Contest entry for the Control. Possess. Seduce. Contest. It won 2nd Place in the Public Vote, the Host Choice Award and the Hottest Lemon! Wow!
Thank you to my pre-readers, Ipsita and VampyreGirl86, and to my beta, SarcasticBimbo. We had some fun on this one. Thanks also to Patrizia who was my advisor for all things photographic.
This contest was well run by Carrie and Nic and their amazing team. The promotion was superb, so thank you girls for all your hard work. We appreciate everything you did so much.
If you read, reviewed or voted, mwah!
Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable characters herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
Home for the Harvest
"How did it go?" Garrett follows me into my office. I drop my bag on my desk and fight off a wave of tears.
"I'm officially divorced, and I am changing my name back to Swan."
"Oh, Bella." He looks genuinely sad for me, though I know he never liked Jake. "Did you get what you wanted?"
"Fifty... It was generous really. We hardly made a dent in the mortgage in two years. Let's not talk about Jake. Did they find our guy yet?"
"I believe they have," he answers with a grin.
My whole body sags in relief. We're supposed to leave for the shoot on Monday.
"Who is he?"
"An unknown. This is all we got." He hands me two photos as I sit in my chair, showing a man in jeans with his shirt open and a smooth muscular chest, lean and hard. The jeans look loose where they hang from his hips and there's no sign of Calvin Klein for a change. He's quite perfect actually, but I can't see his face.
"Okay, not bad. He certainly fits the description: fills out a pair of jeans like a boss. Why is he looking down? Do we have head shots?"
"No, he's not a professional model."
Touching my fingers to my forehead, I breathe through my disappointment. "The shoot will take days."
"Maybe not," Garrett coaxes with a conciliatory tone. "They say he's a natural. Take a closer look."
I hold the pictures up again. Yes, he's exactly the right type, but he's still an amateur.
"I really don't need this. I'm ready for a beach where people bring me drinks. I swear if I don't make my flight..."
"Bella, you are the photographer they requested, so take the shots and grab the money. Then you can go on vacation." He hands me a CD and a bottle marked Masen's, "Play this with a glass of their whiskey and fall asleep to it." When I frown, he explains, "It's the sounds recorded in a field of barley at sunset. The insects will put you in the mood. All organic, remember?"
"How can I forget?" I respond, hearing the sarcasm in my voice.
The client is a boutique whiskey maker ready to expand, and they want a campaign of images showing the harvest of their proudly organic crop of barley. The man is there to make the brand look sexy.
That night I take Garrett's advice and play the recording. Instead of the insects annoying me, they lull me into a deep satisfying sleep, just what I needed to take my mind off the divorce.
Our lighting guy, Ben, made a convincing argument to drive to Montana. He was worried about damage, getting our gear on a plane in Seattle and then off at Great Falls Airport, the only place we could pick up a decent truck for the 150-mile drive to the remote property.
The journey takes over twelve hours, with three of us sharing the truck's bench seat. We check in to the only real hotel in town and rest up before dinner. By seven, we're having a drink at the bar and the boys want to eat. I haven't been great company for days really, so they don't argue when I tell them to go ahead without me. They know I don't find their jokes about me getting laid funny.
I'm finishing my glass of wine when there's a commotion outside and I see people standing and peering out the windows. With the sound of a big car engine roaring off, they sit down and everything returns to normal.
Spying a bottle of Masen's Whiskey in front of me, I remember I haven't tasted it yet.
"Can I please try the Masen's?" I ask the bartender and point to the bottle of their local whiskey. After the long day we've had, I won't bother with a meal. There are nuts in the mini-bar back at the room.
"I'll have the same." I don't acknowledge the deep velvety voice or react to the hint of familiar cologne.
Dior Homme - the gift Jake rejected. He screwed up his nose after one sniff of the bottle and said, "Why don't you offer it to Charlie. Sorry, but I wouldn't wear it."
"Not even on special occasions?" I asked, and he shrugged his shoulders. "Because it's Dior?"
"No," he answered honestly. "I just don't like it."
It was the moment I knew I was getting out of the marriage. Jake would never try anything new, never be gracious enough to say yes just because it made me happy. He would ruin the vacation to Mexico.
This person standing beside me, who may or may not have been involved in the scuffle outside, thinks Dior Homme is good enough to wear to a bar in Nowheresville, Montana, on a Monday night. He's my kind of guy.
I sneak a sideways glance as the bartender pours a measure of whiskey into two glasses. Dior man is wearing a black suit, grunting and gently nursing his jaw as if he's in pain.
"What happened to you?" the bartender asks, handing the glasses over.
"Who hit you?"
"Emmett. Can you give me an ice pack? Feels like he broke my jaw."
"Ah." The name "Emmett" seems to explain everything and Dior man snorts. "Every time you come home for the harvest," the bartender says, shaking his head.
This is nice and all, but I'm a paying customer here. "Could I have some ice in my whiskey, please?"
"No." Dior man puts his hand out to cover my glass and I look up at his face. Fiercely beautiful is what comes to mind to describe his stare. "You consume this just as it is."
With our eyes locked together, he dares me to go against his recommendation. I'd tell him to mind his own business, that I don't need him to tell me what to do, but I'm the stranger here and I don't know how things work. "Are you a whiskey connoisseur?"
"I know this whiskey," he answers with an eye to the bartender, as if I wouldn't know they make the whiskey here. I'm used to his type: arrogant, handsome and cocky. He thinks he can do and say whatever he likes. I've met models just like him on too many photo shoots, so I can guess why the other man hit him. It usually involves a woman.
The bartender stands by with a tiny scoop of ice, waiting patiently, so I take a sip of the whiskey before I decide. It's smooth with a unique, subtle sweetness.
"Okay, that is incredible," I concede, genuinely impressed, and take another sip, moaning softly as it passes over my tongue.
I can feel Dior man's eyes lingering on me, so I look into the glass and study the liquid, the reason I'm here. Then I don't have to let on that he's making me uncomfortable.
"You're staying here tonight?" he questions, and the bartender wraps a scoop of ice in a towel, handing it over before moving away.
"I might be. Why, do you have an opinion about that, too?"
He chuckles to himself and then groans when he touches the ice pack gently to his jaw. Maybe he is in real pain.
"Well you're obviously not driving and I'd know if you were from around here. You're lookin' for somethin'."
"Why do you say that?" I ask, intrigued to hear him sum me up.
In a movement that looks calculated for effect, he lowers the icepack. It channels my eyes to his jaw as he turns his body to face me. He looks me up and down while I wait for his answer.
"I'm lookin' for somethin', too," he finally replies. He knows he's gorgeous and he knows how to dazzle a woman with his smoldering green eyes. I wonder what else he knows, imagining myself flirting with him, practicing for my newly single future, knowing I have backup in the restaurant nearby.
"What's your room number?" he asks, leaving no question about his motives. I have to swallow the whiskey in my mouth before I spit it out. I nearly laugh at how naive I am, thinking that amusing banter would have led to a goodnight kiss and an exchange of phone numbers.
"You're so damn obvious," I answer, fighting a smile while trying to deflate his ego.
"When you're with me, you'll forget about him," he says, staring at my breasts.
"How do you know there's a him?"
"You removed your ring from your wedding finger."
The observation makes me look at my hand. The indentation is still there and I can't hide it.
"I just got divorced."
"Well, that's promising," he says with a smirk. Incredible. He assumes I'm agreeing to whatever he's asking. "I'm very good at rebound sex."
I snort, realizing I've never met anyone like him. "Really?"
"Why don't you try me?" The smoldering eyes capture my gaze, and a shiver races up my spine, shocking me with its intensity.
"I don't even know you… no."
"You sure?" He asks, raising his eyebrows as he leans on the bar, and then he looks me over again. "I bet those pants would fall straight to the ground for me."
