Contest entry for the May to December Romance Contest
*TIED for the best 'Mrs. Robinson' (Older Bella) with 'Holiday' by JiffyKate*
Ninkita (Beta Extraordinaire) You took this jumbled, disjointed mess of a story and made it awesome. Thanks so much!
Many thanks to all of the contest hosts, judges, organizers, participants and readers. Too much fun!
Bella woke up and headed out on her morning run shortly after 6:00 on Friday. Exactly half an hour later, she was back at the end of her driveway. She was breathing hard and her forehead glistened with the sweat of a satisfying workout. This was just another part of her daily regimen. Structure, routine, self-discipline - they were the pillars of her life that kept her moving down a path of incontestable success.
It had taken thirteen years of grueling work and stringent self discipline to establish herself as a full time writer. She had worked a part time job during and a full time job right after college, writing through her lunch, in the evenings, and whenever she could find a spare moment. She had lived within a very tight budget until she was in her early 30's, when she finally felt comfortable relaxing and spending some of her earnings on simple luxuries like the house before her. Now, at the age of 38, it was her retreat, her writing studio and her base between book tours and research trips.
Bella toed off her shoes as she came in the front door, grabbed a water bottle from the fridge and lowered herself to the floor in the middle of her living room. She exhaled and reached for her toes, feeling the gentle pull in her calves and hamstrings. She methodically moved through her stretches, counting to fifteen each time before shifting position. Eight minutes later she pulled her tablet towards her and opened her schedule, casually sipping water as she ordered her thoughts.
6:15 - Run 3 miles
6:45 - Stretch
7:00 - Shower and dress
7:30 - Breakfast
8:00 - Review subscriptions/periodicals
8:30 - Fan Mail
9:30 - Annual review with Financial Advisor
12:00 - Lunch and walk
1:00 - Facebook and Twitter updates
1:30 - Reply to calls and e-mails
2:30 - Write 2000 words
4:30 - Prepare for date
6:00 - Meet Eric Yorkie at Jose's Cantina for Dinner & Drinks
8:30 - ?
Groceries delivered between 1:00 and 1:30.
PT edits Ch. 3 and 6
Review RR jacket art, submit changes to Molly
She sighed. Friday night was date night. There was a time when she used to look forward to it, but lately she had been suffering through her Friday dates. It seemed like all the men she met these days had something glaringly wrong with them. Some were too eager to impress her, condescending because she was a writer, hoping she would introduce them to her publisher, boring, chauvinistic, shallow, self-absorbed. . . did she already add boring to the list? It was tiresome. Bella didn't think she was that picky. She didn't place a premium on looks, but she did value basic hygiene, enough intelligence to challenge her, a personality to explore, an ounce of natural dignity, and maybe just a tiny spark of mutual attraction. She was starting to believe that she was flawed. There was no such thing as Mr. Right in her future, just an endless succession of wrong, wrong and wrong.
However, tonight's date seemed promising - Eric Yorkie was a 39 year old magazine editor and the former boss of her editor's assistant. He was only one year older than her, worked in a related field and was successful in his own right. On paper he seemed almost perfect. Bella considered her wardrobe and decided the wide-necked black cocktail dress would be appropriate. She didn't have high hopes for the evening since her last five date nights were complete duds, but maybe Eric would break her losing streak.
It was already eight months since she had broken things off with Bentley, the history professor. He had lasted almost three months. Honestly, that was two months too long. He was kind and considerate, but the only spark between them was intellectual. Sex was just. . . intercourse.
As the months passed, she felt as though she was watching her life pass by. Her characters were so much more alive than she was. Her friends, those she maintained contact with, were all married with kids ranging from newborns to college age. Her parents had long since abandoned hope of becoming grandparents. Her fans took it for granted that being unattached meant they didn't have to share her with anyone. She could continue churning out two to three books a year and they would be thrilled.
It was all starting to feel dry and empty. Even writing, her perennial joy and escape, was harder to connect with. Where was the inspiration? What happened to the real life emotion that fueled her characters?
Her only remaining comfort was her continued financial success and the way it spilled over into the lives and careers of her agent, publisher, editor and publicity team. And the fans, of course. Connecting with them through their e-mails, letters, pictures and social media posts kept her smiling. They kept her writing. They gave her life some meaning.
Bella recycled the empty bottle and headed back to the master bedroom to shower and dress. She planned to make it a good day. She willed herself to remain positive. The date with Mr. Yorkie could be incredible. She might even get laid for a change. She decided to be cautiously optimistic.
To save time, she ate her breakfast of oatmeal, sliced banana and cottage cheese standing at the counter while she skimmed through the newspapers and magazines she had delivered both daily and weekly and flagged articles to read later. She rinsed her bowls and stacked them in the sink with her dishes from the last three days. The sight of the nearly full sink reminded her that she needed to make time to clean even though she hated it, especially if there was a chance she would be entertaining a guest that night.
Bella selected ten pieces of fan mail at random and sat in her armchair to read them. It seemed like very few people used snail mail anymore except salespeople and hard core fans. She generally recycled the junk mail and kept the letters and postcards, setting aside time each day to read and reply to a few. There were always more than she could hope to get to, and not all of them were entirely positive, but seeing how her work touched people all over the world added an element of pleasure to her work that she couldn't derive from just telling her characters' stories. She loved to know that they were understood and embraced by other people, too.
The first letter was written in broken English. It was sweet - what she could understand of it - but deciphering the poor spelling and disjointed sentence structure left her with a headache. She scribbled quick replies to it and the next few letters. The fifth letter was eight pages of crabbed handwriting. By the second paragraph she could tell the writer was unhinged. She folded the pages and returned them to their envelope. The next message was worse - it was very personal in nature. She had received similar letters before, but the lewd comments about her body made her skin crawl. It was evident that whoever wrote the note had met her in person at some point, possibly at a book signing or public reading. Bella shredded the note and the envelope, then washed her hands, but she still felt dirty and violated. Dealing with the 'crazies' was part of being famous and successful. She knew that. But it took its emotional toll all the same.
She cursed under her breath when she looked at the clock and realized she was running late for her appointment with her financial advisor. Carlisle Cullen was the true reason for her current level of comfort and security. His advice in her early years had kept her out of the temptations and financial pitfalls that most of her peers fell into right after college. When her income skyrocketed, he had stewarded her funds so effectively that she currently received more annual income from her investment portfolio than she did from her book sales.
Bella returned the four unopened letters to the box of fan mail and grabbed her car keys. The morning rush hour was over but it still took her longer to get to town than she expected. By the time she found a parking stall it was already 9:36. She hated being late. She hated being rude. She hated wasting other people's time.
She entered the office building and took the elevator up to the fourth floor. She approached the young, dark-haired receptionist and checked in, apologizing for being late.
"Don't worry about it at all, Ms. Swan. Follow me and I'll show you to the conference room."
Bella hitched her purse a little higher on her shoulder and followed the girl down the hall to a small room with a round table and four chairs.
"Can I bring you anything to drink? Tea? Coffee?"
"Just water would be great. . . um, Alice," she tacked on, looking at the girl's silver name tag.
"No problem. I'll be right back."
Bella set her purse on a chair and stood at the window looking out across the parking lot and nearby buildings. Cullen Investments was a small firm. In all the years she had been coming here for annual appointments and the occasional document signing, she had only ever seen Carlisle, a receptionist and a handful of younger assistants. Yet, she trusted him far more than the over-confident, over-dressed young bucks who started knocking on her door as soon as her net worth topped $1M.
Carlisle Cullen was calm, an excellent listener and very open minded. He encouraged her to structure her charitable allotments according to her preferences instead of fighting to keep it all under his management. He congratulated her for her successes whether she brought him a new check to deposit or not. After almost sixteen years of working together, growing her accounts from a four-digit to an eight-digit balance, she thought of him almost like an uncle. Their relationship had always been strictly professional, but their conversations about wealth and estate planning were so intrinsically personal that she felt closer to him than many of her friends and associates.
