Disclaimer: Not mine, just something fun for the
Naughty or Nice Contest … although I do have resting Grinch face all year long.
Huge love and thanks to my beta-love, Carrie ZM,
and my pre-reader, Planetblue for all their work on this contest entry.
Those girls make my teeny-tiny heart grow three-times its normal size on the daily.
"They're in the boardroom," Jessica whispers, holding the microphone of her headset and pointing down the executive hallway. "You can go right in."
She goes back to her phone call so I give her a thumbs up and barrel down the corridor while subtly checking myself out in the glass partitions along the way.
Today might be the day I go from Bella Swan, Cullen Risk Management intern, to Bella Swan, full-time employee. Preferably with a competitive pay and benefits package.
Running my tongue over my teeth to make sure it's ramen free and tucking a loose strand of hair behind my ear, I straighten up and roll my shoulders back as I approach the boardroom door. Poised and polished, or at least pretending to be, I reach out to knock only to be cut off by the view of a pristinely tailored dress shirt sleeve and a mess of expertly coiffed hair.
Edward Cullen. Fellow intern. Total babe if you're into that whole smart, broody, possible workplace shooter kind-of guy.
Wearing his signature scowl, he slides around me to hold the door open. I smile as he waves me in and his frown deepens. Even with that menacing little crease in his forehead, he's so stinking cute.
"Are you coming in or what?"
Ugh. And then he opens his mouth.
"There you two are," Carlisle booms from the head of the table. "Come in, come in." Gathering a few papers, he tidies the area in front of him. "Have a seat wherever you want, the others should be here shortly."
"The others?" Edward asks, pulling out a chair as far away from his father as possible while I awkwardly deliberate if I want to look like a kiss-ass by taking the seat next to big daddy boss man or if I want to risk frostbite sitting beside Mr. Freeze over here.
"Yes," Carlisle draws the word out, eyeing me curiously over his glasses until I sit down next to his son. "On Mondays, I generally meet with the department heads around this time."
"You mean mom and Rosalie?"
"Sorry we're late." Esme Cullen breezes in with her daughter-in-law, Rosalie, in tow. "The copy machine is on the fritz again."
Pushing his glasses up, Carlisle straightens in his seat. "Where's Emmett?"
"Taking apart said copy machine," Rosalie answers, tossing her portfolio on the table and taking her place beside her father-in-law. "And yes, before you ask, I've already got a call in to the repair person."
"Good, let's get started then." Standing, Carlisle holds up a packet of paper and rounds the table. "Your internship is coming to an end, and I must say you've both done a tremendous job over the past few months. We're very pleased with your individual work, however, now we'd like to see how you work as a team." He places the packet between us. "For your last assignment, we're asking you both to coordinate the annual holiday party together."
I hear Edward huff beside me.
"Esme's already taken care of booking the banquet hall; you two will be responsible for the rest."
Narrowing his eyes, Edward scans over the first page of the packet. "What exactly does the rest entail?"
"Menu, centerpieces, DJ, employee gifts, and the like," Rosalie answers, sliding a company card across the table. "Spending limits and budget suggestions are on the last page."
Edward's head snaps up. "Who are the Mr. and Mrs. Claus suit rentals for?"
"You, ya' big dummy," Emmett Cullen says as he enters the boardroom, ruffling his brother's hair when he passes.
Smacking his hand away, Edward turns to his mother. "I want to file a formal complaint with H.R. on Emmett."
Esme tilts her head. "Are you feeling unsafe?"
"No, just mildly annoyed."
"Join the club," Rosalie grumbles, shooting a look at her husband.
"Now, now, don't get your tinsel in a tangle, little brother." Emmett plops down in his seat, grinning.
Edward's jaw clenches as he fists the packet, and I can tell by the slightly protruding vein in his forehead that he'd happily tangle tinsel around his brother's neck at the moment, so I redirect. "Does this assignment take precedence over our day-to-day job duties, or would you like us to handle this in addition to our current workload?"
"We'd like for you to take care of this in addition to your current workload." Leaning back in his seat, Carlisle props his elbows on the arms of his chair and steeples his fingers. "In the past, this has proved to be an excellent way for our interns to demonstrate their ability to work cohesively with others."
"The CRM holiday party is one of the many ways we show our employees our appreciation for all of their hard work throughout the year." Esme smiles warmly. "We hope you two will put together something fabulous that makes it clear to them how much they mean both to this organization and the Cullen family."
I glance at Edward, who's looking at our to-do list with the same pained, disbelieving expression my old roommate wore while watching the Dirty Dancing remake.
"Three weeks," Carlisle says, holding up his fingers. "Think you two can pull it off?"
