Disclaimer: We do not own twilight. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the authors. The authors are in no way associated or affiliated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
"My Little Santa"
The Jingle All The Way Holiday Fanfiction Contest" winner.
So, it's that time of year again. Strumming my fingers against the surface of my desk, I watched with mild annoyance as my employees hung garland and lights, effectively infiltrating every floor of offices with holiday cheer.
Even my morning coffee was in a festive red cup, my name scrawled in black ink, my usual blend waiting for me on my desk. Despite the high number of sales for my company that Christmas brought with it, I couldn't wait for the season to be over. For my standard white cup to be waiting for me in the morning and for Jessica to take those stupid fucking antlers off of her head. I couldn't think with the constant jangle of bells interrupting me every time my assistant turned her head.
"Mr. Cullen?" Jingle. Exhaling in annoyance, I look up as Rudolph herself sticks her head through my office door. Lifting a brow, I wait. "Your sister is on line one and Mr. Jenks cancelled his meeting with you this afternoon. Something about his daughters school play."
Just fucking great. I needed Jenks to finalize our marketing strategy for New Years and he was off galavanting in a crowd of children singing Christmas carols. Picking up my phone, I wince as Alice's high pitched voice comes over the line. She was always too excited this time of year.
"Edward! I'm ten minutes away. Meet me at Antonio's for lunch, I haven't seen you in weeks!"
Pinching the bridge of my nose, I glance at the clock. "Alice, you were here three days ago passing out candy canes to my employees. I can't just drop everything right now. I've got a company to run and it's the busiest season of the year."
I can practically hear her eye roll. "I already spoke to Jessica. You don't have any meetings for the rest of the day, and besides, just because I was in your building three days ago doesn't mean we spent any time together. You were too busy then and I refuse to believe you're too busy now. It's just lunch, Edward."
Tapping my fingers against my mahogany desk, I decide to just give in. Alice was nothing if not persistent and if I didn't agree to lunch today , she'd pester me for the rest of the week. "Fine. One hour. Give my name at the door, Alec will drop me off and I'll see you in five."
Checking my phone, I turn the sound off and shove it in my pocket, eyeing my driver as he makes his way around the car to open my door. With a nod, I brush passed the people waiting in line at the restaurant and flash a crooked smile to the familiar hostess before making my way to my usual table.
Greeting Alice with a raised brow and open arms, I smile and shake my head. "I'm here. What're we eating?" Sliding into my seat, I pull up the menu and eye my overly hyper sister and roll my eyes, knowing she's got something on her mind.
Pulling a piece of bread from the basket in the center of the table, I take a bite out of it and lift a brow in question. "Spit it out, Alice."
She placed both hands out in front of her, her eyes serious, but there was the slightest hint of a smile on her face. "Don't be mad but…" The groan in the back of my throat was already building as I watched her face. "I kind of promised the company that you would be participating in Secret Santa this year."
"You did what?" My level of irritation was growing as she laughed through her response.
"Don't be such a grinch, Edward! It'll be good for you, you'll see. I'm never wrong about these things. All you have to do is pick a name out of a Santa hat and let someone buy you a gift. Harmless." She wore a smirk that I wished I could wipe off her face but my sister, for a reason unknown even to me, always got what she wanted.
"I don't see why it matters if I'm part of the office shenanigans or not, it's not like I'm going to show up at the company Christmas party." I chuckled my laugh and nodded to the waitress, a familiar face who brought a chilled bottle of wine to our table and poured the first glass. Sensing my sisters silence, I shot her a look. "You didn't."
"You said you wouldn't get mad!" With a roll of her eyes, she raised her own glass and sipped from it, her eyes meeting mine over the rim.
"I didn't say that. You did." Shaking my head, I set the glass down and pushed my hand through my hair, doing my best to hide my annoyance. "Alice, I never go to the Christmas party. You know that."
She huffed, her arms crossed over her chest and her eyes narrowed into a glare. "Edward, you own the company! You can't just not go to the party. I told Emmett not to worry about the Christmas bonuses this year and Jessica sent out a company wide email and let everyone know that you'd be delivering them yourself. We can do Secret Santa right afterwards and then you can leave. Simple."
December had always been my most favorite month of the year. The entire Christmas season was all smiles and cozy blankets, fuzzy socks, fireplace movie nights and of course, cookie baking season. No matter what was happening in everyone's lives, we all took the time to enjoy the holidays. Even as a small child, all I wanted to do was cover the house with lights, bake cookies and watch sappy Christmas movies. It was a little different as an adult, but I still tried my best to make the most of it.
I didn't have much family left, and what little I did have, lived too far to even entertain the notion of spending the holidays together. My first memory as a child was decorating the tree with my father, his mustache twitching as I pursed my lips and focused really hard on where the snowman ornament needed to go. It wasn't my favorite, but it was Charlie's, and Dads favorite Christmas ornament needed a place of honor on the tree.
It wasn't our last Christmas together, but it was the one time of year that my parents put aside any and all worries and just focused on being a family. I missed that. The feeling of togetherness and comfort that it brought. It was something that I tried to recreate every year, and despite spending the holidays alone, I hadn't done a terrible job at it.
This year, however, I was running late. It was already December thirteenth and I hadn't so much as looked at a Christmas tree, much less thought of how I wanted to decorate it. The new job I had wasn't leaving me much time to decorate, and when I left the office late every day, I wasn't feeling enough Christmas Spirit in me to drag the boxes out of the attic.
Work itself had been turned into a winter wonderland. I hadn't seen an office so thoroughly involved in Christmas cheer before, and I was overjoyed to hear that every year they had a Christmas party and any employees who wished to, could participate in Secret Santa. At least I'd get a gift this year, but more than that, I was excited to buy a gift for someone else. Gift giving was one of my all time favorite things, and the friends I had never really go into the spirit of exchanging presents. Spinning the tiny Christmas ornament on the tabletop tree, I smile as the light bounces off of the orb and distorts my reflection.
"Bella?" The sound of my name rips the thoughts from me and I almost dropped the ornament, fumbling to catch it before it bounced off the edge of the table. That was almost embarrassing.
"Yes?" I turned quickly, plastering on a smile and smoothing my hands over the material of my white pencil skirt. I was nothing if not festive. My skirt was a creamy ivory material, soft to the touch with a light gold zipper that ran straight up the back. My sweater was white flecked with gold, delicate shimmer, nothing ostentatious. My heels were black matte but there was a tiny gold bow on the back of the ankle. Like I said, festive. If I didn't have time to decorate my house, I could at least put effort into making my outfits reflect the spirit of Christmas. Pulling my long hair to one shoulder, I reached for the stack of papers that Jessica held out for me. Edward Cullens' personal assistant had only known me a few weeks but I had the feeling that she just didn't like me.
I chose to ignore the way she looked me over and just smiled as she did her best to shake her thoughts from her head, her little antlers slipping an inch or two in the process.
"Mr. Cullen had a cancellation today with Mr. Jenks and apparently you're the only other person who can fill in. You'll need to go over these documents and be ready to meet with him in the morning. Eight AM means seven forty-five, Ms. Swan. I wouldn't be late if I were you." Throwing a tight lipped smile, I flipped through the pages and cast a sideways glance to Mr. Cullens office. I wasn't sure why he wanted me in that meeting tomorrow but it was time to show everyone why I am worth every pretty penny they offered me.
"Oh! Before I go…" I turned back to face Jessica as she held out an upside down Santa hat stuffed with tiny pieces of folded papers. "Pick a name for Secret Santa!" Even though there was an odd vibe between us, we both smiled at the notion.
When I put my hand into the Santa hat, I stirred the names around, smiling as I pulled one from the middle and opened it quietly. My smile faded as I read the name on the tiny piece of paper, an elegant scrawl in black ink read Edward Cullen.
Naturally, I had managed to pick the one person out of an entire building who not only had literally everything, but he was rumored to hate Christmas. I'd seen Mr. Cullen in the building more than a few times, but I knew next to nothing about the man. It seemed like nobody knew anything about him except Alice, and there was no way I was going to ask her for advice. What do you give someone who has everything?