Alice popped back into the room with a coaster, a glass of ice water and a bright smile.
"Mr. Cullen will be right with you."
"Thanks so much," Bella replied. She took a seat at the table and sipped her water gratefully.
When the door opened a couple minutes later she was stunned into speechlessness.
"Ms. Swan, I apologize for keeping you waiting. Apparently I'm death to printers and I couldn't get the last two pages of your portfolio summary to print in my office. My sister is far better with technology than I am."
The young man set a thick binder on the table in front of her, unbuttoned his jacket and sat down at the table across from her. Bella continued to stare.
"I'll just jump right in because we do have a lot to cover and I don't want to keep you past our appointment time. If you open to the first tab you'll see a summary of accounts with last year's balance, the current balance and the rate of -"
"Where's Carlisle?" she cut in, finding her voice at last.
"My father? He mostly works from home now. Did you not receive our letter?"
"What letter? What are you talking about? Is he okay?"
"He's doing great. We had a bit of a scare back in June with his heart, but he has the best care 'round the clock - my mom - and he's doing fantastic. He still comes into the office once or twice a week and of course he has oversight of all accounts and transactions at all times. Essentially he's telecommuting and following the doctor's orders - plenty of rest, walking, less sodium in his diet, meds. He's really doing well. I'll tell him you asked after him. I know he will appreciate that." The young man flashed her a smile that might have given her pause in almost any other situation.
"I'm sorry he's been sick and I'm relieved he's improving, but I have to admit that I'm a bit confused. So he just handed my account over to his kid?" Bella was too shocked to really edit her words before they escaped from her mouth. Despite her blunt words, the young man seemed unfazed.
"I'll ask Alice to print out another copy of his letter for you. It explains everything. And I apologize for you feeling blind-sided. I'm Edward, by the way. I don't think we've formally met before, Ms. Swan."
Bella considered his face. He did look familiar but she had never really paid attention to any of the office staff before. He had clearly inherited his father's good looks, although his coloring must be from his mother's side. Carlisle had blue eyes and fair, almost white-blonde hair. Edward's hair was a rich reddish-brown and his hazel eyes glinted green when the light hit them at a certain angle. Bella accepted his proffered hand but immediately yanked her hand back in shock. Her skin was tingling from her fingertips up to her elbow. The young man - Edward- seemed as startled as she was. She folded her hands in her lap and tried to conceal how off balance she felt.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to shock you," he laughed nervously.
"It's fine. Maybe I should just re-schedule for a day when Carlisle can meet with me. My accounts are quite complex and he's been managing them since the beginning. He knows my plans and expectations and he understands my perspective. It will be much simpler if I can talk to him."
"Ms. Swan, while I understand your reticence, please be assured that my father has entrusted the entire firm to my management. This is what he has taught me to do. This is what I have trained for most of my life."
With his smooth skin and earnest air, he couldn't be more than 21 or 22. He doesn't have an ounce of experience to draw from! What was Carlisle thinking turning her millions over to this child? Bella barely contained the urge to scoff.
Instead she spoke as politely as she could, "I'm sure he shared as much as he could despite the sudden and unexpected nature of this transition. However, I am not really comfortable working with someone whose perspective is so far removed from my own."
Beneath the table her hands were clenched. Rather than fading, the buzzing sensation had only gotten stronger. Her body was humming like a tuning fork. What was wrong with her? She shifted in her seat, crossing and uncrossing her legs.
"I think I understand your concern. Would it help you to know that a majority of our clients are closer to retirement age and I manage their legacy planning as well as their standard investment needs? I am not under-qualified, nor do I lack the support and added perspective of my father's supervision and input. Yes, you will now be meeting with me for annual reviews, reallocations and any other services you may require, but the essential day-to-day management of your assets has not changed in the least."
Bella was too unsettled to think clearly. Something about his direct approach was putting her on edge. Or maybe it was his lopsided smile. She couldn't keep her eyes on his, they kept drifting down to watch his lips moving. Instead of being reassured, she felt panicked. The room was too small. Her skin felt too tight. The humming sensation had settled into a persistent, pulsing beat in her stomach. The tension was too much to bear. It boiled over as her self restraint snapped.
"You can't possibly understand. You're just a kid. How can you take anything of value away from our conversations? You have no life experience!"
Up until that moment, the facade of careful professional courtesy on his face had not slipped by so much as a millimeter. But when Bella raised her voice, his eyes opened wide before narrowing angrily. His nostrils flared and his jaw clenched, the tendons in his throat popping out against his crisp white collar.
Bella didn't know why his change in stance affected her so much. She just knew she had to get away before she self-combusted. With all the poise and control she could manage, she closed the folder and pushed it toward him. "I'm sorry, but I think we're done here," she said apologetically, but firmly.
He stood as she got to her feet and she couldn't stop herself from gaping. For the first time she really looked at him. He was tall - probably an inch or two over six feet. His suit jacket hung open revealing his neatly pressed shirt tucked into narrow-waisted slacks. He wore his clothes comfortably and they fit him well, drawing attention to his broad shoulders, athletic build and confident posture. He was also incredibly handsome, even with his features clouded by frustration and anger.
"Done here? Does that mean you no longer wish to work with us? Because I was under the impression you were happy with our performance. We've averaged 17% year over year growth for the last five years, clearly outpacing the market by more than 85%. Your last Christmas card said you were thrilled and couldn't imagine trusting anybody else with your portfolio."
"You read that?"
"I read all of our client correspondence. Or didn't you hear me say my father has entrusted this firm to me?"
"Oh, please. It's not an inheritance. It's a business. One he built over the course of a lifetime."
"I think I know that. He did, after all, build it over the course of my lifetime. Ms. Swan, I have worked in this office since I turned 16, and even before that I spent hours at a time here, many days a week throughout my childhood. I learned to interpret market analyses and understand trading jargon while most of my peers were playing with their Nintendos and Super Soakers. I am not a novice and I'm not a child. I am a professional and a partner in this firm."
"And I am a hard-working woman with a hell of a lot to lose if you take a stupid pride-driven gamble with my money."
"When I hear the words 'pride' and 'stupidity' I'm definitely not the first person who comes to mind."
He was livid.
But so was she.
Bella matched her tone to his, taking two bold steps around the table to face him. "And when I think of a professional, I don't picture a boy standing there in his daddy's suit."
"You don't trust me? You don't think I can manage your accounts effectively? I've been managing your funds and every other account we hold for the last six years. My father reviews and signs off on my decisions, true, but make no mistake, they are my calls and he respects them. You've been seeing double digit returns, haven't you? You can thank me any time now for that giant nest egg you're sitting on. Right after you apologize for being a condescending shrew."
"Ha! You can apologize to me right after you liquidate my holdings and transfer every last penny into an account of my choosing!" Bella was breathing hard and she no longer cared that her voice was raised. Her blood was practically boiling.
"You just get more and more ridiculous the longer I talk to you. How in the world can you let your emotions rule your financial decisions, throw away a perfect custom-designed portfolio, and still stand there pretending my age is the problem? What makes you think that being thirteen years older than me makes you somehow superior? You may have an incredible imagination and be more gorgeous and naturally talented than 99% of the population, but you are a close-minded, controlling jerk." He jabbed a finger towards her to make his point, before leaning in further. "Just what are you afraid of? You're way too young to be spouting off cliched bullshit like this. Keep it up and by the time you're sixty you're going to be completely alone, surrounded by sleazy con artists and peddlers just trying to cut away their slice of the reclusive Isabella Swan's fortune."
