A/N: My WINNING entry for the Men at Work contest... also, one of the reasons the next chapter of Rising from the Ashes is taking me like 47 years. I'm finishing an entry for the Southern Twi-Night contest as well, and then back to the main event. There's a teaser for RFTA on my blog... check out my profile for the links.
FIRST PLACE VOTER'S CHOICE!! ...and my first win EVER. YAY!
Without further ado, I bring you... Custom Built.
New York City
It all started with a letter…
My Dearest Isabella,
If you are reading this, then I'm sure you – along with the rest of the family – are wondering what this is all about. I will do my best to explain, though words sometimes fail me. They do not fail you, do they Isabella? No – your novels are full of words that succeed in conveying the strongest of emotions in the most beautiful and haunting prose. Alas… for me it is not so. Look at this, you see? I have already gotten off-topic.
In short, I have decided to leave you the property and the cabin in Dillon, Colorado. Tanya and Jane will most likely be angry – as will Renee for that matter – but I am to the point in my life that I really don't care what they think of me. My children have been waiting for me to die for years. I fear they are far too materialistic, and often wonder where I went wrong in raising them. But I digress… after more than nine decades on this earth, I decided that I wished to leave my most prized possessions to those who would find the most enjoyment out of them. And that is why I leave this to you.
I know, I know. It's been years. And I am truly sorry. But I need you to know that I have followed your career every step of the way and am so proud of all you have accomplished. My little Isabella. I have read and re-read all of your published works. They hold a place of honor in my personal literary collection – a collection that resides in the cabin. A collection that I also leave to you.
In my mind, I envision you sitting on the back porch with a mug of hot tea and your laptop, composing your next great novel. I can see you sitting by the fireplace in the winter reading an old book of poetry from my shelves. Perhaps you will have a cat curled at your feet. This is why you, Isabella, are to get the cabin. You will see it for what it is – a retreat for the soul.
Your mother and I had our falling out so many years ago, and I honestly don't know what we began arguing about in the first place. We let years go by – both of us too proud to back down. My only regret is that I neglected my relationship with you. You are the one in the family most like me – intelligent, quiet and contemplative. An old soul with a stubborn streak.
Please, Isabella, I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive an arrogant, stubborn old man. It is with the hope of your forgiveness that I offer you the cabin as well as a small sum of money for various renovations. I'm afraid I haven't been keeping up with it as I should these past few years. Please use whatever money is left over to assist in advancing your career. Never stop writing.
With Love, Uncle Marcus
"Now let the night be dark for all of me.
Let the night be too dark for me to see
Into the future. Let what will be, be."
– Robert Frost, Acceptance
When I got a certified letter from the Volterra Law Group requesting my presence at the reading of the Last Will and Testament of Marcus Swan on January 8, 2009, I almost threw it away. I hadn't even spoken to my uncle in over ten years. What could they possibly have to say to me? Apparently, a lot.
As soon as I walked into the conference room, one of the attorneys in charge of the estate led me to a seat near the head of the table and handed me a handwritten letter. He instructed me to go ahead and read it while the other family members arrived, saying that it would answer most of my questions. Marcus must have informed them that I would have a lot.
To say that my inheritance was a shock would be a gross understatement. In fact, once the entire family was made aware of my good fortune, I was positive you could hear the uproar from space. When it was announced that I was to receive the cabin as well as a cash stipend for renovations to the property, 'livid' would have accurately described over half of the people in the room. When the cash stipend was listed as ten million dollars, Marcus' daughter Jane literally dove across the table at me and had to be forcibly removed from the conference room.
See, I wasn't even technically his niece.
Marcus was my grandfather's brother, making me his grand-niece… great-niece… or maybe something once-removed? I wasn't ever sure of that part. But that didn't matter. What mattered was that he skipped over his own five children and their entire families as well as a multitude of other various relations to give me the cabin.
A cabin I had no idea what to do with.
My life was in New York City, and it had been since my first year as an undergrad at Columbia. At eighteen, I had been drawn in by the bright lights and the big city, as well as the scholarship money that Columbia had been so willing to offer me. Although it had taken me far from home, the move made sense at the time.
Staying there after I graduated made sense as well. I finished my first novel at twenty-one, shopped it around and had a book contract with one of the top New York publishing houses by the time I completed my degree. I was living every Lit major's dream. The bustle and drama of the city was my muse… for awhile at least.
After ten years, however, I was slowly growing tired of New York. The bustle and drama that had once inspired me was slowly morphing into stifling claustrophobia. It might be nice to go for a jog without taking five thousand other people with me. It might be nice to have peace and quiet without the aid of noise-cancelling headphones. And it might be nice to live in more than a thousand square feet of space.
I just didn't know if I was ready to uproot my entire life for a run-down cabin in the Colorado wilderness.
New York City
"Vicki, I'm doing it. I'm moving."
My editor looked up at me over her bright green reading glasses with shock in her eyes, "What?!?"
"I'm moving. To Colorado."
"Why the hell would you want to do that?" she asked, with a hint of derision in her tone.
"Because I can. Because I'm starting to hate the chaos of the city. And because I want to. I need a change, and this is my opportunity. I'm not happy here."
Vicki put down my manuscript and sighed, "When are you leaving me?"
"I'm not leaving you. I can write there just as easily as I can here. I want to renovate the cabin this spring and summer and I hope to be moved in by the end of August."
"So… you'll be moved in just in time for a Rocky Mountain winter. Sounds awesome. You have fun with that."
"Is that sarcasm, Vik?" I asked with a smile.
She smirked, "Yeah. Don't tell my other writers that I have a sense of humor. You'll destroy my reputation as a ball-busting bitch."
I smiled back at her, "I won't tell. And nice alliteration, by the way."
"Thanks," she said as she turned her attention back to the draft in front of her.
When I checked my email the following morning, there was one from my dad with a list of construction companies out of Colorado that could help me with renovating the cabin. I had told him that I wanted to do this myself, but he insisted on looking into some companies for me, telling me that it was his job as a father to ensure that his daughter didn't hire 'some wack-job.' There were three firms listed in the email, but only one was typed out in bold italics – obviously his first choice. I smiled to myself; subtlety had never been my father's strong suit.