From where I sat at my desk, I had a perfect view of his assistants desk just outside of his glass office. I watched for a moment as Edward sat at his desk, his eyes scanning over a bunch of papers in his hands. His hair was messy but his shirt and tie were perfectly tailored, his suit jacket clinging to the back of his chair. He wasn't known for his friendly demeanor, but he was the CEO of the company. I was surprised that he was participating in Secret Santa at all. He didn't exactly seem like the kind of man that would get joy out of the game, but again, I didn't know him. I didn't want to get the ultimate cheesy gift of a 'world's best boss' coffee cup and a bottle of whiskey. It was too impersonal for me.
"Bella? You ready to head out?" Blinking, I drop my gaze and duck my head, my hands shifting the papers on my desk as I silently hope my cheeks aren't tinged red. Did she catch me staring at Mr. Cullen?
"Uh, yeah, Ang. Just let me grab my wallet." There was a sandwich shop across the street that made a killer sandwich, so Angela and I made it a habit to grab lunch together once a week. She didn't mention anything until we were sitting across from each other and I was beginning to think I may have gotten away with it, but of course, my luck was never that good.
Angela set down what was left of her pastrami on rye and eyed me from across the table, and I knew what she was going to ask before she opened her mouth. "Why were you staring at Mr. Cullen, Bella? You looked completely lost in thought."
Thankfully, I'd had the time to come up with an excuse on the walk over. "Mr. Cullen? Oh, I was just staring off into space. I didn't realize it was towards his office. I'm stuck on what to get my Secret Santa for Christmas. I know next to nothing about them."
Laughing, Ang shrugged her shoulder and closed her bag of chips. "Bella, that's easy. You have two weeks to figure out what to get them."
Crumpling up my sandwich wrapper, I shake my head. "It's not like I can just ask them what they want."
Angela wrinkles her nose and moves to stand. "Sure you can. Just do it secretly."
I spent the walk back to the office thinking over what Angela had suggested. Maybe she was right. I needed to get to know him, so that's exactly what I decided to do.
If the objective of a secret was to remain anonymous, at least I could start a conversation and get a little insight into the mystery man himself. I sat at my desk and smiled as I put my plan into motion, creating a brand new email address just for the occasion. YourSecretSanta .
Dear Mr. Cullen,
It would seem that I was the lucky one to pull your name from the hat this year. After checking twice, I'd like to find out if you've been naughty or nice... What is it that you'd like Santa to bring you?
~Your Secret Santa
I pressed the send button and fixed my eyes on the man himself through the panels of his glass office. There was no denying that he was attractive. He could grace the cover of GQ magazine and nobody would bat an eye. Hell, he probably had. His hair was a unique shade of bronze and despite his ever present scowl, his jawline was begging to be touched. Still, everyone knew to stay out of his way. Nobody could seem to break past his rough exterior except his sister, and even then I had my suspicions that he only tolerated her out of necessity. I noticed the moment he read the email because his eyes subtly scanned the office from left to right. I averted my gaze and focused on my computer screen, my stomach jumping slightly. Damn it, Bella. Don't look suspicious. Picking up my phone, I fake a phone call for a solid two minutes before sneaking another glance. He wasn't paying me any attention, his eyes back on his computer monitor. The ping of my own computer has me jumping in my seat, and I internally berate myself for being so jumpy.
I'm not sure if this is an adequate use for company resources, but in the spirit of Christmas, I'll let this slide.
I'm busy. Get me a tie.
A tie? Frowning, I sit back in my seat and pull my lower lip through my teeth. I couldn't get him a tie. How impersonal would that be? The man wore Armani and while I'm sure his tie collection was extensive, I doubted he'd ever wear a tie I picked out even if I did spend the outrageous amount of money that Armani charged. No, that wasn't going to work.
I'm afraid the North Pole is fresh out of ties this year. The elves just couldn't believe that anybody would actually want one, so they didn't bother making any. Surely there has to be something a little more enjoyable that you'd like.
Do you like sports? What's your favorite color?
Not giving up that easily,
Your Secret Santa
His reply was a little slower this time, but I forced myself to avoid looking towards his office the entire time I waited. I flipped through some papers on my desk, arranged my pens neatly and refreshed my email a few times, curious to know anything at all about this man that could prove helpful. When his email finally came through, I couldn't help but giggle a little under my breath.
I'm sure you can make better use of company time? I really am busy and a tie will suffice. I'm not a sports fan, nor have I considered what my favorite color is in quite some time. If you're asking in regards to the aforementioned tie, I prefer red.
I wasn't sure quite how to respond to that. I couldn't get him a tie, especially not now. There had to be some way to learn the inner workings of Edward Cullen. I just wasn't quite sure how to do that. Huffing, I decide to take Mr. Cullen's advice and close out of my email system and turn my mind to work. There was a mountain of paperwork that needed my attention and a copy machine that was just waiting to test my afternoon patience. The damn thing has a mind of its own. After an hour of avoiding his email, I pulled it open again and stared the blinking cursor, watching the little line blink almost mockingly. I may as well have some fun with him, the safety net of anonymity at its finest. Maybe it would bring out some personality. Who doesn't have a favorite color?
Surely there must be something you really want. Christmas comes and goes so quickly, there must be something that would make you happy. You can tell me your secrets, Edward Cullen. What's your Christmas wish?
Your Secret Santa
Smug, I closed out of our email thread and noticed quite a few others I needed to reply to before the day was over. I would have to push aside thoughts of Christmas cheer until later. I had a meeting to prepare for.
The rest of the day went by quickly, even with all of the ridiculously cheerful interruptions. I was grateful for the thickness of the double paned glass doors of my office when they started with the background Christmas music and conversation about holiday plans. I stuck around long enough to let everyone else leave before me to make sure I would avoid any and all interactions with the people who worked for me, knowing the first thing out of anyone's mouth would be related to how I was rumored to be included in the festivities this year. Fucking Alice. She'd come barging through my office hours ago with a Santa hat in her hand and a ridiculous smile on her face. I snagged a name from the hat and refused to give her any clues as to who it was before she left. In truth, I hadn't even bothered looking yet. It didn't matter, I'd get them a gift card to a fancy restaurant and be done with the entire charade.
Some people were taking this thing a little too seriously. Whoever had drawn my name had spent the afternoon emailing me from a ridiculous account that they'd made purely for the purpose of Secret Santa. I didn't understand why they were so intent on getting me what they envisioned as a perfect gift. Maybe they just wanted to suck up to the boss, but they'd learn soon enough that Christmas wasn't the way to go about that. There wasn't a holiday that I ignored more. I had an unread message from whoever it was sitting in my inbox, but I was stuck in meetings for the remainder of the day and hadn't had a chance to get to it yet.
I was just about to make my way to the elevators when I heard someone shuffling around the office. Pausing, I tilt my head in surprise as I catch a glimpse of soft brown hair from the corner of my eye. With a glance at my watch, my brows pull together on their own accord. I was usually the last one here and it was two hours past closing. Nobody ever stuck around this long. Rounding the corner completely, I watch in silence as Ms. Swan, our head of marketing, crawls beneath her desk and grumbles to herself. I shouldn't check out her ass, it's against company policy and I know better, but I do it anyway. She's on all fours and the little V shaped slit at the bottom of the seam has ridden up almost high enough to be improper, and I suddenly find myself becoming a fan of white. What's your favorite color?
Shaking my head, I avert my gaze and clear my throat. Internally, I wince as a loud smack comes from beneath the desk, Ms. Swan's head popping out seconds later with a hand pressed against her scalp. "Fuck. Ouch."
Smirking at her colorful choice of words, I watch as her eyes land on me and widen as she clambers to her feet and straightens her skirt. "Mr. Cullen. Sorry, I, um, I thought you'd left."
"Ms. Swan. I'm usually the last one around, actually. What're you still doing here?" My phone buzzes in my pocket but a glance at the screen tells me that it's just Alice, and I easily hit the ignore button. She's gotten enough from me today.
"Oh, I'm often here a little late. I'm actually preparing for our meeting tomorrow." I frown, my eyes glancing at the haphazard stack of papers on the floor next to Ms. Swan's heels.
