Forbidden Fruit Contest
Title: The Lion Girl
Summary: She had amber eyes and feline grace, like the cats she loved so much. Her smile was warmer than the sun, her laughter reminiscent of the most beguiling music. She was beauty and fire, and all things entrancing. He would try to resist, but he was addicted to the taste of her.
Pairing: Emmett x Bella
Word count: 6741
Summary: She had amber eyes and feline grace, like the cats she loved so much. Her smile was warmer than the sun, her laughter reminiscent of the most beguiling music. She was beauty and fire, and all things entrancing. He would try to resist, but he was addicted to the taste of her.
DISCLAIMER: Twilight and its inclusive material is copyright to Stephenie Meyer. Original creations, including but not limited to plot and characters, are all mine. No copyright infringement is intended.
The Lion Girl
Being back in Africa was beyond words.
Four weeks finalising the sale of a house in cold, rainy England with his equally chilly ex-wife were more than enough for Emmett. As he strolled out of the clinic, his trusty stethoscope hanging around his neck, veterinarian kit in hand, and sunglasses shielding his eyes, he let out a long sigh. The sun beat down, warm and dry and nothing like the horrid muggy heat of England's spring.
This is home.
After pausing to inhale a lungful of fresh air, Emmett strode around the clinic to the wide dirt road bordered by shrubbery and tall mesh fences. The smaller electric fences working as a backup hummed softly if he got close enough.
Listening to the zebra braying in the paddock on the other side of the trees, to the breeze making the acacia branches sway as their leaves clicked together, Emmett promised himself no more long-haul trips for a long while. The feeling of being at peace and comfortable at home was one he'd always strived for, one he'd spent years trying to accomplish back in Los Angeles, then England. But it had eluded him; until now, anyway. Until he found his place here at the ACHI Big Cat Reserve in South Africa almost two years ago. He'd initially come out alone to help Rick when the previous vet left at short notice; he'd never planned to stay longer than a couple of months, so Rick could find someone to take over. A little under a year later he returned to England to pack up his things and haul ass back to Africa, becoming the new, permanent, head veterinarian at ACHI. He and his wife had split, but she'd brooked no argument to his plan to bring their two children to Africa with him.
Bright, gray-blue eyes scanned the enclosures to his left – to no avail; Emmett wasn't surprised. If the cats within didn't want to be seen, he wouldn't be able to spot them. Thanks to a quick, over-the-phone briefing with Rick, the founder of the reserve as well as Emmett's long time best friend, Emmett knew one of the enclosures contained a tigress and her three young cubs. He also knew there were two lionesses in another, both awaiting transport to a national park in Kenya.
However, he wasn't expecting the red rag tied to the outside of E2 – enclosure two. Frowning, he deviated from the path to inspect the clipboard nailed to the wooden post by the gate. The black 'L' at the top told him the enclosure contained lions.
The sudden buzz of his phone in his pocket made Emmett hesitate; he set his kit down and fished it out, seeing Rick's name flashing on the screen. The incoming text was short but sweet, and simply read, Kita + co in E2. Not serious. I'll explain later.
Frowning, Emmett made a mental note to talk to Rick about Kita later, before heading further along the fence to check the clipboard attached to E3. Evangeline, the tigress, and her cubs were all doing well. The cub they'd been worried about had been steadily gaining weight, and Evangeline's bad claw had healed up nicely; they'd be able to move back into their main enclosure within the week.
"What the…" Emmett shook his head and berated his overactive imagination for dreaming up the sound of a girlish giggle. The public wasn't allowed this far down the track, a gate closer to the entrance made that fact clear, and none of the staff who did have clearance had a giggle like the one he'd imagined. Besides, he was the only person around, anyway. Everyone had gone for their annual, ten-day trip to Nairobi. He was completely alone; even the last guests had checked out of the lodge this morning.
"Ah, ah, ah…"
Confused, Emmett tugged at his ear as he listened to a faint, chiding voice. Looking back at the clinic, then at the track ahead, he brushed the noises off as his imagination.
Blaming it on his fatigue and jetlag, Emmett glanced up at the sun before catching movement from the corner of his eye. His lips curled up. One of the lion cubs in E2 had gotten curious and was charging through the grass toward him with the reckless abandon of a cat that didn't yet fully appreciate the dangers humans could present.
