This is dedicated to all my ho! ho! ho! friends...
~.~ Christmas Stalkings ~.~
God, help me.
It was Christmas Eve and I hadn't purchased one gift. Parking seventeen thousand miles away from the mall entrance, I swallowed one last gulp of warmth in the car and I was off, sprinting through the frigid air into the packed building.
As I thawed out, I took in the scene. Bodies shoved, pushed, moshed about in every direction while a loud speaker barked something, cash registers rang and Christmas lights flashed – it was worse than overwhelming; it's a nightmare before Christmas. I would have chuckled at myself if I wasn't busy wondering why Christmas had to be such a circus.
I longed for the kind of calm Christmases I had when I was younger: my mom, dad and I decorating our tree with strings of popcorn, sipping cocoa in our shoebox of a living room. My dad would play his skipping, staticy old Christmas albums on the record player he refused to give up for a CD player, while singing along loudly and off-key. My mom and I would laugh while he serenaded us to Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra. A fire even crackled in the fireplace. And every Christmas a touch of magic floated in the air; but those kinds of Christmases didn't last forever. Soon enough, with Father Time and health getting in the way, those Christmases became mere memories of a time gone by.
Tears welled in my eyes as I stood, lost in my own fog. If there's one thing I want, if there's any chance Santa is real, I wish for just one more Christmas like that: peaceful and filled with magic instead of pain. Mom, Dad, if you're listening, I'd really appreciate some help this year.
"Excuse me!" some woman barked as she pushed by me, snapping me back to the reality of the mall madness, and the fact that I had two and a half hours to hunt down the perfect gifts, get home to my barely unpacked apartment so I could wrap them, bake the brownies I sucked at making, then get over to the party. Gah!
I glanced at my list.
First, Alice. The woman was a clotheshorse and I never, ever, ever knew what the hell to get her. Even growing up, when she was wearing Guess?, I was wearing Guess Who?. I wasn't at all hip or fashionable. I mean, I was decent, but nothing like her – I still wore shoes from two winters ago; Alice would never do that. Ever. Fashionista aside, she was the best friend I'd grown up with in the small town of Forks. After her mom, Esme, met and married Carlisle five years ago they moved here – about forty-five minutes outside of New York City.
When Seattle gazillionaires, Mike and Jessica Newton, the parents of the Exorcist children I was a nanny for, decided to move overseas, Alice talked me into moving here. I had no one else back there anyway. Luckily, I got a new nanny job here beginning in January.
Weaving in and out of crabby customers, who wielded their packages like battering rams, I made my way to Victoria's Secret. I figured pajamas were a safe bet. If she hated what I chose, she wouldn't have to wear them outside the house.
Scouring the sparse racks of clothes, I spotted a perfect pair of satin, candy-cane striped menswear pajamas – and they were the perfect size! Just as I reached for them, this giant of a woman snatched them from my hand with a, "Those are mine, thank you very much," and a nasty sneer. So much for a Merry Christmas.
I rolled my eyes and went on to another picked-over rack. And another one. There was nothing to be found. I sighed, a bit defeated, and decided to put her gift on the back burner and move on to the next one: Rose.
Carlisle's son, Emmett, and his wife Rose, just bought their first house, so I figured something homey for her – a platter or knives or some other such lame gift.
I fought my way to Macy's and was in the midst of holding up and examining a china platter when I glanced up to find the greenest eyes watching me - and they belonged to the most stunning man. So stunning in fact, that I almost dropped the stupid platter. My face flamed as I fumbled and caught it and looked back to where he was standing.
Hey, where'd he go?
I glanced around, but he was gone. I bought the platter for the lovely new homeowner. I moved on to the next people on my list, Esme and Carlisle, but I was stumped for ideas. They were the hosts of the party I was supposed to attend in…I checked my watch…two hours.
I wandered around the crowed mall noticing how many men were there. I chuckled to myself remembering my dad always going out on Christmas Eve to find my mother something. He was always so last minute. Every year I'd remind him to 'get a move on' and every year he'd roll his eyes at me. I could hear him clear as day saying, "Aww, shut it, Bells." Of course, then he'd scramble on Christmas Eve to find her the perfect gift, which amazingly, he always did. It was what I was trying to do with everyone on my list and was having a wretched time of it. God, I miss them. No, Bella. You have too much to do to fit in wallowing. I barreled on.
Next was Alice's husband, Jasper. Hmm…he's an artistic type. Maybe art supplies? I figured I might as well check out the art store. After battling my way through other last minute shoppers in the main mall, I found the art store to be relatively quiet. I browsed the racks of paintbrushes and paints, pastels and charcoals. I spotted the drawing pads, remembering Alice oversharing about Jasper relaxing by sketching her in the nude. I shuddered slightly and grabbed the pads and a set of pencils.
While I waited in the short line to pay, I looked about and gasped.
It's him- the hot stranger from the china section! He's in the same section I was just in!
Tall. Hot black leather jacket. A jaw line that could cut glass. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful…
In the back of my mind a voice warned, "Close your mouth, close your mouth, close your mouth." Just as I did so, our eyes locked once again. And once again my face flamed as I froze.
I could swear I saw the corners of his mouth turn up, when the clerk asked, "Can I help you, miss?" I spun around, saving myself from what would only be embarrassment. Tongue-tied and shy were the two traits I had in spades. Lucky me.
Lucky…it's been so long since I've gotten lucky. Eric? No… Brandon? No…
"$35.98," the clerk said, waking me from the pathetic thought of how long it'd been since my last roll in the hay. As casually as I could, I turned to see the Hot Stranger, but he was gone. Again.
I looked around, even standing on tiptoe, but there was no sign of him. I shrugged it off, a little unsettled, and paid, taking the bag from the clerk and going about my list.
Esme and Carlisle. Really, what am I going to get them? Aside from my God awful contribution of brownies, I have to give them something special.
They had become surrogate parents to me. Even though they lived clear across the country, their love and support during the hardest, most painful time of my life kept me together. Alice was so lucky to have them as her parents and I was lucky enough to have them all in my life.
I wandered around the mall, getting banged up now and again by obnoxious shoppers who, in the twenty-four hours preceding Christmas, had lost all manners and sense of personal space.
The twirling of a gold and silver anniversary clock in the window of a jewelry store caught my eye. Perhaps Esme would like it. As I stood there watching the bottom spin back and forth, my eyes picked up on the copper hair at the register.
No freaking way!
One mesmerizing smile from him, one head tipped back in laughter from the female clerk and one boatload of jealous from me. That's it, I need some serious eggnog. Extra rum. Extra nog.
I slipped into the store while the Hot Stranger was busy at the counter with tossy-head-girl, and hid behind the Pandora charms display case. I watched him like the unintentional stalker I seemed to have become.
And he was utterly gorgeous. I mean, gorgeous gorgeous. Like God-had-the-best-day-of-his-existence gorgeous. I briefly wondered if he walked straight out of an Abercrombie ad, but then again, he somehow put those shirtless hotties to shame.
Shirtless. What would he look like shirtless?