"Ah, yes. It seems that Mr. Jenks is taking his impending retirement as an excuse to miss work. I hope you're ready to fill his shoes, Ms. Swan, because I don't expect he'll stick around for much longer." In fact, if Isabella pulled the New Years Eve marketing campaign off on her own, I'd cut Jenks loose myself. He was set to retire in February, but we'd hired Isabella Swan as his replacement early enough that he could train her and we could avoid any issues with the transition. I wasn't blind to the dealings in my company, especially not those that happened on my floor, and I knew that Ms. Swan had been picking up Jenk's slack since she'd been hired. He took her position as an excuse to leave work early or not bother showing up at all. I had no doubt that Ms. Swan could run the marketing of Cullen Corp with ease by now, but a final test never hurt anyone.
With a proud smile, she just nodded and motioned to the mess of papers on the floor before she returned to picking them up. "I'm definitely ready, I can handle it."
Stepping back, I turn my attention to my phone. "I have no doubt, Ms. Swan. I'll see you tomorrow."
It isn't until I'm trapped in the confines of the elevator scrolling through emails that I realize Ms. Swan hadn't once mentioned Christmas, nor did she bother surrounding the silence of the office with the endless steam of Christmas songs that the radio was offering. The notion of her disliking the holiday season as much as I did brought a smile to my face. Perhaps I wasn't the only one that found the holiday season monotonous. She was, after all, the new head of marketing. Surely she realized that the holiday was concocted just to extract money from people.
Before I know it, I'm hovering over the email from my Secret Santa, my eyes scanning the message on my phone as the elevator dings and the doors slide open. My Christmas wish? That was easy.
My Christmas wish is that the season end already. I'm not Santa's biggest fan. I assure you, Secret Santa, that whatever you decide to gift me will be fine.
By the time I get home and set my keys down, my phone pings with an incoming email and I know who it is before looking. I should've known that whoever was behind this was dedicated enough to continue it outside of work hours.
Why do you dislike Christmas so much? Maybe you've never really given Santa a chance. The old guy is actually pretty nice if you ask me, but he isn't what Christmas is about. Don't you have any cherished memories from the holidays?
I remember, when I was a little girl, my mother and I would spend Christmas Eve baking gingerbread cookies together. We didn't always have time to do things like that. She was a very flighty person and easily distracted, but she always remembered our Christmas Eve tradition. We'd spend hours decorating the cookies and making up stories behind them. The gingerbread girl with a missing arm who fell in love with the gingerbread boys gumdrop buttons, the little guy with pink shorts because he tried and failed to do laundry by himself. They all had stories, and it didn't matter that come morning the cookies would be half eaten and stale. It was the time we spent together and the memories we made that mattered. She isn't around anymore, but I still spend Christmas Eve making gingerbread cookies.
Don't you want a gift that triggers something inside of you? Something with meaning instead of a tie that we both know you'll never wear?
Your Secret Santa
So it was a she. I idly wonder if she meant to let that little tidbit slip or whether she was so caught up in her memory that she didn't realize it. She was right about one thing though; I'd likely never wear a tie from her. I typed out my reply with a slightly amused smile on my face.
I never made cookies with my mother for Christmas. In fact, I don't think I've ever made cookies in my life, and I can quite honestly say that there isn't a single childhood memory that I wish to trigger, Christmas or not.
I am curious, though. What kind of gift would trigger a memory about gingerbread people? Are you asking Santa for a gingerbread house this year?
When I set the phone down on the kitchen counter, I loosen my tie and pop open the top few buttons of my shirt. Scrubbing a hand over my jaw and moving to pull open the door of the refrigerator that I already knew is mostly empty, I find myself hoping that my Secret Santa, whoever she is, responds before morning. The light shined extra bright as it bounced off the empty white walls inside the fridge, so I closed it out of habit and moved towards the bar instead. By the time I had poured myself a much deserved glass of bourbon, my phone pinged from its place on the counter.
I'm surprised at the eagerness I feel to open the email, my hand reaching for my phone instantaneously before grabbing my drink and taking a seat on the couch.
I think that if I could ask Santa for anything this year, it would be a Christmas Eve spent in good company, but I'll take the gingerbread house for all the little ginger-folk to live in.
You really are a grumpy person, Mr. Cullen, but I think I finally understand why. What kind of person has never made cookies before? I apologize if this goes against that company policy that you're so keen on enforcing, but I'd really like to hug you right now. I'd get you a gift geared towards baking with the hopes that you'd explore the joys of cookie making, but from what I know about you, it'd sit unused.
Your Secret Santa
With a surprised brow raised, my curiosity got the better of me and I chuckled to myself. Hug me? Was my Secret Santa hitting on me? I had to admit, there was a certain appeal to not knowing exactly who I was talking to, even if this person worked for me. It was borderline inappropriate for even entertaining the idea but for some reason, this anonymous Little Santa had my attention.
Swirling the ice around my glass, I sipped again, enjoying the chilled burn as my eyes scanned over the message and I debated how to reply.
It seems as if nothing I say is going to make you leave without a fight, and I think, in a twisted way, that I admire your tenacity. You can call me Edward. It is, after all, far past business hours.
I have a confession, Little Santa. I haven't so much as glanced at the name I drew from the hat. There are perfectly reasonable gender neutral gifts that I can give without even knowing who it is I'm gifting it to. The only reason I'm participating in this game at all is because my sister forced my hand. She, too, thinks I'm a grumpy person in need of a little holiday cheer. You're not my sister, are you? I think I'd be upset if you were.
I take back what I said earlier. Please don't give me anything kitchen related. I'm afraid I'd be tempted to use it at this point, and the fire department would have nobody to blame but yourself.
Then again, you could use it as an excuse to join me on the naughty list.
I hesitate before sending my response, idly wondering if I sound too flirtatious. I couldn't help it. I was having fun. Maybe it was the whiskey.
By six in the morning, I had already gone for my morning run, showered, dressed in one of my best suits and managed to beat the morning rush at the coffee shop. While I waited in line, the sparkly gold and white of one of the fancy travel cups caught my eye. It reminded me of Isabella's outfit from yesterday. It was such a soft looking white, like warm vanilla. I wasn't sure why it was still so fresh in my mind but I couldn't stop staring at the way that goddamn cup glittered on the Starbucks shelf. What's your favorite color?
I felt my brows pull together when I again remembered those little words from the very inquisitive mind of my Secret Santa. I was half tempted to have our tech department trace the email so I could find out just who this curious female was but at the same time, what was a little harmless fun? She'd already confirmed that she wasn't my sister, and I was enjoying the anonymous emails from my Little Santa. I had a feeling that uncovering her secret would stop the emails, and I wasn't quite ready for that.
When it was my turn, the barista dressed in her very festive outfit was already holding up one of those goddamn festive red cups, the Sharpie in her opposing hand just waiting to scribble my name on it. I cut her off before she even asked.
"Instead of the holiday cups, I'll take two of the travel cups. One black and the other that white and gold, sparkly thing. Both extra hot, extra cream, light sugar." I wasn't sure why I decided to bring Isabella a morning coffee, it just kind of worked itself into my plans while I was distracted with the memory of that damn skirt. Maybe my Little Santa was rubbing some holiday cheer off on me after all.
"..Sir?" My head snapped up to the barista who seemed a little amused at my furrowed brow. "Your name for the order, Sir." Fuck.
"Edward." Flashing a crooked smile, my head dipped in an apologetic nod while I pulled out my credit card and handed it over. I leaned on the opposite counter until my order was ready and realized that I now had to carry that sparkly thing through the lobby and to the elevators, up to the top floor. My floor. I was beginning to regret this decision. Maybe I could just leave it on Ms. Swans desk. Thankfully, it was ridiculously early so I would probably be the first one here. I couldn't even begin to imagine what rumors would float around the office if they saw me bringing a woman coffee. Alice would have a field day.
When the elevator dinged with my floor number, I stepped out with purpose, heading straight for my office. The lights were already on, something that was mildly confusing. I reached the doors and shuffled the coffee cups in my hand as I pulled the door open, my eyes going straight to the form stretching across the floor in front of my desk. I couldn't help but stare, the sight pleasantly familiar.
"Isabella?" My voice startled her and when she turned with a jump, the amusement on my face must've embarrassed her. Her cheeks turned a little pink and she seemed a bit flustered. There were papers all around her, circling her inside of a barricade of work. I saw documents and charts, lists and graphs. There were pamphlets and binders with names across them and I silently wondered if she had gone home at all last night.