EMC Construction. Hmmmmm.
I clicked on the link to their website and went directly to the photo gallery to see what kind of results I could expect if I worked with them. After clicking around for a few minutes, I was pleased with the portfolio of their residential work – old world charm with a modern undercurrent. It seemed that they might be exactly what I was looking for. From their homepage, I navigated to the "Contact Us" page and dialed the main office number.
A man with a low baritone answered after the first ring, "EMC Construction, this is Emmett."
"Hi, Emmett. My name is Bella. Bella Swan. I recently inherited some property in Dillon… it's right on the lake, and I'm interested in doing some renovations to the cabin. I don't really know the area well – I'm actually living in New York right now – but my father found your company online and suggested that I give you a call."
"Sure thing… let me see… do you mind giving me the address of the property? I can look up the location online to get a feel for the area we're talking about."
I gave him the address and there was a short pause while the map loaded, "Okay. I've got it here." He let out a low whistle, "That's a nice piece of land. What are you thinking about doing to the home?"
"Well… no one's lived in it for about ten years. My great-uncle has owned it for about sixty-or-so years but for the past ten he was pretty much only out there for a week or two in the summer. I'm afraid it hasn't been well maintained. I need to update just about everything… but I don't want to ruin its charm, you know? It's still a mountain cabin."
Emmett sounded happy about that, "That sounds like something we would definitely be interested in. Have you had a chance to check out our website?"
"I have, actually. I was really impressed with your photo gallery. Some of those homes… they're just so beautiful. It's exactly how I want mine to look."
"Oh, I know," he said. "They're gorgeous. That's all Edward, though. His main trade is carpentry, but he's got a great eye for design. He's turned into a huge asset for us."
"Sorry, I guess I should tell you a bit about our company before I start throwing out names, shouldn't I? I started EMC Construction with my two brothers, Edward and Jasper, about six years ago. Jasper and I generally manage the larger commercial projects while Edward handles the residential side of the business. I don't have the patience for detail like he does. He's really the one you should talk to." I immediately liked that they were a family business. Maybe that's what my father had discovered in his search.
"Okay," I replied, "is he in?"
"Not this morning. He out at a job site, and we never know how long those consults are going to take. Can I have him call you this afternoon?"
"Sure," I replied. After giving Emmett my contact information, he asked a few more basic questions regarding my estimated budget and desired timeline. He seemed surprised that I didn't really care how much it was going to cost me, but Marcus left me with ten million dollars to renovate the place so I figured I might as well go all the way.
"Hey, Edward?" My brother's voice travelled down the hallway of our small office space.
"I think I've got a pretty sweet project for you… custom home remodel."
Those were the magic words. I rose from my desk and made my way down toward Emmett's office at the end of the hall. When I got to his doorway I asked, "Let's see it, where's the property?"
"Here. Well… not 'here' but only about fifteen minutes down the road. It's right on the lake over in Dillon," he replied while handing me a slim folder.
His eyes lit up, "Yeah. Real nice piece of land. I spoke to the woman on the phone who inherited it. She called this morning. It's been in her family for over sixty years or something… hasn't been lived in for about ten. She wants a total re-do while leaving the feel of the place the same. You know, modern amenities with a mountain style. Sounded like something you'd be interested in."
Emmett was right. This did sound like a great project for me. I detested people who bought land up here only to tear down the existing structure and build a modern monstrosity in its place. If this woman wanted an old-school mountain renovation with modern perks, we could definitely be on the same page. I only had one more question for Emmett before I decided to call the lady back to see if we might work well together, "You didn't note a budget on here. Did she give you an idea of what she's looking at?"
My brother's smile grew, "No budget. Anything goes."
I whipped my head up to see if he was joking, "Are you serious? This shit can get expensive, you know that. I've done 2.5, even 3 million dollar remodels up here." If there was no limit on cost, that meant there was also no limit on my commission. This could be a nice little job for me.
"Dude. Seriously. Talk to her… you'll see what I mean. She's dead set on this. No limit."
"Alright, I'll go give her a call," I said as I shoved everything he had back into the file and took it back down the hallway to my office. Bella Swan. Nice name. Okay, Bella Swan, let's see if we get along.
While the line was ringing, I took a few seconds to glace at her personal information… Current Location: New York City… Occupation: writer… a small voice on the other end of the line interrupted my browsing, "Hello?"
"Hello, Ms. Swan?"
"Yes, this is she."
"Ms. Swan, this is Edward Cullen with EMC Construction in Frisco, Colorado. Is this a good time to speak to you about your property in Dillon?"
"Edward, hi! I was hoping you would call. Your… brother, I guess? Emmett? He told me that you would be the person to talk to about the kind of remodel I'm looking for." Her voice was warm and inviting.
"Well," I responded, "Why don't you tell me a little bit about the current state of the property as well as what you're looking to have done."
She took a deep breath before answering me, "Here's the thing… I haven't been out at the cabin since I was thirteen. I have no idea what it looks like now. I… well, I kind of inherited it. It's a long story." I waited for her to go on, but she didn't.
"Yes, that's what Emmett said. You haven't come out to look at it though?"
"Um… no? I keep meaning to make the trip out there, but I just haven't had the time. I've got a deadline in ten days and I've been chained to my laptop." She paused before continuing, "I'm a writer. Hence the deadline… and the chains. Anyway, I wanted to come out right after that, probably like two weeks from now. But I don't really know what to expect, you know? And I don't know anyone in Colorado… so I was hoping perhaps we could go out and look at it together while I'm there. If that's okay with you, of course."
"Uh… yeah. Yes. Absolutely." Nice Cullen. Get a grip. She's a voice on a phone. For some reason, I had momentarily lost myself in her words while she was talking… somewhere around 'chains.' She sounded so nice… so normal. And her voice was beautiful. "I just have a few questions about your expectations, if that's alright. I like to talk things over with my clients to make sure we'll get along well and that we're on the same page. I mean, we're going to be working together on your home. It's very personal, so it's important to me that I make sure we would work well together."
"Oh, sure. Of course. That makes sense. What do you want to know?"
"Okay, first of all, Emmett said you wanted to preserve the current feel of the home. What does that mean to you?"