Next thing I knew, my mind removed the jacket that stretched across his broad shoulders, narrowing into a V which lead right to his ass. Thankfully, his jacket didn't cover it completely. There was definite roundness there. And where there was roundness, there was sure to be firmness.
I pried my eyes off of him, because, frankly, if I got caught staring (and hiding) it would have been beyond humiliating. I focused on the display case and spotted a beautiful red enamel bead that would be a lovely addition on the charm bracelet Jasper got Alice for her birthday.
I watched The Hot Stranger leave and finally breathed, not realizing I'd been holding my breath.
Watch check: One and a half hours left…
I bought the charm for Alice. For Esme, I decided against the clock in favor of a Lladro figurine of a woman gently kissing a butterfly. That's how I pictured our relationship: me perched on her fingertips, kissing me all better. Mostly all better. At least I'm less alone with them in my life.
Thankfully, I had only a couple of more gifts to buy: Carlisle and Emmett. What do I get them? Again, I wandered around turning over gift ideas. I checked my watch once more. I had to hurry. I still had brownies to bake!
I walked past a game store. Yes! A Wii game! Inside the store, I perused the racks of Wii games. Pulling numerous games from the shelf, I read the backs, but really, who was I kidding? I had no idea.
"Can I help you?"
I turned to see a young guy, a sales associate.
"Hi, um, I'm trying to decide which game to get. I really have no idea what they like other than to shoot things."
The guy chuckled. "Well, you could go with Call of Duty: Black Ops – that's a good one. Lots of killing-"
"I'm partial to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare," said a man right behind us. I turned to see…
The Hot Stranger.
My mouth fell open as he smiled at me. Me! His smile had an odd effect on my brain. He erased my ability to speak. And think. And move. But not my ability to blush, unfortunately.
"Modern Warfare is good too. It really just depends on…" the sales associate began, and the two of them engaged in a conversation that I was no part of except for my random head nodding and lip-licking. I had to consciously stop myself from staring.
"So I'd say go with either one," the sales associate summed up to me.
I nodded. "Okay, um…I'll go with Modern Warfare," I said, which elicited a grin from Hot Stranger. I mean, The Hot Stranger. Oh, where are my manners?
Without another word exchanged between us, I followed the sales associate over to the counter, bought the game and the other controller it needed, and left.
I stood outside the store a moment, breathing heavy and hard. Oh wow. He was hot – beautiful, stunning, gorgeous – and that smile! My God…
I briefly toyed with the idea of going back in and talking to The Hot Stranger. But then…He probably gets hit on all the time. What if he's married or has a girlfriend? No. No. Not risking it.
I glanced at my watch – 45 minutes left! I might just make it, maybe a little late. With my bags in hand, I made my way to my car as carefully as possible considering that while I was shopping a layer of black ice formed on the parking lot.
Step by slow step, I nearly made it to my car when a car zipped passed, throwing me off balance.
"Ahh!" I yelped as I slipped onto my ass and my packages went everywhere. "Fuck! Fuck that hurts!" I said, rubbing my ass as I tried to stand. This is not helpful mom and dad! Not helpful! Calm and magic – remember?
"Hey, you okay?" I heard from behind me.
A warm hand clasped my elbow, assisting me to my feet. I turned. The Hot Stranger.
It's official. I want to die.
"You okay?" he said, giving me the once over with his bags in hand.
"Uh…um…I think so," I stuttered, feeling like a total idiot.
Hot Stranger stood back a moment. "Uh, listen, I swear I am not following you. Really." He smirked, his hair blowing a little in the shivery breeze.
I chuckled. "Okay."
He shook his head, still smiling. "I've never run into a person so much in my entire life. You'd think someone was forcing us to meet."
My mouth plopped open as he ran his hand through his hair. It was then I realized that that was the single sexiest move a guy could make.
"Right?" I snorted, sounding as uncool and unsophisticated as I possibly could.
"Sorry, I'm Edward and you are…" he asked, waiting for me to share my name. Oddly, he seemed shy. Shy! He bent to rescue some of my packages.
No! Bella, geez, out of the gutter!
"I'm Bella. Well, really it's Isabella, but most people call me Bella and a couple of people called me Izzy in college, and my dad used to call me Bells…but yeah…mostly Bella," I said, dying a little more with every unnecessary word that barreled out of my mouth.
He was grinning. No, actually, he was suppressing a laugh by biting his lip. He probably had this effect on every female. Chalk me up, yet again, to being like all the others.
"You okay, Bella?" he asked, still smiling.
"Yeah, I'll be fine. Wasn't expecting black ice," I said, grabbing my packages from him.
"You want me to help you put those in your car?" he asked, chuckling.
"Sure, but… I can't get my keys," I said, balancing the bags in my arms.
"Oh, okay, hang on." He put his bags down and took the packages back from me as I dug out the keys from my purse with nervous, frozen fingers. I unlocked the car trunk and he piled them in before shutting it.
I wanted to say more, something sophisticated and cool, but what would I say? Edward, you are the cutest thing that I ever did see? You're so fine you blow my mind? Am I only going to think in song lyrics? Geez! We both stood there a moment as my heart raced and my head tried to clear itself.
"Well, Bella, it was nice meeting you. Have a merry Christmas," he said, smiling and holding out his hand to shake mine.
"Merry Christmas to you too, Edward," I managed to say, shaking his warm, strong hand as flashes of his lips owning mine and his hands claiming my thighs flew through my mind. Surprised, I stepped back and nearly slipped again.
"Why don't I help you into the car?" he said, catching me and leading me over to the driver's side. He opened the door and waited till I got in. "Take care, Bella."
Say something! Get his number! Anything! "Thanks for your help. It was nice meeting you, Edward." You are stupid! Stupid Bella!
He grinned, shut the door, picked up his bags and stepped back to let me back out. As I carefully inched out, I kicked myself. I should have said something! I should have asked for his number!
I could see him from the corner of my eye, watching me back out. Just as I cleared the car to my right, another car skidded on ice and slammed into the back corner of my car.
"Shit!" I yelled, getting jolted. When my car came to a halt, I exhaled and rested my head on the steering wheel, shaken, but mostly highly mortified. This is not magic, mom and dad!
My car door whipped open. "Bella! Are you okay? Are you hurt?" Edward said, squatting and grasping my shoulder.
"I'm fine," I said, sitting up quickly. "How bad is it?"
"Are you sure you're okay? That asshole didn't even stop!" Edward said, standing tall and looking around over the sea of cars in the lot.
I sighed and shook my head.
"Really, Bella, are you hurt? Does your neck hurt? Want me to call an ambulance?" he asked, bending down to look me over.
"I'm okay, really. A little shaken, but ok. Is it bad?" I asked, getting out of the car and walking to the side with the damage.
"Well, the wheel well is pretty much crushed in. See?" He pointed to the spot. "Doesn't look like you'll be driving home tonight."
I whipped my head to his. "What? Are you serious? You don't think I can drive this out of here?" I bent down to see the metal of the car's wheel well smashed against the rubber of the tire.
"You'll need to get it towed."
As I examined the damage, Edward began talking on his phone.
"Lord and Taylor parking lot – section…" he looked up at the giant lamppost, "D. Section D…It's a white Honda Accord… Yep, it needs to be towed…Okay, thanks."
