Sadly, I own nothing.
So ... this was my entry for the Under the Mistletoe contest back in December. I know it's been forever, but my laptop crashed right after Thanksgiving and we just couldn't revive it. It was ancient though, and needed to be put out of it's misery (and mine!). Anyway, I finally bought a new one and got caught up on my editing for my RL job, and I'm back! I'm about 2000 words into the next chapter of He Came Along (for those of you who haven't given up on me), but I thought I'd post this since it was already complete. It won in the Best Romance/Swoon category, and I couldn't be more thrilled. First thing I ever won with my writing!
Of course, I couldn't have done it without my beta, Sunflower Fran. She's the best, and I look forward to working with her again very soon!
November 27 – Thanksgiving
Bella glanced over her shoulder, watching as Edward carefully balanced two steaming cups in his left hand while closing the door behind him with his right. The soft 'click' of the latch sounded extraordinarily loud on the quiet deck as she watched him deftly transfer one of the cups to his now empty right hand while moving toward her.
Resting his arms on the balustrade, Edward followed her eyes to the tree line behind his parents' house. They stood in silence, enjoying the sensory overload of the season …
The crisp, late fall air.
The sound of dry leaves fluttering along the ground in the light wind.
The bare trees seem to be glowing gray in the moonlight, against the backdrop of evergreen pine trees.
The feeling of a full belly, surrounded by those you love.
Bella sniffed, the cold air making her shiver. Turning to glance at Edward, her eyes dropped to his hands.
"Did you bring one of those for me?"
Edward kept his eyes on the trees as he lifted one of them to his lips, smirking as he held it there. "Nope. These are both mine. Needed something to keep my hands warm. It's cold as hell out here." He took a sip and lowered the cup, keeping the smirk in place.
"Hot," she said without thinking.
"Excuse me?" He was looking at her with that cocky sideways grin, and she knew what was coming next. Of course, like always, she played along.
"Hot as hell."
She shook her head, grinning and holding her hand out for the cup. "How about using the gloves I know are stuffed in your pocket and giving me my coffee?"
He handed her the cup and wrapped both of his hands around his own, watching as she took a tentative sip.
"Is there any other way to drink coffee after gorging yourself on Thanksgiving turkey?"
Bella smiled up at him, and turned to lean back against the railing and watch the rest of the Cullen family through the wall of windows that bordered the deck. Alice caught the movement from the corner of her eye and glanced up, smiling briefly at Bella before turning back to the notebook and sales ads in her hands.
"They're planning your demise, you know?" Edward had turned and now mirrored her position, his cup still resting in his left hand as his elbows rested on the wooden railing behind him.
"Death by Black Friday shopping," she shook her head and took another sip. "It won't be so bad."
Edward looked at her with no small amount of surprise. "You hate crowds. And shopping."
Bella shook her head; her eyes watching Esme and Alice place their hands on Rosalie's rounded belly. The baby girl she was expecting had been active and kicking all day. "I hate shopping for me. I don't mind shopping for others. Besides, it makes Alice happy."
Edward was watching Bella, noticing the wistful look on her face as she observed his family. He leaned closer, just enough so that their arms brushed against one another. "What would make you happy, Bella?"
He was asking, hoping to plan an activity for the weekend that she might enjoy. He certainly wasn't expecting her quiet answer.
"I want to have a baby."
Like some cliché in a romantic comedy, Edward coughed, caught off guard by her words with a mouth full of Bailey's infused coffee. Dark caramel colored drops spewed out and onto his wool coat. He wiped his chin and mouth with his free hand. "Bella, I … I don't … uh …"
She watched him sputter for a moment before she offered a sad smile and took a deep breath. "Sorry, I shouldn't have just blurted that out. I don't mean that I want a baby right now. I want …" she fixed her eyes on the three couples inside the house. "I want that. I want to fall in love and be loved in return. I want to snuggle up on the couch on Christmas morning and watch our children open their gifts. I don't like being the odd girl out at holidays, or anytime else. I don't want to be alone anymore."
Her voice had grown increasingly quiet as she spoke until the last word was barely a whisper.
However, Edward had heard it loud and clear.
If he hadn't been expecting her answer, he was entirely unprepared for the way it made him feel. That she felt alone and possibly unloved gutted him.
"Bella, you're not alone. If you hadn't noticed, I'm not coupled up either. If you're the odd girl out, then I'm the odd man out."
She shook her head, "It's different. You'll always be 'in' because this is your family. I'm just a –"
"Don't you dare finish that sentence." She looked up at him, finally hearing the frustration in his voice. His jaw was set and he was almost glaring at her. "You've always been a part of this family, Bella Swan. I can't even remember a time I didn't know you." He took the cup from her hand and placed it, along with his own, on the top of the railing. Grasping her hands, he turned her to face him, the cold making their breath visible between them as he held her gaze. "If my mother heard you say that, it would devastate her. My father, too. You're family, Bella."
He was so earnest and his voice held such intensity, she couldn't help but believe him. It was already something she knew, she just felt so alone lately that it seemed to block out everything else.
"Does this have anything to do with the plans your parents have for Christmas?"
She had always spent Christmas with one parent or the other, until this year. Her mother had remarried almost eight years ago, right after Bella graduated from high school. Phil, her stepfather, had played for the Texas Rangers for years before retiring to Florida where he'd met Renee and they'd settled down to a happy life near the beach. They had spent every other Christmas with Bella and traveled during the holidays she spent with her dad.
Until this year. They'd decided they wanted to spend Christmas in Europe and had encouraged Bella to try something new as well. Of course, her first call had been to her dad.