The tawny cub burst through the thicket, skidding to a stop before his little face could come too close to the fence. Emmett chuckled, recognizing him as the eldest of Kita's boys. "Hey there, buddy." The cub sniffed the air in curiosity, brown eyes alight, his spotted coat ruffled with excitement as he spun around in the dirt in an attempt to draw him in to play. It both saddened and amused Emmett, who enjoyed the display even while hating that circumstances meant the cub didn't know he should fear humans.
Before he could contemplate the cub's predicament for too long, his ears rose on his head, paws tripping him as he turned to run back into the grass. A few moments later, Emmett realized why.
His eyes followed the sleek, tawny coat of one of the eldest lionesses living on ABCR land - Kita. Crouching low to the ground, tail tuft flicking indecisively while her eyes stayed trained firmly ahead, she was a truly spectacular creature. Kita's muscles bunched with her every movement as she moved slowly along the ground, only just visible to Emmett's gaze.
"What's she doing?" he mouthed, narrowing his eyes to search the area in front of the lioness.
His first thought was that she'd spotted one of her cubs and was sneaking up on him or her, but he brushed it off as unlikely when her second-eldest cub made an obnoxiously loud noise from just in front of her.
Then, two things happened at the same time.
Emmett absentmindedly pulled his buzzing phone from his pocket, briefly glancing down at the screen.
4got to say - Lionesses are being picked up 2moro.
Rick's words rolled around in Emmett's head for a second before he realized Rick meant the two awaiting transfer; Kita's intended target became visible as she shifted just a moment too late.
As though a cat had his tongue, Emmett didn't have a chance to shout out a warning or even take a breath before the lioness pushed off with her muscular rear legs. She launched herself in a perfect arc toward the girl sitting cross-legged in the dirt, her head tipped back to the sun without any idea she had a deadly cat flying at her back.
His heart sputtered before taking off at a gallop. Emmett felt his entire body seize up, his lungs five sizes too small as he involuntarily shut his eyes; he had a feeling he didn't want to see what was coming.
Instead of the scream or growling Emmett expected, a delighted, entrancingly-lilting rush of laughter burst into the air. Rubbing at his eyes in disbelief, he watched as Kita, a three-hundred-pound body of sheer muscle and power, launched herself neatly over the brunette's ducking torso. She spun on her haunches, ears pulled up in play, a low chuff escaping her chest while she belly-crawled right up to the laughing girl.
"Hey there, Kit. You didn't think you could sneak up on me that easy, did you?" she teased, batting at the cat's paws playfully as though they weren't tipped with razor-sharp claws.
Emmett's racing heart skipped a beat when she willingly reached her hand toward the mouth full of enormous teeth. He inhaled a sharp breath and took a step forward, a croaked cry sneaking from between his lips as Kita stretched her head out, her mouth falling open.
"What the hell are you doing?" Emmett finally managed to call. He couldn't take it anymore. He couldn't watch this ridiculous girl be mauled.
Startled, Kita leaped to her feet and pranced toward her cubs gathered in the brush nearby. The girl spun on folded knees to, surprisingly, scowl at Emmett.
"I could ask you the same thing! What were you thinking, spooking her like that?"
"Trying to warn you that you were about to get eaten!" Emmett sputtered.
The girl shot him a withering look before twisting herself up off the ground, brushing dust from her long legs, the action, of course, drawing his eyes to them.
Emmett swallowed hard. She was sporting a long, faded, black T-shirt bearing the lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison, and apparently not a lot else. The shirt fell to the middle of her caramel-toned thighs, hiding anything that may or may not be underneath. Emmett's hand shot up to tug at his mussed blond locks as he made himself look her in the eye. He hadn't noticed her moving closer; she was now near enough that when he met her amber gaze, it was obvious she'd seen his perusal. The glint of mischievousness in her eyes said so, as did the smirk playing on her lips.
Before either of them could say another word, they were joined by a cat the size of a pony. She butted at the girl's hip with her large head, chuffing in happiness when she scratched her between the ears and cooed affectionately. "Kita and I are old friends, buddy," she told him with obvious sarcasm.