His proximity made it hard to think straight. So, Bella reacted. "What I do with my money now or in the future is no longer your concern. Prepare the paperwork and leave it at the front desk for me to sign. Tell your father I'm sorry, but I can't work with you. We're done here."
Bella took an angry step toward the open door, but his arm shot out in front of her and blocked the path.
"You have got to be kidding me," he growled.
"Get out of my way." As close as they were, Bella could feel the heat of his anger washing over her in waves.
"After 16 years you can't be bothered to tell him yourself? That's absolute bullsh-. . . You know what? Never mind. Have it your way. I'll have the forms drawn up by two pm. Ms. Swan, I can't say it's been a pleasure, but I do hope you are more satisfied with your future investment team. Good day."
He dropped his arm and stepped back to let her pass, but he barely waited for her to exit the conference room ahead of him before he was striding down the corridor in the opposite direction. She heard a door slam behind her and it made her jump. When she reached the reception area Alice was watching her with wide eyes and a white face. Bella felt suddenly foolish for her rash decision. He was right. She was overwrought and making knee-jerk decisions. It was so unlike her, too. Something about him just shattered her self control.
"Excuse me," she muttered as she edged past the front desk and punched the down button for the elevator.
Bella's cheeks were burning and her pulse was racing. Her hands were trembling as she tried to grab her keys from the pocket in her purse. When she reached her car she climbed in and slammed the door shut. Her eyes were streaming scalding hot tears and she was completely confused. Where had that blow up come from? What was it about Edward Cullen that made her feel so chaotic? And hot! She plucked at her blouse, feeling the skin of her chest, throat and face radiating so much heat that her vision was swimming.
She glanced up to the building. Her eyes were automatically drawn to the corner of the fourth floor where a tall figure paced angrily behind the thick-paned glass. She swallowed heavily. She knew she had made a big mistake. She felt embarrassed and guilty, remembering the hours upon hours of conversations she had shared with Carlisle over the years. All the time she was spinning her fictional fantasies, that man and his family had been safeguarding and increasing her fortune. And now she was wealthier than all but a fraction of a percentage of the population. Despite that, she felt all alone, emotionally isolated and so incredibly lost.
After bare minutes in his company, Edward had blasted through all of her pretences. Her meticulous planning, her adherence to maintaining her fitness and diet, her carefully selected wardrobe. . . they were an ineffective camouflage. He had seen through it all and called her out on the mat. She was proud, scared and too taken with her own accomplishments to see another human being as her equal.
She was usually good at holding people at arm's length, maintaining a safe and comfortable separation between herself and them. Edward Cullen had stepped too close. He'd gotten under her skin. It was a terrifying sensation. What's more, for the first time in a very long time, Bella felt completely humbled.
When Bella could finally see clearly, she pulled away from the parking lot. She knew she should go home, finish responding to fan mail, make lunch and then continue with her schedule for the afternoon, but her mind was racing and she couldn't bear the thought of walking into that giant, empty house and falling right back into her routine. She wasn't even hungry. Her stomach was twisted up and she felt like she needed to scream or run or hit something. She drove to a nearby park, stuffed her purse out of sight under the front seat, pocketed her keys and started walking.
Her ankle boots were not really suited to the pace but she kept pushing herself to stride faster until her breathing was strained and her cheeks were flushed with exertion. Every time she thought of Edward Cullen her emotions tumbled into absolute confusion. She wanted desperately to apologize but couldn't imagine standing in front of him and being able to find the words. She ran through dozens of false starts in her head before finally deciding the only way to make things right would be a written apology. She was sure that if she attempted to apologize in person and he didn't take it well they would be catapulted back to square one; trading cruel words and harsh looks.
The path she was walking ran in a large loop. She passed a play area and two more parking lots, dodging between walkers and joggers as she continued on her route. Her feet hurt and she decided she needed another shower by the time she reached her car. When she climbed into the car she heard her phone beeping with a missed call. She recognized the Cullen's office number at once and gnawed on her thumb nail as she listened to the message.
"Ms. Swan, I'm sorry I missed you. This is Alice Cullen. We met briefly earlier today. I'm so sorry about how your appointment went today. Believe it or not, Edward feels terrible. Um, I think he may have been a little blind sided, too. Look, I probably shouldn't be saying all this on a message machine, so could you call me when you get this? Don't worry. Edward doesn't answer the phones. Please call. Thanks!"
Bella sat and stared at her phone thoughtfully for several minutes before she finally made up her mind to call Alice back.
"Cullen Investments, how can I help you?"
"Alice? Hey, it's me. Bella Swan."
"Oh, thank goodness! I'm so relieved that you called back. Edward only spoke to me for a couple minutes, but he told me a bit about what happened. I need you to know that he is really, really sorry. These last few months have been tougher on him than anybody else. Apart from the additional responsibility, well, let's just say you weren't the first client to express concern about his age and ability to manage the firm. But you were the youngest by far. Maybe that's why it hit him so hard."
"I know. I don't know what I was thinking. I was just really shocked, I guess. And a bit scared."
"Well, please don't let it eat at you too much. In fact, I know Edward is trying to work up the courage to call you and apologize as we speak."
"What? No. It's fine. I'm fine. I should be apologizing to him."
"You really feel that way?"
"Absolutely!" Bella said, feeling relieved to say it out loud.
"Well, in that case, how would you feel about meeting him somewhere neutral? Say, the Italian cafe on Lake Street, Monday at 11:30?"
"Oh, um. I guess that would be fine," she agreed because she couldn't figure what else to say. Bella's head was spinning. She wasn't entirely sure what was going on, but she felt immediately dizzy and anxious at the thought of meeting Edward for lunch.
"That's perfect. I'll put it on his calendar. Thanks, Ms. Swan."
Bella was about to tell Alice to call her by her first name when the line went dead. With a confused sigh, Bella drove home hoping to salvage the remains of her day.
After a quick shower and a change of clothes, Bella settled down with her laptop and logged into her Facebook account. She tried to keep her focus as she read through fan comments and conversations but her mind kept drifting back to her botched meeting at Cullen Investments. The longer she thought about it the worse she felt. The look in Edward's eyes as she left the conference room cut like a burning stake through her stomach.
Bella gave a frustrated sigh and went to the kitchen to make herself some hot tea. As the water slowly came to a boil she tackled the backlog of dishes and then, because the sight of the crumbs, spills and accumulated mess was driving her crazy she went on to clean the whole kitchen. Her mind was still whirring when she finished sweeping the tile, so she tidied up the living room and dragged the canister vacuum out of the utility closet. Her momentum carried her back to her bedroom and bathroom.
As Bella wiped down the mirror her eyes met her reflection and she stopped. She was glowing. And smiling. She stopped and stared at herself. She hated cleaning. She had lost an entire day of work. What did she have to smile about? What had changed over the course of the afternoon?
She rewound to her most recent thoughts. Edward was sorry. He wanted to meet her on Monday to apologize. Even in the midst of their heated argument, he had complimented her. Parts of their conversation came back to her; words that had been lost amid the raging emotions and clashing egos. She remembered how he described her - Gorgeous. . . Imaginative. . . Talented. . .
He had also called her a condescending, controlling jerk but she was willing to admit he had a point. And he had the guts to say it to her face. That was strangely attractive.
Her smile returned with a pleasant, warming blush. Bella was humming as she scrubbed the toilet and swept the floor. She was sweating again and wearing a tank top, baggy shorts and yellow rubber cleaning gloves. . . but she had never felt younger or more beautiful in her life.
As she dressed for her date with Eric Yorkie, she tried to imagine what he would look like, but Edward Cullen's face kept superimposing itself over the mystery man she was trying to construct. It felt so wrong to be thinking of him that way. He was Carlisle's son! But try as she might, she couldn't banish him from her thoughts.
