Disclaimer:

I don't own any of these characters or the books. No matter how much I wish I did.

Summary:

Edward must travel south to Georgia for a business deal between his and Carlisle's company, and a local company looking for funding for medical research. Carlisle sets Edward up to stay with an old friend of his and it's there he meets Bella. But when an old boyfriend of Bella's come back into the picture and threatens her life and her happiness, will Edward be able to save her? Even if it's from herself?

AN:

I'm going to try and keep the characters from going too far into OOC-land but Bella will probably spend a bit of time there. I'll try and make it believable OOC-ness though.

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Edward POV

I hadn't been in Georgia for a full hour and already I wanted to leave. It was hot, humid and uncomfortable and I missed my chilly Chicago wind. As soon as I set foot off the plane, the muggy air closed in on me and make it more then a little difficult to breath. How did people stand it down here?

At least the actual flight had been pleasant. I'd spent the majority of it staring at my laptop, going over reports and spreadsheets for the upcoming business agreement. Cullen Medical Industries was looking to fund research for a new miracle cure of sorts, something designed to attack multiple forms of cancer, putting off the spread of the diseases until a better cure or treatment could be administered. If the research paid off, thousands of cancer victims could be given a second chance at life.

The company asking for the funding , Alexi Laboratories, was small time overall, but they had the most promising theories and ideas. So, being vice president of CMI, I was the one who would be responsible for determining if Alexi Laboratories had a promising chance for research.

I picked up lunch at the airport, not wanting to waste much time in getting to my lodgings. I'd love to say, getting to my hotel, but Carlisle, my father and the president of CMI, thought that while I was down here, I should experience 'true Southern hospitality' so he'd called in a favor from an old friend of his and gotten me a room with said friend on his ranch. An honest to God ranch. Where my city-slicker skills would do me absolutely no good.

But, no matter how much I'd argued the point, he hadn't listened. I, of course, could have just waited until I arrived and gotten my own hotel in Atlanta, much closer to my reason for being here, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I respected my father far too much to pull such a childish gesture. Such gestures were meant to be outgrown before a man reached his twenties and, being twenty-three, I was more then old enough to be an adult about the whole thing.

Beside, I told myself. It could be fun. Ride a few horses, relax in the joys of country living, far away from the noise and bustle of the big city. Fun, right. Yeah. About that.

I sighed and stepped out of the air-conditioned airport and into the hot Georgia summer. There were cab driver's waiting along the curb of the pick up and drop off area where I now stood, just waiting for passengers. At least getting a cab was easier here.

I piled my three bags into the trunk of a bright yellow cab and climbed into the back, handing the driver the printout with the address of my destination. The driver looked back at me with a questioning look. "This is going to be an expensive ride, son."

I shrugged and sat back in the worn seat with a sigh. "It's okay. I can cover the fare."

The driver handed me the paper back after writing the address in some kind of a log and turned the car on, pulling into the mild congestion in front of the Atlanta Airport. "I wasn't worried about you paying, son. Just letting you know."

I nodded without a word and relaxed as best as I could. The cab driver had the air conditioner going full blast but I was still sweating. Hooking a finger under the knot of my tie I pulled, loosening it and unbuttoning the top button of my white dress shirt. Not much better but every little bit counts.

When we reached the city limits, it was almost a physical line between city life and the country. The two lane road we were traveling down was lined with trees on one side, providing little in the way of sightseeing, while the other side was field after field of some kind of crop. I recognized cotton a few times but couldn't place the other kinds, if there was more then one other.

About thirty minutes into the journey we got stuck behind a tractor that took up the entire road. There had to have been at least a dozen vehicles in front of us, all of them dirty trucks that looked like they'd been literally drug through the mud a few times. I watched as each of the trucks took to a little off road driving, one almost rolling into the ditch that was currently lining the road, to get around the tractor. I felt a little surge of irritation that we were going to be stuck behind the tractor when the ditch flattened out and the cabbie followed the truck drivers.

The rest of the drive was uneventful as I took in the few sights. I saw, far in the distance, the outline of mountains, but didn't think much of it. They weren't close and I wasn't one for loving nature in the sense of actually getting out in it.

An hour and a half after we started out, the cab driver pulled onto a long dirt road that seemed to go on for forever. It was pocketed with ruts that threatened to destroy the cars' suspension but the cabbie deftly avoided the worst ones. The trees on either side of the dirt road cleared about five minutes in and the clearing the revealed was huge.

The rest of the dirt road was smooth as silk, or as smooth as dirt can be. We pulled to a stop in front of a two story cabin-type home that was the very definition of rustic. A wide front porch stretched the entire length of the front of the house and four rocking chairs were positioned, two on each end , with a small, round wooden table between the pairs. A large garage was attached to the far side of the house.