As though to prove her point, Kita gazed up at her through adoring golden brown eyes before letting loose a long, low purr from the barrel of her chest, planting a few gentle licks on the bared skin of her friend's thigh.
"I'm losing it…" Emmett muttered under his breath, unable to comprehend the sight of a lion acting so strangely. Rick had briefed him on all of the cats living at ACHI, including Kita. She was born on the reserve and had been rejected along with her twin brother at just five days old, so Rick had hand-reared them.
A flicker of an important memory danced just out of Emmett's reach, coming to him at the same time the girl added, "She was my first and last baby."
"You must be one of the girls who used to work here in the nursery, right?" Huffing, Emmett felt like an ass for shouting, but in the heat of the moment, he'd forgotten that back in the day, Rick had employed people to help in the cat nursery with any hand rears. Even now, as the girl bent to nuzzle the lioness more than six times her size, his heart felt like it was going to beat out of his chest.
Smirking, the girl cocked her head. "You didn't know I was here, did you? Didn't Rick tell you?"
Emmett shrugged, raking a hand through his hair. "No. I was supposed to fly back in yesterday before they all left, but my flight was delayed. I got a quick brief from Rick on the phone, but that was it."
She nodded, draping her arm over the lioness before giving her one last kiss and shooing her off as she let herself out of the enclosure. Emmett sighed with relief, making her giggle as she extended her hand toward him with an impish grin. "Well, my friends call me 'Honey.'"
Honey...it suits her.
"I'm Emmett. Emmett McCarty. I'm the—"
"Head vet." Honey nodded. "Rick told me to expect you."
An awkward silence descended.
After a few moments, Emmett pointed to the gate to E3. "So, uh...I better get on."
Honey grinned and nodded. "Okay. I'll see you later, Doc."
Scooping a purse from the undergrowth, Honey offered Emmett a quick peek at her barely-covered, short-clad butt before heading off up the track toward the lodge. He stifled a groan and tugged his hair, shaking off the sudden, unexpected bolt of lust.
Ten days with nobody around but Honey?
Later that evening, after a call to check in with his kids, Emmett found himself bored and restless. His little house a short walk away from the lodge wasn't cutting it, so he huffed and puffed before grabbing his phone and the newspaper and stalking through the trees toward the bar. For a couple of weeks out of the year, almost everyone headed off for a vacation, leaving just enough staff behind to take care of the lodge and the animals. Emmett had drawn the short straw this year, seeing as he'd been out of the country anyway, but he didn't really mind. The peace and quiet were nice - as was the empty bar.
He pulled a beer from the under-bar fridge and got comfy on one of the stools, reading the paper he'd picked up back at the airport.
No more than a few minutes had passed before he heard bare feet on the wooden floor.
Honey flashed him a bright smile as she twisted her chestnut locks back into a messy bun, her dark eyes sparkling. "Hey there, Doc. You mind if I join you?"
Swallowing hard, Emmett shook his head. She'd changed out of her Doors tee and was now wearing a pretty blue dress. It swirled around her ankles and clung to her breasts, tied around her waist with a thin gold belt. She looked fresh-faced, but he didn't think she was too young to drink. As she made her way behind the bar with comfortable ease, he forced himself to relax. She grabbed herself a beer, uncapping it on the plaque hanging on the wall behind the bar before leaning on the smooth wood and taking a long pull.
Right. In front. Of Emmett.
He gulped, asking, "So...what brought you back here?"
Honey cocked her head, licking a few bubbles from the corner of her lip.
"Well, Kita's getting on now. She turns ten this year and you said she was your first and last baby, so...it must have been almost a decade since you were here last," Emmett clarified. He didn't add that she didn't look old enough to have worked at ACHI that long ago, even though she didn't.
"Oh. I guess it was just time. I missed the sun and the cats." Her smile became fond as she talked about the lions. "They're family, you know? I missed them."
"You've been in Britain, I assume? Your accent gives you away."
"Check you, Mr. USA, talking about accents. Where're you from?"
Emmett chuckled, "LA, originally. I moved around a bit, ended up in England for a while before moving out here."
Honey's amber eyes danced over his face for a beat before her lips tipped up on one side and she nodded. "LA. I can picture that. Were you a surfer dude?"
