
His eyes scan my neatly combed ponytail and basic cotton shirt before they crinkle in confusion. He shrugs as if he doesn't understand the point I'm trying to make. Asshole.
I search the crowd once more, hoping to see Alice's bright tanktop amid the sea of too much skin. Her command that I save our spot while she grabbed drinks felt like a bad idea when she suggested it. I should have known better than to separate myself from her in a crowd this size.
As I scan the crush of people for what feels like the twentieth time, something cold and wet touches the back of my leg, and I shriek and jump. A happy dog with its tongue hanging from the side of its mouth springs up and plants its big paws on my hip. My eyes trail up its long, red leash to land on a big, masculine hand, a well-defined forearm, a strong bicep… The dog's owner is shockingly handsome in a striking yet rough way—perfect, even. His fitted t-shirt hugs his broad chest, and the stubble on his face proves he hasn't seen a razor in days. I check to make sure I'm not drooling before I shoot visual daggers his way.
He shrugs a wide shoulder unapologetically, tugging lightly on the leash. "I guess he likes you."
I rub the soft fur around the dog's neck and lower his paws to the ground gently. "Nobody's taught you any manners, have they, buddy?" His tail wags at the playful sound of my voice, and I grin, stooping down to scratch behind his ears.
"Hey, now." His owner laughs. "Diesel's very well mannered." He wraps the leash around his hand a few times and lowers himself to our level. "He just has a thing for pretty girls, don't you, boy?" He avoids Diesel's wet tongue while I roll my eyes.
"Oh," I say, wiping my hands on my thighs and getting back to my feet. "I get it."
"You do?" He follows suit, and the dog waits obediently at his feet.
"Yep. I've seen your kind before."
"You." I wave my hand in his direction. "With your dog and your lines."
"My dog and my…lines?"
"This is probably your thing." I curl my fingers in the air to mark the word. "You get all…spiffy, and then the two of you go out and pick up girls."
His eyebrows climb as his smile widens. "You think I'm spiffy?"
"It wasn't a compliment," I reply dryly. His cocky attitude makes any thoughts I had of his handsome face dissolve in the charged atmosphere.
"Listen, lady." His grin is incorrigible, and I grapple with feelings of embarrassment and irritation that he overheard my earlier interaction with the frat kid. It seems I can't win today.
I cross my arms over my chest and glare at him, waiting for him to continue.
"Despite what you think, I didn't train Diesel to pick up girls." His air quotes mimic mine.
"I've heard it all before, Mister."
"Mister?" He laughs, a full-blown guffaw. "Who says that?"
"Those of us with manners," I grind out. "That's who."
"Sure, lady. Whatever you say."
I stomp my sandaled foot in exasperation. "Would you knock it off with the 'lady' crap? I have a name."
He feigns surprise, and his eyes twinkle in amusement. "You do?"
"Asshole," I murmur for the second time today.
"That's an interesting name."
"Oh, my—you're really something, you know that? What are you even doing here?"
He looks around in confusion. "I'm here to see the band. Isn't that what we're all doing here?"
"Obviously. I meant, what're you even doing here? In my space."
"Oh. Yeah." He shrugs, pointing to the mound of fur at his side. "This guy. He likes you."
"Sure. Listen…" I search my brain for his name and come up short. "Uh…"
"Edward." He sticks his hand out, and I shake it, ignoring its warmth and roughness and the way it nearly doubles mine in size.
"Right. Edward. Listen, let's just pretend this never—"
"And you are?"
"Oh. Uh…Bella. I'm Bella."
"That's much nicer than asshole."
"Wow." I roll my eyes at his predictability. "If you'll excu—"
"Hey, do you know that girl?" he interrupts, pointing to the sea of people behind me. "I think she's calling you."
It takes me a moment, but sure enough, he's right. It's Alice, and she's pushing her way through the crowd with impressive speed. I'm so happy to see her I could cry.
"God, Alice, what happened?" I hug her as soon as she's close enough, crushing the cans of beer she's holding between us.
She eyes me worriedly, the second person today to look at me as though I'm slow. "I went to get our beers." She holds mine out to me, giving it a small shake. "Remember?"
"Ah, she drinks." Edward appears at my side, that goofy dog with his overly large tongue staring up at me. "I didn't take you for a drinker."
I grab my beer from Alice and narrow my eyes at him. "Do you mind?"
He mistakes my dismissal for permission, waving his hand to the side in allowance. "Not at all. Go right ahead."
"Bella." Alice draws my name out slowly. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your new friend?"
"Hi there," he says, stepping over my opportunity to answer her. "I'm Edward." He shakes her hand and nods to the dog. "This is Diesel."
"Charmed," Alice says, raising an eyebrow and shrinking back a bit. She's a cat person.
A tall guy with shaggy, blond hair edges his way into our personal space then, thrusting his hand in my friend's direction. "Jasper Whitlock," he says with a hint of Southern drawl.
Alice's countenance changes immediately. She may not like dogs, but she loves shaggy-haired blond guys. Guys in general, really. "Hello, boys," she purrs.
I envy my friend's confidence. She's never met a stranger she couldn't chat up, and apparently these random guys are no exception.
I sigh heavily as the three of them exchange yet another round of handshakes. Street fairs and festivals are common in Alice's line of work. Her job as a talent scout means she's always on the hunt for new, up-and-coming musicians, and my job as her friend means I tag along. Unfortunately, this also means that I'm continually subjected to the legions of hipsters and weirdos that Alice tends to attract. These two, though…
"Do you mind moving over a bit?" I shout into Edward's ear a short while later. Alice and Jasper are engaged in a deep conversation, and her massive designer bag keeps whopping me in the back.
Edward places his palm against my lower back and helps me shuffle toward the open spot in front of him. I can't see the band as well, but Diesel's presence provides a wide berth between me and the rest of the gatherers, and it's a tradeoff I'm perfectly happy to make.
As the crowd swells and the sun begins to set, alcohol loosens inhibitions, and the energy level rises. The music is good, and experiencing it from the center of a pulsing sea of bodies is nearly euphoric. This band's future is bright if the gleam in Alice's eye is any indication.