"Mr. Cullen!" she breathed, her bare feet shuffling across the piles of papers as she stood frantically, smoothing out her skirt. It was red today, a white blouse topping it off, so she must've changed at some point. I watched as she toed her foot around while she met my gaze, searching for her heels that were not even close enough for her to sneak back into. Even her toenails were festive, a gold flaked white polish coating them. There was that fucking color again.
I moved slowly, setting the two coffees down on my desk before placing my hand on my tie, tucking it close as I dipped down to pick up one of Isabella's high heeled shoes. The pink of her cheeks deepened, so did the smirk that now graced my lips. Holding the shoe out for her, letting it dangle off the tip of my finger, and she reached for it with a groaned breath. I just chuckled, raising a brow in question. "What are you doing in my office at seven AM, Ms. Swan? Isn't our meeting at eight?"
"I'm sorry, Sir. It's just, your office is the biggest and I needed some space to sort all this stuff out and since the meeting is going to be in here, I thought I would come early and get everything prepped. Jessica, she told me that eight really means seven forty five, and I'm habitually early for everything." The girl looked uncomfortable, her words rambling off of her tongue at a pace fast, enough that I had to tilt my head to keep up. I knew I had a reputation here, but she didn't have to feel afraid of me. I wasn't that bad, was I? My brows pulled together at the thought.
Reaching over to my desk, I grabbed the white and gold sparkly cup and handed it to Isabella with a nod. There goes my plan of stealthily dropping it off on her desk. "It's quite alright, Ms. Swan, have some coffee. Maybe relax a little." Another chuckle escaped my lips as I rounded my desk, taking my own coffee cup with me, happy to not have that goddamn red cup on my desk this morning.
"Oh… Thank you, Mr. Cullen. You didn't have to get me coffee. This is cup is so pretty, where did you get this?" I watched her face light up and immediately regretted my decision to buy the damn thing. Not because I didn't want to see her smile, but because I knew deep down what it symbolized. What's your favorite color?
With a groan under my breath, I ignored the way she smiled and I looked down at the paperwork littering my desk, grumbling out a bullshit reply. "I just get tired of those damn red cups this time of year." I waved my hand dismissively, hoping my head of marketing had no idea whatsoever that the color of the damn cup was a perfect match to the clothes she wore only yesterday. "The Starbucks people picked it."
She simply nodded and removed the metal lid before taking a sip, and I couldn't help but notice the way she hummed in appreciation. The sound was more than a little distracting. She moved to clean up the rest of her scattered work and shifted it all into organized piles across the conference table at the other end of my office. Once again, I found myself eyeing the way she moved, completely unaware of the way I watched her.
Before I knew what I was doing, I had my email system pulled up.
White. White's my favorite color, particularly when paired with gold.
The soft ping of a phone chiming across the room draws my gaze up, my eyes searching for the device it belonged to. Isabella's phone was lying face down on the edge of my desk, the white glass back shining a reflection of the office lights, as well as the strings of twinkly gold Christmas lights that dangled from my bookcases, thanks to Alice's input.
My eyes moved back towards Isabella, my mind planting ideas and possibilities as I watched her lean gracefully over the edge of the long table, placing folders at everyone's place. I noticed the way she straightened the edges of all the documents she'd placed at my seat at the head of the table. Glancing back towards her unanswered phone, my brows pulled together ever so slightly, the possibility of Isabella being my Little Santa was wildly intriguing. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but I couldn't help the smirk that now graced my lips at the possibility.
My weekend is spent catching up on paperwork and diving into the dirty side of acquiring a smaller company. The merger would be wildly beneficial for Cullen Corp, but only because of a code they'd built and had rights to. Unfortunately, they were unwilling to sell the code itself, so I was knee deep in looking for anything else salvageable about the company. It was looking as if we were going to have to close it down and liquidate the assets, which was unfortunate for the hundreds of people they employed. As ruthless as I am in the business world, I didn't cherish the thought of causing a hardship for so many families right after the holidays.
And then there was my Little Santa. Our emails grew more frequent on Friday evening, and the rate at which we bantered didn't show any signs of slowing down. We went back and forth on seemingly random things, and Christmas was all but forgotten as we argued over everything from our favorite books to the best restaurant in town. I was still adamant about it being Antonio's, and my Little Santa had never even been. I found myself wishing that I could take her.
On Monday, three people asked me why I was in such a good mood. Alice had her nose stuck so far in my business that I snapped at her to leave me alone and left the office early. The assholes were ruining what should've been a good day.
On Tuesday, I signed off on our newest acquisition and spent the day in meetings laying out a plan to liquidate the company. That night, I cracked open a bottle of aged Scotch and even my Little Santa knew that something was bothering me. I told her more than I should have, and then realized that discussing private information over company servers was careless. I switched my email to my personal and my Little Santa created a new anonymous email account just for me.
On Wednesday I had Eric Yorkie from the IT department wipe our history from the company servers. Two hours later I pulled the slip of paper from the Secret Santa drawing out from beneath my keyboard and read the name scrawled on it. Isabella Swan.
By Thursday I was completely distracted from work and got next to nothing done. I cancelled my meetings and spent the day walking through every floor of the company, silently wondering who was behind the emails that I'd come to rely on. I spent hours sending my Little Santa silly emails with jokes and irrelevant facts, all the while walking through the halls and past offices and listening for the chime of an email alert. I left work certain that the woman behind the emails was Isabella Swan.
It wasn't until Friday that I realized our little game was almost over.
Holy tinsel! Your sister takes Christmas to the extreme, doesn't she? I think she may have wrapped garland around every surface we have. I'm afraid that if I stand still for too long, I'll find myself decorated.
Three days until the Christmas party and I still haven't nailed down your gift. You're a tough cookie to crack. Any last minute hints?
Your Little Santa
Spinning around in my chair, I peek over my computer monitor and watch Edwards facial expression as my email goes through. It had become a favorite pastime of mine, and the small smile that quirks at the corner of his mouth as he turns his attention to his phone doesn't disappoint. I watch as his face lights up with a smile and his mouth falls open in laughter that I can't hear, but seconds later his face falls. My own mouth morphs into a frown as he stares out towards his window, a pensive look on his face. My brows pull together and as worry my lower lip between my teeth, wondering what I could've said that seemed to upset him. Before I can begin to guess, Edward turns in his chair and meets my gaze head on. Blinking, I drop my face, my cheeks burning with the embarrassment of being caught staring.
"Isabella?" Edwards voice rings out across the office and Jessica looks up at me, a smug smile playing at her lips. Shit. Shit shit shit. He doesn't sound happy.
Shoving my feet into my heels, I stand on wobbly knees. "Yes, sir?"
He doesn't answer, instead he turns and walks back into his office, his hand holding the door open for me as I follow him inside and sit in the chair across from his desk, silently praying that this was related to work and not my blatant staring problem. Our meeting last week had gone better than I could've hoped, and Edward seemed more than willing to proceed with my marketing strategy for New Years. It was going to be implemented on the 26th and was in its final phase of touch ups.
Edward takes his seat across from me, and I shift my legs as we stare at each other in silence for what seems like fifteen minutes but is likely only seconds. He opens his mouth but then stops himself, a frown marring his face as he changes tactics and reaches for a manila folder on the edge of his desk. What was he going to say?
"You mentioned that you're not a fan of this years Christmas advertisements, and it seems our numbers are aligned with your opinion." Spinning the folder towards me, Edward flips it open and I lean forward to see the chart he's pointing at. I'm not surprised. This year Mr. Jenks was dead set on an idea that I was opposed to, but the man wouldn't budge. "Why didn't you like it?"
Relaxing, I thank whatever gods are listening for not having to explain to my boss why I was staring at him from my desk. Marketing, I could handle. This was my element. "Well, there was no heart in it. I mean, don't get me wrong, Mr. Jenks has done amazing work for Cullen Corp in the past, but this year… well, it was all very mechanical."
"No heart?" Leaning back in his chair, Edward taps his fingers against his armrest before proceeding. "What would you have done?"
Biting my lip, I decide to just go for it. "Mr. Cullen —"
"Edward, please." He interrupts me, and I fight back the smile that threatens to take over my face, instead offering him a small one as I softly sigh.