The driver was helping me get my things out of the trunk when a woman came out the front door, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, both of which looked far too clean with the cloud of dirt settling around the cab. She had light brown hair pulled back into some kind of a bun at her neck and a friendly, welcoming smile that made me like her instantly.

She came down the three steps from the porch to the ground and held out her hand to me. "You must be Edward. Carlisle's told me so much about you. I'm Esme."

I smiled and took her hand in both of mine, giving a gentle squeeze before letting it drop. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Esme. I'm sorry to say Carlisle hasn't told me anything in return."

Her laugh was infectious and I felt my smile widen as the cabbie closed the trunk. "Oh no worries, dear. I'm sure he just didn't want to frighten you too badly."

I paid the cabbie, not even blinking at the exuberant fair. I'd expected it and was actually pleased to see it cost less then I had originally estimated. The cabbie shook my hand and wished me a pleasant stay, having accurately assumed I wasn't from anywhere around here, and drove away. I watched his tail lights fade in the cloud of dust he left behind him and turned back to Esme.

"Well, come on now, let's get you settled in." She smiled again and grabbed one of my suitcases. I stepped forward to try and take it from her, my inner gentleman coming out, but she was already up the steps and in the door. I picked up my other two and my laptop case and followed.

The front door opened up to a living room that took up at least half of the bottom floor. A large, comfy looking sectional sofa took up on corner, facing a flat screen TV and full entertainment center. A love seat and two recliners, a wooden coffee table that looked like it might have been hand made, and end tables by the couch and loveseat made up the rest of the living room furniture. A few buck heads hung along the wall, the points on their huge antlers having been dulled.

A staircase was situated off to the right side of the living room, behind the shortest part of the sectional. Esme led me upstairs and down a hall to the left. The room she waved me into was a good size, a huge king size bed taking up part of it but still leaving plenty of room for the dresser, chest of drawers and walking room. A woven carpet was placed between the foot of the bed and the dresser.

"This will be your room, Edward. Put your stuff away and meet me in the kitchen. I'll give you a guided tour of the property." With another smile she turned and left, shutting the door behind her.

I sighed and put my bags at the foot of the bed, dropping down on the side and laying on my back. I stared up at the ceiling, contemplating my immediate future. Carlisle and I estimated I'd be down here for at least a month with the possibility of extending my stay if things went well.

After a few minutes I got back up and unpacked my things, hanging up my clothes in the closet rather then putting them in the drawers. Although my boxers and socks went into the dresser. I plugged the power cord to my laptop in and hooked it up to charge the nearly dead battery. Leaving the computer on the dresser, I glanced in the attached mirror as I took my tie off.

Heading back downstairs, I found the kitchen easily enough, having just followed some wonderful smell that was wafting through the lower level of the house. The kitchen was a long, galley style kitchen that, while giving the air of being rustic and simple, had all modern appliances. How Esme had managed to pull off modern and country, I'd never understand.

I found Esme standing in front of the lower of the double ovens with the door pulled down halfway. I assumed she was checking on whatever was cooking. A large pot was on the stovetop and a smaller one on the element next to it. My dress shoes made soft thumps on the hardwood floor as I approached and she stood, smiling as she closed the oven door.

"That smells really good, Esme. What is it?" I asked, polite appreciation in my voice.

"That, Edward, is dinner. You'll find out what later." She wiped her hands on a towel that was hanging off the bar on the oven door and gestured for me to follow her. "Alright, let's get you acquainted with the place." She walked down the long kitchen and into what looked like a formal dining room. "This is the dining room. We eat two meals a day here - breakfast and dinner - and I'd like it if you'd join us when we do." A smile took the motherly edge from her voice.

She gestured with her hand through a set of open double doors. "In there is the study. You're welcome to it if you need it but you might have to fight with my niece for the chair in the corner. She likes to read by the window." She turned on her heel and went back down the kitchen and out a door along the opposite wall.

The back of the house had a desk with a large, professional looking grill and a outdoor seating area against the balcony. Down a half dozen steps and we were on the grass in the backyard. She led me across a large backyard to a long barn. "We keep the horses in here. If you're unfamiliar with horses I would ask that you have someone here come with you to the barn."

She opened a door to the side of the large barn door and led me inside. The first half of the barn was stables while the back half seemed to be storage for riding necessities along with the parking spot for a large tractor much like the one we'd gotten stuck behind on the ride out here. Five horses filled all but one of the stables.

"I doubt you'll ever end up here, but just in case you need something, I want you familiar with the place." She explained when I looked confused. And that just cleared my confusion right up.