"Um… what does that mean? Well, I like the idea of using a lot of the original structure – you know the exposed beam ceilings and the stacked stone fireplace… there are a lot of windows, if I'm remembering correctly and I would want to upgrade those. And I mean, I want appliances that work, you know? So… I know I'm rambling a bit here, but I guess it means that I want a modern house with a kind of 'old ski lodge' look. But without the animal heads over the fireplace. And with quilts. I love handmade quilts… and overstuffed furniture. Cozy. I want it to be cozy."
Her train of thought was adorable, and I could feel my face break into a smile at her words. This was exactly the type of project I loved working on. "Ms. Swan, I think you and I are going to get along just fine. I already have a head full of ideas and a list of subcontractors to call."
Her laughter rang out like a chorus of bells over the phone line, "That's great! I'm so excited to get started. I would love for it to be finished by the end of summer."
"I think we can arrange that. One more thing…"
"As far as your budget is concerned…"
"Oh. I thought I told your brother. There is no budget."
"That's what he said, but I wanted to make sure he heard you correctly. I've got to say, it would be a first for me to work without limitations."
She laughed again, "He heard me correctly. No budget."
I smiled, "Okay. But you can't say I didn't warn you. I've got quite the imagination."
"Really. It's okay. Like I said… long story. We can talk more about it in person when we go look at the cabin," I could practically hear her smiling over the phone line.
"Well alright then. I really look forward to meeting you, Ms. Sw-"
"Please," she cut me off. "Call me Bella. Ms. Swan makes me feel old. I'm only twenty-eight and Ms. Swan makes me sound like some old spinster."
"Okay… Bella," I said, emphasizing the use of her first name. "I look forward to meeting you in two weeks and taking a look at your property."
"Oh, me too. I'll call you in a few days and we can set up a meeting once I book my flight. Is that okay with you?"
"It's perfect. Talk to you then."
"Okay, bye." And she was gone.
I suddenly found myself looking forward to her call in a few days. Hmmm… twenty-eight, huh?
The phone rang three times before I heard Edward's familiar voice on the other end, "Hey, Bella. Are you on your way?"
"Yeah, I think so."
He laughed lightly, "You think so?"
"Well, the roads are confusing over here… I think I made a wrong turn back on Idyllwild… ugh… Oh! never mind! Ha! Found it. I'll be right there."
"Okay," he chuckled. "See you in a minute."
As soon as I found the street number and turned down the long drive, an odd nervousness settled deep in my stomach. This isn't going to be weird. He's just a normal guy. You've talked to him on the phone. For some reason though, just talking to Edward on the phone had made me insanely anxious to meet him. I couldn't put my finger on it, but there was just something about his voice that drew me in.
When I rounded the last curve of the driveway, I knew immediately that it wasn't just going to be his voice that drew me in. The man leaning on the front of a large tan pick-up truck was stunningly handsome. Edward was easily six foot two with a mop of unruly reddish-brown hair and a strong jaw. He was wearing tight, dark jeans that hugged his legs and a green and black plaid button-down shirt with dark work boots. His shoulders were broad, his waist was narrow and his smile was disarming. He looked good. While I parked my rental car and struggled to close my mouth and hide the drool, he sauntered over to my door to open it for me.
A gentleman too? Mmmppfff.
"Bella?" he asked with an outstretched hand and a thousand-watt smile. Up close, I could see his piercing green eyes as they sparkled in the sunlight. My knees may have actually gone weak as I stood from the car.
"I… uh… yes. Hi. Edward?" He nodded and took my hand.
"That's me." Yes. Yes it is.
"It's so nice to finally meet you," I managed to say. And if I had known how beautiful you were, I would have hopped on a plane two and a half weeks ago.
"You too. So it looks like we've got our work cut out for us, huh?"
I let go of the handshake and looked up at him dumbly, "We do?"
"Yeah. The cabin. Looks like it's going to need some serious upgrades. Especially if you are planning on living here during the winter months." The cabin! I hadn't even looked at the cabin, I was so engrossed in looking at him. Good Lord.
I finally turned my attention to the building in front of me. I could see immediately what he meant about living here in the winter – many of the windows were permanently fogged, their seals probably broken years ago, the peaked roof looked like it had seen much better days, the porch steps looked dangerous and various native plants had overgrown what was left of the front walk. And this was just the beginning. I cringed.
I turned back to Edward and sighed, "Yeah. Looks like this is going to be a bit more work than I thought. I really hope we can finish it this summer… I just can't imagine staying in New York past the end of July." I had spent a lot of time deciding to move out here, and now I just wanted it to happen.
He smiled down at me, "I think we can definitely finish this up in August. If money is still no object, I can work miracles." Oh, I just bet you can. He gestured toward the cabin and raised his eyebrows, "Shall we?"
I tentatively walked toward the dilapidated porch stairs, "Sure."
After successfully navigating the porch gauntlet, Edward and I spent the next few hours discussing everything I wanted to do with the space inside. We were pleased to see that the interior had fared much better than the exterior, which Edward said was normal given the extreme weather conditions in the mountains. He spent the time taking careful notes on everything I said and asking a million questions about my preferences.
The main floor of the cabin was completely open with vaulted ceilings. A short flight of stairs led up above the kitchen to the open loft space, which was also the only bedroom. Directly across from the loft was a stacked-stone fireplace that went up the entire length of the wall, making the room look even taller than it was. A large porch came off of the living room with a fantastic view of the lake and surrounding mountains. The only bathroom was off of the kitchen near the stairs, and beneath the stairway to the loft another set of stairs led down to the second level of the home.
The second level was below-ground in the front of the house, but the hillside gradient allowed for a walk-out patio in the back directly underneath the upper porch. This entire floor was devoted to the written word. Mismatched bookshelves lined the walls, their shelves sagging under the sheer weight of the paper from all the volumes. Boxes of unused books lay in the back corner. It seemed as though Uncle Marcus had run out of space.
Edward and I spent over an hour down there discussing my wishes for the large room. This was going to be my retreat and my workspace; I planned on spending most of my time down here. My main requirements were new sturdy bookshelves, a desk area for my writing, a window seat for reading and a fireplace to match the one upstairs. Just thinking about the fireplace reminded me of Uncle Marcus' letter, and I made a mental note to potentially get a kitten once I moved out here so I could fully realize his visions.