Charlie Swan had married Sue Clearwater over Labor Day weekend and Bella wasn't all that surprised to learn that they planned to spend Christmas with Sue's daughter, Leah, and her family in Wyoming.
It was also no surprise to learn that the Cullens already knew about her father's plans before she had arrived in Forks to spend Thanksgiving with them. Forks was a small town and her father was the chief of police here for the past fifteen years. Carlisle Cullen being the chief of staff at the local hospital meant that there was very little in town that wasn't common knowledge among the Swan and Cullen households.
Bella gave Edward a rueful smile. "No, but it has everything to do with the fact that I'm getting closer to thirty with every breath and no matter how many blind dates Alice sets me up with, it never works out. So, I'm pretty sure the likelihood of every guy in the Pacific Northwest being a loser is a lot less than the possibility that it's just me."
The look of indignant horror on Edward's face made her smile as she stepped away from the balustrade and tugged him along with her. "Come on, it's cold and I want to have a say in where we shop tomorrow."
Edward allowed Bella to pull him back into the house, but knew that deep down, she probably wasn't kidding. She smiled and interacted with his family, but there was something in her eyes that he'd seen on occasion, but recognized fully now.
Bella was lonely.
In the end, the women had decided there was nothing they wanted badly enough to get up at four a.m. and fight the crowds for. They choose instead to enjoy breakfast with the men and head out in the middle of the morning. This way, they could enjoy the rush of holiday shopping without the stress of being tired or the risk of being run over by rabid bargain hunters.
Edward hadn't been able to sleep, his thoughts on Bella and the vulnerable way she'd shared herself with him. So somewhere in the early morning hours, he decided a distraction was in order and pulled on his cotton pajama pants before leaving his room to find a book or a DVD in the family room. He was just a few steps from the landing at the top of the stairs when he heard it.
It was a sound he recognized immediately.
He'd heard it coming from the family room when his parents comforted an eight-year-old Bella, whose mother had just packed up her things and left.
He'd heard it through Alice's bedroom door two days after Prom when Tyler Crowley broke up with a devastated Bella after she'd given him her virginity on the night of the dance.
He'd heard it about a year ago when he, Alice, Jasper, Emmett and Rose had all gone to Bella's house after her golden retriever, Molly, had been fatally hit by a car. Charlie had given the puppy to Bella when she graduated with honors from UDub, and Molly had been her constant companion ever since.
Edward knew that sound well.
It was the sound of Bella's heart breaking once again.
He didn't even stop to consider what he was doing as he opened the door and shut it soundlessly behind him. He quickly crossed to the bed, pulled back the comforter and slid in behind Bella's shaking form. He pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her and whispering softly in her ear.
"I'm here, Bella. You're not alone."
Feeling the warmth and comfort of Edward's arms, Bella turned to face him, pressing her face into the crook of his neck as she tried to stop the tears and the trembling. Edward tightened his hold, stroking her hair softly.
If asked, neither of them could have said how it happened or who had made the initial contact, but it seemed both were powerless to stop it.
Edward was sure it began with him.
When Bella's sobs had subsided, he tilted his head for a better look at her face and was met with those beautiful, large brown eyes that were now glossy with the remnants of her tears. But it was her lips ... those softly parted, trembling lips that were his undoing.
In one moment, his hand cupped her cheek; his thumb brushing away the wetness from under her eye, and in the next, his mouth covered hers. Hesitant and timid at first, his lips stilled with the shock of what he was doing.
Until Bella responded.
When she moved to kiss him back, it was as though they had both been set on fire. Edward's hands roamed over her back, up her side and back down to her hips, pulling her tight against his body. All the while, Bella's hands explored his bare chest before finding purchase, one in his hair, the other on the small of his back. Edward grasped her leg just behind her knee and pulled it over his hip, pressing himself against her as he rolled her onto her back, holding his weight off her on his forearms.
Edward pulled his mouth from hers, his tongue and lips continuing to explore her chin, throat and eventually her breast. Suckling, nipping and caressing everywhere he could find exposed skin, and finally pulling her cotton tank off when he needed more.
Bella shifted, sliding under him completely and rocking her hips against his. "Please. Please, Edward."
At her whispered plea, Edward lifted himself from her body just enough to tug her boy shorts to her knees as Bella used her legs to kick them the rest of the way off. Her hands slid into the waistband of his pajama pants and pushed them past the curve of his ass, wanting to feel all of him against her.
All barriers removed, Edward took her hands, entwined their fingers and lifted them above their heads to rest on the pillow. Bella's legs wrapped around him, her feet resting on the calves of his legs as he kissed her, his tongue mimicking that slow press and retreat that he was using to join their bodies.
When there was no space left between them, no part of him that wasn't fully encased in her body, Edward broke the kiss and met her eyes.
Everything he felt and wanted in that moment, he saw reflected back at him in her eyes.
Slowly, he began a gentle rocking motion, desperately needing to move, but not wanting to lose the deeper connection that he felt between them. Bella moved against him, encouraging him as her eyes closed.
"Look at me, Bella," he whispered, squeezing her fingers as he pressed more firmly into her.
The room was silent save for the soft whisper of the sheets as they moved together and their labored breaths between kisses. Neither of them wanted to wake anyone else in the house, or alert anyone who might already be awake to what was happening between the two of them.
Neither of them had any idea what was happening between them, either.