"Who did you call?" I asked, standing up.
"The police. They'll be here in a few minutes with a tow truck." He examined me. "Are you sure you're okay? I could call them back and have an ambulance come."
"What? No! I'm fine, really. I just can't believe that car came out of nowhere and hit mine in the worst spot."
"I know. Odd things happen sometimes."
As I stared down at the damage, I felt Edward's gaze. The heat rose from my neck and washed over my face.
"Look, you shouldn't be out here in the cold. Let's go wait in my car. I'll turn on the heat for you."
Where did this guy come from?
"No, that's ok. I think I should stay here – with my car." My father didn't teach me self-protection for nothing.
He grinned sheepishly. "Right, of course, I could be a lunatic. I'm not, but…here – take my keys. I'll wait here to flag down the police and keep others from hitting it. I'll come get you when they get here, okay?" He handed me the keys.
"Are you serious? How do you know I'm not a lunatic?"
He grinned. "Believe me, there is nothing worth taking in that car of mine and if you stole it, you'd be doing me a favor. It's right over-" He looked around. "Oh God – there – two spaces over," he laughed. "I swear I did not follow you. I'm embarrassed that I somehow parked near you."
"Go on. One of us should remain thawed."
"Okay, I'll put your bags in your trunk for you?"
He smiled. "That'd be great, thank you."
I took his bags and walked the marathon distance of five feet over to his car – a black, early 90's Volvo. A Volvo? Didn't just mommies drive these things? He probably does hope I'll take off with it. After putting his bags in the trunk, I slid into the driver's seat.
As I waited for the car to warm, I noticed that it was neat; nothing seemed out of place. I really wanted to ransack the glove compartment, but if he caught me, it would only confirm that I was the stalker lunatic.
I blasted the heat and held my frozen fingers to the warmth; it felt so good. In fact, I was amazed at how heart-warming this whole thing was, well except for falling down and getting into an accident. Meeting a very handsome and mysterious man on Christmas Eve right before – oh no! The party! I checked my watch. I had thirty minutes.
Thirty minutes to get there. It's not going to happen. Not the brownies at least and if this takes much longer, I'm going to miss the party completely. Shit – what if he's waiting to go to a party too and he's stuck here with me?
I went over to a shivering Edward who had his arms crossed over his chest while he bounced on his heels to keep warm.
"Um, listen. I really appreciate you waiting like this, but I can wait for the police. Plus, you probably have somewhere to be and–"
He frowned. "Don't even think it. It's fine. I have no problem waiting. Believe me, I'd feel much worse if I left you here while I went to some party."
"So you have a party to go to? You should really go. I would hate for your girlfriend…or wife to get mad at you for being late."
He laughed – loudly. "Uh, yeah. No wife, no girlfriend. I'm allergic to those."
I chuckled and before I could say something awkward and cringe-worthy, the flashing blue and red of the police cruiser saved me.
We spent nearly an hour talking to the cops and waiting for a tow truck to show up. When the tow truck driver finally arrived, he felt it was necessary to finish his cigarette before attaching the chains.
I gasped. "My packages!"
Edward looked at me. "I'll help you get them out. We'll put them in my car and I'll drive you home," he said, casually as he opened the trunk and started to pile the packages in his arms.
"Um, what?" I said, stopping in my tracks. He's a stranger.
But a really hot one.
He looked at me, confused then realized. "Oh God, I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to, you know, overstep, but I'm here and don't live far, so…"
He looked at me with those piercing green eyes and those full lips and those reddened cheeks from standing outside helping me all this time when he could have gone home. For whatever reason, be it stupidity or something else, I wasn't afraid.
"Okay," I agreed, shocked at myself.
"Okay," he concurred, smiling. We put my bags and boxes next to his in his car.
After we loaded the packages, I glanced at my watch. There was no way I was going to make it to the party. And frankly, at that point, I didn't want to go. I just wanted to crawl into my bed and maybe watch an old movie and string popcorn and sip hot chocolate; make my own quiet Christmas, just like old times.
I excused myself and stepped to the side to call Alice.
"Why aren't you here yet? Everything okay?"
"I'm fine, but look, I probably won't be able to make it tonight–"
"Rose! She's not coming!" I heard Alice yell.
"What? What are you doing, Alice?"
"Hello?" I heard Rose say as she picked up on another line.
"Why aren't you coming?"
"I'm sorry. Someone hit my car and-"
"Oh my God! Bella, are you okay? Are you hurt?" they said, overlapping each other.
I chuckled. "Stop, I'm fine. It's just the way my car got hit, it needs to be towed."
"We'll come get you – where are you?"
"I have a ride, it's fine."
"You do? With who?"
Luckily, the police officer needed me. "Guys, I have to go. I have to chat with the officer. Everything is fine, I'm fine – pick me up tomorrow at ten, okay? Bye."
And without another word, I hung up.
After seeing my car drive away on the back of a flatbed, and waving Officer Friendly adios, Edward and I got in his car.
"Okay, so, where do you live?"
"Off route 134," I said, my belly shivering from nerves.
"Okay." Edward nodded and pulled out. "So, are you going over your in-laws or something tonight?"
I snorted. "In-laws? No, I'm allergic to that nonsense too."
"Nonsense? Why is that nonsense?" he asked, grinning.
I shrugged. "It's just never worked for me. I like being by myself." No you don't.
"You do? Really? I don't believe you."
"Why wouldn't you believe me?"
He glanced at me from the road, looking so freaking good lit by the dashboard lights. "If you didn't care about being with anyone then you wouldn't have talked to me or gotten into my car or kept talking to me or asked me if I had a girlfriend or wife."
I blushed, crimson probably.
"Or blushed. I've never seen a woman blush as much as I've seen you blush."
Oh God. Shoot me now.
He laughed. "It's okay. It's kind of nice that you don't care."
"Well, why are you allergic?" I said, trying to deflect the massive embarrassment.
"Um…it's just never worked out for me either."
"Is there something wrong with you? You look pretty perfect." Did I just say that out loud?
"What?" he asked, laughing. "No, definitely not perfect. There've been plenty of complaints that I wasn't as attentive as I should have been."
"You know, doing random things – all that chivalrous stuff." He shrugged.
"Well, you've been nothing but chivalrous to me tonight."
He smiled wide. "I suppose I have. Must have been saving it up for you."
I snorted as my heart nosedived into my belly. "Right."
"So, where are you headed tonight?" he asked.
"Well, I was supposed to go to my best friend's, but I've decided to just hang home."
"What? It's Christmas Eve. You can't be alone on Christmas Eve."
"Yes, I can."
"No, you can't. No way."
"Where are you supposed to go?" I asked, trying to change the subject.
"To my friend's family's house, but…" he stopped.
"Well, you can't spend the night alone. Come with me. They're all really great."
I laughed. "Um, thanks Edward, but really, I am barely comfortable with having you – a complete stranger - drive me home. The last thing I'd be comfortable doing would be going to a stranger's stranger's friend's house."
"Stranger's stranger's?" he chuckled.
"You know what I mean." I smiled.
"So, have you lived around here a long time?" I asked.