Once we had finished with our preliminary walk-through, we climbed the stairs back to the main floor and sat down at the old kitchen table to compare notes and ideas. I was feeling slightly overwhelmed at the amount of work involved, but Edward seemed confident.
"Alright, I see no reason that I can't finish this for you by August," he said.
"Wow," I replied, shocked at his declaration. "You think?"
He leaned back in the chair confidently, "Oh yeah. Absolutely. No problem. We can have you completely moved in before the first snow."
My lips turned up in an involuntary smile, "You seem pretty confident about that."
"Oh, I am." Jesus. Is it getting hot in here? But before I could decide whether to jump him or not, he had cleared his throat and changed the subject, "So. I know you have an aversion to this topic, but we do need to talk money. I'd like to draw up a contract this afternoon so we can meet at the office and sign it tomorrow morning. You know, make this whole thing official."
I shook the haze from my mind and tried to concentrate on something other than his lips, "Money. Yes. It's not that I have a particular aversion to it, per se… it's just a really weird situation and I wanted to meet you first." I hoped that last remark wouldn't offend him, but he didn't seem to mind.
"I totally understand. So… what's the deal with the funding?"
I took a deep breath before going into the whole story, "I honestly don't even know why I'm about to tell you all of this, but I feel like it will make more sense in the end if you hear it from the beginning. So just bear with me." He smiled encouragingly, so I continued. "My mom's parents died before I was born, so I never got to meet them. Her dad, my grandfather, had one brother – my great uncle Marcus – who always treated me like his own grandchild. We used to come out here every summer for family reunions, but when I was fourteen Marcus and my mother had some kind of major falling out. I never did find out what happened. Family stuff I guess… it really wasn't important. After that, I never came back to the cabin and I never spoke to Uncle Marcus again.
"He died at the end of this past December, and his will was read in January. I found out then that he wanted me to have the cabin. His kids were beyond angry with me, and I was shocked. I mean, fifteen years! We hadn't spoken in fifteen years and he left me this amazing place. He had written me a letter, so I would know his reasoning. And I guess it makes sense. Anyway… he also left me a rather large sum of money to renovate the cabin. It's something he had put off doing for years and he wanted me to be able to do it right I guess.
"So…uh, sorry about the long winded story, but now I kind of have ten million dollars to renovate this place," I finished quickly.
He inhaled sharply and choked a bit. "Um…ten million? Uh… we'll be fine. I don't think we could hit that if we tried."
"Well I would. Like to try, that is."
"Try to hit ten million?"
"Well, maybe not ten million… but I want to spend as much money as I can on the renovations. He told me to use whatever was leftover to further my career, but I make a pretty good living for myself."
He was chuckling at this point, "If you need someone to help you spend the money, I'm your guy. I can find the most expensive everything out there. That is not going to be a problem."
"Thank you. But can you see why I didn't want to just go throwing out numbers over the phone?"
"Yeah. I totally get that now. I wouldn't have wanted to throw that number around either."
"Exactly," I said with a nod.
We spent about another hour going over his notes, adding things here and there. As soon as Edward felt confident with his 'feel for the project,' we locked up the cabin and made plans to meet the following morning at his office so that I could sign a contract. Back out by our cars, he shook my hand and opened my car door for me. I thanked him politely and then totally checked out his ass when he walked back toward his truck.
"Okay, I'm going to send over two pictures. The first one is brushed nickel and the second one is pewter." I was standing in front of the doorknob display at the Ace Hardware store in Silverthorne and Bella was on the other end of the line.
"Aren't those the same color?" she asked.
"Not really… you'll see. Just look at them and call me back to let me know which one you want."
"Alright. Send 'em on over."
Bella and I had created an interesting working dynamic for ourselves. When I had originally taken on the job, I had no idea how it was going to work with her being out of state, but we had come up with a great system. If I had a question for her – such as which doorknobs she wanted to use – I would take pictures with my phone or send her to various websites and she would call me back to discuss what she wanted in the house. It was going pretty well, actually. As a writer, Bella generally had her laptop with her at all times so she could check her email from anywhere, and I was making great headway on the cabin.
Five minutes later, my phone rang. Before I even had a chance to say hello, she was speaking, "Edward, they look the same."
"They do not! There are definite differences. Maybe it just didn't come over well in the photos…" I mused.
She was laughing now, "I don't think it was the photos… I think they are the same doorknob."
It was somewhat surreal to be 'arguing' over the phone with a woman about doorknobs. Three months ago, I would have told you that this conversation would never happen in a million years. Now, however, I was thoroughly enjoying the back and forth banter with Bella. "I did not send you two pictures of the same doorknob. Just pick one."
"Which one do you like?" She always wanted my opinion.
"The pewter. It's heavier… plus it was forged, not poured."
"I have no idea what you are talking about."
"Alright… how about this: it's more expensive."
"Now that I understand. Get that one. I'm sure I'll like it if you do."
"Done. Your new pewter doorknobs will be on order this afternoon."
"Fabulous… and just out of curiosity, which picture was the pewter one?"
I looked down at the screen on my phone, "The second one."
"Oh good. I think I liked that one better anyways."
She was infuriating… and I loved it. "Bella! You just told me you couldn't tell the difference! You're killing me…" I groaned. She was laughing harder now. "Tell me one more time when you are going to be here for good and can pick this stuff out on your own?"
Her laughter died and she sighed into the phone, "Late July. I can't get away before then. I wish I could come sooner… but at any rate I think this is fun, picking everything out over the phone with you."
I chuckled, "Yeah… it's not that bad."
She echoed my sentiment, "Not that bad at all…"
"Dude. This project is taking up all your time."
"Not really," I hedged.
Emmett raised his eyebrows, "Oh yeah? You're building a library for this girl. By yourself. You haven't started anything new in a month, and I barely see you around the office anymore. Hey, it's a good commission, I'll give you that, but you'd normally be working on somethingelse too. Anything else. And you would have subbed out the carpentry work." He had me there.
I sighed resignedly and slumped down in my chair, "Okay, fine. I'm honestly going to be lucky if I can get it done. But there's no one up here that can do what she wants, the way that she wants it. And I'm not technically doing it alone… I got a mason setting the stone fireplace for me."