A bark of laughter from Emmett made Honey giggle. "Me? Surf?" Emmett shook his head. "No way. I'm a klutz with a capital K. My brother - he's the surfer."
For almost two hours, Emmett and Honey bantered back and forth. It didn't escape his notice that she didn't seem forthcoming with information about her own family even as she requested stories about his.
As they knocked back beer after beer, Emmett found himself more and more drawn to her. She was entrancing. Her laughter was beguiling, her smile even warmer than the African sun. And when it was aimed at him? He felt oddly...whole.
"All right, Doc," Honey finally murmured, setting down her empty beer bottle with a thud. "What do you say to a game?"
She nodded over his shoulder at the pool table, and was already hopping over the bar when he turned back to her; she inadvertently flashed a good view of her cleavage, which had Emmett's ears flaming red when she made it to the table and realised he hadn't followed.
"You too chicken?" Honey taunted.
Shaking off his lewd thoughts, Emmett smirked, flashing a dimple. "I'm just not sure it's appropriate to whoop a lady's butt the first time I meet her."
The innuendo in his words was wholly unintentional, but Emmett found himself unable to even try and make amends when Honey's eyes sparked with something akin to want; her brows curling up in challenge.
"Oh yeah? Bring it. Maybe this lady will like it."
As he downed the last of his Corona and crossed the bar to join her, Emmett found himself wondering what he was doing here. This woman…she wasn't like any of the few women he'd dated in the past; she was fiery and confident. Cocky, almost. He adored it about her.
That, and how stunningly pretty she was. With a sun-kissed tan, those beautiful, lion coloured eyes, and the brightest of smiles, she was both beyond gorgeous and way out of his league.
But that didn't stop him wanting her.
She thoroughly schooled him at pool, not that he cared. She purposefully leaned over the table right in front of him so her butt brushed his jeans, or directly opposite him so he could get a good look down the front of her dress. She batted her lashes and teased him when he missed shots thanks to her distractions. When she won the first game, then the second shortly after, Honey danced around the table to be closer when she rinsed him.
Emmett never had much self-control.
She blinked up at him with false innocence glowing in her eyes when he reached up, brushing the pads of his fingertips over her cheekbone before swallowing her gasp when he suddenly ducked down, capturing her lips in a bruising kiss.
At six-three, he dwarfed her petite frame. Emmett let his fingers crawl around into the fine hair at her nape, twisting them into the strands. The other arm came over to cage her against the pool table, the soft felt giving slightly under his unforgiving grip.
Honey hummed into his mouth, her small hands clasping fistfuls of his t-shirt; the heat of her touch burned his abs through the thin fabric, the muscles bunching when she pressed herself against him.
"You have about thirty seconds to tell me to stop, Hon," Emmett gritted out against the top of her head when she pulled away to catch her breath, yanking his top up to kiss his chest.
"Don't you dare stop," she panted, her hot breath teasing his nipple as she bit his pec before licking away the sting.
Emmett lost himself to her then.
He was heat and impatience as he lifted her by her hips, setting her on the edge of the table. His shirt came off, tossed...somewhere. Her dress followed, leaving her in just black lace panties with a matching bra; Emmett couldn't take his eyes off her, but he smirked at the ink on her hip.
Kneeling, he trailed his fingertips up over the outside of her ankles, calves, thighs, brushing the roaring lion sitting on her left hip bone.
"Achi," they both said at the same time. Honey's eyes burned as she twisted her fingers into his dark blond curls, tugging his head up until he was stretched over her and she had to lay back over the pool table.
"Do you really want to talk about the cats right now?"
Grinning salaciously, Emmett shook his head and sighed. "Talking is overrated, Lion Girl."
Hours later, sweaty and sated, Emmett pressed a kiss to the tattoo of Achi, the lion whose life kick-started the reserve, before grinning bashfully up at Honey. She cocked her head at him and fondled the silver chain around her neck.
"You're fascinated by that tattoo, aren't you?" She whispered.
Apart from their passionate moaning and groaning, they hadn't spoken in more than a whisper since they crashed into Emmett's cottage several hours ago, a tangle of hands, lips, and need.