Glancing around to see if anyone heard him, I notice this place has filled up since I sat down and I'm not liking the look of the all-male clientele. Feeling nervous and out of my depth, I suddenly want the safety of my room, so I finish the whiskey and get out a twenty from my purse.
"Don't," he whispers, frowning at me. "This is my tab. Have another drink."
"No, thank you," I reply quickly and leave the note on the bar. "I have a big day tomorrow. I should go."
"It's early. Have dinner with me."
Shaking my head, I can't look at what I'm turning down. He wants what men want but I'm not ready for this, lacking the confidence to enter the game at his superior level.
"I'll escort you then."
"I'm perfectly fine."
"Yes, you are," he says as his eyes rake down the length of my body, and then dart around the room. "But these men? They're all here for the harvest, and they see how fine you are, too. I'm taking you to your door so you stay that way."
God, he's not going to give up. I have to come up with something fast. "Okay, but let me go to the bathroom first." When he nods, I make my escape.
The side door gives me access to the parking lot, and it's party central out here with groups of men drinking around pickup trucks and large all-terrain vehicles. When I hear wolf whistles, I increase my pace, but before I know it, there's a man to my left and one right behind me.
"Where did you come from, darlin'?"
I ignore them, sidestepping and wishing I'd gone to Garrett and Ben. The room is not far but one man is so close, he sends me into a panic.
All of a sudden, he's yanked sideways.
"Fuck off! She's with me!" Dior man's velvet voice turns into something ferocious when he yells. "She's off limits, you understand?"
"You left her on her own," one of the men calls out from his perch on the hood of their truck, and Dior man looks like he's going to kill someone.
With his arm tightly around me, he says menacingly, "Stay away from my woman or I'll make sure you don't survive the week. I know every one of you assholes and if you want to work in this town again, you'll do as I say."
They stare at each other as clouds of testosterone float up in the air. Then his opponents back down and the man he pulled away declares their defeat. "I'll make sure everyone knows. I'm sorry, pretty lady. No harm done, okay?"
I glance at him nervously, still shaken but strangely excited by the aggression exploding from the man who saved me. He loosens his grip on my shoulders and combs his hand through his hair.
"See what I mean? You need my protection."
"You were right. Thank you."
He lets me go, placing his hand on the small of my back as we walk.
"Oh… number 9," he offers when we reach the room.
"You know it?"
"I've stayed here once or twice. I'll come in and check the lock on your door."
"No you won't," I argue, pushing on his chest.
"Yes I will," he stands over me, wrapping his arm around my waist.
The combination of whiskey and Dior cologne almost overwhelms me, but I manage to take a step away, pulling out the old-fashioned key to open the door. "I'll wait out here."
I can hear him laughing as he quickly sweeps the room before testing the lock and coming out all smiles. "You're really something, you know that?"
"Why, because I still remember you propositioning me?"
Slowly shaking his head, he answers, "Beauty like yours doesn't show up around these parts too often and you were sitting on your own drinking. Why did you leave like that?"
"I honestly wasn't trying to attract a man. You really should go."
He holds me up against him. "If you run from me, I have to chase."
"You're wasting your time."
He releases me against the wall, trapping me with his eyes and his hand above me. "You don't even know what you're missin'."
Looking away is impossible. My eyes flutter from the heat of his body and his glorious scent.
"You ever begged for more?"
I don't even know what he's asking me. "Begged for more? I'm not sure."
"Well, if you're not sure, then you never have. I could make you beg for more."
I try to look sassy when I reply. "More what, exactly? Maybe you need to explain it better."
"Ever had your clit stroked softly for longer than you could bear and been desperate for release? That kind of more."
I suck in a breath, so out of my comfort zone I can't answer. My breathing is accelerating and he's not even touching me.
"Let me stay."
"No. We only just met."
"Kiss me," he growls, leaning in to take what he wants without my answer. My lips tingle in anticipation and my eyes start to close.
"Is everything okay, here?" Ben asks from a few yards away, looking shocked. Garrett is with him, a deep-etched frown on his forehead.
Dior man turns to face them threateningly. "Who are you?"
"They're my colleagues," I answer quickly before he starts something with them.
I see the sigh when he finally gives up. "Make sure she stays in her room. I'll see you tomorrow." Then he walks away, chuckling to himself.
"No you won't," I call after him, hoping I do see him tomorrow.
"Oh, yes I will," he calls back, looking out of place getting into an old Ford Mustang in his elegant suit, but his confident wave and cheeky smile entices me to wave back.
"Who was that?" Garrett asks. Sadly, I realize I never found out his name, but I'm still smiling as I watch the car pull out on the road and speed off.
"I have no idea."
I wake half an hour before the alarm, feeling completely refreshed. The CD worked its magic again, lulling me to sleep when my brain refused to stop racing. Going over every minute of the short time I spent with my blatantly sexual and aggressive protector, I can't let go of him or images of me begging for more. He's been in my thoughts constantly since he left and I must clear my head because I have a client to satisfy today.
We're expected at the property at dawn and we allow plenty of time so I can capture the field before they start harvesting. The location is spectacular, edged by dramatic thousand-foot cliffs. Today is all about the crop, but I'm coming back before we leave to get the eroded banks carved by the Missouri River that make this place so special.
A few miles north of town we start to climb as the road winds its way up the dramatic escarpment, lit only by the lights of the truck. Out here, there's nothing but the deep pitch black of zero human habitation. We arrive at the top to a flat open plain, glowing in the lights of a combine harvester at the far end.
"Are we late?" I ask, and make Ben stop the truck. Jumping out, I choose a camera from my equipment box and pick out a matching lens. I take a series of shots, witnessing the moment the sky starts to lighten, revealing the softness of the vast field of barley. It's silent, as if the insects are sleeping, and the peace is an inspirational way to start the day, just before noise invades and everything changes. With more shots, I try to capture what I'm feeling.
"Good morning... Ms. Black?" A man comes over, confirming who I am.
"Yes, but please call me Bella," I answer, shaking his hand and introducing the others. "This is quite a field. It's so serene."
"Not for long. I'm Carlisle Cullen."
So this is the husband, the doctor. His wife is the Masen. "What time do you begin?" I shoot my chin toward the combine.
"When the tractors arrive. Shouldn't be long now."
"Is that my cherry picker?"
"Yes, it's ready if you want to get started. Bring the truck off the road and up to the house."
I walk with him while the boys go to the truck. There's nothing here that resembles a house and I can see to the horizon in every direction. I hope they don't live in one of the huge silos.
With a soft chuckle, he answers, "It's ahead of us, under the ground."
I'd love to see it. These wacky homes fascinate me, but I have to take the shots from up high to get the essence of the field before they cut it down. We stop and he directs them to turn in. Placing my case on the floor, I take the second camera body and attach my 150-600 lens, my most versatile piece of equipment. The other wide-angle lens will cover the expanse of the landscape.
Steadying myself on Garrett's shoulder, I step into the safety harness and sling the two cameras across my body. Ben tests the operation of the cherry picker and smiles when he's happy, hooking me in. Soon I'm rising up above the land like I'm flying.
"Perfect!" I call out to Ben. With my legs wide, I snap a few shots and check the screen. They're good, but the sky is becoming pink so fast that I don't have much time. I keep shooting until I'm satisfied, then turn the other way and see a wall of glass, reflecting the field and the sky. It's the front of the house, built more in the ground than under it, and I really do hope they invite me in to poke around. It's worth a few shots while I'm up here.
The combine still has its lights on, illuminating the crop. It's quite beautiful like this with its black cutters raised and ready, almost warrior-like. Three green tractor trucks come up the road and one immediately heads toward the combine. The lights go off and the sound of the engine starting up changes the peaceful setting into a place of industry.