Edward and I exchange a look before turning back to his family. I paste on my most self-assured smile and pray I sound remotely convincing. "Absolutely, sir."
Hours later I hear two quick raps sound from my cubicle entry way. When I twist around, I see Edward there holding the rolled-up packet and looking like one of those angry old men who shakes their fists and screams at pesky youngsters to get off his lawn. So adorable.
"Are we working on this or what, Swan?"
But such an ass.
"Yeah, just give me a second to finish this up."
He checks his watch and grumbles something.
"What was that?"
"Nothing. I'll be in the conference room when you're all caught up dicking around on Instagram."
Five minutes later, I walk into said conference room and quietly close the door behind me even though the urge to slam it is strong. "For the record, I'm not even on Instagram."
"For the record," he replies, never taking his eyes off his laptop, "I don't care."
"Trust me, that's obvious."
The corners of his mouth turn up into an almost grin. "I was thinking we could split this up somehow. Divide and conquer."
"I think the point is for us to work together."
"I know, but there's a lot here. If we can take on some of the smaller things individually, it'll go much faster."
"Fine." I grab the packet from in front of him. "The menu we should obviously do together."
"You can book the photo booth."
"I'll book a DJ."
I look up from the list. "No?"
"No." He shakes his head and taps his pencil on the table. "Absolutely not."
"Okay … why not?"
"Because," he replies, but doesn't elaborate for several seconds.
"I'm not a betting man, Swan, but if I was, I'd bet your iPod is chock full of Top 40 jams that reek of auto-tune and petty-beef-diss-tracks from scorned ex-lovers."
I blink, unable to decide if I'm offended that he thinks my taste in music is shit, or if I'm impressed at how he low-key shaded Taylor Swift. Clearly pleased with himself, he smirks.
"And I suppose your resentment-riddled, self-serious, moping music would be a real crowd-pleaser, huh?"
"Touché," he murmurs, though I don't miss the amusement in his voice.
"We'll have to compromise." I open my laptop and Google DJs within a twenty mile radius. "There's only one DJ in the area with a four-star rating. A Blast from the Past with DJ Barry."
"Swan, do we really want to trust a dude named Barry with the entire vibe of the evening?" He leans over to see my screen. "I mean, let's be real here, he's wearing a turquoise sequin jacket."
"Yes, he looks like a tool, but he plays songs from all the decades. Trust me, three draft beers, and the first few chords of Push It, the over forty set will be wetting themselves to get out on that dance floor."
He thumbs through the packet. "I don't think there's a budget allowance listed to cover incontinence pads for each seat."
"Probably not, but I think Barry is still our best bet."
"Excellent. I'll book him tomorrow, and if you're nice, maybe I'll ask him to dedicate a Nickelback song to you."
He snorts. "Promise?"
"Of course." I shut my laptop. "We'll have to continue this tomorrow, I need to take off."
"Is there a Kardashian marathon on the E network?"
"Nope. My shift starts at the diner in about thirty minutes."
"Yep." I push my chair back and stand. "Apartments and student loans don't pay for themselves, Cullen."
"This is true." Closing his laptop, he drums his fingers on the table and watches me gather my things. "Do you live on campus?"
"Near, but not on campus. You?"
He looks away. "No. I'm actually kind of between places right now."
"Between places?" I blurt with a furrowed brow. "Like you're crashing on a buddy's couch or you're living in your car?"
Barking out a laugh, he shakes his head. "No. Although that'd sound much cooler than saying that I'm staying with my folks."
"It's temporary though."
"Just long enough for me to save up some money for a down payment on a place of my own."
"That's nice of them."
"It is, but it's not ideal."
"What's not ideal about free room and board?"
"Zero privacy and the endless amount of shit I have to take from my idiot brother and his wife whenever they come over."
"Sounds like it's a real hard knock life."
His mouth pops open and he stares at me dumbfounded for a few moments before a Grinch-like-grin spreads across his face. I can't tell if he's impressed by my parting shot or if he's plotting an epic clapback. Either way, I'm not sticking around to find out.
"Gotta go," I throw over my shoulder and glance back at him. "See you tomorrow, Cullen."
His wicked grin is still in place when he gives me a wave. "I look forward to it."
By the time my shift at the diner ends, I'm dead on my feet, but I need to finish up some work from earlier. Plopping on my bed, I open up my laptop and log-in, thankful that I only see about fifteen emails I need to address before bed. Skimming over the senders, one name stands out among the others and I click Edward's calendar invite with a little more enthusiasm than necessary. His message reads like he speaks – direct and terse with just a hint of smug prick.