Bella was starting to recognize the pure instinctive attraction she felt toward the younger Mr. Cullen. But she wasn't naive enough to confuse a physiological response with true compatibility.
She hoped that the date with Eric would turn out successfully. She wanted to date someone established. Somebody strong and confident. Someone she could look at as an equal. Somebody who could earn her admiration and respect. It wasn't so much the age that was important to her. It was life experience and fortitude, the kind of seasoning that comes from fighting through and overcoming challenges and still finding success. That degree of self knowledge and stability was rare in men under 30. Everyone she had ever met agreed on that point.
Besides, she thought as she put the finishing touches on her make up, a young man as handsome and intelligent as Edward Cullen would have no interest in a woman so much older than him. It was not even going to be an issue.
It was 5:58 when the hostess showed her to her seat and she met Eric Yorkie. It took her 41 seconds to determine that he was the worst of the worst.
Poor hygiene: Greasy hair, visible ear wax, the shine of old sweat and sloughed off skin cells on his collar, that pasty white rim of spittle at the corners of his chapped lips. . . It took all of her manners to maintain a calm and friendly expression.
Condescending: He had barely opened his mouth before she felt the overwhelming desire to break his nose.
"Mary Beth told me you were an author when she gave me your name. I previewed one of your novels on Amazon and I must say it really is tragic that so many passable writers choose to set their sights so low and write fairy tales and two dimensional love stories. You should have pursued journalism. Fiction is just a safe haven for the lazy and lackluster talents to string words together with no accountability for fact or relevance. I hope you'll open your eyes to life's real possibilities. I would even review your first few articles and give you feedback to help you get started."
And yes, he was boring: There was no attempt at conversation. Eric Yorkie's self-referential speech dragged on like a soliloquy with barely a breath to order drinks and dinner - without asking her opinion or preference for either one - and no pause even when their waiter arrived with dinner and he began to shovel food into his mouth.
The only thing that kept her at the table was her sense of propriety. She had never walked out on a date before. However, by 6:47 she was looking for any excuse to flee.
"So, Bella. I know we arrived in separate vehicles. It only made sense as I was coming straight from my office and may need to return later tonight. But I do have a bit of time for drinks and a more personal conversation. Would you like to visit my apartment? Or maybe give me a tour of your house? I took the liberty of googling your home address. It looks like it's in a beautiful neighborhood."
His proposition was as blunt and unpalatable as everything else about him. Bella swallowed the vomit that filled her throat and washed the bitter taste down with the rest of her margarita.
"Eric, I don't have sex on the first date."
He set his fork down for the first time since the food arrived and leaned toward her, speaking in an urgent and intense whisper, "I'm so sorry. I would never imply that you were anything less than a beautiful and classy lady." He appeared affronted and truly shocked. He paused for three seconds, his eyes staring owlishly from behind his thin-framed glasses before he continued in a more casual tone, "I'll give you my address and we can get to know each other a little better tomorrow. I'm free after 7."
Bella blinked twice, unsure if she was processing his words correctly. Surely, nobody could be so self-centered and dense and just. . . awful! She watched with growing disgust as he pulled her plate toward his side of the table and started scooping her unfinished rice and beans onto his cheese crusted platter. She grabbed her purse without another word and stood up to leave.
"Are you going to the ladies room?" he asked through a mouthful of beans.
"Yes," she replied tersely, then walked out to her car and drove home.
Bella was furious all weekend. God was laughing at her, she was sure. Eric Yorkie was a caricature of a human being. And somebody had thought they could be a decent match? How was that possible? Was she so pathetic that people believed she was better off with a troll than living alone? The fact that she could not get the thought of Edward Cullen and his too-young perfection out of her head just made her more frustrated.
Maybe it was time to throw in the towel. Her efforts to find a match through this endless series of semi-blind dates was pure insanity. After so many failed attempts it was obvious she was destined to be married to her work. When she thought about it, that was probably far more fulfilling than having to sacrifice and compromise with another person.
Bella always began Monday with a 6:30 yoga class to establish the correct foundation for emotional and physical balance throughout the week. Unfortunately, she accidentally slept through her alarm and awoke with a start when a car alarm went off down the street from her house. She looked around in surprise. Her room was flooded with sunlight. It was almost 9 am.
Bella tripped and stumbled out of her bed and raced through a cursory shower and breakfast. Despite the rough start to her day, she reviewed her schedule just like she always did. The familiar practice didn't offer her the same sense of calm control that it usually did. The 11:30 lunch with Edward Cullen seemed to eclipse everything else on the list.
She knew she had to at least check in with her assistant Molly and respond to several pressing e-mails before lunch. She was racing against the clock. It was after 11 when she dove into her closet, frantically tearing clothes off their hangers and discarding them as she searched for something to wear to lunch with Edward. It was just lunch so it couldn't be too dressy, but she didn't want to look too casual either. He was sure to be wearing a suit. However, if she wore a suit, too, she would feel confined to a purely professional exchange. Her own thoughts and hyper-analysis were driving her mad.
At 11:15 she was no closer to being ready to go. In a fit of frustration she grabbed the next garment she touched and pulled it on. Luckily, the blue dress was pretty versatile. With the right accessories she could wear it to the office or out on a date. She slipped a few silver bangles onto her wrists, swiped on some mascara and lip gloss and slipped her feet into a pair of ballet flats. Grabbing her handbag, she rushed out the front door and hopped into her car.
Forced to stop at a traffic signal, Bella combed her fingers through her hair, trying to remove the worst of the tangles. The car's mirror was too small for her to see if her efforts were successful or not. It hung around her shoulders and down her back in a waving, straggling mess. She hated being late. She really, really, really hated it.
It was almost a quarter to 12 by the time she parked her car and hurried into the little bistro. The lunch rush was in full swing and she looked around frantically for Edward.
"Can I help you ma'am?" the hostess asked.
"Yes, thank you. I'm meeting a gentleman here. Ed-"
"She's with me," a familiar voice cut in. "Ms. Swan, it's wonderful to see you again. I'm so glad you could make it."
"Oh. Hi! Please, call me Bella."
"Bella," he smiled. "We're right back here."
She felt her cheeks warming when she realized she was staring. How had she never noticed him in the office before? She couldn't take her eyes off of him now. And, although he still seemed extremely young to her, he exuded a certain presence and masculine charisma that drew her to him. Everything about Eric Yorkie had repelled her. She felt distinctly uncomfortable about the fact that this young man was having the opposite effect on her.
A small voice in the back of her mind warned her that it would do her no good to allow any sort of attraction to grow between them. Thirteen years was a very big age gap. She had graduated from high school the year he started kindergarten! What would her friends say? What would his family think? But the moment his fingers brushed her waist as he ushered her to her seat, she forgot everything except the fact that he was a man and she was a woman. . . and there were some very basic physical components to that equation.
"I was running a bit late myself so I didn't get a booth, but they gave me a table in the bar, is this okay?"
"It's perfect," she replied with a smile.
"I ordered waters and an appetizer but I had no idea what you would like to drink. Wine? Soda?"
"White wine for me. But just one glass. It's lunch time and I don't want to be sleepy this afternoon. I have a lot of work to catch up on."
"Do you have a deadline coming up?"
"Not right now, but my assistant, Molly, has been arranging a local book signing tour in anticipation of the paperback release of one of my novels. The scheduling and coordination can get pretty dicey. Actually, I've been pretty distracted this last week so I've fallen behind on quite a few things."
"That's right. I can't believe it's been a year since Defying Death came out! Wow. So, what else is on your mind? Apart from obnoxious, upstart investment brokers, of course."
"Oh my gosh. Don't remind me. I'm so sorry I was such a bitch the other day. I don't know what my problem is." Even as she spoke, Bella's mind was spinning. He actually knew the name of one of her novels. Had he read it? What did he think about the sex scenes? She quickly raised her water glass to drown her blush.