"Here we go," someone calls out behind me. The driver lowers the rotating spikes to ground level and moves forward as the tractor skirts the edge of the field toward him. It turns around and follows in parallel to the huge combine that spits a continuous stream from a long exhaust pipe and drops it directly into the cart of the tractor.
Down the long edge of the field, a second tractor is in place to take over. They slow briefly for the changeover and then start again as the first tractor takes off to the silos at the opposite end. It reminds of me of worker bees buzzing around the queen that slowly moves along doing the important work.
I get some great shots from up here when the combine turns the corner and sweeps along in front of us, leaving a neat line of chaff in its wake. "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns N' Roses plays inside the cab and I like the choice. It somehow suits the occasion.
"Okay, Ben, you can lower me!" It occurs to me that I planned to shoot from inside the combine's cab and I wonder what time the model is turning up. I've been dreading this, but the client is always right and it's out of my control anyway, so I just have to get on with it.
Once I'm back on terra firma, we're introduced to the Cullen family: the mother Esme, their daughter Alice with her husband Jasper, and their two girls, Katie who's five, and Gemma, three.
Another man joins them, but he stands off on his own. He looks sick or hungover, or just generally unfriendly. He's not the model, because this man is huge, nothing like the photos we saw.
Just so I can plan what I'm doing, I ask, "Excuse me, what time is our model arriving?"
Carlisle points to the combine and answers, "That's him."
"He's going to be working on the harvest and posing for photos?"
"Well… yes, he'll look more natural don't you think? That's our younger son, Edward. One of the family always takes the first cut of the crop. It's a privilege, a tradition around here. This is Emmett, our oldest son. Emmett had first cut last year, didn't you?"
Emmett acknowledges me with a weak smile as he answers his father. "No, Edward did."
The tension is obvious when Carlisle doesn't turn to his son, keeping his eyes on the field.
"You should try getting up a lot earlier, son," Carlisle responds, still looking forward. I'd love to raise my camera and record the body language in front of me.
"Ed! Ed!" One of the daughters squeals and runs to the field. I look up, interested to get a look at the man walking over. He's wearing a hat, t-shirt, jeans and boots. Now I see him in the flesh, he is the right choice. I'd choose him. Women will eat up those hips and legs.
The little girl jumps up and down until he picks her up, talking to her and tickling her sweetly. I have to take a shot of this. At the precise moment I get them in sharp focus, he looks up at me. Squeezing the shutter release too hard, I take a burst of images as I realize the model, the owner's son, Edward Cullen, is no other than Dior man.
I watch him hand the child over to her mother and I grin when he continues over to me. He looks good enough to eat in this outfit. I'm aware my eyes are giving me away until I see the smug look, like he planned this surprise, relishing the upper hand. My gut told me he was playing a game last night and I almost fell for it. I was even fantasizing about him, hoping to see him tonight!
"Nice morning," he says, tipping his hat.
"Yes, it is a nice morning. How did you know who I was… Edward?"
"Oh, I know a lot of things, Isabella." He smiles and I try to ignore his mouth and perfect teeth.
"It's Bella, actually. How's your jaw? It doesn't look broken this morning." No one hit him. He used that as a pick up line to draw my attention.
"Dad looked at it last night. The ice and anti-inflammatories worked."
"You managed to shave okay. It's not painful?" I ask, putting my hand up to check for myself.
He stops me and frowns, moving my hand away. "What's wrong? You don't believe me?"
"I don't know what to believe. You came on pretty strong last night."
The frown turns into a smirk and a nod. He has no shame.
"I'm still waitin' for that kiss."
"Oh stop it. We have to work together! Can you try to be professional?"
"You are one beautiful woman."
"Give it up. I told you you were wasting your time."
"I heard what you said, but lady, your body said somethin' else." He takes a step closer and I can't argue back. I had given in to him. I would have slept with him!
"Oh, my God. Follow me, will you?" I stride over to the truck and he follows. Taking out my small case, I give him a tiny earpiece and microphone, putting mine on to demonstrate, then I hand him the battery and plug it in for him. I place mine in my pocket and he slips his down the front of his jeans, producing that damn cheeky smile. "Take that out of there!"
He opens the top button on his jeans and grabs hold of my wrist. "Take it out yourself." When I try to jerk my hand away, he holds on, suddenly serious. "Why am I miked?"
If I'm going to get this job done, I have to be the professional, so I try to keep my voice calm and steady. "I'm taking photos of you in the environment and I'll need to direct you. The machinery is loud, Edward."
He stares at me, fiercely beautiful again as he keeps hold of me. Instead of pulling away, I stand my ground and allow him to stop the tomfoolery. He grazes his thumb across my forearm and asks, "Have you ever been tied up?"
First, my mouth drops open and then I can't help snorting. He's impossible. I crack up and so does he.
"Okay, where do you want me?" he asks.
"Somewhere lower, looking up to the combine. Over there," I suggest.
He looks around and says, "Over here would be better."
"The light is better over there."
Looking directly into my eyes, he argues, "Well, the angle is better over here. Getting the angle right is... important." He winks and then walks away.
When I imagined working with an amateur, I never thought I'd have to assert my right as photographer to frame my shot, but I sigh and watch him decide the location for the photo. Reminding myself that the client is always right, I follow along.
As he starts to climb the hill, I ask him to look to his left and take a few shots of his back, and ass if I'm being honest, and notice the light from here is softer. He races up and waves his arms to stop the combine as it comes around the corner.
"How's that?" he asks, clear in my earpiece.
"A little more forward."
"How much more?"
"About twenty yards."
He backs up and beckons the huge machine toward him. "More?"
"A little bit more." The combine creeps forward again and he holds his hands up to halt it.
"No, that's fantastic. Bring a stalk of barley with you and come down the hill a few steps." As I get him in focus, I see the smirk. "Now what?"
"You didn't say how well behaved I was when you were askin' for more."
I can't believe him or the giggle that comes out of me. "You're incorrigible."
"Well, you started it."
"Today. The first thing you did was poke fun at my achin' jaw. That was kinda cruel, don't you think?"
He starts to walk down the hill, so I stop him, picture framed and camera ready. "Uh uh, take your shirt off, Edward. Tuck it into the back of your jeans." Firing off a shot every few seconds, I watch as he removes the battery from the front of his jeans and flings it over his shoulder. "Drop the hat on the ground with the barley and look slightly to your right so I can't see the earpiece."
He does as I ask and I get a burst of shots as he lifts the t-shirt slowly, careful it doesn't tangle with the cord. I've got what I want but I can't stop shooting. He is just… so… unbelievably male.
"You can put your hat on now," I say with my voice catching in my throat.
I capture him leaning down to pick up the barley and the hat. I get him placing it on his head and pushing it into position. The pulse in my neck is suddenly so obvious; I have to exhale a steady stream of air to calm it down.
"Walk to me very slowly so I can keep you in focus."
Sweet Jesus, he is a natural. The way he holds himself, the way he moves, his eyes penetrate the lens as if he's looking directly at me. "Home for the harvest" were the words the bartender used to describe him, so I wonder what he does do for a living. He should be a professional model because he could make a fortune.
As he gets closer and starts to fill the frame, the combine starts up and takes off again but I keep shooting until I feel the tug on the camera and his hand on the back of my neck.
"I want that kiss now and don't you say no to me." Of course, he doesn't wait. He kisses me once softly to test if I'll fight and then pulls me into his arms, his tongue commanding mine to do its bidding. There's no hint of Dior this morning. He has another scent I like even more. Him. I moan, half mad with desire, and knock off his hat as my hands clutch for his hair.
When we finally break away from each other, he pulls my hand down to adjust his straining erection.