"Yeah, pretty much. Most of my family is here."
"How about you?" he asked.
"I just moved here actually."
"Really? From where?"
"The Pacific Northwest – Washington."
"Ahh, a West Coast girl – David Lee Roth would like that."
I laughed. "What? You like David Lee Roth?"
"Van Halen's got some cool songs. Is that a problem?" he asked, amused.
"No, not at all, I'm just surprised. Didn't peg you for a metal guy."
"Well, my hair is kind of flat tonight," he said, snorting. "So you just moved here – for work?"
"Yeah, I'm a nanny. Starting with a new family after the holidays."
"Don't you have to live with them?"
"No, I'm not a live-in. I watch their kids mostly after school and sometimes on the weekends. They have a new baby coming in a few months, so I'll be busy taking care of her."
He nodded. "You like kids then?"
"No, I hate them. I do this to torture myself."
He broke out in laughter.
Before I knew it, I was giving him the final directions to my apartment.
"There's no moat? No dragons to slay?" he asked outside my apartment building as he helped me get the packages from the trunk of his car.
"Sorry. Looks like you won't be able to put your sword to use," I said, wanting to delete the words as they came out of my mouth, so I clarified, "You know, because you won't be able to use up all that chivalry tonight."
He fought off a smile again, biting his lip while I prayed for lightning to strike me.
We walked to the door. I fumbled for my keys in my purse and unlocked the outside door. Making our way down the hall to my apartment, I unlocked that door and flicked on the lights.
He looked around as we stacked my bags on top of the moving boxes I had yet to unpack.
"Wow, you really have your work cut out for you."
"I know," I said, surveying the massive unpacking job that awaited me.
"Look, I was serious before, you can't spend Christmas Eve alone. You just can't. Let me take you to dinner."
"Really Edward, I'm fine."
"No, really – I have all this chivalrousness I have to use up."
"It's a word," he said, looking so hopeful.
I have to say no. Have to. He's a stranger. A chivalrous, hot, sweet stranger, but a stranger nonetheless. I have to say no.
"Okay." What the…?
"Great," he said, smiling.
Oh God. "Well…let me just freshen up for a sec?"
I ran to the bathroom to brush my hair and teeth, reapplying makeup before changing into a nicer top and pants. Five minutes later I was ready.
"All set," I said, coming back into the living room, fiddling with my purse.
"Wow, that was fast. You look very pretty," he said, checking me over as he leaned against the arm of the sofa.
Soon enough, we were seated in the busy restaurant, enjoying a bottle of wine. He held up his glass. "To Bella, may she do her shopping earlier next year and not slip on black ice – or get into an accident – or spend it alone."
I held up my own glass. "To Edward, may he never run low on chivalry."
Clink. More sips.
"So, why in the world would you think you could spend Christmas Eve alone?" he asked, smiling and awfully curious.
"I don't know…I guess I just miss Christmases that were calm and, you know, not rushed and filled with fender benders."
He nodded. "I completely agree. So is that how your family celebrates? A quiet night?"
"You mean a silent night?"
"When I was a kid my parents and I used to string popcorn and decorate the tree. We'd sip hot chocolate and my mom would make her apple pie – pie like I haven't had from anywhere else." I sighed. "And we'd sing Christmas carols along to my dad's records."
"Ahh! A vinyl man. CDs definitely don't sound as good."
"Exactly – that's what he used to say!" I laughed. "So yeah, it used to be quiet and just really nice. My absolute favorite part was on Christmas morning when my mom would make these cinnamon rolls from scratch that were to die for – they were so gooey and sweet and had the perfect amount of cinnamon and frosting. I'd have to lick my fingers and…" I stopped. I could feel the tears begin to surface. God, I don't want to cry. Not here. Not now. Not with this stranger.
"You okay?" Edward asked, placing his hand on mine. I stared at my glass, trying to control my emotions.
"How long ago did they pass?" he asked quietly.
"Two years ago," I whispered, the heartache still so raw. "My mom had cancer and my dad…well, they say he had a heart attack, but I think he died from a broken heart. Their deaths were only months apart."
We were quiet as I caught my breath.
"I know how you feel," he said, leaning in.
I looked into his beautiful eyes, noticing them marred with the kind of hurt that was only present in a person who lived with loss.
"You do?" I asked.
He nodded slowly. "My dad was a firefighter. Lost his life ten years ago saving someone. And my mom – I didn't know her. She died right after I was born."
"I'm so sorry, Edward. You must have been so young."
He nodded. "Yeah, sixteen…" he glanced down for a second, then back at me. "This time of year is always the hardest. That's why you can't be alone on Christmas Eve. You need to know that others are around, that they care – even if they are strangers." He winked and smiled.
"Thank you," I whispered, holding back the tears.
"I'm trying to use up all my chivalry, remember?"
I laughed, lightening the moment, and we continued on through more wine, dinner and dessert and laughter.
After one of the loveliest dinners I'd ever had, Edward drove me back home. He walked me to the door.
"Please tell me you have plans tomorrow for Christmas. You won't be by yourself, will you?" he asked, raising an eyebrow in warning.
"Yes, I do have plans."
"Okay, good. In that case, I was wondering if maybe tomorrow night you wanted to get together?"
I smiled and blushed yet again. Somehow with this Hot Stranger standing in front of me, it felt like Christmas already, and he should be wearing a big red bow.
"I'd like that. Let me give you my number."
We traded phones and entered our numbers.
"Okay, so I'll call you tomorrow," he said, nodding.
"I'm looking forward to it, Edward."
"Me too." His eyes watched my lips, but when he leaned in, he pressed a soft kiss to my cheek.
"Good night, Bella," he said quietly, his breath a little cloud in the cold air.
"Night." I walked into my apartment and slumped to the floor, a swoony puddle of girl.
Screw sugarplums. I had dreams that night to rival all dreams – every single one starring Edward. I awoke the next morning giggling… and realized it was nine! Alice and Rose would arrive in an hour and I had wrapping to do and brownies to bake!
I bolted to the living room realizing that for all my shopping, I'd forgotten to buy wrapping paper, so I had to use the newspaper from my move.
I baked, okay no, I burned the brownies, wrapped the gifts and sprinted into the shower. At ten on the nose, I heard a loud knock and a "Merry Christmas, Bella! Let us in!"
Dressed in black pants and a soft red sweater, I opened the door for them.
"I see you've unpacked," Rose said, heavy on the sarcasm.
"Yeah, yeah," I said, shoving my high boots on.
"So who drove you home last night?" Alice asked, glancing at the stack of newspaper-wrapped presents.
"This incredibly good looking guy-"
They whipped their heads to me. "A good looking guy? You let some random dude drive you home because he was hot? Are you insane, Bella? Who gives a crap if he's good looking? You don't go gallivanting around with strangers! You just don't! This isn't Forks you know!" Alice practically yelled at me as I pulled on my coat.
"It wasn't like that and I'm still in one piece so…"
"So what? Oh my God, did you sleep with him?" Alice shouted.
"What? No! He was very sweet and chivalrous."
"Chivalrous? My God, he's probably outside stalking you," Rose said, peering out of the windows.