"Oh come on. You can't take it all on yourself. You were shocked and uncomfortable. Anyone would have felt the same way in your shoes. I know I didn't handle my emotions very well, either. In general, our clients reacted far better than I expected and I guess since you are so young I wasn't expecting a similar reaction from you. I was unprepared for how it would affect me. It just goes to show how much respect and confidence my father has earned over the years. If that isn't an example for me to emulate I don't know what is."
Bella was surprised by the honest admiration and humility Edward displayed. She was used to younger men bragging and attempting to disparage or one-up the previous generation. His attitude was refreshing and Bella found herself smiling even more.
"He's a great man. I owe him so much. His advice and support when I was finishing school put me on the path I'm still on today. I don't know where I would be right now if he hadn't taught me a thing or two about ROI."
Edward laughed and dipped a chunk of garlic bread in marinara sauce before bringing it to his mouth. He chewed and swallowed, still chuckling under his breath. "My dad has found more ways to relate investment strategy to life choices than probably any other man throughout history."
"With my dad it has always been fishing analogies. He sang the praises of patience and dedication my whole childhood. I used to think he was just trying to keep me calm, quiet and out of the way. I resented it for a long time. But in more recent years I've started to recognize and appreciate the wisdom in many of his lessons."
"It sounds like our dads would get along really well. Is your dad a fan of baseball?"
"Football. On the big screen, of course."
"Televised sports. I've never been able to get into them. Live sports are a different animal."
"Exactly. I feel the same way! Of course, it could just be a repressed addiction to hot dogs and warm beer speaking," she said with a shrug.
"Now you're talking. We have to go together some time. I bet you're one of those crazy fans that gets decked out in team jerseys and war paint, right?"
"Anything worth doing. . ."
". . . Is worth doing right," he laughed. "Yeah, our dads must have been separated at birth."
The waiter arrived to take their order. Bella ordered the first thing she saw - chicken parmesan - and a glass of chardonnay.
"I'll have the eggplant and portobello lasagna and a beer with a glass, please."
"May I see your ID, please?"
Edward flipped his wallet open and handed his license to the waiter. When the man returned it to him Edward tucked his wallet back into his jacket and looked up. He noticed Bella laughing softly and shaking her head.
"What's so funny?" he asked as he handed the waiter their folded menus.
"Nothing, really. I was just noticing some glaring differences between our lunch today and the date I went on last Friday." She was also entertained by the fact that the waiter hadn't checked her license. Not that she was surprised. She hadn't been ID'd for many years.
"Do tell," Edward encouraged as he reached for more bread. His expression showed a slight hint of tension. Was she imagining his level of interest? Or was he just making polite conversation?
"It was horrible. I kept expecting somebody to jump out with a camcorder and tell me I was being punked. I finally had it when he started eating my leftovers, so I grabbed my purse and left."
"He did what?" Edward asked, looking disgusted.
"Just what I said. And that wasn't even the worst of it. It was a train wreck from start to finish."
Bella recounted as many of the details as she could remember. It was entertaining to watch Edward's expression morphing between disgust and outrage. Bella could laugh about it now. Sitting across from Edward made her date with Eric Yorkie look like a complete farce. Edward was handsome, well-groomed, well-mannered, well-educated, and. . . well, he was really hot.
"Did he have anything going in his favor?"
"He was about my age."
"Ahh. Is that important to you?"
"What do you mean, 'important'?"
"In a date, a boyfriend, whatever. . ."
"I thought it was. Now. . . I don't know. Maybe."
"So, how old is too old?" Edward was studiously examining the color of his beer against the light as he spoke.
"It depends. Older than 50 would be hard for me to imagine. He would have to be active and energetic to keep up with me."
"So about 12 years? In that case, how young is too young?" Edward's eyes bored into her as if her answer to the question was of supreme value to him.
"I don't know. I've never even considered it."
Bella bit her lip and looked away from the intensity of his stare. She had accepted Alice's lunch proposal with a plan to apologize for her horrible behavior. However, instead of a simple apology she found herself engrossed by Edward. Everything from his looks to his conversation drew her in. And now he was asking impossible questions with impossible answers.
"So you find it acceptable for a woman to date a much older man, but it flies in the face of convention for that same woman to date a younger man?" He evaluated her over the rim of his glass as he took a sip of beer and licked his lips. Her eyes were snared by the motion and she found herself mimicking him.
Bella gave herself a shake to break the spell she had unwittingly fallen into. "Like I said, I've never thought about it."
"Well it's good that at least one of us has, isn't it?"
"Why do you say that?" she asked, clearing space in front of her for the waiter to set down her plate.
"Because I would love to take you out to dinner this Friday evening and I would be mortified if I offended you in the asking."
"Oh. I see. . ."
"Are you hoping I will change my mind about moving my money?"
Edward laughed outright. "I don't give a damn about your money. Or rather, I could care less where you keep it as long as you're happy. I've had a crush on you since I first laid eyes on you. If I never found the courage to ask you out, I would regret it forever."
"You have? Wow. Thanks. I guess. . . Um. . . not to sound creepy or paranoid, but when exactly did you first lay eyes on me?"
"Oh. . ." Edward began blushing in earnest and busied himself with his lunch.
"It was a few years back."
"When you started working at the office?"
Edward shrugged in response.
"Before then?" Bella's voice rose in alarm.
Edward didn't meet her eyes but his cheeks were so red that she felt sorry for embarrassing him. She almost missed the tiny nod.
She tried to picture the Isabella Swan the teenaged Edward Cullen must have first seen ten or more years ago. At 28 she was still working a full time job while writing as much as she could. She was averaging five hours of sleep a night and shopping at thrift stores. Her account with Carlisle's firm was barely tipping the $10,000 point despite endless sacrifice and every budgeting strategy she could handle. In short, appearance was not high on her priority list.
And that was when he developed a crush on her? Or was it even earlier?
She had started her account with Carlisle during her final year of college. She remembered having a penchant for short skirts and tight tank tops. She was 22 then, but that would mean Edward was less than 10 years old at the time.
As horrific - and impossible - as a match would have been then, it was no longer such an insane prospect. Edward was far more than a boy. Being close to him made her feel extremely. . . she couldn't even put a name to the feeling. Unsettled, maybe. And warm. Very warm.
Bella narrowed her eyes thoughtfully at Edward. She knew enough about teenage boys to guess the cause behind his blushes. Rather than being repulsed or offended she was strangely intrigued. The man before her was equal parts pride and humility, strength and timidity. For all his confidence in his profession and refined manners, he was endearingly bashful regarding his attraction to her. And yet, at other moments he was so direct that she felt like the young and inexperienced party.
He was a beautiful temptation. She was enthralled.
She couldn't help picturing her schedule for the week. Right now, Friday evening was wide open. Her current dating strategies had turned up an endless stream of duds. Maybe she did need to try something different. And the idea of a younger man, especially someone as attractive as Edward, somebody who challenged her and appreciated her, was very enticing.
Bella swallowed a few more bites of her lunch while she thought. When Edward didn't break the silence, she finally found the courage to take the lead.
"I'm not currently engaged this Friday." Bella was speaking down at her plate, too nervous to look at him. When he didn't reply immediately she looked up feeling a bit anxious.
He met her gaze with a curious and tentative look. "You're not?"
"Well. . . That's good. Um, would you like to join me for dinner? I know a really great seafood place down near the port. It's very casual but the food is unbelievable."
"That sounds delicious. But I was actually thinking for our second date, I would love to cook for you. Does 6 o'clock work for you?"
"Our second da- . . . Um, yeah. Of course." His expression gradually shifted from confusion to surprised pleasure.
"Perfect. You have my address."
