~Bella~

The next day, I waited outside the diner. I hid around the corner like the coward I was, watching for the trucks. When they pulled in and the guys piled out, I stepped back, observing them. Edward climbed out, his long legs hitting the pavement with a thud. Emmett swung out of the passenger seat, thumping on his chest.

"I'm starving! Let's go, man!"

Edward shook his head. "You're always starving."

"I need eggs, and I need my glimpse of the fair Rose. Move it!"

They were all laughing as they trudged in. Once the coast was clear, I snuck over to the trucks and peeked into Edward's. Aside from some empty coffee cups and a pair of sunglasses on the dashboard, there wasn't much to steal. Glancing around, I opened the driver's-side door and slid the box of cookies onto the seat. I hesitated, almost yanking them back, then shut the door and hurried away before I could change my mind.

I wasn't sure I could go into the diner, but after my nerves calmed, I went inside, joining Rose. Alice was off today since she worked on Saturday. I sipped my coffee, too nervous even to try toast this morning.

Rose looked at me as she finished her breakfast. With a frown, she tilted her head. "You okay?"

I nodded, my nerves reaching epic proportions as the guys all stood up, filing out.

Emmett stopped by the table. "Rose—you're looking gorgeous, as usual."

She tossed her long blonde hair. "I'm aware."

"You ever gonna agree to dinner?"

"Maybe when you ask the right way."

He scratched his head. "I asked you twice."

"No." She shook her head. "You demanded once, and asked if I wanted to grab a meal the other time. Learn how to ask properly, you may get a different answer."

He frowned, looking flummoxed. Then he turned and left.

"Why are you torturing him?"

She grinned. "It's fun. I'll say yes next week."

"Maybe he won't ask again."

She shook her head, confidence high. "He will."

I looked out the window, my eyes widening. Two of the trucks were gone, but Edward's was still there. He was standing beside it, holding the box of cookies and looking around, confused. Emmett was trying to get them from him, and Edward was shaking his head, pushing him away.

My heart was in my throat. I should never have done anything so stupid. I had baked him my infamous chocolate chip, heath bit cookies, filled a box, and taped a note on the top.

I'd bake cookies for you all the time if I were your girl.

Then I'd left them in his truck.

Rose got up to pay her bill, and I watched anxiously, half expecting Edward to burst into the diner and demand to know who left the cookies in his truck. Or to watch him toss the box to the ground. He wouldn't eat them. I mean, who in their right mind would eat cookies from a stranger? I was such a loser doing something so inane.

But nothing happened. Emmett grabbed the box from Edward and climbed into the truck. Edward looked around, and I swore I felt his stare directed my way. Then he got in the truck, too, and left.

Disappointment swamped me. But what had I expected?

I was quiet as I followed Rose to the salon.

Idiot.

I was an idiot.

~o0o~

I was grateful it was Thursday and the weekend was almost here.

Esme smiled at me as she handed me her credit card. "You have the most beautiful skin, Bella. Do you have treatments here?"

"Sometimes."

"I'm jealous—it's perfect."

Shaking my head, I laughed. Esme was one of my favorite customers; kind and friendly, constantly talking about her husband and son—both of whom she adored. "You have nothing to be jealous about, Esme. You're gorgeous."

"You're too sweet. My husband tells me that all the time, but I think he is rather biased."

Rose came down the hall. "Esme! I found that cream I was telling you about. Do you have time for me to try it on you?"

Esme glanced at her watch. "My son is picking me up, but he'll probably be late." She shook her head. "The boy is always running late."

The bell on the front door chimed, and my breath caught in my throat. Larger than life, my green-eyed stranger stood in the doorway, looking dusty, tired, and completely gorgeous. I hadn't been back to the diner since the cookie day, too embarrassed to even risk it. Instead, I came into the salon, telling Rose and Alice I was behind on paperwork.

His startled gaze met my wide eyes, and the world around us faded away. There was only this man, disheveled and beautiful, staring at me. The corners of his lips turned up with his warm smile, those vivid eyes crinkling at the corners as his smile grew wider. I felt my own mouth begin to lift, and my cheeks start to pink up.