Edward's hand grazes my hip occasionally, guiding my body from side to side in an attempt to dodge enthusiastic jumpers and swayers. "Thanks," I mouth, when he uses his arm to politely deflect an incoming beachball that's been lobbed overhead. His formerly dark hair shines gold in the light of the setting sun, and kisses of pink line the bridge of his nose and the smooth skin beneath his eyes. Under the influence of alcohol and music, I'm able to admit that he's much more than just a tight t-shirt and a scruffy jaw. He's downright gorgeous. He smiles in return, his hand squeezing my hip gently, and I'm surprised by how easily I find myself relaxing into him. It's almost enough to make me forget about his infuriating smug nature.
I'll never see him again, I reason. Might as well enjoy the moment while it lasts.
Weeks later, I've had it. I'm sick and tired of picking trash out of my flower beds, an unfortunate result of sharing my street with a new home development in the middle of construction. Fed up—and clutching a bag of collected debris to prove it—I watch the grass from my front yard fade to gravel and dirt as I march closer to the worksite, my feet kicking up little clouds of dust with each carefully measured step. It's a disaster zone over here. A total wreck. A massive pickup truck is parked haphazardly in the yet-to-be-poured driveway, its bed overflowing with tools and gear. I consider just throwing the bag of trash in and leaving, but I doubt its owner would even notice additional junk on top of the heaping pile of…well, junk.
Scaffolding surrounds the newly bricked exterior of the house, and several sweaty guys sit perched atop its beams. The sound of their hammering slowly fades away as I draw nearer to the hole where the front door will eventually be. Someone whistles, setting off a chain of whoops and howls. "Ugh," I mutter. "Pigs."
It's cooler inside the house and surprisingly bright. My steps falter slightly when I notice the span of floor-to-ceiling windows covering the entire back wall of the room off the kitchen. It's an impressive view made spectacular by the way each section of glass appears to frame the scene behind it.
"Hello?" My voice carries across the empty house's hard surfaces, bouncing around slightly and making me wince. I'm looking for the person in charge here, not trying to draw the entire crew of hecklers inside. Music spills from a hallway off the living room, and I follow the sound like a trail, stopping at the open door of a large room in the back.
Yet another sweaty guy hunkers over a massive piece of machinery in the center of the room, his hands rapidly transferring marks from his tape measure to the piece of wood he's holding.
"Excuse me." A loud electric saw drowns my words before I can get them out. Annoyed, I pick my way carefully over boards, sawdust, and nails to tap him on his shirtless shoulder, tamping down the buzz that flashes through me when I touch his tanned, muscled back. "Excuse me!" I repeat loudly.
"Yeah?" The guy turns slowly to face me, slipping his pencil behind his ear. "You really shouldn't be out here in flip-flops and—"
"Are you the manager here?" I hold up the bag of trash and cut him off. "I'm awfully tired of finding this stuff in my yard."
"Manager?" He smirks and takes off his safety glasses and hard hat. Jesus. I'm completely disarmed by green eyes and messy hair that stands on end and a grin that cocks up slightly higher on the left. Tan and muscles and eyes and—
"Bella, right?" he asks, prying the trash bag from my hand.
"Yeah…" I trail off, confused. "That's me."
"Edward." He points to himself, then the empty space beside him. "With the dog? From Second Sunday?"
He's the last person I expected to see here, but yes. Now that he's mentioned it, yes. Those are the same bright, friendly eyes, and that is the same playfully confident smile. And those shoulders…wide and strong…
He grabs the faded t-shirt hanging from the back pocket of his jeans and shrugs it on.
I scowl. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm the, uh, manager." He coughs lightly to cover a laugh.
"Good." I straighten my shoulders and point to the trash once more. "I live at the bottom of the hill, and I'm tired of finding your crap in my yard."
"Yeah. All of your fast food wrappers and empty water bottles. Your cigarette butts and…and other gross stuff."
"That must be awful. As the manager—" He pauses, tamping down another chuckle. "—I'll be sure to get right on it."
"You do that," I reply, my patience running thin; it's been a long day, and I'm tired and hungry and irritable. The last thing I want to deal with is a day's worth of trash in my yard and a cocky man-boy in my business.
"Your friend stole my friend," Edward blurts. His change of topic is so abrupt that I struggle to keep up. "My buddy, Jasper? He's disappeared."
I'm still not following. "What?"
"Your friend." He holds a level hand up near his chest. "The little one?" Just as he intended, it's exactly the kickstart my brain needed, and I finally get it.
"Yup." He throws his safety glasses into his toolbox and wipes the beads of sweat gathered on his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. "That's the one."
This is news to me. I talk to Alice daily and see her nearly as often. She's been busy with work this week and— "No." I gasp. There's no way. She would have told me. That sneaky little… "Your friend. He's the blond guy, right? With the accent and the scruffy hair?"
He looks at me like I'm crazy. "He has hair," he says, shrugging uncomfortably.
The smooth-talker from Second Sunday. "I knew it!"
"You obviously didn't."
Ignoring his dig, I reach into my back pocket and grab my phone. "I can't believe she didn't tell me," I murmur, fingers flying across the screen as I tap out a message to my friend.
"Don't bother." Edward shakes his head, sighing. "They don't come up for air."
Heat floods my cheeks at the casual way he tosses this information around. "Are you… How do…uh. How do you know?"
"I share a wall with Jasper." He pauses, ducking his head. "Unfortunately."
Heat turns to fire as I blush deeper at his admission. Images of Edward in his bed assault me before I can give them permission, and I wonder briefly if the embarrassed flush of my skin alerts him to my mind's train of thought.
"So you're, uh, roommates?" I ask. "You and Jasper."
"You went to college?" The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them. Horrified, I fumble for a way to make what I've said less offensive. "I mean, it wasn't a question. You went to college. Period. It should have been a period." That wasn't it.
He chuckles, his face a mixture of the you're-kind-of-crazy look from earlier and something new, softer and more relaxed. Amusement, maybe. "I did. Shocking, isn't it?"
"Not at all," I lie. I had no idea that wielding a hammer and a saw required a college degree, but I'm certainly not going to admit that to him. "I'm sure it's a perfectly normal thing for people in your profession. Well, not profession, but you know. Your…your…"
"Managers, you mean?"