Edward felt the spiraling and knew he was close to his release, but he wanted Bella to find hers first. Pulling his hand from hers, he pressed his fingers against her, circling and stroking as his thrusts became faster, more insistent in his search for pleasure.
Perhaps it was the emotional day she'd had, or the vulnerability she'd shown Edward earlier … Either way, Bella was surprised by her body's response to him. It usually took much longer for Bella, but when her body tensed, and her legs shook with the force of her orgasm, she was grateful that Edward covered her mouth with his, absorbing her sounds, so that she was forced just to feel wave after wave of bliss.
Edward followed right behind, unable to hold it off when her body tightened around his own, drawing it out. He pulled his mouth from hers, grunting softly as his body pushed entirely into hers and then stilled.
He tried to hold his weight from her, but when he began to shake with exhaustion, he rolled onto his back, pulling her with him. Bella settled across his chest with his arms wrapped around her as their breathing slowed. A slight sheen of sweat on her skin caused a shiver and Edward was quick to pull the comforter over them.
She was quickly drifting off to sleep when she felt him lift her hand from his chest, kiss her palm softly and hold it against him just over his heart. His breath was warm on her hair as he kissed the top of her head. She barely heard his whispered words over his slowing heartbeat.
"I love you, Bella. I wish I was what you wanted."
Bella woke slowly, taking in the sounds of movement in the house. She could hear the soft footfalls in the hallway, the soft click of doors shutting and the muted sound of water running in the shower.
She'd always loved waking up at the Cullen home, and this morning was no different.
Except that it was.
Memories from the early morning hours came rushing back when she moved to get out of bed. The fact that she was naked confirmed what she had first thought was a dream.
Edward had come to her in the night.
To comfort her.
They made love and fell asleep in each other's arms …
And then, apparently, he left.
Perhaps it was more a nightmare than a dream.
Bella allowed herself to think about all that had happened as she pulled on a sweatshirt and pajama pants. She'd always cared for Edward, but had never considered him as a possible match for her romantically. He had always been one of her best friends …
Alice's older brother …
Out of her reach.
But perhaps it could be different.
She began mentally listing all of the ways they were compatible … How easy it would be to be together. After ten minutes of staring at the door and contemplating what a future with Edward might look like, it dawned on her that she didn't even know what Edward wanted.
Maybe he felt sorry for her after her revelations last night.
Maybe he just needed a physical release and she was available.
No, that wasn't who he was. He'd never use her that way. The truth was she would never know until she found the courage to go downstairs and face him.
She could hear their voices as soon as she got to the landing. They were laughing and talking animatedly with one another just like any other holiday morning. Bella found herself smiling and excited to spend the day with her adopted family, and they greeted her with the same enthusiasm.
He glanced at her quickly before dropping his eyes. Bella noted the soft flush on his cheeks and ears.
Was he embarrassed?
She decided to take her cue from him, determined to keep the last shreds of her dignity. She joined in the conversation as they planned a day around shopping, dinner, and Christmas decorating.
It was only when Alice turned the conversation to an event that Bella had forgotten that Edward focused his attention on her.
"So, are you excited about Monday night, Bella?"
"Monday night?" Bella met Alice's expectant gaze, and the realization dawned. Alice had called her last week and claimed that she had found the perfect guy for her … again. Bella reluctantly agreed to go on yet another of Alice's blind dates, but was determined that this would be the last when it didn't work out.
She had no hope that it would.
They never had before.
"Please tell me you didn't forget! Alec is so excited to meet you, Bella. Promise me you'll give him a chance."
Bella hesitated for a moment, wondering … Hoping really, that Edward might say something. After a silence that lasted just a beat too long, Bella offered a slight smile and a small nod, to which Alice grinned widely and winked back at her.
Edward rose quickly, muttering something about coffee and disappeared with his cup into the kitchen. Both girls sat, staring after him blindly wondering what had caused such an abrupt action.
For his part, Edward was frustrated.
He'd wanted her to say something … do something … anything that confirmed what he was feeling.
It came up so suddenly, this rush of feelings. He'd been with women before, and none of them had ever spun his head or his heart, like Bella had. He had always known her. She was one of his best friends. His little sister's best friend. She had never been this …
The woman he wanted …
And yet, she was still continuing to search for men she didn't know to find her heart's desire.
Edward shook his head. She wasn't interested in him that way. He'd have known it if she were.
He took a few minutes to clear his head and get himself under control before returning to his family … and his Bella.
Tuesday, December, 2
"Never again, Alice. I'm done."
"Come on, Bella. It couldn't have been that bad."
"He spent the entire evening explaining different investment options that would benefit me as a teacher, and then presenting his life insurance policies from his side business. It was the most hideously boring date I've ever been on in my life!"
The group erupted into laughter at Bella's outburst. They were all tucked into couches and oversized chairs in the corner of their favorite meeting place, Cups and Joe. It was a quaint little shop, locally owned and operated, offering a wide selection of gourmet cupcakes and coffee.
When Bella agreed to meet Alice to debrief her on the events of her blind date, she had no idea that Alice had deemed it an event worthy of a gathering of the entire group of friends. She was seated on the couch between Edward and Jasper, with Alice perched on the armrest beside him. Emmett and Rose were settled in chairs across from them, and all were thoroughly entertained by her lackluster evening out the night before.
"I really thought he'd be great for you." Alice's disappointment was lost on Bella.
"I don't know whether to feel sorry for your lack of judgment or angry that you think of me as a great match for a snoozer."
Emmett immediately dropped his chin to his chest and fake-snored … Loudly, causing the little group once again to erupt in laughter. Bella shook her head, unable to suppress a smirk and soft laugh that escaped her lips as well.