Esme's voice startled me. "Edward! You're actually on time!" Then she laughed. "The one time I want you to be late!"

I watched, fascinated as his ears turned a dull red and the color spread across his high cheekbones like slashes of crimson. He shuffled his feet a little, looking down. "Sorry, Mom."

Rose met my gaze—my pleading, desperate gaze. "This will only take a few moments, Esme. Bella can keep Edward company for you. Right, Bella?"

"Of course."

Esme looked between us, a wide smile breaking out on her face. "Perfect."

Rose linked her arm around Esme's and escorted her down the hall. I heard the door shut, leaving Edward and me alone in the large waiting area. He stood just inside the door, his hands shoved into his pockets, looking everywhere but at me. There was a streak of dirt across his face, and his chin was covered in five o'clock shadow, even though it was only three in the afternoon. I had the most ridiculous desire to press my lips against his scruff while wiping the dirt off his face.

He raised his eyes to mine, our gazes locking.

"You're the girl from the diner."

I nodded.

"And you work here."

"Yes."

"My mom talks about the pretty receptionist all the time. I didn't know it was you."

"Oh."

He edged forward. "If I had, I would have come inside before today. And I would have come early."

"Oh."

He grinned, and I shook my head. I couldn't seem to say anything else or tell him I wasn't a receptionist. I sucked in a calming breath. "I would have liked that."

His eyes glowed. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. I see you every time you come into the diner."

"With my band of misfits?"

"I assume you work with them?"

He nodded. "They're loud, but they are a great bunch of guys." He lifted his arm, rubbing the back of his neck. Dust billowed around his head from the movement, and he grimaced. "I should go wait outside."

I stood up, panicked. "No!"

His eyes widened. "I'm dirty, Bella. I'll get dust all over the place." He looked around. "I don't belong here."

I rushed around the counter, grabbing one of the towels I'd been folding and a bottle of water. "Wait!"

He froze in place as I twisted the lid off the water and poured it over the towel. I stopped in front of him, reaching up, and rubbing the wet cloth over his skin. "It's just a little dust, Edward. It's fine." I pulled the towel down. "See? I got it! You're fine."

He shook his head, lifting his hand and touching his cheek. "I'm dirty everywhere, Bella. I've been working in the mud and heat all day. I don't think that towel will cover it."

My blush started at my feet and burned its way through my body. It bloomed under my skin, flushing my chest and face. Images of his naked body, wet and glistening under the spray of a hot shower, dirt swirling and disappearing down the drain, filled my head. I swallowed heavily. "I-I . . ."

He stared at me. "Good God, Bella. You have no idea what that blush of yours does to me."

"It-it does something?"

"My thoughts . . ." He shook his head. "I can't even begin to express them to you, girl."

A shiver ran down my spine at the huskiness of his voice. The way he said "girl," his mouth wrapping around the word in a low-sounding purr—it made me want to hear him say it again.

He lowered his voice. "I want to touch you, Bella. But I can't. My hands are calloused and coarse. My fingernails are dirty. I'm dirty."

Bravely, I grabbed his hand and held it to my face. His skin was rough, but his long fingers stroked my face with a gentleness that almost brought tears to my eyes.

"I don't care."

He stared at me, his fingers rubbing circles on my face. "You are so pretty."

I blushed harder at his direct words.

He bent lower. "I've been watching you for over a month. Every smile, every laugh with your friends, made me want you even more. I want your smiles. Your laughter." He dropped his voice to a whisper. "I want to have breakfast with you—in my bed—not with the crew I work with."

My breath caught in my throat.

He stood up, easing back, staring down at me. "Do you . . ." He cleared his throat. "Do you think you might want that, too?"

"I left the cookies," I blurted.

His brow furrowed. "What?"

"I heard you . . . I heard you tell the guys you were old-fashioned, and you wanted a girl who baked for you. I made you my favorite cookies. I put them in your truck."