"And thank God for the mason. You don't know how to do that shit to code."
"Oh, and you do?"
He laughed, "This isn't about me. It's about you and Bella."
What the hell? "There is no me and Bella." I had no idea who I was trying to convince by saying this. We talked on the phone every day – sometimes two or three times a day – and her library had overtaken my life.
"Yeah… you just keep telling yourself that…"
I'd had just about enough of his railing, "Let it go. Do you have actual work to do, or did you just come in today to make fun of me?"
"You really want to know the answer to that?" I looked up at my older brother with an exasperated groan. He took the hint and backed slowly out of my office. "Alright, alright, I'll go."
He was right, though.
From the second I saw her, I lost all professional interest in the project. I was doing this for Bella, to make her happy; any commission I would be making on this project was the last thing on my mind. I had known I was going to personally build out Bella's library workspace since the first day we met at the cabin. She was so damn excited about eventually being able to work from this room. As soon as I saw her gorgeous brown eyes light up at the idea of designing her own library, I was done for.
My brothers and I make a pretty good living up here in the mountains, but a lot of times we have to hire subcontractors from Denver. It's expensive to live up in Summit County, but most trade guys don't mind making the commute for a job since the cost of living is so much lower down there. Because of this, I knew there was no one up here that was skilled enough to build out the library, and someone commuting wouldn't be able to put in the time required to have it finished by August. That left me.
The thing was… I hadn't told Bella that I was the carpenter working on her cabin. I don't know why. I suppose at the beginning it was a lame attempt at keeping my professional distance, but after awhile I just couldn't find the right words. Every time I thought about telling her over the phone, it sounded so damn cheesy in my head. You're beautiful and I wanted to build you something with my hands. See? Cheesy. And stupid.
So now, here I was spending sixty-plus hours a week on a project that she didn't even know I was doing. The fact that I was managing the rest of the subcontractors was a testament to my insane skills… or the fact that I just knew how to hire competent guys. Despite my wandering attentions, we were still on schedule to finish by mid-August
In fact, during my last conversation with Bella – well, the one before the doorknobs – I was able to tell her that the roof was complete, the plumbing was fixed, the front porch replaced completely and the bathroom was just getting underway. This was always my favorite part of the job, watching something old be transformed into something new and beautiful. Emmett would make fun of me for thinking that, but that's part of what led me to construction in the first place… knowing how to really fix something and make it usable again… there was a certain sense of accomplishment to that.
Checking the clock on my desk, I realized that I had spent more time in the office than I meant to. I needed to get out to the cabin if I was going to finish the wall paneling and the bookshelf casements by the weekend. Calling out a goodbye to my brother over my shoulder, I ran out the front door and jumped in my truck.
My last three months in the city had been brutal. Between packing up my entire apartment, working on my edits and preparing for a cross-country move, I was worn out. Plus, just knowing that I had a peaceful mountain retreat waiting for me made the blaring sirens at two a.m. that much harder to deal with. The stress was welcome, though, in a way. It just meant that my decision to leave New York for good was the right one.
The flight to Denver was long and I was too excited to sleep. Ugh. Finally, we landed at DIA and though I'm sure it was just in my head, I felt like I could finally breathe as soon as I stepped off the plane. This was ridiculously ironic since by the time I made it to the inter-terminal train system, I was winded. Apparently they're serious when they call it the Mile High City. I would definitely have some altitude adjusting to do.
My flight had landed late in the night, and I ended up having to make the drive from Denver to Summit County in the dark. Normally I didn't mind driving at night, but navigating I-70's winding curves and steep hills left me drained and weary by the time I checked into the Holiday Inn well after eleven p.m. Of course, my body felt like it was after one a.m. and I was barely able to strip off my clothes and brush my teeth before collapsing into bed.
I woke up the next morning with a feeling of anticipation coursing through my body. I was finally going to see my new home. Well, I had seen the cabin back in March, but that was different. Much less permanent. Now I was here to stay, and I couldn't wait to see how my renovations were coming along. I quickly jumped out of bed and into the shower, letting my mind wander a bit while I washed my hair.
If I were being truly honest with myself, I really couldn't wait to see the man responsible for bringing my visions to life. Edward and I had been talking every day about the project. He would email me pictures or send me to various websites constantly, so that I could personally choose everything from bathroom fixtures to doorknobs. Sometimes it was hard to see detail in the photos though, and I let him make the decision for me. Emmett had been right on the phone, Edward did have a great eye for design.
We didn't just talk about the project though. Lately, the calls had become more personal in nature. We asked each other questions over the phone that we may have been too nervous to ask in person. I found out that Edward had always wanted to follow in his father's footsteps in the construction industry, but he had put himself through college with a full-time job so that he would have the business knowledge to work for himself instead of someone else. Both of his brothers had done the same. I had told him that although I knew I had found my calling as a writer and was truly happy with my chosen career, I couldn't help the nagging feeling that something was missing in my life.
Edward had told me that he was happy with his career choice as well. He told me that making something with his hands – actually creating something beautiful out of pieces of lumber – was more fulfilling to him than anything else in the world. I told him about my disastrous attempt as a coffee barista, saying that apparently making things was only fulfilling if you were good at it. He laughed at my lame attempt at humor.
He told me about his brothers, that Jasper was two years younger than him and Emmett was the oldest by three years. They had used Emmett's initials for the name of the company (EMC stood for Emmett McCarty Cullen) since he was the firstborn. Emmett was married and expecting a little girl in October and Edward was excited about being an uncle for the first time. Being an only child made me wonder what it would be like to have such a wonderful built-in support system… it was lonely being the only, and I told him so. I learned that he was single. He learned that I was as well.
Like I said – personal.
All of that thinking about Edward made me want to jump out of the shower, throw on some clothes and run right out the door, but I forced myself to take the time to dry my hair and put on something presentable. I'm not sure my hair had ever taken that long to dry before in my entire life. While I was finally getting all of my things together and throwing them in my purse, my phone rang. As I checked the caller ID, I couldn't help the huge smile that formed when I saw his name. "Hey!"
"Hey, Bella. You're here, right? You got in last night?" His voice...