"I didn't expect it," he admitted softly, crawling back up her body. Settling himself up against the headboard, Emmett felt himself smiling when she turned to curl into him, resting her small hand over his thrumming heart and her head in the crook of his neck.
"I got it on my eighteenth birthday, as a 'fuck you' to my parents."
Emmett barked a chuckle, not surprised in the slightest. "Are they not fans of ink?"
Honey scoffed. "To be honest? I don't think either of them would care like I thought they would."
Something about her tone told Emmett she wanted them to care, but she didn't seem the sharing type. Besides, her wandering hands and roaming lips were far too distracting.
The next day, Honey accompanied Emmett out in the Jeep to check on the cats. She wore the shortest shorts known to man and a t-shirt knotted just below her bra which left Emmett both hard and thoroughly distracted.
They wound up throwing their hats and sunglasses into the backseat and tearing off their clothes for a quick fuck in the middle of the bush, giraffe watching curiously over the trees.
After righting her clothes and planting a quick, smiling kiss to Emmett's beard-covered cheek, Honey scrambled out onto the seat on the front of the Jeep - it was meant for the tour guide.
Emmett smirked and shook his head, foregoing fastening the buttons of his khaki, short-sleeved shirt. Instead, he started up the engine and fished one of the clipboards from the backseat, giving it a quick once-over.
"All right, we need to have a quick look at the new cubs, and then we can call it a day," he called, chuckling when Honey offered him a thumbs up over her shoulder. She then snarked at him to stop driving Miss Daisy when he set off at a snail's pace, scared of bumping her off the seat if he went too fast.
"So, Doc. What are your plans for this fine Thursday?"
With a smile, Emmett admitted, "I kinda figured we could have a shower together when we get back, and then, maybe, I could cook us something nicer to eat than that shit we had last night."
Honey snorted up front, grinning at him over her shoulder. "Yeah, that pasta stuff was not good."
They'd raided the kitchen in search of sustenance after their second round in bed, only finding a large tub of what looked like some kind of pasta in sauce; whatever it was, they'd never know for sure…but it was horrible. In the end, Emmett and Honey had eaten their weight in crisps and nuts from behind the bar clad only in a pair of plaid pajama bottoms for Emmett and the matching tee for Honey.
"So?" The twinge of hope in Emmett's stomach fizzled away and was replaced by excitement when Honey shrugged, shooting him a teasing wink before turning back to admire the scenery, crossing her lithe legs.
"I guess that sounds okay. I can clear my diary for you, Doc."
"Gee, thanks, Hon. I'm ever so grateful you can spare me some of your time."
A small flock of cape sparrows took off from the ground, the thrumming of their wings joining with Honey's peals of laughter.
Emmett smiled even though he now knew for sure...she'll be the death of me, this girl.
Honey giggled and shook her head, loose tendrils of her hair brushing her sun-kissed collarbones. "I'm not. I swear on Kita's life, I did."
"There's no way you actually set fire to this building."
With a smirk, Honey sat back in her chair and sighed. "I can't believe you don't believe me, Doc. You wound me. Look - you can even see where the old beams don't match the new!"
Looking up at where Honey pointed, Emmett was actually surprised to see the difference between the much older, more worn ceiling beams and the ones which appeared to be added more recently.
"All right, humour me. How, exactly, did you set fire to the ceiling?"
Smirking, Honey told Emmett that she'd been lighting candles during a power cut when she caught the first whiff of burning wood, instead of burning wax. She'd raised the alarm immediately, of course, but it had been too late to save the first layer of roof.
"There's no way Rick would let you back here after almost burning down his precious lodge," Emmett guffawed, endlessly amused by the way Honey told stories; her eyes burned gold, her hands telling the tale as much as her voice. "Are you sure he knows you're back?"
Her gaze glinted as she nodded, a smile twisting up the corner of her mouth. "I'm sure."
Taking a pull from his beer, Emmett let himself briefly enjoy the quiet as Honey resumed eating her steak. They'd done exactly as he'd suggested, showering together when they returned from their jaunt into the bush before flirting in the kitchen while Emmett baked potatoes, prepped a salad, and dug out two enormous steaks from the freezer. He'd been sure Honey would leave the majority of hers, but it was almost gone; he loved a girl with an appetite.
Whoa...where the hell did that come from? Love? Fuck.