While you were out, I set up a meeting for Friday with the banquet hall vendor. It'll be over the lunch hour, so plan accordingly. We have exactly fourteen business days until the Christmas party and so much to get done. For that reason, I've booked the conference room for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons so we can meet and finalize all the necessary details. Let me know if this works with your busy schedule.
I can't tell if he's being a dick with that last little bit about this working with my busy schedule, but before I know it, my nails are clicking against the keyboard, typing an equally clipped response.
Works for me.
"Tick tock, Swan," he says, leaning against my cubicle and pulling up the sleeve of his charcoal grey coat to check his watch.
Rolling my eyes, I slip on my jacket. "I'm ready."
"Good. Let's go." He pushes off the partition and trudges through the common area with me hot on his heels. "Did you have a chance to look through the photo booth information I sent you?"
"Either one is fine with me."
He looks over his shoulder, skeptically. "Really?"
"Any party with a photo booth I've ever attended has always had a minimum of one shot of a couple getting down and dirty and at least one unsolicited nudie pic."
"Be serious. You really think anyone from CRM would ever do that?"
"Have you met my brother?"
"Okay, maybe Emmett. But I highly doubt anyone else would ever drop trou at the Christmas party."
"You said it yourself. Three draft beers and Push It will have them wetting themselves. Throw in a few shots and I'd be willing to bet at least one of our employees will let their elf off the shelf for a holiday snapshot."
"Eww." I wince at the thought of a dick pic just as Mike Newton from accounting comes out of the restroom with a rolled-up newspaper under his arm and a smile. Mike is exactly the kind of guy who'd let his dick out of the box for a Christmas party candid. Chancing a glance at Edward, I regret it instantly when I see the smug set of his lips. "Fine."
"Fine what, Swan?"
"You were right," I concede, watching the self-satisfied grin stretch across his face. "Book the booth with the attendant."
"I knew you'd see it my way."
The urge to tell him to go elf himself is strong, but the urge to swoon when he holds his car door open for me is slightly stronger.
"What are you doing?" he asks in a whisper from behind me as I take a few pictures of the Christmas tree and lush garlands lining the fireplace outside of our banquet room.
"Getting inspiration for the centerpieces."
"Can't we just slap some poinsettias down on the tables and call it good?"
"No, they're too tall. You won't be able to see the person across the table from you."
"Even better," he mumbles just as Shelly, the banquet hall manager, steps out to greet us.
Ushering us back into her office, she hands us two folders and we get down to business. Once the linens are selected and the room layout is decided, we jump right into the menu.
"All right, so were you thinking family style or buffet?"
"Buffet," I say just as Edward blurts out the opposite.
His eyes snap to mine. "You want a buffet?"
"Well, yeah. From a budget standpoint, it's a no-brainer."
Looking incredulous, he stares back at me with wide eyes before turning to Shelly. "Could you give us a moment?"
"Sure." She hops up and rounds her desk. "I'll be right outside when you're ready."
The door is barely shut before we start in on each other.
"Swan, tell me you're kidding."
"I'm not kidding."
"You really think a buffet is a good idea?"
"If it'll keep our costs down, then yes, absolutely."
Scrubbing his hands over his face, he grumbles something under his breath.
"Name one good reason why a buffet isn't a good idea."
"I'll give you three." He ticks off his fingers. "Salmonella. Listeria. E. coli."
"I'm serious. It's not going to be a holly jolly Christmas at the office if half the staff has it coming out of both ends because we decided to cheap out and let them gorge themselves from an all-you-can-eat-illness-trough."
"I'm sure this place takes all the precautions to prevent that."
"I'm not talking about the hall. I'm talking about the pigpens that we work with."
Bristling at my challenge, he straightens in his seat. "Have you ever been in the washroom with Tyler Crowley?"
"Well I have, and let me tell you Swan, there's no washing going on if you know what I mean."
"I made my father put signs up on the mirrors like you see in restaurants for employees to wash their hands before returning to work."
"Is that why they put those up?"
"Yes, and you're welcome."
"Fine. No buffet then."
He slumps back in his seat, seemingly relieved. "Thank you."
Twenty minutes and two more arguments about the menu later, we're driving back to the office. The ride back is completely quiet, apart from the muted voices of the sports radio hosts coming from the speakers.
"Do you always listen to sports radio?" I ask after five minutes of excruciating silence.
"Usually. Why? Do you want me to put on some of my self-serious, moping rock ballads, or whatever it is you called it?"
"How about some Christmas tunes?"
"How 'bout no?"
"All right. Then let's go over our next big priority on our to-do list which is the presents."
He sighs. "It's a stupid tradition. We should pass out bonus checks in a mug and leave it at that."