Rose set her empty cup of cider on the table in front of her and held her hand out to Emmett, "As much fun as this has been, we really need to get going. Help me up, please."
Emmett took Rosalie's hands, pulling her gently to stand as Jasper gathered up Alice's coat and helped her into it, pulling it snugly and kissing her on the forehead.
Bella watched the tenderness between the couples with a pang of regret. She couldn't be jealous of her friends' happiness, but she also couldn't hide the longing in her eyes.
Edward noticed it immediately and placed his hand on her arm as she shifted to stand. "I'd like to talk to you if you have a few minutes."
Bella felt her heart skip a beat as she met his eyes. They were sincere and earnest, and she was sure he could see the hope in her own. She nodded and they said a quick goodbye to the rest of their friends before returning to their spot on the couch.
Edward took a relaxed position beside her, encouraging her to do the same as he began speaking. "So, it's clear that Alice has no idea what you're looking for in a man. I think I'm you're answer."
Bella sucked in a breath, shocked at his blunt statement. Her mouth was dry, and her heart was pounding. She licked her lips and tried to clarify his statement, hoping she didn't sound like a squeaky hinge.
"Me," he smirked at her, clearly enjoying her response.
"Umm …" Bella was at a loss for words and hoped that he would continue without more coherent input from her.
"I'm your man, so to speak. See, I know you better than anyone does, Bella. I'm the perfect man to find a guy for you."
"Oh." Bella hoped that Edward hadn't noticed the disappointment in her voice. She was silent for a few minutes as she contemplated what, or rather, who Edward might deem a perfect match for her. Finally able to compose herself, she looked up, meeting his waiting gaze with a smirk. "I appreciate the effort, Yenta, but I think I can handle it on my own from here on out."
"Yeah, you know, the matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof?" At Edward's blank expression, Bella sighed. "Never mind."
Edward shrugged and held his hands up in a gesture of truce. "Just hear me out, okay?" He waited for her nod, and then continued. "Alice, I'm sure, never asked you what you wanted in a man. She probably took it upon herself to decide what was best for you, not really having any idea of your deepest desires."
Edward's voice had dropped to a low, deep timbre and Bella found herself mesmerized at the tone of those last three words. It conjured images of the night they had shared, and she wondered if he had even given it a second thought.
"So," he clapped his hands together between them, effectively breaking her trance. "Why don't we start with you describing your perfect man? And I don't mean the physical appearance. I want to know what you really want."
Bella took a sip of her coffee, considering how to answer him. He was right, Alice had never asked her what she hoped to find in a man, and she found she was intrigued at putting an actual description on this elusive person.
"Well, I want someone who is sincere, who can make me laugh, and is kind."
"Whoa! Wait right there, Bella." Edward cocked an eyebrow at her, "I don't want those pat answers. I want the real bottom line."
She should have known that generalizations wouldn't work with him. He would keep digging until he knew everything. She just hoped he wouldn't realize how much her perfect man would line up with everything Edward Cullen was.
"Okay, you're right." She took a deep breath. "I want a man who is kind to his mother. Who, even as an adult, treats her with respect and honor, even when she isn't around." Bella met Edward's eyes, looking for his approval.
He smiled and nodded at her, silently encouraging her to continue.
"I want someone who, when he's with me, is there with me one hundred percent. Protective, but not controlling. Someone I can share my worst days with, knowing that he'll listen, even if he can't fix the problem. Someone who will share his bad days with me, even when I can't fix it. I want someone who would be content to spend Saturday nights curled up on the couch eating leftover pizza and watching a movie, but would also travel to strange and exotic places just to say we've been there. I want …"
Bella's voice trailed off as she glanced back up at Edward. He just took her hand, squeezing it gently.
She barely spoke above a whisper. "I want someone who will tell me when he thinks I'm beautiful." Glancing over at the door as it chimed, announcing the arrival of another customer, Bella smiled sadly when her eyes landed on the small sprigs of mistletoe over the frame. "I want a man who will kiss me under the mistletoe. And not just under random mistletoe, but would search for it when he had none just so he might be granted a kiss."
There was a peaceful silence between them as Edward contemplated her words. Bella watched the little furrow form between his brows and a soft pink blush tint the tops of his ears. She wondered what on earth he was thinking, and if she should have reconsidered telling him all she had.
It had taken her by surprise.
She hadn't intended to tell him everything, but once she started, she found that she wanted him to know it all.
"Hmmm," Edward shifted, bringing their clasped hands to rest on his leg. "So, let me make sure I have this right. You want a man of good character, raised to respect and honor women, with a romantic streak. Is that correct?"
"Well, yes," she nodded. "But that wasn't all. I told you so much more to- "
"You did," he watched her carefully. "But the rest was about you, Bella."
"Me?" She was incredulous.
"Yes, you. You were describing how you wanted to be seen and treated. You want to be loved and desired. You want to be his world."
"But he would be my world, too," she whispered.
Edward smiled. "And he would be a very lucky man." He released her hand and picked up his cup, draining the last of his coffee before focusing his attention back on Bella. "Let me do this for you. Three dates and I promise I'll present you with the perfect guy by Christmas Eve."
"And if you don't deliver?"
"Impossible. But if it should happen, I promise you will never be set up on another blind date by me or my meddlesome sister." He held out his hand, "Deal?"
Bella stared at his offered hand for a solid minute, and then finally took it, giving it a firm shake before yanking it, and Edward, toward her. "Deal. However, I'm holding you to that promise, Edward, and no group discussions of my failed dates, either. This stays between us. Agreed?"