Raking a hand through his hair, Emmett gazed out at the sunset. The sun was dipping low, the trees silhouetted against crimsons, oranges, and glorious golds. Three familiar elephants loitered near the watering hole a hundred meters or so away, the water they sprayed from their trunks glittering and catching the fading light.
I don't love her. That's impossible. It's been a day. Twenty-four hours, damn it.
Her bare foot crept up over his skin, brushing his knee before coming to rest between his thighs. Her toes tickled the inside of his leg, her mischievous little smile deliciously devilish when he met her tumultuous eyes and pursed his lips.
Yes, it had only been a day - a mere twenty-four hours - but Emmett already knew he was heading down a tricky path with this woman. He knew so little about her. She was just feet away, yet he craved her like an alcoholic craves a drink, or a smoker craves a cigarette.
She was light, fun, and embodied the youth Emmett felt like he'd missed out on. He hadn't asked her age, but he guessed she had to be somewhere between twenty-five and thirty compared to his thirty-seven…maybe? She had the biggest damn eyes Emmett had ever seen; they sucked him in and held him captive. Her sweet, lilting laugh...it gave him goosebumps. And her body...Emmett swallowed a groan as she teased him through his cargo shorts.
Within the space of a day, he'd grown addicted to everything about her.
Passing time only made his addiction grow stronger.
For the next eight days, Honey and Emmett had the lodge to themselves - with the exception of the housekeepers. They came in during the day, mostly when Emmett and Honey were out and about tending to the cats or working side-by-side in the clinic.
They exchanged little touches and looks during the day, and heated kisses during the night. Each evening, they played a game of pool in the bar before retreating to Emmett's cottage to tumble around his bed...and his shower, sofa, and hot tub.
As the days flew by, Emmett found himself looking forward to Rick and the gang coming back. Having known Rick some twenty years, and his brother Charlie a similar amount of time, Emmett considered them brothers. Charlie's wife and daughters would love Honey, he had no doubt about that; they were always complaining about how there were too few girls at ACHI.
He was excited to show off his girl, although he'd yet to ask Honey to be his girl. He was waiting for two very special people to meet her.
But first, he had to tell her about them.
Every time Emmett thought he'd gotten the courage up to tell Honey about the two lights of his life, she distracted him with rivulets of water running over her body as she got out of the pool. Or by fearlessly snuggling Achi, an almost five hundred pound beast of a male lion - the lion Rick had named the park after.
The last night before everyone was due to arrive home, Emmett promised himself he'd tell her.
She cooked him dinner for a change, then they sprawled out on lounge chairs by the pool. The guests had their own, but there was a kidney-shaped pool set aside for just the permanent lodge inhabitants. It boasted a barbecue as well as an extendable shade, for when it was too hot to swim in the direct sunlight.
Chugging a beer for courage and watching Honey apply lip balm, Emmett was just about to blurt out his secret when he heard voices and feet slapping the tiles inside.
Fuck, no...what the hell are they doing home early?
Emmett's heart fell into his stomach, hammering away as Honey frowned and turned to face the doorway.
"There you are!" Sue was first. She beamed at both of them, setting her bag down inside before wandering out to join them. "Is it nice to be home, Emmett?"
Nodding, Emmett cursed himself for not manning up sooner. It was too late now. Honey was about to find out what he'd been keeping to himself all week. "It's great. Listen, Sue—"
Emmett couldn't look at Honey. He felt her gaze burning the side of his face as two whirlwinds tore across the patio and leapt onto his lounger.
Despite his panic, Emmett's joy at having his babies back in his arms was undeniable and unstoppable. He beamed from ear to ear, cupping the faces of each of his twins in turn – first Sawyer, then Autumn.
Sawyer had chocolate smeared around his lips, while Autumn had some in the ends of her sunny blonde hair. They were both wearing Achi Lodge t-shirts and cargo shorts, both beaming as he peppered their faces with kisses.
"I missed you, munchkins," he sighed, not realising just how much until he had them on his lap - one on each knee, the same way they'd been ever since their two-weeks-early arrival five years ago.
"We missed you, Daddy," they chimed, bouncing a little. The lounger gave an ominous creak.
