We spent Christmas day watching the storm continue to pound the city, making love on every surface of the apartment I could think to use, and sharing endless conversations.
I plugged the toaster oven into the room with the only source of power—the server room—and we ate slightly stale frozen pizza in front of the fireplace, while sharing a bottle of wine. She nibbled a cookie for dessert while I devoured a handful of the sweets.
Then I devoured her.
It was perfect.
Using one of the computers in the server room, I was able to send my parents a quick email, stating I was safe and would be in touch when power was back on and I could talk. I knew they would be worried, and the few words would comfort them.
When I returned to the apartment, I opened the door quietly, taking in the vision of Bella sitting on the floor, the duvet wrapped around her. Her hair tumbled over her shoulders, hanging down her back, the red highlighted by the flames of the fire. She had her knees drawn to her chest, her head resting against them. In that moment, I saw her sadness in the sag of her shoulders and the glimmer of wetness around her eyes.
No one was looking for her, or wondering if she was okay. Her parents were off living their lives, and she was here. Alone.
It hit me.
I couldn't let that be the case anymore.
We were both alone. We didn't have to be.
To hell with rules and guidelines. I needed to let the past go.
I wanted to erase that look of sadness. To be the one to replace it with the assurance she would never be alone again.
I grabbed the small box that had been nudging at my thoughts all day, and crossed over to her, sinking down in front of her.
"Room for one more in there?"
Surreptitiously, she wiped away the tears, opening the duvet. I moved forward, wrapping my legs around her, pulling the duvet tight around us. I leaned close, dragging her to me so we were flush.
"I have something for you."
I slipped the long box into her hand.
"Merry Christmas, my girl."
She looked down, confused.
The lid snapped as she opened it, her eyes growing large in her face.
"I saw it yesterday. It made me think of your beautiful eyes, and I wanted you to have it."
"I don't understand."
I tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "I didn't either until a few minutes ago."
Her brow furrowed.
I sucked in a deep breath, reaching for the bracelet. I encircled her wrist with the glittering gems, then held it up for her to see.
"This is a token of my affection, Bella. But the gift I want to give you is me."
I wrapped my hand around the back of her neck, my gaze never leaving hers. "I want to give you my heart, Bella. I love you. I have loved you since the first time you smiled at me the day you walked into my office. I'm tired of staying away from you."
"Your policy . . ."
"Forget it. Forget everything, except us right now. Please."
She looked at her wrist, then at me.
"Tell me what you're thinking."
"I'm thinking this is the best Christmas I've ever had."
"You like your gift?"
"I love my gift." She swallowed, her voice trembling. "But I love you more, Edward."
I had her in my arms in an instant, my mouth on hers. I kissed her with everything I had. Love. Passion. Desire. Happiness.
"What will we . . . how . . .?"
"We'll figure it out. Just tell me you're mine. Promise me."
"I'm yours," she vowed.
"Then we'll figure it out."
Her lips were soft on mine. "Okay."
I woke up, feeling the coolness of the apartment around me. The power had come back on late in the night, but the building was slow to warm up. I reached over to tug Bella closer, confused when my searching found only empty sheets. Startled, I sat up, feeling panic. We had been together for the past couple days, and now I didn't like waking up without her.
Where was she?
I calmed as my gaze found her across the room, in front of the fireplace. She was wrapped in my sweatshirt, her legs drawn to her chest as she stared at the flames. I swung my legs off the bed, grabbed the duvet, and hurried over. Lowering myself behind her, I wrapped her in my arms, securing the warmth of the duvet around us.
"Hey," I murmured, pressing a kiss to her head. "What are you doing way over here?"
She shrugged. "Just thinking."
I rested my chin on her shoulder, terrified of her response. "Are you regretting this . . . us?"
She turned, meeting my gaze. "Not one minute."
I heaved a sigh of relief. "Good. That's good. Then why are you here alone, instead of in bed with me?"
"I don't regret it, but I'm not sure how I will go back to being . . . what we were."
"We can't," I admitted.
I felt her tense.
Her voice quivered when she spoke. "What do we do?"
"We find a solution—together."