Is he laughing at me? I roll my eyes, internally pleading with my body not to betray me with yet another embarrassed flush. "Excuse me for my lack of proper construction site lingo."
"I think the word you're looking for is foreman." His smile is genuine, and while I can't control the feeling of mortification at having made a complete fool of myself, at least he's no longer teasing me. "In my case, though… Uh, Cullen Construction?" He points to the faded text stamped across his t-shirt, then to himself. "I'm Cullen."
"Edward Cullen." He offers me his hand for the second time. "Pleasure to meet you. Again."
"Hold on," I mutter to my front door, twisting my hair into a messy knot before working the locks and pulling it open.
The morning sunlight painting the walls of my entryway is bright, but it's not why I squint in surprise. Dressed for the upcoming workday in worn jeans and work boots, Edward stands on my doorstep, a cardboard cup billowing with steam in one hand, a small bag marked with the logo of a nearby bagel shop in the other.
His bashful shoulder shrug belies his bright smile as he lifts the cup in my direction. "Morning."
I cross my arms over my chest, hiding what the thin material of my thin college sleep shirt doesn't as I stare at him in shock. "What are you doing here?"
"I brought you breakfast. An apology for my crew and all their litter."
"You brought me breakfast?"
He nods, holding the cup out to me once more. "I did."
"Do you always talk in questions?" His lips split into what I'm starting to suspect is a trademark smirk.
My go-to response is scathing and sharp-tongued, but then I remember why he's here. "Um, no. Sorry."
He laughs. "What are you apologizing for?"
"You went out of your way to bring me coffee and a bagel, and the first thing that pops into my mind is a snarky comment."
"If it makes you feel any better, I didn't go out of my way."
"You didn't?" I raise an eyebrow. "Do you live above the bagel shop?"
"Unfortunately, no. But I was stopping there anyway, and I thought of you, so…"
He trails off, shoving his hands in his pockets and shrugging awkwardly. I'm not sure why he'd be thinking of me at this hour—or ever, really.
"So where's your breakfast?"
He rubs his flat stomach. "Already ate it."
"But it's so…early." I'm an early riser, but this is just insanity.
"We start on site at seven. Waste of daylight otherwise."
I roll my eyes. "You sound like my grandfather."
"Not all of us can sleep the day away, princess." The playful gleam in his eye makes him cute instead of cavalier, a quality I'm sure he's well aware of. You don't look like that in life and not use it to your advantage on occasion.
"I may not chase the sun, but I get up plenty early, thanks." I'm unaware of my hands-on-hips stance until his eyes flicker briefly to my obviously braless chest, and I'm grateful for the polite yet subtle way he turns his head, allowing me time to recompose.
"You live here alone?" he asks, just as I'm opening the door wider to invite him inside. "Wow." He shakes his head. "That sounded way creepier than I thought it would."
My laugh turns his cheeks pink. "Cop's daughter," I tell him, raising a shoulder casually. "I can hold my own."
"I'll start over." He clears his throat comedically. "Hi. We just met, but I brought you coffee and a bagel, and I'd like to know if I'm going to get my ass handed to me by your boyfriend."
"I don't have a boyfriend."
"No?" The surprise in his voice is flattering, and I wish—not for the first time—that I wasn't in my pajamas.
"Good to know." He scuffs the toe of one boot against the concrete, his head bashfully ducked to hide his grin.
"Thanks again for the coffee and bagel." It's slightly awkward, this front porch goodbye we're up against. "Do you want to come in for a bit? While I eat? I can make you another cup of coffee or…"
He smiles gently. "I've got a few minutes to kill. Coffee sounds great."
I lead him to the kitchen and kickstart the coffee pot before ducking into my bedroom to quickly change clothes and wash up.
When I rejoin him in the kitchen, he's wide-eyed and jumpy. "Cop's daughter," he croaks, as soon as he sees me. "Is your dad—does he live here?" Fear clouds his face as he considers what this might mean for his early morning drop-by.
"No boyfriend, no dad," I say, reassuring him. "At least not here, anyway. My dad lives across town."
He throws a hand over his chest, relieved. "It just hit me. You were in an NYU t-shirt, talking about being a cop's kid—" He pauses. "You're not a minor, are you?"
"Hardly." I snort. "That ship sailed about ten years ago."
"So the NYU shirt…"
"My alma mater."
His eyebrows climb. "An East Coast girl. What're you doing in Seattle?"
"My family's here," I reply. "My dad and my brother. I can work anywhere, so it just made sense."
I hand him a steaming mug, and he thanks me, following me to the small table in my breakfast room. The space, normally large and empty, seems warmer with him in it. His broad shoulders block the light spilling from the windows behind the sink, and his long legs splay across the tile. If he looks this good at 7am…
"Where do you work?" He interrupts my musing and, embarrassed, I shift my eyes from his legs to the cup of coffee in my hands.
"I'm a freelance writer. I do a lot of work for the city and a couple of places back east that I've written for since college."
"I'm officially impressed." He takes a gulp of coffee—black, no cream or sugar—and there's something so innately male about his actions. I can't look away. "I'm a numbers guy," he says. "Words aren't my thing."
"Makes sense. You know, with all the measuring you do. And the...cutting…" I trail off, feeling like an idiot. My knowledge of construction tools extends to the screwdriver kit my dad gave me for Christmas the year I bought my house.
"Don't forget the managing," Edward teases.
"You're not going to let that go, are you?"
He grins. "Probably not for a while." Placing his empty cup down gently, he taps the table with his hand. "I'd better run. I'm already a little later than I like to be."
"Yeah. Of course." I move our empty mugs to the sink and follow him to the front door, where we face each other awkwardly across the threshold for the second time today. "Thanks again for breakfast," I say.
He rubs a hand across his jaw, hiding a grin. "No problem. So, I'll see you around?"
"Yeah," I say, matching his smile. "I'll see you around."