Monday, December 8
"How long have you lived in Seattle?"
"Mom and I moved here when I was in the third grade. My dad left us, so Mom decided that we needed a fresh start. She's amazing, and is truly my hero."
Bella nodded, not really sure what to say. She had agreed to meet Riley Biers at the restaurant, not really enthusiastic about a stranger knowing where she lived. They had been seated and ordered their drinks, and Bella had been trying to start a conversation while they perused the menus, so far to no avail.
Closing her menu, she glanced around the room. "Have you been here before, Riley?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes. Mom and I come here often. She said this is the place to bring a date. She always orders the roast chicken. You could get that if you want."
"Thanks, but I think I will have the salmon and –"
"Excuse me for just a minute, Bella." Riley interrupted, and put his phone to his ear. After a couple of seconds, he grinned. "Hi Momma. I can't decide whether to have the pasta or the chicken. What should I get?"
Bella was sure her jaw was resting on the table along with her water glass and silverware.
Seriously? He was calling his mother on a date?
"I promise, Momma, I won't have anything to drink. No, I won't stay out too late. Love you, too."
The entire evening was becoming more surreal by the minute. Bella wondered just how crazy Riley might be as visions of Norman Bates began scrolling through her mind. She though perhaps it might be best to keep the conversation on topics Riley enjoyed.
"Do you live near your Mom?"
"Oh, well, I guess you could say that. Her room is downstairs. She likes to be on the first floor so she knows when I come in, you know, so she can sleep. She says she can't go to bed until I'm safely tucked into mine."
Bella began plotting ways to kill Edward Cullen.
Tuesday, December 9
"You're exaggerating, Bella."
"I'm not!" Bella looked up from the knotted laces she was trying to loosen. Edward had already laced up his ice skates and quickly knelt in front of her, lacing and tying her right skate while she fought with the left. "The only topic of discussion for the entire night was his mother. He actually called her when we were served dessert so he could inform her that he had cleaned his plate and ask her permission to eat the damn cheesecake."
Edward couldn't help it. He laughed. Loudly.
Bella leaned forward and pushed against his shoulder, causing him to fall flat on his ass. "It's not funny, Edward! I said I wanted a man who honored his mother, not a total mama's boy."
"So I take it you're not interested in seeing him again?"
"Are you kidding me with this? He walked me to my car, stood there while I got in, and then called his mom to let her know he'd be home in time for her to tuck him in! I don't know of any woman who would be interested in seeing him again!"
"Well, maybe the right woman hasn't come along for him to want to cut the apron strings. What if you're that woman, Bella?"
Bella stood and glided to the edge of the ice rink. She turned and put her hands on her hips as she waited for Edward to get up. "I'm definitely not that woman. I prefer men who are no longer breastfeeding."
Edward roared with laughter as he grasped her hand and pulled her close. They skated in silence for a few minutes, getting used to the feel of the ice under their feet. Bella could feel the tension leaving her body as she slowly began to speed up. Edward held tightly to her hand, not wanting to be separated from her for a single second.
Once they were both more relaxed, Edward pulled her toward the middle of the rink, just inside the faster flow of skaters. Slowing down to a gentle glide, he spun so that he faced her, taking both of her hands in his own as his feet shifted constantly to keep them moving.
"Okay, so Riley was a bust. I think Demetri will be great for you. I know for a fact that he doesn't live with his mother, he has a great apartment and loves to travel."
"Demetri? Sounds like a European scientist or a mob hit man."
"Come on, Bella." Edward gave her a stern look. "You have to give him a chance."
"Okay, fine. When and where?"
Monday, December 15
Bella scanned the bar, her eyes finally resting on the man who matched the description Edward had given her.
Tall with dark hair, probably still in his suit having come directly from the office.
She watched him for a moment, wondering how he might behave when he thought no one was looking. He sipped his drink slowly, glancing at his phone from time to time, occasionally sliding his fingers across the face of it, presumably answering a text or email. He seemed harmless enough, and she hoped he was a little more independent than Riley had been.
Mustering her courage, Bella buried her insecurity about the evening and walked confidently across the room to stand just to the left of where he sat.
He spun on the barstool to face her, smiling widely. "Bella?" His eyes slowly took her in, moving with a practiced finesse down her body, and even more slowly back up to her eyes. "Well, well. Edward has been holding out on me. His description of you left out some of your finer points."
It wasn't lost on Bella that these words were spoken while his gaze lingered on her chest.
Clearing her throat, she gestured toward the front of the restaurant. "The hostess said our table is ready if you'd like to come now."
"Oh, I'd absolutely love to come now. After you." Demetri gestured with his hand for Bella to lead the way.
She turned, not really relishing the thought that he would now be ogling her ass, but also determined that he wouldn't see how shocked she was by his lecherous gaze and blatant innuendo. She was relieved when they were seated and presented with menus without any further conversation.
After placing their drink orders, a scotch for him and an iced tea for Bella, she waited, hoping he might start a conversation. However, Demetri remained silent, his gaze once again affixed much lower than her eyes. Bella was glad she had chosen to wear something that didn't feature her cleavage, but was regretting that she had opted for a form-fitting sweater.
Crossing her arms over her chest, she leaned back in her chair. "Edward tells me you met in law school."
"We did. Although I was a lot more fun. Edward had a tendency to spend most of his time actually studying while I chose more … ah … adventurous pursuits."