Emmett's heart thumped hard as he sucked in a breath and summoned the balls to look at Honey. To stall, he murmured, "munchkins, there's something I want you to—"
Only, he didn't get a chance to finish his sentence.
"Bella!" Autumn bounced off Emmett's lap and into a laughing Honey's, her brother following close behind. "Did you miss us?"
Stuck on stupid, and on his daughter calling Honey 'Bella,' Emmett was still staring dumbly at his son, daughter, and Honey-slash-Bella when Rick's booming chuckle joined the party.
"Oh, I see you found your way back then, Em!"
Emmett mumbled "whatthefuck?" to himself as Rick wandered outside, swinging his hat and grinning like a Cheshire cat. Bypassing Emmett, Rick sauntered to Honey and the twins, ruffling her hair until she swatted at him and scowled.
"Watch the artwork, Unc."
"Sorry, Honeypie," he snickered, falling onto the lounge chair at her feet. Rick turned his grin on a thoroughly confused Emmett. "So, I see you two have met. I forgot to let you know Honeypie would be here."
Frowning, Rick looked between Honey's suddenly red cheeks and Emmett. Then he barked a laugh as sudden recognition dawned. "Oh, hell. This is going to be fun."
The rest of the family arrived before Emmett could ask what Rick meant. Charlie joined his wife in the doorway as their twin daughters ran out to cannonball into the pool, their preteen brother not far behind.
"Oh, Emmett, I see you've met my daughter, Bella. I hope she's been taking care of you while we've been away," Charlie told him with a moustache topped grin.
Oh, fuck. She's been taking care of me all right, Emmett thought as he met a sheepish Bella's eyes just as she mouthed, 'surprise.'
The evening was…awkward.
With so many people around, including Emmett's two five-year-olds, there were no opportunities for him to question Honey—uh, Bella.
Instead, he lied through his teeth and said they hadn't seen a lot of each other between him getting reacquainted with things and her taking care of the lodge.
It stung to see how much his twins adored her. They alternated between his lap and Bella's, demanding she play with them in the pool; she stripped off into her bikini - the one he'd ripped off her the evening before - and helped them put on their floaties so they could swim with Charlie and Sue's girls. Her half-sisters, he now knew.
Jesus, why didn't she tell me?
For the same reason you didn't tell her about the twins, fuckwit.
By the time Emmett fell into bed after tucking in Autumn and Sawyer, exhausted and desperate to get some answers, he felt like he'd been through ten rounds with Mike Tyson.
A soft tap on the door after an hour of fruitless attempts to get to sleep made him sigh. "Come in."
Bella opened the door enough to poke her head in; she wore a bashful smile as she waved a white napkin. "Truce? Your secret for mine?"
Despite everything, Emmett couldn't help but chuckle. "Fuck's sake woman, what are you trying to do to me?"
She slipped into the room with a soft giggle, eliciting a groan from him when he saw what she was wearing.
"Sinful bloody woman," he muttered. Bella had come to him wearing the tiniest pair of cotton shorts and a cropped tank top. Oh, and sandals.
She perched at the foot of his bed, twisting her hands in her lap.
"So, uh, you have kids."
"You're Charlie's freaking daughter."
They laughed at each other, then Emmett waved for her to go first.
"Don't feel bad for not telling me about Sawyer and Autumn. I knew they were yours. And I, uh, I thought it would be funny to not tell you who I was at first, but I didn't expect everything to happen…"
Emmett's lips curled up into a half smile. "I didn't, either."
"I was going to tell you so many times, but then I figured you'd be mad and I wanted to enjoy the time we had left before everyone came back, so I didn't."
Huffing a long sigh, Emmett raked both hands through his hair. "I should have told you about them, anyway. I didn't want to ruin it either, not that I think they ruin anything, but you know…it's a bit of a dampener when you don't know what's going on."
"I guess so."
A sudden question occurred to him, and he bit his lip before asking it. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like the answer. "Um, Honey—Bella—"
She snorted. "You can still call me 'Honey.' It's my middle name, but my friends really do call me that instead of my first name."
"Right. Honey, uh, how old are you?"
The fact that she bit her lip and hesitated before answering didn't make Emmett feel any better. And when she murmured, "Twenty-three" he was positive he was going to have a heart attack.