Edward finds reasons to come to my front door over the next couple of weeks, whether it's to let me know with a sarcastic wink and smile that he's picking up litter from my yard or to offer me a cup of coffee. I learn that he likes his eggs over easy and his bacon extra crispy. I learn that he's friendly and smart and incredibly driven. I learn that his degree is in construction management, but that he almost studied law and that, secretly, he likes it when I'm hardheaded and feisty.
And secretly, I like it when he makes me that way. Every now and then, I find his sarcasm and teasing irritating to the extreme, but mostly I like how he keeps me on my toes. It prevents me from fixating on his strong arms and broad shoulders, or the little bit of stubble that always seems to be sprinkled over his jaw. His rugged good looks.
Breakfasts become lunches, and it isn't long before I'm making extra loaves of homemade bread to take to him and his crew—who, I eventually learn, are a great group of hardworking guys. Despite his carefree attitude and constant joking, Edward runs a tight ship on-site. He knows his stuff, and his guys respect him because of it. He's got great business skills, a characteristic he says he inherited from his hardworking father.
When lunches turn to after-work coffees, I begin to wonder where this new friendship of ours is heading. More than just his good looks and likeable personality, I genuinely enjoy Edward's company, and I'm not quite sure how I feel about that. The last guy whose presence I craved ended up sleeping with my roommate junior year—an injustice I struggled to recover from—and since then it's never been about more than a fun night or a good time for me. I've been perfectly content with my quiet little life in my quiet little house.
And then along came Edward.
Edward, who digs trenches without his shirt on. Edward, whose muscular back—coincidentally, of course—appears in the distance through the window over my kitchen sink when I water my plants each morning. And afternoon.
When Alice invites me to have dinner with her and Jasper at his place, it's all I can do to stop myself from asking her if Edward will be there, too. I'm anxious to officially meet the guy who's occupying so much of my best friend's time, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't equally anxious for a chance to be near Edward without the interruption of his work schedule or mine.
When the time comes, I spend a little extra time on my appearance before leaving the house to meet up with Alice and Jasper, straightening my hair, then changing my mind and curling its ends. I choose a flowy sundress with thin straps and an above-the-knee skirt, because experience proves that Edward's a leg guy, and if our mornings spent at my kitchen table are evidence, he likes mine a lot.
I'm pleasantly surprised when Edward opens the front door at the address Alice gave me. He's evidently shocked to see me standing there, too, because his brow is furrowed and his lips are pursed.
"Hi. Are you…okay?"
"Yeah?" I say for the second time.
His features smooth gradually into a wry grin. "Are you answering me in questions again?"
I breathe deeply through my nose and start over. "I'm meeting Jasper tonight." Shit. That's not what I meant either. "I mean Alice and Jasper. I haven't met—"
"I know what you meant," he interrupts, giving me an out and opening the front door wider. "Come on in."
I brush past him and nearly trip right over a shaggy dog. I almost forgot about Diesel. I haven't seen him since the day I first met Edward. "Hey, Diesel," I coo, scratching behind his ears. "You're such a good boy, sitting behind your dad all patient and quiet."
Edward snorts from behind me. "Dad?"
"That's more like it." Edward snaps his fingers, and Diesel jumps to his feet, licks my hand, and then nudges it like he's asking me to keep petting him. "He likes you," he says softly, and if I didn't know any better, I'd think he was talking about more than his dog.
I glance up at him, deciding to just go for it. "I like him, too."
He squints and stares at me for a moment before clearing his throat. "You, uh…you want something to drink? Jasper and Alice aren't here yet."
"Sure." I follow him to a really nice kitchen that's all stainless steel and beautiful carpentry work. Diesel's on my heels, nudging my hand again. I pat his head idly.
"Diesel. Dude. Leave her alone." The dog licks my leg and trots off to another room.
"He's fine, Edward. You didn't have to send him away. He's really well mannered."
"That's not what you said the first time you met him," he challenges me.
"The first time I met him, I was pissed off about being left alone in a crowd. And sort of perturbed by this really pushy, egotistical guy." Of course, now that I know him better, I realize that Edward is anything but egotistical.
He chuckles, but that's the extent of his answer.
"So, did you do this?" I ask, moving from my spot in the doorway to run a hand over what looks like expert woodworking.
"The kitchen. It's gorgeous."
If I'm not mistaken, I think he's blushing, though it's hard to tell with his sunkissed skin. "Yeah."
"Edward, is this your house? I mean like…your house?"
He pauses before he nods, grabbing a bottle of wine from a rack on the counter.
"As in you built it?"
"Yeah. Mostly. You like red?" he asks. I'm learning Edward's nervous tells. I want to tell him how beautiful his work is, but I get the feeling that his current modesty is genuine and allow him to change the subject.
"Red's perfect." I wander around the kitchen, checking out Edward's handiwork until a faded snapshot hanging on the refrigerator door gives me pause. In it, a young boy stands in front of a man who favors Edward, save for his blond hair. "Is this you?" I ask with no small hint of amusement, pointing at the picture.
He glances up at me, and his face is definitely pinker than it was a few minutes ago. "That's me," he answers, then returns to his battle with a corkscrew and wine bottle. "And my dad. Scout camp."
"You were a Boy Scout?"
"Yeah. Shit." He jerks his hand back and sucks on his finger. "Fucking corkscrew shit." He seems to remember me then and looks up with an apologetic grin. "I never drink wine."
I shrug. I could probably uncork the wine, but I don't want to. I like seeing him all modest, uneasy. "I like beer."
His answering smile is handsome and relieved. "Beer it is." He puts his hand on the small of my back, maneuvering around me to open the fridge, and pulls out two bottles, the labels of which I recognize from a local brewery. As he uncaps the beers and hands me one, I muse over the fact that he really didn't have to make contact with me to get to the fridge. But he did, and the spot where he touched me is warm and tingly.
"Do you still do…Boy Scouty things?" I ask, shaking off thoughts of his big, strong hands.
Luckily, he's able to swallow his giant swig of beer before he snorts. His amused, clear green eyes twinkle at me. "Boy Scouty things?"
"I mean, I've never been one, obviously, but don't they do, like, camping and hiking and stuff?"
He's laughing at me again, and a few weeks ago, that would have been extremely vexing. But now I don't mind. I like making him laugh, even if I'm the butt of the joke.