"It's not stupid. I think it's nice that your dad prefers to give something with a more personal touch. Mugs are so boring."
"But they're useful." His signature scowl returns as he clutches his steering wheel and blows out a breath. "Thirty individualized gifts is a lot."
"Then we better start shopping now because we still have to wrap them. Now would you prefer to go after work or would the weekend be better for your schedule?"
"Your call. Either way is fine with me."
"I don't have to work at the diner on Sunday."
"Sunday it is, then." He pulls into the CRM parking lot. "Want me to drop you off at the door?"
"I can walk with you."
"Actually, I was going to sit in my car and eat my lunch."
"O-kay. Can I ask why you don't just eat in the break room like everyone else?"
"Because I'm not interested in listening to my co-workers chew and make trite small talk about who they think will win Dancing with the Stars. Nor do I want to smell like Dinty Moore stew for the rest of the day."
I have to gum my lips so I don't laugh. He has a point. The break room does faintly smell like a mix of Lean Cuisine and Chinese take-out on the daily, and the mental image and sounds of Seth Clearwater chewing his powdered donut with his mouth open will forever be burned into my brain.
"So," he says as he pulls up to the doors, "are we still meeting this afternoon to work on our list?"
"I don't know. I might reek of Dinty Moore since I'm heading into the break room shortly."
His scowl softens as he fixes those gorgeous green eyes on me. "I should've said present company excluded."
"And why's that?"
"I don't know, Swan." He shrugs and his scowl gives way to an arrogant smirk. "You're not so bad."
Skeptical, I quirk a brow, but I can't hide my grin. "That almost sounded like a compliment."
"It was intended to."
"Careful now, Cullen. You just may end up on the nice list yet."
Two days later, I'm stuck in traffic, belly button to asshole with all of the Christmas shoppers turning into the mall. Frazzled, I shoot a quick text to Edward and pray that he doesn't give me shit for the rest of the day for being late. Needless to say, I'm shocked when he texts back to take my time and meet him in front of Target.
After driving three laps around the parking lot and a long-ass hike from my car to the store, I spot Edward in front of the Toys for Tots drop-off. Holding two coffee cups, he looks effortlessly dashing in his athleisure apparel.
"It's about time," he says when he sees me, lifting the cups with a shrug. "I've been standing here looking like a creeper."
"Sorry. Traffic was insane."
"I wasn't sure if you liked coffee or not, so I went with hot chocolate."
I smile up at him as he hands it to me, hopeful that I don't look as giddy as I feel at the gesture or the fact that his fingers softly brush mine in the exchange. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it."
Sleigh bells ring out from behind us and we turn to see a crowd gathering around a choir of children carolers. "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas," they sing from behind their toothy smiles, cheesing for all the cameras.
"All right, Swan." He jerks his chin towards the store. "Let's get this party started."
"Okay, first on the list is Lauren. Any suggestions?"
"She could use a dictionary or a premium subscription to Grammarly."
"Have you read her emails?"
I give him a look.
"What? You asked if I had any suggestions. I thought I was being helpful."
"Definitely not helpful." I move down to the next name on the list. "What about Ben?"
"A bag of breath mints and a yard-stick to reinforce the meaning of personal space."
"You're the worst."
"With a straight face, I want you to sit there and tell me his breath doesn't smell like he ate a donut-shaped-turd for breakfast."
It totally does. "Periodontal issues aside, the point of this task is to spread holiday cheer."
"Maybe I'm trying to spread my own brand of cheer."
"Yeah, well don't because it's savage AF."
The next two hours are filled with more of the same. Me, searching out thoughtful gifts, and Edward, providing colorful commentary on each item I select.
"Just pick one already," he whines as I go back and forth between getting Garrett a Festivus Celebration Kit or a Darth Vader Christmas sweater.
"I can't, I know he'll like them both." I hold them out to him. "You choose."
"The Festivus one."
"Are you sure?"
"Serenity now," he breathes, closing his eyes and tipping his head back.
"We're almost halfway done."
"I'm starving, Swan."
"Do you want to go to your car and eat since I'm fairly certain the food court is on your no-can-do list?"
He laughs and shoves his hands in his pockets. "The food court is pretty high on my no-can-do-list, but I wouldn't mind taking a break from this and grabbing a bite with you." His eyes move from mine down to the ground as he shifts his weight slightly from foot to foot. "If you want to … or whatever."
"Sure," I blurt a little too eagerly. "I mean, yeah, that sounds nice."
"Yeah? All right, uh, tell you what, let's go check out and I'll load this stuff in the car. You can pick the restaurant."
"Sounds like a plan."
"Give me one sec, I just want to grab a few things from over here."