"See what you do to me?"
I don't know how I'm expected to respond when he might be in pain it's so tight and constricted. "I'm sorry," I reply, still dazed from the kiss.
He laughs and pulls his t-shirt on, saying, "You are really somethin', Isabella."
"Okay, Bella." His glare worries me for a second before he picks his hat up. "Where do you want me next?"
"In the combine, I think." I look down at the camera and realize the ridiculous number of shots I've taken. "... but I need to get my other memory card first. I'm a little embarrassed at how many photos I just took of you. You know you're very seductive through the lens?"
"Well, maybe you'll let me see you through the lens later." He raises his eyebrows and I wonder what I'm letting myself in for. "With your shirt off. Yeah, I'm likin' the sound of that."
Back at the truck, I'm all aflutter, trying to get my head back on the job. Scrolling through the last fifty images, I'm confident one of these will be the money shot. The camera loves this man and his piercing green eyes.
When I realize Garrett and Ben are standing next to me, I jump, worried they're going to ask me to show them what I've taken, when these all reveal my lust for our model.
"How are the photos turning out?" Garrett asks in anticipation.
"Good," I respond, hiding my nerves. "One memory card is already full. We're going into the combine next."
"Are we using the lights sometime today, Bella?" Ben asks with an edge of irritation in his voice.
"Of course, yes, later. I honestly haven't needed them when the morning sun has been so amazing."
Ben's wary of my answer so I switch both batteries and hand them over, requesting they charge them. It allows me to sneak the memory card into my pocket so they don't go snooping. I give them the case with the spare cameras and tell them to shoot whatever they see that looks interesting, and Garrett's face breaks out in a smile.
"Hey, Bella!" Edward calls out. He's already stopped the combine for us to get in.
"Gotta go," I say, squeezing Garrett's arm to encourage him before I take off. He's well trained, but he's shy with people he doesn't know, and I hope this laid-back shoot will help with his confidence.
The cab is bigger than expected, and I have a seat of my own. Edward's chair is large and comfortable with a steering wheel and a console of buttons and dials to his right. There's a screen mounted at eye level and he points out all the different settings. I only catch rotor and header speed, hydraulic pressure and something called tailings.
"Any questions?" he asks.
"Nope," I answer as if I fully understood every word, and he smiles, probably seeing right through me.
"You wanna start her up?" As I nod, he says, "Press that button."
The engine starts with a rough, constant hum, and the cab fills with the sound of banjos playing.
"Oh, God I hate bluegrass." He swivels around and plugs his phone into a speaker cable, pressing a couple of buttons. Then Edward's music fills the space, "Jeremy" by Pearl Jam, and I wonder if he's done it for my benefit.
"Are you playing a Seattle band for me?" When he smiles, I add, "Crank it up, Cullen."
We're not sitting as high as I pictured, more connected to the crop, and I get some fantastic shots, relaxing and enjoying myself. "Do you do this for a living?" I ask, my curiosity getting the better of me. Then I add jokingly, "Do you have your own horse and a pickup truck?"
"No," he answers without expression. "A horse would eat the crop, Bella," he deadpans, squeezes my thigh and then chuckles. I break out laughing, astounded at my lack of knowledge of rural life.
When I finally stop, I realize he didn't answer my question. "So do you do this for a living?"
He shakes his head and answers, "No, I'm a rural architect."
I've never heard anyone call himself that, but somehow it fits with the mystery surrounding this man. Unfortunately, another question would demonstrate I'm clueless, so I keep quiet.
The sun is high when we get out and another driver takes over. There's a smell of roasting meat in the air. Walking over to the house, the reflection is gone and I can see right through to the canyons. I look up at Edward, amazed that this is their underground house. It's breathtaking. He just smiles and opens the door for me to enter.
"Take those boots off, Edward!" Esme calls from the kitchen.
"There's nothing on 'em," he shouts back, holding them up to check.
"Get 'em off or stay outside."
He looks at me like he's biting his tongue, but we both go out to the chair provided, leaving our shoes alongside several other pairs.
"Where's my lunch, woman?" Edward asks, thundering into the house.
"I don't know. Ask your father," Esme retorts, diffusing him. It doesn't feel like there's anger between them, more like familial banter between two very similar personalities.
I wonder who wins between these two.
Edward's eyes light up and he asks, "The smoker?"
Esme's eyebrows lift, just like her son's do, and her eyes show him the way.
"Ribs," he says, licking his lips. He immediately goes out through the door and disappears to the left.
Esme turns to me and asks, "How are you goin', Bella? Are you gettin' what you want?"
Looking at the amazing scenery in front of me I answer, "This is such a beautiful place, it makes my job easy. This property is your family's?"
"I was born here but it was different in those days. We always grew barley, but not like this. My daddy and Jasper's grampa had a whiskey still so they needed the grain for the mash." With a grin, she adds, "They didn't have any luck growin' rye. We had a big ole ramblin' house in those days and we grew other things, just not very well."
"When did it all turn into this?" I ask, fascinated to hear more.
"Jasper's daddy, God rest his soul, showed them what they were wastin' and Jasper followed in his steps. He runs the family distillery. He pretty much runs this place now, too."
"And he married your daughter." I'm surprised how romantic I find this. It's adorable.
"Oh, they were sweethearts from the time they went to middle school. Never seen two people more in tune."
"I just got divorced," I say, feeling like a failure in comparison.
"I know. Edward told us, and I'm sorry to hear that. Emmett's marriage is crumblin' too. He's…" She stops as if it's too painful to go on.
"Does Emmett work here?" I ask, trying to steer the conversation in a less personal direction.
She thinks about her answer before replying, "No," and I decide not to ask any more questions. "Did you see him hit Edward last night?"
I just shake my head, wondering how much she knows about her son's nocturnal activities… and me.
"Edward only went down there to introduce himself and make sure you folks knew how to get up here."
We're interrupted by the sound of laughter when Alice and the two girls come in.
"Can I help you, Mom?"
"No, I'm done. Your dad and Edward are out at the smoker." With that, the two girls open the door and call out "Ed!" turning in the direction he went in.
"How's it all going, Bella?" Alice asks.
"It's going very well, Alice. I've taken a few hundred shots already."
"When can we see them?" she asks excitedly, clasping her hands together.
"Let me organize them properly before I show you. A lot of them look the same. How about a little later today?"
She looks disappointed and somewhat worried if I'm reading her right.
"Trust me they're good, so don't worry. This place is a dream to shoot and so is your brother."
"I thought you might say something like that," she says, with a newly smug expression. "Edward was right to choose you."
Just as I'm about to ask her to explain, the door opens and Carlisle comes in with a huge tray of steaming ribs. Edward is trying to put down his niece who is hanging onto his neck, resisting his attempts and whining.
"Come on, Gem. Give me a break." He kisses her, then lowers her feet to the ground and pries her arms from around him.
"Ribs," Katie exclaims proudly, as if she cooked them herself.
"Where's Jazz?" Edward enquires, cutting one of the ribs off and eating it. He winks at me and Esme slaps his arm. "Oh, they're so good."
Alice answers, "They're coming. He's with Ben and Garrett at the silos."
"And Em?" Edward asks, licking his fingers.
"Haven't seen him since daybreak," Alice replies, her eyes darting between her parents furtively.
"That was a great idea," Jasper says, slapping Garrett on his back as they come in. Garrett is carrying his camera and tripod.
"What was a great idea?" I ask, enjoying the happy expressions they're wearing.
"Time lapse photography. One frame every minute. We're going to use it on our website, showing the silos filling as a video."
I look at Garrett, hoping he's not giving away freebies when we can charge for these kinds of extras, but his face is so full of life that it will be worth it to boost his faith in himself.