"Yeah. I like camping and hiking and stuff," he says, mimicking my apparently ridiculous wording. "I enjoy being outdoors when the weather's good. You?"
"Does reading a book on a blanket in the backyard count as outdoorsy?"
"Not in my book."
"Drinking on a patio at sunset?"
"Then I'm not outdoorsy."
"That's too bad," he says, taking another pull from his beer bottle. I admire the way he holds the glass neck of the bottle casually between two fingers, and my clutch on my own beer turns white-knuckled as I watch him swallow. "I was gonna ask you on a date."
My heart slams against my sternum once. "A—a date?"
"And what, my being non-outdoorsy precludes you from asking me out?"
"It's just that I had it all planned out in my head. A hike, maybe a picnic or something corny like that, and then watching the sun set later from the top of the trail." He shrugs, and a playful smirk challenges his effort to be serious. "Now I have to start from square one."
"Well, I mean…I could learn to like it."
He raises an eyebrow at me.
"The outdoors, I mean."
"No can do. Now that you know my nefarious plan, I'll have to come up with something else."
I huff. "So, are you asking me out or not?"
"When I think of something good, yes. I'll ask you out."
"But I already know you're going to. What's the point?"
"You actually don't know I will now, do you?"
My face catches fire as I realize I'm being presumptuous. But it's his fault. He knows he's irritating me. Provoking me. The expression on his face tells me so. So I let it go, taking a sip of my beer to cool off.
"Where exactly did Alice and Jasper go, anyway?" I ask to change the subject.
He peers at the clock on the stove and raises an eyebrow. "They went to pick up the food, but they've been gone for a while."
In that moment, I just know this was planned. My suspicious expression mirrors his.
"Alice is a crafty little thing, huh?" he asks, not breaking eye contact as he downs the last of his beer.
"Yeah," I mumble, sipping my own beer and picking at the peeling label. "Conniving is more like it."
As if on cue, the front door opens, and Diesel's nails clack across the hardwood flooring. A telltale squeak tells me that it is indeed Alice in the hallway. "Diesel, no!" she shouts. I peek around the kitchen's entryway to see her coming toward me, dancing around the dog who's trying his best to get her attention.
I look back at Edward. "She's really not a dog person."
"Trust me. I know that by now." He shakes his head and calls out to Diesel, who comes trotting in and lies down next to Edward's feet. "Good boy."
"He really is. A good boy, I mean."
"Who? Me or the dog?" For the first time tonight, his true cocky smirk makes its appearance.
"Edward." Alice clacks her tongue at him in distaste. "Be humble. Bella is our guest."
"Our guest?" He turns to Jasper. "Does she live here now?"
She does. There's no denying it. From what she's told me, I don't think she's been to her house for more than a change of clothes since she and Jasper met. There's also no denying their rightness for each other, but they're moving hard and fast, and I wonder what Edward thinks of their situation. I don't know Jasper well, but I know Alice. She's smart and strong and a total whirlwind. Hopefully these guys know what they're getting into.
Jasper ignores his friend, grabbing Alice and pulling her against his chest.
"You see what I'm dealing with here?" Edward asks me over their shoulders. "It's all the time. It never stops."
I laugh as Alice shoves his chest playfully. "What are we eating?" I ask her, searching for signs of food.
"Italian. Help me set the table?"
I follow Alice into the dining room, trailing behind her as she places forks and napkins beside plates. It's only moments until Jasper finds her again, trapping her in the kitchen and leaving me to finish the job alone until, eventually, Edward strolls in.
"You weren't kidding," I say, nodding in the direction of the kitchen. "They're out of control."
"I'm going crazy," he mutters. "They're disgusting."
"Come on. It's not disgusting."
He lifts his eyes from the container of food he's opening, pinning me with his stare. "It is disgusting. He braids her hair."
"Okay, yeah." I concede. "That's a little odd. But they're also kind of… I don't know. Sweet."
He blinks slowly, his eyes never leaving mine. "You like sweet?"
My skin grows hot under his gaze and his no-nonsense line of questioning. I thought we were talking about Alice and Jasper, but we're obviously…not. "It's okay," I croak. "I mean I like it. Sometimes."
I nod. It's all I've got. My throat is dry, and suddenly there's no air in this room. Thankfully, Alice and Jasper break away from each other long enough to make their way back to the table, and the moment passes. The mounting tension between Edward and me, however, doesn't.
His knee rubs against mine under the table while we're eating, and I can't keep my eyes off his lips and the way they mold to his beer bottle when he drinks. We're beyond hiding, I think, although our friends seem to be too wrapped up in each other to notice or care.
"I'm still amazed that you built this, Edward." Like a proud roommate, Jasper was quick to inform me that the table we're sitting at is a Cullen original. I run my hand over its smooth surface, my fingers tracing the patterns and swirls of dark wood. "You're so talented."
He thanks me politely, but I can tell he's embarrassed. Not wanting to push the issue, I ask him what else he's working on.
"He's doing an entire subdivision," Jasper answers for him.
Edward frowns. "Dude."
"The one by my house?" I press.
Edward nods, his cheeks pink with color. I've never seen him blush as much as he has tonight.
"I've only seen one of the houses," I say to Jasper, "but it was great. The windows in the kitchen—you know the ones, right, Edward? Those big picture windows? They looked like art. Like framed paintings. They're so beautiful."
He's staring at me while I ramble, and the look in his eyes is more intense than anything I've ever seen from him before. "Yeah," he says softly after I trail off. "I know them."
"Did you plan for that? For them?" I'm embarrassed by my lack of knowledge and articulation. I want him to know that I recognize the talent and effort he puts into the things he builds, but I don't know the proper words to use.
"That was exactly the plan." He rescues me from my self-loathing, and it's not the first time he's surprised me by anticipating exactly what I'm trying to say. "It's a great lot. I was determined not to hide it behind a bunch of sheetrock and plaster. The windows—" He pauses, leveling me with that intense gaze again. "Just like you said…I chose them specifically to frame the view."
"Well, it worked."
"Thanks." He smiles. "I'm glad you noticed."