"Edward. The newest phone was the focus of this years ads, and Mr. Jenks took the focus away from a lot of the amazing features of the device. Instead, he put it all on an app that tracks Santa, and while that's endearing and definitely useful for both children and parents around the world, it's something that can be done with nearly every smartphone out there." My voice had taken on a rambling tone, so I stopped and let out a small sigh, cutting my thoughts short. "There was nothing that made consumers want to buy our devices. I would have scrapped the entire concept. Our job isn't to promote an app, it's to show off what our phones can do."
Closing the folder in front of me, I push it back towards Edward. "I would've liked to have seen an advertisement that brought together families. That made Christmas easier for people, and showed them how it was possible to achieve with one of our products. One of the best features of the new phone is the amazing camera it has, and the video chat option that's built into the interface. So many families are unable to travel during the holidays. We could've had real families, real people, real reactions if we would've given them the chance to spend the holidays together over video calls. Snippets of them opening presents, eating dinner. Bringing people together, Edward, is what the holiday season is about."
Edward is silent for so long that I think he hates my entire concept, and I nervously tuck a strand of hair behind my ear.
"I'm firing Jenks. As of today, you are the official head of marketing for this company."
Exhaling in a rush, I drop my hand to my lap in surprise. "I thought —"
"You're right, Isabella. I may not understand what Christmas is all about, but it's obvious you do, and I have no doubt that you'll approach every season with the same amount of devotion."
Biting my lip, I hesitate before responding. "I won't let you down, Edward. Thank you." He waves a hand dismissively, and I stand to leave, but I stop and lean my hip against his desk.
"You're wrong, you know." Edward cocks a brow, his lip twitching as he looks at me. Of course, I must be the only person in the world that receives a promotion and stops to tell their boss that they're wrong.
"About what?" Internally shaking my head, I smile.
"You said you don't understand Christmas. I think maybe you understand it more than you realize." Pushing off of his desk, my heels clicking against the tile floor is the only sound behind me until my fingers wrap around the stainless steel door handle.
"That heart you were talking about. The one Mr. Jenks was lacking? Where would one find it?" My fingers tighten on the door handle as I contemplate his question. Was Edward really asking me where he could find love? Or did he mean Christmas Spirit? That had to be it. Dropping my hand, I turn back to face him.
"It's the Friday before Christmas, Edward, and we're nearly done for the day. If there's any time you can skip out on work early, it's today. Come with me. I have an idea."
If Edward wanted to learn the true meaning of Christmas, I'd do my best to show him.
I wasn't sure exactly what Isabella had in mind for this little field trip but the moment she got into my car, she gave Alec an address, that little excited smile still on her face. Every now and then, I found myself glancing over towards Isabella, there was just something about the way she looked that kept pulling my attention.
She was still in her work clothes, festive for sure, but she wore a peacoat now. It was wool but it looked warm and clung to her frame in a flattering way. Of course the damn thing was white. Her chestnut waves hung down at her sides and against the soft fabric, and I couldn't help but stare. When I finally looked away, I caught Alec's eyes in the rear view mirror, a tight smirk on his silent lips. My eyes narrowed and he returned his attention back to the road without a word. Smug bastard.
I kept checking my phone and had received no new email notifications from my Little Santa. Once again, I secretly wondered if it was in fact Isabella. I was unsurprised that I had yet to receive an email from her since Isabella had been with me for the entire afternoon. Besides, who else besides my anonymous girl would be so hellbent on showing me how Christmas works?
"Edward, we're here. This is the place!" Isabella flashed a bright smile at me and she shifted in her seat, almost beating Alec at opening the door. She seemed to blush as he helped her out and I just chuckled my laugh and let myself out on the other side. I watched as she pulled her red scarf around her neck and slipped on little red gloves, an inviting smile on her lips.
As I came up to her side, I glanced around wearily, taking in the size of the crowd gathered around here and the over decorated Christmas trees that lined the entrance on either side. My voice was low, curious but somewhat amused. "A holiday market?" Did she really expect me to have some heartfelt Christmas epiphany while shopping in holiday chaos?
There was a slight groan to my breathy laugh but Isabella just laughed cheerfully and linked her arm with mine as we waited to get through admission. I stared down at where her slender arm leaned on mine and for a moment, I took notice of the way her hair smelled. She smelled like cookies and peppermint. I found myself leaning just a little closer before I straightened myself out and cleared my throat. I didn't miss Alec's grin as he slipped back into the car and pulled away.
When it was our turn to go through the entrance gate, it looked like the North Pole, but not the way I would've imagined. It wasn't all animated for children, it was kind of… pretty. There were gold lights everywhere, illuminating pathways and arcs, there were tents with all different kinds of food, snacks and Christmassy drinks. There were booths for crafts, homemade gifts, jewelry and street florists lining the sidewalks on either side of us. While Isabella looked around with a beaming smile on her face, I pulled out my wallet and turned to the man behind the ticket booth. Just as I was about to take out a twenty, my wallet is snatched from my hands by a pair of red gloves. I look up in confusion and find Isabella glaring at me. "Oh, no, mister. I brought you here, I'm paying."
Rolling my eyes, I laugh and reach for my wallet, only to have it pulled back once again. "Isabella, I can pay. Really, I don't mind."
Shaking her head, I'm momentarily shocked as she reaches forward and slips my wallet into my pocket. "It's Bella. Unless I'm in trouble, in which case Isabella works wonderfully."
Before I know what's happening, she's paid the man and is guiding me by my elbow towards the front gate, her cheerful demeanor back as she glances around with excitement. "Okay, so what first?"
Raising a skeptical brow, I shake of my stupor and let Isabella pull me towards the first tent on the left. I noticed how welcoming it appeared but in all honesty, while she stared at the lights and fancy drink menu, I was staring at her. She wore a genuinely happy smile while she pointed towards the festive looking chalkboard and asked what flavor of hot cocoa I wanted. "There are so many, I can't decide, what about you, Edward?" Her voice was low but still radiated with enthusiasm.
I cleared my throat just before she could catch me watching her with the curiosity that had been haunting me for a week now. "I know it's an old fashioned notion, but how about regular hot cocoa?" We both laughed, the sound was airy and light, natural… comfortable. It had been so long since I was comfortable around, well, anyone. Everyone seemed to want something from me, in some way or another, but Bella's intentions were clear. She just wanted me to enjoy Christmas.
Her eyes seemed to shine and she nodded, her wavy hair falling in front of her face like a veil, blocking her from my line of sight. It took every ounce of my restraint to keep my hands in my pockets and not reach out and tuck it behind her ear as a little old woman wearing a Mrs. Claus outfit handed us two big mugs of hot cocoa, whipped cream on top, sprinkled with a little cinnamon powder and a candy cane sticking out of each one. I welcomed the warmth of the mug in my hands and glanced around before meeting Bella's gaze. She was watching me expectedly, waiting for me to taste it. I felt a bit silly, a grown man drinking hot cocoa at a Christmas festival like a child, but I wasn't about to say that and hurt Bella's feelings.
"So… This magical hot cocoa is supposed to give me Christmas spirit. Here goes nothin'." I chuckled under my breath and sipped from the steaming mug, licking my lips immediately after. Bella watched me with an amused smile on her face,
"Well? What does our research and development team say for the hot cocoa?" Her laughter was starting to feel a bit contagious. I found myself smiling down at her and watched intently as she licked the whipped cream from her lips, an action that caused my smile to fade. Suddenly, she looked different. Still the Isabella I had been staring at all week, her little Christmas themed skirts had been on my mind far more than the work I should've been doing, but in that moment, she was just different. The lights all around her seemed to illuminate her smile and her cheeks were flushed with color. The sound of her laugh mixed with the music and she just seemed to glow in that damn white coat.
"It's delicious." My voice sounded far away, even to my own ears. I blinked back the haze of Bella and forced my attention somewhere behind her. "Still feel like me. Grinchy and all." Bella threw her head back and laughed much louder this time and her hand landed on my arm, once again stealing the smile from my face as I watched her in some sort of stupor. She was beautiful. Her smile was bright enough to make everyone at this damn place happy. Maybe this cocoa did have a little something extra in it.
We moved from booth to booth, watching vendors make things like oil paintings, jewelry out of marbles and melted spoons and festive candles from beads of wax and little charms inside for luck. As I took it all in, I could still see the business side of the event. This place was probably bringing in a substantial amount of revenue, but the more I watched Bella, the less those thoughts creeped into the back of my mind.