"You are staying with Jasper and I tonight," Alice declared.
"Oh my God! Stop overreacting you two! It's fine and we have to go. Come on." The three of us picked up the gifts and brownies as we left.
We arrived at Carlisle and Esme's to hugs and kisses and 'Merry Christmases'. With mimosas in hand, Carlisle began a toast. "To all of you here and to those who are late, may the magic of Christmas live in your hearts now and every day." We clanked and drank.
Esme, Rose, Alice and I busied ourselves in the kitchen, preparing the brunch while the guys hung out doing whatever it was they did.
In the midst of the cooking, my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID – 'Edward'. I slipped into the quiet hallway.
"Merry Christmas, Bella," he said making me weak enough to nearly drop the phone.
"Merry Christmas, Edward. How are you?"
"I'm good. On my way to get harassed about being late."
I chuckled. "Why are you late?"
"Eh, I forgot a few things and had to go back out to the store last night, so I went to sleep late and overslept."
"Oh God, you went back? Scary."
He chuckled. "Yes, it was. So are we still on for later?"
"How is four o'clock?"
"Sounds good. I think I'll be done here by then."
"Where should I pick you up? At your apartment or should I come to where you are?"
I snorted. "Unless you want to be marinated and grilled a good grilling, then my apartment is the safest bet."
He chuckled. "Your apartment it is. I'm looking forward to seeing you, Bella."
My knees buckled. "Me too. See you then."
I hung up, reigned in the giddiness and snuck back in without anyone noticing. I gathered the fruit for the fruit salad and began slicing. The doorbell rang.
I looked around. "Who else is coming?"
"Emmett's best friend," Rose said, arranging the muffins. "Hey, you might like him, Bella. He's really nice – and not a stranger."
I rolled my eyes. "I'm good, thanks and I'm meeting the stranger later."
Alice huffed. "Well, I'd better meet him too so I know what to describe to the police when you go missing."
"You know, I hate to say this, but you met Jasper in a bar and sucked face with him when he was a stranger – that's right – a stra-"
"Esme, look who's finally here," Carlisle said, entering the room.
When I turned I saw:
Edward and I locked eyes and blinked in confusion. In the next moment, we were cracking up while everyone silently looked on. Moving toward one another, we hugged and he kissed me on the cheek.
"You are stalking me!" I accused.
"I am not! You're stalking me! What are you doing here?" he asked me, beaming.
"Alice and I grew up together and have been best friends… forever. How do you know everyone?"
"Emmett and I have been friends forever too. Carlisle and Esme are like family."
"You are family," Carlisle interrupted, grasping Edward's shoulder.
Edward grinned and turned back to me. "How have we never met? Were you at Carlisle and Esme's wedding?"
"No, I was still on the West Coast then and my mom was sick so…"
Emmett popped his head in. "Edward, you want me to help you unload stuff?"
"Yeah," Edward said. "I'll be right back. I was in charge of desserts."
Edward and Emmett left the room, as did Carlisle and Esme.
Alice and Rose cornered me.
"Spill. Every detail. Now. And talk fast they'll be back in a second," Alice said, smiling wider than I'd ever seen her.
The next two minutes were like speed dating except it was speed interrogation. I explained the mall, the parking lot, the dinner – everything. Of course by the end of the two minutes the both of them were convinced I'd slept with him last night.
"I didn't! I swear."
Just then the guys began bringing in white boxes tied with strings. Rose tried to lift one of the tops when Edward swatted her hand.
"Those are for later," Edward said before leaving the room again.
Rose rolled her eyes.
"What's in all these?" I asked Rose.
"Did Edward buy a store full?"
Rose snorted. "Seeing as you were so busy getting it on last night, you probably didn't have time to discuss that he's a baker."
My jaw fell. "A baker? Seriously? As in bread and cakes and cookies?"
"Is there another kind of baker I'm unaware of?" Rose said, raising an eyebrow at me.
"So you're saying he baked all of these – whatever they are – in these boxes?"
Rose laughed. "Bella, are you drunk? Yes, he baked all this stuff. He's really good. Is this surprising to you?"
"A little. I didn't think hot guys baked," I said.
"What did you think they did?" Alice asked.
Alice and Rose laughed.
"Edward is a surprising kind of guy - a good guy too," Rose said, winking at me.
It was insane. No, literally, insane. If there weren't others around to vouch for everything that happened last night and now today, I would have thought I'd gone off my rocker.
"So he isn't dating anyone?" I whispered to Rose.
She smiled. "No. You'd think he was a player what with that face of his, but he's actually a decent guy. He's dated a few girls, one for a couple of years, but she was a bitch and Emmett and I secretly celebrated when he dumped her."
"So, he doesn't sleep around? I don't believe it."
"Shockingly, I don't think so. I mean, Emmett probably wouldn't tell me anyway, but as far as I know, Edward is pretty busy at his bakery."
"He owns the bakery?"
Esme came into the kitchen. "Alright, let's bring everything out on to the buffet table."
After helping Esme set up, I filled my plate and tried to find my seat at the table only to realize that Esme had reassigned places. I was now seated next to Edward. I smiled and blushed and rolled my eyes to myself.
We all sat down, Edward grinning at me as he took his seat.
Carlisle tapped his glass, "Okay, everyone, hold hands."
As Edward took my hand, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest to sing 'Alleluia'.
He leaned over. "Your hand is freezing."
I whispered, "Well, they say skin-to-skin contact is the best way to warm up." My eyes bulged as I realized what just came out of my mouth. "I did not just say that out loud."
He bit his lip to stop laughing. "Yes, you did."
Blushing would be an understatement.
Thank God for Carlisle's throat clearing, saving me. "We are so thankful and blessed to have everyone we love here, celebrating this special day with us. Merry Christmas everyone! Amen."
"Amen," we all said in unison.
"Now dig in!" Carlisle said.
We ate and talked and laughed. By the end of brunch, I was stuffed and surprised to find myself feeling a sense of peace that I hadn't felt in so long.
Soon enough it was dessert time. I watched how carefully Edward opened each box, revealing its contents.
"Esme, I know you like cheesecakes, so I made mini ones for you. Some have blueberry on top, some have cherry. Alice, Jasper told me you liked cookies, but he wasn't sure which kind, so I made shortbread and gingerbread. Of course, Rose I know you like chocolate cake, so I made one of those. Emmett wanted white flowers on the top, so… and everyone's favorite…" He opened the final white box, revealing golden brown apple pie.
He looked at me, smirking. "I know. I made it earlier yesterday, before I knew about you."
I was floored.
"Would you like me to warm it up for you?" he asked, slicing me a piece.
Still in shock over the Hot Stranger who turned into Edward the hot, hot Baker man, I stared at him. "Um, no, that's okay."
He handed me the plate. I cut into the pie and tasted the flaky crust and the apples – sweet, slightly tart and bursting with flavor.
"Mmm," I said, relishing the taste and licking my lips.
"Good?" he asked, watching me lick my lips.
I nodded. "So good." It was almost as good as my mom's. Even though I was stuffed to the gills already, I ate and savored every single morsel.
I noticed how proud Edward seemed as everyone oohed and ahhed and mmmed their way through dessert.