"Anyway," Alice interrupts, as if we're the ones being overly schmaltzy. "Edward builds houses, and Bella likes them. Great." She rolls her eyes at the look of horror on my face. "Listen. Jasper and I are thinking of catching a movie. You guys in?"
"Sit with you two while you make out in the back of a theater like a couple of teenagers?" Edward scoffs. "I'll pass, thanks."
Alice shrugs. "Bella?"
I'm torn. Tagging along means exactly what Edward said: being subjected to Jasper and Alice's disgusting displays of affection. But if I stay behind, then it's just Edward and me, and he's already said this isn't a date.
"I've got a couple of loads to drop off at the jobsite," Edward tells me. "You wanna ride with me? See the progress?"
I can't stop the relieved smile that spreads across my face or the flush that touches my cheeks at the thought of being alone with him in his truck…in that empty house. "I'd love to."
"Your work is truly stunning, Edward," I tell him as he gives me the grand tour of the nearly complete house. He runs a hand through his hair bashfully and guides me to the back of the house, turning off the big industrial flashlight he used to lead me through the dark rooms. I appreciated the floor-to-ceiling windows that make up the entire back wall of the house the first time I came here; they were impressive then, but tonight, they're downright dazzling. The house is slightly uphill from mine, and I'm enamored with the twinkling city lights and rolling landscape. "Edward," I whisper, intending to gush over his work and his eye for detail again.
"You're beautiful," he murmurs suddenly.
Turning my head, I see him watching me, staring, his entire body angled toward mine, ignoring the view outside the windows. My heart hammers inside my chest, and I imagine I must look like a fish out of water with the way I'm gaping at him. "I'm beautiful? Edward, look at—"
He leans in and catches my words with his lips, bringing a hand up to cradle the back of my head as he kisses me. I'm overwhelmed by the onslaught on my senses. His lips feel soft on mine as his stubbly chin scrapes against mine lightly. He smells delicious. Clean and masculine, like scented soap, not the heady cologne some guys wear. I'm dumbstruck at first, but when the fog clears, I kiss him back in earnest. It just feels so right.
Edward moves his hand to the side of my neck, and as he tilts his head to deepen our kiss, his rough thumb caresses my cheek. His other hand splays out across the small of my back, urging me closer until I'm pressed against him with my hands on the glorious arms I've admired since I saw him shirtless that day a few weeks back.
The darkness has made him brave, and it's done the same for me. When his tongue slides against mine, I stand on my tiptoes and move my hands up into his hair. The low sound he makes rumbles through his chest, and I let my hands drop down to feel the thudding of his heart giving mine a run for its money.
He tears his mouth away from mine to drop kisses along my jawline to my ear. "I've wanted to do that for a long time." I'm sort of dizzy standing here cloaked in him, and just when I think my knees might give out, he brings his hands to my waist and pushes me backward, turning away from the window to press me against the adjacent wall. Everything moves fast then, sort of desperate, like we've both wanted this for a long time. In that moment, I believe that I have, too.
Strong, callused hands pin my arms above my head as his hard body cages me in. "I could eat you up."
Those words work their way through me, dominating my senses. My guard is down. I want to retaliate, but he moves quickly. His mouth is on mine again, effectively cutting off my snark. As much as I'd love to do the whole sarcastic banter thing, I'm woman enough to admit when I'm beat.
I'm putty in his hands. He smiles against my lips when I make an embarrassing noise in his mouth.
"You good?" he says huskily.
I nod my head and breath out in a soft whoosh. "I'm good." I'm so, so good.
He attacks my mouth with his, and his rough hands make their way down my arms, down my sides, stopping at my hips to pull me closer. And oh, my God. He's so…unf. With one hand, he reaches down and grabs my thigh, bringing my left leg up to wrap around him, holding it there firmly. I'm very aware of the fact that I'm wearing a dress as he grinds his denim-covered erection against me, obliterating any thoughts or words I possessed a mere moment ago. I hang on for dear life and give him all I've got. The tension between us that was born the first moment I saw him… It makes everything urgent. Hot.
His hand is between my legs then, teasing me, and he breathes out slowly when I utter his name against his cheek. It's been a while since I was touched this way, and never quite this intensely. Never this needy. Before long, I'm falling apart at his touch. I don't have to tell him when I come, because I can feel myself pulsing hard around his fingers.
"I've got you," he whispers, kissing me between panting breaths until my body calms down. The contrast of his rough movements and his sweet words steals my heart, and he does have me.
He sucks my bottom lip, moves his lips down my jaw, kisses my neck, licks my collarbone, bites my shoulder. He's everywhere at once. When he pulls away, his eyes take a moment to focus on mine. He's beautifully disheveled—eyes dark, lips swollen, hair standing on end from my fingers. I drop my hands down between us to undo his jeans, and his wild eyes grow wide when I push the waistband down an inch or two and reach inside to grasp him in my hand.
The unrestrained groan that escapes him is sexy. He drops his head forward, leaning it on my shoulder and watching my hand between us for a minute before he produces a condom seemingly out of nowhere.
"You came prepared?" I ask, pursing my lips against the grin that tries to take over. My throaty voice belies the humor.
"Always prepared. Boy scout. Remember?" His momentary, sarcastic smirk disappears as he rips the packet open, tosses the foil aside, and rolls the condom on. It's never occurred to me before how erotic that simple action is.
I wrap my arms around his neck, and he bends his knees, lifting me up with his hands on my upper thighs and pressing me harder against the wall. He pushes my panties aside again and slides in slowly.
"Christ, Bella," he mumbles, touching my forehead with his.
The feeling is mutual.
Edward's thrusts are slow and shallow, because even though this is intense and sexy as hell, it's not the most ideal position. Within a couple of minutes, his movements grow erratic, stronger. "I can't—" His voice is strained and husky.
"It's okay," I tell him quietly. "Let go."
The deep, sexy sounds he makes are muffled against the curve of my neck when he pushes forward one last, powerful time and slows to a stop. His panting breaths tickle my skin, gradually slowing down until he heaves a deep sigh and pulls back to look at me.
"I'm sorry," he says softly, leaving a lingering kiss against my lips.