"Charlie's going to kill me. Fuck, Rick's going to kill me as well."
"I don't think you can be killed twice," Bella pointed out sagely.
"I've been sleeping with Rick's…shit. Shit, shit, shit."
He was up and out of bed before Bella could say anything else. He paced up and down, tugging his hair and muttering the occasional curse. In an Elmo pajama shirt the twins got him for his last birthday and a pair of loose gray sweatshorts, he made quite the picture.
One thing was for sure, though...
"We can't keep doing…I mean, this has to stop."
Bella scowled. "Why? Because I'm younger than you, or because Dad and Uncle Rick are back?"
"Both," Emmett blurted. "You're…shit, you're fourteen years younger than me. And you're my best friend's niece."
Rick had told stories about his niece; how had Emmett not connected Honey to tales of 'Honeypie?' He groaned under his breath when he pictured his best friend flying off the handle if he found out what had been going on.
"He'll feed me to the lions…" Emmett muttered.
Bella unfolded herself from the bed, cleared her throat, and crossed her arms, pushing her breasts up so they were front and center when Emmett faced her. He gulped. "Are you serious right now?"
"Deadly. As dead as I'll be if Rick finds out what's been going on. Honey, look, I—"
"You know what? Save it. You're worried about looking like an asshole, yet here you are behaving like one."
It was too late. She flounced from the room with a sigh, leaving Emmett staring after her. After fetching a glass of water and checking on the still-sleeping twins, he climbed back into bed and stared at the ceiling. He desperately wanted to call Honey back and tell her to ignore everything he'd just said, but it was all true.
For one, they were at completely different points in their lives. He was a handful of years shy of forty, while she'd barely surpassed twenty. He had two children, a career he loved, and friends whose respect meant a lot to him. He'd only recently received the papers officially dissolving his marriage after a drawn-out custody battle; he wanted easy, carefree. Not drama.
No matter how much he wanted to see where this thing with Honey went, Emmett knew the timing was shitty. He had to think about Sawyer and Autumn. Their happiness meant more than anything else.
Resolving to have a proper, less heated talk with her tomorrow, Emmett promised himself he'd get his priorities in order and get on with what was important - like helping his children settle in, and getting reacquainted with the animals after a month away.
But then, there was Honey...with her amber eyes and feline grace, like the cats she loved so much. Her smile was warmer than the sun, her laughter reminiscent of the most beguiling music. She was beauty and fire, and all things entrancing, but she was also fourteen years Emmett's junior and his long time best friend's niece.
The lion girl was forbidden fruit, but he was addicted to the taste of her.
How was he going to resist?
Back at the lodge, Rick joined Akiki, his own secret partner but also the head housekeeper, on the veranda attached to his bedroom. They'd fallen into an easy relationship after fighting it for far too long, but neither of them felt the need to shout about it just yet. They were enjoying this comfortable, easy part of being a couple without having to share it with their families.
She beamed at him, cocking her head at his shit-eating grin.
"What are you up to, my liefde?"
Plastering an innocent expression on his face, Rick looped his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder, nudging her face with the side of his head until she was looking down at the veld. They were just in time to catch Bella storming out of the veterinarian's cottage, kicking a rock and cursing at it as she stomped toward her room.
Shaking her head and laughing softly, Akiki murmured, "I thought you decided not to scheme anymore?"
With a chuckle, Rick shrugged. "Where's the fun in that, love? Besides, I didn't really have to do anything, in the end. Those two found their way together without my interference."
Akiki hummed and trailed her fingers over Rick's forearm. "You really think they'll be good for each other?"
Rick had no doubt. He'd listened to his best friend moping and putting up with his miserable bitch of an ex for far too long. And his Honeypie…she'd gotten into a rut, dating schmucks he'd rather feed to his cats than call a future nephew-in-law. Seeing her with Emmett's twins this past few weeks since her unexpected arrival had only cemented his thoughts that they'd be perfect together.
He'd been expecting his friend's hesitance, though. Emmett had always acted older than his thirty-seven years.
All Rick could do was hope Honeypie liked him enough to wear him down.
And maybe, he admitted to himself with a smirk, Rick could have a little fun with their not-quite-a-secret relationship in the meantime.