"Yup, I just finished getting ready… the time change just about killed me last night. I was planning on going down to the house after I grab a bite to eat. Can you meet me there later?"
"Yeah... I'm actually on site right now."
"Really? How does everything look? Oh! I'm so excited to see everything... especially the library... and the floors! Are the hardwoods done yet?"
He laughed heartily, "Yes. The flooring guys finished last week, remember? The kitchen cabinets are being installed today and I just stopped by to make sure everything was going as planned. And to get a few things done myself."
"Okay great! Well, I should be there in about an hour."
"I'll be here, just look for me around back."
Oh, I'll be looking alright. "Okay. See you then!"
After a very late breakfast, I made my way around the lake to the construction site that would soon be my new home. The front door was open and I could hear men's voices drifting out into the summer air, so I went straight up to the sturdy new porch and walked right in.
Two men stood in the kitchen area drawing lines on the new walls and a third was holding a laser-level along the floorboard while gesturing wildly and speaking in Spanish. I assumed they were making sure the kitchen cabinets would hang level. None of them paid me any attention and I didn't want to bother them by interrupting their work, so I decided to look for Edward myself. He had said on the phone that he might be around back, so I stepped out onto the porch to see if he was in the backyard. He was.
Down below me, surrounded by stacks of lumber and cut stone, stood Adonis incarnate. Dark jeans. Brown belt. Dark work boots. No shirt. Beads of sweat glistened off of his tanned back. He leaned down and counted off, "one… two… three," to the other guy he was working with. I watched in awe as the muscles rippled down his back with the strain of lifting whatever is was they had just picked up. Working outdoors definitely agreed with him.
His back was still facing me as they disappeared onto the patio below me and into the library. I was really glad he hadn't seen me blatantly staring at him with my mouth hanging open like a total loser. I mean… I had known he was good-looking, but that was insane. Honestly, I didn't even think they made real men like him. Didn't guys like that just exist in cheesy romance novels where the heroine hired a sexy contractor to "fix her house?" (And, yes, by "fix her house," I'm pretty sure they mean "sex.") I almost laughed out loud at my ridiculous internal monologue.
When he stepped back out into the yard, there was a white t-shirt draped around his neck which he used to mop his forehead briefly. The sky above us was perfectly cloudless, and I got mesmerized by him again when I noticed how the sun's rays played off the bronze streaks in his hair. So sexy… He finished his conversation with the other workman and turned to look up at the house. His eyes sought me out immediately, almost as though he had known I was up here.
His smile was radiant, and I couldn't help but return it. "Bella! You're here! I'll be right up, and then we can take a look around."
"Okay, I'll meet you inside."
To my immense disappointment, he had his shirt on when he came up the stairs. In all reality, it was probably a good thing because I would be able to pay more attention to the words he was speaking, but I also wouldn't have minded staring at him some more. Plus I hadn't gotten a great look at his washboard abs… I could have used some more time to stare at those.
Everything seemed right on track to be finished in two and a half weeks. The movers were due the second week of August and I was going to stay at the hotel until then. After the cabinets were hung today, it was mostly just little pieces that needed to be installed before the home was livable – the washer and dryer, refrigerator and dishwasher were coming next week.
The library would be done around then as well, but all of the wood had to be stained after it was completed. Apparently, we couldn't be in the home for about six days while the painters were in the library staining all of the wood. Even though they were going to be careful about the fumes (there was something said about 'negative air pressure' but I had no idea what they were talking about), it was a really large area that needed to be stained. Edward had also said something about the lacquer topcoat taking a few days to disperse into the air. He wanted to make sure it was completely safe before I moved in for good.
As he showed me around the house, Edward was like a little kid in a candy store. He was so excited about everything, wanting to make sure it was all exactly as I had envisioned. Of course, it was. The attention to detail was absolutely insane. Plus, whoever he found to do the downstairs library was doing a phenomenal job. It was going to be like my own personal oasis down there.
"So, what do you think?" Edward asked me nervously. We were standing back on the main floor by the kitchen and he seemed seriously worried about my reaction.
"Are you kidding? It's amazing!" I exclaimed. He visibly relaxed immediately.
"Good," he said with a long exhale. "I'm so glad you're happy with it so far."
"Happy? I'm thrilled. I couldn't have asked for anything more." Except maybe for you to take your shirt back off…
"Well alright then. That's fantastic."
We talked for a bit longer about how things were going and what I was planning on doing for the two and a half weeks I would be living out of a hotel room. I had a story outline rolling around in my head that I hoped to get on paper and I knew that shopping for all of the new furniture and appliances would take some time as well. Even though two and a half weeks seemed like a long time, I had a feeling that it would pass quickly.
Two and a Half Weeks Later
Today was the day I would ask Bella on a date.
The final walk-through was going really well. I had spent the better part of three and a half months making sure every detail of this home was perfect, so it was really no surprise that we hadn't found anything wrong with the finished product. There were a few touch-ups for the painters as well as some furniture that had yet to be delivered, but overall it was a huge success.
When we got down to the library, her eyes actually filled with tears. With a small gasp of breath, her jaw dropped open, "Oh my God! It's… it's perfect." The room was completely lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves; at the back wall, I had doubled them up. The front cases were made with a lighter wood and rolled away to reveal the second layer of shelves behind them. I wanted to make sure she had room for everything.
The desk space was in the middle of one side wall, and the fireplace was in the middle of the other. On the wall that opened out onto the patio, there was a new set of French doors as well as a deep-set, cushioned window seat. From the window, there was a perfect view of the lake and surrounding mountains. Deep burgundy curtains hung around the window and doors, a dark red leather chair was angled by the fireplace and a plush brown sofa draped with a handmade quilt completed the look. It was cozy. It was perfect for her.
Back on the main level, she signed off on a few last minute change orders and looked contentedly around the room. Sighing deeply, she seemed pleased with the final product. "Edward... I... thank you."
I smiled down at her, "You're very welcome."
"I meant... thank you for all the extra time you put in. I know you were on site more than you needed to be... with me being across the country for practically half of the job... I know that made it harder on you. So... thank you." She really had no idea how often I was on-site… like all day, every day.