"Hey Esme, you forgot about Bella's brownies," Emmett said, coming into the room with my pathetic attempt at dessert.
My eyes widened and I shook my head at Emmett trying to send him a secret signal to throw them away – now! But no. He placed them in the middle of the table looking all sad and anemic next to Edward's fancy and insanely delicious desserts.
Edward grinned at red-faced me. "You made those?"
I shrugged, dying.
"You did. They look… good." He reached over and took one, putting it on his empty plate. I carefully watched him take a bite, chewing and…crunching. He swallowed and leaned over. "Not bad," he said, taking another bite, "If you like your brownies crunchy." He nudged me with his shoulder, grinning. "You're blushing again."
I rolled my eyes and finished my cringing.
Afterwards we all lounged around on the sofas, giving our overly full bellies a break. Perhaps it was all the sugar, but somehow I ended up so close to Edward that the sides of our legs touched while I was nestled into his side and his arm casually draped over my shoulders.
He leaned into my ear and whispered, "It's awfully nice being here with you," as his fingers drew circles on the top of my shoulder.
Goosebumps prickled all over me. I smiled. "I agree…stalker."
"Okay! Presents!" Esme declared, interrupting us.
Everyone doled out their gifts and we began opening. As I hung back a moment to watch everyone tear in, I noticed Rose received two nearly identical platters; Alice got two beads for her bracelet; Jasper opened two sets of drawing pads; Esme got the clock I had been looking at; and Emmett and Carlisle receive two copies of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. I whipped my head to Edward whose mouth hung open too as everyone laughed.
"Did you go shopping together last night?" Alice asked us.
I shook my head, dumbfounded. "No, but…I kept running into Edward at the same places..."
"And clearly we bought the same things!" he said, laughing.
"I'm not sure if I should be upset that I'm that predictable or stunned that two strangers, who are no longer strangers, bought all of us the same thing. Is this odd or is it me?" Alice asked, amused.
"No, it's freaky," Jasper added, snickering.
No sooner did we open gifts than four o'clock rolled around. Now that Edward and I were at the same party, I wasn't sure if we were still on for spending the evening together. But no more than two seconds later, Edward came over to me.
"So, are you ready to go?" he asked with a sweet, hot grin.
"Sure, if you are." I smiled, blushing a little.
"You're blushing," he said quietly, stroking my cheek, which made me blush a little more.
We said our thank yous and goodbyes and drove not very far to his Cape Cod style house.
It was cozy, warm, and inviting. Neater and nicer than I'd expect from a guy too, and the whole place smelled sweet – like Edward.
"So, this is it," Edward said, hanging our coats in the front closet.
"It's really nice," I said, looking around. I stood in front of the fireplace, noticing that it was stacked with wood already.
"You like fireplaces?" he asked, coming to stand next to me.
"I love them."
He smiled and proceeded to light it. He whipped his sweater up over his head, leaving him in a green t-shirt that matched his eyes. He ran his hand through his hair and grinned at me.
I guarantee my mouth fell open because he said, "I get hot easily," which only made me swallow hard and blush and mutter, "Me too."
I quickly faced the fire, warming my chilly hands, even though my insides burned up.
"Would you like something to drink? Some wine maybe?" he asked.
"Sure, wine would be great," I said, knowing that a little wine would calm the nerves that flared up the second we walked in his door.
Edward left the room and I stood in front of the crackling fire, examining the photos displayed on the mantle: a formal college portrait of a woman who had the same beautiful green eyes as Edward; another of a toddler Edward held by a grown-up version in front of a big fire engine; and another more recent photo of Edward, Emmett, Rose, Carlisle, Esme, Alice and Jasper all in Giants' football jerseys.
Edward came in and set a glass on the coffee table. As he poured a glass of wine, he asked, "Are you into football?" He nodded to the football jersey photo in my hand.
I nodded. "Yes. I've had many a Sunday parked in front of the TV with my dad."
"You weren't Giants fans by any chance, were you?"
I laughed. "No."
"Yeah, didn't think so," he laughed and handed me a glass, filling his own. "It's pretty crazy that we both bought the same things," Edward said, sipping on the wine. "This whole thing – seeing you all over that crowded mall then in the parking lot, not to mention all of today – it's insane," he said, his eyes flitting from my lips to my eyes.
"Yeah, it is," I said, hoping he wasn't creeped out by it.
"But, it's incredible too," he added softly, sipping again, his eyes on mine.
He inched closer.
My heart thumped hard.
Does he feel it too? I couldn't be sure of anything except that the fireplace had nothing on the heat brewing inside of me.
Be it instinct or insanity or wine, I leaned toward Edward when he cleared his throat saying, "So, um…I didn't really get a chance to decorate my tree." He nodded to his tree that was bare except for lights.
"Oh," I said, startled and embarrassed at my inappropriate leaning.
"I wondered if you might like to help me decorate it."
He grinned. "Have a seat, let me get the decorations."
"Okay," I said, sitting on the sofa that was soft and too comfortable. The army of butterflies flapped inside. I downed my wine hoping to drown them.
Edward came back into the room holding a big bowl of popcorn.
"Popcorn?" I said, smiling and entirely overwhelmed.
"Yeah, I've always liked the look, but never did it," he said, putting the bowl on the coffee table along with string, a couple of needles and scissors.
I spent the next few minutes showing him how to thread the popcorn so it didn't break apart. My belly tumbled each time my fingers touched his.
"So, have you always wanted to be a nanny?" he asked, focused on threading a kernel on his own.
"No, not really. I was a freshman at Washington State when my mom got sick. I dropped out to help her and my dad. I started babysitting to help with the bills and get out of the house a little. Turned into a nanny position."
"What was your major before you dropped out?"
"Really? God, that's the hardest part for me – all the…managing. Think you'd ever go back to it?"
"I'd love to, but nowadays you need an MBA to get any kind of job in that field and I don't have the money or the time to go back to school," I said, continuing to thread the popcorn. "How about you? Always into baking?" I asked, noticing how gently his fingers held the popcorn. What would he look like pressing dough out? Kneading, molding it into whatever shape he wanted?
My eyes traveled up his arms to the edge of his short sleeves where his bicep and triceps flexed even with such a small task. I could only imagine how he might look without the shirt and a little flour here and a little flour there…
"Yeah, pretty much," he said, startling me from my fantasy. "Got an Easy-Bake oven when I was eight from my grandmother, who thought everyone should know how to bake. I loved baking cookies and pies and cakes – and eating them too. You should have seen me – I was such a chubby kid." He chuckled.
"Really? You seem so in shape now," I said, my eyes celebrating Christmas on his arms.
"Well, it's been a few years and I don't eat my desserts now," he laughed, unaware of my staring.
"Do you work out too?" I asked, gazing at his flexing arm muscles.
"Yeah, Emmett and I go to the gym everyday," he said, threading more popcorn.
"Oh, I bet you do," I muttered without thinking, and then blushed and quickly asked,"So how did you end up owning a bakery?"
He smiled, biting his lip. "Well, I starting working there around the time my dad passed away and stayed, learning everything from Nonno Giuseppe. He owned it for over fifty years until he retired and sold it to me."