"Hmmm … Wouldn't that make him a better choice should the need ever arise for an attorney?" She couldn't help it. He seemed so arrogant, and she hoped it was a façade, and that her question might break through.
Sadly, it wasn't.
Demetri leaned closer, placing his hand over hers and stroking her fingers in what, she was sure, was meant to be a seductive manner. His voice dropped to a low, husky whisper. "Well, that might be true, but I can assure you, I'm a better choice for any other needs that you might have." He smirked as her eyes widened. "Perhaps you should have something a little stronger than tea, baby. It'll make things better, more relaxed … later.
She had flirted using suggestive words and actions before. She was even good at it on occasion. And sometimes, she really enjoyed the innuendo and provocative banter.
But not tonight.
Tonight she felt objectified. As if, even though nothing had happened yet, she felt his memories of her breasts in that snug sweater would be the visual he would use ... later.
Demetri's words and actions, especially after having known her all of ten minutes, made her feel sick. Bella's stomach churned and she feared she might actually vomit right there on the table.
"Would you excuse me for a moment?" She tilted her head in the direction of the restrooms as she stood and grasped her small purse. Demetri nodded and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture, smirking as she stepped away.
As soon as she was safely inside the women's restroom, she fished her phone out of her purse and called her best friend.
"Come and get me. Now." Was all she said before disconnecting the call. Edward could hear the anger in her voice, but there was something else there as well. He drove faster than he should have, worried about what he might find.
He had set up the date and knew where they were meeting. He also knew exactly how Demetri would treat Bella.
He knew because he'd asked him to do it.
He'd begged both Riley and Demetri to do him a favor, although he knew it wouldn't be a hardship for either of them. Bella was amazing, and they would both enjoy her company. He'd taken the qualities that Bella had described to him, and given specific attributes to each man, asking them to take it well over the top.
Thus making the dates as awkward and as much of a failure as possible.
It had been comical listening to Bella detail her evening with Riley. Edward had never in a million years thought that Riley would have been so convincing.
Demetri had been his friend since law school and was a genuinely good guy. At first, Edward had worried that Bella might actually like Demetri, but the more he thought about it, the more he knew without a doubt that Bella loved him. She just hadn't figured it out for herself yet.
But there was something different tonight. He couldn't put his finger on it, but it was there, nonetheless.
"Bella? Where's Demetri?" She was opening the door and sliding into the passenger seat as soon as Edward pulled up.
"I'm sure he's probably still at the table, ogling another waitress."
"Did you tell him you were leaving?"
"Take me home, Edward. Please." She wouldn't meet his eyes, keeping her gaze locked on something straight ahead. Edward watched as her chin quivered ever so slightly. With a sigh, he shifted the car into gear and pulled away from the restaurant, a feeling of dread making its way up his spine.
They didn't speak until he pulled into her driveway. Turning the car off and shifting to face her fully, Edward realized that silent tears had been rolling down her cheeks, dripping unhindered onto her coat and hair.
"Talk to me, please." He reached for her hand.
She pulled it just out of reach and wrapped her arms protectively around her body. "What's wrong with me?"
"What do you mean? What happened?" Edward immediately felt panic at what might have occurred on the date. Had Demetri crossed the line?
Bella continued to stare out the window as she answered. "I felt objectified, and humiliated. He assumed we'd be having sex after dinner, and after I had called you, I watched him from the back of the room. He gave the waitress his card and slid his hand up her leg. He wasn't interested in anything but a breathing body to warm his bed for a while. What's wrong with me?"
Edward was horrified. He had thought that she'd become indignant and frustrated and that they'd laugh about it tomorrow over coffee. He never thought she'd take it like this. He pressed his hand to her cheek, tilting her face up to meet his eyes.
"There's nothing wrong with you, Bella. How can you think that? He's the one with the abhorrent behavior. He's the one with issues, Bella. Not you."
She closed her eyes, allowing more tears to spill down her cheeks. "I can't do this anymore, Edward."
He brought his other hand up, gently wiping the tears from her face. "We've gone about this all wrong. You need someone different from these idiots who think they know how to treat you. I know what you need, Bella."
His heart leaped at the hopeful look in her eyes. He almost dropped the whole charade right then, but he'd come so far …
"Forks. Your last date will be in Forks. On Monday night."
"Edward, I don't want – "
"Last one, Bella. We'll leave on Friday after work, and spend the weekend with family. I'll get everything set up for Monday night, and I'll even be there in case you need to make a run for it again."
He watched as she resigned herself to keeping her promise of three dates, her eyes filling with sadness. He swallowed the lump in his throat, hoping against hope that she would think it was all worth it.
That he was worth it.
"Come on, I'll walk you up."
Edward came around the front of the car and opened her door. She stepped out, and when she stood, he couldn't help but notice as her coat slid open. She had on a blue sweater and short gray skirt that made her look professional, elegant, and sexy all at once. "You look beautiful, Bella."
Her sharp intake of breath was enough to let him know how much she needed the compliment. How much he wanted to give her so much more.
Bella slid her keys from her purse and unlocked the door. She turned and stepped into Edward's embrace and melted into the warmth and security she found in her best friend. After a moment, Edward kissed her softly on her forehead and turned her toward the door.
He waited until she had closed the door before making his way down the steps and across the yard. When he was almost to his car, a beam of light broke across the grass, causing him to look back at the house. Bella was standing in the doorway, biting her lip nervously. Edward's brow lifted in question as he waited for her to find her voice.
"Do you … "
"Do you ever think about that night? Thanksgiving night?" She named it specifically, as if he'd needed to be reminded of the night in question.