"Can we eat, please? I didn't have breakfast," Edward pleads and suddenly the table is full of ribs, baked potatoes and salad. The way we all take our seats, it's obvious everyone is hungry and the smell of the ribs is amazing.
"We should have a group photo. It's not often we're here together," Esme requests. "Would you...?"
"Of course." I get up to grab my camera before Garrett interrupts me.
"You sit down, Bella. I'll look after this one," he offers, attaching his camera to the tripod and quickly finding the best position. "Ready in five seconds everyone. Say Masen's," he adds, racing to his seat, and the shot is taken, a little time capsule of one very happy day in Montana.
"Can we hold hands?" Carlisle asks, taking the hand of his wife and daughter from the head of the table. Edward offers me his with a reverent smile. "For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful."
I hear the sound of the click over the amens at the table. I suspect Garrett still hasn't turned off the setting to take a frame every minute. He needs to take ownership for his mistake and he will hear it eventually. It's just that my ears are attuned to the sound.
Edward is still holding my hand under the table and I look at him, wondering what's going on in his mind as the plates pass us by.
"Beautiful," he whispers, and I can't help but smile at his compliment.
Emmett quietly appears and sits down, looking sullen and uninterested, but he thanks his parents for the meal before he starts.
When Garrett finally hears the camera, he moves it away without anyone knowing. I'm actually interested to see what the lens captured of this slightly complicated family dynamic.
Everything is bland to me during the shadowless middle of the day, so I sit in the back of Jasper's Toyota with my laptop for the trip to the distillery. I use the time to back everything up and see if the shots are as good as I believe.
The surprise is the burst I took when I first realized Dior man was Edward. He's looking right at me with a little girl in his arms who obviously adores him, and the barley is so close, glistening gold in the early morning sun. It's an exceptional photo with the combine in the background, one I didn't plan, but one I'll certainly take credit for.
It's their decision to choose whatever they want, but this is my money shot. I'd buy anything this exquisite man was offering.
I skim over the aerial photos and the shots from the combine and tell them I'm happy with what I'm seeing, when I'm actually scrolling through images of a sexy cowboy on a hill. If I press forward repeatedly, it's like a porn movie watching him take his shirt off and I get stuck replaying the moment he took the camera and kissed me.
Edward opens the car door to help me out and I blush, embarrassed I've been ogling him in the back of the car, and he asks what's going on with me.
"You," I say provocatively. "I'm turned on by you." His eyes burn and he holds me against him, sliding me slowly down his body to the ground.
The visit to the distillery is slightly blurry. I take a ton of photos as Jasper guides me, but I'm staring at Edward every chance I get. We're supposed to be looking at barrels of maturing whiskey and I'm in a fantasy, fucking him, naked and hidden in the barley.
When we get back to the property, it's after four o'clock. I quickly stash the laptop in the truck because the cherry picker is ready for my final chance at the money shot. We're trying to capture Edward standing on a slight hill, looking down over the crop, but it's completely flat here. The sun is behind us so Ben has set up lights and reflectors to use its glow to illuminate this beautiful man's perfection. We're only going up fifteen feet, so we don't use the harness, but the straps around our waist are still hooked on.
I just need Edward's shoulders and face in the shot as he looks out over the diminishing field, asking him to look proud but sad at its loss. He's uncomfortable with the camera stuck in his face, so I talk to him to loosen him up.
He tells me what it was like growing up here, going away to college and never really returning. I'm enthralled hearing about his parents indulging him and allowing him to build an experimental home in the ground that worked and gave him the confidence to start his own business.
While he talks about insulation and maintaining comfortable inside temperatures, I raise the camera and capture his expression. He is proud, not of the magnificent crop grown here, but of what he's achieved. I also feel a sense of pride, of the images we've taken today.
The afternoon sun makes me feel dreamy and I don't need to rush anymore. I'm happy listening to this man.
Now he only comes home for the harvest. He tried Helena, the capital, as a base for a while, but he no longer has a permanent residence, choosing to live where his current project is.
I tell him I think I need to get out of Seattle.
"Women don't understand that I have to go away to work. If I design something, I want to see it built."
"I know how that feels. Jake and I argued every time I packed up to leave for a new shoot. He just never got it."
"Look, I can't blame my work. I know I'm a controlling asshole, but I get lonely, like the next guy."
"I think I'm attracted to controlling men. Jake tried to make me into a stay-at-home wife. He wanted kids more than he wanted me."
"I love kids."
"I just didn't want his kids, and now I have to start again. I'm turning twenty-seven next month."
"I'm already twenty-nine."
We sigh in unison, watching the combine on its last rounds of the crop, and Ben calls out, "How are we doing? Are you nearly finished?"
Edward looks at me with a quizzical expression.
"I'd say we're just gettin' started."
I snort, and smile as I shake my head. "Yes, Ben, you can let us down now."
On the ground, I'm undoing Edward's strap when he reaches for my hips, pulling me closer. "There's somewhere special I'd like to take you."
"I promised Alice I'd show her the photos."
"Nevertheless, you're coming with me. Bring your camera." He grabs my hand and takes us in the direction of the silos.
Suddenly nervous, I remember him saying I owed him photos with my shirt off, and my heart starts to race.
What am I wearing? I don't usually pack lacy underwear for these trips. I have some slightly nicer stuff back at the hotel but… Oh God, I haven't been with a new man in years. What was I thinking, fantasizing about him, and letting him kiss me? Am I ready for this?
I'm so out of my head, I haven't paid attention to where he's taking me. As we pass the silos, I look over my shoulder and it seems like we're a mile away. When I turn back, the view stops me in my tracks.
Yes, I did need the camera for this. Stretching north, as far as I can see, is the evidence of a mighty river's power to erode. The light pinpoints gray crevices, making them stand out against the formidable black outer rock and dark trees. The banks in shadow are cooler, calmer, lacking in contrast, but no less beautiful.
I don't have to say anything, I just have to raise my camera and take this in through the lens and into its memory, into my memory, for I will probably never see something as majestic again at this perfect time of the day. From here, I can even see blue water, snaking around a bend.
Then Edward moves into the shot, right on the edge before it dips away. His hair is moving in a slight breeze, gold in the sun's soft light, and I capture him with the background of nature.
"One last request before we finish?" I ask, and he looks up, allowing me another perfect photo. "Take your shirt off for me… Please?"
"That will be two you owe me, Bella," he reminds me, kicking at the ground with his boot.
"I doubt you'll get a chance to collect a second time, Edward."
Suddenly, the idea of leaving this place makes me feel empty and I don't want this light to ever fade.
"Well, we'll see about that," he says, pulling his t-shirt off, just as a gust of wind snatches it from his fingertips and into the sky. He laughs and follows its flight with his eyes, while I take shot after shot. He's still watching when I finally lower the camera and see just how wonderful he is. He's been everything today, controlling and annoying, encouraging and complimentary, open and honest, all the things I didn't expect when I came here to work with an amateur. In many ways, he's made the shoot easy, one I will never forget.
Walking up to me and smiling, he lifts the strap of the camera and says, "My turn."
I back up a few steps. "I'm not taking my shirt off, Edward, so forget it."
"Don't get all worked up," he says, sliding his hand over my hip. "I'm takin' your photo." The look in his eyes tells me there's no point in arguing, so I give in.
"Okay, where do you want me?" I echo the same words he used this morning.
He hums as his eyes lower over me. "Now there's a question."
"Are you going to direct me?" I ask, feeling bold, cocking my eyebrow like he does.
He thinks about his answer and then points a finger, holding the camera to his eye.
"Here?" He moves his finger, indicating I should move to my left. "How about here?" I hold back a giggle when his thumb comes up.