"Wow. That's amazing, Edward. Sounds like you've worked really hard."
"Yeah, I'm pretty proud of how far I've come."
I wasn't the kind of girl who threw herself at anyone, ever, but at that moment, it's all I wanted to do. I wanted to strip down, straddle him and ride that boy into the sunset. But instead, I demonstrated remarkable restraint.
I breathed out quietly and focused on my string, grabbing another popcorn kernel. "So have you lived in this house a long time?"
"I bought it two years ago. Used to live in an apartment, but I wanted more space and, you know, for tax purposes…"
Holy cow. "So you bought it because you made too much money?"
He laughed and shrugged. "Something like that."
"Ouch!" I said, stabbing my finger with the needle.
"You okay?" he asked, dropping his popcorn strand on his lap in order to gently take my index finger in his hand to examine it. It was a tiny drop of blood, but no matter - he brought my finger to his mouth and sucked, causing my breath to hitch. His green eyes flashed up to me as every ounce of my attention was on his lips sucking my finger. Not only did my heart do a jig, but it called out, "All hands on deck!" All hands…
"You'll be just fine," he whispered before sucking some more.
Mustering a conscious thought, I said, "What is wrong with you? Why don't you have a girlfriend? …I would imagine there would be girls lined up."
He stopped sucking for a moment to say, "I could say the same to you." He blew on the tiny cut.
I swallowed hard. "No, you are drop-dead gorgeous… you're the nicest guy… successful."
He shook his head with his eyes locked on my lips. "Why do you think I was staring at you in Macy's?" He kissed my finger.
"What?" My face flamed.
He leaned in a little closer, placing my hurt finger on his lap. "You. You are blushing…and breathtaking, Bella."
I shook my head a little, staring back at his lips. "Are you joking?" I said, more afraid than I'd ever been.
With only inches between us, he said, "Why would I lie?"
I had no breath. My heart throbbed in my throat. "Because good looking guys always know what to say to a girl."
He grinned, moving ever closer to my lips. His warm breath blew on my face as he said, "I may not be the most chivalrous, but I would never hurt a person by lying to them. Life's too short for that."
Swallowing hard, breathing hard and staring hard at his full lips that he suddenly…licked, I said, "But you are chivalrous – very."
"It's because of you…you bring it out in me," he said, his lips almost against mine.
That was it. I kissed him.
The popcorn fell to the floor as we fell against the back of the sofa, and kissed and kissed and kissed. Arms held and hands roamed, I hitched my leg over his hip.
Holy crap. I'm making out with him. Am I going to sleep with him? Am I? I shouldn't. No, I shouldn't. He'll get what he wants and then turn into the asshole they always become and I'll beat myself up for it. No, no sleeping with him.
Before I knew it, my sweater was off, his shirt was off and our bodies couldn't press together harder.
"Bella, we don't have to…" he whispered, biting my bottom lip.
"We shouldn't…I shouldn't…" I said, coming up for air between kisses. "We…"
"We don't have to. It's okay, but then I need to stop now," and he began to pull back when everything inside me screamed NO!
I grabbed his shoulders and pulled him back to me. "Just because we shouldn't, doesn't me we won't."
"Oh shit," he mumbled as I held his face to mine, loving his tongue with mine.
The next thing I knew, he stood and scooped me into his arms, carrying me to his dark bedroom, lit only by the outside street lamps.
After laying me on his large, soft bed, he stood up, gazing down at my bra-covered torso. And yes, of course, I gaped at his defined chest and abs and shoulders and arms and…oh boy. He's Adonis and I have not worked out in ages.
"How the hell are you not taken?" he asked, actually waiting for a response.
"Uh…I…um…." I stuttered, thrown off and not knowing what to tell him.
"You're so beautiful," he said, shaking his head a little. "Are you sure you want this, Bella?... Not going to change your mind on me, are you?" he asked, vulnerable, with his hands at his belt buckle.
I shook my head, watching him fiddle with the end of the belt, my heart pounding. "Why would I change my mind?"
"Because beautiful women like you say one thing and mean another. They leave a guy wondering what the hell happened," he said, pushing the belt's end through the buckle, but still keeping it attached.
"I…I wouldn't do that," I said, entirely focused on him taking the two ends apart.
He whipped the belt through the loops and dropped it to the floor, keeping his eyes on mine the whole time. I thought I might just explode from the magnitude of sexiness radiating from this stunning man.
"I don't think you would either," he said quietly, unbuttoning his pants to reveal the waistband of his underwear.
My mind spun and nerves struck me hard. "Will you change your mind? I mean, you can have anyone, just look at you, you-"
"Shh," he whispered and removed my boots one at a time, dropping them to the floor with a thud. He bent forward, unbuttoning and unzipping my pants. He carefully gauged my reaction as he began to slide them off of me.
He stood up again, gazing at me laying there in nothing but my bra and panties. "But I don't want just anyone…I like you…and I want you. Are you okay with that?" he asked.
He could so mess me up.
"Is this a game, Edward? If so, I've already lost."
"A game? No, Bella," he said, sounding surprised and even a little hurt. His triceps flexed when he climbed on to the bed and straddled my thighs.
"I don't play games," he said, slowly trailing his hand from my cheek to my neck to the center of my chest. "That's always been my problem, Bella. I'm upfront, and the women I've known like to play head games. Like I said, life is too short for that." He nodded at me as if asking permission to touch me.
I nodded back, my chest heaving and begging him to get started.
He bent forward and kissed me gently once then surprised me by flipping me onto my belly. "Oh!" I yelped as he brushed my hair to one side and kissed along my neck and down my back, unhooking my bra.
When he flipped me back over I was met with a smile from the hottest man I'd ever been near, let alone nearly naked with. "I really, really like you," he said, gently removing my bra.
"Unbelievable," he muttered, taking in my topless body. He cupped my breasts, gently kneading.
Lord, can he knead.
His breathing was as rapid and shallow as mine as he licked then bit his lip, while thumbing my nipples. I arched my back, offering my breasts more fully.
"Mmm," I moaned as he grinned.
"You like this?" he asked, in a low, husky voice.
"Yes," I whimpered.
"Would you like this better?" He bent forward and took my right breast into his mouth.
"Oh God," I moaned, my mind all but mush.
"Mmm, so sweet," he whispered, moving to the left breast for several mind-blowing minutes.
He inched lower, kissing down my belly to my hipbones, hooking his fingers into the navy lace panties I was so thankful I'd chosen that day. He slid them off of me.
He sat up and swallowed hard. "Oh God, you're bare."
I nodded, suddenly shy and blushing.
"And you're blushing. Holy fucking shit you're beautiful," he remarked, planting his lips on my belly again as he held my hips.
He pushed my legs apart. "I can't believe you're here with me," he said, low and deep.
"Scoot back on the bed," he instructed as I shifted toward the headboard. "That's better." He grinned then kissed along the inside of my right thigh.
Oh boy, he's going to put his mouth on me. I can't believe I'm letting him do this! What am I doing? Regrets fired away in my mind…until he got there - to the one place that would erase all rational thought from my mind.