I brought my hand up to rub the back of my neck, "It was nothing. I just wanted it to be done right."
"No. It wasn't nothing," she insisted. "It was something."
I inhaled deeply and met her gaze before admitting, "Yeah. Okay. It might have been something." Just do it. Tell her you built her library and ask her out! That was the perfect lead in to ask Bella to dinner… but she beat me to it.
Biting her bottom lip, she spoke before I could, "Listen… uh… normally I would want to invite you to my housewarming party or something to thank you, but since I don't have any friends here I'm not going to have one. Could I… I mean, would you want to come over for dinner on Friday? I could cook for you. I should be all moved in by then and it's really the least I could do… you know… to thank you…" Her eyes were nervous, as if she thought I might say no. Yeah, right.
My smile widened as she rambled, "I would love to."
"Really? Great! How does six o'clock sound?" Her face showed relief at my acceptance. Like I would have said no…
"That's perfect," I replied. Suddenly, there was a tension between us that hadn't been there before. Probably because we had just made plans that didn't revolve around the project… we were in uncharted territory now. "Um, okay. So I'll see you on Friday then."
I couldn't believe that I had actually made it through the week. By Wednesday I was flat-out convinced that Friday would never arrive. Of course it eventually did, and I was standing on Bella's front porch clutching a fairly expensive bottle of wine while waiting for her to answer the door.
When the door flew open a few moments later, I was reminded just how gorgeous this woman really was. Her hair was down and floating around her face which broke into a wide smile when she saw me. Bella was casually dressed in jeans and a dark green short-sleeved shirt, which made her soft brown eyes seem depthless. Her casual attire and bare feet made glad that I had decided on jeans and a simple black t-shirt for our dinner this evening.
Dinner was delicious and our conversation flowed easily. She told me stories of her years in New York City and I was in awe of how brilliant and articulate she was. Bella was truly a phenomenal woman. She wanted to hear about my childhood in Denver and was shocked when I told her that I found it to be too urban now. The mountains were my home now, and I loved the freedom and space that they allowed for.
There were a few times that her hand came across the table to settle on my arm while she was telling a particularly funny story or she looked over at me through her eyelashes and I was tempted to stop the conversation to admit my… involvement with the library. But the timing was off and the moment was over and the meal went on with no admissions from me.
We cleared the table together – I insisted, since she had cooked the meal – and it just felt right to be doing something so normal and domestic with her.
"I can do the dishes later," she declared from the sink. "Would you like to stay for another glass of wine?"
"I would love to." And perhaps I could finally ask you out. That would be great. So she grabbed the bottle of wine and we made our way down the staircase to the library. I started a fire while she sunk down into her new brown couch… now. Now was the perfect time to tell her.
After Edward re-filled my wine glass, he angled his body to face mine on the couch. I could tell something was on his mind even before he opened his mouth. "Bella? I've kind of been putting off telling you something…"
Instantly, my mind flew into overdrive. He noticed me flirting at dinner and he doesn't like me like that. How embarrassing. Why did I ever think he might be interested in me?!? I tried to keep outwardly calm while I responded, "What is it?"
"I don't even know why I didn't tell you at first… I mean, it wouldn't have been a big deal. And then I just couldn't find the right time… or the right words," he rambled. "I wanted to stay professional about this whole thing, but I just couldn't." Edward was nervous about something. It was so weird seeing this calm, confident man search for the his words.
I cut him off, "Edward. What is it?"
He took a deep breath and met my confused gaze, "I built your library. The custom carpenter? Yeah… it was me. I couldn't find someone to do the work like I was envisioning… like you were envisioning… so I just did it myself. And I knew how important this space was to you, and I guess I just wanted you to love it. I kept picturing how much time you would spend in here, using this space, and I tried to stay professional… I really did. But I… well, I…"
I waited for him to continue, but he seemed to be looking for the right words again. I glanced quickly around the cozy room that Edward had apparently built for me – the custom bookshelves… the desk… the window seat… the new stone fireplace… the matching hand-made stepstool so I could reach the highest shelves… Edward made this. For me. With his hands. With sweat from his brow. For me. I couldn't really comprehend that, and I'm pretty sure my brain short-circuited for a few minutes. No one had ever done anything for me that required that amount of care or time.
The sound of Edward clearing his throat helped me clear my spinning head, "I… um… I like you, Bella."
"You… like me?"
He moved closer, "Yeah. I really like you, actually."
"Really?" I asked like a moron.
He moved closer still so our legs were touching, "Really." His eyes were darker than before and I could see a determined fire behind them. "I like you, and I wanted to give you something."
I was finally able to speak back to him, "Give me something? Edward… this is… wow. This must have taken you weeks… months! I can't even… I don't know how… I mean… why?"
He seemed momentarily thrown by my question before I saw the determination again take root in his eyes, "Because I like you. Because I wanted you to have something that I made with my own hands in your home. Because I wanted it to be perfect and no one else would have put the right amount of care into it. And because you are beautiful and kind and smart and funny and…" He had been slowly inching his way toward me as he spoke and as soon as his mouth was only centimeters from my ear, he finished the thought, "because I want you."
A shiver of desire ran down my spine as I made sense of his words. Edward wanted me. Wanted me. Me. I turned my head sharply toward his and our faces were only inches away from each other. His gaze kept flickering between my eyes and my mouth and I could feel his heavy breath on my face. "Bella?"
"Yes?" I breathed.
"Can I ki-" but before he could finish the thought, I lunged toward him and closed the distance between us.
Our mouths crashed together in a greedy, desperate, searching kiss. We both wanted this so much. Tongues tangled… lips moved… hands wandered. While my arms twined up around his neck, Edward brought his around my back and I could feel his warm palms clutching me closer. My body reacted to his touch and I arched my back, pressing my chest to his. I couldn't get close enough.
We finally broke the kiss to breathe, but Edward's lips never left my body. He trailed along my jaw… down my neck… to the hollow near my shoulder. "Mmmmm…. God…" I moaned at his touch. My eyes were still closed and I could really feel everything this man was doing to my body. His lips were light but demanding and every goddamn flick of his tongue made me want more…
"Christ… you are… so fucking sexy…" he growled as he kissed his way back up my neck. "You have… no idea… how much I want you right now."