"Sorry? Are you kidding me right now?"
"Okay. Maybe I'm not." He smirks and holds my gaze as he sets me down on my feet gently. "I couldn't help myself."
My body is still trembling from both the earlier gratification and the effort of tensing my limbs around his waist and neck. I reach up with one hand on his jaw and kiss him slowly and sweetly. "I'm glad you couldn't."
"Good. I hate to do this," he says, glancing down between us again, "but I need to get rid of…"
"Oh!" I say, blushing and flustered. "Yeah. Yeah, go ahead."
Before he leaves to dispose of the condom, he plants one last, firm kiss to my mouth. And when he disappears around the corner, I sink down to the floor, my legs unable to support me just yet. Once again, I look around the dark room, lit only by tonight's bright, full moon, and marvel at the work he's put into this job. It's not just some slapped-together, cookie-cutter house in the suburbs. He's in every single detail.
"What are you doing on the floor?" he asks with a chuckle when he returns. Before I can answer, he sits down beside me and takes my hand, bringing it to his lap and tracing patterns over my palm with the tip of his index finger.
"My legs are jelly."
"That good, huh?" he asks with a laugh.
I snort and leave that statement alone. Because no matter how much I want to rebut, he really was that good.
"Hey, Edward?" I say a minute later.
"Yes?" he asks absently, kissing my palm.
"We just had sex in someone else's dining room."
His exuberant laugh bounces around the empty room. "That we did."
"Hey, Edward?" I repeat.
"We just had really good sex in someone else's dining room."
Instead of laughing this time, he hooks a finger under my chin and turns my face to his. "Yeah," he agrees, and his kiss is a smoldering yet gentle thing that makes my blood roar in my ears.
Edward locks up the house and his truck, and we walk hand-in-hand down the hill to my place. Even though we were about as intimate as two people can get mere minutes ago, this hand-holding thing makes me feel closer to him than I thought possible.
"Want anything?" I ask when we enter my front door. "Beer? Water?"
"Just you," he mutters, pulling me against his chest by the hand.
"I've been called worse."
In the kitchen, he lifts me up onto the counter and goes back to kissing me, as if we never stopped. "You seriously want…"
"You," he breathes. "I want you."
"I mean I want you as mine."
"I've wanted you since the moment you showed up at the site all feisty and contrary."
"O-okay," is the only thing I can force out.
I swallow hard and nod my head. "I want you, too."
"In that case," he says, leaning his forehead against mine, " I think it's now safe to assume that I'll be asking for that date."
He's good. I can't hold back my giggles at his reference to our earlier conversation. "I take it you've hatched a new scheme, then."
"Yup. An even better one."
"Good. So, are you going to?"
"Ask me out?"
"I thought I just did."
He leans in and skims his lips up my jawline to my ear. "Bella, would you like to go on a date with me?"
"Yes," I whisper back, tracing the sexy stubble on his chin. As much as I want to tease him, I give him a straight, honest answer. "I'd love to."
Edward's new plan for our first official date is more my speed than the hiking scheme he told me about before. It's my idea of outdoorsy, which he remembered me telling him that night in his kitchen. We go to dinner and then a bar with an outdoor deck, where the band we saw at Second Sunday is playing. At first, I dismiss it as a coincidence, but he looks so self-satisfied that I ask him, and he tells me outright that he planned it. Half of me wants to kiss that smug look right off his face, but the other half of me does a classic Hollywood-style swoon and falls for him a little bit more.
Back at my place afterward, we don't hide behind pretense. We both know what we want. He kisses me senseless in my living room, where we both get handsy and impatient.
"Hold on tight," he says, jerking my body securely against his and carrying me toward my bedroom.
"I can walk," I whisper in his ear, then take his earlobe between my teeth. But he doesn't seem to be willing to put me down, and that makes me feel…needed. Desired. Like if he lets go, he won't get another chance. But that couldn't be further from the truth.
"Keep that up, and we'll be doing it right here on the floor."
Aroused is an underwhelming word for the overpowering feeling that courses through me at his words. Leave it to Edward to get straight to the point. No dancing around the subject. No questions. No discussion. Just going for it.
He deposits me on the bed and wastes no time yanking his shirt over his head. Seeing his hands at his belt buckle—right at my eye level—is irrationally sexy. I bite my lip as I watch him unfasten it and push his jeans to the floor, and when I look up, he's watching me with an unreadable expression.
Reaching forward, he traces a line down my face, starting at my cheekbone, all the way down until his finger is hooked under my chin. "You're so pretty," he murmurs.
His words are so simple, yet so naked and earnest. They annihilate me like nothing else he's ever done or said. I pull him in for a kiss with my hand on the nape of his neck, and as his mouth devours mine, he pushes me back onto the bed and crawls over me. My hands travel the hard planes of his back. The muscles there shift as he moves, slipping one hand under my dress and holding himself up with the other. He pulls it over my head and drops it on the floor in one move, and when he unhooks my bra even faster, I can't bite back my remark.
"Did you take a class in that, or are you just naturally talented?"
"Hush," he says. "You've yet to discover my many, many talents."
I snicker, but then we're both naked, and nothing's funny anymore. Edward moves south to tease my breasts, and when his erection presses hard against my hip, I reach down to take him in my hand. When he breathes in through his teeth and drops his forehead to my chest, I silently celebrate the fact that I'm affecting him like he's affecting me. But then his hand is between my legs, fingers parting and circling and sliding in and out, and I'm not altogether sure whether the pleas I'm uttering are for him to keep going or to stop the sweet torture.
His fingers leave me trembling and wanting. He shifts to the side, reaches to the floor, rifles through his pants pockets, and comes back with a foil square. I grin up at him, and his answering smirk tells me he remembers our exchange about being prepared.
"Let me," I say, taking the condom from him. He looks down, watching me sheath him, and when I'm finished, he's suddenly hovering over me again. I push against his chest and urge him over onto his back, climbing on top of him, needing to be in control. He looks up at me with that signature smug expression, and as commanding as he always tries to be, I think he likes relinquishing control.