Pulling me with more of that festive enthusiasm, I laughed under my breath as Bella tugged me in front of a life size gingerbread house. I was instantly reminded of little gingerbread people with stories of their own. The smirk on my face at the fact that I still haven't heard from my Little Santa was unparalleled. Still hoping and still convinced that it had to be Bella, I barely noticed when she opened the door with the gumdrop door knob and pulled me inside of the little house. We had to duck our heads, but even I had to admit, it smelled delicious inside.
Everything in the house was made from cookies and candy. The walls were lined with Oreos, Licorice, bubblegum wrappers and all different kinds of sugary things. Even the curtains in the window claimed to be edible. I had to smile as I watched Bella run her fingers along the edible furniture. I followed behind her and I was just about to pluck a fallen piece of peppermint bark from her hair when a frail, older woman patted Bella's arm and spoke in a raspy but friendly voice. "You two make such a lovely couple, would you like me to take your picture in here?"
At the suggestion, I felt my throat tighten, my mind eager to imagine that possibility, but Bella shifted in front of me, blushing wildly as she shook her head once and glanced over at me. "Oh, we're not actually —"
I moved forward, interrupting Bella as she was about to politely decline, but I had other ideas. "We would absolutely love that, thank you." My voice dripped with charm, enough so that it even made Bella stumble. She smiled and held her phone out to the woman as I pulled Bella to my side, my arm sliding around her. I had every intention of smiling for the picture but when she was this close, I could smell her hair again and I was lost to it. My head was tilted down towards Bella, watching her beautiful smile and before I knew it, the woman had handed Bella her phone back. I didn't pull my arm away from her.
When Bella took her phone and thanked the woman, she flipped it around to see the photo. She sucked in a breath and it had me blinking myself back to reality. I cleared my throat as she looked at the photo, suddenly dropping my arm from around her waist. Bella was smiling bright for the camera, appearing to lean towards me as we were tucked in the living room of the life size gingerbread house. As for me, I wasn't even looking at the camera. I was staring down at only Bella, my nose almost buried in her hair as I pulled her against me. The air suddenly felt thick and the already tight space seemed to feel even smaller.
"We should keep walking. I think there was something about reindeer up ahead." My words were quiet, laced with confusion and if Bella picked up on it, she didn't say anything.
We left the gingerbread house and smiled to one another as Bella glanced back at it, her cheeks still pink, either from cold or from embarrassment, I wasn't entirely sure.
We moved on to another section of the market and just when I thought it wasn't possible for Bella to get anymore excited, we came to a pen of 'Santa's Reindeer' waiting to be fed and groomed. There were a dozen of them, appropriately named in their own pens and a line of people, an even mix of adults and children, waiting to feed them lettuce, carrots and other vegetables. I couldn't help but laugh as I took her hand and pulled her into one of the open pens, watching her face light up as the reindeer stepped right up to Bella and nudged her hand with its nose. I noticed I was still holding her other hand the exact moment she did, but neither of us moved to pull away. The moment felt like minutes, though I knew it wasn't quite that long. I pulled away with a crooked smile when I saw the bunches of fresh carrots waiting for Bella and I. I stepped back and leaned against the wooden fence, watching Bella as the caregiver explained how to feed and brush the animals. I was perfectly content watching the scene as I stood there, watching the smile on Bella's face as she wrinkled her little nose when the reindeer licked the palm of her hand. Her giggled laugh made me chuckle and I was instantly reminded of the reason we were here. Finding Christmas spirit. The feeling I had when I looked at her, was it anything like this? I still didn't know exactly what this was, but I knew that I liked it.
"Edward! Come here, you've gotta try this." Bella's voice was amusing enough that I shook my head, my crooked grin firmly in place.
"Absolutely not." I breathed my words through a laugh and raised a brow when she called me with her little, red gloved finger. For some reason, I couldn't resist her. I tried, believe me. For one, I was wearing an Armani suit, there was no goddamn way I was going to step into a pen of mud and dirt to pet a dank animal with sharp antlers, but when she looked at me like that… Fuck.
With a heavy groan, I pushed off the fence and walked as carefully as I could through the gate to where Bella waited, her hand out so I could take the carrots. With a weary glance, I eyed the beast and inched my way forward, carrots extended. There was a wet huff of breath from its nose and my brows pulled together, half confused and half disgusted. The sound of Bella's laugh caused my eyes to snap to hers and I relaxed as soon as she stepped up to my side and flipped my hand over, palm facing up with the carrot laid across the flat of it. "Like this…" Her hand rested on my arm as the other stroked the side of the reindeer's nose, scratching playfully as it leaned in close and licked the carrots from the palm of my hand. Our laughter mingled together and once again, I found myself staring at that goddamn smile.
Once Bella was finished with the reindeer, we washed and sanitized our hands, twice, before continuing our walk through the holiday market. Bella was picking out some flowers from the street florist to form a Christmas bouquet. I paid the man while she browsed, letting her take whatever she wanted. When a tiny white flower broke from its stem and fell to the ground, I picked it up and walked towards her, twirling it in my hand with a smirk.
"For some reason, I think this will look pretty perfect on you. It matches your coat." Bella eyed the white flower and snapped her gaze back to me, a small smile tugging at her lips. I pushed the small stem through her hair and let the flower rest just above her ear. Taking a step back to look her up and down, I tilt my head with a smirk, playful but charming. "See? Perfect."
I watched her cheeks turn pink again and she opened her mouth to say something but then closed it. The movement caused me to raise a brow in question. "What?"
"Do you… feel it?" I blinked at her question, my gaze immediately dropping to her mouth. I licked my own lips before I met her eyes again, my voice barely a whisper.
"Feel what?" I wasn't sure what she meant, but either way, I needed to hear her clarify what exactly she wanted to know. I pulled my brows together and momentarily wondered if she picked up on the way I had been watching her.
Bella seemed to decide on something as she tilted her head and smiled. She moved to step around me and turned my body to face the bulk of the crowd. "What do you see, Edward?"
Trying to ignore the way her tiny hands felt on my arms as she spun me, I glanced out at the crowd of people. Shrugging once, I spoke with an unanswered question in my voice. "People. Shopping. Eating. An electric bill to rival Cullen Corp." We both chuckled our laugh but Bella moved to stand in front of me, her arms braced on mine. The smile didn't leave my face as I took her in. Pink cheeks, a little red nose from the cold and the sweetest smile. I shook my head to clear the thoughts that had been nagging at me all day. I failed at that when Bella leaned forward and reached up on her toes, her little red, gloved hands covering my eyes.
I laughed under my breath. "Bella, what're you doing?" I could sense the smile in her voice so I grabbed blindly at her sides, my hands finding her hips and resting there as she shielded my view.
Her voice was much softer now, so only I could hear her. "Edward, listen to it. Christmas isn't a place or a thing, it's not even an event. It's a moment. We all find that one perfect moment where we can feel it. It isn't about money or gifts or even music and parties. It's about a feeling that only we can have. What do you hear?" What I could hear was every syllable she spoke in perfect clarity. I could hear her every breath and I may have unintentionally tightened my grip on her hips when she breathed my name. Clearing my throat and my goddamn thoughts, I did as she instructed.
A minute went by as I strained to listen, to what I wasn't sure, but I ticked off a list for her anyway. "I hear… music. People talking. Kids laughing. I hear a lot of laughing." It felt as if I could see those people smiling through their laughter. It sounded... fun. "It sounds happy. They all sound happy." I felt Bella remove her hands from covering my eyes, but my grip on her remained. My eyes opened slowly and she was there with that little white flower tucked in her hair. Stunning.
"What do you see?" It was a simple question. I had only one answer. It came as a breath. A surprise, even to me.
"You." I answered quickly, no time to think, no time to stop myself from speaking it out loud, it just came out. My throat tightened in that moment because Bella sucked in a breath and stared up at me, those gorgeous eyes burning into mine. We didn't say anything, and suddenly I couldn't hear any of those other things. It was just her. My smile was gone, as was hers. We just stared, my arms still around her waist as she leaned against me for support. My eyes searched between both of hers, only distracted by the wetness of her bottom lip which was stuck between her teeth. I just wanted to pull it free…
"Edward." She breathed my name so low, so soft that I barely heard it and I realized I had leaned in much closer. Her lips were only inches from mine. Swallowing audibly, I stepped back and pulled my brows together, reminding myself that Isabella works for me and I had no right to cross any boundaries that she wasn't comfortable with. I forced myself to drop my hands from her hips and allowed a rush of cold air between us once again. My voice was a rasp of cold breath.