"Can you set it on timer, like we did at lunch? I want one of the two of us, now." It's sweet, almost romantic, and I don't have the heart to tell him I hate having my photo taken. I take the camera and find a rocky outcrop that looks flat enough, and focus when he stands in position.
"Ready?" I ask, quickly joining him. He hugs me, pulling me into his side as the shutter clicks, leaving an awkward moment anticipating what's next.
His natural scent up close is overpowering and I can't help sliding my hand over his abs. Sighing, it feels so right to be in contact with his skin again. He tips up my chin to kiss me, and I allow the effect he has on me to takeover. When his hand slides around my neck, his kisses start to consume me. My hands find his hair as his mouth moves to my jaw, and I moan when he bites gently.
The wind drops suddenly and I hear the click of the camera, the same camera Garrett used at lunchtime. It wasn't his mistake after all. It's faulty.
A frame a minute. How long have we been making out? Suddenly, I can't do this here and allow a photographic record when Edward is innocent of what is happening.
"Edward, stop." I squirm and push on him. His eyes are glassy and he refuses to let go, but he doesn't force another kiss.
"What's wrong?" he asks. "Why are you denying you want me?"
"I'm not," I answer, touching his cheek. "I do want you, but… the camera is recording us. There's something wrong with it."
When he hears the click, a smile spreads across his face. "I want to see."
As he strides to the camera, I chase after. "Stop it. We'll delete them."
Scrolling through, he looks up and smirks. "No we won't. I'm keeping these and we'll add more later. We're taking this camera with us," he demands, holding my hand and pulling me away.
"Where are we going?"
I wait in the car while Edward sneaks into the house to get another t-shirt. He comes out with a bag, his wallet, keys and phone.
"You planning on staying over?" I ask.
"I like to be prepared," he answers with a grin, starting up the Mustang. "And, I've got a problem at the site. I may have to leave first thing in the morning, so I'll keep this in the car."
I feel sad that we're already discussing the end of our time here. I didn't expect to see him once the job was done, but I'm happy he's planning on spending the night with me.
As we drive past the house, Ben is packing the truck and we slow when he asks where we are going.
"Edward's taking me for a drive. We'll see you later." I wave and Edward puts his foot on the gas before he can ask any more questions. "It's so beautiful around here. Do you realize how lucky you are having this to come back to whenever you want?"
He nods and takes my hand. "I didn't thank you for making the day so enjoyable. You're easy to work with."
"In some ways, so are you." I smile and he narrows his eyes, but his expression soon turns into a smirk. "Your mother said it was you who chose me... as the photographer."
"Yeah, based on the portfolio we saw on your website, I went to bat for you. Your photos don't look staged like the others we saw. I only saw optimism and respect for the subject, and that's what we needed."
"So why were you playing games last night? You knew who I was didn't you?"
"I went to the hotel, expecting to welcome two men and a woman to town, but I saw you on your own at the bar and got distracted. As I said, we don't see too many beautiful women around here and I am a man. I didn't realize who you were until Ben and Garrett arrived."
So he was intending to sleep with a complete stranger. So what. I'm nearly twenty-seven and the truth is, I may never meet someone I want to settle down with. I do need to join the game, find out how it works and master it if I'm going to have spectacular sex with spectacular men in spectacular situations. Years of neglect in that area have taught me how important it is.
It shouldn't be about who wins, or whose behavior is held to question. It's 2016, and an adult single woman should be able to decide who she sleeps with when she wants to. Last night, I let Dior man scare me because he was too expert at playing the game. Today, I want Edward to show me the rules.
He pulls into the parking lot of the hotel and asks, "Is this okay?"
I shake the hotel keys I brought with me. It was one thing fantasizing about fucking in the barley but another actually doing it. Barley looks soft but it's prickly to touch.
Edward comes around to open my door, and I take my camera, the only other thing I brought with me. Then his phone goes off with an incoming text. As he reads it, I see him getting angry.
I go ahead and enter the room, finding the bed made up and everything smelling fresh. I'm suddenly not sure what I should do because I expected him to lunge at me or throw me up against the wall as soon as I opened the door.
"You're nervous," he observes as he shuts the door behind him. I nod because there's no sense denying it. "Do you want me to have a shower?"
Leaning against him, I answer. "No. I like the way you smell."
"Why are you nervous? I'm not gonna hurt you."
"It's not that. I haven't been with anyone else in a long time."
He moves my hair over my shoulder and spreads his fingers out, sliding them down my back. It's lovely, like a massage.
"Did he satisfy you?"
I look away for a second, ashamed to answer. "No."
Edward frowns and asks me, "Does he know that?"
Nodding, I answer, "He does now."
"Well, that's really not fair. It's a man's job to satisfy his woman, but it's a woman's job to show him how."
"I know." I can't elaborate on my answer. It's just one of the many ways our marriage failed. We didn't talk about it, so it festered and manifested itself as something else.
"Do you like the way I kiss you?"
"You're being completely honest now?"
"Then we've started as it should be, with honesty. Set the camera up because I find it exciting, Bella. We trust each other that no one else ever sees the shots."
I find it exciting, too, but I don't know if I can trust him. The images will stay in my camera and only I have the power to share them, so that gives me some comfort. His seeing them can't harm me.
"Okay." I stand and walk around the room, assessing the best angle for the shots. I wouldn't mind, but I'm sure Edward doesn't want his ass in every frame, so we drag a side table over. I set the camera to take a frame a minute with the maximum depth of field and hope for the best, wondering how will function this time.
"I want us to strip and not have to fumble with clothes," he states. "Just this one time."
That is what this is after all - only one time. We like each other but we have to go back to our own lives tomorrow. We're single adults, making a decision based on mutual attraction and I find the request easy to accommodate.
I start with my shoes and my jeans. The t-shirt coming off leaves me in my underwear, and I stop to wait for him to catch up. He's not wearing any underwear. He's been bare under those damn jeans all day.
I stare at his beauty as I remove my bra and undies. I don't feel nervous anymore because I want him. I can't wait to feel every part of him against me and I want him inside me soon.
He doesn't react to my nudity; he merely observes it. I could be just another female form he's seen plenty of times but there's a reverence in his expression that surprises me.
"Lay down on your stomach and let me relax you."
I have nothing to compare this to. Marriage to someone who only invaded my personal space when he wanted intercourse, and watching the occasional porn movie, hasn't prepared me for sex with a man who prides himself on his ability to satisfy women.
The decision is easy. If it feels good, I'll do it. I know I'll learn something and tomorrow he'll be gone, so I lay down, pulling a pillow under my chest, getting really comfortable.
He moves my hair to one side and uses a hand to trace the contours of my back. Two fingers run down the side of my spine and up again, causing me to sigh and sink into the pillow.
"You have a fantastic body," he purrs.
Another pass takes his hand over the cheeks of my ass and I hear his breathing change. He spends more time down there, so I gather it's a favorite.
Then the weight of him on top of me is a surprise. Sliding his hands under me, he cups both breasts and kisses my back and shoulders. It felt good before but this is fantastic.
Lips move on my neck and along my jaw. I close my eyes and moan but I turn toward him, needing a connection, when those lips come close to mine.
"No," he says. "Not yet. Just enjoy it."
I whimper when he sucks just under my ear.
"You are enjoying it, aren't you?"
"Yes," I answer without hesitation, turning my neck to give him more access.
"Does this arouse you?" he asks, squeezing both nipples.
"I'm gonna lick your pussy now."
"Get up on your knees and face the wall."
I look at his erection and hear a soft chuckle as he slides in under me.
"Come down a little bit," he requests and I lower myself to his tongue.
Steadying myself with my hands on the wall, there's only one sensation in the world, his tongue licking me. I try not to move but it's a battle I'm losing.
"You taste good, woman."
His fingers lightly caress my lower back, my ass and my thighs, up and down, every so often squeezing my cheeks.