At the opposite end of the barn was another large barn door, this one fully opened and revealing a huge, grassy clearing where a lone horse was grazing. I took all of this in with an awed mindset, unable to really contemplate living this kind of life. I was too set in my city ways.

We were walking back to the house when I heard the distance sound of a vehicle approaching. We stopped and I glanced out toward the tree line, the far, far away tree line. After a few seconds, something roared out of the trees. I heard Esme sigh and looked over in time to see her shake her head before turning back to what I now saw was an approaching ATV.

It didn't take more then a few seconds before the ATV reached us and I saw the girl riding it. She had long, dark brown hair that was pulled back into a pony tail, the ends tangled together from her ride, mud caked into the strands. A pair of mud-splattered dark sunglasses covered her eyes and more mud was caked in streaks and smears onto her strangely pale skin.

"Bella." Esme said, drawing the name out in disapproval. "I thought I told you to stay out of the mud pit after a rain."

The girl, Bella, flashed a grin as Esme as she swung her leg off the ATV. She was wearing a pair of blue jeans that were so worn they had actual holes in the thighs and knees - not the designer holes that people paid hundreds of dollars for. The were faded from multiple washings and were also covered in mud. She wore a t-shirt with the sleeves and hem torn off, the once white fabric looking like it had been washed in brown water - more mud, I assumed -and giving tiny peaks at her stomach when she moved.

"Sorry, Aunt Esme. I couldn't resist. Jake and Sam--" Esme held up a hand to stop Bella's explanation, a smile on her lips. Did this woman ever get angry? Don't answer that.

"Don't worry about it, Bella." She dropped her hand and gestured to me. "This is Carlisle's son, Edward. Remember I told you he'd be staying with us for a while?"

Bella reached up and pulled her sunglasses off her face. It was then that I realized exactly how much mud she was covered in. The area around her eyes, where the glasses had covered, was a porcelain color, a full ten shades whiter then the rest of her. She gave me a quick once over and blushed when I flashed her a knowing smile, the color tinting her cheeks.

"Edward," Esme continued her introduction. "This is my niece, Isabella."

Bella groaned at Esme. "Come on, you know I hate that." And I was back to being confused.

Esme rubbed one of the bigger spots of mud off Bella's face. "Oh, don't whine, Bella. It was just for introduction." Ah, I assumed she had meant her full name. I personally didn't see what was wrong with it. It was a pretty name and she was a pretty girl. Wow, did I just think that.

I sighed to myself, pulling my thoughts back to the business aspect of my trip and away from the pretty niece of my father's friend. "It's nice to meet you, Bella." I hoped I'd picked up on her preference to not being called Isabella. The small smile she flashed me let me know I had picked right.

"I'd shake your hand but you look a little too clean for me to touch until I shower." And there was that blush again. I thought over what she said and smirked, thinking just how wrong that sounded.

Esme turned and started for the house. "Put that thing away, Bella, and go wash up. Dinner's in an hour." I followed her back inside with a single glance back to see Bella swinging her leg back over the ATV and starting it up, driving around the barn and out of sight.

Bella POV

I parked the ATV in the barn next to the tractor that hardly ever got used. Ever since we stopped growing our crops, we hadn't had much use for it. But we kept it in good condition in case we needed or, as was most often the situation, in case the Black's needed it. They did still grow their own crops and their equipment tended to break down near the end of the season. We'd offer to give them the tractor but old Billy was too proud.

I grinned to myself, thoughts of the Blacks bringing back thoughts of the afternoon. We'd had a good rain yesterday and the mud pit was full. Jake and his brother Sam had come by this morning and practically dragged me out of bed. We'd spent the day with most of the rest of the older teens in the area, splashing mud, flipping ATV's, getting trucks stuck. My own truck was still stuck in the mud. I was going back after dinner with Sam to try and pull it out. I'd gotten the beast stuck real good this time.

I wiped my hands over my face as I grabbed a few long carrots and walked into the pasture and Misty, the lone horse out there grazing. She didn't like to feed with the other horses, a personality quirk that amused the hell out of me while giving me no end of worry. I made sure to approach from her side so she could see me coming.

Her tail flicked, driving away the flies that were bothering her, and she lifted her head. I ran my hand up her nose, murmuring hello's in her ear and feeding her one of the carrots. I untied the long rope that was wrapped around my waist, its function as a belt fairly useless. I wrapped the smooth rope around Misty's head, creating a make-shift bridle. Not exactly the way you should do it but she was easy tempered and usually only required a little nudge to get her moving.

Another carrot held out to her and the end of the rope in my hand giving a gentle tug got her walking back toward the barn. I got her into her stable and took the rope off, threading it back through my belt loops. I reached down and pinched the back of each of her ankles to get her to give me her foot, checking each of her hooves as I did to all the horses after bringing them in from the pasture.