He disappears into an aisle and comes back with a pile of Connect Four games.
"Who are those for?"
"Three of them are for Toys for Tots, the other one is what I'm getting Emmett for Christmas."
"Is he a big Connect Four fan?"
"Then why are you getting it?"
"Because one of my favorite childhood Christmas memories ever was destroying him repeatedly. It's the only game he hasn't beat me at yet."
"Maybe he let you win."
"No chance. He cried his eyes out. It was awesome."
"I think it's very telling that your favorite Christmas memory is of you crushing someone's spirit."
"Trust me, he had it coming."
Thirty minutes, an insanely huge credit card charge, and a delivery to the Toys for Tots drop-off later, I'm sitting across from Edward, sipping my water while he peruses the menu.
"It's not polite to stare, Swan."
"Sorry," I look down at the specials, "just trying to figure you out."
He flips the menu over. "What do you mean?"
"Back there, when you were dropping those presents off …"
"You seemed different. Not all," I hunch over and scrunch up my face, "you know."
"No, I don't know."
"Like you weren't wearing your usual …" I wave a hand over my face.
"My usual what?"
"No, for real, tell me."
"Promise you won't get mad and rat me out to H.R.?"
His eyes narrow, but the corners of his lips turn up. "I won't tell my mother."
"Okay, well, you weren't wearing your signature scowl."
"My signature scowl?"
"Yeah, you know … your resting Grinch face."
"You know." I circle a finger around my head. "Resting Grinch face. Like when you walk around the office all broody and kind-of stare daggers at anyone who dares to glance your way."
His brows shoot up into his hair line.
"I mean, maybe not daggers," I backpedal. "More like a glower. And you're mouth does this thing where it's in a hard line, like maybe you're holding your breath or something. And your nostrils kind-of flare, but I can't decide if that means you're annoyed, or if the person you're dealing with has B.O."
Smiling, he leans forward and lowers his voice. "You're awfully observant, Swan."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean someone would have to be watching pretty closely to notice all of that."
I mimic his position. "Or maybe I just noticed it because I've been on the receiving end of it a time or two."
"What if that's just how I look? Maybe I just have a face only a mother can love."
"What?" My voice climbs to a near shriek. "No, that's not what I'm saying at all. I mean, obviously you're attractive, ridiculously so, but …"
His growing grin at the words tumbling out of my mouth gives me pause, so he presses me to continue.
"But what, Swan?"
"But it's more your demeanor."
"How do I put this without sounding too harsh?"
"Shoot me straight."
"You come off as sort-of, I don't know, unapproachable."
"How do you mean?"
"You don't look at or speak to people unless it's an absolute necessity."
"That's not true."
"When you're walking down the halls, are you seriously telling me you make a genuine effort to be civil?"
"If they say hello to me, I acknowledge them."
"Yeah with a curt nod and grumbled greeting."
"Debatable." He takes a sip of his water. "Besides, we can't all be like you, little Miss Sweetness and Light."
"Being friendly is never a bad thing."
"But is it genuine?"
"For the most part, yes. Sometimes I have to phone it in, but overall, yeah, I love working at your father's company and I desperately want a job at CRM. And you … well it's yours for the taking, so maybe you don't have to play the game."
Twisting his lips to the side, he nods. "I hear what you're saying, but I don't think you've necessarily considered it from my point of view."
"Enlighten me then."
"My father built this company from the ground up."
"It's going to be ours one day, mine and Emmett's."
"He wants us to learn it from the ground up. I'm an intern now. Next month, I'll begin doing developmental opportunities in each of the departments so I can learn the business. Once I get hands on experience and an all encompassing look at what we do at CRM, I'll probably be promoted to management."
"What I'm doing, Swan, is keeping my head down and learning the ins and outs of the job. Right now I'm an intern and if I play the game, what happens a few years down the road, when I'm overseeing these people. I want them to see me as someone knowledgeable. Someone who worked hard at everything he did. Not some punk kid who used to bullshit around the Keurig and did karaoke at happy hour trying to fit in."
Propping my chin on my hand, I stir my straw in my drink. "I get it. It'd be hard to manage them if they view you as a buddy instead of a superior."
"But …" I tip my head back and forth. "I think if you continue to go about it the way you are, you'll be an ineffective leader."
"I've found that an employee who is appreciated will almost always do more than what's expected. And do you know who proves that to be true day after day?"
He swallows and looks away. "My father."
"He knows everyone of us by name and what we do. He makes it a point to not only lead, but he inspires and empowers us to develop ourselves."
"I know I've got big shoes to fill."
"You do, but I think you'll find the battle won't seem so uphill if you change your direction."
"What do you suggest?"