I tugged her mouth to mine, kissing her deeply. I wrapped us tighter in the duvet, holding her close. I spent minutes savoring her mouth, feeling the love in her caresses.
We broke apart, both of us breathless. I tucked her under my chin with a contented sigh.
We were quiet for a moment.
"What am I to you, Edward?"
"Everything," I vowed.
Her voice caught. "Thank you."
I pressed a kiss to her head. "Always."
''I'm not sure how this changes anything, though." She sighed. "We're still breaking the rules."
"I can change the rule. I own the company."
"Is that fair?"
"I'm not sure I care about fair anymore."
"Okay," I huffed. "I'm not giving you up, though. So, there's only one solution."
"No. I am not hiding you, our relationship, or how I feel about you. I would never do that to you."
I held her chin. "I love you, Bella. You understand that?"
"Then you understand when I say this . . ." I held her chin tighter. "You're fired."
Her eyes widened. "I–I . . ."
"It's me or your job."
A tear ran down her cheek. "You."
"I was hoping you'd say that. Except, I'm not as selfless as you are."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm not willing to give you up at the office either."
"I don't understand."
I wrapped my legs around her, totally surrounding her body with mine.
"You won't let me change the rules to suit my own desires; I can't fire you, because I'd be lost without you. So that leaves us only once choice. A loophole of sorts."
I leaned down and whispered in her ear.
"The rules say we can't date. It doesn't say anything about other relationships."
"Marry me, Bella."
The boardroom buzzed with conversations of how everyone spent their holidays. I glanced around the room, nervous. I tugged at the sleeves of the outrageously expensive cashmere sweater Edward insisted on purchasing for me. He said he loved the deep blue color, and it paired well with the soft gray dress I was wearing today. The sleeves were a little long, but they did the trick at hiding my hands at the moment.
"Bella! You look tanned! Did you go away during the break?" Emmett grinned at me.
"Um, yeah, for a few days."
I was saved from answering when Edward strode in the room, the head of HR following in his wake. My breath caught at the sight of him. His broad shoulders were encased in a sharp navy suit, his shirt a crisp white, and he was wearing my favorite tie.
He had worn it on our wedding day.
He was grinning, looking relaxed, healthy, and tanned.
"Looks like you're not the only one who got away," Emmett muttered. "Talk about looking like the cat who swallowed the canary."
I tried not to smile. He did look rather smug.
Edward caught my eye with a subtle wink, and clapped his hands, bringing everyone to attention.
"Okay, people, let's get going."
He waited until everyone had taken their seat. I sat in my usual spot to his left, trying to calm my growing nerves. His leg nudged mine under the table, his hand briefly squeezing my knee in silent encouragement. Kate, the head of HR smiled at me, her eyes dancing. He had obviously accomplished his goals this morning, and she had no objection. He had decided his views on his strict policy had to change, and not only because of us. He admitted he had been overly cautious for too long.
"It was one incident, and it happened long ago. I have to stop letting it color my decisions now. I have only been hurting myself with the stupid rule, anyway. I stayed away from the person I knew I could be happy with all this time. It's time to move forward."
"First off, thanks to everyone who worked over the holidays. I'm looked over the reports, and I am pleased to see how little we had to be called on. As usual, your stellar work speaks for itself. My sincere appreciation to everyone. I'm planning a small event on Friday night to say thanks. Check your emails for more info."
The staff all nodded, looking pleased. Edward always threw great events.
"Before we get going on another year, I have a couple announcements to make. First off, I want to address the non-fraternization stance within the company policies. Effective immediately, it is being amended."
There were some murmurs, but otherwise no one reacted.
"If you choose to have a relationship with a fellow co-worker, it is no longer against the rules, but I would appreciate being made aware of the relationship. I expect both parties to behave in a mature and professional fashion. No PDA, no lunch time trysts in the copy room."
"We don't have a copy room, Edward," Emmett commented dryly.
Edward chuckled. "Okay, no trysts anywhere on company property. No favoritism, and if the relationship ends, no backstabbing. If that happens, both parties will be dismissed. I will not take sides, and I will not allow the office morale to be dragged through personal bullshit. If I see that happening, the policy is back in place immediately. I'm willing to treat you with respect and allow this to have a chance, and I expect it to be treated with the same respect. Is that clear with everyone?"