"Oh God!" I called out as his mouth sucked on me in a way no other man had. There is no way he hasn't slept around. No way. Average men don't know how to…"Oh God!" I exclaimed again, his hands holding my hips down.
Nearly at my peak, he stopped and shoved off his pants, freeing what I knew would be his most dangerous weapon by far.
"Are you on anything, Bella?" he whispered, kissing me.
"What? Oh, um…yeah."
He nodded, his abdominal muscles contracting and relaxing with each quick breath. Hovering over me, he teased my entrance.
"No," I said, pushing him off me.
His face fell. "What? Oh God, I'm sorry."
"No, shh. Lie down," I said, as a relieved smile appeared on his face.
Straddling him this time, I slowly sunk my body onto his.
Groaning, his eyes rolled back and closed.
I loved how tightly he gripped my hips as I moved up and down in a slow, steady rhythm. Tossing my head back, I relished the millions of sensations invading every cell in my body.
I don't know what came over me, but suddenly my hands were at my breasts, kneading them. His nails dug into my hips watching me.
"Oh fuck…you're…ugh…so…good…" he grunted out between thrusts. The veins of his neck popped as he breathed hard.
Our rhythm grew fast and furious as we collided and I reached ever closer to my peak.
"Oh…God!" I cried out as my world shook. I fell over the edge so forcefully, I was sure I'd feel the aftershocks days after.
"Oh fuck," he moaned out, his incredible face screwed up in the midst of climaxing.
I remained on top as I came out from our sex-induced fog.
He smiled at me. "I'm speechless."
"Speechless? Oh no, why?" I said, embarrassed.
"No, no. Nothing bad – just, everything – you… you are beautiful and sexy as hell."
I grinned and shook my head, my hair falling in front of my face, even more embarrassed now.
"Hey," he said, trying to brush my hair out of the way. "I'm telling you now, you'd better get used to it. I don't know what idiots you dated, but if they were stupid enough to not tell you how incredible you are, then they never deserved you. Deal with the facts, stalker."
I laughed. "Don't you call me stalker, stalker. You were the one gawking at me first."
He rolled his eyes, grinning. "Whatever, now get down here so I can kiss you, beautiful."
Slowly, I climbed off him and snuggled into his side, his warm chest the perfect solution to a chilly Christmas night. He caressed my arm as we laid quiet and peaceful for a while.
"Are you hungry?" he asked, pressing a kiss to the top of my head.
I shrugged. "I could eat."
"Okay, don't move, pretty girl." He grinned. "I'll be back in a few with something. Here's the remote," he said, tossing it to me and putting his boxer-briefs back on. After a quick smile and kiss, I had the pleasure of watching him leave the room.
Lounging in the big, soft bed, I flicked through the channels as my mind flicked through the insanity of the past day. It's all so impossible…meeting someone like him on Christmas Eve of all nights… My heart was swollen with hope.
I heard him clanking around in the kitchen. "Edward?" I called out. "You need some help?"
"Nope. Everything's fine. Give me another minute."
"Okay." What's he doing? …Oh no – this is it. He's going to bring in something weird and ruin this magical mood.
A moment later, a shirtless, smiling Edward entered, carrying a tray.
"Merry Christmas, Bella," he said sweetly, setting a platter of warm, gooey cinnamon rolls on top of the duvet.
I sat up, staring at the rolls. "You made these for me?"
He sat on the edge of the bed. "I ran out to the store last night to get the ingredients. I don't know what it is about you but," he paused, smiling, "all I wanted was to make this Christmas special for you - with the traditions you remembered having."
I giggled. "Well, generally I don't have sex on Christmas."
He laughed. "How tragic. I guess we'll just have to make that our new tradition."
"Popcorn garland, cinnamon rolls and sex – I love it. Thank you, Edward." I kissed him. "May I?" I asked, nodding to the rolls.
"Allow me," he said, holding one up to my mouth.
I grinned, taking a huge bite. I closed my eyes to fully experience the brown sugar, cinnamon and frosting melting in my mouth. The ingredients were in the perfect proportion and the smell and texture were spot-on. I teared up, and he noticed.
I was chewing and crying and I probably looked a mess, but he waited patiently for me to swallow. "I never thought I'd ever have these again. Ever," I said as he reached over to the nightstand and grabbed me a tissue.
"They sell cinnamon rolls in the store, Bella," he said, grinning.
"I know," I chuckled, wiping my face and calming down. "But these are exactly like my mother's. I mean, exactly, Edward. Yesterday, the only thing I wished for was to feel the magic that I used to feel this time of year. I thought it was silly, because how could I feel that when my parents were gone? But…somehow…" I started tearing up again. "Somehow Edward, with you, the magic is back."
He smiled, stroking my cheek with his thumb. "Do you know what I wished for?"
"No," I said, dabbing my eyes.
He looked down a moment. "Well, the thing is Bella, despite my circumstances, I consider myself pretty lucky. I have the greatest adoptive family, a business I love, and a house I love, but it's all felt a little empty lately. You know why?" He brushed my hair back.
I shook my head.
"Because I've had no one to share it with. I've dated women who I didn't really connect with or who messed with my head, Bella, so I'd kind of figured that with all my luck in everything else, it would only be fair to be unlucky in love. So, I'd given up on that end of things. Until I spotted you.
"The moment I saw you in Macy's was like being run over by a freight train. You were just standing there – alone and gorgeous and I was so tempted to go up to you, but then, I knew my luck, so I left… and ran into you again and again and again," he chuckled. "By the third time, I knew it wasn't coincidence. Couldn't be. Not with the way I felt. And especially not after seeing you at Carlisle's too. This, us, it isn't coincidence, Bella; it's something more… so much more. I've never fallen so hard and fast."
Oh my God…am I hearing him right?
His fingers traced up the length of my arm.
"My wish was to find someone who would feel for me like I would feel for them." He reached my shoulder and brushed my long hair over it, smoothing it down. "Someone who is funny and smart and beautiful… and cannot bake." His eyes flashed to mine.
My mouth dropped and I burst into laughter.
I covered my eyes for a moment. "Oh God…do you have any idea how embarrassed I was to have my pathetic brownies next to your amazing desserts?"
He laughed. "Yes actually, you were blushing. A very lovely shade of pink by the way."
I swatted his shoulder feeling the heat rise into my face - again.
"See? There you go again. I think I have a frosting that color actually." He laughed and shielded himself from another arm swat.
"You'd better watch it stalker, or I'll bake you more brownies." I lifted my hand to swat him again, but he grabbed my wrist.
"No, please, not that…here, eat more," and with a beaming smile he shoved more cinnamon roll in my mouth. I playfully glared at him as I chewed. His face grew sweet, serious.
"You are beautiful when you blush."
I shook my head and continued chewing.
"You are, and I've never had a more perfect Christmas, Bella."
I swallowed and kissed him. "Me too, Edward. Seems the magic of Christmas really is alive and well."
Happy Holidays to all of you lovely people who've been so supportive and kind this year. Many blessings to you in the New Year!
Thanks to JAustenlover and EMCxo for betaing this for me, um, several times. LOL
As always, SM owns the characters, but the story is mine. Thanks for reading!