One of his hands had moved up to cup my face. I slowly opened my eyes and turned toward him. When I saw the raw desire behind his gaze I knew exactly where this was going. "Edward… please…" I breathed as I brought my lips back to his.
But this time I didn't stop there. I used the leverage I had on his neck to pull him down on top of me as I lay back on the overstuffed sofa. He kept one arm wrapped around my body and his other hand moved down to my waist, playing with the hem of my shirt. His fingers briefly brushed the soft skin on my stomach and fire coursed through me. I moaned deeply into his mouth, which encouraged him to keep pushing my shirt up.
He seemed to come to his senses briefly before lifting it up all the way, looking down at me with a serious expression, "Are you sure about this? About me?"
"Yes… I want this," I managed to get out. "I want you." I hoped he could see the needy desire I felt… not just for his body, but for him.
Those were apparently the magic words – my shirt was off before I knew it and Edward was everywhere. He kissed down my chest tugging at my nipples through my bra with his teeth until I cried out. His body had shifted slightly to the side so he could run his hand down my thigh and back up the inside, brushing against me through the fabric of my jeans. With this new angle of our bodies, I could feel him hard and heavy against my leg.
My head fell back. "Oh, holy shit…" I was overloaded with sensations… teeth, hands, cock… it was too much and not enough at the same time.
"Tell me what you want," he whispered in my ear.
"I want… uuuungh…" I tried to answer him, but he ran his fingers over the damp denim between my legs right as I spoke, making me completely lose my train of thought.
I heard him chuckle lightly and I glanced up to see a playful look in his lust-filled eyes, "Come on, baby. I don't know what you want if you don't tell me."
Okay… you wanna play?
I moved my lips to his ear and whispered, "I want you to make me come," right before biting down on his earlobe. I was rewarded with a deep groan and a thrust of his hips.
"Jesus, Bella." His shirt was on the floor and his hand was working the button of my jeans almost immediately. Taking a moment to admire his incredible body, I ran my hands up and down his back and was rewarded with a low moan from deep in his throat.
I lifted my hips to help him work off my jeans while my fingers struggled to undo his belt. He was all too happy to help me out. Once the pants were gone, with only two thin layers of fabric left between us, he purposefully slowed his movements.
Callused fingers traced lightly down my stomach and slipped into my underwear. Firm lips caught mine in a blazing kiss. Strong arms held me close while he gently spread me open. I was gone.
He sucked in a sharp breath when his fingers made contact, "Oh God, Bella… is that for me? Are you wet for me?" His fingers played and danced over my tender flesh, and when he hit that spot… Oh my God it was all over.
"Ungh… yes! Yes… I'm wet for you," I moaned out. "Please… I need… need…"
He worked his fingers inside me and whispered, "Come on, baby… come for me. Please…"
I looked up into his eyes and I could see the needy desire behind them. He wanted to watch me come. My breath was coming in soft pants, "Oh… God… I'm… I'm… Uuuungh! Yes!" I cried out in ecstasy as the waves of unbridled pleasure coursed through my body. He kept his fingers working slowly, bringing me down softly from my high.
I leaned up into him and met his lips with as much passion as I could. His hot erection twitched against my leg and I realized that at some point he had removed my underwear and kicked his boxers off without my knowledge. Shit. He was just that good.
Feeling him so hard and ready for me made a wave of heat run down my body. I wanted him inside me. Shifting my hips underneath him, I lined up his length with my wet core. "Bella… we can't… I don't have…"
Realizing what he meant, I lifted my hips up and made contact with his cock, "It's okay. I'm on the pill… I just want to feel you… please… I need…" I couldn't even say what I wanted. I just wanted. I needed.
His eyes darkened with his understanding he met my gaze while he slowly thrust inside me. "Ooooh Jesus… so tight… hot… ungh…" he moaned incoherently as his head dropped to my shoulder.
And then he was plunging in and out and my hips tilted up to meet him on every thrust and he filled me up so good and I never wanted it to stop. He kissed me then, our mouths moving in sync with our hips and it was too much… too hot… too…
"Bella… I'm… oh shit… so good… I want you to come with me." I was right there with him.
"So good… God you feel so good…" I mumbled into him.
He shifted up a bit and hit me deeper and I lost control. My legs tightened on his waist and he felt me clench around him as my second orgasm welled up. "That's it, baby. Come with me…"
He thrust deep two more times before his face contorted with the beautiful agony of his release. When I felt him come inside me, it tipped me over the edge and I followed.
We lay in front of the fireplace, facing each other, eyes locked. Edward lifted his hand to trace my jaw and brush a stray lock of hair out of my face. "God, Bella. You are so beautiful." His voice was rough with lust.
I felt my face flush at his compliment. "Thanks," I whispered back.
He let his hand skim down my arm to sit on my waist, a blaze of fire in its wake. Using the leverage he now had on my body, he pulled me closer and wrapped his arms around me. I had never felt so warm and calm and safe in my entire life.
I could feel his breath on my hair as he let out a low chuckle. "What is it?" I asked.
"Well, I think I kind of did this backwards."
I tilted my head to look him in the eye, "What do you mean?"
"I was going to ask you out tonight," he admitted with a slow smile. His eyes trailed down to where our legs were entwined in the glow from the fire. "But I think I got a bit ahead of myself."
I followed his gaze and watched as the firelight danced on our tangled bodies. The eroticism of the image took my breath away. When I could finally speak again, I looked back at him and smiled impishly, "Mr. Cullen, are you asking me out?"
He shifted his hips toward me and I could feel that he was ready for round two. His face broke into a sly grin and he practically growled his response, "Yes, Ms. Swan. I believe I am."
"Well," I countered with an innocent mask on my face, "that doesn't seem very professional of you."
He was now trailing kisses along my jaw toward my ear, "Oh… it's not. I'm breaking all the rules now. So, what do you say?"
"To… ohhh… to a date?"
"Yes." He bit down lightly on my earlobe. "To a date."
"Mmmm… yes… dinner sounds… ungh… so good." His talented hands had made their way down my body and I was practically incoherent with lust at this point.
"Excellent, how about tomorrow at seven."
"Perfect," I purred into his ear. "I can't wait."