"It's getting late, we should probably go." She blinked a few times and dropped her arms from mine before sinking back down on her feet, her cheeks pink and her eyes avoiding mine as she nodded and pushed her hair behind her ear.
We walked back together through a candy cane forest of lights, even after that moment, it felt so comfortable and a little familiar. I was still fairly certain that Bella was my Little Santa, and now more than ever, I wanted that to be true. The thought that my flirty and snarky Little Santa could also be this innocent and perfect woman was enough to drop the ground out from underneath me.
It wasn't until I helped Bella into a cab that I leaned forward, my lips just a hair's breadth away from her ear. "Thank you for the best Christmas memory I have, Ms. Swan."
Shutting the cab door, I pass the driver some cash through the open passenger window and silently watch them drive away.
Adjusting my tie, I hear my phone buzz against my desk and reach for it, my fingers immediately navigating to my emails. It mockingly tells me that I have zero unread emails and I scowl as I pull down the notification tab and see Alice's name.
Are you here yet? I have the bonus envelopes with me.
Typing out a response, I glance at the clock.
I'm upstairs. I'll head down now.
In all honesty, I was stalling. I had Bella's present wrapped and ready, but I was worried about what this evening meant. Would I find out who was behind this tonight? Everything inside of me said yes, and I was almost positive that it was Bella, but what if it isn't? I wasn't sure show I felt about that possibility, and the thought of it being someone else left a bitter taste in my mouth. After the day we had spent together at the market, I wanted it to be Bella.
Groaning, I snatch Bella's present off of my desk and pocket my phone. I had Eric Yorkie scouring the internet last week and a handful of Bella's employees working to get this together in time for the party. It was now or never.
The party was in full swing when I stepped off of the elevator, and I made it to the Christmas tree and deposited Bella's present before Alice spotted me.
"Edward! You made it!" Her arms wrapped around me and I returned her hug with a laugh. She always seemed to act surprised when I showed up and participated in one of her schemes. "Here. These are the bonus envelopes. You take this half and I'll do the rest."
A glance at the first name in the stack made me frown. Alice had given me the lower level employee envelopes, likely because she thought that I needed to mingle with more of the employees that rarely saw me, but that meant I didn't have an excuse to talk to Isabella. Sighing, I glance around the room and don't spot her, so I make my way through the names. Unsurprisingly, I don't know half of the people who I hand envelopes to, but I fake a smile and ask each one if they've seen the next name on my list. More often than not they point them out with ease.
I'm on my last envelope when a blonde in a borderline inappropriate dress steps in front of me. "Is that one for me?"
Her voice is flirtatious as I look over the name scrawled across the red envelope and back towards her face. "That depends. Are you Mrs. Mallory?"
The woman laughs and lays a hand on my forearm, and I fight the urge to shake her fake nails off of my Armani suit. "Oh, Edward. It's Ms." She slips the envelope out of my hand and replaces it with a black box tied together with an ugly plaid ribbon. "I think you've waited long enough."
Furrowing my brow, I look at her in confusion. "Ms. Mallory, I —"
"Edward, you can call me Lauren. We've been exchanging emails for long enough."
My heart stops. Only for a second, but long enough that I bring a hand up and rub at my chest as it kickstarts into overdrive. It can't be.
Offering Lauren a tight lipped smile, I pull the ribbon from the box and allow it to drop to the floor, my eyes taking in the sight of a grey tie as I lift the lid. Fuck. It is her.
"I don't understand." My words are terse, but I can't help but be confused. I could've sworn that it was Bella.
Lauren's laughter is loud and overzealous as she pulls the tie from the tissue paper and discards the box on a table. "Edward, it's me. I'm your Secret Santa."
"You?" My voice is disbelieving but it doesn't seem to dissuade Lauren. Instead, she reaches up and wraps her arms around my neck. Lifting my collar, she loosens my tie and moves to pull it over my head. Grabbing her wrist, I shake my head and put my tie back in place, tightening the knot at my throat.
She pouts, her voice taking on a whiny tinge. "Don't you want to try on your present?" But I'm not looking at Lauren. My gaze is focused across the room on a brunette woman in a white dress and gold heels, on the look on her face as she stares at me. On the way she spins on her heels and disappears into the crowd. Bella.
I take a single step in her direction before Alice bounces in front of me and halts me in my track. "Edward! Here's your present."
"My what?" My voice has taken on a dangerously low tone, and I'm mildly aware of Lauren's nervous giggle from beside me.
"Your Secret Santa present. Stop being a grinch and just take it." Alice shoves the box into my hand before moving on to play Santa to someone else, and I turn my gaze to Lauren as she takes a step back and turns to leave.
"Don't move." She stops in place, her hands twisted together as I pull the delicate ribbon from my present. I set it aside on the table as I pull out a small black box. Flipping the lid, I stare at two cufflinks nestled against black velvet. They're white, flecked with gold, an inscription written above them. You'll see them more than you ever would a tie.
The box isn't empty, so I sit the cufflinks aside and pull out the second item. It's a framed photo of Bella and I from the market, the picture we posed for in the gingerbread house. My fingers brush across paper, and I flip the frame over to see our ticket stubs from the market and a note attached to the back.
I finally figured it out.
I hope you'll look at this and remember our Christmas moment together.
I'm honored to have been a part of it.
-Isabella Marie Swan
My throat bobs as I swallow, and I gently place the picture frame and the cufflinks back into the box, my mind flashing to the look of hurt that Bella had as she watched Lauren accost me from across the room. Exhaling thoroughly, i straighten my suit jacket and turn towards the blonde woman next to me.
"How?" The anger I feel is apparent in my voice, but I don't bother hiding it.
"Wh-what do you mean, Edward?
"It's Mr. Cullen," I snap, "and don't play stupid, Ms. Mallory. Answer the question."
Her eyes flick over to Eric Yorkie, and realization dawns on me seconds before she opens her mouth. "I, uh, read your emails on the company server. There's a guy, he works in the IT department. He let it slip that you were flirting with an employee and I distracted him so that I could gain access to his computer."
Grabbing her forearm, I turn and signal to the security guard standing against the wall. My voice is harsh and uncaring as I slip the red envelope out of Lauren's hand and pocket it. "You're fired, Ms. Mallory. I don't know what you do for my company, but I know that you can be replaced. If you have any belongings in the building you can retrieve them on Monday with a security guard present. Please escort Ms,. Mallory from the building and revoke her ID badge."
Without waiting for a reaction, I swipe my gift from Bella off of the table and turn towards the exit. Before I can take three steps, Alice is beside me. I don't even bother giving her a chance to speak. Instead I shove my present into her hands. "Take that to my office. Now, Alice. If it isn't on my desk when I get back…" Shaking my head, I brush past my sister and flag down Alec.
Fuck. Where does she live?
Pinching the bridge of my nose, I pull out my phone and call Alice as I slip into the backseat of my car. "A grocery store, Alec. Quickly."
"Edward, if you think you can just tell —"
"Alice, I'm sorry, but I don't have time for this right now. I'll explain later. Can you find me Eric Yorkie and put him on the phone?"
Alice huffs, but less than two minutes later the incompetent IT guys voice comes through the line. "Mr. Cullen?"
"Mr. Yorkie. I was made aware of a breach of security made by a Lauren Mallory this evening, involving you and your lack of awareness. The reasoning behind which was made abundantly clear. In the spirit of Christmas, I'm allowing you to keep your job on one condition. I need the address for Isabella Swan within the next ten minutes, and I shouldn't have to ask for you to keep this between us."
"Y-yes sir, I'm sorry sir. Ten minutes."
I hang up, my head falling back against the leather headrest. By the time I run into the store and get back in my car, Bella's address is in my inbox.
I can't. I can't watch this.
I thought this party would be amazing. I'd been excited for it all weekend, and even the nerves I felt about Edward learning that I was his Little Santa didn't bother me.