I lift a shoulder in a shrug. "I don't know, maybe engage the employees more."
"Like join their bowling league?"
"God, no. The Ballbarians are no joke. I don't think you're ready for that jelly."
"So what do you suggest then?"
"Maybe start with saying hello or bringing donuts on Monday. Although I'd avoid bringing in powdered cake donuts if I were you."
"Just trust me." I close my eyes and the memory of Seth sucking the sugar off his fingers plays behind my eyelids. "You'll never unsee it."
The rest of our afternoon is drastically different. The gift selection process goes much smoother with him asking about the employees as opposed to insulting them. He seems almost encouraged to find out who they are and what they do, even assigns them nicknames so he can keep them straight. We share a bag of roasted almonds and nearly get kicked out of a store for trying to toss them into each other's mouths from a considerable distance.
Edward's resting Grinch face doesn't make an appearance for the remainder of our outing, and just as I'm about to pat myself on the back for helping him see the light, he grabs a handful of mistletoe and gives me that grin.
"Do I want to know?" I ask as he tosses it in the cart.
"I'm wearing it to the party."
"Slow your roll, Weinstein."
"Don't worry, Swan. I plan to keep it in my back pocket."
"So everyone can kiss my ass."
And he's back.
Monday rolls around and I swear you could hear a pin drop when Edward shows up with a box of donuts and a smirk. I notice a few of our co-workers exchange suspicious looks, while others glance around like they're waiting for Ashton Kutcher to pop out to tell them they've been Punked.
"So," Rosalie starts as she sits down across from me in the break room, "how's the holiday party planning coming?"
"It's going well," Edward answers, taking the seat beside me.
I stare at him in disbelief, as does everyone around me. It's like when an outlaw walks into an Old West saloon and everything just stops. Time seems to stand still for a few seconds, and I'm about ninety percent sure I heard a record scratch somewhere.
Unzipping his bag, he looks up to meet my eyes and gives me a smile. "What?"
I grin and turn back to Rose. "It's going great."
Tuesday evening we meet with the florist and then argue about candles versus fresh flowers over a Mexican dinner. Wednesday night we try on the Santa and Mrs. Claus rentals before bitching about how they smell like swass and bad decisions over sushi. Thursday and Friday evening, I have to work at the diner. Edward pops in both nights, claiming he had a hankering for pie … and to argue with me about said pie when my shifts end.
The following week is more of the same, only now it includes a daily coffee break in the mornings, lunches, random texts, dinners, pie, and a few disagreements sprinkled in here and there.
"Did you get the wrapping paper?" I ask from my doorstep when he pulls into my apartment parking lot.
"Of course." He slams his car door and jogs around to his open trunk. "It's supposed to snow tonight."
Wrapping my arms around my middle, I shiver as the wind whips all around me. "I heard. Hopefully the pizza guy makes it before it gets bad out."
He gathers all the tubes of wrapping paper and hurries up my sidewalk, looking gorgeous with his pink cheeks and his hair blowing every which way. "Hi."
"Hi." I bite my lip before welcoming him in.
Two hours, a half of a pizza and four Hot Toddy's later, we're up to our elbows in wrapping paper and tape.
I hold up the gift he just wrapped. "You are legitimately the worst wrapper in the world."
"I am not. You keep giving me the hard boxes."
"Are you for real? I just wrapped a box shaped like a fricking trapezoid."
"Fine. Show me how to do it."
"Well for starters," I bump him with my hip, "you're handling it all wrong."
"Am I now?"
"You need to be gentle with it." I fold the paper over and crease it just so. "You've gotta treat it like a lady."
"Move, let me try." He bumps me back and his fingers cover mine, mimicking my movements. "Like this?"
Staring at our joined fingers, I watch as he laces his between mine and doesn't let go.
My eyes flicker to his and I see his expression has softened.
Dropping his gaze to my mouth, he lowers his voice. "Bella."
I lean into him, slipping my hand fully into his.
Wetting his lips, he dips his head slightly. "Can I?"
"Yes," I whisper, lifting up on my tiptoes and getting lost in the scent of cinnamon on his breath and the twinkle of the Christmas tree lights reflecting in his eyes.
He tips my chin up and gently curls his hand around my neck. Our lips touch and it's like presents on Christmas morning. Everything you hoped for, but better than you could've ever expected.
That is until his phone buzzes in his pants.
"Ah shit," he mutters, pulling back. "Give me a second."
"Hey Dad," he answers, but doesn't let go of my hand. "Yeah, I heard about the storm." His brow furrows. "Oh it is? I hadn't noticed." He peers out the window. "Yeah, I see it. It's really coming down now." Tracing his thumb over my knuckles, he winks. "I'm still here with Bella." He smiles when he says my name again, like he's trying it out to see how it sounds. "We're just about done here. I'll be home shortly."