I take him in my hand, positioning him where I'm ready and throbbing, and as I put him in, that self-congratulatory expression, like he's so pleased with himself, melts right off his face. I take him in gradually, inch by inch, sinking slowly onto him, adjusting to his size again, because it's so much deeper, so much more…everything this way.
"Bella." He's never uttered my name quite like that. So…reverently. Maybe even humbly.
I start to move slowly over him, sitting tall and trailing my hands over his chest and stomach. But slow isn't enough. I rock back and forth. Lift and lower myself on him. I do what feels right, what consumes me, what sets his eyes ablaze.
His rough touch is gentle. His hands linger at the tops of my thighs, thumbs pressing into my hipbones. "I think I just might love you," Edward says to my breasts, and if that cocky smirk didn't live inside those words, I might believe he was actually talking to me and not my naked chest.
But I know what he means, because I love this, too. He loves my body, loves our fit. And I love his. His shoulders and arms, muscled and toned and tanned from swinging hammers, carrying boards, and maneuvering heavy machinery. His beautiful abs, firm and drool-worthy, but not an obnoxious six pack.
I skim my hands over all of it, and I'm glad I took the reins, or I wouldn't have been awarded this spectacular view. His eyes are trained on where we're connected, and when he looks back up at me, his stare is glazed, unfocused. The look of wonder on his utterly gorgeous face stirs something inside me as his clutching hands guide me, moving me faster on him, and my orgasm hits me hard and fast, a full head-on collision that steals my breath and replaces it with words I don't usually utter out loud.
Edward doesn't even give me a chance to come down before he has me on my back. Contrary to what's on his face, in his eyes, he doesn't just start pounding away. It's intense. Not rough or hard, but not slow or gentle. Sexy.
"So fucking sexy," he mutters, voicing my thoughts.
Long, slow pushes and retreats. Fast, shallow thrusts. Sexy noises and declarations in my ear. His words and movements stoke a fire that pushes me higher and higher until I'm on the brink once again. I let myself fall, even as he murmurs against my cheek that he's coming, too.
When he comes back down to me, he props himself up with his elbows supporting most of his weight.
"You can let go," I whisper, drawing him in with my hands on his biceps. He relents and lowers his body over mine completely, resting his head on my chest as his breath slows and he grows soft inside me.
He kisses my cheek softly. "Be right back," he says, rolling off of me and going to the bathroom to toss the condom.
True to his word, he's back in a flash, lying next to me as I turn onto my side to face him.
"Okay?" he asks, running his fingertips up and down my back, igniting a new spark at every vertebra he touches.
"Perfect," I tell him, pressing a kiss to his chest.
He chuckles lowly. "Yes, you are."
My face burns, and I think he's going to tease me again, but instead he catches my lips with his and kisses me slowly, leaving me in complete and total awe of him.
"Hey, Bella?" he asks later on as we lie together in the quiet darkness.
"Did I earn a second date?"
I can hear the signature smirk in his voice before I even turn to look at him. "You're pretty proud of yourself, aren't you?" I ask, but I can't keep a grin off my face either.
"I think it's safe to say you've earned enough dates to last you a lifetime."
His brilliant laugh resonates through my bedroom. "A lifetime, huh?"
My heart jumps into my throat. "I…I didn't mean to—"
"Relax," he says, even though I've just left the door wide open for his ego and his teasing. "It's okay. I know what you mean."
I wonder if he really does know what I mean. I wasn't expecting to meet a friend in the form of an obnoxious guy with a slobbery dog all those months ago, and I certainly didn't expect that friend to become…this. Yes, I might have lusted after him while I watched him from my kitchen window, admiring the way his muscles twisted and pulled under the weight of a swinging hammer or a load of lumber, but I never imagined there would be so much depth to someone so enticing. My original conception of him was so far off the mark; he's smart and savvy and, yeah, cocky as hell, but he's also incredibly humble and kind. I'd like to think I've stirred similar thoughts in him, as well, but the reality is that I think he's just been waiting for me to catch up. My heart was guarded, and it took me a little longer, but I've finally figured it out. We work, the two of us, and there's no denying that this is right.
"How long?" I ask, tracing invisible patterns over Edward's chest with one finger.
His brows furrow, but his eyes are closed. "Huh?"
"The first time you kissed me, you said you'd wanted to do it for a long time."
"Bella," he says, giving a nervous chuckle and opening his eyes to fix me with a clear green gaze. "I'm not sure you even want to know."
He draws in a deep breath through his nose and blows it out slowly. "Well, I think I told you it was when you showed up at the site with a bag of trash, searching for a manager…"
I was right. He's never going to let me live that down.
"But if I'm being really honest, I have to say that it was the very first time we met."
I lift my head slightly to search for signs of sarcasm but find only amused truth in his eyes. I wince. "But I was sort of a…bitch to you that day."
His laugh rumbles up through his chest as he kisses my temple. "Well, yeah, you sort of were. But I didn't make it easy on you. I wanted to kiss that arrogant glare right off your face."
"Hey, you asked," he says, turning on the smirk that I now find charming, not conceited or smug like I thought before. "How about you?"
I shrug. "You grew on me."
"Like a fungus?" He wrinkles his nose.
"A really attractive fungus."
"You're not so bad yourself." He laughs, but when his laughter fades and he remains silent, I realize it's a real answer he's searching for.
After several moments of thoughtful consideration, my voice is soft and serious when I answer. "I wanted to kiss you after I realized you were much more than just a pretty face and a smart mouth."
"Bella." He scoffs. "I'm not pretty. I'm rugged. And handsome."
"You're all of that, yeah. But you're also talented. And intelligent. And kind." I say, punctuating each statement with a kiss. Then, less bold, I pause, my words slightly hesitant. "And…mine?"
"All yours," he assures me, pulling me close for a deeper, slower kiss.
My heart flutters at his declaration. Despite how hard I fought it, I can't deny how much sweeter my life is now that he's in it. I'm not sure how we got here, and I don't know how I got so lucky or how this all panned out.
But one thing's for sure: I'm so glad it did.
Please, show the author some rugged love by leaving a review, but keep in mind this is an anonymous contest. Hinting or leading to the author's identity could lead to disqualification. Thank you for your time and cooperation.