Edward dropped his eyes to the ground, trying to get control of his emotions.
Of his desire to rush back to the porch and kiss her senseless.
When he finally lifted his gaze to hers, she shivered with the intensity of it.
"I think about that night all the time, Bella."
He watched as her lips parted slightly, as though she might say something, but couldn't find the words. When she remained silent, he smiled warmly at her. "I'll see you Friday. Goodnight, love."
Friday, December 19
"What's his name?"
"I'm not telling you."
"What? Why not?"
"You made fun of the name last time, Bella. I'm not giving you anything with which you might prejudge this one."
"That's ridiculous! Oh! Wait, do I know him already? From high school? Is that why you won't tell me anything?"
Edward grinned before pulling his thumb and forefinger across his lips in a 'zipping' gesture. He kept his eyes on the road as he drove past the Welcome to Forks sign, but he didn't need to see her to know that Bella was rolling her eyes at him.
"Fine. Can you at least tell me where I'm meeting him? It's not like there are a lot of options for a blind date in Forks, in December."
Edward chuckled but sobered quickly. "Well, after the last fiasco, I promised you that I'd be there, so I made arrangements with my parents to have the date at their place."
"Explain, please." Bella's mind was racing with possibilities. Perhaps the mystery man would just come over for a family dinner. It would certainly be a step up from the last two if this one wanted to spend time getting to know her and the people she loved.
Edward had promised that this was the last. He knew beyond a doubt that this guy was perfect for her. She thought she could have saved him some time if she had the courage to be honest with him in the first place.
The truth was, in all the years they had been friends, she hadn't realized what he meant to her. But, last month when she had bared her heart to him and he'd cared for her both emotionally and physically, she knew she was right.
She doubted that she would ever find anyone as perfect for her as Edward.
She sighed as she resigned herself to giving this date a fair shot. She swore she wouldn't compare him to Edward, no matter how much she wished it could be him.
"Okay, so my parents are going to Port Angeles for dinner, and everyone else will be arriving on Tuesday afternoon after work. The house will be empty, and I thought the deck would be a romantic, but neutral setting for a quiet dinner. I'll be in the house, so you can text me if you need an out."
"There are two problems with that scenario, Edward. One, who is cooking, I'm certainly not doing it. It's a guarantee that I'll be too nervous and will burn down the kitchen. And two, the deck will be freezing! It's December … in Forks."
Edward smirked at her sarcastic tone. "Half of the deck has been enclosed. It's solid glass walls, and it's heated. The best of both worlds, really. We can enjoy being surrounded by the snow-covered scenery while drinking our Bailey's infused coffee without freezing. It was supposed to be a surprise, but Mom figured it out, so Dad had it done right after Thanksgiving so that we'd all enjoy it at Christmas and New Years."
"Oh, well, that's … great. And the dinner?"
Edward laughed as he pulled into his parents' driveway. "I've hired it out. I've got Emily Uley coming to prepare dinner. She'll have it in the oven, plated, and ready to serve. I'll even act as your personal waiter if you need someone else to bring it to the table for you."
"Smartass. You've thought of everything, haven't you?"
"It's important to me that this evening goes off perfectly, Bella. I want you to be happy."
She couldn't doubt the sincerity in his voice.
There was no more talk of the upcoming date, as Carlisle and Esme had already pulled open the car doors and were chattering excitedly about the coming week. Bella grinned at Edward over the top of the vehicle, happy to be surrounded by people who loved her.
Monday, December 22
"You seem a bit nervous."
Bella's hands trembled as she clasped the silver bracelet on her wrist. "Wouldn't you be nervous?"
Esme smiled back at her. "Yes, I suppose I would. I'm sure you'll have a wonderful evening. Edward has arranged everything beautifully, and I know he cares a great deal for your happiness."
Having no idea how to respond to Esme, Bella stood and slipped her shoes on as Carlisle appeared in the doorway.
"Are you ready, Darling?"
"Of course," she nodded, embracing Bella one last time. "I'll look forward to hearing all about your date tomorrow."
"Have fun, but don't tear down the house, okay?" Carlisle grinned at her, pulling her in for a hug as he added, "Edward asked me to let you know that the gentleman is waiting for you on the deck. Head down whenever you're ready."
A few quick goodbyes were uttered and Bella was left alone in the guest bedroom. She took a deep breath and told herself to stop stalling and get on with it. So, after one last glance in the mirror, she steeled her nerves for the evening ahead and made her way downstairs.
The house was quiet, and the lights were low. There was music playing and Bella knew it was being piped into the newly covered deck. It was Michael Buble crooning Christmas carols, and Bella knew that Edward had chosen it for her, knowing it was her favorite.
With one last deep breath, she opened the door and stepped out onto the deck, meeting the eyes of her final blind date.
Green eyes that she knew as well as her own.
"Edward?" Her voice, quiet as it was, sounded full of hope to him. He cleared his throat and took a step toward her, his hands sliding into his pockets to hide the trembling.
"If you're considering making a run for it again, I'd appreciate it if you'd go ahead and do that now. I'd hate to have the evening interrupted by a text."
He hoped to make light of their immediate past and put her at ease, but he couldn't tell anything by her response. Bella stood motionless where she had stopped upon entering the room, staring at him as her chin trembled and her eyes filled with tears. He was desperate to know what she was thinking.
"Say something, Bella. Please."
He watched in silence as her head dropped and she fought to stifle a sob. She wasn't wrapping her arms around her body, so that gave him some hope. That was her usual tell when she felt uncomfortable or fearful. If he was reading her right, she was just trying not to fall apart so she could talk to him.