I nearly pout at his words, looking down at our fingers. We are almost done here. Come next Tuesday, my internship will be over and with no mention of a job offer, I'm pretty sure these precious moments of hand-holding and cinnamon-flavored kisses with Edward will end as well.
"Bye Dad." Ending the call, he tosses the phone on the table. "Where were we?"
I clear my throat and let go of his hand. "We were teaching you to wrap, but I think you need to go."
His forehead scrunches and his confusion is plain on his face. "Wait, what?"
"The snow storm. I'd feel better if you got home safe." I thumb toward the pile of unwrapped gifts. "I can take care of these."
"Did I … overstep?"
"No." I shake my head and finish wrapping the gift we were working on. "Not at all, but we should probably keep things …" I trail off, unsure of how I want to keep things.
I nod. "Just until we finish this assignment."
"Yeah. Okay." He steps back and slides his hands into his pockets. "Whatever you want, Swan."
The resting Grinch face is back in an instant, and the tone of his voice makes my eyes go wide. "What's wrong with wanting to keep things professional?"
"You're worried about keeping up appearances."
My hands move to my hips. "That's not what I said."
"But it's the truth which sucks because I don't give a shit about keeping up appearances or playing the game." He dips down so we're eye to eye. "At the end of the day, all I care about is being with you."
He plants an angry kiss on my lips then grabs his phone and his coat before storming out into the near blizzard. Slamming the door behind him, he doesn't get a chance to hear my response.
"I want to be with you, too."
The next morning he doesn't show up for coffee or lunch. We're back to square one. Curt nods and terse texts replace the soft smiles and witty repartee. He avoids me like the plague and ducks out before I get a chance to talk to him. When six o'clock rolls around, I head over to the banquet hall. Edward's car is parked out front when I arrive, but I only see his family there setting up for the evening.
"Bella, you're here!" Esme shuffles over to me with her arms wide. "This is amazing! You guys did such a wonderful job."
"Thank you, Mrs. Cullen." I smile as I scan the room, pleased with how it all came together.
"It looks fantastic, Bella." Carlisle sidles up to his wife and slips his arm around her waist. "Monday morning, you need to come visit us to discuss your future at CRM."
I have a future at CRM? I stare at him for just a beat too long.
"That is if you want to have a future at CRM. No pressure though."
"No, I do. I mean, yes." I shake my head. "I'm sorry, I'm all flustered. Yes, definitely. I'd love to have a future at CRM."
"Excellent. First thing Monday morning then."
"Perfect. Thank you so much, Mr. and Mrs. Cullen." I clasp my hands in front of me to keep myself from hugging them. "I should probably get to work, but first I need to find Edward. Have you guys seen him around here by chance?"
Carlisle nods. "He's in the back loading the presents into the Santa bag."
"Oh good. I just needed to," I jerk my thumb in that direction, "iron out a few details with him."
"Of course." Esme winks. "I'm pretty sure he'll want to iron out a few details with you as well."
Something about the way she says it makes me think she knows exactly what details we're ironing out.
Pushing the door open, I see him bent over the bag, already dressed in his Santa suit. "Hey."
He looks up but I can't tell if he's happy to see me. "Hey."
"How's it going?"
"It's going. We're short two gifts though."
"That's because those were the gifts we were supposed to buy each other."
He stands and blows out a breath. "Oh."
"I wish you didn't run out last night."
I step forward. "And I wish you would've stuck around to hear what I had to say."
"Believe me, Swan." He tosses another gift in the bag. "I got the picture."
"I don't think you did."
"We work together."
"And for that reason, you don't think that we," he motions between us, "will work together."
"My father's going to hire you, you know."
"And we'll have to work together."
"But you said you wanted to keep it professional."
"So that's the difference between us right there, because I think we could work regardless."
I sigh. "Edward."
"And for what it's worth, Swan," he pulls a box from his pocket and places it beside me on the table, "I didn't forget your gift."
Slapping his Santa hat on his head and snapping the long white beard on his face, he stomps back out to the hall and I'm left looking at this box with the most pitiful wrapping job I've ever seen. I tear it open and lift off the lid before carefully removing the tissue.
My eyes water as I take out the delicate green ornament. A pint-sized Grinch stares back at me, grinning from ear to ear with his heart three times its normal size, and bursting right out of his chest.