Satisfied that there no foreign objects to worry about, I brushed out her mane and tail before giving her a kiss on the side of her nose and heading back into the house. I hurried upstairs to my room and had stripped before I had eve made it to the shower. A quick turn of the knob and a few seconds to let the water heat up.

I stepped under the spray, letting the warmth envelope me and relax tense muscles that had gotten good use today. I washed my hair twice until the water ran clean and then went about scrubbing the mud from my body. I was fully covered in it, having stripped down to my underwear and jumped in more then once to try and get one vehicle or another unstuck without having to pull it out.

I felt better after my shower and dressed quickly in a clean pair of jeans and a less ragged and torn t-shirt, this one with the phrase Country Girls Do It Better written in black across the white fabric. Esme hated the shirt, thinking it was degrading, but she knew I was a good kid and let me wear it.

She had told me not to wear the shirt while our guest was here unless I promised not to demonstrate whether the statement was true or not. I don't think I'd blushed that hard in a long time and, after being introduced to our guest, I'd blushed even harder, remembering her comment. But, determined to not let some stranger I'd never even heard of before, though I'd heard many things about his father from Esme, embarrass me, I'd deliberately chosen to wear this shirt now.

Ten minutes later I was downstairs in the study. Esme was in the kitchen and I assumed our guest was in his room, the one right next to mine since the one next to Esme's was her office and not an actual bedroom anymore.

The study walls were covered with built in shelving that held hundreds of books, a good indication of mine and Esme's favorite hobby. A large desk sat against one wall with a comfy looking leather chair behind it. Four chairs sat in the room, two against the window, two against the wall. A dark wood, heavily lacquered, expensive looking table sat between each set of chairs. The other half of the room was taken up by a large piano. The whole room - desk, chairs, and especially the piano - had belonged to Esme's father before he died.

Propped up on a stand next to the piano was my second favorite hobby. I picked up my guitar and sat on the piano bench, running my fingers over the wood lovingly before pulling the pick from between the strings where I'd left it. A few chords and I was lost to the music. I strummed along to the music in my head, playing a succession of chords that I'd put together myself without any real thought as to what they might turn into.

Esme's voice broke into my trance and I put the guitar back on its stand, pocketing the pick for later use. I walked into the dining room that connected the study to the kitchen and found the table already set.

"Esme," I groaned. "Why didn't you get my attention sooner? I'd have set the table."

She just smiled at me as she put out a large plate of cornbread in the center of the table. "No worries, dear. Just go get Edward, would you please? He should still be in his room."

I sighed and gave her a look that warned her to let me do some of the work next time but she just smiled again and shooed me off. I took the stairs two at a time and knocked on Edward's door. He opened it wide and I froze, my eyes going wide and my face heating up at a blush took over.

He had just gotten out of a shower, his wet hair telling that tale clearly, and stood before me in all his shirtless glory. He had a pair of dress pants pulled up over his hips but they were unbuttoned and hanging loose on his hips, revealing boxers and a very defined V of muscle that led further south. I dragged my gaze back up to his face, my eyes taking in the hardened planes of his chest and his six pack abs.

By the time I met his gaze - oh my god, his eyes were gorgeous - I was nearly dizzy from my blush. His expression was shocked and he glanced down, realizing his state of undress. He quickly buttoned his pants and shrugged into the shirt he'd been holding in his hands. "I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking." His voice was velvet against my skin and I made the decision right then and there that I needed to leave.

I cleared my throat and dropped my gaze to the floor, figuring staring at hardwood was better then staring at hard abs. "Um, I just wanted to let you know dinner's ready."

I heard him shift and risked a glance up to see him. "Okay. I'll be right down."

I nodded and turned on my heel, practically running for the stairs. I heard his door shut when I was halfway down and made a beeline straight for the kitchen. I helped Esme fill three bowls with chicken and dumplings and set them on the table at each place setting.

I heard the footsteps on the stairs and took my place at the side of the table while Esme took hers at the head. Edward came into the dining room and I fought the blush that wanted to scald my face again.

Chill out, Bella, I scolded myself. It's not like you saw him naked! And then my thoughts went to what he might look like naked, what that muscled body would be like sans clothing. Oh, fuck. I couldn't stop the blush this time and dipped my head, willing it to go away.

The chair across from mine scrapped along the floor quietly as he sat down. He and Esme exchanged a brief conversation before we started eating, though what they talked about I couldn't say. The blood was pounding in my ears far too loudly. The next month was going to be the longest of my life.

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Reviews are welcome (and secretly longed for). I'm putting another chapter up on Flirting with Disaster tomorrow afternoon so be on the lookout. : ): ): )