God, he wished she would speak to him.
His heart was beating so hard in his chest that he could feel it to his toes. He counted heartbeats just to give his mind something to do so he didn't lose it. When he got to twenty-nine, his heart stopped.
Bella lifted her tear-filled eyes to his and offered a shaky smile. "I wanted it to be you. So badly."
A soft sob escaped her, and Edward closed the distance between them, holding her tightly as she fought to get control of her emotions. When her shaking had subsided, he cupped her face in his hands and tilted her head up, wiping away her tears as he spoke.
"I'd like to address your concerns, Bella, before we go any further. Please, have a seat."
He motioned toward a chair and she sat, puzzled by his suddenly formal behavior.
"I'm assuming that if you ever had any issues with the way I treat my mother, you'd have told me by now. You know I adore her, and respect her, but she isn't the most important woman in my life any longer. We both know that and she's happy to relinquish that role to the woman I choose."
Edward pulled another chair over and sat directly across from Bella, taking her hand in his. "As to your second concern, well, when I'm with you, I can hardly remember that there's air to breathe, much less that there is anyone or anything else in the world. You consume me one hundred percent, Bella."
"Oh …" Bella had never heard words of such devotion and love from anyone, including her parents. She didn't know how much more she could take before launching herself at him.
However, he wasn't anywhere near finished.
"We've spent a thousand Saturday nights curled up on various couches watching movies, and I hope we have a thousand more. But I'd rather move it to a bed where we can watch a movie, and then I can watch you fall asleep in my arms. Or whatever else might happen." He gave her a lopsided smirk, which morphed into a full grin when her cheeks burned scarlet. "I want to drink Bailey's infused coffee with you while we sit by a fire in the Swiss Alps. Or kiss your sun-warmed skin on the beach in some remote tropical island. Or, hell, let's go dig a well in Africa to provide clean water for underdeveloped countries. I want to experience the world with you, Bella."
Edward smiled tenderly as he reached up to wipe away more tears while blinking back a few of his own. "I want to sit with you and hear all about your day and tell you about mine. I want to make babies with you, raise them, and watch our grandchildren as they open their gifts on Christmas morning. I want to kiss you under the mistletoe every Christmas for the rest of our lives."
Bella's eyes sparkled as she gave him a watery smile. "I wish I had some right now."
Edward smirked and stood, using their joined hands to pull her up with him. "I thought you might say that. Look up, love."
Bella lifted her eyes and gasped in surprise as she took in the sight above her.
The entire ceiling of the newly enclosed room was covered in mistletoe. There were white twinkle lights strategically placed, but there was no space on the ceiling visible behind the mass of green.
She turned in a circle, taking in the room for the first time. There were candles on various surfaces, wall-to-wall mistletoe and twinkle lights on the ceiling, and a beautifully set table waiting to host their dinner. When she turned back to Edward, she made an all-encompassing gesture. "You did all this?"
"Yes. For you." His gaze was tender and unguarded.
"And the mistletoe?"
His smirk was in full force now. "Just covering all my bases. I wanted to be able to kiss you in any spot in the room."
She smiled back at him, utter joy shining from her eyes. "And if we leave this room? Is this portable mistletoe?"
"Well," he turned and lifted something from the table, his back to her as he paused. Finally, she watched as he squared his shoulders and turned toward her, trepidation evident on his face for the first time since she entered the room. "I suppose you'll need this one when we leave the room."
He walked toward her, offering a small bundle of mistletoe wrapped with a red ribbon. Bella reached out, accepting the token with a smile.
And then another gasp.
There, tied neatly onto the top of the bundle with a tiny bow, was a simple, yet elegant gold ring housing a tasteful, square cut diamond.
When she was eventually able to remove her gaze from the ring, she found Edward on his knee before her.
"I know it's sudden. This is our first date, and a blind one at that, but we've shared a whole lifetime already. I want to spend the rest of it committed to you. I love you with all of my heart and soul. You're my whole world, Bella, and I want to be yours. Will you marry me?"
There was no hesitation in her answer.
Wednesday, December 31
The mistletoe still covered the ceiling, and there were still twinkle lights and candles, but the table was gone. The room was filled with the soft sounds of a piano playing Christmas carols and the people they both loved dearly.
Edward and Bella stood facing one another repeating vows after Pastor Webber, who had known them both since they were in kindergarten with his daughter, Angela.
After Bella had agreed to marry him, Edward made another proposal and threw in her Christmas gift early to boot. He claimed he didn't want to be without her for the turn of another year and begged her to marry him on New Year's Eve while they were all still together. He handed her a small wrapped box with the itinerary for a trip to Ireland as an early gift/honeymoon, hoping it would be incentive enough to get her to agree.
After a phone call to her parents, explaining that she never wanted a big, flashy wedding, and offering to have a reception when they returned from their respective trips, she had quickly agreed.
They stood now, encircled by Carlisle, Esme, Jasper, Alice, Emmett and Rosalie as they finished their vows and shared a sweet, tender kiss for the first time as husband and wife.
Bella was glowing as she held a simple cluster of mistletoe, wrapped with a red ribbon. A small smile graced her lips as she anticipated sharing precious news with Edward at midnight … News that the child they had created out of love on Thanksgiving, albeit, unexpressed and unplanned, was growing within her … A miracle that was under the mistletoe she held tightly in her hands.
I think there will eventually be one more chapter of this one, but it probably will be written after I finish HCA. Thanks for reading!