The staff all nodded, looking surprised.
"Kate can answer any questions you have. I can't force you to tell me you're dating, but I am asking you to volunteer the information. And I am talking about serious relationships. I don't want you dropping by my office to tell me you had a lunch date with someone," he added with a wry grin.
Riley raised his hand. "So if we like someone here, we can date them now?"
Edward smirked. "As long as they are agreeable, then yes."
"Sweet." Riley turned to Bree, a pretty customer service rep, with a grin. "Hey, Bree—you wanna grab dinner?"
Bree turned a dull shade of red, rolling her eyes at his announcement.
Emmett leaned forward, smacking Riley's head. "You don't do it like that, you asshole!"
Riley sputtered. "What?"
Emmett turned in his chair, staring at Rosalie, one of our brightest programmers. "Be expecting a call from me later." He leered with a big wink.
Rosalie tossed her long hair over her shoulder. "I'll make sure the phone is on 'do not disturb'," she retorted with a smirk.
Once again, the room dissolved into laughter.
I wondered if Edward had any idea how many people his announcement would affect. I had a feeling there were a lot of hidden, simmering feelings among the staff.
Edward cleared his throat. "I have one other announcement."
Everyone focused their attention back to him. For the first time, I saw the sign of his nervousness. His long fingers drummed restlessly against his thigh in an uneven beat.
He held up his left hand, the light glinting off his thick platinum band. "I–I, ah, got married over the break."
Stunned silence met his announcement.
"You got married?" Emmett repeated.
Edward reached over and pulled on my hand, tugging me to him. His arm held me close, his closeness helping ease my tension.
"Bella. Bella and I got married last week."
Everyone stared. Blinked. Looked at each other. Then Emmett spoke.
I tightened my arm around Bella, who was visibly shaking by now. I bent to drop a kiss on her head. "Bella and I got married over the holidays."
"Hey! Isn't that PDA?" Riley shouted.
That broke the ice. The room exploded in an outburst of clapping, shouted congratulations, and Bella was pulled away from me to be engulfed in hugs. Many employees pumped my hand vigorously, and I was slapped on the back repeatedly.
I found Bella's gaze and smiled at her expression. The past days since Christmas had been a whirlwind.
"Marry me, Bella."
The shocked silence that followed my words was explosive. Finally, she spoke.
"What did you just say?"
I gathered her hands in mine. "Marry me. Make me the happiest man in the world. Belong to me. Let what we found in this room grow into a lifetime of love."
"Don't you think that's rushing things a bit?"
"No. It's perfect. It's us. I've loved you for eighteen months. Every day my heart broke a little when you walked away from me at night. Weekends were endless. All I wanted then, was you. All I want today, is you. You are all I will ever want."
"Edward," she breathed out my name.
"I don't want to wait for the happiness you bring me anymore, Bella. I want it, I want you, now." Leaning forward, I brushed her lips with mine. "Marry me and finish this year with me. Begin the New Year together as a couple."
"A married couple."
"I'll take you to them as soon as we can get out of here. My parents adore you already. Jasper is an ordained minister. He can marry us, then we can head somewhere for a few days of sun and privacy. We'll throw a party next month and celebrate with everyone."
I shrugged. "We have never dated. Technically, we've broken no rules. I'll change the policy and implement a new one. I'll let Kate know right away to have it ready for the first meeting."
"People will talk."
"And if they do, if they berate or disparage you, or us, in any way, they're out," I stated firmly. "I won't tolerate any bullshit or gossip. I don't care what the public, or a stranger, thinks. I care about you. I care about us. That's all that matters." I smiled at the worried look on her face. "The staff all adore you, Bella. I think we'll be fine."
"You really love me enough to marry me?"
I inhaled deeply. "I love you enough that if you say no, then I will take whatever part of your life you are willing to give me and wait until you're ready. I love you so much; all I want is your happiness." I kissed her hands. "But I know I can make you happy, Bella. I know you make me happy. Give me the chance. Take a risk and marry me. Let me prove to you how much I love you."
Tears glimmered in her eyes.