His smile was wide and warm. His eyes crinkled, the dimple on his chin popped, and his eyebrows rose. He reached into the pocket of his flannel shirt and pulled out my note. It was worn and the edges frayed, as if he had opened it often. "That was you?" He shook the piece of paper. "This is your note?"

Nodding, I bit my lip. "I'm sure you tossed them, since they came from a stranger, but I was too shy to hand them to you."

He shook his head, chuckling. "Emmett grabbed the box and shoveled about six into his mouth before I could stop him. I took the box back and watched him all day. He was fine, so I ate them. They were the best cookies I ever tasted." He drifted his finger down my face. "You were in the diner that day, and I wondered if you'd heard our conversation. Deep inside, I wished they were from you. That you were as fascinated with me as I was with you."

Covering his rough hand once again, I sucked in a deep breath. "I am."

He held up the slip of paper. "Did you mean what you wrote?"

"Yes."

"You don't care I'm a construction worker? Just a regular guy?"

My brow furrowed. It felt as if there was something behind his question, but I answered honestly. "No. Not a bit."

He paused, staring down at me thoughtfully, as if he was making a decision. "Can I take you to dinner tomorrow?"

"Yes."

His hand tightened. "Perfect." He handed me his phone. "Can I have your number?"

"Can I have my hand?"

He smirked. "If you must."

I took his phone, trying not to grin. "Why, Edward, do I have the feeling you are going to be a whole bunch of trouble?"

He threw back his head in laughter. "Oh, girl, you have no idea." He bent down, brushing a kiss across my cheek. "And I'm looking forward to it."

I met his gaze—green, vibrant, and warm.

"Me, too."

~o0o~

Esme and Rose came down the hall, Esme glancing around. "Edward left?"

"He's waiting in his truck. He seemed to think he was too dirty to sit on one of our chairs and wait. He said he had some calls to make."

She sighed. "That boy of mine works too hard." Then she grinned at me and winked at Rose. "He's a good man."

"I'm sure he is."

"I've been trying to get him in here to meet you."

"Oh, ah . . ." I wasn't sure how to respond. Maybe Edward wouldn't want his mother knowing he had asked me out. He seemed pretty private.

She leaned forward. "He's like Carlisle. Romantic, kind, loving. An all-in sort of man. When he knows what he wants, he goes for it." She winked. "But I guess you know that."

With a laugh, she lifted her hand and waved. "See you soon, Rose! And Bella, I am sure I'll see you even sooner!"

I gaped as the door closed, and turned to Rose, who was laughing.

"What was that all about?"

She leaned forward. "I think"—she smirked as she picked up the towel beside me and rubbed my cheek—"maybe Edward got a little of his dirt on you."

"Oh!" I gasped.

She beamed at me. "Look at you, getting your man."

I giggled. "I didn't 'get my man.' He asked me to dinner. It may go nowhere."

She shook her head as she bent down, straightening up some magazines. "You heard what Esme said—he goes for what he wants. And it would appear, Bella, he wants you."

Sputtering, I handed her a file. "Your next facial is in room two."

She laughed all the way down the hall.

My phone alerted me to a new message.

Sorry about the dirt. My mother is all over me about it.

Chuckling, I replied.

I don't mind your dirt.

I busied myself with some tasks, sorting out the invoices and bills I needed to pay. Another chime came from my phone.

You mean you want to get dirty with me, girl? Is that what you're telling me?

I blushed, looking at the screen.

I didn't say that.

You didn't say no, either. I bet you're blushing right now, aren't you?

Yes.

Yes to getting dirty or the blush?

I guess you'll have to find out.

I look forward to it. I'll see you tomorrow night. I'm counting down the hours.

Me, too. How should I dress?

Comfortable. I'm not a fancy kind of guy.

Me either.

Thank God for that. We wouldn't be going on a date if you were a guy.

LOL. I meant fancy kind of girl. I'm pretty plain.

Can't agree with that. I think you're beautiful. I look forward to showing you how much. Here comes my mother. Until tomorrow.— E

Until then.~ B


So date night next. Thank you for reading! See you next week!