Bella took a small bite of her chicken and smiled to herself. Now that she had crossed the line, she was wondering how far this path could take her. The possibilities set her heart racing. She was already considering what she would be wearing on Friday evening. And, if things went exceptionally well, what she wouldn't.
Edward cleared his throat and adjusted his tie as if he was having trouble breathing. "I'll bring some wine. And whatever else. You know. Just let me know."
"Just bring yourself. I think that's all I'll need."
Their eyes locked and Bella felt her lips curve up into a grin of anticipation. It was mirrored by Edward's ecstatic smile.
Their waiter set the black folder with the bill on the table beside her but Edward grabbed it before she could.
"Please, allow me."
"Edward, stop. It's not like I can't afford lunch."
"This is on me. I invited you out. Besides, you've got dinner on Friday so it's only fair, right?"
"Right," Bella agreed begrudgingly. She finished her wine while she watched him slide his card into the folder and hand it back to the waiter. The man darted a glance at her, scanning her quickly from head to toe. She wondered what he saw, what he was thinking. To a stranger she was sure she looked like a cougar. But she didn't feel like one. She felt more right with Edward than she had with any man her own age.
When Edward walked her out to her car, Bella tried to imagine what it would be like to date him. Would people judge her for taking advantage of a younger man? Would they assume Edward was only after her money? Would they take them seriously or ostracize them for flouting convention?
Her questions and worries dissolved when Edward turned to her and pulled her into a gentle hug.
"For what?" she asked breathlessly, feeling a little drunk from the heat and the scent of him.
"For meeting me. For accepting my apology. For being such an entertaining date."
"Yeah, because talking about another man for the majority of our lunch together is so classy." Bella took a step back, folded her arms and shook her head at her own inconsiderate behavior.
"Actually, I was thrilled to hear about the competition. It helped me solidify my game plan."
"I would hardly call anyone I've dated for the last several years 'competition'. And you'll have to tell me more about this game plan."
"I will. On Friday."
"Friday," she agreed. It couldn't come soon enough.
Edward was two parking spaces away when he stopped, paused and turned back to face her.
"I almost forgot. The forms you asked for are ready whenever you want to stop by the office. Alice is there from 8:30 to 4:30 every day this week."
Bella had one foot on the pavement and one in the car. She froze, a rush of guilt and embarrassment flooding her. It only took a second for her to decide what to say. She turned around to face him, meeting his eyes without blinking or flinching.
"I appreciate you doing that, Edward. Your father's honest and deference to my wishes without any sort of coercion or pressure have always been my favorite things about him. That's why I trusted him implicitly. And that's why I trust you, too. I wouldn't dream of moving my money. Shred them."
"Are you sure?" he asked, keys in his hand and a look of frank curiosity on his face.
"Okay. I'll ask her to destroy them immediately. And thank you. For your trust. And for the date."
"Thanks for lunch, Edward. It was delicious. I'll see you Friday?"
"I'll be there at 6."
"Perfect," she said and watched him turn and walk to his car. He glanced back at her just before he got in and waved. It was a thank you, a salute, a 'see you later'. She waved back and grinned.
All week long Bella was spinning. Her schedule was in flux as she tried to regain lost ground. Focusing on reading and responding to inquiries and emails was almost impossible. She kept forgetting things and having to go back, review and start over. Molly stopped by her house not once, but twice, to make sure she wasn't sick and even brought her a cupcake from her favorite bakery.
The only part of her schedule that seemed to hum along smoothly was her writing. She left her keyboard smoking as she slammed out 2,500 or more words in a single hour. Pictures and conversations flitted through her head faster than she could type, the emotions so clear, the colors and voices so vivid that she got up from her computer at the end of each session with her fingertips tingling and her heart racing.
It was intense. It was delicious. She felt so alive!
And the love scenes left her breathless. She hadn't planned for this particular couple of characters to get so intense so quickly, but it was like they had magnets implanted in their chests, dragging them back together every time she tried to pull them apart. She worked hard to tone them down but they fought back, the plot twisting like a snake in her hands, drawing them back together again and again until they finally collided with a crash. The ripple effects of their decision sent shock waves through the lives of the characters around them.
Bella pulled up her outline of the story after a particularly intense writing session thinking she would have to make drastic changes to account for the new pace, but discovered, yet again, that her characters knew best and there were now incredible new sub-plots and supporting character stories to explore. She felt as if the novel was blossoming and it filled her with excitement and wonder. She hadn't felt that way about a story for a long time.
Friday was the opposite of Monday. She was on cloud nine from the second she woke up until she logged out of her computer at 4 pm to begin preparing dinner.
The menu she had decided on was simple to prepare but very rich with flavor. Filet mignon, rice pilaf, fresh salad with walnuts and cranberries and a thick mushroom sauce. She rubbed the steaks down with butter, pepper and fresh-minced garlic, then returned them to the refrigerator. She rinsed and chopped crisp romaine, escarole, endive and radicchio and dumped them in a cut glass bowl. She browned the rice in oil then set it to simmer on the stove with vegetable stock and diced shallots. The rest of the meal preparations she could take care of after she got dressed.
Bella took care showering and shaving her legs then patted herself dry and applied shimmering body cream to her arms, legs and decolletage. She let her hair down and fluffed it slightly, evaluating herself in her full length mirror. Her body was well-toned from daily jogging and yoga. Her breasts had never been very big and were still round and firm, although not as perky as they had been in her twenties. Her butt was her favorite feature, though. Her hips were a bit wide for her 5'5" frame and that was why she loved skirts. Perhaps it was vain, but she appreciated the way men's eyes darted down to check out her ass as she walked by. Her mom called them child-bearing hips although she had never put that particular skill to the test. She put her hands on her hips and looked at herself from one angle, then another. She was pretty certain Edward would like what he saw. Now she had to ensure he got a chance to appreciate it.
Bella searched through her lingerie collection until she found what she was looking for; a midnight-blue bra and panty set that she adored. The push-up bra made her B-cups look temptingly plump and the boy shorts lay low on her hips accentuating the curve from her waist to her hips and her flat, tight tummy. She slipped into a black tank-dress with a scoop neck and loose, full skirt. It was youthful and playful, but not too girly, showing just a hint of cleavage and stopping two inches above her knees.
Bella twisted her hair into a low bun and went easy on the make up, playing up her dark brown eyes and brushing on a hint of blush to highlight her cheekbones. She left her lips bare. She was hoping he would kiss her. She was hoping for a lot more than a kiss. She wanted to taste him, not her make up, on her lips and tongue.
Glancing at the clock, Bella realized she needed to hurry and heat the grill. She considered wearing a pair of sexy heels, but she would be standing and walking back and forth in the kitchen and didn't want to invite an accident. Besides, there was something instinctively attractive about the idea of serving Edward dinner in bare feet. The feminist in her rolled her eyes but the anticipation of his reaction was more powerful. Politics be damned, she wanted him to want her.
While the coals were heating Bella turned off the rice, fluffed it with a fork and moved it to the back of the stove. The sauce was simple but delicious; onions, mushrooms, beef broth, red wine, flour to thicken it and a dash of salt and pepper for flavor. Bella tossed the greens with a light vinaigrette and sprinkled candied walnuts and dried cranberries over the top. She uncorked the table wine and set the table with plates and silverware then moved the rice and salad to the table. At a few minutes before 6 o'clock she placed the steaks on the grill and set the timer so she wouldn't overcook them, hoping Edward would be punctual.
The sauce was ready and she had just flipped the steaks when the doorbell rang. All of a sudden she was struck by nerves like a swarm of butterflies crashing about in her stomach. She poured herself a glass of wine, gulped half of it down, smoothed her hair, took off her apron and walked to the front door.