"We don't have to be alone anymore. We can have each other. Let me be your life, baby. I want to be yours. I can't let you go now. Please."
She launched herself into my arms.
I smiled at my wife. She was so beautiful. Her cheeks were flushed, her deep brown eyes dancing in happiness as she accepted the congratulations from the staff. Our gazes locked, her lips curling into her sweet smile. The one that made my heart beat faster and my chest warm. It was my favorite of all her smiles, and it belonged to me.
She belonged to me.
It took a lot of scrambling, planning, and money, but we had an SUV and drove to Ottawa the later that day. Luckily, my building was on a main road that led to quick access of the highway, and we were able to get out of the city fast since those routes were plowed first. We stopped at a mall, and I bought us everything we needed for the next few days, despite Bella's objections. I kissed away all her objections, telling her she was now mine to spoil.
My family was shocked, surprised, and delighted at my sudden appearance. They were speechless when they saw Bella and listened to my news. She was so worried about their reaction she was swaying on her feet and clinging to my waist as if I was the only thing holding her up. Ten minutes later, I had to yank her back into the safety of my arms to stop the effusive hugs and squeals. My mother and sister were beyond ecstatic and even my father swung her around, laughing loudly. They had always been fond of her, and long suspected my feelings, even when I refused to admit them to myself. They were thrilled to welcome her to the Cullen family.
More money and a few favors were called in to get our license immediately. Then two days later, I stood in Alice's great room and married my girl. She was a vision in a pretty pink dress the flowed around her knees as she walked toward me, clutching my father's arm. Our vows were spoken in voices that shook with emotion. I slid a thick, diamond-encrusted band on her finger and smiled widely while accepting the platinum band on my own finger. I liked being marked as taken by Bella. I swept her in my arms, kissing her with utter abandon, making her blush a deep red, as my family laughed at my exuberance.
After we had a wedding lunch, I whisked Bella to the private jet I had waiting. We headed to a small villa in the Bahamas, and I spent three days worshipping my wife. Long days of sand, sun, water and us. Endless hours of exploring each other under the darkness of night, dancing close in the moonlight, and making love as the waves lazily swept around our bodies.
Then I brought her home with me. I had the contents of her small apartment packed and delivered to my house while we were gone, and I followed her around as she explored her new home, assuring her she could change anything she wanted. I wanted her to feel comfortable there. Happy. I knew it already felt more like a home than a house simply because of her presence.
Emmett clapped me on the back. "Congratulations, man. I always wondered if you would ever get over your own stupid ideas and see what was right in front of you."
I laughed as I shook his hand. "I know; it took me a while. But I think I made up for lost time."
"You certainly did."
I stepped back, clapping my hands. "Okay, everyone. Let's head back to work. We have a bunch of new contracts and tenders to look over. Let's make this year even better."
"What? No lunch or nothing to celebrate?" Seth called out.
Bella sidled up next to me. "Pizza and beer at one, here in the boardroom."
Another cheer went up. Everyone filed out, leaving Bella and me alone.
"You ordered lunch?"
She grinned. "I figured you would want something. They love pizza and beer."
"So much for productivity this afternoon."
"They'll make up for it tomorrow. They always do."
I had to laugh. She was right.
I held out my hand. "Ready to get to work, my girl?"
She arched an eyebrow. "I believe the new policy states no PDA, Mr. Cullen."
"No. It states, quite clearly, no PDA between couples who are dating. It says nothing about PDA between married couples. And since you and I are the only married couple in the company, I get a pass on that." Reaching out, I dragged her into my arms. "It's been over an hour since I kissed you, Bella. Far too long."
"Well then . . . I guess you're the boss. If you say it's okay, then it's okay."
I grinned against her lips. "Yep. I am."
She wound her arms around my neck, pulling me close.
"At least, I let you think you are." She chuckled.
I threw back my head in laughter.
"And so it begins."
Then I kissed her.
My girl. My Bella. My wife.
Thank you for reading this little fun, holiday story. Thanks to Midnight for her work. I will see you again soon. My next book, It Started with a Kiss by Melanie Moreland comes out Jan 23rd! Preorder link on Amazon is up! I hope you check it out!