By the time I pull myself together and get my Mrs. Claus get-up on, the party is in full swing. DJ Barry is spinning the holiday standards in a green and red sequin jacket while Carlisle and Esme are making the rounds, greeting their guests, and handing out bonus checks. I spot Edward by the photo booth, checking his watch before folding his arms across his chest, looking every bit annoyed as I imagine he is.
Marching over there, I grab my Grinch and yank him into the photo booth.
"What are you doing?" he asks as I pull down his beard and tug on his collar until he's at eye level with me.
"I'm telling you we'll work together."
"I know, my mom put the offer together this morn—"
I cut him off, covering his mouth with my hand. "We. You and me. I think we'll work. Together. Not as Swan and Cullen, bickering business associates, but as Edward and Bella …"
The corners of his eyes crinkle so I'm almost certain he's smiling, but just to be sure I lower my hand. Definitely smiling. "Bickering boyfriend and girlfriend?"
I shrug. "I'd be agreeable to that arrangement, if you—"
He covers my mouth with his just as the flash goes off.
"Oh no," I murmur against his lips, "we're that couple."
He doesn't stop kissing me, even when the bulb flashes three more times or when the attendant loudly clears his throat. It's not until we hear Emmett and Rose outside the booth that Edward pulls away. He winces at the sound of the pictures printing and sliding into the slot for the guests to take.
"HO-HO-HOLY SHIT! MOM! Look what Edward's doing!"
"Admit it," I say as I search for the keys to my apartment, "I was totally right about Push It."
"Totally right." He drops a kiss to the side of my neck. "Barry brought his 'A' game tonight."
"And you were definitely right about family style instead of a buffet."
"I know. Although," he kisses my cheek, "we can't be too cocky just yet. It can take about four to five hours for food-borne illness symptoms to show up."
"Oh, good call." I unlock my door and push it open. "Fingers crossed we're all bacteria free."
"Mmm hmm." The door is barely closed before he presses me against it. Skimming his nose along my jaw, he drops his voice. "There's only one more thing that'll make this night perfect."
He reaches behind him and pulls the mistletoe out from his back pocket.
"I'm not kissing your ass, Cullen."
"I know." With a grin, he holds it over my head. "I just wanted to kiss you under the mistletoe, Swan."
"You've been kissing me all night."
"But I didn't get to kiss you here." He lowers the mistletoe to my earlobe and ghosts his lips down my throat before letting the sprig slip to my shoulder. "Or here."
"Edward…" I clutch his head to my chest as his mouth travels across my cleavage.
"Gorgeous," he breathes when I lower the straps of my dress and let it fall to the floor. "Hold this for me." I pluck the decoration from his fingers and place it just above the front clasp of my bra with a smile. "You want me to kiss you there, Bella?"
My eyes fall closed at the sound of my name and feel of his fingertips trailing softly up and down my rib cage. I shake my head slow. "No."
He hums as his hands climb higher; skirting the line where satin meets skin. "Tell me what you want."
His words come out sounding deep and gravely, setting every inch of me on fire and making me feel bold enough to meet his hungry gaze. "Take it off of me."
The cups of my bra are yanked down in an instant, but his eyes don't leave mine when he places his warm, wet mouth just above the pink, sensitive flesh that's practically standing at attention for his affection. "Want me to kiss you here?" He turns his head to hover over the other. "Or here?"
Running my teeth over my bottom lip, I squeeze my thighs together and arch into his touch, unable to hold back my whimper. "Do it."
He gives me that grin. "Do what?"
Standing, he rests his forehead gently to mine. "Kiss you where?"
Impatient, I toss the mistletoe over his shoulder and comb my fingers through his hair, gripping it tightly. "Everywhere."
His hands move to the backs of my thighs, lifting me up and wrapping my legs around his waist as he pulls me away from the door. "You got it, Swan."
"Well, well, well." I wiggle my lower half over his. "I guess your heart isn't the only thing that grew in size tonight."
A/N: This was my entry for the 2017 Naughty or Nice Contest. Big thanks to all the hosts, judges, banner-makers, and validators who worked so hard to put this contest together – we were so excited and grateful to place in the public and judge's vote, as well as to have received the "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" award. Special shout out, hugs, and thanks to Maplestyle and Robsmyyummy Cabanaboy for selecting RGF for their judge's choice.
There were so many FABULOUS entries – if you haven't had a chance to read them, you should. I'm hoping that there will be a few continuations.
What's everyone reading and loving these days? Carrie ZM and I are all about this one:
Useless Things by bicyclesarecool - "The useless days will add up to something...these things are your becoming." No one said that growing up was easy, but for struggling musician Bella, it seems damn near impossible. Luckily, with her friends, her music, and the hot barista across the street, she might not completely screw up her entire life. AH, exb, ooc. M mostly for language.
Thanks for reading!