The sight of him on her doorstep made her heart start pounding in her throat. Edward looked exactly the same, but also completely different. His hair was no longer neatly combed. Instead it was casually tousled and hung down over his forehead. He had traded the suit for jeans, a button down and a black pull-over sweater.
It took her several breaths to find her voice. "Hi. Um, come on in. Oh, don't worry. You can leave your shoes on."
Edward raised his eyebrows as he took in her bare feet and continued removing his shoes. "These are for you," he said simply, drawing her attention to the mixed bouquet he held in his left hand. It was an eclectic blend of blooms, lacking symmetry or any sort of theme. "I couldn't decide what reminded me most of you so I just got one of everything. I know that's weird. But, well, you're kind of a complex person, so. . ." his voice trailed off and Bella bit her lip to stop herself from smiling. He was adorable when he blushed.
"It's actually kind of perfect. And I know exactly what to do with them. Come on in. Dinner is almost ready."
Edward followed her to the kitchen where she pulled a collection of vases from under the sink, choosing only the smallest ones. She rinsed out seven vases, filled them halfway with water and lined them up on the counter. Edward quickly figured out what she was doing and helped her trim the stems, placing the flowers in singles, pairs and trios in combinations that were simple and pretty to look at. She placed the lone red rose on the dining table and sent Edward around with the other vases to place them on side tables, shelves and mantelpieces around the first floor.
When he returned empty handed she was plating dinner. She smothered the steaks and rice pilaf in sauce and added a generous portion of salad to each plate.
"Could you pour the wine?" she asked while she was filling glasses of water at the counter.
"Um, sure. How much do you want?"
"Fill'er up," Bella laughed.
"Ah, but I don't want you to be sleepy after dinner."
"There's no danger of that," she retorted. Her nerves were on fire. Every time she looked at him, her skin flushed. And every time his gaze landed on her she felt a pull deep in the pit of her stomach, like there was an empty, hungry space within her that only he could fill.
They sat down to eat and talk together with music playing quietly in the background. Bella couldn't even keep track of their free-wheeling, random conversation. They jumped from subject to subject; school, the news, family, her books, cars and music and anything else that occurred to them. They had drained the bottle of wine and made inroads into the bottle by the stove before she remembered the molten chocolate cake and ice cream she had intended for dessert.
Edward joined her in the kitchen to prepare dessert, moving naturally around her, his hand brushing her hip and his elbow rubbing against her arm. Each touch raised her awareness of him until she was certain she could hear his very heart beating in his chest. The alcohol humming through her veins and the scent of the rich dessert made her feel frisky. She led him over to the couch in the living room. After only a couple of bites, she set her bowl on the coffee table and moved closer to him on the couch.
Edward let her take the lead, only hesitating for a moment when she took his bowl from him, scooped a mouthful of ice cream-drenched chocolate and offered it to him. She leaned in slightly, her breath frozen in her lungs as he took it into his mouth and slowly withdrew. He allowed her to feed him until there was nothing left. She set the bowl down and raised herself up on her knees beside him, her eyes drawn to the way his jaw moved as he chewed, and the bob of his Adam's apple when he swallowed.
They seemed to hover for several seconds, suspended in that moment, before he reached for her, pulled her into his lap and lowered his mouth to hers. Sitting across his thighs with her fingers buried in his hair and his arms wrapped around her, Bella finally discovered what she had been missing.
It was heat and fire and liquid desire. It was the unknown and the absolute. It was not just a spark. . . it was pure immolation.
His right arm wrapped around her shoulder, supporting her weight as his lips covered hers. His left hand curved around the outside of her thigh, rising up gradually beneath her skirt until his fingers caresses the lacey edge of her panties.
Bella shifted in his lap, pulling herself flush against his chest. She felt the hardness of his desire like a rod of forged iron beneath her.
"Take me to bed," she whispered against his mouth.
"Show me the way."
"Wait," she pulled back slightly, breathless but determined to clear her nagging conscience. "You're not a virgin, are you?"
"Um, no. I'm 25 years old, Bella."
"Oh, thank God. I don't want that responsibility."
Edward chuckled against her hair and planted a kiss next to her ear. "You may not be the first, but I sincerely hope you'll be the last. And I'm sure you can teach me a thing or two. I promise to do everything you tell me to. I've been told I'm a model student. "
"Right now, all I want you to do is kiss me again."
So he did, walking her slowly backwards down the hallway to her room.
He continued kissing her deeply as she sat down on the edge of the bed. She pulled him close by his belt and he watched her with hungry eyes and parted lips as she unbuckled his belt, unzipped his jeans and pulled out his rigid dick.
"Edward, I want to try something."
"Whatever you want."
"Just stay very still. Don't move."
"Uh. . .okay. . ." he breathed. And then, "Oh. . . wow. . ." when she dipped her head and kissed him softly.
Bella wrapped her hand around his length and slowly got to know the taste and feel of him. With gentle licks and gradually harder strokes, she worked him until she could feel his pulse throbbing. He stood perfectly still, his hands on her shoulders. Occasionally he gasped or his fingers spasmed, but he tried very hard not to move. He wasn't thrusting, but his fingers curled and dug into her shoulders and his body trembled. Bella sensed he was getting close to his release, so she took a deep breath through her nose and pulled him as deep as she could, her throat muscles working desperately as he thickened and pulsed inside her.
"Gah. . .uh. . . ahhh!" he cried, sagging with his knees against the edge of the bed and his head hanging limply.
Bella released him and looked up. His eyelids fluttered over glassy eyes and his mouth was gaping. The slightly bitter taste of his semen coated her tongue. She swallowed again, watching him silently as he recovered his equilibrium. He looked so beautiful, so vulnerable. It made her heart ache. She was so aroused that she couldn't speak.
"You just. . . wow. . . I want. . . I don't. . . shit. Okay. I can't even think. Is that what they mean when they say someone blows your mind?"
Bella leaned backwards on her elbows and laughed huskily.
"Please don't laugh at me."
"Oh, Edward, I am most definitely not laughing at you."
"They why don't you let me in on the joke?" he asked as he stripped off his sweater and shirt.
"I don't know how you're still single. Women must melt into puddles of goo when you walk by."
"You're talking about me? How are you not taken? Every year since I can remember I've been dreading the inevitable. I was certain that you'd announce on your website that you were getting married or my dad would receive a wedding invitation in the mail. I knew when that happened all hope would be gone. How is it that you don't have a line of suitors stretching down your driveway?"
Bella was shaking her head and giggling. "My life is nothing like that. I don't think you see me very clearly. I have terrible luck with men."
"I think you just intimidate the hell out of them."
"Oh, really? Is that my problem? Do I intimidate you?"
"You have no idea," he murmured.
"How? I'm not a scary person," Bella said with a self deprecating shrug.
"Really? Because you terrify me."
"Well, you certainly don't scare me. But you do make it very hard for me to think about anyone or anything else."
"Yeah?" he asked, looking at her from beneath his eyelashes.
"Mmm hmm. And I feel a little bit breathless when you get close to me."
"Close like this?" he asked, planting his hands on the mattress and leaning over her.
"And warm. . ." she whispered.
"Hot. . ." he hummed.
"Burning. . ." Bella sighed as his lips brushed against the sensitive skin below her ear. She tilted her head to the side and moaned, offering her neck to his hungry kisses.
She was on fire, the flames racing across the surface of her skin. His fingers glided up beneath her dress to caress her thighs and hips. She held him close, her fingers tangling in his hair, stroking down his neck and the warm, bare skin of his back, following the curve of his shoulders to his muscular arms. He felt so strong and powerful beneath her fingertips, his entire body moving with a barely contained energy.
He had never refastened his jeans and Bella's hands drifted unerringly to the trail of coarse hairs that led to his still semi-hard cock.
Edward coughed out a chuckle and pulled back when her searching fingers wrapped around him again. "Would you like me to use a condom?"