Until I saw Lauren draped against Edward, his lips turned up in that smile that I'd watched curve his lips as he read my emails to him. That was my smile.
"Lauren, that lucky bitch. She told me she's been seeing him for weeks." Jessica's voice rang in my ears, and my heart jumped to my throat. I turned to leave, to get out of this building as fast as my feet could take me. Why didn't I ask if he was single? How could I have been so naive?
"Bella!" Alice's voice stops me, her arms wrapping around me in a hug before she hands me a red envelope and my Secret Santa gift. She's gone as quick as she came, and I'm out the front door moments later.
Thankfully, there were plenty of cabs waiting at the curb and it only took a moment for one to fling its door open so I could step in. As the cab pulled away, I gave a glance back at the tallest building in the city and fixed my eyes on the top floor, where Edward was currently chatting up the office bimbo. It was no secret that Lauren wanted to claw her way to the top, and she wasn't picky about how she got there. I just thought that Edward was more than that.
I wasn't really sure what I expected to happen after two weeks of anonymous flirting but to say I was disappointed would be an understatement. I was starting to genuinely like Edward. I thought that we had something, especially after the holiday market. I was just kidding myself. Why would an amazing guy like Edward Cullen want someone like me?
Glancing down at the wrapped gift in my lap, I sighed with a sadness that shouldn't even exist on Christmas Eve. I hadn't given much thought to who could have pulled my name from the hat. I was too wrapped up in the giving aspect of Secret Santa. I pulled the string of the bow and reached inside the box, confusion coursing through me as I pull out a Cullen Corp phone. The screen lights up as I lift it, and I finger the small white and gold bow off of the top corner, my confusion only deepening as I read the tag dangling from it. Play me.
Swiping to unlock the device, a video pops up on the screen and I follow the instructions and hit play.
For the next forty five seconds I sit enraptured as I watch the commercial idea that I'd pitched to Edward days ago come to life. A little girl opening presents as her father, a man in a military uniform, cheers her on from a video screen. A little boy lying in a hospital bed, his bald head giving us all the information we need, hugging a teddy bear to his chest as his grandparents sneak around a dimly lit house and pretend to look for Santa for him. On and on, family after family, I watch as people are brought together. It isn't until my father's voice comes out of the speaker that I stop breathing. "Bella?" His laughter follows, and the video pans to the kitchen counter of a house I'm all too familiar with. My mother and I are giggling to each other as we force our gingerbread men to dance across the countertop, and the video fades to black. Tears are flowing freely down my face as words form on the screen.
Thank you for teaching me what Christmas is all about.
My little tree was decorated, filled with lights, candy canes, memories and tiny glittering snowflakes that cast the shimmer of twinkly lights across the room. I put on my Christmas playlist and slipped my red apron over my white sweater and black stretchy pants. My white fuzzy slippers were shuffling feet around the kitchen floor as I pulled out all the ingredients I needed to follow through with my Christmas ritual. As much as I had hoped this year would be different, it turned out to be just as lonely as the others, but I wasn't going to let Lauren Mallory ruin my night.
I slid the cookie sheets onto the counter and diligently lined them with parchment paper as I heard a knock at the door. Smoothing a hand over my apron, I glanced in the mirror, pushing my hair to one side and wiping my fingers under my eyes, trying to smooth away some of the runny black from tears. My eyes were too pink and swollen to hide the sadness there, it was no use. It was probably Mrs. Cope from next door looking for her cat again. I just moved to pull the door open, a blast of cold seeping it's way inside as I came face to face with Edward Cullen.
"Edward? What're you — " my words were cut off by a shake of his head, snowflakes falling from his hair and his frantic words, breathy and rushed froze me in place.
"I wanted it to be you." His cheeks were red from the cold and his perfectly messy hair was standing in so many different directions, I just wanted to pull him inside. His voice was soft and strong all at the same time. "Bella, the last couple weeks, you've shown me what Christmas is supposed to be and I didn't realize how much of my life had gone cold. Then the emails, the Secret Santa stuff, the holiday market, it was the most fun I've had in years. Just being able to talk to someone who didn't want anything from me. I wanted it to be you."
I stared, stunned by his words, his admission. I had a feeling they stunned Edward just as much by the way his brows pulled together but he seemed to decide on something then and there, his hands pressed on either side of my door frame.
"Edward, I— " Again, my words were silenced but this time there were no words filling the air between us, it was the warmth of his lips pressed against mine. It lasted only for a moment and his eyes, burning bright green and fierce as he stared at me with an unanswered question. Swallowing audibly, I reached my hand out and dragged my fingers down the length of his tie, a playful smile on my face. Taking a step back, I pulled Edward with me, sucking in a breath as he crossed the threshold. His hands slid to my waist, slowly wrapping around me until I was trapped tight in his arms, the music in the background inviting to us both as he kicked the door closed behind him. "What about Lauren?"
"There is no Lauren, Bella. I was… I thought it was you, hoped for it, but tonight at the party, she told me she was my Secret Santa and gave me a tie. It felt wrong, something wasn't adding up. It wasn't until I opened your present that things started to make sense again. She gained access to our emails and read them, the ones that we'd exchanged on the company server, and tried to take advantage of it. I fired her."
"So she's not your girlfriend?" This time, his lips were soft, not rushed or frantic. It wasn't a desperate kiss lost in the moment, it was a question, an answer. It was a possibility and a beginning. His mouth moved so slowly, almost in awe as he experienced uncharted territory. After a few moments, my back was pressed against the wall, my arms curled behind his neck and my fingers had twisted in his ever messy hair, a smile on his lips as he stared down at me.
"You taste like hot cocoa and candy canes. I think I might like this Christmas stuff after all." I smile in response, but his eyes turn serious as he looks at me. "I got you something. I hope I'm not overstepping, I just… wanted to be a part of something. Maybe I can make this year mean something for the both of us."
I watch with baited breath as Edward opens his suit jacket and pulls a piece of metal from his inner coat pocket. He holds it out like a little boy offering his mother a present, and I flit my gaze from his face to the preferred gift before hesitantly Pulling it into my own hands. It's a stainless steel cookie cutter in the shape of a gingerbread man, something that would be considered simple if not for the meaning behind it. Tears spring to my eyes and I stare at Edward as I will them not to fall. "It's perfect."
Swallowing, I grab Edwards hand and lead him towards the kitchen. "I have one condition though. You have to lose the tie."
Baking with Edward proves to be one of the best moments I've ever experienced. His sleeves are rolled up and he doesn't seem to mind the flour that's sprinkled in his hair and smudged across his cheek. The overpriced button down will likely never see another day with the way he's squeezing the bag of black frosting. Smiling, I giggle under my breath and flick a sprinkle at him., my eyes lighting up as he peers up at me with a smirk on his face. Setting down his bag of frosting, Edward lifts up his gingerbread man, a little guy adorning a suit and tie.
Before I can compliment him, he opens his mouth. "This gingerbread man, well, he's the CEO of a company. Kind of arrogant if you ask me. He doesn't really care about anybody but himself. Not necessarily out of selfishness, but more so a general lack of trust in people. Then a girl comes along." Pausing in his story, Edward reaches for the cookie I'm decorating, a girl with bows for buttons. "The guy doesn't know it yet, but she's going to sweep him off his feet. She's going to change his way of thinking, change the way he feels about little things like cookies and reindeer and Christmas and favorite fucking colors."
Edwards eyes have been fixated on the gingerbread men in his hands, so he doesn't see my eyes as I blink away tears, doesn't see the way I stare at his face and commit the moment to memory as he sets the cookies down on the flour dusted countertop and draws a heart around the pair.
Without any hesitation, I reach up and tug him down to my level, my hand immediately curling behind his neck as I bring my lips to his. His arms were around me before I had a chance to say anything in the moment between our breathy kisses. The way he kissed me, it wasn't rushed or frantic. It was soft and perfect. His hands wrapped around me, pulling me closer as he walked us towards the living room couch, his lips never leaving mine. As we sank down onto the couch, his words came as a whisper against my lips. "Merry Christmas, my Little Santa."
Laughing, I lean back, my eyes bright as I take in Edwards unkempt hair and slightly swollen lips. "Merry Christmas, Edward."
Happy Holidays! Virtual gingerbread cookies for all those who read and review!