I feel wanton and very feminine. In my mind, he's doing this under a thin cotton dress I have bunched up around my waist. Maybe it's the feather light strokes he's using on me, but it's incredible. I'm going to cum if he keeps this up.
Just as I feel my legs start to shake, he slows down. "You love that don't you?" he asks, and I frantically nod my head. He moves out from under me, and tells me to stay where I am, returning with a knee on the bed, circling my waist with his hands, and licking my neck.
I lean back into him when his hands slide over my breasts. "Fuck, lie on your back for me," he commands.
I do as I'm told and stare at his cock, veiny and swollen, thinking he's going to fuck me, but he strokes himself and I wait, frustrated and panting, for what he plans next.
"Touch yourself, Bella. Show me. Educate me." I unconsciously make a humming sound and he senses my hesitation. "Does this revolt you?" he asks, glancing down at his hand on his cock.
"Not at all," I answer honestly.
"Then…" he shakes his head slightly, as if he understands it's better to give up and move on to something else.
"I've never done that before… not in front of a man."
His eyes bore into mine and then drift down my body. I think he's going to touch me, but he lies down and throws his leg over my thighs, shoving his cock against me. Groaning, he squeezes my breasts gently but kisses me hard, and the smell of pussy only reminds me what he was just doing with his tongue. It makes me moan and pull his hair.
His thumb attacks my nipple, joined by another finger, twisting and pulling. I'm so turned on, I'm ready to break the kiss and beg him to fuck me, when he removes my hand from his hair and slides it down with his, pushing my fingers onto my clit. I nearly tell him to stop controlling me when I hear the noise come out of him, growling into my mouth. It shudders down my throat as the sensation increases between my legs.
It's not until I feel his fingers inside me that I realize I'm masturbating. He moves them in and out, curling and searching for something, rubbing his thigh over mine.
My other knee has lifted without my knowledge. When I realize he's found what he was looking for, I can't even kiss him anymore. I'm just breathing through my mouth with my eyes closed.
He sucks on my nipple and then chuckles. "You're toes are curling, Isabella."
"I'm in fucking heaven," I cry out, as if he doesn't already know. "I'm gonna snap."
"And what about me?" he asks, slowing the movement of his fingers.
Don't stop now when I'm about to have an earth shattering orgasm!
"Please," I beg, suffering from the lack of dual sensation. I had no idea it felt so good.
"What do you need?" he asks, maddeningly.
"Just a little more and I'll cum."
"Did you say more?"
"And then we'll fuck?" He speeds up just enough to make me crazy, and I'm panting, trying to answer.
"We'll fuck all night if you want. Just give me this now."
With a broad smile, his fingers return to the perfect pace and increase the pressure inside me. He groans into my neck and sucks.
It feels like I'm cumming from several directions at once. His cock pushing into my leg is one of them, but the place he's rubbing inside me wins out. I explode again and again, even after I can't touch my clit anymore, even after he flips me over and replaces his fingers with his rock hard cock.
He cries out frantically as my spasms welcome him in and he clutches my breasts roughly as each powerful thrust pushes me further up the bed. Soon I have to put my hands on the wall to stop him driving me through it.
"Meet me," he growls in my ear but I don't understand what he wants. We couldn't be any closer. "Rock back against me. Meet me halfway."
I almost shriek when he touches my still super sensitive clit. Softly, so softly, he tames it into submission, adding his lips at my neck and a hand on my breasts to get me going again. I try to keep pace with him for a while, and when I start to fail, he grips my hips roughly, kissing me as he pounds. Another orgasm hits me and he follows, hugging me so tightly I wonder if he'll ever let go.
As soon as my breathing slows, I hear the click of the camera. It has been going the whole time. I just didn't hear it over my blood pounding, our loud breathing and cries. I can imagine what the images look like. Like fucking a superstar, most probably.
"Do you really have to leave tomorrow?" I ask and he laughs as he collapses on the bed. Leaning over him, all I want to do is kiss his cheek and thank him.
"Today's not over yet." Turning to me, he hitches my leg around him and snuggles into my neck. I feel cherished when he wraps me up in his arms.
I hated it when Jake fell asleep straight after sex but I'm the guilty one today. The early start, the long day, and the workout Edward gave me send me into a deep peaceful sleep. When I wake up, the sun is almost gone and I can see Edward's face, illuminated by the screen of the camera.
"What are the shots like? Did they come out?"
The grin that spreads over his face gives me my answer.
"Bella, the photos you took before are so brilliant. Wanna see?"
I'm really quite embarrassed seeing myself on the screen like this, but there's not one shot I'd delete. Even the ones where we're "moving" and not in sharp focus are hot. They make me want to get up from his lap and start all over again.
When I scroll further back, the images of us kissing have a certain sweetness about them. The camera didn't capture the passion I felt but they make us look like a couple in love.
Edward loves the photos of the cliffs. There's one shot on the cherry picker that could be the shot of the day but, from what I gather, the family makes group decisions when it comes to Masen's Whiskey.
"There are a few important photos here, Edward. We should show them to the others tonight or I fear Alice will kill me."
"True that," he says. "She can be cantankerous when she doesn't get her way."
I start to giggle and I have to work hard to stop. "What?" he asks innocently.
"You. I haven't heard anyone say cantankerous in my life. It's like you sometimes drop your G's and speak like your mom and other times you don't."
Wrapping his arms around my waist, he doesn't try to argue. "I think you might bring out the country boy in me."
"Well I like him a lot," I reply and kiss him softly on the lips.
It takes us a half hour to get back on the road. Edward understands my modesty in wanting to wash the smell of sex off us without appearing like we've had a shower, so we're dressed in the same clothes except for my undies.
Calling at the truck, I find it locked and I need the laptop to back these images up and hide some of them away. When we walk into the house, my stomach forms such a knot, I feel like I'm going to be sick. The laptop is plugged into the television and the whole family is looking at the images from the day's shoot.
They look happy and conversation is flowing, while I have to think fast before someone asks me to plug in the memory card from the camera I'm holding. With only two choices, I can delete the photos, or take the laptop away, because thumbnails of Edward and I flashing up on the family's TV screen is… too terrible to think about.
"Garrett?" I call to my assistant, trying to appear outwardly calm. "I need to see you outside."
He senses something's up and follows me. "They loooooove them, Bella. We were waiting on the final shots you took to narrow down their favorites."
"I want you to unplug the laptop and bring it out to the truck with the keys."
"Can we just…?"
"Immediately Garrett. You had no right to show them any images without my approval. I need my laptop right now, and I'll wait for you at the truck."
"Yes, Bella," he responds curtly, never having seen me like this before.
"And if you've got my cable in there and you don't bring it out, you're fired, understand?"
"Shit," he says under his breath as he heads inside. I don't care how he achieves his task, as long as he gets out here with what I want. It takes him approximately two minutes to return and open the truck. He takes out my laptop bag and changes the battery with the fully charged spare. Then he hands me the laptop with the cable on top and smiles.
"Good work." I should apologize since he's executed my request with such precision. "We'll talk about this after." When he waits for my next instruction, I yell, "Go!"
Ten minutes later, I glide in, the essence of calm and integrity, and greet my clients.
"I apologize for that but your photos are priceless and I must have them backed up as soon as I can." Edward is leaning on the kitchen bench, eating a slice of pizza from a box, and he smiles, offering me one. Shaking my head, I plug the laptop in, just as it was before, and ask, "Now where were you up to?"
Having survived the ordeal, I can now call on my technical knowledge to recommend what we can do during the editing process to enhance the mood of certain images. There are six shots in the final selection and any one of them would make an incredible image to market the brand. Edward is shirtless in three of them.