"Yes, please. Just to be sure. I have some in. . ."
"I brought some," he interrupted her, pulling his wallet out of his jeans, extracting a condom and setting it down on the bed beside her.
"Prepared. . ."
"Hopeful. . ."
"Oh. Yeah. Me, too."
Bella sat up and lifted off her dress then watched him as he carefully stepped out of his jeans, folded them and set them down on her arm chair. He gathered his other clothes and placed them neatly on top. As with everything he did, there was a sense of purpose and control to his actions. Edward wasn't reckless. He didn't abandon himself to his emotions. But the passion she felt flowing from him with every look and every touch was no less powerful for him exhibiting so much restraint.
Bella scooted back to the center of the bed and basked in the pleasure of watching him move. She loosened her bun and tossed her hair back over her shoulders, waiting while he looked over her body. She felt as if her skin was glowing, flushed with the anticipation of making love to this beautiful man. She heard herself moan quietly as he looked at her, his eyes tracing appreciatively over her breasts, and tummy, lingering on the juncture of her slender thighs. She licked her lips as his cock hardened further. His eyes traveled back up to her face, his own lips mimicking the gentle curve of her smile. Edward joined her on the bed again, laying alongside her.
And then he made love to her. . .
Slowly, with the focused intent and purpose of a man who plans to savor every sound and sensation, he worshipped her body. He touched her slowly at first, his fingers tracing delicate paths up the soles of her feet and along the long muscles of her legs. His fingertips danced across the creases of knees and ankles, palms gliding ghostlike around each curve before sweeping up to explore her hips and butt.
Bella closed her eyes and revelled in the feelings, her brain unable to put into words the complexity and beauty of the experience. When his hands finally reached her breasts, she arched into his touch, her nipples rigid and tingling within her bra. She dug her fingers into the covers, gathering the fabric into her fists and trembling when his large hands closed around her throat. His thumbs outlined her collarbone, her pulsing jugular, the graceful curve of her jaw, caressing every detail as if he was the sculptor and her body was his masterpiece. There was a sense of reverence in all of his motions.
His finger finally reached her face, brushing the hair back from her cheeks and brow. Bella's eyelids fluttered beneath his touch. Her lips quivered with the need to taste his lips again. Every nerve was awake and alive and hungry for more. When Edward turned her face to his and kissed her again her senses exploded. It was more than foreplay. Any fears or reservations she may have had about their age difference, public opinion or their families' reactions were trivial in the face of this experience. She had never felt so adored. It was euphoric.
Edward fumbled a bit as he undid the clasp of her bra, but she muffled his embarrassed apologies by pulling him to her breast. His mouth closed over her nipple and she cried out as a bolt of electricity jolted straight through to her belly. Her hips would not stay still. She squirmed and gasped as he suckled her breast. He cupped her other breast with his left hand, brushing back and forth across her nipple with his thumb while working her underwear slowly down her legs with the other hand.
His lips and tongue kept up their gentle torture while he stroked up her thigh and found the lust slickened folds of her sex. Bella knew she could slip off the ledge into beautiful oblivion at any moment, but she wasn't ready to relinquish control. What she really wanted, what she needed more than anything, was to feel his hard length slipping inside of her, filling her completely. She needed it more than air.
Edward's fingers were moving in and out faster and faster, coating her inner thighs with her arousal. When the urge to abandon control became too powerful, Bella clamped her thighs against his wrist to slow his movements. She twisted her fingers in his hair and pulled his mouth back to hers. Whispering against his lips she told him exactly what to do next.
She bit back another moan as he stroked his cock, smearing her juices up and down his length until it glistened in the dim light. He opened the condom wrapper and rolled it on, his eyes focused on his task but occasionally darting up to meet her lust-filled gaze.
The look in his eyes went beyond hunger. It was deeper than desire. His emotions were laid bare and her heart contracted painfully in her chest. He had already said as much to her - there was no question of hedging his bets now. This was it. He was all in.
Her conscience begged her to stop him. To make sure he was certain that she was what he wanted. She needed him so badly, but not if he would regret it later. He was too sweet, too thoughtful, too much of a gentleman. It would break her heart to see this beautiful young man disappointed or jaded in love the way she had been.
He was kneeling between her legs with his hands on her hips, cock hard and erect and just inches from her entrance.
"Wait, Edward. . . I. . . Are you sure about this? You don't think we're moving too fast, do you?"
"And you're asking me this after you've sucked me off and we're naked in your bed? Seriously?"
"Um, I just don't want you to regret this."
"Ms. Swan, I feel like I've waited my whole life for this moment. Please don't make me wait any longer."
"And you are sure I am what you want?"
"Every inch of you."
She swallowed her misgivings and nodded. He was offering her his heart along with his body. She wanted to accept it, to treasure it the way he obviously treasured her. In that moment, it didn't matter who or what their pasts held. It was the future that mattered now.
"Okay," she breathed.
"Okay," he said in agreement, his smile lighting up his face.
And then he was slipping inside of her, advancing one heart-stopping inch at a time. She rocked her hips in time with his gentle thrusts until he was fully seated deep within her, pressing up against her womb. She pulled him down to hug him, cradling his head close to hers, melting a little more as his weight settled over her.
Making love with Edward was a complex blend of sensations. She felt powerful possessing such a gorgeous creature, but fragile and womanly sheltered within the cage of his arms, trapped tight beneath his muscular body. His movements complemented her own as they rocked in a sinuous dance, pressing and pulling and sliding together and apart again. In perfect rhythm, he drove her faster. She guided his mouth back to her neck, moaning and keening when his teeth scraped across her tender flesh.
He pulled himself up on one elbow, hooked his other hand behind her knee, and angled her hips up. Deeper and deeper he plunged, his breaths and deep grunts of exertion exciting her even further.
Her clitoris throbbed with every thrust, the center of a vortex of pleasure so intense it threatened to swallow her whole. But Bella wasn't ready to let go. Not yet. She wanted to be lucid when he came. She wanted to watch his face crumble into ecstasy again. She wanted to feel the telltale twitch of his testicles releasing their precious seed deep inside of her.
She tried to wait, but she hadn't factored in Edward's stubborn determination. He was just as set on bearing witness to her undoing. Bella knew she was lost the moment he changed position. He pulled up to kneeling, dragging her by the hips until she was suspended above the bed, her legs hooked around his waist and her arms gripping his shoulders.
Forehead to forehead they clung to each other. Sweat was dripping into her eyes. Edward's breath mingled with hers as they gasped for air, hungry for oxygen and racing, sprinting, careening toward oblivion. His hazel eyes sparked when she shuddered around him, her orgasm bursting through her with the force of a tsunami. She cried out as her muscles convulsed around his thick, pounding cock.
Edward swallowed her screams with a consuming kiss and pulled her hips flush against him. He froze, every muscle tense and quivering as he erupted inside of her.
All at once, he collapsed, his heart and lungs taxed to their limit. They fell to the bed, still joined together, gasping for air.
They both stopped, laughing as they stumbled over their words and each other.
"Ladies first," Edward prodded.
"I was going to ask, how did you do that? You make me feel half my age."
"Well, you make me feel like a god."
"You are a god."
"Stop," he laughed against her shoulder. "I've never felt like that before. Like I could do anything, be anything. You make me feel like the most powerful man in the world. Thank you."
"Is there something else you'd rather me say?" he asked with a wink.
"How about, stay with me."
"Really?" His arms tightened, pulling her even closer.
"Absolutely. I want to wake up beside you."
"Then I'll stay. As long as you want me, I'll stay."
"Oh, Edward. I'll never stop wanting you."
Structure and planning be damned. It didn't cost a single penny to admit that having Edward in her life eclipsed everything else, and she would be collecting dividends on that decision forever.
As always, thanks for reading!