By ten o'clock, the Cullens are more than happy and there are hugs and kisses as we leave. I'm beyond disappointed and silent as we carefully negotiate the bends on the way down the hill. I stupidly thought Edward might come up with some reason to drive me home, but the end is an abrupt goodbye.
He has to go to work in the morning and I'm facing the long drive back to Seattle. We have each other's phone numbers now, but the reality is we probably won't see each other again. It's not like I can go back and re-shoot the harvest.
The state of the bed in the hotel room is a reminder of our one and only interlude and I flick on the television rather than plug the laptop in. I'll look at those photos when I don't feel like I might cry. I even think I hear the Mustang, and check through the curtain, but there's no sign of it.
A few minutes later, there's a knock at the door, and when I check who's out there, I almost jump out of my skin getting the door open. "What are you doing here?"
Edward's answer is simply, "I got this bottle of whiskey. You drink it neat, no ice."
"Get in here, you." I pull him inside and lock the door.
We forget about the whiskey. As soon as he starts kissing me, I hardly remember to breathe. When Edward doesn't have an agenda, he can be tender, like he's making love. He likes to be touched and caressed as much as I do, and in very similar ways. His preference is for fucking hard, but he likes it when I'm on top, too. His hips told me so.
These are the things going through my head as I'm draped over him while he traces patterns on my arm.
"Bella?" he asks with a croaky voice. "I want to see you again."
I'm already hating the idea of him leaving tomorrow, but dragging this part out will cause nothing but heartache. Running my hand over his chest, I don't look at him.
"You know that won't work."
"For starters, it's going to take me twelve hours to drive home tomorrow."
He sighs and hugs me a little tighter. After a few minutes, I feel myself drifting off.
It's dawn when I feel something tickle my face. Edward is sitting on the bed, touching my cheek with the back of his fingers. He's already dressed to go.
As soon as he sees my eyes are open, he says, "I want to see you again."
Touching his wrist, it kills me to see sadness in his beautiful eyes. "We both know it won't happen."
"If I say it will happen, then it will happen."
I just sigh because I don't want to argue.
"Look, you travel, I travel. You're not that far away. There have to be times when we're near each other. Where are you working next?"
"I'm going to Mexico on Saturday," I answer, rubbing my eyes.
"I didn't know you did international work."
"I don't. I'm going on vacation."
"What?" The anger suddenly emanates from his body and now I'm wide awake. "Who are you going with?"
"I'm going on my own."
"To Mexico?" he yells, standing up.
"Yes!" I stand up naked in a show of defiance.
"You are not going there on your own," he threatens, lifting his bag.
"And who's going to stop me?"
"I will," he answers with his hand on the doorknob.
Snatching the towel he dropped on the chair to cover me up, I chase him. "No you won't."
He turns to me with those smoldering eyes in my face and says, "Just watch me."
"Who does he think he is?" It's probably the tenth time I've said it today, and within the confines of the truck's bench seat, I know I should have more control of my temper, but that man has really gotten under my skin. I only have two people to take my frustration out on, and Ben and Garrett reach their limit by Spokane.
They say I need food. They don't remember seeing me eat anything much for two days.
So we're sitting at the outside tables at D. Lish's Hamburgers. Ben and Garrett both ordered some healthy chicken sandwiches on the menu, and I'm having the D. Lish's Double with bacon and fries. I don't know if we're eating outside because they're embarrassed by what I'm eating or what's coming out of my mouth.
"How is he going to stop me? Can he do that?" I ask, worried about what Edward intends to do.
"I don't think he means it, Bella, not literally," Ben says, thinking he's stating the obvious.
Garrett chimes in, "He was very nice. The whole family was."
"Edward Cullen?" I snort. "He doesn't have a nice bone in his body. Manipulative, controlling, possessive, infuriating maybe, but not nice."
I watch Ben's eyebrows rise, as if to say, "Watch out" to Garrett, who walks away to dump his trash.
He comes back and says, "You took some great photos, Bella."
"Yeah," I agree, tidying up the half-eaten food on my tray. "We did take so many great photos, and you two were a big help." Out of the hundreds of images, my favorite is still Edward kissing me with the Missouri River in the background. No one else will ever see it, but I'll have it forever.
I stand with my tray and announce I want to drive. After they look at each other, they agree without protest. At least it will take my mind of that beautiful, exasperating man.
It's not until I clear customs at Cancun Airport that I finally relax. When they pulled me aside to search my bag, I was sure they were going to find something. I imagined it was just his style to let me get this far and then have me detained.
Now I'm on the shuttle to Tulum, I can read the brochures I picked up at the airport. They show a paradise, every bit as good as the one I researched. I'm staying right on the beach, in the best bungalow, at the place with the best restaurant.
Jake said I was crazy when I proposed this second anniversary vacation, and now with the weight of Edward's threat lifted, I can savor the power of making my own choices and answering to no one. It's still a shame that Angela couldn't come in his place when the room was paid for, but I will eat glorious seafood, swim and walk on the powder white sand, when and if I feel like it.
Then there are the caves, the cenotes or sinkholes made from limestone, with their eroded ceilings that allow the sky and the jungle in. The fresh water is supposed to be incredibly clear and I am going to learn to snorkel. I may even do a scuba dive course and take a cruise on a boat.
Ten days to do whatever I want!
The Mayan ruins overlooking the beach are just a bonus. That's where it looks like someone poured milk into the blue ocean, and it's only ten minutes from my hotel.
After an hour and a half, we drive into Tulum's town center, and my eyes feast on the colors of the stalls and souvenir shops in the street. Just being able to wander and browse at my own pace will be fantastic. Jake would have hindered that indulgence, wanting to find the bar and stay there. No, he and I would have hated taking vacations together. He never had an ounce of Edward's spontaneity.
It's funny now I'm here that I can look back fondly on the day of the harvest, and those days afterwards, when I thought every phone message, every email was going to spell a cancellation, some reason preventing me from leaving.
Edward never followed through on his threat. In fact, he has been completely silent, so it must have taken our separation for him to accept, like I did, that we had no future.
The shuttle drops me off right outside the hotel and I'm grinning from ear to ear as I look around the high thatched ceilings. I can see the restaurant on the beach and smell fragrant barbeque. I want to jump up and down and announce my freedom, my escape from a marriage that would have stifled me.
A man carries my bag not far to the most enchanting room, complete with huge bed and mosquito net. The beach is right in front of me and there are two big timber chairs on a deeply shaded patio where I will relax and enjoy this view of the sea.
I slip out of my sandals, longing for the feel of that white sand on my feet, and I notice someone floating on their back in the ocean. The sight feeds right into my soul. I should get my camera to record this. I'll pin the picture up on my board and call it happiness or some other word that's going to become part of me while I'm here.
Whoever is floating out there decides it's time to come in. The man, slim and athletic, makes a striking silhouette against the sparkling ocean. Maybe he's here for his sanity. He could even be single and rich. I watch him pick up his towel, and glance at me before walking further up the sand.
Taking a few more steps toward the water, I want to see how far he goes, but he's already disappeared into one of these tiny hotels, where the roofs of bungalows are the only thing seen above the vegetation. One of the reasons I chose Tulum was because there are no high-rise hotels here to ruin the natural beauty of the beach.
Sighing, I turn around and it feels like the wind is knocked out of me. The man standing on my patio is wearing board shorts and nothing else. By nothing else, I mean no shoes, no shirt and I can tell he's wearing nothing underneath. Edward smiles when he sees me checking him out.
"I said you weren't coming here on your own," he says as I walk up to him.
He's so cocky he pulled off the surprise that I grin right back at him. I can't be angry or annoyed, because he's here, sharing this with me.
And he's the one begging for more this time.
Thanks for reading xo
There may be some more, but I haven't written it yet.